Friday, December 20, 2013

Not-So-Affordable Healthcare

It was very exciting to end 2013 with my first article for The Guardian, a website whose news and cultural coverage have become must-reads for me. I only wish I had more enthusiasm for the brave new healthcare world the U.S. is about the embark on. Obamacare has made healthcare coverage less expensive than it was but still a bit shy of affordable for me.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Year That Was

Sage Snakechalmer and her reflection in Private Dancer.

It's been a year of extremes, at least in theatergoing. I wrote my first five-star review for Time Out New York—about the rhythmically rich Gertrude Stein Saints! at the New York International Fringe Festival—and, before the year was out, I would write my first one-star review—the poorly conceived and acted Private Dancer (above).

Monday, December 2, 2013

And Away We Go...But Not Quickly Enough

The cast of And Away We Go

The plucky little Pearl Theatre Company has survived 30 years in the Off Broadway trenches, an amazing feat. To mark the occasion, Terrence McNally was commissioned to write a play that pays tribute to actors throughout the ages, since the Pearl's mission is reviving classic plays. Unfortunately, And Away We Go too often feels like an obligatory assignment. And it's about a half hour too long. Would that the Pearl had just revived one of those classic plays.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Back to Homeland

Homeland promo

You know those halcyon days that dominate the early stages of a relationship, be it with new friend, colleague or lover? They seem to carry a golden glow of perfection. Then something happens...maybe an outburst of inappropriate anger...maybe a broken promise...whatever it is, you discover they have flaws, and they go from extraordinary to ordinary status.

So goes the saga of my love affair with Homeland. As I work my way through the season-two DVDs, I've had to accept that this drama is not the beacon of perfection it was on its maiden voyage.

Things were going along just fine until episode three. Even Damian Lewis's stellar acting couldn't make me swallow the plotline that sends Brody to Gettysburg to take the tailor who made his bomb vest to a safe house. Brody is supposed to be Abu Nazir's secret weapon; his access to CIA officials and the Vice President are key to Nazir's desire to exact revenge on the U.S. Why would he risk putting him out in public with someone the CIA is chasing, especially in a car with a license plate that could be linked to Brody?

Lewis, as usual, was a whirlwind of mad-eyed intensity, panting and sweating as he got ever more bloody and dirty and the situation spiraled out of control. Nevertheless, those scenes marked the first time that I ever laughed at something I wasn't meant to on the show.

And then...two episodes later came one called "Q&A," written by the late, great Henry Bromell. Brody is arrested and spends most of the hour facing Claire Danes's Carrie in an interrogation room. It showed the series at its best. Lewis has got to be one of the most convincing criers on TV, and his scenes with Danes are riveting.

So I'm back in love with Homeland--and also with the person who created the promo above, which beautifully conveys the enigma that is Brody and Carrie's fascination with him--at least until the next DVD arrives from Netflix.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Romeo the Right Way

Daphne Rubin-Vega and Elizabeth Olsen in Romeo & Juliet.

CSC's nervy, nontraditional Romeo & Juliet, which I caught at a Sunday matinee a month after I saw the current Broadway revival, is a welcome surprise. I didn't expect it to be universally embraced, but I'm surprised it was lambasted by so many critics. I'll take Bosnian director Tea Alagic's carefully conceived interpretation over the one full of sound and fury that's on Broadway.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Don't Go to New York, Young Playwright

Christine Toy Johnson and Bernardo Cubria in Philip Goes Forth.

The scion of a wealthy family moves to New York to become a playwright. That's the premise of George Kelly's Philip Goes Forth, as well as the dramatist's own biography. But while things went well for Kelly—who wrote The Torch-Bearers, The Show-Off and won a Pulitzer for Craig's Wife, in addition to being Grace's uncle—Philip's fortunes go in a different (and not especially interesting) direction.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Hell of Blessing's Making

Edward James Hyland and David Deblinger in User's Guide.

How can a play that features a 9/11 terrorist fucking a Ponzi-scheme master in ass be as tame and trite as Lee Blessing's A User's Guide to Hell, featuring Bernard Madoff? Given the current state of U.S.-Russia relations, Project Y Theatre might have had more success reviving the Tony-nominated author's much more considerate A Walk in the Woods.

