Theater Review

Moonlight After Midnight

Moonlight After Midnight
Written by Martin Dockery
Dramaturgy by Vanessa Quesnelle
April 10, 17, 24 and 30, 2015

A wooden chair, really the only prop onstage in Martin Dockery’s Moonlight After Midnight, is also the only thing in this mind-bending play that actually remains what it seems from the first. A woman (Vanessa Quesnelle) walks into the hotel room of a man (Martin Dockery). After a tense exchange that suggests that they know and love each other, the lights are turned up, and the woman claims that she has been sent by the "service" that she works for. The man denies that he made the call. She says the caller wanted her to roleplay his wife. He says not to mention his wife. He does, however, acquiesce to her demand that he pay her for her time in any case, paving the way for an encounter during which we never learn either of their names, but which qualifies as a journey of discovery nonetheless, one in which their roleplaying continually reboots. Read more »

Live from the Surface of the Moon

Live from the Surface of the Moon
Written and directed by Max Baker
Stable Cable Lab Co. at The Wild Project
195 E 3rd St., New York, NY 10009
April 2-11, 2015

Coinciding with the return of AMC’s Mad Men is the current run of actor, director, and playwright Max Baker’s new play, Live from the Surface of the Moon, another look at American culture as it runs out the clock on the 1960s. Baker trains his gaze not on the halls of Madison Avenue but on one Cleveland family’s wood-paneled living room on the nights of the moon landing and New Year’s Eve, 1969. As the play begins, Don (Ian Patrick Poake) and his pregnant wife, Carol (Kate Garfield), have invited their married friends Wendell (Brian Edelman) and June (Breanna Foister) to watch the astronauts step onto the moon; also part of the viewing party are Carol’s father, Joe (Kevin Gilmartin), who lives with them because of his senility, and Holly (Lisa Anderson), a slightly awkward young woman whom Carol hopes to turn from acquaintance to babysitter. Read more »

Extreme Happiness Is Right Here!

The World of Extreme Happiness
Directed by Eric Ting Written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
Manhattan Theatre Club - NYC Center Stage
February 3-March 29, 2015

A boy is a child. A girl is a thing. These words greet the birth of Sunny Li in The World of Extreme Happiness, the new play from award-winning Playwright-in-Residence at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig. Sunny’s arrival into the world in 1992 rural China puts her place in her father’s heart somewhere below the female racing pigeon about whom he rhapsodizes and dreams. Accordingly, it is not even clear at first that he is talking about a pigeon and not a woman, while the newborn girl is quickly, albeit temporarily, consigned to a slop bucket to die. When we next meet Sunny (Jennifer Lim), she is 18 and part of the janitorial staff in an urban factory with a PR problem due to employee suicides. In response, Artemis Chang, vice-president of Price-Smart, the Walmart-esque corporation supplied by the factory, suggests a documentary touting the struggles and successes of their employees, to be introduced publicly by an appropriately appealing female peasant employee. While Sunny’s coworker Ming-Ming leads her into the world of self-help guru Mr. Destiny, the documentary leads her into competition with Ming-Ming, all of which ultimately forces her to make a fraught decision about whether or not she will speak truth to power. Read more »

Baby, It's Cold Outside - Frigid New York Festival 2015

Erik: A Play About a Puppet
Directed by Jerrod Bogard and Written by John Patrick Bray 
Rising Sun Performance Company 
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married: An Erotic Journey
Directed by Seán Cummings Written and Performed by Mark Bentley Cohen
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
300 to 1
Written by Matt Panesh and Directed by Gareth Armstrong Monkey Poet
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003

This is the second of two dispatches from the theater festival whose name continues to reflect conditions in our fair city: Frigid New York. Frigid is in its ninth year, and all of its revenue goes directly to the artists involved. This year, there are 30 shows running for a combined total of 150 performances in two theaters. We have previously discussed Frigid's Dog Show, The Can Opener, and the excellent Richard the Third and Goal; here, we talk about Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married, which maps an “erotic journey” to escape heteronormativity; Erik, a comic reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera; and 300 to 1, a fantastic one-man show that brings Sparta and Flanders to Manchester.

