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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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Technicolor Fabulous: ‘Bright Colors and Bold Patterns’

December 23rd, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Drew Droege in 'Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Drew Droege in ‘Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

For years, entertainment has often portrayed homosexuals as effeminate, self-loathing individuals who are well versed in pop culture, quick-witted, and way over the top. Some might argue that this same stereotype is being perpetuated in the solo play Bright Colors and Bold PatternsOn the surface, they may be right. But stick with this 80-minute monologue and by the end, you may discover some surprising truths about yourself and your world views, thanks to Drew Droege’s beautifully crafted script and Michael Urie’s wise direction.

Droege, who also stars in the comedy, is best known for his hugely popular impersonations of actor Chloe Sevigny. After watching an interview in which Sevigny nonchalantly name checked and spouted obscure references, Droege’s fascination led to a series of online videos.

His riff on Sevigny might well have been a precursor to the character he plays here. Gerry (Droege), a thirty-something brash and boozy pop-culture authority has just arrived to a decked out Palm Springs home (tastefully designed by Dara Wishingrad) from Los Angeles. He’s there for the wedding of his close friend Josh and Josh’s fiancé, Brennan, who Gerry dismisses as a dull figure and refers to as “mayonnaise on a captain’s wafer.”

Drew Droege (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Drew Droege (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Gerry is one of the first guests to arrive at the posh palace and is met by his ex-boyfriend Dwayne, and Dwayne’s significantly younger boyfriend, Mac. Neither is seen, but Droege’s masterful conversations with them bring the pair vividly to life. It’s not long before Gerry pours himself a frozen margarita and starts to dish on nearly everything and everyone that pops into his head.

Gerry has absolutely no filter and speaks at lightning speed mostly due to his abundant consumption of alcohol and cocaine. He’s particularly irritated by his friends’ wedding invitation discouraging guests from wearing “bright colors and bold patterns,” which he perceives as an affront to gayness. Gerry’s life mantra seems to be “go big or go home” and he has little patience for anyone who doesn’t interact in the world and live loud.

He continues to ramble on, citing references from Steel MagnoliasDesigning Women, obscure Lifetime television movies, and fashion designers. At times he meanders off topic but that is when the show is at his funniest. Gerry’s quips are razor sharp and Droege’s mannerisms and expressions are single-handedly worth the price of a ticket.

I’ve always believed that the term “tour de force” to describe a performance is pretentious and perhaps, it is. Yet there seems to be no better phrase to define Droege’s capacity to captivate and keep his audience fully engaged from beginning to end.

Gay marriage is the essence and thread of Gerry’s diatribe and he wonders whether the newly acquired right will force the gay community into a state of normalcy. It’s been hard for him to sustain a long-term relationship in spite of the proclamation to his fellow guests that he and his boyfriend, Greg, have been fighting. The problem is that Greg isn’t really his boyfriend; he’s a restaurant employee at the Veggie Grille in Los Angeles and Gerry is pining for his affection

It would be easy to dismiss Gerry as a caustic, bitter queen with a substance abuse issue and deep disdain for humanity. At times, I did feel uneasy about his blatant cocaine use and initially found him grating. Yet Droege is careful not to make his character a one-dimensional, shallow soul. In the show’s quieter moments, he’s able to poke a hole through Gerry’s false confidence, revealing a vulnerable, thoughtful guy who is trying to make sense of it all while he lives his life with wild abandon. Droege’s message: We’re not always fabulous, nor are we permanently flawed. We’re an alchemy of it all because we’re wonderfully human.

Here’s what other critics had to say:

“Plays do not get much gayer than ‘Bright Colors,’ a spiffy production directed by Michael Urie.” — Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

“At an easy, breezy 70 minutes, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns doesn’t ask too much of our time while offering a surefire laugh.” — Zachary Stewart, Theatermania

“Gerry guards old wounds of exclusion and heartbreak, dating back decades, that have made him the spiny puffer he is today, inflated with prickly defenses. That’s what gives Droege’s show a poignancy beyond its hilarity. Gerry’s hard-won pride now rains on his parade.” — Adam Feldman, Time Out NY 

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns 
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow Street, NYC
Through December 30

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.

