Sunday, April 30, 2006
Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
What can be said about a play called Sore Throats? A lot. Howard Brenton paints a dark, funny, and scary portrait in his piece dealing with a couple’s divorce and search for life-long fulfillment. Although wordy and awkward at times, Brenton manages to raise many complex issues with ironic humor. This play can be boiled down to blown up into one word: interesting.
The cast of three handles Brenton’s didactics as best as they can. Laila Robins (Judy) does a good job of handling the preachy language and manages to create a compelling character; one who we end up empathizing greatly with. Meredith Zinner (Sally) provides the much-needed comedy in this absurd world where money plays more than it should. Bill Camp (Jack) seems forced and uncomfortable on stage. His pauses are filled with strange silences and he seems to detach from his portrayal as a deeply unhappy middle-aged man. The scenes between Robins and Zinner are filled with chemistry and work the best.
For all that can be said about this play, one must see the climatic moment to appreciate Brenton’s script. No amount of gargling with salt water can prepare you for the
ending of Sore Throats.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Abuse him they do: first, the stylish Valentino Zalemero (Justin Tyler) steals his first love, and then the mustachioed villain, Boffo Mysterioso (Seth Powers), sabotages his second love by means of, in no particular order, a vacuum cleaner, a banana peel, and the devil. The love interests, wily Aimee LaBlatte and ingénue Plain Jane (played by Anna Moore and Jennie Smith), give subtler performances (since they don’t have as much stage time), but both make you feel even worse for poor Henry. For a comedy, the final scene between Plane Jane and Henry’s hat (a one-person duet) is almost heartbreaking. Love is in the Air succeeds because of moments like these, although the transitions between them need to be faster (no offense to Slow Joe, Sleepy Sue, and Saucy Seppy, who do their best to entertain between scenes).
Love is in the Air also succeeds in its use of space. Before the show even begins, director Paul Peers has the cast down in aisles, interacting with the audience, which helps us to invest on a personal level. The use of an onstage band to play the accompanying score serves as a sort of anchor against all the chaos that follows. Finally, by exaggerating the actions at the beginning (thanks in part to Marty Keiser’s unabashed exuberance as the Man of Many Faces), the too-large stage never dwarfs the action, it just fittingly makes Hapless Henry seem more and more hopeless.
For a relatively short and silent piece, Love is in the Air crams in a lot, and even takes a few extra pratfalls for good measure. This is an outstanding ensemble, and while they sometimes stretch the limits of the play, the play very often stretches them right back with big group numbers that are an absolute joy to watch, and some difficult small-scale work (like a scene where the two romantic leads mirror each other in their preparations for a big dance). Overall, the piece needs a more steadied momentum and a few more comic character signatures, but the heart is there, and it’s beating a strong, steady sixty “ha-has” a second.
14th Street Y Theater (344 E14th Street)
Tickets (718-594-6201): $15
Performances (Closes May 6): Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Bob Martin is beyond fantastic as “Man in Chair”, he is absolutely riveting. Throughout the show he sarcastically pokes fun at the history of the Great White Way all the while gushing about how much he enjoys it… lives for it really. The sheer joy on his face as he watches the show come to life before him is absolutely unforgettable.
Part of what makes this piece so great (outside of it being uproariously funny) is its ability to be tremendously relatable and touching to theatre lover and non alike. Who knew that the audience would find itself laughing and crying all at the same time? The costumes are beautiful, the direction precise and the ensemble cast top notch. Don’t miss out on seeing this show! It will no doubt be the talk of the season.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Get ready for the ride of the season! ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, now playing in a limited run at the OBIE award-winning HERE Arts Center, is a wild new riff on Lewis Carroll’s timeless novel. The conceit of puppeteer Lake Simons and composer John Dyer, this adaptation gives a facelift to the classic nineteenth century novel by blending a variety of keenly applied theatrical tricks sure to leave audiences in awe.
WONDERLAND begins before an unassuming white curtain innocently draped over a thin wire running the length of the theatre. Alice (played with acute precision by Simons) then enters and reads a few lines from Carroll’s novel aloud. It all seems calm—very serene in a Kinkadian sort of way—but like a cherry bud in spring, the curtain parts and the show blossoms into a beautiful riot of music and movement.
