Barbecue Review: Robert O’Hara Ribs His Characters, Stews About Race, Class and Fame

BarbecueaBarbecuebBarbara’s pill-popping, chain-smoking, whiskey-swilling, crack-addicted and foul-mouthed family has gathered in a public park with a surprise for her – they are planning an intervention – in “Barbecue,” an outrageous, sly comedy by Robert O’Hara, who has some surprises of his own.

Some of O’Hara’s surprises turn this funny but uncomfortable story of a family who would not win any NAACP Image Awards into something clever and thoughtful. I’m reluctant to spoil the surprises, yet, without doing so, it’s difficult to explain how “Barbecue” winds up much more satisfying theater than it initially promises to be.

So I’ll compromise, letting you in on the big surprise of Act I, and holding back on the big surprise of Act II.

At the beginning of the play, Barbara’s brother James T. (Paul Nieback) and three sisters Lillie Anne, Marie and Adlean (Becky Ann Baker, Arden Myrin and Constance Shulman) are planning a fake barbecue party at her favorite park as a way to lure Barbara into a confrontation over her drug and alcohol use, and her generally reckless behavior, and convince her to go to Rehab. They are not expecting things to go smoothly; James has brought a Taser just in case. “The minute Zippity Boom get out of hand this will calm her back down,” James says, using the family’s less-than-endearing nickname for their sister Barbara.

“She gat a bad heart,” Lillie Anne says.

“Then she better stay calm,” James replies.

The dark joke here, as we eventually learn, is that each sibling is just as much in need of an intervention – Marie carries around a bottle of Jack Daniels and has crack in her purse. The entire family is a mess. They are trailer trash (which is very close to what Lilli Anne calls James) – or, more bluntly, white trash.

Then there is a blackout, and when the lights return, so do the four siblings, except now instead of played by four white actors, they are portrayed by four black actors – Marc Damon Johnson is James T., Kim Wayans is Lillie Anne,  Heather Alicia Simms is Marie, and Sonja Kay Thomas is Adjean.

Same park, same situation, same character, same personalities (equally terrific comedic acting)  – but black instead of white.

If not a stroke of genius, the changeover is something close to a strike of lightning – like a psychological experiment to test our unconscious biases and inhibitions. Would we have thought differently about this trash-talking, trash-taking family if they had started out black rather than white?

From then on, the black family alternates in the park with the white family, as the barbecue/intervention progresses, until…

Act II.

(I promised.)

Let’s just say in the second act that O’Hara deftly and mischievously co-opts any accusations that his characters in the first act are mean-spirited stereotypes; and that one of the Barbaras (fabulous Tamberla Perry and wonderful Samantha Soule) is not what we’re expecting — there is a line of dialogue flagrantly lifted from Whitney Houston when she was not at her best.

“Barbecue” manages to roast its raw characters, while at the same time basting the audience in juicy observations about race and class, truth and “authenticity,” and modern addictions, including to fame.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged


At the Public Theater
Written by Robert O’Hara
Directed by Kent Gash
Scenic Design Clint Ramos
Costume Design Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design Jason Lyons
Original Music & Sound Design Lindsay Jones
Hair and Wig Design Leah Loukas
Cast: Becky Ann Baker, Marc Damon Johnson, Arden Myrin, Paul Niebanck, Tamberla Perry,Constance Shulman, Heather Alicia Simms, Samantha Soule, Benja Kay Thomas, and Kim Wayans.
Running time: two hours including one intermission
Tickets: “Non-member seats start at $50”
Barbecue is scheduled to run through November 1, 2015.

Fool For Love on Broadway: Pics, Videos

Thirty years after Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” closed Off-Broadway, with a young actor named Bruce Willis as the understudy, the short four-character play is making its Broadway debut, starring Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell.

Basil Twist’s Sisters Follies Review – Abrons Centennial Oddly Celebrated by Puppets, Topless Performers

Basil Twist Sisters FolliesIt must have seemed like a fabulous idea – Basil Twist, the puppeteer so inventive that he just won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, using his artistry in collaboration with several downtown talents to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Abrons Arts Center, the vibrant cultural arm of Henry Street Settlement.

“Basil Twist’s Sisters’ Follies: Between Two Worlds” is visually spectacular (as you can see from the photographs below) making full use of Twist’s inspired craftsmanship and that of his design team.

