Friday, February 24, 2017

Escaped Alone

Escaped Alone
BAM Harvey Theater
The Royal Court Theatre
February 23, 2017

Photo courtesy of Escaped Alone
Mind boggling.  Thought provoking.  Confusing.  Serious.  Metaphorical.  Abstract.  These are a few words that come to mind after seeing the Royal Court Theatre’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone at BAM Harvey Theater.  The rhythm and images in Ms. Churchill’s dialogue are riveting.  James Macdonald’s direction creates captivating moments for the four women in the cast.  The design team (Miriam Buether, scenic design; Peter Mumford, lighting design, and Christopher Shutt, sound design) juxtapose numerous technical elements that blur the line between the characters’ realities and fantasies within the world of the play.

Mrs. Jarrett (played by Linda Bassett) notices three women having tea through an open garden gate.  When invited in, she engages in light afternoon conversation that leads to darker revelations of the three women’s experiences.  None is darker than Mrs. Jarrett’s recollection of apocalyptic horror.

Photo courtesy of Escaped Alone
Linda Bassett is calm and matter of fact when she tells of the tales of human catastrophe.  Her demeanor and presence have an interesting blend of humor and terror.  June Watson grabs attention as Vi.  Her cordial tone smoothly transitions into a recollection of how she “accidentally” killed her husband with a kitchen knife.  Deborah Findlay portrays Sally as a socially pleasant woman, until her deep fear of cats dominates the conversation.  Kiki Markham plays Lena with equal duality.  These women are masters at creating realistic characters who have subliminally contrasting inner lives.

Photo courtesy of Escaped Alone
Escaped Alone communicates the strong sense of loneliness and fear that can lie beneath the fa├žade of social pleasantry.  The complex layers of Caryl Churchill’s writing take time to digest and ponder.  It is certainly a well-produced play, which evokes deep thought in our present day reality.  This Royal Court Theatre production is playing at BAM Harvey Theater for a limited time (Feb. 15 – 26). 


Domenick Danza

Wakey, Wakey

Wakey, Wakey
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
February 22, 2017

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Will Eno’s new play Wakey, Wakey is a touching look at the moments in life that create change and lasting value.  Mr. Eno has chosen to direct this production himself.  It is well done and has a very personal and sensitive effect.  The design team of David Lander (lighting), Nevin Steinberg (sound), and Peter Nigrini (projections) are clearly in sync with Mr. Eno, connecting the themes of his work to the audience on a visceral level.

Michael Emerson plays Guy, who directly addresses the audience throughout the piece.  He discusses the small moments in his daily life that matter to him, and takes the audience through visualizations to help them connect to theirs.  When Lisa (played by January LaVoy) enters, Guy’s physical stamina diminishes.  It becomes clear that she is there to care for him as his life draws to a close.  Suddenly, all of what he spoke about earlier has a significant weight and value.  He delivers on his word even after the play ends.

Michael Emerson
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Michael Emerson is captivating as Guy.  He is gentle and humorous.  He puts the audience at ease in a way that allows the poignant message to be felt.  January LaVoy is calming as Lisa.  Her purpose is strong and vital, yet her demeanor is effectively underplayed and touching.

Wakey, Wakey successfully breaks away form a formal structure, allowing the audience to ease into the experience.  The Signature Theatre production runs through March 26 at the Pershing Square Signature Center.  See it with an open mind and allow yourself to connect with the moment.


Domenick Danza

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Significant Other

Significant Other
Booth Theatre
February 19, 2017

Photo courtesy of Significant Other
Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other is witty, charming and packs a surprising punch.  Directed by Trip Cullman, the Broadway production flows seamlessly through the obsessions and experiences of the main character and his close circle of friends.  The cast is tightly connected by honest relationships and crisp timing that keeps the audience entertained and engaged on the journey.

