Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fulfillment Center

With a name like this somehow you expect it to be it's namesake - fulfilling.  On the contrary, the play by Abe Koogler, performed on a too narrow runway stage by actors in ordinary street clothes falls flat , is empty, and the characters, all  but Suzan (Deirdre O'Connell), were UN-fulfilled and UN-fulfilling in their development and arc.  Suzan was the most deeply fleshed out character and, as played by Ms. O'Connell, the most juicy and emotionally satisfying of the lot.

A distribution center for a company in New Mexico is the host to this un-remarkable plot.  Alex (Bobby Moreno) and Madeleine (Eboni Booth) are not a couple you would expect.  Alex doesn't seem very smart although he went to B-School, and Madeleine doesn't seem very happy although she sees a therapist regularly (she' a stereotypical New Yorker).  Together they plod through their own un-fulfilling relationship as we wander forward.  Madeleine is the crossover link to John (Frederick Weller) a mysterious and vaguely fleshed out local.  Contrary to Alex, he once was smart, and now, after the ravages of drugs and alcohol (we are lead to believe) he isn't so much any more.  Played with aplomb by Mr. Weller, the character falls flat due to the lack of development and sheer mystery surrounding him.

Overall, this 80 minute play needs a bit more work to have any sort of impact.  The characters are ill-defined and by the time you get to the end of the play, much like Alex, you realize the failure that just unfolded in front of you.

Friday, June 16, 2017


In what can only be described as a first-ever theatrical event - the indomitable Kevin Spacey (fresh off hosting the Tony Awards in New York City) put on a one man show depicting the life of the venerable Clarence Darrow - holding court literally on a court - center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium inn Flushing Meadows!  Yes, you read that correctly - on a tennis court.

My journey to the theatre this evening consisted of a subway ride to Penn Station and a train to Mets-Willetts Point where I got off and walked the lovely half mile or so to the tennis center right next to the Mets home stadium - CitiField.  Once at Arthur Ashe Stadium we made our way into the hallowed ground on center court and took our seats at the theatre in the round that Mr. Spacey would soon begin.

The roof was closed and the acoustics weren't the greatest - lots of echoes and planes overhead (nobody called Kennedy to reroute the flights like Mayor Dinkins did).  But that aside Mr. Spacey held court for two acts and about 90-100 minutes - mesmerizing us with the life, trials, and tribulations of one of the nations most exalted attorneys - Clarence Darrow.

This was a first that Mr. Spacey explained after the play he wanted to bring to this unique venue to spur yet even further artistic ventures at the venue.  Quite unique.  Entirely entertaining.  Worth every penny of my TDF ticket and something I certainly recommend if I felt the strength of the vocal performance in the future was enough to fill the cavernous stadium.  Not everything would work in this setting after all.  Mr. Spacey certainly did.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Man In The Ceiling

A new musical isn't easy to nurture and bring to the stage.  Andrew Lippa has penned music and Lyrics to the book by Jules Feiffer to produce a kid-focused yet very adult musical.  Now playing out in Sag Harbor at the Bay Street Theatre, The Man in the Ceiling is truly an opportunity for a young actor to sink his teeth into.  Let's not forget that the music is big, bold, and Broadway-ish.

Jonah Browcow (Jimmy) is an amazingly talented kid who can belt out tune after tune all the while breezing effortlessly across the stage.  It appears to me to be the role of a lifetime for any young kid.  Following the format and story in the book,  this musical follows a kid who just wants to draw and illustrate and his father (Danny Binstock) who just wants him to play softball and be a "normal" kid.  Throw in a caring peace-maker mother (Nicole Parker) and a devoted sister (Erin Kommor) and you have the recipe for a Saturday afternoon movie special - but the music, heart, and story that fills the stage is so much more.  Honestly the only character that didn't quite make much sense or have a fully sussed out role was Charley (Brett Gray) - he could have gone in so many directions but instead went in none.  Leave it to Mr. Lippa to slip into the role of Uncle Lester - the uncle who writes musical theatre!  I assume this was for artistic purposes and not some desire to return to the stage. He's goofy and cute so it all worked - at least in this role.  

All in all, as I seem to say repeatedly there are a few "stop hitting me over the head with this" moments that could be trimmed to shore up this show and make it tight.  It has a great video projected set background as well as the giant puppet (the Man in the ceiling) we only get glimpses at.  Plenty of heart, and a heap of soul, this show will go somewhere next and be better for all the out of town tests.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Marvin's Room

This revival of Marvin's Room may leave you wondering why people revive plays at all - especially when there have been a very successful movie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and had well received original off-Broadway and regional productions.  It would seem that you either have to do as well as the previous two or take your toys from the sandbox and just go home.  This revival is unfortunately the latter case.

