A Life Worth Living? ‘Peer Gynt’ at CSC

'Peer Gynt' at Classic Stage Company. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Peer Gynt’ at Classic Stage Company. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Fans of classical theater are probably most familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House — and if you’re a diehard, PEER GYNT may be on your radar. Written in 1867, the five-act, epic verse play follows Peer Gynt  on an existential journey as he searches for some sort of meaning through the course of his life.

Director John Doyle has adapted the piece for Classic Stage Company (where he takes over as artistic director next season), pairing down the text to a lean, intermissionless 90 minutes in which Peer (Gabriel Ebert) coyly dances through relationships with his mother (a miscast but nevertheless entertaining Becky Ann Baker), scorned bride (Jane Pfitsch), unrequited love (a meek Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and others. The cast of seven is employed on a simple platform set designed by David L. Arsenault, bleak lighting by Jane Cox, off-the-rack costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, and a bucketful of buttons that are sprawled across the stage within the first 15 minutes and can be heard crunching underfoot like a necessary wake-up call for the next hour or so.

Gabriel Ebert in 'Peer Gynt.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gabriel Ebert in ‘Peer Gynt.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

In the program notes, Doyle states, “People say I’m a minimalist. I quite like that notion, but it’s not something I’ve ever called myself. I have an interest in how you get to the essence. Because my job is to do everything I can to clarify the story, but not get in its way and let it breathe.”

In the case of PEER GYNT, there’s so much oxygen in the room that it has displaced other key elements needed for an evening of engaging theater, such as a sense of place and emotional resonance.

Gabriel Ebert throws down the gauntlet in a performance packed with physicality and vocal inflection, but it’s cast into an abyss that swallows him whole. By the end of the play, as Peer faces his final calling, I felt equally depleted.

Here’s what other critics had to say:

If this production lacks the teeming, motley exuberance that pulses in Ibsen’s text, it definitely distills the intriguing philosophical essence of a play that still seems unsettlingly relevant. And you may wind up filling in the blanks left by Mr. Doyle’s stark staging with contemporary scenes from, among other sources, the current presidential race. New York Times

Boredom, in fact, is operative throughout this undramatic, highly symbolic “phantasmagory,” as an early translator, William Archer called it. Based on Norwegian folk tales, Peer Gynt is essentially a dramatized philosophical inquiry into and satire of Peer’s search for his true self. (The famous scene of Ibsen’s analogy of Peer’s centerless self to an onion is intact.) It includes both real and fantastical elements, although the fanciful here has been reduced to everyday dullness. Theatre’s Leiter Side

PEER GYNT
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
Through June 19

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo

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Categories: To See or Not To See

Remembering Beth Howland

companyFans of 1970s and 80s sitcoms will remember Beth Howland as Linda Lavin’s ditzy co-worker, Vera, on the hit series Alice. Howland died on December 31, 2015, but the actress’s husband, Charles Kimbrough only recently announced her death, telling the New York Times that she didn’t want a funeral or memorial service. “It was the Boston side of her personality coming out,” Mr. Kimbrough said. “She didn’t want to make a fuss.”

Broadway audiences will remember Ms. Howland’s early appearances in Once Upon a Mattress and Bye, Bye, Birdie!, but her stand-out role in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company is a performance that will be remembered for generations to come.

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Categories: Show Folk

‘Incognito’: A Head-Scratching Affair at MTC

Incognito Manhattan Theatre ClubIf you’re planning to see Nick Payne’s especially heady drama, Incognito, you’ll want to be well rested and comfortably alert before it begins. Payne notes in the playbill that, “Despite being based, albeit very loosely on several true stories, this play is a work of fiction. But then isn’t everything.” Given the list of reference books that inspired the work, one point is absolutely clear: Payne has compressed more information about the human mind into 90 minutes than most of us will understand in a lifetime—including  quite possibly the play itself.