But it is otherwise oddly awful, and awfully odd; such an eccentric way to celebrate the Abrons legacy that it feels like a deliberate self-parody.

The show focuses on the two sisters who founded the Neighborhood Playhouse (which eventually morphed into the Abrons Arts Center.) Alice Lewisohn and Irene Lewisohn are portrayed by two celebrated downtown fixtures, drag queen Joey Arias and burlesque/performance artist Julie Atlas Muz; both also co-wrote the script with Twist. We first see them flying in the air atop long white sheets – this, you see, is a ghost story; the premise is that the Lewisohns haunt the Abrons.

Their faces are then cleverly super-imposed on the stone sculpture of the comedy and tragedy mask carved above the stage. The two faces recite a wooden script that seems a mash-up of awards ceremony patter and the sort of history lesson that those Animatronic robots used to utter at World’s Fair exhibits:

Irene: I shall never forget the opening night of our playhouse…February 12 1915

Alice: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a chilly winter’s night with a clear sky filled with stars….A dream come true

In between the patter, and some antic verbal sparring and mid-air physical battles between the siblings, the show purports to re-enact scenes from plays with which the Lewisohns were involved, starting with something called Jepthah’s Daughter. But the scenes – always somehow featuring a bare-chested chiseled hunk in an exotic costume –  suspiciously resemble campy frolics from the 1980’s, and thus seem unreliable re-creations of the turn-of-the-century dance dramas and avant-garde spectacles that we are told were Lewisohn specialties.

There are also musical numbers clearly created for the show, some of them pop hits with new inferior lyrics.

A highlight comes near the end, when the two stars of Sisters Follies come out to express their sincere appreciation for Abrons, which has showcased their own talents over the years. During the entire heart-felt tribute, Muz is topless.

It needs to be said that both Arias and Muz have created terrific shows in the past, and that to Muz, nudity is a political act. (“Julie proudly champions the tradition of naked ladies in public spaces as acts of political resistance initiated in the 11th century by Lady Godiva.”) Still, in tribute to an arts center that has showcased the talents of an astonishing range of artists — from Laurie Anderson to John Zorn, Dizzy Gillespie to Orson Welles, David Henry Hwang to Denzel Washington — her breasts speak volumes, though maybe from the wrong library.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Basil Twist’s Sisters’ Follies: Between Two Worlds
Abrons Arts Center
Created and Directed by Basil Twist
Written by Basil Twist, Julie Atlas Muz, and Joey Arias
Music Direction by Wayne Barker
Lighting Design by Poe Saegusa
Costume Design by Machine Dazzle
Sound Design by A-key
Projection Design by Daniel Brodie
Creative Producer Barbara Busackino
Cast: Joey Arias and Julie Atlas Muz, with performers Kate Brehm, Lute Breuer, Chris De Ville, John Dyer, Ben Elling, Jonothon Lyons, Katie Melby, David Ojala, Jessica Scott, Rachael Shane, Ashley Winkfield
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets: $55 (on weekdays), $65 (on weekends)
Sisters’ Follies is scheduled to run through October 31.

Old Times by Pinter with Clive Owen – Review and Pics

Old Times, starring Clive Owen in his Broadway debut and directed by Douglas Hodge, is opening tonight at American Airlines Theater.

Given both his acting talent and his love of Pinter, director Douglas Hodge surely deserves some credit for the sophisticated and seductive performances by the three members of the cast: Clive Owen is smooth and amused as Deely; Kelly Reilly (also making her Broadway debut) is earthy and opaque as his wife Kate; Eve Best (best-known in the U.S. for her role as the British doctor and best friend in Nurse Jackie) is sexy and energetic as Anna, Kate’s long-ago friend. They have mastered Pinter’s tricky rhythms

But there’s no getting around Pinter’s deliberately cryptic text, and several of Hodge’s choices, rather than working to ground the goings-on in some recognizable reality and thus orient the audience, instead seem to revel in the play’s weirdness.

Full review in DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

RIP Brian Friel. John Krasinski’s Stage Debut. Small Alisons. October Frenzy. Week in New York Theater

The New York theater season is heating up this coming week, with nine shows opening, two on Broadway:

Cloud Nine, Schooled, Old Times, Fool For Love, Sisters Follies Between Two Worlds, Fool For Love, Barbecue, Tinder Roulette, Would You Still Love Me

For details, check out October Theater Openings Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway


Review last month by answering the 11 questions in the New York Theater September 2015 Quiz

The Week in New York Theater News

Dancing at Lughnasa, written by Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa, written by Brian Friel

Irish playwright Brian Friel has died at the age of 86.

