Swingaroos, The
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

As a sort of plot, The Swingaroos go musically around the country from the Midwest as a small combo until they become “New York City’s underground jazz band.” They seem to be condescending to perform above ground in Sarasota, where they don’t get introduced until the end of their show. That was supposed to be after 75 minutes on the evening I attended, but they started late and ended early--to the audience’s hearty approval.

Marie J. Kilker
Cafe Society
Odyssey Theater

The play’s title, Café Society, is ironic. The five inhabitants of the café–a Starbucks on the West side of L.A.–certainly do not comprise a society. On the contrary, each is locked into his own little world, typing away on computers and tablets, pretty much oblivious to the other.

Willard Manus
Boeing Boeing
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater

From the first glance, audiences at the Chamber Theater production of Boeing, Boeing are transported back to the swinging 1960s. Lighting a-go-go decorates the stage with an assorted bunch of daisies, reminiscent of the old TV show, “Laugh In.” One recalls the TV show’s set of myriad windows that pop open just long enough for a character to deliver a laugh line. However, the set of Boeing, Boeingis dotted with a row identical doors, not windows. As one soon finds out, it’s the perfect set-up for farce.

Anne Siegel
Gorilla Tango

Seldom has the adage about beauty and the eye of the beholder been illustrated more often, or in as many ways, as it has since Yasmina Reza wrote her deceptively simple little play, Art, in 1994. Her characters have their analogs in every culture the world over, transcending differences in ethnicity, nationality, religious belief, age, gender and social station. Her source of conflict is likewise interchangeable with any property, physical or spiritual, thought to reflect upon the owner.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Dueling Gentlemen, The
The Athenaeum

Theater companies founded on a narrow repertory—Commedia, Operetta, the collected works of Shakespeare/Shaw/Sondheim—might survive for a time on their appeal to a select audience but, sooner or later, will find it necessary to deviate from their initial mission. Silent theater, by contrast, has remained faithful to its goal of replicating, through live-action performance, the aesthetic of pre-sound motion pictures.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Edinburgh International Conference Center

I'd go into the jungle with him any time.

Simon McBurney, the actor/director and head honcho of the theater company Complicite, has been to the jungle and back. After having been given a copy of “Amazon Beaming,” Petru Popescu's 1991 account of National Geographic photo-journalist Loren McIntyre's 1969 trip into the heart of the Amazon, McBurney visited the jungle, as well, to interview some of the indigenous “cat people” known as the Mayoruna.

Mavis Manus

(see reviews under Eight Hundred and Eighty Seven)

Eight Hundred and Eighty Seven
Edinburgh International Conference Center

Robert Lepage's multi-disciplinary memory play, 887, premiered earlier this year at the Toronto Pan Am Games. Now, thanks to the Edinburgh International Festival, European theatergoers have a chance to catch up with the Canadian actor/director's latest creative endeavour.

Like his other solo shows, The Far Side of the Moon, The Anderson Project and Needles and Opium, 887 is a one-man odyssey that combines his twin gifts for storytelling and visionary stagecraft.

Willard Manus
Oak Tree, An
Traverse Theater

Ten minutes into An Oak Tree, I realized I had seen it before, at the Odyssey Theatre in L.A., back in 2010. No matter. The play, written and performed by Tim Crouch, is not only a powerful work but one that has a fresh angle each time it is performed. Crouch, as he explains in introductory remarks, works with a different co-star every night. He meets with that person—tonight it's the actress Lucy Ellinson, a member of the UK's Third Angel company—about an hour before curtain. Copies of the script are handed over, and there is a brief discussion concerning intent and staging.

Mavis Manus
Seeds of Banquo, The
Soulstice Theater

Angela Iannone, one of the most widely respected Milwaukee-based theater artists, demonstrates a new facet of her talent in the world premiere of The Seeds of Banquo. Iannone wrote and directed this smartly crafted show, which intertwines the text of Shakespeare’s Macbethwith the story of real-life actor Edwin Booth. This is the fourth of Iannone’s scheduled five-part play series on Edwin Booth, who was a key figure in nineteenth-century theater.

