Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Small Plates: A Night of Short Plays at the Episcopal Actors' Guild

Thursday, August 13 - 7:00 pm
Guild Hall (1 E. 29 St)

Reserve your seat today for our upcoming evening of short plays, featuring a talented cast of actors performing:
The Dinner Party by John Martin
Talking Heads by Fran Handman
Measuring Up by Constance George
A New Day by Sheila Mart
A wine & cheese reception will follow. 
Suggested: $10 (members) // $15 (non-members)
RSVP: (212) 685-2927 // matt@actorsguild.org

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Shows for Days

Patti LuPone and Michael Urie. Photo: Joan Marcus
If You’re Not a Theater Insider, You Might Feel Left Out
By Lauren Yarger
It’s got star power (Broadway diva Patti LuPone and Off-Broadway darling Michael Urie). It’s even got heavy weights on the design team like Costume genius William Ivey Long and Lighting Designer Natasha Katz. But just like the community theater it depicts, Shows for Days doesn’t quite live up to what it could be.

The play is Douglas Carter Beane’s fond remembrance of his beginnings in the theater, as The Prometheus, a community theater in Reading, PA. His alter ego (and the play’s narrator, Car (Urie), introduces his fellow thespians, led by the overbearing director, producer, actress Irene (LuPone). There is Clive (Lance Coadie Williams ), the afro-wearing homosexual who keeps his relationship with a closeted Republican under wraps, Marie (Zoë Winters), the main actress with lots of needs, Damien (Jordan Dean) who helps Car discover his sexual orientation with a backstage encounter,  and Sid, the very masculine, blunt-talking  stage manager (Dale Soules) who is  the glue that holds the troupe together. Long dresses them all in the horrible late 1960s fashion styles popular when the action is taking place (despite the fact that Beatty’s backstage set reminds us that such drama could be taking place in any theater today).

LuPone is skilled in keeping Irene from being too over-the-top, despite the fact that she herself is known for not being too  unlike force-of-nature Irene. Just days earlier, LuPone had made headlines by snatching away the phone of an audience member who had been using it during the performance. HUGE flyers are inserted in the programs reminding patrons to turn their cell phones off in the hopes that the stars’ wrath would not be summoned. And despite LuPone’s  additional, humorous recorded curtain speech reminding us to turn them off, a woman two seats away from me rummaged through her bag to find her ringing phone in the middle of Act One….. It wouldn’t have been out of character for Irene to throw her out….

But a bigger force than Irene threatens the theater group – the wrecking ball, and she is forced to come up with a plan, including blackmailing Clive and putting Sid in a dress to save the theater (Soules’ appealing performance is one of the highlights of the production).

Urie is as engaging as ever, having enchanted in Off-Broadway’s Buyer and Cellar. He’s able to get laughs, with a fall or with a look, but there just isn’t enough for him to do here and the talent which might have brought some excitement to this show appears almost reined in by Director Jerry Zaks.

Beane’s script takes a turn into the melodramatic and drags on too long, but even before the two hours and 10 minutes with intermission was over, I was wondering whether someone not connected with the theater would remain interested in a personal memoir that doesn’t contain much action. Shows for Days doesn’t come close to being the homage to the theater that Moss Hart’s Act One is, or the anyone-can-enjoy comedy of a Noises Off., for example.

Sort of like community theater. You hope they’ll pull it off, but usually are left wanted more.
Shows for Days plays through Aug. 23 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center. 150 West 65th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $77 - $87lct.org/shows/shows-days800-432-7250.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Amazing Grace


Your god can do his worst
Kill me if he can
I curse in his face
And i spit on your plan
I will not be subject to god or to man
I am my own master
You all can be damned.

-- words sung by John Newton before he is changed by amazing Grace

Spirit of Slaves and a Soul Enslaved Combine to Sing a Song of Redemption
By Lauren Yarger
The dark, ugly chains that choke out the hope and life of Africans forced into labor in 18th-Century America also twist and tighten around the hardened heart of slave owner John Newton until God’s Amazing Grace breaks them forever in the new musical based on the life of the writer of the world’s most widely known hymn.

