Jessica
IRT Theater

Robots are a well-covered subject, and since Karel Čapek wrote R.U.R. in 1920, it has been discussed on the stage—so it’s good to see a playwright address the topic creatively. In Patrick Vermillion’s Jessica (produced Off-off-Broadway by Sanguine Theater Company with IRT Theater at the IRT Theater), the title character has been missing for four years. Her boyfriend, Allister, hires a Lyfe Industries engineer, Rudy, to create a duplicate of her. Life Industries generally makes sex robots, or “companions,” as Rudy prefers to call them.

Steve Capra
Marie Antoinette
freeFall Theater

For a play without much drama, freeFall presents a historical central character without enough dramatization of her historical milieu. Though there are projections aplenty to each side of a long stage and some talk of the world outside Marie Antoinette’s palaces and gardens, author David Adjmi keeps her in a bubble. Director Eric Davis busily floats it up from the marble slab of a center aisle that’s her playing space.

Marie J. Kilker
Octoroon, An
The Biograph

What you need to know about the play called The Octoroon is that it was authored by Dion Boucicault in 1848, and recounted the story of a proud Louisiana family menaced by a neighboring slaveholder bent on seizing their property, along with the young mixed-race woman of the play's title. (Officially, an octoroom is someone who is one-eighth black by descent.)

Mary Shen Barnidge
Fight City
Factory Theater

Violent post-apocalyptic dystopias are hardly rare in fiction today, but what distinguishes Scott OKen's (sic) futuristic action-adventure fable from traditional speculations in this genre is that the dramatic question raised by its pessimism is not "How come I still can't get laid?" but "How do we fix the mess we got ourselves into — again?"

Mary Shen Barnidge
Toy Gun, A
Teatro Circulo

The Georgian-American Theatrical Feast has been taking place Off-off-Broadway, introducing audiences to theater from the country of Georgia through several readings and two full stagings presented by Red Lab Productions. The production I attended was of Tamar Bartaia’s two-character play A Toy Gun, presented by Red Lab and Otar Margania.

Steve Capra
Ball Yards
Zephyr Theater

Playwright Chuck Faerberg pokes fun at the sports world in Ball Yards, his new play which just opened at the Zephyr Theater for a month-long world-premiere run. Faerberg (Zulu Time) and director Richard Kuhlman have put together a seven-person cast of actors each of whom plays multiple roles during the course of the evening. Some of Faerberg’s satirical targets are right on the money: nonsense-spewing sports announcers, smarmy football coaches who quote scripture in their team pep talks, a pretentious star running back who thinks he is the reincarnation of a Mayan god.

Willard Manus
Marvin's Room
American Airlines Theater

When Scott McPherson's Marvin's Room opened off-Broadway in 1990, most theatergoers were thinking of AIDS, the frightening plague that caused the death of McPherson's partner and later his own death. In the 1980's and '90's, New Yorkers saw The Normal Heart, As Is, Angels in America, Love! Valour!, Compassion! — all productions concerning AIDS.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Pipeline
Lincoln Center - Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

With Karen Pittman's scorching portrayal of Nya Joseph, an exasperated single mother and dedicated inner city high school teacher, playwright Dominique Morisseau (Skeleton Crew) probes a social problem through a personal frame of reference. At Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater, Morisseau's eloquence and Lileana Blain-Cruz’s fine-tuned direction examine, in Pipeline, an all-too familiar headline of school violence.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Black!
Athenaeum Theater

Early in his solo show, Michael Washington Brown recounts how, one night, he went to bed Black and awoke to find that he was "African-American"—only he wasn't. Brown is a citizen of the United Kingdom, you see, the son of West Indian immigrants — and thus is neither African nor American. He then proceeds to dispel erroneous assumptions arising from the imposition of overly restrictive categories upon a designation too diverse to support such taxonomic sophistry (after the fashion of the 17th-century French scholars who first codified the concept of "races").

