Wednesday, September 30, 2015

70. Review: CATCH THE BUTCHER (seen September 28, 2015)

"A Deadly Play about a Serial Killer"
Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of CATCH THE BUTCHER, please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ!

Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street, NYC
Through October 30

Lauren Luna Velez, Jonathan Walker. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Lauren Luna Velez, Jonathan Walker. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Angelina Fioredellisi, Lauren Luna Velez. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

69. Review: DADDY LONG LEGS (seen September 27, 2015)

"It's Going to Need Long Legs"
Stars range from 5-1.

 For my review of DADDY LONG LEGS, please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.


Davenport Theatre
354 West Forty-Fifth Street, NYC
Open run

Megan McGinnis, Paul Alexander Nolan. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Megan McGinnis, Paul Alexander Nolan. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Megan McGinnis. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Megan McGinnis, Paul Alexander Nolan. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Paul Alexander Nolan, Megan McGinnis. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Monday, September 28, 2015

68. Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (Seen September 25, 2015)

Stars range from 5-1.

 For my review of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.


Pearl Theatre Company
555 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through October 31

From left: Nance Williamson, Joey Parsons (rear), Sean McNall, Jason O'Connell, Mark Bedard. Photo: Russ Rowland.

From left: Joey Parsons, Sean McNall, Mark Bedard, Nance Williamson, Jason O'Connell. Photo: Russ Rowland.
From left: Joey Parsons, Sean McNall, Nance Williamson, Mark Bedard. Photo: Russ Rowland.
From left: Sean McNall, Mark Bedard, Nance Williamson, Joey Parsons, Jason O'Connell. Photo: Russ Rowland.
From left: Jason O'Connell, Mark Bedard, Joey Parsons, Sean McNall, Nance Williamson. Photo: Russ Rowland.

From left: Sean McNall, Jason O'Connell, Joey Parsons, Nance Williamsno, Mark Bedard. Photo: Russ Rowland.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

67. Review: FULFILLMENT (seen September 24, 2015)


For my review of FULFILLMENT, please visit THE BROADWAY BLOG.

See Show-Score.

The Flea Theater
41 White Street, NYC
Through October 19

Susannah Flood, Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Denny Dillon, Jeff Biehl. Photo: Hunter Canning.

Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Otoja Abit, Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo: Hunter Canning.

Susannah Flood, Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo: Hunter Canning.

Monday, September 21, 2015

66. Review: THE NEW MORALITY (seen September 16, 2015)

"You've Come a Long Way, Baby?"
Stars range from 5-1.

