Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
When Ray (Jeff Daniels) yanks Una (Michelle Williams) into his office lunchroom, we immediately know something’s very wrong. Vibrating with rage and panic, keeping his distance as if caged with a lioness, he wants to know how Una found him (a photo in a trade magazine) and what she wants. Fifteen years ago, 40 year-old Ray pursued and had sex with then 12 year-old Una shattering both their lives. He turned himself in, served time, moved, changed his name, and is in a relationship. She saw psychiatrists, traveled, finally holds down a job, and, after numerous lovers meant to punish her parents for separating them, has had a boyfriend.
He wears a shirt and tie like any white collar employee. She has on a thin, short, girlish dress and very high heels. (Costumes Ann Roth) Una closes the door, Ray opens it. Una kicks it closed with her foot. Ray opens it. Una slams it. His chin juts out; tension holds neck and shoulders rigid. She acts as if she’s in control but is obviously unstable. His words are spasmodic, hers measured.
Una insists on talking about what’s happened since. She’s aggressive, accusatory. Ray’s answers are succinct, defensive. He intermittently throws her coat and bag at the girl, trying to make her leave. She recalls how their liaison began, describing him as a predator. He remembers her preteen self as precocious, seductive. We watch him viscerally suffer.
She demands they go over what occurred the fateful night they were exposed. The two stories prove revelatory. Was the breech simply a matter of crossed wires? There are things Una kept from the police. Ray still thinks of her every day. Pain is omnipresent, internal conflict palpable, eruption imminent.
I saw the 2007 Manhattan Theatre Club production of this play which featured the same Director – Joe Mantello, the same Set Designer – Scott Pask, and, most importantly, one of the same leads – Jeff Daniels. Though details have faded, I remember feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. Alas, that doesn’t happen this time around.
Jeff Daniels, who has grown as an actor over time, brings new comprehension and maturity to the role. Ray’s wrenching journey is manifest from the gut. Protest is torn from him, feelings bleed. Shame doesn’t prevent what the character perceives as love. In testament to David Harrower’s insightful writing, judgment about the immoral, illegal coupling doesn’t prevent one’s sympathy for the man. Daniels appears whole and credible.
Michelle Williams, however, does not. An actress I have admired elsewhere, Williams here seems all surface twitches. Either she hasn’t made decisions about Una’s emotions or her expression of them is too internal. Until the character breaks down at the end of the play, the stage belongs to Daniels. Without equal push-pull, the piece cannot be successful.
Director Joe Mantello, whose talents I have always appreciated, seems to have achieved only half what he set out to do.
Scott Pask’s sterile, gray Set Design provides an aptly cold and impersonal atmosphere.
Photos by Brigitte Lacomb
Blackbirdby David Harrower
Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams
Directed by Joe Mantello
111 West 44th Street
Through June 11, 2016
Tickets at Telecharge or the box office
This 1960 musical which astonishingly ran a year, featured then popular Nancy Walker and Phil Silvers. Damon Runyonish without the swell songs and nifty book of 1950’s Guys and Dolls, the show must’ve been a vehicle for its stars. To my mind, it contains one timeless ballad- “Make Someone Happy,” two somewhat amusing girl group songs- “All You Need is A Quarter” and the quirky “What’s New at the Zoo,” one successful, tongue-in-cheek number “It’s Legitimate,” and one comic (musical) soliloquy “The Late, Late Show.” Otherwise material is tuneless and verbose. The game company does manage to deliver some entertainment, however.
Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus
Briefly, Hubie Cram (the Nathan Lane-ish Patrick John Moran) is a losing dreamer and small time con man looking for the big score. His loving wife, Kay, (Laura Daniel) wants him to take a job in her father’s dry cleaning business, but, patience wearing thin, sticks by him nonetheless. Hubie fixes on the idea of cornering the jukebox market and enlists former gangster comrades, Fitzo (Daniel Marcus), Brains (Roger Rifkin) and Skin (Michael Scott.) His intentions are legitimate, theirs reflexively shady. At the same time, he discovers singing waitress Tilda (Beth DeMichele) and starts recording her.
Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele
The jukebox business is a failure, but Tilda’s a success. When she falls in love at first sight with music industry competitor, John Henry Wheeler (Tyler Milliron), the hoodlums are sure their golden goose will leave and plan on violent measures. Before this can happen, everyone is pulled into a Washington DC court for strong-arming practices. It’s Hubie’s first experience in the spotlight and, despite threat of incarceration, he loves it. (Moran’s face is a pitch perfect reflection.) Needless to say, everything turns out fine.
Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Patrick John Moran (Hubie) deserves better material. There’s a sweetness about his ineptitude and frustration. The actor has good comic timing and delivers solid vocals. Were direction lighter, he’d surely be funnier as well.
Laura Daniel is credibly working class, long suffering and devoted. Adding some specific physicality to her character would help define Kay.
The best voice on the stage belongs to Beth DeMichele (Tilda), who is also an appealingly natural actress. If Tyler Milliron would take his resonant vocals down a notch, the two would mesh nicely.
Of the gangsters, Daniel Marcus’ Fitzo stands out. His accent is grand. Marcus moves heavier than he is, reacting with habitual speed and attitude that illuminates the crook.
Director/Choreographer Donald Brenner’s high spots are two terrific girl group numbers with very cool synchronized movement. He should do a fifties show.
Photos by Michael Portantiere Opening: Laura Daniel and Patrick John Moran Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Musicals Tonight! presents Do Re Mi
Libretto- Garson Kanin; Music- Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden and Adolph Green
This Production Directed and Choreographed by Donald Brenner
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- David B. Bishop
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through April 3, 2016
Tickets at Telecharge or The Lion Theatre Box Office
NEXT April 5-17 : Wonderful Town
Attesting to its timeless appeal, the 1936 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László had been made into two Hollywood films – The Shop Around the Corner and The Good Old Summertime – before this 1963 musical saw the light. Nor did that end reinterpretation, as the next generation grinned through You’ve Got Mail.
The Joe Masterhoff/Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick version is a hand-painted valentine, a shaken snow globe, a waltz. As written, the piece has universal appeal. Its book is sympathetic and unfussy, music and lyrics original and adroit. Once again numbers like “Sounds While Selling” in which we hear pieces of conversation from three customers with three salespeople:
1st WOMAN: I would like to see a…/KODALY:…face like yours…/2nd WOMAN: …cracked…/SIPOS:…but we carry…/1st WOMAN:Do you have a cream for…/2nd WOMAN:…very red…and “Vanilla Ice Cream,” which swings back and forth from the heroine’s astonishment at suddenly finding her nemesis captivating and writing to her lonely hearts “pen pal,” make me marvel the authors’ accomplishment. Not to mention resonant ballads and clever comedic numbers.
Zachary Levi and Michael McGrath
The show has warmth, humor, love, distinctive characters, misunderstanding, adultery, Christmas, and a happy ending, several really. What more could one want? It’s sentimental but not saccharine. I’m a longtime fan.
Here, as in the original, our story unfolds at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest, Hungary. Set Designer David Rockwell imagines the establishment as a charming, deftly detailed dolls’ house. The set morphs beautiflly. Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings) runs a cheerfully tight ship. The shop is managed by 30-something everyman Georg Nowack (Zachary Levi) and staffed by timid, Ladislav Sipos (Michael McGrath), womanizer Steven Kodaly (Gavin Creel), single-too-long Ilona Ritter (Jane Krakowski), and delivery boy Arpad Laslo (Nicholas Barasch). Kodaly and Ritter are having a clandestine affair about which everyone is aware.
Into this happy family comes Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti) desperate for a job. Though refused a position, the young woman whips off her hat and sells an item about which the proprietor is enthusiastic, but which Nowack considers a mistake. She’s hired. Balash and Nowack are now at loggerheads, a self perpetuating situation.
Having seen at least one of this story’s iterations, you must know that the eventual couple are unknowingly writing one another letters through a lonely hearts club. Both are completely smitten. An eventual attempt to meet evokes an usually touching and comic scenario during which he finds out the identity of his inamorata. Now what? Meanwhile, Kodaly’s latest betrayal of Ilona upsets the apple cart at work in ways no one anticipated.
Gavin Creek and Jane Krakowski
In order for any production to be successful, the show’s protagonists must seem unconscious of what the audience knows. Actors must play “straight,” innocent, or as my companion this evening succinctly suggested, they must “discover” in front of us. This, unfortunately, largely fails to happen.
Scott Ellis’s Direction broadcasts every emotion. Comedy arrives in a succession akin to – I’m about to be funny, look I’m being funny, wait – did you get that? There are broad ba-dump-dump looks and gestures appropriate to vaudeville. Moments of revelation ignore adjustment, confusion, and surprise in favor of being slick. Anger is glossed over. No one thinks or feels, they just move on.
Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi
Michael McGrath (Sipos) does a nice, subdued, early Nathan Lane-ish job, managing to be gentle and credible. Gavin Creel (Kodaly), the single actor for whom exaggeration is appropriate, is at the same time flamboyant and precise, never going for the yuks.
Jane Krakowski’s Ilona is all sex all the time. A theatrical fanny has not had so much work out since Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. This is supposed to be a girl possessed, neither naively kittenish, nor a vixen. When her turnabout occurs, we don’t buy it. Krakowski is a fine singer and usually a much better comedienne.
Zachary Levi (Nowack) seems to have had a revelation between Acts I and II. In Act I, he’s self-conscious and preening. In Act II, the actor suddenly becomes boyish and believable. “She Loves Me” is infectiously exuberant.
The biggest disappointment is Laura Benanti. At no time is the role of Amalia Balash plumbed for anything but surface expression. Benanti has an extraordinary voice which here, alas, is too often both loudly unfitting to a moment and unbecoming.
Re Warren Carlyle’s Choreography: Though Kodaly’s magnetism is amusingly showcased during a dance duet that features Krakowski’s skillful split (cue applause), that same move has no more business in “I Resolve”- her swearing off that kind of relationship – than do leg extensions through a highly slit skirt she later, aptly rebuttons. The once wry scenario at Cafe Imperiale (bravo Headwaiter Peter Bartlett), is now something out of a Marx Brothers script.
Tonight’s audience admittedly seems unaware of these issues. If you’ve never seen this delicious piece, perhaps you will be as well.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi
Roundabout Theatre Company presents She Loves Me Book-Joe Masterhoff; Music-Jerry Bock; Lyrics- Sheldon Harnick Directed by Scott Ellis Studio 54 254 West 54th Street Through June 12, 2016
Playwright Laurence Holder’s Sugar Ray (Robinson) is clearly a labor of love. A portrait of the great boxer, the play not only describes his trajectory from inadvertent entry into the sport through two amateur and three professional championships, but also effectively sketches the man’s character, illuminating principles that drove and supported him.
The strong, sympathetic piece is wisely framed as if in Robinson’s own words and stunningly brought to life by actor Reginald L. Wilson who works the room with grace, energy, charisma, and focus. Director Woodie King, Jr. immerses his audience by having the actor not only come among us, but periodically address attendees with hypnotic in-your-face deliberation. Pacing is pitch perfect. Gestures feel natural, emotions credible.
“Now this is nice! This is what they did to my place!…Frank Sinatra used to sit there, Billy Eckstein there, and Sammy Davis Jr…”* Actor Reginald L. Wilson has us right out of the gate, bursting in like thoroughbred. “The first time I lost a fight,” he then begins, “The damn army was going to draft me…I was gonna fight Jake LaMotta (former World Middleweight Champion), a mean, misunderstood bull, but this time I didn’t train the way I usually do. I couldn’t find the river.” Both vernacular and poetry buoy and distinguish this script.
“But the money… We weren’t fighting for the championship, we were fighting to establish ourselves. We were gladiators…We fought until we couldn’t fight anymore. We fought because we couldn’t do anything else.” From the get-go we know who we’re dealing with and in what context.
Born Walker Smith Jr., the fighter took on his new name when, needing an on-the-road fill-in, the manager for whom he worked borrowed Amateur Athletic Union credentials from Ray Robinson. (A notorious womanizer, he was later deemed “sweet as sugar” acquiring the nickname.) The young man managed to hide the new vocation from his mother for $900.00 worth of $10.00 bouts.
As dramatized, mama overhears him arguing with his sister about $10.00 she purloined from the cashbox he hid in her room. “What money?!” his mother demands. “I’m fishin’, but there’s nothin’ there. I look at Marie (his sister). I ain’t getting no help from that corner.” Robinson was sure he’d get hit. Instead, his mother runs her hand over his face “feelin’ for hurts” and becomes his #1 fan. (A touching moment played with warmth and humor.)
Robinson could always move. He and his sister were sent to dance class and he later (when?!) took fencing. Fancy footwork, agility and especially the strength of one’s legs is vital to boxing. Wilson at one point tap dances a little and looks like he could execute a perfect jeté. The actor also punches with speed and precision.
