Friday, January 31, 2014

A Man's A Man @ Classic Stage Company

You know you are in for a wild ride when the characters excuse us if we can’t follow the plot.  The Classic Stage Company’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s A Man does just that.  Beginning with a simple story- telling delivery, the play disguises evil as good. Through this, the audience later comes to understand how good and evil are relative to circumstance. With the direction of Brian Kulick and the set design of Paul Steinberg, this ensemble work takes life with a surreal style, engaging the audience early on with a pseudo-Monty Python absurdity. Duncan Sheik’s music adds a mild comic feel to some of the scenes but in general the music feels forced and does not lend itself to the story in a symbiotic fashion.
The piece centers around four soldiers. The seemingly heroic troupe is comprised of Polly Baker (Jason Babinsky), Jesse Mahoney (Steven Skybell), Uriah Shelley (Martin Moran) and Jeraiah Jip (Andrew Weems). Working in perfect harmony with one another, Babinsky, Skybell, Moran and Weems immediately convince the audience their character’s actions are wholesome and necessary. They blind the audience to all of the immoral circumstances through the pure spirit of innocence they bring to the stage.
Widow Begbick (Justin Vivian Bond) is the “flow” of the show.  Bond arrives on the scene oozing charisma and keeps it strong even as the show takes a darker turn.  Galy Gay (Gibson Frazier), our victim, embodies the medium for Brecht’s commentary on the human personality’s malleability.  Frazier delivers the character arch from feeble to domineering with flawless ease, highlighting Galy’s instability along the way.  The ensemble rounds out with Bloody Five (Stephen Spinella), Mr. Wang (Ching Valdes-Aran) and a versatile chorus of one (Allan K Washington).  Spinella lets us squirm in our seats as he delivers passion-filled eulogy after eulogy about the shortcomings and weaknesses of his men, eventually pointing the finger at himself.   Valdes-Aran convincingly fools the audience into believing Mr. Wang is not worthy of compassion. Washington is a great addition to many of the scenes, adding a wonderful comic element early on.
As the show progresses, we see increasingly sinister versions of our soldiers, allowing each audience member to decide when they feel the soldier’s actions have gone too far.  Eventually, the audience is shown the effect outside forces can have on a personality. It could be argued that Brecht’s piece, written in the 1920’s, foreshadows the rise of the Nazi party.  In the end, the audience is left in an uncomfortable state to contemplate how easily a personality can change from light to dark.
Though at times the show is difficult to follow, the overall theme is a poignant reminder of the importance of our identity.  The production promises to elicit some laughs early on but leave you with a thoughtful vigil on your way home.

Photos By: Richard Termine
Review By: Paul Morin

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Outside Mullingar @ The Samuel Friedman Theatre

Outside Mullingar is a story of love, death, and seizing happiness told with charming simplicity.  
Rosemary Muldoon and Anthony Reilly have been farming neighbors in Ireland since birth. Throughout her childhood and an ongoing dispute over land with the Reilly’s, Rosemary (Debra Messing), has harbored feelings for the introverted Anthony (Brian F. O’Byrne). The perpetually morose Anthony is blind to Rosemary’s ever growing affection and also has difficulty articulating his own emotions when his father (Peter Maloney) threatens to exclude him from inheriting the family farm. 

The play opens on a rainy day inside the Reilly house, and from the moment the audience enters the home there is a distinct sense of reality thanks to the detailed scenic design by John Lee Beatty.  Clothes piled in one corner, dirty dishes stacked on the table, and running water in the kitchen sink help to draw the NYC theatre-goer further into the truth of this Irish farmhouse. Playwright John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) gives the characters both comfortable and challenging conversations frosted with sweet -- sometimes bittersweet -- humor. This compliments the welcomed pregnant silences during poignant moments that director Doug Hughes allowed the actors.
The cast is solid. Though sometimes difficult to understand through the thick Irish accents, they collaboratively serve both laughter and tears with seamless authenticity. Maloney scores many chuckles as the cantankerous Irish father. His character’s humorous lines are highlighted by Maloney’s “matter of fact” delivery.  O’Byrne is tragically endearing as Anthony. He gives the character life and depth without becoming a cliché. Rosemary is the most colorful of the characters and Messing is enchanting as the chain smoking romantic.
Outside Mullingar makes the heart ache and smile, reminding us to live in the present moment.
“Now, the sky is for now” ~ Rosemary Muldoon/Outside Mullingar
Outside Mullingar opened January 23rd,2014 and is now playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Photos by: Joan Marcus
Review by: Staci Morin

Friday, January 24, 2014

Machinal @ The American Airlines Theatre

     Have you ever wondered how far past the breaking point you could be pushed? How long you could function in the machine of life before short-circuiting? The Machinal by American playwright Sophia Treadwell explores just that as the inspired story of the real life case of convicted and executed murderer, Ruth Snyder. 

