Halfwits' Last Hurrah, The
Lillian Theater

A hit at just about every previous Hollywood Fringe Festival, the Four Clowns troupe returns to the 2015 HFF with its latest production, The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah (a world premiere). Featuring a 12-person cast plus pianist Wayne H. Holland, the show (written by Jamie Franta and Don Colliver) tells the semi-demented story of a vainglorious showman (Colliver) and his goofy cohorts as they battle to keep a jealous ghost from thwarting their creative efforts.

Willard Manus
Marvelous Marvelettes, The
Black Ensemble

Even for those with personal memories of the era that spawned the so-called youth market, it comes as a shock to recall just how young some of its early "teen idols" were. (Paul Anka had his first hit at the age of 14, and Stevie Wonder, when he was only 12.) The five vocalists who would become Motown's inaugural crossover girl-group under the collective name of “The Marvelettes” were members of their high school glee club when they came to the attention of the legendary Berry Gordy.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Adventures of Pericles, The

(see reviews under Pericles)

Pericles (The Adventures of)
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

As far as I’m concerned, The Adventures of Pericles is two hours of terrible playwriting, ending with the touching story of Pericles’s lost daughter, Marina. A younger, cuter, infinitely less interesting version of Odysseus, this Pericles wanders through eight plots, each elaborately introduced by a long-winded narrator named Gower (the name of the earlier poet whose story Shakespeare appropriated and messed with).

Herbert M. Simpson
Taming of the Shrew, The
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

This showy production of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy of the battle of the sexes is mostly a romp for Stratford’s star couple: Ben Carlson [also playing Captain von Trapp this season in The Sound of Music and an internationally renowned Hamlet] and Deborah Hay [luminous star of Cabaret and Born Yesterday at Shaw Festival and seven Shakespearean plays at Stratford]. They are undeniably great actors, a treat to see anywhere in any roles.

Herbert M. Simpson
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Central Square Theater

I'd like to take this opportunity to appreciate the Garden Rose production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Central Square Theater and to reflect about the meaning of the play. And since I believe one of the tasks of art is to help the audience improve our world, I would also like to discuss how this play can help us be better people and create a better society.

Adam Frost
Saint Joan of the Stockyards
Irondale Center

We rarely get to see Brechtian theater, less often to see it done well. So much more terrific to find The Irondale Ensemble Project’s (off-off-Broadway, Brooklyn) excellent production of Brecht’s Saint Joan of the Stockyards.

Director Peter Kleinert includes so many verfremdungseffekt techniques in this production that it reads like a catalogue from Brecht himself. There’s a whiteboard at the back of the stage area, and actors write on it as the play proceeds. Props and costumes are visible when not being used. The audience is often in the light.

Steve Capra
Liberty City
ETA Creative Arts Center

The entire world looks different to a child—psychologically, of course, with its array of new creatures and concepts, but physically, too. Everything is bigger, for one thing. Adults appear initially, not as faces, but as buttocks and bellies, sternums and shoulder blades. To be a child in the midst of a crowd is to be invisible, an encumbrance tripped over, stepped on, or kicked aside by swarms of pedestrians. In order to avoid being sucked into the chaos, a child must focus exclusively on escape to the shelter of familiar surroundings.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Love and Human Remains
Rivendell Theater

Brad Fraser's group portrait of young Canadians embracing the sunset of nihilistic hedonism—before the fallout from the AIDS epidemic registered across all segments of society—was a lot more shocking in 1991. The danger of libidinal license is a theme long exploited in films but rarely depicted in live performance with the take-no-prisoners vigor of the sensation-seeking singles of Edmonton.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hellish Half-Light
Angel Island

Actors love the plays of Samuel Beckett for the same reasons that audiences hate them. As with his successors, Harold Pinter and Vaclav Havel, they propose a universe steeped in ambiguities itching for performers to lend them coherence. When this mission is accomplished, deep insights into the human condition are revealed. When not, the confusion is enough to trigger howls of frustration in both presenters and witnesses.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Redtwist Theater

At first glance, we think we've stumbled upon a sitcom. The setting is a retirement home's "day room," where a few of the residents gather in the evening to socialize before bedtime. Since the title of the play is Geezers, we anticipate a light-hearted comedy of geriatric hijinks and toilet jokes.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Introduction to Heat Transfer, An
Full Circle Theater

Keep an eye on the gifted young people behind An Introduction to Heat Transfer: playwright Haley Jakobson and actors Matisse Haddad and Kaela Shaw. During their time at Boston University, they worked on the piece together, putting it up as a student project and then refining text and performance as they got feedback from mentors and audience. The positive response encouraged them to keep the play alive after graduation.

