Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Log Cabin: Wide to the Right

The time of the gay stereotype is thankfully over. Theater no longer has to show gays as a tragic sideshow or sassy gay friend, now gays can be anything. Log Cabin chooses to show them as confused defenders of the status quo against the trans community. Such is progress.
Log Cabin is set over 7 years of rapid political and societal advancement in the gay and lesbian community – from 2012 to 2017. And we view these changes through the well-meaning eyes of one gay and one lesbian couple, who are longtime friends. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Philip James Brannon play Ezra and Chris, an interracial couple who seem pretty well suited to each other. Pam and Jules, the lesbian couple, are played by Cindy Cheung and Dolly Wells respectively. They seem easy and at ease with each other, full of easy tender moments instead ravishing desire.
Cindy Cheung, Dolly Wells, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Phillip James Brannon
The play opens with Ezra and Chris telling the women about Ezra’s father’s unacceptance of them as a couple, which astonishes Ezra. This discussion is followed quickly by Ezra’s uncomfortableness about the status of his oldest friend, then Helen, now Henry. The juxtaposition is Spielbergian in it’s painful obviousness. Ezra also gets to flail about uncomfortably as Pam and Jules discuss having a baby: you see Chris wants a child and Ezra does not. Not only does Ezra not want a child, he does not want to talk about it.
Time flies by and soon the baby has arrived. Since he doesn’t speak, various characters get to have imagined conversations with the child to explore their insecurities. Henry (nĂ© Helen) also drops by for dinner. He brings Myna, a free spirit  andlove interest, along. Henry and Myna are played by Ian Harvie and Talene Monahon. What follows is why one should never decide to have a long-postponed conversation with your transsexual ex-prom date in front of strangers. Mitchell Ezra manages to offend everyone even as he is admitting to his own insecurities.  Jules disappears into the baby’s room, only to be joined later by Henry who then flirts / berates Jules into masturbating in some bizarre self-misogynistic way. Perhaps the underlying erotic tension of the moment only eluded me, but the moment seemed forced and artificial.
After spending the evening fighting, Ezra decides to accede to Chris’ desire to have a child, because that is one of the top reasons to bring a new person into the world, to make up after a fight. Then Ezra and Chris make this magic moment even sweeter by going to Henry and asking him to go off testosterone in order to get pregnant and partner with them in forming a family. Remember, when we last saw Henry - only moments earlier - he was being an asshole to the boys and cheating with a lesbian mom, but such are how happy homes are made. For a moment I wondered if Log Cabin was actually written by a member of the moral majority to show how disgusting the homosexuals really are, I am still not convinced it wasn’t.
Ian Harvie, Talene Monahon, Dolly Wells, Jessie Tyler Furgeson & Phillip James Brannon
When another year has passed and we next we see the company, Henry is pregnant (looking remarkably like the first pregnant man spread in Time a few years ago), Jules and Pam don’t discuss that evening and Ezra and Chris are broken up over an infidelity. In one of the few moments that felt real to me, Cindy Cheung gives a heartfelt speech on the meaning of relationships and forgiveness that almost made me forgive this show. Almost.
Log Cabin was written with incredible wit and verve by Jordan Harrison, but I could have used some real emotion. I don’t enjoy saying this, I though Mr. Harrison’s piece Marjorie Prime was a fantastic show and was looking forward to Log Cabin. Pam MacKinnon does an excellent job of direction, helping ground the piece as much as possible. Log Cabin is very good when it isn’t frustrating or overly showy. But those moments don’t come often enough for me to recommend this.
Log Cabin
Playwright: Jordan Harrison
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Cast: Phillip James Brannon, Cindy Cheung, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ian Harvie, Talene Monahon, Dolly Wells

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Skintight Wears Its Beautiful Skin Lightly

It takes a moment for your mind to adjust to Idina Menzel in a non-musical, but only a moment. She steps onto the Laura Pels’ stage and takes command, her character demanding supportive noises from her father.  Playing Jodi Issacs, a mother in her mid-forties whose husband left her for a 24 year hottie, Idina blazes with self-righteous pity and a small amount of anger that comes off more as serious annoyance. Jodi is about to get a lot more annoyed.
Jodi has flown in from LA to surprise her father on his 70th birthday and to bask in a little parental comfort. Her father, Elliot (Jack Weatherall), doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday, hates surprises and doesn’t do parental comfort well. Elliot is gay fashion designer that sells sex and the clothes that support it. It is impossible not to think of Calvin Klein, since the backstory of the poor Hungarian Jew that makes good mimics Mr. Klein (although the home borough of Bronx has been replaced by the trendier Brooklyn) and because Mr. Weatherall projects exactly what one would expect Mr. Klein to be like.
Jack WEtherall, Will Brittain, Idina Menzel and Eli Gleb

