Saturday, August 27, 2011

Completeness **

With a very appealing cast, an interesting situation, a clever set (by David Zinn) and able direction (by Pam MacKinnon), Itamar Moses' play at Playwrights Horizons has a lot going for it. Two ambitious graduate students, Elliot (Karl Miller), a computer scientist, and Molly (Aubrey Dollar), a molecular biologist, meet cute in a university computer lab. Can these two scientists from different disciplines, each freshly out of a bad relationship, form a lasting bond? That is the focus of the play, with detours for scenes with their past and potential partners (multiple roles well played by Brian Avers and, especially, Meredith Forlenza) and a subplot about sexual politics in academia. With all their lengthy speeches about protein sequences and esoteric algorithms, one wonders whether this attractive pair will ever stop talking long enough to have sex. (They do -- there is a brief nude scene.) The play starts spinning its wheels in Act Two and resorts to a questionable gimmick near the end. Although the play ultimately disappointed me, its many merits outbalanced its weaknesses. Running time: 2 1/4 hours including intermission.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Traces ***

From the city that brought us Cirque du Soleil comes a much more modest, but no less talented, group of circus artists called 7 Fingers, now appearing at the Union Square Theatre. Without costumes, makeup or fancy sets, the five men and a woman perform a series of breathtaking stunts that had the audience gasping. Jumping through hoops or riding skateboards may not sound very exciting, but it is when they do it. The brief introduction of each performer and the size of the theater help create an intimate atmosphere. The attempt at a unifying theme fell flat, but that's a minor quibble. I do wish they had left out the occasional overpowering blast of music and the seemingly obligatory strobe lights. Instead of 7 performers and 90 minutes, there were only 6 performers and 75 minutes. I do hope the adjustment was not due to injury. The theater was far from full, which is quite surprising considering the critics' unanimously favorable reviews. Note: There are rush seats at $25 available two hours before each performance.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking Back

It's hard to believe that a year has passed since I began these reviews. What strikes me most looking back on the list of plays I have covered is how transitory theater is. Of the 76 plays that I have reviewed, only ten of them are still running -- Anything Goes, Bluebird, The Book of Mormon, Catch Me If You Can, Death Takes a Holiday, Freud's Last Session, Master Class, Olive and the Bitter Herbs, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and War Horse. One is reopening (Other Desert Cities) and another is yet to open in New York (Chinglish.) The second thing that strikes me is how many frogs you have to kiss to find a prince. There were only 21 shows that I could enthusiastically recommend -- Anything Goes, Benefactors, Black Tie, Blood from a Stone;  The Book of Mormon, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Catch Me If You Can, Chinglish, Death Takes a Holiday, Divine Sister, 4000 Miles, Freud's Last Session, Gatz, Good People, The Motherf**ker with a Hat, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, No Child..., The Normal Heart, School for Lies, Unnatural Acts and War Horse. If I were a ballplayer, my batting average would be .276. Not horrible, but not impressive either. Am I discouraged? A little. Will I give up? Not likely. As the new theater season approaches, I am filled with unwarranted optimism that the year ahead will a better one. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bluebird **

Don't be brokenhearted if you weren't able to get tickets to see Simon Russell Beale in Simon Stephens' 1998 play, now in a sold-out run at Atlantic Stage 2. While Beale is fine as Jimmy, a taxi driver to whom fares seem compelled to unburden themselves, the play itself is a mixed blessing. Some of the passengers' stories are involving, but others misfire. A long scene between Jimmy and his estranged wife Clare (the excellent Mary McCann) is a bit contrived and unconvincing. The cast also includes Kate Blumberg, Michael Countryman, Mara Measor, Charlotte Parry, Tobias Segal, John Sharian and Todd Weeks. The pokey direction by Gaye Taylor Upchurch has more pregnant pauses than a Pinter play. The lighting by Ben Stanton attempts to suggest movement through traffic at night, but the flickering was a distraction. Incidentally, the title comes from the name of a small car popular as a London minicab. Running time: 110 minutes without intermission.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Olive and the Bitter Herbs *

Charles Busch's latest comedy, now in previews at Primary Stages, lacks one essential ingredient -- Charles Busch. As playwright, he is at his best when he is writing for himself. Alas, he is not on stage this time around. Although the cast (Dan Butler, David Garrison, Julie Halston, Marcia Jean Kurtz and Richard Masur) struggle valiantly to bring Busch's thin material to life, it is mostly a losing battle. Busch shamelessly panders to gays, Jews and senior citizens -- the very people most likely to attend. There is a dyspeptic aging actress, her unfulfilled do-gooder friend, the gay couple next door, the co-op board president's widowed father and a ghost. Mix and match. The comedy is more a series of setups for punchlines than a coherent plot. There is a seder like none you ever attended in act one and a sporadically funny series of increasingly implausible coincidences in act two. The set by Anna Louizos captures the look of a pre-war rent-controlled Manhattan apartment and Suzy Benzinger's costumes help define the characters. Mark Brokaw directed. I won't pretend I didn't have a few laughs, but the evening was instantly forgettable..Running time: 2 hours including intermission.