Mechanics of Love
Paradise Factory

Mechanics of Love is a comedy by Dipika Guha, produced by To-By-For Productions. It’s about Glen, husband to Faizi and buddy to Georg, who marries Francesca. It seems that Glen has a condition – he forgets things. And he’s forgotten that he’s married to Faizi. We learn later that this isn’t his first bigamous blunder. “After the fourth wife, I got used to it,” Faizi tells Georg.

Steve Capra
Grizzly Mama
Rivendell Theater Ensemble

The same audiences who make the mistake of assuming they are watching another quickly dated, political-themed comedy during its first act will be the ones howling in outrage when the stakes get serious—very, very serious—in its second. George Brant's reputation is based in his sleight-of-hand narrative, however, and playgoers gulled by his snappy repartee and physical hijinks have nobody but themselves to blame.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Marie and Rosetta
Linda Gross Theater

Times are deplorable when you have to live in a funeral parlor and sleep in the caskets. That's how it was for traveling black gospel singers in 1946 Mississippi, even those as acclaimed as Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Kecia Lewis) and as talented as her protégée Marie Knight (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Tharpe and Knight were two women who helped propel rhythm and blues into the rock 'n' roll fame of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Jimi Hendrix.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Birds, The

Don't expect the deliciously elegant terror of Hitchcock's 1963 film, “The Birds,” in Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 2009 more cerebral version at 59E59 Theaters. While McPherson turns to the original 1952 Daphne du Maurier short story and Hitchcock's film as springboards, the play takes a different focus. Going beyond surviving a terrifying world-wide attack by rogue birds, McPherson’s conceit focuses on doomed humans battling for survival and questioning the existence and need for God in the universe.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Neil Simon

Feline lovers, rejoice! Cats is back in town. The original production was highly touted in London before brought to Broadway in 1982. It made history by being performed for a record 18 years, some 7,485 performances in all. Only The Phantom of the Opera tops it in Broadway longevity. This production is a bit leaner; the theater is smaller than The Winter Garden, and the orchestra has been diminished.

Michall Jeffers
Theater Wit

There are two kinds of suburbs: those born of tract homes constructed on former cornfields and christened with names reflecting lofty fantasies (e.g., Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates), and those like Evanston and Wheaton, boasting full-service communities before mid-20th-century sprawl stereotyped all exurban settlements as ghettos for automobile-enslaved breeders.

In the 150-year-old town of Naperville, however, even a franchise facility lying 35 miles southwest of Chicago can become a fortress, serving its citizens as similar shelters did their pioneering forebearers,

Mary Shen Barnidge
I Do Today
The Greenhouse

Our narrator's first words to her audience are "I could marry you." Before we look for an irate father brandishing a shotgun, however, she explains that, although raised Jewish, she is certified by the Church of Spiritual Humanism to perform marriage ceremonies — a call possibly inspired by her family's propensity for declaring wedlock the solution to every crisis of indecision and, therefore, a practice to be embraced impulsively and often.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Playwrights Horizons

The aubergine of the title is the shiny purple vegetable we call “eggplant.” It’s a gift to Ray (Tim Kang), a troubled chef who reluctantly agrees to take his father (Stephen Park) home to die. Lucien (Michael Potts), the hospice worker in charge of the case, explains that he prefers the French name, because it more closely matches the beauty of the plant. Lucien has seen a lot of death and dying, not only because of his job, but also in the refugee camps in his native Africa. He understands all too well the desperation of survival, in a place where his people were unwanted and unwelcome.

Michall Jeffers
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

For those who were born too late to encounter the real-life jazz singer Billie Holiday, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is a terrific recreation of one of Holiday’s final appearances. The cast includes only two people: Holiday (Alexis J. Roston), who sings onstage in a small, run-down Philadelphia nightclub, and her current watchdog and pianist, Jimmy Powers (Abdul Hamid Royal).

