Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

REVIEW: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S BROADWAY SHOW IS AN INTIMATE TRIUMPH ·

(Andy Greene’s article appeared in Rolling Stone, 10/12; via The New York Times.)

‘Springsteen on Broadway’ takes the audience on a journey through the singer’s life story using many of his most iconic songs

A little over four minutes into Bruce’s Springsteen‘s Broadway show, he stops playing the opening song, “Growin’ Up,” and speaks to the crowd, his voice entirely unamplified. “I have never held an honest job in my entire life,” he says in a near-shout. “I’ve never worked nine to five. I’ve never done any hard labor, and yet is all that I’ve written about.”

With last year’s myth-shattering, deeply evocative memoir Born to Run, Springsteen introduced readers to the real, vulnerable, complex human being behind his larger-than-life persona. Springsteen on Broadway, at the 975-seat Walter Kerr theater, is in many ways a live version of the book, even if reports that he’d be “reading” from it aren’t quite right: Most of the extensive spoken-word segments are brand new or heavily altered from the book versions. It’s clear from the beginning that this is nothing like a typical latter-day Springsteen concert, where set lists can vary wildly from night to night and Bruce often has little to say between songs. There’s no room for his usual athleticism here – Springsteen just shuffles a few feet between a piano on stage left and a microphone at center stage. The intensity is, instead, emotional, as Springsteen digs hard into the bedrock of his life story, and ours: childhood, religion, work, death. The performance is hard to categorize. It’s not a concert; not a typical one-man-show; certainly not a Broadway musical. But it is one of the most compelling and profound shows by a rock musician in recent memory.

(Read more)

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/live-reviews/review-bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-is-a-triumph-w508674

***** MOUKARZEL/KIDD/SHAKESPEARE: ‘HAMNET’ (SV PICK, IRE) ·

 

 

Hamnet
Peacock Theatre, Dublin
★★★★★

Who haunted Shakespeare when he wrote Hamlet? A play so steeped in death, full of demanding fathers, hapless sons and restless ghosts, it was completed just three years after the death of his young son, Hamnet. If the name of the Dane was intended as a memorial, it backfired: Shakespeare’s overwhelming legacy and pitted biography have reduced poor Hamnet to the status of a typo.

“You haven’t heard of me,” apologises the 11-year-old boy who arrives onstage alone with a hoodie and a backpack – although, like any contemporary kid, he knows he shouldn’t talk to strangers.

That we are the strangers is made obvious. The expanse of the backdrop to Andrew Clancy’s design holds, as ‘twere, a mirror up to the stage, a live projection from the rear wall that affords us two images: the boy before us and his video apparition.

(Read more)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/hamnet-is-a-child-frozen-in-time-to-devastating-effect-1.3240986

Photo: Dead Centre

*****SONDHEIM/GOLDMAN: ‘FOLLIES’–SHOWBIZ STUNNER RETURNS IN BREATHTAKING STYLE ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/6.)

Although it has legions of admirers, Follies has often seemed a problematic show. Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics combine emotional pain and witty pastiche with a deftness that James Goldman’s book never quite seems to match. But Dominic Cooke’s superb revival, reverting to the structure of the 1971 original and ditching the optimistic conclusion that marred the 1987 West End production, gives this bleakly festive musical a poetic unity I didn’t realise it possessed.

The paradox is that Cooke achieves unity by stretching, to the limit, the show’s obsession with duality. That idea of doubleness is built into the Sondheim-Goldman concept. We are invited to witness a grand reunion of veteran Follies showgirls in a Broadway theatre on the verge of demolition; in the background we see the ostrich-plumed incarnations of their younger selves. At the same time we are privy to a double marital crisis. Well-heeled New Yorkers Ben and Phyllis are in as much trouble as their old Phoenix-based chums, Buddy and Sally. What brings the crisis to a head is that Sally has a lifelong yen for Ben that has never been resolved.

FOLLIES by Goldman ;
Directed by Dominic Cooke ;
Designed by Vicki Mortimer ;
at the National Theatre, London, UK ;
21 August 2017 ;
Credit : Johan Persson

The intermingling of past and present is an idea many dramatists have used, notably Tom Stoppard in The Invention of Love, where the older AE Housman views the sexual hesitancy of his younger self with a rueful regret. Here, Cooke’s production lends the idea extra poignancy by making this interaction a two-way process: at one point, Zizi Strallen as the young Phyllis seems about to dissolve in tears as she gazes at the dyspeptic solitude of Janie Dee as her older but no wiser self.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/sep/06/follies-review-imelda-staunton-national-theatre-dominic-cooke

***** TAYLOR MAC: ‘HIR’ (SV PICK, OZ) ·

(Kate Hennessy’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/5.)

