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.

Alix Cohen

the thing with feathers – Compelling


“ Hope” is the thing with feathers -/That perches in the soul -/ And sings the tune without the words -/And never stops – at all -…” Emily Dickinson

Anna (Alexa Shae Niziak), a precocious 16 year-old, is distractedly finishing her Emily Dickinson paper while face-timing with Internet friend Eric (Zachary Booth) on her laptop. They’ve never met. It’s clear he appreciates her. She likes him. “I think it’s good,” he says referring to what she’s written so far. “I think you are good.” “Oh no, I’m a bad girl,” Anna responds…”I eat pizza for breakfast…” That ‘s the way this teenager’s mind works.

Eric, it turns out, is considerably older …and wants to meet up despite living 900 miles away.  Anna is flattered, but knows better and shies. He’s a stranger. The premise is familiar. We’re wary.

Alexa Shae Niziak

Mother Beth (DeAnna Lenhart), a real estate agent, is raising Anna alone. The two have a warm, respectful relationship. Because of the divorce, Beth is hesitant to marry Tim (Robert Manning Jr.), her straight arrow cop boyfriend of several years. Anna is comfortable with Tim and encourages the match. Conversation is easy, credible, and well played. Having overheard her daughter, Beth asks to whom Anna was speaking and learns about Eric. She strongly recommends her daughter cut off communication.

Eric appears at Anna’s door without notice. (It’s possible to find anyone these days.) He’s driven all the way to Amherst with a birthday gift. She’s shocked and cautious, but lets him in. The audience collectively inhales. He’s not as he represented himself.  They talk from far sides of the kitchen. Eric thinks she’s “special.” Uh huh. Anna makes a counter-intuitive decision.

Zachary Booth

Playwright Scott Organ controls us like Machiavelli. Again and again he sets up situations provoking expectations of dire/violent outcome. Tension ebbs and flows never quite dissipating. As the young people grow secretly closer, Beth agrees to marry Tim. Then Anna insists they meet Eric, or Eric convinces her he should. The encounter is as awkward and accusatory as you might imagine.

Beth has been carrying a secret for 12 years which not only upsets everyone’s plans, but could potentially ruin all their lives. The revalatory confrontation is bound to catch you unawares. Things emotionally snowball.

DeAnna Lenhart and Alexa Shae Niziak

This is a play about expectation, power, responsibility, and consequences. Writing is completely credible until the very end when, in my opinion, based on character, pivotal things are left unsaid. You may disagree. Up till then, the piece offers a helluva ride. It’s topical, skillfully crafted, and well produced.

Director Seth Barrish creates a natural atmosphere with attitude as realistic as stage business. Actors are given space to listen and react. No one overdoes it. Timing enhances.

Zachary Booth’s Eric is insidiously creepy. Part of this is what we bring to him based on situation, part can be credited to the actor’s adroit underplaying.

As Tim, Robert Manning Jr. is palpably manly and dependable, which, in his capable hands, seems more recognizable than cliché.

DeAnna Lenhart (Beth) has us till her last speech when I didn’t feel what must be the character’s gut wrenching regret.

Alexa Shae Niziak (Anna) is terrific. She neither makes a false move nor exhibits a less than credible expression. Everything is honest and sympathetic. This young actress should be watched.

Set Design by Edward T. Morris is well configured and speaks of particular economic status. Kristin Isola’s Costume Design puts the women in mostly tasteless, cheap looking apparel that belies cultural savvy.

If you’re unaware of Barrow Group, take heed. I’ve seen several excellent productions from this group sequestered slightly off the Broadway grid.

Photos by Todd Cerveris

Opening: DeAnna Lenhart, Alexa Shae Niziak, Zachary Booth, Robert Manning Jr.

The Barrow Group presents The World Premiere of
the thing with feathers by Scott Organ
Directed by Seth Barrish
TBG Mainstage   
312 West 36th Street
Through February 10, 2018

The Bobby Darin Story


Ted Chapin kicks off his tenure as head of 92Y’s iconic Lyrics & Lyricists with The Bobby Darin Story inspired by Dream Lover, an Australian jukebox musical telling the story of vocalist/musician/ songwriter/ publisher Bobby Darin: Walden Robert Cassotto 1936-1973. (The artist is said to have chosen his professional name passing a MANDARIN RESTAURANT sign with its first three neon letters gone dark.) Inclusion in a series celebrating writers is explained by utilizing some of Darin’s own songs, a few highly recognizable, several obscure. (He wrote over 160.)

