Effect, The
Barrow Street Theater

Connie and Tristan are volunteers in a four-week residential study of a new anti-depressant, RLU37. The drug, as it happens, contains dopamine, the chemical associated with general good feeling and, specifically, with love. One of the doctors involved calls RLU37 “Viagra for the heart.”

Steve Capra
Fully Committed
Lyceum Theater

It’s very possible that we’ve gotten so comfortable watching Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Modern Family that we’ve forgotten how superb an actor he really is. The fact is that even though he makes delivering those funny lines look effortless, comedy is not easy. No one can deny that being the only one on stage for 90 minutes is hard work; add to that the fact that he’s playing at least 40 different characters, and even the most hard-boiled theatergoer has to marvel at how well he brings Fully Committed to life.

Michall Jeffers
Bald Soprano, The
Plymouth Church

Veteran director and Boulevard Theater founder Mark Bucher has thrown local audiences a screwball pitch. He has turned Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano into a hilarious farce. Whether or not Ionesco would approve, he undoubtedly would have admired Boulevard’s brave and hysterically funny treatment. After all, it sure beats one of Ionesco’s own suggestions: to have the audience mowed down by machine guns at the end of the play. (Thankfully, no one has attempted such a bloody ending.)

Anne Siegel
In the Secret Sea
Beckett Theater

In many ways, In The Secret Sea is an old-time domestic drama, not unlike Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. The action takes place between two sets of couples; there is enough conflict to go around without the harrowing complication which pulls them apart and, ultimately, brings them together.

Michall Jeffers
VS Theater

L.A. Playwright Jennie Webb finds love in the strangest of places in Currency, her madcap farce now premiering at the Inkwell Theater (formerly Black Dahlia). Directed by Annie McVey, the play kicks off at breakfast-time, with Helen (Dale Waddington) and Dan (Warren Davis) facing each other awkwardly, after having spent an unexpected night in bed together. Passion gone, the couple now find they have very little to say to each other. But just as Dan is just about to walk out the door, he gets a phone call telling him that his long-homeless brother has been murdered.

Willard Manus
Ernest in Love
Tenth Street Theater

There are so many good lines in Ernest in Love, a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, that’s it’s too difficult to choose one to sum up the show. So this critic will refrain. Suffice to say this is a delightfully calorie-free confection that is so well-played that it could get giggles from a stone. Impossible, you say? Then consider how much more fun a superbly performed production of Oscar Wilde’s classic would be if the characters broke into cleverly written songs about all the facets of love.

Anne Siegel
Drowning Girls, The
Urbanite Theater

Inspired by “Brides in the Bath” murders in England at the start of the 20th century, The Drowning Girls presents a haunting ghost story. It’s told by three victims from their graves, reproduced in tubs of water in a tiled atmosphere of real and metaphorically sad blues. How could they have they turned over themselves and their possessions to the hardly prepossessing man in the photo on the far wall?

Marie J. Kilker
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Starlite Room

Beginning the one-act comedies of Let Me Call You Sweetheart, The Naked Truth by Tom Sivak has Scott Vitale aiming to be slick as an emcee of an improvisational theater show. But he’s discombobulated when Amanda Helsey’s bold Georgie takes the stage to act out her fantasy: appearing onstage in the buff. Rules get Scott’s emcee into the act that Georgie’s Boyfriend (Logan Junkins, somewhat weak) isn’t about to let get overly improvised. Thank goodness for Cindy Schlotterback’s good intrusion to uphold goodness.

Marie J. Kilker
He Who Gets Slapped
Broad Street Ministry

He Who Gets Slapped proves why playwright Leonid Andreyev, but for embroilment in Russia’ s political situation, might have been heir to Chekhov’s important position in Russian drama. The play is a powerful illustration of deadly results of quests for money and control over others’ lives and even bodies. Andreyev uses elements of circus and goings on backstage as emblematic of what happens in the world outside the tent.

Marie J. Kilker
For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday
Actors Theater of Louisville - Pamela Brown Theater

I can’t believe that this adored play -- the talk of this year’s Humana Festival – is not yet scheduled for a Broadway showing or any further production. Probably the most appealing and exhilarating work thus far by the highly regarded playwright Sarah Ruhl, To Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday stars one of America’s finest actresses in a delicious showcase role. So I guess we just wait to hear about its next appearance.

