Monday, May 30, 2016

You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown @ York Theatre Company

You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown was an uplifting adventure. The York Theatre Company, for the first time ever, assembled a cast of professional young actors to portray our Peanut friends and they took the performance into their own crafts.

Director Michael Unger sought to pay homage to Schulz’s 17,897 strips with a Peanuts stage designed by Brian Prather. Each element, from the spinning grand piano in the center that held Snoopy’s infamous doghouse to the comic-esque grass drawn on the ground was a scene set within one of Schulz’s mini stories.

Charlie Brown (Joshua Colley) was as we all remember—facing seemingly childish internal struggles that simply grow more complex as we age. Colley’s voice radiated the stage and his well-earned young talent was palpable.

Lucy (Mavis Simpson-Ernst) captivated that big, bold, pushy and psychiatrically-inclined character that resonates with anyone from any culture. Simpson-Ernst commanded the stage with professional ease.

Sally’s (Milly Shapiro) comedic timing was impeccable. Smart, sassy and always prepared with a comeback, Shapiro expertly maneuvered the stage and emulated her character right from one of Shulz’s strips.

Linus (Jeremy T. Villas) dragged his little blanket, shouted wise anecdotes and sucked his thumb in deep contemplation. Villas captured the deceptive depth of his character and graced the audience with a taste of his dancing in “My Blanket and Me.”

Schroeder (Gregory Diaz) was his usual, Beethoven-obsessed self. Diaz’s performance was riddled sarcasm and intelligence. He pulled us all into his musically enchanted world and made me remember that childlike innocence we all face when admiring the greats we one day want to be.

Lastly, Snoopy (Aidan Gemme), was the comedic tie of the show. Gemme’s performance was a cherished hilarity. With well-placed howls and barks, Gemme put his own deviant approach to Snoopy that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The York Theatre Company’s young professional approach is a welcome success. Assembling a cast of multi-cultural and highly versatile actors coupled with expert staging made for an excellent performance. If you are able, take the time to catch You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown at The Theatre at St. Peter’s.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Dolls House and The Father @ The Polonsky Polonsky Shakespeare Center

A good piece of theater will leave its audience walking away with something to talk about. A great piece of theater will leave its audience having a full-out discussion. Theatre For A New Audience's productions of Strindberg’s The Father  and Thornton Wilder's translation of Ibsen's A Doll's House in repertory leaves its audiences having full out debates!

Both productions are presented on a transverse stage, with the audience both in front and behind the stage, allowing us a more natural way to observe these two stories, both focusing on the issues in two marriages. It is rumored that Strindberg’s The Father was written in response to Ibsen's A Doll's House. Though on the surface both shows appear to be opposites of one another, they actually go hand in hand. They present opposing viewpoints on very similar issues: how a marriage is affected by money, children, power, respect, and, arguably, mental health. 

TFNA’s staging for A Doll’s House is mostly bright and refreshing (which is not how I interpreted the play when I read it back in high school!). Maggie Lacey’s portrayal of Nora begins effervescent and carefree. Lacey is onstage for about 90% of the show, and spends most of her time in motion. As it is revealed that Nora has a secret about just how she earned the money to cover expenses for her husband’s recovery from illness, we see a change in Nora. She does not want Torvald (portrayed by an extremely charming John Douglas Thompson) to find out she forged a signature for the loan, and we see her demeanor transform. Torvald’s status as the president of a bank would be ruined if it were revealed his wife committed a forgery to get money. We see Nora go from blissfully unaware, to panicked, to a full depressive state. Until this point, Nora was kept mostly in the dark about “serious” matters: she never was to worry of handling money or watching her own children. Her life is set in front of her in such a way that she does not need to make any heavy decisions. Thompson’s Torvald is sincere; it is very clear he loves his wife and only wants to take care of her. But when he learns of Nora’s forgery, his reaction is not to think that his wife wanted to take care of him for change, but that his life is over because his reputation is tarnished. In this moment we the audience (and Nora) realize this marriage is not based on mutual respect. Nora then makes a decision heavier than any other she has had to in her life. The final moments of the play are a jarring and emotional experience. 

