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Off-Broadway

Medea (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

February 9, 2020

While Simon Stone’s adaptation is engrossing for its surprising updates, it never captures the emotions, seeming more like a gimmick that a reworking of the Greek tragedy. With most of the actors underplaying their roles, the emotional temperature never really heats up even when the audience is confronted with various horrors. The use of the video screen and the all-white set somewhat distances the audience from the events on stage which undercuts the tragedy unfolding. Don’t blame Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, who have given much more impassioned performances elsewhere, as they seem to be pawns of Stone’s concept. [more]

Sister Calling My Name

February 7, 2020

An author can be too close to his or her material so that the real story fails to be revealed. Inspired by his own family events, Buzz McLaughlin’s Sister Calling My Name has a fascinating premise but that is not enough. In relating a faith-based story of Michael, a man who has avoided for 18 years his mentally disabled sister Lindsey, a ward of the state since being a teenager, McLaughlin repeats lines and plot points endlessly while failing to give us enough details to bring the characters to life. The play seems to go round and round in a circle. The script note that Lindsay’s disability manifests itself in simply locking into an idea and going with it until another takes its place does not help an audience who must listen to the same dialogue over and over. Peter Dobbins’ production for Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre does little to make the characters more than labels. [more]

Border People

February 5, 2020

Hoyle has brought his most recent play, "Border People," to New York City in a production directed by Nicole A. Watson. It’s a work dedicated to people who dwell along borders of various sorts—“geographical or cultural”—and it suggests that no matter how clearly lines of demarcation may be drawn, they can seem arbitrary and sometimes strangely porous. Hoyle presents nearly a dozen characters in this show: diverse in age, gender, race, nationality, religion, sexuality and temperament. He includes people from one side or another of actual U.S. borders, both to the north and to the south. We also meet characters from the Bronx who live along the borders that separate the borough’s “projects” from the outside world. [more]

Doctors Jane and Alexander

February 4, 2020

Additional credit can be given to Simon and Wolkowitz’s performances by the excellent supporting cast and Einhorn’s writing. The script's one weakness appears to be an insistence on providing an overabundance of mind-numbing facts about blood-type science, details which ultimately don’t lend themselves to the overarching tale of one man’s search for value and importance in his dreams, those of his family that came before him, and the question of whether he will leave anything other than a legacy of his children’s memories. [more]

Brecht: Call and Respond (an evening of three one-acts)

February 4, 2020

“Producing theatrical works that feature compelling stories created by emerging theater artists” is from the New Light Theater Project’s self-description. Their vastly and thoughtfully entertaining presentation, "Brecht: Call and Respond (an evening of three one-acts)" achieves that aim. Bertolt Brecht may not be an emerging theater artist, but the other two playwrights certainly are. [more]

PackRat

February 3, 2020

Writer and director Renee Philippi’s appealing scenario is simple, heartfelt and dramatic. It’s realized by Ms. Philippi’s supreme command of stagecraft that revels in theatricality. Designer Carlo Adinolfi’s awesome cutouts, handheld and shadow puppet creations individualize the animals with striking expressive details. Mr. Adinolfi’s stylized set pieces thoroughly convey the look of a rustic environment and his arresting projections visualize varying locales and the animals’ dreams. The production is enhanced by the perfection of Eric Nightengale’s atmospheric lighting and sound design. Composer Lewis Flinn’s energizing original music veers from jaunty to appropriately moody as it complements the piece’s actions and emotions. [more]

Really Really Gorgeous

January 31, 2020

"Really Really Gorgeous" has an often-amusing absurdist and surrealistic sensibility. Plot turns take on the illogical quality that exists in dreams or in kids’ games of “Let’s pretend.” For instance, at one point, Pen discovers that by curling her hand in a certain way, she can transform it into a magical ammo-firing “finger gun” that can be used as an instrument of destruction. This may seem like goofy stuff, but Mecikalski the allegorist has serious points to make here: about celebrity and despotism and about the swiftness with which the sentiments of a desperate, fickle populace can change. [more]

