Sunday, June 13, 2021

Perfect Crime

 Perfect Crime
Ann L. Bernstein Theater
at The Theater Center
June 12, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Perfect Crime
Perfect Crime is a mind-boggling murder mystery… or is it?  In the first scene you witness a murder.  At the end of Scene 2, the murder victim enters, unscathed and very much alive.  Scene after scene you are given incriminating evidence for every character, pulling you deeper into intrigue caused by suspicious behavior.  Playwright Warren Manzi sustains this intrigue all the way through to the end of the play when the truth finally unravels. 

Psychologist, Margaret Brent (played by Catherine Russell) is on the brink of fame, as her new book is about to be released.  When Inspector Asher (played by Patrick Ryan Sullivan) visits to investigate her husband’s murder, her husband (played by David Butler) appears just as Margaret is about to be arrested.  In a session with Lionel, a severely psychotic patient (played by Charles Geyer), Margaret discusses murder fantasies as Lionel analyzes a painting by Margaret’s husband that hangs over the mantle.  Inspector Asher returns and questions Margaret’s husband, who turns the tables by grilling Asher on his attraction to Margaret.  Asher does not let up on his belief that Margaret is a murderer until her dark past is revealed and all questions are answered. 

Catherin Russell 
Photo courtesy of Perfect Crime

The success of this story rests on the timing and energy of the main character, and Catherine Russell plays this to perfection.  She pulls the strings of each of the other characters, callously manipulating their reactions and behavior.  The rapport she creates with Patrick Ryan Sullivan, David Butler, and Charles Geyer is realistic and believable.  Jeffrey Hyatt directed this piece to run at a momentous pace, which this cast adheres to brilliantly, keeping your mind alert and aware of every detail.

Premiering in 1980, Perfect Crime is “the longest running play in the history of New York theater, on or off Broadway.”  Having starred in Perfect Crime since its first performance, Catherine Russell has been hailed the “Cal Ripken of Broadway” by the People Magazine and appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for most consecutive performances in one role.  Get a ticket for Perfect Crime and keep this NYC theater tradition alive.  Safety protocols at The Theater Center are well implemented.  Ventilation is documented on their website.  Seating is sporadic.  Audience members are required to wear masks throughout the performance.  

Domenick Danza

Monday, May 31, 2021

Lilies, or the Revival of a Romantic Drama

 

Lilies
or the Revival of a Romantic Drama
The Drama Company NYC
The Jerry Orbach Theater
at The Theater Center
May 29, 2021 

Photo courtesy of The Drama Company

The Drama Company NYC’s production of Lilies, or the Revival of a Romantic Drama, is presently running Off Broadway at The Jerry Orbach Theater in The Theater Center.  The simplicity of this production focuses the attention on the characters and the acting.  The all-male, tightly-knit ensemble cast creates a succinct atmosphere in which unfolds a love story surrounded by shame, madness, and deception.

After being released from prison, Simon Doucet (played by JJ Miller) confronts his childhood friend, now Bishop, Jean Bilodeau (played by Marc Verzatt) on the lies told at his trial thirty years earlier.  Simon prepared a performance to trap Bishop Bilodeau into facing the truth that lead to the tragic events that put him in jail.  The play they watch reveals the love between a young Simon (played by Hartley Parker) and his schoolmate, Count Vallier De Tilly (played by Florimond Le Goupil-Maier).  Simon is brutally beaten by his father (played by JJ Miller) when word of this relationship is accidentally exposed.  In response, Simon agrees to marry Lydie-Anne De Rozier (played by J.P. Ross).  A young Jean Bilodeau (played by Grant Hale) follows Simon, perpetually shaming him as he and Vallier’s paths continue to cross.  It is Vallier’s mother, Countess Marie-Laure De Tilly (played by Bill Morton) who gives Simon and her son the acceptance they need to allow their love to flourish.  This only motivates the young Jean Bilodeau to take action to pull them apart with a devastating result. 

Bill Morton & Florimond Le Goupil-Maier
Photo courtesy of The Crama Company NYC
Bill Morton is mesmerizing as Countess Mari-Laurie De Tilly.  The character is called crazy a number of times in the earlier scenes, and Mr. Morton brings a truthful portrayal of this woman’s plunge into delusional madness.  Tracking the arc of this character brings the action of this story to fruition, while adding much needed comic relief.  Hartley Parker  plays Simon Doucet with a strong aloofness that pays off when he gives into Count Vallier De Tilly’s persistent affection.  Florimond Le Goupil-Maier plays this persistence with a tender and caring touch that endears him to the audience.  J.P. Ross is bold and charismatic as Lydie-Anne D Rozier.  Grant Hale is as cold as ice as the young Jean Bilodeau, which is superbly reflected in Marc Verzatt’s portrayal of the older character.  Mr. Verzatt’s breakdown at the end of the show, as he faces his character’s truth, is powerful and genuine.  

