Monday, October 31, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: A Life

David Hyde Pierce. Photo: Joan Marcus

A Life
By Adam Bock
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Playwrights Horizons
through Nov. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A new play from gifted playwright Adam Bock (A Small Fire) starring David Hyde Pierce. Nate Martin (Peirce) has been trying to find meaning in his life, especially after a crisis of faith and being dumped by his boyfriend. He has turned to astrology, and while he finds it fascinating, it hasn't provided all the answers to his questions. Truth is hard to find, he tells us, and even more difficult to hold on to. He's tried group therapy to find a balance between passion, intimacy and companionship, but his fears of commitment and vulnerability make it difficult for him to find answers there either. Best friend Curtis (Brad Heberlee) offers some friendship and advice, but it might be too late.

What Are the Highlights?
Under Anne Kauffman's taut direction, we get a real look into the mind of Nate (one scene is mostly through our hearing his thoughts as he moves around his apartment) and then by witnessing how his life touches those around him, including Curtis, his sister, Lori (Lynne McCollough) and those who care for him at the end (Nedra McClyde and Marina Anderson round out the ensemble).

This is not a typical theater experience. Laura Jellinek's set makes unexpected changes to tell this extraordinarily sad, humorous and deeply personal story of the importance of one person's seemingly ordinary life. Mikhail Fiksel's sound design incorporates sound effects, such as neighbors yelling outside the apartment, which at first seem unimportant. We ignore them as minor annoyances with the same nonchalance that an emergency-services worker in one scene appears to be unaffected by having to transport another body. Later, however, they remind us that all of those lives count too and that we should never take anyone for granted.

What Are the Lowlights?
None. It's an engaging and touching 80 minutes without intermission. Pierce find the humanity in his character and pulls us in so we feel we have experiences some significant moments in the life of a friend.

More information:
A Life has been extended through Dec. 5 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 7 pm. For Thanksgiving week (November 21-27), the performance schedule will be Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Wednesday at 2:30 pm, Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 and 7 pm. Tickets are $59-$99: www.phnyc.org; 212-279-4200.

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Matt Frey.

Adam Bock will moderate a symposium Saturday, Nov. 5 4 pm at the Peter Sharp Theatrer at Playwrights Horizons. Visit phnyc.org/symposium for tickets.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Astrological information
-- Language

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: The Cherry Orchard


The Cherry Orchard
By Anton Chekhov
in a new version by Stephen Karam
Directed by Simon Godwin
Roundabout Theatre Company
through Dec. 4

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
It's Chekhov's masterpiece about a family on the edge of ruin on the eve of the Russian revolution. The family's home and their precious cherry orchard are about to be sold to pay their debts. That's the official description, but full disclosure: I am not a fan of Chekhov. I know, I am a theater critic, I am supposed to think he is brilliant, but let's just say that the only Chekhov I ever have enjoyed is Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang, so you can take everything I say here with a grain of salt. Two things this Roundabout production had going for it were a new version by Stephen Karam, whose own play, the Tony-Award-winning The Humans is far better than anything Chekhov ever wrote, and this production's stars: Diane Lane, John Glover and Joel Grey. It's always worth seeing them in action.

What Are the Highlights?
Joel Grey is amusing as Firs, the family servant (though he sometimes is hard to hear -- sound design by Christopher Cronin). So is Tina Benko, who plays Charlotta, a governess who entertains a romantic future with him.

What Are the Lowlights?
OK. besides the fact that this is Chekhov? (Remember, grain of salt...)
This version didn't seem any more interesting than the original to me. If you don't already know the plot, it is a bit difficult to follow. Lane seems lost up on the stage as characters seem to be wandering around at times without direction from Simon Godwin. Three musicians join the production, sometimes at the front left side of the house, sometimes on stage. Mostly they are a distraction because of the music they play and their noticeable exits and entrances. At intermission during the two-hour, 30 minute show, one person was asking what the constant alarm sound had been -- she was referring to individual odd sounding notes being being played (Nico Muhly composes the music). 

