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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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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.

Three to See: January

January 4th, 2017 Comments off

It’s a new year and Broadway (and beyond) is getting a reboot with a slew of new shows rolling into The Great White Way. Here are our picks of what not to miss this month.

The Present

The Present
Juicy! There’s nothing like a bit of undiscovered Chekhov to warm up a winter night. The famous playwright’s first work wasn’t unearthed until 16 years after his death, and now Sydney Theatre Company brings Andrew Upton’s contemporary translation to Broadway.

Cate Blanchett stars as widow Anna Petrovna as she celebrates her birthday at an old country house. A cast of characters appears and in typical Chekovian fashion, by the end we see a mess of unfinished, unresolved relationships, fuelled by twenty years of denial, regret and thwarted desire.

The Present
Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street
Opening night: January 8
Limited run through March 19

The cast of 'Jitney.' (Photo: Kareem Black via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Jitney.’ (Photo: Kareem Black via The Broadway Blog.)

 Jitney
The late August Wilson wrote a series of ten plays exploring the African American experience. Titled “The American Century Cycle,” this is the last of Wilson’s series to come to Broadway in a new production directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who won a Tony Award for his performance in Wilson’s Seven Guitars.

Set in the early 1970s, the play follows a group of men trying to make a living by driving unlicensed cabs, or jitneys. When the city threatens to board up the business and the boss’ son returns from prison, tempers flare, potent secrets are revealed, and the fragile threads binding these people together may finally come undone.

Jitney
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Opening night: January 19
Limited run through March 12

Yen MCC TheaterYen
Quickly becoming one of our go-to Off Broadway theater companies (Ride the Cyclone was one of our fall favorites), MCC Theater pushes boundaries once again with Yen, a new play by Anna Jordan.

Directed by Trip Cullman (who has two plays slated for Broadway this season, Significant Other and Six Degrees of Separation), the play follows brothers Bobbie and Hench. Their days are filled by streaming porn, playing video games, and watching the world go by. Their mom rarely visits, and it’s chaos when she does. But when animal-loving neighbor Jenny takes an interest in their dog Taliban, the boys discover a world far beyond what they know. Yen explores a childhood lived without boundaries. The production features Ari Graynor, Lucas Hedges, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Justice Smith. 

Yen
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Opening night: January 30
Limited run through February 19

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

 

Three to See: September

September 1st, 2016 Comments off

Broadway is slowing coming out of its summer hibernation, but our eyes are wandering toward Off Broadway and beyond for our top picks of the month.

MCC All the Ways to Say I Love YouAll the Ways to Say I Love You
An unconventional triple threat conspires for one of the most anticipated plays of the fall: Neil LaBute’s All the Ways to Say I Love You.

Starring the formidable Judith Light under the direction of Leigh Silverman, the play follows high school English teacher and guidance counselor Mrs. Johnson. As she recounts her experiences with a favored student from her past, Mrs. Johnson slowly reveals the truth that is hidden just beneath the surface details of her life. The solo play about “love, hard choices, and the cost of fulfilling an all-consuming desire.”

All the Ways to Say I Love You
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel
121 Christopher Street
Previews begin September 6

Marie and Rosetta Atlantic TheaterMarie and Rosetta
Before there was Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner, there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. A legend in her time, she brought fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music. Tharpe was the queen of ‘race records’ in the 30’s and 40’s, performed mornings at churches and evenings at the Cotton Club. She filled a baseball stadium for her (third) wedding yet ended up in an unmarked grave in Philadelphia.

The play chronicles her first rehearsal with a young protégée, Marie Knight, as they prepare to embark on a tour that would establish them as one of the great duet teams in musical history.

Marie and Rosetta
Atlantic Theater
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Stret
Opening night: September 12

verso off broadwayVerso
“We’ve got magic to do just for you…” No, it’s not Pippin. Instead, Neil Patrick Harris directs Helder Guimarães in a contemporary magic show likely to bewilder and amaze audiences. Bear witness as he pushes the very limits of magic, and challenges just how much you’re willing to accept what your eyes assume to be true.

