Monday, December 28, 2015

Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin
Roundabout Theatre Company
Studio 54
December 26, 2015

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
My colleague and fellow blogger, Dierdre Deloatch, texted me last week to say she saw Therese Raquin.  She highly recommended it.  Since I trust her more than the reviews, I immediately went on line to TDF to see if it was available.  I got a ticket for December 26 at 2:00, and prayed that Keira Knightly and Judith Light would both be in for the matinee.  They were, and I have to concur with Ms. Deloatch.  The show is dark and intense.  It is wonderfully conceived and directed.  All the performers are engaging and mesmerizing.

Matt Ryan, Judith Light, Keira Knightly, & Gabriel Ebert
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Adapted from the Emile Zola novel by Helen Edmundson, this tale of repression and servitude takes place in France in the year 1868.  Therese Raquin (played by Keira Knightly, making her Broadway debut) has been raised by Madame Raquin, her aunt (played by Judith Light).  Now that she is of age, Madame Raquin arranges for Therese to marry her son, Camille (played by Gabriel Ebert).  It is a loveless marriage based on the servitude that Therese has become accustomed to through her upbringing.  When Camille announces that he wishes to move the family to Paris for better opportunity, Therese sees the glimmer of a better life.  She quickly realizes that hope is futile, until her husband brings home an old friend, Laurent (played by Matt Ryan).

Keira Knightly & Matt Ryan
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
The chemistry between Ms. Knightly and Mr. Ryan is electric.  When Laurent first enters the Raquin’s Paris residence, you can feel the magnetism between the two characters.  The action of two-thirds of the play hinges upon this attraction, and these two actors skillfully deliver with exuberance.  Therese speaks sporadically during Act I, yet Ms. Knightly has the ability to clearly and effortlessly communicate her thoughts through subtle body language, carefully gestures, and intimate glances.  Both Laurent and Therese undergo huge transformations in the second act.  Ms. Knightly and Mr. Ryan seamlessly take these leaps by captivating the audience until the climax of the play.  They motivate every change and communicate every thought.

Keira Knightly & Judith Light
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Judith Light is amazing as Madame Raquin, a role out of her physical type and age range, yet clearly not out of reach of her incredible talent and expertise.  The aging and infirmity of her character is impeccable and emotionally driven.  Gabriel Ebert is riveting as Camille.  He skillfully portrays his constrained upbringing through his narrow mindedness, condescending comments, and physical disability.

Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan, & Keira Knightly
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
The production is magnificently directed by Evan Cabnet.  The pace is steady and even.  There are small moments throughout the play that entice the senses into a deep level of engagement and keep you riveted.  The set is breathtaking.  A river flows across the stage creating tranquility, disturbance, and fear – each of which reflects Therese’s emotion at different times in the play.  The expanse of space and light of the Raquin home by the river is sharply descended upon by the heavy, low-ceilinged Paris apartment.  Lamont’s attic, sky lit apartment literally hangs amid the stars.  This unbelievable design by Beowulf Boritt makes possible a visceral understanding of the underlying fire in the characters and keeps the plot of Ms. Edmundson’s commissioned and concise adaptation moving forward.

If you listened to the reviews of Therese Raquin, chances are you missed seeing this moving and enthralling Roundabout Theatre production.  If it makes you feel better, you are not alone.  The theatre, during Broadway’s busiest season, had a large number of empty seats.  Not to worry, there’s still time.  Therese Raquin plays as Studio 54 until January 3.  Run… now! 
  

Domenick Danza

Monday, December 21, 2015

Marjorie Prime

Marjorie Prime
Playwrights Horizons
December 19, 2015

Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Is virtual reality a mere reflection of projected thoughts, or does it have a life separate and individual from those programming it?  This is a question that arises from experiencing Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime at Playwrights Horizons.  The play is skillfully crafted and seamlessly directed to blur the lines between these realms.  The cast draws you deeply into their world and intimately connects you to their hopes and fears.

