Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kung Fu @ The Pershing Square Signature Center/Irene Diamond Stage

Bruce Lee almost single handedly created the “martial arts” action films. His name echoes throughout the world as a hero and superstar. So it’s no surprise that when his life is put on stage in “Kung Fu”, the result is a magical dynamic portrayal of a remarkable man.

“Kung Fu”, written by David Henry Hwang and directed by Leigh Silverman, takes the audience through the life of Bruce Lee (Cole Horibe) from the 1940s to 1971, when Bruce was starting his climb to superstardom. Deftly weaving through the past and the future, Bruce has to contend with trying to make his mark in a discriminatory world and still provide for his wife (Phoebe Strole) and family, while against the shame and troubled relationship Bruce had with his father, Hoi-Chuen (Frances Jue), along with other setbacks in his life.

The overall stunning cast is led by the dynamic Cole Horibe as Bruce Lee. In his New York theatre debut, Horibe is spunky, funny, and full of charm, passion, and intensity. He has exquisite control of his body, easily sliding in and out of kung fu and a myriad of other dance styles. This is exemplified in the opening scene where we see Bruce flirt with a contemporary dancer (Kristin Faith Oei) by combining cha-cha with contemporary and then throwing in his martial arts skills, all while never losing his charm and spunk. The scene greatly endears Bruce to the audience and that enjoyment remains consistent throughout the show. 

The rest of the cast is solid as well, in particular Phoebe Strole as Linda, Bruce’s wife, and Clifton Duncan as James Coburn and various other parts. Strole is a delightful foil to Horibe, listening intently to Bruce’s passionate speeches and showing her indomitable inner strength just when Bruce needs it the most. As the only female lead, the more subtle female inner strength that Strole portrays is striking in a show dominated by the physical strength of men. Clifton Duncan is just a delightful comic presence and frequently stole whatever scene he was in with just a simple look. My one critique of the cast is that it needed more women. Aside from Strole, the only other woman was ensemble member Kristin Faith Oei. While I understand the focus on Bruce and his broken relationship with this father (a wonderfully nuanced and malicious Francis Jue), along with Bruce’s relationship with his son and his film career, the female presence was needed more.

Besides the overall wonderful cast, the real star of “Kung Fu” was the choreography by Sonya Tayeh and fight direction by Emmanuel Brown. Once again, the opening scene set the tone of the choreography, which frequently turned on a dime between various genres and styles of dance. The fighting itself was also a dance, exemplified in sparring scenes as well as the more structured fights, like a heart racing street fight representing Bruce’s early wild days in Hong Kong. Sometimes it was hard to tell when the fighting ended and the dancing began, which shows the attention to detail director Leigh Silverman gave to every second of the show. Particularly stirring were two scenes between Young Bruce and his father in Act One, which was then mirrored in Act Two with the older Bruce. There’s so much said – hope, desperation, anger, disappointment, contentment – in almost no words, just in the movement.

In combination with the choreography, the lighting design by Ben Stanton and the music composed by Du Yun skillfully set up transitions between scenes and times that quickly established the moods for each scene. One particular stand out was the brightly comic colors and bouncy fun music used to create the “Green Hornet” section of the show, which turned up the comic book cheesiness in a truly funny and amusing way.

“Kung Fu” is a delightfully funny piece of theatre that truly encapsulates the rise of a now international recognized hero. Do not miss “Kung Fu” a wonderful gem of theatre. “Kung Fu” opens on February 24 and is only running until March 30 on the Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre on 480 West 42ns Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Review By: Chrissy Cody

Photos By: Joan Marcus

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dinner With Friends @ Laura Pels Theatre

It’s About You, Your Friends and How You Change
Food is a basic element of life.  We need it to survive.  We celebrate with it, comfort with it and entertain with it.  Being such a close companion of human connection, it is always refreshing to see food given proper stage time.  Immediately we are drawn into a familiar world.  They eat – I eat. She chops garlic – my father chops garlic.  She devours dessert while sobbing–my best friend knocks back a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every time she’s fired.  Playwright Donald Margulies understands this.  He knows just how much food to serve the audience to entice them while dishing some delicious life questions along the way in “Dinner with Friends”.

