Archive for the ‘Theater Reviews and Commentary’ Category

Appalachian Agincourt, Hillbilly HENRY V from Cohesion

The play makes no scruple that the marriage is a term forced upon France as part of a surrender, in order to bring about a dynastic consolidation. Nonetheless, I have never before seen the courtship scenes at the end of Act V presented other than as romantic comedy. Not here. Here Katherine visibly regards Henry with visceral distaste, is struggling not to be kissed by him, and the whole thing comes across as the prelude to a rape. (All without changing a line that I could determine.) Henry would be blind not to see how she feels about him, and his proceeding with a sunny demeanor and lines about his love for her, as he does, can only result from a profound lack of interest in her feelings. By now we recognize him as willing to do almost anything in pursuit of his own and his country’s interests, and not a nice guy.

Brilliant Fucking A from Iron Crow

Abortionist Hester has been required by the State to wear, publicly displayed on her breast, a brand of an A, which, it is explained, is both stigmatizing and a license to practice her profession. (Resemblances to a certain Nathaniel Hawthorne protagonist also named Hester are purely intentional.) Hester and her best friend, the self-characterized whore Canary Mary, struggle though their lives trapped between their poverty and their dreams — Hester’s to be reunited with her imprisoned son Boy, Mary’s to wrest the Mayor from his loveless marriage to The First Lady and marry him herself. The society in which they live has no plans to fulfill either dream. Like Brecht’s Mother Courage, however, Hester and Mary keep on surviving and keep on pursuing their dreams because they have no alternatives.

Women’s Work(s)

Each of these shows reinforces, then, the regard specifically female art and artists deserve. It might seem elementary and unnecessary (even patronizing) for these points to be made at this late date, but if they are being stated with such repetition on Broadway right now, it tells us something about contemporary audiences. Particularly when the points are being made by largely or exclusively female creative teams who may be pardoned a bit of an agenda, it would seem that a marker is being laid down. Parity of esteem is being freshly claimed. These works demonstrate that we will all be better off as the claim is more consistently honored.

Everyone Gets A Present Courtesy of A CHRISTMAS STORY at Hippodrome

Being a piece designed for an obvious seasonal window only, A Christmas Story is a bit like the town of Brigadoon, coming to life only during that window. That mayfly (all right, December fly) existence may be an asset. In a lyric from the show, “The moments come, the moments go, and just like that, the moment’s gone.” The verse is sung by Mother about the preciousness of holidays, but also about the preciousness of her boys’ fleeting childhoods, and that of the family’s moments together. Many of the best things gain their best quality from their transitory nature. This show may also prove the point.

Bravura LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES at Center Stage: A Welcome Antidote to Seasonal Good Cheer

So let’s see: we have byzantine complexity and unreal psychology. Doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would keep readers and theatergoers keep coming back. Yet somehow, almost inexplicably, this slightly pornographic extravaganza of obscurity and nastiness continues to claim our attention. Never mind why; some things just are that way.

High School Hunger Games Played for Laughs: SCHOOLGIRL FIGURE at Cohesion

Set in a high school where certain girls, banded together as The Carpenters, are in an anorexia/bulimia competition, where the intermediate prize is to date the hunky The Brad and the longer-term prize is death by malnutrition, the show follows the battle between the utterly unscrupulous uber-bitch Renee and fierce competitor Jeanine to succeed Monique, the late victor in these hunger games, as The Brad’s choice. Patty is ostensibly a competitor herself, but her real role in life is to serve as Renee’s wingwoman, and the dilemma constantly thrust upon her is whether to let her appetite (which generally wins out over her anorexic aspirations) and her sense of decency (constantly outraged by Renee’s deceptions) overrule what Renee wants her to do.

Finding Good Cheer Amid Threatening and Debilitating Moments: THE PINK HULK at Charm City Fringe

With Valerie David, we go through denial, being dragged into a breast cancer diagnosis the day before a new job, enduring chemotherapy, losing her hair, losing some friends who couldn’t cope, and undergoing radiation as the last phase of the treatment. We hear about the loneliness, the quest for “sympathy sex,” the impact of chemically-induced menopause, the loss of career opportunities and energy, the support of friends, struggles with body image, weight issues, and, perhaps most important, “the magic potion of improv,” from which this performance self-evidently grows. David has a comic’s timing, a turn for sketch artistry, and a standup comedian’s comfort with making discomforting confessions.

Jen Silverman’s Alarmingly-Introduced ROOMMATE at Everyman

Regular Everyman-goers know Deborah Hazlett and BEth Hylton well. These veteran members of the Everyman repertory group have been sharing the stage for years. For Hazlett and Hylton to elicit laughter from an audience in a funny show is truly like taking candy from a baby. And even when you can see some of the risible situations coming from a long way off, you’re going to laugh. The pathos – and there is some, amidst the laughter – will go down easier because the overall setting is so much fun.

A Rare and Topical Revival of Anne of the Thousand Days at CSC

Anne, like Henry, is engaged in more than just affairs of the heart. She too ends up playing (and winning, on the best terms available to her) the game of thrones. Just before her arrest, she is offered a choice, which she recognizes lies between survival and legacy. Her choice of the latter is immediate, and has long-lasting positive effects, dwarfing those made by her ostensibly more powerful husband.

Mean Girls, Primary Colors and Grand Guignol: HEATHERS at Red Branch

It is a safe bet that at every institution of secondary education with female students, there are Mean Girls. It is also a safe bet that there isn’t a reader who needs the term defined, because there probably isn’t a reader who hasn’t experienced Mean Girls – or been one of them. And one trait we know the Mean Girls all share is they make people want to kill them. The phrase has a jocular sound, and it should, because it isn’t meant quite literally. But it’s a fun conceit that someone might mean it quite literally.