Sunday, June 29, 2008
Stitching comes to New York from a successful run in London. The story involves a couple, Abby and Stu, who are dealing with their tumultuous relationship after experiencing a tragedy. Both are scarred and scared, and the audience learns the nature of each character as we see them deal with what's thrown at them. The story is told in a brilliant non-linear way, and although it's easy to follow, questions always linger in the air as to which character is the victim and what's really going on. Playwright Anthony Neilson weaves a clever story complete with a moment of clarity when you realize the truth was always right under your nose. This is truly exciting theatre and well-crafted storytelling.
The play stars two actors with extensive credits and experience, Meital Dohan as Abby and Gian-Murray Gianino as Stu. Dohan is Israeli and is most recognized in the States from her role on "Weeds" as Yael Hoffman, the sexy rabbinical scholar. Gian-Murray Gianino is a seasoned American stage actor, most recently seen in Eurydice at Second Stage. Because these actors are so talented in their art, they are able to make their characters palpable; their chemistry is hot and their attention is intense. This is important, since the actions these characters go through is extreme and could easily fall into the trap of unbelievability.
Stitching is referred to as "in-yer-face theatre." This is a British genre with the name coined by a British theatre critic; although it's not quite as recognizable in America, modern playwrighting is frequently confrontational and aggressive in the same sort of way. In-yer-face theatre is a kind of theatre where what happens on the stage and in the story is disturbing, sometimes gruesome and usually uncomfortable. The idea is to include the audience on the emotional ride and ask more intense questions about life and morality. In-yer-face theatre is often thought-provoking and interesting, and it's definitely not passive. Stitching is certainly confrontational and makes the audience personally invested in the story. Regarding the original British production, Time Out London said "I left the theatre with my pulse, and my mind racing." That's a pretty accurate description of how this piece of theatre gets under your skin.
I really enjoyed this play, and I had a lot to talk about when I left the theatre. I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes intriguing story-telling that keeps you engaged and leaves you affected when its over.
(Stitching plays at The Wild Project, 195 East Third Street between Aves. A and B, until July 19. Mondays and Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at www.ovationtix.com or by calling 212.351.3101. Student Rush tickets are $10 and are available for purchase at the box office (cash only) 2 hours before each performance. Visit stitchingtheplay.com for more info.)
Friday, June 27, 2008
In 1982, Caryl Churchill wrote a play about what it takes for a woman to achieve great professional success. Although it was performed professionally in London and here off-Broadway, it was never brought to a Broadway stage. This year, Manhattan Theatre Club included Top Girls in its season, the play's first-ever Broadway production. In 1982, Top Girls was cutting-edge in its poignancy and honest rhetoric on the issue of equality in the work place. In 2008, it rings as somewhat historic and outdated. How far we've come in 26 years.
It’s not that Top Girls is unrelatable. The play centers on Marlene, a British woman who has just been made Managing Director at the employment agency where she works. Told in three separate scenes with intermissions in between, the audience learns who Marlene is, how she achieved her success, and what she lost along the way. It seems that women can’t be professionally successful and have families or loving relationships. We learn that Marlene has sacrificed everything to get to where she is, and maybe doesn’t really regret her personal sacrifices anyway.
There are still issues with gender equality in the workplace, don’t get me wrong. Women still don’t make as much money as men, and often have to work harder to prove themselves. But the issues presented in Top Girls seem almost antiquated to what women encounter today. In 2008, it’s possible for a woman to have both a family and a career. Resources are available and society doesn’t shun women who desire both. Also, there are many women CEOs and even heads of state. Hell, we almost had a woman president!
Top Girls is an interesting look at the history of this issue and this production, directed by James MacDonald, keeps everything firmly set in 1982. It would have been silly to try to bring this plot into the current time, so MacDonald gently reminds the audience that the time period on display is not the present. The play has a feminist air about it (strong women achieving great things, and all). My boyfriend saw Top Girls with me and requested that I only recommend it for “people with vaginas.” I think that’s somewhat accurate although anyone with an interest in the subject matter would be intrigued.
