Reviews Off Broadway / Whats On Off Broadway

Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Waiting Game Brings a Bit of the Fringe to New York

The Waiting Game now at 59 E 59 Theater is direct from an award-winning run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as Best Overseas Play. It is very much a Fringe play in that it is quickly paced, intelligent and demands a bit from an audience. When given its due, The Waiting Game is a rewarding and excellent piece of theater.

The Waiting Game explores how we hold on to people and experiences, and how we must proactively act to let them go. The story revolves around Paulo (a terrific Marc Sinoway). Paulo’s husband, Sam, lies in a coma in the hospital, brain dead, but his heart still beating a year after an overdose. Paulo is in a relationship of sorts with Tyler (Julian Joseph in a heartbreaking role). Tyler provides Paulo with companionship and sex while demanding very little in return. Paulo has trouble supplying even the little emotional support Tyler needs.

L-R: Marc Sinoway, Joshua Bouchard in THE WAITING GAME. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Paulo also must deal with Geoff (Joshua Bouchard), who was in a healthy relationship with Sam for at least a year before the overdose. Geoff believes that Sam was ready to leave Paulo and live with him, had the accidental overdose not occurred. Paulo resents the idea of Geoff much more than the reality of Geoff.  Geoff entered Paulo and Sam’s marriage as a sex partner, which was acceptable, but Sam and Geoff’s relationship grew, which was outside of the bounds of the agreement. Had Paulo and Sam’s relationship been healthy, the Geoff / Sam relationship would never have grown. As it is, Paulo resents Geoff, but doesn’t deny his importance in Sam’s world.

After waiting for Sam to leave Paulo, now Geoff is waiting for Paulo to let Sam go. Joshua Bouchard does a great job with the role of Geoff, who is sometimes very sympathetic and sometimes not sympathetic at all. On the other hand, Paulo is actively not sympathetic. Self-centered and callous, Paulo has channeled his hurt and confusion into anger and manipulativeness. He forces Tyler and Sam to jump through hoops, while offering very little in return.

The Waiting Game is not an easy play to love, as the pieces don’t fall neatly into place. It suggests emotions and forces the viewer to supply motivation. Why has Paulo retreated into himself? Is the casual drug use a symptom of Paulo’s pain, or was it the cause of Sam’s pain? Why is he such a dick to everyone? Having said that, I did love the show. I found the contradictions honest and raw.

Playwright Charles Gershman has crafted a unique vision at the crossroads of drug use, sex, marriage and HIV status. Nathan Wright has staged it interestingly and pulled out wonderful performances from the actors. It could have used a bit more dialog and a little less distracting stage business, that is where I think the straight transition from the Fringe environment hurts the result. But those are minor nits which are lost in the unique voice The Waiting Game brings.

The Waiting Game | Playwright: Charles Gershman | Director: Nathan Wright | Cast: Joshua Bouchard, Julian Joseph, Ibsen Santos, Marc Sinoway | website

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Power Dynamics Laid Bare(foot)

Barefoot is an interesting new play at the the Gene Frankel Theater. As a new show, it has a few teething
problems, but it is generally great entertainment. Clocking in at a brisk pace with no intermission,
Barefoot grabs the viewer right off and propels you through the evening.

It is basically the story of Sylvia, on the cusp of marriage and a fiance that cheated on her. Sylvia
(Kate T. Billingsly) is a successful psychiatrist from Connecticut living in a high end New York
apartment. Her life has generally be very successful. But her world is skewed by the realization
that her fiance, Robert (Judah Tobais) has cheated on her with Teddy, a rather stunning blond
with a damaged psyche. Teddy is excellently by Elissa Klie. The most engaging moments of the
show happen in the first half with the interaction between Teddy and Sylvia. Sylvia’s tough veneer
is stripped raw by Teddy’s confidence and Sylvia’ insecurities. More than that, the two women find
both camaraderie and betrayal in the details of Teddy and Robert’s story.

Elissa Klie, Judah Tobias, Kate T. Billingsley and Will Rosenfelt in Barefoot
Robert played the part of confidant and pursuer in the relationship, but Teddy was aware he was
engaged before these two had sex, and so she was complicit in the betrayal of Sylvia.

