Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Bronx Bombers

Baseball Drama Gets Hung Up in Double Play
By Lauren Yarger
The House That Ruth Built gets a theatrical exploration in playwright and Director Eric Simonson's Broadway play The Bronx Bombers.

Baseball legends abound in this story conceived by Frank Kirmser and produced by the same team that brought us the sports-themed Broadway productions of Lombardi and Magic/Bird. Making appearances are Babe Ruth (C.J. Wilson), Lou Gehrig (John Wernke), Joe DiMaggio (Chris Henry Coffey), Elston Howard (Francois Battiste), Reggie Jackson (also Battiste), Thurmon Munson (Bill Dawes), Mickey Mantel (also Dawes) and even Derek Jeter (Christopher Jackson).

The story gets caught in a double play, however, with dream-like sequences with the legends tagging out a different plot path about what it means to be a New York Yankee and live up to the club's image.

Told through the eyes of Yogi Berra (a very good Peter Scolari), the first act focuses on a 1977 fight between manager Billie Martin (Keith Nobbs) and Jackson. Berra solicits the help of Munson to try to make peace, but later he shares a secret with his supportive wife, Carmen (Tracy Shane): team owner George Steinbrenner just might offer Martin's job to him.

Suddenly the Babe comes to offer Yogi some advice and the other legends arrive for an oldtimers banquet. Somewhere between a dream and "Field of Dreams," the action, made misty with a fog effect, is sometimes difficult to follow. Also throwing some curves are a comedic side plot about the delivery of lots of potatoes and a bunch of those Yogiisms for which the Hall of Famer, who will be 89 this May, is famous http://www.yogi-berra.com/).

Simonson's script should have received more development before bringing it to a Broadway stage and his direction can be tedious at times (how many times can the actors move to a cart and grab a beverage?) The casting is good, though, with many of the actors looking and sounding like the players they're pinchitting for on stage. Scolari, in particular, creates a consummate Berra, complete with facial expressions, mannerisms, stride and ears that stick out. He perfects his craft by physically aging the character.

If you're not a Yankee's fan -- and an older one who remembers the pre-Jeter players and the events being discussed to boot -- it's unlikely you'll feel engaged despite the team logo on the floor or the white trim over the stadium-like seating arrangement at Circle in the Square Theatre (set design by Beowulf Boritt). The show runs about two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Bronx Bombers are at bat until March 2 at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. http://www.bronxbombersplay.com/.

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

Broadway Theater Review: Outside Mullingar with Bryan O'Byrne and Debra Messing

A Light, Lyrical Trip to the Emerald Isle in a Touching Play
By Lauren Yarger
John Patrick Shanley's newest Broadway entry, Outside Mullingar, is a wee delight. Well, not so wee. This lyrical, charming and surprising play getting a run by Manhattan Theatre Club is hugely satisfying. In fact, it's one of the most enjoyable shows of the season so far.

The always-excellent Brian O'Byrne (Frozen, Doubt), and TV star Debra Messing ("Smash," "Will and Grace"), who is impressive in her Broadway debut, team as two aging misfits in the midlands of Ireland who watch life pass by.

Anthony Reilly (O'Byrne) has worked his family's cattle farm all of his life, but suddenly, his disapproving father, Tony (Peter Maloney), starts hinting that he might disinherit his son who's never married and had a family. More importantly, he doesn't seem to enjoy the work.

"I don't take joy in the work," he says, "But I do it. Some of us don't have joy, but we do what we must."

The marrying part is not for lack of trying, however, on the part of Rosemary, (Messing, who manages an impressive Irish accent with the help of Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis). She's been trying to let Anthony know she's interested ever since they were youngsters, but something always seems to hold him back.

As Tony contemplate plans to sell his farm to a cousin, he talks about the future and death with his newly widowed neighbor, Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy) and discovers that a strip of land he'd sold to her husband now belongs to Rosemary. That could prevent him from being able to make the real estate transaction.

Time passes and the elder Reilly's health fails, prompting a moving reconciliation with his son that explores the depths of family relationships and the capacity for all of us to forgive. What seemed the actions of a harsh, dissatisfied man, might really have been the act of a compassionate father trying to make his son happy.

As time continues to pass, however, it seems Rosemary and the shy object of her affections might never get together until Anthony takes a step of faith and shares with her about voices he hears out in the fields and a scary truth about himself that has prevented him from pursuing their relationship.

This revelation, startling and at first, unfathomable and humorous, steadily takes hold as Shanley's brilliance shines through and we realize Anthony's secret is a metaphor for the quirks we all have in our personalities that make us feel unlovable. It's a sweet, touching tale told in lyrical prose by a master storyteller who makes us laugh until we cry.

Doug Hughes directs excellent performances and engages a stellar creative team: John Lee Beatty, sets; Catherine Zuber, costumes; Mark McCullough, lighting; Tom Watson, hair and wig design, and original music and sound design by Fitz Patton. My one pet peeve: the rain doesn't look natural.

