According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fan Yang: Gazillion Bubble Show

Fan Yang's Bubble Show is what dreams are made of: magic, wonder, and a touch of hot air.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

There comes a moment in every young New Yorker’s life when she realizes that Fan Yang, Bubble Artist Extraordinaire, has (among many other impressive feats) blown a bubble larger than her Manhattan studio apartment.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Fan Yang might have burst my bubble, but he keeps his own aloft and abundant. His show, accurately titled Fan Yang: Gazillion Bubble Show, is an extravaganza of bubbles: little bubbles, big bubbles, bubbles inside of bubbles, smoke-filled opaque bubbles, towers of bubbles, candy-colored bubbles, and more. In short, you will see a hell of a lot of bubbles here. Still, what really impressed me wasn’t the amount of bloated soap film floating through the air, but the equally copious amount of joy that his bubbles seemed to inspire. In this hyper-hi-tech world of Wiis and iPods (and the 8 year-olds who love them), Fan Yang gets kids jumping out of their seats, giggling and giddy, all over a bunch of bubbles.

But the bubble madness doesn't stop there. Video reenactments and narratives are sprinkled throughout the performance, separating Fan’s feats of bubble wonder and allowing the good-humored crew the time they need to replace one massive bubble-making set piece with another. While a few of these video projections work by giving the Bubble Show structure and context, the majority of these segments are, at best, uninteresting and, at worse, maudlin clichés.

True, some of these video clips are charming in their "Anything Can Happen if You Just Believe" message, but the show doesn’t need this dose of overblown Bubble-as-Hope metaphor. If you just watch the bubbles you know they are beautiful and, in some unexplainable way, magic. You don’t need Fan to tell you – you just feel it. The video’s heavy-handed message of hope weighs down the innate wonder in Fan Yang’s mystical world.

If I have one request for this show, it’s less talk, more bubbles. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be surrounded by bubbles – the way the light orbs brush against your skin like the lightest kiss right before they pop. Bubbles have a wonderful kind of magic, a simple kind, yes, but a universal and enduring kind as well. Video projections, however mutli-screened they may be, do not. These flaws are small, though, and in the end, the show is a wondrous, carefree celebration of simple joys.

Go see the Bubble Show– but beware. These bubbles are beauties, yes, but they are dangerous beauties. In my blissful state of regression, surrounded by these floating shards of enchantment, I let the bubbles fall on my eyelashes. For the next twenty minutes, my right eye burned like something satanic and I couldn’t stop crying. No, it wasn’t the moving reenactments of Fan Yang’s destitute and backbreaking childhood in Soviet Yugoslavia that brought me to tears – it was the cruel realization of what really happens when soap gets in your eyes. Still, before that single bubble burst, it was indeed a wonderfully beautiful show.

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New World Stages (340 W 50th St, between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Tickets ( 212-239-6200): $40.00-60.00
Performances: February 15th through September 2nd
Wednesdays at 2pm and 8pm
Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 11am, 2pm and 8pm
Sundays at 12pm, 3pm and 7pm

Smoke and Mirrors

Everyone’s out to get you in “Smoke and Mirrors,” a workplace comedy so dark it’s… completely believable, actually.

Review by Ellen Wernecke

Work is hell. Fumes of boredom sweep over the characters like the clouds of smoke in the break room in “Smoke and Mirrors,” a world premiere at the Flea Theatre. Forget “Waiting for Godot”; these characters are condemned to a limbo with only the space to complain -- and not even that.

And complain they do with the help of Joseph Goodrich’s acutely true-to-life script about an office whose exact business is never made clear. Anita (Susan Hyon) was already having a bad day when she got to work, so when she decides to unleash a screaming tirade about her boss in the break room, she can do it between ceiling-bound puffs of smoke. “Didn’t do anything,” she says about the weekend, “but at least I wasn’t here right?” The break room is where everyone goes to unload their husbands who later became women or their dead pets -- except for that one woman in the corner (Jocelyn Kuritsky) who is always writing and never talks.

Too bad what happens in the break room doesn’t stay in the break room. After an argument breaks out over the miniature flags in the free cupcakes, Terry (Jason Dirden) refuses to back down when Drew (Stas May), clad in a bloodstained coat for most of the show, objects to his burning a drawing of a stick figure labeled “President.” Security guards Moses (Ben Horner) and Tammie (Aurelia Lavizzo) are convinced Anita has had something to do with a politically inflammatory document calling out the U.S. for its behavior as a world power -- but was it being forwarded around the office, or is it just a pretext to “reassign” (in other words, fire) Anita? (She thinks it’s about a dirty office joke.)

The oblique way in which “Smoke and Mirrors” gets at issues larger than the tedium of office work, the petit pettiness of paper shuffling, mimics the way the paranoia of national security has trickled down to the hoi polloi. And it’s the building security in the end which prevents Anita from doing what she has been forced to do in the first place, in an exquisitely agonizing scene that displays Hyon’s fury. “Bombast will be used to manipulate its wary, frightened citizens,” reads the document which is used to make today Anita’s last day at work, but the same could be said for the business whose break room becomes a battleground.


“Smoke and Mirrors”
Featuring The Bats, resident company
The Flea Theater, 41 White St.
Through June 2
Tickets $20,

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Accomplice: New York

Down with the fourth wall! Accomplice: New York makes Manhattan the stage, and all those people you used to think were just weirdos on the street into its players. It's a comic caper, and you're a key part of the action, so put on your puzzling caps and your walking shoes, and get ready to make some new friends.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Good theater can move you to tears of joy, sobs of sorrow or peals of laughter, but it can also move you, too. For instance, it can take you from an undisclosed location in Chinatown to an equally mysterious place in SoHo. Accomplice: New York might even make you cry . . . in delight, if you're suddenly asked to ride a bicycle to retrieve the next clue, caught in some secret combination of The Amazing Race (sans the pressure), an old-school happening, and a walking tour. Above all else, it's a great way to learn more about Manhattan, and to meet people in it; with a crime adventure happening every thirty minutes, if you can indoctrinate yourself into the Accomplice elite, you'll decipher codes in bars bedecked in bras, connect the photographs from location to location, and more.

