Bald Soprano, The
City Garage

City Garage successfully revisits its 2007 production of The Bald Soprano, the famous absurdist comedy by Eugene Ionesco. City Garage's French-born artistic director Frederique Michel is an Ionesco specialist, as this production proves yet again.

Willard Manus
Long Way Home, The
United States Veterans' Artists Alliance Theater

In The Long Way Home, John DiFusco looks back at the origins of his world-changing Vietnam war play, Tracers, with characteristic power, honesty and compassion. A not-quite one-man show -- Al. Keith deftly helps with percussion and voices -- The Long Way Homeis dedicated to "the 59,000 who missed The Freedom Bird" -- in other words, all those who died in that terrible and unnecessary war.

Willard Manus
Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Soho Playhouse

Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood’s 5 Lesbians Eating a Quichehas a great title. Directed by Sarah Gitenstein, it’s a silly show by five actresses trying to be funny at a quiche breakfast, all but one from the same small town, each with a different accent. The foolishness drones on and on until an atomic bomb falls (it’s 1956, and their meeting place is bomb-proof).

Richmond Shepard
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche

See review(s) under "Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche"

Old Jews Telling Jokes
Westside Theater

Old Jews Telling Jokesis 90 minutes of laughter – if not an outright belly laugh then at least a chuckle. There are old jokes told in a new way and new jokes told in an unexpected way. The jokes are not restricted to an ethnic type or religion but are universal in their appeal.

Scott L. Bennett, Jr.
Detroit
Playwrights Horizons

Detroitby Lisa D'Amour is a dysfunctional play about two dysfunctional couples living in a dysfunctional community that is not Detroit. The piece is well directed by Anne Kauffman who tries to guide the able cast through a story that leaves one wondering about the point of the play.

Scott L. Bennett, Jr.
Enfrascada
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

The subject of women and friendship gets a Latin twist in Enfrascada, written by award-winning, Mexican-born playwright Tanya Saracho. It’s a play that delights with its marvelous dialogue, even as its plot begins to unravel in the later scenes. In any case, Rennaisance Theaterworks deserves credit for showcasing a female playwright who has a lot to say about the experience of Hispanic women.

Anne Siegel
Irena's Vow
Cardinal Stritch University - Nancy Kendall Theater

In the category of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, Irena’s Vowtells the remarkable story of a young Polish woman in 1939. Although she was raised in an affluent, protective Catholic family, her world is shattered at age 18 when the Russians, then the Germans, seized her area of Poland. She ends up hiding 12 Jews in the basement of a villa temporarily occupied by the area’s top Nazi officer. The play is based on the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke.

Anne Siegel
Diary of Anne Frank, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

The real Anne Frank never survived the war that confined her to an upstairs apartment for more than two years, but her words live on in her now-famous diary. The Diary of Anne Frank, produced by Milwaukee Repertory Theater, does an excellent job of bringing back the spirit of Anne Frank and the times that shaped her brief life during World War II.

Anne Siegel
FLIGHT 18
3LD Art & Tech Center

Flight 18 – The Cosmic Joyrideis just that. It’s a performance-art space trip through the universe performed by an attractive, lively cast of flight attendants (dancers, singers, actors) in the manner of a structured “Happening” from the ‘60’s. In the very large space at 3 Legged Dog Art and Technology Center at 80 Greenwich Street downtown, we are given boarding passes and enter the ship, which has huge screens on three sides and a cosmic disc jockey on the fourth.

Richmond Shepard
Summer Day, A
Cherry Lane Theater

It’s nice to see the lovely actress Karen Allen alive and cookin’ on the stage. Too bad it’s in a muddled, pretentious turkey, A Summer Day, by Norwegian writer Jon Fosse, whom they claim is an award winner.

A man (McCaleb Burnett) left on his boat and didn’t return. His woman (Allen) stands at the window waiting, looking for him. For years. Godot never comes. She’s grown much older as she waits. The situation? He must be on the water; she can’t be on the water. Over and over and over. Two immovable objects who don’t honor each others needs.

