Monday, October 27, 2008

The Language of Trees (Roundabout Underground)

Gio Perez as Eben Trumble-Pinkerstone in The Language of Trees.

BOTTOM LINE: like watching an indie movie at a small theatre. The Language of Trees is a captivating story about realistic people thrown into an extreme situation.

The Language of Trees is the second installation of Roundabout Theatre's new audience initiative, Roundabout Underground. The idea behind Underground is to bring affordable, accessible new theatre to a younger, hipper audience, while at the same time giving new artists a place to grow and develop their work. Last year's Speech & Debate was the first performance in the series, and it was welcomed with glee by both critics and audiences. The Language of Trees is much deeper in context than Speech & Debate, but it resonates with the same connectivity.

Written by Steven Levenson and directed by Alex Timbers, The Language of Trees follows a family in the midst of a crisis. Set in 2003, dad Denton (Michael Haydon) goes to the Middle East to work as a translator in the war. His wife Loretta (Natalie Gold) and seven-year-old son Eben (Gio Perez) wait for him at home. Nosy neighbor Kay (Maggie Burke) nuzzles in and offers to assist the family since Denton is away; turns out Kay is lonely and needy too. When Denton's situation overseas becomes volitile and terrifying, Loretta, Eben and Kay are left to cope and rely on each other for support.

The nature of Underground's black box theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center is intimate and personal. It's a small, dark space with low ceilings; the stage is only a few inches higher than the floor and only a few feet away from the first row of seats. As a result, it's hard as an audience member to distance yourself from what's playing out in front of you. The Language of Trees is sincere and powerful; it's impossible not to feel for these characters as they struggle to deal with loss and moving on, especially as you sit so close to the drama. With such a cozy space, the experience is much more vivid and palpable.

The Language of Trees has some wonderful moments. Levenson's script is smart and well-written, bringing the characters to life. It's not really laugh-out-loud funny, but it's touching and chuckle-inducing at times. The performances are overall great, especially Gio Perez as the precocious Eben. Physically, the clever set design uses the small space well. The lighting and direction are also well-utilized to expand the scenic necessities required to show multiple sets in locations a world apart. The production is acutely presented, and makes for a quality night of definitely get your money's worth for a mere $20 per ticket.

The show is not without problems though: mainly some emotional holes in the plot ("shouldn't she be sadder?") and age discrepencies (Gio Perez looks more 17 than're warned now so you won't be distracted for 20 minutes like I was). But the little issues that arise are minor compared to the heart of the story. Levenson and Timbers are in their 20's. Their fresh take on theatre is energizing...they should be commended on a wonderful job with this show. The Language of Trees is provocative and engaging; it's for those who like their enterainment with a side of intellect that doesn't hit you over the head. And again, tickets are only $20.

(The Language of Trees plays at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for the Arts, 111 West 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Show times are Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30pm. The show runs 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Visit for more info and to buy tickets.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Files (59E59)

BOTTOM LINE: An important look at censorship and the power of art to transcend from one of Poland’s leading alternative companies… but, there’s still something lost in translation.

I have a good friend whose mother was regrettably made the local Censor of the Arts during the communist domination of Mongolia. Luckily her mother had the good sense to take her children to see all the shows she was about to censor beforehand. Artists have always found themselves on the forefront of a constant battle between those who demand we ask the tough questions and those who would prefer we quietly accept our political fate. Like their Mongolian brothers to the east, Poland also had to deal with state mandated opposition to any voices of dissent during that “Communist mumbo jumbo” as the production The Files puts it in Theatre of the Eighth Day’s new addition to 59E59’s Made in Poland Festival.

One of Poland’s leading Avant Garde theatre companies, Theatre of the Eighth Day (founded in 1964), found themselves the unwitting subject of secret police monitoring during their student theatre days in the '60s and '70s. They were spied on and harassed, their homes were searched, and they were constantly monitored due to their oppositional stance to the current communist regime. Recently, the police files on their activist and anti-communist student theatre days have become public record and the company explores them in their current production, The Files; a documentary theatre piece that incorporates the dim-witted secret police communiqués, letters the company wrote at the time, video footage of their famous productions from the '70s that were under scrutiny by the authorities, and the re-enactment of old texts by their now 50 year old selves.

The video footage of Theatre of the Eight Day’s productions in the 70’s, “We have to Confine Ourselves to What has been Called Paradise on Earth…?!”, “A Sale for Everyone”, and “Oh, Have We Lived in Dignity”, are incredible to behold. The theatricality and the bravery of these young actors provide a ghostly snapshot of an era of paranoia and the power of art and artists to inspire, comfort and incite their audiences. The production’s most successful moments involve their archived video footage.

