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Arnulfo Maldonado

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]

Men on Boats

August 2, 2016

In this swashbuckling comedic play, 'Men on Boats" takes an innovative approach by casting ten women in the roles of the first “white” discovers of the Grand Canyon. However, this was not a nod to the current trend of casting cisgender or transgender actors. The use of “on boats,” instead of “in boats,” indicates the state of being in which the actresses find themselves — a history panorama where gender and race play little part. [more]

The Place We Built

May 6, 2016

As Hungary took a turn to the extreme right in recent years, anti-Semitism and xenophobia not only raised their heads, but became de facto pillars of the new government. The Place We Built delves into the personal plight of an ad hoc blending of often contentious, mostly loving twenty-somethings who inadvertently wind up building and creating a meeting place of like minds in the old Jewish Ghetto and thereby defying and antagonizing the powers-that-be. [more]

Wolf in the River

March 26, 2016

Directed by the author, "Wolf in the River" is an environmental production as the audience is invited to sit in folding chairs around a mound of earth with forlorn flowers, garbage and debris. However, there are set pieces and props located in the four corners of the venue as well. When the play begins, a man sitting in the audience gets up, strips off his shirt and shoes, and becomes the play’s narrator and master of ceremonies, as well as one of the characters. In an unnamed Southern American location, we are on the banks of a river (the audience is the river) filled with alligators. Six actors in pasty make-up wander around the outer perimeter of the room. Although the program does not explain their presence, the script reveals that they are the ghosts of those who have perished in the river. [more]

Iowa

April 16, 2015

An actor in a suit wearing a pony mask and a tail trots out on stage a few times and later appears some more times without the mask to sing. A woman in a burqa (ordered from Amazon) walks around with a laptop. An ensemble of relatively mature women cavorts as high school cheerleaders, one of whom has sex with the pony. This same multi-racial group have another production number as all of them portray teen detective Nancy Drew. The show opens and closes with a young girl dressed as a boy in a seersucker shorts suit who sings. The drawn out finale involves a bunch of polygamous wives wearing different colored pastel gowns and singing what is called “Oratorio.” These are among the David Lynch-type surrealistic flourishes on display. [more]