The Father, similarly, comments on the importance of mutual respect between husband and wife, but on a more severe level. Adolph (again by Thompson) is a successful Cavalry Captain and a scientist who holds power in all aspects of his life except in his own household. His wife Laura (portrayed by a now fiery Lacey), argues with him on the life path they each want for their daughter Bertha (Kimber Monroe, who somehow seems to be the perfect blend of Thompson and Lacey). Adolph wants a sensible, responsible life for his daughter: to become a teacher so she can support herself if she remains unmarried and to know good skills if she chooses to become a mother. Laura, alternately, wants her only child to remain home and focus on her art. Laura is so headstrong in her desire; she will stop at nothing to get her way. She is manipulative to the point where it’s almost abusive. As a last resort, she plants the seed in Adolph’s mind that he may not even be the father of her child.  This sends Adolph in a downward spiral, because it is pointed several times throughout the text that a man could never truly know whether or not a child is actually his. Adolph’s change in demeanor is much more sudden and apparent than Nora’s; it is established that both Adolph and Laura have known for years they have lost mutual respect in their relationship. “What happened to us?” he asks. She replies simply with, “Marriage.” We see Adolph spiral swiftly into the madness Laura has been telling doctors he has, to the point of moments that are heart-wrenching. One particular moment between Adolph and Bertha elicited a collective gasp from the audience. Whether Adolph’s madness has been present all along as Laura suggests, or if it had developed from the emotional abuse is unclear. That does not make his downfall any less upsetting to watch. 

TFANA’s mission as a company is to bring classic works of theater to audiences who are younger or not as familiar with the pieces in a way that is engaging and memorable. Running A Doll’s House and The Father in rep leads to a unique theater experience. TFANA created two pieces of theater that very easily inspire a dialogue. I attended on a day where both plays were being performed, which resulted in a deep discussion with my guest of how each script related to the other on our trip back home. A talk back after the matinee of A Doll’s House went from a typical Q & A to the actors about their experience to a full-out debate on Nora’s maturity, possible narcissism, and the validity of her decisions. THIS is the mark of an exceptional piece of theater: memorable, thought-provoking, able to ignite a passionate discussion.

Thompson and Lacey give some of the most distressing, high-energy portrayals of husband and wife since Burton and Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Though each production easily stands on its own, it is highly recommended to see both, if for nothing else than to see the lead actors each play two very different characters with the same level of ease and finesse. 

A Doll’s House and The Father run through June 12th.

Review By: Kelcie Kosberg
Photos By: Gerry Goodstein

Monday, May 23, 2016

Benny & Griff's Wonderful Universe: The Musical Experience @ The Duplex

The best thing about theatre is the various shapes and sizes you find it in. Blocks and blocks down from box stepping leggy blondes on Broadway are these beautiful blips of theatrical time that we catch and treasure for a long while.

That’s where we meet Benny and Griff. 

Benny & Griff’s Wonderful Universe: The Musical Experience is like a f^cked up art song by operatic puppets and troubadours, a celebration and an outcry of the millennial generation. Jam-packed with color, satanic chants, and the occasional interjection, (a la 90s Saturday cartoon mornings) this CLEARLY translates to an awesome time, no?

We walk in to a set that looks like a mildly sinister bible school basement? A storage house for Yo Gabba Gabba rejected scenery? But whatever, because it perfectly reflects what we are in for for the evening. Dave Columbo, our energized emcee, charges the stage stating that “we are living in weird times right now, and we need something like this show.” And it’s totally true.

Benny and Griff are our musical storytellers for the evening, performing catchy, campfire-y, inane tunes about being friends with animals and not going to school, all the while in pursuit of finding the queen so they can sing her a kick ass song for her birthday.

Rounding out the ensemble are these hysterical entities that take on bizarre personalities along the way. Notable moments were the beautiful and hilarious Stephanie Windland becoming the Gallump, a dilapidated puppet who lost his family and hates a hand up his ass. Nolan Hennelly became the River Beast, an afeared beast made from two green pizza boxes and some PVC pipe, which he tackled with humanity and grace.