In fact, I would argue that the piece works better as a documentary film then in its current theatrical form. It’s a compelling story, one that should be told and must be told, but the pacing in its current form fell flat. Maybe something was lost in translation; the recounting of letters and texts spoken in English by Polish actors would naturally slow the pace down, although when one of the actors performs a section of text in Polish, it was completely riveting. There are moments of real theatricality, the opening sequence as the older actors enter the stage while we watch footage of their younger selves being introduced behind them to rousing applause or another comic and highly physical scene with actors spying and peeping into each other’s coat pockets.

And yet…most of the play seems to settle itself into a staged reading format, with actors seated on stools at music stands reading their own letters from the past and recounting the secret police investigations of their work. In these instances the play slows down to lecture pace and it seems the company relinquishes one of its greatest assets, the strong and compelling theatricality for which they are known. When I looked at the company publicity materials of their recent productions in Poland which are so visually arresting and inherently theatrical, I wished I could have seen those shows!

There is, however, something very moving about seeing a group of artists remain devoted to their art form and to each other for over 40 years, despite many of them having to leave Poland for a time. In the U.S. companies come and go so quickly and the arts are so rarely supported, especially within the alternative downtown scene, that theatre is often the stomping ground of the young. How incredible to see actors in their 50’s still making explosive avant-garde work. And to see these actors, Ewa Wojciak, Adam Borowski, Tadeusz Janiszewski, and Marcin Keszycki, relating to their younger on-screen selves added a fascinating component to this production. It’s an important lesson, especially for young artists, of the need to tell our stories despite horrific odds. I just don’t know, for this particular piece, if they found their right medium.

(The Files is presented by Theatre of the Eighth Day and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York as part of Made in Poland at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street. The show runs until November 9th, Tuesday through Friday at 8:30pm, Saturday at 2:30 and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 7:30pm. For tickets call 212.279.4200 or visit For more info visit

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Harm's Way (45th Street Theater)

BOTTOM LINE: Powerful, Intriguing, Sorrowful….GO SEE THIS PLAY!

Circus Theatricals is a theater company that produces thought-provoking and important work. Harm's Way has it all: an intriguing story, an extremely strong ensemble of actors, smart playwriting, and flawless direction. The play deals with many subjects including the complexity and hypocrisy of war, incest, loss, corruption, and familial dysfunction; army prosecutor Major Jonathan Fredericks investigates possible war crimes committed by U.S. troops against Iraqi civilians while trying to take care of his “simple” and troubled daughter.

All of playwright Shem Bitterman’s characters are compelling and well-developed. Jack Stehlin is perfectly cast as the sorrowful and tough Major Jonathan Fredericks. Wendy Makkena keenly comprehends her complex character, reporter Constance Durrell. Ben Bowen simultaneously plays Private Nick Granville with sweet innocence and pernicious danger. Sarah Foret conveys the purity and emotional intelligence of the Bianca Fredericks beautifully.

Roger Bellon’s original music really added to the tone of the play. Bellon’s transition music between scenes, juxtaposed with Zuckerman’s seamless set changes, makes the journey of the play flow effortlessly. Derrick McDaniel’s brilliant lighting design is complete with an ambulance light in the back of the audience to reinforce the feeling of the tragedy that has just occurred.

Not only would I recommend this play, I would also recommend the companion play running in rep, I have not seen it yet but I have that much confidence in Circus Theatricals. Also, tickets are only $18.

(Harm's Way and run in rotating repertory until November 9th at The 45th Street Theatre, 354 West 45th Street between 8th and 9th Aves. Visit for a complete performance schedule. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by calling 212.352.3101.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cyclops (The Red Room)

BOTTOM LINE: Silly, Different & Campy

Haberdasher Theatre Company does not take itself too seriously. Their most recent camped up production of The Cyclops would almost work for children's theater. The exaggerated characterizations exhibited by every actor make the text accessible to the average audience member. The set by Keri Taylor looks like cut-outs from a children's story and encourages the audience to view the play from a child's perspective.

The cross-gender casting by director Neill Robertson is refreshing! Actress Mary Elizabeth Fields stands out as the hilarious and extremely nerdy Odysseus. Hollie Klem's physicality and facial expressions as Silenius are very impressive while the Satyrs, played by Sara Gaddis, Christen Madrazo, and Kerry-Jo Rizzo, are a very strong ensemble.

I had mixed feelings about the cyclops (played by Nicholas Panagakos) being played as a queeny, gay man. Panagakos' attitude, complete with stunning make-up, snapping, and insanely high platforms, keeps us highly entertained. However, I never sensed true fear of this character, which I feel the play needs in order for the text to be served.

