Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2, and 3 @The Public Theater @ The Anspacher Theater

While hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the bloodiest war in its history, there was an emotional war brewing in the hearts and minds of African American slaves in the South. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks gathered these narratives to create an interesting twist on the unfortunately familiar story of slavery in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of Father Comes Home from the Wars

Daring to question any definition of freedom, Suzan-Lori Parks crafted a tale of a strong and capable slave, Hero (Sterling K. Brown), and his strict adherence to morality. Hero oddly believed that it was his moral obligation to remain a slave and not run. Hero reasoned that his monetary worth stopped him from "stealing" his independence. 

This welcome twist had me interested from the start. History aside, I have never considered such a moral dilemma before. The consequences of Hero's blind following of his inner compass affected everything in his life and made for a compelling story. 
Director Jo Bonney brought this tale to life with the help of Scenic Designer Neil Patel, Costume Designer Esosa, and Lighting Designer Lap Chi Chu. Nestled near a modest cabin, the stage brought me to a modest Texas planation in the early spring of 1862 in Parts 1 and 3 and in 2, a camp in late summer where the cabin was replaced with a small wooden cell.

Music Director Steven Bargonetti accentuated each mood change with a strum of his guitar and the occasional welcome tune, which was acknowledged and sometimes even joined by cast members. Namely, the Chorus of Less Than Desirable Slaves, Russell G. Jones, Julian Rozzell Jr., Tonye Patano, and Jacob Ming-Trent. 

Each slave gambled on Hero's choice of whether or not to follow their master to war. They roused laughter and pulled me into a world where the wager of a simple spoon or boot has more worth than any other. The band of less than desirables may have used some 21st Century language but this did not diminish their presence.

The Oldest Old Man and Hero's adopted father was played by Peter Jay Fernandez. This oldest man was a proud and concerned father with unsteady hands, a long gray beard, the inability to hold back thoughts and a modern pair of crocs. Fernandez was the first character to question liberty and its price: Should Hero turn away from this war if he is promised freedom at its end? 

Penny (Jenny Jules), Hero's lover, questioned him further and helped to create this overtone of liberation. Should Hero refuse and take a stand against the Confederate mission to preserve slavery? Jenny Jules attempted to manipulate Hero’s principles and her chemistry with Brown made the exchange more captivating.

Homer, played by Jeremie Harris, was a character whose presence was a constant reminder to Hero of his choices. Harris' dynamic with Brown was that of palpable hostility. This negativity was a pull away from Hero’s belief that running is stealing, but not strong enough to change his mind.

I wanted to see how Hero's morality held against a stronger onslaught. Louis Cancelmi played Smith, a captive Union soldier who began this attack. Surely a Union soldier with his own freedom and tales of a better land could rattle Hero's resolve? Cancelmi portrayed a free “white” man wrestling with Hero’s choice to remain a slave with poise.

My fascination with Hero's belief system and the general overtone of self-determination was mildly slowed by Ken Marks' character, Hero's owner. Marks, a Colonel in the Rebel Army, attempted and succeeded in emulating the convictions of the white male population of the Confederacy at large. Marks effortlessly embodied white supremacy, the belief in the importance of the spread of slavery and even muttered “Thank God I was born a white man.” This was, however, a lot to fit into one character.

The comic relief was Hero's Dog, Odyssey, hilariously played by Jacob Ming-Trent. Revealing himself in Part 3, this surprisingly talking dog expertly drew the air from my lungs. A dog for Hero to have dominion over, Ming-Trent retells Hero's tale with a wagging tail of his own. 
Both believable and thought-provoking, Sterling K. Brown's rendition of Hero was well done. The story of slavery has been told in many ways and often it is mired with a history lesson--lacking freshness. Hero's unique moralistic qualities had a new fragrance.

I enjoyed The Public Theater in association with American Repertory Theater's presentation of Father Comes Home from the Wars. It made me question my own ethical framework and definitions of freedom. Albeit, I would have further enjoyed it if the theme was more concentrated on its unique aspects.   

