Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Navigating a Minefield of Love and Loss

Teenagers in Love is playing at the intimate The Chain Theater in midtown. It is a surprisingly big play in the space. The emotions displayed by the talented cast are alternately exuberant and restrained, often filling the space and other times drawing us into the tight and ridged confines both physically and mentally.

Teenagers in Love is the story of Harp and Becca, teenagers then and adults now. As teenagers about to graduate from High School in New Jersey they were open free and wild – ready for the adventure of adult life. As adults, Harp and Becca are tentative, reaching out to rediscover the past and each other after 45 years of estrangement.

The play opens with Harp and Becca (Wayne Maugans and Renata Hinrichs) sitting uncomfortably at Harp’s plain table. Both the house and Harp are run down and tired. Becca is unsettled by the changes and trajectory that Harp’s life has taken. Becca is a nice middle-class woman who can’t explain her anxiety despite the obvious waves of anger, sadness, and fondness.

Renata Hinrichs, Ziggy Schulting, Jack Rasmussen, Wayne Maugans (photo: Ross Roland)

Their meandering banter and thoughts of their lost youth dissolve into the story of their graduation night. 

We are transported back to 1971 in the local bar where Harp and Becca (here Jack Rasmussen and Ziggy Schulting) bask in the warmth of friends and freedom from school. The group of friends include a young Black man, Ben (Jacobi Hall), Ben’s girlfriend Bonnie (Kaitlyn Mitchell) and occasionally Becca’s brother Donnie (Alexander Chilton). Together they laugh, drink, boast, sing, and drink, all watched over by Gladys (Jackie Maruschak) the mother hen bartender. Gladys has seen this before. Every year students graduate, promising to stay friends and come back to visit. But Gladys knows the truth, lacing a tinge of melancholy over the proceedings. They might come back for holidays every two or three years before disappearing into their new lives. But here and now, in 1971 Harp and Becca are loudly in love. Harp and Ben’s friendship is deep, and life spreads out before them all like an all you can eat buffet. 

Teenagers in Love Cast (photo: Ross Roland)

Returning to the present, Harp and Becca bond over the past they thought they forgot, but it comes back in fits and starts. Not just the intimacy and love, but pain as well. On that night in 1971, Becca’s brother Donnie died, falling off a cliff in the Palisades.

Harp was arrest for pushing and killing Donnie. Although Harp was acquitted of the crime, Becca still has doubts. She has returned to this place to let Harp know that new tests have been created to check Donnie’s hoodie for blood, and Harp’s blood was found. Becca wants to warn Harp that he would be subpoenaed soon to give testimony. Harp’s emotions run from sadness to anger. He was already acquitted 46 years ago, why now?

The story of Teenagers in Love is the story solving that night. Understanding the forces that swept them apart and led them into such different paths. Both Harp and Ben had scholarships to good schools, Becca had plans for Rutgers and beyond, but it seems nothing worked out as planned. Death, anger, and pain are too strong to be stopped, only delayed.

Sean O’Connor wrote Teenagers in Love pulling from his own remembrances of being young and in love with life. The power of those emotions is seductive in the play, touching our memories as well. Director Debra Whitfield does great work in keeping the story at the front through changes in setting, time, and tone. She and the cast make the transitions effortless and lets the actors work shine effortlessly.

Teenagers in Love is not a perfect play. There are many moving parts and one or two don’t always fit exactly rightr. But small missteps do not detract from the great acting, the transport back to the 1970s and the feelings of nostalgia and warmth which that acting brings to us. The player share with the audience that warmth and humor of their stories, tempered by sadness at the roads not taken.

Teenagers in Love
Playwright: Sean O'Connor | Director: Debra Winfield | Cast: Alexander Chilton, Jeff Woods Carlin, Jacobi Hall, Renata Hinrichs, Jackie Maurschak, Wayne Maugans, Kaitlyn Mitchell, Jack Rasmussen, Ziggy Schulting

TEENAGERS IN LOVE runs June 2 - 17 with performances Monday & Wednesday - Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Running time is 90 minutes. The Chain Theatre is located at 312 W 36th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues, New York, NY 10018. Tickets are $28 at

Monday, June 5, 2023

Fat Ham drops us into a southern family by way of Stratford (on-Avon)

Hamlet is a beautiful, long, and well-loved Shakespearian play set in the cold regal world of medieval Denmark. It’s spiritual cousin, Fat Ham, is quick moving, funny and touching play set in the middle class Black south. The parallels between the two are both subtle and obvious. Luckily for the audience, the differences abound with humor and current day problems.

For those of us that barely remember the plot of Hamlet, fear not. Fat Ham is easy to follow, basks in the sunlight keeping the best of the story but you do not need any knowledge of Hamlet to enjoy this. Like Hamlet, our hero Juicy (Marcel Spears) is thwarted and emasculated by his uncle, who quickly marries Juicy's mother after his father’s death. His mother (Nikki Crawford, now with a well earned Tony nomination) also makes the choice to marry his uncle, now stepfather. But in Fat Ham her reasons are clear and self-aware. Juicy's stepfather Rev (an overwhelming Billy Eugene Jones) is Rev, a preacher and a masculine bully that sees Juicy as a soft momma’s boy. A person he should shape into a “real” man, not a unique individual.

Nikki Crawford, Billy Eugene Jones, Calvin Leon Smith, Benja Kay Thomas, Adriana Mitchell and Marcel Spears

Juicy’s obvious gayness is just another reason for the Rev to torment him. A friction made worse by his mother’s desire to appease her new husband, often at the expense of her son.

Doesn’t sound like a comedy, but Fat Ham is definitely that. His best friend Tio (Chris Herbie Holland) is a go with the flow young man, who doesn’t understand Juicy’s reluctance to conform. Although Tio does admire Juicy for his strength. Tio floats along through life on a cloud of video games, pot, and a unchallenged life but is still preferred by Rev to Juicy.

Juicy’s emotional relief comes from his cousins Opal (Adrianna Mitchell) and Larry (Calvin Leon Smith). Opal is an obvious lesbian, yet it goes unremarked by the family. A denial maintained to paper over the family’s condemnation. Larry is a Marine on leave, coming to his aunt’s house to enjoy the bar-be-que and family. Opal works hard to be the support and outlet Juicy needs. Larry arrives a different man from the Marines. A role model of the family who carries doubts he doesn’t express.

Unlike Hamlet, there are no physical deaths in Fat Ham, but emotional rebirths instead. Juicy doesn’t descend into the depths of despair, but into the confusion and frustration of a child left out of a new family.

