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Articles by Joseph Pisano

About Joseph Pisano (23 Articles)
Joseph Pisano writes about theater and film. His work has appeared in Cineaste, The Atlantic, The Village Voice, Slant Magazine, and several other publications. He has now lived in New York long enough to be called a New Yorker by people who have lived here all of their lives.

Agnes

September 16, 2018

Unfortunately, Worsham’s efforts just confirm the play’s central problem: only the relationship between June and Charlie has any real depth. As for the rest of the characters, although McMullen’s writing is clever, too many of the lines are focused on eliciting laughs rather than explaining why these people are choosing to shelter together. It doesn’t help matters that the play’s lighting by Cheyenne Sykes and sound design by Daniel Melnick are wholly devoted to overdramatizing Charlie’s Asperger’s while failing to offer much-needed periodic reminders of the torrential plot device that keeps everyone from fleeing the cramped apartment. [more]

Comfort Women: A New Musical

July 30, 2018

In telling the rest of this shattering story, the creators of Comfort Women, inexplicably, rely heavily on musical theater conventions that result in wrongheaded, if not downright offensive, choices. The most cringeworthy is the choreographed sequence of a Korean woman being gang raped by Japanese soldiers. At some point, in their effort to visualize this atrocity, director Dimo Hyun Jun Kim and choreographer Natanal Hyun Kim should have realized that they were, in fact, trivializing it. [more]

Brecht on Brecht

July 25, 2018

But when things slow down a bit, especially during the musical interludes and longer dramatic pieces, Petosa’s eight performers -- four lead (Christine Hamel; Jake Murphy; Harrison Bryan; and Carla Martinez) and four supporting (Miguel Castillo; Sebastian LaPointe; Olivia Christie; and Ashley Michelle) -- are an absolute wonder, gracefully tackling a head-spinning array of difficult subjects, including xenophobia, social inequality, and infanticide. And thanks to Hallie Zieselman’s bare set, Annie Ulrich’s modest costumes, and Joe Cabrera’s vibrant lighting, they accomplish it all in a decidedly Brechtian way. [more]

Desperate Measures

June 14, 2018

Shakespearean spoofs are almost as old as Shakespeare himself, dating back to at least the Restoration period. Although the vast majority has faded into history, there are still some real standouts like the classic musical "Kiss Me, Kate," which thanks largely to Cole Porter is arguably even more enjoyable than its source material, a rare feat that the relatively new musical "Desperate Measures," now in its second off-Broadway run, also accomplishes. [more]

Woman and Scarecrow

June 5, 2018

Unfortunately, O'Reilly’s heavy reliance on the production team is also indicative of a significant problem: the play is repetitive. Despite finding new, and often lovely, poetic ways to convey the centrality of death to life, Carr’s thoughts and arguments quickly begin to sound like the same melody over and over again, just in a different key. O’Reilly tries to distract us from this fault by giving the Gottlieb-Rumery-Corcoran trio creative free rein; the deathbed, for example, frequently looks like it’s floating somewhere in the cosmos. But the images invariably keep giving way to the words, which, though beautiful, grow tiresome by the second act. [more]

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

May 14, 2018

There’s a brilliant play buried somewhere in Caryl Churchill’s "Light Shining in Buckinghamshire," a bottom-up historical epic about the English Civil War that the acclaimed British writer developed collaboratively with director Max Stafford-Clark and a group of actors back in 1976. Fifteen years later, it premiered stateside at the New York Theatre Workshop, where it has just returned for a ploddingly drawn-out second go-around that yielded a lot of empty second-act seats on the night I attended. [more]

Replay

May 10, 2018

To be sure, there are examples of talented playwrights who have also been able to tread the boards without tripping over their feet, or tongues. Harold Pinter, Noël Coward, Tracy Letts: they all come quickly to mind. Some theater historians have even argued that Shakespeare might have been a pretty good actor, too. But, still, it’s exceedingly rare to find a playwright like Nicola Wren, who can bring her words to life with as much passion and grace as she set them down. [more]