To say featured performer Jonathan Groff’s fan base has assembled is putting it mildly. The audience cheers when he comes on, intermittently throughout, and volubly during bows. When Chapin approached Groff about playing Darin, the latter’s familiarity was limited to Kevin Spacey’s terrible biopic. YouTube Research got him hooked on the vocalist’s versatility. Respect is as palpable as enthusiasm.  (Author Will Friedwald calls Darin “a titanic fireball of an ultra-dynamic swinging and rocking entertainer.”)

George Salazar, Stephanie Styles, Jonathan Groff, Elena Shaddow, David Pittu

We open with an appealing low key version of “Beyond the Sea.” (Charles Trenet/ Albert Lasry Jack Lawrence.) Groff’s renditions, even when pop is ebullient or swing swells, soften edges making words more lyrical. For my money, a highpoint this evening comes towards the end when he sings Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter,” recorded during Darin’s otherwise unsuccessful folk phase. It’s soft as a fleece blanket and full of yearning. This is not to say Groff doesn’t otherwise sell the artist’s hip gestures, slick moves, finger snaps, and attitude.

Bobby Darin was born so poor, his crib was a salvaged cardboard box. Rheumatic fever weakened his system and would eventually be the source of early death. Doctors said he wouldn’t live past 15. He was short and balding. Ambition (and his mother’s unconditional support) fueled every decision. Young Darin worked in bands.

Elena Shaddow and Jonathan Groff; Stephanie Styles and Jonathan Groff

Depiction of nervously bombing in his first television (1956) appearance is deftly sympathetic in Groff’s hands. A mere two years later Darin’s own “Splish Splash” extemporized at the offhand suggestion of radio personality Murray-the-K’s mother, Jean (co-writer), shot to number one. Vivacious performance ostensibly on American Bandstand follows.

Not only does Groff/Darin sing  – often with vocal back-up, but so do his mother (Elena Shaddow – pretty voice, little personality), Elvis Presley (George Salazar with gyrating gusto), George Burns, in his first show without Gracie Allen (David Pittu, whose rather good  impersonation is somewhat handicapped by a mustache), and Darin’s wife, Sandra Dee (Stephanie Styles – thin, chirpy vocals). While varied attribution successfully allows for different voices performing a single oeuvre, I find breaking up narrative among the five-person cast (on cards and in scripts) disjointing/ distracting.

Jonathan Groff and David Pittu

At first emulating Elvis (neatly portrayed by Groff), Darin found his singular groove by arranging standards as rock. We hear “(Up A) Lazy River” (Hoagy Carmichael/ Sydney Arodin) by Groff, Pittu, Salazar and “That’s All” (Bob Haymes/Alan E. Brandt) by Shaddow. A charming duet of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” (Robert Graham/David Payton /Spencer Williams) performed with George Burns (Groff and Pitu) includes jaunty, ersatz soft shoe. “Mack the Knife” is tellingly performed first in good German (lyrics-Bertolt Brecht) by Pitu, then in English by Groff (Marc Blitzstein/Kurt Weill). All in all the men fare better than the women tonight.

It’s conjectured that because of early prognosis, Darin was fascinated by death, including the subject in many songs. The number chosen to exemplify this theory is Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock’s “Artificial Flowers.” Styles smiles during her up-tempo, counter-intuitive, pop version, but then Darin did as well.

His mother’s dream was realized in 1960 when Darin finally booked The Copacabana night club. Groff seamlessly slips into many of Darin’s signature moves – the short step and slide, the quick turn, shoulder jerk back, left hand finger snaps, and integrates familiar, punctuating sounds – Huh! Uh Huh! Hup! Yeah! Whoa!

George Salazar

“Dream Lover,” “Multiplication,” and “Things” were written by Darin, as was “18 Yellow Roses,” which tells the true story of his courting Sandra Dee (the first Gidget) through her chaperone mother by sending flowers daily. Dee was resistant at first and on paper the two seemed like opposites. Once he got his foot in the door, however, Darin swept her off her young feet. They married and became America’s Sweethearts. “Irresistible You” (Al Kasha/ Luther Dixon) is performed by Groff and Styles, who resembles the perky Dee.

