Saturday, December 17, 2011

The 10 Best * and 10 Worst Plays I Saw in 2011

(Be sure to click the title to see the complete lists!)
Here, in alphabetical order, is the list of the ten plays I enjoyed most in 2011:

The Book of Mormon
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
4000 Miles
Good People
The Motherf**ker with the Hat
The School for Lies
Sons of the Prophet
War Horse

Here, also alphabetically, are the ten plays I enjoyed least this year:

Close Up Space
Dreams of Flying, Dreams of Falling
Man and Boy
Marie and Bruce
The People in the Picture
Relatively Speaking
We Live Here
Wild Animals You Should Know

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays **

(Always click on the title to see the complete review!)
Over 90 minutes, nine playlets by eight playwrights examine various aspects of marriage equality. The actors read from scripts on music stands. As in any venture of this type, the results are uneven. Most successful are two hilarious works by Paul Rudnick featuring the irrepressible Harriet Harris: in one, she is a member of a dozen anti-same-sex marriage groups who is tormented by gay voices everywhere; in the other, she is a trendy liberal New York mother who is ashamed that her gay son isn't married yet. Richard Thomas is moving in Moises Kaufman's eulogy for a partner of 46 years. Neil LaBute's overlapping monologues for two men, played by Craig Bierko and Mark Sullivan (Mark Consuelos's understudy), is called "Strange Fruit." With that title, you know things won't end happily. The remaining works, by Jordan Harrison, Wendy MacLeod, Doug Wright, Mo Gaffney and Jose Rivera don't fare as well. It's a thankless task for any actress to share a stage with the likes of Ms. Harris, but Polly Draper and Beth Leavel do their best. Behind the actors, Sarah Zeitler fills the Minetta Lane stage with transparent chairs, flower arrangements and an enormous white swag passing through two interlocked rings, dramaticallly lit by Josh Starr. Stuart Ross directed. As I looked around at the audience, it was a clear case of preaching to the choir.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Close Up Space *

The title of Molly Smith Metzler's new play at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I refers to a proofreading instruction. As I suffered through its long 90 minutes, it crossed my mind that the title might well be an imperative for MTC. If they can't find better plays to fill their space at City Center than the two duds we have had so far this season (the other being We Live Here), perhaps they have too much space to fill. When one purchases a subscription, one doesn't expect that every play will be a masterpiece, but one does expect better than this. The cartoonish characters include an editor (David Hyde Pierce) alienated from his teen-age daughter (Colby Minifie), who has been expelled from her latest boarding school; a socially challenged office manager (Michael Chernus); a demanding author (Rosie Perez) and a naive intern from Vassar (Jessica DiGiovanni). The twists and turns of the plot make no sense at all. Leigh Silverman, who did so well directing Chinglish, can't get this turkey to fly. A clever set by Todd Rosenthal is wasted here. Maybe MTC should cut its budget for scenic design and put that money into finding better plays.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lysistrata Jones ***

Once again, Douglas Carter Beane has turned to ancient Greece for inspiration, this time for a modern take on Aristophanes, with music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn. In this version, now at the Walter Kerr, the cheerleaders of Athens U decide not to "give it up" to their boyfriends on the basketball team until they snap the team's 30-year losing streak. Excluding the bodacious Hetaira (look it up, folks), the combined body fat of the cast must be near zero. This incredibly talented bunch do wonders in the sensational dance numbers by director/choreographer Dan Knechtges. They dance, they sing, they act, they even shoot a few hoops. Patti Murin shines as the title character. Liz Mikel, Josh Segarra, Jason Tam and Lindsay Nicole Chambers stand out in the uniformly excellent cast of 12. The music is lively, but unmemorable. Allen Moyer's scenic design is a bit too slick for the production: who needs a back wall of annoyingly bright lights shining in the audience's eyes for a few seconds? The costumes by David C. Woodward and Thomas Charles LeGalley are terrific, especially in the final scene. Don't worry too much about the plot -- it's silly but sweet. It could use some judicious trimming in the second act. When the show was given in the gym at Judson Church last summer, it drew enthusiastic reviews, including Critic's Pick from the Times. Whether it's right for Broadway remains to be seen. I personally think it would be more successful in a less lavish production off-Broadway. In any case, I had fun and hope it succeeds. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including intermission.