Marcel Spears brings to Juicy a multitude of emotions including joy, love, and anger. His mother has chosen her life and strives hard to keep Juicy in it. But Juicy won’t conform to meet the expectations of the new family. He will not be quiet and accepting. Even when he tries to accommodate his family to this new situation, he is belittled and bullied by the Rev, his stepfather.

Juicy uses humor to armor himself, even though it is not enough. Ultimately Juicy chooses not to remake himself into the Rev’s idea of manhood. He makes his own path, albeit in fits and starts. His definition of masculinity is based on honesty and self-acceptance. This determination gives this power to his cousin’s Opal and Larry. 

Fat Ham is funny and life affirming in a way Hamlet never was. Watch it.

Nikki Crawford, Marcel Spears, Billy Eugene Jones

Thursday, April 27, 2023

A long-awaited return of God of Carnage

God of Carnage is a play about the perils of modern relationships in an age of unique issues coupled with old problems. Although it is ostensibly about 2 sets of parents who are meeting due to their children’s fight, it dissolves into something more nuanced and a lot louder. Arguments and disagreements pop up between the married couples, between men and women, and between expectations of acceptable behavior.

The four leads are excellent: David Burtka, Carey Cox, Gabe Fazio and Christina Noll. Carey Cox in particular sneaks up on you with a performance that is seemingly nervous and mousey until she explodes later in the play. The women have the meatier roles here and they relish them, Christiana Noll in particular.

Gabe Fazio, Cary Cox, David Burtka and Christiana Noll
with subtitles projected on the back wall.

The story follows Alan and Annette (Burtka and Cox) as they visit with Michael and Veronica (Fazio and Noll). Alan and Annette’s son Benjamin struck Michael and Veronica’s son Henry with a stick. Benjamin broke two of Henry’s teeth and the parents are trying to resolve the situation in an inclusive manner. All 4 are yuppie parents with prestigious jobs, except Michael, who is a self-made wholesaler of kitchen goods. Veronica takes the lead in trying to resolve the issue of the boy’s fight, dominating the early going.

A solution appears easy, until Veronica insists that Benjamin apologize for hitting Henry. This goes well, until Veronica demands not just an apology, but a sincere apology from Benjamin. When Alan and Annette explain that Benjamin thinks he was justified by the actions of Henry. Alan agrees that there may be blame on both sides, much to Veronica’s annoyance.  Worse, her husband Michael seems to agree with Alan. 

As the situation continues, a shifting set of relationships dominate different moments. At times the men agree with each other as the women do the same. At times the couples agree within their marriages. And then it all changes again. The adults in God of Carnage act like children fighting between each other, complete with shifting allegiances and inexplicable outbursts.

There are problems with God Of Carnage that this production cannot fix. The play starts slowly, builds over time, and then just ends. Perhaps this is an analogy for the unfinished business of being human, but it still is unsatisfying.

The play is produced as part of The Breaking Trough Barriers theater group. TBTB is an off-Broadway theater company that is dedicated to advancing the work of professional artists with disabilities. One extremely affecting part of their presentation is the use of subtitles for the hearing impaired. These are projected on the back wall which is made up of uneven bright red rectangles. It is a great job, but it takes a little getting used to for people who are not hearing impaired. 

Written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, God Of Carnage is still fresh even though it premiered on Broadway 14 years ago. Director Nicholas Viselli has brought an excellent production team and actors back to for this play off-Broadway. It is a story that is universal, updated to be more accessible.

God of Carnage
Playwright: Yasmina Reza (translation Christopher Hampton) | Director: Nicholas Viselli | Cast: David Burtka, Cary Cox, Gabe Fazio, Christiane Noll

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

You can’t look away from Jodie Comer in Prima Facie

Prima Facie may be used as an adjective meaning "sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted." In the play Prima Facie that describes the way Lawyer Tessa wins or losses in law - and she nearly always wins. Jody Comer is Tessa in this one hander, and she is astounding in her Broadway debut.

Prima Facie works so well because Jodie Comer is a dynamo. She jumps enthusiastically. She moves tables and pull volumes off the shelves manically as she explains her profession and how much she loves it. She can disassemble the testimony of victims of sexual assault to get her clients off. And to Tessa this is not complicated. Her job is to defend clients and she is good at it. Great at it. She believes in the law and believes every defendant deserves an active defense. Tessa does sound a bit defensive about this, although she actively ignores the consequences.

Jodie Comer in Prima Facie

Tessa hails from Liverpool and has no desire to return. She has a disassociated relationship with her family and her hometown. She doesn’t want to belong to either. Tessa justifies her singleminded focus to become a lawyer and how she had to fight to be accepted. As a woman from a lower-class background, Tessa must struggle against stereotypes and richer classmates in order to succeed. And now that Tessa has succeeded, she savors it.

After a great success in the courtroom, followed by drinking at a local bar, she goes back to the chambers with another lawyer. He is a man from the same firm, and they proceed to flirt and then have great sex. They go out again a few nights later. After more than a few drinks, she invites him to the her house where they screw again - making love is not the right word for the relationship they have. The night of drinking and sex ends up where it often does for us mortals, head over the toilet, puking her guts out. Her date helps her through this and then carries her to bed. Where he proceeds to try to make love again, which Tessa objects to. But he forces himself on her. 

It is date rape clearly and she struggles with how to react. After weighing the effect of her next actions, she must choose between ignoring this or pressing charges against a man she willingly slept with, twice. Ultimately, she presses charges and the case goes to trial. Tessa naively believes in the integrity of the system and knows she will win the case, because the rape obviously happened.

But she doesn’t win. In fact, the very tactics she has used against accusers is used against her. And, although Tessa knows what is happening, she cannot help but to fall into the same traps she expounded on earlier. Tessa responds the turnabout with outrage. Anger at the system she has used for so long. And anger directed at the defense by using law and doubt to thwart justice.

Jodie Comer truly brings out Tessa’s disappointment and heartbreak in the role. Tessa the lawyer shrinks as she becomes Tessa the victim. To visually underline this change, the creative team uses lighting and the noise of a nervous heartbeat to effectively bring more than just her voice to the fore. Not just does Tessa’s demeanor change, her visage changes as time progresses. Her blond hair, free and full early moves to a wet brown pulled into a tight bun mimicking her journey into self-doubt and insecurity. It is fantastic.

