Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Love, Redemption and Family shine in Whirligig

Whirligig is the fantastic new play by Hamish Linklater presented by The New Group. As the audience enters, a young woman lies in a hospital bed, slowly spinning on the stage. The play starts when other pieces are brought forward to suggest settings. The set spins quite often on stage. Not always in the same direction and not always the focus of the show, but the sets work well both as the stage and a metaphor for life, which is always moving but not always predictable. And what is important isn't the walls or chairs, but the conduits of memory.

Norbert Leo Butz, Noah Bean, Dolly Wells
We are immediately treated to a sick but quick witted young woman, Julie, (nicely played by Grace Van Patten) her overly extroverted but desperate father (a wonderful turn by Norbert Leo Butz) and oddly removed and hesitant mother (an aching performance by Dolly Wells). There is an odd dynamic where the daughter and mother communicate through dad, but it is explained quickly.

Whirligig pitches the audience forwards and backwards in time and emotion, without ever losing its own footing. A beautifully efficient story of love in its many forms, the players in Whirligig have taken the play’s honesty to heart with touching and perfect performances. The tragedy is how long it takes us all to cut through the bullshit to truth and forgiveness.

Two key players (and fantastic performances) are Trish (Zosia Mamet) and Derrick (Jonny Orsini), both of whom loved Julie and both of whom blame her addition and current situation on themselves. The play is set in a small town in eastern Massachusetts where lives are intertwined in surprising ways, even to the people there. 
Grace Van Patten, Norbert Leo Butz, Jonny Orsini
Whirligig is skillfully directed by Scott Elliott, who uses the spare stage and spare dialog to great effect and immediacy. Played out in the intimate stages of The Pershing Square Signature Theaters, the play feels both large and intimate. There are almost no false notes among this talented group of actors. And their honesty in this situation pulls at the audience like gravity. Well done

Whirligig | Playwright: Hamish Linklater | Director: Scott Elliott | Cast: Noah Bean, Norbert Leo Butz, Jon DeVries, Alex Hurt, Zosia Mamet, Jonny Orsini, Grace Van Patten, Dolly Wells | website

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Lucky One Is In the Eye of the Beholder

-->The Mint Theater Company brings another excellent production to life with The Lucky One. Written by A. A. Milne before he was typecast as a children's writer, it is the story of two brothers and the effect of jealousy. As with every Mint production, it is a beautifully realized play with outstanding acting.
Robert David Grant, Ari Brand - photo: Richard Termine
Robert David Grant plays Gerald Farrindon, the sparkling brother. Gerald is handsome, athletic, smart and has success in his profession and personal life. Ari Brand plays Bob, "poor Bob". Poor Bob is the less attractive, shorter brother. He is less loved by his parents, less capable at work and less able to express himself. Paton Ashbrook plays Pamela, introduced first as Gerald's finance, and we learn first a friend of Bob's. 
Robert David Grant, Cynthia Harris - photo: Richard Termine
The Lucky One begins at the Farrindon family estate, where Gerald and Pamela are announcing their engagement. We are introduce to the family, the mother and father dote on Gerald. It is one of those family's with a limited amount of love and support, so Bob barely receives a nod, much less his parents' affection. Only Aunt Tabitha (a charming Cynthia Harris) keeps an eye out for Bob, and offers help.
And Bob needs help. He is in over his head at work, quite possibly in legal trouble and comes to Gerald for help.
Mr. Grant does a wonderful job with Gerald. He wears a consistent grin, but it plays, at various times, as sly, noncommittal, friendly, devoted and angry. It is a great performance that takes a while to fully expose itself. You think of Gerald as the superficial twit for quite a long time. Ari Brand's Bob is harder to like. He has internalized the lack of support from his parents and turned it into a emotional scab that he picks at.
It is a very nice show, but it isn't a revelation. The Lucky One tells the tale of sibling rivalry that seems ordinary. It moves well from point A to B to C, but nothing really surprises here. Director Jesse Marchese does a good job, and the wit is sparkling - but not unexpected.
Paton Ashbrook, Ari Brand - photo: Richard Tremine

