Friday, October 29, 2010

Theater Review: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson cast. Photo by Joan Marcus
It's Emo-Cracy in Action
By Lauren Yarger
Backroom deals in Washington, slogans of “take the country back,” “teabags,” “change” and a celebrity US president who promises transparency, vows to reglulate bankers on Wall Street and makes unilateral decisions he “knows” the American people really want even when they say they don’t.

Headlines ripped out of today’s newspapers? No, they’re issues from nearly 200 year-ago life of the nation’s seventh president and parts of the script from Broadway’s musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

In this tongue-in-cheek story by Alex Timbers, who directs, with emo-rock music by Michael Friedman (who also wrote the lyrics), Jackson (Benjamin Walker) is personified as a tight-jean-wearing rock star persona, whose tale is told with a lot of sarcasm and humor. It’s enjoyable and a subtle commentary on today’s politics, which haven’t changed all that much in the last two centuries, it would seem. It is especially funny on the eve of Tuesday’s election.

The savvy presentation with choreography by Danny Medford takes place on a stage decorated with an explosion of frontier-themed props, chandeliers and tiny lights that extend into the house. Everything glows a bloody red as the audience enters the theater (watch out for that floating horse carcass.) Modern/period costumes are designed by Emily Rebholz.

The “bloody” refers to Jackson’s obsession with ridding the nation of Indians (they killed his family). After one massacre, he sends a surviving infant home to his wife Rachel (Maria Elena Ramirez) as a “souvenir.” Black Fox (Bryce Pinkham), who survives as the leader of the last nation of Native Americans by cooperating with Jackson, helps raise the boy until his refusal to go along further with the relocation of his people breaks his friendship with Jackson.

There’s a lot of history thrown in with the gags, like Jackson’s initial failed bid for president against John Quincy Adams (a very funny Jeff Hiller), charges of bigamy -- Rachel apparently was legally married to someone else -- and the Louisiana Purchase. These are thrown in amidst some very funny interpretations of politicians of the time: James Monroe (Ben Steinfeld), Henry Clay (Pinkham), Martin Van Buren (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and John C. Calhoun (Darren Goldstein).

Rounding out the zaniness is Kristine Nielsen as the wheel-chair-bound Storyteller, the voice of history, who has a love-hate relationship with Jackson.

This fresh take on the “man who puts the man in manifest destiny” is a treat and makes the transition from last season’s Off-Broadway presentation to Broadway well (many of the cast members repeat their performances for this rendition).

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays at the Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250 outside New York.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sexual dialogue
• Two women kiss

Theater Review: Lombardi with Dan Lauria and Judith Light

Performances in Broadway’s Lombardi are Winners Too
By Lauren Yarger
Now, everyone knows legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, but back in the early 1960s the intimidating, growling man who had turned the losing Greenbay Packers around and led them to back-to back Super Bowl championships was still something of a mystery.

To tell the story of Lombardi, playwright Eric Simonson has focused on one week in 1965 during which reporter Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs) talks with the coach (Dan Lauria), some of his players and his wife, Marie (Judith Light) to write a profile piece for Look magazine.

Lauria is great as the taciturn gridiron leader who doesn’t believe in losing (“We just ran out of time”) and who would rather die than finish second, which the Packers have just done twice following their championship seasons. He looks and sounds like Lombardi.

Light is very funny as sarcastic Marie, supportive of her husband’s obsession with the sport, but downing martinis while pining for the metropolitan New York area she left behind for the “frozen tundra” of Wisconsin. She appears to have trouble walking in high- heeled period shoes (Paul Tazewell, costume design), but it’s hard to tell whether they’re slipping on the stage surface, or Marie just has had a little too much to drink.

McCormick has a hard time getting Lombardi to open up, and his players, Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley), Paul Horning (Bill Dawes) and Jim Taylor (Chris Sullivan) are even less cooperative. Marie, especially when plied with liquor, gives him some background. Thomas Kail effectively directs flashback scenes where the reporter looks on.

