Ms. Rebeck’s compelling new play explores in depth Sarah Bernhardt’s struggles with playing “Hamlet” and her compassion for being a “thinking” actor who works her craft with “feeling.”Read More
- Chief New York Theatre Critic
- Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member
Present, past, and several possible futures collide with the biblical story of Job in Craig Lucas’s “I Was Most Alive with You” currently playing at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage. And within each time frame and tale exist a multitude of layers of complexity and contingency about the human condition, particularly its vulnerability and resilience in the face of elucidated and unexplained suffering. As in all attempts to parse why bad things happen to good people, there are no “answers”in the play – perhaps only richer and more enduring questions raised by the First Testament mythos of Job “one blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”
Job’s alter ego in “I Was Most Alive with You” is Knox (a vulnerable and self-deprecating Russell Harvard) the thirty-something adopted Deaf son of Ash (a deeply flawed yet sensitive Michael Gaston) and Pleasant (a damaged but highly resilient Lisa Emery). At the beginning of the play and in real time, Knox is at home alone for the first time since his car accident that left him missing a hand and unable to sign. Ash, having left Knox at home, arrives at his workroom to continue work on a teleplay with his partner Astrid (an energetic and omnipotent Marianna Bassham). After reviewing seven basic ideas sketched out at Ash’s place earlier, they decide on a narrative dealing with the Thanksgiving dinner that precipitated Knox’s leaving with his boyfriend Farhad (a conflicted and distressed Tad Cooley) and getting into the accident. This narrative, according to Astrid, will be a“two-pronged narrative, what one didand what one mighthave done, should’ve.”
As Astrid and Ash begin to explore their idea, the events of that Thanksgiving, all that led up to it, and the events that followed the accident begin to exist in flashback in precise counterpoint to the action in the present. This challenging convention includes a shadow cast that not only signs the dialogue but also “acts out”what is being “said.” All members of the shadow cast work on a level above the main playing area. This allows the hearing and the d/Deaf to explore the action in a variety of ways – including the occasional use of projections of dialogue. Director Tyne Rafaeli’s staging is brilliant. She moves the cast into and out of the present and past with clarity and a seamless majesty. Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic design, Annie Wiegand’s lighting design,and Jane Shaw’s sound design further enhance the fluidness of the transitions from scene to scene.
It is in both the present and the past that the audience experiences the depth of despair in Knox’s life – the same depth of despair that eventually led Job to curses the day he was born.His addiction, loss of love, loss of family, and loss of limb catapult Knox and his family into a chaotic examination of relationship, faith, and future. Scenes ofworking on the teleplay collapse into the concomitant scenes from the past with the logos, ethos, and pathos needed to make both dimensions believable and cathartic. Knox learns that his grandmother Carla (an animated and thoughtful Lois Smith) is dying, that his mother summons the courage to leave his father who is in love with Astrid, and that Carla’s Jehovah’s Witnesses friend Mariama (a caring and distraught Gameela Wright) is more than someone to help with the ASL signing at Thanksgiving – she has been the one assisting Carla cope with her illness.
“I Was Most Alive with You” explores the complex ways we communicate with or without speaking and hearing. Whether our language is English or ASL, how we insinuate, describe, perceive, interpret, parse, and understand the world around us is rehearsed with authenticity and believability. The play also explores how humankind deals with tragedy and deep despair. In the final scene – back in the present – Astrid and Ash are finishing the teleplay with Knox making a decision that threatens to explode life as his family knows it.Has Knoxdecided to end his life? Will Farhad intervene? How will the real and the fictional end? Astrid asks an emotionally distraught Ash whether he can accept an ending that includes rescuing Knox or whether he can live with “whatever happens.” Perhaps that is the only question available to the bereft, the wounded, the distraught, the suffering. And if it is, can we accept that choice?
I WAS MOST ALIVE WITH YOU
The cast of “I Was Most Alive with You” features Marianna Bassham, Tad Cooley, Lisa Emery, Michael Gaston, Russell Harvard, Lois Smith, and Gameela Wright. The shadow cast includes Beth Applebaum, Harold Foxx, Seth Gore, Amelia Hensley, Christina Marie, Anthony Natale, and Alexandria Wailes.
