Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Kimberly Akimbo Suspends Belief Too Much

Some stories do not translate easily into musicals but work nonetheless. Other stories do not.  World premiere musical, Kimberly Akimbo definitely falls into the second category. Although technically a musical about Kimberly, who ages 4 to 5 times more quickly than normal, the show throws everything against the wall to see what sticks.

Kimberly Akimbo gives us judgement free theft and grand larceny by minors. Aiding and abetting grand theft, with the only parental figure Kimberly has, is treated as a big joke. It gives us extortion, murder, and assault, all without judgement or consequences.  In fact, the only thing that does bring results is when someone is mean to Kimberly, then cosmic karma is visited upon the perpetrator. 

Front: Bonnie Mulligan, Victoria Clark, Justin Cooly, Stephen Boyer, Ali Mauzey (Ahron R. Foster)

Let’s start with the basics, Kimberly is a 16 year old child, but wrapped in an old lady's body because she has a disease that only affects 1 in 50 million people. Somehow, even with this extremely rare and complex disease, she lives with her alcoholic father and abusive mother, with nary a health care worker, or responsible adult, in sight. Sarcasm aside, Victoria Clark is fantastic in the role of Kimberly. She brings a freshness and teenage angst to Kimberly, as well as the role of young caretaker for the family that cannot function without her. 

Her tentative crush / love interest is Seth, played perfectly by Justin Cooley. A young actor in his Off-Broadway debut, he navigates the tricky role in a touching and believable way, out of step with the rest of the cast, bar Kimberly herself. However, the character is given an extremely annoying habit of making anagrams – and singing about them.

Bonnie Mulligan is hilarious in the role of Debra. Debra is young Kimberly’s aunt. Dedicated to a life of low-level crime, Debra is the closest Kimberly has to an adult role model. And that is saying something as Debra enlists all 6 high school students into a scheme that involves forgery, theft, and mail fraud. Which, of course, works and no one gets caught.

Kimberly’s parents, played by Steven Boyer and Alli Mauzey, are an alcoholic mess and inattentive and mentally abusive mother. The story occurs around Kimberly’s 16th birthday, which is the average age of death for someone with her condition. No disrespect, but it is a Hallmark movie you always wanted, if you wanted the killer babysitter to get away with it and marry the unsuspecting husband – all the while singing about it.

Most of the singing is excellent, although the songs were not terribly memorable. The ice skating on stage was a little disconcerting, but not out of character for the show.

Kimberly Akimbo starts a bit odd, and then gets odder as time goes on. The audience I saw it with started with loving the songs and showed it with extended applause. But they grew less and less enamored as the story became unmoored from reality. There are the bones and music of a great story in there somewhere. It is too bad it is all mixed up.

Victoria Clark and Justin Cooly on the lam (Ahron R. Foster)

I neither loved nor hated Kimberly Akimbo, but I admired its convictions to stay true to this odd fantasy. I didn’t admire it enough to recommend it to everyone. I think to really enjoy it, you would have to treat it as a very black comedy, which I do not think it is what the producers intended.

Kimberly Akimbo

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Trouble in Mind is Relevant and Fantastic

Trouble in Mind is an eerily precedent show. Written and premiering off-Broadway in 1955, it is an illuminating show about the depictions of black actors on stage and screen. Producers, who wanted to take the show to Broadway in 1957, ironically asked the author to tone down the Black references in the play. Which is specifically what the play is about. Playwright Alice Childress would not comply, and so we come to the Broadway Premiere of Trouble in Mind some 66 years late. It was worth the wait.

Brandon Michael Hall, Jessica Frances Dukes, Michael Zegan, LaChanze, Chuck Cooper (Joan Marcus)

Trouble in Mind covers a few days of a play rehearsal, with the new actors running through their lines and blocking.  LaChanze plays Wiletta Mayer, the first to arrive to a bare stage set. She has a bit of banter with building manager Henry (Simon Jones). It is a small but critical moment that establishes that Wiletta and Henry both love the stage. This builds a bond with Henry (and the audience), who feels the same. Soon they are joined by a young Black man, a first time actor and recent college graduate, John Nevins (Brandon Michael Hall). 

Since it is John’s first real stage job after college, Wiletta explains the power dynamics in the theater world. Blacks have learned a method to keep the peace and their jobs; laugh at jokes no matter if they are funny, do not argue over a scene, and defer when asked, are among a few of them. John listens but takes very little to heart as he is, and expects to be, treated as an equal. Wiletta cannot help but cynically note the types of roles Blacks get: servants, mammies, outlaws and slaves.

During their talk Millie (Jessica Frances Dukes) comes in. Millie is Wiletta’s closest frenemy. The two ladies talk, joke and exchange friendly insults as they wait for the rest of the cast. Next up is Judy (Danielle Campbell) the new white ingénue. Judy is fresh, idealistic and a recent transplant from Connecticut. Then Sheldon (Chuck Cooper) arrives, and now the cast is mostly in attendance. Unaware of the unspoken rules, Judy socializes with the rest of the cast, all Black, on stage.

Finally, the director Al Manners (Michael Zegen) arrives with a pep talk and a smile. Al has worked with most of the cast before and greets them warmly. Mr. Zegen is great in this role, giving a razor’s edge performance between friendly and dismissive. His character’s friendship with Wiletta and the cast makes the Al a sympathetic character.  Still, the Black cast cannot help but giggle as John notices all the mannerisms in Al which Wiletta had warned him about. A run through starts and the intelligent Black cast members slip into on stereotypical roles, their English easily switching to a “Stepin Fetchit” dialect.

