Miss Buncle's Books
Lifeline Theater

Once upon a time—1932, to be specific—in a quiet village located "a short train ride" from London, middle-aged spinster Barbara Buncle finds her income sharply reduced by falling interest rates. To stave off penury, she proposes to write a novel, basing its characters on her neighbors (with all names changed, of course, including her own) whom she portrays as they are—or in some cases, as they could be.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Mark Taper Forum

Family dysfunction meets racial amnesia in Appropriate, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ savage drama, now on tap at the Taper after runs in Louisville, Sundance and New York. The three-act play is set in a plantation house in southeast Arkansas where the Lafayette family has gathered to divvy up what’s left of the long-squandered estate.

Willard Manus
Dirty Dancing
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

For fans of the 1987 low-budget film, “Dirty Dancing,” now there’s a musical to recreate all those glorious scenes of love in the Catskills. Actually, the musical has been kicking its way around the globe for decades. It has played in Los Angeles and Chicago in addition to long runs in Australia, London and throughout the UK. What theatergoers will find is that very little has been added to the musical from what the film had to offer.

Anne Siegel
Twelfth Night
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

For the last few years, Asolo Rep New Stages Tour has been bringing abbreviated Shakespeare mainly to middle and high schools. Each time the effort’s been greater, and so have its results. It will be hard to beat this year’s adaptation of Twelfth Night that takes place in a typical summer camp of today and employs the entire FSU/Asolo Conservatory students in their third, final year.

Marie J. Kilker
Money Fish, The
Hudson Theater

Move over, Jack London and Eugene O’Neill. Writing about the sea helped make you famous, but now you will need to make room for John Cox, whose first play, The Money Fish, is in its world-premiere run at a small theater in Hollywood.

Ex-army ranger Cox spent three years aboard a fishing boat in the Bering Sea, braving some of the roughest waters in the world to make a living, first as a fish-sorter, then as a deck-hand and, finally, as an able-bodied seaman.

Willard Manus
Show Boat
Westchester Broadway Theater

Show Boat has been a much-loved musical since it first opened on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theater on December 27, 1927. A critical as well as popular success, the show ran for 572 performances over a year and a half. Hal Prince successfully revived it in 1994.

The material was also well received twice in movie versions from MGM. Irene Dunne starred in the 1936 version; in 1951, Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel played the lead roles, in glorious Technicolor.

Michall Jeffers
Fun Home
Circle in the Square

With a title like Fun Home, one might imagine that this new musical is set in a carnival (i.e., “Fun House”). Well, in a way, it doesresemble the otherworldliness of a carnival, especially if one considers the fun-house mirrors one finds at such attractions. The distorted mirrors and their odd refractions are not unlike one might find in a memory play like this.

Anne Siegel
Daddy Long Legs
Davenport Theater

One thing’s for sure; if you put on a play with only two actors, they better be really good. Daddy Long Legs is most fortunate in having Megan McGinnis as the orphan Jerusha, and Paul Alexander Nolan as her benefactor, Jervis. Nolan is handsome, earnest, altogether dreamy. And McGinnis is absolutely glorious.

Michall Jeffers
Canciones de Tennessee Williams
Crown and Anchor

A mandate of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival is to explore all aspects of the playwright including staging new works inspired by his short stories and poetry. It was in this spirit of invention that we settled in for an evening of cabaret at the Crown and Anchor.

Having endured the amateurish The Liberation of Colette Simple, and by then getting past our normal bed time, we debated leaving. The second performance was to be more song-based on Williams.

Charles Giuliano
Liberation of Colette Simple, The
Crown and Anchor

A mandate of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival is to explore all aspects of the playwright including staging new works inspired by his short stories and poetry. It was in this spirit of invention that we settled in for an evening of cabaret at the Crown and Anchor.

Charles Giuliano
Parade, The
Provincetown Beach (outdoors)

From September 24-27 during the recent tenth annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival we attended nine performances. That included all of the featured events minus a production of Suddenly Last Summer which we saw during the New Orleans Williams festival in April.

