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Off-Broadway

Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy

February 13, 2024

Sarah Gancher’s "Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy" is seemingly torn from the headlines - if this were the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election which pitted Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. In 2024, it seems rather past its due date. Although it calls itself a comedy, it is not very funny but rather outrageous in its depicting of Russian misinformation intended for the American internet to influence the voters to cast their ballot for Trump rather than Clinton. What Gancher has written cannot make up its mind whether it is a comedy, satire, parody, drama or tragedy or a combination of all the above, which is problematic. Under Darko Tresnjak’s direction, don’t blame the hard working cast led by film and stage star Christine Lahti, all of whom throw themselves into their offbeat roles with abandon. [more]

The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the First World War

February 8, 2024

The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) is presenting “an innovative re-interpretation of a classic, combining live performances with puppets” at the resourceful Theater for the New City in the East Village. "The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the First World War" is a classic journey into a satirical, picaresque anti-war message first revealed in the novel by Jaroslav Hašek published in several volumes in the early twenties. It is one of the most translated books by a Czech writer.  Hašek served in World War I and his experiences fueled his sardonically funny novel. Švejk was adapted for stage productions soon after by such theater luminaries as Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht.  The new, loose-legged adaptation at TNC is by Vít Hořejš who also directed this production. [more]

The Following Evening

February 7, 2024

Although written and directed by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone of 600 Highwaymen, "The Following Evening" is a tribute and a summing up of the 50 year career and marriage of experimental theater legends Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet, co-founding members of the Talking Band. In the past they were usually seen at La MaMa ETC, but the new show is part of the inaugural season at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) in the black box theater known as Theater C. The space is perfectly suitable to the minimalist performance piece which includes all four actors. [more]

Jonah

February 3, 2024

The play is best at its mysteries which are only slowly revealed. However, audience members may be confused part of the time as to the sequence of events and the relationships. A great deal is never resolved. The scene transitions are accompanied by blaring sound and flashing lights (sound by Kate Marvin; lighting by Amith Chandrashaker) which at times suggest that at least one or more scenes may be fantasies. The costumes by Kaye Voyce remain basically the same but Gabby Beans as Ana seems to grow in poise and maturity though very subtly from teenager to maturity. Although set at first 20 years ago, the male characters often talk of permission for intimacy, something that was not common parlance that long ago. [more]

The Fantastical Fellowship: Final Quest for the Crisis Crystal XXVII

January 31, 2024

The hardworking cast takes us along on the quest by playing multiple characters and using a wide array of props scattered on tables at the edge of the performance space. The transformations are not always smooth, which leads to some humorous moments. The jokes are corny, some of which are groan-worthy. The show lacks coherence and has an amateurish feel, never taking itself seriously as drama. [more]

Our Class

January 26, 2024

Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s "Our Class" is epic in its storytelling and shocking in its specifics. At three hours, the play is never long or boring as every line of dialogue offers new details to be digested as ten lives are laid out for us. While rather busy Igor Golyak’s production is always illuminating, always compelling. The cast of ten mostly young actors, many unfamiliar to New York audiences, are always riveting as they tell their individual and intertwining stories. What may be most shocking is that in Jan Gross’ prose account in his 2001 book "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwadne, Poland" he reveals was that this is not the only Polish town in which these atrocities against the Jews took place. One realizes why the world premiere of "Our Class" took place in Great Britain and not Poland. [more]

Pride House

January 23, 2024

While “Pride” has come to stand for Gay Liberation in contemporary times, Beatrice has named her house after Jane Austen’s novel as it is made clear when she names her new guesthouse “Prejudice” at the end of the play. The play’s cast of characters includes mostly real people under their own names: John Mosher, film critic for The New Yorker Magazine; Arthur Brill, decorator and furniture designer; Natalia Danesi Murray, a Broadway actress and later journalist and editor; and Edwin Marshall, an African American dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. Unfortunately, neither the play nor the program makes it clear that these were all real people or that they were well known in their time. The play also does a certain amount of name dropping (Eva Le Gallienne, Gypsy Rose Lee, Janet Flanner) that may go over the heads of many of the younger theatergoers today. [more]