We Live by the Sea

April 26, 2018

Devised collaboratively by Patch of Blue, a London-based theater company, the play also benefits from a talented supporting cast. Alexandra Simonet makes Hannah’s caretaker fatigue evident before she even says a word, but, somehow, you also never doubt her commitment to Katy. And Lizzie Grace is an absolute delight as Paul Williams, especially during a monologue late in the play, in which she pontificates on the importance of imaginary friends and gives insights into Katy that are both touching and profound. As for Ryan, Tom Coliandris does what he can with his character’s tacked-on back-story, but he shines when he’s simply required to be a warm, caring and decent presence. [more]

This Flat Earth

April 13, 2018

But, unfortunately, Ferrentino squanders this intriguing setup, getting lost in existential musings that end up being nowhere near as complicated as her subject matter. The first signs of trouble are actually percolating even before the play begins. As we enter the theater, Cloris (Lynda Gravátt), Julie and Dan’s elderly neighbor, is already perched in the upstairs apartment of Dane Laffrey’s two-story set. And there she remains for the entire play, a constant presence hovering over the action below. Initially, you wonder about her and, then, you feel sorry for the actor, hoping she’ll be given something more to do than just putter around. Eventually, however, after a couple of pat exchanges with Julie, it all becomes cringingly clear. Cloris isn’t a character at all; she’s an inspirational device, one that Ferrentino unleashes with full, and shameless, force at the play’s tear-jerking conclusion. [more]

Three Small Irish Masterpieces

March 30, 2018

It’s impossible to discuss the history of modern Irish drama without reference to William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, and John Millington Synge, who, at the beginning of the last century, helped to found the National Theatre of Ireland. With "Three Small Irish Masterpieces," this literary trinity receives a heartfelt, if somewhat exaggerated, nod from the Irish Repertory Theatre, which, over the last few decades, has proven its own indispensability, too. [more]

Three Wise Guys

March 12, 2018

Just in time for Easter, TACT/The Actors Company Theatre has adapted and combined  two Christmas-themed Damon Runyon short stories into the seasonally inappropriate, but nonetheless very charming, "Three Wise Guys." Gleefully peppered with Runyon’s distinctive demi-monde argot, or Runyonese, the comedic play depicts a Prohibition-era New York of principled crooks and hustlers who, in true Runyon style, end up having hearts much bigger than their ill-gotten bankrolls, which, of course, doesn’t mean they’re ready to commit to their matrimonially frustrated gal pals. Like another Runyon adaptation about some guys and dolls, the sparsely musical "Three Wise Guys" fancifully speaks to the, perhaps not so unreasonable, belief that those on the make are much more trustworthy than the ones who’ve already made it. [more]

Terminus

February 27, 2018

In the semi-autobiographical "Terminus," part of a seven-play cycle set in the fictional town of Attapulgus, Georgia, playwright Gabriel Jason Dean unleashes this intriguing Southern Gothic setup which touches off a deeply felt personal story about racism in a place that is obviously more real to Dean than imagined. Unfortunately, as it goes along, Dean’s initially captivating ghost story exponentially loses steam, finally grinding to a halt well before Eller’s big, shameful secret is revealed at the play’s not-so-stunning conclusion. [more]

The Pill

January 29, 2018

This comedy/drama/fitful musical also suffers from major tonal challenges, as it strains to push all of our emotional buttons. It’s a shame, because the cast gives it their all. Particularly good is Zoe Wilson, as Leni, a severely depressed teenager whose body dysmorphia has led to self-cutting and bouts of suicidal ideation. Wilson is just the right mix of pained and angry. Whenever she speaks, or sings, The Pill feels centered and we’re ready to delve deeper into Leni’s personal struggles. [more]

A Kind Shot

January 24, 2018

And that’s essentially the problem with "A Kind Shot." Clocking in at 75 minutes, the “performance” feels more like a motivational speech than a theatrical event. It’s well-meaning and well-told, but other than the charismatic Mateer, there isn’t much else to it. The set, a masking tape outline of a shrunken basketball key, accomplishes so little visually that it begs the question, “Why bother at all?” Mateer completes the obvious motif with a flower-emblazoned basketball, which she dribbles around a bit and bangs off the wall as if she’s making shots. I’m all for audience imagination, but, come on, just hang up a basketball hoop. [more]

