OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Fireface

Fireface

August 28, 2015: There are rules about shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. But it’s almost unbearably tempting to yell it during Third Space’s production of “Fireface,” particularly when a Zippo-wielding sociopath begins splashing what is ostensibly gasoline across the narrow stage floor of the Brick, near enough to spray your sandals. This 1998 play by the German writer Marius von Mayenburg belongs to a deliberately provocative genre that the Germans call “blood and sperm” theater, and that the English describe as “in yer face” theater. Both sobriquets apply here. An explosion of the family romance, “Fireface” observes the incestuous relationship and increasing pyromania of the adolescent siblings Kurt and Olga. Olga (Rachel Keller) is a lusty teenager with a streak of perversity. Kurt (Tim Creavin), who has a nasty habit of setting fire to dead birds, is rather more troubled. Each encourages antisocial behavior in the other until Olga’s attentions to a motorcycle-riding suitor named Paul (Steven Robertson) thrust Kurt toward even darker deeds. And poor old Mom and Dad (Danielle Delgado and Paul Albe) are oblivious throughout. Until they aren’t.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: A Delicate Ship

A Delicate Ship

August 28, 2015: Snowflakes drift lazily down, a view of a cityscape looms through the blurry night, and the crisp scent of a freshly cut Christmas tree fills the air as the lights go up on “A Delicate Ship,” a lovely drama by the newly (and justly) hot playwright Anna Ziegler. But the serenity evoked by this atmosphere soon gives way to storms of philosophical debate and emotional turbulence in this memory play about the fragile dynamics of young relationships, and the mysterious workings of time. Presented by the Playwrights Realm at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on 42nd Street, “A Delicate Ship,” which opened on Thursday, tells a superficially simple and familiar story — the battle between two men for the affections of a woman — through a prismatic structure. This finds the play’s three characters analyzing their own behavior, and one another’s, in dialogues and monologues that take place outside the time frame of the central action. The present and the past are in constant tension, or maybe in thoughtful, sorrowful conversation. Definitely in combat, psychologically at least, are two very different men: Sam (Matt Dellapina) and Nate (Nick Westrate), who are both in love — or fervently think they are — with Sarah (Miriam Silverman), who is Sam’s current girlfriend and Nate’s lifelong friend.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Whorl Inside a Loop

Whorl Inside a Loop

August 27, 2015: Broadway Star Goes to Prison! So might scream a mock headline for “Whorl Inside a Loop,” a funny and moving new play, starring Sherie Rene Scott, that opened at Second Stage Theater on Thursday. Unlike the rest of the cast, Ms. Scott doesn’t actually wear one of those unflattering orange jumpsuits that have become a pop-culture meme, thanks to a certain Netflix series. No, portraying the Volunteer, as her character is referred to, and not an inmate, Ms. Scott wears street clothes, although she learns on her first visit to the prison that the underwire in her bra will make the metal detector “angry,” as the guard wryly puts it. Written by Dick Scanlan and Ms. Scott, and directed by Michael Mayer and Mr. Scanlan — who all collaborated on “Everyday Rapture,” which began life at Second Stage and later transferred to Broadway — “Whorl Inside a Loop” is another adventure in Ms. Scott’s autobiography, although a considerable amount of fiction has been blended into the telling.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Sense of an Ending

Sense of an Ending

August 26, 2015: “All I want is the truth.” That’s what Charles (Joshua David Robinson), a discredited New York Times reporter, tells a potential source. “You have come to the wrong place,” the interviewee says. That place is Kigali, Rwanda, and the time is 1999, five years after the genocide that left approximately 800,000 dead. In Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” (not related to the Julian Barnes novel), Charles, a black journalist dogged by a plagiarism scandal, has arrived to speak with two nuns set to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Sister Justina (Heather Alicia Simms) and Sister Alice (Dana Marie Ingraham) claim to have been sent away from their church well before Hutu mercenaries set upon dozens of Tutsis seeking sanctuary there. But Belgian prosecutors argue that they were present and perhaps complicit in these deaths. While Charles at first sympathizes with the nuns, particularly the girlish Sister Alice, he begins to doubt their story.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Hamlet

Hamlet

August 25, 2015: He is, he complains sulkily, “too much in the sun.” That is correct on so many levels. When the title character of “Hamlet” offers this self-diagnosis early in the highly pictorial production that opened on Tuesday night at the Barbican here, the image matches the word. For the Prince of Denmark is at that moment standing at the exact center of a lavishly appointed banquet table. And while it is presumably nighttime, the sun’s rays seem to have followed him there, and haloed him. It’s not just that he’s the only one wearing black, or scowling, that sets this guy apart. He is cocooned in his own special (and literal) radiance, the celestial equivalent of a spotlight devised by the lighting designer Jane Cox. He looks, for all the world, like a saint in an old-master painting, embracing both martyrdom and apotheosis. Well, what better way to frame an actor whose appearance in Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy has turned the Barbican into an international shrine? That actor, of course, is Benedict Cumberbatch, star of stage, screen and “Sherlock,” and the object of a vast, worshipful cult whose raison d’être I have never quite fathomed. (I think you might have to be female to fully understand.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: FringeNYC

