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Photo: Sheila Aim

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Girl From the North Country (London)

July 26, 2017: LONDON — The Irish playwright Conor McPherson has gone a-wanderin’ in a Minnesota of the mind, a bleak and soulful place conjured by the songs of Bob Dylan. As portrayed in “Girl From the North Country” — the truly sui generis new work written and directed by Mr. McPherson, with a multitude of songs by Mr. Dylan — this cold corner of the United States is a place where it is all too easy to lose your way. That’s certainly true for the angry and bewildered characters in this strange theatrical hybrid of soaring music and thudding dialogue, which opened on Wednesday night at the Old Vic Theater here. As for Mr. McPherson, one of the greatest dramatists working, he, too, seems to be traveling through the dark without a compass.

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OTHER REVIEW: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (London 2017)

July 25, 2017: LONDON — Sun-starved souls seeking refuge from the untimely midsummer coolness that has enveloped this city needn’t book a flight to Ibiza. They only have to hurry to the Apollo Theater, where a big old bonfire is blazing under the title of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which opened here on Monday night. Directed by Benedict Andrews, this thrilling revival of Tennessee Williams’s 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner burns bright enough to scorch but also to illuminate. Starring a perfectly paired Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller, this Young Vic production brings combustible conviction to a smoldering classic that has only rarely ignited in performance in recent years. After the limp 2013 Broadway version, directed by Rob Ashford and most notable for the presence of a hyperventilating Scarlett Johansson, I was about ready to write off “Cat” as one of those searing “adult” dramas that seem increasingly quaint as the years go by. After the novelty has faded from its once daring premise — of a lusty wife whose (possibly gay) husband refuses to sleep with her — what’s left?

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: While I Was Waiting

July 20, 2017: Political theater, with its tendency toward hectoring and grandiosity, is hard to credit these days. After all, both politics and theater have been with us for centuries, barely making an inch of difference in the tide of human brutality. “While I Was Waiting,” a subtly harrowing play by Mohammad Al Attar that opened on Wednesday in a Lincoln Center Festival production, gets around the problem by embracing failure as its central subject: the failure of government, yes, but also of resistance. As a character named Omar says, “How can nothing have changed, after all that happened?” Omar is referring specifically to the aftermath of the attempted peaceful revolution in Syria during the Arab Spring of 2011. Nearly half a million have so far died in the ensuing civil war, yet President Bashar al-Assad remains in power. That sense of stasis despite enormous disruption is what gives Mr. Al Attar’s play its convincing bite: “While I Was Waiting,” as its title suggests, is about the oxymoron of permanent crisis, in which ordinary characters face ordinary problems in a world gone mortally absurd.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Spoon River

July 16, 2017: Don’t expect the silence of the grave to be honored in the small-town churchyard of “Spoon River,” the exuberant musical from Soulpepper, the Toronto-based troupe in residence at the Pershing Square Signature Center this summer. Most of the characters in this production, adapted from Edgar Lee Masters’s “Spoon River Anthology,” may be pushing up daisies. But they are also all as fresh as those proverbial flowers, even when they wallow in regrets and recriminations about the lives they once led. As embodied by a foot-stomping, string-plucking ensemble of 19, the dearly (and sometimes rancorously) departed souls of “Spoon River” are far sprier than the lumbering zombies of “The Walking Dead.” They are also a lot more mellifluous.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Hamlet-Public

July 13, 2017: Who’s afraid of “Hamlet”? Certainly not the director Sam Gold, whose gloriously involving new production at the Public Theater treats Shakespeare’s daunting tragedy with an easy, jokey familiarity that’s usually reserved for siblings and longtime drinking buddies. As in such relationships, Mr. Gold and his top-flight cast — led by a majestically impudent Oscar Isaac in the title role — tease and tweak the object of their affections, which happens to be the best-known play in English literature and one of the knottiest. But that’s because the creative team here obviously knows and loves its “Hamlet” so very well.

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