From AP:

quote-confusion-is-not-an-ignoble-condition-brian-friel-120-41-68Friel’s fictional County Donegal universe of Ballybeg – whose name, in Ireland’s native tongue of Gaelic, means “little town” – provided the setting for most of his two dozen plays over five decades in which he sought to explore what he once called “the dark and private places of individual souls.”

In each work, he created worlds of meaning set in distinctive eras: of the imminent 1960s emigrant hoping to leave behind dashed dreams in “Philadelphia, Here I Come!”; of the mutual incomprehension and growing enmity in the 1830s between Gaelic Ireland and imperialist England in “Translations”; and of the claustrophobic power of 1930s rural Catholic Ireland in “Dancing at Lughnasa.”

From DC Theatre Scene: 

Tributes have been quick, effusive, and plentiful, and ranging from the Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland (“One of the giants of Irish literature, and a great Irishman”) to Meryl Streep (“We’ve lost a tender dramatist, an insightful humanist, and a lovely man”).Another movie star (and Friel’s countryman) Liam Neeson put it this way: “Brian was Ireland’s Chekhov.”


John Krasinski (The Office) to make his stage debut as a capitalist pig in Dry Powder, written by  Sarah Burgess. Directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton), at the Public in March.

The plot: “The same week his private equity firm forced massive layoffs at a national grocery chain, Rick threw himself an extravagant engagement party, setting off a publicity nightmare. Fortunately, Seth [Karsinski], one of Rick’s managing directors, has a win-win deal to invest in an American-made luggage company for a song and rescue his boss from the company’s PR disaster. But Jenny, Seth’s counterpart, has an entirely different plan: to squeeze every last penny out of the company, no matter the human toll.”

Jessie Mueller in Waitress

Jessie Mueller in Waitress

Waitress by Sara Bareilles will open April 24 at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theater, and yes it will star Jessie Mueller.


American Psycho, with Benjamin Walker (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson; Cat on A Hot Tin Roof) as yuppie serial killer, starts previews March 24, 2016 at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld. (The opening date is not yet scheduled.)  The musical adaptation is written by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”)

Passion, directed by John Doyle

Passion, directed by John Doyle

John Doyle will be the next artistic director of the Classic Stage Company. The Scottish director, best known in New York for his staging of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Company on Broadway,  directed both Sondheim’s Passion and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s little known Allegro at CSC.


Billboard’s review of Hamilton album:

2015’s best rap album isn’t by Drake, Kendrick Lamar or Dr. Dre — it’s the cast recording of Hamilton, a vital companion to the most creative, most talked-about musical to hit Broadway this millennium (read Billboard’s cover story on the showhere). True, an audio recording (executive-produced by The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter) can’t reproduce the subversive visual impact of seeing star/creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and a predominantly black and brown cast take on America’s founding fathers and mothers — on the Great White Way, of all places. But digesting every nuance in these mostly rapped renditions of the infamously verbose title character’s oratorial jousts is almost impossible without a rewind button; every listen finds a new sanguine historical detail, slick interpolation of a hip-hop classic or dizzying rhyme pattern delivered withEminem-level intricacy, particularly on the epic “Cabinet Battles” between the lead and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton’s stage production should be required viewing for every American citizen, but this exhilarating listen is a much more practical, and every bit as enjoyable, stand-in.

Remember, a SOUNDTRACK is the songs from a movie, a CAST ALBUM is what your dad asks you to turn down.

— Tim Federle (@TimFederle) October 3, 2015



Fun HomeCircle in the Square Theatre

Sydney Lucas, Tony nominated 12-year-old, leaves the role of Small Alison in Fun Home. Her replacement is Gabriella Pizzolo.
Here’s Sydney singing “Ring of Keys”

Here’s Gabriella singing the same song at a benefit concert this summer

October 2015 Theater Openings Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

October is the  busiest theater month in New York during the fall and winter, with more shows opening than there are days in the month.