Richmond Shepard
In the Red and Brown Water
Fountain Theater

Drawing on Federico Garcia Lorca, West African culture and The Hood in a single work is the challenge Tarell Alvin McCraney has taken on in In the Red and Brown Water, now in its L.A. premiere at the Fountain Theater. The heavily symbolic play, part of a trilogy, has been seen in New York, London and Chicago (where the Chicago Tribune called McCraney "the hottest young playwright in America.")

Willard Manus
Theater in the Dark - Part One
Odyssey Theater

It's like listening to radio in the dark. You sit in blackness at the Odyssey Theater while various short plays take place on an equally unlit stage. Sound is the sense that takes over; the actors are onstage but unseen as they move about and speak their lines. Music and sound effects are heard from time to time. It's all very spooky, experimental and heartfelt (the actors worked for months on Theater in the Dark, and even created some of the stygian skits.

Willard Manus
Sowa's Red Gravy
Castillo Theater

Sowa’s Red Gravyis a wild and woolly show about witchcraft and spells through generations of black life, on a fascinating symbolic set by John Scheffler with shelves of mystical jars totems, amulets and other witch stuff. Director Woodie King, Jr. has put together a flawless cast of master comic actors of the highest level — seasoned performers who know how to make the absurd real.

There are narrations, starting with Lonette McKee, who, in act two branches into a couple of knockout personifications including the funniest crone in town and as a faded white star.

Richmond Shepard
Heresy
Flea Theater

A.R. Gurney’s Heresy, at the Flea Theater, gives us community-theater acting in an amateurishly written attempt at a contemporary depiction of Jesus’ parents. Director Jim Simpson has these poor people shouting and indicating rather than being actual people. Mary says, “It’s like a high-school reunion,” and she’s right.

The formerly bright, insightful Gurney seems to have lost it in this silly, annoying play -- a lame attempt at humor. Despite the rare joke that works, for not a moment is an actual human being on the stage — it’s all representations of people.

Richmond Shepard
Other Josh Cohen, The
Soho Playhouse

The Other Josh Cohenis a lively, energetic, fun musical romp performed by an amazingly adept sextet of actor/comedian/musicians: Steve Rosen and David Rossmer (who also wrote the book, lyrics and music), Hannah Elless (the bounciest, prettiest, funniest drummer/actress in town), the versatile Kate Wetherhead (who can do contrasting characters like a Carol Burnett) and Vadim Feichtner and Ken Triwush – each in a variety of comedic personifications.

Richmond Shepard
Seminar
Ahmanson Theater

Seminaris a cartoon of a play about an obnoxious writing instructor, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), and his four equally unpleasant students, each of whom is shelling out five thousand bucks to have his work critiqued by the foul-mouthed, self-styled master.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck strains credulity in making the point that only tough love can turn backbiting wanna-be writers into professionals, but she is such a skilled and funny writer that she can make you forget your misgivings.

Willard Manus
Blues in the Night
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

The bittersweet, soulful sounds of the blues come to life on the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret with Blues in the Night. In this surefire crowd pleaser, a quartet of top-notch singers and dancers run through a cavalcade of hits from the 1930s.

The show originated at the Off-Broadway Playhouse 46, created by Sheldon Epps and featuring tap-dance legend Gregory Hines. Blues in the Night then reopened at Broadway’s Rialto Theater, and it was nominated for a 1982 Best Musical Tony Award.

Anne Siegel
Him
59E59 Theaters

The first act of Daisy Foote’s Himis rather confusing. There are three siblings: a mean and very cranky sister (the always vivid Hallie Foote), a gay brother (the often mono-tonal Tim Hopper) and the severely retarded brother (Adam LeFevre, in a nuanced, believable performance). Also, there is a dying father upstairs. All play out their lives, part of it restraining LeFever, and then, suddenly, at several spots, each actor assumes the identity of a narrator in a spotlight, including LeFevre who is suddenly not retarded, and then we go back to the characters and the interplay.

Richmond Shepard
Freud's Last Session
Geva Theater - Mainstage

The second play in Geva Theater Center’s remarkably varied 40th anniversary season is an impeccably mounted production of a timely, endlessly significant intellectual contest between two important thinkers. Their interaction and debate turns out to be really surprisingly entertaining.

