Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hand to God

Hand to God
The Booth Theatre
March 20, 2015

Photo courtesy of Hand to God
Hand to God is aptly subtitled “a new American play.”  It questions the definitions of good and evil by separating them from the various grey areas in between.  A concept every American would benefit to examine and reflect upon.  Playwright Robert Askins writes with a unique, edgy wit.  The script is strikingly sobering.  The show is cunningly directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.  Steven Boyer is stellar as Jason.  He and the entire cast (Geneva Carr, Marc Kudisch, Michael Oberholtzer, and Sarah Stiles) serve up authentic performances that are remarkable, raw, and funny.

The first act will make you laugh and agree that yes, when the world hands you more than you can manage, put on a sock puppet, let it curse like crazy, and say the devil made you do it.  This is what the main character, Jason, does when he is overwhelmed with feelings of abandonment by the death of his father and the emotional detachment of his mother.  The second act gets real and violent and psychological as we see the depth of Jason’s despair.  The mood shifts from hysterical to disturbing.  Everyone in the audience stopped laughing (at different times) as they began to realize the level of volatility and frustration the character was embodying. 

The play was so good that I bought the refrigerator magnet… at intermission.  I usually wait until the end of the show.  This is strong seal of approval in my book, and the best $10 ever spent.  

My refrigerator Broadway show magnet collection.

Hand to God is presently in previews and officially opens April 7.  Go see this play!  It is a skillfully crafted work that uses humor to unmask truth.  A truth we all need to face.

Steven Boyer in "Hand to God"
Photo courtesy of Hand to God
A personal take away:  As a NYC Public High School teacher, certain students tend to go off (on a rant) on a regular basis with various expletives for any number of reasons.  Perhaps the next time this happens (I am thinking of one student in particular), I will picture her devilish voice coming from a sock puppet attached to her left hand.  This will allow me to 1) laugh at the absurdity of the situation, and 2) be empathetic to the level of fear and hurt that her outburst is covering.  Profound or sarcastic?  We’ll see.  I am sure I will have a chance to put this experiment into action this week.

Domenick Danza  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Experiencing the Heart & Culture of London

Several years ago while visiting the United Kingdom, a cab driver quoted, in a satirical manner, a familiar UK saying that states, "The sun never sets on the British empire."  I assumed that meant that the British thought very highly of themselves and that it was a statement of grandeur because the light would never dim on any of its territories.  It meant that and more because of its expansive empire that spans the globe.  The sun was always shining on one of its territories at all times throughout the day. Although the British territories are not as expansive as they once were, Britain still has both elegance and allure that has caused a certain amount of je ne sais quoi that caused me to think about visiting London.  I previously went to Scotland and enjoyed Glasgow and Edinburgh.  I imagined that this trip was going to be vastly different from Scotland.

This is an actual person who stays like this all day!
Who started this spectacle which has not become pastiche?
New Yorkers or the British?
In February 2015, I made my journey to  London, a global city with which I had become enamoured. I had previously never desired to visit London because I always enjoyed going to more exotic places- countries with a culture vastly different from my own; however, since I started having a more voracious appetite for the theater, I decided that I would go to the West End to comparatively analyze theater and visit central London to get both a taste and a feel of the local culture and local color (I previously viewed productions in the US by London's National Theater and by London's Young Vic).  Moreover, I had become increasingly enthralled with several BBC shows like Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, and Call the Midwife (and others).  As the last few years past, I realized that I had become an anglophile.  While watching Shakespearean plays annually and becoming ensconced with British phrases and accents, I realized that I both admired and respected both British theater and television. Logically I decided that the best place to visit on my vacation would be London.  My goal was to see as much theater that I could afford to see and to go to as many art exhibits humanly possible. Because I am an avid walker, I decided to walk everywhere in lieu of the tube or the bus.  I walked about twelve hours daily so that I could enjoy the local flavor.  I visited the National Theater multiple times as well as a couple of theaters in the West End and five museums, each with its own focus.  As a result, I gained a greater appreciation and cultural awareness for both the British culture and for my own.  As anywhere, one can reside at hotels of great grandeur or hotels of more modesty.  I stayed in Fitzrovia at St. Giles, a three star hotel with a full breakfast, in the heart of the West End.  European hotel accommodations tend to be small.  I expected a small room because I booked a single room. The concierge and other workers were exceptionally genial toward me.  Although the room was small, it did not matter.  I only intended to sleep there, thus the only thing that mattered was its cleanliness.  If one is looking forward to attending the theater in the West End, I highly recommend St. Giles.  The Marriott Hotel, although pricier, is located on the South Bank in proximity to the National Theater and it has all the glitz and glamor that goes with a four star hotel.  The Ritz Carlton, is located in Piccadilly, a half hour walk to the theater district.  One can get a superb afternoon tea there, but the cost is much greater than at other locations.

