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Plays

Lobby Hero

April 16, 2018

Ethical integrity versus moral turpitude is the theme of Kenneth Lonergan’s "Lobby Hero" now having its Broadway debut at The Second Stage’s newly renovated home, The Helen Hayes Theater. Although Trip Cullman’s production is very leisurely for at least the first half of this talky and long play first seen in New York in 2001, his quartet of impeccably cast players (Michel Cera, Brian Tyree Henry, Bel Powley and Chris Evans in his Broadway debut) have a field day with these ethically challenged police and security officers. "Lobby Hero" may appear at first to have a great many meaningless conversations, but it all becomes a tight web of intrigue as the tension rises in the second act. [more]

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

April 13, 2018

War, guns, Vietnam, the excesses of capitalism, toxic masculinity, blind American patriotism and feminism are among the targets of Mr. Vonnegut’s characteristically overloaded satire. Such concerns treated in a mannered fashion were all fodder for his popular novels but for the stage it’s problematic. [more]

This Flat Earth

April 13, 2018

But, unfortunately, Ferrentino squanders this intriguing setup, getting lost in existential musings that end up being nowhere near as complicated as her subject matter. The first signs of trouble are actually percolating even before the play begins. As we enter the theater, Cloris (Lynda Gravátt), Julie and Dan’s elderly neighbor, is already perched in the upstairs apartment of Dane Laffrey’s two-story set. And there she remains for the entire play, a constant presence hovering over the action below. Initially, you wonder about her and, then, you feel sorry for the actor, hoping she’ll be given something more to do than just putter around. Eventually, however, after a couple of pat exchanges with Julie, it all becomes cringingly clear. Cloris isn’t a character at all; she’s an inspirational device, one that Ferrentino unleashes with full, and shameless, force at the play’s tear-jerking conclusion. [more]

The Edge of Our Bodies

April 12, 2018

Rapp’s plays are so different from each other that it is difficult to classify him. As of now he has written conventional dramas, experimental plays, futuristic and science fiction plays, and dramas on hot button social issues, among others. "The Edge of Our Bodies" is in yet another form: a monologue spoken by Bernadette, a 16-year-old girl who has left her boarding school on a Friday afternoon without permission to come to New York City to tell her 19-year-old boyfriend Michael that she is pregnant. Carolyn Molloy, who does not at all look 16, reads her story from a diary for much of the play and her delivery is that of a reading, not a dramatic performance. [more]

Dutch Masters

April 11, 2018

In 70 gripping minutes, Keller takes this familiar premise in a compelling direction. His biting dialogue reflects the divisive era during the mayoralty of the African-American David Dinkins who was defeated in 1993 by Rudolph Giuliani. Michael Stewart and Yusef Hawkins, two young African-Americans whose violent deaths were touchstones of that period are mentioned. Keller weaves these and other cultural references with a commanding sense of dramatic writing into a poignant and suspenseful experience that reaches an emotionally draining conclusion. He also has created two substantial roles. [more]

Feeding the Dragon

April 8, 2018

Under the assured direction of Maria Mileaf in a production which started at the Hartford Stage earlier this year, Sharon Washington is a captivating and entertaining presence both as she narrates her story and also gives commentary and hints of her life since then. Told with the innocence of childhood, "Feeding the Dragon" will also enchant readers and nostalgia buffs alike, for the world that she describes does not exist anymore now that libraries are high tech places ruled by computers and other media – and without apartments for a live-in staff at the top of the building. [more]

The Stone Witch

April 6, 2018

Lauria, best known for his work on "The Wonder Years," makes Simon an immensely private and enigmatic figure. His erratic behavior changes by the moment, keeping Peter (and us) guessing. We are never certain whether he had incipient dementia or is faking or is suffering from malnutrition or dehydration living for so long in a cabin in the woods. This is a big performance and Lauria brings great authority to his role. [more]

Bedlam’s Pygmalion

April 4, 2018

Scenic designer John McDermott has turned the black box space at the Sheen Center into an intimate amphitheater with the audience sitting around three sides of Higgins’ laboratory/study with no viewer more than four rows from the action. When Eliza arrives to arrange for lessons on her small income, we discover what we already suspected: this Eliza has been born in India and she is prone to speak in Hindi when she gets excited, just like her father Alfred Doolittle does when he follows her to Wimpole Street to see what he can get out of her good fortune - when she sends for her things but not her clothes. This adds a new, contemporary level to the play: Eliza is an immigrant rather than an East End cockney which contributes to the play’s current relevance. [more]

