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Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

BROADWAY REVIEW: A Delicate Balance

A Delicate Balance

November 20, 2014: Hope arrives in the form of dread toward the end of the first act of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, which opened on Thursday night in a revival at the Golden Theater. Up to that point in this production, directed by Pam MacKinnon, it’s been hard to detect much feeling of any kind within the carefully color-coordinated, dust-free, energy-free environs that have been installed onstage. To be sure, the three talented and celebrated people we have been watching up there thus far — Glenn Close, John Lithgow and Lindsay Duncan — have been delivering their characters’ zingers and stingers with crispness, clarity and, when one feels an important theme coming on, heavy italics. Yet they have the distant, flattened dimensions of specimens under glass. You feel that if you left them for a while, when you returned, they’d still be more or less frozen as they were before. But then — oh, sweet deliverance — here come good old, miserable, intrusive Harry and Edna to shake things up. They’re the best friends of Tobias and Agnes (Mr. Lithgow and Ms. Close), the owners of the tasteful mausoleum for the living (i.e., lovely suburban home) that is the setting for Mr. Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of 1966.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Allegro

Allegro

November 19, 2014: Having your own personal Greek chorus has never sounded all that appealing. Who wants to be surrounded by a lot of second-guessing Everypeople, the way poor Oedipus and Electra were, while having to listen to observations like: “Boy, that was a stupid move, you shortsighted fool. You’re doomed, doomed!”? But if you absolutely had to live among an echoing, oracular throng, you could do a lot worse than the personable team of singing kibitzers that has been assembled at Classic Stage Company to see one Joseph Taylor Jr. through his growing pains. They’re highly empathetic and encouraging; they trill as prettily as nightingales and they all play, quite dexterously, their own musical instruments. Such is the nature of the ensemble provided by John Doyle’s newly glowing interpretation of the lackluster 1947 musical Allegro, which opened Wednesday night. Allegro is known today, if at all, as the show with which Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II followed up the trailblazing success of their first two collaborations, Oklahoma! and Carousel — and for the first time fell flat on their faces. It was the introduction of the chorus to the American musical — I mean, a Greek-style chorus as opposed to the usual dancing backup singers — that made Allegro seem daring when it opened. And that show’s rejection by many critics and much of the public (its 315-performance run was decent, but meager by R&H standards) was partly attributed to its experimental nature.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Underclassman

The Underclassman

November 19, 2014: Edmund Wilson, what a sweetheart! Seems that before he became a pre-eminent literary critic, he was a really swell guy, a hell of a pal. That’s one of the surprising tidbits in The Underclassman, Prospect Theater Company’s ultra-adorable, suitably tuneful and somewhat flat musical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 novel, This Side of Paradise. Another is an all-male cancan number. Peter Mills, the writer-composer, and Cara Reichel, who directed and also contributed to the book, have created a pre-Jazz Age cocktail — two parts Fitzgerald’s autobiographical novel, one part Fitzgerald’s actual biography, stirred with plenty of artistic license. Don’t look for much of a twist — or much of a plot. It’s not until the top of Act II that Scott (an ardent Matt Dengler) can crow, “At last, something had happened!” On a mostly bare set, with arches evoking Princeton’s ivied halls and an orchestra stuffed into a loft like so many pigeons, young Scott dreams of love, literature and social success. Though a lowly sophomore, he has joined the ranks of the Triangle Club, whose members write and perform musical revues. Scott is angling to pen Triangle’s next show, a privilege not usually afforded to underclassmen.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Straight White Men

Straight White Men

November 18, 2014: They bestride the world, or at least the West, like colossi. Thronging the halls of Congress and, until just recently, the Oval Office. Running giant corporations. Meeting and greeting at powwows in Switzerland. I speak of the species known as the straight white male, the most unoppressed of the world’s peoples. They are feared, envied, occasionally attacked and derided. But pitied? Not so much. The signal surprise of Straight White Men, written and directed by the ever-audacious Young Jean Lee, is that the play is not a full-frontal assault on the beings of the title. True, Ms. Lee does show these creatures in their natural habitat — among other straight white men — sometimes behaving like overgrown boys: sitting zombie-eyed on the couch, obsessively fiddling with a black plastic implement and slaughtering digital foes by the dozen; eating Chinese food right out of the boxes; razzing one another with puerile jokes. But Ms. Lee’s fascinating play, at the Public Theater, goes far beyond cheap satire, ultimately becoming a compassionate and stimulating exploration of one man’s existential crisis. Believe it or not, Ms. Lee wants us to sympathize with the inexpressible anguish of her protagonist, a middle-aged, upper-middle-class straight white man named Matt who has failed to follow the codes of achievement that he’s expected to conform to. The play takes place over the Christmas holidays, where three brothers are assembled at the family home, somewhere in the Midwest, to keep company with their widowed father. None come with wife, girlfriend or children in tow. The youngest, Drew (Pete Simpson), is an award-winning fiction writer. The middle boy, Jake (Gary Wilmes), is a hotshot banker with the swagger to match. Matt (James Stanley) is the oldest, and despite graying temples — he’s definitely north of 40 — he’s been living with Dad for a while now, working a series of small-time temp jobs at do-gooding social organizations.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: By the Water

By The Water

November 18, 2014: By the Water, a new play by Sharyn Rothstein, might be called a kitchen sink drama that’s conspicuously missing a kitchen sink. Also absent: Furniture, save a tattered plaid couch. And walls. The living room in which the play takes place, in a beachside Staten Island house ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, does feature a giant picture window — without the glass. Ms. Rothstein’s affecting play, which opened on Tuesday night at City Center in a Manhattan Theater Club production in association with Ars Nova, traces the impact of that devastating natural disaster on a middle-class couple who were already trudging uphill in the face of financial setbacks. Drawn with acute sympathy and in gritty detail, the play dramatizes the kind of story that filled newspapers in the months after the hurricane swept onto the Eastern Seaboard in 2012. Marty and Mary Murphy (Vyto Ruginis and Deirdre O’Connell) at first seem to share a rock-solid determination to rebuild the home they’ve lived in for most of the 38 years of their marriage. Although the monumental challenge involved smacks us in the face even as we enter the theater, where the set, by Wilson Chin, suggests a bomb site, Marty won’t listen to the urging of his elder son, Sal (Quincy Dunn-Baker), to move somewhere farther from the shore, with the help of the government assistance that’s been promised.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Tamburlaine, Parts I and II

Tamburlaine, Parts I and II

November 18, 2014: The mass-murdering title character of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, a man proud to call himself “the scourge of God,” has never been big on apologies. Not for him the regretful introspection of short-tempered Shakespearean tyrants like Macbeth, Lear or even nasty old Richard III. Self-knowledge, who needs it? Being a world conqueror means never having to say you’re sorry. It feels only fitting that Michael Boyd’s improbably enjoyable Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, which opened on Sunday night at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, should make no excuses for its redemption-proof hero or for the long and bloody plays over which he rules. Embodied by a truly titanic John Douglas Thompson in this Theater for a New Audience production, Tamburlaine is a force of nature in the sense that typhoons, tidal waves and earthquakes are. Would you ever try to explain why such phenomena behave as they do? All you can do is sit back open-mouthed, observing the carnage and ducking the flying body parts. Now who, you might ask, could possibly be entertained by such a sorry, gory epic of unrelenting destruction, in which power-crazed narcissists scramble for supremacy? Well, you might want to check the recent most-watched television and movie lists, or talk to the legions who binge on Game of Thrones.

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