Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage

The United States is a nation of immigrants. The tug-of-war between assimilating and keeping tradition alive is indeed “Familiar” to many Americans. And what better way could this conflict come to a head than planning a wedding?

Michall Jeffers
Gambler's Guide to Dying, A
Ruskin Group Theater

A hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, A Gambler’s Guide to Dying comes to Los Angeles with an American actor delivering the monologue, which was written (and first performed) by a Scot, Gary McNair. Maury Sterling (Max on Showtime’s “Homeland”) substitutes for McNair masterfully, not only commanding the stage in charismatic fashion but speaking with a believable Scottish accent.

Willard Manus
Domestic Tranquility
Little Fish Theater

Rich Orloff lampoons the idealized 1950s America with his wacky play, Domestic Tranquility, now playing at Little Fish Theater in San Pedro. Think of it as a cracked “Father Knows Best” with a dad who drives off to the office every day, a stay-at-home mom who cooks and dusts, and a teenaged daughter about to turn eighteen. They profess their earnest liking for each other with enthusiastic brittleness as they salute Ike and Mamie. Soon, however, the façade starts to crack.

Paul Myrvold
Tempest Redux
Odyssey Theater

In 1970, Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company shook the dust off a perennial favorite and liberated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, infusing it with a modernity that fit the times. It was heralded as the “Circus Midsummer,” a muscular version featuring actors on trapezes. It was a ground-breaking, heralded production that toured the world.

Paul Myrvold
Tempest Redux
Odyssey Theater

What would Shakespeare make of this modern take on his play The Tempest? Would he exert his moral authority and denounce the liberties John Farmanesh-Bocca has taken with it, stripping it down to 95 minutes, having two actors (Dash Pepin and Willem Long) play Caliban, employing three dancers to play Ariel (with her lines coming to us via voice-over), using music by Vivaldi and Dinah Washington to spice up the action? Or would the always inventive and open-minded Shakespeare get a kick out of Tempest Redux, appreciate the way it has been given a new lease on life?

Willard Manus
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

The most unlikely of roommates – a teenage girl and her much-older uncle — embark on physical and emotional journey together in Greg Pierce’s Slowgirl, The girl, a wise-cracking, know-it-all American, arrives on short notice to visit her uncle in faraway Costa Rica. The girl is getting away from a terrible tragedy in which she has played some role. Not many of the circumstances about this even were communicated in advance to her uncle Sterling. He hasn’t seen the girl for almost nine years. It’s a good thing that the play opens with Sterling dozing in a hammock.

Anne Siegel
Invisible Hand, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio

Ayad Akhtar’s gripping drama, The Invisible Hand, is so palpably intense that it seems to put the audience squarely in the middle of a terrorist/hostage situation in Pakistan. Needless to say, this is not a desirable place to be. But it works wonders in terms of getting the audience to identify with the play’s captive, an American banker who finds a clever way to pay the terrorists’ ransom demands.

The Invisible Hand opened Off-Broadway in 2014, at the same time Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced was playing on Broadway.

Anne Siegel
The Artistic Home

A few playgoers attending this world-premiere production of Interrogation may claim to identify the murderer before the end of the play. They will be lying. Just as the secret of television "reality" shows is to make the viewer forget that the camera is affecting what they see, so does playwright Scott Woldman carefully and deliberately point us to what he wants us to see, or more important, what he doesn't want us to see.

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

Traditionally in the theater, it’s considered bad luck to name Macbeth and especially to quote from it when a production is near. Director Jonathan Epstein, whose previous work with Shakespearian plays and his FSU/Asolo Conservatory students was outstanding, has defied tradition directing The Scottish Play. Too bad, because the result is truly, as Professor Epstein quoted without knowing he was predicting: “horrible imaginings.” The production overwhelms the play.

Marie J. Kilker
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Almost a year has passed since the Broadway closing of the incredibly successful revival of Cabaret, produced by the Roundabout Theater Company. This national tour brings the Broadway production to Milwaukee, among numerous other stops on its lengthy tour. The show is a not-to-be-missed spectacle. It’s decadent, splashy, naughty, heart-wrenching and joyful, as residents of 1931 Berlin party away while the Nazis rise in power.

