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Photo: Sara Krulwich

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Shows for Days

Shows for Days

June 29, 2015: Though she has been known to chew scenery into sawdust, Patti LuPone shrewdly resists making a feast of her high-calorie role in “Shows for Days,” the unresolved new comedy by Douglas Carter Beane that opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Ms. LuPone has a part that comes with full license for going over the top and staying there: Irene, a coercive community-theater diva and a showy specialist in blackmail, emotional and otherwise. She’s a character a less savvy actress would use to vamp and camp until the cows come home (or until the audience goes home). There are tasty elements of vampery and campery in Ms. LuPone’s performance in “Shows for Days,” which depicts the sentimental education of a 14-year-old boy (the appealing Michael Urie) in the mahvelous world of the theatuh. Yet she also locates a molten core of anger — and honor — in Irene’s affectations. This small-time tyrant may be a bulldozer wrapped in gold lamé. (And there is real gold lamé on hand, courtesy of William Ivey Long’s spot-on bourgeois-gone-bohemian costumes.) But as anyone knows who saw Ms. LuPone as Momma Rose in “Gypsy,” this actress does bulldozers with many gears. And she finds something genuinely and affectingly credible in a play that often taxes credibility.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Happy Days

Happy Days

June 29, 2015: The wattage of Winnie’s smile is what makes it so disconcerting — that and the way it lights up her eyes as she chatters on, her willful cheer sparkling in the sun like the diamonds that glint from her earlobes. A girlish romantic in a lacy, low-cut top, she is a middle-aged remnant of the coquette she once was. Now she’s buried up to her sternum in a mound of packed earth, and her husband, Willie, the grimy fellow scrabbling around behind her on hands and knees, is nearly feral. Events, clearly, have overtaken them. “Not the crawler you were, poor darling,” she says fondly as he struggles, and it amplifies the comedy to know that Brooke Adams, who plays Winnie, has been married for decades to Tony Shalhoub, who plays Willie. “No, not the crawler I gave my heart to.” Andrei Belgrader, that specialist in star-spangled classics, has brought his production of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” to the Flea Theater, and there are laughs to be had. What’s missing, or was on Saturday afternoon, is the darkness and dread that trigger Winnie’s natterings: the panic she’s trying so desperately to keep at bay.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: SeaWife

SeaWife

June 28, 2015: In the past several years, whales have returned to New York Harbor, breaching and blowing in sight of the city skyline. And these leviathans now drive much of the action of “SeaWife,” a folk musical produced by Naked Angels and performed at the Melville Gallery of the South Street Seaport Museum. “SeaWife,” scripted by Seth Moore and the band the Lobbyists, is a doleful fairy tale ornamented with occasional puppets and agreeable chanteys, performed by the cast of six and one borrowed cellist. Set sometime in the 19th century, the story centers on Percy, a whaler’s son, “who saw his first boat at birth and had his sea legs before his first steps.” Though sickened at first by the blood and brutality of whaling, a series of tragedies transform Percy into a deadly harpooner until the sea calls him home again. The director Liz Carlson, the set designer Jason Sherwood and the lighting designer Jake DeGroot have converted the Melville Gallery into various ports and boats and taverns with the aid of ropes and nets and lanterns set with flickering bulbs. (On one rainy night, a leaking roof provided authentic puddles.) There’s also a bar that sells a $5 shot of rum or a can of I.P.A.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Men on Boats

Men on Boats

June 23, 2015: If summer has you hankering for fitness-testing excursions through the dangerous outdoors, you will surely want to spend time with the hearty title characters of “Men on Boats,” who are churning up bright clouds of testosterone hovering over the Wild Project in the East Village. The inhabitants of this rollicking history pageant by Jaclyn Backhaus, which opened on Monday night as the final offering of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks festival of new plays, are fellows who are always up for shooting the rapids, the breeze and edible wildlife. They hail from the United States of the mid-19th century, when assertive, unquestioning masculinity was something that stood tall and unchallenged. Oh, and just so you know, there isn’t a man in the 10-member cast of “Men on Boats,” at least not according to the strict anatomical definition. On the other hand, as we have plenty of reason to think these days, gender can be as much matter of perception as of chromosomes. Long before Chastity Bono became a guy named Chaz and Bruce Jenner transformed into Caitlyn, stage performers were regularly changing their sexes, demonstrating the fluidness of the boundaries between male and female. Taboo-flouting drag shows have been a naughty staple of downtown New York theater for many a decade.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Wild Women of Planet Wongo

Wild Women of Planet Wongo

June 23, 2015: Bushwick, in Brooklyn, as it inches closer to being devoured by Williamsburg, can still look otherworldly in its more remote precincts. How appropriate then to find the quaint musical cum dance party “Wild Women of Planet Wongo” there on a desolate block at Brooklyn Fire Proof. Not to be confused with the Z-movie “Wild Women of Wongo,” from 1958, this spoof more recalls the seminal sci-fi cheese-fest “Cat-Women of the Moon,” from 1953. So familiar are the conventions of such films that regardless of whether you’ve seen them, you sense what you’re going to get here. Start with a Wongotini (vodka, Midori, tequila and lime juice), offered in the lobby bar. (I didn’t partake, but the reviews were good.) On TV screens, footage of Khrushchev, Apollo missions and President John F. Kennedy set the mood. Pass through a star-spangled hallway into a room with a sound console and multiple monitors, and there — as you stand, and drink, and dance (if you want) — is where the show happens.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: At the Table

At The Table

June 22, 2015: Chris (Claire Karpen) has only just met this group of friends, so she probably shouldn’t make a scene. But dinner is over, the alcohol is flowing and Stuart (Craig Wesley Divino) — the smug one up there at the head of the table — is being obnoxious. When he tries to bait her into debating abortion rights, she tells him the issue is none of his business, because he is a man. “The terms of a conversation are controlled by who is invited to the table,” Chris says. “And you’re not invited to that particular table.” Escaping for the weekend to a country house, where the laid-back Nate (Aaron Rossini) is their host, these privileged 30-somethings in Michael Perlman’s “At the Table” have brought along a full complement of identity-related baggage to unpack in the common areas. Race, gender, sexual orientation, income level: Any of these might become contentious at any time. That the friends frequently talk over one another, making it difficult to discern what anyone is saying, is part of the point in this overloaded ensemble piece, presented by Fault Line Theater at Here Arts Center. Seemingly so is the fact that we rarely have a clear view of everyone in this crowded house. Mr. Perlman has staged his play in the round, and his blocking is largely naturalistic.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Hand Foot Fizzle Face

Hand Foot Fizzle Face

June 22, 2015: If you have $30,000 to spare, then you, too, can own a first edition of “Foirades/Fizzles,” an unlikely 1976 artist’s book by Jasper Johns and Samuel Beckett. Etchings and aquatints — some playful, some troubling — accompany five gnomic prose works, or “Fizzles,” that Beckett translated from the French. Those with less pocket money can content themselves with “Hand Foot Fizzle Face,” a theatrical adaptation by the young company Piehole at the arts center Jack, in Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. How do you represent an obscure tome composed of nonrepresentational, noncorresponding text and images? Yeah. That’s a tough one. Piehole doesn’t deny the difficulty. Most of the action is staged on and around a blue wrestling mat, and the five actors are dressed in workout sweats, the better to tangle with the material. The director, Tara Ahmadinejad, assisted by the composer, Lea Bertucci, stages five “Fizzles” while a laser printer vomits paper, and a computer-synthesized voice wonders about where to go for drinks after the show.

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