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Venus: Review, Pics

Zainab Jah, who made an impressive Broadway debut as a sex slave turned soldier in Eclipsed, is back on a New York stage with another vivid portrayal of an exploited but strong African woman in Venus. Her performance is the best thing about director Lear deBessonet’s highly stylized, colorfully designed revival of this 1996 play by Suzan-Lori Parks — part of Signature Theater’s year-long look back at the work of the Pulitzer-winning playwright of Topdog/Underdog that began in November with The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.

 

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged

Buy Venus

Topdog/Underdog

Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

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Sojourners and Her Portmanteau Reviews: Nigerian American Immigrant Family Saga

When a young playwright is audacious enough to commit publicly to a nine-play cycle, the most appropriate response is encouragement. Mfoniso Udofia plans to follow four generations over 40 years of a single, Nigerian-American family, the Ufots. Two of the plays in the cycle, “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau,” are now playing in repertory at New York Theatre Workshop, with separate admissions and only one shared cast member. If these two plays are uneven, they offer the promise of an eventually enlightening and binge-worthy family saga that updates the story of Immigrant America.

Sojourners

 

In “Sojourners,” which takes place in Houston, Texas in 1978, Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) is a hard-working biology student and gas station attendant recently arrived from Nigeria. She is pregnant, but her charming, unreliable husband Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour) disappears for days at a time, and neither works nor studies. He buys his wife gifts (with her money) that are really for him – most notably a stack of Motown records. He loves to dance, and he loves everything in his newly adopted country. By contrast, Abasiama just wants to finish school and go back to Nigeria. Over the course of the 150 minutes of the play, we see Abasiama meet two characters: Moxie (Lakisha Michelle May), a young, semi-literate African-American prostitute whom Abasiama helps get a legit job; and Disciple, a fellow Nigerian immigrant (Chinaza Uche.) The two comically start competing for Abasiama’s attention and affection. By the end, Abasiama makes a decision that will change the course of her life — and set the course for playwright Mfoniso Udofia’s cycle

As I observed when I saw this play produced by Playwrights Realm at Playwrights Horizons early last year, “Sojourners” is strongest when it offers a glimpse, sometimes humorously, into the immigrant characters’ two cultures: In one scene, Disciple visits Abasiama in the maternity ward, bringing flowers and a teddy bear. “…Stuffed animals,” he exclaims in his lilting accent. “They are American symbols of comfort. I should have brought good food or fine cloth. Doll? What for?”

The new production at New York Theatre Workshop, co-produced with Playwrights Realm, has the same fine cast and the same director, Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, whose past theatrical marathons These Seven Sicknesses and The Mysteries make him seem the ideal choice to helm this kind of project. If “Sojourners” also has the same overlong and unwieldy construction, there is noticeable improvement. It’s not any shorter, but its staging is smoother. Some of the more awkward moments seem to have been modified. The cumbersome set has been replaced by something cleaner and more dramatic. There is a turntable on stage, a black backdrop and a contraption overhanging the stage that looks like a cross between a two-pane window and the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It even emits light and features dancing abstract projections. As absurd as it may sound, the NYTW production of “Sojourners” could be a textbook example of the difference an improved design can make.

 

 

Her Portmanteau

 

A portmanteau is a large trunk or suitcase, which is what Iniabasi – the baby born in “Sojourners” – is carrying when she arrives at JFK International Airport from Nigeria almost four decades later, at the beginning of “Her Portmanteau.”

But another definition of portmanteau is a word that combines two other words, such as brunch (combining breakfast and lunch) – and it is an inspired metaphor for the experience of an immigrant, who combines two worlds.

Iniabasi (Adepero Oduye), though born in the United States, grew up in Nigeria with her father Ukpong. She is expecting her mother Abasiama to show up and bring her to her big house in Massachusetts. But instead her younger half-sister, Adiagha, arrives (Chinasa Ogbuagu, a remarkable chameleon actor who is the only one to perform in both plays.) Adiagha takes Iniabasi to her one-bedroom apartment in Inwood. There has been a change of plans. Iniabasi is displeased. In Inwood, the two sisters, who met only once long ago, and their mother, Abiasama (now portrayed by Jenny Jules) confront their past and their ambivalent feelings towards one another. We piece together Abasiama’s life since “Sojourners” – she raised a second family, of whom Adiagha is her eldest — and what has happened to the characters from the first play. There are a few pleasing echoes that are easy to miss; we learn that Ukpong’s love of American dance music, which was largely an amusing irritant in “Sojourners,” has sparked in his (unseen) six-year-old grandchild a love and talent for dance. The title “Her Portmanteua” also holds yet more significance. Iniabasi’s single piece of luggage is the exact same one that Abasiama herself took to America. But what’s inside it is new, a modest surprise, and a touching one.

“Her Portmanteau,” taking place in a single day, is more streamlined and structurally coherent than “Sojourners,” while sharing some of that earlier play’s strengths. Again, there are knowing glimpses of the culture clash that is inherent in immigrant life. Iniabasi is aghast that Adiagha makes the Nigeria dish fufu using Jiffy pancake mix instead of yams. Some 15 to 20 minutes of the dialogue, spread throughout the 105 minutes of “Her Portmanteau,” is in the Nigerian language of Ibibio – the worst of it in telephone conversations. Other shows I’ve attended that are similarly performed in two or more languages have provided captions. That this production chooses to leave its English-speaking audience so long in the dark will prove a challenge for many, as will the African accents. (What does it say about a play when the playwright is in effect suggesting that such a sizeable chunk of the dialogue is not important?) But the challenge at least can be justified aesthetically and psychologically: It reproduces in the English-speaking audience something of the feeling of disorientation that new immigrants feel.