We hear details about important fights: As a pro, Robinson was World Welterweight Champion 1946-1951, World Middleweight Champion in 1952, and, coming out of retirement, astonishingly regained that crown in 1955 holding it on and off till 1959. Bouts are recounted in appealingly personal terms with observations about opponents and where he was in his career, but one could do without ancillary statistics.
As a black man in his time, Robinson suffered bigotry and even embezzlement without recourse. Holder doesn’t make a lot of the former; a brief anecdote involving Walter Winchell brings it home. In a scene that feels palpably real, he famously turns down an offer of a million dollars to throw a fight with “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta, despite badly needing the funds. Robinson was also, for some time, able to live large – in fact, well beyond his means, buying and gifting real estate and having his legendary pink Cadillac convertible shipped abroad for European tours. (He died flat broke.)
Three wives come into the picture with brief narrative that might successfully be expanded. Each is referred to with affection and some bite. There was nothing insecure about this man’s ego. Wilson manages to turn on a dime from intimate sharing to impassioned physicality. Robinson admits to innocently taking drugs from a doctor on one occasion and loses that fight. He speaks with sentimentality of a relationship with the just-beginning Cassius Clay (later Muhammed Ali) who wanted him to become Muslim.
We watch him walk away from the game “before I end up shinin’ shoes,” spend a little time dabbling in show biz to make ends meet, return for his crown, and be celebrated at Madison Square Garden. This last event is written and played with eloquence. Wilson even gets us to applaud in support of Robinson when appropriate. The story ends with sweet solemnity, no regrets. Sugar Ray Robinson descended into Alzheimer’s.
Sugar Ray is somewhat overly detailed for those not aficionados of the sport. Intermittent film clips and stills, though atmospheric, don’t illustrate enough. Dispense with them or acquire more. Despite these minor caveats, the evening is compelling, the performance riveting.
Sugar Ray deserves to be seen.
Reginald L. Wilson, apparently about the same size and with similar southern-inflected accent as Sugar Ray Robinson, is outstanding in this role. He bursts in like a firecracker, shifts moods with mercurial skill and never rushes, giving us a sense of real time storytelling. Wilson flirts with heat, laughs with abandon, stills with sincerity and exults in his character’s passion. Bravo.
*The site specific play takes place at New Harlem Besame Latino Soul Lounge which inhabits the spot where Robinson had his bar/restaurant and offices in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, the family restaurant and music venue has always displayed proud photos of the greatest boxer of all time. There’s a resonance to seeing it here and not in a legitimate theater.
Acknowledging the importance of living history, NYC’s Department of Transportation renamed the corner of 123rd St and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard Sugar Ray Way.
Performance Photos by Farnaz Taherimotlagh
Sugar Ray Written by Laurence Holder Featuring Reginald L. Wilson Directed by Woodie King, Jr. New Harlem Besame Latino Soul Lounge 2070 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd-corner of 124th St. Performance admission includes prix fixe dinner afterwards
Darja (Marin Ireland) and Tommy (Morgan Spector) are having a heated argument at a bleak, highway bus stop in New Jersey. She’s a volatile Polish immigrant in her early forties with a decided accent (wonderfully executed) who works in a factory and cleaning houses. He’s a slightly younger, loosely wound, American postal worker with a tattoo on his leg.
Tommy is Darja’s third formal liaison after a first husband with whom she came to the states and a second who physically abused her. They’ve been together six years. Twenty-two year-old son, Alex, who has a serious drug addiction, has disappeared from home. The need to find him is eating his mother alive. Though this argument is provoked by that anxiety, it centers on Tommy’s infidelity. He’s been bedding a rich Montclair woman whose house Darja cleans.
Morgan Spector and Marin Ireland
“…What you gotta understand is that people fuck up…if you wanna classify me for one little…” Tommy protests, adding Darja knows he has trouble being alone. (She often works late.) The one little turns out to be at least 14 meetings over several years – and there were other women. She’s figured out his password and tapped his iPhone “There’s an app.”
Rage has blinded neither Darja’s independence nor her survival skills. She wants to know how much money Tommy will give her to stay. He thinks he rescued her. She feels she’s slaving for him and points out that his mistress sees him as a toy. They negotiate. She wants at least enough money for a car. He rationalizes “support,” then withdraws at further vitriol. “Get in the car!” Blackout.
Josiah Bania and Marin Ireland
From here, we open on the bus stop 22 years before. The play unfolds episodically back and forth from past to present. Though it takes a few minutes to get one’s bearing at the first shift in time, the story then flows with clarity. We’re always on the highway between Elizabeth and Newark. Limbo.