Film work was inconsistent. Darin went back to night clubs where he felt at home. Dee hated having to sit ringside for two shows a night. Far flung appearances strained. Even with a new son, she began to drink and gamble. In an effort to keep things together, Darin started a music publishing company. “Danke Schoen” (Kurt Schwabach/Milt Gabler/Bert Kaempfert, which he handed off to Wayne Newton, made the newer performer a star. Salazar sings this with round-toned zest. Things came to a head. The couple divorced.

David Pittu, Elena Shaddow, Jonathan Groff, Stephanie Styles, George Salazar

Two pivotal things happened on the heels of this breach: Darin’s friend Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and the artist learned the woman he thought was his mother was in fact his grandmother, that his sister was his mom. The entertainer took off his hairpiece, moved to a trailer on the coast, and musically went through a folk phase. When the Hardin song hit, he realized he was still “a nightclub animal” and returned. Groff’s “Once in A Lifetime” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) is well placed. Time was running out.“In a sense his whole career was posthumous.”

Despite needing an oxygen tank offstage, Darin began a weekly television show and made plans for residency at The MGM Grand. He ignominiously died at 37 when forgetting to take antibiotics necessary to his heart condition before a dentist appointment.

Off comes the make up/Off comes the clown’s disguise/ The curtain’s fallin’ /The music softly dies./But I hope your smilin’/As you’re filin’ out the door/As they say in this biz/That’s all there is, there isn’t anymore.  “The Curtain Falls

Chapin’s script is entertaining and highly informative.

Director Alex Timbers keeps the piece lively and duets fetching.

Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Jonathan Groff

92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
The Bobby Darin Story
Based on the musical Dream Lover
Featuring Jonathan Groff
Vocalists: David Puttu, George Salazar, Elena Shaddow, Stephanie Styles
Director- Alex Timbers
Music Directors- Andy Einhorn & Andrew Resnick
Musical Staging-Chase Brock
92Y – Lexington Avenue 92/93
NEXT LYRICS & LYRICISTS: Lenny’s Lyricists February 24-26

Josephine-a burlesque cabaret dream play


This is the third or fourth one woman Josephine Baker show I’ve seen and, despite serious issues, it’s better than the others. Tymisha Harris is attractive and full of personality. She’s beautifully dressed, moves well, and sings with feeling. (Terrific Costume Design including the epochal banana ensemble- Tymisha Harris.)

Josephine Baker, (1906-1975), born poor as Freda Josephine McDonald, was a flamboyant entertainer who, while only in her teens and much to her surprise, took Paris by storm. Having left a harshly segregated America, she settled abroad, eventually touring internationally. Baker was unselfconsciousness about exploiting her own body. With success, this became exhibitionism that amounted to branding. She was married five times and a sexual libertine; reveled in and generous with money as if it would never run short. The star knew simply everyone of note in her time.

Unable to bear children and with no stable relationship, Baker began acquiring youngsters on her tours – purchasing, spiriting away (sometimes to parental or government objection) and adopting 12 kids of widely diverse race whom the press called her “rainbow children.” As finances dwindled, and Baker toured, their lives were often difficult and spare between treats. (Read Jean Claude Baker’s book.)

During the war, Josephine was a successful, unsuspected spy, easily sequestering messages in lingerie. Later in life, aware of what was going on in America, she became something of an activist. The performer worked, if rarely and fleeing creditors, as long as venues would have her. She retained her amazing body and proud stature.

Having read a number of books and interviewed her adopted son, the late Jean Claude Baker, at length, I find the show well researched. You won’t gain any insight into the artist and omissions run in Baker’s favor, but presented facts are, at least, facts.

As far as I can tell, musical numbers are also accurately chosen, even the flirty, novelty “Don’t Touch My Tomatoes” (performed in a Carmen Miranda get-up) about which I was at first skeptical. Unfortunately, Tod Kimbro’s Musical Direction lacks skill and finesse. Accompaniment is hit or miss. (Music is taped.) Also, Harris’s French is not good. As she’s apparently been on the road with this for some time, one would think…

Josephine was an untrained talent. Awkward improvisation of early dancing fits the story. (Baker was looser.) Choreography is also credited to Harris. Singing with polish comes too soon on the timeline, but the actress lowers and scratches a later vocal effectively indicating age. The song to which I refer, performed at Martin Luther King’s iconic Washington, D.C. rally (Baker was there at his invitation), goes on much too long, tipping the balance of the piece in favor of civil rights – a misnomer. One can’t fault Harris for lack of spirit, however.

