Down Range
Preston Bradley Center

Jeffrey Skinner is a poet, and he writes plays like a poet—that is, long on soliloquies and short on facts, with non-chronological scenes arising from a nebulous void to dissolve before achieving consequence. The only solution capable of redeeming such narrative conceits is for the author to pull forth a revelation of sufficient dazzle to lend coherence to everything preceding its disclosure. Skinner, to his credit, delivers.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Some Men
Rivendell Theater

Until 1900, there was no recognition of men who love men as a distinct subculture. The responsibility of male children was to ensure continuance of the family name; procreative duties, once discharged, allowed those preferring the off-duty company of their own sex to pursue their own interests outside of the female-centered domestic sphere. This is why Some Men, Terrence McNally's Dickensian account of gays in the United States, can tie together three generations by lineage, despite wedlock and parenthood existing only as wistful fantasies until very recently.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Raven Complex

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's 1782 novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is nowadays associated with a high-calorie costume romp featuring a pair of rich, sexy, incorrigible villains: the preening Marquise de Merteuil, whose pique at being dumped by her boyfriend leads her to transform his convent-raised fiancée into a wanton slut, abetted by the priapal Vicompte de Valmont, currently preoccupied with luring a young matron renowned for her fidelity into adultery.

Mary Shen Barnidge
December Man, The
Angel Island

The mistake that amateur shooters make, according to novelist Thomas Perry, is that they don't think beyond the moment of the kill, so that often they find suicide to be their sole escape from the chaos and confusion of deciding what to do next. The perpetrator of the 1989 "Montreal Massacre" embarked on his deadly rampage as a protest against feminism—separating a classroom of engineering students by gender, before executing the women—leaving him with no further ideological directive following his initial attack but to discharge his firearm upon himself.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Satchmo at the Waldorf
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts - Lovelace Studio Theater

“The whole history of jazz can be summed up in four words: Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker,” said trumpeter Miles Davis.

Both Parker and Davis figure in Satchmo at the Waldorf, the solo play about Armstrong which is now strutting its stuff at the Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills. Starring as Armstrong is John Douglas Thompson, who was nominated for a Drama Desk award when he did Satchmo at New York City’s Westside Theater last year.

Willard Manus
Woody Sez
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

David M. Lutken embodies Woody Guthrie joyfully as he passes on the causes and feelings in both Woody’s songs and his life. He’s on a constant journey communicating to and about people, especially the deserving but unheralded common folk, all over the world. His high-stepping and mood are remarkable considering his ballads present so many tragedies from his own life’s start and end, as well as his countryfolks’ political, social, and economic ones.

Marie J. Kilker
WaterTower Theater

Dallas Actress Carolyn Wickwire performs a very polished portrayal of the life of famed artist, Georgia O'Keeffe. Born in 1887, O'Keeffe attended the Art Institute of Chicago beginning in 1905. A friend sent some of O'Keeffe's drawings to the famous New York photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who was impressed with her work and gave O'Keeffe her first showing at his well-known gallery 291. The two formed a close personal as well as professional relationship. Steiglitz, though married at the time, didn't let that stand in his way.

Rita Faye Smith
Steppenwolf First Look Repertory of New Work
Steppenwolf Theater

Each of the three plays running in repertory under the collective banner of Steppenwolf Theater's First Look Festival raises the question of whether suicide is the answer when you think you've hit bottom. Only one sends us home wholly convinced that it isn't.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Belfast Girls
The Den

The Orphan Emigration Scheme probably seemed a good idea when Earl Grey first hatched it in 1848: The predominantly male British colonies in Australia wanted the stabilizing influence of females, so young orphanage-raised women of good character and useful domestic skills were awarded ship's passage, along with room and board, to the land "down under." What could go wrong?

Mary Shen Barnidge
York Theater at St. Peter's Church

James Cagney never said, "Mmm, you dirty rat." He quit Warner Brothers because he was tired of playing Hollywood tough guys. While he could be scrappy when he had to be, James Cagney was actually a softie with a spine of steel.

