Saturday, January 31, 2009

Caesar and Cleopatra / 23 Knives (Resonance Ensemble)

By Le-Anne
• fun historical fiction • Julius Caesar is inspiration for both shows • performing in repertory on alternating nights

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll enjoy these two plays. Either show is worth seeing on its own or you can check them out together.

Few political leaders in history are as well known or as widely romanticized as Julius Caesar. Indisputably among the most powerful men to have ever lived, he was a God according to some and a tyrant according to others. It is written that he was a benevolent yet fierce military leader, not one to raise his voice nor was he one to loose a battle. It is debatable whether it was his life or his death that is most significant to contributing to the world as we know it today. It is most interesting then that the Resonance Ensemble should choose to produce two plays that explore just that: Caesar’s death, with 23 Knives by Christopher Boal, and his life, with Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (adapted by Eric Overmyer). According to the Resonance Ensemble, it is only fitting that in these politically heated times, Caesar should be the inspiration for their repertory package.

23 Knives is a contemporary play by Christopher Boal that fictionalizes an historical account taken from one line of Seutonius’s “The Twelve Caesars,” (a collection of biographies, written in AD 121, beginning with the life of Caesar and then chronicling the next 11 succeeding emperors of Rome). Seutonius writes, “And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast.” It is from this single line that Boal creates his historical fiction. The central character is Antistius, a Greek physician, or rather a Greek physician’s assistant posing as a physician in Rome, who is asked by Marcus Antonius to perform the Greek practice of autopsy on the great Caesar. In a creative twist, Boal’s tale alludes to a surprising assassin. Ryan Tramont, as Marcus Antonius, is a convincing soldier, torn between duty and conscience. Patrick Melville, as Antistius, lends a lighthearted, modern “TV era” feel to this Greek tale, immediately clueing the audience that this is a contemporary telling of classical times. Standouts include Todd Alan Crain as Janus, (Antistius’ slave), with his risky comedic interpretation a-la-Jack-McFarland. Especially engaging is Brian D. Coats as Musa, (Marcus Antonius’ slave). Incredibly creepy, he simultaneously teases and seduces the audience thereby creating the perfect liar. Coats expertly leaves one wondering whether Musa is a good guy who is bad or a bad guy who is good. Director Eric Parness successfully maneuvers the modern conversational dialogue, mixed with philosophical ideas, and classical high-stakes presented in 23 Knives.

Caesar and Cleopatra is a wonderful juxtaposition to it’s partner in repertory. Shaw’s modern-day classic is just over one hundred years old but it is still entirely accessible for a modern audience. Overmyer alters few words of the original text which proves how timeless Shaw’s words remain; he mostly makes clever edits to the original, omitting larger chunks of text to help this newer version flow more smoothly and quickly to appease a modern attention span. Where Overmyer does pen in his voice, it is really more of a device to make longer passages more concise than it is to attempt any sort of “modernization” of vocabulary. Overmyer cleverly matches Shaw’s language, making the edits rather seamless.

Shaw’s story stresses the political manipulations of his title characters rather than the idea of love drawing the two together. With Cleopatra at age 16 and Caesar at age 50, this idea is more plausible than its popular counterpart. It is not to say that the two don’t love each other, they clearly do, but it is more of a mutual passion for each others’ love of power than a romantic notion. Actors Chris Ceraso and Wrenn Schmidt, playing Caesar and Cleopatra, demonstrate their passions in a fantastic foil to one another. Ceraso, with an uncanny resemblance to the Roman leader, is a wise and collected Caesar. He is cool and self-assured with no hints of egotism as he commands with silence. Silence is not among the young Cleopatra’s virtues. Schmidt is most charming in her portrayal of the sophomoric royal. She dances like a champion between childish reactions and a girl on the verge of becoming a woman of greatness. Like the legends say of the woman she portrays, Schmidt is captivating. Both Ceraso and Schmidt demonstrate a keen understanding for Shaw’s wit, providing several laugh-out-load moments. The two share a beautiful chemistry on stage. Rounding out the cast are strong supporting performances by Rafael Jordan as Apollodorus, Geraldine Librandi as Ftatateeta, Joe MacDougall as Rufio, and Brad Makarowski as Britannus. Director Kent Paul’s attention to detail with character development and relationships is apparent, as every character at any given moment wears a story on their face.

Resonance Ensemble has cleverly selected two shows to work together that are relevant today. 23 Knives begs the question: Just because something can be proven with science, does it make it true? While one of Shaw’s resounding themes in Caesar and Cleopatra asks: Just because we have made advancements in civilization (with science, for example) are we really any better off than we were hundreds of years ago? 23 Knives and Caesar and Cleopatra compliment each other well and, with reasonable ticket prices, it is highly recommended to see both productions.

