Archive for the ‘Theater Reviews and Commentary’ Category

Handing it to the Devil: Stillpointe Presents HAND TO GOD

This attack on sanctimonious pretensions is put across by a spirited ensemble, game with lascivious behavior, violence, f-bombs and sock-puppets, and blessed with considerable talent, including the manual dexterity to bring socks to life.

Wrestling with Authentic Inauthenticity: CHAD DEITY at Cohesion Theatre

The bad guy is supposed to proclaim how much he despises American values. But when we boo him, what are we booing? The foreign, the unknown, the threatening, the challenge to our self-righteousness. We don our Make America Great Again hats. But in a world where more and more of us, like the villain, are from the Outer Boroughs in one way or another, can the viewpoint hold?

Children Will Listen

So what are we usually welcoming children to listen to when we take them to the theater? The key element, I think, is what Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism called mythos, the reduction to story form of socially agreed insights into the processes of life. Mythos is seldom presented pure in any art form, but these days the shows to which children are taken tend to mash together several of them to what I would consider an unprecedented extent, precisely because we are increasingly torn about what we impart to our children.

With SOUL, Stax Lives Again at Center Stage

We want the same songs we (or our parents or grandparents, as the case may be) grew up with, every note of the horn arrangements, and the original singer’s voices, imparting each smidgen of intonation and pacing that the original singe added to the song. A historical frame for the musical is perfect for catering to that simple but demanding taste: You want to see Otis Redding singing (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay? Fine, we’ve reached 1967 in the story, so here he is! And damn, doesn’t he sound good?

Uncategorizable, Brilliant, and Profound: Bernstein’s CANDIDE at the Washington National Opera

When you hear the first few notes of the rollicking overture, you know Bernstein is genuflecting hard to Johann Strauss. Yet this is a story in which the principal characters are bayoneted, hanged, maimed, raped, prostituted, ravaged by disease, and enslaved, among other things, a story which, thematically, takes the characters and us right to the edge of the Nietzschean abyss and gives us a good long sobering look into it – not the sort of thing Strauss or Gilbert and Sullivan ever did.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Leaves a Trail of Stardust at The Hippodrome

What a trail of stardust the whole musical leaves! There are the sets and lighting which dazzle in their nimble evocation of the wonders of Paris, with a side-step into a fantasy nightclub that seems to be Radio City Music Hall, complete with spangled leggy chorines and dudes in top hats and tails. There is the dancing of the athletic McGee Maddox and the graceful Allison Walsh. (How many performers out there can claim true balletic chops, skill at acting and singing – and the aforementioned hotness?) And the word ‘dazzling’ seems to have been coined for Gershwin’s music, generously ladled over the entire enterprise, and beautifully performed.

Same As The Old Boss: Center Stage’s Grim, Industrial ANIMAL FARM

The true selling point of this production is not so much a reimmersion in Orwell’s masterpiece as a reminder, if we needed reminding, of the collective nausea that overtakes us in one of those periodic moments when totalitarian assaults on truth, justice and human dignity are winning.

A Lackluster Script Spoils THE GRADUATE at Dundalk Community Theatre

Ben’s character may be a phony pastiche, and Elaine’s a confusing cypher, but in Elaine’s mother Mrs. Robinson, novelist Charles Webb struck gold. Bored, lecherous, alcoholic, deeply dishonest, vengeful, and possessed of a twisted motherly loyalty, she is real and vital and scary as hell. Dyana Neal’s Mrs. Robinson is pretty much perfect. She has the intimidating stare, the commanding manner, the resolute lack of curiosity about any aspect of the world aside from sex, tobacco, and alcohol, the maternal protectiveness, all down pat. If Anne Bancroft is looking down from heaven, she probably approves.

A Community’s Accomplishment and the Homosexual Gaze: ALL SHE MUST POSSESS at REP Stage

All She Must Possess does not suggest that the Cone Collection was Etta’s work alone, but rather depicts it as the emanation of the entire community, including not only Etta Cone, but her sister Claribel, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude’s brother Leo, Alice Toklas, and the artists, for whom Matisse stands in as representative. It was out of that community’s joy in creation and discussions of it (Expressionism vs. Cubism, for instance) that the collection, a thing of transcendent value, is shown as having emerged, with Etta’s role as being the primary shaper of the final product. But the play is generous in giving all of these participants in the joint creation some “screen time” in which to demonstrate their contributions to the enterprise, whether it be Leo’s joie-de-vivre, Matisse’s artistic exuberance, Gertrude’s self-assuredness in exploring the limits of what speech can do, or even Alice’s bitchy possessiveness as Gertrude’s helpmeet.

No Escape from the Hall of Mirrors in THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY at Single Carrot Theatre

It becomes apparent that Walt’s effort to write about his demise, to force it into the role of conversational subject rather than himself becoming that death’s object and thereby losing the ability to write about it, is part of his struggle, and part of the reason he keeps reaching for the clicker with all those “cuts tos” in a futile effort to rejigger things in a way that will avert the conclusion. His motto is “Unless you’re one of the most important people who ever lived, what’s the point?” But there┬áremains┬áno point if you have no consciousness left to enjoy your importance. Hence the sight near the end of doomed Walt struggling to slow down and stretch out indefinitely the experience of his own final moments.