Theater Review

In the Heights

in_the_heightsI had heard so many good things about the new Broadway musical In the Heights that I was hoping for more from this show, set in the largely Latino Washington Heights section of Northern Manhattan around a July 4 holiday. I didn’t dislike it; in fact, I very much admired its spirit and energy. The score, written by the show's star, newcomer Lin-Manuel Miranda, is appealing, with its Latin-flavored, hip-hop, and rap numbers mixing with some more traditional Broadway sounds. There were plenty of virtuoso performances, and the second act had some touching moments. But, overall, largely due to book and story issues and a major lack of character development, I just couldn’t get totally involved in In the Heights. Read more »

Escape to South Pacific

south_pacificOnce upon a time in the 1940s and '50s they wrote truly great musicals in America, and Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific is one of them. From the moment the Lincoln Center orchestra strikes up the overture, a mood of lush romance and wonder settles upon the theatre. The music is exquisite. And this production lives up to the high level set by the very talented composer and lyricist.

Somehow it is just the right moment for a revival of this 1949 classic musical. Yes, it is set in the South Pacific Theater during World War II, but it’s not the relevance to our day that makes it work. Read more »

Fractured Family Life

homecoming_pinterThe Homecoming is not my favorite Harold Pinter play, but almost any Pinter play tends to be better than anything else around, so it is wonderful to have this production on Broadway until April 13. I certainly recommend going. With Daniel Sullivan directing competently, and such fine actors as Ian McShane and Eve Best starring, it is effective in exactly those jolting ways that characterize early Pinter works.

The play is mean, funny, dark, disturbing, and mysterious. Read more »

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

appleton.jpgSitting in the audience at PS 122, gazing out at the barely-adorned stage, taking in the sound of a piano played by a woman dressed in Victorian clothing, one can easily feel the pleasure of having stumbled onto something that few know about. But with PS 122 being one of the city’s premier avant-garde performing art showcases, and the show having won U.K. critics’ accolades and several awards after appearing in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, any sense of having “discovered” 1927’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is of necessity false. Read more »

Short Plays by Beckett - New York Theatre Workshop

beckett3Samuel Beckett is the premier absurdist playwright of the twentieth century, a “classic” so to speak. But as the decades pass, his work is performed less often in Manhattan. New York Theatre Workshop is presently staging what they have titled Beckett Shorts, consisting of Act Without Words I & II, Rough for Theatre I, and Eh Joe. And we should all be so glad that they are.

The production is a small jewel: precise direction by Joanne Akalaitis; original, atonal music by Philip Glass; effectively simple stage design by architect Alexander Brodsky; and brilliant acting by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Bill Camp. Read more »

August Heat + Family Fury = Stunning Broadway

august_osage_countyTracy Letts’s new play August: Osage County, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, is a brilliant indictment not only of the American family—which has taken plenty of hits over the years, and rightly so—but of America’s culture and history as well. In fact the dysfunctional Weston family is a metaphor for the American people. They live on the former Great Plains, 60 miles northwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the true heartland. Just as the Westons drink, pop pills, attack each other, cheat on their partners, and rage at perceived insults and old humiliations, so do we all in this great imperialistic consumer culture we call our own. Read more »

Bingo with the Indians

bingoSo many new plays these days are painfully short of substance, with the only reason to see them being the top-notch efforts of the city’s endless supply of talented actors. Adam Rapp is one of the few exceptions to the lazy playwright rule. His plays, from Stone Cold Dead Serious to Red Light Winter to Essential Self-Defense, are always so multi-layered, intricate, and intelligent that multiple viewings seem necessary. Fortunately, the stories he tells and the characters he tells them through are always so interesting that the idea of seeing the shows again is far from a problem. Read more »

Moliere's The Misanthrope in 21st Century Mode

misanthrope.jpgWithout a doubt, Ivo van Hove is a talented, edgy director. His take on Moliere’s The Misanthrope, playing at New York Theatre Workshop, is hyper-modern, energetic, larger than life, and urbanely witty. The stark set suggests a contemporary loft, where artistic, showy, high performing people gather to tear each other apart. This 17th century French comedy, translated by British poet Tony Harrison, seems very of the moment in Hove’s production. The articulate crowd of characters all carry ever-active cell phones and Blackberries, wear stylish dark suits, and snap in and out of their social interactions with the attention span of hyperactive four year olds. Each is self-centered to the max. Read more »

