Friday, February 27, 2009

Cirque du Soleil Returns to NY with KOOZA

The latest Cirque du Soleil touring show, KOOZA, will premiere under the Grand Chapiteau in New York at Randall’s Island Park April 16 for a limited engagement.

The show marks a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil that combines two circus traditions – acrobatic performance and the art of clowning. The show highlights the physical demands of human performance in all its splendor and fragility, presented in a colorful mélange that emphasizes bold slapstick humor. The name KOOZA is inspired by the Sanskrit word “koza,” which means “box,” “chest” or “treasure,” and was chosen because one of the underlying concepts of the production is the idea of a “circus in a box.”

“KOOZA is about human connection and the world of duality, good and bad,” says the show’s writer and director David Shiner. “The tone is fun and funny, light and open. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s very much about ideas, too. As it evolves we are exploring concepts such as fear, identity, recognition and power.”

The show starts with The Trickster bursting onto the scene like a jack-in-a-box right in front of The Innocent, and that is just the first of many surprises to follow. The Innocent’s journey brings him into contact with a panoply of comic characters such as the King, the Trickster, the Heimloss, the Pickpocket, the Obnoxious Tourist and his Bad Dog.

Between strength and fragility, laughter and smiles, turmoil and harmony, KOOZA explores themes of identity, recognition and power. The show is set in an electrifying and exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement. The show features 53 performing artists.

To purchase tickets, go to or call 800-678-5440

Performance Schedule
· Tuesdays through Thursdays at 8 pm
· Fridays and Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm
· Sundays at 1 and 5 pm
· No performances on Mondays

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: 'Avow' -- Breaking and Making Vows and Gay Marriage in the Church

Kate Middleton, Joy Franz and Timothy Sekk. Photo by Jennifer Ievolo

By Lauren Yarger
A young couple in love decides they’re ready to make a lifetime commitment and asks their favorite priest to witness their vows. The problem? Tom and Brian are gay and their church and priest are opposed to their union.

Straight-laced veterinarian Tom (Jaron Farrnham) and freespirit seeing-eye-dog trainer Brian (Timothy Sekk) define themselves as “salad bar” Catholics, taking the parts they feel will provide nourishment and leaving the rest. They approach Father Raymond (Jeremiah Wiggins) to perform their marriage because they like his liberal sermons (he’s against boxing and capital punishment and for women priests and Thomas Merton). Raymond surprises them however, by aligning himself with the church’s teaching against homosexual marriage and urges them to love each other as brothers, but celibately.

Brian is hurt, especially when Tom thinks the priest might be right and starts to withdraw from their relationship, at least sexually. Brian turns for comfort to his concert pianist sister, Irene (an engaging Kate Middleton), who has agreed to let Tom and Brian raise the baby she is carrying following an affair with a married man. She visits Father Raymond to plead their case in the hopes she can “convert” him, but the result of the meeting instead, is a growing attraction between Irene and Raymond.

Added to this convenient, if not entirely believable soap-opera mix from playwright Bill C. Davis, is Brian and Irene’s mother, Rose (an excellent Joy Franz), devoutly Catholic and inexplicably fixated on her own priest, Father Nash (Christopher Graham). She lights candles and prays every day that her estranged son will cease to be a homosexual.

Irene plays peacemaker here too, and when Rose follows Father Nash’s advice to be open to God’s answer, she suddenly hears it: Brian is all right just the way he is and she agrees to have dinner with her children. Franz’s skilled delivery of the line “So here I am with my gay son and my unmarried, pregnant daughter'” gets one of the biggest laughs of the night in a script that makes good use of humor to balance its emotionally charged theme.

Meanwhile, Raymond, whose growing feelings for Irene have him questioning the vows of chastity he made as a young man when he entered the priesthood, seeks the advice of his priest. And if you hadn’t yet guessed, yes, Father Nash is his confessor.

Amidst the plot, which Davis unfortunately attempts to tie up in a neat package instead of allowing a natural ending to stand, all of the different sides of the debate are nicely given equal time. Raymond, though somewhat abruptly and seemingly uncaring about the effect his words will have on Tom and Brian, accurately relays the church’s teaching on the subject of homosexual marriage and its inability to “force the truth around feelings,” but doesn’t go into scriptural detail backing that stand.

Tom admits that he’s always “heard a small voice saying no,” and thinks he and Brian might be wrong. He joins “Courage,” a support group for people choosing a chaste lifestyle.

Brian, who gave up on the church a long time ago, thinks Tom is just buying into the lie with which he was raised and equates his and Tom’s inability to make vows in the church with Raymond’s inability to break his.

The real crux of relationships here, seems to be lust, rather than love, however. Raymond’s apparent physical attraction (he barely knows Irene) causes him to think about leaving the church. When Tom “refuses” Brian, the relationship falters. Even Irene’s previous relationship with the father of her baby was based on sex, and it’s only at Brian’s offer to be the father that she decides to go through with the pregnancy, not because she feels love for the child or its father.