Payne’s trio of interconnected stories focuses primarily on Albert Einstein’s brain, stolen and preserved in formaldehyde by Thomas Harvey (Morgan Spector), a neurosurgeon. Another scenario involves the short-term  memory loss-caused by seizures- of Henry Maison (Charlie Cox) and the treatment he seeks with his girlfriend, Margaret (Heather Lind). The third plot line details Martha (Geneva Carr), a clinical neuropsychologist trying to make sense of her sexuality and relationship with Patricia (also played by Lind).  In total, there are twenty characters played by four incredibly fine actors. Even if you’re still scratching your head at the curtain call, one has to admire the marathon that they are running eight times a week.

The  crux of Incognito appears to be summarized by Martha, who explains to Patricia:

Our brains are constantly, exhaustively working overtime to deliver the illusion that we’re in control, but we’re not. The brain builds a narrative to steady us from moment to moment, but it’s ultimately an illusion. There is no me, there is no you, and there is certainly no self; we are divided and discontinuous and constantly being duped. The brain is a story-telling machine and it’s really, really good at fooling us. 

Thus, what we believe as reality is masquerading incognito as something else.

The cast of 'Incognito' at Manhattan Theatre Club. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Incognito’ at Manhattan Theatre Club. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Director Doug Hughes undoubtedly has had the human brain on his own mind lately, as he employs some of the same techniques here that he used in his current Tony nominated show, The Father, a play about a man’s spiral into Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the non-linear structure of that play, it was much easier to comprehend. Scott Pask’s sparse scenic design, along with Ben Stanton’s lighting, creates an appropriately clinical and sterile scientific atmosphere.

While it would be unfair to pan a play I don’t fully understand, one thing is clear: at least for this reviewer, the meaning of Incognito is in disguise.

Incognito
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street, NYC
Through June 26

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

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Categories: To See or Not To See

15 Minutes with ‘Perfect Crime”s Catherine Russell

The Perfect Crime

It’s difficult to imagine repeating yourself nearly 12,000 times—unless you’re Catherine Russell. Russell is the star of the smash hit off Broadway play Perfect Crime, which is now entering its 30th year. At the time of this writing, she has missed only 4 performances, earning her a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Housed at the Anne L. Bernstein Center, it is the longest running play in the history of New York theater, on or off Broadway. Russell plays Margaret Thorne Brent, a Connecticut psychiatrist accused of killing her husband and she has been with the project from its’ inception. The Broadway Blog recently talked to her about this stalwart that has been thrilling audiences since 1987.

Richard Shoberg and Catherine Russell in 'The Perfect Crime.' (Photo: Graham Dougherty via The Broadway Blog.)

Richard Shoberg and Catherine Russell in ‘The Perfect Crime.’ (Photo: Graham Dougherty via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: What is about the show and you that endures?

CR: I’m a proponent of the off-Broadway economic model. This has a small cast and one set, so the costs are relatively low. I think people really like thrillers too. It’s a genre that people understand and the title lets people know exactly what to expect. Because crime dramas are so prevalent on TV, this is something that they recognize when they choose live entertainment. The ticket prices are less expensive and seats are much closer because of the intimate space. Our Times Square location mixed with the 30-year history is also an endorsement.

In terms of my involvement, I was in a theater company called the Actors Collective. It was at 39 Grove Street. We did a season of plays with Warren Manzi as the artistic director. Manzi told us that he had written a play that had been in his drawer for seven years. It started as a showcase that ran for 16 performances, and then it moved Off Broadway and has moved nine times. I never expected that it would run as long as it has.

BB: And you’re not only the star of the show, but you also manage the theater yourself, produce the musical The Fantasticks (housed in the same complex), and you teach college English and Theater as well. Where do you get all this energy?

CR: I really like doing the play and I like stability. In a weird way, I’ve been able to carve out that stability in an unstable business. For me, those two hours, eight times a week is wonderful. I’m doing a show that I have fun doing and I try to find something different in every performance. I try to use gravitas from my own life experience and draw on that.

Catherine Russell in 'The Perfect Crime.' (Photo: Graham Dougherty via The Broadway Blog.)

