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Off-Broadway

English

February 28, 2022

You may have never thought about it before but you are defined by your language. Your identity is shaped by the words you have and the words you don’t. You can say certain things in one language but not in another. Being bilingual you have one identity, two, or have a split personality. Learning a new language may be like finding a new identity as an adult after you have learned to live with the old one for a long time. These ideas are all beautifully handled in Sanaz Toossi’s lovely, poignant new play, "English," under the astute direction of Knud Adams, now being given its world premiere in a co-production between Atlantic Theater Company and Roundabout Theatre Company at the Linda Gross Theater. We grow to care about the characters as we watch them struggle with learning English as though their lives depended on it. [more]

sandblasted

February 27, 2022

A woman’s arm falls off soon into playwright Charly Evon Simpson’s engrossing allegory, "sandblasted." Ms. Simpson’s tone beautifully mixes the comic with the wistful, her dialogue is glorious, and her characters are appealing. Structured as 18 punchy short time-shifting scenes, with duologues, trialogues and monologues, the play builds to a stirring conclusion. Simpson quotes Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison and Samuel Beckett in stage notes, their aesthetic influence is evident. The setting is a sandy landscape, the time is “now. after. future.” [more]

First Down

February 27, 2022

A plea for understanding the pain of being Muslin-American, Sevan’s First Down at the 59E59 Theaters focuses on the plight of an adored football player who decides to kneel and pray during the national anthem rather than stand at polite attention, hand over heart. Quarterback George Berri (a handsome, well-built, sensitive Peter Romano) is a mid-westerner with pale skin and a name that doesn’t necessarily connote his Muslim upbringing. After the Star-Spangled Banner is played, Berri, a young Lebanese/American, is first seen.  He is on his knees praying in the locker room well after the game is over. Soon Coach Bill Fitzgerald (Larry Bull, finding every nuance in what could have been a clichéd macho role) enters and the structure of First Down begins to manifest itself: three conversations of increasing emotional power beginning with Coach Bill, then Berri’s agent and finally his impassioned mother. [more]

The Daughter-in-Law

February 24, 2022

The Mint Theater Company which gave the first New York production of "The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd," Lawrence’s best play and one of the great British tragedies of modern drama, has revived "The Daughter-in-Law" which it first staged in 2003 in an excellent new production again directed by Martin Platt. While the authentic and thick Midlands dialect (developed with specialist Amy Stoller) may be a problem for some theatergoers, not only does it get easier as the play develops but the local slang is easy enough to figure out. Unlike the other two plays in the trilogy, the engrossing Daughter-in-Law is not usually considered autobiographical (Lawrence had not married Baroness Frieda von Richthofen Weekley at the time he wrote it), but it was written at the time of his very autobiographical Sons and Lovers which has similar themes: mothers and sons, and wives and husbands. [more]

The Same

February 20, 2022

Lisa and The Other Lisa are the two characters in acclaimed Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s haunting short play, "The Same." The conceit that The Other Lisa is Lisa 10 years ago is soon discerned. That’s achieved through Mr. Walsh’s alluring dialogue and stirring reveries which combine the poetic, the mundane and the cryptic. By the end of 47 entrancing minutes, one has experienced Lisa’s life in Ireland with its high points and disappointments. [more]

Made by God

February 17, 2022

It's just that, as the fictional Eva supplants the non-fictional Ann onstage, the play reverses course and sacrifices its human scale back to the rhetorical, with pro-life Eva and pro-choice Michael's gentle discord eventually turning toward the upcoming 2018 Irish referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Actually, the far more spirited debate is being held in Eva's own head as her religious upbringing wrestles with a sense of culpability for a recent tragedy that has cast doubt on her previously rock-solid convictions. Unfortunately, the much too-on-the-nose parallels between Ann's fate and what is tormenting Eva's conscience amount to a bundle of contrivances that touch off a cascade of underwhelming revelations not nearly as thought-provoking as the play's beginning scenes involving Ann and Mikey. [more]

The Merchant of Venice (Theater for a New Audience)

February 16, 2022

Arin Arbus, resident director at Theatre for a New Audience, staging her tenth classic for them took a great risk with her new production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: not only putting this 1597 play in modern dress, she has made Venice diversely multicultural as well as having the Jewish Shylock played by an African American. All of these things might have backfired and looked out of place. Surprisingly it all works, due to her spare, stripped-down direction, her fine cast, the nearly bare stone setting by Riccardo Hernandez which suggests an elegant Greek amphitheater, and her star, John Douglas Thompson with whom she has worked four times before in an assortment of classics. Along with the work of voice director Andrew Wade, the diction is crystal clear and Shakespeare’s verse sounds conversational and newly minted. [more]

Wolf Play

February 15, 2022

Hansol Jung’s "Wolf Play" is a fantasy on several levels but it is also rather confusing in its details. Inspired by the true case of an Asian adoptee who was “re-homed” on the Internet when his new American parents no longer wanted him, the play also conflates this with the idea of the lone wolf who does not assimilate into a society of like animals. In addition, the Korean adoptee is played by a puppet that is manipulated by a character called “Wolf.” The author who is particularly interested in the families we choose makes the new parents a queer entity, adding another level of complication to the storyline. [more]