Don’t Go Through… ‘The Portal’

December 5th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Billy Lewis Jr. in 'The Portal.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Billy Lewis Jr. in ‘The Portal.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

For more than twenty years, I have seen the best—and in some cases—the worst that the New York theater scene has to offer. In 2005, I had the misfortune of sitting through Suzanne Somers’ one-woman show, The Blonde in the Thunderbird. Since then, no other theatrical event has compared to its tragic level of badness and it has long been perched on my mantel, earning its place as the worst show I’ve ever seen on a New York stage. Congratulations, Ms. Somers. After 11 years a shaman will relieve you from your post.

The Portal, marketed as “part rock concert, part movie, and part performance” and inspired by “Burning Man, Pink Floyd, EDM, and World mythology” is completely unbearable. Within the first 20 minutes, the Front man (Billy Lewis, Jr.) sings the following lyric:

“What Am I Doing Here?”

Funny he should inquire, as I very quickly was asking myself the exact question.

The cast of 'The Portal.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘The Portal.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

The disjointed show opens with two musicians, percussionist Gilly Gonzalez and guitarist Paul Casanova, whose music—at least for the first few minutes—evokes Peter Gabriel’s masterful score for the film, The Last Temptation of Christ.

With tribal, Arabic rhythms, they are soon joined on stage by three dancers (Marija Juliette Abney, Jessica Aronoff, and Nicole Spencer) and the Frontman who is dressed in meditation yoga clothes. He begins nearly every number with a primal moan, palms facing out at the hip and raising them above his head as though he were one of the “Ys” in the Village People classic, “Y-M-C-A.”

Marija Juliette Abney (foreground), Jessica Aronoff (background) in 'The Portal.' (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

Marija Juliette Abney (foreground), Jessica Aronoff (background) in ‘The Portal.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland via The Broadway Blog.)

The lyrics are barely intelligible and, glancing at the musical numbers in the program doesn’t clarify anything. Songs listed include, “Eclipse,” “Greeting,” “Holy Fractal,” “Space Child Fractal,” and “Reaper Fractal.” Composer/lyricists Tierro Lee, Lisa Gerrard, and Daniel Katsuk’s music offers no variety or clarity into what this any of this is all about, but one thing is certain: They really love their fractals!

The show is an interpretation of Dante’s Inferno and much of the action is meant to take place in the mind as stream of consciousness. During many of the songs, projections of Dante and Beatrice are displayed on a huge LED screen, performed respectively by Christopher Soren Kelly and Zarah Mahler.

The Frontman is apparently the spiritual advisor who is guiding their journey from the stress and demands of every day life. Every so often, Beatrice will deliver, breathy, meditative lines about surrender and letting go. One of my personal favorites, “Life is the same as death as the river is to the sea,” may be referencing the circle of life, but my unenlightened mind was still in the dark.

Other random moments include a man in a business suit who enters from upstage, walks among the cast, down the steps to the house, and flashes his illuminated cell phone to one row of the audience. Was he sharing a text message, a tweet, a gif?  I have no idea. Later, he returns from the back of the house and strolls down the aisle in a grim reaper costume.

It’s hard not believe that this is simply a vanity project funded by a group of investors who are flush with cash. Peter T. Feuchtwanger and David Goldstein’s set and scenic design—while confusing as hell—are vivid, interesting, and undoubtedly costly, but they still don’t compensate for the weak material. Jessica Chen’s choreography offers very little for the imagination but I can’t blame her. She doesn’t have much inspiration. Nor can I address Luke Comer’s direction because the word doesn’t suit the outcome. I am curious to learn, however, what drew him to this project.

Never did I think I’d yearn for Suzanne Somers’ return to the stage.

Until I went through The Portal.

The Portal
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through December 31

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.

 

Buckle In: MCC Theater’s ‘Ride the Cyclone’

November 30th, 2016 Comments off
Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

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

If you’re willing to get on the ride, Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond’s new musical, Ride the Cyclone, will take you to unexpected places. Chicago Shakespeare presented the U.S. premiere of the work last year, and prior to that Canada’s Atomic Vaudeville first produced the production. MCC Theater brings it to Manhattan under the deft direction/choreography of Rachel Rockwell.