Jordan (played by Gideon Glick) is happy when his friend Kiki (played by Sas Goldberg) gets married.  She sets up their other close friend Vanessa (played by Rebecca Naomi Jones) at her wedding, and then she gets engaged.  Jordan’s friends continue to find time for him to work through his search for love and attraction with a workmate (played by John Behlmann).  It is when his BFF Laura (played by Lindsay Mendez) finds her soulmate, that Jordan realizes he is alone.  Only his grandmother (played by Barbara Barrie) gives him the advice that makes sense.

Photo courtesy of Significant Other
Gideon Glick is charming and quirky as Jordan.  His portrayal is just neurotic enough to be likable and funny… and identifiable.  He builds very different relationship with the three female friend characters.  Sas Goldberg is boisterous as Kiki.  Rebecca Naomi Jones is edgy as Vanessa.  Lindsay Mendez is heartwarming as Laura, the character who Jordan is closest with.  Barbara Barrie anchors the action of the play as Jordan’s grandmother.  Her timing is impeccable.  Her presence is grounded and strong.  The relationship she develops with Mr. Glick is tender, caring, and honest.

Barbara Barrie & Gideon Glick
Photo courtesy of Significant Other
Significant Other explores the realizations that occur when the lives of close friends change around us, leaving us feeling isolated and left out.  Although the characters are in their late twenties, there are identifiable realities in the play that ring true for all.


Domenick Danza

Monday, February 20, 2017

Everybody

Everybody
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
February 18, 2017

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ new Play, Everybody, is based on the 15th century morality play Everyman.  Lila Neugebauer’s direction has truly raised the bar.  Her broad strokes are only exceeded by her eye for effective detail.  The passionate and remarkable partnership between her and Mr. Jacob-Jenkins has created a brilliant and clear present day mortality experience.  The concept successfully breaks the fourth wall in surprising ways that absorb each audience member, creating a true journey for everybody. 

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
God (played by Jocelyn Bioh) calls on Death (Marylouise Burke) to request a presentation from Everybody, holding them accountable for their experiences during their time on Earth.  When Everybody asks Death if they can bring along a companion to assist in making a successful presentation, Death agrees.  Who will accompany Everybody on this journey of no return?  What evidence can Everybody collect for the presentation that has value, weight, and meaning?

The Playwright, Director, and Cast in Rehearsal
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
The ensemble cast (Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Louis Cancelmi, David Patrick Kelly, and Lakisha Michelle May) play numerous roles that vary each night of the performance.  Their roles are assigned by a lottery at the beginning of the show.  The playwright and director’s intention in this is to have “some element of chance to be essential to the fabric of how this event functions, how the evening makes meaning.”  By doing this the “Everyman” character is not assigned to “a single actor, who necessarily has an age, a gender, a race, a sexual orientation.  Also the notion that death could strike any one of us at any moment” rings clear and true.  This skillful ensemble exceeds any expectation of this wild concept.  They create a relatable environment with honest moments and true relationships.  The timing of their dialogue and the depth of their connections are masterful, especially given the fact that they have each memorized practically the entire script.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Scenic design by Laura Jellinek, lighting design by Matt Frey, and sound and original music by Brandon Wolcott meld seamlessly to place the audience in the center of the action.  Signature Theatre’s production of Everybody runs at The Pershing Square Theatre Center through March 19.  It is unique and profound, and brilliantly achieves the purpose of the historic morality play for a modern day audience.


Domenick Danza

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ring Twice for Miranda

Ring Twice for Miranda
Red Horse Productions & RME Theatrical Group
New York City Center Stage II
February 11, 2017

Photo courtesy of Ring Twice for Miranda
Ring Twice forMiranda, presented by Red Horse Productions and RME Theatrical Group, is a new play by Alan Hruska.  Rick Lombardo’s direction has allowed the actors to create realistic and honest relationships and build conflict throughout the action.  Unfortunately, the environment depicted in the production does not match the complexity of the world of the play as written by Mr. Hruska.  With focused variations in the production concept, this could be a very powerful play with strong thematic impact.

