American in Paris, An
Palace Theater

If you see only one Broadway musical this season, let it be An American In Paris. This show is as close to perfection as even the most ardent aficionado can imagine. The entire production is put together like a fine timepiece; every tiny section is meticulously staged. Every moment is filled with ever changing visuals, and with shapes and colors to dazzle the eye. There’s 1945 Paris, of course, complete with Eiffel Tower, in all her shabbiness and all her glory right after the war. There’s the ocean, complete with little row boats.

Michall Jeffers
Chapatti
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Lively, long-divorced Betty, aide to a rich recluse named Peg, lives alone with 19 companion cats. Lonely, depressed Don, who wants to not just visit the grave of his long-time love Martha but to unite with her, first needs to find his dog Chapatti a caring home. We learn about Don and Betty’s memories and present feelings through intriguing monologues. They meet not-so-cute at a vet’s and then cuter when he fatally runs over Peg’s cat.

Marie J. Kilker
Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher about Evolution
Next Act Theater

Some of the best local actors, as well as a promising newcomer, add polish to the world premiere of Stephen Massicotte’s 10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher. This mouthful-of-a-play closes Next Act Theater’s current season.

Anne Siegel
Rest
Biograph Theater

Existential voids come in all shapes and sizes. Samuel D. Hunter's begins in an unnamed assisted-living facility located (unsurprisingly) in the hinterlands of a likewise remote Idaho city. Its corporate owners are closing it down at the end of the week, leaving certified nursing assistants Faye and Ginny, staff supervisor Jeremy, and part-time cook Ken to care for the three remaining residents—surly Tom and cheerful Etta, who remain unperturbed, and Etta's 90-year-old husband Gerald, who chafes under advanced dementia.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Season on the Line
Chopin Theater

This is a play aimed at audiences who know how plays are made—or who want to know how plays are made. The playmakers, in this case, are the Bad Settlement Theater Company (BSTC) and its season line-up: The Great Gatsby, Balm in Gilead and an original adaptation of the American classic, Moby Dick.(Chicago theater history buffs may recall pioneering productions of these same plays, mounted by the Wisdom Bridge, Steppenwolf and Remains companies in 1991, 1980 and 1982, respectively.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Night Alive, The
Steppenwolf Theater

Conor McPherson may have forsaken alcohol after his brush with the Grim Reaper, but his universe is still that of a pub-crawler down to his last euro, reliant on the grudging charity of family and friends. In this myth-infused underworld realm, demons wear steel-toed boots—the better for kicking the weak and helpless—while angels in blue jeans dispense grace in the form of back-alley cut-rate hand jobs for shamefaced men too timid to expect anything more. (This is Ireland, after all.)

Mary Shen Barnidge
At Home at the Zoo
Edgewater Presbyterian Church

Edward Albee's curmudgeonly decision to affix an addendum, written in 2004, to his career-making one-act play, The Zoo Story, written in 1959, shouldn't be surprising. Far from solving mysteries probed for over five decades by learned scholars and acting-class students alike, though, his revision only further muddies the expository waters.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bird Feeder Doesn't Know, The
Raven Theater

The playbill gives the period as 2006, but in Herman and Ingrid's cozy countryside living room, it might as well still be 1962. This is because the sweethearts who met while serving in the Korean War vowed that their marriage, like the house Herman built them with his own hands, would be a "bunker" against disturbing events in an uncertain world. The birth of a child afflicted with a crippling disease intensified their insularity. What happens, though, when people sworn to shelter one another find themselves no longer capable of doing so?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Gigi
Neil Simon Theater

Gigiis sparkling fun, mainly because the title character is played with enthusiasm by the vivacious Vanessa Hudgens. She’s delightful in the role of the irrepressible youngster who turns into a beautiful young woman, seemingly overnight. Even in the second act, which drags considerably, Hudgens lights up the stage. She’s pretty, has a good strong singing voice, and dances very well. A flaw in any of these attributes, and she’d be wrong for the part.

