Proclaiming the obvious is a common flaw of plays by actors-turned-playwrights, who tend to focus more on technique than content.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Starting Over
The Greenhouse

The course of true love ne'er ran smooth back when Shakespeare made his observation. Enlightened citizens in 2016 may congratulate themselves on their progress in striking down barriers once impeding marriages of like minds, but with that progress come new obstacles no less perilous.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Yugoslav National Theatre

Elfride Jelinek’s drama, Nora, seriously satirizes what happens to Ibsen’s Nora when she leaves his/her husband’s Doll’s House and has to deal with the kind of Pillars of Society Ibsen wrote about. When she appears to be going on holiday, by some railroad tracks she meets someone who learns she seeks a job. She wants “to be a human being,” a goal she had to leave husband and family to achieve.

Marie J. Kilker
Front Page, The
Broadhurst Theater

Have you heard the expression “saved the best for last?” This is definitely the case with this production of The Front Page. Don’t leave at either of the two intermissions, because in Act Three, Nathan Lane struts his stuff. Everything we’ve come to love about this comic actor is there in spades: the perfect timing, the animated face, and the firecracker energy. As the bombastic newspaper publisher Walter Burns, he pumps up the volume in what often seems like an overworked old chestnut of a play. Lane is a living lesson in comedy.

Michael Jeffers
Drowning Girls, The
Studio Theater

For a creepy Halloween thriller, one would be hard-pressed to find a better choice than The Drowning Girls, the season opener by Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theaterworks.

Anne Siegel
Romeo et Juliette

(see articles/reviews under ROMEO AND JULIET)

Romeo et Juliette
Salle Richelieu

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s tragedy of young lovers had not been staged by the Comedie-Francaise since the ‘50s. Since one of its primary missions, says Eric Ruff, is to “re-expose legendary plays that have become part of the collective memory,” he aimed to get through the many historical interpretations of the play to an essential: to tell a story. He wanted not to omit Shakespeare’s rough-and-toughness, luxuriance, and humor but use the mix and make his language accessible by wedding it to action.

Marie J. Kilker
Players Theater

Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818. The book is one of the inspirations of the steampunk aesthetic that was first named in the 1980’s. Be Bold! Productions has created a musical stage adaptation of Shelley’s book and combined it with steampunk and expressionism. The result is an interesting if disappointing show.

Steve Capra
Epworth United Methodist Church

In 1891, Frank Wedekind wrote a play protesting the destructive behavior arising from teenagers suffering under sexual ignorance promulgated by those in authority.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Henry IV
The Greenhouse

Luigi Pirandello is probably the best-known proponent of the connection between real-life actors impersonating fictional characters and our own everyday adoption of different roles as occasion demands. The legacy of this early 20th-century playwright has long been impeded by atonal translations intended for academic study, but Tom Stoppard, himself a champion of sleight-of-hand narratives, has crafted from his intellectually dense source material an adaptation at once breezy and concise.

Odyssey Theater

Dog is a lot more than man’s best friend in A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, a canine comedy now getting laughs — or is it barks? — at the Odyssey Theater. The visiting production is directed by Tanna Frederick, who won plaudits five years ago for her work as actress in the same play, which ran for a year at Edgemar Center for the Arts and at Sierra Madre Playhouse. Frederick also stars in the current version of Sylvia.

Willard Manus
Model Apartment, The
Geffen Playhouse

The Geffen theater has become a second home to the New York-based playwright Donald Margulies. Now, to continue riding the wave of his popularity, the Geffen has chosen to revive one of his earlier works, The Model Apartment, which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Theater Center some thirty years ago (and opened at NY’s Primary Stages Company soon afterwards).

Willard Manus
Love, Actually
Starlite Room

Starlite’s comedies present “love at first sight, second sight, hindsight, and out of sight.” In each, love is actually a laughable matter.

Marie J. Kilker
Wizard of Oz, The
National Childrens Theater Complex

Serbian playwright Milena Depolo, encouraged by Frank L. Baum’s comments that it’s time for new “wonder tales” to replace old-time fairy tales, has written what she hopes is a modernized fairy tale. Though faithful to Baum’s story, she’s tried to present a Dorothy of today and allied characters with contemporary meanings of being smart, brave, loving.

Marie J. Kilker
Cherry Orchard, The
American Airlines

Diane Lane has never looked so beautiful. When she enters the set in a long off-white fur coat, chestnut hair shining, tears of happiness glistening in her eyes, the audience fairly gasps. As Lyubov Ranevskaya, she is the definition of glamour. Lyubov’s clothing is exquisite, largely because as she admits, she spends money like a madwoman. She’s just arrived from Paris to meet with her family, relive memories both joyous and painful, and say goodbye — maybe — to her beloved childhood country home. But this now nearly impoverished noblewoman refuses to accept the truth.

Michall Jeffers
Le Depeupleur
Theatre les Dechargeurs

Adapted for the stage from a short story by Samuel Beckett, Le Depeupleur or “The Lost One” involves, according to director (metteur en scene) and co-adapter Alain Francon a passion for seeking that demands a search of everything. That both the search and its objects remain mystifying must be charged to Beckett and not to his talented interpreter Serge Merlin.