Verso
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
Opening night: September 28

 

Don’t Miss: Paul Rudd at MCC

June 29th, 2016 Comments off
Paul Rudd (Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Paul Rudd (Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

MCC Theater has confirmed that its previously announced benefit reading of a new Neil LaBute play, Reasons to be Pretty Happy, will be led by star of stage and screen—and frequent LaBute collaborator—Paul Rudd, who previously worked with LaBute on the critically acclaimed play, The Shape of Things in both New York and London as well as the film adaptation.  He also starred on stage in LaBute’s bash – in New York and Los Angeles.

The one-night-only world premiere developmental reading is now set for Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 7:30PM at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, and will benefit the nonprofit’s robust education and playwright development programs.  (This replaces the previously announced date of Monday, June 20, 2016.)  Additional casting will be announced at a later date.  For more info, visit www.mcctheater.org.

Tickets are currently on sale for the benefit reading. Prices range from $100 for show-only tickets or $250/$350 for preferred/premium seating plus access to a special post-show reception with LaBute, the cast, and MCC leadership. For tickets, visit www.mcctheater.org or call (212) 352-3101.

Neil LaBute (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Neil LaBute (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

MCC’s Playwright-in-Residence since 2005, Neil LaBute premiered the first two plays in his ‘Reasons’ trilogy, Reasons to be Pretty and Reasons to be Happy, with the company in 2008 and 2013, respectively.  The former transferred to Broadway and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. MCC’s reading of Reasons to be Pretty Happy marks the first of two LaBute plays the company will premiere this year. It was recently announced that his newest completed work, All The Ways To Say I Love You, will kick off MCC’s upcoming 30th Anniversary Season on September 6 in a production starring multi-Tony and Emmy Award winner Judith Light in a solo performance directed by Tony nominee Leigh Silverman.

“As a leading voice in contemporary theater who has premiered 10 full length plays and a number of other short works under our auspices, Neil LaBute exemplifies the strong and enduring relationships that MCC fosters with artists,” said Co-Artistic Director Robert LuPone, speaking on behalf of the company’s artistic leadership. “Our work together over the years and on the ‘Reasons’ trilogy in particular has been incredibly exciting and rewarding. We are so proud to present his new work at this point in its life in a reading that advances our long and fruitful history of collaboration with this important and singular artist.”

“I’m pleased to have the world premiere reading of my latest play at MCC, a place that has supported my work for nearly fifteen years,” said Neil LaBute. “Having led master classes for students in the Theater’s Youth Company, I’m so proud this reading will support MCC’s vital work nurturing the next generation of theater talent through its education and playwright development programs.”

Set on the night of their 20th anniversary high school reunion, Reasons to be Pretty Happy follows Greg and Steph as they revisit their home town after having moved to New York. Kent and Carly are suspicious of their reasons for returning and the four friends dance (sometimes literally) through a series of encounters at their school gym as they try to rekindle old friendships, struggle with their futures (together and separately) and reveal secrets to one another that might have been better left buried beneath a pile of yearbooks.  The play is a funny, sad, silly and sobering look at friendships and loves that have weathered and lasted for a long, long time—some even past their due dates.

MCC Theater Breaks Ground on New Home

March 23rd, 2016 Comments off
Rendering courtesy of MCC Theater/Andrew Berman Architect.

Rendering courtesy of MCC Theater/Andrew Berman Architect.

MCC Theater broke ground this week on its first permanent home, which will unite the company’s diverse roster of programs under one roof for the first time in its three-decade history. MCC Artistic Directors Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey, and William Cantler were joined by Executive Director Blake West, members of the Board of Directors, New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, and members of the Theater’s extended community of theater artists.

Set to open in 2018, the new facility will also allow MCC to expand its programming and establish it as a cultural anchor within the Clinton neighborhood. As one of New York’s leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies, the institution fosters the dynamic exchange of ideas between artists, audiences, and young people through its productions of world, American, and New York premiere plays and musicals, a robust playwright development initiative, and one of the nation’s leading arts-education programs.

