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Articles by David Kaufman

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (54 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

Hangmen

February 18, 2018

The sense of good, old-fashioned suspense is heightened by director Matthew Dunster, who also helps delineate the spot-on performances by the four remaining cast members--and regulars at Harry’s pub, with distinctive personalities--Billy Carter, Richard Hollis, John Horton, and David Lansbury. And then there’s the ongoing rain and lightning--with marvelous effects by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, for sound, and Joshua Carr, for lighting. Together, they add significantly to the scare factor of the evening. [more]

Fire and Air

February 4, 2018

Though the production has been designed by its director, John Doyle, there is no scenery to speak of, except for a gold framed mirror on the rear wall, another framed mirror angled and dangling above it, and five gold chairs. It all suggests the opulence for which Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes were known. Opulent, too, are the costumes designed by Ann Hould-Ward with everyone clad in black except for Nijinsky who is in colorful and playful ballet costumes. [more]

Draw the Circle

February 3, 2018

... in Deen’s mad dash to portray Shireern’s elderly Indian father and mother--who live in Connectictut--her girlfriend, Molly, and so many other figures, including even a housecleaner at a Motel 8, where Shireen attempted suicide--he seems to have a different voice and demeanor for every one of them. He even--on his knees and with a little girl’s voice--plays Shireen’s five-year-old niece, Rabia. [more]

The Thing with Feathers

January 28, 2018

Though there’s a major surprise lurking at the top of the second act, and though it’s about how sins of the past can impinge on the present, Scott Organ’s "The Thing with Feathers" is ultimately a play without many virtues. Early references to Emily Dickinson and poetry--the title apparently comes from a bastardization of a Dickinson poem--fail to lift the work out of the made-for-TV movie-of-the-week sensibility that keeps bringing it down. [more]

John Lithgow: Stories by Heart

January 15, 2018

But in John Lithgow: Stories by Heart, Lithgow tells an even more compelling tale about growing up with his father Arthur Lithgow, an actor who taught Shakespeare even as he opened and ran Shakespeare festivals throughout the Midwest. Lithgow’s peripatetic experience with this show is not unlike, in other words, his father’s experiences when his son John was growing up. Though it’s truly sui generis, "Stories by Heart" is reminiscent of Lynn Redgrave’s tribute to her father, Sir Michael. [more]

Meteor Shower

December 27, 2017

Steve Martin’s old/new wonderful comedy, "Meteor Shower," is about two California couples getting together for the first time--again, and again, and again. Like "Groundhog Day," it keeps starting all over again, with ensuing variations. And in the course of its brief, 80-minute, intermission-less duration, the couples have exchanged more than just words and ideas. By the end, they seem to have exchanged their personalities as well. The passive Corky has become more aggressive, and the overly assertive Laura has become less sure of herself. Similar reversals could be said about their respective husbands, Norm and Gerald. As Norm even says of Gerald, he’s “kind of two people.” [more]

It’s a Wonderful Life: The 1946 Live Radio Play

December 15, 2017

As adapted for the stage by Anthony E. Palermo, it’s roughly half the length of the film. But it still tells the same story about George Bailey, who on Christmas Eve in 1946 intends to take his life, only to be saved by an angel named Clarence. While saying there’s “a Tom Sawyer quality to you, George,” Clarence still turns George around by showing him what “a different world” it is without him, as if he had never been born. And it seems to be amazingly complete--even while the focus of the presentation is on the live radio version, including a banner that says, W.I.R.T. (duh, for Irish Repertory Theatre) and several different “words from our sponsors,” such as “Lucky Strike” (“clears your lungs”) and “Carter’s Liver Pills.” [more]

Harry Clarke

November 29, 2017

Philip’s shaggy-dog yarn keeps exposing him as what used to be known as a pathological liar. And with little more than a wooden deck chair, a small table, a wooden slated floor and a sky-blue background (the set is by Alexander Dodge, the lighting by Alan C. Edwards), Crudup’s tour-de-force performance is a potent reminder that all you need for good theater is the actor’s voice--as well as a good script, of course. It’s also testimony to his having been well directed by Leigh Silverman, who seems to have gotten the best out of Crudup with his multiple voices and varied expressions. [more]

