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Jonathan Slaff

Sugar Ray

January 10, 2022

For 80 minutes, Mr. Wilson commands the stage with his expressive voice and charismatic physical presence. Wilson portrays Robinson from robust youth to early middle-age beset by early Alzheimer’s with verve, recounting the fighter’s life from birth in Georgia, to a poverty-stricken Harlem childhood, to his rise and fall in the ring. Direct address is a conceit of the play, and so Wilson is in constant motion, periodically engaging with audience members and at times playfully throwing punches at some. In addition to fiercely channeling Robinson, Wilson offers marvelous mini portraits of his resourceful divorced mother, Walter Winchell and Muhammad Ali. It’s a towering turn. [more]

A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Ramadan

December 25, 2021

Not only is this a puppet show but it is also an extended concert. This year’s vocalists are Valois Mickens, of West African, Celtic, and Native American origin,  and Katarina Vizina, a transplant from Slovakia,  who sing pieces of about 20 carols and songs including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Silent Night,” and “The Dreidel Song” in the original languages. Occasionally they participate in the action, as well as in the prologue that sets up the show. [more]

The Dark Outside

November 13, 2021

The Off-Off-Broadway world premiere of "The Dark Outside," nonagenarian English playwright Bernard Kops’ poetic, archetypal and fantastical family secrets drama is problematic. Directorial excess combined with intrusive conceptual design clash with authorial vision. The play was originally performed as a reading at London’s National Portrait Gallery on January 17, 2020. It’s likely that its potential was more realized and faithful to Mr. Kops’ text during that simple event. [more]

The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince

September 27, 2021

It is to the credit of the entire cast—dressed in Anthony Paul-Cavaretta’s period tunics and flowing robes—that Lackey’s sometimes over-the-top dialogue lands credibly. Two other elements elevate the play:  Michael Sirotta’s lovely, mood-enhancing score and Jon DeGaetano’s imaginative scenery which includes large, stage-spanning curtains that cleverly serve as entranceways, sails and even ancient columns.  Michael Redman’s moody projections enhance Sirotta’s contributions. [more]

Roles and Rules of Comedy

September 6, 2021

"Roles and Rules of Comedy," six short comedic bits of fluff written and directed by Harold Dean James is a character-driven view of contemporary New York City.  Presented at the elegant Players Club on Gramercy Park by We Three Productions, James deals mostly with down-to-earth people like Donna (Donna Kennedy) and Jaymie (Sharon Fogarty) who meet at a bus stop awaiting a ride that never seems to arrive in “At the Bus Stop Part 5.” [more]

The Two Noble Kinsmen

July 18, 2021

Hamilton Clancy, the artistic director of The Drilling Company, joins forces with his assistant director Karla Hendrick to stage The Two Noble Kinsmen in a modern-dress version that makes the plot of the play more accessible to the al fresco audience but tends to devalue the Elizabethan language.  They have even added a few very modern turns of phrases and pop tunes to elicit laughs during the few lighter moments of the plot. [more]

Audience (The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre)

June 25, 2021

Havel’s Audience represents CAMT’s first foray into modern Czech literature having previously staged imaginative productions of folk material.  This visit to contemporary theater, unfortunately, wasn’t as successful as most of CAMT’s fairytale presentations.  The combination of whimsical marionettes and psychologically sophisticated drama didn’t gel. The autobiographical Audience pits Havel’s alter-ego, Ferdinand Vanĕk (played by Vít Hořejš who also translated and directed the play), against The Brewmaster (Theresa Linnihan) in what initially seemed to be casual, directionless banter during a workday at a beer brewing company. Preceding the actual play were a series of historic newsreels—prepared by Suzanna Halsey—showing how Czechoslovakia (when it was still called Czechoslovakia) descended from the high hopes of 1968—euphemistically called the Prague Spring—to the depths of despair following the Soviet Union’s crushing invasion to put down what they perceived as a pro-West revolution.  The newsreel images were far more frightening than Havel’s two hander which is clearly meant to reveal in everyday terms just how nefariously the communist, totalistic credo infiltrated daily life in Prague. [more]

a photograph / lovers in motion

February 21, 2020

Now that The Public Theater’s 2019 revival of the late Nzotake Shange’s "for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf" has been critically acclaimed once again, The Negro Ensemble Company is reviving her only dialogue play, "a photograph / lovers in motion," in a new version. Originally produced at The Public Theater in 1977 as "a photograph / lovers in cruelty," the play was later revised and renamed for a 1982 production at the Houston Ensemble Theatre. The new version adapted and directed by Ifa Bayeza, the playwright’s sister, makes the play more of a choreopoem like Shange’s other plays and shifts the focus from the photographer Sean David to Michael, a female poet and dancer, adding poems for her to recite. The two titles of the play are still applicable as according to the director the relationship between Sean and Michael is both a duel and a duet. [more]

No Exit

April 8, 2019

Absent scenery, with a character excised and fiercely performed, this stripped down taut revival of Jean-Paul Sartre’s "No Exit" is quite compelling and faithful to the spirit of the original work. An operatic prologue is another novel flourish.It is presented by the Fusion Theatre which was founded by the Irish actress Eilin O'Dea in 2016 with the “concept that synthesizing the worlds of theater and opera can provide the ultimate theatrical experience.” Ms. O'Dea is truly the mastermind of this enticing production. [more]

