Sunday, January 31, 2010
By Lauren Yarger
Characters in smoking jackets, sipping champagne against a backdrop of a gorgeous two-story deco apartment set are the stuff of a fun night at the theater in Roundabout Theatre’s Broadway presentation of Noel Coward’s comedy Present Laughter.
Victor Garber shines as the debonair, womanizing over actor Garry Essendine, who must juggle all the women in his life, ingénue Daphne (Holley Fain) and her aunt (Alice Duffy), his producer’s wife Joanna (Pamela Jane Gray), his crotchety housekeeper Miss Erikson (Nancy E. Carroll), his long-suffering secretary Monica (Marriet Harris) and his ex wife, Liz (Lisa Banes), before going on tour in Africa.
Meanwhile, his best friend, Morris (Mark Vietor), also is in love with Joanna whose husband, Henry (Richard Poe), is oblivious to her involvement with either of the men. The butler, Fred (James Joseph O’Neil), also is on hand to try to clean up the mess.
Mayhem ensues as the various parties find out about all of the entanglements and there is some great fun with Garber’s perfectly delivered comedic lines and in Brooks Ashmanskas’ portrayal of Roland Maule, an overambitious, hopping, skipping playwright who ingratiates himself with the others.
There are some witty jabs at the theater industry and everyone runs around in lovely jammies and costumes of the period (Jane Greenwood, design) on a to-die-for gilded set (Alexander Dodge, design) that is a character in itself (it received applause when the curtain went up). A beautifully arched top to the set is an excellent compliment to the American Airline Theatre’s own arched proscenium.
The play, directed by Nicholas Martin, is a bit too long in two and a half hours with three acts and two intermissions (the second act is the tightest) and rushed delivery sometimes makes the accents difficult to understand. These shortcomings aren’t overwhelming, however, and Present Laughter is just that, a witty romp still funny after all these years.
Present Laughter plays at the American airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling (212) 719-1300. Special discounted tickets for groups of friends of Masterworks are available at http://www.givenik.com/?code=Masterworks.
Christians might also like to know:
• Minor language
• Adultery is part of the plot
By Lauren Yarger
A possessive uncle with lust-filled feelings for his niece; his jealous wife; the niece blinded by love for another man who might be gay. All these things are catalysts for what should be an emotionally-charged revival of Arthur Miller’s 1955 classic A View from the Bridge, but mostly phlegmatic performances by actors with no chemistry smolder in a production that never ignites.
Liev Schreiber stars as Eddie Carbone, the longshoreman who has worked his whole life to provide for his wife, Beatrice (Jessica Hecht), and their orphaned niece, Catherine (screen star Scarlett Johansson, making her Broadway debut). Catherine has grown up and has dreams of working as a secretary, but the blooming of her womanhood has Eddie over protecting while harboring some unseemly desires of his own.
His lust doesn’t go unnoticed by Beatrice who tries to advise Catherine to stand up to Eddie and pursue her own happiness with Rodolpho (Morgan Spector), Beatrice’s illegal immigrant cousin who, with his brother, Marco (Corey Stoll), work on the docks to earn money to send back to their family in Italy. While in America, they live with the Carbones in their tenement apartment (rendered in a loud rotating set by designer John Lee Beatty that doubles as the drab exterior of the towering brick buildings). The family lawyer, Alfieri (Michael Christofer), who serves as a sort of narrator for the tale, and who brings to mind Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also urges Eddie to let Catherine go.
Eddie’s irritation only grows, however, when the guys on the docks (Robert Turano and Joe Ricci) keep laughing at the blond Rodolpho who sings, make dresses, cooks and who Eddie insists “isn’t right” (translation from 1955 to 2010: gay). Turano’s contagious laugh is a highlight of the performance, though, Spector’s wooden performance doesn’t clue us in to what’s so funny.
Schreiber is convincing as the unhappy man who reaches terminal velocity and can’t keep himself from plummeting to his finish once he allows his lustful feelings to control him. We’re not sure what all the fuss is about, though, as Johansson, rather stiff while delivering her lines, looks dowdy dressed down in a brunette wig (Tom Watson, hair and wig design) and tailored skirts and sweaters (Jane Greenwood, costumes) and nothing like the screen bombshell who tempts King Henry VIII (“The Other Boleyn Girl”).
