Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherdstown University

Well, H20 is a completely grabbing and affecting new play: this playwright and director always function skillfully. One of my friends at its performance was left sobbing uncontrollably by the finale. And both its acting roles are demanding showcases. But I don’t know how many observers or performers will want to return to it.

Herbert M. Simpson
South Beach Babylon
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Cast members start building this South Beach Babylon by bowing, scraping waving to the audience. They disappear as Jonas Blodgen, down center, imitates flying into Miami. Fresh out of Pratt Institute, he’s a narrator who descends naively (well exemplified by Matt DeCapua) into a job and relation to the big South Beach Art Basel event that makes and breaks artists.

Marie J. Kilker
Lonesome West
Shimberg Playhouse

Jobsite’s performers and direction are so strong that the bleakness of the house, characters, and situations in The Lonesome West town of Leenane make laughter at them seem uncharitable. Martin McDonagh may have been inspired by Sam Shepard’s True Weststory of two brothers’ rivalry, but the Irishman puts his tragicomedy in the context of greater spiritual as well as temporal degradation and losses.

Marie J. Kilker
Cirque du Soleil
Barclays Center

Six years ago, the American Theater Critics Association (ATCA), held one of their two yearly conferences in Las Vegas. As part of the package, members and their guests were wined and dined by the entire city. Steve Wynn feted us at supper. The Mirage cut their rates in half.

Ed Rubin
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Three old men living in a veterans’ retirement home plot an escape to what French playwright Gerald Sibleyras called “Le Vent des Peupliers”or “The Wind of the Poplars.” So why has Tom Stoppard termed the men “Heroes”?

Marie J. Kilker
Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World, A
Contemporary American Theater Festival

With a world premiere of A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World (a quote from the preaching of Cotton Mather), Liz Duffy Adams has undertaken the daunting task of progressing from the Salem Witch trials, as established by Arthur Miller’s masterpiece The Crucible,to imagine the fate of two of the hysterical young women a decade later.

Charles Giuliano
Modern Terrorism

In the opening scene of Jon Kern’s Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them, the darkest of comedies having its first regional production at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia, Rahim (Omar Maskati) the cutest and most endearing suicide bomber you are ever likely to meet, or the remains thereof, is standing there in his skivvies. Quite intently Qualaase (Royce Johnson), a Yemen-trained bomb maker and Fagin of youthful zealots, is feeling around in Rahim’s shorts to wire powerful explosives.

Charles Giuliano
Cannibal Women of Mars
Tron Theater

Cannibal Women of Marsis a rude, bawdy rock musical about two hapless and unemployed earthlings, Jaxxon McGhee and Largs Lido (Mark Prendergast and Darren Brownlie), who are conned into taking a trip to Mars by the evil “President of Earth” (Gavin Mitchell). The virginal 21-year-olds have been promised sexual bliss on all-female Mars, only to discover on arrival that the supposedly horny natives are really men-eating viragos.

Willard Manus
Far from Heaven
Playwrights Horizons

Far From Heavenat Playwrights Horizon is a weak musical adaptation of a 2002 Todd Haynes movie starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert. The film deals with the emotional repression of suburban life complicated by homosexuality, adultery and racism. Julianne Moore’s portrayal in the film was a tour de force of control to convey suppression without becoming satirical. The film is an homage to Douglas Sirk’s melodramas made in the 1950s and which are now considered masterpieces of irony.

Scott Bennett
Rapture, Blister, Burn
Huntington Theater Company - Calderwood Pavilion

To paraphrase Helen Keller, an early 20th century, American feminist, what is life if not an adventure? Gina Gionfriddo indirectly explores this idea in her sharp, funny, bittersweet play, Rapture, Blister, Burn, currently at the Tony Award-winning Huntington Theater Company in Boston.

Scott Bennett
Kinky Boots
Al Hirschfeld Theater

Kinky Boots is a certifiable hit. This show, with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper blows the doors off the Hirschfeld Theater. The show is filled with the type of energy and flash that is quintessentially Broadway. Jerry Mitchell's direction and choreography add to the overall impact of the book and music.

Scott Bennett
Good Television
Atlantic Theater

Rod McLachlan’s Good Televisionat the Atlantic Theater Company is a play worth making the effort to see. It is Mr. McLachlan's debut as an Off-Broadway playwright, and with a few minor issues, he’s done a superlative job of writing. Bob Krakower's direction is nearly flawless and draws us into the struggles of a family dealing with addiction through the eyes of a supposedly detached "reality television" show.

Scott Bennett
Waiting for Godot
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot is now established as a classic contemporary drama, even called “the most significant drama in English in the 20th century.” Yet it was decades after its first appearance before leading critics stopped declaring it “totally incomprehensible” and yet simultaneously “obscene,” “subversive,” and “an attack on our basic values.” One inexplicably self-assured woman famously described the two-act play as one where “nothing happens, twice.” And yet it offended her without doing anything.

