Posted in aging, comedy about a serious subject, comedy-drama, dysfunction, family, family comedy drama, family drama, mothers and sons, new dramatists, new work, Playwrights Horizons, serious comedy, spendthrift

Mom

The TreasurerSeptember 06, 2017 – October 22, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Max Posner Directed by David Cromer
Pun Bandhu & Peter Friedman in a scene from The Treasurer. Photo © Joan Marcus. Note the modern industrial sets by Laura Jellinek.

Family often cuts to the heart of who we are.

Relationships that can be kind can also be cruel, as we find in Max Posner’s The Treasurer, at Playwrights Horizons through October 22nd extended to November 5th, under David Cromer’s direction, a comedy about family, aging, guilt and dying.

Caring for an aging parent who abandoned him when he was 13 is a huge and unwelcome responsibility for The Son (Peter Friedman).

His mother sees it differently. Her version is less dramatic. “Everybody gets divorced,” Ida Armstrong (the wonderful Deanna Dunagan) tells Ronette, (Marinda Anderson) a shop clerk at Talbot’s.

The TreasurerSeptember 06, 2017 – October 22, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Max Posner Directed by David Cromer
Deanna Dunagan & Marinda Anderson. Photo © Joan Marcus

Ida’s charm is seductive. Her conversations, like her exchange with Julian (Pun Bandhu), a young man she memory-dials, make promises which are then also abandoned. Profligacy has left Ida penniless and dependent on the charity of The Son and his brothers, Allen and Jeremy (Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu on the phone). Her continued spending evades The Son’s best efforts as the titular “Treasurer” and leaves him frustrated. Friedman’s narrative is delivered with a nonchalant grace.

The Treasurer could have gone in any number of directions, but Posner’s play goes on its surreal path in an unexpected if foreshadowed course. The result, or rather, the conclusion, is not fully satisfying.

For more information and tickets, please visit the @PHnyc website.

Posted in aging, family, family comedy drama, Kathleen Chalfant, Peter Pan, Playwrights Horizons, Sarah Ruhl

Growing Up

Wicked BwayRondi Reed
Kathleen Chalfant & Ron Crawford in For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday Photo by Joan Marcus.

There are those who proclaim that “age is just a number” and trill about being “young at heart.”

Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie’s enduring and oft-Disney-fied character, is the poster boy for this way of looking at life.

Others find that hitting the BIG 4-0, 5-0, or 6-0 is fraught with crises, both midlife and beyond.

Wicked BwayRondi Reed
Lisa Emery & Kathleen Chalfant. Photo by Joan Marcus

Sarah Ruhl’s new play, in a New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons through October 1st, For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday upends the famous meme of eternal youth that Peter evokes. It is also a tribute and a present to her mother, who like the titular character in Ruhl’s play performed the role in their hometown theater.

Wicked BwayRondi Reed
David Chandler, Daniel Jenkins, Kathleen Chalfant, Lisa Emery & Keith Reddin. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Of course, Peter Pan and the idea of not growing up– or, rather, not becoming a grown up– has appeal for children as well. For adults, the appeal may have something to do with never having to face mortality. This is a conclusion that her brother Jim (David Chandler)  suggests to Ann (Kathleen Chalifant) in For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday .

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday is a comedy drama about mortality, maturity, and family. It is written in varying rhythms, as if the play itself were a living entity. Under Les Waters’ direction, For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday rolls with a familiarity of shared memories as the siblings, Ann, John (Daniel Jenkins), Michael (Keith Reddin), Jim, Wendy (Lisa Emery) sit at their father’s (Ron Crawford) deathbed.

It is a charming and philosophical play, acted with a spontaneous ease by a cast that seems comfortably to interact as if they were family. There is music (including some original) for which Bray Poor and Charles Coes are responsible and which adds to the appeal of For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday. David Zinn, who has a way with designing homey homes in small settings, delivers a reliable scenic design; Kristopher Castle’s costumes are simple and homey as well. The flying effects are well-timed by ZFX, Inc. Since the story of Peter Pan requires that the family have a dog, a special thanks to Macy for his understated participation in the production.

For more information and tickets, please visit @PHnyc.

 

Posted in comedy, comedy-drama, family, family comedy drama, family drama

The corner store

Soulpepper, Kim's Convenience
Ins Choi in Kim’s Convenience (c) Cylla von Tiedermann

Family relationships are a tricky business, made more so when a family business is actually involved.

Ins Choi has written a tribute to his family and the business in which he grew up. Kim’s Convenience, in repertory at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre during Soulpepper on 42nd Street’s run through July 29th, won the Toronto Fringe Festival New Play Contest and is a series on CBC-TV, co-produced by Soulpepper.

Soulpepper, Kim's Convenience
Jean Yoon, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (c) Cylla von Tiedemann

A funny and poignant play, Kim’s Convenience is about a proudly stubborn patriarch, Appa (or Dad in Korean) (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and his family at a crossroads. Convenience stores are in fact intimate spaces, in which neighbors gather, and which tells the story of both the proprietor and his customers.

Rather than take the money offered him for the variety store by Mr. Lee (Ronnie Rowe, Jr., also in several other roles), Mr. Kim asks his daughter, Janet (Rosie Simon) to run the shop. The payout would mean he and his wife, Umma (mom) (Jean Yoon) could retire comfortably. Instead, Mr. Kim wants to pass on what he has built. He also knows that his legacy is in his children, Janet and his estranged son, Jung (Ins Choi.)

