Friday, October 9, 2015

75, Review: BARBECUE (seen October 7, 2014)

"Finger Lickin' Good"
Stars range from 5-1.

 How—without revealing too many of its big surprises—do you describe Robert O’Hara’s BARBECUE, an achingly funny, yet subversively serious new play receiving its world premiere at the Public Theater? Its first act begins as a raucous farce about the O'Mallerys, a trash-talking, trailer park-like, redneck family gathered in a public park for an intervention on behalf of an addicted sister; it then morphs into an even more raucous farce about a ghetto-talking black family gathered in the same public park for a similar intervention, hits you in the face with an unexpected revelation about what you’ve been watching, retreats to a year earlier, and—somewhat like Pinter’s BETRAYAL—clarifies how act one came to be.

Constance Shulman, Arden Myrin. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Those responsible for this terrific production, commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, seem to be trying to tiptoe around at least one major surprise by not passing out programs until the intermission; sensing the problem, the poor reviewer, finds himself like a metaphorical version of one of the characters, bound by ropes with a slash of duct tape over his mouth/keyboard.

I’ll let others decide how many spoilers they’re willing to give away, and simply say BARBECUE is a  finger lickin' good, frequently hilarious, marvelously directed, and outstandingly performed satire on racial stereotypes, Hollywood, addiction, rehab, family dynamics, overweening ambition, memoir writing, and the relative value of truth versus lies.
From left: Heather Alicia Simms, Benja Kay Thomas, Marc Damon Johnson, Kim Wayan. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The play’s family contains four sisters, Lillie Anne, Adlean, Marie, Barbara, and a brother, James T. One of the sisters, Barbara, a dangerously volatile alcoholic and crackhead, nicknamed Zippity Boom, has been asked by the control freak eldest sister, Lillie Anne, to show up for a party, but the party is really a ruse to get Barbara there so she can be talked into—or, if necessary, forced--to enter a rehab program (I’ll avoid mentioning where, but it’s a laugh getter).
Marc Damon Johnson, Benja Kay Thomas. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Everyone’s loudmouthed, foulmouthed, and aggressively eccentric; their language is peppered with “gatdamns,” malapropisms, colorfully garbled syntax, and laugh-provoking ignorance. At one point, Adlean puts Lillie Anne down for her supposed intellectual superiority: “Fuck You Lillie Anne. I’m just trying to give some constructive criticism cause you ain’t the only one up in here with a GED.” Each, apart from Lillie Anne, has multiple addictions, like pill-popping, weed, crack, cigarettes, beer, and Jack Daniels. Lillie Anne, for all her excessive behavior, is dedicated to making her family sober, which culminates in a huge wager when James, Marie, and Adlean bet against Lillie Anne’s belief that Barbara will agree to go to rehab. Just as Barbara’s about to give her reply—boom (or, perhaps, Zippity Boom)—the playwright pulls a shocker.
From left: Heather Alicia Simms, Benja Kay Thomas, Kim Wayan, Marc Damon Johnson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
While, apart from act one’s lollapalooza of an ending, the plot may seem clear enough, there’s another kicker involved in having the family’s trauma shown in progressive, not repetitive, scenes, first by a white cast and then by a black one. And that’s all I’ll say about that, other than to mention that the device, puzzling at first, is extremely stageworthy in its reflection of the similarities and differences in how each group—both of them based on stereotypes—behave in the same basic circumstances. Further, the device is rooted in what, within this particular dramatic context, actually makes perfect sense, as gradually becomes clear in the less funny, more expository, and weaker second act. Nonetheless, it’s recommended that you get yourself over to the Public to find out for yourself what I’m talking about.
Tamberla Perry. Photo: Joan Marcus. 
Kent Gash has directed with gusto and there’s not a flat note in the revved up ensemble. Seeing the actors go at this material with turbojet energy, spewing profanities like they were sunflower seeds, and squeezing every moment for total impact, is a joy, making it impossible to cite any specific performer for particular excellence. If I were looking to give an ensemble award, BARBECUE would be high on my list. I loudly applaud Marc Damon Johnson and Paul Niebanck as James T., Becky Ann Baker and Kim Wayans as Lillie Anne, Arden Myrin and Heather Alicia Simms as Marie, Constance Shulman and Benja Kay Thomas as Adlean, Tamberla Perry and Samantha Soule as Barbara. 
From left: Becky Ann Baker, Samantha Soule, Constance Shulman, Arden Myrin. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Gash’s sprightly comic staging, including a memorable parody of an Academy Awards ceremony, is helped enormously by all the design and technical contributions, including Clint Ramos’s park-like setting; Paul Tazewell’s costumes, especially the comically overstated ones; Jason Lyons’s spirited lighting; Lindsay Jones’s upbeat music and sound design; and Leah J. Loukas’s spot-on wigs and hair design. 
Paul Niebanck, Becky Ann Baker, Samantha Soule, Constance Shulman, Arden Myrin. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Barbecue season may be over, but you might want to get one last taste of it at the Public Theater.