Frigid New York Festival 2015

Dog Show
Directed by Karim Muasher
Created by the Ensemble Animal Engine
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
The Can Opener: A Brief Horror Musical
Directed by Kenneth Oefelein
Written by M. Zachary Johnson 
Kraine Theater 85 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003
 
Richard the Third and Goal, or RG3
Written and Directed by Neal J. Freeman
Bloody Shakespeare at Under St. Mark’s 94 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY 10009

This is the first of two dispatches from the theater festival whose name is currently more than apt: Frigid New York. Frigid is in its ninth year, and all of its revenue goes directly to the artists involved. This year, there are thirty shows running for a combined total of 150 performances in two theaters. Here, we will discuss three of those thirty, ranging from light comedy through horror-tinged musical to an excellent reimagining of Shakespeare by way of professional sports. Read more »

New York Shakespeare Exchange's Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus
Adapted and Directed by Ross Williams
Written by William Shakespeare
New York Shakespeare Exchange
at HERE
145 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10013
January 22-February 8, 2015

The New York Shakespeare Exchange has its finger in more than one pie, and not all of them are, as in Titus Andronicus, filled with human flesh. In addition to its current production of Shakespeare’s gory early crowd-pleaser, the group created The Sonnet Project, which develops a short film shot in a “cultural/historic” NYC location for each sonnet. The results can be viewed online or through a dedicated mobile app (available for IOS or Android). It also runs periodic pub crawls called ShakesBEER, which we can personally recommend as a fun way to experience a few new drinking establishments in the City accompanied by themed scenes or mash-ups from the Bard’s dramatic canon. Read more »

The Fire That Burns

The Fire This Time 10-Minute Play Festival
Kraine Theater 85 E. 4th St., NYC
January 23-30, 2015

Very short plays are at their most effective when they enter into and add to an existing conversation, and the plays that comprise the Sixth Annual The Fire This Time Festival recognize this. The festival exists as “a platform for talented early-career playwrights of African and African American descent to … move beyond common ideas of what’s possible in ‘black theater’” to demonstrate that “[t]he African American experience is not represented solely by one voice or one style,” and the seven voices that stage these short pieces--this year each inspired by the photographs of Alex Harsley of the 4th Street Photo Gallery, just down the street from the theater and itself worth a visit -- give expression to the diversity of the American experience of people of color in a way that is both particular and inextricable from current (and often longstanding) social flashpoints. Read more »

The Legacy of Damage

Wyoming
Directed by Danya Taymor, Written by Brian Watkins
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue, New York, NY 10003
January 15 - 31, 2015

Spaces on the set of Brian Watkins's new play, Wyoming, are defined almost exclusively by tables -- bar tables, diner tables, kitchen tables, locations that often forge and sometimes force connections between people. Tables are just part of a range of everyday objects, including a locked box, a child's headphones, and a slide projector, that take on symbolic resonance in this meditation on time, choice, secrecy, and -- or perhaps through the lens of -- family. Wyoming, set primarily in the mid-'90s, centers on a Thanksgiving dinner during which the past of the particular family in question becomes unavoidable in various ways and for various, interwoven reasons. This breaking both of bread and of silences is directed by Danya Taymor, niece of the iconic Julie, and features original music from Robin Pecknold, of indie-folk powerhouse Fleet Foxes, and Neal Morgan that appropriately evokes a kind of windswept melancholy. Read more »

Let There Be Blood!

Tamburlaine, Parts I and II
Directed and Edited by Michael Boyd Written by Christopher Marlowe
Theatre for a New Audience
Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Brooklyn, NY
November 1, 2014 - January 4, 2015

Blood, fittingly, gets on everything in Theatre for a New Audience's Tamburlaine, Parts I and II. For the stylized violence in this adaptation of two of Christopher Marlowe's Elizabethan box-office hits, that sometimes means literal buckets of vital fluid; other times, the hem of a white garment trails through a pool of it, or a hand leaves a partial print on a lover’s face. Ably condensed into two 90-minute plays with a half-hour intermission (the minimum amount of time needed to sufficiently de-gore the stage), Tamburlaine's epic military conquests raise him from shepherd to emperor on a bare stage adorned only with hanging plastic strips at the rear that render the world of the play as a meat locker or Patrick Bateman's living room. Read more »

Not the Messiah

Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy): A Comic Oratorio based on Monty Python's Life of Brian
Libretto by Eric Idle and Music by John Du Prez
The Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke's/Ted Sperling
Carnegie Hall, December 15-16, 2014

Not the Messiah was superb (albeit with minor overtones of shtick). But what else to expect from Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and John Du Prez, one of the composers of Spamalot and composer of the soundtrack for Python's swan song film, The Meaning of Life. This was truly an evening of whimsy on a grand, grand scale, with an excellent full orchestra playing wonderful arrangements, a chorus of one hundred-or-so voices, four outstanding soloists, and of course Eric Idle (who at this stage of his long career possesses whimsy-imprinted DNA). Read more »

The Last Ship with Sting

Sting has come to Broadway, as both composer of the new musical The Last Ship and, more recently, in an effort to improve the show's struggling box office numbers, one of its stars onstage. The show itself, while having some book and story flaws, ultimately emerges as an engrossing, touching musical, with an impressive and melodic score that serves the story and the characters. It is an often stirring tribute to the human spirit.

