Sylvia
Cort Theater

Annaleigh Ashford is a golden girl. She won a Tony last year for her role as a ditzy ballerina wannabe in You Can’t Take it With You. She’s totally believable as a former hooker cum lesbian lover receptionist on TV’s “Masters of Sex.” So it’s no wonder that believing she’s a rough-around-the-edges but lovable cur isn’t at all difficult. As Sylvia, a mutt who’s found in the park by a man named Greg (Matthew Broderick), who needs something to hold on to, she’s nothing short of adorable. “My goal in life is to please,” she smiles winningly.

Michall Jeffers
Therese Raquin
Studio 54

It’s almost impossible to make the luminescent Keira Knightley look doughty and unattractive. But garbed in a plain print dress which fits like a wet paper bag, and sporting a parted-in-the- middle, unflattering hairdo, her Therese Raquin nearly succeeds. It doesn’t help that Knightley’s expression remains blank and unwavering through almost the entire first act, and that she rarely speaks. She is a desperate French woman, locked in an arranged marriage to the insufferable Camille (Gabriel Ebert), from which she can’t escape. Or can she?

Michall Jeffers
Importance of Being Earnest, The

Oscar Wilde’s most famous play gets an authentic and fresh production which, with its three compact sets in three acts, comes over wonderfully via cameras.

Adrian Noble’s direction of The Importance of Being Earnest is all one could ask for. It keeps the authentic text totally understandable and the characters, even to two butlers, distinct.

Marie J. Kilker
My Manana Comes
The Biograph

We know, because the playbill tells us, that we are in the prep room of a swanky midtown-Manhattan restaurant (66th and Madison, to be exact) where the bussers fold napkins, polish silverware, fill bread baskets, chop herbs and slice fruit. Since the four men who toil therein discuss their personal business with the intimacy born of male bonding, we also soon know their backstories, their hopes and their aspirations. What we don't know is that we are about to get a lesson in the inhumane ethical compromises that trickle-down economics engender.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Black White Love Play
Black Ensemble

It's not exaggerating to say that the late Roger Ebert changed the profile of film criticism in the United States, chiefly through his introduction of the "generic" approach to film criticism—an innovation today accepted as standard practice—as well as the concept of critics as performers in a televised forum where colleagues exchange opinions with one another. When this high-profile journalist, after decades of confirmed bachelorhood, decided to get married, all eyes were on the woman he chose over the array of glamorous Hollywood talents with whom he was on conversational terms.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
Theater Wit

After the medley of ringtones spanning a century that signals the start of Madeleine George's new play, listen closely to the characters' names. It will postpone, if not altogether prevent, your contracting cognitive vertigo later on.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Marvin's Room
Theater Wit

In Marvin's Room, there are these two sisters, you see: Bessie is a fortyish spinster sharing a house with two elderly relatives, one of them bedridden after suffering a stroke 20 years earlier, the other mobile only through the grace of cyborg science. In stark contrast to this selfless nurturer devoted to the welfare of others is younger sibling Lee, who long ago fled the homestead to marry a romantic wastrel proving as deficient in parenting skills as his empathy-impaired wife. Bessie's contracting leukemia mandates three generations reuniting—but who will take care of her?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Ripcord
City Center - Stage I

David Lindsay-Abaire provides a charming play for Marylouise Burke and Holland Taylor, two engaging talents who bring their depth and humor to the "odd couple" of the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility for Seniors. Ripcord, in its world premiere by the Manhattan Theater Club, is directed by David Hyde Pierce with the fast-moving pace of a well-done sitcom. The play is an out-and-out crowd-pleaser, providing plenty of laughs over a somber undercurrent.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Shear Madness
New World Stages

Paul Portner’s Shear Madness is a campy romp in a hair salon set on Ninth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a murder mystery—-explored, and, with the help of the audience—solved. The piece includes topical humor and tries to narrow the Trump jokes to only one.

Richmond Shepard
Boogie Stomp
Elektra Theater

Boogie Stomp, written by John Campana, is one of the best, most entertaining shows in town. Two virtuoso pianists, Arthur Migliazza and Bob Baldori, take us on a musical trip through the past 90 years of American music, showing us, in brilliant duo-piano renditions, the influence boogie woogie has played in rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop music, and even big band music.

Richmond Shepard
First Daughter Suite
Public Theater - Anspacher Theater

There is real brilliance in Michael John LaChiusa’s First Daughter Suite, but it’s not always easy to take. For anyone who’s been enmeshed in a difficult mother/daughter scenario, for anyone who shares a sisterhood that teeters between love and rivalry, and for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, this production is emotional dynamite.

