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Plays

Richard III (Free Shakespeare in the Park)

July 11, 2022

And of his behavior Richard continues to explain, “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain.” In this production we see none of this though this speech comes near the beginning of the play. What we are offered is a one-dimensional action production which dilutes the play and entirely throws out historical authenticity. While Dede Ayite’s costumes are mostly period there are entirely modern touches like the two young princes, sons of the previous king, wearing gold sneakers. Instead, Richard is surrounded with people who have disabilities or physical challenges which somehow turns the play on its head: Lady Anne in a wheelchair, two deaf actors use sign language, Richmond (later King Henry VII) has cerebral palsy, and one of the courtiers who plays several roles is a dwarf. Nice to give all of these actors work but in this play it reverses the focus of the story and theme. [more]

Prince Charming, You’re Late

July 5, 2022

If you ever lived through the angst of an unrequited love, a romance impossible for one reason or another, then Billy Hipkins’ "Prince Charming, You’re Late" will hit the spot.  Directed by Perry Dell’Aquila, the monologue flows smoothly and movingly. Hipkins, a forty-something gay man with a gentle, softly sardonic nature, fell for a much younger actor in a Broadway show where he was employed as a dresser. Unfortunately, this was a job that put him up close and personal with the object of his frustrated affections.  Hipkins’ description of this unattainable young man is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, a vision of unattainable perfection in every way. [more]

Hamlet (Almeida Theatre)

July 4, 2022

Modern dress "Hamlet" productions can be problematic when the directors don’t plan out all the details. Robert Icke’s staging for London’s Almeida Theatre now at New York’s Park Avenue Armory is that rare production which has updated the play so well that it appears to be intended to be set in our time all along. Original, surprising and ingenious, the production amazes to the point we wonder why no one has though of these ideas before. The sleek, cool settings and costumes by Hildegard Bechtler brilliantly convey the corridors of power while the video design by Tal Yarden, a sort of closed circuit CNN, make William Shakespeare's tragedy feel up to the minute. This "Hamlet" is also accessible and easy to follow, even at a running time of three hours and 30 minutes. [more]

The Rise and Fall, Then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of…Jean Claude Van Damme as Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier

July 1, 2022

"The Rise and Fall, then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of…Jean Claude Van Damme as Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier" is the brobdinagian title of a tongue-in-cheek, hour-long comic riff on the life of a faded movie star.  The title is almost as long as the play. Timothy Haskell has written what is actually an extended elaborate skit brought to life by Joe Cordaro (perfect as a clueless Van Damme and other characters) and John Harlacher (hilarious as the all-knowing narrator) using puppets designed by co-director Aaron Haskell. The other director is Paul Smithyman who also designed the efficient conglomeration of a set which includes two podiums for the actors and a screen for the snippets of films and slides used to illustrate the story.  In front of the screen is a slotted board into which the actors insert funny two-dimensional stick puppets. [more]

Chains

June 27, 2022

The Mint Theater Company continues its three play mini-festival of the forgotten plays of Elizabeth Baker with "Chains." Given a polished – maybe too polished – production like the earlier "The Price of Thomas Scott," this play is also problematic, but in another way. Unlike her contemporaries John Galsworthy, George Bernard Shaw and Harley Granville-Barker, Baker’s "Chains" has a very narrow focus: the discontents of the lower middle-class white collar folk. All of the characters in the play’s first half (the script’s Act I and II) do nothing but either complain about the grind of their daily six-days-a-week jobs (half-holiday on Saturday) or laugh at those who would give up a steady employment. You would think that back in 1909 when the play was written there wasn’t anything else to talk about. Jenn Thompson’s direction is conventional and sedate where something more animated might have been more to the point. [more]

The Orchard

June 26, 2022

Such an event is the high-tech adaptation at the Baryshnikov Arts Center calling itself "The Orchard," conceived and directed by Igor Golyak, described as based on "The Cherry Orchard" by Anton Chekhov as translated by Carol Rocamora. If you don’t know the play, you will be entirely at sea. If you know the play, you will marvel at all the totally unnecessary tricks used by the director that do nothing to help with understanding the play or ferreting out its meaning. Although the production has a fine cast headed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jessica Hecht, the actors are swamped by all the unnecessary trappings around them. [more]