Overall, Neill Robertson's costumes and make-up design is fabulous. I applaud Robertson for his bold choices in casting and for daring to make classical theater fun for a modern audience.

(The Cyclops plays October 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25, 2008 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20.
Call 212-252-2322 for more information or go to

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rock of Ages (Brooks Atkinson Theatre)

(Editor's note: This review was written for the off-Broadway production of Rock of Ages at New World Stages. A new Broadway review of the show will be available shortly.)

BOTTOM LINE: Go to rock. Totally bitchin' fun that shouldn't be taken too seriously.

It's the mid-late 1980's. One of the hippest rock and roll bars on the Sunset Strip faces demolition at the hands of evil German developers. What's the solution? Throw one final all-out rock concert to save the day. Throw in some leather pants, jean vests, strippers, a hippie, and some killer guitar shredding and you've got Rock of Ages, the newest musical to play at New World Stages. It's a fun filled night that rocks pretty hard. When the lights go down you actually feel like you are at a rock concert; the musical numbers are totally rad. The story that links them together is pretty lame, but you don't really care. The musical numbers are just that much fun.

The set list is packed with one awesome power ballad and metal classic after another. Some of my favorites include: Sister Christian, We Built this City, More Than Words, I Want to Know What Love Is, Here I Go Again, Every Rose Has It's Thorn, Can't Fight This Feeling, and many more! It sounds like one of those cheesy late night infomercials for some album like: "Man The '80s Rocked," and the music really is that good. Ethan Popp, who does some pretty killer musical arranging, assembled a kickass collection of songs. Literally, ever time there was a musical number, I thought, "I love this song!" When you enter the theatre are you given a squeeze lighter to wave as you see fit, and you will want to put that bad boy to good use.

The cast is filled with Broadway veterans. Leading the pack is Constantine Maroulis from the fourth season of American Idol and Broadway's The Wedding Singer. He does a pretty good job trudging his way through the awkward book, but really shines when he gets to do what he is best know for...sing. I expected Maroulis to be good, but there were a few moments where he really sang the hell out of the music and I was pretty damned impressed. Mitchell Jarvis channels his inner Jack Black to serve as the evening's narrator and he delivers the best musical moment of the show with his interpretation of "Can't Fight This Feeling." Jarvis flexed his rock star muscles previously in Prospect Theatre Company's The Rockea (I hope the success of Rock of Ages will fuel a larger scale remount of that smart, rockin show). But I digress. Lauren Molina, who recently appeared in the Tony Award winning revival of Sweeney Todd as a classical soprano, lets loose belting out such songs as the Twisted Sister anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It" with great enthusiasm. Every member of the cast dances and rocks their hearts out. Savannah Wise has one featured moment where she sings her face off that left me wishing the rest of the ensemble was featured even more.

I love the music of this era. I think it is awesome. If you think that guitar shredding and power chords are lame, then this probably isn't the show for you. If you want to kick back and rock harder than you have during any other musical, go see Rock of Ages. If you want an intellectually stimulating night of the theatre, you should probably look elsewhere. Rock of Ages is everything that you expect and hope it will Go with a group, grab some drinks beforehand, and have a great time.

(Rock of Ages plays at New World Stages, 340 W 50th Street. Perfomances are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 8:00pm, Friday at 7:00 and 10:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00pm, and Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets are priced from from $46.50-$80.50 and a limited number of $26.50 rush tickets are available at box office day of show only. Tickets can be purchased through Telecharge at or by calling 212.239.6200. Visit for more show info.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chekov Lizardbrain (The Ohio Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: Downtown theatre at it's best. Edgy, intelligent, slightly bizarre and entertaining.

The latest import from Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company is currently playing to a sold out run at The Ohio Theatre. Chekov Lizardbrain tells the story of an eccentric man who wants to buy a home from three brothers grieving the recent loss of their mother. The creators of this piece take a minor character from Checkov's The Three Sisters and put him in the forefront of this tale. He doesn't know how to properly relate to others which complicates matters when his story is told in present day and in the style of Chekovian drama where no one says what they mean and biting subtext runs rampant. The actions starts in a Safeway in small town USA where the characters enjoy an afternoon tea and discuss the the selling of the family home. From that moment, the audience is taken on a whirlwind ride through the human conscious where the action switches from contemporary drama to Chekovian where you might not always know exactly what is happening, but you will no doubt be fascinated.

