Monday, November 28, 2022

Becky Nurse of Salem

 Becky Nurse of Salem
Lincoln Center Theater
The Mitzi E. Newhouse
November 26, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater

Dispelling myths.  Facing truths.  Releasing the past.  Accepting the present.  Sara Ruhl’s Becky Nurse of Salem does all of this, and more.  It is an emotionally engaging play that makes you look into yourself and recognize the cycle of accusation and victimization that keeps so many of us down.  The ending has an empowering effect.  Director Rebecca Taichman guided this phenomenal cast to discover truthful characters and create genuine moments while encompassing the wide range of topics Ms. Ruhl addresses in this play.

Becky (played by Deirdre O’Connell) is a tour guide at the Salem Witch Museum.  She is the very great granddaughter of Rebecca Nurse, the true character from Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, who was hanged as a witch in 1692.  Becky is fired from her job for speaking honestly to a group of museum visitors and then mouthing off to her supervisor.  She looks for a job at the Marriot, where she meets Stan (played by Julian Sanchez).  He recommends that she see a witch to help her find a new job, as he did.  The witch (played by Candy Buckley) can see that Becky tragically lost her daughter and is struggling to care for her teenage granddaughter, Gail (played by Alicia Crowder), who suffers from depression.  When the witch tells Becky it will cost her $400 to release her from the curse she carries from her ancestors, Becky turns to her old friend Bob (played by Bernard White) for a loan.  The witch also throws in a love potion for Becky to attract Bob into a romantic relationship.  Things get out of hand very quickly as Becky gets caught up in a cycle of self-destruction, and is arrested for breaking and entering.  While in jail, she is forced to do without her pain killers, which she is addicted to.  During her withdrawal, she faces the haunting of her past.  She is able to release the pain of losing her daughter and move forward with a stronger sense of acceptance. 

Deirdre O'Connell as Becky Nurse
Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater

From the minute the lights come up for her opening monologue, Deirdre O’Connell grabs the audience’s attention and does not let it go for a second.  Her character holds nothing back.  She is gruff, straight forward, and brutally honest.  She tells it like it is, which is why the character of Bob is attracted to her.  Bernard White (as Bob) and Ms. O’Connell have a strong connection.  The backstory of these characters is alive in every scenes they share.  Their attraction is strong and visceral.  These two actors allow their characters to grow and change through their interactions, keeping the story richly engaging.

Candy Buckley is mysterious and funny as the witch.  Ms. Ruhl has sharply written this character to include a shrewd balance of truthful insight and selfish chicanery.  Julian Sanchez and Alicia Crowder are solid as Stan and Gail.  The focus goes to both of these actors during their scenes, which is important since their characters play vital roles in the objectives and actions of the main character (Becky).

Deirdre O'Connell & Candy Buckley
Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater

Ms. Ruhl tackles a heavy load in this play.  She challenges Arthur Miller’s chronicling of the Salem witch trials in The Crucible.  She magnifies the objectification of the women in history who were falsely accused and murdered.  She points a finger at the causes of addiction, taking the pressure off the user so they can focus on healing.  She gives voice to the accused, not as a defense, but as a request to be seen.  The emotional impact of the final moment of the play is clear evidence of Ms. Ruhl’s success in the taking on of these heavy challenges.  This is an important play for the healing of our present situation, just as The Crucible was when it was written in 1953.

Rebecca Nurse of Salem is playing at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse.  Don’t miss it!  

Domenick Danza

Friday, November 11, 2022

Topdog/Underdog

 Topdog/Underdog
Golden Theatre
November 10, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Topdog/Underdog

The 20th anniversary Broadway revival of Suzan-Lori Park’s Topdog/Underdog is magnificent.  It is an engaging and powerful piece of theatre.  This 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning play still packs a potent punch.  Kenny Leon has masterfully directed this piece with two strong, captivating actors.  Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are brilliant together.  The competition between their two characters is constantly present.  It continually builds with a visceral tension until it explodes in an unexpected climax.

