Saturday, May 24, 2008

Holmes does Broadway

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, some Hollywood It-Girls should stick to the screen. That’s not exactly how the song goes, but it might be my new motto after hearing that Katie Holmes has been cast in next season’s revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 play, All My Sons. Holmes will be starring alongside the legendary John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and Patrick Wilson. Sure, all three of the aforementioned actors have excelled in roles both on screen and on stage, but I’m just not convinced Holmes has the same aptitude for both venues (and have we even seen said aptitude on screen yet?)

I’m not one to care about celebrities and their professional pursuits, but I do care about the integrity of live theatre. And I also know a whole lot of women with the chops to act this role on Broadway who would kill for the chance to do so. I completely understand why producers like to cast “names” in their shows, it definitely helps sell tickets. But let’s be honest, a Katie Holmes fan is probably not an Arthur Miller fan (we can compare and contrast The Crucible and Dawson's Creek in another post). A New York theatre-goer who purposely buys a ticket to All My Sons to see Katie Holmes would probably be much happier at at performance of, let’s say, Mamma Mia.

I must admit that I knew Katie Holmes way back in the day when we danced at the same studio in Toledo, Ohio. I witnessed the blossoming of her career, from when she was discovered at a modeling competition to when she flew to North Carolina to film the pilot for Dawson’s Creek. I saw her play Lola in the St. John’s High School performance of Damn Yankees when she was seventeen. Holmes has that undefinable “it factor” and always has; after dance performances my parents were known to say things like, “Molly, your dancing was great, but we couldn’t stop watching Katie.” In light of some sketchy personal and religious decisions, she’s certainly deserving of a successful entertainment career. But she’s going to have to do some serious craft-honing to pull this off.

Acting on Broadway is different than acting in film. Although the intention is the same, nuances in the delivery and environment make for distinct variations in technique. It’s kind of like asking a painter who works with watercolors to spraypaint a mural; even if the work is of the same thing, it’s not the same medium. Just because you can do one does not mean you can do the other.

I hate to be so pessimistic about Holmes’ potential, but the recent celebs to grace the Great White Way haven’t achieved much success. Julianne Moore stared in David Hare’s The Vertical Hour in 2006. Elyse Gardner from USA Today wrote “Julianne Moore, the luminous leading lady known for her vibrant work in The Hours and many other films, isn't a stranger to the stage. But in this Broadway debut, she can seem strained and self-conscious.”

Julia Roberts starred in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain in 2007. Ben Brantley of the New York Times, a self-described Juliaholic wrote “the only emotion that this production generates arises not from any interaction onstage, but from the relationship between Ms. Roberts and her fans.” He goes on to say “she does not do well — at least not by any conventional standards of theatrical art.” And we're talking about America's Sweetheart here.

It’s only fair to note that Jennifer Garner was actually somewhat well-received in this past season’s Cyrano de Bergerac, although she a long history on stage. And Claire Danes received mixed reviews in last season’s revival of Pygmalion, although the show itself was pretty much panned. All I’m saying is that Holmes has her work cut out for her.

I’m confident that this revival of All My Sons will be something to see; Lithgow, Wiest and Wilson make for a tremendous cast and the play itself is incredibly well-written. And maybe Holmes will figure it out and really shine on stage. Or maybe she’ll just be another pretty Hollywood diva who is better cut out for a camera on the West coast. Prove me wrong, Miss Holmes, or I may have to release that video of us tap dancing to “Hand Jive.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Judgement of Paris (Company XIV)

BOTTOM LINE: It's sexy, it's dance-y, it's the story of Helen of Troy. This "dramatic entertainment" includes some intensely good dancing but is also pretty avant-garde in its presentation. For those who like modern dance and quirky storytelling.

The Judgement of Paris is directed and choreographed by notable new choreographer Austin McCormick. McCormick is a recent Julliard grad and the Artistic Director of Company XIV. His choreography is heavily modern with a backbone of traditional ballet. And his dancers are all athletic and graceful performing the movement. It seems like McCormick is a seasoned dancer with an itch to do something new and interesting.

Quoting directly from the press release (because I can't find a way to say it any better), "The Judgement of Paris includes French Can Can girls, Greek tragedy, golden apples, Baroque pageantry, courtesans, goddesses, circus freaks, blonde bombshells, Spartan Warriors and Helen of Troy." I'd say that's pretty accurate. And all in 90 minutes.

With an emphasis on Moulin Rouge-esque presentation, the performace is sexual and playful and maintains an air of French fun. The dancers are clearly enjoying themselves as they commit fully to their roles and luckily, it's a fun that's shared with the audience; it's hard not to have a good time. Said fun is further supported at intermission when full-sized candy bars are handed out to the audience by the cast members themselves (seriously, full-sized candy bars, like you're trick-or-treating in the fancy neighborhood).

