Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Two Shocking Plays Written 400 Years Apart

In December, I wrote a blog post for Theasy.com about how I was unsettled (in a good way) by a lot of theater I had been seeing. This week I have two plays to add to the list of shows that shocked and disturbed me and they were written nearly 400 years apart: John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Belarus Free Theatre's Trash Cuisine. (It's a good thing I split them up with the lighthearted Something Rotten! You can read my review of that show on Theasy.com.)
Amelia Pedlow, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, and Matthew Amendt in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
Photo credit: Richard Termine
If you've never had a chance to see 'Tis Pity, Red Bull Theater's production at The Duke on 42nd Street is worth checking out. This play written in the 1630s has more incest and gore than an episode of Bates Motel. Giovanni (Matthew Amendt) and Annabella (Amelia Pedlow) are in love, but they happen to be brother and sister. The press release asks, "What if Romeo and Juliet were brother and sister?" Similarities to the work of Ford's predecessor William Shakespeare extend past the star-crossed lovers plot and include poetic language and a foolish comic relief character, in this case Bergetto (Ryan Garbayo). Jesse Berger's direction makes it easy to follow the various twists and turns (Giovanni and Annabella live in Parma surrounded by a lot of questionable people).

As fascinated as I was by the play, I felt detached from it--observing it from a distance but not able to connect to the characters. Still, I had to shield my eyes from the bloody bodies piling up at the end. And that is light entertainment compared to what the audience at La Mama has to endure during Trash Cuisine.

Belarus Free Theatre was founded in 2005 by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, who conceived this play, the company's first English work. In 2011, they found out that if they returned to Belarus, they would be imprisoned. They sought political asylum in the U.K. and now have permanent residence in London and Minsk.

Belarus is the last continent in Europe where capital punishment is legal and Trash Cuisine uses food to tell various stories about capital punishment from around the world. It is an attack on the eyes, ears, and nose. For example, we smell meat cooking as one actor describes an extremely horrific act during the Rwandan genocide and in another scene we hear a horribly loud sound simulating an electric chair. In contrast, there are moments of genuine beauty by choreographer Bridget Fiske.

I am in awe of the cast and honestly have no idea how they perform this show. I know they are acting, but some moments of brutality felt so real. They all deserved to be mentioned by name: Victoryia Biran, Kiryl Kanstantsinau, Siarhei Kvachonak, Esther Mugambi, Stephanie Pan, Pavel Radak-Haradnitski, Maryia Sazonava, Philippe Spall, and Arkadiy Yashin.

As much as I wanted to leave the theater at times, I'm glad I stuck it out. Sometimes we need a reminder of the horrors going on in the world.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore runs through May 16. Trash Cuisine runs through May 17.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thoughts on the 2015 Tony Nominations

We all know that awards are subjective and don't mean that much and all that, but boy, do we theater fans love talking (and tweeting and writing) about them. That's why I write this post every year. I have tickets to see a lot of the nominated shows over the next few weeks, so there's a lot I can't comment on yet, but I've seen enough to have plenty of opinions. So, here is the complete list of nominees, followed by some commentary in each category. Let's do this thing.

[I've now seen everything except An American in Paris and Wolf Hall, so I've added a few updates below.]

