Sunday, June 17, 2018

Peace for Mary Frances


Peace for Mary Frances
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
June 16, 2018

Photo courtesy of The New Group
Lily Thorne’s play, Peace for Mary Frances, chronicles the end of life journey and the toll it takes on a family.  The New Group production is sensitive and realistic.  Director Lila Neugebauer builds on the conflict in the family dynamic that is deeply embedded in Ms. Thorne’s complex characters.  Secrets are revealed and emotions collide, yet the main character finds her peace.

Mary Frances (played by Lois Smith) is nearing ninety years of age and requires oxygen and constant care, which she receives from her daughter, Fanny (played by Johanna Day).  Her other daughter, Alice (played by J. Smith-Cameron) believes that Fanny is incapable of caring for their mother.  When the doctor finds fluid in her lungs, Mary Frances, who wishes to pass peacefully in her sleep, chooses hospice care.  Alice convinces her mother to pay her living expenses so she can move in and supervise her care around the clock.  Their brother, Eddie (played by Paul Lazar), visits once a week to maintain his mother’s finances.  His sisters are angered when they find out their mother has been paying him to do this.  Adding to the stress of the situation is the presence of Alice’s two adult daughters (played by Heather Burns and Natalie Gold).  Their memories of their grandmother are loving, which differs from the angst in the relationship between Mary Frances and her daughters.  Mary Frances has visions of her dead husband, mother, and father-in-law as she makes her peace, yet she leaves behind a family in turmoil.

Lois Smith & J. Smith-Cameron
Photo courtesy of The New Group
The play has a slow and steady pace, especially in the second act.  Fueling the action is the conflict between the two sisters.  J. Smith-Cameron and Johanna Day go at each other full force in these roles.  The history of their relationship and the stress of the situation cause their emotions to flare up in an instant.  Their portrayal of this vulnerability is truthful and genuine.  Lois Smith is warm, brave, and gutsy as Mary Frances.  The way she treats her children reflects a lifetime of experiences and forgiveness, but includes, as she says, never forgetting.  She embraces her grandchildren and looks longingly into the eyes of her great grandbaby, maintaining a connection to life up to the very end.

Johanna Day, J. Smith-Cameron, & Heather Burns
Photo courtesy of The New Group
The set, designed by Dane Laffrey, is a split level masterpiece, showing the living room, kitchen, and back porch on stage right, and Mary France’s bedroom about a half a flight up on stage left.  It is constructed as if one wall of the house opened up so the audience could peer in on this family in crisis.  Lighting designer Tyler Micoleau makes brilliant use of track lighting, chandeliers, and table lamps to enhance the realism and sense of peeking in on the lives of the characters.

Lily Thorne’s play successfully reveals the stark truths of facing the end of life, its stress, fears, and deeply embedded emotion.  Peace for Mary Frances closed on June 17. 

Domenick Danza

The Beast in the Jungle


The Beast in the Jungle
Vineyard Theatre
June 15, 2018

Photo courtesy of Vineyard Theatre
The Beast in the Jungle, with music by John Kander and book by David Thompson, is now running at Vineyard Theatre.  Inspired by the Henry James novella, this “dance play” tells the romantic and tragic story of the missed opportunities for love.  Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman skillfully weaves realistic narrative with ballet and stylized movement to emotionally engage the audience in this dark tale.

John Marcher (played by Peter Friedman) advises his nephew (played by Tony Yazbeck) that if he truly loves his girlfriend, who just broke up with him because he cannot commit, he needs to run back to her, get on his knees, and ask her to marry him.  John Marcher tells his nephew the story of when he met May Bertram (played by Irina Dvorovenko) in Naples, and fell instantly in love with her.  It was the beast within him that compelled him to run from her as the mutuality of their feelings began to flourish.  This beast reared its ugly head again when they met by chance twenty years later.  It is not until sharing his story with his nephew that John faces his inner demons and is able to release them.

Irina Dvorovenko & Tony Yazbeck
Photo courtesy of Vineyard Theatre
Peter Friedman beautifully takes the audience through John Marcher’s story, facing the truth in the climax of the play.  Tony Yazbeck plays the young John Marcher as the story of his early years is told through dance.  Mr. Yazbeck is vulnerable and charming in this role.  His physical characterization and dance skills are strong and charismatic.  His transformation superbly reflects Mr. Friedman’s character.  Irina Dvorovenko is a beautiful match to Mr. Yazbeck.  She is an amazing dancer.  They connect and build a genuine relationship that carries the action of the story forward.

