Off-Broadway Review: “Lewiston/Clarkston” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Off-Broadway Review: “Lewiston/Clarkston” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

There is quite an intriguing theatrical event occurring at the Rattlestick Theater, where two ninety-minute plays separated by a thirty-minute communal dinner break takes the stage to engage an audience of fifty, in two compelling dramas. The playhouse is stripped down to its original walls discovering weathered multi paned windows and worn wainscoting, wearing years of neglect, with some sections beyond repair. This is the performance space, perhaps a foreshadowing of a shared theme of discovery, as two brave young people make a journey following the steps of their ancestors only to reveal the ugly past and face the troubled and turbulent present.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “The Hello Girls” at 59E59 Theaters

Off-Broadway Review: “The Hello Girls” at 59E59 Theaters

There is no doubt that the so called “Hello Girls,” the bilingual operators that were sent to the front line to operate secured switchboards, were invaluable to the Signal Corps units in World War I. It is unfortunate that they needed to fight for sixty years to be recognized as veterans of that war in order to receive appropriate benefits. It was just one more example of the historic and ongoing women’s crusade for equal rights. So, it is fitting that there be an acknowledgement of their service in any form, including the documentary and the current stage musical by the same name now running at 59E59 Theaters. This recent tribute is produced by Prospect Theater Company and features a remarkable cast of performers who do triple duty as actors, vocalists and musicians playing multiple instruments.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “The Other Josh Cohen”

Off-Broadway Review: “The Other Josh Cohen”

“The Other Josh Cohen,” currently running at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs, has been bemoaning the hapless and lackluster life of Josh Cohen (Steve Rosen) through his Doppelganger narrator Josh (David Rossmer) since October 2012. That’s a long time to celebrate having one’s apartment robbed of everything, rehearsing one’s dysfunctional family, recounting a string of failed romantic relationships, and resolving the mystery of a letter and check for a substantial sum of money – yet, audiences continue to cheer Josh on, apparently identifying with this fictional character’s “hard luck life” and his ability to overcome misfortune and re-create himself and his future.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “Thom Pain (based on nothing)”

Off-Broadway Review: “Thom Pain (based on nothing)”

In this revival of “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage, Will Eno steps over, under, and in between the resting places – and the writing desks – of the literary canon’s most prominent surrealist writers of the past and present. Eno seems to stop there to chat, listen, tremble (who wouldn’t), and laugh with these greats, echoes of whom cascade across the stage in a stunning performance by Michael C. Hall.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “Gloria: A Life” at the Daryl Roth Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Gloria: A Life” at the Daryl Roth Theatre

It is not such a common occurrence that a playwright attempts to pay tribute to a living legend unless the work of that inspirational personality continues in the present as well as already being a pivotal part of history. That is why it is easy to understand the decision of Emily Mann to bring to the stage the life of the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Under the astute direction of Diane Paulus, the two-hour multimedia piece fuses docudrama, theatre and talking circle, to review the life of Ms. Steinem but more importantly to remind the audience that in such uncertain times, the work she started is not yet done. It is not meant to preach, but to arouse and stimulate, so we may gather, communicate and understand the need for equality. It is not a resurgence but more like a recharge, taking power from one source and passing it on to another, who may then empower another, until all become enlightened, ready and able to fight until the battle is won. More so, it is steeped in reality.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “India Pale Ale”

Off-Broadway Review: “India Pale Ale”

Jaclyn Backhaus’s “India Pale Ale” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I has acollection of “teachable moments.” Some of the lessons are rather unimportant though interesting. The audience learns the history of IPA (India Pale Ale), the hops and alcohol content of the iconic enhanced pale ale, and how at least one white hipster Tim (a lumbering and naïve Nate Miller) does not know what the “I” in “IPA” stands for. Other lessons are significantly more important. The audience learns the migratory history of Basminder “Boz” Batra (an energetic and spirited Shazi Raja) and her Punjabi family to the United States and theirnew home in Raymond, Wisconsin. Boz and her brother Iggy (a deeply sensitive and ebullient Sathya Sridharan) are second-generation American citizens.And the audience learns that Boz wants to leave Raymond and open a bar in nearby Madison, Wisconsin.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “Days of Rage”

Off-Broadway Review: “Days of Rage”

Rooms full of missed opportunities sprawl across Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre where Steven Levenson’s new play “Days of Rage” is running through November 2018. Mr. Levenson, the award-winning book-writer of “Dear Evan Hansen, tackles the important issues of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism against the backdrop of a radical collective of three friends protesting the “atrocities” of the Vietnam War.  The time is October 1969 and Spence (an intense yet vulnerable Mike Faist), Jenny (a devoted and lonesome Lauren Patten), and Quinn (an unbridled and combative Odessa Young) share a ramshackle old house in upstate New York where they espouse the tenets of Lenin, Marx, and Engels and are engaged in recruiting other anti-war advocates to join them in a road trip to Chicago where an estimated twenty-five thousand will gather to rage against the war, the President, and the establishment.

Read More

Off-Broadway Review: “Black Light”

Off-Broadway Review: “Black Light”

Jomama is the performer and alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones who created the production “Black Light” now playing at Greenwich House Theater after a successful run at Joe’s Pub. She is a soul sonic superstar and when she speaks of a supernova the audience better listen up because her presence personifies the definition of that phenomenon perfectly.

Read More

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.”

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

IMG_2934.JPG

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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?

Read More