While the two women argue and bond, Robert and Marc, Teddy’s fiance, arrive. Robert is apologetic,
while Marc (Will Rosenfelt) is aggressively angry and unapologetic. These two characters are a bit u
nderdrawn, both are caricatures of the duality of male role models, wimp and bully. Ordering a pizza,
a bisexual pizza boy, Chet (Tent Cox), enters the mix to question the sexuality of Robert / the wimp.

The odd personal dynamics of the foursome is reigned back in when Teddy and Sylvia assert control
and the men are kicked out of the apartment.

Directed by Thomas C Waites, Barefoot moves well and brings both laughter and tension easily.
The show would benefit from some tightening and maybe less stereotypical behavior. There are
many moments that felt very honest and real, and some other moments that seem forced. The
acting is generally very good, with excellent turns by the women, who were giving more range to
work with.

Barefoot is a nice little show in an intimate space. The more often it is presented, I have a feeling the better it
will be. It’s limited run allowed few previews. I enjoyed it when it was great, and wanted it to be stronger
where it faltered. Rooting for a show is a sign of involvement and a key to success. You should see it,
it is a great value, and we will be hearing more from this writer in the future.

Barefoot | Playwright: Kate T. Billingsley & Thomas G. Waites, Director: Thomas C. Waites | Cast: Kate T. Billinsgley, Elissa Klie, Judah Barak Tobias, Will Rosefelt, Trent Cox

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Difficulty of Finding Balance: Lifespan of a Fact

Three actors, at the top of their game, are inhabiting Studio 54 and tearing into our assumptions about truth. It’s easy in the abstract to draw a line underneath truth, but it is less easy in reality. In Lifespan of a Fact trying to draw that line is complicated and hilarious.

Bobby Cannavale plays John D’Argata, an essayist / journalist who has written a moving essay on a young man’s suicide. Cherry Jones is the publisher who wants to publish this great piece, but runs a quick fact check first to cover her bases.   

Daniel Radcliffe plays young Jim Fingal, whom Ms. Jones has authorized to do a fact check of the article. The play is based on a book by the real Misters Fingal and D’Argata, which covers the same ground. With nothing else to go on, you might conclude this would be a dry and esoteric piece. It is not. It is quick moving, witty, very funny and surprisingly relevant in our times.

The essay in question looks at the impact of this suicide on the community. It tries to capture the world at this moment in time. To do so to the greatest affect, the writer has taken some literary licenses. Mr. D'Argata not only doesn't disagree, he defends the actions. 

Fact-checking Mr. Fingal has been diligent to the point of absurdity. He has a 130 page spreadsheet of questions for a 13 page article. Sure, many of these are nit-picky, but a few are key exaggerations of the truth, which gives the article a deeper meaning, but does so by stretching the truth.

Both of the men get extremely defensive about their work. Mr. D’Argata is defensive of changing the work to alter the flow and underlying emotional impact. Mr. Fingal is adamant that if they don't correct some details, the reader won’t ever get to the feeling of the piece. When Daniel Radcliff drops by Bobby Cannavale’s house to have an impromptu discussion, tempers rise quickly. Cherry Jones strides into this rather testosterone-fueled flare up, to calm things down and try to get an essay that everyone can agree with.

Even though these are 3 famous actors, you forget who they are pretty quickly as their characters take over. Jim Fingal and John D’Argata both admire and despise each other. Cherry Jones comes in as a publisher who cares about selling magazines for the right reason, to move and inform the reader. Her support, like the audience's swings between the two men.

The Lifespan of a Fact clocks in at a brisk 90 minutes, which echoes the deadline in the play. Leigh Silverman keeps the momentum moving and the stakes amped up. Lifespan of a Fact is an intimate show, and Studio 54 wraps it in the right space.

Lifespan of a Fact | Playwright: Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell | Director: Leigh Silverman | Cast: Bobby Cannavale.  Daniel Radcliffe, Cheery Jones

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Days To Come Struggles To Little Affect

Lillian Hellman’s play Days to Come was never going to be an easy show, but I was surprised to find it the rare Mint Theater miss. It’s not that it is bad, it just isn’t compelling, and its one possible chance is hamstrung by timing.

