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Off-Broadway

Burn

September 22, 2022

Although Alan Cumming is a charismatic performer, the distracting video design, the often overpowering music, and the often flashing lighting by Tim Lutkin, gets in the way of viewing the show. Much of the effect is created by the atmospheric lighting which periodically changes color (blue, green, red) yet at times it turns the evening into a multimedia event. Since none of the poems are clear enough to be understood, we learn little of Burns’ output as a poet though we do hear about his triumphs that lead to being lionized in Edinburgh. The contemporary music only rarely suggests the period. The dance elements also seem an eccentric way to portray this 18th century man who attempted to live life to the fullest. Cumming charmingly depicts this Scottish icon though he does come off as a lovable rogue. It is all an example of too much being too much. The rather coy ending has Cumming sitting on the edge of the stage declaiming Burns’ now famous poem, “Auld Lang Syne,” after the final curtain has already descended. [more]

Four Saints in Three Acts

September 21, 2022

Greenspan isn’t always totally clear when switching points of view, but made up for this by turning the entire, long script into a wonderland of gestures, vocalizations, postures and movements.  His eyes and his hands are masterful communicators.  His lean body’s dancelike movements add dimension to the onslaught of words.  This is a performance that must be seen to appreciate how mindboggling his accomplishment is. [more]

Jasper

September 21, 2022

Most poignantly, when Drew starts to wonder if maybe their son's survival has been the opposite of a blessing, Andrea expresses horror for a thought that, thanks to Pimentel's touchingly subtle performance, we know she's had herself. To its strongest credit, MacDermott's play affords all three of its actors the opportunity to find meaning beyond their characters' words. Though, of course, with a less capable trio, this sort of dramatic freedom could have been a disaster. [more]

Our Man in Santiago

September 19, 2022

Mark Wilding’s "Our Man in Santiago" is billed as a “raucous political farce” but it is neither loud and noisy nor hilariously funny. Inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1974 article in Harper’s Magazine concerning the CIA involvement in the death of democratically elected President Salvador Allende, the play supposes that the CIA had operatives in Santiago ready to kill Allende when General Pinochet launched his coup that took out Allende’s government and democracy in Chile for the next 16 years. While Charlie Mount, who also directed LA’s Theater West production in 2021, keeps the play bubbling along, the one-dimensional characters and the lack of real farcical stage business diminish the play to an overlong attempt at satire. [more]

Love, Sex and Real Estate

September 18, 2022

"Love, Sex & Real Estate" moves swiftly, thanks to John D. McNally’s direction.  He skillfully manages the quick shifts between romantic liaisons, real estate discussions, Ugo’s youthful angst, and Valter’s artistic stumblings. The writing, including an over-the-top version of a Feydeau farce, complete with slamming doors, tends toward cliché, but is saved by the performances of the eager cast of fine actors. [more]

Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski

September 17, 2022

Aside from his ability to create multiple characters with his voice and body language, Strathairn’s physicality is remarkable in aging from a young man to a senior citizen before our eyes as well as using the table for enacting various events such as jumping off of a train or Karski’s torture by the Nazis. (The movement director is Emma Jaster,) In the brief 90 minutes of playing time, Strathairn is able to establish a quietly heroic man’s entire life and career with modesty, sincerity and simplicity. It is not only a remarkable performance, it is also an impressive reconstruction of another man’s character and deeds. [more]

On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning

September 15, 2022

Revived by Retro Productions, we are treated to Eric Overmyer’s alternative Victorian fantasy, "On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning," that takes three vibrant, independent women of 1888 on an expedition not just through deepest, darkest “terra incognita” but also forward 67 years into a very different America.  Mores, as well as language as they know it, are at risk. [more]

Strings Attached

September 12, 2022

From the clever double entendre title to its fantastical involvement of three famous long dead physicists, Carole Buggé’s "Strings Attached" tries very hard to rise out of the morass what is basically a sad love triangle but is ultimately overwhelmed by frippery and cliché. [more]