All right, if you don't know who Anton Chekov is, here is a very brief and off-the-cuff summary of what you will need to know to enjoy this play. Chekov is one of the most famous playwrights in the world of theatre. He's right up there with Shakespeare for some. The characters in his plays rarely say what they are actually thinking. There are two sometimes three layers of subtext that are being played in a single line. For example: if someone in a Chekovian play asked someone, "How are you feeling today?" The other character might reply, " The weather is frightfully cold for this time of year." So, obviously this could be taken in many ways: I feel awful, I don't want to tell you how I feel, I'm emotionally dead inside, You're rude for asking me, I'm actually happy but feel about it, The weather actually is frightfully cold for this time of year, or myriad of other meanings. So, you can imagine the difficulty that one would face if they had trouble reading human emotions and intent and then were thrown into the world of Anton Chekov. And that's what makes this piece so damn intriguing.

You may be asking yourself, "Why the hell is this play called null null?" Well, the play explores the principal that the human brain is divided into three sections: The upper half-the Human; the middle-the Dog; and the lower-the lizard. This lower part of the brain is the basest form of brain interaction and the point from which the other parts of the brain evolved. From my understanding, the upper parts of our brain control the lower, simpler parts of the brain. Our main character is clearly more in touch with the lowest part of his brain and doesn't fully understand human interactions. If that doesn't make sense to you, that's all right. I don't know that I fully understand it but I still loved this show.

It's not often that a play accepts that an audience will run with lofty neuroscience theory and have a knowledge of the basic principals of Chekovian drama and style. It's hard to talk about all of Chekov Lizardbrain in a short written form. After the show, I was so excited about what I had just seen that I wanted to talk about every aspect of it. The technical aspects were amazing for such a small theatre. Anna Kiraly's set was beautiful and probably one of the best sets that I have seen for an off-off-Broadway Show. It was warm, inviting, and very innovative. James Clotfelter's lighting design was on the same superior level as well. He captured the playful and eerie character of the piece with flying colors. The ensemble of actors, who also helped create the piece, hit the nail on the head with their performances. James Snugg created one of the most bizarre characters I have seen in a long time with his incarnation of Chekov Lizardbrain. I also particularly loved Geoff Sobelle's portrayal of the youngest brother Sascha. He played the Chekovian ingeniue to a tee and then turned around and delivered an honest, angsty portrait of a man facing middle age and a scary new chapter in his life. Dan Rothenberg directs the wacky ensemble in a smart, controlled balancing act of non-realism, comedy, and contemporary drama.

I think that Chekov Lizardbrain is everything that "Downtown" theatre should be. It's smart, gritty, thought provoking, fun, and pushed the theatrical envelope in a way that few shows do. If you like innovative theatre, and aren't afraid to be challenged a little, then you will fall in love with Chekov Lizardbrain. I am totally pumped to see what else comes out of Pig Iron Theatre Company. Thank you to the SoHo Think Thank for recognizing that there is a void in smart avant guard theatre in New York and that people do want to see it, as is evident by the sold out run of Chekov Lizardbrain. I hope beyond all hopes that we will see more work from these creative guys here in New York again very soon. If not, Philadelphia isn't that far away, and if you are in the area, you have to check out what this Theatre Company is up to. I hope that the run of this show is extended so that more people can experience this truly unique theatrical experience.

(Chekov Lizardbrain plays at The Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street. Showtimes are Sundays 2pm and 7pm, Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 7pm and 10pm, and Saturdays at 8pm
For ticket Availability call 212-868-4444 or visit Find out more about Pig Iron Theatre Company at

Thursday, October 16, 2008

All My Sons II

BOTTOM LINE #2: Better Than Equus

(Molly and Dan both saw All My Sons and loved it- so much that we wanted to review it twice.)

When I first heard about this production, I didn’t care one way or the other about Katie Holmes. Since I wasn’t familiar with Miller’s play at all (and only knew Holmes as part of TomKat), I had no opinion about whether or not she could do the role. But I DID know of Simon McBurney (the director)- I have seen several of his shows, and found them to be some of the most memorable theatrical experiences I have ever had. But before I explain why McBurney’s direction is so terrific, and why it makes for a thrilling evening, let me briefly touch on the incredible acting in this show.

I’ll echo Molly and say that Katie Holmes is actually quite good. Even better is Patrick Wilson. But for me, they were both overshadowed by the unforgettable performances of John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest. It’s fairly early in the season, but I bet both are shoo-ins for Tony nominations- they are that good. The Keller parents are the center of Miller’s play- they are the most complex characters, with past experiences that ultimately inform and dictate the events of the play. And Lithgow and Wiest are incredible as they release the pressure, pressure built-up over years and years of “normal family living”, of sacrifice and compromise and hope and despair. I still can’t get one of the final images out of my mind- that of Wiest curled up in a chair, watching as her family crumbles around her. (And before I forget, one of the supporting players is Danielle Ferland- if you have ever seen the video of the original Broadway Into The Woods, or listened to the recording, Ferland played Little Red Riding Hood. She was also the young girl in the original Sunday In The Park with George.)

