Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Government Inspector

What do you get when you combine a 200+ year old play, a movie musical with Danny Kaye, and really good contemporary comedic actors?   Most likely something like Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector now playing over at the Duke on 42nd presented by Red Bull Theater.

The top-notch cast lead by the indomitable and beyond adorable Michael Urie (Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov) and Michael McGrath (Anton Antonovich) is nothing short of comic genius.  Directed by Jesse Berger, this very old gem of a comedy still rings true even in this day and age of cell phones and microchips.  Although the set was an awkward 2 story narrow runway to perform on, the cast seemed to make the best of it - slamming doors and hiding in closets.  This is a slap-stick comedy after all.  And many sticks were indeed slapped.

Mary Testa, no stranger to the theatre, (Anna Andreyevna) takes her over-the-top mother role quite seriously and literally.  The trio of townsfolk, Tom Alan Robbins (The Judge), David Manis (The School Principal), and Steven Derosa (The Hospital Director) could easily be the three stooges - always together - always bumbling. The scene and show stealing character, The Postmaster, played by none other than the ingenious  Arnie Burton, is quite possibly the show's best - as if picking a best with this cast is even possible.   Fill in the cast with chambermaids, waitress, local landowners, and various townsfolk and you've got a recipe for lots of mixups, mayhem, and madness.

The comedy is fresh, the delivery is crisp, and the laughter flows throughout this romp whose opening night is June 1st.  Grab a ticket and get ready for multiple belly laughs with this one.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


In this new play by Claire Lizzimore, you are expected to think... and connect dots... and solve her riddle....  It's not that complicated but it is open to interpretation to a large degree.  No spoilers here, except to say that in the end you will know why she she titled the play "Animal" and who it refers to.

Rachel (Rebecca Hall) and Tom (Morgan Spector) are married and Rachel is troubled.  She is seeing a doctor, Stephen (Greg Keller).  It's all a shade too mysterious, too unclear, too uncertain.  There is a mother in a wheelchair (Kristin Griffith) and a little girl (Fina Strazza) and a quite perfect hunk of a man (David Pegram).  Who are all these people to Rachel and exactly what is going on here?

It's only at the very end that you figure out the what is going on here part - and you'll have to connect the dots as far as who are all these people to Rachel.... but it's an intimate, black box drama that keeps you sitting upright and on the edge of your seat.  Bravo Atlantic Theatre Company.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cost of Living

In Martyna Majok's new play, Cost of Living, we come to realize the cost she is speaking of is mostly the emotional one.  What does it cost a handicapped person?  Is it cheaper to be a survivor of some sort?

Through her at times raw dialogue, Ms. Majok shows us that everyone's life matters, everyone's situation drives them in different directions.  But in the end, we are all in the same boat.

Eddie (Victor Williams) is a survivor and a fighter; Jess (Jolly Abraham) is a mysterious gal who may or may not have gone to Princeton and is working several odd jobs in bars just to make ends meet.; John (Gregg Mozgala) has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair and is quite smart and seems to have lots of money; Ani (Katy Sullivan) is a new double amputee searching for her new meaning Eddie and Ani are struggling thru marriage, separation, and the accident;  John and Jess are struggling thru a new employer/employee relationship and the mixed signals that are sent/received.

The connections and emotion in the dialogues are fantastic.  It felt like Ms. Majok must have been either disabled or at least a caretaker herself to write such human and meaningful prose.  The actors themselves (Mr. Mozgala and Ms. Abraham) are both physically disabled (they are not acting) so the connections they are able to make are un-attainable by just a healthy person sitting in a wheel chair.

Jo Bonney likely had a very easy time directing these fine actors but I am sure she put her artistic stamp on this already fine production too.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


George Orwell's dystopian novel brought to the stage - first in London on the West End, now on Broadway.  The technology and video employed was magnificent.  The direction was crisp, artistic, and suspenseful - after all you're supposed to be kept off-balance the entire time.  The acting, too, had strong moments for each of the 3 stars - Reed Birney, Tom Sturridge, and Olivia Wilde.

However, the story, laid bare on a stage had the tendency to be entirely too shocking.  Reading the book you can imagine what you like.  Watching the play you have no choice but to absorb whatever they throw your way.  Since I don't make it a habit of wincing and throwing my attention away to the side like I might when watching TV or a movie, my assessment with this play is that it is entirely too graphic and gritty.   It's one thing to watch an ISIS video on TV or an episode of 24 or the news... violence is everywhere.... but in the theatre it just seems a bit too much to electrocute someone downstage front and center and think we are going to enjoy it.

