Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Guards at the Taj

Guards at the Taj
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
May 24, 2015

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
Can there be only one most beautiful thing in the world?  Can the creation of beauty become extinct?  What is beauty?  These are some of the thematic questions addressed by playwright Rajiv Joseph in Guards at the Taj now playing at Atlantic Theater Company.  This play will make you laugh, and cringe… and ponder beauty.

Humayun and Babur, two of the Emperor’s guards at the Taj Mahal in 1648, are among the first to see the newly completed mausoleum at first light.  They behold this MOST beautiful creation, a monument never to be exceeded in beauty.  They then journey to a blood drenched dungeon, where they face their darkest nightmare and come out with different appreciations of the truth.  Omar Metwally (Humayun) and Arian Moayed (Babur) each develops a unique and realistic character.  Together they create a relatable bond of friendship and adventure.

Arian Moayed, Rajiv Joseph, & Omar Metwally
at the Taj Mahal (Agra, India)
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

The script by Rajiv Joseph, well known for his BengalTiger at the Baghdad Zoo (a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), spans a broad range of topic as it focuses in on its main theme (the essence and creation of beauty) through the heartfelt comradery of the two characters.  It is profoundly, yet simply, directed by Amy Morton. 

The set is a brutal structure that weighs heavily on the space.  Ingeniously designed by Timothy R. Mackabee, it is realistic, powerful, and alive.  The moments of beauty the script refers to are illuminated by David Weiner’s amazing lighting.  The brightness contrasts the heaviness of the set to create spectacular moments that stand out in the characters’ perspectives.

Guards at the Taj runs through June 28 at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater.  Put your thinking cap on and ponder the beauty of this piece of theatre.

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie
Masterworks Theater Company
Off Broadway - 47th Street Theater
May 16, 2015

Photo courtesy of
Masterworks Theater Company
MasterworksTheater Company, in the first production of their inaugural season, has mounted Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.  Director Christopher Scott found the rhythm, poeticism, and soul of Tennessee Williams.  The cast brings to life these well-known characters with vivacity, charm, and inner conflict.  This production encapsulates the depth and complexity of this Tennessee Williams’ classic script.

I saw last season’s Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto.  It was breathtaking and mesmerizing.  It did, however, lack one important element, and that was the disdain that Tom feels towards his mother that drives him to desert Laura.  Richard Prioleau’s Tom, in Masterwork’s production, portrays that visceral element with clarity and verve.  Saundra Santiago’s Amanda has a mother’s determination and the Southern gift of gab that pushed every button in her son’s emotional armor.  Together these two actors set the stage on fire. 

Saundra Santiago as Amanda, Doug Harris as Jim, Richard Prioleau as Tom
Photo courtesy of Masterworks Theater Company

Olivia Washington portrays Laura with the emotional disability that the character’s being "crippled" represents.  Doug Harris gives Jim, the Gentleman Caller, the conservative façade and shallow respect that lures Laura out in the open.  Together they are magic.

The scenic design, by Campbell Baird, is simple and effective.  Lighting design, by Joyce Liao, and original music and sound design, by Brett Macias, satiates a very small stage with larger than life moments.

Saundra Santiago as Amanda & Richard Prioleau as Tom
Photo courtesy of Masterworks Theater Company
Masterworks Theater Company is dedicated to producing “great plays and musicals that every young person should have an opportunity to see.”  Their intention is to “present these high quality productions at reasonable prices for schools, colleges, and families.”  With this show as an example of what is to come, I have very high expectations and look forward to their upcoming A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June.

The Glass Menagerie plays Off Broadway at the 47th Street Theater through May 30.  Go see it and experience the true essence of Tennessee Williams.  

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Fiasco Theater’s
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Theatre for a New Audience
April 25, & May 7, 2015

Deirdre M. DeLoatch and I went to see Fiasco Theatre’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona at Theatre for a New Audience a week apart.  We decided to share our thoughts on the show together.

Photo courtesy of Fiasco Theatre

Deirdre:  After seeing many Shakespearean tragedies over the last year, I looked forward to watching one of his comedies.  I enjoyed a recent performance of Hamlet and A Winter's Tale considerably more than The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Considering the script, this contemporary performance adds both another dimension and depth to the play via props, costumes, set design, and lighting that helps the audience view the play in a contemporary manner instead of fostering nostalgia for the Elizabethan era.

Domenick:  The breakdown of the script and the consolidation of the cast to a solid, strong ensemble of six actors created a flowing, comprehensive, and pleasant two hours.  The directors, Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld, clearly have a strong knowledge of Shakespeare and insight into the story lines and themes of this comic love story.  They found the heart of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and interpreted it with delight and care.

