Beaux' Stratagem, The
Stratford Shakespeare Festival - Festival Theater

The only time I had ever seen The Beaux’ Stratagembefore was in a knockout version in London starring a young Maggie Smith way back in January 1970. I suppose I can understand why this long, messy, expensive, early 18th century offbeat comedy is seldom produced in our time and has had very few major productions on this side of the Atlantic. It requires a half-dozen leading actors and a very large supporting cast, an elaborate staging with period costumes and changing sets, music, dancing and sword-fights.

Herbert M. Simpson
Jewish Chronicles
The Wee Coo

Daniel Cainer is the Jewish Tom Lehrer. With his satirical songs and clever story-telling, the British-born, piano-playing entertainer calls to mind Lehrer in his heyday — with one important difference: Lehrer lampooned the politics and social issues of his day (the threat of atomic warfare, the nefarious influence of the Vatican, etc.), while Cainer's targets are smaller and more personal: the Jewish world he grew up in.

Willard Manus
Minetti
Royal Lyceum

Thanks to the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival, English-speaking audiences had a rare chance to see a play by Thomas Bernhard, the celebrated (and controversial) Austrian playwright whose works are, unfortunately, rarely performed in the USA or UK.

Willard Manus
Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show, The
Pleasure Dome

Here's a perfect way to launch your day at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: make one of the daily 10.30 a.m. Bite-Size Breakfast Showsat the Pleasance Dome. Over fresh strawberries, croissants and coffee, you can enjoy an hours' worth of edgy, scintillating short plays with an international appeal.

Willard Manus
James Plays, The
Festival Theater

In what is a landmark achievement for the national theaters of Scotland and Great Britain, the Edinburgh International Festival has mounted an epic trilogy of plays that are surely deserving of the highest praise. Written by Rona Munro and directed by Laurie Sansom, The James Plays— James I, James II and James III — tells the bloody and tumultuous story of the trio of kings who consecutively ruled over Scotland in the 15th century. A 20-person cast of actors, led by such stalwarts as Blythe Duff, James McCardle and Sofie Grabol, brings to life a diverse range of characters.

Willard Manus
Master Class
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Milwaukee Chamber Theater kicks off its 2014-15 season by reviving one of its greatest hits, Terrence McNally’s Master Class. The theater company is to be applauded for bringing back local actor Angela Iannone to star in a part that has become her signature roll. This production marks Iannone’s eighth incarnation of opera legend Maria Callas, on which the play is based. Over the years, Iannone has appeared in productions of “Master Class” throughout the Midwest. But this is her first chance to play Callas in Milwaukee in 15 years.

Anne Siegel
Candy Barr's Last Dance
Theater Three

Actress/playwright Ronnie Claire Edwards' play, Candy Barr's Last Dance,opened on August 11, 2014 at Theater Three. Candy Barr, aka Juanita Dale Slusher, began her career as an underage stripper circa 1949 at the Theater Lounge in South Dallas. She went on to perform at the Colony Club in downtown Dallas and later in Las Vegas. Her colorful life included a friendship with Jack Ruby.

Rita Faye Smith
Tarzan
Manatee Performing Arts Center - Mainstage

Everyone seems to be having such fun onstage and regaling friends in the audience, especially when jumping up over them along railings and from seat fronts! The flying on vines and wires goes without a hitch. Costumes give new meaning to “camp,” while apes and Tarzan have dreadlocks. How could one not like the rock musical Tarzan?

Marie J. Kilker
Somewhere Over the Rose
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

As somewhat of a fan for years of Kathy Halenda, I’m disappointed in her exploration of the music of her heroines Judy Garland and Bette Midler. Her script, noting bio facts comparing the two at various ages and stages of personal life and professional musical performance, is banal. She’s best musically displaying “brassy chops,” but they’re not always apropos or varied in arrangement or tone. She could use a director or at least a dramaturg.

Marie J. Kilker
Penny Arcade
Joe's Pub

Anybody who has ever seen Penny Arcade perform, be it in one of her own wildly unconventional extravaganzas or in a traditional play, which she has lately begun to explore, knows full well that she is a riveting force of nature, one that compels us, not only to hang onto her every word and action, but to examine the trajectory of both society and our own lives. Arcade is a kind of Everywoman, one who, no matter how personal or outlandish her truth-telling, lays it on the line. Her revelations, like arrows aimed at the bull’s-eye, fly straight and unerringly, into the middle our hearts.

