Sunday, January 14, 2018

140 (2017-2018) Review: LaBUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL (seen January 12, 2017)

"Three That Don't Match"
Probably no prominent, contemporary, American playwright has been as significantly supportive of the one-act or short play form as Neil LaBute. In recent years, his own contributions have been seen regularly at 59E59 Theaters at the annual Summer Shorts Festival of New American Plays and the LaBute New Theater Festival.

Chauncy Thomas. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The latter, originating at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio, is back with its third program since 2016, when it showcased six one-acts. Last year’s show had four plays, and this year’s has three. The plays, selected from a national competition, are all making their New York premieres. Each is directed by John Pierson, who has staged at least one play in each of the previous LaBute Festival productions. 

The plays occupy 59E59’s tiny Theater C, in which the audience faces designer Patrick Huber’s unnecessarily substantial set (lit by Jonathan Zelezniak) of marbled gray walls; it represents a hotel room in the first play, a teenage girl’s bedroom in the second, and a woman’s living/dining room in the third. I say unnecessarily because the scenic realism in such a confined space is oppressive and tends to accentuate the performers’ actorish behavior. If you feel like you’re actually in someone’s bedroom, it’s a bit uncomfortable when they act like they’re on a stage. 
Chauncy Thomas, Spencer Sickmann. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Also, a simpler, more imaginative set would not require the rushed but extensive scene change this one gets between the first two plays as stagehands shuffle about in the semi-dark, inches away from us. The night I went a bunch of props hastily placed behind the bed came crashing noisily to the ground and had to be reset.
Spencer Sickmann, Chauncy Thomas. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
In past showcases featuring LaBute plays, his have usually been the most sharply honed. Not so in this one, which leads off with his mediocre “Hate Crime,” about two anonymous gay men who are plotting a murder. The dominant, overbearing one is Man 1 (Chauncy Thomas), dressed in a white bathrobe, who plans the crime with the subservient Man 2 (Spencer Sickmann). (The pretentious tic of giving characters nameless names is the bane of anyone having to write about them!) 

Their victim is the guy Man 2 is on the verge of marrying, the aim being for them to cash in on the insurance for which Man 2 will be eligible after his new spouse dies. It’s hard to tell just how seriously LaBute wants us to take his clichéd situation, or how much to notice his tongue pushing at his cheek, but none of it is funny or believable. Man 1 comes off as a violent psychopath and Man 2 a simpering dodo, although Sickmann makes him far more credible than Thomas does Man 1.

“Hate Crime,” which, dramatically speaking, stops almost before it begins, is more of a situation than a play. 
Kelly Schaschl, Autumn Dornfeld, Chauncy Thomas. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
More dramatically satisfying, and socially relevant, is James Haigney’s “Winter Break,” which deals with a situation one can actually imagine taking place in an American household. Joanna (Kelly Schaschl), a pretty, girl-next-door teenager, from an Episcopalian family, has converted to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, calls herself Aisha, and is heading for a few weeks in Turkey. 

Her mom, Kitty (Autumn Dornfeld), is distraught and tries to talk her out of it; even more upset and ready to do whatever he can to stop her is her Islamophobic brother, Bailey (Sickmann). Despite her protestations, he fears she’ll be radicalized and become a jihadist. 
Kelly Schaschl, Autumn Dornfeld. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Although Haigney gets a sprinkling of laughs out of this situation, it’s a serious dilemma that’s concerning enough to be dramatized, even on the level of family melodrama offered here. Haigney’s treatment, which offers no easy answers, manages to convey the main points about which most non-Muslim audiences might be worrying. 

For all the equanimity most of us would like to be able to muster when considering how we might handle a similar situation, it’s hard not to sympathize with the fears a family faces when a non-Muslim child converts, throws on a hajib, calls herself Aisha, and heads for the Middle East.  
Kelly Schaschl, Spencer Sickmann. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Sickmann shows considerable versatility in switching from the doofus of “Hate Crime” to the overwrought sibling of “Winter Break,” and Dornfeld is satisfactory as the nervous mother, but the promising Schaschl (a St. Louis high school senior) could use more bite.