Radical ideas should shine brightest of all. They should be exciting to learn, know and teach. They should be accessible to all the people they have the potential to lift up.

Yet most of the ideas that sparkle within feminist and queer theory, for example, are cloaked in academia, and translation comes at a cost.

Thanks to New York playwright Taylor Mac however, that cost is just the price of a ticket, to Belvoir Street theatre’s production of Hir.

Directed by Anthea Williams, Hir – pronounced “here”, the preferred gender pronoun of the play’s protagonist Max – reminds us of theatre’s potential: to be a brilliant conduit that makes ideas alive and accessible. Hir doesn’t merely explore themes of gender fluidity, queer theory and the subversion of toxic masculinity, because that would be dull. It lightens the weight of concepts that many find foreign or fraught, places them in a family setting and detonates them. Shrapnel flies everywhere.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/sep/05/taylor-macs-hir-is-more-than-a-comedy-about-gender-it-proves-the-potential-of-theatre

 

A ‘NIGHT MUSIC’ OF HEIGHTENED HARMONY, AND PUB THEATERS THAT PUT ACTORS FIRST ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Time, 8/10; via Pam Green.)

NEWBURY, England — Devotees of the love-struck Swedes who populate “A Little Night Music” may recall the cello solo in the song “Later,” played by the smitten depressive Henrik Egerman, who has fallen hard for the child-bride, Anne, of his father, Fredrik.

Now, along comes the perennially bittersweet 1973 Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical in an utterly beguiling production, directed by Paul Foster, that gives everyone an instrument, and sometimes two.

And if you associate that actor-musician approach to Sondheim (and others) with the Tony-winning British director, John Doyle, well, you’ve come to the right place. “Night Music” is running through Sept. 16 at the same entrancing theater — the Watermill Theater in Newbury, Berkshire, two hours’ drive west of London — where Mr. Doyle’s career-making “Sweeney Todd” was first performed in 2004. The West End and Broadway soon beckoned.

Whether this “Night Music” will follow the same path — and this Sondheim title has been revived recently on both sides of the Atlantic — it’s worth beating a path to this leafy address. The staging not only sounds different from any “Night Music” I’ve come across but also looks startlingly fresh. The burnished elegance of David Woodhead’s design makes cunning use of a two-way mirror and manages to couple distressed chic with a reminder of the theatrical environs that mark out the story of Desiree Armfeldt (a satin-cheeked Josefina Gabrielle) and her motley gathering of aristos and amours.

Continue reading the main story

Photo: Playbill.

‘THE GREAT GATSBY’ AT THE GATE: A MAGNIFICENTLY ENTERTAINING, DIZZYING PARTY (SV PICK, IE) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/13.)

The Great Gatsby ★★★★   
Gate Theatre Dublin 

There’s an old story in which the actor playing the doctor in A Streetcar Named Desire – a very minor character – was asked to describe the plot. “Well,” he said, “it’s about this doctor who takes this crazy lady off to an asylum.” From each perspective, everyone is the star of the show.

In The Great Gatsby, a riveting immersive production that sends F Scott Fitzgerald’s characters – major and minor – skittering throughout Jay Gatsby’s mansion, you may feel the same. In a bold bit of casting, the mansion is played by the full expanse of the Gate theatre, marvellously transformed in Ciaran Bagnall’s fastidious design.

Sheaved into groups between its shimmering jazz bar, speakeasy, and several lush private rooms, you might witness the poignant dreams of a tragi-comic Mr McKee (who barely get five pages from Fitzgerald) and decide from Raymond Scannell’s deft performance that the show is about this inebriated photographer who will never find focus.

