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Plays

Smart

April 9, 2023

Mary Elizabeth Hamilton’s Smart has an interesting premise but does not carry out its goal turning quickly into a domestic drama and later a bittersweet love story. The two acts seem to be two different plays while the sketchy characters do not give the fine three actresses much to work from. Even the production values get in the way of understanding the play. Hamilton has a good ear for dialogue but needs to work on plotting and characterization in order to make this a satisfying theatrical experience. [more]

Life of Pi

April 7, 2023

"Life of Pi" is a unique theatrical experience with its animal puppetry, depiction of days on the ocean, and bringing to life an Indian city, circa 1977. It tells a fantastical story with brio and flair making use of all of the theatrical arts. With a cast led by Olivier Award winner Hiran Abeysekera, you could not imagine anyone else in these roles. However, the playwriting and the production do have their flaws which are eventually overcome by its theatricality and storytelling. Kudos to director Max Webster for orchestrating the production so well. [more]

Grief: A One Man ShitShow

April 6, 2023

For the audience, there is an ease of losing sight of the fact that what we are watching is a piece of theatre. Campbell is direct and warm and instructing and sensitive in this piece that he has written. He has the right amount of connection to the material, obviously, as this is a scene from his life, yet he creates the minimal distance from the piece so the audience doesn’t obsess over how maudlin the subject matter is. Instead, the audience can be enlightened by his path. [more]

Darkness of Light: Confessions of a Russian Traveler

April 5, 2023

"Darkness of Light: Confessions of a Russian Traveler," written and directed by Michael Mailer and Alexander Kaletski, is a story of an artist's journey from the restrictions of one political and economic system to the compromises needed in a more open and accepting system. It explores how a Russian artist, Nikolai Rodnin (Jonathan Glass), tries to hold onto the truth of his artistic expression while dealing with the material needs for survival. An important, subtle, and contrasting story is that of his brother Sergei Rodnin (Alex Yuille). [more]

Iceland

March 30, 2023

Composer/librettists O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley have created what they refer to as “a re-Creation Myth” in this fascinating interdisciplinary opera theater work entitled "Iceland."  It is profoundly musical in that it embraces both opera and contemporary musical theatre by casting 12 opera singers as The Hiddenfolk and Mythic Beasts of Icelandic folklore and two musical theater singers who would be equally comfortable sitting on the Billboard Hot 100 as the two leads that are pushed together romantically over the course of 17 hours one New Year’s Eve in Iceland. [more]

Lunch Bunch

March 30, 2023

"Lunch Bunch" by Sarah Einspanier and directed by Tara Ahmadinejad is a rapid-fire comedy with farce ensemble timing in the service of a serious underlying topic, presented on a bare-bones set. It is about a group of overstressed lawyers in a public defender's office who think they have the perfect antidote for their daily struggles by sharing lunches. It is funny, touching, and worth experiencing the comic talent of the cast and the amazing flow of the story. [more]

Best Friends

March 28, 2023

The Israeli Artists Project, dedicated to bringing the art and artists of Israel to American audiences, has mounted a production of Anat Gov’s "Best Friends," a zippy portrait of three best friends through the years.  The play, presented alternately in Hebrew and English, fits snugly on the stage of the Rattlestick Theater in the West Village. [more]

Drinking in America

March 26, 2023

Some critics would say Eric Bogosian’s "Drinking in America" is dated, but that’s very much up for argument. The script given to critics for the new production at the Minetta Lane Theatre is marked “Tweaked Drinking In America Script For Audible,” all in caps actually. In all fairness, some of the “current references” particularly with regard to in-demand actor names bandied about in the scene entitled “Wired” are names clearly from another age. That could have easily been “tweaked,” if they really wanted to do that. References to Quaaludes in the scene “Our Gang” reek of history rather than current usage, but then again, is there an easy 2023 replacement for Quaaludes, a drug that was taken off the market around the time the play was first produced? Aside from those references, the twelve scenes that comprise the play remain shockingly topical for our era. [more]

The Good John Proctor

March 25, 2023

Unfortunately, Monohon’s play which takes its cues from Miller’s drama, assumes a thorough knowledge of "The Crucible" and leaves out a great deal of information that would make it easier to follow. For example, John Proctor’s name is never uttered by the girls even after Abigail goes to work for him and his wife in the play. Caitlin Sullivan’s direction is too tame by far so that the play is not very dramatic. The most exciting event, the trial itself, is left as an afterthought and narrated years later by one of the girls after her death. [more]

