Sunday, May 31, 2009
Part 1- The Plays
I’ve seen every play that has been nominated for a Tony this year. It has been an especially good year for play revivals, and a mediocre one for new plays. And the Tony nominating committee seems to agree: of the 48 nominations reserved for plays (across all categories), new plays earned 16 nominations, while play revivals earned 32. Of course, it’s also worth noting that 8 new plays opened this season, in comparison to the 16 revivals (1 of which- American Buffalo- didn’t run long enough to be Tony-eligible). But that said, I was still underwhelmed by the quality of new plays on Broadway this year. My favorite play of the year was Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate, which closed in January, making it incredibly unlikely that it will win the Tony for Best Play. So what will win? Here are my guesses, and my thoughts behind them…
If Dividing the Estate was still running, I think it might be a stiffer competition, but I’m betting God of Carnage will win here. Quite honestly, of the four nominated plays, I liked God of Carnage the least. While reasons to be pretty and 33 Variations are far from perfect plays, they both at least try to do something interesting. They don’t always succeed- I felt reasons to be pretty suffers because its initial conflict was blown out of proportion, and 33 Variations had way too much narration. But God of Carnage was the only one of the four that did not make me think after it was over, and I want my “Best Play” to give me something to chew on. However, considering the lackluster roster, I’m betting that voters will ultimately go with the most entertaining of the bunch, and since they didn’t pay for their prime seats, I’m betting God of Carnage will win out. I could be wrong; I can also see Dividing the Estate winning (because its author is a classic American playwright who died recently) or reasons to be pretty (because its author is a prolific and “edgy” playwright who is finally being produced on Broadway). But probably not.
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Just as the new plays were pretty bad this year, so were the play revivals kind of incredible. Which makes this category tough to call. I can easily see people voting for all four. If I could be sure that voters saw all three plays in The Norman Conquests (which is being counted as one play for the purposes of the Tonys), I’d say this was a lock. And they are supposed to see all three...they are not supposed to vote in any category in which they haven’t seen all of the nominees. But after coming out of the first part, I wasn’t too excited, and only went back to see the other two parts because I already had tickets. If voters, who often have to see a whole bunch of plays and musicals in a short time, skip some of The Norman Conquests because they feel like seeing one part is enough, they may not vote for it. Especially since there is the thrilling production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, which I think brings out the best qualities of August Wilson’s work. Not to mention Mary Stuart, a new translation of a 200 year-old play, which crackles with two fierce performances. And Mary Stuart has rain, which audiences always love. Finally, there is Waiting for Godot, an excellent production of the landmark Beckett play. Among these three, I’d pick Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, even though Mary Stuart received more nominations.
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
I actually would love for Bartlett Sher to win this award, for bringing out so much in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. But he won a Tony last year (for directing South Pacific). And Matthew Warchus, who was nominated twice this year (for God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests), did NOT win last year, even though the play he directed, Boeing-Boeing, won for Best Play Revival. So I think this is Warchus’s year. And to be fair, his direction is always terrific; he gives new life to plays that might otherwise seem cheesy (Boeing-Boeing) or just boring (The Norman Conquests), or downright dumb (God of Carnage). I guess it is possible that Warchus fans could split the vote here, and Sher could take it, but I’m betting Warchus will win (and I’ll be quite happy if he does). But for which play? I’ll keep that to myself. Can’t give away all of my secrets.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Wow, this is a very difficult category. Jane Fonda from 33 Variations was considered a shoo-in earlier this year. The other four women are from only two plays, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter are the two best parts of Mary Stuart, and Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis are both good in God of Carnage. I think voters will pick McTeer over Walter, and Harden over Davis, so the contest really seems to be between Jane Fonda, Janet McTeer, and Marcia Gay Harden. This would be the one category in which I won’t mind God of Carnage winning; Marcia Gay Harden is far and away the best thing about that play. But I wouldn’t count out the other two women. Jane Fonda’s return to Broadway was extremely well-received, and although McTeer already won a Tony back in 1997 for A Doll’s House, voters might deem her role the most demanding, and give her a second one.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Most people are predicting Geoffrey Rush will win here, for his tour-de-force performance in Exit the King. I have to agree. I guess it’s possible that Thomas Sadowski (reasons to be pretty) will sneak in, or even that Raul Esparza will finally win for Speed-the-Plow (this is his 4th nomination). I think it less likely that either of the two men from God of Carnage will win here however. As opposed to the women in that play, the men seem more equal (although I liked Jeff Daniels better). And more than just canceling each other out, I don’t think either stands out in one’s memory the way that Geoffrey Rush does.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Another tough call. I’m guessing this is between Hallie Foote (Dividing the Estate) and Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit). The actors (Jessica Hynes and Amanda Root) from The Norman Conquests give more of an ensemble performance, and as amazing as that is, it doesn’t let any one person stand out enough to win an award- they are all equally terrific. (This is the same reason why I don’t think either Stephen Mangan or Paul Ritter will win in the Featured Actor category). And quite honestly, I thought Marin Ireland’s character was the biggest problem with reasons to be pretty. While I fault both the playwright and the director (and not the actress, in this case), I don’t see her winning either. So will Angela Lansbury win her fifth Tony award, perhaps because they are finally getting the kind of performance they so wanted (but didn’t get) in Deuce? Or will voters want to give Hallie Foote (who gave the best performance in Dividing the Estate) the award, partly as a way to celebrate her grandfather’s legacy?
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Since I’ve already counted out the two actors from The Norman Conquests, this leaves John Glover (Waiting for Godot), Zach Grenier (33 Variations) and Roger Robinson (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone). Grenier was terrific as Beethoven, but if 33 Variations wins anything, I think it will be for Jane Fonda, or perhaps for some technical awards. John Glover plays Lucky in Waiting for Godot, a character who has one long, nonsensical speech, and otherwise silently plods across the stage like a beast of burden. And while the physicality of his performance is incredible (his walk, his drool), I’m guessing Roger Robinson will take this one, for his heartbreaking portrayal of Bynum Walker.