Best Play
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Simon Stephens
Producers: Stuart Thompson, Tim Levy for NT America, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Nick Starr & Chris Harper for NT Productions, Bob Boyett, Roger Berlind, Scott M. Delman, Roy Furman, Glass Half Full Productions, Ruth Hendel, Jon B. Platt, Prime Number Group, Scott Rudin, Triple Play Broadway, The Shubert Organization, The National Theatre
Author: Ayad Akhtar
Producers: The Araca Group, Lincoln Center Theater, Jenifer Evans, Amanda Watkins, Richard Winkler, Rodger Hess, Stephanie P. McClelland, Tulchin/Bartner Productions, Jessica Genick, Jonathan Reinis, Carl Levin/Ashley De Simone/TNTDynaMite Productions, Alden Bergson/Rachel Weinstein, Greenleaf Productions, Darren DeVerna/Jere Harris, The Shubert Organization, The David Merrick Arts Foundation
Hand to God
Author: Robert Askins
Producers: Kevin McCollum, Broadway Global Ventures, CMC, Morris Berchard, Mariano V. Tolentino, Jr., Stephanie Kramer, LAMS Productions, DeSimone/Winkler, Joan Raffe & Jhett Tolentino, Timothy Laczynski, Lily Fan, Ayal Miodovnik, Jam Theatricals, Ensemble Studio Theatre, MCC Theater
Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Co-Authors: Hilary Mantel and Mike Poulton
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Matthew Byam Shaw, Nia Janis & Nick Salmon for Playfull Productions UK, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Jam Theatricals, Ron Kastner, Kyodo Tokyo, Inc., Tulchin Bartner Productions, WLE MSG, Jane Bergère, Scott M. Delman, Rebecca Gold, Just for Laughs Theatricals, Kit Seidel, Triple Play Productions, Gabrielle Palitz, Georgia Gatti, Jessica Genick, Will Trice, The Shubert Organization, The Royal Shakespeare Company
I haven't seen Wolf Hall Parts One & Two, but I loved all three of the other nominees (I saw Hand to God off-Broadway, but I can't imagine it changed a lot). This is a really tough category. Disgraced won a Pulitzer, so you would think that would give it an edge, but it already closed. I was angry when War Horse won the Tony because it was the production winning and not the play itself, but I don't think that's the case with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Yes, so much of the power of it is tied with the way it is staged, but I still think there is substance in the play itself.
Best Musical
An American in Paris
Producers: Stuart Oken, Van Kaplan, Roy Furman, Stephanie McClelland, Darren Bagert, Carole L. Haber, James Nederlander, Five Cent Productions, Michael Leavitt, Apples and Oranges Studios/Dominion Pictures, Roger Berlind/Arch Road, Simone Genatt Haft/Marc Routh, Triptyk Studios/Spencer Ross, Ed Walson/Peter May, Adam Zotovich/Celia Atkin, Eugene Beard/Julie Boardman/Kalish-Weinstein, Stuart Ditsky/Jim Herbert/Sandy Robertson, Suzanne Friedman/Independent Presenters Network/Wonderful Productions, The Leonore S. Gershwin 1987 Trust/Jenkins-Taylor/Proctors, Harriet Newman Leve/Jane Dubin/Sarabeth Grossman, Caiola Productions/Jennifer Isaacson/Raise the Curtain, Elephant Eye Theatrical & Pittsburgh CLO, Théâtre du Châtelet
Fun Home
Producers: Fox Theatricals, Barbara Whitman, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Tom Casserly, Paula Marie Black, Latitude Link, Terry Schnuck/Jack Lane, The Forstalls, Nathan Vernon, Mint Theatrical, Elizabeth Armstrong, Jam Theatricals, Delman Whitney, Kristin Caskey & Mike Isaacson, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham
Something Rotten!
Producers: Kevin McCollum, Broadway Global Ventures, CMC, Mastro/Goodman, Jerry & Ronald Frankel, Morris Berchard, Kyodo Tokyo Inc., Wendy Federman, Barbara Freitag, LAMS Productions, Winkler/DeSimone, Timothy Laczynski, Dan Markley, Harris/Karmazin, Jam Theatricals, Robert Greenblatt, Jujamcyn Theaters
The Visit
Producers: Tom Kirdahy, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Tom Smedes, Hugh Hayes, Peter Stern, Judith Ann Abrams, Rich Affannato, Hunter Arnold, Carl Daikeler, Ken Davenport, Bharat Mitra & Bhavani Lev, Peter May, Ted Snowdon, Bruno Wang Productions, Taylor Cleghorn, Sandi Moran, Mark Lee & Ed Filipowski, Blodgett Calvin Family, Gabrielle Palitz/Weatherby & Fishman LLC, Marguerite Hoffman/Jeremy Youett, Carlos Arana, Veenerick & Katherine Vos Van Liempt, 42nd.Club/Silva Theatrical, Kate Cannova/Terry Loftis, The Shubert Organization, Williamstown Theatre Festival
I wasn't planning on seeing An American in Paris because I love the movie and I didn't think I needed to see it on the stage. However, it is tied with Fun Home for the most nominations (12 each), so I guess I probably should. I'm seeing Something Rotten! and The Visit soon and I saw Fun Home at the Public, but I hope to see the new staging in the round. The other new musicals this season were Holler If Ya Hear Me, The Last Ship, Honeymoon in Vegas, It Shoulda Been You, Finding Neverland, and Doctor Zhivago. I haven't seen Finding Neverland yet, but I saw all the rest and I would have liked to see The Last Ship on this list, but maybe after seeing the rest of the nominees, I'll feel differently.

