Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Ingmar Bergman apparently thought he could best Ibsen in staging the story of Nora, a woman who leaves home and husband when she realizes she’s been mistreated and will always be unfulfilled. Bergman’s version of A Doll’s House cuts out emphasis on many of the 19th century conventions that were so hard on Nora. But these transformed her from acting like a doll to being a gutsy woman. That Ibsen gave her stronger, as well as unpleasant, alternatives to her final action, to my mind adds to the superiority of Ibsen’s original heroine and play.

Marie J. Kilker
Bright Star
Cort Theater

If you’re anything like me, every now and then you hunger for a new musical written with the same kind of heart as the shows of old. Add toe-tapping music, and a sensational cast, and you have Bright Star, the aptly named offering which is delighting even the grumpiest of theater critics. It’s a good old boy-meets-girl story, with one startling twist which leaves the audience gasping.

Michall Jeffers
In Response
Stella Adler Theater

Towne Street Theater, L.A.’s premiere African-American theatre company, has thrown all its resources behind In Response, a multi-media show which it premiered last Fall on the 48th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 24th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. Thanks to audience demand, TST reprises it for a limited run at the Stella Adler Theater.

Willard Manus
Hobby Center

There is a pivotal moment in the Charles Dickens classic tale, “Oliver Twist,” when the hungry and naïve young orphan, Oliver, finishes the humble bowl of gruel he has been given for breakfast, and then dares to ask, “Please sir, I want some more!” Thus begin the many adventures of this young rebel, which in 1960 were brilliantly converted into what would become the legendary musical, Oliver! With its music, lyrics and book all the creation of composer, Lionel Bart, the show would debut in London, and then move on to become a Tony Award-winner after arriving on Broadway in 1963.

David Dow Bentley
Shame on Me!
Santa Monica Playhouse

Debra Ehrhardt, who had a huge success ten years ago in L.A. with her captivating solo show Farewell, Jamaica, is back with a new one-person show, Cock-Tales. Written by Ehrhardt and directed by Joel (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) Zwick, Cock-Tales is an autobiographical work which deals frankly and boldly with sex. It’s not every woman who can talk about that subject—more specifically, about the male sex organ—in such an open, unblushing way, but Ehrhardt does it, with gusto and humor to boot.

Willard Manus
Beckett Trilogy
The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage

Irish actress Lisa Dwan, like Billie Whitelaw before her, has made a career out of performing Samuel Beckett monologues. For eleven years now, she has toured the world with Beckett Trilogy, a bill of Beckett’s last works, Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby. Now Dwan has brought the show to the Broad Stage for a brief run; it is not to be missed.

Willard Manus
Antlia Pneumatica
Playwrights Horizons - Peter Sharp Theater

Winston Churchill described Russia as “ A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." The same could be said, much less profoundly, of Antlia Pneumatica. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on it, the play shifts. Is it a poetic show about unfulfilled dreams? A scientific dissertation? Or one big ghost story?

Michall Jeffers
Revisionist, The
Lovelace Studio Theater

The Revisionist could very well have been called “The Ugly American.” Jesse Eisenberg’s three-character play (which debuted in 2013 at New York’s Cherry Lane Theater) focuses on David, a young American writer (Seamus Mulcahy) who arrives in Szczecin, Poland to stay with his second cousin Maria (Deanna Dunagan), an elderly Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by converting to Catholicism. Ilia Volok plays Zenon, a local taxi driver whose heart brims over with affection for Maria (who reminds him of his late mother).

Willard Manus
Historic Asolo Theater

Velazquez’s portrait of Juan de Pareja, a liberated slave who tried to become a gentleman Spaniard but could not due to racial and class prejudice, dominates the opening scene of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced. The uncovering in the play’s final scene of a portrait of anti-hero Amir indicates parallels between his and Pareja’s fates. Racial and religious differences may have made it impossible for them to assimilate completely in the dominant society. But do they cause Amir to be well described by the play’s title? Or do his words and actions merit the description?

