Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Derren Brown: Secret

Oh, I'm keeping this one a secret for sure.  You see, when I subscribe to a theater company, a non-profit theater company like the Atlantic Theater Company, I expect to see theater.  (Funny how it works like that).   In this case, the allure of magic and illusion and chicanery has sullied the mission and goals of The Atlantic.  This is not theatre!  It's pure entertainment - and it's only interesting if you like magic and tricks and being fooled by a con man.

Derren Brown is indeed an illusionist.  He claims he is not a psychic but then does the things a psychic would do.  He's very good at what he does, but theatre this is not, fooled i was not, and entertained i was not.

Please bring back real theatre - instead of a circus side show - to the Atlantic!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


With all the hype this will be quick.  Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius.  To be fair I did not pay $800 for a ticket.  I waited and waited and finally won the lottery!  My ticket - in the first row - cost me $10 and a lot of daily disappointment leading up to now.

For $10 this was THE most amazing experience.  If I had paid $800 I may have been more critical, but there is very little to be critical about.  This show, despite a major cast change, is a 10 out of 10.  It's crisp, loud, and strong.  I saw the swing cast - and even with these 3rd stringers - the show was magnificent and I cannot imagine it being better.

To be fair - it's dense - very dense.  I think most people who pull up in the big white busses just see it because they are told to.  Even I didn't get everything and I paid close attention.  You have to be a real history buff to really understand everything.  I suspect many on those busses are not history buffs and probably walked out checking a box and emptying their pockets but when asked, couldn't really tell you what went on.  Hamilton (Jevon McFerrin) was magnificent as was Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) as was the rest of the cast including James Monroe Inglehart as Layfayette/Jefferson and Brian D'Arcy James as King George.   Of special note, I think the ensemble may just be the hardest working ensemble on Broadway today.  My eye caught one of them who was especially delicious (Thayne Jasperson) and he held my attention the entire show (those arms!) - which is how I actually noticed how incredibly hard working they all were.

It's a bona-fide hit and I am incredibly thankful for the ticket and will treasure my experience even more because of it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Her Portmanteau

This is Part II (actually we skip a few of her plays to #4) of Mfoniso Udofia's The Ufot Cycle - Her Portmanteau.   On a creative note - the title is a word that means both a large suitcase (such as one that both a mother and daughter may have traveled to America with) - AND even more interestingly - a word that means the combination of two other words such as brunch (breakfast and lunch) or podcast (iPod and broadcast).  Very creatively both are relevant here because this is a story of two families who will come together from very different sets of circumstances and that piece of luggage you see will be very meaningful too.

We've skipped a few years ahead. Abasiama (now Jenny Jules) has married Disciple and started another family in America.  The baby, Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Adepero Oduye), she gave to Ukpong to raise back in Nigeria (because he had to leave America when he messed up his education) is now an adult and wants to come to America to see her mother and the rest of her family.  Abasiama arranges a meeting in New York City at her American daughter's, Adiagha Ufot (now Chinasa Ogbuagu's) apartment.  Everyone is on pins and needles.  Sparks are quickly extinguished when they start to fly, tensions are high and years of unspoken words come pouring out from all parties.

This play is much more intense, direct, and shorter than the first and even as short as it was there are two scenes that are needlessly long and drawn out.  This one could be approximately 85-90 minutes max and could really pack a punch.  I think the creatives love their words and drama a bit too much and need to trim things down for a focused, powerful, and punch-to-the-gut two part series.  


NYTW has chosen a multi-part play by Mfoniso Udofia as its final installment of the season.  After much debate we decided to see the "marathon" presentation on a Sunday - the two parts played in sequence 1-3pm and 5-7pm.  We figured, in the end, the stories are related so why not just blow an afternoon and get it over with.  Seeing them apart we might forget small details. So off we went for a day at NYTW.   What a great decision this turned out to be.

Part I - Sojourners - is your introduction to Abasiama Ekpeyoung (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong Ekpeyoung (Hubert Point-Du-Jour) and their immediate life post immigration from Nigeria to the USA - Houston, Texas, to be precise.  It's a tough time, adjusting is hard, working for low wages and long hours is tough - and Abasiama is pregnant - very pregnant.  They have goals - get a great education (the reason for immigration) and start their family and eventually return home.   As with all of the best laid plans - things don't always go the way you intend.  Some rather tough decisions need to be made.