Corey Hawkins & Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Photo courtesy of Topdog/Underdog

Lincoln (played by Corey Hawkins) is staying with his brother, Booth (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  Booth is practicing dealing Three Card Monte to hustle on the street.  He wants to change his name to Three Card.  Lincoln has given up the cards and has a “real job.”  He is portraying Abraham Lincoln in an arcade, where people pay to assassinate him.  The brothers were abandoned by their parents when they were teenagers.  Each was given a five hundred dollar “inheritance” before their parents walked out on them.  Lincoln spent his, while Booth saved it, untouched.  When Lincoln loses his job, he reverts back to hustling cards.  Booth forces him to share his secrets on dealing.  While doing so, Lincoln wins his brother’s inheritance money.  This pushes Booth farther over the edge than either of them anticipated.

Corey Hawkins & Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Photo courtesy of Topdog/Underdog

The play’s effectiveness relies on the relationship of the two brothers.  They count on each other, yet are constantly trying to top one another.  One of the brothers explains that their father gave them their names (Lincoln and Booth) as a joke.  Their rivalry and bond were engrained in them from birth.  Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II find the rhythm to impressively create this dichotomy.  They are competitive allies, supporting each another one minutes, then seamlessly transitioning into high stakes opposition.  Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Adbul-Mateen are genuinely connected throughout the story.  Their moments of triumph and defeat are clear and critical to the momentum of the action. Their physical portrayals are distinctive, creating strong antagonism and making them equally enthralling.  

Topdog/Underdog is Suzan-Loir Parks at her best.  Director Kenny Leon connects every seed Ms. Parks plant throughout the action, delivering this piece to a stunning and shocking conclusion.  Don’t miss this production.  It is playing at the Golden Theatre.  

Domenick Danza

Friday, November 4, 2022

Parade

 Parade
New York City Center
Annual Gala Presentation
November 3, 2022 

Photos courtesy of New York City Center

The New York City Center Annual Gala Presentation of Parade is flawless.  Jason Robert Brown magnificently conducts his lavish score, passionately depicting a distinctive setting and bringing to life vibrant characters.  Alfred Uhry’s 1998 book shines bright in the light of our present day sensitivities.  Director Michael Arden stages the production on a simple unit set.  The action continually move, building dramatically to reveal the truth, not only for the main characters, but for the beliefs of the people of Georgia.

Leo Frank (played by Ben Platt) is transplanted to Marietta, Georgia when his wife’s uncle offers him a job.  Leo is a Jew from Brooklyn.  His wife, Lucille (played by Micaela Diamond) is a Jew from Georgia.  They were raised in the same faith, but it’s as if they are from different lands.  Leo feels out of place in Marietta, and Lucille wants him to slow down and enjoy the southern way of life, including the Memorial Day Parade, which celebrates the efforts of the Confederate Soldiers during the Civil War.  When the body of Mary Phagan, a 14 year old girl (played by Erin Rose Doyle) is found dead in the basement of Leo’s factory, his is arrested and found guilty of murder.  He is sentenced to death, yet continually maintains his innocence.  Lucille makes a strong appeal to Governor Slaton (played by Sean Allan Krill).  He investigates the testimony of the witnesses in Leo’s trial, and uncovers inconsistencies and lies.  He repeals Leo’s sentence to life in prison, but the good citizens of Marietta have another plan in mind.

Micaela Diamond & Ben Platt
Photo courtesy of New York City Center

Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond are brilliant as Leo and Lucille Frank.  Leo holds a conservative point of view of their roles in the marriage, therefore does not have much faith in his wife.  Lucille steps up to help Leo when all hope seems lost.  Ms. Diamond rises in that moment.  Her character defies her husband’s expectations.  Mr. Platt and Ms. Diamond become united in these moments.  They achieve a genuine bond, which propels the story through to the end.  Jason Robert Brown’s songs in the second act for these two characters are passionate and visceral, reflecting the deepening of their relationship.  These songs soar with emotion, as Mr. Platt and Ms. Diamond voices blend and fill the expansive City Center auditorium with joy and abandon.

