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Off-Broadway

This Beautiful Future

January 17, 2022

First presented in London in 2017, this shimmering U.S. premiere affirms its acclaim. The Australian-born Ms. Kalnejais’ writing is highly crafted, imaginative and affective. Kalnejais was inspired by a 2016 museum exhibition containing W.W. II-era film footage to create this entrancing historical tale during a sense of worldwide political chaos. “I wanted to write something hopeful and delicious and gorgeous and put something gorgeous out into the world,” she has said in an interview. [more]

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

January 13, 2022

Her nine years on SNL would seem excellent preparation for "Search" which requires her to portray ten different characters alternately. However, although Strong has tremendous stage presence, she has not yet grown into all of the roles or given all of the characters (nine women and one man) distinct, separate voices. While still a tour de force for one performer, the play seems dated after 37 years with one scene using a coin pay phone and several references to the Equal Right Amendment (ERA), neither of which are in common parlance anymore. On some level, a good deal of the play takes place in the past (Betty Friedan, LSD, Rupert Murdoch, “I mean the Women’s Movement isn’t that old,” etc.) but as no years or dates are mentioned, it feels like it is taking place now which seems like a mistake. Without the intermission, the show presents too many stories to take in all at one sitting. [more]

I Just Want to Tell Somebody

January 11, 2022

He used the gimmick of preparing to perform the very show he was performing for his audience in the Cabaret Theater of the Theater for the New City; but by the end of his fascinating and grueling life story he was on fire with his tale of his life in the theater and film.  He grew up in the Sixties when the U.S. was in turmoil and it seemed that everyone was getting high. Smokey’s career began with a first prize in his Washington, D.C., high school talent show and some performances at the Arena Stage.  He quit school to try his luck in California but failed and returned to D.C. where he joined an all-Black repertory theater and appeared in his first commercial which he showed on a large screen.  Much later he appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s "The Cotton Club" as a featured musical performer.  His number in the film was shown proving he was an impressive dancer and singer partnered by Jackée Harry. [more]

Sugar Ray

January 10, 2022

For 80 minutes, Mr. Wilson commands the stage with his expressive voice and charismatic physical presence. Wilson portrays Robinson from robust youth to early middle-age beset by early Alzheimer’s with verve, recounting the fighter’s life from birth in Georgia, to a poverty-stricken Harlem childhood, to his rise and fall in the ring. Direct address is a conceit of the play, and so Wilson is in constant motion, periodically engaging with audience members and at times playfully throwing punches at some. In addition to fiercely channeling Robinson, Wilson offers marvelous mini portraits of his resourceful divorced mother, Walter Winchell and Muhammad Ali. It’s a towering turn. [more]

Wit

January 8, 2022

Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit, an exquisitely literate and dramatically poignant piece, would certainly suffer in the hands of less than able artists. Fortunately, the production currently running at The Paradise Factory is in well-talented hands and does the material proud. Director Brynn Asha Walker (who also provides sound design and plays Nurse Susie Monahan) has carefully shaped this production for maximum impact, cultivating Stage Four ovarian cancer patient/professor Dr. Vivian Bearing’s (Erin Cronican) gripping descent from dignity to death in a compelling manner. The lighting design by Scott Monnin coupled with Phoenix Lion’s projections of well-placed phrases from the script artfully provide mood and thought provocation, all enhanced by Walker’s sound design. [more]

A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Ramadan

December 25, 2021

Not only is this a puppet show but it is also an extended concert. This year’s vocalists are Valois Mickens, of West African, Celtic, and Native American origin,  and Katarina Vizina, a transplant from Slovakia,  who sing pieces of about 20 carols and songs including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Silent Night,” and “The Dreidel Song” in the original languages. Occasionally they participate in the action, as well as in the prologue that sets up the show. [more]

Technopoly

December 24, 2021

With narrative flashes reminiscent of Rod Serling’s striking storytelling, "Logic & Hope" is a resonant examination of a heterosexual marriage during the era of early COVID-19. A cooped up middle class New York City couple navigate their relationship during job loss and pregnancy. Masking, sheltering in place and existential unease are represented by Mr. Murphy through sharp details. Murphy then gives us psychological turns and plot twists out of Lillian Hellman. Actors Jake Robertson and Marissa Caraballo offer vivid portrayals as the troubled marrieds, with John Sannuto giving a wry telephone voice-over performance as the wife’s grandiose financier father. [more]

Is There Still Sex in the City?

