Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cardinal

Cardinal
Second Stage Theater
Tony Kiser Theater
January 13, 2018

Photos courtesy of Second Stage Theater
If you paint the town red, literally paint all the buildings in the town red, it will attract people and improve the economy for long-time residents.  This is the premise for Greg Pierce’s new play Cardinal, now playing at Second Stage Theater.  His characters are realistic and multi-layered.  The conflicts that arise are compelling and engaging.  Director Kate Whoriskey keeps the action moving, building the tension through to the very end.

Lydia Lensky (played by Anna Chlumsky) pitches a brilliant idea to Jeff Torm (played by Adam Pally), the Mayor of her hometown.  She proposes that by painting all the downtown buildings red, cardinal actually, their dying upstate New York factory town will become a destination stop.  It passes the city vote and gets the attention of a Chinese businessman who compromises the integrity of the plan.  Townspeople are quickly displaced, and Lydia’s intention becomes questionable.

The Cast of Cardinal
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Adam Pally is charming and likeable as the gullible, young mayor who suffers from depression and obsessive behavior.  Anna Chlumsky is a driving force as Lydia.  The relationship they create is complex, intriguing, and believable.  It propels the action of the play.  Becky Ann Baker and Alex Hurt play two long-time, mother/son residents of the town.  Their pacing and connectedness create the atmosphere of what life in this small town has been for generations.  Their fears and resistance to change are truthful and clearly understood.  Stephen Park and Eugene Young play the father/son business partners who cash in on the red city.  They play their scenes with just the right balance of humor and determination.

The Second Stage Theater’s production of Cardinal is running at the Tony Kiser Theater through February 25.  The play offers a unique glimpse at how consequences can get out to hand when making decision for the wrong reasons.  It makes a strong statement about how our deepest fear often manifests itself when we choose to run from it.

 Domenick Danza

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meteor Shower

Meteor Shower
Booth Theatre
January 6, 2018

Photo courtesy of Meteor Shower
When I purchased my ticket for Meteor Shower at the TKTS booth in Times Square, I was told Amy Schumer was out that evening.  I grabbed the ticket and saw a great performance by Kate Reinders (understudy to both female roles in the play), who I happen to have seen in Something Rotten.  Steve Martin’s script is bold, funny, and thought-provoking.  Jerry Zaks’ direction is crisp and on target.  The set, by Beowolf Boritt, and lighting, by Natasha Katz, are mesmerizing.

Corky (played by Kate Reinders) and her husband, Norman (played by Jeremy Shamos), are having a glass or pre-wine while waiting for their new friends to arrive to see the forecasted meteor shower.  Pre-wine, according to Corky, is the glass of wine you have before company comes, which does not count.  When Gerald (played by Keegan-Michael Key) and Laura (played by Laura Benanti) arrive, the meteor shower in the sky is not the only fire that ignites.

Photo courtesy of Meteor Shower
The cast of four works exceptionally well as a tight ensemble.  The relationships and humor are highly dependent on their timing, and they deliver every moment with polish and ease.   Kate Reinders and Jeremy Shamos humorously portray a committed married couple who clearly went through counseling to strengthen their relationship.  Their bond is genuine.  Keegan-Michael Key is broad and over the top as Gerald, and Laura Benanti is beguiling and riveting as Laura.  Their energies merge and their chemistry is explosive.

Photo courtesy of Meteor Shower
Steve Martin successfully structures the play with scenes that revert in time.  The action backtracks, then runs forward parallel in time to the scene previously played.  Not only does this structure challenge you to think about what you are experiencing, it also creates levels of depth to the characters and situation.  Mr. Martin ties it together at the end to make a point that is potent, clear, and relevant.  The set-up is very much like Edward Albee’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, where two married couples tear one another apart over drinks.  The ending is not so devastating, yet it does pack a punch of hard edge reality… with a laugh.

Meteor Shower is playing at the Booth Theatre for a limited engagement.  You have until January 21.  Check it out.  