With music spanning multiple genres and centuries, The Judgement of Paris does occasionally feel like an experiment in creative storytelling, but overall it seems like a cohesive performance. It's an interesting way to tell the story of Helen of Troy, and a plausible correlation is drawn between what is hailed as "the first ever beauty contest" and the 20th century vision of elegance. The production itself is gorgeous. Company XIV's amazingly cool theatre (an old warehouse converted into a performance space) is prime real estate for the staging of this piece. The lighting and sound are perfect in the cavernous room and the technical design is top-notch. Their budget and production value seem atypically luxurious for a dance show in a grungy neighborhood in Brooklyn.

The Judgement of Paris is definitely a good time and the performances are impressive. Check it out if you enjoy dance, and especially you're interested in expressive and unique ways to tell stories. But hurry, it only plays through May.

(The Judgement of Paris plays in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn at 303 Bond Street. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm through May 31. Tickets are $20 and $15 for students; buy tickets online at or by calling 212.868.4444. Get more information about Company XIV at

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tony Award 2008 Nominations

On Tuesday, The American Theatre Wing announced the 2008 Tony Award Nominees. Here's a quick preview so you know who's up...we'll make sure to give lots of commentary and predictions later.

Best Play
August: Osage County
Rock 'n' Roll
The Seafarer
The 39 Steps

Best Musical
In The Heights
Passing Strange

Best Book of a Musical
In The Heights
Passing Strange

Best Original Score
In The Heights
The Little Mermaid
Passing Strange

Best Revival of a Play
The Homecoming
Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Best Revival of a Musical
South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Ben Daniels (Les Liaisons Dangereuses)
Laurence Fishburne (Thurgood)
Mark Rylance (Boeing-Boeing)
Rufus Sewell (Rock 'n' Roll)
Patrick Stewart (Macbeth)

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Eve Best (The Homecoming)
Deanna Dunagan (August: Osage County)
Kate Fleetwood (Macbeth)
S. Epatha Merkerson (Come Back, Little Sheba)
Amy Morton (August: Osage County)

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Daniel Evans (Sunday in the Park with George)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights)
Stew (Passing Strange)
Paulo Szot (South Pacific)
Tom Wopat (A Catered Affair)

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Kerry Butler (Xanadu)
Patty LuPone (Gypsy)
Kelli O'Hara (South Pacific)
Faith Prince (A Catered Affair)
Jenna Russell (Sunday in the Park with George)

For more nominees, visit the Tony Awards website.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Four of Us (Manhattan Theatre Club)

BOTTOM LINE: A solid play about straight guys that both genders should find relatable and entertaining. See it now, it closes May 18th.

The Four of Us is the story of Ben (Gideon Banner) and Dave (Michael Esper); the former is a novelist and the later is a playwright. Both are in their mid-20's and trying to get their professional lives in order. Friends from summer camp, they've gone through their formative years together, always there for one another to lean on. But the nature of things is disrupted when Ben gets a super-lucrative book deal. Dave has to deal with his innate jealousy of Ben's success and their subsequent drifting apart as their careers advance.

Like many other productions at Manhattan Theatre Club, The Four of Us is a new work by an emerging playwright, written about realistic people set in the current time. The dialogue is reflective of two friends who are both expressive and self-aware; it's witty, snarky and touching. And most importantly, it feels real.

The storytelling techniques in The Four of Us are utilized successfully, especially for a story that's essentially about storytelling. Playwright Itamar Moses uses non-linear narration, and as the scenes progress, the audience learns more about why these guys are who they are, and how their friendship propelled them to the current state. Esper and Banner are perfectly cast as two well-intentioned guys, trying to navigate through the early part of adulthood; their professional lives are about written expression and they've got a lot to say.

The Four of Us has been extended until May 18th...check it out while you still can. It's the kind of story with that could certainly live as a movie, but is much more compelling told on stage. It's thought-provoking in all the right ways, and an overall enjoyable experience.

(The Four of Us plays at NY City Center's Stage II, but only for a little while longer. It plays Tues. through Sat. at 7:30pm and Wed., Sat. and Sun. at 2:30. Tickets are normally $50, but use these discount codes to get tickets for $30...visit and use code 3792, or call 212.581.1212 and use code 4TAF. The show runs 1.5 hours without an intermission. Check out for more info.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Sound and The Fury (NY Theatre Workshop)

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t miss this downtown theatre experience if only for the sheer hubris of the effort, an experimental staging of the first part of William Faulkner’s novel.

I once had a theatre professor who said that the mark of a good work of art is that you wanted to live inside it. I not only wanted to live inside the world that Elevator Repair Service created for The Sound and The Fury (April Seventh, 1928), I did live there for the 2 1/2 hour ride. This production saturates its audience with the story, characters and emotions Faulkner evokes. Even though it uses Faulkner’s text verbatim, it is more like swimming in the subconscious of the Compson family, not always a happy and light place, but certainly a fascinating one.

Elevator Repair Service (ERS) has been performing off-off-Broadway and touring the U.S. and Europe for the past 17 years. Two years ago they performed Gatz, their version of The Great Gatsby, also told verbatim in a 7-hour epic, which had huge critical acclaim but was blocked by the Fitzgerald Estate from mounting a full NYC production. ERS is now back in their off-Broadway debut at New York Theatre Workshop with another novel-to-stage conversion, and an even bolder experiment: performing the first of four sections of The Sound and The Fury.

