Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Julia is a Lovely Journey

Julia, now playing at 59e59 Theaters as part of their Americas Off Broadway, is a vibrant exploration of love and regret. It takes a simple story and brings it to the personal level, with immediacy, honesty and restraint.

The story is deceptively simple and relatable. As a young man, without family, Lou Perino worked at a local Pennsylvania department story with Julia. Lou developed a crush, as young men do, but doesn’t act on it for fear of being embarrassed or turned down or given the “we’re just friends” speech. Julia opens years later, as Lou returns to Philadelphia to watch the store be torn down. But Lou is here for more than that. He has returned to see Julia, the girl he left behind.

The cast is wonderful while bringing these characters to life. Richard Fancy plays Lou Perino, bringing a touch of humor to the role which could easily fall into the maudlin. Mr. Fancy plays the big scenes well, but he really excels in the tiny emotional tics that make the character so real. Lou left Philadelphia when he drafted into the Korean War. He is heartsick at leaving Julia – but hasn’t spoken to her since.

Keith Stevenson plays Julia’s son, Steve. Steve’s transformation from a mildly bemused and annoyed small time con man to a furiously angry son is quick, but understandable once we see what has become to Julia. Julia is now an old lady, her memory long gone. Lou becomes a focus of Steve’s anger at everything that has gone wrong with his mother’s life.

Haskell Vaughn Anderson III plays Frank, an African American who bridges the emotional gap between Lou and Steve. Frank worked with Julia and Lou at the Department store all those years ago, and stayed friends with Julia and her family ever since. He has been with the family through Julia’s husband’s death – and while Steve was growing up. It is Frank who champions Lou’s cause to Steve, even after Lou’s real motive comes out. Mr. Anderson’s is a wonderfully nuanced performance – capturing the motivations of friendship and the hint of historical deferential politeness in his interaction with Lou.

Midway through the show, we see what occurred between young Lou and Julia. It is written and performed beautifully, with a catch in your throat at the moment a minor wrong occurs. The actual transgression isn’t much, but it raises a barrier between these two young people. A moment that grows bigger in distance, as embarrassment, regret and distance multiply the infraction. Finally, the memory of the argument, so much worse than the action of it, change the trajectories of Julia’s and Danny’s lives. Justin Preston and Marley McClean bring the moment to life perfectly.

When we finally meet Julia, she is a shell of who she once was. The older Julia is played by Roses Prichard, who is extremely believable as the lost old woman that was once a vibrant and fun loving young girl. Her turns of annoyance, wonder and playfulness ring true.

Julia is a very touching work by playwright Vince Melocchi. It is written with the conviction that the little, almost incidental, acts of youth can haunt us for a lifetime, if we let them. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos gives the play enough time to get comfortable, and then lets some moments linger too long, to make the audience uncomfortable. It is a commendable job that invests the audience in the outcome. Julia is a heartfelt tribute to life and love, and a reminder to keep living it.
Julia (tickets and website)
Playwrite: Vince Melocchi
Director: Guillermo Cienfuegos
Cast: Haskell Vaughn Anderson III, Richard Fancy, Marley McClean, Justin Preston, Roses Prichard and Keith Stevenson,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

THE BEST IS YET TO COME: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN swings into Americas Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters

59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director; Peter Tear, Executive Producer) welcomes the Rubicon Theatre in California to Americas Off Broadway with their critically acclaimed production of THE BEST IS YET TO COME: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN, devised and directed by David Zippel. THE BEST IS YET TO COME: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN begins previews on Tuesday, May 18 for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 3. Opening Night is Wednesday, May 25 at 7:00 PM. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Please note, there is no 7:00 PM performance on Sunday, June 12; there is an added matinee performance on Wednesday, June 8 at 2:00 PM. The regular ticket price is $65 ($45.50 for 59E59 Members). The preview ticket price (May 18 – May 24) is $45 ($35 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit

The first and only revue of the music of Cy Coleman fittingly arrives in Cy’s old neighborhood when THE BEST IS YET TO COME: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN swings into 59E59 Theaters. The sparkling score features favorites from Coleman’s Broadway shows (Little Me, Sweet Charity, Seesaw, On The Twentieth Century, Barnum, City of Angels, The Will Rogers Follies, The Life); pop hits made famous by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand; and new never-heard-before show-stoppers written toward the end of Coleman’s prolific life, which prove the best really IS yet to come!