FringeNYC2

August 25, 2015: The tall young man in the baseball cap was upwind of me, which should have made me cautious, but my attention was a bit divided. It was Monday night and I was at a play, part of the New York International Fringe Festival. I was also standing at a railing on the Staten Island Ferry as it churned toward Manhattan, and the actor Tom Nelis was speaking into my ear. In his soothing, mesmerizing voice, he encouraged me to be present, so I took in the scene: the hazy moon, the glittering water, my fellow passenger leaning over the side of the boat to — oh, ick — let loose a gloppy wad of spit straight down into the waves. Except for a drop of saliva the breeze caught. That landed, wetly, on my lower lip. It was, for me, the unscripted low point of “Ferry Play,” a spirited, meditative audio performance conceived and directed by Erin B. Mee, with text by Jessie Bear. You bring the recording with you, on an app on your phone, listening to the first act on the way to Staten Island, the second on the return. You are instructed to regard each person on the ferry as an actor in the play. The good news: Spitting Guy probably won’t be on your boat.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Drop Dead Perfect

Drop Dead Perfect

August 24, 2015: In a sweet 1950s peach crocheted dress and matching bolero, Everett Quinton has never looked lovelier. As Idris Seabright, a lonely and overwrought spinster growing old in the Florida Keys, he laments a storm’s having wreaked “havoc on my African hibiscus — and my poor bougainvillea,” hitting each syllable with that posh Eastern accent that 1930s actresses favored. When a chord of ominous movie music plays, Idris strikes a terrified pose, and we could easily be downtown at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, where Mr. Quinton and Charles Ludlam starred in the original “The Mystery of Irma Vep” 30 years ago. Mr. Quinton is a genius. It is absolute rapture to see him in his element in “Drop Dead Perfect,” a Peccadillo Theater Company production at the Theater at St. Clement’s that began at Penguin Rep in Rockland County, N.Y.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Love & Money

Love & Money

August 24, 2015: The money is vividly apparent as soon as the lights go up on “Love & Money,” the slender new play by A. R. Gurney that opened at the Pershing Square Signature Center on Monday. The sumptuous but tasteful set, by Michael Yeargan, depicts the parlor floor of a brownstone on the Upper East Side, stocked with expensive-looking furniture, paintings and books. And one expensive-looking person, Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), who owns the townhouse and all those mouthwatering goodies. After you’ve sighed at the glory of it all, or perhaps clucked disapprovingly at the luxurious manner in which the elites live, you may notice that many of the furnishings have colored tags dangling from them. Although she has not been motivated by the clutter-go-away movement, Cornelia is preparing to divest herself of her handsome possessions, and indeed her entire, sizable estate. If you were one of the cluckers, you might be surprised to learn that Cornelia supports your team. When Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), her new young estate lawyer, arrives to discuss the dispersal of her fortune, she tells him she’s in the process of “making amends.” In her view, she has “committed the major crime of having too much money,” and is firing off checks to worthy charities — Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee — because her manner of wealth “becomes a crime when millions of people elsewhere in the world have hardly a plug nickel.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Pericles

Pericles

August 21, 2015: Even among the beleaguered heroes and heroines of Shakespeare’s late romances, the title character of “Pericles” stands out for the weight of strange misfortunes that chase him around the Mediterranean, and more than once dump him in it when the ships he’s traveling aboard founder. (A favorite stage direction: “Enter Pericles, wet.”) He’s forced to flee his home country, Tyre, after he divines the secret of the temperamental ruler of Antioch — namely that he has been sleeping with his own daughter — and fears violent retribution. Later blows include the deaths of his wife and his daughter, although this being a romance, those disasters ultimately prove to be illusions. In a new production of the play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed by Joseph Haj, Pericles’ trials are given a glossy sheen that soothes the impact of his reversals — for us, at least, if not for him. Mr. Haj, recently appointed the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, stages this tumultuous play on a clean-lined, simple set by Jan Chambers, featuring tiers of stone cut in contrasting shapes that suggest waves lapping at a shore, or maybe the sharp jabs of fate that Pericles faces. (The production will travel to the Folger Theater in Washington and the Guthrie.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Mercury Fur

Mercury Fur

August 19, 2015: Even those who binge on apocalyptic splatter movies are going to be rattled by “Mercury Fur,” Philip Ridley’s pitch-dark portrait of the day after tomorrow in the big city. Granted, this blistering production from the New Group, which opened on Wednesday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center, doesn’t have the big-screen special effects associated with cinematic gore fests about the end of the world. So, no, there are no exploding heads or melting cars, no meteoric balls of fire or giant mutants devouring human beings like candy. Mr. Ridley is working on the relatively small canvas of a derelict living room in an abandoned apartment. Yet he still manages to provide searing panoramic views of a blasted landscape overrun by monsters. I mean monsters like you and me — vulnerable human beings whom you might, under other circumstances, want to take into your arms and cuddle protectively. “Mercury Fur” has been unsettling people since it was first staged in Britain in 2005 (with a young Ben Whishaw in the cast), when it divided critics and theatergoers with a vehemence that brought to mind the appalled reception to “Blasted,” Sarah Kane’s 1995 account of a British city under siege. In The Telegraph, Charles Spencer described “Mercury Fur” as the work of a writer “turned on by his own sick fantasies,” and Mr. Ridley’s publisher, Faber & Faber, declined to publish the text.

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