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Off-Broadway

Gratitude

June 10, 2022

The animated Aline Salloum fearlessly embraces all of Najaf’s unsettling complexities, delivering a riveting performance. In the early sexually frank verbal exchanges, Ms. Salloum marvelously recalls Elaine May’s matter of fact comedic brilliance. With his captivating boy next door presence, Erik Larsson as Drew offers a smashing characterization combining naiveté and Machiavellianism. As Josh and Ben, the equally commanding and personable Jalen Ford and Jake Bryan Guthrie wonderfully evoke boyish randiness and adolescent confusion. Though clearly not teens, this youthful quartet are totally and effortlessly believable in their roles. [more]

Mr. Parker

June 8, 2022

"Mr. Parker," the latest play by Michael McKeever whose "Daniel’s Husband" has been produced twice Off Broadway, has been given a stylish production by director Joe Brancato who also directed the earlier play. David Goldstein’s one-room studio set situated in the East Village is elegant and cozy. The costumes by Myra Oney are chic. The acting by its trio of actors is polished and urbane. Even its premise of a gay man dealing with the sudden death of a long-time partner and husband is up-to-date and timely However, as written the play seems superficial and slight. Dramatically it avoids all the big scenes that might have been included. It remains entertaining but without the payoff one wants in such a drama. [more]

A Healthy House

June 7, 2022

Diriwachter is particularly skilled in writing working class vernacular.  The Father and Tim speak the same language and he catches all the subtleties of decades of ups and downs.  He also is wonderful with the two salesmen, cleverly finding the rhythm of their spiels that build up to the final pitches.  His salespeople are written as clever but not unfeeling so that the audience never totally believes that the Father and son are being betrayed and cheated. [more]

B-Boy Blues The Play

June 7, 2022

Can a 27-year-old Black gay professional journalist and a 21-year-old Blatino bicycle messenger with an out of wedlock son find love and happiness together in Brooklyn? That is the crux of author James Earl Hardy’s compelling class-conscious drama "B-Boy Blues The Play," where all of its characters are confident of their varied sexuality. Mr. Hardy, an accomplished entertainment reporter, published his novel, "B-Boy Blues: A Seriously Sexy, Fiercely Funny, Black-on-Black Love Story," in 1994. It led to five sequels, a short story and an upcoming film version. Hardy’s stage adaptation premiered at New York City’s 2013 Downtown Urban Arts Festival (DUAF), which is also presenting this production. [more]

Sky of Darkness

June 6, 2022

Following the lead of Francis Ford Coppola’s "Apocalypse Now," Siting Yang has updated Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness" to the present but left the story mainly set in Africa. In "Sky of Darkness" as the narrator Ma Luo (Yang’s new Marlow) is Chinese, the tale is now an exposé of Chinese interference in African affairs both financial and military. However, Yang complicates the story by having it periodically interrupted by The Ghost of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe who famously gave a lecture criticizing Conrad’s novella in 1975 from an African point of view as racist and stereotyped. But this Achebe doesn’t object to the story as a xenophobic work of post-colonialism but criticizes Conrad for what he says he did not see. He doesn’t take into consideration that Conrad’s story is told by a series of narrators and that Captain Marlow is horrified by the repression he does see by the European rulers (in his time the brutal Belgian occupation). [more]

A Kid Like Rishi

June 4, 2022

Origin Theatre Company’s stark production of Kees Roorda’s A Kid Like Rishi is a totally involving Rashomon-like take on a real-life tragedy:  In November of 2012, 17-year-old Rishi Chandrikasing, a young man of Indian descent, was shot and killed at a train station in the Hague by a policeman. Was it a case of racial profiling? A justified shooting? Accidental? In the English translation by Tom Johnston, Roorda thoroughly examines the event through the testimony of twenty or so witnesses all played by three disparate, but complementary actors:  Sung Yun Cho, Atandwa Kani and Kaili Vernoff, all three quietly intense. The cell theatre’s well-known flexibility was put to good use by the scenic designer Guy de Lancey who placed the audience on four sides of a long wooden table around and upon which the actors performed Koorda’s sad docudrama. [more]

