Archive for the ‘Theater Reviews and Commentary’ Category

Old Wine in Old Bottles

Revivals with familiar faces certainly do sell. The biggest value proposition for such a production is probably one which, frankly, motivated me too somewhat: the ability to say “I saw [insert name of star]!” But is that really a good enough reason to sell so much old wine in old bottles when so much deserving younger wine goes undrunk?

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Felix and Oscar could be black, but they could only be men. To be sure, in 1985, Neil Simon rewrote the play to make the leads, now named Florence and Olive, believably female, but it did require rewriting (out with the poker, in with Trivial Pursuit). Tony and Maria have to be a young male and a young female and must at least appear convincingly white and Hispanic, respectively, because their age, ethnicities, and genders are crucial to everything that happens in West Side Story. (Actually Maria was first played on the stage by Italian-American Carol Lawrence and on screen by Russian-American Natalie Wood.) Similarly, a female or juvenile Tevye is almost unthinkable.

A Beautifully-Acted Tragedy Of Ideas: SALLY McCOY at Cohesion Theatre

Sally, as realized by Katherine Vary, is amazing to watch, as she constantly calculates what tactic, rhetorical, pugilistic, or personal, to employ next. When her bag of tricks appears empty to us, and apparently empty to her for a moment, she keeps coming up with one more and you can see her own delight and relief at her creativity as she yet again digs up something else.

An Embrace of Dangerous Illusions, Stunningly Portrayed: M. BUTTERFLY at Everyman

Bruce Randolph Nelson’s portrayal of Monsieur Gallimard is authoritative: all the glibness of a would-be mandarin who cannot quite pull it off, a lyrical self-awareness that does not quite go far enough, and a touch of madness. Every line rang true.

A Generation and a Movement Considered in THE HEIDI CHRONICLES at The REP

The play has aged well. Women are, of course, still grappling with some of the issues that Heidi confronts. But it is not the specific issues that make the play last and lead me to predict that there will be revivals a century hence. One thing is for sure: the pop culture time-stamps like specific songs redolent of particular years will surely almost certainly elude our grandchildren. But the interplay between bright, somewhat idealistic people and their times is bound to continue, and stories about that interplay are bound to go on holding the attention.

Confronting the Paradoxes of Faith in EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL at CATF

I do not read Marcantel as indicting religion as such; she shows us how much groundedness and understanding faith gives. Every faith needs, and has, its own ‘Ordnung,’ but in order to live fully and well, Marcantel seems to be saying, believers will always need to transcend it. And then, as the play hints, believers will also need to return to it. Every faith journey will thus be a work in progress, forever.

The Bronx is Up – and Dancing to Hip Hop – in CATF’s WELCOME TO FEAR CITY

Welcome to Fear City, premiering at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV, shambles along amiably, looking as if it has no more greater object than to be a loose black family dramedy set forty years ago. That is, until it dawns on you that the play’s ambition is to be nothing less than a snapshot of a time and place where a lot of things happened, and one vitally important thing, hip hop, came into being.

A Gripping Struggle for Souls: WE WILL NOT BE SILENT at CATF

If by betraying her principles Scholl could prolong her life, as opposed to adhering to her principles, dying, and having no impact at all, which choice should she make? And this is not just her existential question: It is her interrogator Grunwald’s as well. It would appear that Grunwald has made the opposite choice. But has he? At the very end of the play, that question is reopened.

You Should Visit BYHALIA, MISSISSIPPI at CATF

The virtue of Byhalia, Mississippi lies precisely in its modesty. It prescribes no rules, apart from loving one another and telling the truth, for getting through a marital and race-inflected social crisis in a small town; it simply shows how one not-overwhelmingly admirable couple does it. And at that, the true secret here may just be the jokes. Those, and the blackout line at the very end of the play, which just may bring a lump to the throat.

A Clash of Perfectly Opposed Titans in THE NICETIES at CATF

A two-fisted drama of ideas, The Niceties may well leave you devastated, and will certainly send you out talking. Itwill keep you thinking and probably angry, regardless of where you come down on the issues very articulately debated in it.