Emily Rohm and the cast of 'Ride the Cyclone.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Emily Rohm and the cast of ‘Ride the Cyclone.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The 90-minute show recounts what happens after a group of Catholic school teenagers die in a rollercoaster accident. They’ve arrived in a sort of American Idiot meets The 25th Annual Spelling Bee purgatory, and under the direction of The Amazing Karnak (Karl Hamilton), must decide which of them can return to his or her mortal life.

Leading the pack out of the gate is Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Tiffany Tatreau), the group’s bratty, bossy ringleader who will say and do just about anything to secure her slot, including throwing her bestie, the apologetic Constance Blackwood (Lillian Castillo), under the bus. The other living dead include the emotionally volatile and soap opera-gorgeous Mischa Bachinski (Gus Halper), the formally handicapped but now virile Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse), the effeminate dark horse Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell), and Jane Doe (Emily Rohm), an unidentified student who perished in the accident and hopes to claim her life and identity back.

Gus Halper and the cast of 'Ride the Cyclone.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gus Halper and the cast of ‘Ride the Cyclone.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

In a somewhat formulaic structure, the kids each have an opportunity to make their cases, but Karnak continues to switch up the rules up until the very last chords are played. What makes Ride the Cyclone so wildly entertaining is what happens within each of those moments. Highlights include Mischa’s epic auto-tuned hip-hop number that eventually evolves into a Ukrainian folklore dance (with captivating projections designed by Mike Tutaj)—trust me, it makes sense when you see it. Noel pulls off a Chicago­-style number in a pageboy wig, while Ricky rocks out his alter ego as an 80s space age bachelor man.

Constance is given the 11 o’clock number, which lights up the theatre with a pop ballad that leaves her on a sugar cloud, spouting lyrics like “I could puke a rainbow.” In the end, one teen enters the light, and with deep reverence we’re treated to a montage of a life not yet fully lived.

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

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

Rachel Rockwell, who’s made a name for herself in the Chicago theater scene with a list of critically acclaimed productions including Brigadoon (Goodman Theatre) and Les Misérables (Drury Lane), will now hopefully be on the radar of commercial producers. Her work here is thoughtful and nuanced as she is somehow able to unpack a treasure chest of quirkiness delivered by the authors.

Buckle in. Who knows where Ride the Cyclone may land next.

Ride the Cyclone
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortelle Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through December 29.

‘Til Death Do Us Part: ‘This Day Forward’ at Vineyard Theatre

November 21st, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

"This Day Forward" (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

“This Day Forward” (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Nicky Silver (Pterodactyls, The Lyons), comic dramatist of family angst, is at it again with Vineyard Theatre’s This Day Forward, a schizophrenic dramedy that has an idea about the vagaries of love—romantic, marital, familial, straight and gay—and doesn’t know what to do with it. Its first act, set in a fancy hotel room and dealing with a newlyweds’ catastrophe, could almost be a fourth act in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite; Act Two, however, taking place nearly half a century later, could be any play set in an apartment and dealing with an all-too-common family crisis.

Act One, introduced in a prologue by well-to-do, Jewish, New Yorker Martin Resnick (Michael Crane), takes place in 1958 in a room at New York’s St. Regis Hotel, to which he and his bride, Irene (Holley Fain), have repaired. Martin’s still in his tux, Irene in her white bridal gown (Kaye Voyce did the fine costumes), and he’s eager to make whoopee with what he assumes is his virginal spouse. The mildly ditzy Irene isn’t interested, though; instead, she confesses to the startled groom that she not only doesn’t love him but that the big lug she does love, an Albanian, Greek Orthodox grease jockey named Emil (Joe Tippett), is on his way so the couple can run off to Acapulco, the newlyweds’ honeymoon destination.

This absurd situation leads to farcically strained situations as Martin, who insists on his love and believes he can make Irene love him back, fights desperately to save his marriage in the face of Irene’s loutish but friendly lover, who arrives decked out in his sweaty garage gear. Things grow more bizarre with the involvement of Melka (June Gable), an old, heavily accented, Polish chambermaid, and her pilfering son, the uniformed room-service waiter, Donald (Andrew Burnap), who advise Irene on which man to choose. The already uneven tone shifts radically from shaky farce to dark despair.

