Sunday, January 16, 2022

Skeleton Crew

 Skeleton Crew
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
January 15, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew tells a riveting, character driven story.  It is skillfully crafted with natural and engaging dialogue.  The action is full of conflict that builds to unexpected levels.  The Manhattan Theatre Club production is awe-inspiring.  Ruben Santiago-Hudson directed a stellar cast, who brings life and depth to Ms. Morisseau’s complex characters.

The Cast of Skeleton Crew
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

The year is 2008.  Faye (played by Phylicia Rashad) is the union rep for the workers of a stamping factory in Detroit, Michigan.  She has worked there for twenty-nine years and knows everyone’s story.  Dez (played by Joshua Boone) is saving up to open an auto repair shop.  Shanita (played by Chanté Adams) is pregnant with her first child.  Reggie (played by Brandon J. Dirden) is the plant supervisor who started working the line fresh out of high school.  When Reggie confides in Faye that the plant is going to close down within the year, he asks her to keep the news to herself and help him negotiate a good severance package for the workers.  Everyone is expected to put in overtime and meet quota, and the stress builds as supplies and materials go missing.  Tempers flare when Dez refuses to undergo a mandatory search before leaving work.  Secrets are revealed, and Faye asks Reggie to step up for the workers.  When he does, Faye is forced to make a crucial decision to keep him from losing all he worked for.

Phylicia Rashad is solid and grounded as Faye.  She breaks the rules, yet has a strong sense of dignity and loyalty.  When the stakes are highest, Faye steps up and puts herself on the line.  Ms. Rashad plays this moment with heart and commitment.  In this crucial moment, the character’s true nature blossoms, and Ms. Rashad soars.   

Dominque Morisseau & Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

Brandon J. Dirden truthfully creates a conscientious and fair-minded factory supervisor in his character of Reggie.  As the action builds, so does his heightened state of stress.  Mr. Dirden’s connection with Ms. Rashad’s character is direct and genuine, and vital to the dramatic impact of the story.  Together they bring the action of the story to a stunning climax.

Joshua Boone and Chanté Adams have a strong chemistry as Dez and Shanita.  Their characters are at odds with one another throughout the play.  Mr. Boone portrays Dez with a rough, street-wise exterior, which slyly masks his sincerity and sense of hope.  Ms. Adams plays the optimistic Shanita with a low tolerance for games.  These two skilled actors create characters driven by a common need.  They bring a sense of continuity and endurance to the ending of the play. 

The scenic design by Michael Carnahan illustrates the degradation of Detroit in 2008.  The design extends outside the proscenium, reveling support beams and broken plaster.  It is further enhanced with vibrant projection designs my Nicholas Hussong.  Adesola Osakalumi performs his own choreography during the scene breaks, creating a sense of urgency in the need of the people of Detroit and the workers in the factory. 

Skeleton Crew is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through April 30.  Don’t miss this stunning production of Dominique Morisseau’s riveting play. 

Domenick Danza

Monday, January 3, 2022

Wit

 Wit
The Seeing Place Theater
Paradise Factory
January 2, 2022 

Photo courtesy of The Seeing Place Theater

The Seeing Place Theater production of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning Play Wit is now playing at Paradise Factory in the East Village.  Brynn Asha Walker skillfully directed this production with a clear comprehension of Ms. Edson’s intention.  The audience experiences the sever, experimental cancer treatment the main character undergoes, allowing them to walk away with a new perspective.  Erin Cronican takes on this tough leading character with grace and integrity.