Junk

November 22, 2017

The protagonist of "Junk" is one Robert Merkin (Steven Pasquale), whose name alone is reminiscent of the real-life person he represents, Michael Robert Milken, the “Junk Bond King” of the mid 1980’s, who went to jail in 1990, and whose practices led to the world market crash a decade or so ago. “This is a story of kings, or what passes for kings these days,” says Forbes reporter Judy Chen (Teresa Avia Lim), in the play’s opening lines. “….enthroned in sky-high castles and embroiled in battles over, what else? Money.” [more]

Conquest of the Universe Or When Queens Collide

November 13, 2017

Played to perfection with an infectious joy by one and all, the entire cast also takes a deadly serious attitude towards their lines and their actions. Indeed Ludlam’s "Conquest" invokes "Hamlet" in its final scene, when many of the characters die--even following a previous “gravedigger” scene. And as staged by Quinton, the final “banquet” scene also invokes Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” All I can say is, go and enjoy! [more]

People, Places & Things

November 8, 2017

The hype that surrounds an award-winning performance on one side of the Atlantic can often preclude its impact if and when it arrives on the other side. This is not the case, I’m happy to report, with the overwhelmingly powerful performance of Denise Gough who deservedly won the Olivier Award as Emma in "People, Places & Things," a new play by Duncan MacMillan, which premiered in London in 2015, and is now enjoying its American premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. [more]

The Last Match

October 31, 2017

With so many interruptions, it hardly makes for riveting theater, and it never becomes as riveting as a genuine tennis match can be, even though one is ostensibly taking place from the beginning of the play to the end, which essentially presents a chronological series of sets between the two players, the Russian Sergei (Alex Mickiewicz) and the American Tim (Wilson Bethel). [more]

Torch Song

October 28, 2017

While superficially poignant, "Torch Song" remains what it always was: a fierce play about the need for respect as a gay person, when it was painfully more difficult to come by acceptance, let alone respect. And to that extent, it may seem like a dated work, wedded to when it premiered as three one-act plays that were then put together as one, more than three decades ago. It’s still just as moving and tear-provoking as it comes to focus on a gay man whose mother (“the Sylvia Sydney of Brighton Beach”) has to cope with his adopting a young son. With the marvelous Urie and the always-superb Mercedes Ruehl as the mother, how could anything go wrong? Nothing does. [more]

Time and the Conways

October 23, 2017

Elizabeth McGovern, Charlotte Parry and Anna Baryshnikov in a scene from J.B.Priestley’s [more]

Squeamish

October 17, 2017

hough it’s a one-woman show, Alison Fraser plays a number of characters by speaking in different voices with a certain technical prowess. The principal one is an upper West Side psychotherapist, Sharon, who is ostensibly talking to her own therapist (a “shrink’s shrink,” we’re told) at his apartment late one night. She’s relating the story of her going to her hometown of Lubbock, Texas, for her beloved nephew’s funeral, after he’s committed suicide. But has Eddie really killed himself, like Sharon’s mother did decades ago when Eddie was only three? For that matter, did Sharon’s mother really commit suicide, we’re made to wonder by the end? [more]

{my lingerie play} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! THE FINAL INSTALLATION

October 15, 2017

As the show progresses with intermittent songs, the other musicians/singers (Ryan McCurdy, Matt Park, and Rocky Vega) also strip down to their underwear/lingerie. The sounds they all make are, at times, infectious. And Oh is a natural-born performer, who instantly has us in her thrall. Though the show has been co-directed by Orion Stephanie Johnstone and Oh, it’s hard to imagine anyone reining in its star. And if the “first installation” of Oh’s latest show occurred when she stood on a soap-box in Times Square pontificating in 2014, it’s hard to say how it’s progressed since then. Unless you were there, you just wouldn’t know. [more]