(Performances run now through Feb. 7 (C&C - Sun. 2/1, Tues. 2/3, Thu. 2/5, & Sat. 2/7 at 8pm, Sat. 1/31 at 2pm. 23 Knives - Sat. 1/31, Wed. 2/4, & Fri. 2/6 at 8pm, Sun. 2/1 & Sat. 2/7 at 2pm) at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd St., btwn 9th & 10 Ave). C&C runs 2 hours 30 min. with one 10 min. intermission. 23 Knives runs 2 hours with one 10 min. intermission. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased through Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or at

Friday, January 30, 2009

When In Disgrace [Haply I Think On Thee]

By Le-Anne
• great fun with language • uses the melodrama of high school as a universal theme • solid lead actors • innovative playwriting • cohesive production

BOTTOM LINE: You do not need to be familiar with verse or poetry to enjoy this play. This is the perfect show for Shakespeare lovers as well as the perfect show to introduce heightened language to a mass audience.

When one thinks of a “modern verse play,” perhaps direct (or loose) adaptations of Shakespeare-turned-into-popular-teen-movies come to mind. Worse still, fear of a word-heavy, masturbatory, bastardized homage to Shakespeare may rear it’s ugly head. If the language of Shakespeare’s time is all Greek to you, or for those who don’t really care for Shakespeare let alone poetry, then When in Disgrace [Haply I Think On Thee] may just be the means to change your mind.

Playwright and director Damon Krometis takes a modern twist on the old iambic pentameter with the support of Examined Man Theatre, creating an engaging tale based on a true story that examines the extremes of the most essential human experiences. He uses the universal drama of puberty and with a gifted group of actors and smooth direction (supported by rock music and a video game-inspired set and lights) When In Disgrace explores love, jealousy, and mortality.

The play centers on the friendship of three teens who attend high school together. Speaking of high-stakes, there may be nothing more universally identifiable than being a teenager in high school! A time when breaking up with your boyfriend of three whole months was devastating, simply wearing the wrong thing made you a leper, and being grounded (you know, by those tyrannical parents of yours), was the end of the world. Most of us, as luck would have it, made it out alive and not many of us actually carried out our threats of “I’m going to kill her if she says another word” or “I could just die if he doesn’t like me back!” After all, they’re only words, right? But what if they’re not...? It is easy to remember the rash, passion-driven decisions made, and the cruel words said in the heat of pubescence. When In Disgrace further reminds us that with memories of Columbine and the “Trench-coat Mafia” not far behind us, it is also easy to see how a hormone-raging teenager could turn those words into a dark and scary reality.

Ryan (Patrick Vaill) and Ben (Alex Brown) are the best of friends and Caroline (Lauryn Fay Sullivan) is the glue that slowly poisons the triumvirate as biology changes their chemistry. Green-eyed jealousy takes over when Caroline chooses to share her love with Ben rather than Ryan. Vaill is captivating as the outcast in a fast moving downward spiral. “I was not someone that you would have liked,” he says, (notice the iambic pentameter), so honestly and without apology that, ironically, it’s hard not to like him. He continues, “No sirs and ladies. You would not have liked me. But you would not have hated me either,” and he’s right, we don’t. Vaill creates an empathetic albeit accidental villain. Brown matches Vaill with an equal yet opposite quality. Brown’s ability to balance sympathy and vanity make wavering between like and dislike, for the popular golden boy who steals his best friend’s crush, an exciting struggle. Brown creates an unlikely, passive antagonist. The duo drive the story with their facility of language and clear relationship. Sullivan is a charming heroine. She delivers her words with an assured innocence that, even though she is the catalyst for this unsightly chain of events we, like her suitors, fall in love with her a little bit.

The stimulating sound design captures the mood of the play perfectly. Graceful rock music makes way for harder metal beats as the danger becomes more eminent. The stark scenic design of five large gray walls with stairs leading to various levels, help the action to flow seamlessly between scenes. The set design together with a creative lighting design create weightiness in the desperate moments of soliloquy, levity in the more naturalistic party scenes, and make an innovative interpretation of video games come to life. The play ends as it begins, with the two boys sharing a common bond–their favorite sniper video game, “I want to take the soldier in this game and point his rifle at my head,” says Ben suspecting no foul play as he attempts to make amends with his friend.

Who would have thought that four letter words and a vocabulary left behind in high school could sound like poetry? That one might even sound intelligent and heartfelt using such baseness? On the flip side, who would have thought that words of poetry could sound equally colloquial? Krometis, along with this talented cast, manipulate speech and storytelling in such a way that no word is wasted, stakes are high, and a lost way for words is again accessible. He reminds us that Shakespeare’s words, in his own time, were just as plain, fun, and yes even vulgar, as our words are today. Krometis expertly gives verse a rightful and relevant home in the twenty-first century. It’s about high time, for goodness’ sake!

(When In Disgrace (Haply I Think On Thee) officially opens January 28 and runs through February 8. Performances are Wednesday - Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 5pm. Performances are at The Theater at St. Clements, located at 423 West 46th Street (between 9th Ave. & 10th Ave.), with a run time of approximately 90 min. with no intermission. Tickets are $18, available at 212-352-3101 or

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Terre Haute (59E59)

By Zak
• gripping • topical • thought provoking • disturbing • well-crafted •

Peter Eyre and Nick Westrate in Terre Haute. Photo by Valentina Medda.

BOTTOM LINE: A deeply compelling drama that humanizes the man responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing.

