Sunday, December 9, 2018

American Son


American Son
Booth Theatre
December 8, 2018

Photo courtesy of American Son
In his play, American Son, playwright Christopher Demos-Brown brings emotional depth and a broader perspective to the harsh realities of our present day social struggle and racial divide.  Director Kenny Leon builds the dramatic tension while the main characters revisit the misunderstandings and betrayals in their marriage during a highly vulnerable event.  The distance between this newly separated husband and wife starts with the difference in their race and upbringing, then shift to their egos, deep rooted fears, and unfulfilled expectations.  Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale are both riveting, delivering truthful performances grounded in a genuine sense of connection.   

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, & Jeremy Jordan
Photo courtesy of American Son
It is 4:00 AM in a police station in Miami, Florida.  Kendra (played by Kerry Washington) is waiting, impatient, and emotionally drained.  Officer Paul Larkin (played by Jeremy Jordan) enters and informs her that he has no news on the whereabouts of her son Jamal, but can verify that his car was in a reported incident.  Protocol demands that she wait for the arrival of Lieutenant Stokes (played by Eugene Lee) for further information.  When Kendra’s husband, Scott (played by Steven Pasquale) shows up, Officer Larkin mistakes him for Lieutenant Stokes and proceeds to fill him in on the case.  Scott’s bureaucratic handling of the situation sends Kendra further into hysterics and generates arguments about their failed marriage and the raising of their son.  When Scott’s brother texts him a link to a video of a local police shooting, they become seriously concerned about Jamal’s well-being.

Kerry Washington & Steven Pasquale
Photo courtesy of American Son
Kerry Washington delivers a monologue in the first half of the show that exposes the deeply rooted fear her character has been unable to get her arms around since the birth of her son.  This is a powerful and truthful moment, and Ms. Washington delivers it with genuine passion.  Steven Pasquale’s response to this monologue succinctly illustrates the distance between the two characters.  It is not until there is evidence that their son could be in serious danger that his character rises to the realities of the situation and exposes his vulnerability.  The richness in Mr. Pasquale’s performance is found in the juxtaposition of his reserve and unanticipated emotional outburst.  These two actors vividly portray the unknown elements that exist between two people in a long term relationship, as well as the bond that unites them forever.   

Eugene Lee’s Lieutenant Stokes takes immediate control upon his arrival and brings a perspective to the situation that expands and deepens the truth and thematic strength of the play.  This is where playwright Christopher Demos-Brown transports the emotionally driven story into broader complexity, challenging your sense of right and wrong and presenting themes that strike the heart of every audience member.

American Son is a well written, well directed, and timely piece of theatre.  The performances are very worth seeing.  The ending is impactful and unexpected.  It is running at the Booth Theatre through January 27.  

Domenick Danza

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Days of Rage


Days of Rage
Second Stage Theater
Tony Kiser Theater
November 24, 2018

Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
What happened to the ideals of the youth of America?  Where is the revolutionary spirit that wasn’t afraid to stand up and protest against an unjust war?  Playwright Steven Levenson takes us back to that time with Days of Rage, now completing a successful run at Second Stage Theater.  It is 1969 in Ithaca, New York, and a handful of college dropouts form a collective to join the revolution for change in America.  Director Trip Cullman finds the perfect pace to tell this powerful and vital story, fueled by the angst of the time period.

While Jenny (played by Lauren Patten) is handing out leaflets and trying to motivate college students to join a protest in Chicago, she meets Hal (played by J. Alphonse Nicholson).  She tries to recruit him, until he reveals that his manager sent him out to ask her to move away from the front of their store before he calls the police.  She returns to the collective house she shares with Spence (played by Mike Faist) and Quinn (played by Odessa Young) to discuss the bleak outcome of their recruitment efforts and their financial difficulties.  The next day Hal tracks Jenny down to continue their political discussion and explore their personal connection.  Spence meets Peggy (played by Tavi Gevinson) who is eager to join the collective.  Spence is hesitant to bring her back to the house, but she has something they are in desperate need of, $2,000 cash.  After two of their friends who left the collective house are killed in a bombing attempt, the group is followed by men they believe to be FBI.  Their trust in one another and dedication toward their political beliefs are put into question.

Lauren Patten & Mike Faist
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
All five of the actors are phenomenal.  Their chemistry is electric and their timing is impeccable.  Lauren Patten portrays Jenny's intensity with clear determination.  She is driven by the optimism of her ideals, yet torn by the changing focus and violent direction of the collective.  Mike Faist delivers some of the comic relief with brilliant timing and quick wit.  Odessa Young’s Quinn is dark and brooding, while Tavi Gevinson upsets the norm with rebellious blabber and a hidden secret.  J. Alphonse Nicholson is grounding and rational as Hal, offering the other characters a different perspective on the truth.
  
