Monday, November 28, 2016

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
November 26, 2016

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Suzan-Lori Parks’ The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World aka The Negro Book of the Dead is presently playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center.  The production rings with rhythm and repetition that brings a visceral understanding to Ms. Parks’ intention.  The ensemble cast is ignited with passion and deliver vocally powerful performances.  Director Lileana Blain-Cruz masterfully blends images, form, and pacing that evoke emotion and a clear connection to Ms. Parks’ themes.

In Ms. Parks’ words, the play is “about a man and his wife, and the man is dying… It is like a funeral mass in a way… his wife is trying to find his final resting place.”  She says the play moves like “free jazz” music and correlates it with “poet’s theatre, slam poetry, hip-hop, like a poetry slam.” 

Photo courtesy fo Signature Theatre
Costume design by Montana Blanco and wig design my Cookie Jordan visually represent the dying man’s heritage, starting from the Pharaohs of Egypt and carrying it through the twentieth century.  These iconic visual images show a strength and connection that one person’s life exemplifies.  The cast of eleven phenomenal actors embody each of these symbols and fill them with life that supersedes their stylistic representation.  

Whether you are new to Suzan-Lori Parks work or an avid follower, this production will evoke an emotional response.  See it and allow it to envelop you.  The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World aka The Negro Book of the Dead runs at Signature Theatre’s Pershing Square Signature Center through December 18.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Manhattan Theatre Club
NY City Center Stage I
November 25, 2016

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Vietgone is Qui Nguyen’s play presently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s NY City Center Stage I.  This phenomenal script offers a valuable perspective on the experience of the refugees from the Vietnam War.  The characters lose their homes, their families, and their country.  They struggle to let go of the past in order to build a future for themselves in the United States, but they never forget who they are.

Quang (played by Raymond Lee) is a Vietnam helicopter pilot who rescues women and children when Saigon is invaded.  He is unable to get back to save his wife and two children.  Tong (played by Jennifer Ikeda) is given two tickets to the United States to escape the invasion.  She takes her mother, leaving her brother and fiancĂ© behind.  These two characters meet in a refugee camp in Arkansas.  Quang vows to return to his family in Vietnam.  Tong battles with her mother, identity as an Asian woman, and deep fears of intimacy.  Their commonalities bind them in their journey of assimilation in a country and culture that knows nothing about who they are and what they have seen.

Raymond Lee, Jon Hoche, & Jennifer Ikeda
Photo courtesy of Mnhattan Theatre Club
May Adrales has directed a stellar cast who delivers realistic scenes and relationships that are touching, humorous, and poignant.  Jon Hoche, Jennifer Ikeda, Raymond Lee, Samantha Quan, and Paco Tolson join forces as an ensemble to entertain and enlighten the audience with the journey of their characters.  The set (designed by Anthony Tran), lighting (designed by Justin Townsend), and projections (designed by Jared Mezzocchi) create an atmosphere that incite the imagination and focuses the audience intensely on the action of the play.  

Jon Hoche & Raymond Lee
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
In the final scene Mr. Nguyen makes a mind-blowing statement about the Unites States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.  It is from the perspective of a Vietnamese character who fought and lost everything.  It is noble and heroic, and unlike any political point of view we have heard on this subject.  You must see this play to experience the impact of this moment. 

Vietgone runs through December 4.  You have to see this show!

Domenick Danza

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chita: A Legendary Celebration

Chita: A Legendary Celebration
On Stage at Kingsborough
Kingsborough Community College
November 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of Chita: A Legendary Celebration
Chita Rivera performed her cabaret act, Chita: A Legendary Celebration, at On Stage at Kingsborough this past weekend.  The show included songs from West Side Story, Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Visit.  She told stories about her friends Leonard Bernstein, Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Cy Coleman.  She was energetic, personable, and, as the title states, legendary.

Photo courtesy of Chita: A Legendary Celebration
As she says in one of her personal stories, if you can stand up in the morning after putting one foot on the floor followed by the other, you still have time left and need to spend it wisely.  She certainly lives up to that advice.  In this version of the act she is on stage alone for one hour and fifteen minutes of sheer pleasure (for her) and joy (for the audience).  Chita has been performing this act in a variety of locations and venues.  I highly recommend that you take advantage of any upcoming opportunity to see her perform live.  She will inspire you as she takes you back to, as she calls it, the “golden years” of Broadway.

Photo courtesy of On stage at Kingsborough
Also be sure to check out the 2016-17 season at On Stage at Kingsborough, located in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn.  They offer affordable ticket prices and free parking to high quality shows for the entire family (toddlers to seniors) including, theatre, cabaret, dance, and music concerts.

Domenick Danza

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ride the Cyclone

Ride the Cyclone
MCC Theater
Lucille Lortel Theatre
November 12, 2016

Photo courtesy fo MCC Theater
Riding the Cyclone is a haunting and thought-provoking musical directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell.  The MCC Theater production is sharp and spectacular with exceptional sound and lighting effects.  The music and lyrics by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond are fun and energetic.  The skilled cast creates characters and moments that are true and touching.  Even with all of this in its favor, the show somehow falls short of building dramatic impact.

