Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Off-Broadway Review: The Most Deserving (Women's Project)

Jennifer Lin, Edie Kelch, and Veanne Cox. Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Most Deserving
By Catherine Trieschmann
Directed by Shelley Butler
The Women's Project Theatre

What's It All About?
The Arts Council of a small Kansas town considers candidates for the largest grant award it ever has received -- $20,000. But who is the most deserving? Is it the son of a local politician who can make or break the council's existence with his power over its budget? Is it council member Dwayne Dean (Adam LeFevre) whose series of vice-presidential portraits fails to stir passion even when he claims minority status as part homosexual to be eligible for the grant (he needs the money after being laid off from his auto sales job)? Or is is Everett Whiteside (Ray Anthony Thomas), an African-American with some social challenges who is about to be evicted from his home for back taxes, but who has a visionary eye when it comes to trash art? That's the question for the council, headed by officious Jolene Atkinson (Veanne Cox), her dominated husband, Ted (Daniel Pearce) who has lost interest in his marriage, rich widow, abd sometimes drunk Edie Kelch (Kristin Griffith), who uses her late husband's donation of $10,000 to match the original grant as leverage, and its newest member, Liz Chung (Jennifer Lin), who advocates for Whiteside despite the councils initial lack of interest because his work moves her, especially an angel made out of "found objects." The fact that she wants to cap off her academic studies with a doctorate in art history by profiling him in her book has nothing to do with her support, she insists. Things get even more dicey when Ted and Liz begin an affair and everyone starts bargaining for votes on who will receive the grant.

What are the Highlights?
Catherine Trieschmann (crooked and How The World Began) is a playwright to watch. She is skilled at bringing true-to-life characters to the stage with witty dialogue in situations we can relate to while causing us to try to wipe the grin off of our faces. If you ever have dealt with an arts organization, a small town committee -- or any committee for that matter -- you will recognize one or more of these people depicted by a strong ensemble cast. Trieschmann nicely weaves the grant question and its politics with the personal life situations that give the term "deserving" a whole new meaning.

Sharp prop and set changes (designed by David M. Barber) are made with polish by cast and crew with guitar music (sound design by Leon Rothernberg) and keep the 95-minute, no intermission piece moving at a brisk pace. Costumes by Donald Sanders help define each character (and I especially loved the look of art professor Chang.)

What Are the Lowlights?
One scene needs editing as the pace slows and dialogue seems less sharp. Some actors were tripping up on their lines. Cox needs to bring down the yelling a notch. We get that Jolene is uptight and domineering without needing her to yell everything. In fact, Director Shelley Butler might have discovered more nuance for the character by asking for a less stringent tone.

More Information:
The Most Deserving runs through May 4 at NY City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets: www.NYCityCenter.org; 212-581-1212.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Trieschmann was a recipient of Masterwork Productions'The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Award for How the World Began. The honor was awarded to individuals making a difference through faith in the Broadway community.
-- Language

Monday, April 14, 2014

Annie Baker's The Flick Wins the Pulitzer for Drama

Annie Baker's play The Flick, commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, has won the 2014 Pulitzer prize for Drama.
Read the review by clicking here. For a list of all the Pulitzer winners, click here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Playwrights Panel at Twain House Writers Weekend Includes Beane, Ludwig, Sanchez

Meg Wolitzer. Photo: Nina-Subin
The Mark Twain House offers more writers, workshops, genres, and opportunities at its third annual Writers Weekend April 25-27.

From Keynote Speaker Meg Wolitzer, author of the current bestseller The Interestings, all the way through a Literary Death Match that will pit the Mark Twain House's Director of Writing Julia Pistell against the most fun, famous and talented writers you know, this weekend is an inspiring exploration of literary creativity and craft.

In the shadow of Mark Twain's breathtaking home, writers of all levels of experience are invited to spend a weekend writing, learning, exchanging ideas, and getting books signed by the authors you've been dying to meet. The roster includes: a panel on Criticism with former Granta Editor-in-Chief John Freeman; workshops and discussions on aspects of the writing craft, including jump-starting a novel, poetry as memoir, researching for nonfiction essays, and much more; lectures on aspects of publishing, including finding an agent, pitching to publicity outlets, and editing for publication; and an all-day marathon of authors selling and signing books.