Days to Come, written and premiered in 1936, meanders between the story of a manufacturing strike hitting a tight knit Ohio town and a secondary story about the factory’s owner’s wife. 

Larry Bull, Chris Henry Coffey, Ted Deasy, Rodrick Hill, Janie Brookshire

The story of the strike revolves around the impact of the strike on the factory owner, who loves this little town and its people. The factory owner, Andrew Rodman (an underused Larry Bull), is a good man forced to hold down wages which causes him great angst but it causes his co-owners, a business friend and his sister, no angst what so ever. In fact, the co-owners force him to hire “strikebreakers” and he is too naïve to know that this is just another term for hired guns. The handsome young union organizer played Roderick Hill, is under no such allusions. He tries to keep the striking workers from responding to the threats and taunts of the strikebreakers. If they respond physically, then the police (many of them newly deputized thugs) can arrest them and break the strike. And while this is the main story, most of that action happens off stage. The conflict is represented onstage by an old friend of the boss and the new union organizer who show up to try to talk sense into the owner, versus a stereotype of evil in the head thug (well played over the top by Dan Daily) and the uncaring sister (Kim Martin-Cotton).

And then there is the story revolving around the wife. Julia (Janie Brookshire) is barely a wife to the very passive Andrew – this is not Mr. Bull’s fault, the story is written in a manner to suggest he has a great weakness in character, manifest by the inability to inspire his wife. As in Ms. Hellman’s play Little Foxes, the female lead is headstrong and demanding. Here she is also an adulteress and ungrateful, bringing downfall upon the men that she crosses paths with. But in today’s age of #metoo, Ms. Brookshire plays her not as a narcissistic adult, but as a sensitive, albeit emotionally adolescent girlish-woman trying to come to grips with her feelings. I longed for a bit of 1930s Bette Davis or Joan Crawford to crawl out and let loose that she enjoyed her life, but no such luck. Her contemporary motivation was in stark contrast to the 1930’s attitude of all the other players. She dumps her husband’s business partner early in the show, but it isn’t more than a few moments before the brash handsome union organizer shows up. What will happen?

Roderick Hill, Janie Brookshire

Days to Come wraps up this show with an attack on the striking workers, the end of the strike, the end of Mr. Bull’s hopes for a unified town, the end of at least one affair and one marriage and the ambivalence of Julia towards all of it. I was disappointed because I really do love the Mint and look forward to everything they present. This was a rare failure, despite some exceptional acting by Misters Bull, Hill and Daily.

Days to Come | Playwright: Lillian Hellmen | Director: J. R. Sullivan | Cast: Mary Bacon, Jane Brookshire, Larry Bull, Chris Henry Coffey, Dan Daily, Ted Deasy, Roderick Hill, Betsy Hogg, Kim Martin-Cotten, Geoffrey Allen Murhpy, Evan Zes

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Head Over Heels is a Feast of Fun

A good recipe can make a fine dish, be it food or musical theater. Just the right amount of Act I intrigue with lyrical exposition and Act II redemption with swooning love songs, built on a recycled movie can brew up a sweet and charming (if expected) story. But, like a great cook, Head Over Heels throws out the recipe book and tosses all kinds of unexpected odds and ends into the pot. Sixteenth century pastoral story, check. Music by a 1980s new-wave girls band, check. Modern update to a sex comedy, done. And out of this eclectic grab bag, Heads Over Hells tears off the stage to grab your interest and rarely let it go.
Taylor Iman Jones opens Head Over Hells with a snap and a bang
The word exuberant seems designed for this evening of entertainment that will put a smile on your face; a smile that doesn’t leave until hours after the curtain comes down. It is headed by a trio of young women who discover their strength and their loves. The voice of these three will stun you as they grow to take over the stage.

The story, for those of us not up to date on 16th century pastoral romances, is thus. The King of Arcadia faces a prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi that he will lose his kingdom after 4 conditions come to pass. Two concerning his daughters and two concerning him. To avoid this fate, he takes the entire court on a fanciful march into the woods on a flimsy lie. The King and Queen (Broadway veterans Jeremy Kushner and Rachel York) set out bickering in word and tune.

