Reviews Off Broadway / Whats On Off Broadway

Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Pass Over: Paradise Delayed or Delivered?

Pass Over is a relatively young play, returning to Broadway just a few years after the original ran in 2018. For those of you that saw that version, or the Spike Lee filmed version, the ending is very different. I didn’t see either of these (although I confess to watching the end of the Spike Lee version afterwards), so I came to it with fresh eyes.

Huge credit must be given to the playwright, Antionette Chinonye Nwandu, for crafting a play that is both funny and profane, both tragic and comedic, influenced by the defeated and hopeful.

Jon Michael Hall and Nair Smallwood in Pass Over

The profanity, the banter and the pathos are delivered by the characters Moses and Kitch, portrayed by the wonderful and heartbreaking performances of Jon Michael Hill and Nair Smallwood, respectively. These two men are stuck in place and time where the value of the black men matter less than the comfort and lives of the Police.  Police that act like violet overlords that pass though their lives, bringing pain and humiliation, only to pass back out again.

Moses and Kitch pass this day seemingly like every other, falling back into jokes and daydreams of the paradise that awaits them should they “pass over”. Pass Over to somewhere outside the confines of their lives, somewhere lovely and always just out of reach. They can accomplish this either through physically leaving their situation or by dying and going to heaven. (The parallels with Waiting for Godot are intentional, until they aren’t.) Ms. Nwandu has more to say about the life of her creations and their dreams. Including have a man named Moses trying to lead his friend off the bock.

Why can’t they just leave the block? Is it inertia or the Police and the system of justice that is committed to the status quo? Hint, it’s not inertia.

Into their daily routine, on this day, a white man walks into their neighborhood, all gee whiz attitude, blazing white suit, smiles and needing help.  He brings with him a picnic he wants to share or leave with the men. Kitch is all for sharing the food and company, while Moses sees the offer, and subsequent spread, as offensive and patronizing. The visitor (played by Gabriel Ebert) feeds and entertains the two, until he decides to leave abruptly.

A member of the police arrives later in the day to intimidate the men and force a submission that is almost animalistic in its mental and physical cruelty. A palpable sense of dread then encompasses the play and the theater.

Gabriel Ebert, Jon Michael Hall, Nari Smallwood

But finale of Pass Over has been changed to reflect the times. And the times, with demonstrations for Black Lives Matter and a recognition of Police brutality, have changed. And the changes work. Danya Taymor directs this piece with clarity, purpose, and a deft hand. But it is the performances that you remember, long after you leave the theater. Pass Over is thought provoking, uncomfortably funny and a must see for theater lovers.


Pass Over
PlaywrightAntionette Chinonye Nwandu | DirectorDanya Taymor | CastJon Michael Hill, Nair Smallwood. Gabriel Ebert

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Disciple is a Study in Contradictions

Cameron Darwin Bossert and Maja Wampuyc

The new, live presentation of The Disciple by the Thirdwing theatre company premiered at The Wild Project and told a riveting tale. 

On a very simple level, it is the story of Ayn Rand told through the eyes of her protégé and future best-selling author, Nathaniel Branden. But you can’t summarize the story that simply. The Disciple is many things: a tragic love story, a coming of age story, the story of self-deception, and an argument both for and against Ayn Rand’s “Objective Consciences”. That the play succeeds on all counts is a tribute to writer / director Rachel Carey and cast of Maja Wampuzyc and Cameron Darwin Bossert.

Nathaniel Branden begins the story, and marks the chapters in it, at the foot of the stage, lecturing to a group about his latest self-help book. The play echoes the format of his book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”. Early on, he explains that his theory of Objective Consciences comes from his studying under Ayn Rand.

His mini lectures / talks with the audience are expanded and punctuated by the presentations into his relationship with Ayn Rand. What follows is an overview of their relationship and how it morphed over time and guided Nathaniel’s career. Nathaniel first came to Ayn as a “disciple”, one her Objectivist students that worked and supported her. But Nathaniel was more than that. He was her follower and her lover, even though they were both married.