Anne Siegel
Little Mermaid, The
Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts

It is always a pleasure when a fine pit orchestra sets the tone for a delightful musical even before the curtain rises. Such is the case when gifted music director/conductor, Rae Moses, leads his musicians in the Overture for Class Act’s sparkling current production of the cheerful Disney musical, The Little Mermaid. Inspired by the popular Disney film of the same name, the charming show features music of Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater, and book by Doug Wright.

David Dow Bentley
Colony Collapse
Theater @ Boston Court

The Theater @ Boston Court’s production of Stefanie Zadravec’s Colony Collapse creates a strong sense of place, time, and action even before a word is spoken. Barely audible pre-show forest sounds give way to foreboding music, then yield to a cacophony of voices and the intrusive noise of a hovering helicopter as a brilliant searchlight sweeps the stage and audience.

Paul Myrvold

The subject of Jupiter (a play about power) is fossil fuels — and their absence. Accordingly, the production uses a solar-cell/battery-powered LED system to power a portion of its lighting. And there’s a digital display on stage telling us how many kwh’s and how much CO2 the production has used; it tallies up the sums as the evening progresses.

Steve Capra
Nutcracker Rouge
Minetta Lane Theater

Of all the holidays’ manifestations of The Nutcracker, Nutcracker Rouge, from Company XIV and AMDM Productions, has to be one of the most delicious! Ballet with pasties and thongs!

There are a lot of other features, as well — modern dance, tap, song, gymnastics, burlesque . . . It’s racy, risqué, delightful, a Nutcracker like no other.

Steve Capra
Imagining the Imaginary Invalid
La MaMa ETC.

The genesis of Imagining the Imaginary Invalid was a small project based on Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid. It was intended for the actress Ruth Maleczech, her daughter and a few dancers, and intended for audiences of small handfuls in the actress’s living room. The work was interrupted by Ms. Maleczech’s death. The concept, however, was enhanced, and developed into a major production involving well over a dozen performers. It comes from Mabou Mines and Trick Saddle, presented by La MaMa.

Steve Capra
Casa 101

Gang tattoos, or “placas” in barrio slang, indelibly communicate a statement of persona and affiliation to a group, a neighborhood, and the world in general. They can be a thumb-in-the-eye statement of identity, a fuck-you statement of philosophical outlook, or, hidden beneath a shirt, an homage to a dead homie, or a sentimental expression of affection and loyalty to a lover or relative. They can be as subtle as three dots on the hand between thumb and forefinger, or a scream of loyalty emblazoned on a face.

Paul Myrvold
Mystery of Love & Sex, The
Mark Taper Forum

The nuclear family is dissected tenderly, skillfully–and sometimes hilariously–in The Mystery of Love & Sex by Bathsheba Doran, now in its West Coast premiere at the Mark Taper Forum. Originally produced by NYC’s Lincoln Center Theater in 2015, the play is set in “major cities in the American South” and covers five years in the lives of its four main characters.

Willard Manus
Free Spirits
Starlite Room

From Starlite Players’s first season come four audience favorite short plays. One could easily see why they were favorites.

Marie J. Kilker
Laughing Matters - Volume 5
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

For the fifth time, Florida Studio Theater and a collaborating cabaret staff of writers and performers pool national and hometown humor to plunge into a satire on everyday life. Locally, saturation with snowbirds, hopelessness re homelessness, and despair from over-development mix with national problems like immigration, guns, and presidential politics. Putin epitomizes international ones. So what’s so funny?

Marie J. Kilker
Lamps for My Family
Tenth Street Theater

Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater, now in its 18th season, reminds us that local theater exists to allow creative people an outlet to exhibit their craft. This refers not just to local actors, but local playwrights, too. Milwaukee-born and raised Michael Nevile shares his semi-autobiographical play, Lamps for My Family, at In Tandem. Neville’s plays also have been seen at ACT Seattle, the Actors Theater of Louisville, and Denver’s Changing Scene, as well as at several theaters in Milwaukee.

Anne Siegel
Closer than Ever
Long Beach Performing Arts Center

Closer than Ever, an award-winning musical revue kicking off the new season at International City Theater, consists of 24 songs in two acts with no book or specific characters. With music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., the show explores the joys and angst of professional-class, apartment-dwelling New Yorkers as they navigate the vicissitudes of life. The songs range from the exhilaration of youth to the ever-accelerating onset of age.