The cast of "Hand to God" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Hand to God” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

“We have developed a close-knit community of theater artists dedicated to new work and deep collaboration, and we’re so grateful to the playwrights, actors, designers, directors, audiences, and young people who have grown along with us over the past 30 years,” said Robert LuPone, co-artistic director of MCC Theater. “We are proud of what we’ve built, but we’ve been missing a home of our own in which this community can grow together and learn from one another—all under the same roof. We are so thrilled to break ground on a home that will help us do just this, and we look forward to welcoming our artists and audiences here in the years to come.” 

Designed by Andrew Berman Architect to advance the company’s distinct mission, the 27,000-square-foot facility will act as a hub for all of MCC’s programming, allowing the institution to better serve its growing audiences and broaden its offerings—increasing its productions from four to six per season, supporting a greater roster of young writers, developing new work exploring a range of contemporary topics, and expanding its groundbreaking arts education programs for New York City public school students. The $35-million project is funded by a public-private partnership between the Theater and the City of New York, which has contributed $25.5 million to the project. The campaign has raised $29.9 million to-date. 

Groundbreaking at MCC Theater (Photo courtesy of MCC Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

Groundbreaking at MCC Theater (Photo courtesy of MCC Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

“At the core of MCC’s mission is our commitment to using theater as a means of provoking conversations about this uniquely immediate and dynamic art form, and also about our contemporary daily lives and shared experiences. We strive to bring our audiences into these dialogues because we believe the theater-going experience should not be a passive one, but that the energy of a play should continue well beyond curtain call,” said MCC Co-Artistic Director Bernard Telsey. “We have worked closely with Andrew Berman to create a home that will foster these conversations, a center that energizes and connects all aspects of theater-making and theater-going.”

MCC Theater’s new home will serve as a generator for creative exchange, and has been designed to provide fluid connections between spaces dedicated to performance, behind-the-scenes development, and front-of-house—all of which will provide artists greater freedom for the company’s artists and provide audiences greater access and insight into all of MCC’s work.

The facility will feature two state-of-the-art theaters, with 249 and 99 seats, respectively, designed to accommodate both traditional and non-traditional stagings. Spaces for rehearsals, workshops, meetings, public conversations, and other events are integrated into the heart of the new home and connected to one another—and to the performance spaces—by a central staircase. A public lobby will invite connection between the outside courtyard space on 52 nd Street and the facility’s interior, and will be utilized by audiences, professional artists, and students alike. Raw materials are employed throughout, including concrete and warm woods, reflecting the process-based nature of theater-making to which the facility is dedicated. 

Known for premiering plays and musicals that often challenge artists and audiences to confront contemporary personal and social issues, MCC has developed and produced works that have gone on to adaptations on Broadway and film, as well as additional stagings in New York, throughout the country, and internationally—amplifying the impact of the company’s work with some of theater’s most influential and provocative voices.

Time Past and Time Future: ‘Smokefall’

March 2nd, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

'Smokefall' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Smokefall’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The fact that good writing in a play doesn’t necessarily mean good playwriting is exemplified by Noah Haidle’s cloudy Smokefall, now at the Lucille Lortel in an MCC Theater production. It’s directed by Anne Kauffman, who helmed earlier productions of it in L.A. and Chicago. Smokefall, while stuffed with playful theatrical conceits and clever dialogue, remains too self-involved and cerebral to reach across the footlights and draw us into its emotional web.

Taking its title from a neologism in T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets alluding to the conjunction of time and memory, Smokefall is set in a house in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It begins in the 1950s and ends decades later as it examines a particular family across over 80 years. That none of this is realistic is signaled by Mimi Lien’s set, which, while revealing a solidly built interior, including a second floor, shows only pressed wood surfaces, perhaps suggesting the need not to take everything at face value; truth is deeper than that.

Zachary Quinto in 'Smokefall.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Zachary Quinto in ‘Smokefall.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Act I is in two scenes, the first and longest placing us in seemingly normal family drama territory: there’s the mother, Violet (Robin Tunney, giving the most heartfelt performance), lovingly domestic and very pregnant with twins, to whom she often speaks; the secretly dissatisfied husband, Daniel (Brian Hutchinson), on the verge of permanent desertion; the 16-year-old daughter, Beauty (Taylor Richardson), who hasn’t spoken for three years; and Violet’s father, the Colonel (Tom Bloom), a 77-year-old widower in military uniform who’s suffering from dementia. Although each has their quirks, Beauty gets the prize for her meals of bark, earth, newspaper, and paint, which everyone takes in stride. This is all too precious, making it that much harder to identify with her or her family as people we believe in.

