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Off-Broadway

MsTrial

December 5, 2019

Prominent Georgia attorney Dep Kirkland “decided to listen to his own voice, and walked away from the legal field altogether to pursue his previously private dream of acting, writing, and directing...” This statement comes from Mr. Kirkland’s biography in the program for the play he wrote, "MsTRIAL." Its promising He Said, She Said premise is undermined by a disjointed structure and presentational flaws. Mr. Kirkland has come up with a viable plot, appealing familiar characters and expert dialogue, but his command of dramatic writing is shaky. It’s not the explosive legal drama it aspires to be, coming across more as a screenplay being workshopped instead of a realized stage play. [more]

The Half-Life of Marie Curie

December 4, 2019

Having won the 2014 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award for "I and You," this is the fourth production of a Lauren Gunderson play in New York since then including her solo play "Natural Shocks" on domestic abuse which was produced in 100 American theaters in 2018. A specialist in biographical plays, her "The Half-Life of Marie Curie" is of particular interest in that it tells a little-known story of a very famous figure. It is also notable for the vivid performances of Kate Mulgrew and Francesca Faridany. Although Gunderson is not yet a household name, she has been the most produced American playwright since 2016. [more]

A Bright Room Called Day

December 1, 2019

Maddeningly alternating between being an absorbing historical drama and a grating exercise in self-indulgence,  "A Bright Room Called Day" is author Tony Kushner’s reimagining of his 1985 first play. “It never worked” states a character regarding the play. It still doesn’t, but parts of it are entrancing. In contrast to his gargantuan two-part opus, "Angels in America," this runs a tolerable two hours and 45 minutes including an intermission. [more]

Fefu and Her Friends

November 30, 2019

While María Irene Fornés' "Fefu and Her Friends" is considered a feminist statement, in performance the play seems not to be very revealing about women or their positions other than the fact that the cast is entirely female. Set among the very rich in the 1930’s, the play is liberated only to the extent that the women have enough money to do what they wish. With its attractive sets and stylish clothes and the novelty of moving from one set to the other, the play seems to be rather a period piece than a statement of women’s lib. Unlike such all-female plays as Hazel Ellis’ "Women without Men," Clare Boothe’s "The Women" and Jane Chambers’ "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove," "Fefu and Her Friends" does not have a lot to say although it remains entertaining throughout. Of course, it is possible that a women critic might have a very different take on this work. [more]

The Young Man from Atlanta

November 29, 2019

Yes, Mr. Foote’s eloquent take on the souring of the American Dream has shades of Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman," but with his idiosyncratic and powerful command of dramatic writing he creates a distinctive narrative. Looming over and central to the play is the implied and intimated notion that Will and Lily Dale’s unmarried son was gay and committed suicide. He had moved to Atlanta, taken a marginal job and lived in a rooming house, sharing space with a male “friend” who was ten years younger. This companion is an unseen though pivotal figure who perpetually contacts the grieving parents with shattering results. [more]

Other Than We

November 29, 2019

An old man who is an homage to Noam Chomsky is metamorphosed into an owl through the aid of a cloth mask and a print costume with a technician behind him flapping the wings, accompanied by thunderous music and ethereal singing. This bewildering coup de théâtre is the lame finale to the arid "Other Than We," the audience’s dubious reward for enduring and staying awake through its two soporific intermission less hours. [more]

Everything Is Super Great

November 28, 2019

Stephen Brown’s "Everything Is Super Great" is a small, unpretentious play about an American family in crisis. That is not a novel theme, of course, but "Everything" rises gracefully to the occasion. Brown demonstrates his considerable skill for creating characters you can latch onto and root for. Director Sarah Norris—along with a gifted quartet of actors—has gently and thoughtfully taken Brown’s story up a notch, finding colors that may not have been evident on the page but that augment the script nicely. The resulting production is a lovely thing to behold. [more]

The Crucible (Bedlam)

November 25, 2019

As produced by Bedlam in association with The Nora, Arthur Miller’s 1953 tragedy, "The Crucible," based on the Salem Witch Trials proves to be both riveting and relevant all over again. In the past, the play was seen as a cautionary tale about the McCarthy Era witch hunt that destroyed so many lives. Now in 2019 it becomes a story of truth and lies, fiction and fact. One of the judges refers to the situation in Salem as “this swamp.” In the age of Trump, Miller’s play has new meaning for our time. You could hear a pin drop during Eric Tucker’s unfussy production which becomes more and more scary as the Salem witch trials progress and the townspeople become entirely carried away by the hysteria. [more]

