Friday, January 29, 2016

138. Review: SOJOURNERS (January 28, 2016)

"Strangers in a Strange Land"
For my review of SOJOURNERS, please click on THEATRE PIZZAZZ.


The Playwrights Realm at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through February 13

Chinasa Ogbuagu. Photo: Chasi Annexy.

Chinasa Ogbuagu, Hubert Point-Du Jour. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Chinaza Uche. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Chinasa Ogbuagu, Lakisha Michelle May. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Hubert Point-Du Jour. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu, Chinaza Uche. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

137. Review: A DREAM OF RED PAVILIONS (seen January 27, 2016)

"A Chinese Downton Abbey?"
For my review of A DREAM OF RED PAVILIONS, please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.

Kelsey Wang, E.J. An, Mandarin Wu. Photo: John Quincy Lee.

Clurman Theatre
410 West Forty-Second Street
Through February 14

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

135. Review: I AND YOU (seen January 21, 2016)

“Not I but Maybe You"
  • Stars range from 5-1.

Rule no. 1 in the reviewer’s unwritten manual is: “Thou shalt not divulge spoilers (at least not without a ‘spoiler alert’).” If you’re reviewing the first performance of HAMLET you don’t reveal that almost all the principals die, or that in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Blanche not only is raped but goes off to the looney bin. You can dance around the big secrets, offering suggestive clues (read, for example, the reviews, including mine, of the recently opened OUR MOTHER’S AFFAIR), but you do your best not to give the playwrights’ game away. I won’t reveal the unexpected ending of Laura Gunderson’s tricky I AND YOU, at 59E59 Theaters, but I can’t help saying it’s brilliantly produced nonsense that follows a common trope found in too many movies and TV shows; it's also the most utrageously manipulative, unearned, big reveal in any play I’ve seen in years. I don’t buy it but maybe you—like my theatre guest—will. The reviewers covering Lowell, MA's Merrimack Repertory Theatre production, following the play's premiere at the  Marin Theatre in Mill Valley, CA, certainly did. 

Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D. White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Ms. Gunderson’s 90-minute one-act, which uses the same cast and director (Sean Daniels) seen at the Merrimack, is set in the attic-like bedroom (great work from designer Michael Carnahan) of a white, rebellious, defiantly defensive, high school girl named Caroline (Kayla Ferguson). The room is dolled up to the rafters with teenage decorative detritus, including Caroline’s beloved stuffed turtle. In bursts a black boy, Anthony (Reggie D. White), a schoolmate of Caroline’s from her English class, and wants her help on a Walt Whitman project they’ve been asked to submit the following day. Caroline, who’s home because of a potentially fatal liver ailment (she communicates with the outside world—even her mother, elsewhere in the house—through her smartphone and laptop), has no idea of who he is and screams like bloody murder to make him leave.
Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D, White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Reggie, a sweet, friendly, academically gifted, athletic (albeit, in Mr. White’s portrayal, decidedly nerdy), doctor’s son, isn’t so easy to get rid of, and the play charts his progress in overcoming Caroline’s resistance to both his presence, her reluctance to work on the project, and, through his uplifting explication of Whitman’s positivity, her depression. He uses John Coltrane’s jazz music to get under her skin; her own favorite music is old-time rock and roll. Gradually, they find the commonalities they share.
Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D. White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Caroline may claim no knowledge of or interest in Whitman or Leaves of Grass, but by the end, when she makes a video explaining the poet’s use, in the book’s “Song of Myself” poetry, of the pronouns “I” and “you,” her knowledge has somehow exponentially expanded to the level of a college professor, albeit one wallowing in rampant self-consciousness. So much of Whitman—much of it related to the theme of death—is quoted and discussed during the play, in fact, that its biggest takeaway may be your desire to read him again and see for yourself what all his “yawping” is about.
Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D. White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Ms. Gunderson’s dialogue is rich and her iterations of teen-speak are fun; her playwriting, though, stumbles, with too many forced dramatic crises or revelations. A principal example is the sudden, albeit very reluctant disclosure by Reggie midway through that while playing in a basketball game earlier in the day one of his teammates keeled over and died. Even though you realize later why it took so long for him to bring up this traumatic event—which both he and Caroline are horrified by—it’s the kind of thing that would in real life have been mentioned earlier. But, of course, this isn’t real life.
Reggie D, White, Kayla Ferguson. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The hyper-energetic Ms. Ferguson (regardless of Caroline’s ailment) and Mr. White are both talented, but, being in their 20s, rely on every exaggerated, clich├ęd bit of teen behavior in the book: they fidget, roll their eyes, press the heels of their palms to their eyes, squeeze their eyes shut in frustration, distaste, or desperation, and may make you think of how any two comedians on SNL might play over-the-top teens. Mr. White, especially, has the most annoying habit of expressing his roiling emotions by inserting his hands inside his sweater and twisting the fabric around, or doing something similar with the strap of his messenger bag. And if you can believe that sexual oil and water can mix, you’ll also believe the chemistry between Anthony and Caroline when their newfound friendship slides into a more romantic mode.
Reggie D. White, Kayla Ferguson. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
I AND YOU manages to hold one’s attention throughout but its characters lack authenticity, its structure is artificial, and its conclusion is off the charts. I suspect this is a minority report and anticipate learning how you responded.