Update: I still haven't seen An American in Paris, but having seen the other three, I'm definitely team Fun Home all the way. I had a lot of fun at Something Rotten and I really enjoyed the darkness of The Visit, but they haven't stayed with me in the same way.
Best Revival of a Play
The Elephant Man
Producers: James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Catherine Adler, Roger Berlind, Caiola Productions, Patrick Catullo, Roy Furman, Larry Hirschhorn, Jeffrey Finn Productions, Van Kaplan, Edward M. Kaufmann, Hal Luftig, Arielle Tepper Madover, Peter May, Stephanie P. McClelland, The Shubert Organization, Douglas Smith, Jonathan M. Tisch, WLE MSG, LLC., Scott & Brian Zeilinger, Williamstown Theatre Festival
Producers: Robert Fox, Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Roy Furman, Jon B. Platt, The Shubert Organization, Stephanie P. McClelland, Catherine Adler, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Scott M. Delman, Heni Koenigsberg, Spring Sirkin, Stuart Thompson, True Love Productions, The Araca Group, Carlos Arana, David Mirvish, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
This Is Our Youth
Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Jon B. Platt, Roy Furman, The Shubert Organization, Ruth Hendel, Scott M. Delman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Sonia Friedman, Tulchin Bartner, The Araca Group, Heni Koenigsberg, Daryl Roth, Joan Raffe & Jhett Tolentino, Catherine & Fred Adler, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Steppenwolf Theatre Company
You Can’t Take It with You
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals, Dominion Pictures, Gutterman & Winkler, Daryl Roth, Terry Schnuck, Jane Bergère, Caiola Productions, Rebecca Gold, Laruffa & Hinderliter, Larry Magid, Gabrielle Palitz, Spisto & Kierstead, SunnySpot Productions, Venuworks Theatricals, Jessica Genick, Will Trice, Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers
I'm seeing Skylight soon, but I saw the rest of these, and how did This Is Our Youth make it on this list? I don't understand the love for that revival and would have put The Heidi Chronicles, which felt much more relevant, in its place. I was also not a fan of the lifeless revival of The Elephant Man. You Can't Take It with You was pure delight, though, so I'm rooting for that for now.

Update: I thought the production of Skylight was really strong (not sure I'd love the play on its own), so that would be my second choice after You Can't Take It with You.
Best Revival of a Musical
The King and I
Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, Adam Siegel, Hattie K. Jutagir, Ambassador Theatre Group
On the Town
Producers: Howard and Janet Kagan, Severn Partners Entertainment, Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, Paula Marie Black, Nigel Lythgoe, Michael J. Moritz,, Jr., Mahoney/Alden/Badway, Ambassador Theatre Group, Margie and Bryan Weingarten, Kim Schall, Michael Rubenstein, Terry/Louise/Chris Lingner, Brunish & Trinchero, Stephanie Rosenberg, Laruffa & Hinderliter, Rubinstein/Handleman, Lizbeth Bintz, Riki Kane Larimer, 24 Hour Adventure Production, A&A Gordon, Matt Ross/Ben Feldman/Pamela Cooper, Barrington Stage Company
On the Twentieth Century
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers
I have tickets to see The King and I and On the Twentieth Century (I waited for my sister because I'm a good person). I loved On the Town, though.

Update: I've seen all three and they are all really well done revivals (I liked On the Twentieth Century the least, but can't complain about the production), but I am 100% team The King and I.
Best Book of a Musical
An American in Paris
Craig Lucas
Fun Home
Lisa Kron
Something Rotten!
Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
The Visit
Terrence McNally
Can't say much about this yet either, except go Lisa Kron.

Update: This still stands.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Fun Home
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: Lisa Kron
The Last Ship
Music & Lyrics: Sting
Something Rotten!
Music & Lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
The Visit
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
I'm so happy that Sting was nominated. I think the cast recording of The Last Ship will be one that people will listen to and wonder why the show wasn't more of a success. In this case, I think it really is an honor just to be nominated. I hope Fun Home wins because Jeanine Tesori doesn't have a Tony yet and that's ridiculous. 
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Steven Boyer, Hand to God
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Bill Nighy, Skylight
Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

When a Broadway transfer of Hand to God was announced, I tweeted that Steven Boyer was going to get a Tony award this year. I want him to win so that I can be right. And also because he deserves it. I also adored Alex Sharp, so I will be happy if he wins. Though I wasn't a fan of the production of The Elephant Man, I think Bradley Cooper's nomination is deserved. I haven't seen the other two performances yet. I'm sorry to not see Jake Gyllenhaal here. I didn't care for Constellations, but he and Ruth Wilson were terrific and they both deserved to be nominated.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Geneva Carr, Hand to God
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Elisabeth Moss, The Heidi Chronicles
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Ruth Wilson, Constellations