Ever since Karen and Gabe played matchmaker with their friends Beth and Tom, the two couples have been inseparable – going to the Vineyard every summer, raising their kids and enjoying countless dinners together.  But when one marriage unexpectedly crumbles, the couples' lives begin to veer in opposite directions.  Can these four friends move on to the next chapter without moving apart… or have they changed beyond recognition?

Marguiles writing is a wonderful canvas on which the actors, under the direction of Pam Mackinnon, can paint.  The cast has perfect chemistry and each gives a steady performance.  Marin Hinkle colors Karen with such a wonderful, natural presence.  From the way Karen embraces Gabe to the way she rests her hand on the opposite shoulder while thinking, Hinkle breathes palpable life into this character.  Karen’s lines could very easily be delivered bone dry or sopping with sarcasm, but Hinkle finds a delicate balance and delivers them effortlessly.  Heather Burns brushes the character of Beth with subtle yet defining energy.  She easily blends the crazy artist with the discontented wife.  Darren Pettie does a beautiful job of blurring the lines.  Tom is a character the audience could easily turn against but Pettie instills such charm and charisma that we feel like he is our own best friend.  Jeremy Shamos as Gabe is a standout. He gave Gabe a true resonating reliability, sadness, and comfort.

The scenic design by Allen Moyer at the top of Act II was particularly striking.  Set in a kitchen in Martha’s Vineyard with a view of the sunset – a backdrop which seemed to be a large watercolor painting – the audience was stunned with vibrant colors and textures, giving quite a contrast to the rest of the play.  Since this scene took place twelve and a half years prior to Act I, it was a beautiful and creative transition for the flashback.

Dinner with Friends is as simple and as complex as real life. There is no immediate mystery to solve, no prince rescuing a maiden in distress and no eleven o’clock number; but it will fill your plate with familiar characters, topics and emotions. And it will leave you hungry for answers.
Dinner with Friends opened February 13.

Review by Staci Morin
Photos by: Richard Perry

Love and Information @ The Minetta Lane Theatre

New York Theatre Workshop presents an unusual and unique state-of-the-nation play, which examines, explores, celebrates and questions where we are in our contemporary society. Rather than giving us an answer or presenting a moral tale, Love and Information offers us snapshots of ourselves, existing, loving and figuring, and it is up to us to decide what we make of it. We are adrift in a sea of internet, religion, mathematics, communication, news, advertisements and Facebook. How does this affect our relationships? How does it affect our memories?

The cast of the New York Theatre Workshop production of Love and Information includes Phillip James Brannon, Randy Danson, Susannah Flood, Noah Galvin, Jennifer Ikeda, Karen Kandel, Irene Sofia Lucio, Nate Miller, Kellie Overbey, Adante Power, John Procaccino, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Maria Tucci, James Waterston and Zoë Winters. (Cast member bios may be found at the end of the press release.)
The production team is as follows: scenic design is by Miriam Buether; costume design is by Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood; lighting design is by Peter Mumford, sound design is by Christopher Shutt.

Love and Information opened February 19th at the The Minetta Lane Theatre located at 18 Minetta Lane.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Chocolate Show @47th Street Theatre

The smell of chocolate accosts the senses when walking into the intimate space of the 47th Street Theatre. The culprit? Dan Foster’s production of “The Chocolate Show”, book and music by Alan Golub and Laura Goldfader with lyrics by Alan Golub. And while the title of the show may lend itself to a certain high-brow intellectual atmosphere, don’t look for a deeper meaning because you won’t find one. The show features a five person cast, Emily McNamara, Laura D’Andre, Talene Monahon, Andrew Pandaleon, and James Patterson.  Filled with quirky comedic bits and chocolate themed musical numbers lathered in a farcical nature, the show caters to a younger audience and should not be placed on the radar of any spectator wishing to spend a sophisticated night at the theatre.
Heavy with audience participation, the show gives license to its audience members to embrace their inner child and be completely silly; to become kids again – in fact the song “Kid’s Again” sung sweetly by Talene Monahon was a musical highlight in this off-Broadway form of children’s theatre.  Also deserving special mention is Laura D’Andre. Together the pair made quite talented cupcakes. And while the onstage changes and noted skill of the cast of impressive singers stood out as creative and smooth, the overall world of the show is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Which then lends itself, in this opinion, to be a considered a work in progress chocolate themed pageant for kids. Even worse, the suffocating cheese ball charm is somewhat soured by the constant shameless plug advertising of the chocolate companies who have lent support to the production. At times the show seemed more infomercial than theatre. Yet, the children in attendance had fun, and the adults had fun watching the kids have fun, giving all an opportunity to embrace their inner child.  P.S. A special shout out to Noah – The King of the Coco Bean!
Recommended for family fun and children under 10, “The Chocolate Show” opens February 14th at the 47th Street Theater.
Review By: Morgan Mack and Lisa Kosak

