Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Review: The Pearl Merchant

Erin Layton as Hannah and Bryan Taylor as Tom in The Pearl Merchant (photo credit: Christopher Davis)

Pearl Merchant Fails to Sell its Themes

By Lauren Yarger
Some great themes about adoption, faith and prejudice are at the heart of “The Pearl Merchant,” the first full-length production from the Threads Theater Company with a goal of presenting plays that spark conversations about faith and contribute to cultural renewal. Minor irritations, however, like those that produce cultured gems, shift the focus and keep the production from becoming a natural pearl.

Painter Hannah (Erin Layton), unable to have children, wants to adopt her student whose mother is dying, but her husband, Tom (Bryan Taylor, and mother-in-law, Elisabeth (Jillian Lindig), don’t think it’s a good idea for reasons that aren’t known to Hannah. Nenna (Nehassaiu DeGannes), a mysterious visitor, raises questions about whether the white couple has thought through all of the consequences of adopting this black child.

Like its own forced metaphor about nurturing trees, the play (from first-time playwright Cecilia Brie Walker) suffers from too many plantings without a lot of thought given to the roots. Is this a play about adoption, trust, racism, ghosts, guilt, Christian faith or the dynamics of working through a difficult stretch of marriage? Without clear direction, the play presents like a row of all of those seeds watered by a bunch of inserts to try to get them to grow together: “insert wise advice from mother here;” “insert thought about God here;” “insert explanation for ghost here.”

Intended “surprise” plot twists seem telegraphed well in advance and none of the themes ever is brought to a “pearl-like” conclusion. The lack of fluidity translates to the performances where only DeGannes seems comfortable in the skin of her character despite some nice blocking and attention to detail from director Misti B. Wills.

April Bartett’s scenic design stands out, though. She transforms the tiny stage (The Space on West 43rd Street) into two defined areas: Elisabeth’s mountain home with baskets, plants and detailed country accents downstage and the “bald,” an outdoor patch up on the mountain where Hannah likes to paint (as the audience enters the theater, she is seen painting in the shadows for a nice effect) upstage. Bartlett’s skill makes the two separate areas, on stage together throughout the almost two-hour one act, work despite a couple of exits from the bald through wooden doors. A glowing pearl also is a nice effect.

“The Pearl Merchant” was produced with help from Gifted Hands, a Manhattan volunteer program that offers recreation and healing through art, design, and craft classes for a range of populations, including at-risk youth, the homeless, people living with HIV/AIDS, and the elderly.

Christians also might like to know:
• Contains language

• God’s name is taken in vain

• The play contains some confused theology. An atheist who tells us she doesn't believe in God tells us she knows she's not going to hell, “thank God”....

• There is a ghost and Elisabeth, a Christian, offers the following as a possible explanation: “There are places the Celts recognized, where the barrier between the world of matter and the world of spirit is thin. ‘Thin places,’ they call them. Mysteries happen there. And when their children passed through the hills here, of course, many of them stayed. Well, I think something dwells here that is like that ancient thinness.”

• Tom, a seminary professor, is concerned that if the truth about his past comes out, his career might suffer, but seems oblivious to the fact that a guy who has sex with a former atheist girlfriend while engaged to someone else, fathers a child for whom he doesn’t take responsibility and then keeps all of this from his wife might not be the best candidate for tenure at a seminary.

• Threads Theater Company began in 2004 when a group of theater professionals at Redeemer Presbyterian Church began to discuss the connection between faith and theater. The group created a staged reading and discussion series and established a new play development program.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: A Tale of Two Cities

Some “Best of Times” Up There Among the Rest

By Lauren Yarger
OK, I’m a theater critic, so I’m supposed to tell you how the new mega-musical version of A Tale of Two Cities can’t quite overcome the shadow of Les Mis; how it tells the same old story; how its choreography is uninspired and how the plot-laden book and sugary exposition-filled lyrics just aren’t quite up to snuff. And while all that’s true, there’s something else I need to tell you: I liked it.

I liked it a lot, because for me Jill Santoriello’s (book, lyrics and music) treatment was revolutionary. She made me laugh and cry and finally care about the sacrifice Sydney Carton (fabulously played by James Barbour) makes in the name of love -- three things no other version, including the Dickens novel ever has done.

