Taming of the Shrew, The
Denver Center Theater

When the establishing shot of the Denver Center’s new Shrew turned-up on its website — an obviously Cowbo -Petruchio with a Wild-West Kate on his back — this image reminded your arts reporter of the Wild-West Shrewthat Charles McCalley staged long, long ago, at the Globe-of-the-Great-Southwest, in Odessa, TX. Since that epic adventure in updating Shakespeare, Mantua and Padua have occasionally been relocated to Western-American sites in Utah, Arizona and New-Mexico.

Glenn Loney
Wit
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Cynthia Nixon as Vivian Bearing, PhD, gives one of the best performances of any actor on Broadway this season in a beautifully realized production of Wit by Margaret Edson and directed with great skill by Lynne Meadow. Witis told from the perspective of a woman with Stage Four ovarian cancer in a series of flashbacks showing the progress of the disease from diagnosis to death.

Scott Bennett
Fall to Earth, The
Odyssey Theater Ensemble

The Fall to Earthstarts out as a play in a comic vein: daughter obliged to share not just a motel room but a single bed with her estranged, control-freak mother. Gradually, though, the comedy begins to give way to drama and then horror as the story unfolds.

Willard Manus
Look Back in Anger
Roundabout at Laura Pels Theater in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater

In 1956, John Osborne shocked theatergoers with his examination of the Britain’s angry young men coming out of the post World War II years. These were the blue-collar lads with ability, some with education, but all missing the key to a better life in the white-collar stratum of society. There is more than a hint of relevancy to the current economic troubles and explosive frustrations.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Vigil
Next Act Theater

If Next Act Theatre administrators were looking for a comedy to fill this dead-of-winter time slot, one wonders what made them choose Morris Panych’s play, Vigil. There is a glimmer of humor here, but the comedy is about the blackest this critic has seen.

Two exceptionally talented actors, Ruth Schudson and Mark Ulrich, do about the best job one could wish in delivering this odd play. Ulrich is an unhappy bank teller who rushes to the deathbed of his elderly aunt. They haven’t seen each other in 30 years. It is not a happy reunion.

Anne Siegel
To Kill a Mockingbird
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

To Kill a Mockingbirdis one of the most passionate, powerful novels about the American South, circa 1935. It dredges up everything that is good and bad in a medium-sized town in Alabama. It exposes hatred and prejudice that, unfortunately, cannot be confined to this era.

Anne Siegel
Raisin in the Sun, A
WBTT Theater

A play that’s become a modern classic is now bound to be remembered as a classic production by WBTT. A strong story, cast and director bring out the universal qualities of a distinctly American experience. As A Raisin in the Sun re-creates that of urban African-Americans half a century ago, it also shows how timeless is the struggle of members of a family to each realize their dreams of success.

Marie J. Kilker
Porgy and Bess
Richard Rodgers Theater

The current Broadway Porgy and Bess, about a community of black fishermen in South Carolina in the 1930’s, is a thrilling theatrical experience in a magnificent production brilliantly directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed with exciting verve by Ronald K. Brown played on a simple (but profound) set by Riccardo Hernandez. The beautiful Audra McDonald’s rich voice and powerful acting of Bess, a multilevel character, shakes the theater, Norm Lewis as the crippled Porgy gives us an emotional rip, and Phillip Boykin will churn your guts as the evil, powerful Crown.

Michael Portantiere
Stick Fly
Cort Theater

Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Flytakes a fascinating look at a wealthy black family in Martha’s Vineyard as they function and dysfunction. Father: a neurosurgeon (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), chilly, autocratic; two brothers: Flip, a plastic surgeon whose nickname fits him (Mekhi Phifer) and Dulé Hill as Spoon, a writer whose first book is being published. Each brother has a fiancé whom he brings home: for Spoon it’s the bright dynamo Tracie Thoms, whose energetic insights drive the play, and a smart WASP, Rosie Benton, for Flip.