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Correspondent @ Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Take a moment and imagine the slightly off-beat combination of W.W. Jacobs short horror story The Monkey’s Paw and the hit 1980’s movie Ghost.  You are now primed for the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s production of The Correspondent.
In The Correspondent a grieving husband, Philip Graves (Thomas Jay Ryan) hires a dying woman, Mirabel (Heather Alicia Simms) to deliver a message to his recently deceased wife in the afterlife.  When he receives letters describing events that only his wife could know, he must determine if the correspondence, delivered by a young man (Jordan Geiger), is from a con artist or actually from the beyond.
We find ourselves in an apartment building in the Beacon Hill area of Boston.  Here, in this perfectly livable set by Andrew Boyce, we find a voyeuristic window for the next ninety minutes.  From the coffered ceilings, to the built in bookshelves, to the floor to ceiling windows and outdoor environment, Boyce’s attention to detail truly shows through. With the copious and homey props from Ricola Willie and Julia Moreno, Beacon Hill finds a home in New York.
The cast attempts to portray the natural discomfort that occurs when strangers meet and discuss tragic emotions.  Through the direction of Stephen Brackett, they make minor strides with the somewhat unnatural and clumsy writing of Ken Urban.  Some small successes of the show are seen in the casual and realistic habits the actors portray, such as eating, drinking and looking at their cell phones.  This does not make up for the lack of comfort found in the flow of the dialogue.  The addition of the nudity and graphic sex scene seemed nothing more than an attempt to shock the audience, moving past the point of its effectiveness.
The true triumph belongs to the brilliant lighting and sound duo of Eric Southern and Daniel Kluger. Southern’s lighting is a beautifully dynamic work, giving a simple and natural effect of time passing in one moment and abruptly switching to a jarring light to grasp the viewer back into the action.  Putting Boyce's windows to great use, Southern brings the sunlight into the room the way day breaks through the window panes in our own homes.  Then like movie magic, he steals the sun away from us just moments later.  The addition of Kluger’s suspenseful and well placed sound keeps most of the audience awake enough to witness the conclusion of the story.
The Correspondent tries to keep us guessing to the end and does succeed in holding onto its secret, but the journey causes some of the audience to disengage.
Opening night is set for Thursday, February 13th and the show will run through Sunday, March 16th at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, between West 11 and Perry Streets.
Review by Paul David Morin

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Philosophy For Gangsters @ The Beckett Theatre @ Theater Row

A grisly family murder leads Italian gang member, Callie, to kidnap a college philosopher and put him to work in her mafia family’s business and at the forefront of a misguided revolution that reaches as high as the White House in the comedy Philosophy for Gangsters. On paper, the play promises a quirky, Jersey comedy, rich with stereotype humor; ending with a beautiful message disguised in laughter to appeal to the liberal arts freshman, hipster artists, and embittered college professors. In the flesh however, this comedy falls flat with missed cues, broken character work, and scene changes that were often longer than the scenes themselves. 

Australians Liz and Barry Peak wrote and directed Philosophy for Gangsters and while I admire their
idea of “a comedy that throws various popular culture myths, story forms and memes into a Mafia melting pot,”
a their writing style was sloppy for the stage. The amount of screen usage undermined the stage work and the 45 second scenes onstage were not enough for the audience to care about any of the characters. 

A play made up of secondary characters cannot illicit a reaction and I felt as if I were watching a sketch comedy show, not a two hour, two act comedy supposedly comprised of complex characters. That being said, David Demato (Eddie), tackled his character and was the only actor who made conscious choices, even if he did break character to laugh at an obviously ad libbed joke from his scene partner. 

