My Son Pinocchio
Nancy Bock Center

Before curtain time at the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts, the room was filled with the familiar buzz of audience excitement that one has come to expect when Class Act Productions is presenting a show from founder/producer, Keith Brumfield. In this case, the offering was the Disney musical, My Son Pinocchio: Geppetto’s Musical Tale.

David Dow Bentley
Testament of Mary, The
Crocker Memorial Church
Marie J. Kilker
Testament of Mary, The
Crocker Memorial Church

To the offstage strains of Gounod’s “Ave Maria” sits Roxanne Fay robed in blue from head to toe before a pure white background. She looks like a painted Renaissance Madonna. After a momentary cover-all blue light stops, along with the music, the dramatic Mary pulls off her robes. Continuing in brown trousers and a black top, she appears as a modern woman--and an angry one at that.

Marie J. Kilker
Stairs to the Roof
Latvian Society

This is Tennessee Williams as you’ve never seen him. The play he wrote in 1941 just before his first success, The Glass Menagerie, is a wacky, surrealistic farce.

Both plays share a protagonist who is rebellious against conventionality and looking for a change of scenery — very much like Williams himself. But Menagerie is serious drama, whereas Stairs to the Roof is a fantasy. He never wrote anything else like it, and Stairs in the Roof apparently has never before been staged in the Philadelphia or New York area.

Steve Cohen
Leading Men
Crocker Memorial Church

His insistence that he’s a man, to be thus recognized, introduces Blake Walton’s autobiographical drama, Leading Men. It goes full circle from his problematic relationship to his father through his relationship to his son and round to a true understanding at last of his father. They forge the last link with mutual acceptance.

Marie J. Kilker
She'll Stick to Ye
New College Art & Music Center

In She’ll Stick to Ye, we must imagine that we are in Dublin, Ireland, as the participants in a meeting of the Irish Women’s Literary Society. It is 1946. We fill the simple lecture room to hear Nora Barnacle Joyce speak of her late husband James and her life with him. Proper Annette Breazeale, as Mrs. Grace McVey with softly tailored suit and hat, hosts. She gives a cordial welcome to the speaker and promises tea afterward. She has to keep order occasionally and swiftly smooths over the exit of a few. That’s not to say she’ll approve unreservedly of every word we hear.

Marie J. Kilker
It Goes Without Saying
Crocker Memorial Church

In It Goes Without Saying, Bill Bowers begins with some classical mime. It’s just to show that’s what he is as a performer; however, he also presents himself as a person, a gay man. He’s from Montana, and he tells how that has made all the difference in both of his identities.

Marie J. Kilker
Desperate Dolls
Strawdog Theater

From the earliest tales of foolish maidens who ventured out to the Fair/the Ball/the Big City/Hollywood and, later, to the Prom/Rock Concert, only to be seduced by Satan's homeys, entertainment engineered to titillate has trumpeted its value as a morality fable. Consumers of soft-core porn, you see, don't want to see a bad girl doing naughty things—they want to see a good girl doing naughty things.

Mary Shen Barnidge
title of show
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theatre

A little musical that’s about itself and how it comes into being by two guy friends and gets some help from two gals, [title of show] aims to win a Musical Theater Festival prize but goes all the way to Broadway. In its descent to an FSU/Asolo Conservatory show, it comes all blown up into a paramount production.

Marie J. Kilker
Hot Georgia Sunday
The Den

A sweltering day in the rural Deep South, when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees and the air conditioners crash, can make for volatile environmental conditions leading otherwise rational citizens to seek escape from the irritations, big and small, engendered by the torpid climate. Too often, however, their methods of achieving gratification are rooted in plans founded on impulse rather than rational premeditation—especially when the six narrators recounting the events of the fatal Sabbath giving the play its title don't set much store by that trait, nohow.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Nice Indian Boy, A
The Biograph