But aside from these performances, there is McBurney’s direction. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, McBurney heads up a theater company called Complicite; based in London, their most recent NY productions have been The Chairs, Mnemonic and The Elephant Vanishes. While Complicite’s work is often characterized as “experimental”, I have always found it more visceral and moving and (dare I say it) accessible than a lot of other experimental work (The Wooster Group, for example). And what I love about McBurney’s work in All My Sons is that he weaves the “experimental” sensibility of Complicite productions through a Broadway production of a play by Arthur Miller (i.e., something that is not “experimental” at all).

The performance begins with the house lights up, and the cast all walks onstage. John Lithgow starts talking to the audience as himself (and not Joe Keller), introducing us to the play and reading the opening stage directions. The cast walks off stage, the house lights dim, and the “play” begins. In these opening moments, McBurney calls our attention to the divide between our real world- the Schoenfeld Theater in 2008, and the artificial world of Miller’s play. This theme continues throughout the evening. The set consists of a square green lawn bordered on three sides by bare stage, and whenever a character runs off stage, they stop at the edge of the stage set, pause, and then walk calmly offstage. In other words, we actually see “Kate Keller” become Dianne Wiest. In this way, McBurney draws our attention to the boundaries of the Keller family’s world- their backyard- as if the Kellers were trying to contain their actions within their family.

But as much as he sets up these boundaries, McBurney also breaks them- several times during the play, company members enter the playing space- not as neighbors of the Kellers, but out of character, often en masse, as if they are members of “society” judging what they see on stage. The boundaries do not hold up- the actions of the Kellers have implications for their larger community- a community that includes their neighbors on the street, the actors in the play, and ultimately, the audience. Yes, this play is extremely relevant to current political and global events. But McBurney does not just let us rest by remarking to ourselves “wow, this play is timely!” He goes further and implicates us in these events, making for a much more thrilling evening.

And finally, through the use of projections and an incredible sound design (I wouldn’t be surprised about a Tony nom. here as well), McBurney knows how to craft an experience- not just something you watch, but something you feel. There was at least one point where I felt my heart race, my breath speed up, and then my hand went to my mouth- McBurney actually makes you gasp as every element suddenly comes together in a way that is both unexpected and inevitable. Go see All My Sons. It may be one of the most exciting performances you see in a long time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

All My Sons (Gerald Schoenfeld)

Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow, Katie Holmes and Patrick Wilson, the leads in All My Sons.

BOTTOM LINE: Holmes, I stand corrected.

Back in May, when the cast of All My Sons was announced and I learned that Katie Holmes would play the role of Ann Deever, I wrote about my concern for this casting choice. I was worried that All My Sons, a tremendous play by Arthur Miller, was too complex a production for Katie's acting abilities. You can read my snarky post of doubt here.

I am both pleased and humbled to tell you that Holmes did not suck hard. In fact, she didn't suck at all. She was actually really good. And acting alongside her were John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson, and a stellar supporting cast. All My Sons is a near-perfect production. It's certainly one of the best plays I've ever seen. And Holmes deserves to be a part of it.

All My Sons is the very heavy story of the Kellers, a Midwestern family post-WWII. The Kellers are nearly destroyed themselves as a result of the war: younger son Larry went missing in combat 3 years prior and father, Joe (Lithgow), was involved in a scandal that sent his business partner to jail and contributed to the deaths of many soldiers when faulty plane parts were knowingly sent overseas. This business partner happens to be the father of Larry's girlfriend Ann (Holmes). The play opens as Ann comes back to town to visit the older Keller son, Chris (Wilson), who wants to marry Ann. The mother, Kate (Wiest) refuses to accept that Larry is dead and therefore forbids Chris from marrying Larry's girl.

It's dysfunctional, it's depressing, it's maticulously executed. Simon McBurney's direction is engaging and always appropriate. The production design leaves the audience engrossed in the acting on stage (which is really stellar on all counts). The theatrical experience is visceral and moving, and this well-crafted story is given roots to grow and challenge its audience. I loved this performance and I think it's well worth seeing for anyone who enjoys the pleasure of live theatre. Plus, the acting is as supurb as can be.

(All My Sons plays a limited engagement through January 11, 2009 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th Street. Opening night is Thursday, October 16th. Show times are: Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday - Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are expensive: $116.50 down to $61.50. Standing room only tickets are available for $26.50 for sold out performances. And check out for discount codes. For more info visit

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kindness (Playwrights Horizons)

BOTTOM LINE: A moving, funny, and deeply personal play about a mother and son and the two strangers they meet while visiting NYC.

