Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Upcoming: queerSpawn

David Greenspan stars as Dan Savage in It Gets Worse Comedy
queerSpawn
Previews begin May 10 at HERE

A Collection of Shiny Objects will present the world premiere of queerSpawn. This new play by Mallery Avidon will be directed by Jesse Geiger, starring Obie Award winner David Greenspan. Previews begin May 10 at HERE with opening slated for May 14.

When you've got two moms in a small town sometimes it's hard to believe that "It gets better".  For this queerSpawn kid, freshman year of high school looks like it's only going to get worse. A scathing & humorous look at standing up to bullies, surviving high school, and finding the strength to keep going.

In addition to David Greenspan (who plays sex columnist and It Gets Better creator Dan Savage), queerSpawn also stars Noel Joseph Allain, J. Alexander Coe, Akeem Baisden Folkes, Chris Perfetti, and David Ryan West. The production features set by Carolyn Mraz (Target Margin), lighting by Natalie Robin (The Bad and the Better), costumes by Kerry Gibbons, and sound by Nathan Leigh (2 time IRNE Best Sound Design winner)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Upcoming March 28th

World Premiere
Old-Fashioned Prostitutes
(A True Romance)
Written, Directed, and Designed by Richard ForemanFeaturing Stephanie Hayes, Alenka Kraigher, Nicolas NoreƱa, Rocco Sisto,
David Skeist
April 30 - June 2
Snapshots from an enigmatic fairy-tale in which Suzie, the elusive coquette, brings Samuel to his knees – from where he worships a life he only half understands. OLD-FASHIONED PROSTITUTES (A TRUE ROMANCE) is an expressionistic chamber-play that twists emotional heartache into a landscape of continual mental invention, marking the return to theater of a celebrated artist whom The New York Times has dubbed “the Godfather of the American avant-garde.”
Presented in association with Ontological-Hysteric Theater.



Project: Theater is proud to present the World Premiere of OCCUPATION, written by Ken Ferrigni and directed by Joe Jung. OCCUPATION begins performances on Thursday, June 6 for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 23.  Press opening is Wednesday, June 12 at 8 PM.  The performance schedule is Wednesday – Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM. Please note there is no performance on Sunday, June 9 but an added performance on Monday, June 10 at 8 PM. There is no matinee performance on Saturday, June 15. Performances are at TBG Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Tickets are $18 and are available by calling Smartix at (212) 868-4444 or online at www.smarttix.com. For more information, visit www.projecttheater.org.

In 2017, a crushing national debt, skyrocketing inflation, and crippling unemployment have frozen the United States’ access to global credit. Against the backdrop of economic catastrophe, the US government finds an unexpected savior when China purchases Florida for $5 trillion. But there is a radical, violent insurgency holed up in the Everglades attempting to oust the Chinese proconsul and his army. How far will this militia go to keep the States united?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hands on a Hardbody Is a Great Surprise