Burbank: Walt Disney in Crisis

September 11, 2022

Although "Burbank: Walt Disney in Crisis" occasionally has its actors delivering monologues out to the audience, the most compelling drama occurs from the interactive scenes between the actors themselves; more of this would have absolutely been welcome. Nevertheless, the play does entertain and inform, revealing the financial struggles Disney went through to make such iconic films as "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," and "Bambi," even in the wake of "Snow White"’s success. Bossert also managed to squeeze in the fact that Disney attempted to block Adriana Caselotti, the voice of Snow White, from getting other work, in order to not “spoil the illusion” of the character. [more]

ONCE UPON A (korean) TIME

September 1, 2022

Commissioned by the Ma-Yi Theater Company, Daniel K. Isaac’s brilliant "ONCE UPON A (korean) TIME" was born out of the actor-playwright’s realization that he knew way more about Shakespeare and the Western canon than his own rich Korean culture of folk tales and origin myths.  He has fashioned, over the course of five scenes, beautifully layered storytelling in situations clouded by utter despair, without sacrificing great brushstrokes of humor. [more]

The Near Disaster of Jasper & Casper

August 30, 2022

As a piece of writing, "The Near Disaster of Jasper & Casper" is whacky and creative, and except for a couple of out-of-place bits of humor, one involving a middle finger and another a candle called “Blow Me,” it is charmingly humorous. The story even becomes lightly touching when Jasper’s love for his brother Casper is tested, and Jasper learns the real meaning of family and what it is to be responsible for others besides himself. "The Near Disaster of Jasper & Casper" is a thoroughly enjoyable, quirky fairy tale told by an expert storyteller, Jason Woods. By the end of this foray into the woods, it was time to go, I hated to leave, I had to, though. Worth a second viewing. [more]

Two Jews, Talking

August 29, 2022

If Samuel Beckett had been a Jew, his "Waiting for Godot"’s Estragon and Vladimir could have emerged as the equally quirky "Two Jews, Talking," in the appealing new two-hander by Ed. Weinberger starring Hal Linden and Bernie Kopell, all three TV legends. The two characters in each one-act play, talk and talk and get nowhere—very pleasantly with just the right touch of surreal mystery. Weinberger ("The Tonight Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi," etc.) has fashioned a quiet tour de force for these two veterans.  Linden, a spry 92, is not only a TV veteran ("Barney Miller") but a star of the Broadway stage, including his Tony Award winning performance in "The Rothschilds."  Kopell (89) is remembered for his long-running turn as the ship’s doctor in "The Love Boat" among many other appearances. [more]

Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle

August 26, 2022

Part of Ramón’s game plan to increase attendance is to create a Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle mascot.  In a move that changes his life, Arlo is drafted to don a hilarious, smelly rat costume transforming himself into the character Kuddly Kyle.  Suddenly Arlo, the sweet, directionless shlub has found meaning in his life via this subterfuge.  While in the costume, Arlo is the delightfully entertaining Kyle.  Without the costume, he’s just Arlo. This is the most moving part of Coaster, a play that revolves around the emotions and inner lives of these everyday, working class characters, beautifully evoked by Perez and carefully chaperoned by director, Rebecca Martínez to keep it all down to earth and accessible.  The fade-out is particularly moving as the workers have no idea that there is a disaster looming.  Their lives will be changed—for the worse. [more]

HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis

August 23, 2022

'Hyprov" is a delightful and surprising evening as there is no telling how it will turn out. Will the Hyprovisers be good at their improvs? Will they stay in character? How will they deal with the somewhat preposterous suggestions by the audience or Colin’s instructions? Will the improvs make complete skits? Will the volunteers all remain on the same wavelength? One could see this show several times as both the improvs and the volunteers will vary from night to night. A clever evening is had by all with the charming Asad Mecci running the first half and Colin Mochrie organizing the second half. [more]

macbitches

August 21, 2022

It is not until the last 15 minutes of Sophie McIntosh’s new play, "macbitches," that a dramatic event takes place. Up until then the play is mostly the chit chat of acting majors talking about productions they have been in, eccentric directors they have worked with at the college, rehearsal horrors, and theater experiences elsewhere. While this has some interest for theater buffs, it goes on too long and tends to be more and more of the same. If you know such shows as "The Drowsy Chaperone," "The Crucible," "Hedda Gabler," "Antigone," "Guys and Dolls" and "Macbeth" very well you may be able to follow the gossip. If not, you may grow very bored by all the anecdotes. There is some talk of the toxic environment of male-run academic departments but very little of it makes much of an impression. We never hear what the male acting students think of the department or its practices, only their bad behavior in rehearsal. [more]

