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Maria Baranova

The Gospel of John

December 11, 2019

After marveling at Ken Jennings’ power of memorization, one has to admire his ability to deliver the entire text of "The Gospel of John" with unwavering clarity and devotion to its meaning both as literature and as a Christian lodestone. An agile actor (and singer), Jennings (the original Tobias in "Sweeney Todd"), deftly tells the story of Jesus as seen through the eyes of John the Baptist.  The actor roams about a simple raised platform in front of a rough-hewn back curtain made of wrinkled tan cloth.  What looks like a handmade bench—a subtle reference to Jesus’ vocation?—completes the set. [more]

Harry Townsend’s Last Stand

December 6, 2019

Cariou is now appearing Off-Broadway as the titular character in playwright George Eastman’s slight though moving two-character work, Harry Townsend's Last Stand. Sharp one-liners, funny set ups and punchlines and wistful observations abound throughout Mr. Eastman’s effective familiar scenario. It is playwrighting at its basic best, delivering two hefty empathetic roles for actors to attack while delighting the audience. [more]

Monsoon Season

October 31, 2019

Vieh’s script is extremely clever in its telling two sides of a story completely by separate monologues. The dialogue is real and yet extremely funny, never revealing too much, allowing the audience to piece together what’s going on as the actors deliver their lines with impeccable timing and tumult. [more]

Freemove Dance: “ …it’s time…”

September 23, 2019

Co-presented by The Theater at the 14th Street Y, '…it’s time…" explored the dynamics of a small group of five—excellent—performers whose existence appeared to be controlled by a large digital countdown clock that frowned down upon them from the back wall. They were all dressed in tight outfits in shades of yellow, uniforms designed by Mondo Morales.To a stark, ingenious percussive score by Dani Markham, co-arranged and played brilliantly by drummer Price McGuffey situated high above the stage in his own cubbyhole, the dancers meandered onto a stage occupied only by five red folding chairs in a neat row.  The score ranged from clicks to drum rolls to bossa nova rhythms. [more]

Ballet Festival 2019: Program D

August 21, 2019

The fourth piece, titled “3 with D” was choreographed by Javier de Frutos and was the only performance that included live music. Patrick Gallagher was on piano in front of the stage and Dan Gillespie Sells sang and played guitar center stage, simply and straightforward, making the most of music, which was a compilation of songs by Ivor Novello, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter. Next to Sells were two chairs – something of a “set” compared to the other bare-stage designs. Danced by Watson and Fairchild, it was more of a drama than any of the other pieces. Although there was little linear plot, it was a gay love story. The familiar lyrics of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” had a different connotation when referring to two men. The two performers were such gorgeous dancers, and very similar body types, so when they moved in synchronistic unison, it created a beautiful effect. [more]

Ballet Festival: Program A

August 10, 2019

Joseph Sissens in Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” in The Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival (Program A) (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)The Joyce Theater is presenting a two-week Ballet Festival, four programs under the artistic direction of Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet.  Each program is curated by a different dance expert, the first by O’Hare, himself.Program A was divided into two parts, the first the more sedately classical, the second showing newer, more contemporary fare.  It was a fascinating, focused study of the state of ballet today, featuring, appropriately, two works by the British master of classical ballet, Sir Frederick Ashton. [more]

Not Even the Good Things

July 17, 2019

If ever a play needed a talkback afterwards, Joseph Scott Ford’s bewildering, grating and slight "Not Even the Good Things" does. By the end of its gobsmacking 75 minutes, the eerie ever-present appearance of a bedraggled little girl in a red T-shirt who interacts with a single character is never explained. Is she a ghost? A symbolic apparition? Or a figment of his depressed imagination? This is never conclusively answered. [more]

Open

June 19, 2019

Skillman unfolds an achingly beautiful story, dropping bits and pieces of Kristen’s thoughts and memories as she balances her tightrope of love, commitment, sacrifice and transformation. Hill’s performance as Kristen is funny, honest, compelling and heartbreaking; one cannot take their eyes off her, and it’s not because she is the sole occupant of the stage. [more]

Brief Chronicle, Books 6-8

June 3, 2019

“It’s best when each performer is older, or younger, or of a different gender- expression, ethnicity, or ability than you might expect. This keeps the play vibrating in your imagination” are from Borinsky’s stage directions. For this production we get a youthful cast playing roles opposite their presumed genders with skillful exaggeration. [more]

Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone

May 4, 2019

Claire Kiechel’s "Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone" (directed by Steve Cosson) gives audiences a glimpse of the last stand of the author’s great grand-uncle, a dancer-actor-painter-sculptor who was once proclaimed “The Most Beautiful Man in the World.” Tony Torn gives a brave and memorable turn as Swan (1883-1972) in an immersive-ish production at Torn Page, a studio, salon and classroom in what was once the Manhattan home of Torn’s celebrated actor parents, Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. [more]

