Monday, February 27, 2012

Venus In Fur @ The Lyceum Theatre

Sex.  Power.  Lust.  Passion.  Venus in Fur returns to Broadway for a second limited run for a very good reason - it is a damn good show!  Based on the erotic and controversial novel of the same name, playwright David Ives captures the very essence of a true battle of the sexes.  In a male dominated world, it is up to one woman to change the odds and take control.  Featuring an all star acting couple in Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy, Venus in Fur is sexy, smart, sexy, funny, and sexy (was sexy mentioned already?).  Broadway has found its next great American drama in Venus in Fur!
Late one night, after sitting through tons of useless auditions, Thomas is ranting one the phone to his girlfriend.  Just as he announces that there is no hope of ever finding the lead for his new work, Venus in Fur, Vanda burst through the door full of a unique energy that Thomas finds himself starting to fall victim to.  After some convincing, Vanda has Thomas reading his own words and acting alongside her for this audition.  Complete with a bad of costumes and props, Vanda and Thomas begin to cross the line between text and reality; before long dialogue feels more natural and the world of his play starts to become the reality of the night.  With the girlfriend slipping farther and farther from Thomas’s mind, the erotic novel that was banned so many years ago starts to unfold before the audience - proving an audition that is so passionate and steamy, no one will soon forget about it!
A piece like this one is impossible to do without chemistry!  Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy have chemistry!  The text is lifted off the page and given life by these two incredible actors that each give the performance of a life time.  Nina Arianda (Tony Award nominated for Born Yesterday) continues her charge toward stardom tackling the very complex character that is Vanda.  Full of determination, Vanda storms onto the stage, and from line one commands the attention of both Thomas and the audience.  Arianda is hilarious, truthful, and all around brilliant to watch on stage.  Her understanding of the world she is in is magnificent.  Back in May, Entertainment Hour had this to say about Arianda, “It is clear that this is just the beginning of an extremely successful career for Arianda” (Born Yesterday review).  This statement is true once more as Arianda proves yet again that she is the next big Broadway star.  Thomas may seem all kinds of confident, but by the end of the piece, his outlook on life has surely been altered.  Hugh Dancy (films Ella Enchanted and Confessions of a Shopaholic) tackles this role with charm and skill that are beyond measure.  His ability to transform into each character on stage, between Thomas and the roles that Thomas reads throughout the audition, is amazing to watch; his commitment to find the truth behind each character is something that cannot be ignored.  Separate, these two could tear apart any piece of theatre; however, together they destroy the stage, in a good way of course!  The chemistry and fire between these two is almost indescribable.  The physical and mental attraction is there from the moment both appear on stage together; the audience watches as it grows and grows with each passing moment - the first time they lock eyes, the first time they read together, the first time they touch.  Both bring sex appeal while delivering performances that one can only hope will be acknowledged come June at this year’s Tony Awards.
Brilliant acting was not the only triumph that this new piece has to offer.  Playwright David Ives (The School for Lies) crafts the ultimate story based around a book that caused trouble so many years ago.  Ives provides the ultimate look into the ways that men and women look at the world - who holds the power?  Moving the actors in a small room is not an easy task, but director Walter Bobbie (Tony Award winner for Chicago) does it with ease.  Along with fight director Thomas Schall (War Horse), Bobbie brings both the world of theatre and the erotic novel to life.  Creating pictures and moments that truly reach out to the audience and pull them in, Bobbie creates a world that feels so natural yet surreal at the same time - a vision that was seen through by designers John Lee Beatty (Other Desert Cities) on set and Peter Kaczorowski (Wit) on lights.  Beatty’s scenic design is absolutely remarkable.  Literally placing the duo in a floating box, he creates the idea that these two souls are trapped together no matter how rough things might get.  This box of an audition room is light magnificently by Kaczorowski who uses all kinds of mood lighting to set the perfect tone for this piece.  Bring the team together is costume designer Anita Yavich (Chinglish), who leaves little to the imagination when it comes to sexy Arianda and plenty to the imagination when it comes to hunky Dancy.  This balance only adds to Ives’s brilliant battle between man and woman.
Back on Broadway, Venus in Fur is a not to be missed, mega hit that is running at the Lyceum Theatre through June.  This hot and powerful piece of theatre will be one that you will not soon forget.  Love it or hate it, you will not be able to stop talking about it!  This will honestly be one of the best pieces of theatre you will ever get to see!  Do not miss Venus in Fur!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stick Fly @ The Cort Theatre

In a mansion in Martha’s Vineyard resides the LeVay family.  Secrets run high as class, race, and the justices of the world are thrown around as Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly unfolds.  With a predictable script and lack luster acting, this new piece from producer Alicia Keys does not dazzle as much as one might hope that it would; however, even with that said, this new dramedy does not fall completely on its face.  Running now at the Cort Theatre through February 26, 2012, Stick Fly might be worth the price of a cheaper ticket.

