Advertisement

Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Vineyard Theatre’

To Read or Not to Read: ‘Can You Forgive Her?’

May 23rd, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Darren Pettie, Ella Dershowitz and Amber Tamblyn in 'Can You Forgive Her?' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Darren Pettie, Ella Dershowitz and Amber Tamblyn in ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Gina Gionfriddo’s dark comedy, Can You Forgive Her?, now at the Vineyard Theatre after premiering last year at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, takes its title from a 19th-century novel by Anthony Trollope. Directed in both productions by Peter Dubois, this slow-to-get-started piece, despite socially relevant thoughts couched in passably entertaining gambits, is structurally shaky and fraught with character and plot implausibilities; its most provocative feature is its title.

Graham (Darren Pettie), a feckless, heavy-drinking, twice-divorced 40-year-old, stopped working six months ago. That’s when his sad, long-divorced mother, with whom he had a strained relationship, died. A wannabe but unpublished writer, she left him not only her shabby home, valuable because of its proximity to the Jersey shore, but boxes and boxes of manuscripts—literary and autobiographical—which dominate a portion of the set. Graham has read enough to trash it (an opinion no one ever confirms). Yet the ho-hum question persists: to read or not to read.

Can You Forgive Her Vineyard TheatreGraham’s girlfriend, Tanya (Elsa Dershowitz), a single mom inspired by a self-help book she’s always touting, is far more determined to do something, both about her future (she’s a bartender hoping to become an accountant) and his (either renovate the house and rent it or return to his old job). Tanya won’t commit to marriage until he snaps out of his funk and takes positive action.

Set on Halloween, the fairly brief first scene suggests a conventional light romantic comedy with family implications. In scene two, which occupies the rest of this hour and 35-minute play, we move into quirkier territory when we find Graham alone at 1 a.m. with 28-year-old hottie Miranda (TV/film actress Amber Tamblyn in her stage debut), dressed for the holiday as a sexy witch. Looks prove deceiving; she’s actually a self-hating neurotic, a former teacher who nearly got her Ph.D. in poetry (yeah, right); she strongly defends using her sexual allure to survive while rejecting the label of prostitute. It’s just one stretch among many.

Graham, at Tanya’s suggestion, has brought Miranda home after an altercation at Tanya’s bar between Miranda and her date, Sateesh (Eshan Bay), a young Indian immigrant she’s been dating but not sleeping with, who drove her from New York to the local festival. The well-educated but racially narrow-minded Miranda, who calls Sateesh “the Indian,” needs to hide; she’s somehow convinced Sateesh is a potential murderer. The dubious background for all this is recounted in a shaggy-dog exposition.

Meanwhile, we learn of Miranda’s relationship with David (Frank Wood), a sugar daddy she met online, who’s also nearby (which is what got Sateesh riled up). When David, a wealthy, married, plastic surgeon, eventually arrives, comedy blends with farce as the characters grapple with financial and personal issues.

The action basically stops as Gionfriddo moves into discussion mode regarding women’s choices, responsibility, and agency within the construct of the American dream. The essential contrast is between Miranda’s irresponsible decisions (like choosing a “ritzy” private college), which forced her into so much debt she needed to become a rich man’s mistress, and the more practical thinking of the micromanaging Tanya, who overcame bad choices to become debt-free.

We also have to wade through the emotional morass of Miranda and David’s unique relationship—he accepts her abuse because she’s the only one who can make him feel anything—and wonder whether the desperate Miranda will, instead, turn for love to Graham. Finally, we return to the burning question of the damned boxes: throw them out or read what’s in them? As if we still care.

Frank Wood and Amber Tamblyn in 'Can You Forgive Her?' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Frank Wood and Amber Tamblyn in ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Can You Forgive Her? too often bogs down in exposition, has a ludicrous premise for why Miranda opens up to Graham, makes Miranda both insightful and clueless, and, among other things, takes forever for us to care about the stakes, if we ever do.

Allen Moyer’s living room set, nicely lit (including several surreal effects) by Russell H. Champa, suggests that Graham’s mother’s decorating tastes were as poor as her writing. Jessica Pabst’s costumes help characterize the people who wear them; Miranda’s little black outfit is a knockout.

Amber Tamblyn ensures that the flamboyant Miranda catches our eye, with her constant hair tossing and glam poses, while Ella Dershowitz (Alan’s daughter, in case you’re wondering) is believably persistent in making her points. Although his presence is nicely grounded, nothing about Darren Pettie’s Graham suggests a man afraid of dealing with life, but veteran Frank Wood brings an amusing comic edge to David.

