Reviews Off Broadway / Whats On Off Broadway

Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, May 8, 2020

By Jeeves to Stream for 48 Hours starting Friday at 2 PM.

If you haven't seen By Jeeves, it is a charming little musical. 



Here is the synopsis provided by the company:

By Jeeves is the musical comedy by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber based on the characters of P.G. Woodhouse. An adventure of the hapless Bertie Wooster (played by John Scherer), a young gentleman about town with a penchant for getting himself into personal difficulties, particularly with women. It is inevitably left to his unflappable manservant Jeeves (played by Martin Jarvis) to provide tify and elegant rescues. Enjoy this outrageous comedy as Jeeves guides Bertie through a series of hapless adventures and improvised chaos. A show that has to beseen to be believed!

I saw this years ago in London, and then once at the Geffen Theater in Los Angeles. I am looking forward to streaming this at The Show Must Go On on youtube.com. LINK It will start streaming on Friday, May 8th at 11am PT / 2pm ET for 48 hours only.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Classic Stage Company Will Stream Their "Conversations With..." the cast of Assassins

The Classic Stage Company was meant to produce Assassins this Spring, but obviously cannot due to the NY Theater lockdown. However, they have decided to stream a unique feature of their company which I think you will love. During this time when live performance with an audience is not possible, Classic Stage has begun producing new Classic Conversations online, short versions of the popular one-on-one conversation series between NYC's leading actors and their wonderful Artistic Director, John Doyle. Each conversation is an engaging peek into the life and career of the actor, and includes performances of songs that are especially meaningful to them, in a "Desert Island Discs" format (for you BBC Radio fans).

Their current virtual Classic Conversations are focused on the cast of Assassins, with new episodes premiering every Thursday at 6 pm ET on Facebook and YouTube. Previous conversations with Brandon Uranowitz and Will Swenson were delightful. Tavi Gevinson will chat with John on Thursday. 

I happened to see their conversation with Michael Cerveris live and it was a ton of fun. He shared great stories about the shows he has been in, his co-stars and throughout Mr. Cerveris sang songs that were meaningful to him.

To watch live or later on, visit CSC's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/classicstagecompany or the Classic Stage Company channel on YouTube. And for more information and the upcoming schedule, visit www.classicstage.org/classicconversations.

I hope you will find the Classic Conversations a welcome reminder of what to look forward to when our theaters are able to open their doors again. And if you enjoy them and are able, please consider supporting CSC at www.classicstage.org/CC. Like most not-for-profit theater companies, Classic Stage is utterly reliant on community, government and philanthropic support while its seats remain empty.



Friday, May 1, 2020

The Female Genius is a Welcome (Semi) Return to Theater

The current lockdown in New York has upended theater. Live venues are closed and both artists and viewers are struggling with how to present stories. Luckily for the viewer, there are some interesting things happening now that have been in the works previously. One of the best experiences is The Female Genius. Originally planned to be presented live on stage at the Wild Project and streaming at the same time, The Female Genius is available for streaming now. It is presented by Thirdwing, a digital theater company. The streaming version was completed, and the live version was in rehearsals before the lockdown was announced. Thirdwing is now presenting the streaming version of the show.

The Female Genius is a series of six vignettes look at great female writers. The proceed forward in both time as well as self-assuredness to make a coherent whole. Because Thirdwing was created as a digital company, the production values of the episodes are excellent. These were created and are meant to be streamed, echoing back to the teleplays of the 1950s or 1960sin which the theater setting is quite obvious.

Delissa Reynolds as Zora Neale Hurston with Timothy Thomas

Viewed in order, the women at the heart of these stories become more confident and independent over time – with one exception. The acting ranges from very good to excellent. Interestingly the performances are captured in a unique way. They are not shot from the perspective of a theater audience perspective. They are shot with close ups, cuts and the full complement of the visual vernacular. Slight sets and a single location mean the viewer is always aware this is a play, but the scenes pull the viewer into the story without forgetting it is a theatrical experience.

The Female Genius focuses on 6 women: Mary Shelly, Emily Dickenson, Gertrude Stein, Ayn Rand, Zora Neale Hurston and J.K. Rowling. None of these are one person monologues. Their struggles and processes are featured as they work through interpersonal dynamics with friends, lovers, admirers or enemies – sometimes in the same person.

In the first Mary Shelly confronts her own insecurities with Lord Bryon. It is an easy and light tale of struggle. In the second, Emily Dickenson berates her sister over access to her. Emily has no use for admirers in general and a male publisher in particular. In the third, Gertrude Stein grapples with her relationship with Alice. B. Toklas by mimicking male misogyny. At the halfway point in streaming these, the themes of male and female relationships seem to take over as Ayn Rand delivers a bonkers performance, that is stereotypically Ayn Rand. Maja Wampuszyc captures Rand in all her glory.

Krysten Wagner as Mary Shelly and Cameron Bossert

But in the fifth vignette, the story of Zora Neale Hurston deepens the narrative. Ms. Hurston was a black artist grounded in the Harlem Renaissance. This piece focus on her views on segregation and respectful treatment in the 1950s south. Delissa Reynolds, as Hurston, and Timothy Thomas are wonderful.