The Public Theater/Newman Theater
425 Lafayette Street, NYC
Through November 7

Thursday, October 8, 2015

74. Review: FOOL FOR LOVE (seen October 4, 2015)

"You Always Hurt the One You Love"
Stars range from 5-1.

 It happened 32 years ago, but I can still feel the visceral impact of the clash between the tempestuous half-siblings, Eddie and May, as embodied by Will Patton and Kathy Baker in the Circle Repertory Company’s 1983 production of Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE. Patton had replaced Ed Harris, the original Eddie, who, with Baker, had starred in the play’s premiere production at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. (Bruce Willis was Harris’s New York understudy.) I saw the play at the Circle Rep’s Sheridan Square venue before it transferred to West Forty-Second Street’s now vanished Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, which I mention because of how explosive it was to see these two emotional tinderboxes up close and personal within such intimate quarters. Not only did the play’s many door slams and wall poundings ring out like gunshots (Shepard, who directed, had mics built into the walls to amplify the sounds), but you could practically smell the sexual chemicals percolating between the stars.

Photo: Joan Marcus.
Much the same could be said of the excellent current revival (booming sounds intact), its first on Broadway, of Shepard’s play, starring Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda as the fiery lovers; the production, sharply directed by Daniel Aukin, was first seen at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2014. It must be admitted, though, that the four-character, 75-minute, one-act play seems somewhat diminished in a Broadway theatre, even though, with 622 seats,the Samuel J. Friedman is one of Broadway’s smaller houses. Not only is physical intimacy sacrificed but the larger stage seems to highlight its relative lack of plot development; its overdependence on long narrative monologues sometimes make it seem more an advanced acting exercise than a fully articulated drama. (Shepherd says he wrote a dozen versions before he considered the play finished.) 
FOOL FOR LOVE, set in a decrepit motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, is the exploration of the stormy, off-and-on, 15-year relationship between May and Eddie, a relationship during which Eddie has left May many times, including most recently when he became involved with a glamorous woman May calls the Countess (she's been considered a reflection of Shepard's own experiences with movie star Jessica Lange during his marriage to O-Lan Jones). This jealous lover is on his tail and, though we don’t meet her, her presence becomes known when she takes violent action outside the motel. 

When the play starts, May’s preparations to go on a date are interrupted by Eddie’s unexpected arrival in his pickup truck, horse trailer attached. He’s a movie stuntman who’s driven 2,840 miles across the country to locate her. Soon the fetid air is filled with accusations, tears, screams, threats, and fighting; there’s also some show-off strutting—he with his lasso, she by changing into a sexy dress.
Martin (Tom Pelphrey), May’s mild mannered, perplexed date, a nice guy high school groundskeeper, bursts in protectively during a fierce argument between May and Eddie; eventually, he learns from the coolly arrogant Eddie of his and May’s history, going back to their teens, and of their incestuous connection. Symbolizing that troubled history is Eddie and May’s boozing father, the Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss), a character inspired by Shepard’s own father, seated down right in a ratty old armchair, visible only to Eddie and May like the ghost of their guilty consciences. The Old Man’s own history, skewed as it is, including his obsession with Barbara Mandrell, reflects the ways his children, by different mothers, followed the paths laid out by their parents.
Mr. Rockwell’s diverse film roles have long demonstrated his chameleon-like versatility; he captures Eddie’s Marlboro Man machismo with conviction, wearing his faded jeans, beat-up cowboy boots, plaid cowboy shirt, and battered cowboy hat with a bent-knee slouch that tells you at a glance this guy lives as much on a horse’s back as on the land. A dry, cynically knowing, and potentially lethal undercurrent courses through him, and when he gets worked up he finds release in physical activity, like cleaning a double-barreled shotgun, fiddling with his rope, or expertly lassoing not only the furniture (a highlight of his performance) but May herself.

Ms. Arianda’s May is wound up like a spring, ready to burst open at any minute. With her abundant blonde mane and her lanky frame and skyscraper legs set off by a skintight red minidress (which keeps riding up) and black, high-heeled shoes, she makes an indelible impression, matched by a personality that can be unafraid at one moment and completely vulnerable the next. Much as May could be seen as Eddie’s victim, Ms. Arianda confronts his aggressiveness with fearlessness.
Mr. Weiss is suitably grumpy and frowzled as the tippling source of Eddie and May’s grief, and Mr. Pelphrey is perfect as the gentle (except when someone’s in danger), slightly dim, and politely curious Martin. His performance as May’s uncertain, puzzled date, offers just the right balance to the more heated histrionics of the leads.

Mr. Aukin’s direction blends the play’s overt naturalism nicely with its more stylized demands, Dane Laffrey’s rundown, unadorned motel room is appropriately seedy, David S. Leong’s staging of the more violent moments is realistic, Anita Yavitch’s costumes characterize their wearers, Ryan Rumery’s sounds hit the right notes, and Justin Townsend demonstrates his lighting brilliance in conveying constantly shifting moods. All that’s needed but impossible to provide is the ambience of a small Off Broadway theatre within the confines of a Broadway playhouse.


Brooks Atkinson Theatre
261 West Forty-Seventh Street
Through December 6

Sunday, October 4, 2015

73. Review: SPRING AWAKENING (seen October 3, 2015)

"Awake and Spring"
Stars range from 5-1.

 SPRING AWAKENING, the 2006 Broadway musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s revolutionary 1891 German play FRÜHLINGS ERWACHEN: EINER KINDERTRAGÖDIE (usually rendered SPRING’S AWAKENING), which won eight Tonys, has returned in a unique and potent new staging. This production, brilliantly directed by Michael Arden and choreographed by Spence Liff, is a creation of Los Angeles’s Deaf West Theatre and was originally seen at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills. It’s especially memorable because nearly half of its 22-member cast is made up of deaf actors. 