Richmond Shepard
God's Ear
Zephyr Theater

The Echo Theater Company gives Jenny Schwartz's 2007 play, God’s Ear, a skillful production in its L.A. premiere at the Zephyr Theater. Schwartz is a decidedly modernist writer, one whose intent is to deconstruct the family drama genre by taking out the realistic elements and replacing them with comedy, wordplay and fantasy. At the same time, she also tries to delve into the dark corners of her characters, with boldness and power. It's a directorial challenge to hit all the right notes, but thankfully Rory Kozoll lives up to the task.

Willard Manus
What the Butler Saw
Odyssey Theater

"Farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions a minute," said John Mortimer. If he were alive today, Joe Orton would surely have seconded that notion. The British playwright came to prominence in the 1960s with a series of black, bawdy farces -- The Entertaining Mister Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw-- that usually ended with blood on the walls.

Willard Manus
Clybourne Park
Mark Taper Forum

Racism and real estate have always had a volatile relationship in the USA. Segregated neighborhoods have been a fact of life in most American cities and towns, with the divisions supported by laws and covenants that expressed the prejudiced feelings of the majority white population. Thanks to civil-rights legislation, most of the laws and covenants have been repealed, but the racism remained in place, making it hard for people of color to break out of their ghettoes.

Willard Manus
Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

It only seems fair that a production called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Abridged should receive an abridged synopsis. So here goes: Three guys, 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, and less than two hours to cram them all in. That, essentially, is what the show’s creators gave birth to in 1987. Since then, Complete Workshas appeared in many of the country’s regional theaters. It now lands in Milwaukee. (Also noteworthy is the fact that the original cast performed an “updated” version of this play at New York’s Victory Theater in March 2010.)

Anne Siegel
Porgy and Bess
Richard Rodgers Theater

Well, I'm glad I was at least somewhat prepared for the desecration of the operatic masterwork, Porgy and Bess, that's now on view on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater, or I probably would have booed loudly during the performance and caused a scene. Interviews given by director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and musician Diedre L. Murray concerning their "adaptation" of this beloved work as a Broadway musical in advance of the show's pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

Michael Portantiere
Road to Mecca, The
American Airlines Theater

No doubt about it, Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca is tough going, a long, winding journey with its pay-off at the end. This pay-off is not with blazing fireworks but finding an artist’s inspiration she fears is lost. Directed with sensitivity by Gordon Edelstein, the Roundabout Theatre Company's production at the American Airlines Theater is driven by three stunning performances and the poetic, often passionate language of its playwright.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Our Town
The Broad Stage

I have always disliked Our Town, going back to when I first saw a production of it in high school. Its folksy, idealized portrait of small-town life made me think, sourly, of Norman Rockwell or the Andy Hardy movies. Seeing subsequent productions did not make me change my mind about Thornton Wilder's 1938, Pulitzer Prize-winning play--and that holds true for the production under review.

Willard Manus
Neat
Broadawy Theater Center - Studio Theater

Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theater offers a powerhouse of a play in the one-woman show, Neat. Respected playwright Charlayne Woodard takes the audience on an autobiographical journey that ranges from Savannah to Albany, NY. Savannah, Georgia, is the home town of her favorite aunt, nicknamed “Neat.”

Anne Siegel
Almost, Maine
Venice Theater

The black box Pinkerton is cleverly configured into three diagonals, two seating the audience. In the center, trees at the edge of a snow-filled forest with a bench in the snow mark one end of a path (half way graced by a fallen log). It leads to the porch of a cabin with sparse outdoor furnishings close to the front door.

Marie J. Kilker
God of Carnage
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

On a playground, Annette and Alan’s admittedly “savage” son hit and knocked out two teeth from Veronica and Michael’s probably provocative son. To their red, tulip-bedecked Brooklyn home, Veronica has called a parents’ meeting to agree on what, if necessary, to “call the incident in a legal statement” and, by implication, whether there should be some kind of contrition, punishment, or effort to bring the boys together in a more civilized context.

