Posted in 2-hander, air force, also a film, army airmen, autobiographical, based on a movie, based on a real world conflict, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, Bryce Pinkham, carpet bombing, comedy about a serious subject, dark comedy drama, drama based on real events, duped by love, ensemble acting, family, fathers and sons, holiday show, memoir, memories, musical theatre, musicals and dramas, narration, new work, Off or Off-Off Broadway Transfer, offbeat work, parents and children, play, play with music, Roundabout Theatre Company, serious comedy, storytelling, stylistic, the damaged and hurting, theater, Vietnam background, war

Legacies of war

bycarolrosegg
Jon Hoche, Raymond Lee, Paco Tolson (center), Jennifer Ikeda, and Samantha Quan. Photo © Carol Rosegg

History can sometimes revel in a very personal dynamic.

For instance, those of us who lived through and joined in protests against the Vietnam War may not share the viewpoint of the main character in Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone, currently playing at MTC’s City Center Stage I through December 4th.

Quang (Raymond Lee) was a pilot in the South Vietnamese armed forces. He was trained in the United States. He saw the North Vietnamese as a genuine threat to life and liberty and welcomed the help of American soldiers in the struggle.

Vietgone is a fast-paced kind-of-multi-media excursion into the hero’s and heroine’s, Tong (Jennifer Ikeda), survival. They meet at a state-side refugee camp where Tong and her mother (Samantha Quan, in a number of roles) have come after the fall of Saigon.

The piece is, and isn’t, narrated by the Playwright (Paco Tolson, also playing several people), who is commemorating his parents’ story. There are rapped love songs, (original music by Shane Rettig) motorcycles, a roadtrip, and a bromance– all trappings to some extent of the era portrayed in the plot.

For the most part, Vietgone is entertaining, interesting, unusual in structure, and well presented. There is room for some cuts here and there. The cast, under May Adrales’ direction, and staging, with scenic designs by Tim Mackabee and projection design by Jared Mezzocchi, are excellent.

In other subscription house news from our household:

Roundabout’s Love, Love, Love (reviewed earlier and playing through 12/18) can make us feel guilty first for Brexit and now Trump as it portrays boomers resting in reactionary comfort.

Over at Studio 54 througfh January 15, 2017, Roundabout has mounted a vehicle for nostalgia. Holiday Inn, with no irony whatsoever, cries out for Mickey and Judy. It is well-served by the cast on hand, however, and a pleasantly tuneful production makes for a great afternoon at the movies, er theater.Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu are the friends and dancing partners, along with Megan Sikora, and Lora Lee Gayer who lead the ensemble in song and dance.

Heisenberg Georgie- Mary-Louise Parker and Alex-- Denis Arndt; Set Designer Mark Wendland; Costume Designer Michael Krass; Lighting Designer Austin R. Smith; Original Music and Sound Designer David Van Tieghem. Photo © Joan Marcus
Heisenberg
Georgie- Mary-Louise Parker and Alex– Denis Arndt;
Set Designer Mark Wendland; Costume Designer Michael Krass;
Lighting Designer Austin R. Smith;
Original Music and Sound Designer David Van Tieghem. Photo © Joan Marcus

MTC gives us Heisenberg at its Broadway venue, the Friedman Theatre through December 11th. Why Heisenberg? The play, so well-acted by Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker as to have one puzzling over the quantum physics of it name, is an enjoyable two-hander. It’s gimmicky staging notwithstanding, the dynamic of the drama is captivating. Heisenberg is a sweet-crazy story, written by Simon Stephens, the pen behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Heisenberg was a transfer from Off-Off, and as such had some buzziness surrounding it.Director Mark Brokaw elicits strong performances from both his actors. Parker, who unleashes the odd-ball in her character in little bursts, is fun to watch.Arndt’s charm reveals how a pent-up man can suddenly be both impetuous and child-like. So, back to the title: Heisenberg has an underlying if small principle of uncertainty that you will likely enjoy.

Posted in 1-hander, autobiographical, based on a true story or event, drama, drama based on real events

Growing Up Gay and Goth in Texas

Review by Mari S. Gold

BAD KID by David Crabbe, All photos by John Painz.
BAD KID by David Crabb, co-written with Josh Matthews, Performed by David Crabb. All photos by John Painz.

David Crabb grew up in the middle of Texas Goth and gay. You might anticipate that the adult Crabb be bitter or look, um, unusual, but you’d be wrong. Crabb, who co-wrote Bad Kid (playing at Axis Theater through August 1st) with Josh Matthews, comes across as an insightful guy –and a sweet one, at that–despite the trials of his teen years.