Crime and Punishment

January 22, 2024

Tyson’s portrayal of Raskolnikov is riveting as he moves through the elements leading inexorably to his mental collapse. The exchanges with Porfiry are woven together with encounters with the people in his life that had an impact on his present mental state. Each of these ancillary scenes are used to fill gaps in the storyline needed to clarify Raskolnikov’s mental state and the exchanges that take place with the inspector. Lenartz gives a first-rate performance not only of Porfiry, but of all the characters he inhabits. He transforms into each of these characters with small changes in costume and with his movement and speech. He makes each of the ancillary characters distinct. This same skill is evident in Stone’s portrayal of all the women in the story, with small changes in costume and physicality she becomes a new character. The only quibble I have is with her portrayal of the character Sonia. The age of the character is important in the story, and although Stone does not fit the part, it does not diminish the impact of the performance. [more]

Ernie’s Secret Life

January 11, 2024

The show is well presented but lacks a clear narrative, leaving viewers with more questions than answers. Is it about a man's journey to self-discovery or an exploration into a confusing haze of fantasy and hallucination brought on by a mental breakdown? The added storylines used to illustrate narrative points do not clarify the overall thematic structure of the production but add layers to the mystery of Ernie’s mental state. If you like theater, even with the limitations in exposition, it is worth the effort to experience a production outside of what people typically consider dramatic staging. [more]

The Whole of Time

January 8, 2024

Aside from the title not being explained, the Jean Graham-Jones translation seems to end very abruptly. Nothing is settled at the end of its short running time and it certainly feels like more is to come, unlike Williams’ play. There are also too many unanswered questions like what does Ursula do that supports the family of three, why has Lorenzo chosen Spain to move to, what event caused Antonia to stop going out, what is the relationship between Lorenzo and Maximiliano, etc. While Ursula is proud of her Hungarian and Mexican heritage we don’t learn much about it. The Whole of Time plays like a sketch of a play that hasn’t been written or that need a second act to deal with all the loose ends. [more]

The Gospel According to Chaim

December 29, 2023

There are few issues that raise the ire of the religious as a member changing religions.  Apostate is the mildest term used for such a person. Mikhl Yashinsky’s "The Gospel According to Chaim" at Theater for the New City tells of such a person, the eponymous Chaim Einspruch, played with beatific authority by the author, himself.  This is a true story and a rarity: a contemporary play written in Yiddish. (Supertitle translation is provided.) Chaim Einspruch wrote the first Yiddish translation of the New Testament, a shanda of the highest order since this acknowledges the existence of Jesus as “the Savior.” [more]

The Night of the Iguana

December 26, 2023

The latest Tennessee Williams revival is the first major New York staging of "The Night of the Iguana" since Roundabout Theatre’s 1996 production. Emily Mann’s version with a great many well-known stage actors (Tim Daly, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea DeLaria, Austin Pendleton and Jean Lichty) is a solid reading of the play though there is little chemistry between the main characters. Also at almost three hours, the production seems long though it does not drag. Visually the production with Jeff Croiter’s impressionistic lighting is stunning though the set by Beowulf Boritt may be a bit too large for what is basically an intimate play. Nevertheless, the revival is a good introduction to a Williams play not seen too often and best known from the somewhat different 1964 film version by John Huston which gave Richard Burton one of his best screen roles. [more]

Rachel Bloom: Death, Let Me Do My Show

December 22, 2023

Dressed in a glittery, silver suit—costumes by Kristin Isola—Bloom immediately takes control of an audience who already admire her from her standup comedy and her bitterly funny TV show, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" plus her solo tour of "What Am I Going to Do with My Life Life?" and, perhaps, from the recent iteration of this amusing musing of life and death and birth and Covid. Bloom ponders her pre-pandemic self and the trauma of the birth of her daughter who had a life-threatening condition.  Covid limited her visits to her baby in the NICU and caused the death of her close friend and writing partner Adam Schlesinger who, ironically, shared the NICU when it was partly converted to a Covid ward. [more]