Trilogy II

March 25, 2023

"Trilogy II" by Garry Batson, directed by Evria Ince-Waldron, is three one-act plays depicting the struggles of African-American families faced with difficult and troubling events. The good and bad things that happen seem random or unfair. According to Batson, the common link among the stories is the clash between good and evil. However, except for "Fort Knox," the remaining two plays, "Flight Risk" and "Ill Winds," focus on aspects of good and bad, not specifically evil. For this reviewer, something evil is an extreme form of bad because not all bad things are necessarily evil. [more]

Arden of Faversham

March 25, 2023

The problem with this production is that although the characters’ behavior is utterly outrageous on the verge of satire, Berger has directed in so flat and bland a style, that shocking lines that should get embarrassed laughter fail to make any impression. Has Berger directed the play absolutely straight knowing that his audience is unlikely to be familiar with it? It would be more fun and rewarding if was as over-the-top as the murderers’ plotting. [more]

This G*d Damn House

March 21, 2023

The direction by Ella Jane New delivers this emotionally complex story with skill and sensitivity. There are only a few instances when the action doesn't entirely ring true, such as the opening scene when the brothers first enter the house. Gostkowski's presentation is somewhat distracted as if he is looking for the character's voice. Rysdahl is more in tune with his character at this early stage but is also somewhat flat in affect. They may be trying to bring out the awkwardness of two brothers trying to find their emotional footing with each other after a number of years apart. They find their footing as Act I progresses and deliver fine performances. [more]

The Hunting Gun

March 21, 2023

Not for everyone, this minimalistic theatrical event is performed entirely in Japanese with English language supertitles above the stage so that for non-Japanese speakers it requires reading of the text throughout. More’s the pity as Nakatani is a very expressive actress (having won six Japanese Academy Awards) and one doesn’t want to miss a moment of her performance. [more]

The Coast Starlight

March 20, 2023

When it comes to plot, characters, or often both, even the best theater tends to require a suspension of disbelief. Given that it's hardly a sucker's bet for indolent playwrights to pin their hopes on the lack of effort it requires an audience not to think, what Keith Bunin does in "The Coast Starlight" is astonishing. Taking its title from the Amtrak overnight sleeper that scenically services an ocean-hugging route from Los Angeles to Seattle, the play is primarily set in one of the train's coach cars, where the passengers, a group of strangers, are reluctant to break the silence between them. Mostly, like real human beings, they don't, or at least not when it might have done some good. [more]

A Doll’s House

March 19, 2023

Like Ivo van Hove’s pared-down revival of Arthur Miller’s "A View from the Bridge," Jamie Lloyd’s new Broadway production of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 "A Doll’s House" uses no sets or props and all black costumes for the entire cast. Going even further than van Hove, he has the heroine Nora Helmer played by film star Jessica Chastain seated almost for the entire length of this intermission-less three-act play. Using a new version by Amy Herzog recast in spare modern vernacular, this Doll’s House proves to be riveting and intense, even if you know the play very well,  focusing our attention on the dialogue, the acting and emotion, rather than the décor and the historical trappings of 19th century Norway as we usually do. [more]

The Conductor

March 18, 2023

"The Conductor," by novelist Ishmael Reed and directed by Carla Blank, is a play that uses the revival of the Underground Railroad system as a device to address several contemporary socio-political issues related to race and ethnicity. It is a show that directly addresses extremist conservative groups and their movements that seek to restrict and limit governmental and social actions used to address institutional inequality. Reed utilizes the result of a school board recall election in San Francisco as the basis for illustrating the insidious nature of these reactionary groups. [more]

The Rewards of Being Frank

March 17, 2023

While playwright Scovell has a facility for language, she does not have the wit to mimic Wilde’s classic one-liners. Instead, she borrows expressions from the play and attempts to imitate the format of his humor. Lines like “It is imperative to be an attentive hostess, but never forgot that you are your most important guest” and “I’m glad to hear that your fervor for the truth is tempered by your humanity” pass for witticisms. Much time is spent on whether a wedding was “elegantly extravagant” or “extravagantly elegant.” The opening scene of the first act (and the end of the second act) is devoted to a discussion of cucumber sandwiches, which Wilde did justice to in his play and as such this comes as no surprise to an audience versed in the earlier work. [more]

