2014 Fringe NYC Encore Series, for New York Fringe Shows You Missed

Sixteen of the most popular shows from the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival will be presented at the 10th annual Fringe Encore series,September 4 to October 5, which (like last year) is split in two. Solo in the City at the Baruch Performing Arts Center will present eight solo performances that were hits at the festival. The other eight Fringe shows will be at the Soho Playhouse. Tickets are $18 to $20.

The descriptions come from the productions. The specific schedule for each show will be available in the days ahead.

Solo in the City: The FringeNYC Encore Series

September 4 to 27 at Baruch Performing Arts Center. 

John Clifton, Joan Shepard in Confessions

John Clifton, Joan Shepard in Confessions

Confessions of Old Lady #2
Joan Shepard’s sparkling account of 74 years on Broadway and on TV. Laced with side splitting stories snf witty songs, this musical memoir won four stars from the London Times.

Fearless at Fringe

Fearless
The story of one man’s broken engagement (not his fault), failed suicide attempt (definitely his fault), the relationships that followed (probably his fault) and the misguided attempts to teach his students how to take risks and become fearless.

GaryBuseysOneManHamletasperformedbyDavidCarl14-2648

Gary Busey’s One Man Hamlet (As Performed by David Carl)
In this absurdist romp through Shakespeare, pop culture, and life in the theater, iconic actor Gary Busey (played by comedian David Carl) will perform all the parts in “Hamlet”, using homemade puppets, videos, live music, and poetry.

Hoaxacaust

Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey, with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran
Ever wish the Holocaust hadn’t happened? Some say it didn’t! Join Barry’s journey to find deniers from Illinois to Iran, meeting engineers and ex-presidents, dodging a brother in Hungary and a boyfriend back home to discover the truth.

magicalnegrospeaks

 Magical Negro Speaks

Jamil Ellis gives voice to the Magical Negro — one of Hollywood’s favorite tropes — and examines what images in entertainment mean for future generations.

MurderMargaretandMe

Murder Margaret and Me
Margaret Rutherford became a global legend playing Miss Marple. Originally she didn’t want the part, and Agatha Christie didn’t want Marple played by “the funniest woman alive.” This British sell-out sensation sees Christie playing detective, unearthing Rutherford’s terrible secrets.

ThePawnbrokerLiesLoversandBertoltBrecht The Pawnbroker: Lies, Lovers, and Bertolt Brecht
What price would you pay for love? Your dignity, your sanity, your place in history? Discover the lies behind Brecht’s legend – and what five women lost to create it. If you think you know the truth, you don’t know Brecht.

Sex Lies and Earl Grey

• Sex, Lies & Earl Grey
How do you take your tea? Georgina likes it hot with good manners, bad behavior and a pianist. Her crash course in etiquette reveals more than she, or you might expect.
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The FringeNYC Encore Series

September 4 to October 5 at SoHo Playhouse.

Chemistry play

• Chemistry
Steph is a recovering depressive. Jamie overachieved himself off the deep end. When they meet in their psychiatrist’s office, they can’t deny their chemistry, but can they survive it? A pitch black and piercingly insightful comedy about being crazy in love

 

Fatty Fatty No Friends
As the fattest kid in school, Tommy lives a lonely, living nightmare. When the skinny kids’ taunting goes too far, Tommy takes revenge without amends. A dark spoken-word Tim Burton-esque musical diving into the lunchtime of life, where bullies are delicious.

 

The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking
Join world-renowned mixologist and raconteur Anthony Caporale (Art of the Drink TV) for a boozy romp through the history of alcohol. Cocktails and comedy combine for an utterly unique musical theatre experience! “An absolute must-see!” raves The Huffington Post. 21+ only

Erik DeCicco, Jeff Essex, Michael Armstrong-Barr in Jump Man

Erik DeCicco, Jeff Essex, Michael Armstrong-Barr in Jump Man

Jump Man
A musical parody of the Mario Brothers world. When a crime wave hits their Brooklyn neighborhood, Mario and Luigi have their heroism tested. Jump Man addresses age-old questions like “What defines a hero?” and “Do plumbers love to sing?”

No One Asked Me

No One Asked Me
Illegal. No papers. They are not supposed to be here, yet for thousands of undocumented children, the U.S. is the only home they know. They face an uncertain future, fearing deportation. Based upon stories of “illegal” NYC students.

Opera in Tap performing at Freddy's Bar

Smashed: The Carrie Nation Story
A beer-soaked, absurdly comic opera loosely based on the hatchet-wielding temperance leader Carrie Nation. Raise your frothy brew high!

ThisisWhereWeLive

• This is Where We Live
Two teenagers collide like a modern day Orpheus and Eurydice in a dead-end Australian town. A dark, moving comedy infused with the rhythm of beat poetry. Australia’s Paperbark Theatre Company presents this US premiere, which won the 2012 Griffin Award.

Urban Momfare
Why don’t we ever hear songs about moms not actually liking their kids? This romp through motherhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side spans 17 years: “Music For Gifted and Talented Babies” to bra straps and Bellinis. Sling on your stilettos!
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Broadway Fall 2014 Preview Guide

Listed below, chronologically by opening dates, are the shows officially scheduled so far on Broadway in the 2014-2015 season, with basic information and my two cents for the Fall shows. Both the schedule and my opinions are tentative and will be revised and updated as the season progresses.