Although Top Girls is well-executed and incredibly well-acted (Martha Plimpton is friggin’ amazing), it doesn’t resonante as wholly as it should. Maybe it’s that the subject matter isn’t relatable, or maybe it’s because Churchill’s script is wordy and somewhat tetious. You should know that Top Girls is not a passive or light experience; the audience has to work a little to stay with the story. But it does have its funny moments and the acting is top-notch.
(Top Girls plays at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Biltmore Theatre, but only for the next two days! Saturday 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 8pm. Visit mtc-nyc.org for more information.)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Shells is a character. No, seriously. She is the alter-ego of comedian Roslyn Hart, co-written with Nick Chase. And she's a complicated girl. One hour of personal time with Shells reveals her sordid past with ex-boyfriend Scott (who she's so not over), her penchant for mojitos and Shiraz, and her otherwise hyperactive self-esteem. Shells is that girl; you wouldn't want your friend to date her, but she's a trip as an exaggerated cabaret act.
If cabaret evokes visions of gay guys in sequins and old people bopping their heads to Broadway standards, Shells brings a modern twist to the genre. The act is about an hour, performed once a month and always different. What started as a multi-character comedy show honed in on a musical event with just one; Shells tells her story of love and fun in New York City. She sings both original songs and covers and is accompanied on the piano by the very competent Katie Thompson. Between songs, Shells shares personal stories about her life as a very well-off JP Morgan Chase financial analyst, as well as her trysts and dramas trying to find love in the city.
With a powerful voice and a giant personality, Shells owns the stage. She keeps the show entertaining by interacting with the audience and going above and beyond the socially acceptable. In this week's show at Joe's Pub, Shells playfully sang "one of these things is not like the other" (you know, that old Sesame Street standard) in reference to herself and 3 other girls...one of whom was black. Though she's certainly not politically correct, she's friggin' funny and completely endearing in that Avenue Q sort of way.
Whether she's bragging about her relationship with Moby (he totally wants to date her), or singing a jazzy rendition of "Summer in the City," her act is fun and her character is a riot. Plus, Joe's Pub is a great place to drink a beer and hear good music; it's nice that's where she's set up shop.
Check out Shells' next show on Sunday, July 20th at 9:30 p.m. Joe's Pub is located next to the Public Theatre at 425 Lafayette. Tickets are $15 and are available at joespub.org. You can watch Youtube clips of Shells and Moby at myspace.com/iamshells.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The play takes elements of film noir and throws in some circus elements for good measure. You read that correctly, circus meets film noir. There is a hero who is seeing things that might or might not be real, a sultry femme fatale with tattoos that are slowly trying to kill her, a crazy conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with bombs, a blind Blues-singing hitman, two drunken southern ex-con brothers complete with their sex-crazed weapons-dealing mother, a pimp, and a mute clown. That’s right, a mute clown.
Now, if all of that seems intriguing to you, then you should see this play. If you felt a little frustrated and/or confused by this description, then you should probably stay far away from this particular production. But if you leave All Kinds of Shifty Villains a little confused, that’s alright. With a running time of only about an hour and half, all of the ridiculous high-jinx are wrapped up before you know it.
I’m going to be honest, I don’t know that I particularly liked this play; but I did have a strangely good time. What started as an idea to do a play that was an homage to the film noir genre developed slowly, with the help of the cast and director Rachel Klein, into this wacky, disjointed piece which doesn’t fully embrace the ridiculousness that is had. I think it might have been more successful if the play had stayed true to its film noir inspiration and stayed clear of the carnival aspects, or abandoned the film noir and gone full throttle circus.
