Belle of Amherst and Excuse My Dust Reviews: Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker

Whatever else the great American writers Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker have in common, they are each by coincidence the subject of solo stage plays that are opening tonight, “The Belle of Amherst” in which Joely Richardson portrays the 19th century poet and wit; and “Excuse My Dust,” in which Jennifer Engstrom portrays characters created by the 20th century wit and poet.



The Belle Of Amherst at Westside Theater

At the heart of Emily Dickinson’s story is a mystery. How was a virtual recluse able to produce a body of poems of such worldly knowledge and emotional depth? She published only 7 poems during her lifetime, all of them anonymously; her sister discovered 1,775 more upon Dickinson’s death at age 55. It took another 70 years for all of them to be published, and for her reputation to be secured as one of America’s greatest poets.

Into this vacuum, playwright William Luce and the actress Julie Harris bravely strode nearly 40 years ago, creating a one-woman show that weaves Dickinson’s poetry with excerpts from her letters and imagined conversations with 15 people in her life, all framed as a chat with a rare visitor – the audience. They gave it the ironic title “The Belle of Amherst,” based on a letter she wrote to a friend (quoted in the play) when she was a teenager: “I expect I shall be the Belle of Amherst when I reach my seventeenth year. I don’t doubt that I shall have perfect crowds of admirers at that age.”

“The Belle of Amherst,” directed by Charles Nelson Reilly, debuted on Broadway in 1976 and ran for four months, winning Harris one of her six Tony Awards.

But it didn’t end there. Harris took it on the road for years. She made a recording of it, which won her a Grammy. PBS recorded her performance for television. Her entire performance is available on Youtube.

Now a year after Julie Harris’ death, “The Belle of Amherst” is being revived at the Westside Theater through January 25, directed by Steve Cosson (the artistic director of The Civilians), and starring Joely Richardson, who is best known as the wife on the TV series “Nip/Tuck,” and as the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.

Richardson is a fine actress who has performed Off-Broadway several times before. Comparisons are generally odious, but in this case they are unfortunately necessary, because, without Harris’ precise, shaded and varied performance, one is left to wonder what all the fuss was about. “The Belle of Amherst” becomes the sort of play one ought to like.

Dressed in the “bridal white” dress for which Dickinson was known, Richardson (who is 5’9″ compared to Julie Harris’ — and Emily Dickinson’s — 5’4″) exhibits an awkward posture and eccentric, exaggerated gestures that seem intended to emphasize the character’s endearing gawkiness. But there is little compensating sense of her brilliance.

She is a cheerful hostess, with little hint of the sadness and pain of her life, which makes one wonder why she never ventured from her family’s estate in the last decades of her life. The explanation that Luce puts into Emily Dickinson’s mouth is even more dubious:

“Here in Amherst, I’m known as Squire Edward Dickinson’s half-cracked daughter…I guess people in small towns must have their local characters. And for Amherst, that’s what I am. But do you know something? I enjoy the game. I’ve never said this to anyone before, but I’ll tell you. I do it on purpose. The white dress, the seclusion. It’s all deliberate.”

If it’s all an act, then why isn’t Dickinson more of an actress? Her encounters with the people from her past seem little different from her address to the audience, despite the change in lighting.

To the extent that Richardson comes through in “The Belle of Amherst,” it’s in the delivery of Dickinson’s poems, which Luce places artfully throughout his play. They do seem finely suited for the stage. As Emily Dickinson put it in one of the poems Richardson recites:


A word is dead

When it is said,

Some say.


I say it just

Begins to live

That day.


Jennifer Engstrom in Excuse My Dust

Jennifer Engstrom in Excuse My Dust

 Excuse My Dust at SoHo Playhouse

Dorothy Parker is known now mostly for her best wisecracks – as a critic…

Katherine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly,” she said of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. “It should be thrown with great force.”

…and as a barfly:

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

She once said she would like the epitaph on her gravestone to read “Excuse My Dust.”