Lessons in Survival: 1971

June 26, 2022

Originally broadcast on "Soul!," an early PBS program dedicated to showcasing Black arts and politics, Baldwin and Giovanni's one-on-one echoes contemporary concerns while also remaining decidedly of its era. Unearthed by a theater collective and other trapped-at-home artists during the pandemic for an online recreation, it has now been transformed again, this time into a staged adaptation titled "Lessons in Survival: 1971." In truth, "googled" is likely the more appropriate verb for how someone found the Baldwin-and-Giovanni conservation, since it is entirely available on YouTube, where, to be honest, it is best experienced, not least because in that digital form it can be rewound for another listen, which a few of Baldwin and Giovanni's complex, unannotated arguments definitely require. [more]

Circle Jerk

June 22, 2022

In 'Circle Jerk," this cocky duo confidently preen, bray and cavort while donning various wigs and flamboyant costumes as multiple fey stock characters for over two numbing hours of their self-congratulatory twaddle. Their grating characterizations are achieved by intently staring into the camera, making faces, raising eyebrows and doing voices. It’s not "Your Show of Shows," but a niche audience of friends, relatives and trustafarians who could be amused by their antics. Cat Rodríguez appears in several female roles with campy flair. [more]

Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story

June 22, 2022

Romy Nordlinger has written and is performing the monodrama, "Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story," at the TheaterLab.  Directed by Lorca Peress, "Garden of Alla" gives us this eccentrically talented artist up close and personal. Nordlinger has a history of portraying Nazimova and has honed her interpretation to the point that it fits her like a second skin, helped by Peress’ sense of pacing and stagecraft. [more]

Queen

June 19, 2022

Shekar’s script is extremely smart, funny at just the right moments, and morally gripping. Her characterizations of Ariel and Sanam are fully formed, uniquely individual and carefully complementary:  Ariel is a crunchy-granola, bee-loving, single mom who’s desperate to prove Monsanto’s guilt, and Sanam is intense, strong-minded and honest to a fault. Through the character of Arvind, Shekar introduces the notion to Sanam that she and Ariel are looking at their study through the impartial lens of confirmation bias. The character of Dr. Hayes adds just the right amount of antagonism, almost sinister. Although there’s lots of statistics jargon in the script, it never impedes the progress of the story, thanks to the actors and director Aneesha Kudtarkar, who skillfully shapes the piece, finely intertwining the performances to maximum impact. [more]

The Refugees

June 13, 2022

Kaliski attempts a clever conceit marrying "The Oresteia" characters to the modern tragic story of the homeless hordes. Does "The Oresteia" provide an effective jumping off point to explore this timely and heartbreaking issue? Sadly, the answer is no.  Kaliski has written a play whose subject matter is only tangentially connected to the characters Orestes, Electra and Clytemnestra who, in Greek mythology, lived in ancient Argos. Their stories of patricide and matricide and other ‘cides have no connection—emotional or situational—to the problem at hand and Kaliski doesn’t try very hard to splice the two subject matters together. [more]

Five By Tenn: An Evening of Short Plays by Tennessee Williams

June 11, 2022

Tennessee Williams’ full-length play’s titles, characters and dialogue have been part of the consciousness since "The Glass Menagerie"’s 1944 premiere. During his peak years of the 1940’s and 1950’s, he also wrote many one-acts, exploring his familiar concerns, chiefly the naïve preyed upon by the worldly. "Five By Tenn" is an enchanting program drawn from these, which are uniformly satisfying. This modest Off-Off-Broadway production is presented by the Out of the Box Theatre Company, whose members are artists mostly over the age of 50. The show serves as an introduction to rarely performed obscure Williams works, all of which take place in drab bedrooms, and as a showcase for the talented mature cast. [more]

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]

American Buffalo

May 8, 2022

The 1975 play "American Buffalo," now onstage at the Circle in the Square Theatre in a crackling revival, remains the quintessential Mamet experience, the one that should be seen to fully appreciate what has been lost. Essentially a two-hander masquerading as a three-hander, it's a character study short on plot and long on self-delusion as a couple of small-time crooks imagine themselves as much more than they are while planning an ambitious heist. To say they're all talk gets to the satirical heart of Mamet's play. [more]

POTUS, Or Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive

May 8, 2022

In "POTUS," Selina Fillinger’s first Broadway comedy, all is revealed by its unwieldy subtitle (“Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive”) which leaves little room for development or surprise. The repeated statement “that’s the eternal question” in answer to why none of these women are President may be the real message behind this play. As staged by famed choreographer and director Susan Stroman, POTUS is frenzied rather than funny, a problem in farce. The seven famous actresses are undone by their one-note characters which give them little to play off of or expand on. A pity considering how few Broadway comedies there are these days and the quantity of talent on stage at the Shubert Theatre. [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]
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