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Plays

Fruit Trilogy

June 14, 2018

Her newest work, "Fruit Trilogy," an evening of three one acts, “Pomegranate,” “Avocado” and “Coconut,” has all of the strengths and weaknesses of her previous stage plays which include going on at too great length when the audience has already gotten the point. Directed by Mark Rosenblatt who staged the world premiere at the United Kingdom’s West Yorkshire Playhouse, the play features Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel who are frightening in their intensity and realism. Although the three settings are unstated, the fact that both actresses are black suggests that the plays may have been inspired by Ensler’s humanitarian work in Africa. Although it will not be immediately obvious to theatergoers, the plays move from two women enslaved, to a woman traveling to freedom, to finally a woman finding liberation through her own body. [more]

Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf

June 13, 2018

“What a dump” is the immortal opening line of Edward Albee’s dramatic masterpiece, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?".  In the inane spoof "Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf," it’s spoken by George instead of Martha while he is brightly lit and standing in a doorway. This instantly signifies to those who are familiar with the original work that we’re in for an irreverent ride. However, the promise of a wry send-up very quickly descends into pretentious pointlessness. [more]

Secret Life of Humans

June 12, 2018

Though it wouldn’t be fair to reveal it here for audiences about to see the play, the “secret” actually turns out to be one that has been widely known for some time as it is all over the Internet. The play’s assertion that Bronowski died immediately after his November 1973 television appearance is inaccurate as he died the following summer while visiting friends on Long Island. Nor is there evidence that there was ever a locked room. As Bronowski had four daughters, it is unlikely that one of them was a grandson named “Jamie Bronowski.” The frequent use of technology in the play like having actors walk on the wall as if traversing photographs has been done much more effectively by Cirque du Soleil and others. The quality of the black and white video clips leaves much to be desired. [more]

Another Woman’s Baby

June 12, 2018

Blonde, of ample physique, and possessed of an appealing matter of fact vocal delivery that soars with range, Mollenkamp has an engaging everywoman persona. She veers from dry humor to raw emotion with flair. Costume designer Victoria Depew’s striking all-white ensemble with black fringed accents endow Mollenkamp with a spiritual glow. [more]

Scissoring

June 12, 2018

In the African-American Abigail, Ms. Quintana creates a complex protagonist who is sympathetic, exasperating and engaging. She is fascinated by the journalist Lorena Hickok who had a storied closeness with Eleanor Roosevelt and they appear in the play as figments of Abigail’s imagination as does former Pope Benedict. These fanciful interludes are skillfully woven into the central narrative that focuses on the conflicts of being gay in the contemporary United States with the actions taking place during the school year of 2017 - 2018. [more]

Life Among the Aryans

June 8, 2018

"Life Among the Aryans" is the latest work from Ishmael Reed, the American poet, novelist, essayist, and Pulitzer-Prize nominee. Directed by Rome Neal, the play’s thematic nexus lies in disillusionment and exploitation. Two white nationalists, John Shaw (Frank Martin) and Michael Mulvaney (Tom Angelo), see an America that has left the ‘white working-class’ behind in favor of appeasing the rest of society. These developments are the embodiment of their discontent, and they yearn for a return to the America of old; they want to make America great again. [more]

Woman and Scarecrow

June 5, 2018

Unfortunately, O'Reilly’s heavy reliance on the production team is also indicative of a significant problem: the play is repetitive. Despite finding new, and often lovely, poetic ways to convey the centrality of death to life, Carr’s thoughts and arguments quickly begin to sound like the same melody over and over again, just in a different key. O’Reilly tries to distract us from this fault by giving the Gottlieb-Rumery-Corcoran trio creative free rein; the deathbed, for example, frequently looks like it’s floating somewhere in the cosmos. But the images invariably keep giving way to the words, which, though beautiful, grow tiresome by the second act. [more]

Let’s Get Ready Together

June 4, 2018

Playwright Lizzie Stern has an ear for contemporary discourse and her dialogue is well-crafted. The characters are appealing and are finely detailed. The universal focus is on the relationships of the young women, their youthful idealism and their conflicts with their mothers. Structurally inspired, there are phone calls to the mothers, voice overs and confessional asides. Ms. Stern has a good grasp of the theatrical but her plotting is faulty. [more]

Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart

June 4, 2018

The letters alternate with the musical portions played by Ji on piano, Ari Evan on cello and Stephanie Zyzak on violin in various combinations which are beautiful but it is never clear in what way the selections relate to Madame von Meck except for the Piano Trio in A minor, op. 50, which Tchaikovsky reveals at the beginning of the second act that he is writing for her. It is not stated whether the two excerpts from The Nutcracker, for violin and piano, and for solo piano were created for her. [more]

Our Lady of 121st Street

June 3, 2018

The current staging of "Our Lady" at The Pershing Square Signature Center, directed by Phylicia Rashad, magically now comes across as an addled, profane sitcom.  It’s entertaining and at times moving, but the real magic is that the very same words can be tended by a solid director—this one obviously experienced in sitcoms—and refresh a theatrical experience so completely.  Rashad has shown that scathing can be scathingly funny.  This time I left laughing. [more]

Stage Life

June 1, 2018

The Cast of “Stage Life” (Photo credit: Courtesy of Creative Arts Lab) David Kaufman, Critic As [more]

Exquisita Agonía

May 31, 2018

Mr. Cruz realizes his scenario with his patented style. There’s rueful humor, Chekhovian reveries and a sense of the mystical all with a demonstrative Latin sensibility. The dialogue is filled with passionate eloquence and is made even more pleasurable by experiencing it in Spanish.  Some sequences have characters reciting their letters which allows for reflective ruminations.  The play takes place in the contemporary United States with several of its figures having been born in other countries. [more]

Devil of Choice

May 30, 2018

Director Shira-Lee Shalit provides breakneck pacing, swift scene transitions and compelling stage compositions that include the presence of the violinist.  The visual and the verbal are in enthralling unison as Ms. Shalit achieves momentum, raucousness and sensitivity with her vigorous staging. A fully clothed sex scene is powerfully erotic as it visualizes the dynamics of the charatcers. Shalit masterfully guides the cast’s volcanic performances. [more]

There’s Blood at the Wedding

May 29, 2018

Packed into Theodora Skipitares’ "There’s Blood at the Wedding" are multiple takes on how authorities have abused their powers, too often killing innocent people.  By theatricalizing and stylizing their stories, Skipitares zooms past the political and digs deeply into the emotional debris left over after a series of brilliantly staged traumatic scenes. [more]

The Diana Tapes

May 28, 2018

Mr. Clements’ treatment of these events is straightforward and confirms existing perceptions of these figures. Diana is charismatic but immature and self-aggrandizing, Morton is a go-getter, O’Mara is a wily opportunist, and Colthurst is noble.  That there are no surprises or fresh insights could be overcome if the production had vitality but it doesn’t. [more]

Peace for Mary Frances

May 27, 2018

We learn a great deal about hospice, possibly more than one might want to know in a play. While most death watch plays like Edward Albee’s "All Over" and Scott McPherson's "Marvin’s Room," take place in another room from where the elderly person is dying, Mary Frances alternates between the downstairs living room/dining room and the upstairs bedroom of her split-level house. Unfortunately, this 21-scened play with at least a dozen more scenes which switch between Mary Frances’ bedroom and the living room where the rest of the family eat or watch television requires endless jump cuts like a film and endless lighting cues from designer Tyler Micoleau. [more]

the hollower

May 25, 2018

Bit and Otto recall tomboy Frankie Addams and Berenice the maid from Carson McCullers’ "The Member of the Wedding" while Pigman and Missy parallel Pozzo and Lucky from Samuel Beckett’s "Waiting for Godot."  There’s an arctic sequence out of Tony Kushner’s "Angels in America." The dialogue contains a lot of contemporary academic jargon and it all could be interpreted as some sort of Millennial exploration. [more]

Paradise Blue

May 25, 2018

In many ways Dominique Morisseau’s "Paradise Blue" shares similarities with August Wilson’s brilliant, if long-winded, Pittsburgh based plays.  "Blue" is part of Morisseau’s Detroit Project, a three-play cycle that takes place in three different eras.  Blue, developed with the aid of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Public Theater and the McCarter Theatre is a snapshot of desperate people occupying a part of Detroit on the verge of vast changes—read gentrification. [more]

