OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Broadway Bounty Hunter

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August 23, 2016: Try to top this for typecasting: The daffy, adorable Annie Golden plays, yes, the daffy, adorable Annie Golden in “Broadway Bounty Hunter,” a sweet if slight goof of a musical, making its premiere at Barrington Stage Company here. The show, featuring songs by Joe Iconis and a book by Mr. Iconis, Lance Rubin and Jason SweetTooth Williams, turns on a willfully silly conceit. An out-of-work actor — that’s Annie as Annie — pursues a second career as a vigilante chasing down dangerous criminals. Powered by a silky retro-R&B score, the musical delights with its loopy idea for longer than you might expect, but as the plot sprouts more absurdities, it ultimately begins to feel like an overextended “Saturday Night Live” sketch (albeit a good one).

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Groundhog Day

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August 16, 2016: Who knew that déjà vu could smell this fresh all over again? On paper, the happy new musical “Groundhog Day,” which opened on Tuesday night at the Old Vic Theater here, seemed like one of those shows that elicit instant groans of “been there, done that” among jaded theatergoers.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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July 25, 2016: Oh, for a wizard’s spell that would allow me to tell you everything, and then erase it completely from your memory. But though I paid rapt attention during the afternoon and evening I spent at “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which opened in a blaze of outrageous enchantment on Monday night at the Palace Theater here, I failed to pick up on any recipe for inducing post-tell-all amnesia in Muggles, which is Potter-speak for nonwizards like you and me. This eagerly anticipated, two-part, five-hour-plus sequel to J. K. Rowling’s best-selling, seven-volume series of “Harry Potter” novels is the kind of play that you want to describe in detail, if only to help you figure out how it achieves what is does. That would be a kind of magic that is purely theatrical yet somehow channels the addictive narrative grip of Ms. Rowling’s prose. Unfortunately, those who have scored tickets to this two-part production, which is sold out through May, are given buttons as they leave the theater that admonish “#KeepTheSecrets.” And I do not want to antagonize Potter fans, who tend to be as vigilant and vengeful as the army of Death Eaters that polices the evil empire of He Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Voldemort. Voldemort is now long gone, of course. Or is he? The story of “The Cursed Child” — conceived by Ms. Rowling with its playwright, Jack Thorne, and director, John Tiffany — makes such questions impossible to answer, and I’m not just being coy because of my pledge of silence. This is a work in which the past casts a distressingly substantive shadow. The past, as Faulkner would say, isn’t even past. Photo Anthony Boyle, left, and Sam Clemmett in this play. Credit Manuel Harlan This point of view saturates “The Cursed Child,” which seems to occur in a land of hypnotically luminous darkness that should mesmerize adults as effectively as children. By even existing, this play is destined to fight against the gravitational force of the memories of young readers. I mean the ones whose coming of age paralleled that of Harry Potter (who advanced from 11 to 17) in the books and the eight blockbuster films they inspired and who may want the Boy Who Lived to stay frozen forever as he was when they last encountered him. As a character in “The Cursed Child” says, “Playing with time — you know we can’t do that.” But playing with time, both gleefully and earnestly, is exactly what this show’s creators are doing. (The production’s memorable images include the most dazzlingly disturbing clocks since the heyday of Salvador Dalí.) Its plot is built on a fantasy that most of us indulge from early childhood: What if we could rewrite our own histories? That premise has been the basis for works as different as the “Back to the Future” film franchise and Nick Payne’s recent physics-infused boy-meets-girl play, “Constellations.” But the notion is singularly well suited to the purposes of “The Cursed Child,” which unfolds as a sort of multiple-choice narrative, allowing Potter fans to encounter various might-have-been, might-yet-be paths for characters they already know intimately and for the new ones introduced here. Continue reading the main story Related Coverage And yes, the old gang is back, or at least the members of it who survived Ms. Rowling’s final Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” The first scene of the play is identical to the last one in that novel, and uses