Saturday, August 27, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: A Day By the Sea EXTENDED THROUGH OCT. 23

Katie Firth, Jill Tanner, Kylie McVey, Polly McKie, Athan Sporek, Philip Goodwin, Julian Elfer, Curzon Dobell, and George Morfogen. Photo: Richard Termine.

A Slow, Very Slow, Long Day by a Quiet Sea
By Lauren Yarger
A family gathers for A Day by the Sea and surrounded by sand, colorful umbrellas and picnic baskets, they gaze out expectantly on the horizon waiting for something to ride in on the tide.

In this first New York revival of N.C. Hunter’s play which had a 1955 Broadway run featuring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, they are disappointed – and so is the audience – because very little happens in the three-hour-with-two-intermissions production which marks the Mint Theatre’s first in its new home in residence at Theatre Row.

Unlike past productions like Women Without Men or The Little Journey, where audiences feel like they have stepped back in time and discovered a forgotten theater gem (the Mint’s specialty), A Day by the Sea has us wondering how this play ever got produced in the first play, let alone beat out others more deserving of a revival.

Directed by Austin Pendleton, who has a long history with the Mint, this production features good actors, but the slim plot, sketchy character development and exposition-laden dialogue don’t give them much to work with, unfortunately.

The family has gathered at the Dorset, England home of widow Laura Anson (Jill Tanner), who has in residence her elderly brother-in-law, David Anson (George Morfogen), who needs the constant care of Dr. Farley (Philip Goodwin, whom you might recognize from the “Pink Panther” movies), who is happy to read to the old man and help him dress for free lodgings where he thinks he can hide his addiction to alcohol.

Also on holiday are and old friend of the family,  Frances Farrar (Katie  Firth), recently divorced, her two children from a previous marriage Toby and Elinor (Athan Sporek and Kylie McVey) and their governess, Miss Mathieson “Matty” (Polly McKie)

When Laura’s son Julian (Julian Elfer ) joins them, he makes it known to family barrister William Gregson (Curzon Dobell) that he still has no interest in co-managing the family’s estate with his mother. His dismissive attitude gives us an idea why things didn’t work out long ago between him and Frances. When Humphrey Caldwell (Sean Gormley) pays a visit to tell Julian he is being recalled from his post, mostly because he just isn’t liked very much, Julian begins a mid-life-crisis review of his life and wonders whether it is too late to accomplish something meaningful.

He begins to wonder whether he and Frances shouldn’t have a second chance. For reasons not exactly clear, though she appears to have always been in love with him, she isn’t interested in his proposal, however. There’s that sketchy character development raising its head.

The action (I use the term loosely) takes place in the garden of Laura’s home and at the picnic on the beach, both locations designed by Charles Morgan framed with blurry leaves hanging overhead with large impressionistic paintings depicting the country side and beach as backdrops. The blurry art is indicative of the characters efforts to bring a sharper focus on the meaning of their lives. The costumes designed by Martha Hally don't change much between scenes, so the family looks a bit awkward at the beach in dresses and suits.

Matty perhaps has the clearest vision of what her life will be like if she doesn’t take some action. What chance does a plain-looking governess who forms bonds with other people’s children, only to have them severed when they no longer need her, have at every having a family of her own?  She decides setting up house with the drunken doctor just might be her ticket to happiness (though it kind of makes us cringe to have a women sell herself so short, especially when the actress playing her has some impressive stage presence that might have been used for a more interesting character.) The audience laughed at the ages these two characters say they are: the actors seem beyond those years.

Not much happens in the way of developing any of those plots, however, despite moments of hope for insightful thought like when David metaphorically reflects:

“Years ago, there used to be a splendid elm tree standing there. And one
October afternoon, in a great gale, it fell. What a sight! And a wrenching, tearing sound
that seemed to fill the world.”

At one point in the first act, I counted seven audiences members sleeping. My thought as the start of the second act was that this point in the story would have made a better beginning and that most of Act One could be cut. The dialogue is so laced with explanations of past events to give us background that I audibly groaned when one of the characters mentioned a year worth remembering because I thought she probably was going to launch into a prolonged speech to tell us everything that had taken place during it. The doctor suddenly has a monologue about politics; characters sing for reasons that escape me.

Particularly annoying are awkward entrances by the actors throughout. So often actors seems to be walking onto stage, distracting attention, just so they can get to their marks for upcoming lines. Conversation stops, then we hear cued from offstage some lines between that telegraph, “Here come some more characters.” The two children appear to be posed (there’s a nice porch swing) so the audience will think, “Aww, aren’t they cute?” They need some additional experience on stage to develop technique, however, and we are unable to hear most of their lines (sound design by Jane Shaw).