Tremor

May 25, 2018

While director David Mercatali has them continually circling each other like boxers in a ring--sparring emotionally, if not physically--Sophie and Tom never really connect or even touch each other, except late in the play when they hold each other’s hand for but a moment. Though they remain somewhat aloof and distant from each other no less than from us, they are given vivid life by the actors who portray them: Lisa Diveney as Sophie and Paul Rattray as Tom. [more]

Twelfth Night

May 23, 2018

Played as older than either Viola or Sebastian, Elizabeth Heflin is charmingly eccentric as the strong cougar who becomes lovesick and yielding at the sight of Cesario and then Sebastian. In the role of the melancholy Duke Orsino who is often played as dull and sluggish, tall handsome Matthew Greer is both dashing and athletic, seen both coming from hunting and athletics. Surprisingly Susanna Stahlmann as Viola/Cesario is very bland and colorless, but this may be intentional: it allows the other characters to read into her/him what they wish. As her twin brother Sebastian made up to look like her mirror image, John Skelley is both avid and keen, willing to go along with a seeming jest though he does not know where it will take him. [more]

Long Day’s Journey into Night (Bristol Old Vic)

May 22, 2018

Unlike many of the recent New York stagings, Eyre’s production makes it clear that the thrust of this four act play is an attempt for the Tyrones to exorcise their demons in one alcoholic infused night. Before it is over, each and every character will have bared his or her soul in one night of regret, guilt, despair and anger. So much gets revealed, there does not seem to be anything left unsaid by the final devastating curtain. He also has staged the first two acts (before the one intermission) with the characters talking so fast that it as if they do not want to have to stop and notice what they are running away from. Although Rob Howell’s bright and airy set (at least until night falls and the darkness creeps in) seems huge, all of the characters seemed to be caged animals pacing back and forth in forced confinement. [more]

She-She-She

May 22, 2018

Conceived by Carrie Heitman and written by Cynthia Babak it was developed in workshops over the last three years by the Hook & Eye Theater company. According to Chad Lindsey’s director’s note, “I wanted to let the performers create characters and situations that answered some of our creative questions and satisfied their curiosity about themselves and the historical women at the play’s core. What emerged is best described as a rhapsody….” [more]

Time’s Journey through a Room

May 21, 2018

In the spirit of the loquacious Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s "Happy Days," the animated Yuki Kawahisa beautifully portrays Honoka with sunny depth. Maho Honda as Arisa, the play’s unifying figure, is brilliantly wistful.  Veering from low key to emotionally volatile Kensaku Shinohara richly conveys Kazuki’s angst and anguish. This trio’s rapport and chemistry is palpable and is integral to the production’s success. [more]

Marlowe’s Fate

May 21, 2018

Hodges’ play is quite lively with each scene dramatizing one point and the cast of characters made up entirely of real people, not all of them still famous. The real problem is with the unsubtle and one-dimensional acting of the mostly deficient cast. The play also assumes that the audience is familiar with a great many Elizabethan names and personages like poet Michael Drayton and courtier and literary patron Sir Thomas Walsingham. "Marlowe’s Fate" dramatizes the “last nights” of both first Marlowe and then Shakespeare 23 years later, plus a spirited "Punch and Judy" interlude between Marlowe and Shakespeare for credit to the plays published under Shakespeare’s name. [more]

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water

May 20, 2018

"Hercules Didn't Wade in the Water" is the winner of the Negro Ensemble Company, Inc.’s 2017 Emerging Playwrights Competition and this is its premiere. Michael A. Jones’ passionate eloquence and the strong performances compensate for the production’s limited presentational values.  [more]

The Gentleman Caller

May 20, 2018

Every once in a while the exactly right actor is matched with the right role and magic occurs. Such is the case with Juan Francisco Villa as the 34-year-old Tennessee Williams (before he became famous) in Philip Dawkins’ "The Gentleman Caller." Looking exactly like the playwright did at that age and sporting Williams’ well-known Southern accent, Villa is so ebullient, irrepressible and high-spirited that one has the feeling one has met the playwright himself. With perfect timing for Williams’ verbal comeback, many of which are taken from his own letters, quotes and diaries, Villa gives an extraordinarily three-dimensional performance in a role that has been depicted in other recent plays and one-man shows about the author. Some of the credit must go to director Tony Speciale for helping to craft this remarkable portrayal. [more]

