Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Murder for Two **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
So soon after being disappointed by Murder Ballad, I was not looking forward to seeing another off-Broadway murder musical  This new show at Second Stage Uptown with music by Joe Kinosian, lyrics by Kellen Blair and a book by both, however, bears no resemblance to that overheated drama. It is more like an extended vaudeville act for two than a murder mystery whose solution is of primary importance. (If you remember who did it five minutes after the show ends, you're better than I am.) Fortunately, the two actors are the multi-talented Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback. These two energetic performers act, sing, dance and play a mean piano, both separately and together. Ryback plays Marcus, a young police officer out to make detective by solving the murder of a famous novelist. The rubber-faced Blumenkrantz plays all the suspects, who include the victim's wife, his mistress, his niece, an unscrupulous psychiatrist and members of a boys choir. The proceedings too often rely on frenetic activity rather than wit. There is less music than I would have expected. Beowulf Boritt's clever set promises more than the play delivers. Scott Schwartz's direction keeps up a lively pace. It's not a terrible way to spend a summer evening, but it's not as much fun as I hoped for. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Serious Money *** and The Castle **

(Please click on the title to see the complete reviews.)
PTP/NYC [Potomac Theatre Project], back in town for their annual summer repertory season at Atlantic Stage 2, is presenting two ensemble works by living British playwrights. By far the better known of the two, at least on this side of the pond, is Caryl Churchill, whose 1987 satire in verse about greed in the financial markets is a delectable treat that has not lost its relevance. This lively and energetic production with a cast of 17 never gets bogged down in the arcane details of financial trading that drive the action. Director Cheryl Faraone's direction is assured. No choreographer or movement consultant is credited, but the blocking of the group scenes is very effective. Hallie Zieselman's witty set includes chandeliers that are inverted pyramids of champagne bottles. The costumes by Jule Emerson and Krista Duke are a delight. At times the author seemed to be trying too hard to cover the subject comprehensively, which made the evening a bit long, but nonetheless enjoyable. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes including intermission.

Although he has written over 50 plays, Howard Barker's name was new to me. He calls his work the "theater of catastrophe." The Castle is set in 12th century England when a Crusader returns home to find that the women have wrought many changes in his absence. The lord attempts to reestablish order by building a large castle. There are too many themes such as arms proliferation, church-state relations, the nature of God, relations between the sexes that are touched upon but not fully developed. I applaud the playwright for his Shakespearean ambition, but found the execution wanting. This production's number one attraction is that it provides a juicy role for Jan Maxwell, whose presence on a stage is always a treat. Jon Crane's simple set makes heavy use of draped cloth. Jule Emerson's costumes help establish the setting. Richard Romagnoli directed. A recent article quotes the author as saying: "A good play puts the audience through a certain ordeal. I'm not interested in entertainment." To which I would add: "Goal achieved." Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Nobody Loves You **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
As I have found much to admire in Itamar Moses's past work (Bach at Leipzig, The Four of Us, Completeness), I was looking forward to the current show now in previews at Second Stage. This musical send-up of the "reality" television show for which the play is named has a book by Moses, music by Gaby Alter and lyrics by both. The production is blessed with a talented, energetic cast that is impossible not to like. Unfortunately, the performances are better than the material. The satire is bland and the music is instantly forgettable. The book has occasional flashes of wit, but they are too few. Heath Calvert is marvelous as the reality show's vapid MC. Leslie Kritzer and Rory O'Malley are triple threats with three distinctive roles each. O'Malley is especially hilarious as a flamboyantly gay fan, a Lothario and a nerd. Bryan Fenkart and Aleque Reid are respectable as the lead couple. Roe Hartrampf, Autumn Hurlbert and Lauren Molina all shine as the other contestants. I only wish that they had more to work with. Mark Wendland's set is simple but effective. Jessica Pabst's costumes are terrific. Michelle Tattenbaum's direction keeps things moving briskly. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Designated Mourner ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The Public Theater has revived Wallace Shawn's 1996 play with the original cast of the 2000 New York production -- the playwright as Jack, the title character; Deborah Eisenberg (in real life, Shawn's life partner and accomplished author) as his wife Judy, and Larry Pine as her father Howard, a poet. The play takes place in an unnamed country with an oppressive regime battling a proletarian underground, with collateral damage to the intelligentsia. Howard has a devoted clique who share his contempt for everyone outside their circle. Howard and Judy's leftist leanings eventually lead them both to grief. When things get rough, the apolitical Jack abandons them and undergoes a series of inner crises that lead to his increasing alienation from reality. The play is basically a set of interlocking monologues, with occasional snippets of conversation and virtually no onstage action. To be honest, there was a point about 45 minutes into the play when I wondered how I could make it to intermission (at the 1 hour, 40 minute mark), let alone to play's end. But then, I became more engrossed in it and stayed. I am glad I did because the best scenes are in the second act. Shawn's vivid writing ranges from the poetic to the grotesque. His performance is gripping. Eisenberg grew on me as the evening progressed. Pine, in the smallest role, seemed bland and devoid of charisma. Andre Gregory's direction is, as one would expect, assured, but he made some quirky choices, such as having the audio technician install the actors' mikes after they arrived onstage and placing a glaringly bright fluorescent light on the front edge of the stage for the second act. The minimalist set was effective and the sound design was excellent. I would credit those responsible, but, for reasons unknown, the theater did not give out programs. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes including intermission.