Finally, there is a story of J.K. Rowling that fails to take off fully. The actress (Meghan E. Jones) is great, but thematically we arrive back near the beginning of our story, with a woman who doubts herself and her craft.

The Female Genius works excellently as a whole experience. Playwright Rachel Carey provides six wonderful worlds that are fictional, but believable.  Working with Ms. Carey, Director Cameron Bossert creates an immersive world for the 7 – 10 minutes we stay with each story. Check them out.

The Female Genius
Playwright: Rachel Carey | Director: Cameron Bossert |Cast: Meghan E. Jones, Delissa Reynolds, Amy Lynn Stewart, Timothy Thomas, Krysten Wagner, and Maja Wampuszyc

Website: https://www.thirdwing.watch/

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Incredible Journey of Mr. Toole

You don’t have to read the Pulitzer Prize winning book A Confederacy of Dunces to have a great time at the show Mr. Toole. The show stands perfectly well on its on without reading Mr. Toole’s hilarious and Pulitzer Prize winning book. As a matter of fact, a remarkable amount of the story takes place after Mr. Toole himself leaves the scene. For a lover of the book, this is no surprise. A Confederacy of Dunces was published posthumously, and Mr. Toole tells the tale.

Ryan Spahn and Linda Purl in Mr. Toole
Ryan Spahn plays John Kennedy Toole- called Ken, returned from the army and teaching poetry at a girl’s college, while writing at night. He lives with his parents, his mother Thelma (Linda Purl in an epic turn) and his father John (well played by Stephen Schnetzer). Mother Thelma lives through her son in a possessive and suffocating manner. Ken is stuck at home, unable to afford leaving either financially or emotionally.

Ken is despondently alone, despite a gay love life and students that adore him. One young lady in particularly, Lisette (Julia Randall) has a crush on him and his writing that endures. He cannot break from his mother, even after Simon and Schuster show an interest in is novel. That interest results in two arduous years of rewrites that ultimately result in a final rejection which destroys him.

Thelma at a loss for purpose, then takes up the task of getting his novel published. Her single-minded determination destroys her marriage, her health and nearly her life. Her brother Arthur (Thomas G. Waites) saves her from a nursing home. But she is redeemed, in the end, by another writer, Walker Percy (John Ingle). Mr. Percy helps her to get the story published.

Mr. Toole is a wonderful experience, albeit not perfect. It is a little long, and the use of dual read poetry was superfluous for me. But these are minor issues in a show I adored. Playwright Vivian Neuwirth brings complex emotions to the fore and Director Cat Parker keeps the show moving briskly along.

Mr. Toole
Playwright: Vivian Neuwirth | Director: Cat Parker | Cast: Julia Randall, Ryan Spahn, Thomas G. Waites, Linda Purl, Stephen Schnetzer, John Ingle

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Sabbath Girl Delights at 59E59

The Sabbath Girl, now at 59E59 theaters, is a wonderful little romantic comedy of a show.  It starts Lauren Annunziata as Angie, a together young lady with a desire able job at a gallery and a brand-new apartment. As she shows off the apartment to her grandmother, Angelina Fiordellisi, we can feel the happiness.

She is interrupted from setting up her place by a knock on the door. This introduces Seth, Jeremy Rische, her neighbor. Seth is looking for the old occupant, who would sometimes help him on the sabbath. And now we have the New York meet cute. Together young girl, in her first apartment without roommates, and shy, adorable Orthodox Jewish man who needs help. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this is going, but it is a sparkling journey none the less.

The Sabbath Girl with Lauren Annunziata and Ty Molbak

The complications are raised by Ty Molbak as Blake, a hot new artist Angie is trying to get at the gallery and Laura Singerman as Seth’s sister, Rachel. Ty is a great flirt, sexual and interesting, a far cry from the overbearing and obnoxious suitors in most rom-coms. It is great choice as we see Angie’s interest in this man grow.

Seth’s sister, Rachel, on the other hand, is a bit more formulaic. She does not approve of Seth’s attraction to a woman outside of their world and is not pleased. Rachel attributes Seth’s interest in Angie as a response to a bitter divorce and failing in his faith. Both obstacles are overcome in The Sabbath Girl that runs along quickly and well-paced. It is a smooth 85 minutes, but never feels rushed.

The older voice of sanity here is grandmother Nona, played by experienced performer Angelina Fiordellisi. Nona is Angie’s sounding board and confidante. She offers reasonable advice, a shoulder to lean on and is a constant reminder of the happiness real love can bring.

The Sabbath Girl was written by Cary Gitter and directed beautifully by Joe Brancato. If you are looking for a nice evening out, The Sabbath Girl is great. And, if you see it with someone you love, it is even better.

