Thursday, February 14, 2019

Off-Broadway Theater Reviews: The Convent, God Shows Up, A Man for All Seasons

By Lauren Yarger
A trinity of Off-Broadway plays puts God and faith center stage:

Amy Berryman, Samantha Soule and Wendy vanden Heuvel. Photo: Ahron R. Foster


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The Convent
By Jessica Dickey
Directed by Daniel Talbott 
A.R.T.
Through Feb. 17

Playwright Jessica Dickey's  The Amish Project, a very fictionalized retelling of the very real tragic killing of Amish school girls in Pennsylvania, really rubbed me the wrong way, and her latest offering about faith, The Convent,  a world-premiere production by Weathervane Productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory, in association with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater also irritates.

In this exploration of spiritual awareness and self-discovery, directed by Daniel Talbot, a group of women gathers at a convent for an annual retreat (the medieval  "convent"  in the south of France is a courtyard designed by Raul Abrego.)

They are (as far as I could gather from the loose character development for most):
  • Jill (Margaret Odette), who seemingly has it all with a successful career and husband
  • Bertie (Amy Berryman) and bored heiress Dimlin (Annabel Capper), friends who return to the retreat together every year
  • Wilma (Lisa Ramirez), a nun who has lost her faith
  • Tina (Brittany Anikka Liu), a naive, non-stop talker who survived being a child in a cult commune
  • and mysterious Patti (Samantha Soule) who seems to be there to cause trouble for Mother Abbess (Wendy vanden Heuvel)
The women all arrive at the convent fleeing something, looking for something, assured by the Abbess that they are welcome at the retreat regardless of the circumstances that have brought them there. In what is revealed to be a cultish experience, rather than the spiritual retreat you might expect at a convent, the women, donning blue, modern habits (Costume Design by Tristan Raines), are asked to select a nomen card and to adopt the medieval nun on it in a role-play of sorts. 

They have "prayer" rituals in which they ask for the many things they want; they drink a hallucinogenic and are encouraged to confront the spirit of the person blocking them from knowing their true selves (projections designed by Katherine Freer enhance the images the women see).  Before the weekend is over, most have discovered that their true selves are lesbians. They also smoke a lot, which is very unpleasant in the small theater. The most interesting interaction comes between the abbess and Patti and we kind of wish they could have been more the focus of this misguided (it tries to be humorous), uneven play which seemed very long at 95 minutes without intermission.

The Convent runs at the Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd St., NYC. Tickets are on sale at weathervanetheater.org

Additional credits: lighting design by Joel Moritz; sound design by Erin Bednarz; fight direction by Unkle Dave’s Fight-House. 

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language (a lot)
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Sexual activity

Christopher Sutton .Photo: Andy Evan Cohen
God Shows Up
By Peter Filichia
Directed by Christopher Scott
The Playroom Theater
Through Feb. 21

TV evangelist host Thomas Isaac Rehan (an entertaining Christopher Sutton) gets a surprise guest on his show when God Shows Up in an absurdest play by Peter Filichia getting a limited run at the Playroom Theater Off-Broadway. 

God (Lou Liberatore) turns out to be a middle-aged, average-looking guy wearing jeans and a casual shirt (Costume design by Michael Piatkowski) -- a stark contrast to Rehan's perfectly coiffed and expensively suited appearance. In between hawking tacky items available to those willing to send in donations to the ministry of "The Interfaith Church for You" in exchange for blessings and prosperity," Rehan interviews God and gets a few surprise answers in the process.

The bible is outdated,  God tells us, and he didn't say a lot of what is recorded in there any way. Marriage to one person is unsustainable and that is why there is so much divorce, he says. Sex is supposed to be fun -- for everyone including homosexuals -- and he likes Dr. Ruth. And oh, by the way, he also is part female and his feminine counterpart (Maggie Bofill) shows up to complete the picture. Why haven't people heard from them for so long? Because they have been staying on another planet they created that has their act together much better than we do here on earth. When tragedy strikes, Rehan is no longer able to hide behind a his mask.

While the premise is pretty typical for most shows attempting to wrestle with religious subjects (traditional God, the bible are all wrong; Christians are stupid and hypocrites) playwright Peter Filichia interjects humor so we don't take the conclusions too seriously. The theater critic knows how to craft a script, so characters are well developed better than most in a brisk 80 minutes directed by Christopher Scott. The silly pitches for books and other items available for donation are over the top, but amusing. 

Designer Josh Iacovelli includes items from just about every religion known to man as decorations in to set the scene for the TV evangelist's office set. The running of silent clips of televangelists at the conclusion of the play seemed an unnecessary dig.

God Shows Up  plays a limited run at The Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th St., NYC, through Feb. 21. Performances are Thursday-Sunday at 7 pm with additional performances on Feb. 18, 19 and 20 at 7 pm. Click here for tickets.

Additional credits:
Joan Racho-Jansen (lighting design) and Andy Evan Cohen (projection and sound design).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain


Michael Countryman and Carolyn McCormick. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
A Man for All Seasons
By Robert Bolt
Directed by Christa Scott-Reed
Fellowship for the Performing Arts
Through Feb. 24

Now here's the "religious" show you want to catch on stage while you can: a very good staging by Fellowship of the Performing Arts of Robert Bolt's classic A Man for all Seasons, directed by Christa Scott-Reed.

In the age of Henry VIII (Trent Dawson), one man stands up for his faith in the midst of pressure to give in to a lustful king's desires. That man is Sir Thomas More (an excellent Michael Countryman) who is torn between his loyalty to his friend Henry, who wants a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn and set about getting a male heir for the kingdom, and his loyalty to God, the real head of  the church, who says divorce is not an option. 

More treads carefully in politics with the likes of the Duke of Norfolk (Kevyn Morrow) Cardinal Wolsey (John Ahlin), Richard Rich (David McElwee), Thomas Cromwell (Todd Cerveris) and Archbishop Cranmer (Sean Dugan) careful not to oppose the king publicly, but eventually, Henry demands an oath More cannot give. His family, including his loving wife, Alice (Carolyn McCormick, who gives layers to the character), urge him to abandon his principles, support the king and stay alive. Rounding out the cast are Harry Bouvy as the Common Man and Kim Wong as Margaret More.

The production is well done on Stephen C. Kemp's mood-creating set with strong performances across the boards. The tale, set in the 1500s seems unnervingly relevant in 2019 America where it becomes apparent that not much in organized religion or politics has changed.

A Man for All Seasons runs at the Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd St., NYC through March 3. 

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Theresa Squire; Lighting Design by Aaron Porter; Original Music and Sound Design by John Gromada; Dialect Coaching by Claude-Hill Sparks

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No notes, but recommended for 12 and up

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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 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 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 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. She is a former vice preseint 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 (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

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

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

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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