Posted in #whatdoyouthink, actors, African-American playwrights, artist, based on a novel, based on a true story or event, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, brutality, chronicle, deep South, empowerment, ensemble acting, famous, film, Fox Studios, historical drama, history, honky, husbands and wives, KKK, meditation on life, movie, new work, opinion, poignant, race, racism, riff, sci fi, serious, serious subject, showcase, timely, TV, Valentine's Day

Serially entertaining

Actors and screen-writers are busier these days than they have been in some time. There are “streaming” shows, 100s of cable outlets producing both series and movies, and of course Hollywood and the Indie scene all requiring their talents and services.

We are the beneficiaries of all this production. We will be enlightened, entertained and excited by the films they produce.

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than binge watching Divorce?

Gifted, the movie with Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace, and not so incidentally Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan, and Elizabeth Marvel, is touching without being maudlin. It is generally intelligent, with a sterling performance by young Ms. Grace, and until we saw it last night on HBO, I had not heard much about it.

The assignment for Black History Month can include the excellent Get Out, Jordan Peele’s genius defies and reinvents the “horror” genre. It should also feature a viewing of Birth of a Nation, perhaps both in its regressive D.W. Griffith 1915 version and Nate Parker’s 2016 “remake.” The contrast between a paen to the Ku Klux Klan and to Nat Turner’s slave rebellion may prove edifying. Add Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (although not our personal favorite) to your list of films for 2018. (In the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham expresses a different view, especially of Parker’s film.)

Art is meant to engender controversy, stimulate and even incense and enrage. We should not be passively diverted in its presence. It is here to help us ponder life’s (and history’s) biggest issues.

Thanks to films and serial dramas we have a lot to consider and enjoy. And we are treated to some terrific performances in the bargain.

Posted in adaptation, based on Chekhov, comedy-drama, drama, ensemble acting, favorites, friendship, girls, growing up, love story, loyalty, Playwritghts Horizons, romantic comedy, Roundabout Theatre Company, soccer, The Duke, The Mint Theatre

Short takes

Here are three shows playing “off-Broadway” but in the Times Square area you may find of interest: The Wolves at the Duke on 42nd, Yours Unfaithfully at the always brilliant Mint at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre, and Rancho Viejo at Playwrights Horizons.

Comeback Kids

Sports-themed stories are compelling because they are usually about fair play and, well, sportsmanship.

Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves takes place during practice sessions of a suburban girls’ soccer team as they chat, gossip, and warm-up. Part of the appeal of this show is that  The Wolves is in a reprise production at The Duke on 42nd Street through December 29th; its last sold-out run was this past August and September. It made an impact then, and it looks to make one this holiday season as well.

If you love something, set it free

The Mint is staging  Yours Unfaithfully, the never before produced comedy by Miles Malleson. The play was published in 1933 but never staged until now, when it will get its world premiere beginning on December 27th and running through February 18th at Theatre Row’s Beckett.

Malleson, an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and freethinker seems to have written about the open marriage in Yours Unfaithfully from his life experience, but this production offers much more than voyeuristic interest. Bertrand Russell reviewed the published play as being full of “humor and kindness” and “free from any taint of propaganda.” The high standards of a Mint Theatre production should bring this “well-constructed” work to life.

Neighborly

At Playwrights Horizons, Dan LeFranc brings Rancho Viejo, a small-town and its relationships and interactions to the stage. If his earlier play, The Big Meal is any indication of where he’ll be taking us, this should be an interesting journey.

Rancho Viejo, through December 23rd at the Mainstage, explores how what we do affects our friends and neighbors, who may be total strangers to us. (Check out our review of this very entertaining new play.)


Over at the American Airlines Theatre, Stephen Karam tweaked Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard, which closed on December 4th, is a challenge, as is much of Chekhov. There is melancholy mixed with hilarity in the oeuvre and it does not always play as either funny or tragic. Diane Lane (Ranevskaya) and John Glover (Gaev). the plutocratic and impoverished owners of the property at the center of the play, achieve some level of mixed despair and hysteria.

The production had its faults, and some highlights which included the second act masquerade ball with musicians (Bryaqn Hernandez-Luch, Liam Burke, Chihiro Shibayam, coordinated by John Miller) on stage. There is original music by Nico Muhly.

And most interesting is the color-blind casting in which Chuck Cooper is Pischik, a landowner always looking for a handout, and Maurice Jones is Ranevskaya’s favorite Yasha. Harold Perrineau as Lopakhin, the son of a serf who wins the estate at auction, is a particular standout in the cast.


News from the annoyance front: Impolite theater-goers of the umpteenth degree spotted recently at a matinee of The Cherry Orchard were talking quite loudly. When asked to sush, the response was “Other people are talking.” The other people in question were the characters on stage, I swear.

Also in the Roundabout repertory for this season was the frothy and likeable Holiday Inn, at Studio 54 through January 15th.

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 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 http://primarystages.org/ 

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 http://www.bulletforadolf.com/