Sunday, March 8, 2020

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
March 7, 2019

Photo courtesy of The New Group
The New Group production of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a nostalgic throwback to the time of free love and sexual liberation.  Jonathan Marc Sherman’s book explores the four title characters from the Columbia motion picture.  Duncan Sheik’s music captures the time period and surrounds the audience in a sublime and tranquil atmosphere.  Lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Amanda Green are a perfect balance intellectual and quirky.

When Bob (played by Joél Pérez) and his wife Carol (played by Jennifer Damiano) attend a therapeutic encounter weekend, they return fully in touch with their feelings.  Carol’s enlightenment becomes evident when Bob admits that he cheated on her and she does not feel jealous.  She in turn explores her sexual freedom by playing around with a tennis pro.  Their friends, Ted (played by Michael Zegen) and Alice (played by Ana Nogueira), find Bob and Carol’s sexual awakening a little startling.  Carol is very uptight, and Ted doesn’t push.  When Ted goes out of town for a convention, he follows Bob’s example and cheats on Alice.  She retaliates by suggesting the two couples sleep together.  This creates a surprising turnaround for all four of them.

Jennifer Damian, Joél Pérez, Ana Nogueira, & Michael Zegen
Photo courtesy of The New Group
Joél Pérez and Jennifer Damiano play the groovy, hip Bob and Carol with a flawless tongue-in-cheek humor.  Their timing is smooth and their connection is truthful.  Ana Nogueira is sharp and witty as Alice.  She and Michael Zegen play off one another very well.  The bickering between their characters is humorous, while their bond is genuine and strong.  Suzanne Vega plays the character of the Band Leader, transitioning the action with subtle humor and stylistic vocals. 

Scenic design by Derek McLane and costumes by Jeff Mahshie beautifully evoke the time period.  Director Scott Elliott pulls together every detail, creating genuine moments in this highly stylized environment.  Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is playing at The Pershing Square Signature Center through March 22.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, March 1, 2020

72 Miles to Go…

72 Miles to Go…
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre
February 29, 2019

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
72 Miles to Go… is the story of an American family.  Playwright Hilary Bettis writes characters you enjoy getting to know.  You care about their feelings throughout the ninety-minute play.  You grow with them over the course of the eight-year story.  You continue to hope for their well being after the show is over.

Eva (played by Jacqueline Guillén) is starting her senior year of high school.  She is worried that her brother, Aaron (played by Tyler Alvarez), will be picked on during his freshman year.  Aaron is upset that his older brother, Christian (played by Bobby Moreno), did not come home last night.  He is a bad driver.  They are all relieved when Christian shows up with a box of donuts for Aaron’s first day of high school and find out he spent the night at his girlfriend’s.  Their father, Billy (played by Triney Sandoval), wants to cook them all breakfast, but first they call their mother, Anita (played by Maria Elena Ramirez).  She was departed to Mexico.  She applied for re-entry and promises Eva that she will be home by graduation day.  When Anita’s application for re-entry is denied, Billy unsuccessfully attempts to smuggle her back home.  The consequences of this are felt by the all of them.  No matter what challenge they face, this family is held together by an indestructible bond of love.

Bobby Moreno & Tyler Alvarez
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Each scene builds to truthful, powerful moments between the characters, and this cast skillfully succeeds at delivering every one of them.  Their challenges are real and their troubles are great, yet these characters persevere.  Each actor builds their character on a foundation of hope and belief.  It drives every scene.  It keeps the audience connected and engaged.

Jo Bonney masterfully directs this touching and timely story that brings awareness to the facts and fears families face within our communities on a daily basis.  72 Miles to Go… is playing at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre through May 3.

Domenick Danza

Friday, February 21, 2020

Paradise Lost
Fellowship for Performing Arts
Theatre Row
February 20, 2019

Photo courtesy of Fellowship for Performing Arts
The Fellowship for Performing Arts production of Paradise Lost is visually stunning and skillfully performed.  Tom Dulack’s writing, inspired by John Milton’s poem, conjures the Garden of Eden and the depths of hell.  Director Michael Parva has given creative space for six outstanding actors to develop captivating characters and bring this biblical story to life.

Lucifer (played by David Andrew Macdonald) loses his battle with God and falls from heaven.   With him are his Lieutenant, Beelzebub (played by Lou Liberatore), and thousands of fallen angels.  Lucifer comes up with a plan to regain his position.  He needs to enter Paradise and corrupt God’s creation.  Lucifer’s daughter/wife, Sin (played by Alison Fraser), holds the key to the gates of hell, and pushes Lucifer to enact his plan.  Lucifer visits Eve (played by Marina Shay) in her dreams.  Archangel Gabriel (played by Mel Johnson Jr.) warns Adam (played by Robbie Simpson) of Lucifer’s presence and power.  Eve is blind sighted by her lust for knowledge.  Adam is overtaken by his love for Eve.  They succumb to Lucifer’s plan.