Marie J. Kilker
Perfect Wedding
Geva Theater - Mainstage

Geva Theater Center has been fortunate to get Bruce Jordan -- an early alumnus – to return to direct always-winning, crowd-pleasing productions. A memorably witty character, also known for his savvy business management and tight artistic control, Jordan has combined those qualities in directing comedies at Geva by Noel Coward, Neil Simon, and Steve Martin, as well as the uncanny blockbuster he and his partner, Marilyn Abrams, created, Shear Madness, which thus far has grossed close to 175 million dollars worldwide.

Herbert M. Simpson
Shrek
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

The touring musical of Shrekfollows the characterizations of the Dreamworks film and most of the plot of the Broadway musical about the titular ogre. Basically, the inciting incident is Shrek being thrown out of his house by his parents to make life on his own. They predict he’ll be disliked by everyone and thus will lead a perpetually unhappy life.

Marie J. Kilker
Motherfucker with the Hat, The
GableStage

The title might be off-putting, and not necessarily because of its coarseness, though that does tend to reduce theaters and some publications to partial spelling (e.g., "The Motherf**ker with the Hat," as it's rendered on posters and programs). But the title smacks of smugness on the part of the playwright, so you might have to be won over by the play at GableStage in South Florida.

Julie Calsi
Streetcar Named Desire, A
New Theater

The cutthroat, heat-of-the-summer struggle that is A Streetcar Named Desiregets worthy treatment in South Florida at New Theater with persuasively well-rounded performances in the central roles of the Tennessee Williams drama and transformative tech.

Julie Calsi
On Holy Ground
Met Theater

Superb acting, writing and directing make Stephanie Liss' world premiere play, On Holy Ground, a joy to behold. In the first act – “Daughter of My People” -- Salome Jens, one of the USA's finest actors, portrays Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), one of the co-founders of Hadassah and a fervent Zionist and humanist. Jens, seated alone on stage, delivers a monologue which brilliantly illuminates Szold's life.

Willard Manus
Lobby Hero
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

The title is Jeff’s and it’s ironic. True, Jeff makes the one possibly courageous choice among four characters trying to step out of moral messes. He’s hardly traditionally heroic, though. He’s mostly the resentful son of a father known for one instance of heroism that Jeff could never live up to. Now maybe he has the chance.

Brendan Ragan almost gets sympathy as he shows a conflicted Jeff, after dismissal from the military, trying for a new life. Could he possibly make Dawn part of it?

Marie J. Kilker
Seminar
Golden Theater

Place four eager young writers in the hands of a renowned literary giant, and the results can be deeply rewarding or plain destructive. Not many actors can intimidate as brilliantly as Alan Rickman. Here he plays Leonard, an acclaimed author, in a biting new work at the Golden Theatre, Seminar,by Theresa Rebeck.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Blue Man Group
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The category-busting Blue Man Group is easier to watch and enjoy than to describe. In essence, three wide-eyed men, with bald heads covered in blue paint, go onstage to present a 90-minute, multi-media show. Is it theater? Is it a rock concert? Is it a comedy club? Yes and no.

It’s a unique blend of rock music, high-tech projections, audience participants and Blue Man Group’s special brand of humor. For those who have seen the show elsewhere, perhaps in New York or Las Vegas, Blue Man Group doesn’t disappoint.

Anne Siegel
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Golden Apple Dinner Theater

It’s the ‘60s. Left at the altar, Marge finds “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” so best friend Lois persuades her to get away and forget. They eschew any “Lonely Night” by booking an end-of-season stay in a Catskills resort “Where the Boys Are” -- Esther’s Paradise.

Marie J. Kilker
Last Romance, The
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Is it wise to go off the beaten path? Is it ever too late for love? Is it a good idea to take a chance on love, no matter what the odds or the outcome? Three seniors who’ve loved and lost in the past confront these questions this autumn in a city park.

Marie J. Kilker
Love, Sung in the Key of Aretha
WBTT Theater

It sounds as if it’s a revue of Aretha Franklin’s songs, perhaps given a biographical motif. But it’s is not. Too bad, because her songs and others popular in 1968 as rendered by WBTT’s talented singers almost redeem Love Sung in the Key of Aretha.

