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Photo: Tina Fineberg

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: D Deb Debbie Deborah

D Deb Debbie Deborah

May 26, 2015: Have they come up with a name yet for the fear of identity theft? Egokleptophobia, maybe? Whatever you want to call this topical neurosis, it throbs like an insistent bass line in “D Deb Debbie Deborah,” Jerry Lieblich’s dizzyingly clever new play about mutating selfhood. The subject of this comedy of anxiety, the auspicious opening production of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks series at the Wild Project in the East Village, isn’t exactly like that of those alarmist television commercials about Internet predators who make merry with your credit cards. True, the title character, a fledgling artist in a big city, has her phone, wallet and computer stolen in the opening scene. But what really disturbs this young woman — let’s call her Deb, and say she’s portrayed by Brooke Bloom — is that she had buzzed the thief into her apartment because she had assumed (after a garbled intercom conversation) that this person was her friend Lizzie. Even worse, when she talked to the police afterward, she couldn’t describe the intruder who had held her at knifepoint.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Last Two People on Earth

The Last Two People on Earth

May 24, 2015: The singular talents of Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac — yes, you read that correctly — combine to delightful effect in “The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville,” the weird and weirdly transfixing entertainment having its premiere here at American Repertory Theater. I would not venture to say that Mr. Patinkin, the Broadway veteran known for his high-intensity style, and Mr. Mac, the exotic performer and playwright usually treading the boards in glittery eye shadow and spike heels, are the last two performers I’d expect to share a stage. Mr. Mac and, say, Wayne Newton would be an odder combination. Or maybe Mr. Patinkin and Karen Finley. Nevertheless they are not performers with an obvious cultural affinity, and the overlap between their fan bases could probably fit in a phone booth. The director and choreographer putting these two through their strange paces is Susan Stroman, whose work on Broadway (including “The Producers”) mostly falls within musical theater tradition. Stretching in new directions is a necessity for artists of any age or caliber, and all three deserve a round of hearty applause for concocting (with Paul Ford, the music director) this odd and often exhilarating show, which feels like a Beckett play — specifically “Waiting for Godot” — with the gnomic words replaced by more than two dozen tunes from the (mostly) American pop and Broadway songbooks.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am

I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am

May 22, 2015: There’s no hiding in the dark this time, and none of the usual safety in numbers. It’s just you and her — or him — eyeball to eyeball, in a closed, red space the size of a confessional. If you blush or yawn or wipe tears from your eyes, she sees it; that means, of course, that she feels it, too. The responsibilities of being an audience rarely weigh as heavily as they do in “I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am,” the series of short (roughly five-minute) plays that opened this week at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan. The self-contained, tiny (4 feet by 8 feet), mobile structure in which these solo dramas take place resembles a confessional in more ways than one. As this mini-theater has been created, by the inspired designer Christine Jones and the architectural firm Lot-ek, you find yourself in immediate proximity to someone who has every intention of confiding in you. He or she materializes when a screen slides away, revealing a person seated, as you are, and as close as the image in your bathroom mirror. There may be a few seconds of silence, but then this person starts talking with the urgency of someone who really, really needs you to understand. Under the circumstances, you have no choice but to try to honor the request.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury

May 21, 2015: Time flies and crawls, warps and balances, melts and freezes. It passes by before you know it and it stands still forever. All those contradictory kinetic clichés are pulsing away in Elevator Repair Service’s mesmerizing “The Sound and the Fury,” which opened on Thursday night at the Public Theater. Adapted from the opening section of William Faulkner’s 1929 novel — the chapter titled “April Seventh, 1928” —this sprawling but surreally symmetrical production dares to try to capture onstage one of the most dizzyingly subjective points of view ever committed to print. For the narrator here is a man with the mind of a child, someone who, as another character describes him, has “been 3 years old 30 years.” This man-child’s name is Benjamin, though it was once Maury, and a lot of people call him Benjy. Trying to figure out what Benjy knows has been the bane and delight of countless modern comp-lit students. Many a densely written book has been devoted to Benjy’s way with words, which is a lot less arbitrary than it seems. But as far as I know, Elevator Repair Service is the first theater company to transform everything that’s said, thought and done in “April Seventh, 1928” into a sustained theatrical spectacle. I saw an earlier version of this “Sound and the Fury” at the New York Theater Workshop seven years ago.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Other Thing