Adam Rapp’s new play Kindness opens with teenage Dennis alone in a Midtown Manhattan hotel room doing, well, what teenage boys often do when they are alone in hotel rooms. His mother walks in on him unexpectedly (something that seems to happen a lot in these situations) but is soon off to the theater; meanwhile, Dennis stays back, and while he is out getting ice, a young woman sneaks into his room. While Dennis is meeting one stranger, his mother meets another one- the cab driver whom she invites to the theater in place of her son.

is one of Rapp’s most intensely auto-biographical plays; indeed, Rapp has said that Dennis is a “younger, more honest version” of himself. Dennis and his mother are from the Midwest (Rapp too), and are in New York to see the fictional hit musical Survivin’, an amusing take-off of Rent, the real hit musical which originally starred Rapp’s brother Anthony. But more significantly, Rapp’s mother died of cancer eleven years ago, and this experience has clearly influenced the direction that Kindness takes.

Rapp has written a moving play about the complex relationship a son has with his mother. Kindness is never predictable, but is also not filled with lots of crazy plot twists, allowing the audience to focus more on the lives of the four characters. Ultimately, while Kindness could easily have become maudlin or else horrifying, I found it to be quite touching. Yet it never takes itself too seriously, and is at times quite funny. I especially liked Katherine Waterston’s performance as Frances, the strange girl who barges into Dennis’s room. Ray Anthony Thomas is also quite good in the smaller role of the cab driver. As the two strangers in the play (Rapp often writes about characters who try to connect with strangers), Waterston and Thomas give beautifully layered performances in which they open up to Dennis and his mother, but only so far.

I also enjoyed Christopher Denham’s performance as Dennis- he was terrific in Rapp’s previous play Red Light Winter, and is also quite good here. But while Denham and Annette O’Toole (Maryanne- the mother) do their best, the mother-son relationship never rang true for me. I think this was mostly due to Rapp’s writing. Many of the characters in Rapp’s other plays are in their 20s and 30s; as written, Dennis and Maryanne seem more like a 20-something man and his 30-something older sister. Plus, while the character of Dennis is supposed to be 17, Denham is clearly much older. Rapp also directed this play, and while I think overall he did a fine job, I wonder if the outside perspective of a different director, one who didn’t write this incredibly personal play, might have helped here.

I enjoyed the design- an amazingly detailed midtown Manhattan hotel room, down to the sheets on the bed and the fire-escape route sign on the door. My one complaint is that this room is much larger than any mid-priced New York City hotel room I have ever seen. While it may be that the space constraints required the set to be as large as it is, I wanted the claustrophobia that would have resulted from a more realistically sized room. But this is a minor point- all in all, I definitely recommend checking into Kindness’s hotel room for a few hours.

(Kindness plays at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, through November 2nd. Show times are Tues-Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 2:00 & 7:30pm, and Sun at 2:00 & 7:00pm. For tickets, visit or call (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily). For more information, visit

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Man for All Seasons (American Airlines)

BOTTOM LINE: A solid production of a great play about one man who sticks to his principals when his life is in dire straights. It should resonate well with modern audiences.

The Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons tells the timely tale of Sir Thomas More (Frank Langella, recent Tony winner for his spot-on portrayal of Richard Nixon in Frost Nixon) who is the sole opposition to Henry VIII's creation of The Church of England which would formally annul his marriage so that he can take another wife and create a male heir to assume his throne. More loses everything in his life in order to protect his integrity. The people around him compromise their moral character in order to gain acceptance from the king, by agreeing to the creation of essentially a new religion, and advance up the social ladder and gain praise and riches. Langella creates an extremely complex character that will stop at nothing to do what he believes is right. The rest is actually history. While this piece could easily feel like a lame history lesson, it's fresh and moving.

If you don't know about the history behind the formation of The Church of England, you may be a little lost. All you really need to know is this: Henry VIII wants to divorce his current wife because she cannot produce a male heir. The Catholic Church doesn't allow divorces. So he decided to create a new church, The Church of England, which will allow him to annul his marriage, take a new wife, and hopefully produce a male heir. Most everyone sides with Henry in this mildly ridiculous scheme, with the exception of one morally steadfast man, Sir Thomas More. His opposition to this new doctrine is the catalyst for the events in A Man for All Seasons which details the events that led to More's untimely end.