Confidence (and the Speech)

November 24, 2019

Political plots can be dry as toast. Hatem attempts to spice things up by crossing the genders of the actors playing Carter and young Cynthia; the convention is an interesting choice although it really doesn’t add any new light to the characters or story and is sometimes distracting.  Not to worry, though, the script is smart, imaginative, humorous at the right times and keeps its audience interested. [more]

Virgo Star

November 20, 2019

Following a comically exaggerated shootout, the two men make out. A cowgirl and a Mexican woman get together. At one point performers blindfold audience members for a brief bit. There’s a hula-hoop dance number. Monologues detailing homophobia, racism and gay bashing are enacted. It’s all cryptic, edgy and well-executed entertainment for devotees of non-traditional theater. [more]

Pumpgirl

November 20, 2019

Told as a series of alternating, interlocking monologues, there is a "Rashomon"-esque quality to "Pumpgirl" that grows more obvious as the play's story comes into focus. Not only do the relationships between the characters subjectively deepen as they each take their turns speaking under lighting designer Michael O'Connor's isolating glare, but a life-altering crime is also revealed, one that is committed with  stomach-churning cruelty. Though, unlike in the Kurosawa movie, its details are never in doubt. [more]

Fires in the Mirror

November 17, 2019

The Reverend Al Sharpton, Angela Davis, and Sonny Carson are among the two dozen celebrities, cross section of New Yorkers, and male and female integral figures of diverse ethnicities that are given astounding portrayals by actor Michael Benjamin Washington. These simulations occur during this bedazzling revival of conceiver and writer Anna Deavere Smith’s acclaimed 1992 solo play about the Crown Heights Riots, "Fires in the Mirror." [more]

Fur

November 13, 2019

Migdalia Cruz’s "Fur" (presented by Boundless Theatre Company at Next Door @NYTW) has the sensibility of a folk tale, the coherency of a fever dream, and the trappings of a horror movie. It’s an unsettling piece of theater. After you’ve seen it, don’t be surprised if it noses its way into your psyche and burrows into your personal dreamscape. This production, directed by Elena Araoz, is the play’s New York City premiere. (It debuted in Chicago in 1995.) According to Cruz’s stage directions, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles suburb, but the playwright isn’t necessarily concerned about specifics of time or place. In fact, the play seems to transpire in some shadowy corner of the collective unconscious. [more]

BrandoCapote

November 13, 2019

In 1957 Truman Capote disingenuously misled the legendary actor Marlon Brando into opening up to him under the guise of helping to publicize the soppy melodrama, Sayonara which Brando was then making in Kyoto. This now infamous interview caused quite a stir for its snarky tone and caustic observations about Asian women.  In their "BrandoCapote," Sara & Reid Farrington have sliced and diced this article, added music, fanciful Japanese costumes and rather severely stylized choreography and come up with a fascinating theater piece. [more]

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf

November 12, 2019

Seven vibrant and diverse women of color take the stage and speak, sing and dance at the start of this shining revival of author Ntozake Shange’s landmark play, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide /When the Rainbow Is Enuf." They’re wearing costume designer Toni-Leslie James’ beautiful fluorescent dresses, each in a different color, and some have regal headpieces. The dynamic cast of Sasha Allen (Lady in Blue), Celia Chevalier (Lady in Brown), Danaya Esperanza (Lady in Orange), Jayme Lawson (Lady in Red), Adrienne C. Moore (Lady in Yellow), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), and Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple) vividly perform Ms. Shange’s self-invented “choreopoem,” a theatre piece embracing poetry, movement, and music. Each of these magnetic performers brings distinction and individuality to their roles. [more]

The Black History Museum…According to the United States of America

November 11, 2019

Revolutionary War patriots Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin are eerily represented by male and female black performers wearing tweaked 18th century garb, half-white wigs and garish makeup. They’re on a raised platform sitting on period furniture and cynically thrashing out The Declaration of Independence with the aim of enforcing white male hegemony. This is the satirical wild opening of "The Black History Museum...According to the United States of America." It’s an immersive two-hour performance art piece performed all over the two floors of New York City’s HERE theater complex. [more]