It's more than clever, however: it's also hilarious. Professional actors await your every move, helping not only to clue you in on the next checkpoint, but also to use their improvisational skills to keep you in good spirits as you trek from neighborhood to neighborhood. You'll meet Italians, Russians, and Jersey girls, delightful stereotypes all, and the only limit to how much fun you'll have is how much you're willing to interact with them (or with each other: unless you bring seven other people with you, you're bound to meet some interesting strangers).

Whether you live in New York or are just visiting, it would be criminal not to take part in Accomplice: New York. Food, drink, and perhaps some new friends await you on this highly intimate experience that makes Manhattan just as much of a character as the actors, and you an integral part of the show.

Location: Unidentified

Tickets (212-209-3370 or here): $50.00
Performances: Saturday & Sunday (1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30, 3:30, 4:00, 4:30, 5:00)

The Sea

English town folk are put in a dither when a young man on his way back to his fiance by sea washes up ashore. British Playwright Edward Bond's rarely produced, light tragicomedy is not as “riotously funny” as the marketing proclaims, but the Beckett Theatre's under-priced production of it is top-notch.
Photo credit: Jennifer Maufrais


Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Choppy waters, roaring thunder, and the startling crack of lighting. Is it a nautical, cinematic experience? No. It's Beckett Theatre's very memorable production of Edward Bond's The Sea. The opening sequences are so vivid, you may need dramamine. Expertly handled by lighting (Mary Louise Geiger and Lucrezia Briceno), sound (Daryl Bornstein) and set design (Narelle Sissons) to simulate a thunderstorm, the stage is a rocking ship to the audience's unwitting sailors. And that is just the beginning of what pans out to be an inspired and impressive theatrical experience.

Bond's script, considered to be one if not his most conservative effort, is influenced by his childhood during World War II. The actual setting of The Sea in 1907, however, predates World War I. It is a retrospective, commentative look at the indifferent, self-involved, unprepared, dismissive and somewhat incompetent climate that existed before the world came to arms. And it's executed with gentle tones and levity, sometimes to ridiculous measure. It centers around Colin, a young villager who drowns while navigating the sea with Willy Carson (an earnest Allen E. Read), a visitor to the town who survives the storm. That Colin is the symbolic “first strike” to the town's acceptance of the impending war is both poignant and unsettling given the town's preoccupation with draperies and sub-par stagings of Orpheus.

What unfurls after Colin's tragic death is a social critique enlivened by TACTfully-brilliant (a pun for The Actors Company Theatre company cast members) and frenzied performances directed by Scott Alan Evans, wonderful period costuming by David Toser and a creative and practical set design by Sissons. The cast does not mince time between set changes, demonstrating their professionalism both on and off the stage with quick scene changes carried out with propelling, upbeat music. Bond has created some captivating characters, most notably the manic and passionate draper Hatch (a superb Greg McFadden). Hatch is the heart of the play and a justified fear of the war is personified in his madness. Other notable characters are the haughty Mrs. Rafi (a commanding Delphi Harrington) whose purpose is to deride the townspeople into “behavior that is an example to the town”, the eloquent drunk Evens (Gregory Salata), the dumb brute Hollarcut (a sweet Jamie Bennett) and the overly-fraught and overly-weak Jessica Tilehouse (Nora Chester).

While the visibility of the “inactive” actors in a given scene leaves something to be desired and the English dialects (Deborah Hecht) of the cast are not uniform, this 2 hour and 15-minute production is well worth the $20 admission price. The Sea is perceptive, introspective and lends optimism to those that find its observations germane to current times.

Through May 12th. Beckett Theatre410 West 42nd StreetNew York, NY 10036 Tickets: 212-279-4200 or $20

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Sanitation Chronicles

Reviewed by Kristyn R Smith

The Sanitation Chronicles, billed as a "slice of life" play, is meant to inform and educate "the upper classes" on the humanity of garbage men (and apparently the prostitutes that hang around them). This lesson is presented as a series of monologues strung together in a disjointed fashion, recounting the characters past experiences and what led to their present occupations. I don't know about you, but I can honestly say I never really looked down on garbage men before, as the play so hastily assumes. I wouldn't want to do it, but someone has to and quite frankly I'm glad there are people who are willing. Prostitution, on the other hand, well that's another story and I think its a mistake to draw any likeness between the two. Unfortunately, that's not the only misstep of the evening.

Accompanied by slow pacing and a lack of action, the large cast of actors struggle to remember their lines and engage the audience. If only they had more to work with. The stories they recount are mostly intriguing in and of themselves. However, the convention- spotlit talking heads who stare dreamily at the audience, while everyone else on stage stands frozen- grows tiresome after a mere 20 minutes. So you can imagine the monotony after 90 minutes. By the time the end rolls around and something finally happens, you can't help but feel hollow. Its such a last ditch effort to tug at the heartstrings. Structure aside, there are some good things here.

Whoever was responsible for the actors appearance- there was no credited costume designer- did a good job effectively portraying the visage of garbage collectors. The cast was noticeably unkempt. Their clothing was stained, their hair grimy and unwashed, faces unshaven and teeth missing. You could almost see the dirt under their nails. It was a far cry from the pretty, polished faces we're used to seeing onstage and onscreen. The set design, which was credited, to Chad Brinkman, was also detailed and authentic. The thought that went into these areas was evident and important, especially when the audience is so close to the stage as was the case here.

Though a noteworthy effort, The Sanitation Chronicles could benefit from some rewrites and further workshops. There are moments that shine but they are too few and far between. I would love to see this work developed further; its always refreshing to come across a play that explores a different subject matter than you find in a typical night of theater.

through Sunday, April 29:
Wednesday-Friday at 8pm
Saturday at 3pm and 8 pm
Sunday at 7pm

Tickets are $15 ($10 for sanitation workers)
Available online at
or Smarttix at 212-868-4444.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Steve Martin’s thoroughly silly comedy gets a delightful airing at the T. Schreiber Studio.

