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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"The Breath of Life" @ PCS

First things first, I'd watch Gretchen Corbett read the phonebook. Unfortunately, much of David Hare's script made me wonder if that is what I was watching. There is a shocking lack of tension in this play. One of the reasons is that the script drops countless hints that the unseen man at the center of the show is someone of importance. I was waiting for a big-reveal that never came. That Julia Brothers is forced to be "on-book" due to the unexpected departure of Sharonee McLean, doesn't help matters, Add in the odd angles of the set yielding poor sightlines, and I must regretfully suggest you skip this one.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"The Revolutionists" @ Artists Rep

The most intriguing aspect of  "The Revolutionists" is its deft juggling of tones. From the wrenchingly sad to the silly. It even manages to finesse the bumpiness of the play-within a play. This is mostly accomplished by effective self-referential humor . I Joellen Sweeney, as assassin Charlotte Corday. Her murderous exuberance is hilarious. There are also effective little theatrical-touches I enjoyed, such as the use of red-ribbons to signify death by guillotine. It is strange play, but if you like your violent European History served with a side of laughs, this is your show. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Crossing Mnosose" @ PCS

"Crossing Mnosose" has some of the most impressive scenic design I have seen in years. Unsurprisingly, the scenic designer (Todd Rosenthal) has many Broadway credits. Also worthy of note is how well the historical story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with the modern story of Standing Rock, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Sadly, I must admit that Standing Rock had almost completely disappeared from my memory, until the play brought it back to mind. This play has a strangely short run, so if you'd like to see some of the most wow-inducing stagecraft you'll see in a Regional Theatre, you'd better hurry.

Friday, April 26, 2019

"Jesus Hopped the A Train" @ CoHo

I fell in absolute love with the writing of Stephen Adly Guirgus when I was introduced to it via Artists Rep's production of "The Motherfucker with the Hat", had it rekindled with "Between Riverside and Crazy", and now it continues with "Jesus Hopped the A Train." In my review of "Motherfucker" I described Guirgus's dialogue as "verbal sprints." That description holds true for "Jesus Hopped the A Train. This time, however, I was struck not only by the incredible speed, but by the dialogue's near-musicality. It's basically a symphony of profanity.

"Jesus Hopped the A Train" was one of a handful of shows I have anticipated from the beginning of the Season. it continues Coho's long tradition of presenting productions with minimalist-sets that let local actors take the well-deserved spotlight. In this, it's Bobby Bernea, as a serial-killing Christian Convert, of  all things. I've said a version of the following in my reviews of Guirgus's work: it embodies the essence of the violent, visceral reasons I love the theatre. Plays like this are what I hope to see.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

"A Grand Night for Singing" @ Broadway Rose

"A Grand Night for Singing" is a collection of Rogers and Hammerstein classics, arranged in revue. This revue is bookless, and so I was grateful for the detailed playbill, which noted where each song was from. This made things more grounded than they were in the similar  Kander and Ebb revue Broadway Rose did a few years ago. I overheard someone else say that despite the fact she was a pretty big fan of the duo, there were songs she hadn't heard, which suggests that material varies fairly widely. Of the numbers I recognised, quite a few if them were from previous, equally good Broadway Rose full-productions. If you liked their versions of "Oklahoma" and "The Sound of Music", you'll enjoy this show. If those I hadn't heard, the solos were my favorite. These songs are a lot to have on a single person's shoulders, but the vocalists at Broadway Rose never disappoint.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Taking Steps @ Lakewood

"Taking Steps is a classic farce with a British-lilt. Once I made peace with the fact the promotional material had exaggerated the "haunted manor" aspect, which is what caught my attention, I found it to be an amiable entry into the genre. As always with a Lakewood production, the cast was top-notch, and the set worthy of a theatre twice its size. It's a pleasant way to while away the last of the cold, as we inch ever closer to Spring. There's just a wintery feel about it, and as the season itself ebbs, so does the length of the run, if dry British wit strikes your fancy, rush over to Lakewood.