The Disciple provides a unique glimpse into their well-known affair, and how Ayn justified this through her philosophy. Taken literally, this would be a boring lecture, but combined with the view into their relationship and how Ayn’s justifications changed over time, The Disciple shows a rare venerable side to Ayn. It shows emotion in a woman who doesn’t believe in emotions, a dichotomy she cannot come to grips with. Balanced against a lover and devotee that she, ultimately, cannot control.

The scenes with Maja Wampuzyc and Cameron Darwin Bossert show these two at ease and control of their characters, with a chemistry that lights up the play.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Disciple through its multiple lenses. The acting was terrific, and the Wild Project provides an intimate space. At 80 minutes it is a quick dive into fascinating people that are more complex than we think. (Note: Proof of vaccination required.)

The Disciple
Director / Playwright: Rachel Carey | Cast: Maja Wampuzyc, Cameron Darwin Bossert

Monday, July 12, 2021

A Raucous Wake in Olde Dublin

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly is a glimpse into the lives of the women of an “inn”, a brothel in Dublin in the 19th century. Dorcas Kelly, once the proprietor of the establishment in question – now the corpse, is laid out for toasts, eulogies, and unexpected revelations.

The primary mourners are three of the women that for Dorcas; Siobhan, Myra and Kate (Irina Kaplan, Florence Scagliarini and Phoebe Mar Halkowich respectively). These women, wildly different, share the bond not just because they are prostitutes, but because they are independent in a male dominated world. And the world outside is in a riot to get in to attack the women, not for the profession but because they stole Dorcas’ body from potter’s field to give her a proper wake and burial.

Irina Kaplan, Florence Scagliarini, Eamon Murpy, Adam Belvo, Nicolas Thomas, Phoebe Mar Halkowich

The main male characters in the show struggle to keep up with the women. Willian (Eamon Murphy) is hired to keep the mob at bay, although he comes into the wake frequently to give updates, partake in spirits and try to make time with the women. Tom (Nicolas Thomas) palys the part of a customer trying to make an honest woman of Siobhan, which she wants no part of. And Father Jack Dancy (Adam Belvo) wakes up in the brothel to be told to give Dorcas a proper send off.

Siobhan and Myra play the two women well, but expectedly. Whores with a kind heart underneath the make-up and prickly exteriors. Kate, on the other hand, is taking over Dorcas’ business after being an employ and the money woman for a while. She is not willing to give up what freedom she has in order to join the ranks of respectable woman. Kyra Jackson plays Fannie, a worked that married into the respectable society. She drops by repeatedly, supposedly to pay her respects, but more realistically because she still misses the comradery of Inn. Frannie achieved the “dream” of marriage and the good life, only to be rejected by rest of society and looks to the women as her friends.

Irene Kaplan and Florence Scagiarini

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly is a comedy first and foremost. But it also explores the power and limits of the power which these women have gained by operating outside mainstream society.. Siobhan and Myra are tempted by the better life but are aware that this means a loss of autonomy.

Well written and directed by Sara Fellini, The Wake of Drocas Kelly explores the power dynamics of the age, without sacrificing the story or laughs to get there. My one complaint would be the accents which range from New York Irish bartender to unintelligible Dubliner. They are all good, but some require such a struggle to understand, you lose the plot for moments.

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly is a welcome return to live theater that entertains and makes you think. That is a pleasure to enjoy after so long without it.

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly

Director: Sara FelliniPlaywright: Sara Fellini
Cast: Adam Belvo, Kyra Jackson, Duoer Jia, Irina Kaplan, Phoebe Mar Halkowich, Eamon Murphy, Peter Oliver, Nicholas Thomas, Florence Scagliarini

Friday, July 9, 2021

Jackie Hoffman Rises As Fruma-Sarah

The Cell is a remarkably intimate space to watch Jackie Hoffman work her magic. Those who have seen her - live in the theater, singing at Joe’s Pub or in many television appearances - appreciate her great talent in overwhelming the stage while not overwhelming her costars. In Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings), her myriad of talents are seen through a completely different prism. What if this multi-talented woman had been born into a different, and lesser, life. 