Six Broadway shows are opening, heavy on star power — Clive Owen and Keira Knightley are making their Broadway debuts; Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones are returning, together — albeit light on originality.  Five of the Broadway shows opening in October are revivals — plays by Pinter, Sam Shepard, D.L. Coburn, A.R. Gurney, as well as a musical that debuted Off-Broadway nearly half a century ago. The sixth is a new stage adaptation of a novel by Émile Zola.

Off-Broadway, the Public Theater has four separate new plays opening this month, all of which merit attention.  And a few new works Off-Off Broadway are especially intriguing, including a new piece by the new MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow, puppeteer Basil Twist,  a musical by the indie band The Lisps,  a new play starring Mamie Gummer as a damaged war veteran, and the return of an ambitious science fiction trilogy by Mac Rogers.

But you can’t know for sure until you see the show, which is why I review.

Below is a selection of the plays, musicals and “immersive” theater pieces opening in October, organized chronologically by opening date. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.

To look at the Fall season as a whole, check out Broadway Fall 2015 Preview and Off-Broadway Fall 2015 Preview.

October 1

The Quare Land (Irish Rep at DR2)

In John McManus’s play, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, an old Irish farmer is visited by a real-estate developer who wants to convert his land into a golf course.

Catch the Butcher (Cherry Lane)

Fascinated by a serial killer’s poems to his victims, Nancy sets out to find him. When she discovers herself in his basement she likes it. Co-starring Laura Luna Velez, one of the cast members of Dexter.

October 5

Cloud Nine (Atlantic Theater Company)

James Macdonald directs Caryl Churchill’s political drama from 1979, set in colonial Africa during the Victorian era and in contemporary London.

Schooled (Soho Playhouse)

Two students vie for a competitive grant from their roguish professor in a taut threesome that tests their romantic relationship and their ethics.

October 6

_OldTimesforcalendar Old Times (RTC at American Airlines Theater)

Clive Owen makes his Broadway debut in this Roundabout revival of Pinter’s 1971 dark comedy about a friendly visit from Deeley’s wife’s friend Anna that turns into a battle for power. Directed by Pinter specialist Douglas Hodge and co-starring Eve Best.

October 7

sisters-follies for calendar

 Sisters’ Follies Between Two Worlds (Abrons Arts Center)

Puppeteer and new MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Basil Twist stages a musical ghost story: Joey Arias and Julie Atlas Mus portray the sisters who founded the Abrons Playhouse a century ago and are now back to haunt it.

October 8


Fool For Love (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre)

Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell star in Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Sam Shepard’s 1983 play about a brother and sister who share an unrequited love.


Barbecue (The Public Theater)

In this play written by Robert O’Hara, whose Bootycandy I found outrageously entertaining, uncomfortable and profound, the O’Mallerys have gathered in their local park to share some barbecue and stage an intervention with a family member in a spiral of drugs and recklessness.

October 10

Tinder Roulette: A Musical Memoir (13th Street Rep)

Mel Delancey’s autobiographical musical revue as the daughter of two compulsive gambler who grew up to engage in surreal Internet dating.


 Would You Still Love Me (New World Stages)

Kathleen Turner is directing and starring in this drama John S. Anastasi about what happens to a lesbian couple when one of the women reveals that she is grappling with her gender identity.

 October 11

Heather Smiley for President (Theatre for the New City)

In what sounds like a hardly veiled allusion to Hillary Clinton, Tom Attea and Arthur Abrams have written a musical comedy about a female presidential candidate and her campaign.

October 12

Clever Little Lies (Westside Theatre)

Marlo Thomas stars in this comedy by Joe DiPietro about a woman who notices her husband has come home on edge after a tennis match with their son, and invites them over for drinks, getting more honesty that anyone expected.

October 13


Ugly Lies the Bone (RTC)

Newly discharged soldier Jess (Mamie Gummer) uses virtual reality video game therapy to escape her pain.

The Honeycomb Trilogy (Gideon Productions at The Gym at Judson)

A three part sci-fi epic by Mac Rogers, following one American family through an extraterrestrial invasion and the occupation of Earth.

October 14

james-earl-jones-cicely-tyson in Gin Game

The Gin Game (John Golden Theater)

Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones team up for the revival of this Pulitzer-winning play about a man and a woman in a nursing home who turn a game of gin rummy into a battleground.