The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), David C. Woolard (costume design), Annie Wiegand (lighting design), Jane Shaw (sound design), Alex Koch (projection design), Daniel Kluger (original music), and Brett Anders(Production Stage Manager)
“I Was Most Alive with You”runs at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday October 14th on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:30p.m. Matinee performances take place Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30p.m. Tickets start at $59.00 and are available at https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running tine is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Russell Harvard (Knox) and Tad Cooley (Farhad) in “I Was Most Alive with You” at Playwrights Horizons. Credit: Joan Marcus.
air warning: this is a play that will be difficult for parents to watch. Knowing how our actions can affect our children permanently and profoundly is difficult for many to swallow. While the scenario presented here is extreme and (I presume) fictitious, it still demonstrates how what we do in front of our children will shape who they become. And often few people want to take on the burden of that kind of responsibility.Read More
Tennessee Williams’ 1979 play “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” connects deeply with all (individuals, governments, nation-states) suffering the malaise of loss or lack of identity and the quest for independence that sometimes results in broken hearts. Perhaps there is a mercy-seat for all who languish with wounded hearts.Read More
To kick off its 55th Season, Orange County's Tony Award-winning regional theater South Coast Repertory is presenting a charming new stage adaptation of the Jane Austen literary classic “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY,” which continues performances in Costa Mesa through September 29.
Winningly likable with plenty of sharp wits and appealing characters, this admirable stage iteration—adapted by UK playwright Jessica Swale and directed here by Casey Stangl—reacquaints audiences with the seemingly erratic and emotionally taxing task of landing a suitable mate in late 18th Century/early 19th Century England.Read More
Sitting in the Zephyr Theatre to watch a touching one-man show by British playwright, actor and storyteller Michael Washington Brown, I felt as if I was attending a Black Studies class at a local college.
With a simple set, this multimedia experience is enhanced with images and music as Brown examines race from a global perspective. The curriculum includes a study of black history, music, sociology, and psychology.Read More
We could have had an exciting portrayal of these congressional hearings, as there is no doubt that these performers (Dracyn Blount, Alexander Chilton, Shayna Conde, Nick Daly, and Georgia Lee King) would have all excelled at telling that story; they were excellent. Instead, we get part history and mostly art, and frankly, this wasn’t advertised and not what I signed up for.Read More
Currently playing at Walkerspace, The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” is a compelling look at how one’s “secret” past can suddenly and unexpectedly encroach on the present and delay one’s progress into the future. Brothers Francis Sloane (a thoughtful and tender John Keating) and Billy Sloane (a defiant and burdened Tim Ruddy) enjoy an uneventful present in their mobile home in a rural hamlet of County Monaghan, Ireland in 2010. Their lives might not be described as idyllic; however, they get along most of the time, and the income from their cattle farm seems to provide a comfortable albeit spartan existence.Read More
Every now and then in one’s pursuit of theatre, one comes across something that surpasses a “good show” and becomes a theatrical experience. I had the pleasure of coming across such a gem earlier this weekend when I went to see TheatreLab’s production of Magdalena, written and performed by Gabri Christa.Read More
I Call myself Princess is a remarkable new play that deals with cultural appropriation in the best way possible — by taking back that which was stolen. Paper Canoe Projects and Cahoots Theatre, partnering with Native Earth Performing Arts, are presenting this world premiere of I Call myself Princess, written by Jani Lauzon.Read More
For many adults, dealing with an aging parent and ensuring that they are cared for can be a challenging issue. More specifically, the dilemma of moving a parent out of the place they’ve called home for many years, and into a living home or community for the elderly, can be a hard one for both sides of that relationship. It’s a topic that is delved into on a very human and intimate level in In the Bleak Midwinter, the new play from Emmy award-winning actor/writer/director Dorothy Lyman, which has been receiving constant praise during its run at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios.Read More
If full disclosure is the name of this game, then I need to come clean and tell you that I’ve never witnessed a burlesque show before this evening. However, before attending “Bippity Boppity Boobs - A Burlesque Experience,” I did what every self-respecting writer does when faced with the prospect of dissecting the unfamiliar, I Googled it. Google… What is burlesque? It spit out a wild collection of burlesque's historical influences, scholarly works by intellectuals with many leather-bound books, political manifestos from anarchists and other disconnected, tangential thought streams which left me no wiser, no better prepared, than before.Read More
Contributing Denver Critic
When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein created the “Mother of the Modern Musical,” Oklahoma! in 1943, America was at war. The idyllic Oklahoma countryside, coupled with the true example of the American Dream- the settlements resulting from the Great American Land Rush, gave audiences a version of America to cheer for during a dark and troubled time. America was fighting a war on two fronts, having been attacked on American soil just two years prior. What a joy, and a relief it must have been to see such unabashed optimism in the American experience.