The Transfiguration of Benjamin Banneker

January 27, 2020

The show was conceived, directed and designed by Theodora Skipitares. Her treatment of these biographical details is that of a fanciful saga with the awestruck tone of a children’s book. There’s a neat bit involving Lt. Uhura from the original Star Trek in her red uniform on a miniature Enterprise starship, recounting meeting Dr. Martin Luther King. Skipitares’ thrilling staging is in concert with the witty elements of presentation.  Many whimsical scenery pieces are suspended from the ceiling and are lowered and raised. [more]

Paradise Lost

January 27, 2020

When a playwright adapts a famous, well-known story for the stage the problem becomes how to tell it in a new way that makes it seem unfamiliar and fresh. Otherwise, why bother retelling it once again? Unfortunately, Tom Dulack’s "Paradise Lost," “inspired by the poem by John Milton,” retells the story of Lucifer’s fall from Heaven into Hell, and the eventual banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden without any surprises. Using only contemporary language, Dulack’s play lifts the skeletal plot of Milton but lacks the poetry, as well as those elements which made this epic controversial in the 17th century (rejection of the divine right of kings, embracing divorce and marriage equality, etc.) It resembles a Sunday Bible sermon or dramatization meant for youth. [more]

How to Load a Musket

January 25, 2020

An essay more than a play, with players as opposed to characters, "How to Load a Musket" is a racist diatribe that fails to make its points coherently. The costumes and appointments on the walls of a black box space say all that there is to say in a play that ultimately leaves one wanting for more. The scenic design by Lawrence E. Moten III is the show’s best asset. [more]

The Woman in Black

January 24, 2020

Fog wafting, an empty rocking chair moving by itself, blackouts, ghostly apparitions and crashing music are all part of the spooky fun in "The Woman In Black." Scary moments, intriguing hokum and laughter abound as this inventively presented British theatrical thriller plays out. [more]

Timon of Athens (Theatre for a New Audience)

January 23, 2020

On paper the concept should not work: scenes and characters have been cut, a Shakespeare sonnet has been added set to music, as well as a Greek song, and four characters originally written for men are played by women. Nevertheless, the streamlining of this modern dress production in the edition prepared by Emily Burns and Godwin makes this tragedy very accessible and eliminating subplots makes the play quite linear. The addition of women gives the play an almost contemporary feeling. The scenic and costume design by Soutra Gilmour for the first half of the play is simply dazzling, while the second half has its own visual display. [more]

17 Minutes

January 23, 2020

The play succeeds in large part because it begins in the aftermath of a school shooting. There are a few bits of dialogue describing the terror of the incident itself, but there is no onstage representation of the violence, nor any long, involved retelling of it. None of that is really needed, because the chaotic, nightmarish imagery of such episodes has become engrained in our imaginations over the years. Nor does the play aim to offer a solution to the mass-shooting scourge. Instead, it tells a simple—yet decidedly powerful—human story about a figure who is, paradoxically, both on the periphery of the incident and at its heart. [more]

Thunder Rock

January 23, 2020

It is not difficult to see what attracted Metropolitan Playhouse to Ardrey’s drama: its message that one cannot shut one’s self off from the problems of the world as the America First movement wants to do is very timely once again as in the 1930’s, and the refugees who appear in the play’s second act and speak of their hopes and dreams in the new land are a stinging rebuke to those who would shut the golden doors to foreigners seeking asylum in the United States in our own time. [more]

BOOM

January 22, 2020

Employing an impressive array of voices and mannerisms, and only sometimes augmented with a wig or article of clothing, Miller as “Narrator” impersonates numerous performers, personalities, and politicians of the era, voicing every commercial and even dubs his own parents in short video clips at the very beginning of the piece. “100 voices. 25 years. 1 man,” the publicity statement declares, and Miller doesn’t disappoint. [more]

Miss America’s Ugly Daughter:  Bess Myerson & Me

January 18, 2020

More in the spirit of Carrie Fisher than Christina Crawford, performer Barra Grant chronicles her life and that of her famous mother in her engaging and smartly presented self-written solo show, "Miss America's Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson & Me." Nostalgic New Yorkers will have their memories refreshed while others might be delightfully informed. It’s a harrowing, insightful and often very funny 90 minutes. [more]

