Steppenwolf Theater

The phenomenon of "paradigm shift" occurs when an object undergoes a perceived change after being observed from a different angle—the scientific equivalent of the adage about seeing things from the other person's point of view. Be warned that several such transformations are embedded in Taylor Mac's portrait of the unlucky Conner clan.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Blue-Eyed Bettys, The
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

All of “The Blue-Eyed Bettys” instrumentalists play string instruments. Three also sing and give bits of unsung narration. Those three all met at Florida Studio Theater, formed their group (whose name is not explained), and have been together since, mostly touring but based in New York City. “The Blue-Eyed Bettys” show now marks a kind of sentimental return to their beginnings.

Marie J. Kilker
King of the Yees
Kirk Douglas Theater

It’s rude, irreverent and funny from beginning to end.

Willard Manus
Flea in her Ear, A
Hill Theater

For pure entertainment, nothing beats a well-done French farce. When done as expertly as it is at American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wis., the laughter bubbles up almost from the first line of dialogue and continues until the final curtain.

Anne Siegel
Sarasota Improv Festival - Part II
Florida Studio Theater

The last of three days of Florida Studio Theater’s 2017 9th Annual Improv Festival continued with a record overall crowd. Taking advantage of a full weekend day, four of FST’s venues filled with audiences full of suggestions on which improvisations could be based. From 5 to 11 p.m. I was able to see six shows to review as follows.

Marie J. Kilker
School for Scandal, The
Stratford Festival of Canada - Avon Theater

Almost sneaked in at the very end of a dazzling week of seven major openings of Canada’s great Stratford Festival’s 65th season, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal is the only production that Stratford’s Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino will direct this year. 2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday year, and while all seven varying works were impressive stagings of demanding warhorses (the experimental stuff comes later in the season), Cimolino’s School For Scandal is really memorable.

Herbert M. Simpson
Sarasota Improv Festival - Part I
Florida Studio Theater

Twenty-three groups with 94 performers improvising over three days at Florida Studio Theater makes it impossible for one person to see every performance, much less review everything. With a program expanded over previous years, 23 groups from five states and one foreign country (Mexico) participate. As might be expected, Florida is the most widely represented state. As might not, the host city’s FST Improv may be the most effective performers overall — or at least on Friday, July 14.

Marie J. Kilker
Midsummer Night's Dream, A
Hill Theater

It’s not for nothing that Shakespeare’s magical journey through the woods, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is often cited by theatergoers as their favorite Shakespeare play. In a good production, such as the current one at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., there’s more than a hint of pixie dust sprinkled through the proceedings. There’s romance, jealousy, competitiveness, tears, and lots of laughter. Adults are made to look as silly as one could imagine. The sillier they become, the more fun they are to watch.

Anne Siegel
Any Night
Sacred Fools Theater

Brilliant writing, directing and acting make Any Night the success it is. A psychological thriller about a woman, Anna (Marie Fahlgren), in extreme jeopardy, Any Night is the work of Canadian playwrights Daniel Arnold and Medina Falghren and was first produced in 2008 at the Belfry Theatre in British Columbia. The play has since been done off-Broadway (and elsewhere) and is scheduled to open this fall at the Filigree Theater in Austin. The latter company is polishing the production during a two-week guest run at Sacred Fools in Hollywood. The director, Elizabeth V.

Willard Manus
Relatively Speaking
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There couldn’t be a better vehicle to launch a new summer “Dog Days of Summer” program of FSU/Asolo’s Conservatory than master farceur Alan Ayckbourn’s first big hit, Relatively Speaking. It takes us back to England in the 1960s as sexual liberation meets sexual hanky panky affecting a traditional troubled marriage. And maybe a future non-traditionally born one.

Marie J. Kilker
Museum of Jewish Heritage

Amerike is the saga of Jewish immigrants to America, told by a skilled company of actors, all of whom have strong singing voices. The musical, performed in Yiddish with subtitles in both English and Russian, shows that the opportunity to leave Mother Russia was met with both delight and a reluctance to desert that which was familiar. The voyage was long and uncomfortable, and being processed through Ellis Island must have been exhausting, confusing, and for those who equated uniforms with brutality in the old country, terrifying.

Michall Jeffers
Nance, The
Pride Arts Broadway

The effeminate — or merely unmanly — male has been a stock character in comedy since antiquity, his risible appeal arising from the reversal of expectations at the foundation of popular humor to this day. In Western literature, the overtly gay element gradually became de-emphasized, with Aristophanes’s Cleisthenes and Plautus’s Ballio giving way to the less sexually disambiguous Casper Milquetoast.

Mary Shen Barnidge
School for Lies, The
The Artistic Home

You have to admire David Ives’s commercial savvy: After making his fortune in 1993 with a collection of short, funny, low-budget, actor-friendly sketches suitable for classroom or cabaret, his "translaptations" of obscure pre-19th-century French playwrights have, since 2006, attracted hitherto-undetected legions of theatergoers enamored of actors dressed in big skirts and big wigs making dick jokes and saying "fart" in rhymed couplets.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Enchantment, The

Victoria Benedictsson was a Swedish writer writing at the end of the 19th century. She’s noted for her novels and, to a lesser extent, for a play called The Enchantment. She had a passion for the famous critic Georg Brandes, and it’s conjectured that he seduced her. At any rate, she committed suicide in 1888, just after writing The Enchantment.