The cast of Hands on a Hardbody

The story behind Hands on a Hardbody doesn’t immediately suggest a musical.  It is the story of a competition in West Texas where a dozen people vie to see who can keep one hand on a new truck the longest.  The winner takes home the truck.  The story became a documentary and now a musical.  Along with its East Texas setting and strong accents, it opens as if it might be a parody of hick stereotypes.  But Hands has something else on its mind.  It evokes a new recession version of They Shoot Horses Don’t They, with all the pathos that suggests, but without the persistent bleakness.  It is a fun piece, with an constant undercurrent of reality.
 We are treated to the stories of the contestants, who see the truck as a reward for perseverance and a ticket to better things.  The automobile as a symbol of the American dream has a long history, retold to a new generation every year.  The winner, whoever it is, dreams of driving away from their current troubles; for some of them, escape is figurative but for others it is the thought of quite literally leaving small town Texas.
Jay Armstrong Johnson & Allison Case
The music that gives voice to these dreams is by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green, lyrics by Ms. Green.  It is a broad sweep of styles including traditional Broadway along with country, folk and gospel.  Not all songs hit, but when they do, they soar.  Stronger and Joy of the Lord are two numbers that touched me, but there are a lot of great songs in this show.  The cast moves about surprisingly often, giving that they are often rooted to a truck (which swings and moves as much as anyone else).
Hands on a Hardbody is awash with local accents and colloquialisms, all carried well.  The show doesn’t make fun of these people, but exposes them and their dreams individually to the audience.  It stresses the commonality of experience and recession driven angst, despite the differences in location or economic status.
Filled with well-known names like Hutton Foster and Keith Carradine (who are both excellent), it was some lesser known members of the cast that made my throat catch.  Keala Settle plays a Latina mother with a strong faith in God.  She occasionally steals the show.  David Larsen and Jay Armstrong Johnson both turn in moving performances as young men on different paths - they look at the same truck and see salvation in different forms.  These 3 performers are lucky to get 3 excellent songs (Mr. Armstrong duets with the lovely and talented Allison Case).
Since it is a test of endurance, the energy begins to fade for a short while near the very end, but the play moves on and up quickly.  Book writer Doug Wright has created a nice level of tension that is expanded by the individual stories.  It explores the very American expectation that things will get better if you only work at it, but doesn't hide the ever-present possibility of failure.  And, how quickly Americans recover from it. Predestined outcomes often figure in Europe stories (star-crossed and doomed lovers, children paying for the sins of their parents or grandparents).  What Mr. Wright has done is take an American set of beliefs, things get better with perseverance and each set-back is temporary, and given them un-ironic voice in Hands on a Hardbody.
(facing) Keala Settle, Hutton Foster and David Carradine

Neil Pepe directs this group well.  Working with choreographer Sergio Trujillo, they have introduced plenty of movement and action into a piece that could easily have been static and boring.  Hands on a Hardbody is a very good show, uplifting without being sentimental.
Hands on a Hardbody
Music: Trey Anastanio and Amanda Green
Lyrics: Amanda Green
Book: Doug Wright
Director: Neil Pepe
Cast: Keith Carradine, Allison Case, Hunter Foster, Jay Armstrong Johnson, David Larsen, Jocob Ming-Trent, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Mary Gordon Murray, Jim Newman, Connie Ray, Jon Rua, Keala Settle, Dale Soules, Scott Wakefield, William Youmans

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Red Valley: The Color of Despair

RED Soil Productions is a new theatre company founded to showcase new works and tell stories that American culture might never hear, based on real life material.  Red Valley is one of their first works, created to tell the story of the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya.  Based on this emotional piece, RED Soil has an excellent future ahead of it.
Red Valley tells its story in layers, opening with the “peaceful” transplanted Brits being attacked by hooded African Mau Mau killers.  And it finds a simple expository tool in the British child Charlotte (played with wide eyed innocence by Rachel Jane).  Charlotte is closer to the African farm help than she is to her mother, and asks why these things are happening. 
Matthew Vitticore as Jack and Aimee Marcelle as Beth in Red Valley