What Rodgers and Hammerstein likely didn’t account for, was what the turn of the century’s land grab movement meant for the post Civil War, freedmen and women of color. I’ll admit, I’d never really taken much time to consider it before now, and certainly had never heard of the 50 all black towns settled in Oklahoma during that period of our nation’s history. These towns were settled for many reasons I’m sure, but the predominant one is the bright promise for folks to live their lives free of the systemic discrimination thriving in America’s south and the Midwest. These towns had their place in Oklahoma but ultimately were forgotten about post-statehood. One might think that the creation of such places would help create within the state a welcoming environment to all people of color, but sadly this isn’t the case. Oklahoma is, like the rest of America, still grappling with systemic racism. We live in a time of protest and movements, where people take to the streets to demonstrate the injustices facing the good men and women of our country. With that in mind, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Oklahoma! is both timely and necessary.
Walking into the Stage Theatre, its thrust stage is set with sepia-toned colors-an old Claremore newspaper the backdrop, massive, rustic, wooden beams the frame. Upon closer inspection, the beams are accented with thick, corroded chains-and when taken in all together; it isn’t a stretch to think of other chains, turned orange by salt from ocean water, wrapped around ship beams that carried the souls of millions of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas generations ago. (Some of whom are likely the ancestors of the performers taking the stage in this production.) The rest of the set is equally as gritty-the cabin set with its rustic benches and tables are meant to show us its inhabitants worked the land.
But despite its grit and the long-forgotten history referenced in this production, Oklahoma! is nothing if meant to be bright and shiny, and that is precisely what the performers bring to the stage. The optimism of a new day ringing clearly in the opening lines of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” through to the very end of the show. There is no need to make any more references to the history of the 50 all black towns in Oklahoma, because frankly, watching this cast sing the classic songs written by Rodgers and Hammerstein does the trick: This must be what it would’ve been like for newly freed men and women of color to work and live without fear of oppression, free to enjoy the life they worked hard for on those homesteads.
The cast shines brightly and gives an honest, exuberant performance. Since it is set on a thrust stage, the audience is quite close, so even the smallest of errors are noticed. Happily, apart from a few torn hems, there isn’t much more to be said of that. With an audience on three sides of the performers, it is more difficult to stage any show- and while the entire stage is used well- from the two front exits stage left and stage right, to the trap door rising in the middle of the stage to create Jud’s smokehouse, much of the action is still played front and center. Truthfully though, it’s difficult to be that upset when you’re so close to the action-a larger than life musical coupled with the sheer talent of the cast is almost overwhelming in the space-but in the best possible way.
The cast is led by the inimitable Antoine L. Smith as Curly, whose long list of credits include the most recent Broadway revival of The Color Purple, Miss Saigon, and most recently Carousel. His rich, vibrant voice breezes through the classic score and melts the audience. When he opens his mouth, you simply cannot look away. He is matched well with Ta’Nika Gibson’s Laurey. Her voice harkens back to those classic soprano voices Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for. If Smith and Gibson set the bar, the rest of the cast meets it: The sound of the ensemble is rich and full-just what you’d anticipate when seeing Oklahoma!
Choreographer Dominique Kelley delivered a modern take to this tried and true classic: the LaLa Land Dancer added stomp-like rhythms and some old ragtime taps, but where the choreography really soars is during the dream sequence: Raven McRae Traoré simply floats and flies as Dream Laurey-and while the whole sequence is stunning, she truly is the star. Dominique has been quoted as saying of this production, “ I would love to show that brown people have legs and feet and can twirl.” He accomplished this with flying colors-his job likely made infinitely more easy by the talented dancers in the cast: Rennie Anthony McGee (who plays Will Parker) spins and leaps as if gravity doesn’t exist, and he’s not the only one.
Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ production of Oklahoma! triumphs. A timely piece not only because of the forgotten history it references but also because of the bright optimism shining through every lyric and 8 counts. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a musical that fits the time it was written in as well as it does today: For what better message can we experience in these troubled times than one of an America to root for and believe in, if only for 2 hours and 35 minutes? I can think of none.
Screenwriter and playwright José Rivera (over 26 plays and an Academy Award nominated Motorcycle Diaries) wrote “The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona” with an interesting story line about death and communicating with loved ones in the afterlife. In the Playbill, Rivera was interviewed by Rachel Wiegardt-Egel about his inspiration for the play. About ten years ago, while looking through Harper’s Magazine, he noticed a company whose service was to connect people who are dying, with people who want to send a message to the other side. This fascinated him, and soon he began writing a creative play about exploring the afterlife where untranslatable secrets are told.Read More
New York Contributing Critic
A new translation of a Russian classic has made a home off-Broadway and into the thoughts of any audience member lucky enough to snag a ticket before the end of its run. Presented by Double Decker productions, Meshahnye (sometimes translated as “The Philistines”) was the premiere play by socialist realism founder Maxim Gorky. It follows a family who’s bond rapidly deteriorates as the characters wrestle with a shifting socio-economic climate all while the Russian Revolution and subsequent aftermath looms outside their window.