Here is a complicated and epic take on William Faulkner’s equally complicated novel. The story focuses on the Compson family, in a post Civil War South. A once noble and respectable clan, their lives and livelihood are on the decline. It is a story of suicides, sickness, desperation, and disability. The first of the four sections of the novel is told from the perspective of Benjy Compson, an autistic mute, here played compellingly by both Susie Sokol and Aaron Landsman. Though the story takes place on Benjy’s 33rd birthday, it jumps in time and space, here at Christmas, there on a wagon ride, back at the family dining table, or in front of the fireplace, often with no narrative segues. The reader is left to guess at when and where we are in the timeline of Benjy’s life. Benjy’s thoughts stray between the colors and shapes that mesmerize him, to his love for his often-promiscuous sister, Caddy, to the daily taunts and trials he has to endure at the hands of his family.

David Zinn’s luscious set design strikes one first upon entering New York Theatre Workshop’s East Village space, a conglomeration of mostly “found” furniture from the streets of NYC, arranged to evoke a turn of the century living room. Old Civil War family photos, a Christmas tree in the corner, couches and antique lamps are all assembled to suggest elements of the Compson home. Then the lights come up and the ride begins. Most of the actors appear in modern costumes or in pieces that evoke character rather than fully represent them in period attire. The text of the novel is communicated verbatim, including all the “Caddy said”, and “Luster said’s”, which can sometimes feel like being curled up to hear a great bedtime story.

On top of this, Director John Collins chooses multiple actors in his solid ensemble of twelve to portray the characters at different moments in the play. Four actresses play Caddy, while three actors play the mother Caroline Compson, and two Benjy. There are no rules here. Or there are new rules here. Actors jump from role to role with disregard to race or gender, and yet, I rarely felt myself confused by the transitions. The production allowed us to live inside Benjy’s head, no easy feat as he cannot talk himself, by so poetically evoking the chaos of Benjy’s mind. The colors and textures that draw Benjy to him, are the whirlwind of ideas and images inherent in the production itself. It is in fact a full visceral assault, with Mike Tierney’s sound design aiding the build into the emotional peaks of the narrative. The staging is porous. Characters come and go, scenes appear, disappear and re-appear again. A wall becomes a tree, which becomes the outside of the house; a desk becomes a fireplace, which becomes a funeral procession. This is theatre at its most exciting and innovative. John Collins and his company have done a masterful job of evoking Benjy’s lost and scattered mind, as well as an era of transition, decline and confusion in our collective history.

I highly recommend the show to anyone interested in unconventional downtown theatre. I can’t wait to see it for a second time, and live inside that world again.

(The Sound and the Fury plays through June 1st at New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue. The show runs 2 hrs. 15 min. and plays: Tues. 7 pm, Wed.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. at 7 pm. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200. Get $20 tickets for Sunday night performances. For more info, visit

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Good Boys and True (Second Stage Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: If you're easily offended or looking for a fun date night, this probably isn't the best choice for you. But, if you like thought provoking theatre that will spark conversation, check it out.

Good Boys and True, a new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, takes place in 1989 at an all boys private prep school in New England. This seemingly serene environment is disrupted when a sex-tape scandal rocks the varsity football team. The mother of the star senior player has to sort out fact from fiction as she tries to get to the bottom of the controversy and protect her ivy-league bound son.

The space at Second Stage Theatre is one of my favorite Off-Broadway houses. It's a really cool place to take in a show and I think it's a good home for this piece. The play moves along pretty quickly and only runs 85 minutes with no intermission. With a few exceptions, all of the performances are great. It's worth seeing the show for Broadway veteran J. Smith-Cameron's portrayal of the conflicted mother that will stop at nothing to do what is best for her son. She really is the glue that holds this slick production together.

I thought that this play was pretty decent. It makes you think about what ultimately makes people good and if we can ever really escape the mistakes of our past. I can't really say too much more about the story because I don't want to ruin anything. It takes very privileged WASPy New England characters and forces them to really examine themselves, how they are perceived by others, and how they treat other people; it will hopefully force the audience to do the same thing. It's not a perfect play by any means, but definitely worth seeing.

(Good Boys And True plays at Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue. Currently in previews, it officially opens May 19th and runs through June 1st. Showtimes: Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm & 8pm, Thursday - Friday at 8pm. Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. For tickets call the box office: (212) 246-4422...regular priced tickets are $65-$70, Youth Advance (Under 25) are $25, same-day student rush are $15.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008


It's that time again, when your trusty Theatre Is Easy writers simplify the New York theatre scene. Let us recommend...

TAKE A DATE: From Up Here
(it's endearing, and you can bond over the awkward high school scenes)

(parents are to Lincoln Center as tourists are to Times Square)

(a very cool musical take on a story that's nearly a century old)

(a re-working of Falkner's novel, half read and half spoken as dialogue)

FOR A LAUGH: The 39 Steps
(it's officially on Broadway now after a super-successful run with Roundabout Theatre Co.)

(it will make you feel, it will make you think, and it's only $11 a ticket)

Check back June 1st for a new Best Bets list!