How to Use a Knife
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne's Lab

In his New York restaurant catering to business lunchers, self aggrandizing Michael is giving a second chance to George, a chef who was his boss and teacher. George will once again helm a kitchen, though at night when menu and clientele are very limited. A recovering alcoholic and druggie, George has charge of two Hispanic line cooks, a waiter, and a dishwashing mopper. How will he and those under him fare?

Marie J. Kilker
Morning After Grace
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

A third Asolo Rep entry into a program of “Staging Our World” reflects the predominant senior population of Sarasota. It does so as if a TV sitcom. With fine stage performers under Peter Amster’s famed direction of comedy, it almost manages to hold interest beyond usual television time. Initial male nudity grabs attention but promises more than what comes forth clothed in cliches and mild jokes.

Marie J. Kilker
Undesirable Elements
New Victory Theater

There are seven performers in Ping Chong and Company’s play Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ. They talk about their actual lives (what’s happened in the past) in the present tense, and what they talk about is the substance of growing up disadvantaged in New York City.

Steve Capra
Panorama
La MaMa

In Panorama (presented by La MaMa) characters morph into one another in defiance of actuality or stage convention. The show begins with 17 video clips of actors introducing themselves, and as the play proceeds, we meet seven of them on stage. That upstage video projection is always active, and sometimes it’s the actor on stage whose image is projected—they're always being videoed onstage, and sometimes they take video selfies. They’re always talking directly to us, usually one at a time.

Steve Capra
Brouhaha
Theater for the New City

What would we do without smart clown shows? “Smart clown show” describes Happenstance Theater’s show Brouhaha, appearing Off-off-Broadway at The Theater for the New City. The loose premise is that the six characters expect the world to end imminently (the script doesn’t explain why, and we don’t care). There are a couple of off-stage sort-of explosions that throw them on the floor, and then this brief exchange:
“Was that it?”
“Apparently not.”

Steve Capra
Small Mouth Sounds
The Broad Stage

Much of Small Mouth Sounds resembles a silent movie with its six characters communicating without dialogue by making exaggerated gestures and faces for nearly two hours (with no title cards to aid comprehension). The dumb show in Bess Wohl’s new play, a recent off-Broadway hit, takes place in a wellness center whose unseen leader preaches silence as a therapeutic cure for psychological stress and pain. The leader, voiced by Orville Mendoza, is a kind of New Age guru, uttering advice and instruction in a cloyingly sweet tone meant to soothe and inspire.

Willard Manus
For the Loyal
The Athenaeum

Exhortations to be "loyal, brave and true" are commonplace in songs designed to rally the troops—military, religious or athletic—but what happens when the actions spurred by these values come into conflict? This is the query posed in this Chicago premiere play by the prolific Lee Blessing.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Flamingo and Decatur
Theater Wit

Audiences whose notions of Las Vegas are restricted to tourist brochures may encounter difficulty accepting the concept of gambling as a career choice.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Manor, The
Greystone Mansion

It has taken me sixteen years to catch up with The Manor, the fictionalized story of the rise and fall of the Doheny family. Edward Doheny, patriarch of the family, made a fortune in the oil business during the 1920s, much of which he spent on Greystone Mansion, a mammoth hilltop house in then-rural Beverly Hills. The Manor takes place in that very structure; and to reach it one must motor up Doheny Drive and enter what is now a city park.

Willard Manus
Mountaintop, The
West Coast Black Theater Troupe

If The Mountaintop comes over better than its rather sketchy text deserves, it’s because its production director, like Chuck Smith at WBTT, unveils subtext. That makes possible deeper-than-surface portrayals by its two actors as its realism acquires now-fashionable magic. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. thus becomes a normal human being as well as a charismatic icon.

Marie J. Kilker
Animal Farm
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is among the most famous political novels of all time, and Ian Wooldridge’s adaptation is a masterful work that smartly takes the book’s themes from page to stage. In the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s intriguing production, a cast of eight actors portray the entire community of Animal Farm – the animals as well as the hated, alcoholic owner, Farmer Jones, as well as various other humans.

Anne Siegel
Stories By Heart
American Airlines Theater

the American Airlines Theatre, all settled down to watch him enliven a collection of colorful characters in his ebullient one-man show, John Lithgow: Stories by Heart. Why are stories generally so universally engaging? Lithgow asks and answers this question in a two-act Roundabout Theatre Company production.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Constellations
Tenth Avenue Theater

Now in its third season, All In Productions seems fated to fill a hole in the local theatrical landscape. It stages (mostly obscure) musicals and dramas (and has seen more success with the musicals than the dramas). But its latest offering, Constellations is a drama – almost. It comes off more like an exercise in an acting class.

Anne Siegel
Shakespeare in Love
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

Despite its length and prescription for elaborate production, the stage version of the movie “Shakespeare in Love” is like a student take-off on Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet. Most of it’s a stretch for anyone who knows Will’s repertoire, Christopher Marlowe’s, and theater history. Yet enjoyment’s to be had in robust acting, elaborate costumes and apt lighting at Asolo Rep.