Review by Ellen Wernecke

Steve Martin’s screwball dramedy “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” comes front-loaded with such a high concept that it seems set up to fail. If a young Albert Einstein and a young Pablo Picasso met in a Paris café, would anyone notice? Positing that such a meeting might change the course of their lives is risky, but doing so against a setting of prostate jokes and anachronistic music ups the ante.

So maybe “Picasso” isn’t historically accurate or even likely – that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun, especially with two historical figures who have chemistry this good. The young Einstein (Josh Marcantel) is trying to prove the theory of relativity by not meeting his sweetheart at the location they had already set. One of Picasso’s admirers (Arela Rivas) arrives to wait for him, and when Einstein sees the drawing she carries, something changes for him. The Blue Period painter (Richard Zekaria) arrives on a cloud of his own grandeur. “Can I have anything I want by just drawing it?” he asks the assembled. No argument he and Einstein have matches the sheer brilliance of their draw-off to the tune of the soundtrack of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

The eventual meeting of the greats is secondary compared to the antics of the café regulars, like a smarmy art dealer (Todd Cowdery) and a lecherous but plaintive old man (Jim Aylward). The café owner’s smart-aleck spouse (Maeve Yore) tries to help Einstein change his book so “every man on the street has got to read it.” There’s even a third visitor by the name of Schmendiman who claims he, too, is going to change history: a classic punch-up man in a mustard-colored bowler hat. The humor serves to leaven any kind of serious intent Martin might have had in the writing of “Picasso at the Lapin Ágile.” Maybe Einstein and Picasso could have had a meeting of the minds over the existence of the fourth dimension. “The 20th century has to start somewhere,” someone declares, and it may as well be here, in this whimsical uber-café set, in which pictures are taken and a surprise third-act visitor elicits the giggles.


T. Schreiber Studio, 151 W. 26th St.
Thurs-Sat. 8pm, Matinees Sun. 3pm
Tickets $25 special limited onstage seating, $20 general admission, $15 seniors and TSS students (with ID),


If Nick Flint would stop sleepwalking through Brendan Cowell's script (appearing to run more on muscle memory than real connection or attachment), Bed would be a lot more effective. It would still be a brief catnap of a play, but at least then we'd be able to believe in much more of the succinct and natural dialog, rather than just remarking its creativity.

Photo/Brian Michael Thomas
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Brendan Cowell's play, Bed, is a disturbingly comfortable work that aims to show, in a cycle of five intimate moments in time, what life is all about. There's the innocent youth, where Phil and Kane come to an awkward appreciation of their bodies, and then the amorous college years, where girlfriends like Daisy obsess over why they allow Phil to fuck them in the ass. As time passes, Phil settles down into a sexless life with Grace, baby and all; bitterness consumes him when he uses drugs to buy a live-in manservant, a straightforward dirty-talker named Drew; then finally ends his life in the arms of a woman, Flo, who he can at last love . . . almost, but not quite. It's a very unabashed play, but the lack of covers exposes only a firm mattress of text, and while the script itself is clever, it needs a larger frame than the sparse fifty minutes of a one-act to really convey more than a gloss. The show is more of a cat-nap than a slumber, a series of abbreviated moments memorable more for their writing than their performance.

Nick Flint, who also serves as a producer with director Ianthe Demos, is just an example of this love affair with the text. As Phil, he must portray not one character, but five, using the actor's physical and vocal tools to show a depth to this otherwise sketched man. But he loves the narcissistic angst of Phil too much to let go of the language: he is too articulate, and his words are too often the facade for him to hide behind. This falls in line, to some degree, with the way others perceive him--"You love with your hands in front of your eyes"--but as the playwright points out, "Love is not an argument, "and the monotonous portrayal of Phil makes it impossible to see that he loves or that he ages. Demos flows each scene into the next with only a change in the background lighting for transition--a wise choice for a small production--but without cues from Flint, it takes a third of the play to realize that time is passing at all.

If Flint fails to carom across the stage--if he prefers to smother his emotions with the vicious pillow-talk of his character--it is not from a lack of cajoling from his cast, and certainly not from an absence of motivation in the script. The homophobia-induced shame that drives him from Kane is apparent in the way Nico Evers-Swindell is able to say, without batting an eye, that he loves Phil. His arrogant libido is reflected more in Emma Jackson's obsessive fits of passion than in his treatment of Daisy. Sarah-Jane Casey's emotional reserve implies that she has something to hide: but his secrets are anecdotal, and at odds with Grace. As Drew, Nick Stevenson has the range of being electrifyingly vain, but it's his terror when at the mercy of Phil that shows Phil's previously unseen rage; not Flint's own performance. Is Ana Lucas, who plays Flo, the best actor of the bunch for managing to get Flint to really interact with her, or is her erotic freedom just more loosening by contrast?

Bed is a great idea for a play, and Cowell's writing is so mundanely poetic that it works (for instance, the phrase "I earth you," serves as both love and grounding, all while sounding more romantic than either). But the scenes of angry bondage, post-coital therapy, and sexless intercourse (the verbal kind) don't add up to much, and it's perhaps time to change the sheets. We need more dirty laundry: not less.

Abington Arts Complex (312 W 36th Street - First Floor)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $20.00
Performances (to 5/5): Tuesday - Saturday @ 8:00

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Reviewed by Kristyn R Smith

is a compilation of three one act plays. According to the press, the theme concerns relationships, though I wouldn't have made that assessment based on what I saw. I didn't find these three one acts particularly complementary but I think it this case, that's a good thing. The skill in writing and acting is just as diverse as the plays themselves.

The first one act entitled, Men are Pigs, set the bar quite high. There isn't any new ground covered here but that didn't matter because the journey is so enjoyable. This, the only play clearly about relationships, concerns three guys evolution from eager adolescents to scheming twenty somethings and how they change their approach to women. What a good time. All your favorite bad songs, goofy hairstyles, and hideous clothes of the early 90s are here for your viewing and listening pleasure. Not to mention the clever, insightful and truly funny script. The acting too is top notch. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

The second show, Off the Cuff, was by far the weakest. The analogy to Caryl Churchill made in the press release is not the only falsity. The actors mug as they stumble across the stage pretending to be drunk. You can almost hear them chuckling to themselves, clearly aware that they're supposed to be funny. In addition, the pacing was terrible. This is a comedy after all. Specifically in this incarnation, its intention is dark, repetitive and farcical, certainly not the ingredients for dramatic pauses. By the time they got to the punchline, I already knew what would be said. Simply put, there was no surprise, no tension, and no fun.

