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Articles by Mark Dundas Wood

Mark Dundas Wood
About Mark Dundas Wood (59 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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Two Can Play

March 10, 2020

However, it’s not until the second act that the play generates many laughs. Here, the tables turn on Jim. Gloria, returning to Kingston, has gained self-assurance from her escapades in the states, and she is ready to lay down the law in search of some R-E-S-P-E-C-T from her husband—or, rather, her ex-husband. Interestingly, what she has seen of the U.S. hasn’t impressed her. She doesn’t exactly refuse to follow through with the original plan that she and Jim had hatched, but she doesn’t promise anything. The fact that she is now legally American herself, and no longer Jim’s chattel, has given her both power and initiative. She even begins taking night courses to train as a nurse, so that she can do something more than scrub white Americans’ floors if and when the immigration happens. [more]

Birthday in the Bronx

February 26, 2020

If the show seems at times to be a bit of a mess, it’s an often entertaining and always lively one, thanks in good part to members of the acting ensemble, most of whom play multiple roles. Palacios is warm and winning as Rocky. Formica and Ross are engaging, especially when LaBarerra and Kayster have a falling out late in the play, which turns them from robust sparring partners into true foes. Colón and Wise also have plenty to do, and they seem game for all of it. [more]

Look Back in Anger

February 18, 2020

This current New York City revival, directed by Aimée Fortier, shifts the focus largely away from Jimmy and onto Alison (Elizabeth Scopel). Critics have described this character as passive, and there is evidence in the script that this is so. For instance, Alison can’t find the nerve or the right moment to tell Jimmy that she is pregnant. In this production, though, she seems to have a reserve of strength at her core. We identify with her in her struggle to cope with the insufferable verbal abuse she takes from Jimmy (Ryan Welsh). As the action proceeds, she seems to emerge as the play’s central character. This production even gives Osborne’s denouement a feminist twist. (We may again be reminded of Eliza Doolittle—specifically, her liberated final scene in director Bartlett Sher’s 2018 Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady.") It helps Fortier’s approach that, of the four leading players, Scopel delivers the smoothest, strongest and most believable performance in the production. [more]

Chasing the River

February 12, 2020

The subject matter of "Chasing the River" is, of course, viable, but the play is not as nuanced and insightful as one would hope—nor is it particularly gripping. Sometimes the action feels stagey, and at other times it seems undercooked. Particularly problematic is the role of Nathaniel who is written and acted quite one-dimensionally. True, Giebel offers at least one surprising aspect of the character: We learn that he wanted a sports-playing boy-child, not daughters, and that he treated the tomboyish Kat (then called “Katie”) as a substitute for a son. We learn that he was able to gain Katie’s trust, which he then insidiously betrayed. We never wonder, however, whether he is anything other than an unrelenting nightmare of a person. There are scenes in which we see him being pleasant to Katie, but his bullying monstrousness seems always apparent. Most creeps—even the alcoholic ones—manage to hide their ugly sides now and then. [more]

Border People

February 5, 2020

Hoyle has brought his most recent play, "Border People," to New York City in a production directed by Nicole A. Watson. It’s a work dedicated to people who dwell along borders of various sorts—“geographical or cultural”—and it suggests that no matter how clearly lines of demarcation may be drawn, they can seem arbitrary and sometimes strangely porous. Hoyle presents nearly a dozen characters in this show: diverse in age, gender, race, nationality, religion, sexuality and temperament. He includes people from one side or another of actual U.S. borders, both to the north and to the south. We also meet characters from the Bronx who live along the borders that separate the borough’s “projects” from the outside world. [more]

Really Really Gorgeous

January 31, 2020

"Really Really Gorgeous" has an often-amusing absurdist and surrealistic sensibility. Plot turns take on the illogical quality that exists in dreams or in kids’ games of “Let’s pretend.” For instance, at one point, Pen discovers that by curling her hand in a certain way, she can transform it into a magical ammo-firing “finger gun” that can be used as an instrument of destruction. This may seem like goofy stuff, but Mecikalski the allegorist has serious points to make here: about celebrity and despotism and about the swiftness with which the sentiments of a desperate, fickle populace can change. [more]

17 Minutes

January 23, 2020

The play succeeds in large part because it begins in the aftermath of a school shooting. There are a few bits of dialogue describing the terror of the incident itself, but there is no onstage representation of the violence, nor any long, involved retelling of it. None of that is really needed, because the chaotic, nightmarish imagery of such episodes has become engrained in our imaginations over the years. Nor does the play aim to offer a solution to the mass-shooting scourge. Instead, it tells a simple—yet decidedly powerful—human story about a figure who is, paradoxically, both on the periphery of the incident and at its heart. [more]

