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
Bloodshot
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
Arcadia
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
Drom

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
Breadcrumbs
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
Regional

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
No Exit
Off the Wall Theater

As the title suggests, Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit suggests a place that someone would very much like to leave. In this powerful one-act, Sartre explores his own version of hell. Milwaukee’s Off the Wall Theater is staging the 1944 play in its intimate, 50-seat theater.

Anne Siegel
Maestro
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Hershey Felder goes for the gold in Maestro, his one-man play about the great American composer/conductor/educator Leonard Bernstein. It’s quite a challenge to try and capture Bernstein’s many astonishing gifts in a single, brief evening, but Felder manages to do it — with much flair and finesse as well.

Willard Manus
2 by Tennessee Williams

see listing under Two by Tennessee Williams:
http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/7120

Two by Tennessee Williams
St. Luke's Theater

Tennessee Williams’s dialogue is naturalistic inasmuch as we can feel the southern heat in its details. It’s nearly expressionist in its evocativeness. It’s quintessentially American. Williams is served very well in 2 by Tennessee Williams, a pair of his one-act plays, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Kingdom of Earth, produced by Fabco Productions.

Steve Capra
God of Isaac
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Having reviewed this play before at Florida Studio Theater closer to the play’s time, 1977-79, I have to admit I find myself more critical of it now. God of Isaac tells of Chicagoan Isaac Adams as he tries to connect with his Jewish heritage, to find meaning in it for his present as a second-generation American Jew. Despite excellent actors and direction both humorous and sentimentally effective, the play sacrifices substance for theatricality and appeal to its obviously concerned audience.

Marie J. Kilker
Florida Studio Theater Improv Festival 2016
Florida Studio Theater

Organized by Florida Studio Theatre's Rebecca Hopkins, Managing Director, who first conceived of the Improv Festival, this year's 8th boasted three full days of performances. From July 14 through to an All Play and Midnight Buffet on the 16th, 18 groups of 92 performers brought various forms of improvisation to four FST's venues. This issue also benefitted from the organizational work of Will Luera, engaged as Director of Improv last year, with the goal of having FST as the Southeastern Capital of Improvisation.

Marie J. Kilker
Chops
Theater Wit

When the author is a hometown boy and the stage picture consists of three guys over the age of thirty swapping Big Talk in a bar, the odds are that at least one of them is trying to put one over on the others. This auspicious debut by CPS teacher-turned-playwright Michael Rychlewski fits snugly into the genre launched by David Mamet, whose tales of small-time hustlers continues to define the "Chicago style" of dramatic literature.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Portrait, The
The Greenhouse

The stage contains a room identifiable as an artist's studio only by its array of easels and canvases. A door leads to a sunny garden; tea and coffee-making appliances are in evidence, along with indications of resident felines. The owner of this cheerful habitat is a portly man of middle age, wearing a voluminous caftan and a full beard, whose first words to the waiting visitor seated unseen among us are to apologize for his tardiness.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Blueprint for Paradise
Hudson Theater

If it weren’t true, you wouldn’t believe it.

About a year before Pearl Harbor, some American Nazis teamed up with a German Nazi to build a compound in the hills above Los Angeles that would serve as headquarters for Adolph Hitler to rule over Western America. And the architect who designed the 50-acre property in Rustic Canyon was an African-American architect, Paul Revere Williams, designer of such local landmarks as Saks Fifth Avenue and the County Courthouse.

Willard Manus
Quietly
Irish Repertory Theater

A climate of tension and enigma insinuates its way into the U.S. debut of the Abbey Theatre production, Quietly, by Owen Cafferty at the Irish Repertory Theater. With an icy scowl and a limp, Jimmy (Patrick O'Kane), enters a quiet bar in Belfast. The bartender (Robert Zawadzki), a Polish immigrant, draws him a beer from the tap and they both turn wordlessly to watch the World Cup match between Poland and Northern Ireland on TV.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Oslo
Mitzi Newhouse Theater

In 1993, an historic handshake in the White House Rose Garden offered a promise but failed to deliver fulfillment. Closer to fulfillment is J.T. Rogers's captivating and inspired drama, Oslo, now on Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse stage. Rogers goes behind the scenes of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and reveal the vital role of Norwegians in bringing it all about.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Baby Doll
Fountain Theater

The Fountain Theater’s West Coast premiere of Baby Doll is based on Tennessee Williams’s 1956 screenplay as adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann. In its previous Williams incarnations, Baby Doll was first a short story, then a one-act play (both called “27 Wagons Full of Cotton”). This is only the second time the Williams estate has given permission for the adaptation to be staged, making it something of a coup for the Fountain.

Willard Manus
Good
Atlantic - Stage 2

C.P. Taylor’s play Good traces events in the life of an ordinary German who becomes an SS officer. It presents John Halder, a professor of literature and a writer, as he loses his self to evil step by step. He never decides to move to an evil personal place; he ends up there through a series of selfish decisions. Mr. Taylor shows how good men become evil through rationalization and denial. Halder betrays his mother, his wife and his friend. He ends up taking orders directly from Eichmann as he’s discharged to inspect the camp at Auschwitz.