Following a 10-minute intermission, the program concludes with Carter W. Lewis’s satirical farce, “Percentage America.” It begins as a dinner date between Andrew (Thomas) and Arial (Dornfeld) in the latter’s Washington, D.C., home; it's the kind of first date based on a dating service pairing satirized so often in movies, TV, and plays. (Red flag: first date in a participant’s house and not at a neutral space?) Soon, the couple begins to reveal the truth behind the personal fibs created for their social media profiles.
Autumn Dornfeld, Chauncy Thomas. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
These include Andrew’s having said he was working on his doctorate, an untruth he confesses by revealing that there’s no doctorate involved; he’s merely a pharmacist. This blooper gets an undeserved laugh since, as someone should have noticed, you can’t become a pharmacist without a doctorate! Isn’t there some other profession that would have served? 
Autumn Dornfeld, Chauncy Thomas. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Anyway, seeing how the issue of truth arouses their libidos, the pair (both of them liberals) decide to spend the evening deciphering the percentage of truth in television news; their fact-checking odyssey also serves to further warm them up erotically. (“Truth? I am so hard for this now,” says Andrew.)
Autumn Dornfeld, Chauncy Thomas. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The percentage of truth, of course, turns out to be quite small indeed. This emerges when the intrepid Andrew and Arial, from the comfort of her living room, choose to track down what a girl (Schaschl) accused of hurling verbal abuse at President Trump (unnamed) in the White House Rose Garden actually said. 

Their cardinal rule is to rely only on phone calls and avoid using the untrustworthy Internet. Along the way, the distorted accounts of what happened—such as how the girl might be a terrorist—are reported by various anchors (all played by Schaschl) spotlighted at one side of the stage.

The potential for pertinent journalistic satire is strong but the treatment—which manages to get in some tired jabs at Trump—is far too broad, goes on too long, has barely any sting, and isn’t as funny as it seems to think it is. Once Lewis makes his point, he makes it over and over again. The energetically performed “Percentage America” is a 15-minute sketch inflated to a half-hour play.

Given the hundreds of one-acts submitted to festivals like this, I’m always surprised at how infrequently anything truly impressive comes along. The theatre appears to be a harder taskmaster at creating short-form work than TV, for example, where so many quality dramas and comedies are squeezed into a half-hour (or shorter, with commercials) series episode, even those done in a single, conventional, living room setting. Shouldn’t theatre be taking the lead, not lagging behind?


59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through February 4

139 (2017-2018): Review: A KIND SHOT (seen January 13, 2017)


For my review of A Kind Shot please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ.

(For a brief video promo click here.)

Terri Mateer

Monday, January 8, 2018

137 (2017-2018): Review: MANKIND (seen January 5, 2018)

“He’s Having a Baby”

Playwright Robert O’Hara (Bootycandy, Barbecue) appears to have a lot he wants to say in Mankind, his awkwardly simplistic, dystopian satire now at Playwrights Horizons. Precisely what he wants to say, though, has to be dug out, like your car during our current freeze, from an icebound script. Even under (or perhaps because of) O’Hara’s own direction, it may make you wish to leave your shovel and rush back into the frigid cold well before its two hours conclude.

Anson Mount, Bobby Moreno. Photo: Joan Marcus.
O’Hara’s futuristic fantasy places us 100 years or so in the future when men, so preoccupied with controlling women’s bodies, have legislated the fair sex out of existence. The patriarchy is able to carry on because men can now have babies but must nonetheless live in a world still run according to the laws in place when women existed. (Someone should compare this material to the vaguely similar but vastly superior The Handmaid's Tale.) O’Hara’s program notes declare his inspiration was Douglas Turner Ward’s Day of Absence, about when the white world woke up to discover that all the black people were gone. Mankind, though, is unable to adapt that premise for anything but its initial surprise.

The part of the play about men having babies reminds us that Billy Crystal got pregnant in Rabbit Test (1978); that in Frankenstein’s Baby, a 1990 BBC comedy-drama, someone became the first pregnant man; and, that in Junior (1994), Arnold Schwarzenegger produced a baby bump. And, of course, there’s the story of Thomas Beatie, who actually did give birth to a kid. O’Hara, though, confused as his treatment is, wants to deal with a less benign subject than male pregnancy: abortion.