Stay tuned for Part 2- The Musicals
Saturday, May 30, 2009
BOTTOM LINE: Oh no, thank you!
Thank You For Being A Friend: The Musical is, to put it mildly, a curious theatrical experience. It is essentially a made-up episode of TV's The Golden Girls in drag with some famous musical theatre songs with re-worked lyrics thrown in for fun, and the most ridiculous (in a good way) excuse for a plot I have come across in many years. Like its source material, Thank You never fails to elicit fits of hysteria, gasps of embarrassment and outbursts of applause from the pre-show warning straight through to the “We Are Family” clap-along finale.
For those not familiar with the 80’s sitcom The Golden Girls, I would recommend a pass on this show for it succeeds (as parodies often do) mostly on your knowledge of the original. Without that frame of reference, the hilarity of Thank You For Being A Friend: The Musical would be little more than three guys in drag, two guys not in drag and a girl in semi-drag running around being loud. But confident that its audience has seen an episode or two, the creators of this show go for broke.
The most successful elements of the show are the three “ladies” playing the roles originated by Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Betty White. With a likeness one cannot be fully prepared for, Chad Ryan, Luke Jones and Nick Brennan channel their original counterparts in mood and mannerism as well as physical resemblance, and it is mostly their virtuosity that keeps the show afloat. In an effort to not spoil the plot or any of the fun, I will say only that Jody Wood and Brad Loekle as the neighbors have the more difficult job of playing it straight (relatively speaking of course), but manage to pull it off admirably. Collectively the cast is an effective ensemble clearly relishing in the nonsensical madness that is this show.
There was one element of the show, however, that left me perplexed: The character of Sophie (Sophia on the original show, played brilliantly by Estelle Getty), while a generation older than the other ladies, is still essentially part of the core group on the original television show, and, naturally, in the play. I remain unclear as to why Sophie was played (albeit brilliantly) by Lavinia Draper – the only actual female member of the cast. Was she a last minute replacement? Could they not find a guy to do it? Have I lost all ability to discern gender when someone is wearing a wig and is Lavinia Draper actually a guy? I really don't know, but whatever the case may be, I must confess that it did take me out of the show more than once as I wrestled with the age-old question: Is that a shadow or an Adam's Apple?
But, as mentioned, she was brilliant so perhaps such quibbles are not really relevant. What is relevant is that this show is high camp done very, very well, and from the moment the lights went down until they came up again, a packed theatre was in absolute hysterics. If you have been dying to see an episode of The Golden Girls in drag – and really, who hasn't – then Thank You For Being A Friend: The Musical is must see tv. I mean theatre.
(Thank You For Being A Friend: The Musical runs May 24 - July 12, Sundays at 8pm. The Kraine Theater is located at 85 East 4th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues. Tickets are $20, available at 212-352-3101 or buy online here.)
Friday, May 29, 2009
Pure Confidence is what a night at the theater should be! This play is entertaining, thought-provoking, and thoroughly engaging. You will laugh, cry, and even learn some American history. Playwright Carlyle Brown, tells the story of Simon Cato, a talented African-American jockey that dominates the race track, and his complicated relationship with his owner, Colonel Wiley Johnson before and after the Civil War. Brown skillfully delves into the complexities of slavery and explores the meaning freedom; his in-depth characters and unwillingness to make things simply black and white are what make this play so successful.
The ensemble of incredibly strong actors is phenomenal...there is not one weak link. Gavin Lawrence is perfectly cast as the sassy and confident Simon Cato. Christina Clark is wonderful as Caroline, the love interest of Cato; she has a beautiful voice and elicits tears from the audience as she speaks about the experience of being a slave to her former owner. Karen Landry is exceptionally delightful with her Southern charm and manipulation as Mattie Johnson, the wife of Colonel Wiley Johnson. Chris Mulkey actually makes us feel empathy for a slave owner as the Colonel. In addition to amazing acting and a strong script, Joseph’s
(Pure Confidence plays through July 3 at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $45. Tickets are available at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200. For more info visit 59E59.org.)
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
a well-written play by the guy who wrote Six Feet Under and Brothers and Sisters • inaugural production for a new theatre company • sexually charged • conflict-heavy • thoughtfully produced and performed
BOTTOM LINE: A perceptive play about love and infidelity.
I was excited to see InProximity's inaugural production of Craig Wright's Orange Flower Water because I am a big fan of Wright's work and because it's always fun to see a fledgling company fresh out of the gate. I was impressed with the production; the four person cast attacks these characters with fervor and empathy, exposing their humanity despite a tricky, immoral situation.
Orange Flower Water was written in the early part of the decade and performed off-Broadway at Theatre For the New City in 2005. It is the story of two suburban couples intertwined in a messy love affair. David (Brent Vimtrup) and Cathy (Jolie Curtsinger) are married, so are Brad (Michael Poignand) and Beth (Laurie Schaefer). They're all pretty unhappy but are set in their ways with their children and lives. After a few years of benign flirting at soccer games, David and Beth finally make a move and their affair becomes official. Their spouses find out, they leave them and move in together. The message is that sometimes you have to hurt innocent people to make yourself happy...life is never as neat and easy as it should be.
The stakes are high in this play and the actors do their best to deliver aggressive emotion with empathy for their individual plights. Everyone is sort of the victim of their own desire for happiness, and the audience witnesses David and Beth make it out of their tedious despair, in exchange for true happiness with one another (although it comes at a very high price and might not even last forever). Everyone is wounded in one way or another. Wright is a master at writing dysfunctional relationships at their breaking points. His previous work includes TV shows Six Feet Under, Brothers and Sisters, and Dirty Sexy Money; he is great at exposing sympathetic honesty in confrontational situations.