The duo certainly have a following, as everyone bursting at the seams of the Duplex’s basement were swaying and singing along to their infectious tunes.  We all take a friendship pledge at the end of the show, so I know I’ll see a lot of familiar faces next go around.

Their next event, 2 Birds, 1 Stoned is June 1st @ 8 over at the Parkside Lounge (317 E Houston St). Special pieces like these don’t come along all the time, so go over, make the pledge, and have a killer time! Follow the guys on fb/insta/whatever : BennyandGriff /

Review By: Brittany Goodwin

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Tuck Everlasting @ The Broadhurst Theatre

Are you feeling down in the dumps? Are your adult responsibilities draining you? Well, head down to the Broadhurst Theatre and see, Tuck Everlasting... immediately!  As you enter the theatre you are immersed into a magical forest. You can’t help but awe at the stars and this giant tree (which I had to physically restrain myself from climbing.) The entire creative team does a fantastic job crafting a world we want to live in.

The show tackles the timeless question: IF you could live forever, would you? We follow the adventure of Winnie Foster, who stumbles upon a family that is a little odd and discovers a secret about them that she can never break! Winnie Foster played by the amazing Sarah Charles Lewis, manages to make the entire audience fall in love with her! You can’t help but smile every time she’s on stage, and boy does she have a voice! Oh, did we mention she is only eleven years old?

The Tuck family has more baggage than anticipated but you can’t blame them, they are over one hundred years old! They are led by Mom (Carolee Camello) who brings a sweetness yet stern presence to the stage. Dad(Michael Park) who manages to make dad jokes actually funny (who knew?). And rounding out the family are oldest brother Miles (Robert Lenzi) who grounds the Tuck family and Jesse (Andrew Keegan Bolger) whose energy bounces off stage, making you want to go wherever he goes!

We can’t forget about comedy duo Hugo (Michael Wartella) and Constable Joe (Fred Applegate). Following their case to find Winnie is sugar sweet, charming and hilarious. In addition, Winnie’s Mother (Valerie Wright) and Nana (Pippa Pearthree) serve memorable moments; you wish they were somehow incorporated more!  Tough cookie Nana almost steals the show!

Jesse Tuck and Winnie Foster capture your hearts early in the show. Once they climb a tree, you are sucked into this whimsical forest. The whimsy was at its peak during the Fair. Everything from the set, costumes, lighting, DANCING, captured the true magic of the show. It made every child gasp in the audience. It made every adult reminisce a childhood memory.

This show has something for everyone, every type of person, every type of dreamer, at any age. We have adult humor that goes over the kids' heads, and we have spectacle to keep them entertained. It was truly a great night of musical theatre. Tuck Everlasting will make you smile throughout the entire show… until the end. There is something for every generation, just watch out for the evil banana.

Review By: Briana Burnisde
Photos By:  Greg Mooney

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Daphne's Dive @ Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre @ The Pershing Square Signature Center

You gotta love a show where you feel a part of the atmosphere, invited into the culture, all the while moved with the rhythm of the story, as if you lived it and it were your own. That, my friends, is the feeling you feel watching Daphne’s Dive over at the Signature Theatre.

We meet Ruby (an astounding Samira Wiley) at 11 years old and grow with her and the rest of the dive bar ensemble over the course of 18 years. Daphne (Vanessa Aspillaga) runs the bar and adopts Ruby after bar regular Pablo (Matt Saldivar) finds her in the dumpster while he was in pursuit of trash for his art. Ruby grows very fond of another bar regular Jenn, (KK Moggie) a fanciful social activist who rents from Daphne’s politician brother-in-law Acosta (Carlos Gomez) and sister (Daphne Rubin-Vega).  Midway through the story, Pablo has an art exhibition of his trash and we find out that Jenn has taken her own life during one of her protests. Ruby is destroyed by this, and we watch her and the ensemble’s response to loss, grief and the healing process.

