Review: Working Theater presents “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson”

Review: Working Theater presents “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson”

Mr. Ackerman and Ms. Rebeck have built a play that thrives on vacillating between tension and comedy, living somewhere in between the audience’s conscious of comfortable backstage drama and biting political commentary on existing power structures, perfectly suited for the multi-tasking, conscious-raising audiences of America 2019.

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Review: Review: La Mama presents “13 Fruitcakes”

Review: Review: La Mama presents “13 Fruitcakes”

“13 Fruitcakes” dazzles and destroys in one-two punches expertly strung along thirteen original musical vignettes depicting the queer experience across history. These thirteen scenes transport us from ancient to modern times, highlighting obscure and noteworthy LGBTQ+ figures and the prices they paid throughout their historical impact, ranging from AD 780 Korean King Hyegon.

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Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre

O’Casey’s themes of nationalism, divisiveness, religious freedoms and “rights,” the merits of socialism, and fantasy versus reality (fake news, alternate facts) counterpoint powerfully with the current political climate in the United States and throughout Europe.

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Off-Broadway Review: “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons

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  • David Roberts, Chief New York Critic, Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member

Last season, two off-Broadway plays – “Daddy” and “Slave Play” (both by Jeremy O. Harris) – highlighted significant issues about the self-identity of young black gay and queer men and raised rich and enduring questions about the role of family, friends, culture, and “indifferent yet fetishizing white gays” in that process of discovery. This season, Michael R. Jackson’s original musical “A Strange Loop,” currently playing at Playwrights Horizons, similarly “sorts through layers of self-perception and the perceptions of the world around him” as his protagonist Usher (an impressive and transparent Larry Owens) explores “what it can feel like to be a ‘self’ in general and a black queer self in particular.” Usher’s quest is further complicated by his thoughts that interrupt his writing of a musical about his self-perception.

Usher’s inner cogitations are shared with the audience through the words and songs of six on stage “Thoughts” (Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, and Jason Veasey). This gifted ensemble cast batters Usher with his obsessive reflections about self and world as both individual and cacophonous choral thoughts and creates a fascinating and original “conversation” with the one having the apprehensions. The actors not only sing through Usher’s thoughts but portray all the characters inhabiting those thoughts. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes bring appropriate energy to each character.

Usher “thinks” about changing his life forever, his relationship with his loving religious mother who worries for Usher’s soul, his homophobic and verbally abusive alcoholic father, his “inner white girl,” his doctor who thinks he should have more sex, online sex sites, sex role stereotypes, fetishes, HIV/AIDS in the black community, Tyler Perry constructs of black “America,” the white Inwood Daddy who likes boys of color, and the possibility that his “sense of self is just a bunch of meaningless symbols moving from one level of abstraction to another but ending up back where they started” (cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter’s “strange loop”).

Usher’s self-identity “crisis” is parsed by layers of rich and enduring questions that reverberate with deep authenticity and believability. Under Stephen Brackett’s direction, Larry Owens and the cast of “Thoughts” determine whether Usher is capable of change, needs to change, or is simply “stuck” with who he is. They raise the rich question of whether Usher’s struggles are unique to the black queer community or have connections and relevance beyond that specific community. Arnulfo Maldonado’s “multiple doors” set, and Jen Schriever’s lighting give the “Thoughts” the perfect to “express” themselves.

Despite the importance of the discussion Michael R. Jackson initiates with “A Strange Loop,” the play’s repetitive style and content and its dependence on what might seem unnecessary vulgarity often detract from the inner strength of the script. The final scenes in Usher’s home and in the church are overwrought and depend too heavily on lavish and expensive sets. There is enough genuine grit in Michael R. Jackson’s script to carry his important conversation with the minimalism suggested by the multiple subtle explosions across Usher’s cranial synapses that bring his inner world to outer examination.

 

A STRANGE LOOP

The cast of “A Strange Loop” features Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Larry Owens, and Jason Veasey.

The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Designer), Montana Levi Blanco (Costume Designer), Jen Schriever (Lighting Designer), Alex Hawthorn (Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair, Wig and Makeup Designer), Charlie A. Rosen (Orchestrator), Rona Siddiqui (Music Director), Michael R. Jackson (Vocal Arrangements), Tomoko Akaboshi (Music Coordinator), and Erin Gioia Albrecht (Production Stage Manager).