Michall Jeffers
Murder Ballad
Flatiron Arts Center

We know upon entering the Flat Iron Arts Center's smaller studio—reconfigured into the King's Club on Manhattan's Lower East Side, complete with drinks, tables and a few elevated seats for the more cautious and/or less thirsty—that before our play is over, somebody will kill somebody else: The band invites us to sing along with a rockabilly version of the venerable broadside ballad "Tom Dooley" and, in the very first song, our storyteller reaffirms the promise of the show's title.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Never Givin' Up
Eli & Edythe Broad Stage

Anna Deavere Smith is the theatrical equivalent of Studs Terkel: a master at interviewing people and turning the text into a book (or non-book, as some critics have said). In Smith’s case, of course, she takes the text and gives voice to it, like the skilled actress she is.

Willard Manus
Take Me Out
The Athenaeum

Richard Greenberg launches his world-of-sports play, Take Me Out, with superstar batter Darren Lemming announcing to the press that he is gay, but the repercussions vested upon his teammates, his fans and his career will not be what we expect. Darren's problem, you see, is not that he is gay, but that he believes he can do no wrong—the undoing of tragic heroes since the Greeks starred in the Dionysic leagues.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Witches Among Us
The Call

The martyrs of Salem, Massachusetts, were not the first scapegoats of a society undone by its own fears, but the source of their persecution has entered our language to describe a practice sadly continuing to the present day. For as long as we refer to the harassment of a designated subculture as a "witch hunt," sorcerers and sorceresses will provide the metaphor for parables of gay liberation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Wolf Hall
Winter Garden Theater

The pomp and grandeur of 16th century English royalty captivates Broadway, bringing all the machinations and theatricality of tradition and demands. Inspired by the award-winning Hilary Mantel books, “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” the Royal Shakespeare Company produced this two-part, enthralling costume drama with a vast cast and provocative performances.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Chicken Shop
Urbanite Theater

Chicken Shop is a coming-of age-story that takes notable twists into the realm of sexual trafficking as well as sex-related obsessions, problem-packed parenting, and bullying. As teen-age Hendrix, son of a lesbian mother and absentee father, Joseph Flynn makes an impressive debut in and along with a new downtown Sarasota theater dedicated to edgy plays of contemporary import.

Marie J. Kilker
At Last
Black Ensemble Theater

Fifteen minutes into Black Ensemble's revue, audience members might find themselves asking three questions: 1 What are songs written by Bob Dylan, Glen Frey and Sammy Fain doing in the score of a show billed as a tribute to Etta James? 2) Why does the playbill list five singers (excluding understudies) in the title role? 3) Who's that sassy chick with the fluttery hands and chirpy voice mincing around in mint-green chiffon and gold pumps?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Wolf Hall
Winter Garden Theater

Wolf Hall is a great theatrical spectacle. The Royal Shakespeare Company is composed of arguably the finest English speaking actors in the world. There is pageantry, a gripping storyline, and even a little education thrown in for good measure. It’s also over-long, over-written, repetitive, and sometimes boring. Throw in the fact that the stage is kept dark and smoky most of the time, and you may be in for a very expensive snooze.

Michall Jeffers
Recorded in Hollywood
Lillian Theater

South-central L.A. was in its heyday from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, a vibrant Black ghetto whose 40-block main street, Central Avenue–known to locals as The Strip–was lined with nightclubs, theaters, bars and after-hours joints where such jazz musicians as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Art Tatum and Charlie Parker played red-hot jazz and blues every night.

Willard Manus
Dinner with Friends
Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre

A dinner party becomes the occasion of a divorce announcement as guest Beth tells hosts Gabe and Karen that her husband Tom has left her after a dozen years, which included having kids together. Up to now, the couples have been close friends, but the divorce makes them reconsider their relationships with their friends and each other.