Having sung her praises, I must say last few minutes of the Prima Facie drag. Tessa goes on a rant that essentially covers in words what happened to her on stage. It is an unnecessary coda to a near perfect show.

Prima Facie
Playwright: Suzie Miller | Director: Justin Martin | Set and Costume Design: Miriam Buether | Cast: Jodie Comer

Monday, April 24, 2023

Sean Hayes Amazes in Good Night, Oscar

Even those who have witnessed Sean Hayes on Broadway being hilarious (Act of God) and singing with Kristen Chenoweth (Promises, Promises) will be blown away by his performance in Good Night, Oscar. His performance as Oscar Levant is incredible, but it is a last scene performance as Oscar Levant at the piano that surprises and stuns in the best possible way.

Good Night, Oscar tells the story of one of Oscar’s performances on TV’s “Tonight starring Jack Paar.” Oscar Levant was a composer, pianist, actor and a regular guest on Jack Paar. He was admired by both New Yorkers and Jack Paar for his quick wit and cutting comments on this live program. Good Night, Oscar reprises one of the those TV shows.

Ben Rappaport & Sean Hayes ( PHOTO BY LIZ LAUREN)

The story opens with Bob Sarnoff (Peter Grosz), head of NBC, discussing with Jack Paar (Ben Rappaport) this evening's performance. Jack Paar is in Los Angeles for sweeps week, and he made a deal with the network to feature anyone he wants. He wants Oscar Levant, who has been on before and is both a pianist and a wit. Ben Rappaport is great as the quietly subversive Paar.

As showtimes nears, with no Oscar in sight, the network President becomes more and moreangry. Jack Paar finally learns the truth from Oscar's wife June (Emily Bergl). She has had Oscar committed to a mental institution. But, June continues, Parr isn’t to worry as she has signed him out for 4 hours and he will arrive momentarily. Which he does not. Sarnoff gets even more anxious and Paar keeps the show holding for Oscar. There is a funny bit where Sarnoff wants to cancel Oscar and bring on Xavier Cugat, a severe disappoint that Jack Paar is desperate to avoid.

When Oscar does show up he is jumpy, nervous, and hesitant about appearing on TV. As he gets more angsty, he tries to get to the pills he craves from his medical watchdog. Oscar is a mess waiting for the show and Mr. Hayes brings out the biting side of Oscar's personality. Oscar is touchy, cranky, and unpleasant to be around. He is watched over by medical supervisor Alvin Finney (Marchánt Davis) who brings both compassion and annoyance in the role.
Emily Bergl & Sean Hayes ( PHOTO BY LIZ LAUREN)

And then the Tonight show begins. Jack Paar brings out Oscar and on television he is witty and self-deprecating. This version of Oscar is extroverted and edgy. After the Paar – Levant interview is done, Paar and his wife beg Oscar to play the piano. This is what people expect, but a high Levant wants no part of it.

And yet, Oscar Levant does play. And he plays stunningly. Sean Hayes was trained as a classical pianist, and it shows. The rendition he plays is mastereful. Hayes brings down the house with his playing. It makes the audience want to hear more.

Sean Hayes is astonishing in this role. Oscar Levant was irascible, horrible, and self-centered as well as pithy, charming, and talented. Hayes brings all this together in a single evening, swerving between moods with ease.

Good Night, Oscar is brilliant. In addition to Sean Hayes, both Ben Rappaport and Emily Bergl transport us to that period with their emotions. Playwright Doug Wright and Director Lisa Peterson bring a seemingly innocuous moment into relevance and pathos. They are helped by a design, production, and costume team that works seamlessly. I loved it.

Good Night, Oscar
Playwright: Doug Wright | Director: Lisa Peterson | Cast: Sean Hayes, Emily Bergl, Marchant Davis, Ben Rappaport, Peter Grosz, Marchánt Davis

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Petticoat Junction Updated with Laughs and Heart

I walked in assuming Shucked was not a play for me. I wanted Salvador Dali meets Dolly Parton even knowing that was too much of an ask. Shucked is more of “psychedelic Hee Haw” than Dali, but the absurdist take on the story works great. Beautiful voices, funny jokes, and great camp, make Shucked an absolute delight. Honest.

The story is simple. A hamlet sits in the middle of giant corn fields where no one goes in or out of the town. Corn is the lifeblood of this town. And it is expressed in song, dance, and jokes. Then, one day, the corn crop withers. A young woman leaves the town and seeks out a “corn expert”. She finds a con-artist and brings him back to town. Hijinks ensue, true love is discovered and rediscovered, much is made about family and acceptance by a multi racial cast.

Ashley D. Kelly and Grey Henson bring in the corn and laughs

The cast is disparate in looks and voice. This is important because the songs were written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. They are experienced song writers primarily in country music field,  but their song writing encompasses nearly every genre in this candy colored musical. The set itself is skewed; off-center and leaning it looks like it's going to tip over any minute.

The spunky young woman who leaves Cob County to find a corn expert is Maizy, played with eager earnest wit by Caroline Innerbichler. She has a sweet country voice and Maizy has some spitfire in her. When her fiancé Beau (the always great Andrew Durand) forbids Maizy from leaving, she packs and goes anyway. Beau delivers a few great tunes in rockabilly to share his heartache.

In the big city of Tampa, she meets Gordy (John Behlmann doing his best slimy city slicker routine), who is a corn doctor. She doesn’t realize that Gordy’s “corn” expertise is limited to picking up rich clients as their podiatrist. She brings him back to Cob County where Beau and Maizy’s cousin Lulu  simmer in distrust.

Skeptical cousin Lulu is played by a fantastic Alex Newell. Her song “independently Owned” brings the house down. She sings with humor, heart and pair of lungs that are hard to beat. Ultimately Lulu ends up in love with Gordy and Maizy ends up back with Beau. None of this is exactly surprising, but that summary does not do the play justice. 

Alex Newell - a showstopper

Beau’s brother is Peanut. A hilarious turn by Kevin Cahoon who seems to channel Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall to give Shucked some good ol' country humor. His jokes pop up out of the blue leaving the audience roaring. His style is reminiscent of Phyllis Diller where the jokes come so rapid fire that you are bound to be overwhelmed with laughter at some point.

The final two characters of the show are Storyteller 1 and 2 – Ashley D. Kelly and Grey Henson. They steer us through the show, providing background and humor. Sometimes that humor is laugh out loud funny, sometimes the jokes are groaners. Storyteller number 2 (Henson) might take a bit of getting used to. He plays a very stereotypical gay man, and the audience starts wondering if he is the butt of a joke. Instead, he turns out to be one of the funniest performers in the show, albeit Cahoon still claims top honors there.

