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 Cliff Bemis, Cynthia Darlow, George Kelly, Jesse Marchese, Kristin Griffith, Patricia Kilgariff, romantic comedy, Sean Patrick Hopkins, The Mint Theatre, Victoria Mack

"The Fatal Weakness" afflicts us all

As human beings, we are all to a greater or lesser degree, sentimental creatures.

Before the curtain rises on “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly.
Set design for The Mint Theater production by Vicki R. Davis.
Photo by Richard Termine.

“The Fatal Weakness,” written by George Kelly in 1946, in revival at The Mint Theater through October 26th, is man’s (and woman’s) essential romanticism.

Kristin Griffith as Mrs. Ollie Espenshade in “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly.Photo by Richard Termine.

It leads Mrs. Ollie Espenshade (Kristin Griffith) to attend random weddings and her husband Paul (Cliff Bemis) to find a little extra kick in his step.

Cliff Bemis as Mr. Paul Espenshade and Victoria Mack as Penny Hassett
in George Kelly’s “The Fatal Weakness,” at the Mint. Photo by
Richard Termine.

On the other hand, their daughter, Penny Hassett (Victoria Mack) wears a veneer of cynical bravado. Can her free-thinking views on marriage be upended by her husband Vernon’s (Sean Patrick Hopkins) staunch fidelity?

“The Fatal Weakness” is a top-shelf drawing room comedy.Under Jesse Marchese’s direction, George Kelly’s upper crust comedy is perfectly paced. The actors, all outstanding, bring this charming play to life. Kristin Griffith, as Ollie, is centerstage, and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance.

Kristin Griffith as Ollie, Cliff Bemis as Paul, and Cynthis Darlow
as Mrs. Mabel Wentz in “The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly.Photo by Richard Termine.

Ollie’s friend Mrs. Mabel Wentz (Cynthia Darlow)  delights in carrying tales. She has no illusions about why Paul has begun whistling and paying such careful attention to his wardrobe. Hers is a kind of inverse of romanticism.  Unlike Penny or Ollie, Anna (Patricia Kilgarriff),  the household maid, may be the only one completely clear-eyed about how relationships prosper or end.

Patricia Kilgarriff as Anna with Kristin Griffith as Ollie in
“The Fatal Weakness” by George Kelly. Costumes by
Andrea Varga. Photo by Richard Termine.

As “The Fatal Weakness” opens, a lace curtain rises to reveal a stunningly opulent room, designd by Vicki R. Davis, with mirrored walls and plush furniture.

The Mint Theater has once again rediscovered a lively and enjoyable jewel of a “forgotten” play.

For more information about “The Fatal Weakness,” please visit www.minttheater.org.

Posted in a bar in Newark, Anita Loos also wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, drinking and thinking, Karen Ziemba, love, rebirth, romance, romantic comedy, The Jersey Mecca Cocktail Bar

It’s a "Happy Birthday" when Addie comes out of her shell

Being drunk and lovesick may not be an ideal combination.

In Anita Loos’s “Happy Birthday,” at Theatre Row;s Beckett Theatre in a TACT production through April 13th, the combination proves magical.

Mary Bacon as Addie Bemis and Todd Gearhart as Paul Bishop in “Happy Birthday.” Photo by Hunter Canning.

The mousy librarian, Miss Addie Bemis (Mary Bacon) is lovestruck. She shows up at Gail Hosmer’s (Karen Ziemba) Jersey Mecca Cocktail Lounge to warn Paul Bishop (Todd Gearhart) that her father Homer (Anderson Matthews) intends him harm. Paul is the object of Miss Bemis’s affections.

Don’t know how many of us thrive through liberal doses of alcoholic beverages, but Addie Bemis comes into her own the more she drinks. Her priggishness melts and her confidence builds. As the evening goes on, she is sure she can get Mr. Bishop away from Miss Maude Carson (Victoria Mack.)

Addie’s barroom full of new friends, and the audience, are all pulling for her. The bartender, Herman (Ron McClary) gives her godfatherly advice. She sings, she dances, but can she prevail over Miss Carson’s obvious charms?