The week with the coach results in McCormick's finding out more about himself, his relationship with his father and what he wants to do with his life instead of producing the magazine profile that he thought would propel his reporting career.

The play is nicely staged with Packer footage projected on video screens (Zachary Borovay, design). Images also transform the stage into the football field and a chalkboard with circles and arrows showing plays. Props needed for the scenes seamlessly rise up out of the floor (David Korins, scenic design; Howell Binkley, lighting; Acme Sound Partners, sound).

Lombardi runs 90 minutes without an intermission. It plays at Circle in the Square, 235 West 50th St., NYC. Discounted tickets are available through Masterwork Productions at

Christians might also like to know:
 Language
 Lord’s name taken in vain
 References to Lombardi’s Catholic faith, his belief in the Jesuit philosophy “freedom through principle’ and to Paul’s writings about running the race.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Theater Review: La Bête with David Hyde Pierce, Mark Rylance and Joanna Lumley

From left, Greta Lee, Mark Rylance, Joanna Lumley and David Hyde Pierce

It’s a Drive-By Wording and Lots of Fun
By Lauren Yarger
It’s a drive-by wording: You’re struck so many times so quickly that you don’t know what hit you and you didn’t have time to get the license plate. In the case of Broadway’s La Bête, the driver is Mark Rylance and the vehicle is playwright David Hirson’s imaginative and rhyming couplets and meter script. In all, it’s one of the most unique stage experiences of the season.

Rylance’s tour de force which includes an opening 20-minute monologue during which he hardly takes a breath is one of those moments on stage when the audience knows its witnessing theater history. It’s a perfect storm of acting, writing and direction (Matthew Warchus) that sends a tsunami of theatergoers out onto the streets saying, “You have to see this!”

Truthfully, you’ll need to see the work to appreciate it since the couplets delivered in doublets (it takes place in mid 17th century France) is very different and such a wall of words, that ironically, it leaves one almost speechless to describe it.

Rylance is Valere, a nose-picking, belching and otherwise disgusting and obnoxious street performer who possesses little theatrical talent. He is capable of speaking in long, run-on sentences, however, which his even larger ego believes everyone is as interested in hearing as he. The portrayal is bizarre and funny (think Bobcat Goldthwait’s character Zed from the 'Police Academy" movies, only not quite as smart and drunk). He’ll have you saying, “Oh my gosh, did he really just do or say that?” and if you aren’t sharp, you won’t be sure because about 5000 other words of dialogue probably already sped by (or “verbobos“ as Valere likes to call his many words).

Valere’s performances have moved the Princess (Joanna Lumley, known to television audiences for her role in “Absolutely Fabulous”) and she has commanded that Valere join the thespians at court, led by classical writer Elomire (David Hyde Pierce). He can’t stand the clown and protests, when he can get a word in edgewise, that Valere won’t fit in with his troupe (Stephen Ouimette, Sally Wingert, Robert Lonsdale, Lisa Joyce, Michael Milligan and Liza Sadovy round out the ensemble of players and courtiers). Also part of the craziness at court is Greta Lee as Dorine, Elomire’s maid who can speak only in words that rhyme with “oo” and who engages the others in charades-like pantomiming to convey messages.

“A year at court has undermined your morals,” Princess tells Elomire. “You’ve grown content to rest upon your laurels as if afflicted by some dead ennui. Valere will challenge your complacency!” In other words, she uses her power to challenge Elomire and to give Vallere a shot and since there's no doubt about who is in charge here, made obvious by her fabulous entrance (Mark Thompson, set and costume design), they have to try to work something out.

A competition of sorts ensues between the two artists. Who will get the royal endorsement and get to stay at court? Hirson gets the golden pen award for writing an engaging play in verse that also manages to deliver a knock-down commentary on today’s culture and society and what influences them. Elomire discovers that in the end we need to stand by our principles and be “measured by the choices that we make.”

