Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Last of the Love Letters

 The Last of the Love Letters
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
August 28, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

When you lose a love, a part of you goes with them.  The part that believed and came alive has a hard time letting go.  In The Last of the Love Letters, playwright Ngozi Anyanwu explores that loss to an extreme.  When it is revealed that the loss these characters experiences is of the creative self, not of someone separate, the extent to which they go does not seem the least bit excessive.

Playwright Ngozi Anyanwu
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

When you enter the theater, the character of You (played by Ngozi Anyanwu) is on stage, alone, in her bedroom, deep in thought, writing and reading.  As the house lights dim, she puts on music, a vinyl record, and throws herself on the bed.  When the song concludes, she sits up and begins to tell of how hard it was to make the decision to walk away from her love.  She then realizes the opposite.  It was actually easy because of how she had to become someone else in order to receive the love she craved.  She goes back and forth from certainty to indecision.  She has the last word and is ready to leave, then returns with another unanswerable questions.  She is torn.

Daniel J. Watts
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

The set spins and lights change, and we find the character of You No. 2 (played by Daniel J. Watts) in his bed.  He sits up and tries to find the most charming way to begin.  He too has been left behind by his love.  He too waivers between understanding and confusion.  The lights flash and the character of Person (played by Xavier Scott Evans) enters.  He gives You No. 2 medication, then exits abruptly.  We question where we are and how far off the deep end You No. 2 has fallen because of his loss.  He makes a safe place for himself, gets calmer, and tells us more.  It does not pacify the severity of the situation.  Person re-enters and finds a recording that You No. 2 made early on in his crisis.  We listen.  We understand why the level of loss is so great.

Ms. Anyanwu’s writing is provocative and humorous.  The audience identifies with what the characters are saying and feeling.  Her performance as You is genuine and personable.  She is welcoming and makes it comfortable to enter on the journey.  Daniel J. Watts charismatically picks up the journey as You No. 2.  The audience willingly follows him on his deep decline.  There is no going back as he slides into darkness. These two performances are vividly truthful and highly engaging.  The audience fully submits to the suspension of reality and submerges in Ms. Anyanwu’s strong themes and focused intention.

The Last of the Love Letters is a powerful piece of theatre for our newly established post-pandemic time.  The production is skillfully directed by Patricia McGregor.  It is playing at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater through September 26.    

Domenick Danza

Thursday, August 19, 2021

I Am Your Masseuse

 I Am Your Masseuse
The Bridge Production Group
Brooklyn Navy Yards
August 18, 2021 

I Am Your Masseuse is an evening of five short plays by John Patrick Shanley, presented by The Bridge Production Group.  It is part of the Bridge Residency at the Brooklyn Navy Yards Summer Festival.  These five new works are sharp and funny, and produced with an impeccable eye on detail.  Director Claire Edmonds finds every nuance and effective subtext in Mr. Shanley’s writing.  The cast of four skillfully delivers every laugh with biting witticism. 

Photo courtsey of The Bridge Production Group

Mr. Shanley’s characters take deep and unexpected dives in these new works.  Each piece runs about fifteen minutes.  They are smoothy transitioned.  The actors transform and the mood shifts in a matter of minutes.  Each story starts off simply, then evolves as secrets are revealed and desires are devilishly pursued.  Bonds are broken, fears are faced, and connections are forged at a deeper level, leaving the audience laughing, aroused, and, at times, enlightened.  

Marcus Naylor, Crawford M. Collins, Carlo Albán, and Christina Toth are an amazing ensemble.  They each get a chance to pair off in the five different plays, constantly outdoing themselves in each successive piece.  Their character choices are distinct in each work.  Their timing, focus, and chemistry are consistently top notch. 

I Am Your Masseuse runs for one more night (August 22 at 8:00 PM) at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Check out The Bridge Production Group’s website for ticket information as well as dates and times for the other shows in their summer festival.  [title of show] runs through August 21.  Get a ticket, make a trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and enjoy a great evening of theatre. 

Domenick Danza

Friday, August 13, 2021

Pass Over

Pass Over
August Wilson Theatre
August 11, 2021

Antionette Chinonye Nwandu’s play Pass Over is a brilliantly crafted piece of theatre.  There is no better way to reopen Broadway than with this masterwork, giving us all a chance to look at ourselves and “pass over’ into a hopeful post-pandemic existence.  Director Danya Taymor brings light to every essential moment in this production, allowing the audience to bathe in every one of Ms. Nwandu’s metaphors, and dive deeply into her superb writing.  

Photo courtsey of Pass Over

Moses (played by Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (played by Namir Smallwood) rise to another morning on their street, imagining passing over to a different life.  They joke about their top ten list of things they’d have and do there.  When a white man (played by Gabriel Ebert) loses his way and finds himself on Moses and Kitch’s street, he offers them food and pleasant conversation.  Kitch is eager to partake, but Moses is skeptical, even though the food includes Moses’ number one favorite from his top ten list.  The mood abruptly shifts as the reality of the street returns.  A police officer (also played by Gabriel Ebert) enters and reminds the men of their place on the street.  When the next day begins, Moses is unwilling to play the top ten game.  He is driven to live up to his name and devise a plan to lead Kitch to the promised land. 

Jon Michael Hill & Namir Smallwood
Photo courtesy of Pass Over
Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood maintain a tight, steady rhythm throughout the piece.  These
two skilled actors fill the repetition in the writing with rich subtext so it never has the same meaning.  Mr. Hill plays a strong leader and Mr. Smallwood his eager follower.  They do not leave the stage for ninety minute, and are mesmerizing for every second of that time.  When Gabriel Ebert enters, the rhythm shifts.  He lures the two characters and the audience down a very threatening path, and does not falter on his charm or timing as the mood darkens. 

Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu has written a play filled with stark reality, poetic dialogue, and bold metaphor.  She holds up a mirror that you cannot avoid looking in and seeing truth.  Pass Over is playing on Broadway at the August Wilson Theatre.  Get a ticket right away! 

Domenick Danza