Be More Chill on Broadway

April 19, 2019

"Be More Chill," the dazzling and inventive musical based on the cult Young Adult novel by Ned Vizzini, has made a successful transfer to Broadway Lyceum Theater with the same cast and an expanded production team after a tryout production at Two Rivers Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2014, and a YouTube soundtrack that has had over 150,000,000 hits which led to an Off Broadway production at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre Center during the summer of 2018. If memory serves after ten months, in some ways the show is strong and in other ways weaker. Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s costumes are more colorful, while Charlie Rosen’s orchestrations seem to be less so. On the plus side the performances of Will Roland as Jeremy, Jason Tam as the Squip, Tiffany Mann as Jenna and Lauren Marcus as Brooke have deepened. The show seems less comfortable at the Lyceum Theatre than it was at the Irene Diamond Stage but a good many more fans can now get to see the show at each performance. [more]

All Our Children

April 15, 2019

“These are difficult times, a character observes in playwright Stephen Unwin's engrossing historical drama, "All Our Children," that crackles with tension. Nazi Germany’s forced euthanasia program for the mentally and physically impaired is the play’s searing concern. In a concise 90-minutes Mr. Unwin’s masterful writing expertly blends exposition, documentary detail and drama in this American premiere seen in London in 2017. [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]

Shareholder Value

March 31, 2019

Attea’s point concerns business models that are overly focused on the needs of shareholders, rather than on those of management and employees. But the play is curiously bloodless. Strong plays about the ferocity of capitalism—from Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" to David Mamet’s "Glengarry Glen Ross"—take interest in the human equation. They focus on the personal anguish that the system can induce. Attea doesn’t delve that deeply here. [more]

Chick Flick the Musical

March 12, 2019

Suzy Conn’s zesty score is a fusion of her peppy music and well-crafted lyrics. “Quandary” is rhymed with “laundry” and among the 14 bright songs there’s a comical ode to Meryl Streep. Ms. Conn’s upbeat book is an orderly framework charting the everyday predicaments of her plucky stock characters. “I think that the Botox went to your brain!” “What’s next? An evening of Chardonnay and shingles?” are representative of the dialogue’s good-natured wit. The scenario manages to just about sustain its 80 minute length. Conn strives for and achieves a feel-good tone for this escapist escapade. [more]

Be More Chill

August 27, 2018

"Be More Chill" is an impressive musical version of Ned Vizzini’s cult novel. Not only does it reproduce the plot on stage, it also gives it a high tech look that dramatizes the story where the novel left it to the imagination. Joe Iconis, long thought to be one of the most promising new theater composers, makes good on that promise, and Joe Tracz demonstrates for a second time that he can put difficult material on the stage. While Ryan Rumery’s overly loud sound design will turn off older theatergoers who are not more chill, those in the swing of things will have a memorable evening in the musical theater. [more]

Fruit Trilogy

June 14, 2018

Her newest work, "Fruit Trilogy," an evening of three one acts, “Pomegranate,” “Avocado” and “Coconut,” has all of the strengths and weaknesses of her previous stage plays which include going on at too great length when the audience has already gotten the point. Directed by Mark Rosenblatt who staged the world premiere at the United Kingdom’s West Yorkshire Playhouse, the play features Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel who are frightening in their intensity and realism. Although the three settings are unstated, the fact that both actresses are black suggests that the plays may have been inspired by Ensler’s humanitarian work in Africa. Although it will not be immediately obvious to theatergoers, the plays move from two women enslaved, to a woman traveling to freedom, to finally a woman finding liberation through her own body. [more]

The Gentleman Caller

May 20, 2018

Every once in a while the exactly right actor is matched with the right role and magic occurs. Such is the case with Juan Francisco Villa as the 34-year-old Tennessee Williams (before he became famous) in Philip Dawkins’ "The Gentleman Caller." Looking exactly like the playwright did at that age and sporting Williams’ well-known Southern accent, Villa is so ebullient, irrepressible and high-spirited that one has the feeling one has met the playwright himself. With perfect timing for Williams’ verbal comeback, many of which are taken from his own letters, quotes and diaries, Villa gives an extraordinarily three-dimensional performance in a role that has been depicted in other recent plays and one-man shows about the author. Some of the credit must go to director Tony Speciale for helping to craft this remarkable portrayal. [more]

Terminus

February 27, 2018

In the semi-autobiographical "Terminus," part of a seven-play cycle set in the fictional town of Attapulgus, Georgia, playwright Gabriel Jason Dean unleashes this intriguing Southern Gothic setup which touches off a deeply felt personal story about racism in a place that is obviously more real to Dean than imagined. Unfortunately, as it goes along, Dean’s initially captivating ghost story exponentially loses steam, finally grinding to a halt well before Eller’s big, shameful secret is revealed at the play’s not-so-stunning conclusion. [more]