Anne Siegel
Walkerspace Theater

History is long. Memory is short. And much is buried under the rug. Unearthing the past, Gregorian, Matthew Greene’s latest play, produced by Working Artists Theatre Project at the Walkerspace Theater, digs deep into the painful history of the Armenian people, examining the century-long effects of the 1915 genocide on four generations of the Gregorian family, in which the Ottoman Empire slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians

Edward Rubin
Dutchman / TRANSit
The Greenhouse

The map on the wall of the train car, the empty seats, and the advertisements for Burma-Shave indicate that we are in New York City on an early evening during the mid-20th century for the first in this double bill of plays. Amiri Baraka's career-making 1964 one-act, Dutchman, recounts how black corporate Clay is lured by white free-spirit Lula's seductive banter into sharing an erotic fantasy that turns suddenly ugly following the entrance of other passengers.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Zuccotti Park
Clemente Soto Velez Center - Flamboyan Theater

Zuccotti Park opens with a man drumming on a plastic bin. This is a musical set in the turbulent milieu of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in New York City. The relationship at its core concerns Cooper and Kate, both from Rockwell City, Iowa. They haven’t seen each other since high school. She has a Master’s degree from NYU now and works with the Occupy protestors. He served in Afghanistan for eight years and is unsympathetic with the movement. They’ve agreed to meet again in New York.

Steve Capra
Take One
Clemente Soto Velez Center - Flamboyan Theater

Take One is a musical presented by The Council of Nine as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The conceit in Take One is that there were false starts to some noted projects. It’s composed of three vignettes.

Steve Capra
Wild Party, The
Next Act Thetaer

For those who’d eagerly rush to see the musical, Chicago, All in Productions currently offers a variation on a similar theme in the musical The Wild Party. All In Productions does a fine job of executing the musical’s Milwaukee premiere at Next Act Theater.

In 2000, the Manhattan Theater Club’s production of The Wild Party premiered Off Broadway with a sterling cast that featured Brian d’Arcy James, Taye Diggs, and Idina Menzel. Even Menzel’s co-star from Wicked, Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda), appeared in a workshop version of the show.

Anne Siegel
Streetcar Named Desire, A
The Players Center

Director Elliott Raines has made sure no one mistakes his take on A Streetcar Named Desire is in any way tied to the famous movie version. Brunette Blanche (Alana Opie) may be mentally deteriorating, but her sturdy build and posture and spring-patterned dress belie her condition. She seems fit to be protector of her slight blond younger sister Stella (sweet Lauren Ward) with whom she’s come to stay in New Orleans after losing their ancestral estate. Also her last home and job.

Marie J. Kilker
The Greenhouse

Once upon a time, a young couple fleeing poverty and starvation emigrated to the United States seeking their fortune in the great city of Boston.

Like most recently arrived ethnic minorities, they were shunned by their neighbors initially. Over decades of determined assimilation, the descendants of these proud settlers rose to positions of power, until a third-generation son, impatient with his progenitors' slow progress, vowed to sire a succession of leaders to the entire nation. His ambitions were fulfilled — but not without terrible sacrifice.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Good Friday
Oracle Theater

Our prologue in Good Friday presents us with a line-up of multiethnic young women dressed in underwear. After examining their bodies, they don street clothes and depart. We next see them in a classroom, ostensibly discussing Ibsen's A Doll's House but mostly engaging in the sort of pecking-order games employed by playwrights nowadays to assure us that smart, educated, third-wave feminist "scholaristas" can still behave like seventh-graders.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Day by the Sea, A
Samuel Beckett Theater

Undeniably, A Day by the Sea is languid, even placid, an amiable but bittersweet visit with the comfortable middle-class Anson family as they examine glances into their own lives and comment on the lives of each other. In its first New York revival, this droll and poignant look at human nature and its all-too-human vicissitudes and illusions is portrayed by a fine-tuned cast.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Direct from Death Row
Raven Theater

The title, Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, references a real-life chapter in our nation's history, but this is not another cut-and-dried, preserved-under-glass docudrama. Likewise, its subtitle promises "An Evening of Vaudeville and Sorrow," but don't worry — the sorrow doesn't come until after the "vaudeville" has supplied so much merriment, you'd almost think this was the Kander and Ebb musical of similar name.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns, The
Stage 773

Anton Chekhov is mostly known for his plays, not for the hundreds of short stories serving as a kind of verbal photo album of his society as he viewed it. Moving Dock Theater Company's page-to-stage adaptations of these sketches formed the basis of their 2015 anthology titled, “The Anton Chekhov Book Club” — a venture that proved so popular as to mandate a sequel, this one appropriately dubbed "The Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Promise of a Rose Garden, The
City Lit

In stories about men and war, the soldiers squabble among themselves and raise ruckus out of sheer boredom, but stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield, only to be haunted in later years by memories of horrors witnessed. In stories about women and war, however, the soldiers share sororal unity, pine for boyfriends left behind, are discharged for getting pregnant, and — in recent years — reassure husbands and children via Skype that mommy will be home soon.

