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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Then I Wrote… : ‘Maestro’

September 12th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Hershey Felder in 'Maestro.' (Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents via The Broadway Blog.)

Hershey Felder in ‘Maestro.’ (Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents via The Broadway Blog.)

Hershey Felder, who practically has made a career of creating one-man shows about musical geniuses (Gershwin, Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, and Berlin), has done it again with Maestro, his engrossing hour and 45-minute biodrama about the great composer-conductor-pianist-lecturer-teacher-author-librettist Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Felder, an actor-composer-pianist-singer-teacher-playwright (a mini-Bernstein one might say), is one of the few theatrical artists capable of doing a show like this, now in New York after showings in California and Chicago.

Putting a life so densely packed with creative activity into such a brief span is sure to make Bernstein addicts squirm at what’s been left out or to grimace at how different from Bernstein Felder looks, sounds, and behaves (one barely-smoked cigarette at the start and that’s it); even then, they may feel, with many others, the need to stand and yell “Bravo” when the show draws to its close and the full impact of Felder’s tour de force presentation is absorbed.

Hershey Felder in 'Maestro.' (Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents via The Broadway Blog.)

Hershey Felder in ‘Maestro.’ (Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents via The Broadway Blog.)

As elegantly directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), who also staged two earlier Felder shows, Bernstein is set on a stage (designed by François-Pierre Couture) dominated by a grand piano, a large canvas draped across the rear wall that serves as a screen for projections (by Christopher Ash, who also did the lighting), and equipment suggesting we’re in a TV studio. Felder, wearing a gray jacket, black slacks, and black mock turtleneck—not to mention an un-Bernstein-like gray hairdo (or is it a wig?)—takes us on an anecdotal journey through the highlights of the musician’s life.

He impersonates important figures from that life, beginning with Leonard’s pious Russian-Jewish father, Sam—a prosperous beauty supplies salesman and Talmudic student who did everything he could to discourage his boy from following a musical career, although the Jewish influence on Bernstein’s music was great.

There are also the towering conductors—the Greek Dimitri Mitropoulis, the Russian Serge Koussevitsky, and the Hungarian Fritz Reiner—who helped Bernstein become America’s first internationally renowned conductor. Felder does Sam’s Yiddish accent and expressions spot on, getting comic mileage from them; the others not so much. Yiddish intonations sometimes bleed into Lenny’s speech as well, jarring a bit with the more professorial elocution we hear on the many available videos of him.

Despite the considerable amount of personal detail provided, including both his marriage to Chilean-born actress Felicia Montealegre as well as his homosexual affairs (which some may think deserve greater attention), huge amounts are necessarily omitted. In addition to his bio, our hero also lectures brilliantly—while displaying his pianistic virtuosity—on the technical intricacies of his own compositions and those of Copland, Beethoven, Grieg, Mahler, and Wagner (Schoenberg doesn’t make the cut). Aficionados will recognize Bernstein’s more serious compositions while others will be happy to hear his lecture-demos on West Side Story’s “Somewhere” and “”Maria,” which Felder sings as he plays.

Hershey Felder in 'Maestro.' (Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents via The Broadway Blog.)

Hershey Felder in ‘Maestro.’ (Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents via The Broadway Blog.)

A man of many contradictions, Bernstein struggled to come to terms with his ambivalent sexuality; with his Judaism (he wrote a controversial Catholic Mass, although it gets short shrift here); with his classical versus Broadway inclinations (we get one selection each from On the Town and Candide, in addition to West Side Story, which he decided was “silly juvenilia”); with whether he was primarily a composer or a conductor; with his disappointment at his creative output; and with his political liberalism, in particular the infamous party held at his apartment for the Black Panthers, which inspired Tom Wolfe’s putdown phrase, “radical chic” (those words and Wolfe’s name are avoided, though).

Like its inspiration, Bernstein isn’t perfect. Given Bernstein’s famous over-the-top conducting style, it’s surprising that—even with a brief moment of Felder-Bernstein conducting a prerecorded orchestra—all we see of the late maestro’s electric conducting theatricality are a few seconds of video; Felder himself seems more comfortable at the keyboard than on the podium.

Still, seen in the right spirit, this is a valuable work of musical theatre that manages to teach at the same time that it entertains. Leonard Bernstein is someone you should want to know more about. And Hershey Felder’s the man to bring him to you.

Maestro
59E59 Theaters/Theater A
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through October 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). 

