Friday, December 1, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: The Band's Visit TOP PICK


The Band's Visit
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Itamar Moses, based on the film by Eran Kolirin
Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Directed by David Cromer
Ethel Barrymore Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Like streams in the dessert, The Band's Visit quenches a thirst for something satisfying on Broadway and it's different than any other drink being offered on the Great White Way.

First off, this musical doesn't feel like a musical. The score by David Yazbeck (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) seems a natural part of the story, which follows an Egyptian police orchestra on its way to perform in a dedication ceremony in Israel. So when the musicians pick up their instruments, or the characters express themselves by singing a song with beats that sound conversational, it is an extension of themselves thanks to expressive lyrics (also by Yazbek) and a well-written book by Itamar Moses, based on the 2007 movie by Eran Kolirin. This production makes a smooth transfer to Broadway of the acclaimed Off-Broadway world premiere last year at the intimate Atlantic Theatre Company, where it was sold out for most of its run.

When the band members arrive in Israel, they discover they are in Bet Hatikva, not Petah Tikvah, home of the Arab Cultural Center, the opening of which they have come to celebrate. Bet Hatikva not only doesn't have a cultural center, it doesn't have much of anything. That’s the word from Dina (Katrina Lenk, who undoubtedly will be nominated for a Tony award for her splendid performance), owner of a cafe which is one of the few non-apartment buildings in the area.

"Not Arab culture, not Israeli. Not culture at all," she tells Tewfiq (a wonderful Tony Shalhoub). "Welcome to nowhere."

Because there is no bus out of town until the next day and no hotel in the area, Dina provides dinner for the band and commandeers her neighbors into putting the members up in their homes.

A welcome mat is rolled out for the Egyptians to join the Israeli's on a typical evening in Bat Haitikva. Simon (Alok Tewari), shares his unfinished musical composition and brings peace to the home of Itzik (John Cariani) and Iris (Karen Sieh), who isn't sure she can deal with the demands of a new baby and no sleep. Meanwhile, Haled (Ari'el Stachel), who was responsible for the mix up in their travel plans, tries to avoid Tewfiq's relentless disapproval and seeks out a good time at the local roller rink. He offers advice (rather humorous) on picking up girls to Papi (Etai Benson), who is smitten with Julia (Rachel Prather), but is unable to work up the nerve to speak with her.  

Creating this world, with the help of a revolving stage designed by Scott Pask, is Director David Cromer, who works his magic to bring the audience into the intimate world of the characters. We feel for one character, known only as the Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor), who waits endlessly at a payphone for a call from his love. We're not sure exactly why he thinks she will call, or why it is so important that she does, but we really want that phone to ring.

Meanwhile, despite appearing to be dry from years of wandering in an emotional dessert, complete with failed relationships with men she probably shouldn't have been involved with in the first place, Dina finds herself drawn to the mild, polite Tewfiq. He touches a part of her she hasn't visited in a while -- a hope she felt when watching old romantic movies on TV. As she wonders whether Tewfiq might be the one she has been waiting for all these years, she sings a mesmerizing ballad, "Omar Sharif."

Dina is sitting at the table talking with Tewfiq, but Lenk rises to present the song in an almost ballet movement that allows us to see the thoughts crossing her mind (choreography is by Patrick McCollum). Tyler Microleak’s exceptional lighting design highlights Dina and in a less pronounced way, Tewfiq, but also lets us see the other characters in the shadows of the restaurant as they mimic her arm movements. The effect is a stunning "time-stands-still" moment which no one does better than Cromer. And that ballad triggers a never-ending earworm once you hear it (sample a clip in the video below).

If the performances and music weren't enough to make this a top pick (probably of the season), there are some bonuses as well. The story is about people. Regular, decent people who open up and share with each other. In a plot that could have focused on politics since we have Jews and Arabs interacting there isn’t any. Even with communication difficulties brought on by language barriers. What a welcome respite -- like a stream in the dessert.  Many playwrights and directors seem to think they have carte blanche to bash politicians they don't like, even if doing so doesn't add anything to the show. They should take a lesson from The Band's Visit, which in its silence about politics, says more about the good of humanity and the ability for people from different backgrounds to get along than any Trump bashing could, for example.