Anne Siegel
This Isn't What I Expected
Upstairs, The Starlite Room

At Sarasota’s Starlite Theater, four sparkling short comedies drew sellout crowds for evenings and an over half-full audience for a specially called Sunday matinee to accommodate people who don’t drive at night or do but couldn’t get into the sellout eves.

Marie J. Kilker
Electric Dreams
Pleasance Dome, Potterow

The new show by critically acclaimed Dumbshow is based on the ideas in Naomi Klein's book, “Shock and Awe.” As Dumbshow explains in a program note, the book “challenges the myth that over the past 70 years, free-market capitalism triumphed across the globe democratically and posits that often, its advancements have been forced on populations unwittingly when they were too shocked or distracted to realize what was happening.”

Willard Manus
Traverse Theater

On a bare stage, in a haze of smoke, three spooky figures in black stand touching up latex masks with aged features. Three young people enter and take the masks from them. Fade to an old man shuffling and groaning. He's holding a bunch of flowers. A young man then enters and tries to help him but is held in the tight grasp of the old man. Then the largely silent action shifts to a home for the elderly where the three young people are now residing (and wearing those grotesque masks).

Willard Manus
Walking the Tightrope
Underbelly Potterow, Topside

Last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival was marred by loud, angry protests against any show perceived to have an Israeli connection. Led by pro-Palestinian leftists, the demonstrations forced the closure of numerous productions deemed to be political incorrect. Today amends are being made.

Willard Manus
Backwards in High Heels
Westchester Broadway Theater

I thought I’d heard of every show, but Backwards In High Heels was new to me. As it turns out, this is a production which is jobbed in at Westchester Broadway Theater. It been seen around the country; Florida was a recent venue.

This musical takes its title from a quote from a 1982 “Frank & Ernest” cartoon about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did—backwards and in high heels.”

Michall Jeffers
Isaac's Eye
Urbanite Theater

Noted director and critic Harold Clurman maintained that theater essentially “tells lies like truth.” That’s certainly what writer Lucas Hnath does a lot of in Isaac’s Eye. He has Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke as the scientist equivalents of the antagonistic music composers in Amadeus.

Using literary components made popular by Brecht and production devices by his director Erwin Piscator, Hnath accomplishes epic theater’s purpose: to make us think. But are we led mainly to consider the workings and conclusions of science or mainly of ambitious men?

Marie J. Kilker
We Gotta Bingo!
Chicago Theater Works

The notion of audiences at a play sitting still and attending to every minute of the onstage agenda is a relatively new practice, as accounts of theatrical performance in, say, Cyrano de Bergerac, or The Knight of the Burning Pestleamply illustrate. Nobody is suggesting a return to strolling vendors or shell-gamers, but the entertainment genre dubbed "interactive theater" can be said to trace its origins to this venerable tradition.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Boy from Oz, The
Stage 773

Few would argue Australian-born singer/songwriter Peter Allen's inclusion in the pantheon of American pop music, so why does Martin Sherman's adaptation of Nick Enright's original biodrama seem to refute that assessment?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Get Your Hands Off Me, Chekhov! & Flip Flop
Annoyance Theater

Most comedy nowadays relies on familiarity with current movies and television, but not since the Free Associates disbanded has there been a show geared toward playgoers who spend their leisure time seeing other plays. The syllabus of Anne and Greg Taubeneck's two-person musical romp references a number of classic playwrights—Shakespeare, Williams, Chekhov and Beckett, among others—and while everybody might not see the humor of a convent so small "it only had three sisters," they can always chuckle over its being financed by "a loan from Penny Pritzker."

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

Israel Horovitz has written several versions of My Old Lady. He even sent The Banyan Theater revised elements of this very year’s latest version. Not having seen or read what came before, including a movie, I feel it still needs work to be a better play. A light comedy that gets darker, more melodramatic, as cultures and their representative characters clash, it uncovers a chain of mysteries. Most--but, importantly, not all--are family secrets.