The Sabbath Girl
Playwright: Cary Gitter | Director: Joe Brancato | Cast: Lauren Annunziata, Angelina Fiordellisi, Ty Molbak, Jeremy Richse, Lauren Singerman

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Aren't Roommates the Worst? - The Commons


There is a certain humor in The Commons that will appeal to many people. It is that type of mean spirited, uncomfortable humor that borders on bullying, but is okay since it is on stage because we know the characters aren’t real. Usually played out in family serio-comedies where the various family members can’t escape, like Thanksgiving or a will reading. In case of The Commons, it is four roommates who agree to spend a year together in the form of a New York lease.

The four roommates are older lease holder Robyn (Ben Newman), combustible exotic Janira (Olivia Khoshatefeh), mean girl Dee (Julia Greer) and loser Cliff (Ben Katz) - who is pathetic because he tries to be a nice guy. The relationship dynamics are developed and then hardened with the repetition of the dreaded roommate meeting. The meetings usually come down to this; something has bothered Dee and she will explain it. Then she will explain it four more times, as if to a slow child in a remedial class. Cliff will apologize and try to do better, but Dee has to keep complaining about it long after everyone has agreed with her.

l-r: Ben Katz, Ben Newman, Julia Greer in THE COMMONS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
 There is no making Dee happy. She complains that she lives in the loudest room but won’t change despite everyone’s offer. Dee can’t stand dirty dishes, even after someone else has done them. Dee values honesty, but actively makes fun of people behind their back. Cliff’s greatest character flaw is that he is a male and is trying to be pleasant. It is not clear if Dee hates all men, or just the two that live in the apartment with her, but she hates them both with a gusto unbounded.  But then again, she’s not wild about Janira either.

I am not sure if The Commons has a moral, besides don’t live in a communal situation. There was no character growth, Dee was just as mean as she moved out as she was during the majority of the show, and the other characters were still just as confused by it. The one person Dee did get along with was Cliff’s ex-girlfriend Anna (Olivia Abiassi), a presence that was introduced and swept away too quickly.

Playwright Lily Akerman has captured the dynamic of a horrible living situation, but I am not sure that the story tells us much. Director Emma Miller moves the pace along well, The Commons doesn’t feel rushed, and it does cover the year in 100 minutes. The sniping was too mean spirited for me to enjoy, but it will hit the spot for many audience members.

The Commons
Playwright: Lily Akerman | Director: Emma Miller | Cast: Ben Newman, Olivia Khoshatefeh, Julia Greer, Ban Katz, Olivia Abiassi

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Doctors Jane and Alexander Surprise and Charm


Doctors Jane and Alexander functions under a bit of misdirection. Promoted as a play about the playwright’s grandfather, Alexander W. Wiener who discovered the Rh factor in blood, it is more about familial relationships, the stories we create for each other and personal longing. And it is a wonderful evening.

The piece grew from the playwright’s conversations with his mother, after she had stroke. Max Wolkowitz plays Edward (the playwright) and Alyssa Simon plays his mother, Jane. They have a wonderful and tender chemistry onstage. Much of their conversations, particularly their early conversations, revolving around Jane’s father, Dr. Alexander S. Wiener (Len Rella). 

Max Wolkowitz, Maxwell Zener and Alyssa Simon in Doctors Jane and Alexander

Alexander was a famous doctor who helped develop blood typing and discovered the Rh factor. This work was the precursor of DNA testing and was critical in saving lives of transfusion patients as well in criminal work. But his fame and work is only a small piece of Doctors Jane and Alexander. The piece is built from documentation, whether transcripts of conversations or published material. And much of the conversations with Jane start about her father, but meander away from the topic.

So instead of a dry discussion about the inventor of Rh blood typing, we get a story of family full of expectations and drive. Jane reflects back on her assumption that she would be wildly successful, as her father was. In fact, in a family of doctors and lawyers, the playwright has his own self-doubts about his career. This is a direct reflection of Jane’s appraisal of herself, and it bonds the two characters. Acceptance and enjoyment of life is almost a refutation of the paths they have chosen.

There is plenty of comedy in the play too, much of it provided by the interplay between the playwright, Edward, and his brother, David (Maxwell Zener). They argue as only brothers can, over everything and nothing. The point isn’t the argument, the point is the relationship.

Doctors Jane and Alexander progresses gently, telling the story of Jane’s career path and how it echoes her father’s and son’s. The interviews start directed towards Dr. Wiener’s work, but over time the story of Jane’s life proves compelling. As Edward discovers the real person behind the persona of mother, he finds how much he loves and admires this woman. It is touching without being schmaltzy.

The acting here, particularly Max Wolkowitz and Alyssa Simon, is fantastic. There is an excellent group of players in the other roles as well. And the technical craft, the lighting and sets, are top notch.

There are some missing puzzle pieces. I wanted to understood more about the mental issues both Doctors had. The topic is broached early, then dropped out of deference to the family.

Edward Einhorn wrote and directed this play and it is very much about his own family. But it is much more than a love letter to his family, it is an ode to the people in all families. And an exploration of the rich lives we may not see, even when they are right in front of us.

Doctors Jane and Alexander
Playwright: Edward Einhorn | Director: Edward Einhorn | Cast: Len Ralla, Alyssa Simon, Max Wolkowitz, Maxwell Zener, Craig Anderson, Yvonne Roen, Ann Marie Yoo