(Read more)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/the-great-gatsby-at-the-gate-a-magnificently-entertaining-dizzying-party-1.3153835

Photo: The Irish Times

SIMON GODWIN’S ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ AT THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE–ONLY UNTIL JULY 16 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In his staging of Measure for Measure, from Theatre for a New Audience, now playing at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center until July 16, Simon Godwin takes his time in getting to the Bard. His production opens the problem play (Shakespeare places us in  a decadent Vienna), written circa 1603, with a brothel tour, one curated seriously, as if it’s part of a downtown gallery exhibit (the scenic and costume design is by Paul Wills; the light designer is Matthew Richards).  The director comes at us from a different direction, later, too, by placing the audience in a country-western bar, where an up-and-coming Linda Ronstadt might be singing. (Jane Shaw composed the music and designed the sound; the musicians are Drew Bastian, Robert Cowie, and Osei Essed.)  Whether he is laughing behind our backs or not, trying to prick the bourgeoisie, by letting subscribers peruse, among others, dildos, ben wa balls, S&M masks, handcuffs, and even a Donald Trump sex toy, Godwin is not merely a smooth, hip director. 

He also allows the audience to see the play’s confrontations with serious intellectual intent, as he explores Shakespeare’s scene work, as well as his language and storytelling—asking us to find our way into them, unrushed, almost in the way he might have asked himself and his actors to analyze and interpret during rehearsals.  Unpretentiously, they have found original, defensible characterizations, which may seem completely new.  Notable among them is the work of Thomas J. Ryan, who shows Angelo to be a boring, awkward bureaucrat (he may even be banal and evil)–yet his likes are found in thousands of offices every day—here, the character compulsively grabs for the Purell.  Jonathan Cake is not the partying jock he played as the lead in Antony and Cleopatra at the Public in 2014—now he is paler, a wild aristo before decline, hiding behind glasses that are too big.  Perhaps his character will remind of Hal in  Henry IV, Part 2–a work that is believed to be written earlier than this one, in 1596.   More recently, Prince Harry has stated, relevant to this discussion, that no one in his family really wants to be King, “but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”  That, of course, is the story of  the aforementioned Henry play and Measure for Measure—Cake does play his Duke as a modern British royal, one who is aware of what all his training and position mean (down to where and how to place his feet and hold his hands at the back); he also knows how to find the mellifluous meter of the Bard. Cara Ricketts makes an impressive Isabella because she concentrates on the character’s essence and heart (some consider the character cruel, but does anyone think a nun, the bride of Christ, would enter into the bargain Angelo is asking her to be part of?).

By taking his time with Shakespeare, walking with him and letting him take his own time, Godwin creates new interest in the play, even if he also shows the Bard’s warts and beauty marks.  For example:

  • Information can be repeated (Claudio’s execution)
  • One wonders why there is so much concern with this one criminal and crime, when there must be other, more dangerous activities happening in this depraved city
  • The Duke takes time to act on a problem that he is sympathetic to. Like Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, he could set everything right immediately, but he waits
  • Isabella seems to be allowed to stay away from her convent and keep her own hours, as if there are no internal rules for her order
  • There’s the obvious sexism of the bed trick
  • Among other issues.

Godwin must also deal with the problem of anachronism—Mariana (Merritt Janson) is introduced as a modern, independent woman, but, by the end of the play, she contorts into a submissive wife, as does Kate in The Taming of the Shrew or even Katharine Hepburn in many of her star vehicles. Whatever he can’t do to help Measure for Measure, however, Godwin should be commended for creating a true color-blind production.  Actors of different races may be used to show how progressive a company is regarding diversity, often in order to make a political point.  Although a more practical reason may be that actors of different backgrounds can help the audience keep characters straight, Godwin isn’t holding up casting choices as a shield or to telegraph his political correctness.

Perhaps one of the larger problems the director encountered with Measure for Measure, is the fact that the play insists that every character is obstructed and must be hyper-alive to choices that cannot be postponed.  There is no normal in the drama (perhaps this is what the Duke is trying to figure out)—and there is no one who can be identified as normal either (to put the dilemma in terms of Hamlet, there is no Horatio in this play). What was once considered status quo is no longer, as the Austrian laws have changed for the whole citizenry.  Meeting only those living on the edge, the audience may decide the work oddly reflects the current state of the U.S. and the West, whether they are flag-waving or not (and those who see this Measure for Measure will be able to actually do this if they want).  The play is such a perennial for simplified, unnuanced summer stages that viewers may have become inured to its complexities, dissonances, and differences: Measure for Measure, for example, is Shakespeare where a male spends most of the play in disguise. Godwin, treats the work as unusual, intellectual, suitable only for an unusual production, underplayed and stimulating, sexual or not.  