That last witticism is the title that Jennifer Engstrom has given to her show running at the SoHo Playhouse through November 9th, a clever choice if a bit misleading.  Engstrom does not play Miss Parker delivering her barbs at the Algonquin. If it’s true that, as Dorothy Parker said, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue,” the next thing she did was put some paper in the typewriter. Parker was an accomplished poet and short story writer. Engstrom has chosen five of Parker’s stories that have a first-person woman narrator, and she plays those women, using the stories as her text.  In “The Garter,” a short story published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1928, a woman sits nervously at a “foul party where I don’t know a soul” and realizes her garter has just broken; Engstrom delivers the interior monologue that Parker has written. In “A Telephone Call,” a woman prays to God that a man will telephone her, as he’s promised to do, at 5 p.m. The time arrives; there is no call. As she speaks to herself, it becomes clear that she is his mistress. Engstrom plays a woman who dances with a klutz in “The Waltz”; gets drunk with a man named Fred in “Just A Little One”; consoles a friend named Mona who has just broken up with her boyfriend in “Lady With A Lamp.” It’s not clear whether any of these characters are supposed to be the same woman, but they share a deep voice that seems to have been marinated in nights of whiskey and cigarettes, and all are trying to hide their vulnerability, some more successfully than others. These are stories that show traces of the Parker wit, but it’s indirect, and they are more obviously laced with sadness and humiliation – the plight of the single woman. It’s easier to laugh (or at least smile) when reading passages from these stories than to do so when an actress is delivering them credibly a few feet away. It would feel like laughing at a person who’s sharing their sorrow with you. I’m not sure whether this is a downside of Engstrom’s delivery or inherent in the stories. In either case, there is surcease with the poems. As with Joely Richardson in “The Belle of Amherst,” Engstrom is at her best when reciting some choice poems, such as:


By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing,

And he vows his passion is

Infinite, undying-

Lady, make a note of this:

One of you is lying.

About these ads

20 Musicals That Won The Tonys: Ken Davenport’s Infographic

Theater producer Ken Davenport looked at the shows that won the Best Musical Tony over the past 20 years, sliced and diced facts about them, and produced the infographic below. Most interesting to me:
*Almost half of the Best Musical winners were based on movies.
*The vast majority did not feature stars.
*All but one (“Rent”) were written by a team, rather than a single individual.
*Three-quarters of them made money. (Three-quarters of Broadways overall don’t make money.)


The Freaks of Side Show


The “freaks” (cast) of Side Show, which opens at Broadway’s St. James Theater November 17th.

On The Town Broadway Review: Sex and Art DO Mix

The audience at “On The Town,” the thrilling Broadway revival of the 1944 musical that brought us “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town,” doesn’t wait until the end to give a standing ovation. They stand before the show begins.
That’s because, before the curtain rises on the story about three sailors meeting three dames while on shore leave for 24 hours in New York City, a 28-piece orchestra plays the national anthem in front of a curtain festooned with a giant American flag — one with just 48 stars.
This is how the original musical started, during wartime, a show that marked the Broadway debuts of four now-legendary musical theater artists – composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins and book writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

If “On The Town” does not hold the kind of sacred place as the flag or the Star-Spangled Banner, it is part of its own American tradition – an early American musical comedy classic: The show opened on Broadway just a year after Oklahoma and six years before Guys and Dolls. Not every production has been able to rekindle the original excited reaction to this savvy mix of silken song, dazzling dance and silly story – high-brow art in a pas de deux with middle-brow entertainment. This fourth Broadway production does.