The Other Thing

May 21, 2015: “The Other Thing,” a new play by Emily Schwend, spikes a ghost story with a twist of feminism. That unusual recipe gives the play a certain novelty, but Ms. Schwend’s dark drama, which can be seen at the McGinn/Cazale Theater as part of the Second Stage’s uptown summer series, ultimately comes across as preposterous. Of course tales of ghosts, zombies, vampires, werewolves and more garden-variety freaks are a strong draw on television, so Ms. Schwend’s play, about a reporter profiling a renowned ghost hunter, qualifies as on-trend, even if such tales tend to be more satisfyingly chilling on screen. The central character, Kim (Samantha Soule), has settled on a friendly old fellow named Carl (John Doman, oozing equal measures of Southern courtliness and orneriness) as the perfect subject for a piece she wants to write about ghost chasers. She joins him and his son, Brady (an amusingly cranky James Kautz), for a night vigil outside a supposedly haunted barn in Virginia. Why anyone would care whether or not a barn was haunted did occur to me more than once during the sluggish first act. Also, why would any self-respecting ghost want to hang around a barn, anyway? Still, the owner has been spooked by a light that flickers weirdly, some strange banging noises and unusual cold spots. (Sounds like my apartment almost any night this winter.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Permission

Permission

May 20, 2015: The sex farce has all but disappeared from the contemporary stage, and those of you mourning its demise (Hello out there?) may want to check out “Permission,” the new play by Robert Askins, author of the darkly subversive “Hand to God,” now on Broadway. In Mr. Askins’s sex comedy with a twist — or rather a kink — two God-loving young couples discover corporal punishment as a way of spicing up their sex lives, or alleviating the tensions in their marriages, or a little of both. All in the name of Jesus, of course. The play, which opened on Wednesday at the Lucille Lortel Theater in an MCC Theater production, is less substantial than “Hand to God,” which manages to provide explosive entertainment value (via an obscenity-spewing puppet, mind you) while also movingly exploring the psychological fallout of loss. “Permission” has less heavy matters on its mind. (And — sad face — no paddle-wielding puppet.) Although this tale of young Christians embarking on unusual sexual adventures also suggests that once the libido has been given full rein, anarchy may not be far away, the play never digs deeply into the psyches of its characters, remaining content to exploit its gimmick for raucous, mildly raunchy comedy. Zach (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and Michelle (Nicole Lowrance) are hosting a casual dinner party as the play begins. She’s a little late with the preparation, which inspires Zach to hold up an admonitory finger — which we come to learn is a matter of counting the transgressions before strict discipline is in order.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Macbeth

Macbeth

May 20, 2015: There’s very little creeping in the Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit production of “Macbeth.” And the pace the director Edward Torres sets isn’t exactly petty. Part of a project dedicated to bringing Shakespeare to underserved audiences, this sped-up and slimmed-down tragedy toured prisons, shelters and community centers before bundling its witches and thanes back to Lafayette Street. Mr. Torres knocked out audiences a few years ago with his staging of Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” a wrestling comedy that was also a stealthy piece of social commentary. His style is brisk and kinetic, which you sense in the Scottish play’s opening scene, when a critical battle is fought in about 45 seconds. For “Macbeth,” this is both a strength and a snag. The Mobile Shakespeare Unit has had great success with comedies and romances like “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” plays that depend on event and incident and the occasional dance party. But tragedy relies more heavily on character, and this approach doesn’t really allow its characters to develop.

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