Operation Crucible

May 18, 2018

While it’s meant to be helpful, a glossary of local jargon ("Operation Crucible" is set in Sheffield, England) in the program is usually a surefire sign that you’re going to have difficulty following the play. Adding to the confusion is that the often dimly lit play leaves us in the dark, in both senses of the phrase. Given the circumstances of the plot, it’s understandable that both director Bryony Shanahan and lighting designer Seth Rook Williams wanted to have many of the rapid-fire scenes unfold in utter pitch black. But it doesn’t abet in our comprehending what’s happening to Bob, Tommy, Phil, and Arthur (the last character is misrepresented as Andrew, in the program) most of the time. [more]

Bump

May 18, 2018

Ms. Atik complements her engaging contemporary scenario with creative theatricality. Interspersed are vignettes with six performers depicting the members of a nationwide pregnancy Internet message board. Atik also has contrasting sequences set in 1790 in rural Maine between Mary, a sheltered 19-year-old woman about to give birth for the first time.  Her husband is out of the way in the town’s tavern and an experienced midwife arrives to assist her. [more]

A Brief History of Women

May 17, 2018

Although the title covers part of the plot, the play is really a trenchant social history of Britain from 1925 – 1985 in four short sequences, showing the changes that take place in one house over 60 years and following the career of one everyman, Anthony Spates, known familiarly as Tony. It also follows the women in Tony’s life who help him, love him and leave him in each of four decades. While Antony Eden plays the phlegmatic Tony at four stages in his life (17, 37, 57 and 77) with equal aplomb, the rest of the cast play four characters each, a remarkable feat, as time marches on.  "A Brief History of Women" has the depth of a novel and the breath of an epic. [more]

Alternating Currents

May 15, 2018

Despite the complexity of the interactions of the people of Electchester and the poor folk at Pomonok, Kraar manages to end on a promising note.  "Alternating Currents," produced under the auspices of the Working Theater, is a diverting look what happens to an idyllic place after decades of reality intrude. [more]

The Jewish King Lear

May 14, 2018

Aside from being a tight domestic drama, The Jewish King Lear has several other differences from Shakespeare’s tragedy. Gordin’s Lear has a wife who is sorely put upon and under her husband’s thumb, as well as the old traditions. Gloucester and his sons are eliminated and Kent and the Fool are combined as Trytel, the steward, who often “rhymes like a real wedding jester.” Taybele, the Cordelia character, gets ahead through education and science rather than marriage to a noble. Gordin’s Lear is not only an advocate for the Jewish traditions of his forefathers he is also very much opposed to scientific advances and education for women, shades of Ibsen who was writing at the same time as Gordin. Dovidl’s heath speech does not take place outdoors but in his own house, now ruled by his son-in-law who has replaced him. [more]

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

May 14, 2018

There’s a brilliant play buried somewhere in Caryl Churchill’s "Light Shining in Buckinghamshire," a bottom-up historical epic about the English Civil War that the acclaimed British writer developed collaboratively with director Max Stafford-Clark and a group of actors back in 1976. Fifteen years later, it premiered stateside at the New York Theatre Workshop, where it has just returned for a ploddingly drawn-out second go-around that yielded a lot of empty second-act seats on the night I attended. [more]

Summer and Smoke

May 10, 2018

When Tennessee Williams started writing "Summer and Smoke," his working title for the play was "Chart of Anatomy," taken from a poem by Hart Crane. An anatomical chart becomes one of the very few props in the current Classic Stage Company and Transport Group revival of the 1948 play. Under the circumstances, the many players (a dozen in all) are often reduced to charades, as they describe a new gaudy hat, or a jigsaw puzzle, or gloves. For that matter there’s not really a set at all, only a large white platform in the center of the playing area, echoed by a large white rectangle hanging above--a kind of ceiling for the platform--and shortly after the prologue, six chairs, two of which will, at times, serve as a bench or a sofa. [more]
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