A second bonus is that the musicians who are on stage are really, really good. The Broadway production includes some more instrumental parts in the score (orchestrated by Jamshied Sharifi) which allows the musicians to improvise. Don't leave at the curtain call, or you will miss a terrific encore.

The Band's Visit has hearts singing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., NYC with tickets currently on sale through September 2018. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59.00 - $189: thebandsvisitmusical.com.

Additional casting:
Andrew Polk, Bill Army, Rachel Prather, Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh,  Pomme Koch, Madison Madison Micucci and James Rana
Additional credits:
Sarah Laux (Costume Design), Kai Harada (Sound Design), Maya Ciarrocchi (Projection Design), Charles G. LaPointe (Hair Designer), Andrea Grody (Music Supervisor and Music Director) and Dean Sharenow (Music Supervisor and Music Coordinator)

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language 
-- Recommended for 12 and up


 

Broadway Theater Review: Junk TOP PICK

A scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of JUNK by Ayad Akhtar.Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Junk
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Douglas Hughes
Lincoln Center Theater
Through Jan. 7

By Lauren Yarger
If the world of bond investment leaves you scratching your head, don't be intimidated by Junk, Ayad Akhtar's fascinating new Broadway play at Lincoln Center. You don't have to understand the intricacies of high finance to get the message: selling your soul for money doesn't bring happiness.

Set in 1985, the play focuses on the seemingly limitless ability to create wealth on Wall Street. Steven Pasquale stars as Robert Merkin, the king of Junk Bonds (high yield, higher risk investments), who is poised to make the deal of the decade: the takeover of an iconic American manufacturing company. The character is an homage to real-life Michael Milken, who is credited with inventing the junk bond and to an era when money became the root of everything.

Merkin has it all; a dream career, a successful analyst wife, Amy (Miriam Silverman), who is putting her career on a back burner following the birth of their son, and more money than most of us would know how to spend in a lifetime, but it's not enough. Motivated by the belief that "debt is an asset," he wants more, more, more. He participates in illegal, insider trading and puts plans in motion for the takeover of Everson, whose owner, Thomas Everson (Rick Holmes), leaves the company vulnerable by shifting funds around to save the steel manufacturing parts of the company and the jobs and livelihoods that it has provided during the three generations his family has been the company’s owner.

Everson vehemently opposes the takeover and thinks that will be enough to stop it. But times have changed and Merkin has re-invented the art of the takeover, meaning that Everson needs to find a way to buy his own company's stock to stay in control. In a battle that is evocative of power struggles in the best of Shakespeare's royal families, Merkin takes advantage of Boris Pronsky (Joey Slotnick), an old client, who reluctantly invests his wife's money against her will.

Even as Merkin's dynasty, built on greed, topples as the feds close in, the junk bond king continues to put his love for money above freedom, friendship and love.

Douglas Hughes expertly directs the large cast of 23 with the vibrant action taking place on John Lee Beatty's compartmentalized set (which cleverly reminds us somewhat of a cash drawer), highlighted by Wall Street figures projected as a backdrop (59 Productions, design).

Pasquale (The Robber Bridegroom, The Bridges of Madison County) impressively steps out of the sympathetic romantic lead role to present a very troubled, almost creepy man obsessed with money. The two-and-a-half-hour script from the Pulitzer-Prize winner for Disgraced is tight and engrossing. If some of the financial dialogue is over the head of the average audience-goer (though perhaps, with the cost of tickets these days, you might need profits from bond investments to finance a day at the theater and might indeed be savvy about high-risk bonds....), the plot can be followed without trouble, and the script, primarily through the character of Judy Chen (Teresa Avia Lim), provides some explanation.