Kafka and Son

October 9, 2017

With only a metal-mesh cage, bed-frame, and a gate--and gobs of black feathers that ultimately litter the stage--Nashman cavorts around the black box set (scenic design is by Marysia Bucholc and Camellia Koo) with abandon. If the challenge of every one-man show is to sustain our attention, Nashman succeeds spectacularly. He has some significant help with evocative lighting by Andrea Lundy, eerie music by Osvald Golijov (performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet), and Cassidy’s direction, which always keeps him in motion. [more]

Mary Jane

October 4, 2017

The ambiguities in Mary Jane’s character seem to stem more from the writing than the acting: though her behavior remains dubious or questionable, Mary Jane comes to real life as enacted by Carrie Coon, who was such a memorable Honey in the recent Broadway revival of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" She’s a solid Mary Jane as well, but then, the character and her motives prove harder to pin down. The stalwart New York actress Brenda Wehle is a perfectly believable and no-nonsense Ruthie. The always reliable Liza Colón-Zayas is Alex’s caregiver Sherry, and Danaya Esperanza and Susan Pourfar are persuasive as, respectively Sherry’s niece and another mother with similar challenges. [more]

A Clockwork Orange

September 27, 2017

The only color in the predominantly black-and-white show is orange, which appears as a pair of high heels, a hat and a cape, an apron, books, and various other odd items. There’s also a large bowl of oranges, hanging high up on the black, back wall of the set. (Though Jennifer A. Jacob is credited as “Costume Coordinator” in the program, no one is listed for scenery.) Though it may not add up to much of a story or make much sense, the highly stylized presentation of "A Clockwork Orange" makes it well worth-while as an evening out at the theater. [more]

Small World

September 23, 2017

Both as written by Stroppel and portrayed by Stephen D’Ambrose (Stravinsky) and Mark Shanahan (Disney), it also becomes clear that they are equally imperious--at first. Though they’re both monomaniacs, its Disney who proves more like a Trumpian narcissist. While Stravinsky says early on, “Everything I say is entirely true,” Disney, a bit later, claims, “I’m never wrong.” The fireworks begin as soon as they start to interact when Disney describes how the music evokes for him the birth of the universe and “earth--in its infancy,” not to mention dinosaurs, which remain the most memorable part of the "Fantasia" segment or sequence [more]

The Violin

September 20, 2017

In fact, Harry Feiner’s marvelous, you-are-there set design for "The Violin" made me think of 'American Buffalo" (set in a shabby pawn shop) before the first words of the play were even uttered or its three cast-members (Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury and Kevin Isola) even appeared on the stage. But whether or not playwright McCormick had that early Mamet work in mind, the main idea behind "The Violin" was probably inspired by a real event, when celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma left his prized cello in the trunk of a New York taxi some years ago, and paid a handsome reward for its return. [more]

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias

September 16, 2017

The awkwardly titled "The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias" has problems beyond its nomenclature. What, if anything, is it ultimately about? Though it claims to be a “satirical” look at the subject of rape, any satire is lost in the mixed results of the presentation. If anything, the play seems too subtle and nuanced for its own good. [more]

The Stratford and Shaw Festivals 2017

September 15, 2017

Apart from two years ago, when personal developments required me to cancel my scheduled trip at the last minute, the present summer marked my 18th consecutive year at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake and my 12th at the Stratford Festival--both in Canada. (Stratford is about a 90-minute drive from the Toronto airport, and Niagara-on-the-Lake is an hour or so from Buffalo.) What any theatergoer who’s never been to either Festival doesn’t know is that each is the best-kept theatergoing secret in North America. That’s because they are true repertory theaters, and there’s nothing to compare with seeing the same actor in one play in the afternoon and then in a very different production in the evening. And for the most part, every actor in each company is doing just that: there are matinees and evening performances every day of the week, except for Monday, when both Festivals are dark. (Each Festival also has four different theaters.) [more]

Come Light My Cigarette

August 20, 2017

But Cohen the composer is another matter entirely--his jazz-inflected songs make "Come Light My Cigarette" a gem of a chamber musical. As more and more of the songs are revealed, time and again one is reminded of "Trouble in Tahiti." And like that classic Leonard Bernstein opera, "Come Light My Cigarette" appears to be set in the 1950’s, which the music evokes. So do the busy but impressive set and costumes, both designed by Craig Napoliello. [more]

