Sunday, July 14, 2019

Romeo & Juliet


Romeo & Juliet
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
The Drilling Company
July 13, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Drilling Company
The Shakespeare in the Parking Lot production of Romeo & Juliet is the perfect way for The Drilling Company to celebrate twenty-five years of bringing FREE Shakespeare to the Lower East Side.  Lukas Raphael brilliantly directs a superb cast of ten, led by Anwen Darcy as Juliet and Adam Huff as Romeo.  With a running time of one hour and fifty minutes, there is no better way to spend a warm summer evening in NYC.

The play opens with the typical Shakespearian actor speaking the prologue.  He/she is briskly pushed off the stage by the cast of characters boisterously setting up the tension between the feuding families, immediately creating an atmosphere of aggression and danger.  The party scene where Romeo first lays eyes on Juliet is glorious.  The attraction between Ms. Darcy’s Juliet and Mr. Huff’s Romeo is stunningly playful.  The balcony scene which follows is charming, filled with the eager and youthful yearnings of two teens discovering their feelings.  The final scene in the crypt is emotionally effective.  Ms. Darcy and Mr. Huff deliver genuine and tender performances.

Adam Huff & Anwen Darcy
Photoc courtesy of The Drilling Company
The cast works as a close-knit ensemble, smoothly transitioning from one scene to the next.  Jack Sochet is commanding as Capulet, Juliet’s father.  Serena Ebony Miller is outstanding as Friar (Sister) Lawrence.  Alessandro Colla delivers a robust Mercutio.  Una Clancy, Samantha Sutliff, Jake Lesh, Kendra Lee Oberhauser, and John Callendo all create strong characters that vibrantly fill the outdoor space.

Artistic Director Hamilton Clancy is dedicated to making Shakespeare accessible and free to the public.  After twenty-five years of producing Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, he is a true master.  Romeo & Juliet runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:00 PM through July 27.  Take the F train to the Delancey Street stop and walk two blocks to the Clement Soto Velez Cultural Center parking lot on 114 Norfolk Street.  Meet a friend a enjoy a fun, free night of well-done Shakespeare. 

Domenick Danza

Friday, July 12, 2019

Fairview


Fairview
Theatre for a New Audience
Polonsky Shakespeare Center
July 11, 2019

Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize winning Fairview turns the table on the audience in order to give them a different perspective on race in this country.  Director Sarah Benson and Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly collaborate with skillful precision, layering this amazing production with meticulous detail that creates a profound effect.  In true Brechtian style, the audience is encouraged to questions their percepton and see the familiar through a different perspective.  Going a step further, the audience is drawn into becoming an active participant, gaining an understanding of the clear and profound message of the playwright.

Charles Browning, Heather Alicia Simms, & Roslyn Ruff
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
At first we watch the story of a wealthy, suburban black family as they prepare for the birthday celebration of their matriarch.  Beverly (played by Heather Alicia Simms), is nervously preparing the dinner.  Her husband, Dayton (played by Charles Browning), teases and supports her, while pretending to have forgotten to pick up the root vegetables needed for the dinner.  In comes Beverly’s high maintenance and gossipy sister, Jasmine (played by Roslyn Ruff), pushing buttons and raising Beverly’s stress level.  Beverly and Dayton’s teenage daughter, Keisha (played by Mayaa Boateng), returns from her basketball practice and asks her Aunt Jasmine to help her convince her mother to allow her to take a year off before starting college.  Amid the hectic craze, the lights focus in on Keisha for a serious, pensive moment.  The stress of the evening is all too much for Beverly.  She faints from the overstimulation.

Mayaa Boateng as Keisha
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
During the next section of the play we hear a discussion on race.  The question is asked, “If you could choose, which race would you be born into?”  While this voice-over dialogue is being heard, the previous scene reruns silently.  The precise timing allows for a different insight into the characters we thought we knew.  Our observations are filtered through the dialogue being heard.

The third section of the play is wildly absurd, yet the playwright remains in complete control of the voices and images that make her audience question their individual perception.  The full cast brilliantly leads an unsuspecting audience to a complete and brutal reversal of reality.  None of this would be possible if not for the total trust you place in the character of Keisha.  Ms. Boateng is truthful, warm, and endearing in this monumental role.

Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury
Photo courtesy of Berkeley Rep
Soho Rep’s Fairview is playing downtown Brooklyn at Theatre for a New Audience through August 11.  There are no words that can explain the impact of this production.  It boldly takes the concept of Brecht’s “epic theatre” forward into the 21st century.  You need to be there yourself to fully experience, understand, and be a part of its impact.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dying City


Dying City
Second Stage Theater
Tony Kiser Theater
June 22, 2019

Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Christopher Shinn’s Dying City is enthralling.  Mr. Shinn holds back the details, building suspense and intrigue until the characters spill out the truth.  He then takes the characters to a place of understanding, both free of what was weighing them down and newly burdened by their current awareness.

Kelly (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) receives an unexpected and unwelcomed visit from Peter (played by Colin Woodell).  It is the one year anniversary of her husband Craig’s death during the Iraq War, and a visit from his identical twin brother Peter brings up memories that she has finally put to rest.  When Peter shares the emails he received from Craig while in Iraq, she is forced to face truths about her husband that she did not previously know.

Colin Woodell (as Craig) & Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Mr. Shinn masterfully structured this play going back and forth in time from July 2005 to January 2004, with the same actor playing the roles of Peter and Craig.  This allows the audience to experience Kelly’s perspective of what is happening.  It is a powerfully effective and highly engaging devise.  His dialogue is driven by conflict, uncertainty, and subtext, all coming together to deliver an impactful ending.

Colin Woodell (as Peter) & Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Colin Woodell embodies two distinct characters in Peter and Craig.  It is impeccably clear which character his is portraying the instant he enters a scene.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead slowly peels back the layers of Kelly’s pain as details are revealed.  She is mesmerizing in this role.  The chemistry between these two actors is scintillating.  Ms. Winstead creates opposing relationships with the two characters of Peter and Craig, and the energy between her and Mr. Woodell shifts dramatically from scene to scene.

Dying City is an intriguing and powerful play, exploring the effects of post-traumatic stress on family and loved ones.  The Second Stage Theater production is of high quality, skillfully directed by the playwright.  It is playing at the Tony Kiser Theater through June 30.  Go see it!

Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 16, 2019

We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time


We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time
The Public Theater
June 15, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Public Theater
Playwright/Performer David Cale’s We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time is an intimate and personal story of the continuity of life.  David tells the story of growing up in Luton, England, when a family tragedy set his life on an unexpected trajectory.  His writing is touching and honest.  His performance is vulnerable and heartfelt.  His lyrics are simple and effective.  The music, co-written by Matthew Dean Marsh, is emotional and tender.

Photo courtesy of The Public Theater
The story starts with David telling how, when a young boy, he transformed the shed in his backyard into an animal hospital, merely by painting the sign “animal hospital” above its doorway.  Over a short period of time he built it into an aviary where he raised hundreds of tropical birds.  He often stopped in his tracks to watch a flock of geese fly over his yard in a V-formation.  David goes on to tell about his alcoholic father, his strict and emotionally abusive grandfather, and his mother, who felt as if she sold her soul when she married into the unknown darkness of her husband’s family.  David’s brother, Simon, also found solace in flight, only his was through building model airplanes and hanging them from the ceiling of his bedroom.  One morning, when he was sixteen, David’s life flew into confusion and uncertainty when his father brutally and unexpectedly beat his mother to death with a hammer.  His grandfather’s hammer, which David borrowed to build his aviary.  The spirit of his mother soared inside David, as he traveled to America to fulfill his dreams to become everything she was unable to achieve.

Photo courtesy of The Public Theater
We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time is a life-affirming tale of hope, brilliantly structured and stunningly shared.  David Cale is genuine.  His skills are so fine-tuned that he makes everything look easy and comfortable.  This is a show that MUST be experienced firsthand.  It is running at the Public Theater through July 14.  Get you tickets right away!

Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Toni Stone


Toni Stone
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre
June 8, 2019

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Lydia Diamond develops a captivating storytelling style in her new play Toni Stone.  Director Pam MacKinnon collaborates with choreographer Camille A. Brown to generate momentum and build a tight and unified ensemble.  April Matthis is mesmerizing and genuine in the title role.  The audience gets to know this character through Ms. Diamond’s prolific and humorous writing.  Ms. Matthis delivers a superb portrayal.

Toni Stone (played by April Matthis) is the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro League.  The opening of the play is her onstage alone, telling how natural the weight of the ball feels in her hand.  As she is growing up, nothing gets in the way of her pursuing her interest in the game of baseball.  Her naiveite about social interaction is overcome by her extreme focus on the art of the game.  She memorizes stats of players from their baseball cards and repeats them over and over as she faces the challenges of playing in the Negro League.  The sexism and racism on the road during her playing career are rough, yet even more shocking is the jealousy and resentment from her own teammates.  Her story is found between, as she says, “the weight of the ball and the reach.”  It is an inspiring story of perseverance, determination, and self-awareness. 