Photo courtesy of New York City Center

The intimate story of Leo and Lucille Frank takes place within the value system of the old south, which includes the need to defend that way of life at all cost.  This production will make you stop and realize how little we have progressed in the past decades, and how vital it is to continue to push forward.  

Jason Robert Brown’s score requires a large cast of superb voices in order to be performed successfully.  This cast exceeds all expectation, delivering brilliance throughout the show.   

Parade is playing at City Center through November 6.  Don’t miss it! 

Domenick Danza

Monday, October 31, 2022

A Little Life

A Little Life
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
October 29, 2022

Ramsey Nasr & Maarten Heijmans
Photo courtesy of BAM & Internationaal Theatre Amsterdam
Internationaal Theatre Amsterdam’s production of A Little Life played at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House from October 20 through 29.  The play is adapted by Koen Tachelet from Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 novel.  It is a powerful piece, running four hours and ten minutes with one intermission.  It is performed in Danish with English subtitles.  Director Ivo van Hove has outdone himself on this production.  He keeps the action focused and clear.  As in the original novel, the story is character driven.  The relationships build to tell a harsh and cruel story that leaves you filled with compassion, marveling at how precious life truly is.

Maarten Heijman, Ramsey Nasr, Majd Mardo, & Edwin Jonker
Photo courtesy of BAM & Internationaal Theatre Amsterdam
The story is about four friends: Jude (played by Ramsey Nasr), Willem (played by Maarten Heijmans), JB (played by Majd Mardo), and Malcolm (played by Edwin Jonker).  Jude is a successful lawyer with a physical disability, caused by a “car accident” in his youth.  When his mentor, Harold (played by Jacob Derwig) decides he wants to adopt him, Jude’s fears rise to the surface.  His doctor, Andy (played by Bart Siegers), notices a drop in Jude’s health.  Jude is a cutter, inflicting pain on himself as a means of balancing the challenges he faces with abuses he suffered in his youth.  He keeps this a secret from Harold and his friends.  Amid flashbacks of his abuse, Jude has memories of time spent with Anna (played by Marieke Heebink), a therapist he worked with for many years.  After Jude is hospitalized because of an violent incident with Caleb, a man he is secretly seeing (played by Hans Kesting), Willem steps up to give him the care and support he needs.  Willem develops an intimate closeness with Jude, which opens a door for him to face his past and begin the slow and painful process of healing. 

Maarten Heijmans & Ramsey Nasr
Photo courtesy of BAM & Internatinaal Theatre Amsterdam

Ramsey Nasr draws the audience deeply into Jude’s story.  The details of his past are revealed one layer at a time.  As each layer peels back, we gain a clearer understanding of Jude’s inability to open up and form close, intimate, and lasting relationships.  Maarten Heijmans portrays Willem as selfless and compassionate.  He sacrifices parts of himself so Jude can build trust in him.  Their scenes are truthful and honest.  They develop a genuine relationship that is vulnerable and transformative.

A bold choice by Ivo van Hove was to cast the same actor (Hans Kesting) as the three men (Caleb, Luke, and Traylor) who inflict extreme abuse on Jude.  This allows the audience to comprehend how Jude’s’ abusive past formed continual trauma, causing Jude’s thick layer of defense and elevated need for secrecy.  As in past productions, Mr. van Hove uses the image of blood throughout the piece.  This symbolizes the pain and scars Jude perpetually carries.  It successfully illustrates the brutality of the story, without overwhelming the audience with its severity. 

This production keeps true to Hanya Yanagihara’s brilliant writing.  The characters of BJ and Malcom are not as detailed as in the novel, but it does not take away from the impact of the story.  Unfortunately, A Little Life played at BAM for a limited run.  Since it was part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival, there is no telling where it will be heading next.  If you see it scheduled in another venue, make sure to get a ticket.  Whether your read the novel or not, this production surely will have a powerful and lasting impact. 

Domenick Danza

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Almost Famous

Almost Famous
Bernard B. Jacob Theatre
October 19, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe has adapted his movie Almost Famous into an edgy, poignant, and vibrant Broadway musical.  The characters are skillfully crafted, vulnerable, and daring.  The action is driven by Tom Kitt’s music and lyrics.  Sarah O’Gleby’s choreography enhances the action, defines the characters, and grounds the time period.  Director Jeremy Herrin pulls it all together, leaving the audience with a stunning and emotionally fulfilling ending.