Sunday morning will feature an expo of and book signing by members of the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. Writers range from recurring favorites Bessy Reyna, Susan Campbell, and Mary Sharnick to first-time presenters Matthew Dicks, Vivian Shipley, and Qais Akbar Omar. Also presenting will be Tim Parrish, Susan Schoenberger, Wayne English, TJ Jarrett, John Casey, Mike Morin, Patricia Chaffee, Steve Courtney, Ravi Shankar, Leslie Johnson andJohn Stanizzi.

The cost of the weekend is $160. This includes an opening and closing reception, coffee, and a small lunch on Saturday. The weekend will kick off at 6 pm Friday with a reception preceding Wolitzer's keynote at 7 and continue with programs from 9 am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday. For tickets: 860-280-3130;  here for tickets.

Here's the full schedule:

Friday, April 25

6 pm: Welcome Reception
7 pm: Keynote Conversation with Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's novels include The Interestings; The Uncoupling; The Ten-Year Nap; The Position; and The Wife. She is also the author of a novel for young readers, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. Wolitzer's short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and has won a Pushcart Prize. Woltizer has been reviewed with raves in the The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlantic, People, and many more prestigious publications. She is a New York Times bestselling author. She will speak on the subject of her writing life and her works.

8 pm: Book Signing with Meg Woltizer

Saturday, April 26 
ALL DAY: Buy the books of your favorite authors and get them signed after each session 

10 am: Workshops 
Edwin Sanchez

  • Tim Parrish: In Tension: Conflict in Fiction and Memoir 
Conflict/tension/friction--whatever you want to call it--is the engine of good, dramatic, imaginative writing. Conflict can be writ large or writ small in a single word. We'll talk about the nature and role of conflict, complication, and resolution by first looking at examples of conflict at the start of some published memoirs, novels, and short stories. Then we'll identify and discuss what the conflicts are and how they're created through event, prose style, and characterization. Don't expect much lecturing. We'll be talking.

  • Susan Campbell: Ferreting Out the Facts 
Non-fiction writing doesn't have to be boring. In fact, it shouldn't be, so long as you subscribe to the notion that truth is stranger (and richer) than fiction. In this workshop we’ll discuss how to research and present reality.

  • Susan Schoenberger: Finding an Agent
What does an agent do for you? Do you even want one in today's ever-changing publishing world? If you decide that you do, how do you go about finding one? We'll explore these issues and leave plenty of time for individual questions about the often mysterious and reliably complicated process of finding an agent.

11 am: Workshops

  • Bessy Reyna: Poetry as Memoir 
According to poet Mark Doty, "The great power of Poetry is the preservative. The ability to take a moment in time and attempt to hold it." In this workshop divided into 3 short segments, we will examine poems from Richard Blanco, Marilyn Nelson and others, which illustrate how poetry can provide the perfect gateway to our memories to transform them into beautifully constructed short and intense narratives.

  • Mary Sharnick: Making A Scene: Jump Start Your Novel 
Novels are written one scene at a time, each scene linking to the next and echoing the former. In this hands-on class, participants will draft one scene, conflating a particular context, a specific protagonist, and a singular action. Doing so will both advance plot and develop character. Materials will be provided by the instructor.

  • Wayne English: Writing for the Web 
Writing for the web is not like writing for print. On the web brevity is paramount. Here you will learn how to write clearly and succinctly. From the gritty to the sublime, this program ranges from sentence and paragraph length to the nuances of effective communication. The immense power of the published written word is in your hands. Here you learn how to wield it.