The songs in Shucked are very good but were a bit problematic to me. They seem less like plot points and more like potential singles, complete with endings more suited to radio than Broadway or Nashville. The songs mainly work but the trailing endings have more in common in radio pop. It frustrated and confused people that were desperate to applaud.

Andrew Durand and Caroline Innerbichler

I enjoyed Shucked and had a great time. It reminded me a lot of Something Rotten! Another show that defied expectations with wit, surprising songs, and great overacting. The book for Shucked was written by Robert Horn who brings a heap of jokes to the Nederlander Theater. Director Jack O’Brian keeps a lot of balls in the air to keep the show from tipping into meanspirited parody. 


Playwright: Robert Horn | Music and Lyrics: Shane McAnally & Brandy Clark | Director: Robert Horn | CastJohn Behlmann, Kevin Cahoon, Andrew Durand, Grey Henson, Caoline Innerbichler, Ashley D. Kelly, Alex Newel


Saturday, March 18, 2023

It Takes a Village to Undermine a Home

Matthew McLachlan’ new play, This G*d Damn House, is set in a hoarder’s dream home. Into this living room of junk, two brothers enter in disgust. The house smells of trash and cat urine. In quick succession the seed of the story is planted. This G*d Damn House has been foreclosed and the brothers must clean it out before 9AM tomorrow, 14 hours later.

The brother Danny, played by Gabriel Rysdahl in the leaner role, is confused and frustrated with the state of his childhood home. Jacob is played by Kirk Gostkowski who surprising, understated, and fantastic. Danny and Jacob both discover and reveal more trash and information the deeper the piece goes, but Jacob is given more depth and Gostkowski burns slowly until he hits the wall and goes ballistic.

Sachi Parker, Kirk Gostkowski and Gabriel Rysdahl (photo: David Zayas Jr.)

Their mother Angie (a great turn by pro Sachi Parker) is passive aggressive and a self-delusional liar. Angie is in denial about nearly everything concerning her family. She is surprised that the house is in foreclosure, she claims to have made every payment. She counts on the love and support of her sons, which she raised well and single handedly after their father left – she believes. Angie explains to the boys, repeatedly, that everything must be put in storage, and nothing left behind. Everything in the home is critical to her life. Joining this trio is Angie’s Teacher’s Aid Hannah (well played by Rica De Ocampo). Hannah stops by to help with the packing, stepping out to check on her grandmother every now and then.

Angie’s latest complaint is that Jacob and his wife Ally (Christina Perry in a small but pivotal role) will not divulge the sex of their baby. Angie blames this on Ally. In fact, Angie tends to blame Ally for nearly everything that went wrong in Jacob’s life. This is just another of his mother’s constant digs that Jacob takes.

Gabriel Rysdahl and Rica De Ocampo (photo: David Zayas Jr.)

This G*d Damn House takes a traditional family story and turns it into a hilarious, scathing, and moving story of family dysfunction and the lengths we go to keep our family intact. The house here is full of trash and secrets, the trash being moved and the secrets flowing out with nothing left to hide them. Each brother responds to situation differently.  Danny is shocked by the state of the house and by their mother’s manipulative personality. But he has always kept Angie at arm’s distance and lives in New York. Angie’s quirks and disappointment are simply background noise to Danny. Jacob, on the other hand, has been the one helping his mom consistently. He and his wife live close by and Jacob is familiarly immune to the drama Angie causes. Normally.

The play is refreshing for anyone whose home life was bad, but not “chockfull of drama” bad. This G*d Damn House is full of the small lies we tell ourselves to get through life. Life can be hard and heartbreaking, but it is the only life we know. Playwright Matthew McClachlan has dissected this home life of Angie’s, finding the truths and emotions lying dormant. Director Ella Jane New gives life to a great story told on a small stage. The show brings claustrophobia into even sharper relief in the smaller theater.

This G*d Damn House
Playwright: Matthew McLachlan | Director: Ella Jane New | Cast: Sachi Parker, Kirk Gostkowski, Gabriel Rysdahl, Christina Perry

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Seagull / Woodstock Soars at Signature Theater

The Seagull / Woodstock is brought to life with an outstanding cast and a great new adaptation by Thomas Bradshaw at the Signature Theater. The show is well paced, relatable, and often hilarious. If none of this sounds like The Seagull you know from Chekhov, you would be correct. I do not like being a critic that refers to previous iterations of a play, but it is hard not to do here. This adaptation is that entertaining. Set in New York and populated with English names, the characters of The Seagull / Woodstock are distinct and the show much easier to follow. But Chekov’s rumination on love comes through stronger than ever. Self-love, romantic love, obsessive and jealous love, they all flow as easily as water on stage.

The Seagull / Woodstock is set in Woodstock New York - the town, not the concert. Here the Broadway Diva Irene rules the social set by force of an oversized personality. Parker Posey plays Irene with a sharp edge and a patter that reminds you of Parker Posey the actress. But Irene’s persona, dreams, and fears quickly drive the real Parker Posey out of the viewers mind. Irene is the local star who everyone wants to be friends with, in the group of rich theater refuges from the City. Irene’s boyfriend William (an outstanding Ato Essandoh) is a published writer. His easy-going charm and sex appeal hangs around him like an aura.

Ato Essandoh, Parker Posey, Daniel Oreskes and David Cale

We meet the group as they gather for Irene’s son Kevin's (Nat Wolff) play featuring his girlfriend Nina (Aleyse Shannon). Done on a makeshift stage in the woods, Kevin's friends as well as his mother and her boyfriend attend. The play within the play is an experimental piece with Nina interacting with the audience. It is not a good play and has progressed to the terrible when Irene loudly puts an end to it. But that does not put an end to Nina's fascination with author William.

Irene’s co-owner and life long bestie Samuel (David Cale) is attendance. He is the lovable gay housemother to the gang, but with a restrained personality. As peacemaker he tries to keep the group's snarkiness in check. Husband and wife, Darren and Pauline (Daniel Oreskes and Amy Stiller) are old friends and neighbors. Old friends whose marriage now seems like a set of rounds in a boxing match. Also in attendance is old hunk Dean (Bill Sage), a man who drifts through the show effortlessly and grounds the proceedings. Darren and Pauline’s daughter Sasha (Hari Nef) sets up the story of unrequited love. 