Catherine Russell in ‘The Perfect Crime.’ (Photo: Graham Dougherty via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: Well, your pep definitely comes across in the performance. Do you exercise or is this show your workout?

CR: (laughs) I can do a lot of pushups, I’ll say that. I can do about 180-200—not bad for a 60-year-old!

BB: Wow! You’re like the younger female version of Jack Palance!

CR: Exactly.

BB: Do you ever think you’d like to do other roles, or are you satisfied in this one?

CR: Fortunately, I’ve been able to work around my schedule and I’ve done some work in films and television. I tend to get offered roles similar to the character I play in Perfect Crime, which is nice, but it would be great to have an opportunity to play someone completely different.

BB: Do you foresee an end point for your involvement in the show or will you be with it for as long as it runs?

CR: Quite honestly, I’m not sure. The fact that I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records is a selling point, but I certainly don’t feel as though I’m the only one who can play the role.

BB: Has there been anything unexpected, funny and/or traumatic that has happened in the 30 years of doing the show?

CR: Everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong. I used to bring my dogs to the theater and one of them walked onstage during intermission and began eating the props. Things have broken; guns haven’t been placed on stage. We used to have a glass table in the first scene and the actor who gets shot accidentally shattered it. I’ve fallen down the stairs. My dress has fallen off. We once had a kid in the second row projectile vomit onto the stage. The first row leaned forward and dodged it, but we just kept going.

BB: Have you thought about putting your experience of this show into a memoir?

CR: Not really. It may be interesting only to theater people. I’m not being false modest when I say this, but my life is pretty boring.

BB: I think what puts you on the map is that you have done this production for so long and it’s a huge achievement. Your work ethic is extremely impressive.

CR: Thank you but isn’t it sad that we value people who show up to work every day. I could take a vacation if I wanted to. I mean, it’s not like this is a prison, but I just like to work a lot.

BB: Has there been talk of licensing this show to other markets?

CR: I’ve always thought it would do well in London, or as a vehicle for former television stars, but it’s on my to do list.

BB: Any pre- or post-show rituals?

CR: The guys watch Jeopardy, I run the box office and take tickets for The Fantasticks and then run upstairs to do the show. Afterwards, I take out the garbage.

BB: So you go from the not so glamorous, to the glamorous, back to the not so glamorous.

CR: Yes. It keeps thing in perspective. I don’t fantasize about driving off in a limo at night. I love being part of it all. I look out and see the lights on Broadway and I’m glad to be a tiny part of the theater world in New York. I’m really grateful for that.

Perfect Crime
Anne L. Bernstein Theater at The Theater Center
1627 Broadway, NYC

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

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Theater Buzz: Obie’s, Stars in the Alley, NY Pops & More

There’s so much to keep up with this week in the theater world. Here are notable happenings!

Lea DeLaria (Photo: Sophy Holland via The Broadway Blog.)

Lea DeLaria (Photo: Sophy Holland via The Broadway Blog.)

Obie Awards Update
The American Theatre Wing (Heather Hitchens, President) and The Village Voice (Peter Barbey, Owner) have announced that the star-studded line-up of presenters at the 61st Annual Obie Awards will include Obie Award winner Colman Domingo, Obie Award winner Danai Gurira, Maura Tierney, Kate Burton, Obie Award winner Savion Glover, three-time Obie Award winner Elizabeth Marvel, Carrie Preston, Norm Lewis, Obie Award winner Tovah Feldshuh, Marlo Thomas, and two-time Obie Award winner Lisa Kron. The evening will include special performances by cast members of “Orange Is The New Black,” 2016 Tony Award nominee Leslie Odom Jr., and Ben Platt.

As was previously announced, Obie and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning actress Lea DeLaria will return as the host of this year’s Obie Awards, which will take place on Monday, May 23, at Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street.