Marie J. Kilker
At Home Between Deaths
Odyssey Theater

Dinner at Home Between Deaths is a black comedy about the illicit dealings of a Wall Street mortgage trader, Sean Lynch (Todd Waring), who gets outed by one of his own employees—a young Chinese-American sexpot with whom he is also having an affair.

Willard Manus
Crucible, The
Walter Kerr Theater

Love it or hate it, one thing is sure; this is not your mother’s Crucible. To begin with, there’s the question of the interracial casting, even though Abigail notes, “I will not black my face for any of them,” which is obviously a racial slur. In a time and place as insular as 17th century Massachusetts, being black or Asian might well have been enough to have you declared a witch. In fact, the one character who’s always portrayed by an African-American, Tituba (Jenny Jules), is immediately accused of being a pawn of the devil, and leading young girls astray.

Michall Jeffers
Digger, The
La MaMa

The Digger: A Subterranean Allegory is puppet theater from Inkfish, presented by La MaMa. It uses a live actor, marionettes, and shadow puppets to show us a hero who goes underground to search for crystals. The backdrop to its puppet set presents a cave, with successive layers behind cut-out centers, and the pre-show sound is the sound of dripping water.

Steve Capra
Ordinary Days
Tenth Street Theater

One of Milwaukee’s up-and-coming theater companies, All-In Productions, was founded by young theater lovers with a passion for obscure musicals. Some of their former productions include Dogfight and The Last Five Years. Now there’s Ordinary Days, . a small-scale musical about two couples struggling to find themselves (and the rent money) in New York City.

Anne Siegel
Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, A
Ahmanson Theater

A musical inspired by “Kind Hearts & Coronets,” A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder tells the farcical story of an impoverished nobleman (Kevin Massey) who sets out to knock off the eight relatives (all played by Rapson) who are keeping him from claiming the title of Earl of Highhurst.

Willard Manus
Sweet Potato Queens, The
Hobby Center

For those seeking relief from the seemingly endless woes that newscasters assault us with on a daily basis, the cheerful answer may have arrived via the latest offering from the Theatre Under the Stars Underground series with last Friday’s World Premiere of the merry new musical, The Sweet Potato Queens, directed by Bruce Lumpkin & Marley Wisnoski. The show celebrates the genesis of a now world-wide organization claiming more than 6000 SPQ chapters in over 20 countries.

David Dow Bentley
Natural Life
T. Schreiber Theater

Eduardo Ivan Lopez’s harsh play Natural Life is based on the true story of a Midwestern death row inmate in the 1980’s. She chose not to continue the appeals process and to allow the state to execute her. A TV journalist covered her story as she awaited execution.

The character’s name is Claire McGreely; the program notes don’t tell us if this was the name of the actual person, and an internet search turns up nothing. She’s been convicted of murdering her husband. She’s contacted the journalist, Rita, to offer her exclusive access to her story.

Steve Capra
She Loves Me
Studio 54

As She Love Me opens, we’re transported back to Budapest in 1934. The orchestra is on both sides of the balcony, and music is everywhere. We focus in on a charming perfumery; the outside is frilly and pretty, and when we’re led inside, we find shelves stocked with dozens of dazzling perfumes. The owner, Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings), does a bustling business. He’s a dapper chap who’s dressed impeccably; he sports silver hair and a well-trimmed mustache. He obviously sets the tone for his shop. All the clerks are suited up, and gracious to the costumers in the extreme.

Michall Jeffers
Humans, The
Helen Hayes Theater

The Humans has been highly touted this season. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely; just don’t be fooled by thinking this is a feel-good comedy. There are laughs, yes, but this is at heart a dark tale about a family desperately trying to survive in troubled times.

Transferred from Off-Broadway, the production has been kept intact. This is good news for the audience; the cast is breathtakingly good, and director Joe Mantello skillfully guides them across the tightrope of humor and tragedy.

Michall Jeffers
Going to a Place Where You Already Are
South Coast Repertory

The universal conundrum of the end of life takes center stage in Bekah Brunstetter’s thoroughly engaging new play, Going to a Place where you Already Are, now in its world premiere run at South Coast Repertory. The great dichotomy . . . is there nothing or something after death? Nothing is easy to understand. Life emerges from a void and returns to it. If something, what is it? What is the nature of it? All of the considerations hinge on notions of belief.