Photo courtesy of Vineyard Theatre
Susan Stroman uses an ensemble of six women to play numerous roles and create the setting and atmosphere of a beach in Italy, and English garden, and a New York City art gallery.  These six phenomenal dancers appear out of the darkness and create smooth transitions throughout the show.  They create the “beast” with a few simple and well-choreographed effects that evoke powerful images representing the main character’s deep-seeded fear.

John Kander’s score is lush and romantic.  Ms. Stroman’s choreography utilizes his rhythms and enhances the passionate swell in his score.  The Beast in the Jungle has been extended at Vineyard Theatre through June 24.  It is beautiful storytelling. 

Domenick Danza


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Love & Intrigue


Love & Intrigue
Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia
BAM Harvey Theater
June 9, 2018

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music
The Maly Drama Theatre’s production of Love & Intrigue is being presented at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Direct from St. Petersburg, Russia, this German play by Friedrich Schiller has been translated into Russian by Nikolay Liubimov.  The play runs two hours and twenty minutes without intermission, and is performed with English subtitles.  Directed and adapted by Lev Dodin, the production is brilliantly conceived and passionately performed.

President Von Walter (played by Igor Ivanov) arranged for his son Ferdinand (played by Danila Kozlovsky) to marry Lady Milford (played by Ksenya Rappoport).  Frustrating the President’s selfish plan for this political marriage is the fact that Ferdinand has fallen in love with Luise Miller (played by Elizaveta Boyarskaya), the daughter of a common and poor music teacher.  The President’s secretary, Wurm (played by Igor Chernevich), comes up with a plan to destroy the relationship between Ferdinand and Louise, and gain the virtuous Louise’s affections for himself.  The plan successfully destroys Ferdinand’s trust and the lives of Louise’s family, but not the love between them.

Photo courtesy of BAM Harvey Theater &
 Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia
If this story sounds familiar it’s because it is the play on which Giuseppe Verdi based his opera, Luisa Miller.  Much like in that work, the play draws a clear distinction of societal class structure.  Since playwright Friedrich Schiller was also a philosopher, the play makes a strong statement about how the freedom to love from the heart is more powerful than arrangements of love for political purposes and social gain.  In this production this theme is physically and emotionally illustrated through the characters of Luise and Lady Milford.  Ksenya Rappoport portrays Lady Milford as smooth and cunning, seducing her way into positions of power.  Elizaveta Boyarskaya’s portrayal of Louise is genuine and strong, confidently standing on her integrity and true to her word.

Photo courtesy of BAM Harvey Theatre &
Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia
Igor Ivanov’s character of President Von Walter is commanding, determined and unwavering.  Igor Chernevich plays Wurm as weak and conniving, deceitfully earning his place in society.  These are the men who win in the end, yet it is a tragic defeat for virtue and truth.  Danila Kozlovsky is bold, romantic, and passionate as Ferdinand.  He is willing to give up his inheritance and position for love, yet his fragile ego overwhelms his better judgement. 

This production is romantic, poetic, and vigorous.  It will draw you in and play on your emotions.  Love & Intrigue is playing at BAM Harvey Theater through June 16.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Skintight


Skintight
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre
June 2, 2018

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Joshua Harmon’s new play, Skintight, is currently being produced by Roundabout Theatre Company.  The play makes profound statements about beauty, aging, and acceptance.  The characters are uniquely drawn and skillfully developed.  By creating characters in a wide range of ages, Mr. Harmon is able to present multiple points of view on his theme.  Director Daniel Aukin finds the rhythm of each character and uses the variations to build the conflict in the story.

Idina Menzel & Eli Gelb in rehearsal
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Jodi (played by Idina Menzel) makes a surprise visit to her world famous fashion designer father, Elliot Isaac (played by Jack Wetherall), on his seventieth birthday.  She knows her father does not like surprises, but she is in need of quality family time because her ex-husband just became engaged to a twenty year old.  She proclaims her disgust in his obsession over youth and beauty.  She then meets her father’s twenty year old boyfriend, Trey (played by Will Brittain).  The conflict rises when Jodi’s twenty year old son, Benjamin (played by Eli Gelb) arrives.  At first his spoiled, privileged attitude puts everyone on edge, until his attraction toward Trey creates a bigger problem.

The character of Elliot Isaac has a beautifully written monologue near the end of Act II that speaks of love and his attraction to Trey.  Jack Wetherall openly delivers it with sincerity and heart.  Idina Menzel portrays his daughter Jodi’s unacceptance of this explanation of “love” with powerful passive resistance.  She calls it “lust” and speaks of seeking the deeper joys in life.  Her character’s inability to accept her own aging is clearly reflected in her distaste for her father’s choices.