A local young man Mark (David Foley) is in love with Sasha. Sasha tells Mark that she cannot love him and cannot force herself to love him because she is in love with Kevin, Irene’s son. Kevin, meanwhile, is in love with Nina. But Nina has becoming smitten with William, the writer and Irene’s partner. Barbs disguised as jokes and anger barely disguised at all, are tossed around as these friends meet in various groups. All the while with an undercurrent of love and friendship

The second half of The Seagull / Woodstock takes place two years later. Samuel is dying in hospice and his friends travel to Woodstock to gather once more and say goodbye. David Cale doesn’t play Samuel as a tragic character, but as a man happy to see his friends one last time.

In the proceeding two years Nina had an affair with William. It only ended when Nina’s baby was stillborn. Nina left William (or he left her) and is now traveling the country as an actress in road company’s playing in third string cities. William and Irene are still together, despite his long affair with Nina. Kevin has given up playwriting and has had a book published. Sasha, realizing that Kevin will never love her, has married Mark, but treats him with contempt. In the second half, the characters still ring with laughter but it is forced and brittle.

Ato Essandoh and Aleyse Shannon

And, in the end, The Seagull / Woodstock proves the adage that if you introduce a gun in Act I, you will use it by Act III.

Thomas Bradshaw has delivered a fantastic adaptation of Chekov’s The Seagull. He brings the story and feelings center stage. This in a show that usually feels remote and clinical. Director Scott Elliot makes use of the stage, the entrances and lighting to breathe a robust life into the show. His direction of the cast is spot on. The Seagull / Woodstock is fantastic and extended. Go see it!

The Seagull / Woodstock
Playwright: Thomas Bradshaw, based on Chekov | Director: Scott Elliot | Cast: David Cale, Ato Essandoh, Patrick Foley, hari Nef, Daniel Oreskes, Parker Posey, Bill sage, Aleyse Shannon, Amy Stiller, Nat Wolff

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Letters From Max: A Glimpse Into The Heart

Sarah Ruhl’s new play, Letters From Max, is not a traditional type of play that is the style today. That isn’t to say it is bad, in fact just the opposite, it is wonderful. But it does take a bit to get into the play.

It is a simple story, deceptively simple. Letters From Max is an adaption of their book, Letters from Max: A Poet, a Teacher, a Friendship. And in the beginning, it seems indulgent. Letters From Max is the story of a writing teacher, author Sara Ruhl, and Max, a student in love with words and poetry.

Because Sara Ruhl is the play’s author AND one of the two characters, you question her accounting and memory. She is the strong woman who is a mentor and steps up to be a glorious friend to Max. But the audience's acceptance of  Ruhl as the perfect mentor is hesitant at first.

However, Letters From Max slowly moves from seeming a self-satisfied look back into a more complete understanding of Max and of Ms. Ruhl’s love and admiration for each other. Max’s mind formulates words and poetry as instinctively as breathing. Max cannot speak or write without falling back on words as an expression of his very being. It is a passion we all have, but Max can use this passion to bring to life his art.

Jessica Hecht plays Sarah. The role of Max is switched between Ben Edelman and Zane Paris, with the non-performer playing music and seamlessly delivering and removing props and business. I saw Zane Paris as Max and he was mesmerizing. Paris’ Max was strung with energy of a puppy, playing and testing his limits.

Jessica Hecht and Zane Paris (credit Joan Marcus)

Max applies for a spot in Ruhl’s class for playwrights, even though he has never written a play. After Sarh reads his application, she spots potential. And she justifies this unusual decision in dialog. As she explains why she allowed Max in. “Because funny poets are my favorite kind of human being.”

And both Max’s and Ruhl’s the words are near transcendent. In Letters From Max poetry and expository are the characters' lifeblood. And they are a matched pair. Both Max and Sarah find comfort in their writing, their poetry, and their platonic love of each other. They seem to understand each other beyond the limitations of themselves. Together they bring to life the beauty of the world and themselves.

But Max, very early and very clearly, is sick. Sick with cancer, which he handles bravely. In letters and occasional visits Sarah keeps Max’s spirit up. Cancer ultimately claims Ben as his thoughts and words are the last of him to succumb.

Letters From Max is beautifully crafted piece. It is crafted for those with a love of words. Both characters speak their poems occasionally, as a projection of the words are displayed on the stage. The cadence and artistry of the poems are rendered stark as the emotions of the artists convey.

There is a scene, a small break early, as a series of stills is projected onto a wall. It is a physical representation of the very early revolving stills. That contraption that first tricked our mind into seeing movement over a century ago. But, once dissected apart, each panel is both individual and part of the overall whole. It is a metaphor that encapsulates the characters perfectly, self aware without being self indulgent.

Jessica Hecht and Ben Edelman (credit Joan Marcus)

Letters From Max ends with his death, which is not a spoiler, it is obvious early on. But his words live on in his work and in the book which Sarah Ruhl created from their exchange. Each exchange is charged with love and heartbreak. And Letters From Max brings that love and heartbreak to the audience.

I have never been much of a poet fan. That changed a bit with the gorgeous poems of Amanda Gordon, touching, poignant, and hopeful all at the same time. Letters From Max makes we want to dig a bit deeper.

Director Kate Whoriskey is in love with words as well. She sets the tempo of the play and underlines it with hints of music and light. It is a deeply moving piece.

Letters From Max
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl | Director: Kate Whoriskey | Cast: Jessica Hecht, Zane Paris, Ben Edelman

The Wanders: Fantastic Acting Wasted on a Too Familiar Story

Now "wasted" might be a bit too much, but not by a lot. The Wanderers is funny, and the writing of the dialog is excellent. The acting is excellent. But the play is frustrating and problematic.

To summarize the plot very crudely and simplistically, The Wanderers is the story about a rich white Jewish author with a Pulitzer Prize going through a textbook mid-life crisis. Sure, he has a lot of excellent justifications of this banal proceeding. His parents divorced, his wife bores him, he doesn’t like his kids, he has a crisis about his talent – which is Philip Roth level of indulgence. A comparison the playwright makes explicit by name, in case you missed the parallels.

Top: Lucy Freyer as Esther, Dave Klasko as Schmuli, Eddie Kaye Thomas as Abe,
Sarah Cooper as Sophie, Eddie Kaye Thomas again, Katie Holmes as Julia Cheever

The Wanderers opens with an Orthodox Jewish woman on her wedding night. And immediately you think, well how long until this ends in screams and divorce? Because there are no plays that begin with a woman’s voice in Orthodox setting where the woman doesn’t leave, die, or get killed. I understand it. Happy Jewish Orthodox women don’t write plays. But still, it saps the surprise right out of the gate. 