Tanner is solid, even if her character is not. We’re never quite sure whether she is an overprotective mother who has spoiled her son’s chances at happiness or simply a woman doing the best she can with the life she has been given. Morfogen scores the most laughs. As the old man who frequently nods off, then suddenly wakes in the middle of a conversation, he has lines like, “Does something happen soon? It’s pretty dull, this,” which brought laughs of appreciate from the audience thinking the same thing.

A Day By the Sea plays through Sept. 24. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Special Wednesday matinee Sept. 21at 2:30 PM Tickets: $57.50 : Telecharge.com; 212-239-6200. More information: minttheater.org.

Additional Credits:
Lighting Design by Xavier PierceSound Design by Jane Shaw, Properties by Joshua Yocum, Dialects and Dramaturgy by Amy Stoller; Hair and Wig Design by Robert Charles Vallance.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes. Enjoy.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Implications of Cohabitation

Connie Saltzman, Andres de Vengoechea, Gladys Perez, Vanessa Verduga. Poto: Michael Blase
New Theater Group Features Work by Promising Playwright
By Lauren Yarger
Summer is a great time to find some gems Off-Broadway that might get overlooked in the crush of  the regular Broadway season. Vanessa Verduga’s Implications of Cohabitation, getting a run at Theatre Row by Sudacas Theater, a new Latino-American company, is a recent find. With tickets at just $20.25, you’re not likely to find a bigger band for your buck in New York.

The multi-talented Verduga (she’s a lawyer who among other things created the popular digital series and comic book “Justice Woman” and is recording her first solo urban Latino album called “Soy Mujer” -- “I am Woman”) creates interesting characters and thought-provoking situations, directed here by Leni Mendez.

Siblings Jenny (Connie Saltzman) and Kevin (Andres de Vengochea) are a bit surprised when their father, Nelson (Anthony Ruiz) turns their mother’s memorial service into a family reunion of sorts by inviting their half sister, Sara (Verduga, showing that multiple talented thing again, plays this role in her play). Nelson had left their mother for a waitress in the Ecuadorian restaurant where they meet and the two families have never been close. Sara’s mother, Carmen (a solid Adriana Sananes) – loathingly referred to by Kevin and Jenny as their father’s baby mama -- also was abandoned by Nelson, when he left her to go back to his first wife.

Nelson compounds the awkwardness in the air by announcing that he plans to sell his home and move in with each his children to get to know them better. This, to put it mildly, doesn’t go over well with the kids. Kevin, an actor, and Jenny, a musician, feel their father doesn’t understand them and they are sure they can never measure up against Sara’s successful career as a lawyer.

Besides, there is some other cohabitation going on. The kids have things in their private lives that make it difficult to have a father move in: Sara lives with her fiancé, Ben, and has an ex, Jake (James Padric), who complicates things. Jenny enjoys taking hits off of her bong while composing and Kevin has a sexual partner who drops in behind the back of his live-in girlfriend, Amy.

Rejected from each of his children’s households, Nelson finds himself chatting on a park bench with a homeless man (David Pendleton) who offers some wisdom and advice.

Though the script needs an edit and some of the action in the 100 minutes with intermission could be tightened (one scene played like two actors groping for their lines), the characters are engaging and likable. They deal with real emotions and we can relate to most of what they experience (even annoyance with an overly enthusiastic waitress played by Gladys Perez).

When Carmen helps her daughter put on her wedding dress and tries to console Sara when she thinks her father won’t show up to give her away, we’re looking at real life, not just a drama at Theatre Row. I am looking forward to more from this theater company and this playwright is in my radar.

Implication of Cohabitation plays at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd St. NYC (Theatre Row) through Aug. 26. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Aug. 17 at 2 pm. Tickets: $20.25; (212) 239-6200; ImplicationsOfCohabitation.com

Credits:
By Vanessa Verduga; Directed by Leni Mendez, Assistant Direction by Joseph Barone, Scenic Design by Anna Grigo, Costume Design by Steven Daniel, Lighting Design by Jackson Miller, Sound Design by Lawrence Schober; Properties by Emilie A. Grossman.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: CATS

Quentin Earl Darrington as Old Deuteronomy and Company of CATS. Photo: Matthew Murphy
A Steetlamp Sputters and Katz Makes the Memory Live Again
By Lauren Yarger
Some nonsensical poetry, amazingly realistic makeup and costumes, cat-like choreography and a dynamic score by Andrew Lloyd Webber caused a sensation when CATS opened on Broadway in in 1982.

The show gave us “Memory,” which might well be one of the most soul-stirring ballads ever written for the stage and forever nailed Betty Buckley’s star to her dressing room door. CATS  went on to have far more than nine lives: it played on Broadway for the next 18 years and has been seen in more than 30 countries. So a revival begs the question of why now? Why this cast? Why is it worth $149 a ticket?

