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army airmen, autobiographical, based on a movie, based on a real world conflict, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, Bryce Pinkham, carpet bombing, comedy about a serious subject, dark comedy drama, drama based on real events, duped by love, ensemble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

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
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 dysfunction, family drama, Lois Smith, mothers, parents and children, Sam Shepard, the damaged and hurting

"Heartless" But Not Cruel

It is not unusual for Sam Shepard to baffle even the most intent or admiring observer of his work. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright knows his way around troubled families.

In “Heartless,” his mystifying tale of a family at- home with its dysfunction, at the Pershing Square Signature Center extended through September 30th, nothing is permanent, not even death.

Betty Gilpin as Elizabeth and Julianne Nicholson as Sally in Sam Shepard’s “Heartless.” Photo (c) Joan Marcus.

There is the suggestion in “Heartless” that dysfunction is a natural state of affairs for families. That despite the fact that very little is normal in this household. Sally (Julianne Nicholson) has been saved by the implant of a murdered girl’s heart. Her sister, Lucy (Jenny Bacon) indulges in the futility of curing their mother, Mabel (Lois Smith) of imaginary pains. To complicate matters, Sally has brought Roscoe (Gary Cole), a man estranged from his wife and children, home with her.  

Gary Cole as Roscoe, Betty Gilpin as Elizabeth, Lois Smith as Mabel, Jenny Bacon as Lucy (on roof), and Julianne Nicholson as Sally in “Heartless.” Photo (c) Joan Marcus. 

“Heartless” is a confounding dramatic piece with a majestic breadth reflected in the set. The sparse yet expansive scenic design by Eugene Lee creates a vast landscape on which the story is played out. Daniel Aukin’s able directing of the fine ensemble cast respects the disjunctive rhythms of “Heartless.”

Lois Smith stands out in this fantastic panoply of actors. “Heartless” is, after all, also about the kind of cruelty that is typical of mother-love. Mabel is fiercely protective of Sally, who needs saving from night terrors and bad memories, and maybe even the accident of living.

For more information about “Heartless,” and the new Signature Theatre season, please go to