Elyria

March 16, 2023

What makes "Elyria" intriguing is how its American location affects the hidebound ritual social rules of its Southeast Asian characters.  That all the characters emerged from an African diaspora that seemed to have little influence on their ingrained Indian culture only adds to the colorful rendition of an old-hat story. [more]

Crumbs from the Table of Joy

March 14, 2023

While this first New York revival of the 1995 "Crumbs from the Table of Joy" does not reach the heights of Nottage’s later Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, "Ruined" and "Sweat," it proves to be a very charming and competent look at growing up Black in Brooklyn during the McCarthy Era. Under the direction of Colette Robert, the fine cast holds our interest with this domestic comedy drama. Always engrossing, the play demonstrates Nottage’s ability to write about race, social change and economic deprivation in an engaging manner. Nottage proves to have been a very accomplished playwright from the outset of her career. [more]

Pericles (Target Margin Theater)

March 13, 2023

Director David Herskovits must have looked at this as a true labor of love, but not all of the touches support the hard work of the actors. In some of the early ensemble scenes, the actors put on exaggerated courtly poses. The poses do nothing to further what is going on dramatically;, they appear done just for the sake of being curious. But Mr. Herskovits succeeds with the handling of deeply humane and touching scenes. [more]

1+1

March 12, 2023

Eric Bogosian’s latest play to reach New York is his 2008 "1+1" which feels like a made for television movie written without taking into consideration the #MeToo movement that has occurred since then. While its Hollywood milieu of pornography, drugs, and easy money exists, this seems like a rather simplistic view of it all. Director Matt Okin, founder of The Black Box theater company of Englewood, N.J. which has coproduced the play now at the SoHo Playhouse, has done the actors no service allowing for a kind of soap opera acting. The minimalist production values undercut the discussion of the perks and glitz of the film world. [more]

War Dreamer

March 12, 2023

"War Dreamer" is a compelling exploration into the psychology of a female veteran who served in Iraq. It is a depiction of the struggles of a veteran to make sense of the memories, nightmares, paranormal events, and mental dislocations that intrude daily. Those experiences are more than a function of post-traumatic stress disorder. They result from a life lived in the alien world of war and all that is that experience. The play is a frighteningly accurate presentation of the process that some veterans must navigate as they try to return to a "normal" life. Written by Leegrid Stevens, "War Dreamer" has a storyline that is not straightforward in time and place. It is disconnected from a regular flow of action, with jumps in time, place and reality. However, he skillfully keeps the audience guessing what is real and what is not without losing the story's underlying thread. Stevens makes the audience both witness and participant as he brilliantly weaves his story of trauma and disassociation. [more]

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

March 11, 2023

While it may have appeared a huge gamble to mount this 'Cat" again, the results are so well worth it. While other productions of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" have been mounted as star vehicles for actors whether they were right for the roles or not, this new Ruth Stage production brings it back to what the playwright originally intended – an incredibly solid ensemble piece. Here we see it as we’ve come to know it – one of the finest American plays of its generation. It is unequivocally a must-see! [more]

Public Obscenities

March 11, 2023

Shayok Misha Chowdhury’s "Public Obscenities" having its world premiere at the Soho Rep is an immersive story into Bengali culture in Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta. Directed by the author in 12 episodes which are given chapter names, this two hour and 50 minute play is as much like a television mini-series as it is a family saga. The realistic production resembles a film as much as it is possible on a stage with our attention being guided to various alcoves as though they were film cuts on the remarkable setting by the collective dots. The play is challenging as the first long extended scene is mainly in Bangla, the language of Kolkata, without supertitles. While the rest of the play is translated when it is bilingual, the dialogue is studded with Bangla words which are left up to the audience to figure out. [more]

Fall River Fishing

March 7, 2023

Absurdist to an increasingly ho-hum degree, Szadkowski and Knox let their imaginations run amok with silly speculations about pre-double-homicide life in the Borden household that are punctuated by head-scratchingly anachronistic jokes involving Tinder, Cabbage Patch Kids, John Belushi, and whatever other free associative references apparently sprung to mind during their no-doubt personally enjoyable writing sessions together. The problem is that Szadkowski and Knox are incapable of bridging the gap between their evident fun and our actual entertainment, an obnoxious shortfall made cringe-worthy by the fact that they both star in "Fall River Fishing." For the charitable among us, I suppose, seeing Szadkowski and Knox delivering their own unfunny dialogue might compel a forced giggle, especially in such close downtown quarters. But theater is expensive and time is fleeting, so a lack of chortling generosity is also perfectly understandable. [more]

