OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Important Hats of the Twentieth Century

Important Hats of the Twentieth Century

November 23, 2015: Milliners — all 12 of you still practicing that noble craft — should not get too excited about “Important Hats of the Twentieth Century,” a new comedy by Nick Jones that opened on Monday at City Center in a Manhattan Theater Club production. A parade of historic headgear does not feature in Mr. Jones’s frothy but chiffon-thin play about rivalrous fashion designers, semi-mad scientists and time travel. Mr. Jones’s woolly fantasy, set mostly in 1937, with frequent flights to 1998, begins like a film noir, with a reporter arriving at the scene of a crime. T. B. Doyle, played with funny, square-jawed seriousness by John Behlmann, is interrogating a police officer about a break-in at the laboratory of the “brilliant overweight scientist” Dr. Cromwell (Remy Auberjonois). The cop seems a bit vague about the device purloined and the supposedly grave implications of its theft (“You know these scientists — they think the whole world revolves around science — ha!”), but he’s quite taken with Doyle’s hat, which he finds quite “chic.” We are clearly in fantasyland when beat cops are tossing around lingo like that in 1937.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom

November 20, 2015: The homey voice of Mister Rogers can be heard chirping that “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” shortly before the latest production at the Flea Theater begins. But the audience knows that beautiful days are unlikely to be on the menu. The title of the show is “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,” and everyone is happily braced for the campy scarefest that would seem to be signaled by the contrast between the neighborhoods of a children’s television song and those of this play’s reality. Or rather, virtual reality. Written by Jennifer Haley, “Neighborhood 3” takes place mostly in an alternate online universe that simulates the natural habitat of the kids playing the game of the title. And since Ms. Haley is the author of “The Nether,” presented by the MCC earlier this year and perhaps the most sophisticated (and disturbing) onstage exploration to date of Internet addiction, expectations are understandably high for this variation on the same theme. Yet “Neighborhood 3,” which has been staged by the indefatigable film director Joel Schumacher, never convincingly inhabits either of its principal settings — the green, green grassy world of the all-American suburbs or its creepy computer-rendered counterpart. Though it was seen in an earlier version more than seven years ago at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky., this work still appears to take place on that flat, in-between zone of creativity commonly known as the drawing board.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces

November 19, 2015: Ignatius J. Reilly, the blimp-sized, eloquently imperious, gastrically challenged antihero of John Kennedy Toole’s long-celebrated 1980 novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” has at last made it to the stage, in the person of Nick Offerman, of “Parks and Recreation” fame, in an adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher having its premiere at the Huntington Theater Company here. He is surrounded, as in the book, by the riotous assortment of fools and knaves gabbling, carping, sniping and generally distracting the great Ignatius from his monumental philosophical work, in which he will prove beyond doubt that civilization has been snowballing downhill since the Middle Ages. But perhaps inevitably, in clambering from the pages of Toole’s capacious book onto the Huntington stage, where the rigors of dramatic form can pinch, Ignatius and company seem to have lost some of their seedy, vicious charm, and Ignatius himself some of his unforgettable comic girth.




November 18, 2015: Hello, not-so-young lovers, wherever you are. Do you know what Rodgers and Hammerstein show I’m (sort of) quoting there? Even if you don’t (it’s “The King and I”), you’re likely to have a swell time at “Steve,” a surprisingly serious comedy by Mark Gerrard in which no event is so grave or so trivial that it cannot be annotated with a musical comedy reference. This deliciously well-acted New Group production, which opened under Cynthia Nixon’s assured direction on Wednesday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center, portrays a group of middle-aged gay New Yorkers for whom life was once truly a cabaret. No, make that a piano bar — the kind where, between show tunes, you might lock eyes with someone who’d turn out to be, if not the love of your life, at least the flavor of the night.




November 17, 2015: When the cast list for a play identifies its characters only by pronouns, it might as well have a warning sticker attached, reading, “Whimsy alert: severe artiness ahead.” These days, surely only dramatists of Edward Albee’s generation, which came of age in the absurdist shadows of Ionesco and Pirandello, can be forgiven such universal nomenclature, and even they can irritate in that regard. So my heart sank a bit when I picked up the program for the German playwright Maria Milisavljevic’s “Abyss,” which opened on Monday night at Theaterlab in a Play Company production, and saw that the three-member ensemble would be portraying people named I, She and He. Yet while I (I mean me, not the character) suppose that this poetic drama qualifies as severely arty, it is also genuinely artful. And if you bear with its more fanciful flourishes, it will take you places you didn’t expect to go.



