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BROADWAY REVIEW: Fish in the Dark

Fish in the Dark

March 5, 2015: The fish itself — the one that figures in ads for the new play “Fish in the Dark” and can be seen on the drop curtain at the Cort Theater — is pretty great, a charming and maddening creature destined to capture your heart. O.K., if you insist: It is pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty great. The show for which this fish stands? Not so much. If you don’t recognize what all those “prettys” signify, do not feel obliged to read further. (But if you do, I promise to return to the enchanting fish later.) The use of “pretty” as a repeated modifier, with a protracted first syllable and palate-tapping t’s, is a signature catch phrase of Larry David, the beloved comic television writer and actor. And, yes, Mr. David does make pretty (if not pret-ty, pret-ty) good use of said catchphrase in the second act of “Fish in the Dark,” his Broadway debut as an actor and playwright, which opened on Thursday night. When he pulls out the prettys — as his character describes how it felt to touch a certain part of a certain woman’s anatomy — he lands the biggest laugh of the night. It’s not the sexual content that elicits the roar. It’s the pleasure of hearing words made familiar on a hit television show, Mr. David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” by the man who first spoke them. Those “prettys” are a bone with a bow tossed to an audience of expectant fans, rather in the manner of the Rolling Stones’ singing “Satisfaction” toward the end of a live concert.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Nomad

The Nomad

March 3, 2015: Shoulders back, chin out, the young woman in the fez is bemused, defiant, yet intrigued by her circumstances. “I am dead; this is the state of things,” Isabelle Eberhardt sings at the start of The Nomad, and she seems curiously willing to make the most of it. That spirit of adventure fuels this lucid, fast-moving dream of a musical, with book and lyrics by Elizabeth Swados and Erin Courtney, composed and directed by Ms. Swados in its premiere at the Flea Theater. Marrying Middle Eastern sounds with musical theater tradition, it recounts the vagabond, quicksilver life of Eberhardt, a writer and a romantic who was born in Switzerland in 1877 and died in a flash flood in Algeria in 1904. The many contradictions of that short, strange life make surprising sense in Teri Madonna’s voracious and passionate Isabelle, a European woman who finds freedom in North Africa, donning male clothing, assuming male privileges. A fervent convert to Islam, she nonetheless drinks, smokes kef and is no sexual wallflower.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Abundance

Abundance

March 3, 2015: Was it a delayed reaction to the Reagan era, eight years of watching a cowboy president ride horses on his California ranch? Something, anyway, made the early 1990s an exceptionally rich time for unconventional westerns. Among them were Larry McMurtry’s novel Buffalo Girls, Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven — and Beth Henley’s play Abundance, a small tragedy in a comic key about a pair of mail-order brides chasing survival, excitement and maybe even happiness in the Wyoming Territory. “I hope our husbands don’t turn out to be just too damn ugly to stand,” says Macon, the savvier of the two, as they wait at the stagecoach stop. Peopled with resilient oddballs mangled by life, “Abundance” had its premiere Off Broadway in 1990, at the end of a decade that started with Ms. Henley’s Pulitzer Prize for Crimes of the Heart. The Actors Company Theater’s satisfying revival is the sort of production that makes you realize how much you’ve missed a playwright’s voice. Directed by Jenn Thompson on a spare, rough-hewed set by Wilson Chin, it’s performed by a fine cast at the Beckett Theater at Theater Row, the complex where the New Group staged Ms. Henley’s play The Jacksonian in 2013.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Mystery of Love and Sex

The Mystery of Love and Sex

March 2, 2015: The detective work in The Mystery of Love & Sex, a perfectly wonderful new play by Bathsheba Doran that opened on Monday at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater, extends well beyond the matters of high importance referred to in the title. In this tender and funny exploration of the lives of two couples from two generations, Ms. Doran also probes such fertile mysteries as the fluidity of identity, our ability to keep secrets from both our family and even ourselves, and the difficulty — and the rewards — of forgiveness. Nevertheless, love and sex are very much at the center of the play, which is among the season’s finest so far. Ms. Doran (Kin) delves into so many matters of the heart that her play gains an almost dizzying momentum. By the end you may feel giddy, as if you’d just stepped off a whirling theme-park ride. Although there are just four characters onstage (very briefly a fifth), Ms. Doran’s drama is so packed with humanity that it seems infinitely larger, like a chart depicting the sexual and emotional anatomy of us all. Charlotte (Gayle Rankin) and Jonny (Mamoudou Athie) are hosting a dinner for her parents as the play opens. They are still in college, so the trappings are as modest as the meal, which is basically a salad and some bread. The Southern-reared Lucinda (Diane Lane) takes this in stride, chirping perhaps a few times too many about how “bohemian” it all is, while Howard (Tony Shalhoub), who’s Jewish and from New York, grimaces at the prospect of sitting on the floor and eating bread with no butter. (Mr. Shalhoub makes a priceless bit of comedy from Howard’s complicated attempt to wedge himself under the low table.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Man in the Woman’s Shoes

The Man In The Woman’s Shoes

March 2, 2015: If Mikel Murfi ever fails as an actor (and this seems highly unlikely), he could make a killing at children’s birthday parties. The man has a rare talent for animal sounds. In the brief span of The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, at the Irish Arts Center, he voices chickens, bees, sea gulls, songbirds, sheep, a pig, a dog and a dying turkey, that last with enough realism to put you off drumsticks for life. Mr. Murfi’s solo show, which he also scripted, follows a few hours in the life of the full-time cobbler, occasional farmer and all-around stand-up guy Pat Farnon. In the opening monologue, Pat describes his animals, his house, his plans for the day. Then he lets us in on a little secret: He is mute. “I can’t talk,” he says. “I know you can hear me and all, but that talk is all going on inside me head.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Comfort Dogs

Comfort Dogs

March 1, 2015: The performers in the playwright and director William Burke’s Comfort Dogs: Live From the Pink House are unusually brazen. They will sniff your hand, nuzzle your thigh, leap into your lap. Some of these actors are dogs. Some are people playing dogs. All are pretty cute. Short, sweet and still sort of nebulous, Mr. Burke’s play, part of the Damnable Scribbling series celebrating Brooklyn College playwrights at Jack in Clinton Hill, centers on therapy dogs and the people who find solace and succor in their wet-nosed company. Well, maybe it does. Honestly, it’s a little hard to tell. There are speeches and songs seemingly written from a dog’s-eye perspective: “Not afraid. The wheel. The welcome. The smell. Not afraid. Walk. The door. The door.” There are also letters, placed on seats throughout the small theater, that are begged for by the actors playing dogs and are apparently supposed to be written by people: “When the time is right. Please come back. Your head will always have a place on my lap.”

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