Theater Review

The Irish Have Landed!

The McGowan Trilogy
Directed by Kira Simring
The Cell 338 West 23rd Street, NYC 
September 11 - October 5, 2014

Séamus Scanlon's The McGowan Trilogy: A Serial in Three Acts embodies the best things about New York City's annual 1st Irish theater festival. The play’s run at The Cell, which bills itself as a twenty-first century salon incubating new works of art, offers a chance to witness the work of a rising talent in Irish drama in an intimate venue. McGowan's assemblage of three one-act plays creates a satisfying arc centered on the title character, Victor M. McGowan, an I.R.A. soldier and killer played by Paul Nugent, who originated the role in 2012. In the published version of the play, Nugent describes his character as maybe having "a genuine soul under all that devilish sneering bravado," and he succeeds in bringing those emotional nuances out over the course of the evening. Read more »

Clamour of Cabaret

A Clamour of Cabaret: A Volume of Vaudeville Varietals
Dysfunctional Theatre Company
UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place
Through August 16

The Dysfunctional Theatre Company's mission statement explains that the group considers the underperformed plays and twisted classics, which they present to be dysfunctional to show that "dysfunction isn’t a product of 21st or even 20th century life [but] a product of the human condition." A Clamour of Cabaret, hosted by bottle-wielding and genially bickering hosts F. Scott Fitzgerald (Rob Brown) and Edna St. Vincent Millay (Jennifer Gill), demonstrates the dysfunction within the narratives and other characteristic bits that leap to the nostalgic mind at the mention of "vaudeville" and "cabaret" performances, but it does so delightfully.

As characters struggle for control over the production -- the late arrival of Fitzgerald and Millay leads La Diva Chiara Tarabotti (Nicole Lee Aiossa, a dominant comic presence whenever she is on stage) to think that she will be hosting, the lighting and sound director (Justin Plowman) steps onto the stage to fill in as straight man for a rapidly collapsing take on "Who’s on First?" -- the show runs the gamut through song, dance, and light comedy, but each episode subverts the expectations built around the genre. Read more »

Bring Me The Puppet Head of...!

Puppet Titus Andronicus
The Puppet Shakespeare Players
The Beckett Theatre, NYC
Directed by Ryan Rinkel

If you like your Elizabethan revenge tragedy filtered through a mixture of Avenue Q and a Robot Chicken episode, then you can probably stop reading right here and go buy tickets to Puppet Titus Andronicus. This raucous reimagining of William Shakespeare's already over-the-top blood-soaked drama renders Muppet-on-Muppet mutilation and familial cannibalism more fun (and funny) than it probably has any right to be. The cast takes the Bard's early commercial hit, a play that begins with a religious sacrifice, runs through several deaths and a rape, and ends with a series of rapid-fire onstage murders that ostensibly tie up all of the loose ends--and which later, for reasons not understood by this reviewer, fell into critical disfavor for a couple of hundred years--and cloaks it in felt and silly string, combining the original text, scripted jokes, and improvisation. Read more »

Madcap Fare

Strictly Dishonorable
by Preston Sturges
Directed by Laura Braza
The Attic Theater Company at The Flea Theater
41 White Street, Tribeca
July 22 - August 10, 2014

If one says the words "Preston Sturges' 1929 comedy," one already has a good sense of how Strictly Dishonorable will work out: Southern transplant Isabelle’s decision to have a few drinks at a New York City speakeasy with her New Jersey fiancé spirals into a series of life-altering realizations and choices, and true love prevails. The characters are written as types -- the gesticulating Italian waiter, the drunk but paternal judge, the genially corrupt Irish cop, the smooth-talking Lothario with an apartment designed for seduction, the provincial bourgeois (would-be) husband -- but you know what you’re getting, and the actors here do an excellent job making the characters more than types, creating of them well-rounded people about whom the audience genuinely cares. This performance is well-executed, fast-moving, and funny, and several affecting and nuanced performances bring out shades of meaning latent in the lines. For Strictly Dishonorable (or perhaps any screwball romantic comedy from the period) to work, the audience has to believe that Isabelle and Gus have fallen in something like love after a night of Old Fashioneds and champagne, and Keilly McQuail and Michael Labbadia create a chemistry that accomplishes this.  Read more »

Step Right Up!