Mary Shen Barnidge
Megastasis
Athenaeum

If Kia Corthron weren't writing in 2017 about 2017, it would be easy to imagine her plays ranking alongside the gritty portraits of life among the underprivileged found in the Social Realism movement of the 1930s. Indeed, the tone of this Eclipse Theater world-premiere of Megastasis, with its parable of a fundamentally good man trapped in a cruel faceless universe, reflects a period ambience recalling Sidney Kingsley, Lillian Hellman, and Clifford Odets.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Government Inspector, The
New World Stages

Michael Urie is a comic genius; he must be seen by the theater loving public. If there were no other reason to recommend The Government Inspector,M.UNot surprisingly, Mary Testa stands out as the vain, frivolous Anna Andreyevna, who will do anything to get her daughter Maya (Talene Monahon) married off- providing it doesn’t interfere with her own pleasure. Her husband, the mayor, Anton (Michael McGrath) has learned that a top official is coming to check up on him and his town, which throws Anton into a panic.

Michall Jeffers
Our Great Tchaikovsky
Bram Goldsmith Theater

Hershey Felder, maven of solo shows about famous musical personages, has returned to the Wallis with his latest opus, Our Great Tchaikovsky. Having done Gershwin, Chopin, Bernstein, and Liszt in recent years, the actor/pianist/designer/producer Felder has now trained his sights on the life of the Russian composer, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And what a life it was: packed with struggle, pain, triumph, joy, and suffering. Great as his professional successes were, Tchaikovsky was, on the whole, a tragically unhappy man, owing to the price he paid for being a closeted homosexual.

Willard Manus
Timon of Athens
Stratford Festival of Canada - Tom Patterson Theater

Timon of Athens has not been a popular Shakespeare classic: in fact, it has not been revived so often as most of his others. Its horrors are more melodramatic than tragic; and its comic elements are more bizarre satire than familiar foolishness. There’s a self-indulgent quality to Simon’s obvious pleasure in the abject worship he receives for his generosity when giving away his treasures to his grateful followers that undercuts our admiration.

Herbert M. Simpson
Romeo and Juliet
Stratford Festival of Canada - Festival Theater

I don’t know what Scott Wentworth doesn’t do brilliantly in the theater, and for Stratford’s opening week this season, he has contributed a first-rate Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the most popular, and certainly best-known Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet has had many Stratford productions, most recently rather problematical ones, but this is an efficiently paced, moving, and affecting one, without bizarre surprises.

Herbert M. Simpson
Born for This
The Broad Stage

Los Angeles has been sanctified, thanks to the gospel musical, Born for This, which has just opened at The Broad Stage for a two-week run. First produced at Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, , Born for This is on a road tour which might just end up in Times Square. Yes, the show is that good, and it’s also a crowd-pleaser, as the audience response at The Broad proved, with folks often singing along with the performers and saluting them with standing ovations).

Willard Manus
Beauty's Daughter
American Blues Theater - Stage 773

The only thing worse than being somewhere you don't want to be is seeing no way to leave it for someplace better. A young Dael Orlandersmith once surveyed New York City's East Harlem streets and vowed to escape. She made good on her promise, as evidenced by her casting as our stand-in narrator a successful author/poet. When we meet "Diane," she is sipping wine in a chic Village apartment where she regales us with the saga of her latest love affair — ending, like many others, abruptly and untimely.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hir
Steppenwolf Theater

The phenomenon of "paradigm shift" occurs when an object undergoes a perceived change after being observed from a different angle—the scientific equivalent of the adage about seeing things from the other person's point of view. Be warned that several such transformations are embedded in Taylor Mac's portrait of the unlucky Conner clan.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Blue-Eyed Bettys, The
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

All of “The Blue-Eyed Bettys” instrumentalists play string instruments. Three also sing and give bits of unsung narration. Those three all met at Florida Studio Theater, formed their group (whose name is not explained), and have been together since, mostly touring but based in New York City. “The Blue-Eyed Bettys” show now marks a kind of sentimental return to their beginnings.

Marie J. Kilker
King of the Yees
Kirk Douglas Theater

It’s rude, irreverent and funny from beginning to end.

Willard Manus
Flea in her Ear, A
Hill Theater

For pure entertainment, nothing beats a well-done French farce. When done as expertly as it is at American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wis., the laughter bubbles up almost from the first line of dialogue and continues until the final curtain.