Less Lonely

December 17, 2023

Jes succeeds where some other bio-storytellers fail. Jes’ secret is being comfortable in their own skin to relate intensely personal experiences yet create a sense of universality, or community, that envelops the entire audience. You may not always agree, but chances are good you will be laughing with Jes, and not at Jes. As Jes puts it, “Most of my material takes at least two semesters of gender studies to truly understand.” As with most other autobiographical journeys, we get a heavy dose of self-deprecating humor, “I like when people call me 'they,' it makes me feel less lonely. Like someone can be like, 'That’s Jes, they’re gonna go smoke a spliff' and it sounds like I had a friend.” Reflecting on early career choices, “I was doing non-binary comedy in straight bars and clubs that were ten straight guys and one woman, and the woman was me. And I was like 'I’m not sure I’m the guy for the job but I’ll do my best for the culture. ' ” [more]

Manahatta

December 14, 2023

Mary Kathryn Nagle’s "Manahatta" now at The Public Theater, just blocks from where most of the story takes place, is a fascinating combination of American history and recent events. Nagle who is a Native American has written a play that combines the Dutch purchase of the island of Manhattan in 1626 from the Delaware Lenapes with the Wall Street home-mortgage crisis of 2008 where many disenfranchised people lost their homes. She also includes the contemporary Lenape community living today in Anadarko, Oklahoma, after they had been evicted from their Texas reservation. While the three time-frames of the play run concurrently, they all come together in a devastating ending that indicts the capitalist system as well as how Native Americans have been treated in this country. [more]

Spain

December 13, 2023

Until now it has been believed that the 1937 Joris Ivens-Ernest Hemingway documentary "The Spanish Earth" was paid for by a corporation called Contemporary Historians sponsored by some of the most famous liberal writers of the time: playwright Lillian Hellman, mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, poet, screenwriter and essayist Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell, poet Archibald MacLeish, novelists John Dos Passos and Hemingway. However, in "Spain," contemporary playwright Jen Silverman has another idea: what if this famously propaganda film was financed by the KGB and that filmmaker Ivens and his girlfriend/editor Helen van Dongen were agents for KGB operatives in New York? [more]

Export Quality

December 11, 2023

Through a technologically astute production and fine acting, their intertwining stories unfold in a dramatic tapestry that reveals the sad business of mail-order brides.  Using an intricate combination of pre-recorded videos, live video feeds and “ghost voices” (Joy Tamayo), the live actors emerge as engaging and moving women, their fates becoming ever more fascinating and heartbreaking. [more]

The Inheritance of a Long-Term Fault

December 9, 2023

"The Inheritance of a Long-Term Fault," written by Mêlisa Annis and directed by Vanessa Morosco, is an extraordinary play that explores how the societal structures across many cultures have shaped cultural interactions and defined what is viewed as societal norms to the present day. It is a provocative, thought-provoking look at how colonial patriarchal behaviors and attitudes about women's roles persist into the present day. It is a show worth seeing and, more importantly, exploring the ideas engendered by it. [more]

Lone Star

December 7, 2023

Probably only David Rabe’s "Sticks and Bones" (part of his Vietnam trilogy that included "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel" and "Streamers") is as demonstrative as "Lone Star" in its depiction of a soldier’s inability to easily pick up from where he left off upon returning from a tour of duty. For this production, Ruth Stage, in an adaptation by director Joe Rosario and actor Matt de Rogatis, has been given the rights to append the character of Elizabeth to the original "Lone Star" cast. Her character is from a companion McLure play, "Laundry and Bourbon," which has a history of being performed in repertory with "Lone Star." Elizabeth is Roy’s wife, therefore Ray’s sister-in-law. [more]

Madwomen of the West

December 7, 2023

Playing women of a certain age, four women stars of stage and screen who became famous a while ago play friends of a certain age who meet for a birthday brunch in Sandra Tsing Loh’s "Madwomen of the West." The ensuing hilarity will be of most interest to baby boomers who still worship Gloria Steinem, Mary Tyler Moore and Hilary Clinton, but others will also find this an entertaining show as breezily directed by Thomas Caruso. The roles fit actresses Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner and Melanie Mayron returning to the New York stage so well that one might think they were playing facets of themselves or of their screen personas. [more]

