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Plays

Dietrich Rides Again

September 12, 2017

On a multi-tiered set that takes advantage of every square inch of the tiny Medicine Show Theatre—designed by the authors—Ms. Kostek narrated Dietrich’s life story, from middle class childhood in Berlin to theater and cabaret actress to Hollywood star and on to her virulent anti-Nazi activities and beyond, clearly telescoping some of the events for convenience. (Did Dietrich’s audition for the great director Max Reinhardt really lead to performing at his cabaret the very next day?) [more]

The Itch

September 7, 2017

Ms. Zelman-Doring’s cryptic scenario of deeply close twin siblings (Ana offers to masturbate Simon when he is tied up in a chair)  is out of Sam Shepard and her dialogue is a pleasing cross between Harold Pinter’s spare eloquence with flourishes of Christopher Durang’s silliness.  The abrupt and inconclusive conclusion is in keeping with what went before it. [more]

Inanimate

September 3, 2017

Performed by The Bats, the resident company of The Flea Theater, the world premiere of "Inanimate" is the inaugural production in their new home on Thomas Street, between Church and Broadway, several blocks south of their original premises. Performed in The Siggy, named after founder and patron Sigourney Weaver, a house with 46 permanent seats, it is the first of the three new theaters to open prior to the complex’s grand opening on September 28. It has been given a sharp, assured staging by director Courtney Ulrich with engrossing performances by its cast of seven. [more]

Charolais

September 1, 2017

As in one of Alan Bennett’s "Talking Heads" monologues, Stapleton offers a richly detailed portrait of an ordinary person that revels in the mundane.  She also adds the arresting device of having the inner life of the cow depicted in fantasy sequences. [more]

If Only…

August 28, 2017

Mr. Klingenstein beautifully and simply renders his fictional account with exquisite detail and emotion.  Klingenstein’s dialogue is precise and filled with sharp epigrams.  It’s all a genteel and moving exploration of the human condition.  A lovely highlight is Ann and Samuel recreating portions of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. [more]

The Suitcase Under the Bed

August 27, 2017

Exquisitely produced by the Mint Theater, Jonathan Bank’s direction is leisurely and slow, which undercuts the theatricality of all but the last and the most satisfying one, 'The King of Spain’s Daughter," originally given four separate stage productions at the Abbey from 1935-1939 and two in London in 1939. Using a company of seven, the actors appear in varying combinations while all appear in the third play, "Holiday House. " Two of the plays end too abruptly calling out for a more substantial length, while one of the plays seems to go on too long. [more]

Friends Call Me Albert

August 27, 2017

Billed as a “bio-epic,” playwright Zachary Desmond emphasizes the epic in his uneven though compelling approach.  Mr. Desmond affectionately imparts biographical details of Einstein’s life from youth to old age.  Particularly captivating are the sequences depicting his courtship and marriage to his first wife, mathematician Mileva Marić. [more]

False Stars

August 23, 2017

Nora Sørena Casey’s "False Stars," part of this year’s Corkscrew Festival at the Paradise Factory, starts slowly but gradually grows more involving as all the interconnections between the characters slowly reveal themselves. [more]

Heartless Bastard

August 21, 2017

Much of the play is like an odd synthesis of 1960’s theatrical satires. There are absurdist shades of Murray Schisgal, Elaine May, and particularly of Jules Feiffer's "Little Murders," laced with Paddy Chayefsky’s lacerating tirades. It eventually becomes clear that it’s meant to be overblown and not at all realistic, and at times is hilarious. A zany Reform rabbi’s irreverent diatribe on faith, and a Darth Vader sight gag are hysterical highlights. Then there’s the girlfriend’s unsettling, casual disclosure that she’s had a double mastectomy. It all recalls the provocatively dark humor of Larry David. [more]

Afterglow

August 17, 2017

Having a background in dance accounts for Gelman’s mesmerizing staging that is filled with finely choreographed sequences. Characters take showers onstage with actual water cascading on their nude bodies and there are stylized, brief simulations of sex that are suggestively erotic. Numerous, arresting tableaus silently emit significance. The actors all give bold, brave and intense performances that transcend stereotypes. [more]

Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B

August 12, 2017

While the three plays in Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B have been given proficient productions each seems ultimately unsatisfactory. All seem like first drafts rather than completely fulfilling their potential. The three authors could learn a lesson from the three plays in Series A which all hit their marks. Interesting experiments but failures nevertheless. [more]

High School Coven

August 12, 2017

Set in a California, Bay Area high school, there we meet the four students who prattle on in contemporary lingo. Gradually, and without any explanation we learn that they are witches. An episode of Bewitched has more background information. After 30 minutes, a semblance of a plot emerges, a run for class office. Eventually it is revealed that the candidate running was raped over the previous summer at an off campus party where alcohol was consumed by her male opponent. This past event becomes the play’s main focus. [more]