In addition, there’s no chemistry between the two stars and none between Johansson and Spector, either. Did Director Gregory Mosher really miss that or the fact that Johansson, 26, hardly looks like a 17-year-old? Maybe he was too occupied trying to make sense of some plot devices like Eddie’s planting a kiss on Rodolpho to prove that the object of Catherine’s affection is gay or Marco’s sudden, violent accusations that Eddie is robbing food from his children’s mouths that make you scratch your head and ask, “really?”
One thing that does fly in this production, however, is spit: lots of it, some scripted, some not. Look out if you’re in the front row.
A View from the Bridge plays through April 4 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200, or outside NY: (800) 432-7250. Discounted tickets for friends of Masterwork Productions are available at http://www.givenik.com/?code=Masterworks
Christians might also like to know:
• Show posts a Mature advisory
• God’s name taken in vain
• One male kisses another
Thursday, January 28, 2010
“It's a pretty remarkable opportunity, to get to workshop and train with a wide array of working theatre professionals - casting directors, actors, directors," said SpringboardNYC mentor Neil Patrick Harris. "If I were in college, I would definitely try to attend.”
The program is the ideal transitional program, offering young adults information and contacts that would otherwise take years to develop. Designed for serious students looking to take the plunge into the New York theatre world, SpringboardNYC prepares the next generation of theatre artists for working life in New York.
Taught by industry professionals, sessions include on-your-feet audition training with directors and casting directors and seminars with the industry's leading agents and managers, as well as intimate conversations with some of Broadway’s biggest names. Sessions are held with a variety of the theater industry’s major “behind the scenes” players, including general managers, press agents, company managers and more, giving participants the advantage of better understanding the world into which they are entering. Participants also get to attend several Broadway and Off Broadway shows (with special talkback sessions), as well as the dress rehearsal for The Tony Awards.
SpringboardNYC mentors and speakers have included: actors Allison Janney (Tony Award-nominee, 9 to 5), Lauren Graham (Guys and Dolls), Phylicia Rashad (Tony Award-winner, A Raisin in the Sun), Cynthia Nixon (Tony Award-winner, Rabbit Hole), Billy Crudup (Tony Award-winner, The Coast of Utopia), Jonathan Groff (Tony Award-nominee, Spring Awakening), Liev Schreiber (Tony Award-winner, Glengarry Glen Ross), Paul Rudd (Three Days of Rain); directors and choreographers Kathleen Marshall (Tony Award-winner, The Pajama Game) Rob Ashford (Tony Award-winner for Thoroughly Modern Millie), Jerry Mitchell (Tony Award-winner for La Cage Aux Folles) and many more.
The Director of SpringboardNYC is Randy Ellen Lutterman, who founded the program at Musical Theatre Works. Now in its eighth year, many SpringboardNYC alumni are living their dreams of working in the theatre, including: Felicity Claire, currently appearing on Broadway in Mamma Mia!; Ryan Bauer-Walsh, who is appearing in the National Tour of Billy Elliot, opening in Chicago in March, 2010; Amy Toporek, who played Tracy Turnblad in the National Tour of Hairspray, and many more who are working behind the scenes, including Ilana Becker, who was Assistant Director of Reasons To Be Pretty; Frances White, Junior Account Executive at The Hartman Group and Torrie Gekas, Wardrobe Assistant at the “Wendy Williams Show."
Applications are being accepted now through April 1. The program, which accepts 35 participants per session, is open to college students who are currently in their junior or senior year. Other admissions may be possible by special arrangement on a case-by-case basis. Because the American Theatre Wing is committed to making the program accessible to everyone, need-based financial scholarships are available. Visit www.americantheatrewing.org/springboardnyc for application materials and more information.
For additional information about all American Theatre Wing programs, go to americantheatrewing.org. You can also find the American Theatre Wing on Twitter (www.twitter.com/TheWing).