When two youngish men, Jason (Bobby Moreno) and Mark (Anson Mount), who’ve been having a purely sexual relationship—they call themselves “fuckmates”—discover that Jason’s pregnant, they ponder what to do, ultimately agreeing to “get rid of it.”  However, abortion is illegal in this new world (as, for all its restrictions, it is not today) and Jason’s OB/GYN (David Ryan Smith) rats on Jason and Mark, landing them in jail.
Ariel Shafir, Anson Mount, Bobby Moreno, David Ryan Smith. Photo: Joan Marcus.
When Jason’s baby turns out to be a girl, things begin to go weirdly awry for the patriarchy, especially after the infant, called Cry-Baby, dies during a TV interview hosted by the annoyingly supercilious Bob (Smith) and Bob (Ariel Shafir). The alleged cause: toxic air.
Ariel Shafir, David Ryan Smith. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Almost immediately, Jason and Mark find themselves the nominal, reluctant leaders of a rapidly spreading, powerful religion of “Feminists,” who pray to the late infant, now transmogrified into the She-goddess. (Mankind was written two years ago; ironically, “feminism” was Merriam-Webster’s 2017 word of the year.)  She, whose name is “unpronounceable,” is a latter-day Jesus, represented by a huge, gold statue, its mouth smeared with blood. Tiny doll versions are worshiped by the pious, whose goal is to see a return of “Wo-men” (pronounced “woe-men”), and who say “ah wo-men” instead of “amen.”
Stephen Schnetzer. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The World Power Authority, however, which considers the Feminists the world’s most dangerous cult, has other ideas.
Stephen Schnetzer, Bobby Moreno. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The above only hints at the nonsensical developments and the humorless SNL sketch-like treatments the material receives, with its thematic issues lumping abortion in with religion, premarital sex, men’s stupidity, power, greed, climate change, and the necessity of women (as if anyone, even the worst misogynists, ever really doubted it). None, sad to say, is handled with particular resonance.
David Ryan Smith, Bobby Moreno. Photo: Joan Marcus.
It’s all acted in an equally diverse assortment of styles ranging from naturalistic to campy exaggeration, including a prosecuting attorney played by Andre De Shields (who also plays Jason’s father) in a bizarre, triangular, semi-Eraserhead afro, speaking and gesturing like someone from not just another century but another planet.
Bobby Moreno, Anson Mount. Photo: Joan Marcus.
O’Hara occasionally provides an amusing touch, as when Mark and Jason refer to each of their parents in this all-male world as “father,” allowing the context to suggest which of the fathers mentioned is which; we also may guess which "father" we would assume to be the “mother,” a word never spoken. But, in general, the plotting is wobbly, the humor banal, the exposition indistinct, the characters cartoonish, and the situations lacking even the most basic grounding in a reality strong enough to help us suspend our disbelief.
Anson Mount, Bobby Moreno. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Mankind’s slick production does little to make things more bearable, despite a set by Clint Ramos that makes good use of a turntable; moderately futuristic costumes by Dede M. Ayite; suitably theatrical lighting by Alex Jainchill; projections, principally of scene titles, by Jeff Sugg; and self-aware, seriocomic music and sounds by Lindsay Jones. 
Andre De Shields, Bobby Moreno, Stephen Schnetzer. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Kudos to the earnest cast for keeping straight faces during this dramaturgic farrago, even when one scene requires that they ask the men in the audience to rise and sing from a religious hymn distributed on small cards. Perhaps one-fifth of the men attending the night I went actually took part; thankfully, the actors refrained from asking those of us who hid under our seats or otherwise chose to look every way but theirs to join their brethren. 

On the other hand, a woman in front of me was asked by De Shields to refrain from singing. Obviously, by breaking the fourth wall this way, the play’s insistence on a world without women becomes even more innocuous.

When the play ends and the applause dies down, an actor steps forth to deliver a brief appeal supporting a woman’s right to choose and for theatergoers so inclined to provide a donation to Planned Parenthood as they leave the theatre. Whatever feelings one may have on this hot-button issue, his little speech at least makes clear that O’Hara is indeed lobbying for abortion rights. Just because he wrote a play about it doesn’t mean his intentions always come across. 

