Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: A Body of Water


Michael Cristofer and Christine Lahti
Water of Reality Flows Through Memory

By Lauren Yarger
How much of life is a choice and how much depends on our memories? The answer, if you can find one in Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water running at Primary Stages in New York, seems to be all of it.

Avis (Christine Lahti) and Moss (Michael Cristofer) awake one morning to find themselves in a house surrounded by a body of water. Do they know each other? Are they married? Are they somehow connected? They don’t know, except for a couple of unrelated vague memories and they try to stir others (after gingerly opening her robe so Moss can inspect her body for identifying marks, Avis uses some serving tongs to examine Moss’s privates to see if anything looks familiar.) They’re interrupted by the appearance of a rather hostile Wren (Laura Odeh) who seems to be their daughter. But is she? Or is she the lawyer defending them in the murder trial of their daughter Robin, whom they don’t remember in a convenient insanity defense. Maybe Wren really is their daughter who delights in brightening her dull care-giver days by tormenting parents struggling with dementia. Or maybe all or part of what happens is only in the memory of one of the couple, comforted by thoughts of the other now deceased.

We’re never sure about anything, except that the body of water (perhaps representing reality) is ever present. If you’re looking for answers, A Body of Water is not for you and you’ll feel like the little boy not fooled by the emperor’s clothes and want to shout, “But this play has no dénouement or conclusion!” If you can suspend the need to solve the mystery, Blessing raises some thought-provoking issues.

Avis has a memory of breaking up with a boy. They didn’t share the most important memory of their relationship and she recalls that they lived entirely different lives, even as they made love. Even if the couple can’t remember their daughter, they are sure of a connection because they feel it. In fact most of the questions raised examine how much we can exist independently of shared memories with others and how people adapt to make that happen. “Are we alive?” Avis asks at one point. “I’ll settle for an illusion.” In the absence of answers, the characters determine that they do have a choice every day to be happy or sad.

Lahti and Cristofer give strong performances under the direction of Maria Mileaf. Odeh, in an unsympathetic role, is less confident and relies on a shouting monotone. Neil Patel’s set depicting the lovely view through a large picture window upstage and panels on both sides is simple, yet elegant despite being annoying since you can’t make out the water on one side despite repeated dialogue about being able to see water on all sides. Designer Jeff Croiter should adjust lighting that creates a distracting and constant reflection of the actors in the glass window (and gives us additional unwanted rear view of the actors turning from their audience in their robes for the body “inspection” scene.)

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name is taken in vain

Friday, October 10, 2008

Review: 13


A Synergy of Energy and Teen Angst

By Lauren Yarger
A fly-through plot about teen angst, the horrors of junior high school and finding out what’s really important combines with catchy pop tunes from Tony Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years; Parade) and high energy choreography from Christopher Gattelli for a synergistic burst called 13 a new musical running at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Jeremy Sams directs an all-teen cast through the break-dance-speed action and cyber-surfing plot (book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn) following the trials of 12-year-old Evan Goldman (Graham Phillips), who just wants his bar mitzvah party to be the best day of his life. His plans go awry, however, when his parents divorce and he and his mother relocate from New York City to “the lamest place in the world,” Indiana (a transition cleverly made by scenic and costume designer David Farley). There, Evan must decide who is more important: his uncool friends Patrice, played by Allie Trimm, whose nice singing voice successfully navigates Brown’s sharps and flats and whose skilled acting gives her wholesome character some dimension, and physically challenged Archie (Aaron Simon Gross) or the popular crowd, led by jock Brett (Eric M. Nelson), his backup crooners (Al Calderon and Malik Hammond) and cheerleaders Lucy and Kendra (Elizabeth Egan Gillies; Delaney Moro).

Just as in real junior high, nothing escapes a good mocking out including Jewish worry, the Midwest, virginity, and incurable disease (in an uncomfortable tune called “Terminal Illness"). There’s a lot of talking and singing about French kissing and a riotous movie-date scene. The quick pace makes it impossible to bond more than fleetingly with the characters or the emotions they are feeling, but the universal, cross-generational experience of trying to fit in during the teen years means most of us have our own experiences to rely on, making the comeuppance ending satisfying, if not realistic.

A really entertaining post-curtain call number in which all of the teens (the band, under the music direction of Tom Kitt is all teens as well) have a chance to show off their stuff has even those of a more geriatric nature wanting to get up and dance. It is encouraging to see the audience bursting with excited young people, who are the next generation of Broadway goers.

Christians might also like to know:
Some minor language, the Lord's name is taken in vain.
Overall a pretty wholesome musical you can enjoy with your kids.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Review: “Equus”

Griffiths Makes Character Jump from Page to Stage

By Lauren Yarger

Once in a while, we’re treated to one of those rare theater experiences where a character makes the jump from the pages of the script to a full living and breathing person up on stage. Richard Griffiths’ portrayal of Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist who helps a troubled boy who inexplicably blinds six horses with a hoof pick in the revival of Peter Shaffer’s “Equus,” is such a performance.

Griffiths mixes Dysart’s genuine compassion for Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame) and the desire to help him untwist the warped thinking that led to the tragedy with envy of the boy’s ability to lose himself in the worship of horses and a loathing of his own psychiatric abilities which will replace that passion with “normal.” In other renditions (although I didn’t see the original on Broadway in 1975 which won Tony Awards for Best Play and for Peter Firth who played Alan) Dysart usually seems more stuffy and uptight to give outer contrast to the inner turmoil of a man who doesn’t enjoy much of anything and would welcome a chance to feel passion. Griffith’s more slovenly appearance and almost nonchalant line delivery put a face on a man swimming in boredom, but who can’t end the foundering, either by grabbing a lifeline by embracing the life he has or by cutting loose and diving into the forbidden pleasures of a world like Alan’s. It’s theater at its best.

Also at his best is young Radcliffe, making his Broadway debut as the boy who has confused religion, horses and sex into one ugly blur and who’s desperately crying out for help. Radcliffe, with a haunting stare, skillfully portrays Alan’s wide range of emotions and whether he’s a 6-year-old boy experiencing the excitement of his first horse ride, a fully committed worshiper of the horse god Equus, a boy who hates his domineering and repressive parents (T. Ryder Smith and Carolyn McCormick) or a 17-year-old feeling the first pangs of lust for a girl (Anna Camp), we know what sickness, turmoil and anguish is in Alan’s mind and how he could have come to commit such a terrible crime. And this was Shaffer’s intent in writing the play: to try to “create a mental world in which the deed (apparently based on a true incident) could be made comprehensible.” In this, and under the direction of Thea Sharrock who wisely sticks to the original vision, the play truly is a compelling study, though 30-plus years have softened the impact of what were shocking issues (including nudity on stage) back in the mid ’70s.

Kate Mulgrew, as the judge who asks Dysart to take Alan’s case, seems uncomfortable and stiff. Lorenzo Pisoni gives a nice turn as a young horseman and as Alan’s favorite horse, Nugget. The horses, played by six men, are crafted by John Napier, who recreates his metal, skeletal horse masks from the original production. They walk on elegant metal hoofs that make them tower over the performers like a horse would. Movement supplied by Fin Walker is skilled in creating horses, but flawed when the movements are choreographed in what seems more like a Rockette drill number than a horse worshiping rite.

Simple functioning sets (including audience seated in a loft on stage) recreate Shaffer’s vision and brooding and ominous lighting from David Hersey complete the picture.

Christians also might like to know:

•Adult themes
•Full nudity
•Sexual acts depicted
•Alan develops a personal religion in which Christ and the horse God Equus become confused.

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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.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

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.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 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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