Dandy Darkly’s Pussy Panic: More Tales of Sex and Death
Written and Performed by Dandy Darkly
Directed by Ian Bjorklund
Hot! Festival 2014: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture
Dixon Place, NYC
July 11, 2014

Describing this deeply hypnotic, often horrifying, sometimes sentimental -- and in the end -- wildly entertaining performance piece is indeed a toughie. This task brings to mind what an academic might have been faced with if assigned to write a critique of T.S. Eliot, himself, doing a live recitation of The Wasteland. What could a scholar have written as a review of such a reading? Perhaps she/he might say “I was totally engaged and mesmerized by the presentation,” or “the listeners sat transfixed in pin-drop silence while Mr. Eliot discharged his words.” Later, our academic’s copiously annotated and footnoted analysis will appear in a university press journal, leaving those who see it only as dry “assigned reading” wondering what the big deal was. Dandy Darkly’s Pussy Panic is a totally engaging and mesmerizing show. The audience was in silence, pitched forward to catch every word. But if I were to quote the script out of the context of the whole work, you’d probably wonder why I was impressed too.  Read more »

Get Me A Guy!

Get Me a Guy
Directed by John Clancy
Written by Israela Margalit
Horse Trade Theater Group, in association with Moonlight Theatre Productions
UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC
July 26 - August 4, 2014

A random, pheromone-induced hook-up at a gas station. A date arranged through a website cataloguing personal dislikes. An elderly couple debating whether cigarettes and sex can be fairly equated. Get Me a Guy , the new comic play by writer and concert pianist Israela Margalit, ranges through 80 minutes of vignettes exploring the nuances and neuroses of romantic relationships, not conceptually unlike the recent, longer, and more rapid-fire Love and Information. The discrete moments here form a loose progression from the parties and bars of youth, through jealous or baby-starved spouses and reunions of old lovers, to connections lost and (re)made in old age. The cast of seven actors, three women and four men led by Wei Yi Lin, Elizabeth Galalis, Brennan Lowey, and Paul Romano, are adept at the quick shifts required in a play that does not intend to develop their characters, variously performing and subverting stereotypes ranging from the women seeking “good husbands” to the men who think that they’re good husband material if only a woman could meet their requirements. Read more »

Get Yer Red Hots!

Dixon Place
161A Christie Street, NYC
July 5 through August 2, 2014

Presented with the enormous variety that the creative arts in New York City offer me, I find myself, from time to time, concluding that self-expression is rather highly overrated. Then I encounter something that reverses that whimsical declaration. One such event was a recent press preview of several segments from Hot! Festival 2014: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture. If the five thrilling, outrageous, poignant, and all-in-all utterly engaging presentations I experienced that afternoon is any indication of what this nearly one month festival includes, it behooves you to attend as many of the varied performances as you are able! Read more »

The Greatest Show On Earth...

Carnival Kids
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Lesser America at TBG Theatre
312 West 36th Street, NYC
June 5th - 28th, 2014

Carnival Kids, by Lucas Kavner, offers a compelling snapshot of five people whose lives intersect via one New York City apartment. Mark (Jake Choi) is a law student whose father, Dale (Randall Newsome), formerly a keyboardist in a touring rock band, moves from Texas to stay with his son while he ostensibly looks for work; Dale’s entanglements with Mark’s roommate, Eckland (Max Jenkins), and a young woman, Kalina (Danelle Eliav), soon disturb the sediment of the family history. Mark’s past makes a second reappearance when he reconnects with Marisa (Laura Ramadei), who had a crush on him in high school. How Mark attempts to navigate these relationships drives this funny and affecting new play. Read more »

The Killer

The Killer
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Theater for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY
May 17 - June 29, 2014

Theater for a New Audience closes its inaugural season in its new home at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn with an outstanding production of Eugène Ionesco’s 1957 dark comedy, The Killer. Presented here in a new translation by Michael Feingold, The Killer follows Berenger, Ionesco’s multi-play Everyman, from his discovery of a utopian “radiant city,” a place that returns to him a long-lost feeling of being truly alive, through the consequences of his further discovery that his utopia boasts a resident murderer.  When a young woman named Dennie, with whom Berenger immediately falls in love, makes herself vulnerable to the murderer by leaving the employ of the city, Berenger’s quest for justice leads him into encounters with a sickly friend who may or may not be involved, attendees at a political rally, and the police who violently suppress them, culminating in an extended face-to-shadowy-face with the titular antagonist. Read more »

Life Is Just One Delicious...