Director Doug Hughes (Tony winner for his work on the Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt) creates a seamless production that is extremely engaging and entertaining. The two and half hours fly by and every performance is of the highest caliber. With a cast of fifteen actors, it would have been easy for there to have a been a dud or two in the bunch, but every single character is completely flushed out and full of life. Patrick Page sheds his green fur of the title role in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas for the Kingly duds of Henry VIII. Page is absolutely amazing. He is extravagantly funny one moment and then cooly terrifying the next. Even though he is only in one scene, his presence is felt throughout the piece and his performance is a true standout in a show of grade-A performances. I know it's early in the season, but I think his work is worthy of featured actor Tony attention. Speaking of Tonys, Langella's performance in the title role is a tour de force that will also probably gain him yet another well-deserved nomination.

I cannot mention every performance in the cast of stage and screen regulars. Needless to say, I don't think you will be disappointed. If you like smart, historical drama that raises questions that are socially relevant in the political climate of today, you will flip over A Man for All Seasons. To be honest, I thought that I was going to be bored, but I was pleasantly surprised. This production breathes a fresh life into an older piece that easily could have come across as tired; instead is riveting and lively. It's a night at the theatre that any theatre lover will relish. Don't go if you're wanting a light night out, but if you're wanting to be challenged and see some great performances, don't miss this limited engagement.

(A Man For All Seasons plays at The American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Performance are Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. For tickets call (212) 719-1300. Ticket prices are: $66.50 - $111.50. Visit for more information.)

Above photo is Frank Langella.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

13 (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: I would've really liked this musical when I was 13.

13 is one of this season's new, big-budget Broadway musicals. It's the story of 12-year-old Evan who is forced to move to small-town Indiana from Manhattan when his parents get divorced. As his Bar Mitzvah nears, he has to get the popular kids to come to his awesome party, thereby solidifying his cool-kid status through his high school years. The music and lyrics, by Jason Robert Brown (he also wrote The Last Five Years, one of my favorite scores), are energetic and sometimes funny. The book, by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, couldn't be more contrived if it were an episode of Saved by the Bell.

Luckily, the cast of 13 is quite good and all are on the track for tremendous success in adulthood. I actually spent a little too much time in my head casting them in future productions of Hairspray and Grease. And if reality is anything like my imagination, they'll grow into dynamite performers. These teenagers are well-cast; talented enough to pull off the show and awkward enough to be completely age-appropriate. They're also bursting with energy and sheer joy for the opportunity. As a result, they're fun to watch.

There are some good components to this show although ultimately, it falls flat. I laughed out loud on a number of occasions (for example, the kids attend Dan Quayle Middle School). And some of the music rocks pretty hard; the opening number, appropriately called "13/Becoming a Man", has been stuck in my head all day. Also, the band is surprisingly solid, considering they themselves are 5 teenagers. But at the end of the day, the creativity is sparse at the expense of telling a simple, obvious story with a simple, obvious resolution. It lacks the "wow" moments that make live theatre so incredibly powerful. And ultimately, that's a disservice to both the audience and the performers. The kids on stage need something deeper to play, the kids in the audience can handle a more sincere story, and the adults in the audience deserve something to grab onto.

For what it's worth, the audience around me loved this the point where the father behind me was verbally acknowledging the action on stage ("ooo's" when the characters kissed and "oh no's" when a moment got confrontational). There were tweens everywhere I looked; the median age of the audience was probably around 20. And if I were 13 and seeing this show, I would've been in utter bliss. But I'm not, and I wasn't.

Which makes me wonder who this show is really for. If it's designed to pull teenagers to the theatre, make it accessible and relatable, and capture a fleeting market (usually distracted by video games, tv, and other things on screens) then it's appealing perfectly to its target. If it's also supposed to resonate with adults, reminding them of their own teenage years, it misses by a long shot. That's unfortunate because premise-wise 13 taps into a great genre.

13 is a perfect show to take your kids to. If nothing else, it has more integrity than the Disney schlock currently on Broadway and it appeals to an older kid demographic as well. I'd bet big money that kids and teens will really enjoy this show. And there are certainly some well-executed moments throughout the production; it's an entertaining 90 minutes but it's not likely to evoke much emotion in anyone over 18.

(13 plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th between 7th and 8th Avenues. Show times are (until Oct. 13) Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. After Oct. 13 show times are Tuesday through Thursday at 7pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. For tickets visit Visit for more show info.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Brew of the Dead (Under St. Marks)

BOTTOM LINE: What Scream did for slasher movies, Brew of the Dead does for zombie flicks.

Okay, so let me set the scene for you - you're in the East Village, next to several fine falafal establishments, at Under St. Marks, a dark, gritty little venue whose basement theater is the perfect spot for the Dysfunctional Theater Company's Brew of the Dead.