Betty and The Belrays

February 11, 2019

The creator of "Betty & The Belrays," now at the Theater for the New City, pretty much dares you to compare his well-meaning, but cartoony, new musical to Hairspray, a comparison in which the new musical fare poorly. Written—book and lyrics—and directed by William Electric Black, with music by Black, Valerie Ghent and Gary Schreiner, "Betty," like "Hairspray," tells the story of a white high school-aged girl, the eponymous Betty (Paulina Breeze), living in a racially divided city, here 1963 Detroit, where Motown and its distinctive style are being forged. [more]

Spin Off

September 25, 2018

Considering the repetitiveness of the material and the fancifulness of the play, Megan McQueen as Rosie Ramirez and Kevin Rico Angulo as Det. Jimmy Marks make a great deal more of their characters than is in the writing, while the rest of the actors in underwritten roles do quite a bit less. Both attractive performers, they make us care about their characters though not much is happening. It is to be hoped that they find more substantial roles soon that will showcase their talents. [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]

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]

Subway Story (A Shooting)

March 9, 2018

"Subway Story (A Shooting" is the fifth and final installment of William Electric Black’s Gunplay Series, a sequence of plays “dedicated to all who have lost their lives to the senseless gun violence plague.” In this concluding chapter, ongoing gun violence, particularly its link to urban youths, is the prevailing theme. Black is a seven-time Emmy award-winning writer. His work often broaches societal-conscious issues. [more]

Prague, 1912 (The Savoy Café Yiddish Theatre)

November 13, 2017

There is a fascinating story to be told in Franz Kafka’s involvement with the Yiddish theater in Prague during 1912 but Lu Hauser’s play isn’t it. "Prague, 1912 (The Savoy Café Yiddish Theatre)" is both episodic and repetitious without being clear as to the point that it is making. It simply seems to be a collection of scenes on the same themes that endlessly repeats itself. As Paula Vogel’s "Indecent" has demonstrated, there is a renewed interest in the Yiddish theater but "Prague, 1912" has not brought to life this world that is now gone with the wind. [more]

A Soldier’s Play

October 1, 2017

Director Charles Weldon acted in the 1983, Mark Taper Forum’s Los Angeles production, and besides his meticulous casting he has perfectly rendered this revival. Mr. Weldon’s physical staging inventively, precisely and aesthetically utilizes the large stage to faithfully realize the material. [more]

“Rosalee Pritchett” & “The Perry’s Mission”: Two one-act plays

April 12, 2017

"Rosalee Pritchett" and "The Perry's Mission" are in the provocative tradition of such works of the period as Amiri Baraka’s 1964 play Dutchman and Melvin Van Peebles’ 1970 film "Watermelon Man." This exemplary production brings attention to these neglected playwrights, and is a welcome opportunity to experience their unsettling power. [more]

Golgotha

January 27, 2017

Mr. Refael’s simple but well-crafted scenario takes place in a contemporary apartment in Israel, and has the elderly Salvado looking back at his past. This is theatrically achieved by having him directly addressing the audience. His best friend and fellow survivor is to be honored at the Holocaust memorial center Yad Vashem during a ceremony where he will light a torch. When he becomes incapacitated, that task falls to Salvado. This situation instigates a flood of painful reminiscences that explore his guilt at having survived. [more]

Allen Wilder 2.0

January 21, 2016

Joe Casey is a charming actor. He exudes a “playboy” vibe which goes hand-in-hand with the character of Michael whose vices range from women to booze and back again. Casey shows an understanding of a man who is largely misunderstood and actually well-intentioned. Steph Van Vlack plays the role of Donna. Nearing 50 and a divorcée with a child, Donna is conflicted in light of the fact that she—a woman of her age—is engaging in an apparent “one night stand.” Among other things, this is also a character deeply disturbed that she’s actually considering sleeping with the child she used to babysit for all those years ago. Van Vlack brings a necessary uncertainty to the character. Playing a woman of certain age, Van Vlack’s performance indicates that Donna still has deep insecurities and still has quite a bit to learn about relationships. [more]

Half Moon Bay

October 11, 2015

Under Margarett Perry’s careful direction, Half Moon Bay, challenges an audience to try and decipher Richie’s infatuation with Alicia and what type of relationship he wants with her. Her mysterious ways question if she even wants his help at all or if his obsession clouds his otherwise logical judgment. Dumeng is the perfect mix of purity and puzzlement when she doesn’t even recall where she grew up or who her family is. The only concern she has is her baby who was taken away from her as she worked hard at part-time job after part-time job to make ends meet. The audience is left to ponder what her motives are and if there is any rationale to Richie’s decision to invest in her life. The do-gooder in him is admirable but the price he pays to help this woman is heartbreaking, causing the audience to feel sympathy as well as concern for his condition. [more]

Six Passionate Women

October 15, 2014

Structurally, it is a collection of vignettes that all end in a blackout, punctuated with the sounds of composer Nino Rota’s lively music used in many of Fellini’s films. Here, it comes across as a bunch of connected, superficial comedy sketches, many of which fall flat. The actors, though all are talented, in some cases don't quite fit their roles but commendably do their best. The overall effect at times is of awkwardness and pacing that is less than comic. [more]