After performing at the fair, six members of the Saint Cassian High School Chamber Choir ride the roller coaster.  When an axel breaks in the front car, they are flown high in the air, then plunge to their deaths.  Before crossing to the other side, they review their short lives, hopes, and dreams in an effort to win the chance to go back, which can only be awarded to one of them.

Photo courtesy of MCC Theater
The production elements are amazing and perfectly delivered.   The set design by Scott Davis is spooky, vast, and spectacular.  It fills the Lucille Lortel Theatre with an atmosphere that sets the imagination on fire.  Lighting design by Greg Hofmann take everything on stage a step further by adding depth and illusion that captivates and draws you in.  The projections, designed by Mike Tutaj, are emotionally stimulating and show up in the most unexpected of places.  Unfortunately, these production elements far exceed the journey of the characters and arc of the action of the play.  Although there are poignant moments and a strong thematic finale song, the play is structured with mostly direct address and solos for the purpose of character development.  The relationships are not developed enough to create an emotional connection, and the theme is more stated than viscerally understood.

MCC's Riding the Cyclone is playing at the Lucille Lortel Theater through December 18. See it for yourself and add your comments here. 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Servant of Two Masters

The Servant of Two Masters
Theatre for a New Audience
Polonsky Shakespeare Center
November 11, 2016

Photo courtesy of Theatre for a New Audience
Theatre for a New Audience’s production of The Servant of Two Masters is pure gold.  Director Christopher Bayes brings energy and magic to this commedia dell’arte classic.  The cast pops every punchline and physicalizes the distinctive style of the period.  The production is bawdy, fast paced, and heartwarming.

Truffalino (played by Steven Epp) finds himself in the service to two masters.  The first, Beatrice (played by Liz Wisan), is disguised as her deceased brother to redeem the promissory notes from his business partner, Pantalone (played by Allen Gilmore).  The second, Florindo (played by Orlando Pabotoy) is the love of Beatrice who killed her brother in a duel.  In order to be convincing in her disguise, Beatrice becomes engaged to Pantalone’s daughter, Clarice (played by Adina Verson), even though she is promised to Silvio (played by Eugene Ma).  Mayhem ensues, all trickery is revealed, and love prevails.

Steven Epp as Truffolino
Photo courtesy of  Theatre for a New Audience
& Yale Repertory Theatre
Steven Epp is genius as Truffalino.  He and Mr. Bayes are credited for ‘further adaptations” of the script.  They skillfully add political commentary throughout the show.  Not only is this effective and hilarious, but it brings the commedia style and appeal into the present.  The antics become more than just buffoonery as the actors’ asides make us laugh at ourselves.  The cast works as a tight ensemble, giving life and verve to an almost three hundred year old theatrical form.

Theatre of a New Audience rises to new heights every year.  Their upcoming season is sure to live up to this expectation.  The Servant of Two Masters runs at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in downtown Brooklyn through December 4.    

Domenick Danza

Monday, November 7, 2016

This Day Forward

This Day Forward
Vineyard Theatre
November 5, 2016

Photo courtesy of Vineyard Theatre
This Day Forward is Nicky Silver’s new play presently in previews at Vineyard Theatre.  The two acts of this funny and dark play are set forty-six years apart, and portray how a decision made at a turning point in life can have a lasting effect.  Director Mark Brokaw successfully takes the high arc of dramatic action all the way through to the end of the journey of the play.  The production has an amazing ensemble, most of whom play different characters in each act.

The first act takes place at the St. Regis Hotel in 1958 on the wedding night of Martin (played by Michael Cane) and Irene (played by Holly Fain).  He is head over heels in love, and she is nervous about telling him something she knows will upset him.  She finally blurts it out and sets into motion the course of the rest of their lives.  Act II takes place forty-six years later in 2004, where the fruits of their lives are displayed for all to see.

The Cast of This Day Forward
Photo courtesy of Vineyard Theatre
Holly Fain is bright and charismatic as young Irene.  She is an optimistic and adorable bride.  She has moments that reveal her darker, antagonistic side that are truly hysterical and foretelling.  June Gable shines in Act II as the older Irene.  She carries the forty-six year history of this character in every cell of her body and glance of her eyes.  In Act I Ms. Gable provides tremendous comic relief and insight into the mindset of the time period as a maid at the St. Regis Hotel.  She is wonderfully impactful.  Michael Crane is vulnerable and eager as the young Martin in Act I, and brings a depth and determination to his role of Noah in Act II.  Francesca Faridany is explosive, both funny and disturbing, as Sheila in Act II.  Andrew Burnap is humorous as Donald in Act I, and charming and sensitive as Leo in Act II.  Joe Tippett is rough, tough, and loveable as Emil.

The first act is funny.  It is set in an idealistic time with a number of twists that set up infinite possibilities, and Mr. Silver skillfully utilizes every one of them.  The second act delivers the punch.  It is biting and realistic, and speaks to what is most valuable in life.  The irony is that this message comes from a character who never attained it.  This Day Forward runs at Vineyard Theatre through December 18.

Domenick Danza