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Russ Rowland

Russ Rowland photographs everything from theater and corporate events to portraits, abstracts, street scenes, landscapes and images that he creates on the computer in various ways. Many things interest him visually, and he’s a relentless experimenter. http://www.rrsnapshop.com

War Dreamer

March 12, 2023

"War Dreamer" is a compelling exploration into the psychology of a female veteran who served in Iraq. It is a depiction of the struggles of a veteran to make sense of the memories, nightmares, paranormal events, and mental dislocations that intrude daily. Those experiences are more than a function of post-traumatic stress disorder. They result from a life lived in the alien world of war and all that is that experience. The play is a frighteningly accurate presentation of the process that some veterans must navigate as they try to return to a "normal" life. Written by Leegrid Stevens, "War Dreamer" has a storyline that is not straightforward in time and place. It is disconnected from a regular flow of action, with jumps in time, place and reality. However, he skillfully keeps the audience guessing what is real and what is not without losing the story's underlying thread. Stevens makes the audience both witness and participant as he brilliantly weaves his story of trauma and disassociation. [more]

Kissing the Floor

February 26, 2023

The ensemble in this show does an outstanding job. Christina Bennett Lind as Annie gives us a direct and well executed view of a frightened, emotionally conflicted woman amid a psychological breakdown. Wilson convincingly plays Izzy, showing us a character who appears balanced and somewhat detached from the emotional conflict but still leaves room for questions about what may be behind that stable, rational façade. Eckert, as the Warden, plays a crucial part as the bridge to the understanding of the show's central theme and later provides a path to the ending. Finally, Ingulsrud is both Paul and Eddie, presenting characters who, although growing up together, developed radically different reactions to the dysfunction that was and is their family. His embodiment of the disturbed mental state of Paul is exceptional, as is his detached, somewhat arrogant depiction of Eddie. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa at Anthony Rapp’s “Without You”

February 11, 2023

Rapp’s show—directed by Steve Maler, with musical direction/orchestrations by Daniel A. Weiss (who was the associate conductor/second keyboards player of the original Broadway production of Rent)—is quite moving.  I was held by it throughout.  And it is extraordinarily rich with Jonathan Larson songs, including “No Day but Today,” “We’re Dying in America,” “Rent,” “La Vie Boheme,” “One Song Glory,” “Seasons of Love,” “Without You.”   Hearing these familiar songs—which I’ve heard so many times in Rent, performed by multiple singers—in new contexts, now sung solo—gives me an even greater admiration for them.  They are such well-crafted songs, and they have enormous impact here, just as they did in their original contexts. Rapp has an especial affinity for Larson’s work; no one performs Larson’s songs more compellingly.  He has long been the foremost interpreter of Larson’s music.  He “gets” the music completely.  It resonates for him.  No one interprets Larson’s work better. [more]

Without You

January 26, 2023

And that's the agonizing tension in "Without You;" in his lyrical responses to Larson, Rapp is well aware that it's not a back-and-forth, that Larson can't say anything more than he has already. But, just as with "Rent," there is still solace, because I'm sure Rapp, the show's impressive five-member band cozily tucked into Southern's set, and the production crew could hear what I did in the audience: lots of crying. It came with a palpable feeling of not being alone in your thoughts for the dearly departed, especially those taken much too soon. A generation or two removed from having attended "Rent," it was an unspoken bond not only worth revisiting but, if I'm being honest with myself, desperately needed. [more]

Memorial

January 24, 2023

Not only is Livian Yeh’s "Memorial" revealing in its historic depiction of a recent piece of American history, it is additionally a very satisfying dramatic work. It is also very pertinent now with its depiction of racism against Asians shown to have been just as prevalent 40 years ago, as well as how deeply ingrained our unexpressed prejudices go. Jeff Liu’s direction mines all of the play’s nuances, twists and turns. The superb design adds greatly to bringing the play to life, suggesting more than is actually on the stage. With this world premiere, the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre has a current winner as well as a play that should travel well to other theaters around the country. [more]

Eleanor and Alice: Conversations Between Two Remarkable Roosevelts

November 28, 2022

Ellen Abrams’ new play "Eleanor and Alice – Conversations Between Two Remarkable Roosevelts" explores their superficial courtesies in a series of conversations spanning 1904 until 1962, agreeable conversations that reveal an often disagreeable, if not downright adversarial relationship. Scenic designer Frank J. Oliva has divided the stage at Urban Stages into two discrete areas, one representing the Roosevelt estate, Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and the other Eleanor Roosevelt’s charmingly simple home, Val-Kill, in Hyde Park, New York.  Kyle Artone’s costumes are simple representations of the two women as they travel their different paths through history. [more]