You can watch a scene from the original production, starring Sam Waterston and Robert Prosky, starting at 5:50.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Past Doesn't Come Alive

Tony Naumovski and Elizabeth Jasicki in Final Analysis.

Should I ever be lucky enough to get on the TARDIS, time-travel back to early-20th-century Vienna, and meet Freud, Mahler and others of their ilk, I would hope they wouldn't be as dull as they seem in the Off Broadway play Final Analysis.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Landing a Grudge

Patricia Richardson and P.J. Benjamin in I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan.
I don't forgive Ronald Reagan, or Margaret Thatcher, or any of those greedy conservative '80s politicians, for that matter. But I am more charitable about the faults of I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan, John S. Anastasi's well-intentioned look at a fired air-traffic controller trying to get past his long-simmering grudge against our 40th president.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Burning up the Tango Floor

Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy in Forever Tango.

Forever Tango...whether you see that as a promise or a threat all depends on your affinity for the hot Latin dance and those who perform it. Mine wasn't strong enough to be sustained by this rather conventional return to Broadway for the popular show, but it's worth noting that two of the hot-footed dancers burning up the boards of Walter Kerr Theatre are Maksim and Karina from Dancing with the Stars, who last Broadway hoofing was a couple of summers ago in Burn the Floor. And it was cool to do my first Broadway review for Time Out New York.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cutting the Cord—Or Not

Dale Carman and Wilson Bridges in The Silver Cord.

That film and television now fulfill a role that theater once played is not such a bad thing. Case in point: There's no longer a need for playwrights like Sidney Howard to be quite so overt in dispensing advice to helicopter mothers and their suffocated offspring, as he is in The Silver Cord, now being revived by the Peccadillo Theater Company.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Great Fall

Jill Tanner and George Morfogen in A Picture of Autumn.

Lots of theaters (though certainly not enough of them) introduce their audiences to new playwrights, but not many can say they introduce their audiences to "new" playwrights who died 40 years ago. Such are the joys of the Mint Theater Company, which is presenting N.C. Hunter's A Picture of Autumn this summer. Imagine what could have happened to the Crawleys on Downton Abbey if Matthew hadn't intervened and stabilized their finances and you'll understand the sadness and struggles that confront the family in this solidly acted and moving 1951 British drama.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dysfunctional Family

Deirdre O'Connell, DeMunn and Charlie Saxton in A Family for All Occasions.

Am I the only one who didn't see why Bob Glaudini's Jack Goes Boating received the all the praise that it did when it played Off Broadway several years ago? It seemed like Steppenwolf-lite: filled with characters that were alternately dark and/or quirky but bore little resemblance actual people.

That was a Labyrinth Theater Company production that starred Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now Hoffman directs Glaudini's latest play for Labyrinth, A Family for All Occasions. It has flashes of brilliance, especially when Jeffrey DeMunn is onstage (how nice not to see him battling zombies on The Walking Dead anymore), but also long stretches of aimless plotting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

It's a Draw

William Laney and Alex Fast in The Drawer Boy.

I almost never tire of dry, quirky, understated Canadian humor, and when that is the main thrust of The Drawer Boy, Michael Healey's play is a delight. But this tale of two farmers with a mysterious past overreaches in the second act, aiming for profundity and coming up quaint. Perhaps that's why it took 14 year for it to receive it's New York premiere, in a production now at SoHo Playhouse.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Not Much Will Power

Jeremiah Kissel, Christianna Nelson and Pendleton in The Last Will.

Think formalizing your final will is one of life's more soporific labors. I'm afraid it's not much more interesting watching Shakespeare accomplish the task in The Last Will, Robert Brustein's look at the late-in-life Bard, retired from the theater and back home in Stratford. The respected Austin Pendleton both stars in and directs this production, a herculean assignment under the best of circumstances.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Who's in Once

Darvill and Christie in Once.

When I heard this morning that Arthur Darvill was stepping into one of the lead roles in the Broadway production of Once, I was sure I missed a press release or three. Surely producers knew he was one of the stars of Doctor Who, and that his presence might generate a bump in ticket sales. But it's like he appeared on Broadway out of nowhere (via TARDIS perhaps?).

The New York Times and the Associated Press cited immigration issues as the reason no advance notice was given prior to Darvill and his new British costar, Joanna Christie, joining the cast. Both articles claim that they're starting Tuesday, but the Stage Door Dish has physical evidence that they've already started, last Friday according to the blog.