Love, Medea

January 14, 2020

The production is unapologetically irreverent. At the beginning, we see a masked Greek chorus wearing long robes, shuffling ever-so-slowly around the stage of the Center at West Park (the sanctuary of a Presbyterian church). The leader of the chorus eventually speaks to us in staid, stentorian tones from behind his gold mask. But soon the actors (all male) strip off the robes. They’re bare-chested, save for leather harnesses that look as though they could have been purchased from a local kink boutique. Costume designer Yuanyuan Liang obscures the men’s faces with black head coverings, giving them the look of hostage takers or executioners. [more]

The Mikado or, The Town of Titipu (NYGASP)

December 31, 2019

The framing device is not a completely elegant solution to the problem, but it gets the job done. Gilbert gets knocked out cold while examining the contents of the trunk. While incapacitated, he imagines the members of the company playing the roles that he and Sullivan will eventually create. In this fantasy 'Mikado," the citizens of the town of Titipu are more British townsfolk than Japanese villagers. They dress in bright Victorian-era costumes by Quinto Ott. The set by Anshuman Bhatia includes a railway depot from which the characters who have arrived in town emerge (giving a multiple meaning to the lyric “Comes a train of little ladies…”). The cast consists of actors of various racial backgrounds. [more]

Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston

December 11, 2019

The York Theatre Company’s new revue, "Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston," reminds us not to take for granted the talents of this vibrant composer/lyricist, best known for such Broadway titles as "Nine" (1982), "Grand Hotel" (1989) and "Titanic" (1997). This one-act show, featuring five abundantly gifted singer-dancers, underscores the wide-ranging nature of the composer’s music. Yeston has successfully adopted diverse musical sounds, from 1920's pop to mid-twentieth-century rock to folky-country contemporary. Mostly though, he’s known for lush, sweeping, timeless melodies that seem at times to bypass listeners’ ears and aim straight for the heart. His lyrics are smart, but not overly clever. [more]

Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody

December 2, 2019

Now, New Yorkers who know the film (and who love it, hate it or partly love it and partly hate it) have a chance to see a streamlined (at 95 minutes) musical-theatrical spoof of the film, called "Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody." It’s a lively, silly and well-performed romp created by people who seem to have done a lot of this sort of thing: writers Bob and Tobly McSmith ("The Office! A Musical Parody") and director Tim Drucker ("Spidermusical"). The three previously worked together on "Friends! The Musical Parody." Basil Winterbottom has provided the engaging tunes and orchestrations for the McSmiths’ lyrics. [more]

Everything Is Super Great

November 28, 2019

Stephen Brown’s "Everything Is Super Great" is a small, unpretentious play about an American family in crisis. That is not a novel theme, of course, but "Everything" rises gracefully to the occasion. Brown demonstrates his considerable skill for creating characters you can latch onto and root for. Director Sarah Norris—along with a gifted quartet of actors—has gently and thoughtfully taken Brown’s story up a notch, finding colors that may not have been evident on the page but that augment the script nicely. The resulting production is a lovely thing to behold. [more]

Fur

November 13, 2019

Migdalia Cruz’s "Fur" (presented by Boundless Theatre Company at Next Door @NYTW) has the sensibility of a folk tale, the coherency of a fever dream, and the trappings of a horror movie. It’s an unsettling piece of theater. After you’ve seen it, don’t be surprised if it noses its way into your psyche and burrows into your personal dreamscape. This production, directed by Elena Araoz, is the play’s New York City premiere. (It debuted in Chicago in 1995.) According to Cruz’s stage directions, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles suburb, but the playwright isn’t necessarily concerned about specifics of time or place. In fact, the play seems to transpire in some shadowy corner of the collective unconscious. [more]

One Discordant Violin

November 6, 2019

What this team of artists has created is a serious piece of storytelling that is also a glorious treat for the eyes and ears. If you’ve figured that the show will just be a guy narrating a short story while another guy plays violin, you’re certain to be pleasantly surprised. [more]

The Hope Hypothesis

October 31, 2019

The play’s title comes from Carew’s character. The “hope hypothesis” is the notion that, in our current environment, people have universally given up hope. Consequently, they are either attempting to destroy themselves or aiming to destroy others. That’s a fairly dire assessment of the world we live in, and one that Miller doesn’t strive to dispel. That she can project that kind of cynical outlook in such a sparkling entertainment is impressive and a bit unnerving. [more]

