Sunday, April 22, 2018

St. Joan


St. Joan
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
April 21, 2018

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Condola Rashad is starring in George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan at Manhattan Theatre Club.  Ms. Rashad lights up the stage and reveals the vulnerable levels of this iconic character.  Her scenes passionately inspire others to take action and are then followed by truthful moments of emotional depth.  Scenic design by Scott Pask minimally creates a gothic atmosphere that effectively depicts 15th century England and France.  Director Daniel Sullivan finds the rhythmic humor in Shaw’s writing and allows it to surface when it is most needed and appreciated.

Adam Chandler-Berat & Condola Rashad
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
The year is 1429 and France has been at war with England for 90 years.  The Dauphin (played by Adam Chandler-Berat) has not been able to be crowned King of France due to the surrender and slaughter of French troops by England’s army.  A peasant girl, Joan (played by Condola Rashad), presents herself to the Dauphin as the messenger of God with the power and the ability to take back the French territory.  Joan wins over the Dauphin, the Archbishop (played by John Glover), and Dunois (played by Daniel Sunjata), who assists her in attacking the English army.  They are victorious and the Dauphin is subsequently crowned King Charles VII.  England captures Joan as she tries to win back Paris.  The Church finds her guilty of heresy.  Almost five hundred years later, she is canonized a saint by the same Church that burned her as a heretic.

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
There are strong performances by John Glover, Adam Chandler-Berat, Daniel Sunjata, and a full cast of commanding Broadway actors.  The scenes between the royal courts of England, France, and the Church are full of conflict as they debate Joan’s voices, actions, and victories.  They need to categorize her as a traitor, soldier, witch, or heretic in order to justify her capture and execution.  These scenes clearly define the risk involved in her taking action and propel the plot forward by revealing the political dangers, yet through them I found myself waiting for Condola Rashad’s next entrance.  Naturally, the actor cast in the role of Joan needs to carry the show, and Ms. Rashad is truly captivating.  She delivers a majestic and powerful performance.  

Condola Rashad as St. Joan
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
The final scene of George Bernard Shaw’s play takes place twenty-five years after Joan’s death when she is acquitted of her conviction of heresy in a posthumous retrial.  In this scene the characters who either followed or doubted Joan comment on the effect her presence had on their lives.  This is Mr. Shaw’s finest scene of the play.  It offers a chance for the audience to reflect on the historic and religious accounts in his writing.  Because of this scene the audience leaves with a more personal and impactful understanding of the significant facts and spiritual beliefs.

St. Joan is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through June 10.  Condola Rashad’s performance is not to be missed.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, April 8, 2018

King Lear


King Lear
Royal Shakespeare Company
BAM Harvey Theatre
April 7, 2018

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music
& Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear, now playing at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is not to be missed.  This phenomenal company of actors, under the direction of Gregory Doran, boldly tells this tragic tale of family loyalty and personal honor.  The events are clearly woven and build to a sweeping and passionate conclusion.  The set and costume design by Niki Turner is dark and majestic.  It satiates the expansive space of BAM’s Harvey Theatre with stark and stunning, emotion-filled shapes and images.

