Theater Review

Fear No More…

Cymbeline
Fiasco Theater at Barrow Street Theatre, NY
Through January 15

Theater in its purest form is an exercise in magical simplicity. Much of what passes for theater today is far closer to the craft of spectacle, which is wonderful in its own right but should not be confused with the art of transforming a relative empty space into another breathing world through the efforts of actors, a director, and a script. Cymbeline is one of those most miraculous of manifestations; armed only with six very talented actors, the immortal words of the Shakespeare and a handful of props and set pieces, they have summoned the muses and created one of the most memorable stage productions of 2011.

The New Way to Say "Boo!"

The Experiment

The creators of Nightmare, one of New York City’s most acclaimed haunted houses, have pushed passed the Halloween season and are now extending their icy grip on "the most wonderful time of the year" with their latest, twisted exploration, The Experiment. Those looking to deck the halls, sing heart-warming carols, and contribute to the general sentiment of peace on earth and good will to men need not apply, but anyone willing to look Santa straight in his more sinister eye should be pleased by the demented vision to be seen there.

Other Desert Cities: Gripping Family/Political Drama

Other Desert Cities
Booth Theatre, NY

There is no reason to beat around the bush when it comes to describing John Robin Baitz's play, Other Desert Cities, which recently opened on Broadway after a sold-out Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center last winter. To me, it is a great play, a term I don't get to use often, and the best new play I can recall in quite some time. It was riveting, mesmerizing, totally involving, along with being quite funny and relevant. Beautifully written by Baitz, Other Desert Cities grabs the audience from the beginning and never lets go.

A Touch of Poison Does a Body Good

Seminar
Golden Theatre, NYC

Walking away from a theater with genuine joy and excitement for what you have just seen is an all-too-rare and cherished occasion. Between its solid cast, able directing, tight script, and high production quality, Seminar provides just that kind of experience. Looking for any significant holes in this taut piece of private study would prove difficult, and while the play's exploration is not a vast one, it covers the ground it treads thoroughly.

Faulty Assumptions Make Eisenberg's Asuncion Entertaining

My friend and I found ourselves discussing Jesse Eisenberg's new play, Asuncion, for a good half hour after we recently saw it. That says something for the play; while slight and not fully realized, I found Asuncion to be amusing, fairly entertaining, and, obviously, based on our post-play conversation, thought-provoking. And, yes, this is the same Jesse Eisenberg who is better known as an actor and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Social Network. With Asuncion, Eisenberg shows he has some talent as a playwright. Nevertheless, Asuncion is not quite funny enough for a flat-out comedy and not dramatic or powerful enough for a fully satisfying drama. Still, I'm glad I saw it.

Playing with Your Jesus

Godspell
The Circle in the Square, NYC

Godspell is fighting to prove its relevance while trying to shake off the haunting suspicion of being terribly dated. Energy and dedication are on the side of the ten-person cast of youngsters, but whether youth is any match for a catchy score laden with creaky old Bible stories is a question that hangs in the balance.

All forms of trick and gimmick are employed in this mighty effort to bring Stephen Schwartz’s 1971 classic into the 21st century, from trampolines to confetti guns to on-stage instruments to countless topical jokes and a barrage of celebrity impersonations; even a baptismal version of the proverbial kitchen sink makes way it into the show.

The Hit of the Season

Queen of the Mist
Transport Group Theater Company
, NYC
Through November 20, 2011

Queen of the Mist is the best musical drama I have seen in decades.

A seasoned critic was once quoted as warning a fresh young reviewer, "You'll run out of adjectives. We all do." Words and phrases such as "superb," "excellent," "skillful," "clever," "sophisticated," "tour-de-force," "role of a lifetime," and "artful" may not be the freshest terms of praise, but they are the ones I would apply to every aspect of this unique musical.

MLK: In Name Only

The Mountaintop
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, NYC

The Mountaintop makes use of his name, it makes use of some of his words, and it makes use of his story, but the play is ultimately devoid of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself in any genuine sense. It borders on the edge of exploitation; if there was a sincere purpose behind this telling of King’s last night on earth, it seems that it was lost somewhere between its confused, aimless script and shameless stunt casting.

Samuel L. Jackson, ever effective in films when he keeps within his badass range, is well outside his abilities in the role of Martin Luther King Jr. His struggle to find comfort on the Broadway stage is reminiscent of his awkward presence as Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels, only less entertaining.

Relatively Awful

Ethan Coen/Elaine May/Woody Allen
Relatively Speaking
Brooks Atkinson Theatre, NYC

Comedies that aren’t funny are an unpleasant proposition, particularly when there’s more than one to be endured in a single evening.  In a baseball analogy, Relatively Speaking would rack up two stone-faced strikeouts and a base hit worth a couple chuckles and some thought. One would hope that when three respected writers such as Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen combine forces to mount a collection of one-acts, directed by John Turturro, that there should be an expected level of quality, but instead of the words of proven masters we are presented with the misguided scribbling of rank amateurs.