Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Ashley Robinson, Mark Hartman, Jacque Carnahan and John Cullum in A Child's Christmas in Wales at Irish Rep. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas. We will be on vacation and back after the new year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: Marjorie Prime

Lois Smith,, Lisa Emery and Stephen Root. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Which Memories Do You Want to Keep?

By Lauren Yarger
Before we launch into reviews for the large number of shows opening on Broadway (stay tuned in upcoming weeks for a preview of what’s coming up and reviews of what’s on stage) I want to make sure you know about an interesting Off-Broadway run over at Playwrights Horizons.

2015 Pulitzer-Prize finalist Marjorie Prime, written by Jordan Harrison (Maple and Vine, “Orange is the New Black”) is getting an extended New York premiere directed by Anne Kauffman. It would be easy to miss it in the burst of big openings down the street on Broadway and that would be a shame, because quieter, thoughtful pieces like Marjorie Prime can be some of the most satisfying times in the theater.

The always excellent Lois Smith stars as Marjorie, an 85-year-old woman who engages a robot to help her remember her departed husband, Walter (Noah Bean). This artificial intelligence unit (or Prime) looks like her husband in his youth and is programmed to remember stories about how they met and their life together.

Her son-in-law Jon (Stephen Root – you’ll know him as the stapler guy from the movie “Office Space”) thinks it’s a great idea and writes down stories when Marjorie shares them to help Walter be – well, more like Walter. And sometimes, he adds a little information to make the memory even more pleasant.

Marjorie’s daughter, Tess (Lisa Emery) is more skeptical of the whole Prime thing, however.  The idea of sharing everything online via social media tools that know our likes and dislikes and what we want before we know ourselves is a little unsettling, she thinks. 

More unsettling is the emerging theme of what makes a memory real and which ones do we really want to remember? Marjorie has forgotten the loss of her troubled son. Is that really such a bad thing? Does Walter really need to be programmed to know about him and remind Marjorie of him? Tess, who still remembers her brother’s death and the fears surrounding it isn’t comforted by being able to remember, so why make her mother relive them?

When memories are lost, or altered, are they any less real? And if we had the chance, which memories would we choose to keep or forget – and why? These are some questions probed by Harrison.

The ensemble gives fine performances in the thought-provoking piece, which plays out on a lime-green apartment set (design by Laura Jellinek) bland enough to allow lighting designer Ben Stanton to focus on characters and the creepy nature of what is taking place. The plot is more intellectual than fast-paced action in this 90-minute, no intermission play, but Kauffman’s taut direction doesn’t allow it to sound boring. Harrison’s script also keeps the subject from veering into science fiction.

Marjorie Prime is extended through Jan. 24 at Playwrights Horizons,  416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $75-$; (212) 279-4200. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: King Charles III

Tim Pigott-Smith, Photo: Joan Marcus
The Next Royal Coronation Isn’t in Line With What You’d Expect
By Lauren Yarger
Royal watchers, beware!

One of the latest transfers to Broadway from London’s West End is all about William and Kate, Prince Harry and other members of England’s royal family, but don’t be deceived. King Charles III is a rather dark drama about what happens when Prince Charles prepares to take over as King following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

In the midst of a flurry of new show openings on Broadway, I didn’t do my homework on this show before arriving at the Music Box Theatre, where Set and Costume Designer Tom Scutt has done a nifty job of blending stone palace walls and platforms on stage with the theater’s actual columns and crystal light fixtures. Theatergoers feel as though they really are enjoying a royal audience.

The artwork for the show, depicting Prince Charles with his mouth taped shut, along with the subtitle “A Future History Play” made me think I was attending a comedy. After all, when a staging about the death of a queen who is still sitting on the throne wins the Olivier for Best New Play, it can only be a parody, right?

Wrong, I immediately found out. This two-hour and 30-minute play by Mike Bartlett is quite serious, and presented in blank verse to give it a modern Shakespeare feel (as all tragedies about kings should be). It jolts away any expectations that humor is the playwright’s intention.

Tim Pigott-Smith (TV’s “The Jewel in the Crown”) reprises his role as troubled Prince – now King—Charles, who has no idea how to reign because his mother has ruled for so long that he never really got a chance to see what he could accomplish before being an old man himself.  And no one really wants him to be king any way, it seems. Camilla (Margot Leicester) is more than willing to take her place on the throne beside her husband, but she’s not exactly popular either.  And there’s an annoying ghost of Charles’ first wife, Diana (Sally Scott), who keeps showing up to complicate matters (very Shakespearian).

The king’s first meeting with Prime Minister Evans (Adam James) doesn’t go so well. Charles is reluctant to sign a bill that would restrict freedom of the press. The King, really doesn’t get a say, Evans tells him. He is just supposed to sign whatever the government passes…. Charles disagrees and comes up with a surprising solution that triggers an unprecedented crisis for the monarchy.

Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) is of little help – he gets pushed further away from the throne every time his brother has a child, so he turns his attentions to parties and having fun. His latest love interest is Jess (Tafline Steen), an anti-establishment artist type who definitely doesn’t fit in at Buckingham Palace. Harry wants to renounce any claim to the throne and live life as a commoner with her.

Meanwhile, Prince William (Oliver Chris) does have a vested interest in the legacy his father leaves him as the next monarch, so he steps up to be a mediator between Charles and his subjects who are in revolt. Will is manipulated into further action by his wife Kate (Lydia Wilson), whose stunning good looks and charming ways with the press mask the fact that this commoner-turned-Royal might just be the most ambitious of all of the House of Windsor characters.

Enhancing the interesting production is Director Rupert Goold’s punctilious casting of solid actors who look very much like the real-life people they are portraying. In addition, musical composition by Jocelyn Pook helps set the mood.

While the story held my interest, I couldn’t shake the feeling that all of this was somewhat disrespectful to the queen and her family.

King Charles III reigns at the Music Box Theatre,  239 West 45th St., NYC through Jan. 31. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $37 - $

Tim Pigott-Smith….  King Charles III
Anthony Calf…. Mr. Stevens
Oliver Chris…. William
Richard Goulding…. Harry
Nyasha Hatendi…. Spencer, Nick, Sir Gordon
Adam James…. Mr. Evans
Margot Leicester…. Camilla
Miles Richardson…. James Reiss
Tom Robertson…. Cootsey, Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Michael
Sally Scott…. Sarah, ghost, TV Producer
Tafline Steen…. Jess
Lydia Wilson…. Kate
Peter Bradbury, Lucas Hall, Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Gordana Rashovich and Harry Smith…. Ensemble.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hamilton, Kinky Boots, other Cast Members Scheduled to Help Launch First BroadwayCon

Broadway is joining the popular  "con" movement and will bring fans together with industry professions for a three-day "BroadwayCon™" Jan. 22-24 at the New York Hilton Midtown.

Attendees will get an opportunity to meet and listen to actors, musicians, dancers, choreographers, directors, producers, writers, designers and more, all of whom will bring their experience, talent, stories and love of theater to the event.

Among the dozens of special guests scheduled to appear are Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jonathan Groff, Billy Porter, Gavin Creel, Leslie Odom, Jr., Anthony Rapp, Skylar Astin, Kerry Butler, Lonny Price, Philippa Soo, Hunter Bell, Melissa Errico, James Monroe Iglehart, Courtney Reed, Rebecca Luker, Ted Chapin (president, Rogers and Hammerstein Organization) as well as producers, directors, writers and choreographers from shows including Hamilton, Kinky Boots, Annie, The Elephant Man, If/Then, Hedwig And The Angry Inch, The Book of Mormon and many others. The most current listing can be found at

The event will include panels, concerts, keynotes, performances, workshops, autograph and photo opportunities, meet-and-greets,  Q and As and more.