Either Director Michael Marinaccio is too close to his collaborative partner in creating the show – thus, uncritical, or Harris is playing fast and loose with what was prescribed. Intermittent, Fanny Brice-like mugging does neither Baker nor the show any favors. This extends to presumably ad-libbed asides like “Awesome!” and “Don’t judge,” which are likely not in the script.

Despite the title, a swell pair of pasties, and interaction with the front row–the request that a male patron put on her bra-like costume top and, later, seductively sitting on a woman’s lap (Baker was bisexual), one can hardly call it burlesque. Don’t get your hopes up. Note: Neither of these directorial devices can be seen by 95 percent of the closely packed audience.

The play is not without entertainment value if you lower your standards and know little or nothing about Josephine Baker. Its parts simply don’t make a polished whole. Frustration comes with attributing Tymisha Harris with greater chops than evident in this production. If she’d had a better, more strong-willed creative team, Josephine might’ve been a more worthy piece.

Photos Courtesy of the Production

Josephine-a burlesque cabaret dream play by Tod Kimbro
Created by Tymisha Harris, Michael Marinaccio, Tod Kimbro
Directed by Michael Marinaccio
SoHo Playhouse  
15 Van Dam Street
Through February 11, 2018

An Independent Woman Before Her Time: Hindle Wakes*


*The title’s double entendre refers both to social awakening in the Lancashire town of Hindle and to “Wakes Week,” the seven to ten days when mills and factories would shut down for workers’ vacations.

It’s 1912. Mill worker Christopher Hawthorn (Ken Marks) and his wife (Sandra Shipley) lie in wait for their daughter, Fanny, (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley) to return from holiday in order to confront her. They’re fairly sure the seemingly “good girl” has spent her weekend with a man.

Jeremy Beck and Jonathan Hogan

Mrs. Hawthorn vibrates with fury. How dare her daughter ruin chances for a decent marriage, not to mention the family’s reputation! Actress Sandra Shipley emits the unusual syntax as if born to it. We’re immediately able to guage community values. Vehemence is palpable. Fanny’s father is – tempered. Though the strong-willed, unrepentant young woman at first denies it, truth is revealed through a bizarre coincidence.

The “cad” in question is Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), son of mill owner Nathanial Jeffcote (Jonathan Hogan) and his wife (Jill Tanner). Nat and Chris (as they refer to each other) rose together from poverty. Despite vast social and economic difference, they remain good friends. Still, status prevents a relationship between the young people. Further exacerbating circumstances, Alan is engaged to Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer), a union that would further both families.

Jonathan Hogan and Brian Reddy

Chris is nagged up the hill by his wife to address what happened with the boy’s father and secure a promise of marriage. Appalled, Nat vows to “see that she’s (Fanny) treated right.” Plans for his own legacy and that of the business seem dashed by the unfortunate liaison. “Why hadn’t thou the sense to pay for your pleasures?!” he demands when the boy returns home. (You’ll get accustomed to the dialect.) Mrs. Jeffcote puts the blame on Fanny, whom she believes should be paid off. Upward mobility changes people.

Jeremy Beck is thoroughly credible as the egotistical, obtuse young scion. He protests, but doesn’t over dramatize and is perceptibly shocked when things don’t turn out as assumed. Rebecca Noelle Brinkley seems vague in Act I and then sullen, but comes into her own when Fanny finally speaks her mind.

Jeremy Beck and Emma Geer; Rebecca Noelle Brinkley, Jill Tanner, Jonathan Hogan

Jonathan Hogan’s Nathanial is one of the great pleasures of this production. Integrity is not unduly stiff. Nuanced expression and response (he listens) make him compelling. When Mrs. Jeffcote insists Alan didn’t get his proclivity from her side of the family, Nat wryly responds, in pitch perfect tone, “Adam. He got it from Adam.”

The Jeffcots inform Alan’s fiancé and her father, Sir Timothy (Brian Reddy who adds appealing emotional color), and then deal with the Hawthorns. Alan responds to threats. He and Beatrice have surprisingly opposite opinions about what must occur, as, it turns out to everyone’s shock, do Alan and Fanny.