Marie J. Kilker
Wiz, The
WBBT Theater

With vivid colors used in the background as well as a grand array of costumes and striking lighting, The Wiz typifies Westcoast Black Theater Troupe at its best. The musical is an African-American journey to and recognition of the engulfing human habitat called home. For teenage Dorothy, that may be Harlem, but for all others in and out of Oz, it’s also shown as a place where a good life is found from giving and getting respect, love, and friendship.

Marie J. Kilker
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

The key to a successful two-person play is that there has to be massive amounts of chemistry between the players. As unlikely a duo as septuagenarian Alex and more than a little unpredictable Georgie, in her early forties, may be, there is definite electricity on the stage. Kudos to the eternally young Mary-Louise Parker and to her leading man, Denis Arnt. The air fairly crackles when they’re onstage together- which is all the time.

Michall Jeffers
Le Cantarice Chauve
Lucernaire’s Theatre Rouge

Introduced by “God Save the King,” British seeming protaganists Mr. and Mrs. Smith stand together and speak directly to the audience. In fact, one very new thing in Alex Rocamora’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s absurd classic, The Bald Soprano, is that all the characters line up for what seems like today’s interactive theater but may also be an old fashioned carnival or burlesque act. The main thing I noticed that the subtitle predicted I would not have seen before is most of the actors in white face and formal black dress.

Marie J. Kilker
Todd Wehr Theater

Milwaukee’s First Stage offers its own version of a Halloween treat with the opening of Goosebumps: The Phantom of the Auditorium. This world premiere was written by John Maclay, who also contributed lyrics along with Danny Abosch, the show’s music writer.

Anne Siegel
Holiday Inn
Studio 54

Christmas in October? Just fine this year, with the opening of Holiday Inn, The New Broadway Musical. The show is based on the hit 1942 movie that is best known for the classic “White Christmas,” which won the Oscar for best song and featured song and dance by Bing Crosby as Jim Hardy, and Fred Astaire as Ted Hanover. Here, Jim is played by Bryce Pinkham, who, it must be said, is a much better singer than crooner Bing. Corbin Bleu skillfully tackles the role of Ted, who loves performing almost as much as he loves himself.

Michall Jeffers
More Lives Than One
Theatre de Nesle

Les Clack proves in his monodrama, More Lives than One: Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas, that Wilde indeed lived a number of lives. In flashback from an account of references to his clash with his lover Bosey’s father and the trial that followed, Clack goes back to Wilde as always a topic of conversation, no matter where: even at Oxford. In London, of course. On a tour of America. Back in England--where, for the most part, Clack chronicles Wilde’s life.

Marie J. Kilker
Room, The
A Red Orchid Theater

One of the reasons that actors love Harold Pinter is the almost limitless opportunities for individual interpretation offered by his enigmatic texts. The atmosphere of impending disaster arising from intense emotional agitation devoid of expository signposts occurring within everyday environments is what made Pinter's reputation in 1957, when this brief—running barely over an hour—one-act exercise in shivery menace premiered in an England still recovering from wartime devastation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Red Velvet
Raven Theater

The conventions of the biographical play have remained largely unchanged since their inception: a single individual with an exceptional idea stands by his/her convictions against adversity, authority and assorted naysayers. In the movies, our hero typically emerges triumphant, but in plays, not always so.

The hero of Lolita Chakrabarti's meticulously researched biodrama, Red Velvet, is Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor whose career, from 1825 to 1867, spanned all of Europe in a repertoire dominated—but not restricted to—Shakespearean classics.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Odyssey Theater

The Irish writer/performer Pat Kinevane has become a master-monologist, beginning with Forgotten and Silent in 2006 and 2011, respectively. Now he has come to L.A. with his latest solo piece, Underneath, which he has been developing since 2013 with his usual collaborator, Jim Culleton, head of Fishamble, Dublin’s new-play theatre company.

Willard Manus
Oh, Hello
Lyceum Theater

Zing! There goes another one-liner, and the audience howls with laughter. The two altercockers onstage are yucky it up, often cackling at their own jokes. They are Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland ( John Mulaney), residents of the Upper West Side who have seen better days.

Michall Jeffers
Nat Turner in Jerusalem
New York Theater Workshop

Nathan Alan Davis's new play, Nat Turner in Jerusalem, at the New York Theatre Workshop, presents Turner, shackled in a holding room, contemplating the sunset. It is the evening before his execution after his recent conviction of leading the infamous and bloody August 1831 slave rebellion.

"The sun will set over the hill. Then it will be the moon’s turn to keep watch over Jerusalem. And tomorrow, all of Virginia will come to the gallows to watch me die."

Elizabeth Ahlfors
The Geffen Playhouse

No animals were harmed during the course of Barbecue, but an awful lot of fun was poked at two low-life families, one white, the other black, who have gathered in a park to pull off an intervention.

