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The Duke on 42nd Street

Mothers

September 26, 2019

The first act of Anna Moench's "Mothers" concludes with a genuine shock as the playwright startlingly upends all of our expectations. Visually punctuated by Wilson Chin's suddenly not-so-stable set, this audacious turn suggests Moench's intermittently funny satire of upper middle-class motherhood at a "Gymboree-style playroom" has only been a prelude to something much more challenging and profound. Unfortunately, what you soon begin to suspect is that Moench just ran out of narrative steam and started writing something else. [more]

Measure for Measure (The Acting Company)

August 10, 2019

William Shakespeare’s "Measure for Measure" (circa 1604)—the story of a woman who is sexually victimized by a man in power—seems as though it would lend itself to an adaptation crafted in light of the #MeToo movement. To some extent, The Acting Company’s streamlined 95-minute modern-dress version proves itself a good fit for such an approach, although there are elements of Shakespeare’s play that don’t quite conform seamlessly with what director Janet Zarish seems to be going for. [more]

Native Son

August 9, 2019

Kelley’s adaptation begins with the murder of Mary which avoids preparing us for the limited life of opportunity that Bigger leads in the Black Belt of Chicago. Told in a fragmentary form often with flashbacks within flashbacks, it is only possible to put the chronology together if one knows the novel. Kelley has also eliminated the powerful speech to the jury by Bigger’s lawyer which is one of the most famous of all statements on social racism and the constricted environmental influences on people living in the ghetto. [more]

Hans Christian Andersen: Tales Real & Imagined

May 7, 2019

Eve Wolf’s new play for the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, titled "Hans Christian Andersen: Tales Real & Imagined," suggests that the real-life Andersen might actually have appreciated whitewashed depictions of his life, maybe even the Kaye movie. The Andersen that Wolf gives us is an unattractive and unhappy misfit. We hear, though, more than once, his mantra of self-assuring optimism—which, it seems, fooled no one, including the storyteller himself: [more]

Maestro

January 16, 2019

Eve Wolf’s play is essentially a monodrama, with John Noble portraying the title character. The production is a rich one, both visually and aurally. It features an abundance of live music, performed by a vivacious string quartet (violinists Mari Lee and Henry Wang, violist Matthew Cohen, and cellist Ari Evan), along with a pianist (Zhenni Li) and a trumpeter (Maximilian Morel). In addition, excerpts from historical recordings are heard. Meanwhile, extensive animated projections from designer David Bengali become central to the overall effect. The play is a kaleidoscopic, sense-stimulating experience that seems at times just to avoid becoming a three-ring circus. [more]

The Saintliness of Margery Kempe

July 19, 2018

The cast list in the program reads more like a medieval phone-directory--even if there were no phones in the Middle Ages--than it does a dramatis personae. And then there’s what happens to the characters during the course of the play which is as hard to say as it is to remember all of their names, let alone pronounce them. [more]

The Metromaniacs

April 26, 2018

To add that "The Metromaniacs" also contains a play within the play, in which all of the characters are apparently playing themselves, might begin to suggest how confusing it all becomes, especially since they all enter and exit with a rapidity as if there were indeed a fire in the house--meaning Francalou’s no less than The Duke Theater on 42nd Street. [more]

Peter Pan (Bedlam)

November 25, 2017

Such changes as Captain Hook being a woman or Tinker Bell speaking French are neither explained nor meaningful, while some of the doubling simply makes the play hard to follow as the characters are not listed in the programs which are given out after the performance. A voice-over which appears to read stage directions from the original is both intrusive and inconsistent: why some characters but not others? There is a dark psychological story hidden in Barrie’s tale of a boy who refuses to grow up but this isn’t it. Whereas the original play is joyful, Bedlam’s Peter Pan is a glum affair in which no one seems to be having a very good time. Where is the Bedlam which brought such purposeful insight and visual dazzle to its previous work? The actors, mostly playing children, try hard but fail to bring the work to life. [more]

