Posted in dysfunction, family drama, Lois Smith, mothers, parents and children, Sam Shepard, the damaged and hurting

"Heartless" But Not Cruel

It is not unusual for Sam Shepard to baffle even the most intent or admiring observer of his work. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright knows his way around troubled families.

In “Heartless,” his mystifying tale of a family at- home with its dysfunction, at the Pershing Square Signature Center extended through September 30th, nothing is permanent, not even death.

Betty Gilpin as Elizabeth and Julianne Nicholson as Sally in Sam Shepard’s “Heartless.” Photo (c) Joan Marcus.

There is the suggestion in “Heartless” that dysfunction is a natural state of affairs for families. That despite the fact that very little is normal in this household. Sally (Julianne Nicholson) has been saved by the implant of a murdered girl’s heart. Her sister, Lucy (Jenny Bacon) indulges in the futility of curing their mother, Mabel (Lois Smith) of imaginary pains. To complicate matters, Sally has brought Roscoe (Gary Cole), a man estranged from his wife and children, home with her.  

Gary Cole as Roscoe, Betty Gilpin as Elizabeth, Lois Smith as Mabel, Jenny Bacon as Lucy (on roof), and Julianne Nicholson as Sally in “Heartless.” Photo (c) Joan Marcus. 

“Heartless” is a confounding dramatic piece with a majestic breadth reflected in the set. The sparse yet expansive scenic design by Eugene Lee creates a vast landscape on which the story is played out. Daniel Aukin’s able directing of the fine ensemble cast respects the disjunctive rhythms of “Heartless.”

Lois Smith stands out in this fantastic panoply of actors. “Heartless” is, after all, also about the kind of cruelty that is typical of mother-love. Mabel is fiercely protective of Sally, who needs saving from night terrors and bad memories, and maybe even the accident of living.

For more information about “Heartless,” and the new Signature Theatre season, please go to

Posted in 2-hander, anger, bile, brutality, love story

Love Gone Drastically Awry in "Tender Napalm"

Explosive love affairs sometimes turn into even more explosive marriages.

In “Tender Napalm,” at 59E59 Theaters through September 9th, man and wife take turns abusing each other. Bombast and bragging rights are frank and fertile ground for the ugly wreckage of their marriage.

Ameila Workman and Blake Ellis in Philip Ridley’s “Tender Napalm”

They are embittered by the tragedy that has torn what love there may have been between them asunder. Their fighting and feuding goes well beyond the standard in its bile and brutality.

“Tender Napalm” is not an easy drama to watch or listen to, with its vituperations and imaginings. You don’t want to get caught in the crossfire between Amelia Workman’s and Blake Ellis’s angry characters. Their exchanges are toxically foul-mouthed, even in an era of shameless liguistic free-for-all.

For more information, visit

Posted in Paul Taylor, Prof Steve Nelson, Shakespeare in the Park, Sondheim, Taylor 2, The Public Theater

Around Town: Dancing and Drama

Just the two of us:  Come hear what NYU Professor Steve Nelson has to say about Paul Taylor’s duets and how they fit into the stream of his work. This free Take on Taylor humanities series program is on Thursday, September 20, from 7 to 8 pm at the Taylor Studios at 551 Grand Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Everyone is invited for the discussion and to see Taylor 2 in action.

Steve Nelson, in addition to his role teaching musical theater and popular entertainment at NYU, is the producer of the Songwriter Series for the Library of Congress which releases recordings of songwriters performing their own material. Prof. Nelson is the author of “Only A Paper Moon: The Theater of Billy Rose,” and an editor on “The Complete Lyrics of Frank Loesser.”   His presentation will be interspersed with performances from Taylor 2, a company of just 6 performers who travel around the world demonstrating Paul Taylor’s dance style.  
In Public Theater news, “Into The Woods” is set close out the summer at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park season, and tickets for the [indoor] 2012-13 season at the Public’s revitalized downtown home are on sale.  The Public’s renovation of its Astor Place digs cost $40million and includes revamped spaces and on-premises restaurants.  Colman Domingo’s “Wild With Happy” will usher in the Fall programming in October. You may get single tickets at the box office at 425 Lafayette Street,  by phone at 212.967.755 or at
Posted in ensemble acting, family affair, Harrison, Horton Foote, three short plays, TX

"Harrison, TX…" Delves Deeply Into Human Frailty and Strength

Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell
(for Follies and Well) speaks about her current role in “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages.
The places in which we grew up have stories to tell.

