Sunday, January 19, 2020

Medea


Medea
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Harvey Theater
January 18, 2019

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Acadmey of Music
Medea, written and directed by Simon Stone, is a chilling retelling of the Euripides tragedy.  It is produced by BAM, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, and David Lan, and playing at the Harvey Theater.  The cast, lead by Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, is brilliant.  The action is magnified by camera work and large projections.  Mr. Stone chooses to tell the most dramatic parts of the story through narrative.  The psychic distance in the narrative combined with the close-up camera work create stunning effects and intense emotional engagement.  

Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Simon Stone, & Dylan Baker
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music
Anna (played by Rose Byrne) is released from a short stay at a mental facility.  Her husband, Lucas (played by Bobby Cannavale), is there to pick her up, along with their two sons (played by Gabriel Amoroso and Emeka Guindo).  The boys are happy to see their mother.  It is clear that Lucas and Anna are separated and that Lucas is seeing someone else, but the details are purposefully avoided.  Anna manipulates Lucas into spending the night with her and the boys.  She later reveals the reason for her hospital stay.  She started poisoning Lucas when she found out about his affair with Clara (played by Madeline Weinstein).  She acts as if his on-going relationship with Clara is not an issue, until Lucas tells her that Clara is pregnant.  When Lucas is relocated with his job and decides to take the boys with him, Anna crosses deeper into the darkness of her illness.

Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale are powerful together.  They are strongly connected and enact a web of manipulation, guilt, compassion, and denial that push Anna to the point of no return.  Ms. Byrne calmly plays Anna as a woman on the edge.  She is in total control and  portrays Anna’s break from reality with complete conviction.  You feel for her, until her actions take an extreme turn.  Mr. Cannavale portrays levels of loyalty, devotion, and indecision in the character of Lucas.  His performance is truthful and genuine.  He character is unaware of how he enables Anna in her plan. 

Medea is playing downtown Brooklyn at BAM Harvey Theater through February 23.  It is a haunting and unique retelling of the Medea story.  Don’t miss it!

Domenick Danza

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Soldier’s Play


A Soldier’s Play
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
December 30, 2019

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning A Soldier’s Play is having a glorious and well-deserved revival by Roundabout Theatre Company.  Kenny Leon directs a stellar cast, creating a strong ensemble who keeps the action moving at a searing pace.  The production is exceptionally conceived.  Set design by Derek McLane establishes the tone and tension of the location and keeps the scenes flowing smoothly.

The year is 1944 in Fort Neal, Louisiana, a segregated U.S. army base.  When Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by David Alan Grier) is murdered, the men in his unit believe it was committed by the local KKK.  The army sends Captain Richard Davenport (played by Blair Underwood) to investigate, and assign it low priority.  Captain Charles Taylor (played by Jerry O’Connell) tries to tell Captain Davenport that the locals will not respect a black man questioning them, especially if he is an officer.  Both men want to uncover the truth, but they have different ways of going about it.  As the investigation uncovers facts about the expectations and pressure Sergeant Waters place on the men in his unit, Captain Davenport has to face a brutal and unexpected reality.

Blair Underwood & Kenny Leon in rehearsal
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
David Alan Grier is strong and determined as Sergeant Waters.  The flaws in his character are magnified by Mr. Grier’s stunning portrayal, giving clear insight into the playwright’s powerful message.  Blair Underwood and Jerry O’Connell clash heads with force and conviction, fueling the action and driving the plot forward.  There are equally strong performances by McKinley Belcher III, Rob Demery, Jared Grimes, Billy Eugene Jones, Nate Mann, and J. Alphonse Nicholson. 

The Ful Cast of A Soldier's Play
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Charles Fuller’s play is a brilliant telling of the search for truth no matter the outcome.  His characters are richly layered.  As they reveal their strengths and weaknesses, the plot builds to unexpected places.  His suspension of time keeps the action focused on the discovery of evidence and the piecing together of information.  It is an emotional journey driven by pride, honor, and injustice.