Don't miss this one, playing a limited run through Jan. 7 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Performance times vary. Tickets are $87-$147: 
lincolncenter.org.

Additional casting:
Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Demosthenes Chrysan, Jenelle Chu, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Ian Lassiter, Teresa Avia Lim, Adam Ludwig, Sean McIntyre, Nate Miller, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Charlie Semine, Michael Siberry, Henry Stram, and Stephanie Umoh.

Additional credits:
Catherine Zuber, costumes; Ben Stanton, lighting; Mark Bennett, original music and sound.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

-- Language
-- Strong sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain

Friday, November 24, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Home for the Holidays

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Home for the Holidays
Creative and Music Direction by Jonathan Tessero
August Wilson Theatre
Through Dec. 30

By Lauren Yarger
The winners of TV's reality shows "American Idol," "The Voice," and "America's Got Talent" unite for Broadway's only Christmas-themed show this year, Home for the Holidays, at the August Wilson Theatre.

Candice Glover, winner of “American Idol” Season 12; Josh Kaufman, winner of “The Voice” Season 6; and Bianca Ryan, winner: “America’s Got Talent” Season 1, perform more than 25 songs, some which you will recognize and some which you won't. A song list does not appear in the show's Playbill, so good luck figuring out what they are.

The concert is hosted by Kaitlyn Brostowe from the"Bachelorette" TV show and also has appearances by Peter Hollen, billed as a YouTube sensation,  and his wife, Evynne. Academy-Award-nominated actor Danny Aiello also is featured. He reads a little, sings a little and appears very out of place in this hodgepodge of a production, presumably assembled by Creative and Musical Director Jonathan Tessero, who has among his entertainment credits and the Superbowl, the Essence Fest and other events (no other writing or directing credits are listed in the Playbill).I didn't care for the arrangements of some of the classic Christmas songs which leave the singers sounding out of sync with each other. Glover should have been given an :O, Holy Night" solo.

The nine-piece band is good, particularly the horn section of Enrique Sanchez, Luke Stafford and an uncredited woman who I spotted playing the day I saw the show.

Aiello is not alone in his discomfort. Ryan, whose talent apparently consists of singing part of words while making them sound very dramatic, if not recognizable,  kept waving her arm in a strange pattern telegraphing someone who isn't comfortable on stage.

Fashions provided by Sherri Hill, Stephen F. Nina Shoes and Noah Waxman are sparkly for the holiday theme, but in some cases, the cuts are not very flattering to the women in particular (James Brown III is the wardrobe stylist for the show). Jason Kantrowitz adds some lighting pizazz) to the mix

The standout in this production is Glover, who has a terrific voice and worshipful spirit while singing favorites like "The Little Drummer Boy." It is a treat any time we can hear the story of Christmas told on a Broadway stage and Glover's talent made it especially so. Our hopes for focused concert are disappointed, however.

This limited engagement plays at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd St., NYC through Dec. 30. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59-$299: www.HolidaysOnBroadway.com


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- no content notes


Broadway Theater Review: Latin History for Morons



Latin History for Morons
Written by and Starring John Leguizamo
Directed by Tony Taccone
Studio 54 (254 W 54th St).


By LaurenYarger
The teacher charts out lessons about civilization on a large blackboard center stage, but you probably never have been in a classroom quite like this one.

The "teacher" is John Luguizamo (Ghetto Klown and Freak) and the lesson is Latin History for Morons, and yes, we, the audience, are the morons (especially if you are White). The raw, bawdy monologue was born from the frustration Laguizamo encountered trying to help his son find a Latin hero to write about for a school project. A quick check of the boy's history book showed that no Latin Americans were included.

"If you don't see yourself outside of yourself, you feel invisible," he said.

The comedian shares his research on the subject and takes us through a different look at history and how the Latin People, who once enjoyed various empires and a population in the millions on several continents for 3,000 years, were systematically wiped out through disease and conquests by White western civilizations. He explains "ghetto rage" is what Latin-Americans experience when they feel they don't matter.

