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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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Fringe Review: There Has Possibly Been An Incident. Heroes and Killers

Incident picA man stands in front of the army tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests. A woman helps topple a dictator, with surprising results. A man tries to rescue a child in a plane crash. Another man shoots and kills a group of children, in what he considers – just as much as the other actions — an act of  heroism.

These are the stories that three actors tell, in an unorthodox and largely self-defeating way, in “There Has Possibly Been An Incident,” an experimental theater piece written by Chris Thorpe presented as part of the New York Fringe Festival by Mind The Gap Theatre, which describes itself as “NYC’s premiere company for presenting and developing the best new plays from all over the UK.”
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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.

Apologia with Stockard Channing: Review and Pics

In this well-acted, finely directed Off-Broadway production of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 2009 play,  Stockard Channing portrays Kristin Miller, a long-time activist,  American expatriate and noted art historian who has entitled her recently published memoir Apologia.  Apologia is a word, she is quick to point out, that should not be confused with an apology. “It means a formal, written defense of one’s opinions or conduct,” she explains to the small gathering in her cottage in the English countryside to celebrate her birthday.

But her two sons (both impressively portrayed by Hugh Dancy)  feel she owes them an apology. They see her as having abandoned them when they were children. “I woke up one morning and realized that pretty much everything we are and everything we do is a response against you,” one of them says.  They are both furious that she doesn’t even mention them in her memoir.

Is Kristin’s idealism defensible; what are the personal costs of public idealism? That is a question that the playwright in effect asks in Apologia, but in many ways it’s the least interesting or worthwhile aspect of his witty and engaging play.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

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

Fringe Review Opening Night: Twin Divas Margo and Joan Feud On Stage

“Opening Night” begins with hilariously feuding twin sister Hollywood stars, who are brilliantly named Margo Nightingale and Joan de Tuileries, each presenting what they thought was a one-woman show. They hadn’t noticed the posters promoting the show as a “dual career retrospective.”

Kristina Grosspietsch and Devin O’Neill, the creators and cast of this funny hour-long Fringe show, aren’t content to present the sisters trading insults and trying to upstage one another at the two simultaneous one-woman shows — although I would certainly have been. They create six more characters who are also in the theater that night, in scenes that rapidly alternate with one another.
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Emma and Max Review: Filmmaker Todd Solondz’s Jarring Theatrical Debut About Racism

Emma and Max are the toddlers in the care of a Barbadian nanny, Britney, who is fired by their parents in the awkward first scene of “Emma and Max,” a jarring play about racism written and directed by filmmaker Todd Solondz, making his theatrical debut.
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Fringe Review The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley. A 1920’s Quack Tycoon Politician Not Unlike the 45th President

Edward Einhorn’s latest play is based on the jaw-dropping true story of a quack doctor who became rich and famous in the 1920s by implanting goat testicles as a cure for male impotence, and then in the 1930s ran for Governor of Kansas.  It seems apt that “The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley” was the first play in the first full day of the 21stannual New York International Fringe Festival, because it fully reflects both the promise and pitfalls of a Fringe show.
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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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Nazis and Me Review: A Humorous Jew Riffs on Hate Group Encounters

David Lawson was sent an elaborate cartoon of Pepe the Frog, a symbol of the alt right, and told “anti fascists like you are oven ready.” This was via Twitter shortly after Election Day, 2016. Not much later, his hometown Jewish Community Center in suburban Virginia was spray painted with Nazi slogans. Lawson looked at the Facebook page of the person who had been arrested for the vandalism: The 20-year-old had gone to the same high school as he had. On Election Night 2016, the man had posted: “The White Man saves Western Civilization once more.”

There is little doubt in “Nazis and Me”  that Trump’s election gave organized haters a boost. But those acquainted with Lawson’s shows know to expect something different than just a Michael Moore-like screed connecting the current president to hate.

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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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