You want stars, pick your favorite: Hugh Jackman, Glenn Close, Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint, Carol Burnett even, etc.  You want revivals, you got them – nine of the 15 set to open from September through December.  But there is also here the promise of a quality season. I’m heartened that the first six productions are all straight plays.

September:

ouryouthlogoThis is Our Youth

Cort Theater

Playwright: Kenneth Lonergan

Director: Anna D. Shapiro

First preview: August 18, 2014

Opening: September 11

Closing: January 4, 2015

Principal cast: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson.

48 hours in the live of three teenagers in 1982, one of whom has stolen cash from his father.

This is a revival. There were productions Off-Broadway in 1996 and 1998

One Chicago critic liked this production when it was in try-outs there, but wondered if the Cort will be too big for it. Lonergan wrote one of my favorite movies, “You Can Count On Me,” but find the plays of his I’ve seen (The Starry Messenger) painfully meandering.

Twitter: @YouthBroadway

Love Letters

loveletterslogoBrooks Atkinson Theater

First preview: September 13

Opening: September 18

Closing: February 1, 2015

Playwright: A.R. Gurney

Director: Gregory Mosher

In a revival of A.R. Gurney’s play, two people write one another love letters over a period of 50 years.

The play features a star-studded rotating cast on the following schedule:

Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow (September 13-October 10)

Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy (October 11-November 7)

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen (November 8-December 5)

Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg (December 6-January 9)

Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen (January 10-February 1).

This is a charming play, that I’ve seen in previous productions. (It was on Broadway in 1989.) If this production can be said to indulge in stunt-casting (and what else would you call it?) it’s stunt casting of the very highest order. My only regret is that they didn’t cast just one pair of younger performers, like, say, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson

Twitter: @LoveLettersBway

canttakeitwithyoulogoYou Can’t Take It With You

Longacre Theater

First preview: August 26

Opening: September 28

Closing: January 4, 2015

Playwrights: George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

Director:  Scott Ellis

Cast: James Earl Jones, Kristine Nielsen and Elizabeth Ashley lead a cast of nearly two dozen.

Two families (one deeply eccentric) collide when their children become engaged.

First produced on Broadway in 1936, this comedy (by the writing team that was the subject of the play Act One last season), is now on its fifth revival.

Twitter: @CantTakeItBway

October:

CountryhouselogoThe Country House

Samuel J. Friedman Theater

First preview: September 9

Opening: October 2

Closing: December 9

Playwright: Donald Margulies

Director: Daniel Sullivan

Principal cast: Blythe Danner leads a six-member cast.

An adaptation by Margulies (Dinner With Friends) of Chekhov’s The Seagull focuses on a family of thespians who gather in a house in the Berkshires during the Williamstown theater festival.

@MTC_NYC

dognighttimelogoThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night

Ethel Barrymore Theater

First preview: September 10

Opening: October 5

Playwright: Simon Stephens adapting the novel by Mark Haddon

Director: Marianne Elliott

Fifteen-year-old Christopher, clinically awkward and brilliant, is suspected of killing the neighbor’s dog. He sets out on a life-changing journey to find the culprit.

This stage adaptation of a peculiarly-written novel I loved by Mark Haddon was well-received in London, winning 7 Olivier Awards (equalling the previous record-breaking Matilda.) It was especially praised for its design. The director and the designers are the same on Broadway, it is still a Royal National Theatre production, but the cast is different.

@CuriousBroadway

onlyaplaylogoIt’s Only A Play

First preview: August 28

Opening: October 9

Closing: January 4, 2015

Playwright: Terrence McNally

Director: Jack O’Brien

Cast: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick. F. Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally and Micah Stock.

Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission.

The cast of a show called “The Golden Egg” await the reviews in this revival of Terrence McNally’s 1982 comedy, which is likely to be most appreciated for its cast — especially the reunited duo Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, as well as the Broadway debut of Harry Potter veteran Rupert Grint.

@ItsOnlyAPlay

onthetownlogoOn The Town

Lyric Theater (formerly Foxwoods)

First preview: September 20

Opening: October 16

Lyrics by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Music by: Leonard Bernstein

Book by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Director: John Rando

Principal cast: Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck

Three sailors spend a day on leave in New York City, meeting some great dames.

I have high hopes for this production, which features great choreography by Joshua Bergasse (based on the glimpses we’ve been given, in videos, in reports from pre-Broadway tryouts, and at Broadway in Bryant Park), and such standards as “New York, New York (It’s a Wonderful Town)” “Come Up to My Place” and “Lonely Town,” as well as some jazzy surprises like “I Can Cook Too.”

@OnTheTownNYC

disgracedlogoDisgraced

First preview: September 27

Opening: October 23

Playwright: Ayad Akhtar

Director: Kimberly Senior

Cast: Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman and Josh Radnor.

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Pakistani-American lawyer Amir and his white, artist wife Emily gives a dinner party that starts off friendly and turns ugly.

The play, Akhtar’s first, was produced at Lincoln Center in 2012, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

@DisgracedBway

lastshiplogoThe Last Ship

Neil Simon Theater

First preview: September 30

Opening: October 26

Lyrics and Music: Sting

Book: John Logan and Brian Yorkey

Director: Joe Mantello

Gideon leaves his hometown to travel the world, returning 14 years later to discover that the love he left behind is engaged to somebody else, and the town’s shipbuilding industry is endangered.

