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Jonathan Slaff

Party Clown of the Rich and Famous & The Hungry Mind Buffet

June 7, 2024

There’s so much fascinating material in "Party Clown of the Rich and Famous" and its companion compendium of four short works, "The Hungry Mind Buffet" that it pains me that the works aren’t presented with classier production values, unfortunately a reality in cash-strapped Off-Broadway presentations.  Even so, the evening offers much to savor. [more]

Orson’s Shadow

March 29, 2024

For those interested in both theatrical history and the lives of our former artistic heroes, Pendleton doesn’t disappoint, even if he exaggerates and manipulates the facts a bit.  He does better with Welles and Olivier, both played smartly and quirkily, than he does with Taff’s almost invisible Plowright and Menna’s ghostly, but glamorous Leigh.  Hamilton’s Tynan is more didactic than dramatic, but he looks terrific and keeps the show rolling along. Listening to these giants kvetch and spew is fascinating and strangely satisfying. [more]

Pharaoh

March 23, 2024

This show, as conceived by Shulman, creates a unique theatrical experience combining narrative text with Kathakali, a form of traditional Indian dance exquisitely performed by Kalamandalam John. Shulman gives voice to all the characters, principally the Pharaoh. At the same time, John acts out the 54 different characters in an elaborate costume, colorful make-up (costumes and make-up by Dr. Kalatharangini Mary John), intricate gestures, expressive facial movements, and traditional dance moves of Kathakali. [more]

The Script in the Closet

March 4, 2024

Playwright Joyce Griffen’s idea of farce in her new play "The Script in the Closet" is a series of 48, mostly very short scenes in which to keep the plot going she continually introduces new characters both onstage and offstage as well as new events. Some of the scenes are less than a minute. A good deal of the play happens over the telephone with characters we never meet. The plot is made more and more complicated by new contrivances that have less and less to do with the original premise. Farces usually trigger laughter and have much physical comedy, none of which is present here. [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]

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]

Becoming Chavela

December 25, 2023

Ranchera is a style of traditional Mexican folk music with origins in the ranchos of rural Mexico. The songs are about love, patriotism, or nature and are usually sung by men. The vocals have a rough, raw quality in contrast to the more refined vocalizations of the urban singers. In Mexico City, Chavela defied the norms and sang rancheras with her style and interpretations while staying true to the rawness of delivery and the ideas expressed by the lyrics. Trudeau transforms herself into Chavela with an on-stage costume change and then provides solid interpretations of some of Vargas’ classic rancheras as she takes the audience on an exploration of Vargas' life in Mexico City, a brief time in Cuba and to the mid-1970’s when she stopped performing as a result of all the tequila she had consumed over the years. Although Trudeau's voice is more refined, she still delivers the songs with all the passion and fire needed in some and the introspection and sadness in others. Her embodiment of Vargas is complete. [more]

Killin’ Republicans

December 6, 2023

"Killin’ Republicans," concept and libretto by Dick D. Zigun and music by Arturo Rodriquez, directed by vagabond, is billed as a rock opera about violence towards certain Republican Party leaders since the mid-nineteenth century. It deals with a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations of Republican leaders from the 1850s to President Reagan in 1981. It is supposed to be a discussion about the reasons for the attacks and not a call for violence against Republicans. The entire show is sung or performed in spoken form in various styles as more of a concept concert than an opera. The libretto covers a wide range of events attempting to give context to the multiple incidents but fails to clarify the point of the show. It is a mistake in its present form. [more]

A Séance with Mom

August 23, 2023

Redman’s "A Séance with Mom" at the Chain Studio Theatre veers dizzyingly from one character to another, characters that include middle-aged Nadine who searches for her Mom; her mom, Gussie; an old Reformed Jewish Rabbi; several other Gussies; and, oh yes, Jesus and Gary Cooper, not to mention Shakespeare.  It has to be mentioned that Nadine is the only character who isn’t dead. [more]