…what the end will be

June 2, 2022

In four scenes spanning a few months, Ra renders his gay family trio’s life events, medical situations, numerous clashes and resolutions with pungent topicality. The pandemic is referenced, gender and pronouns are discussed, and cultural bromides are stated: “Black people can’t be racist. I read that on the Facebook.” Ra’s characters are given rich portrayals by the splendid cast. With his melodious voice, priceless facial expressions and stage presence, veteran actor Keith Randolph Smith grounds the production with his towering performance as Bartholomew. As Maxwell, the fiery Emerson Brooks supremely conveys the character’s bottled-up emotions, offering a moving psychological portrait. The personable Gerald Caesar’s Tony is a vivid take on adolescent struggle. Randy Harrison as Charles offers a winning take on the supportive spouse with his straightforward vocal delivery and calm manner. Lithe, animated and spunky Ryan Jamaal Swain hilariously and poignantly tranmits all of Antoine’s facets. The radiant Tiffany Villarin combines levity and warmth as the noble Chloe. [more]

Fat Ham

May 30, 2022

James Ijames’ "Fat Ham" (all puns intended) is the latest and most successful modern riff on the Bard turning Hamlet into an expression of the Black experience while at the same time having much fun at Hamlet’s expense. As one of the few comedies to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, we should be hearing more soon from this talented playwright whose "Kill Move Paradise" in 2017 appears to be his only other New York credit, also directed by Saheem Ali. Already an associate artistic director/resident director with The Public Theater, Ali has previously worked wonders with "Merry Wives," "Nollywood Dreams," "Shipwreck," "Fires in the Mirror," "The Rolling Stone," "Passage," and "Fireflies," among others at various theaters around town. As usual his casting choices are perfect to the nth degree. [more]

The Legend of the Waitress & The Robber

May 27, 2022

Written by Renee Philippi, this witty mockery of authoritarianism is derived from Friedrich Schiller’s play "The Robbers" and the Korean novel "The Story of Hong Gildong." Composer and lyricist Lewis Flinn’s smart original score joyously recall’s Kurt Weil’s galvanizing melodies and Bertolt Brecht’s biting lyrics. It’s rousingly rendered by musical directors Jacob Kerzner and Hee Eun Kim. [more]

Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)

May 25, 2022

Takiff is a skilled performer who never loses the audience no matter how angry or sardonic he gets.  He is helped by the mood setting lighting of Elizabeth M. Stewart and the sound and video contributions of Matthew Chilton.  Mark Mindek provides some minor, but effective, dance bits. Brian Lane Green’s direction made all of pieces fit together into a cogent whole. As difficult as the subject matter is, "Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)" should be seen as a fresh, in depth consideration of the subject matter. [more]

Golden Shield

May 23, 2022

Although playwright Anchuli Felicia King’s plays have been performed in London, Washington, D.C., Staunton (Virginia), Melbourne, and Sydney, her Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-nominated "Golden Shield" appears to be her first New York main stage production. Ostensibly about a young, idealistic lawyer’s attempt to bring her sister on board as a translator in a risky legal battle with a multinational tech corporation, the play is about half a dozen other things as well: sibling rivalry, child abuse, ethical turpitude, human rights issues, governmental suppression of the internet, legal loopholes, and corporate greed. The play actually conflates two different very real lawsuits (against internet giants Yahoo and Cisco) which may explain why it is initially so complicated. [more]

Three Sisters

May 22, 2022

While this is not an in-depth interpretation and at times seems a bit superficial, Will Pomerantz’s production of "Three Sisters" is a true ensemble making it appear that these people have lived together for years. His new adaptation in contemporary idiom is easy on the ears and easy to comprehend. The pacing of the production is always on the move which is saying a good deal when it comes to Three Sisters which is often performed in a glacial style to mirror the characters’ boredom and disappointments. Here the characters complain about their fate but get on with their lives. [more]

