Posted in Dairy Queen, Mark Roberts, Rantoul is a place in Illinois, The Amoralists, the playwright also created Mike and Molly for tv

"Rantoul and Die:" For better or worse

The prolific theater troupe, the Amoralists are dedicated to producing works that pass no moral judgement.
Now, that’s just plain wrong! Honestly, can anyone of us go for even a half a day without making some kind of evaluation of good, bad, better, worst.

The cast of “Rantoul and Die: Derek Ahonen as Rallis, Sarah Lemp as Debbie, Matthew Pilieci as Gary and
Vanessa Vache as Callie. Photo by Russ Rowland

In their latest foray into absurdist realism, “Rantoul and Die” at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre through July 20th, the Amoralists take an unjaundiced look at four working stiffs settled into their middle American lives, working at the Dairy Queen and paying off the mortgage. What lies behind and deep underneath their ordinary everyday?

Sarah Lemp as Debbie cleans up some of the mess Rallis (Derek Ahonen) has made in their home.
Photo by Russ Rowland.

Mark Roberts’ “Rantoul and Die” is about a marriage that’s raced so far off he path that it’s left skid marks on everybody. Rallis (Derek Ahonen) whines mightily to his friend Gary (Matthew Pilieci) about his wife, Debbie (Sarah Lemp) tossing him out. Heartbreak was never intended to be this funny.

Gary (Matthew Pilieci) and Rallis (Derek Ahonen) in “Rantoul and Die.”
Photo by Russ Rowland

“Your heart is broke?,” Gary says to Rallis. “Boo-fucking-hoo. Everybody’s heart is broke. Why don’t we all put up a billboard…. Wouldn’t be able to find a fuckin’ Wendy’s.” Rallis responds that he’s just “tenderhearted. Things land on me harder than most.” In short, Rallis does not want to move on as advised by Gary and ordered by Debbie. He’d rather take his grief counsellor’s advice to “process” his loss.

Sarah Lemp as Debbie and Matthew Pilieci as Gary.
Photo by Russ Rowland.

The entertaining play, written by the creator of television’s Mike and Molly, and directed by Jay Stull, mixes improbable violence with exhilirating hi-jinx. The ensemble, rounded out by the appearance of Callie (Vanessa Vache) in the second act, are all superlative.

For more information about “Rantoul and Die,” visit http://amoralists.com/2013-season/

Posted in A Picture of Autumn, ancestral home, comedy, down and out nobility, drama, England's Chekhov, family comedy drama, George Morfogen, memories, N.C. Hunter, theater

Home is where the heart is

Home is also where habits are respected and remembered, and memories treasured.

Jonathan Hogan as Sir Charles Denham and George Morfogen as his brother Harry in N.C.  Hunter’s “A Picture of Autumn,” in a Mint Theater Company revival. Photo by Richard Termine.

In N.C. Hunter’s “A Picture of Autumn,” revived to perfection by the Mint Theater Company and on stage through July 27th, the ancestral home is a bit of a decaying pile. In 1951, “A Picture of Autumn” was produced in England as the first in a series of gentle drawing room comedies.

Jill Tanner as Lady Margaret, George Morfogen as Harry Denham, Jonathan Hogan as Sir Charles, Paul Niebanck as Robert and Katie Firth as his wife, Elizabeth. Photo by Richard Termine.

Despite the inevitable comparison to Chekhov, Hunter brought a crisp and distinct voice. His failure to gain traction as a great English playwright may be attributed to the voices of discontent made popular by John Osborne’s “angry young men” and Joe Orton’s strange and flamboyant characters. The drawing room was replaced by the union hall, the dockside, or other more ordinary venues. The realism of the 1970s wanted a grittier reality than that of aging nobility and its bewildered children.

Paul Niebanck as Robert Denham and Barbara eda-Young as Nurse in “A Picture of Autumn.”
Photo by Richard Termine.

