Fat Pig
Hudson Mainstage Theater

Deidra Edwards and Jonathan Bray excel as the unlikely lovers in the revival of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig now running at the Hudson Mainstage Theater in Hollywood. Bray plays Tom, a handsome business executive who falls for Helen, a zaftigyoung woman played by Edwards. In many other societies, large-sized women are much in demand; not so in the USA, where to be considered beautiful and desirable a woman must resemble a store-window mannequin.

Willard Manus
Mercy Seat, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cooley Rehearsal Hall

One of the first plays to appear after 9/11, The Mercy Seathones in on a couple in New York City the next day. They’re selfish when most Americans are giving of themselves to help their fellows. Ben should have been in the World Trade Center, but he stopped for a tryst with mistress Abby and escaped. Now he’s thought to be dead.

Marie J. Kilker
Man in a Case
The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage

What’s with these New York experimental theater companies and their disdain for the moral rights of playwrights? Last year it was the Wooster Group trampling all over Eugene O’Neill’s Glencairn plays, crushing the life out of them in stiff, robotic fashion. This year it’s Mikhail Baryshnikov teaming up with Big Dance Theater to turn two of Anton Chekhov’s 19th-century, fragile love stories – “Man In a Case” and “About Love” – into flashy multi-media events replete with film footage, pop songs, radio-theater touches and dance routines.

Willard Manus
Cripple of Inishmaan, The
Cort Theater

Kids in the audience of The Cripple of Inishmaanby Martin McDonagh get what they came for: to see Harry Potter live and in person on the stage. Daniel Radcliffe plays Billy, and there he is. He’s quite a good actor and a pretty fair limper, and is absolutely adorable in this play about an Irish family in hard times.

Richmond Shepard
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Belasco Theater

There’s no doubt about it; Neil Patrick Harris is a rock star. His fans are out in force for his stellar turn as Hedwig, a transplanted “girly boy” from East Berlin who’s had a tough life, including a botched sex-change operation. The angry inch of the title refers not only to his ragtag backup band but also to what’s left of his penis. “It’s what I have to work with,” he explains to a shocked lover. Tommy Gnosis, the young American man who flees when he discovers Hedwig’s deformity, is very much at the center of the story.

Michall Jeffers
Mothers and Sons
Golden Theater

Sometimes it's not so easy to move on. Losing a loved one, a child no less, is losing a part of one's life. Therefore, compassion should be extended to Andre's mother, Katharine (Tyne Daly), even though you might feel like shaking her. How could she not know about the AIDS quilt? How could she state some of the outlandish ideas she still clings to, like never realizing her son was gay when he lived with her? Could she really believe that his partner, Cal, and New York City made him gay?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Casa Valentina
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Casa Valentina, written by Harvey Fierstein and directed with energy and scope by Joe Mantello, is quite an intriguing exploration of cross dressing by heterosexual (or possibly bisexual) men who, in the 60’s, vacation at a special resort in the Catskills where these married men, who like to dress in women’s clothes, can express their internal feminine enjoyment of wearing female clothing. The argument goes that they are not gay and should be accepted as they are, differentiated from homosexuals, and left alone to pursue their pleasures without a label.

Richmond Shepard
Spunk
Water Tower Theater

George C. Wolfe’s Spunk depicts the stories of the experiences of African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century after they have migrated from the South to Harlem. Alas, Water Tower Theater's current staging of the 1989 piece, which adapts three of Zora Neale Hurston's short stories, is an uneven and totally forgettable production. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.

Rita Faye Smith
Casa Valentina
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Patrick Page is a ruggedly handsome actor with a deep, commanding voice. John Cullum is a revered theater legend. It’s hard to imagine either of them dressed up in a pretty frock and ready to assume a decidedly female identity. But at the Chevalier d’Eon, anything is possible. For this Catskill Mountain resort, based on an actual hotel, is a refuge for men who yearn to express their feminine side; dressing in women’s clothing is more than a compulsion, it’s a need to connect with a deeper truth.

