Monday, April 27, 2009

9 to 5 Breaks Record for Drama Desk Nominations


The musical 9 to 5 broke a record for the most Drama Desk nominations in one season with 15 for 2008-2009. I attended the breakfast this morning where nominations for the 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards were announced by Faith Prince and Jim Dale.

The Drama Desk considers shows that opened on Broadway, off Broadway and off-off Broadway during the 2008/2009 season in the same competitive categories. The awards will be presented Sunday, May 17 and will be webcast live for the seventh year in a row by TheaterMania.com.

Outstanding Ensemble Performances
This year the nominators chose to bestow special ensemble awards for acting to the casts of two shows. Therefore, individual cast members for these shows were not eligible for acting awards in the competitive categories.

The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Norman Conquests

Special awards to recognize excellence and significant contributions to the theater:
Liza Minnelli
Forbidden Broadway
Atlantic Theater Company and artistic director Neil Pepe
TADA! Youth Theater
DRAMA DESK NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2008/2009 SEASON:
Outstanding Play
Annie Baker, Body Awareness
Gina Gionfriddo, Becky Shaw
Neil LaBute, reasons to be pretty
Lynn Nottage, Ruined
Michael Weller, Fifty Words
Craig Wright, Lady

Outstanding Musical
9 to 5
Billy Elliot
Fela!
Liza's at the Palace….
Shrek The Musical
The Story of My Life

Outstanding Revival of a Play
Blithe Spirit
Exit the King
Mary Stuart
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Enter Laughing The Musical
Hair
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Simon Russell Beale,The Winter's Tale
Reed Birney, Blasted
Raúl Esparza, Speed-The-Plow
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Daniel Radcliffe, Equus
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, reasons to be pretty

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Ruined
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Elizabeth Marvel, Fifty Words
Jan Maxwell, Scenes From an Execution
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
James Barbour, A Tale of Two Cities
Daniel Breaker, Shrek The Musical
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing The Musical
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!
Will Swenson, Hair

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, 9 to 5
Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Megan Hilty, 9 to 5
Allison Janney, 9 to 5
Karen Murphy, My Vaudeville Man!

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Brian d'Arcy James, Port Authority
Jeremy Davidson, Back Back Back
Peter Friedman, Body Awareness
Ethan Hawke, The Winter's Tale
Pablo Schreiber, reasons to be pretty (Off-Broadway)
Jeremy Shamos, Animals Out of Paper

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Rebecca Hall, The Cherry Orchard
Zoe Kazan, The Seagull
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Andrea Martin, Exit the King
Carey Mulligan, The Seagull
Condola Rashad, Ruined

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Hunter Foster, Happiness
Demond Green, The Toxic Avenger
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot Marc Kudisch, Billy Elliot
9 to 5
Bryce Ryness, Hair
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Farah Alvin, The Marvelous Wonderettes
Christina Bianco, Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Nancy Opel, The Toxic Avenger
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey

Outstanding Director of a Play
Sarah Benson, Blasted
Michael Blakemore, Blithe Spirit
Garry Hynes, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Terry Kinney, reasons to be pretty
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Kate Whoriskey, Ruined

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Walter Bobbie, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot The Musical
Joe Mantello, 9 to 5
Jason Moore, Shrek The Musical
Diane Paulus, Hair
Stuart Ross, Enter Laughing The Musical

Outstanding Choreography
Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Shonn Wiley, My Vaudeville Man!

Outstanding Music
Neil Bartram,The Story of My Life
Zina Goldrich, Dear Edwina
Elton John, Billy Elliot The Musical
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show
Jeanine Tesori, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Lyrics
Neil Bartram, The Story of My Life
Jason Robert Brown, 13
Marcy Heisler, Dear Edwina
David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, This Beautiful City
Joe DiPietro, The Toxic Avenger
Lee Hall, Billy Elliot The Musical
Brian Hill, The Story of My Life
David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical
Patricia Resnick, 9 to 5

Outstanding Orchestrations
Larry Blank, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Bruce Coughlin, 9 to 5
Aaron Johnson and Antibalas, Fela!
Edward B. Kessel, A Tale of Two Cities
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot
Danny Troob, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Music in a Play
Mark Bennett, The Cherry Orchard
Mark Bennett, The Winter's Tale
Dominic Kanza, Ruined
DJ Rekha, Rafta, Rafta…
Richard Woodbury, Desire Under the Elms
Gary Yershon, The Norman Conquests

Outstanding Set Design of a Play
Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
David Korins, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Neil Patel, Fifty Words
Walt Spangler, Desire Under the Elms

Outstanding Set Design of a Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Anna Louizos, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Thomas Lynch, Happiness
Scott Pask, 9 to 5
Scott Pask, Hair
Basil Twist, Arias With a Twist

Outstanding Costume Design
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
William Ivey Long, 9 to 5
Michael McDonald, Hair
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Carrie Robbins, Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play
Marcus Doshi, Hamlet (Theatre for a New Audience)
David Hersey, Equus
Ben Kato, Washing Machine
R. Lee Kennedy, Bury the Dead
Paul Pyant, The Winter's Tale
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical
Kevin Adams, Hair
Jules Fisher and Kenneth Posner, 9 to 5
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot The Musical
Jason Lyons, Clay
Sinéad McKenna, Improbable Frequency
Richard Pilbrow, A Tale of Two Cities

Outstanding Sound Design
Acme Sound Partners, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot The Musical
Gregory Clarke, Equus
John Gromada, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)
André J. Pluess, 33 Variations
John H. Shivers, 9 to 5

Outstanding Solo Performance
Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
Frank Blocker, Southern Gothic Novel
Michael Laurence, Krapp, 39
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse
Matt Sax, Clay
Campbell Scott, The Atheist

Unique Theatrical Experience
Absinthe (2008 Edition)
Arias With a Twist
Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words
Désir
Soul of Shaolin
Surrender

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA

A Treasure Box of Dazzle and Skill
By Lauren Yarger
Clowns, terrific music, dazzling costumes and amazing feats combine to create KOOZA, Cirque du Soleil’s 10th show to play in New York, this one under the big top on Randall’s Island Park.

