Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Actors

 The Actors
Theatre Row
May 25, 2024 

Photo courtesy of The Actors

The Actors is an amusing comedy filled with poignant moments that touch the heart.  Playwright Ronnie Larsen sets up a peculiar premise, then skillfully explores every conceivable occurrence, making it fully believable and entertaining.  Director Stuart Meltzer allows the emotional moments of truth to land gently, then bounce back into the rhythmic comic timing.

Ronnie (played by Ronnie Larsen) misses his parents, who died a few years ago.  His desperation motivates him to start a project.  He hires actors to play his mother, Jean (played by Jeni Hacker), and his father, Clarence (played by Allen Lewis Rickman).  The plan is for them to visit Ronnie a few hours a week to improvise scenes from his childhood so he won’t feel so alone.  When the actor playing Clarence is thrown out of his apartment by his jealous girlfriend, he decides to move in with Ronnie, and become his full time Dad.  This motivates the actor playing Jean to recruit her real son (played by Gabriell Salgado) to play Ronnie’s brother Jay.  It’s more than Ronnie bargained for, yet part of him is happy for the company.  When Ronnie’s real brother Jay (played by Jason Guy) shows up unexpectedly, Ronnie is forced to face the truth. 

Gabriell Salgado, Allen Lewis Rickman,
Jeni Hacker, & Ronnie Lrsen
Photo courtesy of The Actors

Ronnie Larsen is truly at home playing the lead character.  The absurdity of his “project” is juxtaposed by the honesty of his grief over the loss of his parents.  He revels in the scenes he enacts with the actors playing his parents, yet he has complete control of the fact that they are totally fake.  It is the actors who get carried away, and Jeni Hacker, Allen Lewis Rickman, and Gabriell Salgado play the over the top situation with honest conviction. 

The Actors played numerous cities around the country, including Provo, Utah, and Miami, Florida.  The Off Broadway production is running at Theatre Row through June 1.  It is funny, touching, cleverly written, and delightfully performed.  Go see it! 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, May 19, 2024

What Became of Us

 What Became of Us
Atlantic Stage 2 Theater
May 18, 2024 

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

Shayan Lotfi’s play, What Became of Us, takes the audience on an intimate and emotional journey in the relationship between two siblings.  It is masterfully crafted, uniquely structured, and tenderly written.  The Atlantic Theatre Company production is beautifully directed by Jennifer Chang.  She allows the actor to discover precise moments to reveal their vulnerability.  The characters open their hearts to one another and the audience.  They grow and change over a lifetime of shared and distant experiences.

We first meet Q (played by Rosalind Chao), who tells of when her parents made the decision to immigrate from the old county.  She is a young girl, fascinated by the adventure they are about to embark upon.  She easily tells of her parents selling candies and snacks outside office buildings, then opening their own newsstand, then purchasing the corner store.  Her life changes when her brother, Z (played by BD Wong) is born.  She takes responsibility for his care.  He is everything to her, as she is everything to him. 

BD Wong & Rosalind Chao
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

Q and Z continue to tell their stories, directly addressing the audience and referring to one another in the second person.  Their identities develop into their adolescent and teen years.  They become more independent of one another, yet are fully aware of each other’s feelings.  Q remains conservative and connected to her parents.  Z becomes rebellious and makes different choices.  When their parents are killed in a car accident, they find themselves full of unresolved emotions, causing resentment.  They separate.  Years go by without contact.  Z gets married and has a son, the “golden child.”  After six years, he asks his father why he has no other family.  This motivates Z to call his sister.  They re-unite with a different sense of themselves, and are able to connect on a new level. 

Rosalind Chao and BD Wong are phenomenal.  They are fully connected, even though all their dialogue is direct address.  This connection is inherent in everything they do and say.  It morphs as the characters grow and change.  These transitions are clearly mapped out in the writing.  During the first portion of the play, the characters start all their lines with “You…” as they tell the story of how and what the other character did, said, and felt.  All of their thoughts are consumed with the other’s point of view.  The second section, when the characters are estranged, their lines all start with “I” statements, as they share their own thoughts, isolated from anyone else.  In the third and final section, their lines start with “I” statements, followed by a sentence starting with “You...”  The characters have come to a place where their mutual feelings and perspectives mold and shape their experiences.  It doesn’t matter if they agree or are in conflict.  They are able to connect, share, and commune.  This is beautifully writing.  Rosalind Chao and BD Wong embrace these words, and deliver poignant performances. 