Bars and Measures

October 27, 2019

The play’s dynamic—with the two brothers trying to stay in sync even as they find themselves polar opposites in nearly all areas of their lives—seems at points to make the play a kind of clunky “what if” scenario from a modern-problems textbook (the punny title doesn’t help). However, Goodwin’s talent for writing smart, occasionally amusing dialogue and for making his characters seem like real people rather than emblems largely mitigates that concern. Also, the work of the actors in this production is quite strong. [more]

When It Happens to You

October 15, 2019

As a writer, O’Dell seems to eschew melodramatic elements, including pat endings with fully resolved conflicts. This a work grounded in sober reality, a work that rejects the prevalent idea that “closure” is something that will surely erase all scars and “make whole” once more those who’ve lived through such traumatic incidents. If there’s any “message” that O’Dell offers, it’s that keeping silent about having been raped can only exacerbate the pain. At the same time, she suggests, women who’ve experienced such assaults need to be able to come out about them in their own time. [more]

Fern Hill

September 20, 2019

Tucker’s dialogue is breezy and amusing, and it’s fun to see these talented actors—all mainstays of the New York stage—being playful together. Together, they make interesting stuff out of the material they’ve been given, and they are all highly watchable. But would the play seem more fulfilling and important if there were more fully developed personal and interpersonal conflicts? [more]

Dining with Ploetz

September 13, 2019

"Dining with Ploetz" at Theater for the New City consists of three short plays by writer, director and teacher Richard Ploetz. The program adds up to slightly under two hours’ running time (with one intermission). The plays are all billed as comedies, and—as the title implies—they all, to one degree or another, involve “dining.”  They are, however, quite diverse in terms of style and tone. The first and last of them (both of which the playwright directed) hold the audience’s attention fairly well. The middle piece, directed by Steven Hauck (who acts in the other two), is riveting. [more]

See You

September 8, 2019

This production is a rambunctious enterprise, and Hunter and his cast do a reasonably good job of keeping dialogue that’s made up largely of long strings of short declarative sentences (or sentence fragments) from seeming dreadfully monotonous. The actors slow down at moments, then quicken the pace, their spat lines overlapping. Some of them leave the platform in order to play in the adjacent areas for a spell. Some bring furniture onto the platform, arrange it and later reconfigure and remove it. The ensemble members work well together, and each has some fine moments. The gruff-voiced Allan-Headley, the flamboyant Reid and the lost-lamb Toth are especially memorable. [more]

Waiting for Johnny Depp

August 22, 2019

What’s best about "Waiting for Johnny Depp" is Vivino’s performance. My, does she ever get a workout during the play’s 100-minute running time. She has 15 or so musical numbers (some of them reprises), ranging from dizzyingly ecstatic to utterly despondent. She belts, rocks out, sings pretty during the ballads. She carries nearly all of the spoken word, too, though sometimes she has exchanges with the recorded voice of Rita’s highly disagreeable mother. The ghastly ringtone whenever Mom (or that agent with his caveats) calls is like a bugle blast at the gates of hell. (Sound designer Tom Valdez gets a bit of a workout too.) Vivino bounces around the stage, executes choreographer Juson Williams’ dance steps, goes offstage for quick costume and wig changes, and interacts with both the audience and musical director/pianist Logan Medland. [more]

Measure for Measure (The Acting Company)

August 10, 2019

William Shakespeare’s "Measure for Measure" (circa 1604)—the story of a woman who is sexually victimized by a man in power—seems as though it would lend itself to an adaptation crafted in light of the #MeToo movement. To some extent, The Acting Company’s streamlined 95-minute modern-dress version proves itself a good fit for such an approach, although there are elements of Shakespeare’s play that don’t quite conform seamlessly with what director Janet Zarish seems to be going for. [more]

Patience

July 29, 2019

Unfortunately, Daniel’s ambivalence proves to be an impediment to the success of Patience. It would be one thing if he were a strong character, torn about which path he’ll take moving forward. Rather, he seems to be a customarily wishy-washy guy, who avoids making choices (or “decisions”—the play suggests there’s a difference). Other characters accuse him of speaking vaguely and not answering questions directly. He certainly seems not to be socially adept. [more]

In the Penal Colony

July 20, 2019

Playwright and director Miranda Haymon has, like numerous dramatists before her, dramatized this story—except that she has significantly repurposed it. Working with three African-American actors, she has used the tale as a taking-off point for an hour-long play focused on the experience of young black men in America. As the press release puts it, “ 'In the Penal Colony' investigates the performance of power, patriarchy and punishment. Three black men convene in an unnamed penal colony, asking what it means for them to exist in the media, when observed, when consumed, when punished.” [more]