Odessa Young & Tavi Gevinson
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
In the final scene Spence and Quinn offer a glimpse into the future as they prepare for the Chicago protest.  They see the world moving forward without much improvement and their rebellious efforts turning into fabled stories they pass onto the next generation.  Question: What purpose do their “days of rage” serve?  Answer: To raise a voice that incites action and keeps the world continually moving forward is a constant necessity, regardless of the outcome.

Days of Rage is a powerful play about the values of raising our voices and how the past propels into the future.  This extraordinary Second Stage Theater production closes on November 25.    

Domenick Danza

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Classic Stage Company
November 17, 2018

Photo courtesy of Classic Stage Company
This is an ideal time for a revisit of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, and the Classic Stage Company production hits every mark in this political parable.  The Brecht style and utilization of theatre as a vehicle for strong social commentary is heightened in this production by actors changing hats to portray numerous roles and side glances to the audience to acknowledge their presence.  Under the direction of John Doyle this amazing cast finds the poetic timing of Brecht’s writing to incite humor, identification, and outrage.  

Bertolt Brecht wrote The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui after escaping Germany in 1933.  The play parallels Hitler’s rise to power with that of Brooklyn-born Chicago gangster, Arturo Ui (played by Raul Esparza).  He offers protection to the grocery industry by inciting fear in an unknown enemy.  He them proves the presence of this fictional enemy by having his goons burn down a warehouse.  This action is a reference to the burning down of the Reichstag in 1933, which brought Hitler and the Nazi Party to a powerful public position.  Arturo Ui trains himself to have the public persona he knows he needs to gain power with the working class.  Once this is achieved, he is able to rise to greater self-serving heights.

Raul Esparza as Arturo Ui
Photo courtesy of Classic Stage Company
Raul Esparza displays an amazing range of skill in his portrayal of Arturo Ui.  His character yearns for power and transforms to achieve it.  His vocal characterization goes from nasal and comic to bold and powerful.  His physicalization changes from timid and flippant to magnetic and controlling.  He embodies the power as it shapes his identity.  He takes ownership it, and fully believes it is part of him.  His performance is riveting and inspiring.  You cannot take your eyes off him.  

From the Classic Stage Company electronic program notes: “The play is a parable in which Brecht demonstrates, through satire and high drama, how mundane irrationality can lead to an inhumane and barbaric government."  This is a powerful message for our time, and the cast works as a tight ensemble to deliver it with full impact.  Each actor (George Abud, Eddie Cooper, Elizabeth A. Davis, Christopher Gurr, Omoze Idehenre, Mahira Kakkar, and Thom Sesma) creates distinctive characters that are genuinely layered in truthful detail. 

Raul Esparza & Eddie Copper
Photo courtesy of Classic Stage Company
The purpose of a parable is to simplify a complex situation and offer perspective for deeper and clearer understanding.  The Classic Stage Company production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui does that to perfection.  Don’t miss this timely production.  It is running through December 22.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Marnie


Marnie
The Met Live in HD
Brooklyn Academy of Music
November 10, 2018

Photo courtesy of Met Live in HD
& the Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera production of Nico Muhly’s Marnie was part of the Met Live in HD series at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  I have been attending these broadcasts a few times each season over the past few years.  I don’t post on this blog about them because, although I am learning about opera and beginning to follow the different singers, I don’t have enough expertise to comment on it as an art form.  However, under to the direction of Michael Mayer and with choreography by Lynne Page, this production contains sharp theatrical elements that dramatize the psychological layers of the main character to tell an intensely complex story that I very much want to share.

Based on the novel by Winston Graham, which is the same source material as the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock move starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, the main character has a dark, hidden secret that causes her to take on different personas and run from the truth.  The role of Marnie is performed by Isabel Leonard.  She captures the mystery of the role and uses it to propel the action forward.  The character’s inner world is dark and haunted.  There are four women on stage at various times representing different parts of her personality, as well as an ensemble of male dancers representing the dark forces pulling her in different directions.  The magnificent collaboration between Nico Muhly, Michael Mayer, and Lynne Page is evident in these moments.  They brilliantly illustrate the inner world of the character.  Alfred Hitchcock believed that suspense is created when the audience is aware of the ticking bomb that can explode at any time.  These moments create that tension and engage the audience in caring for the main character.  They are powerful, stylistic, genuine, and clear. 