King Lear (played by Antony Sher) decides to divide his kingdom and distribute it to his three
Antony Sher as King Lear
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music
& Royal Shakespeare Company
daughters.  He first asks each of them to declare their love for him.  His eldest daughter, Goneril (played by Nia Gwynne) glibly professes words of loyalty and devotion.  His second daughter, Regan (played by Kelly Williams) cunningly tops her sister’s proclamation.  His youngest and favorite daughter, Cordelia (played by Mimi Ndiweni), seeing through the veil in her sisters’ sentiments, does not reply.  This breaks the heart of the king.  He immediately disowns her, sharing his kingdom between his two “loyal” daughters.  When the Earl of Kent (played by Antony Byrne) speaks in defense of Cordelia, he is banished.  Meanwhile, Edmund (played by Paapa Essiedu), the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester (played by David Troughton), is plotting against his father and half-brother, Edgar (played by Oliver Johnstone).  When Goneril and Regan turn their backs on King Lear, he leaves the court out of contempt to them both.  While on his journey, he descends into madness as he faces his sadness, flaws, and wrong doings.  Edmund joins Goneril and Regan to gain power over the kingdom, as Cordelia finds her father and tries to nurse him back to health.  Unfortunately, they are all too steeped in dishonor to be redeemed.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music
In King Lear William Shakespeare launches a highly complex plot with varieties and layers of family betrayal.  The play clearly illustrates powerful themes of how love and loyalty are deeper than mere words and trifling action.  The older characters (Lear and Gloucester) are easily swayed by declarations of loyalty from their children and followers.  Their dependents (Goneril, Regan, and Edgar) know how to manipulate this need to gain favor and power from their superiors.  The younger characters (Cordelia and Edmund) do not partake in duplicitous gesture, yet stand on their own integrity and speak from their hearts.  These family stories of love and betrayal are timeless and, although told through royalty, universal.  The fall from grace in the royal family makes the tragedy highly dramatic, but no less poignant.

This production is magnificently conceived and superbly delivered.  King Lear is playing at the BAM Harvey Theatre through April 29.  Go see it!

Domenick Danza

Friday, April 6, 2018

Travesties


Travesties
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
April 5, 2018

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Tom Stoppard’s Travesties is receiving a tremendous revival by Roundabout Theatre Company.  Director Patrick Marber is in sync with Mr. Stoppard’s rhythms and humor.  The cast magnificently delivers the bite in the sarcasm and the punch in the irony.  The political and social commentary is clear and relevant, and makes an even more impressive statement when you realize it was first performed in 1974.


Tom Hollander as Henry Carr
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Henry Carr (played by Tom Hollander) pieces together the stories from his younger days in 1918 after the war in Zurich, Switzerland.  First there was his acquaintance with Tristan Tzara (played by Seth Numrich), the Romanian radical free thinker who helped find the Dada movement.  Next was the meeting with James Joyce (played by Peter McDonald), while he was writing Ulysses.  Then there was his run-ins with Lenin (played by Dan Butler) at the local library.  The discourse over revolution, socialism, art for art’s sake, and art for social commentary commands the air when these characters collide.  The comedy rises when Gwendolyn (played by Scarlett Strallen) and Cecily (played by Sara Topham) mistake the identities of Henry and Tristan.  This parallels the plot of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest, a play in which James Joyce convinces Henry to star in. 

Tom Hollander, Dan Butler, Patrick Kerr, Seth Numrich, & Patrick Marber
Photo courtesy of  Walter McBride, Broadway World,
& Roundabout Theatre Company 
Tom Hollander and Seth Numrich are mesmerizing as Henry Carr and Tristan Tzara.  Peter McDonald and Dan Butler boldly embody the characters of James Joyce and Lenin.  Patrick Kerr is underplayed perfection as Bennet, Henry Carr’s butler.  The entire cast works as a tight ensemble.  Their timing is impeccable.  Their physicalities are broad and energetic.  They bring light to Mr. Stoppard’s strong statements about art and humanity, which ring truthfully and vigorously.

The set design by Tim Hatley is full of surprises, allowing for numerous exit and entrance points and a wide variety of levels.  Lighting by Neil Austin is crisp and succinct, and greatly enhances the timing of the humor and the enthusiasm of the absurdity.

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
From the Roundabout Theatre Company program notes:  “A travesty is a ‘debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation’ of something; can also be defined as an artistic imitation of something in a ridiculously inappropriate style; Travesties is a travesty of The Importance of Being Ernest and other literary sources; characters in Travesties are travesties of the real people they are based on.”  This production sharply focuses on these four statements, bringing valuable insight to the purpose of art and how our involvement in it makes us human

Travesties is running at the American Airlines Theatre through June 17. 

