Constellations
Geffen Playhouse

Fiendishly clever are the first words that came to mind after the conclusion of Constellations, the play by British playwright Nick Payne which is now having its West Coast premiere at the Geffen, directed by Giovanna Sardelli. The much-sought-after play (which has been a hit in London and New York) is a star vehicle for its two actors, in this case Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech.

Willard Manus
Bella
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage Theater

For all avid theater lovers who lament that there’s nothing original in theater nowadays, rejoice! Bella has come to town with a terrifically talented cast, memorable music, and a wholly unique premise. We expect no less from the consistently visionary Playwrights Horizons. Equally exciting, Ashley D. Kelley in the title role, is poised for stardom in the musical pantheon of performers who grab our attention from the beginning, and delight us for years to come. As she says in her program bio, “God is good all the time!”

Michall Jeffers
Naming True
Urbanite Theater

Amy, a transgender young adult from Seattle, enters out of a tumultuous rainstorm into a Florida motel room to get a memoir from Nell, a black woman, about her growing up in Detroit. Nell’s lost her family, been chronically homeless, and wants her manuscript published before she kills herself (or maybe her liver disease does). Because Nell intends suicide, more or less immediate to celebrate publication, Amy tries both to get the manuscript and to keep Nell alive.

Marie J. Kilker
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Florida Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

As Jules Verne did in his novel, two Canadians‘ multimedia/virtual reality-filled version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea brings a union of fiction and science to explore adventures involving the state of our oceans. It is aimed at everyone from third graders to their grandparents and other adults, but after the multimedia novelties wear off, its the kids who’ll want to stick with the rest.

Marie J. Kilker
Hunger Artist, A
Connelly Theater

A Hunger Artist is one of Franz Kafka’s most difficult stories. The writer’s concern in here is the nature of the artist, his relationship to his public, his motivations. Kafka’s not dealing here with the ordinary guy, the Everyman that he writes about in so many of his other stories.

Steve Capra
Night Season, The
Factory

"Earth, receive an honored guest/William Yeats is laid to rest" — don't you believe it! Ireland's most lauded export may have died nearly 80 years, but all it takes is the mention of his name to make a household mired down in gloomy resignation embark on reckless ventures involving romance, risks, and maybe a fresh start on life (or at least a satisfying end thereto).

Mary Shen Barnidge
King Liz
Windy City Playhouse

From the moment that Fernanda Coppel's morality fable opens to reveal a sumptuous office in the corporate headquarters of Candy Agencies, where "It's-good-to-be-king" African-American sports agent Liz Rico and her much-abused assistant, Gabby, are simultaneously issuing orders via Bluetooth, we know that these are powerful people and that big bucks are at stake.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Interference, The
Met Theater

Close on the heels of Actually, Anna Ziegler’s drama about campus date rape (which is still running at the Geffen), comes The Interference, a play on the same subject.

Willard Manus
Six Degrees of Separation
Ethel Barrymore Theater

Six Degrees of Separation took off after a newspaper account in 1983 about a wealthy Upper East Side couple conned by a needy grifter. The situation is not funny, but John Guare, in this revival of his razor-edged cynical drama at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, again shows his ear for witty dialogue within a blistering undercurrent of loneliness, racial polarization, and human separation. The question is if the original show, a 1990 major Broadway hit, holds up over the passage of time.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Nicky
Greenway Theater

It must have seemed like a good idea to playwright Boni B. Alvarez: doing an updated, gay-oriented version of Chekhov’s Ivanov. His radical adaptation of the play, now called Nicky, found favor with the Coeurage (sic) Theater Company, which has backed the drama with a lavish production at the Greenway Theater (impressive set, large cast, costumes galore).

Willard Manus
Burt & Me
Florida Studio Theater

Do you think a love story set to music is a good way to start a summer season of theater? That's what the folks at Florida Studio Theater decided, and the audience of which I was a part certainly agreed. In this instance, the music is by Burt Bacharach with lyrics by Hal David and how they enriched the life of a Pennsylvania guy who's a fictional representative of Bacharach fan and author Larry McKenna.

