Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bella Bella


Bella Bella
Manhattan Theatre Club
NY City Center Stage I
November 30, 2019

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Harvey Fierstein is magnificent in Bella Bella.  He portrays Bella Abzug with heart, guts, and verve.  She was a powerhouse, and Mr. Fierstein has written a striking tribute to her life’s work.  Directed by Kimberly Senior, the Manhattan Theatre Club production is sharp and bold. 

It is 2:00 AM.  Bella Abzug (played by Harvey Fierstein) is waiting for the results of the 1976 NY Senate election.  She has escaped from her friends and supporters into the bathroom of her hotel room to catch her breath.  She reminisces about her early years as a lawyer and when she ran and won her seat in the House of Representatives.  She passionately speaks about the “boys club” and the need for a shift in the power structure to include women in government.  She has confidence in her ability to win her bid as the first female Senator from the State of New York, until she remembers a comment she made in a recent interview.  She realizes the 1% she is waiting for to swing the vote in her favor will not be coming.  

Harvey Fiersteing as Bella Abzug
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theate Club
Harvey Fierstein represents Bella Abzug’s strong, committed voice with honor and respect.  It is interesting to see how much has changed since 1976 in the political landscape and power structure of our country, and how much still needs to be to accomplish.  This piece gives the audience a chance to look back, laugh, and shift perspectives on the present day political challenges. 

Bella Bella is a heart-felt and timely tribute, expertly written and performed.  The Manhattan Theatre Club production closes on December 1.  Hopefully it will be produced again in the near future. 

Domenick Danza

Fefu and Her Friends


Fefu and Her Friends
Theatre for a New Audience
Polansky Shakespeare Center
November 29, 2019

Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
Theatre for a New Audience’s production of María Irene Fornés’ Fefu and Her Friends is riveting.  The integrated cast of women deliver highly skilled and powerful performances.  They bring dimension to Ms. Fornés’ phenomenally drawn characters.  Director Lileana Blaine-Cruz illuminates the detail and intimacy in every moment, building the action to its shocking and unexpected ending.

The year is 1935.  Fefu (played by Amelia Workman) is having a luncheon for seven of her college alumni, socially conscious friends.  They gather in her New England estate to plan the group’s upcoming lecture/presentation.  They are an eclectic group of women.  The bond between them is very strong, yet at the same time, strained.  Each one holds a deep seeded pain or sense of loss that incite various levels of compassion and fear throughout the group.  They gain little comfort from sharing their stories, yet continually seek reassurance from one another’s companionship.

Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
María Irene Fornés’ broke ground with this play, when it was first presented in 1978, by having the audience split into smaller groups and follow the characters to four different locations in Fefu’s estate.  These four scenes take place simultaneously, and are therefore performed four times.  The audience can hear the other scenes, just as if people are talking in nearby rooms.  The scenes are precisely timed, as the characters enter and exit the four locations.  Scenic design by Adam Rigg efficiently utilizes the space, while immersing the audience in the rich setting of Fefu’s 1935 New England estate.  What was groundbreaking in 1978 remains stunning and unique forty-one years later.  Ms. Fornés’ themes and social commentary remain relevant and ring with truth to a present-day audience.

Ameleia Workman & Jennifer Lim
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience 
The cast spectacularly portrays individual characters with rich back stories, driven by longing.  There are strong performances by Brittany Bradford, Juliana Canfield, Helen Cespedes, Jennifer Lim, Ronette Levenson, Lindsay Rico, Amelia Workman, and Carmen Zilles.  Fefu and Her Friends is playing downtown Brooklyn at Theatre for a New Audience through December 8.  Check it out!

Domenick Danza

Monday, November 18, 2019

Druid Shakespeare: Richard III


Druid Shakespeare: Richard III
Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival
Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College
November 10, 2019

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival
The U.S. Production Premier of Druid Shakespeare: Richard III is mind blowing.  It is part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.  The company is based in Ireland.  The production is masterfully directed by Gerry Hynes.  Aaron Monaghan brings depth, cunning, and malicious humor to the title role.  He captivates the attention of the audience, dragging them into his murderous rise to power.