Anne Siegel
Sarasota Improv Festival - Part II
Florida Studio Theater

The last of three days of Florida Studio Theater’s 2017 9th Annual Improv Festival continued with a record overall crowd. Taking advantage of a full weekend day, four of FST’s venues filled with audiences full of suggestions on which improvisations could be based. From 5 to 11 p.m. I was able to see six shows to review as follows.

Marie J. Kilker
School for Scandal, The
Stratford Festival of Canada - Avon Theater

Almost sneaked in at the very end of a dazzling week of seven major openings of Canada’s great Stratford Festival’s 65th season, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal is the only production that Stratford’s Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino will direct this year. 2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday year, and while all seven varying works were impressive stagings of demanding warhorses (the experimental stuff comes later in the season), Cimolino’s School For Scandal is really memorable.

Herbert M. Simpson
Sarasota Improv Festival - Part I
Florida Studio Theater

Twenty-three groups with 94 performers improvising over three days at Florida Studio Theater makes it impossible for one person to see every performance, much less review everything. With a program expanded over previous years, 23 groups from five states and one foreign country (Mexico) participate. As might be expected, Florida is the most widely represented state. As might not, the host city’s FST Improv may be the most effective performers overall — or at least on Friday, July 14.

Marie J. Kilker
Midsummer Night's Dream, A
Hill Theater

It’s not for nothing that Shakespeare’s magical journey through the woods, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is often cited by theatergoers as their favorite Shakespeare play. In a good production, such as the current one at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., there’s more than a hint of pixie dust sprinkled through the proceedings. There’s romance, jealousy, competitiveness, tears, and lots of laughter. Adults are made to look as silly as one could imagine. The sillier they become, the more fun they are to watch.

Anne Siegel
Any Night
Sacred Fools Theater

Brilliant writing, directing and acting make Any Night the success it is. A psychological thriller about a woman, Anna (Marie Fahlgren), in extreme jeopardy, Any Night is the work of Canadian playwrights Daniel Arnold and Medina Falghren and was first produced in 2008 at the Belfry Theatre in British Columbia. The play has since been done off-Broadway (and elsewhere) and is scheduled to open this fall at the Filigree Theater in Austin. The latter company is polishing the production during a two-week guest run at Sacred Fools in Hollywood. The director, Elizabeth V.

Willard Manus
Relatively Speaking
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There couldn’t be a better vehicle to launch a new summer “Dog Days of Summer” program of FSU/Asolo’s Conservatory than master farceur Alan Ayckbourn’s first big hit, Relatively Speaking. It takes us back to England in the 1960s as sexual liberation meets sexual hanky panky affecting a traditional troubled marriage. And maybe a future non-traditionally born one.

Marie J. Kilker
Amerike
Museum of Jewish Heritage

Amerike is the saga of Jewish immigrants to America, told by a skilled company of actors, all of whom have strong singing voices. The musical, performed in Yiddish with subtitles in both English and Russian, shows that the opportunity to leave Mother Russia was met with both delight and a reluctance to desert that which was familiar. The voyage was long and uncomfortable, and being processed through Ellis Island must have been exhausting, confusing, and for those who equated uniforms with brutality in the old country, terrifying.

Michall Jeffers
Nance, The
Pride Arts Broadway

The effeminate — or merely unmanly — male has been a stock character in comedy since antiquity, his risible appeal arising from the reversal of expectations at the foundation of popular humor to this day. In Western literature, the overtly gay element gradually became de-emphasized, with Aristophanes’s Cleisthenes and Plautus’s Ballio giving way to the less sexually disambiguous Casper Milquetoast.