The show is said to be inspired by Sting’s own childhood experiences.

@LastShipMusical

realthingpiclogoThe Real Thing

American Airlines Theater

First preview: October 2

Opening: October 30

Closing: January 4

Playwright: Tom Stoppard

Director: Sam Gold

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon

Henry is a successful writer who is attempting to balance his professional and personal lives in this comedy about marriage and betrayal.

McGregor and Gyllenhaal are both making their Broadway debuts in this second Broadway revival of Stoppard’s play.

@RTC_NYC

November:

theriverlogoThe River

Circle in the Square Theater

First preview: October 31

Opening: November 16

Closing: January 25

Playwright: Jez Butterworth

Director: Ian Rickson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Laura Donnelly, Cush Jumbo

Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission

A trout fisherman in a remote cabin tries to hook a woman into some night-time fishing.

Two words: Hugh Jackman.

@TheRiverPlay

sideshowlogoSide Show

St. James Theater

First preview: October 28

Opening: November 17

Lyrics by: Bill Russell

Music by: Henry Kreiger

Book by: Bill Russell with additional material by Bill Condon

Director: Bill Condon

Principal cast: Erin Davie, Emily Padgett

The Hilton twins, Daisy and Violet, were in real life conjoined twins who were trained by their guardians to become performers, and became the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. “Side Show” purports to tell their story.

This “reimagined” revival of the 1997 musical was well-received in D.C., and is one of the most anticipated shows of the season, hugely leading (as of this writing) my Broadway Fall 2014 preference poll

@SideshowBway

delicatebalancelogoA Delicate Balance

John Golden Theater

Playwright: Edward Albee

Director: Pam MacKinnon

First preview: October 20

Opening: November 20

Closes: February 22

Running time: 2 hours and 55 minutes, including 2 intermissions

Cast: Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Claire Higgins and Martha Plimpton.

A long-married couple must maintain their equilibrium as over the course of a weekend they welcome home their 36-year old daughter after the collapse of her fourth marriage, and give shelter to their best friends who seek refuge in their home, all the while tolerating Agnes’ alcoholic live-in sister.

The Edward Albee-Pam MacKinnon match-up, which brought us the priceless production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” promises to do justice with another one of the playwright’s caustic Pulitze Prize-winning masterpieces (despite the ugly poster.)

December

illusionistslogoThe Illusionists

Marquis Theater

First preview: November 26

Opening: December 4, 2014

Closes: January 4, 2015

Cast:

The Manipulator, Yu Ho-Jin

The Anti-Conjuror, Dan Sperry

The Trickster, Jeff Hobson

The Escapologist, Andrew Basso

The Inventor, Kevin James

The Warrior, Aaron Crow

The Futurist, Adam Trent

Seven illusionists perform magic and illusion. Broadway is a stop on their world tour.

@Illusionists7

The Elephant Man

theelephantmanlogoBooth Theater

First preview: November 7

Opening: December 7

Closes: February 15

Playwright: Bernard Pomerance

Director: Scott Ellis

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Alessandro Nivola, Anthony Heald, Scott Lowell, Kathryn Meisle, Henry Stram

Running time: one hour 55 minutes, including intermission.

Based on the true story of John Merrick, a horribly deformed man in the 19th century who was treated abominably.

This second Broadway revival of the 1979 play gives movie hearthrob Bradley Cooper a chance to show his inner beauty. (The deformity is not actually depicted. The audience is asked to imagine it.)

@ElephantMan

A peek at Spring 2015, which is even more tentative than the fall. I’ll flesh it out in the future. This is, as they say, a work in progress:

January

Constellations

Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Playwright: Nick Payne

Director: Michael Longhurst

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal

First preview: December 16

Opening January 13, 2015

Closes: March 15

honeymooninvegaslogoHoneymoon in Vegas

Nederlander Theater

Music and Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Book: Andrew Bergman

Director: Gary Griffin

First preview: November 18

Opening: January 15

Cast: Tony Danza, Rob McClure, Byrnn O’Malley

Jack Singer, a regular guy with an extreme fear of marriage, finally gets up the nerve to ask his girlfriend Betsy to marry him. But when they head to Las Vegas to get hitched, smooth talking gambler Tommy Korman, looking for a second chance at love, falls head over heels for Betsy.

@HoneymoonBway

March

Fish in the Dark

Opening March 5

The Audience

Opening March 8

On The Twentieth Century

Opening March 12

Finding Neverland

Opening March 22

April

An American in Paris

Opening April 12

The King and I

Opening: April 16

Fun Home

Opening: April 22

Broadway Poll Fall 2014: What Show Most Excites You?

There are 15 shows scheduled to open on Broadway between September and December, 2014 (as of this writing). Take this poll: Which one are you most looking forward to?

The shows are organized in the order in which they are scheduled to open.