A Parallelogram

August 11, 2017

Bruce Norris’ "A Parallelogram" endeavors to explore some sobering facts about the effect of the future on the present and responsibility to others. Unfortunately, the play ends up being laborious and tiresome - without being revealing or challenging. Too many of the fantasy elements have not been worked out so that much must be taken on faith or not considered. Norris wants to say something deep but this 2010 play having its belated New York premiere is more confused than meaningful. [more]

A Real Boy

August 9, 2017

Stephen Kaplan’s "A Real Boy" is about a pair of puppets, named Peter and Mary Ann Myers, who adopt the eponymous child named Max, and it proves about as preposterous as such a premise suggests. It isn’t helped by director Audrey Alford’s often awkward staging, or by a muddled and confusing conclusion. [more]

Virtual Memory

August 9, 2017

Mark Finley, the director, knew enough to keep the play charmingly low-key with just enough animated physicality to illustrate the story.  Finley clearly understood all of Strothmann’s best qualities as a storyteller and how to keep him on his toes as an actor and memoirist.  [more]

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare in the Park)

August 5, 2017

Although the physical production has been well-thought-out, the script seems to have no interpretation other than a great deal of slapstick comedy which does not much register. The cast varies greatly in having found the core of their roles. Phylicia Rashad’s Titania is romantic and authoritative, while Richard Poe’s Oberon is wryly arch but ineffectual. Their fairy attendants are played by white haired and balding senior citizens but nothing much is made of this unusual casting. As Puck usually played by a youth or a dancer, Kristine Nielsen’s regular mannerisms are kept to a minimum but she seems much more amused by her mischief than the audience does. [more]

The Unwritten Law

August 2, 2017

Writer and co-creator Chesney Snow is also the performer.  Mr. Snow appeared in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions of the a capella musical "In Transit" as the narrator.  Snow is also a prominent beatboxer.  That’s an art form that replicates the sound of percussion by using one's mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.  In The Unwritten Law, the African-American Snow mines the tragic circumstances of his life and those close to him. [more]

Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series A

August 2, 2017

"Acolyte" by Graham Moore, Academy Award winner for his 2013 screenplay for "The Imitation Game," is a more substantial play than the other two. Based on an historical occurrence in 1954, it brings together two couples, Ayn Rand (founder of Objectivism) and her husband Frank O’Connor and her follower, Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara, for one of her weekly dinner parties. Rand has asked the Brandens to remain after all the guests have left following a vigorous debate on Aristotelean principles versus Platonic realism. [more]

Singing Beach

July 31, 2017

Aside from the destructive nature of the storm and that the "Pegasus" eventually arrives at a desert shore, there isn’t much to be learned about climate change. We never know if Sleeper lost his ability to speak as a result of his strokes or has chosen not to speak after the death of his wife, which is an entirely different state of affairs. The cast of characters is made up of a great many creative people who are simply labels as we learn nothing about their work or their careers: novelist Merrie, classical scholar Owen, artist Sebastian, poet Ashton, scientist Miss Blake. The thinness of both the characters and the story keeps the play from making any important points. [more]

Pipeline

July 30, 2017

From Dominique Morisseau, the author of the critically acclaimed Skeleton Crew, Detroit ’67 and Sunset Baby, comes another powerfully provocative and riveting, but overwrought, play which investigates black rage, racial stereotyping, and parental mistakes. Just try to take your eyes off the high octane production by Lileana Blain-Cruz, which has been brilliantly cast with its six actors, all but Karen Pittman (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced) making their Lincoln Center Theater debuts. Morisseau may not have all the answers but she certainly looks at the questions from all angles. The play’s title is a reference to the metaphor for “the school to prison pipeline” that describes the blighted lives of so many ghetto youths who fail before they finish their education and was the topic of Anna Deavere Smith’s "Notes from the Field" seen Off Broadway last fall. [more]

Places

July 29, 2017

"I wanted the audience to see 'Places,' not as a ‘museum’ piece, but a piece that was relevant TODAY. Nazimova was fighting the things in the 19th century and early 20th century that we are still fighting…," explains Nordlinger, who also wrote the show, in publicity materials for the production. Her conceit is that Nazimova exists as a ghost and cheekily addresses the audience directly. Her skillful, well-researched and assembled biographical facts are laced with feminist slanted commentary, and knowledge of events that occurred after Nazimova’s death. [more]

Jessica

July 27, 2017

Vermillion writes distinctive characters who each have their own language, but fails to make his story believable or emotionally gripping by turning it into something closer to the surreal, expecting the audience to accept the rationalizations rather than science fiction.  There are moments that communicate real emotion, particularly the low-key ending, but due to the nature of the story, Vermillion finds himself spending far too much time explicating the pseudoscience behind the title character. [more]

Arcadia

July 23, 2017

The joy of Stoppard’s writing comes to the fore as the second act characters debate what happened in the first act, too often getting it all wrong, misinterpreting the evidence or jumping to too many conclusions that aren’t justified. These actors are so enjoyable to watch that we can only sit back and enjoy their self-delusions. [more]