Marie J. Kilker
Kings of Country
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

If you love country music, you’ll love Kings of Country. If you don’t love country music, “Kings of Country” may well change your mind. It’s a wonderful, popular selection of songs from the beginnings of country to today as their most talented male singers and instrumentalists made the genre evolve. And there’s a number of places where a gal joins them. So what’s not to like?

Marie J. Kilker
Summer of Daisy Fay, The

Our play is set in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where the wall calendar reads 1958.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Last Train to Nibroc
Theater Wit

Arlene Hutton's Courtship Play, Last Train to Nibroc, is the first in a trilogy recounting the progress of a Southeastern Kentucky couple in the years spanning World War Two and immediately after. Given the inclination toward epic narratives this region often inspires in playwrights (cf. Robert Schenkkan's Kentucky Cycle), Haven Theater Company invites considerable risk in presenting Nibrocas a stand-alone production, putting extra pressure on the pair of actors charged with conjuring, on a Beckett-bare stage, a world larger than that usually shared by lovers.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Old Enough to Know Better
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne's Lab

Based on interviews by current and former FST Staff and community volunteers, a scripted view of aging in Sarasota tells stories about the process and many of its products. “Old Enough to Know Better” rightly labels itself a documentary, but it’s not really a drama. Rather, it presents acted out readings of what interviewees said about themselves and others related to them.

Marie J. Kilker
Songs for the Fallen
Theater 3

Marie Duplessis, French, lived in the mid-19th-century. It’s the old story: poor girl becomes a courtesan, climbs the social ladder and then dies of consumption. Sound familiar? She was the inspiration for La Traviata, the movie “Moulin Rouge!” and any number of other works. Alexandre Dumas, fils, based La Dame aux Camélias (first a novel, then a play) on Marie, and since then she’s been found in—according to the program for Songs for the Fallen—19 films, 16 plays, three ballets and “an endless list of musicals.”

Steve Capra
Bette! Live at the Continental Baths
Mary's Attic

No sooner had Juvenal coined his famous 100 A.D. catch phrase, "Mens Sana in Corpore Sano" ("a healthy mind in a healthy body") than his fellow Greeks began to use it as an excuse for turning "health" clubs into emporiums for refreshment of organs at both ends of the spine—a tradition that continues to this day, when men seeking privacy for trysts with other men can frolic at luxurious facilities offering multi-sensory recreation ranging from steam baths to make-out rooms to cabaret entertainment.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Loving Repeating
Theater Wit

With the benefit of hindsight enjoyed by enlightened citizens in 2015, we can look upon the lifetime partnership of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas as a warning to couples who neglect appropriate legal protections for surviving spouses, or we can mock their domestic paradigm—one affecting a "husbandly" appearance while the other performed "wifely" duties—as stereotypical caricature. What is undeniably evident in the lives of these two women, however, is romance as steadfast and passionate as any exalted in earthly lore.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Over the River and Through the Woods
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

This is bring-back time at Florida Studio Theater for Joe DiPietro’s popular Over the River and Through the Woods, and it’s well worth seeing a second time. It centers on young Italian-American Nick Cristano, who’s had dinner every Sunday with his aging grandparents. He has just been offered a major career advancement (the play’s inciting incident). Will he move away from family and to the job in Seattle?

Marie J. Kilker
Stella and Lou
Peoples Light & Theater Company - Steinbright Stage

Bruce Graham’s tender play confronts the quandary of aging people who are lonely but afraid to risk the uncertainties of new relationships. Stella and Lou is a muted, intimate story about simple people that reaches unexpectedly powerful emotional depths. The locale is an important element, and James F. Pyne Jr.’s set is magnificently defining.

Steve Cohen
Men of Soul
Black Ensemble Theater

The disagreement over what precisely constitutes "soul" will never be resolved, but two major components emerging from the decades-long dispute are experience at overcoming adversity, whether personal or ancestral, and a performance style characterized by the phenomenon called "duende"—a quasi-theoleptic quality amplifying artistic form through the even-if-I-die-in-the-next-minute-I-WILL-say-THIS-NOW defiance of the artist in the embrace of its divine power. This trait informs the roster of songwriters/vocalists selected by Daryl D.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Grand Concourse
Steppenwolf Theater

This play features a pretty teenage girl afflicted with cancer working in a church-affiliated charity facility—but don't haul out your hankies yet. There's also a paranoid ex-hippie prone to go off his medication, but you can keep your tasers holstered, too. Staff employees include a Dominican immigrant and a nun, but don't come anticipating discussions of green cards or saying of rosaries (though an oven timer sometimes signals a call to prayer).

