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Arnulfo Maldonado

Buena Vista Social Club

December 20, 2023

While the exciting new stage musical Buena Vista Social Club shares the same name with the acclaimed 1999 documentary by Wim Wenders, playwright Marco Ramirez’s book for the new show takes a different approach to the true story now under the direction and development of go-to director Saheem Ali (Fat Ham) for new work by people of color. While the film took us to the recording studio and then interviewed or followed the daily lives of the major singers and musicians involved ultimately taking us to their July 1, 1998 Carnegie Hall concert, the stage show instead tells the 1956 backstory of several of the main characters after we meet them at the 1996 recording session. Although the film made the male singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo the main characters, the musical puts the focus on recording star Omara Portuondo. Both approaches contain the original songs sung by the Cuban music group of old timers that came together in 1996 to record an album of almost forgotten Cuban songs making both versions documents of the highest authenticity. [more]

Sabbath’s Theater

November 13, 2023

Philip Roth’s 1995 Rabelaisian novel "Sabbath’s Theater" would seem a strange choice for stage adaptation both as it is considered Roth’s raunchiest – if not filthiest – book and it moves around a great deal to places in New England, New York, New Jersey and Venice, Italy. The stage adaptation by journalist Ariel Levy and actor-director John Turturro who also stars in The New Group’s production at the Pershing Square Signature Center is not really a play but a staged reading. Performed by Turturro and two actors, Elizabeth Marvel and Jason Kravits, taking all the other parts, this very doubling reinforces the feeling that this is not a fully realized play. [more]

All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain

October 25, 2023

The subtitle of Patrick Page’s absorbing and informative one-man show "All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain” is an actuate description of the content of his presentation. In a kind of lecture-performance it is Page’s credible contention that Shakespeare took the Vice character (the villain from the Middle Ages' Morality plays through Christopher Marlowe) and added psychological realism. Eventually in his last play, "The Tempest," Shakespeare was dealing with a character with a very worthy justification for revenge who finds compassion and empathy instead. [more]

The Refuge Plays

October 21, 2023

Nathan Alan Davis’ "The Refuge Plays," if one pays attention, is exactly about refuge: growing up with it (because someone else has lovingly created it for you), seeking it (if you feel you must create your own), and coming back to the refuge you have always known (once you come to terms with the realization you’ve had no success trying to create it somewhere else). Davis, for the most part, has given us characters that we can easily fall in love with, each with their own path to refuge. [more]

The Comeuppance

June 12, 2023

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ "The Comeuppance," the culmination of his decade as a Premiere Resident playwright at Signature Theatre, does for the millennials what "The Big Chill" did for the Baby Boomers. Astutely directed by Eric Ting, this fascinating but uneven play also reviews the stresses and traumas of the last 20 years for that generation. This five-character reunion of people who knew each other at St. Anthony, class of 2002, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is densely plotted and packed with dramatic moments. And then there is a new wrinkle, an uninvited guest. [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]

La Race

December 9, 2022

Taylor Reynolds has directed an excellent ensemble in bringing this play to life in an engaging, thought-provoking, and heartfelt way, but not without some issues. Through his direction and the actors' performances, "La Race" challenges the audience with clearly articulated and impactful ideas. However, the success in presenting those ideas depends on how they are performed, which is one of the problematic areas. Expressing strong emotions about an issue is challenging without being preachy or strident. There are scenes where certain key characters go into rants about racism, sexism, and gentrification that seem out of place with the carefully constructed plot lines that approach those issues in a less strident and more thoughtful way. [more]

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea

November 19, 2022

A touching portrait of a father and his alienated son unfolds in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s "Where the Mountain Meets the Sea" by Jeff Augustin, directed by Joshua Kahan Brody. ... "When the Mountain Meets the Sea" is not only about two different people, but two different time periods.  Jean exists in memory while Jonah’s journey is to cross the country, retrieve Jean’s ashes and spread them over Haiti. [more]