There is no wholesale updating of the material a la It’s Only A Play (The 1949 film of “On The Town” with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra was significantly altered from the stage show, including the elimination of much of Bernstein’s luscious bluesy, brassy score.)  But director John Rando (Urinetown, A Christmas Story) stamps it with his own brand of cheerful vulgarity, with the help of two writers (Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary), given credit for “additional material.”  Choreographer Joshua Bergasse, making his Broadway debut, pays tribute to the airy jazz-inflected style of Robbins, but turns it more earthy and sensual. “On the Town” was inspired by a ballet, Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” It should tell you how splendid the dancing that one of the leads, Megan Fairchild, making her Broadway (and theater) debut, is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Fairchild plays Ivy Smith, a small-town gal herself recently arrived in the big city, who won the title of Miss Turnstiles of June, awarded by the New York Subway System. The three sailors spot the poster for Miss Turnstiles in the subway, shortly after descending from their ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Gaby (Tony Yazbeck) takes one glance and decides this is the girl of his dreams. His two shipmates decide to help him find her, even though Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) wants to go sightseeing. But he and Ozzie (Clyde Alves) run into complications. For starters, they are hijacked by sex-starved females — Alysha Umphress as taxi driver Hildy takes on Chip in an aggressive and gymnastic seduction scene in her cab, accompanied by the raunchy “Come Up To My Place” and then the suggestive “I Can Cook Too”; Elizabeth Stanley as  an anthropologist as Claire spots Ozzie at the “Museum of Anthropological History” (I guess the Museum of Natural History threatened to sue) mistaking him for a pre-Homo Sapien (a “Pithecanthropus Erectus” which sounds like it should be censored.) But despite this — and her engagement to an upright judge — her nymphomaniac tendencies get the better of her, and they get (and sing) “Carried Away.”  We eventually see both Ozzie and Chip in their underwear. (These are not the innocents from the film.)

“Sex and art don’t mix,” Madame Dilly, a drunken vocal coach played by Jackie Hoffman, tells Ivy, her student, trying to get her not to go on a date with Gabey. “If they did, I’d have gone straight to the top.” 

That’s where “On The Town” is.

On the Town

At The Lyric Theater

Music by Leonard Bernstein; book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on an idea by Jerome Robbins

Directed by John Rando; choreography by Joshua Bergasse; music direction by James Moore; sets and projections by Beowulf Boritt; costumes by Jess Goldstein; lighting by Jason Lyons; sound by Kai Harada; hair design by Leah Loukas; makeup design by Joe Dulude II; associate choreographer, Greg Graham; production stage manager, Bonnie L. Becker; additional material by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins; music coordinator, John Miller

Cast: Tony Yazbeck (Gabey), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), Clyde Alves (Ozzie), Megan Fairchild (Ivy), Alysha Umphress (Hildy), Elizabeth Stanley (Claire), Michael Rupert (Pitkin), Allison Guinn (Nun/Singer/Lucy Schmeeler), Phillip Boykin (Workman/Miss Turnstiles’ Announcer/Dream Coney Island Master of Ceremonies/Bimmy), Stephen DeRosa (3rd Workman/Bill Poster/Figment/Actor/Nedick’s Attendant/Diamond Eddie’s Master of Ceremonies/Conga Cabana Master of Ceremonies/Conductor) and Jackie Hoffman (Little Old Lady/Maude P. Dilly/Diana Dream/Dolores Dolores).

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including one intermission

Tickets: $37 to $150

Freestyle Love Supreme Giveaway Contest: Win A Speaker

FreeStyleLoveSupremepicWin a speaker from Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights, Hamilton), Christopher Jackson (The Lion King, In The Heights, Holla If Ya Hear Me) and the rest of the cast of Freestyle Love Supreme, a new television series by the popular hip-hop improvisational comedy troupe of the same name. The show will air Fridays starting October 17th at 10:30 p.m. ET / PT, on a 15-month-old cable television channel called Pivot TV.

Their motto: Give us a word, give us a beat, get out of our way.  They take audience suggestions and run (or rap) with them. (See video below.) Freestyle Love Supreme began about a decade ago when Miranda and his co-founders were still undergraduates at Wesleyan University. They’ve traveled to comedy festivals around the world, performed at theaters such as LCT3 at Lincoln Center and Joe’s Pub at the Public, and now they’re coming to your home theater, with ten 30-minute episodes on Pivot.