Willard Manus
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Short of doing a tedious textual exegesis or a pedantic comparison of specific lines and scenes, it’s difficult to review another Hamlet after seeing so many of them. We need and want to see more performances of great classic works like Hamlet or “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,” or “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet; they should be kept alive. But way past the twentieth one, I tend to give up on ranking the performance and try to describe its virtues and compare its parts to the same parts in previous interpretations.

Herbert M. Simpson
New Country
Cherry Lane Theater

Every once in a while, a small play–let’s say in this case a trifle, or is it truffle? – ensconced in an intimate, somewhat out-of-the-way theater, makes a big noise. New Country,written by Mark Roberts, is one of these plays.

Ed Rubin
Kinky Boots
Auditorium Theater

I saw this national tour of hit Broadway show Kinky Boots on its final performance in Rochester, New York on a Sunday evening; and the biggest surprise for me was that the mostly elderly audience reacted with the screaming enthusiasm of a younger crowd at a rock concert.

Herbert M. Simpson
Intimate Apparel
The Athenaeum

Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel has everything historical-romance fans could want: a gilded-age urban setting, ragtime music, long dresses and frilly underwear. Its personnel are women, mostly the poor-but-independent variety (with a lone rebellious socialite, for contrast), accompanied by handsome rakes and shy admirers. This is no frivolous bodice-ripper, however, but docudrama steeped in grim compromise and survival bought at the expense of happiness.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Greenhouse

Despite our professed love of democracy, we Yanks are even more enamored of monarchies, with their promise of destinies determined by luck and lineage. This tendency to mythologize our Anglo-Saxon ancestors may explain why playwrights so frequently balk at the contradictions of Winston Churchill, whose historical importance in the 20th century is as undisputed as its sheer volume renders it difficult to document.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Six Guitars
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

On opening night of Six Guitars, Chase Padgett and the six guitar-playing characters he’s created found a mostly adoring cabaret audience at Florida Studio Theater. Some, though, left at intermission, and I confess I wish I could have too. Why? I’d have preferred Chase Padgett just exhibiting his considerable talent for illustrating different styles of music and playing it on his guitar. Instead he acts six characters who do so.

Marie J. Kilker
stop. reset.
Goodman Theater

The written word's Armageddon has long been a topic for speculative fiction, ranging from Ray Bradbury's “Fahrenheit 451” to Anne Washburn's Mister Burns: A Post-Electric Play. Faced with the Four Horsemen of the Internet heralding the extinction of their earthly mission, as well as the multitude of seductive toys threatening to sway them from their purpose, writers today are easily propelled by the urgency of rescuing their craft into employing extravagant plot devices straining both credibility and coherence.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Stick Fly
Windy City Playhouse

Twenty years ago, Lydia R. Diamond set out to write a "well-made" family drama in the style of mid-20th-century authors like Lillian Hellman—a genre that Horton Foote, Lorraine Hansberry and Tracy Letts have since invoked. The venerable conference-round-the-couch or midnight-in-the-kitchen polemics take on new resonance in 2015, however.

Mary Shen Barnidge
King John
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

In conjunction with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, several companies have revived Shakespeare’s drama about King John, the monarch who signed that momentous document. He was a flawed ruler, and the play is one of Shakespeare’s lesser works, but let’s give him some attention in this multi-centennial year.

Steve Cohen
Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits
Act II Playhouse

Gerard Alessandrini has been writing and producing parodies of Broadway and imitations of Broadway singers at small Manhattan clubs since 1982. The entertainers have been relatively unknown youngsters; the most familiar name to come out of Forbidden Broadway is Jason Alexander who, of course, is famed more as a television actor than a theater singer.