Harrods, the most opulent department store in which I had
ever shopped.  I managed to buy a pistachio pastry and some
 perfume, Spring Flowers by Creed
From the moment I arrived at the hotel,  I was captivated by the frenetic pace of the city, by the avuncular people who often helped me when I looked lost, and by the people moving about while enjoying good sunny weather- three words that do not normally go together in London.  I absolutely adored London.  I cannot say it enough.  I am not sure whether I adored it because the culture was acutely aligned with my own American culture or because of the quality of the theater and other performing arts.  I spent time walking all over central London.  As a peripatetic person, walking pleasantly suited me and I did not tire easily.  I loved the architecture and the general beauty of the city.  I visited both Selfridges and Harrods.  I could have spent days basking in the opulence of each store while enjoying afternoon teas and tempting pastries that truly were works of art.  The price tag attached was commensurate with their worth.  Selfridges now boasts that it is the only department store with a cinema.  The main film that seemed to be ubiquitous throughout central London was Fifty Shades of Grey.  I decided, however, to pass on that film.  The main thought that I came away with regarding British culture as I walked and perused stores was the extent that British culture influences American culture.  It became apparent that the American culture is a pastiche of British culture.  The nomenclature of both countries is the same (street names, districts, etc.).  The one thing that we have not esteemed to the same level as the British is enjoying a cup of tea.  We are more fascinated with coffee than with tea.  The British are still arguing over how to best enjoy a cup of tea. Does one put the milk in first or last?  How hot should the water be?  Tea bag versus loose tea?  How long is it steeped?  After enjoying English Breakfast during the morning and in the afternoon daily, I thought I might have caffeine withdrawal upon disembarkation at Kennedy.  Would you like a pot of English Breakfast?

The National Theater
Have you ever seen any of their filmed productions?
They are spectacular, especially if you cannot get to London
or cannot see their productions on Broadway or elsewhere.
Before going on holiday (British vernacular of course), I researched the plays that I was interested in seeing.  I narrowed the list down to six and I made my final decision upon arrival the first day.  Visiting London without attending theater is like touring New York City without ever seeing Broadway, Times Square or the 9/11 Memorial.  Why would anyone travel so far without ever taking in the Theater?  While in London, I visited the New Globe Theater and the National Theater.  I took tours of both theaters including a back stage tour of the National Theater.  The New Globe was financed by Sam Wanamaker.  It is open during the spring and the summer.  Bring blankets to keep warm, as it is an outdoor theater.  Contrary to the outdoor New Globe Theater is the indoor National Theater that has three theaters with many plays running concurrently.  The National Theater boasts about having a drum revolve that is five stories high and contains several elevators used to hoist huge objects onto the stage.  It is one of two in the world.  I loved the National Theater with its cafes, its restaurants, its bookstore and its general ambiance.  One could stay there all day and read and relax or enjoy a great dinner before a show.  Even though I attended the theater alone, I met people during the interval (vernacular for intermission).  I engaged in conversations about the British and about New Yorkers.  If ever one is undecided about attending the theater alone, it can be a great experience.