Under the direction of Tony Award-winner David Zippel, the cast includes Tony Award-winner Lillias White, Grammy Award-winner Billy Stritch, Tony Award-nominee Sally Mayes, Tony Award-nominee Howard McGillin, Drama Desk Award-winner Rachel York and Helen Hayes Award-winner David Burnham.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How Very Cool Is This...

I think this sounds great from the New York Times Knowledge Network (with New York Times Reviewer as a guest one night)...

Theater and Global Change

May 12 - June 8, 2011
5 Live Online Sessions: Thursdays, May 12, 19, 26
and June 2, and Monday June 6, 2011, 5:00 - 6:00 PM EST

This two-part course will explore the diverse ways that theater can help us understand and interact with the significant global changes happening today. Through the study of classic and contemporary dramatic literature and the exploration of the Seven Revolutions taking place today (changes in Population, Resource Management, Technology, Information Flow, Economic Integration, Conflict, and Governance) students will generate awareness and action leading to an appreciation of the role that artistic creation can and does play in our changing world.
Focusing on the first four Revolutions (Population, Resource Management, Technology and Information Flow), this course will include:
  • Ancient and modern classic plays by William Shakespeare, Sophocles, David Mamet, Tony Kuschner, August Wilson, and Carel Kapek are the texts used to explore the various ways theater can and does express the world we live in.
  • A wide spectrum of material from the Knowledge Network, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and various other web sources help from the Seven Revolutions – global trends that will fundamentally change how we live.
  • Weekly live online sessions with special guests like New York Times Theater Critic Ben Brantley and Theater director and activist Margarita Espada of Teatro Yerbabruja.
Target Audience
This course is for students wanting to learn more about theater, about global change, and about ways artistic creation can help us understand and respond to the changes occurring in our present and future worlds.
1. People interested in learning about global change.
2. People interested in theater.
3. People interested in new ways to respond to the challenges of the present and the future.
In addition to the daily self-paced lessons, online discussion forums and resources, there will be a weekly live online session with the instructor. Live sessions will be archived for future viewing. There will be five live sessions for this course:

New York Shakespeare Exchange continues their popular concert reading series with MUCEDORUS and A COMEDY OF ERRORS

New York Shakespeare Exchange is pleased to announce their next concert reading series, APOCRYPHA NOW!featuring concert readings of the Elizabethan comedies MUCEDORUS and A COMEDY OF ERRORS, followed by a discussion with the cast, creative team and Shakespeare scholars. Directed by Ross Williams, APOCRYPHA NOW!performs in rep on Sunday, May 15, Monday, May 16, Sunday, May 22 and Monday, May 23. Performances are at Urban Stages(259 West 30th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Via subway take the 1 to 28th Street; the A, C, E, 2, 3 to 34th Street-Penn Station; and the B, D, F, M, N, Q, R to 34th Street-Herald Square.). The performance schedule is Sundays at 4 PM & 7 PM and Mondays at 7 PM. The regular ticket price is $12for one performance; $20for two performances. For tickets, call Brown Paper Tickets on 1-800-838-3006 or visit For more information, visit

The show schedule is as follows:
MUCEDORUS plays on Sunday, May 15 at 4 PM, Monday, May 16 at 7 PM and Sunday, May 22 at 7 PM / A COMEDY OF ERRORS plays on Sunday, May 15 at 7 PM, Sunday, May 22 at 4 PM and Monday, May 23 at 7 PM.

New York Shakespeare Exchange continues their popular concert reading series “Two Plays, One Conversation”by pairing the rarely performed MUCEDORUS(in its New York premiere) with Shakespeare's A COMEDY OF ERRORS, both rollicking Elizabethan comedies of mistaken identity.