My Broken Language

November 14, 2022

Hudes has directed her own play in a delightful vaudeville/musical comedy style with dancing between the scenes to choreography by Ebony Williams to live music played by pianist Ariacne Trujillo-Durand, supervised by Alex Lacamoire. Of the five actresses who perform each in their own inimitable style, three of them have appeared in Hudes’ plays before: Daphne Rubin-Vega and Zabryna Guevara (who play the Author twice each) have appeared in two New York productions and Marilyn Torres has appeared regionally in the Pulitzer Prize-winning, "Water by the Spoonful" at The Old Globe, San Diego. By the end of the evening we feel we have met all of the Perez women as well as know what makes the Author tick. [more]

Topdog/Underdog

November 4, 2022

The 20th anniversary revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Topdog/Underdog," is just as powerful and absorbing as before with its story of two African American brothers Booth and Lincoln who are searching for the American Dream in opposite ways. Under the astute but leisurely direction of Kenny Leon (Tony Award Best Revivals of "A Soldier’s Play," "A Raisin in the Sun" and "Fences"), rising stars Corey Hawkins (Tony nominated for "Six Degrees of Separation," and appearances in the film versions of "In the Heights" and "The Tragedy of Macbeth") and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Emmy Award winner for HBO’s "Watchmen" as well as ensemble awards for the cast of "The Trial of the Chicago 7") give riveted performances in this two-hander. [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]

A Strange Loop

May 5, 2022

Deliriously and explicitly profane, Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical, "A Strange Loop" has—unbelievably—made it to Broadway, produced by Playwrights Horizons, Page 73 and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Jackson’s explicit portrait of a lost soul’s salty journey is alternately stunning and amusing, appealing and appalling, told at a breakneck pace through his book, lyrics and music.  It’s a rare, if dispiriting, portrait of a gay man who isn’t a paragon, a man who isn’t conventionally handsome, successful or rich. [more]

Wish You Were Here

May 4, 2022

In the 13 years that span this earnest, thought-provoking play, three weddings, fear, war, and death all serve to test the strength and sanctity of these women’s bonds. Toossi’s script is intimate, and searching, both funny and heartbreaking; "Wish You Were Here" is a beautiful testament to the strengths and allegiances women find with each other in times of turmoil and oppression. [more]

To My Girls

April 15, 2022

Lee peppers his worn scenario with plenty of pop, cultural and political references, well-crafted zingers and familiar conflicts. Dating apps, "Dancer from the Dance," "Sex and the City" are among the totems cited and a Trump supporter is declared to be a “MAGA fag.” "To My Girls" succeeds as a rote genre-piece for a niche audience desiring a simplistic gay play where there’s laughter, tears and resolution in drag danced to The Pointer Sisters. Lee’s thinly drawn characters are highly playable. [more]

Shhhh

February 6, 2022

Warning: "Shhhh," a world premiere commissioned by Atlantic Theater Company from Clare Barron, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winner for "Dance Nation," may just be the most visceral play you will ever see, describing all bodily fluids graphically from saliva to urine to feces and blood. It is not for the faint-hearted. "Shhhh" is meant for those who like adventurous, cutting- edge theater, performance that pushes the envelope.  You may not like it but you will not easily forget it. [more]

Selling Kabul

December 6, 2021

Will a former Afghani U.S. Armed Forces interpreter get himself and his family out of the country before he’s captured by the Taliban in 2013? This is the crux of playwright Sylvia Khoury’s gripping, thoughtful and suspenseful drama, "Selling Kabul." In a straight through 100 minutes, Ms. Khoury crafts an accessible overview of that conflict, sets up a compelling story and employs a classic plot device. Khoury’s smooth passionate dialogue imparts exposition and biographical details while advancing action with technical accomplishment. [more]