Michall Jeffers
Dames at Sea
Helen Hayes Theater

I think I've seen this musical before, the one about a hopeful girl who gets off the bus in New York City with stardust in her eyes and a dream in her heart. Yes, it's stereotyped, hokey and dated. However, Dames at Sea has a small but mighty crackerjack cast of six, and they put on a darned swell send-up of those hopeful innocents who capture the brass ring with convincing affection.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Nat Turner
Theatre/Theater

Playwright Paula Neiman has chosen to tell the whole story of Nat Turner, leader of a daring but doomed slave revolt, from the time of his birth to the date of his death in 1831. Most contemporary playwrights would deal only with a corner of Turner’s life, utilizing (for economic reasons) a cast of, say, six or seven actors. Neiman, obviously, likes to think big. Not only does her new drama span 30 years but it requires a cast of 15 actors, many of whom play multiple parts.

Willard Manus
A, My Name is Alice
Texas Repertory Theater

I always enjoy when my trips to Texas coincide with scheduled productions of the Texas Repertory Theater. The company’s current, cheerful offering of Joan Micklin Silver & Julianne Boyd’s 1983 musical revue, A, My Name is Alice, while not without occasional flaws, has plenty of abundant delights, as well. Ably directed here by Troy Scheid, the show boasts a bubbly cast of five talented and energetic gals that include Agnes “Aggie B” Balka, Amy Garner Buchanan, Katie Harrison, Crystal Rae and Maryann Williams.

David Dow Bentley
Freak
Urbanite Theater

In Anna Jordan’s play, who are the freaks of the title? Are they the two characters who tell what women like or (mostly) don’t about their sexual experience and men? Or are they the talked-about men who have pressured and exploited the women? Director V Craig Heidenreich helps the latter indulge in an exploration that they seem to find necessary to share with us. Perhaps, in doing so, they gain some of the control that, we find out, the women lost.

Marie J. Kilker
My Son, Pinocchio, Jr.
Crighton Theater

It was arguably the most dismal, rainy, and dreary weekend in recent Montgomery County memory, but on the stage of the Crighton Theater in Conroe, Texas, the angelic voices and beaming faces of more than sixty young Houston area thespians were bringing more light into the world than sunshine could have ever provided. It was the latest production of Christian Youth Theater Houston as the talented youngsters performed Disney’s My Son, Pinocchio, Jr. to the delight of the large crowd in attendance. It would be a fun-filled afternoon.

David Dow Bentley
Need to Know
Theatre Theater

An unusual triangle lies at the heart of Need to Know, Jonathan Caren’s dramedy, now in a world-premiere run directed by Bart DeLorenzo at Rogue Machine. Steven (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and Lilly (Corryn Cummins) are struggling young artists who have just moved into an apartment “somewhere between Harlem and the Upper West Side.” Their next-door neighbor is young-adult novelist Mark (Tim Cummings) who quickly insinuates himself into their lives.

Willard Manus
Ballad of Emmett Till, The
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Drawn from the headlines of 1955, The Ballad of Emmett Till does far more than recreate the facts of how an innocent young boy died and possibly ignited America’s civil rights movement. Playwright Ifa Bayeza uses creative, storytelling techniques (hence the term “Ballad” in the show’s title) to describe the horrifying murder of Emmett Till.

Anne Siegel
Dames at Sea
Helen Hayes Theater

We’ve all heard the story more times than we can count: plucky girl from the provinces comes to the Big City, and immediately lands in a Broadway show. Hey, didn’t Betty Buckley step off the bus from Big Spring, Texas and waltz right into 1776?It may be only a legend, but it’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Michall Jeffers
Red
Geva Theater Center

As if to emphasize the variety of its 43rd season, Geva Theater Center follows its raucous season opener, Spamalot, with a Tony Award-winning drama of artistic struggle and aesthetic conflict, John Logan’s Red.

Herbert M. Simpson
Fool for Love
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Love is "the absolute hell," says Sam Shepard, whose revival of Fool for Love brings in the combative lovers to battle their demons and desires on the stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Apparently, the heightened passion of Shepard's 1983 play was inspired by his own marital situation when he left his wife for an affair with Jessica Lange.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Trip of Love
Stage 42

Trip of Love is a recreation, through music, of a particular moment in the history of our country. When the audience enters the theater, the very walls throb with psychedelic images of mushrooms and ephemera, all done in neon shades of blue, purple, red, and pink. The heroine of the hour is Alice, who falls through the looking glass of the 1960s, into what is alternately a drug induced dream, a Vegas floor show, and a candy-sweet romance.

Michall Jeffers
Guards at the Taj
Geffen Playhouse

The Indian imperial guards in Rajiv Joseph’s bold new play Guards at the Taj, are Humayan (Raffi Barsoumian) and Babur (Ramiz Monsef), two friends assigned to watch over the entrance to the newly constructed Taj Mahal. The time is 1648. The emperor, who took sixteen years to build a temple which would be more beautiful than anything in nature, is himself an ugly and despicable human being, one who rules with a wrathful, brutal hand.

Willard Manus
Color Purple, The
WBTT Theater

In The Color Purple, the success of the story of Celie and her struggles in trials that bring her to independence and restore her faith in God depends to a large extent on the actress in that role. At WBTT, Alpphia Campbell endows it with all the inner strength the heroine possesses and how she uses it to achieve outer strength, as well. Her major co-stars also score, both dramatically and musically in the sometimes difficult music based on Alice Walker’s important novel.