Florimond Le Goupil-Maier & Hartley Parker
Photo courtesy of The Drama Company NYC

Andrew Benvenuti has directed this production with a strong intention and keen eye on detail.  Lilies, or the Revival of a Romantic Drama is playing at the Jerry Orbach Theater in The Theater Center (50th Street and Broadway) through June 6.  Safety protocols at The Theater Center are well implemented.  Ventilation is documented.  Seating is sporadic.  Audience members are required to wear masks throughout the performance.  See if you can get a ticket before the show closes, and begin your transition back to live theatre. 

Domenick Danza


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Howard Sherman's Book, "Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s 'Our Town' in the 21st Century," is a Theatre MUST READ!


     Photo courtesy of Methuen Drama     

When I saw Howard Sherman’s book, Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in the 21st Century, I bought it immediately.  I started reading it right away, yet found myself taking breaks between chapters, prolonging it so it would last longer.  I didn’t want it to end.  It transported me back into the theatre, engaging me in the cathartic experience that I’ve been missing during this pandemic.

Mr. Sherman opens the book with a brief background on Thornton Wilder and the story of the development of Our Town.  It smoothly segues into “oral histories,” consisting of interviews with actors, directors, and producers who all worked on productions of Our Town between the years 2002 and 2019.  Mr. Sherman wisely chose a large range of artists and individuals in varied geographical locations for these interviews, allowing his inquiry to ring with a remarkable level of truth.  His inquiry is simple: How does Thornton Wilder’s Our Town hold up in the 21st century?  The answer is that it holds up remarkable well across diverse populations.  The more profound arc of his discovery is the unraveling of what makes an American classic and how theatre in America reflect who we are. 

Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
A few years ago I conducted my own research on Thornton Wilder.  I read Penelope Niven’s biography on him (Thornton Wilder: A Life, HarperCollins Publishers, 2012).  It revealed a fascinating man.  He wrote seven novels, which I started reading, and countless short plays, some of which I was familiar with.  His writing is grounded in a unique philosophy based on his travels, studies, and encounters.  His only three full length plays were highly successful (Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth, and The Matchmaker, which was adapted into the musical Hello Dolly).  He won the Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and drama (The Bridge of San Luis Rey in 1927, Our Town in 1938, and The Skin of Our Teeth in 1942).  His work communicates a strong belief in mankind’s ability to adapt and thrive.  

Mr. Sherman’s study of Our Town in the 21st Century encapsulates the understanding of the unique brilliance of Thornton Wilder.  The effect of his work on diverse populations far transcends the life of the man and the writing itself.  Howard Sherman’s sharing of the oral histories in this book affirms how Thornton Wilder’s writing sends the reader and audience on an inner journey to self-discovery.  The documented experiences in this book allow the reader to assess their own individual point of view of their experience with Our Town, and deepen their personal insights.  This is why Mr. Sherman’s book is a must read.  It allows for a unique communal experience, which is very much needed in these isolated times. 

As we enter into a post-pandemic period, both with gratitude and trepidation, Howard Sherman’s Another Day’s Begun reminds us of how united we are as human-kind and how our own individual histories and points of view combine to define us as one culture.  This book is an intelligent and heart-warming exploration of how connected we are as a human race.  Buy it, read it, and do as I did, savor its journey. 

Domenick Danza


Sherman, Howard. Another Day’s Begun. New York, NY: Methuen Drama, 2021. 

Niven, Penelope. Thornton Wilder: A Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.  

 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Happy 457th Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare

 Happy 457th Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare
The Drilling Company
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
April 23, 2021

                        Photo courtesy of The Drilling Company                      

How did you spend William Shakespeare’s 457th birthday?  I spent it at The Drilling Company’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot celebration at The Clement (107 Norfolk).  Yes, I attended my first live theatre performance in over a year.  It was outdoors, spacious, everyone wore masks (actors and audience), and Shakespeare was performed and celebrated.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know of my respect and admiration for the work of The Drilling Company.  Their Shakespeare in the Parking Lot productions have presented FREE summer Shakespeare on the Lower East Side for twenty-five years.  You might have seen them in Bryant Park Shakespeare in recent years.  This William Shakespeare birthday celebration was an outstanding evening of songs, scenes, and soliloquies.  It started with the conjuring of three witches from the Scottish Play, and ended with Puck’s ”If we shadows have offended…”  One scene seamlessly blended into the next, filling the audience with joy from both the recognition of these recreations of past productions and the healing energy of the long-missed communal theatre experience.  