BroadwayCon is being produced in partnership with Playbill, with a portion of the proceeds from the event benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Passes can be purchased in advance at for $250 for the full event or $125/day. Passes will also be sold at the door for $150/day. The Hilton is located at 1335 Avenue of the Americas, NYC.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

On Broadway -- Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games

Michael Flatley, Photo: Brian Doherty for Rapa Investments
Lord of the Dance: Don't Try This at Home....
By Lauren Yarger
If you haven't been able to catch Michael Flatley's last appearances with Lord of the Dance this fall on Broadway over at the Lyric Theatre, take heart. You might be ale to clog your feet over to your local box office for the pleasure as the show has recently announced a national tour.

Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games kicks off its US tour  in Florida followed by stops in Washington DC, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, among others (see schedule below).

Meanwhile, the Broadway engagement runs through Jan. 3. Flatley is the creator of Lord of the Dance which brought Irish Dance to the attention of theatergoers more than two decades ago. This version, "Dangerous Games" adds holographs, special effects lighting, dancing robots (giving the production a video-game feel) as well as world champion acrobats and Irish dancing to a score by Gerard Fahy.

The show reminds me a bit of Cirque du Soleil -- it's mostly visual, set to great music. There's a story in there -- basically good verses evil -- but it's not always easy to follow. Flatley proteges James Keegan, Morgan Comer and Fergal Keaney play the Lord of the Dance, who battles the evil Dark Lord (Tom Cunningham, Nial McNally and Zoltan Papp). A Little Spirit (Jess Judge) travels through time to help him.  Also dancing through the story are Saoirse (Erin Kate McIlravey, Nikita Cassidy, Caroline Gray), Morrigham (Andrea Kren, Brea McGaffey), Erin the Goddess (Sophie Evans) and a fiddlers (Giada Costenaro Cunningham, Valerie Gleeson).

The dancing is amazing. The number of taps per second astounds. Many years ago, inspired by one of the first Irish Dance shows, Riverdance (created and choreographed by Flatley), I purchased a video to learn how to do some of the dance moves. I remember struggling quite a bit to get my legs and feet to go to exactly the position my instructor demonstrated, and with each new step, I questioned my commitment. Finally, having mastered the eight steps, my instructor explained that we were now ready to put them all together. He demonstrated and said, "and that's one" as in the dance count of one.

"One?" I yelled incredulously at the TV monitor. All of those steps, it turned out were what I was supposed to be doing with my body, legs and feet on just the first count. I could only imagine the heap I would be in if there were eight or 12 counts of steps to accomplish to actually move from the spot on which I was standing. I quickly packaged up the VHS tape and gave it to a choreographer friend who said she'd always wanted to learn Irish dancing and that was the end of dreams of clogging across the family-room floor.

So I enjoyed, with personal empathy, the amazing footwork involved on stage at the Lyric. The precision is impressive. It's entertaining, if a bit drawn out and hard to follow, and Flatley himself joins the cast at certain performances to show that he still is at the top of his game as well. In 1998, at the age of 39, he exceeded his first Guinness World Record of 28 taps per second set in 1989 with a phenomenal 35 taps per second. My feet are VERY happy I gave that dance instruction tape away.

The New York engagement runs through Jan. 3. Tickets are $57.50 - $147.50:; 800-745-3000; Box Office, 213 West 42nd St.