MUCEDORUS was “discovered” in the library of King Charles II of England in a bound text titled “Shakespeare, Volume I.” Since then, it has been largely disavowed as a real Shakespearean comedy, but some scholars still believe that it may be a very early work by the Bard, potentially from when he was an apprentice. In Elizabethan England, MUCEDORUSwas one of the most frequently performed plays. It was presented in the courts of both Elizabeth I and James I and was published in 17 different editions in its day.

Pairing A COMEDY OF ERRORS, one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, with MUCEDORUSprovides a unique perspective for both plays. Written in the style of early Roman comedies, both plays are 80 action-packed minutes of physical comedy and slapstick.

Each performance is followed by a talkback with New York scholars discussing what truly defines "Shakespeare" and whether it really matters if a show has you laughing. The talkbacks are always lively, irreverent, funny and ultimately illuminating.

Monday, April 25, 2011

BlackWatch Back at Saint Ann's Warehouse

BlackWatch, by the National Theater of Scotland, has returned to the scene of the triumph.  In 2007 it played to amazing reviews - and it is again.

(website & tickets)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Talkbacks with New York Neo-Futurists

LOCKER 4173b, written and performed by Joey Rizzolo and Christopher Borg, directed by Justin Tolley, begins performances on Thursday, April 28 for a limited engagement through Saturday, May 21. Press Opening is Tuesday, May 3 at 8 PM. Performances take place at The Monkey, a beautiful new performance space in Chelsea, located at 37 West 26th Street (between Broadway & 6th Avenues).  The performance schedule is Thursday – Monday at 8 PM, with an added performance on Tuesday, May 3 at 8 PM for press opening. Please note, there are no performances on Saturday, April 30, Sunday, May 8 and Saturday, May 14.  The regular ticket price is $16 ($12 for students with a valid student ID). For tickets or more information, call OvationTix on 1-866-811-4111 or visit
New York, New York March 22, 2011—The critically acclaimed performance collective New York Neo-Futurists, announce the talk back and special event schedule for the World Premiere of LOCKER 4173b. Each talk back and special event further explores the themes raised in LOCKER 4173b. Talk backs and special events happen immediately following the performance.

Thursday, May 5
Presentation by Neni Panourgia
Neni Panourgia is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Neni focuses on the people and practices that give meaning to our existence, and the institutes that define the realm of our death, our legacy, and the way we speak of death and life.

Monday, May 9
Talkback with the creators of LOCKER 4173b
Join writer/performers Christopher Borg and Joey Rizzolo with director Justin Tolley for a discussion on the creative process and cataloguing of over 1500 items for LOCKER 4173b.

Thursday, May 12
Presentation by Catherine Fennel
Catherine Fennel is an assistant professor at Columbia University whose focus is the transformation of the American welfare state and the effects this transformation has on various facets of our society, as well as the way we understand and react to our condition. Specifically Catherine explores the personal attachments urban societies have to their settings.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fringe Benefit Revival Urinetown May 1

The Alumni Association of the New York International Fringe Festival Presents THE FringeBENEFITS SERIES Celebrating FringeNYC's 15th Anniversary with 15 shows over 15 weeks Thursdays May 5 - August 11 at The Laurie Beechman Theatre.

The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), the largest multi-arts festival in North America, will celebrate its 15th anniversary in August. Since the opening of the very first Festival in August of 1997, FringeNYC has never thrown a benefit. That is about to change as the Alumni Association of the New York International Festival presents THE Fringe BENEFITS SERIES.