As explained by Flora and Joseph, we come to understand that there are (at least) two major tribes in Kenya, the Maasi and the Kikuyu, both of whom want their land and their way of life back from the settlers.  But only the Maasi have launched a rebellin to get it back  It is a very bloody rebellion, killing both the British and the Kikuyu that will not join them.  Richard Nwaoko, who plays Joseph, shines with an easy warmth that spreads through-out the room. Joanna Kasamba, who plays Flora, is a beautiful and delicate creature who, later in the play, displays a very strong will.
Joanna Kasamba as Flora
Almost a mirror to the two tribes of African Kenyans, Charlotte’s own parents represent the two types of British settlers.  Her father Jack, played well by Matthew Vitticore, is a quietly charming man who has  embraced the lifestyle of African farmer, but realizes it is coming to an end.  However Jack is overwhelmed emotionally and in resolve by Beth, his wife.
Aimee Marcelle is amazing as Beth, a hard woman trying to keep the farm running with little help from her husband and little loyalty from her daughter.  She is tough, angry and, most of all, determined.  Ms. Marcelle makes Beth feel human in rare, momentary glimpses of venerability, which she immediately quashes.  It is as if Beth is repulsed by any show of self-doubt in herself or others.  She lashes out quickly and often.
This is the one problem with the show.  Beth is the center of attention and action, but she is a rather terrible person.  We can infer why she behaves like this, and a speech late in the show sheds a little more light, but we cannot relate to her.  Playwright Matthew Stannah is walking a fine line here, pulling the audience to identify with the settlers, but not too much.  After all they have taken land that is not rightfully theirs and displaced the indigenous people.
Beth is willing to give up everything to keep the farm and stay on the land in Red Valley.  She has fallen in love with the beauty of Africa, but not the Africans - whom she treats with remarkably little respect or graciousness.  Ms. Marcelle does an excellent job of keeping Beth from falling into a caricature of evil, always imbuing the character with a sense of purpose.
Director Yudelka Heyer has given Red Valley a nice simple structure, allowing the audience to figure out right and wrong without spelling it out in giant letters.  Red Valley brings to life a story we rarely hear about, and one that might place parallels to our own Western Expansion in an entirely new light.  Well done.
Red Valley
Playwright: Matthew Stannah
Director: Yudelka Heyer
Cast: Aimee Marcelle, Matthew Vitticore, Rachel Jane, Joanna Kasamba, Richard Nwaoko, Brian Clancy, Steven Daniel, Miles Alexander, Christopher Willis, Kristen Wulf, James Physick

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Annie Baker wins Blackburn Prize for "The Flick"

Well, I did not like "The Flick".  You can read my review here, but it appears I am in  minority.  Ms. Baker won multiple awards for "The Flick".  (from the New York Times)
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Annie Baker Wins Blackburn Prize and Horton Foote Honor


Annie BakerSara Krulwich/The New York TimesAnnie Baker
Annie Baker has been awarded the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, an international award given annually since 1978 to women who have written works of outstanding quality. The prize, which Ms. Baker won for “The Flick,” her three-hour incisively nuanced exploration of love and friendship, includes a cash award of $25,000 and a signed, numbered print by the artist Willem de Kooning.
Cynthia Nixon, one of six judges on this year’s panel, presented the prize to Ms. Baker at a private ceremony on Sunday at the Alley Theater in Houston. Ms. Baker was also chosen as the second recipient of the Horton Foote Legacy Project, which includes a four-week writing residency, starting in May, at Foote’s preserved home in Wharton, Tex.
Reviewing Ms. Baker’s “Flick,” which is in its premiere run at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan, Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times that “Ms. Baker, one of the freshest and most talented dramatists to emerge Off Broadway in the past decade, writes with tenderness and keen insight about the way people make messes of their lives — and the lives of people they care about — and then sink into benumbed impotence, hard pressed to see any way of cleaning things up.”
More than 100 plays were considered for the 2013 prize. Besides Ms. Baker’s award, nine finalists received $2,500 prizes. They are Karen Ardiff (“The Godess of Liberty”), Jean Betts (“Genesis Falls”), Deborah Bruce (“The Distance”), Katherine Chandler (“Before It Rains”), Amy Herzog (“ Belleville”), Dawn King (“Foxfinder”), Laura Marks (“Bethany”), Jenny Schwartz (“Somewhere Fun”) and Francine Volpe (“The Good Mother”).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Peter and the Starcatcher Opens Tonight @ New World

New World Theaters, just east of 8th, has become home to many Broadway shows that have ended their run in the Broadway houses, but still are popular.  Peter and the Starcatcher has moved to New World and opens tonight.  It follows Ave. Q and Rent to the New World Theater.
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Peter and the Starcatcher, a wisp of a play that is delightful, appropriate for kids but still magical for adults - opens tonight.  If you missed it on Broadway, see it now.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lesson Learned: It's Tough to Imitate Bette Davis