  • Patrice Fitzgerald: Self-Publishing: The Reality of Doing It Yourself 
Join us for a workshop on self-publishing. We will explore the indie musts: a good book, an appealing cover, whistle-clean editing, and professional-level formatting. We will also talk about up-front costs, marketing, and the pros and cons of traditional versus independent publishing. "Hybrid" and assisted self-publishing will also be discussed. You'll come away from this session with a clear-eyed view of the possibilities for going it on your own rather than waiting… and waiting... for the perfect query letter to appeal to just the right agent.

noon Critics’ Panel

Three world-class literary and cultural critics will discuss their work as critics, the importance of literary critics today, and our current literary landscape. With John Freeman (former editor of Granta), Carole Goldberg (former Books Editor of the Hartford Courant), and David Bromwich (a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences).

1 pm: Lunch break (lunch will be provided)

2 pm: Workshops

  • TJ Jarrett: Poetry 
TJ Jarrett’s recent work has been published or is forthcoming in African American Review, Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boxcar Poetry Review, Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Linebreak, Rattle, Southern Poetry Anthology, Third Coast, West Branch and others. Workshop description TBD.

  • John Casey: What’s Funny 
Since we'll be a the Mark Twain House, I think a session on what's funny. One of the essays in my new book is called What's Funny. There's a lot more to be said, and I hope that the participants will add some humor of their own and/or reflections on how and why some things are funny. This wouldn't be primarily a how-to workshop but an exploration, with some concentration on written humor--how the requirements are different from those of spoken or acted-out humor. I'll forward the essay to you, the one that could be the jumping-off point for discussion.

  • Mike Morin: Pitching for Publicity
You've written the next Fifty Shades of Grey. Now what? Nobody knows who you are and your publisher is counting on you to create some buzz. As a radio host for over four decades, Mike shares what to say and to whom to get that much-coveted free interview time that will get the public excited about your book. He's also an author, so he knows how to work both sides of this process. He'll show you how to reach tens of thousands of listeners in three hours with radio tours. Buzz words to get a host or producer interested in you as a guest. You'll learn to be an engaging guest. Those who are game can try these ideas out in short mock interviews. He'll cover public speaking and even tell you about celebrities who were trainwreck interviews. Writing the book was easy. Getting publicity is the real work! Even if you don't have a book, you're probably an expert in something as a writer and the better you are at telling the world, the larger audience you'll have.

3 pm: Workshops

  • Vivian Shipley: Revising for Publication 
Vivian Shipley has published five chapbooks and nine books of poetry, most recently, All of Your Messages Have Been Erased (Southeastern Louisiana University Press, 2010). She is a two-time recipient of the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, and two of her books—Gleanings: Old Poems, New Poems and When There Is No Shore—were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Additional honors include the Library of Congress’s Connecticut Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the Literary Community, the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Prize, the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from the University of Southern California, the Marble Faun Poetry Prize from the William Faulkner Society, the Daniel Varoujan Prize from the New England Poetry Club, the Hart Crane Prize from Kent State, the Connecticut Press Club Prize for Best Creative Writing, and the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Workshop description TBD.

  • Patricia Chaffee: Freelancing for Local Markets 
Designed with the emerging writer in mind, (and those seasoned folks who need a jump start) this one- hour workshop will give writers the know-how to get that coveted first byline and those much needed published clips. Learn about generating compelling story ideas, approaching editors, finding your niche market, and more.

  • Susan Schoenberger: The Fiction Writer’s Mindset 
How does a fiction writer look at the world, and how does that differ from a nonwriter or a nonfiction writer? We'll talk about using your unique set of experiences and your personality to bring your characters to life, to convey your insights about the human experience, and to leave your readers nodding and saying, "Yes, that's exactly how it feels."

  • Mary-Ann Tirone Smith: The Art of the Memoir: The Remembered Life
Autobiography skirts the surface of a life without allowing the reader access to the messy, conflicted and unapologetically subjective material of a memoir. Let us speak of that subjective mess and learn how to embellish everything but the truth through the creation of an irresistible and compelling narrative voice.