‘A Better Place’: Too Many Apartment Complexes

May 16th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘Boy’: Nature Versus Nurture

March 11th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Heidi Armbruster, Ted Koch, and Paul Niebanck in 'Boy' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Heidi Armbruster, Ted Koch, and Paul Niebanck in ‘Boy’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The zeitgeist’s obsessive fascination with issues of sexual confusion and gender identity continues with Anna Ziegler’s Boy, an engrossing yet inconsistently satisfying new drama being offered by the Keen Company under Linsay Firman’s direction on Theatre Row. In it, New York stage stalwart Bobby Steggert plays Adam Turner, a character whose story was inspired by a famous case of sexual reassignment surgery performed in 1966 on an eight-month-old Canadian boy, David Reimer.

Reimer—the late subject of the “John/Joan” case—was the victim of a botched circumcision that led to the loss of his penis; his agitated parents sought the help of a noted psychologist, John Money, who advised them to have the boy’s testicles removed and raise him as a girl. Despite the efforts to nurture him as a female, David, after learning of his biological gender, rejected his imposed identity at fourteen and had genital reconstructive surgery; eventually, he even went public in an effort to help dissuade others from following the same path.

Rebecca Rittenhouse and Bobby Steggert in 'Boy.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Rebecca Rittenhouse and Bobby Steggert in ‘Boy.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Boy hews fairly closely to Reimer’s situation, including his having been a twin; it imagines not only what it might have been like for him to grow up as a girl (hormone shots included) with a boy inside struggling to get out, but what such an individual might experience if he found himself in a romantic relationship with a woman. The play actually begins with the beginning of that relationship when, wearing a mask (presumably symbolizing his need to disguise his sexuality), Reimer’s avatar, Adam, meets Jenny Lafferty (Rebecca Rittenhouse) at a Halloween party in 1989, a date projected on the rear wall. Each scene, in fact, is introduced with a projection of the year in which it’s set, as well as Adam’s age, since the action jumps around in time, from 1968 to 1990.

Ziegler’s primary focus is on the classic nurture/nature debate—a lengthy program note provides helpful background—so we’re forced to ponder just how much of human behavior is based on how we’re raised as opposed to our genetic predispositions. When Adam’s parents, the warm but anxious Trudy (Heidi Armbruster) and the gruffly macho, working-class Doug (Ted Köch), of Davenport, Iowa, agree to the recommendation of celebrity psychologist Dr. Wendell Barnes (Paul Niebanck) that Samuel be raised as a girl, he’s renamed Samantha. Important scenes show the bookish, sensitive, and highly intelligent Samantha in her childhood sessions with Dr. Barnes in Boston.

A principal question concerns whether Barnes is more interested in Adam (who chooses that name when he decides to live as a man) as a person or as a case study he can use to benefit his career. The other main question is how Adam will resolve his love affair with Jenny, the single mother he falls in love with and who can’t understand what his sexual hesitancy is all about: “Well, are you gay, then?” she asks.

Despite its theatrical devices of moving back and forth through time and having Adam morph from one age or gender orientation to the other, without costume changes or radical behavioral alterations, the narrative and its issues—particularly the nature versus nurture argument—are clearly laid out. But just what’s going on sexually with Adam when he yearns for Jenny remains indefinite; he says “I have a dick that doesn’t really work. Not really.” You have to wonder what that means, and what he’s feeling or is sexually capable of when he kisses her, especially with his condition having been such an obstacle. More details, please!

Boy moves along efficiently on Sandra Goldmark’s simple setting of black backdrop fronted by two freestanding doorframes. Steggert, 35, is suitably boyish-looking and versatile for a role demanding so many shifts in age and tone, but Adam remains more a textbook case than a three-dimensional person. Armbruster and Köch are acceptable as his conventionally distressed parents while Niebanck’s psychologist is stiffly artificial in both writing and performance. Only Rittenhouse, as the confused girlfriend, approaches a fully realized performance.

At 90 minutes, Boy isn’t concerned with Adam and Jenny’s future. You may wish to Google “David Reimer” to find out what happened to Adam’s source, and to wonder whether the note of promise on which the play ends might be not only misleading but disingenuous.

Boy
Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through April 9

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).

Beyond the Rainbow: ‘The Woodsman’

February 12th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

(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.)

