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Articles by Mark Dundas Wood

Mark Dundas Wood
About Mark Dundas Wood (28 Articles)
Mark Dundas Wood contributes to the Bistro Awards website and The Clyde Fitch Report in addition to Theaterscene.net. Previously he wrote for American Theatre and Backstage. Credits as dramaturg include New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. His stage adaptation of Henry James’ "The Tragic Muse" appeared at the Metropolitan Playhouse. He received an MFA in theater (dramaturgy) from Columbia University.
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Feral

May 23, 2019

All of this is brought to life via digital camera, which captures the movement of the figures on a quickly assembled “set” that is, in effect, a whole miniature seaside town, with businesses and homes through which the various human, animal and automotive figures navigate. At one very “meta” point, we even see a Punch and Judy show at a town festival: puppets putting on a puppet show! [more]

Hans Christian Andersen: Tales Real & Imagined

May 7, 2019

Eve Wolf’s new play for the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, titled "Hans Christian Andersen: Tales Real & Imagined," suggests that the real-life Andersen might actually have appreciated whitewashed depictions of his life, maybe even the Kaye movie. The Andersen that Wolf gives us is an unattractive and unhappy misfit. We hear, though, more than once, his mantra of self-assuring optimism—which, it seems, fooled no one, including the storyteller himself: [more]

Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone

May 4, 2019

Claire Kiechel’s "Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone" (directed by Steve Cosson) gives audiences a glimpse of the last stand of the author’s great grand-uncle, a dancer-actor-painter-sculptor who was once proclaimed “The Most Beautiful Man in the World.” Tony Torn gives a brave and memorable turn as Swan (1883-1972) in an immersive-ish production at Torn Page, a studio, salon and classroom in what was once the Manhattan home of Torn’s celebrated actor parents, Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. [more]

Killing Time

April 26, 2019

This British production is a family effort, as Forsyth and Mills are mother and daughter in real life. The play is worth seeing primarily for the sharp and uncompromising performance of Forsyth, whose blunt-talking, often-witty Hester is a joy to watch, even in her darkest moments. The production also uses Forsyth’s skills as a cellist—and as a composer—to great effect. [more]

Miracle in Rwanda

April 11, 2019

The one-woman show "Miracle in Rwanda"—starring Malaika Uwamahoro and directed by George Drance—relates the true-life experiences of Immaculée Ilibagiza. As a young woman, she survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda by hiding for more than three months in a 3x4 foot bathroom along with five—and, eventually, seven—other human beings: all women and girls. The play uses the tag line “An Inspirational True Story of Hope and Forgiveness,” but how much inspiration can be gleaned from such a horrific story? [more]

Bathsheba’s Psalms, Or a Woman of Unusual Beauty Taking a Bath

April 8, 2019

Ranger spins the story for a 2019 audience mindful of and vigilant about sex and gender issues—especially those involving consent, privilege and toxic masculinity. The play transpires in a sort of limbo-like dimension that is part Iron Age and part near-future. It’s a world in which the old gender rules are fully in play. Powerful men can take and then discard women as they please, and if a woman goes to a pharmacy to pick up a morning-after pill, she’ll get turned down with sneering derision: “We’re a Christian nation now. No more murdered babies on our hands.” [more]

What the Constitution Means to Me

April 5, 2019

The premise of the show (directed by Oliver Butler) is that the 2019 Schreck has decided to recreate one of the many presentations she participated in at American Legion halls around the country, back when she was a 15-year-old high-schooler from Wenatchee, Washington. These presentations were apparently oration/debate hybrids. They were vigorous exercises—and lucrative ones. Schreck was able to pay fully for her college education with prize money from these competitions, which centered on the content and implications of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments. Back in the day, young Heidi was a pro-Constitution “zealot.” [more]

Shareholder Value

March 31, 2019

Attea’s point concerns business models that are overly focused on the needs of shareholders, rather than on those of management and employees. But the play is curiously bloodless. Strong plays about the ferocity of capitalism—from Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" to David Mamet’s "Glengarry Glen Ross"—take interest in the human equation. They focus on the personal anguish that the system can induce. Attea doesn’t delve that deeply here. [more]

The Fat Lady Sings

March 26, 2019

Jean-Claude van Itallie, one of the key figures in New York’s Off-Off Broadway theater in the 1960’s, takes on Trumpian politics in his new play, "The Fat Lady Sings" (directed by David Schweizer). Clearly, van Itallie still feels at home at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, where he developed some of his most influential early work, including parts of his landmark anti-war trilogy, "America Hurrah." The fire in this playwright’s belly can still radiate heat in the East Village more than a half century after the premiere of his most famous title. [more]

Strangers in the World

March 19, 2019

You may leave "Strangers" with mixed reactions. The proceedings onstage may make you feel as disoriented and tetchy as the villagers themselves. The characters’ words as they vainly try to maintain some of their former sanity and decorum seem at times to be pure nonsense. But if you’re diligently sleuth-like—or lucky enough to read and study Sharp’s playscript—you’ll piece together some fairly coherent and rich back stories. [more]