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias

September 16, 2017

The awkwardly titled "The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias" has problems beyond its nomenclature. What, if anything, is it ultimately about? Though it claims to be a “satirical” look at the subject of rape, any satire is lost in the mixed results of the presentation. If anything, the play seems too subtle and nuanced for its own good. [more]

The Government Inspector

June 2, 2017

Director Jesse Berger’s fast-paced staging is an exuberant amalgam of physical and verbal virtuosity combined with visual flair. A highlight is a crowd of characters hurrying into a closet and popping out one by one that’s out of a Marx Brothers movie. There’s also the spectacle of a group of bearded, shabby villagers of various heights storming The Mayor’s house in their flowing garments. [more]

The Moors

March 18, 2017

Although the play demonstrates a surface knowledge of the genre and the period, it wants to have it both ways: it takes place in 1840 in a desolate mansion on the Yorkshire Moors but the characters talk and behave as though it is the present. It appears to be making a feminist statement by making all the members of the household female but has nothing new to say on the subject other than as a variation on these famous novels. And it attempts to be funny but isn’t clever or surprising enough to trigger much laughter. [more]

The Wolves

December 9, 2016

The audience sits on either side of the large runway stage that set designer Laura Jellinek has arrestingly fashioned into an indoor soccer field. It’s a green vista of Astro Turf that gives the sense “…that the field goes on forever,” writes playwright Sarah DeLappe in her stage directions. [more]

¡Figaro! (90210)

March 25, 2016

Virtually performed all in English with some Spanish for comic effect," ¡Figaro! (90210)" is true to the art form with recitative and arias, that is sung speech and grand solos rather then integrated dialogue and songs that characterize traditional musical comedy. Supertitles are projected above the stage for anything that may be vocally indecipherable. [more]

Perfect Arrangement

November 1, 2015

"Perfect Arrangement," Topher Payne’s first play to reach New York, is a well-crafted and engrossing play with much to say and has been magnificently staged in its Off Broadway debut. Don’t let the initial sit-com style fool you: this play has several serious messages at its heart about our personal freedoms and how repression starts at home. [more]

Informed Consent

August 24, 2015

Deborah Zoe Laufer’s fascinating and engrossing "Informed Consent" tells three interlocking stories that eventually become one by the end. Under Liesl Tommy’s assured direction and with Tina Benko’s riveting central performance as a research scientist, the play, co-produced by Primary Stages and Ensemble Studio Theatre under the auspices of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, deals with such issues as genetic testing, science versus religion, scientific ethics, and early onset Alzheimer’s. Inspired by a true story," Informed Consent" uses various theatrical devices to tell its compelling story and remind us of the necessary work needing to be done if we are to find cures for unsolved diseases like diabetes which involve a great many victims. [more]

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

May 6, 2015

We associate Jacobean revenge tragedy with the reign of King James I. Each play’s atrocities seemed to dare the next playwright with an unspoken “Can you top this?” Playwright John Ford continued the genre under the next king, Charles I, coming up with new and even more lurid variations. Red Bull Theater which specializes in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries is offering a staging of Ford’s rarely revived masterpiece "‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore." While artistic director Jesse Berger has piloted a solid production which is a good introduction to this unfamiliar play, it all seems a bit tame when the script seems to cry out for tremendous excesses. As always, however, with Red Bull productions, the diction in this revival is impeccable and totally intelligible. [more]

Lives of the Saints

March 9, 2015

The advantage of an evening of one acts is that you are bound to like one, while a single long play may disappoint you. After a series of very successful full-lengths that include Venus in Fur and School for Lies, David Ives has returned to Primary Stages and the one-act form with a new evening, "Lives of the Saints," for the first time since his 1997’s Mere Mortals. Unlike his masterpiece in this genre, "All in the Timing," (also seen in New York at Primary Stages in both 1993 and 2013), out of the six playlets (five of which are receiving their New York premieres), three are terrific ones and three fall flat. Don’t blame the game cast of expert comedians made up of Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, Rick Holmes, Kelly Hutchinson and Liv Rooth or director John Rando, a longtime Ives collaborator on six New York shows. The best ones are clever premises brilliantly developed, while the minor ones are blackout sketches drawn out to inordinate length. [more]