The story about the power of love and faith has audience members on their feet at the end, joining in a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” If that’s not enough to make a believer out of you, the story of how this show made it to the Great White Way is nothing short of miraculous itself.

Broadway is not known for presenting too many Christian-based musicals and this particular show began its course toward Broadway in 1997, the inspiration of composer Christopher Smith – a policeman who had no idea how to write a musical and who taught himself how to play music by watching guitar videos. Talk about miracles! But Smith felt called to bring Newton’s story to the stage.

The show received a number of readings, the first of which brought a standing-room-only crowd to Smith’s church in a small Pennsylvania town. Eventually, Producer Carolyn Rossi Copeland, who ran the faith-based Lamb’s Theater in Times Square years ago, signed on and the show received a developmental production at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Connecticut in 2012 followed by a pre-Broadway trial in Chicago last year.

Reviews in the Windy City were pretty mixed. New York critics, reluctant to see shows with Christian-based messages, could blow the show off its moorings where it has docked at the intimate Nederlander Theatre. (Some critics expressed a lack of desire to see the show and one wrote a column about how he wasn’t going to like the show before it ever opened).  I think a prejudice against it because of its religious nature would be unfair, however. The script isn’t preachy, yet faith has a role. This is, after all, the story of the writer of “Amazing Grace.”

How the show, which opened tonight, will stand on its merits alone will be another story. I found it to be engrossing, inspiring and bursting with excellent performances and heavenly staging (the masts and sails of the slave ships never quite leave the backdrop...).

The compelling story of white dominance and oppression of blacks is made more relevant by recent headlines about racial tension in the nation. It’s a little hard to sit comfortably when revisiting this part of our nation’s history, And maybe that is a good thing. 

The book, co-written by Smith and Arthur Giron (founder of New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre), gives a broad view of the subject from different perspectives. This isn’t a story about one white guy who sees the light. Amazing Grace – just like the gift from God itself – is as much Mary’s story or the slaves’ to tell. The combination creates a number of likable characters for whom we root and from whom we learn how change is possible.

John Newton (a dreamy-voiced Josh Young) is a rash young man, running away to sea for adventure against the wishes of his stern father, Captain Newton (Tom Hewitt), owner of the Royal Africa Company, a successful slave-trading empire. Years later, when he returns, Chatham, England has changed, his old school chum, Robert Haweis (Stanley Bahorek) tries to tell him. Sentiment is turning against the practice of slavery and when John takes over a slave auction to try to impress his father, a rebellion breaks out.

Helping a young pregnant African woman escape is John’s old sweetheart, Mary. Unable to justify what she witnesses at the auction – we get an inkling of the horror, if not a full depiction of the loathsome practices – she fights her still-enflamed passion for John, whom she feels has thrown away his gift for music, and joins the local abolitionist movement. Her mother (Elizabeth Ward Land) tries to steer her toward a more suitable match with the narcissistic Major Archibald Gray (Chris Hoch), who fearing he’ll lose the one person he feels might be worthy of his name, arranges for John‘s involuntary service aboard an outgoing ship. The Newtons’ slave, Thomas (and excellent Chuck Cooper), begs for Captain Newton to show John mercy and gets sent along with him as an afterthought.

In a truly amazing visual scene designed by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce, the ship is wrecked and John and Thomas find themselves captives in Sierra Leone, ruled by the fierce Princess Peyai (Harriett D. Foy) who runs a slave-trade empire of her own. She finds that the handsome, educated and well connected Englishman can bring in even more money for her business, and provide services for her in the bedroom.

Every link of torture, indecency, insensitivity or cruelty that John forged in his life as a slave owner comes back to ensnare his soul as he finds himself suffering the same injustices. We see a sharp contrast between John, and his descent into depravity (skillfully portrayed by Young with depth into the agony of a soul in despair and torment) and Cooper’s Thomas, who becomes the embodiment of the grace the cast and audience will be singing about at the show’s curtain call, despite the injustices and betrayal the character has experienced. It’s very moving.

Toni-Leslie James’s costumes show contrasts as well: the rags of the slaves and the elegant, well appointed gowns and gentlemen’s garb – brilliantly created out of muted colors, which remind us that their lives aren’t as bright as they seem.