Why David comes all the way downstage to deliver some of his lines as if talking to—not through—the fourth wall, while blocking those behind him, is puzzling. When Sateesh does the same thing, we know it’s director Peter Dubois who’s to blame. And, like several other things on view, it’s not easy to forgive.

Can You Forgive Her?
Vineyard Theatre
108 E. 15th St., NYC
Through June 11 

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).

 

 

 

 

 

Lost at Sea: ‘Kid Victory’ at the Vineyard Theatre

February 27th, 2017 Comments off

 

The cast of 'Kid Victory.' (Photo Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Kid Victory.’ (Photo Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kid Victory, the new musical that opened last week by Greg Pierce (book and lyrics) and John Kander (music) at the Vineyard Theatre, is not easy to watch. That’s not always a bad thing, but it makes for an uneven exploration of difficult subject matter that hits more dissonant chords than likely intended.

Luke (Brandon Flynn) has just returned home after a harrowing year during which Michael (Jeffrey Denman), a predator who lured the teen through the social networking component of an online game, held him captive. Now at home, Luke is trying to assimilate back to life in high school and at home with his religious and doting mother, Eileen (Karen Ziemba), and his patient but passive father, Joseph (Daniel Jenkins).

Brandon Flynn and Jeffry Denman in 'Kid Victory.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Brandon Flynn and Jeffry Denman in ‘Kid Victory.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Luke struggles with flashbacks and feelings complicated by his own sexuality. He finds solace in Emily (Dee Roscioli), the owner of a local shop, Wicker Witch of the West. Meanwhile, his mother engages Gail (Ann Arvia), a member of her Baptist fellowship, for some amateur therapy, which only pushes Luke into further introspection.

Other characters weave their way in and out of the storyline. Detective Marks (Joel Blum) makes a brief tap-dancing appearance where he question’s Luke’s compliance; Andrew (Blake Zolfo) arrives for another tap-dancing number as an online hook-up that Luke arranges to meet in an abandoned house; and Suze (Laura Darrell, sans tap shoes), Luke’s casual girlfriend who is desperate to reconnect since his return.

Flynn, a recent college graduate from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, is tasked with carrying the emotional weight of Kid Victory, a pseudonym that his character has created for his online persona. It’s a sweet and vulnerable performance, and oddly non-musical: Luke is the only character that doesn’t sing. Perhaps it is to symbolize some kind of emotional barrier, but it the very thing that makes the musical art form so unique and this omission strips the character of his evolution. Instead, Pierce ends the show with Luke’s description of a creaky shutter outside of his basement prison that dissolves into a solo for his father. And in a final bit of tragically misplaced writing, we’re left with an image of Luke pantomiming a confession to his dad, only to be upstaged by Michael’s demise from the previous scene.

Kander’s score has a few melodic highlights, including the opening “Lord, Carry Me Home” and “People Like Us,” in which eccentric Emily extols what makes each of us unique. It’s juxtaposed to Luke’s admission of his time with Michael and it’s as though she never hears him, ending the song with an invitation to grab a burger. Other bits of the score harken back to Kander’s previous work, with the aforementioned tap sequences (choreographed by Christopher Windom) acting as a kind of social commentary.

Directory Liesl Tommy does little to bring cohesion to Kid Victory, which suffers from an identity crisis that rivals its lead character. The realistic basement set design by Peter Hylenski is a disturbing reminder of Luke’s traumatic experience. Regardless of the scene, the looming dinginess and entrapment overwhelm the action. I assume this is to mimic his mental torment, but its literal interpretation is often at odds with the narrative.

Though Flynn and Denman deliver complex, frightened (and frightening) characters, the rest of Kid Victory’s cast suffers under the heavy-handed material. And as a whole, no one wins.

Kid Victory
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Through March 19

 

Broadway’s Three to See

February 15th, 2017 Comments off

Broadway and beyond is delivering the goods this month, with star turns from Glenn Close and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the latest musical from legendary composer John Kander. Here are our picks of what not to miss.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard
Glenn Close returns to Broadway in her Tony Award-winning role as the wide-eyed Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic Sunset Boulevard. John Napier’s towering sets for the original production have been stripped down to make room for the largest Broadway orchestra in 80 years.

In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, lives in a fantasy world. Impoverished screenwriter, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious life-style. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.

Ben Brantley described Glenn Close’s Norma Desmond as “One of the great performances of this century.”

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway
Through June 25

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

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

Kid Victory
Kid Victory, a haunting new musical, is the latest collaboration from the creators of Vineyard Theatre’s The Landing, composer John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys) and playwright Greg Pierce (Slowgirl, Her Requiem).