Mary Shen Barnidge
School for Lies, The
The Artistic Home

You have to admire David Ives’s commercial savvy: After making his fortune in 1993 with a collection of short, funny, low-budget, actor-friendly sketches suitable for classroom or cabaret, his "translaptations" of obscure pre-19th-century French playwrights have, since 2006, attracted hitherto-undetected legions of theatergoers enamored of actors dressed in big skirts and big wigs making dick jokes and saying "fart" in rhymed couplets.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Enchantment, The
HERE

Victoria Benedictsson was a Swedish writer writing at the end of the 19th century. She’s noted for her novels and, to a lesser extent, for a play called The Enchantment. She had a passion for the famous critic Georg Brandes, and it’s conjectured that he seduced her. At any rate, she committed suicide in 1888, just after writing The Enchantment.

Steve Capra
Unexpected Man, The
Touchstone Theater

As one walks into the cool darkness of the American Players Theater 200-seat indoor theater, waiting for Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man to begin, there is not much to see onstage. Two park-type benches face each other. On the backdrop are nine rectangular projections (the size of train windows). The sounds of a train are heard before the play begins.

Anne Siegel
Not Water
3D Technology Center

(see articles/reviews under (Not) Water)

(Not) Water
3D Technology Center

For the first hour or so of (Not) Water, the audience sits in a large circle in a very large room. The actors present, in a disjointed flow, vignettes representing the process that led to the production. We meet the artists and watch some fictitious scenes and hear some stories, even some stand-up.

Steve Capra
Bastard Jones
the cell

Bastard Jones, produced off-Broadway by the cell, is a musical adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.” Fielding’s title character, of course, is a good-natured libertine, the sex addict who falls in love with the nice girl, Sophia. The plot, which is convoluted even in this pared-down adaptation, is of no particular importance. It just concerns Tom’s sexual adventures. He’s banished and nearly executed for his ill-considered lifestyle. At the end, of course, he wins the virtuous Sophia.

Steve Capra
Marvin's Room
American Airlines Theater

Bessie is a saint. As played by Lili Taylor in Marvin’s Room, she’s also warm, optimist, and altogether lovely. So why is she so annoying? Maybe our sensibilities have changed, but it’s hard to identify with this woman who has sacrificed her life to take care of her father, who’s been dying slowly for the last twenty years. He’s the Marvin of the title, and while we hear him moaning throughout, we never see him. The other obvious question is when Bessie needs a bone marrow transplant, why does no one suggest Marvin?

Michall Jeffers
Roommate, The
Williamstown Theater Festival

When well-presented, Jen Silverman's quirky two-hander, The Roomate, is absorbing, suspenseful, and full of inventive surprise. The production at Williamstown Theater Festival, however, diminishes the subtle nuances and best assets of the play by overproducing them.

Yet again we have seen an intimate, potentially charming play which is more suited to the smaller Nikos Stage, over-inflated to fill the less forgiving space of the Main Stage. That is, perhaps, motivated by the marquee casting of two players primarily known for their work and awards for the small screen.

Charles Giuliano
Annie
Westchester Broadway Theater

We all remember the tunes from Annie: “Tomorrow,” “Maybe,” “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” What we tend to forget is the political message and the real underlying poignancy.

Michall Jeffers
Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

Leonard Pelkey, a 14 year old boy, is missing from his New Jersey shore small town. Hard-boiled detective Chuck DeSantis (played by Jeffrey Plunkett who also plays everyone else in monologues plus scenes) tells us about the search for him. He’s letting us in on Leonard’s “absolute brightness” that physics defines as what a star might have in certain light years from earth. Leonard let his shine all over town.

Marie J. Kilker
It's Only Life
Attic Theater

Thanks to splendid singing, catchy tunes, and clever direction, the musical revue It’s Only Life sparkled in its just-closing run at the Attic Theater. Based on the music of John Bucchino, who has written for such disparate vocalists as Art Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli, and Deborah Voight, It’s Only Life features six young singers who surely will be heard from again in future: Jill Marie Burke, Devon Davidson, Kayre Morrison, Joaquin Nunez, Philip McBride, and Ken Shepski.

Willard Manus
Heisenberg
Mark Taper Forum

Simon Stephens’s take on the May/September love story formula, Heisenberg, is slight but entertaining, thanks largely to the comedic gifts of its two actors, Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker, who have been performing the play since it was first produced in New York by Manhattan Theatre Club in 2015, with a subsequent Broadway run a year later.

Willard Manus

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