Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

***** GARY OWEN: ‘KILLOLOGY’ (SV PICK, WALES) ·

(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/29.)

Paul has made a killing with a computer game he invented in a fit of pique at his dad, who thought he was wasting the advantages a privileged childhood had bought him. In the game, Killology, players score extra points for demonstrating creativity in the way they torture their victims. Feed them through a mincer feet first? Go up a level. Paul says the game is deeply moral because points are deducted if you look away from the screen while inflicting pain.

Alan is trying to overcome his own horror as he plots retribution on the man he holds responsible for murdering his son. But did he neglect his own duty, leaving his son unprotected and with no idea what it means to be a man? Then there is young Davey, raised in poverty by his mum. He is left negotiating his violent neighbourhood, where everyone turns a blind eye to the bullies who hold sway. “You can’t tell your mum the streets are full of psychos and it’s pure fluke you get home alive every night,” he reasons.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/29/killology-review-sherman-cardiff

 

***** MICHAEL WEST: ‘DUBLIN BY LAMPLIGHT’ (SV PICK, IE) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/22.)

“It is not about the plays, it’s about the building!” So insists Willy Hayes, cofounder and resident playwright of the Irish National Theatre of Ireland, as he tries desperately to guard its future against a calamitous opening night in 1904. If that line brings the house down at the actual national theatre, nearly 13 years since the debut of Corn Exchange’s marvellous creation, it’s because it is now about the play and the building. Together at last.

Michael West’s witty and nimble alternative history of the founding of the Abbey, developed with its original ensemble, was first staged in parallel with the national theatre’s own blighted centenary, by a company on the outside looking in. Today, at this close proximity, director Annie Ryan’s production is razor-sharp, yet it seems surprisingly fresher and more affectionate towards its inspiration.

It helps that the performance, delivered in Corn Exchange’s head-spinningly energetic version of Commedia dell’arte, finds an artful correspondence with the world of the characters. Whether these fantastic actors briskly summon up a squeaking trolley, a spooked horse, a street riot, or an unpleasant squelch on the cobblestones, just as the Yeatsian playwright and his company struggle to create a mythic play “for Ireland”, the delight of the show is to see people building up their world right in front of you.

(Read more)

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/razor-sharp-affectionate-take-on-founding-of-national-theatre-1.3020381

***** GERSHWIN: ‘AN AMERICAN IN PARIS’ FROM CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/21.)

Amagical transformation has taken place. Aside from its sensational climactic ballet, the 1951 Hollywood movie on which this show is basedoffers a ludicrously stagey vision of Paris filled with cheery gendarmes and chirping kids. But Christopher Wheeldon, as director and choreographer, and Bob Crowley, whose sets and costumes have a touch of genius, have created a show that not only offers an eclectic range of Gershwin songs but is also a riot of colour and movement.

From the start, as swastika-adorned banners turn into the tricolour, we are reminded that we are in the newly liberated Paris of 1945; it is still, however, a city of breadlines and vengeful attacks on collaborators. But Craig Lucas’s book does everything to give substance to the movie’s paper-thin story. We still see an ex-GI and would-be artist, Jerry Mulligan, falling in love with Parisian Lise. But there are now two rivals for Lise’s affections, in the shape of an aspiring nightclub singer, Henri, and a war-maimed composer, Adam. The pivotal role of Milo, a rich American woman in love with Jerry, has also been enhanced, so that she now finds herself financing a new ballet in which Lise will star.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/21/an-american-in-paris-five-star-review-minnelli-musical-dominion-london

***** SHAKESPEARE: ‘THE ROMAN TRAGEDIES’ FROM IVO VAN HOVE (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/19.)

Hans Kesting is about to give his funeral oration as Mark Antony. He stumbles towards the lectern, wild-eyed and dishevelled. He suddenly throws away his carefully prepared notes, slumps in front of the stand, loosens his tie and appears to spontaneously address the crowd. But is it an honest, grief-stricken response to the death of Julius Caesar? Or a cleverly staged, managed and calculated piece of performance designed to enhance his own political ambitions? One that is conveniently caught on camera and broadcast on screens everywhere.