In pre-literate ages, the purpose of marriage was transference of property with progeny serving as the vessels of the transfer, and while compatibility as a factor making for smooth transitions was generally acknowledged, approval of heirs to the family fortunes choosing their own spouses has come slowly and gradually, one community at a time. This is why the literature of our immigrant nation encompasses so many stories—from Abie's Irish Rose to Fiddler on the Roof—of ancestral doctrine superseded by youthful exuberance.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Kid Like Jake, A

We never meet Jake. We meet Jake's mom, Alex, the privileged and fiercely competitive daughter of a likewise privileged, fiercely competitive mother. Alex has suffered two miscarriages since having Jake, rendering her extremely protective of her surviving son. For the first four years of Jake's life, she has indulged his affinity for Disney princesses. However, now that the time has come for Jake to start kindergarten, she fears that his "gender-variant" behavior may reduce his chances of enrollment in a prestigious toddler-school. Oh—and Alex is pregnant again.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Price, The
Mark Taper Forum

To mark the centennial of Arthur Miller, CTG has mounted a production of one of the illustrious playwright’s later works, The Price. Directed by Ireland’s Garry Hynes (artistic director of Druid Theatre Company), the play stars Kate Burton, John Bedford Lloyd, Sam Robards and Alan Mandell. The latter gleefully takes on the role of the colorful, crafty furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, giving him the accent and mannerisms of an old-time Yiddish vaudevillian.

Willard Manus
Amish Project, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio

A horrifying real-life event, the 2006 killing of Amish girls in a Pennsylvania school house, becomes the touch point for an entirely fictional play of the same theme in The Amish Project. Playwright Jessica Dickey weaves together the stories of seven characters related to the shooting and its aftermath. All seven characters are played by one woman, who remains dressed in typical Amish garb (white bonnet, plain blue dress, etc.) through the entire 70-minute show.

Anne Siegel
Having Our Say
Coachella Valley Repertory

Audiences that expect to find a soft, nostalgic tone in the reminiscences of two centenarian sisters will certainly get a jolt when they see Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. There’s a lot of what my own grandmother used to call “piss-and-vinegar” about these African-American sisters, who share their life stories in this humorous, heartwarming show.

Anne Siegel
Princess Mary Demands Your Attention

A recurring phenomenon in families encompassing multiple offspring is the de facto selection of one child to remain close to home and care for the parents in their old age. This task is typically assigned to a daughter, but where only sons are available, there soon emerges the boy whose future will revolve on domestic responsibilities, freeing his brothers to roam from the nest. With the passing of the clan sire and dam, however, those nurtured exclusively to service often find themselves without resources to assist them in forging an identity independent of filial attachments.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Rapture, Blister, Burn
Goodman Theater

If you've never seen a Gina Gionfriddo play before, be wary of hasty impressions based on her work for television. Left to her own devices, this mischievous playwright displays a fondness for luring audiences into anticipating one kind of story, then abruptly changing directions to refute our initial assumptions.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Dividing the Estate
Raven Theater

It's said that what distinguishes U.S. citizens from their European counterparts are the former's propensity for chronological inflation. The Gordons of Harrison, Texas, accumulated their fortune over a period of barely exceeding a hundred years, but even this relatively short history of prosperity—earned through myriad risks, gambles and lucky breaks—makes for entitlement sufficient to generate filial conflict over its continuance.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Redtwist Theater

"What do you see?" are the first words spoken at the start of Red. It's an important question—Mark Rothko's paintings might not look like much at first, but when exhibited under subdued lighting conditions (as Rothko preferred), after you stare at them for awhile, the hues begin to shimmer and glow. Viewers prone to vertigo may become light-headed, and those inclined toward synesthesia may find themselves drawing near its surface as though seeking physical warmth.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Into the Woods
Theater Horizon

Into the Woodsis Stephen Sondheim’s most complicated musical, so it’s amazing to see the small Theater Horizon pull it off successfully with an innovative approach.