much of the same dialogue. Ask Ben Brantley a question about the London theater scene. * Continue By submitting to us, you are promising that the content is original, does not plagiarize from anyone or infringe a copyright or trademark, does not violate anyone’s rights and is not libelous or otherwise unlawful or misleading. You are agreeing that we can use your submission in all manner and media of The New York Times and that we shall have the right to authorize third parties to do so. And you agree to our Terms of Service. Harry (Jamie Parker, who does Potter pain beautifully), now on the edge of middle age and an employee of the Ministry of Magic, and his wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller), are found at King’s Cross railroad station in London, seeing two of their sons — James (Tom Milligan) and Albus (Sam Clemmet) — off to his alma mater, Hogwarts, the academy of magic that provided him with an especially enlightening, if punishing, education. It will be the anxious Albus’s first year, and like his dad, he is a proud, prickly and sensitive plant. Joining Harry and company are his old chums and allies in the fight against darkness, the goofy Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley, delightful) and the perpetual A-student Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni, a black actress whose casting provoked controversy but who is perfect in the part), now married and the parents of a Hogwarts-bound girl, Rose (Cherrelle Skeete). Harry’s former archrival, Draco Malfoy (Alex Price), is there, too, with his son, Scorpius (Anthony Boyle). Like Albus, Scorpius is a Hogwarts newbie and the two boys seem destined to become best friends, along with an amiable young woman with blue-tipped hair, Delphi Diggory (Esther Smith). It is a triumvirate that will prove dangerous for, well, pretty much the entire world. Fraught, yearning relationships between fathers and their progeny shape both the play’s form and its content. Who is that cursed child, anyway? More than a few of this story’s many, many characters (the adeptly multifarious cast numbers 42) might fit the description. Like the novels that preceded it, “The Cursed Child” is stuffed with arcana-filled plots that defy diagrams and baldly wrought sentimental life lessons, along with anguished dives into the earnest, tortured solipsism of adolescence. By rights, such a combination should try the patience of any grown-up. But like Ms. Rowling’s books, the play vanquishes resistance. Photo From left, Alex Price, Paul Thornley, Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker and Poppy Miller. Credit Manuel Harlan I reread “The Deathly Hallows” on the flight to London from New York, and I was amazed at how naturally what I saw on the stage seemed to flow from the page. Mr. Thorne, Mr. Tiffany and their movement director, Steven Hoggett, and set designer, Christine Jones, collaborated previously on the chilling adolescent vampire play “Let the Right One In,” and they are all expert in mapping the intersection of the uncanny and the everyday. Along with a team that includes Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Neil Austin (lighting) and Imogen Heap (music), Mr. Tiffany and his cast conjure the self-contained world(s) of Ms. Rowling’s books with imagistic wit, precision and, occasionally, stark terror. A convocation of wizards is evoked through the simultaneous swirling of black capes; an otherworldly, xenophobic and unsettlingly topical-feeling Fascist brigade materializes and multiplies out of yawning darkness; and staircases, bookcases and suitcases assume varied and miraculous lives that propel both themes and story. This production captures Ms. Rowling’s sensibility even more persuasively than did the special-effects-driven films. True, the movies were blessed with an unmatchable stable of idiosyncratic British character actors like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith and, as Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes (now safely ensconced across town at the Almeida Theater, embodying another avatar of evil, Richard III). But in “The Cursed Child,” everyone onstage has direct, present-tense responsibility for the story being told. And most of them play many parts. That includes the show’s principals, though I won’t reveal how and why they do so. Suffice it to say that these transformations become haunting, funny physical reflections of our desire to connect with the people we only think we know well, with the dead who linger in our lives and with the selves we once were and will be. The word for these imaginative leaps of faith is empathy. That’s the magic practiced so affectingly and entertainingly in “The Cursed Child,” and it turns everyone in the audience into a sorcerer’s apprentice.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Small Mouth Sounds