All goes well until a scene comes up that Wiletta objects to. She and Al superficially discuss it, but Al quickly pulls rank, pledging to raise the issue to the playwright. When Wiletta brings it up again the next day, Al notes that the writer and director want it the way it is. Wiletta explains that a real mother, black or white, would never act in this way.

LaChanze, Chuck Cooper, Michael Zegen (Joan Marcus)

Wiletta’s objection grows into an argument as Al demands she play the scene as written. Their friendship cannot overcome the disagreement. In fact, this disagreement goes right to the heart of their relationship.

Trouble in Mind speaks to many of us. If you grew up watching old movies or TV, author Alice Childress’ play leads you to question your own memories and stereotypes. The play is funny and angry, justifiably so. What is a heart breaking is how little, in the 66 years since this was written, has changed.

The cast is glorious. LaChanze blows through you as Wiletta, the veteran actor who has swallowed her feelings 1 time too many. Michael Zegen takes his natural charm and adds just enough condescension. He sees Wiletta’s pushback as unjust to him, since he has done a lot to help the cast. Jessica Frances Duke plays her character so over the top you have to love her. She is balanced by Tony Winner Chuck Cooper’s stoicism.  Veteran and excellent director, Charles Randolph-Wright, keeps this play from ever feeling dated or ponderous. Trouble in Mind has waited a long time for its Broadway Premiere, but it is worth it.

Trouble in Mind

Director: Charles Randolph-Wright | Playwright: Alice Childress | Cast: LaChanze. Michael Zegan, Chuck Cooper, Danielle Campbell, Jessica Frances Dukes, Brandon Michael Hall, Simon Jones, Alex Mickiewicz, Don Stephenson


Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Easy Charms of Small Town America are reflected in Mornings at Seven.

(Ally Mills has replaced Judith Ivy due to an accident. This review has been changed to include her performance.) 

Patty McCormack and Lindsay Crouse as Ester and Cora

Mornings at Seven has an easy charm that harkens back to a simpler time. You can tell the play is a classic from my use of the word harken, at least I didn’t say old timey. The play tells the tale of 4 sisters, all in their mid 60s or older, who all live very close to each other in the 1920s. And they have for many years. These sisters are.

The sisters, 3 married and 1 not, talk every day and are involved in each others’ lives.  Over the course of 50 years of adulthood, small irritations have grown into large annoyances. albeit hidden.

One day comes that upsets the order of their lives. As a blurb would say, old wounds are opened, lies exposed and the sisters’ dynamics will never be the same. The headline would be correct, but the proceedings are a bit more leisurely than that implies.

A wonderful cast of older actors have been assembled for Mornings at Seven and they perform flawlessly. Cora and Thor (Lindsay Crouse and Dan Lauria) live in one home on stage. Cora’s younger sister, and the only unmarried one, Arry (a great Ally Mills) has lived with them since they were married decades ago. 

Across the yard, Ida and Carl (Alam Cuervo and John Rubinstein) live with their son Homer (Jonathan Spivey). The day’s adventures are kicked off when Homer brings home his fiancé for the first time after 5 years of engagement. His fiancé Myrtle (Keri Safran) is confused by the family tensions but is understandably ready to get married.

Alma Cuervo, Jonathan Spivy and Keri Safran as Ida, Homer and Myrtle

The last sister and her husband are Ester and David (Patty McCormack and Tony Roberts). They are the richer and more educated part of the family and live about a half mile away. David keeps Ester on a short leash as he hates the rest of the family.

With such a rich and experienced cast, the pace and tone of the show is magnetic. The richly designed set and the famous faces are things you expect on Broadway, not at a small theater just off the scene. It turns out the Theatre at Saint Clement’s gives Mornings at Seven a cozy accessibility to the show. 

Hosting Homer and Myrtle puts his father Carl in a bit of a state. Carl has “spells”, today we would call them mild anxiety attacks. Carl has a problem with both meeting new people and self-doubts about his life choices. Carl is much better with his hands than with his personal interactions. One of the things Carl has done is built a house for his son and his wife, to be given to Homer then he gets married.  

The house has sat empty for 5 years, and when it looks like Homer and Myrtle have broken up, Carl is ready to rent it out. And Cora has designs on it. She wants the house to finally move away from Arry and be with just her husband. 

Mornings at Seven is not full of big laughs or huge drama, but instead is a warm, humorous and familiar hug. It is a story that these actors bring to life with the ease of experience. Patty McCormack and Ally Mills stand out in a cast of stellar performances. 

Director Dan Wackerman has delivered a beautiful revival of this classic. T is a fantastic show if your tastes run to convivial entertainment. A special call out has to go to Harry Feiner to scenic design.

Mornings at Seven

Director: Dan Wackerman | Playwright: Paul Osborn | Cast: Lindsay Crouse, Alma Cuervo, Dan Lauria, Patty McCormack, Ally Mills, Tony Roberts, John Rubinstein, Keri Safran, Jonathan Spivey


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Nollywood Dreams Upends Expectations

Nollywood Dreams, at the MCC Theater, by Jocelyn Bioh, is an entirely different (highly entertaining) look at the “Hollywood” dream of millions. Set in “Nollywood”, the third of the major entertainment centers (after Hollywood and Bollywood), this based in Nigeria. But you don’t need to know any of this going in. The background is set quickly and simply, familiar to everyone who has consumed Hollywood stories. And the actors in this show are amazing. They bring an authentic and unique portrayal of the characters.