Here’s what the speaker looks like:

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

It’s a small, easy-to-use speaker that connects to your phone or computer via bluetooth to play your music. It has a retail value of about $100.

To enter this contest, answer ONE of these questions:

What topic would you want to hear a freestyle rap about?

What theater artist would you like to see with their own television show, and what would it be about?
1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because the winner will be chosen through based on the order of your reply, not its content.
But you must answer the question fully, or your entry will not be approved for submission.
2. Please include in your answer your Twitter name and follow my Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater so that I can send you a direct message. (If you don’t have a Twitter name, create one. It’s free.)
3. This contest ends Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.
(4. All submissions have to be approved, so you won’t necessarily see your entry right away: Please be patient, and don’t submit more than once.)

Found Review: Turning Scraps of Paper into A Musical

Daniel Everidge, Barrett Wilbert Weed and Nick Blaemire as roommates and founders of Found

Daniel Everidge, Barrett Wilbert Weed and Nick Blaemire as roommates and founders of Found

Davy Rothbart was having a weird day – his boss fired him; a mugger took his wallet and shoes; he couldn’t get his car to start – when he found a slip of paper that changed his life….and the world.

That anyway is what happens in “Weird Day,” the opening number of “Found,” the lively and tuneful, if not entirely successful musical based on Rothbart’s sudden revelation more than a decade ago. He realized he could publish discarded notes, memos, letters, lists, postcards, posters, classified ads, showing the treasure in other people’s trash. This led him to found Found magazine — which solicits such memorabilia from the public, giving hoarders nationwide a reason to feel better about themselves.

That first note, mistakenly put on his windshield, said:

Mario, I fucking hate you. You said you had to work–
–then why’s your car here at her place?
You’re a fucking liar I hate you I fucking hate you. Amber
PS Page me later

The note itself and dozens upon dozens to follow in the show are projected onto the stage of the Atlantic Theater, and simultaneously recited or sung by a young, appealing and greatly talented cast of 10, to a rocking score by Eli Bohn.

Now, as somebody who in elementary school collected just such meaningful detritus and made my bedroom wall into one huge collage (an amateur and artless version of the massive collage that set designer David Korins has created out of Found memorabilia), I understand the appeal of such glimpses into other people’s lives. Among the more memorable in “Found”:

“I hit the back of your car. People are watching so I had to leave a note…I’m not paying for shit!”

“Ever cut your skin for fun? Sell your ass? Sleep on the street? Do you like pain? Take heroin? If so, let’s start a band.

“Dear Dad, I have ran off to see the world. Love Nick.”

“If you want the key back, bring the urn back. No questions asked.”

 Ok, just one more:

 “We all need an enemy to define who we are. Thank you for being mine. I hate you very much.”

I find these irresistible, and so I imagine did the “Found” creative team – songwriter Eli Bolin, book writers Hunter Bell ([title of show]) and Lee Overtree, who is also the director, as well as the artistic director of Story Pirates, the fabulous children-centered theater that is listed as the show’s collaborator. The question they faced was how to turn these random jottings into a musical.

They did this in several ways, much of it impressive. Many of the found notes are delivered as quick-hit comments upstage relevant to the downstage action: When two of the characters kiss, for example, we see and hear another actor reciting a note “How to kiss: Keep my mouth clean. “ etc.

The team fashioned a goodly number into songs. Some of these are touching ballads. Some are fanciful and fun, such as “Great Lakes Bears” (based on a poster looking for “bears” – in the gay vernacular – “furry and friendly”), with the cast dressed in lumberjack outfits, and “Cats Are Cats,” with the cast in cute cat costumes acting out a schoolchild’s scribbled essay that begins “Lions are cats tigers too cats are cats they are usually orange.” E.E. Cummings this is not, and doesn’t have to be.

But the team was apparently not satisfied to make “Found The Musical” into a clever 90-minute revue. They wanted to give it a shape, a story. And that is what doesn’t work.

