Photo: Sara Krulwich

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Broadway & the Bard

Broadway & the Bard

February 5, 2016: Shakespeare and Broadway have had a relationship quite a bit more intimate than a handshake over the years, but the two have perhaps never met with quite the coziness that they do in “Broadway & the Bard,” an odd but enjoyable solo show, starring the stage veteran Len Cariou, that juxtaposes monologues and sonnets with songs from musicals. Longtime musical-theatergoers know Mr. Cariou best from his appearances in “Applause,” “A Little Night Music” and of course “Sweeney Todd,” in which he created the title role. But as he notes at the top of this 80-minute show at the Lion Theater, six months before appearing in “Applause,” he made his Broadway debut in 1969 in the title role of “Henry V.” His Shakespearean bona fides also include many seasons at the Guthrie Theater and at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. (Mr. Cariou was born in Canada.) This bit of history explains one of the unlikelier transitions in the show, conceived by Mr. Cariou in collaboration with the director, Barry Kleinbort, and the music director, Mark Janas. Henry’s rousing speech at Harfleur (“Once more unto the breach”) is followed immediately by the title tune from “Applause.” There’s more sentiment than logic in this pairing, but most of the other segments are more cleanly aligned.



OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Sense & Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility

February 4, 2016: Pray do not be alarmed, gentle readers, but I am here to tell you that Jane Austen has been pumped full of helium. Now you might think that the injection of such an alien element would warp, if not altogether explode, that fabled “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” on which Austen said she worked. Yet the Bedlam theater company’s version of her “Sense & Sensibility,” which opened on Thursday night at the Gym at Judson, expands and magnifies Austen’s delicate comic worldview without cracking a single teacup. First presented for a short run in repertory in 2014, this enchanting romp of a play has returned on its own, with a few adjustments, but with its buoyant spirits, cunning stagecraft and enlivening insights intact. As adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill and directed by Eric Tucker, “Sense & Sensibility” might be described as Jane Austen for those who don’t usually like Jane Austen, finding her work too reserved for lively entertainment. Yet I would imagine that even fanatical Janeites, as her most devoted admirers are known, will not take offense, once they get used to this production’s audaciously high energy level.



The Grand Paradise

January 31, 2016: I had barely arrived for my tropical holiday in Brooklyn before I was deflowered. Yes, my lei, which had been hung welcomingly around my neck when I entered the resort called the Grand Paradise, was taken from me (gently) by a vulpine blonde in a pink satin bathing suit and pearls. That occurred in her dressing room, where this guiding siren — whom I had just watched striking pinup poses with giant pearls on a nightclub stage — was showing me faded postcards affixed to her mirror and telling me about the different lovers they brought to mind. “Stan,” she would sigh, or “Harry,” or “Jim,” appending each name with the same wistful postscript: “He was my first.” Now that my lei had been added to her collection, I was feeling shucked and sentimental. In the context of what seemed guaranteed to turn into a night of encounters with intimate strangers, she was, after all, my first. “The Grand Paradise,” the latest and lushest of the many immersive theater spectacles to set up camp in New York in recent years, traffics in instant nostalgia. Created by Third Rail Projects, this interactive tour of an imaginary Floridian pleasure palace from the 1970s manages to summon romantic promise and regretful retrospection in a single, ocean-air breath.




January 29, 2016: Just how dark do you like it? The British dramatist Philip Ridley, whose excellent “Dark Vanilla Jungle” and “Tonight With Donny Stixx” are in repertory at Here, is notorious for testing the palates of theatergoers who think they prefer their humor black, strong and bitter. His lurid tragicomedies — like his futurist shocker “Mercury Fur,” staged by the New Group last year — typically begin in shadow and progress steadily into a starless midnight, where any available light is often reflected in pools of blood. Mr. Ridley’s characters commit acts of barbarism that Quentin Tarantino probably hasn’t even imagined. And I’ve seen people bolt from a Ridley play with their hands clamped over their mouths. That Mr. Ridley is also a writer of uncommon, lyrical delicacy may sound like a contradiction. But what’s most unsettling in his work isn’t its violence, but the seductive voices of those who perpetrate it. He endows his blighted characters with an instinctive gift for poetry that gropes for patterns in a random and unforgiving universe.