Full schedule of Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games’ U.S. Tour is as follows:

Friday, February 19th, 2016
Sunrise, FL (BB and T Center)

Sunday, February 21th, 2016
Atlanta, GA (Phillips Arena)

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
Boston, MA (Citi Wang Theater)

Thursday, February 25th, 2016
Uncasville, CT (Mohegan Sun Arena)

Friday, February 26th, 2016
Washington D.C. (Eagle Bank Arena)

Sunday, February 28th, 2016
Philadelphia, PA (Wells Fargo Arena)

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016
Detroit, MI (Palace of Auburn Hills)

Wednesday, March 2nd 2016
Chicago, IL (Chicago Theater)

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016
Independence, MO (Silverstein Eye Centers Arena)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016
Dallas, TX (Verizon Wireless)

Sunday, March 6th, 2016
Houston, TX (Revention Music Center)

Monday, March 7th, 2016
Cedar Park, TX (Cedar Park Center)

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
Loveland, CO (Budweiser Events Center)

Friday, March 11th, 2016
San Diego, CA (San Diego Civic Theater)

Saturday, March 12th, 2016
Phoenix, AZ (Comerica Theatre)

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Los Angeles, CA (Microsoft Theater)

Thursday, March 17th, 2015
Las Vegas, NV (Coliseum at Caesar’s)

Broadway Theater Review: The Color Purple

NOTE: Heather Headley will replace Jennifer Hudson May 10

Color Purple Revival May Be Better Than the Original
By Lauren Yarger
Alice Walker’s moving and haunting novel “The Color Purple” comes to life in a fresh new way thanks to Director John Doyle’s vision for the revival currently running on Broadway.

Originally a best-selling novel by Alice Walker, then a motion picture (starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg in memorable performances), The Color Purple got a musical stage adaption a little over 10 years ago, with a fine book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray. It was surprisingly good – one of those times a favorite book or movie actually made the transition to the stage. This revival, however, has been stripped back, tightened and made even more vibrant (Doyle also designs the set) in the telling of a young African-American woman who finds herself after enduring years of hardship and suffering. 

One of the spotlights on why this version is so exciting is the knock-your-socks-off Broadway debut of its star, Cynthia Erivo.

Erivo, played the role of Celie in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of the show in 2013 and  commands the stage again here – despite playing some other powerhouse performances by Jennifer Hudson (Shug Avery) and Danielle Brooks (Sophia) – both of whom also are making their Broadway debuts in the production.

The story follows Celie from 1909 to 1949 in rural Georgia. Forced to give up children she conceives when her father, Pa (Kevyn Morrow) has his way with her, teen Celie’s only happiness comes from the love she shares with her sister, Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango). Pa marries Celie off to a mean, older man with a brood of children. She knows the man only as Mister (Isaiah Johnson) and if forced to put up with his unkempt house and children, his abuse – and his mistress, an entertainer named Shug Avery (Hudson).

But instead of hating each other, the women form a friendship and help each other cope. Meanwhile, Mister’s son Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe) marries an outspoken woman named Sophia (Danielle Brooks) who is not to be messed with -- Brooks' version of the song "Hell, No!" is a tour de force.

As the years go by, we see Celie develop and grow and eventually find a way out of her circumstances. Erivoa's rendition of "I'm Here" brought a standing ovation mid-show. Sophia, however, is defeated by a white dominated society making sure she is left with no hope or dignity -- well almost.

The triumph of the human spirit is palpable, solidified by soaring ballads and extraordinary performances. The faith of Celie and Nettie sees them through and the love they have for each other is a lifeline through years of separation.

If the original was good, this refined, re-envisioned version is even more exhilarating and rewarding. Look for Erivo to get a best actress nod (and Hudson and Brooks also might join her in the featured category.)

The Color Purple delights at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $75 - $145:; (800) 432-7250

Additional Credits:
Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting Design by Jane Cox, Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Sound Design by Gregory Clarke, Musical Direction by Jason Michael Webb; Orchestrations by Joseph Joubert; Additional Orchestrations by Catherine Jayes. 