Willard Manus
FreeFall Theater

Assassins not only begins with the song “Everybody’s Got the Right,” but freeFall’s production characterizes with its title how everything about murderers and attempted murderers’ motives make sense in a clear context. Their story takes place in a carnival whose theme is a meeting to help each other get off what’s on their minds. To mainly balladic music, the protagonists aim (and that’s the operative word) to pull off the stunt of making fame via killings in a festive marketplace.

Marie J. Kilker
Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

In probably the sexiest show in FST cabaret history, three female performers exemplify the title, Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, but with sophisticated twists. Like the sparkling baubles on the blue-curtained stage background, they scintillate in an opening medley characterized by its beginning “Shoop Shoop Song” subtitled “It’s in His Kiss.” FST favorite Jannie Jones leads the trio of Juliana Davis Ditmyer and Southern sweetie Meredith Jones, all in suggestive mode.

Marie J. Kilker
Made in Texas
Music Box Theater

It was a night to showcase the singers & songwriters of the Lone Star State, and the stars of Houston’s Music Box Theater were certainly up to the challenge with their latest production, Made in Texas. Rebekah Dahl, the company’s co-founder (along with husband and fellow Masquerade Theater veteran, Brad Scarborough), gave a Texas-sized welcome to the crowd, and then it was on to a sample of Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” that offered just a brief strident moment of excess volume concern until the talented cast members gave an eye-roll to the sound board operator who quickly had

David Dow Bentley
Siamese Sex Show
Lounge Theater

Siamese Sex Show is a rap musical set in a dystopian USA ruled by Monocorp, a conglomerate headed by a power-hungry CEO (Keith E. Wright) who has started a campaign to make intimacy illegal. In its place, people will be obliged to take emotional comfort from “the love light,” a pseudo-sex product manufactured by the conglomerate.

Willard Manus
Trial of an American President, The
Lion Theater

A month before a presidential election seems like an appropriate time for The Trial of an American President by Dick Tarlow with Bill Smith at Theater Row's Lion Theatre. On trial is former United States President George W. Bush, and the question posed at the International Criminal Court in the Hague considers his guilt or innocence of extended crimes against the world. After 15 years of political and social discussion, will the former president be found guilty of war crimes and escalating the rage of terrorism after invading Iraq in 2003?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Always Look on the Dark Side of Life
Glad Cafe

Working out of the back room of a funky bar in the south side of Glasgow, Graham de Banzie and Alex Cox have been doing their best to keep intimate theater alive in their home city. For the past three years, the partners have been mounting bi-monthly original stage works in the back room of the Glad Café, in front of audiences ranging from 20–60 people.

Willard Manus
Visiting Edna
Steppenwolf Theater

The first characters we meet introduce themselves to us as, respectively, Television, played by a bubbly Sally Murphy, and Cancer—the disease, not the astrological sign—portrayed by a suave Tim Hopper (not to be confused with the Angel of Death, who appears later in the play as the most ludicrous personification of the Grim Reaper since Edward Albee's beach boy in The American Dream).

Mary Shen Barnidge
Man in the Ring
Court Theater

Boxing fans recognized the real-life events fictionalized in Oliver Mayer's Blade to the Heat right away when it premiered in 1994, but changing social attitudes since then currently permit Michael Cristofer to safely recount the facts in the scandal that forever altered public perceptions of a once-popular pastime.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Encounter, The
John Golden

And now, for something completely different…The Encounter must be heard to be believed. As soon as the audience is seated, a very casually dressed British fellow (Simon McBurney) begins talking. So, not a stagehand at all. He asks “Has the show begun?” Indeed, it has. He informs us that he’s taking a photo of us to show to his daughter, a charming little voice who keeps interrupting his story when she should be in bed asleep. We never see her, or any of the other characters who are mentioned. There’s a standing microphone on stage, topped by what looks like the head of a robot.

Michall Jeffers
Royale, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio

Young Milwaukee audiences who can’t recall the early days of this century and the furor over African-American boxer Jack Johnson’s match with a white heavyweight champion will certainly be familiar with the notion of race riots that Johnson’s victory caused. The Royale opens at Milwaukee Repertory Theater just weeks after the city was involved in a racially charged night of shooting, looting, and arson following the fatal police shooting of a black man.

Anne Siegel
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios
Randalls Island

Kurios is the best Cirque du Soleil production New York has seen. It’s by far the most cheerful, and the most family friendly. Of course, there are the usual zany moments, beginning with a conglom of crazy scientists dressed in white lab coats. A huge clock on the back wall reads 11:10. There’s smoke coming from the ceiling, and the optical illusion of conjoined twins. Cast members carry a huge train overhead. There’s an obviously well-padded enormously fat man, an elegant lady in a straw hat, a fellow with a slinky on his head, and other phantasmagorical characters.

Michall Jeffers
East 13th Street Theater

Gone and mostly forgotten in all but name – think LaGuardia Airport and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts – is his eminence, Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1945), arguably the best mayor New York City ever had (1934-1945).

Thanks to Berkshire Theater Group which shipped us, cast and all, their highly touted summer hit musical from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the late great hizzoner is now back in town, this time singing, dancing and tipping his hat in a joyous, high-energy rival of Fiorello!

Edward Rubin