Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year


We are on vacation until Jan. 8. Wishing all of our readers a blessed Christmas, the joys of the holiday season and a very happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Great God Pan

The Great God Pan
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Playwrights Horizons

What's It About?
The world premiere of the newest play by Amy Herzog (4,000 Miles, Belleville) explores possible sexual abuse of a character when he was a child. Jamie (Jeremy Strong) is leading what he thinks is a happy life with a new job as a writer at a magazine and terrific girlfriend, Paige (Sarah Goldberg) until a reunion with childhood friend, Frank, (Keith Nobbs), that looses his troubles into the world. Frank was the strange kid who always had tried to tag along with him. Jaime doesn't have a lot of memories their childhood together, but he obviously is uncomfortable in the present with Frank, who is tattooed, a homosexual and who has served time in prison. His discomfort goes to a new level when Frank explains that he is bringing charges against his father, a Sunday school teacher, who sexually abused him when he was a boy. The man also has admitted that the abuse might ave included Jaime and Frank wants him to join the lawsuit. Jamie denies that he was one of victims, but counselor Paige's description of symptoms of adults repressing abuse seems to fit him and he starts to wonder.

His mom, Cathy (Becky Ann Baker), seems unsurprised by the revelation that Frank's father may have been a pedophile and also oddly unmoved. Jaime's dad, Doug (Peter Friedman) has a different reaction, however, and tries to help his son. Jamie's old babysitter Polly (Joyce Van Patten), old and suffering from memory loss, doesn't provide too many answers, but the childhood memories Jamie does have, seem to revolve around her "scratchy" couch and trips down to the creek where she would recite the poem The Great God Pan. One trip was traumatic, but he can't remember why.

What are the Highlights:
Tautly directed, Strong gives a gripping performance of a man desperately at odds with himself -- the journalist, trying to remain detached as he collects information, and a man whose emotions have been shattered. At one point, when Paige confronts him about the future of their relationship and his inability to embrace her unexpected pregnancy, one look at Strong tells you every emotion the character is fighting and that he is losing the battle. A brilliant stage moment. The set (Mark Wendland, design) also helps tell the story -- green woods surround the action in multiple dimensions, almost like the deeply buried memory of those woods by the creek.

What are the Lowlights?
Herzog leaves a lot of questions unanswered (the play is brief -- just 85 minutes). There is a subplot involving Paige's counseling sessions with a bulimic teen, Joelle (Erin Wilhelm), that seems undeveloped and unconnected to the rest of the plot except for the fact that she's exhibiting symptoms of deeper hidden issues, too, and Paige seems as unable to help her as she is Jaime.

More information:
The Great God Pan is extended  Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC, through Jan. 13. Tickets: http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/great-god-pan/.

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

Quick Hit Theater Review: Golden Boy

Tony Shalhoub, Seth Numrich, and Danny Burstein. Photo: © Paul Kolnik
Golden Boy
By Clifford Odets
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Lincoln Center Theater's 75th Anniversary Production

What's it About?
A cast of 19 revives Clifford Odets' story about a violinist who gives up a chance at a musical career for fame as a boxer at the Belasco Theatre, where the play premiered in 1937 (and you might also know the 1939 movie starring William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck). Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numerich) is one of New York's most promising violinists -- a great source of pride for his Italian immigrant father (Tony Shaloub, TV's "Monk"), brother, Frank (Lucas Caleb Rooney), sister, Anna (Dagmara Dominczyk) and her husband, Siggie (Michael Aronov), the precursor of a younger "entitled" younger generation, who wants someone to provide him with a cab so he can make a better living and support his wife and raise a family (when he isn't hitting her). Joe has dreams of fame and fortune, however, gets his chance when he takes the place of a boxer in the ring. Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio) becomes his manager, but he, trainer Tokio (Danny Burstein) and fight promoter Roxy Gottlieb (Ned Eisenberg, who adds some needed comic relief), feel that Joe's potential is hurt by his refusal to injure the hands needed for paying his instrument. Warnings about that are repeated often by his father, who is afraid his son will end up like fighter Pepper White (Brad Fleischer), an obviously brain-injured boxer who's washed up at the age of 29. Joe finally decide to trade strings for rings, rejects his father and allows gangster Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello) to buy a piece of him in the hope that he can provide a path to greater fame and fortune. Joe also gives in to his passion for Tom's mistress, Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski). The two fall in love and Joe begs her to run away with him, despite the fact that Tom divorces his wife so he can marry her.

What are the Highlights?
Strong performances. Director Bartlett Sher ingeniously employs silent vignettes between scene changes that extend the development of characters and set up the plot. Violin music, sporadically played subtly in the background underscores the heartbreaking decisions Joe makes (Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg, sound design). Towering apartment buildings loom over the action which is set up by sparse props (Michael Yeargan, set design) and Catherine Zuber designs beautiful period suits for Lorna to wear. Shaloub is always a treat on stage.

What are the Lowlights?
While the play raises good questions about morals and what's really important in life, it is of its era -- male heavy in cast and content and degrading of its women. Lorna, the one female with any substance, apparently was a prostitute before becoming a mistress, before becoming a two-timer. We're supposed to be moved by the fact that she is reluctant to hurt Tom, but she's just another woman completely deifined by the men around her.