Death of a Driver

March 5, 2019

The play is carefully plotted, and the tragic action that Snider builds runs its course in a logical, plausible fashion. But something about "Death of a Driver" never quite catches fire. The story has gravity but lacks the sense of pity and terror that tragedy is famously supposed to invoke. Maybe it’s partly due to the fact that the play is so brief, and that its short scenes sometimes take place years apart, creating a kind of herky-jerky quality. Maybe it’s because the world of the play is relatively narrow—with the lack of supporting characters preventing us from getting a full sense of the Kenyan culture and political landscape. [more]

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish

February 23, 2019

The property is now more than a half-century old. But this production makes it seem as though the 1964 iteration were merely an English-language version of a classic from even longer ago. There’s a greater feeling of immediacy than perhaps ever before. Hearing the characters speak and sing in the tongue that their real-life 1905 contemporaries would have used is deeply moving. What a shame that so many speakers of Yiddish from decades past never got the chance to experience the musical in this guise. [more]

Billie, Malcolm & Yusef

February 20, 2019

Thompson does good work as Billie—she looks like her and sounds like her when singing. Too bad, though, that her songs are all ballads. It would have been nice to hear her sing something more upbeat from the Holiday catalog, perhaps toward the end of the show. Ryan gives us a Malcolm who looks like a scholar and sounds like a practiced orator. And Barnes creates a Yusuf whose early death has made him an eternal adolescent: frozen forever, somewhere between youth and manhood. Perhaps, though, with Emmy’s help, Yusuf can somehow grow out of this awkward stage—dead though he may be. [more]

Thelonious!

February 18, 2019

Welch and the play’s director, Jonathan Weber, seem to be going for a sort of Ionesco-esque ambience here. The story unfolds in a broadly played, cartoonish way. Occasionally, a satirical jab at ivory-tower academics will land, thanks to Welch’s depiction of the shallow and creepy professor, who—as played by the bearded Slone—looks like he just stepped out of a daguerrotype. But, generally speaking, this comedy is rambling, unwieldy and not especially funny. (Few audience laughs were audible during the performance under review.) In the last stretches of the play, a meta element is introduced, with the characters talking about having entered “the epilogue” stage of the story. Once we’ve stumbled into this self-referential territory, it becomes even harder to engage in any real way with the play. [more]

Exposed

February 11, 2019

The play is a thoughtful and illuminating look at the attractions and perils of a career in adult entertainment. Lauren’s story is a cautionary tale, yes, but the underlying attitude of the play is “sex positive.” Heckler and her associates do not shame Lauren/Scarlett for choosing to be open and unashamed about her sexuality. Yes, they show that a life in porn can be a dicey and occasionally harrowing proposition, brimming with a high quotient of misogynistic and generally creepy behavior. However, the focus is more on Lauren’s naivete about just how closed minded and judgmental the people around her will be about her decision—even when they are themselves avid porn consumers. [more]

The American Tradition

January 31, 2019

There are many dimensions to Ray Yamanouchi’s "The American Tradition," directed by Axel Avin, Jr. for the New Light Theater Project. On one level, it’s an adventure story about a daring attempt to escape from American slavery. Eleanor (Sydney Cole Alexander) and Bill (Martin K. Lewis) are an enslaved married couple in the antebellum South. When they learn that he is about to be sold and separated from her, they seek a way to escape to the North. Eleanor proposes a wild scheme: A relatively light-skinned woman, she will disguise herself as Evander, a white male slaver. And Bill will pretend to be Evander’s slave and traveling companion. [more]

SKIN

January 25, 2019

Broken Box Mime Theater’s SKIN is a collection of short plays loosely centered around its one-word title. The pieces run the gamut in terms of subject matter, approach and tone. Or course, many theatergoers may have an implicit bias against the very idea of mime. This is understandable if unfair. Mime has long been viewed by many, in the U.S. anyway, as little more than pretentious preening and outsized gesturing by grimacing folks in clown makeup. More often than not, it’s seen as a joke. But this show has a fun, cool, buoyant vibe that reminds audiences that the genre needn’t be just a punchline, but something that can actually pack a punch. [more]

Behind the Sheet

January 22, 2019

Obviously, this is a play for which any sort of a happy ending will be deeply compromised, but what Simpson does so beautifully is show us how these women overcome their suspicions and envy to find support in one another. It’s tempting for playwrights to work toward such an end by wallowing in sentimentality. However, it never seems that Simpson, Robert or the talented women portraying these characters are pulling frantically at our heartstrings. The plot unfolds simply and satisfyingly, with the characters’ behavior always plausible and unforced. Surprising moments of humor serve as grace notes to an otherwise somber story. [more]

Maestro

January 16, 2019

Eve Wolf’s play is essentially a monodrama, with John Noble portraying the title character. The production is a rich one, both visually and aurally. It features an abundance of live music, performed by a vivacious string quartet (violinists Mari Lee and Henry Wang, violist Matthew Cohen, and cellist Ari Evan), along with a pianist (Zhenni Li) and a trumpeter (Maximilian Morel). In addition, excerpts from historical recordings are heard. Meanwhile, extensive animated projections from designer David Bengali become central to the overall effect. The play is a kaleidoscopic, sense-stimulating experience that seems at times just to avoid becoming a three-ring circus. [more]

