View from the Bridge, A
Lyceum Theater

Even if you have seen other versions of A View From the Bridge, including the excellent 2011 Broadway production, you will leave the Lyceum Theater feeling as if you have never seen this American classic before. London's Young Vic production is re-visited by Belgian director, Ivo Van Hove, stripping away the extraneous and leaving playwright Arthur Miller's 1956 slice of naturalism tense with stunning suspense.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Steppenwolf Theater

One advertising campaign promotes Bruce Norris's new play as nudge-nudge-wink-wink political satire and another attempts to sell it as a battle-of-the-sexes romp. Don't believe either one. The dramatic premise might have its real-life counterparts, and it might have been Norris's intent to capitalize on the tabloid factor, but both representations are as fraudulent as a diamond mine in Dolton.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Baritones Unbound
Royal George Theater

The traveling theater companies of antiquity typically numbered seven actors: leading man and woman for the raisonneur roles, juvenile and ingenue for the youthful ones, "character" man and woman to play villains, elders or eccentrics—and a lone player called the "utility man" capable of stepping into any part as needed.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Once Upon a Mattress
Abrons Arts Center

For anybody hell-bent o ringing in the New Year in the most joyous way, I suggest that you hop over to the Abrons Arts Center in lower Manhattan where the always-hilarious and over-the-top comedic Jackie Hoffman as Princess Winifred and gender bender performance artist John “Lypsinka” Epperson, as the long-nailed Queen Aggravian – channeling shades of Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson with a wee bit of his own lip-synching thrown in – are camping it up to a faretheewell in the musical Once Upon A Mattress.

Edward Rubin
Heir Apparent, The
Navy Pier

Have you heard the one about the rich old man who wants a young wife to share his bed and nurse his ailments? Sure you have—every culture since antiquity boasts at least one story with this premise. Instead of laying false claim to its invention, however, playwrights nowadays freely admit to recycling dusty (and safely uncopyrighted) potboilers for their own purposes.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bernarda Alba and her House
Redtwist Theater

There's this twice-married widow with five daughters, you see. The girls are all of an age to marry—indeed, some well past their prime childbearing years—but their proud mother refuses to consider an alliance with a family of inferior station. Instead, she keeps her offspring under vigilance as strict as that of a convent. All that this accomplishes, though, is to further sensitize the three generations of cloistered women to the mystery aroused by men passing their windows—curiosity transforming the eldest sister's betrothed into a priapal fantasy shared among her cohabitants.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Color Purple, The
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater

“If God ever listened to a poor colored woman, the world would be a different place,” Celie declares. There’s no doubt that everyone in the audience hears and appreciates the heroine of The Color Purple. Cheers ring through the house, and a standing ovation is given to her final, powerful song “I’m Here,” Cynthia Erivo may have gone on stage as a Broadway unknown, but she’s now a bona fide star.

Michall Jeffers
Marjorie Prime
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage

Lois Smith should be declared a National Treasure. Anyone with doubts need only experience her performance in Marjorie Prime at Playwrights Horizons. But hurry; the run will end soon. Ephemeral memories are at the heart of this reflective play. What do we lose? What do we retain? And at the end of it all, what’s true, and what’s made up? How can it be that members of a family invariably have different recollections of the same relatives and events?

Michall Jeffers
Going Dark
Pius XI Catholic High School Black Box Theater

In a Milwaukee High School’s black-box theater, World Stage Theater invites high school students as well as audiences to get a glimpse into the world of Samuel Beckett, one of the 20th century’s most influential writers.

Tackling Beckett is no easy task, either for the performers or audiences. Known for his gloomy look at life, and his belief that “less dialogue is more,” Going Dark: Short Plays of Samuel Beckett brings to life a collection of six short plays. They range from about 15 minutes to three minutes each. The performance stretches just a little over two hours.

