Saturday, January 28, 2017



Anna Jordan’s prize-winning drama about three members of a British underclass family and their neighbor is having its New York premiere in an MCC production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Hench and Bobbie are teenage half-brothers who are living alone and unsupervised in their alcoholic diabetic mother Maggie’s flat after she moves out to live with her current boyfriend. Hench (Lucas Hedges of “Manchester by the Sea” in an impressive stage debut) is a sullen, emotionally constricted 16-year-old who has nightmares and wets the bed. Bobbie (the impressive Justice Smith) is a hyperactive potty-mouthed 14-year-old (in London the character was only 13) who has unspecified special needs. The boys spend their time playing violent video games and watching porn. Their unseen dog Taliban, so named because he is vicious and brown, is confined to their spare room because he bit someone the last time they let him out. The brothers spot Maggie (Ari Graynor, who looks too pretty and kempt) passed out on the street and bring her in to sober her up. Later the boys are visited by Jennifer (Stefania LaVie Owen), a sweet-dispositioned 16-year-old neighbor, recently arrived from Wales, who is concerned about Taliban’s possible mistreatment. She becomes friendly with the brothers, particularly Hench, who also is stirred by feelings for her. It all turns out very badly. The production is ill-served by an intermission that disrupts the play’s flow. Somehow the play gained 20 minutes since London, where it was performed without a break. The thick working-class British accents and, to a lesser extent, the Welsh accent are challenging. The plot has a few contrivances that make no sense. The brothers have to share one shirt, because they left their laundry with their grandmother the day before she disappeared with her immigrant boyfriend. Was one of them running around shirtless that day? There is too little context for the characters. We never learn what demons bedevil Hench or, for that matter, why he is called Hench. Trip Cullman (Punk Rock) commits one of the cardinal (at least in my book) sins of directing: shining bright lights in the audience’s eyes. The set by Mark Wendland is efficient but uninspired. The costumes by Pamela Young are apt. When it was all over, I had to ask myself what was the play’s point. Is it just a slice of life about the British lower classes? A screed about the evils of porn and video games? A cautionary tale about bad parenting? Judge for yourself if you are so inclined. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission.

Sunday, January 22, 2017



Although written first, Jitney is the last of the ten plays in August Wilson’s American Century Cycle to reach Broadway. This superb production at Manhattan Theatre Club was worth the wait. The focus of the play is the office of a gypsy cab service in a primarily black Pittsburgh neighborhood. We meet the owner Becker (the indispensable John Douglas Thompson), a man widely respected by the community; four of his drivers — Fielding , an alcoholic with a surprising past (longtime Wilson veteran Anthony Chisholm); Youngblood (Andre Holland from the film Moonlight), the Vietnam vet trying to make a better life for his girlfriend Rena (Carra Patterson) and their young son; the soft-spoken, aloof Doub (Keith Randolph Smith), emotionally crippled by what he saw in the Korean War; and gossipy troublemaker Turnbo (the pitch-perfect Michael Potts) — and a couple of regular visitors — Shealy (Harvy Blanks), a flamboyant numbers bookie, and Philmore (Ray Anthony Thomas), a frequent customer. Finally, there is Booster (Brandon J. Dirden), Becker’s son, just released from prison after 20 years. The reunion scene between father and son that ends the first act is both riveting and lacerating. The conversations and conflicts among the other characters often pack a punch while often simultaneously delivering a chuckle. Ensemble acting doesn’t get much better than this. The richly detailed set by David Gallo incorporates glimpses of the neighborhood. Toni-Leslie James’s costumes are perfection. The bluesy music by Bill Sims Jr. enhances the action. Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson (The Piano Lesson) once again demonstrates his aptitude for Wilson’s work. The play is weakened a bit by its pat ending, but not enough to erase its many strengths. My one quibble is that I thought that Dirden (The Piano Lesson), although a fine actor, was miscast; he bears no physical resemblance to Thomspon and looks too sleek and confident for a man just out of prison. Nevertheless, this is a powerful revival of a play well worth seeing. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission.

Seating advice: Since the floor of the stage has been raised at least a foot, i do not recommend seats in the first few rows.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Liar


One of the most enjoyable plays I saw in 2011 was The School for Lies, David Ives’s delightful riff on Moliere’s The Misanthrope, at Classic Stage Company. The cleverness of Ives’s rhymed couplets, full of anachronisms and contemporary references, more than compensated for the silliness of the plot. Three years later, Ives was back at CSC with his “translaptation” (his word) of “The Heir Apparent,” a comedy by lesser known French playwright Regnard. While enjoyable, it did not reach the hilarious peaks of the earlier piece. Now CSC is presenting Ives’s latest adaptation of a classic French comedy, Corneillie’s The Liar (Le Menteur). The good news is that Ives is in top form and the production is another triumph of style over substance. The slight plot, a trifle based on mistaken identities, is performed with conviction by an excellent cast led by Christian Conn in the title role of Dorante and the ever-enjoyable Carson Elrod (“All in the Timing,” “The Heir Apparent,” “The Explorers Club’) as his manservant Cliton, who cannot tell a lie. Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow are charming as Clarice and Lucrece. Tony Roach is fun as Alcippe, Clarice’s secret fiance. Aubrey Deeker is fine in the less showy role of Philiste. Adam LeFevre brings warmth to the role of Dorante’s father Geronte, Kelly Hutchinson is a delight its the twin maids Isabelle and Sabine. The elegantly simple set by Alexander Dodge and the attractive costumes by Murell Horton enhance the production. Michael Kahn directs with a light touch. My only reservation is that it is almost too much of a good thing. The slenderness of the plot barely supports the play’s length, despite all its cleverness. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission.

Comfort alert: The seats in Row A do not have arms.