Emma Geer, Brian Reddy, Jill Tanner, Jeremy Beck, Jonathan Hogan

Stanley Houghton’s 1912 play skewers its era’s social mores without proselytizing or cliché psychology. Characters are decidedly multidimensional. Humor and irony arrive impactful as well as entertaining. We utterly believe these people as written and played and are drawn in to what might be hackneyed, but turns out intriguing. A good looking, worthy production of work you’d otherwise never see.

Also featuring Jill Tanner’s realistic Mrs. Jeffcote, Emma Geer, in the role of insightful, if custom-bound Beatrice, Ken Marks’ understated, viscerally pained Christopher Hawthorn, and a self conscious Sara Carolynn Kennedy as Ada, the maid.

Rebecca Noelle Brinkley and Jeremy Beck

Director Gus Kaikkoen astutely defines his characters. There’s some splendid small stage business-like when Fanny wistfully, almost absently fingers the Jeffcote’s fancy tablecloth at a pivotal juncture. Where each person sits when trying to agree on action signals stature and attitude. A sudden, passionate clinch reads real rather than stagey. Detail includes a lovely whoosh when the gas chandelier goes on. Well crafted.

Dialects (Amy Stoller) are for the most part as crisp and natural as they are iconoclastic.

Charles Morgan’s Sets feature ornate, iron ceiling work and rooms framed in dark wood which keep visuals from being heavy while establishing solidity. Change from mill cottage to that of gentry is well executed. Costumes (Sam Fleming) are personal to character, displaying status and taste. Gerard Kelly’s Hair and Wigs credibly flatter. Lighting Design by Christian DeAngelis subtly makes the most of shadow.

Photos Courtesy of Mint Theatre
Opening: Sandra Shipley, Rebecca Noelle Brinkley, Ken Marks

Mint Theater Company presents
Hindle Wakes by Stanley Houghton
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
Theatre Row, The Clurman Theatre 
410 West 42nd Street

The Undertaking – Death Warmed Over


Steve (ostensibly a filmmaker or playwright) is interviewing Lydia (possibly a conceptual artist) about death and near death experience. “The earliest play we have by Aeschylus has a ghost…” Everyone wants to know about death and what comes after.

Lydia is one of many subjects. Steve is particularly interested in her recent experience – imbibing what Brazilian natives call “the vine of death” during a shamanic ritual. She barely touches on it, however, before turning the tables and questioning what he’s discovered thus far. “I think it’s important that the thing being looked at looks back at you.” What?

Afraid of death, Steve nonetheless never imagines his own. Lydia is at peace with becoming one with the universe. The actors play numerous interviewees – utilizing an impressive roster of accents and voices – each beginning with a taped voice from which he/she takes over live. Steve Cosson’s script apparently evolved from actual recorded interviews. There’s a cancer patient given psilocybin, a British philosopher, the HIV surviving partner of playwright/actor Charles Ludlam.

We ricochet back and forth from “real time” dialogue to various previous encounters. In between, scenes from Jean Cocteau’s iconic 1950 film Orphée – a modern day retelling of the Orpheus myth – is shown and/or discussed. Lydia and Steve even – kind of – attempt to descend into and return from the underworld. (Love the animal skin rugs in which they drape themselves.) Personal opinions enter into the equation.

The “play” has no arc. We barely get a sense of and hardly care about Lydia and Steve. It’s as if the interviews were put into a hat, randomly chosen, and interjected. While subject matter is fascinating, little we hear is more than cliché, its delivery confusing.

Both actors are multifaceted and well focused. I wish them better characters.

The author’s direction is – ok. Interview subjects are well differentiated.

Tal Yarden’s Projection design is half greatly enhancing and half simply odd – colored abstract shapes appear to stand-in for missing images too often.

Photography by Carol Rosegg

The Civilians present
The Undertaking
Written and Directed by Steve Cosson
Conceived in Collaboration with Jessica Mitrani
Featuring Aysan Celik and Dan Domingues
59E59 Theaters
Through February 4, 2018

John Lithgow: Stories By Heart – Gather ‘Round…


In the first five minutes, John Lithgow generates the kind of sentiment one experiences with the ephemeral fragrance of something mom cooked when you were a kid, light like the night you were first kissed, a tune flashing back to some sweet memory. Gentle, genial and authentic, the artist creates a comfort zone in which tension fades and spirits rise. Settle in. Attend. You’ll be glad you came.