Cabaret has always been a groundbreaking musical, dating back to Harold Prince’s original production in 1966.  When Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s production opened at Studio 54 in 1998, it built upon what Prince started and pushed the limits even further, creating a much raunchier, seedier, darker, and more dangerous trip to the cabaret.  Mendes and Marshall have once again brought their Cabaret back to Studio 54, and it remains a brilliant production of a great musical, one that manages to be hugely entertaining, funny, charming, and moving, while at the same time threatening in its depiction of the growing storm created by the rise of the Nazis in Berlin in 1930.  Dominated once again by the exceptional performance of Alan Cumming as the Emcee, Cabaret is a welcomed addition to any Broadway season, and it was great to have the chance to revisit this bold production. Read more »

The Contender!

Rocky
Winter Garden Theatre, NYC

Turning successful motion pictures into Broadway musicals has become the norm in recent years.  Whether the iconic 1976 Sylvester Stallone film, Rocky, was a movie that cried out for a musical adaptation is open to question.  But, Rocky has arrived on Broadway and, somewhat like its title character, the musical has a bit of a bumpy road but is triumphant in the end.  Rocky, of course, tells the story of the small time, well meaning Philadelphia boxer, Rocky Balboa, his romance with meek girl friend Adrian, and his improbable chance to fight for the heavyweight championship. Read more »

Not The Busch Leagues!

The Tribute Artist
 by Charles Busch

Directed by Carl Andress
59E59 Theaters, NYC
Through March 29, 2014

 
Towards the end of this uproarious farce by veteran playwright and actor Charles Busch, Mr. Busch--as Jimmy Nichols, a long-in-the-tooth “female impressionist tribute artist” (a/k/a unemployed drag performer)--delivers a line that in any other play, comedy or otherwise, would befuddle the audience due to its complete nonsense. Proclaimed in tones of voice that would, in an era long gone by, indicate the pronouncement of a grand life-transforming revelation, Jimmy declares “The more honest you are, the more people believe you.” Without a doubt, only Charles Busch could make such an utterance not only appear reasonable, but in the process bring the house down shrieking with laughter.

Caryl Churchill's Love and Information: a 10 bullet-points review

1.) Picture a stage converted into a white cube where multiple brief scenes occur: the theatrically appropriate physical form to capture a digital world; Read more »

I Feel The Earth Move, Almost

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, NYC

Describing Beautiful by comparing it to Jersey Boys seems unfair. Jersey Boys, of course, is a long running smash hit musical, and holding any new musical to the high standard of a major hit is asking a lot. But, while watching Beautiful, it is difficult not to think of the new Carole King musical as Jersey Boys Lite. That does not mean Beautiful is lacking in assets -- it has a terrific performance by Jessie Mueller as King and is filled with great songs, written by King and Gerry Goffin, as well as some from the team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The result is an entertaining musical, but one that does not rise to the dramatic or emotional heights desired in a great show. Read more »

So Much Time, So Much To Do

Much Ado About Nothing

Directed by Christian Amato
The Theater Project

Feb. 14 - March 1, 2014

The Players Theater, NY

It may be winter in Manhattan, but it looks like a long hot summer for Beatrice, Benedict, Hero, Claudio, and the gang. So hot that feral cats are a’scampering over the hot tin roofs of Sicily’s port city of Messina, the setting for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. New York theater has been awash with Bardish productions everywhere. You can take your pick: traditional, modern dress, deconstructions, etc. Among so many offerings, I highly recommend you sashay on down to the li’l ol’ Players Theater and take a gander at their Much Ado About Nothing, rendered beautifully and hilariously in smoldering tempestuous Southern Style. Read more »

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