The Lucky One | Playwright: A. A. Milne | Director: Jesse Marchese | Cast: Paton Ashbrook, Ari Brand, Robert David Brand, Cynthia Harris, Michael Fredric, Andrew Fallaize, Wynn Harmon, Deanne Lorette, Peggy J. Scott, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw | Website

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

T.B. Sheets Takes You Where You’ve Never Been

The new show at The Tank, T. B. Sheets, is a wild ride of self-discovery. It takes place on a mountain sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. Set at the moments when the victims, at least the rich victims, were forced to relax as they were too weak to do much besides smoke, sleep outside and dance.
L-R: Lori Parquet and Moira Stone  in Buran Theatre’s T.B. Sheets. Photo by Kate Schroeder
We are introduced to the retreat and the residents by the entrance of a new patient, played by Moira Stone. She has arrived from the valley below, unwilling to fully believe she is sick, trying to hide her coughing fits and uncomfort - both physical and social.
The retreat itself is home to a dizzying array of characters, seven other inhabitants, plus the doctor. We are told immediately that the doctor’s methods are unorthodox, and he fulfills that expectation fully. The doctor (played impeccably by Daniel Allen Nelson) initiates the arrival by way of an interview in which random words have been transposed, meaning is hinted at, physical intimacy is introduced and then doctor disappears.
The guests pass the time with dance, discussion and growing intimacy, both intellectual and sensual. This is conveyed by movement, dance, discussion and music. The intimacy of others opening the participants to intimacy of themselves.
L-R: Brady Blevins & Danny Brave in Buran Theatre’s T.B. Sheets. Photo by Kate Schroeder
It the second half, Amelia Earhart arrives via crash landing, but discovers her true self here in the love of two women. The final hypnotic member is the ghost of one who has passed, brought to movement and live by Maybe Burke. They dance and move through the sets, seen only by the audience and the new arrival – haunting and haunted.
If this sounds fascinating, then T. B. sheets is the show for you. It is a lyrical and conceptual look at self-discovery and fulfillment through openness.
If this sounds like nonsensical tripe, then avoid T. B. Sheets like the plague it addresses. It is a show which very much depends on the viewers’ ability to go with the non-linear flow of the moment and the joy of a caress.
Writer / Director Adam R. Burnett and Co-Director / Choreographer Lisa Nevada have built a diaphanous structure that is held together by the audiences’ joy and wonder. It will not work for everyone, but the audience I saw it with loved it.
T. B. Sheets | Playwright / Co-Director: Adam R. Burnett | Choreographer / Co-Director: Lisa Nevada | Cast: Moria Stone, Maybe Burke, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, Nahassaiu DeGannes, Danny Brave, Daniel Allen Nelson, Tina Shepard, Yuki Kawashia, Brady Belvins, Colleen O’Neill

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rage as Entertainment

Sophie Melville is transfixing as Effie in Iphigenia in Splott. Splott, in case you don’t know, is a depressed suburb of Cardiff, the city in Wales. Iphigenia, Effie as she is called by everyone, is an unemployed, unhappy, listless young adult with few prospects going forward. She is also hard, crass, bitter and nasty to everyone from her boyfriend to strangers on the street. On the positive side, she enjoys being a bitch.

Sophie Melville in Iphigenia In Splott. Photo by Mark Douet.jpg

Her rage is transfixing and often humorous, albeit exhausting, as she berates anything or anyone that wanders into her zone of attention. Effie’s weekly routine consists of drinking, screwing and dealing with a hang over until she is ready to do it all again.
Iphigenia in Splott takes this character and listens as Effie tells the story of when her life changed, when she realized there was more possible. It is a format of a play that is often used in single character shows, particularly British or Irish pieces. Her story revolves around a man she met at a bar that might or might be her soulmate and what happens to her after that meeting. It isn’t a harrowing tale, but it is a heartbreaking story. There is a bit of social rage tacked on at the end that tries to make the audience think twice about the plight of people like Effie in towns like Splott.
The play is effective and the audience connects with Ms. Melville. She gives a great performance, but it is a performance limited by the format. The audience listens to Effie rage and pout and swagger about for 80 minutes. It is a long time to spend with a, mainly, unpleasant and inconsiderate bitch, even if you feel for her. A strong Welsh accent doesn’t help matters, and makes it tough to keep up, particularly when her volume launches into a screech.
Directed by Rachel O’Riordan, Iphigenia in Splott forces you to care for Effie, ultimately excusing her actions and attitude because of luck and forces well beyond her ability to control. In this, Iphiginia comes from a very European mind-set where your opportunities are predetermined, children pay for the crimes of their parents and you have very little control over your fate. If you believe that, then rage might be the only reasonable response.
Iphigenia in Splott | Playwright: Gary Owen | Director: Rachel O’Riordan | Cast: Sophie Melville | website

