Posted in #Roundabout, domestic drama, drama, family drama, philosophy, Roundabout Theatre Company

Time, space, continuum

Our lives, no matter how long their time spans, are all just one continuous moment.

If this premise had been posited before the party that is the first scene of Time and the Conways, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre through November 26th, how much more endurable the charades the family played would have been!

Time and the Conways rattles on, not unagreeably because as it does it gains depth and perspective. J.B. Priestley’s play, written in 1937 has a timelessness. It endures for us under the direction of Rebecca Taichman, who might have given it a brisker flow.

Gabriel Ebert, Anna Baryshnikov, and Anna Camp were standouts in an excellent ensemble. Paloma Young’s lovely costumes are as true for 1919 as for 1937. The set design, by Neil Patel, is both solid and ethereal in keeping with the tone of Priestley’s story.

Please pardon the spoilers unspooled in our description and review below. 

Alan Conway (Gabriel Ebert) is the soul of this family. His sister Kay (Charlotte Parry) is its brittle intelligence.Carol (Anna Baryshnikov) carries the family’s heart. Hazel (Anna Camp), in contrast to her brothers Alan, and Robin (Matthew James Thomas), the family’s ambition. Robin, Mrs. Conway’s (Elizabeth McGovern) favorite child, is a self-destructive wastrel. The giggly girl who marries him, Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts) is deceived into thinking there is more to him by his swagger.

The self-important tyrant Hazel marries, Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer) is obscenely mean-spirited. Madge Conway (Brooke Bloom) is the polemical sister, idealistic and down-to-earth at once. Her thwarted interest in Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narcisco) may have soured her and etched her practical preferences.

For tickets to Time and the Conways, please visit the Roundabout website.

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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 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 domestic drama, drama, drama based on real events, family drama, new dramatists, Uncategorized

Home cooking

Napoli, BrooklynThe 1960s were a turning-point for and in American society.

Meghan Kennedy sets her compelling family drama
Napoli, Brooklyn, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through September 3rd, in an Italian-American home in the midst of this
turbulent era.

Social change strikes close to home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the three Muscolino girls (Jordyn DiNatale, Lilli Kay, and Elise Kibler) and their mother Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) are each experiencing the stirring of a new civic order in her own way.

Napoli, BrooklynThe girls’ father and Luda’s husband, Nic (Michael Rispoli) is a brutish man with old country views and a strong right hand which he often raises to threaten one or the other of his children. Luda, meanwhile, takes occassional refuge in an innocent flirtation with Mr. Duffy (Erik Lochtefeld), the family’s butcher. The youngest girl, Francesca, (DiNatale) and Mr. Duffy’s daughter, Connie (Juliet Brett ) are planning an escape to France. Tina Muscolino (Kay) works in a factory to help support her family; there she befriends a black co-worker, Celia Jones (Shirine Babb), who encourages her to get the schooling she has missed. Old-fashioned ways of dealing with the world die hard and so Vita Muscolino (Kibler) pays for being protective of her sisters by being sent away to a convent.

Napoli, BrooklynThe compact, utilitarian set designed by Eugene Lee points us to each of the locales of the story. Jane Greenwood’s period costume design fits each character’s characteristics perfectly.

Expertly acted, under Gordon Edelstein’s solid direction, Napoli, Brooklyn is an absorbing play.

For tickets and information about Napoli, Brooklyn, please go to the Roundabout website.

Posted in dark drama, drama, dysfunction, family drama

Cunning and rapacious

Myth-making is an oddly populist activity. Plain men (and women) creating tall tales about themselves or their ilk, such as Paul Bunyon or Johnny Appleseed, are boosted to greater prominence by the imagination.

Little Foxes

The Hubbards in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre extended through July 2nd, are rich but simple folks who aggrandize themselves with their own form of mythologizing.

Ben Hubbard (Michael McKean), the elder of the cold-blooded tribe, is especially deft at inventing the stories of his family’s success against adversity. His younger brother, Oscar (Darren Goldstein) is equally vicious but hapless.