“This, O my Best Beloved, is a story-a new and wonderful story-a story quite different from other stories…” (Rudyard Kipling- Just So Stories)

The art of storytelling has been with us from time immemorial. “Why do all of us want to hear stories,” Lithgow asks. “Why do some of us want to tell them? Why are you all here today? Think about that for a minute.” He disarmingly gives us the minute. This show, beautifully honed over a ten year period, is comprised of two short, enacted stories the performer’s father read to him as a child, loving memories of Arthur Lithgow, and, implicitly, philosophical answers to the above questions.

Lithgow père was a theater man to his bones, a “restless and prolific” producer/ director always “one step away from ruination.” (Mom Sarah Jane was a retired actress.) At the callow age of eight, a night out might mean Titus Andronicus. Bedtime stories ranged from Poe and Conan Doyle to Hemingway and “Collette, for God’s sake!” Arthur Lithgow played all the parts. “My life as an actor started on those drowsy evenings…” his son wistfully recalls.

The only stage prop this afternoon is a well worn copy of Tellers of Tales– selected by Somerset Maugham- copyright 1939. “This book, this actual copy, was a kind of family Bible….When I hold it in my hands now…pause…my father comes back.” The spine is repaired with red duct tape, the binding with cellophane, yet despite all that attention, its cover was restored upside-down. “That was my Dad: thoughtful, caring, meticulous, literate, inventive, handy…and just that little bit wrong-headed,” he says tender and bemused.

In Haircut, “written in the 1920s by a gin-swilling cynic named Ring Lardner,” Lithgow becomes Whitey, a long-winded, self important, small town gossip regaling an invisible stranger, his captive audience, in a raised leather chair. Merely untucking his shirt, an adroit light change, and we’re back there and then. (Kudos to Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner who subtly affects and enhances throughout.)

Mime – from spritz, clip, and dollop to patting on aftershave, is meticulous. The customer’s head never varies its position. Watch Lithgow’s fanny – jerk around the misjudged front of his client. Sound effects are wonderful. I lost count of the character’s distinctive laughs/giggles at eight.

Midwestern words like winda (window) Saurdee (Saturday) and n’well emerge tripingly off the tongue. We’re drawn in by what appears to be a blithe spirit only to find ourselves caught up in adultery and violence. Whitey suddenly goes quiet as memories visibly parade behind his eyes like Zoetrope images. Aaaaand… lights! Pacing is impeccable.

Act II begins with the last year of Arthur Lithgow’s life. The octogenarian needed help with everything, which is precisely what John gave him. “I was in way over my head and unbearably sad…” At a loss how to raise his hero out of deep depression, the actor decided to read aloud. He retrieved the patched up Tellers of Tales and, on a wing and a prayer, asked which story his parents would prefer. They chose P.G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred Flits By.

If you’re at all familiar with Wodehouse, you can imagine what straits Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred gets them into when, one rainy afternoon in the country, he misrepresents their identities, fabricates a family scandal, and manages to finagle the forbidden marriage of a poor “pink chap” who jellies eels to a pretty, upper middle class girl. Oh, and then there’s the parrot! (Lithgow does parrot cum laude.)

The performer’s exaggerated characterization and Monty-Python-worthy walks are accompanied by an arsenal of voices. Between action and REaction he demonstrates the timing of good farce. Male expressions look like John Held Jr. jazz age drawings, women’s rather like fish. Lithgow is, by the way, not reading. Both dramatizations are learned and acted out. Somewhere, midway into performing the story for Arthur and Sarah Jane, magic happened.

And this, O Best Beloved, is why we tell stories and why we listen.

John Lithgow is warm, inventive, and utterly charming. He owns every moment of this potent pleasure from hokum to heartache. One can only hope there’s a sequel.

This version of the presentation is directed by Dan Sullivan whose talents here are both broad and nuanced. There’s never a dull moment.