The Mint Theater continues its admirable mission of discovering little-known but hopefully worthy old plays with this mildly amusing revival of Harold Chapin’s (1886-1915) The New Morality, written c. 1911-1912.  It premiered in London in 1920, five years after Chapin—a Brooklyn boy raised in London whose plays are now largely forgotten—died during World War I. In 1921 it had a brief series of mostly matinee performances on Broadway, starring Gladys George;  The New York Times’s Alexander Woollcott called it a “diverting, little tea-tray, English comedy.”
From left: Brenda Meaney, Clemmie Evans: Photo: Richard Termine.
Chapin’s play is an Edwardian curiosity, something like a shaved-down Shavian comedy of aphorisms and ideas, their fragility becoming increasingly apparent over the course of three acts (with two intermissions). Fortunately, Jonathan Banks’s staging brings the chatty piece in at an hour and fifty minutes. The Mint’s discoveries are often worth resuscitating; despite its occasional pleasantries and historical interest, however, they should have let this sleeping play lie.
Brenda Meaney, Michael Frederic. Photo: Richard Temine. 
Everything takes place between 4:30 and 8:00 o’clock aboard a houseboat on the Thames (very attractively designed by Steven Kemp and lit by Christian DiAngelis), the kind that served as vacation homes for the well-to-do during the summer of 1911, referred to as “the hottest summer on record.” Sweltering or not, the characters only now and then show signs of discomfort, behaving with stiff upper lips as the veddy proper English middle-class people they are. Fashionably dressed by Carissa Kelly, the women wear long cotton dresses, and the men, despite heat that sours the milk, are in jackets, ties, and high collars buttoned to the neck. A conventional maid (Kelly McCready) and a highly dignified butler (Douglas Rees) are on hand to attend to people’s needs.
Clemmie Evans. Brenda Meaney. Photo: Richard Termine.
The play’s concerned with how everyone reacts to Betty Jones (Brenda Meaney—a pretty, charmingly temperamental, sometimes sarcastic representative of what Chapin calls the “new morality”—after she insults a neighbor, Mrs. Muriel Wister (whom we never meet), by calling her a . . . ; well, the word’s not spoken, of course, but a reference to “dog-show language” makes what she said quite clear. Worse, her use of such “bad language,” as someone calls it, took place on the river, where everyone could hear it. (This all transpired before the play begins.)
From left: Brenda Meaney, Ned Noyes, Christian Campbell, Michael Frederic. Photo: Richard Termine.
Muriel is the kind of woman that enjoys having men circling around her; this enrages Betty when she believes her own otherwise faithful spouse, Col. Ivor Jones (Michael Frederic), has been making a fool of himself—not by having an affair, but by becoming Muriel’s toady.  Betty, jealous though she be, is upset principally because he’s been running petty errands for Muriel, like getting her hairpins. Muriel sends her henpecked, but good-natured husband, Ted (Ned Noyes), to demand Betty’s apology, which she adamantly refuses to provide. Ted, parroting his wife, reluctantly threatens a lawsuit for libel, which could potentially send Betty to prison. The remaining stage time is occupied with the characters—including Betty’s friend, Alice (Clemmie Evans), who begs Betty to say she’s sorry, and Betty’s brother, Geoffrey (Christian Campbell), a respected jurist, who offers his legal perspective—working out their issues.
From left: Christian Campbell, Douglas Rees, Brenda Meaney, Clemmie Evans, Michel Frederic. Photo: Richard Termine. 
The often clotted, and too infrequently witty, dialogue, which rings more of the Edwardian stage than of real life, covers things like the criminality of Betty’s offense; the influence of the “twentieth century” on people’s language; the effect of the weather on Betty’s temperament; how to get Betty to apologize, and other not especially scintillating topics. Only toward the end do “serious” ideas become significant, when Geoffrey discourses about the disparity between technological progress and man’s moral stagnation, and the inebriated Ted bloviates in lengthy, high-flown rhetoric about how Betty’s willingness to go to prison rather than apologize for standing up for her beliefs represents what he admires as the new women’s morality.

Only a first-rate company could make this frothy material work, and the Mint’s, while competent, falls short. The beautiful Meaney does quite nicely as the stubborn Betty, and Noyes makes the most of the silly but nonetheless intelligent Ted, but Frederic’s Jones is a series of cardboard attitudes (admittedly written that way), the boyish-looking Campbell is miscast as Geoffrey, and Clemmie Evans as Betty’s friend Alice doesn't do much with her two-dimensional confidante role. . 
Christian Campbell, Brenda Meaney, Ned Noyes, Clemmie Evans, Michael Frederic. Photo: Richard Temine.
Even if it reflects the attitudes of its day, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for a situation wherein a jealous woman can be threatened with libel for using a word that’s now as common as the air, and where we’re expected to admire her because she’d sooner go to prison than apologize for insulting another woman over something as trivial as the fetching of hairpins. There had to be more to the new morality than that.

Talkin' Broadway
DC Metro Theatre Arts
More to come

Mint Theater
311 West Forty-Third Street, NYC
Through October 18

Saturday, September 19, 2015

65. Review: HAMLET IN BED (seen September 14, 2015) opens: September 17

“HAMLET IN BED: Nothing to Lose Sleep Over”

Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of HAMLET IN BED, please click on  THE BROADWAY BLOG.


Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place, NYC
Through October 25

Thursday, September 17, 2015

64. Review: THE CHRISTIANS (seen September 15, 2015)

“Imagine there’s No . . . Hell”
Stars range from 5-1.