Little Foxes

It’s their sister, Regina Giddens (Cynthia Nixon at the performance we saw; Laura Linney at alternate performances) who is the most ferocious and cruel-hearted romancer. She has lied to her brothers about the money her husband, Horace (Richard Thomas) will put up for their venture with Mr. Marshall (David Alford) of Chicago; she has spun an account of a future of glory in society for herself when they are all rich.

Oscar’s wife, Birdie (Laura Linney, alternating with Cynthia Little FoxesNixon for this gem of a part), speaks her own narrative of sweetness and betrayal. She tells her story to Regina and Oscar’s daughter Alexandra (Francesca Carpanni) who can still be saved from the family curse of greed. Like Birdie, Addie (Caroline Stefanie Clay), the housekeeper at the Giddens’ home, has genuine concern for Alexandra. It is also Horace’s desire to protect his daughter from her mother and her uncles. He understands the evil they can cause. Alexandra, on the other hand, is not as fragile as her aunt Birdie; she has some of her mother’s steel mixed with her father’s kind heart.

Nixon is demonic as Regina. Linney is brittle as the delicate and damaged Birdie, who dislikes her son Leo (Michael Benz) even more than her husband. Rounding out the cast is Cal (Charles Turner); like Addie, Birdie and Horace, Cal  cares for the few people in the household who are kind and decent.

Daniel Sullivan’s direction of The Little Foxes allows the plot to develop with style and at leisure. The costumes (by Jane Greenwood) are excellent; the gown Regina wears, for instance, is superbly elegant. Scott Pask’s scenery is sumptuous, drawing applause at curtain-up.

This classic tale of conniving avarice is beautifully ugly. Everything about this production of The Little Foxes is done to perfection.

For more information and tickets, please visit http://littlefoxesbroadway.com/

PS: We had seen a couple of earlier versions of Hellman’s dark drama, one of which was wonderfully abstract in its staging. That one was directed by Ivo Von Hove at New York Theater Workshop, and is worth noting for its pedigree. This Broadway production is worth seeing for its faithful adherence to Hellman’s vision and text, and the excellence of its execution of this Hubbard family history. There is no better reason to see The Little Foxes at MTC than the sheer perfection of this production.

Posted in family drama, Playwrights Horizons, politics, Roundabout Theatre Company

Identity Politics

Identity is both personal and political.

For the Fischer family in Steven Levenson’s new play, If I Forget, closing at the Laura Pels on April 30th,  the realities of their identity are fraught.

Of the siblings, Michael (Jeremy Shamos), sees the Jewish Studies he teaches at an university from the perspective of liberal politics gone awry. He is not observant, and his book on Jewish ties to Israel is causing a rift with his sisters, Sharon (Maria Dizzia) and Holly (Kate Walsh) and their father, Lou (Larry Bryggman). Michael also feels that the connection to Israel that his non-Jewish wife, Ellen Manning (Tasha Lawrence) encourage in their daughter is not in keeping with his beliefs.

To suggest that this is a controversial position for a play on a Jewish subject to voice is a gross understatement. The subtlety of Michael’s arguments is lost on his family, but not on the audience.

Rounding out the cast of characters in this excellent production under Daniel Sullivan’s direction are Holly’s husband, Howard Kilberg (Gary Wilmes) and her son Joey (Seth Michael Steinberg).

If I Forget is thoughtful and thought-provoking, although it loses some credibility with a mystifying and seemingly mystical ending.

For tickets and information, please visit the Roundabout production’s website.


“Staying out of the dark ages,” as Michael would have it, may be the cri du coeur for secularists of all stripes.

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
Francis Benhamou and Tala Ashe in The Profane by Zayd Dohrn at Playwrights Horizons. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In The Profane, playing at Playwrights Horizons through May 7th, identity is as much a tetter-totter for the Arab-American Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) who has distanced himself from his heritage, and his daughter Emina (Tala Ashe) who is running to connect with it, as it is for the Fischers.

Zayd Dohrn’s intelligent play is inspiring and provocative. (For my more in depth analyses, click here, or here, or here.

For moe information and tickets, please visit PHnyc’s website.