Oresteia (Almeida Theatre)

July 30, 2022

If you have ever seen a play by Aeschylus, you know how static and slow they are, made up entirely of monologues and choral odes with hardly any action. It was Sophocles and Euripides who added what we consider drama to ancient Greek plays. Director Robert Icke’s new version of Aeschylus’ "Oresteia," the only complete Greek trilogy that remains extant, has been adapted into a updated tetralogy that is accessible, easy to identify with, and dramatically exciting. The Almeida Theatre production now at the Park Avenue Armory features magnificent performances by Anastasia Hille (Baptiste's wife Celia in the television series of the same name) and Angus Wright (Claudius, in Icke’s current also modern dress production of "Hamlet" running in repertory with Oresteia) as Klytemnestra and Agamemnon. Presented as a long evening of four plays, this is a commitment for the audience as the running time is three hours and 35 minutes with three intermissions. [more]

Hit the Wall

July 29, 2022

Jake Shore’s "Hit the Wall," though limited in its range, is very successful in its goals. It gives Adam Files and Alexandra Guerrero juicy roles as the aging mentor and the younger student who may have surpassed the master. It also depicts a world unfamiliar to most of us. Whether this world is entirely accurate is another question which only those in the know can tell us. However, the play as it now stands is an impressive but small piece of work. [more]

Happy Life

July 29, 2022

Ng has a far-reaching imagination and spins the many stories and characters of her "Happy Life" with admiral skill and abandon.  But it is just too heavy-handedly, head-scratchingly abstruse, not to mention unnecessarily full of foul language that somehow doesn’t jibe with the characters.  This is Theater of the Absurd put through the David Mamet grinder. [more]

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

July 26, 2022

While the play is rooted in its original 1955 period (its language, social mores, references, three-act form), this revival directed by Joe Rosario has attempted to place it in the present from the contemporary set and clothing and such props as cell phones and a great many uses of the f-word. However, without updating the dialogue, the play does not make sense reset in 2022, particularly in its archaic handling of homosexuality as it was referenced pre-Stonewall. Its themes of deception, greed and “mendacity” (a word made famous by this play) would seem to make the play contemporary but everything else about it including its hothouse atmosphere marks it as dated. [more]

A Black and White Cookie

July 19, 2022

The chips fall into place by the end of A Black and White Cookie, perhaps a bit too smoothly, but the path to the ending is well constructed and fascinating. Morgenstein has caught the nuances of each character and his dialogue rings true particularly as inhabited by these five actors who are ably directed by Marcello Rollando who quite wittingly provides the play-by-play radio commentary of the Mets games which Harold listens to throughout the story. [more]

Sex, Grift and Death: An Evening of Plays by Steven Berkoff and Caryl Churchill

July 18, 2022

For its 35th anniversary, PTP/NYC (Potomac Theater Project) continues is exploration of little known British plays by major playwrights with the New York premieres of one acts by Steven Berkoff and Caryl Churchill. The triple bill entitled "Sex, Grift and Death" includes the first local productions of Berkoff’s "Lunch" and Churchill’s "Here We Go," as well as the first NYC revival of Churchill’s "Hot Fudge," last seen here at The Public Theater in 1990. While the productions directed by Richard Romagnoli (Berkoff) and Cheryl Faraone (Churchill) are fine as far as they go, they all seem a little too underheated to be truly theatrical for these in-yer-face, confrontational authors. The evening’s title sums up the themes of this triple bill. [more]