Tony Shalhoub, Shohren Aghdashloo, BD Wong, & Rosalind Chao
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

What Became of Us is playing at Atlantic Stage 2 Theater.  There are two casts.  BD Wong and Rosalind Chao are performing through June 15.  Tony Shalhoub and Shohren Aghdashloo will step in from June 10 through June 29.  These casting decisions are aligned with Mr. Lotfi’s vision for his play.  His intention “has always been that the roles would alternate between separate parings of actors from different diasporic backgrounds.”  It is sure to be a different experience with the two different casts.  Get your tickets while they last.

Domenick Danza

Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Heart of Rock and Roll

 The Heart of Rock and Roll
James Earl Jones Theatre
May 9, 2024 

Photo courtesy of The Heart of Rock and Roll

The Heart of Rock and Roll is an original stage musical inspired by the songs of Huey Lewis and the News.  It is the most fun night on Broadway this season.  It will take you back to a simpler time, the 1980s.  Director Gordon Greenberg delivers a tight, fast moving production.  The cast is excellent.  The choreography, by Lorin Latarro, is high energy and perfect for the time period.

Bobby Stivic (played by Corey Cott) is the lead singer for a rock band.  That’s what he does on the weekends.  His day job is in a carboard factory.  In an attempt to get promoted to an executive sales position, he makes a deal with a local store that loses the company a large sum of money.  When his boss, Chuck Stone (played by John Dossett), finds out, he fires him on the spot.  Bobby comes up with a plan to get back in the good graces of the company, and recruits his friend and HR Director, Roz (played by Tamika Lawrence) to help him.  He plans on pitching a deal to Otto Fjord (played by Orville Mendoza), a Swedish furniture designer opening a chain of stores in the US.  Bobby convinces Chuck Stone’s daughter, Cassandrea (played by McKenzie Kurtz), to  help him land the deal.  They are successful.  Bobby gets the executive sales position, which has the perk of working side by side with Cassandra.  When Bobby’s band gets a national tour and recording contract, he is torn.  To make things more complicated, Cassandra is being pursued by her old college boyfriend, Tucker (played by Billy Harrigan Tighe).  These two people, who spent most of their lives pleasing others, now have to make a decision for what is best for them. 

Corey Cott & McKenzie Kurtz
Photo courtesy of The Heart of Rock and Roll

Corey Cott and McKenzie Kurtz have amazing chemistry.  Their solos in both Act II are heartfelt and vocally powerful.  There are also strong performances by John Dossett, Josh Breckenridge, F. Michael Haynie, Zoe Jensen, Tamika Lawernce, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michae Lyles, Orville Mendoza, and Billy Harrigan Tighe.

Photo courtesy of The Heart of Rock and Roll

The creative team has done a brilliant job of keeping the style and humor consistent throughout the show.  If you want to laugh, hear Huey Lewis tunes, and be transported back to the 80s (for two and a half hours) go see this show.  

The Heart of Rock and Roll is playing at the James Earl Jones Theatre.  Don’t miss it! 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Here There Are Blueberries

 Here There Are Blueberries
Tectonic Theater Project
New York Theatre Workshop
May 4, 2024 

Photo courtesy of Tectonic Theater Project
& New York Theatre Workshop

“Who are we in the story?” is the question the audience is asked at the end of Here There Are Blueberries.  Conceived and directed by Moisés Kaufman, this Tectonic Theater Project production, presented in collaboration with New York Theatre Workshop, is a visceral experience with a timely message.  The piece chronicles the discovery, examination, and research of a collection of photos taken at Auschwitz.  The stories that are revealed from this historical artifact change the way we view the participants in the horrific events of World War II.  

Rebecca Erbelding, a curator at the Holocaust Memorial Museum (played by Elizabeth Stahlmann), receives a call from Peter Wirths (played by Grant James Varjas).  He claims he has an album of photographs that he believes were taken inside Auschwitz.  He asks if the museum would like to see them.  There is much doubt as to whether the photos were actually taken in the camp, since the Nazis destroyed all evidence of the atrocities.  When the album is received, Rebecca shares it with her colleagues.  They are amazed at what they see.  There are no photos of the prisoner, but numerous photos of officers and administrators inside the Auschwitz camp and surrounding areas.  The photos record their daily activities and leisurely pursuits.  The high ranking officers are easily identified.  The timeline of events and identities of the lesser known individuals take longer to piece together.  Once they do, they draw vital and shocking conclusions about the participants in the horrific events. 

