Archive for the ‘Theater Reviews and Commentary’ Category

A Work Song Becomes A Play: BERTA, BERTA at Contemporary American Theater Festival

Bianca Laverne Jones gives us a Berta a man would want to compose a song about. Her face, her eyes, the modulations of her voice, like the song Berta, Berta itself, communicate so much more than the lines she delivers. “Berta is a voluptuous, stately Black woman with a striking countenance,” say the directions. Just so.

Delicious Fun in THE CAKE at Contemporary American Theater Festival

It is plain that Della’s resolution of the issue whether to bake a cake for Jen’s same-sex wedding will call for a gingerly reassessment of her faith and her life. Realistically, it will not be solved wholesale by Della’s discarding of her allegiance to what Macy dismisses as ‘a book that’s thousands of years old.’ If Della is to find a way, it will require more subtlety and compromise.

THE HOUSE ON THE HILL Revisits a Trauma in Tears and Anger and Healing at the Contemporary American Theater Festival

Alexandra and Frankie are shown tacitly agreeing to steer clear of the secret not merely because such circumspection is calculated to heighten audience interest; once we understand what the secret is, we can see that the characters know that if they address it, a long-buried grievance between them will have to be put on the table, and worse, they will need to rip off the emotional scabs that have formed over a terrible trauma.

Great Recall During the Great Terror: MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN at Contemporary American Theater Festival

If you come to this show, do not expect to participate in a truly topical think piece about memory in a time of tyranny. You will witness instead a pair of entwined tales about rare mental abnormality and a somewhat overexposed aspect of totalitarianism. It is the telling of the tales, the acting and the scenery and, the evocations of synesthesia, by which Memoirs will work for you, or not.

Resurrecting Teflon Ron: A LATE MORNING (IN AMERICA) at Contemporary American Theater Festival

A show about Reagan that does not explore how his personality gave rise to so much destructiveness is not going to satisfy any well-informed theatergoer. Yet such a show is unfortunately what playwright Michael Weller has given us in A Late Morning (in America) With Ronald Reagan.

Venue Problems Aside, Stillpointe’s URINETOWN Flush With Possibility

Every so often a production comes along that has an enormous amount going for it, but you cannot enjoy it much because of technical problems that tend to overwhelm an audience’s capacity for pleasure. Unfortunately that is the story with¬†Urinetown, a musical now being revived by Stillpointe Theatre in a space in the United Methodist Church at Mount Vernon Square. Here, at least on press night, both problems were consequences of the space in which the show was being staged: the acoustics were unspeakably bad and the air was almost unendurably hot.

Straight Theatergoer, Closeted Plays

I started my theatergoing on my seventh birthday in 1956. Reviewing each play I saw in my youth, as I have recently done, I am struck not merely by the absence of explicit GLBT subject-matter but by its paradoxical abundance under the surface. In retrospect, there was a huge closet at work: a closet that obscured or concealed not merely gay theater creators themselves but also the work they did. But being a young straight boy in a society that granted scant official recognition to queer sexuality in any form, the emanations from the closet either did not register with me at all, or, if they did, they merely confused me.

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.