Written by Patrick Storck and directed by Justin Plowman, Brew of the Dead begins, as the title suggests, with beer accompanied by music videos featuring zombies and other various forms of decomposition projected onto a white onstage drop. Toward the end of the pre-show, there's an interview clip of a lovely little girl, who, as she herself predicts, "will not survive the zombie apocolypse." Enter the five survivors of the aforementioned apocolypse, on their quest to find the perfect fort for their last stand, a brewery.

The fast and funny script is a mocking love letter to every zombie movie made in the past 15 years, complete with a few of the character archtypes we know and love - the edgey, trigger-happy hipster, the battle-grizzled father figure, and, of course, the honorary Frat Pack dude (a hilarious Peter Schuyler) - and references to everything from The Evil Dead to this summer's Hamlet. There's even a touch of the classic silent movie experience with a few narrative title cards flashed up on screen, though I'm guessing the one's back in the '20s and '30s never asked the audience "So...What's up?"

Brew of the Dead is a cleverly written send-up of a bunch of the movies you're gonna be seeing around late October, and the immediacy of a basement blackbox theater, a genuine love of the zombie genre, and the fun that prevades this production make it an awesome way to kick off the Halloween season.

(Brew of the Dead plays at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place. Show times are Oct. 4, 11, 18, 25 and Nov. 1, all at 10:30pm. Tickets are $15 and $12 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets visit or call 212.868.4444. Visit for more show information.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

the night Carter was Bad. (59E59 Theatre)

BOTTTOM LINE: A modern tale of twenty-something relationship neuroses that’s well worth the price of admission.

Ben Cikanek’s new play, The Night Carter Was Bad, is the simple tale of Carter (Kurt Rodeghiero), a man approaching thirty, who is searching for his soul mate. Will the solution be found in his clingy emotional train wreck of a girlfriend Annie, played by Rachel Jordan Brown, the guarded and intriguing bohemian dancer Charlie, played to perfection by Ginny Myers Lee, or some yet to be seen third party that hopefully will complete his troubled soul? Carter faces the emotional battlefield of the quarter-life quest for happiness accompanied by his fabulous roommate Nathaniel (played aptly by Tom Baran) who tries desperately to help his friend find happiness. Carter braves the pitfalls of love (like how do you know when someone is truly the one?) and must own up to the consequences of a single indiscretion one night when he was “bad.” The ultimate question becomes if this one night will cripple his current relationship or define who he is to become in the future.

I thought it was very refreshing to see a play that dealt with the issues of late twenty-somethings with such humor and brevity. Even though I think that the play could have used some serious editing, I was never bored in the brisk hour and forty intermission-less minutes. I cared about the characters and was rooting for these emotionally shattered people to find happiness. Ginny Myers Lee gives a riveting and complex betrayal of a modern woman who is struggling to find herself in her career and relationships. Tom Baran is also wonderful as the gay roommate/confidant who further complicates Charlie and Carter’s path to happiness.

The tiny space at 59E59 Theatres offers an extremely intimate night of theatre that provides some very insightful moments toward the human condition: the reason that we fear commitment is not that we are afraid of love, but that we are afraid of mediocrity. If you are looking for a fun, somewhat thought-provoking night at the theatre, go see The Night that Carter Was Bad. It’s well worth the low ticket prices and then you can stay for the two-for-one drink specials at the theatre’s bar after the show!

(The Night Carter Was Bad plays at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street, until October 18th. Show times are Tues. through Sat. at 8:30pm and Sundays at 3:30pm. Tickets are $18 ($10 on Wednesdays) and can be purchased at or by calling 212.279.4200. Visit for more information.)

And...Xanadu's gone

So please disregard that previous post about Xanadu closing on the 12th! Apparently producers decided to pull the plug early (and by early I mean last weekend). Guess I haven't walked down 44th Street in a few days.

But you'll be pleased to know the Xanadu extravaganza isn't completely over: a national tour will begin in November, a six month engagement in Chicago is in the works, and a London production is also being planned.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Xanadu is closing 10/12

Sorry for the late notice, but thought you might still want to know that Xanadu, the glitzy, schmam-fest on roller skates is closing Sunday, October 12th. Based on the cheesy '80s movie of the same name, this new musical embraced the challenge of making something endearing out of something that lacked utter substance. And it was wildly successful in its endeavors. Xanadu was nominated for Best New Musical at the 2008 Tony Awards and won the Best New Musical award from the Outer Critics Circle. It was also well-received by critics and fans.

If you like sparkly musical theatre with a bit of self-aware mocking, see Xanadu while you still can. If you don't want to pay full price and you're 25 or under, take advantage of the student rush and get up to 2 tickets for $26.50, 2 hours prior to each performance, cash only. Or you can sit on stage for $41.50 no matter how old you are.

Read Theatre Is Easy's review of Xanadu here.