 

 

Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

Written by Mfoniso Udofia

Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar

Scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costume design by Loren Shaw, lighting design by Jiyoung Chang, sound design by Jeremy S. Bloom

Cast for “Sojourners”: Chinasa Ogbuagu as Abasiama, Hubert Point Du Jour as Ukpong, Lakisha Michelle May as Moxie and Chinaza Uche as Disciple

Running time for “Sojourners”: Two and a half hours, including one intermission

 

Cast for “Her Portmanteau”: Jenny Jules as Abasiama Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung, Chinasa Ogbuaga as Adiagha Ufot

Running time for “Her Portmanteau”: One hour and 45 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets: $73 per play.

“Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” are scheduled to run through June 4, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Golden Apple Review: Glorious American Music, Silly Homeric Satire

The Golden Apple, a 1954 Broadway musical, got the Encores! treatment at its most glorious over the weekend – with a sonorous 31-piece orchestra directed by Rob Berman, and a splendid 40-member cast including such go-to musical theater talents as Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Silverman, as well as two thrilling newcomers.

It’s hard to picture a more apt musical for the long running “concert series” at New York City Center, since the score is delightful, a veritable catalogue of mid-twentieth century American music — Copland-like orchestral, operetta, jazz, ragtime, vaudeville, country and get-down blues (including the hit song Lazy Afternoon, which has been interpreted by Tony Bennett, Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt and Barbra Streisand, among others) – all composed by a man, Jerome Moross, who never wrote another Broadway musical. At the same time, the book by John Latouche is a busy, overly ambitious effort to transpose Homer’s epics The Iliad and The Odyssey to the State of Washington in 1900, attempting satire, more often achieving…cutesiness and clutter. Although many have praised Latouche’s lyrics (sample: “Miss Helen is a blue-eyed daisy/If I don’t get her, I’ll go crazy.”) I am surely not alone in finding them inadequate for a full-length, sung-through musical. Possible proof: The original Broadway production lasted about four months. A full-on revival seems unlikely.

And so, it’s left to Encores! to allow us to revel in the seduction of the slutty farmer’s daughter Helen (the funny and mellifluous Lindsay Mendez) by Paris, a traveling salesman who arrives in the rural Washington town of Angel’s Roost (near Mt. Olympus of course) via hot-air balloon. Paris is portrayed by the spectacular dancer Barton Cowperthwaite, who never opens his mouth, speaking eloquently with his torso, hands and feet – part of the eye-catching choreography by Joshua Bergasse. It is up to Ulysses, the always reliable and frequently swoon-worthy Ryan Silverman, to bring Helen back, thus separating once again from his wife Penelope, portrayed by golden-voiced newcomer Mikaela Bennett, who is still an undergraduate at Juilliard.

That’s all just in the first act, and I left out a lot. I don’t have the stamina to go into a detailed description of the second, which takes place largely in the slick city of Rhododendron and takes us through all seven deadly sins for some reason, including an extended soft-shoe routine and a song, “Goona Goona,” by a character named Lovely Mars (the incomparably lovely Carrie Compere), dressed in sultry red, with the lyrics:

 

By a goona goona goona
By a goona goona goona lagoon

We will croon-a croon-a croon-a
We will croon-a croon-a real jungle tune

 

Lovely Mars is playing The Siren – you know, like the Sirens in The Odyssey whose angelic voices lure strong men to their doom? The next song is, logically, “Doomed Doomed Doomed,” although it features, not Ulysses’ men, but a scientist….

 

So….still, I hope they issue a cast recording.

 

The Golden Apple

Music composed by Jerome Moross; Written by John La Touche; Musical direction by Rob Berman; Choreography by Joshua Bergasse; Directed by Michael Berresse

Cast Mikaela Bennett, Ashley Brown, Carrie Compere, Jason Kravits, Alli Mauzey, Lindsay Mendez, N’Kenge, Ryan Silverman, Rasta Thomas, Florrie Bagel, Daniel Berryman, Michael Buchanan, Brian Cali, Max Chernin, Andrew Cristi, Laura Darrell, Dionne Figgins, Hannah Florence, Tamar Greene, Jeff Heimbrock, Leah Horowitz, Monté J. Howell, Jones Jr., Andrea Jones-Sojola , Naomi Kakuk, Evan Kasprzak, Reed Kelly, Bruce Landry, Quentin Oliver Lee, Brandon Leffler, Michael X. Martin, Skye Mattox , Sarah Meahl, Justin Prescott, Lindsay Roberts, Sarrah Strimel, Joseph Torello, Kathy Voytko, and Nicholas Ward

The Golden Apple was on stage at New York City Center May 10-14, 2017.

Dianne Wiest in Happy Days: Review, pics

 

“Another happy day,” Dianne Wiest exclaims as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s bleak, comic and compassionate play, written decades before Groundhog Day, but similarly focused on somebody who is trapped in an endlessly repeated day. But Winnie is also buried up to her waist in a mound of dirt. And then, in Act 2, it gets worse for her.