Freedom Summer

June 15, 2023

"Freedom Summer," written by Toby Armour and directed by Joan Kane, is a semi-autobiographical story of the playwright's experiences that summer as one of those students risking their lives in the cause of racial justice. It is an important story in the present time as the same "Jim Crow" racist attitudes that controlled the social and political structures of Mississippi in 1964 have come out of the shadows in an effort to restore the white supremacist mechanisms of voter suppression and control. Unfortunately, this play does not deliver the drumbeat of tension that a deeply felt sense of fear, bordering on terror, engenders. That type of feeling was experienced by the participants that summer. Sadly, this production does not well serve that critical, timely subject matter. [more]

Bliss Street

May 7, 2023

The main issue with this show is the lack of clarity in the book. Who is the play about, the father or the son? Act I is primarily a story about Paul Sub and his business ventures leading up to the creation of The Coventry. Act II is more about Charlie Sub and how his father's business decisions impacted Charlie's life. In both cases, the story's elements need to be restructured to make it more compelling. Does it matter what type of romantic relationship Charlie develops in LA? Did Paul's liquor store fail after the robbery? The book needs to be edited to define clearly which story is being told and to eliminate the scenes that do not advance the story. [more]

The Conductor

March 18, 2023

"The Conductor," by novelist Ishmael Reed and directed by Carla Blank, is a play that uses the revival of the Underground Railroad system as a device to address several contemporary socio-political issues related to race and ethnicity. It is a show that directly addresses extremist conservative groups and their movements that seek to restrict and limit governmental and social actions used to address institutional inequality. Reed utilizes the result of a school board recall election in San Francisco as the basis for illustrating the insidious nature of these reactionary groups. [more]

Who Murdered Love?

February 10, 2023

What is a mystery inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma? A Winston Churchill question from 1939 aptly fits a play with music set in 1924 that toys at being a murder mystery. As a play with music "Who Murdered Love?" doesn't work. As a play without music, it doesn't work as well. It is Dadaism with Surrealist overtones, and Surrealism with Dadaist overtones, if anyone in the audience knows what Dada or Surreal means. [more]

Darkness After Night: Ukraine

December 27, 2022

"Darkness: unfolds in many very short scenes with some confusing transitions.  Dubashin, the traitor to Russia, finally gets to confront Number One in a knock-down personal battle.  The only thing that can be said for this denouement is that it is wishful thinking of the highest order. There is more than a whiff of a vanity production here, leavened by Morrow’s “good intentions.”  Morrow is, perhaps, a tad self-indulgent to have put himself in the action hero part of a military do-gooder and he could use a dramaturg who could shape the disparate scenes into a well-oiled whole. [more]

Our Voices, Our Time: One-Act Play Festival

November 1, 2022

The venerable, historic Negro Ensemble Company is presenting an intriguing program at the equally venerable, historic Cherry Lane Theatre: "Our Voices, Our Time: One-Act Play Festival." The three short plays, all insightful in very individual ways, reveal the ins and outs of relationships while also dealing with contemporary issues. [more]

A Healthy House

June 7, 2022

Diriwachter is particularly skilled in writing working class vernacular.  The Father and Tim speak the same language and he catches all the subtleties of decades of ups and downs.  He also is wonderful with the two salesmen, cleverly finding the rhythm of their spiels that build up to the final pitches.  His salespeople are written as clever but not unfeeling so that the audience never totally believes that the Father and son are being betrayed and cheated. [more]

Sugar Ray

January 10, 2022

For 80 minutes, Mr. Wilson commands the stage with his expressive voice and charismatic physical presence. Wilson portrays Robinson from robust youth to early middle-age beset by early Alzheimer’s with verve, recounting the fighter’s life from birth in Georgia, to a poverty-stricken Harlem childhood, to his rise and fall in the ring. Direct address is a conceit of the play, and so Wilson is in constant motion, periodically engaging with audience members and at times playfully throwing punches at some. In addition to fiercely channeling Robinson, Wilson offers marvelous mini portraits of his resourceful divorced mother, Walter Winchell and Muhammad Ali. It’s a towering turn. [more]