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Disgraced @ The Lyceum Theatre

Bravo Kimberly Senior, director of Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar. How gutsy are you to dare to challenge an audience with such brazen ideas as: maybe the US had some culpability in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 or, that Muslims are the new “niggers”. Wow! Talk about shocking. People don’t even suggest such things in the privacy of their own homes, in the company of close was demonstrated in the staged dinner party on the fateful evening when secrets were revealed and lives changed forever.

But it wasn’t the revelation of the secrets themselves that was so horrifying; it was how the words spoken mirrored the inner thoughts we all have but don’t wish to admit to ourselves or our loved ones. And those thoughts, though intentionally provocative, only served to demonstrate how in this society, this so-called “free society”, we are trapped by convention and fear- damned if we do; damned if we don’t. Does one perpetuate the lie he lives, thereby being accused of duplicity; does she accept that which she’s not earned, taking full advantage of a work places need for a “token”? What is worse- to live a lie and get what we want, or be honest and lose what we never really had? Seems easy enough, except that we are all liars- made so by the conventions of so-called “polite society” which is really just a cover-up- gracious hospitality has replaced plain old grace which is the one thing needed for us to truly get along and which was lacking by all of the characters in this must-see play.

Hari Dhillon as Amir endears us with his all-too-pitiful desire to please and then takes us straight into an abyss that is his innermost sanctuary as he plays the accuser and accused. Gretchen Mol gives a believable performance as Emily, a waspy liberal whose naiveté would be charming if it wasn’t so self-serving. Danny Ashok, Hussein, AKA “Abe” provides a fair representation of a twenty-something whose youthful bliss is at odds with the harsh realities for a young Arab man in post 911 era in the US. Playing opposite of the couple are Josh Radnor as Issac, a pretentious and weak-willed man whose apparent strong convictions are simply a mimicry of what society has told him to believe. Conveniently, his wife, played by the gorgeous and talented Karen Pittman as Jory, lets him be pretty with his pictures while she clearly and unapologetically claws her way to the top of the law firm where she and Amir are associates. 

The Lyceum Theatre is the oldest in the City and is charming with its reflection of the lavishness of turn-of-the-century New York. Seats and loos are tiny so leave your shopping bags elsewhere. I will be very surprised if this does not win a Tony for best production, direction, acting. If it doesn’t, meh, blame it on the Jews. And if you think that comment is inappropriate, you better buckle up because that’s nothin’!

Review written by: Michele Seven
Pictures by: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Fortress of Solitude @ The Public Theater @ The Newman Theater

The Public Theater bills itself as the “only theater in New York that produces Shakespeare and the classics, musicals, contemporary and experimental pieces in equal measure.” As such, the theater takes more risks than more commercial theatres and this is readily apparent in the world premiere of The Fortress of Solitude, a new musical written by Itamar Moses, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, that bends reality and fantasy to tell a unconventional coming of age story of two boys growing up in Brooklyn in the late 1970s-and what happens after those boys are all grown up.
The Fortress of Solitude revolves around Dylan Ebdus (Adam Chanler-Berat), a boy whose parents move him into Gowanus, Brooklyn at a young age, because his mother Rachel (Kristen Sieh) feels that Brooklyn is where things were going to happen. At first, Dylan feels ostracized by being one of the only white boys on the block, he quickly develops a strong friendship with his neighbor, Mingus Rube (Kyle Beltran) after Rachel suddenly leaves her husband and son with no intention of coming back, unbeknownst to Dylan. Mingus’s father Barrett Rude Junior (Kevin Mambo) used to be a successful R&B singer, but now only sings back-up. Dylan and Mingus are close friends, playing and putting Mingus’s graffiti “tag” everywhere they can, until life and tragedy drive them apart.
The performances in general are top notch. Adam Chanler-Berat deftly leads the fairly large cast with his normal adorkable charm and flawless vocals. He nimbly ages Dylan from a young boy to a young man with subtlety, and showing all the emotional highs and lows skillfully. Kyle Beltran also shows an amazing journey from awkward child to a beaten-down young adult in a masterful way, reminiscent at times of Donald Glover in Community. The most vocally impressive was Kevin Mambo as Junior-his voice made my hair stand up, and hit amazing heights every time he sang a note, particular when he first shows off those tones in “Superman.” The ensemble is wonderful too, stepping in and out of multiple roles and vocal styles with ease. Particular praise goes to the Greek chorus, the Subtle Distinctions (Britton Smith, Akron Watson, and Juson Williams). The only slight misstep in the story was the characters of Dylan’s parents (Sieh & Ken Barnett), neither of who were really distinctive in the narrative, so the audience doesn’t really seem to care about them. Thematically it makes sense to have Rachel stick around in Dylan’s subconscious, particularly in a musical, but at times she seemed unnecessary and boring.
The music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, most know for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson are both contemporary and era appropriate mixes of emotion and passion. The music really drives the story on, as good musical theatre should do. No song particularly stands out, particularly since many blend together, making it hard to figure out where one ends and another began, but none are clunkers either. One particular lyric in “The One I Remember” sums up the music with the ine “Everyone’s singing a different song / But if they all sing together / it can’t be wrong.” And the mix of songs really does work well together, weaving in and out of Itmar Moses’s book, guided by the smooth and careful direction of Daniel Aukin.