In addition, the other female character, apparently is happy to be in abusive relationship:

"You hit your wife in private, not in public," her father advises Siggy (yet he is squeamish about the hitting that takes place in the ring).

"He can hit me anytime he likes," is her response.

Two references also are made to men having "stables" of women. What is more upsetting than 1937's commonly accepted viewpoint of women having little value is a 2012 audience finding it all funny and laughing heartily.

Another lowlight: smoke from herbal cigarettes is pretty overwhelming on the sinuses. The play is a bit on the long side at about three ours with two intermissions.

More information:
Golden Boy plays at Broadway's beautiful Belasco Theatre, 11 West 44th St., NYC. Tickets: http://www.lct.org/showMain.htm?id=211.

Christians might also like to know:
In addition to situations already described
-- God's name taken in vain

Theater Review: Dead Accounts

Dead Accounts
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Jack O'Brien

What's it About?
Katie Holmes and Norbert Leo Butz star in Broadway's latest from Theresa Rebeck (The Seminar, The Understudy and creator of TV's "Smash") in a story about whether you really can go home again. New York banker Jack (Butz) unexpectedly returns to his Cincinnati home, and while sister Lorna (Holmes) is happy to see him, she suspects something's up. Jack just isn't acting right. He's agitated and jumpy and keeps making jokes about having killed his wife, Jenny (Judy Greer), who isn't too popular with the family. Mom Barbara (Jayne Houdyshell), distracted with taking care of Jack's sick dad, barely notices him and old friend, Phil (Josh Hamilton) is blinded by his unspoken love for Katie. When Jenny shows up with news that Jack is a wanted man, questions of ethics and family loyalty come into play.

What are the Highlights?
Butz gives a compelling performance as the deeply conflicted and morally corrupt Jack. Holmes proves she is more than just Hollywood Box Office draw by holding her own as Butz' foil. Rebeck's story is set way outside of the theater world in which she usually writes, so this is a nice change of pace. There's a significant transformation of the set (David Rockwell, scenic design) and some conversation-starting dialogue about religion and morals.

What are the Lowlights?
Some odd freeze-frames in between scenes and annoying glares (David Weiner, lighting design).

More information:
Dead Accounts runs through Feb. 24 at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th St., NYC.Tickets: http://www.deadaccountsonbroadway.com/.

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

What To See and Do This Holiday Season in New York

Rockefeller Center
Top Picks for This Holiday Season
By Lauren Yarger
It's that time of year when so many of you write to ask what you should see when you visit New York City for the holidays. Well, in the city that never sleeps, there are endless choices of things to do and see, but I will list a few TOP PICKS here to help you decide where to spend your entertainment dollar (click on the title to read the full review).

On Broadway:

A Christmas Story the Musical.
If you love the movie about Ralphie and his overwhelming need for a BB gun one Christmas back in 1940, you will love this terrific musical based on the Jean Shepherd classic. The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are catchy. Dan Lauria stars as Shepherd. At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th St. where it runs through Dec. 30. Tickets: 800-745-3000, 877-250-2929; http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/tickets.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Murder most foul -- and most funny takes place with a different ending every performance as determined by audience vote. Chita Rivera is among the suspects in Roundabout Theatre Club's revival of this Tony-Award winning musical by Rupert Holmes with choreography by Warren Carlyle. Extended through March 20 at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St. Tickets: 212-719-1300; www.roundabouttheatre.org.

Nice Work if You Can Get it
Starring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara with songs by George and Ira Gershwin and a fun book by Joe DiPietro (Memphis). You can't help but smile. At the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th St. Tickets: 212-239-6200; 800-432-7250.

Peter and the Starcatcher
The prequel to Peter Pan, this imaginative and witty play by Rick Elice is staged with fabulous sets and costumes to take us on a voyage we wish will never end. At the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St. Tickets: 800-745-3000.

Once
Last year's winner of the Tony for Best Musical, it's wonderful theater experience based on the movie of the same name. Composing team Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Academy Award for the song "Falling Slowly."  Guy meets girl who helps him with his music career in Ireland (the set is designed to feel like a pub). At the Bernard B. Jacobs theatre, 242 West 45th St. Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800- 432-7250.

War Horse
One of the most gripping, emotional theatrical experiences you can have. Based on the children's book by Michael Morpurgo about a boy and the horse he loves at the time of World War I in England, this Tony Award winning production features artistry by the Handspring Puppet Company that will have you convinced there are real horses grazing and galloping on stage. Gallop over to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center , 150 West 65th St, where it runs through Jan. 6.


Off Broadway

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre is one of the best things I have seen in a long time. Funny, funny funny. It's a a light-hearted tribute to Chekhov starring David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen and Sigourney Weaver as siblings. Through Jan. 13 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, 150 West 65th St. http://lct.org.