As in Chekhov’s works, “A Picture of Autumn” focuses on the decline of an aristocratic family, the Denhams. Sir Charles (Jonathan Hogan) and Lady Margaret (Jill Tanner) make up the household along with Charles’ brother Harry (George Morfogen) and the equally aged Nurse (Barbara Eda-Young) who is more served than servant. Sir Charles and Lady Margaret have two boys, the ne’er do well Frank (Christian Coulson) and his decent but plodding civil servant brother Robert (Paul Niebanck). Robert is appalled by the letters of complaint he’s gotten from his mother during his service in Africa. Moved by his parents’ inability to keep up the old house, has decided to help by selling Winton Manor to a governnemt agency.

George Morfogen as Harry and Helen Cespedes as Felicity in a scene from “A Picture of Autumn.
Photo by Richard Termine.

Hunter was never much produced state-side, with his only Broadway foray being A Day by the Sea featuring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in 1955. He fared better in England where the plight of impoverished lords and ladies dotting the post WWII country-side was better understood.

Be grateful to the Mint for bringing Hunter’s work the attention it deserves. “A Picture of Autumn” gets truly proper treatment under Gus Kaikkonen’s fine direction and with this wonderful ensemble. The performers were all top-notch, with George Morfogen adding sparkle to the production. The young Helen Cespedes as Felicity, the daughter of Robert Denham’s wife’s Elizabeth is a welcome new talent and makes a superb ingenue. Jill Tanner is wonderful as the doyenne reduced to cooking and shopping; her Margaret is a perfect unwilling  but loving caretaker.

For more information about “A Picture of Autumn,” please visit http://minttheater.org/.

Posted in Bette Midler, expectations, Far From Heaven, high expectations, Kelli O'Hara, low expectations, Sue Mengers

Meeting or exceeding expectation

Expectations met make for a delightful experience. Who doesn’t like to be right? The satisfaction of seeing a top-quality performance is much greater than that of knowing what’s going to misfire.

Bette Midler stars as Sue Mengers in “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” at the Booth through June 30th. Photo by Richard Termine.

In “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” John Logan’s new play at the Booth Theatre through June 30th, the Divine Miss M (and I’ll bet even she’s tired of this moniker attached to everything she does) meets all the highest expectations! Bette Midler makes a divine Sue Mengers, the king-making and contentious Hollywood agent who died in 2011.

Sitting in Sue Mengers’ sumptuous living room, designed by Scott Pask, Midler embodies all the qualities for which Mengers was famous. It’s such a natural performance, Midler just inhabits Sue Mengers. Under Joe Mantello’s direction, Bette Midler’s Sue Mengers is funny, charming, difficult, combative, abrasive irreverent and very entertaining.

The man in the Booth box office warned that there would be no singing in this show, but Bette Midler’s acting sings nonetheless.

“I’ll Eat You Last…” is an intimate and gossipy pleasure.

Julianna Rigoglioso as Janice, Jake Lucas as David and Elainey Bass as Sarah in “Far From Heaven,” Richard Greenberg’s new play at Playwrights Horizons through July 7th. 

Unfortunately, the low expectations we had going in for “Far From Heaven,” at Playwrights Horizons through July 7th, were also exceeded. Richard Greenberg’s book is based on the Todd Haynes motion picture of the same name, with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, none of which adds much to the rather thin tale.

As “Far From Heaven” opens, Cathy Whitaker (Kelli O’Hara) is a typical and very conventional New England housewife circa 1957, enjoying the beauties of her home and family. Spoiler alert for those not familiar with the film, Cathy’s story can be summed up as: my husband, Frank (Steve Pasquale) is gay and I’m in love with the gardener, Raymond (Isaiah Johnson).

Kelli O’Hara as Cathy and Isaiah Johnson as Raymond in “Far From Heaven.” Photo by Joan Marcus


“Far From Heaven” is an operetta, and the orchestra’s over-playing the singers interferes with the players’ storytelling. The fine cast are excellent; Kelli O’Hara gives a grand performance; Isaiah Johnson as her love interest is superb. Steve Pasquale is a perfectly despicable Frank Whitaker, torn between what he thinks is normal and what he wants. (See an extended review by TB at VevlynsPen.)