That being said, I did really like the circus tricks. There are some really fine moments of clowning and slight of hand trickery that are truly unexpected. Ms. Klein’s direction is inventive and surprising and her years of training with clowning and trapeze are well utilized in this production. If you go to All Kinds of Shifty Villains expecting the unexpected, then you will be satisfied. While it might not be for everyone, I know that adventurous theatre goers will find fun in this theatrical event, even though they, much like the hero of the play, may leave not fully understanding what they have just seen.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Cry-Baby does have some redeeming qualities (namely awesome choreography and a spunky cast). And it was nominated for a Tony for Best Musical (although it obviously didn't win). Check out the show until Sunday, June 22, or wait for the national tour in 2009. You can get student rush tickets for $26.50 or pay $35 for a seat toward the back.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
So I'll admit that I had very little desire to see Xanadu, the new-ish Broadway musical currently playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre. It sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. I mean, an ‘80s musical based on the Olivia Newton John movie musical of the same name? No way it should've been good. But I have to say that despite my strong reservations I absolutely loved this show! It is the funniest musical I have seen in a long time and I hope that everyone who reads this review will skate over to the theatre and see the show immediately.
The performances are also wonderful. The comic genius of Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman is some of the best work that you will see on a Broadway stage this season. It's a shame that they couldn't be nominated for a Tony together for their performances.
If you go to this show with an open mind, wanting to have a good time, you will get everything you ask for. Even though the running time is almost 2 hours without an intermission, the time actually flies by and you won't believe that it is already over. Xanadu is one of the best reviewed shows of the season and the winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. It was also Tony nominated for Best Musical. Xanadu is just plain good, so get over your hang-ups about it and see it already!
(Xanadu plays at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Perfomances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday - Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $41.50 (onstage seating) to $111.50. Student rush is available. For tickets call 212.239.6200 or visit telecharge.com. Visit xanaduonbroadway.com for more info!)
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Congratulations Daniel, you correctly guessed 15 winners out of 18 categories and put the rest of us to shame. You are this year's Tony Award guessing champion.
Thanks to everyone for entering; here are some fun statistics.
90% of you knew August: Osage County would win Best Play
80% of you knew In The Heights would win Best Musical
52% of you knew South Pacific would win Best Revival of a Musical
50% of you thought Patrick Stewart would win Best Actor in a Play;
only 17% of you knew Mark Rylance would win in that category
82% of you knew Patti LuPone would win Best Actress in a Musical;
but a solid 4 of you thought Kerry Butler would win in that category
Join us next year for more Tony Award excitement!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
It is incredibly frustrating to see so much talent on a big Broadway stage with large sets, detailed costumes and a finely tuned orchestra, all trapped in a clunker like Cry-Baby. I didn’t care about anything, there was no tension, there was no suspense, there were no surprises, I don’t think there is one decent song, I was not moved, it was not funny. There was some kick ass choreography (seriously, it was awesome), but if that was the only thing I was looking for, I’d go the ballet. Musical theatre is supposed to be about the fusion of many disciplines and that is why the potential to be thrilled out of your socks exists. And when something like Cry-Baby happens it is annoying. The kids up on that stage were working their asses off, all in great voice and in great shape, but I felt like I was at an ATM trying to withdraw money from an account that was closed. So I am sure the attractive and enormously talented cast of Cry-Baby would like to thank their agents and managers and such. You know, all their “people.” Everyone except the creative team behind this show. They deserve better. And so do we.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Why Mary McCormack should win Best Supporting Actress in a Play (but won't).
This a really heavy-hitting group. We've got Sinead Cusack with here dual roles in Rock 'n' Roll, Mary McCormack as the hysterical German flight attendant in Boeing Boeing, Laurie Metcalf in David Mamet's November, Martha Plimpton also doing double duty in Topgirls, and Rondi Reed as the steadfast sister to a tyrant in August: Osage County. This is a really tough race. Now who I think will actually win is Martha Plimpton. She's a stage darling and was robbed by not winning for The Coast of Utopia. Now who should win, there is no doubt in my mind. Mary McCormack is off the charts wonderful in Boeing Boeing. She got exit applause for her first three exits the night I saw the show and she earned every minute of that. Comedy is rarely awarded when it comes to awards, but she certainly deserves this Tony.
Why August: Osage County should win Best Play (and probably will).