Domenick Danza

Monday, April 2, 2018

This Flat Earth


This Flat Earth
Playwrights Horizons
April 1, 2018

Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Lindsey Ferrantino’s This Flat Earth is a powerful, emotional, and timely look at the effect of gun violence and school shootings on adolescents.  The Playwrights Horizons production is stunning.  Director Rebecca Taichman rhythmically builds the action of the scenes to gradually peel back the truths and realities of the characters.  Her cast is magnificent, each finding the heart in the words of these well written characters.  The two level set by Dane Laffrey is slick and clean, keeping the transitions smooth and concise.

Ian Saint-Germain & Ella Kennedy Davis
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Julie (played by Ella Kennedy Davis) and Zander (played by Ian Saint-Germain) are preparing to return to school after a shooting took the lives of some of their classmates.  Her father, Dan (played by Lucas Papaelias), helps Lisa (played by Cassie Beck) distribute the popcorn her daughter sold for a fundraiser for the school orchestra.  Lisa’s daughter, who played the cello, was killed in the school shooting.  When Julie and Zander see her, they are unable to look her in the eye.  Julie exhibits other signs of trauma, such as quick responses to loud noises and an emotional response to the sound of her upstairs neighbor, Cloris (played by Lynda Gravatt), playing recordings of cello music.  When Julie is forced to transfer schools, she confronts her trauma by asking simple and direct questions.  She gets answers to most of them, yet one remains unanswered and unresolved.

Lynda Gravatt, Lucas Papaelias, & Ella Kennedy Davis
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
The actors in this cast create vulnerable characters and honest relationships that are engaging on a deep emotional level.  Ella Kennedy Davis has the perfect balance of spunk and naiveté as Julie.  Ian Saint-Germain is open and sincere as Zander.  Their connection is genuine and delicate.  Lucas Papaelias portrays Dan as a concerned and caring father, focused on providing his daughter with the best structured environment he can.  His intentions are sincere and his shortcomings are real.  Cassie Beck’s Lisa is in the middle of an emotional breakdown due to the unfathomable and violent loss of her daughter.  She creates a true sense of empathy with the audience.  Lynda Gravatt’s portrayal of Cloris, the curmudgeony upstairs neighbor, is strong and grounded.  Her timing and interpretation of the play’s closing monologue is direct, poignant, and perfectly delivered.  Live music performed by cellist Christina H. Kim graciously enhances the production since, as the Cloris explains, the cello expresses the full range of human voice and emotion.  

Given recent events in Florida and the student protests across the country, the timing and relevance of this production is uncanny.  The glimpse into the thoughts of the two teenagers (Julie and Zander) and the pain of the victim’s mother (Lisa) offers a very personal insight that we do not see on news coverage of such events.  This play stops the noise of the protests and political rhetoric and allows us to grasp the emotional distress that comes from direct involvement with violent incidents.  Along with the characters, you question the reasons for their occurrence and understand the strength it takes to move past them.    

Playwright Lindsey Ferrantino
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Lindsey Ferrantino has written a masterpiece, reflecting the vulnerability of human experience told through truthful relationships.  The only other play I have seen this season that achieves this with skill and grace is Amy and the Orphans, also written by Ms. Ferrantino.  She is a playwright to keep an eye on.  Her voice is honest, tender, and potent. 

This Flat Earth is playing at Playwrights Horizons through April 29.  You MUST see this play.  Get your tickets today! 
Domenick Danza



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Children of a Lesser God


Children of a Lesser God
Studio 54
March 24, 2018

Photo courtesy of Children of a Lesser God
The Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God is vibrant and powerful.  A diverse cast of skilled actors bring Mark Medoff’s 1980 Tony Award winning play into the present with clarity and relevance.  Scenic design by Derek McLane and lighting design by Mike Baldassari are slick, clean, and unified.  Director Kenny Leon builds the conflict to a high point of revelation that will shift your point of view and open your awareness.  