"Latin life is cheap in America."

He adds some political commentary against the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies.

The presentation is raw and filled with vulgar language, though many of the biggest laughs greeted dialogue in Spanish, so I missed those jokes. At one point there was a disruption in the balcony and the performer maintained character while alerting that police were really needed -- that he wasn't joking. This isn't your usual Broadway crowd at Studio 54 -- lots of people were talking and enjoying drinks throughout the performance. Think nightclub.

Leguizamo is an engaging performer and I enjoyed Ghetto Klown, but this show just didn't strike me as very funny. Perhaps the seriousness of the subject doesn't lend itself to many laughs. The dialogue also deals with his son's bullying at a private school where parents display prejudice.

Latin History for Morons is extended at Studio 54, 252 West 54th St., NYC through Feb. 25. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $55-$149: latinhistorybroadway.com.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- Sexual dialogue (explicit)
-- God's name taken in vain

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Shadowlands

Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson, and Jack McCarthy. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Shadowlands
By William Nicholson
Directed by Christa Scott-Reed
Fellowship for Performing Arts
Through Jan. 7

By Lauren Yarger
Continuing its excellent productions of C.S. Lewis-themed works, Fellowship for Performing Arts brings the author to life with Daniel Gerroll's portrayal of the writer and Christian apologist in New York's first revival of  William Nicholson's play Shadowlands.

A film, with a screenplay by Nicholson, was released in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as his wife, Joy. It is based on Lewis's "A Grief Observed."

Lewis is an academic at Oxford, shooting the breeze with his colleagues, and living at home with his brother, Major Warnie Lewis (John C. Vennema). His quiet existence is turned upside down, however, with the arrival of married Joy Davidman, a 
Jewish-American writer, former Communist and Christian convert. Joy is an admirer of Lewis's writing and after a long correspondence with the author, shows up for a face-to-face with her young son, Douglas in tow (Jack McCarthy and Jacob Morrell share the role).

Warnie and Lewis's other friends are put off by Joy's blunt manner -- and the fact that she can hold her own, or even get the better of them in debate. What starts as a friendship between Joy and Lewis morphs to a marriage of convenience and blossoms into true love, but happiness is cut short when Joy is diagnosed with cancer.


How does one cope with such pain after waiting so long for happiness? Among other insightful commentary, Lewis muses that perhaps God wants us loveable rather than happy. Suffering is how we release our hold on what is important in this world and realize that our value lies in the spiritual realm.


The philosophical banter between Joy , Christopher Riley (Sean Gormley) and the others is amusing and tautly directed by  
Christa Scott-Reed. The humor blends with deep thoughts to create empathy for the characters as well as to force us to contemplate our own emotions. 

Joy's faith is inspirational. She tells her husband that the pain to come is part of the joy they are experiencing in the present. Lewis's faith following her death is an example to his colleagues. It’s  this is kind of a sad story, though, so be prepared, even if Joy's physical pain doesn't play out as totally believable (it seems acted, especially if you ever have been with someone dying the horribly painful death she did).


Additional cast: Dan Kremer, Daryll Heysham, Jacob H. Knoll, Robin Abramson, Stephanie Cozart.

Additional credits: Scenic Design by Kelly James Tighe, Costume Design by Michael Bevins, Lighting Design by Aaron Spivey, Original Music and Sound design by John Gromada.


Shadowlands plays at the Acorn Theatre, 419 West 42nd St., NYC, through Jan. 7. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Note: no performances on Thursday, Nov. 23Sunday, Dec. 24; or Sunday, Dec. 31. There will be an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Friday, Dec. 29.Tickets are $75-$95:  FPAtheatre.com212-239-6200.