It’s one of several electrifying moments in Ivo van Hove’s lean, clean, condensed six-hour version of Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra which returns to the Barbican where it was first staged in 2009. My, it’s still in great shape, the ensemble playing ferocious and purposeful. Jan Versweyveld’s designreframes Barbican’s stage as a bland, modern international conference hall, complete with pot plants, screens displaying the action, news bulletins and interviews with the lead actors, and an LED displays bringing news from the outside world – reminding us that in an era of instant communication and 24-hour news it is as easy to be misinformed as well informed. Unsurprisingly, in the opening minutes some screens briefly show a clip from Donald Trump’s inauguration.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/19/the-roman-tragedies-review-barbican-ivo-van-hove-barbican

***** BECKETT: ‘EH, JOE’–MICHAEL GAMBON’S PERFORMANCE OF A LIFETIME (SV PICK, IE) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/17.)

Gate Theatre, Dublin

In Beckett’s short television play Eh, Joe, here ingeniously and still faithfully transposed to the stage, the great actor Michael Gambon gives the performance of a lifetime, in more senses than one. First staged in 2006, for the Beckett Centenary, and now revived for the Gate’s Beckett Friel Pinter Festival, it asks Gambon to portray an entire personal history in just 30 minutes, and to do so wordlessly, while film-maker Atom Egoyan seizes on the actor’s long experience of stage and screen, artfully combining both mediums.

To see Gambon, sitting glum and inert on the edge of a stingy bed, you could be forgiven for thinking he is doing nothing at all, as a voice needles him into remembrance of things past. But to see his face, held steady by a stealthily advancing camera and projected on to a ghostly scrim at the front of the stage, is to see a performance of almost microscopic detail. The film actor knows that, on screen, the smallest gesture can carry a huge effect. The theatre actor understands that sometimes presence is enough. Here Gambon does both.

Penelope Wilton, who supplies the calmly interrogating voice, gives a performance that is harder to observe but no less nuanced, playing an ex-partner who has been absorbed into “that penny-farthing hell you call a mind”. There is nowhere to hide: we first see Gambon, a vulnerable figure in pyjamas, checking under the bed for threats.

(Read more)

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/michael-gambon-at-the-gate-the-performance-of-a-lifetime-1.3013486

Photo: Irish Times

 

KEN URBAN: ‘NIBBLER’–FROM THE AMORALISTS (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In the movie Alien (1979), John Hurt is killed when his chest explodes.  For those who do not know it’s coming—and maybe if they do–the scene can disorient. Matt Pilieci, an Amoralist, could be dislocating, too–in The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side (2009), he ran out of the shower, onto the stage with a hard-on, followed by two jovial women. Off-off-Broadway crossed a line there, whether good or bad: Derek Ahonen’s play didn’t always jibe, but his East Village was dirty, gritty, and vital—and he could confuse and disrupt. The plays that followed were off-the-presses hot, and they could reflect working-class concerns during the economically slow Obama years, as well as ‘60s idealism and trash culture.  The Amoralists are back now at the Rattlestick, until March 18, with a play by Ken Urban called Nibbler, but the show is a reverie on the spring semester of high school, when students are goofing off and waiting for late acceptances.  Lost are the raw, coarse emotional outbursts of the troupe—and its underground vibe–replaced with a white, middle-class defense of higher education.  