Joshua Jackson & Lauren Ridloff
Photo courtesy of Children of a Lesser God
Speech Therapist James Leeds (played by Joshua Jackson) has great success teaching deaf and hard of hearing students to speak.  He is assigned a new student, Sarah Norman (played by Lauren Ridloff).  He is challenged by her certainty that communicating through sign language is sufficient.  His attempts to find an entry point around her resolve and stubbornness cause him to fall in love.  The challenge in their relationship increases after they are married.  Her close friends in the deaf community feel Sarah has turned her back on them, and the hearing world is unable to communicate with her unless her husband is translating.  The closer they get, the more out of reach they feel from one another.  How can they unite when there are elements in their worlds they cannot share and will never fully understand?

Photo courtesy of Children of a Lesser God
Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson are drawn to one another as Sarah and James.  They ignite the conflict at the start of this well written play and keep the action aflame through the full two acts.  John McGinty is riveting as Orin Dennis, another of James’ students and close friend to Sarah.  His character is passionate about the rights of the individuals in the deaf community.  The chemistry between him and Ms. Ridloff is palpable.  Treshelle Edmond is fresh and vivacious as the naive Lydia, a hearing impaired student who has a crush on her teacher, James.  Her energetic spirit fills the stage every time she enters.

Children of a Lesser God addresses the differences that separate us.  The play definitively expresses that no one has the right to change or mold another individual to reflect their own image.  This is a strong and pertinent theme for audiences to experience at this time, and this production beautifully illustrates it.  Children of a Lesser God is playing at Studio 54 through September 9. 

Domenick Danza


Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Winter’s Tale


The Winter’s Tale
Theatre for a New Audience
Polonsky Shakespeare Center
March 17, 2018

Photo courtesy of
Theatre for a New Audience
The Theatre for a New Audience production of The Winter’s Tale brings brilliant clarity to Shakespeare’s unique two part story.  The first half is dark and tragic, fueled by a King’s jealous passion.  The second part transitions into a love story full of redemption and forgiveness.  Director Arin Arbus magnificently weaves Shakespeare’s mixture of genres.  As the play shifts locations before the intermission, so does the tone, texture, and timing.  The cast seamlessly carries the audience through the journey to Shakespeare’s comic and enchanted conclusion.

When Leontes, King of Sicilia (played by Anatol Yusef), suspects his wife Hermione (played by Kelly Curran) of infidelity with his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (played by Dion Mucciacito), he lets his jealous nature rule his decision making.  He has Hermione arrested and orders Camillo (played by Michael Rogers) to kill Polixenes.  Camillo sees the error in Leontes’ judgement, vows loyalty to Polixenes, and exiles himself to Bohemia.  While imprisoned, Hermione gives birth to a daughter, who Leontes suspects is not his.  He sends Antigonus (played by Oberon K. A. Adjepong) to abandon the infant in a far off, baron location.  While on trial, Hermione collapses after hearing that her son, Prince Mamillius (played by Eli Rayman) has died of grief.  Shortly after the Oracle of Delphi confirms Hermione’s innocence, Paulina, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting (played by Mahira Kakkar), delivers the tragic news that she has died.     

The Cast of The Winter's Tale
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
Antigonus chooses to leave the infant princess in Bohemia with a chest of gold and jewels that belonged to Hermione.  He defends the infant from a bear attack, and is himself devoured.  A shepherd and his son (played by John Keating and Ed Malone) find the child, name her Perdita, and raise her as their own.  Sixteen years pass and Perdita (played by Nicole Rodenburg) falls in love with Polixenes’ son Florizel (played by Eddie Ray Jackson).  He defies his father by vowing to marry her.  Camillo, in an effort to make amends with Leontes, tells Florizel to take his bride to Sicilia and ask Leontes to marry them.  When they arrive in Bohemia, it is discovered that Perdita is heir to the throne of Sicilia.  The love between her and Florizel reunites Leontes with Polixenes.  In the final moment of the story, Paulina unveils a statue of Hermione.  Leontes becomes emotional at the excellence of the likeness.  His remorse and love is so great that the stature is brought to life. 