(aside) On a side note, is “Schmuli” a real Jewish Orthodox man’s name or a term of endearment? If is a real name, then why does every other man have the name Schumli in plays? Is it real or just a shorthand way of saying “uptight Jewish man”?

Let me take a moment to applaud the acting. The cast is uniformly great. Katie Holmes - in particular - is amazing. It helps that she has the only role that surprises the audience and is not a cliché. But each and every cast member is great.

Back to the story. The Wanderers shows the story of the Orthodox husband and wife (Schumli and Esther) is interspersed with a contemporary story of a husband and wife of agnostic jews (Abe and Esther). Sophie and Abe are having doubts about their marriage. Abe is the 40-something Pulitzer Prize winning novelist with a beautiful wife and good children who is going through a midlife crisis. Abe is also who were are supposed to identify with.

And the, out of the blue, Abe receives an email with praise from a beautiful, married, successful Hollywood starlet. And their email exchanges push Abe to realize he kind of hates his life. Remember he is rich, married, successful, and a prize-winning author which kind of makes his whining fall flat. And we aren’t really supposed to hate him, but to understand his pain.

And here we face the issue that crops up occasionally when seeing a play; we can no longer empathize with the character, because he is an asshole. Suddenly the axis of the show changes and instead of pulling us into the story we only see every action and emotion as fake. 

I enjoyed the staging and sets immensely, for a while. There are books, bookshelves, and pages everywhere. It sets the stage and mood for a story about book lovers. And then you kind of hate Abe, and the set suddenly seems pretentious. And worse, falsely self-deprecating.

Again, I loved the acting. There wasn’t a bad actor in the group. I believed that men were total, self-absorbed idiots with no saving graces. I loved them as actors and hated them as carboard characters.

The playwright is Anna Ziegler, who is a marvelous playwright normally. And, in The Wanderers the dialog is often witty and well written. I just hated the story. Barry Edelstein directed the show, which moved along at an appropriate speed. Appropriate is not always engaging, but it was appropriate.

At the end of the day, The Wanderers is a show I might suggest to some people. If you are looking for great acting and haven’t had your fill of Woody Allen, this is your show.

The Wanderers
Playwright:Anna Ziegler | Director: Barry Edelstein | Cast: Sarah Cooper, Lucy Freyer, Katie Holmes, Dave Klasko, Eddie Kay Thomas

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Family Dynamics Rebuilt in The Best We Could

The Best We Could (a family tragedy) is a thoughtful and entertaining play deconstructing myths around parenthood and responsibility. It doesn’t blow up those relationships, but it does reevaluate parental roles in the context of growing up and leaning into adult values.

Brain D. Coats and Aya Cash 

The Best We Could uses a father daughter cross country road trip to highlight the subtle changes in attitudes and roles. The outstanding cast starts with Aya Cash as the daughter, Ella, and Brian D. Coats as Marc, the father. The trip is proposed by Peg (Constance Shulman). Peg is Lou's wife and she is pushing to get him engaged in life again. Lou has lost his job at a biomedical research institute. He has become old man now struggling to find a job in his field. 

Marc and Peg depend on his income and so the job lose is devastating for the couple. On top of this, Brandy, the couple’s dog, dies. But the dog’s death does provide an opportunity to motivate Marc. Peg convinces him to fly out to the west coast to pick up his daughter and new dog, then drive back to New Jersey with the new dog. Separately Peg convinces her daughter that she must accompany her father because Marc is depressed and defeated. 

And so the trip begins with a slow reversal of roles, which progresses as the trip continues. Marc is a chatty and distracted man, interacting with strangers, much to Ella’s annoyance. Ella struggles to get him focused on the road, his job, or the sights, but nothing truly engages his attention until they hit Denver. In Denver Marc visits an old friend and colleague, Lou (Frank Wood). Lou’s company has an opening and Marc asks, more and more adamantly, for a job at the company. We realize there is more to his story as Marc gets desperate and will even take a lower paid and lower seniority job. Lou got his first big break with Marc and yet Lou seems hesitant to promise anything. 

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, Peg attempts to talk with Amanda (Maureen Sebastian). Amada, who seems obsessed with Zumba, declines to interrupt her workout to speak with Peg. This is where a sense of dread begins. Peg manically asks for Amada's help and is rebuffed repeatedly. Suddenly the reason that Marc was fired becomes even more murky.

When Marc loses out on Lou's job, Ella confronts Lou and demands to know why. Thus begins the slow revel as to what happened and the consequences. The story is obvious, but freshly told. The parental roles are now almost fully reversed as Ella goes back to speak with her family about what she has learned.

The Best We Could is told on a bare stage with Maureen Sebastian narrating the story, the backstory and the consequences of the casts’ actions. Ms. Sebastian is fantastic both acting in and narrating the show. She switches from dispassionate observer to cast member and back with ease and honesty.

Author Emily Feldman has created a nuanced play that is funny, familiar and both heartwarming and heart wrenching. At a speedy 90 minutes, it does not seem rushed or mawkish. Much of the credit goes to Director Daniel Aukin who allows the cast to move deliberately without sacrificing the emotions behind the story. Produced on an empty stage, The Best We Could (a family tragedy) focusses on the story of a family that loses its own story. It is great.

The Best We Could (a family tragedy)
Playwright: Emily Feldman | Director: Daniel Aukin | Cast: Aya Cash, Brian D. Coats, Maureen Sebastian, Constance Schulman, Frenk Wood

Saturday, February 11, 2023

An Engrossing and Authentic Othello for the Times

The New Place Players excel at embracing old locations to bring the audience exciting new shows. Othello is their latest production, staged at a restored row house foundry on the East Side. The setting of statuary and stained glass brings an engaging medieval ambiance to the proceeds. This is further enhanced by the trio of musicians on stage. They play period instruments before the show and provided an excellent low-key soundtrack to the proceedings at times.

For those that need a quick refresher on Othello - you might have forgotten since High School Shakespeare - here is a simple synopsis. Othello is a powerful and respect warrior for the Republic of Venice. He is also a black man – a Moor. Ever the outsider, Othello incites anger when he marries Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of a Venice Nobleman. Igao, one of his military attachés, can’t believe Desdemona has chosen a Moor! An attack occurs in Cyprus by the Ottomans and Othello and his army is sent to repel the attack. Othello does not name Iago as his second, another brick in the wall of jealousy which Iago is building. He schemes to drive Othello crazy with jealousy as he paints Desdemona the adulteress WITH Othello’s second in command. Thereby removing both Othello and Casio (the 2nd) with one swoop.