The New Globe Theater is built to be a replica of the
original Globe Theater.  I took a tour and learned interesting
facts about the productions at the original Globe Theater.
While in London, I saw five plays. I saw Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw. This play expands on Nietzsche's concept of superman in which man explores his own morality and shakes off the conventions that have been placed on him.  The main character is played by Ralph Fiennes who tries to live by his own set of rules  and opines on women and marriage.  This four hour performance was exceptional.  I also saw, A View from the Bridge, in the West End.  It was directed by Ivo Van Hove and written by Arthur Miller.  It was fresh on the heels of their Young Vic production.  It is my belief that this play will arrive on Broadway within the next year.  We love Arthur Miller and we love Brooklyn.  The play was spectacular (I will review it in a separate post).  If it arrives here, I strongly recommend it.  Additionally, at the National Theater is Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a play adapted from the non fiction narrative by Katherine Boo.  This play is about a group of people who live behind the airport in Mumbai.  This group lives in the shadow of great development in Mumbai while millions continue to live in indigence.  This play is emotionally moving, and it prompted me to read the original narrative.  Also, at the National Theater is Tom Stoppard's new play, The Hard Problem.  The play explores consciousness.  It asks the hard questions about the things of which we are aware and that can be proved.  Although Stoppard is known to be logorrheic, the issues discussed were fascinating and the verbosity of the play did not detract from its themes.  The set was minimalistic and the acting was superb. The lead actor, Olivia Vinall, reminded me of Carey Mulligan in Skylight. She was passionate in her beliefs as she opined on her belief of the consciousness of God.  Do coincidences exist or are we merely unaware of the circumstances that create them?  Does God exist or are we orchestrating our own paths?  Lastly, I saw War Horse, which was great in spite of technical difficulties that caused the show to stop for about ten minutes to correct the problem.

One of the last events in which I engaged was visiting The National PortraitGallery; it gives visitors a great history of the kings and queens of England.  Viewing the exhibit has inspired me to gain a more complete picture of the history of the British monarchy.  Much has been written about the British monarchy, but the exhibit gives a complete and accurate history without embellishment.  Currently on Broadway are two productions about the British monarchy, Wolf Hall (Parts I and II produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company starts March 20th) and The Audience.  All anglophiles are rushing to get tickets now!

As a result of my vacation, I have gained more wisdom from traveling and I have a better consciousness of London and its environs.  I am now positioned to return and branch out to other areas of England and also to visit Wales and Northern Ireland.  When I return in subsequent years, I will continue to visit the theater and art museums.  I will also visit Stratford so that I can see the Royal Shakespeare Company and the place of Shakespeare's birth. I learned that if I am having difficulty understanding someone, it is also likely that he or she is having difficulty understanding me.  Walking and not taking bus tours is really the best way to get around (if you can walk without fatigue).  When converting currency, always use "the hole in the wall" (vernacular for ATMs). The best rate is given through the machine.  Bring a small amount of local currency before arriving. Always include respite in your day by having an afternoon tea at one of the better locations.  Get to know some of the locals.  That is how one learns the true culture of a place.  Take time to enjoy the night -life.  London is a beautiful city at night.  I cannot wait to return.  In the meantime, Wolf Hall awaits me.  I have tickets the first full week in April.  A review will follow.  Cheerio!

 Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Guest Contributor 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New York Spring Spectacular

New York Spring Spectacular
Radio City Music Hall
March 14, 2015

I was about 10 years old on my first trip to Radio City Music Hall.  My Aunt Delores brought me, my sister, my brother, and my two cousins, Denise and Angela.  The movie was Disney’s The LoveBug along with the Rockettes Easter Show.  Yes, way back then Radio City showed a movie with the Rockettes show, and it was NOT socially unacceptable to have a religious reference in the title.  I remember so much about that day.  Waiting on the platform for the D train from Brooklyn into Manhattan (the fare was only twenty-five cents).  Going to lunch in Rockefeller Center (a restaurant in Manhattan was a big deal to a 10 year old from Brooklyn).  The Rockettes’ kick line before the movie (I wanted to stay and see it a second time after the movie).  And when Denise said that Angela was surprised when we got off the train at 47-50th Street in New York City, because she thought Radio City was a separate borough.

Photo courtesy of Radio City Music Hall
I did not expect a moving experience or a cathartic script when I got my tickets for New York Spring Spectacular last month.  I expected great old fashioned singing and dancing, big production numbers, huge sets, and a brilliant light show.  What I got was that and more. 

