Category Archives: NYC Theater Reviews

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‘Switzerland,’ by Joanna Murray-Smith, Dishing Patricia Highsmith With Murder and a Smile

59E59 Theaters, Dan Foster, Switzerland, Patricia HighSmith, Joanna Murray-Smith, Hudson Stage Company, Peggy J. Scott, Daniel Petzold

Peggy J. Scott and Daniel Petzold in Hudson Stage Company’s NYC Premiere of ‘Switzerland,’ by Joanna Murray-Smith, directed by Dan Foster at 59E59 Theaters (Rana Faure)

Renowned award winning novelist, essayist and short story writer, Patricia Highsmith isolates herself in Switzerland with views of the gorgeous snow-capped Alps glinting beams of light cheerily toward her house. As her desk and old-fashioned typewriter face opposite the window, we understand the writer is not in Switzerland for a pleasant reprieve from the United States which she often excoriated in newspaper articles and editorials.

No! She is there for another purpose. As we hop on the erratic train ride of her mind over the peaks and valleys of Highsmith’s jagged mental state fueled by alcohol, we discover what that purpose is in the Hudson Stage Company production of Switzerland. Highsmith’s goal emerges from the thrust and parry of her cruel, epithetical witticisms directed at guest Edward Ridgeway’s ineffective, mewling arguments.

From the opening of Switzerland (written by Joanna Murray-Smith) as Highsmith fronts off against Edward Ridgeway and continues until the conclusion, their menacing pas de deux fascinates and thrills. Theirs is a standoff that requires no compromise, just “a winner take all” attitude to finish off the opponent. In her inimical and irrevocable way, Highsmith finally triumphs.

Dan Foster, Joanna Murray-Smith, Hudson Stage Company, Patricia Highsmith, Peggy J. Scott Daniel Petzold

Peggy J. Scott in Hudson Stage Company’s ‘Switzerland,’ by Joanna Murray-Smith, directed by Dan Foster at 59E59 Theaters (Rana Faure)

Ridgeway (Daniel Petzold’s performance surprises and titillates) has been sent by her publisher who intends for Highsmith (the irascible and cantankerous Peggy J. Scott) to write one more crime novel in the globally successful series about mesmerizing murderer Tom Ripley. Ridgeway employs the typical mundanely unsophisticated patter of an underling sent on an impossible mission to get Highsmith to sign a last contract. Highsmith flays his emotional skin and carves up his pride like a parboiled turkey and dumps the carcass in the toilet as dung. The process is humorous to watch as he sinks further into himself and she blossoms with the sardonic verve of a yellow-jacket wasp tearing at a stink weed flower.

Nevertheless, Ridgeway sustains her sneering barbs about his age, US society and more. He persists and gradually threads together the spot-on phrases and allurements to seduce Highsmith. What initially intrigues Highsmith is that Ridgeway may be psychologically traumatized by the loss of his parents in a car accident. She points out that he must be an orphan for he plays the part of an orphan willing to please. Intrigued and puffed up at her accurate assumptions about him, Highsmith cruelly revels with glee as she penetrates his emotions forcing him to rehash the accident’s how, when and where like a criminal investigator. Her enthusiastic reactions to his morbid retelling are humorous and we become as interested as she about this first appearances milk-toast who seemed to fit in with the furniture until she drew him out.

Patricia Highsmith, Switzerland, Dan Foster, Joanna Murray-Smith, 59E59 Theaters, Daniel Petzold, Peggy J. Scott, Hudson Stage Company

Daniel Petzold, Peggy J. Scott in ‘Switzerland,’at 59E59 Theaters (Rana Faure)

During the course of Ridgeway’s sojourn into this indelicate persuasion to seduce Highsmith to do what for a decade she has chosen not to, we learn of her noxious views and stances which are racist, anti-semitic, and somewhat homophobic, though she herself is admittedly gay. Joanna Murray-Smith paints this dark portrait of the beloved writer’s underbelly which reflects the truth if one reads her fans’ and detractors’ commentary about her personal life. As Ridgeway continues his persuasion, Highsmith gradually is pulled in and accedes after he suggests plot points for the new work. She takes the bait and they contrive together. He stays the night and the scene converts and heads in a completely different direction in the morning. It is then we realize that up is down, black is white and appearances like books cannot be judged by their covers.

What emerges Murray-Smith cleverly twists into high intrigue. The logic of this turning point is exacting and perfect. And the shock of it is succinctly and boldly enacted by Petzold’s adroit, flexible and admirable acting chops. Scott deftly works in concert holding her own with commensurate power and delight. Confronting this plot switch on a switch with hints of magical realism, Highsmith enters into her glory. Her enthusiasm is boundless once more, as if she has been given a new lease on a life that she had grown weary of in its sameness, inane vanities and boredoms.

Patricia Highsmith, Switzerland, 59E59 Theaters, Hudson Stage Company, Daniel Petzold, Peggy J. Scott

Daniel Petzold, Peggy J. Scott, Hudson Stage Company’s ‘Switzerland,’ at 59E59 Theaters (Rana Faure)

Directed by Dan Foster, the staging, the choices of the actors and director in a pacing of revelations shine especially at the beginning and the conclusion of the production. After the “switch” the scenes evolve rapidly. And we are riveted when the music shifts and Petzold’s Ridgeway and Scott’s Highsmith move in a delicious tango with a hints of love and attraction.

There are no spoiler alerts here. You will have to appreciate for yourself the excellent acting and the superb ensemble work of Scott and Petzold who listen, react, nuance and rightly divide their tone to enjoy the fun and humor of the relationship that they create between these characters.

Kudos to the creative team. I thought the music was a particularly fine choice (Garrett Hood is responsible for the Sound Design and Composing). Kudos go to James J. Fenton for his thoughtful set design, to Charlotte Palmer-Lane who creates the Highsmith “look” and Ridgeway’s clothing finesses; and to Andrew Gmoser for apt, suggestive lighting design.

The production in its New York City premiere is a must-see for Highsmith fans and mystery fans. And for those who may have seen a few of Highsmith’s works made into films like the Ripley series, Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock version, 1951) and wacky comedic take-offs like Throw Momma From the Train (Danny DeVito version, 1987), you will appreciate how Murray-Smith generates this fascinating piece which is well-shepherded by Dan Foster and finely rendered by Peggy J. Scott and Daniel Petzold.

Switzerland runs with no intermission (1 hour 30 minutes) at 59E59 Theaters (Fifty-nine East 59th Street) until 3 March. For tickets you may call 59E59 Theaters at 212-753 5959 or go online by CLICKING HERE

‘The Shadow of a Gunman,’ The Sean O’Casey Season at the Irish Repertory Theatre

Ciarán O'Reilly, Una Clancy, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, James Russell, Meg Hennessy, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Shadow of a Gunman, Ciaran O'Reilly, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): Una Clancy, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, James Russell, Meg Hennessy in the Irish Rep production of Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Shadow of a Gunman’ directed by Ciarán O’Reilly (Carole Rosegg)

Sean O’Casey’s compelling The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), the first play of his Dublin Trilogy, has been selected by the Irish Repertory Theatre as the “send off” to introduce their Sean O’Casey Season which has been running from January 30 and will continue through May 25,2019. The first play of the O’Casey Cycle is presented in repertory along with O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars on the Irish Rep’s main stage (132 West 22nd Street).

The plays of the trilogy take place during three pivotal and violent confrontations between Ireland and the United Kingdom: The Irish War of Independence (January 21, 1919-July 11, 1921); The Irish Civil War (June 1922-May 1923) and The Easter Rising (April 24-29, 1916). These wars led to the Republic of Ireland achieving independence from the United Kingdom. However the tribal wounds and ferocious heartbreak and resentments incurred centuries ago that exploded into these wars and ended in an uncertain peace, still abide to this day.

Una Clancy, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, James Russell, Meg Hennessy, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Shadow of a Gunman, Ciaran O'Reilly, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): James Russell, Michael Mellamphy in Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Shadow of a Gunman,’directed by Ciarán O’Reilly (Carol Rosegg)

The Irish Rep has chosen to celebrate its 30th anniversary by featuring O’Casey’s trilogy which chronicles the impact of dire events on the impoverished tenement dwellers of Dublin who were often the casualties of war. Revisiting the plays remains important for our time because as O’Casey highlights the effects of division and internecine hatreds, he raises questions about the nature of freedom, sacrifice, art, nationalism, Republicanism and more. Always in the background is the price average individuals are “willing” to pay to achieve self-governance and negotiate the political power plays of forces, organizations and governments not readily understandable nor controllable.

The Shadow of a Gunman ably and concisely directed by Ciarán O’Reilly to achieve O’Casey’s maximum intended effect has as its setting Dublin during the Irish War of Independence (see dates above). The largely guerilla warfare campaigns encompassed brutal clashes between the IRA (referred to as the Old IRA today) appointed as the enforcers of Irish Independence, and many former British WWI veterans known as the “Black and Tans.” These British military units were “volunteered” by England to safeguard Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. However, their undisciplined and harsh tactics exacerbated the conflicts so that repeated incidents of bloodshed and devastation were wrecked upon Dublin society by the IRA and the British military.

 Una Clancy,Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, James Russell, Meg Hennessy, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Shadow of a Gunman, Ciaran O'Reilly, Sean O'Casey

Meg Hennessy and James Russell in the Irish Rep’s production of Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Shadow of a Gunman,’ directed by Ciarán O’Reilly

How the innocent tenement dwellers of Dublin suffer for the price of a freedom and economic independence that largely remains beyond them is brilliantly chronicled by O’Casey. And indeed, through the excellent work of the ensemble and shepherding of the fine performances by Ciarán O’Reilly, we experience the ironic tragicomedy of happenstance and the true terror of being caught between two ranging enemies who do not care who is swept up in the brutality or destroyed.

The comedy resides largely in the human interactions of the residents of a rooming house and how they present themselves as they negotiate their own political positions and participation or lack of interest in effecting a free Ireland. One central irony is that they underestimate the danger of the warfare that surrounds them until it is too late. In their naivete they assume that struggling writer and poet Donal Davoren (James Russell in a sensitive, angst-ridden and nuanced portrayal) is a member of the IRA and the titular “gunman” of the play.

Davoren, who has newly arrived to the boarding house and is the roommate of Seumus Shields (the humorous, hapless and unwitting Michael Mellamphy whose cowardice is recognizable and empathetic) is treated with dignity and great respect by the other residents. Minnie Powell (Meg Hennessy renders a feisty, sweet and charming portrait of innocence and bravery) especially finds Donal irresistible for she is enamored of the romantic notions of heroism and courage that gunman fighting for a free Ireland display. Of course, the irony O’Casey delivers in blow after blow by the end of the play dispels everyone’s romantic notions of freedom fighters. And we are reminded that dying for freedom and liberty are propaganda, especially when there is a shortage of brave and courageous souls who are willing to take risks facing off against a loaded gun.

,Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, James Russell, Meg Hennessy, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Shadow of a Gunman, Ciaran O'Reilly, Sean O'Casey

Terry Donnelly in the Irish Rep production of Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Shadow of a Gunman,’ directed by Ciarán O’Reilly (Carol Rosegg)

O’Casey presents the issues and themes immediately. He introduces the Everyman’s perspective which many of the renters embrace, particularly Mellamphy’s Shields. And the playwright fronts that view against the poet/philosopher’s pacifist view of Donal Davoren whom the renters believe to be with the IRA. The irony, if followed to its absurd conclusion in O’Casey’s plot, rings with horrific truth, considering the results and follow-through of their beliefs about him.

Meanwhile, discounting their attitudes about, yet slyly thinking to capture Minnie’s heart by saying little, to Shields Donal beats his breast and cries of the miseries and pains of being a poet. He rails against the commoners for whom he creates his art to little effect. Through him O’Casey reveals an ironic addendum. For all the angst and pain artists go through to create the beauties of art and literature, the works may or may not assert a place of importance in the hearts of citizens in a time of war. (Is O’Casey perhaps being sardonic about the importance of his own work through this character’s mewlings?)

Director O’Reilly gives attention to each of these characters. In his rendition of Casey’s work, we understand that they represent symbolic types in the human panoply of characters that manifest the cowardice and hypocrisy of those who inhabit every society in the throes of violent revolutionary change.