Tribes extended through Jan. 20 at the Barrow Street Theatre. Strong performances in a story about a deaf man and his relationships with his hearing family and a woman who introduces him to the world of sign language. While the play is very good, I could recommend it solely because it is directed by David Cromer. If you are in the city and something he has directed is playing, go see it. At the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., off 7th Avenue South in the Village. http://tribestheplay.com/

Water By The Spoonful last year's surprise Pulitzer prize winner by Quiara Alegría Hudes is now in previews at Second Stage for a run Jan. 8-27. I was one of the lucky one who got to see it in Connecticut where it had its world premiere at Hartford Stage (the review link is for that production). I won't see it at Second Stage (they don't invite Drama Desk critics to review), but the play is good enough that I feel confident recommending it. Second Stage Theatre is at 305 West 43rd St. http://www.2st.com/.

The Great God Pan The world premiere of Amy Herzog's play about the unleashing of unpleasant childhood memories. Jeremy Strong's compelling portrayal is reason enough to see this show, but I can recommend just about everything at Playwrights, my favorite Off-Broadway theater. Any time you are in the city, check out what is on their stage. Best value for your buck and ask them about their babysitting service. Extended through Jan. 13 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St. http://www.playwrightshorizons.org.


For the Kids:
OK, I realize that most of the selections above are probably not exciting (or appropriate)entertainment for kids -- they are just the TOP PICKS in my opinion.  Here are links to reviews for some shows your kids, depending on their ages,  might want to see. As always, Reflections in the Light  is the only place you can find a review with information about language and content from a Christian perspective (added at the end).
Annie
Bring it On
Elf (this review is from the previous incarnation on Broadway)
Newsies
Rock of Ages
Spider-man Turn Off the Dark
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (at Madison Square Garden) and Wicked -- these  opened on Broadway before we started reviewing. If you want information, send an email to masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Other stuff to do:
There are the obvious tourist attractions like Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes kicking up their popular Christmas Spectacular, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, the World Trade Center site, etc. Here are two unique offerings that will help you understand the city and entertain you at the same time:

Margaret Copeland and Kevin James Doyle. Photo Courtesy of Jim Randolph.

How to Be a A New Yorker
This dinner theater presentation features comedians Margaret Copeland and Kevin James Doyle, both also certified tour guides, in their lively and tongue-in-cheek look at how tourists can learn to be real New Yorkers.

Directed by Robert Ross Parker, Copeland and Doyle guide us through the history of New York in three parts, surrounded by skits involving video (set and projection design by Nick Francone), quick character and costume changes (Janel Clingenpeel, costume design) games like "Is it Safe?" and audience participation -- all in just about an hour. A buffet lunch or dinner of salad, pasta and chicken cacciatore is provided starting about half an hour before show time.

The presentation, downstairs at Sophia's, 221 West 46th St. is so popular, that it has been extended through March 30. Performances are Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30 with matinees Saturday at 2 pm. Matinee tickets are $45 (which includes lunch) and evening performances are $55 (including dinner), and are available by calling 212-352-3101 or through www.How2BaNewYorker.com.

Christtins might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

The Ride -- an electronically interactive tour of New York City on motor coaches has announced holiday schedules and pricing.

The Ride, on five motor coaches, has played months of sold-out, multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art tours of the Midtown Area and more than 70,000 customers have enjoyed the 4.2-mile journey that has been termed “a Passport to New York City.”
 
The buses are specifically designed theatrical vehicles; the tallest allowed by federal law, fitted with stadium-style seating that orients the 49 participants sideways looking through the massive windows that deliver New York as the most successful Broadway show on earth.

The coaches are equipped with surround sound, 3,000 LED lights and 40 video screens. They are, in essence, rolling state-of-the-art theatres. External speakers and lighting allow riders and on-board performers to interact with street performers as well as anyone else they pass on the street.

I took a friend, in New York for the first time, on one of the tours. We laughed a lot as we cruised around Times Square seeing attractions like Carnegie Hall, Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building. Two tour guides bantered back and forth and gave points to participants for their city knowledge while giving odd bits of information about the sights and interacting with "New Yorkers" along the route. There was a guy already staking out his position in Times Square for New Years, a break-dancing package delivery guy,  singing commuters and an actress lost on her way to an audition (the performers, surprisingly, are very talented.)

While I wouldn't recommend this bus ride for someone looking for a serious, informational tour of the city, it is a lot of fun for groups of friends or families in between shows or shopping and provides a unique vantage point of the city (and a place to sit for about an hour and 15 minutes). Special holiday versions of The Ride also are available through Dec. 30.

Tickets are $50 -$74 and are available by calling 866-299-9682 or at the Box Office located at Madame Tussauds (immediately to your left in the lobby), 234 West 42nd Street in Times Square. Groups: 212-244-2551 (x155). Buses leave from the corner of West 42nd Street and 8th Avenue (or somewhere fairly close to that). Seating is not assigned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dance Ministry Brings Nativity Story to Manhattan

Nativity: Birth of a King features music, dance and spectacle will bring themessage of Christmas to the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College at the northern tip of  Broadway.