The large cast to a man and woman are as delightful as the lighthearted, but savvy, romance in “Happy Birthday.” Mary Bacon is especially poweful, as she carries Addie seamlessly from stiff to giddy.

The TACT’s “Happy Birthday” is a gift.

For more information on “Happy Birthday,” please visit http://tactnyc.org/
 

Posted in 20-year anniversary revival, comedy, David Ives, Primary Stages, romantic comedy

It’s "All In The Timing"

The cast of ALL IN THE TIMING, CARSON ELROD, JENN HARRIS, MATTHEW SALDIVAR, LIV ROOTH and ERIC CLEM seated: 
director JOHN RANDO (left) and playwright DAVID IVES. photo © 2013 James Leynse.

Who is it that said “In comedy, as in life, it’s all in the timing?”

Whoever it was, David Ives is on board at any rate with his 6 short playlets, “All In The Timing,” in a Primary Stages revival at 59E59 Theaters through March 17. In its premier in 1993, this packet of one act comedies was hailed as masterly.

(l-r) MATTHEW SALDIVAR, LIV ROOTH and CARSON ELROD in the PRIMARY STAGES 20th anniversary production of ALL IN THE TIMING. photo © 2013 James Leynse.

Unfortunately, mere zaniness does not guarantee hilarity  Several of these sketches fall flat. Some contain the germ of a laugh; these are merely based on a funny premise Others are too tedious or too precious. Happily,  a couple are truly wonderful. All six of these one-acters are very off-beat.  A cafe pick up in “Sure Thing” runs through all the permutations of a flirtation in rapid fire.

 
(l-r) LIV ROOTH and CARSON ELROD in the PRIMARY STAGES 20th anniversary production of ALL IN THE TIMING. photo © 2013 James Leynse.

“The Philadelphia” hits a high-point on this– or admittedly, any– program. It’s at a fine tuneed level of absurdism.

 Ives coul d not have found a better cast to deliver this material. Carson Elrod does pratfalls and “tongue stoppers” with equal grace. Each fall and every syllable he delivers is a surprise no matter the set-up. In “The Universal Language,” Jenn Harris’s verbal slapstick is as screamingly funny as Elrod’s physical falls.

The theme of time and timing is cleverly picked up in the set design by Beowulf Boritt, who uses six different genres of clock to illustrate each skit. John Rando’s quick-paced direction respects the spirit of silliness in “All In The Timing.”

For more information about “All In The Timing,” please visit http://www.primarystages.org.

Posted in comedy, romantic comedy, The Marriage of Figaro

"Figaro" Gets Married

Smart and funny always makes for a good time.

“Figaro,” at the Pearl Theatre extended through December 2nd,   is the very smart and very funny marriage of Beaumarchais and playwright Charles Morey. Witty and well-paced, “Figaro” is full of all the complications created by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais in his 1778 play, “Le mariage de Figaro” and some ultra-modern solutions offered by Morey.

Photo by Jack J. Goldberg. Figaro (Sean McNall) shaves Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon) in The Pearl’s “Figaro” 

There are many obstacles in the way before Figaro (Sean McNall) and Suzanne (Jolly Abraham) can get married. Their employer and patron who must sign the marriage banns, Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon),  is a randy fellow who has made Suzanne a project of his affections.

Photo by Jack J. Goldberg. Marcelline (Robin Leslie Brown), Dr. Bartholo (Dan Daily), The Count (Chris Mixon), The Countess (Joey Parsons), and Figaro (Sean McNall) in The Pearl’s “Figaro” 

Figaro is both hero and narrator, engaging the audience as he explains his backstory. He makes allusions to his stint as “The Barber of Seville” as well as to Mozart’s version of “The Marriage of Figaro.”   His political and social commentary has a very contemporary feel.

“Figaro” features stock characters that are not stick figures but beautifully fleshed out. Broad and charming comedy is the calling card of this entertaining production. Expertly directed by Hal Brooks, the actors do an excellent job. Sean McNall is so comfortable as Figaro that he makes us all feel at home. He has what can only be called an iridescent charm. Jolly Abraham is a fetching Suzanne, aided by the clever Countess (Joey Parsons) in making the little subplots unravel hilariously. Chris Mixon’s comic timing is superb; he is at once cadgy and clueless.