Edward Rubin
Talking With
The Players Theater

Though the eleven women of Talking With mostly talk at us, their differing stories match differing persons who draw us in. Ostensibly feminist, the monologists are, in the main, not admirable. Nor do they achieve their potential to the fullest. But we’ve got to applaud them for trying.

“Fifteen Minutes” has Lynne Doyle as an aging Elaine Stritch-type of actress. She’d like to know her audience as they do her from program biographies. She’s tough enough to get to us under turned-up house lights. We wonder, then, will she go on? No spoiler here!

Marie J. Kilker
Collected Stories
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There are three story-tellers in Collected Stories.Ruth, a long successful writer of short fiction, now mainly teaches graduate students, like Lisa, who aspire to write good stories. Professing deep admiration for Ruth’s writing and teaching, a panting Lisa snags her as a mentor and then becomes her personal assistant. During their six-year relationship, playwright Donald Margulies poses dilemmas -- one of ethical import -- that arise from the give-and-take between teacher and student.

Marie J. Kilker
Wizard of Oz, The
Westchester Broadway Theater

It is altogether fitting that Westchester Broadway Theater is enchanting audiences with The Wizard of Oz.As legend goes, the author of the original book, L. Frank Baum, was told to “Follow the yellow brick road” to the William Henry Jackson military academy in Peekskill, N.Y. Baum was 12 years old at the time; he was not cut out for the military regime, and he became miserable at the institution.

Michall Jeffers
Dreams and Other Nightmares
Tron Theater

Edwin Morgan, the subject of Liz Lochhead's biographical play, Dreams and Other Nightmares, was a Glaswegian poet, teacher and translator (“Beowulf”) who lived two separate and contradictory lives, one conventional and cozy, the other secret and stormy. The psychic split stemmed from his closeted life as a homosexual; he didn't come out until he was seventy. That meant having to hide his true nature from his parents and the world, even as he was regularly prowling parks and cinemas for rough, anonymous sex.

Willard Manus
Phantom of the Opera, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

This summer marks the Phantom of the Opera’s first appearance since 2009. Better yet, Milwaukee gets an early look at this restaged version of the best-selling and longest-running show in Broadway history (in fact, it’s still running). The “new” version has some strong points, including a tightened script (the show has been shortened by 15 minutes) and a more fluid approach. By this, one means that there is rarely a “static” moment in which the characters are merely standing around, trading dialogue. One sees movement everywhere.

Anne Siegel
Taking Shakespeare
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

For a considerable amount of time during Taking Shakespeare, I thought John Murrell had titled his play ”Talking Shakespeare” because that‘s mainly what occupies the two characters. Murph, 24, a slacker addicted to video games, can’t “connect” to Shakespeare and thus “make it” in college. His mom, dean of humanities, sends him to her once-inspiring Prof, hoping she can link up boy and bard.

Marie J. Kilker
Marvin Gaye
WBTT Theater

Sheldon Rhoden looks, acts, sings and returns triumphantly to Westcoast Black Theater Troupe like the real Marvin Gaye as “Prince of Soul” music. Nate Jacobs’ revisal of an earlier version of Gaye’s story covers his career from 1950s to mid-1980s, reigning over developments in and of Motown music. The production boasts typical features that have audiences filling the space WBTT newly owns.

Marie J. Kilker
Sharon McNight
Metropolitan Room

Sharon McNight at The Metropolitan Room in Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Farewell Tour really is hot – a conflagration. Tucker, the blonde, zaftigsinger/comedienne, who was the rare performer doing “blue” material in the 20’s and 30’s, is powerfully portrayed by McNight, who has the vocal power and musicality for the songs, and the pin-point comic timing and the pizzazz for the slightly “off color” comedy delivered with the authority and voice of a master. It’s a marvelous re-creation of a unique legend.

Richmond Shepard
Sty of the Blind Pig, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There are many things going on in The Sty of the Blind Pig but all so s-l-o-w-l-y. This despite the play being altered from three acts to two. With the change come constant blackouts or dimmed lights to the tunes of jazz or, in a jarring switch toward the end, train sounds. Lost in the change is the fundamental structure of exposition, embroilment, resolution that author Phillip Hayes Dean’s text would seem to demand.