Meanwhile, back in England where John is presumed dead, Mary continues to see Major Gray so she can spy on him for the abolitionists She also grows closer with her beloved Nanna (Laiona Michelle), who shares about her life before being sold into slavery, and of the daughter, Yema (Rachael Ferrera), who was ripped from her arms all those years ago. Mary has become just as dear to her and she urges her to abandon her dangerous abolitionist activities. After all, slavery is just a way of life, she says...

The only thing that can redeem all of these lives and set them on the right course is God himself. When John finally yields (no spoiler here, I assume), he discovers what many of those around him have known for years --  that God’s grace is amazing – and his life is forever changed. The singing of the hymn at the conclusion by the cast and audience is a worshipful experience with many audience members shedding tears.

Some room for improvement:

·         Smith’s music is dramatic and gives Young, Mackey and Cooper a chance to show off their vocal prowess. On disappointment, is “Nothing There to Love,” a song I fell in love with years ago. It is perfection of the solo filled with emotion and just the right notes – an amazing accomplishment for a composer with no real training. In every other rendition I have heard, it builds to a soul-stirring and satisfying conclusion. Here, however, as arranged by Joseph Church, who provides musical direction and incidental music, the song is reined in, stripped of all its “oompf” and fails to be the showstopper it could have been. The rest of the score is adequate, but lacks the swell of big Broadway – particularly the opening number which loses itself in storytelling.
·         Christopher Gatelli’s movements for the Africans look more like a choreographed show number than a native dance. The song itself has strains of what will become the song "Amazing Grace". Kudos, Mr. Smith.

More information:
Amazing Grace sings out at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday at 7 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets: $65-$139; www.AmazingGraceMusical.com; 877-250-2929.

The ensemble: Leslie Becker, Sara Brophy, Rheaume Crenshaw, Miquel Edson, Mike Evariste, Sean Ewing, Savannah Frazier, Christopher Gurr, Allen Kendall, Michael Dean Morgan, Vince Oddo, Oneika Phillips, Clifton Samuels, Gavriel Savit, Dan Sharkey, Bret Shuford, Evan Alexander Smith, Uyoata Udi, Charles E. Wallace, Toni Elizabeth White and Hollie E. Wright.

Christians might also like to know:
No program notes. Don't miss this one.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Broadway will Dim Lights for Roger Rees

The Broadway community mourns the loss of Tony Award® - winning actor and Tony Award - nominated director, Roger Rees, who passed away on Friday at age 71. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in his memory on Wednesday, July 15th, at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League, said, “We are so fortunate that Roger Rees has graced our stages through the years and inspired us with his brilliant talent. In addition to his acting and directing accomplishments, his generous heart and warm, giving spirit will be greatly missed by his family, friends and fans.”

Roger Rees began his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He played Malcolm in the Trevor Nunn 1976 stage and 1978 television production of Macbeth. Most famously, Rees created the title role in the original production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, David Edgar’s stage adaptation of the Dickens novel, winning both an Olivier Award and a Tony Award® for Best Actor in a Play in 1982. He also starred in the original production of The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard in London in 1984.

Continuing his work in the theatre through the 1990’s, both as an actor and a director, Rees was awarded an Obie Award for his 1992 performance in the Off-Broadway play The End of the Day. In 1995 he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Indiscretions.

He succeeded Nathan Lane in the role of Gomez in the Broadway musical adaptation of The Addams Family. His last West End appearance was in the acclaimed production of Waiting for Godot opposite Ian McKellen.

Rees achieved acclaim as a noted stage director including Peter and the Starcatcher which he developed, first at Williamstown Theatre Festival, then La Jolla Playhouse, and in New York at New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Director (the play won five Tony Awards).

Rees’ last Broadway appearance was the starring role of Anton Schell in The Visit, opposite Chita Rivera, which opened April 23, 2015. Additional Broadway credits included The Winslow Boy, pictured above, Uncle Vanya, The Rehearsal and London Assurance.
In November 2004, Rees was named Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, only the fourth person to hold the post in its half century history.