Evan Jonigkeit, Hallie Foote, Andrea Lynn Green, Devon Abner in “Blind Date” from “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. © 2012 James Leynse.
At least that’s true if you’re Horton Foote, whose first play, “Texas Town” was produced off-Broadway in 1941. And his favorite Texas town was the fictional “Harrison, TX” which stood in for his birthplace of Wharton in many of his plays.

In “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote,” a bundled compiliation of works written at different times, at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters through  September 15th, Foote’s subtle and sincere character sketches are minutely drawn. Each play on the program quickly captures the essence of its characters.

The accomplished cast, led by Horton Foote’s eldest daughter, Hallie (a Tony-nominee for her work in her father’s “Dividing The Estate,” which premiered at Primary Stages before its Broadway transfer), convey the poignancy and humor in these brief tales. This production is something of a family affair, featuring Hallie Foote’s husband, Devon Abner, himself a veteran of other Horton Foote productions and an ensemble many of whom  have also appeared in other Foote plays.

The first of the three plays is the sweetly funny “Blind Date,” which has Dolores (Hallie Foote) fussing over her truculent niece, Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green.) Green’s clumping Sarah Nancy is delightful.

There are some particularly sharp insights into the avuncular C.W. Rowe (Jeremy Bobb), the executive in “The One-Armed Man,” part two on the bill, whose sense of charity is shaded by his self-importance.

Jeremy Bobb and Devon Abner in “The One-Armed Man” from  “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. © 2012 James Leynse.

“The Midnight Caller” is a wistful look at winners and losers in love. In it, Miss Rowena Douglas (Jayne Houdyshell) is incurably romantic, staring at fireflies and the harvest moon from the windows of the boarding house she shares with two other women. Alma Jean Jordan (Mary Bacon) and “Cutie” Spencer (Andrea Lynn Green, showing her versatility), stenographers in the local courthouse, each resigned in her own way to spinsterhood. When their landlady, Mrs. Crawford (Hallie Foote) takes in new boarders, Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin) and a gentlemen, Mr. Ralph Johnston (Jeremy Bobb) scandal enters their parlor. Helen’s former lover, Harvey Weems (Alexander Cendese) crys out into the night for a love lost while another love blossoms.

Clockwise from left: Jayne Houdyshell, Mary Bacon, Jeremy Bobb, Andrea Lynn Green, Jenny Dare Paulin, and Alexander Cendese in “The Midnight Caller” from “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. © 2012 James Leynse.

Everything in the Pam McKinnon-helmed production is dry and spare. Marion Williams has made some excellent choices in the scenic design, using a simple and versatile staircase to help delineate and define the small space in each of the three short works. The costumes by Kate Voyce elegantly reflect the time periods – 1928 for the first two and 1952 for the last- of each story.

Understanding the heart and soul is an attribute of the greatest philosopher-writers. It’s not for nothing that Horton Foote has been referred to as the American Anton Chekhov. He is plainspoken and straightforward, yet sees the nuances and foibles in humanity.In 1996, Foote was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, just one among his many honors which included two Academy Awards and a Pulitzer.