It’s a role, Wiest has said, that is “the ‘Hamlet’ for women….I had wanted to do ‘Happy Days’ for 30 years — I was terrified of it.”

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

 

Arlington Review: Enda Walsh’s Happy Orwellian Love Story

With his new play “Arlington,” playwright and director Enda Walsh presents an unusual love story set against a future dystopian society, which might shock New York theatergoers who know Walsh only as the Tony-winning book writer for the charming Broadway musical “Once.” It will be less shocking to those who attended “Lazarus,” Walsh’s collaboration with David Bowie at the New York Theater Workshop in 2015, with which it shares a general theatrical approach. “Arlington” invests more attention on sensory stimulation than clarity or coherence.

Isla (played by Charlie Murphy) is in a waiting room, complete with the number being served (3097.)  It is sterile, white, un-softened by the fish tank and large Swiss Cheese Plant common to doctor’s offices the world over. But this waiting room also has surveillance cameras. Isla is being monitored. A young man (Hugh O’Conor) is doing the monitoring in an adjoining room cluttered with filing cabinets and computer screens.

The (never named) young man is new, replacing an older man who, we eventually learn, summoned him and then dropped dead.

We sense a connection between Isla and the young man from the get-go. Walsh’s gift for dialogue shines through in what could almost pass as a conventionally charming scene of boy meets girl, as he speaks to her over a microphone, and she talks into the surveillance equipment in her room.

Isla: Are you handsome?
Young Man: Not really no.
Isla: You’re not just saying that?
Young Man: Well in a certain light I can be – in a very darkish light.

Then she asks him whether he thinks she’s attractive and urges him to be honest.

Young Man: Sort of.
Isla: I think that’s a bit too honest.
Young Man: Sort of attractive is better than a bit attractive….It’s also a little better than slightly attractive.

The conventional ends here, however. We are given enough information to piece together a vague understanding of the unsettling world they inhabit. Isla has lived in this “waiting room” since the age of four, which is in a tower, one of many towers that long ago replaced the village or city – or country? – in which they were built. The prisoners – for that’s what they seem to be – spend their days telling stories to themselves of a better past, or dreams of a better future.

The drama, such as it is, is interrupted by a 20-minute dance by Oona Doherty, to Emma Martin’s choreography and Teho Teardo’s music,  that evokes the individual prison that the world has become, and the fate of the prisoners.

Unlike “1984,” with which Walsh’s work can be compared, “Arlington” ends more happily than it begins – although it’s uncertain whether we can trust the ultimate scene as happening for real, or just an imagined story. In either case, the path to get there is one that resembles no conventional love story, which is in some ways refreshing (admittedly not the best adjective to use in conjunction with such a bleak universe.)

For those theatergoers with a taste for avant-garde, multimedia performance art, “Arlington” is well done. The two actors and the dancer are appealing and credible. The  rock score is fast and furious.  The design offers a near-constant barrage of in-your-face lighting changes, sound effects and projections.  There is even a companion art installation entitled Rooms that fills out information about the world that Walsh has created. That installation, with a separate admission charge, is at the future home of the Irish Arts Center, on 11th Avenue in Manhattan, while “Arlington” is at St. Ann’s Warehouse on Water Street in Brooklyn. It’s too bad they couldn’t be in the same place.

Arlington
St. Ann’s Warehouse
Written and directed by Enda Walsh
Choreographed by Emma Martin
Set and Costume Designer          Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer                         Adam Silverman
Sound Designer                            Helen Atkinson
Composer                                      Teho Teardo
Video Designer                              Jack Phelan
Isla                                                   Charlie Murphy
Young Man                                     Hugh O’Conor
Young Woman                               Oona Doherty
Featuring the voices of Olwen Fouéré, Helen Norton and Stephen Rea
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets: $36-$81
“Arlington” is scheduled to run through May 28, 2017.

2017 Lucille Lortel Award Winners: Oslo, The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit won best musical and Oslo the best play in the 32nd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway.

LortelAwardstrophyOutstanding Play: 

Oslo

Outstanding Musical:

The Band’s Visit 

Outstanding Revival:  Sweeney Todd

Outstanding Solo Show: Notes From The Field (Anna Deavere Smith)

Outstanding Director: Bartlett Sher, Oslo

Outstanding Choreographer: David Dorfman, Indecent

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play: Joe Morton, Turn Me Loose

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play: Jennifer Ehle, Oslo

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical: Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play: Michael Aronov, Oslo

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play:  Randy Graff, The Babylon Line

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical: Joel Perez, Sweet Charity.

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical: Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen

Outstanding Scenic Design: Laura Jellinek, A Life

Outstanding Costume Design: Susan Hilferty, Love Love Love

Outstanding Lighting Design:  Mark Barton, Signature Plays

Outstanding Sound Design: Mikhail Fiksel, A Life

Outstanding Projection Design: Jared Mezzochi, Vietgone

 

HONORARY AWARDS

Lifetime Achievement Award: William Ivey Long

Playwrights Sidewalk Inductee: Lynn Nottage

Edith Oliver Service to Off-Broadway Award: Harold Wolpert.