The Lying Lesson, now playing at the Atlantic Theater, picks up and moves quite well in the second half of the show.  I start with that caveat because the first half of the show is a little creaky and some of the audience was lost – which was a shame.  The Lying Lesson concerns Bette Davis in the later years of her life.  She has come to a small Maine town to investigate buying property in a town she visited in her youth.
Playing the iconic Bette Davis is Carol Kane, in a performance that was spot on in looks, stage business and mannerisms, but she doesn’t always match Miss Davis’ voice and cadence.  That was a definite problem at times, since the character hides her identity for part of the first half while interacting with the house’s caretaker.
Mickey Sumner played that caretaker, a young lady named Rose.  Ms. Sumner had her own problems with accents, occasionally fading in and out of the distinctive clipped Maine sounds.
Mickey Sumner and Carol Kane in The Lying Lesson
Rose, apparently unfamiliar with Bette Davis, ingratiates herself by providing local color and much appreciated help – not the least of which is providing Scotch and cigarettes.  As the evening proceeds, it turns out that Rose may know more than she lets on.  Bette Davis and Rose play a cat and mouse game with the truth that brings out the best performance from both of the actors.  It is in this second half that Carol Kane begins to inhabit Bette Davis and Mickey Sumner steps up her work in response.
Miss Davis is past her prime and thinking of leading a simpler life.  Rose is afraid of being stuck in this simple life for the rest of her days, and so she is auditioning for the role of Bette’s new assistant – whether Bette wants one or not.
There are a fair number of references to old Better Davis movies like Of Human Bondage and Old Acquaintances.  The highlight of the play is a scene in which Bette explains the opening of The Letter, shot by shot – as an example of how to lie (hence the title).
The Lying Lesson is a fairly low stakes affair, neither homage to stars of old nor a comic tragedy at their expense.  Prolific writer Craig Lucas has stocked the play with the trappings of movies, to the point of parody (it starts on a dark and stormy night…).  Yet Director Pam Mackinnon, who did the new Broadway version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, doesn’t let the show fall into a joke.  She keeps the story focused on the human desires of these two women.  Which is critical, the entire play could have turned into an over the top drag performance rather easily.
It is a lightweight affair, but good fun if you are a fan.  On reflection, it might play very well as a drag performance.
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The Lying Lesson
Playwright: Craig Lucas
Director: Pam Mackinnon
Cast: Carol Kane, Mickey Sumner

Upcoming: The Assembled Parties


THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES

World premiere play by Richard GreenbergDirected by Lynne Meadow
with Jessica Hecht, Judith Light, Jeremy Shamos, Mark Blum, Lauren Blumenfeld, Alex DreierJake Silbermann andJonathan Walker
Tony winner Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, The American Plan) and MTC begin their 10th collaboration with the world-premiere production of THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES. MTC Artistic Director Lynne Meadow (Wit, Collected Stories) directs the stellar cast that includes Tony nominee Jessica Hecht (A View from the Bridge, Harvey), Tony and 2-time Emmy winnerJudith Light (Other Desert Cities, Lombardi) and Tony nomineeJeremy Shamos (Glengarry Glen Ross, Clybourne Park). 
THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES welcomes us to the world of the Bascovs, an Upper West Side Jewish family in 1980. In a sprawling Central Park West apartment, former movie star Julie Bascov and her sister-in-law Faye bring their families together for their traditional holiday dinner. But tonight, things are not usual. A houseguest has joined the festivities for the first time and he unwittingly - or perhaps by design - insinuates himself into the family drama. Twenty years later, as 2001 approaches, the Bascovs‘ seemingly picture-perfect life may be about to crumble. A stunning new play infused with humor, THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES is an incisive portrait of a family grasping for stability at the dawn of a new millennium.
Previews Begin: Thursday, March 21, 2013 
Opening Night: Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Tickets currently on sale for performances through: June 2, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Flick Winds Down at Playwrights Horizon