Herbert M. Simpson
Improvised Shakespeare
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

A full play ending Florida Studio Theater’s weekend Sarasota Improv Festival, “Gabriel’s Adventures” was created by The Improvised Shakespeare Company of Chicago from the suggested name of a hero and an action involving that hero. As company creator, director and actor Blaine Swen explained, the show is unwritten -- and not being planned or rehearsed, played completely spontaneously for one time only.

Marie J. Kilker
Blithe Spirit
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

It’s odd, but this beloved 1941 comedy seems older than this season’s very much older plays by Shakespeare, Dumas and Schiller, because it has a packaged- entertainment quality that seems to be presented, not happening. This Blithe Spiritis impeccably directed by Brian Bedford, a master of such “high comedy” – which is to say comedy of verbal wit more than provocative or physically amusing action. We do get a laugh out of the ghost of Elvira moving a vase of flowers past the terrified Ruth, who supposedly can see the flowers but not Elvira.

Herbert M. Simpson
The Three Musketeers
Stratford Shakespeare Festival - Festival Theater

Everyone seems to have enjoyed at least one example of this immensely popular swash-buckler. It would be hard to get an accurate count of all the written, comic book, film, television, and even radio and recorded versions of Alexandre Dumas’ adventurous tale. This rich, affecting stage adaptation by Peter Raby now has had four productions at Stratford since 1968. It’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, and the current elaborate production, slickly directed by old pro Miles Potter with a large, sterling cast, is sure to be extended and come close to selling out.

Herbert M. Simpson
Assassination of Leon Trotsky, The
Odyssey Theater

The gifted comic writer, Peter Lefcourt (Mutually Assured Destruction, Showtime's “Beggars & Choosers”), returns with The Assassination of Leon Trotsky, a new play about a theatrical troupe making whoopee with the drama they have been hired to perform.

Willard Manus
Stratford Festival of Canada - Avon Theater

I never saw the 1993 smash-hit Broadway musical of The Who’s Tommy,though it ran 900 performances in New York and then had a great success in London and Toronto. But long before it was a musical show, I saw The Who perform their “rock opera” of “Tommy” live twice, and I loved the music.

Herbert M. Simpson
Boys Next Door, The
The Players

It’s hard to categorize The Boys Next Door except as a play that ends happily--though in a bittersweet way. Jack, a social worker assigned to four mentally challenged young men in a semi-independent living set-up, presents the action from his point of view. He’s as important as Tom in The Glass Menageriebut participating in the moment, not recounting from memory.

Marie J. Kilker
Mary Stuart
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

Friederich Schiller’s beautiful, poetic history play, Mary Stuart, is forever timely in its picture of the struggles between opposing forces, each representing conflicting religious beliefs, national entities and alliances, ruling ambitions, and, above all, feminine control. The play is set in 1587 at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s reign before the attack of the Spanish Armada and the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Herbert M. Simpson
Devil and Billy Markham, The
Three Clubs

The actor Aaron Lyons brings to life Shel Silverstein's The Devil and Billy Markham in rousing and memorable fashion. The monologue, adapted by Silverstein from a Playboy article of his, concerns a blues musician -- no doubt patterned after Robert Johnson -- who must grapple with the devil to keep playing the music he loves.

Willard Manus
Unvaoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin
Harold & Miriam Stenberg Center - Laura Pels Theater

The Roundabout production of Steven Levenson’s The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, starts after Tom Durnin, played by David Morse (How I Learned to Drive),finishes his five-year jail sentence for financial fraud in a minimal security facility. His jail time left his wife and children homeless and bitter. Now he returns home expecting to resume the life his arrest forced him to give up. He believes he has paid his dues and should be welcomed back to his family. Unfortunately, no one agrees with him.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
title of show
Theater Asylum

title of show[sic] is a vest-pocket musical (four characters, one keyboardist) that was originally produced at the 2004 New York Music Festival. An Off-Broadway run followed, topped by a Broadway transfer in 2008. Now the show has been revived at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival, in a resoundingly successful way.

Willard Manus
They Call Me Mister Fry
Lounge Theater

Jack Fry is a young actor who started teaching to support himself, only to find his true calling in that profession. It took a baptism of fire in a 5th-grade classroom in south-central Los Angeles for him to undergo such a metamorphosis. In his riveting and deeply moving monologue, They Call Me Mister Fry, Fry relives his first-year experiences in a No Child Left Behind school, a place where problem kids have their last chance at an education.

Willard Manus
Underpants, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

Louise Maske, a young woman on tiptoe, watched her King parade by her porch in Germany, 1910. From under her long skirt, her pantaloons fell to her feet. Her husband Theo, a self-important and self-absorbed prig, considers himself humiliated. What will everyone think of him, of the couple?

Marie J. Kilker
Painting Churches
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Gardner Church is a famous poet in decline professionally, mentally, physically. Fanny Church is his wife -- devoted, somewhat ditzy, dismayed by the reduced income and health that dictate they must move from Beacon Hill to a beach home. Daughter Mags completes their dysfunctional family.