For more information about “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” visit http://www.illeatyoulast.com/. To learn more about “Far From Heaven,” visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/

Posted in ADF, Cape Dance Festival, CorbinDances, dance, Festivals, Lady Luck Burlesque, modern American dance, Outdoor amphitheater, Paul Taylor Dance Company

Summer is for dancing: a couple of out of town Festivals

What’s 80 years old and extremely modern? Well, yes maybe also your ultra-hip granny but we’re thinking more along the lines of ADF.


The American Dance Festival, founded in 1934 in Bennington, VT, and now located in Durham, NC, is a summer home for an international community of dancers, choreographers, critics, musicians, students, and scholars joined in a supportive environment for creation and presentation of new works.
 

LeeSaar-MassMoCA. Christopher Duggan

Featured artists for the week of June 30th through July 7thinclude LeeSaar The Company which is bringing an ADF-commissioned work for their premiere performance called “Grass and Jackals.” The dance and light piece by the company, founded by partners Lee Sher and Saar Harari in 2000, explores movement and theatricality in a dynamic contemporary form.
Also on the stages at ADF is Kyle Abraham with Abraham.In.Motion, bringing his new work, “Pavement,” an exploration of the hard road black America has had to take during the past century.
The extremely popular Musician’s Concert is back on July 3rd this year at 8:00pm as are dance and bodywork classes at ADF’s Samuel H. Scripps Studios for adults while ADF Project Dance, under the direction of Gaspard Louis, partners with Kidzu Children’s Museum to offer two free movement classes for children during the third week of the Festival.
In contrast to the long-established ADF, the Cape Dance Festival will be holding its inaugural event on July 27th in Provincetown, MA. The brainchild of performing arts professionals Stacey-Jo Marine and Liz Wolff, the Festival includes Paul Taylor Dance Company, Project Moves Dance Company, CorbinDances, Lady Luck Burlesque, Lorraine Chapman the Company, and Yesid Lopez. As a throwback to an ancient tradition, the Cape Dance Festival is being held outdoors in an amphitheater, the Province Lands Outdoor Amphitheater, to be precise.
Among the many works on hand, will be “Paean,” a solo choreographed by the late Christopher Gillis, a member of Paul Taylor’s troupe. “Paean” will be danced by Michael Trusnovec, a senior dancer in the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Christopher Gillis died from AIDS complications in 1993. Ticket sales for all Festival performances will go towards raising funds for the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod.
Visit http://capedancefestival.com/about/to learn more about Cape Dance Festival.

To learn more about the American Dance Festival, visit http://www.americandancefestival.org/
Posted in Berry Gordy, Bette Midler, Cicely Tyson, Cinderella, Cuba Goodng Jr, Father's Day, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sue Mengers, The trip to Bountful

What are you doing this weekend? A few select suggestions:

 See Bette Midler play Sue Mengers, or go see “Motown The Musical” or you could head home to Bountiful, TX…. 

Bette Midler is the perfect hostess in “I’ll Eat You Last,” as she invites the audience into her home, well, Sue Mengers’ home.  Click above for review and details, but there are only a few performances left, and honestly, you should not miss this one. Closing June 30th.

Love the music that came out of Detroit in the late ’50s and early ’60s? Come relive the era with “Motown The Musical.” Tickets aren’t discounted on the usual sites, but go ahead and treat yourself after you click on the links for our reviews, at any rate. (See also, Gordy Tells His Story on VP as well as the review on this site.)

There are discounts for “The Trip To Bountiful,” for which Cicely Tyson won the Tony. (For discounts check on BroadwayBox.com, among others.) Cuba Gooding, Jr. makes his stage debut in this lovely production.

Off-Broadway, there’s “Cornelius” by JB Priestley at 59E59 Theaters’ Brits Off Broadway. The play takes place during tough economic times during the 1930s, but you can relate, right? [Also closing on June 30th.]

Alan Cox and Col Farrell in J.B. Priestley’s “Cornelius,” directed by Sam Yates, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.


It plays only on Wednesdays, but plan to attend a matinee or evening performance before July 31st:
“Unbroken Circle” (review) at the St Luke’s Theatre.
Photo by Bill Selby

Looking for romance and dancing? “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” can take you on a waltz-filled adventure. It won a Tony for the spectacular costumers, but it’s a genuinely enjoyable production.