Photo curtesy of Almost Famous

The year is 1973.  William Miller (played by Casey Likes) is an intelligent high school senior, being raised by an overprotective, single mother (played by Anika Larsen).  When his sister, Anita (played by Emily Schultheis) moves out, she leaves him a stack of vinyl records.  William gets lost in the music.  He becomes an expert and begins to write articles expressing his point of view.  He lands an assignment to write for a local rock magazine, which causes him to meet the members of the band Stillwater, and more importantly Penny Lane (played by Solea Pfeiffer).  When Rolling Stone Magazine contacts him about writing for them, they think he is an older, experienced journalist.  William jumps at their offer and proposes an in depth story on the rise of Stillwater.  Rolling Stone pays him to join their tour, setting him on a life changing adventure. 

Casey Likes & Solea Pfeiffer
Photo courtesy of Almost Famous

Casey Likes, who is making his Broadway debut, is perfectly cast as William.  His character is naive, brave, and likeable.  We eagerly follow his journey as he dives into the fast-paced world of rock and roll.  Solea Pfeiffer is wild and free as Penny Lane.  She shares a few genuinely tender moments with Mr. Likes that deepen the story and reveal her character’s many layers.  Her chemistry with Chris Wood, who plays Russell Hammond, the lead guitarist of Stillwater, is magnetic.  Mr. Wood is riveting in this dynamic and mysterious role.  These three actors portray multifaceted characters who have a lasting impact on one another.  Their relationships grow as the story progresses, keeping the audience fully involved and emotionally engaged.

There are also strong performances by Anika Larsen, Emily Schultheis, and Drew Gehling.  As William’s mother, Ms. Larsen creates a strong home base that continually calls to her son, reminding him of who he is.  This generates a strong and effective tension throughout the story.  Emily Schultheis’ character of Anita, William’s sister, gives him the inspiration that propels his journey.  She is honest and caring in this role.  Drew Gehling’s portrayal of Jeff, the lead singer of Stillwater, is full of bravado, instigating conflict between the band members.  This causes the darker side of their characters to be revealed. 

The entire cast is strikingly energetic.  They all develop distinct characters that illuminate the time period.  The fast pace is set at the top of the show, and everyone on stage works to keep the story moving forward at lightning speed.  

If you liked the original movie, you will love this show.  Almost Famous is playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.  Go see it!

Domenick Danza

Sunday, September 11, 2022

I’m Revolting

 I’m Revolting
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
September 10, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

Gracie Gardner’s play, I’m Revolting, is a complex piece of theatre.  It takes place in the waiting room of a skin cancer treatment hospital over the course of one day.  It engages the audience with different points of view through the various character arcs.  Each story line delves into the character’s beliefs and fears.  The full story lands in a place of truth that brings revelation to the experience of the characters.  Director Knud Adams skillfully unites these various story threads by giving each member of this cast the time and space to delve into the needs of their individual character.

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company
Jonathan (played by Bartley Booz) is reviewing the patient list for the coming day with his colleague and mentor, Denise (played by Portia).  Reggie (played by Alicia Pilgrim) enters.  She is scheduled to have a fairly large carcinoma removed from her nose.  She is scared.  Denise tries to calm her by reviewing the procedure.  Reggie’s sister, Anna (played by Gabby Beans), finally arrives to keep her company, but manages to increase her anxiety level.  Liane (played by Emily Cass McDonnell) shows up with her husband Jordan (played by Glenn Fitzgerald).  She has a large tumor around her eye.  She need support, but her husband is emotionally disengaged.  When Clyde (played by Peter Gerety) arrives, he chats with Reggie, sharing his numerous experiences with the doctors at this hospital and boasting of how he values their expertise.  Toby (played by Patrick Vaill), who has been sleeping in his chair most of the time, is joined by his mother, Paula (played by Laura Easterman).  She loudly talks of self-healing, which pushes a button for the other patients. 