Another step toward estrangement is a narrator called Footnote, who fills in whatever we need to know about everyone, both their pasts and futures, prefacing each new comment by its footnote number. He never achieves the personal connection with the audience associated with the Stage Manager in Our Town, to which he’s been likened; instead, he seems a tired device employed to avoid dramatizing what we expect the characters themselves to reveal. Zachary Quinto, who plays the role—which doesn’t reappear until the very end—makes it even more problematic by his uninspired reading, although he becomes more interesting when he handles other characters.

These include one of Violet’s fetuses just before they’re born. It’s that kind of play. Dressed in red suits like old-time vaudevillians, he and his twin (Hutchinson) sit, legs dangling, in an overhead space representing Violet’s womb, bantering comically (and singing Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”) about their existential fears concerning original sin and the lives awaiting them. The question arising here and elsewhere is: what, indeed, is the reason for living?

Brian Hutchison and Zachary Quinto in 'Smokefall.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Brian Hutchison and Zachary Quinto in ‘Smokefall.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

In Act II Quinto is Samuel, son of the surviving fetus (Bloom), returned home to celebrate his aged dad’s birthday. Also returning home is Beauty, now 95, looking exactly as she did as a teenager. Soon, as time past and present are mingled, even the long dead Violet and Daniel appear as they once were, just as does the Colonel. Confusing? Agreed.

A backyard apple tree, planted when Violet was born, plays a symbolic role. Cut down when it grew old and sick and replanted when another birth arrived, it eventually invades the house itself, even though the place itself is crumbling and its residents doomed to vanish. Does it mean that we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that life goes on, regardless, or is it intended as a reminder of original sin? Haidle loves piling on the symbols and philosophical mind play, usually at the expense of the play itself.

Smokefall, which runs an hour and 45 minutes, is efficiently directed, acceptably acted, and nicely designed: David Weiner’s lighting, Asat Bennie Hostetter’s costumes, and Mimi Lien’s set all make suitable contributions. But the play remains too preoccupied with thoughts about higher meanings and not grippingly enough with the human conflicts that make drama dramatic.

Smokefall
Lucile Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Through March 20

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).

Review: ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ at MCC Theater

September 10th, 2015 Comments off
(l to r) Dave Thomas Brown, Matt McGrath, and Keith Nobbs in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Dave Thomas Brown, Matt McGrath, and Keith Nobbs in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Life can be a drag. Especially when you’re a down-on-your-luck Elvis impersonator trying to make a living in Florida’s Panhandle. Such is Casey’s (Dave Thomas Browne) predicament in The Legend of Georgia McBride, a new play by Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man).

Casey isn’t the only one struggling to make ends meet. His boss, Eddie (Wayne Duvall) decides that the bar needs a serious boost of business and when his distant cousin, Bobby—a.k.a. Tracy Mills (Matt McGrath)—calls him in search of work, Eddie scraps Elvis 2.0 in favor of a drag duo that also includes alcoholic and foul-mouthed Rexy (Keith Nobbs).

Dave Thomas Brown and Afton C. Williamson in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Dave Thomas Brown and Afton C. Williamson in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Casey is none to happy, especially with his newly pregnant wife, Jo (Afton Williamson), at home. Things look pretty dismal until Rexy passes out mid-show and Casey reluctantly steps in to deliver perhaps the worst Edith Piaf impersonation known to humankind. But a spark is ignited (along with plenty of tips) and before you know it, Casey is the darling drag superstar of northwestern Florida—except that sweet Jo is kept in the dark. Such is the thinly veiled theatrical convention driving Lopez’s sitcom-heavy play, which delivers plenty of one-liners but rarely goes below the sequined bustier in terms of character development.