Dr. Vivian Bearing (played by Erin Cronican), a professor of English and expert on the metaphysical sonnets of John Donne, receives a diagnosis of stage four ovarian cancer.  Under the advice of her doctor (played by Brynn Asha Walker, u.s.), she immediately begins an intense, experimental chemotherapy treatment.  One of her attending physicians, Dr. Jason Posner (played by Robin Friend), is a former student.  He recognizes her immediately, and speaks highly of her proficiency and discipline.  Vivian has only known the grueling and determined work required in her area of study, and has been diligent in living by it and impressing it upon her students.  She is reminded of when she refused to give Jason an extension on his paper.  The fact that he received a grade lower that he hoped for in her class still weighs on his mind.  Vivian’s unwavering focus and dedication stems from the discipline she learned from her mentor, Professor E.M. Ashford (played by Janice Hall).  As Vivian comes to the realization of the need for kindness, she allows herself to lean on her attending nurse, Susie Monahan, (played by Brynn Asha Walker). 

Erin Cronican as Dr. Vivian Bearing
Photo courtesy of Russ Rowland

There is an urgency in this play, as expressed by the main character in the opening monologue.  She states that she has only two hours to live.  She needs to come to terms with this, and does so by analyzing her life in the same way she solves the mysteries of the poems of John Donne.  Because of this approach, Dr. Vivian Bearing is a very challenging role.  She is highly intellectual and emotional detached, yet must be sympathetic to the audience.  Erin Cronican takes time to portray the vulnerability of this character.  She exposes Vivian’s thought process, allowing the audience to get inside her head and understand what makes her tick.  Ms. Cronican makes insightful choices that allow the audience to empathize with Vivian.  They are on her side, rooting for her well-being.  Without this, the valuable message in Ms. Edson’s play would be missed.

Erin Cronican & Brynn Asha Walker
Photo courtesy of Russ Rowland

This cast plays the irony of numerous moments during the story, which brings out the humor in the writing.  Although not comical, this humor gives the audience a chance to relieve the tension that builds throughout the action.  Director Brynn Asha Walker guides the cast in finding these important moments, which keep the play moving at its required pace and the audience’s attention consistently engaged.

With the exception of Ms. Cronican, the cast plays more than one role, covering for one other in case of Covid related absences.  Janice Hall plays Professor E.M. Ashford with diligent focus.  Robin Friend is clinical and impersonal as Dr. Jason Posner.  Brynn Asha Walker portrays Susie Monahan with heart and knowledge.  

The Seeing Place Theater production of Wit is running at Paradise Factory (64 E. 4th St.) through January 16.  Although the theater is small, much attention is given to keeping the space safe for the audience.  Don’t miss Erin Cronican’s riveting performance.  

Domenick Danza

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Clyde’s

 Clyde’s
Second Stage Theater
The Helen Hayes Theater
December 29, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater

Lynn Nottage successfully steps into a new genre with her play Clyde’s.  It is bold and funny, yet still packs Ms. Nottage’s signature strong social message.  Director Kate Whorisky finds the pace and energy to keep the action moving.  The cast brilliantly creates larger than life characters who carry a vivid sense of vulnerability and humanity.

Uzo Aduba & Ron Cephas Jones
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Clyde (played by Uzo Aduba) owns a sandwich shop on a “nondescript stretch of road, in Berks
County, Pennsylvania.”  Montrellous (played by Ron Cephas Jones) urges Clyde to up the quality of the sandwiches in order to get more attention for the restaurant.  Clyde refuses to taste  his handiwork.  Montrellous trains the other kitchen workers, Raphael (played by Reza Salazar) and Letitia (played by Kara Young), to create new sandwiches with scrupulously chosen ingredients.  When Jason (played by Edmund Donovan) is hired to work in the kitchen, the creative momentum is thrown off.  Jason has recently been released from prison and is covered with white supremacist tattoos.  One by one each character reveals their incarceration history.  This is what they all have in common.  They desperately need their jobs at Clyde’s to get their lives on track, yet Clyde brutally keeps them all in place.  When a customer demands relish on one of Montrellous’ gourmet sandwich creations, all hell breaks loose.
 

The Full Cast of Clyde's
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater

Uzo Aduba is a powerhouse as Clyde.  Her character makes dramatic entrances throughout the play, surprising and terrorizing the kitchen staff.  She is extreme and overbearing.  She pushes each one of her workers to the edge.  Just as it reaches a high point, Ms. Aduba softens and backs away, making you think there is a heart within her.  She then returns even more full of fire.  