     Starring Golden Globe nominee Rebecca Hall as Ruth Snyder and directed by Lyndsey Turner, The Machinal is a gripping drama that presents itself as a contemporary piece well beyond the period it was written in. 

Under the pressure of society’s beliefs and her overbearing mother’s eye, Ruth(Hall) agrees to marry a man that physically repels her. After meeting a handsome stranger, played by Morgan Spector though, Ruth discovers the joys of love and realizes she can no longer keep pretending freedom. In an act of desperation, she bludgeons her husband to death which leads to her arrest, conviction, and eventual execution.

    Rebecca Hall’s performance was stellar. Not only did she tackle monologues that would make any actor cringe to do live, but she did it with such a mixture of vulnerability and strength that one could not help but move forward to the edge of one’s seat. During the course of the one hour and 30 minute process that it took to go from the start of her loveless marriage to her heartbreaking execution, Hall managed to engage the audience’s sympathy, while at the same time repelling them with her mannerisms and quirks. From the moment the curtain goes up, she draws the audience into what we realize is her point of view. At once the audience is bombarded with a script that moves quicker than a train. 

    While this show is very much about Ruth, an ensemble rich in personalities and talent must be mentioned. Each person in the ensemble is at once unique and yet an integral part of the machine. Michael Cumpsty was perfect as Ruth’s Husband. Full of pompous cliches, he was so repulsive I wanted to murder him myself. 

    Sam Pinkleton’s choreography was a joy to watch. Matt Tierney’s sound design was haunting and complimented each scene perfectly. But by far the most interesting tech was provided by Olivier-award winning set designer, Es Devlin. Her revolving stage provided a world that was awe-inspiring. Between her set and Jane Cox’s lighting designs, I cannot imagine the play would have been as intense. 

   The Machinal opened at The American Airlines Theatre on 227 West 42nd Street and plays through March 2. Get your tickets now

Photos By:Joan Marcus

Review By: Aziza Seven

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Row After Row @ New York City Center Stage II

For over 35 years, the Women's Project Theater has placed its focus on producing plays written and directed by women.  Even though an overwhelming 67% of Broadway audiences are female, a mere 20% of those plays produced are written or directed by women (Linda Winer, Newsday). In its history, the WPT has given an outlet for women theatre artists to showcase their talents, in lauded productions as Bethany, How the World Began, and Jackie.

Row After Row begins after the successful reenactment on the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, childhood friends Cal (PJ Sosko) and Tom (Erik Lochtefeld), find "their table" occupied by an unfamiliar face, Leah (Rosie Benton). As Tom kindly invites Leah to share a drink with them, Cal promptly begins a heated debate with Leah that she is challenging their tradition, in both taking their seats and playing a (poorly uniformed) soldier. Action weaves between the present and the battle itself in 1863, showing that women testing their "traditional" roles is no new concept.

Rosie Benton's Leah is the cool-without-trying woman we all probably knew at some point in our lives. Her nose ring, delicately messy hair, and past as a modern dancer, along with the attitude that her life can be whatever she wants to make it, gives her the personality of the effortlessly confident woman so many strive to be. She states that "history is just that, his-story" and why shouldn't she be able to experience it for herself? In a touching monologue, Leah describes playing a soldier as "more fun, and more sad" than she could have ever imagined. Alternately, her 19th century persona disguises herself as a soldier in a plan to "suck the anger-- and hunger-- and homesickness" of each man by kissing each one late each night. Both of these women use their uniquely feminine qualities as tools to defy gender roles.

Although Tom and Cal are best friends, they are the definition of polar opposites. Cal's brash and sometimes chauvinistic attitude is balanced by Tom's soft-spoken nature to keep things as "PC" as possible. These traits are apparent in their past-life characters as well; Cal is the traditionalist general, Tom the deserter. The presence of the mysterious woman in both scenarios have the men questioning their intents and responsibilities.