On  television, he appeared intermittently on the long-running series “Cheers” as the English tycoon Robin Colcord. Later television appearances include “My So-Called Life,” “The West Wing,” and “Warehouse 13.”

His film career began in 1983 when Bob Fosse cast him to star in Star 80. Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks’ film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Later film appearances include Frida and The Prestige.

Cymbeline Previews Begin July 23 in Park

Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe (center) and the company of Cymbeline in rehearsal for The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Cymbeline, directed by Daniel Sullivan, running at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park July 23 through Aug. 23. Photo: Tammy Shell.
Fear no more the heat o' the sun
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
-- Guiderius

Broadway Theater Review: An Act of God with Jim Parsons

You’d Think God Would Have Figured Out How to be More Entertaining
By Lauren Yarger
God has spoken and he wants you to laugh. At least God, as portrayed by Jim Parsons, that is.

Parsons of “Big Bang Theory” fame – how ironic – portrays the Creator in An Act of God, what has been called in promotional materials, a “one-god show based on the memoir of God” (really written by David Javerbaum, a 13-time Emmy Award winner for his work as a head writer and executive producer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and curator of the Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, which has over 1.94 million followers.) OK, I’ll bite.

God, it seems has grown weary of the original 10 Commandments. Dressed in a white robe (Costume Design by David Zinn) and strolling in his celestial digs designed by Scott Pask, he reveals a revised set of the rules etched in stone with the help of chief angels, Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky) – and Projection Design by Peter Nigrini, Illusion Consulting by Paul Kieve and Special effects by Gregory Meeh.

The first one remains the same. He is, after all, God. But after that, there are a few changes, which begs the question, he allows, whether the bible is accurate.

 “Yes. the bible is 100 percent accurate,” he says. “Especially when thrown at close range.”

You can see where this is headed…..
Some of the commandments getting a little more than a tweak:

·         The second: “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.”
·         The third: “Thou shalt not kill in My name.”
·         The fourth: “Thou shalt separate Me and state.”
·         The fifth: “Thou shalt not seek a personal relationship with Me.”
·         The seventh: “Thou shalt not tell Me what to do.”
·         The eighth: “Thou shalt honor thy children.”
·         The ninth: “Thou shalt not believe in Me.”
·         The tenth: “Thou shalt not believe in Me.”

There is ensuing banter as each one is revealed. There are a few laughs, but for the most part I kept waiting for the show, directed by Joe Mantello (The Normal Heart)  to be funny. The first part of the 90-minute, no intermission performance seemed to have some potential, but as time dragged on – gee, God was able to create a whole world in just six days-- the joke wore thin (with many punch lines falling flat).

God appears to be desperate by the end, having called President Obama the messiah (albeit a disappointing one, he concedes), saying (with an expletive) that he hates Sarah Palin and bashing religion in general. It was kind of like sitting in a church service with a really long, boring sermon and realizing you still have six commandments to go….

Apparently the concept of eternity doesn’t apply to Parsons’ god. This Act of God’s limited engagement will see its final curtain Aug. 2. It plays at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.  NOTE: Thursday, July 28 performance at 8 pm. Tickets $55 - $149: http://anactofgod.com.

Christians might like to know:
Well, this one kind of speaks for itself.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Open-Mic Nights at Guild Hall

July 13 - Poetry Night w/ Dudley Stone
July 20 - Playwrights' Night w/ Eric Kuzmuk
July 27 - Anything Goes Open Mic w/ Woody Regan


All @ 7:00 pm in Guild Hall (1 E. 29th St.)
Suggested: $10 (members) // $15 (non-members)

Calling all poets, singers, comedians, magicians and more to our series of open-mic nights in Guild Hall! 

Whatever your pleasure, there's a night for you, and all proceeds will benefit local actors in need. 
To Sign-Up as a Performer:
Poetry Night: Dudley Stone - dstone141@verizon.net
Playwrights' & Anything Goes: Eric Kuzmuk - emuk@prodigy.net

More Details or Questions? Email matt@actorsguild.org

Gracewell Prodiuctions

Gracewell Prodiuctions
Producing Inspiring Works in the Arts
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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

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

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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