4 pm: Playwriting Panel
Douglas Carter Beane

For the third year in a row, be dazzled by incredible playwrights in conversation with one another. This year, we welcome Edwin Sánchez (Barefoot Boy With Shoes On), Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor), and Douglas Carter Beane (Lysistrata Jones; The Little Dog Laughed), in conversation with the Hartford Courant’s Frank Rizzo.

5:30 pm: Dinner break. Find a great meal out on the town in Hartford.

7 pm Literary Death Match

Literary Death Match, co-created by Adrian Todd Zuniga, marries the literary and performative aspects of Def Poetry Jam, rapier-witted quips of American Idol’s judging (without any meanness), and the ridiculousness and hilarity of Double Dare.

Each episode of this competitive, humor-centric reading series features a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors (all representing a literary publication, press or concern — online, in print or live) who perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before a lively audience and a panel of three all-star judges. After each pair of readings, the judges — focused on literary merit, performance and intangibles — take turns spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.

The two finalists then compete in the Literary Death Match finale, which trades in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown.

Sunday, April 27
ALL DAY: Connecticut Authors and Publishers Book Fair and Signing

10 am: Workshops

  • Steve Courtney: Telling Someone Else’s Story 
When your interest in another person -- whether historical or contemporary -- goes over the line into the pursuit of writing biography, a sort of alchemy takes place. Unusual things happen, and you tread unexpected paths. It's the art of developing a friendship of sorts with your subject -- but then again, not quite a friendship, because strict honesty is an important part of the task. Great biographies -- such as the late Justin Kaplan's Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain -- set aside comprehensiveness and extraneous detail in the interest of presenting a rounded portrait of a human being that continues to resonate. We will hear from participants about their own biographical projects if they have them; study New York Times obituaries, which are usually gemlike examples of the biography form; and do a quick written exercise or two in personal portraiture.

  • Ravi Shankar: Collaborate to Recreate; or How to use your Friends to Make Yourself a Better Writer 
We will trace the history of collaborative writing from the ancient Japanese art of the renga to the Surrealists writing exquisite corpses, from the practice of the Beats like Ginsberg and Kerouac to generating modern day collaborations with computer programs, and we will look at the art of editing and revision as an extension of collaborative thought. Finally we will put the ideas we discuss into practice by generating a collaborative poem together, playing off one another to write something that will both simultaneously surprise us and that we still have some ownership over. If as Marcel Duchamp said, "all art is a game played between people of different periods," then we will have fun with in rewriting the rules of our own writing practice.

  • Leslie Johnson: Fiction TBD 
11 am: Workshops

  • Aisha Sabatini Sloan: The Art of the Essay 
Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s essays have been named notable for the Best American Non-Required Reading and Best American Essays anthologies of 2011, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and published in Ninth Letter, Identity Theory, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain, Callaloo, The Southern Review, and Guernica. Her first book of essays, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White was chosen as a finalist for the 1913 First Book Contest in 2011, and ultimately published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. She has taught writing at the University of Arizona for six years, and is currently a contributing editor for Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics. Workshop TBD.

  • David Handler: Mystery 
How does an author of whodunits actually figure out whodunit? Find out this and many other secrets of the trade from one of Connecticut's deftest practitioners of the gentle art of murder. We’ll discuss crafting a mystery and answer all of your most pressing detective fiction questions.
  • Christine Beck: What Writers Need to Know about the Law 
The workshop will give an overview of three legal topics that affect writers:
  1. Protecting your work against unauthorized use or theft. 
  2. Avoiding claims of defamation by people you have written about either by name or in a way that makes them recognizable. 
  3. Avoiding claims that you have used a trade name or product name without permission. 
  • Vladimir Alexandrov: Researching and Writing a Forgotten Black American's Amazing Life 
The Black Russian is Alexandrov’s recent biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas (1872-1928), the remarkable son of Mississippi slaves who became a millionaire entrepreneur in tsarist Moscow and the "Sultan of Jazz" in Constantinople. Alexandrov will use the example of my book to discuss how to do biographical research on people in the U. S., and on Americans who went abroad, by using domestic and foreign archives, as well as libraries, online data sources, and site visits. He’ll also describe the kinds of surprise twists, turns, and discoveries that often accompany research of this kind and that can make it into a highly enjoyable detective-like quest. Other topics will include dealing with holes in your subject's life and how to write and structure a biography for a trade press.

noon: Lunch break  A light lunch will be provided.

