Friday, September 24, 2010

Theater Review: Orlando

Francesca Faridany, Tom Nelis
Mesmerizing Movement, Lyrical Language Help Strange Tale of Man/Woman Along
By Lauren Yarger
Annie-B Parson’s choreography and director Rebecca Taichman’s attention to detail combine with playwright Sarah Ruhl’s lyrical language to create a mesmerizingly beautiful Classic Stage Company staging of Orlando, the tale of an Elizabethan man who wakes up one day to find himself a woman.

Orlando (Francesca Faridany) enjoys his existence as a courtly man’s man (with very shapely legs), favorite of Queen Elizabeth (a delightfully humorous David Greenspan) and lover of the beautiful Russian princess Sasha (Annika Boras) until he is pursued by a relentless, amorous archduchess (also Greenspan) and requests a transfer to Constantinople. There, he falls into a deep sleep and when he awakes at the age of 30, he discovers to his amazement that he now indwells the body of a woman.

Realizing she can no longer swear, sword fight or do other fun things accepted as normal behavior for men, Orlando learns to adjust, discovering that just moving around in dresses with hoops and farthingales can be challenge enough. She takes a husband, continues to yearn for Sasha and struggles to discover how to survive in her new skin. She lives into the 19th and 20th centuries searching for words to finish the poem she started as a young man hundreds of years ago.

The bizarre tale, adapted from the Virginia Woolf novel, is more a study of self discovery than advocacy for transgender acceptance. A good amount of humor helps keep the story light, as do designer Anita Yavich’s clever costumes which help Greenspan make his quick transitions (Queen Elizabeth’s dress floats down and fastens about him). Tom Nelis and Howard Overshown round out the ensemble helping to narrate the story and personifying Othello, a ship’s captain, Orlando’s husband and other characters along the way.

The production, set to beautiful movement by Parson, is a pleasure to watch (except for an unnecessary unveiling of Faridany’s nude body to prove that she has changed into a woman. Proof of her manhood might have been more compelling, but also completely unnecessary).

Original sound and music design by Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery complete the mood, enhanced by Allen Moyer’s simple block of grass transformed from time to time by flowing materials to nice effect below a gilded mirror framing the action from above, almost like a window into the parallel world in which Orlando finds him/herself.

Orlando is surprisingly entertaining and moving. It runs through Oct. 17 at CSC, 136 east 13th St., NYC. Tickets are available by visiting http://www.classicstage,org/.

Christians might also like to know:
• Two women actors kiss
• Nudity
• Lord’s name taken in vain

Theater Review: Wife to James Whelan

Shawn Fagan and Rosie Benton. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Three Women Vie for His Attentions, but This Guy’s No Prize
By Lauren Yarger
Three women contend to be Wife to James Whelan in a lost work by playwright Teresa Deevy being presented at the Mint Theater, but James (Shawn Fagan) is such a self-centered, judgmental, unforgiving guy, you have to wonder why any of them are interested in the position.

Nan (Janie Brookshire) is James’ first love, whom he leaves in his hometown of Kilbeggan, Ireland, to go off to find his fortune in Dublin. She doesn’t understand his wanting something more out of life than what the small town has to offer. She’s content to stay there and make a life with James. He’s content to have her wait there for him, but never really pops the question while demanding that she not see anyone else while he's gone.

Meanwhile, dependable friend Kate (Rose Benton) wishes James would look at her the way he does at Nan, but wisely keeps her feelings hidden and clings to the close friendship he feels for her instead.

Seven years later, James has made a success of Silver Wings Motor Services, a bus transportation company, and he takes great pleasure in reminding everyone he's boss and hiring his old mate Tom (Aidan Redmond). He also revels in running old nemesis, Bill (Jeremy S. Holm), out of his transportation business. Kate, now helping to run Silver Wings with her brother, Apollo (Jon Fletcher), tells her boss that Nan, who married Jack (Thomas Matthew Kelley), another suitor while James was off making his fortune, is having a hard time providing for her young son following her husband’s death. James enjoys Nan’s humiliation, but eventually offers her a job in the office. Starving, and desperate to provide for her child, Nan steals some money from James’ desk and seeing the act as yet another betrayal, he has her thrown in prison.