Meditating profoundly on the birth of Christ, the joyous drama moves audiences with an original portrayal of the central event of Christian history. Produced by New Rochelle-based Dance Ministry Institute (DMI) and featuring original choreography by DMI founding director Robert Evans, Nativity pays tribute to the miracle of the incarnation, the universal power of faith and the explosive talent of an inspired local dance ministry.
Since 2001 the primary mission of DMI has been to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and assist in reclaiming the arts back to the Kingdom of God,” Evans. said “Bringing our Christmas show to the heart of the Theater District is a blessing and the culmination of a dream.”
 
Evans’s choreographic works have ministered to people throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean over the last two decades, including the Bahamas Faith Ministries (Nassau, Bahamas); Christian Cultural Center (Brooklyn, New York); World Changers Church International (College Park, GA); and The Potter’s House (Dallas, Texas). A native of St. Louis, his dance ministry roots began with the Harlem Tabernacle Dance Ministry (Harlem, NY) where he served as the assistant director from 1991-2001.
 
Information: Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 524 West 59th St. (between 10th and 11th avenues), NYC. Performances will be held on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 4 and 8 pm and Sunday, Dec. 16 at 4 pm. Tickets for this limited engagement start at $40 and can be purchased online at www.thedmiexperience.com.

Backstage Cabaret Benefits Artists Striving to End Poverty

ASTEP/Artists Striving to End Poverty has gathered a group of acclaimed and award-winning New York theatre stars for Backstage for Christmas: A Holiday Cabaret, an intimate benefit concert to be presented in a unique backstage Broadway space 8:30 pm Monday, Dec. 17. 

The up-close cabaret — featuring Tituss Burgess (Jersey Boys, The Little Mermaid, Guys and Dolls), Jonathan Groff ("Glee," Spring Awakening), Derek Klena (Carrie, Dogfight, "American Idol" Hollywood Week Finalist), Lindsay Mendez (Godspell, Everyday Rapture, Grease), Julia Murney (Wicked, The Wild Party), Ali Stroker ("Glee Project") and more — will take guests to a private performance space within Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre.

Backstage for Christmas: A Holiday Cabaret is produced and music-directed by Drama Desk Award-winning orchestrator Mary-Mitchell Campbell, who is also the Founder and Executive Director of ASTEP. Appearing with pianist Campbell will be Damien Bassman (drums/percussion).

Backstage for Christmas: A Holiday Cabaret will take place through the Stage Door entrance of Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre at 214 West 43rd St. (between 7th and 8th avenues). Access to the show will provide a unique behind-the-scenes experience of a major Broadway theatre.

The new 2012 concert builds on the foundation of the popular ASTEP New York City Christmas benefit concerts created by Lynne Shankel and preserved on CD. This year, there's a different set of songs and celebrations — plus a few hits from the New York City Christmas album, which will be available for purchase at the event.

General admission is $75. For a $100 ticket, you'll also get a free copy of the New York City Christmas album.

All proceeds from tickets to the show and album sales go to supporting ASTEP's mission to connect performing and visual artists with underserved youth in the US and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.

Space is extremely limited. Tickets available by purchase online through Eventbrite at aholidaycabaret.eventbrite.com. Artist lineup is subject to change. For more information: davinia@asteponline.orgasteponline.org.

Tourists Buy Bulk of Broadway Tickets

The Broadway League’s 15th annual demographics report for 2011-2012 shows that tourists account for more than 63 percent of all Broadway ticket sales.

The analysis is based on extensive survey data gleaned from audience questionnaires distributed throughout the 2011-2012 Broadway season in New York City. It includes highlights on the demographics of the audience and their ticket purchasing habits. The report is part of an ongoing series that profiles Broadway theatergoers each season.

Of note, the newest study reveals that tourists accounted for 63.4 percent of all Broadway tickets, up from 61.7 percent% in the 2010-2011 season. Overall, international tourists accounted for 18.4 percent of all admissions to Broadway shows in New York City.

“This was our strongest 52-week season in history in terms of attendance and grosses with over 12.3 million admissions,”commented Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League.“We are pleased to see growth in international market, as New York City continues to show strong tourism numbers. As well, the 2011 – 2012 season saw an increase in the diversity of our audience. Word of mouth continues to be the greatest influence for show selection, with a notable uptick in the power of social networking posts.”

The report also shows that the use of the Internet for the purchase of tickets has increased from 44 to 47 percent. Online purchase continues to be the most popular method of ticket buying.

Reflecting a trend of the past few decades, 67 percent of the audiences were female.
Playgoers also tended to be more frequent theatregoers than musical attendees. The typical playgoer saw six shows in the past year, compared with four for the musical attendee. Those who saw 15 or more shows comprised 5 percent of the audience, but represented 29 percent% of all admissions (3.6 million admissions).

The Demographics of the Broadway Audienceis published annually by The Broadway League, the clearinghouse for information on the business, demographics and economic impact of Broadway theatre throughout North America. The League compiles various statistics and publishes extensive reports on a number of topics. Printed versions of the reports are available for purchase online at http://www.broadwayleague.com/orderform.php.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Theater Review: Glengarry Glen Ross and The Anarchist

A Tale of Two Mamets:
Are the Shows Getting Panned Because He's Now a Conservative?
By Lauren Yarger
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. On a little Manhattan street (West 45th, to be exact) playwright David Mamet has two shows running simultaneously on Broadway: Glengarry Glen Ross, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, and The Anarchist, a brand new work.