The name KOOZA is inspired by the Sanskrit word “koza,” which means “box,” “chest” or “treasure,” and was chosen because one of the underlying concepts of the production is the idea of a “circus in a box.” The thrills that come out of this show’s box are countless.

The story from writer/director David Shiner involves The Trickster (Mike Tyus) bursting onto the scene like a jack-in-a-box right in front of The Innocent (Stephan Landry), whose journey brings him into contact with comic characters including a king (clown Gordon White), a pickpocket (Lee Thompson) and an obnoxious tourist and his bad dog (a large puppet). All of this takes place in front of a traveling tower called the Bataclan, designed by Stéphane Roy, which alters the configuration of the performance space as it moves. It also houses the terrific band (Seth Stachowski, leader) and singers performing Jean-François Côté’s music.

Clowns and acrobats (there are 53 performers in the show) interact with audience members and round out the action which is thrilling. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik give new meaning to the word flexible and put the “ow” in wow! (My back hurts just thinking about one move they did). Jimmy Ibarra and Carlos Marin Loaiza defy gravity and death in a dual spinning “Wheel of Death.” Their feats are so breathtaking that you might miss some other really excellent skills demonstrated, like the perfect toss to them of the jump ropes which they skip while whirling over your head.

There’s a high wire act, a trapeze, a duo unicycle act, a balancing act atop a tower of chairs, teeterboard tumbling and a juggler (Anthony Gatto) who has to be seen to be believed. “No way!” was the common response of audience members to his feats.

In addition to the demonstrations of physical skills, the ensemble numbers, special effects and costumes are dazzling (Serge Roy heads the creative process. Clarence Ford , choreography; Rogé Francoeur, props; Danny Zen, acrobatic equipment and rigging designer; Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt . costumes; Florence Cornet; makeup; Jonathan Deans and Leon Rothenberg, sound).

In one number, the group wears percussion instruments made out of molded carbon for "skeleton" costumes. They look and sound like bones when the performers hit them against each other to create a musical rhythm. In another scene, a "Rat Cape,” a costume made up of 150 fake fur rats with crystal eyes to catch the light creates the illusion that rats are running down a performer's body before disappearing into a trap door (it’s very creepy).

KOOZA runs through June 7 at Randall’s Island. Special buses run regularly and can be accessed from the 125th St. MetroNorth Station. For tickets, visit the show’s home site at http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
• The show contains some crass humor: the dog urinates on the audience; two male clowns kiss; one passes gas.
• The skeletons seemed a little scary to me for little kids, but my graphic-savvy son assures me that any child watching television or playing video games these days probably has seen much scarier.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Mary Stuart


Elizabethan Intrigue Gets Royal Treatment
By Lauren Yarger
An entourage of seduction, intrigue, greed and deception follow Queen Elizabeth I and her imprisoned cousin Mary Stuart in Peter Oswald’s brilliant new version of Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart, getting a royal treatment on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.

A fabulous Janet McTeer reigns as Mary, the Catholic Queen of Scotland accused of conspiring to kill her Protestant cousin Elizabeth I (Harriet Walter, in an equally riveting performance) and claim the throne of England. Elizabeth and her advisors take the next 19 years trying to figure out what to do with her: to kill her will raise rancor with the British people who have enjoyed religious peace since Elizabeth's ascension to the throne; to release Mary threatens Elizabeth's life and the rule of Protestantism.

Stripped of her freedom, most of her possessions, and allowed only the company of her friend and nurse, Hannah (Maria Tucci), Mary begs for a meeting with Elizabeth. Aiding her are the traitorous Mortimer (a delicious Chandler Williams), who is the nephew of her jailer, Sir Amias Paulet(Michael Countryman), and the queen’s favorite, the Earl of Leicester (John Benjamin Hickey), in a plot thick with and intrigue that makes it difficult to know for sure who is on which side.

The battle of deception and wits between the two “courts” is tense and compelling, even if some of the portrayals veer away from those we’ve come to expect. McTeer’s Mary is stronger and smarter than the Scottish vixen of most history books or popular movies portraying the doomed Scot monarch. Likewise, Walter’s Elizabeth is weaker and less awe-inspiring than the norm (Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth in two recent movies is the quintessential). Schiller also takes some license with Elizabeth’s advisors. One of the most influential, Francis Walsingham, is absent and Leicester, whom Elizabeth once offered in marriage to Mary, likely was in love with Elizabeth and harbored no secret feelings for the Scottish queen (I admit it, I’m a history buff when it comes to this period).

Historical nit-picking aside, however, the new version from Oswald contains dialogue that’s both lyrical and surprising modern without interfering with the 16th-century feel of the piece. The tension from both sides of the conflict, guided by director Phyllida Lloyd, is palpable and when the two queens finally meet in a really nifty rainstorm engineered by scenic and costume designer Anthony Ward, we’re not quite sure the two won’t end up in a catfight in the mud.