Domenick Danza

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Parisian Woman

The Parisian Woman
Hudson Theatre
December 30, 2017

Photo courtesy of The Parisian Woman
Uma Thurman makes an impressive Broadway debut in The Parisian Woman.  Her presence is strong and her intentions carry each scene she is in, which is every scene in the play.  Beau Willimon’s script is set in present day Washington DC, and packs a number of direct and potent punches at the Trump administration.

Chloe (played by Uma Thurman) is married to Tom (played by Josh Lucas), a highly successful tax attorney who is being considered for a judgeship.  They are very adept at the Washington political game and their marriage is an open relationship.  When Tom confesses to her his motivations and truthful understanding of the good he can do if he is appointed, she decides to use her influence to help him.

Uma Thurman & Marton Csokas
Photo courtesy of The ParisianWoman
The plot has a few twists and surprises, and Ms. Thurman pulls them off glibly.  She beautifully plays the surface charm her character needs in her surroundings, and her deeper moments of truth are clear and genuine.  Josh Lucas is charming as her husband Tom.  Together they are a driving force.  Blair Brown is potent and grounded as Jeanette.  Phillipa Soo is eager and idealistic as Rebecca.  Marton Csokas is passionate as Peter.  He and Ms. Thurman share a few fiery moments that heighten the action of the story.

The play is well directed by Pam MacKinnon.  The set, designed by Derek McLane, stylishly establishes the locations and keeps the action smoothly moving from scene to scene.  The Parisian Woman is playing at the Hudson Theatre through March. 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Latin History for Morons

Latin History for Morons
Studio 54
December 29, 2017

Photo courtesy of Latin History for Morons
John Leguizamo grabs your attention and does not let go for one hour and forty-five non-stop, energetic minutes in his latest Broadway show, Latin History for Morons.  After a successful run at Berkeley Rep and The Public Theater, John Leguizamo is selling out Studio 54, and has extended his Broadway engagement through February.  Mr. Leguizamo’s tell it like it is style is wickedly funny and full of moments that give you pause to ponder the truth and poignancy in the humor.

As in all John Leguizamo one-man shows, he reveals a slice of his life.  In this one, his fourteen year old son is being bullied at school.  John does some research in order to give his son pride in his Latin heritage.  This uncovers, for John, some of the source of his own “ghetto rage,” but does not give his son the courage to face his challenges at school.  It is not until his son makes a speech at his eighth grade graduation that John realizes the effect of his efforts.

Photo courtesy of Latin History for Morons
Mr. Leguizamo takes on the characterization of numerous roles, including his wife, his son, his daughter, his therapist, and countless figures from history.  He weaves together the historic facts about the Incas, the Aztecs, their European conquerors, and a Civil War transvestite General.  He carries these stories forward to illustrate their repeated 20th century patterns, and even further into the present day political situation.  Not only does he make a strong statement on the treatment of indigenous populations throughout history, he also makes a poignant point of how to create a deep sense of self-esteem in our younger population.

John Leguizamo is a truly master at his craft.  Latin History for Morons is playing at Studio 54 through February 25.  Get your tickets right away.  

Domenick Danza

Monday, December 25, 2017

John Lithgow: Stories By Heart

John Lithgow: Stories By Heart
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
December 23, 2017

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Why do we love to listen to and tell stories?  This is the questions John Lithgow asks during the opening section of his one man show presented by Roundabout Theatre Company.  In John Lithgow: Stories By Heart the well-known actor and storyteller reveals all the sides of his personality we have come to admire over the years.  He is warm, funny, tender, boisterous, genuine, and daring.

Mr. Lithgow shares with his audience the story of his father, an exuberant man, full of life.  His father produced and directed all of Shakespeare’s plays in the course of his career.  He founded Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland, OH.  Mr. Lithgow and his three siblings had a rough childhood, changing school often, yet it was full or stories, joy, and enthusiasm.  He shares two stories his father told during their childhood.  They are not age-appropriate bedtime stories, but when acted out with imagination and characterization, they become stunningly memorable.  The Haircut by Ring Lardner takes up most of the first act, and Uncle Fred Flits By by P.G. Wodehouse is performed during the second.  The poignant part of the performance is when Mr. Lithgow returns the recitation of the stories to his aging father during a period of poor health.