Paul Myrvold
Looking Over the President's Shoulder
The Greenhouse

They used to be called "domestic servants" (or, perhaps, "hired help") but nowadays most often appear on personnel rosters as "support staff." Before you dismiss those who make their living through the exercise of housekeeping skills, however, consider what your place of business would look like if the janitors quit for even one week. When President Franklin Roosevelt exhorted the stewards of the 107-room residence in our nation's capital to remember that they shared in making history, his were wise words.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Far from Heaven
Stage 773

For theatergoers of certain age, merely hearing that their play's setting is a middle-class Connecticut suburb in 1957 is enough to trigger expectations of secrets, shame, and illicit sex lurking beneath a veneer of privileged tranquility. The “Far from Heaven” screenplay by Todd Haynes providing source material for this song-cycle musical is not an authentic product of that repressive era, however, but a conscious replica thereof, steeped in hindsight.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Stupid Fucking Bird
Urbanite Theater

At the heart of Aaron Posner’s satiric view and review of modern theater beats Anton Chekhov’s prescription for his play The Seagull: It presents “a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love.” In it, the seagull is a being in the play’s real life setting but also a symbol of a character with whom it’s entwined. Urbanite uses a gull’s picture as a scenic-sans-symbolic backdrop. Its titular import is that it’s Posner’s successful attempt at shocking and commercial success.

Marie J. Kilker
Geffen Playhouse

In Bess Wohl’s Barcelona,, now in its West Coast premiere at the Geffen after a successful run in New York, Irene (Betty Gilpin), an American tourist, and Manuel (Carlos Leal), a native Spaniard, meet at a tapas bar in Barcelona and hit it off, strongly enough that she agrees to go back to his place with him. The two-character play begins when they step in the door, rip off their clothes and begin to make brief but frantic love.

Willard Manus
Act of God, An
Ahmanson Theater

Sean (“Will & Grace”) Hayes plays a campy, wise-cracking ruler of the universe in An Act of God, now drawing laughs after a successful run on Broadway (with Jim Parsons in the lead role). Written by David Javerbaum, head writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” the solo comes off as a stand-up routine with a few show-biz accessories: two aide-de-camp angels sprouting ostrich-feather wings (David Josefsberg and James Gleason), plus a glitzy, stairway-to-heaven set by Scott Pask.

Willard Manus
Fiddler on the Roof
Broadway Theater

No matter how many times we’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof, both onstage and in the 1971 movie, it’s worth the price of admission to see Danny Burstein as Tevye, the milkman. He brings enough warmth to take the chill out of the worst winter days, and he connects with the audience because of his compassion and sincere emotion. Not to mention, this is a virile Tevye, in the prime of his manhood. We believe that he’s actually asking his abrasive wife Golde (Jessica Hecht) “Do You Love Me?” because with the world falling down around him, he needs her reassurance.

Michall Jeffers
American Buffalo
Mary-Arrchie Theater

With the wrecking ball looming on the horizon, Mary-Arrchie Theater returns to its roots for one last stand, and in doing so, demonstrates once again the blend of visceral and cerebral performance that launched its 30-year-career as one our city's foremost off-Loop companies.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Old Friends, The
Raven Theater

Romantic impulses are usually better indulged in early life, when the odds are greater that the perpetrators will emerge with minimal damage, but at an age where their peers were following their bliss, the Bordons and Ratliffs of Harrison, Texas, were following the money instead. This was 1921, the setting of the late Horton Foote's first of three plays chronicling the progress of these warring clans. This final chapter, The Old Friends, opens in 1965, with the various family members attempting to reverse the choices they made in a last grab for what they missed. It's not pretty.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Iliad, An
Geva Theater Center - Nextstage

Homer’s “Iliad” is here retold by a single actor accompanied by an onstage musician who plays mostly keyboard and percussion instruments to provide atmosphere and something like sound effects. Originally, one of the authors, Denis O’Hare, played the poet and recited the work. Here actor Kyle Hatley moves about the stage enacting all the roles and passionately telling the story speaking only to the audience. A large, white-haired man, musician Raymond Castrey also moves about but does not speak, and the two seldom regard one another.

Herbert M. Simpson
Flick The
The Playhouse at Overture Center for the Arts

A sparkling production of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Flick is being produced by Forward Theater Co., in the university town of Madison, Wisconsin. Barely two weeks after the Off-Broadway show closed in mid-January, The Flick had its Wisconsin debut in the Overture Center, a stunning multi-theater complex provided by the woman who founded the American Girl series of historic and contemporary dolls.