Mind Mangler: A Night of Tragic Illusion

December 4, 2023

"Mind Mangler: A Night of Tragic Illusion," starring the genial, but daffy, Henry Lewis, is part of the “gone wrong” franchise by Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields: "Peter Pan Goes Wrong" and "The Play that Goes Wrong," the latter of which is still playing in the same theater complex as "Mind Mangler." Like its sister shows, this is a goofy, but intelligent mix of silliness and sophistication. [more]

‘Til Death

December 1, 2023

The secrets revealed seem more contrived and clichéd and take away from the moving story of Mary’s battle with cancer.   Nick behaves badly.  Lucy has a drug habit and Jason questions his legitimacy in the family—all turn "‘Til Death" into a soap opera, a beautifully acted soap opera, yes, but still a soap. Kaye and Cuccioli provide the emotional heft, particularly in a tender scene when, for a few minutes, the rest of the family isn’t around.  Both are expert actors and find all the rich opportunities to give life to Coplan’s words. [more]

United Nations: The Other West

November 28, 2023

"United Nations: The Other West," written and directed by Bossert, is an outstanding example of the hybrid theatrical system he has created. This production is an extension of his 2022 "United Nations: The Border and The Coast" with connections to stories streamed on Thirdwing’s internet platform. This form of theatrical production aims to bridge theater and film in a way that tells important stories that pierce the limitations of traditional theater and allow for a more expansive exploration of characters and themes. Bossert’s direction of an exceptional ensemble delivers an entertaining evening of theatre with humor and important ideas. This is not derivative of any other production; it stands alone as a play worth seeing. [more]

Amusements

November 27, 2023

There are frequent breaks in thought such as “I forgot to mention at the top that I will be injecting my jokes with a bit of humor tonight as a way to keep them both engaging and fun.” Thanks for clarifying the job description. This is just one of many exclamations to the obvious. Director Nemuna Ceesay keeps us guessing. Are we watching an actor portraying a comedian/lounge performer? Does the comedian/lounge performer think he’s funny? What if no one laughs? A bit later there’s a recitation that goes on longer than it needs to. We start waiting for a punchline that never comes. And then it does…As it was introduced as a voice-over, “That was the opening paragraph of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, sold wherever Moby Dick by Herman Melville is sold. [more]

Make Me Gorgeous!

November 25, 2023

As Kenneth/Kate Marlowe, Wade McCollum not only becomes the character but inhabits it. Required to act as narrator as well as performer in both male and female attire, McCollum is totally convincing. His personal charm and rapport with the audience also makes this a pleasurable experience. Make Me Gorgeous! is an unusual biographical show as the details of Kenneth Marlowe’s story will likely be unfamiliar to most theatergoers who will also be entertained by the musical portions of the evening. [more]

Waiting for Godot

November 21, 2023

Ironically there is no rapport or chemistry between Shannon and Sparks playing friends who have been traveling together for 50 years. As Estragon, in need of sleep and with shoes that don’t fit, Shannon’s deadpan demeanor and poker face expression are unsuitable for a play in which all the actors have is their ability to communicate with each other as there is not much action, and less plot. As the more self-sufficient Vladimir, Sparks is better and more expressive but he can’t carry the play alone. Playing opposites, one pessimistic, one optimistic, it is important that we feel the tension and the link between them which here is latent. They are also somewhat younger than the roles are usually cast considering they mention having been together for five decades. [more]

Scene Partners

November 19, 2023

It takes an artist of the stature and extraordinary talent of Wiest to keep Caswell’s fragmented play from flying off in all directions as it veers from reality to fantasy and from flashback to the present.  Or, is the entire plot, which takes an embittered 75-year-old widow from the depths of the Mid-west to the depths of Hollywood, just a figment of her yearning imagination? The tale of Meryl Kowalski (both names exuding meaning) is of the oft-told a-star-is-born genre:  an unknown hopeful, through lucky breaks and gumption, manages to become a movie star.  Sounds simple, right? Not here.  Caswell ("Wet Brain' and "Man Cave") will not allow her story to be told in a linear fashion. [more]