"Until the Flood" @ PCS

My first exposure to Dael Orlandersmith's work was "Forever" Reading that review again., I see I rained down superlatives upon it. "Until the Flood" is even more entrancing, and at times seems like a impossibility. I was silently awestruck at the way she inhabited such diverse characters. At times Olandersmith disappears so completely into the roles that she seems almost like a conduit.

"Until the Flood" examines the Michael Brown Shooting through the eyes of several residents who live near the scene. The most admirable aspect of the production is its even-handedness. Even the unapologetically racist electrician is given space to describe events in his life that may have led to misplaced anger. The bravest thing about the show is its unabashed excoriation of the fence-sitting White Liberal, having one characters state  "At least with a bigot, I know where I stand." That's bold remark to make in a show where that category of people is likely to make up a large segment of your audience. Still, virtually no character or group emerges unscathed, except perhaps the Universalist minister who pleads for love among all, ultimately she's the only one who deserves to be unblemished, because her view is the best we can hope for.

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Wolf Play" @ Artists Rep

"Wolf Play" gets off to a rough start. It begins as a metaphysical rumination on wolves, acting, theatre, and the nature of the universe. It registers as a gigantic "Huh?" This is especially unfortunate because there are some fairly important details of the plot in this rapid-fire mishmash.  However, it doesn't take long for the play to find its groove. "Wolf Play" explores the legal pitfalls of same-sex adoption, which exist even following the Supreme Court victory in gay-marriage, Much more surprising, and even less widely known, are issues involving the internet and adoption. The production is well-acted, particularly the genuinely motherly performance of Ayanna Berkshire. Despite my disappointment with its opening, I must also note that there is a harkening-back to some of the more esoteric details, which do seem to help bring the play full-circle. But, I do hope that some editing is done, as this play is world-premiere, and it is on it's way to more productions elsewhere.   

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"Tiny Beautiful Things" @ PCS

I came in completely cold to "Tiny Beautiful Things." I had not read either of Ms. Strayed's books, and only knew that the play concerned an advice column she had written.  My only thought about it was: "Oh, my mom might like this one." In other words, I was expecting a fairly light night at the theatre. Arriving on Opening Night, (sadly without my mom, who was sick, and as I predicted, quite disappointed to miss it), the woman who hands out the press-tickets gave a warning about the need for tissues. She was promptly chided for her "spoiler" by a nearby co-worker. I shrugged it off, being a seasoned-veteran of emotionally engaging theater, and even having a preference for it. The play is 90 minutes, and in the very beginning, it was approximately what I had expected. Things quickly take a serious turn, into some of the most emotionally-exhausting territory one can encounter. Consider this the warning I wish I'd had. I may not have had warning, but I did have cake at the Opening Night Reception. Cake helped. Plan to get cake. I have done you a big favor.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"A Doll's House Part 2" @ Artists Rep

Somewhere, I had gotten the completely mistaken impression that "A Doll's House: Part 2" was merely an update of Henrik Ibsen's original, into 1950s America. I have no idea where I got that idea, but it was part of the reason I heeded the "Spoiler Alert" heading of the essay in the playbill examining the meaning of both plays. In reality, the "Spoiler Alert" only really applies to the second-half of the essay, dealing with the modern sequel. The first-half is actually quite helpful in providing much-needed background information. As I did not possess this information until immediately before beginning this review I tended to inadvertently ignore some of the finer details of the plot (which made little sense at times), and focus instead on the jarringly intense performance of Artist's Rep Ensemble Member Michael Mendelson, and the minor role, but stellar performance of the ever-engaging Vana O'Brien. If either of those two things appeal to the more seasoned readers of this blog, who know the truth of my praise of their previous work, they may well be able to enjoy the piece on the strength of the performances alone. For everyone else, I'd recommend reading the playbill at the very least, and Ibsen's original if possible.