Sunday, June 24, 2012

Empire ***

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
As I had very much enjoyed Spiegelworld's show "Absinthe" several summers ago when their tent was pitched at South Street Seaport, I was happy to hear that they were back in a new location smack in the middle of the theater district. The new version of their circus-vaudeville mashup has several sensational acts, who unfortunately remain uncredited, since there were no programs and their names weren't even announced. Only a couple acts were disappointing -- one ran on too long and another, involving bananas, verged on gross. The others ran from good to excellent. This time around, the tone was more raunchy than risqué. Many of the performers definitely qualify as eye candy. It's much more modest and downscale than Cirque du Soleil, but it makes for a pleasant summer evening. Running time: 95 minutes without intermission. Note: the wood slat folding chairs are not tuchas-friendly.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Harvey **

(To see the complete review, please click on the title.)
I should have learned by now that I rarely respond well to theatrical whimsy. Only my curiosity to see Jim Parsons onstage in a leading role led me to buy a ticket for the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Mary Chase's 1944 comedy. Parsons acquits himself well enough as Elwood P. Dowd, but the role isn't much of a stretch from Dr. Sheldon Cooper, his TV persona. The play itself may be of sociological interest as a relic of a more innocent age, but it is about as frothy as stale beer. Most of the writing is leaden and obvious. For a few moments late in the first act, it rises to the level of farce, but it fails to offer much in the way of humor, charm or wisdom. (It is simply inconceivable that it won the Pulitzer over "The Glass Menagerie' in 1944. I can only assume that it offered a welcome respite from the anxiety of wartime.) To make matters worse, some of the casting is unfortunate. Jessica Hecht, whom I usually admire, is terribly miscast as Veta. I don't know whether anyone could humanize the stereotypical role of her daughter Myrtle Mae, but Tracie Chimo is not the one. Charles Kimbrough and Larry Bryggman, two old pros, are convincing in their roles; Morgan Spector and Rich Sommer are adequate in theirs. Carol Kane is fine in her usual role of a a ditz. David Rockwell's evocative set of the library a fusty mansion neatly splits in thirds and rotates to become the reception room of Chumley's Rest. Jane Greenwood's costumes vividly recreate the look of the '40s. Scott Ellis's direction lacks effervescence. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

These Seven Sicknesses ****

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
The Flea Theater's clever adaptation of the seven surviving plays of Sophocles (Oedipus, In Trachis, In Colonus, Philoktetes, Ajax, Elektra and Antigone) was a New York Times Critic's Pick when it ran last winter. Now it is back for an encore run until July 1. Although the running time is about 4 1/2 hours including breaks for dinner and dessert (both included in the ticket price), the time passes very quickly. Sean Graney's clever reworking of the plays is greatly enhanced by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar's able direction and Michael Wieser's terrific fight direction. Performances by the 30+ actors, all members of The Bats, the Flea's young resident company, are all enthusiasic and, in most cases, very good. The actors also chat up the audience before the play starts and during the two breaks. They even serve the food. Unlike the original works, where violence always takes place offstage, lots of blood is shed here. Don't let that keep you away. There are several passages that speak to current events without being heavy-handed about it. The simple but effective set by Julia Noulin-Merat resembles two sets of facing jury boxes. Loren Shaw's costumes, both period-appropriate and modern dress, are excellent. The dinner from Macao Trading Company (tonight was eggplant curry over jasmine rice with pork buns) and the dessert from Billy's Bakery (miniature cupcakes) were delicious. It all made for a very enjoyable evening. My compliments to The Flea for taking on such an ambitious project.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Slowgirl ***

(Please click the title to see the complete review.)
LCT3 inaugurates its new Claire Tow Theater, built atop the Vivian Beaumont, with this new play by Greg Pierce. Becky (Sarah Steele) is a 17-year-old extrovert who leaves no unfiltered thought go unspoken. Sterling (Zeljko Ivanek) is her reclusive uncle who lives in a remote home in the Costa Rican jungle. Becky, fleeing the horrible consequences of a cruel prank against a developmentally challenged classmate, is visiting him for a week. Several years earlier, Sterling fled the United States for reasons that are gradually revealed. Although they had not seen each other in nine years, their shared alienation forges a bond as the week progresses. There are some awkward plot points and too many long pregnant pauses, but the play held my interest. Steele, who had impressed me in Russian Transport earlier this season, is quite good. Ivanek is fine in a much less showy role. The sets by Rachel Hauck are evocative, effective and technically impressive. Emily Rebholz's costumes are appropriate to the characters. Anne Kauffman's direction could use a little more energy. Running time: 95 minutes without intermission.

The Claire Tow Theater is a welcome addition to the local theater scene. A simple but elegant black box with 131 comfortable red plush seats, it has a lovely terrace overlooking the newly green roof of the Beaumont. All tickets are only $20.

WIth LCT3, Lincoln Center Theater is "reaching out to younger and more ethnically diverse audiences."  I assume their decision not to market Slowgirl to LCT members was part of this plan. Judging from this afternoon's audience, they are not reaching that goal. I was shocked that the theater was half-empty. I think they need a new marketing plan.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chimichangas and Zoloft **

(Please click on the title to read the entire review.)
In the unlikely event that I remember this Atlantic Stage 2 production by Fernanda Coppel at all a year from now, it will be as the play that begins with a fart. The characters are two 15-year old best friends, Penelope Lopez (Xochitl Romero) and Jackie Martinez (Carmen Zilles); their fathers Alejandro Lopez (Alfredo Narciso), a bartender, and Ricardo Martinez (Teddy Cañez), an attorney; and the extremely depressed Sonia Martinez (Zabryna Guevara), who is taking a vacation from the roles of wife and mother. Except for a very brief scene near play's end, Sonia is presented only through a series of overwritten monologues. The teenagers address each other as "dude" with annoying frequency. Their fathers are hiding a sexual secret which is less of a secret than they suppose. The reason that Penelope has no mother is never explained. Each scene begins with a rather pointless projected title. Setting the play in a Mexican-American L.A. neighborhood gives it a bit of ethnic flavor, but the situations are not particular to any community. The ending of the play is so low key that I didn't realize it was over. The play is not without interest, but simply doesn't seem ready for public viewing. Jaime Castañeda directed. Running time: 90 minutes without intermission. Note: Atlantic Stage 2 is not an audience-friendly theater. Some of the rows are not staggered. Avoid seats in Row A, because there is a Row AA in front of it and no rake. Since the stage, unlike most theaters, is not elevated, it is often hard to see the actors.