Nollywood Dreams is the story of a young woman, Ayamma (Sandra Okuyboyejo), who is planning take part in an open casting call for a new movie, “The Comfort Zone”. Directed by famed Nigerian Gbenga Ezie (Charlie Hudson III), the movie promises to be someone’s big break.

(L-R)Charlie Hudson III, Nan Mensahy, Ade Otukoya, Sandra Okuyboyejo, Abena

The truth is, Gbenga’s old flame, Dede (Nana Mensah) is going to play the part and the open call is just a publicity stunt. Dede is a force of nature, like lightning, impressive and a bit scary.  Ayamma’s sister Fayola (Emana Rachelle) is a voice of reason, or just too busy to be bothered. That is, until Ayamma has her heart broken, and then Fayola can be a tiger to protect her sister – albeit a slow tiger.

The face of Nollywood and the star of the movie is handsome star Wale Owusu. Wale is played Ade Otukoya, pulling off charismatic, famous, and friendly all at once. Wale charms everyone he meets, particularly Adenikeh (Abena) an Oprah like daytime talk show favorite that everyone watches.

Adeniken is an over-excited and exciting TV host. She fills us all in on the gossip around the move “The Comfort Zone”. Her show documents the twists and turns of making a movie. Abena is hilarious in the role.

The names, the accents, the settings, all of these are strange only for a moment. As the story progresses you quickly forget all the differences, just as an audience quickly falls into the rhythms of Shakespeare. These are stereotypes from nearly every Hollywood movie. Here they are played over the top in a hilarious but honest way. And, just as in a Hollywood story, the entertainment is not in the ending but the joyousness in getting there.

Emana Rachelle, Sandra Okuyboyejo

The story unfolds in Ayamma and Fayola’s home / office, in the Nollywood Dream’s office and on the set of Adenikeh’s show. Much of Nollywod Dreams is over the top in a planned and authentic way. The show is a traditional showbiz story, interpreted with a decidedly Nigerian take on fame. The cast, a mixture of Nigerian and Brooklyn actors, breath life to the dreams of these people.

I loved Nollywood Dreams. It surprised and engaged me. The story, by Jocelyn Bioh, follows familiar path in a unique way. The direction, Saheem Ali, is tight, even when chaos ensues. I also have to call out the production design by Alex Basco Koch, it kept the show grounded.

Nollywood Dreams

Director: Saheem Ali | Playwright: Jocelyn Bioh | Cast: Abena, Charlie Hudson III, Dandra Okuboyejo, Nana Mensah, Enama Rachelle, Ade Otukoya


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

My Little Pony Takes A Turn to the Dark Side

Despite its name, The Antelope Party is not about a group of happy herbivores frolicking in the sun. The play is happy and light, until it takes an unexpected turn. The Antelope Party was written in 2018 and postponed by the pandemic in 2020. It finally comes to the stage in New York with power and prescience far beyond what was implied in 2018 or 2020. 

The Antelope Party opens on a group of people at a completely different type of party. Five friends share a common interest in My Little Pony role playing and meet up once a week. They all take the parts of the various characters from the TV show. The group is made up of 3 bronies (male cosplayers) and 2 Pegasisters (female cosplayers). Each of the weekly meetings starts with a sharing session, which is cleverly laid out to the audience with a combination of love and disbelief.

Ben Mawere, Caitlin Morris and Will Dagger

With two players missing and one new member, the story opens with this sharing session. Shawn (an amazing Will Dagger) starts by explaining how his life was saved by the group and how much he loves it. Ben (wonderful Edward Mawere) is the founder of the leaderless group. Ben and Rachel (Caitlen Morris) worry about Maggie (Lindsley Howard) and Doug (Quinn Franzen), late to show up without a word. Newcomer Jean (Anna Ishida) realizes quickly that this isn’t the group she signed up for, and leaves.

Doug into the room, and tells the story that Maggie was grabbed on the street by a vigilante gang. From his discussion we find it isn’t safe to wear their pony outfits on the street as the vigilantes tend to look at any others as outsiders. There is a generalized feeling of unease in their appearance in the city.

When Maggie does shows up the next week, she explains she was not kidnapped. She recognized her cousin and went in the car voluntarily. But she shuts down all questions about the evening and her cousin. Later we find her father is one of the heads of the vigilante group, The Antelope Party. The party is a slightly fascist group intent on confronting those that don’t follow their ideas about true Americans.

Caitlin Morris, Quinn Franzen

Maggie and Shawn, who is enamored with her, join The Antelope Party. In a short amount of time, they both pressure everyone to sign a pledge approving of the party. It is interesting because Maggie is a woman of color and therefore close to being an outsider in the Antelope’s view. Doug sings on quickly, but Ben, a Black man, and Rachel, a bisexual woman, have serious doubts about the group.

The Antelope Party slowly morphs from a local organization to a powerful group dedicated to harassing people out of power. Here, The Antelope Party becomes a grim prophecy on what has come to pass in reality. The machinations of the Bronies as they navigate this new environment are both familiar and foreboding.