Smartly, Simons and Dyer chose to adapt their play directly from Carroll’s novel and opted not to replicate the more famous Disney interpretation, ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951). However, this organic manifestation is not without its faults. The production tends to indulge in gags only hardcore fans will understand and leaves Disney-inclined audiences (i.e. the general population) in the dark.
Then again, WONDERLAND’s overwhelming euphoria makes such a critique inconsequential—thanks in large part to helmer Simons. She navigates this pageantry of puppets with deft ability, finding and delighting her audience’s inner child to no end, thereby allowing the whole to become greater than the sum of its parts. So, despite a few potholes and speed bumps, this is one trip worth taking!
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, March 29th – April 22nd
For tickets call (212)868-4444 or visit www.here.org
Friday, April 14, 2006
Recently, the only successful performances based on the Bush administration’s politics have been based in satire, like Will Ferrell on “Saturday Night Live” or an Off-Broadway comedy like “Bush Wars.” Serious dramatic examinations of American presidents usually take place years after their time of office, like the films “JFK” or “Nixon.”
English playwright David Hare has attempted to pinpoint and dissect the events leading to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. To do so, he uses a large ensemble of actors who play roles ranging from Dick Cheney to an Iraqi exile, in locations ranging from Camp David to New York’s Hotel Pierre,
A significant problem for the production is its overtly didactic nature. At my performance, a sea of high school students surrounded me, most of whom looked bored, four of which fell asleep. And since there were so many character changes among the actors, I found it necessary to view the show while also reading through the script.
But those issues aside, “Stuff Happens” is a relevant piece of theater that attempts to initiate a political conversation that many of us want to have.
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, 212-239-6200, $20-50. Tues-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 2 & 7pm. Through May 28.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
This show is one of the most romantic, beautiful and yet sad stories you might ever come across.
"My flesh burned for you and I thirsted to have you inside my body”. This is just one of the many moving lines from Skin Tight (written by Gary Henderson). This show is one of the most romantic, beautiful and yet sad stories you might ever come across. Focusing on a couple forced to say goodbye to one another, the play highlights all the different aspects of a relationship that most of us know all too well. The silent moments when the two lovers can read each other’s minds, the ability to finish each other’s sentences, acting like children around each other, and the secrets holed away for so many years.
In these ways, Elizabeth and Tom (portrayed by Stephanie Barton-Farcas and James Jacobus respectively) are almost like any other couple. What sets them apart however is their tendency to physically abuse each other and then have that lead directly into sexual behavior. But the violence between them is not at all anger or hate. It is how this particular couple expresses their pain and their fear of what is to come. It is the only way they know how to say goodbye. And as for the sex…well that may be seen as their desperate attempt to get closer before growing apart.
The love between Elizabeth and Tom is at all times real and extremely sad. For a couple with so many secrets, and so many faults, it remains clear how entwined their lives are and how hard it will be for them to live without each other. Skin Tight will tug at your heart and leave you with love on your mind and in your heart.
Looking Glass Theatre,
April 5-23, Wednesday through Sunday nights at
Sunday, April 09, 2006
While Iron Curtain may have a steely, menacing title, this new musical premiering at Prospect Theater Company is actually a warm, friendly comedy. If it forgets to be funny in the second act, it’s just a momentary (and necessary) break to indulge in some sweet romance and a welcome pause that lets the audience catch its breath after all the laughing. The endgame still needs some work, and the pacing is a little too reliant on stream-of-consciousness punning (enough to beat a dead horse), but the casting is terrific and carries the day.
Murray and Howard are “The Sorriest Team Around,” an odd couple of songwriters who can’t catch a break. Their luck changes after they are “recruited” (read: abducted) by Onanov Broadway, a Russian front for “The Ministry of Musical Persuasion” in the USSR, and “encouraged” (forced) to fix the currently running musical, Okastroma. Ensconced in the Lapov Luxury (not as nice as it sounds) they decide to adapt their show Faust Ball into a pro-communist hit called Damnable Yankees. Yes, Iron Curtain affords many opportunities for puns of all persuasions, growing to a climax with “That’s Capital,” the Act II opening. Even the sinister plots—Schmearnov of the KGB believes them to be spies—give in to humor: “The Party Line” is actually a kick-dancing line (and Schmearnov a sultry cabaret act), and “If Not for Musicals” is a chorus line salute that makes evil communists about as threatening as Hitler in The Producers.