Steve Capra
Unexpected Man, The
Touchstone Theater

As one walks into the cool darkness of the American Players Theater 200-seat indoor theater, waiting for Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man to begin, there is not much to see onstage. Two park-type benches face each other. On the backdrop are nine rectangular projections (the size of train windows). The sounds of a train are heard before the play begins.

Anne Siegel
Not Water
3D Technology Center

(see articles/reviews under (Not) Water)

(Not) Water
3D Technology Center

For the first hour or so of (Not) Water, the audience sits in a large circle in a very large room. The actors present, in a disjointed flow, vignettes representing the process that led to the production. We meet the artists and watch some fictitious scenes and hear some stories, even some stand-up.

Steve Capra
Bastard Jones
the cell

Bastard Jones, produced off-Broadway by the cell, is a musical adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.” Fielding’s title character, of course, is a good-natured libertine, the sex addict who falls in love with the nice girl, Sophia. The plot, which is convoluted even in this pared-down adaptation, is of no particular importance. It just concerns Tom’s sexual adventures. He’s banished and nearly executed for his ill-considered lifestyle. At the end, of course, he wins the virtuous Sophia.

Steve Capra
Marvin's Room
American Airlines Theater

Bessie is a saint. As played by Lili Taylor in Marvin’s Room, she’s also warm, optimist, and altogether lovely. So why is she so annoying? Maybe our sensibilities have changed, but it’s hard to identify with this woman who has sacrificed her life to take care of her father, who’s been dying slowly for the last twenty years. He’s the Marvin of the title, and while we hear him moaning throughout, we never see him. The other obvious question is when Bessie needs a bone marrow transplant, why does no one suggest Marvin?

Michall Jeffers
Roommate, The
Williamstown Theater Festival

When well-presented, Jen Silverman's quirky two-hander, The Roomate, is absorbing, suspenseful, and full of inventive surprise. The production at Williamstown Theater Festival, however, diminishes the subtle nuances and best assets of the play by overproducing them.

Yet again we have seen an intimate, potentially charming play which is more suited to the smaller Nikos Stage, over-inflated to fill the less forgiving space of the Main Stage. That is, perhaps, motivated by the marquee casting of two players primarily known for their work and awards for the small screen.

Charles Giuliano
Westchester Broadway Theater

We all remember the tunes from Annie: “Tomorrow,” “Maybe,” “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” What we tend to forget is the political message and the real underlying poignancy.

Michall Jeffers
Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

Leonard Pelkey, a 14 year old boy, is missing from his New Jersey shore small town. Hard-boiled detective Chuck DeSantis (played by Jeffrey Plunkett who also plays everyone else in monologues plus scenes) tells us about the search for him. He’s letting us in on Leonard’s “absolute brightness” that physics defines as what a star might have in certain light years from earth. Leonard let his shine all over town.

Marie J. Kilker
It's Only Life
Attic Theater

Thanks to splendid singing, catchy tunes, and clever direction, the musical revue It’s Only Life sparkled in its just-closing run at the Attic Theater. Based on the music of John Bucchino, who has written for such disparate vocalists as Art Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli, and Deborah Voight, It’s Only Life features six young singers who surely will be heard from again in future: Jill Marie Burke, Devon Davidson, Kayre Morrison, Joaquin Nunez, Philip McBride, and Ken Shepski.

Willard Manus
Mark Taper Forum

Simon Stephens’s take on the May/September love story formula, Heisenberg, is slight but entertaining, thanks largely to the comedic gifts of its two actors, Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker, who have been performing the play since it was first produced in New York by Manhattan Theatre Club in 2015, with a subsequent Broadway run a year later.

Willard Manus
Going To a Place Where You Already Are
Redtwist Theater

Rare is the human being who has not grappled with the mystery of death and its aftermath. Cultural speculations on the realms beyond the grave encompass simple regression to the earth (as observed in animals) and regeneration (as observed in plants), as well as elaborate recycling schemes involving transmigration into altered physical states. Christianity, however, promises its believers eternal liberation from corporal restraints within a mythic sanctuary—descriptions of which differ widely, no first-hand witness accounts ever having been reported.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Johnny Johnson
Stage 773

Some experiences cannot be described in words, war being one of them. The difficulty of summarizing so vast and varied a topic accounts for the similarities evident in their documentation, popular motifs generally focusing on assertions that armed conflict is cruel, that warriors suffer and die at the behest of reckless leaders, and that those who survive are shunned by their fellow citizens as reminders of how quickly populaces can be gulled by flag-waving oratory.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Guys and Dolls
Festival Theater

Director/choreographer Donna Feore seems to have solidified Canada’s Stratford Festival’s standing as not only the largest and finest classical repertory theater in this hemisphere but also Canada’s greatest musical theater. This season’s superb Guys and Dolls may not be the astoundingly perfect production that her 2013 recreation of Fiddler on the Roof became, nor so daring a restaging as her A Chorus Line last season, but it may be more pleasing than either, and is certainly the all-around best version I’ve seen to date (and that includes the Broadway original).