Additional casting:
Phoenix Best, Dwayne Clark, Lawrence Clayton, Carrie Compere, Patrice Covington, Adrianna Hicks, Bre Jackson, Grasan Kingsberry, Kevyn Morrow, Ken Robinson, Antoine L. Smith, Carla R. Stewart, Akron Watson and Rema Webb…. Ensemble

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Mature language and themes

Monday, December 14, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: A View from the Bridge

Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong and Nicola Walker. Photo: Jan Versweyveld
A Different View of A View from the Bridge
By Lauren Yarger
Ivo van Hove is fast becoming one of my favorite directors. Anyone who can take a play like Arthur Miller's  A View from the Bridge and make it riveting, to me is a director to watch.

The play was revived on Broadway in 2010, but even Liev Schreiber and big-time film star Scarlett Johnasson weren't enough to make that story interesting for me. Every time I have read it or seen it I have wondered why people produce it. So I wasn't too excited to hear yet another revival was being staged this season (to coincide with the playwright's 100th birthday celebrations). But I'm glad it was.

This production comes to Broadway direct from two completely sold-out engagements in London, where it swept the 2015 Olivier Awards winning for Best Revival, Best Director, and Best Actor (Mark Strong), Van Hove's vision is drastically different. The characters are barefoot, to begin with, and walk around a stark cement-like set (designed by  Jan Versweyveld, who also does the Lighting Design) that evokes images of Greek tragedies -- or at least of the play Metamorphoses. And doesn't that seem appropriate?

To top that off, audience members are seated right up on either side of the stage for an up-close view of the bloodbath that overtakes the Carbone family in Brooklyn (and I do mean literal bloodbath -- that cement structure turns out to have a more sinister purpose than just  holding water...).

Eddie Carbone (Mark Strong) struggles with an inappropriate attraction to his young niece and ward, Catherine (Phoebe Fox). His wife, Beatrice (Nicola Walker) is aware of it and tries to help her niece gain some independence from under Eddie's watchful eye.

He doesn't approve when she starts dating Rodolpho (Russell Tovey , The History Boys), a cousin of Beatrice's, who along with his brother, Marco (Michael Zegen), arrive in the US (illegally) to find work with Eddie, who is a longshoreman.

Tragedy ensures when Eddie is unable to get a grip on his feelings about Catherine. Richard Hansell, a member of the original Young Vic company, reprises his role as Louis, a friend of Eddie's. Rounding out the cast are Michael Gould as Alfieri and Thomas Michael Hammond as Officer.

I might not be exactly sure why all the characters are barefoot, but I'll tell you I was engaged thinking about it for all two hours -- and even after I left the theater -- something I can't say about any other  versions of the play I have seen. I usually don't tend toward avant-garde theater, which some might think this is -- messing with a classic, after all -- but in this case, I say well done.

A View from the Bridge plays at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., NYC through Feb. 21.

Additional credits:
Costume Design by An D’Huys, Sound Design by Tom Gibbons.

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Mature themes

Friday, December 11, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: A Child's Christmas in Wales

Ashley Robinson, Mark Hartman, Jacque Carnahan and John Cullum. Photo: Carol Rosegg
An Old-Fashioned Christmas Treat
By Lauren Yarger
Gather round for good cheer, Christmas songs and the reading of A Child's Christmas in Wales Off-Broadway at Irish Repertory Theatre.

Chairs are gathered in front of the fireplace in a room decked out for the holiday. Four trees behind stacks of colorful packages glow with warmth as Dylan Thomas's poem, adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore, comes to life.

Jacque Carnahan, Katie Fabel, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur and Ashley Robinson, who often portrays the young Thomas) join Broadway legend John Cullum (the grandfather), who holds an oversized book of "A Child's Christmas in Wales," which serves as a reference for the evening's memories.

The prose, with its stories of odd relatives visiting for the holiday, descriptive language of snow falling and childhood fun and remembrances, is interlaced with Christmas songs both moving and filled with good cheer. A couple of songs are offered with Welsh lyrics and director Moore pens music and lyrics for "Open Your Eyes" and "Ring Out the Bells."