On to the third show. Largely forgettable, at times contrite, and yet by no means unbearable, Boxes, concerns a lower class family in Ireland struggling to get by and keep their dignity. The actors do their best to put some real emotions into this preachy script, but even the most focused audience member loses interest about half way through. The catalyst for conflict between the brother and sister is based on nothing more than flimsy arguments, which are discussed far too long. In the end, you're just glad they've decided to finally do something.

I think that's a similar sentiment to the overall evening experience. You're glad you did something, but it would have been nicer to enjoy it a little more. If at least two out of the three shows were good that would have been the case. But even if Men are Pigs, they don't justify the other 70 minutes of boredom.
April 5-21
Monday-Saturday 8PM
Sunday 3PM
Lion Theater on Theater Row
410 West 42nd Street
(between 9th and 10th)
Tickets $18
Available by calling 212-279-4200
or visit

Monday, April 16, 2007


Lear deBessonet's transFigures isn't just a passionate play, it's a play about passion, from the psychological Jerusalem Syndrome to the allegorical Ibsen, to plain human behavior. Excellent production values triumph in this remarkable tapestry of ideas, and this should be on everyone's list for April.

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

transFigures fades in with a series of bodies, their genders indecipherable at first beneath their white robes, lying in front of two metal towers and three paper-thin Chinese walls. As music filters through the theater, a purposeful type of ambient electronica, the bodies come alive with an inexplicable passion: they move, they shudder, they roll across one another, they live. When it is over, they rest again, just as inexplicably, on the stage as the lights come down. Rest easy, dear reader, this is just the curtain-raiser for another stunning theatrical work by Lear deBessonet (see Bone Portraits), a prologue to a seamless collage of texts and ideas revolving around (but in no way limited to) the exploration of Jerusalem Syndrome.

The center of the play follows Bill (David Adkins) and Susan (Marguerite Stimpson) from their New York office (complete with a God-crazy secretary played with unnerving accuracy by Juliana Francis) to Jerusalem. At the same time, two subplots (lacing exquisitely in and out of this main story) focus on neuroscientist Gene's study of Joshua, a young boy who is afflicted with hyperreligiosity and a series of theatrically thrilling delusions, as well as on an Israeli therapist's engaging explanation of the syndrome. (A psychosis of passion overcomes the afflicted, and results in them delivering a confused sermon in a holy place.)

Rather than narrowing the focus after establishing the necessary technical background, deBessonet widens the scope, abetted by her textual patchwork: the show is written primarily by Bathsheba Doran, but involves text from Chuck Mee, Erin Sax Seymour, and Russell Shorto, to name a few. If she is trying to deliberately trick our brain's OAA (Orientation Association Area), to make us forget, as with Jerusalem Syndrome, where we are: she succeeds. Mark Huang's ambient sound design sets the mood, Andrea Haenggi's choreography breaks down the delusion (shambled, joyous, confused, and satisfied masses), Jenny Sawyer's multileveled set (reaching along the sides into the audience and up steel towers to the sky) breaks into multiple dimensions, Ryan Mueller's lighting (or darknessing) evokes the phantasmal, surreal, and modern with a profoundly succinct grace, and we? We are transported.

We are also astonished by the range and fluidity of deBessonet's direction. With the slightest sweeps of lighting and the rare use of props (always malleable items, like string, or paper), she is able to evoke not just the awe-inspiring, but the awful, and often at the same time. Those paper-thin walls are just as easily wailing walls, being spun around the theater by the cast, as they are the Wailing Wall. At the same time, she can bounce from idea to idea, without ever seeming fragmented, which is largely a credit to her malleable cast. For instance, her summarized spoof of Henrik Ibsen's Young Girl and the Sea is one of the most shamelessly embarrassing feats of ham on the stage, and it flows just a few minutes later into a cross-section between testimony of the abortionist-killing hairdresser, John Salvi (T. Ryder Smith is flawless here) and everyone's favorite God-hearing martyr, Joan of Arc. Although the texts are very different in tone, once deBessonet weaves something into her tapestry, you can't imagine ever hearing them apart again. It's just one more wonderfully indelible effect of the play.

It had better NOT be snowing in Bakersfield: if transFigures is what its like to lose one's mind, or to be touched by God, then we should all be so lucky, for this is a beautiful, beautiful play.

Julia Miles Theatre (424 West 55th Street)
Tickets (212-239-6200): $42.00
Performances (through 5/6): Mon., Thurs., Fri. @ 8 | Sat. & Sun. @ 3 | Sat. @ 9

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Guy Adrift in the Universe

A Guy Adrift in the Universe is a success in simplicity: A Guy is born, he makes his way through life (comically, and occasionally poignantly), and then he dies. It's a breakneck, life-spanning eighty minutes of explicit text and excellent action, all subtly guided along by Jacob Krueger's expert direction, and it'll make you laugh: no strings attached.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

All those philosophically numbing plays getting to you? Do you feel lost or confused, not just by the theater you've gone to see lately, but by life itself? Larry Kunofksy's A Guy Adrift in the Universe has to be the most straightforward, explicit comedy I've seen this year. God bless it. Spurred on by a frantic, hard-working cast, and a fast-paced, joke-heavy script, this is a concise summation of life, no strings attached. The scope of the show forces it to be a deliberate and overbearing, but it's not long enough to be redundant, and too sweet to ever taste bitter.

The story begins, as it must, with A Guy being born. Sitting in the hospital (so we're told), in some weird cross between Family Guy and the classic baby skit from Free To Be Me and You, he instructs Another Guy (Corey Patrick, who in this case is the doctor, but will later on be the father and the son, the employer and the employee, and so forth) to return him to the womb. When told it's impossible, he curses, does a double-take, and wonders what that word means. Quips the doctor: "That's what your mom and dad did." A groan-worthy joke, yes, but the show charms with the relentlessly innocent jokes. (I would, however, pare back on the curses: they give the show a sophomoric feel that director Jacob Krueger has worked so hard to ameliorate.)