Officially opening on October 22, The Fortress of Solitude is only running at the Public Theatre until November 2, so get your tickets now to see this fierce and awesome new musical.
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Belle of Amherst @ The Westside Theater (Upstairs)

If you have ever wanted to have an intimate conversation with Emily Dickinson, you now have the chance in The Belle of Amherst.
In The Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson welcomes audiences into her lifelong Amherst homestead in mid-19th century Massachusetts. While Dickinson found solace in solitude through much of her life, acclaimed playwright William Luce weaves her poems, diaries, and letters into a one-woman portrait of one of America’s greatest and most prolific poets, mixing Dickinson’s encounters with close friends and family with the poet’s own, often amusing observations.
Playwright William Luce completely embraces and compliments the language and poetry of Emily Dickinson with The Belle of Amherst. Through his writing, Luce is able to take the audience on an interesting, heartfelt and quirky journey through Dickinson’s life. The play begins with Emily (Joely Richardson) welcoming us (the audience) into her home as if we are established friends. The conversation is casual and also intimate, though Richardson is the only person speaking in this one woman performance. Luce also incorporates multiple memories of Dickinson that are acted out through a solitary “dialogue”. He should be applauded not just for his witty use of Dickinson-like speech and the thought provoking depth he gives to Emily, but also for the excellent ways he weaves in the works of Dickinson.
Joely Richardson as Emily Dickinson is a delight to watch on stage. She has the perfect blend of grace and humility that captivates the audience. Performing for 100 minutes alone on stage is no easy feat, but Richardson is more than up to the challenge. Even though it seems she may have had a bit of a cold, Richardson still harnesses and evokes the passion that Emily had for the written word. Director Steve Cosson gave Richardson a lot of room to unfold her character. Though it was just her on stage, the set never felt empty or overbearing. Cosson and Richardson together explored every corner of Emily’s space and brought it into motion.
The beautiful scenic design by Antje Ellerman is simplistically detailed. For example, the wall paper which contains birds (one of Emily’s favorite creatures) is a subtle and appropriate nod to the heroine.  The lighting design by David Weiner flatters Ellerman’s scenic design wonderfully and also offers a surprise for the audience. Richardson’s costume by William Ivey Long is tasteful and elegant. Long’s ivory palette also enhances Weiner’s lighting design. All these elements with Luce’s book, Dickinson’s poetry, Richardson’s fire and Cosson’s vision meld together and present a lovely night with Emily.  
If you are longing for romanticized and eloquent language delivered to you through the stage, be sure to see The Belle of Amherst. After all- “the heart wants what it wants” ~ Emily Dickinson