A Soldier’s Play is running at the American Airlines Theatre through March 1.  It is a riveting production.  You need to see it.  It will blow you away!

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Grand Horizons


Grand Horizons
Second Stage Theater
The Helen Hayes Theater
December 29, 2019

Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
In Grand Horizons playwright Bess Wohl examines the need to be seen and acknowledged amid a “typical” family dynamic.  As the family matriarch expresses her feelings and voices her need, each family member ends up demanding all the attention.  The all-star cast delivers fine performances, illustrating the need for openness and honesty in family relationships.  Ms. Wohl’s characters are well crafted and fully developed.  Her plot packs a few fun surprises. 

The Cast of Grand Horizons
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Nancy (played by Jane Alexander) and Bill (played by James Cromwell) silently prepare dinner.  They sit down, take a few bites, then Nancy calmly announces she wants a divorce.  Bill consents.  In the next scene we meet their sons, Ben (played by Ben McKenzie) and Brian (played by Michael Urie).  Brian is high strung and finds it hard to believe that after fifty years together his parents are not happily committed to the marriage.  Both sons feel they carry the weight of the responsibility for their aging parents.  Ben researched and put the money up for his parents to move into Grand Horizons, their retirement community.  Ben’s wife, Jess (played by Ashley Park), is eight months pregnant and utilizing her professional skills as a therapist to keep everyone calm and on track.  They are all trying to get their parents to move passed this dilemma.  Bill packs a van with his belongings and everyone seems to be going their separate ways, until Bill drives the van though the wall and into the kitchen.  Everyone is forced to face some unhappy truths.

Playwright Bess Wohl
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Jane Alexander and James Cromwell fill their silent moments with rich subtext.  Their physicality speaks volumes, creating full characters with years of history between them.  Michael Urie is energetic and delivers the laughs, keeping the pace moving.  Ashley Park and Ben McKenzie have a great chemistry as expectant parents.  Each cast member gets a chance to shine as their character reveals a secret that unearths their long-denied need.  There are two sharp cameos by Priscilla Lopez and Maulik Pancholy. 

The Second Stage Theater production of Grand Horizons is playing at The Helen Hayes Theater through March 1.

Domenick Danza

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Inheritance - Part Two


The Inheritance - Part Two
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
December 26, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Inheritance
Part Two of The Inheritance picks up exactly where Part One left off.  Playwright Matthew Lopez expands on his Part One examination of how we need to know our past in order to understand ourselves.  In Part Two he has his strongly established characters face the pasts they have long denied.  They make choices during the course of story that take them to a place where they are unable to avoid it any longer.  Mr. Lopez makes the statement that the only way to heal a hurting heart is to continue to risk.  He takes these characters to the edge of their hurt, forcing them to plunge into the danger of their own selves.  The actors portray these journeys truthfully and viscerally. 

Photo courtesy of The Inheritance
Henry and Eric’s relationship has deepened.  Henry asks Eric to marry him.  Henry’s conservative,  Republican point of view does not mix well with Eric’s friends, but he says yes to the proposal.  Toby shows up at their wedding with Leo, a young boy he has attached himself to, who is identical to Adam (and played by the same actor).  They are both drunk and high.  Leo recognizes Henry as one of his regular clients.  A physical fight breaks out as Eric’s friends try to protect him.  Henry later admits that he has used Leo’s services on a regular basis.  Eric realizes the truth of the situation he has gotten himself into. 

Lois Smith & Samuel H. Levine (as Adam)
Photo courtesy of The Inheritance
Eric returns to Walter’s house.  This time to care for Leo, who is HIV positive and in failing health.  We meet Margaret (played by Lois Smith), who is the caretaker for the now vacant house.  She tells Eric and Leo of when Walter called her because her son Michael was there, under his care and with only days left to live.  She arrived in time to share his final moments, and stayed to help Walter with the other men in need.  There were over two hundred who died in the house from complications due to AIDS.  She verifies Eric’s initial experience when he entered the house for the first time at the end of Part One.  It is in that house that Eric spends the rest of his life.  
He comes to understand how the past brings us into the present, which allow us to welcome the future.

