Posted in Charles Busch, comedy, female impersonators, inheritance, real estate

Location, location… It’s a drag!

The vagaries of real estate seems such a New Yorker’s obsession.

Keira Keeley, Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Mary Bacon and Jonathan Walker in the Primary Stages production
of “The Tribute Artist” © 2014 James Leynse.

In Charles Busch’s latest ouevre, “The Tribute Artist,” in a Primary Stages production at 59E59 Theaters through March 16th, the real estate is a Greenwich Village townhouse.

The expansive and elegant set, by Anna Louizos, is a grand and dignified persona. The other characters do not fare as well. The live action is marred by improbability, admittedly often very funny, and a slow pace.

Cynthia Harris in the Primary Stages production of “The Tribute Artist” © 2014 James Leynse.
Treading the fine lines between drag queen/female impersonator/and down-and out “celebrity tribute” artist, Jimmy (Charles Busch) seizes a foolproof opportunity. Jimmy’s unwarranted optimism lends both fizz and fizzle to playwright Busch’s comedy. His friend, Rita (Julie Halston) joins him in a scheme to impersonate Adriana (Cynthia Harris); Adriana was Jimmy’s landlady in the beautiful old house, who died in her sleep during a night of carrousing with Rita and Jimmy. 
Julie Haston in the Primary Stages production
of “The Tribute Artist” © 2014 James Leynse.

Halston, a long-time Busch actor and collaborator, and Busch have a natural chemistry and ease. What could go wrong, Jimmy asks? The plot’s twists make for many a merry surprise.

Enter Adriana’s niece by marriage, Christina (Mary Bacon) and her transgender daughter, Oliver (formerly Rachel) (Keira Keeley), wth a claim on the property. Oliver, ever the romantic, hunts up an old flame of Adriana’s on Facebook and hence, enter Rodney (Jonathan Walker.)  Highlights of the producton include an exit scene Busch has written for Rodney, and the fact that young Oliver-Rachel can curse like a stevedore on steroids.

The unrelenting zany in “The Tribute Artist” has some wonderful moments, and some predictible. Don’t fault the cast or director Carl Andress for any lulls in the party; sometimes the zany just falls flat.

It’s always a pleasure seeing both sides of Busch– ingenuous actor, inventive playwright. Unfortunately in “The Tribute Artist,” Busch the playwright does not do Charles Busch, the actor, justice.
(See also Tamara’s Tumblr for additional commentary.)

To learn more about “The Tribute Artist,” please visit http://www.primarystages.org/

Posted in David Wilson Barnes, family drama, inheritance, Jennifer Mudge, legacy, Michael Cristofer, Stephen Belber

"Don’t Go Gentle"

We all know that the scales of justice are often out of balance. 

In Stephen Belber’s “Don’t Go Gentle,” an MCC Theater world premiere at the Lucille Lortel through November 4th,  Lawrence (Michael Cristofer) looks to right that inequity. 


Photo by Joan Marcus. David Wilson Barnes as Ben, Jennifer Mudge as Amelia and Michael Cristofer as Lawrence.

Lawrence, a conservative judge who is sick with cancer, makes end of life assessments and adjustments. Lawrence is concerned over his legacy. In his eagerness to redress wrongs and “evolve” as he puts it, he over-corrects and crosses a line.

Encouraged by his daughter, Amelia (Jennifer Mudge) to give pro bono counsel, Lawrence offers his legal advice to Tanya (Angela Lewis.) Tanya and her teenage son, Rasheed (Maxx Brawer) are badly in need of Lawrence’s aid. What starts out as a project to keep Lawrence active, ends by giving him a purpose.

Photo by Joan Marcus. David Wilson Barnes and Michael Cristofer in a scene from “Don’t Go Gentle”



Lawrence’s decisions rekindle the resentments his children, particularly his son, Ben (David Wilson Barnes) harbor from an unexceptional childhood.

Maxx Brawer, Angela Lewis with David Wilson Barnes in background, and Michael  Cristofer in a photo by Joan Marcus

The acting with Michael Cristofer in the lead, is superb. Newcomer, Maxx Brawer makes the most of Rasheed’s gawky but inherent nobility and wisdom. Angela Lewis, David Wilson Barnes and Jennifer Mudge each deiiver little gems of characterization. 

Director Lucie Tiberghien understands and clarifies the moral dilemmas in Belber’s wonderfully-written “Don’t Go Gentle.”  The pacing in each scene of the intermissionless production is perfect.

For more information on MCC Theater and “Don’t Go Gentle,” please visit www.mcctheater.org.




Posted in Daisy Foote, dark comedy drama, family drama, inheritance, legacy, The Foote Family Legacy

Disquiet Contemplation in "HIM"

Nature can be both cruel and glorious.

The titular and unseen “HIM” in Daisy Foote’s new play, in a Primary Stages production at 59E59 Theaters through October 28th, leaves volumes describing the pleasure he felt sitting on a mountaintop.

Hallie Foote as Pauline and Tim Hopper as Henry in “HIM” at Primary Stages. Photo by James Leynse.

Quiet contemplation is the antithesis of the hubbub of family life. In “HIM.” his children see only a remote and withdrawn man. It’s not entirely satisfying that so much of the story of “HIM” is pegged to this mysterious disconnection, to what was unknown or unknowable about their father. Nonetheless, there is so much humor  and humanity in “HIM” that the emotional characterizations ring true and clear.