All of them reveal in one way or another the flaws that contribute to the tragedy that occurs by the play’s end. For example the kowtowing, gossiping Tommy Owens (Ed Malone in a humorous turn) exemplifies the toady and hypocrite who brings on the trouble. The alcoholic and abusive husband Mr. Grigson screams out his position as an “Orangeman” sympathetic to the opposite side. John Keating manages to be sincere in his drunkenness and hysterical to boot. However, we note another side of him when Mr. Grigson and Shields swap stories of their bravery in the face of the British, who in actuality frighten them out of their wits. Only Donal remains silent and renders himself invisible in the face of terror. Though the lying bravado is typically understandable, it is also cringe-worthy. For men should be stronger, should they not? O’Casey smashes this notion by the play’s end with a resounding exclamation point which this production succeeds in spearing through our hearts and minds.

,Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, James Russell, Meg Hennessy, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Shadow of a Gunman, Ciaran O'Reilly, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): John Keating, Terry Donnelly, Michael Mellamphy in the Irish Reps production of Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Shadow of a Gunman,’ directed by Ciarán O’Reilly Carol Rosegg)

Terry Donnelly as the long-suffering Mrs. Grigson delivers a superbly heartfelt, broken and poignant portrayal that takes us into a tragedy that we will remember long after the lights come up. Most importantly, the second act thrums with rapid pacing, suspense and “edge-of-your-seat” fear. We empathize with the Dubliners throughout the experience O’Reilly and the company put us through as they moment-to-moment envelop us with the emotion and horror of unfolding events in real time.

This immediacy is a vital element of O’Casey’s work and the ensemble and the production team render it superbly. For it is the terrifying experience that delivers our epiphany of what the historic Dubliners went through and what occupying troops in Syria and Yemen put innocents through today. The civilians are gun fodder for wars they have not willingly signed on for. Surely, they do not anticipate their lives threatened and lifestyles destroyed by both sides of the warring factions on streets and in homes where children once played and all was safe and secure. Surely, they do not choose between the Scylla and Charybdis of becoming an escaping refugee or staying to be numbered among the dead or disappeared. It was so in Ireland, then, it is so in wars that dot our planet and fuel defense manufacturers’ profits today.

As O’Casey reveals most acutely in the action conveyed by the actors, designers and director of this production, this is THE TERROR. And as the characters experience the horror, uncertainty and helplessness in the face of the oppression and tyranny from both sides, we experience it as well. The tragedy becomes that all who are present as witnesses become the accountable participants and they must live with the regrets imprinted on their souls until they are washed away, if ever.

Kudos to all in the acting ensemble who contribute to making this a soul-sonorous production. Kudos to the design team: Charlie Corcoran (scenic), Linda Fisher & David Toser (costume) Michael Gottlieb (lighting) Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab (sound) Ryan Rumery (original music).

This is a must-see, especially if you are unfamiliar with Shadow of a Gunman which runs with one intermission. The production is a wonderful introduction to Sean O’Casey and if you have been a forever fan, you will be very pleased.  Additionally, the Irish Rep in celebration of the playwright is conducting free readings, symposiums, lectures, film screenings and music exhibitions. For more information on the Sean O’Casey Cycle and for tickets to the Dublin Trilogy, check the website.

 

 

 

‘Mies Julie’ an Adaptation of August Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ by Yaël Farber at CSC

Mies Julie, Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Yaël Farber, CSC, James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice-Johnson Chevannes, Shariffa Ali

(L to R): Elise Kibler, Patrice- Johnson Chevannes, James Udon in CSC, ‘Mies Julie,’ by Yaël Farber, adapted from the play ‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg, directed by Shariffa Ali (Joan Marcus).

The Classic Shakespeare Company is presenting two 19th century plays by August Strindberg in Repertory. The Dance of Death (see my review by “clicking here” in a new version by the award winning Conor McPherson) and Mies Julie in an adaptation by the award winning South African director and playwright Yaël Farber.

Farber has given Strindberg’s Miss Julie a renovation in texture, location, structure and dynamic by intensifying the conflict and shortening the arc of the play’s development. Inherent in this production directed by Shariffa Ali is the force and power to further elucidate the themes about classism, chauvinism, oppression, economic injustice, racism, white supremacy and cyclical revenge with the backdrop of a new setting, South Africa, 2012. Additionally. she has changed the characterization of Christine from Jean’s fiancee to John’s mother, and worldly servant Jean to Xhosa farm worker John, intriguingly characterizing him as one who grew up with Mies Julie on the farm that Julie’s father owns.

Mies Julie, Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Yaël Farber, CSC, James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice-Johnson Chevannes, Shariffa Ali

(L to R): (L to R): Elise Kibler, Patrice- Johnson Chevannes, James Udon in CSC, ‘Mies Julie,’ by Yaël Farber, adapted from the play ‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg, directed by Shariffa Ali (Joan Marcus).

Christine has raised Mies Julie alongside her own son when Julie’s mother abandoned her daughter suffering from severe depression. The mother, alienated and isolated from the strangeness of the colonial women with whom she never could feel comfortable, the difficulty of the farming life and her own inner regrets caved in her soul. Without any sense of purpose or the obligation of duty to take care of her own child, she shoots herself and little Julie finds the disastrous ruin of the woman. Mies Julie thinks she is responsible for her mother’s death, but is nurtured by Christine’s love to eventually recover.

Nevertheless, Mies Julie bears the scars of the trauma. And during the course of the play we intuit that her rebellious behavior and impulsiveness suppresses an inner pain as she careens through her life. If not for Christiane’s love and an emotional attachment to Christine’s son John, who protects her and secretly, hopelessly loves her, Mies Julie might follow in her mother’s footsteps. The character of Mies Julie is most similar to Strindberg’s Miss Julie in ethos, however, the fascinating twists of transformation of setting reshape all of her actions and give them additional resonance and thematic richness.

Farber’s adaptation opens in a farmhouse kitchen in Eastern Cape, Karoo, South Africa on Freedom Day, 27 of April 2012, almost 20 years after all South Africans were give the right to vote in 1994. The day is a vital symbol integral to the complex themes of this adaptation.  For the blacks of South Africa, the price of freedom was purchased by blood and suffering. The black culture’s redemption and return to the land of their ancestors will also be paid for by blood and suffering in a twisted karmic resolution in Farber’s Mies Julie.

Mies Julie, Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Vinnie Burrows, CSC, Yaël Farber, CSC, James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice-Johnson Chevannes, Shariffa Ali

(L toR): Patrice- Johnson Chevannes, Vinie Burrows, CSC, ‘Mies Julie,’ by Yaël Farber, adapted from the play ‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg, directed by Shariffa Ali (Joan Marcus).

Indeed, ancestors in the form of a ghostly grandmother seek revenge as she haunts the house which was built upon ancestral graves. Although this is not effected in the set design, Christine refers to the great tree which was cut down to make way for the house, but whose roots retained life and now break through the tiles of the floor of the kitchen and continue to grow in defiance of the white, man-made structure. The symbolism of the tree as representational of the Xhosa family which belongs on the land and whose culture can never be erased is a focal point. Unfortunately, without evidence of the tree breaking through the floor (due to the repertory’s need for minimalism) an important theme of Farber’s work is diminished, opaquely realized through Christine’s dialogue which becomes too easily lost in the hum of action.

Farber presents the underlying conflict when the workers on the farm and some squatters who have returned to the land that their ancestors lived on before the colonials came, have been celebrating and dancing on Freedom Day. Mies Julie dances with the workers a bold and inappropriate act. Because her father is away, she rebelliously revels in these liberties which lower her stature and respect in the workers’ eyes. When John attempts to admonish her, we see the emotional tensions between them and realize that the relationship they have developed in many ways runs past master/servant and portends elements of love or sado-masochism or both.

Mies Julie, Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Yaël Farber, CSC, James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice-Johnson Chevannes, Shariffa Ali

(L to R): Elise Kibler, James Udon in CSC, ‘Mies Julie,’ by Yaël Farber. adapted from the play ‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg, directed by Shariffa Ali (Joan Marcus).

During the course of the production we discover that the South African’s hope is to one day take back the land from the colonials like Julie’s father. They consider this an act of restitution for the terrible bloodshed and misery caused in the years of usurpation which brought about cultural devastation. The economic struggles continue in the present day for the workers like John and Christine must still submit to servitude to survive. Decades of economic injustice and inequality have delayed their accumulation of enough capital to purchase the land that their ancestors lived on centuries ago.

Though John has educated himself and wants the freedom to be able to prosper beyond his “class and race,” he is not the urbane, world traveler of the Jean of Strindberg’s work. And though he has had women, he has loved Mies Julie from childhood. It is this night that erupts in a culmination of many subterranean wants and desires for both Mies Julie and for John. And of course it is this night of freedom that lifts up Mies Julie’s “Afrikaaner race” out from under the degradation and debasement of oppressing the Xhosa.

John and Julie are representative of their race and class. On one level Mies Julie becomes the sacrifice to expiate the “sins” of her forefathers when she chooses to become equal and unite in a physical consummation of love with John. Likewise for John, it is a night where he asserts his privilege to repossess the land (symbolized by Mies Julie’s body) and achieve a lifelong dream to be restored to his true sense of self-worth, identity and power.

The beauty and tragedy of portraying their relationship as Farber does in layer upon layer of intricate psychological and social texture is that we understand before the characters do that perhaps decades need to pass before the destructive social MATRIX in which both live and have their being disintegrates. John comes to this realization sooner than Mies Julie, who is impaled on the immediacy and unreality of wanting an idyllic life with John away from the farm. She intends to run away with him and use her father’s money that she’s stolen from the safe. John cannot trust Mies Julie enough to leave his mother and the stultifying but familiar identity that has oppressed him his entire life. The two are trapped and their end appears to be an inevitability. The time is surely “out of joint.” And only a few options remain for them to take before Julie’s father returns the next day and stasis consumes their lives once more.

In this adaption, Farber presents some of Strindberg’s themes front and center and then embellishes and expands them. Farber suggests the following. In order for the injustices between and among economic classes to ever be resolved, the classes themselves must be dissolved. For all human beings, the trials overcoming the miseries of childhood and the nullifying stricture of social mores, are uneasily won. For outsiders who are economically challenged, the trials are even greater. Only gradually through the passing of the generations will there ever be economic and social parity between and among disparate races and ethnic groups.

Mies Julie, Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Yaël Farber, CSC, James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice-Johnson Chevannes, Shariffa Ali

(L to R): Elise Kibler, Patrice- Johnson Chevannes, James Udon in CSC, ‘Mies Julie,’ by Yaël Farber. adapted from the play ‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg, directed by Shariffa Ali (Joan Marcus).

Christine knows this. She treasures her job and is willing to abide in her faith believing that for her son’s generation it will be better, but for her generation, it is finished. John wants change immediately and by fathering Mies Julie’s child he will overthrow the status quo, though he risks her father’s wrath. They must leave, for if a baby comes, her father will kill them both.

The harder he and Julie attempt to extricate themselves from the binding circumstances, the more they become mired in fear. It is a truism that they must leave or die. They cannot forge new identities in the same place where old hatreds and resentments float like ghosts above the blood-soaked land. Mies Julie wisely commands that they run away from her father and the farm’s oppression and migrate to a new identity and new existence in the city. But John is stuck. Christine adjures that she  will never leave the farm. John must choose. Either he abandons his mother and goes with Mies Julie to freedom, or he remains with Christine in servitude. If there is a baby, all three will die.

Farber’s adaptation presented by the CSC and directed by Shariffa Ali enthralls with strong, emotional performances by James Udon as John, Elise Kibler as Mies Julie and Patrice Johnson-Chavannes as Christine. And when the ghost of the grandmother walks the kitchen, Vinnie Burrows is uncanny and foreboding. Because of her presence, we understand that a fearful retribution is coming, but it remains unclear until the play’s conclusion.

Mies Julie, Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Yaël Farber, CSC, James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice-Johnson Chevannes, Shariffa Ali

(L to R):  James Udon, Elise Kibler, Patrice- Johnson Chevannes, in CSC, ‘Mies Julie,’ by Yaël Farber, adapted from the play ‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg, directed by Shariffa Ali (Joan Marcus).