Playwright Matthew Lopez
Mr. Lopez has crafted mesmerizing monologues in his play.  The characters tell their backstory in numerous scenes throughout both parts.  These sections are skillfully written and masterfully directed by Stephen Daldry.  Each cast member who has the privilege of performing one of these monologues finds richness in every moment. 

The ending of the play goes full circle as the young man who stepped forward in the opening scene of Part One is identified as one of the main characters.  The story flows to a resolution that will open your heart.  You become a part of The Inheritance as you fully engage in the experience.  The magnitude of the story is built on a solid structure and surpassed only by the theatrical manner in which it is told.  It is a profound and inspired production.   

Domenick Danza

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Inheritance - Part One


The Inheritance - Part One
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
December 23, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Inheritance
Matthew Lopez has written a profound and stunning piece of theatre.  Part One of The Inheritance opens the door to an immensely compelling and emotional journey.  Mr. Lopez examines the need to know where we came from in order to understand who we are.  He tackles large social and political issues, then narrows the focus on the personal stories of his characters.  These characters are intelligent, complex, and inquisitive.  They are flawed, unsure, and fearful.  They are vulnerable, searching, and human. 

A group of young men assemble with their laptops.  They are writing their stories.  One steps forward and admits he does not know where to start.  He turns to a book by E.M. Foster for inspiration.  Morgan (played by Paul Hilton), who is E.M. Foster, steps forward to guide him.  The story begins.  Eric Glass (played by Kyle Soller) lives in an apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan.  It is rent controlled, left to him by his grandmother who lived there for decades before she passed.  His whole life has been spent in that apartment.  It is a record of his personal history.  He now lives there with his boyfriend, Toby Darling (played by Andrew Burke).  Toby is a writer, far more pretentious than Eric, and unaware that Eric has been served with a notice of eviction.

Kyle Soller, Samuel H.Levine, & Andrew Burke
Photo courtesy of The Inheritance
Eric and Toby’s story deepens as they befriend Adam (played by Samuel H. Levine), a very attractive, young actor, who manipulates himself into being cast in the lead role of a play Toby is writing.  When Toby and Adam are out of town for rehearsal, Eric runs into a wealthy, older acquaintance, Walter (played by Paul Hilton).  Walter and Eric spend time together and become closer.  Walter tells Toby about how he met his partner, Henry (played by  John Benjamin Hickey) thirty-five years ago and the home they bought north of the city.  They used it to escape the sorrow of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.  It was an oasis for them.  When Walter cared for a friend who was dying of AIDS in that home, Henry felt betrayed.  He gave the house to Walter and never returned.  Walter continued to take in friends and acquittances who needed his care.  Many spend their final days in Walter’s home.

Toby realizes he has fallen in love with Adam and breaks it off with Eric on the same night that Henry delivers news that Walter has passed away.  Walter left his house to Eric.  Henry decides to keep this a secret, even as a close friendship grows between him and Eric.  When Henry finally agrees to take Eric to see the house, Eric has a life changing experience.

Jordan Barbour, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Kyle Soller,
Arturo Luis Soria, & Kyle Harris
Photo courtesy of The Inheritance
This cast is phenomenal.  They work as one, portraying funny, multi-dimensional characters, while creating raw and honest moments.  Director Stephen Daldry keeps this three hour and fifteen-minute play moving at a great pace, until the final scene when Eric arrives at the house Walter left him.  It is transformative.  The lights shift, the space softens, and we viscerally know the truthful and significant journey of these characters has only just begun.  It is a prolific and emotional moment, leaving the audience yearning for Part Two.

The Inheritance is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.  There will be more to come after I see Part Two later this week.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Harry Townsend’s Last Stand


Harry Townsend’s Last Stand
New York City Center Stage II
December 21, 2019

Photo courtesy of Harry Townsend's Last Stand
Len Cariou and Craig Bierko shine in George Eastman’s Harry Townsend’s Last Stand.  Directed by Karen Carpenter, this production is full of warmth and heart.  The confrontational moments are bold and truthful, and resolve with a genuine sense of care and mutuality.