Tale is set in Paris and London on the eve of and during the French Revolution. Sydney, a lazy lawyer who has all but given up on himself, helps clear Charles Darnay (Aaron Lazar) of espionage charges and meets Lucie Manette (Brandi Burkhardt), daughter of Dr. Alexandre Manette (Gregg Edelman) , wrongly imprisoned by the Marquis St. Evremonde (Les Minski). Lucie nurses her father back to health, marries Darnay (who’s really a St. Evremonde, but who has renounced his aristocratic birthright) and wins the heart of Sydney, who sees in her the life he might have had. Following through on his promise to make any sacrifice necessary for her and those dearest to her (although I’m not sure that ever gets said in this version) he trades places with a condemned Darnay on the guillotine.

Brandi Burkhardt and James Barbour

Add to this Madame Therese Defarge (Natalie Toro), who with her husband Ernest (Kevin Early) knits and plots the revolution while she harbors a secret hatred for all Evremondes everywhere, Lucie’s housekeeper Miss Pross (Katherine McGrath), a banker (Michael Hayward-Jones), another lawyer in love with Lucie (Fred Inkley), a spy (Nick Wyman) an estate manager (Kevin Greene) a few grave robbers, 30 musical numbers and an ensemble of more than 20 and you still don’t have a full picture of everything that takes place. This might shed light on the difficulty in translating this saga into a stage production and why director/choreographer Warren Carlyle may have felt lost in the crowd.

The standout, without question is Barbour, whose dreamy voice and sarcastic, yet thoughtful manner give Sydney definition and allow us to see him grow from a wash-out to a man willing to give his life for another. Santoriello’s focus on Sydney’s relationship with Lucie’s daughter also gives us a broader perspective into his character. When he goes to the guillotine, you know he’s doing it as much out of love for Lucie as for her daughter and because this noble act will bring them happiness. This was a breakthrough for me, since in all other versions, the sacrifice always seems more like a last-ditch effort to make his life count for something. If Lucie didn’t weep for him in the “far, far better” scene, I sure did.

I also spent a lot of time laughing. Humor is infused throughout the show and though unexpected in a tale of revenge, blood-lust and all the rest of the “worst of times,” it works most of the time and provides some balance for an otherwise gloomy story. It also is great to sit once again in a Broadway theater (the Hirschfeld) and hear so many great voices (besides Barbour, Burkhardt, Toro, Lazar and Greene) belting their lungs out and hitting notes in the rafters, even if you can’t remember the tunes when they’re finished (ironically two of the songs are titled “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” and “I Can’t Recall.”)

At left Brandi Burkhardt in one of David Zinn's intricate gowns

All of this takes place against a wonderful backdrop staged by scenic designer Tony Walton, costume designer David Zinn and lighting designer Richard Pilbrow. Walton’s wooden two-story stick structures provide the framework for the homes, bar rooms and other interior locations. They are complimented by furnishings sparse in number, but intricate in detail, and back dropped by muted pastel panoramas of exterior locales.

Dramatic lighting creates various effects, and in the second act, Paris is aglow in a bloody red. Zinn’s costumes are extremely elaborate and detailed. Multiple textures, patterns and fabrics in variegated colors blend with the sets and lighting to complete a beautiful tapestry.

Christians also might like to know:
Relatively blood and gore free given the nature of the subject. Guillotine implied, not witnessed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Importance of Beng Earnestly Mentored

The first time I was mentored, it happened without warning. The Lord simply placed the most Godly woman on the planet in my life, allowed us to become bosom friends and, voila.

It occurred to me one day that Muriel was my mentor as well as my friend when a mentoring program began at church. Eager to find a mature Christian woman who could help guide me along in my Christian walk as a wife, mother and in ministry, I read through the program's information. A picture of what a mentor would look like began to form in my mind and the face was Muriel's. I already had my mentor. Her children rise up and call her blessed. The eyes of her husband of more than 60 years still sparkle with delight whenever she walks into the room and she already offered great counsel on personal and ministry issues.

I returned the information to the program director and never looked back. Muriel knit her heart with mine and I'm the stronger for it. Since then, I have recognized several more mentors divinely placed in my life and each has been a blessing.

Most recently he's using my good friend Retta, who has been encouraging me in my theater reviewing. I'd been receiving prompting from the Lord that I should review theater, but I wasn't convinced it was such a great idea or how to start. Meeting Retta at a show, she suddenly started talking about how I should be reviewing. Coincidence? I think not.

"Start right now," she encouraged. "Review this show." So I pulled out a pad and pen and began one of the most exciting, fulfilling parts of my journey with the Lord yet.

He keeps opening doors, doors that should have been stuck shut for years, usually with Retta there along the way to hold them open. If something exciting happens, she's standing there cheering. If there's disappointment, she has an encouraging word, provides helpful information and redirects me to focus on the Lord. I hope that in some small way he'll allow me to return the favor.