See list of 2017 Lucille Lortel nominees

Check out my 2017 Guide to New York Theater Awards

The State of Gay Love? Daniel’s Husband and Gently Down The Stream Reviews

The gay couples at the heart of two separate plays currently running Off-Broadway have been together for years, and yet, neither are married because one partner in each of the relationships doesn’t want to be, apparently on philosophical grounds:

“Who ever said we were meant to be legal?” Harvey Fierstein as Beauregard says in “Gently Down The Stream,” a play by Martin Sherman through May 21st at the Public Theater. “ We’re supposed to be outlaws; we’re supposed to be inventing new rules, not imitating all the old conventions, not going backwards.”

“The entire concept of marriage, I find it outdated, musty and fundamentally wrong… The only thing to be gained by gay marriage is the legal stuff,” Matthew Motolongo as Mitchell says in “Daniel’s Husband,” a play by Michael McKeever, in a Primary Stages production through April 28 at the Cherry Lane. “We’ve gone to our lawyer and had all of that taken care of.”

The decision not to get married has unforeseen consequences in both new dramas. Do these plays say anything about the state of love after the nation-wide legalization in 2015 of marriage between two people of the same gender? Or do they say more about the state of gay playwriting?

Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged.

“Daniel’s Husband” begins the way so many gay plays have in the 49 years since “Boys in the Band” first opened Off-Broadway – gay friends gathered together making witty banter. At a dinner party in a tastefully appointed home (admirably detailed by set designer Brian Prather), we get to know Mitchell, who makes a living as a gay romance novelist, an odd occupation given his cynicism; and Daniel (Ryan Spahn), his partner of seven years, an architect who clearly likes structure in his life; he does want to get married. Their guests for the evening are Barry (Lou Liberatore), Mitchell’s literary agent and best friend, and Barry’s date, Trip (Leland Wheeler), whom Barry met just a few weeks earlier, one of an endless series of short-lasting Barry boyfriends less than half his age. Trip, 23, has never seen a record album before, and he doesn’t understand Mitchell’s attitude towards marriage.

Almost an hour into the 90-minute running time, “Daniel’s Husband” turns into a different play. Since the second half is fresher and more powerful, I feel comfortable revealing what is obviously meant to be a surprise twist, but shouldn’t be. Daniel gets deathly ill, unable to speak. This winds up putting Mitchell at odds – psychologically, and legally — with Lydia, Daniel’s mother. In the first half of the play, we heard Daniel say that Lydia was a selfish mother, and we saw her during a visit drinking champagne and badmouthing Daniel’s dead father. This was preparation for her becoming the villain in the second half. This is true even though (or maybe in part because) she says: “I’m not the villain in this. There is no villain in this.” But she is made the classic straw man – a character who exists to be knocked down.

Given Mitchell’s explicit arguments against gay marriage in the first half of the play, the turn of events becomes an implicit refutation of Mitchell’s beliefs, a one-sided argument for the necessity of gay people getting married. “Daniel’s Husband” becomes an odd and simplistic cautionary tale. Only the acting under Joe Brancato’s direction saves us from utter authorial strong-arming. Rather than deriving any satisfaction at what we could take as Mitchell’s comeuppance, we are moved by Montelongo’s depiction of Mitchell’s desperate love for Daniel. Similarly, both Anna Holbrook as Lydia the selfish mother and Leland Wheeler as Trip the twink defy the potential for stereotype baked into their roles.

Just as Lydia and Mitchell wind up warring with one another, so do the two halves of the play. Both wars are undermining…and avoidable. Had McKeever begun “Daniel’s Husband” with Daniel’s illness – and shelved the first half, perhaps to be used in a future play – “Daniel’s Husband” might have been a wholly affecting drama.

Click on any photographs by Joan Marcus to see them enlarged.

Like Michael McKeever in “Daniel’s Husband,” playwright Martin Sherman in “Gently Down the Stream” seems to believe that same-sex marriage is important, and that there is some resistance to it from within the gay community that he finds regrettable. But Sherman’s approach is less an argument than a simple explanation for attitudes like Beau’s.

Beau (Harvey Fierstein) is a New Orleans-born piano accompanist who lives as an expatriate American in a London flat lined with books (the elegant set is by Derek McLane.) The play begins in 2001, when Beau, using a new-fangled online dating site, has just hooked up with Rufus (Gabriel Ebert, Tony winner for Matilda, and a veteran of Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.) Rufus is a 28-year-old eccentric, bipolar lawyer. Beau is 62. Beau doesn’t expect this “assignation” to last beyond a day. “I’m old enough to be your ancestor.” Yet it develops into a relationship that we track through some sharp-edge curves over the next 13 years.

“Gently Down the Stream” also has a second track. Rufus is interested – obsessed – with gay history. He doesn’t just ask Beau many questions about the past; he insists on videotaping Beau’s recollections. Much of “Gently Down The Stream” is taken up with these recollections, rather awkwardly inserted monologues about old lovers meeting tragic ends – “I knew it would end badly, because that was just simply the way it was with our lot” — and sad moments in gay history. It turns out that, much like Zelig or Forrest Gump, Beau has a talent for being at the right place at the right time – or, with certain tragic events, the exact wrong place. He was also friends, or at least acquainted, with such gay celebrities as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin and Larry Kramer, and lesser known but no less intriguing historical figures, like singer Mabel Mercer (Beau was her accompanist.) Add in the references to AIDS and the crystal meth epidemic among gay men, and the play starts to feel like a forced crash course in gay life. There is another rich layer simply in the casting of Harvey Fierstein, who since his Broadway debut as the author and star of Torch Song Trilogy in 1982, has himself become a figure in gay history.