Four black American women, next door neighbors in a triplex at the height of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights movement, search for love. (The cartoonish building lines up front doors for frequent ins and outs, then unfolds to what’s essentially a bar scene.)

Marie J. Kilker
next to normal
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

When the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s new artistic director announced that musicals would be a part of upcoming seasons, some longtime patrons winced. First off, the Rep’s main stage wasn’t designed for musicals. Others cautioned Clements about their expectations. “You don’t understand,” they told him. “We are used to serious theater at the Rep.”

Well, audiences now realize that Clements wasn’t thinking of restaging Oklahoma! or My Fair Lady.”His first entry, presented last season, was a dark, moody production of Cabaret.

Anne Siegel
Fela!
Ahmanson Theater

Registering ten on the theatrical Richter Scale, Fela!is an earthquake of a musical about the life and wild times of the Nigerian singer/showman, Fela Kuti. After flirting with jazz and pop in London and New York, he found his groove in 1960's L.A. when he was radicalized by the Black Power movement. He took his new-found social consciousness back to Lagos and combined it with elements of funk, rock and pulsing African rhythms (powered by virtuosic drumming).

Willard Manus
Amahl and the Night Visitors & Sharon's Holiday Party
Golden Apple Dinner Theater

Short and sweet! That’s what each half of Golden Apple’s holiday celebration is, and the whole adds up to entertainment that audiences of all ages can enjoy – and with more weekend matinees and earlier evening shows than usual.

Amahl and the Night Visitors distills the spirit and meaning of the holiday. Three rich kings visit a poor lame boy and his single mother one night. These people and their hovel of a home are much like what the kings are seeking, without realizing it.

Marie J. Kilker
Mama Won't Fly
Crighton Theater

Attention all Montgomery County area fans of wacky, far-fetched and very silly comedy. Your time has come with the Stage Right Players’ current production of the brand new Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten play, Mama Won’t Fly,now premiering at the Crighton Theater with merry direction from Carolyn Corsano Wong. If you are ready to separate from your serious side and have plenty of laughs, this may be what you’ve been waiting for. Even with a few dry spells amid the comedy, plenty of down-home hilarity keeps this cross-country road trip rolling.

David Dow Bentley
Cirque de Legume
59E59 Theaters

Attention Dear Readers: Have you been getting your recommended servings of fresh vegetables each day? If not, you may want to hurry over to the 59E59 Theaters for one of the final amusing performances of Cirque de Legume. As the name suggests, it is a bit of a circus, at least to the extent that there is plenty of clowning around from the two clever stars, Jaimie Carswell and Nancy Trotter Landry, with cheerful direction from Pablo Ibarluzea.

David Dow Bentley
Twain and Shaw Do Lunch
New Theater

Twain and Shaw Do Lunch,getting its world premier in South Florida, makes for a pleasant time in the theater with two legendarily irascible men. Some of that irascibility comes through in this New Theater production, just enough to be endearing rather than rancorous.

Julie Calsi
Scrooge in Rouge
Tenth Street Theater

Watching the play Scrooge in Rougeis as satisfying as the holiday buffet at grandma’s house. Who cares if no one tampers with the recipe? This is the third (and final) consecutive year that Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater will produce the show.

Anne Siegel
Kissless
Theater at St. Clement's

Some months ago I began to hear reports that the Houston Family Arts Center had a cast of area youngsters being selected to participate in the eighth annual New York Musical Theatre Festival. As I split much of my time between New York and Texas, it piqued my interest to learn that a group of young actors from the Lone Star State was being so honored with a couple of weeks to perform in America’s capital city for theater.

David Dow Bentley
Damaged Divas of the Decades
Music Box Theater

At long last it has finally dawned on me how appropriately Houston’s Music Box Theater has been named. I say that because while it casts itself as a comedy club, music is central to its irresistible allure.

David Dow Bentley
[title of show]

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