Steve Capra
Ajax in Iraq
Greenway Court Theater

NMA, acronym for Not Man Apart, has revisited its 2014 production of Ajax in Iraq, which won plaudits from the public and critics (“it would be madness to miss it,” said the L.A. Times). The new version of the anti-war drama is running at the Greenway Court Theater, where NMA has taken up residence. (Next up is the company’s production of Paradise Lost, adapted and choreographed by Jones Welsh.)

Willard Manus
Kingdom of Earth
Odyssey Theater

Love and death in the Mississippi Delta.

Willard Manus
CardShark, The
Florida Studio Theater

In The CardShark, Jason Michaels delivers an unexpected but involving kind of magic show, featuring card tricks. He tells stories about the circumstances of his learning the tricks and then educates the audience about how they work.

Michaels is a pleasant entertainer, who lays out his cards on a kind of desk, center stage. The card assemblages are filmed and shown on two screens, each one above and on an opposite side of the stage. Everything can be seen and heard.

Marie J. Kilker
How I Got Over
WBTT Theater

Though Mahalia Jackson is hailed as the Queen of Gospel Music, Nate Jacobs centers her in a parade of outstanding gospel creators and performers. The theme of the show is a history of African Americans’ struggles throughout history, especially American, to be free and equal and recognized for their contributions. A narrator makes clear the role of gospel music accompanying the struggles of African Americans and what they have won in the musical and wider world.

Marie J. Kilker
Between Riverside and Crazy
Steppenwolf Theater

When the 2015 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Stephen Adly Guirgis's wry examination of marginalized citizens struggling to get by—and not particularly choosy how they do it—against overwhelming odds, nobody suspected that the troubles of these disenfranchised lowlifes would be vying for national attention a year later. Don't come expecting cheap ripped-from-the-headlines hindsight, though. Keep your fists at your sides and hankies in your pockets, and you will emerge wiser.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Twilight Zone
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

In a three-day Festival of improvisation presented by 18 groups, Impro Theater of Los Angeles created a program of three short “real” plays based on the “Twilight Zone” TV series. Subjects and locales were suggested by the audience for each play. This presentation was the Festival’s “Headliner” show; hence, its length as opposed to other groups’ 30 to 50 minute shows.

Marie J. Kilker
Strange Bedfellows
Starlite Room

At the end of Starlite Players’ first season come four short comedies. Each humorously answers a question or two by its end.

Marie J. Kilker
Grey Gardens
Ahmanson Theater

The challenge facing Doug Wright was obvious from the start: how to make a skimpy storyline work. In the documentary Grey Gardens (shot in the 70s by the Maysles brothers and others), the camera stayed on real-life Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie as they tottered around their crumbling, cat-filled family mansion in East Hampton, bickering and bantering the whole time.

Willard Manus
Breath of Kings: Redemption
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

Most who see this condensation of the four Shakespeare plays will see them back to back, probably in matinee and evening performances, so, obviously, the Richard II and Henry IV, Part 1 will be fresher and more stirring than the final two. But in many ways those plays seem, overall, more grabbing to me. I’ve been finding the opening sections of Henry IV, Part 2 less amusing than most of Part 1 recently, anyway.

Herbert M. Simpson
Breath of Kings: Rebellion
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

This monstrous project has so many rich rewards for an audience that I suppose that it really ought to be experienced by those attending Canada’s Stratford Festival this season. But so many problems are inherent in The Breath of Kings: Rebellion -- including staging and flaws in current decisions and compromises — that I don’t think this a viable continuing or revivable dramatic creation.

Herbert M. Simpson
Roommate, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Theater

All the laugh-out-loud humor throughout The Roommate tempts me to call it a comedy. But the change that always takes place in a good drama is real here, and it’s not just funny. The final ending is a mystery, led up to by several seeming endings, all of which would have served a run-of-the-mill domestic comedy. Still, Jen Silverman’s kitchen-table-contemporary take on a female odd couple is decidedly more of a delicious dilemma.

Marie J. Kilker
Ideal Husband, An
Up the Hill stage

“Love is greater than ambition,” proclaims a character in Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy, An Ideal Husband. Whether that statement is true or false takes the audience on an invigorating and devilishly funny journey through “society” and politics in the late 1890s.

How amazing to think, more than 100 years later, that some of the same political chicanery is playing out before our very eyes between the Republicans and Democrats. In an election year, An Ideal Husband resonates more than usual.

Anne Siegel
Four Chords and a Gun
Bootleg Theater

The Bootleg Theater company works out of an old L.A. warehouse now serving as a rock club. A back room of the club has been turned into a 99-seat theatre which presently serves as the ideal setting for Four Chords and a Gun, John Ross Bowie’s hard-edged play about the Ramones, a leading NYC punk-rock band.

Willard Manus

Pages