Director Hamilton Clancy is gifted in making Shakespeare engaging and accessible for a wide range of audience members.  He is dedicated to making quality performances FREE to the public.  He gathers a masterful troupe of skilled actors every season.  The cast of veteran Drilling Company actors in this celebration were enthralling.  They recreated their former roles and gave a sneak peek into what is being considered for this coming summer.  Yes, they will be back this summer both at The Clement (on the Lower East Side) and at Bryant Park.  Planning is still underway so check their website (drillingcompany.org) for up to date information.  Keep in mind that seating will probably be limited due to social distancing, so even though ALL performance are FREE, reservation will need to be made in advance. 

Domenick Danza

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Father

The Father
A Film by Florian Zeller
Sony Pictures Classics
March 28, 2021

The Father  -  Movie Poster
  Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics  

When I read that Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman were both nominated for Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Awards for The Father, I was immediately interested in seeing it.  Not only because of the magnitude of the work of these two actors, but because I saw the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Christopher Hampton’s translation of Florian Zeller’s play, The Father, in 2016.  Could this movie be an adaptation of that play?  I was very enthusiastic when I found out it was!

I remember the play very clearly.  It was highly impactful, relying on many theatrical devices and stage effects to create a very profound experience.  Frank Langella was brilliant in the role of Andre, the father.  Kathryn Erbe was mesmerizing as his daughter.  You can read my post of that production on this blog, dated April 1, 2016.  I was intrigued to find out if the impact of that play would successfully transfer to film.  I am happy to say, under the direction of Florian Zeller, it was skillfully achieved.  How could it be anything less, since Mr. Zeller co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Hampton.

Imogen Poots, Olivia Colman, & Anthony Hopkins in The Father
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Anthony Hopkins plays Antony (a name change from Frank Langella’s character in Christopher Hampton’s translation).  He is a senior adult who is facing the challenges of memory loss and the need for full time home care.  Olivia Colman plays Anne, his daughter, who is overwhelmed by the care of her father, while facing her own life changing decisions.  The confusion builds as the scenes progress, yet they contain very specific and subtle clues that keep the audience connected.  As the action unfolds, the audience realizes they are experiencing the events from Antony’s point of view.  The confusion is purposeful, offering an insightful understanding to the frustration and powerlessness that comes with aging and memory loss.

It is re-assuring when a well-conceived, skillfully crafted, and expertly produced play is turned into an effective and thought provoking film.  Make it a point to see The Father.  The performances are outstanding, but more importantly, the experience is mind altering. 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Christopher Shinn Excels in Crafting a Brechtian Experience for the Audience in his Play Teddy Ferrara

Photo courtrsy of TCG Books
It was not that long ago that I posted on this blog about the work of playwright Christopher Shinn.  I recently read his play Teddy Ferrara, and am compelled to write about his work again.  Teddy Ferrara is a skillfully crafted play.  Mr. Shinn’s characters are truthful, distinct, and developed with precision.  His dialogue is honest and reveals the pressing needs of the characters.  The scenes are full of miscommunications, as the character engage in social games that have a lasting effect on one another.  I will say this is Mr. Shinn’s most powerful work.

The story takes place on the campus of a large state university in the northeast.  Gabe, a 21-year-old student, runs the Queer Student Group.  He just started dating Drew, who is the editor for the university newspaper.  They meet Teddy Ferrara, an awkward freshman, when he shows up late for the Queer Student Group meeting.  Gabe gives Teddy the information he missed and invites him to the group’s upcoming dance party.  After he leaves, Drew calls Teddy “a weirdo.”  Drew also expresses his jealousy toward Gabe’s roommate, Tim, who is straight.  Gabe brushes off both of Drew’s comments.

The on-campus suicide of a student, Kevin Gillman, the previous school year is beginning to get a lot of press attention.  Information has surfaced that he committed suicide because he was gay and closeted.  The Provost forms a student committee to meet with the President of the University to discuss how to change the homophobic atmosphere the LGBTQ students encounter on campus.  Gabe is a member of this diverse committee of student representatives. 

When Teddy shows up at the dance party, he tells Gabe that his straight roommate videotaped him in his dorm room having sex with someone he met on line.  Gabe is concerned, but focused on the evening’s event and does not address it any further.  Everyone else is too caught up with their own drama to notice that Teddy has isolated himself.  When Teddy commits suicide later that night by throwing himself off the same library balcony as Kevin Gillman, the homophobic atmosphere of the campus if thrown into greater scrutiny.