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The relationship between father and son hasn’t always been easy, nor have the relationships between Lucky and his brother, Pat (Erik Saxvik), or any of the family with mother, Ada (Cynthia Mace).
Lucky, who forms a friendship with the foreman at the local plant where his father spends days burning his hands in acid as a radiator man, might just steal his father’s job away. Most of the time, he spends his time drinking and gambling and avoiding his family. As an escape, he enlists over his family’s objections and is sent to Korea.
While he’s there, he writes a series of letters to local girl Claire Baggot (Katy Wright Mead) who falls in love with him. The Hollytrees are unaware of their relationship. The dysfunction continues as the mother attacks Pat with a screwdriver, the parents all but ignore their youngest son, John (Ian Hyland), they mistreat Claire when they do find out about her relationship with Lucky and reveal that they, themselves, don’t have much of a loving husband-wife relationship either.
Why they all hate each other, we’re never sure. Playwright Cullen, who portrays Lt. Cmdr. William Harbison in Broadway’s South Pacific and who has been in the movies "Michael Clayton" and "Revolutionary Road," apparently based the characters own his own family members, so maybe he knows, but for us, there isn’t enough back story. The point of the play is somewhat elusive as well, obscured in the disjointed jumping of years from scene to scene so that the action is out of order. Claire comes to see the Hollytrees after her relationship with Lucky has ended, then a couple of scenes later, we see how she and Lucky meet, for example. There isn’t any reason to jump around in time and the story would have more impact if told chronologically.
Also confusing is the use of nicknames for each of the three boys. Lucky also is Jimmy, Pat also is known as Tooth and John is Tojo. You really can end up scratching your head wondering what year you’re in and who’s on the stage. The result is that we’re too distracted to engage and the revelation of a tragedy out of order gives the play an early climax with no where to go.
Directed by Chris Henry, Michael Cullen is the standout here, creating a strong characterization of the blue-collar father working to support a family he doesn’t understand. Mead also is a ray of sunshine as the effervescent and wholesome Claire.
The Holllytrees’ shabby and dark home is interestingly designed by Alex Koch to incorporate the theater’s back wall and real windows while using scrim as part of the design on which to show a number of video projections. The open windows were welcome to help diffuse smoke and the rather overwhelming stench of numerous prop cigarettes used in the very small space.
Safe Home is being presented by Chris Henry and Royal Family Productions through Jan. 31 at the Women’s Interart Center, 500 W. 52nd St., NYC. Note that the address for this play was incorrectly listed at one point. The building you want is on the corner of 10th with a rather unassuming door for the entrance on 52nd. Tickets are $18 and may be purchased by calling 212-868-4444 or by visiting www.smartTix.com.
Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• American flag dropped on the floor
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By Lauren Yarger
It’s every parent’s nightmare, only Colby and Nick never get to wake up in Rachel Axler’s dark comedic drama Smudge playing Off-Broadway the Women’s Project.
Cassandra, the healthy baby girl they had dreamed of during Colby’s pregnancy, turns out to be an “undetected anomaly,” a deformed jelly-fish-like stump of a being with no arms, one eye and a spike at her tail. Colby (Cassie Beck) is repulsed by her child and by the fact that she can’t love it. Nick (Greg Keller) is in denial, hovering over the carriage urging his “beautiful” daughter to play “catch” with a strange stuffed carrot toy (that might look a lot like the child) and demanding that Colby bond with the baby while he happily goes off to do work on the census with his older brother Pete (Brian Sgambati).
Pam MacKinnon expertly directs, physically placing Colby far away from the creature in the carriage hooked up to life support through a series of surging, beeping, glowing tubes and using a minimalist set (Narelle Sissons) of two chairs and a bunch of filing boxes stacked up all around the stage topped by a glass ceiling, that might just be a metaphor as well as a scene topper. The space doubles as the couple’s home and the brothers’ office, each with Cassandra’s carriage ever-present.
Try as she might to neatly “file” her life, Colby can’t find a folder that adequately labels Cassandra. She turns to dark humor (and a lot of cheese cake) while trying to get close to what she thought was just a ‘smudge” on a sonogram while being pushed further away by Nick’s who leaves their marriage bed.
