Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Cactus Flower Comes Back with Maxwell Caulfield

Abe Burrows’ classic farce Cactus Flower will return to the New York stage, starring stage and screen favorite Maxwell Caulfield (Grease 2) and TV regular Lois Robbins (“Ryan’s Hope”), it was announced today. Michael Bush will direct the upcoming revival, which begins previews on Thursday, February 24 with an official opening night set for Thursday, March 10, 2011 at the Westside Theatre Upstairs (407 West 43 Street, NYC). This production marks the first major revival of the fast-paced comedy, which was one of the biggest Broadway hits of the 1960s.

Cactus Flower tells the story of Julian Winston (Caulfield), a handsome, middle-aged Park Avenue dentist and bachelor, who, to evade commitment, tells his much younger girlfriend Toni that he is married. When Toni demands to meet his fictional wife (Robbins), hilarity ensues!

The cast of Cactus Flower also includes Anthony Reimer (“Rescue Me”), John Herrera (The Times, They are a Changin’), Robin Skye (Parade) and Jeremy Bobb (Is He Dead?), with two additional roles to be announced.

The creative team for Cactus Flower includes Anna Louizos (Scenic Design), Philip Rosenberg (Lighting Design), Karen Ann Ledger (Costume Design) and Brad Berridge (Sound Design).
Cactus Flower premiered on Broadway in December 1965, where it played 1234 performances and starred Lauren Bacall. Gene Zaks later directed a 1969 film adaptation which introduced Goldie Hawn on the big screen and also starred Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman.

Not to be rude.. but

I loved The New York Idea.  But I hated the poster.  It sets people off of the show I think.  It makes sense AFTER seeing the show, but is off-putting before seeing the show.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lucky Guy Moves Into the Little Shubert

Welcome to Nashville – a town full of colorful characters all chasing after the very same dream: a smash hit record.    To beat the odds and strike gold (or, better yet, platinum), it takes one great song, serious talent, or lots of luck – and preferably all three.  Featuring an array of musical styles with salutes to Country, Broadway, Vaudeville, Bluegrass, Pop, and even Hawaiian, Lucky Guy weaves a tale of down-home dreamers and low-down schemers all willing to do whatever it takes to come out on top in the cut-throat world of Music City, USA.

Avid Theatricals announced today the Off-Broadway premiere of Lucky Guy, a new musical comedy, written and directed by Willard Beckham. Performances will begin on Thursday, April 28, 2011 and continue through Sunday, July 24, 2011 at the Little Shubert Theatre (422 West 42nd Street, between 9th & Dyer Avenues).  Lucky Guy will play a 12-week limited engagement. will take you to all the fabulousness that is Leslie Jordan and Varla Jean Merman

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Upcoming at 59E59 Theaters: In Your Image Feb 10 - 17

In Your Image starts FEb 10th at 59E59 Theaters.  It sounds fun.
In a small town just outside Manchester, England, a man dies alone in his rubbish-strewn flat. His two sons, forced to pick over the remnants of his life, must confront the ghosts of their past before they can lay him to rest. IN YOUR IMAGE is a tautly drawn drama about the bond between two brothers broken by the father they never knew.

The cast includes Rob Benson, Roger Clark (To Pay the Price at the Mint) and John Michalski (Broadway’s Gorey Stories, Off Broadway’s Gross Indecency).

The design team includes Dan Gallagher (Lighting Design), Kacie Hultgren (Set Design) and Noel Anderson (Costume Design). Shannon Ancrum is the Production Stage Manager.
The performance schedule is Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:30 PM; Thursday – Saturday at 8:30 PM; Sunday at 3:30 PM.  Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members) and are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at

Friday, January 28, 2011

The New York Idea: A Whimsical Update that is Great Fun

The New York Idea is delightful.  The Atlantic Theater Production of this reworked show is now playing at the Lucille Lortel Theater.  The New York Idea is a drawing room comedy from the 1900s, that has been adapted and updated by David Auburn.  One may quibble with the changes made for modern taste, but since this is the first change for New Yorkers to see this fun show in almost 100 years, the changes seem justified if they make this work more accessible.

The New York Idea originally grappled with the idea of divorce – a novel and scandalous institution in the early 1900s.  And not just the idea of divorce, but the idea that maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  This current revival doesn't stress the divorce angle too hard, aside from an older, stuffier and hilarious generational divide.  After all, divorce is common today – there are few ways to comment on it that aren’t preachy.  And so The New York Idea turns instead on its drawing room comedy of manners, confused entanglements and social scheming for love and wealth.

In summary, which never do these types plays justice, Cynthia and John Karslake are recently divorced, as are Vida and Philip Philimore.  Cynthia is about to marry Philip Philimore – much to his family’s chagrin, after all they are not just divorced but recently divorced.  The arrival of a dapper and seriously flirtatious British Lord and Matthew Philimore – a social climbing Pastor,muddles it all up.