Ward uses all dark colors in the costuming: a somber black gown for Mary and “sun” polka Dots on black for Elizabeth. The only color comes from the scarlet gown Mary wears for her execution. The men all wear modern suits and ties. My talented director friend Misti who attended with me, suggested that the costuming might depict the men’s ability to evolve while the women are stuck in the period, which I though was a pretty savvy analysis that would not have occurred to me. Press notes later revealed, however, that the choice was triggered by limited budget resources in the show's West End production in London, where it played before opening on Broadway. Whatever its inspiration, the choice somehow works, as modern and historical blend in marvelous storytelling.

Stark black bricks are the backdrop for settings created with minimal pieces of furniture. Hugh Vanstone uses lighting and shadows to great effect, and in the scene where Elizabeth decides to sign her cousin’s death warrant, the lighting makes Mary’s head appear to float from her body.

Rounding out a really fine cast are Nicholas Woodeson, Michael Rudko, Brian Murray, Adam Greer, and Robert Stanton, who gives a terrific performance as Sir William Davidson, a young inexperienced courtier trying to figure out whether the queen really wants him to deliver Mary’s order of execution or hold on to it, knowing all the while his decision will mean the difference between needing to worry about neck sizes for the shirt under his suit or not.

Mary Stuart runs at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., New York through Aug. 16. For tickets, click here or visit http://www.marystuartonbroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
• Attempted rape

Monday, April 20, 2009

'Ruined' by Lynn Nottage Takes Drama Pulitzer

Ruined, the powerful drama by Lynn Nottage about war and rape in the Congo, has received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The play, presented off-Broadway by the Manhattan Theater Club at NY City Center through May 3, is beautifully written as Nottage puts a face on those in the war-torn nation. It made me cry -- and that doesn't happen too often. Don't miss it.

For the review, click here.

--Lauren Yarger

Shrek, Billy Elliot lead Outer Critics Circle Nominations

Shrek and Billy Elliot lead the 2008-2009 Outer Critics Circle Award nominations with 10 each. The nominations were announced today at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhatan by Rebecca Luker and Danny Burstein.

The winners will be announced May 11. See "Theater Reviews" at left to click on the review for a show.

Nominated:
Outstanding New Broadway Play
God of Carnage
Irena's Vow
Reasons to be Pretty
33 Variations

Outstanding New Broadway Musical
Billy Elliot
Rock of Ages
Shrek the Musical
A Tale of Two Cities

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play
Becky Shaw
Farragut North
Ruined
Shipwrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)
Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical
Happiness
Rooms: A Rock Romance
The Toxic Avenger
What's That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

Outstanding New Score (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Billy Elliot
Happiness
Rooms: A Rock Romance
Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Revival of a Play (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Blithe Spirit
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Enter Laughing
Hair
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Outstanding Director of a Play
Garry Hynes, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Anthony Page, Waiting for Godot
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Moises Kaufman, 33 Variations

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot
Arthur Laurents, West Side Story
Jason Moore, Shrek the Musical
Diane Paulus, Hair
Susan Stroman, Happiness

Outstanding Choreographer
Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot
Josh Prince, Shrek the Musical
Susan Stroman, Happiness

Outstanding Set Design (Play or Musical)
Tim Hatley, Shrek the Musical
Santo Loquasto, Waiting for Godot
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot the Musical
Walt Spangler, Desire Under the Elms

Outstanding Costume Design (Play or Musical)
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot
Tim Hatley, Shrek the Musical
John Napier, Equus
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Catherine Zuber, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical)
Kevin Adams, Hair
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot the Musical
David Hersey, Equus
Peter Kaczorowski, Ruined
David Lander, 33 Variations

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Nathan Lane, Waiting for Godot
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to be Pretty

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Ruined
Carla Gugino, Desire Under the Elms
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
James Barbour, A Tale of Two Cities
Matt Cavenaugh, West Side Story
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing
David Pittu, What's That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Sutton Foster, Shrek the Musical
Megan Hilty, 9 to 5
Leslie Kritzer, Rooms A Rock Romance
Nancy Opel, The Toxic Avenger
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
John Benjamin Hickey, Mary Stuart
Russell G. Jones, Ruined
Patrick Page, A Man for All Seasons
David Pearse, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Andrea Martin, Exit the King
Kristine Nielsen, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Susan Louise O'Connor, Blithe Spirit
Condola Rashad, Ruined

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Daniel Breaker, Shrek
Aaron Simon Gross, 13
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot
Christopher Sieber, Shrek the Musical
Wesley Taylor, Rock of Ages

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Kathy Fitzgerald, 9 to 5
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot

Outstanding Solo Performance
Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
Mike Burstyn, Lansky
Mike Daisey, If You See Something, Say Something
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse
Matt Sax, Clay

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
The cast of The Norman Conquests: Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter, Amanda Root

John Gassner Award (Presented for an American Play, Preferably by a New Playwright)
Annie Baker, Body Awareness
Gina Gionfriddo, Becky Shaw
Beau Willimon, Farragut North

Special Achievement AwardFor their performances in Billy Elliot
David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Blithe Spirit


Christine Ebersole, Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett and Jayne Atkinson.

Lansbury Leads a Spirited Ensemble
By Lauren Yarger
Angela Lansbury’s charming performance as a medium who calls up the naughty spirit of a widower’s wife head a strong cast in a top-notch revival of Noel Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit playing on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre.

