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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

November 24, 2014: Last summer, the radio host Ira Glass prompted a Twitter tempest when he attended the Public Theater’s lackluster King Lear and tweeted: “No stakes, not relatable. I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks.” The theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit has just returned Pericles, Prince of Tyre to Lafayette Street, having toured the production to homeless shelters, community centers and correctional facilities — reaching audiences who can’t spend a day standing in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets. Few Bardolators would argue that Pericles is the equal of Lear in poetry or power. It has a clunky, outmoded framing device, and its plot, which involves multiple shipwrecks, an unlikely resurrection and some extremely polite brothel customers, is tough to respect. But this 100-minute show (about half the length of Lear) is feisty and involving. And while I’ve never believed that great art has to be “relatable,” the audience members who watched the final act of Pericles with tears in their eyes seemed to find it so. The director, Rob Melrose, has assembled a diverse eight-member cast, costumed in attractive neutrals, to play some 40 roles and provide the backing music, too.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: A Particle of Dread

A Particle of Dread

November 23, 2014: Though there’s no discounting the exponential possibilities of television spinoffs, it seems unlikely that a series called “CSI: Ancient Thebes” will be appearing on your screens anytime soon. If you feel this leaves a yawning vacuum in your crime-show-addicted life, you might want to take a look at A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations), the new play by Sam Shepard that opened on Sunday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Yes, you read that right. Mr. Shepard, that most enduring of American avant-garde playwrights, has sent a forensic scientist — in a trench coat, no less — into the realm of classical mythology to investigate the mysterious murder of a king at a crossroads. His conclusion: The killer was a lone assassin with a big left foot and a whole lot of rage. Not a huge surprise, huh? This is one case in which everybody has known whodunit for a few thousand years. The murder of the Theban king Laius by the son he once left for dead has inspired, among other things, a Greek tragedy (which is considered the archetypal detective story) and a psychological category for defining mama’s boys. Now, Mr. Shepard — whose work has always had a mythic cast, as well as plenty of pity and terror for the human condition — is plowing those fields seeded by Sophocles and Freud. Using a centuries-spanning arsenal of devices to consider the case — from soothsayer-readable entrails to DNA analysis — he doesn’t dig up much in the way of new insights on the once-mighty, sadly fallen, forever-damned Oedipus Rex.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Fabulous!

Fabulous!

November 23, 2014: Twice, I thought I saw Patti LuPone onstage. They were just look-alikes, but Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies, which occupies the microscopic stage at the New Write Act Repertory Theater, has its fair share of other divas. Fabulous! is a little bit Some Like It Hot, a little bit Anything Goes and a lot of good-natured gay farce. Two best-pal drag queens, Laura Lee (Nick Morrett) and Jane (Josh Kenney), are offered jobs entertaining on a cruise ship, as long as they pretend to be real women. Those on board include a lovable gangster (Ty Pearsons) and his pushy blond sister (Adena Ershow), in cahoots to steal a diamond necklace; Rock Henderson (Adam Kemmerer), a movie star who is supposed to be incognito but keeps loudly announcing his name; the aristocratic bachelor captain, Sir Alfred Dooalot (Cameron Lucas), who hasn’t done a lot; and an unglamorous employee, Sylvia Smothers (Jane Aquilina), who used to be a prison matron. Rock is thrilled to find himself falling in love with Jane, because it must mean he’s straight after all. Everyone else — the gangster, the captain and Sylvia — lusts after Laura Lee, a sturdy blond singer who believes polka dots are slimming. These feelings lead Sylvia to declare herself a lesbian in what may be the show’s most winning number, “I Feel Romantic.” There are more gender misperceptions and revelations to come.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Me, My Mouth & I

Me, My Mouth & I

November 23, 2014: “She was way too divisive and loud among other things,” a commenter using the name juneinct posted in 2013 under an article on Joy Behar leaving The View, the ABC daytime talk show. “If she never appeared in public again, I would be extremely happy.” Well, juneinct, there’s bad news for you at the Cherry Lane Theater. Ms. Behar is appearing in public again, in Me, My Mouth & I, a one-woman show. But don’t worry. This sometimes autobiographical, sometimes stand-up comedy concoction isn’t looking to land you in the audience. True, it is aimed squarely at people who consider The View the height of sophistication, but only at the subset of View fans who admired Ms. Behar, often a polarizing figure during her 16-year run on the program. Ms. Behar knows these people, they know her, and it all makes for a relaxing if nontaxing 90 minutes. After opening with some shameless name-dropping about famous people she encountered on The View, she transitions to her childhood in Brooklyn, one that sounds more or less like every other monologist’s urban childhood, with odd, endearing relatives and religious and ethnic customs and quirks.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Major Barbara

Major Barbara

November 21, 2014: Inescapably playful and undeniably serious, George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 Major Barbara pits youth against age, poverty against wealth, faith against armored tanks. You might be surprised which side you ultimately take. In this Pearl Theater revival, directed by David Staller, the imperious Lady Britomart (Carol Schultz) decides to reunite her grown children with their estranged father, Andrew Undershaft (Dan Daily). A “manufacturer of mutilation and murder,” who has made millions selling battleships and cannons to anyone who wants to pay for them, he takes a particular shine to his eldest girl, Barbara (Hannah Cabell), a Salvation Army crusader. Their ideals seem at loggerheads, so he proposes a bargain: “If I go to see you tomorrow in your Salvation shelter, will you come the day after to see me in my cannon works?” “Take care,” she says. “It may end in your giving up the cannons for the sake of the Salvation Army.” Undershaft doubts it. Though right would seem to be all on his daughter’s side, Undershaft argues persuasively that instead of saving souls we might better devote ourselves to saving bodies.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Blank! The Musical

Blank

November 21, 2014: Anybody know a surefire cure for getting rid of an earworm — one of those insistent tunes that play on and on in your head until you start smashing things? I’ve been invaded by a really clingy one. It’s the title song of “Directing One Direction,” and even listening to excruciatingly adhesive highlights from The Phantom of the Opera has failed to dislodge it. You probably don’t realize what I’m talking about, since “Directing One Direction” was created only a week ago and was performed only once. But I can assure you that had you been at New World Stages on that singular night, you, too, would still be hearing the fatal motif that would appear on sheet music as (aaahhh, stop it!) C sharp, A, G, B. Yep, I even know the specific notes and not because I have a perfect ear. (I don’t.) I was part of the audience that helped score, script, cast, direct and choreograph “Directing One Direction,” one of the potentially countless productions being whipped up by Blank! The Musical, the do-it-yourself showbiz revue that opened this week. C sharp, A, G, B was a melody line woven from theatergoers randomly shouting out letters between A and G upon request. Earlier, we had submitted, on smartphones, suggestions for names of songs, as well as the title of the show, and then voted on the final choices. (“Directing One Direction” beat out “Frozen Eyebrows,” among other candidates.)

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