While Rylance chews up the stage for almost two hours, the fork and knife are provided by Hyde Pierce’s understated performance. He reacts with expressions, actions, silence and humor that are a foil to the more flamboyant Rylance. In not needing to upstage or get his fair share of the action, he perfects the piece. It’s a welcome change of pace (it’s almost like Hirson took the princess’s challenge himself and wrote something different from the same-old, same-old that seems to be infecting new plays these days?) and a theater experience that won’t be matched.

The Broadway run of La Bête (it means beast in French), which won the 1990 Olivier Award (England’s equivalent of the Tonys) for Best Play, follows a run at the Comedy Theatre in London’s West End. It’s at the Music Box Theater, 239 West 45th St., NYC until Feb. 12. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6900 or by visiting

Christians might also like to know:
 God’s name taken in vain
 Minor language
 Sexual dialogue
 Two men kiss

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theater Review: A Life in the Theater with Patrick Stewart and TR Knight

T.R. Knight and Patrick Stewart. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Interesting if You Share the Life, but Probably Like Viewing Someone Else’s Vacation Slides if You’re Not
By Lauren Yarger
Theater is a wonderful life: relationships develop and creativity and opportunities abound. Some not-so-wonderful things are a part of it too, like jealosy, ego, forgotten lines and prop disasters.

All of it is profiled in a biographical tale of two actors in David Mamet’s A Life in the Theater, running on Broadway, but if you’re not in the industry or don’t do a lot of community theater, this play might feel more like being forced to watch someone else’s vacation slides than a good time at the theater.

Numerous, brief scenes follow the relationship that develops between the two actors played by Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight as they interact in various productions and backstage. The dynamics of the relationship change as the veteran actor, Robert (Stewart), drops in esteem as up-and-comer John’s (Knight) career solidifies.

Because there’s not much plot beyond that and the actors are more than capable of delivering their lines without much guidance, Director Neil Pepe seems to have felt a need to over direct the scenes where the men appear in productions together. Some of the scenes are elaborately staged (Santo Loquasto, scenic design) with the actors lavishly costumed (Laura Bauer, design). I’ve seen full productions that didn’t generate as much set and costuming as A Life in the Theater does for a five-minute bit to show the actors delivering a few lines from a show.

Probably the most entertaining part is seeing Stewart appear in a number of silly wigs (Charles LaPointe, design). Fans of the classical Shakespeare actor, known also as no-nonsense Captain Picard on TV’s “Star Trek: the Next Generation,” can’t help but chuckle and think what a good sport the bald actor is when he appears in various wigs (Charles LaPointe, design) and silly costumes and, among other things, performs ballet.

The two actors work well and have a chemistry that helps the play along, though it offers no real plot other than to allow you to recognize elements of your own theater experience somewhere in the lives of the two actors. Fortunately, it also doesn’t offer all of the profanity or women bashing Mamet includes in some of his other works. It doesn’t offer a lot to hold your interest, however, if you’re not involved in the theater (except of course the chance to get to see two of your favorite television stars -- Knight also is known to television audiences for his role on “Grey’s Anatomy.”)

If you are in the industry, you’ll chuckle your way through some of it, see yourself either as the wise veteran or the actor just starting out and groan, probably with empathy, when things go wrong on stage.

A Life in the Theatre runs through Jan. 2 at the Gerald Schoenberg Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC. Special discounted tickets are available through Masterwork Productions at

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Theater Review: The Language Archive

Words Say Mean a Lot -- or Not -- in Relationships
By Lauren Yarger
The floor-to-ceiling shelves cluttered with books and knickknacks (Neil Patel, set design) are the backdrop for the home an office life of a man stuck between his love for preserving dying languages and his inability to express himself adequately in his native tongue.

The communication between linguist George (Matt Letscher), his wife Mary (Heidi Schreck) and his assistant, Emma (Betty Gilpin), are explored with playwright Julia Cho’s own gift for intelligent insight and lyrical language, but unless you’re someone like me, who preferred staying in the dorm room in college to research etymologies while your friends went to the kegger, the charm of Roundabout Theatre’s The Language Archive, playing Off Broadway might by ephemeral. (In other words, if you can’t define etymology or ephemeral, this play might not be for you.)

