Shining City
The Den

Conor McPherson's first play written after his near-death experience in 2001 acquaints us with three troubled marriages, as recounted by three troubled husbands. One account takes up perhaps 10 minutes of onstage time; another's disparate segments add up to maybe a total of 30 minutes.

Both of these husbands, you see, are closer to resolution than the third, whose epiphany requires nearly an hour before achieving its purpose.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Q Brothers Christmas Carol, The
Navy Pier

Whatever else can be said about rap/hip-hop music, there's no denying its relentlessly regular rhyme and meter. The discipline imposed by this form, as poets will attest, forces the rapper to express his emotions verbally, rather than through simple vocalizations or physical actions—but measured words, while useful for articulating anger, passion and defiance, are less fitted to conveying vulnerability.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Marie Antoinette
Steppenwolf Theater

From “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court” to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the juxtaposition of history's icons with familiar contemporary culture has never failed to amuse playgoers. At its best, this translation serves as a teaching aid, rendering the events of the past more accessible and its perpetrators more human. At worst, it trivializes their accomplishments and the significance thereof.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker, The
Black Ensemble Theater

There's nothing like a courtroom drama for spelling out the issues of its day to audiences. This is no less true when the play under scrutiny is a 2015 world premiere proposing to recount the events of a real-life trial transpiring in 1891.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Angelina
Crocker Memorial Church

Angelina Grimke Weld, 1805-1879, lives again in the person of Susan Jones Mannino, dressed in the simple white collared, beige gown of her day. With a tea table to one side, she invites us back to the days just after the abolition of slavery in Charleston. In animated fashion in Angelina, she tells us in soft Southern tones how she championed the rights of slaves and the education of women. Nothing soft about that story!

Marie J. Kilker
My Prodigal Son
Crocker Memorial Church

Regarding Gabriel Ortiz’s story in My Prodigal Son, we can’t imagine a more intense telling or audience response to an account of a journey to an adulthood. It encompasses acceptance of a father by his son and, in a circuitous way, of the son by the father. There’s an addicted, husband-blaming mother in the background and brothers who followed the wrong path, but Gabriel both forged a bond with his father and escaped what could have been his family legacy.

Marie J. Kilker
Mickle Street
Independence Studio on 3

Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde met once and talked for several hours. In Mickle Street, Michael Whistler has imagined what these two literary giants might have discussed. Some local critics have been upset by historic inaccuracy, but let’s stipulate that the play is at least 95 percent fiction and consider the production on its own merits.

Steve Cohen
Mamma Mia!
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The ubiquitous Mamma Mia! makes a return appearance to Milwaukee’s Marcus Center, where it has played frequently over the past few years. This time, the North American tour arrived for a more abbreviated run than usual. The cast played five performances from Friday-Sunday.

Anne Siegel
Never Marry a Girl with Cold Feet
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Audiences seem to love the usual Florida Studio Theater Cabaret formula of several singers-dancers-actors delivering songs solo, in pairs, and all together, that fit into a common theme. They have a lot to enjoy in Never Marry a Girl with Cold Feet. It’s a lively salute to vaudeville, but mainly through musical numbers rather than its variety-show acts.

Marie J. Kilker
Leaving Home
Ruskin Group Theater

Leaving Home by Canadian playwright David French takes a hard look at a Toronto working-class family circa 1960. The patriarch of the Mercer family is Jacob (lusty performance by Chris Mulkey), a big, drunken, overbearing man who attempts to bully everyone else in the household–namely his two sons, Ben (Kayde McMullen) and Bill (James Lastovic), and his wife Mary (the valiant Karen Landry). The latter, though, has learned over the years how to cope with his angry outbursts and keep the peace.

Willard Manus
Hop Frog
Crocker Memorial Church

A simple chair is the only prop. A black suit and white shirt held by suspenders is the only costume, completed with black and white gym shoes. Through acting, mostly with exaggerated gesture, John Devennie turns the scene into a palace ruled over by an evil king. Hop Frog is his jester, a cripple, and a dwarf. Devennie imitates Hop Frog’s walk with distorted limbs. But, with his jacket thrown off, he demonstrates very strong arms. He’s there because he was stolen from his faraway home, along with a beautiful girl dwarf, and sent to the King.