Harry (played by Len Cariou) receives an impromptu visit in Vermont from his son, Alan (played by Craig Bierko), who lives on the west coast.  The weekend starts off with their usual sparring.  It doesn’t take Alan long to notice the changes in his father’s ability to live alone and remember things.  The truth comes out that the visit was planned by Alan and his twin sister, who cares for Harry, a number of months ago.  It’s time for Harry to move into an assisted living community.  In order to face the situation, Harry and Alan need to unearth issues and disappointments that have been buried for decades.

Len Cariou & Craig Bierko
Photo courtesy of Harry Townsend's Last Stand
Len Cariou and Craig Bierko are excellent together.  The actions of their characters are motivated by love and compassion.  Both men achieve this by creating a father/son relationship that is honest and genuine.  While Mr. Cariou is charming and boisterous, Mr. Bierko is witty and reserved.  Their timing is perfect.  They create truthful and complex characters cautiously facing unwelcome changes in their lives. 

Harry Townsend’s Last Stand is playing at New York City Center Stage II through February 9.  George Eastman’s writing is heartwarming.  The direction and performances are well worth seeing. 
Domenick Danza

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Judgment Day

Judgment Day
The Park Avenue Armory
December 14, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Park Avenue Armory
The Park Avenue Armory production of Judgment Day is spectacular.  Director Richard Jones creates an impressive atmosphere and significant impact, while keeping the action moving at an accelerated pace.  He and Movement Director Anjali Mehra maneuver a cast of seventeen and two monumental set pieces around the Armory’s vast and expansive space with grace and precision.  Christopher Shinn’s adaptation of Ödön von Horváth’s play is skillfully crafted.  The characters are strong.  The underlying themes motivate the action, which builds to a stunning climax.

Luke Kirby & Cast Members
Photo courtesy of The Park Avenue Armory
It is the 1937.  Stationmaster Thomas Hudetz (played by Luke Kirby) is respected by the people of the small town he serves.  His wife (played by Alyssa Bresnahan) is thirteen years his senior, paranoid, and the subject of distasteful gossip from the same people who admire her husband.  When she spies the Inn Keeper’s daughter, Anna (played by Susannah Perkins), flirting with Thomas while he is on the job, she is filled with jealousy.  Anna kisses Thomas, causing him to be distracted and miss the train signal.  His delay in switching the track causes an accident that kills eighteen passengers.  Anna lies to protect Thomas and save her reputation.  She claims she witnessed him switching the tracks before the train passed.  Thomas’ wife confesses what she witnessed, both the kiss and Thomas’ error.  However, her reputation in the town make her less credible.  Anna’s false testimony frees Thomas of prosecution, yet neither of them can escape the guilt that amplifies over time.

Luke Kirby & Susannah Perkins
Photo courtesy of The Park Avenue Armory
Luke Kirby transforms the character of Thomas Hudetz from a meek and vigilant civil servant to a reckless, haunted, and broken man.  While we feel for him, we are also struck by how he buys into the lie that frees him from appropriate consequences.  Susannah Perkins portrays Anna as naïve, young girl, unaware of her own emotion and influence.  The impulses that propel her actions and the affect these actions have on her self-consciousness are astounding.  She and Mr. Kirby are brilliant together.  The discovery of their passion and power combined with their inability to control these emotions are mesmerizing.

Set Design by Paul Steinberg
Photo courtesy of The Park Avenue Armory
There is a synchronicity in the Park Avenue Armory with this production, as the space ignites the energy for the cast and the cast fills the space with life.  You have to experience this production for yourself.  Lighting design by Mimi Jordan Sherin and sound design by Drew Levy and Daniel Kluger create astounding effects.  Judgment Day is playing at the Park Avenue Armory through January 10.  Get your tickets and see it for yourself!

Domenick Danza