They are joined by their daughters Pamela (Bonnie Mulligan) and Philoclea (Alexandra Socha), the subject of two of the prophecies.  Pamela has rejected all suitors to date and depends on her servant Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones) for company. Philoclea, alternatively, has had her love, lowly shepherd Musidorus (Andrew Durand) rejected by her father. These three women, Bonnie Mulligan, Alexandra Socha and Taylor Iman Jones give Head Over Heels its fantastic voice. They can sing sweetly or belt out the songs of the Go-gos with heart, edge and flair. They can sound like the young lady rockers when they want to and yet can interpret songs in a way you never heard, so that words tell a fresh story. These three are what kicks Head Over Heels into overdrive.

Andrew Durand carries much of the comic weight (with an amazing assist from Bonnie Mulligan) as Musidorus who will go to any lengths for his beloved. The Oracle is played, well over the top, by Peppermint, an actor who honed their skill’s on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Bonnie Mulligan rips it up as Pamela
It is pure old style hokum rendered new by the talented cast, including a chorus of sexual mischievous dancers and actors. Spencer Liff provides quite a modern twist for the choreography. Arcadia is rendering in cartoon glory by Julian Crouch’s scenic design and Kevin Adams’ lighting. Tom Kitt has rearraigned some of the Go-go’s tunes and kept others which sound as fresh as you remember. This mélange of ingredients has been masterfully directed by Michael Mayer, making the show glide along quickly.

Had I not seen the audience, I would wonder who this show appeals to. I know that fans from the 1980’s would embrace the music, and LGBT fans would embrace the heart of this show (and the dynamic turn of Peppermint). But everyone in the theatre loved this show and had a great time, from the young girls and out of towners who weren’t sure what to expect to the locals who might be a bit apprehensive of another jukebox show. Head Over Hells delighted us all.

Head Over Heels | Book:Adapted by James Magruder Original Book: Jeff Whitty | Director: Michael Mayer | Cast: Andrew Durand, Taylor Iman Jones, Jeremy Kushnier, Bonnie Milligan, Peppermint, Tom Alan Robbins, Alexandra Socha, Rachel York

Friday, July 20, 2018

Edward Gero Brings Scalia to Life in The Originalist

The Originalist has a lot to say about the Constitution, the Supreme Court and our country’s inability to discuss politics and find a middle ground. In this, it is more relevant now that it was when written in 2015. It is also a bit harder to watch now than in 2015.

Edward Gero inhabits the role of Judge Antonin Scalia, and brings him to life with vitality, humor and panache. Scalia loudly believes in ruling from the court on the original intent of the authors of the constitution, not any interpretation. Mr. Gero sells Mr. Scalia’s ideals with forcefulness and self-assurance and deals with liberals with contempt. Like the real Justice Scalia, he invites a liberal into his den, but only one smart enough to engage with him.

Tracy Ifeachor plays Cat, the liberal law clerk that becomes sparring partner, sounding board and, ultimately, friend. Ms. Ifeachor does a great job with the part, challenging the Justice enough to work with him, but not enough to truly offend him. This is not the dramatic stretch it might seem; Justice Scalia did often employ one liberal clerk on his team.

L-R: Edward Gero and Tracy Ifeachor in  THE ORIGINALIST. Photo by Joan Marcus
In the course of The Originalist, Scalia and Cat banter back and forth, the conservative judge and the liberal clerk. If they don’t always find a middle ground, and they rarely do, at least they are honest enough to listen to each other and understand their viewpoints. Throughout Cat’s year with the Judge, she proves her intellectual value repeatedly.

But there is a problem with The Originalist, and it is that the world has changed in ways that were unexpected. Justice Scalia was often on the wrong side of very close decisions and the play gives him a voice, trying to explain to future audiences what motivated this man and what made him tick. Yet less than one year later Justice Scalia passed away. His replacement was appointed by President Obama, whom Scalia hated, but that man was never confirmed or even interviewed. Rather the seat was stolen and given to another believer in original intent. Throw-away comments that would be funny if history proceeded according to precedence, are now arrows at the heart of our system.