There also is a modern edge to the set (designed by Scott Pask) and costumes (designed by Michael Krass), the meaning of which is lost. The cherry orchard is presented as bunches of some modern-looking branches with leaves that overhang (and note to designers, just once, if I have to see The Cherry Orchard so often, I would like to see an actual cherry orchard somewhere on stage. Just once. But it would be perfectly fine with me if no more theaters felt they needed to produce something by Chekhov on their stages. May I suggest The Humans, or Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike instead. Please?

More information:
The Cherry Orchard runs through Dec. 4 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets: roundabouttheatre.org.

Additional credits:

Diane Lane....Ranevskaya
Joel Grey.... Firs
Chuck Cooper.... Pischik
Tavi Gevinson.... Anya
John Glover.... Gaev
Celia Keenan-Bolger .... Varya
Harold Perrineau .... Lopakhin
Kyle Beltran..... Trofimov
Tina Benko ....Charlotta
Susannah Flood .....Dunyasha
Maurice Jones.... Yasha
Quinn Mattfeld.... Yepikhodov
Peter Bradbury.... Passer-by
Philip Kerr.... Station Master 
Lise Bruneau, Jacqueline Jarrold, Carl Hendrick Louis.... Ensemble

Donald Holder, Lighting Designer; Jonathan Goddard, Movement; John Miller , Music Coordinator; 
Paul Kieve, Magic Consultant; Kate Wilson, Vocal Coach; Thomas Schall, Fight Director; Christine Goldman Bagwell . Production Props.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain. A lot.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Heisenberg

Heisenberg
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Manhattan Theatre Club
through Dec. 11

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker star in a Broadway run of the Off-Broadway hit about a December-May romance. An unlikely relationship develops when Georgie Burns (Parker), an attractive, flighty younger woman kisses Alex Priest (Arndt) an older, shy man she doesn't know at a London train station. Georgie pursues Alex, tracking him down at his butcher shop and the two begin seeing each other. Is there an ulterior motive in Georgie's seduction? The title, by the way, comes from a theory about uncertainty.

What Are the Highlights?
Always a pleasure to see Parker (Proof) on stage (even if she is doing some sort of odd dialect thing that multiple people said annoyed them. Director Tom Brokaw should have had her drop it.) An unusual set design has bleacher style seating on the stage, leaving just a small strip of platforming for the staging with a couple of chairs and tables for props. It increases seating capacity, but also gives the larger Friedman Theatre a more intimate feel for the 85-minute presentation (without intermission).

What Are the Lowlights?
The whole premise depends on an attraction between the two players, but it isn't there. The script by Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) never convinces us why Alex would put up with Georgie, who comes off like a rather unstable stalker. The characters aren't all that engaging. Some folks who have seen this show come away inspired by the thought that anything is possible. Instead, I just kept thinking that these were two very sad, strange people.

More Information:
Heisenberg is uncertain at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 46th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $70-$150: manhattantheatreclub.com.

Additional credits:
Mark Wendland (scenic design), Michael Krass (costume design), Austin R. Smith (lighting design), David Van Tieghem (sound design), Stephen Gabis (dialect consultant) and Sam Pinkleton (choreography).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Sexual dfialogue
-- Language

Broadway Theater Review: Oh, Hello

Oh, Hello on Broadway
By Nick Kroll and John Mulaney
Directed by Alex Timbers

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Not really sure. Kroll and Mulaney portray 70-year-old New Yorkers Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, roles they have played on comedy stages around the city and in a Comedy Central special. If you are part of their cult following, you probably will love it. If you never have heard of them before (yes, I have to admit I fall into that category), you probably will be feeling like you're not a part of the in crowd and aren't quite sure what the punch line is. It's not bad, but the thought I had through most of this one-hour, 40 minute show (with no intermission) was "what in the world am I going to say about this?" So I did a little research and here is the gist of what they say the show is about on an appearance with Jimmy Fallon: these two guys have written a play about how they have lost their rent-controlled apartment.  "It's kind of hard to explain," Mulaney said. Yeah.