Eclipsed cast

Eclipsed cast

Eclipsed (The Public)

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) stars in the play by Danai Gurira (co-author of In the Continuum and Michonne on AMC’s “The Walking Dead”.) Amid the chaos of the Liberian Civil War, the captive wives of a rebel officer band together to form a fragile community – until the balance of their lives is upset by the arrival of a new girl. Directed by South African-born Liesl Tommy (Appropriate, Informed Consent)

Unseamly (Urban Stages)

In a play by Oren Safdie, Malina wants to press charges for harassment and assault against her boss in a clothing store where she works,  but her boss paints a picture of an opportunist he practically had to fight off.

October 15

Perfect Arrangement (Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street)

In a play by Topher Payne, two gay U.S. State Department employees in 1950 have been tasked with identifying “sexual deviants” within their ranks.

In White America (New Federal Theater at Castillo)

In White America, a play by historian Martin Duberman,  traces the national journey from early colonial times through the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, with text drawn directly from historical records, including the narratives of former slaves

Travels With My Aunt (Keen Company at Theatre Row)

An adaptation of Graham Greene’s comic novel about a mild-mannered retired banker and his eccentric aunt, in which four actors play over 25 characters.

October 17

Who’s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started The Iraq War (Actors Temple Theater)

Inspired by a true story, Who’s Your Baghdaddy? is a new musical comedy, presented as a support group for the mid-level spies who started the Iraq War.

October 18

Rothschild & Sons (York Theatre Company)

A one-act, re-imagining of ‘The Rothschilds,” a 1970, Tony-nominated musical by Sheldon Yellen, with music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The downsized version focuses on the relationships between the patriarch of the family, Mayer Rothschild, his wife Gutele, and their five sons

Trip of Love (Little Shubert)

A jukebox musical featuring hit songs of the 60s,

October 19

Kill Floor (Lincoln Center)

In Abe Koogler’s first play, a mother returns from prison to a job at a slaughterhouse, which complicates her reconciliation with her 15-year-old vegetarian son.

October 20

Ripcord (MTC at City Center)

Holland Taylor, Marylouise Burke, and Rachel Dratch. David Hyde Pierce directs
David Lindsay-Abaire’s new play about two rivals who vie for a choice room in an assisted living facility

Futurity (Ars Nova at The Connelly Theatre)

In this “avant-Americana” musical by indie band The Lisps, Julian is a Civil War soldier dreaming of a technological utopia. Ada is a mathematical genius thousands of miles away. Together, they’re going to invent a machine to end one of the darkest periods in our history

October 21

First Daughter Suite (The Public Theater)

Michael John LaChiusa  (GiantThe Wild Party) has created a musical of mothers and daughters who’ve lived in the White House: Patricia Nixon and daughters Tricia and Julie, Roselyn and Amy Carter, Betty and Susan Ford, Patti Davis and mom Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush and daughter-in-law Laura.

October 22

Romance Language (Theater 511 at Ars Nova)

In a new play by Joe Godfrey, a wealthy Manhattan widow takes up private lessons with an alluring young Italian instructor, which makes her daughter suspicious.

Dames At Sea (Helen Hayes)

First revival of the 1968 musical pokes fun at movie musicals of the 1930s. The cast of Ruby’s first Broadway show learn that their theater is being demolished, so they decide to perform on a battleship

October 23

Hasan Minaj: Homecoming King (Cherry Lane Theatre)

The Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj’s one-man show chronicles his experiences growing up as a first-generation Indian-American.

Just Like A Woman Festival

October 24

Hell’s Belles (Elektra Theatre at The Times Square Arts Center)

In this musical, a fallen pop star lands in Hell and meets Salome, Lady Godiva, Lizzie Borden, Joan Crawford and Janis Joplin. (Janis Joplin?)

October 25

The Humans (RTC)

A terrific cast including Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Joyce Van Patten and Sarah Steele star in the latest play by Stephen Karam (Sons of the Prophet). When Erik Blake (Birney) brings his Pennsylvania family to his daughter’s Manhattan apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving, strange things start happening.

October 26

The Hummingbird’s Tour (Theatre at St. Clement’s)

Three opinionated siblings in their 60s and their ancient childhood nanny,are thrown into a philosophical frenzy by an unexpected guest with a mysterious prediction.


Before Your Very Eyes (The Public Theater)

Created by the Gob Squad, working for the past two years with 9-14 year olds from around New York City, this play presents seven lives lived in fast forward, from angst-ridden teens to hunched geriatrics.