Lansbury is Madame Arcati, an eccentric medium of questionable abilities, who is invited to perform a séance at the Kent, England country home of Ruth (Jayne Atkinson) and Charles Condomine (Rupert Everett, who gives an engaging performance), an author who hopes to glean some character attributes for a murder mystery he’s writing about a medium. The other dinner party guests are Dr. Bradman (Simon Jones), the family physician and his wife (Deborah Rush) and, thanks to Madame Arcati’s unexpected success, Elvira (Christine Ebersole), the spirit of Charles’ deceased wife.

Elvira is a high-spirited spirit and trouble and comedic misunderstandings ensue as she attempts to monopolize Charles’ affections while infuriating Ruth and scaring the daylights out of Edith (Susan Louise O’Connor, making an impressive Broadway debut), the Condomine’s poor, timid maid.

At first, Charles, who is the only one who can see Elvira, gives in to her whims. Ruth eventually believes Charles’ rantings and orders Madame Arcati to “dematerialize” the unwanted ghost, who seems in no hurry to leave. Madame refuses and as the plot thickens, Ruth becomes convinced that Elvira is trying to kill Charles so that she can be with him permanently – on the other side.

Director Michael Blakemore elicits just the right balance of zaniness and expert timing from the ensemble (Edith’s kowtowed running to and fro and her clearing of the tea items is a comedy in itself). Lansbury is a treat (and if you haven’t seen her in person, don’t miss this opportunity) as she gives a delightfully funny performance. The medium’s unmasked loathing of Mrs. Bradman’s questions and Lansbury's quirky little dance ritual before going into a trance are guffaw-inducing.

Atkinson shines as the wife trying to be supportive while trying to make sense of three-way conversations in which she assumes Charles’ comments to Elvira have been directed to her. She also makes a worthy adversary for Ebersole’s vampy Elvira, with whom she ends up joining forces in an amusing plot twist.

Ebersole plays up the bratty, spoiled Elvira, breezing around the stage in Martin Pakledinazphantasmically flowing costume. Sets, prone to poltergeist activity and designed by Peter J. Davidson, are lighted by Brian MacDevitt. Period music (Peter Fitzgerald) and projected scene change cards (Steven Zweigbaum) enhance the mood.

Blithe Spirit plays at the Shubert Theatre, 225 w. 44th St., New York. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or by visiting http://www.blitheonbroadway.com/.

Christian might also like to know:
• Occult: There’s a séance, a crystal ball, ghosts and poltergeist activity and the medium totes a Ouija board for good measure.
• Language

Review: Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Amari Rose Leigh, foreground, Chad L. Coleman and Danai Gurira

A Song of Relationships Found and Lost

By Lauren Yarger
Bartlett Sher expertly directs a strong ensemble cast in a richly compelling revival of August Wilson’s tale of relationships found and lost in Lincoln Center Theater's Joe Turner’s Come and Gone playing at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre.

The second in Wilson’s 10-cyle decade-by-decade chronicle of the journey of African Americans through the 20th century, Joe Turner’s strengths come in the development of it characters and in the skilled acting that brings them to life. Set in the 1911 Pittsburgh boarding house run by Seth Holly (Ernie Hudson) and his wife Bertha (Latanya Richardson Jackson), the play is a glimpse into two weeks in the lives of people still trying to find their way in the years following emancipation.

Herald Loomis (Chad L. Coleman), a mysterious wanderer looking for his wife, arrives with his daughter Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh). Jeremy Furlow (Andre Holland) offers to take up with Mattie Campbell (Marsh Stephanie Blake) who has been abandoned by her man, until Molly Cunningham (Aunjanue Ellis), a more interesting conquest arrives at the boarding house.

There’s also Bynum Walker (Roger Robinson) a Hoodoo practitioner, who sacrifices pigeons, casts spells using roots and has the gift of “binding” people to one another. He enlists the services of white peddler Rutherford Selig (Arliss Howard) to help him find a “shiny man” who once shared with him the secret of life. Loomis also asks Selig to use his “people finding” skills to help him locate his wife Martha (Danai Gurira), from whom he was separated when a man named Joe Turner forced him into seven years of servitude in Memphis.

Interspersed in the slice of life are some visions (Loomis sees people made of bones walking on water), some Zuba, an African dance ritual that ends in a Pentecostal-like religious experience and Loomis denouncing his ties with Jesus and the church and cutting his chest in an act of independence, when he finally learns how to "sing his song." Some of these experiences are rather confusing and seem to come from nowhere and leave audience members questioning each other at intermission and after the show.

Also confusing and distracting are Michael Yeargan’s mobile set pieces. Tables, windows, doors, etc. suddenly move onto or off the stage in the middle of scenes when there seems to be no need. Later, when the family is gathered, the dining room table suddenly is missing, again with no apparent reason why. The rest of the design team (Catherine Zuber, costumes; Brain MacDevitt, lighting; Scott Lehrer and Leone Rotherberg, sound) delivers and original music from Taj Mahal combines to create an atmosphere of reality countered by the mystical.

The real treasure is in the characters, whether sharing complicated relationships or the sweet joy of a first kiss (Michael Cummings plays the young neighbor who becomes Zonia’s boyfriend). We feel like we’ve been able to peer into the window of the boarding house and understand better what it was like to be one of the boarders there.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone plays through June 14 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, NY. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or by visiting http://www.lct.org/.

Christians might also like to know:

• Sex Outside of Marriage
• Hoodo (African based religion where luck and love are conjured)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Review: Chasing Manet

Lynn Cohen and Jane Alexander. James Leynse photo.

Old Age Brings Youthful Delight

By Lauren Yarger
In a theater season offering a seemingly never-ending supply of plays mired in dark topics and dysfunction, what a delight Tina Howe’s Chasing Manet at Primary Stages is, especially since it fills us with hope, laughter and refreshes the spirit, even as the playwright examines the frustrations and indignities of growing old.