A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Ramadan

December 25, 2021

Not only is this a puppet show but it is also an extended concert. This year’s vocalists are Valois Mickens, of West African, Celtic, and Native American origin,  and Katarina Vizina, a transplant from Slovakia,  who sing pieces of about 20 carols and songs including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Silent Night,” and “The Dreidel Song” in the original languages. Occasionally they participate in the action, as well as in the prologue that sets up the show. [more]

The Dark Outside

November 13, 2021

The Off-Off-Broadway world premiere of "The Dark Outside," nonagenarian English playwright Bernard Kops’ poetic, archetypal and fantastical family secrets drama is problematic. Directorial excess combined with intrusive conceptual design clash with authorial vision. The play was originally performed as a reading at London’s National Portrait Gallery on January 17, 2020. It’s likely that its potential was more realized and faithful to Mr. Kops’ text during that simple event. [more]

The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince

September 27, 2021

It is to the credit of the entire cast—dressed in Anthony Paul-Cavaretta’s period tunics and flowing robes—that Lackey’s sometimes over-the-top dialogue lands credibly. Two other elements elevate the play:  Michael Sirotta’s lovely, mood-enhancing score and Jon DeGaetano’s imaginative scenery which includes large, stage-spanning curtains that cleverly serve as entranceways, sails and even ancient columns.  Michael Redman’s moody projections enhance Sirotta’s contributions. [more]

Roles and Rules of Comedy

September 6, 2021

"Roles and Rules of Comedy," six short comedic bits of fluff written and directed by Harold Dean James is a character-driven view of contemporary New York City.  Presented at the elegant Players Club on Gramercy Park by We Three Productions, James deals mostly with down-to-earth people like Donna (Donna Kennedy) and Jaymie (Sharon Fogarty) who meet at a bus stop awaiting a ride that never seems to arrive in “At the Bus Stop Part 5.” [more]

The Two Noble Kinsmen

July 18, 2021

Hamilton Clancy, the artistic director of The Drilling Company, joins forces with his assistant director Karla Hendrick to stage The Two Noble Kinsmen in a modern-dress version that makes the plot of the play more accessible to the al fresco audience but tends to devalue the Elizabethan language.  They have even added a few very modern turns of phrases and pop tunes to elicit laughs during the few lighter moments of the plot. [more]

Audience (The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre)

June 25, 2021

Havel’s Audience represents CAMT’s first foray into modern Czech literature having previously staged imaginative productions of folk material.  This visit to contemporary theater, unfortunately, wasn’t as successful as most of CAMT’s fairytale presentations.  The combination of whimsical marionettes and psychologically sophisticated drama didn’t gel. The autobiographical Audience pits Havel’s alter-ego, Ferdinand Vanĕk (played by Vít Hořejš who also translated and directed the play), against The Brewmaster (Theresa Linnihan) in what initially seemed to be casual, directionless banter during a workday at a beer brewing company. Preceding the actual play were a series of historic newsreels—prepared by Suzanna Halsey—showing how Czechoslovakia (when it was still called Czechoslovakia) descended from the high hopes of 1968—euphemistically called the Prague Spring—to the depths of despair following the Soviet Union’s crushing invasion to put down what they perceived as a pro-West revolution.  The newsreel images were far more frightening than Havel’s two hander which is clearly meant to reveal in everyday terms just how nefariously the communist, totalistic credo infiltrated daily life in Prague. [more]

a photograph / lovers in motion

February 21, 2020

Now that The Public Theater’s 2019 revival of the late Nzotake Shange’s "for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf" has been critically acclaimed once again, The Negro Ensemble Company is reviving her only dialogue play, "a photograph / lovers in motion," in a new version. Originally produced at The Public Theater in 1977 as "a photograph / lovers in cruelty," the play was later revised and renamed for a 1982 production at the Houston Ensemble Theatre. The new version adapted and directed by Ifa Bayeza, the playwright’s sister, makes the play more of a choreopoem like Shange’s other plays and shifts the focus from the photographer Sean David to Michael, a female poet and dancer, adding poems for her to recite. The two titles of the play are still applicable as according to the director the relationship between Sean and Michael is both a duel and a duet. [more]