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July 19, 2016: “Small Mouth Sounds,” a quiet gem of a play by Bess Wohl that was first seen Off Broadway at Ars Nova last year, has been restaged at the Pershing Square Signature Center with all its wit, compassion and sparkle fully intact. The sound of silence onstage has rarely made such sweet music. For much of the play’s 100 minutes, most of the characters do not speak. It takes place at a weeklong spiritual retreat where silence is enjoined, although Ms. Wohl’s ingenuity and the sympathetic direction of Rachel Chavkin allow us to read the bleeding hearts of the characters with a lucidity that no amount of dialogue could improve upon. The men and women assembling for a psychic tuneup are a nicely varied bunch. At the head of the class would seem to be the yoga rock star Rodney (Babak Tafti), handsome, bearded, decked out in Buddhist-flavored clothing and prone to twisting his body into elaborate poses. This mildly prickles his assigned roommate, the slightly insecure Ned, who alone among the characters is given a self-explanatory monologue. He deserves a chance to unload. A few years ago poor Ned, who is played with a plangent ache by the terrific Brad Heberlee, fell when rock climbing and shattered his skull. While he was in and out of the hospital, his wife began sleeping with his brother. And it got worse from there. Ned cannot even find peace at this retreat. He takes a quiet shine to the grumpy Alicia (Zoë Winters), who is perhaps the least spiritually evolved — or enthusiastic — of the participants. Reeling from a breakup, she taps out angry texts on her phone whenever she can find a signal. To Ned’s dismay, his attempts to cozy up to her are sidelined when Rodney, more obviously a candidate for hot rebound sex, gets in the way. Also hitting relationship speed bumps recently are Joan (Marcia DeBonis) and Judy (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), committed partners who nevertheless are feeling some understandable strains. Judy, we learn, has recently learned she has cancer. In one of the play’s most tender passages, she has a moment of communion with Jan (Max Baker); wordlessly, we learn that he is still mourning a painful loss. Although the stage at the Signature Center is modestly larger than the one at Ars Nova, there’s no diminishment of the play’s intimacy, which is enhanced by the staging. Most of the action takes place on a rectangular playing space, with the audience seated in a few rows on either side of it. Only when they are receiving instruction from the leader of the retreat — who remains unseen but is voiced with hilariously oily piety by Jojo Gonzalez — do the characters assemble on chairs at one end of the stage. Although Mr. Baker, Ms. Bernstine and Ms. Winters are new to “Small Mouth Sounds,” they inhabit their characters with the same full-hearted openness that marks the work of the actors who are returning to their roles. In a summer of disturbing discord and violence, it’s heartening to renew acquaintance with a play that leaves you moved, refreshed and, yes, maybe even a little enlightened.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Oslo