Elizabeth Stahlmann as Rebecca Erbelding
Photo courtesy of Tectonic Theater Project
& New York Theatre Workship
Dialogue scenes are crafted from interviews, testimonies, and historic documents.  These are all
masterfully scripted by Moisés Kaufman and Amanda Gronich.  The cast works as a tight ensemble, playing numerous roles, including museum investigators, Holocaust survivors, present day family members of Nazi party members, and known Nazi officials.  There are outstanding performances by Scott Barrow, Nemuna Ceesay, Kathleen Chalfant, Jonathan Raviv, Erika Rose, Elizabeth Stahlmann, Charlie Thurston, and Grant James Varjas.
 

Elizabeth Stahlmann & Kathleen Chalfant
Photo courtesy of Tectonic Theater Project
& New York Theatre Workshop

The process of investigating this photographic evidence is illuminated by the projection design of David Bengali.  These projections include reproductions of the artifacts from the authenticated photo album.  They are compiled in a way that highlight specific details in the images that lead researchers to ask more questions and dig deeper.  This design element illustrates the thought process of these experts, as they uncover facts and draw conclusions.

The power of this piece is multi-layered.  It tells how historians continually uncover truth that furthers our understanding of historic events.  It also makes us aware that valuable evidence that can give powerful insight into the past can be found anywhere and at any time.  Most importantly, in this time of turbulent unrest, hate, and fear, it informs us that horrific events are not initiated by monsters, but acted upon by humans who willfully participate due to their need to belong, and have an ability to block out the hurt and harm they see.  This piece urges us to be vehemently aware of who we are in the story. 

Here There are Blueberries is playing at New York Theatre Workshop through June 16.  Go see it, and find out the meaning of title. 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Orlando

Orlando
Pershing Square Signature Center
Signature Theatre
April 27, 2024 

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

The Signature Theatre production of Sarah Ruhl’s Orlando is a fantastic romp through the centuries.  Adapted from the Virginia Woolf novel of the same title in 2000, Ms. Ruhl chose to tell this story through narration, most of which comes directly from the original novel.  She utilizes a chorus of six actors, playing gender fluid characters, to keep the action moving.  With Taylor Mac in the lead role, the humor becomes equally matched with truthful moments of discovery and conflict.

Orlando (played by Taylor Mac) wants to be a poet.  The Queen (played by Nathan Lee Graham) adopts him, and makes him her own.  When Orlando falls in love with a Russian Princess (played by Rad Pereira), they run off together, or rather skate down the frozen River Thames.  The Princess abandons Orlando, who then meets the Archduchess (played by Lisa Kron), and experiences lust.  He quickly tires of her, and proclaims he want to return home.  After retiring to his bed, he emerges a woman. 

The cast of Orlando
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

On the journey home, Orlando discovers both the freedom and limitations of being a woman.  She meets the Archduchess again, only to find that she is a man.  He pursues Orlando, but does not succeed at wooing her.  Centuries pass, and Orlando yearns to be wed.  She meets Marmaduke (played by TL Thompson).   After they fall in love, they discover they are both male and female simultaneously.  Centuries pass again, taking Orlando into the twentieth century.  The present moment is filled with confusion that leads to understanding and acceptance. 

TL Thompson & Taylor Mac
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

Will Davis stylistically directs this piece with a sharp eye on consistency, and a precise sense of timing, rhythm, and pace.  Scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado creates a sparce, imaginative atmosphere that is heightened by Oana Botez’s costumes.  The stage is empty most of the time, with detailed set pieces rolled on as needed, and magnificent drops flown in.  The costumes are also pieced together in an impressionistic manner, creating the illusion of the numerous time periods, while allowing for fast changes.

Orlando is playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center through May 12. 

Domenick Danza

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Illinoise

 Illinoise
St. James Theatre
April 24, 2024 

Photo courtesy of Illinoise

Following a successful run at the Park Ave. Armory, Illinoise is now playing at the St. James Theatre.  It is a beautifully crafted and emotionally impactful full-length dance piece (running 90 minutes), which takes you on a visceral journey of friendship, love, loss, and healing through community.  The music and lyrics by Sufjan Stevens fully envelopes you, drawing you into the environment and action.  The choreography by Justin Peck tells the story of each character with clarity and wonder.  As your senses become fully immersed in the production, you connect to the characters, relate to their experiences, and heal along with them as they form a community of acceptance. 