Jane Alexander stars as Catherine Sargent, the legally blind distant relative of painter John Singer Sargent, who passes her days at the Mount Airy Nursing Home lying in bed and repeating the mantra “out, I want out.” Her son Royal (Jack Gilpin) has relocated her away from familiar Boston so she can be nearer to him, but he rarely visits and when he does, relations are tense since Catherine finds fault with everything he does and says.

New roommate Rennie Waltzer (Lynn Cohen) suffers from memory loss, thinks her dead husband is visiting and has trouble getting around without a walker. She frustrates Catherine with her gleeful exuberance over the new accommodations she mistakes for a hotel with room service. Rennie’s family enjoys frequent visits from daughter Rita (Julie Halston), who doubles as an entertainingly wacky wheel-chair bound resident of the home) and other family members (the cast, all of whom play multiple roles, is rounded out by Vanessa Aspillaga, David Margulies and Rob Riley. They try to include Catherine in their good-natured visits, but she remains in bed facing the wall until someone misidentifies the Manet painting hanging above her bed as a Monet.

Suddenly Catherine is animated and sharing about her life as a renowned artist. This comes as a shock, not only to the Waltzers, but to the audience, because Alexander’s portrayal, under the direction of Michael Wilson, paints Catherine as someone who would be more comfortable hosting society galas on Beacon Hill, rather than modeling for and painting nudes like she tells us she once did. The revelation, though, gives insight into the now blind character, no longer able to see the work of art. This, combined with moaning patients and wheelchairs casting shadows as they hang from the ceiling (sets, lighting and sound with original music from by Tony Straiges, Howell Binkley and John Gromada) create an atmosphere that never lets the women break free of the old age and death surrounding them. Costume designer David C. Woolard even dresses stage crew in orderly garb so the mood is uninterrupted.

Catherine and Rennie soon hatch a plan to escape and take a voyage on the luxury ship QE II. Some humorous moments ensue as Rennie merrily divulges the plan to nursing home staff and her family, but they think it’s just the dementia talking. A bit where the two women joyfully pack their stool-softening pills is quite amusing.

Howe’s treatment of the women and how they cope with the inevitable is poignant, uplifting and gives us insight into the plight of the elderly. I came out of the theater wishing my grandmother were still here so I could give her a hug and tell her how much she meant to me.

Chasing Manet plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., NY. For tickets, call 212.279.4200 or visit http://primarystages.org/chasingmanet.htm.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Lord’s Name Taken in Vain
• Woman in the painting is nude

Review: The Secret Agenda of Trees

Michael Tisdale as Jack, Lillian Wright as Maggie and Reyna
de Courcy as Veronica. Photos by Ian Carmody

Roots of Addiction Hard to Pull

By Lauren Yarger
Addictions control the lives of a mother and daughter and keep them in a cycle of dependence and poverty in Colin McKenna’s The Secret Agenda of Trees off-Broadway at the Wild Project (which played through Saturday).

Maggie (Lillian Wright) tries to take care of her daughter Veronica (Reyna de Courcy) when she’s not working at the nearby meat-packing plant, taking hits of crystal meth, drinking or having sex with strangers. In reality, Veronica cares for herself in the shack, set in the Deep South, and comforts herself with fanciful and poetic stories about her soldier brother Dixon (Brian Reilly) who is missing in action and her gang-banger-in-training boyfriend Carlos (Christian Navarro). Sometimes she tries to pretend they are "a family or something.”

The tension becomes palpable when Maggie invites a drifter named Jack (Michael Tisdale) to move in. He clashes with Carlos and has less than desirable intentions toward Veronica, whom he encourages to smoke and drink. When Veronica barely survives an overdose after a meth session with Carlos, Maggie decides to kick the habit before the state takes Veronica away, even as Jack is setting up a meth lab in their home.

McKenna’s treatment of the dark subject is handled well, though Veronica’s strange poetry seems out of place and isn’t always clear in its message. Director Michael Kimmel doesn’t ignite any heat between Jack and Maggie who supposedly meet and tumble into bed. There’s less physical attraction between Carlos and Veronica (who lusts after him verbally, telling us she wants to lick his tattoos) so much of the action feels predictable, rote and as rooted as the trees that Veronica tells us “claw the sky” with a secret agenda to escape. The method Maggie chooses to dry out seems contrived as well, and the ending for which we’re hoping gets jackknifed twice, but in a way, this is a tribute to McKenna’s realistic treatment of drug dependence – there isn’t always a happy ending.

The highlight performance is from de Courcy who infuses 14-year-old Veronica with a youthful charm and exuberance balanced with strength and determination far beyond her years.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sexual Activity (sounds are heard from an adjoining room, but not depicted)
• Sex Outside of Marriage
• Drug Use Depicted throughout

Review: Reasons to Be Pretty

Thomas Sadoski and Piper Perabo

Lots of Reasons to Like This One

By Lauren Yarger
Emotions run high, in fact they’re combustible, from the opening seconds of Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty, the witty “take-off-your-masks-and-hold-back-nothing” dialogue fest running at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.

Terry Kinney directs sharp actors playing characters who aren’t exactly what they appear to be in this probing study of just how important physical looks are in relationships. Greg (Thomas Sadoski) is in the doghouse with girlfriend Steph (Marin Ireland) after he compares her to a pretty new girl at work. His remarks about her “regular” looks to co-worker Kent (Steven Pasquale) are repeated to Steph by her best friend, and Kent’s wife, Carly (Piper Perabo).