The Oracle

May 20, 2022

This premiere five-performance Off-Off-Broadway showcase run of "The Oracle" is best viewed as a tryout, and the production’s presentational flaws are cited with that belief. Co-author Elliott also directed; while he’s assembled, well-positioned and guided the industrious cast to lively performances, his physical staging is variable. The play is structured as 34 brief scenes over two acts. Instead of rapid transitions, there’s a pause between each scene while recorded music plays as the actors get in place. This intrusive strategy slackens the pacing and adds to the running time. [more]

Oh God, A Show About Abortion

May 18, 2022

Alison Leiby’s "Oh God, A Show About Abortion" is probably the most level-headed work about that much debated subject, perhaps too level-headed.  While the United States is going through social and political paroxysms over a leaked Supreme Court argument that portends the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Leiby’s matter-of-fact attitude toward the subject is a balm. [more]

The Karpovsky Variations

May 17, 2022

Adam Kraar’s new drama, "The Karpovsky Variations," is a memory play about a dysfunctional family of driven people and the music that inspired them. Unfortunately, in its current form it is both confused and confusing. Without a family tree, it is difficult to keep straight all of the names of characters both seen and mentioned. Director Tasha Gordon-Solmon has eliminated almost all of the scenic elements described in the script which does not make it any easier to follow. There is a fascinating story hidden in this material but it hasn’t been allowed to surface yet. [more]

André & Dorine

May 16, 2022

This charming show comes from the acclaimed Spanish troupe, Kulunka Teatro. The ensemble of Jose Dault, Garbiñe Insausti and Edu Cárcamo all offer awesome physically commanding silent portrayals of a variety of types while encased in Ms. Insausti’s stupendously created caricaturist masks. Their handling of props is majestic. During the exhilarating curtain call, the cast appears without masks, and their magnetism is even more visible. André & Dorine’s engaging wry scenario was devised by Insausti, Mr. Dault, Iñaki Rikarte, Mr. Cárcamo and Rolando San Martín. [more]

A Case for the Existence of God

May 10, 2022

Though there’s two well-delineated characters and a compelling plot, "A Case for the Existence of God" plays out like a 90-minute cerebral exercise, reaching an unsatisfying pseudo-fantastical conclusion. This is explained by Hunter’s stage directions which explicitly have the actors sitting for a good deal of the time. He has several dictates as to how his dialogue should be delivered, one example is “Dialogue written in italics is emphatic, deliberate; dialogue in ALL CAPS is impulsive, explosive. Dialogue in [brackets] is implied, not spoken.” [more]

Wedding Band

May 9, 2022

Alice Childress’ "Wedding Band," which is a difficult play to stage due to its shifts in tone, is a major rediscovery. However, it straddles a thin line between realism and romance and its poetry needs to be handled very carefully. Unlike the tamer "Trouble in Mind," "Wedding Band" has a very strong message and a good deal to say about racism in American in telling its sensitive interracial love story about a time when it was a love that dared not speak its name. While this production makes some problematic choices, the time has certainly arrived for this play to be returned to the American stage. [more]

Our Brother’s Son

May 6, 2022

Freshman playwright Charles Gluck, a retired gastroenterologist who has finally followed his dream to write a play, has turned out one terrific piece of theater. There is virtually no superfluous dialogue in this script; almost every line serves a specific purpose, whether it’s to provide key exposition, continue to build the play’s fully three-dimensional characters or to accelerate and intensify the dramatic through point. [more]

Wish You Were Here

May 4, 2022

In the 13 years that span this earnest, thought-provoking play, three weddings, fear, war, and death all serve to test the strength and sanctity of these women’s bonds. Toossi’s script is intimate, and searching, both funny and heartbreaking; "Wish You Were Here" is a beautiful testament to the strengths and allegiances women find with each other in times of turmoil and oppression. [more]

