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Photo: Emon Hassan

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Mad Ones

November 20, 2017:

One thing to be said for “The Mad Ones,” a musical about a young woman stuck in her car, is that it is highly disciplined in its automotive imagery.

Samantha isn’t literally stuck in that car; she’s stuck in her life on the cusp of college. But her first song is called “The Girl Who Drove Away.” (Another is called “Drive.”) Her best friend, Kelly, keeps telling her to take her metaphorical foot off the brake and throw away the map.

Elsewhere there are plenty of crossroads and roads less taken, not to mention references to “On the Road,” from which the show derives its overambitious title. As if that weren’t enough, Sam’s boyfriend, Adam, works in a tire shop; Beverly, her mother, is a car safety expert.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: School Girls

November 16, 2017:

The reach of American culture may be wide, but it is not always as profound as Americans might hope. At a girls’ boarding school in Africa, dreams are built on the backs of whatever Western brands the students have heard of. Walmart and White Castle (“a castle with food!”) are just as good grist for the fantasy mill as a “Calvin Klean” dress to wear to the dance.

And so it is for theater. “School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play,” which opened on Thursday evening in an MCC Theater production, is a comedy built on borrowed templates: not just “Mean Girls,” as the subtitle admits, but also a whole genre of clique-bait movies including “Heathers,” “Jawbreaker” and “Legally Blonde.”

But something fascinating happens when the author, Jocelyn Bioh, a New York playwright and actor, applies those templates to the world of her parents, who emigrated from Ghana in 1968. The nasty-teen comedy genre emerges wonderfully refreshed and even deepened by its immersion in a world it never considered.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Latin History For Morons

November 15, 2017:

Like the best mimics, John Leguizamo administers large but precisely calibrated doses of exaggeration to make his impersonations pop. In “Latin History for Morons,” a panoptic survey of two millenniums of oppression in the Americas, he tosses off dozens of quick character sketches that feel exactly as true as they are likely inaccurate.

I rather doubt, for instance, that his prissy, nail-filing Moctezuma has any basis in fact. But who cares whether the Aztec emperor really lisped at Cortés, “You leave me no choice ’cause you’re so butch”? What matters is that the laughs are real, in this case suggesting familiarity with the accommodations that proud people make to an overwhelming force.

And so it is with almost every character brought to life in Mr. Leguizamo’s long and often hilarious parade of injustice, stretching from Peru under the Inca to Texas under Trump. At their best, his jokes get at something deep, whether he is serving up a Rat Pack Christopher Columbus, a French poodle de Tocqueville, a sassy, cross-dressing Cuban-American Civil War soldier or a deaf uncle with an idiosyncratic way of signing.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Actually

November 14, 2017:

The dense, bare, grass-green carpet on which Anna Ziegler’s “Actually” is staged establishes perfectly the Princeton University setting, with its air of privilege and legacy lawns. But it also establishes the play’s psychosexual setting: the open field of contention that is college life today.

Or at least that’s what college life becomes for Amber Cohen and Tom Anthony, the play’s sole characters. Before their first campus autumn has turned to winter, they’ve completed what seems to be a new freshman trifecta: flirting after psych class, hooking up drunk and then appearing as adversaries at a hearing to adjudicate an accusation of rape.

“Actually,” which opened on Tuesday night in the smaller of Manhattan Theater Club’s two spaces beneath City Center, could hardly be better timed — and not just because obvious and powerful predators like Harvey Weinstein are being exposed every day.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Network

November 14, 2017:

LONDON — If there were such a thing as an instant ulcer, then the first five minutes of the National Theater’s production of “Network,” which opened here on Monday night, would be guaranteed to give you one. This is meant as high praise.

The opening scene of this convulsive, immersive adaptation of the 1976 movie about how television hijacked reality is a bravura exercise in torturously applied pressure. Directed by Ivo van Hove and starring a fabulous Bryan Cranston in a state of radioactive meltdown, “Network” may be set in the New York of four decades ago, but as you watch the middle-aged newscaster, Howard Beale (Mr. Cranston), preparing for his nightly television appearance, you feel the overwhelming anxiety of a toxic 21st-century day at the office.

You know, one of those mornings when you’ve arrived late and cranky, and everyone and everything in your technology-driven workplace seems out to get you.

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