Mary Shen Barnidge
John Gabriel Borkman
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

This John Gabriel Borkman was the world premiere of Paul Walsh’s translation from Ibsen’s Norwegian, which the Stratford Festival commissioned. I haven’t read or seen the play since Harry Truman was President, so I can say only that this version seems clear and effective with no jarring anachronisms that might obviously conflict with Ibsen’s original. In fact, the play deals with a former bank manager who illegally invested his customers’ deposits in a grandiose scheme.

Herbert M. Simpson
Dutch Masters
Met Theater

Clearly an homage to Leroi Jones’s Dutchman, Greg Keller’s Dutch Masters also takes place in a New York subway car and deals with the racial differences between a white/black couple. But where Jones tapped into the sexual sub-text of that first meeting, with a white girl needling, provoking, and finally stabbing the black guy, Keller takes his story in a different direction, one that is more contrived and artificial.

Willard Manus
King Lear
Up the Hill (outdoor stage)

King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, also can be remarkably difficult to stage. So it is no wonder that 17 years have passed since American Players Theater in Spring Green, WI, has tackled this tragedy of a mad king, his ungrateful daughters, and a kingdom disintegrating into chaos.

Anne Siegel
Gigi's, The
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Like the possessive in their name, not followed with any noun, The GiGi’s seem incomplete somehow. They appear to want to emulate popular, great girl groups in song from the 1930s onward. But they follow through in a context of Disney World performance, meant to wow tourists. They are insistently energetic. The girls claim from the beginning to be like “Sisters” and name themselves Peggy, Maggie, and Jo, but don’t look alike among themselves or look like the singers they try to emulate.

Marie J. Kilker
Hypochondriac, The
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Moliere’s Le Malade Imaginaire was perhaps his favorite play, incorporating farce, satire, music, dancing, physical clowning, and lectures on beliefs he thought important. That description may suggest why it has never been one of his most beloved or popular plays, despite its dazzling wit. Add the fact that in most versions and translations, it is also shocking enough in details and language to appear to many to be censorable.

Herbert M. Simpson
Jackie Wilson Story, The
Black Ensemble Theater

Matinee audiences frequently are slower to warm up than evening crowds, daylight hours tending to discourage suspension of disbelief. At the remount of this, Black Ensemble's most successful show — its second since premiering in 2000 — almost a whole 15 minutes went by before spontaneous applause burst forth from playgoers unable to contain their enthusiasm or anticipation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Good Person of Szechwan, The
A Red Orchid Theater

Ever since Bertolt Brecht's plays were declared safe for classroom curricula, young theater companies have eagerly embraced his aesthetic precepts, based in intellectual detachment, austerity, and didacticspeak as dry as week-old toast. Tony Kushner knows that from stale bread come croutons, however, and serves them up simmering in a vibrant multi-ethnic stew immediately recognizable to modern audiences.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Greenhouse

To create a good hard-boiled noir whodunit, you need a good story — preferably involving murder, money, mysterious temptresses, duplicity and double-crosses, shady jamokes from all levels of society, and plenty of surprise twists. What you also need, however, is a good storyteller fluent in the gritty urban poetry rendered synonymous with the genre by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and, more recently, Robert Parker. The talents of Chicago playwright Douglas Post and British actor Simon Slater together add up to the perfect combination.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Up the Hill (outdoor stage)

Should it be necessary to have a Ph.D. to enjoy a play? If you said no, then by all means feel free to pass on one of the current offerings at American Players Theater in Spring Green. Well-known playwright Tom Stoppard assumes that anyone walking into a production of Arcadia should be able to draw from a breadth of knowledge that extends to advanced theories in math, science and sociology. The result is a confusing mish-mash of a production under the direction of James Bohnen.