I haven't seen Carey Mulligan yet, but this is a great category (update: I have now and I think this should be a five-way tie). I am especially happy to see Ruth Wilson here and I hope she does a lot more theater. I didn't think Elisabeth Moss was very strong in Speed-the-Plow, so I was surprised by how much I liked her in The Heidi Chronicles. As you can see by my review of The Audience for Theasy.com, I thought Helen Mirren's performance was the reason to see The Audience. Anyway, maybe this could be a five-way tie. It's too bad there wasn't room for Mia Farrow in Love Letters, but it's hard to remember that with all the strong performances that came after.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Michael Cerveris, Fun Home
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Ken Watanabe, The King and I
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town

I haven't seen Something Rotten yet, but I am still happy for Brian d'Arcy James and I am thrilled to see both James and Michael Cerveris in this category because I saw them both in my first Broadway show, Titanic, and have followed their careers ever since. And yeah for Tony Yazbeck, a true triple threat. Let's just have a tie here too, ok?

Update: I know a lot of people don't agree with me, but I loved Ken Watanabe in The King and I. I don't think he will win, but I'm glad he was nominated.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Beth Malone, Fun Home
Kelli O’Hara, The King and I
Chita Rivera, The Visit

I've only seen Beth Malone and I'm so happy that all the Alisons in Fun Home were nominated. It must make it so much nicer for the cast when no one is left out. This is Kelli O'Hara's sixth nomination and I want her to finally win, but I need to see her performance first. It would have been nice if Lisa Howard was nominated for It Shoulda Been You, but this was a very competitive category.

Update: Still rooting for O'Hara.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Matthew Beard, Skylight
K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway
Richard McCabe, The Audience
Alessandro Nivola, The Elephant Man
Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Micah Stock, It’s Only a Play

It's Only a Play was an entertaining play, but not a very good one. At least it introduced us to Micah Stock. In a cast full of stars, I left talking about him (well, and Nathan Lane). Richard McCabe's secenes in The Audience with Helen Mirren were the heart of that show. I have to admit I didn't love Airline Highway as much as most, but that has nothing to do with the performances. It was such an ensemble piece that it's too bad there isn't an ensemble category. It's nice that all the actors in Skylight (like I said, haven't seen it yet) were nominated. If Annaleigh Ashford was nominated for You Can't Take It with You, Will Brill should have been recognized. I thought he was much funnier. That cast deserves an ensemble Tony as well.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Annaleigh Ashford, You Can’t Take It with You
Patricia Clarkson, The Elephant Man
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Sarah Stiles, Hand to God
Julie White, Airline Highway

I've said it before. I know everyone loves Annaleigh Ashford, but I just don't think her schtick is funny. Sorry. I also just really want Sarah Stiles to win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten!
Brandon Uranowitz, An American in Paris
Max von Essen, An American in Paris

I don't need to have seen Christian Borle or Andy Karl to know they deserve this. I haven't seen any of these performances yet, but I can't wait until I do. I was hoping It Shoulda Been You's Josh Grisetti would squeeze in here, but I'm sure he'll get a Tony nomination in the future.

Update: I still haven't seen two of these performances, but I think I'd have to give it to Karl (sorry Borle, I still love you). He stole the show.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Victoria Clark, Gigi
Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Sydney Lucas, Fun Home
Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I
Emily Skeggs, Fun Home

YES SYDNEY LUCAS! At the Public, she gave the most nuanced performance I've ever seen by a child actor. I really hope she wins. I haven't seen Emily Skeggs because I saw Alexandra Socha, but I look forward to seeing her performance (update: I have seen her now and I thought she was just as wonderful as Socha). Nice to see Judy Kuhn getting recognition as well. I left Gigi singing "Thank Heaven for Victoria Clark" and it's always nice to see her get a nomination (I've been following her career since Titanic as well).
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Bunny Christie and Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Bob Crowley, Skylight
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
David Rockwell, You Can’t Take It with You

I've only seen two of these so far, but it has to go to Curious Incident, right?
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Bob Crowley and 59 Productions, An American in Paris
David Rockwell, On the Twentieth Century
Michael Yeargan, The King and I
David Zinn, Fun Home

I can't comment until I see these sets.
Best Costume Design of a Play
Bob Crowley, The Audience
Jane Greenwood, You Can’t Take It with You
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
David Zinn, Airline Highway

I'd hate to have to compare such different styles of costumes.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Something Rotten!
Bob Crowley, An American in Paris
William Ivey Long, On the Twentieth Century
Catherine Zuber, The King and I

I really need this week to go faster so I can see these shows. I would have nominated Paul Tazewell's costumes for Side Show, and not just because I interviewed him about them.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Paule Constable, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Paule Constable and David Plater, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Natasha Katz, Skylight
Japhy Weideman, Airline Highway

Again, Curious Incident is going to take all the design awards, right?