Real

January 7, 2019

The supernatural scenario is a little like something one might find on an eerie episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s old TV anthology. Unfortunately, it all comes off as fairly stilted and heavy-handed. This is due in part to some of the flowery language that Nogueira uses (“I have the strength of a river to drown my sobbing heart with a loving rage”). But it also has to do with Ortman’s direction, which eschews realism in favor of a highly self-conscious theatricality. [more]

The Pirates of Penzance 2018 (NYGASP)

January 2, 2019

In the plus column, it was easy on the eyes. Scenic designer Lou Anne Gilleland created agreeable though not particularly elaborate sets: a rocky stretch of seashore for the first act and a gloomy ruined chapel for the second. Lighting designer Benjamin Weill gave us a kaleidoscope sky that turned lavender or red or some other dramatic shade, according to the changing moods of the story. And Gail J. Wofford and Quinto Ott’s costumes were bright and playful, especially the flouncy sleepwear (Queen Victoria’s Secret?) worn by the female wards of Major General Stanley, the operetta’s famed “Modern Major General.” [more]

All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914

December 23, 2018

But these speeches are only a part of the soundscape. The production is suffused with music—all of it a cappella vocalizing by the cast. We hear barracks songs, patriotic songs, hymns and drinking songs—and, of course, Christmas carols. Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach’s arrangements are exceptionally rich and intricate. The singer-actors weave a choral spell that is not soon forgotten. One could try to single out certain cast members or singers as exceptional, but this is truly the quintessential ensemble show. That such fine singers could also take on multiple speaking roles—portraying Britons, Irishmen, Scots, Welshmen, Germans, and others so convincingly—is impressive indeed. [more]

The Net Will Appear

December 14, 2018

Gradually, as the course of a year passes, we learn about the characters’ trouble-filled off-stage lives: Rory is coping with being part of a broken family; Bernard suffered loss early in life, and his wife now has medical issues. The growing friendship between the two opposites is obviously meant to create an occasion for epiphany. Too obviously. The drama in the characters’ contrasting lives plays out with boilerplate predictability. It’s all just a little too pat. [more]

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (2018)

December 9, 2018

It’s a very presentational show. The six ensemble members comprise a sort of group narrator, working in tandem to relate the memories of the Thomas character for the audience—sometimes sorting out how it all really happened and sometimes taking on the roles of characters from the memories. Nicholas Barasch plays wide-eyed “Dylan,” who is totally swept up in holiday magic. Naomi Louisa O’Connell is his mother and Dewey Caddell his father. Extended family and friends are played by Margaret Dudasik, Polly McKie and Ashley Robinson. [more]

The New One on Broadway

November 18, 2018

"The New One," directed by Seth Barrish, is about Birbiglia and his wife’s decision to become parents, the struggles they go through to arrive at pregnancy, and his fretfulness about how becoming a family man will change his life and identity. This is familiar comedic territory but Birbiglia gives it new energy, thanks to the telling details in his stories. For instance, we’ve all heard jokes or seen sitcom bits about how clinics use pornography to help guys produce lab samples of sperm. Birbiglia’s response to the situation is unexpected: he takes the experience mostly in stride, but he is both bemused and amused by the extreme genres of porn provided at the clinic he visits. [more]

Gloria: A Life

November 13, 2018

The play succeeds in part because it takes such an upbeat view of Steinem and her career. Early in the play, the character proclaims herself to be a “hope-aholic”—and her stalwart optimism proves contagious. Yes, challenges to women’s rights have been rife in the last couple of years. But when—at the top of the play—we see projected TV clips depicting the cultural pigeonholing of 1950's women as wives and mothers and little more, it lends our current situation a welcome perspective. “Is this what some Americans are nostalgic for?” Lahti’s Steinem asks skeptically after these clips are shown. It seems inconceivable that even the most retrogressive critic would answer in the affirmative. [more]

Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade

November 9, 2018

There are some fine elements in the portrayal. Arrow’s Kennedy-clan dialect seems believable—though maybe slightly over-baked at points (especially when, late in the play, he sings bits of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”). Happily, he is able to suggest Kennedy’s deep compassion for forgotten, disadvantaged Americans. But because we don’t see him interacting one-on-one with other characters, he’s hampered in his ability to make this quality fully evident. [more]

The Yeomen of the Guard

October 30, 2018

As for cast standouts, Greenwood excelled both musically and dramatically. His ringing, expressive vocals and crisp diction made him an audience favorite. And he created an effective character shift when the assertive and seemingly self-adoring Fairfax shaves his beard to become a rather diffident novice yeoman. Another notable turn came from David Auxier as the austere, thoughtful Sir Richard Cholmondeley, the Tower lieutenant. (Auxier also served as choreographer, providing a few athletic dance moves of the sort not always seen in Gilbert & Sullivan productions.) In terms of musicality, Benke’s Phoebe had a warm, winning, almost musical-theater sound, while Watson Chase prompted goose bumps with her vibrant top notes. The production’s orchestra sounded rich and full from overture to Act II finale. [more]