Tess (played by Lisa Emery) and Jon (played by Stephen Root) set up their aging mother, Marjorie (played by Lois Smith), with a prime of her deceased husband (played by Noah Bean).  The purpose for this is two-fold: first, to keep her company and second, to keep her memories alive.  A prime is a computer generated image in the likeness of a specific person.  This prime can interact as this individual when programmed with information about your relationship and details of your shared experiences.  Since perception frames most involvements, the truth of these interactions becomes questionable.  This is why Tess is skeptical of the effect these conversations have on her mother.  Jon is certain of the benefit they offer, since he sees improvement in Marjorie’s outlook.  He later understands Tess’s concerns when he has a need to develop a personal relationship with a prime.

Lisa Emery, Lois Smith, & Noah Bean
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
This play is all about relationship, and director Anne Kauffman has brought these four actors to a place where their interactions are truthful and sincere.  Lois Smith is superb as Marjorie.  She portrays the numerous layers of this aging character with strength, conviction, and detail.  Lisa Emery elicits great emotion and compassion as a woman who yearns for connection with her mother in order to resolve her deepest struggles.  Stephen Root’s character is continually warm, caring, and empathetic.  The chemistry between him and Ms. Emery is natural and dynamic.  Noah Bean emits a grounded calm that makes you understand why every character in the play willingly opens up and graciously reveals themselves to him. 

Stephen Root, Lois Smith, & Lisa Emery
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Jordan Harrison's writing proves that a skilled playwright can lead you on a journey almost anywhere.  His dialogue is full of dramatic action that keeps you riveted.  The final scene of the play takes a stunning turn.  Can life’s most complex challenges be virtually resolved by merely combining streams of logic to given facts?  Marjorie Prime is extended at Playwrights Horizons until January 24.  See it and understand the depth and value of Marjorie’s simple statement, “How nice that we could love somebody.”


Domenick Danza

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hir

Hir
Playwrights Horizons
December 12, 2015

Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
I read Taylor Mac’s play Hir last winter in American Theatre Magazine.  Hir refers to the pronoun used in place of him or her for a transgender person.  I remember it being bold and powerful, yet I knew that my first read only comprehended the surface level of meaning.  When I read that Kristin Nielsen was going to play the role of the mother, Paige, in the PlaywrightsHorizon production, I knew it was going to be great and that I had to see it.  I even paid full price for my ticket (usually I get tickets discounted on line from TDF).  The performance was worth three times what I paid for it.  Director Niegel Smith delves deeply into every detail of Mr. Mac’s amazing script and inspires the phenomenal cast of four to deliver truthful and visceral performances.

Kristine Nielsen and Tom Phelan
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Isaac (boldly played by Cameron Scoggins) returns home from three years in the Marines to find his family in crisis.  His father, Arnold (skillfully played by Daniel Oreskes), suffered a stroke, his sister, Max (brashly played by Tom Phelan) is in gender transition, and his mother, Paige (brilliantly played by Kristine Nielsen) has abandoned all of life’s structures and disciplines, disregarded the household chores, and allowed her home to fall into total chaos.  It is revealed that Isaac was dishonorably discharged due to drug abuse, and his father physically abused the family for years.  Isaac begins to organize and clean the house, against his mother’s wishes.  It is this action that sets off a frenzy of emotion and truth telling from which there is no turning back.
  
Cameron Scoggins, Kristine Nielsen, and Daniel Oreskes
Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizons
Gender roles are in constant flux, and frustration over the disillusionment that comes along with this flares up without warning.  It is a constant roller coaster of emotion, and the actors make it authentic and plausible.  Between Isaac’s service in Mortuary Affairs, where he cleaned up body parts of dead soldier after battle, Arnold’s holding and talking about his penis due to his diminished capacity, Max’s transition, and Paige’s enthusiasm for discussing Max’s transition and her “paradigm shift” in viewing the world, there is plenty of talk about body parts.  Mr. Mac brilliantly weaves these images into his dialogue making bold statements about honoring the dead and parts of the past into practically every scene. 

Kristine Nielsen
Photo courtesy of
 Playwrights Horizons
The set is a realistic “starter home” designed by David Zinn.  It is in total disarray at the opening of the first act.  Even the house curtain has a pattern that evokes chaos.  The set has a solid and low ceiling, yet lighting designer Mike Inwood brilliantly enhances every playing area.  His combination of actual ceiling fixtures and stage lighting is remarkable and effective.