Bloom

April 26, 2022

Direction by Victoria Pérez could have better negotiated the script transitions and emotional shaping of the piece; however, script, director and actors, as well as lighting design by Miguel Valderrama and sound design by Michael Hernandez all come together to create a moving ending which comes with no answers but does provide a sense of closure. "Bloom" hasn’t fully flowered in this incarnation, but perhaps more will be revealed in future productions. [more]

Cyrano de Bergerac

April 19, 2022

Playwright Martin Crimp, an adherent of the ”in-yer-face” school of British playwriting, has taken Edmond Rostand’s turn-of-the-last century verse drama, Cyrano de Bergerac, and not only blown off the cobwebs but exploded it into an entirely new 21st century experience. Staged by innovative director Jamie Lloyd, it has become a showcase for titanic Scottish stage and screen actor James McAvoy making an unforgettable New York stage debut in the title role as the 17th century poet and soldier. [more]

To My Girls

April 15, 2022

Lee peppers his worn scenario with plenty of pop, cultural and political references, well-crafted zingers and familiar conflicts. Dating apps, "Dancer from the Dance," "Sex and the City" are among the totems cited and a Trump supporter is declared to be a “MAGA fag.” "To My Girls" succeeds as a rote genre-piece for a niche audience desiring a simplistic gay play where there’s laughter, tears and resolution in drag danced to The Pointer Sisters. Lee’s thinly drawn characters are highly playable. [more]

Confederates

April 12, 2022

Dominique Morisseau’s "Confederates," her second play of her Signature Theatre Residency 5, is a clever, but overly talky dissertation on race, power and family.  She offers the audience parallel stories alternating between the Civil War era and modern day academia. The contemporary plot involves Sandra (Michelle Wilson, solid), a Black political science professor who is the victim of a racist insult. A period photograph of a slave wet nurse, white infant attached to her breast, was altered to superimpose her head on the slave’s.  Finding the culprit spurs Sandra to think about the precariousness of being a Black woman in academia. [more]

The Patsy

April 12, 2022

Greenspan, a six-time Obie Award winner, whirls at breakneck speed through this three-act play in just over an hour, transforming from one character to the next with expert fluidity. He transitions between the highly dramatic and entitled Grace, the histrionic and prideful Mrs. Harrington, the simple but lovable Mr. Harrington, the gentle and sweet Patricia, and the gangly, dopey gentleman callers Tom Anderson and Billy Caldwell, drawing on every gender-bending limb, muscle, hand, voice, look or facial gesture he can muster. Even the brusque Tip Busty and party girl Sadie Buchanan get their own unique treatment. [more]

Queens Girl in the World

April 11, 2022

Whether frenetically dancing, rhapsodizing over Nancy Drew, fretting about when she’ll wear a bra or reacting horrified upon learning about sex, Ms. Curry performs with the verve of Lily Tomlin in her prime. Curry’s rich portrayal of Jaqueline Marie Butler captures the wonderment of childhood amidst harsh realities and the physical and emotional upheavals of adolescence. A matter-of-fact confession that Jaqueline has been molested is a chilling highlight. With her wide-eyes, expressive facial features, limber physicality and vocal prowess, Curry often rapidly achieves distinctive characterizations of the dozen other figures in the play. The wizardry of Mika Eubanks’ costume, hair and makeup design all visually enhance Curry’s performance. [more]

Take Shape

April 5, 2022

An astronaut in a space station, a YouTube cooking show, evicted apartment residents and a romance on the rocks are a few of the dramatic and antic incidents depicted in "Take Shape," an entertaining full-length program of mime. It’s presented by the Broken Box Mime Theater (BKBX), which was founded in 2011, and whose mission is “to activate the imagination of our audiences, to contemporize the art of mime, and to remind us all of the simple power of storytelling.” "Take Shape" is a collaboration by the company’s members, many of whom appear in rotation at various performances. This creative troupe is comprised of Nick Abeel, Becky Baumwoll, Ismael Castillo, Julia Cavagna, Géraldine Dulex, Blake Habermann, David Jenkins, Marissa Molnar, Kristin McCarthy Parker, Tasha Milkman, Regan Sims, Jae Woo and Josh Wynter. [more]