Strangemen & Co.’s The Woodsman, a darkly imaginative prequel to the story most of us know as The Wizard of Oz, is back in New York after several earlier incarnations, including the only time a show has been given a return engagement at 59E59 Theaters. Combining elegantly choreographed movement, sensitive music, imaginative puppetry, and a minimum of spoken language, it offers 70 uninterrupted minutes of theatre magic that can be enjoyed by both adults and children.

Although L. Frank Baum had no intention of writing a sequel to his 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it proved so popular he eventually wrote 13 of them; when he died in 1919 another writer took up the pen and squeezed another 21 stories out of the franchise. Almost from the start, the material attracted stage and film productions—the classic, of course, being 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Broadway musical hits, Wicked and The Wiz (the latter recently produced live on TV), continue the worldwide obsession with Baum’s story of Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, and their quest to reach the Emerald City.

'The Woodsman' (Photo: Emma Mead via The Broadway Blog.)

‘The Woodsman’ (Photo: Emma Mead via The Broadway Blog.)

The Woodsman, written by the multitalented James Ortiz, has the ambience of an Appalachian folk tale, reminding me of Dark of the Moon, Howard Richardson and William Berney’s 1945 play about a witch boy; it gives us the back story on how the Tin Woodman (or “woodsman” as the play has it) got that way. Ortiz, who not only wrote the play, designed its sets, created its splendid puppets, and codirected it with Claire Karpen, plays the woodsman, Nick Chopper, son of Pa (Will Gallacher) and Ma (Lauren Nordvig); his woodsman dad teaches him how to chop down trees, his parents die, and he falls in love with the beautiful Nimmie (Eliza Martin Simpson), slave to the desiccated wicked witch of the East (a scary old lady puppet manipulated by Amanda A. Lederer and Sophia Zukoski); this enrages the nasty hag. Eventually, we see Nick transformed from a human to a tin man, represented by the startling puppet whose visage adorns the Playbill and can be seen on posters throughout the subway system.

Apart from a brief, narrative introduction to the tale, delivered by Ortiz, and the lyrics (by Jen Loring) to several songs, the characters communicate not in words but in various vocal sounds, mostly grunts and shouts. The witch, you see, has prohibited people from speaking their thoughts to one another. In action, however, the convention ultimately wears out its welcome.

Apart from various crows that fly about in actors’ hands, there are only three puppets: the witch, the tin man, both of them more or less life-sized and based on bunraku principles, and the cowardly lion (or is that a tiger?), an impressively oversized assemblage of sections, each handled by a separate actor. For the most part, The Woodsman focuses on flesh and blood.

The 11-member cast performs within Ortiz’s enchantingly theatrical, semicircular arrangement of vertical wooden slats and branches, overhung by a marvelous chandelier combining branches with what seem like countless glass jars with miniature lights in them; even the sidewalls of the theatre are part of the design. The actors use a few selective props (branches, in particular) to conjure up whatever’s necessary; a miniature house, for example, stands in for a full-sized one. A highlight to wait for is when the actors conjure up a cyclone (yes, that one). The versatile company is also kept busy creating all the sounds and using miniature flashlights for special effects.

Catherine Clark and Jamie Roderick’s evocative lighting is precisely what the poignant, albeit occasionally humorous, material demands, just as are Molly Seidel’s backwoods-type period costumes and Edward W. Hardy’s folksy, almost nonstop violin music, played by Naomi Florin. The Woodsman is ensemble theatre at its best, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that in James Ortiz, a lanky young Abe Lincoln-type with a memorably unruly shock of hair, it has a special kind of genius at its helm.

The Woodsman
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street, NYC
Through May 29

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).

‘DOT’ Your Calendar For Special Events at The Vineyard

February 9th, 2016 Comments off

Dot Vineyard Theatre

Vineyard Theatre will present a special series of post-show discussions to be moderated by special guests throughout the run of its production, DOT, by Colman Domingo, directed by Susan Stroman, which began previews February 4 and opens February 23 at The Vineyard (108 E. 15 St.), it has been announced by Douglas Aibel and Sarah Stern, artistic directors.

In DOT, the holidays are always a wild family affair at the Shealy house. But this year, Dotty and her three grown children gather for the holidays with more than exchanging presents on their minds. As Dotty struggles to hold on to her memory, her children fight to balance care for their mother and care for themselves.

Following is a schedule of those performances of DOT featuring a post-show discussion with special guest moderators and the topic of those discussions:

Tuesday, February 23, 7 p.m. – Lisa B. Thompson, Ph.D., Professor, University of Texas at Austin and author of Beyond The Black Lady: Sexuality And The New African American Middle Class, will discuss the intersection of aging, sexuality and race with the cast.