October 27

Sylvia (Cort Theater)

Annaleigh Ashford and Julie White star in this revival of A.R. Gurney’s 1995 comedy about a man who adopts a dog (Ashford) that causes a crisis in his marriage.

October 28

Songbird (59e59)

In a musical based on Chekhov’s The Seagull, fading country star Tammy returns to the Honky Tonk that launched her music career to help the son she abandoned launch his own.

October 29


Thérèse Raquin (RTC – Studio 54)

A new stage adaptation of Zola’s novel. “In this tale of love, lust, betrayal, and guilt, Thérèse (Keira Knightley) has made peace with her loveless marriage to a weak man when her world is turned upside down by Laurent walking through the door

New York Theater September 2015 Quiz

How well were you paying attention to New York theater in September? Answer these 11 quiz questions and find out.

Theater Artists Get Awards! #Hamiltunes! Spring Awakening! The Week in New York Theater

Three New York theater artists were awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships, including Lin-Manuel Miranda,

Just a few days earlier, Miranda offered a first listen and the entire lyrics for the original cast album of Hamilton – which was reason enough to give him an award.


Nine new theater artists were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame:

playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America)

songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Rocky, Once on this Island)

director Julie Taymor (The Lion King)

director Robert Falls (artistic director of the Goodman Theater)

actor Stacy Keach (Macbird, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Other Desert Cities)

lighting designer Ken Billington (veteran of nearly 100 Broadway shows, including Chicago and the forthcoming Dames at Sea)

Broadway publicist Merle Debuskey (more than 200 Broadway shows, including those by Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, and Michael Bennett)

actor Roger Rees, posthumously

Founded in 1971, the Theater Hall of Fame honors lifetime achievement.


Many Emmy winners with theater backgrounds. Complete list of Emmy winners. (Scroll down to read Viola Davis’s speech.)

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Susannah Flood and Gbenga Akinnagbe

Susannah Flood and Gbenga Akinnagbe

My review of Fulfillment If Bradshaw’s signature X-rated touches feel gratuitous in “Fulfillment,” the play is nevertheless fulfilling in many ways– a well-acted (bravely acted!), smoothly directed, smart, at times funny, more often horrifying and ultimately thought-provoking glimpse into our pursuit of happiness. Full review of Fulfillment The New Morality Mint My review of The New Morality Unearthed by the indispensable Mint Theater, whose mission is to “excavate buried theatrical treasures,” the play is being given the Mint’s usual quality production, with a pleasing set and costumes, and a capable seven-member cast that almost made me put aside my longtime lobbying for a legal ban on American actors using British accents on New York stages. Still, for all the skill on display under the direction of Jonathan Bank, the Mint persuaded me only that “The New Morality” is a rediscovered historical and anthropological treasure, not a theatrical one. Full review of The New Morality Trans shows My review of Sommerfugl It’s not so surprising that the story of the person who underwent what is described as one of the first publicly acknowledged transgender surgeries is being told more than once, given how much attention the “T” in “LGBT” is finally getting Full review of Sommerfugl

Treshelle Edmond, Ali Stroker, Amelia Hensley, Lauren Luiz, Kathryn Gallagher, Krysta Rodriguez, and Alexandra Winter

Treshelle Edmond, Ali Stroker, Amelia Hensley, Lauren Luiz, Kathryn Gallagher, Krysta Rodriguez, and Alexandra Winter

My review of Spring Awakening The Deaf West production of Spring Awakening at the Brooks Atkinson tangibly enhances an acclaimed musical about rebellious and repressed adolescents. By cleverly pairing deaf actors who are signing with hearing actors who are singing, Deaf West has made the show the most accessible on Broadway, but also forged it into something theatrically exceptional. Daddy Long Legs 8 Paul Alexander Nolan and Megan McGinnis in DADDY LONG LEGS , Photo by Jeremy Daniel My review of Daddy Long Legs n a program note for Daddy Long Legs, director John Caird wonders why the 1912 novel on which the musical is based isn’t considered a great American classic. I wonder the opposite – why its problematic premise has inspired a 16-character Broadway play, at least seven movies and now a two-character Off-Broadway musical, which has been bopping around regionally and internationally for half a dozen years.