Darja and her first husband, Maks (Josiah Bania), are at insurmountable odds about his starry-eyed dream to go to Chicago and play blues. Still suffering from the first uprooting, she wants to stay where they both have jobs and things are secure. They argue about the importance of money above all else. Darja is pregnant, but doesn’t tell her husband. Clearly in love, the couple reluctantly part. Sensitively written and gently enacted.
Shiloh Fernandez and Marin Ireland
We never meet husband number two, formerly Darja’s boss at the factory, but one scene during that marriage finds her huddling against the night cold with a whopper of a black eye afraid to return home. She’s discovered by male prostitute Vic (Shiloh Fernandez), who looks and talks like a street thug, but is, in fact, just the opposite. This parenthesis is like watching Androcles and the Lion. Darja is skittish, suspicious. Vic is sweet and solicitous. Their eventual accommodation to each other is palpably genuine.
Polish to English syntax is pitch perfect. The heroine’s relationships with Maks and Tommy couldn’t be more different, yet both are filled with specifics that make them feel authentic. Darja knows nothing but poverty and struggle. Sometimes she steals a little something from a client. Men have been unreliable, cruel. Life centers around getting through each day and doing what she can for her son. She clearly cares for Tommy, but there’s an acknowledged mutual “using” present as well. They part. Will they reunite…when circumstances change?
This is a tough, tightly written, visceral play, yet it contains both tenderness and humor.
Marin Ireland and Morgan Spector
Morgan Spector (Tommy), as what we used to call a “big lug,” embodies an unworldly innocence that’s no match for the clever Darja. The actor is thoroughly grounded. Blow-ups come from the gut. A passage where he thinks he sees a different future for himself is touching, not cloying.
Josiah Bania plays Maks as a loving man with a dream that simply won’t be denied. Bania both speaks excellent Polish (is he of that nationality?) and plays outstanding mouth organ. Quite a casting feat. He’s unmistakably playful, tender, and resolved.
As Vic, Shiloh Fernandez so completely epitomizes a backstreet gang member, we’re thoroughly surprised when he turns out to be otherwise. Fernandez walks a fine line between the boy’s assumed persona and his sincerity with great finesse.
Marin Ireland is simply wonderful. There isn’t a crack in the fully formed woman she inhabits. Steely, plotting, desperate, proud, stubborn, and at least, at one point, in love, we see her viscerally fighting to endure. Though the experience may be foreign, Ireland offers affecting touch points at every turn.
Direction by Daniella Topol is both pithy and nuanced.
Justin Townsend’s Scenic Design couldn’t be aptly colder or more minimal.
Kaye Voyce’s Costumes add immeasurably to character definition.
Photos by Sandra Coudert Opening: Marin Ireland
Ironbound by Martyna Majok Directed by Daniella Topol Featuring: Josiah Bania, Shiloh Fernandez, Marin Ireland, Morgan Spector Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in Co-Production with Women’s Project Theater 224 Waverly Place Through April 10, 2016
You need no special affection for country/rockabilly to be seduced by this rollicking shindig of a tall tale. It happens almost without one’s awareness. Director Alex Timbers’s inspired revival of the 1975 Mississippi whopper is so high spirited, so full of infectious numbers, inventive sight-gags, and artfully exaggerated performances, you’d have to have sold your sense of humor to the devil to remain untouched. “Once upon a time, there was a fairytale kingdom…” Yeehaw!
Upright citizen Jamie Lockhart, (heartthrob Steven Pasquale of Bloody Bloody AndrewJackson and The Bridges of Madison County) comes across Little Harp (Andrew Durand, a pitch perfect scalawag) robbing rich plantation owner Clement Musgrove (a genial Lance Roberts) under the watchful direction of his brother, Big Harp (Evan Harrington), whose live severed head he carts around in a trunk. Got all that? Two heads are better than one… When Jamie sends Little Harp packing, the victim tries to give him gold, but is refused despite Musgrove’s assurance there’s a lot more where that came from.
The gregarious Musgrove invites Jamie to meet his second wife Salome (Leslie Kritzer- imagine Carol Burnett on steroids playing a nymphomaniac, wicked stepmother) and beautiful, supposedly docile daughter Rosamund (Ahna O’Reilly with a pithier-than ingénue voice and spunky presence). Every boastful reference to wealth is greeted with more than usual interest. Jamie, it seems, his face masked in berry juice, moonlights as The Bandit of the Woods.