It would seem the best of times -- a playwright's dream come true. Glengarry, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, stars film and stage powerhouse Al Pacino as the desperate real estate agent Shelly "The Machine" Levene and features Bobby Cannavale (The Motherf**ker With the Hat) and Richard Schiff ("The West Wing") among his cut-throat co-workers, all under the direction of the capable Daniel Sullivan. A couple of doors down at the Golden Theatre, Tony winner Patti LuPone (Evita, Gypsy) goes head to head with film legend Debra Winger ("An Officer and a Gentleman," "Terms of Endearment") in a story about a leftist radical who wants to be paroled from prison.

But just days after opening, it was the worst of times. Producers for The Anarchist announced that the play, which pretty much was panned across the board by critics, will close on Dec. 16 after just 17 performances. Glengarry, which opened Sunday after a delay attributed to more rehearsal time needed following interruptions by Hurricane Sandy, isn't racking up many raves either, with most critics recording less-than-enthusiastic to negative reviews yesterday. So what happened? How could the  toast of Broadway, the King of the "F-Bomb," suddenly fall out of favor? Cursing on stage, putting down women and having ping-pong banter was supposed to be so cool....

Before seeing Glengarry and The Anarchist, last week, I wondered how they would fare, because they are the first stagings of Mamet's works on Broadway since he announced his political "conversion" from being a "brain-dead Liberal" (his words, not mine) to a Conservative. Let me tell you -- this is the world in which I work and I know what I am talking about -- it was more than just a change in thought. It probably was professional suicide.

The New York theater community -- like much of the city -- is pretty much politically Liberal in its makeup. Those who aren't keep it to themselves, because most of the people making decisions about which shows get produced, who will direct them, who will act in them and most of the critics writing about them are Liberals and anyone professing opposition to their political agenda probably won't get work -- or a good review.

This is the community which won't eat at Chick Fil-A or support the Salvation Army because somewhere in the hierarchy of those organizations, there is some sort of opposition to same-sex marriage. The theater community in general, also held what I would define as a witch hunt in 2008 when Scott Eckern, artistic director of California Musical Theatre, made a personal financial contribution to support Proposition 8, which for that state, defined marriage as between a man and woman only. Eckern, a Mormon, whose church backed the state constitutional amendment, used his own money and in no way acted on behalf of the theater when making a $1,000 contribution, but the theater community threatened to boycott the place any way and he later resigned. So being a Conservative, a Republican or being religious -- especially Christian -- for the most part, isn't considered an asset on your resume here. (You can get away with being "spiritual," as long as you don't take the bible too seriously or with being a "Christian" as long as your faith doesn't differ from the world's view on things.)

Philosophies can be tolerated (I actually have found my NY theater community friends very accepting of my faith) as long as you don't get too vocal about them, become an activist or try to push them on others. Mamet, however, crossed the line, stirring controversy with his opinions in that other Liberal entertainment capital where he works -- Hollywood -- as well (he wrote the screenplays  for "The Verdict," "The Untouchables" and "Wag the Dog.")

He confessed his switch to Conservative politics and thinking (first in an op-ed piece to the Village Voice and then in a book expanding on his thoughts.) When he took a suicidal leap off a professional cliff and endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in November's presidential race, I could have told you that these two shows opening post election in New York probably wouldn't get good reviews. It seemed a given that many critics for publications that serve as cheerleaders for Liberal politics while trying their best to stir up hatred for Conservatives and their causes, would find some reason to pan Glengarry, despite the fact that the play received the Olivier Award for its premiere in London and garnered four Tony nominations for the Broadway production, including Best Play. The Broadway revival in 2005 won both the Tony and Drama Desk awards.

Now all of a sudden, we're supposed to believe it's no good? That's what a bunch of my colleagues said yesterday. They have a variety of reasons for why this production falls short. Some criticisms are justified, but after so many "journalists" have thrown away any pretense of objectivity by publicly voicing support for Liberals and their agenda while denouncing Conservatives and theirs, we have to wonder whether all of them can review without bias a production written by a guy who has joined political ranks with the much hated Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (boycotted for comments "war on women" comments, which if they had appeared in a Mamet play a couple of decades ago, probably would have been reported as "sharp dialogue" by the same people outraged here...) It's something to think about.

Meanwhile, in The Anarchist, Lupone's character, Cathy, claims to have found Christ (Mamet really has gone off the deep end, I thought). Before I attended, I was sure this also might have a lot to do with the negative buzz I was hearing about the show. Christian themes don't fare all that well on Broadway: Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semper McPhersonLeap of Faith, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell all have been handed their walking papers in short order these past two seasons, while religion-bashing shows like Book of Mormon and Grace live on.