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Donald Holder, The King and I
Natasha Katz, An American in Paris
Ben Stanton, Fun Home
Japhy Weideman, The Visit

This seems like a good place to complain about the lack of sound design categories this year. What good are any of the other elements of the play or musical if you can't hear it?

Best Direction of a Play
Stephen Daldry, Skylight
Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Scott Ellis, You Can’t Take It with You
Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Hand to God

Moritz von Stuelpnagel is such a great name, but I am rooting for Marianne Elliott.
Best Direction of a Musical
Sam Gold, Fun Home
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
John Rando, On the Town
Bartlett Sher, The King and I
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

This isn't as much fun when I haven't seen a lot of the shows. 

Update: Sam Gold!
Best Choreography
Joshua Bergasse, On the Town
Christopher Gattelli, The King and I
Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

It's nice to see that Curious Incident was nominated even if it is a play. The choreography is so crucial to the storytelling. That's why I would like to see it win. But I thought Joshua Bergasse did a fine job with On the Town and I'm guessing the dancing in An American in Paris is the main reason to see it.

Best Orchestrations
Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky, Bill Elliott, An American in Paris
John Clancy, Fun Home
Larry Hochman, Something Rotten!
Rob Mathes, The Last Ship

Yeah The Last Ship! I have Sting's original CD and I love what Rob Mathes did with those songs. 

By my count, 35 plays and musicals opened on Broadway this season (I counted Wolf Hall as one and I didn't count The Illusionists or The Temptations & The Four Tops since there is no special events category anymore). Holler If Ya Hear Me, Love Letters, The Country House, The Real Thing, The River, Side Show, A Delicate Balance, Honeymoon in Vegas, Fish in the Dark, It Shoulda Been You, Finding Neverland, Living on Love, and Doctor Zhivago were completely shut out, but I'm not going to use the word snubbed because based on what I've seen, they mostly don't deserve nominations over what made it in. But 37% of the eligible shows (nerd alert) not getting nominated for anything seems like a lot, right?

I'd love to hear what you all think about the nominations. Comment here or tweet at me!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Some Dialogue In Small Mouth Sounds, But The Rest is Silence

"Each time we invite you to Ars Nova, we go all out to deliver an experience like no other," reads the program note from Jason Eagan and Renee Blinkwolt, artistic and managing directors. They are succeeding. Where else can you find a working Jacuzzi on stage or a play with almost no dialogue? The latter is the case with Bess Wohl's Small Mouth Sounds, which takes place at a silent retreat.
Foreground: Marcia DeBonis and Sakina Jaffrey; Background: Jessica Almasy and Erik Lochtefeld
Photo credit: Ben Arons
Wohl, director Rachel Chavkin, and the cast do a remarkable job of creating compelling narrative with very little talking. We know, for example, that Joan (Marcia DeBonis) and Judy (Sakina Jaffrey) are together, but something is going on between them, from their ease in holding each other but also their distance. Or that Rodney (Babak Tafti) loves to show off his body and expertise in yoga. Tilly Grimes's costumes and Noah Mease's props also go a long way to establish characters, like a bedazzled phone and Trader Joe's grocery bag for the frazzled Alicia (Jessica Almasy) or a child's backpack that Jan (Erik Lochtefeld) carries or even a package of tissues that Ned (Brad Heberlee) is constantly trying to pass off to those in need of comforting.

The audience is seated on either side of the action, so close that it feels as if we are also on the retreat. When the teacher (Jojo Gonzalez, who does speak, but is never seen) says to breath in and out, I found myself doing it as well. Though not all the characters leave healed--some have more problems than when they started--as an audience member, I did leave with slightly lighter baggage and new hope about what theater can be.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Want Discount Tickets to The Lion?

I recently wrote a story about how Benjamin Scheuer turned his life into the musical The Lion with the help of director Sean Daniels. You can read it in TDF Stages. If you haven't seen the show yet (or if you want to see it again), you can use the promo code LOVETHELION214 for 50% off tickets. I'm not trying to be a shill here. I'm just spreading the word about a show that I like. If my recommendation isn't enough, listen for yourself:

So, Why Was The Baker's Wife A Flop?

