Westchester Broadway Theater

To be successful, Godspell must be upbeat, energetic, and youthful. Director John Fanelli supplies all these attributes in abundance in this current Westchester Broadway Theater production. He keeps the action colorful and moving, and what’s even better, his talented performers really seem to having fun; their joy is contagious, and the audience has a great time.

Michall Jeffers
Available Cupholders
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

From Austin, TX, the ensemble of four guys and a gal comprising Avaliable Cupholders focus on genre-related improv. They present a dartboard containing such “genres” as comedy of manners, sci-fi, Shakespeare, Tween eroticism, avant garde. On the night I attended, an audience member set off the dart here that favored a Shakespearian type of comedy. Another audience member chose the title (and thus the subject) of “It Lives” for a long-form improv.

Marie J. Kilker
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Motown: The Musical is zipping all over the country these days in anticipation of its announced Broadway return in summer 2016. The tour, which features a strong cast, spectacular costumes, an interesting yet minimal set and a well-honed orchestra, rocked Milwaukee audiences on opening night.

Anne Siegel
Small Fire, A
Steep Theater

Don't be fooled by the TV-movie premise of A Small Fire. Author Adam Bock's specialty lies in seemingly harmless settings spotted with empty spaces for audiences' imaginations. Theatergoers anticipating a tidy explanation offering insight into the domestic crisis depicted in this curiously unfinished play are hereby warned that what they take away may well be largely what they brought in.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Strawdog Theater

The dramatic dynamic in run-of-the-mill prison plays focuses on the ability—or inability—of the inmates to forge a unity sufficient to survive their ordeal. The dynamic in Holocaust plays is shaped by documentation of Jewish persecution under the Third Reich, though its conventions may be applied to victims of any political oppression. The dynamic in gay prison or Holocaust plays, by contrast, is most frequently rooted in romantic sensibilities mandating erotic attraction leading to martyrdom.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Of Good Stock
City Center - Stage I

Three sisters reuniting, an appealing beach house on Cape Cod, and the living is easy - or not. As Jess, the eldest sister says, “I’m not sure any of us Stockton girls can be truly happy.” And on we go from there.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
All American Girl
Lounge Theater

All American Girl, Wendy Graf’s provocative new play about a home-grown terrorist, has been given a first-class production by the InterAct Theater Company. The solo play, admirably directed by Anita Khandzadian, has been double cast, with Annika Marks and Jeanne Syquia alternating in the role of Kathleen, a young Christian girl from a Boston suburb who, incredibly, transforms into a bomb-making disciple of militant Islam.

Willard Manus
Nance, The
Kalita Humphreys Theater

Uptown Players, Dallas area's only gay-centric theater company, opened Douglas Carter Beane's hilarious, heartfelt musical about a 1937 era gay burlesque performer in New York. ”The Nance” was a term for an actor who portrayed a gay person on stage in a time when being gay could land one in jail, but portraying one onstage was allowed.

Rita Faye Smith
Connelly Theater

For those few that read her, and continue to do so, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) is an acquired taste, a taste I confess that I acquired decades ago. What attracted me to her, and still does, in addition to her writings and her ideas, is her common sense, an aspect that is rarely mentioned when the subject of Stein surfaces.

Edward Rubin
Hound of the Baskervilles, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

For an iconic mystery turned into a treat of frivolity and fun, take a trip to the British Moors onstage at Florida Studio Theater. The frivolous flummery suits typical summer theatergoing perfectly, as do the play’s three actors who take on 17 roles and follow delightfully demanding direction by Gavin Cameron-Webb. Has a Sherlock Holmes case ever been so goofy?

Marie J. Kilker
Ubu in Chains
Medicine Show Theater

In 1888 a French schoolboy, Alfred Jarry, wrote a puppet play to lampoon his physics teacher and created the character Pere Ubu. He would later rework the script into the play Ubu Roi. It’s one of the seminal plays of modern drama, and Jarry wrote three more plays around the character Pere Ubu. The plays broke the conventions of drama and prepared the way for the absurdists to come decades later. The third play was Ubu in Chains. Like Ubu Roi, it’s a preposterous, iconoclastic, very funny play.