Marie J. Kilker
Motherfucker with the Hat, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Despite its laugh-raising verbal virtuosity and often over-the-top characterization, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play with the title that couldn’t be advertised is serious business. Everyone in it is seriously addicted, though comically expressing their inadequacies as they cope with them, or at least try to.

Marie J. Kilker
Magic Parlour, The
Palmer House Hilton

When we speak of "fooling" people, the term is usually associated with manipulation in service of personal gain at the expense of innocents. ("Fool me once, shame on you" runs the adage.) The concept of deception as amusement has waned as our universe grows ever more complex and untrustworthy, reducing the spiritual security necessary to comfortably confront unexplainable events.

Mary Shen Barnidge
It's My Penis
Pride Arts Buena

Don't be misled by the P-word. Even if our hero makes his entrance garbed only in his underwear (plain white cotton jockeys, for those who care about such details) to inform us that he used to be a woman, he has not come to talk about hormones or implants or rejecting one gender stereotype in order to embrace another. Instead, his goal is to question—having, he reminds us, viewed the arguments from both sides—why our culture makes it so difficult for men and women to be who they really are.

Mary Shen Barnidge
My Father's a Cop
Lounge Theater

To watch Jerry Dean’s My Father’s a Cop is to take a walk on the wild side.

Dean, born in the West Village, the Irish-American son of a NYC cop and an alcoholic mother, tells his life story in the Los Angeles premiere of his solo play. And what a life it has been, shot through with darkness, violence, crime, drugs, insanity, and incarceration.

Willard Manus
Shadowlands
Acorn Theater

Fellowship for Performing Arts produces theater from a Christian perspective. It’s currently touring with a solo show about C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert. Here in New York they’re presenting another play about Lewis, Shadowlands, Off-Broadway. It’s a larger production, with a cast of ten. Like The Reluctant Convert, it explores theology through the prism of Lewis’s life.

Steve Capra
Waitress
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Waitress , the national tour starring Desi Oakley as an almost middle-age woman who creates amazingly delicious pies at the local diner, shouldn’t expect a generous tip from this critic.

Anne Siegel
Parisian Woman, The
Hudson Theater

You'd expect that politics on Broadway would be an intriguing gift-wrapped star vehicle, what with all the elements of Washington's dashing, in-the-know style and back-stabbing, ambition and sly perfidy on all sides. Unfortunately, despite today's prodigious amount of news available, fake and real, Beau Willimon's The Parisian Woman at the Hudson Theater has the feel of a old-time parlor drama.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Children, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

The holiday season brings to Broadway a warning of catastrophe, an all-too-true cautionary tale of disaster brought about by impetuous human intrusion into the natural world. The Children, Lucy Kirkwood’s thoughtful drama at the Manhattan Theater Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theater, features no children on stage, yet the underlying theme considers children and what kind of world they will inherit. What responsibility do we owe the next generation?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Altar Boyz
No Exit Cafe

It's said that God—or gods, for you polytheists—moves in mysterious ways, but since history records the sacred and profane often meeting in mutual accord, the phenomenon of Christian rock is no more mysterious than the revivalist wave of the 1970s following Andrew Lloyd Webber's pop-oratorio passion play. Indeed, the propensity of teenagers for embracing religious fervor as an escape from hormonal confusion can be observed in cultures throughout the world.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bye, Bye, Liver
The Public House Theater

No bachelorette parties were in evidence the week before Christmas, but two birthdays were being celebrated at this outpost for entertainment focused on the consumption of alcoholic beverages—comedy sketches based in time-travel adventures tracing the same barroom pick-up line to Paleolithic cultures, or a visit from the spectral sorceress of Blackouts, along with games called "Drunken Karaoke" and "Name That Drink."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Meteor Shower
Booth Theater

Meteor Shower is like a high school kid who just works way too hard to be liked. The cast is outstanding; Amy Schumer is simply adorable, Laura Benanti is more beautiful than ever, Jeremy Shamos perfectly captures the nebbish husband, and Keegan-Michael Key nails the self-involved visitor. But every line, every movement, is so hammered home that the show soon becomes more tedious than entertaining.

Michall Jeffers
Farinelli and the King
Belasco Theater

With Farinelli and the King, British actor Mark Rylance has a play he can sink his teeth into, and who better to draw out a play's juicy nuances? An Academy Award and three-time Tony winner, Rylance brings this engaging holiday gift to Broadway after a dazzling 2015 run at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
BLKS
Steppenwolf Theater

The language of Aziza Barnes's BLKS is Dirty Girl-Talk — not the phallocentric banter favored by male writers who fancy themselves the predominant theme of women's intimate conversations, but observations couched in gynecological vocabulary and delivered with a take-no-prisoners candor to make Kia Corthron sound like Georgette Heyer.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Sammy
Black Ensemble Theater

If you were given two days to abandon your partner and marry someone of your own "color" or suffer bodily harm, would you do it? If the presidential candidate you supported asked you to postpone your wedding until after the election, would you grant his request? If you were the headliner at one of the top hotels in Las Vegas, but your family was refused lodgings thereat, would you abide by your contract?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Scrooge in Rouge
Tenth Street Theater