“Found” is a two-act, two-hour-plus story musical – with 28 songs! – that grafts together the two hoariest plots in show business – the rise and fall of an overly ambitious would-be star, and a love triangle.

The story focuses on Davy (Nick Blaemire) and his founding of Found, with the help of his roommate and best friend since childhood Mikey D. (Daniel Everidge, who was so spectacular as the overgrown autistic child in Falling), and his other roommate and apparent love interest Denise (Barrett Wilbert Weed.) Then Kate (Betsy Morgan) enters into the picture; they meet cute: She attends a party for Found magazine, and hears a note she herself wrote as a child. Kate is a would-be television producer, and she tempts Davy both into a relationship, and into turning Found into a television show, which compromises the integrity of the original vision…or something. We are suddenly ambushed with scenes of arguments with TV studio executives.

If telling the story of the ups and downs in the founding of Found seemed like a natural choice, the cliched way it is done is no better a frame for these paper treasures than my wall was – though “Found” is sure to be much better appreciated; my parents insisted I take down and throw out my collection. Too bad Found wasn’t around then.

 Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.


Atlantic Theater Company

Written by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree based on the Found books and magazines by Davy Rothbart. Music and original lyrics by Eli Bohn

Directed by Lee Overtree

Choreography by Monica Bill Barnes. Scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Theresa Squire, lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design by Ken Travis, projection design by Darrel Maloney

Cast: Christina Anthony, Nick Blaemire, Andrew Call, Daniel Everidge, Orville Mendoza, Betsy Morgan, Molly Pope, Danny Pudi, Sandy Rustin and Barrett Wilbert Weed.

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 10 minute intermission

Tickets: $75-$80. Premium: $95. Lottery: Free (if you win, you have to bring a found note.)

Found is set to run through November 9th.

It’s Only A Play Review: Nathan Lane, Selfies, and Sniping

It’s Only a Play Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Outside, on a shingle hanging from the marquee of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, Ben Brantley is quoted as saying: “Deliriously Dishy…It’s a Hit.” But inside, on the stage, Brantley is quoted as saying: “This is the kind of play that gives playwriting a bad name.”

Both Brantleys happen to be right.

Yes, the first is from the actual review by the New York Times critic of the star-studded revival of Terrence McNally’s backstage comedy “It’s Only A Play” at the Schoenfeld, while the second is from the fake Brantley review of the play-within-the-play, entitled “The Golden Egg.”

But what better way to describe a show whose first half hour is the funniest I’ve seen all season, and whose overlong second act is among the dullest? I’ll credit Nathan Lane for the first, and blame Terrence McNally for the latter.

“It’s Only A Play” takes place in the townhouse of the producer of “The Golden Egg” on the night of its Broadway opening – in the first act, the characters wait for the reviews; in the second act, they react to them. Nathan Lane plays James Wicker, best friend of the playwright, who has flown in from the West Coast for the opening. James turned down the play because he has become a star of a TV series—but also because he thought the play was a turkey. He is the first guest to enter the upstairs room, in search of a phone (the updated script has him explaining that his cell phone is broken), where he meets the temporary party help, Gus, a newcomer to New York (portrayed by newcomer Micah Stock, making an impressive Broadway debut), who describes himself variously as “an interdisciplinary theater artist” and “an actor-slash-singer-slash-dancer-slash-comedian-slash-performance artist-slash-mime. I have a black belt in karate and can operate heavy farm equipment.”

One by one the other party guests enter this inner sanctum (while the real party is supposed to be going on elsewhere in the house.) Stockard Channing plays Virginia Noyes, a washed-up, coked-up Hollywood movie star who took the part in the play to revive her career, and feels guilty that her ankle bracelet went off during her performance.