Review By: Staci Morin

Friday, October 17, 2014

Big @ York Theater Company

When thinking of a musical named “Big,” audiences wouldn’t immediately think of a bare-bones production in a very intimate theater.  However, the York Theatre Company’s production of Big (which is part of their Fall 2014 Mufti Series) definitely delivers a performance that is anything but small.
Every kid dreams of the life they’ll have when they’re grown up, and Big, the musical adaptation of the 1988 classic comedy film, sets out to show that growing up isn’t always as great as it seems.  Big tells the magical story of Josh (Hayden Wall), a twelve-year-old boy who makes a wish on a carnival machine to be grown up.  When his wish comes true, he finds a job with a toy company owned by George MacMillan (Richard Maltby, Jr.) and meets the jaded Susan (Kerri Butler), a woman whose poor luck in love has gotten the better of her.  Of course, the now “big” Josh (John Tartaglia) soon learns that the perks of being grown up don’t come without some downsides.
Though the cast took the show from script to stage in less than two days, every individual gave a bright and energetic performance, and they all clearly had a great time.  Tartaglia brings humor and refreshing sincerity to Josh, a child suddenly in a grown man’s body.  Butler shines from the moment she enters as Susan, and shows great depth as she takes the character from a cold executive to a jaded woman who had forgotten how wonderful life could be.  Of course, Janet Metz gives an endearing and emotional portrayal of Josh’s mother, a woman who suddenly found herself dealing with the disappearance of her child.  Jeremy Shinder gives a solid comedic performance as Josh’s pre-teen friend Billy.  Finally, it is worth noting that Maltby, known for being a director and lyricist, gave a commendable performance as MacMillan, the kind-hearted owner of a huge toy corporation.  Maltby was added to the cast following a last-minute cancellation, and was a welcome addition.
The rest of the cast (James Ludwig, Rhyn Saver, Tom Lucca, Elainey Bass, Liam Forde, Trista Dollison, and Whitney Brandt) each play multiple characters, and give fun and enjoyable performances in each unique role they take on.
Overall, the cast of this stripped-down production of Big, under the direction of Michael Unger and the musical direction of Eric Svejcar, gives audiences an unexpectedly satisfying treat that certainly lives up to its name.

Review By: Jacob R. Hines

Sunday, October 12, 2014

While I Yet Live @ The Duke on 42nd Street

All families have some sort of degree of dysfunction to them, and most of the time, those families try to make the best of that dysfunction and still find happiness and peace. “While I Yet Live” showcases one particularly dysfunctional, and yet resilient, family, inspired by the real life experience of playwright Billy Porter.
“While I Yet Live” tells the story of a family living in Pittsburgh, where amongst a host  strong women, Calvin (Larry Powell) a young gay man is trying to become the man he wants to be-which just so happens to be a gay man who loves musical theatre in a very Christian house. But that’s not the only issue brewing-everyone has secrets and is fighting their own battle-against cancer, disability, abuse, old feuds, or just trying to live their own life. The house is run by Maxine (S. Epatha Merkerson), but there are a plethora of women living their lives there as well, including Calvin’s younger sister, Tonya (Sheria Irving), grandmother Gertrude (Lillias White), great-aunt Delores (Elain Graham), friend of the family Eva (Sharon Washington) and Maxine’s husband Vernon (Kevyn Morrow). Each character is a realistic, vibrant character fully realized by each of the actors.
All of the performers are obviously skilled, deftly navigating the heavy dramatic moments of the show with the comedic moments that maintain the constant hope and love the family dynamic brings. Sheria Irving was a particular standout, transitioning smoothly between narrator, a young girl, and growing up into a young woman with ease and great specificity. S. Epatha Merkerson does a wondrous job of maintaining faith and poise in difficult situations, without ever forgetting about humor. Some particular escapades with a motorized scooter were particularly effective.
The script itself very neatly walks the line between intense drama and some more light-hearted moments. Especially evident is the great love and respect Porter has for every single character-none are neglected by the narrative and each have a chance to shine. The direction by Sheryl Kaller, is neatly done. While the action may be in one room of the house, there is always something happening in other rooms, so that the visual is always interesting and dynamic. The other design elements of the play like the wonderful set design by James Noone, coupled with costume design by Esosa, lighting design by Kevin Adams, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg.
“While I Yet Live” deftly walks the line between heart wrenching drama and lovely moments between a close family. Playing for a limited six week engagement at The Duke on 42nd Street, don’t miss it.
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: James Leynse

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Only A Play @ The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