Steve Capra
Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown
Apollo Studio

Whether you trace the origins of the format to Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia in 1985 or John Leguizamo's Mambo Mouth in 1990, it was still inevitable that the gay-male Latino immigrant experience would soon prove the subject of a solo show. In 1994, Chilean-born Guillermo Reyes addressed this insufficiency with his gallery of nine monologues, each representing a different aspect of the demographic collectively labeled "Hispanic."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Who and the What, The
The Biograph

A young artist defies the legacy of his ancestors to pursue a career proscribed by his tradition-bound family. Does this scenario sound familiar? You bet it does—it's “The Jazz Singer.” It's also “My Name Is Asher Lev,” A View from the Bridge, Family Devotions, Billy Elliott and Fiddler on the Roof.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Django Reinhardt New York Festival

It's a hot, swinging virtuosity, minor-key with a sighing vibrato, an irresistible sound that insinuates your soul with joyful brio and wistful nostalgia. This is Django's music, the legacy of French/gypsy guitarist/composer, Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt (1910-1953), a Manouche gypsy who captured the passion of generations of listeners.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Orson Welles & Scatman Crothers in A Hollywood Ending
Theater Asylum Lab

The Hollywood system’s callous human values are laid bare in Orson Welles & Scatman Crothers in “A Hollywood Ending, David Castro’s hard-hitting and bitter-sweet two-hander which just closed at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Nigerian Spam Scam Scam
Asylum Lab

It’s not everyone who can out-con the notorious Nigerian con men, but Dean Cameron managed to do it. The veteran TV and theater actor explains how he pulled off the stunt in Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, his hilarious play which just had a successful run at the recent Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Cameron, playing himself, is joined on stage by Victor Isaac, a wizard at voices who impersonated various Nigerian characters during the course of the show, including a female tribal chief and her officious nephew, a banker, and a custom’s-house official.

Mavis Manus
Bright Swords
The Complex

Bright Swords, the one-man play about famed African-American actor Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), was the best thing I saw at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Written by Rick Creese and starring Ryan Vincent Anderson, the play was riveting from beginning to end, thanks to the crisp writing and directing, and above all to Anderson’s superb performance.

Willard Manus
She Stoops to Conquer
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

I don’t know quite what to say about this production of She Stoops to Conquer. The famous old comedy is one of my favorites. This latest revival is directed by Stratford’s leading expert on direction who has also starred superbly in several productions of the play. It is designed by some of Canada’s greatest designers. And the cast includes three of my favorite actors in the world. Except for one scene marred by a poor choice of actor, I thought the whole performance delightfully well-played, adroitly and very beautifully designed, expertly directed, and a total pleasure.

Herbert M. Simpson
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Thanks to Julian Olf, I know why the “Art” he’s so wonderfully directed for Banyan differs some from what I previously knew in French and English in Paris and in English in the U.S. It seems I just attended a newer American--not British-English--adaptation that places action and accents here. Such alchemy turned a philosophical comedy into satirical farce, drawing laughs galore but less afterthought about values except how entertaining an exploration of them can be.

Marie J. Kilker
Diary of Anne Frank, The
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Of the eight impressive productions I’ve seen thus far in the Stratford Festival of Canada’s 2015 season, the only one I cannot recommend is The Diary of Anne Frank. The play is a deeply moving presentation of the amazing human document saved from the tragic story of a real young victim of the Nazi Holocaust. Stratford’s cast is close to ideally chosen to bring the story and characters to life, and much of their performance is remarkably authentic and affecting.

Herbert M. Simpson
The Greenhouse

Chay Yew may not be represented in the annals of Gay Theater as prominently as, say, Tony Kushner or Mart Crowley, but hindsight affirms the impact of his 1992 play, Porcelain addressing prejudice—racial, cultural and sexual—in a country where consensual sex between men had been decriminalized only a bare 25 years earlier.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Greenhouse

Leo Ledger has an addictive gambling habit and a propensity for losing bets. This not-uncommon correlation stems from his conviction that he is unworthy of happiness, so that his efforts to conceal this flaw are orchestrated to ultimately reaffirm his failure. His wife wearied of this game long ago, leaving him with custody of their son Albert, who is now 19 and departing for college, after supplying his father with a semester's worth of latchkey instructions for the maintenance of the household. Will these measures prove successful?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Physicists, The
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

I haven’t read or seen The Physicists for a half-century, and this is a new translation into English by the excellent Canadian playwright Michael Healey. But I wasn’t aware of any drastic changes that Healey has made to the Friedrich Durrenmatt play whose American premiere I saw in 1964. It’s a painfully funny, bitterly disturbing play that was admired but ran very briefly in New York in a lustrous production directed by Peter Brook, starring Hume Cronyn, Robert Shaw, and Jessica Tandy.

Herbert M. Simpson
Steppenwolf Theater

At a well-planned sex party—or just about any kind of party, for that matter—there is an understanding that you don't have to engage in sex but are free to enjoy the occasion in whatever manner you wish. At poorly-planned sex parties, by contrast, group pressure frequently makes for divisive confrontations between those seeking mindless sensory indulgence and those bent on analytic discussion as a preface to the evening's activities.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Karen Mason
Don't Tell Mama

Mason at Mama’s in March has ended, but the memory lingers on. Mason returned to Don't Tell Mama's for two June weekends, and with a bouncy swing, her second song, "Takin' a Chance on Love" promises, "I'm going to give my all again." And she does. With Christopher Denny's perceptive piano accompaniment and Barry Kleinbort's crisp direction highlighting Mason's comedic, sentimental, and dramatic talents, her show reaches beyond a master class in cabaret to a master class in theater. We can't get enough of Mason, and she's worth every minute.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Sound of Music, The
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Canada’s Stratford Festival keeps bringing in Broadway pros to stage musicals and several powerhouse directors from the United States to recreate their landmark versions of modern drama classics, but this great classical repertory theater’s recent champions remain Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino’s uniformly superb revivals of classics and resident director/choreographer Donna Feore’s landmark restagings of major musicals.

Herbert M. Simpson
Karen Mason
Don't Tell Mama

In Karen Mason’s performance at Don’t Tell Mama on West 46th Street, we enjoy a superbly talented singer who gives us all the nuances and dimensions of the songs she sings— all from the highest pop library— from the Gershwins, Lerner & Lowe, Jule Stein/Leo Robin, The Beatles, and a terrific “Over The Rainbow.”

This top-level cabaret act is totally engaging, with a strong comic undertone, and it’s a treat. Her clear strong voice takes us to the land of exquisite music performance.

Richmond Shepard
Urbanite Theater

Kelly shares with lover Daizy an apartment she’s half converted into a doll house. Atop her work-table are parts of bodies, heads, faces, hair of dolls, painting paraphenalia, a projector, lamp, ashtray, bottles of beer. Baskets underneath hold baby-like limbs and torsos. Against the brick back wall, shelves hold molded heads--some with hair, some on baby doll bodies in various stages of dress. Kelly is a reborner.

Marie J. Kilker
Smile, Baby
Dorie Theater at the Complex

Smile, Baby is the ironic title of one of the most provocative comedy shows at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. In it, five actresses take turns in poking wicked fun at male entitlement. In a series of black-out sketches, the actresses play a wide range of women who are constantly being hit on by vain and boastful men. But instead of reacting in traditional fashion by being flattered and impressed, these 21st-century females not only see through the con but find ways to satirize it.

Willard Manus
Dorie Theater at the Complex

The life-and-death struggle to overcome an addiction–in this case, an eating disorder–is powerfully dramatized in Catalyst, a new play by April Morrow which is on tap at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Morrow, who not only wrote and directed Catalyst but stars in it, was anorexic and suicidal at fifteen. She was sent to a Christian psychiatric institution whose doctors, therapists and, above all, fellow addicts, helped her to realize that recovery was possible. As she says in the play, “No one said it was easy; they said it was worth it!”

Willard Manus
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Carousel is such a beautiful, well-known show that Stratford’s recent trend of topping even the famous originals and legendary remembered productions of great musicals in dazzling, flawless revivals was unlikely here. Broadway pros, director Susan H. Schulman and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld, instead offer a loving tribute to the beloved original by doing full justice to the four-handkerchief weeper that boasts perhaps the most beautiful and flawless score outside of grand opera.

Herbert M. Simpson
Gift Theater

Shakespeare never tells us how ethnically diverse the Venetian army was before an African soldier named Othello distinguished himself honorably in the war with Turkey for possession of Cyprus, but the recognition granted this valiant warrior would probably have stirred rancor among his subordinates regardless of his complexion or his marriage to a senator's daughter. The resentment is especially malignant in his immediate subordinate, Iago, already chafing under the indignities of a disabling injury and an indifferent wife.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Tempest, The
Delacorte Theater

It was only fitting that the sky was threatening; it had been raining hard all day, and everyone wondered if the show would go on. It did, of course; Shakespeare in the Park never cancels until show time, and then, only very rarely.

Michall Jeffers
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