Sunday, September 30, 2012

Marry Me a Little **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
If you are an avid Sondheim fan (and I am not), you will no doubt enjoy the Keen Company's revival of this two-person show conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman René.  Two neighbors in a Brooklyn apartment building (Jason Tam and Lauren Molina), alone on a Saturday night, sing 19 songs, almost all numbers cut from Sondheim musicals. They also dance a little and Molina plays the cello a bit. That's basically it for 63 minutes. There were a handful of songs I liked, but for me most of them made the case for why they were cut in the first place. Both performers are personable, but not that strong vocally. From the third row, I had trouble hearing some of the lyrics. John Bell is the fine pianist.  Dan Knechtges choreographed. Jonathan Silverstein directed.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Harper Regan ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Simon Stephens's provocative play was a hit in London when it premiered at the National Theatre in 2008. It went on to well-received productions in Chicago and San Francisco. Now it is in previews at The Atlantic Theater Company. Let me start by saying that I found it fascinating and annoying in almost equal measure. Mary McCann, onstage for two hours, is superb as a 41-year-old woman having a midlife crisis in an England that has lost its way. We see her in a series of scenes with her obnoxious boss (Jordan Lage), a 17-year old black student (Stephen Tyrone Williams), her mysteriously unemployed husband (Gareth Saxe), her difficult teenaged daughter (Madeleine Martin), a well-meaning nurse (Mahira Kakkar), a rabidly antisemitic journalist that she meets in a bar (Peter Scanavino), a married man that she meets at a hotel (Christopher Innvar), her estranged mother (the always excellent Mary Beth Peil), her mother's younger second husband (John Sharian) and his apprentice (Vandit Bhatt.) Almost every scene has dialogue that is at least slightly off kilter and ends unpredictably. A series of gradually revealed secrets builds effectively. Some of Harper's motivations are muddy, some of her behavior seems implausible, and the somewhat upbeat ending seems less than fully earned. The set of movable grey slabs by Rachel Hauck is approprately stark. Gaye Taylor Upchurch's direction is assured. I was alternately intrigued, annoyed and exhilarated, but never bored. (Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Anderson Twins Play the Fabulous Dorseys **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Once I caught on that the word "play" in the title means "perform the music of" and not "portray," I relaxed and enjoyed this musical tribute to the Dorsey brothers at 59E59. Pete and Will Anderson are blond, handsome 25-year old identical twins, whose performances I greatly enjoyed when they were students in the Juilliard Jazz program. For the occasion, Stage C has been turned into a night club, complete with red fringed lamps. You can buy drinks at the bar and bring them to your table. About 20 swing standards orchestrated for sextet are interspersed with clips from the sappy 1947 biopic, an amusing clip from "What's My Line?" and some rather lame banter. It's hardly a theater piece, but far be it from me to complain when the music and the musicians are so good. And it's a bargain at $25. In addition to the Andersons on saxophone, clarinet and flute, the group includes Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Ehud Asherie on piano, Kevin Dorn on drums and Clovis Nicolas on bass. Since Tommy Dorsey was most notably associated with the trombone, it's puzzling that there is none here. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes including intermission.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grace ***

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
If you want to see four fine actors in a satisfyingly complex play, don't wait too long to get a ticket for this limited run comedy/drama by Craig Wright, now in previews at the Cort Theatre. Steve and Sara (Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington) have recently moved to central Florida to open the first of a projected chain of biblically-themed hotels. Sam (Michael Shannon), their neighbor in the adjacent condo, is recovering from an auto accident that left him disfigured and his fiancée dead. Karl (Ed Asner), the crusty German immigrant who is the exterminator for the condo complex, has a dark episode in his past. Steve can't resist the opportunity to deliver a sales pitch, whether it is for God or for real estate. Stay-at-home housewife Sara is lonely and neglected. The play starts with a bang and, after a freeze frame, flashes back to describe how events reached this point. The ties between the occupants of the two apartments are intensified by Beowulf Boritt's clever, elegantly simple set that uses the same space to represent both condos simultaneously. (I now forgive him for the set that overpowers "If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet.") Dexter Bullard's direction is excellent. At times I thought the play had more style than substance, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking ****