Edmund White’s captivating new play, Terre Haute, has transferred to the hip venue of 59E59 direct from London’s West End. The show has received glowing reviews from many critics including Time Out and The New York Times and these accolades are very, very well deserved. Terre Haute is inspired by Gore Vidal’s famous essays on Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the deaths of 168 innocent people on April 19th, 1995. Edmund White changes the names of these two prolific figures and creates a stunning fictional drama that reveals what might have happened as Vidal interviews McVeigh to try to uncover his true intention behind the events of that tragic day in American history.

I am originally from Oklahoma City, so this piece will probably hit far closer to home for me than the average New Yorker, but I guarantee that you will be hooked from the second the lights go down for this 80 minute rollercoaster ride through the mind of a man seemingly void of remorse regarding his heinous actions. With a set comprised of only two chairs and a glass cage that houses James (inspired by McVeigh and played with eerie precision by Peter Eyre) the audience is forced to confront the heavy arguments concerning humanity that Terra Haute presents. Nick Westrate expertly portrays Harrison (inspired by Vidal) who finds himself getting too close to a terrorist facing execution and at times sympathizes with him and even finds himself questioning his own opinions about the events of that awful day.

I don’t want to say too much more because you should go and see this exciting play. White has been compared to Marcel Proust and Henry James, and this thought-provoking drama definitely merits those comparisons. Terra Haute had me questioning my own opinions about what makes someone evil, conspiracy theories, The Branch Davidians, writing, patriotism, and a slew of other things. If that’s not great theatre, than I don’t know what is. It’s going to make you feel a tad uncomfortable, but I don’t know who goes to a play about Timothy McVeigh to feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. If your favorite show is Mamma Mia! and you don't care for a more intellectual theatre experience, than Terra Haute is probably not the show for you. If you like dark, disturbing, gritty, first rate political commentary than this is right up your alley. You, no doubt, will be thoroughly engrossed for an hour and half and have a ton of things to talk about for days after.

(Terre Haute plays at 59E59 Theatres, 59th Street between Park and Madison. Perfomances run through February 15th Tuesday-Friday at 8:15PM, Saturday at 2:15PM and 8:15PM, and Sunday at 3:15. Tickets are $35 and are available through Ticket Central (212) 279-4200 or at For more info go to

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The American Plan (Manhattan Theatre Club)

By Molly
• awesome performances • quality production • a delicately written script • an incredibly intriguing story but a mostly passive play • see it if you like literary theatre, if you like to listen while you watch

Brenda Pressley, Kieran Campion, Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe in The American Plan.

BOTTOM LINE: You never know who you can trust in this character-driven tale of love, deceit and getting what you want in life. There's not a ton of action, although Richard Greenberg's script is poetically painful and filled with conflict.

The American Plan is a new production from Manhattan Theatre Club written by Greenberg and directed by David Grindley (Journey's End, Pygmalion). Although the play was written in 1990, this marks its first time on a Broadway stage.

It's the early 1960s and almost-21 year old Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) is spending the summer with her uber-wealthy mother Eva (Mercedes Ruehl) at their summer retreat in the Catskills, their annual respite from life in New York City. But Lili detests the ostentatious life her mother lives and would rather be alone enjoying the escapism of her daydreams. She vocalizes disapproval of her mother to anyone who will listen and loathes spending summers with her and their hired-hand Olivia (Brenda Pressley). One day, a hunk from across the lake swims up to their property and hits it off with Lili...subsequent romance follows. And what happens next can only be described as a web of secrecy and potential betrayal from 5 characters who may or may not be clinically insane.

Greenberg's play is twisted, and the characters are emotionally shattered. Their relationships are interesting because of the baggage they carry with them. And really, insanity is a gross exaggeration; they could all use therapy, but perhaps no more so than anyone else today. But with the hush-hush nature of life in the early '60s, a lot of their internal struggle is bottled up while lies cover up truth and a facade of perfection is put on display.

Acting wise, the production is top notch. Mercedes Ruehl is brilliant as a catty, socialite mother with a classic German accent. Lily Rabe brings the innocence and optimism out of a girl whose life has already seen a lot of pain. And Kieran Campion, as Nick, the man Lili falls in love with, has the greatest abs seen on a New York stage in quite some time. Oh yeah, and his performance unearths the staunch drive of a man who has to achieve what society says he should, even if his heart yearns for something else.

Both the production and script are painted with a pretty brush, as everyone attempts to achieve the happiness they rightly deserve. In a way this enhances the conflict, in contrast with the volitile associations always under the surface. But it also creates a production void of much action, something to be aware of if you're the kind of theatre patron who likes a lot of stuff to look at (i.e. pyrotechnics, flashy dances, period costumes). In The American Plan, most of the action is in the words, but with a script that occasionally teeters on lyrical, it's not hard to stay engaged.

(The American Plan plays at the Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Show times are Tuesday and Sunday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $56.50-$106.50. For tickets visit For more information visit

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Equus (Broadhurst Theatre)

By Le-Anne
• nudity is essential, tasteful and beautiful • solid, cohesive production • Radcliffe proves himself • raw theatre • see this!

BOTTOM LINE: Powerful, moving and artistic without being artsy; it's the complete package. Rush now to get your tickets before this show closes.

(Editor's note: Equus has been playing for months and months and Theatre Is Easy apologizes for the delinquency in covering this show...better late than never!)