Apparently, Ahonen went off to make a movie (he may also have been burned-out)—and Matt Pilieci found less casting with the group.  Of the original three founders, only James Kautz is part of the new show.  He’s chipmunk-cheeked here, playing a kid who realizes he’s not going on to bigger and better things after graduation.  Kautz is probably as good here as he has ever been, and he has been very good before.  He is embarrassingly old for the part, almost a Lothario, but he has a pro’s aura: watch as he tries to wipe semen off his hand without a towel, after a masturbation scene (students may want to learn a different acting lesson, but there’s an acting lesson in it). The new writer, Ken Urban, dramatizes the upwardly mobile in South Jersey, who have a different social nomenclature than those in Ahonen’s boroughs and blue-collar burgs.  The Amoralist shows, in the past, proudly represented the underclass—it was their culture that Ahonen was prizing, perhaps comparable to the way Shelagh Delaney wrote about working-class Manchester.  Urban, however, has written a drama about add-on elements to legitimize his interest in nostalgia–such as the sci-fi subplot and the beating off.  He can’t speak for the working poor, those screwed by the government, or the merely dissolute. Although he actually puts a clunky alien onstage, one doesn’t burst from the gut—and that was what Ahonen could do. Even if he didn’t know who he was hitting or where that rage was going, underneath he wanted class protest.  A young woman (Elizabeth Lail), who works at a sex hotline, might have fit in perfectly in one of Ahonen’s plays, but here the role isn’t fleshed out.  Her boyfriend is only a type, the young business major (Spencer Davis Milford).  Urban can goose up his work with Amoralist trademarks, such as nudity and sex and dumbed-down conversations and characters, but, ultimately, he feels sorry for the ones who don’t make it.  He doesn’t love or champion them, as is.

 

 

 

 

 

Nibbler is a roomy play that could use more purpose and tension. Really, it’s the same high school story about the fears of going off to college that actual students write when they’re still living it—but they can tell it with innocence. Urban can’t find the drama of a Spring Awakening or Splendor in the Grass or Grease, much less Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, because everyone in his world is on the same side. His point of view is schoolmarmish, if not elitist—get into Stanford, Trenton State isn’t good enough; those who don’t attend will be behaviorally delayed. Tell that to Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, David Green, Nancy Sinatra, Larry Ellison, or Rachael Ray.  Nibbler can be offensive to those who don’t go to college—as well as those who do–because people are not retarded in their growth just because they don’t go.  College admissions departments are very fallible—there is no need to flatter petty bureaucrats at the expense of contemporary drama.

Sean Patrick Monahan gets to stand around naked, like so many Amoralist actors have before: in one section of Hotel/Motel, by Adam Rapp, the action included naked men walking around the theatre in circles, in slow motion.  It was like not having towels in a locker room. Monahan, who might have been given more blocking (the director is Benjamin Kamine), is an interesting actor, because he comes out to us as gay, subtly.  He’s non-differentiated sexually at the start—he doesn’t drop any overt hints.  Perhaps this is a portrayal to notice, one of the few of youth in the closet. Rachel Franco plays the smart girl of the group well, according to the role’s parameters—but, Urban doesn’t make her seem especially singular, and her counterpart in Merrily We Roll Along is more conflicted. Matthew Lawler plays the cop, a character who wouldn’t be given much sympathy in previous Amoralist shows. Here, he is all but a tragic hero—and he is quite good in a graying, balding, vulnerable way. But the audience also must accept Urban’s bias:  that cops should be unsatisfied with being cops.  Too many, in the theatre, believe that the only real occupations to aspire to are being writers or artists—but don’t those in such jobs, statistically, tend to end up being the real underemployed workers?

 

Is college really worth it, considering the time and expense and debt?  The creators of Nibbler barely raise the subjects, perhaps because their pathways to production may not directly include blue-collar or unsubsidized points of view.  Some argue that the last election was a shock because the working-class vote was misunderstood. Theatre needs to be wary, too, in how it portrays and understands its characters–and also when complaining of a lack of audience. The creators may be reflecting themselves back in the work–or outmoded or hackneyed assumptions, not society.    

Recently, at the Peoples Improv Theater (PIT), actors in Department of Fools–who are closer to the age of high school students–improvised a show called A History of Servitude.  Masked, they portrayed and named great events in history, from Ancient Greece and Egypt to imaginary ones like Elon Musk’s proposed space travel.  As their foundations become established, will they be lucky enough to find a playwright to consistently knock out material and let the group retain authenticity? For the Amoralists 2017, the most important work seems past-tense.  Like seeing today’s East Village, it’s a gentrification job. That may actually sound impossible for  this group—just about as improbable as believing that there can be beings from outer space.