Paul Myrvold
The Met Theater

Pocatello is the third “Idaho” play by Samuel D. Hunter which Rogue Machine has introduced to L.A. audiences (the others being A Permanent Image and A Bright New Boise). Unfortunately, the finale is the weakest link in the otherwise award-winning trilogy, a heavy-handed portrait of life in a “nation-wide Italian restaurant franchise in Pocatello, Idaho.”

Willard Manus
Buried Child
Pershing Square Signature Center - Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater

Ed Harris sits all alone on the stage. The house is shabby, on its last legs, as is Dodge, the character Harris portrays. There’s rain outside the window. The room is staged with two small TVs, a bucket on the floor, hideous old wall paper and carpet. Dodge himself is none too gorgeous. He wears a baseball cap, gray T-shirt, checked shirt. Coughing, dozing, drinking whiskey from a hidden bottle, covered with a spread that has seen better days, Dodge is pretty much out of it.

Michall Jeffers
American Song
Quadracci Powerhouse

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater makes a bold attempt to focus on one of the most pressing issues of our time — mass shootings in America’s schools — in the world premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s American Song.

Anne Siegel
Nederlander Theater

Hey kids, let’s get together and put on a show! This is the spirit of Disaster! A large part of the entertainment is that the actors on stage are having so much fun; we get the idea that they’ve known each other and worked together for a long time. Adding to the fun is the disco/cheesy rock music of the day, 1979. From the first number, the Donna Summer megahit “Hot Stuff,” the audience is in for an evening of nostalgia and laughs.

Michall Jeffers
Blessings of a Broken Heart, The
The Braid

The Blessings of a Broken Heart is a monologue adapted by Todd Salovey from the book of the same name by Sherri Mandell, whose 13-year-old son Kobi (Yaakov) was murdered in Israel along with his school chum, Yosef Ishban. The two boys had played hooky on that tragic day in 2001 to hike up into the hills bordering their kibbutz, only to be attacked by stone-throwing assailants who were never caught or identified.

Willard Manus
59E59 Theaters

We’ve all heard the term “corporate consultants,” but what does that mean? Who are these highly paid, usually well-dressed people, and what, exactly, are they hired to do? Sorry, but you won’t find the answers here; if anything, there are more and more questions as the evening progresses.

Michall Jeffers
My Name is Asher Lev
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Theater

An entry in Florida Studio Theater’s Stage III Series, My Name is Asher Lev is that series’s typical “small” drama with big impact. In flashback, Asher both narrates and also presentationally acts out his coming of age. Maturity comes to him not only as a man but as an artist. To thus devote himself requires Asher to grow up from his family and the tradition in which they raised him. So they share his story.

Marie J. Kilker
Women Laughing Alone with Salad
Kirk Douglas Theater

Rude, irreverent and outrageous, Sheila Callaghan’s Women Laughing Alone with Salad is a comedy that takes no prisoners. It shoots down with fiendish glee every single target in its sights: mothers and sons, boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, the pharmaceutical industry, the diet craze . . . and more, much more.

Willard Manus
St. Luke's Theater

To say that I loved the musical Ruthless!, currently playing at St. Luke’s Theater in New York City through June 18th (after several extensions by popular demand) is a gross understatement. More accurately put, I loved, loved, loved Ruthless!. In fact, after seeing the play two times, thoughts of marrying the musical as well as its delightful cast of seven came to mind. I was sure that such a union would supply me with a lifetime of high-octane fun.

Edward Rubin
Sea Marks
Soulstice Theater

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, what could be more appropriate than offering a production of Gardner McKay’s Sea Marks? The clever folks at Milwaukee’s Soulstice Theater have made this catch-of-the-day. They have paired two fine actors (both sporting plausible Irish accents) and the lilting dialogue that takes audiences to a remote village on an island off the west coast of Ireland.

