Monday, July 25, 2011

Chinglish ****

(Always click on the title to see the complete review!)

David Henry Hwang's hilarious new play, now in a sold-out run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, is coming to New York this Fall. Because of its enthusiastic reception in Chicago, it will open on Broadway instead of at the Public Theater as originally planned. Don't miss it! Ostensibly about the perils of mistranslation while doing business in China, it slyly raises issues of cultural differences and universal human folly. It has satirical bite and knee-slapping humor. The cast is superb: Jennifer Lim, Stephen Pucci, James Waterston and Larry Zhang all create vivid characters. Leigh Silverman's direction is exemplary, filled with grace notes. David Korins' evocative sets revolve amazingly and Anita Yavich's costumes are just right. In short, it was one of my most enjoyable nights in a theater this year. Running time: 2 hours including intermission.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Death Takes a Holiday ***

When I say that this new musical at the Laura Pels Theatre is old-fashioned, I mean that as a compliment. With tuneful music by Maury Yeston and a romantic book begun by Peter Stone and completed, after Stone's death, by Thomas Meehan, this Roundabout premiere is an adaptation of Alberto Casella's 1924 popular play. Death assumes human form to experience life by spending a weekend at the lakeside villa of Duke Vittorio Lamberti in northern Italy. While there, he experiences love for the first time with the duke's daughter Grazia, whom he wishes to take with him when he leaves. The cast of 14 is excellent with Jill Paice as Grazia and Julian Ovenden as Death/Prince Sirki especially strong. Matt Cavenaugh makes the most of his one number. The lovely set by Derek Lane and period costumes by Catherine Zuber help create a romantic atmosphere. The fine voices and melodic music are the play's greatest strengths. The book sometimes gives the impression of following a checklist and the lyrics are occasionally sappy, but my overall impression was favorable. Doug Hughes directed. Running time: 2 1/2 hours including one intermission

Sunday, July 10, 2011

All New People ***

Zach Braff is back at Second Stage, this time as playwright rather than actor. His dark comedy, now in previews, is about a very depressed man (Justin Bartha) seeking solitude on his 35th birthday at a Jersey Shore beach house in midwinter. He is soon interrupted by an attractive British real estate agent with a secret (Krysten Ritter), the town fire chief/drug dealer (David Wilson Barnes) and an expensive call girl (Anna Camp), a birthday present from a wealthy friend. A lot of alcohol and drugs are consumed and some very funny lines are spoken. There's also some hilarious physical humor. The action is periodically interrupted by film clips (with Kevin Conway, Tony Goldwyn and S. Epatha Merkerson) that illuminate the characters' back stories. Braff is good at writing funny dialogue and setting up an interesting situation, but the play's energy gradually runs down until it sputters to a close. Perhaps that will be fixed by opening night. Alexander Dodge's set of an ultramodern beach house is perfect and Bobby Frederick Tilley II's costumes are excellent. Peter DuBois' direction is flawless. It's not a great play, but it's a guilty pleasure. Running time: 90 minutes.

Note: Sitting next to me was a girl of about 10 who was with a man I assume was her father. I doubt that he intentionally chose a play that would give her a crash course in drug use and kinky sex. Shouldn't there be some way to alert ticket buyers when a play is not suitable for children? What are your thoughts?