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Off-Broadway

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]

No One Is Forgotten

July 14, 2019

Playwright Winter Miller offers a shakily hollow mélange of Genet, Beckett and Pinter with her two women in a prison cell scenario taking place in an unnamed foreign country. Ms. Miller’s dialogue is well-shaped and achieves sporadic humor and emotional resonance but to no real purpose as her effort comes across as an artificial exercise rather than a realized play. Without explanation sometimes only one character appears, and we’re left to conclude, “Maybe it’s a flashback or one was taken away and returned. Did one of them die?” [more]

The White Dress

July 13, 2019

Packed with emotion, adolescent angst and eventfully picaresque, "The White Dress" is playwright Roger Q. Mason’s passionate autobiographical saga of a “gender non-conforming queer person of color.” It’s boldly presented and contains vivid performances, but the amorphous structure and idiosyncratic writing dilute its momentum. [more]

Barabbas

July 3, 2019

While Will T.F. Carter’s "Barabbas" is very outspoken on the topic of political corruption in Peru, the play is dramatically weak as so much of it is exposition. In each scene we learn a little bit more about the men’s lives, but little that is new happens in the play’s 90 minutes. The tepid direction by Eduardo Machado gives us too much time to consider the play’s deficiencies and makes the play seem longer than it is. Carter’s anger at what is going on in Peru is commendable, but Barabbas does not utilize that indignation except on an intellectual basis. [more]

The Comedian’s Tragedy

June 30, 2019

Matthew Amendt’s new play "The Comedian’s Tragedy" asks the burning question why did Aristophanes, the master of Greek comedy, never write any tragedies. Socrates in Plato’s "Symposium" equated comedy and tragedy with Aristophanes present, but the question does not seem to have been asked these 2,400 years. While Amendt attempts to pass off his play as history, he plays fast and loose with the actual facts. Director Bill McCallum’s production does not help things by having the actors from ancient Athens mainly in contemporary clothing and having several historically male characters played by women. As most of the people in the play are not household names except to Greek scholars, this makes the play much more difficult to follow let alone recall what one should know about life in the days of Socrates and Aristophanes. [more]

Toni Stone

June 30, 2019

Lydia R. Diamond’s "Toni Stone" is a tour de force for one actress and Obie Award winner April Matthis gives a bravura performance as the first woman to play professional baseball as part of the Negro League. Although she is backed by eight men who from time to time make up the teams she was on, this is basically a one-woman show. In fact, this might have been a better play if Toni was the only character we had to follow on stage. However, director Pam MacKinnon excellently defines each character as we meet them in various combination; we just don’t know who they are most of the time. [more]

Casting Aspersions

June 26, 2019

Passero’s expressive tenor voice, twinkling eyes, seasoned character actor presence which recalls that of Michael Tucker and jovial personality enables him to entertainingly chronicle his interesting life in 75 breezy minutes. The memory of his parents bringing home the original cast recording of Cabaret incites a smashing rendition of "Willkommen." It’s one of several delightful musical interludes with selections from Applause, equally as accomplished. A wicked Nicholas Cage is among his several spot-on impressions of those he’s been in contact with. Mentioned in stories are Paul Rudd and Leonardo DiCaprio. [more]

Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson

June 24, 2019

A decade has passed since the much-criticized AT&T vs. Verizon commercials starring Luke Wilson took to the airwaves, but playwright Rob Ackerman has chosen to bubble up their essence into his whimsical, off-the-wall new play, "Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson," helmed by Theresa Rebeck in her New York directorial debut. [more]

The Mountains Look Different

June 23, 2019

A mash-up of Eugene O’Neill’s "Anna Christie" (set in Manhattan and off the coasts of Provincetown and Boston) and "Desire under the Elms "(with a rural New England setting), the play is set on a farm in the West of Ireland. With its fallen woman theme, this play could have been written any time since 1880. First time director Aidan Redmond has staged the play by the numbers and has given his actors little help. Some of the character interpretations undercut the play. However, the play does have a melodramatic but smashing and startling ending. [more]

Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom

June 23, 2019

Employing her charming accent with its expressive vocal cadences and exhibiting her alluring sleek physicality and charismatic presence, Moloney totally embodies Molly Bloom as she forcefully conveys the icon’s humor and wistfulness. She authoritatively enacts a myriad of often sensual personal reflections with colossal flair. Whether gleefully reciting Joyce’s graphic dialogue, laying on her back with her legs spread or squatting over a chamber pot, she is fearless in delivering her searing dramatic and comedic characterization. [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]

Handbagged

June 22, 2019

Although director Indhu Rubasingham’s production is engrossing and entertaining, this talky and dense play may be difficult to follow for Americans who either do not know or have forgotten the details of Thatcher’s 11 year career as the first woman British prime minster and the longest serving P.M. of the 20th century. Among characters depicted by the male actors whom Americans may have trouble placing are Kenneth Kaunda, Neil Kinnock, Michael Shay, Kenneth Clarke, Arthur Scargil, Peter Carrington and Michael Heseltine. Many of these men were Thatcher’s cabinet ministers who are no longer on the political scene. However, with two actresses playing each of the women in both younger and older incarnation, it is quite remarkable how much they reflect the real life people they play. [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]

Much Ado About Nothing (Free Shakespeare in the Park)

June 20, 2019

Director Kenny Leon has made his reputation with trenchant productions of contemporary and new plays by such authors as Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Katori Hall and Lydia R. Diamond. Now with his delightful all-black modern dress version of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Delacorte Theater for Free Shakespeare in the Park he demonstrates a light touch with classic plays. Led by Danielle Brooks, star of "Orange is the New Black" and Tony nominated for her performance as Sofia in the 2015 revival of "The Color Purple," the generally youthful cast is up to the requirements of this witty Shakespeare comedy. [more]

Galas

June 19, 2019

This first-ever revival of "Galas" intentionally coincides with World Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings. It honors the memory of Ludlam who died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 44, affirms its high reputation and demonstrates that its eternally funny. It’s performed at the historic and under repair Theatre at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street in Manhattan which is close to Sheridan Square where the original production premiered and to the Stonewall Inn. [more]

The Great Novel

June 19, 2019

The perennial tale of a noble servant exploited by a self-absorbed upper class family is given a bewildering and tedious treatment by playwright Amina Henry in "The Great Novel." It’s an enervating 95 minute mashup of lesser Ionesco with helpings of Wes Anderson and the visual style of John Singer Sargent. [more]

Masquerade

June 19, 2019

Ukrainian director Rimas Tuminas has led the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia in a massacre of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1845 play "Masquerade."  Presented by the Cherry Orchard Festival, the spectacle on stage at the New York City Center made a mockery of an intelligent verse play that beautifully reveals the passions underneath the elegant façade of early 19th century Russian high society. [more]

Little Women

June 19, 2019

Kate Hamill who has had success with "Sense and Sensibility" (Bedlam), "Pride and Prejudice" (Primary Stages), and "Vanity Fair "(The Pearl Theatre) has now turned her sights to Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel of growing up, "Little Women." With this stage adaptation she seems to want to have it both ways: although still set during the Civil War with the women in long dresses and singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Jo wears men’s clothing and she and Laurie often speak of feeling like they do not fit their gender role. A note in the script states that the play “MUST be cast in an inclusive fashion. It is an American play, and should reflect America today.” As a result, the Primary Stages production makes the March family sisters Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian. This new "Little Women" has a modern sensibility at war with the material. [more]

Open

June 19, 2019

Skillman unfolds an achingly beautiful story, dropping bits and pieces of Kristen’s thoughts and memories as she balances her tightrope of love, commitment, sacrifice and transformation. Hill’s performance as Kristen is funny, honest, compelling and heartbreaking; one cannot take their eyes off her, and it’s not because she is the sole occupant of the stage. [more]

Three Musketeers: 1941

June 16, 2019

Megan Monaghan Rivas’ gender-bending take on the popular, much-adapted Alexandre Dumas 1844 novel, "The Three Musketeers," moves the action from the 17th century to Paris during World War II. A very dedicated group of brave women take part in the Underground fighting behind enemy lines to sabotage the Nazis who were occupying most of France.Written for the Women in Theatre Festival (WIT) and staged at the beautiful A.R.T./New York Theatres on the far West Side, an area which is filling up with fresh new theatrical venues, "Three Musketeers: 1941" is a brave expression of the power of women. [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]

Convention

June 14, 2019

Regrettably these achievements are marred by hollow tangents, diluting the play’s potential power. Having come up with a such a novel premise, Rocco is carried away by a concern with form rather than straightforwardness. Much of it plays out like subpar Robert Altman with empty cross talk, heavy- handed overlapping dialogue and strained comedy. The whimsical device of a hotdog vendor caught up in the action is overused and becomes a drag despite Brandt Adams’ gruff charm and masterful comic timing. [more]

Dying City

June 12, 2019

Under Shinn’s direction, Winstead making her stage debut is very low-key, almost as an observer in her own story. True she works as a therapist, one who tries not to reveal her personal feelings to her patients, but in her private life she ought to show more emotion given the provocations. In the original production directed by James Macdonald, Pablo Schreiber as both Peter and Craig was devastating, leaving the audience almost quaking in their shoes.  Here Woodell is almost indistinguishable as the twin brothers, thorough dressed in an olive green t-shirt as Peter and a button-down striped flannel shirt as Craig so that we have no trouble keeping them apart. The revelations come periodically but the play and the production seem under heated. It also seems to be too dependent on emails and phone calls, rather than dramatizing the story. [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]

Long Lost

June 11, 2019

The play offers no catharsis as the actors are so low-key throughout, all much too calm even when the stakes are rising. As a result, there is little or no tension even when we realize the pattern that each scene will offer a worse revelation than the one before. Tergesen’s black sheep Billy gives us no clue as to the reason for his malignant behavior. Both AuCoin as his brother David and Parisse as David’s wife Molly are cool and sophisticated when they should be losing their temper. Wolff’s Brown University freshman is too inarticulate, but unfortunately he is straitjacketed by the dialogue he has been given. [more]

Public Servant

June 7, 2019

Bekah Brunstetter’s new play, "Public Servant," has its heart in the right place. It shares with The Cake, seen earlier this year at Manhattan Theatre Club, the first part of a trilogy with the new play, a similar theme: private issues of public figures, with both plays set in North Carolina where the author hails from. Like Della in "The Cake," Ed in "Public Servant" is a well-meaning man whose personal beliefs do not always agree with all members of the community - including his own college-age daughter. Unfortunately, "Public Servant" has many of the same problems and drawbacks that marred "The Cake." [more]

In the Closet

June 4, 2019

G. Austin Allen’s set is a larger-than-life closet draped in purple cloth and which also includes a kitchen. To this room comes the older man in his mid-60’s who has discovered that as his husband Steven is dying of cancer, nursing homes are ambivalent about taking in gay men. Next is a middle-aged man in his mid-40’s who has had an emotional meltdown having realized he is soon to turn 50 and has no partner to fill his lonely life at which he was bartending. And then there is the hunky man in his late 20’s who is in the midst of a trial against his boss and his friend who raped him after a sex party. They are also there to give advice to teenage John, still asleep in the next room, when he wakes up confused after his first gay sexual encounter. [more]

God of Marz

June 3, 2019

As for the show’s humor, there were moments when Sheen should have played her emotions straight instead of going for laughs (a.k.a. the #1 rule of comedy acting) -- but there’s time for her to grow into that. Additionally, the comedic concepts in "God of Marz" could use more development. The show is on the cusp of being a funny, zany absurdist romp, but it doesn’t have enough internal logic in its script to justify its more inventive flourishes. With tweaks, that could definitely happen. Still, there were a few good one-liners. Example: “You know, my birthday is September 11.” / “That’s tragic! You’re a Virgo!” [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]

Brief Chronicle, Books 6-8

June 3, 2019

“It’s best when each performer is older, or younger, or of a different gender- expression, ethnicity, or ability than you might expect. This keeps the play vibrating in your imagination” are from Borinsky’s stage directions. For this production we get a youthful cast playing roles opposite their presumed genders with skillful exaggeration. [more]

Madame Lynch

May 31, 2019

Eliza Lynch (1833-1886) was an Irishwoman who grew up in France and became a courtesan. In 1854 she began a relationship with Francisco Solano López, the son of Paraguay’s president. He later succeeded his father and Lynch became First Lady. He was killed in battle in 1870. Her time in Paraguay was controversial as she was thought to have instigated wars and conflicts. She was banished and returned to France, dying in obscurity. Thank you, Wikipedia, for these details because they’re scant in this treatment. Ms. Sherwood and Mr. Flanagin are more concerned with superficial theatrics rather than concretely crafting a comprehensible narrative chronicling the life of a fascinating figure who was a cross between "Barry Lyndon" and "Evita." [more]

Mac Beth

May 29, 2019

Schmidt’s streamlined adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy is played by a cast of seven schoolgirls who meet in an abandoned urban field after school without any set up other than that they throw down their book bags before launching into the first scene. Designed by Jessica Pabst, their school uniforms made up of cape with hood, a blazer, a skirt, and tie are made of Scottish tartan which is appropriate for this play. Every prop in the show comes from the backpacks and purses they carry with them. The girls perform the play without reading from the text as though they have studied it in school and are thoroughly versed in it. Once they enter the scene, the girls never exit but sit on the sidelines watching for the rest of the play. [more]

Messiah

May 29, 2019

Flashbacks, speechifying, conspiracy theories involving J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, disco sequences, the scourge of crack cocaine, hip hop numbers, other-worldly fantasies and violence all play out on scenic designer You-Shin Chen’s terrific runway stage with its several levels, a mirror ball and a raised DJ booth. Strobe lights, sirens and a multitude of musical snippets accompany the actions of the people of color and trans characters. [more]
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