Monday, June 30, 2014

The Religion Thing @ The Cell Theater

“The Religion Thing”, by Renee Calarco, directed by Douglas Hall, fell flat as a message medium and as a provocative catalyst for post-theater dinner gab, notwithstanding the relevant subject matter of interfaith marriage and more significant- the measure by which we define ourselves. It is a shame too because who of us cannot relate to the internal conflict of seeking our own bliss while also subjecting ourselves to cultural traditions and the difficulty in integrating the two?

The play performed at The Cell as a Project Y production opens with Glick’s (Curren Connor) stand-up monologue about the Amish rite of passage, Rumspringa. In so doing, we are led to believe this show will be a comedy where we poke fun at our religious traditions. His rightful conclusion that most adolescents return to be baptized into the faith foreshadows the interfaith marriage couple’s own struggle and eventual reconciliation of the distinct faiths they were born into, with the lives and partners they chose as individuals. However, its lack of meat made the tradition seem trivial as opposed to what it is: an honest struggle to choose a life path despite parental programming. Further, it would have more adequately been compared to Catholic confirmation or Bar/Bat Mitzva , and not to the grown-up turmoil of marriage and divorce.

Still thinking this to be a comedy, the next scene set in the swanky living room of Mo (Katherine McLeod) and Brian (Jamie Geiger) who are hosting Patti (Danielle O-Farrell) and Jeff (Andrew William Smith) revealed the central conflict in the play: Are we the sum of our choices and experiences, or are we who we choose to be and experience henceforth? Katherine does a sufficient job portraying the typical Type A, nearly 40 woman who was told and believed that she could have it all. And Jamie, whose portrayal of a 40 something, non-religious Jew living in an age of entitlement and indecision is certainly the most authentic of all the actors. Danielle and Andrew have zero chemistry together and I felt like I was watching a high school performance whenever they were on stage. It was confusing as an audience member if this was due to nervous actors, an inability to reach emotional depth, or the awkwardness of the unlikely pairing. After the scene, I was left wondering if the big reveal that Jeff is, was, might still be gay (what does that mean?) was more about it being Pride Week in NYC than anything relevant to a comedic play about interfaith marriages.

If we are to surmise, as the play intends that we can choose our path and that it can be the integration of all our individual conclusions about ourselves, it ought not to have been an issue that Jeff had chosen a woman as a life partner rather than a man regardless of why. And if it’s not a choice, why was it even placed in the construct of the interfaith challenges? Where were the Atheist and the Muslim and the potential fight over something meaningful like circumcision? Is it because that scenario lacks comedic implications?

Knowing what I know now would I still go see it? Yes. The venue is interesting and lends itself to layers of staging and direction. The tech was on cue which I appreciate as I feel that sound and lighting are part of the framework that provide structure whence the actor may shine. Further, Project Y is to be applauded for even attempting to broach the topic that has somehow been relegated to gauche in polite society despite it addressing the most fundamental aspect of being human- questioning the meaning of one’s life and place in the world. In closing, the use of Yael Ben-Zion’s photographic art displayed throughout deserves more than just a cursory glance and may provide for dessert dialog.

Review By: Michelle Seven
Photos By: Colin Hovde

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Lion @ New York City Center Stage II

Sometimes the best stories are the bitter-sweet memories we offer as lessons for others, no matter the cost in the telling. 

The Lion, both honestly written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, is among that precious group.  A story of growing up, physically and emotionally, of loss and of finding yourself, of seeing the world in all its shades of white and black, The Lion delivers an insightful monologue through its story and music.

In the beginning Scheuer approaches the stage very comfortable and casual. So casual that you may find yourself wondering if he harbors the ability to be as emotionally vulnerable as his script allows. However, as each story and each song unfolds so does Ben. Layer by layer Scheuer welcomes us deeper into some very personal and intimate details of his life.  By the end you will feel that you know him, that you were not at a show- but chatting with a close friend as he plunked around on his guitar while telling you secrets. This casualness is the beauty of Scheuer’s relationship with the audience, a refreshing breath of comfortable honesty rather than a dramatized spectacle.

Scheuer’s music, be it folk or rock, gets right to the core of his life, engaging us along.  Though sometimes simple in lyric and tune, Scheuer delivers his song with heart and genuine self, making it akin to a full orchestra of sound and pain and laughter and tears. This style of musicianship leaves audience members questioning if he has other recorded music out there to get (which he does of course).  