Marie J. Kilker
Old Times
American Airlines Theater

When the committee for Nobel Prize for Literature awarded Harold Pinter the prize, they pointed out that he "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms." If you are looking for a play with a beginning, middle and end? Harold Pinter's Old Times is not for you.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Soul Mates
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

In one of the most technically elaborate FST Cabaret shows to date, four guys and a pianist bring Hitsville, U.S.A. and Motown artistry to Sarasota—especially its now midlife adult fans. “Get Ready” they sing jubilantly, starting with a solo and zooming into a vigorous backup both musically and in movement.

Marie J. Kilker
Dear Liar
BathHouse Cultural Center

WingSpan Theater Company opened the rarely produced, delightful comedy, Dear Liar, the two-character play/reading enacting the 40-year correspondence between Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw and his dramatic muse, then well-known English actress, Mrs.Patrick Campbell. Shaw wrote the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion specifically for Mrs. Campbell, although she was adamant that, at age 49, she was much too old to play the role of the teen-age cockney flower girl.

Rita Faye Smith
Barbecue
The Public Theater - Newman Theater

No matter how confused you may be, do not leave Barbecue after the first act. All will be explained in Act Two, even if the explanation may be a little far out. Scenes intercut between two families of siblings, one black, the other white. The names of the characters are the same, as is the cheap, colorful clothing they wear (although I will admit a certain longing for a pair of those spangled sneakers).

Michall Jeffers
Freud's Last Session
Eastbrook Church

Locally well-known, Christian-based Acacia Theater has teamed up with Morning Star Productions to present Freud’s Last Session. The play is being presented at Morning Star’s regular performance space at Milwaukee’s Eastbrook Church. Acacia Theatre’s artistic director, Elaine Wyler, directs.

The play is set in Freud’s London study, where the father of psychoanalysis is awaiting the arrival of a guest, noted professor and author CS Lewis. The ever-inquisitive Freud is eager to discover why this formerly devout atheist has converted to a belief in God.

Anne Siegel
Back of the Throat
Next Act Theater

It has been more than a decade since the 9/11 attacks, but Seattle playwright Yussef El Guindi brings the audience right back to those chilling days. In Back of the Throat, he re-creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear, tension, suspicion, and grief. In the wake of that terrifying attack, Americans were unsure of many things, including its Middle Eastern-raised citizens. Guindi begs the question: what civil liberties are being lost at the price of security?

Anne Siegel
Fool for Love
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Sam Shepard appeals to a finite element of theatergoers. Perhaps his playwriting style is an acquired taste. Maybe some of us just don’t recognize the significance of his work. If you enjoy Fool For Love, then you’ll probably appreciate his entire canon. After all, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for the equally grim Buried Child, so he certainly has gained the approbation of the theater intelligentsia.

Michall Jeffers
Tell Mr. Poulos
Dorrie Theater

In Tell Mr. Poulos, Donald Wollner’s clever domestic dramedy, husband and wife Jimmy and Lisa (Beresford Bennett and Yetta Gottesman, respectively) are struggling to survive in a hostile world. Lisa works part-time as a nurse, but he just lost his accountancy job at an upscale firm, making it hard for them to raise a kid and pay the rent. To stay afloat financially, they decide to rent out one of their rooms to a large, elderly Greek-American gentleman named Mr Poulos (Greek for chicken, by the way).

Willard Manus
Old Times
American Airlines

There are not three finer actors on Broadway today than Clive Owen, Eve Best, and Kelly Reilly. Won’t someone please give these splendid performers a play that’s vibrant and interesting? Even with the best efforts of director Douglas Hodge to liven things up, Old Times is deathly boring. Although it’s only 65 minutes long, like so many plays by the venerated Harold Pinter, it seems to go on for hours.

Michall Jeffers
East of Eden
Steppenwolf Theater

John Steinbeck's novel, “East of Eden,” reads like classical tragedy, its sweeping narrative arc spanning multiple generations suffering under nemesis of uncertain origin. Their trials are not the handiwork of the gods, though—our setting is the midland region of California in 1900, after all, where destinies are shaped by biological imperative and psychological compulsion more than divine whim.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Sucker Punch
The Biograph

What distinguishes professional athletes from others who make a living doing work most folks consider to be play is not merely the brevity of their careers—bodies wear out sooner than brains—but the difficulty of knowing when to quit. Some contenders invest their money wisely in anticipation of a long and quiet retirement, but too many spend their youth pursuing immediate goals, only to be confronted with the realization that glory is fleeting in this transitory world.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Disgraced
Goodman Theater

Immigrants arriving in the United States are usually eager to embrace the reinvention promised those seeking to make our country their home. When this goal is not quickly achieved, the tendency is for their children—lacking first-hand memories of their former society and why their parents left it—to romanticize the old customs. A few more generations are necessary to render families comfortable with hyphenated ethnic designations, celebrations of ancient holidays and vacations (safely protected by North American passports) in the land of their ancestors.

Mary Shen Barnidge
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
Appropriate
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

Pages