(l to r) Keith_Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Keith_Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Saddled with heavy-handed Floridian accents that sound more like Kansas City via Mama’s Family, the ensemble delivers mostly charming performances that elevate Lopez’s script. Browne is an endearing an enthusiastic boy next door—the type you think might have an easier life because of his good looks, though fate has a different plan. His optimism and honesty is infectious and plays well against McGrath’s highly stylized Tracy.

Matt McGrath in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Matt McGrath in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

With a purposefully thin, affected voice, Tracy’s drag persona is mostly one-liners and there’s a bit of theatrical irony when she tells Casey, “There are a million things you need to know about drag but the only thing you need to know right now is that drag is about persona. Who are you? What’s your story? You’re a woman now.”

There’s only one scene toward the end of the play when we see Tracy out of drag as Bobby, and it offers just a glimpse of the man behind the make-up: a resourceful, perhaps even bitter, middle-aged drag performer worn out from a life of unfulfilled expectations. “If this is goodbye, don’t expect any tearful scenes from me,” says Bobby. “I am long past crying over men who can’t hack it.”

It’s actually Rexy who delivers a monologue worthy of an 11 o’clock number after she returns to reclaim her spot in the show, telling Casey that drag is more than sequins and wads full of tip money. “Drag ain’t a hobby, baby. Drag ain’t a night job. Drag is a protest,” she proclaims. “Drag is a raised fist inside a sequined glove. Drag is a lot of things, baby, but drag is not for sissies.” She also references the “shitty, homophobic town” in which they’re working, though that never seems to be an issue that arises or is addressed among other characters.

Casey has his own misgivings about the concept of drag and how that may or may not define is masculinity, feeling at one point “like a fag.” These reiterations of self-loathing get neatly resolved after a brief conflict with his wife but it begs the question if Lopez could have dug a bit deeper into the characters’ backstories. Tracy, given sequined nuance by McGrath’s tightlipped performance, is a portrait only partially painted.

Dave Thomas Brown in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Dave Thomas Brown in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Drag as an art form as well as an integral (and occasionally controversial) part of gay history continues to resonate with people around the globe. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2 will resurrect some favorite personalities, yet real world politics took a different stance earlier this year when drag performances were banned from certain events at Scotland Pride, saying that “some drag performance, particularly cis drag, hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke, however transgender individuals do not feel as though their gender identity is a joke.”

There are plenty of well-earned laughs in The Legend of Georgia McBride, and while the play pays honest homage to one aspect of gay culture and attempts to transcend its impact by telling its story through a straight man’s viewpoint, its false eyelashes and high heels occasionally mask truths still waiting to be told.

The Legend of Georgia McBride
MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Through October 4

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor and has contributed to more than 20 online and print publications worldwide. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo.

Three to See: September

September 2nd, 2015 Comments off

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh
so mellow.” – The Fantasticks

New York’s theater scene is anything but slow and mellow this fall, as the season gears up with some innovative new productions that have us on the edge of our seats. Here are the Broadway Blog’s top picks for the month.

 

THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE

(l to r) Keith_Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Keith Nobbs, Matt McGrath, and Wayne Duvall in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

What happens when an Elvis impersonator becomes a winning drag queen in the Florida Panhandle? Playwright Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man) dishes up a southern comedy starring Matt McGrath (Boys Don’t Cry) and directed by Mike Donahue.

MCC Theater and the Lucille Lortel
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Opening night: September 9

 

SPRING AWAKENING


Duncan Sheik’s stirring, coming-of-age musical won eight Tony awards when it opened in 2006. The newly reimagined Deaf West Theatre production revisits the work, starring Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and choreographed by Emmy award-nominated So You Think You Dance choreographer Spencer Liff.

Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street, NYC
Opening night: September 27

 

CINDERELLA

Davon Rainey in Company XIV's 'Cinderella' (photo: Steven Trumon Gray via The Broadway Blog.)

Davon Rainey in Company XIV’s ‘Cinderella’ (photo: Steven Trumon Gray via The Broadway Blog.)


Move over, Disney. Austin McCormick’s Company XIV returns with an adults-only tale of the girl with the glass slipper. Expect a baroque-burlesque confection of theater, dance, music, circus, opera and sumptuous design.