What Are the Highlights?
There were some funny lines that I did get. There were a bunch of lines that were funny, but I am not sure why. There are a lot of inside theater jokes which are fun. A celebrity person is brought out of the audiences for some interaction.

What Are the Lowlights?
It's kind of vulgar at times. Some Jewish people told me they though the dialogue was anti-Semitic. It seems a waste of Director Alex Timbers's talent.

More information:
Oh, Hello plays through Jan. 8 at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45thSt., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2; Sunday at 3 and 7 pm. Tickets are $59- $159: ohhellobroadway.com; 212-239-6200.

Additional credits:
Scott Pask (Set), Jake DeGroot (Lighting), M.L. Dogg (Sound), Basil Twist (Nightmare Effect Design), Patrick McCollum (Movement), Emily Rebholz (Costume Consultant), and Anna Tendler Mulaney (Makeup Supervisor).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- The theater recommends for age 13 and above.
-- Sexual dialogue
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Stuffed

Ann Harada, Lisa Lampanelli, Jessica Luck, and Zainab Jah. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Stuffed
By Lisa Lampanelli
Directed by Jackson Gay
WP Theater
McGinn/Cazale Theatre
Through Nov. 6

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A humorous discussion about food by two-time Grammy nominated comedian Lisa Lampanelli (Comedy Central) who also stars. She is joined on stage by Ann Harada (Cinderella, Avenue Q), Zainab Jah (Eclipsed) and Jessica Luck (The Digger).

The four share their experiences with food and weight gain. Amongst the chatter which involves them all, each character gets a moment in the spotlight (Yael Lubetzky, lighting design) where we get an idea of why they struggle with weight and self esteem. One started taking laxatives at age 7 and struggles with anorexia and bulimia. Lisa lost a bunch of weight with surgery and struggles to keep it off, even as she mourns the loss of an overweight lover. One of the women insists she is OK with being heavier -- until she digs a little deeper into her past.

What are the Highlights?
It's funny -- there are a bunch of laugh-out-loud lines -- without trivializing the deeper issues here (Ashley Austin Morris provides additional material). It's a brisk 80 minutes and Director Jackson Gay keeps things well ordered while allowing for a playful quality which she does so well. (The author's notes in the program are a riot too. Don't miss them.) Every woman will be able to relate to something or someone in the play.

Stuffed kicks off the 2016-2017 season at WP Theater (formerly called The Women's Project). WP Theater is the nation’s oldest and largest theater company dedicated to developing, producing and promoting the work of female theater artists at every stage in their careers. 

What are the Lowlights?
None.

More Info:
Stuffed runs through Nov. 6 at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway (at 76th Street), NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Special scheduling: There are no Saturday performances on Oct. 22 and Nov. 5; Sunday performances at 7 pm have been added on Oct. 23 and Nov. 6. Special (early) matinees have been added at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 19 and Wednesday, Nov. 2. Tickets are $45-$65 with some discounts available: wptheater.org/show/stuffed.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language


Off-Broadway Theater Review: All the Ways to Say I Love You

Judith Light. Photo: Joan Marcus
Of All the Ways to Say I Love You, This Probably Isn't One of Them
By Lauren Yarger
Judith Light gives what has become routine for her -- a powerhouse performance -- as a school teacher caught in a flood of emotions in MCC's Off-Broadway production of Neil LaBute's All the Ways to Say I Love You.

Directed  by Leigh Silverman, Light plays Mrs. Johnson, an English High School teacher who addressed the audience as though they have stopped in for a parent-teacher conference. At first, we get the idea that the teacher is a bit priggish, a bit out of touch as most older teacher might be, but that she is passionate about imparting knowledge to her students at an unnamed midwestern school and is up to the challenge of trying to answer impossible questions like the one she just got from a student: "How much does a lie weigh?"

It soon becomes apparent, however, that she is avoiding talking about something -- something that troubles her-- and as she begins to get into the details of her unsatisfying bi-racial marriage with Eric, with whom she was unable to have a child, and a second-year senior Tommy, we start to understand.

