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
Little Night Music, A
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler created this witty, beautiful musical based on Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, “Smiles of a Summer’s Night” (1955), a top entry in most 20th century experts’ lists of the ten greatest films ever. So it is no small praise to note that many of us think the musical entirely worthy of its source. Stratford’s revival has its own eccentric elements but remains a first-rate entry in that complex artistic history.

Herbert M. Simpson
Death of a Salesman
American Players Theater - The Hill

The slightly crumpled brown suit, the stooped shoulders and the silhouette of an older man dragging heavy cases can mean only one thing: the Pulitzer Prize-winning Death of a Salesman has come to town. The verdant, rolling hills and forests surrounding Spring Green, Wis., greet Willy Loman, one of the most famous characters in American theater. He appears onstage in an outdoor amphitheater known as “the Hill.” This is the term is commonly used to describe the American Players Theater’s 1140-seat stage. Strong legs are required to surmount the steep climb to the theater’s edge.

Anne Siegel
On the Verge
Walkerspace

Eric Overmyer engages in some pretty fancy word play in his 1985 play On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning. The play is a language-based fantasy about three women who travel from 1888 to 1955. They set out from Terre Haute to explore a tropical land called Terra Incognita and end up at a nightclub in a city called Peligrosa.

Steve Capra
Day Shall Declare It, The
Imperial

Working out of a dreary ex-machine shop in an equally dreary section of downtown, industrial L.A. (which is slowly being gentrified), a company called Wilderness is making theatrical magic with a play called The Day Shall Declare It. The setting suits the material, which is derived from interviews in Studs Terkel’s “Working” and from various bits of dialogue culled from some of Tennessee Williams’s lesser-known works (such as Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry and Talk to Me Like the Rain). The play also quotes from his essays, stories and poems.

Willard Manus
Dry Land
Urbanite Theater

Written by an adolescent, Dry Land solves a dire problem in the life of an adolescent today and how it affects her friendship with a peer. This play seems meant to appeal especially to a young audience with dialogue and attitudes typical of contemporary adolescents. It may also seek adult understanding of, and even sympathy for, the adolescents it portrays. Quite clear, though, is that the writer purports to make a splash with a horror scene: a painful abortion on a locker-room floor.

Marie J. Kilker
Light in the Piazza, The
freeFall Theater

The light Ryan Finzelber designs for freeFall Theater’s piazza illuminates American mother Margaret and her daughter Clara visiting Florence, Italy, in 1953. An overture, much like an opera’s, leads into the intertwining stories of three women and three marriages. And a gorgeous statue (Joshua Romero, perfect) comes to life to bring unerring dance and shift of architectural elements to create scenery and scenes. When he carries a hat on the wind, it leads to a whirlwind romance but with unromantic challenges.

Marie J. Kilker
Relativity
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

Once again, a play of substance by Mark St. Germain, so at home at Florida Studio Theater! Relativity is about scientist Albert Einstein and a daughter he fathered who seems to have long disappeared from history. Exploring his past and character, St. Germain’s play tries to uncover how these illuminate who Einstein was in relation to the present. This would, of course, also explain a lot of history, even of science.

Marie J. Kilker
Home/Sick
Odyssey Theater

Shock theater! The first shock came while stepping into the Odyssey’s Theater 2, whose walls were smeared with political graffiti, floors strewn with filthy mattresses, clothes, books and jugs of Gallo red. The second shock came when the six actors on stage launched into an agit-prop play, Home/Sick.

Willard Manus
American Son
Barrington Stage - Boyd/Quinson Main Stage

In racist America, for young African-American men, there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. The award-winning American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown, having its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company which commissioned it, is built on the theme that black lives matter. It is the kind of message play that director Julianne Boyd regularly programs to interact with the community and the fall school curriculum. There is a schedule of programming related to this production.

Charles Giuliano
Eccentricities of a Nightingale, The
Pacific Resident Theater

Pacific Resident Theater has celebrated its 30th anniversary by mounting The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Tennessee Williams’s revision of his 1950s play Summer and Smoke. Williams has said that he preferred Eccentricities over Smoke because “it is less conventional and melodramatic.” He also added that Alma Winemiller is his favorite character.

Willard Manus
Smoke
The Met Theater

Smoke is the best play I have seen at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival, a black, edgy, brilliantly acted and directed drama which thrills from start to finish. Let’s hope that Rogue Machine will keep it running long after the Festival ends.

Willard Manus
Disgraced
Mark Taper Forum

Disgraced, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, has been revived at the Mark Taper Forum in a powerful but flawed production. Repeating director Kimberly Senior has assembled a strong cast but allowed some of its actors–mostly the women–to swallow their words at key moments. Their inaudibility spoiled much of the play for this critic.

Willard Manus
Shakespeare in Love
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Yes, Shakespeare in Love is a winner of an original comedy, but since this is a “North American premiere by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions,” I haven’t heard whether Stratford could take it to Broadway. Not a bad idea, though.

Herbert Simpson
Shining City
Irish Repertory Theater

Conor McPherson’s Shining City is more somber than shining, reflecting the loneliness, yearning and guilt of four characters, communicating and suffering yet never really connecting. The immediacy of their stories is emotional, each one enveloped in his own anguish and the world he cannot understand.