Herbert M. Simpson
Best of Everything, The
HERE

The Best of Everythingis based on the more-than-50-year-old book by Rona Jaffe, adapted and directed by Julie Kramer and developed with Amy Wilson, who is very effective in a tightly-wound role in the show as the highest woman in the office. The play is an engaging throwback to an era, 1952, shortly after World War II, which had very different moral and social views and values from today. I, as an artist/bohemian at the time, was an outsider, but as an observer – the piece rings true.

Richmond Shepard
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
New World Stages

Tennessee Williams’ mind was a bit disheveled towards the end of his life. How do you turn one of his rambling outpourings into a viable theater piece? You hire an innovative creative director like Maria Torres to direct and choreograph it -- as in his play, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, now at New World Stages.

Richmond Shepard
Grace
Cort Theater

Thanks to a compelling cast at the Cort Theater, Craig Wright’s thoughtful play, Grace,takes a touchy subject, the existence of God, on a comically dark cyclone ride with spurts of humor and moments of horror, including a murder/suicide finale. This finale is also at the beginning, which can present a problem. If these characters, whom you don’t know, are all dead before the play even starts, why should you even care? Still, with Wright’s flashbacks, highlighted with symbolism, the tale unravels with a certain fascination. Is there a God? Does grace exist in organized religion?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Exit, Stage Left
Symphony Space

Exit Stage Left, by the brilliant physical comedy troupe Parallel Exit, is a masterpiece of action, dance and clowning by four masters of movement, one of whom (Joel Jeske, who wrote the piece) also fills the theater with his ragtime piano playing, plus a dead-pan percussionist, Mike Dobson. Director Mark Lonergan has given the show a clean, clear, sharp precision that is rare today.

Richmond Shepard
Falling
Minetta Lane Theater

Deanna Jent’s Falling is a strange play-- acting out the actualities of a family with a 300 pound, 18-year-old son with an IQ of about 9, and the behavior and seeming mind of an angry three year old (Daniel Everidge in a powerful performance), and his effect on his parents (Julia Murney and Daniel Pearce) and sister (Jacey Powers). There is a false premise to the play: that any sane person would have a physically dangerous monster (he physically attacks his mother, and later his elderly grandmother (Celia Howard)) living at home.

Richmond Shepard
Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies
Triad Theater

Jessica Sherr, who wrote and performs Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies, vividly captures the tone and persona of the movie star as she enacts the career and life of Davis. As costumed and hair-styled, she gives us quite a bit of Davis’s looks. What she does not give us is a caricature as she reveals pieces of the star’s character including an early sensuous minx of a vamp — a semi-dressed flirt.

Richmond Shepard
Surviving Mama
Edgemar Center for the Performing Arts

In Surviving Mama, playwright Sonia Levitin has dramatized her mother's story and put it on stage at the Edgemar Center. Levitin’s mother is called Marlena and is played by Arva Rose, a replacement for Lainie Kazan who unexpectedly left the production to take a role in a feature film. Rose, despite being too young by some twenty years to play a 70-year-old woman, does a capable job in the lead and manages to keep a somewhat shaky production together.

Willard Manus
Krapp's Last Tape
Kirk Douglas Theater

The Irish have become the Samuel Beckett experts, thanks to such actors as Chris O'Neill, Barry McGovern, Jack McGowran and Patrick Magee, and to such directors as Michael Colgan. Head of Dublin's Gate Theatre for the past twenty-nine years, Colgan has mounted six Beckett Festivals, plus many individual performances of Beckett's plays.

Now he has teamed up with John Hurt on a fresh version of Krapp’s Last Tape, on tap at the Kirk Douglas Theater after successful runs in Washington, DC and New York.

Willard Manus
Microcrisis
Next Act Theater

Next Act has always prided itself on being close to the cutting edge; a “thinking-person’s theater,” as some have called it. Well, audiences at Microcrisiswill certainly leave with a lot to think about. In fact, they may leave with their heads spinning. This satire on America’s corporate system and the global economy pulls no punches.

Anne Siegel
Undoing of Prudencia Hart, The
Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare

The National Theatre of Scotland has no fixed playhouse of its own. The peripatetic troupe usually plays in pubs and other social venues, and it’s been successful at the Edinburgh Festival. So it’s natural that Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Global Theatre Exchange would bring it, along with the Black Watch that scored a previous CST hit, to its Upstairs space converted to a pub.

