Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Stephen McKinley Henderson rules Between Riverside and Crazy

A Pulitzer Prize winner in 2015, Between Riverside and Crazy comes to Broadway with most of the cast repeated their award-winning roles. Stephen McKinley Henderson once again rules the stage as Pops.

I did not see the play off Broadway eight years ago, so I cannot comment on the changes. But from Mr. Henderson’s own interview, the original thrust of the play was Pops dealing with the death of his wife. The thrust of the story now centers around Pops’ police work and his retirement – the change brought on by acknowledgement of police brutality in the intervening years.

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Elizabeth Canavan, Michael Rispoli, Rosal Colon, and Common
(C) Joan Marcus

The famous new member of this experienced troop is the musician Common. He is excellent in the unlikeable role of Junior, Pops’ son. His performance is restrain when needed and agitated when appropriate.

The story centers around a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside drive, a very nice part of town. Pops houses a group of three young people: his son, Junior’s girlfriend, and Junior’s recovering friend, Oswaldo. But a rent-controlled apartment in this part of town is an endangered species. And Pops was offered a good price to move out 8 years ago. He fought the city as a decorated veteran, injured police officer and older man. And Pops is still fighting to stay in the apartment 8 years later.

Change comes when Pops is visited by his old partner on the force and her fiancé. They talk about old times and reminisce before she and her husband try, once again, to have Pops take a deal to get money and leave the apartment with a nice payout. He stubbornness and pride don't allow whim to take the offer. Then entire process of kicking him out of his home is indicative of the racism in the gentrification of the neighborhood.

But trouble brews in his home with the family. Junior has left, his girl-friend may be pregnant and Oswaldo has fallen off the wagon.

Stephen McKinley Henderson,  Common

Pops deals with these troubles, and a beating, with anger and bluster. But he and his son ultimately have a heart to heart. It is clear this open and honest relationship has been something Junior has wanted since his mother died. And it is equally clear that intimacy and openness come dear to them both. It is hard to open up after a lifetime of stoicalness. 

Between Riverside and Crazy is a story about forgiveness, stubbornness and love. None of these emotions come easily – except stubbornness – and it takes a life change for these to occur.

I very much enjoyed the show. The acting is wonderful with no bad performances or weak links. The sets are complex, but somehow add a simplicity to the show. Kudos to Production Manager John C. Moore. Austin Pendleton is the director and moves multiple story lines together seamlessly.

Between Riverside and Crazy
Playwright: Stephen Adly Guirgis | Director: Austin Pendleton | Cast: Stephen McKinley Henderson, Common, Elizabeth Canavan, Michael Rispoli, Rosal Colon, Victor Alamanzar, Liza Colon-Zayas

Monday, December 12, 2022

Hypnotic Euphoria at the Armory

I often go to a Park Ave Armory show on the spur of the moment. Seeing the new installation / movie Euphoria occurred in just this way. A happenstance look for something to do on a cold winter’s day lead us to the Park Avenue Armory this past Saturday.

Euphoria is an installation art piece that hooks you into philosophical piece of entertainment. 

You enter the dark Grand Drill Hall into a circular space. Surrounding the viewer are the members of the Brooklyn Youth Choir, projected in 360. Above the images of the choir are 5 large and 1 massive screen. The 5 ancillary screens show five jazz drummers which provide the music as well as the background sounds from the main screen.

The main screen flows from vignette to movement to vignette to movement etc, in a 1 hour 50 minute loop.

The dialogs are discussions about greed and capitalism, the pros the cons, the requirements and impacts of constant growth, and how this effects people. But the speaker’s words, sentences and thoughts are from history. To quote the program: 

Thoughts and musings from a variety of sources from economists, business magnates, writers, and celebrities from the likes of Warren Buffet, Ayn Rand, and Milton Friedman to Audre Lorde, John Steinbeck, Donna Haraway, and Snoop Dogg take on new meaning as they are reinterpreted as poetic monologues in real and imagined scenes of euphoric production and consumption...