Photo courtesy of Illinoise

We first meet Henry (played by Ricky Ubeda).  He is asleep with his boyfriend, Douglas (played by Ahmed Simmons).  Henry rises and leaves.  He feels heavy and burdened.  We are transported to a campfire in a forest, where a circle of friends meet and share their stories.  Henry arrives, and is reluctant to share.  When he finally does, he reveals how he lost his best friend, Carl (played by Ben Cook) to suicide.  His love for Carl runs deep.  After sharing, Henry feels lighter as he becomes one with the group.  He is welcome, and joined by Douglas.  

Photo courtesy of Illinoise

Director/Choreographer Justin Peck is a master at storytelling through movement and dance.  The performances are technically strong and emotionally moving.  Vocals by Elijah Lyons, Shara Nova, and Tasha Viets-VanLear are mesmerizing.  

Illinoise is playing on Broadway for a limited time.  You have until August 10.  Get a ticket right away! 

Domenick Danza


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Macbeth (an undoing)

 Macbeth (an undoing)
Theatre for a New Audience
April 20, 2024 

Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience

Theatre for a New Audience is presenting the U.S. premiere of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh production of Macbeth (an undoing).  Written and directed by Zinnie Harris, this dark and penetrating theatre piece sheds a new light on the bloody Shakespeare classic.  Large amounts of the Shakespeare text is intact and seamlessly blended with Ms. Harris’ brilliant dialogue.  More skillfully done is the way she transfers the well-known monologues and soliloquies to different characters.  This offers a new point of view to the piece, while challenging the audience’s perspective on any previous meaning and intention. 

Nicole Cooper, Emmanuella Cole, Star Pender, & Liz Kettle
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
Act I pretty much tells the Macbeth story, including the predictions of the Weird Sisters (played by Liz Kettle, Emmanuella Cole, and Star Penders), the murder of King Duncan (played by Marc Mackinnon), the crowning of Macbeth (played by Adam Best) as king, and the murder of Banquo (played by James Robinson).  Act II takes an unexpected turn as Macbeth descends into madness, and Lady Macbeth (played by Nicole Cooper) takes on the responsibilities of the crown.  She seeks out the Weird Sisters, who, we find, she has met with on numerous occasions.  Lady MacDuff (played by Emmanuella Cole) confesses to Lady Macbeth that her new born child is Banquo’s son.  Lady Macbeth orders the siege on MacDuff’s castle and the murder of Lady MacDuff.  She demands that the child, who is part of the original prediction, be brought to her.  She is told that the child has also been killed, which we find out later is not true.  Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s “undoing” comes directly from the prophecy that “no man born of woman shall harm Macbeth.”  The solemn tragedy is that not even in death can Lady Macbeth escape the haunting of her actions. 

Nicole Copper & Adam Best
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience

Ms. Harris’ re-telling of this tale is unique and bewitching.  The parts of the Shakespeare story that have been eliminated from Act I are shrewdly filled in and expounded upon in Act II.  Liz Kettle portrays Carlin, one of the Weird Sisters, Lady Macbeth’s servant, and also serves as the narrator for the opening of both acts.  She speaks directly to the audience, introducing the fact that this is a retelling of an old tale.  She then uses an electrical panel to change the lighting for the start of the show, establishing the fourth wall.  This device is taken to another level when the action builds to its climax.  Lady Macbeth uses the same electrical panel and echoes the words of the narrator to break the fourth wall when she is no longer in control of the action of the story.  This gives the audience a deeper insight into the character’s desperation and manipulative tactics.  

Laurie Scott, Nicole Cooper, Emmanuella Cole, Taqi Nazeer, & Adam Best
Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
If you are a Shakespeare aficionado, and especially a Macbeth fan, this is a show you need to see.  It is
psychological, mysterious, and intelligent.  Lady Macbeth’s perspective is clear, and her voice is strong.  The relationship between her and Macbeth is expanded and intensified.  The cast is phenomenal, delivering performances that engage, shock, and mystify. 
 

Macbeth (an undoing) is playing downtown Brooklyn at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center through May 4.  Don’t miss it! 

Domenick Danza