Krueger's work is fairly subtle for a work so flatly punctuated. The show begins with three chairs hanging from knobs on the wall made out to be stars, and as time progresses, those chairs are joined by the detritus of life. I'm a fan of economical design: every prop has significance, both in the scene, and then as a memory, fastened to the wall. When the show ends, as it must, with A Guy leaving the stage, there is a moment, before the lights dim, that we can still see him, spread out in the mementos across the stars.

Also of note are Zarah Kravitz and Sutton Crawford, the appropriately titled A Woman and Another Woman. The two are fine comic actresses, and they slip easily into and out of each role. Like the men, they're comfortable hamming up the physical comedy of breast-feeding or making-out (especially that first orgasm), but they're also quite capable of evoking sorrow, especially as A Guy's mind starts to go.

A Guy Adrift in the Universe may be a blunt instrument, but let's not forget for a moment that hammers are what nail points home. This production is a testament to the successful use of simplicity.

Payan Theater (300 W 43rd Street - Floor 5)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $15.00
Performances (through 5/6): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 7

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a pleasure, as always. The actors are a bit too stiff for Steve Martin's script (they're more sober than usual), but director Cat Parker makes all the right choices theatrically, and shakes the cast up enough to keep the play moving at a brisk pace, even when the lines don't quite achieve the zippy verbal ping-pong of past productions.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Picasso at the Lapin Agile is one of the few comedies I've seen that successfully mixes the highbrow with the low, which should be no surprise as it's written by Steve Martin, an oscillating force if there ever were one. However, the current presentation at T. Schreiber Studio is somewhat of a solemn affair, and as a result, the joy of Martin's comic observations are often muted. Cat Parker's direction is excellent, with clever blocking that makes the punctilious puns of this play seem more natural, but the cast lacks the energy for slapstick, and the passion of Picasso (and Einstein, to a lesser affair) is a bit sloppy.

The show is on a slippery slope when the humorous rapport between characters gets too close to the rhapsodic discussion of art; when Schmendiman enters, he's supposed to steal the show with his absurdism: he's not supposed to be the first instance of laugh-out-loud comedy. It's not Parker's fault: she can change the lighting and underscore the quiet drama, but the only place she can do that for the comedy is the wild-west showdown between Picasso and Einstein.

All the technical choices work in Parker's favor, too: the set evokes the early-20th century vibe of a Parisian bar, and the costumes are dashing, be they intellectual or painterly, rich or snobbish, blue collar or blue suede. The cast speaks frequently to the audience (in fact, some of Martin's jokes are aimed at the structure of the play itself, like the Order of Appearance), so the choice to have VIP guests drinking wine in the side booths is both clever and an efficient use of space. The one ill-fitting choice is to have the bartender introduce the theater company and the play at the same time; that takes too much from the setting, and considerably slows the pace of the opening. (A fact that isn't helped by either Frank Mihelich's plodding simplicity as Freddy, or Jim Aylward's unsexed portrayal of Gaston.)

On the whole, this production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile is pretty good. It's a little too sober--the actors don't seem to be having very much fun channeling Martin--but it's got a pleasant aftertaste, and there are plenty of icebox laughs left in this masterful script.

T. Schreiber Studio (151 West 26th Street; 7th Floor)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $20.00
Performances (to 5/6): Thursday-Saturday @ 8; Sunday @ 3


The neat-ish, noir-ish “Manuscript” holds its cards pretty close to its vest. That’s a good thing.

Review by Ellen Wernecke

“Three’s a crowd” may be a cliché, but it had to have come from somewhere. In “Manuscript,” You Are Here Productions’ latest play at the Studio Theatre (Theatre Row), a microcosm of shifting alliances in the face of tragedy, the odd man (or woman) out changes constantly until its brilliant end.

The play takes place in a Brooklyn brownstone where David (Greg Cayea) grew up. As we open, he and longtime best friend Chris (Duane Langley), college freshmen home for the holidays, are waiting for Chris’s girlfriend Elizabeth (Christine Donlon) to arrive so they can smoke some opium. David claims he’s nervous because she’s a published author with a book and a New York Times Magazine piece, while he’s still sweating over drafts of his unpublished novel. When she sweeps in, all bobbed hair and bare shoulders, David’s resolve drops away and he begins to fawn over her even as his friend grows visibly uncomfortable. Their steps are different now, with Chris the loyal boyfriend seemingly a step behind. Even when David leaves them alone to grab a drink, Chris’s advances towards her seem vaguely scheduled, almost stylized. Needless to say, no one gets around to smoking.

“Manuscript” is a neat pas de trois that is noir-ish in its banter and its revelations, if not a noir proper. The titular pile of paper is brought into play by Chris after he hears sirens at a neighbor’s house, a typewritten hunk which might be the last salvo of a master – or Elizabeth’s way of not defaulting on her two-book contract. (Contrary to her earlier flippant claim, “It’s a book, anybody can write one,” she is stuck on the sophomore effort.) But by then we already know that her relationship with David isn’t so innocent, that the last time they met she stole his boarding-school essay, rewrote it, and placed it in the Times. They may also have been lovers, or at least he wanted them to; she never completely fends off his advances. The threesome paces, it yells, it leaves the room, but nothing is truly decided until the last minutes of this tightly wound show.

Such is the tension successfully maintained between the three leads, that things that would appear ridiculous among other college students – Elizabeth’s penchant for words like “charlatan,” for instance – only momentarily disturb. Director Alex Lippard never lets the banter yield to audience claustrophobia in David’s bedroom. Each of the actors turns in a strong performance, but special consideration must go to Christine Donlon’s Elizabeth, the sylph in the brown dress (later, of course, she changes into a red one) who tries to fashion herself into the savior of an otherwise lost work and in the process becomes a very strange villain. At one point, Elizabeth executes a neat emotional about-face (to describe why would spoil some of the surprises of the plot), as if she’s realized she’s been putting the fatale before the femme. By then, of course, it’s too late; this exquisite little show is reaching its messy conclusion.