This year’s Obie Awards will be live streamed on the official Obie Awards Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ObieAwards

stars in the alley

Stars in the Alley
2016 Tony Award Nominee Alex Brightman and his School of Rock The Musical co-star, Sierra Boggess, have been named social media correspondents for the 2016 STARS IN THE ALLEY concert, presented by United Airlines. The pair will post on social media throughout the event, keeping fans up-to-date on all of the action behind the scenes and on stage.

Stars in the Alley will be hosted by Sean Hayes and Mo Rocca. Sean Hayes will be starring in Broadway’s An Act of God and was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Promises,Promises and Mo Rocca is a Correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and appeared on Broadway in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Stars in the Alley will take place on Friday, June 3 from 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. in Shubert Alley, between Broadway and 8th Avenue and 44th and 45th Streets. To add to the festivities leading up to the Tony Awards, the free outdoor concert in the heart of the Theatre District will celebrate Broadway with star appearances and exciting performances from over 30 new shows and long-running favorites, accompanied by a 12-piece live orchestra.

Alex Brightman and Sierra Boggess in 'School of Rock.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Alex Brightman and Sierra Boggess in ‘School of Rock.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“I’m so excited to serve as co-social ambassador alongside my School of Rock co-star Sierra Boggess at Broadway’s best block party – Stars in the Alley! The next best thing to rocking out at a free outdoor concert is following along with us online. Looking forward to see you there, one way or another!” said Alex Brightman.

“I’m honored to be the social media correspondent this year at Stars in the Alley alongside my incredible co-star Alex Brightman,” said Sierra Boggess. “This is one of my favorite Broadway events of the year, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this special free concert!”

NY Pops Heads to Forest Hills with Megan Hilty and Matthew Morrison

Megan Hilty (photo provided by MiWeb via The Broadway Blog.)

Megan Hilty (photo provided by MiWeb via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops will return to its new summer home, Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, NY, for a program starring Tony nominees Megan Hilty and Matthew Morrison. After a wildly successful outing at the open-air venue in summer 2015, The New York Pops is proud to return to Queens with a full orchestra. The concert will also continue the expanded version of the orchestra’s Kids in the Balcony program, offering 1,000 children an opportunity to attend and learn about live music for free.

“I am beyond thrilled to return to the stadium – we had such a blast last summer, and I know that the orchestra, Matthew, and Megan are going to knock it out of the park in July!” said Music Director Steven Reineke. “Matthew and Megan have performed with the orchestra before, and they are always absolutely electric. I am so glad they will bring their larger-than-life talent to join our full orchestra in this incredible venue. This concert is going to be a home run!”

For ticket information, visit: www.newyorkpops.org or www.foresthillsstadium.com.

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Categories: The Buzz, VIP Access

Theater Buff(s): ‘Paramour”s Andrew and Kevin Atherton

Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. This month we’re seeing double with aerial artists Andrew and Kevin Atherton, who appear in Cirque du Soleil’s first venture on Broadway: Paramour.

Andrew and Kevin Atherton in Cirque du Soleil's 'Paramour.' (Photo: Matt Beard via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrew and Kevin Atherton in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Paramour.’ (Photo: Matt Beard via The Broadway Blog.)

Names:
Andrew and Kevin Atherton

Hometown:
Wigan, Lancashire, United Kingdom. [A county to the north and west of Manchester.]

The Atherton Twins (Photo: Greg Gorman via The Broadway Blog.)

The Atherton Twins (Photo: Greg Gorman via The Broadway Blog.)

You’ve been performing with Cirque du Soleil for more than 16 years — how is Paramour different than the previous shows?
Andi and Kevin: Paramour combines musical theater with Cirque du Soleil and is a blend of the two otherwise very separate worlds. With Paramour we follow a very clear, linear story, told with lyrics, text, dance and acrobatics. This is something very different from our previous shows. We feel privileged and proud to be part of something like Paramour.

You famously performed in Varekai for more than 3,000 performances without ever missing a show, but what happens when one of you gets sick? Is there a hidden triplet to step in?
Andi and Kevin: There’s no hidden triplet to step in! Yes, we have been sick on numerous occasions during our time with Cirque du Soleil. Our passion for the stage and performance, along with a good adrenaline boost once we enter the stage, has meant we’ve been able to work though these obstacles. We honestly love every part of what we do, and we’d miss it if we weren’t able to perform for any reason.