The Trees

March 7, 2023

Borinsky’s dialogue is filled with colorful, quirky lines which are often funny and entertaining, but the entire script borders on absurdity without a cohesive through point. There are a handful of lines which carry a promise of meaning, but most are tossed into the air like tweets, missing connections and lacking purpose. There’s a passage inspired from ​Deuteronomy 20:19, which, if it’s supposed to be the inspiration for the plot, stands alone as one of the few sage moments in the story. [more]

The Best We Could (a family tragedy)

March 6, 2023

Hands down Emily Feldman’s "The Best We Could (a family tragedy)," at the Manhattan Theatre Club, wins the most ironic title of the year.  Not one character does the best he or she could in this heart-twisting five-actor drama. The play details the long, slow descent of a family, cushioned only by an occasional jest and buoyed by the intensely moving acting by the ensemble with Frank Wood standing out in a superb demonstration of artistry. [more]

LOVE

March 6, 2023

Alexander Zeldin’s "LOVE" seems much longer than it actually is due to much silence and the reenactment of everyday tasks usually skipped onstage in plays. There is little dialogue and what there is tends to be rather ordinary talk about daily living. The play mainly works as a sort of experiment in the way that the Federal Theatre Project dramatized burning issues in the 1930’s. However, the play is a valuable record of life in a shelter using a documentary approach so real that it makes us feel like voyeurs. While the title remains unexplained, by the end each of the adult characters get to say it as a reminder that they have the backs of the others. [more]

Letters from Max, a ritual

March 4, 2023

When a tall, lanky Max Ritvo entered Sarah Ruhl’s playwrighting class at Yale, she knew this was no ordinary 20-year-old student. Self-described as a poet with a sense of humor, he managed to capture her heart, and she remained forever changed. "Letters from Max, a ritual," now being presented by Signature Theatre, is not just a collection of correspondence between the two, but a document of a deep emotional bond between two creative souls that can’t even be severed by the untimely death of one of them. [more]

The Seagull/Woodstock, NY

March 3, 2023

Aside from the problem of which translation from the Russian to use, the  thorny problem with American productions of the plays of playwright Anton Chekhov is how to deal with the fact the author himself called them comedies but everyone from his early director Konstantin Stanislavski on has seen them as tragedies. Playwright Thomas Bradshaw has neatly solved both problems: in his new adaptation renamed "The Seagull/Woodstock, NY" which recasts the play as an updated modern comedy, he also made the play a very funny satire of today’s culture vultures, thespians and the literati. His version in which all of the names have been Anglicized makes Chekhov’s turn-of-the-last century play very accessible to contemporary audiences which is not often the case with Chekhov adaptations - without making drastic changes. In doing so, it makes whatever parody there was in the original of theater and literary icons of Chekhov’s time now understandable to today’s audiences due to updated references they can recognize. [more]

Becomes a Woman

March 1, 2023

Originally entitled "Francie Nolan," the same as the title character of her later "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," but unrelated to that story except for sharing its Brooklyn setting, the play does incorporate anecdotes and scenes that would later appear in Smith’s novels. "Becomes a Woman" is uneven in tone, with a first act that is comedic, a second that is melodramatic, and a final act that is dramatic. On the one hand, the play is now a period piece depicting strict mores and values that have loosened up a great deal; on the other hand, much of its cavalier treatment of women is still unfortunately true today. While the first two acts resemble a great many films and plays of the 1930’s concerning fallen women, it is the third act which is progressive and ahead of its time, so much so that it may have scared off the all-male producing fraternity of those days. While the women are beautifully written, the male characters are undeveloped and not believable. As a result, the acting is the same with the best performances by the actresses and some unreal work by the men. [more]

A Bright New Boise

February 28, 2023

The second play of Samuel D. Hunter’s residency at Signature Theatre is the first New York revival of his 2011 Obie Award winning 'A Bright New Boise," not seen by too many people in its short schedule run at The Wild Project in the fall of 2010. Oliver Butler’s production is a taut drama with rising tensions throughout until the climax. At first appearing to be a workplace drama set in big box store breakroom, the play turns out to be a meditation on faith, relationships and expectations. The ensemble cast is excellent and makes this a riveting piece of theater. The title is ironic in that all of the characters are going through crises and do not see the promise of a new world, in fact, they are mostly pessimistic about the future. [more]
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