America’s Favorite Newscaster

January 15, 2018

Another irony is that while Fury is kind of a bore, another character is not. Yeah, you guessed it. Him. When the president (David O. Friedman) appears in Fury’s bedroom like the Ghost of Christmas Present, Attea’s writing finally comes to life. His take on you-know-who isn’t unique, but the situation is wonderfully silly, and Friedman’s impression is a funny profile in petulance. [more]

Cross That River: A Tale of the Black West

December 7, 2017

Serving as both narrator and protagonist, Harris portrays Blue, a runaway slave who crossed the Sabine River from Louisiana to Texas in search of his elusive freedom. To tell us everything that came before and after this momentous event, Harris is joined by three other impressive vocalists/performers in a concert-style presentation that has all the charm and verve of an old radio play. [more]

AlieNation: The Journey I Never Made & A Story of Love and Soccer

November 15, 2017

Adhering admirably to its cultural mission, Kairos Italy Theater is treating downtown audiences to a double-bill of smartly written Italian one-acts, each exploring the contentious topic of immigration in their own unique and achingly human ways. Minimally staged, but with talented actors, the beauty of the plays is largely in the playwrights’ words, which seemingly have lost nothing in translation. Though if either play is appreciably better in Italian, some language lessons and a long trip is in order. [more]

Billy and the Killers

November 12, 2017

In their new rock musical "Billy and the Killers," lyricist/librettist Jim Shankman and composer Peter Stopschinski channel Nicholas Ray, David Lynch, Elvis Presley, and Dashiell Hammett to concoct a muddled tale of teenage rebellion that dead-ends in an even less coherent murder trial. Along the way, there are some well-performed songs whose lyrics seem to be tied to the plot, but it’s often hard to tell, since, as you probably already know, proper enunciation is not what rock ‘n’ roll is all about, man. [more]

What We’re Up Against

November 9, 2017

With "What We’re Up Against," Theresa Rebeck looks back a quarter century to a time when gender inequality in the workplace was a real problem. Oh, wait…yep, unfortunately, if Rebeck’s script didn’t tell us the year was 1992, it would be pretty easy to believe she was writing about the present, especially given the recent avalanche of news concerning sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry. The story Rebeck tells never sinks to this horrific level, though it’s possible to imagine that it could have, if she had wanted to follow the male anger she portrays to a place it often leads. [more]

Arden/Everywhere

October 16, 2017

Signaling that we’re in for something different, Bauman has redubbed the play "Arden/Everywhere," a hint that home, and the emotional impact of losing it, is at the heart of her reimagining. Largely through design choices, but also some modest changes to the text, Bauman connects the diasporic struggles of the play’s characters to those experienced by the 65 million refugees the United Nations has identified throughout the world today, effectively arguing that, in both cases, the pain is there for anyone to see. [more]

Mesquite, NV

October 8, 2017

Most of the humor is at the expense of the Mesquite City Council and its steely-eyed mayor Linda Hadley (Liz Amberly) who could be accurately described as a Margaret Thatcher wannabe, if she had any idea who Margaret Thatcher was. With rapacious resolve, she has set her sights on doing something no other mayor has ever done in the entire history of Mesquite: win a second term. She is assisted in this quest by her right-hand toady (Jeff Paul), the financial backing of a shady resort magnate (Jed Dickson), and an underwhelming pool of potential challengers, led by Will Brown (the wonderful Joe Burby) whose hapless sincerity is seemingly no match for the mayor’s small-town realpolitik. [more]

Up the Rabbit Hole

September 27, 2017

Besides harboring a dwindling dream to become a dancer, thanks to a leg injury, Halliday’s dramatic stand-in, Jack (Tyler Jones), an adoptee, also has to contend with the overwhelming repercussions of having tracked down his biological family, which includes an adult half-brother (Andrew Glaszek) with his own substance-abuse demons. That’s a lot for 90 minutes, and Halliday, despite a valiant effort, can’t keep his play from sinking under the weight of it all. [more]