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Plays

I Never Sang for My Father

September 14, 2019

The trouble is Lee’s almost catatonic approach to Gene.  He speaks in a toneless monotone and adapts a monolithic physical approach, his hands constantly held stiffly at his sides.  When he does erupt in anger it registers as bizarre overacting rather than the culmination of a life of living under his father’s thumb.  This leaves an emotional vacuum in the center of the play.  Even when he delivers the poignant punch line—“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship”—what should have been an emotional wallop becomes a whimper. [more]

Lear: That Old Man I Used to Know

September 14, 2019

Hopkins had added selections from Lewis Carroll (references to the Jabberwock and “The White Knight’s Song: The Aged Age Man,” the poem which gives her the new title), Emily Dickinson (“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”), Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” (“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”), and unidentified poems from Dylan Thomas. Aside from the fact that these are several centuries newer, all of these have a different rhythm than Shakespeare’s Lear. The music credits include Satie’s “Gymnopedie” No. 1, Chopin’s “Nocturne in E minor,” excepts from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, and “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s opera Serse. The most outstanding problem is that we have other associations with this material so that they stick out like a sore thumb. [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]

The Cooping Theory 1969: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe?

September 11, 2019

Poseidon Theatre Company’s "The Cooping Theory 1969: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe?," described as a "new immersive paranormal experience,” is set at the RPM Underground which is more interesting than the play. This interactive event leads the audience through many of the 18 rooms, all of which are different, in this unusual venue by designer Seok Huh. As for the show, it may be “the only story-driven, multi-room immersive experience in the heart of Times Square,” but as written by Nate Raven it is very thin on information about 19th century writer Poe. As conceived and directed by Aaron Salazar it is mainly participation in a séance to reach the author in order to hear his version of his mysterious death, which is neither spooky nor scary. Poe never actually appears except in spirit and not much happens. However, it takes a long time getting there. [more]

Make Believe

September 10, 2019

Bess Wohl’s new play, "Make Believe," is a fascinating study of how the traumas of childhood affect our adult lives, particularly the damage seen and unseen parents inflict on their offspring. Director Michael Greif whose trenchant productions go back to the 1990 "Machinal" at the Public has piloted a fine cast of eight actors both young and mature. Make Believe is at the same time entertaining and enlightening in its dramatizing childhood and its aftermath in an inventive way. [more]

Tech Support

September 9, 2019

Deborah Whitfield’s 'Tech Support" offers a clever idea in order to review feminism in the past century. Unfortunately, her rather superficial approach misses a great many opportunities. The romantic comedy aspect of the play is not entirely believable and works to the detriment of the play’s serious elements. The slick production is entertaining without ever delving below the surface even though it attempts to cover a great many important and serious issues, many of which are not yet solved today. Don’t blame the actors who do their best with the material they have been given. [more]

Belleville

September 8, 2019

The small studio theater space where the show is performed with its basic living room scenic design informs director Cameron Clarke’s resourceful and bold staging. Working in such a confined environment with the actors in close proximity to each other, Mr. Clarke emphasizes the piece’s claustrophobic, paranoid and menacing tones with vividness. Unseen ominous events taking place in the offstage bedroom and bathroom incite terror. An open window with shutters becomes a focus of dread, with the outside world represented by eerie red light and sounds of sirens. With the cast’s explosive performances and a command of the visual, Clarke realizes the play’s uneasy power. [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]

Laughing Liberally: Make America Laugh Again

September 7, 2019

The latest edition of the recurring political humor show "Laughing Liberally" is titled "Make America Laugh Again" and is decidedly anti-Trump. It’s created by the brilliant veteran comedian John Fugelsang who is ubiquitous on radio, cable television news shows and comedy clubs. Mr. Fugelsang introduced it and his headliner 45-minute set was the finale and contained many bright spots. Each performance has a different cast in between and at the one under review, five polished comics did their acts. [more]

Eureka Day

September 6, 2019

Jonathan Spector’s "Eureka Day" now having its East Coast premiere at Walkerspace is a blisteringly satiric and provocative play torn right out of the headlines. Ostensibly about how one progressive elementary school handles a case of mumps due to many anti-vaxxers, the play also tackles many other hot button topics. Ultimately, the play’s message is that with too much sensitivity and too much political correctness nothing can be accomplished. It is a wake-up call for all of us. [more]

Da Vinci & Michelangelo: The Titans Experience

August 28, 2019

Described as a multimedia production, "Da Vinci & Michelangelo: The Titans Experience" is actually a lecture by art historian Mark Rodgers to slides of the masterpieces of these two geniuses. Both enlightening and dense, the performance by this animated and exuberant lecturer tells you a bit more than you can take in in one sitting. It is a little like two art classes back to back. However, one comes out of the show with an even higher respect for these two Renaissance men who were far ahead of their time and are still at the top of their professions after 500 years. [more]