The eldest, Pauline (Hallie Foote) harbors deep resentful hatred for the father she does not understand because of the poverty in which the family has lived. She is ambitious, acquisitive and envious of her better-off neighbors.

Adam LeFevre as Farley and Tim Hopper as Henry in “HIM.” Photo by James Leynse.

“We don’t have lives,” she tells her brother Henry (Tim Hopper), “we have existences.” Pauline’s burdens which include caring for their retarded brother, Farley (Adam LeFevre), his girlfriend Louise (Adina Verson) and a failing family business are brightened by an unexpected inheritance. Meanwhile, looking for a glimmer of understanding of their father’s legacy, Henry wonders, as he reads the journals his father left behind,  “What was he reaching for when he died?”

The small and accomplished cast, ably led by director Evan Yiounoulis, polish the jewel-like dialog in “HIM” to a fine sheen.

Primary Stages is celebrating the Foote Family Legacy this season. So far, they have given us Horton Foote’s closely observed vignettes of life in “Harrison, TX” and his daughter Daisy’s skillful look at a misappropriated legacy in “HIM.” Hallie Foote, the other family treasure, has her deft and subtle acting to both productions.

For more information about Primary Stages and this production of “HIM,” visit www.primarystages.org 

Posted in dance, family drama, fathers and sons, flamenco, inheritance, jazz, office, wealth and power, work

The Weekend Report

Those of us lucky enough to have a weekend, don’t have Daniel for a boss.

Rich, powerful, charismatic and abusive, Daniel is an off-stage presence in “Assistance,” at Playwrights Horizons through March 11. Daniel is unseen and unheard– calling in to his minions from London and Tokyo.

Vince’s (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), Nick’s (Michael Esper) and Nora’s (Virginia Kull) reactions are the witness to his rants against their incompetence and grammatical failings. Meltdowns are legion as are firings.

Virginia Kull as Nora with Amy Rosoff as Jenny in background. Photo © Joan Marcus

Leslye Headland’s paean to the working classes. Well to those enthrall to the great wealth and financial success of ogreish moguls.

Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Vince and Michael Esper as Nick. Photo © Joan Marcus

Serving a petty tyrant is a choice for these young people. Jenny (Amy Rosoff) is thrilled at the chance to work more closely with Daniel, for instance. The hapless Heather (Sue Jean Kim), on the other hand, chooses her uncle’s funeral over an assignment in Chicago, with seemingly dire consequences for her.

Sue Jean Kim as Heather. Photo © Joan Marcus

Bobby Steggert’s Justin has a short but convincing stint on stage, demonstrating just how far around the bend the Daniels of this world can take their proteges.

The players in “Assistance” under Trip Cullman’s deft direction are all splendid. In the surprise coda to “Assistance,” Amy Rosoff exhibits outstanding and completely unexpected talents.

The assistants in “Assistance” might benefit from a workplace drug like the one in Kate Fodor’s “Rx.”
(See commentary on “Rx.”)

Visit www.playwrightshorizons.org for a schedule of performances.

Over at the glassworks, power also wrests in the master’s hands.

In “Rutherford & Son,” at The Mint Theater Company through April 8th, playwright Githa Sowerby captured the tone and cadence of a miserable rural life, both in John Rutherford’s (Robert Hogan) home and his factory. He has sacrificed his children’s happiness to respectability and financial success.

See video <a href="http://

Rutherford & Son at the Mint Theater from Mint Theater Company on Vimeo.

It’s easy to see why “Rutherford & Son” was a sensation when it had its premiere at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1912 and then again a few months later when it opened on Broadway. Githa Sowerby understood not only the mores of a small town but also the ebb and flow of business.

David Van Pelt as Martin and Sara Surrey as Janet. Photo © Richard Termine

The fine cast under Jonathan Bank’s sure-handed direction also understand the rhythms of this old-fashioned but very modern play. Sara Surrey particularly stands out as John Rutherford’s embittered spinster daughter, Janet, and Eli James is exceptional as his thwarted and feckless son, John.

For more information and a schedule of performances, please visit www.minttheater.org.

Working it in a completely different way were the guitarists (and their ensembles) Doug Wamble and Nino Joselle in Jazz Meets Flamenco at JALC’s Allen Room on February 24th and 25th, with two remarkable dancers, Jason Samuel Smith representing the jazz-tap side and Juan De Juan onboard to represent Flamenco.

See pictures from the show here.

Jazz at Lincoln Center invited the two guitarists to showcase their flamenco sensibilities. Doug Wamble rose to the occasion with a composition for reeds (John Ellis), bass (Eric Revis), drums (Rudy Royston) and most importantly tap (Jason Samuel Smith.) “The Traveler” is a song cycle, performed by Mr. Wamble and his ensemble, and punctuated by very fancy footwork by Mr. Smith.

The Flamenco side of the program, represented by the incredible and fierce Juan De Juan, dancing to the music performed by Mr. Joselle and his bassist (John Benitez) and percussionist (Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez) won the dance off despite Mr. Smith’s accomplished performance. Juan De Juan accomplishes the seemingly impossible in his Flamenco interpretations.

The special treat here was watching Jason Samuel Smith and Juan De Juan together for the finale of the program.

For more information about Jazz At Lincoln Center programs, visit www.jalc.org.
The Flamenco Festival 2012 in New York City continues this month with, among other venues, performances at New York City. Visit www.nycitycenter.org for more information.