In Tandem’s co-founder and veteran director Jane Fleiller does it again with Scrooge in Rouge, a comedy loosely based on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Anne Siegel
Farinelli and the King
Belasco Theater

What more can be said in praise of Mark Rylance? He’s won three Tony Awards (for Boeing Boeing in 2008, Jerusalem in 2011, and Twelfth Night in 2014). He has an Oscar for best supporting actor for “Bridge of Spies” (2015). And in 2017 he was knighted by HRH Prince William for his contribution to drama. He has the capacity to reach audiences, no matter what role he undertakes. As King Phillipe V of Spain, he is a monarch who teeters on the border of madness and very often seems to go over the edge. He’s paranoid, self-pitying, and occasionally even violent.

Michall Jeffers
Hold These Truths
Sheen Center for Thought and Culture

In 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which mandated the detention of Japanese-Americans in prison camps. A University of Washington student named Gordon Hirabayashi chose not to obey either the “order for evacuation” to a camp or the curfew that Japanese-Americans were subject to. With the help of the ACLU he fought his case as far as the Supreme Court, where the judges decided unanimously against him. Later, he declined to return an oath of allegiance that Japanese-Americans alone were required to return, and he was again convicted.

Steve Capra
Arsenic and Old Lace
Off the Wall Theater

Long before there were TV shows such as “Dateline” and “20/20” – heck, before TVs were a staple of American households – there was Joseph Kesselring’s charming, oddball comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace.
The ‘bones” of this chestnut are so solid that Off the Wall Theater’s current production could hardly go wrong. Considering that one of Milwaukee’s best-known producers/directors, Dale Gutzman, is directing Arsenic, the show is a good fit for celebrating the company’s 18th season.

Anne Siegel
Children, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Trust me when I tell you this is not a Date Night show. The actors are superb, the production is close to flawless, and it certainly is thought provoking. But any way you look at it, The Children is a major downer, and you will not leave feeling romantic. There is one set, a shabby little kitchen in a run-down cottage, somewhere by the sea, in England. The sound of the waves is clearly heard after the initial weird “2001: A Space Odyssey”-type music which opens the proceedings.

Michall Jeffers
Violet
The Den

The sight greeting us upon our entering the Den's second floor auditorium is that of a plain wooden bench occupied by a shabbily dressed young woman with the face of an Appalachian angel. Soon after the play begins, however, we are directed to visualize—without the aid of masks or makeup—her fragile countenance distorted by a hideous scar sustained during a childhood accident involving an ill-secured axe-blade.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Little Red Cyrano
Strawdog Theater

According to Red Theater's playbill, the author of its play completed his script after grappling with issues of linguistic accessibility, cultural appropriation, and the female objectification shared by love-struck suitors and sexual predators alike.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Heisenberg
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

What happens when, at a London rail station, a goofy gal plants a kiss on and then besieges a reserved older guy? It might exemplify physicist Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, because every action taken by either of the characters in Simon Stephens’ play has at least two possible outcomes. It’s fascinating to find out which occur and even maybe how they in turn affect their worlds.

Marie J. Kilker
Frankenstein
St. Luke's Theater

How many works have been based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein?” Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) lists 39 pages in its “Works based on Frankenstein category” - novels, films, comics, video games. Mary Shelley accessed an archetype in our collective unconscious like few other writers.

Needless to say, not all of these adaptations are masterpieces. But stage adaptations of the novel promise, at least, to be rewarding; there’s a real dramatic conflict between Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature. And the musical is particularly right for this epic, operatic story.

Steve Capra
Mad Ones, The
59E59 Theaters

The Mad Ones, a musical by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk appearing at 59E59 Theaters, takes its title from a line from Jack Kerouac’s book “On The Road”: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live…”. In fact, its central character, a young woman named Sam, carries a copy of the book around with her. She’s just graduated from high school. Her mother, Beverly, expects her to go to Harvard; her best friend, Kelly, expects her to go to a state college with her.

Steve Capra
Black Glove, The
Gene Frankel Theater

August Strindberg wrote a children’s play? Strindberg? That great melancholic? So it would seem. August Strindberg Rep (Off-off-Broadway) has produced his final play, The Black Glove. It was written in 1909 and first produced in 1910. It was the fifth of his chamber plays but not usually included in collections of those plays. It’s rarely produced and was indeed written, purportedly, for children.

Steve Capra
Mushroom Cure, The
80 St. Marks

The Mushroom Cure is an extended autobiographical monologue — 90 minutes — written and performed by Adam Strauss and directed by Jonathan Lib-man, currently playing at Theatre 80 St. Mark’s, Off-off-Broadway. It centers on Strauss’s attempts to treat his OCD through psychedelics, and his concurrent ro-mance with a woman named Grace. The two stories are intertwined as Strauss ex-plores psychedelics and the personal relationship. He meets Grace when he’s re-searching drugs, and she accompanies him to Martha’s Vineyard to take the magic mushrooms.

Steve Capra

Pages