The creative team is comprised of Julia Noulin-Mérat (scenic design), Sarah Cogan (costume design), Carl Wiemann(lighting design), M. Florian Staab (sound design) and Lauren Genutis (properties). Jessica Pollack is Production Stage Manager.

Art enables the freedom to be offensive and this play sets up for hilarity, but the political correctness of the script caused the jokes to fall flat. If you’re going to poke fun at anything, do it with conviction. 

Philosophy for Gangsters opened at The Beckett Theatre(west 42nd) and has a limited run through March 1st. 

Review By: Aziza Seven

Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

INTERVIEW: Dearblha Molloy from Outside Mullingar

Entertainment Hour’s own Staci Morin recently had the pleasure of  speaking with the very eloquent and worldly talent Dearbhla Molloy of Outside Mullingar. Dearbhla , an Irish actress of stage, film and television has been performing for 40 years. A veteran of Broadway and West End stages, Dearbhla earned a Tony nomination for Dancing at Lughnasa and also holds two Drama Desk Awards, a Theatre World Special Award, a London Critics Award, two Irish Theatre Awards, and a U.S. Audie Award. Here is what transpired between Staci and Dearbhla during a short, delightful conversation on a snowy day in February.
First of all let me say that my colleague and I thoroughly enjoyed Outside Mullingar as well as your performance in the show. Everything was fantastic- can you tell me what drew you to this piece?
Really it was John Patrick Shanley’s writing, his language. I wanted to see if I could make that language work for me. Because it’s not realistic, it’s poetic language. He kind of invented it slightly, in the same way that Synge invented language and Shaw attenuated language and  O’Casey did and Martin McDonagh. He is following a long line of Irish writers. I love language so I wanted to see if I could make that work.
What has been your favorite experience with this piece so far?
I like ensemble work. It’s the only interesting work that there is really because it’s like doing a concert, like doing a symphony, a piece of music.  Where everybody is serving the music itself, or in this case the play itself. They’re not serving their own ego. The four of us work terrifically well together and that’s an accident, that’s not always guaranteed. It’s just something to do with chemistry and you’re lucky if it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  But this time it did so that’s good.  It’s a really, really enjoyable part of it and continues to be a really enjoyable part of it. We’re a very close group of people.
Playing the character of Aoife have you faced any challenges with this particular role?
No I didn’t.  My mother is one of five sisters, so there’s always been somebody to base an Irish character on.  So I based this on an in-law. That was fun to do, to get a hold of the core of her. She was a woman who had a great sense of humor but you never quite knew if she meant to be funny or not.  So you could look at her and think she was extremely cross but in fact as you got to know her she was quite enjoying being a character who played being extremely cross.
During the talk back Brían F.O’Byrne mentioned the difference between an Irish play and an Irish American play.  Being Irish and having done multiple Irish and American plays how would you classify Outside Mullingar?
It’s certainly an Irish-American play for a whole lot of reasons,  not least is a view of the parts of Ireland that might not contemporaneously be recognized in Ireland.  It’s John Patrick Shanley’s  very specific view of Irishness, if you like. When I first read the play I thought if this hatched 50 years ago or 60 years ago it ‘s not the contemporary Ireland that I recognize. But that doesn’t annul  it in any way or  make it any the less, it’s just how he chose to frame it.
Is it true that John Patrick Shanley was involved during the rehearsal process of Outside Mullingar?
He was, very much so.  He was there for 3-3 1/2weeks. I thought he always did that with all his plays. But Brían said that during Doubt he was hardly there at all. One day I asked John why he had chosen to stay at rehearsal with this play(I thought it will be interesting to know the answer). In fact, he said the reason that he stayed was because he knew when he turned the play in it wasn’t finished. He was there to write and he did write as we went along. So he would watch what we were doing and then he’d write lines to fill in gaps that he saw. And I benefited particularly from that, or Aoife befitted particularly from that, because he gave me a lot of (what I like to call) “grace notes”. They were the things that allowed you,  the audience,  to know that she wasn’t just a funny abrasive next door neighbor but had some depth to her. So all that stuff about faith and the references to the death of her husband and all those kind of things he added in during rehearsal. It  made the character much more interesting to play and gave her dimension.
Having also worked on the Britain premier of  Shanley’s  Doubt, were there any standout similarities or differences with this process?
For me they felt very different because it felt like in Doubt, as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, you kind of have to play her in a particular way. She can’t have any doubts because if she does it doesn’t earn the end of the play.  The very last line of the play is “I have doubt”, so I felt that I didn’t have a huge amount of choice in the way that I could play it. Whereas in this play, I felt I could have made this character anything I wanted to.  She isn’t dictated by her story because her story doesn’t carry the play, it just supports the play.  So it gave me much more freedom.
In your words, how would you sum up the heartbeat of Outside Mullingar?
It’s about love. It’s absolutely about love. And I know that’s an almost hackneyed thing to say now, but it’s absolutely true. It’s a love story not only between two older-young people (Older meaning people in their 40’s, which is not usual.  Most love stories are about people in their 20’s), but it’s also a love story between a father and a son.  Love is completely at the heart of it and I think that’s why audiences respond to it.
Where does the character of Aoife fit into that pulse?
Much like Tony who is worried about his son Anthony, Aoife is concerned about her daughter and her daughter’s future.  Once she realizes that nothing will stop her daughter from getting Anthony, she has to trust that it will work out. There is a comfort in that because she knows that her daughter usually gets what she wants.  She does have faith that it will eventually work out and her daughter will find love. So it’s the same. She has the same kind of faith in the future that Tony does which he manifests in that speech on the death bed. He said ‘I have faith that you’ll find love’.
That sums up all of my questions, is there anything you would like to share with the readers of Entertainment Hour?
Just that Outside Mullingar seems to me to be a really good value play in terms of an evening at the theatre.  It’s both funny and moving and heartwarming and its feel good in the best possible sense. It’s not like eating candy; it’s got some depth to it as well.  And it’s got some lovely language, so I think it’s got everything. And it’s got terrific performances at the center of it!
Outside Mullingar opened January 23rd,2014 and is now playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.  To read Staci Morin’s review on Outside Mullingar please click here:  Outside Mullingar Review
Photos By: Joan Marcus, Walter McBride
Interview By: Staci Morin

