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Off-Broadway

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord

October 10, 2017

Although director Kimberly Senior who also piloted the Chicago production has staged the play with elegance, she never really turns up the heat so that there are not many sparks in Carter’s debate. Discord, yes; but no fireworks which might have made the discussion more dramatic. The play uses titles on the back wall to name each of the 14 scenes much in the manner of Brecht’s alienation effect. This breaks up the play but is not very informative. The device of the invisible fourth wall being a mirror in Wilson Chin’s all blue-grey interrogation room seems a gimmick to allow the men to face the audience directly for much of the play. [more]

Kafka and Son

October 9, 2017

With only a metal-mesh cage, bed-frame, and a gate--and gobs of black feathers that ultimately litter the stage--Nashman cavorts around the black box set (scenic design is by Marysia Bucholc and Camellia Koo) with abandon. If the challenge of every one-man show is to sustain our attention, Nashman succeeds spectacularly. He has some significant help with evocative lighting by Andrea Lundy, eerie music by Osvald Golijov (performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet), and Cassidy’s direction, which always keeps him in motion. [more]

Mesquite, NV

October 8, 2017

Most of the humor is at the expense of the Mesquite City Council and its steely-eyed mayor Linda Hadley (Liz Amberly) who could be accurately described as a Margaret Thatcher wannabe, if she had any idea who Margaret Thatcher was. With rapacious resolve, she has set her sights on doing something no other mayor has ever done in the entire history of Mesquite: win a second term. She is assisted in this quest by her right-hand toady (Jeff Paul), the financial backing of a shady resort magnate (Jed Dickson), and an underwhelming pool of potential challengers, led by Will Brown (the wonderful Joe Burby) whose hapless sincerity is seemingly no match for the mayor’s small-town realpolitik. [more]

Basement

October 7, 2017

Mr. Hagins has crafted an involving and affective take of a perennial scenario that captures the nostalgic essence of wartime films and plays of the past.  There’s the spirit of "Casablanca" and echoes of "The Voice of The Turtle" and "John Loves Mary," combined with the novelty of the interracial angle that’s tenderly realized. [more]

The Show-Off

October 5, 2017

The central character is actually Mrs. Fisher who worries about her children and plots to open Amy’s eyes to her husband’s faults. Unfortunately, Annette O’Toole has been directed to play her as shrill, strident and hysterical, rather than as a wise middle-aged lady who has no illusions about life. Given a great many ethnic prejudices in her dialogue which in 1924 defined her as a suburban provincial, played this way she simply comes across as a bigot. We ought to be rooting for her against the barbarian invasion but O’Toole makes her almost as bad as Aubrey. [more]

No Wake

October 5, 2017

In 85 minutes, we really don’t learn much Rebecca, Nolan or Sukey as Mr. Donnelly imparts scant biographical details about them, but strangely does for Padgett. Donnelly takes the perennial premise of a divorced couple’s past romantic feelings for each other being reignited and clumsily tosses in the dramatic, morbid bombshell. His glum and stilted finale at Sukey’s apartment is out of Private Lives. The title refers to Sukey’s wish that when she dies that there be no wake. [more]

Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic

October 4, 2017

The new story concerns Wayne Hopkins, an American boy whose parents die tragically and his Uncle Dave informs him that he is a wizard and must attend a special school in England. Wayne is sorted into The Puffs which he discovers is the house for the losers, rejects and nerds who never win at anything. His one goal is to be a hero at something – eventually – while getting through magic school. There he meets the dashing older student Cedric (Andy Miller) several years ahead, as well as another American, the nerdy math prodigy Oliver Rivers (Langston Belton) who can’t seem to succeed at magic, and Megan Jones (Julie Ann Earls), who wears Goth make-up, all black clothing and resents being there. Megan is particularly angry because her mother is a prisoner and in thrall to the Dark Lord. [more]