He artfully travels the stage, making use of his veritable army of guitars, as he travels through his own life.  The scenic design, by Neil Patel, was a perfectly un-intrusive studio space.  The apartment bore the precise detail to make it seem livable and it’s curved wall opened the focus for the three sided audience.  The walls were colored in just right to accent the simple but elegantly effective  lighting by Ben Stanton. Scheuer ’s pace and movement lent to an excellent flow to the short piece, a testament to Sean Daniels.

The Lion runs a little over an hour with no intermission, playing now through July 13th at MTC Stage II at the New York City Center.  The Lion is a must see thought-provoking masterpiece…but bring tissues for this one!

Review By: Staci Morin & Paul Morin
Photo By: Matthew Murphy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When I Was Young and Unafraid @ The Manhattan Theatre Club

On occasion, we as theatre goers, are given a gift, a brief interlude where we may experience something we'd never get to otherwise, through the expert storytelling of talent actors. Such is the case in When We Were Young and Unafraid. As bittersweet as its title suggests, this play takes you into the life of Agnes, a retired nurse who runs a Bed and Breakfast that also houses abused women before women's shelters existed in the US. 

Cherry Jones(Doubt) leads this talented cast as Agnes, retired nurse, mother, and business owner. Her daughter, Penny, played by Morgan Saylor(Disney’s McFarland) begins the show as a feminist spouting teenager and then devolves into a school skipping “normal” teenager more interested in boys than her schoolwork, with the bad advice of Mary Anne, played by Zoe Kazan(A Behanding in Spokane). Life for these women are directly effected by each other as well as the lone guest at the B&B, Paul, played by Patch Darragh(Our Town), and foul mouthed feminist revolutionary, Hannah, played by Cherise Boothe(Milk Like Sugar). 

Jones shines. Her compassion and heartbreak are palpable. You cannot help but admire her character. Despite being fired for her convictions, Agnes continued to create a safe place for abused women. When Mary Ann’s problems become personal though, she is forced to examine her feelings behind the women she protects. Jones’ unyielding serenity fills every moment in the play. Kazan holds her own as the emotionally and physically battered young wife of an abusive husband. Equally alluring and pathetic, Kazan makes you recoil from the stage even as you recognize yourself in the character. Boothe’s foul mouth, no nonsense attitude is a little hard to handle until she becomes surprisingly vulnerable. She is dedicated to her beliefs which could not be more apparent. The quips traded between her and Jones provide much needed laughter, reminding the audience that even in the hardest of times, there is still room for humor. Darragh’s character is both achingly average and revolting. A man so threatened by strong females, he cowers easily, while using subtle bullying to manipulate the situation. While not an abusive male, he is an unfortunate caricature of the “nice guy;” when, in reality he uses belittling to get what he wants. While her over enunciated consonants, inappropriate emphasis pauses, and slight over acting betray her naiveté when compared to the rest of her seasoned cast, Saylor has moments of vulnerability that show the potential of this young woman. If she would only slow down her sentences so that they might be understood, I would have enjoyed her performance more. As it is, Saylor has the capacity to be a great actress. 

Directed by Tony Award Winning director, Pam MacKinnon(Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), When We Were Young and Unafraid is a must see. The show is running through August 10th, so be sure to get your tickets here! 

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fly By Night @ Playwrights Horizons/The MainStage Theater

 Fly By Night is an off-beat bittersweet love story set against the backdrop of the 1965 blackout on the east coast. Filled with original music and well scripted dialogue, this musical is a refreshing piece that leaves the audience hungry for romance and surprisingly hopeful in the face of reality.

Conceived by Kim Rosenstock(Tigers Be Still) and written by Will Connolly (performer, Once), Michael Mitnick (Sex Lives of Our Parents, the upcoming film The Giver) and Ms. Rosenstock, Fly By Night explores the life of melancholy sandwich maker, Harold(Chanler-Berat), after his path crosses with two equally enchanting, but different sisters, Miriam(Case) and Daphne(Murin).

The cast features Allison Case(Mamma Mia!)Adam Chanler-Berat(Next to Normal, Peter and the Starcatcher)Tony Award nominee and Obie Award winner Peter FriedmanMichael McCormick(Chaplin)Patti Murin(Lysistrata Jones), Drama Desk Award nominee Bryce Ryness(First Date) and Obie Award winner Henry Stram(Titanic, The Crucible).