All of Beau’s recounting of both his personal and communal past, much of it morose, offers a bracing explanation for the character’s pessimism about the future. Even the gay moments (in both senses of the word) are laced with melancholy. In one of his monologues, Beau recalls how “gay life, always secret and furtive and forbidden, blossomed” during World War II, and tells the story he heard from a veteran named Sam of a soldier from the hinterlands, temporarily stationed in New York, taking a room at the YMCA to have sex for the first time with another man, and jubilantly singing the nursery rhyme “Row, row, row your boat/gently down the stream” – which had an odd effect:

“…and suddenly from another room, he heard another soldier’s voice, joining in, a very deep baritone, and then from another room, another voice, and, and then the entire Young Men’s Christian Association, including Sam, seemed to be singing, but not just singing, singing a roundelay, everyone remembering their own childhood and the pain of it, and now suddenly this sense of release….Sam said that was the happiest moment of his life. “

But such euphoria ended abruptly, repression returned at the end of the war, and when Beau met Sam, he had become a drunken bum in Rio.

Beau’s experiences, and that of his circle, have bred in him a sense of hopelessness, leading him to self-sabotage. Convinced that the relationship will end badly, as all his others have, Beau rejects Rufus’ marriage proposal, and in effect pushes him away.

Playwright Sherman, whose best-known play, Bent, was about gay inmates of Nazi concentration camps, obviously knows where Beau’s pessimism comes from, but he evidently does not share it. He presents the optimism of a new generation, embodied not just by Rufus, but by the lover that Rufus eventually finds, Harry (a delightful Christopher Sears), a performance artist younger than Rufus. When Harry, in torn jean, black leather, pierced and tattooed full punk regalia, croons the Gershwin’s The Man I Love, there is something so hilarious, charming and touching about it that you begin to share the play’s optimism, even if Beau never does.

It’s been just 14 years since Massachusetts became the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage, six years since New York State, and just two since the Supreme Court legalized it in all 50 states – a decision that, many say, the new administration will try to undermine. Surely, nobody would be surprised by the recent study that concludes that married LGBT adults are happier than single ones. But if there’s been enough time to offer some sociological insight, we may have to wait for our dramatists to fashion from this new reality searing dramas with sophisticated insights.

Lucille Lortel Nominations 2017 Off-Broadway: Hadestown, Sweeney Todd Lead

Hadestown and Sweeney Todd each led the Lucille Lortel Award nominations this year, with seven apiece, including Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Revival respectively.  Sweet Charity received six; Ride The Cyclone, five. Three of the Off-Broadway shows,  honored  coincidentally with four nominations apiece — Dear Evan Hansen, Indecent and Oslo — have since transferred to Broadway, as has Sweat. The 32nd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway will be presented on Sunday, May 7, 201y at NYU Skirball Center

Outstanding Play

Indecent
Produced by Vineyard Theatre in association with La Jolla Playhouse and Yale Repertory Theatre
Written by Paula Vogel, Created by Paula Vogel & Rebecca Taichman

Oslo
Produced by Lincoln Center Theater
Written by J.T. Rogers

Underground Railroad Game
Produced by Ars Nova
Written by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard

Vietgone
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club in association with South Coast Repertory
Written by Qui Nguyen

The Wolves
Produced by The Playwrights Realm in association with New York Stage and Film and Vassar’s Powerhouse Theatre Season
Written by Sarah DeLappe

Outstanding Musical

The Band’s Visit
Produced by Atlantic Theater Company
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Itamar Moses, Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin

Dear Evan Hansen
Produced by Second Stage Theatre in association with Stacey Mindich Productions
Book by Steven Levenson, Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Hadestown
Produced by New York Theatre Workshop
Written by Anaïs Mitchell

Ride the Cyclone
Produced by MCC Theater
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond

The Total Bent
Produced by The Public Theater
Text by Stew, Music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald

Outstanding Revival

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead
Produced by Signature Theatre
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks

Othello
Produced by New York Theatre Workshop
Written by William Shakespeare

Signature Plays: Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, María Irene Fornés’ Drowning, and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro
Produced by Signature Theatre
Written by Edward Albee, María Irene Fornés, and Adrienne Kennedy

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Produced by Rachel Edwards, Jenny Gersten, Seaview Productions, Nate Koch, Fiona Rudin, Barrow Street Theatre, Jean Doumanian, Rebecca Gold, and Tooting Arts Club
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler, Adaptation by Christopher Bond

Sweet Charity
Produced by The New Group in association with Kevin McCollum
Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Dorothy Fields

Outstanding Solo Show

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide
Produced by Judd Apatow, Mike Berkowitz, Brian Stern, Mike Lavoie, and Carlee Briglia
Written and Performed by Chris Gethard

Latin History for Morons
Produced by The Public Theater in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Written and Performed by John Leguizamo

Notes From The Field
Produced by Second Stage Theatre and American Repertory Theater
Created, Written, and Performed by Anna Deavere Smith

The Outer Space
Produced by The Public Theater
Book and Lyrics by Ethan Lipton, Music by Ethan Lipton, Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy, and Ian M. Riggs
Performed by Ethan Lipton

Sell/Buy/Date
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club
Written and Performed by Sarah Jones

Outstanding Director

Will Davis, Men On Boats
Anne Kauffman, A Life
Lila Neugebauer, The Wolves
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Outstanding Choreographer