Aaron Monaghan as Richard III
Photo courtesy of Druid Shakepeare: Richars III
& Lincoln Center's White Lights Festival
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (played by Aaron Monaghan), plots against his brother, King Edward (played by Bosco Hogan), to gain the throne for himself.  He woos Lady Anne (played by Siobhán Cullen) after brutally murdering her husband and father-in-law.  He then creates a rift between Edward and their other brother, Clarence (played by Marty Rea).  He confines Edward’s heirs to the tower, then arranges for Clarence to be executed.  Once crowned king, Richard must do away with Edward’s heirs and marry his daughter, Elizabeth, to insure his sovereignty.  His bloody reign comes to an end before the marriage can be arranged.

Photo courtesy of Druid Shakepeare: Richars III
& Lincoln Center's White Lights Festival
This company of thirteen phenomenal actors illuminates Shakespeare’s classic with clarity and vigor.  Each character is distinctly drawn, crisply interpreted, and urgently driven.  Every actor portrays their character with stunning conviction, confronting threatening conflict with a myriad of tactics that emotionally engage the audience and enthrall the senses.

Druid Shakespeare: Richard III is playing at the Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College through November 23.  You MUST see this production.  Get a ticket today!

Domenick Danza

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Underlying Chris


The Underlying Chris
Second Stage Theater
Tony Kiser Theater
November 10, 2019


Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Will Eno’s The Underlying Chris is a touching and provocative exploration about the continuity of life.  The Second Stage Theater production is beautifully directed by Kenny Leon.  Scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado keeps the action flowing smoothly, connecting scenes that often span a number of years.  The cast changes roles from scene to scene, creating memorable and truthful moments that heighten your interest and propel the action forward.

It starts with a birth.  Chris is laying in his bassinette, while his mother is on the phone making an appointment with the pediatrician.  She is concerned because Chris seemed to have sustained a slight injury while playing with a large stuffed toy.  In the next scene Chris is a young boy, telling his nanny about his swimming lessons and aspirations to learn to dive.  He still feels the twinge in his back from his earlier injury.  The scene that follows finds Chris, a teenage girl, in a hospital being examined by a doctor after a diving accident.  We follow Chris as he/she grows to an adult, then a senior citizen.  In each scene the character is played by a different actor of a different gender and/or race.  Chris’ story continues to build, giving each audience member a specific opportunity to relate and identify.  This life story seems to encompass all of us.

The Full Cast of The Underlying Chris
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Will Eno sets up the structure and device of this journey right away.  Once you buy into it, the connecting messages ring with clarity and truth.  His writing, which seems simple at first, dives deep to the heart of a larger thematic message.  The dialogue is skillfully crafted and his subtle through line is prolifically structured.  The cast does a phenomenal job engaging the audience in this exploration.

The Underlying Chris is playing at the Tony Kiser Theater through December 15.  You’ve got to see it!

Domenick Danza

The Young Man from Atlanta


The Young Man from Atlanta
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
November 9, 2019


Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Horton Foote’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Young Man from Atlanta is back at Signature Theatre where it premiered twenty-four years ago.  The production is directed by Michael Wilson, who guides this stellar cast straight to the heart of Mr. Foote’s writing.  Aiden Quinn and Kristine Nielsen deliver rich performances layered with backstory and subtext.  Mr. Foote’s themes ring with vivid clarity as the characters struggle to regain their sense of value in a changing world.

It is 1950 in Houston Texas.  Will Kidder (played by Aiden Quinn) has just been let go from the company where he has worked for thirty-eight years.  He decides right away to start a company of his own, yet realizes it will be difficult to raise the funds because he has just built a new home for himself and his wife, Lily Dale (played by Kristine Nielsen).  They lost their son to a swimming accident six months ago, and are struggling to face the facts involved in the incident.  Their late son’s friend from Atlanta has been calling and visiting.  Lily Dale is comforted by these calls, but Will refuses to see him.  When Lily Dale admits that she gave money to the young man from Atlanta, Will feels betrayed.  They have to be honest with one another if they are to move through the challenges they face. 

Aiden Quinn & Kristin Nielsen
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Aiden Quinn brings the depth, grounding, and stubbornness required for the role of Will Kidder.  While you feel for him, you also see the changes he needs to undergo in order to survive.  Kristine Nielsen brings humor and charm to the role of Lily Dale.  She delivers genuine moments of heartfelt grief and fear that display the complexity of her character.  Stephen Payne is warm and strong as Pete Davenport, Lily Dale’s stepfather.  Jon Orsini is glib and energetic as Pete’s great nephew, Carson.