George is unable to express his feelings or to say I love you to Mary, who resorts to leaving notes around the house in the hopes that they will prompt him. He’s more excited about preserving languages that are close to extinction. When a language dies, so does the imagination, memory and way of life for the people who spoke it, he says, and that fills him with a passion he doesn’t seem to have for Mary. In fact, the linguist has nothing to say when she tells him she’s leaving.

Meanwhile, as Emma assists George in his recordings of languages, she’s unable to express the love she feels for her boss, even in the man-made language esperantos which he adores. They both learn some valuable lessons from an elderly couple, Alta (Jayne Houdyshell) and Resten (John Horton), the last speakers of an extinct language, who provide some of the play’s comic relief (Houdyshell and Horton also play a few other characters along the way). Mary, on the other hand, has no trouble expressing herself, but seems constantly surprised at the words that she utters.

It’s interesting, again insofar as you’re willing to immerse yourself in the language and the subtleties of the communication between the characters, but the lack of a real plot and a pronounced depreciation of momentum (OK, I could have said the pace slows, but I’m trying to be worthy of the linguistic lovers who still might be reading this review) in the second act fail to keep us on board. Some of the staging (Mark Brokaw, director) is hard to define as well, with George apparently asleep on a table or nearby for some reason when some other characters interact.

The Language Archive plays a limited run through Dec. 19 at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling 212-719-1300.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language (no pun intended)
• Homosexuality discussed in dialogue
• God’s name taken in vain

Monday, October 25, 2010

Donny & Marie Osmond Celebrate Christmas on Broadway

Donny & Marie - A Broadway Christmas, a new holiday production will play a limited engagement of 12 performances Thursday, Dec. 9 through Sunday, Dec. 19 at Broadway’s Marriott Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 46th St., NYC.

In the holiday tradition of the “Osmond Family Christmas” television specials, siblings Donny and Marie share a Broadway stage for the first time to share their favorite hits mixed with the irresistible chemistry that made them international stars.

Donny began his career in entertainment at the age of 5, and by 13 had already collected 18 gold records, eventually earning a grand total of 33 throughout his career. He starred in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for a record-breaking, six-year run of 2000 performances and in 2007 he starred on Broadway as Gaston in Beauty & The Beast.

Marie made her Broadway debut in The King and I following a national and international tour as Maria in The Sound of Music.

The performance schedule for Donny & Marie - A Broadway Christmas is as follows: Monday at 7 pm, Tuesday at 6:30 pm, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets ranging from $136.50 - $51.50 are available at or by calling 877-250-2929.

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For the latest reviews including Edward Albee's Me, Myself & I, Mrs. Warren's Profession starring Cherry Jones and The Pitmen Painters, visit

Reviews will be up this week for A Life in the Theatre with Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight, The Language Archive and La Bete with David Hyde Pierce, Joanna Lumley and Mark Rylance.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Theater Review: Me, Myself, I

Identity, Reality Depend on What You See in the Mirror
By Lauren Yarger
Would you exist if someone decided you didn’t? Can reality be defined by love? These and other perplexing questions propel Edward Albee’s intriguing yet bizarre new play Me, Myself, & I running Off Broadway in its New York premiere at Playwright’s Horizons.

The questions start when OTTO (Zachary Booth) decides that his identical twin brother (Preston Sadleir) doesn’t exist any more and tries to convince his mother (Elizabeth Ashley), her boyfriend, Doctor (Brian Murray), and his brother’s girlfriend, Maureen (Natalia Payne) that he really is both of the identities in one person. And oh, OTTO also has decided that he will become Chinese.