Ron Cephas Jones is poetic and calming as Montrellous.  Reza Salazar is dynamic as Rafael.  Kara Young is a ball of energy as Letitia.  Edmund Donovan portrays Jason like a bomb ready to explode.  These skilled actors create characters with a burning desire to get out of the confines of their circumstances.  They are people who made mistakes in their past.  Their stories are complicated and touching.  You yearn for them to break out of the restrictions Clyde callously imposes on them. 

In this play, Ms. Nottage uses the kitchen of the sandwich shop to represent the limitations people put on themselves for past mistakes.  Clyde is the power that holds them down, whether it be the voice within or societal and economic challenges.  As each character forgives themselves, they move on, releasing themselves from Clyde’s demoralizing control. 

The Second Stage Theater production of Clyde’s is a MUST SEE.  It is playing at the Helen Hayes Theater through January 16.  Get a ticket today! 

Domenick Danza

Monday, December 27, 2021

Trouble in Mind

 Trouble in Mind
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
December 26, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company

Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind is a revelation.  The play received high acclaim when it was first produced Off-Broadway in 1955.  It was scheduled to move to Broadway, but was cancelled when Ms. Childress refused to make significant changes.  She chose not to soften the story that illustrated the racism in the theatre and film industry.  After sixty-six years, Trouble in Mind has received it’s well deserved Broadway production.  It is a well crafter play with strongly developed characters that make a powerfully clear statement about the untruths depicted in American entertainment.

Wiletta Mayer (played by LaChanze) enters the theater for the first rehearsal of a play she is working on.  She meets the doorman, Henry (played by Simon Jones), who remembers her from a production he set the lights for a number of years prior.  He treats her like a star.  She meets John (played by Reynaldo Piniella), an up and coming, young actor.  She schools him on how to behave when in rehearsal with a white director.  Millie Davis and Sheldon Forrester (played by Jessica Frances Dukes and Chuck Cooper) join the rehearsal.  They are old friends with Wiletta.  When the director, Al Manners (played by Michael Zegen) arrives, he is a no-nonsense task master.  He pushes Wiletta and the rest of the cast to find the truth in their acting, yet the material they are working on does not contain truths worth their effort.  The cast all works at giving the director what he asks for during rehearsal, but when a scene where the character played by John Nevins is going to be dragged off and lynched, Wiletta pushes hard to make changes in the play that are more truthful for the characters. 

LaChanze as Wiletta Mayer
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
LaChanze portrays Wiletta with grace, poise, and zest.  The character is an experienced performer with a yearning to play a serious role.  When the conflict erupts, LaChanze plays the moment with strength, wisdom, and conviction.  Michael Zegen’s character of the director, Al Manners, comes back to her logically and rationally.  These two actors skillfully play this scene, keeping their composure to the very last moment.  This is an amazingly written scene and LaChanze and Mr. Zegen do it supreme justice.  

Michael Zegen, LaChanze, & Chuck Cooper
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company

Chuck Cooper has a riveting monologue in Act II.  The action stops as his character tells of a lynching he witnessed as a young boy.  Mr. Cooper takes the audience deep into his character’s traumatic childhood memory.  It is a powerful moment and brilliantly delivered.

Jessica Frances Dukes is feisty as Millie Davis.  Reynaldo Piniella is charming as John Nevins.  There are also strong performances from Simon Jones, Victoria Oliver (u.s.), Alex Mickiewicz, and Don Stephenson. 

Trouble in Mind is playing at the American Airlines Theatre through January 9.  The performances are powerful and the writing is magnificent.  Don’t miss it.  