Greg tries to soothe Steph’s anger by suggesting that he meant it as a compliment, but Steph isn’t buying any of it. After hitting him a bunch and throwing some furniture (the apartment/work warehouse set is from David Gallo), she breaks off their relationship, deciding she deserves to be in a relationship with someone who finds her attractive. Kent and Greg continue their “guy talk” at the warehouse where they work, and Kent confides that he is having an affair with the pretty new woman and that his pregnant wife doesn’t suspect a thing.

LaBute’s seemingly stereotypical characters reveal veiled motives driven by a need to be liked. Kent and Carly are quite attractive. He is an insensitive sexist jock; she’s a typical blonde with low self esteem and intelligence to match. As they develop through tight and revealing dialogue, Kent turns out to be a bully and not quite the man he thinks he is while Carly is a lot smarter than we think.

Meanwhile Greg, who at first seems clueless as to why he blew it with Steph, comes around and realizes a little too late, what he had and lost. Steph, whose relentless hostility and unwillingness to forgive comes off anything but pretty, softens up with a new beau and colorful and feminine costumes from Sarah J. Holden, belying the fact that looks are more important to a relationship than she’d like to admit.

Kinney’s deft direction also helps propel the action and character development. As Greg won’t step up to the plate, either to help Kent hide his affair or to help him win the company softball championship, the director places the actors, literally, on opposite sides of a fence. In another snapshot, dejected Greg sucks on his drink straw while waiting for Steph with some flowers at a restaurant as “Take a Look at Me Now” plays in the background (Robert Milburn and Michael Bodeen, sound and music design). It’s priceless.


Reasons to be Pretty runs at the Lyceum, 149 West 45th St., NY. Tickets are available by calling 212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250, or by visiting http://www.reasonstobepretty.com/.

Christians might also like to know:

• Sex Outside of Marriage
• Adultery
• Lord’s Name Taken in Vain
• Strong language throughout




Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review: Happiness


Intriguing Concept Gets Derailed

By Lauren Yarger
If you had to choose just one perfect moment from your life in which to spend eternity, what would it be?

This is the question the stranded subway riders in Lincoln Center Theater’s off-Broadway Happiness must answer before they can leave a stalled train and embrace their destiny in a new musical by Scott Frankel (lyrics by Michael Korie; book by John Weidman, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.

For some of the 10 passengers, like elderly, wheelchair-bound Helen (a delightful Phyllis Somerville), the answer is easy. She remembers a night at a USO dance where she met a beau. In a nice swing number, she joins her perfect moment, circling the outer edge of the action unfolding then entering it by joining the dance with her former self and the boy who later was killed in action.

Suddenly, she’s gone and the others, with some quick explanation from cosmic subway car conductor Stanley (Hunter Foster), catch on that they are dead and the only way off the subway train is to find their "perfect moment" and avoid being a “blip on the comic radar." Unfortunately, at this point, the audience realizes it has to sit through nine more of these stories before the show and its seemingly unending, unimaginative songs will come to a close.

Others find their moments easily. Kevin (charming Fred Applegate) remembers a special day in 1954 at the ballpark with his dad; and fashion designer Maurice (an endearing Ken Page)remembers an exchange of vows between him and his partner dying of AIDS. For others, like conservative shock jock Arlene (Joanna Gleason) and shallow wannabe model Gina (Jenny Powers), one worthwhile moment is a little harder to come by. For shark-like lawyer Zach (Sebastian Arcellus), the question may not be answerable: he’s convinced he’s not really dead and isn’t supposed to be on the train he forced his way onto that morning.

Some of the characters are quite interesting, but because we have to whip through 10 stories, they’re gone before we get to know them very well. Others seem underdeveloped caricatures. Arlene is one of the most insensitive, uncaring, rude people you’ll meet (and Gleason’s delivery of some of her one-line zingers are a highlight), but she’s hardly believable as a conservative Christian, particularly when her perfect moment involves drugs and sex. Also fluttering around in an implausible perfect moment is bike messenger Miguel who ends up dancing and singing in a ridiculous number while dressed as the tooth fairy. And if that isn’t hard enough to swallow, husband and wife Neil (Robert Petkoff) and Cindy (Pearl Sun), apparently smart enough to be doctors, but not smart enough to remember basics about each other’s nationalities to impress their inlaws (he’s Jewish; she’s Chinese), sing and dance in an incredulous number about memorizing “family flashcards.”

In addition to all of the passengers, there’s also Stanley, who it seems couldn’t find his perfect moment on a previous cosmic subway ride, so he’s destined forever to guide others to their moments and to hoof it up in large show numbers involving oversized ladder props. He seems very hostile toward Zach, though we’re not sure why. Perhaps it’s the same frustration we feel at the derailing of an intriguing idea and a trainload full of talent. The show would have benefited by eliminating some of the songs and some of the less-interesting characters and focusing instead on a few like Zach, Helen, Kevin and Maurice, for example.

The set (Thomas Lynch) is noteworthy, though, as the subway car breaks away to reveal its interior and glides upstage to make room for the memories enacted. The band, located above the action on stage and under the direction of Eric Stern, also is quite good.

Happiness plays through June 7 at The Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St., NY. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250, or visit http://lct.org/showMain.htm?id=184.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Homosexuality
• Lord’s Name Taken in Vain
• Sexual Act Depicted
Note: The idea of making the most of your moments might be a good conversation catalyst, despite the obvious departure from scripture regarding the afterlife.