Beck is chilling as the mother vindictively cutting the sleeves off of the baby’s sleepers while nonchalantly explaining to her husband, “It doesn’t have limbs, it doesn’t need sleeves.”
We feel her despair as she threatens to slice the baby’s tubes just to see if she can provoke a response from it. It’s compelling and hits every raw nerve.
Colby eventually replaces the hated carrot with “Mr. Limbs,” a ball-like creature she crafts out of stuffing and sewing together the dismembered sleeper sleeves and legs. Cassandra appears to respond to it and Colby starts to bond. Nick, however, takes on more work and refuses to return calls from his frantic mother who wants a picture of the baby. Pete finally visits the house to snap a photo for her, but retreats when he sees Cassandra.
Pete’s character is awkward, as he is an outlet for most of the play’s humor. Axler won an Emmy for her writing on the “Jon Stewart Show” and now writes for “Parks and Recreation,” so she knows how to write a joke. There’s just something uncomfortable about laughing in the midst of what’s taking place in these people’s lives.
The most intriguing question Axler raises, however, is not about whether the couple will be able to cope. It is more about who exactly is the monster here? It sure isn’t the innocent child beeping and gurgling on life support. Is it the mother who calls her daughter a “freaking hot dog,” the father who tries to measure public opinion about killing the baby by adding specific, masked questions to a census survey or the brother who is so self-absorbed that he doesn’t care about the tragedy that’s just taken place in his brother’s family?
Before you judge too quickly, there’s another candidate for the title of monster – you – and me. I think Colby’s jiggling of the Mr. Limbs toy at the carriage is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I wanted to laugh out loud, but stifled it, because if I think that’s funny, just what kind of monster does that make me? Axler understands. The play was inspired by “the most horrible thought” she ever had after she saw someone like Cassandra.
If you’re too realistic, this play might keep you from pondering the larger questions while you spend time thinking about things like, would the doctors really not be able to tell something was wrong during the pregnancy? Would the grandmother not get on a plane when she can’t raise Nick on the phone? Would Pete and/or his wife not visit sooner or more often? Doesn’t Colby have any friends or relatives?
Suspending reality on those things gives Axler the ability to put these characters in isolation so she can examine their deepest thoughts. Rewriting the play to address them would be possible of course, but the result as it stands is worth cutting some slack. The subject matter is difficult and off-putting, but it really makes you think. The characters, even the never-seen baby, are well defined and you can relate to at least one of them. That kind of drama is what makes good theater.
Smudge plays through Feb. 7 at the Julia Miles Theatre, 424 W. 55th St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling 212-757-3900
Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
By Lauren Yarger
A black woman accuses a rich white man of rape. Can a law firm with a black partner get him off? There’s a chance if his white partner can stage a dramatic defense; not so much so if the firm’s black junior associate sells him out to the prosecution to convict someone she’s sure must be guilty simply because he’s white.
Lots of prejudices, recognized and hidden, meet at the starting gate and David Mamet’s tightly written Broadway production, Race, is off.
Charles Strickland (Richard Thomas) is the accused who adamantly denies that the hotel room sexual encounter between him and the black woman crying rape was anything but consensual. Henry Brown (David Alan Grier), the firm’s African-American partner, doesn’t believe him and wants to pass on the case, but African-American associate Susan (Kerry Washington) makes a “mistake” that lists the firm as attorney of record and there’s no way out of it. Brown’s white partner Jack Lawson (James Spader) isn’t sure Strickland’s case is a lost cause, however, especially when he finds some crucial information that might prove his client’s innocence.
The dialogue is signature Mamet, though the ping-pong effect is controlled and, unlike most of the other female characters in Mamet’s plays, Susan gets to take a few volleys and is an integral part of the plot. Mamet directs his work somewhat awkwardly at times, as the characters seem to be walking around just for the sake of moving. Spader and Grier are terrific, however, with the fast pace, laugh-out-loud, bigotry-skewering funny lines and Washington holds her own as the victim/manipulator who really controls much of the case.