More About Fellowship for Performing Arts

Founded by Max McLean, New York City-based Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA) produces theatre from a Christian worldview created to engage diverse audiences. In its first two seasons in New York it produced The Great DivorceThe Screwtape Letters,  Martin Luther on Trial and C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert, Check the website for a list of productions in other locations around the US.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- no content notes

Broadway Theater Review: M. Butterfly with Clive Owen



M. Butterfly
By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Julie Taymor
Cort Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
In the opening scene of David Henry Hwang's updated M Butterfly, getting a Broadway revival directed by Julie Taymor, mocking contemporaries of Rene Gallimard (Clive Owens) ask, "How could he not know?"

The question at hand is how Gallimard, an attaché to the French embassy in China, did not know that the Peking Opera actress with whom he had been having an affair for 20 years was, in fact, a man.

Good question, and in spite of rather graphic details about how Gallimand mistook his sexual relations with Song Liling (Jin Ha) for regular intercourse (this would be one of the rewrites to the original script), we never quite believe it and as a result, it is hard to sympathize with the character.

Such a misunderstanding might have been possible for someone who never had had relations with a woman before (and who apparently never saw his Chinese lover nude because of "her" modesty), or maybe after only one brief encounter.  But after 20 years? Add to that the fact that Gallimard also is a married man who has had sex with a woman and who probably should have been able to figure out something wasn't quite right. Thus, the basic premise for this play, which won the Tony Award in 1988, has always been lost on me.

Other critics rave about it as a love story (it is loosely based on Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, in which a Japanese geisha is betrayed by the US Naval officer she loves (catch the opera at the Met this spring: metopera.org) and also is somewhat inspired by the espionage conviction of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot, who had been deceived by a man he thought was a woman. They also will tell you this revival is timely because of political discourse currently taking place about gender. I disagree on both points.

Instead, there is no love story here. How can Gallimard love someone he clearly doesn't know? After 20 years? Though Ha is petit and masters graceful movements in his performances at the opera (opulently staged by Scenic Designer Paul Steinberg, Costume Designer Constance Hoffman with Original Music and Soundscape from Designer Eliot Goldenthal), Ha never, ever looks like a woman. We don't get how Gallimard could have been so deceived.

Gallimard apparently receives comfort and some sexual gratification from the relationship, but doesn't offer much in return -- except to humiliate his lover from time to time, to put him in danger with the authorities and then to turn over national secrets he about how many US troops are being sent to Viet Nam and the like. He marries his wife, Agnes (Enid Graham), mostly to get ahead in his career, then hardly gives her a thought. Like most women in plays that focus on men, she is just there to be cheated on without much character development. To Graham's credit, we do get a sense of this woman's betrayal and hurt, but that just adds to the lack of sympathy we have for Gallimard.

The idea of white man's fantasies about sexual conquest of Asian women is explored a bit, and in view of recent Harvey Weinstein, et. al, scandals where women have been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of powerful men, this idea isn't one that endears us to those who indulge either. Song Liling is the "perfect woman" created by a man "because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act," we are told. This doesn't move me. In fact, it makes me angry. So I never feel sorry for Gallimard or understand anything he does.

As for being a timely exploration of transgender issues, where gender "doesn't matter," M Butterfly really isn’t that either. Gender does matter here. Traditionally, women are banned from the Chinese stage, so men play their roles. This is discrimination against women. Here, the male actor has homosexual urges, which are not allowed expression by the Communist government, so he offers to masquerade as a woman to seduce Gallimard and obtain classified secrets in exchange for not being arrested. He even goes so far as to convince Gallimard he has given birth to their son, but it's all deception, not someone in love getting in touch with their feminine urges.....

The production is visually pleasing, from the big-stage operas choreographed by Ma Cong to the starkly lighted prison cell (Lighting Design by Donald Holder). The two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission are surprisingly unmoving, however, except to welcome back Taymor to Broadway following the Spider-man saga. There aren't too many women directors on Broadway stages, so this moves me.