Marie J. Kilker
City of Angels
Theater Three

Dallas’ Theater Three opened City of Angels at the Norma Young Arena Stage. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, this musical comedy by Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity, The Life), David Zippel (The Goodbye Girl) and Larry Gelbart (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum),ran on Broadway from December 1989-January 1992 and won Tonys for Gelbart (Best Book of a Musical) and Coleman (Best Original Score).

Rita Faye Smith
Listen...Can You Hear Me Now?
Complex Theaters

Gloria Rosen was a hearing child who grew up in a deaf household. Her autobiographical account of that singular experience, Listen…Can You Hear Me Now?, just closed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Comedy of Errors, The
Delacorte Theater

Daniel Sullivan’s take on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, now at Shakespeare in the Park, is a hoot. Set in New York in the 1940’s, the show is filled with the music and lindy-hop dancing of the time, with lovely choreography by Mimi Lieber, that gives a contemporary grace to the sharp angular steps of the old dance.

Richmond Shepard
Billy's Unspeakable Acts
Mainstage Theater

In Billy’s Unspeakable Acts, Billy the Mime is unquestionably at the top of his art. He has clean, clear mime technique in his definition of character and place, as do the best of professional mimes, but nobody in the world gives us the depth of contemporary social satire that he reaches, the laughs he gets from contemporary depravity. His subject matter, including Thomas Jefferson & Sally, Priest & Altar Boy, Whitney Houston’s Last Bath, World War II, 9/11, a profound History of Art, San Francisco 1979, is stunningly absurd.

Richmond Shepard
Little More Than You Wanted to Spend, A
Drilling Company Theater

Actor/director Chris Clavelli was struck by tragedy ten years ago -- his six year old son, whom he saw as a reflection of his own youth, died. A Little More than You Wanted to Spendis Clavelli’s one-man autobiographical play about events and characters in his life.

Richmond Shepard
Measure for Measure
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

This is a top-level production of a great play, but William Shakespeare’s dark, complex, late comedies always present some problems to make even their best presentations slightly unsatisfying.

Herbert M. Simpson
Interview, The
Open Fist Theater

The history of authoritarian-sanctioned torture goes back to the Roman magistrates who used it on the first Christians. Then the Christians systematically tortured thousands of so-called heretics during the long period of the Inquisition. They were followed in later years by the sadists of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia...and the United States of America.

Willard Manus
Sunny Afternoon
The Complex

The interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald is the subject of Christian Levatino's docudrama, Sunny Afternoon, now in a workshop production at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

After a three-year absence, Wicked once more swoops down on Milwaukee. Alighting again at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, the touring production ably demonstrates why Wicked has become the 12th-longest running show in Broadway history. It opened at Broadway’s Gershwin Theater in 2003, one of Broadway’s largest houses, where it continues today.

Anne Siegel
The Complex - Ruby Room

Fans of “I Love Lucy” might remember him -- he played the popular character of Bobby the Bellboy. His name was Bobby Jellison, and his bittersweet life has been recalled by his nephew, Bill Ratner, in Bobbywood, now at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Fiddler on the Roof
Stratford Shakespeare Festival - Festival Theater

This is a production of Fiddler on the Roof worth treasuring; I hope they film it. I have sat through some wrong-headed productions of this musical that ranged from laughable to insufferable; and I have seen probably the most admired productions; but I have not seen a Fiddlerthat even approached the perfectly balanced artistry of this one. The opening night audience didn’t just seem to be delighted: many of us were awestruck.

Herbert M. Simpson
Caucasian Chalk Circle, The
Classic Stage Company

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and I are in total agreement that mankind, not us but them (as I like to say to avoid argument), is populated by liars, killers, cheats and self-serving louts. One only need to look around, listen to the daily news, or for that matter attend any one of Brecht’s more popular plays to meet these people. Serving up a dish of rotten folk, with one or two good ones thrown in for good measure, is the Classic Stage Company’s production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, nicely directed by CSC’s artistic director Brian Kulick.

Edward Rubin
Tommy Tune - Steps in Time
The Town Hall

The house darkened, the footlights clicked on, and across the dark stage, Tommy Tune strode to take his place before the audience. When the lights came on, there he was, the familiar lanky song-and-dance man of our time, elegant in black with a red vest. Wide white sleeves billowed from his jacket sleeves. Looking down, Tune pointed out his scarlet cowboy boots, custom fitted with taps. On and off stage, Tune remains an eye-catching figure, statuesquely theatrical with a down-to-earth grin.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Heart Song
Fountain Theater

The Fountain Theater has long been the home, not only of new drama, but of the fiery dance known as flamenco. Since 1990 the Fountain has produced more than 500 flamenco concerts on its intimate stage, plus seven seasons at the 1200-seat Ford Ampitheater. The theater's involvement in flamenco is also highlighted in a new documentary film, “Kumpania,” much of which was shot at the Fountain's continuing “Forever Flamenco” series.

Willard Manus