December 15, 2021

Although Candace Bushnell’s one-woman show, "Is There Still Sex in the City?," shares the same name with her 2019 novel/self-help book, the stage show now at the Darryl Roth Theatre is her autobiography telling the story of her life and career. Ms. Bushnell proves to be a vivacious performer with a great deal of stage presence, not surprising for a woman who was the model for "Sex and the City"’s Carrie Bradshaw. The show is both entertaining and revealing, correcting many misconceptions about the true adventures of the author. She also gets to change into a dazzling array of outfits by Lisa Zinni in an attractive apartment setting by Anna Louizos which colorfully lit by Travis McHale. And like Carrie Bradshaw she collects shoes which are in evidence in the shelves on the stage. [more]

Little Christmas Miracles

December 12, 2021

Ideally, the good-natured play with music, "Little Christmas Miracles" would perform only at matinees before an audience mostly of eager children rather than seasoned theatergoers. [more]

The Lanford Wilson Project: “The Mound Builders” & “Sympathetic Magic”

December 9, 2021

It appears that the later play was modeled on the earlier one though it may not have been noticed back in 1997 when "Sympathetic Magic" had its New York premiere. Both plays deal with discoveries by scientists: archeologists in "The Mound Builders" looking in the earth and astronomers in "Sympathetic Magic" examining the sky. The themes of both are about ethics in science, in "The Mound Builders" science versus commerce, and in "Sympathetic Magic" science versus fame. Both include a pair of brothers and sisters, and one parent of each is of vital importance, though not seen in both plays. A woman artist appears in each: a famous blocked novelist in "The Mound Builders" and a quickly rising sculptress in "Sympathetic Magic." Each drama has a newly announced pregnancy that is paralleled with the new scientific discovery. Both are ensemble plays dealing with a tightly knit group of people affiliated with a university department. In each a project ends disastrously, as well as a relationship breaks up for differing reasons.  The academic world intrudes on both plots as the scientists are professors at their respective institutions. [more]

Selling Kabul

December 6, 2021

Will a former Afghani U.S. Armed Forces interpreter get himself and his family out of the country before he’s captured by the Taliban in 2013? This is the crux of playwright Sylvia Khoury’s gripping, thoughtful and suspenseful drama, "Selling Kabul." In a straight through 100 minutes, Ms. Khoury crafts an accessible overview of that conflict, sets up a compelling story and employs a classic plot device. Khoury’s smooth passionate dialogue imparts exposition and biographical details while advancing action with technical accomplishment. [more]

Candlelight

December 1, 2021

Playwright John Patrick Shanley has said in interviews that his latest play "Candlelight" is a new departure for him. Described as “A Nuyorican comic romantic tragedy covered with magic and dipped in Brooklyn blood” in its world premiere given by Nylon Fusion Theatre Company, the play follows the tale of ten-year-old Esperanza as she falls in love with a classmate Tito and lets her imagination run away with her. It is one of those plays where the children are played by adults and objects like a mirror, a robe and a sword come to life. Set in a nightmare world of children, the play covers child abuse, sexual assault, drug addiction, violence, all presented as a fairy tale for children. One wonders who the target audience for this is: it is too mature for children but too whimsical for adults. While Lori Kee's production is fine, some of her casting of the children played by adults is not believable though the actors certainly try hard. [more]

Cullud Wattah

November 27, 2021

All of us are probably aware of the problems of polluted water in Flint, Michigan, owing to civic neglect. However, it might shock you to know that it is still going on. Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize winning play, "Cullud Wattah," takes on this crisis through the prism of one family of three generations of Black women living in the same house. The material is powerful and explosive. We learn a great deal about the crisis as well as see how it personally affects all five of these women in one family. Director Candis C. Jones has obtained the kind of performances from her ensemble cast that makes you feel that these actresses have lived and worked together for years when they may have never met before now. [more]