Lou Liberatore & David Andrew Macdonald
Photo courtesy of Fellowshop for Perfroming Arts
David Andrew Macdonald portrays Lucifer with a menacing presence, while Lou Liberatore and Alison Fraser deliver the laughs that break the tension.  Robbie Simpson and Marina Shay embody the innocence of Adam and Eve.  Their enthusiasm and joy are genuine.  Their bond is sincerely depicted.  Mel Johnson Jr. grounds the scenes in the Garden of Eden, giving balance to the presence of Lucifer.  These six actors masterfully seize the audience’s attention.  Their skillful depiction of these character brings high value to the production.

Scenic design by Harry Feiner is magnificent.  It is brought to life through Phil Monat’s lighting and John Narun’s brilliant projection design.  Paradise Lost is playing at Theatre Row through March 1.

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Rules of Desire
 Playroom Theater
 February 17, 2019

Photo courtesy of Rules of Desire
William Mastrosimone’s play Rules of Desire is a brutally honest play about the struggle for power.  The Off-Broadway production, directed by William Roudebush, is bold and direct.  The cast of three deliver strong performances of a play that pushes the audience past their comfort zone to make a powerful statement.

When Seaman Matt Cotton (played by Tristan Biber) sneaks his girlfriend, Felicia (played by McKenna Harrington) on board his ship, he is discovered by his superior (played by Christopher Sutton).  An unconventional arrangement is made to keep them both out of trouble.  When the rules of desire are broken, the power shifts in a surprising and shocking manner.

McKenna Harrington & Tristan Biber
Phtoso courteys of Rules of Desire
Mr. Mastrosimone keeps the tension building all the way through to the play’s startling conclusion.  His dialogue keeps the conflict on a constant rise, creating strong dramatic action and riveting the audience’s attention.  McKenna Harrington plays her scenes with an unnerving composure that causes explosive reaction from the male characters. One skillfully timed smile gives the audience a glimpse into her character's underlying thoughts.  Tristan Biber and Christopher Sutton’s characters are boldly written, and crumble under pressure.  These two actors portray vulnerable men who hide their weaknesses behind machismo and bravado.  The three actors play off one another very well, which is vital to this play’s effectiveness.

Rules of Desire is playing at Playroom Theater on West 46th Street through March 21.

Domenick Danza

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Transport Group
Abrons Arts Center
February 16, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Transport Group
The Transport Group is producing a new version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown with new book and lyrics by Dick Scanlon.  It tells a more truthful version of the life of the title character, focusing on her political and philanthropic causes.  Meredith Wilson's music is beautifully adapted by Michael Rafter.  Kathleen Marshall both directs and choreographs, keeping the action moving and the stage pictures vibrant.

Margaret “call me Molly” Tobin (played by Beth Malone) is headed to her dream life in Denver, but instead winds up in Leadville, a small silver mining town in Colorado.  She befriends Julia (played by Whitney Bashor), who lost her husband to a mining accident and is expecting a baby.  Molly decides to stay in Leadville until spring and help Julia with the baby.  She is courted by J.J. Brown (played by David Aron Damane), who gives her everything she longs for: a red silk dress, cups that match the saucers, books to read, and a brass bed.  They marry and have two children.  When the United States switches to the gold standard, the silver mine becomes worthless.  Molly encourages her husband to mine for gold.  He is successful, and they build a mansion in Denver.  Molly is never fully accepted into Denver Society, so she turn her attention to helping the less fortunate.  When the miners decide to form a union, Molly fights with them against her husband, causing a rift in her marriage.  Molly flees to Europe when her marriage crumbles.  She returns upon hearing of her husband’s illness, and survives the sinking of the Titanic.

In Rehearsal: Alex Gibson, Paolo Montalban, Beth Malone,
 Omar Lopez-Cepero, & Kevin Quillon
Photo courtesy of The Transport Grouop
Beth Malone is a powerhouse as Molly Brown.  You cannot take your eyes off her.  Her energy is high, her heart is big, and her singing voice is remarkable.  David Aron Damane balances her perfectly as J.J. Brown.  He has a commanding presence, a gentle demeanor, and a rich singing voice.  Together they are magic, creating a truthful, loving relationship that carries the story forward. 

The cast and ensemble are phenomenal with strong performances from Whitney Bashan, Alex Gibson, Omar Lopez-Cepero, and Paola Montalban.  The Unsinkable Molly Brown is playing at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side through March 22.