Francesca Faridany being not at all traditional
in 1905 with Rick Homes.
Jamie Ray Newman, as Cynthia, is extremely enjoyable when playing the gayest one in the room.  The role actual shrinks through the play rather than grows as she understands what she is giving up.  Her false bravado gives way to self-doubt, which is true to the character, but a drag on the proceedings.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is Francesca Faridany as Vida Philimore.  Ms. Faridany is like a filly given full reign to run free, and she does spectacularly.  Swathed in voluminous apparel by Michael Krass, Vida sweeps into a room and takes it over with pure energy and fun.  Something not altogether appropriate in Washington Square in 1905.

Joey Slotnick as Pastor Matthew and Rick Holmes as the British Wilfred Cates-Darby, bring a nice energy and a healthy dose of innocent charm to their roles as trouble makers.

Michael Countryman does good work as Philip Philimore, rather harried ex-husband of Vida and current fiancĂ© of Cynthia.  The Greek Chorus of the unamused older generation is well handled by Patricia O’Connell, Patricia Conolly and Tom Patrick Stephens.  No doubt today’s audience is not as sympathetic towards them as they were previously, but they still speak of more genteel times.  As it turns out, Nostalgia is consistent across a century.

Mark Brokaw is blessed with a wonderful cast, and he has showcased them well.  Even the curtain gives off a the dandy air, circa Olden TimesThe New York Idea is wonderful and a fully enjoyable evening. 
The New York Idea
Director: Mark Brokaw
Playwright: David Auburn’s adaptation of Langdon Mitchell’s original
Cast: Patricia Conolly, Michael Countryman, Francesca Faridany, Mikaela Feely-Lehmann, Rick Holmes, John Keating, Peter Maloney, Jamie Ray Newman, Patricia O’Connell, Jeremy Shamos, Joey Slotnick, Tom Patrick Stephens

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Momentum: Ride The Electric Dolphin

The Momentum, now playing on Wednesdays at the Laurie Beechman Theater through February 16th, is a funny and intelligent self-help parody.  It is the perfect show for anyone that has had to sit politely as your friends yammer on about The Secret or EST or The Forum.  Which is not to denigrate how much those programs have helped some people, but not every one wants to hear about it.

The show opens with 3 members taking the stage to applause, which they join in.  They continue applauding long after they should stop.  It is the start of forced chipperness that permeates the show, and the audience is in on the joke from the beginning.  Any question that this is a take off is quickly put to rest as Geoffrey Decas launches into a rapturous discussion of riding THE momentum. “Its like riding a dolphin.  An electric dolphin.  No, its like BEING an electric dolphin.  Like being an electric dolphin with a laser on his head.  But one that only using the laser for good.”
Geoffrey Decas, Jordan Seavey and Boo Killebrew share their enlightenment
After this opening monologue, Mr. Decas is joined by Boo Killebrew and Jordan Seavey two talented actors playing two new adherents to The Momentum.  Ms. Killebrew does an great job of screwing her face into a forced smile, tentative and terrified, but smiling.  She is hilarious just as a presence onstage.  Mr. Seavey shows his insecurity by moving hesitantly around the stage, unsure of where he should be. 

The three Momentum members speak platitudes in unison, with rehearsed “spontaneous” gestures.  It is an effective structure that highlights cult-like acceptance of the tenants of The Momentum.

It is a quick show, which changes tone towards the end.  At the end of the show, all three characters explain how The Momentum has helped them through a personal struggle – most often a relationship break down.  These turn into soliloquies, by turns funny and sad.  In fact, so often they are so sad, you laugh at the black comedy.

The only problem with the direction, by Lee Sunday Evans, is to not bring the three soliloquies back into The Momentum space to wrap it up.  A quick group hug or other self-conscious affirmation was missing before the meeting / show breaks up,  This would have brought the tone full circle.

The Momentum is the perfect show for the Laurie Beechman Theater, where you can sit and drink with friends.  The Momentum is a hilarious experience, best shared –0therwise you might end up being one of “those people” that yammer on about your view of The Momentum.

The Momentum
Director: Lee Sunday Evans
Cast: Geoffrey Decas, Boo Kilebrew, Jordan Seavey

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nightsong for the Boatman: A Verbal Symphony

Nightsong for the Boatman is a symphony of words.  While it works at an acceptable level as a play, it really takes flight as a cacophony of speech from a character in love with poetry and the sound of his own voice.  Nightsong centers on aging, alcoholic, washed-up poet Harry Appleman. While attempting suicide, Harry is stopped by a sardonic boatman from Hell. The boatman wants Harry to give his life to the devil -- unless Harry wins a round of dice. After Harry loses, he must cross the River Styx or find a willing participant to go in his place.