The four actors do their best to tell the story with honesty, although the space at Theatre 54 is a bit distracting. The night I was there my attention was often pulled from the play to the opera auditions in the room next door, and then to some other audience members cracking open smuggled-in cans of Heineken (it's not a Nascar race folks, a little decorum please). But those distractions are clearly not the fault of anyone involved with the play. All that aside, and although the production is a bit self-aware at times, the story resonates strongly in the four actors (who remain on stage throughout the performance...a blocking note specified in the script). Orange Flower Water is a great play that delves into intense relationships that feel all too real and InProximity does the script justice with this production. I respect that their first show is a ballsy one and I look forward to subsequent offerings.
(Orange Flower Water plays at Theatre 54, 244 West 54th Street. Remaining performances are Thursday, May 28 at 8pm, Friday, May 29 at 8pm, Saturday, May 30 at 8pm and Sunday, May 31 at 2pm. The show runs 1 hr. 30 min. with no intermission. Tickets are $18 and are available at ticketcentral.com. For more show info visit inproximitytheatre.org).
Monday, May 25, 2009
great humor • great performances • some adult language, sex and violence • draws from the corruption of the media, news, and reality TV • great writing
Flip on the news and all too often reporters from competing networks will outright contradict one another, so one can’t help but wonder “What are the facts here?” or worse, they spend hours on an inane story about someone’s infidelity, as if we care, when there are injustices and wars going on in the world. On the flip side, entertainment is reeling with “reality” TV that clearly lists teams of writers in the closing credits at the end of each episode. I’m sorry, I don’t know about you, but I’m a “real” person, living a “real” life, and I have no team of writers handing me a script every day so that I can live in “reality.” Nowadays the line between entertainment and news has never been so blurred...or dumbed down.
On this topic, Theresa Rebeck does not hold back in her new play Our House. This biting comedy challenges what today’s television and news has become and its effect on society. Rebeck does a better job of capturing what is “real” than reality television or the news ever will. She lashes out at modern media with unmatched wit and an honest, observational humor that is spot-on. She creates characters that you love to hate (or hate to love) and creates a feeling of suspense and drama within this boundary breaking comedy.
Christopher Even Welch deliciously facilitates Rebeck’s glib dialogue as Wes, a cocky, self-assured, self-important head honcho of TV network, SBS. Even though he is the bad guy in the story, he somehow manages to be the most likable. Morena Baccarin plays Jennifer, the news anchor who will do anything to get ahead in her career and you pretty much just want to punch her in the face. Baccarin never betrays Rebeck by commenting on this asinine, annoying, and supremely egocentric woman but rather plays her to a T.
Meanwhile, Merv, pricelessly played by Jeremy Strong, is obsessed with Jennifer who is the new host of his favorite reality TV show, Our House. Alice, vigorously portrayed by Katie Kreisler, can’t stand reality TV (or any TV for that matter) any more than she can stand her housemate, Merv, who seems to delight in doing things like eating Alice’s special yogurt and not replacing it. The drama in the house ensues as Alice organizes a house meeting to try to evict her TV-addict, couch potato, yogurt-stealing nemesis. Rebeck uses these two characters to show the polar opposites that our media-crazy society has created. They are both intelligent people with different extremist points of view which make them both ignorant in their own right and, like Jennifer, punch-in-the-face-worthy. Finally, worlds collide in a bizarre twist that brings the real house, Our House, and the news together.
Award winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Side Man, A View From the Bridge) exhibits his prowess as he masterfully and seamlessly stages scenes between the house and the newsroom. He dictates a pace that moves at the speed of modern language and creates a suspenseful thriller in the midst of laugh-out-loud antics. Together, Mayer and Rebeck have mastered a genre that is comedy but not tomfoolery, drama but not sentimental, politically and socially minded but not pretentious.
Rebeck’s characters are so interesting in the fact that they are all irritating individualists (with the exception of Stu, ably played by Stephen Kunken, who is basically the only character with a level, unselfish head on his shoulders and perhaps the reflection of what we, the audience, all hope we are for fear that if we’re not we may be like Wes, Jennifer, Alice or Merv). And yet these obnoxious characters all have something to say that’s worth listening to, you just have to weed your way through their egos first. Talk about holding a mirror up to society! Ms. Rebeck, I think you’ve got the twenty-first century’s number.
(Our House is currently in previews at Playwrights Horizons/Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street. Official opening night is slated for June 9th and it closes June 21st. Performance times are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2:30pm & 8pm and Sunday at 2:30pm & 7:30pm. Tickets are $65. Discounts on HOTtix available. $20 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under. Proof of age required. One ticket per person, per purchase. Student rush is $15 per ticket subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before curtain. One ticket per person, per purchase. Valid student ID required. Tickets available at the theatre’s box office and through ticketcentral.com, or at 212.279.4200. For more info go to playwrightshorizons.org/mainstage).
In addition, special Post-Performance Discussions with members of the cast and creative team will take place immediately after the following performances: Wednesday evening, May 27 at 8PM and Sunday matinee, June 7 at 2:30 PM.)
Friday, May 22, 2009
Dividing the Estate (closed 1/4/09)
God of Carnage
Reasons to Be Pretty
Billy Elliot, the Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek, the Musical
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Billy Elliot, the Musical - Lee Hall
Next to Normal - Brian Yorkey
Shrek The Musical - David Lindsay-Avaire
[Title of Show] - Hunter Bell
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Billy Elliot, the Musical - Elton John/Lee Hall
Next to Normal - Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey
9 to 5: The Musical - Dolly Parton
Shrek The Musical - Jeanine Tesori/David Lindsay-Abaire
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey (closed 2/15/09)
West Side Story
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raul Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadowski, Reasons to Be Pretty
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish, Billy Elliot, the Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek the Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, reasons to be pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
David Bologna, Billy Elliot, the Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, the Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, the Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, the Musical
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Matthe Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthe Warchus, The Norman Conquests
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, the Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair
Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, the Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Thursday, May 21, 2009
mediocre play • excellent performances by 4 “names” • theatrical cotton candy...you may enjoy it, but it probably won’t stay with you • probably not worth the money • likely winner for the Best Play Tony Award (unfortunately)
BOTTOM LINE: The performances don’t make up for an insubstantial play that only pretends to be insightful; given the high price of tickets, I’d skip this one.
