Theater Review

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


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.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 »

Los Angeles: Snowy with Cold Shoulders, Followed by Emotional Meltdown

laphoto1Arriving in the Flea Theater’s downstairs space to watch Julian Sheppard’s new play Los Angeles induces some fairly strong cognitive dissonance. A show about sprawling, soul-sucking, terminally uncreative L.A. put on in a tiny, dark warren-like space by one of New York’s most innovative acting troupes? How can that possibly work? And yet, although Sheppard’s play itself sometimes falters on a compositional level, in terms of the writing and pacing, the cast’s outstanding acting and the sense of humor director Adam Rapp brings to the play give it a memorable bite.

The play takes place in a series of vignettes that, essentially, follow a young woman’s destruction, which is both self-inflicted and spurred by others. Read more »

Aging Exiles Lose Their Significance: Tom Stoppard's Salvage

salvage.jpgIt must be true that most revolutionaries, if they live past the age of forty, lose their influence. The ironic hero of Tom Stoppard's trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, Alexander Herzen is described by a spokesman for the younger generation in the final play, Salvage, as "sentimental." Worse still, "his ideas are extinct." This is said of a man who has dedicated himself for the past thirty years to the cause of freedom and political reform in Russia. But "reform" is too tame a concept for the new young men, who are both more pragmatic and more violent in their ideology. Whereas Herzen -- compellingly embodied by Brian F. O'Byrne (pictured, with Martha Plimpton) -- says of the on-going situation, "we have to be patient," the younger men reject "progress, morality, and art," Now they are nihilists who will smilingly destroy all. Read more »

Diagnosis: Hysterical BLINDNESS

blindness.jpgNobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness is a deeply unsettling meditation on human nature and how quickly human society can unravel when people are gripped by irrational fear. In many ways its mood echoes the similarly cautionary tale of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which Godlight Theatre Company adapted strikingly well last year. So one would be justified in expecting that Joe Tantalo (founder/artistic director of the company) would have comparable success adapting Blindness for the stage. Unfortunately, the new production, which opened Tuesday at 59E59 Theatres, does not live up to those expectations. Despite the inherent tension of Saramago’s story, the plot drags here, with the most striking bursts being those of violence, making for a display that is often physically horrifying, sure, but that fails to strike the notes of moral horror Saramago achieved on the page. Read more »

Nightmare Travels: Wallace Shawn and the Good Life

thefever.jpgHow often does one go to the theatre and get to hobnob on the stage before the play starts with all one’s fellow theatergoers and the star?

We are served champagne on the drawing room set. It’s a discreet little party, with the guests just slightly shoving in that aggressive New Yorker way towards a moment of discourse with Wallace Shawn. And, yes, he stands there in his tweed sports jacket and discreet tie, beaming, and gabbing away like a genial host. Read more »

Tom Stoppard: The Coast of Utopia - Vivian Beaumont Theater - Lincoln Center

coastofutopiaTom Stoppard has bitten off a huge mouthful of Russian history with his trilogy at Lincoln Center, The Coast of Utopia. It’s a brilliant production so far, with the first two plays, Voyage and Shipwreck, having opened. The narrative concerns a group of political revolutionaries—Bakunin, Herzen, Belinsky, and others—from the 1830s and 1840s, precursors of the Russian Revolution of 1917, but so far in advance of their times as to be more dreamers and talkers than actual soldiers of the revolution. Revolutions of a sort were occurring in Western Europe (like the brief one of 1848). But most of Russia was still asleep, under the repressive Tsar Nicholas I, and that situation drives these passionate men first to heated political discourse, and later to travel abroad to Paris and other European hotbeds of exile activity. Read more »

The Clean House is a Little Too Clean

cleanhouse.jpgSarah Ruhl’s The Clean House is her first major production in New York City, even though she was a runner-up for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in drama and won a MacArthur Fellowship (otherwise known as the genius award) in 2006. She comes bearing much critical praise, and given that she is only 32 years old, this could prove to be a problem. Will she live up to Charles Isherwood’s effusive claim in his New York Times review that The Clean House is “one of the finest and funniest new plays you’re likely to see in New York this season”?

In a strange way, and despite its apparent experimental techniques, it is a very safe play, just the kind they love at Lincoln Center: pretty, witty, well acted, with nothing too disturbing. And the play has a lot of laughs. But where are the crazy raw edges of life, the truly risky discoveries? Read more »

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘N’ Roll: More than a Trip Down Memory Lane

rocknrollPlaying to full houses at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, Tom Stoppard’s latest play, Rock ‘N’ Roll lays out a theory of art as well as a political story line. Basically the play suggests that art—in this case the music of classic rock ‘n’ roll—thrives on a deeper level in countries that censor it (like those behind the Iron Curtain prior to the fall of Soviet Communism).

Now, this is not a new vision; there was a good deal of talk in the 1970s and ‘80s about how literature, particularly poetry and fiction, held a much more sacred and significant place where it was censored. American poets envied their Russian peers, who lived in a place where a poetry performance might be a major cultural event, where people actually lined up to hear poets read their work and sometimes smuggled banned books across borders for friends. Read more »

Dogs at BAM

dogs.jpgAnticipation for Sarah Michelson’s DOGS at BAM ran high. Prior to a premiere, the British-born dancer/choreographer is passionately tight-lipped about her work. Shunning press releases and brochure blurbs, Michelson whips up a frenzy of curiosity that few artists enjoy. With a BAM debut added to the mix, a coveted prize for many “downtown” artists, the pre-opening frenzy reached a fever pitch of expectation -- perhaps unfair, perhaps cultivated –- but nearly impossible to fulfill.

The visual elements, designed by Michelson and Parker Lutz, who both danced in the work, were truly breathtaking. Read more »

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