Marie J. Kilker
Antigone
Studio Theater

There is a moment in Fusion Theater’s production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone (at Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre) when Creon says to Antigone “Don’t annihilate me with those eyes.” And indeed, Antigone’s unrelenting stare does seem to be annihilating him, as it’s been annihilating everyone. As Antigone, Eilin O’Dea motivates Creon’s line so well that it seems Anouilh has written it in response to the actress.

Steve Capra
Building the Wall
New World Stages

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle), said about his current play, Building the Wall, “I wrote this in a white-hot fury. We no longer live in a world that is business as usual — Trump has made that very clear — and if theater is going to remain relevant, we must become faster to respond."

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Present Laughter
St. James Theater

Kevin Kline returns to Broadway after ten years to take a role he can dine on with relish. This is Noel Coward, after all, and Kline's charmingly supercilious role as fading matinee idol, Garry Essendine, is tailor-made for swanning around his London digs, lording it over his entourage, an ex-wife, nubile wannabe actress, housekeeper, snippy manager, and sycophantic playwright. Who wouldn't have fun with such a captivating witty and complex character—one who is satirically based, some say, on the playwright himself? And few can do it better.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Glass Menagerie, The
Belasco Theater

It seems like as soon as the curtain comes down on one production of The Glass Menagerie, another revival out there is working its way to Broadway. Maybe it's because there was a decisive revival of Tennessee Williams's haunting play on Broadway with Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, and Celia Keenan-Bogden just four years ago, and two productions before that since 2005. Now, however, at the Belasco Theater, director Sam Gold has a minimalistic slant on the poetic memory play.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Doll's House, Part 2, A
John Golden Theater

What happened after Nora slammed the door? We get one possibility in A Doll's House Part 2, Lucas Hnath's vibrant sequel to Henrik Ibsen's landmark 1879 play.

The new work opens 15 years after Nora had been stifled enough in her marriage and walked out the door. A four-hander, Hnath's conceit presents the aftermath with challenging questions and crisp dialogue but at the end, there are no concrete answers.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Great Expectations
Chicago Temple

Once upon a time in India — 1861, to be exact — a poor Hindu orphan boy is accosted by an escaped African convict. The lad aids the fugitive, initially out of fear, but later motivated by pity for prisoners of the British colonialist government. Soon thereafter, Pip — as our young hero is named — is invited to visit a reclusive English lady in his village, who introduces him to her haughty mixed-race ward, launching a series of life-changing events that will take him to Calcutta, there to be tutored in Eurocentric values under the sponsorship of an anonymous benefactor.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Johnny 10-Beers' Daughter
Chicago Dramatists

The hero of this world-premiere play, former Gunnery Sergeant John Russell — nom de guerre, Johnny 10 Beers (because "nine aren't enough") — is not the first North American white male to find a home in the warrior culture of the United States Marine Corps, nor is he the only military man who, lacking sons, raised his daughter to pledge unswerving loyalty to the creed at the foundation of his call to arms. Be advised, though, that awareness of this precedent will not prepare you for Dana Lynn Formby's exploration of war's hidden toll in Johnny 10-Beers’ Daughter.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Roundabout, The
59E59 Theaters

In J. B. Priestley’s 1932 play The Roundabout, Lord Kettlewell is having a trying day. He plays host to his mistress, to a dowager aristocrat, and to a chubby old buddy named Chuffy. What’s more, his daughter, a young woman he hardly knows and a communist to boot, drops by, maybe to stay. She’s brought a male comrade (they’ve just returned from Russia). And finally his estranged wife drops in.

Steve Capra
Les Blancs
The Met Theater

Rogue Machine’s production of Les Blancs deserves a 21-gun salute. The late Lorraine Hansberry’s last play is Shakespearean in form and scope, one that tells a complicated African story and calls for a large cast of both white and black actors to make it work. Many of the actors must speak in dialects and wear native costumes. The set and lighting effects are tricky; music and dance must be woven into the scheme of things as well. Whoever directs faces formidable challenges of every imaginable kind.

