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
Annapurna
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
Bent
Tenth Street Theater

On a stark, charcoal-colored stage that changes little throughout its two-hour run time, Martin Sherman’s 1979 play Bent unfolds in the intimate confines of the Tenth Street Theatre.

This production, by Milwaukee’s World Stage Theater, pulls no punches as it tells the story of two gay lovers who flee for their lives when the Nazis invade their Berlin apartment in the 1930s. Within two years, one of the lovers will be dead, and the other will be interned at the Dachau concentration camp.

Anne Siegel
Copenhagen
Bradenton Kiwanis Theater

A drama that makes you think deeply isn’t typical summer fare, but Copenhagen is a cool treat from the fledgling Little Grey Hat Productions. It takes you into a world concerned with science and politics and, though about events taking place 1941, it is important to today when many distort values in scientific research and its findings. The dramatized central event is the last meeting between physicists Werner Heisenberg and Neils Bohr in the Danish capital.

Marie J. Kilker
Dead Man's Cell Phone
The Athenaeum

There's this guy in a café, you see, who quietly dies in his chair, and then his cell phone rings. A stranger at the next table answers the noisy device and discovers that it has been rendered ownerless—forever. At first, Jean is reluctant to alarm the callers and takes messages that she knows the man they identify as Gordon Gottlieb will never answer. Later, her self-imposed duty to the dead grows to include consolation—most of it improvised as needed—for his family members. Soon she finds herself embraced by the bereaved clan and, more ominously, by his former business associates.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Show for Days
Lincoln Center - Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

A coming-of-age tale of a teenage boy in the theater. It's a popular concept, and when the teenage boy later becomes a successful playwright, Douglas Carter Beane, attention must be paid. And when Patti LuPone is cast in a flamboyant thunderbolt of a role, attention is definitely paid.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Beaches
Drury Lane Theater & Conference Center

An all-time chick film, 1988’s “Beaches,” which spans a 30-year, mostly long-distance friendship between two girls/women, memorably featured Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. A new musical of the same title is in pre-Broadway production at Chicago’s Drury Lane Theater. It stars Shoshana Bean as Cee Cee (the Midler role) and Whitney Bashor as Bertie (the Hershey part).

Anne Siegel
Godspell
Westchester Broadway Theater

To be successful, Godspell must be upbeat, energetic, and youthful. Director John Fanelli supplies all these attributes in abundance in this current Westchester Broadway Theater production. He keeps the action colorful and moving, and what’s even better, his talented performers really seem to having fun; their joy is contagious, and the audience has a great time.

Michall Jeffers
Available Cupholders
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

From Austin, TX, the ensemble of four guys and a gal comprising Avaliable Cupholders focus on genre-related improv. They present a dartboard containing such “genres” as comedy of manners, sci-fi, Shakespeare, Tween eroticism, avant garde. On the night I attended, an audience member set off the dart here that favored a Shakespearian type of comedy. Another audience member chose the title (and thus the subject) of “It Lives” for a long-form improv.

Marie J. Kilker
Motown
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Motown: The Musical is zipping all over the country these days in anticipation of its announced Broadway return in summer 2016. The tour, which features a strong cast, spectacular costumes, an interesting yet minimal set and a well-honed orchestra, rocked Milwaukee audiences on opening night.

Anne Siegel
Small Fire, A
Steep Theater

Don't be fooled by the TV-movie premise of A Small Fire. Author Adam Bock's specialty lies in seemingly harmless settings spotted with empty spaces for audiences' imaginations. Theatergoers anticipating a tidy explanation offering insight into the domestic crisis depicted in this curiously unfinished play are hereby warned that what they take away may well be largely what they brought in.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bent
Strawdog Theater

The dramatic dynamic in run-of-the-mill prison plays focuses on the ability—or inability—of the inmates to forge a unity sufficient to survive their ordeal. The dynamic in Holocaust plays is shaped by documentation of Jewish persecution under the Third Reich, though its conventions may be applied to victims of any political oppression. The dynamic in gay prison or Holocaust plays, by contrast, is most frequently rooted in romantic sensibilities mandating erotic attraction leading to martyrdom.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Of Good Stock
City Center - Stage I

Three sisters reuniting, an appealing beach house on Cape Cod, and the living is easy - or not. As Jess, the eldest sister says, “I’m not sure any of us Stockton girls can be truly happy.” And on we go from there.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
All American Girl
Lounge Theater

All American Girl, Wendy Graf’s provocative new play about a home-grown terrorist, has been given a first-class production by the InterAct Theater Company. The solo play, admirably directed by Anita Khandzadian, has been double cast, with Annika Marks and Jeanne Syquia alternating in the role of Kathleen, a young Christian girl from a Boston suburb who, incredibly, transforms into a bomb-making disciple of militant Islam.

