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For Whom the Bell Drolls: ‘Ring Twice for Miranda’

February 14th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Katie Kleiger and Daniel Pearce in 'Ring Twice for Miranda.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Katie Kleiger and Daniel Pearce in ‘Ring Twice for Miranda.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Ring Twice for Miranda’s title suggests that audiences are in for a naughty Feydeau-style bedroom farce, perhaps like the one Noël Coward adapted as Look after Lulu. And, indeed, publisher and former lawyer Alan Hruska’s labored, dystopian “tragicomedy” (as its advertising calls it) includes a cute young thing named Miranda (Katie Kleiger) wearing an abbreviated French maid’s costume. There’s also a canopied set resembling a huge bed (under which an actual bed plays a part) and a white-bearded old gent named Sir (Graeme Malcolm) in a Hugh Hefner bathrobe who rings twice for Miranda via a hanging bell pull when in need of her services.

Ring Twice for Miranda has the musty air of one of those European, allegorical, politically tinged, absurdist satires of the 1950s and 1960s—think Ionesco, Sartre, Durrenmatt, Arrabal, or Frisch—but without their wit, cogency, depth, or flair. It’s set in some unnamed urban “district” governed by the calmly tyrannical Sir from the expansive bedroom of his huge, well-stocked mansion. How much of this desiccated civilization Sir controls remains undefined; we have no idea if there are other Sirs out there as well.

George Merrick and Ian Lassiter in 'Ring Twice for Miranda.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

George Merrick and Ian Lassiter in ‘Ring Twice for Miranda.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Something indefinite has caused civilization to crumble, food and other necessities to dry up, and the starving masses to seek survival in the warm south or cold north even though no gas or food is available. Those in Sir’s employ and living in his upstairs/downstairs mansion have their needs supplied but are at the mercy of his whims, carried out by his second in command, a smarmy, power-hungry bureaucrat named Gulliver (Daniel Pearce).

Miranda’s butler friend Elliot (George Merrick), summoned with one ring, is dismissed and the altruistic Miranda—hoping to change Sir’s mind—threatens to leave with him. Although this will deprive Sir of the highly mysterious service she performs for him, he lets her go.

Outside, stranded with too much luggage near an abandoned, graffiti-covered building, Miranda and Elliot encounter the horrible circumstances they’d only heard about. A bizarre couple pulls up in a car. He’s the brash, long-haired, Cockney-accented Chester (William Connell); she’s his vain, glammed-up Egyptian girlfriend Anouk (Talia Thiesfield). They offer to give Miranda and Elliot a lift in return for directions to a gas station.

Chester and Anouk are discovered by a wrench-wielding, so-called plumber named Felix (Ian Lassiter) who works for Sir and is something of a rival to Gulliver; he recruits the couple as replacements for Elliot and Miranda. That hapless pair returns, seeking to retake their former jobs from the incompetent usurpers. And thus we finally discover what it is that Miranda does for Sir that he finds so irreplaceable. Let’s just say it defines the meaning of anticlimax.

As in his equally problematic 2015 play Laugh It Up, Stare It Down, Hruska provides an indeterminate final curtain when, as Sir rings twice, Miranda and Elliot, trapped, ponder their next move.

As the two-act play trudges along, Sir’s image as a whimsically inscrutable God controlling people as if they were puppets becomes sharper, with Gulliver as his soon-to-fall Lucifer. Perhaps Miranda and Elliot are angels hoping to retain God’s grace. There’s also the possibility that Hruska is seeking to say something (don’t ask me) about the disempowerment of the 99 percent by showing the callousness of the one percent. It’s a stretch but Sir—despite the vagueness of his motives—might be a stand-in for Donald Trump.

Apart from scattered moments, there’s precious little to keep you invested for nearly two hours. Kreigel and Lassiter bring a modicum of charm and conviction to the maid and the plumber, Malcolm is haughty yet subtly mischievous as Sir, Pearce’s slimy Gulliver is dismissive in a Sean Spicer way, Merrick fails to make anything substantial of Elliot, and Connell and Thiesfield (especially the latter) provide an object lesson in overacting.