Photo courtesy of Fiasco Theater
Synopsis (from Deirdre):  Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a romantic comedy and purportedly Shakespeare's first play, is the story of love, friendship, and betrayal.  Valentine is in love with the lovely Sylvia; his best friend from Childhood, Proteus, is in love with Julia. Proteus, upon meeting Sylvia at the Duke's Court immediately surreptitiously professes his love for her, although he heretofore professed his love for Julia.  Proteus is aware that he is betraying his best friend but he decides to woo Sylvia in spite of behaving duplicitously.  Sylvia, however, has been betrothed to Thurio, a suitor for whom she has no interest.  Julia disguises herself as a man, so that she can reunite with Proteus.  She eavesdrops on Proteus's conversations to find out information about Proteus and Silvia.  Valentine is banished by Silvia's father, the Duke, preventing his love for Silvia from prospering.  During his banishment, he continues to pine for Sylvia, as Proteus desires to plot and scheme to get Sylvia.  In the end, Proteus and Julia salvage their relationship and profess their love; Similarly, Valentine and Sylvia, with the blessing of her father, join together in love, as he realizes that Thurio does not have the depth of character as Valentine.

Deirdre:  This fine youthful ensemble cast adds to the success of the play.  When one thinks of marriage, youthfulness is usually apparent.  Many of the characters play multiple roles that allow us to see the professional skill of the actors playing varied and distinguished characters.  Before the play starts, the cast is on stage jovially playing with each other and engaging in conversations about the lighting and how they will look on stage.  It is obvious that they all work well together.

Domenick:  I agree.  The ensemble was fabulous.  They were skillful and fun and worked together seamlessly bringing joy and passion to every moment.  

Deirdre:  Zachary Fine plays both Valentine and Crab, the dog.  His emotions are somewhat melodramatic especially when he is banished and he is not able to see his beloved Sylvia.  That scene seems to be cloying with extreme sentimentality. The love that he has for her is affective to the extent that the audience feels his emotions, which move us to empathy.  

Zachary Fine as Crab & Andy Grotelueschen as Launce
Photo courtesy of Fiasco Theater
Domenick:  The characterization and interactions of Crab, the dog, were fun and charming.  Mentioning this first by no means takes away from Zachary Fine’s performance in his primary role of Valentine.  The scenes with Crab added just the right amount of fun and frivolity to the mood of the production.

Deirdre:  Noah Brody, as Proteus, illustrated the character well for we see how Proteus is a cad because he allows us to see his own reflective thoughts aptly about his dishonorable actions. 

Domenick:  Jessie Austrian was charming and feisty as Julia.  Her ability to color and shade her monologues with tactics that clarified the text and engaged the audience was skillful and entertaining.

Emily Young as Sylvia & Jessie Austrian as Julia
Photo courtesy of Fiasco Theater
Deirdre:  Emily Young is adorable as Sylvia. Her pulchritude is evident.  We can see why Valentine loves her and why Proteus has fallen for her as well.  She is lovely with her beautiful white dress (symbolizing her purity) and exquisite beauty.  The deep love that Valentine and Sylvia have for each other is evident and can be seen through the great chemistry that is depicted throughout the play.  The characters exhibit great emotion when their reflection, passion, and despair are all needed to match the events in the play.

Domenick:  Andy Grotelueschen played three roles (Launce, the Duke, and Antonia).  The differentiation of his roles was clear and sharp.  His Antonio was especially witty and charming.

Deirdre:  The set, designed by Derek McLane, is not elaborate but its simplicity adds to its simple elegance.  

Domenick:  I agree.  I found it whimsical, light, and fun.  It was sheets of paper, crumpled and flat, in a mosaic collogue along the upstage, stage right, and stage left walls.  It also draped from the ceiling.  The white of the paper reflected the color of the lights as the scenes, moods, and time shifted.  The sheets of paper were representative of how many love letters were sent throughout the play, and connected to the sentiment in the closing line of how sharing a story reveals how you are through the writing.

Deirdre:  The red paper on which one letter is written in Act II is fabulous when it is torn to pieces.  It is as if Valentine's heart is bleeding from over sentimentality.  When each piece hits the stage with great lighting punctuating both the love that he is feeling and the hurt by his inability to consummate his relationship by marrying Sylvia.  Lighting, designed by Tim Cryan, is also used as a way of changing the color of the crepe paper on the set.

Domenick:  The second act had a lot more hutzpah than the first.  The action rose and the energy excelled as the plot became full of intrigue.  My favorite scene was in the forest in Act II when Sylvia confronts Proteus and confesses her love for Valentine.  Valentine forgives Proteus for acting like an untrustworthy fool, and Julia reveals herself from behind her disguise.  It all came together in a high point of action and enthusiasm. 

