Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Theater Review: The Testament of Mary

Mary Wants Us to See Her in a New Light, but This Version of Jesus' Mother is Too Dark
By Lauren Yarger
She's angry and bitter. Afraid and cautious. She's not the virginal, almost-goddess to whom people still pray (especially if you're Catholic) and we get the impression that she doesn't pray much herself.

She's Mary, the mother of Jesus -- or at least how a 21st-Century writer and a talented actress want us to see her. The "truth should be spoken at least once in the world" The Testament of Mary's slogan screams at us, as though what we know about Mary, primarily from the bible, is totally in error.

Fiona Shaw, in a powerful and demanding solo performance, takes on the character created by Colm Toibin, adapted for the Broadway stage from his bestselling novella of the same name. Audiences entering the Walter Kerr Theatre are invited up on stage prior to the performance where various props and a live vulture are on display. Suddenly, Shaw walks out and takes a seat inside a glass room where candles have been placed almost in an altar-like fashion at her feet. The crowds filing up onto stage look like a procession in church  on their way to view a relic or something (lighting designed by Jennifer Tipton highlights arches in the theater's ceiling to give a cathedral effect.)

But if anyone feels a stirring of the divine, a kinship with the blue-robed Mary that one might expect to find shining in a museum painting, the image is quickly stripped away -- stage hands obtrusively come out and dismantle the glass room (thankfully taking the vulture with them) and Mary sheds her royal robes to reveal a black tunic over leggings and boots. And the puzzling staging (what time period is this? How long ago did the crucifixion take place?) of the 90-minute soliloquy begins.

Smoking cigarettes taken from a pocket in a jacket that looks like it was bought in an Army surplus store (Ann Roth designs the costumes), Mary tells us she is being watched after the crucifixion and visitors (we assume that they are apostles, though she doesn't identify them) want to record her words and memories to promulgate their version of how and why her son was put to death. They aren't interested in the truth.

She hasn't slept much and still can't even mention Jesus' name, she tells us. She fears that if she utters it "something inside me will break." Not only was she estranged from Jesus during his ministry, denying that she was one of his followers, but she also left him to die alone on the cross. She snuck  away because she feared for her own life, she says. The stress eats away at her much like that vulture might if given a chance and she constantly paces around the stage. Poorly directed by Deborah Warner, she busies herself endlessly with senseless, distracting tasks like shifting a ladder around, moving barbed wire, chopping a fish or constantly splashing water on herself from a modern spigot, which spills into a sort of pool or well.

More unnecessary movement is added with scrims and sections of backdropping that move and reveal shades of other colored backgrounds (Tom Pye designs the set). The tall expanse dwarfs Mary while keeping focus on a lone white tree limb upstage with what looks like a bird -- hopefully not that live vulture -- perched on a wagon wheel on top. Most of the action takes place in dim lighting and is accented by moody sounds and original music by Mel Mercer.

She's not happy, this Mary, and she can't contain her disappointment in Jesus, who became rather haughty in his fame and who hung out with a bunch of "misfits." She discounts some of his miracles, bringing into question whether wine already was in the casks at the wedding at Cana. She implies that Jesus was cruel in waking Lazarus from the dead since his friend only continued to suffer horribly after being called forth from the tomb. She depicts Lazarus' sister Martha as some sort of brainwashed zealot.

The main idea of Toibin's fable is that we're supposed to relate to Mary as a real woman, especially as a mother who is grieving. I can go there with him on that. Mary was a real woman -- not some sinless goddess -- and she certainly would have grieved the loss of her son. She's an inspiring figure and we don't know enough about her and I would like to know more. The play's best moment, in fact, comes when Mary recounts first learning that her son would be crucified. She recalls a crucifixion she once witnessed. As the memory of that long-ago horror sharpens, so does her understanding of what will happen to her son and Shaw skillfully conveys the raw terror and the accompanying suffering and grief of a mother unable to help her child. She physically draws into a pose that shows that she is being crucified as well. Yes, it could have happened just like that. It's a beautiful scene. I wish they'd all been like that.

Where Toibin left me (and Mary, some might argue) behind on this journey is when he walked down a dark path and asked us to leave behind everything we know about Mary -- and Jesus for that matter. Mary implies that Jesus was no immaculate conception. She says that since she wasn't there (and therefore could hardly have inspired a Pietà) she doesn't know whether he was buried after dying on the cross, implying that the tomb might have been empty all along. She says stories of his resurrection were birthed when she and Mary (Lazarus' other sister) somehow had the exact same dream about Jesus appearing to them. A coincidence that got recorded and blown out of all proportion, it seems.

Toibin's play starts at the end, however. There is no room for reinventing the beginning. The only reason we can join Mary at this point in her life is because we know the story of her son's life and death as told in the bible an other historical writings that survive from the time. Without that "backstory," we would have no idea who this woman is or what she is talking about.  So to throw away what we know just because this Mary  smokes, drinks and gets naked (yes, Shaw ends up completely nude in the attempt to "strip bare" this character), requires having more faith in the playwright and his imagination than in eyewitness accounts, abundant early first-century accounts and many Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus (and by no one else in history). Pretty good for someone stupid enough to hang out with a bunch of misfits (at least one of whom was his brother and also Mary's kid. Did she forget that?)..... Sorry, it's not believable and neither is that story about two people having the exact same dream.

Despite all that, The Testament of Mary has received Tony and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Play this season.Shaw is nominated in the Outstanding Solo Performance category for the Outer Critics Circle Awards. It's deserved. She gives a strong performance and imbues Mary with a female perspective missing in the novella, where Toibin's male voice isn't disguised in character's first person narrative.

Mary only gets to tell her story a few more times on Broadway, however. The show, originally scheduled to run through June 16, has announced an early closing of its run this Sunday. For information and tickets: http://www.testamentonbroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Show posts a Mature advisory
-- Nudity

Kinky Boots, Matilda Lead Tony Award Nominations

Billy Porter and The Angels (L-R: Kyle Post, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Joey Taranto, and Paul Canaan) in Kinky Boots. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Nominations for the 2013 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards® Presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing have been announced with Kinky Boots leading the pack with 13 nods. 

