Off-Broadway Review: “Nantucket Sleigh Ride”

Off-Broadway Review: “Nantucket Sleigh Ride”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, new phrases entered the language of the sailors who took to the sea off the island of Nantucket, one of the whaling capitals of the world during that period. One specific expression “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” describes what happens when a harpooned whale drags the sailors in their long boat across the surface of the water in the wake of waves until it dies. During this treacherous event, which was a fight to the finish, sometimes the sailors also perished. John Guare’s somewhat new play (revised from a previous 2012 production at McCarter Theater) is aptly titled since the audience is only given enough to trawl over the surface of the story and characters without any depth of understanding until the play dies or the audience gives up trying to comprehend it. The switching from reality to the surreal and absurd becomes too confusing and too big a whale of a tale to comprehend the message or purpose of the play. Stopping half way through the farcical memory ride for an intermission seemed unnecessary for a ninety-five-minute play.

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Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother”

Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother”

Somewhere in France, or perhaps in England in the nineteenth century, a young married woman is standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes after an evening meal. A dish slips from her hand, breaking I pieces as it hits the floor. The young woman begins to cry, sob really. Her husband not understanding any of this “odd behavior,” reaches out to the family physician who makes the diagnosis of hysteria and prescribes laudanum to “sedate” her. If the laudanum isn’t effective over time, this young woman – like many others of this time period – might be institutionalized for having “felt,” or “been sad,” or “not been a dutiful wife.”

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Off-Broadway Review: “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka

Off-Broadway Review: “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka

“If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons is a must see. Audiences need to support new voices like Tori Sampson. Her contributions to the theatre will continue to challenge the ways we have understood what theatre is, how it is expressed, and how its messages can be exposed to audiences.

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Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof”

Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof”

One father longing to be wealthy enough to adequately care for his family – and letting the Creator know he feels overlooked – and three “adult” daughters dodging the craft of the local matchmaker are the grist for an epic challenge to the traditions held dear by the members of Tevye’s Shtetlekh and its “on-the-fence” Der Rov (a confident yet conflicted Adam B. Shapiro) who is often consulted to determine which traditions remain relevant and which might have become obsolete. Tradition. Culture. Politics. Love. Tevye grapples with these four and more in National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” currently running at Stage 42.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Hurricane Diane” at New York Theatre Workshop

Off-Broadway Review: “Hurricane Diane” at New York Theatre Workshop

Playwright Madeleine George sets her “Hurricane Diane” in an Early Anthropocene Time, the era defined as “the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” Most, except members of the current Administration, see that influence to have been deleterious at best and are aware of the dire predictions for Planet Earth’s future viability unless this human activity is modified speedily and thoroughly. The effects of climate change are as evident now as they were when Ms. George’s play had its debut at Two River Theatre in New Jersey in 2017. Perhaps even more so. So why does New York Theatre Workshop team up with Women’s Project Theater to resurrect this problematic play?

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Off-Broadway Review: Fiasco Theater’s Production of “Merrily We Roll Along”

Off-Broadway Review: Fiasco Theater’s Production of “Merrily We Roll Along”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” could prove to become the mantra of the famed Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” which was a dismal failure when it first opened on Broadway in 1981. There is a new production helmed by the Roundabout’s resident Fiasco Theater Company which falls short of delivering a new efficacious incarnation, becoming yet another casualty in the history of this troublesome and puzzling show. This current endeavor lacks the emotional depth of the characters needed to successfully bring forth the message; additionally, the cast is not vocally capable of delivering most of the brilliant musical numbers. However, the orchestrations and new arrangements for the eight-piece orchestra by Alexander Gemignani allow the audience to wallow in the brilliance of Mr. Sondheim’s captivating score and are the highlight of this production.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Mies Julie”

Off-Broadway Review: “Mies Julie”

August Strindberg’s naturalism and themes transfer brilliantly from his “Miss Julie” to Yaël Farber’s adaptation of Strindberg’s classic. Farber’s “Mies Julie” is currently running at Classic Stage Company in repertory with the Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s “The Dance of Death.” Like the 1985 stage version of “Miss Julie” at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre, Mr. Farber’s 2012 adaptation takes place in South Africa.  Shariffa Ali’s electrifying staging replaces Strindberg’s celebration of Midsummer’s Eve with the “restitutions of body and soul” churned up by the Xhosa Freedom Day celebration.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Eddie and Dave”

Off-Broadway Review: “Eddie and Dave”

The present-day social climate in the theater world has fervently addressed non-traditional casting, gender identity, and diversity as part of an effort to be inclusive and accepting. When a production exhibits a little gender bending, there should be a valid explanation or reasoning behind the decision, whether it be historical, social, or dramatic persuasion. In the case of “Eddie and Dave” penned by Amy Staats and running at Atlantic Stage 2, it seems to be purely for fun, adding a bit of desperately needed humor to the banal script.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Blue Ridge”

Off-Broadway Review: “Blue Ridge”

Abby Rosebrock introduces an interesting mélange of broken characters in her new play “Blue Ridge” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. She drops these six disparate “recovering” personalities into the vortex of a Christian halfway house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Pastor Hern (a cagey but caring Chris Stack) and his partner Grace (a sincere and dedicated Nicole Lewis) run the place and come to the enterprise with their own baggage. Their twelve-step-type program includes daily Bible study, meditation, community service, and help securing required employment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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