Marie J. Kilker
Persuasion
Concordia University - Todd Wehr Auditorium

At first, it’s difficult to see the connection between Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion, and the Christian themes within it. But trust Acacia Theater Company, the area’s only Christian-based theater, to detect them.

Anne Siegel
When We Were Young and Unafraid
Manhattan Theater Club - Stage 1

Manhattan Theater Club's production at City Center Stage 1 is called, When We Were Young and Unafraid,yet a climate of fear shrouds the characters, both young and old. Playwright Sarah Treem sets the time in 1972, when the Women's Movement for equal rights was a controversial buzz through society. It was the tail end of the era when getting and/or performing an abortion in the United States was still a crime.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Sarasota Improv Festival 2014
Florida Studio Theater - Keating, Gompertz & Goldstein Theaters

Florida Studio Theater’s 6th annual Sarasota Improv Festival proved the best yet of its yearly performances of theater made up mostly on-the-spot. In general, the most experienced troupes showed that practice makes more perfect, and those who practiced a variety of short skits and games came off better than long-form practitioners. An exception to the latter was Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company, this year’s featured long-form troupe, cast from Chicago and NYC improv stars.

Marie J. Kilker
Clearly Invisible
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Carl Seiger holds his audience in and with his sleight-of-hand via illusions, magic tricks, humor, and storytelling. He also brings his audience into most of his acts with grace and good reasons, not as a cheap way to amuse. No wonder he’s been brought back to Florida Studio Theater after being one of its entertainments in its first cabaret.

Marie J. Kilker
Dixie's Tupperware Party
Geffen Playhouse

Like most men, I’ve never been to a Tupperware Party. After seeing Dixie’s Tupperware Party, nothing will ever change in that regard. That’s not to say, though, that I didn’t enjoy Kris Andersson’s send-up of that venerable American institution (which just celebrated its 65th anniversary).

Willard Manus
Fuerza Bruta
Daryl Roth Theater

Fuerza Bruta: Wayrais the best spectacle/experience in town — maybe in the world. You stand for eighty minutes, and the show takes place over you. Figures fly, gymnastics, romance, swimming, music by Gaby Kerpel, all directed by Diqui James. The music has the rhythmic beat I have heard all over world in all societies and countries, from African tribes to Australian Aborigines, to Scotland — dum dada dum dum, dada dada dum dum; dum dada dum dum, dada dada dum. Our bodies move to its rhythm as the breathtaking action goes on over us.

Richmond Shepard
Just Jim Dale
Steinberg Center - Laura Pels Theater

The amazing Jim Dale has written and performs in his one-man, autobiographical English Musical Hall show, Just Jim Daleat the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater. As he recounts his show-business life story as a singer, dancer, comedian, actor, impressionist and mime, Dale illustrates with numbers from his Broadway and other shows. He has a vivid physical agility that is very rare today, especially for a man nearing his 79th birthday.

Richmond Shepard
Three Irish Widows vs. The Rest of the World, The
Ryan's Daughter Pub

The Three Irish Widows vs. the Rest of the World, written and nimbly directed by Ed Malone, stars the agile, versatile Fergal Titley. He plays the three women and others in an Irish town and snaps from character to character physically, vocally, emotionally, in a bravura performance.

Richmond Shepard
Village Bike, The
Lucille Lortel Theater

Beautiful, sensuous Greta Gerwig shines in The Village Bikeby Penelope Skinner, directed by Sam Gold, as she turns on everyone in the theater except her non-functioning husband (Jason Butler Harner). It’s a play with very contemporary sexual relationships, including the free use of pornography for a frustrated pregnant woman. I suspect the title relates to a very old negative quip referring to a woman as “The Village Pump,” but we’re with her all the way in this one as she relates to the man she bought her bike from (Max Baker) and the plumber (Scott Shepherd).

Richmond Shepard
Curse of Oedipus, The
Antaeus Theater

First produced at the Williamstown Theater Festival in a two-evening version entitled “The Legend of Oedipus” and then workshopped in an abbreviated version at the Getty Villa in L.A., The Curse of Oedipushas now been sculpted into a 2 1/2-hour-long performance piece by the Antaeus Company.