The prayer of a mentor:
"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." (Ephesians 1: 17-19 NIV)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: The Tempest

Stark Sands, Mandy Patinkin, Elisabeth Waterston (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Production Fails to Gather the Flotsam

By Lauren Yarger
Classic Stage Company’s rendering of “The Tempest” seems lost at sea, with its best elements rising on the swells while others crash on the beach resulting in a production that seems unsure of how to gather in the flotsam and steer a steady course.

Shakespeare’s last play explores the themes of revenge, forgiveness and restoration as magician Prospero (Mandy Patinkin) creates a storm that shipwrecks his brother Antonio (Karl Kenzler) and Alonso, the king of Naples (Michael Potts), who conspired to usurp him as the Duke of Milan and brings them to the remote island where Prospero lives with his daughter, Miranda, (Elisabeth Waterston), his slave spirit Ariel (Angel Desai) and his other slave, Caliban (Nyambi Nyambi).

Also washing up on the beach are Sebastian and Ferdinand, Alonso’s brother and son (Craig Baldwin and Stark Sands), Trinculo and Stefano, Alonso’s jester and butler (Toy Torn and Steven Rattazzi) and Gonzalo (Yusef Bulos), a counselor of Naples. Plots to kill Alonso and Prospero, grief over lost loved ones, a love match between Ferdinand and Miranda and drunken revelry ensue, but without an anchor, the production only skims the surface of the deep emotions and relationships that might have been explored.

Patinkin, with hands flailing and voice delivering lines at breakneck speed with increasing volume and intensity, conjures images of the late Maurice Evans playing Samantha’s overdramatic Shakespearean father in the TV show “Bewitched.” As we watch him battle a personal storm to force lines out without breaking into song, he seems blown off course, oddly distant from his cast mates and foundering without a lifeline from director Brian Kulick. He finally touches bottom in the second act, particularly when he gets to sing in one of the really pleasing original tunes by Christian Frederickson which are a highlight of the production.

Creatively tattooed Ariel is enchanting as she sings and works her magic, although she wears what looks like a large diaper, one of the few disappointments among Oana Botez-ban’s costumes which feature white, sand colored materials for the beach dwellers and opulent court garb for the visitors. Waterston and Sands are engaging with exchanges that are fresh and full of chemistry. Waterston succeeds in embodying Miranda with a delightful innocent charm and Sands is the most skilled of the troop in making Shakespeare’s verse sound lyrical.

Baldwin and Kenzler give a nice turn as sarcastic co-conspirators and Rattazzi makes a delightful drunk. Less defined is Caliban who, also tattooed, is depicted as a little slow witted, but played by handsome Nyambi, has no noticeable deformity to explain dialogue that describes him as misshapen and horrible to behold. Initial thoughts that casting a black actor here might be a statement about racial prejudice are negated as a multi-ethic cast is revealed.

Distracting is Jian Jung’s set design featuring a large canvas flat with a painting of the sky hung precariously over the players (in a theater that already has a cramped and claustrophobic feel) and re-angled throughout by a visible crew of four using ropes and pulleys anchored to its corners. “The sky is falling,” one observer quipped and it does remain an ominous presence over the action, especially when one character looks up to say, “Oh, heaven” to see heaven itself about a foot from his face.

A square of sand through which the actors walk barefoot is one of the most creative elements of the production, giving life and dimension to the island. It’s hauled away, however, in a labor intensive cleaning of the stage during intermission (this crew surely will have impressive upper body strength by the end of the run) presumably to allow a table prop to roll around the stage in the second half. Patinkin scatters sand around later, but it seems a memorial to the missing magical square.

It was a pleasure, though, to see many young children in the audience, apparently enjoying the experience very much. Kudos go to their parents for realizing the importance of nurturing a love of the classics from an early age.

Christians also might like to know:
Prospero is a magician and spends short amounts of time using magic to manipulate the elements and people

Spirits and Roman gods are depicted

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: Refuge of Lies

Rudi (Richard Mawe) and the mysterious figure.

A Compelling Play Gets Lost in the Staging

By Lauren Yarger
There’s a thought-provoking play being presented at the Lion’s Theater in New York, but confused staging distracts from the themes explored in “Refuge of Lies” and comes close to turning the production into a farce instead of a probe into the mind of a man haunted by his past.