Willard Manus
Black Pearl
Black Ensemble Theater

An Art Deco motif nowadays considered only fit to be invoked in the rarefied environment of museums is that of a smiling young African girl wearing a bikini-length skirt fashioned of bananas and very little else.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Radiant, The
Athenaeum Theater

In recent years, plays about working women have evolved from waitresses, hairdressers, and secretaries obsessed with personal family issues to female CEOs, senators, and nuclear physicists obsessed with personal family issues. Traditional gender assumptions die hard, you see, making even women of proven historical accomplishment vulnerable to reduction of their social role to domestic spheres.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Objects in the Mirror
Goodman Theater

Our play's author is Charles Smith; its director is Chuck Smith. If you confuse these two names, you will probably find yourself addressing the wrong person. This illustrates the importance of names, long before the house lights signal the start of our fable.

Mary Shen Barnidge
We're Gonna Die
The Den

Whether you think that life is a "walking shadow" like in Shakespeare, or a "vale of tears" like in the Bible, or just an old-fashioned unvarnished bitch, there's no disagreement on its ending. Oh, sure, we may invoke the D-word in everyday casual conversation — as in "I could just you-know-what" — but do you remember the moment when you first realized, down deep, that one day, we will dddddiiiiieeeee?

Tight End
Pride Arts

"I'm a physical education teacher. My job is to protect the students," declares the coach of the Westmont High School Titans. "In a small town like this, football is life," insists the widow of former champion Adam Miller. They both want to make sure we know that, since the story they are about to recount points toward trouble from the very get-go.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Battlefield
Wallis Annenberg Center - Bram Goldsmith Theater

An epilogue to his famed stage version of the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata, which he directed some thirty years ago, Battlefield is Peter Brook’s lament on the madness and futility of war.

Willard Manus
Expanded Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, The
La MaMa

Karen Finley’s latest work is The Expanded Unicorn Gratitude Mystery. It’s recently been presented by La MaMa as part of its Downtown Icons Series. And that’s suitable: Ms. Finley has been the very picture of downtown theater for decades. In the 1990’s she was one of the NEA Four, performers whose NEA grants were canceled for violating “general standards of decency”. Ms. Finley took the government to court. The case finally ended up before the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the government.

Steve Capra
Sweeney Todd
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

There’s no need to beg the audience to “attend the tale of Sweeney Todd;” not when the telling is being done by Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre. The long-established theater company is right at home in Sweeney’s barbarous barber shop: this is the third time they’ve staged the musical in the past 30 years. And this production is a heck-of-a-ride that takes your breath away.

Anne Siegel
Kidnap Road
La MaMa

Ingrid Betancourt was a Colombian Senator who was kidnapped by FARC rebels while she was running for President in 2002. She was held hostage in the jungle for six-and-a-half years. Catherine Filloux has written a play based on Ms. Betancourt’s experience, Kidnap Road, which was recently presented by La MaMa.

The handsome set, by Justin Townsend, consists of a cube of violent white representing Ms. Betancourt’s prison. It has perforations in it, and it’s surrounded by long sticks representing the forest. There’s a swing downstage, suspended from the ceiling.

Steve Capra
archduke
Mark Taper Forum

History begins in tragedy and ends in farce. Rajiv Joseph builds his new play, Archduke, on that truism, turning the story of the 1914 assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, into a loony comedy worthy of The Three Stooges. The play, which was commissioned by CTG and is now in a world-premiere run at the Taper, tries to get serious as it trundles along, only to be undone by its less-than-believable plot and by its insensitive director, Giovanna Sardelli, a charter member of the “Loud and Louder” school of performing.

Willard Manus
West Side Story
Owen Theater

Something quite remarkable is happening at the Owen Theater in Conroe, Texas. For those within the sound of my journalistic voice, I would recommend obtaining tickets to the Players Theater Company’s splendid production of West Side Story before the word-of-mouth results in an inevitable sellout for the entire run. It was already a full house on the recent night of my attendance, and I can readily understand why.