Domenick Danza

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Girl From the North Country

 Girl From the North Country
Belasco Theatre
December 22, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Girl From the North Country
Girl From the North Country takes place in a rooming house in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934.  Each character has a different story, each full of heartache.  What unites them is the music of Bob Dylan.  Conor McPherson wrote and directed this production.  He weaves the stories together, offering hope, then taking it away.  The company brilliantly creates genuine moments that pull the audience into the needs of the characters.  As their stories progress, the characters face grim realities, yet they all continue on.  

Nick Laine (played by Jay O. Sanders) runs the rooming house.  His wife, Elizabeth (played by Mare Winningham), suffers from a form of dementia.  Their son, Gene (played by Aidan Wharton, u.s.), is an aspiring writer who drinks too much.  Their daughter, Marianne (played by Kimber Elayne Sprawl), is pregnant and unmarried.  Nick arranges with Mr. Perry (played by Tom Nelis) to marry Marianne.  He is quite a bit older than she is, and Marianne is not interested.  Mrs. Neilsen (played by Jeanette Bayardelle) is waiting for the settlement of her late husband’s will.  She is having an affair with Nick, and planning on using the money from the settlement to go into business with him.  Mr. and Mrs. Burke (played by Marc Kudisch and Luba Mason) have an adult son, Elias (played by Todd Almond), who is developmentally delayed.  When two unexpected guests, Joe Scott (played by Austin Scott) and Reverend Marlowe (played by Matt McGrath), arrive looking for rooms, they upset the already troubled lives of the residents of the rooming house.  

Austion Scott & Kimber Elayne Sprawl
Photo courtesy of Girl From the North Country
Nick and Marianne prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for all the guests.  It is a hardy celebration, then gradually the hope that each character has starts to run dry.  Marianne and Joe Scott are drawn together, mostly out of desperation, yet it is their risky decision to leave the rooming house together that takes their lives in a better direction. 

Robert Joy plays Dr. Walker.  He narrates the story, setting the pace and filling in the backstory and details.  This establishes the storytelling style for the piece and the tone for the performance.  Kimberly Elaine Sprawl plays Marianne with a subtle fire and vigor.  She and Austin Scott have a strong chemistry.  They pull away from one another, only to become more drawn together.  It is captivating.  Their story stands out.  It is full of hope. 

Mare Winningham & Jay O. Sanders
Photoc courtey of Girl From the North Country

Mare Winningham shines as Elizabeth Laine.  Jay O. Sanders has a strong presence as Nick Laine.  Jeanette Bayardelle is bold as Mrs. Neilsen.  These three actors create truthful and  powerful relationships.  Ms. Bayardelle and Mr. Sanders have a vibrant attraction, yet it does not break the strong bond between Ms. Winningham and Mr. Sander’s characters.

The story of the Burke family is dark and tragic.  Marc Kudisch and Luba Mason skillfully portray the numerous levels of these complex characters.  Todd Almond brings a touching level of innocence to the character of Elias, who is truly unaware of his own strength. 

The characters in Girl Form the North Country are all waiting.  Some are hiding.  Some are running.  There is a sadness about them, yet they all press on (as they sing at the end of the show).  Bob Dylan’s lyrics take these stories to a deep emotional level.  His music engages your emotions.  Girl From the North Country is playing at the Belasco Theatre.  

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Candlelight

 Candlelight
Nylon Fusion Theatre Company
December 13, 2021 

Photo courtesy fo Nylon Fusion Theatre Company
John Patrick Shanley’s Candlelight, is a dark tale of love, hope, and fate.  Directed by Lori Kee, the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company production finds the truthful intimacy of the story, drawing the audience into the innocent needs of the characters. 

Esperanza (played by Ivette Dumeng) is having a party for her tenth birthday.  She dances with Tito (played by Marc Reign).  When she puts her ear to his throat, she can hear his heart speaking to her.  Later in her room, Esperanza lights a candle, and connects to her inner world.  The secrets of her mother’s suicide and her father’s drinking and abuse are revealed as her toys, mirror, and clothing come to life.  