April Matthis as Toni Stone
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Surrounding the main character throughout the show is an ensemble of her eight teammates.  These eight men play numerous characters in Toni Stone’s life.  These characters vary in race and gender.  This brilliant choice by Ms. Diamond illustrates the strength of a team and the value it played in building Ms. Stone’s integrity, both on and off the field.  These eight actors are all magnificent, creating distinct and complete characters.

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Toni and the players tell about the entertainment component of the Negro League, how they had to purposefully lose games when playing against white teams, and how they were refused rooms in hotels after spending long, tiring hours on the bus.  The final scene in Act I, choreographed by Camille A. Brown, depicts the team playing a game while clowning and performing as if in a minstrel show.  It is a stunning and effective way to show the degradation they all experienced in order to participate in a sport they were dedicated to play.  It is an impactful ending for Act I.

Toni Stone is a little-known American hero.  She broke barriers in professional baseball and lived life on her own terms.  Lydia Diamond does a spectacular job dramatizing her story.  The Roundabout Theatre Company production of Toni Stone is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through August 11.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune


Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Broadhurst Theatre
June 1, 2019

Photo courtesy of Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon are astounding in Terrance McNally’s Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune.  Director Arin Arbus finds the perfect rhythm to build the tension and intimacy between the characters.  Mr. McNally’s play is just as impactful today as it was when it was first produced in 1987.  This is because of its subject matter: the connection between two people in need.  A story like this is timeless and will forever touch the soul of an audience.

Audra McDonald & Michael Shannon
Photo courtesy of Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Frankie (played by Audra McDonald) is on her first date with Johnny (played by Michael Shannon).  He is the short order cook at the diner where she works as a waitress.  They go to a movie, stop for ice cream, then go to her one-room walk up apartment.  That is where the play begins, in Frankie’s apartment, where her and Johnny are is the throws of passion.  He adores her.  The more she showers her with complements, the higher her guard goes up.  As they share details of their lives, they find they have a lot in common.  They are both originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Both their mothers deserted them at a young age.  They both hide the scars they carry.  Gradually, Johnny wears down Frankie’s protective shell.  When the sun comes up in the morning, they have to face the reality of their lives with a different sense of themselves and one another.

Arin Arbus, Michael Shannon, Terrance McNally, & Audra McDonald
Photo courtesy of Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune
The timing and chemistry between Ms. McDonald and Mr. Shannon are crisp and fluid.  There is a lot of humor in their continual badgering.  The pay off is the connection they create.  It is honest and genuine.  There are heightened moments of fear, followed by profound moments of calm.  The production is beautifully orchestrated.

Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune is paying at the Broadhurst Theatre.  It is Terrance McNally at his most intimate.  The production is tenderly directed and stunningly performed, proving that amazing things can happened under the "light of the moon."

Domenick Danza

Monday, May 27, 2019

A Strange Loop


A Strange Loop
Playwrights Horizons
May 26, 2019

Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop is having its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons.  It is a bold and unique work, exploring the way individuals looks at themselves through the reflection of other, continually repeating and “looping” for an infinite period of time.  It is a spiritual, psychological, and emotional journey that spirals deeply into the core of the main character’s understanding of himself.

The full cast of A Strange Loop
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Usher (played by Larry Owens) is an NYU graduate struggling to write his musical, the one he is presently performing in.  The voices in his head (the six members of the ensemble) are continually keeping him from focusing on his main goal.  They are reverberating words of his low self-worth, his sexual identity, his gay-black self, his inner white girl… the list goes on.  These voices continually cycle him through repeated distraction until he realizes that in order to finish writing his musical, the one his is presently performing in, he must face himself head on.

Larry Ownes & Michael R. Jackson
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Larry Owens does not leave the stage for one hour and forty-five minutes.  He is a powerhouse of vocal strength.  His character has an open heart that makes you feel for him, and a strong will that makes you believe in him.  The six voices in his head (Antwayne Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morison, and Jason Veasey) play numerous roles.  They are a skillful and mighty ensemble, who create distinct, truthful, and over the top characters that keep you engaged and make you laugh out loud.

Director Stephen Brackett keeps the pace of the show moving.  The choreography by Raja Feather Kelly is sharp, boisterous, and spirited.  Michael R. Jackson has written the book, lyrics, and music.  He has a powerful voice and a straightforward style.  A Strange Loop is playing at Playwrights Horizons through July 7.

Domenick Danza