Salome hires the light-brained, bumbling Goat (a wonderfully sweet and funny Greg Hindreth) to kill her stepdaughter. “I will slap your butt into your shoulder blades if you come back without…” The Bandit encounters a restless, bored Rosamund in the forest and steals her clothes, sending her home naked, frustrated, untouched. She sneaks out that night to find her romantic outlaw. Comes a boy, he walks so steady/comes a girl, she seems so ready…When Jamie arrives for dinner, Rosamund makes herself awful in order to discourage him.
Steven Pasquale, Ahna O’Reilly
The Bandit plans to marry Musgrove’s ugly daughter and keep the woman who’s come to him-assuming she plays a bit hard to get and doesn’t do too much cleaning. Rosamund, rejecting her father’s upright choice, pines for a real relationship with the stranger, but who is he? Goat pursues his assignment in order to secure a promised suckling pig. Salome has the hots for Jamie, but the Bandit will do. Little Harp wants a woman and there seems to be one available for bartering. Musgrove will give anything and go anywhere to secure his daughter’s happiness.
Evan Harrington, Steven Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer, Lance Roberts, Nadia Quinn
Having watched Director Alex Timbers ply his imagination in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Peter and the Starcatcher, one expects the unconventional as well as the grounded. Salome likes to behead pigs and repeatedly falls on her face with a loud calump! When Rosamund and The Bandit go deep in the forest, “You comin’ with me? I don’t like to be followed,” they fluidly climb over, under, through, and between obstacles presented by the unobtrusive cast. Goat is not so successful, branches seem to come out to meet him. Pace is lively. Even filled with people, staging never appears sloppy.
Country western music is, for the most part, rowdy and fun; one ballad haunts. Musicians are very fine.
Steven Pasquale, Ahna O’Reilly
Pasquale is a born swashbuckler (by any name). His muscular form and resonant vocals embody the perfect hero. That the actor can also evoke humor – here from his character’s habits, chauvinism, and ego, makes him doubly entertaining.
Nadia Quinn who briefly plays Goat’s Mother deserves a call-out for her very cool personification of an ornery Raven.
The play is based on a 1942 Eudora Welty novella which transplanted a Brothers Grimm story to the Nachez Trace, (a forest trail from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee), embracing the bravado of American fables. Alfred Uhry’s book and lyrics manage to do this without fully eschewing romantic visions of good and evil. His knee-slapping directness would, however, appall fairies.
Choreographer Connor Gallagher presents dance that do-se-does with synchronized movement, utilizing the small stage with buoyancy and skill.
Above our heads, rough wood support beams, diagonal cabin walls, a taxidermy deer head and an enormous wild turkey hang beside mason jars holding candles. (Jake DeGroot Jeff Croiter, who later give us an unorthodox starry sky.) When the “curtain” parts, Donyale Werle’s inventive Set looks as if artist Joseph Cornell got drunk on moonshine and haphazardly decorated The Grand Ole Opry. Terrific.
Emily Rebholz’s Costumes mix western sagas with a bit of tease, and a smidgen of whimsy. Darron L. West/Charles Coes’ s Sound Design not only delivers the textured music of a five piece bluegrass band (and vocals), but engineers a terrific series of evocative sound effects.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Greg Hildreth, Steven Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer and the Company
Roundabout Theatre Company presents The Robber Bridegroom Book & Lyrics by Alfred Uhry Music by Robert Waldman Based on the novella by Eudora Welty Directed by Alex Timbers The Laura Pels Theatre 111 West 46th Street
People who live in glass houses have no right to throw stones. But, on my honor, I never knew that my house was a glass one until you pointed it out. Dr. Harry Trench (in the play)
Having just finished his medical boards, young Dr. Harry Trench (Jeremy Beck) is traveling abroad with his somewhat older friend, the flamboyant, yet rather proper William De Burgh Cokane, aka Billy (Jonathan Hadley). On the boat to Remagen on the Rhine and again at a hotel, they meet gentleman/businessman Sartorious (Terry Layman) and his pretty daughter Blanche (Talene Monahon). For the benefit of her father, Billy loudly extols Harry’s eligibility as a well born (if not wealthy) husband with great prospects.
Jonathan Hadley and Jeremy Beck
We quickly learn that the couple has already connected and that the café encounter is a set up. Harry is smitten. Blanche is not only willing, but immediately takes a Machiavellian lead. Her father, who knows more than he lets on, is in favor, but stipulates that the suitor’s family must first prove welcoming. Letters are sent and received.