Christopher Maltman, Isabel Leonard, & the dark figures
of Marnie's inner world
Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera
The role of Terry Rutland (Sean Connery’s role from the Hitchcock movie) is played by Christopher Maltman.  He and Ms. Leonard are phenomenal together.  Their chance meeting during the opening scene is tender and sincere.  The tension between their characters builds throughout the two acts of the opera.  As the intrigue builds, they become tightly bonded through fear and lies, which all falls away as they face the truth in the end.

Michael Mayer’s versatility as a director is truly amazing.  Among other outstanding projects, he has directed the edgy Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the over the top Head Over Heels, and this dark, psychological dramatic opera.  He is highly skilled at finding and balancing the proper ingredients to tell the story in the best, most effective way possible.

Isabel Leonard as Marnie
surrounded by the images that haunt her inner world
Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera
I highly recommend attending the Met Live in HD broadcasts at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  There is always a speaker an hour before the broadcast who shares information about the art form, composer, and background on the production that frames the experience so you can enjoy it and learn how to watch and listen.  The benefits of the Met Live in HD broadcasts are the close-ups of the singers and intimate scenes, the subtitles, and the backstage interviews during the intermissions.  Whether you see one of the classic well-known titles or a new production like this one, Met Live in HD is a great introduction to the world of opera at a very reasonable ticket price.  It is an amazing world to disappear into on a Saturday afternoon. 

Domenick Danza

Monday, November 5, 2018

School Girls; or, The African Mean Girl Play


School Girls;
or, The African Mean Girl Play
MCC Theater
Lucille Lortel Theatre
November 4, 2018

Photo courtesy of MCC THeater
Jealousy, vicious competitiveness, and petty territorialism seem to be world-wide values, or so one can conclude after watching MCC Theater’s production of School Gris; or, The African Mean Girl Play.  Playwright Jocelyn Bioh tells the story of a tight-knit group of high school girls attending a boarding school in central Ghana.  When a new girl is admitted into the school at the start of their senior year, the balance of power is thrown into a tailspin.  Rebecca Taichman directed this amazing group of actors, creating strong bonds in a well-timed, fast-paced, high stakes atmosphere.

Paulina (played by Maameyaa Boafo) is the leader of her small group of friends at Aburi Girls Boarding School.  The year is 1986, and they are all excited for the arrival of the recruiter for the Miss Ghana Pageant.  Paulina’s loyal followers tell her she is sure to be chosen, until Ericka (played by Joanna A. Jones) arrives.  She is a transfer student from the United States.  Her father is one of the richest men in Ghana.  Immediately, Paulina feels threatened and forces Nana (played by Abena Mensah-Bonsu) to steal Ericka’s file from the Headmistress’ office to gather the details she needs to ruin her.  All hell breaks loose when the recruiter arrives.  Tempers are lost, and deals are made, leaving the girls to wonder if it was all worth the trouble in the end.

Joanna A. Jones & Maameyaa Boafo
Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
Maameyaa Boafo portrays Paulina with forceful swagger and sass, masking insurmountable insecurity.  When her truth is revealed, you cannot help but feel for her, even though she exhibited cruel and heartless behavior toward her friends.  Joanna A. Jones is sweet, kind, and likeable as Ericka.  Her generous spirit hides her secrets, yet her actions in the end reveal her true self.

Abena Mensah-Bonsu, Mirirai Sithole, & Page Guilbert
Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
The ensemble cast has an amazing chemistry. The school girl characters created by Latoya Edwards (Anne), Paige Gilbert (Gifty), Abena Mensah-Bonsu (Nana), and Mirirai Sithole (Mercy) are distinct, sincere, relatable, and each flawed in their own way.  Myra Lucretia Taylor is loving and firm as Headmistress Frances.  She is duly matched by Zenzi Williams as Eloise Amponsah, the Miss Ghana Pageant recruiter, who puts everyone’s integrity to the test.

MCC Theater remounted this production due to its tremendous success last season.  There is still time to see it.  School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play is playing at the Lucille Lortel theatre through December 9.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)


Thom Pain
(Based on Nothing)
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
November 3, 2018

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
The subtleties are astounding in Will Eno’s Thom Pain (Based on Nothing).  This play tells a captivating tale of loss of innocence, finding love, losing love, and maintaining hope.  Mr. Eno plays with words in this seventy-minute, one-character play that vividly depict the dichotomy of life’s journey.  His use of language brilliantly paints the landscape of emotion that floods the turning point events that define a life.  Director Oliver Butler seamlessly connects moment to moment, pulling truth to the surface of this distinctive theatrical work that is rich in subtext.