Three Tall Women

April 3, 2018

If you pay any attention to the Rialto, then you knew that Jackson was going to be in the play--the play that salvaged Albee’s reputation in 1993 and won him his third Pulitzer Prize--since it was announced last year. And I’m pleased to report, if you were anticipating Jackson doing "Three Tall Women" with high expectations, you will not be disappointed. She surpasses whatever you were expecting with a kind of fierce and cold glory, appropriate to the 92-year-old A. From B’s servitude as A’s nurse, in the first part, to her becoming the somewhat haughty, 52-year-old A, in Part 2, Laurie Metcalf negotiates the character’s huge emotional shift with ease and naturalness. [more]

Babette’s Feast

April 2, 2018

aithful to the story and like the film, this stage adaptation uses narration from Dinesen’s story. However, not only are the actors used as storytellers, some of the characters also narrate themselves. Set in a small town in Berleväg, Norway, the most northern outpost of the continent of Europe, the story takes place in 1883 but flashes back to earlier days using hardly any props, much in the same way that Thornton Wilder’s "Our Town" tells its story. [more]

Leisure, Labor, Lust 

April 2, 2018

Besides depicting the upper crust, the lives of the servants are harshly detailed with inspiration from social documentarian Jacob Riis’ muckraking journalism. There are searing descriptions of the bleak existence in the Lower East Side tenements that include death from cholera.  Ms. Farrington ingeniously grafts the characteristics of Wharton and Riis with her own imaginative powers in her finely written and bold scenario that is set in 1907 and is structured in three acts. [more]

A Walk in the Woods

March 30, 2018

The two talented, delightfully understated actors have taken on these roles with energy and sincerity.  Manning makes Honeyman both simple and complex at the same time while Van Treuren mines Botvinnik’s uncanny ability to charm and frighten at the same time.  You root for them from beginning to end and hope against hope for them to actually produce a treaty. [more]

Dinner with Georgette

March 30, 2018

Michel Foucault and Walt Whitman are quoted offstage at the beginning of "Dinner With Georgette." It’s riddled with pretentious nonsense masquerading as profundity and this bit is a harbinger of what’s to come. The playwright, Obie award-winning theater artist and Brown University alumnus Rick Burkhardt piles on academic inanities for one hour and 40 minutes in this leaden saga.  The abrasive dialogue has the characters refer to themselves in the third person and comment on the actions, addressing the audience directly. [more]

Three Small Irish Masterpieces

March 30, 2018

It’s impossible to discuss the history of modern Irish drama without reference to William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, and John Millington Synge, who, at the beginning of the last century, helped to found the National Theatre of Ireland. With "Three Small Irish Masterpieces," this literary trinity receives a heartfelt, if somewhat exaggerated, nod from the Irish Repertory Theatre, which, over the last few decades, has proven its own indispensability, too. [more]

Admissions

March 27, 2018

"Admissions" is often very funny like when Sherri has to try to explain why Melville’s Moby Dick is not being taught anymore (a book about a white whale by a dead white guy) and when Charlie is annoyed that girls in his class object to reading Willa Cather, a woman and a lesbian rather than a person of  color. Although the play is intended to be unsettling to white liberals, it is too neat in its setup. It would have to be Sherri who has spent 15 years creating diversity at Hillcrest whose son may be affected by affirmative action and Charlie and Perry who have been best friends almost all their lives should be divided by Yale’s admission choices. Perry’s picture in the admissions catalogue is rejected as he photographs white and does not look like a person of color, but to find a group shot demonstrating diversity it ends up having to be staged. And Charlie’s 180 degree change of heart plunges his parents into a great dilemma: do they use their personal contacts to see what can be done, something Sherri and Bill have not been averse to in the admissions office at Hillcrest for others. [more]