Seventeen-year-old Luke returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, Emily, his parents realize that in order to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance. Directed by Liesl Tommy (Broadway’s Eclipse, recipient of The Vineyard’s Susan Stroman Directing Award) and choreographed by Christopher Windom (Pippin, Drama League Fellow Assistant Director) in their Vineyard debuts.

Kid Victory
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street
Opening night: February 22

 

sunday in the park with george
Sunday in the Park with George

One of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s most celebrated musicals returns (again) for a limited run starring Jake Gyllenhaal making his Broadway debut, and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots, Wicked). With a two-act structure that loosely follows the life of Impressionist painter George Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George has become a cult favorite since its original 1983 Off Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons. Past revivals have included the 2008 transfer of Menier Chocolate Factory’s production.

This production is based on the 2016 City Center concert and has a limited run through April 23.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th Street
Opening night: February 23

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

 

 

‘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).

 

 

‘Indecent’: When a Kiss Killed a Broadway Show

May 17th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three to See: May

May 5th, 2016 Comments off

Now that the Tony Award nominations have been announced, we can all breathe a bit easier knowing that Hamilton will likely sweep every major category… but let’s make room for some of the other successful shows this season, eh? We’ll be offering a peek at some of our favorite moments from the past season, but in the meantime, May brings us some interesting openings worth checking out:

INDECENT

Indecent Vineyard Theatre
The Vineyard Theatre is on fire this season after Colman Domingo’s DOTThe Off Broadway theatre returns with Indecent by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive). This new play with music is inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance — a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel. Indecent charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.

Indecent
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Opening night: May 17

HADESTOWN

Hadestown NYTW
Put on your theatrical thinking cap… with Hadestown, celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and inventive two-time Obie Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin (Three Pianos; Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) transform Mitchell’s “phenomenal concept album” (Rolling Stone) into a bold new work for the stage. This folk opera follows Orpheus’ mythical quest to overcome Hades and regain the favor of his one true love, Eurydice. Inspired by traditions of classic American folk music and vintage New Orleans jazz, Mitchell’s beguiling melodies and poetic imagination pit nature against industry, faith against doubt, and love against death.

Hadestown
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street, NYC
Opening night: May 23

PARAMOUR

Paramour (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Paramour (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Cirque du Soleil comes to Broadway with this landmark production, that aims to provide a new experience for both traditional Broadway musical theatergoers and Cirque du Soleil’s fans. The show will have many of the elements beloved on Broadway: a timeless love story, live musicians, and professional actors in lead roles; but with the Cirque du Soleil aesthetic integrated throughout the show: visionary production design on a grand scale, world class entertainment, and acrobatic feats that defy the imagination. Hopefully Spider-Man has cleared the building.

Paramour
Lyric Theatre
213 West 42nd Street, NYC
Opening night: May 25

The New Normal? ‘Dot’ Delivers at Vineyard Theatre

February 29th, 2016 Comments off

Dot Vineyard Theatre

Colman Domingo’s new play, Dot, now playing at the Vineyard Theatre, has vestiges of a familiar kitchen sink drama. In fact, Allen Moyer’s realistic Act I set features functioning appliances—including an actual kitchen sink. While the water runs from the faucet and the stove sizzles scrambled eggs, matriarch Dotty Shealy (Marjorie Johnson) is starting to show signs of frayed wiring. She’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and we see her in the early stages when she’s cognitive enough to realize that life, as she knows it, is starting to slip away.

The third play in Domingo’s trilogy set in West Philly, Dotty is surrounded by her three children; Shelly (Sharon Washington), Donnie (Stephen Conrad Moore), and Averie (Libya V. Pugh). Each has his or her own way of coping (or not) with Dotty’s diagnosis, and as the play unfolds the audience becomes privy to family dynamics that will seem familiar to anyone with siblings.

Sharon Washington, Marjorie Johnson, and Finnerty Steeves in 'Dot' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Sharon Washington, Marjorie Johnson, and Finnerty Steeves in ‘Dot’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

At the play’s epicenter, Johnson takes command of Domingo’s script, shifting between razor sharp banter with her children, as well as recently returned neighbor, Jackie (Finnerty Steeves), who at one point dated Donnie before he came out as gay. Add Donnie’s husband, Adam (Colin Hanlon) to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for high-decibel drama with plenty of wisecracks to keep things moving along.

Domingo’s script offers juicy bites for the talented ensemble as he weaves together an array of conflicts that function on both a personal as well as societal level. It’s not often that theatergoers are treated to a middle class, African American slice of life—and though references are made to the rough neighborhood beyond the Shealy household’s barred windows, it feels as if this particular family has risen a few rungs up the economic ladder.