We are also introduced to a character that is much more pivotal to the second play (the actual 4th play in the series) - Disciple Ufot (Chinaza Uche) and a rather sad character named Moxie Wilis (Lakisha Michelle May).  As a side comment - this play is the first of SEVEN and NYTW is only presenting two of them - I wondered if Moxie is explored in any of the other plays?  Upon some further research, only time will tell, as plays 6-9 are not yet completed but I think time will pass her over as the plays seem to be written sequentially.

Performances are top notch.  Mr. Point-Du-Jour is charming and lovable despite his shortcomings and you can just see how anyone could want to start a life with him (their marriage was arranged).  Ms. Ogbuagu was magnificent in her portrayal of Abasiama - strong, touching, and human.

My only complaint is that there was not enough exposition as to whom these characters were.  We went almost 75 minutes without ever being told who the man at his desk was (Disciple) and how he fit into the story.  Perhaps one mysterious scene is theatrically effective but repeated scenes with a man who has no connection to the story is a bit much.  This happened a few times throughout the first play in other areas and it was quite noticeable that you had to figure out (i.e. GUESS) a few of the circumstances rather than be sure through dialogue or story what exactly was going on.  Thankfully things cleared up by the end but a few frustrated audience members left at the intermission.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me

In it's latest installment, it seems that Second Stage Theater either had a "budget gap" that they couldn't afford to produce their own show or just saw an opportunity to bring someone else in to produce a show during their season.  Sticks to me... but maybe there's a better explanation.

As far as the production they brought in - quirky - is the word that comes to mind.  It's a musical where one of the writers is also a performer.  Some would say vanity project or she didn't trust anyone with her baby just yet.  Quirky - yes the leading man comes out of a refrigerator in her apartment.  OK, it's a dream sequence/fantasy show.  Quirky - Ernest Shackleton (Wade McCollum) is a real life explorer who went to Antarctica.  An odd choice for leading man.  However the leading lady (Valerie Vigoda)  can strum the electric violin like nobody's business while she's going along on her excursion with Ernest.  Quirky - they fall in love.  Quirky - it's just weird, silly, a bit absurd but at least it was quick.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Her Opponent

In today's political environment, I'm surprised this show is not getting more airtime and exposure.  Part experiment, part theatrical experience, Her Opponent seeks to open eyes and get you thinking about gender and your biases.

Joe Salvatore and Maria Guadalupe reverse the gender of the actual candidates and reenact select debate dialogue verbatim.  Sounds like a snooze fest? Or does it sound like you'd throw your shoes at the stage?  Well, I think you might be fairly engaged mostly because a woman is saying the things Mr. Trump said. Equally, you may be unpleasantly surprised at a man acting the way Hillary Clinton did.  I warn you now, you may still agree or disagree with WHAT the candidates said but you will see the message from an entirely different perspective.

Rachel Tuggle Whorton tackles quite accurately of Mr. Trump.  Daryl Embry equally aptly tackles the persona of Mrs. Clinton - both nailing certain mannerisms, patterns of speech and general stature. Only the pronouns (he/she) were changed to make sense in this environment and the names were changed but maintained the same rhythm - Brenda King and Jonathan Gordon. Andy Wagner plays the moderators who in all honesty were not really mentioned or identified, except for a passing mention of Anderson Cooper that I can recall.

For a mild jolt and passing identification of your own biases, head over to the Jerry Orbach theatre at the Snapple Center today.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation

I just had to see the first preview of John Guare's theatrical classic, Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway. After all, I never saw the movie and knew almost nothing about it except the vague notion we all know about everyone being connected and somehow that connection being approx 6 people.

Aside from the few very minor late entrances and missed queues which are inevitable at a first preview, this unexpectedly large cast performed like a well oiled machine.  The modern set (kudos Mark Wendland) was intriguing especially when i sat off to the side at the end.  The two sided Kandinsky painting was a magical centerpiece, rotating high above.

Allison Janey (Ouisa) mastered the script with aplomb and seemed to be the perfect fit for the intelligent, slightly overbearing, and confidently funny and sarcastic wife.  John Benjamin Hickey (Flan) seemed to exude art-dealer and all the eccentricities that go along with that job. Corey Hawkins (Paul) seemed to be born to play the role of con-man - devilishly handsome and debonair, intelligent, well spoken, and slick as all heck.  What I didn't really expect were the neighbors, the neighbors children and a few others like a doorman, and a police officer to fill the cast to such a degree.  For a 3 person play, the cast of 18 filled the stage occasionally.