Rent Party

July 15, 2019

"Rent Party" is billed as a show for the whole family, but it will be of real interest primarily to preteen children. At that, it seems a rather dull outing. The actors here tend to speak in a sing-song-y manner. Very little humor or visual excitement ensues. Jazz Cat could have been a lively and entertaining figure, but he makes infrequent appearances, often speaking a few bland couplets before retreating to a corner. [more]

Dog Man: The Musical

July 9, 2019

Kids may love this show—and the Dog Man books themselves—largely because the outlandish situations are similar to scenarios in their own hyper-imaginative make-believe play. Except that, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, young audiences see a fully realized version of such fantasies, with vibrant production values plus some catchy tunes. Tim Mackabee’s cartoonish unit set—Harold and George’s treehouse—is quiet at first but is soon swarming with marauding buildings, a wacky robot and other assorted craziness. Heidi Leigh Hanson’s costumes are bright and cleverly imagined. David Lander’s lighting design helps us imagine lightning storms, bomb explosions and what amounts to a municipal volcano. Director/choreographer Jen Wineman keeps everything moving along at a quick clip. [more]

Imminently Yours

June 22, 2019

The comedy "Imminently Yours," written by the mononymous “Karimah” and staged by The Negro Ensemble Company, is largely about the importance to communities of honoring their “elders.” It’s appropriate, then, that two stalwarts of New York’s African-American theater—Dorothi Fox and Arthur French—have major roles in the production. Both of these actors have been plying their trade on New York City stages for decades (and they’ve done considerable screen work as well). The two hold their scripts onstage here and occasionally refer to them (or at least they did on the opening-night performance under review). This is moderately distracting at points—but the two are pros and, in a way, the production would have been poorer without their venerable presence. [more]

[Veil Widow Conspiracy]

June 21, 2019

The set designer (Yu-Hsuan Chen) and lighting designer (Reza Behjat) have obviously worked collaboratively to create some effective—and often beautiful—stage pictures. Loops of light are a striking visual leitmotif throughout the show. Costume designer Mariko Ohigashi was given a particularly challenging assignment: imagining garments for three distinctly different worlds. She has delivered the period costumes of the original story (with help from Makoto Osada), the T-shirts with production titles that are worn on the film set, and the simple windbreakers that appear in the futuristic scenes—and she’s done it all with both nuance and flair. [more]

Square Go

June 16, 2019

Scottish playwrights Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair explore the murky pre-adult domain with candor and humor in "Square Go," an appealing two-hander directed by Finn Den Hertog and featuring two fully adult actors, Daniel Portman and Gavin Jon Wright, portraying—respectively—Max and Stevie, a pair of  13-year-old besties who seem to transform, regularly, into each other’s biggest enemy. There are hilarious moments in the play, but Hurley and McNair don’t treat the characters in a condescending way. [more]

Lone Star

June 11, 2019

Such lukewarm response may be attributable, at least in part, to the changing times. Lone Star focuses on a not-so-old Good Ol’ Boy from rural Texas named Roy (de Rogatis). He’s a Vietnam veteran who drunkenly bullies his younger brother, Ray (Chris Loupos), outside the back of a local bar called Angel’s. Roy also bedevils a former high school classmate named Cletis, aka “Skeeter” (Michael Villastrigo), a nerdy nincompoop who has long envied Roy for his swagger and alleged popularity with women. At one point in the show, Roy enumerates for Ray the ugly atrocities against Vietnamese citizens that he saw during the war, in essence bragging about his capacity to endure it all. In a culture that has become increasingly sensitive about the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, there’s little room now for humor surrounding such content. Perhaps, too, audiences are simply less amused than they used to be by depictions of rural Texans as dung-kicking buffoons, which is probably a good thing. [more]

Butterflies

June 3, 2019

"Butterflies," which won the Mario Fratti Award at New York’s “In Scena!” theater festival in 2016, has been translated by Carlotta Brentan and directed by Jay Stern in a production at Manhattan’s The Tank. It’s an earnest endeavor, and the two young women playing the sisters (Annie Watkins as Blonde and Danielle Sacks as Brunette) both give strong performances. The play, though, is talky and overblown. Perhaps Aldrovandi’s original has lost something in translation, or maybe his play draws on Italian cultural and theatrical conventions that don’t sit so well with American audiences. In any case, Aldrovandi hits no bullseyes with this production. [more]

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]
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