Archive for the ‘Theater Reviews and Commentary’ Category

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 remains no 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.

When Everything Falls Apart: SKELETON CREW at Center Stage

As Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew beautifully demonstrates, a factory means so much more than just what rolls off the assembly line. It is a roof over its workers’ heads, a community, a source of mortgage payments for one’s home and tuitions for one’s children, of health care and financial security in one’s old age. And when it is threatened, all of these things are threatened too.

Helter-Skelter, Seat-of-the-Pants Hilarity: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at Center Stage

Most of all, perhaps, is the sense of the theater as a helter-skelter, seat-of-the-pants, totally precarious enterprise, in which people start out to cast or produce a show with no idea how it’s going to be completed, without necessarily even a script, and in which the way to make the final product viable, let alone successful, is, as the script keeps saying, a mystery.

Everyman Hosts INTIMATE APPAREL’s Triumphant Return to Baltimore

There seems to be a constant in Lynn Nottage’s plays: the reality that people of color and women do not get many breaks or many chances for happiness or fulfillment. Whatever they do achieve along these lines is both hard-won and partial. In fact, that constant reality of limits on the available economic opportunity and on the available happiness is precisely the theme of Intimate Apparel. Heroine Esther (Dawn Ursula), being both black and female, looks for fulfillment in love, in friendship, and in work (as a seamstress and lingerie maker), and it seems at the end that she has obtained about all of any of these that is on offer.

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?

Nontraditional

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.