The Exes

August 25, 2019

Lenore Skomal’s "The Exes" wants to revive the Broadway-style sex comedies of the 1950’s and 60’s, earlier called boulevard comedy. Unfortunately, not only is the formula passé but television sit-com now does it better. The play is also too heavily plotted with two main characters with the same name and a great many petulant, entitled people. Worse still, the play fails to deliver any witty or clever lines, instead giving us quotes and references from much better works without much point. Directed by Magda S. Nyiri, "The Exes" has at least two false endings before it comes to an unearned conclusion. [more]

Sea Wall / A Life (Broadway)

August 20, 2019

On screen and stage Gyllenhaal has exhibited his talent and star quality to great effect many times. "A Life" is not one of those shining occasions as he is just passable in it. Stammering, shrugging and halting like Woody Allen in Annie Hall’s prologue is how he starts off and later alternates jokiness and histrionic emotionalism as the piece’s lugubrious events unfold. This is simply an opportunity for fans of Gyllenhaal to see him in person and the performance succeeds on that level. [more]

Stormy Weather

August 19, 2019

Mr. Wills’ demonstrates a facility for dramatic writing with his snappy dialogue and fast-paced scenario that inspires laughter and also incites thoughtfulness. Amidst the merriment are keen insights into the gay male experience including aging, relationships and promiscuity. "Stormy Weather," though, is more Ray Cooney than Tony Kushner. [more]

Rinse, Repeat

August 10, 2019

Feraud’s scenario is structured as a series of taut precise scenes bursting with sharp dialogue and topical references including an Uber driver with a musical recording on Spotify. She drops well-timed details that advance her agenda of tackling the issue of the preoccupation with feminine physical perfection. We learn of Peter and Joan’s strained marriage that is characterized by resentfulness over financial inequity and past infidelity. Everything reaches a realistic and dramatically satisfying conclusion. [more]

Midsummer: A Banquet

August 10, 2019

"Midsummer: A Banquet" is an auditory and oral treat, a light entertainment for this time of year. Using Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook’s skillfully adapted abridgment of Shakespeare’s comedy, the evening of dinner theater is a delightful way to experience the Bard. The meal designed by Emilie Baltz contains various surprises that coincide with the events in the play and are tasty enough to be a filling repast. Shakespeare as dinner theater may not be a new idea but this is an evening of many pleasures. [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]

Native Son

August 9, 2019

Kelley’s adaptation begins with the murder of Mary which avoids preparing us for the limited life of opportunity that Bigger leads in the Black Belt of Chicago. Told in a fragmentary form often with flashbacks within flashbacks, it is only possible to put the chronology together if one knows the novel. Kelley has also eliminated the powerful speech to the jury by Bigger’s lawyer which is one of the most famous of all statements on social racism and the constricted environmental influences on people living in the ghetto. [more]

Coriolanus (Free Shakespeare in the Park)

August 6, 2019

While Shakespeare’s "Coriolanus" has a great deal to warn us about as a cautionary tale, it is also not as deep or as poetic a play as his major tragedies. Daniel Sullivan’s production for Free Shakespeare in the Park is fine with the surface values of this historical tragedy but less so with creating the subtext of the story. In his second time around as its titular hero, Jonathan Cake is excellent as the brutal warrior, not so accomplished as the public man wrestling with his own demons. [more]

Summer Shorts 2019: 13th Annual Festival of New American Short Plays: Series B

August 5, 2019

Neil LaBute’s “Appomattox” is the most substantial of the three plays and deals with a topic new to his work. Two long-time friends, Frank, black, and Joe, white, are having a picnic in the park without their wives where they get to throw around a football. Joe tells Frank about a story he read in the newspaper that the freshmen at Georgetown University have decided to pay an annual reparation to the families of slaves who were sold off by the college centuries before as collateral to keep the school going. He is impressed that the $27.20 will be annually added to their tuition. For Frank, this is nothing but a symbolic gesture. He would like to see the figure sting a little for 400 years of slavery. [more]

Mojada

August 4, 2019

Following up on Luis Alfaro’s critically acclaimed Chicano retelling of Sophocles’ "Oedipus Rex" called "Oedipus El Rey," The Public Theater now stages his equally relevant and timely "Mojada" which melds Euripides’ "Medea" with the Latinx immigrant experience in the big American cities. Those who know the Greek myth of Jason and Medea will be prepared; those who at the performance under review obviously did not know what was coming were shocked and horrified by the ending. Either way the play is spellbinding theater. Chay Yew, artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater who also directed the Public’ production of Oedipus El Rey, has staged the stunning and devastating play with an excellent cast of Hispanic-American actors which is as timely as tomorrow’s headlines. [more]

Summer Shorts 2019: 13th Annual Festival of New American Short Plays: Series A

August 3, 2019

Series A of this year’s Summer Shorts: 13th Festival of New American Short Plays is unified around the theme of death and dying and how it affects the living. Lest you think that this sounds morbid, the three provocative one-act plays that make up this first program are so beautifully handled that this is a superior theatrical evening in three totally different styles. Unlike many evenings of one acts, the productions of all three are worth of your attention and could not be bettered. [more]