Review: Hair

Gavin Creel as Claude (center) and the cast of the Broadway
revival of Hair. Joan Marcus photo.


Music, Energy Perm; Message Falls Flat, Needs ‘Son’shine

By Lauren Yarger
The free-love, anti-war rock sensation Hair bursts onto stage at the Hirschfeld Theater for its first revival on Broadway since it shocked audiences in 1968, but its messages which rallied and spoke for a generation of flower-children hippies seems dated for the 21st century.

Last summer’s The Public Theater’s production in Central Park, which transferred for the Broadway run, was a timely revisit of the contra-culture classic with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado complementing Galt MacDermot’s score which gave us, among others, the now standard “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Anti-war and anti-establishment sentiments were running high last summer as the presidential election race headed down the final stretch.

The election presumably solved that unrest, however: a liberal president was elected and quickly began championing that cause and reiterating his promise to end the war. So how does this musical speak for the current generation, as recent comments would have us believe? The anti-establishment protests we have now are in the form of tea parties being organized by conservatives, who, in general, and contrary to the anti-war protesters in Hair, are opposed to a quick pull-out from Iraq, and who are protesting bailout and stimulus spending without adequate representation of the taxpayers who will foot the bill. Not quite the same thing, so what might have struck a chord last summer seems out of tune now.

I wasn’t old enough to see the first Hair (really…I was playing with dolls, coloring in books and much too young to know a sexual and political revolution was taking place around me), but it must have been quite shocking. The depiction of sexual activity and drug use, not to mention the first-act, full cast, full nudity scene, took theater to a new unexplored level for back then. It was embraced as an expression of freedom by a generation which forced a wedge between themselves and their parents’ ideas of what was acceptable and expected forever.

For the most part, most of the folks I observed really getting into this revival were people old enough to be those flower children, perhaps reliving their youth. Others from younger generations around me were asking questions at intermission like, “Why did they have to be naked?” The sexual revolution the musical glorifies is intrinsically responsible for a decline in morals over the past 40 years that makes it almost impossible to shock an audience now. This year alone, I have seen more naked people on stage than I can count.


Gavin Creel as Claude and Will Swenson as Berger with the cast.
Instead of playing with dolls and coloring in books, elementary school children today have to worry about their families breaking up (maybe for the second or third time), how to avoid offending each other (opinions contrary to what's considered "politically correct" often are not permitted or tolerated) and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (with education required in some states as early as kindergarten). I don’t think any of this is good and that’s why it’s hard for me to embrace the message of this story. Watching a group of sexually promiscuous folks getting high on drugs and singing “our eyes are open” strikes me as ironic and sad.

Beyond my issues with messages that go beyond the basic tale of a boy trying to decide whether or not to burn his draft card, let me tell you that this revival is very well done. Diane Paulus directs an exuberant cast led by Gavin Creel, Sasha Allen (I saw understudy Saycon Sengbloh), Will Swenson and Caissie Levy who have strong voices and who throw their energy into the music and dancing (choreography by Karole Armitage). Paulus makes good use of the space, often having actors positioned in and interacting with the audience (even up in the balcony). The signature song “Hair” rocks out the house and is a showstopper.

Scott Pask’s scenic design includes a large sunburst painted on the brick wall behind the action and it, along with period costumes by Michael McDonald, set the stage.

Hair runs at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th St., NY. Tickets at http://www.givenik.com/show_info.php?show_id=153&show=individual

Christians might also like to know:
• Full Nudity
• Sexual Acts Depicted
• Drug Use Depicted throughout
• Scantily Clad Actors
• Cross Dressing
• Eastern Religion Practiced
• Homosexual Activity
• Sex Outside of Marriage

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: The Toxic Avenger

Demond Green, Matthew Saldivar, Nick Cordero,
Sara Chase and Nancy Opel. Carol Rosegg photos.

It’s a Lean, Green Laughter Machine
By Lauren Yarger
So he’s green, smells, oozes slime and rips people’s limbs off. What’s not to love?

He’s The Toxic Avenger (Nick Cordero), New Jersey’s own superhero in the new off-Broadway musical treatment of the cult horror films of the same name playing at New World Stages. The show features a rocking score by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, a really funny book from Joe DiPietro (both collaborated on the lyrics) and a knock-’em-dead (well, sometimes, literally) performance by Nancy Opel in multiples roles culminating in a sharply staged duet with herself.

The superhero is created when geek Melvin Ferd the Third, is dropped into a vat of toxic waste by some school bullies and left for dead. Instead, he emerges as a large, slime-covered green mutant with super powers (hair and wig design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer; costumes by David C. Woolard). When not pursuing a relationship with blind librarian Sarah (Sara Chase), he’s ridding Tromaville, NJ of polluters and corrupt politicians, often one gory limb at a time (prosthetics and special effects by John Dods).

Sarah doesn’t realize Melvin is “Toxie,” as she calls her new beau. She wonders why he won’t kiss her or let her touch his face. The Avenger fears rejection if Sarah were to discover the truth, because as she says, “Violence is always wrong, even if it is entertaining…”

Director John Rando expertly guides the cast through the tongue-in-cheek humor and some tight staging that makes the already sarcastic and goofy humor even more fun. Opel’s performance as Melvin’s mother, a nun and Tromaville Mayor Babs Belgoody is worth the ticket price alone. Also playing multiple roles are Matthew Saldivar and Demond Green, known only as “White Dude” and “Black Dude” who play everything from bullies and cops to Sarah’s BFFs and back up singers à la the Supremes in this laugh-a-minute fest.