Beginning May 5, THE FringeBENEFITS SERIES will offer a taste of 15 of the most beloved shows from the past 15 years of FringeNYC.  Every Thursday for 15 weeks The Laurie Beechman Theatre will present a different performance, concert, or reading of a different work from one of the Festivals. Casting and guest hosts for the series will be announced on a show-by-show basis. The lineup (which may be subject to change) is as follows:

May 5: Urinetown (1999). In a world where citizens must use public amenities regulated by a malevolent corporation, one man plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom. Featuring music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann, book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. A concert featuring songs from Urinetown and their new musical Yeast Nation. $30. 7pm.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Triangle: The Story from the Lower East Side

Triangle, now on stage at 59e59 Theater’s Americas Off  Broadway series, takes on a difficult topic - the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  In order to make the story of the fire more relatable, the authors tell it through the narrative of Tammany politician, “Big Tim” Sullivan and his mistress Margaret Holland.  Big Tim ran the lower east side, where the fire occurred.  After the fire, Big Tim, a State Senator, changed the labor laws to prevent sweatshops and unsafe working conditions going forward.

Triangle is a valiant attempt of storytelling, and it is sometimes successful, but it more often seems an interesting history lesson, not an engaging play.  We don’t stay with the characters long enough to really empathize with the tragedy through their eyes.

Our narrators, Izzy Weissman and his partner Cathleen Murphy, are employees and fans of Big Tim - as well as stereotypically Jewish and Irish in order to demonstrate Big Tim’s diversity credentials.  They address each other across from opposite sides of the stage, reminiscing about Big Tim, his mistress and the fire.  Some of these remembrances are played out, and others are not.  Dennis Wit, as Izzy, and Donna Davis, as Cathleen, slide ably between narration and characterization.  And Miss Davis makes the strongest emotional connection to the audience, part mother hen and part confessor.

Joe Gately gets the only juicy role, playing Big Tim to the hilt.  Mr. Gately makes the most of Big Tim’s easy demeanor, intelligent banter and later his guilt that the fire happened in his district.  Mr. Gately shows his affectionate side as he falls for Margaret Holland, an aspiring actress, played by Ashley C. Williams.  The audience has to trust Mr. Gately on this count, because not much about Margaret Holland is engaging - beyond a nice set of legs.  She is a prig, a snob and a half hearted feminist – bemoaning the condition of women at the time, but not doing much to change it. A little more on the “why” they fell in love is necessary.

And yet compared to their daughter, Mary Catherine, Margaret Holland is like the sun on a warm spring day.  Mary Catherine, played by Michaela McPherson, is written as a petulant tween.  Nearly every moment with her on stage is uncomfortable- on purpose, true, but still uncomfortable.   Her pouting is even more insufferable after the fire kills over 100 women and girls.

Jack Gilhooley wrote the piece with Daniel Czitrom, a History Professor at Mount Holyoke.  Their collaboration shows too often as Triangle switches between history, melodrama, and political reenactment without truly finding a singular voice.  The director, Stephan Morrow, tries to give us Cathleen as the focal point, but Donna Davis isn’t on stage at some critical times and when she is missing, the show goes rudderless.

Triangle clocks in at little over 2 hours, but still feels the like story was a bit rushed.  It would have benefitted from a little less music hall and a little more emotion.
--  --  --
Triangle (website & tickets)
Playwrights: Jack Gilhooley and Daniel Czitrom
Director: Stephan Morrow
Cast: Ruba Auden, Donna Davis, Joe Gately, Michaela McPherson, Ashley C. Williams, Dennis Wit

Reading Under The Influence: Best Watched the Same Way

I found plenty to both like and dislike in the new play, Reading Under The Influence, premiering at the DR2 Theater.   However, the audience reaction was unequivocally positive.  It is a play about a women’s book club, with a nearly all female cast and the audience I saw it with was overwhelmingly female.  The material must be much more relatable to women than it was to me.  It isn’t a caveat I normally bring up, but there was an obvious difference between the reactions of the audience based on sex.
Photo by Orlando Behar; Ashley Austin Morris,
Barbara Walsh, and Summer Crockett Moore

There is a lot to enjoy in this new play, by Tony Glazer.  There is some sharp writing and quick wit on display by the actresses, but it was inconsistent, sometimes flowing naturally and sometimes a stretch.  It would probably play better as a TV episode or short film – as it would benefit from some well thought out editing.