The Tonys will be awarded Sunday, June 9 at Radio City Music Hall, NYC. Live telecast will begin at 8 pm on CBS. More info: http://www.tonyawards.com/index.html. 

The 2013 Nominations:

Best Play

The Assembled Parties by Richard Greenberg
Lucky Guy by Nora Ephron
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toíbín
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang

Best Musical
 
Bring It On: The Musical
A Christmas Story, The Musical
Kinky Boots
Matilda The Musical 

Best Revival of a Play 

Golden Boy
Orphans
The Trip to Bountiful
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

Best Revival of a Musical
Annie
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Pippin
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella 

Best Book of a Musical

A Christmas Story, The Musical by Joseph Robinette
Kinky Boots by Harvey Fierstein
Matilda The Musical by Dennis Kelly
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella by Douglas Carter Beane

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

A Christmas Story, The Musical
Music and Lyrics: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul 
Hands on a Hardbody
Music: Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green; Lyrics: Amanda Green 
Kinky Boots
Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper 
Matilda The Musical
Music & Lyrics: Tim Minchin

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy
Nathan Lane, The Nance
Tracy Letts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
David Hyde Pierce, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tom Sturridge, Orphans


Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
Amy Morton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Kristine Nielsen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Holland Taylor, Ann
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful


Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Bertie Carvel, Matilda The Musical
Santino Fontana, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Rob McClure, Chaplin
Billy Porter, Kinky Boots
Stark Sands, Kinky Boots


Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Stephanie J. Block, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Carolee Carmello, Scandalous
Valisia LeKae, Motown The Musical
Patina Miller, Pippin
Laura Osnes, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella


Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Danny Burstein, Golden Boy
Richard Kind, The Big Knife
Billy Magnussen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy
Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy


Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Carrie Coon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Shalita Grant, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Judith Ivey, The Heiress
Judith Light, The Assembled Parties
Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful


Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Charl Brown, Motown The Musical
Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody
Will Chase, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Gabriel Ebert, Matilda The Musical
Terrence Mann, Pippin


Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Annaleigh Ashford, Kinky Boots
Victoria Clark, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Andrea Martin, Pippin
Keala Settle, Hands on a Hardbody
Lauren Ward, Matilda The Musical


Best Scenic Design of a Play

John Lee Beatty, The Nance
Santo Loquasto, The Assembled Parties
David Rockwell, Lucky Guy
Michael Yeargan, Golden Boy


Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical
Anna Louizos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Scott Pask, Pippin
David Rockwell, Kinky Boots


Best Costume Design of a Play

Soutra Gilmour, Cyrano de Bergerac
Ann Roth, The Nance
Albert Wolsky, The Heiress
Catherine Zuber, Golden Boy


Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots
Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical
Dominique Lemieux, Pippin
William Ivey Long, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella


Best Lighting Design of a Play

Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Lucky Guy
Donald Holder, Golden Boy
Jennifer Tipton, The Testament of Mary
Japhy Weideman, The Nance


Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kenneth Posner, Kinky Boots
Kenneth Posner, Pippin
Kenneth Posner, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Hugh Vanstone, Matilda The Musical


Best Sound Design of a Play

John Gromada, The Trip to Bountiful
Mel Mercier, The Testament of Mary
Leon Rothenberg, The Nance
Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg, Golden Boy


Best Sound Design of a Musical

Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm, Pippin
Peter Hylenski, Motown The Musical
John Shivers, Kinky Boots
Nevin Steinberg, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella


Best Direction of a Play

Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Bartlett Sher, Golden Boy
George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy


Best Direction of a Musical

Scott Ellis, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots
Diane Paulus, Pippin
Matthew Warchus, Matilda The Musical

 

Best Choreography

Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On: The Musical
Peter Darling, Matilda The Musical
Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots
Chet Walker, Pippin


Best Orchestrations

Chris Nightingale, Matilda The Musical
Stephen Oremus, Kinky Boots
Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook, Motown The Musical

Danny Troob, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

 

 

* * *

 

Recipients of Awards and Honors in Non-competitive Categories

 

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre

Bernard Gersten

Paul Libin

Ming Cho Lee

 

Regional Theatre Award

Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, MA

 

Isabelle Stevenson Award

Larry Kramer

 

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre

Career Transition For Dancers

William Craver

Peter Lawrence

The Lost Colony

The four  actresses who created the title role of Matilda The Musical on Broadway - Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro

Monday, April 29, 2013

Giant, Hands on a Hardbody Head Drama Desk Nominations

Brian d'Arcy James, John Dossett, and Kate Baldwin in the Public Theatre's Giant. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Nominations for the 2013 Annual Drama Desk Awards were announced this morning at 54 Below by Linda Lavin and John Lloyd Young. In keeping with Drama Desk's mission, nominators considered shows that opened on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway during the 2012-2013 New York theater season in the same competitive categories.

The Drama Desk nominees will receive their official nomination certificates at the nominees’ reception on Wednesday, May 8 at The Grand Salon at the JW Marriott Essex House.