Elliot Johnson as Othello (photo: Carol Rosegg)

As for the show itself, director Makenna Masenheimer has created a topical and relevant story of Othello. Not just by narrowing the focus more towards the Black Moor Othello, but by opening his story to all people that are judged as “the other”. The underling dynamic is emphasized in this production. Neither has the Shakespeare dialog changed but emphasized a bit differently to pull the “otherness” front and center.

It works partially due to the great acting of Elliott Johnson as Othello. He projects strength, both mentally and physically. Most of the characters view Othello as “one of the good ones.” That is, he is a black Moor, but fighting for Venice. He a responsible leader with troops and Venetian rulers both express admiration. 

But when Othello marries Desdemona, her father complains to the city fathers and civic leaders that Othello has shamed his family by bedding and marrying her (in that order). The local authorities tell the Nobleman that Othello is a great general and no punishment is coming, he disowns his daughter who has been soiled by the Moor. Desdemona is played beautifully by Alanah Allen as a happy wife and partner of Othello.

Othello is driven made with jealousy due to the ruthless planning and execution of a plot by Iago, played by talented Coner Andrew Hall. Iago plots to make Othello jealous of his wife and second in command, Cassio. Thereby inflicting pain on Othello and ridding himself of a competitor, Cassio. Cassio is played by Mathew Iannone, with the perfect amount of fealty and respect for Othello.

Othello is presented in the middle of the space, chairs lining each side. The space is reminiscent of a 17th century church. The soaring ceiling and statuary lined walls give an emotional depth to the play. I suggest arriving a little early to get the best seats, all seating is open.

Like every version of Othello, the transformation from adoring husband to a jealous murderous partner is problematic in its swiftness. But this show deals with it a bit differently. After Othello’s crime, his temper is blamed on his blackness. His contemporaries are quick to blame his fiery hot-headedness on his race. Othello’s friends rapidly turn on the Moor. Othello's reputation falls from reverence to disappointment in a moment, disabused of the idea that he and his fellow Venetians are equals.

The one flaw in the show is the portrayal of Iago. Iago is described as “honest Iago” in the dialog and his treachery goes unseen until late in the play. Here, Iago sports the look of an unkempt confederate soldier too bitter to function in society. No one would ever believe Iago is anything but the villain here. It is a relatively minor flaw, since Iago is the villain of the piece, known from very early on – although it does smack you upside the head with the metaphor of a false friend to a black man.

Helen Herbert as Emilia in the foreground. (photo: Carol Rosegg)
In the background: Alanah Allen (Desdemona) and Conor Andrew Hall (Iago) 

Iago's wife, Emilia, is used unwittingly to help the plan. Emilia is played by Helen Herbert and seems to fade into the background only to surprise and impress when she moves to the forefront.

Director Masenheimer builds a steady flow of action and emotions in Othello. She admirably keeps the large cast individualized for the audience to understand. The entire production: acting, costumes, set and lighting combine to form an immersive experience that makes the audience fell more like voyeurs rather than spectators. It is a great show and event and night out.

Playwright: Shakespeare | Director: Makenna Masenheimer | Cast: Elliot Johnson, Alanah Allen, Coner Andrew Hall, Matthew Iannone, Rose Kanj, Nathan Krasner, Helen Herbert

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Pictures From Home: Sharp and Blurred

Pictures From Home is based on the story of Larry Sultan’s book of pictures, 8mm home movie stills and interviews of his parents – a photo memoir also called Pictures from Home. The play is alternately sweet as the son navigates this, and protective as his parents’ respond to the writing. His father is outwardly annoyed that Larry is at their home a lot (4 or 5 days, twice a month), and touched that he spends time with them.

The story transcends the pathos which are obvious here to bring out very real and raw emotions between generations and family. The story is brought to life by three of the best actors around doing great work. Danny Burstein plays son Larry, striving to get to the “truth” of his parents’ story. The parents are played by Nathan Lane and Zoe Wanamaker. They are confused by Larry’s search for deeper meaning in their lives, as they think of themselves as normal, happy, and comfortable in The Valley (San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles).

Danny Burstein, Zoe Wanamaker, and Nathan Lane (Julieta Cervantes)

When Larry was younger, his parents moved themselves and their 3 young boys to Los Angeles from the Brooklyn. Irving Sultan (Lane) goes along with Larry and his photography but doesn’t quite understand his motivation. Larry has his own family in San Francisco, and Irving isn’t sure at all why Larry is not spending time with his own family but would rather explore his parents’ relationship.

Irving has retired, with all the insecurities that come with that decision and a wife that is still working. His wife Jean (Zoe Wanamaker) is a relator, happy working. The retirement just gives Larry more information about his parents and allows Irving more time to be annoyed. Time Irving does take advantage of.

These three actors bring a complicated but typically American story to life. As they play progresses, the story of his parents’ life and cross-country move are examined. It is a life that Larry tries to understand, but it was of a time and motivation that is outside of his experience. He captures the complexity in a series of pictures. Pictures he takes and pictures he found. Most interestingly are the 8 mm home movie images that Larry views over and over again, and he pulls a very different story of them than his parents have. Some of the pictures are still from these movies, blown up.

Danny Burstein (Julieta Cervantes)

What happens? Larry gets closer to his parents, without ever fulling understanding them. Irving and Jean grow even closer to each other. It is bittersweet as the parents age around him. Pictures from Home does not have a lot of action, but the story has many emotions. At the heart of it is love.

During the show, pictures from the real book and home movies are discussed and presented on the back wall. Kudos to 59 Productions which did the Project Design. They do a fantastic job of bringing more depth to Pictures from Home. Experienced Director Bartlett Sher pulls these pieces and actors into harmony that is beautiful, sad, funny and touching.

Go see it if sounds even marginally interesting to you, you will enjoy it very much.

Pictures From Home
Playwright: Sharr White | Director: Bartlett Sher | Cast: Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, 
Zoë Wanamaker

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Anthony Rapp’s Without You Engages Joyfully

Without You is based on Anthony Rapp’s 2006 book, Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Musical Rent. The show is not a quick recap of his time in Rent, but about the emotions that Rent brought up and the story of his mother’s illness.