The production runs like a bullet train on a collusion course toward destruction especially in the scenes where Kibler and Udon spar, seek to dominate and control, then relent, succumbing to their tenuous love for each other. Kibler is effective in her smoldering, wild longing. Udon is sensitive and caring as the “fool” for love, then angry and rebellious in believing he is Mies Julie’s plaything. These emotions provide a field for incredible contrasts. On the one hand Julie and John collide with their fear of abandonment and betrayal. Then they fly to each other then fly to reinforce a love perches on the edge of desperation. These tensions and  the heightened interplay between Kibler’s Mies Julie and Udon’s John is wrought with ferocious zeal.

A note of warning. Some of the dialect and the accents are muffled and strained. I found that swaths of dialogue were garbled because of an overemphasis to “get the accents right.” I am not referring to the words of Afrikaans or Indigenous words in Xhosa, but the heavily accented English. The accents are vital for they introduce the setting. However, the use remained problematic. When the emotion was presented organically, the dialogue followed and the actors were easily understood.

Finally, the set design was spare and adequate as it should be in this repertory Strindberg cycle. However, the incredible symbolism of the tree should be included as an important thematic thread of the play. The music, the effects, make-up and costumes are apt. When the ghostly presence enters and leaves, all these design elements effect the supernatural wonderfully.

Mies Julie and The Dance of Death alternate in repertory at CSC (13th Street between 3rd and 4th) until 10 March.  Mies Julie is a spare 75 minutes with no intermission.  You can pick up tickets at their website.

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The Mindblasting Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano Cave to Primal Hatreds and Private Desolations in Sam Shepard’s ‘True West’

True West, Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, James Macdonald, Roundabout Theatre Company

(L to R): Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ‘True West,’ by Sam Shepard, directed by James Macdonald (Joan Marcus)

True West by Sam Shepard is a tour de force which easily reveals actors’ talents or their infelicities. Indeed, it may be a devastating on-stage nightmare if the actors’ skills do not resonate with a fluid “moment-to-moment” dynamic that sits precariously on the knife-edge of emotional chaos and crisis. This is especially so in Act II of Shepard’s True West which is currently in revival at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street, starring the consummate Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano. Both actors rise to the pinnacle of their skills surfing their own moment-to-moment impulses in this sense-memory tearing, emotional slug-fest of a play about siblings. This is a glorious, shattering production thanks to Hawke and Dano who once more prove to be among the great actors of their generation. If Shepard is apprised of this production in another realm of consciousness, surely he is thrilled.

The arc of True West‘s development reveals Shepard’s acute examination of brothers Lee and Austin who wrangle and rage against each other to finally emerge from the emotional and familial folkways they’ve spun into their own self-fabricated prisons. The second act especially (the first act is more expositional and slower paced) screams with the taut, granular impact of subtly shifting, increasingly augmenting collisions of the mind, will and emotions of the older, social outcast and thief Lee (portrayed with dark tension, authenticity, humanity by Ethan Hawke) and the younger, ambitious, middle class Austin (the “mild-mannered” Dano seethes with fury and sub rosa angst that simmers to a boil). As these two attempt to  reconnect after an estrangement, they thinly reconcile, negotiating confrontation and abrasion, while they attempt to deal with personal dissatisfaction.  During their reunion, they discover that too far is never far enough to unleash the emotional convolutions, chaos and conundrums of their relationship.

True West, Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, James Macdonald, Roundabout Theatre Company

(L to R): Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ‘True West,’ by Sam Shepard, directed by James Macdonald (Joan Marcus)

Of course, Shepard’s searing, dark humor and sardonic irony resides in Lee’s and Austin’s attempt to achieve an inner and outer expurgation. Interestingly, they use each other’s “being” as a battering ram against themselves and their complex, twisted “brotherhood.” And as they pummel and propel themselves “forward” through the charged, electrified atmosphere between them, they disintegrate their inner soul rot and misery. By the conclusion of the play, they have reached their own TRUE WEST. This is brilliantly symbolized and effected by Jane Cox’s Lighting Design, Mimi Lien’s Set Design and Bray Poor’s Original Music and Sound Design.

In the last moments between life, death and resurrection, Lee and Austin stand on the edge of a precipice eyeballing each other with uncertain respect and caution as they assess who they are and what they have wrought together. We realize that they have sought this desert of their creation. That they, by primal impulses, destroyed and trashed everything around them including some of their mother’s prized possessions to get there, is unfathomable to us. It is incomprehensible unless we examine our own self-destructive behaviors. However, their behavior is an achievement necessary to get to who they are. At the least they’ve shed pretense. They are raw creature/creations like the the yapping coyotes that lure pets, grab them and chow down for supper. However, where these characters go from this still point remains uncertain. But the hope is that it will result in a new identity for each, away from the annihilation and alienation of the parents who raised them.

Though Shepard’s play is set in the distant past, the themes and relationship that Hawke and Dano establish is vital, energetic, heart-breaking, mind-blowing, current. Each actor has brought so much of his own grist to Lee and Austin and responds with such familiarity and raw honesty to the other, it is absolutely breathtaking. It remains impossible not to watch both and be in awe of their craft. One is utterly engaged in the suspense of where the brothers’ impulses will take them as they scrape and claw at each other’s nerve endings to create bleeding wounds.

True West, Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, James Macdonald, Roundabout Theatre Company

Ethan Hawke (standing) Paul Dano in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ‘True West,’ by Sam Shepard, directed by James Macdonald (Joan Marcus)

Thanks go to James Macdonald’s direction and staging to facilitate Dano’s and Hawke’s memorable portrayals. With extraordinary performances like theirs, we are compelled to consider the characters, and determine how and why they are smashing each other’s personal boundaries to reveal inner resentments, hurts, and the chaotic forces that have swamped each of them in the most particular ways. The ties that bind them run so deep these two are oxymorons. They have identical twin souls, though they are externally antithetical. Why they clash is because they are like minded: raging, though controlled. Their emotions, like subterranean lava flows wait for the precise moment to explode and change the landscape around them. Lee is the more mature volcano; but his earthquakes create the chain reaction that stirs Austin’s. No smoke and mirrors here; just raw power.

As a perfect foil to spur the play’s development Gary Wilmes portrays Saul Kimmer, the producer hack who smarmes his way into Austin’s heart, then dumps him because he will not exact a devil’s bargain which Austin refuses to accept. Austin’s rejection of the “bargain,” enragese Lee. Wilmes is appropriately diffuse and opaque. Where does he really stand? What happened to make him turn on a dime regarding hiring Austin who has invested sweat equity and emotional integrity in a project Kimmer professed interest in? Wilmes is both authentic and the Hollywood “type,” to drive Lee and Austin against each other.

Likewise, as a foil, Marylouise Burke is LOL hysterical but frightening as their quirky mother. Her responses to their behavior are hyperbolic in the reverse and they speak volumes about how this family “functioned” in the past. She, too, helps to engine the suspense as Austin takes his power over Lee and she remains sanguine. All of the audience who are parents and especially those who have avoided the role are screaming silently in horror as the two “have at one another.” The situation and their confrontation is insane and humorous. Burke is perfect in the role as non-mediator. And Macdonald has done a magnificent job of balancing the tone and tenor of the last scene. As a result, Burke, Hawke, Dano deliver the lightening blow that helps us to realize the brothers’ intentions and the result of where they find themselves at the finale.

True West, Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, James Macdonald, Roundabout Theatre Company

Ethan Hawke (standing) Paul Dano in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ‘True West,’ by Sam Shepard, directed by James Macdonald (Joan Marcus)

So much of the production resides in these incredible portrayals, of Lee and Austin’s devolution into the abyss to come to an epiphany. Caught up with that, one may overlook the artistic design. But it is so integral for it reveals the family and reflects the dynamic interactions. Superb, for example are the sound effects which augment in intensity, the frame of lights contrasting the stage into darkness for set changes, the homely, well-ordered kitchen and alcove writing area, the lovely plants and their “growth” (a field-day for symbolists), and the props. The toasting scene is just fabulous. Kudos go to Mimi Lien (Set Design) Kaye Voyce (Costume Design) Jane Cox (Lighting Design) Bray Poor (Original Music & Sound Design) Tom Watson (Hair & Wig Design) Thomas Shall (Fight Choreographer).

Sam Shepard’s play is a powerful revelation of brotherly love and hate, its design and usefulness. At the heart of our global issues resides familial relationships. To what impact on the whole is the sum of its parts? To what extent do families foment their own hatred upon themselves and the culture to exacerbate the issues? Likewise, what of families who love each other? The interplay between families and society is present but understanding it remains elusive and opaque. Shepard attempts clarity. Certainly, Lee points out that family relationships are high stakes and sometimes the warring relatives kill each other. Certainly, Austin points out that he and Lee will not kill each other over a film script. But he underestimates how far he or Lee are willing to go. How far are any of us willing to go if pushed by a relative?

Life’s uncertainty, as in the best of plays is all about surprise and not knowing what will happen in the next moments. This production of True West lives onstage because the actors are immersed in the genius of acting uncertainty that is always present. Most probably, their performance is different daily because the actors have dared to breathe out the characters whose souls they have elicited. Just W.O.W! (wild, obstreperous, wonderful)

See True West before it closes on 17 March. It runs with one intermission at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th. You can get tickets at their website HERE.

 

‘A Man For All Seasons’ by Robert Bolt, A Sterling Production at The Acorn Theatre, NYC

Carolyn McCormick, Micahel Countryman, Kim Wong, Fellowship for Performing Arts, A Man for All Seasons, Acorn Theatre

(L to R): Carolyn McCormick, Michael Countryman, Kim Wong, Fellowship for Performing Arts Production of ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (Jeremy Daniel)

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt currently at The Acorn Theatre until 3 March is an exceptional play about the value of one’s life and the hope of death when that value is removed. In the final decision to live a life of worth or die if one cannot, lies the honor of realizing one’s life has true purpose. The production by the Fellowship for Performing Arts promotes a superb iteration of Bolt’s work which posits interesting themes about self-worth, the rule of law, political cravenness and acts of conscience.

These heady themes are uplifted in this revival of Bolt’s work which examines Sir Thomas More’s conflict with King Henry VIII over the King’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn. More chose to follow his conscience and not the King’s feverish obsession to gain a male heir by putting away the barren Queen Catherine. When he took a stand that King Henry VIII interpreted as being against him, More knew the grave risks. Yet he held firm in his beliefs, maintaining his purpose and meaning for himself, an action which was used against him to advantage his enemies. Rather than to change his stance and support all the other powerful men who sided with the King, More followed his own conscience, martyring himself. He preferred to be in the afterlife with God, than in a physical existence among men abiding in lies and treason to his soul, a death far greater than any delivered by the executioner’s blow to his neck.

Harry Bouvy, Fellowship for Performing Arts, A Man for All Seasons, Acorn Theatre

Harry Bouvy, Fellowship for Performing Arts Production of ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ Acorn Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

Bolt examines the strength required to abide in the grace of righteous beliefs even if it means dying for it, rather than follow the crowd to stay alive. The playwrite’s brilliant work written in the sixties seems especially trenchant in our times when lying to protect one’s physical life is no longer an art, but a gross and craven reality show in politics. This fine production of A Man for All Seasons seems more resonant than ever.

Bolt most probably took title which originated from an Oxford scholar Robert Whittington who in 1520 wrote, “More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.” Perhaps Whittington may have been inspired by the Biblical scripture, 2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV) “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

Christa Scott-Reed, A Man for All Seasons, Michael Countryman, David McElwee, John Ahlin, Todd Cerveris, Kevyn Morrow,Carolyn McCormick, Kim Wong, Trent Dawson, Sean Dugan, Fellowship for Performing Arts

Photograph of the playbill, of Fellowship for Performing Arts, ‘A Man for All Seasons’, directed by Christa Scott-Reed, starring Michael Countryman, David McElwee, John Ahlin, Todd Cerveris, Harry Bouvy, Carolyn McCormick, Kim Wong, Kevyn Morrow, Trent Dawson, Sean Dugan.