Marie J. Kilker
My Son Pinocchio
Nancy Bock Center

Before curtain time at the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts, the room was filled with the familiar buzz of audience excitement that one has come to expect when Class Act Productions is presenting a show from founder/producer, Keith Brumfield. In this case, the offering was the Disney musical, My Son Pinocchio: Geppetto’s Musical Tale.

David Dow Bentley
Testament of Mary, The
Crocker Memorial Church
Marie J. Kilker
Testament of Mary, The
Crocker Memorial Church

To the offstage strains of Gounod’s “Ave Maria” sits Roxanne Fay robed in blue from head to toe before a pure white background. She looks like a painted Renaissance Madonna. After a momentary cover-all blue light stops, along with the music, the dramatic Mary pulls off her robes. Continuing in brown trousers and a black top, she appears as a modern woman--and an angry one at that.

Marie J. Kilker
Stairs to the Roof
Latvian Society

This is Tennessee Williams as you’ve never seen him. The play he wrote in 1941 just before his first success, The Glass Menagerie, is a wacky, surrealistic farce.

Both plays share a protagonist who is rebellious against conventionality and looking for a change of scenery — very much like Williams himself. But Menagerie is serious drama, whereas Stairs to the Roof is a fantasy. He never wrote anything else like it, and Stairs in the Roof apparently has never before been staged in the Philadelphia or New York area.

Steve Cohen
Leading Men
Crocker Memorial Church

His insistence that he’s a man, to be thus recognized, introduces Blake Walton’s autobiographical drama, Leading Men. It goes full circle from his problematic relationship to his father through his relationship to his son and round to a true understanding at last of his father. They forge the last link with mutual acceptance.

Marie J. Kilker
She'll Stick to Ye
New College Art & Music Center

In She’ll Stick to Ye, we must imagine that we are in Dublin, Ireland, as the participants in a meeting of the Irish Women’s Literary Society. It is 1946. We fill the simple lecture room to hear Nora Barnacle Joyce speak of her late husband James and her life with him. Proper Annette Breazeale, as Mrs. Grace McVey with softly tailored suit and hat, hosts. She gives a cordial welcome to the speaker and promises tea afterward. She has to keep order occasionally and swiftly smooths over the exit of a few. That’s not to say she’ll approve unreservedly of every word we hear.

Marie J. Kilker
It Goes Without Saying
Crocker Memorial Church

In It Goes Without Saying, Bill Bowers begins with some classical mime. It’s just to show that’s what he is as a performer; however, he also presents himself as a person, a gay man. He’s from Montana, and he tells how that has made all the difference in both of his identities.

Marie J. Kilker
Desperate Dolls
Strawdog Theater

From the earliest tales of foolish maidens who ventured out to the Fair/the Ball/the Big City/Hollywood and, later, to the Prom/Rock Concert, only to be seduced by Satan's homeys, entertainment engineered to titillate has trumpeted its value as a morality fable. Consumers of soft-core porn, you see, don't want to see a bad girl doing naughty things—they want to see a good girl doing naughty things.

Mary Shen Barnidge
title of show
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theatre

A little musical that’s about itself and how it comes into being by two guy friends and gets some help from two gals, [title of show] aims to win a Musical Theater Festival prize but goes all the way to Broadway. In its descent to an FSU/Asolo Conservatory show, it comes all blown up into a paramount production.