Marie J. Kilker
Skylight
John Golden Theater

You would not call them a Golden Couple. Although Kyra Hollis (Carey Mulligan) and Tom Sergeant (Bill Nighy) once had a serious thing going, their age difference and Tom's marriage to Alice, plus disparities in their values and sensibilities, invariably steered them in different directions. Love gone awry is not unusual in the theater, but watching these two blue-chip actors pair off as Kyra and Tom is riveting in this revival of David Hare's 1995 drama, Skylight, at the Golden Theater.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Submission, The
Apollo Studio

Writing under pseudonyms is hardly an unknown practice—consider the literary career of Jane Martin, the detective stories of Ed McBain, or Google a 1969 novel by Penelope Ashe called “Naked Came the Stranger.” Reputable artists may adopt noms de plumefor reasons involving contractual conflicts or simple mischief, but whatever the motive, sooner or later, the perpetrators are found out, and after owning up to their deception, everyone shares in the joke.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Travesties
The Greenhouse

In historical fiction, the ideal narrator is a humble citizen who just happens to occupy a position affording a close-up vantage of world-changing events. he events in Tom Stoppard's Travesties are premised on the coincidence of Vladimir Ulyanov Lenin, Tristin Tzara and James Joyce—respectively, a founder of the Russian Communist party, a founder of the Dadaist art movement and a founder of the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique in English literature—all living in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1917.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Title and Deed
Water Works

The first words uttered by our narrator after he rolls onstage—literally—are "I'm not from here." We never learn what country of curious customs claims him as its son, but his resemblance to the hero of Samuel Beckett's Theater I hints of realms bordering on Waiting for Godotterritory, described by a character as birth occurring astride a grave—"The light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." Though our tourist displays the resignation engendered by this knowledge, he is determined to be cheerful during that brief gleam's last hour.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Not That Jewish
The Braid

You don’t have to be Jewish to have a Jewish heart,” is the theme of Monica Piper’s hilarious and touching one-woman show, Not That Jewish, which just opened at The Braid, L.A.’s brand-new performance space, for a five-week run.

Willard Manus
Cherry Orchard, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Anton Chekhov’s iconic play, The Cherry Orchard, lurks in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s mishmash production but is hard to find in the chopped-up interpretations of characters and action. Though it’s about the passing of an old order--symbolized by the Renevskaya orchard--to a new one, it’s a strain to find out who’s who and why they’re what they are.

Marie J. Kilker
Shape of Things, The
Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum

For its second offering, one of Milwaukee’s newest theater companies, All in Productions, tackles Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. The production does a worthy job of presenting LaBute’s take on modern society.

Anne Siegel
Wild Child in the City
The Secret Theater

Wild Child in the City, written and performed by Tjasa Ferme, a Slovenian dynamo, about the adventures of a single woman, shows the actress being wild, sexy, fearless, changing clothes in front of us, interacting with the audience (including having one of them tie her up), and showing us that even grooming can be really entertaining. She’s Performance Art at its highest level. She’s a Robin Williams- jumping from story to story, character to character, all fascinating.

Richmond Shepard
Corktown `57
Odyssey Theater

The war between Ireland and Britain is fought out in a Philadelphia grocery-store basement in Corktown `57, John Fazakerley’s gripping family drama, now in a world-premiere production at the Odyssey.

Willard Manus
Hunchback of Notre Dame, The
Paper Mill Playhouse

Another Disney cartoon film is on its way to Broadway. But this adaptation eschews cuteness in favor of medieval darkness, and its score is more choral and symphonic than others from that source. This is due to the desires of two musical titans, Stephen Schwartz (who wrote words and music for Wicked and Pippin) and Alan Menken (who composed Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid).

Steve Cohen
Honeymoon in Vegas
Nederlander Theater

Rob McClure gives such a spectacular performance, he, alone, makes the Broadway Honeymoon in Vegas worth seeing. Aside from his endearing portrayal of a sad-sack Brooklyn schnook who’s about to get married, the show proves a clumsy and tasteless mediocrity.