The revival which opened last week at the Neil Simon Theatre doesn’t offer a lot of good answers to those questions, except that “to hear Webber’s music played by a Broadway orchestra” (this one under the direction of Kristen Bodgett)  is always a good answer for why a s how should be revived-- please bring back Sunset Boulevard!

The story – what there is of one, that is, -- comes from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot in which we are invited to enter the night-time world of cats, who all have different personalities and secret names. They all also hope they will be chosen after the Jellicle Ball for a trip the Heavyside layer to be reborn into a new life. I have heard of the Heavyside layer, but don’t ask me exactly what a Jellicle is. The opening number “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” makes it clear right away that this is one of those shows, like Cirque du Soleil, where we’ll probably never quite understand what is taking place, but we’ll enjoy the visible and vocal display on stage.

Trevor Nunn directs again. John Napier re-creates his junk-cluttered alley set and costumes, which are similar to the original, but possibly less detailed. So what’s new?

Well, original Choreographer Gillian Lynne was replaced by Hamilton-hot Andy Blankenbuehler. Why, exactly, is a bit puzzling – especially to Lynne who created a bit of a fuss when she was passed over for the revival’s creative team. To be honest, these 2016 Cats seem more like they are just dancing around instead of making us forget they are actors and not really cats. Without that added charm, I felt like taking a big stretch into a cat nap at intermission.

There are a few highlights, however:
  • Quentin Earl Darrington is compelling with a beautiful baritone as Old Deuteronomy, the wise old cat who gets to choose the member of the community who gets to go “up, up, up to the Heavyside layer.”
  • Jess LeProtto (Mungojerrie) and Shonica Gooden (Rumpleteazer) have a fun, smoothly synched number where the chorepgraphy finally shines and when the audience seems most engaged.
  • Georgina Pazcoguin’s graceful ballet causes kit Victoria to stand out from the caboodle.
  • Christopher Gurr entertains as Gus and gets a few laughs.
British recording sensation Leona Lewis (“Bleeding Love”) plays the role Buckley made famous: Grizabella, the Glamour cat, a feline star who has fallen on hard times as an alley cat. She sings well and does justice to “Memory,” (though every nerve in my body didn’t tingle like when Buckley sings it). Lewis doesn’t have the acting skills for Broadway, however. She seems awkward and uncertain – which Grizabella should be, but we sense it’s more the actress than the cat.

The best thing in this revival is the Katz. No, that’s not a typo. Lighting Director Natasha Katz, that is. Lighting throughout the two-plus hours is exquisite – some of the best I have seen on stage recently. Every otherwise humdrum minute of this show is the cat’s meow because of her varied and skilled use of lighting.

The stage is animated by cat eyes glowing in the dark, hues of different color indicating mood, sprays of light introducing new cats, a moon shining down over the action, a mystical rocket jet beneath a flying tire (Projection Design is b Brad Peterson) Some lights create action, as do the actors, when they make their way into the house. Katz’s master work here is purrfectly illuminating.

Watch CATS play on the stage at the Neil Simon, 250 West 52nd St. NYC. Performances are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1:30 and 7 pm. Tickets are $59 - $149: catsthemusical.com/broadway877-250-2929.

Additional credits:
Associate Choreography by Chrissie Cartwright, Orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Davd Cullen, Sound Design by Mick Potter.

Full cast:
Leona Lewis…. Grizabella
Giuseppe Bausilio ....  Carbucketty
Quentin Earl Darrington ....  Old Deuteronomy
Jeremy Davis ....  Skimbleshanks
Kim Faure ....  Demeter
Sara Jean Ford ....  Jellylorum
Lili Froehlich ....  Electra
Daniel Gaymon ....  Macavity
Shonica Gooden ....  Rumpleteazer
Christopher Gurr ....  Gus/Bustopher Jones
Tyler Hanes ....  Rum Tum Tugger
Andy Jones ....  Munkustrap
Kolton Krouse ....  Tumblebrutus
Eloise Kropp ....  Jennyanydots / Gumbie
Jess LeProtto ....  Mungojerrie
Georgina Pazcoguin ....  Victoria
Emily Pynenburg ....  Cassandra
Ariana Rosario ....  Sillabub
Ahmad Simmons ....  Alonzo
Christine Cornish Smith…. Bombalurina
Corey Snide ....  Coricopat
Emily Tate ....  Tantomile
Ricky Ubeda ....  Mistoffelees
Sharrod Williams ....  Pouncival
Richard Todd Adams Aaron Albano Callan Bergmann Claire Camp Francesca Granell Jessica Hendy Harris Milgrim Madison Mitchell Nathan Patrick Morgan and Megan Ort…. Ensemble

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes, but some very tight costumes reveal what is underneath.


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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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