The 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards will take place on Sunday, May 19  8 pm at The Town Hall in Manhattan. http://www.dramadeskawards.com/

DRAMA DESK NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2012-2013 SEASON

Outstanding Play
Annie Baker, The Flick
Christopher Durang, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Joe Gilford, Finks
Richard Greenberg, The Assembled Parties
Amy Herzog, Belleville
Deanna Jent, Falling
Richard Nelson, Sorry

Outstanding Musical
A Christmas Story: The Musical
Giant
Hands on a Hardbody
Here Lies Love
Matilda
Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812
The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Revival of a Play
Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Golden Boy
Good Person of Szechwan
The Piano Lesson
The Trip to Bountiful
Uncle Vanya

Outstanding Revival of a Musical or Revue
Passion
Pippin
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
The Golden Land
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Working: A Musical

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, Uncle Vanya
Daniel Everidge, Falling
Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy
Shuler Hensley, The Whale
Nathan Lane, The Nance
Tracy Letts, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Maria Dizzia, Belleville
Amy Morton, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Julia Murney, Falling
Vanessa Redgrave, The Revisionist
Miriam Silverman, Finks
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Eric Anderson, Soul Doctor
Brian d’Arcy James, Giant
Jim Norton, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Billy Porter, Kinky Boots
Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen
Ryan Silverman, Passion
Anthony Warlow, Annie

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Giant
Stephanie J. Block, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Carolee Carmello, Scandalous
Lindsay Mendez, Dogfight
Donna Murphy, Into the Woods
Laura Osnes, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
Jenny Powers, Donnybrook!

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Chuck Cooper, The Piano Lesson
Peter Friedman, The Great God Pan
Richard Kind, The Big Knife
Aaron Clifton Moten, The Flick
Brían F. O’Byrne, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet
Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Tasha Lawrence, The Whale
Judith Light, The Assembled Parties
Kellie Overbey, Sleeping Rough
Maryann Plunkett, Sorry
Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful
Laila Robins, Sorry

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Stephen Bogardus, Passion
John Bolton, A Christmas Story: The Musical
Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody
Bertie Carvel, Matilda
John Dossett, Giant
Andy Karl, The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Annaleigh Ashford, Kinky Boots
Melissa Errico, Passion
Andrea Martin, Pippin
Jessie Mueller, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Christiane Noll, Chaplin: The Musical
Keala Settle, Hands on a Hardbody
Kate Wetherhead, The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Director of a Play
Lear Debessonet, Good Person of Szechwan
Sam Gold, Uncle Vanya
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, Restoration Comedy
Pam MacKinnon, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Lynne Meadow, The Assembled Parties
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, The Piano Lesson

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On: The Musical
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812
John Doyle, Passion
Diane Paulus, Pippin
Emma Rice, The Wild Bride
Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love
Matthew Warchus, Matilda

Outstanding Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On: The Musical
Warren Carlyle, A Christmas Story: The Musical
Peter Darling, Matilda
Josh Rhodes, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Sergio Trujillo, Hands on a Hardbody
Chet Walker and Gypsy Snider, Pippin

Outstanding Music
Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, Hands on a Hardbody
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love
Michael John LaChiusa, Giant
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas Story: The Musical
David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Lyrics
Amanda Green, Hands on a Hardbody
Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bring It On: The Musical
Michael John LaChiusa, Giant
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Tim Minchin, Matilda
David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Dennis Kelly, Matilda
Sybille Pearson, Giant
Joseph Robinette, A Christmas Story: The Musical
David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen
Jeff Whitty, Bring It On: The Musical
Doug Wright, Hands on a Hardbody

Outstanding Orchestrations
Trey Anastasio and Don Hart, Hands on a Hardbody
Larry Blank, A Christmas Story: The Musical
Bruce Coughlin, Giant
Larry Hochman, Chaplin: The Musical
Steve Margoshes, Soul Doctor
Danny Troob, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

Outstanding Music in a Play
César Alvarez with The Lisps, Good Person of Szechwan
Jiří Kadeřábek, Mahir Cetiz, and Ana Milosavljevic, Act Before You Speak: The Tragical
History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Glen Kelly, The Nance
Eugene Ma, The Man Who Laughs
Steve Martin, As You Like It
Jane Wang, Strange Tales of Liaozhai

Outstanding Revue
Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking!
Old Hats
Old Jews Telling Jokes

Outstanding Set Design
Rob Howell, Matilda
Mimi Lien, The Whale
Santo Loquasto, The Assembled Parties
Anna Louizos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Michael Yeargan, Golden Boy
David Zinn, The Flick

Outstanding Costume Design
Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz, Chaplin: The Musical
Dominique Lemieux, Pippin
William Ivey Long, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Chris March, Chris March's The Butt-Cracker Suite! A Trailer Park Ballet
Loren Shaw, Restoration Comedy
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812

Outstanding Lighting Design
Ken Billington, Chaplin: The Musical
Jane Cox, Passion
Kenneth Posner, Pippin
Justin Townsend, Here Lies Love
Daniel Winters, The Man Who Laughs
Scott Zielinski, A Civil War Christmas

Outstanding Projection Design
Jon Driscoll, Chaplin: The Musical
Wendall K. Harrington, Old Hats
Peter Nigrini, Here Lies Love
Darrel Maloney, Checkers
Pedro Pires, Cirque du Soleil: Totem
Aaron Rhyne, Wild With Happy

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Hands on a Hardbody
Scott Lehrer and Drew Levy, Chaplin: The Musical
Tony Meola, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Brian Ronan, Bring It On: The Musical
Brian Ronan, Giant
Dan Moses Schreier, Passion

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Ien DeNio, The Pilo Family Circus
Steve Fontaine, Last Man Club
Christian Frederickson, Through the Yellow Hour
Lindsay Jones, Wild With Happy
Mel Mercier, The Testament of Mary
Fergus O’Hare, Macbeth

Outstanding Solo Performance
Joel de la Fuente, Hold These Truths
Kathryn Hunter, Kafka’s Monkey
Bette Midler, I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
Julian Sands, A Celebration of Harold Pinter
Holland Taylor, Ann
Michael Urie, Buyer and Cellar

Unique Theatrical Experience
Bello Mania
Chris March's The Butt-Cracker Suite! A Trailer Park Ballet
Cirque Du Soleil: Totem
That Play: A Solo Macbeth
The Fazzino Ride
The Man Who Laughs

The following awards were voted by the Nominating Committee and will be presented by the Drama Desk at its awards ceremony:

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
Working: A Musical
Marie-France Arcilla, Joe Cassidy, Donna Lynne Champlin, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Nehal Joshi, and Kenita R. Miller

Special Awards:
• To The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), Isaac Robert Hurwitz, Executive Director and Producer: For a decade of creating and nurturing new musical theater, ensuring the future of this essential art form.