If there is one thing that you do between now and February 8th it should be to go and see Equus. This is an absolutely stellar production. The acting is nothing short of superb. The direction is truly awe-inspiring. The movement direction is soul-shaking. The set, sound, and lighting design are striking, creative, and help to shape the story; perfect examples of what theatrical design is meant to do. Playwright Peter Shaffer’s play is surely just as relevant now as it was thirty-some years ago. The curiosity with understanding the human psyche–especially those that seem to be incomprehensible–is one that will tease the mind for all time.

Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) plays the troubled teenager Alan Strang, who brutally blinds six horses in a stable one night. Radcliffe gives a gripping performance. His full commitment to his character and his passion shine especially in the fearful scenes where the tortured memories of his youth and his troubled relationship with horses are recalled. I am always leery of seeing Broadway productions that boast Hollywood stars, for fear that the “name” and star-power to sell tickets is all that the producers had in mind when they decided to put said star’s name up in lights. Unfortunately the stage is not as happy a home for many great screen actors (who have little to no stage experience prior to their Broadway debut) as the silver screen is. Radcliffe however, demonstrates wonderful agility and versatility. He shows that he is much, much, more than Harry Potter.

The play unfolds as Strang's strange obsession with horses is dissected by his psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths). Griffiths won the Tony Award for Best Actor for his role in The History Boys, and he continues to dazzle and give another award-worthy performance in this role. He, along with the direction of Thea Sharrock, make Griffiths' direct addresses to the audience seem completely natural, private, and as if one is somehow in dialogue with his character. Never once does it seem “theatrical,” but rather incredibly personal and honest. He creates a caring relationship with the audience, almost as if he is the patient and we the audience are his therapists, investing our own lives deep into this story.

The set design by John Napier, reflects this feeling by including audience seating right on the stage. The seats, high atop the stable-like set, could be eavesdroppers in the hayloft, or could be observers sitting in the observation deck of a hospital room. His simple design (four black blocks are the only scenery) shows that less truly is more. The design of the horse costumes and masks is absolutely breath-taking. Not only do the abstract heads and hooves inspire the imagination, but the flawless movement (movement direction by Fin Walker) that is exhibited by the actors playing them is amazing.

Kate Mulgrew plays Hesther Saloman, the woman responsible for bringing Strang to Dysart’s care; she delivers a performance worth mentioning as well. She and Griffiths share a chemistry and rapport that bring warmth, depth, and levity to all of their scenes together. Another actor that deserves mention is Lorenso Pisoni as both The Young Horseman and Nugget (the lead horse). As the Young Horseman, Pisoni is charming and heroic. It is easy to see why the young Strang is so mesmerized by horse and rider. As Nugget, Pisoni is so precise in his horse-like actions, both physically and psychologically, that he literally transforms into the equine beast on stage. Even though all six horses are costumed the same, Pisoni’s unmatched specificity makes it is easy to spot which horse is Nugget every time. There is no doubt that this production would be far less remarkable without Pisoni’s strength, commitment to character, and pure magic that he delivers on that stage.

Although this review comes to you late, please take these next two weeks as an opportunity to see one of the most satisfying productions Broadway has given us in years. Sharrock’s Equus is enigmatic, moving, and a prime example of the artform at it’s very best.

(Equus plays through February 8th at The Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. The show runs 2 hrs and 35 mins with one 15 min intermission. Performances are Tuesday at 7:00pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets range from $66.50-$116.50. Stage seating is available for $61.50 for Wednesday matinees and $76.50 for Tuesday through Thursday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday matinees. It's also occassionally listed at TKTS. For more info visit

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pal Joey (Studio 54)

By Molly
• musical • lots of dancing • sexy and sophisticated • takes place in the 1930's in Chicago • a truly stellar production

BOTTOM LINE: A traditional feeling musical with incredible choreography and a kick-ass cast. It's a first-rate production guaranteed to make you happy (if musicals are your sort of thing).

If the 1930's had a word for douchebag, that's how one would refer to Joey Evans, the wanna-be performer and club owner for whom Pal Joey is titled. And if Joey Evans were around today, he would no doubt pop his collar and wear a Livestrong bracelet. Joey is a tool of the highest order, but his looks and charm always help him get his way. And Matthew Risch, the new-ish actor who fell into the roll (he was the understudy for Christian Hoff who had to step out of the production during previews) knows how to make Joey devilishly cruel yet completely endearing.

Pal Joey is a musical from the early 1940's that has been revived on Broadway a handful of times since, although until late last year it had been a few decades. This particular production comes from Roundabout Theatre Company (the savants behind many of the recent critically acclaimed musical revivals including last season's Sunday in the Park With George). Part of the reason Roundabout's productions are so inspired is because they work with talents of the highest order. Pal Joey also stars Stockard Channing and Martha Plimpton and is directed by Joe Mantello of Wicked fame. I'll stop with the name-dropping now, but suffice to say everyone who worked on Pal Joey has the chops to be collaborating with their talented peers. And with plentiful resources, Pal Joey is a truly wonderful show.