Saturday, February 27, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. – P.K. Beville, a clinician working in dementia care for over 30 years and the creator of the Virtual Dementia Tour, will give insiaght into dementia and strategies for caregivers.

Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m. – Sarita Gupta, co-director of Caring Across Generations, will lead a discussion about the necessary cultural and policy changes and the growing social movement to ensure that all Americans can live and age with dignity.

Sunday, March 6 at 3 p.m. – Tia P. Powell, MD, an expert on bioethics, will lead a discussion on dementia and public policy. Dr. Powell is the director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics and Einstein Cardoza Master of Science in Bioethics, as well as Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Clinical Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Sunday, March 13, 3 p.m. – Evan Bass and Miranda Wilson are co-researchers and developers of Scripted-IMPROV, which utilizes a mix of drama and improv techniques to better connect with individuals who have Alzheimer’s. This discussion will highlight simple methods to reduce the four A’s of the disease: Anxiety, Agitation, Aggression and Apathy to help create more meaningful interactions with individuals living with Alzheimer’s.

Tuesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. – Representatives from Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, New York City, Inc. will be present to discuss support and resources for individuals and families affected by an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

For tickets and information about DOT performances and these special post-show discussions, visit www.vineyardtheatre.org or call 212-353-0303.

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A Bittersweet Bite: Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’

February 5th, 2016 Comments off
 Hilly Bodin as Snow White and Courtney Giannone as The Prince in 'Snow White.' (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Hilly Bodin as Snow White and Courtney Giannone as The Prince in ‘Snow White.’ (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Austin McCormick—founder, choreographer, and artistic director of Company XIV—is back with his signature brand of unique storytelling that mashes up Baroque dance, circus, opera, ballet, inventive design, and just about anything else he can toss in his theatrical kitchen sink. But in spite of the vast array of genres converging in his latest endeavor, Snow White (playing through March 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre), lacks cohesion and emotionally engaging storytelling.

Company XIV's 'Snow White' (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’ (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Returning, once again, to the Brothers Grimm as source material, McCormick leans heavily on the German influence, incorporating an unintelligible narrator to shuffle along the familiar story. We follow Snow White (Hilly Bodin)’s battle for survival against the evil Queen (Laura Careless), who would like nothing more than to see the girl dead so she can reign as the fairest one of all. Banishing her to the forest, the Queen orders a huntsman to kill the girl, but unable to commit the crime, he kills a forest creature instead. In a bit of ineffective stagecraft, the Queen—keen on eating the girl’s innards—hacks away at a suspended block of ice that glows red from within.

Other theatrical effects, particularly the use of live video feed, deliver much more punch. Snow White—like a cat with nine lives—defends herself against the Queen’s continued vicious attacks. This includes an exquisitely choreographed sequence where the Queen disguises herself as a bodice-selling pauper and literally tries to constrict her to death. But to no avail, for when Snow White later falls under the spell of a poisoned apple and is placed in a glass coffin (imaginatively created through a ritualistic envelopment of plastic wrap), the Prince (Courtney Giannone) enters to deliver a resurrecting kiss followed by a celebratory “Rhoedenrad”-inspired performance, a German circus act where the performer manipulates a hoop or wheel as it rolls about like a coin.

Laura Careless as The Queen in Company XIV's 'Snow White." (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Laura Careless as The Queen in Company XIV’s ‘Snow White.” (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

In the Company XIV tradition, the multi-talented ensemble dances, sings, and flips their way through the production, outfitted in fantastical (if occasionally clumsy) costumes by Zane Pihlstrom. But McCormick is unable to extract a narrative that engages the audience beyond the wow factor. Bodin and Careless (as Snow White and the Queen respectively) are captivating, setting the bar high in terms of technique and utter abandonment. The others do due diligence with McCormick’s athletic choreography but fail to capture a deeper sense of connection to the source material.

Those who haven’t seen Company XIV before will revel in its imaginative interpretation. If you are familiar with McCormick’s work and a fan, as I am, you might find yourself feeling a bit restless at this production and wondering how the company may next interpret “happily ever after.”

Snow White
Company XIV
Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through March 12

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him online at @roodeloo.

Three to See: February

February 3rd, 2016 Comments off

It’s been a mild winter but things are heating up Off Broadway. Take a look at our top picks of the month!