I and You

January 27, 2016: If you have dipped into the tear-filled pools of young adult literature — or the films inspired by it — you have probably encountered a couple like Caroline and Anthony. They’re the sparring, sparking high school students in “I and You,” Lauren Gunderson’s perky two-character study in adolescent confusions and cosmic mysteries, which opened on Wednesday at 59E59 Theaters. Portrayed with equal measures of impishness and angst by Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White, Caroline and Anthony are unlikely to be to the taste of everybody over 12. So listen to a few examples of what they have to say about themselves (and each other) and decide whether you want to spend 90 minutes in their company. She is combative and snarly — “small but mighty, like a dachshund,” she says. He is a tall basketball player who believes in the virtues of politeness and doing your homework. He practically lives on Pop-Tarts; she unconditionally loves Chunky Monkey ice cream. She digs Elvis; he’s into Coltrane.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: A Ride on the Irish Cream

A Ride on the Irish Cream

January 22, 2016: “Huh?” Such is, on occasion, my unhappy reaction upon leaving a show. But in the case of “A Ride on the Irish Cream,” it expressed my befuddlement going in. On the website of the Abrons Arts Center, where this new music-theater piece by Erin Markey is being performed, the précis of the plot describes it as a romance between “a vainglorious self-made girl” and “her family’s pontoon boat/horse.” What’s with that slash? Surely, you can be either a pontoon boat — although I’ve never seen an actor portray one onstage, until now — or you can be a horse. (That’s comparatively old hat.) How on earth can you be both simultaneously? Apparently, in the whimsical imagination of Ms. Markey, who wrote, created and stars in the show as that vainglorious girl, Reagan, all things are possible. Few, unfortunately, are comprehensible in this peculiar hybrid of rock concert, performance-art piece and quasi-musical. (There’s a small chorus line, and a smidgen of acrobatics and choreography.)


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Glory of the World

The Glory of the World

January 21, 2016: Whose birthday is this, anyway? Thomas Merton’s? Or a gay circuit-party promoter’s? For much of the 80-minute running time of “The Glory of the World,” your best guess would probably be the promoter’s. Lop off the first and last few minutes of the show, excise some glib chatter about Merton’s life and thought, and you might never guess that this production, at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, was meant to pay tribute to the work of a theologian and writer who spent much of his life in a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. Written by Charles L. Mee and directed by Les Waters, the production seems as much a repudiation of Merton’s spiritual values — he was a staunch Roman Catholic, who believed firmly in the tenets of the faith, even as his capacious intellect made room for appreciation of other religions — as a celebration of them. As noted above, the show is presented as a stylized centennial birthday party for Merton, who was born in 1915 and died in 1968. (The production had its premiere at the Actors Theater of Louisville last year.) His many books, most notably his acclaimed autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” continue to be read today. In that book, written in vigorous, keenly observed prose, Merton described his gradual and unusual path toward a life dedicated to spiritual contemplation.


BROADWAY REVIEW: Our Mother’s Brief Affair

Our Mother's Brief Affair

January 20, 2016: Every mother is Greta Garbo to her children, at least upon occasion. The woman you were closest to in the world, the one who weaned and wiped you, could suddenly seem so ravishingly remote it was scary. What was really on her mind those nights she tucked you into bed, deliciously lipsticked and perfumed for an evening out? Such is the enigma who presides over “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” Richard Greenberg’s untethered play about unmoored lives, which opened on Wednesday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, starring a marvelous Linda Lavin. Her name is Anna, and while she has a way of wearing a Burberry trench coat with a certain je ne sais quoi, this Long Island housewife would be few people’s idea of a glamorous sphinx. But to the twins she gave birth to and reared in a state of otherwise-engaged preoccupation, Anna is a tantalizing unknown, especially as she nears death. “Who was she?” asks her son, Seth (an anxiously neutral Greg Keller), as the play begins. Seth works as an obituary writer but can’t begin to sum up this particular life.



Skeleton Crew

January 19, 2016: How do you walk a line that keeps disintegrating beneath you? The characters in “Skeleton Crew,” the very fine new play by Dominique Morisseau that opened on Tuesday night at the Atlantic Stage 2, travel an uncertain path between comfort and chaos, lawfulness and criminality, mutual support and blinkered selfishness. You might add to the list that most traditional of opposites, the good and the bad. Then again, are ethics affordable luxuries when your overriding concern is to avoid joining the homeless? What are your obligations to anybody else when it’s all you can do to keep yourself from sliding over the edge? Such questions are being constantly weighed, discarded and picked up once more in this warm-blooded, astute and beautifully acted four-character drama, the third installment in Ms. Morisseau’s trilogy of plays set in Detroit. I suppose you could say these are questions that to some degree haunt everybody in those Darwinian jungles where we fight for our paychecks.



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