Anne Siegel
Drama Queens from Hell
Odyssey Theater

In the first scene of Drama Queens from Hell, the Peter Lefcourt comedy now in a world premiere at the Odyssey Theater, we meet talent agent Artie Paramecium (Rick Podell) doing business on the phone while seated on the toilet with his drawers down around his ankles. Having thus made it clear how much he likes vulgar humor, Lefcourt proceeds to satirize the film “Sunset Boulevard” in the most crude, lowbrow way imaginable.

Willard Manus
Coward, The
Theater at 14th Street Y

The Coward: a Madcap Fairytale is produced by The National Theater of MatMadia and presented as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. It’s created by Maddy Campbell and Matt Phillips. Its subtitle – “A Madcap Fairytale” – describes it aptly, but it’s also a sort of clown show. We’re presented with a king and queen, a maid who murders the king, and a servant dispatched after the maid. There’s lots of blood and vulgarity.

Steve Capra
Waiting for Obama
Theater at 14th Street Y

Waiting for Obama is an issue-based play by John Moore, presented as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. It’s produced by Wild Blindness Productions and Bas Bleu Theatre Company from Denver, Colorado. Readers considering seeing Mr. Moore’s play at a later production should be warned that this review contains spoilers.

Steve Capra
Till Birman Wood

Till Birnam Wood… is an adaptation of Macbeth presented by John Schultz as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. At the show’s opening actors crawl on to the stage under a curtain. They say “Tis time,” and that’s our cue to put on our blindfolds, which we will keep on for the entire show.

In the darkness, simple sounds like pats on the back, a kiss or the clinking of daggers become utterly eloquent. And the word “Horror”, shouted out when Duncan’s death is discovered, evokes a deliciously gruesome image.

Steve Capra
Legend of Oni, The
Clemente Center - Flamboyan Theater

The Legend of Oni is a charming musical from Musical Company OZmate, a company from Takarazuka, Japan. Onis are the Japanese equivalent of ogres. They come to punish us humans when we’ve been bad. They are fearful to behold, and we die if we see the Onis marching. We become Onis when we harbor in our hearts “grudges and anger” (the phrase occurs several times in the play).

Steve Capra
Social Savvy
Starlite Room

Man in the Attic by Arlene Hutton is the first of two comedies directed by Cory Boras, each involving family conflicts. Andrea Downer aptly conveys the nearly hysterical fear of a Wife who wants her not very brave Husband (Rodd Dyer, guarded) to do something about a Man she’s found living in their basement. Wife’s Sister, Liz Pascoe, fills in bravely with fine sneering at Husband. (Liz just took over the part last minute from an ailing actress originally cast!) The Man apparently enjoyed reading old magazines while using up food and drink in Husband’s emergency survival set-up.

Marie J. Kilker
Urbanite Theater

Alida, a renowned, reclusive author, wants to preserve in words the memories of her lifetime. Hopes for help in saving what she can have sent her to a social agency. Diagnosis received: Alzheimer’s, well underway. Unexpected addition: Beth, a laid-off young agency worker, trying to save a living, seeks a job recording Alida’s words. Both, then, go into their pasts.

Marie J. Kilker
Pirates of Penzance, The
freeFall Theater

The Pirate’s ship roams in a galaxy far, far away. Metal-pipe rooms inside with bottom-level aisles, flanked by musicians in their own spaces, come to jut out front in a space for confrontations and conversations. Side stairways climb up to adjoining runways, where windows show skies and planets outside, as well as entrances to interior controls. Here’s where Frederic (exuberant Nick Lerew) is celebrating his 21st birthday before leaving the Pirate King (dynamic Hayden Milanes) and his orphan band. As an ordained “Slave to Duty,” Fredric’s bound to oppose them.

Marie J. Kilker
Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike
Cabot Theater

If anyone needs a life coach, it would be adult siblings Vanya and Sonia, two characters in Christopher Durang’s zany comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The Broadway hit play is currently being produced at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in Milwaukee, WI.

Anne Siegel
As Straws Before the Wind

Filipinos are the largest Asian minority in California today, good reason for Filipino-American playwright Felix Racelis to dig deep into his people’s history in As Straws Before the Wind, now in a world-premiere production at the Ruby Theater.

Willard Manus