Additional casting:
Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Clea Alsip, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Jason Garcia Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Scott Weber, Emmanuel Brown, Thomas Michael Hammond, Jake Manabat, Erica Sweany, John Leonard Thompson, and Erica Wong.

Additional credits:
Sound Design by Will Pickens; Wig and Hair Design by Dave Bova; Makeup Design by Judy Chin

M Butterfly flutters at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $39-$139: mbutterflybroadway.com

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTOTRS:
-- Nudity
-- Homosexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexually explicit dialogue
-- Suicide

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: What We're Up Against

Marg Helgenberger and Krysta Rodriguez. Photo: Joan Marcus

What We're Up Against
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
WP Theater
Through Nov. 26

By Lauren Yarger
In the workplace, employees must watch out for sexual harassment. A simple phrase might be taken the wrong way. The twist here, is that the employee lamenting the state of things is a male -- and the boss -- who says men having to deal with women in the office is just part of What We're Up Against in this all-too-timely, darkly humorous play from Theresa Rebeck at WP Theater (formerly the Women's Project.)

It's 1992 and Stu (Damian Young) bemoans the situation to Ben (Jim Parrack of TV's "True Blood"), a co-worker at the architectural firm. New-hire Eliza (Krysta Rodriguez) has complained about never getting a chance to show her architectural skills. All of the guys in the office, especially Weber (Skylar Austin from the "Perfect Pitch" films), get tapped for projects while Eliza gets stuck in a "broom closet" office. She feels Stu just sees her as token woman, and not as the qualified worker the company's owner, David, did when he hired her.  The guys speculate about the relationship between Eliza and David and joke about whether she slept with him to get the job.

Eliza thinks she has a kindred spirit in Janice (Marg Helgenberger), the only other women in the firm, but finds that Janice doesn’t see the harassment in the office as a problem and is willing to present Eliza’s ideas as her own to get ahead.
Scenic Designer Narelle Sissons and Costume Designer Tilly Grimes put us in the 1990s, but the office dynamics clearly could be 2017. Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt focuses attention to keep the hour and 45 minutes of dialogue (with an intermission) brisk.

Rodriguez gives Eliza some depth and sometimes we're not sure just how innocent she is in the scheme of things. Is she sleeping with David? Is she setting up others to fail?  The questions are typical of those asked by those defending themselves against charges of sexual bias and who point to women who stand up for themselves as having attitude problems, so the audience can understand the viewpoints of the coworkers as well as Eliza.  It would be interesting to have Rebeck pen a sequel in 2017 to see how much, if anything has changed for the characters.

What We're Up Against runs through Nov. 26 at WP Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, NYC. Performances are Tuesday – Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. There is no performance on Thursday, Nov. 23. A 7 pm performance has been added on Sunday, Nov. 26. Tickets are $39-$89: 
wptheater.org; 212-765-1706.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design: Grant Yeager; Sound Design: M.L. Dogg

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Portuguese Kid


The Portuguese Kid
Written and Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Manhattan Theatre Club
Extended through Dec. 10

By Lauren Yarger

Can you say Doubt?

The Portuguese Kid is a very disappointing world premiere play from Pulitzer-Prize winner John Patrick Shanley's. It stars Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld"), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture) and multi-talented Mary Testa (The Government Inspector, First Daughter Suite, Queen of the Mist), among others.

If that all sounds very impressive, the feeling wears off shortly into the first act and we start to doubt that this play is going to have any of the sparkle of Shanley's other excellent work like Doubt, Outside Mullinger, the really excellent Prodigal Son, or even his Academy -Award winning film "Moonstruck." It doesn't. The plot isn't very interesting and the star-studded cast isn't able to do much to develop the characters. Using the playwright as director probably isn't the best idea in such a situation, even if this is the 12th collaboration between Manhattan Theatre Club and Shanley.