This play is Brechtian in structure and style.  It clearly and simply illustrates a series of actions from which the audience can draw their own conclusion.  Mr. Shinn gives the audience a bird eye view into the individual behaviors that form this community.  In doing so, he has successfully written scenes of “pure action,” as Brecht emphasized, without any moral explanation to guide the audience toward a purposeful learned outcome.  Not one of the characters seems to be aware of or sensitive to what is going on around them.  They are unaware of their contribution to the creation of an alienating environment.  None of them seems to realize they could have changed Teddy’s situation by simply including him in any one of their conversations. 

Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre
In the notes at the beginning of the play, Mr. Shinn writes, “The design should be simple in order to maximize speed of storytelling.”  The play does not designate locations for any scene, yet the dialogue is specifically grounded in the setting, which is vital for the flow of action and development of events.  This play can almost be performed on a bare stage.  The actions are that concise and riveting.  I am in awe of Mr. Shinn’s skills in crafting this piece.  Teddy Ferrara had its world premiere at Goodman Theatre on February 11, 2013.  I hope it is produced after the pandemic so I can see a full production.  Get a copy of Teddy Ferrara and read it for yourself.

Domenick Danza  



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Emma Smith Sheds a New Light on the Writings of William Shakespeare, Offering an Engaging Opportunity to Prepare for Our Return to Live Theatre


Photo courtesy of Pantheon Books
Emma Smith’s book This Is Shakespeare is a unique perspective on many of the Bard’s well-known works.  She analyzes Shakespeare’s plays from a different point of view, which she calls his “gappiness.”  (pg. 2)  She point out how Shakespeare’s silences, inconsistencies, and sparse stage directions leave room for varied interpretation of his classic writing.  “Shakespeare’s construction of his plays tend to imply rather than state; he often shows, rather than tells; most characters and encounters are susceptible to multiple interpretations.  It’s because we have to fill in the gaps that Shakespeare is so vital.” (pg. 3)  This space for interpretation is what has kept the works of William Shakespeare alive over centuries.  This is what draws directors and actor to them, yearning to inject new and relevant life into the well-known comedies, tragedies, and history plays.  “These gaps… open up space to think differently about the world and experience it from another point of view.” (pg. 3)  

Ms. Smith’s analysis of the history plays (Richard II, 1 Henry IV, and Richard III) shines a light on not only the creative elements of the stories, such as the fictional character of Falstaff, but on Shakespeare’s purposeful guidance of the audience’s engagement.  The historic facts in these works are clear and accurate, yet the focus of the writing evokes a specific emotional journey for the audience.  In Richard III, the role of Richmond is minor.  His victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field ends years of political turmoil and ushers in the Tudor reign.  Shakespeare diminishes this historic importance in the play.  He turned his audience’s anxious eye away from Elizabethan succession and focused it on Richard’s tyrannical reign in order for them to learn a lesson from the past.  Shakespeare achieves this by creating a charismatic character in Richard, who leads the play in line count.  Ms. Smith often turns toward line count to see which character emotionally dominates the play.  This is one example of how Shakespeare constructed the history plays to give his audience more than just historic content.

Shakespeare Scholar / Author, Emma Smith
Photo courteys of Emma Smith
Ms. Smith highlights a few surprising aspects in her chapter on Othello.  She makes a strong claim that the set up for this well-known tragedy follows the structure of Shakespeare’s comedies.  The opening scene of Othello is much like that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where a father disapproves of his daughter’s choice of a suitor.  The handkerchief that Iago plants as evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity can be identified as a “comic prop” (pg. 211), much like Olivia’s letter in Twelfth Night, that pulls Malvolio into his comic downfall.  She also cites evidence that the character of Iago “is a version of the witty servant… often depicted on stage laughing at his own diabolical cleverness.” (pg., 221)  Because of the institutional racism, religious bias, and gender oppression dramatized throughout the play, these comic set-ups take a horrible turn toward an inevitable, tragic ending for the characters.

Ms. Smith also looks at the classic characters in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, as well as a number of Shakespeare’s beloved comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night).  She takes a deep dive into twenty of Shakespeare’s plays.  Each chapter in the book offers an expansive frame of reference to understand a director’s fresh interpretation.  This Is Shakespeare is the perfect read to prepare for your return to live theatre.  It is a valuable resource to revisit before seeing any new production.  

I leave you with Ms. Smith’s final line from the book:  “So this is Shakespeare.  Permissive, modern, challenging, gappy, frustrating, moving, attenuated, beautiful, ambiguous, resourceful, provoking, necessary.” (pg. 324) 

Domenick Danza

Smith, Emma. This is Shakespeare. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2019.