This play is significant and truly incredible.  Mr. Mac’s voice is strong, his characters are real, and his writing style is unique.  The timing of all four actors is impeccable, their chemistry is fierce, and their physicality is sharp.  If you don’t get to see this production before it closes at Playwrights Horizons on January 3, pick up a copy of the script, read it, and have a “paradigm shift” of your own.  As Paige says, “Sometimes you spend your entire life preparing for something to be one way and right from the starts it’s another.”


Domenick Danza

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nora

Nora
Cherry Lane Theatre
December 7, 2015

Photo courtesyj of Cherry Lane Theatre
The Cherry Lane Studio Theatre is the ideal location for the dark and intimate production of Nora, a stage version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, by Ingmar Bergman.  With audience on three sides in that small venue, everyone is able to obtain an up close and personal connection to the characters and their challenges.  The play is set in the time period of Ibsen’s original script, yet the location is not specified.  The subordinate role women play, although spoken about, is not portrayed through action.  We also do not see Nora interacting with her children.  Therefore, Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children at the end of the play is not as risky, shocking, or impactful as intended by Ibsen.

Jean Lichty and Todd Gearhart
Photo courtesy of Cherry Lane Theatre
Jean Lichty and Todd Gearhart are focused and thoughtful as Nora and Torvald.  Their relationship is strong, yet this adaptation lacks the playful “doll” aspect that is the basis for their attraction and marriage.  When Nora’s act of forgery is revealed, Torvald’s self-preserving reaction is clear and in the moment.  We do not, however, see Nora come to any realization in that scene.  Bergman holds off on Nora’s confrontation with her husband until later that night.  While he lies naked in bed, she awakens him, fully dressed, ready to leave.  Torvald is confused by her decision to walk out on him and the children.  He claims he is willing to change, yet she is unrelenting.  Torvald is victimized by her decision.  This feeling is heightened by director Austin Pendleton’s staging.  At the end of the play, Torvald is seated on the bedroom floor, naked and wrapped in a blanket from the bed. 
  
Jean Lichty and Larry Bull
Photo courtesy of Cherry Lane Theatre
The portrayals of Christine Linde and Nils Krogstad, by Andrea Cirie and Larry Bull, are dark and formal.  The sadness they carry due to their life experiences weighs heavy on them both.  The combination of this with their strong, palpable chemistry creates an intriguing storyline.

The hardship and despair in the lives of all the characters is evident and skillfully portrayed.  By the end of the play they are all cleansed of the guilt of their secrets and shame.  If this is Bergman’s intention, it is well directed and performed.  A journey to awakening, such as Nora’s, needs to have some sense of hope, awakening, and continuity.  Unfortunately, Bergman’s adaptation has stripped Ibsen’s play of those moments, leaving behind nothing more than a dark journey of loss and despair.


Domenick Danza

Monday, November 30, 2015

Incident at Vichy

Incident at Vichy
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
November 27, 2015

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
SignatureTheater’s production of Incident at Vichy is relevant, timely, and jaw-dropping.  It is as if the script was recently written by Arthur Miller as an allegory to our present political/social climate.  Racial profiling, acting above the law, prejudice, scapegoating, events that evoke fear, denial of governmental motivations… history continues to repeat itself.  Director Michael Wilson delves into every emotional moment and political/social innuendo that allows this phenomenal ensemble to create a truthful and powerful performance.

Darren Pettie, Jonny Orsini, & Evan Zes
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
The year is 1942 in Vichy, France.  Hitler and the Nazi Party have gained a substantial amount of power.  Ten men have been rounded up from the streets and taken to a holding area.  They are expecting a routine check of papers.  As fear and paranoia mounts, they share the rumors of trains packed with Jews brutally shipped off to concentration camps.  Since the Nazi atrocities have yet to be made public, their disbeliefs become a heated debate.  Everyone has the required paperwork, yet once they find out what the officers are looking for, they realize there is no escape.