Rick Lombardo’s direction (far better in his recent Albatross), Haddon Kime’s original music, Jason Sherwood’s sets, Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, and Matthew Richards’s lighting, while perfectly professional, never provide the inventive magic an offbeat play like this requires. That, however, may be like seeking gas or water in Hruska’s post-apocalyptic world.

Ring Twice for Miranda
City Center Stage II
131 W. 55th St., NYC
Through April 16

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).

 

 

 

Cast Recording of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Debuts at #8 on Billboard

February 13th, 2017 Comments off
'Dear Evan Hansen' (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Photo: Matthew Murray via The Broadway Blog.)

Producer Stacey Mindich and Atlantic Records announced today that the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Dear Evan Hansen has made an extraordinary debut on the Billboard 200, entering the chart at #8 – the highest charting debut position for an original cast album since 1961.

In addition, the album debuted at #4 on Billboard’s “Top Album Sales” ranking, and #1 on the “Top Broadway Albums” chart. The Original Broadway Cast Recording of Dear Evan Hansen is available now for streaming and purchase at digital retailers nationwide. Physical editions arrive in stores on Friday, February 24.

One of only four cast albums to reach the top 10 of the “Billboard 200” in the last 50 years, the album’s historic success even outpaced the debut chart position of the Hamilton, which bowed at #12. The other two albums to reach the top 10 in the last half century were Rent and the Original 1969 Cast Recording of Hair.

With a book by Obie Award-winner Steven Levenson, a score by Tony® Award nominees Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, and directed by 3-time Tony® Award nominee Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen officially opened to rave reviews on December 4.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber Celebrates 4 Shows on Broadway

February 10th, 2017 Comments off
The casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber's current shows on Broadway. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

The casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s current shows on Broadway. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

Moments before the curtain went up on the Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard, starring Glenn Close, the stars of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s productions came together to celebrate the legendary composer’s historic achievement of having four musicals running simultaneously on Broadway with a commemorative photo.

Lloyd Webber posed backstage at Broadway’s Palace Theatre with cast members from Sunset Boulevard (Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, Fred Johanson), School of Rock – The Musical (Eric Petersen, Jersey Sullivan, Rachel Katzke), CATS (Jessica Hendy, Harris Milgrim, Tanner Ray Wilson), and The Phantom of the Opera (James Barbour, Kaley Ann Voorhees).

‘Indecent’ Moves to Broadway With Entire Cast Intact

February 9th, 2017 Comments off

indecent

Daryl Roth, Elizabeth Ireland McCann and Cody Lassen, the producers of Indecent — the newest work by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) — have announced that the entire original Off-Broadway ensemble will travel to Broadway when the production begins previews at the Cort Theatre on April 4, prior to its official opening night on April 18.

The Broadway cast of Indecent has – not unlike the theater troupe depicted in the play itself – been performing the play together for more than two years: during its development with the Sundance Theater Institute and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, followed by productions at Yale Rep, La Jolla Playhouse and the Vineyard Theatre, where Indecent had its New York City debut last summer.

A new play with music, Indecent is inspired by the true story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance about a Jewish family that lives above a brothel, hoping to gain respect by having their daughter marry into a prestigious family.

Called “superbly realized and remarkably powerful” by The New York Times and hailed as one of the best plays of the year by critics, Indecent charts the journey of an incendiary drama and the artists who risked their lives to perform it. Created by Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman (Stage Kiss), Indecent is set at a time when waves of immigrants were changing the face of America and offers a riveting look at an explosive moment in theatrical history.

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‘The Great Comet’ Invites Fans to Sing on Cast Recording

February 8th, 2017 Comments off

The Great Comet Broadway

The new Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, invites fans to be a part of the upcoming original Broadway cast recording.