It’s Only A Play is a star-studded comedy revival about the ups and downs of a new play’s opening night on Broadway.  Originally, the play ran off-Broadway in 1986, but the highly topical, name-dropping jokes couldn’t have been updated more perfectly.  It’s Only a Play tracks a group of show people through an evening of anxiously awaiting reviews for Broadway’s newest flop of a play.
At start, curtains rise on the opening night party for “The Golden Egg,” a new American play written by the hopeful, though somewhat overly so, Peter Austin (Matthew Broderick). The director of the play is British golden boy Frank Finger (Rupert Grint), who can apparently do no wrong by critics.  The play is produced by the spacey and spastic first-time producer Julia Budder (Megan Mullaly), and stars the ankle monitor-toting actress Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing).  Of course, the television star, James Wicker (Nathan Lane), for whom the leading role was written is in attendance, as is the aspiring-actor-slash-coat-boy, Gus (Micah Stock).  Finally, it wouldn’t be a proper party if the least receptive theatre critic, Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham), weren’t in attendance.
The plot is fairly straightforward, depicting the hours immediately following the play’s opening in Budder’s gorgeously designed (thanks to Scott Pask) New York bedroom.   As the characters await the reviews for the new play, friendships are tested, lessons are learned, and, most importantly, hilarity ensues.  The comedic style of the play depends highly on at least a somewhat basic knowledge of theatre personalities and celebrities.  The play generates the most laughs at the expense of names like Kelly Ripa, Shia LaBeouf, and Harvey Firestein.  These jokes, which in the original production were references to celebrities of the 1980’s, have been perfected to be timely and fitting for new audiences.
As for the performers themselves, it’s amazing to see so many huge personalities on stage at the same time.  Lane, Channing, and Mullaly particularly shine, showing off their comedic chops with perfectly timed and delivered zingers.  Abraham delivers what is perhaps the most welcome surprise as the critic, who, despite his reputation as a brutal snob, can be downright zany.  Perhaps the only two disappointments in my mind were Stock, who has either chosen to be the most brutally awkward character to appear on stage or simply isn’t comfortable quite yet in his role, and Broderick, whose ostentatiousness is difficult to grow accustomed to in a room full of such sharp and immediately likeable comedic personalities.  It is worth noting, though, that Broderick’s performance is wonderful once you become accustomed to it.  It is also worth mentioning that at two and a half hours, the runtime may seem somewhat long, especially considering (as the title suggests) it’s only a play.
Overall, It’s Only a Play shines as a comedy about an evening with the best people in the world, theatre people.  It shows the moments of suspense leading up to the first reviews, and gives the audience a great variety of hilarious personalities to entertain them.  Anyone who loves the theatre, and has at least some idea who Harvey Firestein is, will likely find themselves thoroughly satisfied.

Review By: Jacob R. Hines
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Indian Ink @ The Laura Pels Theatre

Indian Ink, playing at the Laura Pels Theatre paints a fragrant view of a 1930’s love affair in India where the stakes were high and the temperatures more so. Playwright Tom Stoppard (The Real Inspector Hound) provides a beautiful structure for the characters to laugh and have joy amidst the tragedies that envelop their lives, not because of them, but in spite of them. The set design and lighting transcend us from the basement of the playhouse to an exotic land where the taste of forbidden fruit is to be both worshipped as well as cause for disgrace.
Rather than describe the reasons why you should go see this gorgeous and erotic production, let me elucidate the reasons why the reviewers who “didn’t get it” didn’t get it. They are emotionally stagnant; they’re accustomed to in-your-face, pornographic, over-the-top, let us tell you what you need to think and feel storylines…oh but they are excited about Rosemary Harris because their first year drama teacher told them to be; and most importantly, they’ve not experienced the juxtaposition of circumstances that life offers us if we are at all daring. Screw them. See the play. It’s smoldering as restraint confines desire and longing.

The costuming and props were simple and honest which was in stark contrast to the reality of the tellers of the tale who told more with what they didn’t say than what they did. I loved it! And obviously the audience of seasoned theater-goers did as well as they applauded at intermission- something I’ve not experienced but once or twice in many years of seeing shows.
Directed by Carey Perloff are Rosemary Harris (The Road to Mecca) as Eleanor Swan who is the beloved of her departed sister, Flora Crewe played by Romola Garai (I Capture the Castle). Though separated by two different worlds, they share verve and an acceptance of their life’s limitations whilst living more, within those limitations, than the entire rest do without. The best thing that the men in the performance do is provide a structure for these ladies just as a canvas gives a platform for a painting- without it, there can be no real art. Bravo men for having the fancy footwork directed by dance captain, Claire Brownell, be mirrored in the way you beautifully provide a frame to allow these women to dance and twirl.
Put up by the Roundabout Theatre Company, the show runs through November 30 and should be seen by lovers and romantics alike.