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July 11, 2016: The Aaron Burr of the musical “Hamilton” — who stews over being shut out of pivotal closed-door conferences — isn’t the only person who wants to be in the room where it happens. It’s hard not to envy the witnesses to history in the making and to imagine attending conferences, Zelig-like, in Versailles, Vienna or Potsdam. J. T. Rogers shares that instinct. Unlike most of you, he has acted on it. Having combined investigative zeal and theatrical imagination with insider access, Mr. Rogers now invites you into the chambers where the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were forged during nine fraught months in 1993. Even if you never thought about traveling to Norway, you’ll probably want to visit the inevitably titled “Oslo,” the absorbing drama by Mr. Rogers that opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. At a very full three hours, with many international stops, this play is long and dense enough to make you wonder if you should have packed an overnight bag. Yet what Mr. Rogers and the director, Bartlett Sher, have created is a streamlined time machine, comfortably appointed enough to forestall jet lag. Centering on one Norwegian couple who improbably initiated the diplomatic back channel that led to the epochal meeting of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the P.L.O leader Yasir Arafat at the White House, “Oslo” affectingly elicits the all-too-human factor in the weary machinations of state policy. That couple is Mona Juul, then an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and her husband, Terje Rod-Larsen, who was director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences. They are friends, as it happens, of Mr. Sher, who in turn introduced them to Mr. Rogers, who interviewed them extensively before writing this play. You might expect “Oslo” to have a self-servingly limited perspective. But as he demonstrated in his earlier plays about international politics, including “The Overwhelming” and “Blood and Gifts,” Mr. Rogers doesn’t traffic in superheroes. His well-intentioned interventionists in foreign lands often turn out to be ambivalent fumblers in the manner of Graham Greene’s protagonists. “Oslo” doesn’t have the layers of complexity (and the respect for what we can’t know) of Michael Frayn’s great, similarly speculative you-are-there dramas “Copenhagen” and “Democracy.” But it’s a vivid, thoughtful and astonishingly lucid account of a byzantine chapter in international politics. Mona and Terje are (spoiler) more successful in their endeavors than Mr. Rogers’s previous versions of such characters, at least in terms of immediate goals. But as embodied by (hooray!) Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays, they are complicated beings in a less-than-perfect marriage with a sometimes faltering grasp of the international time bomb they have set ticking. Well, perhaps not Mona, who always keeps her head and manages repeatedly to pluck victory from the jaws of disaster. But Mona has the advantages, as well as the disadvantages, of often being the only woman in the room; and she has the unqualified advantage of being played by the irresistible Ms. Ehle (the definitive BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice,” the 2000 Broadway revival of “The Real Thing”), who manages to be practically perfect without turning into Mary Poppins. It is Mona who serves as our wryly neutral narrator, sliding briefly and fluidly out of the action to place us on timelines and annotate references. She and Terje have been ingeniously conceived as perpetual, generally gracious hosts to the play itself and to the social encounters within, pouring drinks, moving furniture and overseeing the seating arrangements on Michael Yeargan’s elegant, minimalist set. Of course, the gatherings they preside over have astronomically higher stakes than those of an average cocktail party. When the play begins, a dinner at Mona and Terje’s home is interrupted by a phone call — two, actually, and simultaneous. It’s Israel on one line and the P.L.O. on the other. The couple’s guests, the Norwegian foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith) and his wife, Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell), are not pleased when Terje explains his goal of secretly bringing irreconcilable adversaries to the bargaining table. “The world is cracking open,” says the blazing-eyed Terje, who has a habit of sounding like Tony Kushner in “Angels in America” when he is excited. (Mr. Mays, a Tony winner for “I Am My Own Wife,” expertly elicits the brazen but uneasy showboat in Terje.) Holst is skeptical and alarmed. That’s a response that Terje and Mona will continue to encounter in many forms. And the play’s rhythms are dictated by the couple’s repeated overcoming of resistance. I leave it to historians to confirm or dispute the accuracy of Mr. Rogers’s portrayals. But he has done a fine job of mapping the lively, confusing intersection where private personalities cross with public roles. The supporting ensemble members, some of whom are double-cast, create credibly idiosyncratic portraits, right down to the two-man security detail (Christopher McHale and Jeb Kreager) that arrives in the show’s second half. Only occasionally does the script resort to the telegraphic shorthand of cute, defining quirks. The relationships that emerge from within and between the opposing camps are steeped in a poignant multifacetedness, as sworn enemies find themselves tentatively speaking the language of friendship. This is most eloquently embodied by Uri Savir, an Israeli cabinet member portrayed juicily by Michael Aronov as an exuberant rock-star dignitary, and Ahmed Qurie , the P.L.O. finance minister played with a careful balance of wariness and warmth by Anthony Azizi. The cast also memorably includes Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins as a pair of Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-ish academics from Haifa; Adam Dannheisser as an Israeli foreign minister with digestive problems; Joseph Siravo as a hard-line Jewish lawyer; and Dariush Kashani as a hard-line Marxist Palestinian. Mr. Oreskes also shows up as Shimon Peres. But the most famous power players in this drama, Rabin and Arafat, never appear, at least not in the flesh. However, at various points, different characters do imitations of the more famous politicians who remain in the wings. The ways in which these impersonations evolve, and the responses they provoke, create some of the play’s tensest and funniest moments. It’s no secret that politicians have to be actors, which the characters in “Oslo” well know. Their understanding and re-creation of the signature styles of allies and enemies make for unexpected moments of personal catharsis and illumination. They also happen to be the stuff of crackling theater.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Effect

