Theater Review

It's Alive!

Written by C.J. Thom
Directed by John Harlacher
The Connelly Theater, NYC
Through September 14, 2013

Franklin Stein is a horror story told in the tradition of Theater of the Absurd as practiced by Eugene Ionesco, the early work of Edward Albee, the plays of Samuel Beckett, and other international playwrights commencing in the late 1950s. Such plays are meditations on the absurdity of human existence, in which conventions of plot and characterization are distorted to convey, as one dictionary defined it, "the irrationally of existence and the isolation of humanity." Playwright C.J. Thom, with an exceptionally fine cast and artistic team, succeeds in presenting a powerful evening of theater which asks the question: What does it take to have heart against the backdrop of the pernicious corporatization of human life and interaction?

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Directed by Gayle Stahlhuth
East Lynne Theater Company
Cape May, New Jersey
Through August 31, 2013

Washington Irving's venerable ghost story, first published in 1820, contains virtually no dialog, but abundant pondered ambiguities -- so it is up to the writer and director who is adapting the story in a performance medium to "dramatize" it. Many a writer has tried, in film, animation, stage, and musical versions. Playwright James Rana has taken up the challenge and provided the freshest of takes on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in a delightful production mounted by East Lynne Theater Company in picturesque Cape May, New Jersey. Deftly directed by Gayle Stahlhuth, the company's artistic director, and with a talented cast of seasoned professionals, the hour and twenty minute presentation breezes by on the wings of disarming charm and dramatic authenticity.

Cornucopia of Characters

Darkling 
Presented at IRT, July 5 and 6, 2013

It is 1987 and Trinity, a gnarled-toothed thirteen-year old Goth Girl, will go through almost as many hilarious, overwrought, and absurd trials and adventures as Bell Poitrine in Patrick Dennis's mock-autobiography Little Me experienced in a lifetime -- but with one important difference: Trinity will do it all in one speedy hour. In Darkling, as written and performed by the consummate performance artist, Kim Katzberg, the Trinity character justly earns our sympathy and, through all the hilarity, ultimately grows up.

As demonstrated in her previous work, Penetrating the Space (reviewed herein when it was presented in repertory as part of the Cheerful Insanity show in 2011), Ms. Katzberg in Darkling again transforms herself into various characters. Such a magnitude of skill and theatrical dexterity prompts me to dub her the Meryl Streep of performance artists. In the course of Darkling, as Ms. Katzberg dons the personas of her sharply drawn characters, I found myself in double-think mode: simultaneously assuming another actor was in the show, and yet knowing that all were being embodied by Ms. Katzberg. As Trinity, Ms. Katzberg convincingly assumes the voice, diction, and body language of a suburban girl of thirteen who is not yet out of her "awkward stage."

One Child Born, One Star Born

One Child Born
Joe's Pub
July 6, 2013

It took me a while, but I finally got to see this one-woman cabaret tribute to the music and inspiration of legendary songstress Laura Nyro. Starring singer/pianist Kate Ferber, who co-wrote it with Louis Greenstein, it premiered in 2009, but at least one detail's changed since then: mention of Nyro's 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been incorporated into one of the character monologs.

Chemistry Set

Chemistry of Love - La Mama Theatre Through May 19, 2013

With New York theater currently awash with revivals, often with movie-star cast members and big, big budgets, it can appear that new original, innovative, and inspirational non-musical works will not be taking center stage in the theater district anytime soon. So we give thanks to Off-Off Broadway's La Mama, and playwright Jill Campbell's spectacular Chemistry of Love, for waking me up to the fact that new and engaging permutations of stagecraft are still a possibility.

Pippin Revival Dazzles

Pippin has always been a musical where the theatricality and the score compensate for some obvious story issues. So, introducing a circus motif to tell the Pippin story, as Diane Paulus has done in her new, often dazzling revival, proves to be an inspired concept. The result is a musical loaded with treats; the first act soars with razzle-dazzle highlights; Act Two loses some of the momentum, but the love story that develops involving Pippin and the widow, Catherine, does charm. It all culminates in a finale that is properly grand. However muddled the line between the troupe of performers and the characters they play becomes, Pippin nevertheless entertains wonderfully, thanks to its staging and the popular Stephen Schwartz score.

Pippin was a huge hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1972 but has never been revived on Broadway. As directed by Bob Fosse, it was a triumph of imaginative staging, and Schwartz's score also made major contributions, but the staging and the score camouflage the fact that, at times, the story isn't all that involving.

Bring the Kids...

Cinderella

If you have a little kid at home between the ages of a seven-year-old who can sit through a show and a fantasy-prone twelve-year-old, Cinderella might be the ticket to buy if you’re going for them. With a mediocre score from the legendary team of Rogers & Hammerstein and a contemporary book by Douglas Carter Beane, this musical is ideal for kids and perfectly tolerable for adults.

Right Turn on a Dead End

In the midst of a largely disappointing and fairly fluffy Broadway season, Orphans, now playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld, shines through the mediocrity and dullness as a spark of fun and sincerity. With no theatrical heavyweights on its bill and Alec Baldwin as its only big name, this play surprises with its sincerity and the strength of the performances it contains.

All three actors make some bold choices, committing to them with the poise of one that does not believe in turning back, and the results are rewarding. Taking a character approach to the mysterious Harold, Baldwin seems to be laying it on thick when he first stumbles on drunk, but quickly warms to welcome as his comic and yet touching interpretation unfolds. Maintaining a presence of unquestioned confidence, Baldwin gets laughs without directly playing for them. His character work never undermines the truth of his portrayal, making for an unlikely father figure who appears like the God we thought had abandoned us.

Disappointing Matilda

Matildawith a book by David Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, is based on the popular children's novel by Roald Dahl. After a brief run in Stratford-upon-Avon in late 2010, it opened in London in November, 2011, going on to win seven Olivier awards, including best musical. In simple terms, Matilda tells the story of a five-year-old girl who loves to read, and, with the help of a supportive teacher, overcomes a dysfunctional, nasty family and obstacles at school to find happiness.

It is always exciting to be in a theater for a preview performance of what is anticipated to be a hit musical; when that new musical has the pedigree of hit status and reviews in London (which was also true of Billy Elliot, a show I loved), the energy level can be even higher.

Go Phish

Ever wonder what a musical composed by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio would sound like? On the off-chance that you have, Hands on a Hardbody should put any such wonder to rest. Set at a car dealership during a promotional competition of endurance, this musical is about as moving as the stationary Nissan pick-up truck it's centered around.

Seeking to represent a portrait of America, the creators of this musical have instead captured a snapshot of one isolated, little corner of a vast and diverse nation and tried sticking it in a frame far too large for its dimensions.