It’s also refreshing to see a bi-racial gay relationship that is part of a bigger story—an angle that Domingo captures without smothering the play’s through line. Other themes that he touches upon include the obsession with reality television, pregnancy out of wedlock, and immigration in the form of Dotty’s informally trained caregiver, Fidel (Michael Rosen), a soft-spoken 20-something from Kazakhstan. It’s only in the second act when a game forces Donnie to step into the shoes of what it must feel like to have Alzheimer’s that the play feels a bit contrived.

Stephen Conrad Moore and Colin Hanlon in 'Dot.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Stephen Conrad Moore and Colin Hanlon in ‘Dot.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Dot delivers plenty on the page as well as the stage, Domingo’s visceral bite coming through at every turn, but director Susan Stroman occasionally  undermines the strength of the source material. The pair worked together on the critically acclaimed The Scottsboro Boys, in which Domingo performed and received a Tony award nomination. Stroman’s career—primarily in musical theater—spans nearly 25 years, but her work here feels heavy handed: instead of restraint, Stroman turns up the dial with little reprieve, ending Act I with a misplaced “musical theater button” that you’d expect to see at the end of The Producers and an over choreographed sequence in Act II.

In spite of these misgivings, Dot delivers an often heart-wrenching drama as one family, in its own imperfect way, tries to navigate the inevitable. Alzheimer’s is a cruel, ruthless disease. Domingo respects his enemy, crafting a play that will tug at your emotions and inspire you to clutch your loved ones just a little bit tighter. His approach to the human condition—both inside the walls of one’s home and how social forces impact us beyond our control—is worth keeping an eye on.

Dot
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Through March 20

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

Preview: ‘Gigantic’ at Vineyard Theatre

November 11th, 2015 Comments off

GiganticVineyard Theatre’s 2015-2016 season kicks off tonight at 8pm when the new muscial comedy Gigantic begins previews at The Acorn Theatre @ Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) on November 11.  Single tickets are available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visiting www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Gigantic.

Gigantic will open December 3 and play until December 20. Gigantic features a book by Randy Blair  (Perez Hilton Saves the UniverseSpidermusical) and Tim Drucker (Perez Hilton Saves the UniverseSpidermusical) , music by Matthew roi Berger (Spidermusical), lyrics by Randy Blair, choreography by Chase Brock (Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark) and will be directed by Scott Schwartz (Bat Boy: The Musical).

Getting shipped off to weight-loss camp is hardly Robert’s idea of the perfect summer, but even he isn’t prepared for what can be lost or gained at Camp Overton, the No. 3 weight-loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania. With biting humor and irreverence, Gigantic tackles the growing pains of adolescence through the experiences of a bunch of misfit teens forced to find solace in one another as they look — inside and out — for acceptance, a hot make-out session, and the last contraband Butterfinger.

An earlier version of Gigantic was presented in development at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2009 with the title Fat Camp, where it received the “Best of Fest Award.”

Leslie Uggams Returns to New York Stage

November 10th, 2015 Comments off
Leslie Uggams (photo provided by Sam Rudy Media Relations).

Leslie Uggams (photo provided by Sam Rudy Media Relations).

Leslie Uggams—the Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress who has been opening doors for African-American actors for five decades—will perform the title role in the NY debut of Colman Domingo’s newest play, Dot, at Vineyard Theatre (108 E. 15 St.) beginning February 4, 2016 and opening February 23, it has been announced by The Vineyard’s Artistic Directors Douglas Aibel and Sarah Stern. A standout at the Humana Festival of Plays earlier this year at the Actors Theater of Louisville, The Vineyard’s production of Dot will be helmed by the Tony Award-winning director Susan Stroman (The Producers). Ms. Stroman previously directed Mr. Domingo as an actor in The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway, Off-Broadway (at Vineyard Theatre), and in London.

In Dot, Ms. Uggams portrays family matriarch Dotty, whose three adult children gather for the holidays with more than exchanging presents on their minds. As Dotty struggles to navigate life with dementia, her children fight to balance care for their mother and care for themselves. This hilarious and moving new play grapples unforgettably with aging parents, midlife crises, and the heart of an inner city neighborhood.

Leslie Uggams – who won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for Hallelujuah Baby!  in 1968 and an Emmy Award for “Fantasy” – had been a child actress on television before she was launched into stardom in the 60’s on the popular TV series “Sing Along With Mitch,” eventually becoming the first African-American woman to headline her own variety TV show, “The Leslie Uggams Show.” She is best-known for her Emmy-nominated performance in Alex Haley’s “Roots” and the miniseries “Backstairs at the White House.” On Broadway her credits include On Golden Pond opposite James Earl Jones, Blues in the Night, August Wilson’s King Headly II and Anything Goesat Lincoln Center. A prolific recording artist, Leslie Uggams has recorded ten albums.