The Michaels

November 10, 2019

Richard Nelson’s latest play, "The Michaels" (subtitled a “Conversation During Difficult Times”) is a thing of beauty. Low-key like his "Apple Family" quartet and his "The Gabriels" trilogy, it is Chekhovian in the best sense of the word: very little happens but life passes by. The characters who sit in a Rhinebeck, New York,  kitchen (also the setting for the other seven plays) talk of life and death, love and desire, memories and accomplishments. They reveal secrets and ponder changes and ultimately make decisions. Not much takes place but then again all of life occurs in the course of the play’s two hours. [more]

A Life in the Rye

November 9, 2019

A seated actor dressed all in black wearing a beret beats a conga drum on a confined playing area.  Other actors in period costumes sit at small cabaret tables and chairs as thick wafts of smoke envelop the stage. On the back wall is a white screen and from behind it is the shadow of a woman dancing. Such is the arresting 1950’s classic beat coffee house imagery director Joe John Battista conjures up for playwright Claude Solnik’s fascinating fantasia derived from the life of J.D. Salinger (1919-2010), "A Life in the Rye." [more]

Seared

November 8, 2019

As directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the play is fast-paced and engrossing and the smell of garlic coming from the stage convinces us that real cooking is going on. The completely working industrial kitchen designed by Tim Mackabee is a wonder of economy on the small stage of the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space as we watch many meals get prepared in record time. The flaw in the play is that Esparza’s Harry spends so much time ranting about his beliefs and requirements that he becomes both tiresome and unsympathetic. Harry may be an artist fighting capitalist necessities, but he also sabotages his own success. We eventually discover that he is not as ethical as he pretends to be even though he claims not to care about money – or adulations. And as none of the money in the restaurant is his, ultimately he has no say in what is decided. [more]

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House

November 7, 2019

Plays about lives of quiet desperation are difficult to pull off because you run the risk of boring the audience. Liza Birkenmeier’s “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” has all the elements of a fascinating drama but as presented by Ars Nova at Greenwich House it is all about subtext and undercurrents which may go right over the heads of many audience members. Little happens but there is much tedious talk which is a cover-up for what goes unsaid. [more]

One Discordant Violin

November 6, 2019

What this team of artists has created is a serious piece of storytelling that is also a glorious treat for the eyes and ears. If you’ve figured that the show will just be a guy narrating a short story while another guy plays violin, you’re certain to be pleasantly surprised. [more]

A Woman of the World

November 3, 2019

Kathleen Chalfant adds another feather to her cap as Emily Dickinson’s posthumous editor Mabel Loomis Todd in the world premiere of Rebecca Gilman’s new one-woman play, "A Woman of the World," presented by The Acting Company in association with Miranda Theatre Company at 59E59 Theaters. Staged by Miranda’s artistic director Valentina Fratti with elegant assurance, Chalfant is both fascinating and seductive as this real life woman who in the 1880’s and 1890’s scandalized conventional Amherst, Massachusetts, with her liberated and bohemian behavior long before such goings on became acceptable for women – or men. [more]

The Catastrophe Club

October 31, 2019

Mr. Burnam’s futuristic conceit is engrossing and the theme of a repressed figure looking back at a more joyous way of life is potent. The present day portions are amiable but only fitfully compelling, so The Catastrophe Club doesn’t quite fulfill its striking premise. Reaching a polished and wistful conclusion, and with its site-specific presentation, it sustains its 90 minute length with interest. [more]

The Hope Hypothesis

October 31, 2019

The play’s title comes from Carew’s character. The “hope hypothesis” is the notion that, in our current environment, people have universally given up hope. Consequently, they are either attempting to destroy themselves or aiming to destroy others. That’s a fairly dire assessment of the world we live in, and one that Miller doesn’t strive to dispel. That she can project that kind of cynical outlook in such a sparkling entertainment is impressive and a bit unnerving. [more]

Monsoon Season

October 31, 2019

Vieh’s script is extremely clever in its telling two sides of a story completely by separate monologues. The dialogue is real and yet extremely funny, never revealing too much, allowing the audience to piece together what’s going on as the actors deliver their lines with impeccable timing and tumult. [more]