Darren Pettie & Richard Thomas
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Richard Thomas plays Von Berg, an Austrian Prince, who was evidently profiled for a different reason than the others.  As it becomes clear that he is the only man with any chance of being released, he is challenged by Darren Pettie, who plays Leduc, to look deeply into his conscience.  Is he guilty of the same prejudice and bigotry as the Nazi’s because he views himself separate from the others?  Is the lack of action from a man of his position and wealth a choice that enables the Nazi rise to power?  Mr. Pettie depicts the duality of his character by emotionally retaining his sense of reason while physically portraying his mounting desperation.  The outcome of this confrontation is stunningly powerful and Mr. Thomas delivers it with poignant strength and commitment. 

Richard Thomas, Derek Smith, & Jonathan Gordon
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Derek Smith delivers a captivating performance as Monceau.  The self-confidence and “panache” of his character fires up the debate and makes denial a palpable element that empowers the opposition.  Every actor in this company develops individual and realistic characters and are equally responsible for creating an experience that is eye-opening and awe-inspiring.

The set, by Jeff Cowie, is realistic and dirty (as it should be).  The soundscape, designed by John Gromada, is highly effective.  It is subtle in the opening of the show, then grows and builds as you realize the reality of the situation and the fate of the characters.  Projection design by Rocco Disanti packs a powerful image for the ending of the play.

James Carpinello
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
“What the play really probes and asks is no matter your class, no matter your political affiliation, what is one’s own personal responsibility to these kinds of situations?  I think that becomes a compelling, harrowing question to face for not only the characters in the play but also for us as an audience,” states Director Michael Wilson in a Signature Theatre publication.  The production is extended through December 20 at the Pershing Square Signature Center.  Experience the play for yourself and see how you fare with that essential question.


Domenick Danza

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Songs My Mother Taught Me

Songs My Mother Taught Me
Lorna Luft Celebrates her Mother Judy Garland
On Stage at Kingsborough
Kingsborough Community College
November 21, 2015

Photo courtesy of On Stage at Kinsgsborough
Lorna Luft wowed the sold out Brooklyn crowd at Kingsborough Community College with her one woman show, Songs My Mother Taught Me, a celebration of her mother, Judy Garland.  The show was one classic tune after another with video of Judy Garland, and images of the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.).  Ms. Luft is a powerful and talented vocalist with a unique connection to old Hollywood.  She skillfully belts out the old standards with vim and vigor, and tells stories of her life and challenges.

Photo courtesy of Songs My Mother Taught Me
Under the direction of her husband, Colin R. Freeman, Ms. Luft was supported by an ensemble of eleven musicians.  The ensemble was strong and vivacious, and filled the auditorium with enhanced rhythm.  Highlights of the show were when she sang Jerry Herman’s “Time Heals Everything” in the first act and “The Man That Got Away” in the second act.  The two songs she sang harmonizing with a video of Judy Garland were a bit too much, but the tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. was exciting.  The evening culminated with her telling the story of how Judy Garland got to Carnegie Hall in song and narrative.

If you have the opportunity to catch Lorna Luft’s cabaret, whether it be Songs My Mother Taught Me or another title, I highly recommend it.  Vocalists with this kind of power, skill, and style are a rarity.


Domenick Danza

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shadowland

Shadowland
Pilobolus Dance Theatre
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
November 22, 2015

Photo courtesy of NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
After an extensive European tour, Shadowland, Pilobolus’ latest creation, is making its North American premier at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.  This astonishing seventy minute full-length piece is conceived and developed in the unique and successful collaborative style that Pilobolus is famous for.  The nine dancers are strong, skillful artists who defy gravity and lift the spirits of every member of the audience.

Photo courtesy of Pilobolus
Shadowland tells the coming of age story of girl who longs to be a grown up.  The main part of the piece is a dreamscape where she faces the shadows of her fears and realizes the truth of her individual self.  Shadow screens are flipped over, rolled around the stage, carried by hand, and flown in, allowing the story to be told in both shadow and fully-viewed sections.  This variety gives insight into how the main character views herself.  You are therefore able to emotionally connect to her psychological journey.  