KEN URBAN’S NIBBLER, DIRECTED BY BENJAMIN KAMINE

Cast: Rachel Franco, James Kautz, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lawler, Spencer Davis Milford and Sean Patrick Monahan

The design team includes Anshuman Bhatia (Scenic Design), Christian Frederickson (Sound Design), Christina Watanabe (Lighting Design), Lux Haac (Costume Design), Stefano Brancato (Puppet Design), Ken Urban (Original Music), Alex J. Gould (Fight Choreography), Zach Serafin (Prop Design) and Alfred Schatz (Artistic Charge).
The production team includes Whitney Dearden (Production Stage Manager), Jeremy Duncan Pape (Production Manager), Jeremy Stoller (Dramaturg), Lico Whitfield (Lead Producer), Jessica Kazamel (Associate Producer), Alexandra Campos (Associate Producer), Dana Libbey (Assistant Stage Manager) and Judy Bowman CSA (Casting).

Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm with added shows on Sunday 2/26 at 8pm, Monday 2/27 at 8pm, Sunday 3/12 at 2pm and Wednesday 3/15 at 8pm. Tickets are $31 and $16 for students (1 ticket limit with code STU1992, valid ID must be presented at box office), and can be purchased at http://www.Amoralists.com or by calling 1-866-811-4111. The show contains nudity. Running time is 95 minutes. Post-show panels follow select performances – check website for details. For more info visit http://www.Amoralists.com, Like them on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/TheAmoralists, and follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheAmoralists and Instagram at https://www.Instagram.com/TheAmoralists.

© 2017 by Bob Shuman. All Rights Reserved.

Press: David Gibbs, DARR Publicity

Nibbler photographer: Russ Rowland. 

From top to bottom: James Kautz as Adam, Elizabeth Lail as Hayley, Spencer Davis Milford as Matt, Sean Patrick Monahan as Pete, Rachel Franco as Tara

James Kautz as Adam, Rachel Franco as Tara

Matthew Lawler as Officer Dan, Rachel Franco as Tara

Ken Urban photo: Soho Rep

Kautz, Pilieci, Ahonen: New York Times.

 

KANDER/PIERCE: ‘KID VICTORY’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Kid Victory, now playing at the Vineyard Theatre through March 19, is an Ordinary People without a shrink—or, to put it in a theatrical context, the musical is an Oklahoma! without a Curly.  It’s a dark hometown show set in modern Kansas—which draws on cases like Elizabeth Smart’s and Natascha Kampusch’s kidnappings and captivities.  Maybe William Inge or Lanford Wilson could have made sense of such sources dramatically, but the ending of John Kander’s and Greg Pierce’s work, directed frustratingly by Liesl Tommy, sits unsatisfactorily with a father (Daniel Jenkins) who accepts his son’s sexuality and who is also complicit in the year-long absence of the young man.  That Kid Victory, the story of sex abuse and pedophilia, premiered while the Milo Yiannopoulos Breitbart resignation and book cancellation stories were breaking, shows how timely and shocking the material is—and how far away the execution of the musical is from an in-depth dramatic examination of the subject. Kander, of course, set a musical in Nazi Germany and in Chicago’s penal system, one ablaze with syncopated “merry murderesses.” But now, with a missing, balancing character and an inability to heighten the material, he’s writing workmanlike numbers, which are really too small for him.  Artists may want to revisit their roots—and might even feel that they that have to (Kander is from Missouri)–but they could end up gagged, as if they are living the lives they would have lived if they had never left.