Here's a brief plot description–and yes, it's a tad like the musical Chicago in that it takes place in the same city in nearly the same era. And also like Chicago, Pal Joey centers around performers (making it much less awkward when the cast randomly breaks into song and dance). At the heart of the story is Joey, a womanizing crooner who's new in town. He books his act at a local club on the south side, although he is jonesing for something bigger, to actually own the club himself. After meeting and charming the pants off of the socialite Mrs. Simpson (Channing), Joey convinces her to fund his new career. She bites, but mostly because she's bored. There are another couple of girls in the picture and Joey finds himself torn between love, loyalty, and a whole slew of dirty, dirty lies. And musical numbers fill in the rest.

I hadn't seen any version of Pal Joey until now, really because the opportunity hasn't presented itself. I have to assume that the show is just rarely done, maybe because it's hard to pull off without money and talent, and maybe because it's a lesser-known schmammy musical. I'll admit the music is brilliant in the moment but largely unmemorable (famous song = "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") and the script isn't totally tight (these characters fall in love in a ball-change and a head turn). But Richard Greenberg wrote the new book (he is the renowned playwright of Take Me Out and Three Days of Rain) and he did a fine job honing in on the meat of the characters and creating a more cohesive play. And plus, Pal Joey is based on a series of short stories anyway, written by John O'Hara in the 1930s and published in The New Yorker. Shortcomings aside, this production of Pal Joey is fantastic. If this is a genre you adore, especially when it is full of genuine charm that lets you completely escape from the real world, then you must see this show. It only runs through March 1 and you'd be a fool to miss it.

(Pal Joey plays at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St between 8th and 9th Avenues through March 1. The show runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $36.50 – $126.50 or $20 if you are under 35 and a member of Hiptix. To purchase tickets call 212.719.1300. Visit for more show info.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Garden of Earthly Delights (Minetta Lane Theatre)

By Ben Charles

modern dance • body suits leaving little to the imagination • aerial ballet • mature themes • show lasts one hour

BOTTOM LINE: Probably not the show that converts you into a modern dance fan, but if you think this trailer is appealing:, it could just be your thing.

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a show that is outside of my usual viewing habits. I haven’t seen a modern dance show since college and I was curious to see what an off-Broadway production would be like here in New York City, the epicenter of American dance.

The dancers were impressive. I do recommend that you make every effort to seek out a professional modern dance show at some point in your life. The physical grace and power that I witnessed was absolutely gorgeous. Seeing human beings move in these astonishing ways rivals any special effect that you may be numb to seeing at the cinema or on television.

As for this production, the overall story and sequence of what was presented didn’t connect with me. I was able to enjoy certain moments, but as a full production I had a hard time getting on board. For me, it was a bit out there at times. One scene in particular really lost me as an audience member because it seemed intentionally low-brow; I didn’t feel that it was redeeming to be seeing what I was seeing on stage and it felt self-indulgent. Of course, a lot of this has more to do with the chosen subject matter rather than the performers themselves. (Editor's note: many critics are in love with this show, so for more opinions check out reviews from The New York Times, Variety and Time Out New York.)

The show is based on a Renaissance painting by Hieronymus Bosch that was painted between 1503-1504. The painting, which can be found here, or in the lobby of the Minetta Lane Theater, is extremely detailed in its depiction of biblical and heretical scenes. Without giving away all the details, what this translates into on stage is a series of scenes involving body suit nudity, sexuality, innuendos, modern dance fighting and scenes that show the ugly side of our humanity.

What is truly a breakthrough, or at least what was a breakthrough when this production was originally staged in the 1980’s, was the use of harnesses and acrobatics to create moments of aerial ballet. Those were the moments of sheer awe for myself as an audience member. But with today’s productions of Cirque de Soliel and Fuerzabruta, seeing a dancer fly at great heights is no longer a new experience. Those shows also may be a bit more accessible to a general audience than The Garden of Earthly Delights, as well.

Take the time to ask yourself if the painting moves you and if you think the artsy trailer is appealing. If so, then this is definitely a show you’d enjoy. If not, this modern dance experience may not fully engage you for your hour at the theater.

(The Garden of Earthly Delights plays an extended run through March 1 at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane. Show times are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday – Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $40 - $69.50 and may be purchased at or by calling 212.307.4100. Same day rush seats are available for $30. For more show info visit

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Southern Gothic Novel (Stage Left Studio)

By Molly
• one man show • 17 characters • Southern charm • quirky • like story hour on crack

BOTTOM LINE: A whirlwind, comedic show where an entire story of love, crime and small town antics is told start to finish by one man in 60 minutes.

Southern Gothic Novel is quirky and fun; the two things that make it so are the script and the performance, both aptly done by Frank Blocker. The narrative is written in the southern gothic style, basically Americana below the Mason-Dixon line (think Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee). Blocker's story includes vivid description and background, which is great because one of the characters he plays is the narrator, who, in Blocker's own voice, sets the scene in between dialogue. In terms of the writing, it's a novella he is performing, not typical theatre scenes. He could just as easily sit in a chair and read straight from the book. Except in Southern Gothic Novel Blocker is not sitting and he's certainly not reading, rather he is becoming these characters and performing the tale.