Photo courtesy of Pilobolus
I took my two nieces to the performance.  Brianna, a high school freshman, who experienced Pilobolus for the first time said, “I feel the piece portrayed how you should always be yourself and not change for other people.”  Madeline, a twenty-three years old accountant, saw Pilobolus two summers ago at the Joyce Theatre and is now a confirmed Pilobolus groupie.  She said, "The level of emotion was heightened through the shadow play.  I didn’t need to see their faces since the illusion of the shadow effects were so expressive and riveting.”

If you have never experienced Pilobolus, run to the Skirball Center and get a ticket.  Shadowland is playing through December 6.


Domenick Danza

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Night is a Room

Night is a Room
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
November 14, 2015


Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Naomi Wallace’s new play, Night is a Room, is thought provoking and emotionally riveting.  Ms. Wallace delves deeply into every aspect of the Oedipus complex and brings her audience to a visceral understanding of the emotional needs that drive her characters to make choices that are shocking and disturbing.  They dive head first into life changing decisions from which there is no return.  Part of you screams for them to stop, while another part of you knows they cannot.

Playwright Naomi Wallace
Photo courtesy of
American Theatre Magazine
As a surprise for his fortieth birthday, Liana (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) tracks down her husband Marcus’ birth mother, Dore (played by Ann Dowd).  After a few private meetings, Dore informs Liana that Marcus (played by Bill Heck) is leaving her.  He explains GSA (Genetic Sexual Attraction) to Liana and that sexual attraction between reunited parents and children is common.  The shock and taboo of this subject is intensely explored as Ms. Wallace allows all three characters to articulate and share their feeling in order to understand it themselves.  The three actors are honest, raw, and amazing.  The scene at the end of the second act between Dore and Liana puts them face to face six years later.  The two actors (Dagmar Dominczyk and Ann Dowd) skillfully and truthfully make the most heinous events of the story their reality so that you gain empathy for both of their needs and flaws.

Director Bill Rauch makes the most of every image and nuance of Ms. Wallace’s writing.  The subtlety of a broken heel, a maple tree, and a jingle bell inside a balloon are a few small details that reappear and grow to become windows into the world of the play and the souls of the characters.  Rachel Hauck’s scenic design is also filled with overlapping and recurring images (the wooden fence, the step ladder, the plastered walls) that make you see the strength and frailty of the character’s emotions.  The subtle sound design by Leah Gelpe is powerful.  The intensity of the sound of the rain and the constant echo in the second act make you feel the emptiness the characters are experiencing.

Night is a Room is extended through December 20 at the Pershing Square Signature Center.  Ms. Wallace’s no holds barred dialogue and disturbing plot line make this a play a not-to-be-missed event.  Prepare yourself and go see it.

Ann Dowd in Night is a Room
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
On a Personal Note:  When the lights came up at the start of the first act, I recognized Ann Dowd, the actress playing Dore, from one of my favorite episodes of “Law and Order.”  I am an avid fan and have a number of favorite episodes, especially the ones with Jerry Orbach.  I was not sure if it was her until she spoke her first line.  The sound of her voice is unique and memorable.  At the end of the show I needed to sit in the lobby to collect my thoughts.  The disturbing subject matter was a lot to process.  When I got up to leave, Ms. Dowd was standing in front of me.  I shook her hand and told her how truly amazing I thought she was and that I recognized her from her TV appearances.  She introduced herself and asked, “Do you believe how the play progresses from where it begins?”  I was still relatively speechless from experiencing the play, but managed to get out a few coherent phrases.  I asked her if I could hug her.  She said, “Yes, after that (the performance), I need one too.”  That brief encounter with Ms. Dowd gave me a greater understanding of not only the complexity of play, but the level of emotional commitment required for an actor to deliver a powerful and cathartic experience for their audience.


Domenick Danza

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dear Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth
WP (Women’s Project) Theater
November 14, 2015

Photo courtesy of WP Theater
I have read a number of Sarah Ruhl plays and have seen a few productions.  I find her unique writing style in the genre of magical realism to be captivating.  When I saw her name associated with the WP (Women’s Project) Theater’s Dear ElizabethI quickly grabbed a ticket.  The play is based on Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.  The play is sprinkled with works of these two poets as well as the point of view of Ms. Ruhl, making it a touching and personal theatrical experience. 

