Archive for February, 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry 23 February, 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on HAMILTON, RASHEEDA SPEAKING, EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH, CHURCHILL and THE EVENTS.

I am, to put it mildly, not a fan of hip-hop, which I consider doggerel set to noise. Still, I always go to the theatre hoping that what I see will be wonderful, as I did when I went to Hamilton, at the Public Theater, even though I had heard it was mostly in the hip-hop idiom. This new musical, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (he of In the Heights fame) tells the story of Alexander Hamilton. Yes, a lot of it is hip-hop. All of it is absolutely brilliant.

Thomas Kail’s staging of this wonderfully witty and ultimately very touching work is epochal, the best direction of a new musical this season, and Miranda is wonderful in the eponymous role. Also great are Phillipa Soo as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as his nemesis, Aaron Burr.

Unfortunately, the entire run at the Public Theater is sold out, except for a handful of tickets sold by lottery for every performance. I went on a weekend matinee, and there were about 100 people waiting in the lobby, hoping their names would be called. Fortunately, Hamilton is almost certainly moving to Broadway. When it does, don’t miss it.

I also enjoyed Joel Drake Johnson’s Rasheeda Speaking, produced by the New Group at the Signature Center, about two clerical workers in a doctor’s office. Ileen, who has been there for several years, is white; Jaclyn, there for six months, is black. Jaclyn has quite an “attitude problem,” which concerns the doctor, who wants to get rid of her. In this day and age, though, that can be a real problem if the problematic employee is black, so he enlists the very reluctant Ileen to keep a record of all the problems Jaclyn causes. In a climactic monologue, though, Jaclyn brings home the root cause of her “bad attitude,” and what emerges is a thoughtful examination of what it means to be black in what is still a white man’s world.

Tonya Pinkins is, to put it mildly, sensational as Jaclyn; but she is matched by Dianne Wiest as the namby-pamby, go along to get along Ileen. These are two of the finest performances in any play this season.

Sheila Callaghan’s Everything You Touch, produced by Rattlestick at the Cherry Lane Theatre is a fascinating, surreal look at the fashion industry. Victor is an enfant terrible designer whose muse, Esme, pushes him to get more and more outrageous with his designs. Two women come into his world – Jess, a plain-Jane type and Lonella, a refugee from the Midwest, who influence him to begin designing clothes that women might actually wear. There is a chorus of models who move through the play, wearing Victor’s designs.

The actors, under Jessica Kubzansky’s fluid and inventive direction, are just plain wonderful. Everything You Touch is sometimes hard to figure out, but stick with it. Sheila Callaghan is a true visionary, that rare non-realistic playwright who manages to make it all cohere. And Jenny Feldenauer’s costumes are spectacular!

Churchill, at New World Stages, written by and starring Ronald Keaton in the eponymous roles, is a standard-issue biographical monodrama. Sir Winston is in his study, talking to us. Who “we” are is never made clear. Most of it covers Churchill’s military and political careers up until World War Two, and his fall from power after the war was won. Keaton looks a little like Churchill, but he lacks his stentorian growl. He seems more like your jolly uncle than one of the pivotal figures of the 20th Century. Still, his is a fascinating story. If you don’t know much about Churchill, here’s your chance to learn something.

Every year, philanthropist/producer Carol Tambor spends a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, sees a gazillion shows, and chooses what she considers to be the best of them all, which she then produces off Broadway. This year’s Tambor Award winner is David Greig’s The Events, at NY Theatre Workshop. It’s about a female cleric who runs the choir at her church. At every performance, a different choir participates. I saw/heard the Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble. There’s also a man who interacts with the minister, appearing to play various roles – but you’re never sure who he’s supposed to be at any given time. I think the play is about a mass shooting, but it’s so murky and confusing it’s hard to tell. The Events is interminable. It has no interval, and several audience members ditched in the middle of it, including half my row. Ah well, at least the music was enjoyable. 

HAMILTON. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: The entire run is sold out.

RASHEEDA SPEAKING. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

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

EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.

TICKETS: 212-989-2020

CHURCHILL New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.