Jessica Dickey's play, directed by Daniella Topol, has an interesting commentary on social issues that have been present for centuries. We realize feminism is not a new concept, and sometimes all it takes is a chance meeting with the right person to put everything into perspective.
Row After Row  runs through February 16 at the NY City Center's Stage II.  

Photo by: Carol Rosegg

Review by: Kelcie Kosberg

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Year of the Rooster @ The Ensemble Studio Theater

Year of The Rooster is about a man who owns a prize rooster for cock fights. After getting involved with dirty dealings, his thirst for power takes over and he ends up with nothing.  
This play was simply riveting from the beginning. I was captivated by all the performances. A man named Gil Pepper(Thomas Lyons)  takes risks with cock fights and has a thirst to win but Dickie Thimble(Denny Dale Bass) is a powerful and wealthy man in the cock fighting business who always wins. Pepper's thirst for power is ultimately his downfall. His rooster Odyssesus Rex(Bobby Moreno) believes he is invincible and can kill anything or anyone.
Delphi Harrington(Lou Pepper), who plays Gil's mom, gives a stunning performance as a new widow struggling for independence while till desperately holding on to the son who takes care of her. She has let herself go completely due to her tragedies. Megan Tusing(Philipa) who plays Gil's co-worker at McDonalds gives a stellar performance as a 19 year old cashier who exhibits the innocence in the show. You see her struggle with moving up in the world yet enjoying the power that comes her way.
Year of the Rooster is at Ensemble Studio Theatre as apart of there Youngblood Program for Playwrights Under 30. Year of the Rooster is running till February, was written by Eric Dufault and directed by John Giampietro.

Photos By: Russ Kuhner
Review By: Sarah Brown

Monday, January 13, 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Bio-musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells the story of the life and career of legendary singer-songwriter Carole King leading up to the release of her groundbreaking album Tapestry. Having been raised by a divorced mother, Carole (then) Klein entered college at age 16 to study for a teaching degree. However, a talent for music brought her to the Brill Building where she sold her first song and began a renowned career. After meeting and quickly falling for writer Gerry Goffin, the two teamed up to write some of the 1960's most famous songs, including "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Take Good Care of my Baby," and "The Locomotion." Their relationship progressed quickly; Carole soon found out she was pregnant and married Gerry at only 17 years old. As the pair's careers went steadily uphill, the romance began to falter. Gerry's adulterous ways and wavering mental health often left Carole alone with their two daughters. After divorcing Gerry in 1968, Carole used experience to inspired the songs that she went on to perform herself for the album Tapestry, which became the greatest selling album of all time, and earned four Grammy awards.

Onstage, King's life makes for the perfect jukebox-musical. Each song is more lively and colorful than the last. Derek McLane's scenic design is always moving, transforming from a Brooklyn apartment, to the offices and recording studios of the Brill Building, to the set of a Variety show. As each new song is written, the world changes into a colorful and energetic concert. With Peter Kaczorowski's rich light design, Alejo Vietti's versitile costume design, the production became an experience. Most notably, Josh Prince's choreography took the familiar, yet simple, steps of the 60's pop groups and put a fresh, modern spin on it.

As Carole King, Jessie Mueller is the "Natural Woman" for the role (pardon the pun). The quality of Mueller's voice matches King's distinct rasp so well you'd think it was the singer herself. She leads the production with an earnest humility that truly conveys the pain and strength of King. Jake Epstein, as Gerry Goffin, faded in and out onstage. Despite his smooth vocals, he clearly was not able to not quite keep up with the rest of the main cast.

There will always be a niche market for musicals such as these, the kind that can remind audiences of the memories of younger years associated with the already famous music. There wasn't a single song that didn't elicit murmurs of "Such a great song!" and humming along from the audience. Curtain call brought the entire audience to its feet, clapping and singing along with "I Feel the Earth Move." This is definitely the show you take your parents to when they're in town, and may even give Jersey Boys a run for its money in terms of popularity. Beautiful truly lives up to its name, and is a sight for all generations to enjoy.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, opened January 12 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. 

Photos By:  Joan Marcus
Review By: Kelcie Kosberg