Becky Ann Baker & Peter Scolari
Very much set up like the Broadway production of Love Letters, the play has different well known Broadway and television actors stepping in every two weeks.  I was lucky to see Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari.  Their chemistry and energy created a believable account of the decades-long relationship between the two prolific poets.  Sarah Ruhl wrote in the program notes that "the silence between the letters fascinated me.”  It is in these interludes that Ms. Ruhl allows characters of Ms. Bishop and Mr. Lowell to reveal a deeper side of themselves.  She achieves this by skillfully arranging the writing of the letters so they are always “speaking in their own words.”

Playwright Sarah Ruhl
Watching the play made me think about how we do not take time to correspond anymore.  A quick email or an abbreviated text does not serve the same purpose or communicate the same level of thought as sitting down and putting a pen to paper.  The immediacy of email eliminates time spent to ponder and choose words with accuracy and care.  Letter writing has become a lost art and with that went the opportunity to have a record of our experiences, reflections, and relationships. 

Dear Elizabeth is playing at the WP Theater until December 5.  Check the website before getting tickets to see who is featured.  Cherry Jones will be in from November 16 through 21.  That is sure to be amazing.

Domenick Danza

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Pianist of Willesden Lane

The Pianist of Willesden Lane
On Stage at Kingsborough
Kingsborough Community College
November 8, 2015

Photo courtesy of On Stage at Kingsborough
This past weekend, On Stage at Kingsborough presented The Pianist of Willesden Lane.  This one woman show is “a memoir of music, love, and survival” in which Mona Golabek shares the story of her mother’s journey as a refugee during the Nazi rise to power.  The show is warm, touching, and inspiring.

Photo courtesy of The Pianist of Willesden Lane
Lisa Jura is a young piano student in Vienna.  As the Nazi regime begins to gain power, her father wins a ticket on the kindertransport in a card game.  This was a train for children to escape to London from at risk territories.  She promises her mother she will continue to study her piano.  Her mother promises to be present with her through her music.  The story is punctuated with pieces by Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Grieg all played live by concert pianist and storyteller, Mona Golabek.  Her presence, pace, and tone are captivating, and superseded only by her skill as a concert pianist.

Photo courtesy of
The Children of Willesden Lane
The production is simply done with projections and soundscapes that enhance the emotional impact of the story.  The production is touring the U.S. and will be performing in London this winter.  It is based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane.  I bought an autographed copy of the book after the show.  Check out the book and see where else this production is playing.

I have said it before and I will say it again, if you live in south Brooklyn and are interested in inexpensive tickets to high quality performances, I highly recommend checking out On Stage at Kingsborough this season.  Located on the campus of Kingsborough Community College, parking is free and accessible.  I am looking forward to their upcoming presentation of Songs My Mother Taught Me, the cabaret act starring Lorna Luft on Saturday, November 21.


Domenick Danza

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Steve

Steve
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
November 7, 2015

Photo courtesy of The New Group
The New Group’s production of  Steve, the new play by Mark Gerrard, is now running at The Pershing Square Signature Center.  The play is a witty and honest look at the transformation of values of a group of friends as they move past middle age and into the next phase of their lives with a renewed sense of themselves.

Steven, Carrie, and Matt have been best friends since they were singing waiters and aspiring Broadway performer in their youth.  At Steven’s forty-seventh birthday dinner, he discovers that Stephen, his partner of fifteen years, has been sexting Brian, Matt’s boyfriend.  Facing the truth of his betrayal is difficult since Stephen and Steven have an eight year old son to think about, and are grappling with Carrie’s battle with cancer.  All the characters are forced to face the reality of growing older while they hold onto their idealistic and carefree musical theatre piano bar youth. 