When her father (played by Alfredo Diaz) is arrested, Esperanza is put into a foster home.  Tito confesses his feeling toward Esperanza to his schoolmate, Paulie (played by John Cencio Burgos).  While the two boys share their thoughts, a demon appears.  By facing this demon, Tito and Paulie become closely linked for the unfolding of the journey.  

Ivette Dumeng & Alfredo Diaz
Photo courtesy of Nylon Fusion Theatre Company

Tito follows Esperanza to her foster home.  They agree to meet at the graveyard that night.  Esperanza’s father threatens Paulie to find out where Tito and Esperanza are planning to meet.  Under the stars and in the moonlight, Tito and Esperanza find their fate.

Ivette Dumeng and Marc Reign are wonderful together as Esperanza and Tito.  They are eager and naive, full of hope and energy.  John Cencio Burgos is amazing as Paulie.  He makes you laugh one moment, then follows it with a look that breaks your heart.  These three actors play their ten year old characters with honesty and conviction.  The audience is on their side throughout this very dark journey. 

Marc Reign & John Cencio Burgos
Photo courtesy of Nylon Fusion Theatre Company
Alfred Diaz and Darlene Tejeiro portray harsh realities with the characters of Esperanza’s father and mother.  Esperanza’s world is full of mystery and questions, and these two actors ground the dark fantasies with realistic occurrence that help understand the metaphors.  Christina Toth plays one of Esperanza’s toys that come to life.  She is enigmatic, shifting from light to darkness moment by moment.  Ms. Toth also plays Esperanza’s foster mother.  She carries this dichotomy into that character, bringing the mysterious feeling of this production through to the very end. 

Elizabeth Chaney’s scenic and prop design is smart and creative.  The three set pieces separate, turn, and reconfigure, creating each new location.  The space then opens up to an expansive moonlit graveyard.

Nylon Fusion Theatre Company’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s Candlelight is playing at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street) through December 19.  There are only a few performances left, so get your ticket right away! 

Domenick Danza

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Freestyle Love Supreme

 Freestyle Love Supreme
Booth Theater
December 3, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Freestyle Love Supreme
Freestyle Love Supreme is a joyous night on Broadway!  It is a fully improvised hip-hop performance, based on words, phrases, and stories shouted out from the audience.  The show is different every night.  The “freestyle” is the rhythm, and the love is what you will feel when immersed in overwhelming enthusiasm and creativity in the Booth Theater for a blissful ninety minutes. 

Before the show starts, the audience is asked to scan a QR code and send words to the cast backstage.  These words are written on cards and put into a bucket.  One cast member told a hip-hop story for each word chosen.  Other scenes were improvised when the audience was asked to name something they hate, then something they love.  One of the longer hip-hop stories was developed from the audience telling of an event they’d like to do over again with a different outcome.  These might be part of the show the night you see it, or there could possibly be a totally different set of hip-hop skits.   

Photo courtesy of Freestyle Love Supreme

The cast also varies each performance.  The list of artists is remarkable.  Anthony Veneziale (AKA Two Touch) hosts.  He gathers the ideas from the audience and keeps the show moving.  His focus is unwavering, and his energy is contagious.  Chris Sullivan (AKA Shockwave) is pure rhythm.  He creates characters and tells stories solely through vocal percussive sounds.  Andrew Bancroft (AKA Jelly Donut) is sharp and funny.  His energy is explosive.  Aneesa Folds (AKA Young Nees) is bold and astounding.  Her vocal range will astonish you.  James Monroe Iglehart (AKA J-Soul) brilliantly plays off each of his fellow cast member.  His singing voice is sultry and sensitive.  Kurt Crowley (AKA The Lord and Lady Crowley) and Will Wells (AKA Baby Tears) are phenomenal on keyboards. 

Get to the Booth Theatre and treat yourself to this unique celebration.  It will lift your spirits and open your heart.  You’ll definitely want to go back for more. 

Domenick Danza