Almost, Maine @ The Gym at Judson

   The delightful performance of Almost, Maine presented at The Gym at Judson by director Jack Cummings III was a complete treat to experience. Set in the not quite a town, of Almost, the audience was transported through different romantic situations for an off-beat, “almost”, romantic comedy. 
   The cast of four played a range of 21 characters who experience all stages of love: first love, broken hearts, marriage troubles, etc. Playwright, John Cariani starred as a series of male characters that are both heartwarming and socially awkward. His portrayal as Dave in the vignette “Seeing the Thing” was particularly lovable while, in “This Hurts,” his character, Steve was charming with an open honesty that left the audience applauding before the lights dimmed. 
   Kevin Isola’s and Donna Lynne Champlin created the perfect scenario of married couple exhausted by life. Their’s was the only story that resonated truthfully without the added illusion of new love in any form. Kevin’s performances were spot on as what seems to be the only normal male living in the town. Particularly interesting was his portrayal as Man in “Story of Hope.” 

   One of the best scenes was due to Donna Lynne Champlin and Kelly Mcandrew’s chemistry during “They Fell.” They truly captured the whimsical moment of falling in love and the audience was clearly captivated. Donna Lynn’s winning performance in the scene “Her Heart,” set the speed for her performances throughout the show. She was memorable in everything she performed, no matter the character. 

   Last, but certainly not least, was Kelly McAndrew as the other leading lady in the play. She played everything from the disappointed soon to be fiancee, to the newly discovered lesbian, to the heartbroken high school sweetheart with aplomb. Her mannerisms were spot on and different for each character, leading to believable moments among a cast that seem to share a different kiss with each scene. 

   Scenic design and lighting design by Sandra Goldmark and R. Lee Kennedy create the atmosphere or each scene. Both simple and enchanting, their work didn’t overpower the acting, but enhanced it.  
Charming, real, and not always containing a “happily ever after,” Almost, Maine rings true for all the ages. 

   Almost, Maine opened Januray 21st at the Gym at Judson located at 243 Thompson street in the West Village. Get your tickets here!

Review by Aziza Seven
Photos provided by Transport Group