Director Tommy Kail and Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes work hand in hand again, after their success with In The Heights.  Kail perfectly masters the pacing of the vignettes, keeping us on our toes as to what will happen next to this poor community.

You undoubtedly come to see this play for Samira Wiley’s contributions to the piece. She is the heart, soul and liver of the bar and you simply cannot take your eyes off her. We feel a part of her characters development as we watch the world harden her as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult in all different capacities of the heart. Her performance is simply unmatched and gives the play a unique foreground to build itself upon.

Go on and have a drink at Daphne’s Dive and bring a friend- you’ll have a lot to discuss and a lot to reminisce about- just don’t forget to tip your bartender.

Review By: Brittany Goodwin 
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Indecent @ The Vineyard Theater

It’s a rarity that when one sees a play, one is touched on every level and every sensory organ satiated. But when you are talking about religion, forbidden sex and theatre history- what else does one need?

Indecent by Paul Vogel and Rebecca Taichman over at the Vineyard Theatre is nothing short of absolute brilliance. The audience communally sat in awe- laughing quickly at every nuance and sharing heartbreak as it came, which culminated to us leaping to our feet at the final blackout.

Indecent is based on a true story : the development of Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance in early 1900s Poland. We see the play’s origins (first table read, assembly of cast, its performances around Europe) and how it takes flight all the way to NYC where the actors are arrested for the controversial content in its edits. They had no playwright to defend them because he hid away in shame that he could not learn English to defend his play. Lemmi, the stage manager and the hero of the story, takes the acting troupe back home and unfortunately back to a Nazi ridden land. They try to keep the play alive in attics and act for food, but are taken during act 2, the controversial love scene between the two girls. The ending could rip your heart out when we see what happens to each of these characters. But you’ll have to see it for yourself, as its painful to write on.

The cast is exceptional. Richard Topol acts as the narrator of his story, weaving us seamlessly through moment to moment of the story, all the while knowing his recollection of that “blink in time.” Adina Verson plays a few different carnations of the female lead flawlessly, simply accenting them with a scarf or sweater, but drastically stepping into different personas. Katrina Lenk, Verson’s lover, was stunning and captivating in every single move she made.

The director by co-creator Rebecca Taichman perfectly embodied the piece’s humor, history and vaudevillian homage to the times. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design was particularly amazing; creating shadows and intimacy all the while maintaining the aesthetic of old playhouses. Super smart indeed. Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva’s music moved the story along, as the actors danced and moved the set pieces.

A play with this much heart and history needs an audience and begs to be heard. We say time and time again “history repeats itself,” and we do all we can to prevent it. This play not only shows an inside look of the Holocaust and the Jewish people, but prolonged censorship in the theatre.  We are so fortunate to see all we see without anyone stifling our voice. Go downtown and hear the voices over at the Vineyard. Learn our history.

Review By: Brittany Goodwin
Photos By:  Carol Rosegg

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Better Place @ The Duke on 42nd Street

A Better Place
Calling all dreamers! A Better Place, presented by The Directors Company in association with Pascal Productions reflects issues of trust, family and overcoming the struggles of comparison, all the while looking into our own notions of grandeur as we seek our next horizon.

Director Evan Bergman has a thrust stage as her personal canvas to present the story of two families seeking a better place. Scenic Designer David L. Arsenault created two apartments for the audience to peer into—one quaint and small living room pre-war walkup and the other “better place” hi-rise apartment equipped with a sitting room, hallway and office.

We begin by looking into Les Covert’s (Bob Maitner) mind of “if only I lived across the street in that apartment, my life would be perfect.” Maitner conveys Les as the self-limited middle-aged waiter faced with his own past. His character was funny and relatable.

Covert’s lover and life partner, Sel Trevoc (John Fitzgibbon) is a philosophy professor five years into waiting for his tenure. Fitzgibbon created a mirror for Maitner’s character and offered the comic relief and introspection needed to drive his inner conflicts to fruition. The two had good chemistry and Fitzgibbon’s character was the only one philosophically at peace with his life and choices.
Across the way, the Roberts family struggles with gambling addiction, familial envy and growing into adulthood. Husband and wife Mary and John Roberts are looking to sell their hi-rise and move to Florida while their daughter, Carol, is left to find her way in New York City without them.