Kim's Convenience, Soulpepper
Rosie Simon, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Ronnie Rowe Jr (as Alex here.), (c) Cylla von Tiedemann

There is no mention of gentrification, yet it is palpably present in this scenario. In fact, change and cultural/generational differences and misunderstandings are a big part of the humor and the heart of Kim’s Convenience.

The set by Ken MacKenzie (who, also, designed the costumes) is fully stocked, all the details of a corner store compactly and intricately laid out.

Under Weyni Mengesha’s adroit direction, Kim’s Convenience holds our regard.

For more information, a schedule and tickets to Kim’s Convenience or any of the Soulpepper On 42nd Street offerings, please visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/new-york.

Note that their adaptation of Of Human Bondage has been particularly recommended to us.

 

Posted in domestic drama, drama, family comedy drama, family drama, historical drama, historical musical drama, musicals and dramas, new dramatists

Mirror, mirror on the wall?

Theater reflects who we are in broad strokes and microcosms. Our identity as a people can be seen in the diversity on our stages.

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Lanna Joffrey & Francis Benhamou in The Profane by Zayd Dohrn, at Playwrights Horizons through May 7th. Photo by Joan Marcus.

This year we’ve been introduced to many American families.  The Profane brings us two Muslim-American families in a powerful version of the old theme of star-crossed love. Zayd Dohrn’s play depicts conflicts between secularism and adherence to religious traditions. It also reveals how practitioners on either path are ultimately assimilated into America. It is who we are, a nation of many different faiths and backgrounds.

If I Forget presents a similar dilemma of identity for a Jewish-American family, for whom the crisis centers on an allegiance to Israel.

 

Bella: An American Tall TaleMay 19, 2017 – July 02, 2017 Mainstage Theater Book, Music, and Lyrics by Kirsten Childs Directed by Robert O'Hara  Choreographed by Camille A. Brown
Members of The Company of Bella: An American Tall Tale. Photo by Joan Marcus

Bella: An American Tall Tale casts a look backward at the role of African-Americans have held in our culture. Unsung contributions loom large in this musical celebration from playwright Kristen Childs. (Bella… plays at PHnyc through July 2nd.)

Napoli, Brooklyn shows an Italian-American family at a time of social flux with the matriarch admonishing herself to speak English even in her talks with God. (This Roundabout production at the Laura Pels Theatre runs through September 3rd.)

 

Sweat Studio 54

Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s take on the working classes, gives us another glimpse at what defines America. The Pulitzer Prize winning drama, which closes today at Studio 54, focused on laborers in a Pennsylvania factory; united by work, but still divided by race. America still has not found its post-racial moment; perhaps now more than in the previous nearly dozen years, it is less likely to reach that ideal.

Posted in Alexis Molnar, brothers and sisters, Chad Beguelin, comedy-drama, Erin Cummings, family comedy drama, family secrets, gay parents, Mark Lamos, mothers and daughters, Paul Anthony Stewart, Randy Harrison

Family Matters in "Harbor"

Hold on  tight. Family can elicit many feelings– not all of them Norman Rockwell images.

Paul Anthony Stewart as Ted, Randy Harrison as Kevin and Alexis Molnar as Lottie celebrate Lottie’s birthday in Chad Beguelin’s “Harbor,” under the direction of Mark Lamos at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters through September 8th. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In Chad Beguelin’s “Harbor,” playing at 59E59 Theaters in a Primary Stages production through September 8, love and kinship are complicated matters. Family has a bittersweet taste, as complex as bergamon, or one of the sharper mints. It is something of which we should be wary. There truly may not be a sacred bond holding one generation to the next, or even between siblings. 

Donna Adams (Erin Cummings) lives in a van with her fifteen-year old daughter Lottie (Alexis Molnar). Donna’s brother, Kevin Adams-Weller lives in a glorious house in Sag Harbor with his husband, Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart). Donna, a one-woman wrecking crew, descends on the two men for what turns into a prolonged, life-altering stay. Lottie, who is “Asian-smart” as her mother puts it, is appalled but also enthralled by the sudden stability of her surroundings. 

Erin Cummings as Donna, Randy Harrison as Kevin, Paul Anthony Stewart as Ted and Alexis Molnar as Lottie in a scene from Chad Beguelin’s “Harbor” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Many “a brick of truth,” Donna’s favorite expression, gets dropped in “Harbor,” and somehow, it seems like the “brick” to which she refers may not be a building material. If we think that comedy is meant to be funny, “Harbor” enlightens us. “Harbor” is that and poignant and bright and brittle.

The cast of four all give commendably brilliant performances under the guidance of director Mark Lamos.

Erin Cummings is chilling as the conniving and hapless Donna. Alexis Molnar matches her stroke for stroke as the savvy and befuddled Lottie. Paul Anthony Stewart, who gets a wonderful rant in the opening scenes, recognizes all the subtle nuances that make ted tick, even the things the man doesn’t seem to know about himself. Boyish and unmoored, Randy Harrison depicts a Kevin who is malleable and unformed to a tee.

Ted and Kevin’s beautiful and immaculate Sag Harbor house is lovingly designed by Andrew Jackness, with views of its outside projected on the side walls.

“Harbor” is as complex and complicated as the most intricate family ties which it portrays with elegance and grace.

For more information about “Harbor,” please visit www.primarystages.org.

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 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.