The Young Man from Atlanta is playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center through December 15.  It is an excellent production of a riveting play.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Hamnet


Hamnet
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Next Wave 2019
November 2, 2019


Photo courtesy of Dead Centre
& BAM Next Wave 2019
The Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival is presenting the Dead Centre production of Hamnet.  Written and directed by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel, this unique and original work illuminates what little is known about William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, who died at age eleven.  Shakespeare’s grief over this loss is reflected in much of his work, and his most well-known tragic character, Hamlet, is named for him.  This piece beautifully looks at the abandonment and haunting that results from losing a child at a young age.

We meet Hamnet (played by Aran Murphy), an eleven-year-old boy, looking for his father in the crowd.  He recites the well-known “To be or not to be” soliloquy, yet does not fully understand its meaning.  He throws a ball against the wall, hoping it will one day pass through, as quantum physics predicts if can over infinity.  He invites an audience member to come on stage and play the ghost of King Hamlet as he appears to the Prince.  The scene does not go as well as he hopes, then the ghost of his true father, William Shakespeare, appears to him.  Together they face their grief in order to pass through the wall that separates them.

Photo courtesy fo Dead Centre & BAM Next Wave 2019
Aran Murphy is genuine and delivers a provocative performance.  The writing is layered with metaphor that transcends centuries as it answers the main dramatic questions: Is a parent’s grief caused by the haunting of their deceased child, or is the deceased child trapped into haunting because of the parent’s grief?  The action of the play suggests a mutuality.  The grief propels both characters into a state of inaction, much like the fictional character, Hamlet.

The video design by José Miguel Jiménez is brilliant, creating engaging effects that heighten the main theme of this play.  Hamnet ends it’s run at BAM Fisher on November 3.  It is a thought provoking and intelligently developed piece of theatre.

Domenick Danza


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Macbeth


Macbeth
Classic Stage Company
October 26, 2019

Photo courtesy of Classic Stage Company
The Classic Stage Company has produced a heart-racing, one hour and forty-minute rendition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  Director John Doyle cuts right to the insatiable lust for power that drives the play, then overshadows it with the overwhelming sense of guilt that brings the downfall of the characters.  The cast of nine seamlessly move the action forward, skillfully portraying noble loyalty, voracious cunning, and vengeful retribution. 

Macbeth (played by Corey Stoll) is sought after by the three weird sisters (played by the ensemble) to predict his rise to power.  When his wife, Lady Macbeth (played by Nadia Bowers) hears the news, she devises a plan to hasten the events.  She manipulates her husband to kill King Duncan (played by Mary Beth Peil) to gain the throne.  He does the deed as planned and finds it only one of many slaughters to come.  He hires assassins to kill his friend Banquo (played by Erik Lochtefeld) in order to secure his position as king.  When the ghost of Banquo haunts him, Macbeth is propelled to visit the three weird sisters for an answer to its meaning.  Their revelations fuel Macbeth’s thirst for power and hide the clues to his imminent downfall.

Corey Stoll as Macbeth
Photo courtesy of Classic Stage Company
John Doyle’s choice to have the three weird sisters played by the ensemble is truly inspired.  The theater echoes with their unsettling verse and their evil is existent within every person on stage.  He ends the play with the same lines and formation as the opening, showing how this driving force of selfishness is ever present and seductive as events shift and move forward.

Corey Stoll portrays Macbeth as an honorable man, lured into making choices from which he cannot escape.  His character is changed after the murder of Duncan.  His physical and emotional transformation is clear and strong.  He spends the remainder of the play masking his emotional state as he continues to cause harm.  As he says to Lady Macbeth, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”  

Nadia Bowers as Lady Macbeth
Photo courtesy fo Classic Stage Company
Nadia Bowers is powerful as Lady Macbeth.  She conjures forces within herself to construct her plan and moves on it with unwavering determination.  Her mad scene is focused and unnerving.  Barzin Akhavan is strong as Macduff, and Raffi Barsoumian is passionate and innocent as Malcolm.  Mary Beth Peil is imposing as Duncan, and Erik Lochtefeld is loyal and gentle as Banquo. 

This production of Macbeth is boldly conceived and masterfully interpreted.  It is playing at Classic Stage Company through December 15.  If you are a Macbeth fan, as I am, you will truly enjoy it.

Domenick Danza