If Nan holds out any hopes that she might be able to rekindle the feelings James once had for her, they are threatened by the arrival of Nora (Liv Rooth), the daughter of a business man who might be able to offer James a partnership and further business success. And Kate, with her continued place of trust in James' life, isn’t out of the running either. Which woman will be selected to be wife to James Whelan?

Because Deevy’s writing is so engaging and lyrical, we almost can’t wait to find out who James will choose, despite the fact that his over inflated ego and judgmental, unforgiving nature, hardly make him a worthy catch. The man who insisted on moving forward and not being stuck in the contentment of his small town is the only one unable to move ahead emotionally. Tom, with his steady, kind and wise maturity is a better match for any of the women, but no one seems to notice.

The play is staged on Jane Shaw’s simple brick-and-stone set with two intermissions to break up the 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Wife to James Whelan is a pleasant study of human nature. The almost forgotten playwright is getting her due at the Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd St., with the production of this play (through Oct. 3) and a second, Temporal Powers as well as a variety of other activities around the productions.

Tickets are available by calling 212-315-0231 or at

Christian might also like to know:
No content or language notes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Theater Review: The Revival

Just How Far Will This Preacher Go? Pretty Far -- Unbelievably So
By Lauren Yarger
Instead of trying to tell you what Samuel Brett Williams’ The Revival is, it might be easier to tell you what this play, receiving its world premiere by the Project Y Theatre Company at Theater Row Off-Broadway, is not.

The dark drama about Eli (Trent Dawson), a young preacher returning to his Arkansas home to take over his father’s church, isn’t about getting out the Gospel message, though a five-person choir in a loft constructed above the action on Kevin Judge’s simple, but effective set sings a number of hymns, most of them during the audience load in. It’s also not about exploring the relationship between Eli and his wife, June (Aidan Sullivan), though they certainly have a lot of issues to work out.

It also isn’t about church life or the preacher’s relationship with his congregation, though Trevor (Raymond McAnally), head of the church’s finances, spends a lot of time with Eli advising him on how to become a more dynamic speaker to ignite the congregation and bring the church to the attention of the Southern Baptist Convention (membership in which would solve some of their financial woes). Putting the small, declining church in better position to compete with nearby Gospel Light, a growing mega church, would be helpful too.

Harvard-educated Eli is more interested, however, in stimulating the church members to think about complex, abstract theological issues, helping them to "know" rather than "feel" what they believe. Perhaps because he‘s struggling with that concept himself.

This really isn't the motivation behind The Revival either, though. Eli’s struggles with his feelings for Daniel (David Darrow) with whom he’s having a homosexual relationship in a remote cabin where Eli’s father used to hide his alcoholic wife. He truly is conflicted by his feelings for Daniel, but seems more concerned about lying to his wife or having the congregation find out instead of whether or not the homosexual relationship is a problem. He’s allowed one area of indulgence, he reasons, and “this one my one thing.”

His solution to eliminating the conflict is so over the top and bizarre that we have to wonder about the preacher’s sanity.

So if the play really isn’t about fully exploring any of those situations, what is it about? I’m really not sure, but one thing it definitely is not is boring. The bizarre and over-the-top decisions made by most of the characters definitely hold your attention. We just have a crisis of faith that anyone would actually do the things they do.

Director Michole Biancosino uses drill-team-precision scene changes to keep the action brisk and lights the choir (Ben Hagen, lighting design) from time to time as a constant reminder of God watching over what’s taking place below. She places “members of the congregation” in the audience to shout out “amens” and the like during the preaching.