To find out more about “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote,” please visit 

Posted in award winning, far out, Festival Fringe-bound and Festival Fringe-found, fringe worthy, monologues, musicals, odd

Going to the Edge: Fringe Festivals

Darian Dauchan in “Death Boogie” with music by The Mighty Third Rail

You have to go a little further these days to deliver cutting-edge. Tricks of the trade from happenrings and multi-media presentation to theater of the absurd have become standards in all staged productions, and not just the experimental ones.

Playwrights reciting monologues, incorporating video into their stories, engaging — or surrounding– the audience are all part of the main stage and the “fringe” scene. These days, it’s probably content more than style that distinguishes “fringe” entertainments from the mainstream.

And speaking of going far, some of you will go as far as Scotland to the venerable 65-year old Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year, we’ve already previewed a very small sampling of what you should see at Edinburgh Festival Fringe while East to Edinburgh was at 59E59 Theaters earlier.

Some of us are staying closer to Broadway at downtown’s New York International Fringe, celebrating its sixteenth anniversary from August 10th to 26th.

First for the NYC homebodies: At FringeNYC, there is a plethora of events including 1200 performances ranging from monologues to musicals.  Among them, a New York premiere of the intriguingly-titled “The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children,” starring Matthew Trumbull, running from the 11th to the 24th of August at The Players Theatre.The Players, of course is just one of the many venues at which FringeNYC is being shown.

Matthew Trumbull in “The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children,” photo (c) Kyle Ancowitz 

“Mother Eve’s Secret Garden of Sensual Sisterhood,” an  award-winning fringe-fest musical, with an equally interesting title, is playing at The Players Theatre from the 15th through the 26th.

 “Mother Eve’s Secret Gardent of Sensual Sisterhood”

Jennifer Jajeh’s “I Heart Hamas…” on the program at Edinburgh from August 14-25th, takes a fresh perspective in describing her experience as a Palestinian American. There’s humor and a direct honesty in her interesting solo show. (Visit to see more.)

Appearing from the 14th to 27th of August at the Scotland Fest, “Death Boogie” is a provocative multi-media musical, starring Darian Dauchan and the musicians of The Mighty Third Rail. “Death Boogie” has a distinctive and original point of view. (See for details.)

Sandro Monetti’s monologue about Hollywood’s big names, “Clooney, Cowell, Pitt and Me…” is tabloid newstand fun. He’s performing only on August 18th. (Learn more at  It will come as no surprise to hear that naricism comes with being celebrated in tinsel town, but it is nice to hear about it from Monetti’s first-hand encounters.  

“Eat Sh*t, How Our Waste Can Save The World” definitely falls into the far-out subject matter bucket.
The playlet, presented by Shawn Shafner’s The Poop Project, is in fact a bit polemical, if very sincere. It will be at Edinburgh from August 15th to 27th. (Visit to find out more.)

Visit to see Edinburgh Festival Fringe program schedules. For more information and tickets for FringeNYC, go to

Posted in also a film, comedy, ensemble acting, satire, slapstick, Woody Harrelson

Baiting The Trap in "Bullet for Adolf"

BTW, It’s extended through October 21st! 

 (L-R) Shamika Cotton, Tyler Jacob Rollinson, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Shannon Garland, Lee Osorio, Brandon Coffey, and David Coomber in a scene from Woody Harrelson & Frankie Hyman’s “Bullet for Adolf” at New World Stages. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

 Sometimes silliness is so sublime (think Marx Brothers) it feels like a gift from above.

(L-R) Tyler Jacob Rollinson and Lee Osorio in a scene from Woody Harrelson & Frankie Hyman’s “Bullet for Adolf” at New World Stages. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

“Bullet for Adolf,”at New World Stages through September 9th, has the finely-honed madcap just right.
Frankie Hyman and Woody Harrelson have penned a rambling, nutty satiric comedy which Harrelson also directs at a pace that encourages the meandering spirit of the piece to find its own way.

 Brandon Coffey and Marsha Stephanie Blake in a scene from Woody Harrelson & Frankie Hyman’s “Bullet for Adolf” at New World Stages. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Tastelessness is high art in  “Bullet for Adolf.” The plot is thin but meaty and involves the theft of a WWII artifact.

