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Articles by Mark Dundas Wood

Mark Dundas Wood
About Mark Dundas Wood (41 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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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]

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]
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