The Flick is a new play by the very talented Annie Baker, now at Playwrights Horizon Theater.  While there were a number of admirable qualities about the piece and the production, it wandered slowly and randomly into the night.
Matthew Maher and Aaron Clifton Moten in Annie Baker's new play The Flick
The action takes place in a shabby, single screen theater in Massachusetts, a wonderful set by David Zinn.  With row after row of stained, reddish-burgundy seats - empty after each performance, the set gives off the flavor of desperation and loneliness.  Two of the main characters, Sam and Avery, enter after each show to sweep up and discuss life as only listless young men can.
Sam, well played by Matthew Maher, has been at the theater for a long time and teaches newbie Avery the ins and outs of the job.  It is a small theater, still showing by projector instead of digital, and the guys have to sweep up popcorn, soda and whatever else the spoiled patrons leave, before they can head back out to the box office and candy counter.  Sam has a litany of complaints against the customers, the management and life in general.
Aaron Clifton Moten plays Avery, fresh as a baby seal.  Avery has dropped out of college and is kind of "floating around" right now.  He has followed his love of movies to this outpost where digital hasn’t taken over yet.  Avery and Sam bond over life’s indignities, games of 6 degrees of separation (which Avery has a encyclopedic knowledge of) and a passion to run the big projector.
The job of projectionist (which Sam thinks should rightfully be his) is held by Rose.   Rose is a venerable young woman, hidden under a mass of black t-shirt and green hair.  Louisa Krause plays Rose with the right amount of tenderness and tentativeness for the character.  Rose is always almost approachable.
There are some wane passes made and connections missed, which shows how hard it is for people now to connect emotionally.  But the action is spread so thinly, across so much time, that it is hardly worth the effort.
There is the spark of an amazing idea in The Flick.  The idea that we have lost something magical in the rush from the old to the digital, that the flicker image left a deeper impression.  But the glacial pace of the show drowns the idea, slowly.  It is the theatrical equivalent of Woody Allen’s September.  Perhaps the idea is just that, a great idea that can’t support an entire evening – particularly one with an intermission.
Excellent director Sam Gold spins the tale out as written, and has brought out a wonderful subtly in the cast.  But the emotion that the show leaves with the audience is frustration.  To little story stretched out way too long.  It is a story told in the movement of mops, sweeping of aisles and hints of longing – I just wanted them to get on with it already.
The Flick – Playwrights Horizon (website)
Playwright: Annie Baker
Director: Sam Gold
Cast: Alex Hanna, Louise Krause, Matthew Maher, Aaron Clifton Morten

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mike Barlett's BULL at Brits Off Broadway

If you, like me, were blown away by COCK- The Cockfight Play last year, then this is exciting.
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(from the Sheffield Theater UK promo)
Mike Bartlett's BULL, the companion piece to last season's Off Broadway hit Cock, is added to the Brits Off Broadway line up

New York, New York March 4, 2013—59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director; Peter Tear, Executive Producer) is thrilled to announce playwright Mike Bartlett's (Artefacts in 2008) return to Brits Off Broadway with the US premiere of BULL, which just ended a successful run at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield.

Directed by Clare Lizzimore, BULL begins previews on Thursday, April 25 for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 2. Opening Night is to be determined. BULL is produced by Sheffield Theatres.

Called "Lord of the Flies in sharp suits for grown ups" (Yorkshire Post), tickets for BULL go on sale on Friday, March 8.

Two jobs. Three candidates. This would be a really bad time to have a stain on your shirt… Written as a companion piece to last season's Off Broadway hit Cock, BULL is a razor sharp play about office politics; or playground bullying – depending which side you’re on.

Presented by 59E59 Theaters, Brits Off Broadway launches on Wednesday, March 27 and runs through Sunday, June 30.  The single ticket prices range from $25 - $70 ($17.50 - $49 for 59E59 Members). Tickets to Brits Off Broadway are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. For more information on Brits Off Broadway, visit www.59E59.org or www.britsoffbroadway.com. ###