Anne Siegel
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

Major General Benjamin Butler, having left his legal practice, within a few weeks takes over his Union post at Fort Monroe. It’s 1861, just after Virginia has seceded from the U.S., so Butler finds himself in the thick of war. Faced with escaped Negro slaves seeking sanctuary and a law forbidding it, Butler will have to fight to square legal obligations with moral ones. He wages a battle of words that could have great repercussions. To delight audiences, playwright Richard Strand has fortified Butler with hilarious comedy, certainly more than typical in a “history play.”

Marie J. Kilker
Christians, The
Mark Taper Forum

It was hard for this non-believer to get deeply involved in Lucas Hnath’s theological drama, The Christians, which just opened at the Mark Taper Forum after runs at Playwrights Horizons (NY) and at the 2014 Humana Festival (Louisville). All the endless arguments over the existence of heaven and hell, the true meaning of the scriptures, and so forth, left me cold. And when the characters began to bicker over the ramifications of faith, I couldn’t help but think of what H.L.

Willard Manus
Robin Hood and Maid Marian
Strawdog Theater

When poets attempt to cross over into other literary genres, their craft may not immediately adapt to the unfamiliar configurations of their new endeavor. Even as accomplished a versifier as Alfred, Lord Tennyson—England's Poet Laureate from 1850 to 1892 and author of the seminal epic, "Idylls of the King" chronicling the Arthurian Cycle—can emerge a thorough amateur at recounting the adventures of another English hero for the stage.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Fallen Angels
The Greenhouse

Where would Victorian melodrama, retro soap operas and contemporary advice columns be without otherwise contented spouses occasionally wondering about "the one that got away?" In conventional fiction, such antisocial fantasies usually conclude in females confessing their shame and males forgiving them their weaknesses. In 1923, however, an irreverent young Noel Coward defended the right of women to engage in guilt-free frolics before settling down with suitors patiently waiting for them to weary of fun and excitement.

Mary Shen Barnidge
School of Rock
Winter Garden

This is it. This is that $16 million Broadway show for the whole family, with something for everyone. One caveat: those with sensitive ears, bring your earplugs. This opus is loud.

Michall Jeffers
Hollywood Pantages Theater

The largely youthful audience at the Pantages cheered wildly for Idina Menzel as the stage lights went up for If/Then, the split-personality Broadway musical now making a pit stop in L.A. No doubt the kids had loved Menzel’s work in such earlier shows as Rent and Wicked--or had swooned when she sang “Let It Go” in Disney’s “Frozen.”

Willard Manus
Love Stories
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

In this intriguingly conceived combination of three short plays, two of Milwaukee’s best-known actors–now a real-life married couple–share the stage. Or, to be more precise, they set it on fire. Despite the playwrights represented here being some of the worlds finest – George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht and Algonquin Round Table fixture Dorothy Parker – the names that will draw audiences are those of the actors themselves.

Anne Siegel
Bridges of Madison County, The
Ahmanson Theater

The Bridges of Madison County is one of the best musicals this critic has ever seen. The bittersweet love story was first a novel, then a Meryl Streep/Clint Eastwood movie, followed by a Broadway adaptation by Marsha (‘night, Mother)Norman and Jason Robert Brown, the Tony Award-winning composer.

Willard Manus
Ibsen's Ghosts
Mary-Arrchie Theater

When executing a makeover on a classic, not only is it a good idea to first write your makeover and then fit the verbatim source material to the space remaining, but to apply your concept to both ends of the narrative throughout the development process. If you're not careful, your analogies stagger under the weight of the text they purport to explicate—in this case, Henrik Ibsen's shocking tale of a libertine patriarch whose legacy of corruption and hypocrisy brings misery to his descendents.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Athenaeum

Just as some people compose their holiday gift lists throughout the year (the that's-exactly-what-this-person-would-want-for-Christmas light can go on at any moment), so do some playwrights, faced with the task of writing a short one-act play for a yuletide anthology show, start developing a topic while watching July fireworks, rather than handing out Halloween candy. Step Up Productions is lucky enough to have enlisted some of the first kind for its report on the seasonal spirit in 2015.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Palace of the Occult
Prop Theater