• To Wakka Wakka (Gabrielle Brechner, Kirjan Waage, and Gwendolyn Warnock): For sophisticated puppet theater, as represented by this season’s SAGA, that explores with wit, imagination, and insight serious issues of our times.

• To Jayne Houdyshell: For her artistry as an exceptionally versatile and distinctive Broadway and Off-Broadway performer.

• To Samuel D. Hunter: His empathic and indelible play The Whale affirms his arrival as a distinguished dramatist who depicts the human condition.

• To Maruti Evans, the Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award: For his ingenious lighting designs, reflecting an exquisite and bold theatrical aesthetic. This season’s The Pilo Family Circus and Tiny Dynamite confirm his incandescent creativity.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Theresa Rebeck, Nikkole Salter, David Lindsay-Abaire Share Thoughts at Mark Twain House Playwrights Panel

Theresa Rebeck, Nikkole Salter, Frank Rizzo and David Lindsay-Abaire
By Lauren Yarger
I enjoyed attending part of the annual Writers' Weekend and Bookfair at the Mark Twain House in Hartford yesterday. The big draw of Saturday's events was the Playwrights Panel, featuring Theresa Rebeck (Seminar, Dead Accounts, The Understudy), Nikkole Salter (In the Continuum, Carnaval) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Pulitzer Prize winner Rabbit Hole, Good People, Fuddy Meers).

Moderated by Hartford Courant arts columnist and theater reviewer Frank Rizzo, the panelists discussed everything from their process for writing to reacting to reviews of their work. The event was informative and lively with Rebeck even taking Rizzo to task for a review of her work.

Here are highlights of what they had to say:

What's the methodology for your writing process; do you focus on one idea or have a bunch going on at once?

Rebeck: She works in different media, so she'll have an idea for a novel working alongside a play and a film or TV show (Rebeck's most recent TV show is "Smash."
Salter: She is more in the beginning of her career, so she doesn't have to juggle projects yet, but kidded that "broke" playwrights can make themselves sound busier by saying "Oh, I am focusing on one thing."
Lindsay-Abaire: 20 ideas might be in his head for many years, then he'll "smoosh" some of them together and see whether they form a play.

What's the process for collaboration?

Salter: Much of the award-winning In the Continuum (co-authored with Danai Gurira) was birthed through improvisation. As a writer, she needs to bounce ideas off other people and to hear the play. She has had the creative team for her plays on board about half way through the process of writing them.
Rebeck: She wrote Bad Dates for Julie White. Sometimes collaboration involves writing for people you have worked with. You know they know how to do it. You won't have to explain. Novels are more lonely.
Lindsay-Abaire: When one of his earlier plays, Fuddy Meers, was being produced, the director and actors spent a lot of time studying and discussing the characters and their actions, but what he was seeing in rehearsal made him wonder why they wouldn't "just do it the way it is in my head." When an audience came in previews, everything clicked. There's a "fine line between giving people their process and knowing what you want," he said. And in the movies, you have less control over the process. It's like being an extra in a film, watching it for yourself and saying, "Oh, there I go."

Are dramaturgs helpful to the process?

Rebeck -- No, if they seem to have their own agenda; yes if you find over time that you trust them. It's "dicey" if they don't know your taste.
Lindsay-Abaire: for historical pieces, a dramaturg can keep you accurate and honest. Who does he trust to read his work? The student writers group that formed when he was a Julliard and which continues. Dan Sullivan "has given me the best dramaturg advice I ever have received" though he has the title director rather than dramaturg. (In case you're wondering, a dramaturg is someone who helps research and shape the story).

Do you care what the critics say?

Salter: Yes and no. She reads reviews, but with a grain of salt. It is, after all, just one opinion. That opinion can make or stop opportunities for the show, though.
Rebeck: Tries not to read them. Sometimes they seem to focus on calling her a man hater, a feminist, a sexist. She seems always to be told that she has some secret agenda when her only agenda was to write a good play. She can't always figure out what triggered anger from the reviewer and feels they sometimes hide behind the excuse that their opinions are justified because their readers want to know.
Lindsay-Abaire: His ideas about critics have changed over the years. Early on, he embraced good reviews and joking that he "slept with them under my pillow." He bristled, however, when critics panned his early, more absurdest works and said, "I could write one of those naturalistic plays if I wanted to. So I wrote Rabbit Hole."
"You're welcome," Rizzo quipped.
Inevitably, criticism continued despite the Pulitzer, with critics saying he sold out by writing a couch play. Ultimately the process caused him to grow.

Do they ever feel they are being categorized?

Rebeck: She gets called a chick playwright. She gets tired of the "woman playwright" category. Being a woman who writes comedy is even more rare and creates a "nervousness."
Salter: They expect black stories and black characters.
Lindsay-Abaire: People want you to re-create the type of thing you wrote before, only you change as a person over time and so does your writing. He can't go back to creating silly plays written by a young man who didn't know what he was doing because he isn't the same person any more.

Can people make a living these days as a playwright? How does one get produced?

Lindsay-Abaire: Hollywood work helps. There's pressure for playwrights to write works that can be produced commercially, rather than to create brilliant plays that might be more expensive to stage or which won't appeal to a larger audience. Submit everywhere you can (his first resource was "The Dramatist's Source Book"). "You never know what line is going to catch a fish."
Salter: "It's like dating." You check meet up with many different producing houses to find the right match.

What have you seen recently that really knocked your socks off?