No matter the play, I enjoyed my first trip to Broadway's newest house - The Hudson Theatre - and hope that future plays will be less violent and more enjoyable.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


It's official - I just saw the Tony award winning play of the year.  Oslo, a new docu-play by J.T. Rogers being presented at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center is a bold, crackling, and humorous new play about the back-channel peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis in the early 1990's told with humor, charm, heart, and brutal honesty.

Jefferson Mays (Terje Rod-Larsen) and Jennifer Ehle (Mona Juul) headline the cast as the brains behind the entire idea and operation - an effort in secret to get the two parties to a secret negotiating table Norway where they could exchange real ideas, thoughts, and feelings - not the tried and failed methods of public posturing sponsored by the Americans and others for years.

The cast of characters is broad - heads of state, secretaries of state, foreign ministers, and negotiators - and even a housekeeper and butler.  Top notch performances were turned in by Michael Arnov (Uri Savir - Israeli) and Anthony Azizi (Ahmed Qurie - Palestinian).  Even a worthy Shimon Peres (Daniel Orestes) graced the stage.

The play sweeps through 3 hours before you know it.  Act I is a clever flashback to the origins of the talks that ends where it started - and sets up Act II - the actual peace negotiations.  At times tense, at others humorous, the play effortlessly glides between the two states often and sometimes unexpectedly.  The play sweeps past the accords, reveals video of the actual signing and hand shaking at the White House among all the parties and goes on to provide you with an abbreviated version of events that occurred post-accord all the way up to today.  Jefferson Mays ends the play on an uncertain yet positive and hopeful note.

Award winning performances, direction, and dialogue all combine to make this sleeper that moved upstairs from the Mitzi Newhouse Theater (off-Broadway) a hit that will inform, entertain, and remind us all just how far we've come and how much work is yet ahead.

Monday, May 1, 2017


Now playing over at the basement black box Theater at St. Luke's - Baghdaddy. This show has a bit of a split personality disorder.  Act I - over the top silliness and slap-stick comedy.  Given the subject matter - it walks a fine line but gets the job done.  Act II - substantially more serious - to the extent that one of the characters in the show even asks if this is funny anymore.  And in general I'm in agreement with the marketing people - It's a good show with a bad name...

For sure, Marshall Pailet (Music and Book) and A.D Penedo (Lyrics and Book) have a gem on their hands.  Too soon?  Not at all.  We all recall the discussions and debates about whether there were actually weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and why we invaded when clearly the 9/11 terrorists came from other places.   This show re-hashes the facts, adds a few twists, and shines the light on bureaucracy and mistakes and egos involved such that we just might conclude the unthinkable - there wasn't really a real reason to invade.  *shocker*

This magnificently rehearsed and talented cast adds energy, enthusiasm, heart, and soul to the script.  Uber cute Brennan Caldwell (Richard Becker) plays the German investigator (without the German accent he does not have and points out). That neon dance outfit was a charmer too.  Brandon Espinoza (The Man) is possibly the hardest working actor on the stage and shirt off works very nicely i must say.... (and they all work hard already).  Joe Joseph (not exactly a middle eastern name) plays Curveball, the Iraqi informant who may or may not have told the truth.  Claire Neumann is possible the funniest person on the stage with her all her different personas and characters.  Ethan Slater (Jerry Samuel) is absolutely the most adorable character (and actor) who wins your heart in about 2 minutes.  Jason Collins takes on the role of Tyler Nelson who is one of the only people who isn't blaming himself.  This is quite possible the cutest and youngest entire cast I have seen long time (Ethan, did you hear that? cutest....)

Speaking of blaming himself, the show is basically a support group for people who think they started the Iraq war.  The support group phases in and out as the show takes over telling you the story.  Did these people really start the war?  In once sense they all were at fault - in another - none of then can be blamed for the juggernaut known as our government.

The play suffers split personality as I previously mentioned.  It has not quite worked out which persona (Act I or Act II) is the better one to go with.  It's a bit all over the map but gets the point across.  I think it needs some fine tuning and could really be a powerhouse as the concept is really serious and absolutely something that needs to be shown.  This was it's second run and I think if someone really sunk some money into a production - you would see vast improvements.  For now, trust me it's worth the price of admission and you'll likely walk out shaking your head in agreement with the outcome we all know quite well.