As the young man who has been abducted, Brandon Flynn is shakingly sensitive and may remind of a kid James Dean.  Audiences are not told why he has not been given immediate and lasting psychological help after release; he does get religious guidance, which only seems anachronistic.  Karen Ziemba plays the chilly and daffy mother, who does not understand the depth of trauma imprisonment would entail—in fact, neither does the whole town, with characters such as the young girlfriend (Laura Darrell) and a church friend (Ann Arvia). Kander has been playing with musicalizing Americana at least as far back as The Act, where he turned a plain, pious Shaker-inspired “Turning” into an up-tempo boogie for Liza Minnelli.  But Kid Victory doesn’t show us anything to sing about (in fact, Luke does not sing):  The book doesn’t take us far enough into the tragedy, and it’s not light enough for standard musical comedy. Thankfully, there is a Liza-like role in Kid Victory—played by Dee Roscioli, as a kooky garden-store owner.  She helps leaven the woes one feels that the show is up against:  Roscioli even sings a good Liza-like number: “People Like Us.”  That’s when we’re in heaven. A hookup of Luke’s is the talented dancer, Blake Zolfo, who tap dances like Tulsa in Gypsy.

But this is John Kander.  The dangerous, controversial subject and themes need to be detonated.  His trade book with Fred Ebb is called Colored Lights, not The Fluorescent Light, which is part of David Weiner’s design–the setting is by Clint Ramos.  Hal Prince was the one who saw that Cabaret was reflecting ‘60s America; after the critics hadn’t understood it, others realized that Chicago is talking about trash, corrupt celebrity culture–before the country even recognized the phenomenon.  Prince and Fosse would have, no doubt, seen the metaphor, the concept of Kid Victory. They probably wouldn’t have discussed it much in the way of an old-fashioned book musical, even if Kander is trying to write chamber work.  Doubtless, they would have pushed the book’s Thornton Wilder elements out into the cold, sarcastic, frightening, and Brechtian—remember Fosse filmed his own heart attack as a musical number in All That Jazz. Whether they would have seen this as the hallucinations of a sexual prisoner, which reflects the current state of the nation, is up for debate.  Or maybe they would have thought that all of America is going through Stockholm Syndrome,  which is part of this musical book—but, doubtless, the subject matter would have been attacked, acidly, head on.

And there would have been a musical vamp: a riveting, mesmerizing, penetrating vamp.

KID VICTORY

BOOK AND LYRICS BY GREG PIERCE
MUSIC BY JOHN KANDER 
STORY BY JOHN KANDER AND GREG PIERCE
CHOREOGRAPHY BY CHRISTOPHER WINDOM
DIRECTED BY LIESL TOMMY 
WITH ANN ARVIA, JOEL BLUM, LAURA DARRELL, JEFFRY DENMAN, BRANDON FLYNN, DANIEL JENKINS, DEE ROSCIOLI, KAREN ZIEMBA, BLAKE ZOLFO

Press: Shane Marshall Brown/Sam Rudy Media Relations

Visit The Vineyard Theatre: http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/kid-victory/

Photos: The New York Times; Bob Shuman.

© 2017 by Bob Shuman.

***** STYNE/MERRILL: ‘FUNNY GIRL’ (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Claire Allfree’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 2/25.)

If there were any doubt that Sheridan Smith is the closest we have to a musical theatre superstar, then take a look at the UK dates for Funny Girl. Smith has just played three sold out nights as Fanny Brice at the 2,000 seater Manchester Palace Theatre, while the show will visit a further 21 similarly sized venues over the next six months. Smith will play 12; the remainder will star Natasha J Barnes, who ably stepped in during the London run when Smith briefly withdrew suffering from exhaustion. It’s an actor’s equivalent of a stadium tour.

Smith has already received accolades galore for her performance as Vaudeville sensation Brice, the role one used to describe as immortalised by Barbra Streisand in the 1968 movie before Smith came along. It’s worth giving her a few more though because, frankly, she’s extraordinary. She’s been rightly highly praised for her recent TV appearance in the BBC’s Shannon Matthews kidnap drama The Moorside but, as even her early performance in the 2010 West End hit Legally Blonde attested, it’s in the greasepaint and glamour of live theatre where this instinctive comedian truly dazzles.