The Antelope Party is well paced and directed by professional Jess Chayes. The playwright, Eric John Meyer brings the action from farcical to deadly serious in a manner that is internally consistent, and externally frightening. It is another great production by the Dutch Kills Theater Company. The stage of the Wild Project is small, but the intimacy works perfectly in the venue.

The Antelope Party
Director: Jess Chayes | Playwright: Eric John Meyer | Cast: Will Dagger, Quinn Franzen, Lindsley Howard, Anna Ishida, Edward Mawere, Caitlin Morris | website

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Caroline or Change – It’s not “The Help”, the Musical

From the name of the play to the poster image of Sharon D Clark singing her heart out, I came into the play blind, assuming it would be a message of 1963 empowerment. And it is about empowerment and race relations, but the type that is found internally, not externally.

Caroline is played by Sharon D Clark and is fantastic. Caroline is a maid in Louisiana in 1963. Her relationship with the white, Jewish family she works for is brittle and borderline antagonistic. She does have a soft spot, will hidden, for the son – Noah. I saw Jaden Myles Waldman in the role, one of three boys sharing the role, he was excellent as well.

Caroline with the Radio's chorus and the Washing Machine's bubbles,

Noah’s mother has passed and his father has married a long time family friend, Rose. Noah doesn’t feel close his step-mother, because he still mourning his mother.

Caroline, and her basement domain, are a rock of stability in his life. As for Caroline, the basement is her domain to let her self, even just a bit. In the basement the washing machine, radio and dryer come to life and sing to her. The voices are fun and fresh (and sexy when dryer Kevin S. McAllister enters the song). It’s here that she finally allows herself a short mental diversion from her life.

But real life happens on leaving that small world. She is short with her friends, like Dotty. In a post-work discussion, while waiting for the bus, Caroline turns angry at friend Dotty Moffett (Tamika Lawrence) who is going back to school, dressing white and generally trying to improve her station in this environment. Angry because she isn’t going anywhere soon. She is angry towards her children, not for anything she does, but as a reminder of what she cannot deliver.

Caroline is stuck. She is stuck working for the Gellmans, underpaid and removed from the family. She has to use here few funds at home to take care of the family. She is stuck alone with a missing husband she adored and takes care of her three children without quite enough money to afford any extras for her or her children.

At work, Caroline empties the pockets of the family’s clothes before washing them, and turns the money over to Rose each day. Rose needs to increase Caroline’s salary without her husband’s knowledge and to teach Noah the value of money. So she asks Caroline to keep the change she finds, and this way teach a lesson to Noah. Noah, hearing this conversation, leaves money in his pocket for Caroline, who refuses to take it originally. She changes her mind when her children need money for treats or medical help.

Noah and Caroline (Sharon D Clarke) in the Basement

Around the country the world is changing. John Kennedy’s death occurs but the Black characters wonder what will happen with JFK’s promise to help them, assuming the worst.

At the Hannukah Dinner, Noah’s grandfather, Chip Zien, preaches the Socialist revolution in comments to Caroline. He sees this moment in history as a possible turning point for both Blacks and Jews. But Caroline sees these as just a further promise that she knows isn’t true. But the dinner scene illustrates another truth. Caroline, her friend and daughter serve the family. It is a reality that doesn’t seem to occur to the grandfather. It plays on the dynamics of the Jewish and Black struggle for respect.

The title then refers to the internal struggle Caroline sees as the line between work and charity. She has created a safe space for work. The loose change signifies her struggle between taking care of her family on this low salary or taking a little extra by taking change from a child of the family she works for.

But the power dynamic between her and the child Noah is altered by leaving change for her. Noah doesn’t understand the problem and Caroline’s emotional distance. The whole she leaves in his world is hard for him, but he will outgrow it. The world for Caroline is hard, even with the change and she knows she will not outgrow it.

The contrast and power of the Jewish family versus Caroline and her friends shows itself in the lecture that Chip Zein delivers to Caroline. He never asks question, only delivers the truth as he sees it.

As for Noah, has a step-mother whom he doesn’t like and a father who literally cannot communicate. Dad plays the clarinet constantly – making music was something he and Noah’s mother did while she was alive. This devotion to music and lack of devotion to his family is felt by his new wife, and by Noah.

Caroline or Change isn’t a straightforward story. Caroline doesn’t change into a warm hearted surrogate mother. The distance the father puts between himself and the family is similar to the distance Caroline puts between herself and the Gellmans.

Directed by Michael Longhurst, Caroline or Change is shot full of fantastical imagery and moments consistent with Tony Kusher’s vision. A vision that is both literal and allegorical at the came time.

Caroline or Change
Directed by Michael Longhurst |Story by Tony Kusher |Lyrics by Tony Kusher and Music by Jeanine Tesori | Cast: Sharon D Clarke, Cassie Levy, John Cariana, Tamika Lawrence, Chip Zien

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Snow White Approaches in A Venomous Color: The Fairest

The new play at The Wild Project, A Venomous Color: The Fairest, has a simple premise that unfolds in layers. The framework is a workplace from Disney Studios - long before it became famous for animated movies. The play is set in the workshop where the cel illustration for Snow White the movie is done. This workplace provides the added pressure because they are working to complete the first full length animated feature. This was a period of sex segregation, and it is women who outline and paint the cels that are designed by men. The show provides a mirror to many of the problems and expectations in the workforce today, augmented by a disdainful attitude towards women.