A highlight in the 20-plus song repertoire is Cullum's solo of "All Through the Night." What a Christmas gift, indeed, to have a chance to hear the star of Shenandoah and On a Clear Day among so many others, sing a bunch of songs (even if he is conscious of being part of an ensemble and doesn't let his fine baritone blow us out of the seats of the intimate DR2 Theatre where Irish Rep is performing during renovations at their home theater on West 22nd Street.)

Musical Director Mark Hartman plays the piano on stage, almost as if he is a family member urged to provide accompaniment so relatives can join together for carols. The 75-minute, no-intermission presentation has such a warm, nostalgic feel, that you'll wish Christmas didn't come just once a year. (In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I bought myself a Christmas present and got a ticket to go see it again).

A Child's Christmas in Wales plays through Jan. 3 at D2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street in Union Square. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at  7 pm; Wednesday at 3 and 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm;  Sunday at 3 pm. Check holiday weeks for changes. Tickets are $71:

Off Broadway Theater Review: 2 Across

Andrea McArdle and Kip Gilman. Photo: Carol Rosegg
What's an Eight-Letter Word for 2 Across? Charming
By Lauren Yarger
What's an eight-letter word beginning with a "C" that  describes a two-hander about a guy and a girl who meet on a train? 

In the case of  2 Across, the new comedy by Jerry Mayer (a writer for TV shows like “M*A*S*H,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “All in the Family”) Off-Broadway at St. Luke's Theatre, the answer is "c-h-a-r-m-i-n-g" -- and you can use that "i" to fill in the word "surprising" going down on the crossword puzzle grid, because the "two people meet and spill out the details of their lives" plot is a hard one to pull off on stage.

Mayer gets help from the charm of the actors here: Andrea McArdle (Broadway's original Annie, all grown up) and Kip Gilman (Aspirins and Elephants), directed by Evelyn Rudie. Janet (McArdle) and Josh (Gilman) meet aboard a Bay Area Rapid Transit train, each doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. At first, snobby Janet (she does her puzzle in pen) isn't interested in conversation with the affable Josh (who does his in pencil), who asks for some help with clues tot he puzzle.

But before long, the two are opening up about their lives: she's a psychologist and is worried about her 18-year-old son who has just joined the Marines, presumably on a whim.  He left behind his family button-making factory, but now finds himself unemployed and on his way to an interview for a job he doesn't really want.

"Something pre-ordained is happening here," Josh finally says when the two find themselves attracted to each other  despite their spouses and start entertaining the thought of an affair. All is not as it seems, however -- more importantly the plot doesn't take us down the predictable plot we think it is going to --  and we find as Josh and Janet do, that a lot can be learned about someone's character by how they complete a crossword, or solve the puzzles of life.

The charm of the story and the engaging characters developed by the actors are a pleasant surprise. The development of the relationship, played out in real time almost seems plausible, but that quiet train doesn't. I wish MetroNorth trains looked so nice (set design is by Scott Heineman, with train sound effects provided to enhance the commute) and were so roomy. Josh actually stretches out across unoccupied seats and the couple are able to change seats in the otherwise unoccupied car. Maybe I should just start covering theater in San Francisco where the real BART provides service.....

The play is performed in 90 minutes with no intermission.

2 Across plays through Jan. 31 at St. Luke's Theare, 308 West 46th St., NYC. Performnces are Wednesday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $39.50 - $69.50:; 212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Great Divorce

Michael Frederic, Christa Scott-Reed and Joel Rainwater Photo: Joan Marcus
The Great Divorce
By C.S. Lewis
Adapted by Max McLean and Brian Watkins
Directed by Bill Castellino
Fellowship for Performing Arts
at the Pearl Theatre
through Jan, 3

What's It all About?
C.S. Lewis'           comes to the stage to kick off the inaugural 2015/2016 season of Fellowship for Performing Arts with an adaptation by Artistic Director Max Mcean and Brian Wikins. Christa Scott Reed (The Pitman Painters), Joel Rainwater (The Lion King National Tour), and Michael Frederic (Bill W. and Dr. Bob) are three people who meet in a sort of limbo and take a flying bus on a journey toward heaven. But is it heaven? And if it is, how does one figure out how to get off the bus and separate from all that has been left behind? The plot has to do with spiritual choices -- the Great Divorce between heaven and hell. Among the characters appearing in the fantasy are an artist, a grieving mother, a mumbling grumbler and a bitter wife. How will the choices they made contribute to who they became and  how they deceive themselves about God. Will they be able to see the truth and embrace what waits in heaven or will there always be something else they desire instead of joy?