Talene Monahon and Jeremy Beck
Back in London, Harry and his wingman arrive at Sartorious’s home to formalize the liaison. Here, they accidently meet the gentleman’s abused rent collector/building manager Lickcheese (John Plumpis), who, having just been fired for trying to keep his boss’s tenements in necessary repair, pleads his case before the two strangers. Sartorious, it seems, is a slum landlord of the worst, most greedy and unfeeling kind.
Harry is appalled. Unwilling to give up his suit and without telling her what he’s learned, he insists that Blanche and he live on his modest income rather than accepting substantial funds from her father. Accustomed to the best, she refuses, assuming her intended is using the precondition as an excuse to break off their engagement. To say she goes ballistic is putting it mildly. Sartorious’s explanation to Harry (and a more pragmatic Billy) is blatantly class prejudiced, indifferent, and, as Shaw presents it, realistic.
Jonathan Hadley and John Plumpis
When the clever Lickcheese’s fortunes change, he returns to offer a deal to the other three men. Harry discovers he’s unwittingly tied to Sartorious’s real estate empire and must decide whether to join what is a legal but, at root, morally reprehensible scheme, accepting a tainted income. Blanche would come with the package. We learn part of his decision.
The quandary is easily updated to decisions made by contemporary businessmen every day.
This is George Bernard Shaw’s first produced play (1892), but already shows great facility with characterization, language, exploration of the battle of the sexes, and abiding interest in social issues and politics. It’s both entertaining and intriguing.
Jeremy Beck, Talene Monahon, Jonathan Hadley, Terry Layman, John Plumpis, Hanna Creek
The most compelling actors on stage are Jonathan Hadley as William De Burgh Cockane and John Plumpis as Lickcheese. Hadley manages to walk a fine line between over the top and pitch perfect exaggeration, his every phrase and gesture expressing a wholly developed persona. When not actively attempting to draw attention, Billy is nonetheless visibly preparing; when he’s admonished, he elegantly sulks. Plumpis (who looks startlingly like Charles Chaplin), offers first a desperate toady and then a cheeky arriviste, each incarnation with its own set of viable emotions and mannerisms, both completely real. An excellent Cockney accent illuminates.
Talene Monahon (Blanche) works strictly from the surface at all times and is feasible only at the very start of the play. Jeremy Beck’s (Harry) switches from excessive, youthful exuberance to newfound gravitas without visible evolution.
As the Founding Artistic Director of Gingold Theatrical Group, Director David Staller lives and breathes George Bernard Shaw. Much of this production therefore feels authentic. In particular, Billy (William), though florid, appears to be at the same time, of the period, amusing, and irritating and Lickcheese’s change of station is adroitly reflected in his manner.
I have a rather large caveat, however: Blanche is portrayed as so unnecessarily vitriolic/histrionic, it’s impossible to believe Harry would even consider the relationship. Fury can be depicted without hitting, screaming, and flailing. This woman is supposed to be insidiously controlling, not an obvious harridan. Where is her place in the choice around which the play revolves if she’s not for a moment a credible option?
Set Design by Brian Prather is clever, spare and elegant.
Barbara A. Bell’s Costume Design is flattering and evocative, but Blanche’s parading around her home in copious jewelry – including a tiara – is ludicrous.
Photos by Marielle Solan Opening: Jeremy Beck
TACT and The Gingold Theatrical Group present Widowers’ Houses by George Bernard Shaw Directed by David Staller The Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street Though April 2, 2016
By now you know that Disaster! is a cliché soaked parody of 1970s disaster movies. Familiarity with these will undoubtedly spotlight “in” jokes like a nun parodying Helen Reddy’s character in Airport 1975, but is not necessary for comprehension. Little is. Either you have nostalgic affection for the genre and, equally important, pop and soul music of the era, or you don’t.
Exaggerated songs are actually placed so appropriately, it seems they might’ve been written for this kitschy piece. “Hot Stuff” (The Rolling Stones), for example, manages to apply to women, a geological survey, and what should be coming out of a kitchen serving cold buffet for lack of fire doors.