Fruma-Sarah (Waiting In The Wings); Jackie Hoffman and Kelly Kingsella

In Furma-Sarah, Ms. Hoffman plays Ariana Russo, an ex-housewife devoted to community theater in central New Jersey - which is kind of like Broadway’s cousin, once removed. For those that don’t know, or don’t remember, the character of Fruma-Sarah is a comedic cameo in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. You don’t have to remember, or even like, Fiddler on the Roof (something I rarely admit to) in order to love this show. The main references are to the songs from the show, which are part of the American zeitgeist.

Ariana is hilariously bitter about the politics of local theater, her failed marriage and still bitter, albeit less hilariously, about how life has retreated from her.  Ariana is locked into a flying harness, waiting until she enters as the dream witch, emerging from the wings, high above stage left. Meanwhile she holds court over a captive stage manager – a wonderful Kella Kingsella who grows during the performance. Ariana, enjoying her forced audience of one, rifts on marriage, life in the suburbs and her delightfully petty feuds with the local gate-keepers of community theater.

Jackie Hoffman and Kelly Kingsella

It is a treat to watch Kelly Kingsella, as stage manager Margo, try to keep Ariana quiet, semi-sober and awake until her entrance at 1:07 in the show. Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings) runs in real time as Fiddler in the Roof drags on off-stage, which means both Ariana and Margo have a deadline. Will Ariana fly on time? Will Margo’s walls come down? These two women not only command the stage, they invest the audience in the outcome. You can feel the tension as the audience realizes how much time is left.

The writing by E. Dale Smith is astounding. He captures the joy, wonder, and disappointment of theater life, whether on Broadway or in a small theatre in central New Jersey. The direction by Braden M Burns is fast paced but emotional, funny, and sensitive. He unrolls the layers of the character and her isolation, slowly, lovingly and with a perfect cast. I also have to call out the lighting by Dan Alaimo, which brings backstage during a show to life. 

Fruma-Sarah, L’chaim.

Furma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings) 
 Director: Braden M BurnsPlaywright: E. Dale Smith
Cast: Jackie Hoffman, Kelly Kinsella | Website

Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Live Show on the Upper West Side

 Live Theater is slowly coming back. This time in a pop up on the Upper West Side.


Friday, June 11 @ 7pm -- LIVE on the UWS

To celebrate LGBT+ Pride 2021, this internationally acclaimed gay marriage dramedy returns for a series of live outdoor pop-up performances on the Upper West Side. In MADE FOR EACH OTHER, Jerry and Vincent are deeply in love. But both men have secrets and inner voices reminding them of their unresolved pasts. Will they make it to the altar or will Vincent end up alone in an Alzheimer’s ward like his wonderfully kooky mother? A surprisingly hilarious romantic dramedy about love, sex, & the power of memory written by Monica Bauer, directed by John D. FitzGibbon, and performed by John Fico (playing multiple characters). Bring a blanket to sit on -- and maybe even pack a picnic basket! ★★★★★ “Extraordinary” exclaims ScotsGay Magazine. “Touching, funny, tragic, and above all, romantic. An incredible performance” says Edinburgh's Three Weeks. 60 minutes. Weather permitting - refunds will be issued if it rains. Friday, June 11 and Thursdays June 17 & 24 at 7pm. More info and tickets HERE.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Little Shop of Horrors Returns on Sept 21 with Jeremy Jordan

Post-covid theater news is busting out all over. The wildly successful off-Broadway run of Little Shop of Horrors is coming back on September 21.

The amazing stars Tammy Blanchard and Christian Borle will return in their roles, and the lead will be turned over to Jeremy Jordan. I will confess to mixed feelings here. Mainly excitement, because I love Jeremy Jordan and his voice. But I am also a little wary of young handsome Mr. Jordan playing the totally nebbish Seymour. I suppose glass and a bad wardrobe will make it work.