There are two kinds of people, a wise, tartan-clad adviser tells us: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done."

What are the Highlights?
Well, you can't go wrong with C.S. Lewis. The British novelist who found faith later in life is one of the foremost thinkers about Christianity (He gave us such wonderful literary classics as "The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe," "A Grief Observed," "Surprised by Joy" and "Mere Christianity," just to name a few. His study of how the enemy influences Christians, "The Screwtape Letters," also was adapted for the stage by McLean and had an Off-Broadway run several seasons ago (for which it received a "The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Award) and a national tour (see below for upcoming productions). Kelly James Tighe provides a backdrop that houses cartoonish projections (designed by Jeffrey Cady with lighting by Michael Gilliam) to enhance the fantasy setting. Nicole Wee provides costumes (many of them very quick changes) to clothe numerous characters and the always excellent John Gromada provides original music and sound design.

A good conversation starter.

What are the Lowlights?
The allegory can be rather confusing at times, especially if you aren't a student of Lewis or of theology. 

More Information:
The Great Divorce plays through Jan. 3 at The Pearl Theatre555 West 42nd St., NYC. Run time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Tickets: fpatheatre.com212-563-9261.

The Screwtape Letters adapted by McLean and Jeffrey Fiske will play in New York Jan. 6-24 and will tour to these cities:

PORTLAND, OR — March 1-2, 2016
REDDING, CA — March 4, 2016
SAN DIEGO, CA — March 6, 2016
MESA, AZ — March 12, 2016

McLean will star in The Most reluctant Convert, an adapttion from Lewis' writings about his conversaion from atheism to Christianity Dec. 13, 14, 20 and 21; Feb. 18-21 in New York.

Fellowship for Performing Arts produces theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience. More at

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain

Lauren Yarger

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Our Friends the Enemy -- A Story of a Legendary Truce

By Retta Blaney
Seeking to enhance his performance in the one-man World War I play he had written, actor Alex Gwyther spent a night in a replica of a 1916 battlefield trench outside London. By morning, though, exhausted from having slept little on the chicken wire in the “officers’ quarters,” he was no longer thinking about his skills.

“What really struck me was I was dying for a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea, typical English,” he said, adding that he couldn’t imagine living that way for an extended time. “What would it be like to be attacked or shelled? Most of that I have to leave up to my imagination.”

During a telephone interview from his parents’ home in Surrey outside London, Gwyther, 29, explained how he came to write and star in a play about one particular episode in the four-year-long war. World War I was part of his school curriculum growing up in England, but he felt the 1914 Christmas Truce was glossed over. In that event, English, French, Belgian and German soldiers crawled out of their trenches on Dec. 25 to share small gifts like cigarettes, food, hats and buttons, to bury their dead and to play football. Then the fighting resumed. In some places the trenches were so close, about 100 feet apart, one side could smell the other’s cooking.
Alex Gwyther as Private James Boyce, Photo by Pamela Raith

“I always thought there must be more to the story than a football match,” he said. “How crazy that they came together and then went back to fighting each other.”

Gwyther began researching the event and was surprised by what he found. The result, developed with director Tom O’Brien, is Our Friends, the Enemy, which will have its American premiere at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row Dec. 8 to 20. The 50-minute show played to sold-out houses in London, had two tours of the United Kingdom, totaling 11 weeks, where it was seen everywhere from “village halls to football stadiums,” as well as a month-long run at the prestigious 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It also has been heard on BBC radio.