Now, despite the truth of what I have just said about the climate in the New York theater community, let me tell you something else that's honest (because politically correct never influences opinion here at Reflections in the Light): While many of the performances in Glengarry and The Anarchist are strong, both of these plays deserve bad reviews, regardless of political influences that might be at play (and so did Scandalous, Leap of Faith and Godspell, though I enjoyed Superstar.)
Al Pacino. Photo: Scott Landis
Glengarry never has been a favorite and awarding it the Pulitzer really mystified me. It's an interesting study of greed, corruption, ethics and what people might be tempted to do when they are desperate, to be sure, but a lot of sentence fragments hurled at lightning speed by "F" word rocket launchers does not a great literary work make, in my opinion. It probably never deserved the accolades it received, truth be told, but the ever-evolving  "politically correct" isn't always concerned with truth as much as what is considered cool by the current culture.

Director Sullivan does slow the pace significantly this time around, so the ricochet beat of the dialogue is lost. It gives us a chance to hear the defeat and lack of hope in much of the dialogue, which unfortunately, reminds us of the current economy, even worst than the recession that plagued the nation's markets when the play first debuted in 1984. Without the edge of that razor-sharp back-and-forth, however, the one-hour-and-45-minute run time feels long, despite some really top-notch performances.

Pacino surprises us with an ability to play less-than-head-of-the-Mafia or some other powerful character for which he is known. He successfuly channels a yellow-bellied salesman who has lost his edge, who is past his prime and who stages a break-in at the office to steal some sales leads in a desperate attempt to rescue his soon-to-be-over career. I couldn't help but think that Mamet had written a role long ago that now must resonate more personally as the future of his own career comes into question.

Cannavale also shines as Ricky Roma (the role Pacino played in the movie version of Glengarry). He is the current golden boy leading the salesmen in competition for commissions and prizes like Cadillacs awarded when they sell property in the Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms developments. (And yes, they're all men. Earlier in his career, Mamet only referred to women negatively, or had a single woman character to serve mostly as a bouncing board for the more developed, more interesting male characters in his plays.) Rounding out the fine cast are David Harbour, John C. McGinley, Jeremy Shamos and Murphy Guyer.

Meanwhile, proving that a leopard can change his spots -- even if it makes him unpopular -- The Anarchist offers two women -- and only women characters -- who never utter the F word.

Lupone plays a convicted member of a radical Left organization like the Weather Underground organization of the late 1960s and early '70s. After 35 years in prison, She seeks her release so she can visit her dying father and ask for his forgiveness. Standing in her way is an official, Ann (Winger), whose last duty before leaving her job at the prison, will be to decide whether Cathy has been rehabilitated. The prisoner has detailed her conversion to Christianity in a book and offers it as proof that she has changed (like Mamet?). She hopes to be cloistered with nuns after her release.

Ann puts Cathy to the test (in too-timid a manner by Winger). If Cathy truly has repented, Ann feels she would give up the location of the one member of the radical group who escaped imprisonment or death: Althea, Cathy's lover who still is in hiding. A game of cat and mouse ensues, during which Ann's sexuality and motives as well as the validity of Cathy's faith come into question.

But the real reason this play hasn't fared well with the critics isn't because of the religious theme. It's because it is not a good play. Critics may not like the Christian theme running through it, but their pans aren't because of it. The play is incredibly boring, even at just over an hour in length. The dialogue sounds like excerpts from legal briefs forced into the women's mouths to try to show two sides of an argument.

Real women don't speak like this (and we aren't all lesbians), but actually putting two women in a play without requiring them to be defined by men is a step in the right direction for Mr. Mamet. Next time, I suggest he takes this even further -- much in the spirit of Ann's requiring proof of change -- and use his skill to create some realistic female characters. We need more of them on stage. Most of us women don't join radical leftist groups -- not even the Liberals in New York who are upset with the playwright right now. Real women juggle work and family, work for equal rights  -- and even sell real estate in developments like Glengarry Highlands.

The real drama here is that even if he writes a terrific play with compelling characters, will David Mamet ever be allowed to succeed on the Great White Liberal Way again? Only time and the current political climate will tell.

Show information:

Glengarry Glen Ross runs through Jan. 20 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC. Tickets: 212-239-6200, 800-432-7250; http://www.glengarrybroadway.com/.
Christians might also like to know:
-- Language (lots)
-- God's name taken in vain

The Anarchist runs at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC through Dec. 16. Tickets: 212-239-6200, 800-432-7250; http://theanarchistbroadway.com/.
Christians might also like to know:
--Homosexuality

Theater Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood


Who Dunit? Roundabout Does by Staging a Drop-Dead Fun Night at the Theater
By Lauren Yarger
Who dunit? No one knows, since Charles Dickens died before finishing his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, so each night, the audience at Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway musical adaptation gets to decide.

Cast members, who already have been cavorting with audience members during the tongue-in-cheek, almost vaudevillian performance, come into the house with signs numbered to correspond with suspects vying for votes up on stage. The tallies are taken and the second act continues on with an ending geared toward fingering the murderer as selected by the audience.