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
John Lithgow’s skills are masterful.  His vocal and physical characterizations are distinct and change instantaneously.  His heart fills the American Airlines Theatre and touches everyone in it.  The show, directed by Daniel Sullivan, is simple and touching.  John Lithgow: Stories By Heart is playing through March 24.  It is a unique and personal experience.      

Domenick Danza

Sunday, December 17, 2017

M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly
Cort Theatre
December 16, 2017

Photo courtesy of M. Butterfly
I saw the original production of M. Butterfly in 1988 with B.D. Wong.  It was spellbinding.  When I read that Julie Taymor was directing it for a Broadway revival, I was intrigued.  I was interested in seeing how she would interpret it and bring David Henry Hwang’s script into the 21st century amid a different political environment.  I am very happy I got to see the production on its closing weekend.  It was different, a lot more stark and realistic.  It did not have the captivating flow of the premier production, yet it packed a potent social/political statement.

When French Diplomat, Rene Gallinard (played by Clive Owens) is stationed in China, he meets the “most perfect woman.”  A performer in the Chinese Opera, Song Liling (played by Jin Ha), is the Madam Butterfly of Rene’s idealistic dreams.  Renee is taken for a fool in many ways.  Not only is Song Liling a spy for the revolution, gathering top secret information from Rene, but she is also a man.

Jin Ha as Song Liling
Photo courtesy of M. Butterfly
Clive Owens portrayal of Rene Gallinard is honest and genuine.  He addresses the audience directly and tells his story with such a calm demeanor that we buy into his delusion.  We believe as he believes, and see what he tells us as his truth.  Jin Ha plays the feminine Butterfly flawlessly.  He interrupts Rene’s story a few times with the factual accounts of being blackmailed and tortured into gathering information for the communist party, then swiftly transitions back into his feminine mystique.  Together they create a highly intimate moment at the end of Act I.  Their confrontation scene near the end of Act II does not rise as much as it could, yet the final moment of the play is truly impactful.
  
Clive Owens & Jin Ha
Photo courtesy of M. Butterfly
The revival of M. Butterfly closed on December 17, earlier than anticipated.  Mr. Hwang's script is still relevant after nineteen years.  The production had a few flaws, yet I was well worth seeing.


Domenick Danza

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Children

The Children
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
December 9, 2017

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Lucy Kirkwood’s play The Children asserts a powerful message of responsibility.  Produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in conjunction with Royal Court Theatre, this three character play asks a number of mind boggling “what if” questions.  Director James Macdonald builds the tension and suspense with subtle glances and shifts in timing and tone, which brings Ms. Kirkwood’s daring script to a shocking conclusion.

Rose (played by Francesca Annis) drops in on her old friends Hazel (played by Deborah Findlay) and her husband Robin (played by Ron Cook) for a surprise visit.  All three are retired nuclear physicists who worked together in the local power plant.  There was a recent nuclear explosion that has put the whole county in grave danger.  Since the disaster, Hazel and Robin have been living in a small cottage on the outskirts of the danger zone.  The purpose of Rose’s return is to gather the group of scientists who built the plant, knowing its weaknesses and impending dangers, and repair the damage in order to make it safe for the children and the future.

Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay, & Francesca Annis
Photo courtesy of Royal Court Theatre
All three actors are amazing.  They keep you on the edge of your seat by gradually revealing their characters’ wants and fears.  Francesca Annis’ character of Rose is a mysterious myriad of secrets.  Deborah Findlay’s Hazel is a stoic force, eager to speak her mind.  Ron Cook’s rendition of Robin is outgoing, charming, and quietly brave.  Their chemistry is genuine and their timing is spot on. 

Ms. Kirkwood’s play speaks to a generation.  It asks them to do what is needed in order to leave the world in as good, if not better, condition than it was given to them.  Isn’t it everyone’s responsibility to clean up after themselves?  How can you expect a different outcome from repeating the same behavior decade after decade?  The Children asks these questions on an individual as well as a global level.  This amazing play, direct from the Royal Court Theatre, will be running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through February 4.  See it for yourself.   

Domenick Danza