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Articles by David Kaufman

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (39 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.

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]

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]

Spamilton

May 18, 2017

Chris Anthony Giles, Nicholas Edwards, Dan Rosales, Juwan Crawley and Nora Schell (original cast) [more]

The View UpStairs

May 15, 2017

On the fourth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in 1973, an arsonist set fire to a gay bar in New Orleans, killing 32 people. This tragic yet forgotten episode in gay history is not only part of a Harvey Fierstein monologue in "Gently Down the Stream"—currently playing at the Public Theater--but also the subject of "The View UpStairs," a new Off Broadway musical that has a lot of spark, but ultimately not enough fire. [more]

Fossils

May 9, 2017

Though the printed script, such as it is, is credited to Nel Crouch, Crouch is listed in the program as only the director, and "Fossils" is rather “By” Bucket Club, described as an “associate company.” Such confusion is perpetrated throughout the production: it’s hard to say if, in the end of this extremely low-tech presentation, Vanessa has actually encountered the Monster--and/or her father--or not. "Fossils" is apparently more about what doesn’t happen than what does. [more]

Oslo

May 4, 2017

The clarity of this new play by J.T. Rogers does not only rely on the smart yet surefire way it’s written, but also on the masterful staging by Bartlett Sher, who, after recent productions of both "South Pacific" and "The King and I," is no stranger to directing gargantuan shows at Lincoln Center. Given its subject--the Oslo Accord or peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) in 1993--Oslo is ultimately, an enormous play. But it is told in intimate terms. [more]

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

May 1, 2017

But the Broadway version of Charlie doesn’t really come alive until we’re introduced to Augustus Gloop (F. Michael Hayne), the fat little German boy who finds the first of the five gold tickets, and whose mother (Kathy Fitzgerald) sings along with him--as wurst links burst forth from his pockets, and the almost always, lively choreography by Joshua Bergasse, suddenly features clogging steps, with dirndls and lederhosen. [more]

The Antipodes

April 28, 2017

Every new play by Annie Baker is a marvel over the play before. It’s been nothing less than a privilege to accompany her on her journey, as she has been joining ranks with the best American playwrights. Part of what makes Baker the “best,” is that she has her own voice. Whether with "Circle-Mirror Transformation," the marvelous "The Flick," or her latest and current, "The Antipodes," Baker seems to devote a certain amount of attention to group dynamics, which is, after all, the basis of any drama. And how can I have left out reference to John, Baker’s play from last year, which was her first as part of her enrollment with the Signature Theater, and arguably the best of all? [more]

Rebel in the Soul

April 23, 2017

If this all sounds a bit over-intellectual, well, so is the play. Though the intelligent script may be based on real people, they are forever describing themselves--and each other--in ways that real people never do. Think about practically any play by George Bernard Shaw, and you begin to get the picture. (Archbishop McQuaid even says, “I do find political theory most compelling.”) And although Moore, as director, has done much to compensate for the tiny stage space on which the expansive story unfolds--particularly with helpful projections by Chris Kateff and a cramped but effective set by John McDermott--she isn’t abetted very much by her actors. [more]

Daniel’s Husband

April 20, 2017

Matthew Montelongo is particularly effective in conveying Mitchell’s anti-marriage convictions, only to make us feel Mitchell’s subsequent anguish. Anna Holbrook is also outstanding as the self-centered Lydia, smartly dressed in Jennifer Caprio’s always dead-on costumes. But it would be an oversight not to also applaud Ryan Spahn as Daniel, Lou Liberatore as Barry, and Leland Wheeler as Trip. If Montelongo and Holbrook somehow emerge as acting victors, it may be because they have, in some respects, the two richest roles. (Mitchell and Lydia duke out their ultimate conflict offstage, in a court of a law.) In an odd way, "Daniel’s Husband" is ultimately the age-old story about THE mother-in-law, which may have given rise to many a comedian’s jokes, but, can often have lethal consequences for any married couple--whether they’ve literally tied the knot or not. [more]