It's all a lot of fun, much like this silly play within a play set in London's Music Hall Royale in 1895 and directed by Scott Ellis. Beautiful sets, accented with Victorian detail (Anna Louizos, set design -- love that train tunnel!) provide the backdrop for the zany characters dressed in period garb (William Ivey Long, who nicely balances color in his design) singing music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (who also pens the book). Choreography is by Warren Carlyle.

Music Hall actors play characters in the tale with the help of the theater Chairman (Jim Norton), a sort of narrator, to keep everything straight with actors playing characters playing multiples characters.... It's not as complicated as it might sound, though.

The gist is that Edwin Drood (Stephanie J. Block, playing a woman playing Drood....) has mysteriously disappeared and is presumed dead. Many had opportunity and motive. Was it John Jasper (Will Chase) who is in love with his voice student, Rosa Bud (Betsy Wolfe) whose father arranged her engagement to Drood, who also is Jasper's nephew? Jasper, after all, was the last person to see Drood alive. Or perhaps it was mysterious Neville Landless (Andy Karl) arrived from Ceylon, who also is interested in Rosa, or could it be his equally mysterious twin sister, Helena (Jessie Meueller), who despised Drood?

Also suspect are the Landless's mentor, the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle (Gregg Edelman, who is an absolute hoot), Durdles (Robert Creighton), a stone carver and cemetery caretaker who has a drinking problem, Princess Puffer (Chita Rivera), who runs an opium den frequented by Jasper, clerk Bazzard (Peter Benson), who is starved for attention, or the stranger Dick Datchery who suddenly starts asking questions about what happened to Drood.

The audience gets to decide the muderer's identity as well as a happy ending (Rupert wrote songs for each and every possibility, giving the show hundreds of possible concuding combinations.)
The night I attended, it was determined that The Rev. Crisparkle and Princess Puffer would end up together and Edelman, who seemed genuinely surprised, and Rivera seemed to have as much fun playing that out as we had watching.

There probably are a couple of the some 18 music numbers that could be eliminated to trim the two-hour-and-40-minute run time, but it is an enjoyable night at the intimate Studio 54, which seems a perfect fit for the revival of this romp, which won a bunch of Tonys in 1986, including Best Musical.

Drood has been extended through March 20 at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC. Tickets: 212-719-1300; www.roundabouttheatre.org.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Sexual situations

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Theater Review: Giant

Brian d'Arcy James, John Dossett, and Kate Baldwin. Photo: Joan Marcus.
A Sweeping Tale with Music as Big as the Heart of Texas
By Lauren Yarger
A tip of the Stetson is due to the Public Theater and the new Michael John LaChiusa musical starring Brian D'Arcy James and Kate Baldwin. It has been a while since we have enjoyed such a sweeping tale so neatly executed. It brings to mind the fabulous Orphan's Home Cycle by Horton Foote and War Horse up at Lincoln Center.

The staging, directed by Michael Grief, doesn't shy away from the fact that the epic 1956 film of cattle and oil in Texas (with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean to boot) is looming. Instead, the production team embraces it and gives an almost big-screen look to the set and lighting (Allen Moyer and Kenneth Posner, designers). The result is to create a larger-than-life feel to the production that doesn't compete with memory of the movie. It also effectively brings the vast landscape of Texas and the span of decades onto the small stage at Off-Broadway's Public Theater. Well done!

LaChiusa's score also is epic, echoing in the memory days after it is heard. The composer does an amazing job of capturing character and emotion with each tune playing an equal part in conveying Edna Ferber's sweeping tale of life in Southwestern Texas between 1925 and 1952 (Costume designer Jeff Mahshie helps take us on the journey with everything from cowhand garb to beautiful dresses worn by the women trying to find high couture in a dusty land). Choreography is by Alex Sanchez.

Some of Broadway's best are singing that score, too (Chris Fenwick is Music Director). The beautifully voiced Kate Baldwin is Leslie Lynnton Benedict, who gives up a life in high society to marry rough cow rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Brian d'Arcy James in one of his best roles yet) when he goes east to buy a horse from her family's upscale Virginia farm. Besides a sexual attraction (which actually is lukewarm between these performers), the two have little in common and find sudden marriage a bit of a struggle. First Leslie has to adapt to a different way of life on Reata Ranch. She is appalled at the prejudice against Mexicans and at the conditions in which ranch workers live. She also has to stand up to Bick's formidable sister, Luz (Michele Pawk), who runs things at the ranch with an iron hand and believes she knows what is best for the man she has raised from the time he was a small child.

She finds allies in other wives and surprisingly in Luz's original choice for Bick, Vashti Hake Snythe (Katie Thompson). A song later, where the women reflect on their lives and marriages is truly one of the most moving numbers ever to grace a stage,

Incapability between Bick and Leslie continues through the years, especially when it comes to their children,  Jordy Jr (Bobby Steggert) and Little Luz (Mackenzie Mauzy). The meek and stuttering Jordy is a disappointment to his father. Like his mother, he loves reading books. He has no desire to take over the ranch and wants, instead, to be a doctor. He commits the unforgivable  crime when he falls in love with Mexican Juana Guerra (Natalie Cortez). Tomboy Little Luz, on the other hand, loves the ranch, but doesn't have much chance of ever taking the reins because she is a girl.