Maz and Bricks

January 15, 2020

Created and first performed during the run-up to the 2018 national referendum that eventually led to the amendment's repeal, Maz and Bricks, a part of the Origin Theater Company’s 1st Irish Festival, hasn't suffered any loss of social relevance, because O'Connor is not a single-issue polemicist. Her play brims with many pointed ideas about modern Ireland, which, with greater and lesser success, are woven into a beguiling tale that follows its two titular characters on a Joycean ramble through the streets of Dublin, tripping up most significantly at the end when O'Connor shoehorns in a needlessly melodramatic coda intended to tie together a few loose plot threads that really shouldn't have been there at all. [more]

Love, Medea

January 14, 2020

The production is unapologetically irreverent. At the beginning, we see a masked Greek chorus wearing long robes, shuffling ever-so-slowly around the stage of the Center at West Park (the sanctuary of a Presbyterian church). The leader of the chorus eventually speaks to us in staid, stentorian tones from behind his gold mask. But soon the actors (all male) strip off the robes. They’re bare-chested, save for leather harnesses that look as though they could have been purchased from a local kink boutique. Costume designer Yuanyuan Liang obscures the men’s faces with black head coverings, giving them the look of hostage takers or executioners. [more]

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt

January 8, 2020

Speaking alternately, the six women talk of food, traditions, love, family, beliefs, ethics, dreams, abuse and New Zealand men. They speak of their dreams of a future and a better life. The language is earthy, raw, vital, colorful. Even without understanding every word, the gist is conveyed by the inflections and the performances. The evening includes song, dance, and speeches taken from passages in Avia’s book which are at times startling, revealing, amusing and tragic. They are sometimes presented like poetry, at others like dramatic monologues, and at times like choral reading. [more]

Or, An Astronaut Play

January 8, 2020

A lively cast comprised of Harrison Unger, Caturah Brown, Tay Bass and Jonathan Cruz not only deliver exceptional performances during the inconsequential "Or, An Astronaut Play," they also demonstrate physical prowess. Continually hauling props and minimal furnishings about during its numerous brief scenes, this ensemble heroically aid in realizing the transitions. Alas, their commendable efforts are stymied by an unsatisfying play. The biggest laugh is gotten by the sight of a 1950’s B-movie-type space explorer helmet made out of cardboard. [more]

London Assurance

December 29, 2019

Dion Boucicault’s "London Assurance" is still a witty and lively play after almost 180 years. With its farcical elements laid over a drawing room comedy plot, Charlotte Moore’s adroit production for the Irish Repertory Theatre mines the play for all of its humor and wisdom concerning the foibles of human nature and self-delusion. With a superb cast, Rachel Pickup is awarded the acting honors for her marvelous depiction of Lady Gay Spanker, a bon vivant who knows how to get the most out of life and other people. [more]

one in two

December 27, 2019

Leland Fowler, Jamyl Dobson and Edward Mawere in a scene from Donja R. Love’s “one in two” in [more]

Judgment Day

December 23, 2019

A product of the tumultuous thirties whose work was banned by the Nazis even though he was not Jewish, Von Horváth was particularly interested in social criticism of the middle-class and warnings about the rise of fascism. His major themes include tales of herd psychology and moral responsibility. By dealing with these timely topics, Judgment Day given a monumental visual production design by set designer Paul Steinberg in the cavernous Drill Hall at the Armory, the play seems as powerful and relevant as if it had been written in this decade, not 80 years ago. The production makes this expressionistic drama as contemporary as if this style were newly born. Starring Luke Kirby (Emmy Award for his Lenny Bruce in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel") in the leading role of Stationmaster Thomas Hudetz, the play offers juicy roles to several of the minor characters. [more]

One November Yankee

December 21, 2019

Beloved television stars Harry Hamlin (L.A. Law) and Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart) return to the New York stage in Joshua Ravetch’s "One November Yankee" which they previously performed at the Delaware Theatre Company, was initially seen in Los Angeles’ NoHo Arts Center Theatre in 2012. It is their star power which keeps this old-fashioned, rather sit-com-ish, interconnected triple bill as lively and as entertaining as it is despite clichéd writing and passé jokes. Playing three different sets of siblings all connected by one plane crash, they manage to be convincing in weak material. [more]