The deaf actors sign while speaking actors say and sing their lines, sometimes while standing right next to their doppelgängers and sometimes while hidden in the shadows. Meanwhile, other roles are played by hearing actors who either already knew how or have been trained to express themselves in American Sign Language. A number of sequences are performed with the words projected on the various surfaces, while other scenes are intensely silent, depending solely on ASL, facial expressions, and projections. These can be especially powerful because they thrust the audience into the soundless universe of the unhearing actors, a contrast made all the sharper by being sandwiched between numbers from composer Duncan Sheik’s often crashing rock score.
Clever as all this is, however, it may take you some time to become accustomed to what, at first, can be distracting as your focus switches between the actor playing a role and their voice double, who may be at the other side of the stage or on a different level. Depending on the circumstances, the voice actors, who are often self-effacing, and who may also be performing on a musical instrument, may or may not be dressed like those they’re voicing. Eventually, though, you pay attention to the character rather than their vocal source. In a very few instances, deaf actors voice some words on their own.
Further, some actors portray several roles, both those they’ve been cast in and others for whom they provide the voices. Patrick Page, for example, who owns what may be Broadway’s most resonant male voice, can be heard as Herr Sonnenstich, Herr Rilow, Father Kaulbach, Doctor Von Brausepulver, and Herr Gabor. Camryn Manheim and Russel Harvard, the production’s other two well-known hearing actors, are similarly busy. The sole deaf actor of comparable esteem, Marlee Matlin, also covers multiple roles: Frau Bergmann, Fraülein Knuppeldick, and Fraülein Großebüstenhalter.
Wedekind’s tale of sexual repression among students at non-coed high schools in a provincial German town still has relevance, even in our supposedly sexually liberated world. The show—powerfully lit by Ben Stanton and performed in Dane Laffrey’s unit set of towering gray concrete walls, embedded with ladders, staircases, catwalks, and arched alcoves for the musicians—tells of the tragic consequences of such sexual repression, as enacted through several students’ experiences, which encompass a girl’s pregnancy and botched abortion; a boy’s suicide; masturbatory fantasies; paternal rape; homosexual stirrings; sadomasochism; and reform school brutality. Parents are prudish and cruel, teachers excessively strict, the church inhumane, and reform schools dangerous.
If you’re wondering how such material could exist in a play written in Wilhelmine Germany you’ll be relieved to know it took 15 years for the original to be produced and then only after considerable modifications. Even finding a publisher was difficult, and Wedekind had to pay out of his own pocket for its printing.
Since the score is rock-oriented, the production meshes contemporary teenage behavior (including profanity) with the 19th-century environment, nicely captured in Mr. Laffrey’s costumes. Mr. Sheik’s music emphasizes beat over melody, offering insufficient variety, as well as little lyricism in the form of conventional ballads. Mr. Sater’s elliptical and repetitive lyrics have punch but can be innocuous and unsubtle (one song is called “My Junk Is You”). Mr. Arden and Mr. Liff keep the actors moving in interesting formations, in one scene having a bunch of teens melded together to represent a tree, in another using tiny lights on gloved fingers for memorable effect. Fluid sign language, combined as it is with vivid facial expressions, adds to the visual impact.
Wedekind’s play, whose episodic style is acknowledged as a precursor of expressionism, is fully realized in the dynamic staging, but there’s also a cool grayness to the enterprise that, despite the tragic events depicted, creates a sense of distance, making it easier to appreciate intellectually than to experience emotionally. This doesn’t detract from the superlative performances, with special kudos to the hearing but ASL-fluent Mr. McKenzie’s Melchior, an impassioned freethinker; the deaf Mr. Durant’s confused Moritz (splendidly voiced by guitarist Alex Boniello), whose raging hormones interfere with his studies; the deaf Ms. Frank’s innocent Wendla (lovingly doubled by guitarist/pianist Katie Boeck), who accepts her mother’s ridiculous explanation of procreation, and, hearing from a friend whose father beats her, asks the same from Melchior; the hearing Andy Mientus’s Hanschen, leaning toward same-sex love; the hearing Krysta Rodriguez’s Ilse, a decadent model; the hearing but wheelchair-bound Ali Stroker’s Anna, a schoolgirl; and the multiple-role versatility of Mr. Page, Mr. Harvard, Ms. Manheim, and Ms. Matlin.
Autumn may be in the air outside, but at the Brooks Atkinson, spring is definitely awakening.


Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West Forty-Seventh Street, NYC
Through January 24, 2016

Saturday, October 3, 2015

72. Review: FONDLY, COLLETTE RICHLAND (seen October 2, 2015)

"Needs a Repair Service of its Own"
Stars range from 5-1.

