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In the Penal Colony

July 20, 2019

Playwright and director Miranda Haymon has, like numerous dramatists before her, dramatized this story—except that she has significantly repurposed it. Working with three African-American actors, she has used the tale as a taking-off point for an hour-long play focused on the experience of young black men in America. As the press release puts it, “ 'In the Penal Colony' investigates the performance of power, patriarchy and punishment. Three black men convene in an unnamed penal colony, asking what it means for them to exist in the media, when observed, when consumed, when punished.” [more]

Then They Forgot About the Rest

April 23, 2019

Playwright Georgina Escobar presents an exuberant hodgepodge of sci-fi elements and satirical corporate bits with a feminist slant. Ms. Escobar’s punchy pseudo-scientific dialogue carries her choppy scenario with its shades of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" to sustaining the mildly entertaining 80 minutes. Escobar has a command of language, sprinkling catchphrases that land throughout. Early onset, end of days, extreme memory vetting, protein inhibitor and Petro Corp all get a lot of mileage. It doesn’t all gel, vagueness abounds but there’s spirited integrity. “…I’m asking improbable questions seeking impossible answers,” Escobar states in her program notes. [more]

June Is the First Fall

April 7, 2019

The personable Alton Alburo as Don manages to make this underdeveloped character compelling with his charming presence. Playing his father David with easygoing humor and poignancy is the outstanding Fenton Li. Stefani Kuo as Jane offers a winning portrait of familial sturdiness with her solid performance. Scott is vividly brought to life by Karsten Otto with his engaging blend of goofiness and soulfulness. Mr. Otto brings much depth to his scenes with Mr. Alburo regarding Don’s feelings for him. Speaking mostly in Chinese and existing as a domineering vision, Chun Cho does achieve a pleasing distinctiveness in the difficult role of Yu Qin. [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]

Billy and the Killers

November 12, 2017

In their new rock musical "Billy and the Killers," lyricist/librettist Jim Shankman and composer Peter Stopschinski channel Nicholas Ray, David Lynch, Elvis Presley, and Dashiell Hammett to concoct a muddled tale of teenage rebellion that dead-ends in an even less coherent murder trial. Along the way, there are some well-performed songs whose lyrics seem to be tied to the plot, but it’s often hard to tell, since, as you probably already know, proper enunciation is not what rock ‘n’ roll is all about, man. [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]