Silver’s theme of love’s idiosyncrasies, which fly in the face of reason, continues in Act Two, set in 2004, and located in the upscale loft of successful stage director Noah Resnick, Martin and Irene’s gay son. The same actors from act one appear but—except for a fantasy sequence involving the young Irene and Emil—in different roles; Michael Crane thus plays Martin’s son.

We learn that, during the intervening years Irene and the recently deceased Martin remained entwined in a love/hate marriage/war. We’re now in a situation where Noah and his actor boyfriend Leo (Burnap) quarrel over Noah’s plans to move to LA to direct TV shows. Silver then shifts to an unnecessary flashback scene showing Noah’s first date with Leo.

Francesca Faridany and Michael Crane in "This Day Forward." (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Francesca Faridany and Michael Crane in “This Day Forward.” (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Back in the future of 2004, the plot is complicated by a dispute between Noah and his sister, Sheila (Francesca Faridany), over who should assume responsibility for the dementia-afflicted Irene. Sheila’s been taking care of her but Irene’s behavior has gotten out of hand.

The disheveled Irene herself (now played by June Gable, much shorter than the actress sharing the role), who’s been picked up by the police after running off in her pajamas to JFK, enters, garnering laughs by her profanity and eccentric remarks. Finally, this discombobulated work ends with a sentimental tableau that explains what happened that fateful night so long ago.

Veteran June Gable’s Melka is too caricaturish but her Irene, which has nothing in common with how her younger self is portrayed, offers fine comic pathos; she gets a big laugh when she tells Noah she made him gay to get back at his father. Crane and Fain give their all in the first act, but neither is right for their cartoonish Jewish couple (which may draw your attention to the second act’s lines about casting); Crane, though, whose Noah could very well be Martin, is much truer as the former. Faridany’s Sheila is too continually overwrought, while Burnap and, especially, Tippett, are excellent.

The play (Act One, at any rate) reads funnier than it plays under Mark Brokaw’s direction, which inspires only scattered and mild laughter. There is, though, a memorable moment of physical humor when the angry Martin leaps off the bed to be stopped in midair by Donald’s outstretched hand. The best thing in the show, in fact, are its visuals, particularly Allen Moyer’s substantial sets, carefully lit by David Lander. But in this case, the scenery doesn’t equal substance.

This Day Forward
Vineyard Theatre
108 E. 15th St., NYC
Through December 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).

 

 

Staging the Ravages of War: ‘Shades’

November 19th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

"Shades" (Photo: PJ Norton via The Broadway Blog.)

“Shades” (Photo: PJ Norton via The Broadway Blog.)

For the compassionate theater critic—and yes, they do exist—Shades is a theatrical quandary. On one hand, it is unfair to dismiss it as a piece of theater that isn’t worth the time and investment. Certainly there are those for whom this piece will resonate. In fact, the last 15 minutes of the show is rather heartbreaking and poignant. On the other hand, this story of a family reeling from the traumas of war is a sluggish exercise of enduring poor playwriting and for the seasoned theatergoer, it is primarily a forced melodrama in need of some serious surgery.

Paula J. Caplan’s play occurs in 1997 in the home of a Don (Carson Lee), a Vietnam veteran who denies that Agent Orange is the cause of his chronic lung illness. Even in the face of doctors finding E.coli in his lungs, he is insistent that the U.S. government has not lied about the dangers of the popular defoliant used in the war. His sister, Val (Ashley Wren Collins), a home nurse aide, is strongly suspicious about his illness and uses the name of this bacterial strain in her dialogue so often, Caplan must think that her audience either fell asleep or couldn’t hear the first several references.

Val and Don’s father, Jerry (Hal Robinson), is a kindly World War II veteran who is hesitant to speak about the war because he doesn’t believe he has anything noteworthy to say. Now a widower, he mostly reminisces about his late wife:

“Oh, hey kids, you know what a go-getter your Mom was? Just before her trip, she called the city archivist and told her World War II vets would all be dead soon, and I’d have free time while she was traveling, so the archivist should interview me!” 