Lindsay Hockady, April Matthis, Mike Iveson, Maggie Hoffman

Lindsay Hockady, April Matthis, Mike Iveson, Maggie Hoffman

My review of Fondly, Collette Richland During the intermission for the Elevator Repair Service’s “Fondly, Collette Richland,” at the same time that a noticeable number of theatergoers fervidly exited New York Theatre Workshop for good, an avant-garde director I know came up to me and said “I’m loving this. But it should be at 3 in the morning.” I agreed with the director… and also with the exiting theatergoers. Full review of Fondly, Collette Richland

The Week in New York Theater News

This season’s Tony Awards will take place June 5, 2016. Shows must open by April 26, 2016 to be eligible. (And,if you haven’t heard, the Tony Awards will NOT be taking place at Radio City; probably at the much smaller Beacon Theatre)


Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams will star on Broadway in David Harrower’s play “Blackbird” nine years after Daniels appeared in the same role as a man who abused a young girl who has now grown up. Previews begin in February at the Belasco, with a planned March opening. (Photograph shows the 2007 production with Alison Pill)

MotherstruckCulture Project cancels (or postpones) Staceyann Chin’s Motherstruck, directed by Cynthia Nixon. “we do not have the resources to produce” it.

With its new Thixteen program, Primary Stages is offering middle school and high school students FREE tickets to its shows.

Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, opens November 15 at Signature Theater with Jonny Orsini, Richard Thomas et al


Critic John Lahr on Critics As The Enemy

Scenes from the 29th annual Broadway Flea Market

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Basil Twist, Mimi Lien Win MacArthur Genius Awards.


Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of three theater artists to receive a 2015 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award. The others were puppeteer Basil Twist and set designer Mimi Lien. Each will receive $625,000 in unrestricted funds over the next five years.

The full list of 24 MacArthur Fellows of 2015

Update: Choreographer and tap dancer Michelle Dorrance could be considered the fourth New York based theater artist to get a MacArthur Fellowship this year. She spent four years performing in the cast of Stomp.

Fondly, Collette Richland Review: Dreaming with Elevator Repair Service

During the intermission for the Elevator Repair Service’s “Fondly, Collette Richland,” at the same time that a noticeable number of theatergoers fervidly exited New York Theatre Workshop for good, an avant-garde director I know came up to me and said “I’m loving this. But it should be at 3 in the morning.”

I agreed with the director… and also with the exiting theatergoers.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

This is the first time that the Elevator Repair Service has created a work in collaboration with a living writer, playwright Sibyl Kempson. It is surely safe to say that “Fondly, Collette Richland” — an absurdist tease of a play directed by ERS artistic director John Collins that mixes comic non-sequiturs with dream-like incoherence and ancient mystical mayhem — will not be greeted with the same widespread enthusiastic acclaim as the avant-garde theater company’s best-known previous work. ERS used the verbatim texts of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for “Gatz,” Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for “The Select”, and a chapter from Faulkner’s novel for “The Sound and the Fury.”

Kempson has said that her text for “Fondly, Collette Richland” is inspired by another work of twentieth century literature, “Two Serious Ladies” by Jane Bowles. But diving into this famously obtuse and hallucinatory modernist novel, I suspect, is not going to help much in unlocking the play.

Kempson has also said that the work is connected to her female awakening and female power, and is an attempt to “consciously foreground the feminine forces that are already sort of running things more than we’d care to admit.”

If this is useful as a preview or analysis, more power to you.

More accessible is this comment she made in American Theatre Magazine: “I do think my plays are for everyone. But if you’re coming to them with the need for a familiar structure, you might feel confused. If you come with the regular yardstick you use to measure plays, you’ll be disappointed. But with no yardstick there’s more openness. There’s a lot there to dig into. It’s a landscape.”

For me, the key to appreciating “Fondly, Collette Richland” is not to try to understand it, but to let it wash over you – or to witness it the way one might a parade or a circus, just taking in the many funny moments, the vivid characters in colorful costumes and the barrage of wild, loud, goofy and frightening sounds. Sound design has always been something of an ERS specialty, although in the past it augmented a coherent plot. Now – and without intending to disparage the dozen members of the cast, who are game and hardworking — Ben Williams’s sound design is the star of “Fondly, Collette Richland,” on equal billing with its co-star, Jacob Climer’s costumes.