When Bick looks at the horizon, he sees "genuine freedom." When Leslie looks, she sees emptiness. Their determination to hold things together despite the odds fuels the story (with a really good book here by Sybille Pearson).

Also turning in memorable  performances are John Dossett as Bick's Uncle Bawley, PJ Griffith as the family's nemesis, Jett Rink, and Raua Aranas as the guitar-playing cowhand Polo Guerra, who taught all the boys how to rope and is like a member of the family (at least as far as racial bias will allow).

Giant has been extended through Dec. 16 at the Public Theater, 225 Lafayette St., NYC. The show runs three hours, with evening performances Tuesday through Sunday at 7. Matinees are Sunday at 1 pm. Tickets: http://www.publictheater.org/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language

Friday, December 7, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Nicholas Martin
Lincoln Center

What's it about?
Three siblings named after Chekhov characters whose lives -- and conversations -- have traces of The Seagull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and Chekhov themes in their lives but these folks are way funnier. Vanya (the always excellent David Hyde Pierce) and sister, Sonia (a marvelous Kristine Nielsen) live uneventful lives in their Bucks County, PA farmhouse. They gaze out at the cherry orchard and at the lake where a heron lands every day and wonder what their lives might have been like if they hadn't missed out by having to care for their elderly parents until their death.Vivacious sister, Masha (Sigourney Weaver at her comic best), paid the bills, but escaped to a more glamorous life as a successful Hollywood actress.

To Vanya and Sonia's horror, Masha considers selling the expensive home (a combination of interior and exterior of f the house -- is there some Chekhov here? -- by designer David Korins). She arrives for a visit with much younger, dimwitted actor boyfriend, Spike (Billy Magnussen) in tow. The two share a sexual attraction, but the perfectly coiffed and attired Masha (Emily Rebholz, costume design) worries about the age difference, especially when Spike takes an interest in Nina (Genevieve Angeson), a nymph-like, beautiful and young wanna-be actress he meets on the beach next door.

Adding more humor to the mix is Cassandra (Shalita Grant), the family's housekeeper who is gripped with strong clairvoyant visions, not unlike her Greek goddess namesake.

What are the highlights?
Solid performances across the board and taught direction. Kudos to Durang for a sharp, humor-filled script that has depth with regards to the Chekhov themes layered in there. Everything is really, really funny. In fact, the last time I remember an audience laughing throughout a show like this was at God of Carnage. Both Nielsen, who delivers a wide spectrum of emotions, and Pierce have soliloquies that are tours de force and Weaver is enchanting with amazing body language to tell Masha's self-absorbed, insecure story. Her turn as Masha talking like Snow White on her way to a costume party is a hoot.

What are the lowlights?
None. A lot of good theater.

More information:
The play was commissioned by and is presented in association with the McCarter Theater Center at Princeton. It runs Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St., NYC through Jan. 13. Tickets: 212-239-6200; http://lct.org/showMain.htm?id=212.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Scandalous

Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson
Book and Lyrics and additional music by Kathie Lee Gifford
Music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman
Choreographed by Lorin Latarro
Directed by David Armstrong

What's it about?
Well, it's like the title says: the life and trials of Aimee Semple McPherson (Carolee Carmello), the first real superstar evangelist (this is 1927) and founder of the Foursquare Church (the Foursquare Foundation is a producer of this show). McPherson leaves her stern, religious parents, Minnie and James Kennedy, (Candy Buckley and George Hearn) to marry first husband, Robert Semple (Edward Watts), an Irish missionary. He dies, shortly after their marriage, while on a mission in China, leaving Aimee pregnant. She and her infant daughter return home. When she almost dies giving birth to a son with second husband, Harold McPherson (Andrew Samonsky), Aimee has an epiphany of sorts, and decides to preach the gospel. She leaves Harold and the kids behind to start a ministry managed by her mother in Hollywood, where sermons are preached in a large, hokey, theatrical manner (the grand sets are by Walt Spangler) and where Aimee is suddenly the belle of the press corps. The "scandalous" part really comes in when Aimee suddenly turns up missing, then claims to have been kidnapped, but possibly was off cheating on much younger third husband, David Hutton (also Watts)  with married church employee Kenneth Ormiston (also Samonsky).

What are the highlights?
Carolee Carmello belts her heart out and manages to gives Aimee some depth of character with spirit and enthusiasm. She might earn award nominations. Hearn adds some gentle touches as Aimee's father. Roz Ryan's performance as a converted brothel madame brings some comic relief and another terrific singing voice to the mix.

What are the Lowlights?
Too many to waste time discussing here, given that almost universal pans by the critics have resulted in the show's announcing an early closing date of this Sunday. "w'ere out of time; we need a miracle" goes some of the dialogue. Turns out to be prophetic.

More information:
If you do want to catch one of the remaining shows at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., NYC:
Tickets 800-745-3000, 877-250-2929; www.ticketmaster.com. More info: http://www.scandalousonbroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Scantily clad actors
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexually suggestive moves

TheWritePros.com

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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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