Sivan Gordon-Buxbaum in A Venomous Color: The Fairest

The workplace is very much a product of the late 1930s, high pressure, cramped quarters and no air conditioning, along with the attendant attitudes towards both workers and women. These women diligently at painting and outlining the cells, with little recognition of their contributions. Four of actors in A Venomous Color embody the stereotypes of the times. 

Helen is a non-nonsense gal who does not like endless chatter while painting (Emma DeCorsey). Betty Ann is a friendly and comfortable background worker (Taylor Cozort). Grace has a terrible boyfriend she let back into her heart over and over (Sara Ruth Brown, in a great turn). And Frances, is the quiet and talented one with a hidden reservoir of emotion that will boil over later (an excellent Sivan Gordon-Buxbaum).

The entire cast of A Venomous Color was excellent. They do those things we all to at work sometimes: gossip, laugh, and occasionally grow frustrated. The façade of the 1930s never slip, and this sense of time and place built trust with the audience.

Two other women float in and out. Hazel a female boss that is Walt Disney’s sister-in-law (Meghan E. Jones). She pops in to deliver news and exhortations to work quicker to deliver the movie. Ms. Jones was fantastic portraying the difficult role of boss, mentor, and den-mother. A position made more difficult by her unusual relation to Walt Disney.

Margie is played by Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart Margie the movement model for Snow White herself. As an artist, not a mere illustrator, she has style and grace as well as a sense of superiority. It is Margie / Snow White that is the catalyst for the changes in Frances. As she works on the character more and more, Frances begins to imagine Snow White berating her.

The dichogamy between the Snow White that Frances creates by painting, and the Snow White that taunts her daydreams grows from a distraction, to disagreements and then into an internal tug of war. Frances takes her a job to extremes as she places more and more pressure on herself. It is fascinating to watch Frances break down as “ discussions” with the Snow White drift into taunting and an adversarial relationship

The similarities with our work lives is clear. We understand that the emotions and conflicts of this work place from 90 years ago are consistent with our own era. Burnout, unresolved mental breakdowns, workers as drones and personal relationships, these consistently take a back seat to work. Frances, who has invested so much of herself worth into work, suffers the most. A previous emotional trauma occurred that she cannot face forced her to leave the familiarity of home. Her “discussions” with Snow White leave her more and more brittle.

A Venomous Color: The Fairest isn’t an indictment of Walt Disney or the studio, per say, but it functions as a safe place to air out our current angst. Written and directed by Cameron Darwin Bossert, the play moves at a brisk pace. The intermission less show feeds our own anxiety of finishing on time. The ensemble is excellent, ensuring that this is a provocative and thoughtful piece.

A Venomous Color: The Fairest
Director and Playwright: Cameron Darwin Bossert | Cast: Sivan Gordon-Buxbaum, Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, Sara Ruth Brown, Taylor Cozort, Meghan E. Jones, and Emma DeCorsey

Thursday, September 30, 2021

A fascinating look at a year Between the Bars

I thought I knew what to expect with the play Between the Bars. I expected a raw look at the indignities of prison. But here, there are no prison riots, no torture, and no histrionics. Instead, we get a thoughtful look at a handful of incarcerated men over the course of a year, through the prism of visits from family and friends.

Seven extremely talented actors play twelve roles including prisoners, guards, girlfriends, and mothers. These actors meld into the characters and bring each one unique energy and outlooks.

Nowani Rattray, Chad Carstarphen, Juan Arturo, Katie Mack , Akeil Davis

Between the Bars starts with three men getting visits from three women. Two of these are mothers and one is brought in as a possible friend.

The set is comprised of a large visitation room, set behind actual bars. At one end of the stage is where visitors are searched before they enter. At the other end, guards at a desk keep a watchful and disdainful eye. In the rear vending machines full of snacks and one Coke machine silently stand out as reminders of what the men have lost. But the scene is dominated by the vast empty space of the visitation room. It is a sterile and hard place with only the chairs, arraigned in pairs, breaking the bleakness. 

In Between the Bars, temperaments and relationships are defined by archetypes. One man is squeamish and afraid, his mother offering tough love. One man is calm and composed, his mother offering compassion and heartbreak. One man is intelligent and aloof; condescending to the point of distancing himself from the possibility of a friend. 

These same actors then play a second set of couples. One is a guard with a childhood friendship with a prisoner. One is an abusive boyfriend and the girl that cannot quit him. One is a man trying to plan is life after prison with a caring girlfriend. These are the stories the audience follows through the well-paced 90 minutes of the show. It seems unfair to single out performances. in such a great cast, but Juan Arturo and Katie Mack are electric as a two couples in very different relationships.

A haunting spoken word voiceover kicks in three times. The voice of pain, desperation, and hopelessness knifes the audience emotionally. Kudos to Adrian Bridges here for great sound design and Mary Ellen Stubbins for lighting design.

Juan Arturo and Katie Mack. Photos by Mati Gelman.jpg

The characters grow, or don’t, over the course of a year of visits and changes. The visiting women often drive these changes unconsciously. The toll of the unequal relationships redefines and molds the characters. Their various endings are less melodramatic and more honest than you expect from this type of play.

Between the Bars is excellently directed by Benjamin Viertel. Written by Lynn Clay Byrne, it strikes a different perspective with very few false notes. The Here Arts Center is an intimate space, and this play take full advantage of it.

Note: Proof of vaccination is required and masks must be worn in the theater.