There were some other events and parties which we opted to pass up in an effort to conserve energy. The pace started with two shows on Thursday, three each on Friday and Saturday, winding down with a staged reading of a developing John Guare play on Sunday morning.

Charles Giuliano
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

Whenever this reviewer sees a production of Dreamgirls, currently being staged by Milwaukee Repertory Theater, one of the many images that lingers is the sight of three beautiful young women onstage. They are wearing elegant, matching gowns and coiffed wigs. The trio moves and croons in unison as they sing, “we’re your dream girls.” In essence, that image sums up the entire show. Dreamgirls is all about dreams, and the price of fame as showbiz dreams come true.

Anne Siegel
Revel, The
Chopin Theater

Audiences at the premiere of The Bacchae in 405 B.C. were well aware that the myth providing Euripides his source material hearkened to an age safely removed from their own society, and that the charismatic spiritual leader depicted therein wasn't merely preaching the Divine Word, but was himself, Divine, rendering his exhortations to drink up and submit to his whim, however violent its expression, holy commandments to be obeyed without equivocation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Theater Wit

Soldiers preparing to ship out overseas from San Francisco typically spend their last 24 hours drinking and whoring, not wasting time on a Frat-house stalk-and-snare mission—especially when it's 1963 and the fresh-out-of-boot-camp corpsmen are bound for a tiny Southeast Asian patch called Viet Nam. Credibility, however, wasn't the goal of the 1991 film, Dogfight, nor of the 2012 musical adaptation, so much as the attempt to replicate the tone of a mid-1940s song-and-dance G.I. comedy within the hindsight context of a war not yet begun.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Tempest, The
Navy Pier

Picture playwright-adapter Aaron Posner sitting around a table over beers with the magician known today as Teller, beat-blues songwriters Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and Pilobolus dance choreographer Matt Kent, all planning to put on a show together. When somebody suggests that a framing story might be useful, Posner remembers one by William Shakespeare that might serve.

Mary Shen Barnidge
How the World Began
Rivendell Theater

The play's setting is a Kansas town rebuilding in the aftermath of a tornado leaving widespread destruction and seventeen dead in its path, but this is not another of the eyewitness-interview docudramas proliferating this season. The protagonist of How the World Began is a pregnant-without-partners schoolmarm from New York, but hers will not be a tale of patrician breeders driven bugfeathers by hormones, nor that of pioneering feminists persecuted by intolerant ground-grippers, nor again that of sophisticated urbanites confronting first-world shock at rural customs.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Jamaica, Farewell
Royal George Theater

Every coming-to-America story is unique, whether accomplished by crawling through rat-infested tunnels or embarking under the protection of powerful allies, whether its mileage encompasses continents or a 30-minute puddle-jump, whether fueled by the conditions of its departure or those of its destination. Our narrator may smile as she recounts the "mostly true" tale of her own migration from her Caribbean island home to the Florida coast, but don't make the mistake of thinking her ordeal any less fraught with risk than what we see today.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Awake and Sing
Odyssey Theater

Time has turned some of the characters in Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing into Jewish-family-play cliches. There’s Bessie, the interfering, smothering matriarch; Myron, the nebbishy failure of a father; Jacob, the burnt-out radical grandfather; and Ralph, the rebellious representative of the next generation. It must be remembered, though, that the play was first produced in 1935, when such characters weren’t all that familiar (except when already encountered in the Yiddish theater).

Willard Manus
Greenway Court Theater

A truly good play is one that puts society on trial, said Kenneth Tynan. If only for that reason, Tynan would have admired Breathe, Javon Johnson’s family play which just opened in a West Coast premiere at Greenway Court Theater.

Willard Manus
Dear Elizabeth
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

A carefully selected collection of letters between two of America’s well-known poets opens the fall theater season at Milwaukee Chamber Theater. Staged in the intimate, 99-seat Studio Theater, Dear Elizabeth gives audiences an up-close look at the lives of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.

