Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lynn Redgrave, J. Mark McVey Ask Broadway Blessing

Lynn Redgrave, J. Mark McVey (pictured at right), Carol Hall, Project Dance, The Broadway Blessing Choir and other distinguished guests will be among the performing artists at this year's celebration dedicated to asking God's blessing on the new Broadway Season. Masterwork Productions, Inc. is a proud sponsor of this year's event on Monday, Sept. 14.

Author and theater critic Retta Blaney directs the 13th annual blessing 7 pm at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City, one of the nation's leading religious and secular landmarks. The interfaith service has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997. It was conceived as a service of song and story designed to seek God's grace on the new season.

This year’s event will include theater reflections by actress Lynn Redgrave, Broadway veteran J. Mark McVey singing “A Chance for Me” from the musical Amazing Grace: The True Story, singer/songwriter Carol Hall and Project Dance. The Broadway Blessing Choir under the direction of Bruce Neswick, director cathedral music, will perform a number of Broadway hits followed by a “sing-a-long”.

The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean, and the Rev. Thomas Miller, canon for liturgy & arts from the cathedral will be joined by Rabbi Jill Hausman of Congregation Ezrath Israel / The Actors' Temple and The Rev. Mitties DeChamplain of St. Clement's Episcopal Church as participants in the 75-minute program.


Past participants have included Marian Seldes, Marcia Gay Harden, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann, Anna Manahan, KT Sullivan, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, J. Mark McVey, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Elizabeth Swados, Ken Prymus, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.

Mr. Herrmann had this to say about it before making his second Broadway Blessing appearance: “It’s reassuring to know there are so many people out there you know that believe in God and want to take that part of their life and dedicate it to the theatre because theatre is a very spiritual endeavor. They come from every conceivable denomination, which I kind of like. It’s like a study in architecture of all these different buildings. They come from all kinds of disciplines and it’s just great to be among them. It’s an annual event, like with spring comes the first buds, now it’s fall and we’re here to bless our endeavors for the rest of the year and maybe some luck will come out of it, whether that’s internal or external.”

Broadway Blessing is free and open to people of all ages; reservations are not needed. For more information please visit www.stjohndivine.org.

Broadway Blessing is made possible by the generous support of Masterwork Productions Inc., The Church of the Transfiguration (The Little Church Around the Corner), Creative Gifts Foundation, Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) and other wonderful friends of the theater.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Theater Review: Twelfth Night in the Park with Hathaway, Esparza, McDonald

Anne Hathaway, Raúl Esparza
and the company of Twelfth Night.
Photo by Joan Marcus

A Great Show is Born, Achieved and Thrust Upon Us
By Lauren Yarger
Some shows are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. The Public Theater’s rendition of Twelfth Night for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park is just great. Period.

Anne Hathaway makes a stunning New York stage debut as Viola, who, believing her twin brother, Sebastian (Stark Sands), has drowned in the shipwreck that washes her up on the shores of Illyria, disguises herself as a man known as Cesario to serve Duke Orsino (Raul Esparza). The Duke sends Cesario to court Countess Olivia (Audra McDonald), but she is taken instead, with Cesario, whose pretense becomes more difficult as Viola falls in love with Orsino.
Orsino becomes attracted to Viola, but that's problematic since she's, well, a man, or so he thinks.

Mistaken identity and some other subplots (I’ll let you read Spark Notes if you aren’t already familiar with the story) bring great comedic bits. Adding to the humor are strong performances from Hamish Linklater, who plays Andrew Aguecheck, also a suitor of Olivia, Jay Sanders in the as Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, and Julie White as Maria, Olivia’s plotting gentlewoman.

Audra McDonald and Anne Hathaway

Director Daniel Sullivan makes the most of all the talent and of the enchanting set, by rolling actors as well as props up and down John Lee Beatty’s rolling green hills with built in stairs and trees, all set in front of Central Park’s towering Belvidere Castle. Lighting is by Peter Kaczorowski and the sound, which should be a model for all outdoor productions, is by Acme Sound Partners.

Hathaway and Esparza as well as others (though, disappointingly, not McDonald) lend their really pleasant voices to wonderful Celtic-sounding music by HEM, supervised and arranged by Greg Pliska and played by five musicians on stage and in costume (Jane Greenwood, designer, dresses everyone in 18th century-looking garb). Choreographer Mimi Lieber matches the “what you will” feel of the evening with delightful, joy-filled dance.

The show is one of the freshest and most entertaining renditions of the classic I have ever seen and it’s truly a night of great fun, from the free tickets to the top-notch performances to the really unbelievably, indescribably delicious sandwiches at theater cafe. Even some of the last words from the play, put to music, seem to be written for this summer alone: “for the rain, it raineth every day.” And indeed most of the performances have been presented despite the weather.

The show runs through July 12 at the park’s Delacorte Theater. For the free tickets, you can wait in line at the park, or take a chance in the virtual line online. Visit http://www.publictheater.org/content/view/126/219/.

Christians might also like to know:
• Don’t be put off by the advertising campaign that touts the show and the production of The Bacchae that will follow as “cross dressing in the park.” Viola’s donning of men’s wear is situational, not sexual in choice.

Theater Review: Sweet Storm

Jamie Dunn and Eric T. Miller.
Photo courtesy of KPM Associates.