To learn more about the shows, check out my Broadway Fall 2014 Preview Guide

Broadway ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Videos: Newsies (Half Naked) Lion King, Book of Mormon, etc

Newsies (half-naked)

The Lion King

The Book of Mormon

Once

The male ensemble of Wicked take the ice…um…water challenge (no bucket)

Individual Broadway actors:

Kunstler Fringe Review: Reliving The Radical Lawyer’s Famous Cases

"Kunstler' - by Jeffrey SweetIn “Kunstler,” a fascinating play at the New York Fringe Festival about radical lawyer William Kunstler’s most significant cases, playwright Jeffrey Sweet strives to present a balanced portrait, albeit not mightily. Set in a university lecture hall in 1995, just a few months before Kunstler’s death at age 76, the play pairs the lawyer (portrayed by Nick Wyman) with a skeptical black student (Gillian Glasco), who has been tasked with introducing him, although she voted against his being invited. We also hear protestors outside the auditorium shouting “Kunstler is a traitor!” The character even quotes a few negative remarks that were made about him in the press (far from the worst ever said), done in a way to show that he relished his notoriety.
But let’s face it, this is an unmistakably admiring portrait of William Kunstler as he tells the stories, chronologically, of most of his best-known – and most dramatic – cases (cases that were explained in a recent documentary produced by his daughters, William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe): The Freedom Riders and his work with Martin Luther King Jr. (“This was the beginning of my understanding [of] a different idea of the law.”); the Chicago 7 Conspiracy Trial after the 1968 Democratic National Convention (“by the end, I find that the trial has changed me. It has been the shock of my life”); the Attica Prison Uprising; the Wounded Knee case. There is a too-pat use of Kunstler’s involvement in the Central Park Jogger case, and only an oblique allusion to Kunstler’s representation of El Sayyid Nosair, who was accused and acquitted of murdering the anti-Arab extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, but later convicted of a conspiracy connected to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (That’s what the shouting outside the lecture hall is about.)
The text is sprinkled with lawyer jokes, with exchanges with the student, and with glimpses into Kunstler’s private life. He tells us he started out as a family man “parlor liberal” Westchester lawyer in private practice with his brother, doing mundane attorney chores like writing up wills (such as the one he did for Senator Joseph McCarthy, brought to him by Roy Cohn, who had been Kunstler’s Columbia law school classmate). His first marriage broke up, because of his neglect (“There are weeks when she saw more of me on TV”) and infidelities.
But the main strength of “Kunstler” is in Sweet’s ability (using very few of Kunstler’s actual words) to bring his cases to life on stage, and to provide their historical context. Director Meagen Fay’s smartest choice is in the casting of Nick Wyman to play Kunstler. Wyman nails with breathtaking accuracy Kunstler’s mannerisms – the glasses perched on his head, the gesturing, his off-the-cuff manner alternating with bursts of language. But, intentionally or not, the casting of Wyman also gives something of an official seal of approval to this play (one that the play deserves; I fully expect it to have a life beyond the Fringe.) Wyman is not only a veteran of more than a dozen Broadway shows, including Les Miz and Phantom; he is also the president of Actors Equity.

"Kunstler' - by Jeffrey Sweet

Andrew Rannells Begins As Hedwig

AndrewRannellsinHedwigAndrew Rannells replaces Neil Patrick Harris in the lead role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch tonight (August 20th) through October 12th. Harris won a Tony for his portrait of the “girlyboy from communist East Berlin” (in the words of the rock musical) who became “the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you.”

AndrewRannellsportrait

“I love that Hedwig is so strong but also so vulnerable,” Rannells has said, “and I love that she is so funny but also so hurt and sensitive. I just love all her contradictions.”

book-of-mormon-3Rannells, a native of Nebraska who will celebrate his 36th birthday on August 23rd, broke into Broadway at 28 as the replacement for slick dj Link Larkin  in “Hairspray,” went on to portray Bob Gaudio in “Jersey Boys,” but really made his mark in 2011 originating the role of Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon,” a performance that snagged him a Tony nomination.

Lena Dunham attended the opening night of Mormon, and cast him as Elijah, Hannah’s bisexual ex-boyfriend in “Girls,” a part he continues to play. He was also cast in “The New Normal” as Bryan, one-half a gay couple who have decided to have a child, a TV series that was canceled after a single season.

If in taking on Hedwig, Rannells may struck some as trying on a completely different character from the ones he’s done in the past, the truth is, he’s already portrayed Hedwig – in a production in Austin in 2002.

Here is Andrew Rannells performing I Believe from the Book of Mormon on the 2011 Tony Awards broadcast

Here is Andrew Rannells performing with Neil Patrick Harris in the 2013 Tony Awards broadcast (along with Megan Hilty and Laura Benanti)

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatre

Abortion by Eugene O’Neill, Turned Into A Play About Race

Eugene O'Neill, decades after he wrote "Abortion" in 1914

Eugene O’Neill, decades after he wrote “Abortion” in 1914

Eugene O’Neill wrote “Abortion” exactly a century ago, shortly after he had decided to become a playwright. Director Heather Lanza and producer Taryn A Wisky have chosen to “adapt” O’Neill’s text to create what they call “an original theater piece that aims to put race in the forefront and start a society-wide conversation.” “Abortion: Race Redux” runs through Sunday, August 24, as part of the 2014 Dream Up Festival at the Theater for the New City.

If it’s not a production I can recommend, it is nevertheless a thought-provoking experiment .