Barococo

February 14, 2022

Mandell’s costume and wig design are exquisite, perfectly defining each character in their own distinct look and style with numerous fabrics and colors and without overlap. Each of the actors’ performances are as unique as their costumes. Grastorf gets many laughs from her wide-eyed, innocently naivety (or just plain dimwittedness), and Mark Jaster’s puffy bravura and expressive face are delightfully campy. Mandell’s cantankerous bawdiness is perfectly chosen for her character, and Thomas plays the narcissistic Dauphine with laughable presumptuousness. Vernon’s pretentious, foppish roguery is spot on for his role, and Caleb Jaster as the simple musician interacts perfectly when called upon. Each actor’s facial expressions, gestures and gaits are very distinct and in line with their characters. [more]

Specially Processed American Me

February 9, 2022

Who knew that SPAM has figured so importantly in Korean and Korean-American cuisines?  Jaime Sunwoo’s "Specially Processed American Me" tells that story and much more. "Specially Processed American Me"—check out those first letters!—uses SPAM as a metaphor to explore the huge subject of the Korean War, SPAM and her own intimate, moving autobiography as a Korean-American. [more]

Tambo & Bones

February 8, 2022

The dynamic W. Tré Davis and Tyler Fauntleroy deliver rousing performances as Tambo and Bones. Each is possessed of a limber physicality, superior comic timing and dramatic depth. Their immense chemistry is such that they appear to be long-time show business partners instead of just actors in a play. With their imposing physiques, close-cropped hair and vocal talents, Brendan Dalton and Dean Linnard are hilarious as the robots. Taylor Reynolds' fizzy staging realizes Harris’ vision with theatrical flair, each scene is perfectly presented. Lighting designers Amith Chandrashaker and Mextly Couzin and sound designer Mikhail Fiksel respond to three diverse settings with resourceful artistry. Composer Justin Ellington’s delightful original music ranges from jaunty melodies to rap tunes. [more]

Prayer for the French Republic

February 8, 2022

Joshua Harmon’s latest play, the dense, untidy, brilliant and timely Prayer for the French Republic, is his most ambitious, epical play covering five generations of one French Jewish family with relatives in America as they negotiate the troubled landscape in a time when Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front, an anti-Semitic, xenophobic and Islamophobic organization, may win the election for president of France.  Marcelle and Charles have to consider if France is still safe for their family which includes 28-year-old daughter Elodie and if not where they should go. If you think none of this has anything to do with you, Marine Le Pen is currently running for President of France once again and the Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage I has a husky guard on watch throughout the performance in Manhattan – that is the world we live in. The play also contains the most dramatic scenes to be played on a New York stage in many years. David Cromer’s production is riveting in its intensity and as a play of ideas it is very accessible even to those who have not been following recent current events. [more]

Long Day’s Journey into Night

February 7, 2022

But, again, O'Hara does these actors no favors, forcing them to contend with incongruous historical information while also depriving them of the greatest acting benefit O'Neill's four-act play affords: time. The characters' drawn-out, if not periodically downright tedious, interactions are fundamental to establishing the family dynamic and, more importantly, necessary for giving the work it's much-needed oppressive weight. It's nice that O'Hara wants to spare us from that suffering, but it doesn't help the play. [more]

Shhhh

February 6, 2022

Warning: "Shhhh," a world premiere commissioned by Atlantic Theater Company from Clare Barron, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winner for "Dance Nation," may just be the most visceral play you will ever see, describing all bodily fluids graphically from saliva to urine to feces and blood. It is not for the faint-hearted. "Shhhh" is meant for those who like adventurous, cutting- edge theater, performance that pushes the envelope.  You may not like it but you will not easily forget it. [more]

The Collision / The Martyrdom

January 30, 2022

Throughout these plays there resonates an overarching message of female empowerment, a message that provides depth to the otherwise light comedy being served up. Nuns are habit forming, that’s what people say, and this viewer wanted nothing more than to run back and see this show again. [more]

Di Froyen (The Women)

January 24, 2022

The New Yiddish Rep’s (David Mandelbaum, artistic director) production of the Yiddish language "Di Froyen (The Women)" is a bittersweet, anger-inducing portrait of modern day Chasid women caught between orthodox Jewish ideology and the rush of modern society’s laws and attitudes into their lives. Adapted by Malky Goldman and Melissa Weisz from Naomi Regan’s "Women’s Minyan," "Di Froyen," in one compact, tense hour, opens up a previously secret world to the public.  Here are six women, all wearing sheitels (wigs that orthodox Jewish women must wear because showing their own hair is proscribed by religious law) and all under immense pressure from within and without their enclave. [more]

Addressless: A Walk in Our Shoes

January 21, 2022

Turning the plight of New York City’s homeless into a game is an iffy proposition to say the least.  At best, the audience for the theatrical effort, "Addressless: A Walk in Our Shoes," learns about the daily terrors facing this disenfranchised population; at worst, the interactive game overshadows the very same awful truths turning homelessness into a superficial search for more and more points. The Zoom audience, giving advice to the actors who portray the unfortunate avatars of three luckless souls, takes the focus off of their tragic, often inescapable circumstances. [more]

Ectoplasm

January 18, 2022

"Ectoplasm" counts among its themes and topics: poetry, women’s rights, prostitution, women’s suffrage, love, death, the paranormal, the supernatural, fraudulent mediums – and the love that dare not speak its name, except here it is openly discussed, circa 1912. Each and every character has an agenda which is too many plot devices, while the actual plot never quite resolves itself. While the play has been given an elegant physical production, the script does not entirely hang together or feel satisfying. [more]

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]

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]
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