Fireflies Review: Sorrow and Frustrated Desire during the Civil Rights Era

The Rev. Charles Emmanuel Grace, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, and his pregnant wife Olivia, who writes his stirring sermons for him, seem to find great joy in one another when he lifts her up in the air for an embrace near the beginning of “Fireflies.” In this play by Donja R. Love, the two characters actually have little reason to be happy. They are surrounded by tragedy; it is 1963, and Charles has just come home from Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The couple’s apparent happy home life is a sham.  Olivia doesn’t want the baby; she doesn’t love Charles; she writes unsent love letters to a woman she met only once,  who was murdered shortly afterward. Charles cheats, and drinks.

But for all the pile-up of sorrows for the characters, audiences themselves can find some joy in the production of “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater directed by Saheem Ali,  thanks to the lyrical design and especially to the splendid performances by Khris Davis as Charles and DeWanda Wise as Olivia.

Click on any photograph by Ahron R. Foster to see it enlarged.

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Mother of the Maid with Glenn Close: Review, pics

Genghis Khan had a mother; so did Amelia Earhart and Dwight Eisenhower. Perhaps Mother of the Maid, starring Glenn Close as the woman whom Joan of Arc called Ma, will start a trend of offering the maternal perspective on historical figures. It should: Jane Anderson’s play, in a wonderfully acted production at the Public Theater, is amusing, moving, incongruous, just plain odd and riveting. What may be most fascinating about it is that, as improbable as many of the scenes may appear, the play is rooted in the historical record.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Midnight at the Never Get Review: Tuneful Cabaret Musical, Throwback Gay Love Story

In Mark Sonnenblick’s cabaret-like gay musical, Arthur, a pianist and songwriter, decides in 1965 that he will write songs to his lover, singer Trevor, without changing the pronouns in the lyrics from male to female. This act of defiance gets them a gig at a run-down backroom cabaret in a gay bar called the Never Get, where they put together a midnight act they call Midnight at the Never Get.
That’s the story at the center of the musical opening at the York Theater, at least on the surface. But the tone of the show, for better and for worse, is summarized in a remark that a record company scout says to them after they send out their songs in hopes of getting a recording contract. As Trevor recounts it: “He said Cole Porter had written these songs thirty years ago and better. What was the use in holding to something that was already dead?”
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Oklahoma Review: Hip and Homey not Hokey, with Mixed Results

At the scaled-down, reimagined production of “Oklahoma!” at St. Ann’s Warehouse, they didn’t give us the program until after the musical was over – one of the signs that director Daniel Fish sees his version as cutting-edge, and wants us to see it that way too. In a traditional show, they give you the program before the show begins.
“Oklahoma!” has been a traditional show for decades. Yes, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first musical was considered groundbreaking when it debuted on Broadway, but that was 75 years ago.
Fish clearly felt it time to break new ground. What’s sprung from that broken ground is decidedly mixed.

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Final Follies Review: A.R. Gurney’s Posthumous Play about WASP Porn Star

For the last few years before he died in 2017 at the age of 86, playwright A.R. Gurney had been experiencing a resurgence of a career that had already produced some 40 plays over 50 years, best-known for his elegantly-structured chronicles of dying WASP culture, like “The Dining Room” and “The Cocktail Hour.”  A couple of his plays, “Love Letters” and “Sylvia,” were revived on Broadway; Signature devoted a season to him Off-Broadway; and he was writing new plays Off-Off Broadway as well

So it’s no big surprise that, at the time of his death, he had written a new play, ‘Final Follies,” and had planned to send it to Primary Stages, one of his several artistic homes.
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Girl From the North Country: Dylan Musical Pics and Review

Using 20 songs that Bob Dylan composed over half a century, playwright Conor McPherson has fashioned a slow, sad, elliptical and occasionally exquisite theater piece set in a run-down boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan’s hometown, in 1934, seven years before Dylan was born.
The stories in “Girl From The North Country,” are not about Dylan. They focus on the desperate family that runs the boarding house, and the many struggling people around them. The show presents a harsh and familiar Dust Bowl Americana. But it does so in a way that recalls how Dylan tapped into Woody Guthrie – in homage and imitation, yes, but rearranged into something that can feel new and compelling. The odd pairing of McPherson’s scenes of hard luck lives with Dylan’s songs of yearning, delivered by a splendid 17-member cast, work better than you might expect, but not as well as you might have hoped.

Full review on DC Theater Scene

Because I Could Not Stop: An Encounter With Emily Dickinson

The latest odd hybrid by the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, combining a one-woman show about the poetry and life of Emily Dickinson with a chamber music concert of 19th century composer Amy Beach,  is self-consciously tasteful and inadvertently tacky. Read more of this post

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur Review: Tennessee Williams Late, Witty Play About Four Women

La Femme’s revival of Tennessee Williams’ late, little-known play about four women living and working and bickering with one another, offers something you won’t find in A Glass Menagerie — though it’s set in the same year (1937) and place (a rundown section of St. Louis), contains a familiar dose of heartbreak, and reflects the playwright’s poetic sensibility and deep compassion. But “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur,” despite its precious title, is also wickedly witty, Williams creating smart-mouthed characters and letting them loose on one another.
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I Was Most Alive For You — Accessible For The Deaf…And Complicated

As the family gathers for a Thanksgiving right before everything starts to fall apart, Knox (Russell Harvard) gives thanks for “three things I used to think weren’t gifts at all: Deafness… Being gay…. Addiction. They are gifts… Each brought me to great clarity.”
Clarity is the great aim of Playwrights Horizons’ production of “I Was Most Alive With You,” Craig Lucas’s play about a family that suddenly must cope with a series of calamities. But it’s an unusual kind of clarity for the theater – clarity for deaf people.
As I point out in my article for TDF Stages, 14 actors are performing the play divided into two casts playing the same seven roles: Russell Harvard, Lois Smith and five other actors portray the characters on stage, while simultaneously seven other actors use ASL to portray the same characters from a balcony above. “We’re not just interpreting, we’re part of the story,” signs Anthony Natale, one of the seven “shadow cast” members in the balcony.
If that’s not complicated enough, two of the five characters are deaf. One of them is portrayed by Harvard, who is himself deaf. best known for his performances in Tribes and in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway.
He delivers that Thanksgiving speech in ASL (with supertitles projected onto a screen on the stage.)  But sometimes Knox speaks in English; then Harold Foxx, who is the “Shadow Knox,” performs the same dialogue in ASL on the balcony.
“It’s been enormously challenging and complicated,” says director Tyne Rafaeli. “It is also very deep and important. The play is about how we tell the story of our lives — what language we use, how we struggle to communicate. Having people on different levels in different languages is a lot for the human brain to take in. The audience has to work hard — and I don’t think that is a bad thing.”
More on TDF Stages


The True with Edie Falco: Photographs and Review

As Polly Noonan, Edie Falco, late of The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, can make almost any show more engaging than it would otherwise be, even a relatively sedate one like “The True,”…
Except….Polly is only partly the fruit of the playwright’s imagination. “The True” is more or less true. There was an Albany Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd who in 1977 was facing his first primary challenge in 35 years; he did have a long-time aide named Dorothea “Polly” Noonan who was rumored to be in a romantic relationship with him. And what’s more, Polly Noonan gave birth to a daughter, also named Polly Noonan, and that daughter gave birth to Kirsten E. Gillibrand, now a U.S. Senator from New York, who is said to be a likely candidate for president in 2020. Gillibrand has called her grandmother “my greatest political hero.”

Full review on DC Theatre Scene