Crabb is a slightly-built, physical performer who begins by making easy contact with a few audience members before he brings his supportive mother, confused but stoic father and a host of friends to life. Surprisingly, much of the performance is funny, even though the overall premise is not. It’s been around before–kid starts out an outcast but comes to terms with his sexuality and in adulthood seems well-adjusted.

BAD KID by David Crabb, All photos by John Painz.
BAD KID by David Crabb, All photos by John Painz.

Crabb ends his show saying he hopes his parents never see it but I doubt if this is true. Sure, there are episodes involving drugs and debauchery, but Crabb’s intelligence enables him to get past that period in his life and become the performer and storyteller he is today. His parents obviously loved him all along and he’s grateful for their acceptance.

My biggest problem with the performance is that it’s too long by a good twenty minutes. After a while, we get it even as Crabb continues to wring big laughs from some of the audience. The last two “episodes” (announced by slides) before the final rounding out don’t add to the drama and seem repetative. Better for Crabb to end while he’s truly ahead.

“As Goth kids, we thought that everything honest was rooted in loneliness, even our sexual urges and our concept of ‘fun,’ says Crabb. Well, yes, but having largely non-critical parents and a strong enough sense of humor to look back at his earlier escapades enabled him to master his situation and grow up able to mock himself.

David Crabb is a Moth Story Slam host and three-time Moth Slam winner. This show premiered at the Axis Theater, where it’s now, running in 2012, earning kudos from The New York Times and praise from NYTheater.com that called Crabb’s performance a ‘tour- de- force.” Bad Kid also played in Washington, DC and Austin, TX. In May, 2015, Harper Collins Perennial published Crabb’s memoir, also titled Bad Kid that was hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “engaging” and by Kirkus as ‘upbeat, endearing and achingly funny.”

Crabb is indeed funny. His gestures and accents bring the people in his background to life but not as the stereotypes we think they will be. The diva who had him eat a Vick’s cylinder and the skinhead who becomes a good friend are real people although their lives didn’t end up as happily as Crabb’s. Cut to the chase (and cut some sections) and you have an evening that transcends the expected with warmth and humor.

To learn more, and for tickets, please visit http://axiscompany.org/index.php

Posted in #Billy Porter, #LiliasWhite, #S.EpathaMerkerson, #SharonWashington, autobiographical, based on an actual life

Too close: Billy Porter’s "While Yet I Live"

Sometimes we are just to close to our own lives to properly document them.

Billy Porter’s While Yet I Live, at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street through October 31st, is a case in point.

S. Epatha Merkerson and Sharon Washington in While I Yet Live.
(c) 2014 James Leynse.
Primary Stages production of While I Yet Live by Billy Porter,
directed by Sheryl Kaller at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street.

The cliche- (and on occasion, stereotype-) laden script does not let the characters fully develop, despite a mostly stellar cast.

While Yet I Live tells the story of Calvin (Larry Powell), a stand-in for the author, or rather of his family.

Living in “The Big House” in Pittsburgh, PA, are his mother, Maxine (S. Epatha Merkerson), his grandmother, Gertrude (Lilias White), his great aunt Delores, aka Aunt D (Elain Graham), and his little sister Tonya (Sheria Irving in a standout performance.) Also living with them is the shut-in Arthur, whom we never see, but to whom Tonya brings trays of food, and Maxine’s best friend, Miss Eva (Sharon Washington)

Calvin leaves home for complicated reasons which involve his stepdad Vernon (Kevyn Morrow) to return at the end of Act I after success on Broadway.

Elain Graham, Lilias White and Larry Powell in While I Yet Live. 
(c) 2014 James Leynse. 

S. Epatha Merkerson is completely at ease in her role as a troubled, handicapped woman who is taking care of everyone around her. Sharon Washington makes you want a friend like that. It’s Sheria Irving’s Tonya, narrating and moving the drama along, who steals the show.

While Yet I Live is too loose and gangly. A few too many “Name it and claim its” and “You are not brokens” keep it from being taut. In fact, While Yet I Live, could easily be trimmed to bring the play to a more desireable intermissionless hour and fifteen. It could shed some ghosts to let the narrative move more smoothly and dramatically.

To learn more about Primary Stages and get tickets for While Yet I Live, please visit http://www.primarystages.org/.