The cast of Steve
Photo courtesy of The New Group
Under the direction of Cynthia Nixon, the cast is a strong ensemble.  She has given the actors the creative space to develop true and honest relationships. Matt McGrath, as Steven, unearths the fears that come when you realize life is not turning out as planned.  Malcolm Gets, as his partner Stephen, realistically portrays how certainty can turns into insecurity in a mere moment.  Ashlie Atkinson, as Carries, is biting, funny, cold and heartwarming… all at the same time.  Mario Cantone, as Matt, and Jerry Dixon, as Brian, have high energy and great chemistry which keep the action building.  The bond of friendships between the five characters is viscerally understood through their timing.  It is impeccable, warm, and comfortable.

Playwright Mark Gerrard and Director Cynthia Nixon
Photo courtesy of The New Group
Playwright Mark Gerrard has created five real characters that are facing their present challenges and fears and asking questions about their futures.  His musical theatre quotes and snarky pokes not only serve as comic relief, but more importantly, are reminiscent, tender, and caring moments between good friends.  The play is structured with musical theatre songs that emotionally and physically transition scenes as well as effectively frame the action.  These are the details that illustrate Mr. Gerrard’s extreme skill and unique style.  It is great writing!

If you spent your younger days in a piano bar dreaming of being a chorus boy on Broadway and hoping to meet the love of your life, go see this show.  If you are facing the reality of turning fifty, which may include some level of disappointment in your achievements, go see this show.  No matter who you are, go see this show!  It will remind you to keep your sense of humor while moving through the uncertainties of life.
  

Domenick Danza

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
Hubris Theatre Company
Roy Arias Stage 7 Sage Theater
October 31, 2015

Photo courtesy of Hubris Theatre Compnay
The Hubris Theatre’s production of A Clockwork Orange is now playing at the Roy Arias Stage 7 Sage Theater (7th Ave. and 48th St.).  It is a gripping play, written by Anthony Burgess, who also wrote the novel.  Although about twenty minutes too long and full of disturbing violence, this is a well done work that is worth seeing.  The production is visually enthralling and makes relevant the well-known dystopian novel. 

Alex Tissiere in A Clockwork Orange
Photo courtesy of Hubris Theatre Company
The cast is a strong ensemble, playing numerous roles with crisp and clear characterization.  Alex Tissiere does a brilliant job with the lead role.  He skillfully delivers numerous Shakespearean-like monologues with that narrate his story.  He carries the action forward with depth and intention. 

The set design, by Scott Tedmon-Jones, is stark, cold, and conceptually serves multiple purposes.  The program notes by director John Bateman tells why he chose to produce this play.  The social relevance is evident in his stylistic choices and clearly depicted in the video selections used before and during the performance.  Unfortunately, the screens were placed on the stage right and left prosceniums, at time forcing you to switch focus from the action of important scenes.

The Hubris Theatre Company is a focused and skillful troupe worth following.  The space at Roy Aria Sage Theater is not the most comfortable or accessible, but it is open, clean, and easy to get to.  If you are a fan of the book or movie of A Clockwork Orange, this production will intrigue you.


Domenick Danza

Monday, November 2, 2015

Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland
Lunt-Fontaine Theatre
October 31, 2015

Photo courtesy of Finding Neverland
I remember being inspired by the movie Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Freddie Highmore, who lit up the screen and captured the hearts of audiences everywhere.  When I saw the posters and advertisements for the musical version opening on Broadway last season, I knew that it had the potential for greatness, even though I could not remember the details of the story line.  The Broadway production is energetic, bright, and heartwarming.  It is not the story of Peter Pan, but the personal challenges of the writer J. M. Barrie and how and why he came to write his timeless tale of the boy who would never grow up.  Director Diana Paulus magically unravels the journey into the imagination of J. M. Barrie, and creates a production that heals the lost child within all of us.

Photo courtesy of Finding Neverland
The entire cast, led by Matthew Morrison and four amazing young actors, is bold, skillful, and exuberantly united.  Laura Michele Kelly is touching and tender as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies.  Carolee Carmello transforms in the character of Mrs. DuMaurier under the strain of heartbreaking grief and loss.  The understudy (yes, I saw the Saturday matinee) for Captain Hook, Paul Slade (in for Terrance Mann), gave depth to the role and convinced me to “live by the hook.”