Marie J. Kilker
Hot Georgia Sunday
The Den

A sweltering day in the rural Deep South, when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees and the air conditioners crash, can make for volatile environmental conditions leading otherwise rational citizens to seek escape from the irritations, big and small, engendered by the torpid climate. Too often, however, their methods of achieving gratification are rooted in plans founded on impulse rather than rational premeditation—especially when the six narrators recounting the events of the fatal Sabbath giving the play its title don't set much store by that trait, nohow.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Nice Indian Boy, A
The Biograph

In pre-literate ages, the purpose of marriage was transference of property with progeny serving as the vessels of the transfer, and while compatibility as a factor making for smooth transitions was generally acknowledged, approval of heirs to the family fortunes choosing their own spouses has come slowly and gradually, one community at a time. This is why the literature of our immigrant nation encompasses so many stories—from Abie's Irish Rose to Fiddler on the Roof—of ancestral doctrine superseded by youthful exuberance.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Kid Like Jake, A
Greenhouse

We never meet Jake. We meet Jake's mom, Alex, the privileged and fiercely competitive daughter of a likewise privileged, fiercely competitive mother. Alex has suffered two miscarriages since having Jake, rendering her extremely protective of her surviving son. For the first four years of Jake's life, she has indulged his affinity for Disney princesses. However, now that the time has come for Jake to start kindergarten, she fears that his "gender-variant" behavior may reduce his chances of enrollment in a prestigious toddler-school. Oh—and Alex is pregnant again.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Price, The
Mark Taper Forum

To mark the centennial of Arthur Miller, CTG has mounted a production of one of the illustrious playwright’s later works, The Price. Directed by Ireland’s Garry Hynes (artistic director of Druid Theatre Company), the play stars Kate Burton, John Bedford Lloyd, Sam Robards and Alan Mandell. The latter gleefully takes on the role of the colorful, crafty furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, giving him the accent and mannerisms of an old-time Yiddish vaudevillian.

Willard Manus
Amish Project, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio

A horrifying real-life event, the 2006 killing of Amish girls in a Pennsylvania school house, becomes the touch point for an entirely fictional play of the same theme in The Amish Project. Playwright Jessica Dickey weaves together the stories of seven characters related to the shooting and its aftermath. All seven characters are played by one woman, who remains dressed in typical Amish garb (white bonnet, plain blue dress, etc.) through the entire 70-minute show.

Anne Siegel
Having Our Say
Coachella Valley Repertory

Audiences that expect to find a soft, nostalgic tone in the reminiscences of two centenarian sisters will certainly get a jolt when they see Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. There’s a lot of what my own grandmother used to call “piss-and-vinegar” about these African-American sisters, who share their life stories in this humorous, heartwarming show.

Anne Siegel
Princess Mary Demands Your Attention
Biography

A recurring phenomenon in families encompassing multiple offspring is the de facto selection of one child to remain close to home and care for the parents in their old age. This task is typically assigned to a daughter, but where only sons are available, there soon emerges the boy whose future will revolve on domestic responsibilities, freeing his brothers to roam from the nest. With the passing of the clan sire and dam, however, those nurtured exclusively to service often find themselves without resources to assist them in forging an identity independent of filial attachments.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Rapture, Blister, Burn
Goodman Theater

If you've never seen a Gina Gionfriddo play before, be wary of hasty impressions based on her work for television. Left to her own devices, this mischievous playwright displays a fondness for luring audiences into anticipating one kind of story, then abruptly changing directions to refute our initial assumptions.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Dividing the Estate
Raven Theater

It's said that what distinguishes U.S. citizens from their European counterparts are the former's propensity for chronological inflation. The Gordons of Harrison, Texas, accumulated their fortune over a period of barely exceeding a hundred years, but even this relatively short history of prosperity—earned through myriad risks, gambles and lucky breaks—makes for entitlement sufficient to generate filial conflict over its continuance.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Red
Redtwist Theater

"What do you see?" are the first words spoken at the start of Red. It's an important question—Mark Rothko's paintings might not look like much at first, but when exhibited under subdued lighting conditions (as Rothko preferred), after you stare at them for awhile, the hues begin to shimmer and glow. Viewers prone to vertigo may become light-headed, and those inclined toward synesthesia may find themselves drawing near its surface as though seeking physical warmth.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Into the Woods
Theater Horizon

Into the Woodsis Stephen Sondheim’s most complicated musical, so it’s amazing to see the small Theater Horizon pull it off successfully with an innovative approach.