With his new fiancé Taylor in hand, Kent LeVay returns home to show off his both his love and his new book that has just been picked up by a publishing company.  Not too long after, his brother, Harold, returns home with news of his new fling.  It soon becomes clear that Taylor and Harold have meet before, and the awkward tension does even begin to end there.  Just before dinner Joe LeVay makes his way up to the house; however, Mrs. LeVay is mysteriously absent.  Trying to not think the worst, the family moves on and quickly gets heated on topics of race and social economics when Harold’s new squeeze turns out to be white and not African American like the rest of the LeVay family.  While this banter is fun, it soon becomes clear that the maid, Cheryl, has a secret of her own to let lose; and, once revealed family bonds and relationships are pushed to the max for the LeVay family.

This ensemble of six, while portraying a family, never fully seems to gel on stage.  This problem could be contributed to the lackluster performances from the male ensemble.  Led by Dulé Hill (television’s Psych) and Mekhi Phifer (television’s ER) as the LeVay brothers, this piece does not feel to have the drive that it needs.  Hill plays Kent, the brother that is a mess up in the eyes of their father.  His performance felt pushed - forcing relationships and emotions.  Hill never really felt to connect to those around him and the text provided.  Phifer faced many of the same problems while playing Harold, the eldest brother who became a shining star doctor in the eyes of their father.  It felt as if he was always pushing for the joke as opposed to finding the truth in the scene.  While Hill and Phifer are respectable actors, they seem to never find their niche here on stage.  Concluding the male cast is Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Tony Award winner for Seven Guitars) as the all powerful head of the family.  Santiago-Hudson lands several scenes with perfection; however, in the final crucial moments of the piece he does not seem to commit to the actions required of him.  These lackluster male performances allow the females to shine throughout the entire piece.  Taylor, the nervous fiancé, is portrayed by Tracie Thoms of both Broadway and film RENT fame.  Thoms fully commits to each moment - being witty, smart, and sexy.  Her scenes are filled with humor and heart forcing the audience to be on her side from start to finish.  Feeding into Taylor’s crazy antics is Kimber, Harold’s new fling, played by Rosie Benton (Roundabout Theatre’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses).  Benton takes hold of her scenes moving group scenes along with wit and grace.  She does a wonderful job of trying to gel the ensemble together - a job that should never have been left to one woman.  Rounding out the cast is the beautiful Condola Rashad making her Broadway debut.  Rashad is light on her feet, has perfect comedic timing, and is an absolute joy to watch.  She is definitely an extremely talented young actress to look out for in years to come.  While split three and three, Stick Fly is one hundred percent a woman’s show.

This new piece from playwright Lydia R. Diamond (The Bluest Eye) is written really well; however, is over all really predictable.  The plot twists are not so much twists as “I totally saw that coming” moments - leaving the piece funny but not overly shocking.  The production team does not work together to make the piece feel like one over all piece that works together.  The scenic design by David Gallo (The Mountaintop), while gorgeous to look at, is not practical to the callings of the script - with most of the main action taking place in a small area far away from the audience.  This problem causes a strong disconnect from audience.  Lighting the space is designer Beverly Emmons (Tony Award winner for Amadeus).  The lighting caused strong problems with focus - often having the least important character in the brightest light, thus causing problems for the audience’s eye.  Providing the score for this piece is Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys.  The original score is perfect for the piece with upbeat tempos and fun rhythms; however, it was misused by director Kenny Leon (Fences).  While the piece was direct well with nice flow for the actors, the tempo of the overall piece was slow and never really took off; leaving plenty of time for the audience to notice the flaws in design and acting.

Stick Fly is built up as this tale of a family with a bunch of skeletons in the closet, and, while secrets are revealed, they are not so much skeletons as they are dust particles.  While the males and design never fully come together in unison, the women are a true delight on stage - making Stick Fly an okay production to watch.

Review By: Tom Garvin