If Iron Curtain seems artificial, it’s only in homage to traditional fifties musicals, and gets away with it with tons of parody. I wish the lyrics and music (by Peter Mills and Stephen Weiner, respectively) were less sophomoric (only “A Frau Divided” pushes the envelope vocally), but each song is unique enough to breeze by with good humor to spare. Susan DiLallo’s book, however, only has a good story: the dialogue relies far too much on two-liners and a recapitulation of what the songs have already covered. Still, the actors deliver their lines with such good faith that Iron Curtain just oozes warmth.
Jeff Edgerton, who plays the romantic
I mention these gaffes lightly because of how otherwise enjoyable Iron Curtain is. There isn’t a bad song in the bunch, nor does it lack the enthusiasm for them. The overall theme is a bit shallow, but that’s just a sure-fire way to avoid drowning in bathos, and when all’s said and done, Iron Curtain comes out smelling like a nice, Red rose.
West End Theater (
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances: Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00/Sunday @ 3:00
Friday, April 07, 2006
Freak Winds tells the tale of a young insurance salesman, Henry Crumb, who finds himself trapped in a stranger’s house during a freak storm. He then spends the rest of the night being psychologically and physically tormented by the couple living in the home.
It is not very often that a play can actually “scare” someone anymore. Unlike cinema, it is all too easy to remember that everything is staged and that no one will actually die or be hurt while acting. But Freak Winds successfully takes theater to a new level and places you right into Henry Crumb’s poor circumstances. The show definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails as you wonder how this story will play out.
The fantastic cast of just three (Marshall Napier, Tamara Lovatt-Smith, and Damian de Montemas) also compliment each other perfectly on stage. Together they create a fantastical illusion. In order to prevent this dark comedy from being a little too scary, each character must perform their individual, some-what psychotic roles perfectly – and they do just that. Great show, perfect cast…all in all, a show well-worth the bitten-down nails.
ARCLIGHT THEATER. 152 w. 71ST STREET
MARCH 17TH - APRIL 22ND
Playwright Paul Weitz has previously made a splash with his macabre mid-life-crisis comedy “Roulette” and last year’s touching family drama “Privilege.” He has the ability to write very actable, nuanced roles for performers in a variety of genres, while always maintaining a significant degree of theatricality.
“Show People” focuses a married pair of old-timer actors (Debra Monk and Lawrence Pressman) who are asked to pose as the parents of a young software designer (Ty Burrell) while he proposes to his girlfriend (Judy Greer). Complications follow, plot twists are revealed (which I will not reveal), identities are mistaken, and a two-hour roller coaster of laughs ensues.
Still, what really sets the play apart from recent lackluster farces like “Moon Over Buffalo” and “The Smell of the Kill” is Weitz’s smart use of meta-theatricality, dramatic irony and comedic devices. After all, how often do you see characters play a game of charades with answers like “Waiting for Godot”?
So, could this Off-Broadway play potentially have a commercial future? It does not possess the cheesy marketability of comedies like “Jewtopia” or “Spamalot,” but it does provide the kind of unique giddiness that can only be attained at the theater.
Second Stage, 307 West 43rd Street, 212-246-4422, $20-66. Tues 7pm, Wed 2 & 8pm, Thurs-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Through April 30.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Or perhaps I should say “plot device.” Napier’s set up is classic, unsettling Hitchcock, and revolves around some bad weather that forces Henry Crumb, a boisterous life-insurance salesman, to hole up in Ernest’s house. It’s immediately clear that something is wrong (like a horrible meat-like smell), and things only get worse for poor Mr. Crumb (the front door self-locks, and there’s a sound of knives being sharpened off-stage). As if he were in Glengarry Glen Ross, Henry uses his insurance shtick as a shield: “He’d been hit by a truck and had cancer...but it was the lack of insurance that did him in...All that worry.” However, Ernest’s quiet demeanor, Pinterian and cruelly playful, is utterly disarming, and when Ernest’s questioning grows violent, Henry starts breaking down.