The show started exactly at 8:00 PM.  When and where does that ever happen?  The orchestra rose from the pit playing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  In fact, every time the orchestra rose from the pit, I smiled.  That was probably the simplest technological feat of the evening, but it was still the most thrilling.  Other highlights were the “Singing in the Rain” number set in Central Park.  Yes, it rained on stage.  Poured, actually.  The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers number set on top of the Empire State Building.  The Rockettes “New York, New York” kick line.  The art exhibits from the Metropolitan Museum of Art coming to life, or should I say dancing to life.  But for me, the most entertaining part of the show was the voices of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as the two New York Public Library Lions, aptly named Patience and Fortitude.  The show was 90 minutes of non-stop, high energy entertainment.  The technology is truly amazing.  The sets move in and across, and up and out with precision and timing matched only by the Rockettes themselves.  They were so magnificently designed that you could not tell where the physical structures ended and where the computerized images began.  It all moved and overlapped and became one visual feast you have to experience for yourself.  I stared in wonder wanting to know how they were doing it all.

All the performances were amazing, but the reason it is called a spectacular is because it just is (spectacular).  If you have a childhood memory of Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes, New York Spring Spectacular will warm your heart.  If you do not have memories, go NOW and create some.   

Domenick Danza 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Upright Citizens Brigade Workshop / Performance

Upright Citizens Brigade
Student Workshop / Performance
307 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001
March 2, 2015

Photos courtesy of Upright Citizens Brigade
I am a high school theatre and math teacher and work in a public school in East New York, Brooklyn.  Last week I had the pleasure of bringing a group of my students to the Upright Citizens Brigade Improvisation Workshop / Performance.  Naturally, we were the largest and rowdiest group there.  I was very proud of that fact.  This was one situation where rowdy, also known as creative and enthusiastic, was appropriate.  The four improv actors, John Murray, Shaun Diston, Keisha Zollar, and Carrie McCrossen were skilled, engaging, and inspiring.

The first portion of the presentation was a workshop where students participated in activities that defined the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) improvisation techniques.  “Yes and…”, “Character Match”, and “Top of Your Intelligence” were concepts and games that build technique used to create improvisation scenes.  My students were familiar with these concepts from class, but a few of the formats were new.  The workshop atmosphere of the experience allowed the students to participate comfortably.  The students jumped on the opportunity to soar as the four actors in the performance demonstrated.  We have since repeated some of these activities in class. 

During the second portion of the presentations, one of the actors interviewed a student from the audience.  The troupe then created a number of scenes based on these interview questions and answers.  We were all amazed and entertained by how many different scenes these imaginative actors were able to come up with from the brief interview.  When asked later how long these four actors have been working together, they said it was their first time.  They explained to the students that the common language of their intense and extensive training at UCB allows them to play together with ease.  That was the most valuable portion of the day for me.  Improvisation is so often viewed as just working off the top of your head to most students.  The fact that there are skills involved that are worth studying and focusing on in order to improve and fine tune your technique is exactly what I have been wanting my students to understand.

This student workshop / performance was truly invaluable.  I want to thank Madison Stroever from UCB for inviting us and patiently arranging the field trip.  Upright Citizens Brigade performs regularly at their theatre and offers classes.  Do yourself a favor and check them out.

Domenick Danza

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rocket to the Moon

Rocket to the Moon
The Peccadillo Theater Company
Theatre at St. Clement’s
March 7, 2015

Timeless script!  Outstanding acting!  Insightful directing!  That’s all there is to say about The Peccadillo Theater Company’s production of Clifford Odets’ Rocket to the Moon at the Theatre at St. Clement’s.

Photo courtesy of
The Peccadillo Theater Company
It’s 1938 and Dr. Ben Stark, D.D.S., is cajoled into taking an introspective look at his life.  He has been held in place by his wife of ten years.  She rules.  She controls.  She knows best.  His dental practice is not the fulfillment of his dreams that he expected.  Mr. Prince, Dr. Stark’s father-in-law, tells him that an affair with his pretty new secretary, Cleo, could give him a new perspective on life.  “Take a rocket to the moon!” says Mr. Prince, “Explode!”  The complexity of the plot begins as Cleo’s bleak personal life is juxtaposed against her lies and dreams of becoming a dancer.  When the affair between Dr. Stark and Cleo begins, she also starts dating Willy Wax, a famous dance director and wolf in his own right.  Meanwhile, Mr. Prince falls in love with Cleo, and offers her something no one else can, financial security. 