© 2017 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Visit Theatre for a New Audience: http://www.tfana.org/?gclid=CJnqv7zu8NQCFc1XDQodOtEDpQ

Press: Blake Zidell at Blake Zidell & Associates, Rachael Shearer.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

The Cast

OBERON K.A. ADJEPONG (Provost)

JONATHAN CAKE (Duke Vincentio) 

 KENNETH DE ABREW (Froth/Abhorson/Friar Peter) 

 ZACHARY FINE (Friar Thomas/Elbow/Barnardine, Gentleman). 

 LELAND FOWLER (Claudio) 

 MERRITT JANSON (Mariana)

JANUARY LAVOY (Mistress Overdone/Escala/Francisca) 

CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL MCFARLAND (Pompey)

SAM MORALES (Juliet)

CARA RICKETTS (Isabella)

THOMAS JAY RYAN (Angelo)

HAYNES THIGPEN (Lucio)

DREW BASTIAN (Musician)

ROBERT COWIE (Music Director/Musician) 

OSEI ESSED (Musician) 

 

Creative Team

SIMON GODWIN (Director) 

 BRIAN BROOKS (Choreographer) 

PAUL WILLS (Scenic & Costume Designer)

MATTHEW RICHARDS (Lighting Designer)

JANE SHAW (Composer & Sound Designer)

ALISON BOMBER (Voice & Text Coach) 

 ERIC REYNOLDS (Properties Supervision)

JONATHAN KALB (Production Dramaturg) 

MEGAN SCHWARZ DICKERT (Production Stage Manager)

EURIPIDES/ADAPTED AND TRANSLATED BY ANNE CARSON: ‘BAKKHAI’ AT STRATFORD (SV PICK, CANADA) ·

(Carly Maga’s article appeared in the Toronto Star, 6/17.)

Written by Euripides. Adapted and translated by Anne Carson. Directed by Jillian Keiley. Until Sept. 23 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, 111 Lakeside Dr., Stratford. StratfordFestival.ca, 1-800-567-1600.

Is that a deep red leaf painted onto the stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ont. … or is that what I think it is?

In Jillian Keiley’s production of Bakkhai (otherwise known as Euripides’ The Bacchae), using the 2015 version adapted by Canadian poet Anne Carson, the double meaning of Shawn Kerwin’s set as both a representation of nature as well as female sexuality instantly demonstrates the director’s approach to this classic Greek tragedy. It transforms these two elements into one and the same: organic, primal, brutal if it needs to be. They are forever under the attempted control of man or mankind (this is a blazingly contemporary play, if not only for its discussion of sexual politics but also for the way man’s relationship to global warming is still somehow considered a debate).

There’s a reason why Dionysos holds his Bacchanalian rituals on mountaintops, uses a thyrsus staff of ivy and pine cones, and encourages his followers to drape themselves in grapevines. He also orchestrates the climax of Bakkhai to occur among the trees of Mount Cithaeron, bringing the doomed King Pentheus from the protection of the city and quite deliberately out of his element, into the elements.

(Read more)

https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2017/06/17/hubris-is-the-real-villain-in-stratfords-bakkhai-review.html

ALICE BIRCH: ‘ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE’, DIRECTED BY KATIE MITCHELL (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/12.)

What determines our character? Nature or nurture? Genetic inheritance or social environment? It is an age-old debate, and Alice Birch now adds to it with this startling theatrical triptych about three generations of mothers and daughters. Whatever my doubts about Birch’s conclusion, the play is odd, arresting and, in Katie Mitchell’s immaculate production, highly original in its form.

Birch’s progress as a writer has been fascinating to watch. She delivered a short, sharp shock in 2014 with Revolt, She Said, Revolt Again which was a subversive, playful piece calling for revolution in everything from sexual relationships to the workplace. In 2015, the Orange Tree brought us an earlier Birch play, Little Light, about sibling rivalries, that suffered from too much withheld information. Since then Birch has written a polemical piece about porn, We Want You to Watch; the admired Ophelias Zimmer, which I missed; and the recent film Lady Macbeth, which transposed a Russian novel to Victorian England and got a five-star review from Peter Bradshaw.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jun/12/anatomy-of-a-suicide-review-royal-court-alice-birch-katie-mitchell