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

THE EVENTS. NY Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

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

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

 

Share

“On the Aisle with Larry” 5 February, 2015

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, WINNERS, FILM CHINOIS, THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS and AMONTH IN THE COUNTRY.

Honeymoon in Vegas, at the Nederlander Theatre, is an old fashioned musical comedy of the sort once regularly directed by the likes of George Abbott. In this case, retro is a good thing. The show is great fun; pure, Broadway entertainment that’s been sorely missed. Not that I don’t enjoy all the “serious” shows I see night after night – I do. It’s just nice to have a break from all the alienation and despair once in a while.

It’s based on the movie which starred Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker as a Brooklyn couple who come to Las Vegas to get married. The owner of their hotel, a rather shady character, takes one look at the bride to be and decides he’s gotta have her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. He snookers the groom in a poker game and basically wins her for a weekend, during which he tries to persuade her to marry him instead. Will she, or won’t she?

Rob McLure and Brynn O’Malley are charming as the couple, Jack and Betsy, although you have to suspend your disbelief that a total babe like Brynn is marrying a schmo like McLure. Tony Danza, as Tommy, the hotel owner, sings well, tap dances, plays the ukulele and completely steals the show. Also terrific are Nancy Opel as Jack’s dead mother, who nevertheless pops up from time to time to try and stop him from getting married, as no woman could possibly be good better than Mom, and David Josefsburg as a lounge lizard singer and the head of the parachuting “Flying Elvises.”

Jason Robert Brown’s songs are just plain wonderful. This gifted composer has finally found his groove.

Even with sheaves of great reviews, Honeymoon in Vegas is struggling at the box office. If it can hang on, it just might have a shot at the Tony Award. After all, remember what happened with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder?

Winners, a comedy by Maggie Bofill at Ensemble Studio Theatre, turns the traditional dysfunctional family play on its ear. Dad’s been unemployed for a year and Mom, now the breadwinner, is having an affair with her boss. Their teenaged son Tommy has been fired from his after school job at the Gap for smoking weed. Dad goes over there to talk to the boss, who turns out to be an old friend, and winds up being hired to replace Tommy. The most interesting character, though, is daughter Gabby, part science geek, part performance artists and part superhero fanatic. Together, she and Tommy devise a hilarious production wherein they bring this troubled family together again. Pam Berlin’s direction is appropriately whacky, and there are fine performances – particularly from David Gelles and Arielle Goldman as the two kids.

Winners is a winner.

Damon Chua’s Film Chinois, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, is a murky tale of deception and skullduggery in 1947 Beijing. Seemingly everyone is a spy of some sort. It gets more and more confusing as it plays out, and winds up being a real head-scratcher; but the production by Pan Asian Rep is one of the best I have seen in quite a while and the performances are all first rate.

Film Chinois, while not a must-see, ain’t bad.

Tom Dulack’s The Road to Damascus, at 59 E 59, is a must-see. It’s set in the not too distant future. There has been a terrorist attack in New York, and the U.S. government thinks the Syrians (who are now post-Assad) are behind it so they plan to bomb Damascus to rubble. Set against them is the first African Pope, who has decided to fly to Damascus to present the destruction as a human shield. Also involved are a female journalist from “Al Arabya” TV and a State Department official (with whom she is having an affair), who is sent to the Vatican to try and talk the Pope out of going to Damascus. There, he learns the truth about the terrorist bombing.

The Road to Damascus is a gripping geo-political thriller which will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s been superbly directed by Michael Parva and features a cast of terrific actors. My faves were Mel Johnson, Jr. as the Pope and Larisa Polonsky as the Chechnyan Muslim TV reporter.

Finally, there’s a new production of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country at Classic Stage Co., featuring TV stars Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) and Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black”). It’s been mostly slammed by the press, faulting director Erica Schmidt’s production which many found languid. Well, folks, her direction isn’t outstanding but it’s OK. The problem is the play. It’s a proto-Chekhovian comedy set in a country house with none of the social context which makes Chekhov’s plays endure. Of the actors, Taylor Schilling comes off best. I hope she does theatre again, in a better play.

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS. Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717

WINNERS. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: 212-247-4982

FILM CHINOIS. Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

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

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS. 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

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

A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Classic Stage Co., 136 E. 13th St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

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

 

Share