Joshua Bergasse, Sweet Charity
David Dorfman, Indecent
Georgina Lamb, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
David Neumann, Hadestown
David Neumann, The Total Bent

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play

Reed Birney, Man From Nebraska
Michael Emerson, Wakey, Wakey
Lucas Hedges, YEN
Joe Morton, Turn Me Loose
David Hyde Pierce, A Life

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play

Johanna Day, Sweat
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Jennifer Kidwell, Underground Railroad Game
Kecia Lewis, Marie and Rosetta
Maryann Plunkett, Women of a Certain Age

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play

Michael Aronov, Oslo
Charlie Cox, Incognito
Matthew Maher, Othello
Justice Smith, YEN
Paco Tolson, Vietgone

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play

Jocelyn Bioh, Everybody
Hannah Cabell, The Moors
Randy Graff, The Babylon Line
Ari Graynor, YEN
Nana Mensah, Man From Nebraska

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical

Ato Blankson-Wood, The Total Bent
Shuler Hensley, Sweet Charity
Patrick Page, Hadestown
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical

Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity
Amber Gray, Hadestown
Jo Lampert, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire
Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Siobhan McCarthy, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical

Nathan Lee Graham, The View UpStairs
Gus Halper, Ride the Cyclone
Joel Perez, Sweet Charity
Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit
Chris Sullivan, Hadestown

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical

Asmeret Ghebremichael, Sweet Charity
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Betsy Morgan, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Emily Rohm, Ride the Cyclone
Karen Ziemba, Kid Victory

Outstanding Scenic Design

Scott Davis, Ride the Cyclone
Rachel Hauck, Hadestown
Laura Jellinek, A Life
Mimi Lien, Signature Plays: Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, María Irene Fornés’ Drowning, and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro
Jason Sherwood, The View UpStairs

Outstanding Costume Design

Montana Blanco, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead
Tilly Grimes, Underground Railroad Game
Susan Hilferty, Love, Love, Love
Sarah Laux, The Band’s Visit
Emily Rebholz, Indecent

Outstanding Lighting Design

Mark Barton, Signature Plays: Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, María Irene Fornés’ Drowning, and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro
Jane Cox, Othello
Greg Hofmann, Ride the Cyclone
Amy Mae, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Ben Stanton, YEN

Outstanding Sound Design

Mikhail Fiksel, A Life
Robert Kaplowitz, Hadestown
Stowe Nelson, Small Mouth Sounds
Nevin Steinberg, Wakey, Wakey
Matt Stine, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Outstanding Projection Design

Elaine McCarthy, Notes From The Field
Duncan McLean, Privacy
Jared Mezzochi, Vietgone
Peter Nigrini, Dear Evan Hansen
Peter Nigrini, Wakey, Wakey

HONORARY AWARDS
Lifetime Achievement Award
William Ivey Long

Playwrights’ Sidewalk Inductee
Lynn Nottage

Edith Oliver Service to Off-Broadway Award
Harold Wolpert

NOMINATIONS BY SHOW TITLE

Hadestown 7
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 7
Sweet Charity 6
Ride the Cyclone 5
The Band’s Visit 4
Dear Evan Hansen 4
Indecent 4
A Life 4
Oslo 4
YEN 4
Othello 3
Signature Plays: Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, María Irene
Fornés’ Drowning, and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of
a Negro 3
The Total Bent 3
Underground Railroad Game 3
Vietgone 3
Wakey, Wakey 3
The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World
AKA the Negro Book of the Dead 2
Man From Nebraska 2
Notes From The Field 2
The View UpStairs 2
The Wolves 2

The Babylon Line 1
Chris Gethard: Career Suicide 1
Everybody 1
Incognito 1
Joan of Arc: Into the Fire 1
Kid Victory 1
Latin History for Morons 1
Love, Love, Love 1
Marie and Rosetta 1
Men On Boats 1
The Moors 1
The Outer Space 1
Privacy 1
Sell/Buy/Date 1
Small Mouth Sounds 1
Sweat 1
Turn Me Loose 1
Women of a Certain Age 1

Members of the general public are welcome to view the 7:00 PM ceremony. Public tickets are $75.00 and currently on sale via phone at 212.998.4941, online at http://www.nyuskirball.org and in person at the Skirball Center’s Shagan Box Office (556 LaGuardia)

April 2017 NY Theater Openings

The 14 shows opening on Broadway in April — one-third of all the shows for the entire Broadway season — include seven musicals and seven plays. There are two hit plays Off-Broadway transferring to the Great White Way, four revivals, four musicals based on movies. and a sequel to a play written 138 years ago. The stars on stage include Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Kevin Kline, Phillipa Soo and Adam Chaler-Berat, Laurie Metcalf, Christian Borle, Corey Cott and Laura Osnes, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon.

And all that’s just on Broadway. There are almost a dozen more intriguing shows Off-Broadway and Off Off Broadway opening in the month of April.

Below is a list, organized chronologically by opening date, with descriptions. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Color key: Broadway: RedOff Broadway: Purple or BlueOff Off Broadway: Green.

