Review: La Mama presents “13 Fruitcakes”

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: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” at Richardson Theatre Centre

Review:  “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” at Richardson Theatre Centre

Lunatic Theatre Company combined forces with Richardson Theatre Centre to bring “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” to life in an exciting Texas stage debut. The talented cast and crew they assembled delivered a highly-entertaining, dynamic performance exploring the role of racial bias in America and its ability to prematurely extinguish the blossom of young love.

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Review: "Little Shop of Horrors" at Stratford Festival

Review: "Little Shop of Horrors" at Stratford Festival

We need The Stratford Festival’s production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s musical sci-fi spoof right now.  A little wacky, escapist fun is good for the soul and, under the supreme direction and choreography of Donna Feore and sublime music direction of Laura Burton, this ‘Little Shop’ takes us away for two- and a-bit hours to be thoroughly entertained from the score’s first note.

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Review: "The Housewives of Secaucus" at the Avenel Performing Arts Center

Review: "The Housewives of Secaucus" at the Avenel Performing Arts Center

Meet the HOS: Housewives of Secaucus flip the script on traditional reality TV drama

Martini-fueled hair-pulling! Snarky and passive aggressive side comments! Sex scandals! Hats! What more could you possibly ask from an evening of indulging in a live version of the shows you love to hate?

Much more, it seems. And Housewives of Secaucus delivers.

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Review: "Invisible Tango" at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Review: "Invisible Tango" at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Go see the one man show “Invisible Tango” starring Portuguese storyteller and master card illusionist Helder Guimarães­ premiers at the Geffen Playhouse. Under the direction of Frank Marshall, the performer shares his personal perspective of experiencing serendipity through telling a story about the occurrence and development of events.

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