This is only a sampling of the forced, unrealistic dialogue that runs rampant over the course of two hours.

"Shades" (Photo: PJ Norton via The Broadway Blog.)

“Shades” (Photo: PJ Norton via The Broadway Blog.)

Jerry presses on and there are numerous sequences when he spends lengthy monologues speaking into a camera, recalling his early days as a soldier. While honoring veterans and their stories is noble and respectful, his stories tend to drone on more than they captivate. Caplan may have been wise to take a page from Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a series of memoirs collected by a group of men and women who Brokaw considers “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” Jerry speaks objectively about his service but is pressed by Val and the archivist to describe his feelings. Most people know and respect the unwritten rule that one never questions veterans about their war experiences. Apparently not the team behind this play.

Meanwhile, Val is caring for June. (Holly Walker), an African-American paraplegic who is also a Vietnam War veteran. The two have a seemingly homoerotic relationship with one another, which builds to an odd climax. Val invites June to dinner with the hope that she will find common ground with her fellow Vietnam Vet, Don.

"Shades" (Photo: PJ Norton via The Broadway Blog.)

“Shades” (Photo: PJ Norton via The Broadway Blog.)

The major problems with Shades is the lack of nuance and subtly. The characters are clichéd and rarely believable. With an inevitable death looming, Don suggests—at least twice—that, “Life is a gift.”  I could not agree more, but pithy writing like this seems inspired more by quotes on embroidered pillows than by human conversation. In addition, nearly every family outburst and tense argument is smoothed over by an awkward suggestion for a glass of water or food.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an unfortunate affliction suffered by too many brave men and women who sacrificed all they had for their country. However, the list is long of titles that have tackled this in an effective and powerful way. On stage, Donald Margulies’ searing portrait of a war photojournalist in Time Stands Still immediately comes to mind. Two recent movies about soldiers re-acclimating to real life, The Hurt Locker and American Sniper bring raw emotions front and center in a manner that neither sugar coats nor falsifies the experience. Basetrack Live, which is currently touring nationally, approaches the subject matter using multimedia and 21st century theatricality.

Caplan is a noted clinical and research psychologist who obviously has a great deal of empathy for the topic and her subjects. I admire her attempt to capture this on stage and do not wish the minimize the healing effect that this work might have for veterans and their families. For seasoned consumers of entertainment, however, it will be a slight slice of life.

Shades
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street, NYC
Through December 17

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.

 

 

 

To Be or Not to Be: ‘The Real Actors of NYC’

October 16th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

klea-blackhurst-lorinda-lisitza

The Real Actors of NYC is proof that lavish costumes, gigantic sets, lush orchestras, and full-scale dance numbers are not a prerequisite for a great musical. Quite the opposite rings true for Karlan Judd’s (book, music and lyrics) shrewd and observant show.

Jake (Noah Zachary), Jen (Jennifer Jean Anderson), Nick (Nicholas Barnes) are all aspiring musical theater performers who will literally stop at nothing to make it on Broadway. They are joined by the incredibly narcissistic Stewart (RJ Vaillancourt). The quartet is inseparable and share their woes and worries at a local diner. Mumz (Klea Blackhurst) works double duty as their server and agent. She also has history with Marge (Lorinda Lisitza), a conniving Broadway producer who is backing a new musical that has the Broadway world buzzing: “Millennials Are Everything.”

The title is ridiculously silly, but it’s that type of campy humor generously sprinkled throughout the piece that makes the otherwise nerve-wracking entertainment industry seem tolerable. Years ago, Mumz starred as a performer—or at least she tells herself and her young clients that she did. In reality, she was an aspiring actor whose star never rose. After auditioning for Marge, then a young casting director, Mumz is certain that she has landed the part until she learns that her role was given to Marge’s friend. Now she’s in for blood!

Danny (Jacob McKenna) rounds out this cast in a narrator/cameo role and offers some snappy one-liners. At first glance, McKenna could pass for comedian Zach Galifianakis, but he imprints his own brand of humor, which is a fun treat to watch. Even more amusing is his program biography, which states that after this show he’ll be “embarking on the South East Asian tour of Miss Saigon playing the helicopter.”