Angel & Echoes

April 18, 2017

Presented together on the same bill, "Angel & Echoes" is part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters (where, it’s worth noting, "Echoes" originally played last year). As written by Naylor, enacted with ferocity and vitality by Avital Lvova, and directed with dispatch by Michael Cabot, "Angel" proves the far more effective (second) half of the evening. That may be because it’s told with an in-your-face immediacy and gumption that elude Echoes, which juxtaposes the lives of two different women, who lived in that region of the world at very different times. [more]

Latin History for Morons

April 16, 2017

While setting out to “undo” our “whole, entire education” of Latin history--and to compensate for the textbook neglect of the impact of the Aztecs and the Incas on our culture and civilization--Leguizamo focuses on his son’s coming to terms with being the son of a Latino celebrity--namely, himself. Given that his wife is Jewish, and therefore, “very intolerant of intolerance,” Leguizamo never imagined that his “son was going to have to go through the same rite of passage that I did,” he says, at the beginning of this, his latest one-man show, which is filling the seats at The Public Theater. [more]

A Gambler’s Guide to Dying

April 14, 2017

“To some he was dad, to some he was mate,” says McNair, at the top of his monologue, “to others he was liar, cheat, addict, hero, story teller.” Over the course of the next 70 minutes, McNair will also do, with modest effects and a modicum of success, other voices including his much younger self, a schoolteacher, mates of Archie’s, and even his own mother. Through it all, the one thing we never lose sight or sound of is his love for his grandfather. [more]

The Play That Goes Wrong

April 12, 2017

While the non-stop buffoonery is reminiscent of Charles Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company, this British import (produced by London’s Mischief Theater, no less) immediately evokes inevitable comparisons with "Noises Off," Michael Frayn’s divine and (admittedly, more) sophisticated farce about a community theater company putting on a play--perhaps the most hilarious, theatrical farce that has ever been devised by a playwright. But the present offering also has less of an agenda, settling for the sheer mayhem of putting together a group of people on a stage, during an ongoing performance, when absolutely everything that can possibly go wrong, does. It’s a surefire setup for the comic and rewarding chaos that ensues. In the end, and basically throughout, "The Play that Goes Wrong" has gone very right, indeed. [more]

Sweat

April 3, 2017

"Sweat" is a classic, “well-made”--or carefully constructed--play, with a focus on the dwindling work for people in the middle of the country, prompting them to install Trump in the White House--to the ongoing dismay of the rest of the world. It couldn’t be more topical even as it helps us understand just exactly what’s been happening to bring us all to this sorry state. It was also based on Nottage’s extensive interviews with many actual residents of Reading, fueling the drama’s impact. [more]

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage

March 30, 2017

Marisa Tomei excels as George, the narrator of "How to Transcend…" --and of her own story. Thanks to Tomei’s vocal and visual expressions, we constantly share in George’s ongoing surprise, as she graduates from naivety to knowledge. In the end, it is George who has the most “transcendent,” and religious, experience. (It is not insignificant that we’re told George is the only Catholic in the group.)“It seems like you have omniscience,” says George, in her closing monologue, “when you can talk to the audience in a play.” And talk to us, she does, in the playwright’s smart, yet snappy language. Consider George also telling us that Jenna, “over time forgave us,” after walking in on her parent’s participating in a sex orgy. And “the trauma of seeing her parents’ aberrant sex lives up close--it became an anecdote in a college application.” Or consider David’s saying: “I’m from everywhere. And nowhere. I moved constantly as a child…. as a result, I don’t really believe in nationality.” [more]

The Price

March 27, 2017

Maybe “fireworks” is too strong a word for a production that is more of a slow burn. The play begins when Mark Ruffalo, as Victor, walks up, into the top floor of the home his family was consigned to, when the Great Depression of 1929 hit and their father lost his fortune. The essence of the conflict between Victor (a policeman) and Walter (a doctor) boils down to economic inequality. (As Walter says to Victor, “It’s very complicated between us.”) Though they both grew up with a chauffeur, the older Walter went on to a successful career while Victor stayed behind to care for their father when everything was lost during the Depression. [more]
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