Herbert M. Simpson
Westside Theater

Cagney is a total joy from beginning to end. Robert Creighton couldn’t be better as the Irish street kid turned hoofer turned movie tough guy. The story of his struggle to be thought of as more than just a growling hood is one that hasn’t been brought to light before. The stage features a proscenium arch, behind which are posters of Cagney movies. The floor is covered in purple squares, and “Cagney” is on the marquee overhead. All of this lends a theatrical flair to the show.

Michall Jeffers
Fallen Angels
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater

Following a subtle theme of inequities between the upper and lower classes in the early part of the 20th Century, Milwaukee Chamber Theater ended last season with Jeeves Takes a Bow by P.G. Wodehouse. In it, members of the hopelessly inept upper-class are saved from themselves by a highly intelligent, multi-talented and resilient butler named Jeeves. This year, the torch is passed from man to woman, as Jeeves is replaced by Saunders (Molly Rhode), a new maid who takes charge of the household in Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels. It’s the closing play for this season’s run.

Anne Siegel
Driving Miss Daisy
WBTT Theater

Driving Miss Daisy was recently cited by Spike Lee as a drama whose time has passed. That’s true if it’s regarded as mainly about race relations in America now. But it actually spans a period from 1948 to 1973 when, as director Howard Millman asserts, “the characters in this play are products of their time and the world they grew up in.” Westcoast Black Theater Troupe illustrate their history and that of people ethnically like themselves in a not atypical Southern city (Atlanta).

Marie J. Kilker
Nether, The
Interact Theater

The title, The Nether, designates a futuristic net-based “land” of virtual reality. It contains a particular branch of the not-real-life Nether territory known as The Hideaway. This can be accessed by self-identified internet users who, as pedophiles, can hook up with and abuse children. Because pornography is what drives the technology and people to use it, detective Morris, whose beat is The Nether, tracks down Sims, who originated it, and calls him in for questioning.

Marie J. Kilker
Crighton Theater

Followers of the comic genius of playwright Neil Simon have another chance to sample his oft-times hilarious repertoire with the current Stage Right production of the zany comedy, Rumors, now playing at Conroe’s historic Crighton Theater. Those expecting to attend should plan on arriving early for an additional sampling of the work and wit of Mr. Simon. As has become the pleasant custom at Crighton, there is a cleverly assembled pre-show screening (during the half hour before curtain) of various videos, photos and sound bites related to the theater’s current offering.

David Dow Bentley
Father Comes Home from the Wars
Mark Taper Forum

Suzan-Lori Parks’s much-acclaimed Civil War drama, Father Comes Home from the Wars, directed by Jo Bonney, has finally come to Los Angeles after productions in New York, New England, and elsewhere. The play, which recently won the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, is a large, ambitious and ground-breaking work, one which focuses on a small group of slaves living on “a modest plantation in Texas,” circa 1862.

Willard Manus
Peter and the Starcatcher
Walnut Street Theater

Time: 1895. Place: Hull of a Ship on the High Seas of Neverland. Hero: Boy, held captive with lonely orphan boys yearning for a home. Heroine: Molly Astor, captain’s daughter and fearless starcatcher-in-training. Villain: Black Stache, pirate aspirant to run the ship and find treasure. Entire Cast: Actors as over 100 characters, including musicians, who’ll show and tell an imaginative story to stimulate audience imagination and entertain.

Marie J. Kilker
Father, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

If Frank Langella were a British actor, he’d be a Lord by now. There’s no one who’s better, both at comedy and tragedy. In The Father, he gets a chance to nimbly jump from one to the other, and the result is a production that will sear your soul.

Michall Jeffers
Moon for the Misbegotten, A
Geva Theater Center - Mainstage

This fine production of Eugene O’Neill’s last play was planned as a co-production with the Theatre Royal of Waterford Ireland and played there first. Geva’s artistic director, Mark Cuddy, has negotiated artistic exchanges with Ireland’s leading theaters for more than twelve years since his sabbatical year there, and made this choice with Ben Barnes, now director of the ancient Theatre Royal, and previously director of Ireland’s famed Abbey Theatre.

Herbert M. Simpson
Dancing Lessons
Geva Theater - Nextstage

This odd little play is really an imported production from the Kitchen Theater Company in Ithaca, NY. It is like several other small plays I’ve seen and liked by Mark St. Germain, except that the two roles do not seem well balanced to me, as most are in the other plays of his. I do not think the disparity lies in the casting, though I do think Zach Calhoon much stronger than Rachel Burttram and better cast (she plays an injured Broadway dancer but really doesn’t look physically like any kind of professional dancer, either in physique or movement).