1 pm: Workshops

  • Matthew Dicks: A Sneak Peak Into the Publishing Industry 
The publishing industry is oftentimes a mysterious and impenetrable realm. The road that a book follows from the writer's mind to the shelves of a bookstore can be confusing, nebulous and uncertain. In this workshop, author Matthew Dicks will discuss the path that a book travels from the first words written on the page to its first appearance in a bookshop. Including in the workshop will be the sale of the book, the author-editor relationship, the complexities of publicity and marketing, the finances of publishing and much more.

  • John Stanizzi: Poetry 
Ken Ludwig
John L. Stanizzi is the author of Ecstasy Among Ghosts, now in its fourth printing, Sleepwalking, Windows, Dance Against the Wall (www.antrimhouzebooks.com), and After the Bell (BigTable Publishing). His poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Rattle, Freshwater, Passages North, The Spoon River Quarterly, Poet Lore, The Connecticut River Review, and many other publications, as well as being featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, in 1998 Stanizzi was named The New England Poet of the Year by The New England Association of Teachers of English. He teaches English at Manchester Community College and Bacon Academy, where he also directed the theater program for fifteen years. He lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry, Connecticut. Workshop TBD.

  • Qais Akbar Omar: Case Study of a Memoir 
The acclaimed author of “A Fort of Nine Towers” will tell the story of fleeing warfare in Afghanistan, and then discuss the writing of his memoir. Learn how one story became a publishing phenomenon and how the act of writing transformed a horrifying experience into a work of art.

2 to 3:30 pm: Closing program: Syllable Series

The acclaimed Hartford reading series, Syllable, brings the opportunity for workshop registrants to read 5 minutes of their work at a time to close out the program. Submit up to two pages of work by lunchtime on this day and close out the program with presenting your latest (or most polished) work to a crowd of peers. Readings will be curated by Pistell in order to showcase as wide a variety of writers as possible.

The mission of Syllable: A Reading Series is to provide a space for Connecticut writers of all levels to showcase their work, and to expose the public to a variety of writing styles. Syllable aims to be another brick in the strong arts community in the Greater Hartford area.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington -- TOP PICK

David Cromer, Bryce Clyde Jenkins, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Anika Noni Rose, Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
Raisin in the Sun, Not Just About Star Shining in the Spotlight
By Lauren Yarger
“You a good looking guy,” Lena Younger tells her son Walter Lee, played by film superstar Denzel Washington. A huge cheer goes up from the audience.

While fans are buying up all of the tickets available to the limited-run Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, this production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic truly isn’t just all about a big Hollywood star on the boards (although it doesn't hurt ticket sales). It’s about a really great production – probably the best I have seen of this play – and a marvelous cast directed by Kenny Leon.

Washington gives a moving, complex and completely satisfying portrayal of a man in the pit of low self esteem who slowly rediscovers his pride and family ties. Turning in rich performances with him are Latanya Richardson Jackson as his mother, Lena, Sophie Okonedo as his struggling wife, Ruth, Anika Noni Rose as his dream-filled sister, Beneatha, and Bryce Clyde Jenkins -- who demonstrates extraordinary acting technique for one so young -- as his son, Travis.

It’s a well-oiled machine that smoothly delivers the tale of a family with hopes of escaping poverty and dim hopes for a future on Chicago’s South Side. Generational differences come to light between Lena, who remembers grandparents who were slaves, and her children, whose focus is on money, rather than freedom. 

Making the move possible is a $10,000 insurance check paid on the death of Lena’s hardworking husband. Lena wants to put a down payment on a home of their own in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. Ruth sees a new home as an answer to prayer – Travis will have his own room and won’t have to sleep on the living room couch any more, the family won’t have to share a bathroom with other tenants (or cockroaches), and maybe she’ll be able to keep the baby they are expecting. The Family’s shabby apartment is designed by Mark Thompson.