Anne Siegel
Outside Mullingar
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Deaths curiously make it possible for love to flourish ”Outside Mullingar” in rural Ireland. John Patrick Shanley’s poetric-prose play begins after Aoife Muldoon has buried her husband. She comes out of a dreary rain to the home of Tony Reilly whose friendship he lost. It was over the Muldoons owning an entry strip of land to Reilly’s property.

Marie J. Kilker
Snow White
Minetta Lane Theater

I must admit that the ad campaign for Company XIV’s production of Snow White at the Minetta Lane Theater inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale that we all grew up knowing – it is being sold as an adult version of the folk tale – more than captured my attention. Like Whitney Houston’s singing, “I Will Always Love You,” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go One,” the imagery wrapped itself around my gonads and reeled me right in. Since I’m an unadulterated hedonist – what else is there besides reading, writing, and arithmetic?

Edward Rubin
Our Mother's Brief Affair
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

All that needs to be done is to look at Linda Lavin: Burberry trench coat, expensive silk scarf, high heels, perfectly coiffed hair, and what used to be called “great gams,” truly gorgeous legs. This is Anna, a woman of a certain age who is mother to twins Seth (Greg Keller) and Abby (Kate Arrington). She is self-involved and vain, but does have real affection for her kids. Add to the picture an accent Seth calls “Flatbush on the Thames,” and we learn that she’s pretentious. Anna craves not only attention, but worship. As a mother, she’s somewhere between Marmee and Joan Crawford.

Michall Jeffers
Mrs. Marx
Crocker Memorial Church

Mrs. Marx, about Karl Marx’s wife Jenny, reminds me of my late mentor Mordecai Gorelik’s prediction that we’d be getting more and more of theater that is “not to be understood or reasoned but inhaled.” Clara Francesca’s mime-dance-interaction exemplifies such a drama, to be found fascinating to a coterie audience determined to find it new and magnificent when it is actually magniloquent. To produce a suitable adumbration of a play which captures such an audience, present at the last SaraSolo manifestation of 2016, necessitates my rendering a sesquipedalian explication of it.

Marie J. Kilker
Another Word for Beauty
Goodman Theater

Bogata's Buen Pastor (“Good Shepherd”) Prison was, at one time, a convent serving as a women's shelter, before decades of Colombian civil unrest transformed it into a crowded, neglected, ill-supervised facility for the confinement of female criminals, dissidents, and other disruptive misfits. Ah, but once a year, during the festival of Our Virgin of Mercy, the detainees are granted relief from their misery through participation in a well-funded, heavily promoted, in-house beauty contest???

Mary Shen Barnidge
Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, The
Mercury Theater

Three helpful pre-curtain facts: First, novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a real-life doctor and criminal-science buff who often assisted in solving actual cases (Victorian gentlemen of status being permitted to interfere in police business). Second, the father of internationally famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes once tried to end the series by killing off his hero—until public pressure persuaded him to resurrect the popular supersleuth.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Crocker Memorial Church

Using many of Lillian Hellman’s own words, Jenny Aldrich orally recreates a memoir by the American dramatist, screenwriter, sometime essayist, political activist, and autobiographer. As a woman, Hellman enjoyed unusual success for her writing, yet she was as well or even better known for being the lover of mystery writing novelist Dashiell Hammet. In Lillian, Aldrich assumes Hellman’s persona as if on an evening before she will be honored at an important committee dinner meeting.

Marie J. Kilker
Crocker Memorial Church

“Bashert” is a traditional Jewish word whose meaning developed into the idea, according to Lynne Bernfield, of “mingling despite Fate.” Or maybe because of it, depending on the points of view of others as well as Lynne’s. In her new solo show, she mostly explores the bashert she has experienced in life but secondarily how it worked earlier in her family. Outlining its history on a white board, Lynne prepared for a story, based on religious belief, of a “marriage made in heaven.”

Marie J. Kilker
Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Show, An
Crocker Memorial Church

A tangle of cords, electronic and lighting equipment, and pictures on cardboard in two or four dimensions was perhaps as fascinating as the use of them by artist and story teller Zach Dorn. The title of his self-described “Performance Art” proved half true referring to his art (as toy and theater), but watching his harried work putting everything together (and not always succeeding) was often indeed excruciating.

Marie J. Kilker