Theater Review

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


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 »

SEVEN is and 7 are...

designer-bodyDesigner Body
BALLETlorent at The Lowry Theatre, Manchester, March 13, 2009

The Lowry stage resembles a gaudy swamp. Dimly lit, and soundtracked by an insistent electronic hum, seven circular plinths turn slowly. A suggestion of dry ice rises around this haunting installation, each platform draped in rich fabric, as though seven haughty models have flounced off, leaving in their wake opulent drapes in artistic heaps. As the lights change and the music rises, there are shifts amongst the discarded cloth. Read more »

Burying the Dead in Fire Throws

fire-throws-playOnce upon a time, I was in love with Antigone’s story. You know her, Oedipus’s rebellious daughter, the one who thwarted King Creon and came to a tragic end. But over time, reading it again and again, I grew tired of it, began to see her as too egotistical, too self-serving in her sacrifice. I came to believe that she was the sort of young woman who would always annoy the chief of state, and if Creon had not left one of her brothers unburied, she would have found some other excuse to rebel. In the latest version of her tale, Fire Throws, performed by the Ripe Time company, writer and director Rachel Dickstein works hard to make Antigone a more sympathetic figure. Read more »

Where Have All the Characters Gone?

guys-dollsThe current relic on 41st Street is the kind of production that is killing the Broadway musical, with film and television stars trying their unsteady hands at reviving a classic that would have stood a better chance if it had been left alone. The audience couldn't get out of the theater quickly enough after the curtain came down on this uninspired production of Guys and Dolls, which is about as cheery as yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

Blame goes in no small part to the two "stars" who are theoretically the draws to this punishing collection of humorless yuk-yuks. Read more »

The Sleep Disorder That Keeps on Giving

sleepwalk_with_meMike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me is a theatrical delight -- that rare combination of warm humor mixed with darker issues in a way that diminishes neither. Birbiglia is a stand up-comedian who has moved with this piece into the realm of one-man show, loosely gathering up the details of a story, with many humorous sideline diversions, about a traumatic night when he found himself jumping through the glass of a second-floor motel window, while asleep. It was the beginning of his recognition that he had a serious sleep disorder problem.

Since most of us don't suffer from persistent sleepwalking, one might wonder if his subject is sufficiently universal to hold an audience. It is. Especially because he feeds other issues into his tale: a highly successful and repressive father, garrulous mother, girlfriend and commitment fears, life on the road as a stand-up performer, and other amusing and engaging topics. He even gets laughs out of a dangerous illness he experienced at age nineteen. He's a sort of cheerful everyman who finds himself caught in a web of nighttime terrors. Which, for some years, he was into denying. Read more »

Electra Lacks Electricity

mourning-electraThe New Group production of Mourning Becomes Electra

Eugene O'Neill's 1931 retelling of Aeschelus' Oresteia is set in New England in 1865, in the wake of the Civil War. It's a setting that reflects the kind of internecine conflicts that also caused the Trojan Wars, and as in the original, the family awaits the return of their paterfamilias, Brigadier General Ezra Mannon, and their son, Orin, from the fighting. The piece is comprised of three separate plays that together form a more-than-four-hour-long orgy of incestuous love and death, with betrayal, revenge, suffering, and madness as stopping points along the way. With a Greek chorus of villagers gazing on, the Mannon family devours itself in its chilly manse on the hill in slow, sex-soaked bites. Read more »

And the Winner is...

druid-crippleThe current production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan is the reason why we go to see live theatre. With so many shows being mediocre at best or battling it out for the coveted slot of "worst play I've seen all season," it is no small relief to witness a performance that so firmly sets the standard for the other side of the scale.

There is little room for complaint in the masterful telling of this most engaging tale, co-produced by The Atlantic Theatre and Druid. Read more »

Cry Me a River of Self-Pity

Michael_Shulman_White_PeopleTired, melodramatic, cliché-ridden: These are attributes one hopes to avoid in a play touted as “a candid look at race in contemporary America,” but sadly they are all too present in the New York premier of J.T. Rogers’s White People at Atlantic Stage 2. Even though friends had asked me how a play called White People could be any good, I had resisted their dismissive response, hoping to hear something fresh or illuminating, hoping even for a few moments of confrontation with the dark underbelly of American beliefs. Read more »

Good Riddance to Bad Piven

speed-the-ploySpeed the Plow

Whatever the true reasons for Jeremy Piven's early exit may be, it should go without saying that William H. Macy is a vast improvement. With three seasoned stage actors, this current revival of David Mamet's Speed the Plow could have really gotten off the ground, but unfortunately it is weighted down by Elisabeth Moss and her less-than-convincing portrayal of the ambitious temp secretary. Read more »

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