Review By: Michele Seven

Photos By: Joan Marcus

Can Can @ The Paper Mill Playhouse

An old Cole Porter classic finds it was over to Papermill this fall. Can-Can delivers thrilling combat, stunning talent and the highest kicks you have ever seen. Kate Baldwin leads this high flying cast in a production that would make Cole Porter proud. 

Set in the year 1893, Can-Can tells the tale of Paris dance hall owner, La Mome Pistache, and her battle with a self-rightious judge, Aristide, who is determined to shut her business down. The sexy Can-Can dance has become popular and Judge Aristide is determined to stop it. When Judge Aristide investigates the Bal du Paradis, La Mome Pastache seduces him and the two eventually fall in love. By the time her case comes to trial, Aristide has had a change of heart and works to win her acquittal.

Kate Baldwin leads the cast as Madame Pistache, the owner of the Paris dance hall.  Baldwin knocks this performance out of the park. She was sincere, strong and sexy, and has the vocal talent of a god. Jason Danieley played Aristide, the new judge in town the is trying to shut down Madame Pistache's night club. Daniely's performance started out rocky but as the show went on, he won the audience over with his smooth baritone vocals. Overall this cast was extremely well developed, each person had a equally memorable character, a truly strong performance by all.

The one person who truly deserves a bow every night would have to be Patti Colombo, choreographer. Colombo created an exciting display of organized chaos which left the audiences jaws on the floor.

Can-Can opened at Paper Mill Playhouse on October 5th, 2014 and plays through October 26th, 2014. Hurry up and get your tickets for this Broadway ready performance. 

Review By: James Russo
Photos By: Matthew Murphy

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Country House @ The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

In the midst of tragedy and heartache, we can find ourselves focused inward in a way, which to the outside observer, seems ridiculously narcissistic, but in fact, is a survival mechanism- some things are just too painful to feel. Blythe Danner (Butterflies Are Free) as Anna Patterson, joins her family at the anniversary of her daughter’s death of cancer in The Country House by Donald Margulies. Ms. Danner elegantly walked that fine line of self-respect with vulnerability and self-centered, emotional detachment, demonstrating a sublime womanness.
Playing her funny and sassy, college-age grand-daughter, Susie, is Sarah Steele (Slowgirl). There was a fun and authentic play between the senior and junior actors. She will be a fun one to watch. Her deceased mother’s brother, Uncle Elliot, is played by Eric Lange (“Weeds”). He courageously dove right off the cliff and into the abyss of self-loathing, taking us with him and everyone else too, including his brother-in-law Walter Keegan, played by David Rasche (Lunch Hour), blockbuster movie maker who has “sold out” and ended up with the money and the girl. The girl just so happens to be the one Elliot has always wanted, Nell McNally. Katie Jennings Grant (The Lyons) had a difficult task. It cannot be easy to be “the replacement” to a woman who had been loved and adored by all but she utilizes grace and humility to do so with aplomb. And in the midst of this family chaos is the dashing Michael Astor played by Daniel Sunjata (Cyrano de Bergerac) who was loved by three generations of women in this family and envied by the men. You walk away knowing he and Walter will of course be the happiest in life as they are the ones who merely skim the surface and can always be found on top.
Daniel Sullivan (The Snow Geese) took us on a difficult journey, peppering it with laughter and joy. And isn’t that life anyway- an attempt to find meaning and joy amidst the confusion and disappointments? John Lee Beatty (Knock Knock) did scenic design; lighting was done by Peter Kaczorowski (Tales From Red Vienna); a fantastic costumer, Rita Ryack (Casa Valentina) and sound designer Obadiah Eaves (The Assembled Parties).The original music was done by Peter Golub (The Hieress). Fight director…yes there is a fight was Thomas Schall (This Is Our Youth) and the stage manager was Danny Maly (Casa Valentina).
Put on by Manhattan Theatre Club, one of the leading nonprofit producers of contemporary theatre, Opening Night was October 2nd at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and will be playing through November 23rd.