Mary Shen Barnidge
Customer is Always Right, The
The Starlite Room

In the one-act evening The Customer is Always Right, an emphasis on couples making comedy began with Larry Parr’s imagining a garage sale held by a widow to finally clean out her house years after her husband’s death. A buyer decides on a dusty teapot, but the seller backs out when she realizes what the contents are. The women (Skyla Luckey and Mary Jo Johnson) finally get together to use them in a way that explains the play’s title, “A Line of Malarky.” Imaginatively cute!

Marie J. Kilker
Behind the Mask
Theater for the New City

Behind the Mask, by Feng BaiMing and Huang WeiRuo and from the American company Yangtze Repertory Theater, presents us with a troupe of actors in China. They’re rehearsing a play based on a myth, well-known to the Chinese, about a cruel king who orders his sword-maker executed after he’s forged his strongest sword.

Steve Capra
Cotton Club Cabaret
WBBT Theater

Westcoast Black Theater Troupe debuted 15 years ago as a community theater playing weekends in a rented space with a show dedicated to the Cotton Club of the 1920s-30s. This summer, under founder Nate Jacobs’s leadership, WBTT is offering an adaptation, Cotton Club Cabaret, as a professional group with its own theater. The one thing that hasn’t changed: WBTT packs its house and wins national laurels for itself and Jacobs.

Marie J. Kilker
Amish Project, The
Banyan Theater Company

Having reviewed The Amish Project with the same star and director about two years ago in St. Petersburg, I didn’t feel the same effect on opening night in Sarasota. Probably that was because, as in the play, news came earlier in the day of the senseless shooting deaths of unarmed marines in Chattanooga, TN. It really brought home the message of one of the characters near the play’s end: “Shit like this happens every day now.”

Marie J. Kilker
Alley Stage

When artists are on a creative roll, they often ignore housekeeping chores and personal hygiene in their quest to concentrate on their work. This may explain why, when we first encounter reclusive, emphysema-racked poet Ulysses, he is wearing nothing but an apron and an oxygen tank, and his trailer in the Colorado Rockies contains a refrigerator filled with rotting meat.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Brilliant Adventures
Steep Theater

Audience members scrutinizing their playbills for this Steep Theater production may have attributed to printing error two actors listed for a single role, but, in fact, ambiguous taxonomical clues are an integral component of stories including among their furnishings a bona fide time machine.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Kinky Boots
Cadillac Palace

During Kinky Boots’spre-Broadway development in Chicago, audiences saw a different show every night, so busy were songwriter Cyndi Lauper and scriptwriter Harvey Fierstein putting the final touches on the winsome tale that eventually earned itself six Tony Awards. The finished version now returns in triumph under the auspices of Broadway in Chicago.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bard Fiction
Edgewater Presbyterian Church - City Lit

A theater company whose proclaimed goal is the forging of intercultural connections through plays-in-translation might be expected to traffic in modern-language adaptations of, say, Goldoni or Lope de Vega. Commedia Beauregard, however, invites experiments in back-translations of contemporary literature into idioms reflecting their source material as well—for example, Mario Puzo's “The Godfather,” rendered as Jacobean tragedy, rhymed couplets and 17th-century weaponry co-existing with mid-20th-century sartorial fashions.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Baby Wants Candy: Improv `15
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

After asking the audience for the title of a musical that’s never been performed, Baby Wants Candy launched into Bed, Bath, and Beyond This Planet: a comedy of cosmic proportions. Musical numbers that followed included solos, duets, trios, and full cast renditions of songs created on the spot, starting with a startling “Stop!” to get attention.

Marie J. Kilker