Steve Cohen
Watch on the Rhine
The Artistic Home

It's easy for us Americans, safely barricaded on two sides by the earth's biggest oceans, to ignore the border disputes of countries sharing more closely forged histories and real estate. Ah, but what if those disturbances invaded our homes—indeed, our very families? Would you render their agents your assistance? How much? And for how long?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Heidi Chronicles, The
Music Box Theater

The Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein's 1988 Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize Award-winning play, The Heidi Chronicles, still raises sensitive points, especially for women. With wit and poignancy, Wasserstein balanced the zeitgeist of American women in the 60's and '70's, demanding equal choices, smashing that glass ceiling and quashing the cultural roles. By the late 1980's, many of the inequities had become part of history. Many, but not all.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Heidi Chronicles, The
Music Box Theater

Can women really “have it all”? More importantly, do we make ourselves miserable if we don’t get the top-notch career, adoring husband, brilliant kids, size-two figure, money, esteem, and everything else we’re supposed to achieve?

Michall Jeffers
Hamlet
Wilma Theater

The Wilma’s production of Hamlet has been widely publicized for having a black woman in the title role, but this is not color-blind or gender-blind casting. Rather, those elements are used deliberately.

Steve Cohen
Devil's Day Off
Signature Ensemble

Chicago learned its lesson with the disastrous summer of 1995, introducing city-wide safety measures to more quickly remedy the hardships associated with unusually high temperatures. This is small comfort to the sweltering citizens in Devil’s Day Off, Jon Steinhagen's panoramic portrait of an urban landscape in 2014 under siege by 112-degree heat indices exacerbated by a 12-hour electrical power failure arising from overloaded cooling systems.

Mary Shen Barnidge
All-Girl Edgar Allan Poe
Zoo Studio

Edgar Allen Poe's copyright expired long ago, leaving its content open to any number of revisions (will we see a "Zombie Edgar Allen Poe" soon?), but though The Mammals's aesthetic fully embraces dark-romantic sensationalism, it rejects spooky-tunes parodies. Audiences looking for cheap giggles might enjoy roaming the shadowy corridors and creaking elevator of the Zoo Studio's industrial quarters but won't find them in this program of performance pieces based on the Father-of-American-Gothic's greatest hits.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Sotto Voce
Historic Asolo Theater

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” Archhibald Macleish famously wrote. But in Sotto Voce, Nilo Cruz wonderfully proves him wrong. His poetic play unites past and present. It subtly persuades us to uncover and learn from the past, to care about humans seeking asylum from evil, and to act on our knowledge. Poet-of-the-theater Cruz also presents us with romance renewed and, with it, life.

Marie J. Kilker
Taming of the Shrew, The
St. Stephen's Church

This is Shakespeare on strong espresso, as if to reflect the Italian setting.

Movement is the keynote. All the characters are in constant motion. Every spoken phrase in this Taming of the Shrew is accompanied by multiple gestures and facial expressions. The players project strongly except for one restful moment in the second half where Petruchio softly confesses his plan for making his marriage work.

Steve Cohen
Strandline
A Red Orchid Theater

Abbie Spallen's Ireland is so rarely seen amid that country's U.S. exports that audiences may be forgiven departing the theater unsure of what they have just seen. Instead of an Emerald Isle where time stopped before 1948, the problems faced by the small coastal town along the Irish border that provides the setting for Strandline are more associated in our minds with those of Eastern Europe or the recently disbanded Soviet Union.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Picture Imperfect
Athenaeum Theater

The publicity for Picture Imperfect leads us to expect another jeremiad involving first-world families fretting over less-than-perfect offspring, but while its personnel includes a little boy afflicted with autism, the play is not about him. It's about his two patently unfit parents, abusive daddy George and enabling mommy Mary.

Mary Shen Barnidge

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