Inspired in part by true events, Refuge tells the story of Rudi Vanderwaal (Richard Mawe), a converted Mennonite and retired teacher, who is pursued by Jewish reporter Simon Katzman (Drew Dix) who claims Rudi is a Nazi collaborator and not the sweet old man his wife Netty (Lorraine Serabian) and friends Conrad and Hanni (Arthur Pellman/Joanne Joseph) know. Simon’s niece, Rachel (a miscast Libby Skala), questions Simon’s motives and reaches out to Rudi, who is tormented by images from the past and by the mysterious figure of an Orthodox Jew haunting him. He seeks counsel from his pastors (John Knauss, in a duel role as Rudi’s pastors from the past and present) and tries to leave the sins of his youth behind to live a new life as a baptized Christian.

Ensuing are some intriguing exchanges of dialogue raising questions like: are sins forgiven if you hide them and don’t take responsibility for them; are there some crimes so horrible that no punishment fits them; can horror double as justice; are events in the past worth obsessing about if they have been forgotten by those affected; can forgiveness and mercy provide any answers?

At right, Lorraine Serabian, Libby Skala and Drew Dix.

Compelling stuff from Canadian playwright Ron Reed, but the audience spends most of the play asking other questions like: “Why is there a river in the apartment?” “Who is this character?” “Why did these people just turn green?” “What was that noise?” and “Are we in the present now, or back in the past again?”

These distractions come from a confusing timeline and a disjointed “present/past/in Rudi’s mind” concept which prove too complicated for director Steve Day to pull off in the space (and presumably on a Showcase budget).

Rebecca Ferguson designed the set in which a living area serves as everyone’s home and church, with four doors leading to and from unexplained places and through which the characters make endless entrances and exits, most accompanied by a relentlessly loud, scene-shaking “knocking” which goes from being annoying to comical. Other sound effects also are confusing or miss the mark.

A large curtain serves as a window into Rudi and Netty’s bathroom where, surprisingly, a lot of action takes place. The same area, though, also represents a bird coop where Rudi keeps pigeons. The result of using a silhouette effect for both scenes in the same way confuses the audience, which choked back laughter when the pastor twice appeared to enter the bathroom to talk to Rudi and his wife while they were showering (the water sound effect was running, so maybe he did?).

Leaps into the past or into the recesses of Rudi’s mind take place without warning. Moving two chairs apparently means we’ve gone back 50 years in time. Conrad suddenly isn’t Conrad, but Rudi’s father. Eventually we catch on for some repeated scenes: green people (the result of a lighting effect gone awry) plus the pastor with glasses on downstage right equal the past, and the pastor without his glasses downstage left is the present. Other transitions go undetected until part way through the dialogue.

Because we spend so much thought trying to figure out what’s happening, we miss a chance to focus on Reed’s skillful character development and compelling dialogue which examines Simon’s motives, Rudi’s guilt, the real reason behind Conrad’s show of support, Netty’s efforts to come to grips with the truth about her husband and the role of religion in all of this.

It’s too bad, because there’s great purpose here, and commendable intention by the presenting company, Firebone Theatre, whose mission is to produce and develop works that tackle the metaphysical themes of God (fire) and Death (bone).
A portion of the proceeds from the run (through Sept.28) are being donated to charities.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Prayer, Politics and Pretzels

Recently I had the privilege of joining a group of journalists covering religion beats for a Religious Newswriters Association seminar on how to find faith angles in news stories. Specific attention was given to the presidential race, to popular culture and to covering Pennsylvania (where the seminar took place, thus the "pretzel" part of the title).

Funny, but it doesn't seem like you have to look very far these days to find a religious angle -- usually a negative one -- being played in the press. It's fortunate that we have some well trained journalists dedicated to covering the issues in an unbiased way. The possibilities for writing about religion don't stop in print or broadcast media either. According to information given by presenter Marcia Z. Nelson, nearly one in five of the books read in 2003 dealt with religion or spirituality. Just browse in your local bookstore and you'll see a wide range of topics and suggested ways to find fulfillment through religious experience.

For those of you who are Christian writers, the time has never been more ripe for sharing your gift to help spread the word, clear up confusion and help people sift through the reams of misinformation being written. In some cases, the motive is to discredit Christianity. Some other works are written by people who seem well intentioned, but whose thoughts don't spring from the eternal waters of Christ. Pray about how God would have you use your talent and make a difference.
"But when you proclaim His truth in everyday speech, you're letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience His presence with you." (1 Corinthians 14:3 THE MESSAGE)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Walking Wih God Through the Grief of September 11

The seven years following the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001 have been long, difficult ones for me, filled with different stages of grief and with learning how to go on in a world that still seems slightly askew. Having a personal relationship with the living God who has conquered death and sin was the anchor that allowed me to weather the storm.