Megan Mullally is the producer Julia Budder, a naïve, well-meaning Mrs. Malaprop who has more money than taste. Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter movies makes his Broadway debut as Sir Frank Finger, the manic bad boy wonder British theater director, wearing the same kind of clashing plaid suit as the batty Mr. Wormwood in Matilda, and whining that he is always praised, no matter how awful and way-out his direction.

Eventually, Matthew Broderick enters in top hat as the hapless, idealistic playwright Peter Austin. Given the excitement that the duo of Lane and Broderick generated in both “The Producers” and “The Odd Couple,” it’s hard not to feel disappointed at Broderick’s oddly stiff and distant performance, as if his entire body was filled with Botox. In fairness, Broderick is saddled with long, sincere speeches that inveigh against what Broadway has become and long for what it once was. (“We’ve let Broadway stop mattering….”)

Rounding out the seven-member cast is F. Murray Abraham, who came to fame playing the villainous Salieri in Amadeus, and who is cast here as Ira Drew, McNally’s acid portrait of a theater critic who is crashing the party, a corrupt, untalented, self-regarding parasite who secretly yearns to be a playwright himself.

These generic pot-shots are easier to take than the zingers that the incessantly name-dropping McNally lobs at actual people. Brantley is called “a pretentious, diva-worshipping, British-ass-kissing twat” three times. McNally has replenished his 35-year-old insider play with references to the latest celebrities (Shia LaBeouf, Alec Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell, James Franco), yet seems to relish trafficking in mean-spirited insults towards such veterans as Faye Dunaway, Rita Moreno, Frank Langella and Tommy Tune; what have they ever done to him? He also indulges in a joke at the expense of older theatergoers; without them, “It’s Only A Play” would have box office like “The Golden Egg.” At the same time, despite the present-day setting and the almost desperate-seeming addition of topical references — selfies; sexting; chat rooms; a nearly bizarre listing of almost two dozen first-rate contemporary (mostly non-Broadway) playwrights such as Lynn Nottage, Christopher Shinn, and Julia Cho — the premise of the play is so out-of-date as to make McNally seem stuck in the past. (As if to prove this, he throws in “Monica Lewinsky” as the punch line to the list of playwrights.)

There are plenty of jokes that worked for me, even after the first half hour. But the hearty laughter began to seem hollow, and even haunting, when I thought how much people are paying to see exactly the kind of show that the playwright – the fictional playwright depicted in “It’s Only A Play” – laments.



It’s Only a Play

At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

By Terrence McNally; directed by Jack O’Brien; sets by Scott Pask; costumes by Ann Roth; lighting by Philip Rosenberg; sound by Fitz Patton; hair, wigs and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates;.

. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew), Matthew Broderick (Peter Austin), Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes), Rupert Grint (Frank Finger), Nathan Lane (James Wicker), Megan Mullally (Julia Budder) and Micah Stock (Gus P. Head).

Tickets: $77.00 – $172.00

It’s Only A Play is scheduled to run through January 4.

Sondheim’s New Musical. Once Over. Stage Managers Get Their Day. The Week in New York Theater

While we wait for Stephen Sondheim’s new musical — which the Public Theater has already committed to producing, although there is not even a title yet (see “11” below)  —  there is plenty going on in the meantime.

Terrence McNally’s 21st Broadway production opened this past week, and Billy Porter’s first play in New York. Can critics become playwrights; can actors? See below.


The Week in New York Theater, October 6-12


Holder obituary 

Seldes obituary



Once will play its final Broadway performance on January 4, 2015, after 1,167 performances and 22 previews.

Gay Liberation sculpture

Gay Liberation sculpture

Walking as Performance Art: Elastic City Walks Festival

In their walk around Greenwich Village – the last artist walk of the Elastic City Walks Festival – theater director Niegel Smith, playwright and novelist Sarah Schulman, and poet and walk artist Todd Shalom asked us to do things that, it is safe to say, no participants in a walking tour of Greenwich Village have ever been asked to do before — which was ok, because this was not a walking tour.