A piece that primarily focuses on the generational divide between parent and child. Most of the conflict derives the weight that comes because of this generation gap. Gorky (only 33 upon the play’s publication) made the choice not to blame either party and instead present the flaws in both groups’ ideologies whilst keeping both elder and child in an empathetic light. This all too relatable conflict is aided by Jenny Sterlin’s new translation and direction which manages to breathe new life into a revered classic. While a strong and capable cast pulls off a marathon of a play (clocking in at two and a half hours) which on its own is an impressive feat. Though I should note that the strength of both the text and the cast is so great that you barely notice the length.
Heading this unit is the family patriarch Bessemenov (portrayed by John Lenartz). Lenartz manages to garner sympathy from the audience by bringing humanity to what is on paper and in the hands of a less capable performer a crotchety curmudgeon. At his side is the phenomenal Isabella Knight portraying Akulina, the matriarch of the family clan. Knight brings a dignified desperation to her character’s feeble attempts at making peace between her husband and children. Her pleas for peace fall upon the deaf ears of her children, the perpetually miserable Tatiana (Annie Nelson) and the often angst-ridden Peter (Thomas Burns Scully). Despite the picture both Gorky’s dialogue and Jenny Sterlin’s translation paint of Tatiana’s mental state, Nelson finds her strongest moments in Tatiana’s silence rather than in her declarations of misery. While Scully’s take on Peter is earnest and endearing with more than a fair share of humor sprinkled in, making what could very easily be an unlikable character charming. Watching the familial chaos unfold is their tenant Teterev (Zenon Zeleniuch) Zeleniuch portrays Teterev with a near devilish glee often deriving pleasure from the family’s plight. But if Teterev is the devil on this family’s metaphorical shoulder than Perchikin the drunken bird-seller serves as their angel. Kenneth Cavett’s Perchikhin is jovial and brings levity to the often grim subject matter. His speeches about his birds as well as requests for connection from the children who once admired him are rapturous and tragic. As these requests are often brushed off or unheard. Another beacon of positivity in an otherwise miserable household is Perchikhin’s daughter Polya (Ninoshka De Leon Gill) who portrayed with a childlike naivete and plucky determination.
Overall Meshahnye is a riveting revelation and sure to strike a chord with anyone who has gone home winter break after spending a semester abroad. Playing at the Theatre for the New City until September 30th this is new interpretation of an all too relevant classic is not one to miss.
During the time of ancient Rome, there was a cruel and mentally unstable ruler who dominated the land known as Caligula. In recent years, writers and commentators at various publications – such as the New York Times and the Guardian – have revisited the history surrounding Caligula’s erratic behavior and actions as leader of Rome, for the sake of providing a historical parallel to the chaotic behavior of President Donald Trump and his administration. So perhaps it shouldn’t be too shocking that, in 2018, Medicine Show Theatre would choose to present the story of this ancient historical figure, as its latest production this September.Read More
Currently playing at London’s Finborough Theatre, Square Rounds is a clever, quirky play which is for the most part very enjoyable. The first act is a lot stronger than the second, changing with more ease between the comedic and the sinister elements of the show. The second act, conversely, seems bogged down with the historic details of this story’s more tragic elements, and some of the show’s character is lost towards the end.Read More
It was a homecoming for director Lisa Peterson of The Pulitzer Prize-winning play SWEAT as she watched her nine actors perform on opening night at the Mark Taper Forum. She was once the Resident Director at the Taper for ten years from 1995-2005. A lot has changed in the nation since she was last directing in Los Angeles, making this American drama so compelling and enlightening for the audience.Read More
Casa Manana kicked off their 60th season of bringing Broadway and children’s theatre to Fort Worth with a captivating, high-energy performance of the 14-time Tony Award-winning classic, Hello, Dolly!, based on Thorton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers.Read More
Last summer, I had the chance to see many of the shows that were participating in the 10th annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. There were many intriguing selections, not all of which I had the chance to see, unfortunately. Among such shows which I had been hoping to see, at the time, was Girl Inside the Mirror, a new theatre-dance piece from writer/director Nicoletta Mandriotti. Thankfully, however, I recently had the chance to see it during its second run at Theater for the New City – as part of their annual Dream Up festival – upon being invited to review the show.Read More