I grew up right outside of New York City and it and its skyline are as much a part of me as the bones and tissues that knit together my framework. Two weeks after the tragedy, I returned there to spend some time trying to find normalcy and to take my children there so that they wouldn't be afraid to venture into Manhattan. First stop: the Empire State Building, a personal favorite of mine. A symbol to me all of my life of the city's greatness, romance ("An Affair to Remember" is one of my all-time favorites) and beauty, the 103-story deco building offers breathtaking views from its observatory. After seeing the still-smoking hole that was Ground Zero, we headed to our hotel and my heart cried out to the Lord. I needed to feel bottom in a sea of emotion and heartache.

The Lord answered. The view from our room was the Empire State Building. We'd chosen the hotel because of a discount rate, but the Lord knew I needed a few days of being able to gaze out at something I loved, something still standing amidst the chaos around it; something still alive with activity. It and 2 Corinthians 4:8 from The Message version of the bible ("We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken") were life-saving medicine.

A few weeks ago I realized that though it had taken almost seven years, I had worked my way through the desert of grief and was ready to visit Ground Zero and lay it to rest. I had business that took me into the city and I decided to stay over in a hotel not too far from the site so I could walk to wherever the construction would allow me to get closest and spend some time in prayer.

I checked into my room and found a pair of complimentary earplugs on the desk with an apologetic letter from hotel management explaining that I might be able to hear noise from nearby construction. I settled in and opened the drapes to find that my room directly overlooked the Ground Zero construction site. My heart was filled with gratitude to a loving God who knew just what I needed. I drank in the site, all of it in one sweeping panorama, devoid of debris and the center of new life and activity, and quenched a seven-year thirst. Foundations for new office buildings, a performing arts center, a transportation hub, a visitor's center and memorial were going in. The activity continued around the clock and I never once thought of using those earplugs. The sound was music; streams in the desert.

There is no pit so dark or black that God's light cannot shine through. There is no place so lost that we cannot be found because He is always right there with us to share the experience and lead us out.

"Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done." (Psalm 9:11)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Theater Touches Us; Honors God

Theater gives us a sense of human action, changes people on the inside and is a necessity, rather than an option.
Those were some of the thoughts conveyed in a reading by actor Boyd Gaines at the 11th annual Broadway Blessing last night at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York under the direction of Retta Blaney.
Theater, the art of storytelling and it's value, goes right to the heart of the artists using their gifts in the church as well as those who gathered to ask God's blessing on the new season and to give thanks for their gifts in the arts.
God's ability to gift and to use the product of that gift to touch hearts was evident in the offerings which included dance, song, readings and prayers. The song "Nothing There to Love" by Christopher Smith from "Amazing Grace: The True Story," a show in development with hopes of making it to Broadway, is about as close to perfection as I have heard in a long time. Isn't it exciting when you just know God wrote the notes or the words of a work we produce?
Find your gift. Give thanks for it. Use it to the glory of God.

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his [a] holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
They will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.
(Psalm 96 NIV)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

39 Steps Contest

This just in from one of the producers of The 39 Steps, some of the most fun you'll have on Broadway. It's a contest to find an Alfred Hitchcock look alike. Trust the creative team of this comedy to come up with a fun contest. Send in your photos-- good luck!

Do you think that you look like Alfred Hitchcock? If you don't, do you know
someone (a relative, co-worker, baby, pet) who looks like Alfred? The
Broadway company of Alfred Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS believes that Hitchcock
lives in all of us. In celebration of Hitchcock Month (Sept 2008) Alfred
Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" is holding a look-a-like contest.

So take a photo of you or someone you know who looks like Alfred and you can
win a BIG PRIZE. Remember, the photo need not be an exact likeness of our
beloved Alfred, but convey the persona of Alfred.

Four "finalists" will be selected to appear for a live vote where the audience
of Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" will decide who is the best Look A
Like! Each finalist will win four tickets (for you and three guests) to attend the show on Tuesday evening Sept 23 followed by a live vote by the audience to decide a winner who will receive a prize package and the title "Best Alfred Hitchcock Lookalike."

Anyone in the New York area can enter. There is no cost. Send your "Alfred Hitchcock Look A Like" photo via email by Sept. 16 to "ALFRED@hhcmarketing.com." In the subject line, please write "Look A Like," and in the body of the email please give us the name of the person/thing in the photo (if not you), your name, your phone number, your mailing address and your preferred email address. You may also inquire at that email address for a full listing of rules and limitations.

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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Producing Inspiring Works in the Arts
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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 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. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other 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 wrote 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 was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly 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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


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 or people of a certain race 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. 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 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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