“We don’t call them walking tours,” said Shalom. “They’re artist walks.” And they come with assignments for the participants. We were asked to write quotations on blank bookmarks and then slip them surreptitiously into the books for sale at BookMarc, the bookstore by fashion designer Marc Jacobs that replaced Biography Bookstore on Bleecker Street.

1 Stop sanitizing art by Philip Kennicott


2 Stop protecting racism by Melissa Hillman
“Manhattan Parisienne,” a new play by Alain Boublil (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon), about two struggling artists,  will be presented at 59E59 December 18-January 4


Can critics become playwrights? George B. Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Eric Bentley did. Can you learn to write plays by watching them?



“I will try anything….I embrace the danger”says F. Murray Abraham, actor in Homeland and Its Only A Play (where he portrays a critic!)


RIP Iva Withers,97,who played lead in Carousel and Oklahoma…on the same day: She was understudy to the stars.

Broadway lights dim in tribute


The new culture wars, argues Alyssa Rosenberg, are not over decency as in the past, but identity politics

The Sound and the Fury, another verbatim text theater piece by The Elevator Repair Service, a section of the novel by Faulkner, will be presented again at The Public Theater May 14-June 13

 Intimacy and the Theater – Howlround #newplay Chat

It’s Only A Play reviews and photographs



An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s clever adaptation of 1859 race melodrama,returns,this time Theatre for a New Audience Feb 14-March 8

“Rehearse” is derived from Old French, “rehercier,” which means to constantly repeat. Began use in connection w/theater in 1500s

Dan Kois on the joy of reading plays (you get to act in them snf direct them in your head) Eg: The Flick

Roberta Maxwell as Lillian Hellman and Dick Cavett as Dick Cavett

Roberta Maxwell as Lillian Hellman and Dick Cavett as Dick Cavett

Hellman v McCarthy on TV

The feud between the writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy began on public television, so it’s fitting that the play about their quarrel, “Hellman v McCarthy,” with the great Roberta Maxwell as a rude, cantankerous Hellman and Marcia Rodd as the caustically witty McCarthy, has just been broadcast on public television, as part of the new Theater Close-Up series….

To have Dick Cavett, the former talk show host, now 77, play his 44-year-old TV-host self on stage as if on television in the Abingdon Square Theater production was intriguing enough. But to have that performance broadcast on television reached a level of Marshall McLuhan provocation. Here was Dick Cavett delivering a monologue of 30-year-old jokes in a fake TV studio but to a real TV audience.


The Rebecca Saga: A judge has sentenced con man Mark C. Hotton to 34 months in prison for fabricating investors for the musical.


Stephen Sondheim says he’s working with David Ives (Venus in Fur) on a new one-act musical based on two Luis Buñuel films – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel. There’s no title, no date for completion, but both the Public Theater and producer Scott Rudin have committed to presenting it.

Poll: Your Favorite Theater About Theater


My review of While I Yet Live

Tonya, the cheeky daughter in “While I Yet Live,” has a problem with God (He’s “a wee bit passive aggressive, and vindictive”) and the Bible (“It’s the most violent book I’ve ever read.”) and with the way “old-timers” showed love (They weren’t ready for us “little black babies with brains and dreams and questions.”)
Tonya’s monologues, as performed with great comic verve by Sheria Irving, are among the highlights of “While I Yet Live,” a largely earnest, autobiographical play by “Kinky Boots” star Billy Porter, being given a first-rate production with a stellar cast at Primary Stages.
Porter has been upfront that the dysfunctional Pittsburgh family in his play is based on his own: “Reflecting on my own life experience as a gay, black, Christian man, and survivor of abuse,” he’s written, “I wanted to write a play that was about family, faith and the healing power of forgiveness.”
The play he has produced is a kitchen-sink drama that does not build steadily in dramatic tension but rather relies on a shaky, sometimes confusing narrative foundation of declamations, sudden revelations, abrupt confessions and confrontations.