The Great Comet is looking for fans to join creator Dave Malloy and members of the cast to sing group chorus sections and to play the show’s famous egg shakers for the original Broadway cast recording.  This special fan recording session will take place in midtown Manhattan on Monday, February 13 from 6:00pm – 7:30pm EST.  No purchase is necessary – to sign up, and receive the exact location, visit www.greatcometbroadway.com/castrecording

 

Don’t Miss: MCC’s ‘Miscast’ Benefit

February 7th, 2017 Comments off

MCC TheaterMCC Theater has announced the all-star lineup of performers set for their annual Miscast gala (Monday, April 3), celebrating the 30th Anniversary of MCC Theater.

MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala is one of the most exciting and unique theater events in town. Broadway’s hottest stars perform songs from roles in which they would never be cast.

Performers include: Tony winners Annaleigh Ashford, Norbert Leo Butz, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Jennifer Holliday and Kelli O’Hara; Tony nominees Stephanie J. Block, Brian d’Arcy James and Brandon Victor Dixon; plus Dear Evan Hansen breakout Ben Platt and Hamilton star Mandy Gonzalez. Additional names will be announced shortly.

Proceeds from Miscast support MCC Theater’s mission to develop and produce exciting work Off-Broadway, as well as its Youth Company and partnerships with New York City public high schools, and MCC’s literary development work with emerging playwrights.

For more than 15 years, MCC Theater’s education and outreach programs have embodied the company’s mission to provoke conversations that have never happened and otherwise never would. Programs have grown from an eight-member Youth Company ensemble in 1999 to serving over 100 public high school students each year in several branches, including an Acting Lab, a Playwriting Lab, an Ambassadors program, two school campus-based satellite programs, and classroom partnerships. These programs empower students to achieve higher academic success and become more civically engaged. Each year 90 to 100 percent of Youth Company seniors graduate from high school in four years and enroll in college.

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

MCC Theater broke ground on its first permanent home— a two-theater complex on West 52nd Street and 10th Avenue—on March 22, 2016. Set to open in 2018, the space will unite MCC’s diverse roster of programs under one roof for the first time in the company’s three-decade history. The new facility will also allow MCC to expand its programming and establish it as a cultural anchor within the Clinton neighborhood. The $35 million project is funded by a public-private partnership between the Theater and the City of New York, with $30 million raised to-date.

Miscast
The Hammerstein Ballroom
311 West 34th Street
April 3

 

 

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Fresh Kiss, Fresh Courage: ‘Yours Unfaithfully’

February 3rd, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

 Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in 'Yours Unfaithfully.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in ‘Yours Unfaithfully.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Miles Malleson (1888-1969), the British author of Yours Unfaithfully, the Mint Theater’s latest discovery of lost or forgotten plays deserving another look, was something of a Renaissance man. He made a distinctive mark as an actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright, while also being known for his then radical thinking on various social issues.

Although represented on this side of the pond as a director and actor on a small number of occasions (he staged the famous Old Vic production of The Critic starring Laurence Olivier in 1946), his plays seem never to have made it across. Yours Unfaithfully didn’t even make it to the London stage, and the Mint’s production is its well-deserved world premiere.

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in 'Yours Unfaithfully.' (Photo: 'Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in ‘Yours Unfaithfully.’ (Photo: ‘Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Unfaithfully Yours, written in 1933, embodies certain autobiographical features of Malleson’s own unconventional life, marital and otherwise. It examines with intelligence and sensitivity, but few emotional fireworks, the ramifications of the once scandalous idea of open marriage, or, at least, the idea that married couples should, within reason and with mutual respect, be free to engage in extramarital canoodlings.

Two of its three acts are framed more or less in the style of a domestic high comedy, with fashionable, well-educated, highly articulate sophisticates of the cigarettes-and-cocktails class discussing serious issues much as in a discussion play by Shaw. But the laughs are few, the drinks are minimal, and the cigarettes non-existent.

Instead, the script’s appealing promise dissipates into talky artificiality, largely, I believe, because of its otherwise capable actors being out of their depth; instead of true Miles Malleson we get faux-Noël Coward. Malleson’s play should only receive another staging if it can find a cast (think anyone from Downton Abbey) that can carry off its English savoir faire and, most particularly, its accents. Here—despite one actor’s having studied at Oxford—they’re either strained, inconsistent, or invisible under director Jonathan Bank’s earnest but often uninspired direction.

Stephen (Max von Essen, too American) and Anne Meredith (Elisabeth Gray, elegant but forced) have been married for eight years; he’s a writer with controversial, advanced ideas, currently in a writing rut; the pair, who have two children (disturbingly unseen), have created a successful private school.

Stephen, with what appears to be the tacit approval of Anne, who once had her own fling and suggests the same might help spark his writing, begins an affair with Diane Streatfield (Mikaela Izquirdo, the sincerest performance); she’s a lonely widow whose husband died in a plane crash only a year earlier. A family friend, Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris, bland), is the raisonneur to whom Stephen explains his motivations: “Fresh kiss, fresh courage.”

The plot thickens when Anne not only feels the green-eyed monster’s presence, but begins an affair of her own, with Stephen getting hoist by his own petard. This inspires director Banks’s finest contribution, when, with the expert lighting assistance of Xavier Pierce, he shows us Stephen’s sleepless night in a montage of silent moments as he waits for Anne to return to their pied à terre.

For further elucidation of the play’s moral compass, we have Stephen’s father, the Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer, a late replacement), against whose socially conservative views Stephen argues for his own progressive ones.

Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray in 'Yours Unfaithfully.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray in ‘Yours Unfaithfully.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The first two acts are set at the Merediths’ country home. Carolyn Mraz has designed a rather homely drawing room environment with clashing colors, ugly wallpaper, and ill-chosen paintings.

And Hunter Kaczorowski’s costumes seem an uncomfortable blend of period and not-so period; Stephen, for example, first appears in a tailored brown shirt and broad tie, with high-waisted, pale pants held up by broad suspenders, more like a zoot suiter of the 1940s than a writer-teacher of the early thirties.

But when, in Act Three, as period music chosen by sound designer Jane Shaw plays, we see the sleek Anne, in a black, floor-length sheath, against the bare walls of the pied à terre, the design elements click and, for the first time, a true 1930s impression is conveyed.

Yours Unfaithfully runs two-hours and five minutes, with two intermissions, but the first two acts could easily be joined with only a momentary break. Doing so would go a long way toward easing the tedium that gradually sets in, at least in this production whose casting is unfaithful to the play’s dramatic needs.

Yours Unfaithfully
Mint Theater at the Beckett Theater
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through February 18

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). 

Don’t Miss: ‘Page to Stage’ Seminar with Off Broadway Alliance

February 2nd, 2017 Comments off

Off Broadway AllianceDo you think you may be the next David Merrick? The Off Broadway Alliance, the organization of Off Broadway producers, theaters, general managers, press agents, and marketing firms, will hold the next event in its Seminars series, focused on the Off Broadway Producing Process on Saturday, February 4, 2017. The seminar will discuss various pathways of developing shows from conception towards a production in the Off Broadway arena.

The seminar, “Page to Stage, or How to Get Your Show to Off Broadway,” will feature producer Charlotte Cohn (Church and State, Handle with Care), playwright Matt Cox (Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic), co-author, co-producer and star of Cagney Robert Creightonand literary agent Mark Subias who represents clients that span across film, television and theater. Hugh Hysell (producer of Six Degrees of SeparationVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) will moderate the discussion curated from questions submitted by attendees.

The cast of 'Cagney.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Cagney.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

“Page to Stage, or How to Get Your Show to Off Broadway” will be held on the 3rd floor of The Theater Center (210 West 50th Street). Doors will open at 10:30 a.m. for complimentary coffee and bagels. The panel discussion will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with additional time allotted afterward for conversation with fellow attendees.

Admission for the seminar is $5 and pre-registration is required. Attendees are encouraged to pre-submit questions for the panelists when they submit their reservations. Questions will be asked live at the seminar.

Register at www.PageToStageSeminar.eventbrite.com

 

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Yawn: MCC Theater’s ‘Yen’

February 1st, 2017 Comments off

By Ryan Leeds

Lucas Hedges, Ari Graynor, and Justice Smith in 'Yen' at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Lucas Hedges, Ari Graynor, and Justice Smith in ‘Yen’ at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

“Love is Dangerous” headlines the poster for MCC’s production of playwright Anna Jordan’s Yen. There may be truth in that statement, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that love will be interesting. Such is the case in this aimless coming of age tale, which opened last night at Off Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre.

This British import makes its American premiere with a gifted cast, including this year’s Oscar nominated actor, Lucas Hedges from Manchester by the Sea. In Yen, Hedges portrays Hench, a 16-year-old who shares a ramshackle apartment with his slightly younger brother, Bobbie (Justice Smith), an ADHD sufferer. The pair has little to do in their suburban town of Feltham, a suburb just outside of London.

As the play opens, they are watching hardcore pornography and discussing the physical characteristics of their neighbor, 16-year-old Jennifer (Stefania LaVie Owen).  For the most part, Hench and Bobbie are forced to survive on their own, no thanks to their mother Maggie (Ari Graynor). Given her involvement with a man dubbed “Minge Face Alan,” she rarely comes around and when she does, it is usually for emotional or physical support. Between neglect, full-blown alcoholism and diabetes, it’s safe to assume that Maggie won’t be winning any “Mother of the Year” awards anytime soon.

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges in 'Yen' at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges in ‘Yen’ at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

As the play unfolds, the boys’ neighbor, Jennifer (who ultimately becomes their object of affection), appears at their door and threatens police involvement if they do not take better care of their malnourished dog, Taliban. Not long after their encounter, a complicated love triangle unfolds.

Off Broadway favorite Trip Cullman directs the play to the best of his ability but it is Herculean task given the unenlightened material he’s been handed. From the beginning of civilization, most teenagers have had bouts of rage, angst, defiance, and sadness. Jordan explores all these emotions in her deeply flawed characters. In addition, most of them lack the capability to truly connect to one other—primarily due to the fact that they simply never learned how. It is a heartbreaking occurrence, but one that has been depicted on stage multiple times.

HairRentSpring AwakeningRunaways, and This is Our Youth all share a similar theme: disillusioned young people. Behind each of the characters in these pieces, however, there is a continuous buzz of addled energy and excitement. In spite of how draining their antics might be, we remain involved and invested in their broken lives until the curtain falls. In Yen, we feel as lost and bored as the characters on stage.

Justice Smith, Ari Graynor, and Lucas Hedges in 'Yen' at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Justice Smith, Ari Graynor, and Lucas Hedges in ‘Yen’ at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Mark Wendland’s appropriately dim and drab set of a squalid apartment does little to pull us into this world. Aside from some interesting visual projections by Lucy Mackinnon and engaging music/sound design by Fitz Patton, there isn’t much that drives the action.

Jordan also fails in her attempts to be shocking. There is a line between being provocative and trying to be provocative. Pornography and talk of explicit sexual acts might push the envelope way beyond what is shared in everyday conversation but here, it becomes more annoying and doesn’t add much to the character development. Nor does the frequent yelling and random tantrums that run rampant through Act One.

Yen was met with general critical approval when it played across the pond in 2015 and it may well be greeted in a similar vein here. At one point, Jennifer tells Bobbie and Hench that her father used to call her “Yen,” which means, “longing; to long for something.” By the end of this overly long two-hour drama, New York audiences might well be longing for something more, too. Perhaps some substance?

Yen
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St, NYC
Through February 19

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre 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.

Military Mayhem: Pan Asian Rep’s ‘Incident at Hidden Temple’

January 30th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Dinh James Doan & Briana Sakamoto in 'Incident at Hidden Temple.' (Photo: John Quincy  via The Broadway Blog.)

Dinh James Doan & Briana Sakamoto in ‘Incident at Hidden Temple.’ (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Damon Chua’s Incident at Hidden Temple, a world premiere at the Clurman, kicks off the 40th season of the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, an accomplishment for which company founder and artistic producing director Tisa Chang deserves the warmest commendation. It’s too bad, however, that Pan Asian’s newest production couldn’t be a stronger one to honor her achievement. On the other hand, she has, through her politically involved father, a personal relationship to one of the play’s central figures, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek.

This is Chua’s second play for Pan Asian, and, like his 2015 Film Chinois, takes us to China in the 1940s, when competing ideologies created an atmosphere of danger and distrust. Film Chinois was set in 1947 Beijing, two years after World War II, while Incident at Hidden Temple occurs in China in 1943, during the war, with American forces supporting the Chinese.

Jonathan Miles & Dinh James Doan in 'Incident at Hidden Temple.' (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jonathan Miles & Dinh James Doan in ‘Incident at Hidden Temple.’ (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

There are actually two Chinas involved, however, one led by Chiang’s Nationalists, the other by Mao Zedong’s communist forces. The situation creates major strategic tensions for the Americans, led by Gen. Joseph Stilwell, not seen, whose positions are represented by his civilian aide, McAllister (Nick Jordan). The real-life feud that existed between Stilwell and Gen. Claire Chennault, head of the Flying Tigers fighter squadrons, is altered by replacing Chennault with the fictional Gen. Cliff Van Holt (Jonathan Miles), who, like Chennault, is friendly with the generalissimo (Dinh James Doan).

Chua, however, focuses only intermittently on the complex military-historical issues, the outcome of which established the foundation of U.S.-China relations into the 1970s. Instead, he diffuses his treatment by introducing various melodramatic mysteries. The Stilwell-Van Holt friction, concerning major decisions about building a base for attacks on Japan, becomes just another piece of the mosaic on which other elements are played out as the dramatist grapples with issues of truth.

Thus we get an investigation into the murder of an American soldier (Nick Jordan) ; the disappearance of a 16-year-old Chinese girl, Lucy Chao (Briana Sakamoto), while traveling by train with her older sister, Ava (Ying Ying Li), a journalism student; a Chinese-American pilot named Walter Hu (Tim Liu) who appears to be passing himself off as yet another pilot; the hint of a romance between the married Van Holt and Ava; a wise, old, blind man (Dinh James Doan), who prattles in mystical terms about a certain “Hidden Temple”; an unintended pregnancy; and, for good measure, a subplot involving sacred artifacts, Ernest Hemingway, and two people connected to him that Chua suggests were real but can’t be found anywhere on the Internet.

Ying Ying Li and Walter Hu in 'Incident at Hidden Temple.' (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Ying Ying Li and Walter Hu in ‘Incident at Hidden Temple.’ (Photo: John Quincy via The Broadway Blog.)

Chua fails to create a sufficiently believable world in which these multiple threads can be effectively woven together. And by having everyone speak in the same, mostly unaccented American English, even when they’re speaking Chinese (one character even speaks Chinese with a folksy American drawl), it remains unclear what language is being spoken when.

There are also any number of plot questions. Why, for instance, has Ava, who could have gone to America, remained in war-torn China to continue her journalism studies, when she could have studied abroad? Or why, if these studies are so important, hasn’t she decided what to do when she graduates? And why are Lucy and Ava given Western names?

An air of superficiality hovers not only over the writing but over the entire, stilted production, performed against Sheryl Liu’s set dominated by a homely wall built in false perspective and painted a dour, grayish-green. Hanhji Jang’s costumes are barely passable, and Pamela Kupper’s lighting only a bit better, although she creates a nice effect that makes the hidden temple visible.

Director Kaipo Schwab’s pacing for the two-hour play is uneven and his staging awkward, beginning with the thoroughly unconvincing stabbing that begins the play. A fight scene staged by Michael G. Chin has two men using traditional martial arts techniques, as if they were in a refereed match instead of a potentially life and death struggle. As for the acting, let’s just say better luck next time.

“Sometimes truth is just hidden in plain sight,” says the blind man, who, as per the convention, sees more clearly than anyone else. To which those who left at intermission might reply: “The truth shall set you free.”

Incident at Hidden Temple
Clurman Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through February 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).