Steve Cohen
Fugue
Atwater Village Theater

Great music often has its roots in murder, betrayal and suicide. So says Tommy Smith, whose gutsy, blood-soaked drama, Fugue, is having its world premiere at the Atwater Village Theater. As directed by Chris Fields, head of the Echo Theater Company, Fugue is cleverly constructed. Three separate, passionate love stories take place at different times in history: 19th century Russia, early 20th century Vienna, and early 17th century Italy. Each story centers on a composer: namely, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Carlo Gesualdo.

Willard Manus
King Lear
Royal National Theater

NOTE: This production was viewed live via satellite feed in a theater at the Historic Asolo Theater, Sarasota, FL.

Here is one of those partly brilliant, partly ordinary, partly stupid modernizations of a Shakespearian tragedy--this one described once as bound to be better read with imagination than staged. King Lear in director Sam Mendes’ hands and its title character embodied by Simon Russell Beale takes place in a dark, modern, militaristic country ruled by a dictator with ever-present large retinue all in black.

Marie J. Kilker
Rasheeda Speaking
Pershing Square Signature Center

It almost doesn’t matter that Rasheeda Speaking isn’t a perfect play. The opportunity to be able to experience the masterful interaction of Dianne Wiest and Tonya Pinkins is more than enough. Pinkins brings to her character, Jaclyn, humor, intensity, and a large dollop of cunning sadism. Wiest is simply from another dimension. While all fine actors possess a pallet of colors, she adds shades of emotion rarely seen in real life, let alone on stage. A top-quality actor takes us from green to blue with ease.

Michall Jeffers
Night Alive, The
Geffen Playhouse

The Night Alive is the third Conor McPherson play to be done at the Geffen --the others were The Weir and The Seafarer -- all of which were directed by Randall Arney. Obviously, the latter is a big fan of the Irish playwright’s and is in tune with his sensibilities.

Willard Manus
Application Pending
Westside Theater - Downstairs

It took me 15 minutes watching Application Pending to adjust to Christina Bianco’s electrifying, over-the-top performance. Between her faster-than-a-speeding-bullet character changes, each with their own voice and mannerisms, and a surprisingly intelligent script that skewers just about everything and everybody in the most non-PC way, I had to reprogram my brain to take it all in. If I hadn’t, my head would have exploded with all of the different personalities and hot-button subjects being fired at me from the stage.

Edward Rubin
Under the Skin
Arden Theater

Michael Hollinger is the respected author of eleven full-length plays, including Opus and Red Herring, and he writes about serious issues, often historic — plagiarism, corruption among the priesthood, cold-war witch hunts for Russian spies — while leavening his stories with a great deal of humor. His latest is different. Under the Skin is a sober look at family strains that are aggravated when a man is in renal failure and needs a kidney transplant.

Steve Cohen
Sons of the Prophet
Blank Theater

Sons of the Prophet came to L.A. with a lot of hoopla propelling it: successful run at the Roundabout in New York, finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. That made me attend the L.A. premiere with a keen sense of anticipation...only to be badly let down.

Stephen Karam’s play about a Pennsylvania Lebanese-American family going through tough times has some good moments but never quite jells. Instead of being caught up in its story, I found myself feeling more and more detached and indifferent as it unfolded.

Willard Manus
Fly
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

So true is the recreation of a final bombing scene in Fly that you for may forget you’re in a theater with actors rather than fliers. It’s the exciting climax to a poignant flashback story by a Tuskegee Airman of a tough path to acceptance and achievements of military African Americans from training to proving themselves as officers and pilots. First, they had to accept each other in brotherhood, despite their different backgrounds and values.

Marie J. Kilker
Constellations
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Constellations: The Emperor’s New Clothes Reviewed by Edward Rubin It is sometimes the case that a less than wonderful play, in this case, Constellations, more an acting exercise than a play, the type traditionally found in acting classes, gets the most wonderful reviews and becomes a bona fide Broadway hit. There is no accounting for taste -- as they say, that’s what makes horse races – but one can conjecture as to why so many of the critics, major and minor, from the New York Times to the Hollywood Reporter to Time Out, have filed rave reviews.

Ed Rubin

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