Clint Hromsco and Damon Trammell in "Abortion" at Dream Up Festival

Clint Hromsco and Damon Trammell in “Abortion: A Race Redux” adapted form Eugene O’Neill’s play at Dream Up Festival

Jack Townsend is a college hero. He is captain of the baseball team, a pitcher who, as O’Neill’s one-act play begins, has just won for his team the championship. We are introduced to a classmate, his sister, his mother, and his fiancé Evelyn – all of them adoring. The only initial indication we’re given that something might be awry (besides the title) is the appearance of a character named Joe Murray, who asks angrily where Jack is, and promises to return. Jack, when he finally appears on stage, is affable, modest, attentive. His father arrives, all avuncular and charming, waxing nostalgic for his own college days.
“Come to the point, Dad,” Jack says impatiently when they are alone.
That’s when they talk about the abortion.
“Everything is all right,” Jack says
“When was the operation performed, “his father inquires. (The word “abortion” is not uttered by any character in “Abortion.”)
“Last Monday,” Jack says.
“…Are you sure, absolutely sure, you were the father of this child which would have been born to her?”
“Yes, I am certain of it…. To even think such is an insult to a sweet girl….For she is a sweet, lovely girl in spite of everything, and if I had loved her the least particle, if I had not been in love with Evelyn, I should certainly have married her.”
Neither father nor son mention the woman’s name.
We learn her name is Nellie from her brother, Joe Murray, who returns to inform Jack, that, as a result of the abortion (performed of course illegally, for $200, by the only doctor Jack could find to do it), his sister Nellie has died.
“Yuh sneaked out like a coward because yuh thought she wasn’t good enough. Yuh think yuh c’n get away with that stuff and then marry some goil of your own kind,” he says (The dialect is O’Neill’s attempt to reproduce New England working class speech.)
Murray pulls out a gun, but after a scuffle, changes his mind and decides he will go to the police. “Yuh’re not worth gittin’ hung for.”
Jack takes the gun and shoots himself.

O’Neill reportedly couldn’t get “Abortion” produced, even when his famous actor father agreed to perform in it, which may have more to do with a subject that was taboo in 1914 than the quality of its writing. The play apparently remained unperformed and unpublished for decades. In 1950, its copyright had lapsed, O’Neill having neglected to renew it, and an enterprising publisher sought to capitalize on the O’Neill reputation as one of the century’s great dramatists by publishing it along with other early works. A production of the play in a trio of O’Neill one-acts called “Lost Works” in 1959 was eviscerated in the Times, the critic quoting O’Neill himself as having called the plays “pretty bad, and the less remembered about them the better.”

But there is enough here of interest historically – in terms of the history of O’Neill as a dramatist as well as the history of attitudes towards abortion – to be a rich choice for a revival.

In the new production, the adapters have added an opening sequence in which the company faces the audience and utters well-known platitudes about America and race – first positive ones (“Home of the free”) and then negative ones (“I always just think of you as white.”) “What do you see when you look at me,” various members of the interracial cast ask, before we are introduced to the two actors who will play Jack – White Jack (Clint Hromsco) and Black Jack (Damon Trammell)

The play begins, but stops mid-way, interrupted by the recitation of something (not written by O’Neill) called the Rules for Passing (e.g. “Change your last name to one that is not associated with black family names.”) Then O’Neill’s play resumes, backed up a bit, with the three black actors playing parts we’d just seen portrayed by white actors.

The production ends with both Black and White Jack asking the audience: “So, what did you see?”

The idea that one would think differently about the exact same person if something shifted in that person’s identify – their race, their ethnicity, their gender, whether they were disabled – is a very powerful tonic, so potent that it has been used in legal cases and social science experiments to prove discrimination.

It didn’t work well for me in this production. I think this is largely because, frankly, the mostly mediocre acting was too much of a distraction, but also because this doesn’t seem the ideal play on which to try it out. In one scene, though, the experiment struck home. Joe Murray and his sister Nellie are “townies,” working class residents of the college town – he’s a machinist; she was a stenographer – in contrast to the Ivy League upper-class characters embodied by Jack and the others. (O’Neill had grown up near Yale and had briefly studied at Harvard.) It seems unmistakable that O’Neill was making a comment about class distinctions; the father makes the point explicitly when he accuses Jack of showing “a lack of judgment on your part and [lack of] good taste,” for choosing a different “class” with whom to have sex. When in the Dream Up Festival production, the brother Joe Murray is played by Trammell, one of the black actors (meaning of course Nellie was black), it had a mind-blowing effect on me – the beginning kernels of insight about how the issues of class and race have evolved in the past century. (It helped that Trammell was one of the better actors.) But then they switched roles again, and the insight promised by their conceit seemed drowned by its overly complicated execution.

Molly Stoller, Alison Scaramella, Taryn Wisky (also the producer and co-adaptor), and Yvonne Roen in "Abortion: A Race Redux"

Molly Stoller, Alison Scaramella, Taryn Wisky (also the producer and co-adaptor), and Yvonne Roen in “Abortion: A Race Redux”

RIP Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall. Fringe Fun: Taylor Swift and The Marx Brothers. Week in New York Theater

Death was an unfortunate theme this week, with the passing of two performers , Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, as comfortable on stage as on screen.

We are midway through the 18th annual New York International Fringe Festival. I review three Fringe shows — including the first-ever revival of the first-ever Marx Brothers Broadway musical — and a fourth that probably should have been in the Fringe. I also review two comedies Off-Broadway about sexual/inappropriate behavior.

Lin-Manuel and Tom Kitt win an Emmy for their Tony song, Bigger. Remember it? Video of it below.