Judd’s characters are caricatures of actual New York performers, but only slightly. With inside jokes, he makes them completely relatable and recognizable to anyone who has waited outside of an audition room. Through the aspiring, optimistic and hopeful (Jake), the neurotic and anxious Broadway-bound baby (Jen), the typecast “heavy set” guy (Nick), and God’s gift to the stage (Stewart), Judd perfectly captures the cutthroat world of theater.

Klea Blackhurst & Lorinda Lisitza in 'The Real Actors of NYC.' (Photo: Jessica Bal via The Broadway Blog.)

Klea Blackhurst & Lorinda Lisitza in ‘The Real Actors of NYC.’ (Photo: Jessica Bal via The Broadway Blog.)

What makes his piece so refreshing is that Judd’s humor is sharp and witty without being cynical. He obviously knows show business and the headaches that it brings, but he frames the piece more as a charming love letter rather than making it a vehicle for snark and attack. He also tips his hat to another homage to Broadway, television’s Smash. Audiences may have to do a double take upon Marge’s first entrance to be sure they aren’t seeing Angelica Huston’s character, Eileen Rand.

Judd’s score will likely not be preserved in the canon of musical theater, but it serves the show appropriately and, for the most part, the cast navigates it well. There are occasional moments involving tight harmonies that could use improvement but, under music director Luke McGinnis, it’s likely that they will find their groove during the run. There were also a few mishaps with lines during a recent preview performance, but they should also be cured as the show continues.

The theater shares a set with Perfect Crime and James Morgan and Alberto Ruiz have assembled a sparse but comfortable set for a show that is primarily character driven.

The Real Actors of NYC will resonate with industry folks, but it’s not such an insider piece that non-entertainment folks can’t enjoy it as well. At $60-plus per ticket, it might be a bit steep, but it’s a rather safe assumption that online discounts and promotions will make it more appealing for ticket buyers.

The Real Actors of NYC
Anne L. Bernstein Theater
210 W 50th St, New York City

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

War President: ‘The Trial of an American President: What If?’

September 29th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Tony Carlin in 'The Trial of an American President: What If?' (Photo: Ken Nahoum via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Carlin in ‘The Trial of an American President: What If?’ (Photo: Ken Nahoum via The Broadway Blog.)

He never uses the words “the fog of war,” now so memorably attached to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s handling of Vietnam; still, the same idea is behind much of former President George W. Bush’s defense of what happened after his 2003 invasion of Iraq. At least, that’s what he says in The Trial of an American President: What If? by Dick Tarlow (with Bill Smith), now at the Lion.

Early on, the Narrator (Mahira Kakkar), speaking on behalf of the U.N.’s International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague, asks (original punctuation retained):

WHAT IF the world spoke up, roared their anger, that President George W. Bush had to finally be held responsible for his decision in 2003 to attack Iraq? WHAT IF, the pressure grew so strong from so many countries, so many leaders, that the United Nations could not turn a deaf ear any longer. WHAT IF, the United National Security Council asked the International Criminal Court to bring President Bush to trial?

Then comes an even bigger question: “what if” Bush, legally entitled to decline, not only agreed to stand trial, with the threat of punishment if found to be a war criminal, but to do so without benefit of legal counsel, choosing instead to defend himself?

(l to r) Mahira Kakkar, Michael Rogers, and Tony Carlin. (Photo: Ken Nahoum via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Mahira Kakkar, Michael Rogers, and Tony Carlin. (Photo: Ken Nahoum via The Broadway Blog.)

Thus commences this fantasy docudrama: “fantasy,” as the subtitle suggests, because the premise is imaginary, and “docudrama” because its fact-based information is offered in the fashion of a documentary courtroom drama, albeit one conducted in a reductionist theatrical manner.

For the many who believe that Bush, self-described as a “war president,” not only began an unjustified war in the wake of 9/11 but incited problems that have become exponentially worse with the rise of ISIS, among other cancers, seeing him as an ICC dartboard target will likely be a mild cathartic, no matter how rigged against him the playwriting may be.