Dawson is perfect as the clean-cut, southern pastor who admits that his faith is the product of acceptance over time rather than a life-altering meeting with Jesus.

Sullivan effectively displays a wide range of emotions transforming from the meek, submissive pastor’s wife to an angry, conniving woman trying to scare her husband into being faithful. Finally, she is a motivated mother, stronger than her husband, who takes matters into her own hands to protect her son and her family’s place in the community.

McAnally, as the redneck Christian who can have a religious experience gutting a deer gives the play its much needed comic relief. He’s chilling, however, when he violently beats Daniel and ties him up in what he obviously considers doing the Lord’s work, all while conversing in sweet tones on the phone with his “baby girl." Darrow’s performance is a bit shallow, perhaps because the character doesn’t really develop beyond an intense anger that drives him to, among other things, beat up a cow. Like I said, the action holds your attention if nothing else.

So while there doesn’t seem to be a neat, definitive answer for the purpose of this play by Williams (who, according to the program was raised in a “strict Southern Baptist” environment in Hot Springs, AK), it’s certainly interesting, and different from other plays with the apparent goal of portraying Christians as hypocrites.

The Revival runs through Sept. 25 at The Lion at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St., NYC). Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:

Homosexual activity
Sexual dialogue

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Service Asks Blessings on Broadway, Celebrates 50 Years of 'The Fantasticks'

James Barbour, left, following the service.
Broadway performers and theater lovers came together Monday night for the 14th annual Broadway Blessing service held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

Broadway actors James Barbour, Charles West and Anthony Newfield were among those performing during the interfaith service which also celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Fantasticks. Tom Jones, who wrote the book and lyrics for the show, and who directed and has starred in the acclaimed revival playing Off-Broadway at the Snapple Theater Center, attended the service (the show was one of our picks to see this summer.)

Officiating were the Rev. Canon Thomas Miller, canon for liturgy and the arts at St. John, the Right Rev. Andrew St. John, rector of the Church of the Transfiguration, and Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors' Temple, who also performed "A Simple Song" from Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

Actress Catherine Russell gave a reading, Project Dance, recipient of the 2009 "The Lights Are Bright on Broadway" award presented by Masterwork Productions, performed to "His Eye is on the Sparrow." The Broadway Blessing Choir and Bruce Neswick, cathedral organist, offered a number of tunes including medleys from The Fantasticks. West, who has appeared in the 50th anniversary production of the show, sang "Try to Remember."

Newfield performed a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird, and Barbour, accompanied by Jeremy Roberts, sang "The Measure of a Man" from Frank Wildhorn's musical Rudolf. In addition, composer Carol Hall performed a song she had written, inspired in part by speaker Lynn Redgrave's stirring message form last year's Broadway Blessing and to whom this year's service was dedicated.
The evening is produced under the direction of religion and theater writer Retta Blaney (center, above). Her blog, "Life Upon the Sacred Stage," can be found here.
-- Lauren Yarger

Participants mingle at a post-service reception.

Cirque Will Premiere New Acrobatic Show at Radio City this June

Picture credit : Camirand
Cirque du Soleil has announced today that it will debut a major new acrobatic spectacle next summer at Radio City Music Hall in New York. It will be directed by François Girard ("The Red Violin," "Silk").

Created especially for the landmark theater, previews will begin for the new production in June 2011, with the premiere date to be confirmed shortly. (The Tony Awards will be held in a different location).

The new show takes place in an abandoned theatre and follows a magician who has lost his love and his magic. He is plunged into a world inhabited by surreal creatures. The diverse cast of 71 international artists transports the audience into a fantastical and suspenseful world, blurring the boundaries between the real and imaginary.

Along with Girard, the creative team consists of 12 creators under the artistic guidance of Cirque du Soleil Founder Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix.
iShares® is the presenting sponsor of this new production. American Express® is the official sponsor.

