Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

May you enjoy the blessings of the season with loved ones.

If you are enjoying Broadway shows over the holiday week, check out this great chart from Samuel French about changes in showtimes.


Broadway Theater Review: Sylvia with Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford

Annaleigh Ashford Unleashes Her Comedic Abilities and Might Just Be Grooming Herself for Another Tony Nod
By Lauren Yarger
Annaleigh Ashford, who delighted last season as an inept ballet dancer in You Can't Take It With You returns to the Broadway stage in another comedic triumph as a poodle crossbreed with an attitude in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia.

She's definitely the highlight of this revival and might well be on her way to another Tony Award nomination.

The Gurney play follows the relationship between Greg (Matthew Broderick)  who is going through a midlife crisis and the stray he brings home from Central Park (in the backdrop against the couple's apartment, created with floating set pieces by David Rockwell..

"I think you're God," the lovesick dog tells her new master, who finds a boon companion in the pup.

Her finer pedigree is masked by a grungy exterior until a good grooming reveals Sylvia's beauty (designer Ann Roth lets Annaleigh create to pooch with minimal costuming -- a dog collar, a fluffy sweater, some knee pads and a few other trimmings; Wig and Makeup design is by Campbell Young Associates.

The whole "man's best friend" thing doesn't sit well with Greg's wife. Kate (Julie White). however. She was looking forward to spending more time with her husband, now that the two are empty nesters.

Kate soon is competing with Sylvia for Greg's attention and tension enters the home, especially when Greg starts taking time off from work to play with the dog and Sylvia insists on lounging on the furniture, which is strictly forbidden.

While Ashford is entirely engaging, as is Gurney's deceptively deep script,Director Daniel Sullivan's casting of Broderick and White is problematic. They seem mismatched with absolutely no chemistry. They look like hostile acquaintances, not a couple of high school sweethearts who have been together for decades and as a result, Greg's relationship with Sylvia seems the better of the two.

And how can we not prefer this adorable pooch. While actresses often choose to play Sylvia as merely highly energetic, Ashford brings personality and attitude to the role. She has us laughing, whether she is showing appreciation for a treat received as a reward for doing a boring dog trick that seem to entertain humans, or pulling on the end of her leash in an all-out, hate-fest directed at a cat. She's worth the price of the ticket. (You can attend an interview with Ashford with BroadwayWorld's Richard Ridge on Thursday, Dec. 3. For details, click here.)

Rounding out the cast is David Sella, who tries too hard in three minor roles: Tom, a guy Greg befriends at the dog park, Phyllis, Kate's uptown society friend and Leslie, the couple's therapist who is going through some gender identity issues of his own.

Sylvia is man's best friend through Jan. 3 ( an earlier closing than had been scheduled) at  the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $37 - $147: (800) 432-7250; sylviabroadway.com.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Off-Broadway Review The Humans


Some Thanksgivings, You Shouldn't Go Home Again
By Lauren Yarger
You can't go home again. And sometimes that might be a good thing.
Stephen Karam's play The Humans, getting an extended Off-Broadway run by Roundabout Theatre Company makes that clear -- at least to the perfect home we may have created in the back of our minds -- and intelligently raises a number of issues we all struggle with when it comes to family: midlife crisis, fears, breaking away, betrayal, illness and forgiveness -- all things human. And just in time for the holidays.

It's Thanksgiving and the Blakes are breaking with tradition this year. Erik (Reed Birney) and Deirdre (Jaye Houdyshell) are not hosting dinner in their Scranton home. Instead, they have driven to Chinatown, NY to celebrate at the new place with a lot of potential where their daughter,  Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her boyfriend, Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) have just moved. (The pre-war duplex in need of work is designed by David Zinn).

Joining them are Brigid's down-on-her-luck sister, Aimee (Cassie Beck), who is still emotional after a breakup with her long time girlfriend. She also just found out she isn't going to make partner at her law firm, in part due to having to take a lot of sick days because of a flare up of her colitis.