The entire production is amazing.  Director Dan Wackerman has a clear understanding of Odets’ themes and rhythms.  The cast is spectacular.  Ned Eisenberg plays Dr. Stark with warmth, optimism, and pathos.  Jonathan Hadary is witty and bitingly charming as the eccentric Mr. Prince.  Katie McClellan gives the role of Cleo a fire that burns through the character’s naiveté.  Larry Bull (as Phil Cooper, D.D.S.), Michael Keyloun (as Walter “Frenchy” Jensen, D.P.M.), and Lou Liberatore (as Willy Wax) create sharp characters with clarity and specific back stories that communicate a strong sense of the societal mores and taboos of the time period. 

Clifford Odets’ script illustrates how society reinforces the limitations men and women put on themselves.  The male characters struggle with their roles as providers in an economic depression.  The two female characters are strong depictions of how women were treated and encapsulated during that time period.  Dr. Stark’s wife Belle, sharply played by Marilyn Matarrese, is partner and controller, while Cleo is young, single and treated as nothing more than an object, a possession.  Their impassioned struggle to transcend the limitations put upon them by society is matched by how they in turn manipulate the men around them.  This view of society as an enforcer of restraint by imposing roles and restrictions transcends time.

Ned Eisenberg and Marilyn Matarrese in Clifford Odets' Rocket to the Moon
Photo courtesy of the Peccadillo Theater Company

The set and lighting by Harry Feiner transported me to the hot summer months of 1938.  The large open windows in the office waiting room created the sense that we were on the twelfth floor of an office building.  At one point in the third act Dr. Stark refers to his office as his prison.  This comparison made it clear to me why some of Mr. Feiner’s choices in the floor plan were made.  The details set the time period perfectly.  Amy C. Bradshaw’s costumes and Paul Huntley’s wigs were the icing on the cake in creating this crisp 1938 New York setting. 

Clifford Odets makes you ask yourself that if the mundane of your life is not important enough, why are you repeating it every day.  Why aren’t you seeking more?  Are society’s limits strong enough to keep you down?  It is amazing how a script so full of social commentary can be so personal, yet this is what makes it still valid to an audience today.  As Frenchy says of Dr. Stark, “His unhappiness is a dangerous habit of which he is not fully aware.”  Go see the play and be ready to take a deep, realistic look at yourself.

Domenick Danza

Thursday, March 5, 2015


by Beth Henley
TACT (The Actors Company Theatre)
The Beckett Theatre / Theatre Row
February 28, 2015

Photo courtesy of TACT
I was very excited when I saw that TACT (The Actors Company Theatre) was doing Beth Henley’s Abundance.  I got a ticket on TDF right away.  I thought it was a new play, then found out that it was commissioned in 1989 by South Coast Repertory, just six years after her acclaimed Crimes of the Heart.  I commend TACT for their program notes with detailed information about Beth Henley and background on the development of this script.  Be sure to read through them when you go to the show.  They gave me a few points of reference and prepared me for the production, which was beyond anything I anticipated. 

The action of the play starts in 1860 and spans twenty-five years.  It is the story of two mail order brides who become friends while waiting for their prospective husbands to meet them.  Their stories are brutal and stark, as they face the wilderness, hunger, and abuse.  They cling to one another as they sacrifice and adapt to their situations.  Act II changes drastically when one of the women is kidnapped and enslaved by a Native American tribe.  The program notes state, “While much of the content in Abundance may seem far-fetched, all of it is based on fact.”  This is one of the reference points I referred to earlier.  Without previous knowledge to this time in history, I would have found this plot point to be contrived.  With this understanding, I was able to allow the second act to unfold.  

Tracey Middendorf, Ted Koch, Kelly McAndrew, and Todd Lawson
in the TACT production of Beth Henley's Abundance      Photo courtesy of TACT

The women turn on each other in Act II when they are reunited.  The level of betrayal between them is in the script, yet not portrayed with the depth that is needed to make it realistic and understandable.  Yes, the circumstances are extremely out of the ordinary, however, the connection of the two actors was not visceral enough to create a realistic and viable second act.  The four main actors, Tracy Middendorf, Kelly McAndrew, Todd Lawson, and Ted Koch, do an amazing job establishing their four distinct characters and creating relationships that are tense and connected in Act I.  The director, Jenn Thompson, seemed to miss the core of the conflict in Act II. 