Director Arin Arbus
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
The cast brings truth to the depth of emotion in the tragic first half of the show, then joy to the lighthearted frolic of the second half.  All the characters develop over the sixteen year time span between these sections.  Ms. Arbus skillfully illustrates Shakespeare’s theme of atonement and forgiveness that comes with the passage of time.  Mahira Kakkar (as Paulina) creates a clear through line of this theme with the persistence and fortitude in her character.  Her transition of age and demeanor are concise.  Her character observes the growth and change of Leontes, waiting to unveil the statue of Hermione until he is truly rehabilitated.  Is it magic, or her and Hermione’s secret plan to stay hidden until the time is right?  See the production and decide for yourself.

The Winter’s Tale is playing at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Downtown Brooklyn through April 15.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Gabriel: A Polemic


Gabriel: A Polemic
The Drilling Company
North of History
March 10, 2018

Photo courtesy of The Drilling Company
In her play, Gabriel: A Polemic, playwright C. Denby Swanson exuberantly explores the concept of free will.  The Drilling Company production, now running at North of History, invites the audience into Ms. Swanson’s well developed debate by gathering us around the dinner table with the characters.  The intimate setting, honest performances, and precise direction beautifully blend to make a highly engaging experience.  Director Hamilton Clancy builds the conflicts in Ms. Swanson’s skillful writing with the volatility, faith, and genuine affection that the characters have within their hearts.

Susan (played by Jane Bradley) invites her sisters in faith, Brenda (played by Rachel A. Collins) and Jennifer (played by Brandi Varnell), to Christian Sabbath dinner.  Her topic for discussion is free will.  More specifically: Did the Virgin Mary have free will when Angel Gabriel announced to her she was with child?  Jennifer adamantly quotes the bible to answer Susan’s question.  Brenda has a naive faith in Jennifer’s citations.  Susan is clearly experiencing a crisis of faith.  Six month earlier, she had a miscarriage and continually brings up the hurtful fact that all three of them are unable to bear children.  When Louise (played by Elaine Ivy Harris) arrives, who has been absent from their sisterhood for a number of months, she is pregnant and unmarried.  The four women face their fears, doubts, and resentments as their debate gets personal and heated.

Jane Bradley, Brandi Varnell, Rachel A. Collins, & Elaine Ivy Harris
Photo courtesy of The Drilling Company
Jane Bradley portrays Susan with a dexterous balance of cynicism and hope.  Her actions are fueled by a deep longing for support, understanding, and forgiveness.  The reveal of the specific cause of her crisis is genuine and heartbreaking.  Elaine Ivy Harris is honest and open as Louise.  She is vulnerable in her opening monologue, then skillfully transitions her demeanor when confronted by her sisters at the dinner table.  This creates a clear and emotional arc for her character.  Brandi Varnell’s Jennifer is resolute and impassioned.  She vehemently takes on Susan’s challenge and has no trouble judging Louise’s situation.  Ms. Varnell takes the character to her breaking point.  She finally waivers, but never fully relinquishes her point of view.  Rachel A. Collins’ portrayal of Brenda is fresh and trusting.  When the character finally breaks out of her passive exterior toward the end of the play, we see the depth of her optimism, dedication, and true belief. 

Playwright C. Denby Swanson
Photo courtesy of C. Denby Swanson
C. Denby Swanson wrote four extraordinary characters.  They are intelligent, zealous, and complex.  Mr. Clancy keeps the action focused so you can appreciate the polemic (a passionate, strongly worded, and often controversial argument) from all sides.  Gabriel: A Polemic is playing through March 26 at North of History (445 Columbus Ave., between 81st and 82nd St., NYC).    Get your tickets on smarttix and be prepared to have your point of view challenged.

Domenick Danza