O’Hara’s got real talent—I loved Barbecue—but Mankind could have used some Planned Parenthood assistance of its own.


Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through January 28

136 (2017-2018): Review: THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN (seen January 6, 2018)

“A Fight for Love and Glory”

The most heart-wrenching moment at this year’s Golden Globes Awards show was the sight of iconic movie star Kirk Douglas trundled on stage in a wheelchair, shriveled, incomprehensible, and incapacitated but still basking in adulation. It was also a powerful reminder that, when Hollywood is involved, it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, even when you’re 101. That no one can deny.

Joanne Harftstone. Photo: Tom Kitney.
But for all the beautiful, successful people—from actors to hairdressers—applauding the great actor who once played Spartacus and Vincent Van Gogh, history has discarded countless others who either never won such love and glory on the boulevard of broken dreams or who flamed brightly only to be snuffed out tragically like a candle in the wind.

Among the legion of legends surrounding moviedom’s cycle of fame, fortune, and failure is that of Peg Entwistle, a 24-year-old actress who, in 1932, leaped to her death off the “H” in Los Angeles’s famous Hollywoodland (later, just Hollywood) sign on Mount Lee. Hers is the only recorded case of someone thus diving off the sign into the pool of La La history but she’s more the inspiration than the subject of The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign, a modestly appealing one-woman play at Theater for the New City. Written by and starring Australian Joanne Hartstone, the work has previously been received positively in international fringe venues and festivals.
Joanne Hartstone, Photo: Tom Kitney.
Its fictional subject is 24-year-old actress Evie (short for Evelyn) Edwards. Depressed by her struggles to break into movies, she decides one night in 1949 to emulate Entwistle’s departure. First seen as her hands come into view gripping a vertical edge of the huge H—the upper half of which, supported by slim, wooden trusses, constitutes Tom Kitney’s otherwise bare set—Evie dresses in period regalia of black dress and blond wig, coiffed to suggest a movie star’s “victory rolls” hairdo.

During the ensuing 70 or so minutes Evie—changing her voice and manner for each of the several characters she introduces—describes what led her to this pass. She interlards her autobiographical account with content about not only the Hollywood sign but tidbits about silver screen goddesses Theda Bara, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland. It’s fun but film buffs will hear little they don’t already know.  

Evie’s personal story comes off as an amalgam of what thousands of similarly inclined women encountered as they sought careers in Hollywood’s dream factory. It covers her close relationship with her widowed father, a tool maker with a gambling habit who was forced to move with her from a comfortable home to a Hooverville shanty when the Depression wiped him out; her music lessons from a boarding house landlady; her dad’s transfer to California when the war broke out; and her subsequent attempt to have a celluloid career there, including a stint working at the “Hollywood Canteen.” The latter segment explains the canteen’s work rules and guest protocols in the show's most interesting history lesson.
Joanne Hartstone. Photo: Tom Kitney.
Then there are the auditions, the rejections, the painful notes privileging physical attributes over talent, and even a detour into prostitution before landing a meeting with Jules C. Stein, about whose identity as founder and head of the MCA agency the script neglects to inform us.

During the narrative Evie sometimes breaks into song, offering nostalgic standards—either accompanied by prerecorded instrumentation or a capella—like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Blue Moon,” “You Made Me Love You,” and “They’re Writing Songs of Love But Not For Me.” There are as well a couple of less well-known tunes, like “I’m Getting Corns for My Country,” popularized by the Andrews Sisters, and “Every Baby Needs a Da-da-daddy,” originally sung by Marilyn Monroe, who, I only afterward discovered, also wrote its lyrics.
Director Vince Fusco moves Hartstone around nicely, using the crossbar connecting the two legs of the H as a place to sit and stand. Those plywood legs, though, consisting of large, dull panels, practically beg for video and/or still projections to bring 40s Hollywood to Technicolor life.

Clichéd as it is, The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign has enough going for it to be appreciated by fans of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Hartstone brings sincerity and sweetness to her portrayal of Evie. However, the chirpy, high-pitched Midwestern twang she affects, with its frequent upward inflections, is not particularly enthralling. And a quick YouTube check of any of the stars who sang the songs we hear makes immediately clear that if Evie had Hartstone’s pitchy voice, Hollywood wouldn’t have made a major blunder in ignoring her.