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mr. Sloane Entertains with Pitch Black Comedy and a Naughty Edge

Entertaining Mr. Sloane is one of the late playwright / provocateur Joe Orton’s black comedies. It proceeds along a seemingly simply path where a handsome stranger comes into house of a repressed woman and her father. And yet, Entertaining Mr. Sloane ends up somewhere quite different from where you expect to be. It is the beauty of the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s production and Craig Smith’s direction, that the play is neither jarring nor predictable if it is new to you (as it was to me).
Elise Stone and Matt Baguth in Entertaining Mr. Sloane, photo:Gerry Goodstein
Kath is what was called a "spinster" in the mid-sixties. Early forties, alone and a bit overweight, Kath is bubbly but lonely. She is always terrified the male relatives in her life, either her father or brother, are about to take away her pleasure. And her pleasure is, at the moment, possible border, young Mr. Sloane. Elise Stone does a lovely job with Kath, making the character slightly ditzy and flighty rather than sad and pathetic.
Kath’s brother Eddie, is well played by Antonio Edwards Suarez. Eddie is also quite interested in the young, handsome Mr. Sloane. He gives Sloane a job as chauffer and assistant, but seems a bit more interested in dressing him up in a leather outfit more appropriate for evening gymnastics than driving.
Then there is their father, John Lenartz playing well befuddled. He thinks he knows a secret about young Mr. Sloane and doesn’t trust him at all.
Matt Baguth has the difficult role of the young Mr. Sloane. Sloane is very sexual and aware of it, but rarely in control of the situation. He may be quick to anger and violent, but normally Sloane is passive and reactionary. Mr. Baguth does a great job with the role.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane bathes in humor where their shouldn’t be any. Credit director Craig Smith for pulling out the warmth in the outlandish show, without dulling its sharper edges.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane |Playwright: Joe Orton | Director: Craig Smith | Cast: Matt Baguth, John Lenartz, Elise stone, Antonio Edwards Suarez | website
Matt Baguth and Antonio Edwards Suarez, Photo: Gerry Goodstein

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

History, Heartbreak and Humor Mix Wildly in Fossils

Fossils dances to on stage at the 59E59, as part of their Brits Off Broadway series. It brings a decidedly off-beat and British sense of humor and resoluteness that sparkles wonderfully in the dark. Fossils was written by Bucket Club - who want to explore how stories are told by changing the dynamics of the play going experience and, in this show, using live music in profoundly new ways.  
Fossils is the story of Vanessa, a research fellow in evolutionary biology. She is focused looking at the changes over time of long lost life forms, how they evolved and what happened to them. Vanessa is equally determined to not look at her own history, with one missing parent and one parent she keeps at arm’s length. Vanessa also overseas two doctoral students, Dominic and Myles. Since she is slightly older and a much more rigidly structured person, they overcompensate by acting even younger and more irresponsible than they are.
L-R: Adam Farrell, Helen Vinten, and Luke Murphy in FOSSILS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Vanessa and the teams’ routine is upset by a tabloid announcement, of a new siting of the Loch Ness monster. Because of Vanessa’s knowledge in the subject area, she is besieged by questions from the press. Questions she finds superfluous and distracting. But the questions also nag at her.
Ultimately, she and Dominic enter into a road trip to Loch Ness to find the answers of the mysteries of the monster and of her youth, include the disappearance of her father. 
The entire show is augmented by a plethora of odd musical accompaniment, more akin to an neo-electronic version of old radio musical effects than a score, by done purposefully and wonderfully. The effect is hypnotizing and beautiful and occasionally annoying - all at the same time. The music deepened the effect of the show rather than simply providing accompaniment.
Helen Vinten brings Vanessa slowly to life. Vanessa is a young lady who refuses to let anyone in emotional, as she must to thrive. Adam Farrell and Luke Murphy bring the two young research assistants to life with staggering realism for such an oddly surrealistic play. In the later portions of the show, Adam Farrell handles more the acting and Luke Murphy handles more of the music, but both shine through equally.
Writing company Bucket Club accomplish quite a bit in Fossils. The show gains complexity, layering and emotional depth as the evening progresses. Director Nel Crouch handles the entire group with a quiet restraint, which is necessary to prevent the show from running into full on comedy. It has a very British sense of humor, dry and uncomfortable at times but always intelligent and thoughtful. With Fossils, 59E59 has a truly unusal gem on their hands (sorry - horrible pun).
Fossils | Playwright: Bucket Club | Director: Nell Crouch | Cast:  Helen Vinten, Adam Farrell, Luke Murphy | website