For more informaton or tickets for “Figaro,”    visit www.pearltheatre.org

Posted in carrots, Dolly Parton songs, Luke Leonard, Monk Parrots, Olivia Thirlby, Paul Weitz, performance piece, romantic comedy, silent show, Topher Grace

What’s In A Name?: "Here I Go" and "Lonely, I’m Not"

A title can inspire, amuse, mystify, engage.

“Lonely, I’m Not,” at 2econd Stage Theatre through June 3rd, truly deserves a more imaginative moniker. Playwright Paul Weitz does his fine romantic comedy a great disservice by not finding a worthier title to represent it. In fact “Lonely, I’m Not,” is arguably the best of the four Weitz plays 2econd Stage has produced.

On the other hand, the title of the performance piece at 59E59 Theaters, also playing through June 3rd, “Here I Go,”, conjures up a favorite Dolly Parton tune. “Here I Go” lives up to the promise, if not the spirit, that the tune inspires.

Heather (Olivia Thirlby) on a date with Porter (Topher Grace) in Paul Weitz’s “Lonely, I’m Not.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

The hooks in Dolly Parton’s songs are so catchy and bouncy that it’s hard to imagine them as a soundtrack for heartbreak, but in “Here I Go,” Lynette, widowed at 60 (Natalie Leonard), not only has lost her husband but also had lost touch with her family.

Gates Loren Leonard, Michael Howell, Natalie Leonard in “Here I Go.” Photo © Corey Torpie.

“Here I Go” is a very engaging silent show, with a musical soundtrack, some of it live (Lynette at 16, Mariah Iliardi-Lowy, sings as does Michael Howell, billed as The Man) and a voice over narration (voiced by Julie Nelson.) Written by David Todd, “Here I Go” is a stylized performance conceived by Luke Leonard, who also directs, and set to Western sounds (designed by Michael Howell.)

In “Here I Go,” Lynette revisits the highlights and low points of her life as a cowgirl, bringing to life her younger selves (along with her at 16 years old; at 8, Gates Loren Leonard; at 26, Jessica Pohlman).

Jessica Pohlman and Michael Howell in “Here I Go.” Photo © Corey Torpie.

“All I ever wanted was a few moments to myself, just to think….” Lynette says. “And then I’d put on my music and it would sound so sweet, because I had you and I had them…. But when you take it all away… the music just doesn’t do it anymore.”

In “Lonely, I’m Not,” Porter (Topher Grace), still reeling from his divorce three years ago, has also fallen on hard times. Once he was a high-powered, hard-driving success. His father, Rick (Mark Blum), a con artist, still thinks of him as a soft touch, although he is running low on funds.

Little Dog (Christopher Jackson) with Porter (Topher Grace) in Paul Weitz’s “Lonely, I’m Not.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

Heather (Olivia Thirlby), driven by ambition and overcoming the handicap of her blindness, is enjoying a thriving career when a mutual friend in finance who goes by the name of Little Dog (Christopher Jackson) fixes her up with Porter. Their attraction is based in part on overcoming outsiderness, and the plot carries the rom-com formula through. Nonetheless, “Lonely, I’m Not” is a charming play.

Maureen Sebastian adroitly plays Porter’s ex-wife, Carlotta and Heather’s over-protective roommate, and her assistant. The wonderfully versatile Lisa Emery portrays Heather’s concerned mother, Porter’s Polish cleaning lady, Yana, and a school administrator who interviews Porter for a teaching job.

Olivia Thirlby gives a nuanced performance. Topher Grace, the Jack Lemmon of his generation, deserves a much bigger career than he has so far enjoyed. He did well in “That 70s Show,” of course, and has had some movie outings, but he should be a big star, a household name, even.

Maureen Sebastian as Olivia Thirlby’s assistant with Thirlby in Paul Weitz’s “Lonely, I’m Not.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

Hurry to see these plays; they both close on June 3rd. For a schedule and avaiable tickets for Paul Weitz’s “Lonely, I’m Not,” visit www.2st.com. Go to 59e59.org.