Domenick Danza

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Perplexed

The Perplexed
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage I
February 15, 2019

Photo courtesy of Manhattam Theatre Club
“Two households, both alike in dignity… from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean… From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-cross’d lovers…”  Those well-known opening lines from William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet are the premise for Richard Greenberg’s play The Perplexed.  He uses this classic conflict to unearth two families’ dark pasts on the day of their children’s wedding.  The Manhattan Theatre Club production brings together a stellar cast who deliver laughs and poignant moments.  This supposedly happy occasion starts an unraveling of secrets that quickly gets out of control.

It is the wedding day of Isabelle (played by Tess Frazer) and Caleb (played by JD Taylor).  They were best friends as toddlers, then a chance meeting on a subway platform reunited them and started their romance.  The wedding is an elaborate affair taking place at Isabelle’s grandfather’s 5th Avenue home, which includes a golden ballroom that can host a large crowd of people neither Isabelle nor Caleb have ever met.  Isabelle’s mother, Evy (played by Margaret Colin), is not too happy about the wedding.  There is a history of bad blood between her and Caleb’s mother, Natalie (played by Ilana Levine).  The focus of the day shifts when Isabelle’s brother, Micah (played by Zane Pais), is outed as a porn star.  His father, Joseph (played by Frank Wood), is distant with his son over this issue.  When long-kept family secrets are revealed, a strong bond between father and son is created.  A chance for this couple’s happiness emerges when Caleb steps up and takes action in an unconventional manner.

Tess Frazer & JD Taylor
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Cluc
Truthful moments rise to the surface amid the sarcastic humor, roller coaster of emotions, and underlying family pressure.  Mr. Greenberg skillfully crafts these in his writing, and Director Lynne Meadow successfully focuses the audience’s attention on them.  These scenes are memorable, honest, and, at times, heartbreaking.  Frank Wood is captivating in these moments.   His portrayal of Joseph, father of the bride, is riveting.  He recounts his emotional abuse at the hand of his father, then takes a stand, something he has never been able to do before.  Margaret Colin is commanding as Evy, mother of the bride.  Her characters creates the through line of action for the play, and Ms. Colin does a masterful job of maintaining the audience’s attention and admiration.  There are also strong performances from Patrick Breen and Eric William Morris.

The scenic design by Santo Loquasto stunningly depicts the extravagant library of a wealthy 5th Avenue residence with secret nooks for eavesdropping, which are used to advance the intrigue.  The Perplexed is playing at New York City Center Stage I through March 29.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Anatomy of a Suicide

Anatomy of a Suicide
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
February 1, 2019

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide is an intense masterwork.  It examines the traumatic effects associated with the suicide of a loved one.  It is a compelling work that requires detailed timing and hyper awareness from every cast member.  There are three story lines taking place simultaneously.  Director Lileana Blain-Cruz guides the focus of the audience, maintaining a clear through line of action in this complex structure.  The Atlantic Theater Company intently brings all the elements together in this mesmerizing production.

The Full Company of "Anatomy of a Suicide"
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
First, we meet Carol (played by Carla Gugino) who is being picked up at a hospital by her husband, John (played by Richard Topol).  We find out that Carol unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  While this scene is taking place, we meet Anna (played by Celeste Arias), who is trying to scam drugs from a friend who works in a hospital.  In the next set of overlapping scenes we meet Bonnie (played by Gabby Beans).  She is an emergency room nurse with a strong ability to disengage emotionally.  As we follow the stories of these three women, we gradually understand their relationship.  What unravels is an intimate comprehension of the trauma passed down through generations by a mother’s suicide.

Playwright Alice Birch
Photo courtesy of Alice Birch
Playwright Alice Birch creates curiosity in the beginning of the play by building a sense of mystery and suspense.  The timing of the revelation of facts to piece the story together is perfect.  Just as a question forms in your head, the answer unfolds, as well as a new question and the desire to know more.  This is how she pulls you into the brutally emotional reality of the characters.  With three story lines playing concurrently, you need to step back in order to focus and follow.  This creates an emotional distance.  It is through this distance that we are able to safely engage in the gravity of the events without being overwhelming by their intensity.  This is where director Lileana Blaine-Cruz’s skillful ability to keep the audience’s attention focused is most vital.  There are a number of dark moments, yet the sense of hope is always present in at least one element or character in each scene.

The cast of ten is truly phenomenal.  They dive deep into the souls of their characters, riding the rhythm of Ms. Birch’s dialogue and delivering one truthful moment after another.  Anatomy of a Suicide is playing at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater through March 15.  It is brilliantly written, expertly directed, and skillfully performed.

Domenick Danza