Theater Review

All the World's Problems in One Sitting

pied-piper-eastThe Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side is a shotgun blast of emotion and personal philosophies. While it lacks the precision and direction of a rifle-fired bullet, some of the pellets it sprays out connect.

Following the struggle of a small, tribal family in a group marriage, this message-heavy play begs to be edited down. Playwright Derek Ahonen's dialogue is often didactic and comes close to reducing his characters to mouthpieces for the beliefs they embody. He seems conflicted between everything he wants to say and all the moments he wants to capture, the result being close to three hours of hashing out all of mankind's deepest conflicts while cramming multiple major plot lines into a slice of life. Read more »

A Dark Cry for Shared Humanity

Delroy_LindoIt’s exciting to go to a new play starring the ever-powerful Delroy Lindo. Naomi Wallace’s Things of Dry Hours at New York Theatre Workshop bites off a heavy piece of history: black participation in the U.S. Communist party during the l930s in Birmingham, Alabama. This is both the strength and the weakness of her play. There is too much preaching and reiteration of their difficult situation in this two-and-one-half-hour production; at times we are treated to pure debate rather than drama. But the painful need of these Southern blacks to join the political process, to make a difference, to help themselves and others at the bottom of society is a powerful subject, and at times deeply engaging. Read more »

This Is Such Stuff As Good Theater Is Made On

tempest-2Though Steppenwolf has no history of mounting the plays of William Shakespeare, their current production of The Tempest proves them to be more capable and creative than companies that have made their careers on reviving The Bard, in New York and elsewhere. This ensemble production, magically crafted by director Tina Landau, is stacked with solid performances, captivating designs, and enchanting music.

The most uniting element between the direction, design, and performances is their bold choices, the commitment to those choices, and the ensuing successes that are the outcome. Landau, recognizing the otherworldly elements of this play, opts to strongly induce a suspension of disbelief rather than tangibly spell out the fantasy of Shakespeare dream-like island. Read more »

Desire Under the Rocks

desire-goodmanIf there was something remotely profound about this current revival of Eugene O'Neil's Desire Under the Elms, it was completely lost on this audience member. After an intermissionless bombardment of non-stop yelling and soulless emoting, there was little more to say other than thank God, it's finally over.

As the curtain slowly rises on a set that looks like a Martian landscape, one will immediately be struck by the disquieting thought that one must have somehow wandered into the wrong theater. But, no, it's the St. James Theatre all right, and unless you act quickly you're about to lose two hours of your life that you'll never get back. Read more »

The Joys of Trashing Jersey

toxiemusicalIf you're in search of a theatrical experience that stands the chance of moving you in a significant way, then go see the current revivals of Our Town or The Norman Conquests. If, on the other hand, you just want to sit back and laugh at the expense of The Garden State, then The Toxic Avenger: The Musical may be what you're looking for.

Falling in the category of "they made a musical out of that?", The Toxic Avenger follows in the footsteps of a long list of odd, musical adaptations seeking to recapture the camp and success of Little Shop of Horrors. While it does not hit that mark, it comes closer than many that have come before it. Read more »

From London, with a Whole Lot of Love

Mangan_128How far can you go with farce? The playwright with the answer to that question is Alan Ayckbourn, and the current Old Vic revival of his 1973 trilogy The Norman Conquests proves him right beyond a shadow of a doubt. Transferring from its successful run in London, it opened last week with a caliber of performance that will undoubtedly conquer Broadway.

Being one of the first revivals in a revival-laden season to breathe the true life of revitalization into a piece, this trilogy is the perfect way to usher in the muse of spring. As with any good farce, it's all about sex and leaves its characters to fall between the camps of those who are getting none and those who are getting far too much, following the six characters through a wild weekend. Read more »

In the End!

artifactsArtifacts of Consequence

Discussing ways to prevent the bleak, global future scientists and environmental activists are currently predicting is an effort of hope; facing the reality of what may be if those efforts fail is the fitting subject of this play. Ashlin Halfnight's Artifacts of Consequence examines the dark side of the coin as we flip for tomorrow. Read more »

Finding the Necessary Song

joe-turner-goneWhen the curtain rises on August Wilson’s brilliant play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in the new Lincoln Center production, directed by Bartlett Sher, we see a huge sky and two people walking along a road. The man is tall and dark, dressed in a long black coat and a black hat, and holding the hand of a young girl. They press forward, as if driven by the winds and their own need. This stark and powerful image of seeking drives the mythic significance of the whole play. Set in 1911 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Joe Turner embodies the great black migration from the South to the North in the early decades of the twentieth century, a journey of hope, but also of confusion and often unsatisfied expectations. Read more »

Thank You, David Cromer!

our-town-theaterThank You, David Cromer

This is the only production of Our Town that you will ever need to see. After close to a century of re-productions taking their shot at America’s most over-produced play, David Cromer is the one who gets it right.