August: Osage County is darn good. Tony good. If you asked me what how I'd describe it I'd call it Six Feet Under on stage. Of course a comparison to that incredible HBO series should be taken as a complement. As any production of quality, every element in the play is excellent, starting with Tracy Letts' intriguingly layered story to the outstanding ensemble work by the Steppenwolf Theater Company to the direction and stage design that fully encompasses the theater and connects with every audience. A Tony is the only thing missing from this stellar production of American Theater.
Why the race for Best Musical is a big ol' crapshoot.
The race for Best Musical is also pretty tricky. There really isn't a front-runner for the title. We've got Cry-baby, Passing Strange, In the Heights, and Xanadu. Cry-baby: sorry, not a chance. Passing Strange might be a little too out-there for Tony voters. So that means it really comes down to In the Heights and Xanadu. In the Heights is great and really pushes the boundaries of musical theatre. The music is great and will probably win Best Score. Xanadu is pure camp at its finest and should win Best Book. So, my thought is that with 13 nominations, In the Heights will take home the top prize, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Xanadu sneaks in there and takes it. It's a really great show and is the most critically praised show of the nominees. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Sunday, June 8, 2008
WIN A TONY!
Visit www.theatreiseasy.com/tony and enter who you think will win in each category at the 2008 Tony Awards. The person with the most correct selections will win a Fringe Festival VIP Fiver* and unyielding respect and admiration from their peers.
Follow the action live at the 2008 Tony Awards; they air Sunday, June 15th at 8pm on CBS. Contest winner will be announed Monday, June 16th on theatreiseasy.com. Winners will also be notified by email. If there is a tie, a tie-breaker question will be provided.
*Fringe Festival VIP Fiver includes 5 pairs of tickets to 5 shows of the winner's choice at the New York Int'l Fringe Festival, this August. Check out www.fringenyc.org for more information about FringeNYC!
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Any New Yorker knows the perils of riding the subway: the indecipherable announcements, the drummers who bang on plastic tubs, the guy who sings out loud to his iPod, the European tourists with the giant hiking backpacks. Though these experiences could obviously make for funny sketch comedy, Coffee Cup (a theatre company) manages to turn this material into a rather insightful 90 minute production. Standing Clear introduces a handful of subway regulars including a bickering married couple, a crazy guy (potentially homeless?) and a Nosey Nelly who talks to anyone and everyone. We see the interactions these people encounter and observe what happens when they're matched with other subway stereotypes.
My favorite moments in Standing Clear occurred when the storytelling turned from what was actually occurring on the train, to what was occurring in a character's mind. For example, the girl who is madly attracted to the guy by the door breaks into Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." It's indulging to watch moments that you've thought about play out in front of you. I've personally always wondered what it would be like to have everyone on my car dancing to the music I'm listening to on my iPod.
This show is very much an ensemble piece, with five actors playing various roles throughout the performance. There is never a particular lead or main actor, just different vignettes involving a few of the characters. Using such a convention where there isn't one main focus allows fluidity of the moments and gives everything equal emphasis, exposing the audience to the human condition on the whole. The script was a collaboration as well, written by two of the performers, Ishah Janssen-Faith and Jack McGowen, with the assistance of the other three performers, Melinda Ferraraccio, Becca Hackett and Ben Holbrook. The five actors work well with each other and it seems as though they are all equally invested in the production.
Standing Clear is an entertaining play, with a message that resonates with its audience: people are weird and life can be annoying, but everyone deserves respect. Focusing this theme on interactions in transit is a relatable way to communicate the idea...and an amusing way to do so.
(Check out Standing Clear until June 21 at The Access Theatre, 380 Broadway at White Street, 4th Floor. Tickets are $20 or $15 for students (at the theatre only) and are available at www.smarttix.com or by calling 212.868.4444. Visit www.coffeecuptheatre.org for more information.)