Greater Clements

December 17, 2019

Told in leisurely style, Greater Clements is about the decline (and possible fall) of the American dream. Hunter appears to be saying that this is a long-time coming and its roots go very deep. The play begins with a flashback prologue with Maggie’s son Joe giving a tour of the mine, describing the 1972 fire on the 6,400 foot level that killed 81 men including his grandfather. However, on the weekend that the play takes place Maggie is expecting Billy, her high school beau, a Japanese-American who took her to the prom, now a widower and who is returning to visit 50 years later. Maggie, now 12 years divorced from Caleb who left her for another man, may be at loose ends but this is possibly a new beginning. [more]

Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

December 17, 2019

Besides Mr. Skittles, there are 18 other characters of different races, ages, genders and sexualities. They’re a cross section of the downtrodden and those involved with aiding them. Ex-convicts, the homeless, an Iraq war veteran, drug addicts, battered women and their children, social workers, staff members, law officers, a trans woman who incites divisiveness, and a wily Catholic priest who once threw a man off the roof of a building are all vividly realized by Mr. Guirgis’ supreme command of dramatic writing. Each one of these many figures are majestically fleshed out, some in great detail. Guirgis goes beyond offering a loving mosaic of character studies by gradually injecting a suspenseful narrative that reaches a bleak yet hopeful conclusion. [more]

A City of Refuge

December 17, 2019

The story itself has potential, yet despite the actors’ heroic attempts to bring truth to it, the script has its characters written to say and do so many unrealistic things that the core authenticity of what’s unfolding can’t be upheld. Physical and emotional boundaries get crossed in questionable ways, and unreasonable demands are made to unbelievable responses. Characters drop vague references and make mysterious insinuations, demonstrating resentment and distrust in each other without explanation. Understanding who is what to whom just takes too long to be revealed, and the audience must buffer so many mysterious references and unexplained pieces of information for so long that by the time the play concludes with a battery of accusations and revelations, the audience isn’t sure what’s happening and thrown up its hands in disbelief. [more]

The Thin Place

December 13, 2019

After pillaging Ibsen in "A Doll's House, Part 2" and lampooning the former First Couple for "Hillary and Clinton," vaunted playwright Lucas Hnath’s latest piffle, "The Thin Place" is a Wallace Shawn-style talkathon aptly dedicated to the late magician Ricky Jay as it’s an exercise in flimflam.  There is more craft and profundity in the first season "I Love Lucy" episode “The Séance” with its immortal lines, “Ethel to Tillie. Ethel to Tillie. Come in Tillie.” [more]

The Gospel of John

December 11, 2019

After marveling at Ken Jennings’ power of memorization, one has to admire his ability to deliver the entire text of "The Gospel of John" with unwavering clarity and devotion to its meaning both as literature and as a Christian lodestone. An agile actor (and singer), Jennings (the original Tobias in "Sweeney Todd"), deftly tells the story of Jesus as seen through the eyes of John the Baptist.  The actor roams about a simple raised platform in front of a rough-hewn back curtain made of wrinkled tan cloth.  What looks like a handmade bench—a subtle reference to Jesus’ vocation?—completes the set. [more]

The Santa Closet

December 10, 2019

Houses on the Moon Theater Company’s delightful and earnest mission is to “dispel ignorance and isolation through the theatrical amplification of unheard voices.” "The Santa Closet," another one-man show written and performed by the company’s co-founder Jeffrey Solomon, doesn’t reach the lofty goals of some of his other plays; however, the newly updated, tenth-year anniversary production of this frothy, zany tale is nevertheless aloft with quite a few grins and chuckles. [more]

Harry Townsend’s Last Stand

December 6, 2019

Cariou is now appearing Off-Broadway as the titular character in playwright George Eastman’s slight though moving two-character work, Harry Townsend's Last Stand. Sharp one-liners, funny set ups and punchlines and wistful observations abound throughout Mr. Eastman’s effective familiar scenario. It is playwrighting at its basic best, delivering two hefty empathetic roles for actors to attack while delighting the audience. [more]

The Underlying Chris

December 6, 2019

Another way to look at the play is as the twelve stages of man and woman, going Shakespeare five more steps. Unlike Tracy Letts’ Mary Page Marlowe, in which the heroine was played by a different actress at each stage of her life, here we are asked to adjust to multiple versions of Chris whose name changes in each of the play’s 12 scenes: Chris, Christine, Kris, Christopher, Kristin, Topher, Christoph, Kit, Christina, and finally Khris. [more]
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