Mother is confused enough already, having given both boys the same name with one slight difference: one is upper case OTTO, the evil one -- or is he?; the other one is small case otto. She hasn’t been able tell the twins apart since their birth when their father abandoned the family and left her on her own to raise them. She continually asks each boy, “Which one are you -- are you the one who loves me?”

Doctor filled the father’s shoes, or bed rather, 28 years ago, but sleeps fully clothed because the family keeps reminding him that Father might return at any time bringing panthers and emeralds (don’t ponder this too much) and reclaim his place in Mother’s bed and with the boys. Doctor brags that he can tell the twins apart because neither one loves him, but Maureen isn’t so lucky. She loves lower cased Otto, but ends up having sex with OTTO unaware that he’s not his brother.

It’s all just a little bizarre and confusing. The characters address the audience from time to time (Murray’s perfect timing with tongue-in-cheek delivery make his lines the most effective this way) with one of the twins leaning nonchalantly against the proscenium while watching his brother interact with the others. Set Designer Thomas Lynch ingeniously uses golden strips on the sides and across the top of stage to create the effect of a giant beveled mirror, creatively placing the observing brother outside the mirror looking in.

Director Emily Mann’s casting of two actors who look and act so incredibly alike (aided by Kenneth Posner’s lighting design and Jennifer von Mayrhauser’s costuming) will send you to your Playbill biographical listings several times to confirm that the men aren’t real-life identical twins. It’s intriguing and Ashley is fun as the bewildered mother with hair as frazzled as her emotions.

Why Mann didn’t urge an awkward Payne to do something besides stand with her arms outward in a pleading position every time she speaks is not clear, however, but then neither is a lot of the storyline. As OTTO keeps telling us, “Confusion is its own master. It brings itself with it.”

It sure does, especially in this play, but in then end, Albee makes confusion a lot more fun than you’d think it could be. Me, Myself & I runs through Oct. 31 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling 212-279-4200.

Christians might also like to know:
Sexual dialogue
Sexual activity
Lord’s name taken in vain

Monday, October 18, 2010

Theater Review: Once Upon a Time in New Jersey

Fairytale Fun in an Above-Average Showcase Production
By Lauren Yarger
Boy meets girl. Girl likes boy #2. He is having an affair with another girl who’s married to boy #3 who orders a hit on boy #2 who trades identities with boy #1. Implausible? Yes, but it's also good for a lot of laughs when it takes place Once Upon a Time in New Jersey playing Off-Broadway at Hudson Guild Theatre.

The Prospect Theater Company production features an earlier collaboration between composer Stephen Weiner and Susan DiLallo (book and lyrics) and it’s fun to see sparks of the creative talent that would fuse again into the hilarious musical Iron Curtain (on which they collaborated with lyricist Peter Mills). Strains of Weiner’s style and DiLallo’s witty way with words flow throughout the musical produced this time in association with New York Musical Theatre Festival.

The script could use an edit (especially the first act) and a trimming to 90 minutes without an intermission (it’s two plus with one), but there’s still a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor there to enjoy, especially in this show, directed by Cara Reichel (who also helmed the production of Iron Curtain I enjoyed in 2008 at the O’Neill Playwright Festival.)

This energetic, vocally strong cast of 15 romps through Christine O’Grady’s choreography and more than 20 musical numbers on a set constructed of multi-tasking flats (Jen Price Fick, designer). These elements, combined with a six-person band conducted by Musical Director Remy Kurs, make this an Equity Showcase production of exceptional quality.

Told in the guise of a loose fairytale, the 1956 love story of Angie (Briga Heelan) and Vinnie (David Perlman) plays out against the deli in the Garden State where they work. Shy Vinnie who thinks a dream date involves watching "Beowolf," can’t express his feelings to Angie, especially when she sets her sights on his anthithesis, Rocco (Jeremy Cohen), the local cool-guy Cassanova. Rocco’s most recent conquest, ballroom dance instructor Celeste (Catherine LeFrere), may be his last, however, when her jealous mobster husband, Billy (Jonathan Gregg), orders a hit to eliminate his competition.