Completing the family portrait is "Momo (Lauren Klein), the girls' Alzheimer-ridden grandmother who doesn't always remember them. She rambles incoherent sentences and has become the full-time project of Deirde. She appears to take care of her mother-in-law with joy, but feeling needed may be her real motiviation.

On the surface, the family seems loving and supportive as they join in traditional Irish songs. But beneath the facade, annoyances brew. Erik is haunted by something and seems particularly agitated by the noise that can be heard from an apartment upstairs. Festering resentment works its way into the conversation to spotlight just how difficult family relations can be.

Joe Mantello directs deep and moving performances, particularly from the always excellent Birney and Houdyshell.  There isn't necessarily a defined plot to Karam's play, and it does leave a lot of questions unanswered. It is more like a guided eavesdropping into the lives of the people and is absorbing throughout.

The Humans is part of Roundabout’s New Play Initiative, a collection of programs, designed to foster and produce new work by emerging and established artists. The Humans is the second play commissioned by Roundabout fromKaram (Speech and Debate and Sons of the Prophet.

The Humans plays through Jan. 3 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre,  111 West 46th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evening at 7:30 with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday
matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $79: 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Homosexualtiy
-- Sexua dialogue

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Hir

Your Family Might Not Be the Craziest Option This Holiday……
By Lauren Yarger
If you are dreading Thanksgiving and the family time it brings, think again. Your crazy uncle Harry or weird Aunt Sally might look pretty good when compared to the bizarre family in Taylor Mac’s Hir getting a New York premiere Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons where it has been extended through Dec. 20.

This family gives being stuck eating turkey with odd folks a certain dignity. Because you haven’t really defined odd until you meet this clan created by Mac and directed here by Niegel Smith, who is the artistic director at the Flea.

First of all, most everybody coming to the theater is asking how to pronounce the title. What does it mean? Well, it sounds like “here” and is a gender neutral pronoun to use when referring to a transgendered person, instead of his or her. The term comes into play when Isaac (Cameron Scoggins) returns from several tours in a war zone, where he specialized in collecting the blown-up body parts of his fallen comrades in arms to send back home. The experience has left him shaken and unable to stop throwing up. After dreaming of coming home for so long, Isaac discovers that he has just walked into another war zone.

His father, Arnold (Daniel Oreskes), had a stroke over a year ago and his mother, Paige (Kristine Neilsen), failed to let him know. She has been enjoying torturing the man, who wanders around in a diaper and dress, forced to do Paige’s bidding in their shabby home (designed by David Zinn), which is kept a mess (she refuses to clean) and frigid with an air conditioner kept running full blast against Arnold’s wishes (a metaphor for the icy atmosphere in the home, no doubt.) 

Arnold gets sprayed with water like a disobedient pet if he doesn’t obey, or sometimes, just because Paige feels like it…..

If that weren’t enough, Isaac discovers that his sister, Max (Tom Phelam) is now his brother, Max. Apparently she/he has decided to go for hormone therapy, grow a beard and change genders (unfortunately Smith casts a male in the role. Why not a transgenedered or male-looking woman?) It’s a lot for Isaac to take in all at once, but when he gets his bearings, he tries to support Max, but can’t get behind his mother’s cruelty to his father, even if it is payback for years of treating his wife horribly.

Can this family find a way to forgive and support each other? While the questions raised are thought-provoking, the over-the-top environment in which they are explored makes them hard to relate to and leaves us not quite sure what we’re supposed to think about anything. 

Paige is pretty much insane (though any time we get to see Nielsen play a crazy woman, it’s worth the price of the ticket) and needs some heavy duty therapy immediately. Her husband and son/daughter need to be removed from an unhealthy environment and Isaac’s attempts to clean up their mess are inadequate, especially since he has his own, very big issues looming.

It’s an engaging, if puzzling two hours. 

Hir runs through Dec. 20 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 and 7 pm. Tickets $65-$80: www.TicketCentral.com; (212) 279-4200.