This show was filled with a great deal of talent. Stram's classical training shows as he morphed into several different genders, ages, and ethnicities. Each of his characters were different from the other and despite him not changing costume at any point during the show, his switches were seamless and complete. Murin and Case were exquisite as the sisters. Chanler-Berat brought his quirky charm to stage. Friedman was incredibly memorable as Harold's father, while Ryness' grumpiness added to the "hum drumness" of Harold's life as the sandwich maker's boss. 

Directed by Carolyn Cantor (The Great God Pan and After the Revolution at PH; ArlingtonPumpgirl) and choreographed by Sam Pinkleton (Mr. Burns at PH; Natasha, Pierre…). The production features scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Tony Award winner Paloma Young, lighting design by Tony Award winner Jeff Croiter and sound design by Ken Travis and Alex Hawthorn.  The FLY BY NIGHT band is Foe Destroyer.  Musical Director is Vadim Feichtner.  Production Stage Manager is Kyle Gates.

Fly by Night officially opens at the Playwright's Horizons in their Mainstage Theatre on June 11 and runs until June 29th. Do yourself a favor and go see this beautiful show before it closes.  Get your tickets here! 

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

2014 Tony Awards

Best Musical
*A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
After Midnight
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
*Jessie Mueller, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Mary Bridget Davies, A Night with Janis Joplin
Sutton Foster, Violet
Idina Menzel, If/Then
Kelli O'Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

Best Revival of a Musical
*Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Les Misérables

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

*Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
Andy Karl, Rocky
Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Best Revival of a Play
*A Raisin in the Sun
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Glass Menagerie
Twelfth Night

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
*Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
Howell Binkley, After Midnight
Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County

Best Lighting Design of a Play

*Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Jane Cox, Machinal
Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men

Best Play
*All The Way
Act One 
Casa Valentina 
Mothers and Sons
Outside Mullingar

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
*Bryan Cranston, All The Way
Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night
Chris O'Dowd, Of Mice and Men
Mark Rylance, Richard III
Tony Shalhoub, Act One

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
*Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

Best Costume Design of a Play
*Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night
Jane Greenwood, Act One
Michael Krass, Machinal
Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina

Best Costume Design of a Musical
*Linda Cho, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway
Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Isabel Toledo, After Midnight

Best Choreography

*Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin 
Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
*Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun
Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
Mare Winningham, Casa Valentina

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

*James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
Danny Burstein, Cabaret
Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway
Joshua Henry, Violet
Jarrod Spector, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Best Direction of a Play
*Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun
Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie

Best Direction of a Musical
*Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Leigh Silverman, Violet

Best Book of a Musical
*Robert L Freedman, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Chad Beguelin, Aladdin
Douglas McGrath, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Woody Allen, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
*Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Linda Emond, Cabaret
Anika Larsen, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
*Mark Rylance, Twelfth Night
Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
*Christopher Barreca, Rocky
Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Scenic Design of a Play

*Beowulf Boritt, Act One
Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
Es Devlin, Machinal
Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Best Orchestrations
*Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway
Steve Sidwell, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
*The Bridges of Madison County
Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brow

Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Music: Steven Lutvak
Lyrics: Robert L. Freedman & Steven Lutvak
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey

Best Sound Design of a Play
*Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
Matt Tierney, Machinal

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
Tim O'Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Mick Potter, Les Misérables
*Brian Ronan, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Recipients of Awards and Honors in Non-competitive Categories

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre

Jane Greenwood

Regional Theatre Award

Signature Theatre, New York, N.Y.

Isabelle Stevenson Award

Rosie O’Donnell

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre

Joseph P. Benincasa
Joan Marcus
Charlotte Wilcox

Please Vist & for a complete list of winners from some of Broadway's other leading awards - including The Drama Desk Awards, Critics' Circle Awards, and more . . .