Herbert M. Simpson
Alabama Story
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Based on the true story of racist and political attempts, led by a state senator. to ban a worthwhile children’s book from the Alabama State Library, Alabama Story is a novel struggling to be a play. Because the senator and many of his followers believe the book encourages integration, he tries to intimidate the major State Librarian, threatening her employment and reputation along with the book’s place in the public library system. The date is 1959.

Marie J. Kilker
Rape of Lucrece, The
Downtown Philadelphia Marriott - Salon II

Although Dan Hodge introduces his virtuoso feat presenting The Rape of Lucrece as “Theater of Compromise,” he never seems anything but fully in charge of his material and unyielding interpreting it. All he really needs he has: space, a flat-top, openable trunk; matches, a holder with lightable candle, and comfortable, loose, easily removable top and pants along with soft shoes, and -- capable of concealment -- a sharp knife. Also a fine memory and talent for acting. The result was as near chamber theater as a solo performer might get.

Marie J. Kilker
Backstage at the Players

Doubt, in a small curtained-box set flanked by spectators’ chairs in L-shaped formation, proves at The Players of Sarasota the importance of space and spatial relationships in communication. Here in 1964, a church, its outside garden, school gym, and principal’s office become spaces of intense conversations, contemplation, and action intimately shared with an audience. They add up to “A Parable” or allegorical story illustrating moral values. A synonym for “parable” is “homily” and Doubt begins with one.

Marie J. Kilker
Stage Kiss
Geffen Playhouse

Stage Kiss by the ever-popular playwright Sarah Ruhl is several things at once: a backstage theater farce, a love story, and an exploration of the question of artifice vs. reality. The play, which premiered in Chicago in 2011 and then was seen Off-Broadway in 2014, has a wacky, sometimes surrealistic quality which presents a challenge for any director: how to find a style to match the text’s eccentricities.

Willard Manus
Octoroon, An
Wilma Theater

An Octoroon obviously means to be a significant statement on race in America, today and throughout its history, but the play comes over mostly as a satire on a 19th Century melodrama deconstructed and reconstructed for the 21st Century. In its staging at Wilma Theater, the play is also a deconstruction of the deconstruction, trying to be clever multifacetedly but putting over not more than a few serious points.

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

Ingmar Bergman apparently thought he could best Ibsen in staging the story of Nora, a woman who leaves home and husband when she realizes she’s been mistreated and will always be unfulfilled. Bergman’s version of A Doll’s House cuts out emphasis on many of the 19th century conventions that were so hard on Nora. But these transformed her from acting like a doll to being a gutsy woman. That Ibsen gave her stronger, as well as unpleasant, alternatives to her final action, to my mind adds to the superiority of Ibsen’s original heroine and play.

Marie J. Kilker
Bright Star
Cort Theater

If you’re anything like me, every now and then you hunger for a new musical written with the same kind of heart as the shows of old. Add toe-tapping music, and a sensational cast, and you have Bright Star, the aptly named offering which is delighting even the grumpiest of theater critics. It’s a good old boy-meets-girl story, with one startling twist which leaves the audience gasping.

Michall Jeffers
In Response
Stella Adler Theater

Towne Street Theater, L.A.’s premiere African-American theatre company, has thrown all its resources behind In Response, a multi-media show which it premiered last Fall on the 48th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 24th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. Thanks to audience demand, TST reprises it for a limited run at the Stella Adler Theater.

Willard Manus
Hobby Center

There is a pivotal moment in the Charles Dickens classic tale, “Oliver Twist,” when the hungry and naïve young orphan, Oliver, finishes the humble bowl of gruel he has been given for breakfast, and then dares to ask, “Please sir, I want some more!” Thus begin the many adventures of this young rebel, which in 1960 were brilliantly converted into what would become the legendary musical, Oliver! With its music, lyrics and book all the creation of composer, Lionel Bart, the show would debut in London, and then move on to become a Tony Award-winner after arriving on Broadway in 1963.