Reading Under The Influence is the story of four friends and their  fictional Westchester Women’s Book Club.  It follows what happens when the broadcast rights are sold to reality TV.  Jocelyn, played by Joana Bayless, is the organizer of the book club and instigator of selling the broadcast rights.  On this particular night, she attempts to manage a focused discussion of the week’s book; but the discussion immediately veers off on tangents, much to her annoyance, although it seems to be the common trajectory of the meeting.

Summer Crockett Moore, is Sara, the first woman to arrive, and the first woman Joan breaks the news to.  Sara is an overly protective mom and frustrated actress – and she first voices the argument of the evening – Jocelyn is essentially selling the club and its members.

Barbara Walsh plays Megan, a woman of acid wit on her second marriage, with a wonderful panache. The fourth member of the club is Kerry, a slightly loopy new agey wife that seems oddly out of place in the group.  Ashley Austin Morris, channeling her inner Jenifer Tilly, plays Kerry broadly.

The women’s angst over the TV rights sale mingles with their old annoyances  - and boils over as they consume more and more white wine.  The piece implies that women need to drink before opening up in honest emotion, which I found a little demeaning.  But the audience of women laughing seems to disagree with me. 

The play requires some quick timing to feel organic, and this cast hasn’t gelled to the level yet.  The direction sputters at times, and works seamlessly in other phases.

It is not a play I would recommend, but I have to say that the audience of women I saw it with though it was a hoot and a half.  If it sounds interesting to you, by all means round up some girlfriends and go enjoy yourselves.
Reading Under The Influence (Website)
Playwright:  Tony Glazer
Director: Wendy Goldberg
Cast: Barbara Walsh, Joanna Bayless, Summer Crockett Moore, Ashley Austin Morris, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Jeremy Webb

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Wonderful Love Song at 59 E 59 Theaters

Love Song surprises you with its gentleness and sense of wonder. Now receiving its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters, Love Song is a captivating look at the transformative power of love through the eyes of Bean, the lost young man at the play’s center.

Bean is wonderfully underplayed by Andrew Pastides. Bean is a young man who lives by going through the motions, without a purpose but not morose. Bean doesn’t understand life exactely, but is aware enough to know that some connection is missing. His sister, Joan, and brother-in-law, Harry attempt to draw him out of his shell, or at least understand his shell.

Ian Barford as Harry provides excellent grounding, not just for Bean, but for Joan – his wife who takes all things a bit too seriously. Laura Latreille plays Joan, a woman who’s manic personality grows on you; confounding the expectation that she would grow more annoying as the play progresses. It is partly excellent writing and partly pitch perfect acting that keeps the audience engaged.

Bean’s monastic life is upended when he interrupts a burglar in his home, Molly. Molly is an amoral young woman, more than a little annoyed by the scarcity of Bean’s possessions. Zoe Winters plays Molly as full of bravado, yet thrown off by Bean’s lifestyle and response to her presence. That Bean should fall in love with Molly seems normal in context – Molly’s appearance is the first thing that has struck life into Bean.

It is an improbable relationship, but Bean is enriched by it. Bean comes to life for the first time, as opposed to merely existing. Joan and Harry greet this new relationship with trepidation.

Love Song was written and directed by John Kolvenbach, and he paces the show perfectly. Love Song unfolds like an intricate origami box of emotions. Bean and Molly’s affair ignites the emotions in others.

In retrospect, Long Song was probably a little predictable, but it never felt that way while watching it. It breezes by, not hurrying or lingering too long.

Love Song (tickets and web site)
Written and Directed by John Kolvenbach
Cast: Ian Barford, Jonathan Fielding, Laura Latreille, Andrew Pastides, Zoe Winters

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Joel Grey Exhibit Opens at the Museum of the City Of New York

Joel Grey/A New York Life
Apr 12 through Aug 7

Joel Grey/A New York Life examines the enduring impact that performer and photographer Joel Grey and his adopted city have made on each other. Through rare artifacts from his stage and screen career, objects from his personal collection, and his own photography, the exhibition offers a unique look at New York through Grey’s eyes. Joel Grey/A New York Life will include posters, playbills, and costume pieces from Grey’s iconic productions, combined with a selection of his New York City photographs. Together, they dramatize how the breadth of his artistic work has been nurtured and inspired by his life in New York City.