Company XIV's 'Snow White' (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’ (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s Snow White
Artistic director Austin McCormick is back with another voluptuous, adult-only fairly tale inspired by the Brothers Grimm. Expect a dark, dangerous and decadent evening of circus, opera, dance, theatre, music, high fashion and lavish design. The show contains partial nudity—16 and over admitted.

Company XIV’s work is a unique mash up of classical texts, Baroque choreography, eclectic music, pop culture, opera, burlesque, ballet, gender bending, high fashion, theatrical staging and sumptuous design that has wowed both audiences and critics. Taking his cue from theatre/dance/opera under the reign of Louis XIV, director/choreographer Austin McCormick creates a compelling 360-degree experience for audiences. The players of Company XIV are theatrical libertines, who tempt, delight and fully immerse their audiences in the experience of their performances, inviting them to be seduced and liberated!

Snow White
Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane, NYC
Opening night: February 3
Through March 12

(l to r) Bill Irwin, Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in 'Old Hats.' (Photo: Kevin Berne from the ACT production in San Francisco.)

(l to r) Bill Irwin, Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in ‘Old Hats.’ (Photo: Kevin Berne from the ACT production in San Francisco.)


Old Hats

What’s old is new again at Signature Theatre Company, where Bill Irwin and David Shiner bring their whimsical theatrical combination of music, technology and movement back to the state. This production reunites the clowns with original director Tina Landau and introduces their new songstress and comic foil Shaina Taub, hailed as “a young Judy Garland meets grown-up Lisa Simpson” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

 

Old Hats
Signature Theatre Company
The Pershing Square Signature Theatre
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Opening night: February 18
Through April 3

Dot Vineyard Theatre

Dot
Susan Stroman momentarily puts her dancing shoes aside and sidesteps from musical theater to helm Dot, a new play by Colman Domingo. The holidays are always a wild family affair at the Shealy house. But this year, Dotty and her three grown children gather with more than exchanging presents on their minds. As Dotty struggles to hold on to her memory, her children must fight to balance care for their mother and care for themselves. This twisted and hilarious new play grapples unflinchingly with aging parents, midlife crises, and the heart of a West Philly neighborhood.

Domingo (Wild With Happy) reunites with Stroman at The Vineyard following his solo show A Boy And His Soul and his Tony Award-nominated performance in The Scottsboro Boys, also directed by Stroman.

Dot
The Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Opening night: February 23
Through March 20

Legendary Shoes: Maurice Hines Triumphs in ‘Tappin’ Thru Life’

January 11th, 2016 Comments off
Maurice Hines (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Maurice Hines (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

It doesn’t take a meteorologist to notice the drastic temperature fluctuations New Yorkers have been experiencing this winter, but those who find themselves at midtown’s New World Stages should brace themselves for a scorching heat wave—at least for as long as Maurice Hines is occupying residency.

Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life, is, as its’ leading man sings in his autobiographical journey, “much too marvelous for words,” but since it is my job as a critic to offer analysis, my only words are ones of praise, awe, and admiration.

Hines and his late, younger brother, Gregory were tap prodigies whose illustrious careers grabbed the attention of Johnny Carson (who put them on “The Tonight Show” more than 30 times.) From there, they toured in New York, Europe, and Las Vegas, rubbing elbows and in some cases, performing, with legendary performers including Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Tallulah Bankhead, and Judy Garland.

The Off Broadway show, expertly directed by Jeff Calhoun, flows effortlessly from one fascinating showbiz tale to the next. In true song and dance fashion, his stories are interspersed with fine standards, each accompanied by the impressive Diva jazz orchestra. As soon as this 15-piece ensemble begins to wail, the “wow” factor skyrockets—and it only increases throughout the next 90 minutes.

With charming photos projected on Tobin Ost’s smartly designed panels, Hines reminisces about his career and more personally, his family. Hines’ father joined the brother’s act for a short time where they billed themselves as Hines, Hines, and Dad. His mother provided constant support and encouragement and often held down three simultaneous jobs to support the family. He also admits to a painful argument he had with his younger brother that caused them to cease communication for ten years. Fortunately, reconciliation followed. His tales are sentimental and heartfelt without being maudlin and he makes it a point to acknowledge, but not steep in his life’s disappointments.