Each character faces their fears and darker self as they wait for the results of their procedure.  Some take it lightly.  Some will carry scars deeper than the ones left from the surgery.  Others might not survive at all. 

The anxieties felt and shared by this cast are genuine.  Reggie chooses to fight.  Alicia Pilgrim plays this character honorably.  Clyde is full of acceptance.  Peter Gerety is bold and brave in the conviction of his character.  Toby is truly scared.  Patrick Vaill portrays the character’s escape through numerous, carefully played tactics.  Paula is broken by her outcome.  Laura Easterman unapologetically shows the character’s willingness to voice her need and accept help. 

The final scene between Denise and Jonathan gives insight to the dedication required to treat patients at their most vulnerable moments.  Portia and Bartley Booz clearly illustrate the seriousness of their characters’ work.  Mistakes can be life threatening.  It is a stunning ending. 

I’m Revolting is playing at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater through October 16.  It is a thought provoking, wonderfully conceived production.  The cast is excellent. 

Domenick Danza

Saturday, August 27, 2022

macbitches

 macbitches
Chain Theatre
August 25, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Chain Theatre

Sophie McIntosh’s macbitches is a stark look at the inner world of an undergrad acting program.  Ms. McIntosh uses this microcosm of a societal structure to reveal how people fall into and accept the norms forced upon them in order to fit in.  The balance of power is clearly understood.  When the unraveling begins, the characters lose all sense of themselves.  This Chain Theatre world premiere production is skillfully directed by Ella Jane New.  She breaks the action down into short, clear beats, then allows them to effortlessly build to a dramatic frenzy.

Morgan Lui, Caroline Orlando, Laura Clare Browne, & Marie Dinolan
Photo courtesy of Chain Theatre

When Hailey, a freshman (played by Marie Dinolan), is cast as Lady Macbeth in the Drama Department’s fall production of “The Scottish Play,” the upper class students are taken by surprise.  Piper, a sophomore (played by Laura Clare Browne), invites her to a small gathering to celebrate.  Rachel (played by Carline Orlando), who is a senior, is handling her disappointment remarkable well.  Lexi, a junior (played by Natasja Naarendorp), is livid over the casting decision.  Cam (played by Morgan Lui) is also a junior, and slowly falling into a depression over the situation.  As they drink and share their drama school stories with Hailey, each one reveals the darker side of their experiences.  After Hailey tells about her final call back with the director, Rachel and Lexi decide to pull a prank on her.  The prank backfires when Rachel reveals a secret she has been keeping from Lexi for the three years of their friendship.  Blood is spilt and “what is done cannot be undone.”

Caroline Orlando, Morgan Lui, Natasja Naarendorp, 
Laura Clare Browne, & Marie Dinolan
Photo courtesy of Chain Theatre

These women are perfectly cast and delicately build their distinctive characters moment by moment.  Laura Claire Brown plays Piper’s optimism with genuine vulnerability.  She reveals her character’s insecurities in an intimate moment with Morgan Lui’s Cam.  These two actors have a strong connection.  They portray opposite characteristics, yet their bond is genuine and captivating.  Marie Dinolan delightfully portrays Hailey as a na├»ve freshman wanting to fit in.  Her comic timing is excellent.  She has a few bold moments that shift the action of the play.  This keeps the audience on the edge of their seat, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  From the opening moment of the show, Natasja Naarendorp is on fire.  This is juxtaposed by Caroline Orlando’s cool and calm portrayal of Rachel.  At the climax of the story, Rachel loses all control and Lexi cracks under the stress.  It is a powerful scene that takes the audience by surprise.  These two skilled actors successfully deliver an impactful ending that takes the entire story to another level.

Morgan Lui & Laura Clare Browne
Photo courtesy of Chain Theatre

Sophie McIntosh creates characters who have learned how to smoothly relate on the outside, while carrying hurt and secrets on the inside.  Her writing is funny and dark.  Chain Theatre delivers the high quality we have come to expect from their productions.  macbitches is playing through September 10.  Get a ticket right away.  Performances are selling out.

Domenick Danza