Michall Jeffers
Porgy and Bess
Ahmanson Theater

The modernized version of Porgy and Bess was much maligned by some theater folk (especially Stephen Sondheim) when it opened back East in 2011. However, the production not only rode out the critical storm but eventually won a Tony for Best Musical Revival.

Willard Manus
Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, The

(see all reviews/articles under "Porgy and Bess")

History of Invulnerability, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

In attempting to close its 60th season on a spectacular note, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater tackles The History of Invulnerability, a large-cast, high-tech play that takes the audience from the Midwest to Nazi prison camps in Europe during World War II.

Anne Siegel
Tallest Tree in the Forest, The
Mark Taper Forum

Los Angeles is enjoying a mini-festival of one-man plays about Paul Robeson. The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center has revived the late Phillip Hayes Dean’s Paul Robeson,which was first performed by James Earl Jones in 1977. Now acted by Keith David (currently featured in Fox TV’s “Enlisted”), this worthy production will run through April 27, 2014

Willard Manus
Bubbling Brown Sugar
West Coast Black Theater Troupe Theater

An African-American almost-couple who need to make it together as they didn’t in the past take a white couple and initiate another young black couple into Harlem musical history. Thus does West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, in Bubbling Brown Sugar, bring Harlem home to the Sunshine Coast.

Marie J. Kilker
Ruth Draper's Monologues
Geffen Playhouse - Gil Cates Theater

Annette Bening’s tribute to Ruth Draper consists of her delivering four of the late actress’s most famous monologues: “A Class in Greek Poise,” “A Debutante at a Dance,” “Doctors and Diets,” and “The Italian Lesson.” Draper (1884-1956), who came from a wealthy New York family, began creating characters and voices at a young age. She entertained mostly at private parties for such admirers as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mrs Waldorf Astoria, before turning professional in 1914, thanks to the encouragement of Henry James and John Singer Sargent.

Willard Manus
Grown-Up, The
Actors Theater of Louisville

It seems that Jordan Harrison is a regular at the Humana Festival and has a loyal following. In his fantasy/ersatz fairy tale, The Grown Up, a magical doorknob salvaged from a sunken pirate’s ship opens to a series of Magic Theater fast forwards to the future. Through a series of vignettes and adventures, the key character starts as a child and ends as an old man.

Charles Giuliano
Partners
Actors Theater of Louisville

Mostly, Partnersis a fun, upbeat, gay-themed comedy about two couples, Clare (Annie Purcell) and her husband Paul (David Ross) entertaining Ezra (Kasey Mahaffy) and Brady (LeRoy McLain). Clare loves to cook and entertain. Ezra wants to partner with her to launch a food truck and make money. What a great idea. Until Clare proves to be an uber-conflicted, self destructive, nutjob who brings down herself and everyone around her. Mostly, in some improbable plot twists, she is never up front about her feelings, phobias, paranoia and misgivings.

Charles Giuliano
brownsville song
Actors Theater o Louisville

This inner city drama starts with a compelling monologue by a strong African American grandmother Lena (Cherene Snow) tasked with raising two children. They were orphaned by a father who took four in the chest and their Asian mother Merrell (Jackie Chung) who, while struggling with addiction, abandoned them.

The kids are Tray (John Clarence Stewart) an amateur boxer aspiring for a scholarship to college and the emotionally traumatized child Devine (Sally Diallo), who is nurtured and protected by her older brother.

Charles Giuliano
Four Thousand Miles
Historic Asolo Theater

That 4000 Milespresents a rare intergenerational story without a conflict between the leads’ generations must be the reason for its popularity. To me, it seems like a Hallmark TV film with added scatology and one woman’s revealing dress.

Marie J. Kilker
4000 Miles

(see reviews/articles under Four Thousand Miles)

I Remember Mama
Gym at Judson

The words of the playwright, frequently lost among flashy costumes, stage lighting, moving mechanical sets, actorly histrionics, and overly reactive audiences, has always been the most important thing about theater to me. Good or bad, I want to both hear and feel everything the playwright has to say. I want to be made to laugh and cry and be turned every which way but loose. I want to be touched by the blessed sacredness of time, be it past, future, or now. I want to leave the theater remembering what life is all about and loving it all the more.