It's all here in Cagney, a sketchy song-and-dance bio-musical currently making its the New York premier at the the York Theater. Librettist Peter Colley does not present a deep character study, but Cagney wins as an entertaining mix of toe-tapping with rat-tat-tat staccato speech of one of the most successful actors in film.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Shining Lives
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Audiences subscribing to Edgar Allan Poe's conviction that romance lies in tales of young, beautiful, dead women have enjoyed many a good cry over These Shining Lives, Melanie Marnich's docu-tragedy of industrial technology. The expected weeps are also forthcoming in this musical adaptation featuring a score by Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert, with the book and lyrics by Jessica Thebus.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Cowboy versus Samurai
The Den

Volumes have been written about the struggle of young white men to find their own identity, as opposed to that imposed upon them by their families, culture or social position. Non-WASP males in fiction, by contrast, are assumed to be so secure within their communities that even the inevitable adolescent restlessness never disturbs the tribal solidarity.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hunchback of Notre Dame, The
Paper Mill Playhouse

Ring out, wild bells! Boldly booming bells ring out from Millburn, NJ, in one of the most be-belled & be-gargoyled visions of medieval Notre Dame ever imagined--even by Victor Hugo, the original imagineer of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame…”

Hugo—who loved the strong contrasts of the hideously grotesque with the miraculously beautiful that are best exemplified by “Beauty & The Beast” and “Hunchback”—would surely be astonished by the great Bourdon bells that are cramming the great wooden belfry of the Paper Mill Playhouse over in far-off New Jersey.

Glenn Loney
On the Twentieth Century
American Airlines Theater

All aboard, lovers of Art Deco and great Broadway musicals! David Rockwell’s magnificent metallic deco drop for On the Twentieth Century is, itself, worth the price of admission for this all-awards-winnable musical revival. But there’s also the dynamite performance of the very blonde Kristin Chenoweth as the Major Hollywood Star, Lily Garland, being wooed and tricked back to the Great White Way by her former lover, Broadway producer, and all-`round Svengali, the currently bankrupt and out of ideas Oscar Jaffee.

Glenn Loney
Into the Woods
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Into the Woods, composer Stephen Sondheim’s modern take on Grimm fairy tales, seems especially suited to Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater. With previous blockbusters such as Hair, Sunday in the Park with George and In the Heights, expectations were high. And while Into the Woods doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t completely excel, either. What emerges through the shadowy “woods” of the title is a gorgeous show, complete with a fantastically detailed set, lavish costumes, and elaborate lighting.

Anne Siegel
Public Theater

Considering how Donald Trump & the Tea-Party crazies won’t give-up on the un-American-ness of Barack Obama, have they ever given a passing thought to the curious Caribbean origins of one of our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton? Not only was Hamilton the founder of the New York Post and of our banking system, but he was also one of George Washington’s most trusted fellow officers, rapidly rising to the rank of General. Quite a meteoric trajectory for a male Mulatto whose mother way well have been a whore. . .

Glenn Loney
Book of Mormon, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

It has taken “only” three years for a tour of The Book of Mormon to reach Milwaukee. The tour, now in Milwaukee, started December 2012 in Chicago. The production ran an impressive 10 months before moving to its next stop. While in Chicago, the show broke all box-office records for that particular theater. Alas, it is one of the liabilities of Milwaukee’s proximity to Chicago that shows which have an extended run in the Windy City rarely come straight north to Milwaukee. The Book of Mormon is the latest to follow this trend.

Anne Siegel
What I Did Last Summer
Pershing Square Signature Center - Irene Diamond Stage

It's a long hot summer in 1945 and, with his father sent off to war, a restless 14-year-old boy cooped up in a lakeside house with his stressed mother and a prissy older sister, and well, things are bound to happen. More important, a few lessons are learned in What I Did Last Summer as playwright A.R Gurney looks back at his own coming-of-age summer of '45.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Karen Jacobsen
Stage 72 at The Triad

The Triad on West 72nd St. has done it again -- a super musical performance: Karen Jacobsen, in a spectacular gown, is beautiful, funny, a lovely light-fingered pianist, and a terrific singer with a fine clear voice who writes melodically original personal songs giving glimpses of her life and relationships (breaking up and one with ironic humor: “Your Body Over Mine,” etc.). Some are gifts to friends, to husband, and most recently to her mother.