Playwright: Lynn Clay Byrne | Director: Benjamin Viertel
Cast: Juan Arturo, Chad Carstarphen, Akeil Davis, Katie Mack, Christopher Mowood, Naowanit Rattray, Carol Todd


Monday, August 23, 2021

Pass Over: Paradise Delayed or Delivered?

Pass Over is a relatively young play, returning to Broadway just a few years after the original ran in 2018. For those of you that saw that version, or the Spike Lee filmed version, the ending is very different. I didn’t see either of these (although I confess to watching the end of the Spike Lee version afterwards), so I came to it with fresh eyes.

Huge credit must be given to the playwright, Antionette Chinonye Nwandu, for crafting a play that is both funny and profane, both tragic and comedic, influenced by the defeated and hopeful.

Jon Michael Hall and Nair Smallwood in Pass Over

The profanity, the banter and the pathos are delivered by the characters Moses and Kitch, portrayed by the wonderful and heartbreaking performances of Jon Michael Hill and Nair Smallwood, respectively. These two men are stuck in place and time where the value of the black men matter less than the comfort and lives of the Police.  Police that act like violet overlords that pass though their lives, bringing pain and humiliation, only to pass back out again.

Moses and Kitch pass this day seemingly like every other, falling back into jokes and daydreams of the paradise that awaits them should they “pass over”. Pass Over to somewhere outside the confines of their lives, somewhere lovely and always just out of reach. They can accomplish this either through physically leaving their situation or by dying and going to heaven. (The parallels with Waiting for Godot are intentional, until they aren’t.) Ms. Nwandu has more to say about the life of her creations and their dreams. Including have a man named Moses trying to lead his friend off the bock.

Why can’t they just leave the block? Is it inertia or the Police and the system of justice that is committed to the status quo? Hint, it’s not inertia.

Into their daily routine, on this day, a white man walks into their neighborhood, all gee whiz attitude, blazing white suit, smiles and needing help.  He brings with him a picnic he wants to share or leave with the men. Kitch is all for sharing the food and company, while Moses sees the offer, and subsequent spread, as offensive and patronizing. The visitor (played by Gabriel Ebert) feeds and entertains the two, until he decides to leave abruptly.

A member of the police arrives later in the day to intimidate the men and force a submission that is almost animalistic in its mental and physical cruelty. A palpable sense of dread then encompasses the play and the theater.

Gabriel Ebert, Jon Michael Hall, Nari Smallwood

But finale of Pass Over has been changed to reflect the times. And the times, with demonstrations for Black Lives Matter and a recognition of Police brutality, have changed. And the changes work. Danya Taymor directs this piece with clarity, purpose, and a deft hand. But it is the performances that you remember, long after you leave the theater. Pass Over is thought provoking, uncomfortably funny and a must see for theater lovers.


Pass Over
PlaywrightAntionette Chinonye Nwandu | DirectorDanya Taymor | CastJon Michael Hill, Nair Smallwood. Gabriel Ebert

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Disciple is a Study in Contradictions

Cameron Darwin Bossert and Maja Wampuyc

The new, live presentation of The Disciple by the Thirdwing theatre company premiered at The Wild Project and told a riveting tale. 

On a very simple level, it is the story of Ayn Rand told through the eyes of her protégé and future best-selling author, Nathaniel Branden. But you can’t summarize the story that simply. The Disciple is many things: a tragic love story, a coming of age story, the story of self-deception, and an argument both for and against Ayn Rand’s “Objective Consciences”. That the play succeeds on all counts is a tribute to writer / director Rachel Carey and cast of Maja Wampuzyc and Cameron Darwin Bossert.

Nathaniel Branden begins the story, and marks the chapters in it, at the foot of the stage, lecturing to a group about his latest self-help book. The play echoes the format of his book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”. Early on, he explains that his theory of Objective Consciences comes from his studying under Ayn Rand.

His mini lectures / talks with the audience are expanded and punctuated by the presentations into his relationship with Ayn Rand. What follows is an overview of their relationship and how it morphed over time and guided Nathaniel’s career. Nathaniel first came to Ayn as a “disciple”, one her Objectivist students that worked and supported her. But Nathaniel was more than that. He was her follower and her lover, even though they were both married.

The Disciple provides a unique glimpse into their well-known affair, and how Ayn justified this through her philosophy. Taken literally, this would be a boring lecture, but combined with the view into their relationship and how Ayn’s justifications changed over time, The Disciple shows a rare venerable side to Ayn. It shows emotion in a woman who doesn’t believe in emotions, a dichotomy she cannot come to grips with. Balanced against a lover and devotee that she, ultimately, cannot control.

The scenes with Maja Wampuzyc and Cameron Darwin Bossert show these two at ease and control of their characters, with a chemistry that lights up the play.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Disciple through its multiple lenses. The acting was terrific, and the Wild Project provides an intimate space. At 80 minutes it is a quick dive into fascinating people that are more complex than we think. (Note: Proof of vaccination required.)

The Disciple
Director / Playwright: Rachel Carey | Cast: Maja Wampuzyc, Cameron Darwin Bossert

Monday, July 12, 2021

A Raucous Wake in Olde Dublin

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly is a glimpse into the lives of the women of an “inn”, a brothel in Dublin in the 19th century. Dorcas Kelly, once the proprietor of the establishment in question – now the corpse, is laid out for toasts, eulogies, and unexpected revelations.