Bypassing the traditional period clothing and unfamiliar New Hampshire accents, Cromer, as the production’s director, helps to make this piece relevant to a contemporary audience. Read more »

reasons to see Pretty

reasons_to_be_pretty_3000Playing out the drama of an unwitting, small comment that opens up major implications, reasons to be pretty takes a look at the kinds of relationships that you are less likely to see on stage and more likely to have lived. The world of this play is a common one; its characters are everyday people and its effect is a resonate one that stands a good chance of following you out of the theater.

This cast of four is a very competent one, embracing the material to its fullest and finding nuance in its simplicity. Steven Pasquale stands out as the self-absorbed, alpha-male Kent, pushing the bounds of unforgivable infidelity while knowing how to maneuver the surface niceties that keep the truly pressing issues at bay. Read more »

Whispering West Side

west-side-storyThe current revival of West Side Story toys with doing something new while clinging to signatures of the original, resulting in what feels like a production of high school-level confidence with good intentions but low returns, failing to find the passion in one of Broadway’s most memorable scores.

First and foremost, the cast either needed to speak up or the show’s sound designer, Dan Moses Schreier, needs to re-think his design. Even from the front of the orchestra, much of the singing and dialogue was difficult to hear, which was compounded by performances that were hard to connect with. Read more »

Nothing Shocking

hair-playIf you're looking for a safe and nostalgic trip into an idealized look back at the Sixties, then the current revival of HAIR is the show for you. If, however, you desire the shocking and socially challenging experience that this tribal, love-rock musical was meant to be, then you will be sorely disappointed.

Director Diane Paulus takes no chances, sticking to every hippie cliché and exploring nothing new in the material, a choice counter to the very essence of this groundbreaking piece. Read more »

Full of Not Much, Signifying Less

joan-allen

Reminiscent of a pleasant afternoon spent casually strolling through some quiet wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Impressionism is a light sketch focusing on the relationship of two slightly damaged individuals working together in an art gallery. While the passing is pleasant, this is not one of those museum trips where you sit and deeply scrutinize to the greatest depths but rather just stroll while nonchalantly skimming what is around you.

Director Jack O'Brien and his design team are the driving force behind this production, working together to create movement and flow in a script that threatens to be static. Scenic designer Scott Pask works with frames that effortlessly glide in and out of the scenes crafted by O'Brien. Read more »

Angela Lansbury's Blithe Spirit

blithe-spiritReverence, whether it is of performers or athletes, is something I try not to overdo. But if there is one performer I can honestly say I revere, it is Angela Lansbury. When I was just a freshman in college, I saw her Tony-winning performance in the original production of Mame; over the years since, I've had the pleasure of seeing her other great stage performances, including Tony-winning roles in Dear World, Gypsy, and Sweeney Todd; I even saw her when she played Anna for three weeks in the late '70s revival of The King and I. Her stage work is legendary, and she is one of our true theatrical treasures. Happily, Ms. Lansbury is back on the boards once again, working with a high-quality cast in a revival of Noel Coward's 1941 drawing room comedy Blithe Spirit. I'm happy to report that the 83-year-old Ms. Lansbury continues to amaze and dazzle, turning the new production into another personal triumph.  Read more »

Race to See The Fantasticks

fantasticks_nick_spangler.jpgThe Fantasticks

I can't even begin to guess how many musicals I have seen over the years. I arrived in New York from Cleveland in the late '60s and have pretty much been here since. Yet, somehow, I never got around to seeing The Fantasticks. It's not like there weren't opportunities. The Fantasticks opened off-Broadway in 1960; I was still a kid at the time and, as I said, not yet in New York; but, it ran for almost 42 years, finally closing in early 2002. I had seen at least part of the TV version that aired many years ago, and it didn't appeal to me at the time; that might have played a role in my never quite getting around to seeing this musical. Read more »

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