April Mathis. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Late in FONDLY, COLLETTE RICHLAND, Sibyl Kempson’s interminable, unfathomable play at the New York Theatre Workshop, one character says to another with reference to the play itself: “If we didn’t have the sense to leave during intermission, we’re just trapped here listening to you go on and on and none of it goes ANYWHERE or pays off in ANY WAY.” I commend Ms. Kempson not only for the honesty of this metatheatrical observation, as well for the accuracy with which it sums up the feelings of at least some of those hardy souls –representing perhaps two-thirds of the original audience—who were still in their seats as the proceedings shambled to their conclusion.
Greig Sargeant, Laurena Allan. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Susie Sokol. Photo: Joan Marcus.
FONDLY, COLLETTE RICHLAND, produced by the esteemed experimental theatre company Elevator Repair Service, which is noted, among other things, for its compelling adaptations of such literary works as THE GREAT GATSBY (titled GATZ) and THE SOUND AND THE FURY, is the company’s first non-devised production by a living author, although the script betrays decidedly literary characteristics, a number of which are more apparent on the page than on the stage. It was, in fact, inspired by Jane Bowles’s equally offbeat 1943 novel, TWO SERIOUS LADIES.
Kate Benson, Laurena Allan. Photo: Joan Marcus.
As a work of theatre it’s a throwback to the kind of hallucinatory free-for-all dramaturgy that began with Alfred Jarry’s UBU ROI in 1896 and that erupted in the surrealist movement of the World War I years, like Apollinaire’s THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS. There’s also a dash of Wilder’s THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH in it, although each of the works I’ve cited is far more accessible than Kempson’s LSD-trip mélange of avant-garde tics. On several occasions, characters express their confusion about the meaning of the play they’re in, and there’s even a moment when an audience member (a plant) says he agrees, only for him to be ejected. Several of the more positive critics (and they exist) advise audiences not to try figuring it out and just go along for the ride; however, with characters, dialogue, and ideas that not only are extremely ambiguous but that, while they begin interestingly, become increasingly boring over a two-and-a-half-hour slog, there are far too many potholes along the way.  
Laurena Allan, Greig Sargeant. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Director John Collins has given everything a distinct rhythmic structure, and the acting is defiantly one-dimensional and cartoonish. The characters all appear to represent abstract or metaphysical ideas. What’s clear is that the play is toying with notions of reality and illusion, theatre and real life, sleeping and waking (with frequent allusions to the moon and the sun), the conscious and the unconscious, and the importance of regaining a shared community in a world where it no longer exists.
From left: Lucy Taylor, April Matthis, Susie Sokol. Photo: Joan Marcus.
In other words, it’s all a dream, where what’s hidden in the mind’s recesses spews forth images of Christianity (including the Face of the Ghost of Jesus Christ [Maggie Hoffman]), the Bible, paganism, prophecy, and Satanic devils and monsters; female empowerment; a conflation of ancient Roman times with today; a babble of languages, including both Latin and unknown tongues that spill forth indiscriminately; philosophic quotes; stream of consciousness dialogue; non sequiturs; incantatory poetry; nature’s transformative powers (a woman becomes a mermaid, a man becomes a tree), and so forth. In addition to the seriously quirky syntax, certain characters change “w” into “wh” words, as in “whind” for wind, and hard “c” into “ch,” as in “choffee” for coffee (these changes are barely discernible when spoken). A number of scenes are written with two or more speakers delivering overlapping lines, making the already dense text almost impossible to decipher.
Mike Iveson, April Matthis, Kate Benson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Following a sort of prologue performed by the sunglasses-wearing, retro-styled Collette Richland (April Mathis), chatting on her old-time, 1960s radio show (its sign-off is the play’s title), the play proper begins with a relatively linear scene in the home of an average 1950s-style American couple: the stereotypical housewife Mabrel Fritzhubert (Laurena Allan) and the pipe-smoking, bow-tie and sweater-wearing Colonel “Fritz” Fritzhubert (Vin Knight); Colonel is his name, not a military rank. Dinner is interrupted by Local Representative Wheatsun (Greig Sargeant), whose reason for visiting the couple and their neighbors he never gets to explain. The Fritzhuberts are attended by a Cat Butler (Susie Sokol), who crawls about on all fours, wearing gloves, a hat with fur flaps over her ears, and red high heels. A priest in cassock and skull cap, Father Mumbles (Mike Iveson), sits at stage right narrating the stage directions into a mic while accompanying much of the action with mood music. 
Susie Sokol, Vin Knight, Kaneza Schaal. Photo: Joan Marcus.
From here the action moves—presumably through a little ALICE IN WONDERLAND-like door in the Fritzhuberts’ home—to the Grand Hotel Conclae Vista, an elaborate hotel in the Swiss Alps, reminiscent of the one in Wes Anderson’s film, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, where Fritz and Mabrel arrive, and where a bunch of other bizarre characters, human and nonhuman, appear (most of the actors play multiple roles). They include the Deposed and Dethroned Grand Queen Empress Queen Patrice (Lucy Taylor), Mabel’s sister Winnifr’d Bexell (Kate Benson), her sister-in-law Dora Fritzhubert (Ms. Matthis), a German-French concierge in shorts named Hans-Pierre (Mr. Iveson), and Sailor Boy (Ben Jalosa Williams), a bare-chested, lederhosen-wearing warrior with flowing blond hair who enters carrying a creature called a “pigdog” and its pups, the pigdog’s milk said to give its drinker prophetic powers. Eventually, a strange local creature with horns, the Krampus, plays a crucial role, both here and back home at the Fritzhuberts’ home, where the weird play concludes.
From left: Lisa Hockaday, April Mathis, Maggie Hoffman. Photo: Joan Marcus. 
David Zinn’s nonliteral set is far simpler than what’s described in Ms. Kempson’s script: a low, curtained background surrounding the acting area with movable scenic units to establish locales. In the hotel, the units are paneled in dark wood, and dressed with sconces. At one point, a huge 2D mountain appears against the back wall. Jacob A. Climer has provided colorful costumes possessing a 1950s aura, including cleverly odd hats for the women, and all is nicely lit by Mark Barton. The hardest working designer, though, is sound specialist Ben Williams, whose multiple effects create a wide and wild variety of auditory support for the play’s peculiar world.