Pity in History

July 20, 2017

"Pity in History" was a teleplay commissioned by the BBC, and was broadcast on July 4, 1985. In the cast were Alan Rickman as the chaplain, Ian McDiarmid as the cook, and Anna Massey as the widow. Significantly, the era depicted was that of when it took place, reflected by period costumes and décor. Clips of it are on YouTube. [more]

Marvin’s Room

July 18, 2017

If you saw the original New York production of "Marvin’s Room," you may find yourself feeling that the play was more effective when it was presented in the far more intimate environment of Playwrights Horizons. The otherwise fine cast--which also includes Luca Padovan as Charlie and Carmen Lacivita and Nedra McClyde in various roles-- simply gets lost in the expansive space of the American Airlines Theatre. [more]

Navigator in Love

July 18, 2017

Hapless Rostom (a perfectly cast Michael Propster who wears his emotions close to the surface) is low man on the totem pole in a nameless construction company and is removed from his comfortable office job to a position that forces him to travel about the country in a company car. He has the distasteful job of investigating corruption in the company’s many construction sites. He is aided in his travels by the Navigator (the voice of his GPS, Lauren Riddle who somehow finds a way to express emotions in her monotone voice). [more]

Trump Lear

July 16, 2017

"Trump Lear" turns out to be a gem, a brilliant gem with many facets that shine an intensely comic light on Trump. It’s a brutally honest x-ray as only a comedy can be, a sardonic, scary, funny take on Donald Trump as seen through the eyes of a victimized playwright/performer who is—shades of 1984!—kidnapped and imprisoned for making fun of the President! [more]

1984

July 13, 2017

Icke and MacMillan’s version is tricked up with much multimedia, sound and lights, and disorientation. Faithful to the book, it claims to be the first adaptation to include Orwell’s appendix supposedly written years after the events of the novel. The first third of the play which mixes past, present and future would be very hard to follow for someone who has not read the book. For two-thirds of the play, Chloe Lamford’s set is a wood paneled library or reading room which must make do for an office cubicle, an office cafeteria, an antique shop, a meeting room, a path through a forest, and the home of the hero, Winston Smith. The last third of the play which depicts the reeducation of Winston, i.e. torture and brainwashing, is very graphic and as such difficult to sit through; the book’s description, however, which drew a curtain over the actual violence made it seem like it went on for months or years. [more]

Martin Denton, Martin Denton

July 12, 2017

In the spirit of being a critic, the play is always describing and commenting on itself, in other words, even as it unfolds--a kind of meta-theater experience that may not be to everyone’s liking; but it surely replicates much of the Off and Off-Off Broadway theater and performance art to which Denton devoted so much of his energies. It’s also prone to overly precious lines, such as, “So I look in a thing called the newspaper,” underscoring the degree to which Denton grew to rely on his computer skills. “I’m good with software and hardware,” he tells us. [more]

Napoli, Brooklyn

July 12, 2017

True, here these Italian American sisters growing up in Park Slope, 1960, don’t want to get to some place as much as get away from someplace else. As they exit their teens, their home has been made a war zone by their brutal and violent Neapolitan father Nic Muscolino who cannot deal with these women (including his Italian born wife) who think for themselves and want to follow different paths than the traditional roles defined for them. [more]

Custody

July 11, 2017

Shannon and Brendan are first seen in her simply decorated apartment in 1994 on her 41st birthday just before Brendan’s departure for Phoenix to join his significant other Ted (who doesn’t appear until the third scene).  They discuss the custody of their “children,” actually a ceramic bird called Henny and a cloth puppet of a little girl whose limbs are wooden dowels.  She has been dubbed Melly-Lou and she has been diagnosed with Dutch Elm disease—all part of the imaginative scenario assembled over the years by the two “parents.”  The title of the play refers to the quandary of where these kids will reside, a source of friction that is finally resolved. [more]

Of Human Bondage

July 10, 2017

Director Albert Schultz’s program note explains that the production set itself two challenges: first, that Philip Carey would never leave the 16-foot red square center stage, and that all of the sound (vocal, musical or atmospheric) would be made by the 11 other actors in view of the audience. This may have made for an interesting artistic experiment, but it is not so effective for the audience. While the 16-foot square makes the play claustrophobic (a metaphor for Philip’s life), it also means that scenery has to be carted around for each and every scene. Nevertheless, in Lorenzo Savoini’s clever set design, the transitions between the many scenes are smooth and flowing. The sound effects are made by the actors on stage ultimately become very distracting from the action of the play. Faithful to the novel but necessarily telescoped, Thiessen’s adaptation is fragmented into a series of vignettes which though not disjointed suggest that much is missing. [more]

To T, or Not to T

July 9, 2017

While wearing an all black ensemble of a cap, T-shirt, shorts and sneakers, D’Lo commandingly holds forth with plentiful pop culture references in 70 minutes.  Possessing the powers of an accomplished stand-up comedian he expresses the searing and hilarious details of his transgender journey in an often rapid, hip-hop style alternating with a measured pace.  Audience members are occasionally addressed directly with riotous results. [more]
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