Jasper

September 21, 2022

Most poignantly, when Drew starts to wonder if maybe their son's survival has been the opposite of a blessing, Andrea expresses horror for a thought that, thanks to Pimentel's touchingly subtle performance, we know she's had herself. To its strongest credit, MacDermott's play affords all three of its actors the opportunity to find meaning beyond their characters' words. Though, of course, with a less capable trio, this sort of dramatic freedom could have been a disaster. [more]

Los Otros

September 5, 2022

A fresh antidote to the usual brassy, loud rock musicals of today, "Los Otros" slows down the tempo and the sound level with a story of the experiences of two people who learn to love, cope and risk over the course of many decades. Luba Mason and Caesar Samayoa are quite endearing as the two California residents whose lives overlap. They give remarkable performances mainly appearing alone on stage telling and singing their stories. Cudos to librettist Ellen Fitzhugh and composer Michael John LaChiusa for bucking the trend and giving us a deep but small-scale musical revealing two lives through variously well-chosen experiences which add up to lives well lived. Long after you see it, it you will recall incidents that Lillian and Carlos recount. This may be the result of the fact that Los Otros is based on real people and true life experiences. [more]

The Near Disaster of Jasper & Casper

August 30, 2022

As a piece of writing, "The Near Disaster of Jasper & Casper" is whacky and creative, and except for a couple of out-of-place bits of humor, one involving a middle finger and another a candle called “Blow Me,” it is charmingly humorous. The story even becomes lightly touching when Jasper’s love for his brother Casper is tested, and Jasper learns the real meaning of family and what it is to be responsible for others besides himself. "The Near Disaster of Jasper & Casper" is a thoroughly enjoyable, quirky fairy tale told by an expert storyteller, Jason Woods. By the end of this foray into the woods, it was time to go, I hated to leave, I had to, though. Worth a second viewing. [more]

Two Jews, Talking

August 29, 2022

If Samuel Beckett had been a Jew, his "Waiting for Godot"’s Estragon and Vladimir could have emerged as the equally quirky "Two Jews, Talking," in the appealing new two-hander by Ed. Weinberger starring Hal Linden and Bernie Kopell, all three TV legends. The two characters in each one-act play, talk and talk and get nowhere—very pleasantly with just the right touch of surreal mystery. Weinberger ("The Tonight Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi," etc.) has fashioned a quiet tour de force for these two veterans.  Linden, a spry 92, is not only a TV veteran ("Barney Miller") but a star of the Broadway stage, including his Tony Award winning performance in "The Rothschilds."  Kopell (89) is remembered for his long-running turn as the ship’s doctor in "The Love Boat" among many other appearances. [more]

Gratitude

June 10, 2022

The animated Aline Salloum fearlessly embraces all of Najaf’s unsettling complexities, delivering a riveting performance. In the early sexually frank verbal exchanges, Ms. Salloum marvelously recalls Elaine May’s matter of fact comedic brilliance. With his captivating boy next door presence, Erik Larsson as Drew offers a smashing characterization combining naiveté and Machiavellianism. As Josh and Ben, the equally commanding and personable Jalen Ford and Jake Bryan Guthrie wonderfully evoke boyish randiness and adolescent confusion. Though clearly not teens, this youthful quartet are totally and effortlessly believable in their roles. [more]

Three Sisters

May 22, 2022

While this is not an in-depth interpretation and at times seems a bit superficial, Will Pomerantz’s production of "Three Sisters" is a true ensemble making it appear that these people have lived together for years. His new adaptation in contemporary idiom is easy on the ears and easy to comprehend. The pacing of the production is always on the move which is saying a good deal when it comes to Three Sisters which is often performed in a glacial style to mirror the characters’ boredom and disappointments. Here the characters complain about their fate but get on with their lives. [more]

Our Brother’s Son

May 6, 2022

Freshman playwright Charles Gluck, a retired gastroenterologist who has finally followed his dream to write a play, has turned out one terrific piece of theater. There is virtually no superfluous dialogue in this script; almost every line serves a specific purpose, whether it’s to provide key exposition, continue to build the play’s fully three-dimensional characters or to accelerate and intensify the dramatic through point. [more]

Wit

January 8, 2022

Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit, an exquisitely literate and dramatically poignant piece, would certainly suffer in the hands of less than able artists. Fortunately, the production currently running at The Paradise Factory is in well-talented hands and does the material proud. Director Brynn Asha Walker (who also provides sound design and plays Nurse Susie Monahan) has carefully shaped this production for maximum impact, cultivating Stage Four ovarian cancer patient/professor Dr. Vivian Bearing’s (Erin Cronican) gripping descent from dignity to death in a compelling manner. The lighting design by Scott Monnin coupled with Phoenix Lion’s projections of well-placed phrases from the script artfully provide mood and thought provocation, all enhanced by Walker’s sound design. [more]