A visual metaphor for this is the couple’s large, ever-present bed (set design by Stephanie Tucci) raised on a platform upstage center, around which all the action, directed by Jerry Less, takes place, regardless of the setting (it’s there in the rectory, in the restaurant, Irene’s apartment, etc.) Clouds painted on blue background surround the stage and give the appearance that the bed is floating above everything else.

And it does, to the point where it seems to eclipse some good, balanced debate on a timely subject. The show plays at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 west 45th St., New York.

Christians might also want to know:
• Homosexual activity
• God’s name taken in vain

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: The Castle -- Real Stories About Lives Turned Around

By Lauren Yarger
On the off-Broadway stage at New World Stages, the stories of lives out of control, prison and drug abuse are harrowing. The drama and emotions are palpable, but this isn’t a performance. For the four “actors,” this is reality—or was, until they found hope at “The Castle.”

Angel Ramos, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan and Casimiro Torres share their stories every Saturday at 5 pm in a 90-minute presentation conceived and directed by David Rothenberg. Their four voices represent more than 70 years in prison and a plea to help those still inside who want to turn their lives around.

Ramos served more than 30 years in prison. He carried “a lot of baggage and none of it made by Samsonite.” His father had been a ladies’ man and a numbers runner. When Ramos and his family were left homeless after a fire, they moved in with his mother’s boyfriend. He thought this was all part of a normal childhood. He became involved with drugs and was sent to prison after killing a friend.

Donovan struggled with low self esteem and made many poor choices. She used and sold drugs and would cry herself to sleep at night begging God to help her, but then would get up and repeat the same poor choices the next day. She finally realized she needed to change something when she woke up after a 15-hour time lapse with money and drugs in her pockets, but no memory of what she had done to get them.

Harrington was a good student from a loving family and enjoyed music. He excelled at basketball and was offered a college scholarship, but enjoyed “cooler” activities that involved drugs. He turned down a basketball scholarship, ironically because the college was in the town where his older brother had been in prison and it frightened him.

Torres’ home was where all of the junkies in his neighborhood hung out. At 6, he and his brother were placed in state care. He was in and out (many times running away from) those facilities, where he experienced “every kind of abuse” possible including being made to fight in “cock fight” settings with other children where people bet on the winner. He turned to drugs to ease his pain.

Sitting on stools with music stands holding their scripts, the actors deliver their stories intermingled, with each telling a portion, then yielding the stage to the next. Though all different, the narratives have two common themes: the system doesn’t work and the only reason they have been able to turn their lives around (and become taxpayers, as they all joyfully declare) is through the work of The Castle, a nickname for the Fortune Academy, which provides housing and other services to homeless former prisoners trying to re-enter society.

All four now are living testimonies of what positive change can do and are involved in trying to help others coming behind them.

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit New World Stage’s box office at 340 W. 50th St., NY. For more information about the Fortune Society, go to

Christians might also like to know:
• Harrigan speaks eloquently about his faith in Jesus Christ, which helped him get through his 12 years in prison. “I don’t know how people (in prison) survive without it.”
• Ramos also speaks about his faith and the helping hand extended to him by the Quakers.
• A $10 donation can cover the cost to bring an at-risk youth to see the show. Donations may be mailed to EKTM/The Castle, 155 W. 46th St., 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036 or by calling 212-976-7079.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Story of My Life Closes After Just 5 Performances

The Story of My Life, a new musical starring Will Chase and Malcolm Gets in the story of a lifelong friendship, will close after the matinee performance today, just five shows after opening.

The decision was announced after the show was widely panned by critics. Story was workshopped at the Goodspeed Opera House here in Connecticut. For a review of the show by my American Theater Web editor Andy Propst, click here

For an informative article on why Broadways musicals need to downscale and whether audiences will notice (perhaps Story of My Life's closing provides the answer) click here

For more information about the closing, click here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lydia at Yale Rep

On floor: Stephanie Beatriz as Lydia, Onahoua Rodriguez as Ceci, Carlo Albán as Misha; standing Catalina Maynard as Rosa, and Tony Sancho as Rene in the east coast premiere of Lydia by Octavio Solis, directed by Juliette Carrillo, at Yale Repertory Theatre, February 6-28, 2009.
Photo © Carol Rosegg, 2009.

Read my review of Lydia at Yale Rep at American Theater Web Click here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gospel 'Superstar' Rocks Atlanta

Photo courtesy of the Jacksina Company, Inc.

In a sea of revivals being churned out by producers hoping previously staged commodities will prove less risky offerings for the stages of the economically challenged Great White Way, here's one I'd be interested in seeing: Jesus Christ Superstar.

Now, before you scoff and remind me that the Andrew Lloyd Weber classic already had a revival a few years ago and that another '60s religious musical, Godspell, wasn't able to find investors for its planned revival this season, let me point you to a Superstar with a different twist: the gospel version currently wowing them at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. This sounds really interesting and I wish it were closer so I could go have a look.

After seven years of work re-arranging and reconceiving the show as contemporary Black gospel, arranger, orchestrator, composer, lyricist, musical director, musical supervisor and conductor Louis St. Louis opened the show with a cast of 50 to critical acclaim.