(Photo provided by Andrew and Kevin Atherton, via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo provided by Andrew and Kevin Atherton, via The Broadway Blog.)

If I weren’t an aerialist, I’d be:
Kevin: Fat and hairy.

Andi: Fatter and harrier.

Which is your favorite? Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
Andi: All of the above. I love to perform.

Kevin: Places. I love the energy backstage before the show begins. Especially at Paramour. It’s electric.

The Atherton Twins (Photo: Dawn Bowery via The Broadway Blog.)

The Atherton Twins (Photo: Dawn Bowery via The Broadway Blog.)

Our favorite best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
Andi and Kevin: The New York Beer Company. It’s near the theatre and has a fun, relaxed atmosphere. It’s a great place to meet friends after the show.

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
Andi and Kevin: The High Line. This elevated parkway offers many great views of the city.

If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be:
Andi: On a beach somewhere.

Kevin:  I’m a West Coast kind of guy. I love Los Angeles, so I’d probably live in the hills of West Hollywood.

Our workout “secret” is:
Andi and Kevin: Never lifting weights that are too heavy to compromise your technique. Doing so will only risk injury. We always concentrate on our form no matter what exercise we’re doing.

Our favorite website that you may not have heard of is:
Andi and Kevin: Houzz.com — It’s a favorite of ours, as we both love interior design and architecture.

People would be surprised to learn that we . . .
Andi and Kevin: Drink beer and eat burgers.

Ten years from now I’d like to be:
Andi: Happy, healthy, and surrounded by my family.

Kevin: A father!

Paramour opens May 25 at the Lyric Theatre. Click here for ticket information.

(Photo provided by Kevin and Andrew Atherton via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo provided by Kevin and Andrew Atherton via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @roodeloo.

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Categories: The Buzz, Theater Buff

‘Indecent’: When a Kiss Killed a Broadway Show

by Samuel L. Leiter

The cast of 'Indecent' at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Indecent’ at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

One of the things that roared loudest on Broadway during the Roaring Twenties was the lion of censorship, a raging beast that awoke to find post-World War I stages inundated with unbridled sex and profanity, resulting in the closing down of one show after the other. The first to be bitten arrived in 1923, when Polish writer Sholem Asch’s (1880-1957) controversial 1906 Yiddish play, God of Vengeance, a European sensation, ran into trouble. Austrian star Rudolph Schildkraut had done it in Yiddish at Off-Broadway’s Irving Place Theatre in 1921, then in English at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1922.

When this version moved to Broadway in 1923, it was shut down and the entire cast spent a night in jail; eventually the original conviction was overturned. Asch, meanwhile, turned to novels and never wrote another play.

The compelling history behind God of Vengeance, which later had several Off-Broadway revivals, inspired Rebecca Taichman to write an early version of Indecent as her Yale thesis. The play, a sort of biodrama about both Asch’s play and the writer himself, was rewritten by Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), who’s credited as playwright, while she and Taichman are billed as having “created” it. Taichman, though, is responsible for the beautifully evocative staging, which uses Brechtian tropes to capture the theatrical ambience and Yiddishkeit surrounding Asch’s European and American worlds. Its showing at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre follows its world premiere at Yale Rep and follow-up at La Jolla Playhouse.

Adina Verson (l) and Katrina Lenk in 'Indecent' at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Adina Verson (l) and Katrina Lenk in ‘Indecent’ at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

God of Vengeance, about a pious Jew, Yekel (Tom Nelis, outstanding), who has become wealthy by operating a brothel, was considered especially notorious because it depicted a lesbian love scene between the rain-soaked brothel owner’s daughter, Rifkele (Adina Verson, very fine) and a prostitute, the beauteous Manke (Katrina Lenk, my favorite), complete with a shocking kiss, a scene Asch (Max Gordon Moore, earnest) apparently agreed to cut to keep the play running.