The Director, Cast, & Playwright of Skintight
Photo by Walter McBride
Courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Will Brittain plays Trey as a man comfortable in his own skin.  This is beautifully juxtaposed by Eli Gelb’s portrayal of Benjamin’s awkward self-consciousness.  These two actors build the multilayers of their characters through Mr. Harmon’s well-crafted dialogue, revealing their intention and desires.  Act I ends with a cliff hanger as these two actors create a true moment of connectedness that is interrupted by the character of Elliot Isaac.

The split level set by Lauren Helpern is elegantly designed.  It illustrates the heightened sense of style on which the main character built his empire.  It also enhances the theme of the power in the attraction to beauty.  Jess Goldstein further carries this ideal in her costumes, which magnificently complement the color and line of the set.

Skintight is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through August 26.  The writing is excellent.  The characters are intriguing.  The themes are clear, bold, and relevant.

Domenick Danza

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dan Cody’s Yacht


Dan Cody’s Yacht
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage I
May 27, 2018

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Playwright Anthony Giardina takes a biting look at privilege in his play Dan Cody’s Yacht, presently being presented by Manhattan Theatre Club.  The characters take great risks that they say are for the benefit of their children, but in reality fulfill their own need.  Mr. Giardina builds his story by constantly raising the stakes and creating powerful conflicts between the characters.  Director Doug Hughes fires up the cast to develop genuine relationships and deliver visceral performances that leave you deep in thought.

When his son gets an F on his paper about The Great Gatsby, Kevin O’Neill (played by Rick Holmes) schedules a conference with his son’s high school English teacher, Ms. Russo (played by Kristen Bush).  Kevin has done his homework on Ms. Russo and found out that she is a single parent living in a poorer school district in a house that is in need of a new roof.  He offers her a cash incentive to raise his son’s grade.  She doesn’t take the bribe, but does accept his invitation to join his stock market investment club.  The thought of a new roof and better opportunities for her daughter pull her into a game that is far over her head, both economically and emotionally.

Kristen Bush & Rick Holmes
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Rick Holmes is slick and cunning as Kevin O’Neill.  He fast talks and seduces his way through every interaction, never fully revealing the hand he is playing.  Kristen Bush portrays Ms. Russo as firm in her standards and resolute in her social beliefs.  The minute she shows the smallest crack in her demeanor, Mr. Holmes slithers his way in.  The timing between these two actors builds into a strong relationship that drives the action of the play forward.

John Kroft & Casey Whyland
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
John Kroft plays Kevin O’Neill’s son, Connor, and Casey Whyland plays Ms. Russo’s daughter, Angela.  They are both superbly cast.  Connor’s privileged laziness is juxtaposed by Angela’s sharp wit and inner wisdom.  Their portrayals reflect an inner part of the characters of their parents.  Mr. Giardina makes very clear and potent statements about the upcoming generation in the identity of these two characters.  Wanting for more is not always first on their minds.  For some that is because it is handed over to them too easily, while others are simply happy with what they have.  Either way, this is fodder for robust conflict between what parents expect from their children and what their children want for themselves.

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Scenic design by John Lee Beatty brilliantly creates an even playing field between the economic variable among the characters.  The turntable spins from one location to another while the audience gets a glimpse at the inner emotional response of the characters as they walk in the alleyway that separates the sets.

Dan Cody’s Yacht is playing at New York City Center Stage I through July 8.  It is a fast paced, high stakes, and bold play that is very well produced by Manhattan Theatre Club.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Gentleman Caller


The Gentleman Caller
Abingdon Theatre Company
Cherry Lane Theater
May 26, 2018

Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company
Philip Dawkins’ play, The Gentleman Caller, had a very successful New York City debut with Abingdon Theatre.  Poetically written, the play chronicles the meetings between Tennessee Williams and William Inge in 1944.  Mr. Dawkins captures the unique voices of both well-known American playwrights.  The action of the play reveals the sensitivity and personal turmoil that drove the creativity, success, and emotional isolation of both men.

As the Arts Critic for a newspaper in St. Louis, William Inge (played by Daniel K. Isaac) meets with Tennessee Williams (played by Juan Francisco Villa) for an interview a few months before the Chicago opening of The Glass Menagerie.  Tennessee Williams has not yet tasted the success that is just ahead of him, and William Inge only dreams of becoming a playwright.  Their meeting is fraught with conflict.  Both men are heavy drinkers and highly attracted to one another.  Williams is excessively flamboyant and openly speaks his mind, while Inge is closeted and turned off by Williams’ brazen directness.  When they part, Inge gives Williams an early draft of his play to read. 