The story is revelled in short bursts of action, interspersed with longer bursts of verbal gymnastics from Harry Appleman (an wonderful John DiFusco, who excels in the role).  Harry’s words charm a student, friends, colleagues and his wife.  But, over time, each of these people realizes that Harry’s infatuation with his own thoughts outweighs his feelings for others.

John DiFusco shines in Nightsong for the Boatman
In the first act, Harry works furiously, but rather aimlessly, to avoid his appointment with the Devil’s henchmen.  He occasionally attempts to persuade others to take his place, but it is rather half-hearted, knowing that this is his appointment.  Over the course of the first half of the play, his ex-wife, his girlfriend, his boss, and his dissertation student all learn of his predicament.  The play races in some scenes, and languishes in others.

But in the second act, the tone shifts radically.  The play takes a more linear path, and occurs almost entirely at the dock where Harry’s daughter and extended family have gathered.  Harry and the Boatmen argue about whom to take to the devil.  In the second half the profusion of words slow to accommodate dialogue.  It is easier to follow, but a rather stark difference.

The production is a recently discovered piece written by Jovanka Bach, now deceased.  Ms. Bach’s Nightsong is a mythic piece, set in America, where myths don’t play a natural role.  This dichotomy (a professor has to cross the river Styx?) causes some contextual problems.  In order for the piece to progress, these contemporary characters have to accept this as a real problem.

Director John Stark does an excellent job of bringing the audience along with piece.  In this he is served well by his cast, most of them excellent.
Nightsong for the Boatman is a poetic journey, perfect for anyone in love with melodic nature of vocabulary in the hands of experts.

Nightsong for the Boatman
Director: John Stark
Playwright: Jovanka Bach
CastJohn DiFusco, Nicole Scipione, Alex Wells, Michael Byrne, Donna Luisa Guinan, Geoffrey Hillback, Amanda Landis and John Landis

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Carinval Round The Central Figure: A Crazy Dance of Caring

Carnival Round The Central Figure is an odd evening of theatre, that ultimately builds to an extremely satisfying conclusion. The play is both a humorous and cathartic piece that investigates the audiences’ fear of illness and those who are sick. In Carnival, the patient is seen, and occasionally heard, but is neither part of nor particularly aware of the events around them.

It is a challenging topic for a play, especially for young adults. Carnival Round The Central Figure was originally produced by NYU in 1996 (a co-production of the Atlantic Acting School and Tisch School of the Arts Theater). This production, fifteen years later, has 5 of the original case members.

Danni Simon & Ted Caine
(photo by Deneka Peniston)
The play starts with a series of disconnected scenes. In what seems like a key scene early on, a wife chatters a soliloquy to her husband, lying in bed obviously very sick. When a work mate and her date arrive for a visit, the depth of the wife’s denial is obvious.

In other scenes a self-help psychologist preaches about cheating death –never dying. Livia Scott overplays this role, as intended. She brings a maniacal energy to this health care worker. “Just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

And finally a TV Evangelist rails over a dying young girl. Her death, he preaches, is the result of a sinful life. David Michael Kirby is great as the father of a friend of the dying girl in this vignette. But the stand-outs do not overwhelm the rest of the cast, they are excellent overall. They bring to life a diverse and scary cast of characters that personify our fear of facing death.

As the play progresses, the character of Kate brings the disparate pieces into a cohesive whole. Kate is expertly handled by Danni Simon. It is a tough role, in which she has to come through the fear of death to offer support to the dying.

Playwright Diana Amsterdam wrote Carnival after dealing with the death of a loved one herself. She shows remarkable restraint in not overdoing the emotion of the piece. It is written not in bold swaths of direction, but in quiet tones of acceptance.

Karen Kohlhaas directs the piece with a certain loony tunes vibe. The humor she highlights in the play makes the real emotion come as a surprise the audience. It is a tricky line, but one that the director and the cast get mostly correct.

Carnival Round The Central Figure

Website and Tickets

Playwright: Diana Amsterdam

Director: Karen Kohlhaas

Cast: Carla Briscoe, Ted Caine, Janna Emig, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Raymond Hill, Stephanie Hsu, David Michael Kirby, Shane LeCocq, Christine Rowan, Kori Rushton, Rebecca Schoffer, Livia Scott, Cynthia Silver, Danni Simon, Ed Stelz, John Early

SCREENPLAY: The Cost of Success in Hollywood Can Be Very High, and Funny

Screenplay, now playing at the 59E59 Theater, makes cleaver use of the screenplay genre while still giving a truly satisfying stage experience. Screenplay is story of two competitive friends that interact in a way that guys do, with a mixture of admiration, anger, jealousy and friendship.
The two men in question are Dean and Graham – college friends and friendly rivals. Dean is that handsome, lucky partier everyone knows from college, and Graham is the plainer, smarter and more driven friend. Both want to write for the movies, but only Graham gets into USC Film School. And so, after graduation they drift apart. Jonathan Sale is the slightly smug Dean, and Scott Brooks (the playwright) plays Graham. Heather Dilly plays Suzie, the girl they both liked in college, but only Dean got to sleep with.