A Real Boy

August 9, 2017

Stephen Kaplan’s "A Real Boy" is about a pair of puppets, named Peter and Mary Ann Myers, who adopt the eponymous child named Max, and it proves about as preposterous as such a premise suggests. It isn’t helped by director Audrey Alford’s often awkward staging, or by a muddled and confusing conclusion. [more]

Curvy Widow

August 6, 2017

While the dialogue offers some stabs at humor and Opel--a first-rate comedienne of the old school--usually excels at comic timing, much of it falls flat here. Most of the 90-minute, intermission-less piece focuses, naturally enough, on Bobby’s attempts to create a new life for herself, ultimately meaning a new relationship. It’s during her second visit with the shrink that he says, “I’m making getting laid a medical directive”-- to which Bobby replies, “Can you do that?” effectively ending the scene. [more]

Marvin’s Room

July 18, 2017

If you saw the original New York production of "Marvin’s Room," you may find yourself feeling that the play was more effective when it was presented in the far more intimate environment of Playwrights Horizons. The otherwise fine cast--which also includes Luca Padovan as Charlie and Carmen Lacivita and Nedra McClyde in various roles-- simply gets lost in the expansive space of the American Airlines Theatre. [more]

Martin Denton, Martin Denton

July 12, 2017

In the spirit of being a critic, the play is always describing and commenting on itself, in other words, even as it unfolds--a kind of meta-theater experience that may not be to everyone’s liking; but it surely replicates much of the Off and Off-Off Broadway theater and performance art to which Denton devoted so much of his energies. It’s also prone to overly precious lines, such as, “So I look in a thing called the newspaper,” underscoring the degree to which Denton grew to rely on his computer skills. “I’m good with software and hardware,” he tells us. [more]

The Artificial Jungle

June 11, 2017

Ludlam also starred in "Artificial Jungle," his last of 29 plays, which he also directed. It took its inspiration from Emile Zola’s "Therese Raquin," which had already inspired James M. Cain to write "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity," each of which became a hit film. Ludlam also set out, with Jungle, to write a crowd-pleaser, and he succeeded with critics and theatergoers alike. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “From Camelot to California: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe”

June 7, 2017

The show’s writer and host, Rob Berman, introduced many of the songs and, essentially, gave us the story of Lerner and Loewe’s difficult, on-again, off-again partnership. Referring to them, at one point, as an “odd couple,” Berman explained that the composer Frederick (or “Fritz”) Loewe was an “old world” European, and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner a “New York sophisticate,” who was educated in England. Berman also claimed that the common denominator for all of their musicals was a kind of “idealism,” making the pair “dreamers.” [more]

Can You Forgive Her?

June 3, 2017

While most of the audience remained stony-faced, my companion and I were laughing hysterically throughout much of "Can You Forgive Her?", a black comedy if ever there was one, by Gina Gionfriddo at the Vineyard Theatre. It may be that many in the audience failed to recognize it was a comedy, and took it far too seriously, which is somewhat understandable, given the seemingly earnest yet cockamamie story--or rather stories--that unfold. [more]

Rotterdam

May 27, 2017

An import from the United Kingdom, as part of the 2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, Jon Brittain’s "Rotterdam" is not based on a true story relating to events in the eponymous Dutch city. It rather focuses on a British lesbian couple, one of whom decides at the beginning of the play that she’s really a man and really wants to become transgender. The crux of the drama is between Alice and her lover Fiona, who, in the course of the play, becomes Adrian. But why the two of them moved to Rotterdam seven years ago, is never really answered in the play--rather posed as a recurring question--along with the question of whether or not they’re going to remain there. [more]

Derren Brown: Secret

May 24, 2017

It quickly becomes apparent that Brown is a master at reading body language--no less than facial and vocal expressions--to manipulate the many audience-members who participate and to read their inner thoughts. Brown’s patter is also built on an almost glib sort of false modesty, such as his saying, near the end, “This only works because we are story-focusing creatures.” Any given interaction doesn’t “work” because we’re focusing on the “story,” but because he knows just exactly how to get us all to see only what he wants us to. [more]
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