No Exit

April 8, 2019

Absent scenery, with a character excised and fiercely performed, this stripped down taut revival of Jean-Paul Sartre’s "No Exit" is quite compelling and faithful to the spirit of the original work. An operatic prologue is another novel flourish.It is presented by the Fusion Theatre which was founded by the Irish actress Eilin O'Dea in 2016 with the “concept that synthesizing the worlds of theater and opera can provide the ultimate theatrical experience.” Ms. O'Dea is truly the mastermind of this enticing production. [more]

Betty and The Belrays

February 11, 2019

The creator of "Betty & The Belrays," now at the Theater for the New City, pretty much dares you to compare his well-meaning, but cartoony, new musical to Hairspray, a comparison in which the new musical fare poorly. Written—book and lyrics—and directed by William Electric Black, with music by Black, Valerie Ghent and Gary Schreiner, "Betty," like "Hairspray," tells the story of a white high school-aged girl, the eponymous Betty (Paulina Breeze), living in a racially divided city, here 1963 Detroit, where Motown and its distinctive style are being forged. [more]

Spin Off

September 25, 2018

Considering the repetitiveness of the material and the fancifulness of the play, Megan McQueen as Rosie Ramirez and Kevin Rico Angulo as Det. Jimmy Marks make a great deal more of their characters than is in the writing, while the rest of the actors in underwritten roles do quite a bit less. Both attractive performers, they make us care about their characters though not much is happening. It is to be hoped that they find more substantial roles soon that will showcase their talents. [more]

Life Among the Aryans

June 8, 2018

"Life Among the Aryans" is the latest work from Ishmael Reed, the American poet, novelist, essayist, and Pulitzer-Prize nominee. Directed by Rome Neal, the play’s thematic nexus lies in disillusionment and exploitation. Two white nationalists, John Shaw (Frank Martin) and Michael Mulvaney (Tom Angelo), see an America that has left the ‘white working-class’ behind in favor of appeasing the rest of society. These developments are the embodiment of their discontent, and they yearn for a return to the America of old; they want to make America great again. [more]

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water

May 20, 2018

"Hercules Didn't Wade in the Water" is the winner of the Negro Ensemble Company, Inc.’s 2017 Emerging Playwrights Competition and this is its premiere. Michael A. Jones’ passionate eloquence and the strong performances compensate for the production’s limited presentational values.  [more]

Subway Story (A Shooting)

March 9, 2018

"Subway Story (A Shooting" is the fifth and final installment of William Electric Black’s Gunplay Series, a sequence of plays “dedicated to all who have lost their lives to the senseless gun violence plague.” In this concluding chapter, ongoing gun violence, particularly its link to urban youths, is the prevailing theme. Black is a seven-time Emmy award-winning writer. His work often broaches societal-conscious issues. [more]

Prague, 1912 (The Savoy Café Yiddish Theatre)

November 13, 2017

There is a fascinating story to be told in Franz Kafka’s involvement with the Yiddish theater in Prague during 1912 but Lu Hauser’s play isn’t it. "Prague, 1912 (The Savoy Café Yiddish Theatre)" is both episodic and repetitious without being clear as to the point that it is making. It simply seems to be a collection of scenes on the same themes that endlessly repeats itself. As Paula Vogel’s "Indecent" has demonstrated, there is a renewed interest in the Yiddish theater but "Prague, 1912" has not brought to life this world that is now gone with the wind. [more]

A Soldier’s Play

October 1, 2017

Director Charles Weldon acted in the 1983, Mark Taper Forum’s Los Angeles production, and besides his meticulous casting he has perfectly rendered this revival. Mr. Weldon’s physical staging inventively, precisely and aesthetically utilizes the large stage to faithfully realize the material. [more]
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