Sitting in a leather chair on Ann Beyersdorfer’s spare set, and rising only occasionally, Bush (Tony Carlin) listens as a Prosecutor (Michael Rogers), notepad in hand and dressed in a blue judicial robe, drills the ex-president over three days. All the familiar names are invoked—Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kerry, Bin-Laden, Blair, and others—as the accusations fly regarding the overthrow of Saddam, weapons of mass destruction, Fallujah, Blackwater, torture/waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, indiscriminate killing of civilians, and so on. Meanwhile, nine spectators in the front rows, having been given ballots, sit in judgment.

Extensive video and still projections (produced and edited by Philip Coccioletti and Sugarcamp Productions; designed by Kevan Loney), including printed information and talking-head commentary from victims (played by actors), amplify and support the arguments (mainly the prosecution’s). If you weren’t paying attention back then, consider this play a valuable history lesson. If you were, you won’t hear anything you didn’t already know.

(l to r) Michael Rogers, Tony Carlin. (Photo: Ken Nahoum via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Michael Rogers, Tony Carlin. (Photo: Ken Nahoum via The Broadway Blog.)

Through it all, Bush cites his faith in God and the Bible, his noble intentions on behalf of democracy, his denial of conspiratorial theories, and his excusing the U.S. military’s questionable and excessive responses as innocent mistakes and/or the nature of war. Carlin does his best to make the man sympathetic; the very fact that Bush has put his neck on the line by appearing signals his feelings of righteousness, even, perhaps, implying a sense of martyrdom.

Stephen Eich’s direction sustains the give and take between the Prosecutor and Bush. Carlin, speaking with a Texas twang in a subdued tone, makes a reasonably believable Bush, although he should modify the pecking head movements, while Rogers, in a conventional role with no backstory, uses a vaguely foreign accent, and is suitably probing. Kakkar’s Narrator, a South Asian woman representing the Hague, speaks with crisp authority.

The Trial of an American President ends with the Narrator reading the vote of that performance’s jury. Given the mountain of condemnatory evidence and the lack of anything but a personalized response, I’d be surprised if the verdict weren’t always more or less the same.

The Trial of an American President: What If?
Lion Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through October 15

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).

 

 

Stream the Best of Off-Broadway on BroadwayHD

September 26th, 2016 Comments off

Sometimes a trip to New York City isn’t in the cards for theater fans. Fortunately, BroadwayHD brings the best of live theater right into your living room. These three titles have been added to BroadwayHD’s on-demand library:

(l to r) Will Gallagher, James Ortiz, and Eliza Martin Simpson in 'The Woodsman .' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Will Gallagher, James Ortiz, and Eliza Martin Simpson in ‘The Woodsman .’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The Woodsman (2016) BroadwayHD captured a live performance of Off-Broadway’s The Woodsman on May 28, 2016. Based on the beloved writings of L. Frank Baum, The Woodsman, is an imaginative retelling of the origins of Oz’s Tin Man, the woman he loved, and the witch that would stop at nothing to keep them apart. Through spectacular life-size puppetry and original music, the ensemble of Strangemen & Co. presents an inventive take on one of America’s original fairy tales. The Woodsman stars creator, director, designer, and  puppeteer James Ortiz as Nick Chopper, the Woodsman.


(l to r) Paul Sparks, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan in 'Buried Child.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Paul Sparks, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan in ‘Buried Child.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Buried Child (2016) BroadwayHD streamed Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child live on March 30, 2016 from Off-Broadway’s The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center. This critically-acclaimed theatrical production is directed by Scott Elliott and stars Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Larry Pine, Rich Sommer, Paul Sparks and Nat Wolff. This wildly poetic and cuttingly funny take on the American family drama gleefully pulls apart the threadbare deluded visions of our families and our homes.    


(l to r) Bill Irwin, Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in 'Old Hats." (Photo: Thomas Garcia via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Bill Irwin, Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in ‘Old Hats.” (Photo: Thomas Garcia via The Broadway Blog.)

Old Hats (2016) BroadwayHD presented a live stream of Signature Theatre’s Old Hats, on April 2, 2016, at The Pershing Square Signature Center. Old Hats is created and performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner. Music and lyrics by and featuring Shaina Taub.