Outside Mullingar plays through March 16 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Waiting for Godot and No Man's Land


In a Year Marked by Classics 'in Rep,' Audiences Get a Chance to See Some Good Actors in Very Diverse Plays
By Lauren Yarger
I really am not a fan of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, so when another Broadway revival was announced just years after one starring Nathan Lane, it seemed a little too soon to me.

After all, how many times in a decade do we really need to see this odd play which can be mind-numbing at worst and confusing at best -- so much so that people can't even agree on how its title is pronounced (is it GOD - oh, or Gud-OH? -- lately the consensus is with the former.

The answer to the question is, at least one more time. Whether this play is your favorite, or whether you have yet to suffer through -- I mean enjoy -- it, make this production the one you see. The performances here, directed by Sean Mathias, are so good that they make even this existential drivel -- I mean play -- watchable.

The four-star ensemble consists of Billy Crudup (Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia), Shuler Hensley (who blew us out of our seats last year in The Whale at Playwrights Horizons), Shakespearean actor and Oscar nominee Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, known to "Star Trek" fans everywhere as Captain Picard (but he's a good stage actor too and has a "Sir" in front of his name from Queen Elizabeth to prove it.)

These skillful actors make unlikable characters likable, nonsensical dialogue understandable and a dreary play almost enjoyable. McKellen is truly amazing.

They have a little less luck with the second play they perform in rep, No Man's Land by Harold Pinter, however. I'm not a fan of Pinter either, so the prospect of a doubleheader of his limbo piece with Beckett's "interpret-it-as-you-will" purgatory was almost enough to make me consider turning in my reviewing credentials.....

The second play doesn't have enough of a parameter to allow the actors to make it their own. The most interesting things about it for me was seeing Patrick Stewart with hair.

So forgive me readers, if I wimp out on doing a formal review for these shows. They are what they are. You either want to see Captain Picard, or one or both of these plays, or you don't. If you happen upon them unawares, you'll enjoy some great acting craft. Beyond that, I'm going to let you google the plays, or break out your Sparks notes to decide whether you want to see them. I think you can already tell whether I like the plays themselves and I don't like to be snarky when reviewing.....

No Man's Land plays through March 29 and Waiting for Godot through March 30 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. http://www.twoplaysinrep.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
No Man's Land -- Lord's name taken in vain and Language
Waiting for Godot -- Sexual Dialogue, Language,

Panelist Added for Promoting Broadway Feb. 10 at Drama Desk Event



Off-Broadway Quick-Hit Review: Row After Row at The Women's Project

Rosie Benton, Erik Lochtefeld and P.J. Sosko. Photo: Carol Rosegg 
Row After Row
By Jessica Dickey
Directed by Daniela Topol
The Women's Project

What's It All About?
Civil War Re-Enactors meet in a bar following Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and find themselves on new battlefields with thoughts about modern society and ghosts of real battles from the past interwoven to ask the question "Has Anything Really Changed?" 150 years later?

The play’s title comes from Maj. Gen. George Pickett's order to charge the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. As men rushed forward and, as the defenders’ guns fired, row after row of Confederate soldiers fell to the ground, dead.

Die-hard Cal (P.J. Sosko) takes issue with the not-regulation uniform of Leah (Rosie Benton), as well as women participating in the battle at all.It's 150 years after Gettysburg, Leah quips, but a woman still has to fight for a place at the table. Tom's buddy, Tom (Erik Lochtefeld), a history teacher, is less hostile and responds with wonderment to most everything with, "Wowsa."

Discussions about the plight of women and other concerns of modern society play out (in nicely chosen modern colloquialism) are juxtaposed with scenes of a soldier deserting during the Civil War and a woman disguising herself as a man to go to battle. Time transitions are nicely executed with the help of Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau and Sound Design by Broken Chord.

What Are The Highlights?
An interesting commentary given the polarized political state of our nation. The set, designed by Clint Ramos (who also designs the costumes), is minimally built on a foundation of firewood, giving thought to how easily dissenting opinion could cause our nation to go up in flames.

What Are the Lowlights?
The script is so-so without a lot of direction. Beyond giving Leah a platform to make some passionate statements, there isn't too much plot and the ghostly element isn't thoroughly developed. 

More information
Row After Row will run through Feb. 16 at NY City Center's Stage II. Season Tickets Women's Project Theater memberships for the entire season, which includes all three main stage shows and some special events, start at $60 and may be purchased atwww.wptheater.org or by calling 212-765-1706. Single tickets are $60 can be purchased online at www.NYCityCenter.org, by calling CityTix® at 212-581-1212, or at the New York City Center Box Office, 131 West 55th St. (between Sixth and Seventh avenues).

Women’s Project Theater was founded in 1978 by Julia Miles to address the significant under-representation of women in the American theater, and has since built a tremendous legacy. Although even today women playwrights and directors severely lack parity in pay and opportunity, the extraordinary women artists who have broken through the glass ceiling have all crossed the threshold at Women’s Project Theater, including Eve Ensler, Lynn Nottage, Maria Irene Fornes, Suzan-Lori Parks, Diane Paulus, Sarah Ruhl, Paula Vogel, and Anna Deavere Smith, among the many. Throughout its 36-year history, Women’s Project Theater has produced and/or developed over 600 plays and published 11 anthologies of plays.

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

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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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