“It’s one of the stories we know but we don’t know these details about. I thought, ‘If only people knew about this.’”

What Gwyther had thought was crazy, men returning to kill each other after a day of fellowship, was not how the soldiers wanted it. Many refused to fight the next day and for days after that. It was those in command who, fearing a weakening of resolve, pushed the battle into full gear. Some two-thirds of the troops, about 100,000 people, are believed to have participated in the legendary Truce.

“A lot of people didn’t know that both sides increased fighting massively after that. They didn’t want soldiers fraternizing that way,” he said, adding that mustard gas was then introduced prematurely. “They didn’t want the soldiers to have that opportunity again. That’s why there was not another Christmas Truce.

“It’s sad, but it’s inspiring that it actually happened. I can’t imagine that happening in today’s world conflicts.”

Books and movies have captured this time in history, but to Gwyther’s knowledge no play has been written solely about the Christmas Truce, although it was featured as a scene in another play, Oh, What a Lovely War and the Royal Shakespeare Company staged an account with music.

For his play, Gwyther read books and diary accounts to make his stories authentic, but decided against using real names. Instead, he created Private James Boyce, a young English soldier, to act as narrator, sharing his diary entries as monologues for the audience, as well as providing narratives of different scenes happening spontaneously across the front lines.

“He’s like Scrooge, taking the audience across the western front and telling what was happening.”

As the audience enters, James is onstage, dressed in an authentic World War I uniform, cleaning his rifle, propping up sandbags and looking out toward the German trenches. After the theatre door closes, the lights change to a single spotlight on James as he walks forward, drops to his knees and prays. After a brief blackout, he begins to tell his story and those of his fellow soldiers on either side of the divide.

Andy Robertshaw, a World War I “guru” who was Steven Spielberg’s military advisor for “War Horse,” filled that role for Gwyther, supplying him with his uniform and equipment and arranging for him to spend the night in the trench. During that Saturday night experience, around 1 or 2 in the morning, Gwyther looked into the clear sky and saw stars. “It was quite moving. It’s what it must have been like after a week or so being attacked, to look at stars and think of home.”

Managing his heavy gear, listening to the intense shelling (firecrackers) and being “gassed,” Gwyther felt he better understood his characters and what they went through. “Before, it felt phony trying to pretend I knew what it was like living in a trench. I wanted the proper experience so I could be more truthful. It helped me as an actor to get into the mindset of a soldier.”

He also realized he probably wouldn’t have survived since he didn’t get his mask on in time when the surprise canister of thick, putrid “gas” was lobbed. He couldn’t see a thing and began choking on the fumes. “I think I would easily have died.”

World War I, which claimed 15 million lives, was different because its reasons were not so clear, Gwyther says, and because it was fought by “ordinary people, doctors and school teachers,” not trained soldiers. “Neither wanted to be there. They were fed propaganda. After the Truce they realized these are decent guys. We don’t want to be here.”

The people in power “sign-off,” not seeing “these are individuals being sent to war,” Gwyther says. The play “highlights the futility of war and shines a light on how easy it is to send people to war.”

Gwyther keeps photos of WWI soldiers backstage and looks at them before each performance.

“It gives me perspective. How would they want their stories to be remembered? It reminds me why I want to tell them.”

About the show:
After an acclaimed run in London, the Edinburgh Fringe and two triumphant UK tours, Our Friends The Enemy, written by and starring Alex Gwyther with direction by Tom O’Brien, arrives in New York City to celebrate the holiday’s for a strictly limited two-week engagement at Theater Row’s Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances run through Dec. 20 Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8 om; Saturday matinee at 2 om; Sunday matinee at 3 pm. Tickets are $36.25:

Retta Blaney is an award-winning journalist and author of Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life through the Eyes of Actors. Read her blog at

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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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