Natural Life
T. Schreiber Theater

Eduardo Ivan Lopez’s harsh play Natural Life is based on the true story of a Midwestern death row inmate in the 1980’s. She chose not to continue the appeals process and to allow the state to execute her. A TV journalist covered her story as she awaited execution.

The character’s name is Claire McGreely; the program notes don’t tell us if this was the name of the actual person, and an internet search turns up nothing. She’s been convicted of murdering her husband. She’s contacted the journalist, Rita, to offer her exclusive access to her story.

Steve Capra
She Loves Me
Studio 54

As She Love Me opens, we’re transported back to Budapest in 1934. The orchestra is on both sides of the balcony, and music is everywhere. We focus in on a charming perfumery; the outside is frilly and pretty, and when we’re led inside, we find shelves stocked with dozens of dazzling perfumes. The owner, Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings), does a bustling business. He’s a dapper chap who’s dressed impeccably; he sports silver hair and a well-trimmed mustache. He obviously sets the tone for his shop. All the clerks are suited up, and gracious to the costumers in the extreme.

Michall Jeffers
Humans, The
Helen Hayes Theater

The Humans has been highly touted this season. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely; just don’t be fooled by thinking this is a feel-good comedy. There are laughs, yes, but this is at heart a dark tale about a family desperately trying to survive in troubled times.

Transferred from Off-Broadway, the production has been kept intact. This is good news for the audience; the cast is breathtakingly good, and director Joe Mantello skillfully guides them across the tightrope of humor and tragedy.

Michall Jeffers
Going to a Place Where You Already Are
South Coast Repertory

The universal conundrum of the end of life takes center stage in Bekah Brunstetter’s thoroughly engaging new play, Going to a Place where you Already Are, now in its world premiere run at South Coast Repertory. The great dichotomy . . . is there nothing or something after death? Nothing is easy to understand. Life emerges from a void and returns to it. If something, what is it? What is the nature of it? All of the considerations hinge on notions of belief.

Paul Myrvold
The Met Theater

Pocatello is the third “Idaho” play by Samuel D. Hunter which Rogue Machine has introduced to L.A. audiences (the others being A Permanent Image and A Bright New Boise). Unfortunately, the finale is the weakest link in the otherwise award-winning trilogy, a heavy-handed portrait of life in a “nation-wide Italian restaurant franchise in Pocatello, Idaho.”

Willard Manus
Buried Child
Pershing Square Signature Center - Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater

Ed Harris sits all alone on the stage. The house is shabby, on its last legs, as is Dodge, the character Harris portrays. There’s rain outside the window. The room is staged with two small TVs, a bucket on the floor, hideous old wall paper and carpet. Dodge himself is none too gorgeous. He wears a baseball cap, gray T-shirt, checked shirt. Coughing, dozing, drinking whiskey from a hidden bottle, covered with a spread that has seen better days, Dodge is pretty much out of it.

Michall Jeffers
American Song
Quadracci Powerhouse

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater makes a bold attempt to focus on one of the most pressing issues of our time — mass shootings in America’s schools — in the world premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s American Song.

Anne Siegel
Nederlander Theater

Hey kids, let’s get together and put on a show! This is the spirit of Disaster! A large part of the entertainment is that the actors on stage are having so much fun; we get the idea that they’ve known each other and worked together for a long time. Adding to the fun is the disco/cheesy rock music of the day, 1979. From the first number, the Donna Summer megahit “Hot Stuff,” the audience is in for an evening of nostalgia and laughs.

Michall Jeffers
Blessings of a Broken Heart, The
The Braid

The Blessings of a Broken Heart is a monologue adapted by Todd Salovey from the book of the same name by Sherri Mandell, whose 13-year-old son Kobi (Yaakov) was murdered in Israel along with his school chum, Yosef Ishban. The two boys had played hooky on that tragic day in 2001 to hike up into the hills bordering their kibbutz, only to be attacked by stone-throwing assailants who were never caught or identified.

Willard Manus
59E59 Theaters

We’ve all heard the term “corporate consultants,” but what does that mean? Who are these highly paid, usually well-dressed people, and what, exactly, are they hired to do? Sorry, but you won’t find the answers here; if anything, there are more and more questions as the evening progresses.

Michall Jeffers
My Name is Asher Lev
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Theater

An entry in Florida Studio Theater’s Stage III Series, My Name is Asher Lev is that series’s typical “small” drama with big impact. In flashback, Asher both narrates and also presentationally acts out his coming of age. Maturity comes to him not only as a man but as an artist. To thus devote himself requires Asher to grow up from his family and the tradition in which they raised him. So they share his story.