Prepare for rousing displays of misogyny and racism along with sweetly-wrought foul language. “Bullet for Adolf” hits many a social target. 
In a fine ensemble of doers and slackers, Marsha Stephanie Blake as Shareeta does a stand-out job. The sets, designed by Dane Laffrey, go from sparse to plush while we are distracted by a vintage 1983 video montage in the production design from Imaginary Media.   
“Bullet for Adolf” is unabashedly offensive, and extremely funny.
For a schedule of performance and ticket information for  “Bullet for Adolf,” visit
Posted in Amanda Green, based on a film, boys and girls, Bring It On The Musical, cheerleaders, Jeff Whitty, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt

"The Unbearable Lightness of Being"… A Cheerleader

Cheerleading is not a philosophical endeavor. We get that. But it should have plenty of verve.

“Bring It On, The Musical,” at the St. James Theatre for a limited run through October 7th, wants to make absolutely clear that it is a physically demanding activity.

The cast of “Bring It On” (C) Photo by Joan Marcus

In fact, Campbell (Taylor Louderman) narrates the facts of her life as she becomes the captain of the Truman pep-squad, introducing the predictable power points that describe this spirited pursuit and the dedication with which she pursues it. Complications follow when Campbell is transferred to Jackson High in a stroke of redistricting. At Jackson, Campbell meets Danielle (Adrienne Warren) the leader of a dance crew.Will she triumph and find her “One Perfect Moment?” 

Taylor Louderman, Neil Haskell, Kate Rockwell, and Janet Krupin (c) Photo by Joan Marcus 

The songs (by the usually brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In The Heights” was terrific)  who teams up with Amanda Green on lyrics and Tom Kitt for the music) narrate a dull recitation of the lives of girls determined to win a state championship in rallying. Jeff Whitty has created a libretto based on the 2000 movie written by Jessica Bendinger to take “Bring It On” to the stage.

Adrienne Warren and cast. Photo (c) Joan Marcus 

Once there, even with propulsive rally-squad moves and togh hip-hop inflected dancing (choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, who also directs), “Bring It On” dies a thousand deaths. Stereotypes abound: the black girls (and guys) are cool, the white girls vapid. Campbell’s boyfriend Steve (Neil Haskell) is pretty effectively channelling his inner Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd from “Cheers.”  Despite the paucity of interesting characters, Adrienne Warren as the head of the Jackson dancers,  and Ryann Redmond as the fat girl, Bridget, are both quite charming.

Gasps of admiration at girls tossed into the air and landing gracefully quickly dissipate in the general dumbing down. Unfortunately dumbing down seems to have risen to a competitive sport in this musical. Aiming squarely for the lowest common denominator, “Bring It On” hits its target.

For more information about “Bring It On, The Musical,” visit

Posted in family, memories, My Mind Is Like An Open Meadow, one-woman show

Remembering Her Grandmother, Sarah

Photo by Kate Sanderson Holly
The loss of a loved one can be a powerful impetus for a story-teller.
In ” My Mind is Like an Open Meadow,” at 59E59 Theaters through August 19th, Erin Leddy memorializes her grandmother through a recorded interview with Sarah Braverman and in song and dance. The one-woman production has a unique style:  Erin Leddy’s grandmother, Sarah Braverman  is her co-cast member, speaking through a boom-box.   
My Mind is Like an Open Meadow” is the briefest of excursions, lasting just about 60 minutes, and is sufficiently diverting. The symbolic significance of the carefully laid-out set is sometimes hard to comprehend.  
Photo by Kate Sanderson Holly

 While it is abundantly clear that Erin Leddy is mourning her grandmother in “My Mind is Like an Open Meadow,”  it is far from evident that she has created a cogent story line from her grief.
For more information on “My Mind is Like an Open Meadow,” please visit