Edward Rubin
Skin Tight
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

As someone who missed this hit production when it was first staged by Renaissance Theaterworks 10 years ago, this reviewer is pleased to have the chance to see Skin Tightthe second time around. The play is being staged with the same two actors who portray the lovers (Leah Dutchin and Braden Moran), also accompanied by actor Eamonn O’Neill. The show’s original director, Laura Gordon, also was tapped for the current production.

Anne Siegel
Tom Jones
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

If Florida Studio Theater has staged a more riotous romp than Tom Jones, I haven’t seen it.

Author Mark Brown uses his nascent Narrator, the believable Graciany Miranda, in several additional “moving” roles in the action, particularly justifying the plot’s twists and turns. How Brown condenses a long picaresque novel into a two-hour play is a miracle of mirth into motion. (Changers of the sumptuous costumes by Jeni Schaefer should share a final curtain call with a director who’s also become a choreographer.)

Marie J. Kilker
I and You
Geva Theater - Nextstage

A visibly and audibly moved and appreciative audience greeted the opening night of Lauren Gunderson’s I and Youin the intimate NextStage of Rochester’s Geva Theater Center just a week after Ms. Gunderson received the American Theater Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New Play of 2013 for this lovely, intimate drama.

Herbert M. Simpson
Boeing Boeing
Texas Repertory Theater

Fans of farce may want to head over to Texas Repertory Theater to take in the latest offering, the Marc Camoletti/Beverly Cross comedy, Boeing Boeing. If the recent audience of which I was a part was any indication, you’ll be in for plenty of laughs.

David Dow Bentley
Rocky
Winter Garden Theater

Even if you haven’t actually seen the 1976 movie “Rocky,” you think you have. You recognize the distinctive music, “Ba ba ba ba ba ba bum da da da”; you’ve heard the catchphrase “Yo, Adrian,” a million times; and you’ve seen the montage of the sweat-suited fighter running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where the larger-than-life statue now stands, attracting eager tourists). And has anyone on the planet not heard the tale of how a down-and-out Sylvester Stallone penned the story but refused to sell it unless he was the star?

Michall Jeffers
Steel Hammer
Actors Theater of Louisville

At two hours with no intermission, Steel Hammer, the avant-garde deconstruction of the traditional ballad "John Henry," is physically and emotionally demanding. The producing company, Saratoga International Theatre Company (SITI), was co-founded in 1992 by the Japanese master Tadashi Suzuki and Columbia University professor and director Anne Bogart. After the first five years, Suzuki ceased participation but the company continues to follow the Suzuki method which entails cult-like discipline and dedication.

Charles Giuliano
Lend Me a Tenor
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater

Milwaukee Chamber Theater closes its current season with the madcap mayhem of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor. Every aspect of this production gleams with professional precision, making this a highlight of the company’s current season.

Anne Siegel
All the Way
Neil Simon Theater

Before the curtain went up on “All The Way,” my companion passed on to me a question that was being whispered up and down our aisle. “Who was Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President?” I answered without thinking “Hubert Humphrey.” That’s when a lot of the play came into focus for me. People either hadn’t lived through the era being covered, or they didn’t really remember it very well. For those of us who came of age during the days of the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War, the events and the pivotal people in power are burned into our consciousness.

Michall Jeffers
Most Happy Fella, The
City Center

City Centers Encores!' glowing production of Frank Loesser's semi-operatic The Most Happy Fellais a lush, romantic, festival of song directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and starring Shuler Hensley and Laura Benanti. Rob Berman's 38-piece orchestra soars, the vocals are sublime and the audience is treated to an outstanding performance for the memory book.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
International, The
the cell

I went to see Tim Ruddy’s play, The International, without knowing or reading anything about it except that I was told it had won awards and had international scope. I thought maybe I was going to hear the Communist song “The International” interpreted by different viewpoints. Nope. It’s a series of monologues by three actors with no interaction about a conflict in a not-clearly defined country.