From the original production of Cabaret
With an illustrious career in the New York theater spanning nearly six decades, Joel Grey is known for his indelible stage roles in George M!, Chicago, Wicked, and his Tony and Academy Award-winning portrayals of the Emcee in both the Broadway and film versions of Cabaret. In addition to his work for stage, screen, and television, Grey is also an accomplished photographer. Working behind the camera for nearly 40 years, he has made New York images—including some taken with his cell phone—that focus lovingly on the urban environment, including candid details of street life, signage, and New York's built environment.  In accentuating overlooked moments and the multitude of everyday details of the city, Grey’s photographic work provides a quiet and poignant counterpoint to his life in the spotlight.

I Liked Catch Me If You Can

I liked Catch Me If You Can on Broadway (this isn't a review since it is a Broadway show).  I was in the minority.  Oh well, I though it was fun, I thought Kerry Butler, Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz were great.
If I was reviewing the show I would say parts drug some, but the up parts more than made up for it.  I lovedthe sets and the whole life as a variety show concept.  It is a hard story to tell.

I don't know why I liked it and they didn't.  Maybe because I didn't like the movie (the reviews seem to hail Stephen Spielberg's mastery - so that should have given me a clue right off).  Or maybe I was more easily entertained by bright colors and a fun show.
Whatever. I liked it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Melba Moore to Appear At Cafe Carlyle

If you have never been to see someone sing at Cafe Carlyle, ou should go.  They often have Broadway singers perform there.  Melba Moore will be singing some Broadway tunes from the Great American song book.


APRIL 26 - MAY 7

New York, NY (4/8/11) – The Carlyle Hotel (Erich Steinbock, Managing Director) is pleased to welcome Tony Award-winner (Purlie)  Melba Moore to the legendary Café Carlyle in her debut engagement. Beginning Tuesday, April 26 (and playing through Saturday, May 7), Ms. Moore will present a program entitled Forever Moore, in which the 4-time Grammy Award nominee will reach into the Great American Songbook for some early influences, pass through her hit-making 70’s (she was a “Best New Artist” Grammy nominee in 1971) and then open it up with a treasure trove of seminal R&B touchstones, culminating with her current hit “Love Is.”  Ms. Moore will also pay tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin, the sophisticated ladies whose profound influences on her art and career she both acknowledges and celebrates. She will be accompanied by a band led by her musical director Levi Barcourt.

 The Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle Hotel – 35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Marie and Bruce: Time to Rethink the Relationship

Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley give two excellent performances in the revival of Marie and Bruce at Theater Row Theaters on 42nd Street. Unfortunately, the good news ends about there. Marie and Bruce is a tough slog of a play to watch, one in which each of the title characters is either occasionally or consistently horrible.

The show is divided into three parts; in the first Marie and Bruce are at home one hot morning after a night of fitful sleep. Marie discusses her partner Bruce with the audience, interrupting her conversation to occasional berate him in a highly crude and graphic manner. It is so over the top, that the audience laughs for a while, seeing this as a black comedy. But her tirade continues, accelerating past uncomfortable, racing by annoying before arriving at wearisome. It is as if the director and author insist on taking any pleasure out of the proceedings - the audience must be as annoyed as the characters are. (The fact that the audience has any empathy left for Marie is a tribute to Marisa Tomei’s delivery and self deprecation.) Marie plans to break up with Bruce that evening, but a party intrudes and she must wait until they go for desert after the party.

Marisa Tomei, Frank Whaley / Credit: Monique Carboni
The second part of the show takes place at a dinner party full of pompous, self-important blowhards – or maybe that is just Marie’s impression. The dinner party takes place at a round table, which rotates, disorienting the audience as Marie is disoriented by liquor. It is an effective tool, until it goes on too long. It is at the party that Frank Whaley brings Bruce into full focus. Bruce is not the polite and caring man which he seemed in part one. He waits to be in front of others before berating Marie, when he is not busy ignoring her in order to flirt with other women.