Mister Miss America

July 16, 2022

D'Astolfo (that’s duh-STAHL-fo, mkay?), who also wrote the piece, sends Taylor off like a firecracker from the moment he comes onto the stage, speeding through Taylor’s wry and witty dialect so fast, why Mother of Jefferson Davis, he’s passing the fox! D’Astolfo’s dialogue is chock full of delightful West Virginian-isms, gay and regional. Taylor is described in the script as “wide-eyed and winning,” and this definitely describes D'Astolfo in the role. He also adds to the play’s humor in a totally different capacity as the voice of the wry, off-stage announcer and master of ceremonies. [more]

Richard III (Free Shakespeare in the Park)

July 11, 2022

And of his behavior Richard continues to explain, “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain.” In this production we see none of this though this speech comes near the beginning of the play. What we are offered is a one-dimensional action production which dilutes the play and entirely throws out historical authenticity. While Dede Ayite’s costumes are mostly period there are entirely modern touches like the two young princes, sons of the previous king, wearing gold sneakers. Instead, Richard is surrounded with people who have disabilities or physical challenges which somehow turns the play on its head: Lady Anne in a wheelchair, two deaf actors use sign language, Richmond (later King Henry VII) has cerebral palsy, and one of the courtiers who plays several roles is a dwarf. Nice to give all of these actors work but in this play it reverses the focus of the story and theme. [more]

Prince Charming, You’re Late

July 5, 2022

If you ever lived through the angst of an unrequited love, a romance impossible for one reason or another, then Billy Hipkins’ "Prince Charming, You’re Late" will hit the spot.  Directed by Perry Dell’Aquila, the monologue flows smoothly and movingly. Hipkins, a forty-something gay man with a gentle, softly sardonic nature, fell for a much younger actor in a Broadway show where he was employed as a dresser. Unfortunately, this was a job that put him up close and personal with the object of his frustrated affections.  Hipkins’ description of this unattainable young man is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, a vision of unattainable perfection in every way. [more]

Hamlet (Almeida Theatre)

July 4, 2022

Modern dress "Hamlet" productions can be problematic when the directors don’t plan out all the details. Robert Icke’s staging for London’s Almeida Theatre now at New York’s Park Avenue Armory is that rare production which has updated the play so well that it appears to be intended to be set in our time all along. Original, surprising and ingenious, the production amazes to the point we wonder why no one has though of these ideas before. The sleek, cool settings and costumes by Hildegard Bechtler brilliantly convey the corridors of power while the video design by Tal Yarden, a sort of closed circuit CNN, make William Shakespeare's tragedy feel up to the minute. This "Hamlet" is also accessible and easy to follow, even at a running time of three hours and 30 minutes. [more]

The Rise and Fall, Then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of…Jean Claude Van Damme as Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier

July 1, 2022

"The Rise and Fall, then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of…Jean Claude Van Damme as Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier" is the brobdinagian title of a tongue-in-cheek, hour-long comic riff on the life of a faded movie star.  The title is almost as long as the play. Timothy Haskell has written what is actually an extended elaborate skit brought to life by Joe Cordaro (perfect as a clueless Van Damme and other characters) and John Harlacher (hilarious as the all-knowing narrator) using puppets designed by co-director Aaron Haskell. The other director is Paul Smithyman who also designed the efficient conglomeration of a set which includes two podiums for the actors and a screen for the snippets of films and slides used to illustrate the story.  In front of the screen is a slotted board into which the actors insert funny two-dimensional stick puppets. [more]

Chains

June 27, 2022

The Mint Theater Company continues its three play mini-festival of the forgotten plays of Elizabeth Baker with "Chains." Given a polished – maybe too polished – production like the earlier "The Price of Thomas Scott," this play is also problematic, but in another way. Unlike her contemporaries John Galsworthy, George Bernard Shaw and Harley Granville-Barker, Baker’s "Chains" has a very narrow focus: the discontents of the lower middle-class white collar folk. All of the characters in the play’s first half (the script’s Act I and II) do nothing but either complain about the grind of their daily six-days-a-week jobs (half-holiday on Saturday) or laugh at those who would give up a steady employment. You would think that back in 1909 when the play was written there wasn’t anything else to talk about. Jenn Thompson’s direction is conventional and sedate where something more animated might have been more to the point. [more]