The set, by Wilson Chin, opens the space up with expansive cloud constructions.  On the central playing area stands a strong, statuesque pole with a pulley that constantly reminds us of the level of rigorous work that is involved in the lives of these characters.  There is a lot of dialogue about the size of the sky and the closeness of the stars at night.  The openness of the design allows the space to be overtaken by this feeling.  Philip Rosenberg’s brilliant lighting illuminates the clouds with color and fills the night sky with those close, reachable stars.

Even though I had trouble with the second act, Abundance is valuable play about a portion of our history we do not regularly see or hear about.  Though I was not emotionally moved by its outcome, it certainly did intrigue me.  It is a well-produced piece with historic significance.  

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

John & Jen

John & Jen
Keen Company
The Clurman Theatre / Theatre Row
Sunday, February 15, 2015

John & Jen is the second production I have seen at Keen Company this season.  The first was Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods with Kathleen Chalfant and Paul Niebanck.  Expertly directed by Keen’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Silverstein, these productions have made me a big fan and follower of Keen Company.

Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in John & Jen
Photo courtesy of Keen Company

John & Jen is a heartfelt, two-character musical by Andrew Lippa (music and book) and Tom Greenwald (lyrics and book).  It tells the story of John and Jen, a brother and sister, how close they were growing up, how they grew apart, and how love and fears of letting go transfer through a generation.  I purposely do not want to tell any more about this unique musical so you can experience the journey first hand.  Personally, I was carried back to memories of my relationship between me and my youngest brother, and how that has transferred down to my young nephew.  It is clearly relatable story that should not be missed. 

Jen is magnificently played by Kate Baldwin.  I saw her in the Broadway production of Big Fish last season.  She was marvelous in that as well.  John is tenderly played by Conor Ryan.  He was previously seen in the Public Theatre production of The Fortress of Solitude.  Their chemistry is magical as we watch their characters grow up before our eyes.  Their transformation from childhood through puberty into adolescence and then young adulthood is seamless and magically crafted.

Director Jonathan Silverstein is gifted at finding the moments where the growth in the relationships between the characters intimately moves the action forward and allows the audience to ride through the story.  The musical staging is by Christine O’Grady.  Her movement fills the space and develops the characters with care, precision, and detail.

The set, by Steven C. Kemp, is a mixture of geometric structures that are utilized in various and imaginative ways.  It works very well as a unit set for this story that travels through decades of time and numerous settings.  It is painted in dark and intense colors that, unfortunately, do not allow the space to illuminate with the range of emotion the play spans.  Josh Bradford’s lighting is very well done, but hindered by the darkness of the set structures.

John & Jen is sure to be well received.  Go see it!  I am looking forward to returning to Keen Company for their next production.

Domenick Danza

The Iceman Cometh

The Iceman Cometh
BAM's Harvey Theatre
February 17, 2015

Photo courtesy of The Goodman Theatre
The last time I read Eugene O’Neil was in college, 35 years ago.  I’d heard many great things about the Goodman production of The Iceman Cometh when it played in Chicago in 2012.  I got on line to get tickets as soon as I read it was going to be at BAM’s Harvey Theatre.  I went into the theatre expecting four hours of deep, moving intensity.  I was ready.  I was prepared.  What I got was five hours, so I have to admit that the last unexpected hour was rough, but great and powerful.  Nathan Lane commanded the stage and led a cast of eighteen actors, all who did a tremendous job of bringing depth and detail to each character and created extraordinary moments exemplifying the human condition.

The first act opens in the dark, shadowy backroom of Hope’s Bar, filled with pain and despair.  Hickey, Nathan Lane’s character, enters, awakening them to the realization that they are stuck in their “pipedreams” waiting for tomorrow.  His desire to stir them into action is infectious.  Act II is olive green and red and bright.  An upright piano is on stage for the characters to play and sing together.  They start looking at themselves based on Hickey’s rant, stripping away one layer at a time.  There are a variety of responses to self-assessment characterized by the assorted group.  Some fight it.  Some give in with conditions.  Larry, played by Brian Dennehy, holds firm, grounding them all in skepticism and obstinacy.  Act III is bright as the stage opens up to show the entire bar.  The sunlight outside the door at the far end of the bar is warm, stark, and harsh.  The characters exit into the light after hesitating, struggling, and wrestling with their own selves.  In Act IV we are back to the dark disillusionment of the first act as we hear the detailed truth of Hickey’s story.  At the end Larry utters, “Thank God there is no hope,” as all the characters dance and celebrate the comfort of their own despair.