Anthony Rapp is stunning in Without You

The book and play Without You is centered on this time when Rent was beginning and was a massive hit AND at the same time Anthony’s mother was sick and getting sicker. Rent is a great play, yet one also with great tragedy. The parallels with his mother being sick are offset against the the play going through sickness and pain.

Anthony Rapp recalls his journey with Rent, from readings to Off-Broadway to Broadway. He doesn’t add a lot of new information that wasn’t in the book Without You, but the information was new to me.  I found it entertaining and interesting. I confess on traveling to New York (from Los Angeles) to see Rent with the original cast. I loved the show. To hear these new stories was fun and engaging. Without You is peppered with songs from the show, along with other tunes. Only 2 or 3 of the songs are sung completely, most are snippets used to relate to parts of the play.

Rapp’s tie of the story of Rent to the story of his mother’s illness is jarring at first, but little by little Without You pulls us into the analogies he is looking for. 

Anthony Rapp is stunning in the show. It is quick, tight and focused. The musical choices are absolutely perfect. Anthony Rapp’s voice is unique, and may not be your favorite. It isn’t my favorite, either as singing is such a personal thing. But Rapp’s voice work is stunning in the show. It pulls out emotion and pathos. His singing is the compliment that makes this show work.

Director Steven Maler understands the movement and stage business to emphasis the story, without being distracted. I absolutely loved the show, and left on a high.

Without You

Playwright: Anthony Rapp | Music: Jonathan Larson and others
Director: Steven Maler | Cast: Anthony Rapp


Friday, January 20, 2023

Heaven: Lost and Found in Ireland

There is a distinctive way many Irish theater productions play out, and your enjoyment of Heaven might depend on if you love, hate or are indifferent to that style. Heaven is a two hander, where the actors speak directly to the audience. Often, in Irish plays, one character talks to the audience for the entire show. But in this one, both characters talk one on one to the audience, albeit never at the same time.

The characters are a married couple, Mairead (May) and Mal. May is played by Janet Moran in a wistful but lovely turn. Mal is played by Andrew Bennett with more self-loathing and awakening but the same skill. They each describe their marriage and their feelings and questions to the audience. Both partners are separately challenged at the reception of a wedding they are attending.

Janet Moran and Andrew Bennett in Heaven (photo: Ste Murray)

May discusses the rut her marriage is in, the bitterness of having a daughter that fights with her every time they talk, and the disappearing hope for the future. At the party, her assumptions about her complacent life are challenged by the return of an old beau. One with which she had fantastic sexual chemistry.

At the same party MAL, a sober alcoholic, reflects on his hidden sexuality, hidden even from himself in many cases.. A sexuality that manifests itself it some very interesting fantasies about Jesus freeing him from his repression. His internal struggles are deeply felt as are May’s.

The story uses the background of the wedding to illustrate May’s struggles. The story uses a background sexual frustration and then a man's inducements to have Mal to partake of liquor and cocaine to illustrate Mal’s struggles. Neither analogy is as heavy handed as it sounds. And both May and Mal build the tension slowly until it grows to consume them.

I enjoyed the show very much, despite my dislike of the format. Few shows handle this setup as well at Heaven – the last I saw done this well was A Steady Rain on Broadway with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. Janet Moran and Andrew Bennet are not nearly as famous as that pair, but these two also inhabit their characters fully and believably.

Written by Eugene O’Brian and directed by Jim Culleton, the timing of the soliloquies and the passion of them is a credit to both. It is a simple set and design in order to bring the characters front and center with lighting and subtlety. I enjoyed it very much.

Playwright: Eugene O’Brian | Director: Jim Culleton | Cast:

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Joy & Fun & Juliet

I admit that I had low expectations for & Juliet. The premise just sounds clumsy, “What if Juliet didn’t kill herself after Romeo?” And a jukebox musical at that, with songs written Max Martin and collaborators. It sounds like the show was cobbled together to try to mimic the success of Moulin Rouge crossed with SIX. I was wrong that it would not be a ton of fun. It is. And, if it is Moulin Rouge and SIX mashed together, it works

& Juliet is energetic, fun and what people expect a musical to be: big, loud, colorful, and overwhelming. It isn’t perfect, but it a blast.

And I will start by saying the cast is fantastic. I don’t want to be redundant and complement each actor, but the singing, acting and casting were first rate from top to bottom. 

The story begins with Shakespeare’s wife, Ann Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe). She questions why Juliet has to die in Romeo and Juliet. When Shakespeare (Stark Sands) gives a waffling answer – That is what makes it a tragedy – she convinces him to try a new tack. Let Juliet decide to live and see where it goes. And so, Juliet (Lorna Courtney) escapes her parents plans to send her to a nunnery by running off to Paris. A nunnery is where fallen women are sent. Since Juliet is no longer a virgin , she no use to her parents. Escaping with her are two new friends, May (Justin David Sullivan) and Ann, plus one old friend, the nurse (Melanie La Barrie) from Shakespeare’s original play.

In this show, the star-crossed lovers are the non-binary May and Prince François (Philippe Arroyo) and, The Nurse and King Lance - Paulo Szot lending a adult air and voice to the proceedings. Shakespeare and his wife Ann share the stage as feuding couple with different expectations of marriage. The late arrival of Romeo (Ben Jackson Walker), freshly not dead, complicates the happily ever after for all concerned.

The & Juliet songs, mainly bouncing and upbeat, add to the carnival like atmosphere. With one or two exceptions, the songs fit and and add a layer of comedy. & Juliet adds an inside joke or two that everyone who has seen or heard Romeo and Juliet will understand.

The story here is more gender inclusive with love stories between men and women, non-binary characters and a freedom from stereotypes. But the main moral of the story is that self-empowerment gives a person the freedom to choose who to and how to love. And how being true to yourself might be the greatest superpower we all have.

If this all sounds preachy, do not worry, & Juliet is infused with joy and life. Veteran London Director Luke Sheppard balances the razzle dazzle of the show as expertly as he does the moments of love and heart. Instead of a preachy show about gender, he allows this musical to spread the joy throughout the audience without losing engagement in the story. 

& Juliet is good story, great acting and a positive message.

& Juliet
Playwrights: Max Martin & Friends, Music | David West Read, Book | Director: Luke Sheppard | Cast: Lorna Courtney, Paulo Szot, Betsy Wolfe, Stark Sands, Justin Davie Sullivan, Melanie La Barrie, Ben Jackson Walked, Philippe Arroyo | Website: & Juliet