The Storm Inside Rages More Violently Than the Hurricane Outside
By Lauren Yarger
A storm breaking, both literally and emotionally drives Scott Hudson’s new play Sweet Storm, co-presented Off-Broadway by Alchemy Theatre and LAByrinth Theater Company at the Kirk Theater.

Ruthie (Jamie Dunn) and Bo (Eric T. Miller) are up a tree, again quite iterally, as Bo carries his new bride to a surprise honeymoon suite: a tree house built in the limbs where they once climbed and where love blossomed when she slipped and grabbed hold of him to keep from falling. To put the finishing touches on the special wedding night surprise, amongst the bed, a few pieces of furniture and a few necessities, Bo places heaps of gardenias, Ruthie’s favorite flower, which she thinks have “the aroma of angels.”

The idyllic setting (depicted simply by scenic and costume designer Lea Umberger as two large limbs accented by green strips of foliage nicely lighted by Sarah Sidman) doesn’t trigger quite the reaction Bo hopes for from his new wife. Instead, a storm of emotion is unleashed, much like the Sept. 10, 1960 hurricane which is fast approaching their location at Lithia Springs, Fl. The sounds of nature, with varying degrees of rain and wind are amazingly created by sound designer Elizabeth Rhodes You could almost swear you were sitting outdoors up a tree.

The tree sits on land recently donated for a new church Bo is excited about pastoring, but Ruthie isn’t so sure. In fact, she’s wonders whether getting married was such a great idea, especially in light of a recent accident which has left her paralyzed from the waist down. She is still angry, searching for answers and not in the mood for surprises. As Bo must carry her every where and help her use a bed pan, Ruthie’s emotions whirl out of control and its hard to tell if a storm bigger than the approaching hurricane isn’t raging within .

“You married a woman with no faith and no legs,” she tells him.

Bo doesn’t have any easy answers, but they start talking and recall moments from their courtship. He reassures her of his love and eventually, Ruthie’s fears subside, just as the hurricane rages around them

Directed by Padraic Lillis, the play is a sweet story of how love and prayer can triumph over fear and circumstances.

Sweet Storm runs at the Kirk Theater, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC through July 26. For tickets and information, visit http://www.labtheater.org/onstage/onstage.html.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Theater Review: Next Fall

Questions About Faith and Relationships
By Lauren Yarger
Questions about life, death and reality collide in Geoffrey Nauffts' play Next Fall, presented by Naked Angels Off-Broadway at the Jay Sharp Theater.

As Luke (Patrick Heusinger) lies in a coma after being struck by a car, his family and friends gather in the waiting room for news of Luke’s condition. Tensions mount, not just from their concern about Luke’s condition, but because Luke’s uptight Southern Christian father and stepmother, Butch (Cotter Smith) and Arlene (Connie Ray), don’t know that Adam (Patrick Breen) is more than just a friend. He’s Luke’s lover.

Holly (Maddie Corman), who owns the shop where Luke, an unemployed actor, sells candles, tries to keep Butch and Arlene at bay while comforting Adam, who waits for medical updates given only to “family” members. Luke’s other friend, Brandon (Sean Dugan), a somewhat superfluous character, also is on hand.

Through flashbacks (nicely directed by Sheryl Kaller on a hospital room set designed by Wilson Chin, complete with walls that slide out to create the couple’s apartment) we see the developments of the relationship between Luke, a Christian who struggles with his homosexuality and who prays for forgiveness after sex, and the unchurched, hypochondriac-prone Adam (religion is too exclusive, judgmental and has too many rules, he tells us).

Nauffts throws in a full bucket of Atheism 101 questions like “what about the Mongolian sheep herder who’s never heard of Jesus? (often answered in a hit-and-run or punch line fashion) to explain the conflicts of faith (Luke grew up in the church; Adam didn’t really have a religion) between the men.

There are some more thought-provoking moments, however, like conversations about evolution, Adam’s inability to be with Luke or find out information at the hospital and Luke’s response to how he can be a Christian and live a gay lifestyle.

“We’re all sinners,” he says, “That just happens to be mine.”

Adam also gives fodder for some good theological pondering when he questions how it is possible for a gay person like Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered and who might not have known the Lord, to go to hell while those who killed him might be able to repent and go to heaven.

Religion is a wall the two can’t seem to break down, but soon we discover that it’s not religion itself, but Luke’s inability to put Adam first in his life that form its foundation.

“I want you to love me more than Him,” Adam says.

Luke’s desire to honor God and his father causes constant struggles. In one flashback, Luke, after “degaying” their apartment in anticipation of a visit from Butch finally agrees with Adam’s urging that it’s time to tell his father (and subsequently his younger brother, whom he’d intended to tell “next fall”) that he is gay. Just as Luke starts to make the disclosure, the previously unexpressive Butch, whom we suspect knows about his son’s inclination, expresses pride in his son’s acting career and Luke remains silent.

If some of the stuff is glib and stereotypic (Butch and Arlene are racists among other things and Brandon, the supportive apparently conservative Christian friend turns out to be gay himself—a device showing up more in more in plays as if to say, “see Christians aren’t perfect either"), Adam’s gradual understanding of Luke’s belief is a somewhat refreshing twist. Holly provides some comic relief.

Next Fall at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42nd St., NYC has been extended through Aug. 8. For tickets and information, visit http://www.nakedangels.com/nextfall/

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Homosexual Activity

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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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