Mary Roberts (Judith Hawking) struggles with her suspicions that her husband may not want to sell and finally retire to a more Southern climate. She consistently harps on her daughter Carol about beginning life as an adult rather than a dependent 28-year-old and prances around the set mumbling relatable and funny anecdotes.

Her husband, John (Edward James Hyland) has a horse gambling addiction that seems to always end in winning. He ushers himself to provide for his family in ways that he can and is meticulous about the luscious upgrades he has made to the hi-rise. His love for his wife shows through in his performance. 

Their daughter Carol (Jessica DiGiovanni) holds a strange fetish. Needing to concentrate on her better place, she is only attracted to real estate brokers and will open herself to their affections only after they have described upscale apartments in ways that excite her. She is seen with many renditions of Michael Satow and their taking to the stage was always met with laughter.

The play was introspective (yet somewhat predictable) and showed the inner turmoil that many of us all face in our search for the next beginning. 

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By:  Jenny Anderson

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again @ Soho Rep

Revolt-Show-PageFINALLY! A play that pokes and prods and slices and tickles at language and the female voice (and mouth, really). REVOLT.SHE SAID.REVOLT AGAIN. is this master culmination of every single female voice and the strides they’ve made in the theatre unfolding and, quite literally, exploding in your face in an hour and 5 minutes. No intermission. No break to think. But you do get a snack.

You see, this play is comprised of different surrealist/absurdist conversations, which seem absolutely insane at first, then either you become desensitized and fall into their psyche or they just finally arrive to these totally accessible thoughts that MAKE YOU MAD. & yes, you totally want to revolt!

 And there are these projections on the wall that help you realize what the hell youre mad about! “Revolutionize the language (invert it)” “Revolutionize the world (don’t reproduce)” etc.

A particularly stunning vignette was Daniel Abeles and Eboni Booth’s characters interactions with Molly Bernard’s character who laid down in aisle 7 of a supermarket with her dress over her head covered in watermelon (watermelon becomes a theme within all these stories). Bernard has this absolutely heart wrenching speech about a woman’s body and if you crave hurt and sex and war, when it all inevitably comes to you, you will be unphased. Because you have allowed it.  

What an amazing fit director Lileana Blain Cruz was to Alice Birch’s words.  She mastered the simplicity and stark, alienating tone of the first half, and the gutting, explosive second half.  Adam Rigg’s set design was super smart and only enhanced this shifting piece and aided to Blain Cruz’s movement.

The actors were top notch- especially for mastering the unique nuances of British drama. Molly Bernard was undoubtedly the heart and soul of the piece.  Her versatility and insights to these different characters she represented is an everlasting vision. Jennifer Ikeda was most powerful in her “Revolutionize the world” portion- physically invested, tears dripping from her face. Eboni Booth was stunning in that portion as well, cutting off her tongue and puking on the table. Daniel Abeles had a tough job as the “token male”, but did it with finesse.
And the rest? You must (must must) go see for yourself.  It is certainly the diadem on the crown of feminist theatre. You’ll be thinking about this one for years to come, and who knows? Maybe we will become one step closer to a revolution. 

Review By: Brittany Goodwin
Photos By:  Julieta Cervantes

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

American Psycho @ The Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

2010: the announcement that Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial 1991 novel American Psycho was being developed into a musical was met with skepticism & a general "huh?" A dream team assembled: Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) signed on to compose, a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa developed, and direction from Rupert Goold was set. A successful run in London with Matt Smith in the titular role provoked a Broadway run to go into works. And God are we happy it did.
American Psycho chronicles the life of Patrick Bateman, a yuppie investment banker by day and serial killer by night. Bateman, along with everyone else in his life, is the textbook definition of the late-80’s yuppie: obsessed with designers, the perfect business card, getting into the best restaurants, and of course, where to score the best coke. 