Juan Francisco Villa & Daniel K. Isaac
Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company
Their second meeting is a few months later, after The Glass Menagerie has opened in Chicago.  The conflict and attraction between the two men accelerates.  Inge confesses his overwhelming admiration for Williams.  Williams tells Inge that his play is brilliant and passes the script to his agent.  While Inge is invigorated by the opportunity to start his life over as a playwright, Williams warns him of the dark abyss that awaits him.

Daniel K. Isaac & Juan Francisco Villa
Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company
Juan Francisco Villa portrays Tennessee Williams as a vibrant, energetic, and brooding man who is very sure of himself.  He suffers from devastating mood swings, haunted by his sister Rose’s “madness” and his fear of following in her path.  Daniel K. Isaac portrays William Inge as introverted, fearful, and refined with no self-confidence or self-empowerment.  His despair leads him to attempt suicide before this second meeting with Williams.  Director Tony Speciale keeps the tension between these two fine actors building in both acts of the play, allowing the themes in Mr. Dawkins’ superb writing to rise and stand strong.  The ending of the play is powerful and heartbreaking, as you see the path of both men’s lives take a turn as a result of their meeting. 

Scenic design by Sarah C. Walsh is an outstanding combination of reality and impressionism.  Lighting by Zach Blane and original music and sound design by Christian Frederickson enhance the atmosphere of the setting and allows for introspective moments by both characters.

Unfortunately, the Abingdon Theatre production of The Gentleman Caller closed on May 26.  Keep your eyes and ears open for future productions of this play and additional works by playwright Philip Dawkins.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Long Day’s Journey Into Night


Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Bristol Old Vic
BAM Harvey Theater
May 12, 2018

Photo courtesy of Bristol Old Vic & Brooklyn Academy of Music
The Bristol Old Vic production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night is now playing at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  The cast is truly amazing, bringing new insight to Eugene O’Neill’s well-known characters.  Jeremy Irons masterfully plays James Tyrone and Lesley Manville vividly portrays his wife, Mary.  Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan set the stage ablaze as brothers Edmund and Jamie.  Jessica Regan is biting and sarcastic as Cathleen, their summer maid.  Directed by Sir Richard Eyre, this production brings vibrant depth and dimension to the tragic relationships depicted in this American classic.

The cast of Long Day's Journey Into Night
Photo courtesy of  Bristol Old Vic & Brooklyn Academy of Music
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical tragedy.  Not produced until after his death, it chronicles a day in the life of characters modeled after his family.  Each bares their soul, whether out of sorrow, jealousy, or spite, revealing the impetus of their individual downfall.  James Tyrone, a once admired matinee idol, is now aging and holding onto his glory days.  His son Jamie is his biggest disappointment.  Jamie both loves and hates his brother Edmund, who is sick with consumption and preparing to enter a sanitarium.  The most brutal of truths for all of them to face is that Mary, the matriarch of the family, is a morphine addict, overwhelmed by pain and regret, too far gone in denial to face the needs of her family.  Her line, “The past is the present… and it is also the future,” succinctly defines the despair in the hearts of all the characters.

Matthew Bears & Rory Keenan
Photo courtesy of Bristol Old Vic & Brooklyn Academy of Music
Lesley Manville, as Mary Tyrone, brilliantly slingshots from denial into the present moment with dangerous urgency.  Her performance is heartbreaking and genuine.  Jeremy Irons dominates the stage, as the character of James Tyrone requires.  He pulls the others characters into cohesiveness, making strong demands and setting excessive expectations that push them over the edge.  Rory Keenan portrays Jamie as robust and reactionary.  Matthew Bears’ Edmond is deeply introspective and sensitive.  The scene between these brothers in the latter portion of the play is emotionally riveting and dramatically impactful.  It heightens the sense of solitude and isolation each character confronts on a daily basis.

Lesley Manville, Set Design by Rob Howell
Photo courtesy of Bristol Old Vic & Brooklyn Academy of Music
Fast paced from the start, these actors embody the work of Eugene O’Neill for three hours and twenty minutes, unearthing heart wrenching layers of truth.  The set, designed by Rob Howell, has transparent walls that allow the action of each scene to be enveloped by the sunrise, the sunset, and eventually disappear into the fog.  Long Day’s Journey Into Night is playing at BAM Harvey Theater through May 27.   

Domenick Danza