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Justin Ellington

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]

The Merchant of Venice (Theater for a New Audience)

February 16, 2022

Arin Arbus, resident director at Theatre for a New Audience, staging her tenth classic for them took a great risk with her new production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: not only putting this 1597 play in modern dress, she has made Venice diversely multicultural as well as having the Jewish Shylock played by an African American. All of these things might have backfired and looked out of place. Surprisingly it all works, due to her spare, stripped-down direction, her fine cast, the nearly bare stone setting by Riccardo Hernandez which suggests an elegant Greek amphitheater, and her star, John Douglas Thompson with whom she has worked four times before in an assortment of classics. Along with the work of voice director Andrew Wade, the diction is crystal clear and Shakespeare’s verse sounds conversational and newly minted. [more]

Tambo & Bones

February 8, 2022

The dynamic W. Tré Davis and Tyler Fauntleroy deliver rousing performances as Tambo and Bones. Each is possessed of a limber physicality, superior comic timing and dramatic depth. Their immense chemistry is such that they appear to be long-time show business partners instead of just actors in a play. With their imposing physiques, close-cropped hair and vocal talents, Brendan Dalton and Dean Linnard are hilarious as the robots. Taylor Reynolds' fizzy staging realizes Harris’ vision with theatrical flair, each scene is perfectly presented. Lighting designers Amith Chandrashaker and Mextly Couzin and sound designer Mikhail Fiksel respond to three diverse settings with resourceful artistry. Composer Justin Ellington’s delightful original music ranges from jaunty melodies to rap tunes. [more]

Clyde’s

December 4, 2021

As the manager of the restaurant, Aduba gives one of those big performances which are larger than life, but we have all met that type of people. She batters, insults, cajoles, berates her staff: is it to drive them to new heights or she is paying the world back for her tough life? Is she an incarnation of the devil or Satan? The gas fires that shoot out of the stage periodically make us wonder. When they receive a rave review in a local newspaper she belittles them as though they had nothing to do with the restaurant’s success. Wearing a new and colorful skintight outfit by Jennifer Moeller and multiple hairdos by Cookie Jordan each time she enters through the swings doors from the restaurant into the kitchen, she is a bigger and bigger surprise by what she says and what she threatens. As the dangerous and intimidating Clyde, she gives an indelible performance; just try to take your eyes off of her when she is onstage. [more]

The Watering Hole

July 2, 2021

There are installations, written words, video projections, and recorded spoken word. One setting is intended as a break area where patrons can dance or play with beachballs. Other interactive projects involve writing answers to questions and pinning them to a piece. To give specific descriptions of these clever inventions would be to spoil surprises. This one is memorable and representative of the exhibition. [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]

Bars and Measures

October 27, 2019

The play’s dynamic—with the two brothers trying to stay in sync even as they find themselves polar opposites in nearly all areas of their lives—seems at points to make the play a kind of clunky “what if” scenario from a modern-problems textbook (the punny title doesn’t help). However, Goodwin’s talent for writing smart, occasionally amusing dialogue and for making his characters seem like real people rather than emblems largely mitigates that concern. Also, the work of the actors in this production is quite strong. [more]

Heroes of the Fourth Turning

October 14, 2019

Numb from two straight-through hours of far-right speechifying emoted in perpetual semi-darkness, the audience at "Heroes of the Fourth Turning" then endures a ghastly aria of despair by a Lyme Disease-debilitated character. We also soon learn a deafening recurring sound that was thought to be innocuous, may have supernatural ramifications as the play ends on an unjustified cryptic note. The shooting and implied mutilation of a deer during the awkward prologue was an omen that this was going to be a lulu of a bad play. It’s symptomatic of the uneasy symbolism threaded throughout. [more]

The Rolling Stone

July 31, 2019

It is not until the second act of British playwright Chris Urch’s "The Rolling Stone" that the play catches fire but from then on the drama is explosive, compelling and very disturbing. Once the play gets past the introductory exposition that sets up the plot, the production by Saheem Ali (Donja R. Love’s "Sugar in Our Wounds" and "Fireflies," and Christopher Chen’s "Passage") is taut, tense and involving. [more]

Proof of Love

May 24, 2019

Never really losing her cool, Pressley always commands the stage even though scenic designer Alexis Distler has made it difficult by creating a huge private room, beautiful in its understated way in blues and beiges, but difficult for one person to fill the space. Yes, Maurice is presumed to be in his hospital bed on stage right, and Lashonda is on the smartphone, but Pressley must negotiate the entire stage herself. Director Jade King Carroll has found reasons for her to move around from chair to sofa to a chair on the other side of the room, but has not helped much in making the play build an arc. The effective lighting by Mary Louise Geiger subtly shifts from afternoon to evening light without our realizing how much time has passed. [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]

The House That Will Not Stand

August 7, 2018

Gardley makes use of a little known piece of American history: while Louisiana was under Spanish and later French rule, it had a three-tiered racial system. Aside from white settlers and black slaves, there was a third class: free women of color (mostly Creoles) could enter into a relationship with white men as common-law wives. Their children could inherit part of their estates. Some of these so-called “colored” women became extremely rich. This system was called plaçage and such women were known as placeés. The lighter the woman’s skin color the higher her social caste. However, when Louisiana was sold to the new United States in 1803, this system was frowned upon and eventually went out of style around 1813 due to legal challenges. [more]

He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box

February 6, 2018

Whereas Kennedy became famous with plays that use myth, history, surrealism and Theater of the Absurd to tell their stories, this play tells a realistic tale in poetic form, its very brevity belying its depth of feeling. The play incorporates the styles of romantic drama, Elizabethan tragedy, old-fashioned operetta, a murder mystery, and recent history of the not so distant past. Events in the play were suggested by Kennedy’s mother and her own visits to her grandparents in the Jim Crow South. [more]

Until the Flood

January 19, 2018

Ms. Orlandersmith skillfully organizes the material into short monologues that are revelatory, insightful and often tinged with humor.  Visually striking with her animated facial features and flowing dreadlocks, Orlandersmith subtly yet forcefully offers a series of rich characterizations.  Varying her vocal inflections and altering her physiognomy she conveys the essence of each individual.  It’s a riveting performance of range and depth. [more]

Syncing Ink

October 11, 2017

Mr. Njikam offers a witty take on the classic mythology of a hero’s episodic journey with a lively African-American slant. There are a lot of high school and college scenes with wise teachers referring to James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois, combative students, a dying father and an imperious mother. Rhyming battles, love and enlightenment occur along the way. The narrative is so eventful and spread out that it can be difficult taking it all in and its overall impact is diluted. [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]