Rocco enlists geeky Vinnie to trade identities with him and gives him lessons on how to dress and perfect the lines and moves that will attract women. Vinnie employs the techniques to win Angie’s heart, but Rocco might not be what she needs for a happily-ever-after ending after all. No explanation is given for how the men are mistaken for each other with just the help of a haircut and some exchanged clothing (even Vinnie‘s mother can't tell the difference), but when you get to enjoy songs like “Someone That I Hate,” “Married to a Thug,” and “Sandwiches to Make,” some of which are sung with salamis and hearts made out of garlands of garlic, you don’t ask a lot of questions.

Catch it until Oct. 31 at Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th St., between 9th and 10th avenues. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 212-352-3101 or by visiting Specially-priced student tickets ($22) also are available.

Christians might also like to know:
 God’s name taken in vain

Theater Review: Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Cherry Jones in Mrs. Warren's Profession
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Play Fails to Procure Interest, but Cherry Jones on Stage Always is a Treat
By Lauren Yarger
George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession was a shocker at the turn of the century when it prompted protests and threats of arrest because the aforementioned “profession” is that of a brothel madam. In 2010, however, the Broadway production is a yawner, despite a welcome return to the New York stage by Tony Award winner Cherry Jones in the title role.

It’s a shame Roundabout Theatre Company couldn’t have selected a better script, not only for Jones, but for director Doug Hughes, who helmed Jones’ award-winning performance in Doubt. Besides a few scenes where Mrs. Warren gets to show some emotion, there is little here to make use of the actress’s abundant depth of talent. Disappointing, too, is the casting of a weak Sally Hawkins making her Broadway review as Mrs. Warren’s daughter, Vivie, who is shocked to discover how her estranged mother has provided for her needs all these years. The actress expresses all of her emotions in a monotone shout.

Fueling various subplots are a variety of male characters who all factor into Mrs. Warren's past and profession: Mr. Praed (Edward Hibbert), Sir George Crofts (Mark Harelik), Frank Gardner (Adam Driver) and his father, the Rev. Samuel Gardner (Michael Siberry).

When the most interesting things about a play are its sets and costumes, it’s obvious that whatever else is happening isn’t holding interest. Lovely interiors and exteriors of an English country estate and an office are nicely executed by always excellent designer Scott Pask (nicely lighted by Kenneth Posner) and costumes are the work of the talented Catherine Zuber.

Questions like “Who will be upset by what Mrs. Warren does for a living?,” “Will Vivie and her mother find a way to reconcile their relationship?" and “Who is Vivie’s father?” aren’t as thought provoking as others to which the mind wanders like, “How did Cherry Jones’ agent ever let her do this show?,” “Why do they keep moving all of the chairs around?,” and “What in the world is that strange modern art on the curtain supposed to be any way?” The latter was the main topic of conversation among audience members near me at intermission and to my knowledge, no one had an answer.

The production also has the feel of a rehearsal, rather than a finished product. Here's hoping Jones will return after this run in another show that makes more use of her talent.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession runs through Nov. 28 at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC. For tickets, call 212-719-1300.

Christians might also like to know:
 Well, obviously, Mrs. Warren deals in prostitution.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NY Musical Theater Festival Review (sort of):I Got Fired

Note: I don't usually review shows in the NY Musical Festival, or shows written by and starring personal friends, but for a variety of reasons, I'll include some notes about this one because the subject is probably one that will appeal to many of my readers. I don't want you to miss out entirely just because I know Keith, but I promise that nothing here is influenced by the fact that I think he's a neat guy. I'll use the same format I use to review shows in the NY Fringe Festival. If there were tassels (like we award for the Fringe shows) or some other form of something awarded "1-5" with 1 being worst and 5 being the best to rate the show, it would have received 4.0.
--Lauren Yarger