I show videos as well of the last Broadway in Bryant Park concert for this summer — a sneak peak at On The Town, and songs from three-M shows: Matilda, Mamma Mia, and Motown.

Tickets go on sale starting today for Broadway Week. (The popular shows go quickly)

BroadwayWeek

The Week in New York Theater

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Thad Shafer as Taylor Lautner in The Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift

Thad Shafer as Taylor Lautner in The Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift

 

Fringe! Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift versus Taylor Swift’s Songs of Ex Lovers

Valentine's Day Set is "Taylor" MadeMaking art, and sport, out of Taylor Swift’s love life is far from original; the popular singer-songwriter has done so herself many times; it’s easy to argue that her career is largely built on songs about her brief relationships (and breakups) with mostly famous men. But “Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift,” one of the productions at the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival, sounded promising: Each of the seven monologues is written by a different female playwright, all portrayed by the same actor, Thaddeus Shafer, usually conversing with an unseen Taylor Swift.

I compare the depiction of her exes at the Fringe show with Taylor Swift’s songs inspired by those exes.

Full review of Seven Seductions of Taylor Swift

Four thoughts on creativity in the theater by Polly Carl after she attended a conference with neuroscientists

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Xavier Toby as a penguin giving a tour of NYC 100 years from now.

Xavier Toby as a penguin giving a tour of NYC 100 years from now.

Fringe! My review of 2014, When We Were Idiots. (Weird Walking Tour)

A hundred years ago, our tour guide was saying, New Yorkers were such idiots

that they stopped throwing away their garbage, and the city disappeared under a pile of rubbish, mostly coffee cups, stale cupcakes and hipsters.

Our tour guide, I should point out, is a penguin, and we, the tourists walking the streets and shops of the Lower East Side decked in fluorescent yellow-green vests, live in an environmentally sensitive society in the year 2114, visiting the recently excavated city that has remained unchanged in the century that has elapsed since 2014.

That’s the premise of the 90-minute comedy show/theater piece/walking tour created and conducted by Australian comic Xavier Toby (dressed as a penguin), who entitles it “2014: When We Were Idiots,” one of the 205 shows at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.

Full Review of 2014, When We Were Idiots

JudyKaye

Judy Kaye, 10-time Broadway veteran, two-time Tony winner (Nice Work, Phantom) will be the next Fairy Godmother in Cinderella

 

Kathleen Chalfant to play Russian negotiator, originally a man’s role, in Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods, Keen Company Sept-Oct

musicman

“76 trombones led the big parade…” 58 actors led by Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana at Transport Group’s one-night-only  Music Man.

robinWilliamscollage

RIP Robin Williams

 

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Noah Hinsdale, Griffin Birney, and Sydney Lucas

Noah Hinsdale, Griffin Birney, and Sydney Lucas

Alison Bechdel and Jonathan Lethem will talk about what it’s like to have their lives turned into musicals, with songs from Fun Home and the forthcoming musical Fortress of Solitude! October 27

That’s just one of a season of Public Forum readings and talks, which will feature Salman Rushdie, David Remnick, etc.

A Family Thing,about 3 estranged brothers,written by playwright and “Orange Is The New Black” writer/producer Gary Lennon, aims for Broadway in 2015

RichardChamberlain

Richard Chamberlain,80, has joined Bill Pullman, Holly Hunter in cast of The New Group’s revival of David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones

bacall1

RIP Lauren Bacall – A Life in Pictures and on Stage

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FindingNeverland

Finding Neverland,  based on movie about Peter Pan author JM Barrie and currently at the American Repertory Theatre, will open on Broadway in March

Costumedworkersunion

“We want to be treated with dignity and not as cartoon characters,” says man who dresses as a Penguin in Times Square every day. He is one of the costumed workers who have founded the Association of Artists United for a Smile to fight back against bad press.

BillyPorterplay

S. Epatha Merkerson and Lillias White are in the cast of While I Yet Live, play at Primary Stages written by Billy Porter Sept 23-Oct 21. While I Yet Live, says Porter, is “a love letter to my mother, my sister, & the women who raised me”

“Are there things about (sign) interpreting Shakespeare that are challenging? Yeah: understanding it”

Switcheroo: Love Letters is now going to be at the Brooks Atkinson, and Honeymoon in Vegas at the larger Nederlander Theater.

Elbow3

My review of Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter

It is easy to feel bewildered by a title that sounds as if it is translated from the Icelandic. But as it turns out, the dialogue and the lyrics sound that way as well. “Revolution in the Elbow etc.” is a bizarre enough new musical to be mistaken for an entry in the Fringe festival, except that no Fringe show has such an expensive set, nor such Tony-level talent, thanks to the more than a million dollars that has been invested in this unfortunate world premiere production at the Minetta Lane Theater.

Full review of Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter

14

How to think like a critic – be invisible, watch and listen and feel. By @alisoncroggon

Given all that’s happening in the world, should theater be an escape from reality?

Broadway in Bryant Park

The last free lunchtime concert of the summer featured:

On the Town in Bryant Park stage

 

On The Town

Matilda

Motown

MammaMiainBryantPark

Mamma Mia

 

15

Detail of Deaths in Shakespeare chart

Detail of Deaths in Shakespeare chart

Deaths in Shakespeare, A Handy Chart

Parade, the musical by Jason R Brown about the lynching of Leo Frank, is getting a one-night only  concert February 16 at Lincoln Center, with Brown as musical director.