A well-stocked bar with its busy tenders beckon. Five actor-musicians at the front playing strings and tooting with vigor before tables to be shared set the play to come.

Marie J. Kilker
November
Mark Taper Forum

Just in time for Election Day, Center Theater Group has mounted David Mamet's wicked political satire, November. First produced in 2008, just before Barack Obama was voted into office, the play gleefully pokes fun at a fictional president of the United States, Charles Smith (Ed Begley, Jr.). Smith, we learn quickly, has been a bust as president, a do-nothing dimwit who has only one goal in life: to be re-elected for another four years.

Willard Manus
Enemy of the People, An
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play, An Enemy of the People,is particularly timely in 2012. This fiery Manhattan Theater Club revival by Rebecca Lenkiewicz at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater sharply articulates the wishes of the majority faced with the inconvenient corruption of environmental threats. What seems like hands-down common sense and the common good is threatened when the dirty word, “tax,” steps in and muddles the meaning of who is actually the “enemy.”

Elizabeth Ahlfors
King of Hearts is Off Again, The
Odyssey Theater

In a rare visit to L.A., Studium Teatrine, the Warsaw-based theater company, has brought its Holocaust drama, The King of Hearts is off Again, to the Odyssey Theater Ensemble for a two-week run.

Willard Manus
Macbeth
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

With its uncomplicated, fast-moving plot and theme (an ambitious desire for power and a killing obsession with keeping it), Macbethlends itself to a much-truncated version of the kind shown here. Still, it’s a potent drama, not lacking characterization, and well adapted to tour, especially to middle and higher schools in session.

In each of two troupes of six final year Acting Conservatory students (also new members of Asolo Rep Co.), all smoothly double, except the two couples playing, in turn, Macbeth and his Lady. The leads’ common trait is murderous brutality.

Marie J. Kilker
Sweet Bird of Youth
Goodman Theater - Mainstage

The first time I saw Sweet Bird of Youthwas up-close in Chicago’s rather small Studebaker Theater. The opening scene in a cramped bedroom dominated the entire drama, with the feeling of characters hemmed in by their pasts and just as trapped by their hopes (that I didn’t feel they’d realize) for the future.

Marie J. Kilker
Nightmare Room, The
Tenth Street Theater

Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater presents the U.S. premiere of John Goodrun’s psychological thriller, The Nightmare Room. The play is based on a story by Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so one enters the theater expecting plenty of plot twists and turns. The play does not disappoint.

Anne Siegel
Broken and Entered
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Milwaukee Chamber Theater presents the world premiere of Wisconsin playwright Kurt McGinnis Brown’s Broken and Entered. The show is staged in a small, black box-type theatre. “Black” is the operative word here: a few of the play’s scenes are conducted entirely in the dark, with only two flashlights providing illumination. The play itself can also be pegged as a dark comedy, as it involves a massive number of residential break-ins, all conducted by a pair of adult brothers searching to erase their past.

Anne Siegel
Mountaintop, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio Theater

The Mountaintopis an amazing glimpse into the life of one of the 20th Century’s most important figures, Dr. Martin Luther King. King is undoubtedly the person most associated with the 1960s civil rights movement, which he led until his assassination in 1968. Playwright Katori Hall exposes the personal side of this powerful leader.

Anne Siegel
By the Way, Vera Stark
Geffen Playhouse

Hollywood's condescending and racist attitude toward black performers gets a comical pie in the face from Lynn Nottage, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Ruined. By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, opens in 1933, when "America's Little Sweetie Pie," Gloria Mitchell (the captivating Amanda Detmar), a blonde, ditzy Southern belle, is getting ready to star in a sudsy tale set on a Louisiana plantation in slavery times.

Willard Manus
If There Is I Haven't Found It
Laura Pels Theater

The title is baffling, but what’s clear about the Roundabout’s If There is I Haven't Found it Yetis the focus. It is water, and lots of it. Before the play even starts, rain pours steadily into a moat at the edge of the stage. Interestingly, rain itself never plays a part in the play, but the soggy theme is omnipresent, a symbolic threat of drowning both the planet and one dysfunctional family.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

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