Platonov, or A Play with No Name

February 20, 2018

Director Jessica Burr’s fast-paced yet thoughtful staging includes over-lapping dialogue, rapid entrances and exits all over the space and striking visual flourishes. Ms. Burr’s tremendous grasp of stagecraft markedly benefits the play’s morose and draggier second half which contrasts with the frothier first part. The performances are uniformly delightful. [more]

[Porto]

February 16, 2018

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: three people walk into a bar where they are known by the drinks they order. Only in Kate Benson’s new play "[Porto]," the unnamed bar is in a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, and is defined as a “boushy bar,” a portmanteau word made up of "bourgeois" and "douchey." We know that because it serves “serious food, serious beer, serious wine, serious spirits.” And what of the story the play tells? Like an episode of "Seinfeld," 'Friends" or "Girls," it will probably please Millennials most, those who are living the life of spending evenings in trendy bars to find companionship. The second play this year following "Miles for Mary" to transfer from Brooklyn’s Bushwick Starr to Manhattan, [Porto] is now at the WP Theater for an Off Broadway run. [more]

Squeamish

October 17, 2017

hough it’s a one-woman show, Alison Fraser plays a number of characters by speaking in different voices with a certain technical prowess. The principal one is an upper West Side psychotherapist, Sharon, who is ostensibly talking to her own therapist (a “shrink’s shrink,” we’re told) at his apartment late one night. She’s relating the story of her going to her hometown of Lubbock, Texas, for her beloved nephew’s funeral, after he’s committed suicide. But has Eddie really killed himself, like Sharon’s mother did decades ago when Eddie was only three? For that matter, did Sharon’s mother really commit suicide, we’re made to wonder by the end? [more]

The Reception

June 27, 2017

Soon little rends in the fabric of normalcy became apparent.   Bits of dialogue are repeated senselessly and the five revelers keep returning to the same positions (three on a couch, one alone at the border of the space and one behind the bar).  Attempts at dancing get more and more inelegant, even leading to a bit of physical sparring.  Even worse, there is an intermittent ominous, crackling sound emanating from deep in the floor, as if the house were about to collapse. [more]

Maps For A War Tourist

June 11, 2017

Created by the documentarian theatre company Sister Sylvester, "Maps for a War Tourist" was intended to be a biographical exploration of the life of Deniz Karacagil. A former Turkish art student, Ms. Karacagil was arrested three years ago for wearing a red scarf outside. That was interpreted by the authorities as a provocative gesture in support of socialism. [more]

The Boy Who Danced On Air

May 27, 2017

It is set in present-day rural Afghanistan. Several years earlier, Paiman as a child was sold by his father to the well to do Jahandar. The two have an intense emotional and physical involvement that must soon cease, as Paiman is soon to marry because he is approaching manhood. Feda, Zemar, the dancing boy of Zemar, Jahandar’s droll, and mean cousin, is also aging out. Paiman and Feda fall in love and that instigates several conflicts. [more]

Jack Charles V The Crown

March 23, 2017

His innate charm, joy of performing and theatrical grandeur is always on display in this show. All of those qualities combined with his resonant, Australian accented vocal delivery makes it easy to imagine him being commanding in Shakespearean and any number of roles in the classics of dramatic literature, as well as a screen actor. Sadly, environmental circumstances did not as of yet make this possible. [more]

The Mother of Invention

February 10, 2017

Playwright James Lecesne has been acclaimed for his solo performance works, most recently "The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey." Here, he has written a traditional play employing theatrical devices that’s a mélange of David Sedaris, Charles Busch and Modern Family. There are one-liners galore, wacky situations and a decidedly campy sensibility. It’s a bunch of superficial antics that never really meaningfully connect. [more]

My Name Is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually

November 22, 2016

Mr. Irving has an amazing singing voice that soars from octave to octave. His witty songs include a funny one about texting. He tells an epic story about his parents meeting. His musicianship is tremendous as he plays banjo, bouzouki, shruti box, mbira, jew's harps, whirly tube, scacciapensieri, and the ocean harp during the show. He does a wild dance to America’s “A Horse With No Name.” [more]

Simon Says

July 13, 2016

Three-time Tony nominee Brian Murray returns to the New York stage for the first time in four years as a retired professor of parapsychology who has put aside his own career to foster that of a young psychic from the time he was a teenager who is able to channel a spirit named Simon. However, the play belongs entirely to virile newcomer Anthony J. Goes who plays psychic James. The role is both vocally and physically demanding and he is totally convincing in a play that asks you suspend your disbelief. [more]