This inscrutable potpourri of old-fashioned avant-garde eccentricities is well enough performed by a talented ensemble that seems to be having more fun than the audience; their unusual characters, however, are so dependent on highly stylized techniques that none have enough humanity to make you care a whit about them. This was one of those experiences where my eyes were on my watch almost as often as on the stage, and where I applauded more for the play’s being over than for my appreciation of it.
Company of FONDLY, COLLETTE RICHLAND. Photo: Joan Marcus.

New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street
Through October 18

Thursday, October 1, 2015

71. Review: CINDERELLA (seen September 29, 2015)

"Not Your Grandma's Fairytale"
Stars range from 5-1.
If you’ve never seen the work of imaginative director-choreographer Austin McCormick, whose Company XIV has been offering New York theatregoers a series of sexily suggestive, dance-oriented, elaborately conceived shows for several years now, CINDERELLA is as good a place to start as any. On the other hand, if you’ve visited one or more of them, such as NUTCRACKER ROUGE or ROCOCO ROUGE, the two I’m familiar with, you can expect more of the same. Like them, you’re invited into a smoky, chandeliered, and mirrored atmosphere (ROCOCO ROUGE’s audience sat at cocktail tables) where you can, as the press release announces, “Sip a libation whilst you experience a thrilling fusion of nightlife and theatre, featuring XIV's unique blend of live opera, circus, burlesque, vaudeville, baroque dance, and sumptuous design.” Leaving aside how “thrilling” the show is, this description accurately captures what you can expect when you visit one of McCormick’s elaborate productions. (For a video link, click here.)
Allison Ulrich, Steven Trumon Gray. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand. 
Like NUTCRACKER and unlike ROCOCO, CINDERELLA ties its disparate elements together by means of a familiar children’s story, one to which everything adheres, albeit in unusual and unexpected ways. But essentially, the Company XIV style (and various cast members) remains the same; that artsy style, I’m afraid to say, is getting to be a bit long in the tooth. McCormick’s devotion to a sort of fantasy decadence redolent of the court of Louis XIV (the inspiration for the company name) would seem to have run its course. Semi-nudity rules the night, and, for all the emphasis on adults-only naughtiness (the tickets say 21+ but 16 is actually the minimum age permitted entry), the show is actually tastefully safe, with the few moments of mildly comic raunchiness being no worse than what you might see in a Shakespeare comedy when physical humor underlines the textual bawdiness. You could say it’s sexy but not erotic, especially since the men don't seem the type to have much sensual interest in the women. For me the burning question was, don’t those G-strings feel like wedgies?
Allison Ulrich, Katrina Cunningham. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.
As in the other McCormick shows I've cited, the spare set, by Zane Pihlstrom (who also did the costumes) is dominated by an Austrian curtain, although a show curtain (seen in ROCOCO ROUGE) picturing a 19th-century pornographic illustration also plays a part. Jeanette Yew and Devin Jewett provide consistently moody lighting, emphasizing spotlight beams cutting through the smoke. 