Richmond Shepard
Witch Slap!
Raven Theater

The annual Joining Sword and Pen competition challenges its contestants to write a play based on a specified graphic image of women portrayed in a martial context. Last year's chosen visual, however, was Gabriella Boros's grotesque painting of two masked and hooded figures engaging in a brand of surgery resembling a Three Stooges stunt gone Jacobean. In Witch Slap!, prize winner Jeff Goode attempts to salvage a reading on this cryptic situation rendering its gruesome content palatable to modern audiences, and for the most part, he succeeds.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Timeline Theater

Technically, the McGuffin driving our plot is a graven idol, but this is no Maltese falcon, coveted by its pursuers solely for its material value. Instead, Michele Lowe's Inana opens in 2003, in a London hotel room where Mosul museum curator Yasin Shalid and his new spouse have arrived for their honeymoon.

Our first clue that something is amiss is the husband recounting to his bride (who has barricaded herself into the bathroom), how his boyhood chum had his fingers amputated as punishment for gathering the shards of artifacts ubiquitous to ancient civilizations.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Little Foxes, The
Goodman Theater

Lillian Hellman never pulled her punches, instead calling out advocates of injustice and inhumanity with a ferocity that made producers nervous, hence the frequent bowdlerization of her more candid dramatic themes (e.g., lesbianism in The Children's Hour).The standard formula for rendering "safe" her microcosmic excoriation of post-bellum morality and greed has been to reduce its heroine to a fairy-tale wicked queen, or to muffle its ethical arguments under a haze of Chekhovian nostalgia.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Little Wars
Clarion Theater

Gertrude Stein said, "...for every story worth telling, there’s a dozen secrets worth keeping."

Any gabfest should be so lucky as to unearth the secrets of the literati gathered one evening at Gertrude Stein's country home in France. Then again, few gabfests would include such a coterie of intriguing talented women as playwright Steven Carl McCasland's Little Wars. During one evening in 1940, just before France fell to Germany, the stories that emerge are personal, universal, often heart-rending and even horrifying.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Driving Miss Daisy
Queensland Performing Arts Center

Note: This production was reviewed via pre-recorded video streaming to a movie theater and not in person.

Steve Cohen
Stupid Fucking Bird
The Biograph

Don't be fooled by the publicity promoting this adaptation of The Seagull as a deconstructive farce on the order of Inspecting Carol. Aaron Posner's surprisingly smart gloss on Anton Chekhov's seminal 19th-century Russian drama reads more as live-action script analysis, tracking its source's subtextual dynamics unencumbered by period social and environmental factors.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Suddenly Last Summer
Next Act Theater

After six years of producing plays with non-traditional casting (which, in this case, means all African-American casts), UPROOTED Theater bids farewell with its stinging production of Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly, Last Summer. Although the company hadn’t planned on staging a Williams trilogy during its brief duration, co-founder Dennis Johnson notes that “it seems to have worked out that way.” In any case, the theater is definitely going out with a bang, not a whimper.

Anne Siegel
Suddenly Last Summer
Ashe Power House Theater

Tennessee Williams’s devastating one-act, Suddenly Last Summer, receives an uneven production by Southern Rep. Set in 1935 in the New Orleans Garden District, the play concerns the wealthy Violet Venable (Brenda Currin, awkward and seemingly clueless) out to get her niece Catherine lobotomized. Catherine’s been in a deranged state since the death of Mrs. Venable’s son Sebastian last year on a Spanish coast beach. She is trying to bribe Dr. Cukrowicz (Jake Wyunne-Wilson, cool) to operate on, and thus silence, Catherine’s ravings about what happened.

Marie J. Kilker
Hotel Plays, The
Hermann-Grimm House

As part of the Tennessee Williams Festival, a one-act evening called The Hotel Plays ran briefly at the Hermann-Grimm House.

Marie J. Kilker
When Ya Smiling
Rivertown Theater for the Performing Arts

Subtitled “Remembering New Orleans in the 1950s,” Ricky Graham’s When Ya Smiling is just like what he might have composed for a 1958 high school event. The adoring audience exactly duplicated one made up of relatives and friends of those onstage and back of it. The not-surprisingly uncredited set has wooden house fronts on each side with a nondescript center that has to take on many locales in reality and hero Paulie’s imagination. He (Tucker Godbold, with amazing staying power as a cornball) looks 30 but is 10 and will soon be having a birthday.

Marie J. Kilker
To the Moon
Christ Church Neighborhood House

One of Philadelphia’s leading actors happens to resemble Jackie Gleason (and also Orson Welles in his mature years). Scott Greer uses that coincidence to portray an overweight working-class guy who idolizes Gleason and concocts a scheme to get rich, much like the designs of Gleason’s character on “The Honeymooners.”