Steve Cohen
Atwater Village Theater

Great music often has its roots in murder, betrayal and suicide. So says Tommy Smith, whose gutsy, blood-soaked drama, Fugue, is having its world premiere at the Atwater Village Theater. As directed by Chris Fields, head of the Echo Theater Company, Fugue is cleverly constructed. Three separate, passionate love stories take place at different times in history: 19th century Russia, early 20th century Vienna, and early 17th century Italy. Each story centers on a composer: namely, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Carlo Gesualdo.

Willard Manus
King Lear
Royal National Theater

NOTE: This production was viewed live via satellite feed in a theater at the Historic Asolo Theater, Sarasota, FL.

Here is one of those partly brilliant, partly ordinary, partly stupid modernizations of a Shakespearian tragedy--this one described once as bound to be better read with imagination than staged. King Lear in director Sam Mendes’ hands and its title character embodied by Simon Russell Beale takes place in a dark, modern, militaristic country ruled by a dictator with ever-present large retinue all in black.

Marie J. Kilker
Rasheeda Speaking
Pershing Square Signature Center

It almost doesn’t matter that Rasheeda Speaking isn’t a perfect play. The opportunity to be able to experience the masterful interaction of Dianne Wiest and Tonya Pinkins is more than enough. Pinkins brings to her character, Jaclyn, humor, intensity, and a large dollop of cunning sadism. Wiest is simply from another dimension. While all fine actors possess a pallet of colors, she adds shades of emotion rarely seen in real life, let alone on stage. A top-quality actor takes us from green to blue with ease.

Michall Jeffers
Night Alive, The
Geffen Playhouse

The Night Alive is the third Conor McPherson play to be done at the Geffen --the others were The Weir and The Seafarer -- all of which were directed by Randall Arney. Obviously, the latter is a big fan of the Irish playwright’s and is in tune with his sensibilities.

Willard Manus
Application Pending
Westside Theater - Downstairs

It took me 15 minutes watching Application Pending to adjust to Christina Bianco’s electrifying, over-the-top performance. Between her faster-than-a-speeding-bullet character changes, each with their own voice and mannerisms, and a surprisingly intelligent script that skewers just about everything and everybody in the most non-PC way, I had to reprogram my brain to take it all in. If I hadn’t, my head would have exploded with all of the different personalities and hot-button subjects being fired at me from the stage.

Edward Rubin
Under the Skin
Arden Theater

Michael Hollinger is the respected author of eleven full-length plays, including Opus and Red Herring, and he writes about serious issues, often historic — plagiarism, corruption among the priesthood, cold-war witch hunts for Russian spies — while leavening his stories with a great deal of humor. His latest is different. Under the Skin is a sober look at family strains that are aggravated when a man is in renal failure and needs a kidney transplant.

Steve Cohen
Sons of the Prophet
Blank Theater

Sons of the Prophet came to L.A. with a lot of hoopla propelling it: successful run at the Roundabout in New York, finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. That made me attend the L.A. premiere with a keen sense of anticipation...only to be badly let down.

Stephen Karam’s play about a Pennsylvania Lebanese-American family going through tough times has some good moments but never quite jells. Instead of being caught up in its story, I found myself feeling more and more detached and indifferent as it unfolded.

Willard Manus
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

So true is the recreation of a final bombing scene in Fly that you for may forget you’re in a theater with actors rather than fliers. It’s the exciting climax to a poignant flashback story by a Tuskegee Airman of a tough path to acceptance and achievements of military African Americans from training to proving themselves as officers and pilots. First, they had to accept each other in brotherhood, despite their different backgrounds and values.

Marie J. Kilker
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Constellations: The Emperor’s New Clothes Reviewed by Edward Rubin It is sometimes the case that a less than wonderful play, in this case, Constellations, more an acting exercise than a play, the type traditionally found in acting classes, gets the most wonderful reviews and becomes a bona fide Broadway hit. There is no accounting for taste -- as they say, that’s what makes horse races – but one can conjecture as to why so many of the critics, major and minor, from the New York Times to the Hollywood Reporter to Time Out, have filed rave reviews.