An Eggplant by Any Other Name: ‘Aubergine’

September 13th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Sue Jean Kim, Stephen Park & Joseph Steven Yang in 'Aubergine.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sue Jean Kim, Stephen Park & Joseph Steven Yang in ‘Aubergine.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As with many tasty meals, what goes into a worthy play is often rather commonplace, depending for its effect on how the playwright seasons and prepares the familiar ingredients. In the monologue that opens Julia Cho’s flavorsome Aubergine—first seen at the Berkeley Rep and now onstage at Playwrights Horizons—Diane (Jessica Love), a fashionable young woman, tells us of her experience as an obsessive “foodie,” willing to go anywhere in search of exceptional delicacies. However, the dish she most fondly recalls is one her dad used to make, hot pastrami on Italian bread pan-fried in butter, which she describes with mouth-watering images. This signals Cho’s concern with the connection between food and memory, and even life and death.

Similarly, there’s nothing very unusual about what’s on the plate in Cho’s occasionally moving, sometimes funny dramedy: a young chef, Ray (Tim Kang), learns that his long-widowed father (Stephen Park) is dying of cirrhosis. Never able to satisfy his domineering father, who opposed his choice of profession and didn’t appreciate his abilities, he struggles with the conflict he feels between love and anger as his father lies comatose in the dining room turned hospice.

Stephen Park & Tim Kang in 'Aubergine.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Stephen Park & Tim Kang in ‘Aubergine.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Helping Ray to work out his issues are his girlfriend Cornelia (Sue Jean Kim), a grounded, no-nonsense beauty, still upset with Ray after their recent breakup; his father’s nurse, Lucien (Michael Potts), a deeply sensitive, philosophically wise man of indeterminate foreign origin who once lived in a refugee camp; and Ray’s uncle (Joseph Steven Yang), who, despite knowing no English, flies in from abroad to be with his dying brother.

The sauce that gives the touching, but only sporadically dramatic play its piquancy is that the central characters are Korean and, like the dramatist, Korean-American. Ray knows only a few words of Korean but Cornelia is fluent. Ray needs her to interpret, first when he has to inform the uncle, in Korea, by phone of the father’s illness, and then when the uncle, unexpectedly, turns up at Ray’s home. Large swaths are in Korean, either with Cornelia interpreting (adding her own spin when appropriate) or with subtitles. This isn’t a distraction, but rather serves as a savory relish, particularly when the uncle uses gestures to communicate.

Unfortunately, there’s not quite enough meat on Aubergine’s bones to fill out its over two hours’ traffic on the stage; toward the end, the conclusion seems ever more elusive. It proceeds from brief episode to brief episode but rarely comes to a boil, the most intense moment coming just before intermission as Ray repels the insistence of his uncle to prepare a special soup for the father, for which he’s actually brought a turtle. The lack of incident may lead some to wonder whatever happened to Diane, the pastrami lady. Whether or not you swallow the coincidence that brings her back for the final scene, when she bites into her food your memory of a famous movie moment may trigger an “I’ll have what she’s having” response.

Sue Jean Kim & Jessica Love in 'Aubergine.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sue Jean Kim & Jessica Love in ‘Aubergine.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Aubergine gets a terrific production at the directorial hands of Kate Whoriskey, who moves it along with great efficiency on a set by Derek McLane that embraces the principal scenes within a circular wall that splits into two parts, each of which slides upstage to show what’s inside; when the circle closes, its wall backs the downstage scenes. McLane’s scenery and Jennifer Moeller’s costumes look perfect under Peter Kaczorowski’s elegant lighting.

Kang nails Ray’s tight-as-a-spring temperament, captured in body language that often prevents him from looking others straight on, while Kim gives Cornelia a laser-like intelligence modified by just the right degree of warmth. Yang makes the kindly uncle humorously sincere; Park, required to look out of it most of the time, is perfectly fine in his spoken scenes, especially when he berates Ray for buying an expensive knife; Potts brings gentle compassion and honesty to the borderline cliché role of Lucien; and Love is lovely as Diane.

Aubergine is the uncommon word for a common vegetable, eggplant. In her play, Julia Cho also has made something uncommon out of the common.

Aubergine
Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through October 2