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
How good it is to have Gerard Alessandrini's arsenic-laced valentine to the Broadway musical back in town after a three-year absence. Alessandrini certainly has not mellowed during the hiatus -- the cleverness of some of the skits does not hide the brutality with which he deflates some Broadway egos. A few of the returning numbers could well have been left out, but the new material is overwhelmingly hilarious and on target. The cast this time out (Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern and Marcus Stevens) is uniformly strong; some of the impersonations are uncannily accurate. David Caldwell is back as the topnotch pianist/music director. Philip Heckman's costumes and Bobbie Cliffton Zlotnik's wigs are a show in and of themselves. Directors Phillip George and Alessandrini keep the show moving at a fast pace. I actually felt guilty for enjoying some of the shows and performers that are skewered. While you do not need to have seen many of the shows to enjoy the fun, you will enjoy it more if you have.  Running time: one hour, forty minutes with intermission.

Note: Avoid getting seats in the first three rows, particularly on the right (even-numbered) side because of poor sight lines.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet *

The title of this new play by the award-winning young British playwright Nick Payne could easily be my answer to the question "Is there a unifying theme that holds this play together?" The consequences of neglecting family for career is central, but the parents are both so emotionally constipated that it is unclear whether they are withholding affection for their daughter or simply have none to give. Brian F. O'Byrne plays George, a self-absorbed academic out to save the world from global warming with a book on carbon footprints. Michelle Gomez plays his wife Fiona, an unpopular teacher at the school where their overweight teenaged daughter Anna, played by Annie Funke, is regularly bullied. Jake Gyllenhaal plays George's prodigal brother Terry, a free spirit just returned from a long trip he took to get over a love affair that ended badly, who forms a bond with Anna. O'Byrne and Funke are excellent. I am no judge of British dialects, but Gyllenhaal's often impenetrable accent had no traces of American. At least every third word of his dialog is the F word. Gomez's character is underwritten, so she doesn't have a lot to work with. In this Roundabout production, directed by Michael Longhurst, now in previews at the Laura Pels, the scenic design by Beowulf Boritt literally upstages the play. Before the play begins, a curtain of rain separates the stage from the audience and center stage is occupied by a pile of household furnishings. As the play progresses, the actors grab the furnishings they need for the next scene. At scene's end they toss them into the trough. Is this a metaphor for the wastefulness of our way of life? About 2/3 of the way through the play, an onstage bathtub overflows and the stage is inundated in 3 or 4 inches of water. The actors pay no heed as they slosh around in it for the play's final 30 minutes. Does this represent our heedlessness to the rising sea levels that global warming will bring or is it just a distraction to hide the play's thinness? Decide for yourself. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes without intermission.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

An Enemy of the People *

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)

The years have not been kind to Ibsen's 1882 landmark play. What must have seemed daring and original at the time can easily come across as both overheated and shopworn now. Perhaps a strong case can still be made for this play, but the production now in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club does not make it. First of all, there is far too much shouting. Director Doug Hughes seems to think that increasing the volume will improve the dialog; he is wrong. Richard Thomas, whose performances usually disappoint me, does so once again here as Mayor Stockmann. Even Boyd Gaines, whose performaces never disappoint me, seems a bit off his game here as the protagonist, Dr. Stockmann. The other actors perform their stereotypical roles enthusiastically. John Lee Beatty's attractive revolving set creates four different locations effectively. Catherine Zuber's costumes do not distract. If only the play were not so leaden and self-righteous and had at least a smidgen of nuance. The best thing I can say about Rebecca Lenkiewicz's adaptation is that it makes the play a bit shorter. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Few Words about This Blog's Second Anniversary

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It's hard to believe that two years have passed since I wrote the first of 162 reviews for this blog. I hope that I have managed to steer you toward at least one good play you might have missed and/or away from at least one dud you might have wasted time and money on. Thank you for loyal readership. I have enjoyed your comments and only wish there were more of them. Please share your thoughts by clicking on the icon at the end of each review. Let's hope that the 2012-13 season will have more hits and fewer misses.

P.S. Here's what's I expect to review during the rest of the month: Enemy of the People, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, Forbidden Broadway, Grace, The Fabulous Dorseys, Harper Regan and Marry Me a Little.