Education

March 26, 2018

"Education," Brian Dykstra’s new play, is an incendiary investigation into censorship, free speech and responsibility in electric theater. It purports to be about Art as a Weapon but its themes go much further than that. The protagonist Mick, a biracial 17-year-old high school senior, has a rant that lists all the things wrong with American society at this time which is simply scorching. All high school students should be so articulate. In the astute hands of director Margarett Perry, the play moves like greased lightning. You may be dizzy from the provocative ideas but you will not be bored. [more]

Distant Observer: Tokyo/New York Correspondence

March 26, 2018

Noted theater artist John Jesurun wrote the opening sequence. From 2014 to 2017, Mr. Jesurun engaged in a collaboration with Japanese playwright and director Takeshi Kawamura. They each wrote alternating 10-minute sections with Aya Ogawa translating the Japanese portions into English.  This technique is an homage to the Japanese poetical form renga where different authors contribute to a poem. [more]

Hal & Bee

March 23, 2018

Baker’s lines are spiky and colorful, often dark, sometimes banal, but his portrait of these two and the two lesser characters is always illuminating and full of real emotion.  The fade-out, a quiet revelatory moment, is simply lovely—and sad. [more]

My Brilliant Divorce

March 21, 2018

The lithe and silvery-haired Ms. Gilbert dazzles for 90 minutes as she addresses the audience directly with her warm and joyous presence. She tells jokes, sings, and dances, all while conveying pathos.  In addition to her vivid primary characterization, she portrays 16 other characters of various ages and nationalities with a commanding assortment of dialects and physical traits. [more]

The Low Road

March 20, 2018

Bruce Norris’ plays are so different from each other that you have to take his fingerprints to recognize his hand. His recent New York plays have dealt with racism and gentrification ("Clybourne Park"), politics ("Domesticated"), sexual mores ("The Qualms"), theories of time and space (A Parallelogram), and now in his latest production to reach NYC, "The Low Road" at The Public Theater, he offers a fascinating take on capitalism and the free market told as a picaresque and ribald 18th century tale of colonial America on the brink of statehood. Of course, its real target is today’s untenable global economic situation but his criticism is couched as an historical parable. [more]

Later Life

March 18, 2018

In an “Author’s Note” to his play "Later Life," A.R. Gurney explains that it was inspired by "The Beast in the Jungle," a famous novella by Henry James, about a man who leads a “guarded” life. The sweet but slight resulting play is now in revival by the Keen Company, in a production that does nothing to elevate the play above its overly modest ambitions. [more]

Shooter

March 17, 2018

Mr. Graber’s trite scenario is rendered as a superficial by-the-numbers treatment and the presentation is overwrought.  Near the end there is an exchange between Jim and Gavin as they sit on stools during an awkward party.  The writing and acting are intense and coupled with the simplicity of the situation, the reaction is, “Ah! THIS is the play!” Unfortunately, it’s only a tantalizing respite from the hollow machinations that have come before and the inevitable strobe-light and roaring finale. [more]

Is God Is

March 14, 2018

On the basis of “Is God Is,” Aleshea Harris is a new voice in the American theater whose work bears watching in the future. The play is the latest in a long line of revenge stories from the Bible to Quentin Tarantino. The nagging question becomes does Harris have an underlying theme other than the righting of past wrongs by violence. However, Magar’s riveting production never gives the viewer a chance to ponder on this dilemma while the tightly written drama is unfolding before you. While the play has a dark humor throughout, in a parody of the famous Louis Jordan song, it seems to ask the question, “Is God is or is God ain’t?” After witnessing the retribution of the sisters, only the viewer can decide for him or herself. [more]

An Ordinary Muslim

March 14, 2018

The trouble is that there is nothing new or daring or particularly interesting about the play despite its intriguing subject matter.  It is an old-fashioned play—think warmed over Clifford Odets with a touch of Chekhov and more than a few hints of Greek hubris—that deals with the treatment of Pakistani-British Muslims in Great Britain, specifically West London, 2011.  It is full of clichéd writing including having characters appear just as their name is brought up. [more]

Dogs of Rwanda

March 13, 2018

Dan Hodge commandingly plays the American narrator who has written a book about his youthful experiences in Rwanda during its 1994 civil war and genocide. Mr. Hodge created the role in the 2017 Philadelphia production of the play. The boyish yet mature, and personable Hodge perfectly portrays this young man traumatized by witnessing atrocities. His All-American presence, good looks and charisma energize the grim and familiar material. He enters through the theater and addresses the audience throughout with charm. [more]

Amy and the Orphans

March 13, 2018

Casting of Brewer (best known for her several roles on "American Horror Story"), an individual with Down syndrome, is a real coup as she doesn’t have to be inventing a role she knows intimately. Her feistiness, timing and personality make Amy a three dimensional character from the time we first meet her. (A program note tells us that her understudy is another individual with Down syndrome, Edward Barbanell and when he plays the part the play is known as "Andy and the Orphans" in a rewritten version.) Another note reveals that Ferrentino’s heroine is based on her Aunt Amy who grew up with Down syndrome when the medical community had no idea how to deal with it except to institutionalize such people rather than to give them training and support. The play is a fitting tribute to Ferrentino’s aunt who the playwright never got to know as much as she would have liked. [more]

Good for Otto

March 12, 2018

Except for the frustration level of the characters, there does not seem to be a movement towards change or catharsis which may partly explain why the play seems so long. Harris and Madigan retain their cool as therapists throughout until almost the end when they can’t hold in their emotions any more. The most dramatic story is that of 12-year-old Frannie beautifully and realistically played by young Rileigh McDonald. However, as written the role of her foster mother played by Rhea Perlman is a one-note tale and doesn’t give her much wiggle room to make it her own. [more]

Three Wise Guys

March 12, 2018

Just in time for Easter, TACT/The Actors Company Theatre has adapted and combined  two Christmas-themed Damon Runyon short stories into the seasonally inappropriate, but nonetheless very charming, "Three Wise Guys." Gleefully peppered with Runyon’s distinctive demi-monde argot, or Runyonese, the comedic play depicts a Prohibition-era New York of principled crooks and hustlers who, in true Runyon style, end up having hearts much bigger than their ill-gotten bankrolls, which, of course, doesn’t mean they’re ready to commit to their matrimonially frustrated gal pals. Like another Runyon adaptation about some guys and dolls, the sparsely musical "Three Wise Guys" fancifully speaks to the, perhaps not so unreasonable, belief that those on the make are much more trustworthy than the ones who’ve already made it. [more]

Halcyon Days

March 11, 2018

One sits there for two hours numbed by the experience of watching the talented cast often vigorously playing for laughs that aren’t there. They are Rand Guerrero, Ralph Guzzo, William Laney, Chris McFarland, Hannah Jane McMurray, Sarah O’Sullivan, Tom Paolino and Gameela Wright. [more]

Subway Story (A Shooting)

March 9, 2018

"Subway Story (A Shooting" is the fifth and final installment of William Electric Black’s Gunplay Series, a sequence of plays “dedicated to all who have lost their lives to the senseless gun violence plague.” In this concluding chapter, ongoing gun violence, particularly its link to urban youths, is the prevailing theme. Black is a seven-time Emmy award-winning writer. His work often broaches societal-conscious issues. [more]

Kings

March 8, 2018

Despite some terrific acting, it’s hard to root for any of the four characters in Kings, even if the play is one long competition between all of them. This smart new work by Sarah Burgess ("Dry Powder") fails to introduce little that’s new about the present state of politicians and lobbyists--and their overly intimate relationships. But it’s also been put together with an admirable efficiency that spells it out clearly for those members of the audience who haven’t been paying enough attention to the daily headlines and all they entail. [more]

A Marriage Contract

March 7, 2018

Originally titled "A Test Case" when the play had its premiere in New York in 1892, it is one of Daly’s many adaptations of European successes, this one based on a German comedy of Blumenthal and Kadelburg. While "A Marriage Contract" is a charming evening and has much satire that is still relevant, its genre is that of drawing room comedy. While stylish and graceful, Alex Roe’s production is much too broad to be entirely successful. Several of the actors give over-the-top characterizations of recognizable types which somewhat unbalances the play. In the manner of the popular form of 19th century popular theater, the play is a bit too long for its content and could use a bit of trimming. Nevertheless, the production is entertaining though many of the surprises are telegraphed long in advance of their revelations on stage. [more]
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