The musical, inspired by Sting's own experiences growing up, takes place in the streets and shipyard of Wallsend, in the northeast end of England. The town and its residents are having problems, as the shipyard has been closed down. For reasons that don't entirely make sense, the residents are inspired to build one last ship. The Last Ship deals with familiar themes: father/son relationships, an economically depressed town, the lure of the sea, and the idea of a community; these are real people whom the audience can care about, and the results are sincere, earnest, gritty, and noble.

Sting himself is a commanding presence as Jackie White, the shipyard foreman. His character is not the lead, but Sting makes the most of it and shows his theatrical skills. The lead character is Gideon Fletcher, who left his home town at the age of fifteen to go to sea and escape the town, then returns fifteen years later. Gideon had issues with his father, and also left behind a young girlfriend, Meg, who he still loves. Michael Esper, who plays Gideon, was out the night I saw the show, but his understudy, Jeremy Woodard, was excellent. Rachel Tucker is glowing as the now grown up woman he left behind; Fred Applegate provides some comic relief and a twinkle in his eye as the local priest, while Collin Kelly Sordelet is impressive as Tucker's teenage son. Read more »

The Voices of Reason

EstroGenius 2014
4th Street Theatre
83 E. 4th St., NYC
October 2-November 2, 2014

The EstroGenius Festival, currently in its 15th year, spotlights women artists in theater. It is organized into three separate shows -- Andi’s Night, Deb’s Night, and Sarah’s Night -- that each consist of five short plays totaling about an hour and a half per "Night." At the end of a program, audience members can vote for their favorite performer, writer, and director on a ballot included in the program, and votes can also be cast for favorite play for a one-dollar donation per vote. The winning play receives a special encore performance at the end of the festival. Read more »

Turning The Glass Around

Turning the Glass Around
Presented by Work/Space Collective
Directed by Heidi Grumelot
Teatro Circulo 64 East 4th St., NYC
October 16-November 1, 2014

Pia Wilson's new play, Turning the Glass Around, interweaves the naturalistic and the theatrical, the rational and the seemingly irrational, and the everyday and the supernatural in order to interrogate other, contemporary American hybridities. Read more »

Oh, Those One-Percenters

That Poor Dream
Directed by Jess Chayes
Presented by The Assembly at the New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher St., New York, NY
October 4th - 26th, 2014

That Poor Dream was written and developed collectively by the members of the Assembly Theater Project, which describes its goals as creating performances that both "address the complexities of our ever-changing world" and ground artists and audience alike in “a profound sense of community.” The play transposes Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations onto the social topography of current-day New York City, recontextualizing the social and economic rise and fall of the original, Dickensian Pip in a world of penthouse apartments and $1,000 omelets, a move that highlights that while the world may be "ever-changing," the class systems of Victorian England and the twenty-first century United States remain closer and more rigidly exploitative than we like to tell ourselves.  Indeed, the Metro-North train that serves as the play’s setting (and most of the set) could be seen as a metaphor for, among other ways of looking at the course of a life, the determinism of a society in which, Pip's heretofore secret benefactor Magwitch tells us, one can be only either a shepherd or a sheep.   Read more »

The Irish Have Landed!

The McGowan Trilogy
Directed by Kira Simring
The Cell 338 West 23rd Street, NYC 
September 11 - October 5, 2014

Séamus Scanlon's The McGowan Trilogy: A Serial in Three Acts embodies the best things about New York City's annual 1st Irish theater festival. The play’s run at The Cell, which bills itself as a twenty-first century salon incubating new works of art, offers a chance to witness the work of a rising talent in Irish drama in an intimate venue. McGowan's assemblage of three one-act plays creates a satisfying arc centered on the title character, Victor M. McGowan, an I.R.A. soldier and killer played by Paul Nugent, who originated the role in 2012. In the published version of the play, Nugent describes his character as maybe having "a genuine soul under all that devilish sneering bravado," and he succeeds in bringing those emotional nuances out over the course of the evening. Read more »

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