Gong Lum’s Legacy

April 3, 2022

On one level, "Gong Lum’s Legacy" is revealing in that it demonstrates Southern racism against not only African Americans but also Chinese immigrants who were given the same treatment. On another hand, the script which moves rather slowly with its 18 scenes over a period of two years would be more effective if it was less like a screenplay and more stageworthy. The play would also be more powerful if the historic Gong Lum made appearances in the play to tell his own story rather than reporting it as radio news.  Playwright Charles L. White has a fine ear for dialogue but is weak in dramaturgy. [more]

7 Minutes

March 31, 2022

Given one hour to decide and vote, the union committee must come to a decision in real time. On one level the play is very much like Reginald Rose’s "12 Angry Men" in which a group of disparate people must also make a life or death decision. However, unlike that play, the characters in "7 Minutes" are not clearly delineated so that we do not know where many of them stand or who they are. While the production directed by Mei Ann Teo is absorbing for most of its running time placing us in the room where it happens, her staging having the actors move about a great deal makes it difficult to keep most of the 11 women separate from each other. Unlike "12 Angry Men," "7 Minutes" does not offer a great many arguments for and against to warrant its running time, mainly getting into personalities. [more]

The Chinese Lady

March 29, 2022

Presentational flourishes abound in director Ralph B. Peña’s gorgeous physical staging which combines small-scale spectacle with humanity. Scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee provides a large gold frame through which we observe Afong’s act and an assortment of stylized pieces which evokes the past through clever artifice. That’s complemented by the shimmering artistry of lighting designers Jiyoun Chang and Elizabeth Mak and projection designer Shawn Duan. Sound designer and composer Fabian Obispo’s  original music and composition, ranges from delightfully jaunty to purposefully moody. [more]

Help

March 28, 2022

Poet and Yale professor Rankine’s play makes use of a narrator/interviewer as her stand-in played by April Matthis. According to program notes by Rankine herself, “The text spoken by white people in the piece was primarily culled from responses to the Times article, public statements by men and women in the government and public life; and interviews conducted with white men by civil rights activists and theologian Ruby Sales; or documentary filmmaker Whitney Dow, or myself.” It also includes updates to the original script from “the January 6 insurrection and the global pandemic.” However, as the quotes are out of context they occasionally refer to entirely different issues as in former President Donald Trump’s saying “Such a nasty woman,” that was addressed to then candidate Hillary Clinton during one of the 2016 presidential debates. [more]

Heartland

March 27, 2022

While Gabriel Jason Dean’s "Heartland" is an enlightening play about Afghan culture mentioning the classic poet Rumi and the contemporary novelist Atiq Rahimi, some of it will still be opaque to American audiences. On the other hand, it also reveals how American involvement in other countries may have the opposite effect of that which is intended. The fine production, however, makes this a compelling though subtle story of an extended family in its understated way. The play was first produced as part of the National Play Network Rolling World Premiere with four simultaneous productions including the one at The Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York. [more]

Alex Edelman: Just for Us

March 26, 2022

Despite the familiar visual trappings--mic stand, performer-blinding stage lights, and a dull curtain backdrop--Edelman's deceptively free-flowing talents hew more towards the monologist Spalding Gray than those of Williams. Like Gray, Edelman is an entrancing storyteller capable of stitching together personal anecdotes into a rich thematic tapestry. In Just for Us his canvas includes mental pictures of growing up Orthodox Jewish in a Boston where white privilege is starkly stratified; his brother's 2018 Winter Olympics participation as a member of the Israeli team in possibly the least athletic competition; witnessing the actions of a predictably conceited Jared Kushner at synagogue; and the touching time his family celebrated Christmas in order to console a bereaved non-Jewish friend. [more]
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