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.
Watching “Captain” Jack Boyle’s pronouncement regarding Ireland’s civil strife -- “We’ve got nothin’ to do with these things, one way or t’other. That’s the Government’s business, an’ let them do what we’re payin’ them for doin’” -- about 24 hours after a more than two-week government shutdown lent a little extra resonance to the Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. The personal is always the political in O’Casey’s work, and Juno, part of his acclaimed Dublin Trilogy, skillfully interweaves the two as it follows the Boyle family’s fortunes’ (imagined) rise and fall in a 1922 Dublin tenement.
Shades of brown dominate the peeling walls of James Noone’s set, which the cast fills admirably. The titular characters, the goddess of the homefront (J. Smith-Cameron) and her strutting husband (Ciarán O’Reilly), turn in strong, nuanced performances, as does John Keating, coming off a similar and similarly well-executed role in the Irish Rep’s staging of The Weir, as the “daarlin’” Joxer Daly.
Directed by Lin Snider and Justin Bennett
Out of the Box Theatre Company
West End Theater , 263 West 86th Street, NYC
October 2-5, 2013 (Closed)
If you know of stage play more perfectly realized than Out of the Box Theatre's polished realization of Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables, let me know and I will rush to see it. However, that is unlikely, as co-directors Lin Snider and Justin Bennett have created a profound rarity indeed: a flawless production. Everything about this rendering of Rattigan's play, which opened in London in 1954 and on Broadway in 1956, is sheer perfection: every performance, the set, the costumes, the invisible effortless direction, the brief musical interludes -- all make for one of the most exhilarating evenings of theater I have ever experienced. It is unfortunate that such a fine production was limited to only six performances: a production of this outstanding caliber deserved a much longer run, or even transfer to a Broadway theater.
Terence Rattigan, most remembered for the film versions of his plays The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version, created Separate Tables as two interconnected one-act plays set in the early '50s at the shabby but genteel Beauregard Private Hotel in the English resort town of Bournemouth. In England, such hotels were often the residences for pensioners and others who found themselves in "reduced circumstances."
William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Directed by Christian Amato
The Theater Project
September 20-28, 2013 (Closed)
The Players Theater, MacDougal Street, NYC
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
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.
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."
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.
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 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.