Off-Broadway Review: “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater Company

Off-Broadway Review: “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater Company

It is clear from the start of Donja R. Love’s “Fireflies” that Olivia Grace (DeWanda Wise) is among the disconsolate: Olivia is languishing: Olivia’s wounded heart needs healing. There is a fire in Olivia’s soul that counterpoints the fire in the 1963 Fall sky above the home in the Jim Crow South she shares with her preacher-activist husband Charles Emmanuel Grace (Khris Davis). The first words Olivia shares are those from a letter she is writing to the yet unidentified Ruby: “Dear Ruby, It’s been awhile. The sky . . . it’s been burning so bright since you left. It reminds me of you.” And at this point the stage of the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater reverberates with the sounds of exploding bombs as the sky “cracks open and bleeds.” Olivia admits, “I can’t do this.”

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Off-Broadway Review: “Hitler’s Tasters”

Off-Broadway Review: “Hitler’s Tasters”

Kudos to the team of women (all women!) that wrote, directed, performed in, and filled all positions in the creative team for “Hitler’s Tasters” currently running at IRT Theater. The play examines the conflicts of the fifteen German young women who were conscripted to be Hitler’s tasters. They were initially transported daily to and from a school to fulfill their task of “defending the Motherland.” After a threat on Hitler’s life, they were permanently confined in a building adjacent to Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair headquarters in Prussia. The sole real-life survivor of this group of young women Margot Woelk has documented this “footnote in history” extensively before her death in 2014.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Midnight at the Never Get”

Off-Broadway Review: “Midnight at the Never Get”

The latest offering at York Theater Company’s Main Stage Series is the new musical “Midnight at the Never Get.” The production history started with a successful short run at New York’s historical “Don’t Tell Mama” cabaret, and then a run at NYMF in 2016. Subsequently it had a six-week 2017 run at Provincetown Inn, Massachusetts and returned to Provincetown for a weekend engagement last month. So, in can be assumed that the book, music and lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick should be solid and the performance by Sam Bolen, who co-conceived the story and has performed in every production, should be cultivated and polished.

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Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages’ “Final Follies”

Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages’ “Final Follies”

Given the long-term relationship that existed between A.R. Gurney and Primary Stages, it is befitting that the prolific playwright requested his agent to send his newest one act play “Final Follies” to the theater company for production in 2017. It turned out to be ominously and aptly titled since he passed soon after, leaving this to be the last play of his legacy in the American Theater. Mr. Gurney was heralded as one of the most astute chroniclers of WASP culture, both heralding and ridiculing their traditions, to achieve fresh revelations in the current socio-political atmosphere. The first production of Primary Stages 2018/2019 season is a tryptic of three one acts, the first being “Final Follies,” followed by “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz” which comprises the first act and “The Love Course” which stands alone in act two.

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Off-Broadway Review: “On Beckett” at Irish Repertory Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “On Beckett” at Irish Repertory Theatre

“On Beckett,” currently playing at Irish Repertory Theatre’s Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage, is part performance, part graduate school lecture (with perambulation), part predilections on whether Samuel Beckett’s writing is “natural clown territory,” and part perusal of the importance of culture and language – all presented with perfection and seemingly unbridled passion by Bill Irwin. During Mr. Irwin’s introduction, it becomes clear the audience is about to experience something out of the ordinary, and when Mr. Irwin completes “a final passage of Beckett, after which the lights will go out, and the evening will be done,” experience one of the most profound experiments to be conducted on an off-Broadway stage.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties”

Off-Broadway Review: “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties”

By agreeing to carefully examine the sex-role stereotypes attributed to women, five disparate women named ‘Betty’ cautiously approach self-acceptance and self-understanding in Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre. Their collective rage about their loneliness, their fears, their submission, and their dismissions by men is a welcomed examination of gender and sexual status in the attainment and celebration of equality. Although Jen Silverman’s new play adds little in content to the discussion, her method(s) of developing her themes is/are somewhat unique and engaging.

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Off-Broadway Review: “I Was Most Alive with You”

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David Roberts

  • 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.

Off-Broadway Review: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur”

Off-Broadway Review: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur”

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.

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Off-Broadway Review: The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” at Walkerspace

Off-Broadway Review: The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” at Walkerspace

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.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Smokey Joe’s Café”

Off-Broadway Review: “Smokey Joe’s Café”

The revival of Grammy-Award-Winning “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller,” having headed south from its recent engagement at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, has landed at Stage 42 in New York City to positive notices from the press – including this one! Forty iconic Leiber and Stoller hits in ninety minutes would be glorious enough, but hearing those songs delivered by a cast of nine extraordinary singers and dancers backed by a powerhouse eight-member band is an experienced not to be missed. “Smokey Joe’s Café” currently running at Stage 42 delivers more that might expect from any musical revue.