Edward Gero’s irascible Justice Scalia was endearing because he was the last stand of an embittered, privileged group of angry white men. Now that he isn’t the last stand, but perhaps at the forefront of the next few decades, the show isn’t nearly as funny. In trying to find a middle ground, Scalia mocks Cat as lacking the killer instinct which will doom liberals. She notes back that history is on her side. It turns out Justice Scalia was right.

The cast here is fantastic, both Mr. Gero and Miss Ifeachor are brilliant. Brett Mack, in a small role, was so perfectly loathsome I wanted to smack him from his entrance in annoying preppy boots. Author John Strand gives us a wonderful play that strives to make the point that we need to value the opinion of the other side, and Director Molly Smith brings it to life on stage. Unfortunately for the country, they are signing (Opera) to the choir.

The Originalist | Author: John Strand | Director: Molly Smith | Cast: Edward Gero, Tracy Ifeachor, Brett Mack | website

Trainspotting Live Splashes Down In New York City

For those audience members that might not have visited the Roy Arias Stage before, the walk up to the second floor for Trainspotting Live NYC is a bit of a surreal experience. The staircase winds up through a tall, nondescript stairwell and drops you into a warehouse like interior, a bar behind you and the greeter the only indications you’re in the right place. Grab a drink, and line up to enter the (graffiti filled) black box theater to the flashes of neon, the beat of 1990s dance music and the exuberant cast and you know you’re in for something wildly different.
Trainspotting Live is an immersive experience not just of light, music, and the occasional liquids but of joy, despair and elation. It is based on the book, not the movie, so some scenes may seem out of sequence or lacking altogether - if your only experience with Trainspotting is the 1996 movie of the same name. But in the moment, alive with intensity, it doesn’t really matter.
Andrew Barrett as Renton in Trainspotting Live
Many of the set pieces are funny, gross and rude. The audience is treated occasionally as a coconspirator, sometimes as an enemy and sometimes simply as voyeurs. But the audience never feels forgotten or superfluous.
For those that have no connection to the book or movie, some of the surprising moments can be jarring.  Trainspotting Live is the story of Renton and his group of friends, surviving in the heroin scene in Edinburgh in the 90s. Andrew Barrett does an amazing job anchoring Renton inside this immersive funhouse of a show. Renton is ring master, bedrock and sounding board for his friends: Tommy and Sick Boy. Greg Esplin (Tommy) and Tariq Malik (Sick Boy) are, like Mr. Barrett, excellent in holding our attention in the course of the evening. Mr. Esplin is particularly effective as his good boy spirals off the rails after a bad love affair.
The other cast members, Lauren Downie, Pia Hagen, Tom Chandler and Oliver Sublet, pull duty as multiple characters, bringing the story to vibrant life. Each and everyone of them have standout moments that bewitch, enthrall or jar the audience into attention. To watch Lauren Downie seamlessly switch from an uptight mum into a frightening date who is demanding to lose her anal virginity is quite an impressive sight (if a bit scary).
Andrew Barrett, Lauren Downie, Pia Hagen and Olivier Sublet
Renton’s journey is documented from party boy to heroin enthusiast to detox, to the one sober member of his team, as his friends take paths that are sometimes parallel and sometimes skew far away from Renton’s own.
There are some scenes that are designed (in the book and the show) to gross us out. In particular, the embarrassing morning after a night of sex and the most disgusting toilet in Scotland scenes, will put some people off. But for the audience I was with, those scenes somehow morphed into bonding moments that brought us along with the storytellers.
Trainspotting Live is crazy fun entertainment. I love the immersiveness of a show like Sleep No More, but Trainspotting Live takes it up a few notches as the actors acknowledge and revel in the audience, blithely taking us on a youthful, embarrassing and exhilarating trip most of us have long since outgrown.
Trainspotting Live | Playwright: Irvine Welsh (novel) Harry Gibson (Adaptation) | Director: Adam Spreadbury-Maher, Greg Esplin | Cast: Andrew Barrett, Tom Chandler, Lauren Downie, Greg Esplin, Pia Hagen, Tariq Malik, Olivier Sublet | website