The mere nature of going in and out of 17 characters could be daunting, but luckily Blocker has fine-tune the voices and movement; he glides through the performance with ease, making use of every bit of playing space in the tiny Stage Left Studio Theatre. He has done the show a number of times: at the NY Fringe Festival and Midtown Theatre Festival as well in Columbus, Baltimore and Atlanta. Although I'm not sure how much material has changed since the last incarnation, Blocker appears incredibly comfortable with it all, which is great because the audience then feels totally at ease. I was able to sit back, relax and take in the story, which by the way is written beautifully. It's almost poetic at times. I was impressed with Blocker's descriptions and details that filled out the scenes in my mind.

Without giving too much away, plot-wise, I will tell you that Southern Gothic Novel is a campy mystery that takes place in a small southern town in the present time. The press notes give the following description: "The whole thing started when Viola Haygood, the Assistant Librarian of the Charles B. Evans Memorial Library, fell in love for the umpteenth time. This one was new in town. He was tall. He was dark. He was handsome. And he smelled really good."

This show is most definitely a good time, and I can recommend it for those who enjoy the one-person performance genre. If you're not comfortable with the theatrically artsy (read: you like Broadway musicals but don't usually venture outside Times Square), this will be a huge step in the downtown direction. But if you're curious, don't let me dissuade you. Southern Gothic Novel has been performed multiple times and received a lot of great press. It's an amusing hour of escapism.

(Southern Gothic Novel plays at the Stage Left Studio Theatre, 438 West 37th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, only Wednesday at 8pm through at least March 15. Tickets are $25 and are available by calling 212.868.4444 or at The show runs 60 minutes with no intermission.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eight (PS 122)

By Zak
• fresh • provocative • strong performances
• engaging • solid debut from a young playwright

BOTTOM LINE: An unexpectedly enjoyable, poignant portrait of twenty-something life in the age of apathy.

Eight, a new play by Ella Hickson, makes it’s American debut at PS 122 after a celebrated run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Formed around a survey that asked twenty-somethings what defined their generation, Hickson responds to their almost unanimous response of “apathy,” with a collection of monologues in which damaged young people find small rays of hope in a world constantly hurling cynicism in their paths.

When you enter the small but hip theatre space you are greeted with eight actors standing in front of you staring into space. I tried to guess the story behind all of them and I was dead wrong on every account. From a woman dressed in preppy white tennis attire who turns out to be a working class hooker, to a muscle-bound dude in a tank top in jeans who secretly makes friends with corpses in a funeral home, no one is what they seem in this very enjoyable night at the theatre. Hickson creates characters that defy convention and expectation to reveal beautiful, damaged souls that ultimately want happiness, success, and acceptance in the emotional wasteland of modern Britain.

The seven young European actors, accompanied by one American, deliver some of the most solid acting from a complete ensemble that I have seen in a long time. There is not one cast member who does not shine. Don’t let their ages fool you, these actors’ performances kick ass and take names as they talk directly to the audience for about 15 minutes each. Most notably among these is Holly McLay who is stupendous as a working class woman who wants to provide her children with a perfect Christmas. She accepts that she will never fully rise above her economic station in life, so she is resigned to provide her family with one perfect Christmas day. She comes to realize that, “Plenty of people will show them what is real, she must give them magic.” It’s rare to find a young actress that displays such emotional depth in her performance as McLay.

Simon Ginty is utterly compelling as a young boy who goes to French boarding school to find himself and along the way finds the love of a mysterious older French woman. It’s a tale about what happens when idols fall, or how the pursuit of love is sometimes ultimately better that obtaining it. He learns that “loves makes a man” and that “he is nothing…because she is everything.” Ginty quickly and deftly moves from an awkward school boy who discovers the harsh, rarely talked about realities of life. His performance is truly first rate. I can only hope that this is not the last time American audiences will be graced with these two young actors' gifts. Every other performance is equally impressive and truly should not be missed.

It is hard to believe that this is the first play from the cracker jack new playwright, Hickson. I hope that she continues to thrive and find her voice. It’s really thrilling to find a young playwright that kind of hits it out of the park with her first attempt. I can’t wait to see what she brings us next. Hopefully American audiences will be able to enjoy her work for years to come with support of other producers like Carol Tambor who graciously bring exciting, cutting edge European work to American soil. If you want to see some fresh and exciting performances from an up and coming playwright, Eight, is the show for you. Seriously, go see this show.

(Eight performs at PS 122, 150 First Avenue, as a part of the COIL Festival. The show has been Extended through January 25th. Show times are Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets $25 and are available by calling Theatremania at (212)-352-3101 or online at

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Wickets (3LD)

By Leah Carr
• very cool environmental theatre • deftly acted • surrealism that makes sense • get there early for a good seat and beware, they're a little uncomfortable

BOTTOM LINE: A show with a brain and a soul.

So, really honestly, when I was hanging out waiting for the show to start I was a little worried that Wickets (conceived, created, and directed by Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers) would be little more than premise and gimmicks - what with the cast (already in their 1970's airline stewardess characters) taking our coats and checking our "boarding pass" tickets. Then, as I was reading the directors' notes, I was more than a little concerned - a singing angel as a woman's subconscious? There's a lot that could go sour with that.