It is widely accepted that Hitler was a disciple of certain esoteric practices—astrology, numerology, spiritualism et al.—but scholars have been curiously silent on the contribution of Weimar Republic superstar Erik Jan Hanussen in introducing the Third Reich's mass murderer to the world of paranormal science. After all, how would the histories—and the victors who author them—explain Adolf's high-profile friendship with a Moravian Jew?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Signal Ensemble

Since this is a Samuel D. Hunter play, the setting for Pocatello is a nondescript town in Idaho whose business district is dominated by big-box stores and chain restaurants—specifically, a pre-fab laminated-particle-board eatery equipped with the capricious technology (in this case, a malfunctioning track light and PA system) likewise ubiquitous to Hunter's dramatic environs.

Mary Shen Barnidge
No More Sad Things
The Biograph

Have you heard the story about the Akron spinster who finds romance while vacationing in Hawaii? Of course, you have! For more than three centuries, tropical islands in the Pacific have ranked in English literature alongside Italy and India as the preferred destination of unhappy white women looking to get their groove back. This isn't the story that Hansol Jung sets out to write in No More Sad Things, though.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Urbanite Theater

Publicity and media about Lungs would have you believe it’s about how bringing a baby into this world has a profound effect on climate and political situations, even terrorism. These, though, are considerations raised basically in a conflict between M and W (a man and woman, get it?) over whether or not they should become parents--and, it turns out, eventually a family.

Marie J. Kilker
My Fair Lady
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

One of the most popular musicals of all time, My Fair Lady, gets a stunning, first-rate production by Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater. Just in time for the holidays, My Fair Ladyoffers a dazzling cast and opulent costumes, not to mention such musical standards as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Anne Siegel
Charlie Brown Christmas, A
Marcus Center - Todd Wehr Theater

Christmas is almost here, which inevitably heralds the return of TV holiday classics. One expects that well-known TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” will undoubtedly air many times. But this year brings something new to Milwaukee: a stage version of the 1965 TV classic, produced by First Stage.

Anne Siegel
Good Family, A
Lounge Theater

Did he or didn’t he? That’s the question lying at the heart of A Good Family, Marja-Lewis Ryan’s world-premiere one-act play at The Lounge Theater. Ryan, who won the 2014 L.A. Drama Critics Circle award for her family drama One in the Chamber,deals with another domestic scene in her new work, which is set in Fulton, Missouri on Christmas eve.

Willard Manus
Incident at Vichy
Pershing Square Signature Center

Incident at Vichy is not one of Arthur Miller's finest works, but attention must be always paid to his eloquent perspectives on evil, fear and morality. Celebrating the playwright's centenary, director Michael Wilson presents a straightforward production of the play at off-Broadway’s Signature Theater.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Miracle of Long Johns, The
First United Methodist Church

The Miracle of Long Johns is a hilarious and kind of deep tale of a professional appreciator. Theater critics (and critics in general) can be pretty nasty. I'm sure a bunch of them are just nasty to be nasty, but the really great critics, i.e. Lefkowitz, adore the theater to no end. They're like parents who practice tough love. If something stinks, they say it does and why. Likewise, if something is lovely, they say so and why. Like Lefkowitz says, they're on a quest to find the one magic play out of 600 that electrifies, that is sublime.

Gail Kuroda
Miracle of Long Johns, The
Theater Row - Studio Theater

Three years ago, ex-New Yorker David Lefkowitz, now a Colorado-based actor, writer, playwright, and popular radio personality, brought his one-man show, Shalom Dammit! An Evening with Rabbi Sol Solomon, to New York City. The overall thrust of the evening, wildly performed by the playwright himself, was what it is to be a Jew in the 21st Century.

Edward Rubin
Shalom Dammit!
Roy Arias Theater

All Things Jewish seems to be all the rage here in New York City. Old Jews Telling Jokes, a fun-filled revue starring Marilyn Sokol is packing them in like nobody’s business at the Westside Theater. Soul Doctor, the musical based on the life of singer-songwriter Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, recently closed at the New York Theatre Workshop after a three-week run – is currently looking to reopen in a larger space.