To look at the Spring season as a whole, check out my Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide and my Off Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide

APRIL 2

The Play That Goes Wrong

play-that-goes-wrong-logoBroadway Theater: Lyceum
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Cast: Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, and Nancy Zamit.
Olivier Award-winning comedy about an amateur university production that goes hopelessly awry

Twitter: @BwayGoesWrong

Buy tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong

APRIL 3

Amelie

amelie-logoBroadway Theater: Walter Kerr
Written by Dan Messé (music), Nathan Tyson (lyrics), Craig Lucas (book)
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Cast: Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat
A musical adaptation of the  2001 film, which starred Audrey Tautou as a shy waitress with a wild imagination.

@AmelieBroadway

Buy tickets to Amelie

APRIL 4

Daniel’s Husband (Primary Stages at Cherry Lane)

In this play by Michael McKeever, Daniel longs to be married and Mitchell does not.  A turn of events forces both men to face the consequences of their opposing views, and they learn that they are living in a world where fundamental rights aren’t always so fundamental

The Lightning Thief (MCC at Lortel)

A stage adaptation of the best-selling novel by Rick Riordan. The Greek gods are real, and they’re ruining Percy Jackson’s life. As a son of Poseidon, Percy has newly discovered powers he can’t control, monsters on his trail, and he is on an epic quest to find Zeus’s lightning bolt and prevent a war between the gods

APRIL 5

Present Laughter

present-laughter-logoBroadway Theater: St. James

Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Moritz von Suelpnagel
Cast: Kevin Kline

Revival of the 1940s comedy about the tribulations of a popular matinee idol.

@laughteronbway

Buy tickets to Present Laughter

 

Gently Down The Stream (Public Theater)

In this play by Martin Sherman (Bent, The Boy From Oz), Harvey Fierstein portray Beau, an expatriate pianist living in London, who meets the younger Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer, at the dawn of the Internet dating revolution.

 

APRIL 6

War Paint

war-paint-logo
Theater: Nederlander
Writers: Book by Doug Wright; music and lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie
Director: Michael Grief; choreographer: Christopher Gattelli
Cast: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole
Musical based on the rivalry of cosmetics titans Helena Rubenstein (LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole)

 

@warpaintmusical

Buy tickets to War Paint

APRIL 9

The Profane (Playwrights Horizons)

In this play by Zayd Dohrn, Raif Almedin is a first-generation immigrant who prides himself on his modern, enlightened views. But when his daughter falls for the son of a conservative Muslim family in White Plains, he discovers the threshold of his tolerance.

APRIL 12

In and Of Itself (Daryl Roth Theater)

Created and performed by magician Derek DelGaudio: ” a modern allegory that explores new ways of seeing the unseeable, as memories from yesterday are blended with inexplicable events witnessed today and secrets imagined for tomorrow…”

oslo-logo

APRIL 13

Oslo

Broadway Theater: Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center
Playwright: J.T. Rogers
Director: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Jefferson Mays and Daniel Oreskes
Transfer of Lincoln Center Theater’s Off-Broadway production of the play about the top-secret, high-level meetings between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that culminated in the signing of the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

My review of “Oslo” Off-Broadway

 

@LCTheater

Buy tickets to Oslo

APRIL 17

 Groundhog Day

groundhog-day-logoBroadway Theater: August Wilson
Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, book by Danny Rubin
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Andy Karl
A musical adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray film about a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again…and again. Will he ever unlock the secret and break the cycle?

 

@Groundhogdaybwy

Buy tickets to Groundhog Day

APRIL 18

Indecent


Playwright: Paula Vogel
Director: Rebecca Taichman

A behind-the-scenes look at the true story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance” — “a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel,” in part because of its lesbian lovers.

My review of Indecent Off-Broadway

 

@IndecentBway

Buy tickets to Indecent

Rebel in the Soul (Irish Rep)

Larry Kirwan’s play examines the opposition by the Irish party leader and the Archbishop of Dublin to Dr. Noel Browne, who was elected to the Irish Parliament in 1948 with the aim of ridding Ireland of tuberculosis. “The ensuing crisis  brought down the government and changed Irish life forever.”

APRIL 19

The Little Foxes

Theater: MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon

The fifth Broadway production of the 1930 drama about a ruthless Southern belle.

Buy tickets to The Little Foxes

 APRIL 20

Hello, Dolly

Hello Dolly logoBroadway Theater: Shubert
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart
Director: Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlyle
Cast: Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce

Tweeter feed: @HelloDollyBway

The fifth Broadway production of the 1964 musical about a matchmaker who sets out to find a match for herself at the turn of the 20th century.

Buy tickets to Hello, Dolly

Pressing Matters (Theatre Row)

Six quirky stories by Jennifer Jasper

APRIL 22

The Assignment (ART/NY)

A play by Camilo Almonacid based on the friendship between a woman who founded a youth violence prevention program after her teenage son was murdered by street violence, and a man who found education and rehabilitation while serving 17 years in prison for manslaughter.

 APRIL 23

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory logoBroadway Theater: Lunt-Fontanne
Written by David Greig (book), Marc Shaiman (music & lyrics), Scott Wittman (lyrics), Roald Dahl (novel)
Director: Jack O’Brien
Cast: Christian Borle as Willy Wonka
When Charlie wins a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate Factory, it’s the chance of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he’s always dreamed of. But beyond the gates astonishment awaits, as the five lucky winners discover not everything is as sweet as it seems.

 

Buy tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

APRIL 24

Anastasia

Broadway Theater: Broadhurst
Music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, book by Terrence McNally
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Cast: Christy Altomare, Derek Klana, Ramin Karimloo, Mary Beth Peil, John Bolton, and Caroline O’Connor
Inspired by the 1997 film about a young woman who may be the last surviving member of the Russian royal family. The score includes songs from the movie, including the Oscar- nominated “Journey to the Past,” plus an entirely new score from the Tony Award-winning team.