The primary mourners are three of the women that for Dorcas; Siobhan, Myra and Kate (Irina Kaplan, Florence Scagliarini and Phoebe Mar Halkowich respectively). These women, wildly different, share the bond not just because they are prostitutes, but because they are independent in a male dominated world. And the world outside is in a riot to get in to attack the women, not for the profession but because they stole Dorcas’ body from potter’s field to give her a proper wake and burial.

Irina Kaplan, Florence Scagliarini, Eamon Murpy, Adam Belvo, Nicolas Thomas, Phoebe Mar Halkowich

The main male characters in the show struggle to keep up with the women. Willian (Eamon Murphy) is hired to keep the mob at bay, although he comes into the wake frequently to give updates, partake in spirits and try to make time with the women. Tom (Nicolas Thomas) palys the part of a customer trying to make an honest woman of Siobhan, which she wants no part of. And Father Jack Dancy (Adam Belvo) wakes up in the brothel to be told to give Dorcas a proper send off.

Siobhan and Myra play the two women well, but expectedly. Whores with a kind heart underneath the make-up and prickly exteriors. Kate, on the other hand, is taking over Dorcas’ business after being an employ and the money woman for a while. She is not willing to give up what freedom she has in order to join the ranks of respectable woman. Kyra Jackson plays Fannie, a worked that married into the respectable society. She drops by repeatedly, supposedly to pay her respects, but more realistically because she still misses the comradery of Inn. Frannie achieved the “dream” of marriage and the good life, only to be rejected by rest of society and looks to the women as her friends.

Irene Kaplan and Florence Scagiarini

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly is a comedy first and foremost. But it also explores the power and limits of the power which these women have gained by operating outside mainstream society.. Siobhan and Myra are tempted by the better life but are aware that this means a loss of autonomy.

Well written and directed by Sara Fellini, The Wake of Drocas Kelly explores the power dynamics of the age, without sacrificing the story or laughs to get there. My one complaint would be the accents which range from New York Irish bartender to unintelligible Dubliner. They are all good, but some require such a struggle to understand, you lose the plot for moments.

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly is a welcome return to live theater that entertains and makes you think. That is a pleasure to enjoy after so long without it.

The Wake of Dorcas Kelly

Director: Sara FelliniPlaywright: Sara Fellini
Cast: Adam Belvo, Kyra Jackson, Duoer Jia, Irina Kaplan, Phoebe Mar Halkowich, Eamon Murphy, Peter Oliver, Nicholas Thomas, Florence Scagliarini

Friday, July 9, 2021

Jackie Hoffman Rises As Fruma-Sarah

The Cell is a remarkably intimate space to watch Jackie Hoffman work her magic. Those who have seen her - live in the theater, singing at Joe’s Pub or in many television appearances - appreciate her great talent in overwhelming the stage while not overwhelming her costars. In Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings), her myriad of talents are seen through a completely different prism. What if this multi-talented woman had been born into a different, and lesser, life. 

Fruma-Sarah (Waiting In The Wings); Jackie Hoffman and Kelly Kingsella

In Furma-Sarah, Ms. Hoffman plays Ariana Russo, an ex-housewife devoted to community theater in central New Jersey - which is kind of like Broadway’s cousin, once removed. For those that don’t know, or don’t remember, the character of Fruma-Sarah is a comedic cameo in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. You don’t have to remember, or even like, Fiddler on the Roof (something I rarely admit to) in order to love this show. The main references are to the songs from the show, which are part of the American zeitgeist.

Ariana is hilariously bitter about the politics of local theater, her failed marriage and still bitter, albeit less hilariously, about how life has retreated from her.  Ariana is locked into a flying harness, waiting until she enters as the dream witch, emerging from the wings, high above stage left. Meanwhile she holds court over a captive stage manager – a wonderful Kella Kingsella who grows during the performance. Ariana, enjoying her forced audience of one, rifts on marriage, life in the suburbs and her delightfully petty feuds with the local gate-keepers of community theater.

Jackie Hoffman and Kelly Kingsella

It is a treat to watch Kelly Kingsella, as stage manager Margo, try to keep Ariana quiet, semi-sober and awake until her entrance at 1:07 in the show. Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings) runs in real time as Fiddler in the Roof drags on off-stage, which means both Ariana and Margo have a deadline. Will Ariana fly on time? Will Margo’s walls come down? These two women not only command the stage, they invest the audience in the outcome. You can feel the tension as the audience realizes how much time is left.

The writing by E. Dale Smith is astounding. He captures the joy, wonder, and disappointment of theater life, whether on Broadway or in a small theatre in central New Jersey. The direction by Braden M Burns is fast paced but emotional, funny, and sensitive. He unrolls the layers of the character and her isolation, slowly, lovingly and with a perfect cast. I also have to call out the lighting by Dan Alaimo, which brings backstage during a show to life. 

Fruma-Sarah, L’chaim.

Furma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings) 
 Director: Braden M BurnsPlaywright: E. Dale Smith
Cast: Jackie Hoffman, Kelly Kinsella | Website

Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Live Show on the Upper West Side

 Live Theater is slowly coming back. This time in a pop up on the Upper West Side.