The blind librarian jokes never stop -- and never stop being funny-- because Chase plays the gags with such gusto. Whether Sarah’s crashing into things, failing miserably as a librarian or sweetening a cup of tea with Drano, she does it full throttle and you can’t help but laugh. Even her clashing-colored clothes and the upside-down wallpaper in her apartment, which swings open on the other side of the toxic vats comprising scenic designer’s Beowulf Boritt’s backdrop, are amusing (lighting and sound design by Kenneth Posner and Kurt Eric Fischer).

Located above the action upstage right, the band rocks out the house as the stars lend their strong voices to songs titled, among other things, “Get the Geek,” “Thank God She’s Blind,” “Evil is Hot” and “You Tore My Heart Out.” Conducted by Doug Katsaros on the keyboards, the band also can be seen laughing at most of the bits taking place below, usually proof of a funny show.

The Toxic Avenger plays at New World Stages, 340 West 50th St, NY (between 8th and 9th avenues). Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or by visiting http://thetoxicavengermusical.com/.

Christians might also like to know:

Before you rush out to see this show based on my glowing review, let me advise you that to appreciate this show, you have to set aside the fact that it contains a lot of crude humor and potentially offensive material. It’s definitely not something to which I would bring young children. Here is a list of what’s in the show so you can make an informed decision about whether or not this show is for you:
• Language
• Drug use depicted
• Attempted rape depicted
• Mutilation and decapitation depicted—it’s gross, but could be worse
• Woman’s underwear revealed
• Cross Dressing
• Suggestive Dancing
• Sexually suggestive lyrics
• Sex Outside of marriage
• Praying to Oprah






Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Irena's Vow

Thomas Ryan as ‘Major Rugemer,’ Tovah Feldshuh as ‘Irena Gut Opdyke,’
and John Stanisci ‘Sturmbannfuhrer Rokita’ in Irena’s Vow.Review: Irena’s Vow
(Photos by CAROL ROSEGG)

An Amazing Circle of Faith Triumphs Over Evil

By Lauren Yarger
“What we do is who we are” and one woman’s vow to make a difference in the face of man’s inhumanity against man is the compelling plot of Dan Gordon’s play “Irena’s Vow” playing at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway.

Tovah Feldshuh, directed by Michael Parva, stars as Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic who singlehandedly saved 12 Jews from death in the Nazi camps during World War II. In Gordon’s treatment of this true story, Irena, in her golden years, begins recounting her story to a group of school children. Times travels back to 1939 (accomplished through the use of costumes by Astrid Brucker, original music by Quentin Chaippetta and projections by Alex Koch amidst Kevin Judge’s set), where Feldshuh portrays the 18-year-old nursing student taken prisoner, raped by Russian soldiers and forced into labor in occupied Poland. Rumors soon abound that the Nazis are exterminating the Jews, and Irena is convinced after witnessing a mass murder, including the horrific killing of a baby in front of its mother. Unable to act or help, Irena vows never to stand by again.

A Nazi officer, Major Rugemer (Thomas Ryan) notices Irena and installs her as housekeeper in his home, where Irena hides 12 Jews in the basement. Three of them appear as characters in the drama: Lazar and Ida Hallar (Gene Silvers and Maja C. Wampuszyc, wonderfully moving in her Broadway debut) and Franka Silberman (Tracee Chimo). The group finds a hidden space that connects between the basement and the garden gazebo and stay hidden there even during dinner parties thrown for ranking Nazi officials like Sturmbannfuhrer Rokita (John Stanisci). To accomplish this, the Jews secretly help prepare the meals so extra help is not needed in the kitchen and Irena does some fancy juggling with the help of her friend Shultz (Steven Hauck) who, in a personification of the “don’t get involved” attitude, is willing to close a blind eye, but won’t take an active part to help the Jews.

Poignant moments about what it really means to be alive surface as the Jews struggle with having to “live like rats” and when Ida becomes pregnant. Gordon gives some terrific dialogue to Rokita who coldly and unaffectedly explains the systematic programming of the Jews for extinction. Where the script feels less realistic, however, are the frequent attempts at humor, often seeming out of place against the plot unfolding.
Gene Silvers as ‘Lazar Hallar,’ Maja Wampuszyc as ‘Ida Hallar,’
Tracee Chimo (kneeling) as ‘Fanka Silberman,’
and Tovah Feldshuh as ‘Irena .'
Irena’s hiding friends vote for safety and to abort the life of the Hallar child, whose cries would put them all in danger. Irena, opposed to abortion, fights for the child who eventually is born, a stunning testimony to life and hope amidst such evil and death.

Rugemer discovers the Jews in his house, but agrees to remain quiet when Irena becomes his mistress. The Poles despise her for becoming the mistress of a Nazi and danger mounts as officials receive reports that Jews are hiding in the house. Irena smuggles them out to the Allies who are invading as the war is drawing to a close. She then is interred as a collaborator since she had been the mistress of a Nazi officer. One of the Jews she hid frees her and she comes to the United States where she marries, has a daughter and “puts a do-not-disturb sign” on the memories of her past.

The circumstances of how she decides to tell her story and how she is reunited with loved ones is amazing and more than once brings a gasp from the audience as a full circle of forgiveness and faith’s ability to triumph over evil is revealed.

"God is always there," Irena tells us. Sometimes "we just need to listen a little harder."

An added bonus at the performance I attended was Irena’s real life daughter who appeared on stage to answer questions from the audience.

Irena’s Vow runs at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St., NY. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or visit http://irenasvow.com/. A movie version of the story is in the works.



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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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