Little Gem

August 2, 2019

Ms. Murphy’s writing is a rich amalgam of biographical data, pivotal incidents and humane observations. The monologue structure has the three characters alternately expressing themselves in the same recurring order with often all three on stage but not interacting with each other. Through this theatrical device, Murphy enacts her eventful scenario. At 100 minutes without an intermission, it does lag, particularly the introductory portions which too leisurely introduce the characters. However, Murphy does create three zesty roles. [more]

The Rolling Stone

July 31, 2019

It is not until the second act of British playwright Chris Urch’s "The Rolling Stone" that the play catches fire but from then on the drama is explosive, compelling and very disturbing. Once the play gets past the introductory exposition that sets up the plot, the production by Saheem Ali (Donja R. Love’s "Sugar in Our Wounds" and "Fireflies," and Christopher Chen’s "Passage") is taut, tense and involving. [more]

Moscow Moscow Moscow

July 30, 2019

Halley Feiffer's new comedy, the obsessively titled "Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow," is an intermittently funny ten-minute parody of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters." Unfortunately, it goes on for another hour and twenty-five minutes, tiresomely recycling jokes and shallow insights until you begin to wonder if Feiffer actually read the Russian playwright's work or just a Wikipedia synopsis for her cooler-than-thou "adaptation," which seems motivated by a strange desire to ridicule not only Chekhov's characters but also anyone who might feel bad for them. So, be forewarned, if you have an ounce of sentimentality in your soul, it may seem as if the laughter heard during the production (and, to be fair, there was a lot of it) is to some extent directed at you. [more]

Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky

July 30, 2019

The title of playwright Dianne Nora’s fascinating new work, "Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky," is disingenuous.  Is it about you-know-who?  Well, yes and no.  There were passing references to the title character’s notoriety and enough images of and quotes from President Clinton, among others, to imply that the title is, at best, a white lie; at worst it is a tongue-in-cheek bait-and-switch.  But if that is a way of getting an audience to see this incisive and adult drama, then more power to Ms. Nora who knows how to write sharply focused dialogue. [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]

A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island

July 27, 2019

Wearing a green prison uniform, the tall athletic blonde curly-headed Mr. Stewart who is in his early 20’s delivers an enthralling performance. Speaking in smooth rich tones that convey a youthful sensibility, Stewart powerfully details the grim experiences of life on the inside especially for a privileged white man.  Not only is he riveting as Roy, Stewart masterfully portrays a gallery of figures Roy encounters. These precise impersonations include his black trans cellmate, a black Muslim he befriends, a menacing Puerto Rican gang member and an amiable corrections officer. Vocally and physically Stewart is impeccable and truly carries the play to success. [more]

Tender Napalm

July 26, 2019

The power and majesty of the theater are affirmed by this ravishing production of the acclaimed English playwright Philip Ridley’s two-character play, "Tender Napalm." For 75 enchanting minutes on a bare stage we follow the fantastical exploits of a young man and a young woman apparently shipwrecked on a jungle island. They engage with monkeys, aliens and serpents and time passes through a gloriously written cascade of memories, erotic verbal exchanges and biographical details. There’s mention of “A dildo shaped like a dolphin from the lost city of Atlantis.” [more]

“the way she spoke”

July 26, 2019

Written by Isaac Gomez, who lives across the border in El Paso, Texas, "the way she spoke" is a one-woman show that fails to speak to us: it’s performed by Mexican film star Kate del Castillo who attempts to give different accents and vocal mannerisms to the various characters she impersonates, without much success. She is no Whoopi Goldberg or Anna Devere Smith, who were--and in Smith’s case, still is--masters or impersonation. [more]

Havel: the Passion of Thought

July 24, 2019

The three Havel one acts, known as "The Vanek Plays," though written separately, were originally banned in Czechoslovakia and performed secretly in people’s living rooms as well as being passed around in hand-written copies. They all deal with Vanek, a dissident playwright unable to have his plays produced, who is now working in a menial job, an alter ego for its author and his experiences under Communism. The problem with filling out the program to include both Pinter’s "The New World Order" and Beckett’s "Catastrophe" (dedicated to Havel) is that since the plays all have the same theme and development, it feels like overkill. [more]

Jacqueline Novak: Get On Your Knees

July 23, 2019

Dressed in gray jeans, a gray T-shirt and white sneakers, the gutsy seasoned comic Ms. Novak expertly paces, gesticulates and does wild double take after double take while clutching a microphone. With her soothing yet expressive vocal tones Novak confidently delivers her masterfully crafted material. It’s comprised of a multitude of classic setup punchlines, precise observations and breezy conversational riffs. The results are very funny and thought provoking. “Death is coming” sets off a somberly pragmatic rumination as there’s more than sex to her routine. [more]

Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth

July 20, 2019

Dedicated to “creating socially and politically acute theatre for the 21st century” the PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) for their 33rd season offers this exuberant revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1979 two one-act plays, "Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth," which cheekily satirize the theater and political oppression. Inspired by Wittgenstein and his fellow Czech playwright Pavel Kohout, Mr. Stoppard as he did in his monumental "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" again here ingeniously appropriates Shakespeare for his own ingenious purposes. [more]
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