Through April 20, Studio Theatre, Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St.
Shows Tues-Sat 8pm; Sun 7pm; Matinees Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets $25, Theatermania
For more information, visit

Suburban Peepshow

Over-the-top satire such as Suburban Peepshow is more about form than substance, so it's okay to have cross-dressing ninjas and it's fine that the actors break character to complain to the playwright about their "part" in the script. On the whole, the show is lively underground theater, and the only real issue with James Comtois's play is that it doesn't go even further in breaking down both the traditional family and the theater's common depiction of them.

(Photo/Ben VandenBoom)

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

James Comtois's new play with Nosedive Productions, Suburban Peepshow, is neither suburban nor peepshow. It's also not fine art, a fact the playwright both bravely acknowledges in his notes ("The main goal of me writing this was to make myself laugh") and in the show itself, where he leaps onstage half-naked as "Chubby Guy," there to jiggle for the audience's amusement (and to provide the cast time for a scene change). But as the playwright within this metacomedy tells the Catholic-schoolgirl-clad actress he's trying to bone (them's the rules of the game), "seeing that chubby guy dancing has increased [the audience's] happiness," and with all the prancing around of dismembered carnival barkers, the violent sequins of ninja crossdressers, the cutthroat economy of in-office gladiators, and romantic flings with self-titled characters ("Pool Guy" and "New Girl"), Suburban Peepshow does succeed in making us laugh. (It's also preceded by a comic short, Trailers, which spoofs the Hollywood movie formula, and itself, at the same time.)

A show like Suburban Peepshow isn't asking to be finely parsed: you could say that Bill's transition from suburban father to Roman gladiator represents his inner monologue, the way he dreams himself as a conquering savage. But you could just as easily accept that Patrick Shearer, who plays Office Guy #2, was really just trying to stop his external monologue ("Man, you really are boring") long enough to get some time in the spotlight. Given that the show is satire in good fun, replete with over-the-top performances by everyone outside of the family (they'd be nightmarish if they weren't so funny), I'd stick with the latter. However, it's for this reason that Comtois's work falls short of the literary (like George Saunders) and sticks with the low-brow (think Comedy Central). The humor leaks everywhere, from the absurdity of the narration (killed off faster here than in Into The Woods) to scenes where the increasingly drunken playwright (Anthony Bertram) is berated for not giving an actor a bigger "part" (by which he means the member's member) and for hitting on his cast. This isn't actually how Suburban Peepshow was written (one assumes), but the flow between the external forces and internal forces shows a playwright more concerned with good times than deep meaning.

Suburban Peepshow's greatest strength is that it writes itself: anything someone says about a character winds up becoming true, as if the world around us is shaped by what we think (which, in some ways, it is). Mother (the talented Leslie E. Hughes) considers having a fling with Pool Guy (Ben VandenBoom), and so when she inevitably meets him, he comes clad completely in cliche, all macho swagger and mustache. When Bill (a nicely suppressed Zack Calhoon) compares the "antics" at his office to those of Office Space, the next scene is filled with wry lines that could be ripped straight from our perception of the world. I said at first that Suburban Peepshow was neither suburban nor a peepshow, but that's not accurate: it's the world of both, but as we imagine it . . . and as they imagine it.

The Red Room (85 East 4th Street; 3rd Floor)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (to 4/28): Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Lie of the Mind

A critique on all things blind (love, faith, patriotism), A Lie of the Mind doles out the rose colored specs to a whole U.S.A. of dysfunctional families. Be warned, though: the glass is sharp as Shepard's tongue and Sammy is in no mood for pink.

Pictured from left to right: Jeff Willis as Frankie, Laura Schwenninger as Beth and Todd d'Amour as Jake.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

What with Passover just behind us and Easter around the corner, The Manhattan’s Theater Source’s production of A Lie of the Mind couldn’t have come at a better time. Call it sour grapes or bitter herbs, but watching Sam Shepard’s characters rip each other apart in the name of brotherly love made me mighty glad I couldn’t make it home for the holidays this Spring.

A Lie of the Mind is a feast of multi-family dysfunction: Jake and Beth are husband and wife, though he nearly beats her to death roughly five minutes before the play begins. As if murderous matrimony wasn’t enough to crush my Donna Reid dreams, Jake and Beth each have their own entirely delusional and abusive families. In Jake’s case, the problem is an intense case of sibling rivalry with a side of philandering papa. In Sally’s, it’s a bit more complicated: the father, Baylor is both dependent upon and deeply resentful of the mother, Meg. Their son, Mike, spends his time crying out for their attention, a large man stunted by an adolescent’s angst, eventually physically torturing his brother-in-law to get noticed.

There's no place like home.

The Manhattan Theater Source’s staging is clean and uncluttered. A not-for-profit arts organization, the Source puts the focus on the individual performances, not the environment, and, as a result, ups the ante on its cast. We have very few visual cues to give us setting and tone – the burden falls on the eight actors to not only keep our interest, but to inform our intellect. Thankfully, under Daryl Boling’s direction, they are up to the task.

As Jake, Todd d’Amour is a quivering, fascinating, and utterly believable tangle of a man. Right from the first scene, as Jake snaps in panic and beats the wall with a pay phone, we know he is as much animal as human – not simply in his violence, but in his vulnerabilities as well. Sally, Jake’s sister, repeatedly compares him to a wild creature, a hurt dog baring his teeth, finding ferocity in his fear. D’Amour captures this bark/bite duality without overdoing it, and, through resonating deeply with the audience, immensely complicates Shepard’s script; in flickers of Jake’s frailty, we end up disturbingly sympathetic with the abuser, ourselves falling victim to the delusion that saturates A Lie of the Mind’s world.