Willard Manus
Nance, The
Kalita Humphreys Theater

Uptown Players, Dallas area's only gay-centric theater company, opened Douglas Carter Beane's hilarious, heartfelt musical about a 1937 era gay burlesque performer in New York. ”The Nance” was a term for an actor who portrayed a gay person on stage in a time when being gay could land one in jail, but portraying one onstage was allowed.

Rita Faye Smith
Composition...Master-Pieces...Identity
Connelly Theater

For those few that read her, and continue to do so, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) is an acquired taste, a taste I confess that I acquired decades ago. What attracted me to her, and still does, in addition to her writings and her ideas, is her common sense, an aspect that is rarely mentioned when the subject of Stein surfaces.

Edward Rubin
Hound of the Baskervilles, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

For an iconic mystery turned into a treat of frivolity and fun, take a trip to the British Moors onstage at Florida Studio Theater. The frivolous flummery suits typical summer theatergoing perfectly, as do the play’s three actors who take on 17 roles and follow delightfully demanding direction by Gavin Cameron-Webb. Has a Sherlock Holmes case ever been so goofy?

Marie J. Kilker
Ubu in Chains
Medicine Show Theater

In 1888 a French schoolboy, Alfred Jarry, wrote a puppet play to lampoon his physics teacher and created the character Pere Ubu. He would later rework the script into the play Ubu Roi. It’s one of the seminal plays of modern drama, and Jarry wrote three more plays around the character Pere Ubu. The plays broke the conventions of drama and prepared the way for the absurdists to come decades later. The third play was Ubu in Chains. Like Ubu Roi, it’s a preposterous, iconoclastic, very funny play.

Steve Capra
Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown
Apollo Studio

Whether you trace the origins of the format to Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia in 1985 or John Leguizamo's Mambo Mouth in 1990, it was still inevitable that the gay-male Latino immigrant experience would soon prove the subject of a solo show. In 1994, Chilean-born Guillermo Reyes addressed this insufficiency with his gallery of nine monologues, each representing a different aspect of the demographic collectively labeled "Hispanic."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Who and the What, The
The Biograph

A young artist defies the legacy of his ancestors to pursue a career proscribed by his tradition-bound family. Does this scenario sound familiar? You bet it does—it's “The Jazz Singer.” It's also “My Name Is Asher Lev,” A View from the Bridge, Family Devotions, Billy Elliott and Fiddler on the Roof.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Django Reinhardt New York Festival
Birdland

It's a hot, swinging virtuosity, minor-key with a sighing vibrato, an irresistible sound that insinuates your soul with joyful brio and wistful nostalgia. This is Django's music, the legacy of French/gypsy guitarist/composer, Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt (1910-1953), a Manouche gypsy who captured the passion of generations of listeners.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Orson Welles & Scatman Crothers in A Hollywood Ending
Theater Asylum Lab

The Hollywood system’s callous human values are laid bare in Orson Welles & Scatman Crothers in “A Hollywood Ending, David Castro’s hard-hitting and bitter-sweet two-hander which just closed at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Willard Manus
Nigerian Spam Scam Scam
Asylum Lab

It’s not everyone who can out-con the notorious Nigerian con men, but Dean Cameron managed to do it. The veteran TV and theater actor explains how he pulled off the stunt in Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, his hilarious play which just had a successful run at the recent Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Cameron, playing himself, is joined on stage by Victor Isaac, a wizard at voices who impersonated various Nigerian characters during the course of the show, including a female tribal chief and her officious nephew, a banker, and a custom’s-house official.

Mavis Manus
Bright Swords
The Complex

Bright Swords, the one-man play about famed African-American actor Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), was the best thing I saw at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Written by Rick Creese and starring Ryan Vincent Anderson, the play was riveting from beginning to end, thanks to the crisp writing and directing, and above all to Anderson’s superb performance.

Willard Manus
She Stoops to Conquer
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

I don’t know quite what to say about this production of She Stoops to Conquer. The famous old comedy is one of my favorites. This latest revival is directed by Stratford’s leading expert on direction who has also starred superbly in several productions of the play. It is designed by some of Canada’s greatest designers. And the cast includes three of my favorite actors in the world. Except for one scene marred by a poor choice of actor, I thought the whole performance delightfully well-played, adroitly and very beautifully designed, expertly directed, and a total pleasure.

Herbert M. Simpson

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