“A Strange Loop” runs at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday July 7, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Jason Veasey and Larry Owens in “A Strange Loop.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Review: “Three Musketeers 1941” at A.R.T/New York Theaters

Review: “Three Musketeers 1941” at A.R.T/New York Theaters

“Three Musketeers 1941” was an exhilarating theatrical experience that brought classic characters into a more relevant time period without making them feel too modernized. It unflinchingly portrays the World War II era and gives us characters we can no doubt relate to as well as hope for.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Nomad Hotel”

Off-Broadway Review: “Nomad Hotel”

With a nod (intentional/unintentional) to the genre of disillusioned youth represented by Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 “This Is Our Youth,” Carla Ching’s “Nomad Hotel” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 dives headlong into the lives of a triangle of vagabond California youth yearning to belatedly separate and individuate from adults who have been less than successful in providing safe and secure environments and unconditional-nonjudgmental love.

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Review: Vanguard Theater Company presents “Broadway Buddy Mentorship Cabaret”

Review: Vanguard Theater Company presents “Broadway Buddy Mentorship Cabaret”

Vanguard Theater Company's Broadway Buddy Mentorship Program offers emerging musical theater artists, ages 12 - 25, a unique opportunity for on-on-one mentorship with some of Broadway's most accomplished and rising performers, that culminated in a once in a lifetime cabaret performance on June 3, 2019, at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space.

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Off-Broadway Review: "Octet at The Pershing Square Signature Center

Off-Broadway Review: "Octet at The Pershing Square Signature Center

It could be argued that everyone has an addiction. It can be as common as drugs or alcohol; it could be more culturally acceptable, like television or video games. Even science and religion can become a person’s addiction.

In Dave Malloy’s new musical, “Octet,” recently extended to June 30 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, he addresses one of the more recent growing addictions, personal technology.

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Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages “Little Women”

Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages “Little Women”

Kate Hamill’s retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” plays at Primary Stages at an auspicious time. Amid unprecedented national and political division, issues of gender identity, gender equality, and gender protection continue to be critically important.

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Review: The Tank presents “Butterflies”

Review: The Tank presents “Butterflies”

A poignant exploration of life, love, and loss, Emanuele Aldrovandi’s “Butterflies,” making its United States premiere currently at The Tank through June 8, unfolds over the next ninety minutes as a rollercoaster of blunt dialogue mashed with symbolic theatricality, a masterclass in heartbreaking coming of age vignettes.

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Review: "Cold Blooded Witch: The Sex Musical" at Under St. Marks Theatre

Review: "Cold Blooded Witch: The Sex Musical" at Under St. Marks Theatre

Cold Blooded Witch: The Sex Musical is a one-woman show that’s earned its place in the biggest Fringe Festival in the world. It’s a fantastic opportunity to watch an actor and up-and-coming comedian tell a story that you, quite literally, will not hear anywhere else. It is superbly expounded, thoughtfully presented, and damn funny to boot.

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Broadway Review: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune”

Broadway Review: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune”

Under Arin Arbus’s exquisite direction (Broadway debut), Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon play to perfection the EveryMan, EveryWoman, EveryOne seeking to overcome their finitude and fallibility to connect with another person in a meaningful way and establish a non-judgmental relationship against all odds.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Something Clean”

Off-Broadway Review: “Something Clean”

Margot Bordelon directs “Something Clean” with the briskness of a broom that sweeps across Reid Thompson’s relatively expansive set in the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. He cleverly divides the spaces between the Center and the Walker homestead with carpet tiles of differing subdued colors and provides three exits for the actors to accommodate the play’s rapid-firing short scenes.

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Off-Broadway Review: "Enter Laughing - The Musical"

Off-Broadway Review: "Enter Laughing - The Musical"

The Big Apple called me, and I really wanted to pay a visit. I also knew friends would be in town and they had already booked me a seat with them to see ‘Enter Laughing, The Musical’.  I knew nothing about the play but recognized several names in the production’s credits and thought to give this one a go at it.

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