The above photo was taken by Kemachat Sirichanvimol.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
So, I had no idea what to expect when I went to see Paul Rudnick’s night of short plays at the Newhouse Theatre, located in the basement of Lincoln Center. I don’t typically love one-person shows, and that’s what this new work essentially is. It’s really just a series of three monologues culminating in a fourth scene where the characters from the three previous scenes all meet in a hospital maternity ward. I didn’t think that I would particularly enjoy this convention, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The show opens with Tony Award winner, Linda Lavin, also known for her extensive film and television credits, as she addresses a support group for parents of Gay, Lesbian, Transsexual, Transgender, etc, etc, children in Long Island. She gets the show off to a wonderful start and you will be laughing for nearly twenty minutes straight while she holds the entire audience in the palm of her hand. Next, Peter Bartlett, direct from Broadway’s The Drowsy Chaperone, plays the gayest man in Miami who hosts his own public access television program. He is joined by his special guest, played by Mike Doyle, (who is a series regular on Law and Order: SVU). These two men are equally hysterical and shocking as the first scene and leave you laughing all the way to intermission. Next Jane Houdyshell, fresh off her critically acclaimed performance in The Receptionist, plays an eccentric Midwest craft enthusiast who has you laughing one minute then crying the next. She gives a truly top notch performance not to be missed. And finally all of the characters magically converge in a maternity ward of a Manhattan hospital for the final scene.
Paul Rudnick, who wrote the screenplays for Addams' Family Values and In & Out, has created a wonderful night at the theatre. While the ending seems a little forced, you don’t care because you really love all the characters he created and are excited to see them meet each other. The show deals pretty frankly with issues that some audience members might find a little uncomfortable, but if you’re still reading this review, then you can probably handle it. You should see this show as soon as you can. It’s great and I guarantee that you will have a good time and maybe think about life just a little bit. Seriously, go see it.
(The New Century plays at the Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, 150 W 65th Street,
Tuesday, Thursday - Friday at 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 2pm & 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are available at telecharge.com. Visit http://www.lct.org/ for more information.)
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I think that with one-act festivals, you're either a lover or a hater with little ambivalence. If you're a lover, you probably really enjoy watching new work get a chance to stretch its legs for the first or second time; you probably also like the idea that if you get sick of a particular play you don't have long to wait until the next one. If you're a hater though, you might take issue with the fact that one act is rarely enough time to develop characters and plot into a story that feels real; it can be hard to get past the exposition stage of a story in such a short amount of time.
In Coming Home, two of the plays, Sparrow and Last Call on Bourbon Street delve into very meaty subject matter and cram a whole lot of story and drama into a short time. If you are a hater, you might be averse to these story-telling methods, feeling hungry for more time to experience what's happening on stage. Sparrow is the reunion story of two ex-best friends who grew up in the Philippines. Both friends planned to move to New York to be artists, but only one achieved the goal and as a result, she seriously resents the friend who stayed in the Philippines. The old friends reconnect after some reminiscing and realizing of the current life-threatening problems that plague one of them.
Last Call on Bourbon Street is the story of a group of friends in New Orleans shortly after Katrina, hanging out in their neighborhood bar. They are fighting to regain their old lives back and face new problems as the insurance adjuster visits the bar to assess the damage as well as the owner's claim. Though the insurance man is inherently the bad guy, through the friend's stories of the heart of the city, he softens and begins to understand that the turmoil that went on after Katrina was indeed horrific and devastating.
The other play of the evening, Counting, does a good job of keeping the plot within the parameters of just one scene. It takes place in the holding cell of a prison as one woman prepares to get out and another prepares to begin her sentence. The woman getting out shows the newbie how to get through her time, by using numbers and math to maintain a distinction between days and moments. Through careful counting and substituting, numbers provide a relatively meaningful way to keep track of days and stay grounded while waiting for release.
Check out Coming Home if you like one-act festivals or the prospect of seeing new work that delves deep into subject matter and makes you think. The performances are overall pretty strong and the subject matter is thought-provoking enough to make for an interesting night of theatre.
(Coming Home plays at The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street until June 14th, Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Saturday, June 14th has both 3pm and 8pm performances. Tickets are $18 and are available at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200.)