And finally, these two unpleasant people adjourn to a café for part three of the tale. This is where Marie has said she plans to break up with Bruce. By this time, the audience understands that the break up won’t ever happen. For some reason, these two are tied together, through bad times and worse.  Protracted silence replaces anger and interplay - but drains the show of energy when it could most use it.

And finally, as they go home, the weather breaks, rains come and things look up.  And so we have witnessed a bad day. Wow.

I can’t blame the actors nor the director for this show. The director, Scott Elliott, moves the show in interesting ways, trying to engage the audience, and it works in large part.  But the pace of the writing, staring sharp and harsh before winding down out of both energy and new things to say, strains patience. Ultimately, it is an easy show to watch, but difficult to enjoy.
Marie and Bruce (website)
Playwright: Wallace Shawn
Director: Scott Elliott
Cast: Marisa Tomei, Frank Whaley, Tina Benko, Russel G. Jones, Cindy Katz, Devin Ratray, Alok Tewari, Adam Trese, Alison Wright

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Benefactors: A Compelling Revival at Theater Row

Benefactors, now playing at Theater Row, is a well executed revival of the 1984 piece by Michael Frayn that won the 1986 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Foreign Best Play. It is a smart, well acted piece on the theme of emotional charity and how it appears different to the benefactor and the receiver. It is an adult play, in the best possible terms.  It doesn't pander of speak down to the audience and, although signposted well, doesn't scream its intents.

Benefactors follow the lives to two couples – the husbands first became friends at University and the families now meet for dinner and drinks often, perhaps too often. The hosts think they are providing food and conversation for a hopeless unorganized family, and the guests think they are providing welcome respite for the married couple who constantly invite them to stay. In this, the British setting works excellently, a relationship might spring up between these two families in such a haphazard way.

Daniel Jenkins, Vivienne Benesch, Deanna Lorette and Stephen Barker Turner in Beneafctors
The hosts are Jane and David, played by Vivienne Benesch and Daniel Jenkins. David is an architect and Jane a sociologist that has worked with him since their marriage. Jane is the organization behind everyone, whether in the family, the house or the neighborhood. David is working on a new neighborhood project, one that grows more complicated as the show progresses.
Colin and Sheila play the neighbors. Stephen Barker Turner is Colin, a frustrated writer turned bitter towards everything. Deanne Lorette plays Sheila, a damp rag of a woman, who grows until the tutelage of first Jane, then David.

Benefactors uses the metaphor of architecture to explore how relationships are built, sometimes as planned, sometimes responding to obstacles. Dane Leffarey’s senic design, at first severe, reinforces the metaphor, the unfinished walls are interchangeable – only the kitchen of Jane’s home reflects warm and heart.

In the first act of Benefactors, Jane and Sheila occasionally address the audience directly, and in the second act David and Colin do the same. It is fascinating to see the exact the same actions interpreted through different eyes. Vivienne Benesch, in particular, handles her audience interactions wonderfully, as if she is naturally sharing reminisces with friends. Her asides set the tone early - and allow those who followed to seem natural.

Deanna Lorette does a good job in a rather thankless role as Shiela, a passive and cringing creature who none the less shows her growing admiration of Jane and David. Colin’s jealousy is predictable, and almost preordained by the friendship. When Colin turns his anger on David and David’s success, it makes sense. He has already ruined everything in his own life, and David is the next obvious target.

Carl Forsman directs this troupe of professionals well, moving the action along nice pace. Not rushed, but not dawdling either. Benefactors is a play that might easily drift into the maudlin or the melodramatic, but this revival manages the trick of keeping it believable and engaging.