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2nd Opinion Review: "Be More Chill"

2nd Opinion Review: "Be More Chill"

Have you ever wished that you could just take something, and you’d be cool instantly?

No? You probably thought junior high was fun, too, I’ll bet. So, for those of you who remember the teen years as something resembling medieval torture, you know what I’m talking about. Those times where everything you said and did rendered you eating your lunch alone… again.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Be More Chill”

Off-Broadway Review: “Be More Chill”

It is difficult to separate “Be More Chill,” currently running The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center, from the hype surrounding what has become a teenage cult musical since its 2015 run at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. This hype has been heightened by a cast recording and an extensive marketing campaign. What is this musical about and how successful is its current incarnation?

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Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke”

Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke”

PTP/NYC’s thirty-second season includes two plays by the company’s “usual suspects.” The double bill, currently running at Atlantic Stage 2, includes four of the ten short plays in Howard Barker’s 1987 “The Possibilities” and Caryl Churchill’s 1977 “The After-Dinner Joke.” Both offerings invite the audience to grapple with provocative content that often seems elusive and controversial and that raises numerous essential, enduring questions.

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Off-Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “Skintight”

Off-Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “Skintight”

Thrown under the bus by her ex-husband Greg, a carping, selfish, completely self-centered Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) takes the red-eye from Los Angeles to New York City to “celebrate” her a self-assured father Elliot Isaac’s (Jack Wetherall) birthday. However, the real reason for her visit is that she “just, like couldn't physically be in LA knowing” Greg and his new twenty-four-year-old bestie Misty would be celebrating their engagement at a party where all her friends would be present. Jodi brings her twenty-year-old self-absorbed son Benjamin Cullen (Eli Gelb) along hoping a “family” birthday party will please Elliot and bring her some surcease from her angst over losing her fifty-year-old husband to a younger “more beautiful” woman.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Fire in Dreamland”

Off-Broadway Review: “Fire in Dreamland”

Rinne Groff has created an engaging extended metaphor based on the 1911 fire that destroyed the iconic Dreamland on Coney Island. Counterpointing the event of the suspicious destruction by fire is the destruction by water by superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the “destruction” of Kate (Rebecca Naomi Jones) by the “lesser causes” of betrayal, self-doubt, and prevarication. “Fire in Dreamland,” currently running at The Public’s Anspacher Theater, explores that metaphor and its trove of rhetorical devices that bombard the senses and often places the audience in a surreal wonderland.

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Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “Brecht on Brecht” at Atlantic Stage 2

Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “Brecht on Brecht” at Atlantic Stage 2

“Brecht on Brecht” the theatrical collage of works by Bertolt Brecht first compiled by George Tabori in the early 1960s is appearing at Atlantic Stage 2 in repertory with “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” as part of PTP/NYC’s Season 2018. This is the Potomac Theatre Project’s thirty-second season in New York City. “Brecht on Brecht” features songs and scenes from Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Bertolt Brecht’s most famous collaborations, as well as first-hand accounts from Brecht himself and explores the socio-political and issues the playwright faced as an artist fleeing Nazism for exile in America.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Cyprus Avenue”

Off-Broadway Review: “Cyprus Avenue”

David Ireland’s “Cyprus Avenue” currently running at The Public’s LuEsther Hall sneaks up on the audience like a cat burglar armed with an AK-15 assault rifle. What one assumes will be lost is far less than the devastation left behind by the action in Ireland’s disquieting play. The detritus remaining after Eric Miller’s (Stephen Rea) violation of his wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine), their daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) and their granddaughter Mary-May is almost unbearable and not predictable. This all begins with Eric stepping onto the stage (after a considerable pause) and sitting on a chair in his living room in Cyprus Avenue, East Belfast. Bernie enters and asks, “What are you doing sitting there doing nothing?” Eric stares back dumbfounded. The next scene begins with Eric in the office of his psychotherapist Bridget (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo).

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Off-Broadway Review: “Carmen Jones” at Classic Stage Company

Off-Broadway Review: “Carmen Jones” at Classic Stage Company

This ninety-five-minute adaption of the rarely revived “Carmen Jones” is tightly constructed by Mr. Doyle, with a remarkable cast of ten extremely talented and tenacious actors who embody their characters but also develop their souls. Purists may miss the values of a big Broadway production for which this was written but will certainly experience the intimate essence of a small chamber musical. The production is not perfect but do not miss this opportunity to see this obscure musical brought to life by this impressive cast.  

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