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March 20, 2016: How much do you love me? Do you love me as much as I love you? Are you happy that you love me? How happy? Children, testing their parents, aren’t the only ones who ask these childish questions; grown-ups do it ad nauseam, and never get satisfactory answers. Though our calculated use of emoji these days would seem to indicate otherwise, it remains an exasperating and thrilling fact of life that emotions cannot be quantified, particularly love. The irreducibility of love is the subject of “The Effect,” Lucy Prebble’s very clever — and ultimately more than clever — play, which opened on Sunday night at the Barrow Street Theater, artfully directed by David Cromer. Ms. Prebble, the British author of “Enron,” has come up with an ingenious variation on one of the more common romantic formulas in fiction: Put two attractive people in an unfamiliar hothouse environment, and see what blooms. Usually such a premise involves an exotic vacation, a sleep-away camp or perhaps enforced confinement due to war, natural disaster or zombie apocalypse. In “The Effect,” boy (name of Tristan Frey, played by Carter Hudson) meets girl (Connie Hall, portrayed by Susannah Flood) at a medical research center in which they are guinea pigs in a four-week pharmaceutical trial for a new antidepressant.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: White Rabbit Red Rabbit

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March 9, 2016: For all I know, as I write these words, Nathan Lane is lying dead on a chaise longue on the stage of the Westside Theater. Probably not. You would have read the obituary by now. But Mr. Lane, who gave the first New York performance of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a playful, enigmatic and haunting solo show by the Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour, was lying supine on that chaise when I left the theater as strictly instructed Monday night, the only night of the week the show is being presented. The play concludes with the ominous suggestion that — well, perhaps I shouldn’t say any more. The novelty — or gimmick, or both — of “White Rabbit” is that the actor performing the show does not have a chance to read it before arriving at the theater. He (or she) is handed the script onstage, before us, with no prior knowledge of its contents (unless, of course, he or she has already Googled it and got a general sense of what is in store). Every week, a different actor will perform the 75-minute piece. The list of upcoming performers, a diverse and distinguished lot, includes Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Brian Dennehy and Cynthia Nixon. (Check the show’s website to see who is performing when.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Blue Man Group

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December 28, 2015: The lights in the theater’s entryway turn us all blue as soon as we walk through the door. That’s kind of charming, and so is the ridiculously upbeat song playing on speakers in the lobby bathrooms. The main lyric is the word bathroom, over and over. And over.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Ruthless

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July 19, 2015: A spiked Shirley Temple of a show, “Ruthless!” opened 23 years ago with the likes of Natalie Portman and Britney Spears playing its occasionally homicidal ingénue. Those little tykes have grown up. Aside from the occasional topical joke (the Olive Garden, Donald Trump), this musical, revived by its creators, has not. Joel Paley’s book and lyrics, set to Marvin Laird’s peppy ballads, tell of Tina Denmark (Tori Murray), a perky prepubescent in tap shoes, willing to do whatever it takes to get the lead in the school play. (In this case, it takes offing a rival with a playground toy.) She’s assisted by an ethics-free talent manager, Sylvia St. Croix (Peter Land), and a monomaniacal drama teacher, Miss Thorn (Andrea McCullough). Her mother, Judy Denmark (Kim Maresca), a Lemon Pledge-scented pushover, initially coddles her, but eventually gets wise to Tina’s manipulations.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Fuerza Bruta: Wayra

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July 9, 2014: You know that part, right before the show starts, when they tell you where the emergency exits are? Usually, it’s not the most ear-catching information. But should you find yourself in a crowded theater that’s so thickly clouded with pink-lit stage fog that no exit signs are visible, and they skip the part about where to find them, you might feel the tiniest bit alarmed. Fuerza Bruta: Wayra, at the Daryl Roth Theater, skips that part, or at least it did the other night. This latest bit of sensory-overload brand extension from Diqui James and Gaby Kerpel, of De la Guarda, is a shiny, ever-shifting kinetic spectacle bent on disorientation. A high-volume, augmented remix of Fuerzabruta, which ran at the Daryl Roth Theater for more than six years, this energetic 80-minute show is rife with acrobatics, throbbing music, many-colored lights and storm-speed wind machines. All of the intermittent live music and a few of the scenes are new, including “Globa,” a giant bubble inflated over the crowd for acrobatic purposes. “Vela,” a scene that was once in Fuerzabruta but was taken out years ago, is resurrected here: a shimmering, two-sided climbing wall maneuvered through the audience like a parade float, a man on one side, a woman on the other.

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