David Dow Bentley
Actually
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Did he or didn’t he? That’s the question that lies at the heart of Actually, the two-character play by Anna Ziegler which is having a world-premiere run at the Geffen Playhouse (to be followed by a co-premiere at the 2017 Williamstown Theater Festival). In Ziegler’s tight little drama, the issue of campus date rape gets an airing. Samantha Ressler takes on the role of Amber, an 18-year-old motor-mouthed freshman at Princeton University who accuses a fellow-student named Tom of raping her at a wild dorm party. But is it really rape?

Willard Manus
By Jeeves
Village Church Arts

For the past 24 years, Windfall Theater has lived up to its tagline of presenting “fearless” theater. It is known for producing seldom-seen plays and musicals. Some of the latter include Anyone Can Whistle, The Last Five Years, and Celebration (coming in 2018). Windfall’s staff create these elaborate musicals with very little in the way of sets or props. (Somewhat more money usually goes into costumes.) Casts are large to the point where they almost comprise about one-third of audience members. And tickets are only $20.

Anne Siegel
Lady X
Mary's Attic

Gangland-crime buffs may detect traces of Charles "Lucky" Luciano's arrest in this musical adaptation of the 2010 romp-in-pumps burlesque from Hell in a Handbag productions, just as cinema aficionados may experience vague reminders of the 1937 film-noir classic Marked Woman, but audience members knowing nothing of these events — or even those too young to have heard of the actress named Bette Davis (oh, the tragedy!)—will find this no obstacle to appreciation of the liberties imposed by David Cerda and Scott Lamberty upon their source material.

Mary Shen Barnidge
My Name is Annie King
Pride Arts Broadway

According to their playbill bios, the authors of My Name is Annie King met at a BFA program in New York City, eventually collaborating on this musical about religious cults in Appalachia — not the region as we know it today after significant coverage in the recent elections, but the romantic Eden celebrated in folk ballads, before government programs introduced electricity, plumbing and highways to the once-isolated region, quickly followed by private enterprises bringing factories, automobiles, televisions, and cell phones.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Beatsville
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

In its world premiere, Beatsville seems a take-off on a Roger Corman movie wedded to a diminished Big Cafe-Shop of Horrors stage play set to rhymes encased in a mix of be-bop and sort of jazz-swing. It’s set in a Greenwich Village basement coffee house in 1959 frequented by pre-hippie hipsters dressed in black with white and wearing berets more suited to French existentialists. It’s a satire but of what?

Marie J. Kilker
Firebirds Take the Field
Rivendell Theater

Centuries of empirical evidence attest to the phenomenon of psychological stress manifesting itself in physical symptoms, as well as the quasi-infectious nature of this mind-body connection — particularly in groups of adolescent females, though all ages are susceptible. Famous cases of such mass delusion in our own country include the 1692 witch scare in Salem, Massachusetts, and the 1944 "Mad Gasser" scare in our neighboring city of Mattoon, Illinois.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Threesome
The Greenhouse

If you're going to write a play discussing gender issues in the Middle East, it certainly doesn't hurt to introduce it with three attractive young people—a man and woman wearing PJs and a third man wearing nothing but an eager smile—occupying a king-sized bed.

Mary Shen Barnidge
La Havana Madrid
Steppenwolf Theater - 1700 Theater

Chicago has been described as a "city of neighborhoods" — a sobriquet suggesting a tour of the world encapsulated in a few square miles — but also hearkening to feudal ages, making its legacy a chronicle of multicultural displacement as well as assimilation. The instigators of these shifting populations nowadays are not hostile governments so much as commercial conglomerates bent on economical gain — a phenomenon not restricted to communities of color, as demonstrated by the current upheaval in Lake View and Old Town.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Doll's House, Part 2, A
John Golden Theater

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is not so much a sequel as a modernized view of the dynamics of the Helmer family. There are anachronisms aplenty scattered throughout, in case we miss the point. There’s a square box of Kleenex on the table, a water bottle stuck in a bag, children are called “kids,” the heroine sits with her legs spread, and there’s quite a bit of cursing. This all goes to point us in the direction of this ain’t your grandmother’s Doll House.

Michall Jeffers

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