Thomas, however, is quite a disappointment, delivering a wooden performance that looks like an amateur failing at an audition. We’re told that Strickland is supposed to be a reserved individual, but Thomas’ characterization is so without emotion that we disengage, not caring whether the stiff-as-aboard guy is guilty or not and wondering whether he has an actual board nailed to his back under a suit that’s far too ill-fitting for someone with enough money to afford the best tailors (Tom Broecker, costume design).
Also disappointing is an interruption of the pace twice during the only 100 minutes of action, first by an intermission and second by a planned pause between scenes. Mamet would have given the play greater impact with an uninterrupted one-act.
The complaints pale in comparison to the snappy dialogue and thought-provoking subject matter, however, as long as you don’t buy into the “all-whites-think-this” or “all-blacks-think-that” predispositions of the characters.
Race plays at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 w. 47th St., NYC. Discounted tickets for friends of Masterworks may be purchased here. Make sure you indicate in the left column on the Givenik page that Masterwork Productions is the religious charity you wish to support.
Christians might also like to know:
• Sexual dialogue
By Lauren Yarger
Beth Fowler’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s Off-Broadway production of Oscar Wilde’s 19th-century tale “The Importance of Being Ernest” is the best part of the show. As for the rest of it, let's just say I wasn't in love with Ernest in Love.
Fowler is a hoot as the snooty and controlling matriarch in the tale of romance and mistaken identity. When she’s not on stage, you’ll probably be wondering just how many times musical numbers written by Lee Pockriss can begin with one actor singing, joined by a second actor singing (not always quite on the note), followed by a music break where they do a little dance (choreography by Barry McNabb), followed by a duet to finish the song. Answer: most of them and after a while, the repetitious tunes (I had “A Handbag is Not a Proper Mother” replaying annoyingly in my head for days), predictable lyrics (Anne Croswell, who also write the book that stays true to the Wilde story) and a fairly uninspired tale (along with the theater’s furnace working overtime the day I saw it) combine to make it difficult to keep from nodding off.
The story revolves around Ernest (Noah Racey), who’s not really Ernest, but Jack Worthing who manufactures a troublesome brother named Ernest who needs his attention, so he can go to city to visit the woman he loves and daughter of Lady Bracknell, Gwendolyn (Annika Boras). In the city, Gwendolyn’s cousin Algernon Moncrieff (Ian Holcomb) invents a friend named Bunbury which allows him to go to the country to avoid social obligations, but where he falls in love with Jack’s ward, Cicely (Katie Fabel) who thinks he is Ernest.
There are a number of servants involved in their own trysts, (Brad Bradley, Kerry Conte, Kristin Griffith and Peter Maloney round out the cast), attempts at christenings of new names and several episodes of mistaken and discovered identity, and then, you guessed it, the song “Ernest in Love.” The second act is more entertaining than the rather long first one as Fowler, Fabel, Holcomb and Bradley are able to tap more into their comedic skills, directed by Charlotte Moore.
Mark Hartman directs the four-member orchestra housed stage right where they play skillfully, but from where the sounds of their instruments are a little too overwhelming in the small space. Linda Fisher’s period costumes are adequate (I really liked Algie's robe) and the action takes place on a mostly bare stage where two free-standing doors offer some changes for different scenes (James Morgan, set design).
The run at Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., NYC has been extended through Feb. 14. Tickets are available by calling 212.727.2737.
Christians might also like to know:
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The shift in dates will allow the production to have a full month of rehearsals at the Beacon. Those who purchased tickets for performances between Feb. 4 and 24 will be offered tickets to another performance of their choice. An official premiere date will be announced shortly.
Banana Shpeel's performance show schedule is:
Wednesdays at 2 pm and 8 pm
Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm
Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm
Sundays at 2 pm and 6 pm
Preview performances differ.
Tickets range from $35 to $89 during previews and $45 to $110 for regular performances. Premium tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online at www.cirquedusoleil.com or www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.
Ticket-holders affected by this change may contact customer service at email@example.com or (800)653-8000 and have the original Ticketmaster order number available.
** 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.
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.
Key to Content Notes:
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.
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