My Mother’s Severed Head

September 16, 2021

Sadly, these promises aren’t kept in this mishmash of plots and characters that never quite meshes into a viable whole; it remains an unsteady comedy/fantasy never morphing into a smooth-running play.  Cissel awkwardly interrupts the play, alternating reality—such as it is—with colorful dance/mime sequences.   The characters—including the Mother/aka Severed Head—yell at each other, most often about that poor, ubiquitous head, garishly made up for the Mexican celebration of El Día de los Muertos. Every time the head speaks her mind the play comes to impudent life. [more]

Friends! The Musical Parody

July 28, 2021

The problem with the show now at The Jerry Orbach Theater is director Tim Drucker’s frenetic, over-the-top staging and the artificially broad presentational style of the acting, similar to - but beyond - what he did in his 2019 production of "Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody" at the same theater. It is as though he does not trust the material. Matthew Fischer’s sound design for the taped score by composer Assaf Gleizner (to Gleizner’s orchestrations) is overly loud and fast, overpowering the clever lyrics which are well worth hearing for their stinging barbs at the television series. It also makes all of the songs sound the same, except for some short, slower folk ballads set to guitar accompaniment which are mostly oddball numbers for Phoebe to play in her gig as a folksinger. [more]

About Love

March 12, 2020

The inspiration for "About Love" is Ivan Turgenev’s "First Love," one of the greatest of all novellas. Subtitled “a play with songs and music,” that is exactly what it is: a dramatic presentation with five songs and underscoring by jazz musician and composer Nancy Harrow. However, unlike Harrow’s adaptation of Hawthorne’s "The Marble Faun," retitled "For the Last Time," director Will Pomerantz’s text appears to be taken directly from a translation from the original Russian without anything additional. The lovely show is best described as story theater in which all of the characters narrate at one time or another, at times alternating a single event, and all but the hero and heroine playing multiple roles. If one is looking for a musical, this is not it, but it eventually is a captivating staging of the story, if a bit on the long side. [more]

Rules of Desire

February 25, 2020

"Extremities" on a ship best sums up its playwright William Mastrosimone’s adept, if off-kilter, new psychological thriller "Rules of Desire," that’s been given a tidy production. In it, a dim 22-year-old U.S. Navy enlistee smuggles his troubled 18-year-old girlfriend in a duffel bag onto the aircraft carrier on which he is stationed. The couple surreptitiously sets up house in an airlock, but their connubial bliss is threatened by the licentious Chief Petty Officer discovering their love nest. Psychosexual hijinks ensue. [more]

Seesaw

February 18, 2020

Although J2 Spotlight’s artistic director Robert W. Schneider who staged this show has given it a vigorous production and cast a delightful Gittel in Stephanie Israelson, he is unable to disguise the show’s flaws. He is not helped by the trite, derivative choreography by Caitlin Belcik for a show that is mainly dance and has eight dancers out of a cast of nine. The many production numbers are both busy and familiar, and keep the ensemble composed of Kyle Caress, Chaz Alexander Coffin, Katie Griffith, Caleb Grochalski, Morgan Hecker and Halle Mastroberardino spinning throughout the show. [more]

Happy Birthday Doug

February 16, 2020

Mr. Droege’s sharp and well-observed writing renders each of these familiar figures with biting depth, achieving grand mini-portraiture. Though preoccupied with comedy, an undercurrent of proportioned sentiment elevates the work above mere caricature. Promiscuity, aging, drugs, alcohol, loneliness and the past are among the issues eloquently explored in relation to the gay male lifestyle. Droege’s shrewd structure has each of the participants alternatively popping up to chatter while imparting pertinent personal details, fueling the semblance of a narrative. [more]

Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn

January 27, 2020

"Romeo & Bernadette," a fresh take on Shakespeare’s oft-adapted tale of love, is an unabashed valentine to inter-era romance.  Shakespeare’s Romeo (cutie-pie Nikita Burshteyn, perfectly cast) is magically time-travelled to 1960’s Brooklyn to seek Bernadette (beautiful Anna Kostakis who plays both the foul-mouthed Bernadette and the demure Juliet), a striking doppelganger of his beloved sixteenth century Juliet.  There he meets members of two rival Italian mobs who substitute, 1960-style, for the Capulets and Montagues. [more]

How to Load a Musket

January 25, 2020

An essay more than a play, with players as opposed to characters, "How to Load a Musket" is a racist diatribe that fails to make its points coherently. The costumes and appointments on the walls of a black box space say all that there is to say in a play that ultimately leaves one wanting for more. The scenic design by Lawrence E. Moten III is the show’s best asset. [more]

The Santa Closet

December 10, 2019

Houses on the Moon Theater Company’s delightful and earnest mission is to “dispel ignorance and isolation through the theatrical amplification of unheard voices.” "The Santa Closet," another one-man show written and performed by the company’s co-founder Jeffrey Solomon, doesn’t reach the lofty goals of some of his other plays; however, the newly updated, tenth-year anniversary production of this frothy, zany tale is nevertheless aloft with quite a few grins and chuckles. [more]