Benefactors (Web Site and Tickets)
Playwright: Michael Frayn
Director: Carl Forsman
Cast: Vivienne Benesch, Daniel Jenkins, Deanne Lorette, Stephen Barker Turner

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Promise is a Moving and Wonderful Show

The Promise, playing at the 59E59 Theater as part of Scotland Week, is a very interesting play that is catapulted into the extraordinary by the wonderful performance of Joanna Tope.
Joanna Tope plays a retired teacher brought in for a week of substitute teaching. During this week, she is asked to allow a ritual in the name of multiculturalism that offends her. But before this, Ms. Tope spins a spell as Maggie Brodie, a teacher who loves students, loves learning and has lost patience in a by rote system now. To hear her talk of nourishing learning in youth is wonderful.

She begins her story lightly and simply. Talk of children and administrators. She is light, funny and in full command of the situations. Her mastery is only shaken when she meets Rosie, a young Somali girl who doesn’t speak. The empathetic teacher in her takes, over as she coaxes this rare child into the world. Miss Brodie is later asked to stand by, as a village elder performs a ritual that offends and appalls Ms. Brodie.

Nothing in The Promise is too shocking or too unexpected. This isn’t the point of The Promise. The point is to show the effect of action, inaction, regret and long bottled anger. A testament to the craftsmanship of Ms. Tope is that Maggie Brodie’s actions make perfect sense in context. The actions are perhaps sad, perhaps empowering, but ultimately understandable and internally make sense.

Director Johnny McKnight makes this play by Douglas Maxwell flow organically from Maggie Brodie. But it is Joanna Tope that brings Maggie to life, explaining her to audience without apology. The Promise doesn’t try to justify or soft peddle Maggie Brodie – she is a strong woman, aware of her strengths and short comings. In less sure hands, this might be a sappy or exploitative show, but this creative teams’ hands it is mesmerizing.

The Promise (tickets and website)

Playwright: Douglas Maxwell

Director: Johnny McKnight

Cast: Joanna Tope

Spend One Night With Fanny Brice

One Night with Fanny Brice, playing at St.Luke’s Theater delivers just what it promises, a warm evening of songs and stories with Fanny Brice. Kimberly Faye Greenberg does a great job in giving a full portrayal of the entertainer, telling her story through anecdotes, songs and reminiscences.

Written, arranged and directed by Chip Deffaa, One Night with Fanny Brice is a loving homage to the glory days of Ziegfeld and larger than life personalities that inhabited Broadway. Anyone familiar with the movie Funny Girl, will be familiar with the basic outlines of the story. Fanny Brice was a comedic singer, loved on the Broadway stage, and then, much later, popular on radio. Ms. Greenberg brings Fanny Brice alive, eyes gleaming with mischievousness. Trying too hard for a laugh, just as Fanny Brice did.

One Night is more than a snapshot of Fanny Brice’s rise to fame; it is a biography and a love letter that is chock full of songs from the era. It is hard to beat Miss Brice’s original delivery of these classics, but Miss Greenberg does a great job with the songs, keeping in the style of original arraignments. Miss Greenberg is much prettier Fanny Brice herself was, but most people aren’t familiar with Miss Brice’s visage. Hollywood never really knew what to do with this talent. However Mr. Deffaa does. The writer / director allows Fanny to give full voice to personal history, telling the full story of her long entanglement with Nicky Arnstein and other aspects of her life, previously unknown.

Mr. Deffaa is a historian as well as writer, and his has brought a much more complete picture of Fanny Brice than we have seen previously. It is a charming story of a life fully animated in the theater, and Miss Greenberg seems to enjoy telling it.

As a show, One Night with Fanny Brice might have a limited appeal - she isn’t a well known character. A few of the songs are Broadway staples, but most are just vaguely familiar. And while Miss Greenberg is excellent in the role, she doesn’t play the songs as broadly as Miss Brice did. It is occasionally a subtle performance, where Miss Brice was anything but subtle on stage. Hopefully One Night with Fanny Brice will find an audience willing to journey back to a different time, it is trip worth taking.

One Night With Fanny Brice (tickets)

Playwright and Director: Chip Deffaa

Cast: Kimberly Faye Greenberg