NYMF Review: I Got Fired: A Semi-Autobiographical Sort-of-True Revenge Musical
Presented by: Moonshine Project; Producer Liz Ulmer
Writer: Keith Varney, based on a concept with Devon Goffman
Director: Steve Bebout
Choreographer: Dontee Kiehn
Music Director: Doug Oberhomer

Keith recreates a fictionalized account of the events leading up to his being fired and escorted out of the building by security at a NY medical school where he had been working in the special events department as a temp (for more than five years...). The laid-back, family-like atmosphere in the office run by Kathy (Toni DiBuono) is threatened when over-achieving Jenny (Kelly Karbacz) is hired. She looks and talks as sweet as the lollipops she distributes to her co-workers, but her eye is on Kathy's office. She is rewarded with promotions as she lies, manipulates and stabs people in the back to ingratiate herself with the big boss, Dr. Weinberg (Michael Thomas Holmes).

Meanwhile, caught in the crossfire, and singing some catchy tunes like "The Daily Grind," "Things Have Gone to S***," "Office Warfare" and "I Got Fired," are Keith's co-workers Steven (Devon Goffman) Mike (also Holmes) Rick (Collin Leydon), Chen (EJ Zimmerman), Maria (Robyn Corujo), Myrtle (Shana Barone) and Phil (Jake Lowenthal).

The funniest of the characters also are the most stereotypical: Mike as the office incompetent whose hysterical, near-death-sounding messages on the answering machine provide entertainment for his co-workers (and for me -- I laughed as heartily as I had when I and my co-workers used to gather around the answering machine to listen to a particular employee call in sick. Who knew that happened in other offices too?)

Maria is the busty, Latin bombshell; Rick is the geek who spends most of his time outside of the office watching "Star Trek." Chen, so called because no one in the office can pronounce her real Chinese name, is the Asian with an attitude shouting a curt,"None of your business!" to anyone asking a question work-related or otherwise. The humor comes not from the stereotypes, but from the fact that if you have ever worked in an office, you have worked with someone just like one or more of these characters.

• If you've ever been fired, had a boss from hell, worked with incompetent people or just worked in an office, you'll relate and enjoy.
• Rick's courting of Chen and their eventual coming together in a "Star-Trek" lovers number titled "Green-painted Girl." Funny stuff, engagingly staged.
• Lots of funny lines with many clever asides dropped in specifically for the audience's enjoyment.
• You can't help but take a little pleasure in knowing that there's a real "Jenny" out there whose actions have come back to haunt her and make her the villain of a New York musical.

• Some characters are stereotypical and/or underdeveloped.
• Some of the songs sound repetitive.
• Lots of curse words used in the lyrics and dialogue. It's a little lazy.

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Language

I Got Fired has been extended with an additional performance Thursday at 1 pm at TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th St., NYC. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at or by calling (212) 352-3101.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Theater Review: The Pitmen Painters

Painting a Colorful Portrait of the Face of Art
By Lauren Yarger
British miners discover a new way to express themselves while at the same time painting a new definition of art on a previously blank canvas: one for the working class, in Lee’s Hall’s play The Pitmen Painters, presented on Broadway by Manhattan Theatre Club.

Hall, who brought us the stage version of Billy Elliot, brings to life another tale of miners striving to express themselves through the arts, this time, in telling the story of the Pitmen Painters, a real-life group of miner/artists known as the Ashington Group, for the area of Newcastle, England where they worked in the mid 1930s to mid 1940s. The story is based on the book by William Feaver.

Brought together to study art appreciation at a class taught by Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly), the men (the strong ensemble of Christopher Connel, Michael Hodgson, Brian Lonsdale, Deka Walmsley and David Whitaker) discover they have some talent and opinions about art and what it all means.

The play, with its tight dialogue (though sometimes hard to understand through the thick accents) and humor blends colorful discussions not only about art, but about society. Should art belong to the upper classes? Can the working classes produce and understand it without the patronage of the privileged?