Photo courtesy of Finding Neverland
The staging and choreography by Mia Michaels is what makes the show spectacular.  From the opening number and throughout the show, she surprises and amazes with high energy moves, unexpected patterns, and character driven gestures that move the story forward.  Her use of lifts to make characters fly affirms my belief that, in an era of high-tech theatrics, it is the simplest concepts that are always most effective.

Scenic design, by Scott Pask, is realistic, colorful, imaginative, and bright.  Lighting, by Kenneth Posner, beautifully enhances the mood, time period, and transitions.  The highlight in the score, by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, is the song “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground.”  I am still singing it.

Photo courtesy of Finding Neverland
This show focuses on the healing power of the creative mind and the value of the imagination.  “A man who does not want to fight (for what he believes), deserves what he gets,” shouts Captain Hook at the end of Act I.  If your playfulness of youth needs to be ignited, see the show and set your heart on fire.


Domenick Danza

Monday, October 26, 2015

A View from the Bridge

A View from the Bridge
The Young Vic Production
The Lyceum Theatre
October 24, 2015

Photo courtesy of
A View from the Bridge
This past spring my colleague and fellow blogger, Deirdre DeLoatch, wrote about her theatre trip to England.  “Experiencing the Heart and Culture of London” was posted on this blog on March 20, 2015.  She raved to me about the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and how it was destined for a Broadway run.  That production is presently in previews at the Lyceum Theatre with and opening date scheduled for November 12.  It far exceeds the high expectation that Deirdre setup for me.  Director Ivo Van Hove’s bare bones production revels in the richness of Arthur Miller’s text and makes relevant this impassioned story of family, love, and hubris.

The play takes place in the 1950s in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman and son of an Italian immigrant, opens his home to two of his wife’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, who are illegally entering the country to work and send money home to their impoverished family.  At the same time, Eddie’s niece Catherine, who he and his wife Bea raised since childhood after the death of her parents, is coming of age and ready to move forward with her adult life.  When Rodolpho begins romancing Catherine, Eddie is forced to face his true feelings for his niece and Bea faces her biggest fear.

Photo courtesy of A View from the Bridge
The starkness of the production makes clear the skillful structure of Arthur Miller’s play.  Just when he brings the conflict to a high point and you think resolution is ahead, he delves deeper into what is driving each character so we questions what is right and what is truth.  No playwright writes the tragic fall of the American hero like Arthur Miller.  When Eddie Carbone screams, “He took my name… I want my name back,” he echoes John Proctor in The Crucible and Peter Stockman from his adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.  Once the truth is told, there is no going back.  When Eddie lunges at Marco in the final scene after his wife Bea finally confronts the truth of his desire, it is similar to the tragic ending of All My Sons.

Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong, & Nicola Walker
Photo courtesy of A View from the Bridge
Although physically not cast to type, the actors make Miller’s dialogue ring with vitality and inspired dramatic action.  Mark Strong is audaciously authentic as Eddie Carbone. His is equally matched by Nicola Walker as his wife Bea.  She has honest moments that reveal her true feelings and realistic fears that propel the action of the play forward.  Michael Gould is a grounding force as Alfieri, who carefully and deliberately steps into the action of the play and accepts his role in the outcome.  Phoebe Fox and Russel Tovey, as Catherine and Rodolpho, change and grow as they face their obstacles in order to achieve their dreams.

Russel Tovey, Phoebe Fox, and Mark Strong
Photo courtesy of A View from the Bridge
The set, by Jan Versweyveld, is a designated square box with a single entrance up stage center.  There are no props and no interior or exterior settings.   The playing area is like a boxing ring with audience seating stage right and left, creating a three quarter stage setting.  Other powerful director/designer choices are the fact that all the characters, except for Alfieri before he steps into the playing area, are barefoot.  Also, the shower in the opening and closing make a strong, effective, awe-inspiring statement.  I will not go into detail about these images so you can feel the full impact when you see it… and you MUST.

This production sheds a new light on this American classic by stripping it down and engaging the audience in the beauty, rhythm, and directness of Arthur Miller’s words.  The play runs under two hours without an intermission, and is scheduled for a limited run of seventeen weeks.  It is an impactful work.  Be sure to see it. 


Domenick Danza