Trip Cullman's direction seemed to embrace the large stage and use it effectively - keeping the back area a bit fuzzy and unclear which fit the mood perfectly.  Deconstructed in a large Broadway house but not too deconstructed as to be barren.

So what did I think?  It was a bit confusing to follow at times - dialogue is snappy and crisp and if the actors speak over a laugh you might miss a few lines.  This will resolve over time for sure. The full frontal nudity may turn a few people off (certainly not me in any way) - I don't know what the script requires vs what the director interprets.  I was mostly surprised that I really wasn't going to experience a direct "Six Degrees of Separation" - like a trail of person 1 connected to person 2 connected to person 3 etc.... but more the general concept about strangers and how they can be inter-twined in our lives and connected to our friends and we don't even know it- or them - sometimes until it's too late - or sometimes we never really know what happens at all.  I was struck that the central lines of the play fit the concept but not exactly what was happening on the stage.  I guess I am a very linear thinker.

"I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. fill in the names. I find that A) tremendously comforting that we're so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make the connection. It's not just big names. It's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought. How Paul found us. How to find the man whose son he pretends to be. Or perhaps is his son, although I doubt it. How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between me and everyone else on this planet. But to find the right six people...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lilian Hellman's The Little Foxes

The only thing I did not like about this production was its title.  I hate it when an author feels that their name needs to be attached to the title - ala Edward Albee.  Now, onto all the good stuff.

Daniel Sullivan's directorial job could not have been more different from the last time I saw this show at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2010 with Ivo Van Hove at the helm.  This time, with Mr. Sullivan's fine vision, I really felt I was in the South.  The set (kudos Scott Pask) was a magnificent reproduction of a fine southern home.  (Boy those stairs seemed very steep!). Completely contrary to Mr. Van Hove's bare set and modern costumes - context really does make the story come alive in a way Mr. Van Hove could not replicate although his production certainly succeeded in many aspects that I won't go into now.

As you may know, The two leads, Regina Giddens (Laura Linney on my night) and Birdie Hubbard (Cynthia Nixon on my night) trade roles regularly!  I immediately thought that the casting as I saw it may have been the better combo - but these two actresses are masters of their craft and I left the theater thinking what a different person each one must inhabit as they trade roles.

And what a tremendous supporting cast these two marvelous actresses get the pleasure of working with.  Regina's brothers, Michael McKean (Ben Hubbard) and Darren Goldstein (Ben Hubbard) are the perfect mix of evil and jocularity.  Richard Thomas (Horrace Giddens) doesn't appear until Act II and when he does it is evident he knows how to inhabit his deceptively revengeful character with aplomb.

Ms. Hellman really does bring this family to the brink and then back again.  What a pleasure it was to watch these fine actors take their evil and deceptive journey each night deep in the south way back in 1900.  Which cast did you see?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Daniel's Husband

Who on earth WOULDN'T want to marry (Ryan Spahn).... um... i mean Daniel Bixby?  In Michael McKeever's play now in previews at the Cherry Lane Theatre, that would be Daniel's partner, Mitchell Howard (Matthew Montelongo).  

Successful, drippingly boyish, handsome, confident - Daniel wants to marry his partner of 7 years.  They are in love, they live together, and they are just the "perfect" couple.   The trouble is, Mitchell, his partner, doesn't believe in marriage (gay or otherwise).  He's got that old-school view of the gay culture being a counter-culture - we are different, we do not want what they want - these are the themes of his argument against marriage - which he interjects into his un-ending commitment and love for Daniel.

Mr. McKeever starts laying out a rather entertaining story not atypical of many gay men - successful, big incomes, fun evenings, good wine.  Of course he is probably obliged to throw in an overbearing motherly character in Lydia Bixby (Anna Holbrook) who turns out to be more than the butt of several jokes. Daniel and Mitchell are devoted to each other and enjoying the good life together in today's world that is mostly accepting.  They are sticking with each other and there is no doubt about it.  Full stop.

However, when an unexpected event occurs that literally tears at the fibers of their relationship and beings, we learn the true colors of family and friends (kudos uber adorable Lealand Wheeler (Trip) and Barry Dylon (Lou Liberatore) and the tragic consequences of more than one action not taken whether for good reasons at the time or not.

Incredibly humorous turns devastatingly tragic in a mere 90 minutes.  Sometimes we argue about concepts and principles and forget there could be (as slight as the chance could be) some real world consequences to our actions.