The Alchemist

November 23, 2021

The Red Bull Theater production of Ben Jonson’s "The Alchemist" will most likely introduce a new generation to this classic Jacobean comedy in a form that most will be able to follow due to being put into contemporary American English. Hatcher may well have saved this relatively unknown masterpiece from the literary scrap heap. Red Bull is to be complimented for living up to its mission of bringing “rarely seen classic plays to dynamic new life for contemporary audiences.” [more]

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

November 22, 2021

Performed as one long 80-minute monologue, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing also offers actor Jenn Murray little, if any, respite, laying on her shoulders complete responsibility for telling every detail of its emotionally unyielding story. Besides the girl, she must give voice to all of the other unnamed characters in the play, too, distinguishing them so that the staged version of McBride's novel, where it's impossible to simply reread a sentence, has an immediate intelligibleness. By itself, this feat is enough to make Murray's performance astonishing, but it's only the tip of her accomplishments. [more]

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord 

November 22, 2021

But of course, looks are famously and frequently deceptive, if not all the time. Indeed,"Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overload" emerges as one of the most serious-minded plays of all, as it surveys what we all have been going through and having to endure for the past 20 months. During that period, as you may recall, there were various times when necessary facemasks were proving unavailable—and especially in different parts of the country. Wong made it her business to recruit hundreds of her “Aunties” to produce them and provide relief, ergo the self-deprecating description in her title. She may have been overseeing something akin to a “sweatshop,” but it’s hard to imagine her as a demanding “overlord” of anything. [more]

The Bronx Babe

November 21, 2021

When Sonny Marie Lee stepped onto the stage of the Actors Temple Theatre as the eponymous "The Bronx Babe" I thought she was putting the audience on, acting the stereotypical, Noo Yawk accented girl telling her memories of a stressful period in her life that tested her mettle. But, no, the woman who stood before us, the woman who both wrote and directed "The Bronx Babe," was obviously unaware of her theatrical shortcomings as she blithely told tales of her early teen years in the racially charged Bronx of the 1970’s. [more]

Morning’s At Seven

November 16, 2021

Dan Wackerman’s revival for The Peccadillo Theater Company and Woodie King, Jr.’s New Federal Theatre has an equally starry cast some of whom have not appeared on New York stages for quite a while: Lindsay Crouse, Alma Cuervo, Tony Roberts, John Rubinstein and West Coast stars Patty McCormack and Alley Mills. Demonstrating the enduring worth of this piece of Americana, the production is as equally delightful as the previous two revivals. It is also graced by a beautifully realistic setting by Harry Feiner for the shared backyard of the two homes where all the action takes place. The new production emphasizes the humor in the dialogue and, if memory serves, it is more dramatic than the previous two revivals. [more]

The Antelope Party

November 14, 2021

Meyer’s darkly comic script is ultimately terrifying, a nod to Orwell and a brilliantly satirical parable which is uncannily prescient in today’s political climate. Director Jess Chayes brings the best out of each of the actors, and finely shapes the delicate arc which begins with laughs and rainbows and descends into fear and suspicion. The costumes by Kate Fry keenly capture each character. The sets by Yu-Hsuan Chen efficiently reflect the simplicity and humble economy of the characters’ environment, and effect some extremely smart scene transitions, one which was so clever it evoked a quiet murmur from the audience. [more]

The Dark Outside

November 13, 2021

The Off-Off-Broadway world premiere of "The Dark Outside," nonagenarian English playwright Bernard Kops’ poetic, archetypal and fantastical family secrets drama is problematic. Directorial excess combined with intrusive conceptual design clash with authorial vision. The play was originally performed as a reading at London’s National Portrait Gallery on January 17, 2020. It’s likely that its potential was more realized and faithful to Mr. Kops’ text during that simple event. [more]