Fans of musical theater history have the rare chance to see The Baker's Wife, the troubled 1976 musical that played a pre-Broadway tour but never made it to Broadway. I figured there was a reason this musical didn't succeed, but The Gallery Players' production, directed by Barrie Gelles, makes a pretty strong case that it just didn't get its due.

Maybe it's because I just finished my Gilmore Girls rewatch, but the small village in 1935 Provence, France where the play is set reminded me a bit of Stars Hollow, with everybody in everyone else's business and constantly bickering. When the baker dies, the village is tragically left without bread. But finally a new baker, Aimable (Charlie Owens) arrives with his young wife, Genevieve (Alyson Leigh Rosenfield). Everything is great for a while, until she runs off with the town Don Juan, Dominique (Jesse Manocherian).

If you've ever seen a Broadway leading lady in concert, you're probably familiar with the ballad "Meadowlark." The rest of Stephen Schwartz's score is just as lovely and is served well in the capable voices of this cast, especially the songs performed by Manocherian. When he opens his mouth to sing, it becomes immediately clear why he was cast, though he could use some more of that passion in the dialogue scenes. There's also a lot of unexpected humor in both the lyrics and the book by Joseph Stein, but that's not to say the book isn't without its problems--cliché dialogue and subplots about the villagers that are not as fully developed as the love triangle.

But these are issues with the musical itself, not the production. The Gallery Players always does a lot with a small theater's budget. Ryan Howell's set--separated into a cafe, the baker's home, and the rest of the town--is charming. The only time when budget is an issue is that nobody ever eats the bread (presumably so it can be reused). It just takes you out of the moment when everyone is going on and on about how happy they are to have warm, fresh bread without ever tasting it. Still, the show is going to make you crave carbs, so be sure you have some stocked at home for afterwards.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Long Story Short at 59E59

If you're meant to be with someone, you'll know. That's what Hope (Pearl Sun) and Charles (Bryce Ryness) were raised to believe. She was told the Chinese legend that a red string tied to your ankle leads you to the one you will marry. He was taught bashert, the Yiddish word for "meant to be." But finding that person doesn't mean everything will be easy. Long Story Short, playing at 59E59 through March 29, follows the ups and downs of their relationship over the course of 50 years (or 90 minutes; time works differently here, the program states).
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Married team Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda based the musical off of David Schulner's play An Infinite Ache. The songs and dialogue are fluid, the way time is in this show. Sun and Ryness seamlessly transition from speaking to singing that you may not notice. Likewise, David L. Aesenault's bedroom set slowly evolves with the addition of photographs and other items (Sara Slagle is the props master) showing the passage of time.

Cultural differences are addressed, such as what religion to raise the children, but race isn't the central issue. That's not often the case with interracial relationships onstage and it's nice to see. The story is universal, but the downside is that sometimes it's a bit too general, with not enough details about these two people. Still, Sun and Ryness are so likable that it's easy to look past any issues and go along their journey.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Seeing Place Takes on Othello

The mission of off-off-Broadway theater company The Seeing Place is one that I think everyone can get behind--to make theater approachable and affordable (all tickets are $15). Its sixth season explores gender warfare, victim shaming, racial bias, and police corruption. What better play to kick off those themes than William Shakespeare's Othello? This production, directed by Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican, updates the play through the lens of current relations between the Middle East and America  using modern dress and music, but retaining Shakespeare's original language.
Brandon Walker (Iago), Ian Moses Eaton (Othello), Logan Keeler (Cassio), Photo credit: JHoch Photography
Things are going pretty well for Othello (Ian Moses Eaton), a black Arab, at the beginning of the play. He's recently been made a general and has just married Desdemona (Cronican), a white senator's daughter. But as you probably know, trusted friend Iago (Walker), fueled by jealousy, devises a plan to destroy Othello, convincing him that his wife is having an affair with Cassio (Logan Keeler). If you've seen the play, it's still worth checking out. The actors delivered their lines in a way that I was able to understand them more clearly than I have before. I could quibble with overuse of contemporary touches--the cell phones are sometimes distracting--but for the most part, the staging is exciting, especially during the booze-filled, raucous scenes. For anyone who wonders why Shakespeare plays are still so frequently performed, this production proves why they continue to be relevant.

Othello runs through March 15 at the Clarion Theatre in Kips Bay. The Seeing Place is currently in the middle of a fundraising campaign to make the space its permanent home.