Photos by Joan Marcus

Roundabout Theatre Company presents
John Lithgow: Stories By Heart
Adapted and Performed by John Lithgow
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street
Through March 4, 2018

LaBute New Theater Festival of One Act Plays


Hate Crime by Neil La Bute featuring Chauncy Thomas and Spencer Sickman

We hear jungle sounds, “…this alpha male seems to have it made…”  An unseen nature documentary is on television. Man A (Chauncy Thomas) clearly representative of the described species, appears in a generic hotel room wearing a terrycloth robe (much too fancy for his surroundings.) After repeated banging on the door, he lets in Man B (Spencer Slickman), by all appearances a fresh-faced innocent, who has forgotten his key.

Man A is, in fact, angry/aggressive/violent. Intermittent tenderness is reptilian. Man B seems blindly attracted to his lover’s self assurance. And their sex. They’re having an affair. The two are plotting to murder Man B’s current partner, a rich older man, on the wedding day of B & absent C. (Annoying pretense eschews names.) Man A, who practically salivates describing his brutal, back alley plan, will make the murder appear to be a hate crime.

The only reason for this modest exercise in, perhaps, social presumptions, is to watch  Spencer Sickman inhabit his character. Facial expressions are priceless. Timing is impeccable. Even the way the actor holds himself is entirely, specifically credible…in context.

Kelly Schaschl and Autumn Dornfeld

Winter Break by James Haigney featuring Autumn Dornfeld, Spencer Sickmann, Kelly Schaschl

Joanna (Kelly Schaschl) is packing. Her mom, Kitty (Autumn Dornfeld), is upset; her brother Bailey (Spencer Sickmann) apoplectic. It’s winter break from college and the young woman is going to Turkey to study with Sufis for two weeks. Or so she says. Kitty does everything she can to reasonably talk her daughter out of the trip because of implicit danger. When Bailey confronts Joanna, convinced she’s gone over to the dark side of her nascent Muslim faith (and will become a jihadist), Kitty protests she knows her girl.

Scenes like this are likely happening all over America, though Kitty’s obtuse take on her daughter’s spouting Koran gospel confutes her economic and cultural background, it’s possible. The situation is plausible, well written, and unnerving. Once again Spncer Sickmann is the best thing on stage lending nuanced shades to Bailey’s frustration and fear.


Autumn Dornfeld and Chauncy Thomas

Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis featuring Autumn Dornfeld, Chauncy Thomas, Kelly Schaschl

The most interesting (and rife with potential) of this year’s three plays, Percentage America wryly examines the elusive search for truth in what’s become a barrage of conflicting fake and real news coverage. Ariel (Autumn Dornfeld) and Andrew (Chauncy Thomas) met online. This is apparently their first date (in her apartment?!) Recognizing neither had been honest in her/his posting, complaining of lengthy experience with others who did exactly this, they begin to admit increasingly revealing facts about themselves. Both find confession sympathetic, exhilarating. They do have something in common.

Ariel suggests a kind of game wherein the pair choose a trending event and, eschewing the internet, track it to reality. Though the event is farfetched, exhilarating research is both believable and sharply satirical. (The venture would make a marvelous assignment for a journalism class.) It also finds the two actors displaying anxiety and expectation far better than anything else the play requires before or after.

Unfortunately, neither thespian  depicts ironic growing lust referred to in dialogue. One parenthetic banter in particular should by all rights resemble the messy, sensual, eye-locked dining scene in Tom Jones- after which the two characters tear at each other with equal appetite. Libidinous innuendo –here minimized- would vastly enhance the production. Remember the way Network’s Diana Christensen gets her rocks off by spewing media statistics while having relations?

Stage right, Kelly Schaschl plays a wide roster of commentators as a spotlight hits and blacks out. The playwright tries to fit too much in here and loses specificity. Still, it might’ve worked had the actress not been dressed in the white lace teenage dress of the character central to the event. Really, you couldn’t give her a jacket and clip her hair back before she morphed into the young girl in question?! (Costume Design Carla Landis Evans) We feel like the news is broadcast from a high school.

This play deserves further exposure.

Director John Pierson is better with blocking than emotional shades. Three of his cast are allowed to overact.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Chauncy Thomas and Spencer Sickmann

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents
LaBute New Theater Festival of One Act Plays
Hate Crime by Neil LaBute
Winter Break by James Haigney
Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis
Directed by Associate Artistic Director John Pierson
59E59 Theaters 
Through February 4, 2018

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