Worse, for Jodi, is that Elliot has a much younger boyfriend, Oklahoma boy Trey (Will Brittain) chosen mainly for handsome looks. Trey is the same age as Jodi’s son Benjamin (Eli Gleb). The fact her ex-husband and her father are now both involved with sexy creatures in their 20s, means that Jodi’s escape to New York is very little escape after all.
And this house was never her home. It is a steel and grey showplace that, at first, doesn’t really look like anyone’s home, but Elliot and Trey fit the place well. Jodi walks right up to the point of demanding her father choose her or Trey, but pulls back when the answer becomes obvious.
Skintight is very funny, occasionally titillating and a lovely chance for every actor to show off in a few great scenes. On the other hand, it rarely connects to the audience. Everyone stays in their lane when I would have expected a little more chaos.
Eli Gleb and Will Brittain
Will Brittain has moments that stand out, because his character is often charged with being more than an attractive cardboard cutout of a character. I would like to have seen more chances taken with the excellent cast.
Playwright Joshua Harman uses Skintight to ask if beauty is as critically important as our society has made it. His answer is that – yes, it is. And the answer is dispatched with very little irony. Director Daniel Aukin moves the pieces of the play excellently, but I was left somehow wanting more.
Playwright: Joshua Harmon
Director: Daniel Aukin
Cast: Will Brittain, Eli Gleb, Indina Menzel, Jack Wetherall, Stephen Carrasco, Cynthia Mace

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Conflict Points a Way Forward

The Mint Theater team somehow seems to find perfect shows for our time by scrounging around old and forgotten pieces of theater. Conflict is no exception, in fact, it might be one of the Mint’s best shows. Even with the Mint’s transformative eye to detail and period, it doesn’t take long for Conflict to register with our current political situation. 

Conflict is a love story layered onto a discussion about politics and class (this is a British play, after all), all of this played out during an election. The handsome young Conservative in this soon to be triangle is Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke). The young woman who is the object of his affections is Lady Dare (Jessie Shelton). The Labour candidate is an old friend of Clive’s, Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck). 

Jeremy Beck, Jessie Shelton and Henry Clarke
 The story starts with Clive and Dare coming from an evening out at that woozy hour where the edge of night transforms into morning. Sparkling conversation and flirtation ensues, but their manner and interaction indicate the fizz has been drained from their relationship. Dare goes to bed as her father, Lord Bellingdon (Graeme Malcolm) enters. Lord Bellingdon and Clive find a man lurking on the grounds and capture young Tom Smith. But it turns out Tom Smith is no theif, but an old chum of Clive’s from Cambridge, albeit fallen on hard times.

Moving forward a year, an election comes up and Clive stands as the Conservative candidate and, a rehabilitated Tom,s tands as the Labour candidate. Lady Dare is fascinated, first by Tom, then by the ideas he has about politics, then by Tom again.

What makes Conflict rather brilliant is the way that the discussion about politics is front and center, but not central to the story. Both men are sure they are right, but they are willing to listen to one another. They are moved by a sense of duty and civility to participate in politics. Similarly, both men care passionately about Lady Dare, but are willing to listen to her. 
Here, Lord Bellingdon is, unfortunately, the embodiment of the status quo just as the young voters (not seen but referenced) are the embodiment of struggle. His stand for convention against the future is the unmovable object which is thwarted by Lady Dare’s unstoppable train.

Conflict is also the story of physical and emotional love that was probably quite daring in 1925, and would still be in many parts of the country. In the country so recently wrapped in Victorian morals, change in the social rules occurs at a blistering pace.

All four major actors are moving and impressive in their performances. If Jeremy Beck and Jessie Shelton stand out, it is because it is their story of transformation and honesty.

Directed with a light touch by Jenn Thompson, Conflict was written by Miles Malleson who also wrote Unfaithfully Yours, recently done by the Mint. The audience at the Mint Theater often skews older, which is a shame. Young theater goers are missing out on an excellent and timely play. Conflict is proof that ideas, principals and entertainment can age and become even more relevant.

Director: Jenn Thompson | Playwright: Miles Malleson
Cast: Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke, Graeme Malcolm, James Pendergast, Jessie Shelton, Jasmin Walker, Amelia White