Walter Lee has other ideas, however, for how to invest the money. He dreams of owning a liquor store with friends including Bobo (Stephen McKinley Henderson who is exquisite in a minor role) and being a big employer who receives a lot of respect. Lena insists, however, that part of the money to go toward Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor. 

Beneatha's suitor, wealthy George Murchison (Jason Dirden), discourages that dream, telling Beneatha that men are only interested in what they can see. Her other beau, Joseph Asagai (Sean Patrick Thomas), encourages her to explore her roots and to return to his native Nigeria with him.

The family’s hopes and dreams are gambled and lost, then hinge on a meeting with Karl Linder (David Cromer), who stops by to explain to the family that his neighborhood “improvement association” is offering them a nice profit NOT to buy the house in Clybourne Park where they aren’t really welcome. (Cromer, an absolute genius director -- Our Town -- exercises his acting skills here in the small role, making our backs tingle with creepiness every time he smiles with false civility and refers to the Youngers as “you people.”)

Though set sometime before 1960 (Ann Roth costumes the ensemble), the play feels contemporary. Jackson is a mother/grandmother we all know and she brings a lot of knowing “hmm hmms” from the audience as she tries to motivate her family. The scene where Walter Lee lets her down and she prays for strength is unbelievably gripping. Okonedo (
"Hotel Rwanda"), making an impressive Broadway debut, conveys Ruth’s sadness and weariness throughout the 2 hour, 40-minute run – even through laughter, which struck me as completely realistic.

It’s one of those plays you can just sit back and enjoy, and not just because Denzel’s not hard to look at. I took practically no notes, so absorbed was I in the flawless storytelling. One of the treats of the season.

Special kudos go to Lighting Designer Brian MacDevitt, who catches individuals at crucial junctures and highlights them in the "sun." The line from Langston Hughes' poem "A Dream Deferred," from which the play's title is taken, is projected on the curtain before the show with audio of an interview with Hansberry playing.

A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., NYC through June 15.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- abortion

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Off-Broadway Review: Tales from Red Vienna

Tales from Red Vienna

By David Grimm
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Costumes by Anita Yavich
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club

By Lauren Yarger
It has three acts, two intermissions, great sets, lots of sex and a stellar cast, but the world premiere of David Grimm’s new play, Tales from Red Vienna, about life in post World War I Vienna, doesn’t have a lot to say.

Nina Arianda turns in a powerful performance – as always – as widowed Helena Altman, forced into prostitution to pay the bills after her husband, Stefan, is killed in the war. Her maid and friend, Edda Schmidt (Kathleen Chalfant), knows what her mistress is doing, but keeps quiet while repairing torn dresses or tidying up evidence of the sexual encounters. She also runs interference for Helena with young Rudy Zuckermaier (Michael Goldsmith), the son of their grocer, who has fallen head over heals in love with the widow.

Helena’s impoverished state isn’t easy to hide from childhood friend Mutzi von Fessendorf (Tina Benko), however, She stops by for a visit -- the first in 18 months -- and discovers that her friend has fallen from the prosperity they both once shared as society matrons. Mutzi, still has her dignitary husband, even if she has a lustful eye on someone else: socialist journalist Bela Hoyos (Michael Esper), She decides to be magnanimous and introduce the eligible bachelor to Helena under the guise of finding her a suitor, but really, she just wants an excuse to be able to spend time with Bela in public as a "chaperone." 

The meeting has unexpected results, however, and Mutzi turns her attentions to introducing another man, Karl Hupka (Lucas Hall), to Helena instead.