Mary Jane

October 4, 2017

The ambiguities in Mary Jane’s character seem to stem more from the writing than the acting: though her behavior remains dubious or questionable, Mary Jane comes to real life as enacted by Carrie Coon, who was such a memorable Honey in the recent Broadway revival of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" She’s a solid Mary Jane as well, but then, the character and her motives prove harder to pin down. The stalwart New York actress Brenda Wehle is a perfectly believable and no-nonsense Ruthie. The always reliable Liza Colón-Zayas is Alex’s caregiver Sherry, and Danaya Esperanza and Susan Pourfar are persuasive as, respectively Sherry’s niece and another mother with similar challenges. [more]

As You Like It (CSC)

October 2, 2017

Known as the Shakespeare play with the most song lyrics, the production also includes a deliciously bouncy new score by Stephen Schwartz in different musical styles from the 1920’s – 1950’s, including setting some of Orlando’s mash notes to Rosalind which are usually spoken in verse. The musical numbers are mostly reassigned to the musical theater veterans like de Shields and Stillman who plays an onstage, upright piano, with Leenya Rideout on violin and double bass, and other members of the cast occasionally joining in on guitar and triangle. All of this adds to the festive, light-hearted atmosphere. Originally announced as a Jazz Age interpretation, that concept seems to have gone by the wayside. [more]

The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A & In the Blood

October 2, 2017

Having spent nearly five hours in the company of Ms. Parks’ parade of these beautifully written characters I find myself conflicted about these plays. She is brilliant at generating fire with the source of the heat difficult to pinpoint.  It’s her talent to write dramas which sizzle, constructed in her strange vernacular, yet somehow leave too many questions unanswered, the better to prove her one-sided stories. [more]

A Soldier’s Play

October 1, 2017

Director Charles Weldon acted in the 1983, Mark Taper Forum’s Los Angeles production, and besides his meticulous casting he has perfectly rendered this revival. Mr. Weldon’s physical staging inventively, precisely and aesthetically utilizes the large stage to faithfully realize the material. [more]

Outside Paducah: The Wars at Home

September 29, 2017

In terms of the atmospherically detailed writing and Mr. Moad’s enjoyably intense performance that recalls a Sam Shepard hero, “Quittin’ Meth” is the most powerful of the program and its concluding play. It’s a poetically expressed evening’s odyssey of a 27 year-old Iraq War veteran who has returned to his Illinois hometown in 2007. Set in a rundown bar in this depressed steel mill neighborhood, we follow his memories of the war that contrast with his present observations and glimpses of the pitiful bar denizens . He encounters a war buddy who lost a leg and has descended into drug addiction. [more]

Charm

September 28, 2017

Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins makes a memorable New York debut with an involving and engrossing play which at the performance under review you could have heard a pin drop, so rapt was the audience. The play is, indeed, flawed by its avoiding real confrontations time and again, always stopping short of out and out war. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen who volunteered to teach a class in etiquette at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, "Charm" is both a fascinating story and it covers unexplored territory on our stages. As Mama Andrews, the elegant Sandra Caldwell is both charismatic and compelling, never fazed by the behavior of the class even when they pay her no mind or reject her teachings. [more]

Breeders

September 28, 2017

There are plentiful comic one-liners and also sharp observations in Mr. Giles’ well-crafted dialogue.  Giles perfectly renders all four characters with personality details and traits.  The tensions, concerns and sensibilities of the long-term gay couple all ring true, but interspersing these with the mildly entertaining hamster story feels like a strategic theatrical device that undercuts the main plot to no great effect. [more]

A Clockwork Orange

September 27, 2017

The only color in the predominantly black-and-white show is orange, which appears as a pair of high heels, a hat and a cape, an apron, books, and various other odd items. There’s also a large bowl of oranges, hanging high up on the black, back wall of the set. (Though Jennifer A. Jacob is credited as “Costume Coordinator” in the program, no one is listed for scenery.) Though it may not add up to much of a story or make much sense, the highly stylized presentation of "A Clockwork Orange" makes it well worth-while as an evening out at the theater. [more]