Christians might like to know:
-- Obvious sexual identity issues-- Max also thinks "hir" is gay, because now that she's a he, he is attracted to men.....
-- Max considers Noah a genderphobe because he took male and female animals aboard the ark.
-- Sexual images
-- Sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

Broadway Review: Dames at Sea

An Ocean of Dancing Doesn’t Wash Away Not Having a Bernadette Peters
By Lauren Yarger
Written as a parody of Busby-Berkeley grad Gold Digger musicals from the 1920s, Dames at Sea saw a life half a decade ago Off Broadway starring then newcomer Bernadette Peters.

It never had a Broadway run until now – and there probably is a reason.  It needs Bernadette Peters – or someone like her who has the ability to pull off a silly, over-the-top kind of role. The current production, starring Eloise Kropp Ruby, a girl who arrives in New York and steps into her first Broadway musical – a la 42nd Street – falls short. Kropp is well meaning, but doesn’t have enough oomph to pull it off. It’s not her fault. The silliness of plot (book by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, who also write the lyrics) requires a big name for a Broadway run. It’s that simple.

This doesn’t mean the show isn’t entertaining, however. It is. As long as you throw that plot right out the window and sit back to enjoy the dancing, choreographed by Randy Skinner, who also directs.

Ruby, fresh off the bus from Utah, does about a 30-second audition and lands her first Broadway role in Dames at Sea, starring diva Mona Kent (Lesli Margherita). She’s offered a pace to stay by castmate Joan (Mara Davi) so what more could a starving showgirl want? Oh, wait for it  – romance! Enter handsome sailor/wannabe-songwriter Dick (Cary Tedder) who takes her for a sandwich after returning the bag she left behind on the bus. Voila! They fall in love! There’s even a subplot of romance between Joan and former beau Lucky (Danny Gardner), Dick’s best friend.

But wait. Mona casts her lustful eyes in Dick’s direction and trouble ensues. Will Dick and Ruby make it in spite of Mona’s manipulations?

The tides turn against everyone, however, when Director Hennessey (John Bolton) announces that the theater where Dames at Sea is playing is scheduled for demolition. Can Dick and Lucky convince their captain to host the show aboard their ship? Think Busby Berkeley and you’ll have some idea of how this turns out.

The music by Jim Wise is mainly a vehicle for some big old fashioned dance numbers with lots of tap (remember, it’s not about taking anything too seriously – like songs called “Choo-Choo Honeymoon,” “That  Mister Man of Mine” and “The Sailor of My Dreams.” Anna Louizos designs fun sets to accommodate the cheesy plot (including a wrecking ball that disturbs rehearsal….)

It’s an entertaining, if not totally satisfying two hours and 10 minutes at the theater. The most impressive part is the illusion, created by Skinner and the relatively small ensemble (rounded out by Tessa Grady, Kristie Kerwin, Ian Knauer and Kevin Worley, that there is a full chorus singing and dancing up on stage.

Dames at Sea make waves at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm; Check schedule changes for holiday weeks. Tickets are $67 - $154.50: (800) 432-7250; damesatseabroadway.com.

Christians might also like to know:
-- No content notes. Enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Stars Shine at Drama Desk Diamond Jubilee

 The Drama Desk celebrated its 65th anniversary Sunday with a glittering party at Sardi's. Members and past winners of the Drama Desk Award were on hand. President Charles Wright honored former member Sam Norkin, whose artwork was on display, thanks to his wife, Francie and daughter, Sue Fallon. He also announced the appointment of Leslie (Hoban) Bake as the organization's new Historian. A toast was made to the organization's past. present and future.

Anna Leigh Ashford and Judith Light. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Leslie (Hoban) Blake, Tonya Pinkins, Richard Ridge ad Ty Jones,  Artistic Director Classic Stage Harlem

Susan and Jefferson Mays and Lauren Yarger. Photo: Barry Gordin

Lauren Yarger, Suzanna Bowling and Annalieigh Ashford Photo: Barry Gordin.

Lambs Club Shepherd Marc Baron and Robert Cuccioli. Photo: Barry Gordin.