Steve Cohen
Ever After
Paper Mill Playhouse

This world premiere of Ever After has all the glamour and pizzazz we associate with Paper Mill Playhouse. The star performances are outstanding. Its subject, however, has competition from numerous other versions of the Cinderella story— in two Disney incarnations, in an updated Rodgers & Hammerstein production, and in the Sondheim spoof of Into the Woods.This new human back-story originated in the 1998 non-musical movie of the same name. Without doubt, there’s humor in some of its twists; but we wonder if there’s a Broadway audience for this embodiment.

Steve Cohen
Antony and Cleopatra
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

The Stratford Festival has launched a project to disseminate all of Shakespeare’s plays in high definition to cinemas worldwide. This first offering, recorded last summer, is an odd choice. I think of Antony and Cleopatra as a cross between two earlier Shakespeare dramas. Principal characters are holdovers from Julius Caesar, while the deaths of its lovers are similar to those in Romeo and Juliet. Antony and Cleopatra,however, is a weaker play than either of its antecedents.

Steve Cohen
Something Rotten!
St. James Theater

Some theater-loving friends refused to buy tickets for this show because they couldn’t bear to see Shakespeare ridiculed. Never fear. The thrust of Something Rotten! is a celebration of the American musical, not a tearing down of the Bard.

Steve Cohen
11th Annual One-Act Festival
Arcade Theater

Americans’ adulation of the rich and famous – Hollywood celebrities, A-listers, sports stars, etc. – takes a quirky turn in Milwaukee’s Pink Banana Theater Co.’s one-act play festival. In the five productions that run a total of about two hours, audiences are allowed to see the risks, as well as the rewards, that celebrities face.

Anne Siegel
Fantasticks, The
Snapple Theater Center - Jerry Orbach Theater

Q: What’s the only Off Broadway show to have ever won a Tony Award?
A: The Fantasticks, in 1992.

After a brief scare that the production would close in May, this most delightful of little musicals has gotten a reprieve. Two devoted fans, who insisted on anonymity, vowed to contribute the money that’s necessary to keep The Fantasticks open. A thousand blessings on their hearts and wallets.

Michall Jeffers
Permanent Image, A
Rogue Machine

A screwball comedy about euthanasia? That’s the unlikely combination playwright Samuel D. Hunter tinkers with in A Permanent Image, now in its West Coast premiere at Rogue Machine. Does it come off? Well, yes and no is the equivocal answer.

Willard Manus
Act of God, An
Studio 54

"Why, God, Why?" "Why is there suffering?" Since Creation, so many questions for the Supreme Being.

Well, God listened and, in An Act of God, a sort of celestial Q-and-A, He explains all, the mysteries (and exaggerations) of the Bible, the miracles (and misinterpretations), and He's here to set things straight.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Inspired Lunacy
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

In Inspired Lunacy, a wealth of talented performers merits the descriptive first word of the title. The “Lunacy” is in the lyrics by comedy writers of the last century for whom composers provided amusing novelty songs. An in-house creation, culling subjects and substance from previous FST shows, the show is full of extraordinary verve.

Marie J. Kilker
Mamma Mia!

If you have out-of-town visitors this summer, take them to see Mamma Mia! At the performance I attended, the audience was filled with foreign tourists, many of them Asian, and they were having a ball.

Let’s face it, the plot is simple, and the language is easy to understand for anyone with a working knowledge of English. Several of the people with whom I spoke had seen the movie dubbed into their native tongue. So what were they doing there? Rocking out to the good old music. There was a group of school kids in the balcony; they were having a great time, too.

Michall Jeffers
Act of God, An
Studio 54

Q: Why would the wildly popular, highest-paid actor on TV take the time to appear on Broadway in what is essentially an hour-and- a half monologue which has every chance of offending a wide percentage of the population? A: Because when he’s Jim Parsons, he can.

Parsons has an effortless delivery of even the most outrageous material. He’s likable and funny spouting lines that would make the audience think twice if said by a lesser comic genius.

Michall Jeffers
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