Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pterodactyls **

This dark 1993 comedy by Nicky Silver, the play that first brought him wide recognition, has been revived off-off-Broadway in an earnest production by the Strain Theatre Company at Teatro Circulo. It provides an interesting opportunity to see an early version of the classic dysfunctional family Silver has written about as recently as The Lyons. The entire Duncan family of suburban Philadelphia is living in denial. Son Todd (Roger Manix), just returned home after five promiscuous years away, denies his mortality even though he has AIDS. His sister Emma (Lori Kee) is a hypochondriac whose severe memory problems keep her from facing her problems, which, it is strongly suggested, include sexual abuse by her father. The adulterous father Arthur (Dennis Gagomiros) is a bank president who confuses his own memories with his childrens’ and is too fond of his daughter. The mother Grace (Maggie Low) is an alcoholic who tries to find meaning in party planning, virtually indifferent to whether the event is her daughter’s wedding or her son’s funeral. Tommy McKorckle (Jeremiah Maestas), Emma’s fiance, is a sexually confused, orphaned homeless waiter whom Grace presses into service as the family maid. Silver’s blends the absurd, the lyrical, the shocking and, occasionally, the realistic. Navigating these rapid changes is a challenge that the actors meet with varying degrees of success. The looming dinosaur skeleton Todd is assembling from bones found in the backyard is a rather ponderous symbol of the family’s imminent extinction. I suspect that theatrical developments since 1993 have robbed the play of some of its shock value. Peri Grabin Leong’s living room set is quite attractive. Marisa Kaugars’s costumes are apt. Stephen Kaliski’s direction is a bit tentative. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes including intermission.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Between Riverside and Crazy ****

With his new play now in previews at the Atlantic Theater Company, Stephen Adly Guirgis proves once again that he is one of our most entertaining playwrights. Walter “Pops” Washington (the superb Stephen McKinley Henderson) is a black former cop whose career was ended by a hail of bullets in a dicey bar 8 years before the play opens. He has been recently widowed, his son Junior (Ray Anthony Thomas) has been in and out of jail and consorts with criminals such as Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar) who has moved in with them. Their household is completed by Lulu (Rosal Colon), Junior’s girlfriend, who has more curves than brains. We also meet Walter’s former partner Detective O’Connor (Elizabeth Canavan) and her fiance Lieutenant Caro (Michael Rispoli), an ambitious, politically well-connected cop. Last but not least is the Church Lady (Liza Colon-Zayas), a visitor who is not what she seems. Walter’s landlord is out to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. Lt. Caro is determined to do whatever it takes to get Walter to sign a settlement with the city that he has been fighting for 8 years to remove loose ends in an election year and enhance his career. What makes the play so exciting is Guirgis’s dialogue. The language is rough, but the humor is wonderful. The play opens with a discussion of nutrition unlike any you are likely to hear again. Guirgis skillfully softens up the audience with humor so that when he turns serious, the impact is twice as strong. The first scene of the second act features the most bizarre sex scene I have seen on a stage — and there’s no nudity involved. The remainder of the second act was less successful and I found the ending weak. Nevertheless, everything else was so enjoyable that these defects barely diminished my pleasure. Walt Spangler’s revolving set captures the look of a grand apartment that had seen better days. Alexis Forte’s costumes suit their characters well. Austin Pendelton’s direction is assured. If you enjoyed “The Motherf**ker with The Hat,” you will love this one; if you didn’t, you probably won’t. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes including intermission.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Lion ***

Benjamin Scheuer, the talented singer/songwriter who wrote this autobiographical one-man musical at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II, is a most appealing performer. With his mop of chestnut hair,  open face, charming smile, strong voice and phenomenal guitar technique, he wins the audience over almost instantly. In this cycle of 15 songs lightly interspersed with conversational remarks, he charts the course of his life from the age of 8 when his father built him a toy banjo out of a cookie tin. The lifelong love of music his father instilled has served him well through a series of traumas that include losing his father when he was 14, being uprooted to England for the next four years, finding and losing love upon his return to New York, and suffering a near-fatal illness. How he finally resolved his conflicted feelings about his father and became his own man both personally and musically is a central theme. Neil Patel's simple set with two chairs, a table and seven guitars is sensitively lit by Ben Stanton. Sean Daniels's direction keeps things on an even keel, skillfully avoiding the maudlin or sentimental. The extravagant praise by the critics raised my expectations a little too high, but I nevertheless enjoyed the evening. The enthusiastic audience was much younger than the usual MTC demographic. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission.