Smoke
The Met Theater

Smoke is the best play I have seen at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival, a black, edgy, brilliantly acted and directed drama which thrills from start to finish. Let’s hope that Rogue Machine will keep it running long after the Festival ends.

Willard Manus
Disgraced
Mark Taper Forum

Disgraced, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, has been revived at the Mark Taper Forum in a powerful but flawed production. Repeating director Kimberly Senior has assembled a strong cast but allowed some of its actors–mostly the women–to swallow their words at key moments. Their inaudibility spoiled much of the play for this critic.

Willard Manus
Shakespeare in Love
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Yes, Shakespeare in Love is a winner of an original comedy, but since this is a “North American premiere by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions,” I haven’t heard whether Stratford could take it to Broadway. Not a bad idea, though.

Herbert Simpson
Shining City
Irish Repertory Theater

Conor McPherson’s Shining City is more somber than shining, reflecting the loneliness, yearning and guilt of four characters, communicating and suffering yet never really connecting. The immediacy of their stories is emotional, each one enveloped in his own anguish and the world he cannot understand.

At the renovated Irish Repertory Theater, McPherson explores these problems through storytelling between two men in a series of short scenes and the playwright's trademark broken dialogue that vibrates with authenticity.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

I did not grow up with this story, and, in fact, have seen only two of the “Narnia” films, so I was less familiar with or informed about this delightful play than were many of the children and younger members of the audience.  In fact, they were apparently comfortably acquainted with the material and more sophisticated in their appreciation of its many magical elements.  Without punning on its supernatural fantasies, I really found this material enchanting.

Herbert M. Simpson
As You Like It
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Because this is a production of a beloved, great comedy by William Shakespeare, and because this is the great Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Ontario, Canada, three or four scenes in As You Like It are played superbly by some of the finest Shakespearean actors in the world. And they are charming, unmistakably clear, and a special rare delight.

Herbert M. Simpson
All My Sons
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons has always struck me as his stepchild, which even potent productions of, all seem to get qualified or grudging approval. So it is heartening to read Canada’s master theater artist and teacher, Martha Henry, write that she was surprised to discover that All My Sons is a great play – a much greater play than I thought it was when we started working on it.”

Skirting the Law
Starlite Room

Under the title, Skirting the Law, four sparkling short plays illuminate the announced theme, all quite differently.

Marie J. Kilker
Come Fly with Me
Court Cabaret

It’s telling that there’s no program listing for the changing colored, stretched-curtain design of Come Fly With Me’s backdrop, for it’s the best part of this show. All else seems to be imported by Florida Studio Theater, which has never to my knowledge, itself created such an amateurish revue. It has little or no real script, the music is divided between on-site and recorded, and its cast members lack chemistry and vocal chops, individually and together.

Marie J. Kilker
Punch and Judy
The Complex

“Not suitable for children of any age” states the flier for Punch and Judy, the live-action adaptation of the classic puppet show which has entertained multitudes for the past two thousand years. Written and directed by Christopher Johnson, founder of Chicago’s Defiant Theater, this X-rated Punch and Judy mixes Commedia dell’Arte, Grand Guignol, chainsaw horror movies and gleeful raunch to tell its manic, blood-spattered story.

Willard Manus
I'll Say She Is
Connelly Theater

I’ll Say She Is is a Marx Brothers musical revue that opened on Broadway in 1924. The book and lyrics were written by Will B. Johnstone; the music was written by his brother, Tom Johnstone. It was the Marx Brothers’s first Broadway show, and it was a big success.

Noah Diamond has adapted the review for the Off-Broadway stage. It’s been produced at the Connolly Theater by Rest of the Crew Productions, Loobit Ventures, Trav S.D., Deroy Murdock, Stephen Diamond and Gimme a Thrill Productions.

Steve Capra
Big Sky
Geffen Playhouse

In Big Sky, now in its world-premiere run at the Geffen, yet another dysfunctional family disintegrates before our eyes, in blackly comic fashion. Written by the much-produced playwright Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and skilfully directed by John Rando, the play (which has its eyes on a Broadway run), is set in an elegant Ritz-Carlton condo in Aspen, Colorado, the rich-person’s favorite ski resort. Residing in the condo are Jack (Jon Tenney) and Jen (Jennifer Westfeldt), a tenuously married couple, and their precocious teenaged daughter, Tessa (Emily Robinson).

Willard Manus
Chorus Line, A
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

This wonderful revival of A Chorus Line has not exactly “been reimagined for its first major production on a thrust stage” as we were told it would be. Rather, Canada’s superb director/choreographer Donna Feore has made some additions and changed only an occasional emphasis, and truly re-choreographed only parts of a few dances. Her challenge and her longtime aspiration was to present her loving immersion into this show and combine it with her dedication to this world-famous stage.

Herbert M. Simpson
Macbeth
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Canada’s great Stratford Festival began its 63rd season with a dazzling week of productions including a re-staged new version of the classic musical, A Chorus Line, a stunning production of the children’s play, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with a new musical based on the beloved film, “Shakespeare In Love.”

Herbert Simpson
Taming of the Shrew, The
Delacorte Theater

Any current production of The Taming of the Shrew risks running afoul of modern audiences — big time. After all, the plot revolves around the brutalization of an intelligent, independent-thinking woman who rejects the notion that she must marry in order to please her wealthy father.

Michall Jeffers
Seven Guys You Date Before You Get Married, The
Actors Company

Nicole Burch, a fast-talking, wise-cracking, but attractive blonde wonders why she’s still single at the age of 33. Her quest to find a perfect prince obliges her to kiss a lot of frogs–“enough to ravage an entire koi pond.” Her comic misadventures with the opposite sex lie at the heart of The 7 Guys You Date Before You Get Married, now drawing laughs at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Cockroach Dialogues
Dorie Theater

Franz Kafka meets Nathanael West in Cockroach Dialogues, William Whitehurst’s black comedy now running at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Hollywood is the setting – and the target – of this one-act play, which centers on Wayne (Mark Binet) and Tea (Kate Poisson), two young, impoverished performers trying to make it in the entertainment capitol of the world.

Willard Manus
Prospect
IATA Theater / Teatro Circulo

In Octavio Solis’s play Prospect, Vince and Liza pick up Scout at a bar. Vince brings the two others home to meet his wife. Scout is intended to screen Vince’s relationship with Liza by appearing to be her date. Scout’s a bit of a dupe. But he and Vince’s wife, Elena, bond over being Hispanic and create a complex and subtle relationship.

Steve Capra
Peer Gynt
Classic Stage Company

Henrik Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt before he wrote the realistic dramas he’s so famous for (Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House). It’s a verse drama, published in 1867, based on a Norwegian folk myth. Its 40 scenes are sometimes realistic, sometimes surreal, and its many characters populate the stage for five hours or so. It’s enormously whimsical and theatrical, and it was originally paired with Edvard Grieg’s incidental music (which included “In the Hall of the Mountain King”).

Steve Capra
Indian Summer
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage

Yes, that’s real sand setting the tone for Indian Summer, the final production of the splendid Playwrights Horizons season. Waves are crashing on the beach as Daniel (Owen Campbell) tries to pass the time. He wears a plaid shirt, khaki shorts, and sneakers, and sports long, shaggy bangs. His mom has dumped him off on his step-grandfather, George (Jonathan Hadary) for who knows how long. Daniel is bored, worried, and not having a very good time until Izzy (Elise Kibler), a local girl, shows up. She’s spunky, pretty, and in a bright yellow crop top and short shorts, really sexy.

Michall Jeffers
Taming, The
Shakespeare & Company

The thirtysomething Lauren Gunderson is widely regarded as among the best and brightest of the emerging generation of playwrights. During the 2014 Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky she was the keynote speaker for the annual meeting of American Theatre Critics Association. On that occasion she also was the recipient of ATCA’s prestigious Steinberg Award.

Having much enjoyed her perky persona and brilliant insights in Louisville, it was with great anticipation that we attended last night’s opening of the regional premiere of her 2013 political comedy, The Taming.

Charles Giuliano
Fabulous Lipitones, The
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Old-fashioned in a good new way, The Fabulous Lipitones takes up the quandary of a barbershop quartet that’s become a trio shortly before they’re to sing in a big national contest. The men experience difficulty finding their newly deceased member’s replacement and overcoming the newbie’s lack of experience with their kind of music. Just as unhelpful are their ample preconceived attitudes and misconceptions.

Marie J. Kilker
Hetty Feather
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theatre

A popular British children’s book made into a play, Hetty Feather is about a foundling who searches from infancy through teens for her biological mother. Hetty also relentlessly pursues happiness itself through hard times at the foundling home, a nicer short stay with a foster family, and finally, a hook-up with a travelling circus.

Marie J. Kilker
Cirque du Soleil: Paramour
Lyric Theater

No doubt about it; there are times Paramour does seem like a three ring circus, and it’s tough to know where to look. On the one hand, you have a classic romantic triangle, set against the background of grand old movie musicals. On the other, you have the daredevil excitement of classic Cirque du Soleil, including breathtaking acts of tumbling, high flying, and juggling.

Michall Jeffers
Kinky Boots
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Kinky Boots finally makes its Milwaukee debut with a big splash of glitz, glamour, humor and heartfelt confessions – all a part of what makes the show a Broadway showstopper and a multi-Tony Award winner.

Anne Siegel
Honky
Rogue Machine at The Met Theater

Playwright Kalleres satirizes racial politics and attitudes in Honky, his jaunty, fast-moving, and irreverent comedy now in its Los Angeles premiere run at Rogue Machine. Slickly and snappily directed by Gregg T. Daniel, and masterfully performed by its eight-person cast, Honky zeroes in on a Manhattan ad agency headed by Davis Tallison (Bruce Nozick) whose main client makes gaudy, overpriced sneakers — “Sky Ballers” — which are treasured by black kids in the ‘hood.

Willard Manus
Hairy Ape, The
Odyssey Theater

First produced in 1922, Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape has been given an Expressionistic take by director Steven Berkoff. Shouted dialogue and choreographed movement are the order of the day, powered and punctuated by the drumbeats of percussionist Will Mahood. More surreal than real, this production goes all out for high energy and extreme emotion, sacrificing subtlety and complexity for excitement and drama with a capital D.

Willard Manus
Shakespeare Show, The
Royal Shakespeare Company

Note: Reviewed via pre-recorded video electronically transmitted by Fathom Events to a movie theater in Florida.

Marie J. Kilker
City of Conversation, The
Bram Goldsmith Theater

First produced by Lincoln Center Theater in 2014, The City of Conversation is particularly relevant in this election year, dealing as it does with Washington DC politics. The L.A. production, now on tap at the Annenberg Center, stars Christine Lahti as Hester Ferris, an elegant DC power-broker who fights for liberal causes from the drawing-room of her DC townhouse (elegant set by Jeff Cowie).

Willard Manus
Pirates of Penzance, The
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

The veteran Skylight Music Theatre closes its current season with a joyous, charming and utterly daffy production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, Pirates of Penzance. . All the appropriate elements are assembled here to guarantee an audience’s satisfaction: gorgeous voices, attractive lovers, darling maidens, soft-hearted pirates, bumbling police officers, an outstanding live orchestra, and lovely sets that hint of the modern-day elements of this show.

Anne Siegel
Mind Games
Starlite Room

In the one-act collection, Mind Games, Reverse Psychology (by George Freek) works on nice guy Ren Pearson’s approach to a job as Michael, who’s been told by fiance Sara (Samanta Centerbar, adamant) that he has to be more assertive. In an interview with Steve Bikfalvy’s surprising Charles, Michael is asked to seduce Charles’s wife Susan (Alana Opie, as forward as Sara had been) to prove how much he wants to work for them. Director Mark Woodland makes sure that his actors’ characters not only seduce but also surprise both each other and the audience.

Marie J. Kilker
Hillary & Monica
Odyssey Theater

No, Hillary & Monica is not a two-character play about a meeting between Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky, the White House intern who got it on with the president. It’s about a couple of comedy writers who are trying to write just such a play, on the assumption that it will hit big with the public.