Thursday, June 5, 2014

When January Feels Like Summer @ The Ensemble Studio Theatre

The partnership of The Ensemble Studio Theater and Page 73 Productions starts this reviewer’s theater season off on just the right foot,.
When January Feels Like Summer follows five diverse Central Harlem residents as they collide during one strangely warm winter, when a feeling of change hums in the air.  Though everyday encounters on the subway and in the corner bodegas a pair of teenagers becomes unexpected heroes, an immigrant accountant embraces transformation, and two lonely soles begin to stumble toward each other.”
When January Feels Like Summer is a wonderfully smart bit of writing by Cori Thomas.  Her characters are a perfect blend of ridiculous and believable, causing delight and heartache in the same breath.  It is no surprise with material such as this that the cast excels as well.  Maurice Williams (Devaun) and J Mallory McCree (Jeron) are hilarious together.  Their innocent ignorance allows them to deliver what could otherwise be offensive dialogue as comedy gold.  Dion Graham (Joe) plays a wonderfully mild mannered everyman, who quietly lends compassion and relateability to the audience.  Mahira Kakkar (Nirmala) subtly builds emotional confusion in her character, culminating in a truly crazed release.  Even among these brilliant performances, Debargo Sanyal (Ishan/Indira) rises skyward.  Sanyal’s portrayal was as moving as it was humorous, often at the same time.  His stylized character reactions leave you disarmed with laughter, lending greater strength to the vulnerability he has a moment later.  To not empathize with him is to be heartless.
In case there wasn’t enough delight in the cast and writing, the direction, set and lighting add even more to this ensemble work.  Jason Simm’s set is a wonderful use of the space; seamlessly transforming in seconds and giving the detail that even lifelong New Yorker’s will appreciate.  Add to that the flowing stage movement from director Daniella Topol, the simple precision of lighting by Austin R Smith and the great prop work by Andrew T Chandler and we are transported around the city with casual ease.
When January Feels Like Summer is a must see!  This stellar production will leave you awe struck.

Review by: Paul Morin

Photos by: Gerry Goodstien

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Killer @ The Polonsky Shakespeare Center @ The Theatre for New Audience

Confusion, murder, disorder and farce create a mysterious world where you never know what’s waiting just around the corner. The Killer is an enigmatic production led by Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon and guided by director Darko Tresnjak.
The Killer writted by Eugène Ionesco, with a translation by Michael Feingold, tells the story of Berenger (Shannon), an everyman who encounters a “Radiant City” which seems too good to be true. It is – there is a serial murderer wandering the streets, and the city officials have given up on actually apprehending him. But Berenger’s quest to stop the murderer leads him down some interesting paths.
Oscar nominated Michael Shannon stars in this production and is an incredible grounding element in a story full of strange and shadowy elements. He deftly weaves in and out of varying moods and physical shifts, skipping around and turning cartwheels one minute and morosely slumped over the next. He keeps the production from going completely over the top.
Other acting stand-outs were Kristine Nielson as the Concierge/Ma Piper and Robert Stanton as The Architect. Nielson brought a sharp burst of humor into the second and third acts that deftly sharpened the tone of humor. Her antics were written as over the top, but Nielson skillfully grounded her characters in a way that most of the cast didn’t accomplish. Stanton was wonderful in the first act as The Architect, a salesperson like bureaucrat whose easy-going charm entices both Berenger and the audience to the delights of the Radiant City. I was saddened to have him benched offstage after the first act.
The Killer was carefully directed by Darko Tresnjak. As he noted in the program, the script was “smothered in instructions.” And there was a lot in the script – light directions, sound directions, turn tables, entrances from all angles and so much more. I particularly loved the slight 4th wall breakings that would happen from time to time – ideally suited for the space which has the audience on three sides of the stage. To find the focus in that is an amazing feat, especially in a show that clocks in at a little over three hours. And the script doesn’t let the time pass quickly, particularly in the last act, with a 15-20 minute speech by Berenger that Tresnjak moved along a bit with clever shifts of staging. The sound and lighting design by Jane Shaw and Matthew Richards, respectfully, was wonderfully integrated into the telling of the story.
In such a purposefully cacophonous production, some elements didn’t have the chance to really come together. Some of the acting was a bit stiff and absurd without proper motivation or reasoning which lead to emotional disconnect. The thing that most stuck out to me was the makeup job on Edward (Paul Sparks). In a production full of lovely subtle production design, why Edward’s makeup featured white foundation and heavy eyeshadow that made him look like a poor man’s Penguin is beyond me.
All in all, The Killer is a mysterious show that makes for an interesting night out at the theatre. Michael Shannon and director Darko Tresnjak are pulling out all the stops and for that, The Killer makes its mark.
The Killer will be running through June 29th at the Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center on 262 Ashland Place in Brooklyn.

Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Gerry Goodstien