At the renovated Irish Repertory Theater, McPherson explores these problems through storytelling between two men in a series of short scenes and the playwright's trademark broken dialogue that vibrates with authenticity.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

I did not grow up with this story, and, in fact, have seen only two of the “Narnia” films, so I was less familiar with or informed about this delightful play than were many of the children and younger members of the audience.  In fact, they were apparently comfortably acquainted with the material and more sophisticated in their appreciation of its many magical elements.  Without punning on its supernatural fantasies, I really found this material enchanting.

Herbert M. Simpson
As You Like It
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Because this is a production of a beloved, great comedy by William Shakespeare, and because this is the great Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Ontario, Canada, three or four scenes in As You Like It are played superbly by some of the finest Shakespearean actors in the world. And they are charming, unmistakably clear, and a special rare delight.

Herbert M. Simpson
All My Sons
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons has always struck me as his stepchild, which even potent productions of, all seem to get qualified or grudging approval. So it is heartening to read Canada’s master theater artist and teacher, Martha Henry, write that she was surprised to discover that All My Sons is a great play – a much greater play than I thought it was when we started working on it.”

Skirting the Law
Starlite Room

Under the title, Skirting the Law, four sparkling short plays illuminate the announced theme, all quite differently.

Marie J. Kilker
Come Fly with Me
Court Cabaret

It’s telling that there’s no program listing for the changing colored, stretched-curtain design of Come Fly With Me’s backdrop, for it’s the best part of this show. All else seems to be imported by Florida Studio Theater, which has never to my knowledge, itself created such an amateurish revue. It has little or no real script, the music is divided between on-site and recorded, and its cast members lack chemistry and vocal chops, individually and together.

Marie J. Kilker
Punch and Judy
The Complex

“Not suitable for children of any age” states the flier for Punch and Judy, the live-action adaptation of the classic puppet show which has entertained multitudes for the past two thousand years. Written and directed by Christopher Johnson, founder of Chicago’s Defiant Theater, this X-rated Punch and Judy mixes Commedia dell’Arte, Grand Guignol, chainsaw horror movies and gleeful raunch to tell its manic, blood-spattered story.

Willard Manus
I'll Say She Is
Connelly Theater

I’ll Say She Is is a Marx Brothers musical revue that opened on Broadway in 1924. The book and lyrics were written by Will B. Johnstone; the music was written by his brother, Tom Johnstone. It was the Marx Brothers’s first Broadway show, and it was a big success.

Noah Diamond has adapted the review for the Off-Broadway stage. It’s been produced at the Connolly Theater by Rest of the Crew Productions, Loobit Ventures, Trav S.D., Deroy Murdock, Stephen Diamond and Gimme a Thrill Productions.

Steve Capra
Big Sky
Geffen Playhouse

In Big Sky, now in its world-premiere run at the Geffen, yet another dysfunctional family disintegrates before our eyes, in blackly comic fashion. Written by the much-produced playwright Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and skilfully directed by John Rando, the play (which has its eyes on a Broadway run), is set in an elegant Ritz-Carlton condo in Aspen, Colorado, the rich-person’s favorite ski resort. Residing in the condo are Jack (Jon Tenney) and Jen (Jennifer Westfeldt), a tenuously married couple, and their precocious teenaged daughter, Tessa (Emily Robinson).

Willard Manus
Chorus Line, A
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

This wonderful revival of A Chorus Line has not exactly “been reimagined for its first major production on a thrust stage” as we were told it would be. Rather, Canada’s superb director/choreographer Donna Feore has made some additions and changed only an occasional emphasis, and truly re-choreographed only parts of a few dances. Her challenge and her longtime aspiration was to present her loving immersion into this show and combine it with her dedication to this world-famous stage.

Herbert M. Simpson
Macbeth
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Canada’s great Stratford Festival began its 63rd season with a dazzling week of productions including a re-staged new version of the classic musical, A Chorus Line, a stunning production of the children’s play, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with a new musical based on the beloved film, “Shakespeare In Love.”

Herbert Simpson
Taming of the Shrew, The
Delacorte Theater

Any current production of The Taming of the Shrew risks running afoul of modern audiences — big time. After all, the plot revolves around the brutalization of an intelligent, independent-thinking woman who rejects the notion that she must marry in order to please her wealthy father.

Michall Jeffers
Seven Guys You Date Before You Get Married, The
Actors Company

Nicole Burch, a fast-talking, wise-cracking, but attractive blonde wonders why she’s still single at the age of 33. Her quest to find a perfect prince obliges her to kiss a lot of frogs–“enough to ravage an entire koi pond.” Her comic misadventures with the opposite sex lie at the heart of The 7 Guys You Date Before You Get Married, now drawing laughs at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Cockroach Dialogues
Dorie Theater

Franz Kafka meets Nathanael West in Cockroach Dialogues, William Whitehurst’s black comedy now running at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Hollywood is the setting – and the target – of this one-act play, which centers on Wayne (Mark Binet) and Tea (Kate Poisson), two young, impoverished performers trying to make it in the entertainment capitol of the world.

Willard Manus
Prospect
IATA Theater / Teatro Circulo

In Octavio Solis’s play Prospect, Vince and Liza pick up Scout at a bar. Vince brings the two others home to meet his wife. Scout is intended to screen Vince’s relationship with Liza by appearing to be her date. Scout’s a bit of a dupe. But he and Vince’s wife, Elena, bond over being Hispanic and create a complex and subtle relationship.

Steve Capra

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