There’s justification within the play itself for this approach. Collette Richland (April Matthis) enters the stage, wearing dark glasses and a colorful pantsuit and carrying a placard with the title of the play, and says (among other things) the following:

“I was just thinking, reminiscing, really. When I was a child, we used to gather round the radio and listen to our favorite programs. All together. Do you remember such a thing? And everything was so easy to understand. Just damned easy. AND FUN! We all laughed at the same parts, squealed at the same parts, and came away with the same sort of understanding

“…..Hell, and somewhere along the line, everything cracked open. Everything we thought we knew turned out to not be true.

“…..Do you know what things mean? Do you worry too much, or not enough, about what things mean? Do you know what your living room means, for example? See what I mean?”

Following her speech, Father Mumbles (Mike Iveson) sits at the piano, tinkles its keys, and introduces us to Mabrel and Colonel “Fritz” Fitzhubert (Laurena Allan and Vin Knight) in their home at 127 Whirlaway Drive. The priest, dressed like a bishop, goes into once-upon-a-time story mode, describing and explaining everything so clearly and fully – indeed, in such laborious and mundane detail – that this is really just a parody of storytelling.

The story he tells is of “Fritz” coming home to dinner, and their dinner being interrupted by Local Representative Wheatson (Greig Sargeant), who has been going door to door visiting his constituents to speak to them “about certain matters.” The couple invite him to dinner, but Mabrel says “Please keep in mind that we will prefer to have no dramatic action this evening.” (Not conventional dramatic action in any case.)

The local representative never says why he wanted to visit. Mabrel also adds the letter h to words that have no h, such as room (rhoom) and coffee (choffee). But they do talk about a Bible and tiny door, and apparently enter through it.

The scene ends with Fritz, a tired Death of A Salesman type working man, quoting the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard: “An image costs as much labor to humanity as a new characteristic to a plant.”†

In a subsequent scene, they have passed into a chalet in the Swiss Alps…

Eventually we meet the Krampus, which eats naughty children, and witches who steal souls, and The Face of the Ghost of Jesus Christ, and a farmer who delivers a pig, who gives birth to toy piglets that flip around on stage, and Queen Patrice, the Deposed and Dethroned Grand Queen Empress, and The Cat Self-Hating Cat Butler, who listens to Collette Richland on the radio, and characters who turn into Roman soldiers and a mermaid, and a bellboy who was once the priest … and

At one point, one of the characters says he doesn’t know what’s going on. A member of the audience calls out “You and me both, buddy.” The house lights go up, the cast gathers on stage, and the man is ejected – he’s a plant, of course, although without any new characteristics.

When I stayed for Act II, rather than feeling envious of those who were on their way home to their comfortable beds, or eating some solid and recognizable food in a nearby restaurant, I looked at the crazy tableaux created by the actors on the stage, and imagined that it was even later at night and that I was dreaming.

Fondly, Collette Richland

New York Theater Workshop

Written by: Sibyl Kempson

Created and performed by: Elevator Repair Service
Directed by: John Collins
Scenic Design and Additional Costumes: David Zinn
Costume Design: Jacob A. Climer
Lighting Design: Mark Barton
Sound Design: Ben Williams
Original Music: Mike Iveson
Additional Costumes
: David Zinn
Associate Sound Designer and Sound Operator: Gavin Price
Property Designer: Amanda Villalobos

Assistant Property Design: Matt Leabo
Dance and Movement Coach: Katherine Profeta
Stage Manager: Maurina Lioce
Producer: Ariana Smart Truman
Production Manager: David Nelson
Associate Producer: Lindsay Hockaday
Assistant Set Design: Tim McMath


Father Mumbles / Hans-Pierre: Mike Iveson
Mabrel Fitzhubert: Laurena Allan
Colonel “Fritz” Fitzhubert / Peggy Gladys: Vin Knight
Cat Butler / Clotilde: Susie Sokol or Sarah Willis
Local Representative Wheatsun: Greig Sargeant
Winnifr’d Bexell: Kate Benson
The Deposed & Dethroned Grand Queen Empress Queen Patrice / RMR: Lucy Taylor
Collette Richland / Dora Fitzhubert: April Matthis
Velede: Kaneza Schaal
Miss Glynn Grills / Face of the Ghost of Jesus Christ: Maggie Hoffman
Joan Ham Hobhouse: Lindsay Hockaday
Sailor Boy / The Krampus: Ben Williams

Running time: 2 and 1/2 hours, including an intermission.

Tickets: $69

Fondly, Collette Richland is scheduled to run through October 18, 2015

Update: The show has been extended to October 24. 2015


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