And the conversations or monologues occur in spaces that are usually imagined to be pockets of hopelessness and stunted thinking. Be it kids getting high in a communist bus depot, or homeless men around a trash fire, or women working an endless distribution center or even a tiger in a supermarket – they are surrealistic spaces for an economic discussion.

But these conversations engage us and slip into our internal dialogs so easily that the situations stop seeming forced almost immediately. The viewer loses themselves in the imagery and the topics and explanations. Most of these conversations bring up thoughts that have lived in the corners of your mind – arising rarely.

I expected to be done and leave the venue well before the nearly 2 hour loop was done. But when I came to the moment I walked in, I was shocked to see how quickly the time moved. 

I was pretty much mesmerized by thoughts and images.

The show plays until January 8th. Go see it!

Artist: Julian Rosefeldt

Monday, December 5, 2022

Jim Parsons lets others shine in A Man of No Importance

A Man of No Importance is the last show at the Classic Stage Company with John Doyle as Artistic Director. Mr. Doyle also designed and directed this show, and it displays most of the hallmarks associated with him. The bare stage, the cast playing many of the musical instruments, and a marvelous cast working as one.

A.J. Shively and Jim Parsons

Jim Parsons is Alfie Byrne, the titular man of no importance. Alfie is the leader of a community theater group in Dublin made up of friends and neighbors. The local members aren’t particularly good actors, but they are supportive and enjoyable people. They have fun and enjoy their time together. As for Alfie, he seems to come alive when presents these plays in the town. Alfie is enthralled by “art” and “honesty”. In particular he loves John Keats, a famous gay poet. A single man of a certain age, Alfie and his sister live together as she tries to marry him off. In part so she can begin her own life and loves. Mare Whinningham plays Alfie’s sister with a combination of love and exasperation.

The Theater Group meets in a church basement, and the resident Father has pushed back on some of Alfie's more controversial choices. But Alfie is not deterred. He wants to stage Salome by Oscar Wilde. Including the provocative dance of the seven vails. The cast knows this might antagonize the church more, but they agree to follow Alfie.  Alfie finds his perfect Salome, Adele Rice (Shereen Ahmed), one day will working the bus. Through sheer persistence he convinces Miss Rice to join the group.  Alfie’s sister dreams of setting Alfie up with Miss Rice, and moving on with her life. Alfie, on the other hand, dreams of having her as Salome and his friend Robbie Fay (a great A. J. Shively) as John the Baptist.

Jim Parsons and Mare Winningham

But then, two things turn Alfie’s world upside down. First a member of the company tells the church about the play, and the cast is kicked out of the basement. The Father refuses to have a "pornographic" play performed in a church. And then Alfie, for the first time in his history decides to talk to a man that seems to have been flirting with him. And the man instead beats Alfie and outs him to the entire town as a poofter.

Jim Parsons brings a truth of character to Alfie. His outing is less surprising that it is inevitable, and he knows what his theater group will say. And, at first, they live down to his expectation.

The show does suffer a few lulls, whether by design or not. But in the main, A Man of No Importance moves well in a simple story and setting. Mr. Parsons singing is fine and clear, but some of the other voices move with an ease that is enviable.

Shereen Ahmad  as Adele Rice

It is a moving piece and the payoff is well worth the time involved. The show itself is a fitting farewell to John Doyle in his final show with the Classic Stage Company. 

A Man of No Importance
Book: Terrance McNally | Music: Stephen Flaherty | Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens | Director: John Doyle | Cast: Shereen Ahmed, Justin Scott Brown, Alam Cuervo,
Lee Harrington, Benjamin Howes, Beth Kirkpatrick, Kara Mikula,
Da'Von T. Moody, Jim Parsons, Mary Beth Peil, Thom Sesma,
A.J. Shively, Nathaniel Stamply, Jessica Tyler Wright,
Joel Waggoner, Mare Winningham, William Youmans

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Love, Death and Linda Lavin

You Will Get Sick at the Laura Pels Theater brings an unflinching but tender look at the process of one man’s death. Or is it all men? And the play begins up a cascade of questions. How do we approach death? How do we ask for understanding as our support? And what are the limits of freedom we give towards the dying?