Upon entering the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, you’re immediately given a taste of Es Devlin and Justin Townsend’s Tony nominated set and lighting designs, respectively. A pristine, stark white apartment is framed by towering walls of video tapes, bright white lights shine across the stage, and a haunting, tonal pre-show music sets the scene. It’s striking, really. There’s something subliminally scary about the emptiness we see. The opening moment is shocking enough to grab the attention of the audience. For the next 2 hours and 40 minutes, amidst strobes, Finn Ross’ kinetic projections, and plenty of blood, you’re drawn just like rubberneckers on the highway. You can not look away. 

The musical pulls equally from its two source materials: the iconic sequences from Mary Harron’s 2000 film (because let’s face it, we were all waiting for Bateman to dance to Huey Lewis in his raincoat!) and Ellis' novel. The movie homages we know and love amongst plot points previously only seen in Ellis’ novel (like Bateman’s vacation to the Hamptons) are a very smart move; taking the best moments and bits of dialogue to form a cohesive story. Sheik’s all-electronic score is driving, thumping. It captures the essence of the decadent era it represents, with interludes of well-known 80’s pop tunes woven throughout seamlessly. Lynne Page’s choreography is oftentimes robotic, reminiscent of Thriller, and becomes increasingly animalistic as we witness Bateman’s swift spiral into complete madness. 

Benjamin Walker’s (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) portrayal of Patrick Bateman is calm and stoic. He is articulated and has a strong opinion on almost anything—those who disagree with him are unknowingly risking their lives. Walker plays Bateman so straight and serious, that we can’t help but find him humorous, so when he cracks, you shut up and realize just how damaged a being he is. Walker spends the majority of Act II half-naked and smeared in blood, convulsing from madness, yet we as an audience still side with him. He is subtle and engaging, an impressive combination for a leading actor. 

Drew Moerlein (in his Broadway debut) as Paul Owen is the antithesis of Bateman. He is charming, effortless, seemingly perfect…so naturally Bateman can’t stand him, and he must die. Heléne Yorke (Bullets Over Broadway) as Bateman’s fiancé Evelyn is wonderfully vapid in a scene-stealing performance. Yorke’s portrayal is over-the-top, hilarious. The effect on her voice is slightly Valley Girl, as she drones about having the correct number of people at a dinner party or wanting Annie Leibovitz to photograph her wedding. Tony winner Alice Ripley is severely underutilized, as a handful of characters in what is essentially a featured ensemble role. Nevertheless, she is delightful as Bateman’s mother who refuses to remove her sunglasses, and manages to slip in an attention-grabbing riff as a club-goer during the cover of Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight.” She seems misplaced solely because she really needed to be in a larger role. This woman deserves way more than having to wipe the blood off the stage with a towel!

 Other noteworthy performances come from Jennifer Damiano (Next to Normal) as Bateman’s secretary Jean, so sweet and pure, it’s both relieving and heartbreaking when Bateman decides doesn’t want to hurt her, literally and figuratively. Theo Stockman (American Idiot) as the smarmy, sometimes oily Timothy Price; and featured ensemble member Holly James (in her Broadway debut), who is so engaging it makes sense she’s the sole cast member to play both West End and Broadway. 

Despite our absolute love and verve for this new piece, it doesn’t come as a complete shock that American Psycho has been receiving mixed reactions. Goold’s direction makes the production self-aware and satirical, continually poking fun at itself. Sheik’s electro-pop score is so catchy, I’m not-so-patiently waiting for the Broadway Cast Recording. It is truly a production that has to be experienced live; the new Sweeney Todd for millennials. It is such a stylized, niche-market type product (think Reefer Madness Evil Dead the Musical / the beloved flop that was Carrie), perhaps stylized to the point of potentially not reaching a wide enough audience for an extended run. But if you're like us, and eat this type of theater up, it is a sight to behold.  

Review By: Kelcie Kosberg
Photos By: Jeremy Daniel