Vogel indicts this failure to stand up for his art via the critical response of the stage manager character, Lemml (Richard Topol, poignant), who guides us through much of the action. Indecent exploits the kiss continually, even adding a heavy downpour for a climactic reenactment.

The rain, though, adds unnecessary excess to a story theatre-like presentation otherwise content to let the audience use its imagination as the actors morph from role to role on Riccardo Hernandez’s straightforward set of a raised, wooden platform backed by a brick wall.

As in so many other such works, actors are seen sitting on chairs waiting to make their entrances. Christophe Akerlind’s sensitive lighting and Emily Rebholz’s costumes (mostly suggesting the 1930s) are exceptional visual adjuncts. Tal Yarden’s supertitles, in English and Yiddish (some of them a bit fuzzy), fill in transitional gaps. Often, to suggest quick jump cuts, we see “a blink in time” projected.

Using a cast of seven actors and three musicians, with inserts of wonderful klezmer music (composed by violinist Lisa Gutkin and accordionist Aaron Halva) and lots of Hassidic-inflected movement (choreography by David Dorfman), the play progresses chronologically, moving from God of Vengeance’s creation in Warsaw, through its European stagings (always with Yekel about to crush his daughter with a Torah), to its New York legal problems, during which Asch refused to defend himself, a decision Vogel has said she continues to hold against him.

But the plot doesn’t stop there, continuing to move forward to incorporate a troupe of yellow star-wearing actors doing the play in a Lodz ghetto attic in 1943; the Holocaust has arrived. Still, it’s not until 1952 and a nod to the House Un-American Activities Committee (Asch had been “attracted by Socialists” in 1905) that the clock stops ticking.

The cast of 'Indecent' at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Indecent’ at the Vineyard Theatre. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Indecent can be deeply moving, especially at moments such as when the actors allow ashes to drop from their sleeves, a powerful framing image, reinforced at the end by an “ashes to ashes” supertitle. Still, when Indecent reaches forward to include hot-button material like the six million, it spreads its net too wide. There’s already plenty of indecency to digest, from the problems of Jewish immigration and assimilation to the dramatic depiction of same-sex love to the travails of a traveling Jewish troupe to New York’s censorship invasions.

As for the latter: the authorities hit not only God of Vengeance but What Price Glory?, Ladies of the Evening, The Captive, The Shanghai Gesture, Sex, Lulu Belle, Pleasure Man, and others. Interestingly, Eugene O’Neill (Moore) shows up at a bar (where else?) to offer moral support for Asch while explaining why he’s unable to testify. Too bad there’s no subtitle to remind us that O’Neill’s own Desire under the Elms (1924) and Strange Interlude (1928) nearly felt the censor’s ax themselves. That would have been pretty indecent, too.

Indecent
Vineyard Theatre
108 E. 15th Street, NYC
Through June 12

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

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Barbra’s Back!

Barbra Streisand (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog).

Barbra Streisand (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog).

Guess who’s hitting the road (or more likely, private jet)? Barbra Streisand returns to the stage for a nine-city tour followed by the release of her next album, ENCORE: Movie Partners Sing Broadway.

Last year Streisand became the only recording artist or group to achieve #1 albums in each of six decades. She will perform her hits from each decade plus songs from her new album, celebrating a career of unparalleled creative achievement. Every ticket purchased online includes a CD of Streisand’s new album, which will be released later this year.

The tour is presented by Live Nation Global Touring and S2BN Entertainment.