Miranda (played by Katie Kleiger) and Elliot (played by George Merrick) are employed by Sir (played by Graeme Malcolm).  It is clear they are the maid and the butler, yet their actual job responsibilities are purposefully vague and varied.  When Sir’s right hand man, Gulliver (played by Daniel Pearce), fires Elliot, Miranda decides to leave with him.  Inside the house they have all the food and luxuries they need, yet the world outside the house is dark, deserted, and dangerous.  Sir has total command of the “district,” which has been abandoned out of hunger and desperation.  On their journey north, Miranda and Elliot meet a few travelers before being summoned back to the house by Felix (played by Ian Lassiter). 

Katie Kleiger, George Merrick, William Connell,
& Talia Theisfield
Photo courtesy of Ring Twice for Miranda
Katie Kleiger and George Merrick are in sync as Miranda and Elliot.  They have a good sense of timing that keeps them connected throughout the action of the play.  The same could be said for William Connell and Talia Theisfield.  They bring levity to the roles of Chester and Anouk, two travelers that Miranda and Elliot meet while in exile.  Their bawdy and bold characterizations play very well against the setting and other characters in the play.  Ian Lassiter’s portrayal of Felix is well developed and multi-layered, bringing the right blend of humor and darkness that the script demands. 

George Merrick & Ian Lassiter
Photo courtesy of Ring Twice for Miranda
Graeme Malcolm is commanding in the role of Sir.  The unspoken truths of his rule over the district creates an effective level of uncertainty.  This is where the environment does not fully serve the world of the play.  Mr. Hruska’s dialogue leads you to believe that Sir has created a utopian society where he dictates and controls the economics and emotion of all inhabitants.  The oppression and fear of that set up are not viscerally evident.  Daniel Pearce’s portrayal of Gulliver strongly suggests a dominant, competitive ruling, yet the dangers to the society outside the house are merely spoken about, not felt.

Ring Twice for Miranda leaves a lot of open ends for discussion and deep thought.  See it for yourself and comment here with your point of view.  The production runs at New York City Center Stage II through April 16.


Domenick Danza

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Evening at the Talk House

Evening at the Talk House
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
February 4, 2017

Photo courtesy of The New Group
Evening at the Talk House, by Wallace Shawn, is a haunting and disturbing theatrical encounter.  The New Group production, under the direction of Scott Elliott, engages the audience with a visceral and thought provoking experience.  The play starts off as an easy going reunion of old theatre buddies and gradually turns into a truthful revelation of the darker side of human survival.  What at first seems like a funny retelling of events quickly becomes honest confessions of the reality of these characters’ existence.

The play opens with an extended monologue by Robert (played by Matthew Broderick).  He tells of how he was recently contacted by Ted (played by John Epperson), who wrote the music for his play Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Starts ten years earlier.  Ted and Robert plan a reunion of those involved in the original production at their old hang out, The Talk House.  While reminiscing, they welcome on uninvited guest, Dick (played by the playwright Wallace Shawn).  He is an old acquaintance of all involved, and an occasional boarder at The Talk House.  Dick was recently brutally beaten by a group of strangers.  Disturbing connections are uncovered as two guests confess they have been earning extra money “targeting,” which is when they quietly plan the murders of people who are out to “cause harm.”

The cast of The Talk House
photo courtesy of The New Group
The stellar cast is an amazingly strong ensemble.  Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram, and Michael Tucker work tightly to create an open and welcoming environment with deep, hidden truths.  They mingle with the audience before the show begins, setting them up for a relaxing, nonchalant experience that abruptly transforms.  One of the most subtle and powerful effects is that the actors do not seem to be wearing microphones.  The air has a quiet calm that proficiently shifts from placid to eerie as the play evolves.

Playwright Wallace Shawn
Scott Elliot has directed this production with gradual shifts in mood and tone that, when juxtaposed against the jarring revelations in Mr. Shawn’s script, create effective discomfort and an element of disbelief.  As the story progresses and additional facts are revealed about mysterious and sudden deaths of people the characters know, you question how such realities can be occurring in this comfortable and warm environment.  You become more disturbed as you realize these are the truths of the world of the play, and you have been an intimate part of it.

Evening at the Talk House is playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center through March 12.

Domenick Danza