Title cards, carried on by long-legged chorines and chorus boys, introduce the key scenes, and inform us such things as the two “entr’actes” and, during the curtain calls, the names of the performers. Apart from a few lines of innocuous dialogue, no one speaks. Stretching the overly familiar story of Cinderella to two and a half largely speechless hours may be a ploy to help sell more drinks, but artistically, the show would definitely benefit from being an hour shorter. At its present length, it runs out of surprises; even the hopefully original way it handles the slipper business in act three comes too late to make much of an impact. This is CINDERELLA, folks, not HAMLET!  No grown-up cares about these people and their problems! And there's a limit to how much interest skimpy costumes over bared flesh can maintain.
Allison Ullrich, Davon Rainey. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.
One thing serving CINDERELLA well in comparison to its predecessors is its decreased reliance on circus-type acts; only two are present; one, done first as a solo by the Prince (Steven Trumon Gray) and then as an exquisite aerial pas de deux with the Prince and Cinderella (Allison Ulrich), is the lyra hoop, which showcases its graceful performers’ strength and agility. Both Gray and Ulrich are also fine dancers, and Gray even demonstrates classical vocal chops as he sings Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart” while sitting in a bathtub surrounded by his effete, lounging minions. The other circusy act is an acrobatic pole dance, splendidly performed by Marcy Richardson, one of the two Step-Sisters, who does it—get thiswhile simultaneously singing an aria from Gounod’s Faust
Marcy Richardson and company. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.
The other leading players include the tall, muscularly slender, dusky Davon Rainey as the wicked Step-Mother, a striking cross-gender figure in dominatrix-inspired strap-wear who nearly steals the show, and Brett Umlauf as the second singing Step-Sister, gifted with a strong soprano. (The pair enter singing Irving Berlin’s “Sisters” in German before switching to English. That’s about the level of the show’s campy humor.) The voluptuous Katrina Cunningham, who plays the Fairy Godmother (called here simply the Fairy and acted as if she had a lesbian longing for Cinderella), brings her smolderingly smoky torch song talents with her, but her words are often hard to make out, except for when she knocked “Walkin' After Midnight” out of the theatre.
Brett Umlauf and company. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.
McCormick calls his piece “a baroque burlesque ballet,” and the dominant form of dance throughout is ballet, with recorded music from across the ages and continents, including Hoffman, Lorde, Offenbach, Jaymes Young, Prokofiev, Paul Anka, the Andrews Sisters, Lana Del Rey, Verdi, Yma Sumac, and so onNo matter how clever the choreography and adept the terpsichoreans  there comes a time when boredom takes over and you can’t wait for that damned slipper business to be over.
Mark Osmundsen, Lea Helle. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.
Company XIV will be occupying the Minetta Lane all season. They follow up CINDERELLA with a revival of their Drama Desk-nominated NUTCRACKER ROUGE and then premier their new SNOW WHITE. I sincerely hope the latter finds a new creative groove that isn’t yet another venture into the same old territory the troupe already has squeezed dry. Been there, done that.
Steven Trumon Gray, Allison Ulrich. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.

Steven Trumon Gray, Allison Ulrich. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.

Allison Ulrich. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.

Company of CINDERELLA. Photo: Phillip Van Nostrand.

Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through November 15