The play starts with a flashback to college and sets up the characters effortlessly. Graham and Suzie are fleshed out simply, but with nuance, by Mr. Brooks and Ms Dilly. It is obvious that they are supporting players in Dean’s life, held in orbit by Dean’s personality.

The play then pops forward a decade. Dean has become disillusioned and has a dull, boring job. His wife, played by Diana Delacruz with a breezy Californian vibe, finds a new screenplay in his drawer and reads it. She loves it and convinces him to try to get it produced.

As luck would have, Graham returns, flush with cash and ready to help. Graham has made a fortune from an internet start-up and wants to produce Dean’s screenplay. But there is a catch, Graham wants not just to buy the screenplay, but the writing credit as well. After hemming and hawing, Dean sells his work to be produced credited to Graham.

The action then quickly moves to the repercussions of this decision on all the characters. Most results are predictable, but are executed extremely well. Characterizations become deeper and relationships more complex. The result is a funny play, but one that is built on some very real emotions and interactions.

The sets are simple, but succeed perfectly in defining place without overwhelming the actors. Lex Liang does a great job with Production Design, effortlessly transforming scenes. Screenplay is directed well by Jenny Greeman. It starts slowly, but Ms. Greman builds excitement as the play progressed towards resolution.

It is a very witty and clever show.


Website and Tickets

Director: Jenny Greeman

Playwright: Scott Brooks

Cast: Scott Brooks, Heather Dilly, Diana Delacruz, Jonathan Sales


Blood From a Stone, now playing at New Group, 410 W. 42nd St., is a hard, unflinching look at a dysfunctional family.  And, like any real family – but not all stage families, there are honest moments of humor, tenderness and affection mixed in with the more explosive emotions.
Parents Bill and Margaret have been married for at least 30 years, even though their present lives are almost totally disconnected.  They share the same house, but occupy it at different times due to work shifts and their choice.  Gordon Clapp plays Bill, a father with severe anger issues.  But he does not run around in a stereotypical rage.  He tries to keep a lid on it.  His “friend”, the never-seen Delores, takes him to anger management classes.  Margaret, his wife, is played by Ann Dowd.  It is implied that she, like her husband, might be having an affair, and she definitely shares some anger issues.  But her anger is sparked by the mere sight of her husband, and manifest itself as a string of expletives and belittling
Gordon Clapp, Ethan Hawke and Ann Dowd play a combustible family in Blood From A Stone
These two have seemingly found a way to survive through the years, embroiled in constant low level combat, forcing the children to take sides.  It is the arrival of Travis (Ethan Hawke in an outstanding performance) that ratchets up the tension.  Travis and his mother have a conspiratorial relationship; he facilitates her secretive money hording and trash talk about his father.  His arrival upsets the balance of wills between these two married strangers.
These three actors hold the stage the entire time, either alone, with another actor.  Wonderful acting and writing keep these people entirely in the moment, with actions and reactions that don’t feel forced or exaggerated.
Travis, and his brother Matt, played by Thomas Guiry, have both inherited their parents’ temperament, changing from relaxed to furious in a flash for the slightest of reasons.  This is a family that has lived on the edge for years, and they now skip the slow building and go right for the jugular.  Matt has a gambling addiction, and is leaving his wife for a married woman.  Travis has an affair with the married neighbour next door, an ex-girlfriend from school (Daphne Rubin-Vega, burning up the stage in a minor cameo role).  But neither men are Lotharios, they are simply looking for happiness in the manner learned from their parents.
Travis and Matt clearly chose sides in their parents’ feud years ago, and probably couldn’t change now, even if they wanted to. Tentative gestures from their parents are missed in the backwash of remembered hurts.  There is a moment between Bill and Travis where father and son both try to reach across the emotional divide, but cannot connect. A sister, played by Natasha Lyonne, seems to prove the only way to cope with this family is to get some emotional distance from them.  But even she has a problem removing herself completely when her brother returns.
The story sounds grim, but the grace it shows is in revealing the moments of love and tenderness that inevitably pop up.  These flashes of warmth make the anger all the more heartbreaking.
A great scenic design by Derek McLane sets the mood; and the piece is nicely directed by Scott Elliott.  It moves with its own speed, which builds well.  Blood From a Stone is honest piece of theater with characters that stay with after the show is over.
Blood From A Stone
DirectorScott Elliott
PlaywrightTommy Nohilly
CastGordon Clapp, Ann Dowd, Thomas Guiry, Ethan Hawke, Natasha Lyonne and Daphne Rubin-Vega