Dame Diana Rigg, who will be on Broadway next season, is performing a play at the Edinburgh Fringe based on her collection of bad reviews. It’s called “No Turn Unstoned.”

A New York Times editorial *supports* the Times Square Elmos. Free speech is a right “even for furry monsters”

 

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Actor Edmund Kean collapsed on stage while playing Othello to his son’s Iago; his last words: “I am dying, speak to them for me.” Is there any better way for an actor to go than on stage? Some other examples

Phoenix The Play 2014 Julia Stiles James Wirt

In an unusual move,Jennifer Delia responds point by point to criticism of her direction of Phoenix

My review of Phoenix makes some of those criticisms to which she is responding.

When reporting on suicide, let’s adopt a “Robin Williams Rule”: stop speculating

Why there are 44 above-the-title + 100 more unbilled “producers” for Gentleman’s Guide (Answer: producer=investor)

What Patrick Healy doesn’t explain in his piece about the producers (investors) of Gentleman is whether they’ve made any money.

Sex With StrangersSecond Stage

My review of Sex with Strangers

Sex With Strangers,” a comedy about a coupling with complications, stars two performers – Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston’s wife Skyler in “Breaking Bad,” and Billy Magnussen, the boy-toy Spike in Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” – whose previous roles left such a strong impression that there was a question in my mind whether audiences could accept their portraying different characters.

Apparently so: The two-character play written by Linda Eason and directed by David Schwimmer (still best-known as the actor in Friends) is artfully constructed and well-acted, a hit with critics and with theatergoers as well; it has been extended through August 31st.

But are the characters they are portraying that different from their breakthrough roles? All four characters have something in common, and it has to do with love – or, more precisely, it has nothing to do with love.

Full review of Sex with Strangers

 

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The Marx Brothers and Beauty in I'll Say She Is

The Marx Brothers and Beauty in I’ll Say She Is

My review of I’ll Say She Is

In the first-ever revival of “I’ll Say She Is,” the Marx Brothers’ first-ever Broadway musical, Harpo honks once again; Chico puns, Zeppo courts; and Groucho, cigar in hand, says things like “I’m not so sheepish that you can pull the wool over my eyes.”

Full review of I’ll Say She Is

 

KATIE KREISLER, BRIAN AVERS in POOR BEHAVIOR

My review of Poor Behavior

Poor Behavior,” Theresa Rebeck’s comedy at Primary Stages, revolves around a basic question: “What is goodness?” The play begins in the middle of a debate on the subject by two characters who have drunkenly escalated their argument into insults, while their respective spouses sit in near silence. By the end of the play more than two hours later, we are meant to have explored the question dramatically by witnessing the behavior of the four characters over a long weekend in the country.

There is a superficial resemblance here both to Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and Yasmin Reza’s “God of Carnage,” both involving two couples, and both suggesting how thin the membrane of civilization. In “God of Carnage” two sophisticated couples, meeting to bring to resolution the squabble between their two warring sons, instead escalate the conflict in well-calibrated savage and hilarious ways.

The difference in “Poor Behavior” is that the couples have known each other for a long time, and the unfolding of their behavior is more convoluted and complicated – and less satisfying.

Full review of Poor Behavior

Rocky 11 Terence Archie and Andy Karl

Rocky ends its run

 

Poor Behavior Review: Theresa Rebeck on the Decline of Muffins and Morality

Poor Behavior HEIDI ARMBRUSTER and BRIAN AVERS in POOR BEHAVIOR“Poor Behavior,” Theresa Rebeck’s comedy at Primary Stages, revolves around a basic question: “What is goodness?” The play begins in the middle of a debate on the subject by two characters who have drunkenly escalated their argument into insults, while their respective spouses sit in near silence. By the end of the play more than two hours later, we are meant to have explored the question dramatically by witnessing the behavior of the four characters over a long weekend in the country.

There is a superficial resemblance here both to Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and Yasmin Reza’s “God of Carnage,” both involving two couples, and both suggesting how thin the membrane of civilization. In “God of Carnage” two sophisticated couples, meeting to bring to resolution the squabble between their two warring sons, instead escalate the conflict in well-calibrated savage and hilarious ways.
The difference in “Poor Behavior” is that the couples have known each other for a long time, and the unfolding of their behavior is more convoluted and complicated – and less satisfying.

Peter and Ella have invited Ian and Maureen up to their country house for the weekend. The hosts don’t really want the guests there, and the guests don’t really want to be there. But they are all old friends – old, but we eventually learn, not very good friends.

Peter (Jeff Biehl) and Maureen (Heidi Armbruster), who grew up together, come to suspect that their argumentative spouses, Ella (Katie Kreisler) and Ian (Brian Avers), have been having an affair. On the other hand, Ian accuses Peter of always having thought that Maureen was a nutcase, and a decade earlier, warning Ian not to marry her – a vivid recollection for Ian, but a conversation that Peter says he doesn’t remember having and doubts occurred. And that is the way of this play – accusations, denials, memory lapses. There are also many apologies, almost all of them insincere. This interaction is initially intriguing, our view changing of each character with each new revelation, helped along by the first-rate acting. But the twists start to feel fussy and tiresome – as if we in the audience are as much stuck in the company of these petty, bickering couples as they are.