Trouble in Mind

November 21, 2021

If Alice Childress’ 1955 Off Broadway hit, "Trouble in Mind," had transferred to Broadway in 1957 as it was scheduled to do, it would have been the first play by a Black playwright to reach the main stem. As if happened, the white producers wanted continual softening of the play’s ending and after two years of rewrites Childress threw in the towel. Ironically, this is exactly the theme of her backstage play. As things worked out, the softer Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, less critical of its white audience, became the first play by a Black woman writer to reach Broadway in 1959 and the rest is history. Now history is being remade with the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of "Trouble in Mind" at Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre 64 years later with a fine cast led by Tony Award winners LaChanze and Chuck Cooper. [more]

one in two

December 27, 2019

Leland Fowler, Jamyl Dobson and Edward Mawere in a scene from Donja R. Love’s “one in two” in [more]

The Underlying Chris

December 6, 2019

Another way to look at the play is as the twelve stages of man and woman, going Shakespeare five more steps. Unlike Tracy Letts’ Mary Page Marlowe, in which the heroine was played by a different actress at each stage of her life, here we are asked to adjust to multiple versions of Chris whose name changes in each of the play’s 12 scenes: Chris, Christine, Kris, Christopher, Kristin, Topher, Christoph, Kit, Christina, and finally Khris. [more]

Fires in the Mirror

November 17, 2019

The Reverend Al Sharpton, Angela Davis, and Sonny Carson are among the two dozen celebrities, cross section of New Yorkers, and male and female integral figures of diverse ethnicities that are given astounding portrayals by actor Michael Benjamin Washington. These simulations occur during this bedazzling revival of conceiver and writer Anna Deavere Smith’s acclaimed 1992 solo play about the Crown Heights Riots, "Fires in the Mirror." [more]

Mojada

August 4, 2019

Following up on Luis Alfaro’s critically acclaimed Chicano retelling of Sophocles’ "Oedipus Rex" called "Oedipus El Rey," The Public Theater now stages his equally relevant and timely "Mojada" which melds Euripides’ "Medea" with the Latinx immigrant experience in the big American cities. Those who know the Greek myth of Jason and Medea will be prepared; those who at the performance under review obviously did not know what was coming were shocked and horrified by the ending. Either way the play is spellbinding theater. Chay Yew, artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater who also directed the Public’ production of Oedipus El Rey, has staged the stunning and devastating play with an excellent cast of Hispanic-American actors which is as timely as tomorrow’s headlines. [more]

A Strange Loop

June 19, 2019

Twenty-five-year-old African-American Michigan native and New York University graduate Usher is an usher at a Disney Broadway musical who is writing an autobiographical musical about his troubled life. His religious Christian parents are scornful of his sexuality and dubious of his career goals as he doesn’t emulate the commercial simplisticness of Tyler Perry who gets skewered in a production number. This exploration is light on plot and so we get a series a of overheated vignettes often laden with wan shock value. The often didactic dialogue relies on scatology peppered with the N-word. Dark comedy crossed with poignancy abounds. [more]

Passage

May 18, 2019

Christopher Chen’s exquisite and mystical "Passage" being produced by the Soho Rep is inspired by E.M. Forster’s "A Passage to India," borrowing its plot and character relationships. But while Forster’s novel was simply about the British colonization of India, Chen has something bigger in mind. Chen calls the two locales Country X and Country Y so that the audience can fill in whatever two countries they wish in whatever time. Director Saheem Ali’s superb multicultural cast offers the maximum in diversity. And in this age of nations all over the world cracking down on immigrants and immigration, the play is an investigation into our complicated feelings about The Other. [more]

God Said This

February 11, 2019

If this family seems familiar, Winkler wrote about them in her 2016 play, "Kentucky," set seven years ago, when Hiro returned home for the first time from NYC in order to stop her sister’s wedding. Author Winkler, a Japanese-American, wrote the play sitting by her mother’s bedside in a hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, while her mother dealt with an aggressive form of cancer and she does have a sister who is a born-again Christian, though nothing like Sophie. While the play has an air of authenticity, most of the family are so unpleasant and unlikable that it is hard to penetrate behind their armor and facades. [more]