Linda Lavin, Daniel K. Isaac, and Marinda Anderson in You Will Get Sick Joan Marcus

You Will Get Sick begins with a phone call from Callahan (Linda Lavin) to a man with a secret. Daniel K. Issac plays the sick man. He has posted flyers and offers to pay someone, any random stranger, to call hear his secret. His secret is that he is sick. The “sick” in You Will Get Sick is death. As much as we don’t want to face it, we will all die.

Lavin’s Callahan turns out to be the right person to call his number. She moves him, and the play, out of the tragic and into the slightly surreal. She is interested in the money, but hesitant to get into anything weird. Callahan does not want the burden, per say, but the money for her chosen career and dream. She wants to play Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. And it seems their conversation will stay a one-time, financial, transaction. 

But it doesn’t. Daniel calls Callahan again to help him tell his sister he is sick. It is a burden he doesn’t want his sister to share, since their brother has already passed away. And his sister took care of their brother. So Callahan shares his secret.

 Daniel calls Callahan again, when he collapses. And again, when he is afraid of his mind collapsing.
At each point Callahan negotiates a price of her services. What starts as an annoying mercantilism on her point, morphs into a familiar and normal process that Daniel appreciates. He appreciates the idea that she treats him normally and the entire trade a transaction. It grounds him.

Ultimately, he pays her to take a trip, back home to the Midwest and wheat fields and open spaces and air. And moving on.

Daniel K. Isaac, and Nate Mill in You Will Get Sick Joan Marcus

You Will Get Sick gives the answers to life’s big questions in allegory. Not because it hides from the questions, but to bring the universality to the situation. And it works. Wonderfully.

The debut of Noah Diaz’ play explores not death, but the limits of personal autonomy; including the right to live as one desires. It explores the claustrophobia of death, the limits of love between family members, and the fellowship of strangers. 

Production Manager Mary Duffe brings together the claustrophobic life of the city and the dream of the wide-open spaces. It works wonderfully. Director Sam Pinkleton balances You Will Get Sick in the tricky area between moving, funny and honest. The play could have easily fallen into maudlin, but instead we get an uplifting story somehow. It is great.

You Will Get Sick
Playwright: Noah Diaz | Director: Sam Pinkleton | Cast: Marinda Anderson, Daniel K. Issac, Linda Lavin, Nate Mill, Dario Ladani Sanchez

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Young, Stupid and Political at Camp Siegfried

Johnny Berchtold and Lily McInerny star in Bess Wohl's Camp Siegfried, directed by David Cromer, at Second Stage Theater.
(© Emilio Madrid)

Camp Siegfried starts with an unknown and uncomfortable part of history. From 1936 to 1941 there was a movement among some German Americans to convince the United States to adopt Third Reich answers to the problems of the world, and to ally with Hitler. Camp Siegfried takes place in a summer youth camp directed by the American Bund - or German American National Socialists - before Hitler’s regime started the wars and the country’s aggressive hatred was clear. The movement crashed after America’s entry into World War II.

So, a minefield.

At the start of the play the analogies to present day America seem blatantly obvious. Telegraphed like Steven Spielberg milking our emotions. But the analogy becomes more tortured until it is muddled with the experiences of these two teenagers. Johnny Berchtold and Lily McInerny play the unnamed young people.

These two actors navigate a situation that becomes less overtly political and more personal as the story progresses. It is not just a political history lesson, it is also an emotional journey of young people. These two navigate a summer camp of adolescence as infatuation convinces them they are in love.

The Bund, like the Nazi Youth, promotes the idea of pure germans reproducing. That is the purpose for women. Sex and pregnancy are encouraged by the members of the right ages - she is 16 and he is 17.