Hartstone might have done better to imagine Peg Entwistle’s final moments rather than to concoct a totally new personage, but that would have meant moving the period back to the pre-talkies, a time less well-known to modern audiences. The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign seems more intent on reminiscing about the Hollywood of the 1940s than on developing a three-dimensional character we can believe might not only have lived through it but found it necessary to consider jumping. 


Theater for the New City
155 First Ave., NYC
Through January 21

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Best of 2017 (and Worst)

Happy Holidays and thanks to everyone who’s a regular or occasional reader of Theatre’s Leiter Side. The blog began in the fall of 2012 when I was a nominator for the Drama Desk Awards. It’s therefore been active for over five years and has covered well over 1,000 shows. Midway through that time,—which both aggregates and excerpts numerous reviews and also provides a numerical score for each of them—came into existence. To date, 484 of my reviews have appeared on that site.

It’s now the time when reviewers are asked to pick their best of the year. Over the course of 2017, from January through December, I covered 198 shows. The number might have been considerably higher except that, for the first half of the year, I wasn’t always able to acquire press invitations, so I missed some potentially important work. For the second half, at least beginning in late June, I returned to the Drama Desk as a voter, which gave me access to more productions. However, various factors—such as scheduling conflicts or failing to receive press invitations—prevented me from seeing everything.

Looking back over my reviews for 2017 I notice I gave my highest recommendation of five stars and two thumbs up to 22 shows, Broadway and Off, while I gave only four shows my lowest grade, one star and two thumbs down.

Here are the five-star, two thumbs up offerings, in alphabetical order; titles beginning with articles are listed as such, i.e., The Emperor Jones, rather than Emperor Jones, The.

Reviews for these shows can be found by using the search box in the upper left hand corner of this page. 

Amerike—The Golden Land
Cross That River
Cry Havoc
Derren Brown: Secret
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Off the Meter, On the Record
Once on this Island 
Prince of Broadway
School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play
SpongeBob SquarePants
The Band’s Visit
The Emperor Jones
The Little Foxes
The Play that Goes Wrong
The Winter’s Tale
Woody Sez
Zero Hour

Narrowing this down to the top ten, we get the following, again in alphabetical order, with an (OB) for Off-Broadway, a (B) for Broadway, and an (R) for revivals:

Charm (OB) 
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me (OB) 
Indecent (OB and B) 
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (OB; R) 
Once on this Island (B; R) 
School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play (OB) 
SpongeBob SquarePants 
The Band’s Visit (OB and B) 
The Little Foxes (B; R) 
The Play That Goes Wrong (B)

The four shows that landed at the bottom of the pile, all of them Off Broadway, are as follows:

The Great American Drama
Pressing Matters
Come Light My Cigarette
Rhinoceros (R) [in Yiddish] 

That wraps it up for 2017. Wishing you all warm holiday wishes, I look forward to catching your theatergoing eye in 2018.

Friday, December 22, 2017

135 (2017-2018): Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS (seen December 21, 2017)

"School for Scandal"
Company of Cruel Intentions. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
In the beginning, there was Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Pierre Chodorlos de Laclos’s four-volume, French, epistolary novel of 1782. Then, over the past half-century or more, there were more than half-a-dozen films, starting with Roger Vadim’s 1959 film of the same title, followed by Steven Frears’s 1988 Dangerous Liaisons, and, among the rest, a contemporized, teenage version called Cruel Intentions, its prequel and sequel, and Chinese and Korean adaptations. There have also been multiple radio, television, ballet, opera, novel, and, of course, stage treatments. 
Lauren Zakrin, Constantine Rousouli. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
The most recent entry in the latter category is Cruel Intentions: the 90s Musical Experience, a high-energy, low-budget, Off-Broadway, jukebox version of Roger Kumble’s iconic (despite a 49% Rotten Tomatoes rating) 1999 film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Selma Blair, and Reese Witherspoon. 