Rebeck: Once
Salter: Enjoyed being in an appreciative audience for Motown.
Lindsay-Abaire: Was excited to see Clifford Odets' The Big Knife, which he had not seen before and was blown away by some of the performances.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Theater Review: The Assembled Parties

The Parties Assemble, but Don't Do Much Else
By Lauren Yarger
I am not a fan of plays that make me work. I want to go to the theater and be entertained or thoroughly swept into the action/emotions on stage. I don't like trying to figure out who everyone is, why they are on the stage and why I should care. I also don't like feeling that  am the only reviewer not in love with what they are seeing, but most of those thoughts were my reaction to Richard Greenberg's new play The Assembled Parties getting a run on Broadway by Manhattan Theatre Club.

It stars Judith Light, one of my favorite actresses, who doesn't disappoint. She's wise-cracking, New-York Jewish-accented Faye, a member of an odd upper west side family that's the standard of most plays -- dysfunctional. She's the wife of Mort (Mark Blum), the man she was forced to marry when she got pregnant with their now grown and totally unambitious daughter, Shelley (Lauren Blumfield). Everyone either tolerates or appears not to like everyone else.

They come to visit her brother, Ben (Jonathan Walker) and his wife, Julie (Jessica Hecht) on Christmas Day, 1980 at their 14-room apartment (why Jews are celebrating Christmas isn't quite clear). Ben and Julie's young son,Timmy (Alex Dreier), is abed with a cold while older son,  Scotty (Jake Silbermann), has invited college friend Jeff (Jeremy Shamos) home for the holiday.

Julie, a former movie star, and speaking in some sort of voice that sounds like she's still tying to sound like a character, is a throw back to more elegant, less concerned times, and Jeff is clearly smitten. Faye is concerned about her 87-year-old mother who is failing and whom Ben refuses to visit in the nursing home. Suddenly there's some intrigue involving a family necklace and blackmail. But only a little -- and never fully explained.....

Fast forward 20 years to Christmas 2000. The husbands are dead, Faye surprises herself by actually missing Mort and Jeff, who still cares for Julie, tries to convince young Tim, now grown (and also played by Silberman), to spend more time with his mother, whose health is failing. So is her bank account. Her protected view of the world doesn't comprehend the cost of continuing to rent the Central Park West property, which is falling into disrepair, but Jeff and Faye step in to keep her comfortable and enable her to remain in her own gentler world, which includes wearing her mother's vintage dresses (Jane Greenwood designs the lovely costumes).

All of that action (and I uses that term generously) takes place on a revolving set (designed by Santo Loquasto) which cleverly shows us family members conversing in one room while other members go about their business, or overhear conversations by other members. Lynne Meadow directs.

In all fairness, most of the comments I heard from critics and audience members included the words "moving," "touching," "funny." I felt I must have missed something, because I wouldn't have used any of those terms to describe this work by Greenberg (Breakfast at Tiffany's; Take Me Out).

A woman saying her husband is "just the most wretched man who ever drew breath" got big laughs. To me it was just sad.

The parties are assembled (really don't like that title), but that's about it. For some reason, these folks just didn't click for me.

The Assembled Parties has been extended twice, through July 7, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Tickets and info: http://www.manhattantheaterclub.org/

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pippin Leads Outer Critics Circle Nominations with 11

Pippin leads The Outer Critics Circle Nominations for the 2012-2013 season with 11. Kinky Boots follows with nine and Chaplin and Cinderella both have eight.

The nominations are:
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
Grace
Lucky Guy
The Nance
The Testament of Mary
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
Chaplin: The Musical
A Christmas Story
Hands on a Hardbody
Kinky Boots
Matilda the Musical 
OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
Bad Jews
The Cockfight Play
My Name is Asher Lev
Really Really
The Whale 
OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
February House
Dogfight
Giant
Here Lies Love
Murder Ballad 
OUTSTANDING BOOK OF A MUSICAL
(Broadway or off-Broadway)
Cinderella
Chaplin: The Musical
Dogfight
Kinky Boots
Matilda the Musical 
OUTSTANDING NEW SCORE
(Broadway or off-Broadway)
Chaplin: The Musical
Dogfight
Hands on a Hardbody
Here Lies Love
Kinky Boots 
OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A PLAY
(Broadway or off-Broadway)
Golden Boy
Orphans
The Piano Lesson
The Trip to Bountiful
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 
OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
(Broadway or off-Broadway)
Annie
Cinderella
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Passion
Pippin 
OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A PLAY
Pam MacKinnon — Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nicholas Martin — Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Jack O'Brien — The Nance
Bartlett Sher — Golden Boy
Michael Wilson — The Trip to Bountiful 
OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Warren Carlyle — Chaplin: The Musical
Scott Ellis — The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Jerry Mitchell — Kinky Boots
Diane Paulus — Pippin
Alex Timbers — Here Lies Love
OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHER
Warren Carlyle — Chaplin: The Musical
Peter Darling — Matilda the Musical
Jerry Mitchell — Kinky Boots
Josh Rhodes — Cinderella
Chet Walker — Pippin 
OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN
(Play or Musical)
John Lee Beatty — The Nance
Rob Howell — Matilda the Musical
David Korins — Here Lies Love
Scott Pask — Pippin
Michael Yeargan — Golden Boy 
OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN
(Play or Musical)
Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz — Chaplin: The Musical
Gregg Barnes — Kinky Boots
Dominique Lemieux — Pippin
William Ivey Long — Cinderella
William Ivey Long — The Mystery of Edwin Drood 
OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN
(Play or Musical)
Ken Billington — Chaplin: The Musical
Paul Gallo — Dogfight
Donald Holder — Golden Boy
Kenneth Posner — Cinderella
Kenneth Posner — Pippin 
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tom Hanks — Lucky Guy
Shuler Hensley — The Whale
Nathan Lane — The Nance
Tracy Letts — Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
David Hyde Pierce — Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Tracee Chimo — Bad Jews
Amy Morton — Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Vanessa Redgrave — The Revisionist
Joely Richardson — Ivanov
Cicely Tyson — The Trip to Bountiful 
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Bertie Carvel — Matilda the Musical
Santino Fontana — Cinderella
Rob McClure — Chaplin: The Musical
Billy Porter — Kinky Boots
Matthew James Thomas — Pippin 
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Lilla Crawford — Annie
Valisia LeKae — Motown: The Musical
Lindsay Mendez — Dogfight
Patina Miller — Pippin
Laura Osnes — Cinderella 
OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Danny Burstein — Golden Boy
Richard Kind — The Big Knife
Jonny Orsini — The Nance
Tony Shalhoub — Golden Boy
Tom Sturridge — Orphans 
OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Cady Huffman — The Nance
Judith Ivey — The Heiress
Judith Light — The Assembled Parties
Kristine Nielsen — Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Vanessa Williams — The Trip to Bountiful 
OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Will Chase — The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Dan Lauria — A Christmas Story
Raymond Luke — Motown: The Musical
Terrence Mann — Pippin
Daniel Stewart Sherman — Kinky Boots 
OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Annaleigh Ashford — Kinky Boots
Victoria Clark — Cinderella
Charlotte d'Amboise — Pippin
Andrea Martin — Pippin
Keala Settle — Hands on a Hardbody 
OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE
Bette Midler — I'll Eat You Last
Martin Moran — All the Rage
Fiona Shaw — The Testament of Mary
Holland Taylor — Ann
Michael Urie — Buyer and Cellar 
JOHN GASSNER AWARD
(presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Ayad Akhtar — Disgraced
Paul Downs Colaizzo — Really Really
Joshua Harmon — Bad Jews
Samuel D. Hunter — The Whale
Aaron Posner — My Name is Asher Lev 
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Irish Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Charlotte Moore and Producing Director Ciarán O'Reilly in recognition of 25 years of producing outstanding theater.

Theater Review: Motown

History Lessons Normally Aren't This Entertaining
By Lauren Yarger
The life of music legend Berry Gordy, written by Berry Gordy turns out to be an entertaining trip down memory lane featuring around 60 songs from the Motown catalog that made him famous.
Motown the Musical spans decades from 1938 to 1983 to tell the biography of Berry (Brandon Victor Dixon) and the story of the record label that brought fame to acts like Diana Ross (Valisa LeKae), Smoky Robinson (a terrific Charl Brown who looks and sounds like the legend), Marvin Gaye (Bryan Terrell Clark) and Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke, Jr. the night I attended, and Jibreel Mawry).

Part history lesson, part invitation to the most intimate parts of Berry's life and part toe tapping, hand-clapping good music, Motown satisfies on may levels.

There's romance: Ross and Berry are involved for a number of years personally as well as professionally. There's business intrigue as other labels start luring away Motown's artists. There's pathos -- the story revolves an 1983 reunion concert celebrating Motown, and Berry isn't sure he wants to go and be reminded of betrayals. Director Charles Randolph-Wright skillfully blends the elements and keeps us entertained for the more than two hours and 45 minutes running time.

Many of the songs, musically directed and arranged by Ethan Popp, are truncated, so we get just enough of our favorites without being overwhelmed. Berry's book also makes sense, so we aren't thinking Mama Mia, or how to string a bunch of songs together around a really dumb story. This one is more like Jersey Boys -- a decent biographical story with song placement that makes sense and helps tell the story. The band is great.

Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams add choreography that is easily recognizable for groups like the Jackson Five, The Marvelettes or The Temptations (there is a massive ensemble of 40 for this show). The vocals are good (Luke as a young Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Gordy Berry is a sensation). Standing out is John Jellison as a very funny Ed Sullivan.

The audience sings along and a few members are brought up on stage to help Diana Ross sing one of her numbers. The mood shifts in the second act as the music starts reflecting protests against war and racial injustice. Costumes advance the decades (design by Esosa with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe) along with set and projection design by David Korins and Daniel Brodie. Overall, a fun and entertaining show.

Motown plays at the  Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th St., NYC. Tickets and info: http://www.motownthemusical.com/.

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

Theater Review: Matilda


Matilda's Mind Magic is Big on Broadway
By Lauren Yarger
The hype is big, with phrases like “The best musical to hit Broadway since….” “The hottest thing since Book of Mormon” and “A shoe-in for the Best Musical Tony” being used to describe the Broadway musical Matilda, based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl.

So intense was the buzz about this show during its run in London, that there was an actual bidding war among New York producers to bring the phenomenon across the Atlantic (The Dodgers won the honor of co-producing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and it has been selling out over at the Shubert Theatre where it opened April 11.

What all the hype is about, I’m not sure, however. The show is fun and entertaining in many ways, but it’s also flawed. I’d give it a B grade – hardly worthy of “The best musical to ht Broadway since….” status.

The story, with a script for the stage by Dennis Kelly (Orphans) and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (a comedian also known to TV fans as Atticus Fetch on “Californication), is rather dark. Matilda Wormwood (the role is shared by Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro, whom I saw the night I attended) is a little genius of a girl who takes comfort in the world of books and storytelling to escape her life. Her mother (Lesli Margherita) isn’t happy to find out she’s pregnant with Matilda because it interferes with salsa dancing competition and long-haired dance partner Rudolpho (a funny Philip Speath). And besides, she already has a son, Michael (Taylor Trensch) who spends his time in a coma-like pose in front of the TV.

Mr. Wormwood (Gabriel Ebert) doesn’t know how to relate to a child who isn’t male, so he refers to Matilda as a boy, prompting her to yell repeatedly, “I’m a girl!” Soon she realizes that she’s by far the brightest bulb in this family package and starts to use her intelligence to manipulate circumstances. She hides the reality of her sad home life from friend and librarian Mrs. Phelps (Karen Aldridge), who waits eagerly for Matilda to tell the next installment of her fairytale about an :escapologist (Ben Thompson) and his acrobat wife (Samantha Sturm) who long for a daughter to make their life complete (the story comes to life a number of times thanks to the creative design teams effects: Hugh Vanstone, lighting; Rob Howell, sets and costumes; Simon Baker sound).

The only other positive influence in Matilda’s life is her teacher, Miss Honey (Lauren Ward) who recognizes her astonishing gifts and ties to help the child. Working against her, however, is the cruel, sadistic headmistress of Crunchem Hall, Miss Trunchbull (Bertie Carvel). She’s freaky and scary with her hair wrapped into a tight bun to accent her "uptight" qualities. She sports a humorous get-up: a little mini-skirted, top-heavy thing with room to accommodate a hunched back as she totters about in an overly effeminate way.

She s she watches the little “maggots” in her charge on multiple video cameras and tries to trap them into admitting wrong doings so she can place them in the chokey, a cupboard-like solitary confinement.

“To teach the child, we must first break the child,” she gleefully cackles.

Her bullying proves no match for Matilda’s intelligence, however, and when the girl discovers she has the ability to use her extraordinary mind to move objects, she uses her power to unite her classmates and defeat the evil “Trunch.”

The effect where she uses her mind to manipulate chalk to write a threatening message on the school blackboard is particularly well done (Paul Kieve, illusion). Suddenly this effect let me understand what had been causing the hype about this show. Matilda obviously has been using her mind to control the pens of theater critics and get them to write that it's the most sensational show ever to hit Broadway.....

Well, she met her match here. There's bad along with the good to report.

Good::

  • The music by Minchin, with musical direction by David Holcenberg and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale, is pleasant sounding.
  • The vocals.
  • The sets are colossal and appealing.
  • Performances by Aldridge and Spaeth shine.

Not so good:

  • It's way too long at 2:45. A good chunk of oen of the weakest Act 2 openings ever could be cut to begin with one of the shows most pleasing numbers, "When I Grow Up," set on swings by choreographer Peter Darling.
  • Shapiro. Sorry, hate to pick on a little kid, but I couldn't understand most of what she was saying, even though she SHOUTED EVERY LINE. I was back in the house, but critics in the sixth row center were reporting that they couldn't understand her either.
  • Carvel as Miss Trunchbull. Casting males in female roles for no reason is a pet peeve to begin with, but in this case, it really doesn't work. Carvel's performance isn't bad. He provides some nice chops for the humor, but he isn't at all convincing as a woman. If you don't know the story from Dahl's book or the movie starring Mara Wilson as Matilda, you will think Trunchbull is a really creepy transvestite and you will be wondering how he ever got away with competing as a hammer thrower in the Olympics given all of the testing they do..... It changes the focus of the character and isn't necessary -- especially in a show geared for kids. There are plenty of gifted -- even large and towering in height -- women who could create the complex character. Hire one of them, Director Matthew Warchus.
Matilda plays at the Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th St., NYC. Tickets and info: http://www.matildathemusical.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
--Lord's name taken in vain
-- I wouldn't recommend this for very young children.

Theater Review: The Call


Struggling to Wait for the Call -- and Confirmation that It's Really Life's Calling
By Lauren Yarger
Questions of race and motive come into play as a white couple seeks to adopt an African-American girl in Tanya Barfield’s thought-provoking play, The Call, running Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons.

After years of trying to have a baby, Annie (Kerry Butler) and Peter (Kelly AuCoin) decide to adopt. They hope for a child from Africa, where Peter and his late friend, David, had served in a the Peace Corps. David’s sister and Annie’s best friend, Rebecca (Eisa Davis), isn’t sure that’s a great idea. Rebecca and her new spouse, Drea (Crystal A. Dickinson) both wonder whether the white couple truly understands the complexities of raising a black child, Yes, Auntie Rebecca can help do her hair in African-American styles, but will Annie ever really understand how a black daughter feels? And is she recovered enough from the depression that paralyzed her after the failed attempts to have a child of her own?

The discussion continues over several visits by Rebecca and Drea to the couple’s metropolitan apartment where new neighbor, Alemu (Russell G. Jones), is overjoyed to hear the news that Annie and Peter will be adopting from his homeland of Africa. He has some things, like medical supplies, shoes and other luxury items that people in his native home need and he wants the couple to take them when they travel to pick up their daughter. Jumping into the adoption commitment, Annie converts her art studio into a nursery even while she gets an offer of her first show at a gallery. While there, she gets "the call" from the adoption agency.

Suddenly doubts overwhelm her, especially when the couple is offered a 4-year-old the agency is trying to pass off as the toddler Annie and Peter had agreed to consider instead of an infant. The hesitation causes strain in the marriage, in which Peter seems always to be criticizing his wife any way. Rebecca proves a supportive friend even through her doubts, but harsh words and questions about how David really died threaten the friendships as well as the possibility of adopting.

Barfield’s script raises a lot of issues in a natural way (she handles exposition extremely well). Characters are multi-layered and strongly portrayed under the direction of Leigh Silverman. Dickinson, in particular, is a hoot as the plain-speaking Drea.

Rachel Hauck’s set rotates on an unnecessary revolving stage. It seems a bit overdone to take us from the living room to the nursery, for example, when other scenes are depicted simply. There’s also a dog park where Annie and Alemu meet on a bench and the art gallery opening is staged by rolling in a cart of wine glasses.

The Call has been extended through May 26 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC (between Ninth & Tenth avenues).

The performance schedule is Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 and 7 pm with additional Wednesday matinee performances on April 24 and May 1 at 2 pm. Tickets: www.TicketCentral.com;  212-279-4200. HOTtix, $25 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under. Proof of age required. One ticket per person, per purchase.

Christians might also like to know:
--Homosexuality
--Homosexual activity
--Hinduism/reincarnation

Quick Hit Theater Review: Collapse

Hannah Cabell and Elliot Villar. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Collapse
By Allison Moore
Directed by Jackson Gay
The Women’s Project

What’s It All About?
A dark comedy about the effects of the collapse of the bridge on 1-35 West and the world economy. David (Elliot Villar) and Hannah (Hannah Cabell) are trying to get pregnant – and back to normal – as David recovers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffered when his car was caught in the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis. He doesn’t talk about the experience which plunged him into the Mississippi, but he drinks a lot and hasn’t been going to work. Hannah is feeling some stress herself over this, especially since her clients are suffering from the economic collapse, leaving her law firm in droves and taking with them her hopes of making partner – or even of keeping her job.

Adding to the tension in their Minneapolis home is the unexpected visit of Hannah’s sister, Susan (Nadia Bowers), who has been evicted from her apartment, but managed to book a plane ticket to her sister’s by promising to deliver a mystery package for a guy named Bulldog. Desperate, Hannah seeks help for how to deal with David’s drinking problem at a support meeting which she thinks is an AA group. Instead, she meets Ted (Maurice McRae), who is a sex addict. The two hit it off, through Hannah isn’t quite sure if Ted’s tale about being impotent is true or just a ruse to try to get her in bed. When Ted’s real identity is revealed, their relationship has consequences for Susan and David, who finally confronts his memories of falling off the bridge.

What are the Highlights?
Loved the set designed by Lee Savage. A metal truss-like framework doubles as a wall of the couple’s condo, then flips to become the 1-35 Bridge. The messages are good: Ted advises Hannah to stop trying to fix everything, let go and see what happens. The way the couple works through their difficulties is realistic and hopeful.

What are the Lowlights:
The plot is a bit contrived. Would a couple facing economic uncertainty and David’s apparent inability to deal with his trauma or his drinking problem really be trying so hard to have a baby? A sex addict who also is impotent (conveniently propelling the story) and Ted’s actual identity are a bit much to swallow. Costume designs by Oana Botez are odd with the question, “What the heck is she wearing?” coming to mind a couple of times, especially for one satin-trimmed outfit Hannah wears to take a deposition. Can’t imagine a lawyer wearing it.

More information:
Collapse is the final production in the Women’s Project’s 35th anniversary year with a theme of questioning the state of the American dream. It plays at NY City Center, 131 West 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) through May 19. Tickets and info: http://www.womensproject.org/.

Christians might also like to know: 
-- Partial nudity
--Sexual dialogue
--Language 
--God’s name taken in vain
--Eastern philosophy 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Theater Review: Lucky Guy

Extra! Read All About It! One of the Pleasant Surprises of the Season
By Lauren Yarger
A film star in a Broadway show. That's not really news nowadays, when producers increasingly are relying on star power to sell seats on the Great White Way. Most of the time nominators are more than happy to throw award nominations at them too, whether the performances are worthy or not just so Broadway can seem glamorous.

Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron's Lucky Guy doesn't fall into this category, however, and the fine production is one of the pleasant surprises of the season.

I wasn't sure what to expect and not only because of the whole "movie-star-makes- his-Broadway debut" thing. The story of New York columnist Mike McAlary is full of gritty newspaper reporting, corruption, injustice and in his personal case, cancer. That's not the stuff of comedy, which I associate with the late Ephron, whose screenplays were vehicles for Hanks' movie fame ("Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail" are among her many titles.) And the last play I saw about him and his career, The Wood by Dan Klores, needed a good editor.

So enjoying solid performances (directed by George C. Wolfe) in a really good play that also found humor (yay, Nora!) and reunited Hanks with his old "Bosom Buddies" costar Peter Scolari as columnist Mike Daly, was a pleasant surprise indeed (I really liked that TV show). The play lets us relive some of the good old days of journalism, when reporters new how to do their job and did it well. It felt like a transfusion of printer's ink in the veins.

McAlary starts as a reporter under beloved editor John Cotter (a perfect Peter Gerety). His dream is to write a column in New York like his idol, Jimmy Breslin (back in the day, being allowed to write regular stories on a beat that included your opinion was the privilege of a few, who were given the title columnist. Today every news reporter and blogger without training thinks telling you their opinion is reporting the news.)

McAlary hangs out with other news cohorts at the Irish pub (where Cotter closes the place most nights) and is well liked. He's known for getting people to talk when they don't want to and soon is exposing police corruption and getting "the wood" -- the banner headline in a tabloid newspaper, so big the type had to be set in wood. The news world is rounded out by Hap Hairston (an engaging Courtney B. Vance), Jerry Nachman (Richard Masur), Bob Drury (Danny Mastrogiorgio), Jim Dwyer (Michael Gaston) and others, with a few of the actors playing dual roles.

The lone female, Louise Imerman, is played by Deirdre Lovejoy, who is a hoot as the foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails reporter trying to make it in the all-male newsroom world of the 1980s. The character probably seems so real because Ephron herself worked at a tabloid as a reporter. Lovejoy also plays Debby Krenck, McAlary's editor toward the end of his career.

Ephron uses all of the characters to help tell the story by having them step out of the action and address the audience directly. Enhancing the transition through time and spaces are really fabulous sets by designer David Rockwell. He emphasizes the black and white of the newspapers behind the action of the play.

McAlary gets his column -- and a lot of money as he switches writing for different papers over the years -- thanks to the negotiating skills of friend and lawyer Eddie Hayes (Christopher McDonald). His wife, Alice (a fine Maura Tierney), wishes he would spend more time with her and the kids at the large house they have been able to afford, but McAlary gets caught in the fast lane of success, until he crashes. Literally.

Recovering from serious injuries sustained in a car accident, he goes back to work too soon and makes a questionable decision about one story that damages his reputation. He can't quite find his stride again, and is discouraged in the face of a cancer diagnosis. Then he interviews a young Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima (Stephen Tyrone Williams), who was arrested and brutally sodomized by police. McAlary won the Pulitzer Prize for that story shortly before his death. Sadly, Ephron also died shortly after this play was written.

Take a trip into the old world of newspapers and into some really good theater for today. Hanks is very good and so is the play. And that's my opinion, as a journalist paid to tell you what I think about theater.

Lucky Guy plays at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 west 44th St., NYC through June 16, For tickets and information: http://www.luckyguyplay.com.

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

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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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