Every so often a play comes to Broadway that everyone agrees is not really all that great, but because of the specific circumstances, somehow manages to be a runaway hit at the box office. God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza fits that description to a tee. It seems to be popular with audiences; the Wednesday matinee crowd (a sold-out house) laughed loudly throughout. But I constantly had the feeling that I was watching a very expensive sitcom about rich people. A well-acted sitcom, but a sitcom nonetheless.
Many critics commented that the script is mediocre at best, and I wholeheartedly agree. I found the play contrived, and not at all thought-provoking. Married couple Alan and Annette (Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis) have come to the house of Michael and Veronica (James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden) to discuss an incident: Alan and Annette’s son has hit Michael and Veronica’s son in the face with a stick, breaking two of his teeth. What is initially a civil discussion turns ugly, and we quickly see how four seemingly mature adults can turn into children, or rather, into uncivilized adults. The trouble with all this is, so what? Adults can misbehave? Men and women are different? Cell phones are annoying? Yawn.
I had a big problem with the circumstances of the play. I kept asking myself, why don’t these people leave? Alan and Annette come close to walking out several times, but the fact that they don’t just feels contrived. I couldn’t help but think “no one would ever do that,” and while I realize this is fiction, I found the unbelievability of the play to be a constant distraction. This never really becomes absurdist theatre, or even farce, because God of Carnage is always strongly connected to “real life.” The fact that it is far-fetched was, for me at least, a problem.
The four actors (who all received Tony nominations) do an excellent job however, and this is why some may wish to see the play anyway. I thought Marcia Gay Harden was far and away the best; she was the only one who made me laugh out loud, making me forget (momentarily) how bland the whole play was. Jeff Daniels was also good as the cell-phone addicted lawyer (I’m not sure if Reza intended this, but I was most sympathetic to his character, in spite of or perhaps because of the fact that Alan is obnoxious and cynical). And director Matthew Warchus (who also directed The Norman Conquests and was Tony-nominated for both) does what he can here, alternating bursts of intense fighting with periods of quiet lulls.
I’ll admit, I was sitting in the back of the mezzanine, and I might have enjoyed it more if I was sitting much closer, so I could better enjoy the subtleties of the four performances. But ultimately, I didn’t like the play very much at all, and certainly not what I’d expect of a “Best Play” Tony nominee. (I won’t be surprised if it wins either, since this has been such a lackluster year for new plays on Broadway. Of the four nominated plays, I think the best is Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate, which has already closed).
I’m all for plays being silly, not everything needs to be thought-provoking. So why did I find the lightness of God of Carnage so annoying? I think because it doesn’t claim to be simply silly. It pretends to be insightful and profound. I constantly got the feeling that God of Carnage was trying to tell me about “the human condition” or some other similarly lofty goal. And it was this pseudo-intellectualism that really bothered me. Reza won many awards for her play Art, and this is a play in a similar vein: an initially humdrum circumstance progresses until things devolve and the characters show their true selves. But whereas Art gave us three well-developed characters, God of Carnage is much more primitive...we get “man” and “woman” rather than fully developed people. And this isn’t the fault of the actors, but of the writing. Perhaps this primitiveness is intentional. After all, if God of Carnage says anything, it is that all of us have the capability of losing control and becoming less civilized. But in my opinion, it doesn’t make a satisfying play.
Why is this play doing so well? First, there is the all-star cast, and while there are many plays this season with one or two "names", none have four. And all four give strong performances. But ultimately, while we often give passes to musicals that are just silly fun, God of Carnage makes it clear that many are just as willing to do so with plays. It is selling extremely well, and I regret not seeing the play during previews (when a good seat would have been cheaper). Now, even the worst seat is $67. (However, if you do find yourself in the rear mezz, you won’t have trouble hearing anything. The sound design was excellent, and I could even hear Alan’s phone vibrating whenever it rang). While I didn’t take advantage of it, if you want to see the show and money is tight, I would suggest trying for standing room. The play is only 90 minutes, and at $26.50, you might actually feel you got your money’s worth. But ultimately, I’d recommend many other plays over this one. And don’t get me wrong, if you go you will likely laugh and you may even enjoy yourself. But I think you can get a similar experience by staying home and watching 30 Rock or The Office (or whatever TV show makes you laugh). When I go to the theatre I want something more, and God of Carnage certainly didn’t give it to me.
(God of Carnage plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St, through August 2nd. Performances are Tue at 7 PM, Wed through Sat at 8 PM, with matinees on Wed and Sat at 2 PM, and Sun at 3 PM. Running time is approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are $66.50- $116.50, and $26.50 standing room tickets are available if the performance is sold out. Visit telecharge.com to buy tickets and godofcarnage.com for more information.)
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
excellent & exciting stage combat • don’t let the 3 Hrs deter you, it flies by • ballsy choices that may/or may not always work • smart cuts • in Brooklyn!
BOTTOM LINE: Some interesting, fully committed, somewhat controversial choices, but all together a solid show.
Some bold choices were made in Mortals Theater and Brooklyn Stage Company’s presentation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Incest and PDA abound in this site specific production. Performed in a hallowed out bank that resembles a gated castle from the outside, and drawing from the history of this bank that died during the depression (a time when something was most certainly rotten in the state of America) the effect is successfully eerie. Shakespeare’s longest and most rebellious play in structure is handled deftly and plainly by director Robert F. Cole with some smart cuts that serve his clearly focused direction of the multi-talented cast of seventeen.
