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Off-Broadway

Intelligence

January 18, 2019

This setting and premise alone might suggest quite a dull evening of theater, except for the fact that from the moment these actresses converge on the stage, the subtle energies of their characters begin to intertwine and negotiate for space and position, piquing the interest of the audience. [more]

Alone It Stands

January 17, 2019

Breen's script, a succession of rapid-fire vignettes divided in half by an unnecessary intermission, tries to compensate for its lack of depth with imagined multitudes. According to a promotional flyer, the production's six actors portray a total of sixty-two characters. While I feel confident enough in my counting abilities to verify the former, I'll leave the latter to someone whose obsessiveness exceeds my own. That person might also have to be a little generous in regards to defining what constitutes a character. [more]

LaBute New Theater Festival 2019

January 16, 2019

An exhilarating trio of short plays by that noted cultural provocateur Neil LaBute make their New York City premieres in this edition of the LaBute New Theatre Festival 2019.  Since 2013, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio with the support of Mr. LaBute who is an acclaimed film director, screenwriter and playwright has held an annual festival of one-act plays. This incarnation is unique as it is comprised solely of works of his which is probably why it is so potent. [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]

Wendell & Pan

January 15, 2019

A spirited cast and a talented director do their best to bring playwright Katelynn Kenney’s heartfelt but leaden "Wendell & Pan" to the stage. It’s an unsatisfying family secrets drama laden with allusions to "Peter Pan." The mystical revelatory sequence near the end and the protracted coda magnify the previously flawed writing. Tinkerbelle is represented by a flickering firefly in a glass jar and when released does cause a lovely effect. [more]

The Fool’s Lear

January 13, 2019

Whether being pushed in a wheelchair or hobbling around on a cane, Mark Peters is an excellent Lear. Mr. Peters forcefully captures all of the character’s pathos, humor and despair with his mature presence and rich vocal delivery. As The Fool, Judy Krause’s clowning and feistiness is delightful. Ms. Krause and Mr. Peters’ marvelous rapport energize the production, hinting at the tantalizing possibilities of an even further stripped down treatment focusing more on these two characters. [more]

Bleach

January 12, 2019

Do you have any objection to being touched?” asks the theater representative of audience members when they check in at the Brooklyn basement where British playwright Dan Ireland-Reeves’ "Bleach" is performed. That question is crucial as one attendee is called upon to silently portray a flashback character who has slight physical contact with the actor, and another gets a brief grinding lap dance. Those who state a negative preference are left alone. [more]

Smoker

January 7, 2019

Mr. Brader’s writing on this fascinating subject is sharp, insightful and well-observed. As a performer, Brader’s breezy personability endows his personal odyssey with an appealing everyman quality as he appears as himself and impersonates various other characters. At 80 minutes, the show is overall compelling. Cold turkey, gradual cessation, hypnosis and bicycle spinning are all attempted to stop with varying results. [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]

Waiting for Godot (New Yiddish Rep)

January 7, 2019

Translator Shane Baker has found excellent Yiddish equivalents for Beckett’s language.  He understands that Yiddish is a minor key tongue full of sadness, quicksilver tone changes, perfect for expressing the constant complaints that fill the libretto of Godot.  Of course, it is Beckett’s language that passes the time with its casually tossed off deep observations of the human condition in the guise of flippant or quasi-philosophical comments. [more]

Spitting in the Face of the Devil

January 5, 2019

Mr. Brader is an engaging and soulful performer with a smooth and pleasing vocal delivery. Brader is an admirer of Spalding Gray and channels that monumental artist’s impassioned sense of storytelling. As a writer, he offers a vividly candid but somewhat flawed treatment of his explosive autobiographical material. Arguably a tauter and more focused scenario would flow more effectively.  Still, Spitting in the Face of the Devil ultimately achieves redemptive impact. [more]

The Good Adoptee

January 4, 2019

Employing humor, documentary detail and suspense, Bachner offers an emotional detective story. Wit and whimsy meld with poignancy as the picaresque quest begins in present day New York City. It involves a gallery of characters, flashbacks. and often frustrating twists and turns, several of which are legal obstacles that impede such searches. Bureaucrats, a celebrated “adoption hunter,” the adopted parents and other key figures are all imaginatively incorporated into the narrative. Bridgforth is vocally and physically titanic as she switches back and forth between being Susan and playing the other characters with grandly distinctive characterizations. [more]

Slave Play

December 28, 2018

Nothing is what it seems in Jeremy 0. Harris’ startling and explosive "Slave Play" which investigates where race and sexual relationships intersect. What we have been watching in the play’s opening scenes is role playing on Day Four for Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy, “designed to help black partners re-engage intimately with white partners from whom they no longer receive sexual pleasure.” These three couples have chosen to spend a week in this new treatment in order to deal with their "anhedonia" or inability to feel pleasure which has been a problem for them for some time. [more]