Whether planned or not, sneaking up on Broadway like this is kind of a shrewd move for someone with the sort of fan-following Darvill has. Had there been a big announcement leading up to his first performance, there would have been a lot of anticipation for that first performance, not to mention requests for media interviews (I probably would have been one of them). But now he's "starting" with four performances already under his belt, so by the time Whovians start buying tickets and seeing the show and tweeting and blogging about it, he'll have already settled into the role. You get pretty smart when you hang around the Doctor...

This probably has nothing to do with what really happened, but it makes for a nice theory, don't you think?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remaking Macbeth

Alan Cumming in Macbeth.

It sounds gimmicky, but I was really impressed with the creepy, evocative Macbeth now on Broadway, in which Alan Cumming gets to stretch his Shakespeare muscles by playing all of the major characters. I'd become accustomed to thinking of Cumming as more of an entertainment personality than as the rigorous and talented actor he proves to be in this condensed version of the Scottish Play, set in an asylum.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Aaron Serotsky, Ned Eisenberg and Miriam Silverman in Finks.

Until I saw Zero Hour, a solo biodrama about the brilliant, difficult Zero Mostel, a few years back, I wasn't aware that Jerome Robbins had given names of suspected communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee. I knew about Elia Kazan, of course, but Robbins had seemed untainted by it all.

There's a not-even-thinly-disguised dancer-choreographer based on him in Finks, a funny, moving new Off Broadway play that at first glance can seem lightweight due to the amount of comedy it contains but is quite substantial. It's by Joe Gilford, whose actor parents, Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee, were blacklisted thanks to Robbins's testimony. Whereas Zero Hour was a diatribe, Finks reaches for understanding, which makes what happened to the playwright's parents all the more powerful. And an Abbott and Costello spoof with a Red Scare slant is brilliant and hilarious.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Great with Two-Handers

Blythe Duff and Andrew Scott-Ramsay in Good with People.

Amid all the big spring Broadway openings, don't overlook David Harrower's Good with People. I was reading a book of Pinter plays (how pretentious does that sound!) when I caught this thorny, stirring show, part of this year's Brits Off Broadway festival. Like his much-praised Blackbird, about a now-grown woman confronting the older man she had an affair with when she was girl, it's the ultimate in awkward-encounter plays: A woman in a town in northern Scotland meets one of the now-grown-up young man who took part in an attack on her son when they were teenagers. What's stunning is how minimalist yet penetrating both plays are.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Labor vs. the Environment...a conundrum

Here's an urban conundrum for someone who aims to be socially conscious in the 21st century…when someone tries to hand me a flyer for a business or an event that I have no interest in, do I accept it—even though it's not the environmentally conscious thing to do, since I know it will wind up in my recycling bin that night—on the grounds that I'm helping a fellow laborer, and as soon as they're all handed out this person will be able to do something more fulfilling; or do I put the environment first and decline it, assuming that the hander-outer is paid an hourly rate that's not based on how many flyers he puts into people's hands?

Somehow I don't think Emily Post weighed in on this topic.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Forgotten Irish Drama from the Mint

Schmidt and Patrick Fitzgerald in Katie Roche.

Thanks to the Mint Theater Company I've had a lovely time getting acquainted with Irish playwright Teresa Deevy over the last three seasons. Their current offering, Katie Roche, isn't my favorite of three Deevy plays the Mint has presented since 2010, but it's certainly still a worthwhile work, and it does have the wonderful Wrenn Schmidt in the title role. I've enjoyed her work in a couple of other Off Broadway shows (the Mint's Temporal Powers and Be a Good Little Widow), and I think she'll make a dandy Hilde opposite Jon Turturro's Solness in BAM's upcoming The Master Builder.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Talley for Two

Talley's Folly stars Paulson and Burstein

It's quite delightful conducting an interview when your subjects are Danny Burstein, who was equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking in the Broadway revivals of South Pacific, and Sarah Paulson, probably best known for her work on American Horror Story, but also a strong stage presence in Collected Stories and Crimes of the Heart. If the chemistry they displayed offstage is any indication of what they'll be like onstage in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Talley's Folly, they'll be more than just fine.