Pike St.

November 17, 2015: Evelyn, the principal character in Nilaja Sun’s terrific new solo show, “Pike St.,” had her hands full even before news came of the hurricane bearing down on New York. Her 15-year-old daughter, Candi, is severely disabled and needs constant care. Four years ago, Candi had an aneurysm — or some similar catastrophic brain malfunction — and now she can barely speak and cannot feed herself. She also requires a respirator. It’s that respirator — and a dialysis machine — that’s jangling in Evelyn’s mind when we first meet her, on a phone call with Con Edison, trying to find out whether her building, on the Lower East Side street that gives the play its title, is likely to lose power. Evelyn desperately needs a generator in case it does. Moving with Candi into a shelter, as they did the last time a big storm hit, was traumatic for everyone.



Henry IV

November 11, 2015: Leave it to an army of sharp-witted women to point out just how much Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” plays are — how shall we put this? — manhood-measuring contests. As embodied by a rousing all-female cast in this seriously entertaining Donmar Warehouse production, which opened on Wednesday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, Shakespeare’s soldiers, nobles and carousers seem to be forever engaged in vociferous argument as to who has the bigger …. Well, fill in the blank: heart, courage, entitlement to contested lands, right to be in charge, capacity for alcohol — and for whoremongering and warmongering — and the ability to put a lesser fellow in his place. Whether the tone is drunken rowdiness or somber statesmanship, conversation sooner or later tends to turn into a testosterone-fueled competition for top dog. That may well have been your impression, at least in part, from earlier encounters with “Henry IV, Parts I and II,” which have here been condensed into one compact and explosive whole (and an intermission-free 2 hours 15 minutes). These are the plays, after all, that include those immortal, oppositional forces of braggadocio, Falstaff and Hotspur.



Lost Girls

November 9, 2015: So you’re driving along through what you think is a drearily familiar landscape, when suddenly there’s a bend in the road. All at once, in a single click of perception, everything looks slightly but revealingly different, and not just where you are now, but also where you’ve been. The view in the rearview mirror has changed. That’s the route taken by John Pollono in “Lost Girls,” the ambling and ultimately quite moving comic drama that opened on Monday night at the Lucille Lortel Theater. Mr. Pollono, an actor and writer whose previous plays include the dark teaser “Small Engine Repair,” is a deft practitioner of the sort of twist-in-the-tale narratives that are mostly associated with short-story writers of earlier eras, like O. Henry and W. Somerset Maugham. Such compact fictions tend to work better on the page than on the stage, since theatergoers can become impatient with expositional setups for reveals they may not know are coming. And the long opening scene of “Lost Girls,” an MCC production directed by Jo Bonney and starring a tough-as-beef-jerky Piper Perabo, is entertaining enough but hardly grips the attention.



Dada Woof Papa Hot

November 9, 2015: Spare a teardrop or two for the troubled gay fathers in “Dada Woof Papa Hot,” a slick, mostly enjoyable new play by Peter Parnell that opened on Monday at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Where, oh where, will they summer next year, now that Fire Island has become perhaps a little too, er, hot for young children, with the awkward questions about what all those men are doing in the underbrush? How will they find a nanny — sorry, they prefer the delicate euphemism “caregiver” — to replace the jewel they found this summer? And while the little ones have flourished in their fancy preschool, the challenge of getting into just the right kindergarten now looms. There’s something off-puttingly insular about the world of privilege, both gay and straight, depicted in Mr. Parnell’s comedy-drama about the new frontier of gay marriage and parenthood. The characters all seem to be living in a Design Within Reach catalog, among $7,000 sofas and $4,000 chandeliers. But if you grant Mr. Parnell his natural right to depict rarefied lives — this is Lincoln Center Theater, after all — his play does delve with intricacy and heart into the thorny lives of the proliferating number of gay couples with children today.



Dear Elizabeth

October 30, 2015: As both poets and personalities, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell could hardly have been more different. She: intensely shy and self-doubting, producing gemlike, allusive poems so infrequently that her collected verse fits easily into an inch-thick volume. He: extroverted and convivial, if afflicted, like her, with a fundamentally solitary nature, and a prolific writer who came to exemplify the confessional poetry of the 1950s and 1960s. And yet, as their long correspondence movingly attests, each considered the other a cherished friend — “best friend,” as they told third parties — as well as a sympathetic and understanding reader (and, at times, critic).