Photo courtesy of Fiasco Theater
Deirdre:  Although, this play is not my favorite and the story lacks both the power and intrigue of Shakespeare's tragedies, the modernization of this rendition helps one place himself into the lives of the characters who are similar to youthful romantic couples of today.  The set is minimalist; but the acting is great.  The whimsical nature of the play makes the audience to both chuckle and smile and subsequently say, “Bravo.”  Thus, in spite of a nearby audience member's exclamation, “I had forgotten how dumb this play actually was,” I actually enjoyed it for the comedy in which it was intended.  Although not as stimulating as Hamlet or Macbeth, it is no less worthy of great commendation for the direction it was given by the creative team and for the talented cast that delivered a great performance.

Domenick:  I truly enjoyed The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  This was my first time experiencing a Fiasco Theatre production.  They have a list of credits to their name from the past few seasons including Into the Woods at Roundabout Theatre.  I intend to make a point to see more of their work in the future.  The level of quality is very high. 

Deirdre:  I saw the Fiasco's production of Into the Woods at the Roundabout Theater.  The acting was vigorous which brought the drama to great height.  After seeing the production, I ordered the music from the original production with Bernadette Peters because I wanted to stay connected to Stephen Sondheim's music.  Seeing that production was the impetus for seeing the Fiasco's production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  I knew that their rendition of this work would be excellent.

Domenick:  I love the space at Theatre for a New Audience.  The classic theatre design allows every seat to have a great view of the performance space, even the higher up, less expensive seats.   They are producing great theatre in downtown Brooklyn at reasonable ticket prices.  Get there early, like I do, and enjoy a snack in the lobby café before the performance.

Deirdre:  I am looking forward to The Public Theater's Performance of The Tempest and Cymbeline (I've neither read nor seen Cymbeline) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  I hope that they will be just as ebullient with vivacity as The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Domenick:   The Drilling Company is also producing The Two Gentlemen of Verona in association with Bryant Park from May15 – 31 on the Upper Terrace.  The performances are FREE, Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM.  Knowing the quality of the Drilling Company, this is sure to be a great production as well.

Photo courtesy of Fiasco Theater

Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona runs until May 25 at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn (across the street from BAM).  Go to see it before it closes.  Add to the conversation Deirdre and I started here by writing your comments about this or any other upcoming Shakespeare productions in the city. 

Domenick Danza

Deirdre M. DeLoatch

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
May 1, 2015

Photo courtesy of
The Curious Incident of the Dog
in the Night-Time
I finally saw The Curious Incident of theDog in the Night-Time.  The experience of the production far exceeded every great comment I’ve heard.  Yes, the technology is amazing, the directing is skillful and daring, and the acting is on point and authentic.  The effectiveness of the concept far exceeds any rave review, high recommendation, or Tony nomination.  The show needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. 

Part way through the first act I realized that I was observing the play; somewhat detached while still engaged.  I was carefully watching the changing lights and movement of the props.  I was calculating the level of the relationships.  I was not emotionally connected to the characters, nor did the conflict move me or drive me to react.  Yet, when the first act ended and the house lights came up, I was stunned.  I didn’t want to move.  I needed to think through what had just happened.  I realized the depth of my engagement in the show was more intellectual and analytical than it was emotional.  This is the way the main character, Christopher, a fifteen year old with an autistic spectrum condition (exceptionally played by Alex Sharp), experiences his world.  This is the genius of the production.  The technology (set, lights, video, and sound) is brilliantly designed to give you the main character’s perspective.  All the other characters are directed through the lense of his point of view.

Photo courtesy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Understanding this allowed me to dive into the second act with enthusiasm.  It was a roller coaster ride as Christopher traveled alone on a train from his home with his father to live with his mother in London.  Once out of his comfort zone and routine, his senses became overwhelmed, and so did mine.  I found myself experiencing his journey of solving the murder of his neighbor’s dog with unstoppable resolve.  There was no fear and no emotional frenzy as deep family secrets were uncovered.  Each conflict and obstacle were treated with blind determination that made each conflict and obstacle just another stumbling block to move past. 

I was warned not to leave after the curtain call, and purposefully not told why.  I give you the same advice if you have not seen the show, but with some insight.  There was a mention during the second act that there would be an explanation for a math problem after the curtain call.  When the character of Christopher articulates his solution, it encapsulated the way he sees the world and the way the technology of the show are the workings of his mind.  This section of the show encompasses the journey of the play.

Photo courtesy of
The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Director Marianne Elliott has created a unique theatrical experience with depth and insight.  The designer team of Bunny Christie (scenic and costume), Paule Constable (lighting) Finn Ross (video), and Ian Dickinson (sound) have created the inner workings of the mind of a person on the autism spectrum.  You will love Alex Sharp as Christopher.  He is endearing and genuine.  And nothing I or anyone else says can match the experience of this production.  See it through the eye of Christopher yourself.  Take the journey.

Domenick Danza