The Treasurer

September 27, 2017

With her slim physique, flawless diction, melodiously husky voice and imperious bearing, Dunagan is commanding. She conveys the character’s arrogance, selfishness and harrowing mental decline due to dementia with steely flair. She forcefully embodies the archetypal distant mother who damages her children. [more]

Up the Rabbit Hole

September 27, 2017

Besides harboring a dwindling dream to become a dancer, thanks to a leg injury, Halliday’s dramatic stand-in, Jack (Tyler Jones), an adoptee, also has to contend with the overwhelming repercussions of having tracked down his biological family, which includes an adult half-brother (Andrew Glaszek) with his own substance-abuse demons. That’s a lot for 90 minutes, and Halliday, despite a valiant effort, can’t keep his play from sinking under the weight of it all. [more]

Small World

September 23, 2017

Both as written by Stroppel and portrayed by Stephen D’Ambrose (Stravinsky) and Mark Shanahan (Disney), it also becomes clear that they are equally imperious--at first. Though they’re both monomaniacs, its Disney who proves more like a Trumpian narcissist. While Stravinsky says early on, “Everything I say is entirely true,” Disney, a bit later, claims, “I’m never wrong.” The fireworks begin as soon as they start to interact when Disney describes how the music evokes for him the birth of the universe and “earth--in its infancy,” not to mention dinosaurs, which remain the most memorable part of the "Fantasia" segment or sequence [more]

The Climbers

September 23, 2017

The play isn’t just about social climbers but those who want to game the system and live beyond their income, and their sense of entitlement rivals that of the 1990’s. However, this is 1901 and there is also a social hierarchy of who is in and who hasn’t made it yet. And these aren’t the robber barons with unlimited incomes, but people further down the economic scale hoping to make a killing by speculating on the market. Like a novel by Henry James or Edith Wharton, this turn of the century social drama encompasses a good many characters and events and includes both comedy and tragedy. The current almost three hour time length would have been longer at the beginning of the last century as there would have been more intermissions in this four act play, but in those days playgoers liked getting their money’s worth. [more]

On the Shore of the Wide World

September 21, 2017

Neil Pepe’s production of Simon Stephens’ "On the Shore of the Wide World" will not please all. The pace is consciously slow – like the life lived by these characters. However, the wait is worth the effort. By the end when the family reunites for Sunday dinner, the play has become both powerful and poignant. The title, incidentally, comes from the next to the last line of John Keats’ sonnet, “When I have fears that I may cease to be” in which the speaker worries about missing out on love, fulfillment, fame and success, apt summation of Simon Stephens' play.  [more]

The Violin

September 20, 2017

In fact, Harry Feiner’s marvelous, you-are-there set design for "The Violin" made me think of 'American Buffalo" (set in a shabby pawn shop) before the first words of the play were even uttered or its three cast-members (Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury and Kevin Isola) even appeared on the stage. But whether or not playwright McCormick had that early Mamet work in mind, the main idea behind "The Violin" was probably inspired by a real event, when celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma left his prized cello in the trunk of a New York taxi some years ago, and paid a handsome reward for its return. [more]

Stairway to Stardom

September 19, 2017

Disguised as a snazzy cabaret act, set against constantly projected images from a sleazy Eighties public access talent show—from which the show’s title is derived—the short, intense performance is delivered without a single intake of breath it seems, an energy level that makes it difficult to actually hear—rather than merely listen to—the women’s histories of how they were forced into jobs and professions they found irritating or shallow by pressures applied by loved ones and even themselves. [more]

Neighbors: A Fair Trade Agreement

September 18, 2017

The affable Gerardo Rodriguez is hilarious as José and brings great dramatic depth to the role. As Joe, the personable Andrew Blair utilizes his geeky but appealing persona to humanize the stock character of the corporate manipulator. Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Blair have a tremendous and palpable chemistry that’s instrumental to the play’s success. [more]