@AnastasiaBway

Buy tickets to Anastasia

APRIL 25

Six Degrees of Separation

Broadway Theater: Barrymore
Playwright: John Guare
Director: Trip Cullman
Cast: Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey,   Corey Hawkins
Revival of the 1990 drama about a young con man who is embraced by wealthy New Yorkers after passing himself off as Sidney Poitier’s son.

@SixDegreesBway

Buy tickets to Six Degrees of Separation

APRIL 26

Bandstand

bandstand-logoTheater: Bernard Jacobs
Music by Richard Oberacker and book and lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker
Director/Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuhler
Cast: Laura Osnes and Corey Cott
This “big-band musical” chronicles a mismatched band of WWII veterans who join forces to compete in a radio contest.

@BandstandBway

Buy tickets to Bandstand

 

Her Opponent (Jerry Orbach)

A re-staging of excerpts of the 2016 presidential
debates with gender-reversed casting.

April 27

A Doll’s House, Part 2

a-dolls-house-logoTheater: Golden
First Preview: April 1, 2017
Opening: April 27, 2017
Playwright: Lucas Hnath
Director: Sam Gold
Cast: Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad.
Sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s play, following up after Nora has left her husband and children.

Buy tickets to A Doll’s House, Part 2

@DollsHousePart2

Latin History for Morons Review: John Leguizamo Gets Serious, Sort Of

For “Latin History for Morons,” John Leguizamo has come up with a sixth solo show that will be in many ways familiar to his fans , with its mix of in-your-face jokes, spot-on mimicry, candid memoir, energetic dance breaks. But it is also a timely cultural and political critique, suggesting what could become a new direction for the talented performer.

“Latin History for Morons,” Leguizamo tells us, was inspired by an incident involving his son, an eighth grader, who was bullied by a racist classmate. Leguizamo tries to support his son: Think of the bully as sandpaper, he says — irritating at the moment, sure, but “you end up polished; he ends up useless.” That doesn’t help. Then he talks to the classmate’s father – who is just as much a bully, boasting of his family’s long line of military heroes, including Andrew Jackson.

So Leguizamo embarks on a mission to learn enough about the history of Latinos to instill pride in his son. The problem – Latinos have been the target of 500 years of bullying.

The family story is both funny and affecting and it gives something of a structure to the 90-minute piece. But it is only one of the three levels of the show. The second is Leguizamo’s relaying nuggets of actual Latino history, which are often engaging, and the third is Leguizamo’s assumption of a kind of Dr. Irwin Corey mock-professorial persona, which is often entertaining, and sometimes undermining. The show begins with Leguizamo entering the stage at the Public Theater in an ill-fitting tweedy jacket and vest like a high school history teacher, carrying a cardboard box of supplies. Greeting the audience applause, his first words are: “Settle down.” The set is a classroom, complete with piles of books, and focused on a chalk board. He writes the title of the show, and he draws a timeline, that begins at 1,000 B.C. – “we have the Mayans” – and ends at Now – “we have Pitbull.” (A Cuban-American rapper, for those who only know about the Mayans.) And that, Leguizamo says, is all that most people know about Latino history.

One need not be a history buff to be fascinated by some of what he fills in for us.

He tells us, for example, about the Repatriation Act of 1930 – the mass deportation between 1929 and 1936 of some 500,000 Mexican immigrants and American citizens of Mexican origin, from the United States to Mexico.

At its best, “Latin History for Morons” lives up to the promise of its title. The success of the “Dummies” and “Idiots” book series, after all, lies in the promise of relaying basic information thoroughly but clearly and with some humor to somebody who doesn’t necessarily have any prior knowledge of the subject. Leguizamo delivers.

As if afraid to bore his audience,  however, Leguizamo sprinkles the history with jokes. Some of them are smart: “Why is all our art called ‘folk art’? And all European art’s called ‘fine art’? And then ‘modern art’ is just our folk art gentrified.” Some of them are dumb: “Conquistadors were like a NBA player at a Kardashian pool party.”

Some are a missed opportunity: “As the great Spanish philosopher Santana said, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” He is of course deliberately confusing Carlos Santana – the Mexican-American guitarist – with George Santayana, the Spanish-born, U.S.-educated philosopher. He has no time to tell us about someone like Santayana, a remarkable scholar. He is busy impersonating one Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban-born woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fight for the Confederate side in the Civil War. It would be unrealistic to expect a self-declared “Ghetto Klown” (the title of his last solo show, on Broadway in 2011) to forego the chance to don a big red wig and mince. And it may be that his most devoted fans would be disappointed without these anarchic comic touches, skirting with the stereotypes that I commented on in my very first review of a Leguizamo show, “Mambo Mouth,” his breakthrough piece, back in 1991.

Rather than condemn John Leguizamo for repeating what has worked for him in the past, then, I will remember “Latin History for Morons” as the piece that showed us the extraordinary possibilities when such a brilliant theater artist takes on the world in a new way.

 

Latin History for Morons

Written and performed by John Leguizamo
Directed by Tony Taccone

Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck

Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols

Original Music and Sound Design: Bray Poor

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Ticket prices: $65

Running through April 23