I believe I last saw Jeremy Jordan on Broadway in Newsies and American Son. But he has shared his talents on the stage, film and television projects (like Smash and Supergirl)

Jeremy Jordan 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

A Dozen Dreams Pulls Us Out of the Catastrophic

A Dozen Dreams is the theatrical / artistic installation designed to pull us out of our pandemic dreams and nightmares and then journey beyond them. I experienced A Dozen Dreams the day after the CDC mask mandate was lifted (although, still required during the show) and the installation could not have been better timed. 

Ellen McLaughlin’s “My Dream in this Moment"

A Dozen Dreams is a collaboration between 12 female artists and playwrights and an all-female design team; it was conceived by the team at En Garde Arts. It is a walk-through piece where you travel alone or in pairs, with voices (via sanitized headphones) guiding you through a labyrinth of dreamscapes. Each room was conceived, created and performed separately, but they all work in unison to help us make sense of the past year plus in isolation.

The artists’ voices’ themselves direct us, confront and comfort us in unexpected moments of clarity, empathy and exhaustion. The program will give you a description of the various rooms but the emotions generated by these spaces rolls up to hit you unexpectedly. Guided by the artist voices, you are in each of the 12 rooms less than 10 minutes. 

Depending on the viewer's experience, some rooms may make you agitated, while others you feel rushed - because it is almost impossible to take in the artist, the visuals and the emotion in the short time you have. I confess I wanted to sit on the floor in the room “As Hard As You Can” and listen to playwright and spoken word artist Ren Dara Santiago over and over. But you are forced on – just as the pandemic seemed to march on despite our wishes.

Andrea Thome’s “House Dreaming"

The experience is divided into three major parts. The opening vision is Ellen McLaughlin’s “My Dream in this Moment” which is described as ‘a collective memory of what theater used to be and a prayer for theater’s future role in bringing us back together.’ It is a melancholy reminder of what we have lost with theater, both singular and as a community.

Then you cross the mall (it is performed in the Brookfield Place in Battery Park) into the labyrinth, where the next 10 rooms are interconnected but separate, reminding you of half-forgotten places in your memory. In each room, one of the artists has created a singular dream, that we are invited to share with them. Some are coping dreamscapes; some are dreams of a better world and a few are rebirth dreams that hold the promise of a new path. The meat of A Dozen Dreams is here in the labyrinth where our expectations, desires and fears intersect.

Exiting the labyrinth, you cross out into the light for an epilog of a hopeful future, provided by Emily Mann’s “Spirit Dreams,” in which she awakens from a dream of something that was good and beautiful, in which she didn’t feel alone, and where her friend Kecia Lewis sings a beautiful song reminding us that the world is something we must recreate every day for ourselves and for each other.

The immersive experience is fantastic and, at the same time, a bit isolating. You know that there are people both ahead and behind you, and yet you go through it alone, forced into isolation as complete as the Covid lockdowns. This makes the release from the labyrinth back into the world of people all the more powerful.

Rehana Mirza’s“The Death of Dreams”

It isn’t traditional theater, we are still waiting for that to return. But it is emotional and moving theater, more visceral than zoom or pre-recorded shows. It is a step forward, and given the year we’ve all had, it is a step I could not wait to take. I was joyful at the end. Take someone with you if you can, you will want to dissect the experience later over wine and relax for the first time in a year.

A Dozen Dreams is therapeutic and hopeful, the promise of a better and different world to come.  It was conceived by En Garde Arts Founder and Artistic Director Anne Hamburger, with the visionary visual and environment designer Irina Kruzhilina and former Lark Artistic Director John Clinton Eisner, the playwrights featured in A Dozen Dreams are representative of a range of voices and experiences, from Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-nominated artists to fresh new talents. Authors include: Sam Chanse, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Emily Mann, Martyna Majok, Mona Mansour, Rehana Mirza, Ellen McLaughlin, Liza Jessie Peterson, Ren Dara Santiago, Caridad Svich, Lucy Thurber, and Andrea Thome. Singer Kecia Lewis is featured in the dream of Emily Mann.