Laura Schwenninger also gives a complex and challenging performance as Beth. The first time we meet Beth, she’s mentally disabled – her brain damage, we learn, caused by Jake’s beating. Schwenninger lends Beth a sturdiness, a sense of self and purpose one wouldn’t expect in a victim. Schwenninger has a hard job before her; Beth is a woman who just can’t get her husband out of her head, no matter how badly he love beats her brains out. Shepard doesn’t make it easy, but Schwenninger rises to the challenge, able to convey infinite longing in one look of restraint.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not nearly as on point as D’Amour and Schwenninger. There’s little interaction – it’s rare to see the actors even look at one another. At times, it feels as though the supporting cast is stalling, repeating their lines with the same exact intonation, until either D’Amour or Schwenninger enters and pulls the action forward again. Shepard gives his actors very clear recognitions and reversals in the script – but it seems as though this cast often does all it can to ignore these cues and idle until a scene change frees them from their stasis. The dialogue itself to deft enough to minimize this problem, though, and even the least responsive cast members have their share of powerful scenes over the course of the production.

Backed by strong leads and a respected playwright, The Source’s A Lie of the Mind does well for itself. Still, Shepard’s play is fundamentally disturbing, and while this production of the show engages its audience, don’t expect to leave the theater feeling elated. The name of the game here is metaphor, and the two corrupt families we watch struggle for three hours may as well be part of one big Brady household called America. A Lie of the Mind, first produced at the Promenade Theater in 1985, is above all else a sharply critical play. Even though there’s plenty of hunting (and even a not-so-friendly misfire), Daddy Cheney wouldn’t appreciate this show one bit, I can tell you that much.

Patriotism, in this violent, unpleasant world, is handled with the same isolated distrust as love – in Shepard’s creation, both abstracts are possible only through intense and deliberate oversight. A Lie of the Mind creates an environment where the defect is the norm, and selective hearing is a means of survival. Shepard’s ode to the American West chronicles a whole universe of failure. It’s quite a feat, then, that, with A Lie of the Mind, The Source has put on a success.

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Manhattan Theater Source at Washington Square Park (177 MacDougal, between Waverly Place and West 8th Street)
Tickets (, 212.352.3101): $18.00
Performances: April 4th through April 28th, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Lie of the Mind

The technical direction of A Lie of the Mind falters a little, resulting in some cramped scenes and awkward transitions, but the ensemble is so talented, that the focus remains where it should: on Shepard's exquisite language. The play runs long, and the metaphorical third act isn't fleshed out enough visually to work, but until then, if you're a fan of self-deceiving (i.e., all-too-human) characters, this is for you.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

One of the terrifying beauties of humanity is our ability to make anything true, if only we believe in it hard enough. Sam Shepard's playwriting is a true staple of this culture: his plays very often bend our beliefs, but his characters are always truthful enough to hold us steady. His 1985 drama, A Lie of the Mind, now in an intimate production at Manhattan Theater Source, is filled with metaphoric dressings, and doesn't balk at abusing the American flag to emphasize our own dissociative culture.

Here, the persistence of memory overrides death (the star-battered lovers, Jake and Beth cannot escape their thoughts of each other), and the stubbornness of love overwrites memory (though Beth cannot live with her abusive love, she cannot live without it either, which is why her mind transfers it onto Jake's brother, Frankie). With every line, truth spills over the top of the bucket, revealing self-deception. The one failing in Shepard's play is that to flood us with guilt, he first has to add a lot of rambling to that bucket. It's a flaw in name only, perhaps, for the performances and dialog are a delight, but the show does stagger on for three hours, and there are stretches of indulgent text. The third act is too forceful with its metaphors, too confusing with its conclusions, and too distracted by its subplot.

Buried Child is the better Shepard play, more focused and precise, but A Lie of the Mind gets a lot of mileage from its characters and range. It isn't until Act 3 that the two-pronged narrative (it switches between Jake scenes and Beth scenes) loses its edge. But right from the bat we're drawn in: the play opens with Jake frantically phoning his brother to confess the murder of Beth and then simultaneously surprises and saddens us by revealing that she's actually still alive: in the care of her brother, Mike, but mentally damaged from the abuse.

These sharp initial scenes with Beth are the tragic strength of the show: her desperate cry for Jake ("HEEZ MY HAAAAAAAAAART!"), in spite of all he has done to her, is a wail rivaled only by "Stellllla!" It's a fantastic role, and Laura Schwenniger delivers: she is clear and precise, though her character remains in a fog; she struggles beautifully with words, even though as an actor she is in control. Likewise, Todd d'Amour's portrayal of Jake plays up the petulant violence with a series of childlike mannerisms and an overburdened gravel voice: his eyes flinch with every scolding even as they smolder with a longing for his love.

As the play continues, the circle widens in scope to show us their families: Mike's mother, Lorraine, is a craggy realist, and his sister, Sally, is a tough-as-nails survivor; Beth's father, Baylor, is a domineering rancher, and her mother, Meg, is pliant and a bubbly font of trivia. Cindy Keiter makes for a delightfully dotty Meg ("Don't yell in the house, the walls can't take it! Screaming is not the thing that we were made for"), and Emily Mitchell has the harsh maternal instincts of Lorraine down cold (just watch her play "Helicopter" with Jake).

The scenic design, by David Roman, emphasizes the split-screen differences by using a firm, red-washed adobe color for Jake's solidity, and a cold, drowningly dark aqua blue for Beth's infirmity. All in all, the theatrics are underplayed by director Daryl Boling, but this contrast stands out. (If only the choice to use bluegrass music for the transitions had been so strikingly played up: as is, the upbeat music clashes politely in the background like elevator Muzak.) When it comes down to it, Shepard is more concerned with truth of character than anything else, and this production couldn't ask for a better cast.

Manhattan Theatre Source (177 MacDougal)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 4/28): Wednesday - Saturday @ 8:00

Losing Something

Reviewed by Kristyn R Smith

There's one thing I can say with certainty about Losing Something. The excitement surrounding their use of a new video technology that creates "spectacular and convincing 3D moving images on a live stage," is legit. Not quite on par with the assertion that " its difficult to distinguish video from reality onstage," but still amazing nonetheless. Unfortunately, all this technology and spectacle, no matter how well employed, doesn't compensate for weakness in plot, character and direction.