Fireflies

October 28, 2018

Although Donja R. Love describes his new play "Fireflies," his second world premiere in New York in 2018, as a “surrealistic voyage through Queer love during pivotal moments in Black History,” this riveting play is about a great deal more than that: racism, faith, homophobia, domestic abuse, women’s roles, alcohol addiction, infidelity, women’s right to choose, and sexuality. As sharply directed by Saheem Ali, the problem is that until the very end it is difficult to know where the play is going and what its real message is. [more]

I Was Most Alive with You

September 26, 2018

In Craig Lucas’s "I Was Most Alive with You," two down-on-their-luck television writers mine recent personal tragedy for their latest project, hoping, with the Book of Job as their inspirational guide, to set both their careers and the universe in order. Although suffering has touched each of them, Ash (Michael Gaston), a late middle-aged recovering alcoholic in a bad marriage, is the much more forlorn figure. Like Job, Ash has hit one of those rough patches in life, where, if you’re a person of faith, you might start to suspect that your higher power doesn’t like you very much. [more]

Dance Nation

May 9, 2018

Ms. Barron’s conception is more of an agenda driven fantastical tract rather than a well-crafted play with a cohesive plot. Her tone is of exaggeration and artifice with mannered dialogue that is intended to be hilarious yet thoughtful. A brief gag about "A Chorus Line" and a reference to the actual Telsey & Company Casting are some of the smug inside humor tossed in. [more]

School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play

November 17, 2017

Ms. Bioh’s snappy dialogue perfectly renders the rhythms of teenage lingo and the pain beneath the bravado, emitting the universality of adolescence.  Bioh’s construction is meticulous as the events play out over 70 tight minutes.  Besides the foreign setting there’s nothing really “new” about the play but’s it’s so well written and gloriously presented. [more]

Charm

September 28, 2017

Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins makes a memorable New York debut with an involving and engrossing play which at the performance under review you could have heard a pin drop, so rapt was the audience. The play is, indeed, flawed by its avoiding real confrontations time and again, always stopping short of out and out war. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen who volunteered to teach a class in etiquette at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, "Charm" is both a fascinating story and it covers unexplored territory on our stages. As Mama Andrews, the elegant Sandra Caldwell is both charismatic and compelling, never fazed by the behavior of the class even when they pay her no mind or reject her teachings. [more]

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias

September 16, 2017

The awkwardly titled "The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias" has problems beyond its nomenclature. What, if anything, is it ultimately about? Though it claims to be a “satirical” look at the subject of rape, any satire is lost in the mixed results of the presentation. If anything, the play seems too subtle and nuanced for its own good. [more]

Seven Spots on the Sun

May 14, 2017

Director Weyni Mengesha’s physical staging is proficient since for 80 minutes the actors are competently placed throughout for a fluid presentation. Unfortunately, Ms. Mengesha has the sound at full blast and that’s distracting. Just as egregiously, Mengesha has the talented cast performing at full throttle, resulting in overwrought and collectively overall ineffective characterizations. [more]

Duat

October 28, 2016

Constructed in three parts, the first part of Jones’ memoir-meets-manifest-destiny is an enchanting origin story that takes place in a mystical library that holds an archive of Jones’ life (set design by Arnulfo Maldonado). Though this portion of the story is filled with tidbits of information from his childhood and adolescence, the focus is on the story of the creation of his famous and renowned alter ego, Jomama Jones, and the book he discovered as a teen that aided in her creation (more on that later). [more]

Caught

August 31, 2016

The beauty of Chen’s technique lies in engaging the audience in a guessing game that they don’t immediately know they are a part of – presenting them with certain messages that appear to be true, but challenge them to think about it from a different perception. One of the main themes is examining the different viewpoints between the Chinese and American cultures and how perceptions can be skewed. The result is a clever and eye-opening puzzle that teaches important lessons around the human experience in a shocking way by offering extremes. [more]
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