John Cullum and Lauren Yarger. Photo: Barry Gordin

John Cullum and Reed Birney. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Playwright Stephen Karam, actor Reed Birney, Poriducer Jamie LeRoy (and behind them, playwright A.R. Gurney and Richard Ridge. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Leslie (Hoban) Blake, Robert Sella, Jamie LeRoy and Charles Wright. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Reed Burney and Jefferson Mays. Photo: Barry Gordin.

The gathering.  That's Joan Copeland seated center. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Playwrights Joe DiPietro and Stephen Karam with Randie Levine Miller. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Joan Copeland, Robert Blume. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Richard Ridge with Michele Lee. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Isa Goldberg, Jefferson Mays and Patrick Christiano. Photo: Barry Gordin. 
Robert Cucclioli, Lauren Class Schneider and Richard Ridge. Photo: Barry Gordin.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Therese Raquin with Keira Knightley, Matt Ryan and Judith Light

Keira Knightley Makes Broadway Debut in Moody Period Piece
By Lauren Yarger
A film star making her Broadway debut isn’t always the lead when writing about a show, but in the case of Keira Knightley and Roundabout Theatre’s production of Thérèse Raquin, that probably is the most interesting thing about the production.

In early previews, the star was praised for going on with the show like a trouper when a fan threw flowers from the balcony and shouted a marriage proposal before being escorted from the building. Shortly after, the star sustained an injury and a show was cancelled.

Now that the show has opened at the appropriately dark Studio 54, Knightley, the  star of films like “Love Actually,” “First Knight (with Clive Owen also making his Broadway debut this Fall with Roundabout  in Old Times) and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” to name a few, still might be the most interesting to write about.

She gives a very good performance (directed by Evan Cabnet) and holds her own on a stage glittering with other stars like the always excellent Judith Light (Lombardi, Other Desert Cities – and TV’s “Who’s the Boss?”), handsome Matt Ryan (TV’s “Constantine”) and Gabriel Ebert (Brief Encounter). The play, adapted by Helen Edmundson, based on the novel by Emile Zola, is kind of a bummer with under-developed characters whom we don’t like much. All of this set on Beowulf Boritt’s grey, colorless set (which perfectly conveys the mood) with drab colors on 1868 period costumes (designed by Jane Greenwood) kind of have us checking our watches a lot during the two-hour and 30 minute look at an unhappy wife.

Thérèse agrees to a loveless marriage to her cousin Camille (Ebert) when his forceful and coddling mother, Madame Raquin (Light), insists. Hypochondriac Ebert seems disinclined to consummate the marriage and Thérèse sinks into the depression of boredom broken weekly by the visit of some friends: Superintendent Michaud (David Patrick Kelly), Monsieur Grivet (Jeff Still) and Suzanne (Mary Wiseman), who all have their own sort of monotonous routine.

One day, everything changes, however. Camille brings home his once childhood friend and philandering artist, Laurent (Ryan). Suddenly all of Thérèse’s pent up passions are unleashed and she and Laurent begin a passionate affair which has dire consequences for Camille and Madame Raquin, as well as for the adulterers themselves, who find it difficult to live with the choices they have made.
It’s a dark, brooding piece which somehow doesn’t satisfy. 

While Light was compelling as the controlling and vengeful mother, it seems her talent is underused in the role. Even a switch from the family’s home in a small village on the Seine to a new apartment in Paris doesn’t change the look. Everything is dark and gray. When Thérèse and Laurent first consummated their passion (and we get to see a lot of graphic coupling) I expected the walls of the room to glow, the light to soar to brightness (design by Josh Schmidt, who also contributes original composition) -- something like that -- but there is nothing. Their passion is as boring as everything else on stage (and as dark as the black interior décor of Studio 54).

Lighting and blocking also diminishes from the climax of the play when Madame Raquin enjoys some seeing some justice done.

Thérèse Raquin plays at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC through Jan. 3, 2016. Performances are  Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm (check for changes during holiday weeks). Tickets $47–$137. roundabouttheatre.org.

Christians might like to know:
--Sexual activity
-- Sexual dialogue


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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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