Widow Atalanta  Lagana (Scott) visits her long-time friend and lawyer, Barry Dragonetti (Alexander) seeking help selling her Rhode Island estate. The two go way back, to the time when Atalanta saved Barry from a Portuguese mugger who still haunts him for no reason that makes sense. The two never got together -- we're not sure why, but a good reason not to would be Barry's mother (a funny Testa) who doesn't  like Atalanta much and makes Medea look like a walk in the park. Meanwhile, Atalanta, it seems, calls out Barry's name while having sex with others, so maybe they will figure out how to make things work now? 

Add to this lots of sexual dialogue, some anti-Trump jokes, Atalanta's current eye-candy boyfriend, Freddie Imbrossi (Pico Alexander), and Barry's wife, Patty (Aimee Carrero), and . . . well, things still don't get interesting in the one-hour, 40-minute play without an intermission (which somehow is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.)

Getting most of the attention here would be John Lee Beatty's set, which pleasingly revolves and changes to take us from Barry's office to Atalanta's bedroom, to Barry's home and then to Atlanta's patio, and William Ivey Long's costumes.

The Portuguese Kid has been extended through Dec. 10 at New York City Center, Stage I, 131 West 55th St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $95-$112.50: manhattantheatreclub.com

Additional credits:
Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), and Obadiah Eaves (original music and sound design).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language (lots of the "F" word)
-- God's name taken in vain (a lot)
-- Nudity
-- Sexual Dialogue (lots of it)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Women in Theater Get the Spotlight at Upcoming Events

Several upcoming events highlight women in theater.

The Connecticut Chapter presents a design panel on Monday, Oct. 23 to kick off its second season. If you are in Connecticut, or can get to Norwalk (an easy commute on MetroNorth), you won't want to miss this panel/demonstration led by Dawn Chiang:



Find Your Light 
Broadway Lighting Designer and League of Professional Theatre Women member Dawn Chiang will lead an interactive discussion on how visual vocabulary and theatrical crafts contribute to the emotional life of the storytelling art Monday, Oct. 23 in Norwalk.

Joining Chiang for the "Find Your Light!" panel are Elizabeth Williamson, artistic director at Hartford Stage, Costume Designer Tilly Grimes and Scenic Designer Jessica Parks. The event, produced by Co-Founder Marie Reynolds, will kick of the 2017-2018 season for the CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women, now in its second year.

A networking time with light refreshments will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 pm followed by the panel discussion/demonstration from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the multi-media gallery at Stepping Stones Museum, Mathews Park, 303 West Ave, Norwalk, CT.

Space is limited and reservations are required via this link:
https://tinyurl.com/FindYourLightPanel

Chapter members and one guest are free. Non-members are welcome and will be charged $5 (cash only) at the door. Questions: marie@theatrewomen.org.


Oral History
The League of Professional Theatre Women continues its acclaimed Oral History program with producer Daryl Roth (left) being interviewed by theater critic Linda Winer (right)

Monday, Nov. 6
6 pm
Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center
(Corner of 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue)
Daryl Roth holds the singular distinction of producing seven Pulitzer Prize-Winning plays and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the LPTW's Advisory Council. Join us as she discusses her extensive life and work in the theatre.  She will be interviewed by Linda Winer, a prize-winning theater critic, who wrote for Newsday from 1987 to 2017.

Free admission. First come, first seated.

Betty Corwin Lifetime Achievement Award
Pulitzer-Prize winnining Playwright Paula Vogel will introduce the program honoring Betty Corwin; "The Woman Who Preserved the American Theater."

Betty Corwin, a long-time LPTW member, created and founded  the Theatre on Film and Tape Archives for the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (TOFT) in 1970, and thus preserved generations of the American theater. She turns 97 Nov. 18 and continues to be a powerful force, helming the LPTW's Oral History Program, now in it's 25th year.