Confidence (and the Speech)

November 24, 2019

Political plots can be dry as toast. Hatem attempts to spice things up by crossing the genders of the actors playing Carter and young Cynthia; the convention is an interesting choice although it really doesn’t add any new light to the characters or story and is sometimes distracting.  Not to worry, though, the script is smart, imaginative, humorous at the right times and keeps its audience interested. [more]

Hooked on Happiness

November 19, 2019

Although the show is 80 minutes without an intermission, it just breezes right by and one is never bored. The music, played by Peter Dizozza (on piano), Ralph Hamperian (on bass) and Art Lilliard (on drums), keeps the show moving at perfect tempo. From ballads to disco tune, from rap to group numbers, the music is spot on. Sound designer Alex Santullo delivers a pitch-perfect musical. [more]

Panama Hattie

October 29, 2019

While the original production had a great many one-of-a-kind stars supporting Merman, one of the distinctions of the York production is its cast: Montel has been able to obtain the services of Klea Blackhurst for Hattie Maloney, the Ethel Merman role. Blackhurst, you may know, has specialized in Merman for years including her tribute show "Everything  the Traffic Will Allow" as well as appearing in the Merman roles in revivals of "Anything Goes," "Red, Hot and Blue," "Call Me Madam" and The York’s staging of "Happy Hunting." Montel has also surrounded her with seasoned theater veterans including Stephen Bogardus, Simon Jones, Gordon Stanley and David Green. The members of the singing and dancing chorus are equally talented. [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]

Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo

September 29, 2019

Katsura Sunshine is the stage name of this charismatic 49-year-old Toronto-born performer who relocated to Japan and apprenticed to a Rakugo artiste. Mr. Sunshine eventually became a notable practitioner in his own right and has the distinction of being a Westerner. Sunshine is affable, animated and possessed of a pleasing fast-paced vocal delivery that demonstrates comic timing and dramatic heft with a Canadian lilt. This vocal expressiveness combined with his shock of jagged blonde hair, striking facial features that he contorts into a gallery of expressions enables him to command the stage. Wearing a kimono, kneeling at a small table and handling the hallowed props of a fan and a hand cloth, he evokes the genre’s essence with assured authenticity. [more]

Tech Support

September 9, 2019

Deborah Whitfield’s 'Tech Support" offers a clever idea in order to review feminism in the past century. Unfortunately, her rather superficial approach misses a great many opportunities. The romantic comedy aspect of the play is not entirely believable and works to the detriment of the play’s serious elements. The slick production is entertaining without ever delving below the surface even though it attempts to cover a great many important and serious issues, many of which are not yet solved today. Don’t blame the actors who do their best with the material they have been given. [more]

Stormy Weather

August 19, 2019

Mr. Wills’ demonstrates a facility for dramatic writing with his snappy dialogue and fast-paced scenario that inspires laughter and also incites thoughtfulness. Amidst the merriment are keen insights into the gay male experience including aging, relationships and promiscuity. "Stormy Weather," though, is more Ray Cooney than Tony Kushner. [more]

I Spy A Spy

July 21, 2019

Cluttered, lively and quaint, the zany musical comedy "I Spy A Spy" is reminiscent of the sort of lightweight material directorial legend George Abbott would have had a go at in the late 1960’s. This show recalls the Abbott efforts "How Now, Dow Jones" and "The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N" that William Goldman analyzed in his classic 1969 behind the scenes account "The Season." Abbott did his best with those disappointments just as the creative team for I Spy A Spy does. [more]

Reborning

July 16, 2019

There is a prevailing sense that the script tries to cover too much intellectual ground on the topic of reborning in too short a time frame, placing a burden on the characters to experience more than would seem realistic in an ordinary world. Nevertheless, through the efforts of the actors and valiant direction by Triolo, this dark play does succeed in bringing to light some of the complexities of motherhood, child loss and abandonment through the very unique reborning lens. Check it out for yourself. [more]

Madame Lynch

May 31, 2019

Eliza Lynch (1833-1886) was an Irishwoman who grew up in France and became a courtesan. In 1854 she began a relationship with Francisco Solano López, the son of Paraguay’s president. He later succeeded his father and Lynch became First Lady. He was killed in battle in 1870. Her time in Paraguay was controversial as she was thought to have instigated wars and conflicts. She was banished and returned to France, dying in obscurity. Thank you, Wikipedia, for these details because they’re scant in this treatment. Ms. Sherwood and Mr. Flanagin are more concerned with superficial theatrics rather than concretely crafting a comprehensible narrative chronicling the life of a fascinating figure who was a cross between "Barry Lyndon" and "Evita." [more]
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