Bolt’s characterization of Sir Thomas More (Michael Countryman maintains a sensitive and thoughtful portrayal throughout) reflects the scripture and Whittington’s commentary. In Countryman’s rendering of More’s traits and interactions with his family, the King and Richard Rich, his foil and enemy, we understand the greatness of More’s mind and character.

Countryman also relays a profound appreciation of More’s humor and social affability. As Countryman presents More’s humility with the King (the effervescent and proud Trent Dawson), even though he disagrees with him we understand More’s sorrow at displeasing a man he loves. We also see the King’s sorrow that More is on a collusion course with the King’s soul. One of them will lose, the other will gain, and at that momentous juncture when the King visits More’s household, the actors and able direction reveal that there is no turning back for either man. It is an excellently rendered moment in the production, one of many that Director Christa Scott-Reed interprets and guides the actors to elicit.

Michael Countryman, Kim Wong, A Man for All Seasons, Acorn Theatre

Mihael Countryman, Kim Wong, ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ Acorn Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

Countryman, David McElswee as Richard Rich, Carolyn McCormick as Lady Alice More, Todd Cerveris as Thomas Cromwell Kim Wong as Meg are the principals who help establish the solid foundation upon which Bolt’s More rests. In various crucial scenes, the actors’ interplay heightens the stakes and pronounces the conundrum that More faces if he chooses conscience over king and loses everything he holds dear in the earthly realm to achieve a finer estate in the heavenly one.

In one particular example, the tension the cast creates when Meg, Lady Alice and Roper (Sean Dugan) tell More to have the pernicious Richard Rich arrested for being evil, we watch amazed as Countryman’s More defends McElwee’s Rich and upholds the law as paramount. Because of their acute sensitivity and the apt direction we understand how More is refining his position on the law to protect his own soul and, as Bolt perhaps wishes, we empathize and put ourselves in More’s shoes. Would we have the strength of character to follow the right and true dictates of our souls? Or would we as his family suggests he do use the law against others injudiciously and damn ourselves? Is such an action to uphold what is most precious important to us? Should it be? Bolt asks these intriguing questions and answers them by highlighting More’s difficult choices.

Michael Countryman, Todd erveris, Fellowship for Performing Arts, A Man for All Seasons, Acorn Theatre

(L to R): Michael Countryman, Todd Cerveris, Fellowship for Performing Arts Production, ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ (Jeremy Daniel)

By the end of the play, McElwee’s Rich has become totally corrupted, rewarded for his betrayal of More by selling his soul for Wales. McElwee’s development from young man teetering on the brink of wickedness to world-hardened, wicked maturity having easily sold out a man he once greatly admired is well delivered. Both actors elicit the contrast between More and Rich beautifully. Rich achieves worldly power climbing from a lowly state upward and More moves in the opposite direction. But only More makes it to glory. Though Richard Rich dies peacefully in his bed unperturbed, unmolested by sending More to his beheading, More down through the centuries is venerated for his courage. He was canonized by the Church in 1935 and in 2000 Pope John Paul II named him “heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians.”

Countryman’s steadfast More, assisted by the ensemble’s excellence becomes especially powerful in the trial scene when More confronts his accusers, McElwee’s Rich, Cerveris’ Cromwell, Archbishop Cranmer (Sean Dugan), his former dear friend The Duke of Norfolk (Kevyn Morrow) and the executioner who also plays The Common Man (Harry Bouvy). Presented with the lies that Rich has told about him, More answers vehemently for his innocence and affirms that his silence about the oath taking is acquiescence under the law which they have misinterpreted because they do not know the law. The scene especially enthralls for we know that as More counters Rich’ lies, the blade will fall. He is as he says, “a dead man.”

A Man for All Seasons, Todd Cerveris, David McElwee, Fellowship for Performing Arts, A Man for All Seasons, Acorn Theatre

(L to R): Todd Cerveris, David McElwee, Fellowship for Performing Arts Production of ‘A Man fro All Seasons,’ Acorn Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

Countryman’s More is poignant as he maintains his domination and will when someone questions his surety that he will go to heaven. More’s reply is without fear or doubt, “God will not reject one so cheerful to go to Him.” We believe then that what More has suffered has a higher purpose. Indeed, Countryman’s portrayal of More uplifts with hope and inspires as Bolt most probably intended.

Bolt’s play is given a very fine rendering by The Fellowship for Performing Arts. The ensemble, shepherded by director Christa Scott-Reed depict Bolt’s characters with authenticity and engage us throughout. Countryman’s More comes off as a human saint. How Bolt shapes More’s development rising to glory as the king’s Lord High Chancellor and devolving to infamy as a traitor to kingdom and crown is the genius of the drama. The characterizations of More, his long suffering wife Lady Alice (Carolyn McCormick) and daughter Meg (Kim Wong) are superb and perhaps strongest in the prison scene when they see each other for the last time. As contrasts to the enlightened and saintly More, Richard Rich (McElwee) The Duke of Norfolk (Kevyn Morrow) and Thomas Cromwell (Todd Cerveris) reveal an edgy hardness as the play reaches its conclusion and More is condemned for treason. John Ahlin is exceptional as Cardinal Wolsey and Signor Chapuys. The latter attempts to wrangle with More about supporting Catherine of Aragon’s Queenly fate in Henry’s Kindgom.

Michael Countryman, Fellowship for Performing Arts, A Man for All Seasons, Acorn Theatre

Michael Countryman, Fellowship for Performing Arts Production, ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ Acorn Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

The character of The Common Man (excellently played by Harry Bouvy) is absent in some productions of A Man for All Seasons. Bouvy’s portrayal of the lowly roles (Matthew-More’s servant, the executioner, etc.) is one we identify with readily. His pronouncement of the earthly ends of More’s enemies Cranmer, Cromwell, The Duke of Norfolk is ironic. His sardonic humor at relating where Richard Rich ends up for sending a good man to his death is the exclamation point of Bolt’s work. But upon further research (More’s standing in the UK and with the Church as a saint), we note that Sir Thomas More comes off as a hero. On the other hand Richard Rich (hyperbolic name, indeed) comes off as the craven, mendacious coward. One of the strengths of the play and of this production is in the comparison between Rich and Moore. Indeed, Bolt uses Rich as a foil to burnish More’s greatness.

In this social climate of up is down black is white, there are many in power who behave as Richard Rich using clever manipulation, lying and amorality to achieve their desires. Bolt, a professed agnostic, leaves the final judgment about such individuals up to God. In the last analysis without a Richard Rich, would More have been so glorified?

 Of late Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall downplays Bolt’s perspectives about More. She establishes the more vilifying and intriguing points about his religious beliefs. In uplifting Catholicism against Lutheran Protestantism which was spreading at the time of the play set in England between 1526-1535, Mantel emphasizes that More employed torture. Additionally, to force heretics to recant their beliefs in Protestantism, he believed in burning heretics who refused to recant. Others have been critical of More. For example, James Wood in his book The Broken Estate, refers to him as “cruel in punishment, evasive in argument, lusty for power, and repressive in politics.”

With controversial individuals like More, the jury is still out. However, with this production, the verdict is a resounding bravo. I especially enjoyed the John Gromada’s selection of music as Composer/Sound Design, and the staging and artistic of the production in its integration of  the Scenic Design (Steven C. Kemp), Costume Design (Theresa Squire) and Lighting Design (Aaron Porter).

Man for All Seasons runs with one intermission at the Acorn Theatre (42nd Street between 8th and 9th) and is extended until 3 March. You can purchase tickets to see this fine production of Bolt’s great play at their website by CLICKING HERE.

 

 

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‘The Cher Show’, a Joyous Celebration of The Power of Hope and Persistence

The Cher Show, Stephanie J. Block, Daryl Waters, Jason Moore

Stephanie J. Block as Star and the cast of ‘The Cher Show,’ (Joan Marcus)

Did you ever think you “knew” all you wanted to know about someone only to find out wonderous inspirations about them? No, I am not referring to our current president in the White House. I am referring to a feminine icon who has established herself as a tour de force for women through six decades, blowing past generational limitations and showing the way to “become” before Becoming (Michelle Obama’s glorious best-seller) was fashionable. Well, Cher, the Pop Goddess Warrior I never quite “got” is a superlative example of how no woman should allow anyone to tell her “it can’t be done!” It can be done! Regardless of how much the words are repeated, it is felt experience which sparks these words to life.. And it is the essence of this felt experience of overcoming that makes The Cher Show a celebration of women’s ability to thrive despite men telling them they cannot!

Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks Micaela Diamond, Jarrod Spector, Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno, Emily Skinner, Matthew Hydzik, Daryl Waters, Jason Moore, Rick Elice,

Stephanie J. Block as Star in ‘The Cher Show,’ Book by Rick Elice, Music Supervision by Daryl Waters, Directed by Jason Moore (Joan Marcus)

The musical hybrid (partial rock/pop concert, theatrical bio, cultural chronicle) sports a comprehensive book by Rick Elice and superb Music Supervision, Orchestrations and Arrangements by Daryl Waters. The must-see production is a mind blowing, entertainment ride down memory lane for the older crowd, and an earth shattering, eye-popping celebration of feminism (3rd and fourth wave) for the younger crowd.

Predominately, the production evidences how women (yes, there is only one Cher, but jump on the inspiration train, “bitches”) can rock it, take their power and express it with individuality, beauty and sometimes “foul-mouthed” grace. Especially now with the government shutdown standoff, the production is what we need to strengthen our comprehension of how women climb mountains though others attempt to pull them away from the top echelons of power (go Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House in 2019).

Jarrod Spector, Teal Wicks, Rick Elice, The Cher Show, Daryl Waters, Jason Moore

Jarrod Spector as Sonny Bono, Teal Wicks as Lady in ‘The Cher Show,’ directed by Jason Moore, Book by Rick Elie, Music Supervision, Orchestrations & Arrangements by Daryl Waters (Joan Marcus)

The Cher Show slam-bangs cultural fashions through the decades with spectacular Costume Design by Bob Mackie (portrayed by Michael Berresse). And it also pings the most meaningful signature songs of Cher’s life starting relevantly with “If I Could Turn Back Time” with the mature Cher (Stephanie J. Block) singing us back into the past to reveal her story through song.

Some songs are effected with striking dance numbers (“Dark Lady” is exceptional with Choreography by Christopher Gattelli) and staging. Actually, all of the songs really pop thanks to Daryl Waters, Jason Moore and the ensemble. There is the thrum and whirl of shimmering beauty as Bob Mackie’s gorgeous costumes, Lighting Design (Kevin Adams), Set Design (Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis) and the song and dance numbers uplift and rouse. Guaranteed, the staging, light show, musical arrangements, legendary Cher characterizations will rock you to the point that you will be keeping the beat with your feet, though your body’s in your seat, just barely! By the end you will be standing.

Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show, Daryl Waters, Jason Moore, Rick Elice, Cher

Micaela Diamond and cast in ‘The Cher Show,’ book by Rick Elie, Music Supervision Daryl Waters, directed by Jason Moore (Joan Marcus)

The show re-imagines the essence of Cher’s career highlighting critical moments in her life. The approach to understanding Cher’s development arc, is well fashioned by Rick Elice’s book. And it is reinforced by Billboard scoring the songs Cher hit recorded through six decades of Billboard charts. Aptly shepherded by director Jason Moore, The Cher Show relates Cher’s story in Cher’s grand, elliptical style through flashback and emotional flash-forward. The action is fast paced, not only covering an equivalent of three lifetimes but probing richly into what makes Cher “Cher,” if one is prepared to see it. Women will most probably note the emotional resonances more strongly than men.

Through brief, coherent snippets, Star unifies the show and directs the action. The excellent Stephanie J. Block portrays the mature Cher who speaks from a perspective of wisdom as she gives sage advice. Block whose voice is perhaps most like Cher’s, sings many of the sensitive, powerful songs in the Cher repertoire (i.e. “Believe”). Star introduces her younger selves Lady (the wise-cracking divorcee) and Babe (the sweet child and teenage songstress who meets Sonny) portrayed by Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond. Each derivative of Cher is one element of a dynamic triumvirate that ushers in the whole portrait we need to understand the musical life and background of the legendary Diva. Together they establish the ethos of the performer as person and vice-versa. All three are vocal powerhouses. They reflect mannerisms, voice timber, comedic delivery, singing expressions and more as an echo of Cher, and not an impersonation.

Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, Micaela Diamond, The Cher Show, Jason Moore, Daryl Waters, Rick Elice

(L to R): Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, Micaela Diamond, ‘The Cher Show,’ Book by Rick Elice, directed by Jason Moore, Music Supervision, Daryl Waters (Joan Marcus)

In her discussions with her mom Georgia Holt (a beautiful job by Emily Skinner) we learn of her early suffering and how music helped her overcome. By degrees, we discover she had dyslexia which made her shy and isolated her at school as bullies teased her about her being stupid and her “weirdness” being an Armenian. Interchanges which occur throughout various turning points in each decade reveal how her mother was her pillar of strength to guide her until Cher stood on her own in her career. Skinner’s mom poignantly and humorously encourages her daughter to overcome through her singing.  Cher affirms her mother’s importance in her life especially after her step-father leaves. Apparently, she never knew her father.

Interestingly, Sonny Bono is perhaps a father figure, at first, who helps her grow up until she realizes her complete dependence on him must change. Thus, the production moves to the when and where of the duo who became Sonny and Cher and the evolution of some of Sonny and Cher’s greatest hits (for example “Baby Don’t Go,” “I Got You Babe,”). Sonny’s friendly, vibrant personality (gorgeously voiced Jarrod Spector gives a nuanced, charismatic portrayal) devolves under the pressure of ambition and fear. When Sonny caves to greed and Napoleonic impulses which hamper their relationship, Cher discovers Sonny completely controls their financial arrangements. A victim of the male chauvinism of the time, Cher conquers her fears of being on her own and goes solo, a first step in her confrontation with the male dominated recording industry and glass ceiling barring her own vision of herself as an entrepreneur.

Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond, The Cher Show, Daryl Waters, Jason Moore, Rick Elice

Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond, ‘The Cher Show,’ Book by Rick Elice, Music Supervision Daryl Waters, directed by Jason Moore (Joan Marcus)

As a central point of Cher’s “becoming,” this segment of the production delves into  the honesty and authenticity of the peaks and valleys of her relationship with Sonny, their money woes and excesses, and their emotional, psychological and personality differences that manifested during the making of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and after their divorce when they got back together, with the Sonny and Cher Show. The latter featured Cher’s new lover and eventual husband for a time, Greg Allman (Matthew Hydzik). Cher always remained friendly with Sonny because of their daughter Chastity. And indeed, though the reference is humorous, the production covers Sonny’s passing. Stephanie Block’s Cher intimates her love for him has a measure of forever in it, as she delivers her memorial speech at his funneral which is poignant.

After Cher determines to continue her solo career, she in effect jettisons relationships with famous singers and focuses on herself (“men are a luxury, like dessert.”) However, as this musical highlights the turning points in her life, we note her new iterations of her image and show business persona. She moves upward expanding her levels of success. Some of these activities include her accomplishments on  Broadway, in film and on concert tours. Throughout, we understand how her love relationships fueled her artistic and creative powers. And this is so even after the love appears to be gone. For life goes on.

 Daryl Waters, Jason Moore, Daryl Waters, Rick Elice, The Cher Show

‘The Cher Show,’ the cast, Book by Rick Elice, directed by Jason Moore, Music Supervision by Daryl Waters (Joan Marcus)

The musical works on a number of levels. One can merely sit back and enjoy the dazzling spectacle and resplendent sensory stimulation. One can also appreciate the more profound and clarifying moments which reveal how this woman dealt with problems, love, sadness, heart-break, financial valleys (Cher sold hair products on TV at one point) show business/celebrity horrors and her sickness (her Adrenal Glands weren’t working). In short the emotionalism of life’s torques and jarring shatterings that we all must confront, work through, learn from to enrich our souls, Cher experiences and uses for her evolving artistry.  The musical numbers especially, reflect the highs and the lows, the career successes and comebacks. And floating off in the narrative slips Star, Lady and Babe. Together they reveal the loneliness, fear and upsets, they must confront with each other as pals. It works for me. How can an autonomous woman not give good counsel to herself after a few marriages, divorces, children, career upsets, etc.?

The Cher Show, Jarrod Spector, Daryl Waters, Rick Elice, Jason Moore

Jarrod Spector in ‘The Cher Show,’ directed by Jason Moore, Music by Daryl Waters, Book by Rick Elice ((Joan Marcus)

The songs represent Cher’s inner and outer life. Indeed, The Cher Show reflects that her singing helped to sustain her and take her to the next level in her career. And it is that which has made her legendary. She has topped Billboard Charts for six decades and garnered over 200 awards. The only one that has escaped her thus far is the Tony which she may win as one of the producers of The Cher Show. That would mean she has won an Emmy, a Grammy a Tony and an Oscar (EGOT), the grand slam of show business awards.

The irony is that as she evolves, as the production intimates, she must confront herself as a fantastical maverick icon of celebrity, who enforces her own kind of elusive magical realism. This makes for great copy, but it also moderates the chance for love and relationships. Block’s Star best establishes the emotionalism of this realization as she thrillingly sings “Believe.”

The Cher Show, Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, Micaela Diamond, Jarrod Spector, Emily Skinner, Michael Berresse

(L to R):Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond, Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno in ‘The Cher Show’ (Joan Marcus)

To its credit the production uncovers what lies underneath the fun, glamor, fashionable trend-setting songstress who became an actress, producer, author and philanthropist. Thus, in its strongest moments we see the peeling back of the layers to the raw core of Cher’s angst, depression and fear that happens whenever she comes to a crossroads. In the musical are the seeds of why Cher is alone but not lonely. She has discovered that she must be her own person away from Sonny and Greg Allman and Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno). It is in the moments of misery, financial distress, heart break that we most empathize with Cher. And it is after these moments that she lifts herself up from the abyss and soars to inspire us once more and take us with her to another level.

The mythic humanity and pathos reflected in the music especially is what makes this a rich, nuanced show. But be careful. You may be caught up experiencing all the glittering excess, that you will miss the layers. How is it possible that we are seeing an older woman defy Hollywood age barriers, gender strictures and male domination issues? This show stomps down these overarching mores. It reveals Cher’s “belief,” and sheer force of will that she demonstrates in spades. This is especially so in the number “The Beat Goes On” which Micaela Diamond sings. The song symbolizes the beats of will, synchronized to destiny that brought Cher to accomplish the unthinkable in film. As as an “older” woman she won an Oscar and Golden Globes variously for Moonstruck, Mask and Silkwood. Ultimately, Cher learns autonomy is best and moves to her own beat which she drums out for herself again, and again, despite whichever love relationship she is in.

The Cher Show is breaking records of human happiness for both men and women at the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd Street. It captures the essence of who Cher is, and who she always was and will be, a magical, one-of-a kind, self-defining woman.

Kudos (I loved the Hair & Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe) to all who have made this a must-see production which runs with one intermission. For tickets you can go to the website, CLICK HERE.

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Manhattan Theatre Club’s ‘Choir Boy’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Directed by Trip Cullman

Manhattan Theatre Club, Choir Boy, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Nicholas L. Ashe, Trip Cullman, John Clay III, Caleb Eberhardt, J. Quinton Johnson, Jeremy Pope,

(L to R): Niholas L. Ashe, J. Quinton Johnson, Jeremy Pope, Caleb Eberhardt, John lay III in ‘Choir Boy,’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Trip Cullman (Michael Murphy)

Choir Boy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, superbly directed by Trip Cullman is a tour de force that thrills with its beauty and grace and grieves with its recognition that a fine education may advance one in the world, but it doesn’t answer the longing in one’s heart for individual love and acceptance. And so it goes for Pharus Jonathan Young a super achiever who places all his investment in his golden voice and ambitious pride to excel and be someone despite the abuse he receives at the hands of the adult male black community in his hometown and the teenage black students at The Charles R. Drew Preparatory School for Boys. Drew, as it’s affectionately known, is an elite, religious, black, male prep school which shapes black men to be accepted into Ivy League Schools and shepherds them toward sterling behavior to succeed in their careers and in life. The question is, as always in Prep Schools. Are the sub rosa mores being transmitted a benefit or a nullification?

Choir Boy opens with the 49th Commencement for Charles R. Drew Prep’s graduating seniors. The gorgeous voice of Pharus Jonathan Young (Jeremy Pope in a vibrant, nuanced and fierce portrayal) rings out into the auditorium as he leads the choir in a song about “Trusting and Obeying Jesus” as the only way to happiness. The irony of the song and what occurs during the singing is reflective of the play’s underlying themes. It also is the linchpin upon which rests much of the action to follow.

Jeremy Pope, Chuck Cooper, Choir Boy, Manhattan Theatre Club, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Trip Cullman

(L to R): Jeremy Pope, Chuck Cooper in ‘Choir Boy,’ directed by Trip Cullman, Manhattan Theatre Club (Michael Murphy)

What the staff, family and friends of the graduating seniors do not hear are the whispered insults and defamations by Bobby Marrow one of the choir members who clearly disdains and despises Pharus. Upset, distracted, Pharus stops singing and turns around to confront Bobby in a stare down. Bobby who achieves what he wants, to upset and deflect Pharus from his concentration, silences his whisperings. These opening salvos of raw animosity and tension between Bobby (J Quinton Johnson’s aggressions and rage are sustained throughout) and Pharus reveal the conflict which McCraney intensifies and escalates in this thrilling production that is currently at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

After the ceremony, Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper employs his adroit acting skills with moment-to-moment precision) reprimands Pharus for stopping in mid-song, however, Pharus cleverly responds and we understand that he will not be cowed and will maintain his dignity and honor.  Though Marrow presses him to explain, Pharus who has been voted as Choir Lead because of his hard work and golden voice evokes the “behavior of a “Drew man.” He tells Headmaster Marrow (the name is more than ironic), “A Drew man doesn’t tell on his brother. He allows him the honor of confessing himself.” The conflict is clearly expressed, and we understand Pharus is proud of being elected to head the choir which school-wide is considered an honor. However, we wonder why Bobby has chosen to slur Pharus’ sexuality and use the “N” word to demean him. Is this mere jealousy? Or has Pharus provoked him?

Choir Boy, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Manhattan Theatre ClubNicholas L. Ashe, Jonathan Burke, John Clay III, Caleb Eberhardt, J. Quinton Johnson, Jeremy Pope

(L to ): Nicholas L. Ashe, Jonathan Burke, J. Quinton Johnson, Jeremy Pope, Caleb Eberhardt, John Clay III, Gerald Caesar in ‘Choir Boy,’ Manhattan Theatre Club (Michael Murphy)

Thus, from the outset, McCraney and the fine direction and staging of the opening scenes by Trip Cullman have engaged us. From this point on we are intrigued to learn about these two individuals and discover whether they will resolve their differences by themselves or with the help of the Headmaster and their friends in the choir.

McCraney’s play is a hybrid (musical, comedy, drama). It is not easily defined or pigeonholed and this is just one of its astounding brilliances. For at crucial junctures in the arc of the plot development, the boys’ chorus breaks into shimmering songs during various practice sessions. And there are dance and rhythmic numbers that relate to the themes. Additionally, humor abides throughout. Yet, there is pathos. In short all the emotional peaks and valleys in life are pinged and resonate with truthfulness.

McCraney’s characterizations are right-on. The leads are distinct individuals; they are finely drawn and by the conclusion of the play we note their development. In an irony reminiscent of our current divisive culture, the young men align either with Pharus or Bobby and the behind-the-scenes dynamic of support and friendship escalates the conflict between the two adversaries throughout. the action.

Choir Boy, Austin Pendleton, Nicholas L. Ashe, John Clay III, Caleb Eberhardt, J. Quinton Johnson, Jeremy Pope, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Trip Cullman

The cast of ‘Choir Boy’ on Broadway (Michael Murphy)

Additionally, McCraney reveals how the characters negotiate the mores of Drew with lip service and sometime sincerity. Intrigue and surreptitiousness are necessary to get along. And it is the intrigue that crashes into the barricade of Drew “do’s and don’ts” that the characters cannot help but contravene. Thus, they bloody themselves. As a result the explosive scenes bring this incredible social and cultural expose of a black young men’s prep school into the same territory as any white male prep school. Though Drew has a religious fundamental base, the rages, the conflicts, the loves defy class, color, economics. The human heart and human nature unfortunately run true to form. Overcoming evil intent is hard won everywhere. How the protagonist Pharus manages to triumph despite his own self-destructive impulses and need to “be Pharus” is the crux of the play.

The themes relating to division, separation, isolation and, remaining proud and courageous when others attempt to destroy you, McCraney explores with these individuals using humor, song, dance. The plot twists startle. The play’s dynamic is well constructed. From the initial conflict, Bobby, Pharus and their friends and foes are sent spinning until they reach their destinations.

Importantly, from the outset, we understand that the stakes for Pharus and a few other non-legacy young men are very high. Non-legacy men have advanced to Drew by merit based upon their efforts and skills. Pharus has worked very hard to receive a scholarship which he must maintain to take the shot he’s been given or fall by the wayside like other young black men. Thus, in his discussion with Headmaster Marrow, we learn that for Pharus, his newly appointed position as Choir Lead means everything to him. But would he risk that for something even more important?

Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy, Manhattan Theatre Club, Caleb Eberhardt

(L to R): Jeremy Pope,Caleb Eberhardt, ‘Choir Boy,’ Manhattan Theatre Club, Broadway (Michael Murphy)

On the other hand, legacy men like Bobby don’t have Pharus’ worries. Additionally, Bobby enjoys the favor of his uncle’s being the Headmaster. As the arc of development moves toward its climax, we note that Bobby is hell-bent on unseating Pharus and taking the honor for himself. Who will win, who will lose? Clarity of conflict and the high stakes are the genius of this production along with the sensational choral work, the dancing, sensitive acting and the extraordinary meld of the ensemble, all of which makes Choir Boy a uniquely enthralling work..

During the course of the production, we discover the dynamic interplay of the young men who are part of the chorus that Pharus has been chosen to lead because of his academic excellence and golden voice. All who have lead roles are just terrific. Junior Davis, foil of Johnson’s Bobby, nearly stops the show with his hysterical dancing to impress Mr. Pendleton (Austin Pendleton, is humorously grand. Yet he’s expressively and authentically emotional when he reacts to Bobby’s use of the “N” word. It’s a hallowed, stirring moment.) Caleb Eberhardt’s David Heard is sensitive and solid in his portrayal. The sadness he evokes as he walks away from the school is an injustice we take to heart. As Pharus’ roommate and friend Anthony Justin ‘AJ’ James, John Clay III is superb. His comedic timing is spot on and his poignance and humanity is what is needed to help Pharus deal with the acute pain of life-long devastation he is trying to work through.

The production would not be as superb as it is without the following creative artists’ efforts. Special and heartfelt kudos to Jason Michael Webb (Music Direction, Arrangements & Original Music) David Zinn (Scenic & Costume Design), Peter Kaczorowski (Lighting Design) Fitz Patton (Original Music & Sound Design) Cookie Jordan (Hair & Makeup Design) Thomas Schall (Fight Direction) Camille A. Brown (Choreography).

Don’t walk, run to see Choir Boy at The Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. The production has no intermission and runs one hour forty-five minutes until 24 February. You can call for tickets at 212-239-6200, go in person to the Friedman or get tickets online at their website.

 

‘Blue Ridge,’ An Examination of Soul Rehabilitation in North Carolina, Starring Marin Ireland

Blue Ridge, World Premiere, Abby Rosebrock, Taibi Magar,Marin Ireland, Nicole Lewis, Kristolyn Lloyd, Kyle Beltran, Chris Stack, Peter Mark Kendall, Atlantic Theater Company

(L to R): Kyle Beltran, Kristolyn Lloyd, Nicole Lewis, Marin Ireland, Chris Stack, Peter Mark Kendall (foreground), in Atlantic Theater Company’s World Premiere of Abby Rosebrock’s ‘Blue Ridge,’ Linda Gross Theater (Ahron R. Foster)

How do we tell if our indignation for another’s plight isn’t our own misdirected rage that we ignore at our own peril? How is the healing process from childhood traumas that manifests through addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex and “acting out” initiated? Do those rehabilitating themselves recognize when the process evolves into wellness? How do such individuals recognize the journey to healing? Do they understand all that the arduous process entails before they attempt it? Or do they just move head on and try to change before they are ready because the culture and their anti-social behaviors demand it?

Atlantic Theater Company’s Blue Ridge written by Abby Rosebrock and directed by Taibi Magar raises these questions and many more. The play is superb, but does fall a bit short on one element, despite the fine performances by the ensemble and the excellent production values. The weakness evidences in Rosebrock’s sometimes confounding redirection of focus in examining the protagonist Alison (a nuanced, and layered performance by Marin Ireland whose accent is, at times, ill-executed because she quickly glosses over important, profound lines). Nevertheless, Rosebrock’s work is exceptional in the service of revealing themes which initiate organically from her characters and their interactions with each other, as they rehab in a group home setting.

Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Blue Ridge, World Premiere, Atlantic Theater Company, Abby Rosebrock, Linda Gross Theater

Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall in Abby Rosebrock’s ‘Blue Ridge,’ Atlantic Theater Company World Premiere, Linda Gross Theater (Ahron R. Foster)

Currently at the Linda Gross Theater, Blue Ridge takes place at a religious rehabilitation retreat in the gorgeous mountains of western North Carolina (Appalachia). Everpresent are the fundamentalist tenets of Christianity which the characters attempt to espouse and practice. There, at St. John’s Service House, the individuals who have been interviewed and accepted for placement, seek God’s love, forgiveness, joy and peace, reinforced by Sunday church, Wednesday Bible Study, meditation, outside jobs at a pool store and therapeutic group conversation.

However, the process of moving toward wellness is not as easy as it may appear with prayers and Bible work. There must be a complete revolution of one’s soul, a very tricky circumstance indeed; for what is the soul? What is sin? What is the devil? And how do Christian teachings answer psychological traumas? As a key theme which Rosebrock brilliantly reveals, dealing with trauma involves more intricate and complex understanding on a personal level for those who experienced trauma. This involves a life-long process and everyone who undergoes it won’t find any marked yellow brick road at the end of the rainbow. But a good first step is remembering and confronting the trauma alone and/or with expert guidance and love.

Blue Ridge, Linda Gross Theater, Nicole Lewis, Atlantic Theater Company World Premiere, Abby Rosebrock, Linda Gross Theater

Nicole Lewis in the Atlantic Theater Company’s World Premiere of Abby Rosebrock’s ‘Blue Ridge’ Linda Gross Theater (Ahron R. Foster)

The characters, some with overseeing functions like Hern (the pastor played by Chris Stack) and Grace (social worker portrayed by Nicole Lewis) help others, and with empathy and service, seek to rehabilitate themselves. Those, like Alison (Marin Ireland) Wade (Kyle Beltran) and Cole (Peter Mark Kendall), who have been accepted into the program, hope to correct problems which have manifested in self-destructive behaviors. If such behaviors continue, the individuals will be sent to restrictive settings (jail or psychiatric lock up), if they do not improve and heal. Other characters like Cherie (Kristolyn Lloyd), voluntarily enroll in the program. Cherie knows her own soul’s weaknesses related to her family’s and her own alcoholism. Though she is self-aware, she is blind to her other weaknesses and these set her on a course which may lead to relapse if not confronted.

Rosebrock introduces us to the principals in the first act which largely is humorous exposition to set up the dramatic developments and the climax of the second act. The characters are representational, some with individual problems that run deep but whose cause remains unknown. Their outward issues range from alcohol and drug addictions to anger management issues identified euphemistically as “intermittent explosive disorder.”

Central to the characters’ improvement and social reconstitution is the Wednesday Bible Study where we first meet the others and Alison, a teacher who lost her way and her job because of anger management issues. Alison chose to go to rehab rather than jail for destroying her principal’s car; ironically, he also was the man she “loved.” Marin Ireland’s portrayal reveals Alison’s fierce, hyperbolic and frenetic personality which masks the underlying wounds which Rosebrock intimates but doesn’t clarify by the conclusion of the play.

Marin Ireland, Blue Ridge, Atlantic Theater Company World Premiere, Linda Gross Theater, Taibi Magar

Marin Ireland in Atlantic Theater Company’s World Premiere of Abby Rosebrock’s ‘Blue Ridge,’ Linda Gross Theater (Ahron R. Foster)

A word about the character of Alison, who is the linchpin of Rosebrock’s work. One wonders if the play’s dynamism might have been strengthened if Rosebrock had more clearly and with dramatic and active plot points heightened the true issues that fomented Alison’s life-long devastation. At the beginning of Act One, to introduce herself, Alison glibly races through the lines of a song “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood which parallels her behavior that landed her in rehab. We understand that she refers to herself when she quotes: “by this point all the accumulated pain an’ hopelessness, an’ annihilatin degradation, uh’bein a woman in this sexual economy’ve juss… racked the speaker’s brain and body, like a cancer.”

However, we remain unenlightened about the how and the what, even until the end of the play when Wade (Kyle Beltran) confronts her with these lines. Rosebrock never delineates the specifics of Alison’s annihilation and this is key to feeling empathy for her. Though Ireland does a yeowoman’s job in getting us to Alison’s heightened emotional state, our identification with her is muted and unsatisfactory. Perhaps, this is because we do not understand why she hurts so on an individual level. It is not enough to call in the cultural memes as her revelation. The facts and specifics matter; they resonate. But what are they? Thus the fullness and the power of Alison’s emotional state and whether or not she has achieved self-realization to move on to the healing process is opaque. We are not even “seeing through a glass darkly” where she is concerned.

Kyle Beltran, Taibi Magar, Abby Rosebrock, Atlantic Theater Company World Premiere, Linda Gross Theater

Kyle Beltran in Atlantic Theater Company’s World Premiere of Abby Rosebrock’s ‘Blue Ridge,’ Linda Gross Theater (Ahron R. Foster)

The play turns on Alison’s integration into the program and her recovery. The irony is that she does the work in achieving her external goals and is reinstated as a teacher. However, she doesn’t begin to expurgate the underlying morass of pain in her soul while she is immersed in her sessions and interactions with Wade, Cherie, Hern, Cole, Grace. Indeed, because her self-realizations remain superficial, she becomes the catalyst that exacerbates conflicts and escalates issues for Cherie, Hern, Cole and Grace. As Cherie suggests, Alison blows up a set of circumstances via her own projections. As a result, everything changes for the characters.

Furthermore, Alison doesn’t understand how to get around the humiliation of the negative impact she has afterward. Ironically, though “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” by the end of the play, we see  though there are apologies, there is no closure, no forgiveness, no resolution. Each of the individuals is forced to work by himself/herself as the “family” goes its own way in separate directions.

The only one who attempts to deal with himself in an authentic way is Wade. He tries to “make amends” for his not dealing with Alison on a deeper level than he he should have. At the conclusion Wade’s conversation with her is a trigger. However, we do not understand the specifics of the how or why. The rationale appears that she went through something in childhood. So did we all. We are ready to empathize, but are never quite given the chance, a fissure in the play’s development and characterization of Alison.

Rosebrock chooses to develop the play so that the conclusion becomes Alison’s flashpoint of experiencing the pain of her buried, bleeding wounds. The play ends with her emotional breakdown as she appears to allow herself to feel on a deeper level.

This is a risky choice in developing the play.The outcome remains unsatisfying and uncertain. The character Alison, whom we’ve come to accept and appreciate, is a cipher and a conundrum to herself and us. Though Alison has achieved the beginnings of a deep emotional release, Rosebrock sets her spinning in limbo. Any epiphany she might experience is mitigated by questions and doubt.  We do not know where her emotional release will take her, nor what specifically it is connected to.

Chris Stack, Taibi Magar, Atlantic Theater Company, Kristolyn Lloyd, World Premiere, Linda Gross Theater, Abby Rosebrock

(L to R): Chris Stack, Kristolyn Lloyd in Atlantic Theater Company’s World Premiere of ‘Blue Ridge,’ written by Abby Rosebrock, directed by Taibi Magar, Linda Gross Theater (Ahron R. Foster)

If we did know more about what is “driving her to hydroplane” (a wonderful symbol of her dangerous emotional state), we might have greater empathy. And indeed, if she achieved the makings of an epiphany, we would understand her. The irony is that her emotions belie victimization but we do not understand. Might that have been dramatically revealed to deepen her characterization?

Magar’s direction aptly shepherds the cast as they portray how each of the characters attempts to make their way through their own personal trials that emerge after Alison blows apart the peaceful interactions of the “family” in the second act. These conflict scenes engage us. In the confrontation scene between Alison and Cherie toward the end of the second act, both Lloyd and Ireland hit their target. Their authenticity reveals the extent of Alison’s self-absorption and her misery which spills out onto everyone in the group, especially harming Cherie. This scene is one of the strongest in the play. There are others that work equally well because of fine ensemble work, direction and staging.

Kudos to Adam Rigg (Scenic Designer), Sarah Laux (Costume Designer) Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Designer) and Mikaal Sulaiman (Sound Designer & Additional Composition) for adhering to themes and establishing the tenor and atmosphere of the play. (The final projection is revelatory and symbolic.)

A word of caution. For some actors, the North Carolinian accents were a distraction that occluded rather than clarified. Whether this was because of character portrayal or under-projection is moot. However, because Kyle Beltran, Kristolyn Lloyd, Peter Mark Kendall (to a lesser extent Chris Stack) didn’t overrun their lines and their projection was a sounding bell, their accents sounded unforced.

The play is a worthy must-see for the performances (despite a few rough patches with accents) and for  Rosebrock’s metaphoric writing, humor and intriguing thematic questions. Blue Ridge runs with one intermission at the Linda Gross Theater on 336 20th Street between 7th and 8th until 26 January.  For tickets go to the website.

Under The Radar Festival Review: ‘Minor Character,’ a Brilliant Twist on Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’

Under The Radar Festival, New Saloon, Minor Character, The Public Theater

Under The Radar Festival, New Saloon’s ‘Minor Character’ (New Saloon)

Uncle Vanya is Chekhov’s masterwork that is Four Acts, hours long and requires tremendous acting and interesting staging, as the play is interior and the character development intricately opaque. In New Saloon’s humorous iteration of the classic play in a varied English language translation that “becomes” Minor Character defies the stodgy, fusty tradition of  the Chekhov century-old drama. It turns gender on its head with great humor. And it elicits the characters and the plot purely for the genius of being lightening-like electric. As an added benefit, Chekhov’s profound insights are clarified. Noting the foolishness of our human selves is sheer delight.

If you know and have seen a good version of Uncle Vanya or two or three, you will enjoy New Saloon’s helter-skelter, explosion of humor and dolor in random order. Are you familiar with Chekhov’s hypersonic, beating breast misery and his characters’ static flatline of life ending before its begun? If so, you will enjoy the outrageous spin on Chekhov’s characters and the whip-saw dialogue which borders on Theatre of the Absurd. If you are a “current” modernist, you will love it as I did. I recommend you get a ticket immediately, because it will be there at The Public Theater and gone before you can recite the alphabet backward.

Why is Minor Character a must-see? For one, it’s the way the ensemble (Mile Cramer, Ron Domingo, Rona Figueroa, Fernando Gonzalet, David Greenspan, LaToya Lewis, Caitlin Morris, Madeline Wise) seamlessly negotiates the extreme variations of pacing, dialogue twists and turns and fluid staging. Not only does the wild production reveal an acutely clever director in Morgan Green, but the performers demonstrate solid acting chops and musicality.

To segue a bit, their vocal skills are notable. The music and songs appear pointedly and effectively. They reflect the  haunting evocation of Chekhov’s themes and relate the music of the soul and heart of the characters. The music composed by Deepali Gupta with Music Direction by Robert Frost is in fine contrast to the dialogue and one of the highpoints of Minor Character. Of course the mundane dialogue is one of the key points of the human condition that Chekhov extends in Uncle Vanya. So much of what the characters say, as so much of what we say is inconsequential, repetitive, without emotion and unworthy of listening to. And ironically, this is why people are not particularly good listeners. There is nothing much of value that anyone says. Minor Character reveals this in spades, in 85 minutes. Bravo!

Notably, when the ensemble sings, we listen, we record, we empathize, we know. The tonal harmonies in the minor keys of some songs resonate with our nerve fibers and quell the jarring character clashes of language because the actors live in the music. The melodies are gorgeous. And we feel that like the whirlwind emotions of Sonya, Yelena, the Doctor, Uncle Vanya, Professor Alexander and the others, we are the “minor characters” whose lives come and go without our making one wave of excitation in the movement of the stars. Nevertheless, the music of our hearts is universal and aligns with the spheres as Johannes Kepler intimated.

The actors are superb. Their timing, quirkiness bar none. How they and don and take off their character mantles and costumes is richly varied. Their zaniness elucidates the characters of Uncle Vanya in their weird reminiscence of the bleeps and burps of language on Social Media. Additionally the sameness of the characters’ love dance, the miseries and depressions of the human condition are emphasized and experienced carefully by the actors in a chaos like musical chairs as they embrace a multiplicity of roles.

Sonya’s revelation of her love for the Doctor is echoed by three inverted gender couples concurrently. The theme of recognition that the central characters like  the narrator of T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” will never be Hamlet-like protagonists, but will only “swell a scene of two,” is also echoed in threes by three sets of actors. However,  Yelena’s and the Doctor’s intimation of a meet up which most probably will never occur, at the conclusion of the production is singular. Indeed, a couple’s love begins in particularity. It is only after the relationship achieves its peak, then like a canker worm, the sameness and repetitiveness of misery takes over with the acute result that “the bloom is off the rose.” In a banal finality the once “love-struck” couple manifests the most ridiculous foolishness and boredom after all is said and done.

Under The Radar Festival, New Saloon, Minor Character, The Public Theater

Under The Radar Festival, New Saloon’s ‘Minor Character, the ensemble, The Public Theater (New Saloon)

As in Chekhov given an uplift by New Saloon’s actors and director, romantic hope dances on the wind. It is pregnant with expectation, as all romances begin filled with excitement, longing and anticipation. The most wonderful of relationships as Minor Character and Uncle Vanya suggest happen in the imagination; thus Sonya doesn’t want to know if the Doctor cares for her or not, at one point. She is thrilled to live in hope. Until…

What I particularly enjoyed about Minor Character is how Morgan Green and the actors risk landing on their heads in an epic fail and of course, land on their feet accumulating an excess of success. The seemingly clever abandon and aplomb that each of them embraces reveal precision, exceptional skill, and prodigious talent. In their downright foolish costumes (the mock fur capes worn by female characters despite the actor’s gender), and robes which clue us in to Chekhov’s characterization of Vanya, etc., the portraits of their motley humanity gradually manifest.  Indeed, sometimes to realize the greatness of a classic, one must extrapolate to the end of the continuum of absurdity as New Saloon has done with this production. When one can go no further, there is a crystallization of understanding and epiphany. Whether 100+ years ago or today, human beings are the most stupidly adorable of all creatures.

Kudos to the following creatives: Deepali Gupta (Composer) Robert Frost (Music Director), Kristen Robinson (Scenic Designer) Alice Tavener (Costume Designer) Masha Tsimring (Lighting Designer) M. Florian Staab (Sound Designer) and all the translators.

Minor Character at the Public Theater celebrates Chekhov’s wit and humor taking it to an extraordinary level as profound themes glide under the surface of our laughter. You can ride the waves of fun including the variant English translations of character dialogue with the marvelous cast on the following dates and times.

5 January (Saturday) at 10 PM, 6 January (Sunday) at 9 PM, 9 January (Wednesday) 5:30, 8:30 PM, 11 January (Friday) 10 PM, 12 January (Saturday) 1:30 PM, 13 January (Sunday) 6:00 PM, 9:30 PM.

For tickets go to their website at The Public Theater.

‘King Kong,’ A Must-See Production of Power and Scope

King Kong, Drew McOnie, Jack Thorne, Marius de Vries, Eddie Perfect

‘King Kong,’ directed by Drew McOnie, written by Jack Thorne, score Marius de Vries, songs Eddie Perfect (Joan Marcus)

According to the most “prestigious” of NYC critics, King Kong (at the Broadway Theatre) is a Duh, Duh, Duh Dud. Well, esteemed theater geniuses, not so fast. Your glib, “humorous,” self-serving, Kong pulverizations reflect more arrogant, Trumpian insult than notable explanation employing your professional expertise. How about delving into the profound themes and the superb integration of the book/lyrics and music?

Nah!!! Indeed, it seems some critics had more fun shredding the production than examining its excellence. Ah well…sucks for King Kong on Broadway? Hardly!

Call me naive, my taste insipid. But it doesn’t surprise that these folks glossed over the deeper elements of the production directed by Drew McOnie. This powerful, heartfelt and extraordinarily effected musical is written by Jack Thorne (of Harry Potter Broadway fame). And the songs by Eddie Perfect, score composed and produced by Marius de Vries beautifully, powerfully present archetypal themes and rhythms that engage us on a deeply personal level. Indeed, the symbolism and overarching messages in the script, song lyrics and characterizations serve as representations of a mythic story that resonates for us not only for today, but for all time and against colonialists everywhere. Prevalent throughout the production are mythic themes and symbolic archetypes that Jack Thorne the writer and Eddie Perfect and Marius de Vries (songs and score composer) uphold from other Kong versions.

Importantly, the creators uplift the extraordinary, immutable wonder of our lives and the natural world that we tragically mischaracterize and mishandle at our own peril. Anne Darrow (the superlatively voiced Christiani Pitts) discovers this sanctity during her interchanges with the magnificent and mythic Kong. (To interject, the work done to make Kong a living, sentient, feeling, being is just extraordinary.) And though her realization happens too late to influence outer circumstances, on an inner level, Pitts’ Anne evolves. Gradually, she understands the magnitude of what has been lost and destroyed when they remove Kong from his habitat.

Jack Thorne, King Kong,Drew McOnie, Marius de Vries, Eddie Perfect

The Company of ‘King Kong,’ written by Jack Thorne, directed by Drew McOnie, score composed and produced by Marius de Vries, songs by Eddie Perfect (Matthew Murphy)

Pitts’ emotional and vocal range and the strong beauty of her voice amazes and stirs. Her revelations begin at the midpoint of the production after she meets Kong. And her veil-lifting, truth-realizing sequences contrast with the invidious view that empiricism brings the only “truths” worth knowing. Carl Denham, the antagonist (the fine Eric William Morris) represents this materialistic view after he first sees Kong at the turning point of the production. The conflict between these individuals and their perspectives can lead to only one conclusion.

Surely, one theme of this version of King Kong slyly reveals that such empiricism/materialism is a meretricious social value. Specifically, empiricism promotes scientific cruelty (the attitude that animals have no feelings) and commercialism which puts profits before people and other sentient beings. Glorifying materialism, the culture indoctrinates us to internalize its nullifying success norms. And this internalization dissolves goodness, spirituality and the understanding of how all things in the natural world are connected on deeper levels that are unseen and cannot be typically measured.

Both Carl Denham and Anne have been “educated” to cultural success norms as we have all. They define themselves accordingly and are excessively ambitious. Thus, they struggle like the other New Yorkers desperately hustling to make it to “the top” (“Prologue,” “Dance My Way to the Light,” “Queen of New York”). Sadly, they allow this cultural folkway of the “success identity” to undermine  their spirituality, goodness, and empathy.

Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, King Kong, Drew McOnie, Eddie Perfect, King Kong, Jack Thorne

Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris in ‘King Kong,’ directed by Drew McOnie (Matthew Murphy)

Initially, Denham intends to use his artistic abilities to make a film of an incredible adventure that embraces the “wonder” of life. (He appears as a “knight in shining armor” willing to defend Anne against a sex predator lout who runs a bar.) Then in pursuit of the artistic dream, he devolves to the empiricist’s attitude of “seeing is believing,” and embraces commercialism whole hog. Superbly portrayed by Eric William Morris, Denham’s powerfully voiced, confident entrepreneur gone to rot is the perfect foil for Anne and Kong.

When Denham offers her a job, the desperate, starving Anne, who cannot compete for acting jobs in the rapacious city, accepts his intriguing offer of adventure. Denham appears to be a sincere artist willing to sacrifice and connive for his artistic dreams. He remains one step ahead of creditors and insurance companies. But we admire his pluck in risking everything for this shot at success.

Concurrently, we admire that Anne intends to “make it” without prostituting herself, literally and figuratively, by being beholden to a man to support her. A maverick woman whose independence and will dominate, she will attain her goal to be famous by “doing it her way.”

These initial characterizations and the plot pay homage to the original 1933 film and to the Peter Jackson version of King Kong of 2005. But variations in her characterization abound. Indeed, Thorne, Perfect, and de Vries have removed Anne’s love interest. Doing so shifts and modernizes the themes. The focus becomes Anne’s development and self-discovery as an individual.

Her journey also emphasizes her recognition of an important truth beyond the culture’s material, profit-motive values that promote self-destruction and the destruction of the natural world. Through Anne and Kong we live and empathize.

The stirring and engaging themes and the moral imperative of such ideas resonate with the audience throughout. Enlivened by thrilling music and athletic action and dance sequences, one stays on the edge of one’s seat. Indeed, the company had us from the first sounds of the overture and visual projections of the iron beams of the Empire State Building.

As Thorne develops the plot and characters, we see into their souls. A twist occurs when they sail to Skull Island (“Building the Boat/”Setting Sail”) and the extent of Denham’s tragic ambition manifests. Confronted by Captain Englehorn, who values his life and those of his crew, Denham no longer can obfuscate about  their dangerous destination. The captain refuses to continue and the mutinous crew backs him. However, Anne bluffs them. With acting guile and an ambition equal to Denham’s, she threatens to blow up the ship if they turn back.

King Kong, Jack Thorne, Marius de Bries,Eddie Perfect, Drew MOnie

The Company, ‘King Kong’ written by Jack Thorne, score Marius de Vries, songs by Eddie Perfect, directed by Drew McOnie (Joan Marcus)

Notably, this plot twist of a strong female confronting a herd of males works. Not only do Pitts, Morris, and the ensemble act with spot-on immediacy, Thorne has threaded the character development precisely. For in this scene we discover Anne’s rapacity is greater than Denham’s. This setup becomes all the more ironic and meaningful after she interacts with the divine-like Kong, and transforms (“Full Moon Lullaby”/”Shine”).

But Thorne carefully designs another note to her character: sensitivity. This trait abides in her relationship with Denham’s assistant Len (the excellent Erik Lochtefeld). She and Len form a bond which foreshadows the heartfelt communication she has with Kong. A character whom the world deems a “loser,” Len reveals kindness, sympathy, and humanity. Refreshingly, Len provides the counterbalance to Denham’s self-serving cupidity. And he puts Anne in touch with a part of herself that remains human and authentically kind.

After arriving on Skull Island, a mysterious land of otherworldly presences, Anne and Denham begin their filming. Anne screams. Intrigued, Kong emerges, terrifying with his roars. But as the sailors shoot at him,  he grabs Anne and runs. Their escape through the jungle is an amazing light show with projections. It dazzles and thrills. This artistry (animatronics, puppetry, stagecraft) realizes Kong’s panic and frenzy, and Anne’s horror. With the added commanding music, the exciting sequence is unforgettable. For the first time King Kong has emerged. And he takes our breath away. For Denham, Len, Anne, and the others, Kong’s presence blinds. What direction the characters will move in after this moment (toward vision or darkness) will be revealed by the conclusion.

The projections used when the crew lands on Skull Island become the appropriate lead-in to the presentation of Kong. The majestic creature in all his ferocious sentience truly is a work of genius and love. Kong’s reality is what the audience comes to see. With the story spiraling from the past into present-day issues and themes, this most empathetic, intelligent being is readily identifiable. For that alone, the production wins. Indeed, Kong’s iconic presence symbolizes all that remains beautiful, ineffable, incredible and surreal about the natural world. That humankind’s craven lust to own and capitalize what can never be possessed is human nature’s tragic flaw.

Each mind-blowing projection works beautifully to create atmosphere and tension. The artwork and lighting also underscore the themes. For example, in the opening scenes the projections, along with the superbly choreographed dance numbers, help to create the energetic hyper drive of the city and the frenetic vitality of desperate New Yorkers. All the artistic elements cohere to simulate emotional fervor and the rapacity that has influenced Anne. The boat building and sailing sequence astounds. Artisans have simulated the rhythm of the undulating waves. Kong’s run through the forest clutching the terrorized Anne excites. Particularly memorable, the artistic designers’ evocation of Skull Island’s spiritual mystique through projections, glowing vines, costumes, dance movement, and light beams proves to be a visual stunner. The projections foreshadow and intimate the fabulousness of Kong, himself.  They also symbolize the magical and ethereal quality of our world which we do not see because we have lost our way in a meretricious culture.

The great irony of the visible/invisible, sight/blindness conflicts manifest when Kong, who is the last of his kind “appears,” and the humans do not understand nor appreciate what they are “seeing.” Humankind’s flawed, corrupted relationship to other animals (including themselves) and their habitats is a theme the reators suggest after Kong explodes of of the jungle. The creators also highlight the discriminatory and oppressive attitudes abuot indigenous peoples’ otherworldly perspectives and veneration for the “natural” world. The colonialistic/fascist attitudes are wantonly dismissive precisely because responsibility to understand and acknowledge sentience and intelligence inherent in the natural world would disqualify commercialism and exploitation.

The fascism of rendering invisible what is glorious, makes it ready game to enslave, exploit and commoditize. Thus, Denham’s and the others’ sight of Kong leads to devastation. The colonizers lack the inner vision to understand/value the mystical sanctity of what they see. To Denham Kong represents an entrepreneur’s dream come true, an answer which will move him from rags to riches. Taken in by the “ape’s” awe-inspiring presence, Denham’s ambition moves beyond film to live theater, prompted by his assistant Len.

Len’s empirical comment, “seeing is believing” provokes Denham’s wrong-headed, soul-crushing exploitation. His plan to benignly film then leave the extraordinary creature unmolested implodes when the film he did shoot becomes unusable. As the weak often do when they intend to use others for their own agendas, the rationalize.  Morris’s portrayal of Denham rings with authenticity as he justifies his noxious behavior in the songs “The World” and “It’s Man.” With Kong he will “change the world.” His pride is tragic. His dismissal of the truth of Kong is a willful turning away into soul darkness.

Christiani Pitts, King Kong, Drew McOnie, Jack Thorne, Eddie Perfect, Marius de Bries, The Broadway Theatre

Christiani Pitts in ‘King Kong,’ directed by Drew McOnie, written by Jack Thorne, lyrics by Eddie Perfect, score by Marius de Vries (Matthew Murphy)

Thus, Denham shifts focus. He dismisses his artistic fervor and demeans his once expressed wonder of life. Instead, he will exhibit Kong in a freak show with the “ape” as the star. The characterizations of Denham and Anne are pulled in opposite directions by the conclusion. For as Denham makes plans to kidnap and commercialize Kong, Anne forms a bond of communication with him, which she denotes as a miracle that changes her. The two humans’ divergent choices inform the conflicts that explode between them and carry into the last song.

With the brilliantly suggestive portrayal of Kong’s sentience, Anne and the puppeteers mesmerize us and break our hearts. This is especially so in the scenes they have together and especially toward the end. Because Kong’s intelligence sparks a life-changing revelation, Anne discovers her own core. But can she maintain this understanding to help free herself and Kong from Denham’s clutches in New York City?

For his part Denham devolves from mistakenly thinking he can own, control commoditize the ineffable. His humanity caves as cupidity and arrogance overthrow his better nature. By the time he bullies and extorts Anne to trick Kong with an alluring scream as she did on the island, he has already harmed himself. When he shatters his life-giving vision of capturing wonder through art, his ending ignites, and throughout the second act we watch his deterioration into misery and a state worse than when he began the adventure.

Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtfeld, King Kong,Drew McOnie, Jack Thorne

(L to R): Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochtfeld in ‘King Kong’ directed by Drew McOnie (Matthew Murphy)

By the conclusion, Anne understands her own corrupted, profane nature. And she seeks to be free of it by embracing Kong as sacred. Ironically, Kong has inspired her to seek soul freedom, but it is too late for both of them (“The Wonder”). He has sanctified Anne’s vision but tragically she cannot offer him anything in return but death. At least his freedom will result in a death he is worthy of – he dies unchained and on his own terms. As for Anne, she will have to live with the memories of what she has done, what she has learned, who she has lost.

And thus, it remains. Kong’s story is of the loss of a world he once inhabited as he and it become extinct. Anne’s ultimate revelation is that her unworthy profane dreams led to the destruction of Kong’s sacredness.

The spectacle-filled ending leaves us with questions. Where do we stand? In acknowledging life’s beauties, do we accept that the natural world’s magical thrumming must be honored and safeguarded? Can we escape the genocidal impulse to colonize and wantonly eradicate what we don’t really understand, which includes ourselves and our habitats?

Thorne, Perfect, de Vries, and McOnie spin out the production’s siren call from the past into a theatrical iteration of today’s currency. I enjoyed the script enhancements and how the profound themes echoed through Perfect’s lyrics and de Vries’ exhilarating and commanding music. The creative team effects the mythology of King Kong as an evocative, representational phantasmagoria. Their approach parallels the original film’s setting with our time but doesn’t authenticate it.

Specifically, the creators elevate the production so that one may appreciate it on many levels. As the wise cautionary tale Perfect’s lyrics, Jack Thorne’s script and Marius de Vries’ music warn what poet William Wordsworth indicts humanity for in his sonnet, “The world is too much with us.”  At the conclusion of the sonnet, Wordsworth mourns the culture’s “being so out of tune” it cannot revel in the supernatural, mythic, magic of Nature. “Getting and spending, they lay waste their powers” and are blinded by their own acquisitiveness for things. Indeed, as a symbol of the sacred, Wordsworth would have appreciated the mythology of King Kong and understood the terrible and profound meaning of his destruction at the hands of people worshiping the Golden Calf and Mammon.

This theme especially reverberates against the backdrop of the self-dealing, self-serving White House administration, whose every whim seems to be how to enrich themselves and their businesses at the expense of our nation while making inconsequential the natural world and those whose ancestry most clearly appreciated their connection to the ineffability of Nature’s wonders (Indigenous peoples).

Finally, another word about de Vries’ musical score. It does not mimic the music of the thirties which would limit and distract from the production’s larger focus. Instead, the music hails from various genres (pop, rock, blues and more). Above all it transmutes the themes in its lyricism and dynamism and it aptly conveys the different moods in the scenes from being sonorous to thrilling. Perfect and de Vries cleverly meld the songs and dance numbers to the arc of the updated story development. Coupled with the magnificent puppetry/animatronics, the production hits it out of the park and the ball is still flying into the heavens.

Indeed, for good or ill many will see this show, not only tourists but New Yorkers. And for those stuffed shirts with turned up noses, just move past prejudice and pre-conceived notions about a gigantic ape musical. That, it is not, nor will it ever be, regardless of who attempts to demean it as such.

This brings me to the last points of this very long, praiseworthy review of King Kong. The savvy acerbity and self-congratulatory, pompous snark of some King Kong critics make a “blow-the-belt” reference to the producers’ exploitation of King Kong in the merchandising, as all Broadway shows are wont to do. Fine! But the critics who panned the show reveal their flaccid contempt to dun what may have more depth than what they dare acknowledge. This, is a key theme of the production which laughably they miss. Would they make King Kong an inane monstrosity of Broadway? Indeed, then they underestimate its sentience, intelligence, courage and heart.

Thus, if I find some slippery reviews of this show and “artistic” finger-pointing laughable in the reverse, then let that be my problem. For I enjoyed the production of King Kong. It is an intrepid undertaking for those making their business on the great White Way. I credit the producers for their audacity of hope and painstaking labors to get King Kong before a public who will appreciate their efforts.

I cannot say enough about the incredible artistry it took to bring all these elements together. Much praise goes to everyone involved. King Kong is at the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway, NYC). Tickets are available online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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