I was very caught up in the yearning for change that Hickey brought to the bleak setting.  I believed him.  I wanted each character to face their fear and overcome their past.  Have their “pipedream” of tomorrow become a reality for the present.  Whether it was Nathan Lane’s hutzpah or my ridiculous optimism, I forgot the Eugene O’Neil I studied so many years ago.  The journey of the play brought hope to the inhabitants of Hope’s Bar.  I fell for it… and fell even harder in the final act as the conditions of these character’s lives overwhelmed them and firmly held them down.

Nathan Line in The Iceman Cometh  -  Photo courtesy of The Goodman Theatre

The production is superbly directed by Robert Falls, the Artistic Director of The Goodman Theatre in Chicago.  He has a clear understanding of Eugene O’Neil’s intention and how to get the actors grounded in the reality of the situation and setting.  The sets, by Kevin Depinet, and lighting, by Natasha Katz, give the actors an amazing space to create, explore, and get lost in.

Powerful and moving.  Detailed and intense.  This production is not to be missed.  Go in prepared for a full five hours.  The three intermissions give you ample time to stretch and process the material.  Take it all in and let the journey of the play take you into the deepest part of the soul of Eugene O’Neil.     

Domenick Danza

Between Riverside and Crazy

Between Riverside and Crazy
Second Stage Theatre
February 20, 2015

      Photos courtesy of Second Stage Theatre
I finally saw Between Riverside and Crazy, and am sorry I waited so long.  I saw advertisements for months, and read a very good review when it played at The Atlantic Theater Company this past summer and fall.  I read that the Second Stage Theatre’s production was a well-produced continuation of that run with mostly the same cast.  I sat in the theatre, waiting for the show to start, listening to the peculiar meditation-style music and realizing that from where I was sitting I was not going to be able to see all the action of the play.  The set was an interior with multiple rooms that were not in full view from my seat in house left.  I felt joy and excitement when the lights dimmed, the music gained some bass and rhythm, and the set spun on turn table to reveal all three rooms of the apartment, bringing the action down stage center.  I was not the only one to applaud Walt Spangler’s realistic, dilapidated, high-ceiling rendition of a Riverside Drive apartment.  Before a word was spoken, this set pulled me into a realistic and stark world that prepared me for the genuine depiction of the human experience that was to come. 

Stephan McKinley Henderson, Victor Almanzar, and Ron Cephas Jones 
in "Between Riverside and Crazy." Photo: Carol Rosegg
 Act I started with sharp dialogue that defined the characters right off the bat.  The main conflict was introduced in scene two as the backstory of the main character, Pops, played flawlessly by Stephen McKinley Henderson, was revealed.  The action dramatically rose at the end of the first act as Oswaldo, played meticulously by Victor Almanzar, goes off his sobriety and gets violent.  I took a minute to reflect during the intermission and realized that I was deeply involved in the world of this play.  It was real and topical.  Each point of view of the conflict was expressed so clearly that I was able to see the push and pull within each of the characters as their struggle and debate kept the action of the play moving forward.  In the second act a new character was introduced that turned the plot around, caused the conflict to explode, then calm, then pounce voraciously.

The blurb I had read for months about this play says, “City Hall is demanding more than his signature, the landlord wants him out… the struggle to hold on to one of the last great rent stabilized apartments on Riverside Drive collides with old wounds…”  This made me think the play was about the gentrification of New York City.  It is not about that at all.  It is about integrity and pride, healing and second chances.  It is not about the apartment.  Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis (well known for his play The Motherf**ker with the Hat) skillfully crafted an edgy world full of grit and warmth.  Director Austin Pendleton peeled away every layer of that world with actors who delved into themselves and connected to one another with an amazing depth of reality and truth.

This is an important play... a must see!  Three cheers to Second Stage Theatre for mounting The Atlantic Theater Company’s production and keeping it alive.  

Domenick Danza