Ed Rubin
Chavez Ravine
Kirk Douglas Theater

Culture Clash, the L.A.-based, Latino comedy troupe, has given new life to its 2003 show, Chavez Ravine. As directed by Lisa Peterson, the show bites into a big chunk of local history: the post-WW II destruction of a thriving neighborhood by rapacious and corrupt politicians and businessmen.

Willard Manus
Fountain Theater

In its Los Angeles premiere, Reborning explores the dark side of maternal love with considerable bravery and skill. The play by Zayd Dohrn is set in a grungy loft in Queens where Kelly (the uncanny Joanna Strapp) is a doll-maker for a special clientele comprising women who have either suffered miscarriages or find themselves unable to conceive. Kelly turns store-bought dolls into hyper-realistic facsimiles of the real thing–-in effect, giving birth to them.

Willard Manus
No Child
Next Act theater

One cannot imagine a play more timely than the semi-autobiographical No Child by Nilaja Sun. First performed (by the playwright) in 2006 at New York City’s Epic Theater Center, the play has lost none of its power. Thanks to a strong performance by Marti Gobel and tight direction by Mary MacDonald Kerr, this production by Next Act Theatre is a reminder to bureaucrats of what is lost when performing arts such as music, theater and dance are stripped from school curriculums.

Anne Siegel
Theater Three

Theater Three is presenting Tru, the one-man show based on the life of novelist Truman Capote. I'm not sure why.

Rita Faye Smith
Good People
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

One of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time is the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of Good People, a Tony-nominated play by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire. A top notch cast, under the superb direction of Kate Buckley, brings out the essence of this multi-layered play about contemporary life. Aptly named by another critic as “the defining play of the Great Recession,” Good People takes place in urban South Boston. Residents of this poor side of town call themselves “Southies.”

Anne Siegel
Once on This Island
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

A child’s fairytale blossoms into a full-blown musical as Once on This Island appears on Milwaukee’s Cabot Theater stage, courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre. The show is bursting with wild colors, energy and fantastical characters. This Caribbean atmosphere is perfectly timed to help Wisconsin patrons forget about the chilling temperatures and snowdrifts outside.

Anne Siegel
Circle Mirror Transformation
Players Theater

In a Vermont Community Center, Marty, age 55, will teach and participate in a six week class in Adult Creative Drama with five others. What they create in their circle will mirror their selves and each other. Will their group dynamic then transform them?

Marie J. Kilker
Twist Your Dickens
Goodman Theater

A rite of passage on the road to maturity is to deny the power over your emotions exercised by childhood icons—acts of defiance including, but not restricted to, posing Barbie dolls in provocative postures or flipping off Mickey. For adults seeking liberation from the perceived vulnerability engendered by Charles Dickens' Christmas parable, there are such seasonal humbuggeries as Inspecting Carol, Scrooged, Mrs.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Clean House, The
The Greenhouse

Sometimes a play needs to be separated from its author—or, to be more specific, from audiences' expectations of the author. How many years passed before Neil Simon was perceived as more than a-laugh-a-minute, Beth Henley as more than Dixie-ditzy stereotypes, and Tracy Letts as more than bloody criminal creeps? In 2004, Sarah Ruhl was the go-to playwright for misty musings inspired by classical myths expressed in estrogenic abstractions.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Accidentally Like a Martyr
A Red Orchid Theater

Don't be fooled by the Bee Gees playing on the jukebox or the twinkling lights strung over the walls. This isn't 1973; it's 2005. The lights are because it's three days before Christmas, and the music is so Edmund, the heavy-drinking novelist, can delay returning home to care for his dying father.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle, The
Steep Theater

Consider for a moment how many great works of art originated with a young man trying to impress a girl (or boy—let's be fair), or a young woman pouring out her heart to an unseen listener/viewer. Consider, also, the popular icons whose acclaim faded with the passing of their fan base. (Thomas Kyd's dramas consistently outsold Shakespeare's, but how many theaters do The Spanish Tragedy nowadays?)

Mary Shen Barnidge