This supercharged offering, co-created by Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross, with a script adapted by Kumble from his original screenplay, and a modicum of choreography by Jennifer Weber, is now rocking the low rafters of the basement space at Greenwich Village’s (le) Poisson Rouge. It’s actually the second New York incarnation of the show, which originally was seen in Los Angeles in 2015 and made a pop-up appearance at its current venue this past February.
Constantine Rousouli. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
There, while seated with strangers at cramped cabaret tables, you can order food and drinks while craning your neck to the side to see the stage or twist it like Linda Blair to view scenes behind you. Someone’s cruel intention, perhaps?

Fans of the movie will groove to its darkly comic tale set in the “Gossip Girl” world of over-privileged, Upper East Side, prep-school step-siblings, Sebastian Valmont (handsome, ripped Constantine Rousouli in the Phillippe role) and Kathryn Merteuil (hot-as-a-branding-poker Lauren Zakrin in the Gellar character).
Lauren Zakrin, Constantine Rousouli. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
This reputation-bashing, incestuous (as per “Game of Thrones”) pair make a bet about whether the teenage Casanova can bed the goofy Cecile Caldwell (comedic livewire Jessie Shelton in the Blair role). His Jag if she wins; her bod if he does. 
Carrie St. Louis, Constantine Rousouli. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
Kathryn’s motive is revenge on a guy who dumped her. The apple Sebastian would really like a bite of is the virginal Annette Hargrove (Cybil Shepherd lookalike Carrie St. Louis in the role Witherspoon created). Ruthlessly amoral, Sebastian and Kathryn rule the roost until the roosters come home to crow.
Alex Boniello, Brian Muller. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
Two subplots introduce themes of homosexuality and racial bias, one involving the gay relationship between macho athlete Greg McConnell (Brian Muller) and the effete Blain Tuttle, the other concerning the shared affections of African-American music teacher Ronald Clifford (Matthew Griffin) and the goofy Cecile, daughter of the uptight Mrs. Bunny Caldwell.
Patricia Richardson, Matthew Griffin. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
The night I went the actors playing Blain (Alex Boniello) and Mrs. Caldwell (Patricia Richardson) were out ill but were quite capably understudied by Tristan J. Shuler and Stefanie Brown. Let’s hear it for the talented understudies who make the most of the rare opportunities they get to strut their stuff!

Cruel Intentions uses barely any scenic units, apart from four chairs, a low, blue cloth to suggest a pool, and a white sheet for a silhouetted sex scene, all flashily lit by James Kolditz. Despite its four-member, onstage band’s lyric-smothering, over-amped performance (sound design: Robert Bradley), the show needs only a smattering of music stands and scripts to qualify as a staged concert.
Lauren Zakrin. Photo: Jenny Anderson.
Among the many songs—some borrowed from those on the movie’s soundtrack—highlighting thematic concerns, if not story-advancing ones, are Placebo’s “Every You, Every Me,” Jewel’s “Foolish Games,” the Cardigans’ “Lovefool,” No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” Mercy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” TLC’s “No Scrubs,” and, most sizzling, Meredith Brooks’s “I’m a Bitch.”

The last named is knocked upstairs and onto Bleecker Street by the flamingly sexy Zakrin, even if—dressed by costume designer Tilly Grimes in skintight black pants and black bustier (with well-filled red bra)—she’s hard to buy as “the Marcia Brady of the Upper East Side.” Too many of the songs, though, are belted as loudly as possible, leaving little room for gentler approaches. TV’s competitive singing shows have taken their toll.

For all the story’s apparently endless fascination, it's a mite unsettling, at this Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, et al juncture, to be watching a show reveling in sexual predation (involving teenagers, no less), regardless of how many nostalgia-packed 90s pop tunes seek to obliterate your unease along with your eardrums. 

It’s also hard to love the insistent efforts to titillate with salacious language and business that treat sex crassly, not erotically. And when something really sexy arrives as Sebastian and Annette disrobe in shadow play it stops short just as things get really interesting.

Cruel Intentions shows promise but I’d like to see and hear it in a more comfortable environment with less emphasis on the blare and glare. Then again, as a member of the Silent Generation, not the show's target group of Millennials, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.


(le) Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker St., NYC
Open run