Johnny Berchtold and Lily McInerny star in Bess Wohl's Camp Siegfried, directed by David Cromer, at Second Stage Theater.
(© Emilio Madrid)

But camp draws to a close. The couple’s relationship disintegrates as the summer comes to an end. Their “plans” for the future, like ours at that age, are brought to an end. That end can be bittersweet for some, but for these two the end is fierce. The confront the future and finally themselves. They have been changed by the experience and respond differently, as well do. This is the least engaging part of the play and the most distant from the characters we have seen. They act as if removed from the time period and reality of rest of the piece.

Camp Siegfried’s Senior Production Manager is Michael Catalan and the designs add greatly to the experience. They create a space that is both expansive and claustrophobic. It serves the emotions of youth excellently. Written by the wonderful Bess Wohl (writer of Grand Horizons), it walks the delicate line between young desire and family expectations. Director David Cromer brings the show to life with a light touch that lets the story develop naturally.

Camp Siegfried

Playwright: Bess Wohl | Director: David Cromer | Cast: Johnny Berchtold, Lily McInerny


Friday, April 15, 2022

Cryano Explodes with Passion at BAM


Cyrano de Bergerac is playing at BAM and it is beautifully intense and poetic. As Cryano, James McAvoy burns with a heat that enflames the neutral palette on stage. Cyrano de Bergerac is acted in "spoken word prose". That is my best description of it. Cyrano has a cadence, rhythm, and language all its own. Translated from the French, with also had a unique cadence in 1890s, the dialog reinforces Cryano’s love of language, while also distancing him from other characters in the play. Like Shakespeare, the dive into a new speech pattern takes a bit of adjustment but is then it is captivating. 

As Cyrano, James McAvoy is mesmerizing and impossible to ignore. He strides the stage demanding attention and receiving it. He dominates whether sitting, standing, or fighting. 

James McAvoy, intimidating and commanding as Cryano

Nearly all of us know the outlines of the story, Cyrano de Bergerac is in love with the fair Roxanne, but she is infatuated with another, Christian. Roxanne is blind to Cryano’s affections because they have been friends from youth. Addtionally, Cryano describes that no one could love him, nor even see him fully due to his expansive nose. His nose is a sight to behold as described and joked about. In this play Cryano’s nose, his giant protuberance, his defining feature is described, but not depicted on McAvoy’s face.

Roxanne, Cryano’s cousin comes to him with tales of love. Cryano allows himself to believe the target might be himself. He is silently crushed when Roxanne revels that target is not Cryano but is Christian, a youthful handsome man. Not only is Roxanne infatuated with Christian, but she implores Cryano to take care of him in the military they both are part of. 

Roxanne (played wonderfully by Evelyn Miller) is the light of warmth and charm. It is easy to understand Cryano’s love. Like Cryano she is alsot in love with language and words. She entreats Cryano to have Christine write her letters of love. But Christine is at sea using words to describe anything. And so Cryano writes Christine’s letters to make Roxanne happy.

Roxane (Evelyn Miller) and Cyrano

The famous scene where Cryano speaks for Christine to Roxanne is carried out with precision and emotion. The scene plays out in a series of musical chairs allowing separate conversations to happen on the same stage. Eben Figueiredo is Christian - the handsome but witless suitor of Roxanne. His love perhaps not less full than Cryano’s, but he is useless in documenting it in a way Roxanne can appreciate.

But rich and powerful De Guiche (a slimy Ton Edden) desires Roxanne as well. Seeing Christine’s love for Roxanne as a block to his own salacious intentions, he sends Christine (and Cryano) off to war. Where Cryano promises to Roxanne that he will get Christine to write every day. Letters that he writes, and that further inflame her love.