Anne Siegel
Little Fish Theater

Peter Shaffer’s Sleuth premiered at the Music Box Theater in New York in 1970 and closed nearly three years later after 1,222 performances. While it was still running in New York, the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco produced it with Ken Ruta and Peter Donat in the leads. I saw that production when I was a student there, and it knocked me out. The virtuosity of the players was stunning to me, and the climax and dénoument was totally, I mean totally, unpredictable.

Paul Myrvold
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

In Asolo Rep’s five-year exploration of the American character, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner visits an historical moment. In 1967, as director Frank Galati points out, the composition of the American family around its dinner table is on its way to change. To the typical Asolo audience, the titular question is posed and — in a way beyond the film that first asked it — is also answered.

Marie J. Kilker
Safe at Home
Pacific Resident Theater

Orson Bean has been an actor, magician, stand-up comic, writer, and TV host in his 60-odd years in showbiz. He weaves all of those separate strands into a satisfying whole in his solo show, Safe at Home, now enjoying an extended and critically acclaimed run at Pacific Resident Theater (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary).

Willard Manus
Sam Cooke Story, The
West Coast Black Theater Troupe

Cecil Washington Jr. not only sings and performs wonderfully as creative music and entrepreneurial pioneer Sam Cooke, he also manages to look like him--only even more handsome. Of course, Sam Cooke’s major talent was as the originator of the music he performed. It’s this, presented by Washington and a stellar supporting song-and-dance cast, that’s drawing hearty audience applause at WBTT.

Marie J. Kilker
Sex with Strangers
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

It’s boy-meets-girl time at the Geffen Playhouse, where Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers is having its West Coast premiere (after debuting at Second Stage Theater, New York in 2014). The love story, which is more raunchy than romantic, dissects the relationship between Olivia (Rebecca Pidgeon) and Ethan (Stephen Louis Grush), two writers from dissimilar worlds who fall for each other in an unlikely but passionate way. How to keep the flame burning, despite misunderstandings and squabbles, is the question posed by the playwright.

Willard Manus
Bachelorette, The
Alchemist Theater

A trio of young women — all in their late 20s, which is significant — trash a posh hotel suite in Leslye Headland’s hilarious The Bachelorette. The play makes its Wisconsin debut at the cozy, 64-seat Alchemist Theater, located in one of Milwaukee’s southern suburbs. The show is produced by Theater RED.

Anne Siegel
The Complex

Blood, in its world-premiere production at The Complex, boldly tackles an important and shocking subject: the sale by the USA of AIDS-contaminated blood to Japan, Written and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman (who lived in Japan for two decades), the play goes deep into the HIV scandal, blending fact and fiction to tell its story, one which has been kept secret by the powers that be ever since the early 1980s.

Willard Manus
Women Without Men
City Center - Stage II

At City Center's Stage II, The Mint Theater Company is currently reviving Women Without Men, a 1938 Irish play by Hazel Ellis that visits a group of unmarried women living and teaching at Malyn Park Private School. In that period, women without husbands had few choices, and in their limited lives in a world ruled by men, they still found they were often each others' worst enemies.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage

The United States is a nation of immigrants. The tug-of-war between assimilating and keeping tradition alive is indeed “Familiar” to many Americans. And what better way could this conflict come to a head than planning a wedding?

Michall Jeffers
Gambler's Guide to Dying, A
Ruskin Group Theater

A hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, A Gambler’s Guide to Dying comes to Los Angeles with an American actor delivering the monologue, which was written (and first performed) by a Scot, Gary McNair. Maury Sterling (Max on Showtime’s “Homeland”) substitutes for McNair masterfully, not only commanding the stage in charismatic fashion but speaking with a believable Scottish accent.

Willard Manus
Domestic Tranquility
Little Fish Theater

Rich Orloff lampoons the idealized 1950s America with his wacky play, Domestic Tranquility, now playing at Little Fish Theater in San Pedro. Think of it as a cracked “Father Knows Best” with a dad who drives off to the office every day, a stay-at-home mom who cooks and dusts, and a teenaged daughter about to turn eighteen. They profess their earnest liking for each other with enthusiastic brittleness as they salute Ike and Mamie. Soon, however, the façade starts to crack.

Paul Myrvold