The painters are part of a socialist movement that eventually nationalizes the mining industry and they struggle through just who owns the work -- the individuals who created it or the collective miners who sponsored the art class that started it all? Conflict between the classes also comes to a head when wealthy heiress and art collector Helen Sutherland (Philippa Wilson) offers to support the most talented painter of the group, Oliver Kilbourn (Connel) so he can leave the mines and paint full time – and maybe even explore the possibility of a relationship with her. Oliver finds out that members of the upper class aren’t the only ones who can be prejudiced.

Hall uses masterful strokes to tell the story. The dialogue is lyrical and the characters intensely likable, despite a tendency to make them more intellectual and even cleaner looking than you would expect working class miners to be (but then maybe that’s just prejudice talking…)

Director Max Roberts deftly positions the men and art (scenic and costume design by Gary McCann) to create a classy, interesting presentation. He also stages a nude scene, where a model, Susan Parks (Lisa McGrillis) drops her clothes for the painters, in such a way that if you blink, you might miss it.

Pitmen runs through Dec. 12 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Discounted tickets for friends of Masterwork productions, Inc. are available at

Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Language
• Nudity

Theater Review: Brief Encounter

Film, Stage Versions, Waves Crash
By Lauren Yarger
The worlds of film and stage collide in a new rendering of Noel Coward’s story of an impossible affair between two married people in Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Brief Encounter, adapted and directed by Emma Rice.

This version, combining elements of video, special effects and original music by Stu Barker, tries really hard to recapture the charm and clever staging of another film-to-stage hit, The 39 Steps, a tongue-in-cheek rendering of the Alfred Hitchcock classic still running Off-Broadway after a critically acclaimed Broadway presentation. Brief Encounter falls short, however, as all of the elements, while interesting in their own right, fail to come together to create a parody of the film or a cohesive story, for that matter.

Much of the presentation is a lot of fun. There are comedic actors (Annette McLaughlin as a horny waitress of the rail station cafe and Dorothy Atkinson as her assistant among other characters), puppets (two mop dogs are particularly funny) and terrific special effects that allow the characters to travel in and out a movie screen and swing from chandeliers -- literally (Neil Murray, set and costume design; Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, production design; Malcolm Rippeth, lighting design; Steve Beers, technical supervisor). The story about the two lovers just gets lost in the mix.

Laura (Hannah Yelland) and Alec (Tristan Sturrock) share an attraction after a brief meeting in the train station, then allow their passion to grow with subsequent encounters, despite the fact that both already are married. Laura’s husband, Fred (Joseph Alessi) doesn’t seem to notice Laura’s absences, even when she’s nowhere to be found when their son (played by a puppet) is in an accident.

We’re supposed to grasp that the crashing waves projected onto a screen behind the action represents the unsatiated passion that Alec and Laura feel for each other. Meetings in secret rooms and the taking off of clothes following a spill into the water during a rowboat encounter lead us to think the couple are having an affair. Fans of the movie, and perhaps those who read a story in the Playbill, will know that the affair is unconsummated and the waves only symbolic of feeling, not depiction of anything actually happening. If the waves weren’t crashing, however, you might miss that pent-up passion, because the straight-laced characters really don’t have any apparent chemistry. That Alec is struggling with any guilt also is lost, as the fact that he’s married doesn’t become clear in Rice’s adaptation until the story is almost completed.

There are subplots with Myrtle (McLaughlin) and Albert (also Alessi) getting physical and Stanley (Gabriel Ebert), the candy vendor, declaring his love for the clumsy, scooter-riding Beryl, who gets physical with a bass instrument while singing Coward’s “Mad About the Boy” (the musicians are costumed, on stage and provide some period music before and after the show). There are a few attempts to copy the hysterically funny windy scenes and tiny prop bits from The 39 Steps, but everything remains disjointed with the impression that each element was added to stand out on its own, rather than to be part of a larger work.

Brief Encounter runs through Dec. 6 at Studio 54, 254 W54th St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling (212) 719-1300.

Christians might also like to know:
• A bathing suit in a film projection is rather scanty.


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- 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.

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