Bella Bella

October 31, 2019

Like a great many history plays, Harvey Fierstein's "Bella Bella" is as much about the present as the past, paralleling everything that's gone wrong now with what went wrong then. Unsurprisingly, it's also shamelessly biased, with the first word in the play's title apparently meant to be read in Italian as part of Fierstein's banally straightforward tribute to Bella Abzug, the feistiest of feisty 1970's New York City politicians, best known for her take-no-prisoners liberalism as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. One's enjoyment of the play probably depends on how prone you are to clap or hiss along with the rest of the unambiguously sympathetic Manhattan Theatre Club audience, even if it's only in your own head. [more]

Macbeth (Classic Stage Company)

October 28, 2019

There has been a recent trend to perform Shakespeare as minimally as possible and with as few actors as possible. However, the question arises what is gained? When the doubling of roles proves confusing so that when actors appear it is difficult to know who they are playing, what is the point? Here the two actors who play the murderers Macbeth hires to kill Banquo report to him and then take their seats with the guests at his banquet which is quite disconcerting. In Doyle’s version, Macbeth himself kills Lady Macduff and her children rather than his henchmen – so who is minding the palace? Antonio Michael Woodard, the young man who plays Banquo’s son Fleance, appears in this scene as Macduff’s son but we know we have seen him before. [more]

Fear

October 28, 2019

"The Cosby Show," "Home Improvement" and "Roseanne" are among Mr. Williams’ prominent credits as a television writer and producer. Williams also has had several plays produced and has directed a number of theater productions. Fear is in the venerable tradition of "The Petrified Forest" and "The Desperate Hours" with dashes of "The Bad Seed." It exhibits a technical facility for dramatic writing with its sharp dialogue delivered by its diverse well-drawn characters enmeshed in a suspenseful scenario out of French cinema. Lamentably, Williams doesn’t go all the way in rendering Fear’s classic whodunit aspects. It all plays out inconclusively and without satisfaction. [more]

Bars and Measures

October 27, 2019

The play’s dynamic—with the two brothers trying to stay in sync even as they find themselves polar opposites in nearly all areas of their lives—seems at points to make the play a kind of clunky “what if” scenario from a modern-problems textbook (the punny title doesn’t help). However, Goodwin’s talent for writing smart, occasionally amusing dialogue and for making his characters seem like real people rather than emblems largely mitigates that concern. Also, the work of the actors in this production is quite strong. [more]

Is This a Room

October 25, 2019

The performances as well as the dialogue are cool and unemotional as you might expect from four professionals used to doing their jobs, until about three quarters of the way through when Winner confesses to having mailed out the document that they have been asking her about after admitting that she had printed it out to read it. From then on for the last 15 minutes, the tension rises as it become obvious that Winner will not be allowed to go home. [more]

Molly Sweeney

October 24, 2019

As is Mr. Friel’s The Faith Healer, Molly Sweeney is a monologue play. Here, instead of being separated in individual acts, the three characters appear on stage together without interacting, and speak alternately. It’s certainly a viable format and Mr. Friel gives us a gorgeous cascade of memories, biographical details, differing points of view and suspense. However, as beautiful as these reveries may be, there’s too much of them and the play’s impact is diluted. Lasting two and a half hours and comprised of two acts with an intermission, the slender plot is embellished with the leisure of a literary work rather than a taut stage play.  Still, by its end, one is caught up by the characters and their fates. The arguable structural deficiencies are compensated for by the faultless presentation. [more]

Notes on My Mother’s Decline

October 22, 2019

Knud Adams directs this one-set show which at times has moments of humor, but overall is a slow moving and usually depressing narrative. Ari Fliakos, who plays the son, gives a reserved performance. Too often I thought of  the somber tones of The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling. Fliakos  speaks directly to the audience while seldom having conversations with his mother, played convincingly by Caroline Lagerfelt. When they do interact, it’s via a call that usually describes her mundane days. [more]

Games

October 21, 2019

"Games" shines a light on the long forgotten stories of two Jewish athletes in post-World War I Germany, a Germany that slid into National Socialism by the 1930’s, effecting the lives of Helene Mayer, a world-class fencer, and Gretel Bergmann, a record-setting high jumper.  The play, directed with attention to pacing and unadorned expressiveness by Darren Lee Cole (assisted by Hayley Procacci) takes the protagonists through the world-changing 1936 Berlin (aka the “Nazi”) Olympics. [more]
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