Don't get me wrong - Lili Taylor (Bessie) and Janeane Garofalo (Lee) and Celia Weston (Ruth) form a magnificent trio of family lost and floundering with life at large.  But in their efforts - they are flat.  Completely flat.  Other than a few laughs and a few serious moments - I never even felt these 3 women were family.  Neighbors maybe, but family no.  Bring in young Hank (Jack DiFalco) and Charlie (Luca Padovan) and it seems like they all just met at the day care.  No connections whatsoever.

The set is lackluster at best - not a typical Roundabout production at all.  Like everything about this revival - lackluster and bare.  It seems the trend these days - strip away the costumes, the set, the makeup and glamor and lay bare the script for all.  Well, it hasn't always worked in the past, and employing the gimmick this time hasn't either.

It's a touching play (Scott McPherson) but this incarnation left me feeling empty and un-touched. I wanted the subject to move me but a juggernaut this time around this play is not.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bella: An American Tall Tale

Bella - or Isabella Patterson (Ashley D. Kelley) has a vivid and wild imagination indeed.  When she gets on a train to escape the pursuit of the law and heads west to New Mexico it really kicks into overdrive!  Her whole life, her mother (Kenita R. Miller) , aunt (Marinda Anderson), and grandmother (Natasha Yvette Williams) have known a special power to watch over her - and it is never needed as much as it is needed on this journey!  Bella meets the train conductor, Nathaniel Beckworth, (Brandon Gill) a circus master (Yurel Echezarreta), an Asian cowboy stripper, Tommie Haw, (Paolo Montalban), and many more vivid characters on the journey to meet her true love and betrothed, Aloysius T. Honeycutt (Britton Smith).  Oh the crazy and fun times she has when she falls asleep.  They are like no other.

In Kristen Child's new musical - whatever you see is real... or is it just a dream... what exactly is Bella in trouble for?  What did she do and who wants her back?  Is Aloysius real?  Can she really fly?  One thing is for sure - her booty is big and gives her the powers she needs to overcome just about any adversity.

The music and songs (all Ms. Childs) are delightful - a traditional old Broadway style - toe tappin' and fun.  The dancing is strong despite the tiny stage - which was a delightful stage within a stage due to the nature of the reality vs fantasy aspect of the plot.  Bella has the vocal cords of a giant and a personality to match - I really could picture Jennifer Hudson in the role.  One thing for sure, Ms. Childs infuses the fun and frivolity with serious undertones of race and freedom and gender equality - so that even a lay set in the late 1870's crackles with fresh perspectives.

Playwrights was right to end their season with this gem.  A common theme with plays fresh off the playwright's desk - this one is not different - too long and tries to say too much.  A few scenes cut and a few plot-lines deleted and we have a really fresh smash on our hands in just under 2 hours.  Head over to Playwrights Horizons for a summertime romp!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kennedy's Children

This is a revival of an older play.  I'm not entirely convinced that it screams "revive me" or "this is all happening again", but it is certainly an interesting, politically relevant, and interesting reminder of an entire generation, what motivated them, what didn't motivate them, and how the decade of the 60's was and how it is remembered.

Robert Patrick's play is a reminder that the 60's was filled with a very diverse group of people eeking their way thru the decade.  Hippies, Vietnam soldiers (otherwise known as kids), Normal people, gays and other alternate lifestyle people, and movie star wannabes.  It's amazing how many of these continue to exist in basically the same way - and equally amazing at how some of them died out with the generation at the end of the decade.  It's also a reminder about sex, drugs, and war - who was for it and who was not - how drugs were used at home and over in the war.  The stories could not have been more different than the actual people themselves.  The 60's was not just one thing - it was war, it was upheaval, it was protest and it was the beginning of freedom for many of those who never quite had it before.

I thought the play was a bit repetitive and ran much longer than need be.  Certain themes were visited over and over quite unnecessarily.  At times the acting was brilliant and riveting - at others mostly due to the character, it was overbearing and over-the-top.

Nicole Greevy (Wanda), Emily Battles (Bartender), Colin Chapin (Sparger), Timothy Regan (Mark), Sara Minisquero (Rona) and Jessica Carollo (Carla) all presided with power and grace each in their own way in the dumpy black box theatre with the most uncomfortable seats in the East Village.  Perhaps the seats were a reminder of just how uncomfortable these characters must all have felt and how uncomfortable this entire decade must have been which was lead by the great loss of our own America Camelot when Kennedy was assassinated. These were all his children.