Uncut, Hamlet clips along at four hours, which by most contemporary American acting habits translates to something much closer to five hours...if you’re lucky. Cole’s Hamlet comes in at just under three hours including a generous intermission. Some typical omissions were made, for example some characters are cut including Fortinbras, a drastic foil to Hamlet and the only character to bring an outside perspective to the goings on. Anything to do with Norway was, more or less, eked out all together. Internal cuts within soliloquies and dialogue were made that, for the most part, go unnoticed unless you are a Shakespeare savant. Although I can’t help but feel that some of the cuts seem to have flattened out the character of Hamlet a little bit, such cuts are understandably necessary. Cole states that he is most interested in the idea of internal corruption and blood-lusty revenge and his choices certainly streamline to that effect.
Speaking of choices...some gutsy ones were made. While I didn’t love every choice I did love the fearlessness with which they were executed, particularly by Lilith Beitchman as Gertrude and Elizabeth Lord as Ophelia. Beitchman’s Gertrude is reminiscent of Courtney Love circa 1994 with a Sharon Stone-esque moment or two thrown in for good measure. Albeit convincingly so, Beitchman seems a bit over the top at first, however, somewhere during a particularly incestuous scene with Hamlet she surprises with a lovely vulnerable side to Gertrude that makes one think Beitchman has calculated her Gertrude as a woman who simply has no idea how, shall we say, 'F'-ed up and increasingly inappropriate she is. Lord revs up the crazy to the nth degree. Though I would have appreciated a little more variety in the direction given to her, Lord's commitment is full-force.
Cast standouts include Jared R. Pike as Osric and Matthew Pilieci as Laertes. Pike owns Osric with a unique interpretation that is consistent, pleasing to the modern palette, and he intelligently handles Shakespeare’s words. Pilieci’s sexually charged, outwardly aggressive and decisive Laertes is an excellent foil to the more brooding, inwardly obsessive, and meandering Hamlet played admirably by James Kautz. A nod should also be given to Zachary Zito, who is endearing and provides much clarity as Horatio, Lou Sones who lends a modern New York City sense of humor to Polonius, and Nate Clifford who, though he plays several smaller parts (Marcellus, Player King, and Sailor), has little to say but when he does it is clear he understands exactly what Shakespeare means by “speak the speech.”
Although I didn’t necessarily love every choice made in this production, I was far from bored. Frankly, because such strong choices were made, I’m sure that the parts I disliked someone else loved and vise versa. As Hamlet says, “I must be cruel, only to be kind.” Cole does a commendable job of telling a clear story and creating a sense of unity on stage, while the cast has a contagious energy that never drags. All in all, despite my love/hate dilemmas, it is a solid production worth the trip out to Brooklyn.
(Hamlet, Prince of Denmark plays at the Archip Gallery Theater, 498 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231, through May 24. Performance times are Thursdays - Sundays at 8pm. The show is approximately 2 hours 40 min.’s with one 15 min. intermission. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.theatermania.com or by calling 866-811-4111.)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
5 POINTS OR LESS
smart • silly • simple • suburban • semantics
BOTTOM LINE: Highly enjoyable banter between two friends that is simply fun to watch and laugh along with...not to mention the ticket price is a bargain.
I really liked A Play on Words. The writing is smart, the acting is fun to watch and it’s very entertaining. Some describe it like Waiting for Godot meets Seinfeld. While I see the comparison, this show does take on its own personality and there is a story that unfolds that is not completely meaningless.
So what the heck is the play about? Mark Boyett and Bryan Dykstra play two suburban guys having a conversation outside and one of them is planning something. That’s it. The good news is that it’s a very funny and intelligent conversation. They discuss politics, the meaning of words, American history and our own school system. As an audience member, it’s fun to go for the ride and let your own brain crunch on these issues. By no means are they “heavy” issues; what most of the issues come down to is, as the title suggests, wordplay. What the plot and banter amount to in the end is ultimately quite silly in a very smart way.
Dykstra and Boyett do a great job playing off one another and the show never drags. It’s nothing over the top or a spectacle designed to blow you away. It’s simple theater. Dykstra is also the writer of the play, so I wonder how much he was playing his self or if this was a characterization. Either way, it boils down to simple solid theater that is well polished and enjoyable to take in.
If you enjoy humor that is intellectually engaging and easy to take in, check it out. Bring a friend if you’re up for it, it’s an easy night at the theater without breaking the bank and it just might start your own wordplay conversation afterwards.
(A Play on Words plays through Saturday, May 30 as part of the Americans Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street. Performances are Tuesday at 7:30 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30 PM and Sunday at 3:30 PM. The regular ticket price is $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.ticketcentral.com. For more information visit www.59E59.org.)
Saturday, May 16, 2009
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent revival, full of energy and poignancy, which may well make you see Hair in a new light.
Even the casual theatre-goer is probably at least somewhat familiar with Hair. If you haven’t seen it on stage, you’ve likely seen the movie, and you’ve certainly heard some of the music... “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In” are two of the best-known songs. Many call it the first rock musical (although the music, even by the standards of the late 1960s when it was written, is not really rock). You may also know that Hair is essentially a collection of songs sung by a group of hippies called “The Tribe," and while there is a loose story that threads the songs together, Hair is traditionally more about the music and less about the story and characters.
This revival of Hair, a re-tooling of the version that played in Central Park last summer, is both everything you might expect Hair to be, and also much more than you might possibly imagine. Yes, the story is still minor, but somehow here that doesn’t really matter. This revival makes clear that Hair, if done well, is really about a group of people. They experience, they grow, they change, and most importantly, they lose their innocence while trying to hold on to their hope. Director Diane Paulus has done amazing work with her ensemble; I often felt as if this was a group of kids playing around, and when one person started doing something, the rest would join in. Each actor manages to create a character, but no one character takes over the Tribe. Don’t go see Hair expecting a typical linear narrative; a story does exist, but if you focus on it, you will miss what is most important.