Lessons in Survival: 1971

June 26, 2022

Originally broadcast on "Soul!," an early PBS program dedicated to showcasing Black arts and politics, Baldwin and Giovanni's one-on-one echoes contemporary concerns while also remaining decidedly of its era. Unearthed by a theater collective and other trapped-at-home artists during the pandemic for an online recreation, it has now been transformed again, this time into a staged adaptation titled "Lessons in Survival: 1971." In truth, "googled" is likely the more appropriate verb for how someone found the Baldwin-and-Giovanni conservation, since it is entirely available on YouTube, where, to be honest, it is best experienced, not least because in that digital form it can be rewound for another listen, which a few of Baldwin and Giovanni's complex, unannotated arguments definitely require. [more]

Circle Jerk

June 22, 2022

In 'Circle Jerk," this cocky duo confidently preen, bray and cavort while donning various wigs and flamboyant costumes as multiple fey stock characters for over two numbing hours of their self-congratulatory twaddle. Their grating characterizations are achieved by intently staring into the camera, making faces, raising eyebrows and doing voices. It’s not "Your Show of Shows," but a niche audience of friends, relatives and trustafarians who could be amused by their antics. Cat Rodríguez appears in several female roles with campy flair. [more]

Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story

June 22, 2022

Romy Nordlinger has written and is performing the monodrama, "Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story," at the TheaterLab.  Directed by Lorca Peress, "Garden of Alla" gives us this eccentrically talented artist up close and personal. Nordlinger has a history of portraying Nazimova and has honed her interpretation to the point that it fits her like a second skin, helped by Peress’ sense of pacing and stagecraft. [more]

Queen

June 19, 2022

Shekar’s script is extremely smart, funny at just the right moments, and morally gripping. Her characterizations of Ariel and Sanam are fully formed, uniquely individual and carefully complementary:  Ariel is a crunchy-granola, bee-loving, single mom who’s desperate to prove Monsanto’s guilt, and Sanam is intense, strong-minded and honest to a fault. Through the character of Arvind, Shekar introduces the notion to Sanam that she and Ariel are looking at their study through the impartial lens of confirmation bias. The character of Dr. Hayes adds just the right amount of antagonism, almost sinister. Although there’s lots of statistics jargon in the script, it never impedes the progress of the story, thanks to the actors and director Aneesha Kudtarkar, who skillfully shapes the piece, finely intertwining the performances to maximum impact. [more]

The Refugees

June 13, 2022

Kaliski attempts a clever conceit marrying "The Oresteia" characters to the modern tragic story of the homeless hordes. Does "The Oresteia" provide an effective jumping off point to explore this timely and heartbreaking issue? Sadly, the answer is no.  Kaliski has written a play whose subject matter is only tangentially connected to the characters Orestes, Electra and Clytemnestra who, in Greek mythology, lived in ancient Argos. Their stories of patricide and matricide and other ‘cides have no connection—emotional or situational—to the problem at hand and Kaliski doesn’t try very hard to splice the two subject matters together. [more]

Five By Tenn: An Evening of Short Plays by Tennessee Williams

June 11, 2022

Tennessee Williams’ full-length play’s titles, characters and dialogue have been part of the consciousness since "The Glass Menagerie"’s 1944 premiere. During his peak years of the 1940’s and 1950’s, he also wrote many one-acts, exploring his familiar concerns, chiefly the naïve preyed upon by the worldly. "Five By Tenn" is an enchanting program drawn from these, which are uniformly satisfying. This modest Off-Off-Broadway production is presented by the Out of the Box Theatre Company, whose members are artists mostly over the age of 50. The show serves as an introduction to rarely performed obscure Williams works, all of which take place in drab bedrooms, and as a showcase for the talented mature cast. [more]
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