Monday, May 1, 2017

Baghdaddy Blows Away Doubts

Baghdaddy sneaks up on you, in every way.  Even the opening of the show comes across as haphazard. It seems like the cast is a little behind getting ready until it is called to order and we are in the middle of a support group meeting. The obligatory “Hi My Name Is..” statements start and we are on our way. But the meeting isn’t for alcoholics, drug addicts, or sex addicts - it is for people that started the second War with Iraq. An absurdist start to a generally wild evening.
The Cast of Baghdaddy
Baghdaddy is a musical that tells the story of the acts of six people that had some piece in starting the Iraq War via the troublesome intel that was provided. Furthermore, it is a musical comedy, almost a farce. Because people are motivated by small things, like a longing for recognition or love or safety. And, in the lead up before that horrible day in September 2001, these stories are remarkably slapdash and funny.
Bob D’Haene plays Martin Bouchard, the CIA analyst that insisted on publishing unsubstantiated rumors and guesswork. Here he is a laughable blowhard. Lisa Oleynick and Ethan Slater play two CIA analysts that find acceptance and entrĂ© into decision making by going around the CIA to the Bush State Department. Jason Collins is the CIA manager they go around, to his great chagrin. The remaining two parts are the exuberant German junior office Richard Becker, played to the hilt by Brennen Caldwell and the Iraq source Curveball, played with real pathos by Joe Joseph.
These are the support group members, and we are called to order by the fantastic Brandon Espinoza. Mr. Espinoza and the excellent Claire Neumann provide life to a myriad of ancillary characters, and help with musical harmony to the entire show. The first half of Baghdaddy is hilarious. It is a musical and political keystone kops caper that is presented with the perfect amount of crazy.  And then 9/11 hits the narrative and intermission hits the show.
Brandon Espinoza, Brennan Caldwell and Claire Neumann
The second half is tonally completely different and yet just as perfect. Slipping on a banana peel is funny in theory, but when the slippage leads to actual war, the jokes gives way to frustration, denial and dejection. The humorous tales of “How I started the Iraq War...” morph into real missed opportunities with horrid outcomes.
Baghdaddy is a marvel. It is the story of a stupid war told with humor and fun, but the correct amount of compassion. Given the location and size of the budget, I don’t think the story, setting and acting could be much better. Director Marshall Pailet puts his energetic cast through a non-stop emotional ride, and the audience follows with gusto. Baghdaddy is based on a screenplay by J.T. Allen with the book adapted by Marshall Pailet, who also wrote the music and A. D. Penedo who also wrote the lyrics.

Baghdaddy | Music & Book: Marshall Pailet, Lyrics and Book: A. D. Penedo, Based on a Screenplay:J. T. Allen | Director:  Marshall Pailet | Cast: Brandon Espinoza, Brennan Caldwell, Jason Collins, Bob D'Haene, Joe Joseph, Claire Neumann, Larisa Oleynik, Ethan Slater