A few characters are somewhat developed, most notably Claude (Gavin Creel) and Berger (Will Swenson), both Tony nominees. Swenson was probably my favorite. He bounds around the stage and captures the silliness of someone who might be both incredibly naïve and surprisingly astute. Woof (Bryce Ryness) and Sheila (Caissie Levy) are also briefly sketched in; we see them change briefly during the evening, mostly in their interactions with Claude and Berger. But most of the characters, even supporting ones like Dionne (Sasha Allen) and Crissy (Allison Case), are little more than people who sing a few solos during the evening. This is not to take anything away from their performances, Allen is fierce during the opening number “Aquarius” and Crissy does a lovely “Frank Mills." But do we really care if Crissy ever finds Frank? No. It is enough to see that one of The Tribe is “in love” with a man she will never find. And I guess that is one way to see this production of Hair, as a collection of views of The Tribe, both seen through its individual members, and through The Tribe as a whole.
As the evening progresses, The Tribe somehow changes. It is difficult to pin down exactly how this happens, but what was light and playful and innocent in Act I melds into something darker. While The Tribe does not necessarily grow up, they do begin to realize that the world outside is real and can hurt them. Their youthful vigor and the desire to fool around all day does not go away, but it loses its willful innocence. The Tribe seems to go from a group of teenagers who simply want to rebel against something to a group of young adults who have found that just rebelling may not be enough, but are not sure what else to do. This all leads to an ending that is extraordinarily simple yet extremely profound, which is then followed by a group curtain call after which the entire audience is invited on stage to dance. It sounds hokey, but I found the last 20 minutes (including the audience going on stage) to be truly extraordinary.
I’ll admit, I had doubts when I heard Hair was transferring to Broadway. Although I didn’t see it in Central Park, I wondered if we really needed another revival of Hair (in the last few years it has been produced both at City Center Encores and as a concert to benefit the Actors Fund, not to mention the countless regional productions across the country). The cynic in me thought that while Hair might have seemed special outside in Central Park, it would lose this magic in a commercial Broadway theatre. I’m so glad I was wrong. This is a terrific production, one that works extremely well in the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Cast members scamper throughout the entire house...they quickly leap up to the Mezzanine and run to the very back of the theatre. The entire audience is brought into The Tribe, so don’t worry if you are sitting in cheaper seats, this is one musical that somehow feels intimate wherever you sit.
Hair is not suddenly my favorite musical. As wonderful as this production is, Hair is still a collection of songs loosely strung together and will always take second place (in my opinion) to musicals with stronger books. But what makes this production special is that it isn’t content simply to portray a group of hippies. Indeed, the fact that these are 1967 counter-culture youth (or at least, youth playing at being part of the counter-culture) is almost immaterial. This production of Hair made me realize that this show does not really need to be about hippies at all. Some critics of the original production claimed that Hair was a sanitized portrayal of youth counter-culture, cleaned up for a commercial audience. And while this may be true, it misses the point that at its best, Hair is really about youth and uncertainty and hope.
(Hair plays at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St. Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm. Beginning June 8th, performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Running time is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes. Tickets are $37- $122, and there is a lottery for $25 box seats (cash only). The lotto drawing is 2 hours before curtain, and they start taking names 30 minutes before that. Visit telecharge.com to buy tickets and hairbroadway.com for more information.)
Thursday, May 14, 2009
BOTTOM LINE: If you're looking for an excuse to dust of your glittery go-go boots, Go-Go see Killers.
Imagine New York City ten years in the future. Are the rich getting richer? The poor getting poorer? Are the sidewalks swarmed with strutting glamazons? Are these glittering gangs of gals hounded by clueless men who are ultimately unappreciative of genuine girl power? Do many find themselves overwhelmed by loud pop colors, strobe lights and DJ disco delights?
Can the above illustration also be used to describe your jaunt through Times Square this afternoon?
Rachel Klein Productions' Go-Go Killers offers a glimpse into 2019 city life and it doesn't seem as if much has changed. In Killers, we follow two squads of spicy, slinky, sexy, supermodel-superheroes as they swish their way around the country, exterminating the nation's wealthiest in attempts to restore economic balance. Playwright Sean Gill chooses the lens of 1960s girlsploitation cinema through which to filter his vision of the not-so-distant future, complete with comic book-y conversation, fist-to-face fight sequences and a sparkling series of coquettishly choreographed scene transitions. With all of this and a cast of stunning sexpots in hot pants and knee-high boots, Killers succeeds in creating a fun and flirty cosmos made only more compelling with a small dose of danger.
Unfortunately, this production of Killers does have a handful of issues to overcome. First, the space seems inappropriate for this production. The depth of the stage appears to be too great and often the actors are swallowed up in its shadowy abyss. The lighting does not aid the situation and repeatedly, the actors play in shade even when standing centerstage.
Second, the quality of performance throughout the duration of the show is very inconsistent. When the cast's comic timing is precise, the dialogue punches. Oft-times, however, the timing trips and the dialogue falls flat. In addition, most of the actors share a similar dance skill level with only one or two who fall below it. Unfortunately, the more-experienced dancers far outshine the less-experienced, drawing uncomfortable attention to those actors not so movement-inclined.
Despite these difficulties, however, the Killers cast does possess much power and strength. Joe Stipek, for example, shines as socialite Eugene St. Ives. Especially remarkable is Stipek's vocal characterization. His pitch, cadence and pronunciation all resemble men of this retro genre and indicate an in-depth study of film of that era. Equally exceptional is Elizabeth Stewart's Electra, the leader of the Furies gang. Not only is she absolutely stunning, but like Stipek, she possesses a rich understanding of the film genre which inspired Killers. Her delivery is sharp and studied and her voice smokey and sultry. Lastly, not to be out done by the ladies, the three Go-Go Boys shimmy about throughout, adding a touch of decadent debauchery. Especially wonderful is Brian Rubiano, whose endless energy and effervescent smile hypnotically hold the audience's eyes.