Anne Siegel
Amazing Grace
Nederlander Theater

Amazing Grace, music and lyrics by Christopher Smith, book by Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron, is a totally engaging Broadway musical about the life and times (mid 1700’s) of an English song writer who becomes involved in the slave trade and, ultimately, following his sweetie, becomes an abolitionist. The romantic leads, Vince Oddo and Erin Mackey, are good to look at and great to hear sing. They both are top-level performers with charm and charisma.

Richmond Shepard
Christians, The
Playwrights Horizons

What a joy it is to experience a play that forces us to think about what we really believe. I challenge any intelligent theater-goes to see The Christians, and then not want to discuss it at length. Is there a heaven and a hell? Is there room for the faithful to question? How much of the Bible is the Word of God, and how much is mistranslation?

Michall Jeffers
Geva Theater Center - Mainstage

It’s been eight years since I saw this calculated madness in a gaudy Las Vegas production, and memory won’t let me accurately compare this latest revival. The cult Monty Python-infection of our Broadway musical comedy is certainly intact.  But Vegas shows are all cut down in length (90 minutes, no intermissions) and expanded in size and glitz. Geva Theater’s modest production is a little longer and has a smaller cast.  But it has caught the craziness, hung on valiantly to the over-the-top style, and actually rented a whole set of costumes from the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts.

Herbert M. Simpson
Back Home Again
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

Unlike most biographical musical revues, Back Home Again: On the Road with John Denver doesn’t include an actor who takes on the role of John Denver. As one discovers during the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s world premiere of the show, its unique approach doesn’t need to.

The show – set in the Rep’s intimate Stackner Cabaret—opens with a tape of Denver singing one of his songs. The darkened stage lightens to reveal two actors—one male, one female—who begin to hum along.

Anne Siegel
Love and Money
Pershing Square Signature Center

Lately, New York has enjoyed a revival of octogenarian A.R. Gurney's popular Love Letters and anticipates an upcoming revival of Sylvia. The Signature Theater recently produced What I Did Last Summer and The Wayside Motor Inn. It's often fascinating peeking at the inside lives of the rich and social. That's what makes Gurney's plays so popular. However, his latest at Signature Theater, Love and Money,while showing sparks of humor and elements of truth, turns contrived and disappointing.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Getty Villa - Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater

When the need arises to update Greek classical drama, L.A. playwright Luis Alfaro is your go-to guy. Past assignments include Electricidad and Oedipus el Rey. Now Alfaro returns to the outdoor arena at the Getty Villa with Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles,directed by Jessica Kubzansky, co-artistic director of the Pasadena-based Boston Court theater.

Willard Manus
Object Lesson, The
Kirk Douglas Theater

Remember Ionesco’s The Chairs? In that absurdist classic, the stage is stacked high with chairs brought by a mob of people expecting to hear a hired orator deliver a profound speech about the human condition (which turns out to be gibberish). The old folks who have hired the orator top the action by committing suicide.

There are echoes of Ionesco in Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson, the surreal one-man play now on tap at the Kirk Douglas in a southern California premiere.

Willard Manus
Next Act Theater

One of Milwaukee’s newest theater companies, All-In Productions, closes its inaugural season with a terrifically entertaining production of Dogfight: The Musical. Diehard musical theater fans may be familiar with this offbeat show, which had its 2012 Off-Broadway premiere at Second Stage Theatre. It received enthusiastic critical response and a cast album was recorded.

Anne Siegel
Different Perspective, A
Starlite Room

In the one-act evening A Different Perspective, Living Arrangements, by Ron Pantello has Penelope the cat played by Katherine Tye (a last-minute but first-rate replacement) discouraging rambunctious Killarn Tyler Johnson as Prince the dog from trying to move in with his master over her “servant” owner. Director Jamie Lee Butrum stresses irony in Prince’s eagerness to follow all of Penelope’s supposedly positive suggestions. Really positive performances here! Best dog imitation since Sylvia.Kudos, also, to catty Tye!