Sad Boys in Harpy Land

November 18, 2023

Tatarsky uses language in a fresh way, ultimately giving the sensation of having created her own. There are so many thoughts overlapping, and there are accompanying unintelligible sounds and gurgling (some of that happens during her coffee “breaks” and those coffee cups seem to be hidden absolutely everywhere), yet we follow her. When she references a new text, she will nonchalantly drop “I assume everyone here has read the book, yah? Great.” Of course, hasn’t everyone read "Die Ausbildung und Reisen von Wilhelm Meister"??? Her spontaneous body language may very well be choreographed but even there we have a very approachable and comforting whimsy throughout. [more]

A Good Day to Me Not to You

November 18, 2023

As a work of writing, "A Good Day to Me Not to You" is blisteringly funny and seems deceptively shapeless, almost like a meandering evening of stand-up comedy, until it comes together to a fine point--that of the story of a woman who’s lost so much of herself she doesn’t know where to begin to find what’s left. Will she even be able to do so? Will Meecie leave the women’s shelter within the suggested year’s time, or will she remain until the end of her days, hoarding forks and fading into the canary yellow walls, another lost soul whose “RIP” is posted on the community corkboard in the dining hall? [more]

Arcadia

November 17, 2023

This being Bedlam famous for its experimental revivals, the second act is handled differently. The audience is asked to leave their seats in the amphitheater and when they return are given other seats now arranged on what had been the stage of the theater before. The second act then takes place mostly in the seats that were just vacated. Unfortunately, as both acts are supposed to take place in the same setting this is rather distracting. The opening of the second act is a speech given by Bernard which makes perfect sense in what now looks like a college lecture hall or an amphitheater but the rest of that act makes little sense in such a setting. In each act, a character enters and is made to walk through one of the rows of the audience, not only breaking the fourth wall of the theater so to speak but also inconveniencing everyone seated in that row. [more]

Poor Yella Rednecks

November 16, 2023

Although playwright Qui Nguyen declared early in his earlier play "Vietgone" that “all characters appearing in this work are fictitious,” in his sequel "Poor Yella Rednecks" now at Manhattan Theatre, co-commissioned with South Coast Repertory, the playwright played by Jon Norman Schneider begins by interviewing his 70-year-old mother Tong Nguyen about how his parents built a life in America as Vietnamese refugees. Directed by May Adrales who also directed the earlier play in the same exuberant fashion, the resulting flashbacks are raucous, raunchy and poignant. In what was originally announced as a quintet of plays, "Poor Yella Rednecks" is now described as the middle play of a trilogy. [more]

Ode to the Wasp Woman

November 16, 2023

"Ode to the Wasp Woman," written and directed by Rider McDowell, is a play done in the style of film noir and true crime films of the 1950’s. The show focuses on the events leading up to the death of four actors from the B-movies of the 1950’s: Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Susan Cabot, George Reeves, and Barbara Payton. It is essentially four acts in style and dialogue that are uneven in terms of theatrical structure, but given the nature of B-movies, they fit within the two dominant styles of noir and true crime. Even though McDowell captures the feel of a B-movie, there are issues within the production that don't fit. It also takes some knowledge of B-movies in terms of genres and styles. If you do not know what the B-movies were like, you may not like the show, and even if you are a B-movie fan, you may not pick up on the resemblance to those movies. [more]

Sabbath’s Theater

November 13, 2023

Philip Roth’s 1995 Rabelaisian novel "Sabbath’s Theater" would seem a strange choice for stage adaptation both as it is considered Roth’s raunchiest – if not filthiest – book and it moves around a great deal to places in New England, New York, New Jersey and Venice, Italy. The stage adaptation by journalist Ariel Levy and actor-director John Turturro who also stars in The New Group’s production at the Pershing Square Signature Center is not really a play but a staged reading. Performed by Turturro and two actors, Elizabeth Marvel and Jason Kravits, taking all the other parts, this very doubling reinforces the feeling that this is not a fully realized play. [more]
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