The tour dates include:

August 2 — Los Angeles, Staples Center

August 4 — San Jose, SAP Center at San Jose

August 6 — Las Vegas, T-Mobile Arena

August 9 — Chicago, United Center

August 11, 13 — Brooklyn, Barclays Center

August 16 — Boston, TD Garden

August 18 — Washington D.C.,Verizon Center

August 20 —Philadelphia, Wells Fargo Center

August 23 — Toronto, Air Canada Centre

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz

‘A Better Place’: Too Many Apartment Complexes

by Samuel L. Leiter

'A Better Place' (Photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

If you ever need to answer the question “What has more holes than Swiss cheese?” you can say either “Two slices of Swiss cheese” or Australian playwright Wendy Beckett’s A Better Place, a sieve-like effort being given its world premiere at the Duke under Evan Bergman’s heavy-on-the-pedal helming. Before this underwhelming, overacted comedy begins you may be impressed by David L. Arsenault’s striking set, showing, on one side, a sleek Manhattan apartment with a view in a glass and steel high-rise, and, across a shiny black-tiled span, a just as high, but much smaller flat in an old brick building. Russell H. Champa’s lighting keeps busy following the transitions from one place to the other. Meanwhile, the audience sits in two segments, facing its counterpart on the span’s other side.

The older apartment houses two gay men, Les Covert (Rob Maitner), and his partner, Sel Trevoc (John FitzGibbon). Why they’re given forward and backward versions of each other’s names would be worth pondering only if the play were by a certain other Beckett. Then again, you shouldn’t expect much of a play where someone says of another, “He’s a geek,” and the serious response is, “What difference does it make what country he’s from?” Anyhow, Les loses his job as a waiter and Sel is a philosophy professor who believes their financial situation will improve when he gets tenure. Tenure, he should be reminded, doesn’t alter your income; it merely secures your position. And it sure wouldn’t make enough of a difference for them to give up their rent-controlled pad, small as we’re told it is (it’s hard to tell from the comfy, compact living room we’re shown).

Michael Satow and Jessica DiGiovanni in 'A Better Place.' (Photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog)

Michael Satow and Jessica DiGiovanni in ‘A Better Place.’ (Photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog)

Like James Stewart in Rear Window, albeit without binoculars, Les can’t help covertly (remember his last name?) studying the family (misinterpreting what he sees) living opposite him and wishing he could have their lives.

Helping him greatly are the family’s shadeless floor-to-ceiling windows (their motto must be “fear no more the heat o’ the sun”), and their total ignorance (except for a brief moment) of being visible to people living only a few feet away. The conceit might work if what they do could be comically misunderstood as idyllic; too little of it is, making Les’s perceptions more crazy than amusing.

The family consists of a loud, colorful, Brooklyn-accented, working-class couple in their sixties, John (Edward James Hyland) and Mary Roberts (Judith Hawking), and their self-centered, twenty-eight-year-old daughter, Carol (Jessica DiGiovanni). John plays the horses bigtime (a pick-six win paid the deposit on the apartment); Mary, a shopaholic bottle blonde (costumer Valerie Ramshur provides both women with stylish clothes), holds a blue collar job (her uniform looks like a waitress’s); and Carol refuses to work, convinced her parents are rich enough to support her.

John’s worried about the apartment’s value dropping because a building rising nearby will eventually block the view (as if prospective buyers wouldn’t realize it even at this stage); he keeps having the place assessed yet refuses to sell. Mary, though, wants to sell and retire to Florida. Carol’s apartment fixation, however, is largely sexual; a teeth-grindingly irritating running joke has her hooking up with a series of brokers (all played by Michael Satow) who can arouse her only by spouting sales pitches, like “Park Avenue: gigantic fireplaces, monumental carved doorways, full wrap around me terraces.”

A Better Place’s plot advances when John wins $96,000 on a single race at Belmont and, on his way home, loses his briefcase containing the payout; for those wondering about the size or form of the payout, the bet was placed with bookies, not the track. The money’s loss sets in motion a sequence of egregious coincidences and moral breast-beating you wouldn’t believe even if I told you.

You might also find implausible, once you learn what John does for a living when he’s not gambling, how he’s managed to pay for his $4 million-plus apartment; or how his own daughter has no idea what his actual profession is; or how Mary could be so careless about her OkCupid searches; or how the professorial Sel can cite Zeus’s Olympian spouse as the mortal Penelope instead of the goddess Hera . . .