There are some compensations, though, including some of the questions explicitly raised for us to ponder and dissect – for example: If you feel you’ve made a personal choice that’s a mistake, is it good or bad to try to correct it? “Why do Americans persist in thinking that it is “moral” and “good” to remain addicted to an institution which has driven them mad?” Ian (who is Irish-born) asks at one point, talking about the institution of marriage. But is Ian’s rhetorical question a moral stance, or an excuse to be immoral – i.e. hurtful?

There is also a funny comic conceit threaded throughout the play about one of my pet beefs – the sad decline of muffins. However poor the behavior of her characters, Theresa Rebeck knows how to make me laugh.

Rebeck is probably best-known for creating the TV show “Smash,” but it is worth noting that over the past 22 years, she has had 15 of her plays produced on New York’s Broadway and Off-Broadway stages– more, she says, than any other female playwright in history, including Lillian Hellman and Tina Howe (who come in second place.)

“Poor Behavior” is scheduled to run through September 7 at Primary Stages at the Duke (42nd Street)

I’ll Say She Is Review: A Marx Brothers Musical 90 Years Later

The Marx Brothers and Beauty in I'll Say She Is

The Marx Brothers and Beauty in I’ll Say She Is

In the first-ever revival of “I’ll Say She Is,” the Marx Brothers’ first-ever Broadway musical, Harpo honks once again; Chico puns, Zeppo courts; and Groucho, cigar in hand, says things like “I’m not so sheepish that you can pull the wool over my eyes.”

In the very first moments of this anarchic show lovingly reconstructed at the newly opened Sheen Center on Bleecker Street as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, a bevy of scantily clad chorus girls, crowned with skyscraping tiaras of pretend-precious metals and plumage, sing:

It’s a miracle

To hear a lyrical

Broadway song

For fans of the Marx Brothers, there is indeed something miraculous about this production. Noah Diamond, who plays Groucho and is the show’s co-producer along with director Travis S.D., has spent years piecing together the original 1924 musical, which was written by playwright and lyricist Will B. Johnstone with music by his brothers Tom and Alexander. No complete script survived, as Diamond writes in a note in the program, and his adaptation is based on existing fragments, contemporary reviews, recorded recollections, and what he calls his “Marxist intuition,” with an assist by musicologist Margaret Farrell, who is Will Johnstone’s great-granddaughter.

The result is a mish-mash – more politely called a revue – of some dozen lovely, old-fashioned songs and countless comic routines strung along the thinnest of plots:

IllSaySheIs1Four men (the Marx Brothers) are looking to break into show business, and one by one audition for an agent (Bob Homeyer) by singing the Al Jolson tune “Swanee”; Harpo (Seth Shelden) whistles it. But the agent has a better idea, showing them a newspaper headline: “Society Woman Craves Excitement.”

The woman’s name is Beauty (Melody Jane), and once they get past her stuffy aunt Ruby Mintworth (Kathy Biehl) and her butler Simpson (C.L. Weatherstone), the men accompany her in her search for thrills on Wall Street, in Central Park, Napoleon’s court (!), an opium den in Chinatown, a downtown courtroom, and Broadway at night.

There is an occasional stab at a story – somebody is murdered at the opium den, for which Beauty is wrongfully accused – but little comes of it, for which nobody is likely to complain: You don’t seek out the Marx Brothers for coherence.

MarxBrotherscollage

If the acting among the 18 cast members is uneven, there are terrific stalwarts and standouts. As Beauty, Melody Jane is a fine ingénue; Aristotle Stamat makes a suitable Zeppo, the bland, vaguely ethnic, handsome romantic lead; Kathy Biehl is a nearly ideal Margaret Dumont stand-in, with the added perk of her golden-voiced rendition of a ballad entitled Thrill of Love:

All I know from long ago

to now is how I long for…

Just a little bliss at sunset.

Just a little kiss at dawn.

But the thrill of “I’ll Say She Is” is unmistakably that of Diamond’s Groucho imitation and Seth Shelden near-flawless recreations of some of Harpo’s best-known routines – the leg-in-the-arm schtick, the tie-snipping bit, the comic kleptomania, the bottomless-raincoat-pocket gag. He even plays a musical instrument, although it is a saxophone rather than a harp.

 

DiamondasGrouchoUnlike the Marx Brothers’ later shows on Broadway “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers,” “I’ll Say She Is” was never made into a movie. The producers of the revival bill it as “The Lost Marx Brothers Musical.” It feels a little like the Generic Marx Brothers Musical, an exercise in nostalgia rather than the recovery of a hidden gem. But as presented by Diamond, with direction by Trav S.D., spot-on costumes by Juliann Kroboth, and choreography by Helen Burkett, it’s a delightful exercise indeed. Maybe none of the cracks in “I’ll Say She Is” will replace the Marx Brothers witticisms known around the world, but who can resist a show in which an on-the-nose replica Groucho says

“I’m going to send you to Albany for 20 years”

“Why?” asks the ingénue.

“Capital punishment,” he replies – and then, stepping to the edge of the stage, he says directly to us in a Groucho aside, “You’re not getting your money back.”

 

I’ll Say She Is is running through August 22nd, but it’s sold out. Surely, it’ll be produced again.

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