(l to r) Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines and John Manzari (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Leo Manzari, Maurice Hines and John Manzari (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

At 72, Hines has more energy in his tapping feet than many half his age have in their entire bodies. He is an old-school showman who puts a thousand percent into his performance. He is also a gracious personality, as evidenced by his willingness to yield to the next generation of tap dancers. Hines introduces us to John and Leo Manzari, a pair of twenty-something brothers from D.C., and Devin and Julia Ruth, sisters who are carrying on the tap legacy. Hines exits and gives the quartet full reign of the boards before later joining them in a crowd pleasing dance number. It is one of the few times he leaves the stage—a testament to his unflagging vigor.

Younger generations will rise to the occasion and new talent will emerge, but the likes of Hines and his legacy are rare.  Thankfully, he is baring his soul and talents in a flashy show that impresses and dazzles like good old fashioned entertainment should.​

Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street, NYC
Through March 13

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.

Review: ‘Marjorie Prime’ at Playwrights Horizons

December 21st, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

(l to r) Lisa Emery, Noah Bean, and Lois Smith in 'Marjorie Prime.' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Lisa Emery, Noah Bean, and Lois Smith in ‘Marjorie Prime.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Here’s one of many questions raised by Marjorie Prime—Jordan Harrison’s 2015 Pulitzer finalist play—about artificial intelligence. Assume it’s the year 2062, and technology has advanced so far that exact physical replicas of beloved dead folks can be created, allowing them to sooth the grieving hearts of those left behind. Moreover, while they can be brought back at any age one chooses, those who’ve obtained them need to provide all the memories required in order to maintain purposeful communication. Do you think you could tell such a creature everything it would need to know in order to convincingly replicate the person it represents? And could that being ever reciprocate with real feelings? But that’s one of many other questions.

In Marjorie Prime, Harrison confronts the emotional and psychological ramifications of what such intimate relationships between flesh and blood humans and technological humans might entail. The play introduces us to octogenarian Marjorie (played by octogenarian Lois Smith), born in 1977, a role she created for the play’s 2014 premiere at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum. Marjorie, suffering from dementia but more or less still in command of her faculties, engages in pleasantries with a handsome, polite, but ever-so-slightly odd, 30-year-old man who, we discover, is the “prime” (a clone-like robot) of her late husband, Walter (Noah Bean). He’s been provided for her comfort by her tense, middle-aged daughter Tess (Lisa Emery) and Tess’s more grounded husband Jon (Stephen Root).

Lisa Emery and Stephen Root in 'Marjorie Prime.' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Lisa Emery and Stephen Root in ‘Marjorie Prime.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Walter shares memories, some of them uncertain, designed to comfort Marjorie in her declining years and keep her brain exercised; he also absorbs the memories that Marjorie feeds him so he can become ever more companionable. Tess has doubts about his usefulness; Jon believes his presence has great value, at least at first. Eventually, a prime of Marjorie herself, as she was before she died, but without her ailments, will serve Tess’s needs, and, when Tess is gone, Jon will have a prime of her. What happens to the primes themselves forms the most interesting scene in the play.

Futurism is barely noticeable in the show’s subtle look. The 80-minute production unfolds in a mint green and white, sparsely decorated, antiseptic open plan apartment (facility?), designed by Laura Jellinek. A large kitchen is upstage, a lone Lazy-Boy recliner (later replaced by a more stylish chair) is downstage, and there’s a sitting area. Jessica Pabst’s costumes look like what people wear today. Daniel Kluger’s chilly sound design and Ben Stanton’s evocative lighting create a sinister mood, especially during transitions, when furnishings are shifted almost invisibly. (For some reason, though, headphone-wearing stagehands do the job toward the end, damaging the illusion.)

Since there’s a general coolness to director Anne Kaufmann’s production, and the backstories of the characters aren’t particularly engrossing, the difference between the humans and the primes might have worked better if the characters were more down-to-earth or unusual than the superficial ones in the play. The musically voiced Smith offers in Marjorie a precise picture of an intelligent woman watching herself descend into physical and mental frailty. When she reappears as a prime, her appearance is better and spirit livelier, but there’s the same subtle artificiality about her as we saw in Walter as she seeks the knowledge required to fulfill her mission. Bean, who resembles a young David Bowie, makes a perfect human simulacrum, and Root and Emery do what they can with characters who seem more like attitudes than people.

Harrison wisely remains opaque about the androids’ technical details, forcing you to fill in the dots. His premise is wide open for speculation and debate; if you go with someone you’ll surely be talking about it afterward, regardless of how much the play itself did or didn’t dramatically satisfy you.

Marjorie Prime
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through January 24

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).