Willard Manus
Gimplecapped
Theater Asylum

One of the surprise hits of the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival, Gimplecapped showcases the work of an ensemble of handicapped actors who refuse to be defeated by their infirmities. Not only that, they’re not afraid to laugh at themselves in a series of scripted sketches (and songs) that brim over with cheeky, irreverent humor.

Willard Manus
Becoming Dr. Ruth
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

Inviting us into the living room of the New York City apartment she’s vacating after her third husband’s death, Dr. Ruth Westheimer revels in the chance to tell her life story onstage. Only a few intermittent calls make her pause as she recalls her past, starting with losing her German family and home as the Kindertransport sends her to a hard childhood in a Swiss orphanage. Only at the end of her tale to date will a conclusion come to her sad wondering about those closest to her whom she left behind.

Marie J. Kilker
Much Ado About Nothing
Delacorte Theater

Before us we see a villa; the green doors, striped awning, and balcony set the scene in Italy, more specifically, Messina. Filling out the stage are a high wall, covered in ivy; an orange tree; a fountain; and a garden, in full flower. Two women enter, sit down, and begin to chat while the outdoor Delacorte audience mills about. Soon the stage is alive with other characters, all speaking Italian; music actually makes the wall move. By the costumes, we can guess that the time is the late 1800’s. The audience quiets, and another magical evening of Shakespeare in the Park begins.

Michall Jeffers
Price, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Early fall, 1968, an attic of a decaying NYC brownstone about to succumb to wrecking ball and loaded with dusty, once elegant furnishings, with its fourth wall removed, is the setting for a dramatic experience of classic modern realism.

Marie J. Kilker
Phantom of the Opera, The
Majestic Theater

On May 12, 2014, Norm Lewis made theater history by becoming became the first African-American performer to play the title role in The Phantom of the Operaon Broadway. Sierra Boggess returned to Christine, the role that has won her acclaim in the London and Broadway 25th Anniversaries.

Jeannie Lieberman
Women
Theater Asylum

Working from a smart, snappy script by Chiara Atik, a nine-person ensemble cast turns Womeninto a comic romp that is packing ‘em in at the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Shakespeare's Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace
Venice Theater's Pinkerton

What’s it like for one man to sub for a large troupe from Togo? When visa problems kept the Togo company away from the AACT World Fest 2014 in Florida, Tim Mooney stepped from an exhibit of his adaptations of Moliere and Shakespeare’s works and his other books onto Venice Theater’s second, intimate stage. With barely a bead of sweat, he works his way quickly and notably through the history of England’s kings from John to Henry VIII in actuality and via Shakespeare’s relevant plays.

Marie J. Kilker
Holler if Ya Hear Me
Palace Theater

The hip-hop show Holler if Ya Hear Me, book by Todd Kreidler, lyrics by Tupak Shakur, directed by Kenny Leon, choreographed by Wayne Cilento, is basically kvetching about the problems of being black and the desperation of being trapped in the conflicts of the neighborhood, all performed in rhymed slang verse. Saul Williams plays the ultimately self-destructive protagonist, and he is a vivid performer.

Richmond Shepard
Last Confession, The
Ahmanson Theater

Poirot to the rescue.

Well, not quite. This time around, David Suchet, now in the guise of an enlightened Vatican cardinal, tries but fails to solve the suspicious death of a newly elected pope, John Paul I (Richard O’Callaghan). In Roger Crane’s The Last Confession, Suchet plays a man of the cloth, Giovanni Benelli, who feels guilty for having failed to stand up for the liberal John Paul I when he was under attack by reactionaries in the Vatican.

Willard Manus
Noises Off
Contemporary Theater of Dallas

Noises Off,now playing at Contemporary Theater of Dallas, is British playwright Michael Frayn's funniest play. Originally produced in England in 1982, it is a play-within-a-play that involves a second-rate theatrical troupe producing the play, “Nothing On.”

Rita Faye Smith
Clown Bar
The Box

Clown Bar, a production of the Pipeline Theater Company at The Box on Chrystie Street, is a kind of vaudeville show/Halloween party by Adam Szymkowicz, with music and additional lyrics by Adam Overlett. Directed by Andrew Neisler, the show creates a kind of Clown Mystique which, real or imaginary, is quite entertaining. The cast is red-nosed, white-faced and loud, and they give you a red nose to wear as you enter.

Richmond Shepard

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