What are the Highlights?
  • Director Kate Whoriskey brings out top-notch performances from all of the performers. Helena is full of depth, Edda and Mutzi are funny, and Bela is a mix of charming and repulsive.
  • The set, designed by John Lee Beatty is a work of art. A blue curtain hides the architecture of Vienna -- as well as some of Helena's sexual encounters -- behind it like a veil. A cemetery is multi-dimensional and intricately detailed. And it rains. all on a very tiny stage.
  • There's a plot twist at the end of the second act that causes the audience to audibly gasp.
What are the LowLights?
  • Three acts and two intermissions later, the plot doesn't take us anywhere satisfying. A man in the audience behind me said at each intermission and after the final curtain," I keep expecting it to go deeper..."
  • Very few plays need to be three acts.... 
  • The character of Rudy could be completely cut from the mix. His devotion to Helena doesn't add anything to the story.
Other Information:
Tales from Red Vienna plays at NY City Center Stage I, 1321 West 55th St., NYC. http://talesfromredvienna.com/

Christians might like to know:
-- Very explicit sexual scenes
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

Broadway Theater Review: IF/THEN

Idina Menzel. Photo: Joan Marcus
If the Writers of a Pulitzer-Prize Winning Musical Write Another One, Then It will Be a Hit, right?
By Lauren Yarger
If one thing happens, then another thing follows, or if you could have made a different choice, then the outcome of your whole life could be changed.

That’s the thought process behind IF/THEN a new musical from the Next to Normal team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorgey, starring Idina Menzel . Menzel is Elizabeth, a woman who returns to New York after a failed marriage and an exile to Arizona where she she taught about urban planning, but never actually did any. She makes choices one day in a park that change the course of her life.

As Beth, she doesn’t take a call about a dream job, and instead, meets soldier Josh (James Snyder) who is home after his second tour overseas.  They fall in love, get married, have kids and come to grips with his being called for another tour of duty, but Beth wonders what might have been if she had pursued her career dreams instead of choosing to take a teaching job and raise a family.

As Liz, she does take that call and lands a job in city planning with old friend  Stephen (Jerry Dixon). She  ends up settling  for a short-term romantic entanglement with best friend, Lucas (Adam Rapp), and takes a risk by making a play for married Stephen. She experiences career success, but wonders what might have been if she’d experienced love and had kids.

The story premise gets high marks. There aren’t too many women who don’t wonder about these scenarios and many of us can relate to Elizabeth's trying to analyze every decision because she fears  that IF she makes the wrong choice, THEN the course of her life will be altered. 

As Elizabeth creates two separate lives, her choices also affect those closest to her. In one life, she ends up being the focus of Lucas’ affections and in the other, the bisexual man finds love with David (Jason Tam). In one life, her quirky neighbor, Kate (a sparkling LaChanze), and her lover, Anne (Jenn Colella) find happiness; in another they don’t. The parallel lives are mirrored, literally, in a reflective surface above the set (designed by Mark Wendland) which also incorporates the lines of the subway connecting the streets and lives in the city being planned by Liz – at least in one life).

The story never quite satisfies, however, as the book by Yorkey never makes reality clear. Perhaps leaving the questions of whether Beth is real, dreaming about what it would be like to be Liz or vice versa is intentional, but we can’t help wanting to know. Indeed, the rambling plot almost seems to open the possibility for a third scenario, but by that point, we really just wanted a big finish and some profound message after the almost three-hour journey.

The score, highly operatic, like Next to Normal, swings between a rock sound and some nice ballads – Josh’s song when he becomes a father is very moving as is Menzel’s leap of faith into her relationship with him. The songs always have plenty of opportunity for Menzel to belt. In fact, there’s too much belting here and the effect is lost on deserving numbers as we get tired of hearing Elizabeth’s nasal yelling, (which sounded like it was taking its toll vocally).

A few times vocal mixes sounded off (Carmel Dean, musical direction; Annmarie Milazzo, vocal arrangements) and a duet between LaChanze and Colella really doesn’t work (though LaChanze gets the crowd going with a couple of solos).

Michael Greif directs the uneven production. Larry Keigwin choreographs and Emily Rebholz designs the costumes.

Even if our disappointment comes from expecting an unfair result from the Pulitzer-Prize winners (IF they won a Pulitzer last time, THEN this show would be great, right?), it is fueled by an unfinished feeling. There’s a great idea here and some really nice music. IF only it could be developed a bit more. THEN we’d have a winner.