Michael C. Hall as Thom Pain
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Michael C Hall plays Thom Pain.  He starts out in the dark, trying to light a cigarette, telling the audience he is not ready to be seen in the light.  The lights abruptly come on.  He proceeds to tell the story of a young boy, innocent and playful, whose beloved pet dog is killed.  He separates himself from the emotion of the event, then goes on to tell of the loss of a woman he loved.  When he travels back to tell more of the story of the dog, we realize he is the young boy in the story.  He then tells of how he met her, the woman he loved and lost.  We understand the pain of his loss by the way he works to avoid addressing it, yet he cannot help embodying the person he has become because of it. 


Michael C. Hall, Will Eno, & Oliver Butler
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Mr. Hall talks directly to the audience, making direct eye contact with a number of individuals.  He maintains composure and distance, while engaging the packed house on an emotional level.  He evokes a sense of empathy from the audience.  Mr. Eno’s words, which are often intentional juxtaposed to the specific emotion he is encompassing, flow smoothly and resonate deeply from Mr. Hall.  He is direct and clear, while being aloof and subtle.  It is a masterful and genuine performance, ringing with truth and style.

The Signature Theatre production of Will Eno’s Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) is running at the Pershing Square Signature Center through December 2.  This play is a unique and intimate experience that will speak exclusively to each person who sees and hears it.  Don’t miss it! 
Domenick Danza


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Torch Song


Torch Song
Second Stage Theater
The Helen Hayes Theater
October 27, 2018

Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
I saw Torch Song Trilogy at what is now The Helen Hayes Theater thirty-five years ago.  I did not see Harvey Fierstein in the role of Arnold, but it was a memorable experience just the same.  What stands out for me watching the Second Stage Theater production of Torch Song, presently in previews on Broadway in the very same theater, is the writing.  Harvey Fierstein’s dialogue is astounding.  The way he unravels the action to reveal the depth of his characters is skillful and inspiring.  They state their hopes and dreams from the top of the show, then face their truths, fears, and obstacles to not only achieve them, but to accept them in the unexpected form in which they arrive.  Director Moises Kaufman has made the revisit of this phenomenal play a profound journey of hope, love, and self-respect.  

Michael Urie as Arnold
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
The play begins backstage in 1972 as Arnold (played by Michael Urie) is getting ready for a performance.  He is a drag queen.  He shares his secret wish, then he meets Ed (played by Ward Horton), the International Stud of his dreams.  Over the next ten years we see Arnold’s rough and rocky journey of making his dreams a reality.  Ed struggles with his sexuality and decides to marry Laurel (played by Roxanna Hope Radja).  Arnold’s young boyfriend Alan (played by Michael Hsu Rosen) is killed in a gay bashing incident outside their apartment.  Arnold faces his greatest emotional challenge when he confronts his mother (played by Mercedes Ruehl) and tells her he is adopting a gay teenager named David (played by Jack DiFalco).

Ward Horton, Jack DiFalco, Michael Urie, & Mercedes Ruehl
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Michael Urie’s Arnold is full of guts and heart.  It is a truly phenomenal performance.  His character grows over the duration of the play, yet he never loses his sense of humor.  This is Arnold’s core, how he copes, survives, and thrives.  Ward Horton delivers a fallible, flawed, and extremely likeable Ed, who never stops yearning for more, even at the expense of others who care deeply for him.  He and Mr. Urie are remarkable together.  Their relationship is full of fire and sincere understanding.

Mercedes Ruehl is sold and stoic as Mrs. Beckoff, Arnold’s mother.  The love she feels for her son is matched only by her inability to see past what she cannot relate to or accept.  The confrontation scenes between Ms. Ruehl and Mr. Urie are brutal, overflowing with honesty, and driven by the mutual need for acceptance and self-respect.

Roxanna Hope Radja, Ward Horton, Michael Urie,
& Michael Hsu Rosen
Photo courtesy of Second Stage theater
Jack DiFalco delivers hope as David, the soon to be adopted gay son of Arnold.  His optimism  and humor are infectious and drive each of his scenes.  Michael Hsu Rosen and Roxanna Hope Radja create genuine moments as Alan and Laurel during the “Fugue in a Nursery” scene before the intermission.  Their presence is strongly carried forward into the final act whenever they are referred to, even though they do not appear. 

This is a remarkable cast, brilliantly directed in a timeless piece of theatre.  Go see the Second Stage Production Torch Song at The Helen Hayes Theater for a good laugh… and a great cry. 
Domenick Danza