John Lennon famously asked us to “Imagine there's no heaven/It's easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.” In THE CHRISTIANS,  Lucas Hnath’s mildly eccentric, thoughtful ninety-minute play, Paul (Andew Garman), charismatic leader of a newly built evangelical megachurch, whose costs have just been paid off, delivers a surprising sermon in which he tells his thousands of parishioners that he’s come to the conviction that hell doesn’t exist. His wife, Elizabeth (Linda Powell), and Elder Jay (Phillip Kerr), head of the church’s board—may be puzzled, but no one objects until Associate Pastor Joshua (Larry Powell) admits to “wrestling” with the proposition. He politely challenges Paul in a tense debate citing scripture and verse, with Paul explaining why the Bible’s English translation can’t be trusted.  The congregation is polled and most decide to accept Paul’s position. Paul abruptly asks the much-loved Joshua—albeit someone who tends to warn “sinners” of their path to hell—to leave. He does, followed by only fifty others.  
 I’m not a Christian, and my theological views are admittedly uninformed, but it’s hard not to think that any leading evangelical pastor—Billy Graham, Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen, for example—would be asked to step down if he suddenly insisted there’s no hell. Belief in heaven and hell, and the need for salvation through acceptance of the Lord, are bedrocks of Christian faith. Paul claims that no matter how wicked people have been—even Hitler—they’ll wind up in heaven, a place so pure that people will join their murderers in one big happy family. He also rejects the Christian belief that decent people, even saintly heroes, will be damned merely because they haven’t accepted Jesus.
Sure enough, after initially accepting Paul’s argument, a crack appears in the church's facade when, a quiet, shy congregant named Jenny (Emily Donahue), asks a series of increasingly skeptical questions that force a great fissure to open between Paul’s beliefs and those of his followers. Soon, the hell that Paul says exists only within people’s relationships with one another (Sartre’s “Hell is other people” comes to mind), surrounds him as his wife—whose beliefs don’t coincide with his—finds herself struggling to reconcile her spousal love with her faith. Paul’s leadership is threatened and his church begins to founder. Meanwhile, reverberating in our skulls is the danger of ideological absolutism, religious, political, or whatever.
Hnath’s theological inquiry is easy for laymen—regardless of their religious beliefs—to grasp, although presented in a typically unconventional way, as is usual with this playwright. THE CHRISTIANS is set entirely on the wood paneled stage of a typical megachurch (well designed by Dane Laffrey and perfectly lit by Ben Stanton), with large screen TV-monitors showing soothing images hovering overhead, a large cross set against the back wall, a space upstage for a substantial chorus, and half a dozen velvet-upholstered fancy chairs downstage on which sit the church’s leaders, facing the audience. Entering the auditorium one immediately feels as if one is in church. The choral singers, who alternate with others at different performances, sing several hymns during the show.
All the scenes, regardless of where they’re set—including a bedroom with the characters in bed—are played on the church’s stage, each scene, no matter how private, having the aura of a public debate, with the actors speaking/whispering all their lines into mics, with lots of walking about while flipping cables out of the way. Although the actors speak with honesty and conviction—sometimes surprisingly so—the approach, heightened by Les Waters’s coolly distanced direction, privileges the play’s ideas over its characters, complex as they may seem. This effect is further underlined by Hnath’s having Paul frequently make comments into his mic like, “He says,” or “She says,” after someone has spoken, almost as if reporting it to us. Brecht seems to have been looking over the playwright’s shoulder during the writing.
Garman is in his groove as the pastor, speaking calmly and with great self-confidence as he presents his ideas and rebuts those of others; at times, when seriously challenged, he comes off as a slippery snake oil salesman, a significant part of such men’s charm. Each of the other actors must sit for long periods of time, facing us and listening to Paul’s lengthy opening sermon before engaging in dialogue with him. When they do, they all speak with controlled power, allowing their feelings to burst forth only at highly selective moments. Mr. Powell, Ms. Powell, Mr. Kerr, and Ms. Donahue turn in very fine performances, although Ms. Donahue’s speech seemed a bit muffled, even with a mic in her hands.

THE CHRISTIANS, originally seen at Louiville's Humana Festival in 2014, is a good example of the modern discussion drama. Hnath has managed to put a gripping theological problem into a novel dramatic format and to humanize it through a central character whose pride goeth before his fall.

New York Times

Playwrights Horizons
416 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through October 11