War means tragedy. And tragedy in this case means that Christine falls in battle. Christine’s early death is amplified by his (actually Cryano’s) letters and dooms Roxanne to live alone with his memory. Tragedy also means that Cryano does not reveal his actions or intents until it is too late.
Cryano and Christine (Eben Figueiredo)

This new version is by Martin Crimp and directed by Jamie Lloyd. I have never seen the original or a recent version, but I was captivated by this Cryano de Bergerac. I’m afraid I have be spoiled and will never see a different version that is this spellbinding.

Cryano de Bergerac | Playwright: Edmond Rostand, with new version by Martin Camp | Director: Jamie Lloyd | Cast:
James McAvoy, Evelyn Miller, Eben Figueiredo, Michele Austin, Veneeka Dadhria, Adam Best
and Nari Blair-Mangat

Friday, April 8, 2022

Power and Impotence at The United Nations

Thirdwing’s new production of The United Nations: The Border and the Coast playing at The Wild Project in the Lower East Side, is funny, thoughtful, and captivating to watch. The show reveals its hand slowly but steadily. The conflicts running through the show aren’t announced with giant signposts. Instead, the conflicts grow organically, as a result of actions not as a cause of those actions.

The immediate incident that propels the story is a military coup in Burkina Faso and the ensuing UN work to help, somehow. The show looks at how international support and the UN machinations effect the outcome. But these discussions are only an introduction to the action; it is not a dry and unemotional work about the UN’s Mission.

To provide help to this small African country, the German representative must convince his Russian counterpart to move support through the Security Council. In the Council, a veto from Russia or the other 4 permanent members will stop any further action. The German and Russian representatives are Rudolph (Matthew Sanders) and Agata (Yelena Shmulenson) respectively. They are fantastic. Mr. Saunders is fluent in German and English and he acts beautifully in either language. Rudolph is a man with the best intentions for the world. And in this case, he sees a problem he can fix. Even if he cannot fix the world, he can at least try to fix this one problem. Ms. Shmulenson is fluent in both Russian and English, and equally effective in both. She portrays both the power of Russia and the lack of agency she has from the men who rule in Moscow. 

The translators offer a different dynamic. Diane (Kelly Lord) translates for the Secretary of the Security Council and Conor (Ryan Blackwell) translates for the Russian representative. They are expected to hear and translate, but never engage or share information. Outside of the UN, Diane and Conor live together in a relationship that defined by much more traditional roles. Conor is more senior at the UN, but more hapless at home. Mr. Blackwell invests Conor with a mix of male stupidity, unexpected depth, and venerability.

The final twosome is made up of Fatima (Arya Kashyap) and Pesh (Arif Silverman), two office drones hoping to move into the real work of politics. Fatima is the more driven and invested of the duo but is held back by a gendered assumption that she is one of those “angry and excitable woman.” 

The dynamics of all three relationships begin under the same general conditions. The men view these relationships as equal partnerships, if they think about it at all. The working women understand the differences, assumptions, and sexual politics behind the scenes.

The UN's attempt at intervention plays out over months.  During the course of the time, emotions rise up and frustrations run through. Rudolph becomes more and more frustrated at being ineffectual. Fatima is disillusioned by the inability of the UN to bring results or even progress to address to world problems. She is angered as Pesh moves up the hierarchy quickly to where he can affect policy but doesn’t. And she is disappointed in herself that this bothers her. 

The United Nations looks at power, expectations, and actual results. It filters the problems and answers at both the international and personal level. The show is not didactic, the woman are not all saints and the men are not all evil. Instead it looks at the humanity in all of the players, and questions the motivations of even the best of us.

The United Nations is a terrific play with the characters laid open on a simple stage. The actors succeed because of both great acting and a wonderful script and direction by Cameron Darwin Bossert. The focus on separate actions is due to the excellent work of Lauren Arneson. It is a show that stays with you long after the night is complete.

Director / Playwright: Cameron Darwin Bossart | Cast: Matthew Sanders, Yelena Shmulenson, Arya Kashyap, Arif Silverman, Kelley Lord and Ryan Blackwell