Friday, June 11 @ 7pm -- LIVE on the UWS

To celebrate LGBT+ Pride 2021, this internationally acclaimed gay marriage dramedy returns for a series of live outdoor pop-up performances on the Upper West Side. In MADE FOR EACH OTHER, Jerry and Vincent are deeply in love. But both men have secrets and inner voices reminding them of their unresolved pasts. Will they make it to the altar or will Vincent end up alone in an Alzheimer’s ward like his wonderfully kooky mother? A surprisingly hilarious romantic dramedy about love, sex, & the power of memory written by Monica Bauer, directed by John D. FitzGibbon, and performed by John Fico (playing multiple characters). Bring a blanket to sit on -- and maybe even pack a picnic basket! ★★★★★ “Extraordinary” exclaims ScotsGay Magazine. “Touching, funny, tragic, and above all, romantic. An incredible performance” says Edinburgh's Three Weeks. 60 minutes. Weather permitting - refunds will be issued if it rains. Friday, June 11 and Thursdays June 17 & 24 at 7pm. More info and tickets HERE.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Little Shop of Horrors Returns on Sept 21 with Jeremy Jordan

Post-covid theater news is busting out all over. The wildly successful off-Broadway run of Little Shop of Horrors is coming back on September 21.

The amazing stars Tammy Blanchard and Christian Borle will return in their roles, and the lead will be turned over to Jeremy Jordan. I will confess to mixed feelings here. Mainly excitement, because I love Jeremy Jordan and his voice. But I am also a little wary of young handsome Mr. Jordan playing the totally nebbish Seymour. I suppose glass and a bad wardrobe will make it work.

I believe I last saw Jeremy Jordan on Broadway in Newsies and American Son. But he has shared his talents on the stage, film and television projects (like Smash and Supergirl)

Jeremy Jordan 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

A Dozen Dreams Pulls Us Out of the Catastrophic

A Dozen Dreams is the theatrical / artistic installation designed to pull us out of our pandemic dreams and nightmares and then journey beyond them. I experienced A Dozen Dreams the day after the CDC mask mandate was lifted (although, still required during the show) and the installation could not have been better timed. 

Ellen McLaughlin’s “My Dream in this Moment"

A Dozen Dreams is a collaboration between 12 female artists and playwrights and an all-female design team; it was conceived by the team at En Garde Arts. It is a walk-through piece where you travel alone or in pairs, with voices (via sanitized headphones) guiding you through a labyrinth of dreamscapes. Each room was conceived, created and performed separately, but they all work in unison to help us make sense of the past year plus in isolation.

The artists’ voices’ themselves direct us, confront and comfort us in unexpected moments of clarity, empathy and exhaustion. The program will give you a description of the various rooms but the emotions generated by these spaces rolls up to hit you unexpectedly. Guided by the artist voices, you are in each of the 12 rooms less than 10 minutes. 

Depending on the viewer's experience, some rooms may make you agitated, while others you feel rushed - because it is almost impossible to take in the artist, the visuals and the emotion in the short time you have. I confess I wanted to sit on the floor in the room “As Hard As You Can” and listen to playwright and spoken word artist Ren Dara Santiago over and over. But you are forced on – just as the pandemic seemed to march on despite our wishes.

Andrea Thome’s “House Dreaming"

The experience is divided into three major parts. The opening vision is Ellen McLaughlin’s “My Dream in this Moment” which is described as ‘a collective memory of what theater used to be and a prayer for theater’s future role in bringing us back together.’ It is a melancholy reminder of what we have lost with theater, both singular and as a community.

Then you cross the mall (it is performed in the Brookfield Place in Battery Park) into the labyrinth, where the next 10 rooms are interconnected but separate, reminding you of half-forgotten places in your memory. In each room, one of the artists has created a singular dream, that we are invited to share with them. Some are coping dreamscapes; some are dreams of a better world and a few are rebirth dreams that hold the promise of a new path. The meat of A Dozen Dreams is here in the labyrinth where our expectations, desires and fears intersect.

Exiting the labyrinth, you cross out into the light for an epilog of a hopeful future, provided by Emily Mann’s “Spirit Dreams,” in which she awakens from a dream of something that was good and beautiful, in which she didn’t feel alone, and where her friend Kecia Lewis sings a beautiful song reminding us that the world is something we must recreate every day for ourselves and for each other.

The immersive experience is fantastic and, at the same time, a bit isolating. You know that there are people both ahead and behind you, and yet you go through it alone, forced into isolation as complete as the Covid lockdowns. This makes the release from the labyrinth back into the world of people all the more powerful.

Rehana Mirza’s“The Death of Dreams”

It isn’t traditional theater, we are still waiting for that to return. But it is emotional and moving theater, more visceral than zoom or pre-recorded shows. It is a step forward, and given the year we’ve all had, it is a step I could not wait to take. I was joyful at the end. Take someone with you if you can, you will want to dissect the experience later over wine and relax for the first time in a year.

A Dozen Dreams is therapeutic and hopeful, the promise of a better and different world to come.  It was conceived by En Garde Arts Founder and Artistic Director Anne Hamburger, with the visionary visual and environment designer Irina Kruzhilina and former Lark Artistic Director John Clinton Eisner, the playwrights featured in A Dozen Dreams are representative of a range of voices and experiences, from Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-nominated artists to fresh new talents. Authors include: Sam Chanse, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Emily Mann, Martyna Majok, Mona Mansour, Rehana Mirza, Ellen McLaughlin, Liza Jessie Peterson, Ren Dara Santiago, Caridad Svich, Lucy Thurber, and Andrea Thome. Singer Kecia Lewis is featured in the dream of Emily Mann.