Kevin Cunningham, credited as the writer, director, and designer, has invented a mess of a world. Our journey as observers is like that of the protagonist- asking questions and getting nowhere. The story played out in a nonlinear fashion is anything but clear and concise. Time and place are meaningless, all we ever know is that the events of the play happened in the past. But to even refer to events, is perhaps misleading. Nothing actually happens here. The suicide, art, drugs, and menage a trios are discussed ad nausea, but we see nothing. What we do see are characters who appear and disappear for no reason and speak in mysteriously awkward poses, whilst literally floating in space. I understand the lack of movement may be a result of the limitations in this new video technology, but what I can't figure out is why the actors are frozen in strange intertwined fetal positions.

Its truly a shame that its so impossible to be engaged in this story because there is some beautiful poetic prose and some interesting ideas. The questions of metaphysics make you think, at least for a moment. Sadly there's just no time to wonder, all focus is devoted to solving the puzzle of what's going on and hearing the dialogue. Its extremely difficult to hear anything with all the overlapping lines, video and sound effects. Not to mention technical difficulties resulting from the wireless mics, such as missed pickups and a ridiculous amount of thump, thud and rustle from the actors hitting the mics while the volume is up.

For all its faults, however, I'd still recommend theater professionals, particularly those on the tech side, see this show. It is without question a learning experience. As the theater world depends more on technology, the video component moves closer to the spotlight. Indeed, the most audience interest actually came after the show concluded. Collectively almost, we walked down to the edge of the stage and gazed at all the machines and smoke and mirrors that surround the playing area. Sure the story is confusing, but what I want to find out about is the video.
Losing Something is playing at
3LD Art and Technology Center
80 Greenwich Street (between Edgar and Rector)
Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 8PM
Tickets are $30
Available by calling
212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Men of Steel

A smart satire soured by its own sense of self... How heroic can you get, Men of Steel?

Pictured: Sharon Eisman as Helen Harper and Melissa Paladino as Liberty Lady.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

I don’t know much about superheroes beyond the obvious faster-than-a-speeding-bullet spiel. I’ve yet to attend ComicCon on either coast, I don’t own a single skivvies-flaunting action figure, and I never, ever run around my apartment in tights and a cape pretending to save the world. Perhaps that last bit isn’t entirely true, but when the batlight hits the Gotham sky, I am not the one to call on for super superhero knowledge. In fact, just the other day I made the apparently unforgivable sin of confusing Spiderman with Superman. And don’t even start asking me about the X Men; I honestly have no idea which one has the scary skin disease. Maybe all of them do? I give up.

Despite all of my DC deficiencies, the Vampire Cowboy Theater Company’s superhero-obsessed Men of Steel is full of jokes that even I can appreciate. With spandex sparkle suits and incredibly elaborate stage fighting (thanks to the unrelenting work of Marius Hanford), the energetic cast of eight takes the stage to play a total of twenty-two characters over the course of two hour-long acts. Qui Nguyen, the playwright behind this superhero extravaganza, has drafted a play with sprawl, and, like Christopher Reeves sailing over the Earth, we go from Chicago to Brooklyn to Mobile and beyond just in time to crash the crooks’ evil schemes.

Nguyen has put a kink in the superhuman schema, though, and soon it becomes less and less clear who the really villains are in this sketch-cum-flesh fantasy world. As the scenes unravel, our good guys do some very bad things, and the world of justice and comeuppance flips on its axis to become one shady place of racial discrimination, public relations ploys, and domestic abuse. Oh where have all the Clark Kents gone?

Men of Steel is by far at its most entertaining and effective when it’s having a good time. The first couple scenes play with the stereotypes, the ridiculous flush-front posture, the stagy dialogue and shadowy figures. Both Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker are obviously fluent in this genre. Their familiarity with the subject matter shines through the jokes, resulting in a clever satire of the whole comic set-up. Paco Tolson, as the loquacious and drill-topped Mole, makes the most of these wonderful moments, relishing the self-satisfaction traditional comic baddies embody and revealing the fabulously fresh ridiculousness behind the common comic tropes.

However, as hilarious as these moments are (and they really are very, very funny), Men of Steel weakens when it segues from satirical to serious. While the play is never wholly without its tongue in its cheek, as the scenes progress, we lose more and more of Nguyen’s insightful humor. Instead, we’re given a heap of ambiguous and overly ambitious moral lessons, including an interesting, though out-of-place and pretentious, oration on the nature of Judas’s role in Jesus’ martyrdom. Yes, comics are often laced with heady themes, but Men of Steel initially feeds on these clichés of the superhero story. It’s disappointing to see the show surrender to the schlock it mocks (even if it does mock with love).

Unfortunately, Men of Steel’s ultimate vulnerability is tone. The show begins as pure wit, but devolves into a series of allegories: Maelstrom (played glassy-eyed and authoritative by Temar Underwood) signifying the restriction of human rights to regulate terrorism in a post-9/11 world, Bryant (extremely disturbing as played by a cross-dressing, baby-faced Tom Myers) is a sort of Neo-Christ punching bag for privileged and prejudiced white rage, Captain Liberty (played with righteous earnestness by Jason Liebman) is the super-ego turned id of America itself. Where is the Mole? I found myself asking after the intermission. I liked the Mole. The Mole knew what he was – good ole fashion evil – and made the most of it.

Please don’t think I’m advocating simple-minded theater at the expense of politically relevant themes. That’s not the case at all. If Men of Steel had set out, from start to finish, to be a critical examination of a post-9-11 world through the guise of a comic book play, perhaps the show would have worked. If Men of Steel had set out, from start to finish, to be a two-hour romp with the sparkly spandex and campy superheroes, that too might have worked. However, Men of Steel instead chooses to straddle its options, mocking all it eventually metamorphoses into. The play fundamentally undercuts itself. And isn’t that something – because in doing so, the play embodies the quintessential trajectory of any hero, from Odysseus to Superman: the ability to self-destruct.

I say see the show for the Mole alone. And if you learn something about Judas in the meantime, well, isn’t that just super?

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Center Stage (48 West 21st Street, between 5th & 6th Aves.)
Tickets (, 212.352.3101): $18.00
Performances: March 15th through April 8th, Thursdays through Sundays at 8pm.