Enough already. Even if you’re convinced A Better Place looks like Swiss cheese, you still may not be able to swallow it.

A Better Place
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 W. 42nd Street, NYC
Through June 12

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

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Review: ‘Do I Hear a Waltz?’ at City Center

"Do I Hear a Waltz?" (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

“Do I Hear a Waltz?” (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Is that the sound of a discordant collaboration between two of the great musical theater icons of the 2oth century? If you’re witnessing Do I Hear a Waltz? — currently being presented by New York City Encores! — the answer is yes.

Author Martin Gottfried (Sondheim, 1993) wrote, “If we are measured by what we survive, Do I Hear a Waltz? is Sondheim’s yardstick.”

The Tony Award-winning composer/lyricist himself wrote in Finishing the Hat, “Rodgers mistrusted any song whose measures didn’t add up to a multiple of four, or at least two. I would bring him the sketch of a lyric on music paper with a suggested rhythmic notation attached, and he wouldn’t even read it until he had counted the bars, usually by tapping on my sketch with a pencil in authoritarian skepticism; woe betide me if it turned out to be an odd number.”

"Do I Hear a Waltz?" (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

“Do I Hear a Waltz?” (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

That clarifies the occasionally clashing lyrics and melodies, though each finds its moments to shine throughout the score, but doesn’t explain Arthur Laurents’ odd book (based on his own play, The Time of the Cuckoo. The plot follows spinster schoolteacher Leona Samish (Melissa Errico) as she ventures to Venice on a solo vacation and finds herself having a brief affair with a married man, Renanto Di Rossi (Richard Troxell). Fellow guests Eddie Yeager (Claybourne Elder) and his wife Jennifer (Sarah Hunt) are having their own marital problems, which are exacerbated by innkeeper Signora Fioria (Karen Ziemba). The musical essentially advocates a joie de vivr sensibility, where infidelity is expected and monogamy is considered passé.

Where you fall on this relationship continuum may impact your impression of the piece. Even in 2016, I think many people still hold hope that a true, lifelong love is possible. With limited rehearsal, the cast approaches the material with zeal. I was never quite sure the kind of woman Errico was trying to play. There are echoes of her earlier ingénue days (she starred as Eliza Doolittle opposite Richard Chamberlain in the short-lived revival of My Fair Lady) but then she morphs into Mama Rose 2.0 in her 11 o’clock number Everybody Loves Leona.

As her love interest, Troxell deliver a charming performance and his gorgeous tenor voice serves the material well, particularly in the Act One finale, “Take the Moment.” Ziemba, along with supporting cast members Sarah Stiles, Richard Poe, and Nancy Opel deliver light-hearted comic relief but the material never truly lifts off the page, leaving one to wonder if hearing this particular waltz after all these years was worth the wait.

Here’s what the other critics are saying:

““Waltz” is exactly the sort of production that Encores! should be doing. Since the company’s City Center revival of “Chicago” (also two decades ago) transferred to Broadway, where it continues to run and run, expectations have been loaded onto Encores! as an incubator of commercial hits.

But the program’s inestimable value lies in its presentation of shows we might otherwise never see — and of talented performers stretching muscles they rarely have a chance to use. I can’t say that this “Waltz” ever thrilled me. But I was fascinated by every second of it, and by the unresolved conflict of talents it embodies.” The New York Times

“You could have no better record of the clash of old and new, descendant and ascendant, that Rodgers and Sondheim represented in 1964. You can hear the conflict, song after song, as they turn that clash into moments of clever fun or immense but untethered beauty. And you can understand how it came to happen that such moments would never again suffice.” Vulture

“As directed by Evan Cabnet, this is an elegant production of a work that is better off left in the drawer, as a footnote to Sondheim’s unparalleled career. Melissa Errico gives a smashing lead performance as Leona that ought to leave theatergoers puzzled as to why she is not landing more starring roles.” amNewYork

Do I Hear a Waltz?
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street, NYC
Through May 15

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