Company XIV at the Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Opening night: September 30

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Review: Permission

May 28th, 2015 Comments off

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by Samuel L. Leiter

Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Justin Bartha, Elizabeth Reaser, and Nicole Lowrance in 'Permission' (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Justin Bartha, Elizabeth Reaser, and Nicole Lowrance in ‘Permission’ (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Permission is Robert Askins’s disappointingly uneven follow-up to his horrifically hilarious Hand to God. Like that Tony-nominated play, this one’s also set in suburban Texas, and satirizes offbeat practices carried on in the name of Jesus. The subject is Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD), an actual belief system that encourages husbands and wives to find domestic bliss by recognizing the husband as the Head of the Household (HOH) and giving him the authority to administer corporal punishment to his spouse (but never the opposite) by taking her OTK (over the knee), i.e., having the wife submit to a robust spanking by belts, hairbrushes, paddles, or whatever comes to hand (including the hand).

Given Mr. Askins’s refreshingly bizarre imagination, exemplified by Hand to God, in which a sock puppet has the devil of a time dominating the personality of a teenage boy, one would think he’d be able to mine the topic of men dominating women for all its politically incorrect implications; despite occasional laughs, however, and a capable production, when it ended I felt like taking the play itself OTK.

Nicole Lowrance and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe in 'Permission' (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Nicole Lowrance and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe in ‘Permission’ (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Act one begins at a dinner party hosted by Zach (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and Michelle (Nicole Lowrance) for Eric (Justin Bartha) and Cynthia (Elizabeth Reaser). Eric, acting chair of his college’s computer science department, has a shot at becoming the actual chair. Cynthia’s an aspiring novelist who loves her boxed wine and can’t get much beyond her book’s outline. Zach’s business is doing well enough for him to want to expand, but Michelle, a high-powered lawyer, objects. As the dinner progresses, we note the tensions between each couple, and Eric and Cynthia’s mild discomfort (despite their own Christian piety) at Zach’s excessive zeal (he does a workout-bible study program called “cross-fit” and delivers an endless pre-dinner prayer). Meanwhile, when Zach counts up three of Shelly’s missteps, he takes her into the kitchen for a little CDD. Eric and Cynthia accidentally witness the butt-whacking and flee.

The action moves to Eric’s office, where there’s attraction between him and his sexy grad assistant, Jeanie (Talene Monahon). Zach arrives and tries to explain his spanking beliefs to Eric: “It’s not a sex thing… It’s religious… Like part of our devotions… It’s for Jesus” (yeah, right), but his uptight friend only chases him away. Still, when the action shifts to Eric’s house, the simmering strain between him and the couch-potato, “Matlock”-obsessed Cynthia finds an outlet when she learns of Zach’s faith in CDD; inspired by an Internet search, the couple discover that happiness is a well-smacked tush.

Elizabeth Reaser and Justin Bartha in 'Permission' (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Elizabeth Reaser and Justin Bartha in ‘Permission’ (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

With Act I of the 100-minute play providing the exposition, Act II never finds a way to effectively develop the material compellingly. The spankings become not only discomfiting but wearisome, and despite a big sexual free-for-all that brings things to a farcical head, the laughs are too mild and infrequent to rouse much enthusiasm.

Alex Timbers provides slickly-paced direction, and there are effective, if not particularly memorable, performances by Bartha as the nerdy comp sci geek, Reaser as the blocked wife waiting for release, Near-Verbrugghe as the cocky CDD disciple, Lowrance as his hard-edged spouse, and Monahon as the frustrated grad assistant. David Korins has found clever ways to provide multiple sit-com locales, while Paloma Young’s costumes, David Weiner’s lighting, M.L. Dogg’s sound design, and J. David Brimmer’s staging of the violence (the actresses are properly padded) add considerably to the production.

Now that Askins has put puppet ministries and CDD on stage, one wonders if he’ll continue this line of satire. Is the Christian Patriarchy a.k.a. Quiverfull waiting in the wings? Quiverfull—now there’s a title.

Permission
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through June 14

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).