Nassim

December 25, 2018

In the course of this unusual performance piece, the actor and the audience learn a bit of Farsi, the author’s native language, and actor and author share stories of their lives and likes, and become friends. There is audience participation and volunteers are called for. The playwright eventually joins the actor on stage but remains silent, communicating by pointing to the script which is projected so that the audience can see the author’s questions and instructions to the actor. The play is a series of exercises, games and tests. [more]

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

December 21, 2018

Some novels are more stage-worthy than others, and "C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters" is not among those that are. As adapted for the stage by Max McLean--who also directs the production with a flair for the grotesque--and Jeffrey Fiske, "C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters" is an unfortunate jumble of gibberish and gobbledygook, told at breakneck speed by Brent Harris, who is playing His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape. [more]

Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine

December 20, 2018

A hard-edged picaresque fable is what playwright Lynn Nottage came up with in her enjoyable, "Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine" that premiered in 2004. A two-time Pulitzer-Prize winner for Drama, Ms. Nottage is in a lighter mood here but her comic sequences have a bracing tone and the dialogue has her customary skillful depth. We’re in the exaggerated territory of "Watermelon Man" and "Bonfire of the Vanities." [more]

The Baby Monitor

December 19, 2018

That it involves the relatively new phenomenon of gay parenthood gives it an added impact.  That it is written with a thorough understanding of the complexities of gay parenthood vs. conservatives-in-liberal-clothing keeps it constantly edgy.  And, that it has a relatively positive ending makes it a valuable addition to this literature in a season when Michael McKeever’s popular "Daniel’s Husband" excited interest in a storyline also involving gay marriage, one with a decidedly dire conclusion. [more]

Bitter Greens

December 18, 2018

Though it was common practice centuries ago, perhaps the final take-away from "Bitter Greens"--a new play by Clea DeCrane--is that an actor should not perform in her own work. In the play, DeCrane portrays Reyna, a character that is both confused and confusing. She’s also more than a little aloof. When Reyna announces that she’s going “to go on a cleanse,” another character, Caitlin (Jessica Darrow), asks her, “A cleanse from what, vegan bites and vitamin water?” [more]

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues

December 15, 2018

Mr. Goode’s structure is creatively simple, the eight reindeers offer their foul-mouthed sometimes conflicting testimony one by one. Rudolph is unable to appear as he is confined to a padded cell in a catatonic state. Goode’s writing is unabashedly crude, staunchly politically incorrect and often very funny. The play premiered in Chicago in 1994 and this production has assembled a terrific group of actors who each bring their distinctive comic skills to these goofy roles. [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]

The Truth About Santa

December 11, 2018

This nonsensical, broad comedy is penned by the clever Greg Kotis ("Urinetown"). Songs and arrangements by Steven Gross are whimsical and entertaining, and costume designer Whitney Locher presents her vaudevillian best in this frothy piece. Led expertly by director Ilana Becker, the cast bludgeons, connives and wiggles their way through this slice of holiday slapstick; young and old, the actors’ comic timing is well-honed and the fun they have performing this piece is entirely infectious. [more]

Noura

December 11, 2018

In 90 minutes, Ms. Raffo packs in a great deal. We learn about Iraq’s past and present, religious lore, marital conflicts, unrequited love and the hardships of immigrants. The stiff treatment is schematic rather than polished and the resorting to soliloquies feels off. Without a defined plot, it plays out as a limp multi-character study that’s resolved with a talky and unconvincing denouement. Raffo does create appealing characters including  the substantive title role which she herself plays. [more]

Selkie

December 7, 2018

“Why did I marry such an idiot?!” exclaims Deanna about her goofy husband Keaton. Not only is he an inept drug dealer but he has also kidnapped a seal who is presently in human form and her vengeful relatives are now on the warpath. These are the outlandish plot points of playwright Krista Knight's charming "Selkie" where mirth merges with darkness. [more]

The Hard Problem

December 6, 2018

Tom Stoppard, our most cerebral modern playwright, has finally written a play that one would have expected from him all along. "The Hard Problem," his first play in ten years, is literally about concepts in neuroscience and its characters are psychologists, scientists and mathematicians all studying the brain. While the story and its outcome are intriguing, like many Stoppard plays, the characters are not likeable and you will find yourself not rooting for anyone. (Most likely, many real scientists aren’t lovable people either.) Jack O’Brien, who has previously directed Stoppard’s "The Coast of Utopia," "The Invention of Love," and "Hapgood," all for Lincoln Center Theater, has chosen his LCT cast without household names just as did the original London production in 2015 by Nicholas Hytner for Britain’s National Theatre. [more]