Edward Rubin
Richard Rodgers Theater

With the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, yet again the vernacular music of the streets, hip-hop and rap, have evolved to high art in the sensational, smash-hit Broadway opera Hamilton,based on the extensive biography by Ron Chernow.

For just under three hours in two acts, with elaborate exposition, the music and choreography pulses relentlessly forward with a rainbow cast telling the galvanic story of the most brilliant of the founding fathers.

Charles Giuliano
Guys on Ice
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

Although many Milwaukeeans aren’t eager to see another winter arrive in Wisconsin, at least this year’s snowdrifts bring a return of one of the state’s funniest homegrown musicals, Guys on Ice.  Performed with spot-on timing and a huge dose of humor (both intentional and unintentional), Guyshas settled into the Milwaukee Rep’s intimate Stackner Cabaret.

Anne Siegel
Straight White Men
Kirk Douglas Theater

The 41-year-old Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee pokes fun at 1) dysfunctional families, 2) childish white men, and 3) psychological incomprehension in Straight White Men, now in its West Coast premiere at Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

Lee, a darling of the New York experimental theater scene, has written a more-or-less traditional play this time around, one with linear construction and characters right out of a TV sitcom in the way they never alter comic behavior or delivery. Who knows? Maybe sitcoms are really Lee’s main target, not any of the above.

Willard Manus
Something Rotten
St. James Theater

An exuberant cast gives a “Welcome to the Renaissance” in a perfect parody of Broadway musicals’ openings. Something Rotten! takes off in London, 1595. There, Will Shakespeare’s perhaps sometimes borrowed—but always blue ribbon—plays are definitely smashing everyone else’s theatrical efforts. Suffering brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom need to create a mega-hit to rival the rock-star Bard to get into a playhouse. That will make them search for a winning alternative.

Marie J. Kilker
Looking for Love
Starlite Room

In Looking for Love (In All the Wrong Places), four short comedies garner laughs aplenty for the end of Starlite Players’ first season, showcasing playwrights, casts, and crews from the Tampa Bay area down to Venice in Sarasota County.

Marie J. Kilker
West Side Story
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts

In Asolo Rep’s five-year exploration of the American character, West Side Story begins the fourth by perfectly illustrating its emphasis on change and reactions to it. In the mid ‘60s, conflicts based on ethnic differences exploded on the national scene. They’re epitomized in the big-city musical created by geniuses of that genre. Add a focus on non-criminal, but still often deadly, formation of gangs, and you have a musical drama that is as current as classic.

Marie J. Kilker
One Man, Two Guvnors
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

If you’ve never seen Arlecino, a.k.a. Harlequin, clowning around in classic Italian comedy, you have a treat in store if you make it to Florida Studio Theater. There, where he’s been a ‘60s, working-class, unemployed “one man” Brit, he finds employment. It’s with not a single master but “two guvnors,” and keeping up with the demands of both result in farce, fracases, frolic, fun.

Marie J. Kilker
Broadhurst Theater

It was a dark and stormy night just outside Silver Creek, Colorado. In the winter of 1987, a car goes off the road, severely injuring Paul Sheldon, the writer of a series of novels about the trials and tribulations of his heroine, Misery. As luck would have it, he’s rescued by one Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, who takes him to her home, tends to his wounds, and puts him to bed. When he awakens after four days, Annie announces “I’m your biggest fan,” and assures him that she knows all 8 of the “Misery” books by heart.

Michall Jeffers
Raid, The
Broadway Armory

Heroic myths are founded upon fables of the few triumphing over the many, if only in defeat. John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859—his goal being the securing of weapons to assist in slave uprisings—was mounted with a force of only 40 men, previous supporters having rejected his violent tactics. On the night before their attack, their visionary commander consoled his troops with the gospel story of David and Goliath.

Mary Shen Barnidge