Saturday, July 8, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Marvin's Room


Marvin's Room
By Scott McPherson
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Roundabout Theatre Company
Through Aug. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Family and choices are at the center of Scott McPherson's Marvin's room, getting a limited run by Roundabout Theatre Company. Anne Kauffman makes her directorial Broadway debut for the play, which stars Janeane Garofalo, Celia Weston and Lili Taylor. McPherson's play had been turned into a film starring Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, among others, but this is the first time it has played the Great White Way.

Two siblings are reunited after a long separation when Bessie (Taylor) discovers she is ill and may need a bone marrow match from her sister, Lee (Garofalo), or one of her nephews: young and nerdy Charlie (Luca Padovan), or troubled teen Hank (Jack DiFalco, who reminds of Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in the film). He burned down his family;s house and has to get permission from his therapist, Dr. Charlotte (Nedra McClyde), to join his mother and brother for the trip to Florida t see the aunt he never has met. He's not sure he even wants to be tested, however, even if Bessie might die without his help.

As it turns out, Bessie easily bonds with her nephews who rebel at Lee's parenting, which is a mix of over-protection and lack of interest. Meanwhile, the family must come to terms with some realities in the face of Bessie's illness, treated with ineptitude by Doctor Wally (Triney Sandoval). Who will care for their father, Marvin (Carman Lacivita), who is bed-ridden in the next room (shown only in shadows and silhouette in Laura Jellinek's set design which morphs into a number of different locations) if Bessie no longer can? Lee made a decision long ago to put her own needs ahead of caring for him and left it all to her sister deal with while she moved away, started a family and went back to school. Bessie's not bitter, however, and considers it a privilege to look after Marvin and her increasingly dependent and needy Aunt Ruth (Weston). The characters find how far the bonds of family can stretch.

What Are the Highlights?
Very good performances across the board and insightful direction by Anne Kauffman allows the characters to express their true feelings in looks, tone and body language, where the dialogue creates a false impression that everyone isn't as unhappy as you think they must be....

What Are the Lowlights?
I have always found this play very depressing. It's a play about lost dreams and facing the realities of life, so the material is serious and we don't expect a comedy (though the hapless doctor is intended as some comic relief, but for anyone who has actually dealt with doctors and hospitals on a regular basis, incompetent health professionals are nothing to joke about). The characters never ring true, however. Bessie doesn't have any resentment? Really? Lee can't get over her failed marriage enough to love her own kids? And can we really believe that someone who long ago abandoned her father, aunt and sister without so much as a word or a penny of financial help would suddenly feel compelled to drop everything to donate some marrow and offer up her sons as candidates for the grueling procedure too?

Most annoyingly, why is this play called Marvin's Room? None of the action takes place there. We don't see Marvin and only hear him moan occasionally. Elephant in the Room, maybe, because there is a whole lot of unspoken tension that never gets spoken or resolved.

More Information:
Marvin's Room plays through Aug. 27 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC.

Tickets are $47–$147: roundabouttheatre.org

Additional credits:
Jessica Pabst, Costume Designer; Japhy Weideman, Lighting Designer; Daniel Kluger,
Sound Design and Original Music; Leah J. Loukas, Hair and Wig Design; Thomas Schall,
Movement Consultant; Matthew Elias Hodges, Production Properties Supervisor

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: 1984

The cast of Broadway’s 1984 . Photo: Julieta Cervantes
1984
By George Orwell
Adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Hudson Theatre
Through Oct. 8

By Lauren Yarger
For the audience, it's an age of  fake news and alternative facts, so it seems an appropriate time to bring George Orwell's class, 1984 to the stage.

The book, which has sold 30 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1949, suddenly has found itself at the top of best-seller lists in 2017 when the idea of thought suppression by a totalitarian regime suddenly doesn't seem fantasy fiction any more. Making Orwell's dystopian tale particularly relevant is that no matter which "regime" you side with (the presidencies of Barack Obama or Donald Trump) you can relate. 

This production transfers to Broadway following four successful runs in the UK, as adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. It is particularly harsh and dark (if you can imagine something more somber than the original) and the theater has placed an age restriction (audience members must be at least 13) due to graphic and bloody torture scenes which have upset younger children.

Set in a bleak future, Big Brother (the government) controls every aspect of a resident's life through the planting of spying cameras and microphones in homes and offices and the use of Thought Police who coerce those who don't conform to the party's  "NewSpeak" (accepted language to express thoughts). It wipes out all resistance and 1984 raises questions about truth and freedom.

Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge) works for the Ministry of Truth and has the job of making undesirable "comrades" disappear as though they never existed by eliminating all mention of them in news articles, internet postings and official documents. He hears about a resistance movement and wants to join. He starts recording his rebellious thoughts in a secret diary, which will mean his death if discovered.

He begins an illegal relationship with co-worker Julia (Olivia Wilde, making her Broadway debut) and they meet O'Brien (the always excellent Reed Birney), who gives Winston a copy of a book written by the opposition leader explaining the real meanings of the slogans "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength."

But not everything is as it seems (how can one know what the truth is when it keeps changing?) and Winston must discover whom he can trust and just how far he is willing to go to speak what he believes to be the truth in the face of torture and his own worst fears.

The story is riveting, not so much for Orwell's plot itself, but because it generates the unpleasant realization for us that this story is not far from reality in a modern culture where news headlines in a politically polarized America regularly report hatred and boycotts of individuals and businesses that don't conform with thoughts currently held as "politically correct." Newspapers and Broadcasters with political leanings simply don't report events they don't like, or report only the parts they want the public to know, or color the "facts" they report to malign politicians they don't favor. Then a few days later they say that what they reported wasn't so. 

Meanwhile, expression of thought --- particularly if you are a Christian, or a defender of the right of citizens to bear arms, for example, is attacked daily in society and officially through the court system. Everyone is so afraid of offending anyone and being the target of hatred that no one will stand up and speak the truth.  In addition, those who fear the current White House administration will erode laws put in place to protect the rights of same-sex marriage, for example, will relate to Big Brother's controlling whether Winston and Julia can be in love. 

These are scary times and it is no wonder that people who remember this Orwell classic are demanding it at their local bookstores for another look. One wonders if the modern Ministry of Truth  -- those who are selecting "truth" and rewriting the history that is taught to children in public schools -- even allow a copy of 1984 on the shelf (and Winston's diary, which is regarded as fiction in the play, will be eliminated in truth.)

Icke and Macmillan make good use of large screens for video projections (designed by Tim Reid), so in a way, the audience gets to be Big Brother.  In addition sound effects (design by Tom Gibbons) that have people jumping out of their seats and precision lighting (design by Natasha Chivers) combine to create the ability for well executed time jumps where people seem to appear and disappear on the bleak set designed by Chloe Lawford, who also designs the costumes.

This limited run plays at the newly restored Hudson Theatre, 139-141West 44th St., NYC. Performances (through Sept. 2 are Mondays through Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 5 and 9 pm (times change for the rest of the run, so check the website). Tickets are $35-$324: revisedtruth.com; 855-801-5876.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Age Restriction Policy: No theatergoers born after 2004 will be admitted to 1984. Audience members must be age 13 years or older in order to enter the Hudson Theatre.
-- Graphic torture and blood.
 

Note: the theater was FREEZING the day I attended. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket.

100 minutes with no intermission. There is no late seating.

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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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