Structure Troubles Dog Play

steve_steven.jpgThe audience never sees the title character in Ann-Marie Healy’s new play Have You Seen Steve Steven?, the character being a long-forgotten imaginary dog “owned” by two teenagers when they were little. But the long-disappeared phantasm of the dog turns out to be a central character, even the key character, in this darkly funny and thoughtful play, which features several excellent bits of acting, though the ending is a little too strange in the end for its own good. Resurrected by two people who seem almost as imaginary as he does, Steve Steven shatters the complacent Midwestern world of the teens’ two families, bringing the divisions already present into high relief. Read more »

New Play Induced Car Sickness

riverdale.jpgIf you've ever been stuck in a car for a long ride with relatives with whom you have, at best, a love-hate relationship, you could sympathize with the plight of the characters in Anastasia Traina's new play From Riverdale to Riverhead, at Studio Dante. Unfortunately, the experience of sitting through the play is not unlike such a road trip, with bursts of giddiness and warm feelings punctuating stretches of sullenness, frustration, and irritation, as well as an undeniable sense of relief when it's over. Despite some good efforts on the actors' parts, the characters are tough to like, and without a sympathetic point of view through which to enter their world, any comedy and drama in the story are hard to pick up on. Read more »

The Past Through the Prism of the Present

scenes_from_an_execution.jpgIn Scenes from an Execution, Howard Barker recreates the contentious, inspired world of artistic Venice in the 1570s, populating a rich historical landscape with fictional painters and patrons. But the themes and emotions the play can arouse in an audience today, as in QED Productions’ current revival, deftly directed by Zander Teller, pulse as though modern, and almost factual. The characters’ tangled relationships and loyalties, portrayed with intensity by the leading actors, not only draw you into the individual struggles that shape them and their world, but demand your engagement from start to finish with the intellectual and moral issues from which those struggles are born. Read more »

The Debate Society: The Eaten Heart

eaten_heart.jpgIn our ultraconnected, seen-it-all modern world, it’s hard to imagine that magic (for lack of a better word to describe the strange, unknown, unexpected) is anywhere anymore, or that anyone might still want it. But watching The Debate Society’s terrific new play The Eaten Heart, one realizes with relief that yes, there is still the more mysterious, older kind of magic to be found and people do still seek it, though it’s hardly obvious or easy to recognize.

The Brooklyn-based troupe’s second installment in a promised trilogy of plays based on stories from Black Plague times (the first, The Snow Hen, premiered last February), The Eaten Heart springs from Boccaccio’s Decameron, though even people in the audience who are somewhat familiar with that early novel may initially have trouble recognizing the fragments from it that have been spun into the play. Read more »

Kids With Guns: An Octopus Love Story

octopus.jpg Fairly early on in An Octopus Love Story, Michael Cyril Creighton (above left), as the cuttingly intelligent and self-important Alex, a gay man, meets Kathy, a good ol’ Texas gal played radiantly by Krista Sutton, and he is, it seems, genuinely enchanted by what he finds. It’s a sweet moment, but it passes quickly, and one might dismiss it as the mere attraction of an effeminate man to a very strong feminine presence. But the encounter’s mix of the retro and the quirky, old values and new, nicely echoes Delaney Britt Brewer’s flawed but entertaining new play as a whole. It’s about neither octopus passion, as the title would suggest, nor about same-sex love and marriage, as the first main thread of the plot suggests – though both are elements – but rather turns out to be broader and more conventionally romantic at its core, articulating an anguished cry that goes back to Romeo and Juliet and before: We can’t help who we love, we just love. Read more »

Revived Company Goes 0-for-2

realism.jpg

British theatre has been a reinvigorating force in New York for some time, with the best of the West End coming over and showing us how it should be done on Broadway, and hits from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival offering new ideas to the off-off-Broadway scene when things get stale. So one might have been justified in thinking that the choice by the eXchange, a new company rising from the proverbial ashes of the Jean Cocteau Repertory, which disintegrated earlier this year, to use premieres of two British plays in its inaugural season was a smart one. Unfortunately, neither of these plays is strong enough to make one look past the weaknesses in acting and direction that plague both, and the combination prevents these debuts from feeling very auspicious.

Read more »

Throw

throw.jpgThe bi-monthly works-in-progress series for movement-based artists called Throw gives performers an opportunity to interact with the audience in a unique way. Held at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, the programs consist of three short segments. After each segment, the performers ask the audience questions.

Sarah Maxfield, co-founder of Red Metal Mailbox, curates and moderates the series, which began in June of last year and has allowed numerous dancers a chance to gain insight from an audience. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the way people jump in” responding to the questions posed by performers. “Their opinions give fantastic feedback.” Read more »

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