Richmond Shepard
Antigone
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

The director is right to call Antigonean eternal play. Though an adaptation by a translator of an adaptation by Jean Anouilh of a tragedy by Sophocles, the play is as straightforward as it is colloquial while poetic. That it is as contemporary as classic may also be attributed to its direction and acting at FSU/Asolo Conservatory.

Marie J. Kilker
My Name is Asher Lev
Fountain Theater

The collision of the sacred and secular worlds lies at the heart of My Name is Asher Lev,the play by Aaron Posner (adapted from Chaim Potok’s novel) which is now in a lengthy Los Angeles premiere run at the Fountain Theater.

Willard Manus
Victoria Woodhull
Playhouse at St. Paul's

I would like to share my delight at seeing a play about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female stockbroker and the first woman to run for President. Victoria Woodhull: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Feminist,written by Claude Solnik and directed by Robert Previto, premiered at the Playhouse @ St. Pauls, in Northport, Long Island, New York for a run April 10-20, 2014. It has finished its brief run, but I hope the cast will gather together again, and take the play on tour.

Adam Frost
Raisin in the Sun, A
Ethel Barrymore Theater

Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, explores through one family, the issues of racism, oppressive poverty, materialism, murmurs of the oncoming Civil Rights upheavals and young women choosing their own path. In an electrifying revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, the theater where it premiered 55 years ago, A Raisin in the Sunagain confronts the consequences of a dream deferred.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
If/Then
Richard Rodgers Theater

Idina Menzel enters to enthusiastic applause. The audience knows her and loves her, and the star, best known for her role as green witch Elphaba in the smash hit Wicked and for singing “Let It Go,” the big hit from the movie “Frozen” (and yes, for having her name mangled beyond recognition by John Travolta at the Oscars), needs to cash in on that affection as much as possible. Her character, Elizabeth, is just plain not very likeable. She’s totally self-involved, self-pitying, and pretty much devoid of a sense of humor.

Michall Jeffers
If/Then
Richard Rodgers Theater

I have the strange idea that performers in a musical should be able to sing. If/Then, music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, fulfills that hope in spades. Allmembers of this cast, leads and chorus, are well-trained, strong, talented, fine singers, and lead Idina Menzel is a killer of a vocal acrobat. So all of the quite engaging, bouncy songs are performed well, and, on their own, make for an enjoyable concert by terrific singers, including the adorable LaChanze and the very strong Adam Rapp, James Snyder and Jerry Dixon.

Richmond Shepard
Midsummer Night's Dream, A
The Broad Stage

Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppet (the South African company that came to fame with War Horse) have teamed up to give a grungily extravagant quality to Shakespeare’s dreamlike A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The grunginess stems from the ragtag costumes (tattered jeans, oddly matched gowns) and the brown-wood set overhung with an autumnal drape. The extravagance is provided by Handspring’s offbeat but imaginative puppets (a wicker basket becomes a dog, Oberon and Titania become ten-foot-tall, stiffly- moving sculptures by play’s end).

Willard Manus
Aladdin
New Amsterdam Theater

If I had a magic lamp with three wishes, I would have many uses for it, but none would include tickets to another Disney musical on Broadway. The lamp, however, is not mine and when I went to see the latest Disney offering, Aladdin,at the New Amsterdam Theater, I must admit there are pretty razzle-dazzle moments, and they aren't all because of the avalanche of sequins.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Aladdin
New Amsterdam Theater

Aladdin has it all; there’s glitz, glamour, and sheer laugh-out-loud fun mixed with moments of lyrical beauty and real warmth. At the heart of the story is the question of who determines our worth in this world. The title character is a street urchin whose poverty has driven him to steal and to lie. He’s told he’s worthless, and he fights hard not to believe that unfair assessment. His heart is pure, and he dreams of living a better existence.

Michall Jeffers

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