Marie J. Kilker
Rainmaker, The
The Greenhouse

You know the story, if only from the musical version or the Katharine Hepburn movie: Lizzie Curry is a bookish young woman who thinks herself homely and, therefore, unlikely to ever marry, despite the encouragement of her father and brothers. One day, a handsome stranger arrives promising to bring an end to the drought afflicting the region during what appears to be the 1930s.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Glory Days
The Flatiron

This pocket-sized musical isn't based on a movie but feels as if it was—possibly because regarding the past through a nostalgic haze constitutes a major obsession of post-World War II youth culture. Beginning in 1951 with “Catcher in the Rye,” the artistic refrain of the last 60 years has been beery-teary baby-boom brats howling, "Things is never the same!"

Mary Shen Barnidge
Submarine Show, The
Lynn Redgrave Theater

As soon as Jaron Hollander and Slater Penney walk on stage in The Submarine Show, looking goofy in their striped shirts, suspenders and glasses, we can see that the show is going to be fun. It’s an elaborate mime with tumbling and vocalizing. The two nimble performers fill up the stage for 75 minutes as if they were a whole company of actors.

We follow their story as they crash in their submarine, surface to the jungle, machete their way through the brush, hunt, fly and have a series other adventures. One of them even has an out-of-body experience.

Steve Capra
Shake the Earth

Nothing’s more interesting than a dramatic juxtaposition. One of the best sorts is the abutment of the personal and the historical. It can put our lives in perspective. It throws the ordinary into a sort of dramatic relief.

Steve Capra
Intolerant Vaudeville, An
The Secret Theater

An Intolerant Vaudeville is a variety show exploring stereotypes and prejudices. It has jugglers and singers and a one-act play, among other acts. They all make for an interesting show.

Steve Capra
When Stars Align
Odyssey Theater

Credit When Stars Align with being unafraid to dramatize a huge chunk of 19th century American history, specifically the country’s involvement in the slave trade. The racism that permeated not just the ante-bellum south but much of the rest of the country still exists today, as we know from Ferguson and Brooklyn. Slavery may be dead, but prejudice and hostility towards blacks still live in the hearts of many Americans—which is what gives a play like When Stars Alignits relevance.

Willard Manus
Jacksonian, The
Profiles Theater - Mainstage

Beth Henley's plays have always hinted at the dark side of the rural/tribal values lingering at the cultural roots of our country's southern regions, but smug Yankee directors and audiences usually prefer to chuckle complacently at the droll antics of their hayseed cousins. This time, however, Henley does not offer them that option. The scenario proposed by her teenage narrator starts with a man wearing bloody clothes fetching ice from a motel dispensary and only gets worse after that.

Mary Shen Barnidge
After Miss Julie
Stawdog Theater

It was 1945 when England's Labour Party scored a victory over the Conservatives in the general election—translated for Yanks, this meant that the rich lazy aristocrats had been toppled by the poor working blokes, who soon initiated a bevy of government-welfare programs (among them, subsidized housing, unemployment compensation and healthcare).

British playwright Patrick Marber sees parallels between the men and women seeking to escape their birthright at this moment in history and those in August Strindberg's 1888 Swedish shocker, Miss Julie.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Players Theater

When Elliott Raines founded Two Chairs Theater Company last year, it was to present yearly an outstanding play in a minimalist production stressing its author’s writing. With Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, director Raines brings out both Tennessee Williams’s substance and style, exploring the theme of mendacity in characters who live lies and without a moral center.

Marie J. Kilker
Patchwork Drifter
City Lit

Wyoming granted women the right to vote and to serve as court officers more than 50 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, so it's appropriate that Patchwork Drifter,Jennifer L. Mickelson's Sergio Leone-tinged yarn of how the west was won should highlight the historical contributions of enterprising females during the years before the opening of travel routes across the Rocky Mountains brought with them the "civilizing" influences of sexism, bigotry and social injustice.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century
The Museum of Broadcast Communications,

Even with the current fashion for talking-heads symposiums posing as docudramas (but leaving out the drama), Hillel Levin's decision to present his journalist's investigation of the role played by organized crime in the 1963 assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy as a play—rather than as a book, film, graphic novel or television miniseries—is a curious one. At one time, when literacy was less widespread in the general population, disseminating news through live performance may have been necessary, but why choose this old-school medium in 2015?

Mary Shen Barnidge