For more information about Cirque du Soleil, visit

Saturday, September 4, 2010

James Barbour Among Those to Participate in Annual Broadway Blessing

Service will be held 7 pm Monday, Sept. 13 at St. John the Divine
James Barbour (right), Carol Hall, Anthony Newfield, Catherine Russell, Charles West, The Broadway Blessing Choir, Project Dance and other distinguished guests will be among the performing artists taking part in the 14th annual Broadway Blessing, 7 pm Monday, Sept. 13 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC.

The interfaith service of song, dance and story has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997 to ask God’s blessing on the new season.

This year’s event is dedicated to Lynn Redgrave (1943 – 2010) who delivered a moving theatre reflection at last year’s Blessing, talking about her faith, her career and her battle with breast cancer, and offering a joyous recitation of Psalm 23. This year, the audience will sing that Psalm in her honor.

The evening will celebrate the 50th anniversary of two American classics: The Fantasticks and To Kill A Mockingbird.

The Fantasticks, which opened Off Broadway in 1960, has become the longest-running production in the history of the American stage and one of the most frequently produced musicals in the world. Charles West, a member of the cast, will sing “Try To Remember.” West has appeared on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Show Boat and Cyrano The Musical.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, published in 1960, remains as relevant today as it did a half century ago. Broadway Blessing welcomes actor Anthony Newfield, who recently played the role of Atticus Finch at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in California. Newfield’s recent Broadway credits include The Royal Family and Waiting for Godot.

The Broadway Blessing Choir under the direction of Bruce Neswick, director, cathedral music, will perform a number of hits from Broadway musicals from 1960, in keeping with the 50th anniversary theme, followed by an audience “sing-a-long”. The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean and The Rev. Thomas Miller, canon for liturgy & art from the Cathedral will be joined by Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors' Temple and The Right Rev. Andrew St. John, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (The Little Church Around the Corner), as officiants in the 75-minute program.

Founded and produced by theater and religion writer Retta Blaney, Broadway Blessing was conceived as a service of song, dance and story to seek God's grace on the new theatre season. Past participants have included Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann, Anna Manahan, KT Sullivan, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, J. Mark McVey, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Elizabeth Swados, Ken Prymus, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.

Broadway Blessing is free; reservations are not needed. For more information visit

Broadway Blessing is made possible by the generous support of the Church of the Transfiguration (Little Church Around the Corner) and many wonderful friends. he cathedral is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street.

Friday, September 3, 2010

TRU Panel Looks at Road to 'Memphis'

Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), The Players Theatre and Back Stage present the industry panel From Table Reading to Tony Award: A Long Way to Memphis 7:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 29 at The Players Theatre, 3rd Floor Loft Theatre, 115 MacDougal St. (below W. 3rd Street), NYC.

The road to success is not an easy one. At TRU's September Industry Panel, audiences will hear a frank discussion of the twists and turns involved in bringing the musical Memphis to Broadway, a meticulous step-by-step examination from table read to industry readings to not-for-profit allegiances and finally the Great White Way. Various members of the producing team will be on hand to discuss when and how they came on board, and how they work together. What were the lessons learned? Is this the current best model for new work development? Would the producers have done anything different if they knew then what they know now?

The panel is comprised of Memphis producers Sue Frost (former associate producer Goodspeed) and Randy Adams (former managing director Theatreworks, Palo Alto) of Junkyard Dog Productions (Memphis, Vanities the musical); Barbara Freitag (Memphis, Looped, The Miracle Worker, Impressionism, Legally Blonde, Passing Strange); and general manager Carl Pasbjerg of Alchemy Production Group.

Doors open at 7 pm for networking and refreshments; panel starts promptly at 7:30. FREE for TRU members; $12 for non-members. Please call at least a day in advance for reservations: 212/714-7628; or e-mail

Gracewell Prodiuctions

Gracewell Prodiuctions
Producing Inspiring Works in the Arts
Custom Search
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- 2022 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.

All Posts on this Blog