So I was really happy to be dead wrong.
Let me tell you how cool and smart this show is. This production is an exciting example of how "?!" moments can actually work to tell a story - moments when, say, a singing angel (Lucas Steele) appears draped over what appears to be a celestial lifeguard perch (appropriate) or when the plane turns into a croquet field. I guess I should mention that the theater is set-up as an airplane cabin, complete with doming, class curtains, and in-flight refreshments, with the aisles used as the playing space. I should also mention a wicket is the archway through which croquet balls are hit, as well as a portal or gateway between two, ahem, planes of existence. The world that the play creates has such a heightened reality that it slips into that other realm, that sort of surreal, place, not jarringly, but somehow logically. Yes you can tell when it's happened, but you're generally not left scratching your head trying to figure out how or why.

The actresses, a very strong ensemble lead by Lee Eddy, deftly flip between their characters' subconscious and the quite literally painted face they present to the passengers. Usually the hallmark of this convention is a sharp juxtaposition between the two, which sometimes comes at the expense of a consistent characterization. The women here manage to find the range between hysteria, detachment, genuine vulnerability and, in that, genuine strength, without becoming two different people. Quite a remarkable feat.

Jenny Rogers' script, adapted from the Maria Irene Fornes play "Fefu and Her Friends" examines the inner lives and public personas of a crew of stewardesses (pointedly not flight attendants) in the 1970's on a transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. The play is set at the cusp of the Women's Movement in one of the country's most sexist industries. I was, frankly, worried that it would take a turn toward the bitter and angry. And, while there is anger - most notably in the blatantly misogynistic "prayer" one of the characters offers - there is enough weight behind it that it serves the story and saves the show from the horrorland of agit-prop theater.

Wickets is realized with compassion, intellect, and grace on nearly every point. I would warn, however, that while the plane set-up is pretty ingenious from a storytelling point-of-view, the seats actually get pretty damn uncomfortable about 40 minutes into the show. Go anyway.

(Wickets plays at the 3LD Arts and Technology Center, 80 Greenwich St at Rector Street, through January 25th. Show times are Thursday through Sunday at 8pm. Tickets are $18: call 212.352.3101 or visit

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ecstasy (Horse Trade Theatre)

By Le-Anne
• a solid production • real "slice-of-life" feel • some nuditymore about characters and relationships, less about plot

BOTTOM LINE: If you like British entertainment and gritty, character-driven pieces, you will greatly enjoy this show.

Think of the word "ecstasy" and a flash of images, possibly R-rated ones, plaster themselves on the brain along with various feelings of personal comfort or discomfort as the case may be. Some people take pleasure in watching others, strangers, experience ecstasy, while others find it a disturbing invasion of something personal and private. So when I was greeted with full frontal nudity, both male and female, at the Black Door Theatre Company/ Horse Trade Theater Group’s recent revival of Mike Leigh’s Ecstasy, I thought, or rather feared, I knew what lay in store for me. Images raced through my head of exhibitionism and embarrassingly self-indulgent performances, as I prepared for an awkward 2 hours. Much to my pleasure I could not have been more wrong.

What then, is ecstasy? According to one definition, and probably the most commonly understood definition, in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition it is “a feeling of overpowering joy; great delight; rapture.” Director Sara Laudonia’s favorite definitions of ecstasy, per her director’s note in the program, are 1. a subjective experience of total involvement of the subject with an object of his or her awareness and 2. (from the Greek) to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere (ex meaning out, stasis meaning a stand or a stand off of forces). This reviewer came across a few more definitions that lend insight to the meaning of this play title, 1. A state of being overpowered by emotion, as by joy, grief, or passion, 2. A trance, 3. The etymology of the word in Late Latin, exstasis, terror, 4. The Greek, ekstasis, a being put out of its place, distraction, astonishment, and 5. existanai, to displace, derange, (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Ed., Merriam - Webster Online Dictionary, The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Ed.) Whew! Why this giant vocabulary lesson, you ask? Because literally every definition of this word listed above is expressed with playwright Mike Leigh’s words and expertly executed through the talented cast and direction of this production.

Ecstasy takes place in a wintery Kilburn, London in 1979 at the meager one-room flat of Jean (Mary Monahan), a blue-collar gas station (or petrol station) attendant. Early on we meet a married man, Roy (Josh Marcantel), with whom she is having an affair. The bulk of the action takes place in the second act when Jean brings home three friends Dawn (Gina LeMoine), Mick (Brandon McCluskey), and long-lost Len (Stephen Heskett) as they share drunken thoughts and songs over beer and vodka into the wee hours of the night. It would appear that they ramble on about nothing but as is most often the case, profound thoughts and realizations are apt to come from nothing. The four reminisce over the lost days of Elvis, economic hardship and the fear of “Paki’s” taking over. Sound vaguely familiar? Though Leigh’s play is over a decade old and it takes place exactly two decades ago, times have come full circle and this story is perhaps more relevant now than it was then.

While the subject matter of Ecstasy is relevant, it is really more of a character-driven piece. Without strong, fully fleshed-out characters this play would flop. Leigh himself has said “I've been very careful about who I allow to do Ecstasy, which is very real and gritty and needs to be done just right.” I think he should be pleased with Laudonia’s version. This production is choreographed beautifully, gritty and naturally. Even the brief fight sequence in the beginning of the production left me wondering if it was an accident, until every moment of the fight was supported by the text afterward. (No fight choreographer is listed in the program.) Appreciation should be given to the dialect coach, Page Clements for a smooth and consistent sound. The actors showed a mastery for the regional London accent and were very easy to understand as well as fully plausible, never distracting.