59E59 Theaters
59 East Fifty-Ninth Street, NYC

Through February 28

Sunday, January 24, 2016

134. Review: THE BURIAL AT THEBES (seen January 22, 2016)

Stars range from 5-1/
For my review of THE BURIAL AT THEBES, please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ.


DR2 Theatre
103 East Fifteenth Street, NYC

Katie Fabel, Rebekkah Brockman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Rebekkah Brockman, Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Paul O'Brien, Winsome Brown. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Ciaran Bowling, Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Rebekkah Brockman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Paul O'Brien, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Colin Lane. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Katie Fabel, Paul O'Brien, Rod Brogan. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Rod Brogan, Ciaran Bowling, Winsome Brown. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Colin Lane, Rebekkah Brockman, Katie Fabel, Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Colin Lane, Katie Fabel, Paul O'Brien, Rebekkah Brockman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

133. Review: WIDE AWAKE HEARTS (seen January 20, 2016)

“Fast Asleep Theatregoers”
Toronto playwright Brendan Gall (a writer/producer of TV’s “Blindspot”) calls his play WIDE AWAKE HEARTS, originally staged in 2010 by Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, “a nightmare with no intermission.” Nightmares usually result in waking people up but you may find that WIDE AWAKE HEARTS, despite several strengths, has the opposite effect. The play, presented by the award-winning BirdLand Theatre—a Toronto company relocated to New York, and debuting here with this play—expresses both the incandescence and evanescence of love within a structure seeking to blend moviemaking fiction with reality, making you ponder where one ends and the other begins. This is neither a new idea nor one executed here to memorable effect.

Clea Alsip, Tony Naumovski. Photo: Carol Rosegg. 
Using the tired, dehumanizing device of calling its characters by letters instead of names, the play concerns a quartet of attractive young people, A (Ben Cole), a movie and TV writer/producer; B, his actress wife (Clea  Alsip); C (Tony Naumovski), an actor and A’s best friend; and D (Maren Bush), an editor who’s also romantically involved with C. A is making an indie movie about a love affair in which he’s cast B as the leading lady and C as the leading man, even though he suspects (with good reason) they themselves will behave like the characters they’re playing. A’s obsessively masochistic jealousy about a situation he himself encourages—including having the actor stay at his house during the filming—and his own attraction to D help further to complicate matters.
Tony Naumovski, Maren Bush. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Sex, lies, and filmmaking conspire to blend the making of the movie with real life behavior, but the conceit only occasionally clicks. What is, in essence, a straightforward, briskly paced play laced with smart-assed, if facile, staccato dialogue (including some sharp zingers) and enlivened by prickly, hard-to-like people, is gussied up with theatricalist devices (the director is Stefan Dzeparoski). For instance, there are multiple-screen still and video projections (by Rocco DiSanti) that—despite the obvious possibilities—add little to the proceedings; a practically bare, black stage (designed by Konstantin Roth), with actors watching scenes they’re not in from the sidelines; sex scenes that turn inexplicably violent; well-written but extraneous extended monologues by each character—a pitch for a TV series, an account of bad dreams, a confessional outpouring that turns out to be an audition piece, a lyrical exegesis of the editor’s craft—that clog the play’s progress and detract from its central action; and numerous rapid scene transitions.
Maren Bush, Ben Cole. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Some of this works, especially the last scene, where B and C do take after take of a brief scene, one based on a “real-life” moment shown earlier in the play, revealing the good-natured banter actors often express when mistakes are made during filmmaking and that most of us have seen in salvaged outtakes. But for the most part, the characters fail to reach this level of believability or to go beyond their designations as A, B, C, and D.
Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole, Clea Alsip. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The fine, well-balanced ensemble (barefoot, for some inexplicable reason)  is not to blame for the play’s failure to maintain interest. Even though it’s actually a bit shorter than its advertised 90 minutes its juice has dried up halfway through and many will have been struggling to stay wide awake before the final curtain.
Clea Alsip. Photo: Carol Rosegg.


59E59 Theaters
59 East Fifty-Ninth St., NYC
Through February 7

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

132. Review: OUR MOTHER'S BRIEF AFFAIR (seen January 16, 2016)

“An Affair to Forget”
Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of OUR MOTHER'S BRIEF AFFAIR, please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.


Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West Forty-Seventh Street, NYC

Linda Lavin. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Kate Arrington, Greg Keller. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Linda Lavin, John Procaccino. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Linda Lavin, John Procaccino. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Gregg Keller, Linda Lavin: Photo: Joan Marcus. 


Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West Forty-Seventh Street, NYC