(Rachel Klein Productions' Go-Go Killers performs every Friday and Saturday night at 8pm until May 30th at The Sage Theater, 711 Seventh Avenue, 2nd floor. Tickets are $15 and are available online at www.smarttix.com.)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
short vignettes • consistent light-hearted tone • strong ending
BOTTOM LINE: Liars is a fun evening which takes a look at some squirmingly uncomfortable truths.
Liars is an evening of short vignettes, all centered around the different ways we lie to each other. There are eight short plays in all, all by different playwrights, but using the same actors. Overall, the evening tends toward a slightly surreal, warped version of reality, which works perfectly with the subject matter. Obviously, because each sketch has a different author, some are stronger than others. My favorites include "LOL" by Caroline O'Hare, which spot-on captures awkward IM flirting; "Peek" which manages to be simultaneously hilarious and vaguely heartbreaking, focusing on a man haunted by a, ahem, little white lie; and the show's conclusion, "Evacuation Plan" by Jeff Sproul, a completely sweet love story, despite its bathroom centric plot.
The cast works well on a sketch comedy level, switching hats and alternating between broad strokes and squirmingly subtle ones as the situation dictates. One standout is Alicia Barnatchez, whose impeccable comic timing brings life to every scene she plays.
Overall, Liars is Theater Lite. With the exception of "Peek" and "Evacuation Plan" the scenes don't have a whole lot to say about lying or its implications. On the other hand, what works for the show as a whole is just that: it keeps the funny coming and doesn't get bogged down in heavy-handed preaching. It's a well-constructed comedy show that's a great way to start off a night.
(Liars runs May 7th through 23rd, 8pm Thursdays through Saturdays, 94 St. Marks Place
Basement theater. Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $15 or $12 for students & seniors, available at SmartTix.com, 212-868-4444. For more show info, visit www.horseTRADE.info.)
Monday, May 4, 2009
three short plays • brilliant cast • consistently chuckle-inducing • high-quality production value • written by Ethan Coen (of film duo the Coen Brothers)
BOTTOM LINE: A witty and entertaining 80 intermission-less minutes. It doesn't leave you with much to think about after, but sometimes amusing escapism is quite enough.
Offices is a new play by esteemed screenwriter Ethan Coen (who, with brother Joel, has penned Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men, to name a few). The Coen Brothers' movies are usually action-packed funny dramas, with a tendency toward absurd, character-driven plots involving average folk. Put Ethan's playwriting skills to the test and it seems that he retains much of that intent for the stage. Offices is about the banal existance of people who work for the man and the inane antics that can come with it.
Always relatable and often exaggerated, Offices takes the audience through three different stories, all involving people in an office setting. The cast of 11 play one or two characters through the evening, although there is never any plot or character overlap through the three plays; each play stands on its own with its own inside jokes and nuanced circumstances. But the consistent theme of idiocy in the workplace rings through all of the plays. The characters just want to be respected for their work (Elliot in Peer Review), find justice after getting fired (Beck in Struggle Session) or simply find their briefcase (Munro in Homeland Security). And it's with these situations that we can all relate, especially those of us who have previously worked in a cube farm.
Offices is all in all a successful night of entertainment. I'm pretty sure I giggled through the entire 80 minutes, although I'm not sure I guffawed more than once or twice. The play's strength is in the cast and the actors' understanding of Coen's (and director Neil Pepe's) message. Many of the actors in Offices shared a stage in Coen's last theatrical endeavor, Almost An Evening, which played at both Atlantic Theatre Company as well as the Bleecker Street Theatre last year. Almost an Evening was structurally similar to Offices; it also consisted of three short plays and utilized its cast for more than one play. Unlike Offices though, Almost An Evening didn't have an overhanging theme which tied the production together. But it was, in many ways, more clever and wittier than Offices (I was a huge fan of Almost An Evening, you can read my review of the show here).
Truly, the cast of Offices is fantastic. Standouts include Joey Slotnick, F. Murray Abraham, Aya Cash and John Bedford Lloyd, although it's really unfair to pick and choose since all actors are perfectly cast in their particular roles and work cohesively with one another. And they all get Coen's intelligent yet understated humor to a tee. Plus, you can tell they're having a freaking great time up there, and it's always fun to watch actors enjoying themselves. Although I assume that F. Murray Abraham would be an entertaining bum even if the actor was having a bad day, it was still a delight to watch him enjoy the company of his peers onstage.
So with a stellar cast and a witty script in the vein of The Office, or Office Space, or even American Dad at times, this play is one worth your time and money. I didn't walk away from the experience with anything other than a general sense of contentment, having been entertained for a good while, but sometimes that's enough. And it's certainly more gratifying than having lessons or opinions shoved down your throat. Coen understands the humanity that connects us all, and it's through those stories and exaggerated scenarios that we can all share the joy that is live theatre (before we have to go back to our respective day jobs, that is).
(Offices plays through June 7th at Atlantic Theatre Company, 336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $65...buy them at ticketcentral.com. Use discount code PLAYOFF and get tickets for $49.50. For more show info visit atlantictheater.org.)
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Holocaust play • surprisingly lighthearted and also maintains reverence • you will leave feeling uplifted • based on real-life story • a must-see
BOTTOM LINE: This is a gripping story, told through the eyes of one woman, that explores the lives of a group of people in Poland during the Holocaust by including feelings of hope, peace, and ultimately humanity.
I’m all for a spectacle-filled musical or a celebrity-laden comedy but if there is one Broadway show to move to the top of your “to-do” list, let it be Irena’s Vow. What’s that you say? A Holocaust play is too serious for you? When you spend a night out on the town you want to laugh and leave the theatre happy and feeling uplifted? Then I say again, see Irena’s Vow (although I can’t guarantee that you won’t cry a little too). This play, based on real life events, not only entertains but educates.