Morning Sun

November 12, 2021

In a departure for him, the three actresses play all of the characters, both female and male, and are listed in the program simply as 1, 2 and 3. While the play feels undramatic and has no high points it does put the entire 67 years of the life of its heroine Charlotte (Charley) McBride played by Falco center stage. This low-key form seems to be the point for Stephens: life is a series of moments, like beads on a string, rather than big explosions or confrontations. With Brown playing her mother Claudette and Marin playing her daughter Tessa, both actresses also take turns narrating and playing other people in Charley’s life: her father Harold, her best friend Casey, her lover Brian, her husband Edward, her Uncle Stanley. Not only is the drama low-key, the characters play ordinary people, a saleswoman at Macy’s, a receptionist at St. Vincent, a janitor at the YMCA, the sort of people one had met or can identify with, unpretentious and unassuming: what most of the world is made up of. [more]

Odd Man Out

November 11, 2021

Without the benefit of sight, one must strain to listen more closely in order to understand the events of the play; footsteps, cane taps, ball bounces, far off music, distant voices and other incidental sounds make much more of an impact in the story, sounds that would have held less significance when simply watching a play. The original music by Mirko Mescia sounds even more beautiful when listened to without visual distraction, including a notably gorgeous guitar piece played by Roberto Ariel Cáceres during an especially transporting interlude. All told, the binaural sound design by Nicolas Álvarez was robust and inventive, providing an amazing, three-dimensional sound experience of Alberto’s world. The audience isn’t just treated to sounds to fill the gaps of sight. Smells of coffee, tangerines, and celery soup waft by when such things are mentioned, and drops of water are felt in relevant moments. These visceral layers greatly enhanced the experience of this production. [more]

Gnit

November 9, 2021

Will Eno’s wry, contemporary 'Gnit" solves the problem of attempting to stage Ibsen’s unwieldy, five-hour verse play "Peer Gynt." The play given its world premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2013 is now making its New York debut at Theater for a New Audience in a production directed by Oliver Butler, a longtime collaborator with Eno. Heavily influenced by the plays of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, "Gnit" is a journey of the self to enlightenment with travel throughout the world. Part road movie, part folklore, and part horror story, "Gnit" makes an old play new again. [more]

Tammany Hall

November 5, 2021

Co-creators and co-directors Darren Lee Cole and Alexander Flanagan-Wright have crafted a novel documentary premise, enforced with immaculate historical detail without being pedantic. The events and sense of this period are imparted through precise information characters deliver. That’s aided by the company wearing costume designer Grace Jeon’s smart dark suits, a variety of hats, and smashing flapper dresses. Lighting designer Emily Clarkson and sound designer Megan Culley add to the authenticity with their high caliber contributions. [more]

Radium Girls

November 1, 2021

D.W. Gregory’s docudrama "Radium Girls" being given its New York premiere after a run in New Jersey over 20 years ago attempts to put the story and subsequent lawsuits on stage. Part of the problem with the stage version is the use of ten actors to play 36 parts with five playing up to seven roles each, making it difficult to keep straight who is who. Possibly more damaging is the languid, studied direction by Laura Livingston. The second act which leads up to the lawsuits is somewhat quicker and more engaging but at two hours and 20 minutes the play is too crammed with characters and data for its own good. A recent film based on the same story appears to have been defeated for other reasons. [more]

Brecht on Brecht

October 29, 2021

Director Nicholas Viselli’s physical staging crackles with force and exhibits visual flair with numerous arresting stage pictures. Bert Scott’s artfully simple scenic design conveys the sense of the past as does his lighting design, employing dimness, spotlights and blackouts all to great effect. Sound designer Eric Nightengale achieves an appropriate vintage vibe. While utilizing contemporary wear, Courtney E. Uruyo’s perfect costume design manages to evoke different eras of the 20th century particularly with its range of dresses and hats. Projection designer Samuel J. Biondolillo artistically melds words and imagery into a pleasing view. Crucial is the periodic inclusion of black and white footage of the Marxist Brecht testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. [more]

Mrs. Warren’s Profession

October 28, 2021

George Bernard Shaw’s once-banned problem comedy due to its controversial subject matter concerning prostitution, "Mrs. Warren’s Profession" has been given a stylish and elegant revival by the Gingold Theatrical Group which specializes in the plays of this master. As staged by artistic director David Staller and with a cast led by Karen Ziemba and Robert Cuccioli, the play is an entertaining story investigating hypocrisy in society, mother-daughter relationship, and the rights of women. While most of the shock value has worn off since the play was first written in 1893, the play’s message is still timely and relevant. Banned from the stage for 32 years in England after it was written, the play now seems to have come into its own with previous New York revivals that have starred such legendary actresses as Ruth Gordon, Lynn Redgrave, Uta Hagen and Dana Ivey. [more]

Fairycakes

October 26, 2021

This mashup proves to be both too convoluted and too long at two hours and 20 minutes. Beane has, however, given the play a top flight send off with a starry cast of some of the most distinctive and unique actors on the New York stage: Julie Halston, Jackie Hoffman, Arnie Burton, Ann Harada, Mo Rocca and rising stars Kristolyn Lloyd (Grammy Award winner for "Dear Evan Hansen") and Jason Tam ("Be More Chill," "Lysistrata Jones," "Marry Me a Little," etc.)  The biggest problem is that as these performers all have their own styles, the production seems to pull in many different directions with no one appearing to be in the same play. Most satisfying are the lavish and eye-filling costumes in a rainbow of fabrics and colors by Gregory Gale which take your mind off the play and should win awards at the end of the season. [more]

Clifford Odets in Staten Island

October 23, 2021

An idealistic down on his luck Filipino American father home schools his two children. To teach them about The Great Depression and the present U.S. economy, he has them study the plays of Clifford Odets. The realistic portions of the production set in a house and outdoors are in color, these alternate with striking black and white performance portions of the boxing drama Golden Boy and the labor strike play Waiting for Lefty in various locales such as the backyard and the den. It’s all quite engaging and hearing Odets’ unique hard-edged poetic dialogue is a lovely reminder of his historic place in the American theater.  [more]

Autumn Royal

October 20, 2021

Previously only known for his novels and short stories, first-time playwright Kevin Barry brings the same full-hearted doom and gloom to the stage in "Autumn Royal" that was evidenced in his Booker-Prize-longlisted "Night Boat to Tangier," unravelling May's and Timothy's forlorn existences with a compassion apparently meant not only for these two characters but also for anyone in the audience whose time is slipping away faster than their ability to enjoy it. In other words, Autumn Royal is the perfect midlife-crisis-cum-Covid play. (I dare the Irish Rep to use that in the advertisements!) Though Barry wrote it before the pandemic's onset, this fraught two-hander has gained, perhaps against its will, a far deeper resonance from the subsequent worldwide catastrophe, a fact that doesn't escape director Ciarán O’Reilly who turns Charlie Corcoran's spare and icy set into a very lonely domestic island for May and Timothy to neither share nor experience anything fundamentally new other than, of course, the neighbors' priggish judgment for wanting to shed their father for greener pastures. [more]

Letters of Suresh

October 13, 2021

Although the characters never meet in person, they communicate mostly through letters that are spoken by the actors directly to the audience, and then halfway through the play, in texting which appears on the back screen as well as Facetime from across the world. Letters of Suresh is the perfect play for the pandemic as its characters are separated from each other across the stage as they declaim their letters, a reminder to all of us that without meeting in person we can communicate in writing. And the letters presented as monologues are never dry or dusty, but vibrant and revealing as if the other person is opposite you on the other side of a room or table. [more]

1-2-3 Manhunt

October 11, 2021

DiMurro writes with an acute sense of the rhythm of New York speech and its old-school jargon, helped by director William Roudebush’s complementary sense of timing, not to mention four expert actors who know how to embody these characters. Herrick Goldman’s atmospheric lighting and Andy Evan Cohen’s brilliant urban soundscape immeasurably added to the overall impact of "1-2-3 Manhunt." [more]

Chasing Jack

October 6, 2021

“Simon says let the games begin,” and so they do, at the opening of "Chasing Jack," a new play by John S Anastasi, M.D. As directed by Peter J Loewy, "Chasing Jack" is a smart and rewarding new courtroom play, which opens with two questions, “Why is he dead and was the surgery even necessary?”  It includes other smart lines such as, “I accept mediocrity as the standard. It wouldn’t hurt you to be a little like me.” “I am. I’m divorced.” “I’m glad you decided to emulate my better qualities.” And consider: “This was a complication with an unusual presentation. Bad shit happens to good people.” [more]
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