The music from this show is so good it always stands on its own, but now I'm intrigued and would love to hear this Gospel version from this Grammy Award winner.

Connecticut Theater Reviews

Read my reviews at American Theater Web:

Dead Man's Cell Phone
at TheatreWorks Hartford

Jersey Boys at The Bushnell in Hartford

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review: Hedda Gabler

This Revival of the Classic Misfires

By Lauren Yarger
It’s supposed to be Hedda who is consumed with boredom and a lack of viable options, not the actress playing her, the rest of the cast and the audience. Unfortunately, these are the results in the latest revival of Roundabout Theatre Company’s Hedda Gabler at the American Airlines Theater.

Director Ian Rickson fails to find the spark to ignite considerable talent, including Mary-Louise Parker as Hedda and Michael Cerveris as her boring and ineffectual professor husband, Jorgen Tesman, and as a consequence, this modern adaptation by Christopher Shinn misfires instead of offering a lock, stock and barrel rendition of the Henrik Ibsen classic.

Parker tries to give some life to Hedda, bored with her new husband, who finds some excitement through the pistol collection left to her by her father, the great General Gabler, and by manipulating Tesman and the other people in their lives.

First, Hedda is rude to aunt Juliane (Helen Carey) who raised Tesman and who’s not quite ready to let him go. Then she seduces Tesman’s academic rival Ejlert Lovborg (Paul Sparks) who has written a masterpiece manuscript with the help of Thea Elvsted (Ana Reeder), the old schoolmate Hedda enjoys intimidating. Even Judge Brack (Peter Stormare), who handles Tesman’s meager finances which are hardly able to support the lifestyle desired by aristocratic Hedda, falls vulnerable to her charms. When her schemes fail to bring the results Hedda desires, tragedy ensues.

Parker is at her best when delivering lines of sarcastic humor and enhances them with body language and facial expressions. Most of the time, however, it appears that she’s trying hard to engage with the other actors who seem insulated from her.

Cerveris is believable as the ennui-inducing Tesman who spent his time missing his favorite slippers and pursuing academic research while on his honeymoon with the beautiful Hedda. Sparks, Stormare, Carey and Lois Markle, who plays the maid, all are equal to their parts, but there’s no chemistry or levels of interaction between any of them. Reeder, however, is miscast and consistently delivers emotionally charged lines flatly, as though she’s not quite sure what to do with them.

Hildegard Bechtler’s set design adequately conveys the dismal and confining environment in which the characters find themselves, but also, alas, is symbolic of this production.

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sexual acts
• Suicide

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review: The American Plan

Some Plans Unravel

By Lauren Yarger
What do a young heiress, her overbearing mother, a handsome suitor and a mysterious visitor add up to? Not what you’re thinking. No matter what you’re thinking.

It’s supposed to add up to The American Plan, the ideal of what we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to act, but nothing is what it seems in Richard Greenberg’s play at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in New York. It’s almost like the playwright started out as with a treatment of Henry James’ “Washington Square,” but got a modern triangle instead.

Heiress Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) woos men, apparently a new one each year, from the hotel across the lake from where she and her Jewish war refugee mother, Eva (Mercedes Ruehl), summer in the 1960s Catskills. Lili loathes her mother, known to locals as the “czarina,” who sang lullabies about Nazis and happiness only being for other people. Lili also believes Eva murdered her father. She feels more affection for the maid, Olivia, (Brenda Pressley).

This year’s conquest is Nick Lockridge (Kieran Campion), a dashing WASPy journalist. All goes according to plan until a mysterious guest, Gil Harbison (Austin Lysy), arrives. Is Nick really who he claims to be? Is Eva obsessively trying to suffocate her daughter’s happiness or is she protecting Lili from someone trying to take advantage of her? Will Lili be able to escape from her mothers control? Is she really as naïve as everyone thinks? The answers play out in several plot twists at the lake and 10 years later in a New York apartment and reveal that the best knitted plans often unravel.

Ruehl is commanding as the imperial and hardened Eva (there’s a great metaphor about her soaking in salt water), and does justice to the bits of humor found in Greenberg’s script, but the performance isn’t enough to give the story the oompf it needs to make us care about these people. Olivia is underdeveloped and leaves questions about why she is there and what the nature of her relationship is with the two women. Under David Grindle’s direction, Rabe’s portrayal of Lili is strong, robust and energetic, with her emotions boiling over in contradiction with the script, which seems to indicate Lili’s emotions would simmer under a lid of insecurity and mental instability. She seems more formidable than Eva.

Jonathan Fensom (scenic and costume design) offers a sparse set with a large dock that rotates and tree-painted curtains that swish by in front and back of it during scene changes. Some of the characters appeared in the same costumes although days were supposed to have passed.

The American Plan never quite delivers or satisfies, failing itself, like its main theme, to live up to the ideal of what everyone expects.

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sex outside of marriage
• Homosexual activity

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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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

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for 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- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


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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