David Dow Bentley
Shame on Me!
Santa Monica Playhouse

Debra Ehrhardt, who had a huge success ten years ago in L.A. with her captivating solo show Farewell, Jamaica, is back with a new one-person show, Cock-Tales. Written by Ehrhardt and directed by Joel (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) Zwick, Cock-Tales is an autobiographical work which deals frankly and boldly with sex. It’s not every woman who can talk about that subject—more specifically, about the male sex organ—in such an open, unblushing way, but Ehrhardt does it, with gusto and humor to boot.

Willard Manus
Beckett Trilogy
The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage

Irish actress Lisa Dwan, like Billie Whitelaw before her, has made a career out of performing Samuel Beckett monologues. For eleven years now, she has toured the world with Beckett Trilogy, a bill of Beckett’s last works, Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby. Now Dwan has brought the show to the Broad Stage for a brief run; it is not to be missed.

Willard Manus
Antlia Pneumatica
Playwrights Horizons - Peter Sharp Theater

Winston Churchill described Russia as “ A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." The same could be said, much less profoundly, of Antlia Pneumatica. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on it, the play shifts. Is it a poetic show about unfulfilled dreams? A scientific dissertation? Or one big ghost story?

Michall Jeffers
Revisionist, The
Lovelace Studio Theater

The Revisionist could very well have been called “The Ugly American.” Jesse Eisenberg’s three-character play (which debuted in 2013 at New York’s Cherry Lane Theater) focuses on David, a young American writer (Seamus Mulcahy) who arrives in Szczecin, Poland to stay with his second cousin Maria (Deanna Dunagan), an elderly Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by converting to Catholicism. Ilia Volok plays Zenon, a local taxi driver whose heart brims over with affection for Maria (who reminds him of his late mother).

Willard Manus
Historic Asolo Theater

Velazquez’s portrait of Juan de Pareja, a liberated slave who tried to become a gentleman Spaniard but could not due to racial and class prejudice, dominates the opening scene of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced. The uncovering in the play’s final scene of a portrait of anti-hero Amir indicates parallels between his and Pareja’s fates. Racial and religious differences may have made it impossible for them to assimilate completely in the dominant society. But do they cause Amir to be well described by the play’s title? Or do his words and actions merit the description?

Marie J. Kilker
At Home Between Deaths
Odyssey Theater

Dinner at Home Between Deaths is a black comedy about the illicit dealings of a Wall Street mortgage trader, Sean Lynch (Todd Waring), who gets outed by one of his own employees—a young Chinese-American sexpot with whom he is also having an affair.

Willard Manus
Crucible, The
Walter Kerr Theater

Love it or hate it, one thing is sure; this is not your mother’s Crucible. To begin with, there’s the question of the interracial casting, even though Abigail notes, “I will not black my face for any of them,” which is obviously a racial slur. In a time and place as insular as 17th century Massachusetts, being black or Asian might well have been enough to have you declared a witch. In fact, the one character who’s always portrayed by an African-American, Tituba (Jenny Jules), is immediately accused of being a pawn of the devil, and leading young girls astray.

Michall Jeffers
Digger, The
La MaMa

The Digger: A Subterranean Allegory is puppet theater from Inkfish, presented by La MaMa. It uses a live actor, marionettes, and shadow puppets to show us a hero who goes underground to search for crystals. The backdrop to its puppet set presents a cave, with successive layers behind cut-out centers, and the pre-show sound is the sound of dripping water.

Steve Capra
Ordinary Days
Tenth Street Theater

One of Milwaukee’s up-and-coming theater companies, All-In Productions, was founded by young theater lovers with a passion for obscure musicals. Some of their former productions include Dogfight and The Last Five Years. Now there’s Ordinary Days, . a small-scale musical about two couples struggling to find themselves (and the rent money) in New York City.

Anne Siegel
Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, A
Ahmanson Theater

A musical inspired by “Kind Hearts & Coronets,” A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder tells the farcical story of an impoverished nobleman (Kevin Massey) who sets out to knock off the eight relatives (all played by Rapson) who are keeping him from claiming the title of Earl of Highhurst.

Willard Manus
Sweet Potato Queens, The
Hobby Center

For those seeking relief from the seemingly endless woes that newscasters assault us with on a daily basis, the cheerful answer may have arrived via the latest offering from the Theatre Under the Stars Underground series with last Friday’s World Premiere of the merry new musical, The Sweet Potato Queens, directed by Bruce Lumpkin & Marley Wisnoski. The show celebrates the genesis of a now world-wide organization claiming more than 6000 SPQ chapters in over 20 countries.

David Dow Bentley