Review By: Michele Seven
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Riding the Midnight Express @ The Barrow Street Theatre

Through November 30th of this year, The Barrow Street Theater plays host to the storytelling of Billy Hayes as he recounts his early life in Riding the Midnight Express.  The presentation runs about 70 minutes with a 20 minute Q & A following.  
Starting from the time that he left college until just after his escape from a Turkish Prison, Hayes relates the experiences and discoveries he finds along the way.  Hayes talks about the decisions he makes that cause his incarceration, mainly his experience smuggling Hashish out of Istanbul.  He shows us the levels of inhumanity our souls can bare before beginning to corrupt.  Hayes relates the pain as he had to turn his head while others were beaten, lest he make his own enemies.  Talking about his friend who dies in Germany while trying to earn money to help him escape prison, Hayes is stricken with the guilt of this loss.  While trying to form a plan to escape, Hayes spends time in a prison for the insane with the hope that it will be easier to make his breakout.  Instead, he finds his own sanity begin to slip.  With less than 2 months until his freedom, Hayes stoically delivers the real story of his court sentencing of 30 years more in jail.  Not fraught with the anger portrayed in the film by the same title, he shows us a peace and forgiveness hard to imagine in our own everyday lives.  Finally making his way to the island of Imrali, he delivers himself out of his imprisonment in an epic trip across the sea and land all the way to Greece.
Hayes is a natural weaver of tales.  His life and journey are extraordinary, and he delivers them as such.  Hayes relates his story with almost a Socratic objectivity and insight, while still remaining emotionally true and vulnerable at times.  With no more tools than his voice, a stool and a bottle of water, Hayes keeps the audience interested to the end.  Though the aid of sound or lighting to better effect the audience would have made Hayes’s job easier, he prevailed through sheer personality.

A truly marvelous tale, Riding the Midnight Express is an enlightening evening for anyone who is willing to take a moment and use another’s trials to aid in their own self-discovery.
Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Money Grubbin’ Whores @ The Lion Theater @ Theatre Row

Don’t let the title fool you, Money Grubbin’ Whores is surprisingly relatable for everyone!
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a messy divorce negotiated in the downstairs party room of a Northern New Jersey pizza joint. In this new dark comedy, NYC union plumber Matt and his gorgeous, Israeli wife Aviva are getting divorced. The back-room deal is mediated by Matt’s best friend Frankie, and Aviva’s cousin Moshe. As the couple battles it out through cultural differences, mixed messages, and high passions, one question remains…what is the price of love?
Sean J Quinn’s writing is smart, honest, funny, touching and a bit brash. Money Grubbin’ Whores opens with an overload of F-bombs and other profanities; so many that they are a bit distracting to the story line at first and hinder the laughter the script demands.  But after about 20 minutes, the characters begin to shift and the audience becomes desensitized to all of the obscenities, allowing the truth of the plot and personalities to shine.
Adam Mucci (Matt), Carmit Levité (Aviva), James Andrew O’Connor (Frankie), and Penny Bittone (Moshe) give outstanding performances. This is truly an ensemble piece. Each actor flavors it with their own individual spice yet stay consistently in perfect balance with each other. Mucci provides just the right amount of fire necessary to portray the passionate New Jersey Irishman. O’Connor delivers the quintessential Tri-state area Italian flawlessly. Bittone is a joy to watch as the smarmy Moshe and Levité breathes depth and sincerity into all of Aviva’s motions.
Under the direction of Brian Cichocki, this stellar cast wins over the audience. Though the scenery never changes, Cichocki’s pictures are always interesting and natural. Patrick Rizzotti’s detailed scenic design also aids in keeping the dull at bay. From the colorful party banners to the stacks of pizza boxes, everywhere you look there is something inviting you deeper into the North New Jersey Pizzza Joint.
If you have ever been through a divorce, a break-up, been in love or made mistakes, then you will connect with the heart of Money Grubbin’ Whores… see it before you can say you’re sorry!  

Review By: Staci Morin
Photos By: Zack DeZon