Herbert M. Simpson
Napoli, Brooklyn
Laura Pels Theater

There is a definitive time — 1960 — and place — Brooklyn — and characters — an Italian family poised at the brim of a tumultuous decade that will shake up racial equality, gay rights, equal opportunities for women. Unfortunately, playwright Meghan Kennedy’s premiere of Napoli, Brooklyn at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater tackles an intriguing era with a stereotyped cast and an unsatisfying text.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Traveling Lady, The
Cherry Lane Theater

Initially, the calm of a small Texas town in 1950 shows little hint of the turbulence simmering beneath the surface. Returning to the New York stage, The Traveling Lady is a snapshot of Harrison, Texas, the community that playwright Horton Foote knew so well, and again, he draws the drama from the everyday comedy and heartbreak of ordinary people.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cost of Living
City Center - Stage I

Manhattan Theater Club's New York City premiere of Cost of Living explores the abyss separating people, those who have, those who don't, and the universal needs that everyone shares. It could be a drama ripe with sentimentality. Instead, Cost of Living studies four people, emotional but pierced with bitterness and, surprisingly, laughter.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Imbible, The
New World Stages

We live in a crazy busy world. With jobs, families, and other responsibilities, there just isn’t a whole lot of time to hang out with our friends. Add to this the sense that everyone is on the phone, all the time, and the very pleasant notion of a leisurely brunch with pals sinks to the bottom of the to-do list. This is the dilemma faced by four modern, over-scheduled, over tech-connected New Yorkers who really want to get together but just can’t fit socializing into the schedule.

Michall Jeffers
Tenth Avenue Theater

The relatively young Outskirts Theater takes on its biggest challenge with a production of Bare: A Pop Opera. As artistic director Ryan Albrechtson explains to the audience prior to the performance, this is the company’s largest and most complex production in its four-year history. If nothing else, Outskirts deserves credit for tackling material that is far beyond what many community theaters would attempt. It truly lives up to its name, which implies something more daring than what’s offered at mainstream theaters.

Anne Siegel
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Odyssey Theater

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was first performed off Broadway in 1968, where the revue ran for several years and was released by Columbia Records in a two-box set that made the hit-parade charts. The Belgian-born Brel became a major influence on such artists as Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, thanks to the English translations of his French-language songs by Rod McKuen.

Willard Manus
Twelfth Night
Festival Theater

Canada’s great Stratford Festival’s 63rd season also celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday. Its dazzling opening week of stunning productions this year consisted of seven major classic works; the later openings this season will feature new and experimental theater.

Herbert M. Simpson
Broadway in Black
WBBT Theater

African Americans impacted Broadway through performances and literary and musical creations that significantly contributed to the American theater and culture. Broadway in Black celebrates this contribution by reproducing parts of it in musicals and highlighting — through exemplary entertainment — their importance.

Marie J. Kilker
Letters from a Nut
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

The history of Letters from a Nut goes back to 1995, when comedian Jerry Seinfeld was watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon in a friend’s house and discovered a handful of letters sitting on a coffee table. The letters were written by his host, fellow comedian Barry Marder, to various companies, countries and celebrities. Using the pseudonym of Ted L. Nancy, Marder played practical jokes with these letters, making outrageous requests of the recipients, punking them with a straight face.

Willard Manus
59E59 Theaters

In Torben Betts’s play Invincible, presented by The Original Theater Company and Ghost Light Theater Productions at off-Broadway’s 59E59 Theaters (as part of their Brits Off Broadway series), a London couple named Oliver and Emily move to Northern England and experience culture shock. Specifically, they invite their neighbors, Alan and Dawn, over for a visit one evening and find that they have no mutual ground. Oliver and Emily are quintessential sophisticates, unmarried, progressive, slender, refined. Alan and Dawn are boors.

Steve Capra
Jacques Brel's Lonesome Losers of the Night
No Exit Cafe

Playgoers attending Theo Ubique's musical anthology drawn from the canon of Jacques Brel are advised to set aside their memories of the 2008 premiere production, as well as those of the seriously flawed, 1970-vintage “Alive and Well” cabaret revue.

Late Company
Pride Arts Buena

Two sets of affluent parents meeting to discuss an incident involving their respective offspring is a premise inviting anticipation of a comedy of manners in the style of Yasmina Reza, where rational discourse quickly gives way to voices raised in angry protest, often to the exclusion of the subject initiating the dispute. Throw in a hot-issue topic, hints of class warfare and a touch of Pinteresque menace and you have all the components for a plot that could skew in a myriad of directions—which is precisely Jordan Tannahill's goal in Late Company.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Night with Janis Joplin, A
Geary Theater

The psychedelic 1960s found a home in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district; so, where better than to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Summer of Love” than in the heart of San Francisco, seeing A Night with Janis Joplin?

Anne Siegel