GARY OWEN: ‘IPHIGENIA IN SPLOTT’—ONLY THROUGH 6/4 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

??Iphigenia In Splott at The Sherman Theatre
By Gary Owen
Director: Rachel O’Riordan
Designer: Hayley Grindle
Lighting Designer: Rachel Mortimer
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Sophie Melville as Effie

By Bob Shuman

According to legend, Iphigenia gives her life so that the Greeks can sail to the Trojan War.  Aside from those in the military, not many think much about sacrificing themselves–and their families–for their country today—but this is the central issue of Iphigenia In Splott—the story of a legal choice, made over a medical issue, by a “stupid slag,” a “nasty skank,” which has come to Brits Off Broadway (59E59 Theatres) via the U.K.’s National Theatre.  Gary Owen’s play, written in Cardiff dialect, won the 2015 Best New Play in Britain and the Stage Award for Acting Excellence 2015, yet Americans may ponder the vernacular of the work and the play’s dramatic resolution.  Maybe British people don’t concur with it either, but the U.K. healthcare system is more entrenched than ours: it started in 1948; by comparison, look at the trouble Americans are having replacing Obamacare, which was only signed into law in 2010.  Those in the U.S. can see Iphigenia In Splott as a cautionary tale, an argument as to why socialized medicine should never take hold here—and a reason for why the Affordable Care Act had to be rejected.  They also might end up thinking that, ultimately, despite her outrageous life of alcohol and drugs and casual sex, Effie, the central character, makes the decision someone in the British lower classes should–that this is how her society had programmed her.  If Iphigenia In Splott had happened in New York, lawyers, without compunction, would have been standing in line to represent the case.  They also would be outraged as to what happened to Effie, although Americans, of course, have their own problems with the medical system: on the subway yesterday, a newly retired African-American gentleman was explaining how during his stroke, he instructed his 911 caller to say that he was Jewish, so that an ambulance would arrive faster.

Despite the fodder for debate, Owen’s play represents one of the few occasions where Americans can examine U.K. domestic policy—we’re so used to writers from the Guardian and English-trained Shakespeareans commenting on ours.  However, those in the U.S. would probably not have problems seeing the benefits of a free market rather than struggling to maintain an inefficient status quo.  This is not to say that Americans can’t be clueless about Britain, as when The New York Times ran a review of A Taste of Honey—a play that will remind of this one–under the title, “She’s Having the Baby. How Quaint.”  Jo, in Shelagh Delaney’s work, is younger, though—and she never reaches the volcanic heights of Effie (searingly played by Sophie Melville):  “Fuckin bottles, fuckin cans, fuckin ash trays. Fuckin boys swilling their drinks, bobbing their heads to the music, Looking sulky as fuck, and shit, shit.  Anywhere there’s space to cram something, there is something: and it’s shit. I can’t be here.”  But she is–and sociology can’t seem to correct it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the English may like the denouement in Owen’s play because the character stands on her own two feet,  the problems of the welfare state continue to shape and plague the youth, forcing them to “take it” because they can take it (“the only way I get through the week is a cycle of hangovers,” Effie discloses).  Ann Coulter, an American who  can be known for her own  vitriol,  has written, “The rampaging mob might save England from itself, finally removing shaved-head, drunken parasites from the benefits rolls that Britain can’t find the will to abolish on moral or utilitarian grounds.”  But whether she is the cause or a casualty, Effie may be deluding herself that she is Iphigenia, and has helped save a nation.  Whether she knows it or not, she may have saved herself, though—this reviewer’s friend explained, after the play, that others, who have been in comparable situations, have tied themselves up emotionally and monetarily for years, fighting.  Some think it best just to move on.

Directed, with momentum, by Rachel O’Riordan.

To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org

‘IPHIGENIA IN SPLOTT’

EFFIE ………………………………………….SOPHIE MELVILLE

CREATIVE TEAM DESIGNER ………HAYLEY GRINDLE LIGHTING DESIGNER ………………………………… RACHEL MORTIMER SOUND DESIGNER ………………………………….SAM JONES

CASTING DIRECTOR …………………..KAY MAGSON, CDG COMPANY STAGE MANAGER……………………….CHARLOTTE UNWIN

AEA STAGE MANAGER ……………….VERONICA AGLOW *

The running time of Iphigenia in Splott is 80 minutes with no intermission.

Press: Karen Greco

(c) 2017 b Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.