Roger Bart and Kerry Butler
Tony (Roger Bart, disappointingly subdued) is the con man owner of The Barracuda Casino and Dining Discotheque, moored to a city pier to escape gambling restrictions. He’s greased palms, cutting safety corners at every juncture.Think lounge lizard in a blue tux. Tony’s maybe girl, Jackie, a ditsy, shapely, faux Tina Louise, is headlining the club on the off chance he’ll marry her. (Rachel York, whose wide-eyed focus holds nicely-oh, and she can sing.) Her identical twins, the whining Ben and Lisa (both characterless Baylee Littrell) are along for the ride.
Marianne (the reliably fine Kerry Butler), an events reporter for The Times, is on the trail of corruption that built the Barracuda. When she discovers one of the waiters is Chad, a failed puzzle designer she left at the altar in favor of her career, regrets on both sides are obvious. (Adam Pascal,’attractive voice, appropriate camp attitude.) You knew there had to be thwarted romance, right? “I Can’t Live” if livin’ Is without you (Harry Nilsson)
Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler
Shirley (Faith Prince) and her husband Maury (Kevin Chamberlin) wearing some of the most purposefully ghastly outfits you may ever see onstage (Wiliam Ivey Long with a glint in his eye) are out for a night of late-in-marriage fun. The troupers would be well matched if Chamberlin were given more to do. As it is, Prince has two terrific turns. Secretly dying, Shirley’s presumptive symptoms emerge as uncontrollable tics, pelvic tilts, and foul language of which Ms. Prince makes the most. Even with a scarf stuffed in her mouth, she’s funny. Later, leading surviving passengers in a tap dance of Morse Code, she communicates escape information to those trapped below. (Clever idea)
Kevin Chamberlin, Faith Prince, and Kerry Butler
The axis of this mash-up turns on two pivotal characters. The first, Disaster Expert, Professor Ted Scheider (Seth Rudetsky, clearly having a good time), is a single minded scientist who, having discovered the pier is drilled into a fault line, predicts an imminent “geological event.” Chased around the ship by Tony, the straight man attempts to warn oblivious guests of oncoming cataclysm. At one point, costumed by sympathetic Jackie, he ends up on the stage with her singing backup to “Mocking Bird” in exactly the parroting arrangement by Carly Simon with which we’re familiar.
The second, is the pièce de résistance of the evening, Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy. Worthy of a Tony nomination, Simard, guitar slung across her small frame, breaks up the audience with each and every deadpan remark. It seems the sister “had” a gambling addiction.
While Marianne, Chad and the Professor express what they want with “Feelings”(Morris Albert/Louis “Loulou” Gaste), Downy’s quiet contribution is “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.” When Shirley sees her struggling and asks whether the nun is ok, she remarks “I’m more than ok, I’m bathed in the love of the Lord” without an iota of expression or enthusiasm.
Simard’s tour de force (and that of Director Jack Plotnick) is a siren dance to the TH220 Slot Machine (about which she knows every intimate detail), missing only the seven veils – it’s hysterical. Every physical and emotional muscle of this thespian finesses comedy with originality and pitch perfect timing.
Needless to say, there’s an earthquake, a capsizing, and a tidal wave. Token characters are wounded, dismembered or die. (Nothing like blood and mayhem to cheer on a contemporary audience.) As women’s clothing diminishes, couples come together. Marianne and Chad will try again. Tony eventually gets his comeuppance. But you knew all this.
Were it not for Lighting by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Mark Menard, a whole lotta expensive smoke, and the veteran featured players, you might think you were watching a show cobbled together at a college. Tobin Ost’s Sets are cheap looking; the tank of piranha puppets show a visible arm, rising sea water is fabric held on two sides, sharks clinging to Tony up to his elbows clearly come from Toys R Us, sections of-what? wall? fall from above hung by obvious cables. (Conversely, an outrageous number of large, carnivorous, stuffed rats works wonderfully.)
Director Jack Plotnick gets his tone right but does less well with crowd scenes. Small moments, like Marianne’s flipping her mane before carefully ripping her skirt to bind Chad’s wound, or the Professor’s navigating a beam like Philippe Petit, are often more satisfying than big ones.
Also on board is ex-disco diva Levora Verona (Lacretta Nicole) who never seems to make a place for herself.
The extravagant lampoon is partly awful and partly very funny. If you can get through the first to the second…
Photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography Opening: Catherine Ricafort, Roger Bart, Baylee Littrell, Seth Rudetsky, Rachel York,Kevin Chamberlin, Olivia Philip
Disaster! By Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick Additional Material by Drew Geraci Directed by Jason Plotnick Nederlander Theater 208 West 41st Street