Full review of While I Yet Live

While I Yet Live Review: Billy Porter’s Memory Play

Tonya, the cheeky daughter in “While I Yet Live,” has a problem with God (He’s “a wee bit passive aggressive, and vindictive”) and the Bible (“It’s the most violent book I’ve ever read.”) and with the way “old-timers” showed love (They weren’t ready for us “little black babies with brains and dreams and questions.”)
Tonya’s monologues, as performed with great comic verve by Sheria Irving, are among the highlights of “While I Yet Live,” a largely earnest, autobiographical play by “Kinky Boots” star Billy Porter, being given a first-rate production with a stellar cast at Primary Stages.
Porter has been upfront that the dysfunctional Pittsburgh family in his play is based on his own: “Reflecting on my own life experience as a gay, black, Christian man, and survivor of abuse,” he’s written, “I wanted to write a play that was about family, faith and the healing power of forgiveness.”
The play he has produced is a kitchen-sink drama that does not build steadily in dramatic tension but rather relies on a shaky, sometimes confusing narrative foundation piled high with declamations, sudden revelations, abrupt confessions and confrontations. The play takes place in the family household over three time periods – Thanksgiving 1994, which ends with Tonya’s brother Calvin, age 17, (the obvious stand-in for the playwright) leaving home; then seven years later, which ends with Calvin returning; then seven years after that, when he’s paying a visit. The middle scenes are mostly taken up by conversations between the surviving members of the family and the three who have died since the first act and who seem to have gained in wisdom since their earthly departures.
“While I Yet Live” benefits from lively direction by Sheryl Kaller, a meticulously lived-in set by James Noone and, above all, the remarkable performances by the cast of seven, portraying characters who are each of them burdened in some way.
I’ve mentioned Irving already as Tonya. S. Epatha Merkerson, best-known for her long-time role in “Law and Order,” is wonderful as Maxine, Tonya’s mother, who, at the play’s start, has both a physical disability and a narrow mind. As the play progresses, we see her physically deteriorate but progress in her attitudes, especially towards her gay son Calvin, portrayed by Larry Powell. The other members of the household each get their moments – the great Lillian White as Maxine’s mother Gertrude, for example, presides over a hilariously overlong Thanksgiving prayer. Even Kevyn Morrow in the thankless and underwritten role as the abusive stepfather, gets a moment of redemption, although it occurs after he’s dead, as a visiting spirit. Together, the ensemble suggests credibly a family that can, in warm, humorous, and inviting moments, transcend their troubles, as when Tonya introduces a new-fangled recipe for greens.
Tonya: I sautéed them.
Eva: Ooh, sautéed even. Fancy.
Gertrude: Excuse us for living.
Maxine: And what exactly is a sautee?
Tonya: First you put some olive oil in a saucepan over the fire and add some garlic and onion soften.
Eva: What’s a saucepan?
Gertrude: A fancy way of saying skillet.
Eva: So why ain’t she just say skillet?
Maxine: I hope you didn’t use my good blessed oil.
The banter between the women is itself cooked to perfection.
Anybody who follows Billy Porter’s Twitter feed knows that he is given to uplifting sayings. If “While I Yet Live” is too obviously an effort at exorcism and uplift, there are enough of those inviting moments to suggest the birth of a real playwright. I’m hoping he’ll find a place for the character Tonya in his next play.

While I Yet Live

Primary Stages at Duke Theater, 229 West 42nd Street

By Billy Porter

Directed by Sheryl Kaller.

Set design by James Noone, costume design by ESosa, lighting design by Kevin Adams, sound design by Leon Rothernberg

Cast: Elain Graham, Sheria Irving, S. Epatha Merkerson, Kevyn Morrow, Larry Powell, Sharon Washington, Lillias White

Tickets: $70

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission

While I Yet Live is scheduled to run through October 31, 2014

Poll: Your Favorite Theater About Theater

There are three shows on Broadway this season that are theater about theater — The Country House, It’s Only A Play, The Real Thing.

What’s your favorite theater about theater of all time?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 13,641 other followers