The entire cast showed great levels of talent. Special mention should be made of actor Stephen Heskett as Len. Heskett displayed a depth of character so great that an entire play could be made off of just one look at him. Mary Monahan’s portrayal of Jean also holds a quiet fire, while Gina LeMoine and Brandon McCluskey lend solid support. The attention to detail paid to the simple, but spot-on set design (Damon Pelletier) and costume design (N/A) help to solidify the realism and grit of Ecstasy emphasizing the true “fly on the wall” feeling that Laudonia so expertly achieves.

Perhaps the words of the great poet John Keats, best sum it up, “What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?” Indeed, good sir, indeed. Ecstasy is an indulgence worth experiencing.

(Ecstasy plays at The Red Room at 85 E. 4th Street between 2nd and Bowery through January 25th, Thursday through Sunday at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets ($18, $15 preview performances) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Cripple of Inishmaan (Atlantic Theater Company)

Aaron Monaghan as Billy and Kerry Condon as Helen in The Cripple of Inishmaan.

BOTTOM LINE: Wonderful characters, witty banter, sharp writing and exceptional production value make for a fun playgoing experience. When you're on Cripple Billy's journey you never know what will happen next.

I am an undeniably huge fan of Martin McDonagh's work, so this review is perhaps a bit biased. And with that admission, I'll just lay it out for you: if you don't like dark comedy, or violence, or despicable name-calling, or jokes at others' expenses, or manipulative storytelling, or witty one-liners, or the Irish...then The Cripple of Inishmaan is not for you. You can stop reading. Go see Mamma Mia instead. If however, you enjoy plays where the characters ooze imperfection with the most genuine appeal, run to Atlantic Theater Company to see this show. I will now step off my soap box.

McDonagh is an Irish playwright who weaves stories about the darkest of situations beautifully and with an extrordinary sense of humor. His previous work includes The Pillowman (Tony Award winner for Best Play in 2005), The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Tony nominated for Best Play in 2006) and The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Tony nominated for Best Play in 1998), as well as last year's movie In Bruges, which McDonagh wrote and directed. This production of The Cripple of Inishmaan is a revival; it was previously produced at The Public Theatre in 1998. The Atlantic Theatre Company and McDonagh have a history of collaboration, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Cripple gets plucked for a Broadway run of its own, as has happened with his other plays that began off-Broadway at Atlantic. This show is co-produced with Druid Theatre Company.

Cripple, directed by Garry Hynes, is set on the small island of Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland, in 1934. News quickly spreads that American filmmakers are on a neighboring island casting a new movie and everyone wants to get in on the action. Billy (or Cripple Billy as his friends and family affectionately call him), is a humble teenage with physical deformities who has never really been accepted. Babbybobby (or, the guy with the boat) is taking some locals to see the filmmakers and Billy convinces Babbybobby to take him along, much to the shock and concern of his two elderly aunts. What transpires afterward leaves you guessing and totally invested in the story. Sorry I can't tell you more, but I'd hate to ruin it for you. McDonagh is the king of presenting a puzzle and slowly putting the pieces together as you watch the story develop (although just because a piece fits, it doesn't mean it's in the right spot).

Cripple is acted well by everyone in the ensemble; there isn't a weak link in the bunch. All of the characters exude a sad compassion but still understand the contagious humor that underlies each scene. And for what it's worth, Atlantic Theater Company puts on a damn good show. The production value is impressive for an off-Broadway event with sophisticated sets, costumes and lighting design. But this show still feels right in its small venue, it's hard to imagine it being as endearing in a big, impersonal Broadway theatre. Check out The Cripple of Inishmaan while you still can, the limited engagement ends March 1st.

(The Cripple of Inishmaan plays at The Linda Gross Theatre at Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $65 each, or use discount code PLAYCRIP for $49.50 tickets, but only until January 15th. For tickets visit or call 212.279.4200.)

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Judgement of Paris (Company XIV)

Cast members Laura Careless, Yeva Glover and Davon Rainey. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Company XIV produced their "theatre/dance extravaganza," The Judgement of Paris, last spring in Brooklyn. This year, they've re-mounted the spectacular at The Duo Theatre in Manhattan for a four week engagement. I saw the previous production and was pleasantly surprised at how the entertainment factor trumped any trace of pretentious performance art-iness. With a qualified creative team and accomplished performers, The Judgement of Paris is frisky fun for those who appreciate dance and creative storytelling.

This current version of The Judgement of Paris is nearly identical to last year's offering. Exceptions include length (the show now runs just one hour) and the number of acts (it's now just one act, which means no more Necco Wafers at intermission). But other than a couple of cast replacements, the presentation remains in tact. For more info, read the Theatre Is Easy review below.

Review by Molly Marinik, May 2008
"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."

Click here to read Theatre Is Easy's full review of The Judgement of Paris.

(The Judgement of Paris plays at The Duo Theatre, 62 East 4th Street, from January 8th through February 1st. Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $35 and $20 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets visit or call 212-868-4444. Mature content: no one under 16 admitted.)