She will be honored at luncheon
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Noon
Sardi's Restaurant, 234 West 44th St., 4th Floor

● LUNCHEON INCLUDES CHAMPAGNE TOAST ●
$95 Member Ticket - Click Here
$125 Non-Member Ticket - Click Here
$1,750 - VIP Table for 10 - Click Here (Includes half-page black and white ad in "BettyBill."
For tickets and more information: TheatreWomen.org/Event/Betty-Corwin

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Time and the Conways



Time and the Conways
By J. B. Priestley
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Roundabout Theatre Company
Through Nov. 26

By Lauren Yarger
If you could go back 18 years in time, what would you tell yourself?

That's the gist of the evocative play Time and the Conways, which looks at what happens to the members of a family as they journey through two very distinct moments in time.

This play by J.B. Priestley (An Inspector Calls), has sort of been lost in time itself. This is its first revival since it premiered in 1938. Starring as Mrs. Conway is Elizabeth McGovern, a time tripper herself. She first came to attention in 1980 with a role in "Ordinary People" and since has received an Academy Award (for Ragtime) and gone on to cult fandom status as Cora Crawley, the matriarch of the popular British TV series “Downton Abbey.”  The time frame for this drama is similar -- we see the Conways first in 1919 and then again in 1937 -- but except for the period costumes (Paloma Young designs), this is no Downton and McGovern is not sweet Cora.

World War I has just ended and life is full of promise. The family gathers to celebrate the 21st birthday of wanna-be novelist Kay Conway (Charlotte Parry) and the safe homecoming of her soldier brother, Robin (Matthew James Thomas). Mrs. Conway, with her blunt and sometimes inappropriate comments, lets everyone know that she prefers reckless Robin over her other son, Alan (Gabriel Ebert), who has no real ambitions. She's not particularly fond of socialist daughter Madge (Brooke Bloom), either it seems. Daughter Hazel (Anna Camp) is the one with all the right ambition. She has her sights set on marrying a rich society fellow. Younger sister Carol (Anna Baryshnikov -- yes, daughter of the ballet dancer) appears oblivious to any family conflict. She is happy and full of life.

Joining the family are:
-          Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narciso), the family's solicitor, who has absolutely no influence over the indomitable Mrs. Conway when it comes to talk about managing her wealth or selling their house
-          Hazel's friend, Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts), who is in love with Robin
-          Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer), a creepy acquaintance of Gerald's from the lower class who has finagled an invitation to the festivities, so he can be near Hazel, on whom he seems to have a crush.

The cross over from the 1919 celebration to the family's future in 1937 is the real star of this show. Neil Patel's set dramatically transforms, and Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind creates the illusion of time travel as Kay appears to have a vision of what is to come.

In 1937, the family is shattered following a tragic loss. Robin, an unsuccessful travelling salesman, and Joan have married, but they're not happy. Madge is a nasty spinster school teacher and Mrs. Conway's fortunes have been lost. A little port loosens her sardonic tongue even more. Most surprisingly, Hazel is married to Beevers, who it turns out isn't mild mannered and eager to please, but quite sadistically opposite the image we first had of him. Even Mrs. Conway's threats seem to have no influence over him. (Boyer’s got creepy down -- he was the possessed puppet in Hand to God.)

For a brief time, Kay returns to the past and it's this transition that prompts the question "What wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had the chance?" As Alan says,

"But the point is, now, at this moment, or any moment, we're only a cross section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us—the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we'll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream."

The performances are fierce and the direction by Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony Award for her Broadway debut last season with Indecent, is precise. The play itself could use a good edit, particularly in the first act, but overall, a very satisfying time at the theater.

The Conways glide through time at American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd St., NYC, through Nov. 26. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8; Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 pm; Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Tickets are $39-$149: roundabouttheatre.org; 212-719-1300

Additional credits:
Matt Hubbs, Sound Design; Leah J. Loukas, Hair and Wig Design; Deborah Hecht, Dialect Consultant; Thomas Schall, Fight Director; Frank Ventura, Etiquette and Period Movement; Kathy Fabian, Production Properties Supervisor

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- References to fortune telling

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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 "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 in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day 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 writes 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 is 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.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

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.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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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 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 and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. 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 review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), 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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