Spaces on the set of Brian Watkins's new play, Wyoming, are defined almost exclusively by tables -- bar tables, diner tables, kitchen tables, locations that often forge and sometimes force connections between people. Tables are just part of a range of everyday objects, including a locked box, a child's headphones, and a slide projector, that take on symbolic resonance in this meditation on time, choice, secrecy, and -- or perhaps through the lens of -- family. Wyoming, set primarily in the mid-'90s, centers on a Thanksgiving dinner during which the past of the particular family in question becomes unavoidable in various ways and for various, interwoven reasons. This breaking both of bread and of silences is directed by Danya Taymor, niece of the iconic Julie, and features original music from Robin Pecknold, of indie-folk powerhouse Fleet Foxes, and Neal Morgan that appropriately evokes a kind of windswept melancholy.
Blood, fittingly, gets on everything in Theatre for a New Audience's Tamburlaine, Parts I and II. For the stylized violence in this adaptation of two of Christopher Marlowe's Elizabethan box-office hits, that sometimes means literal buckets of vital fluid; other times, the hem of a white garment trails through a pool of it, or a hand leaves a partial print on a lover’s face. Ably condensed into two 90-minute plays with a half-hour intermission (the minimum amount of time needed to sufficiently de-gore the stage), Tamburlaine's epic military conquests raise him from shepherd to emperor on a bare stage adorned only with hanging plastic strips at the rear that render the world of the play as a meat locker or Patrick Bateman's living room.
Not the Messiah was superb (albeit with minor overtones of shtick). But what else to expect from Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and John Du Prez, one of the composers of Spamalot and composer of the soundtrack for Python's swan song film, The Meaning of Life. This was truly an evening of whimsy on a grand, grand scale, with an excellent full orchestra playing wonderful arrangements, a chorus of one hundred-or-so voices, four outstanding soloists, and of course Eric Idle (who at this stage of his long career possesses whimsy-imprinted DNA).
Sting has come to Broadway, as both composer of the new musical The Last Ship and, more recently, in an effort to improve the show's struggling box office numbers, one of its stars onstage. The show itself, while having some book and story flaws, ultimately emerges as an engrossing, touching musical, with an impressive and melodic score that serves the story and the characters. It is an often stirring tribute to the human spirit.
The musical, inspired by Sting's own experiences growing up, takes place in the streets and shipyard of Wallsend, in the northeast end of England. The town and its residents are having problems, as the shipyard has been closed down. For reasons that don't entirely make sense, the residents are inspired to build one last ship. The Last Ship deals with familiar themes: father/son relationships, an economically depressed town, the lure of the sea, and the idea of a community; these are real people whom the audience can care about, and the results are sincere, earnest, gritty, and noble.
Sting himself is a commanding presence as Jackie White, the shipyard foreman. His character is not the lead, but Sting makes the most of it and shows his theatrical skills. The lead character is Gideon Fletcher, who left his home town at the age of fifteen to go to sea and escape the town, then returns fifteen years later. Gideon had issues with his father, and also left behind a young girlfriend, Meg, who he still loves. Michael Esper, who plays Gideon, was out the night I saw the show, but his understudy, Jeremy Woodard, was excellent. Rachel Tucker is glowing as the now grown up woman he left behind; Fred Applegate provides some comic relief and a twinkle in his eye as the local priest, while Collin Kelly Sordelet is impressive as Tucker's teenage son.
The EstroGenius Festival, currently in its 15th year, spotlights women artists in theater. It is organized into three separate shows -- Andi’s Night, Deb’s Night, and Sarah’s Night -- that each consist of five short plays totaling about an hour and a half per "Night." At the end of a program, audience members can vote for their favorite performer, writer, and director on a ballot included in the program, and votes can also be cast for favorite play for a one-dollar donation per vote. The winning play receives a special encore performance at the end of the festival.
Pia Wilson's new play, Turning the Glass Around, interweaves the naturalistic and the theatrical, the rational and the seemingly irrational, and the everyday and the supernatural in order to interrogate other, contemporary American hybridities.
That Poor Dream was written and developed collectively by the members of the Assembly Theater Project, which describes its goals as creating performances that both "address the complexities of our ever-changing world" and ground artists and audience alike in “a profound sense of community.” The play transposes Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations onto the social topography of current-day New York City, recontextualizing the social and economic rise and fall of the original, Dickensian Pip in a world of penthouse apartments and $1,000 omelets, a move that highlights that while the world may be "ever-changing," the class systems of Victorian England and the twenty-first century United States remain closer and more rigidly exploitative than we like to tell ourselves. Indeed, the Metro-North train that serves as the play’s setting (and most of the set) could be seen as a metaphor for, among other ways of looking at the course of a life, the determinism of a society in which, Pip's heretofore secret benefactor Magwitch tells us, one can be only either a shepherd or a sheep.
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.
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.
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.