Steve Cohen
A Red Orchid Theater

In 1979 England, 19 pounds (about $31 U.S.) a week rents a petrol-station cashier an SRO with a calico curtain hanging below the sink, a folding tray doubling as a liquor table, a kitchen chair for seating guests, and a bed pushed against the bricked-up fireplace. This being the outskirts of London, the residents also enjoy such post-WWII amenities as coin-meter electricity, a bathroom down the hall with an audible dripping pipe and a pay telephone on the sidewalk outside.

Mary Shen Barnidge
White Road, The
The Den

Prevailing commercial practice dictates that stories set in exotic climes still revolve on human relationships—falling in love, coming of age, settling old scores—with their environment relegated to background decoration or propulsive coincidences. Karen Tarjen's account of Ernest Shackleton's attempt to navigate the Antarctic Circle in 1912 rejects this approach, however.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bad Jews
Theater Wit

A chai is a kind of Jewish medallion, belonging, in this case, to a recently deceased clan patriarch and thus coveted by two of his grandchildren, not for its material value, but for what it symbolizes—and therein lies the source of the conflict in Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews. Since hostilities commence mere seconds after the curtain rises and proceed to swiftly escalate at full-out take-no-prisoners volume, any personal information about the combatants soon becomes lost in the flying verbiage.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Visit, The
Lyceum Theater

A long time ago, Friedrich Durrenmatt wrote a play, The Visit, which was adapted by Maurice Valency, and then re-adapted into a musical with book by Terrence McNally, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. It’s now playing on Broadway with the live wire Chita Rivera and Roger Rees in the leads and a large, very strong cast, including a vivid Mary Beth Peil.

Richmond Shepard
It Shoulda Been You
Brooks Atkinson Theater

With the cleverest lyrics since Moss Hart or Oscar Hammerstein, the lively, zippy It Shoulda Been You, book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, music by Barbara Anselmi, is the funniest show in town. Director David Hyde Pierce has put together a gang of comedians, each a comic personality with a good voice.

Richmond Shepard
Immediate Family
Mark Taper Forum

There’s good news and bad news about Immediate Family, the new play at the Mark Taper Forum. Written by Paul Oakley Stovall, the ironically-titled dramedy deals with an all-too-familiar set-up: the coming out of a gay son to his straight, conventional family. The wrinkle is that the family is black and the son’s lover is white (and Swedish to boot).

Willard Manus
My Name is Asher Lev
Stage 773

To be a member of Brooklyn's Ladover Hassidic Jewish settlement in the 1940s and '50s was to occupy—take a deep breath, now—a subsect of a subsect of yet another subsect of a religious minority whose numbers recently suffered a severe reduction at the hands of first, the Germans, then the Russians. Combine these factors with the Biblical proscription against the forging of graven images, and there can be no unlikelier spawning ground for a genius whose compulsive response to the chaos of his surroundings is to draw pictures of it.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Three Sisters
The Den - Mainstage

The biggest obstacle to modern audience comprehension of Chekhov's pre-revolutionary Russian society is not the frequently over-academic translations of his texts, nor the nostalgic distractions of samovars and bell-skirted gowns, but our unfamiliarity with the infrastructure of its dramatic universe. Substituting "Hollywood" for "Moscow," or an overseas U.S. military base for a remote small-town army garrison—as a few theater companies have—goes only so far in closing the cultural gap to the extent necessary to promote identification with its inhabitants.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Side Man
The Greenhouse

Once upon a time, there was a musician who loved music more than anything in the world, and a woman, who also loved the music, and the man who made it, as well. Along with their likewise muse-worshipping companions, they lived happy and contented—until the music began to die out, compelling them to adopt "adult" responsibilities, as defined by mainstream society. Like any endangered species, some adapted, and some didn't.

Mary Shen Barnidge
All's Well That Ends Well
Theater Wit

If our story's premise was that of a maiden forced into a marriage against her wishes, we'd be in her corner immediately, but when a young bachelor is bestowed in matrimony by his king as a reward to the prospective bride, the tale is labeled a "problem play" and its dynamic reduced to a case study in misogynistic codependency. To be sure, the reluctant groom protests his duty most unceremoniously, but Shakespeare scholars might recall that Katherine the Shrew was hardly a compliant newlywed, either.

Mary Shen Barnidge