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias

September 16, 2017

The awkwardly titled "The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias" has problems beyond its nomenclature. What, if anything, is it ultimately about? Though it claims to be a “satirical” look at the subject of rape, any satire is lost in the mixed results of the presentation. If anything, the play seems too subtle and nuanced for its own good. [more]

The Flatiron Hex

September 15, 2017

Dazzling hand puppets, stick puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets that are projected onto screens, which were all created by Godwin, depict this gallery of archetypal characters.  These are all fantastically employed by him and are on display for the show’s 80 minutes. [more]

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday

September 14, 2017

In interviews, Ruhl says she intends this play as a gift to her mother who played Peter Pan in Iowa as a teenager.  As noble as this goal is, "For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday" never coheres into a compelling experience.  The character of Ann is fascinating but is embedded in an uninvolving scenario that is perhaps a mediation on aging, death and disillusionment. [more]

The Baroness – Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair

September 13, 2017

As Blixen, Pelletier is riveting as she wraps her cocoon around the unsuspecting but susceptible young man. Catlike and sinuous as she stalks him and the stage, she is cajoling, seductive, mysterious, wise all at the same time, as they discuss writing, poetry, philosophy, beliefs, memories, desire, and how to live one’s life. Impeccably dressed by Stine Martinsen, she exudes glamour as well as baring her soul. She inhabits the role making us think that we have met the real Karen Blixen. [more]

In a Little Room

September 13, 2017

With his breezy delivery, terrific comic timing and everyman persona, Jeb Kreager is highly engaging as Manning. The animated, wiry and bearded Luis-Daniel Morales is soulful and at times wildly funny as Charlie. Mr. Kreager and Mr. Morales have a marvelous chemistry together which energizes the play. [more]

Dietrich Rides Again

September 12, 2017

On a multi-tiered set that takes advantage of every square inch of the tiny Medicine Show Theatre—designed by the authors—Ms. Kostek narrated Dietrich’s life story, from middle class childhood in Berlin to theater and cabaret actress to Hollywood star and on to her virulent anti-Nazi activities and beyond, clearly telescoping some of the events for convenience. (Did Dietrich’s audition for the great director Max Reinhardt really lead to performing at his cabaret the very next day?) [more]

The Itch

September 7, 2017

Ms. Zelman-Doring’s cryptic scenario of deeply close twin siblings (Ana offers to masturbate Simon when he is tied up in a chair)  is out of Sam Shepard and her dialogue is a pleasing cross between Harold Pinter’s spare eloquence with flourishes of Christopher Durang’s silliness.  The abrupt and inconclusive conclusion is in keeping with what went before it. [more]

Inanimate

September 3, 2017

Performed by The Bats, the resident company of The Flea Theater, the world premiere of "Inanimate" is the inaugural production in their new home on Thomas Street, between Church and Broadway, several blocks south of their original premises. Performed in The Siggy, named after founder and patron Sigourney Weaver, a house with 46 permanent seats, it is the first of the three new theaters to open prior to the complex’s grand opening on September 28. It has been given a sharp, assured staging by director Courtney Ulrich with engrossing performances by its cast of seven. [more]

Charolais

September 1, 2017

As in one of Alan Bennett’s "Talking Heads" monologues, Stapleton offers a richly detailed portrait of an ordinary person that revels in the mundane.  She also adds the arresting device of having the inner life of the cow depicted in fantasy sequences. [more]

If Only…

August 28, 2017

Mr. Klingenstein beautifully and simply renders his fictional account with exquisite detail and emotion.  Klingenstein’s dialogue is precise and filled with sharp epigrams.  It’s all a genteel and moving exploration of the human condition.  A lovely highlight is Ann and Samuel recreating portions of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. [more]
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