Through the first act, and most of the second, Freak Winds holds us rapt with constant wordplay and a Durang-like sense for the unpredictable, but unfortunately, the play’s final minutes have a breakdown similar to Henry’s. It’s almost worth walking out early, as the last two scenes pretty much ruin the show, and no good show deserves such ignominy.
Nor should the actors suffer any embarrassment: Napier and Co. are superb, particularly Tamara Lovatt-Smith (Myra, the wheelchair-bound seductress), who steals the show with deadpan lines like “Dead bodies don’t make good sex toys in my book.” Damian de Montemas (the unfortunate Crumb) shows a wide range in his performance (even if it’s 90% panic). However, text is the strongest element of Freak Winds, and as an unwilling participant/observer in Myra and Ernest’s game, he’s constantly upstaged.
Freak Winds keeps this energetic one-upmanship going almost the whole show, and while the resolution is awful, the entertainment is a genuine force of nature.
Strange and extraordinary, the play Freak Winds, presently being produced in the subterranean, church lair of the Arclight Theater, emerges as a thinking-man’s “Tales from the Crypt”.
Parrying philosophy and abrupt physicality (often violent) the characters of this play (written, directed and co-starring Aussie, Marshall Napier) inhabit a petulant world of nasty weather and house arrest. When “proactive” insurance salesman and self-affirmed ladies-man Henry Crumb (Damian de Montemas) stumbles unwittingly into the lair of seemingly mild-mannered Ernest (Marshall Napier) and devious
Evolving from simple character differences into an all out siege of psychological warfare, the effect is a roller-coaster presentation, dealing with issues of moral judgment and comfort. The audience is held captive, teetering and tittering, and finally let go. It is safe to categorize this fresh, dark comedy as a crowd pleaser. I won’t give anything away but it’s a shocker.Arclight Theater,
This is a very difficult review to begin. Where do you start with Müller anyway? Whether you are reading a text, staging a production or viewing one, it all seems to evade interpretation and conclusion. I’ll begin with some evident points as a viewer. First, this is one of those things you will like or loath, depending on your curiosity and tempering towards theatrics of a more “artistic” persuasion. By artistic I mean that Müller is a master of post-modern mixology, crossing wires all over the place in the creation of work that pries at the individual audience member’s brain, as if to say “What do you think about this? And what about this? And this? ...” and so on and so forth, in a relentless, yet soft push towards who knows where and what. Does this make sense?
Having been in
One thing that I can say for sure, the cast all love Heiner Müller and are dedicated to staging his complicated, elusive intentions with assertive vision. Their passion for the work, the sheer fact that
Monday, April 03, 2006
Honestly, I have never come across a play more unusual, bizarre and seemingly random as Heiner Müller: A Man Without a Behind. And with that sentiment, the play acted as a fantastic tribute to the world-renown playwright. A note from the director even states, “Müller isn’t to be understood. Rather, let his words wash over you. View him as you would an abstract painting”. Although a bit long-winded at times, the show successfully demonstrates what Müller was all about through interviews, scenes from Müller’s plays, and moments of his past.
The Zeitgeist interviews (with words from Tony Kitschner, and Müller himself) were both hilarious and educational. Seeing Müller through the eyes of another person gives us multiple views of the same man. Also, watching the interviews on dozens of television sets also made the audience forget for a moment that this was a play. It made the interviews seem very realistic.
Still, being one of Bertolt Brecht’s protégés, the show wouldn’t have been successful if it also didn’t remind you that it was a show. Many times the play reminded you that you were in a theater and that this was only a performance. In other words, many times, there wasn’t the illusion of reality that you would normally get in a show. The most notable moment of this method was the group discussion the cast has on stage before the show. The cast actually begin to warm up on stage. And afterward, they discuss who Müller was, what they loved about him and just reminded us that these are actors about to put on a show for our entertainment (and in tribute to Müller, of course).
Heiner Müller (as I learned) was a man who believed in theater being created from the text. It is an expansion of what’s on the paper. Basically, his words were just the starting point for the creativity of the director. The cast of this show exhibit that idea perfectly. This tribute was creative, inspiring and overall…bizarre! One line the cast sings during both the prologue and finale is, “Heiner Müller, oh what a mind”. Well, I would say they captured that mind in this show. That mind – chaotic, fantastic and abstract as it was.