Eclipsing the passion she had for teaching was her lust for Tommy and the two had a torrid affair. With the young boy she experiences sexual fulfillment in a way she never had before. She eventually breaks it off, but not before she decides to keep it and another secret from Eric.

Light, as always, is fascinating to watch at work. No one cries better on demand. The wide range of emotions she displays on this rollercoaster of ecstasy and agony is staggering. The amount of energy to sustain the character in the hour-long monologue is astounding.

The play itself, however, did not fulfill my desires. LaBute is a talented playwright (Reasons to Be Pretty; In the Company of Men), but the subject matter of this one is rather offensive and he fails to make us sympathize. Mrs. Johnson goes from being a proper respectable woman and teacher to a sexual predator, liar and basket case. That is fine, if that is where the character needs to go, but we have no idea why we were just asked to sit with her for an hour. All the Ways to Say I Love You -- at least in respectable wuarters -- don't include having sex with a student and then lying to him and your husband to get what you want.  Bad person! Why did I just listen to you go on for an hour? Only to see Light in action, I assure you.

The play reminds me of LaBute's "ten x ten" series aired on television. These short, one-person monologues often had people talking about unpleasant things too. This play just seems like a longer version of one.

Light shows what great acting looks like at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., NYC. The show has been extended through Oct. 23. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $125: mcctheater.org

Additional credits:
Scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costumes by Emily Rebholz, lighting by Matt Frey and sound by Bart Fasbender.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexually explicit dialogue

Broadway Theater Review: The Encounter


Take a Trip in Your Head to the Amazon
By Lauren Yarger
The sounds of the Brazilian rain forest surround you as technology brings to the stage a tale from a time and place that would seem as lost to modern times as it does from the photographer who finds himself trying to communicate during The Encounter with a lost Amazon village.

The year is 1969 and National Geographic photographer Lorem McIntyre (Simon McBurney, who conceived of the play inspired  by the book "Amazon Beaming" by Petru Popescu and who also co-directs with Kirsty Housley) arrives in Brazil's Javari Valley to photograph the indigenous Mayoruna at the mouth of the Amazon River.

During his encounter, which takes place over an undetermined time. McIntyre appears to hallucinate -- perhaps because of magic spells, drugs or a fever -- and is able to communicate with the chief, whom he nicknames Barnacle because of his many warts) by a form of telepathy called beaming.

The one-man show at first has the feel of a radio play with McBurney sitting at a table on a stage backdropped with a grey houndstooth pattern (design by Michael Levine ) on which projections (Will Duke, design) change the mood or make it look like rain (lighting design by Paul Anderson). What makes this production unique is the use of audience headsets throughout. 

The headsets (Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, sound design) are required to hear what is taking place beyond watching McBurney move around a bit on stage. Multiple characters are recorded and interact with the actor from tribes people to his young daughter who wants a story before going to bed. Sounds of the plane dropping off McIntyre, the Amazon and nature all can be heard.

The effect is the creation of an interactive and different experience for a Broadway stage. A side effect, however, is the tendency to want to nod off. Something about being cocooned in the headset environment along with a plot that isn't overly exciting had me fighting off sleep for most of the presentation. 

About 30 minutes of the one-hour, 45-minute play could probably be cut. Perhaps then it would hold attention more. As it is, it certainly is a unique experience in storytelling. For those who enjoy interactive experiences, this probably is for you. The surround-sound type of effects make it sound as through a mosquito has just landed on your ear or that the person in the row behind you is whispering to you. As someone who doesn't particularly enjoy plugging in to electronic devices for entertainment, I'd rather use my eyes than my ears and see the Amazon come to life on stage.

The show has played to critical success in London, where McBurney is co-founder and artistic director of Complicite, one of Britain's most innovative theater companies. Mnemonic,  All My Sons and The Chairs have had New York runs.

Note: Richard Katz plays the role at certain performances.

The Encounter meets a wired audience through Jan. 8 at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Tuesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $65.00 - $145. theencounterbroadway.com

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- A spell is cast


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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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