Willard Manus
Sweeter Than Justice
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Sweeter Than Justice plays more like the novel Robert Lipkin says he started out to write before he converted it to a drama. It’s hard to tell what the play’s point is. Is it how being raped completely changed the life of Geanina Palmieri? Is it how that crime got so involved in others’ lives? Is it that legal procedure can be twisted to go beyond justice or even pervert it?  Though all these ideas overwhelm Lipkin’s play, his ways  of posing questions about them are underwhelming. 

Marie J. Kilker
In & Of Itself
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Derek DelGaudio, the magician/illusionist, returns to the Geffen with his latest one-man show, In & Of Itself. Directed by Frank Oz, the show hopes to duplicate the success of DelGaudio’s previous appearance at the Geffen, Nothing to Hide, which was so popular that it got extended to 18 weeks and became one of the five-highest-grossing productions in the theater’s 20-year history. In & Of Itself is a collaboration with producer Glenn Kaino (DelGaudio’s partner in the art duo A. Bandit) and composer Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo, numerous Wes Anderson movies).

Willard Manus
Long Day's Journey into Night
American Airlines Theater

British director Jonathan Kent helms the current production of Eugene O'Neill's epic of a doomed family. The Roundabout Theater Company's exceptional revival of A Long Day's Journey into Night reminds us of the prominence theater can achieve in the arts.

The three and three-quarter hour semi-biographical play follows a long day from morning to midnight, a harrowing and riveting focus on the epic, artistic Tyrone family and its fatal flaws. Kent evokes the essence of its characters and the life of desolation they all live, engrossed and repelled by each other.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Ttwo Trains Running
Arden Theater

The time is 1969. The place is Pittsburgh, more specifically The Hill (or Black) District, most specifically a restaurant going downhill because its area’s slated for destruction as urban renewal. A first production problem at Arden Theater’s staging of Two Trains Running is that the restaurant’s sign and entrance with unused cashier’s counter space is angled so it’s readable only from the audience’s left. The sign covers projections on opposite outer walls that seem to have important pictures but who knows?

Marie J. Kilker
Josephine
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

The curtain of art nouveau, illustrating the kind of dance and music to which Paris was treated in the first third of the 20th Century, opens on a Folies Bergere progression of near-nude but jeweled-all-over gorgeous women down a glittery stairway. The orchestral accompaniment suits their parade and their meeting up with tuxedoed men in song and rhythmic movement. Then, banana-clad Deborah Cox as Josephine Baker shakes all as quasi-native dark dancers surround her doing the same. It’s the high point of a show that descends from there on.

Marie J. Kilker
Endgame
Kirk Douglas Theater

Hail and Farewell. Alan Mandell, the distinguished, 88-year-old L.A. actor, has said that his performance in Endgame might be his final one, citing the difficulty of learning lines at his age. If that’s the case, he has gone out in a blaze of theatrical glory, giving us a Hamm we will long remember, a blind tyrant with a sly, sardonic sense of humor. With his oracular voice and instinctive feeling for the music and rhythm of Beckett’s language, Mandell is a commanding presence from beginning to end. Miraculously, he has managed to direct CTG’s production of the play, as well.

Willard Manus
American Psycho
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

The year is 1989, and in the Masters of the Universe world of New York City’s high rollers, it’s all about me, me, me. Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker) admires his nearly naked body, spouts the brand names of everything he wears and owns, and likes himself a lot. He’s at the top of his game, and like the Mad Men who have gone before, he’s an expert at selling the sizzle. Life is all about going to the flashiest clubs, snorting cocaine, being seen with the most attractive women, and above all, winning. But Patrick’s also completely stressed out, and it starts to take its toll.

Michall Jeffers
Sex with Strangers
Philadelphia Theater Company - Suzanne Roberts Theater

On a snowstormy dark night, tending a Northern Michigan B&B for a friend, Olivia (handsome Joanna Rhinehart) is curled up on a couch next to the fireplace. No internet connection or phone, just pen in hand as she works on a paper. She hears the screeching halt of a car, then at the front door, a man pounding on it, roaring a need and right to enter. So the dignified 39 year old teacher lets the guy in. Yeah, sure.

Marie J. Kilker

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