Quicksand

December 5, 2018

"Quicksand," Nella Larsen’s 1928 award-winning first novel, has been given an ambitious, epical stage adaptation by Everyday Inferno Theatre Company working out of the IRT Theater. While Regina Robbins’ script for this Harlem Renaissance literary work basically is an assigning of the text of the novel to a company of 13 actors, it is the work of director Anaïs Koivisto who makes this swirling production feel adventurous in creating both a community and a specific world. EITC’s mission statement is to create “adventurous theatrical productions of new or rarely produced texts that tell women's stories in a unique, entertaining, and accessible manner,” and this lives up to its goal. [more]

The Tricky Part

December 4, 2018

Overbearing nuns, eccentric priests and confusing religious tenets are detailed with stand-up comedy gusto by performer Martin Moran in recounting his Colorado Catholic upbringing during his absorbing self-written confessional solo play,"The Tricky Part." Following that familiar list of targets and lively audience interaction, the main thread of the show is disclosed. [more]

The Emperor’s Nightingale

December 4, 2018

Although Chua is less interested in beauty for beauty's sake than Andersen, the look and sound of "The Emperor's Nightingale" is still stunning, drawing on a wealth of traditional Chinese art forms to both enliven and culturally ground the story. Leading the way are Joseph Wolfslau's period-inspired score and You-Shin Chen's eye-popping set, which pays lovely tribute to the art of Chinese paper cutting. Leslie Smith's lighting design nicely highlights all of the wonderful colors in Chen's set, as well as those found in Karen Boyer's lambent costumes, which do imaginative justice to human and animal alike. [more]

Lewiston/Clarkston

November 28, 2018

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is presenting a theatrical event by Idaho theater poet Samuel D. Hunter ("The Whale," "A Bright New Boise," "The Few," "Pocatello," "The Healing," "The Harvest"): a long one-act masterpiece (Clarkston), a 40-minute communal dinner served on picnic tables of what the characters would be eating and a curtain raiser, "Lewiston," which has the same themes and symbols as the later play. Taken as a whole this is a remarkable achievement, probably the best Hunter has created so far. Director David McCallum must be given some of the credit for this magnificent evening, and in particular actor Edmund Donovan who isn’t so much performing as living his character of Chris in "Clarkston." [more]

Chasing the New White Whale

November 28, 2018

Visually impressive due to the inventive work of scenic designer Donald Eastman and director Arthur Adair’s fine staging, "Chasing the New White Whale" is playwright Mike Gorman’s muddled attempt at an epic drama of drug addiction in the contemporary United States. Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel "Moby-Dick" is metaphorically employed and heavy-handed references and motifs abound. [more]

Life x 3

November 28, 2018

"Life X 3" was first seen in 2003 at the Circle in the Square.  This revival is tauter and funnier.  Perhaps this smaller venue refracts the play in a different way, but these four actors are more convincingly real, not to mention greater pains in the butt.  As the title implies, they get three chances to reveal—and revel in—their egos and idiosyncrasies, each succeeding part bringing out both nuances and bombshells. [more]

Two by Friel

November 27, 2018

The attempt to draw comparisons between two disparate one-act plays by Brian Friel proves forced and effortful. In a program note for "Two by Friel," now playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre, director Conor Bagley writes, “Although written over three decades apart, 'Lovers: Winners' and 'The Yalta Game' speak to each other in sacred whisperings.” In the event of seeing them performed back-to-back, those 'whisperings' prove so faint, they can barely be heard. [more]

Shadow of Heroes

November 26, 2018

While Alex Roe’s minimalist production is both sharp and engrossing, the play offers viewers several problems. Aside from the three main characters, the play has 23 other speaking roles with actors doubling and tripling in multiple roles. Those unfamiliar with the Hungarian names as well as the history may have trouble following the twisty drama as the events pile up. Ardrey uses the awkward device of a narrator actually called the “Author” (played by Joel Rainwater) which helps a greatly but this also leads to a good deal of excess information. At almost three hours, "Shadow of Heroes" is an investment in time but it does pay off in the end. There are very few plays since Shakespeare which attempt as this one does to dramatize such a large chunk of history on stage. [more]

Downstairs

November 25, 2018

Ostensibly about domestic abuse, the evidence is all offstage and we must surmise this from the defeated condition of the heroine Irene played by Ms. Daly. Her husband Gerry (John Procaccino) is involved in some shocking, nefarious business revealed to the characters on stage but never revealed to the audience, nor is the confidential project her brother Teddy (Mr. Daly) claims to be working on which will make his fortune. As such, the thrills are all a matter of guesswork, rather than actual events. [more]
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