(Read more)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/actors/funny-girl-equivalent-superstar-sheridan-smiths-stadium-tour/

RICHARD MAXWELL: ‘GOOD SAMARITANS’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

Richard Maxwell:GOOD SAMARIANS
mit: Rosemary Allen, Kevin Hurley

By Bob Shuman

Nothing’s invisible or spiritual in Richard Maxwell’s plays.  He only ascertains what’s lumpish, material, and corporeal. Then he so overemphasizes them that they seem like a downtown arts insider’s cool, coercive manipulation.  The insistence on flatness, awkwardness, and mendacity defines a Brutalist vision of an industrial, institutional, and overly socialized worldview, which only Maxwell and his odd artist or misfit can survive.  The vision is so promulgated that it comes across as a tic or fetish—it’s not so much an indictment of society but a sealed truth.  Fortunately, characters and actors can get away from a creator, as Ingrid Bergman does in Bergman’s Autumn Sonata–she had trouble empathizing with the recriminations of her frumpy daughter (Liv Ullmann). Although Ingmar Bergman had written the script to show the “bad” parent, finally, the issue remained unresolved.

Finding the characters who don’t accept their sentences can make work more compelling, because they contradict the dramatist’s universe—and, they can give it more complexity, and, especially in Maxwell’s case, more accessibility. His troublemaker is Rosemary (Rosemary Allen), a hulking coordinator for the homeless in Good Samaritans, which is just ending a short run at Abrons Arts Center on February 25.  She’s interesting because she can survive in a dumbed-down, utilitarian, proto-Orwellian world—as well as breach the rules, like a Sixties anti-hero.  Her disregard would drive others—such as her new resident, the vagrant, Kevin (Kevin Hurley)–out of the system. He can’t sing (she can’t either), and he has problems telling the truth.  Lacking sincerity, without polish to the point of amateurness–which is part of the postmodernism—the play wants to tell a love story for the unindividualized masses, under fluorescent lights.  

Rosemary is like the tough, great-hearted big Catholic women who somehow survive in nursing or teaching, serving the poor with bad pay—O’Neill’s Josie is a relative.  That such a character should find physical gratification—because that’s about all she’s allowed–is the trajectory of Good Samaritans. Maxwell, with such a clinical interest in documenting the species, cannot make her into a complete slab of meat, though.   Allen won an Obie, in 2004 for her role in the original production—her performance is an artistic triumph and Maxwell’s opposition between romance and the mundane is made believable. His solution to being gouged and flattened by impersonal, undifferentiated society is not protest, not finding meaning through work, but delinquency.  The audience may feel frighteningly fat and old by the time they get out of the theater—Maxwell and his company have transmitted his vision, to be worn and lived in. Fortunately, it will wear off after a few days.

Visit Abons Arts Center: http://www.abronsartscenter.org/

Abrons Arts Center and New York City Players present

Good Samaritans

Written, directed and with songs by Richard Maxwell

Set, lights and costume design by Stephanie Nelson

Starring Rosemary Allen and Kevin Hurley

Musicians: James Moore and David Zuckerman

Press: John Wyszniewski/Blake Zidell

Photo: New York City Players.

© 2017 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.  

 

CARYL CHURCHILL: ‘ESCAPED ALONE’ (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/16; via Pam Green.)

Fear festers, burrows and blooms in Caryl Churchill’s “Escaped Alone,” a short and wondrous play that plumbs the depths of 21st-century terrors, large and small. These range from the eccentrically personal (as in being uncomfortable around cats) to the sweepingly historic — as in, well, the end of the world as we know it.

Now if you yourself are in an apprehensive state of mind these days (and I’d wager, somehow, that you are), you might think a show about what scares people would be the last thing you’d want as entertainment. Yet this British import, which runs through Feb. 26 at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has the effect of a restorative tonic, and you may find a new bounce in your step as you leave it.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/theater/escaped-alone-review.html?_r=0