IF/THEN plays at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th St., NYC. http://www.ifthenthemusical.com/

Christians might also like to know:
--God's name taken in vain
--Homosexual activity

Broadway Theater Review: Aladdin

James Monroe Iglehart. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Aladdin is a Spectacle That Sparkles on Many Levels
By Lauren Yarger
Disney rubs its magic lamp and comes up with another satisfying makes another leap from film to stage with the Broadway musical Aladdin

Up front, I need to say this won’t be a real review, because I was hit with the flu the evening I was scheduled to see this and only made it until intermission before I really needed to head home. I was disappointed, because I was enjoying the show – and far more than I expected to.

"Aladdin" was a new animated film when my kids were little enough to be looking forward to the latest of that genre. It was fun, especially given the antics of Robin Williams who voiced the genie. The story was the usual Disney princess-meets-boy and the score (by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice), while pleasant, doesn’t stand out like its predecessors for Beauty and the Beast and The  Little Mermaid. 
Beauty and Lion King were Disney’s earliest and arguably, most successful attempts to turn film magic into stage gold. Lion King still packs them in on Broadway and Beauty is making tours. Mermaid sunk fast on stage and Tarzan got tossed out of the jungle in record time. Newsies was a big hit because there apparently are a lot of fans of the film and a lot of people who like to watch 20-something news "boys" tumble and flip without ceasing, but the score is totally forgettable and the book is weak.

So a stage version of Aladdin wasn’t high on my want-to-see list, but this larger-than-life, stunning visual production that sparkles on many levels really is a treat (at least I can attest to the first act being so….)
Adam Jacobs stars as the street rat who gets three wishes from the lamp genie (James Monroe Iglehart) and falls in love with Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed). The quite handsome youth has a dreamy voice to match his looks. Iglehart goes to town and has a lot of fun, quickly making his genie its own and putting to rest any comparisons to Williams (thought he is hard to understand sometimes). Reed looks like a, well, Disney princess, and is spunky (if very buxom in the cleavage-revealing costumes).

Taking the ordinary story and turning it into a "wow" production is Director Casey Nicholaw, who choreographs some show-stopping numbers (fight choreography is by J. Allen Suddeth) including many special effects (with technical supervision by Geoffrey Quart/Hudson Theatrical Associates David Benken) and illusions designed by Jim Steinmeyer. “A Friend Like Me” truly brought down the house with its never-ending supply of entertainment, tap dancing and energy.

Nicholaw, in a stroke of genius, casts Jonathan Freeman, who did the voice in the movie, as the evil Jafar, who plots against Princess Jasmine and Aladdin in hopes of securing the throne for himself.

The real stars of the show are the sets (designed by Bob Crowley and lighted by the always excellent Natasha Katz) and costumes designed by Gregg Barnes, enhanced by hair design by Josh Marquette and makeup design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira. They are stunning. A Persian carpet sets the mood as the main curtain. Peacocks in the proscenium and grapes in the beautifully restored New Amsetrdam Theatre’s plaster motifs blend naturally into the Arabian Nights setting. Intricate carving is incorporated into scenic design.

And those costumes! Each one is breathtaking, full of jewels and sparkling detail.

I also liked the book by Chad Beguelin, who also writes additional lyrics. The basic story is there, but is finessed for the stage. He wisely morphs an animal character, Iago – a wise-cracking parrot in the movie – into a comical sidekick human (played by Don Darryl Rivera) – a move the creators of Shrek the musical should have employed when bringing Donkey to the stage, for example. Even the hokey jokes work here.

Best of all, there were LOTS of little kids in the audience. Maybe when I’m fully recovered, I’ll head back to the New Amsterdam and catch the second act (during which the magic carpet ride takes place). If it’s anything like the first, Disney’s ability to make magic on stage again might have materialized out of the smoke.

Aladdin sparkles at the New Amsetrdam, 214 west 42nd St., NYC. http://aladdinthemusical.com/.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com



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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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