Playwright Dan Gordon adapted for the stage the life of unsung hero, Irena Gut Opdyke (Tovah Feldshuh) who saved the lives of 12 Jews by hiding them under the nose of German officer, Major Rugemer (Thomas Ryan), for whom she was a live-in maid. It's a little known story but one that represents the many unknown silent heroes who sheltered Jews during Hitler’s rule and the German occupation. In Opdyke’s case, her heroism was unknown to even her own family until one day when she received a telephone call from a student taking a survey about how he believed the Holocaust was a hoax.
The play begins with Irena sharing her story of the telephone call with an invisible group of young students (represented by the audience). She shares with the students how she was determined to leave that part of her life behind when she came to America until the shock of hearing this young man deny its existence sent her on a new-found mission. Then, in flashback fashion, Feldshuh transforms from an older woman, who is older than she cares to admit, back to that beautiful, young, 17-year-old Catholic girl in Poland. She tells of her rape by nine Russian soldiers and of a traumatic incident where she witnessed a Nazi soldier brutally murder a Jewish baby right before her eyes. It was in that moment that she vowed to never let another Jewish child die if she could help it. The story continues with Irena frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, which is where many of Gordon’s welcome moments of levity are found. Director Michael Parva guides these moments of transition seamlessly and with specificity.
Feldshuh is riveting as Irena. She captures the youth and innocence of a 17-year-old girl with a wisdom beyond her years. She embodies her physically as well as emotionally. With a keen awareness of the human spirit and perfect timing, she switches back and forth between weighty moments of tension and honest moments of wit and humor with precision. At the moment when you think you might sob out loud she turns on a dime and, with utmost sincerity, delivers a line in such a way that you laugh out loud instead. Ryan’s portrayal of the German Major is surprisingly sympathetic. Other standouts include Steven Hauck as the dutiful butler but even more dutiful friend Herr Shultz, John Stanisci as the cocky Rokita, and Scott Klavan who is magnetic as The Visitor before he even opens his mouth.
Irena’s Vow is a play of courage, fear, humor, tears and most of all hope. Though my friend and I were in tears during curtain call we both walked out of the theatre with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts. When asked what he thought about the play by a reporter outside the theatre, my friend emphatically replied “It was so funny!” then quickly added, “Oh, that probably sounds really strange to say about a play about the Holocaust.” Well, maybe, except that is what makes Irena’s Vow so unique, engaging and so true to the human spirit. Until now, most tales of this horrific time in history were very heavy, melancholy, and required a stiff drink and a good night’s sleep to get over. They are often stories that are so sad that one doesn’t want to think too much about it again, much like how Opdyke at one time yearned to forget her own story. The tremendous achievement of playwright Dan Gordon is that he creates a story that you don’t want to get over or forget but rather one that you want to remember over and over again. And that is what will help ensure that we, and future generations, will never forget.
(Irena’s Vow plays at The Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street through September 6th. Performance times are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $41 - $98. Student Rush: $25 tickets (cash only) available at the box office on the day of each performance, beginning when the box office opens, 2 per valid student ID. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. Go to www.telecharge.com or visit www.irenasvow.com for tickets and info.)
Saturday, May 2, 2009
BOTTOM LINE: You don't know what you're missing
The Access Theater Gallery Space is an ideal venue. Large and spacious with high ceilings and hardwood floors, it was built to house and display beautiful things. On exhibition until May 17th is Flux Theatre Ensemble's piece of graceful artistry, Adam Szymkowicz's Pretty Theft. Like the pink-ribboned ballerinas who bow and bounce about the boards, Szymkowicz's fluidly spun saga sashays seamlessly from one scene to the next. Pretty Theft plays like a fairy tale, with equal parts shiny sparkle and grotesque grit.
Allegra, a troubled teen emotionally estranged from her family and alienated by her peers, befriends a young man suffering from autism in a care center at which she works. When patient to caregiver boundaries are exceeded, Allegra and bratty gal pal Suzy steal a car and drive cross-country only to detour and find themselves in a situation too sticky to slip through.
To describe Szymkowicz's writing as pretty would be a disservice. Pretty Theft is a stunning piece of story-telling. Fanciful and frightening, smart and straight-forward, provocative, but not pretentious, Pretty Theft discusses the definitions of beauty, truth and morality and the conditions attached to humanity's delineation between right and wrong. Indeed, Pretty Theft asks more questions than it answers and as Allegra's story unfolds, the proverbial line drawn in the sand distorts and fades under the influence of the elements.
Flux Theatre Ensemble has a skillful eye for spotting young talent. As Allegra, Marnie Schulenburg, poised in pink and ponytail, breaks the audience's collective heart with her soulful sincerity. Equally compelling is Maria Portman Kelly as Suzy, whose pouty, mean-girl petulance does not overwhelm her affability as an actress. Todd D'Amour adds an unusual charm to Marco, stippling his malevolence with attractive mystery.
The enemies of this production of Pretty Theft are the direction and staging. Scene transitions appear messy despite set designer Heather Cohn's efforts to make each set piece movable and user friendly. The clunkiness of the transitions seem to erode the actors' confidence as the play continues and often diminishes focus. Additionally, Angela Astle's direction at times becomes a little too clever for its own good. From the orchestral accompaniment to the ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" playing as ballerinas practice at the barre to the exhaustive use of a distorted mirror as tools to achieve depth through symbolism, it appears as if Astle lacks faith in her audience to "get it" and trust in Szymkowicz's ability to clearly relay his play's message. In both instances, she is mistaken.
(Flux Theatre Ensemble's Pretty Theft by Adam Szymkowicz runs through May 17th at the Access Theater Gallery Space, 380 Broadway at White Street, 4th floor. Performances are Thrusday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. Tickets are $18 and are available online at fluxtheatre.org.)
Photo is Candice Holdorf and Todd D'Amour. Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum.