Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on BONNIE & CLYDE, BLOOD AND GIFTS, THE CHERRY ORCHARD, RICHARD II, STICK FLY, HAPPY HOUR, ONCE, TITUS ANDRONICUS, HORSEDREAMS and NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH.

As you probably have heard, Bonnie and Clyde, the new musical at the Schoenfeld Theatre, has received pretty much dismissive reviews, across the board. I hope you haven’t scratched it off your list, because it’s the victim of a totally unfair bitch-fest the likes of which hasn’t been seen since last season’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Yes, it has some flaws, but overall this is a terrific show, with a magnificent score by Frank Wildhorn (music) and Don Black (lyrics), featuring what should have been a Star-is-Born performance by Jeremy Jordan. All around me, people were buzzing, “This got bad reviews?!?” Let it be a lesson to you. Just because you read it in the newspaper, that doesn’t mean it’s true.

Ivan Menchell’s book is cleverly constructed, and the score features one great song after another. Jordan is superb as Clyde Barrow, managing to make this sociopath rather likeable. My one quibble, and it’s a major one, is that I think Laura Osnes, who plays Bonnie Parker, is miscast – or at least, misdirected. Her Bonnie is a rather sweet ingénue. It’s where she starts, and it’s pretty much where she finishes. What was needed, I think, was a deluded woman who, gradually, becomes as much of a sociopath as her man. Osnes sings beautifully, of course, but Bonnie Parker was not a pretty ingénue. Had director Jeff Calhoun seen the role as a character lead rather than a romantic lead, I think the show would have been much more interesting. I hasten to add that Osnes isn’t the reason this show is dying the death.

The reason, I think, is the Broadway critics’ irrational, deep-seated detestation of composer Frank Wildhorn, which I am at a loss to explain. Possibly, it’s because Jekyll and Hyde managed to have a successful run despite their lukewarm-to-negative reviews. They hate that. Maybe they’re still mad about Wildhorn’s bomb of last season, Wonderland. I didn’t care for it either — but I’m not holding it against him.

You better go soon if this interests you, as I think it will probably close precipitously. You won’t regret it, unless you’re the sort of person who can’t stand shows which tug on the heart-strings.

We rarely get to see plays about issues that really matter, plays with large casts, plays painted on a large canvas. Such a play is JT Rogers’ Blood and Gifts, at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. It’s not about a dysfunctional family. It’s not about the tribulations of being gay, or about relationships – at least, interpersonal ones. Only Lincoln Center could afford a play like this. Thank God for them.

The play is set in Afghanistan, shortly after the Russian invasion in the early 1980’s, and involves a covert CIA operative’s attempts to funnel weapons to the Afghan fighters. The question is – which group merits covert U.S. support? Rogers’ subject, and it is a Big One, is to inquire into the origins of our involvement in this chaotic land, which began long before we invaded the country. The Road to Hell was paved with good intentions.

Bartlett Sher’s production is brilliant, and his cast is superb. Jeremy Davidson is very strong as the CIA guy, and Jefferson Mays is amazing as his counterpart in the Britain’s MI6. Also good are Michael Aronov as a KGB spy, Bernard White as an Afghan warlord and Pej Vahday as his American pop music-loving second in command.

This one is a don’t-miss, certain to make several top-ten lists.

Also excellent is CSC’s rather unconventional production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, featuring Dianne Weist as a particularly childish Ranevskaya and John Turturro as a particularly likeable Lopakhin. The Main Event, though, is Andrei Belgrader’s direction, which dusts off the relics in the play of 19th Century dramaturgical fustiness and finds a way to make them work for a contemporary audience. There is much direct address to the audience, and occasionally characters even venture out into the house to sit and chat with us. I loved this. Belgrader’s uniformly strong cast also features Daniel Davis as a particularly inanely garrulous Gaev, Michael Urie as a particularly clownish Epikhodov, Juliet Rylance as a heartbreaking Varya and the Waterston sisters, Katherine and Elizabeth, total babes who are two of my favorite young actresses.

Another don’t-miss – if you can somehow finagle a ticket. What a shame this has to close. What a shame there is no place it can move to.

The Pearl Theatre Co.’s production of Richard II is worth seeing, if only because one rarely gets a chance to see this play; but overall it’s rather dull. Sean McNall, as King Richard, is just OK in the first half, better when he loses his crown. There are some strong performances in supporting roles, but in the end the Pearl’s limited resources sink the production. Director J.R. Sullivan, the Pearl’s A.D., no doubt due to budgetary restrictions, has tried to do the play with too few actors, forcing him to employ much doubling, some of it ridiculous. When the lovely Jolly Abraham, who has just left the stage as Richard’s Queen, entered in the very next scene as Harry “Hotspur” Percy, my eyes really rolled.

Still, Richard II is worth seeing – again, if you’ve never seen the play.

Lydia Diamond’s Stick Fly, at the Cort Theatre, is a smartly-written comic black family drama, marred only by Diamond’s tendency to let scenes go on too long. There’s not much plot, but what there is concerns a family reunion of sorts. Two sons have brought their ladies home to meet Mom & Dad. Mom is absent for some reason. In the end, we find out why.

My only quibble with Kenny Leon’s direction is that he allows the scene changes to go on too long, which adds length to an already over-long evening. Since these contain incidental music by Alicia Keys, who put up a lot of the dough for the show, I guess he didn’t have much choice.

Ethan Coen’s Happy Hour, produced by the Atlantic Theatre Co. at Signature’s Peter Norton Space, is a bill of three very dark on-act plays. I lose the term “play” loosely, because Coen is as clueless as he was with his piece in Relatively Speaking as to what, exactly, a play is. All three pieces are unrealized sketches, which makes them ultimately pointless. Director Neil Pepe has done the best he could; but, really, the best thing he could have done was not to produce them at all. So what if Ethan Coen is a famous Hollywood dude? He’s not a playwright.

NY Theatre Workshop’s Once, a musical based on an Oscar-winning film from Ireland, is long on charm but rather short on actual dramatic interest. It’s about a suicidal wannabe songwriter/singer who is “rescued” by a kooky Eastern European chick. Although it’s being sold as a musical, Once really isn’t. It’s a play with a lotta songs inserted therein, several of which are lovely but none of which function as songs in a musical need to function. Play stops. Nice song. Play resumes. This was a “musical” in the days of Jerome Kern. Not now.

This is moving to Broadway in the spring. Into the Valley of Death Rode the Six Hundred … Well, maybe not. The capitalization and weekly nut are going to be very low (but of course they’ll be charging the standard outrageous Broadway musical ticket price), so maybe Once has a shot.

The Public Theater has had three Shakespeare productions this fall: Love’s Labors Lost, King Lear and now Titus Andronicus. The first was a silly parody of the play, easily the worst Shakespeare at the Public since the notorious Andre Serban Hamlet. The second was a lot better (in spite of what you read). Sam Waterston was a fine Lear, and Bill Irwin a scarily good Fool.

Titus Andronicus, running now, is a very early play, a horror story loaded with blood and gore which the actors go at full bore, under Michael Sexton’s erratic direction. This is a low-budget Lab production. Like the Pearl’s Richard II this has a lot of doubling, much of it confusing. Daoud Hadami plays various characters and must get killed about three or four times, only to come back in the next scene costumed more or less the same. The audience is going, “I thought that guy just got killed.”

Ultimately, what makes the play worth seeing (I mean, other than the fact than when are you ever going to see another production of this play) are the extraordinary performances of Jay O. Sanders in the title role and Stephanie Roth Haberle as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, who’s tricked by Titus into eating the chopped up bodies of her two sons in a pie. Euuww!

Dael Orlandersmith’s Horsedreams, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, is a bummer of a play about a man and woman who had it all but lost it all to drugs. Like all of Orlandersmith’s other plays (at least the ones I know), it’s composed entirely of narrative monologues. These are well-written, and well-performed, but this kind of writing just is not, and never will be, drama.

Finally, the reviews for Alan Ayckbourn’s Neighbourhood Watch at 50 E 59 have been rather ho-hum. You might think, therefore, that this is miss-able. It’s not.

The play is a dark comedy about a brother and sister who found a neighborhood vigilante association which becomes increasingly like a microcosm of a fascist state. Wonderfully directed by the author, it features a cast of superb British character actors. Ayckbourn does not get the respect over on this side of the pond that he deserves. This is one of the greatest living British dramatists. Sure, he’s written more brilliant plays than Neighbourhood Watch but so what? This is one of the best plays running in New York right now.

BONNIE & CLYDE. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

BLOOD AND GIFTS. Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE CHERRY ORCHARD. CSC, 136 E. 13th St.

TICKETS: 212-677-4210

RICHARD II. New York City Center Stage II, 130 West 56th Street

TICKETS 212.581.1212

STICK FLY. Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

HAPPY HOUR. Atlantic at Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

ONCE. NY Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

TITUS ANDRONICUS. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: 212.967.7555

HORSEDREAMS. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Place

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH. 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

— George F. Will

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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