Looking for something a bit … smaller? St Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo is celebrating toy theater from June 14th to the 23rd. It’s the Tenth International ToyTheater Festival. Check it out. Photo below is courtesy

Great Small Works, and features Barbara Steinitz and Bjorn Kollin presenting “Schnurzpiepegal,” a picture book that comes alive. 



Another highlight of the festival is Janie Geiser’s “The Reptile Under the Flowers,” which incorporates mechanical objects, puppetry, small projections in twelve diorama scenes of a peepshow spectacle. Don’t know about you but “Toy Theater” appeals to my love of minatures.

Janie Geiser’s “The Reptile Under the Flowers,” courtesy Great Small Works

Posted in dying, family comedy drama, Greg Keller, Jenny Schwartz, Kate Mulgrew, Kathleen Chalfant, life and death, lurid, Mary Schultz, Vineyard Theatre

Alas, "Somewhere Fun" is Anything But

Dark comedy can be full of surprise and delight.

Unfortunately, Jenny Schwartz’s new “Somewhere Fun,” at the Vineyard Theatre through June 23rd, is dark and sometimes comic, but absent of any delight. A metaphor for life and death that’s so lurid and off-putting, “Somewhere Fun” threatens to bore. Its descent into dull darkness has a rapid trajectory over three thirty-five minute acts.

“Somewhere Fun” is full of clichés masquerading as whimsy and whimsy that  passes for deep thought. There is wordplay that amuses until it doesn’t despite the best efforts of the fine troupe of actors and director Anne Kauffman. In fact, “Somewhere Fun” features an excellent cast–including the brilliant and talented Kathleen Chalfant and splendid and versatile Kate Mulgrew. They and the ensemble work tirelessly to make lively sense of “Somewhere Fun” to no avail.

A pinch of fairytale, a sprinkling of Shakespeare, a soupçon  of police procedural, a dash of social commentary, and yet “Somewhere Fun” is just an unsatisfying stew.

For more information about “Somewhere Fun,” visit the Vineyard Theatre.

Posted in drama, family drama, family secrets, funny-sad, James Wesley, molestation, poignant, secrets

Secrets Haunt in "Unbroken Cirlcle"

Aunt June (Eve Plumb) finally gets to read the will as the family looks on.
Edna (Anika Larsen), Patti (Juli Wesley), Bobby (James Wesley) and Ruby (Suzanna Hay) Photo by Bill Selby.

There is no such thing as a well-kept secret. In fact the secrets the family in “Unbroken Circle,” at St. Luke’s Theatre in an open run every Wednesday, have done a good deal of harm.

Aunt June (Eve Plumb), Cheryl (Lori Hammel), Bobby (James Wesley) and Ruby (Suzanna Hay) sit around the table trying to enjoy a family meal. Photo by Bill Selby.

James Wesley, who also stars as Bobby, has written a darkly comic, poignantly gripping play about a family troubled by their past. “Unbroken Circle” is moving, and unpredictable.

The family gathers after burying Travis, the father and grandfather that none of them, except perhaps Aunt June (Eve Plumb) much misses. In fact, his demise frees his wife Ruby (Suzanna Hay) of many burdens of care. Her daughter, Edna (Anika Larsen) comes back home for the first time since she ran away at sixteen. Bobby (James Wesley), her twin, can unburden himself of a life of failure and misery too.

Husband and wife Cheryl (Lori Hammel), Bobby (James Wesley) confront their daughter, Patti (Juli Wesley). Photo by Bill Selby.


Eve Plumb is very fine as the cynically pious June. Suzanna Hay stands out as the tough and  
protective Ruby. James Wesley is brilliant as the defeated Bobby. Lori Hammel is excellent as his wife Cheryl, as is Anika Larsen as the prodigal sister. The youngsters, Stacey Bone-Gleason as Cathy, who has just come of age, and Juli Wesley as the precocious and clever Patti, give memorable performances. In short, the ensemble are superb.

“Unbroken Circle” is an engaging, entertaining and touching drama about a family overcoming their troubled past. The direction by Jason St. Little and the sets by Josh Iacovelli make the most of the small space in which the play is staged. 

For more information, schedule, and tickets for “Unbroken Circle,” please visit www.unbrokencircletheplay.com