Marie J. Kilker
Women Laughing Alone with Salad
Kirk Douglas Theater

Rude, irreverent and outrageous, Sheila Callaghan’s Women Laughing Alone with Salad is a comedy that takes no prisoners. It shoots down with fiendish glee every single target in its sights: mothers and sons, boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, the pharmaceutical industry, the diet craze . . . and more, much more.

Willard Manus
St. Luke's Theater

To say that I loved the musical Ruthless!, currently playing at St. Luke’s Theater in New York City through June 18th (after several extensions by popular demand) is a gross understatement. More accurately put, I loved, loved, loved Ruthless!. In fact, after seeing the play two times, thoughts of marrying the musical as well as its delightful cast of seven came to mind. I was sure that such a union would supply me with a lifetime of high-octane fun.

Edward Rubin
Sea Marks
Soulstice Theater

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, what could be more appropriate than offering a production of Gardner McKay’s Sea Marks? The clever folks at Milwaukee’s Soulstice Theater have made this catch-of-the-day. They have paired two fine actors (both sporting plausible Irish accents) and the lilting dialogue that takes audiences to a remote village on an island off the west coast of Ireland.

Anne Siegel
Little Fish Theater

Peter Shaffer’s Sleuth premiered at the Music Box Theater in New York in 1970 and closed nearly three years later after 1,222 performances. While it was still running in New York, the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco produced it with Ken Ruta and Peter Donat in the leads. I saw that production when I was a student there, and it knocked me out. The virtuosity of the players was stunning to me, and the climax and dénoument was totally, I mean totally, unpredictable.

Paul Myrvold
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

In Asolo Rep’s five-year exploration of the American character, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner visits an historical moment. In 1967, as director Frank Galati points out, the composition of the American family around its dinner table is on its way to change. To the typical Asolo audience, the titular question is posed and — in a way beyond the film that first asked it — is also answered.

Marie J. Kilker
Safe at Home
Pacific Resident Theater

Orson Bean has been an actor, magician, stand-up comic, writer, and TV host in his 60-odd years in showbiz. He weaves all of those separate strands into a satisfying whole in his solo show, Safe at Home, now enjoying an extended and critically acclaimed run at Pacific Resident Theater (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary).

Willard Manus
Sam Cooke Story, The
West Coast Black Theater Troupe

Cecil Washington Jr. not only sings and performs wonderfully as creative music and entrepreneurial pioneer Sam Cooke, he also manages to look like him--only even more handsome. Of course, Sam Cooke’s major talent was as the originator of the music he performed. It’s this, presented by Washington and a stellar supporting song-and-dance cast, that’s drawing hearty audience applause at WBTT.

Marie J. Kilker
Sex with Strangers
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

It’s boy-meets-girl time at the Geffen Playhouse, where Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers is having its West Coast premiere (after debuting at Second Stage Theater, New York in 2014). The love story, which is more raunchy than romantic, dissects the relationship between Olivia (Rebecca Pidgeon) and Ethan (Stephen Louis Grush), two writers from dissimilar worlds who fall for each other in an unlikely but passionate way. How to keep the flame burning, despite misunderstandings and squabbles, is the question posed by the playwright.

Willard Manus
Bachelorette, The
Alchemist Theater

A trio of young women — all in their late 20s, which is significant — trash a posh hotel suite in Leslye Headland’s hilarious The Bachelorette. The play makes its Wisconsin debut at the cozy, 64-seat Alchemist Theater, located in one of Milwaukee’s southern suburbs. The show is produced by Theater RED.

Anne Siegel
The Complex

Blood, in its world-premiere production at The Complex, boldly tackles an important and shocking subject: the sale by the USA of AIDS-contaminated blood to Japan, Written and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman (who lived in Japan for two decades), the play goes deep into the HIV scandal, blending fact and fiction to tell its story, one which has been kept secret by the powers that be ever since the early 1980s.

Willard Manus
Women Without Men
City Center - Stage II

At City Center's Stage II, The Mint Theater Company is currently reviving Women Without Men, a 1938 Irish play by Hazel Ellis that visits a group of unmarried women living and teaching at Malyn Park Private School. In that period, women without husbands had few choices, and in their limited lives in a world ruled by men, they still found they were often each others' worst enemies.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
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