OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Winter’s Tale (2016)

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December 7, 2016: “The Winter’s Tale” has been rewritten as the diary of a madman. Much of the first half of Cheek by Jowl’s viscerally charged interpretation of this strange Shakespeare romance, at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is presented through the perspective of one seriously demented king. His name is Leontes, and as portrayed by a towheaded, jeans-wearing Orlando James, he looks the very model of a laid-back modern monarch. Striking cheerful poses with his stylish wife, Hermione (a tonier-than-thou Natalie Radmall-Quirke) and their neatly attired son, Mamillius (Tom Cawte), Leontes evokes the accessible wholesomeness of Prince William in a Hello! magazine photo shoot. Observe, though, the strained expression that overtakes the good king’s face whenever a certain creepy music box melody starts up. (Paddy Cunneen is the composer and sound designer.) It’s a sound you associate with Italian slasher flicks of yore (remember Dario Argento?), and your instinct is to yell, “Watch out, Hermione, and lock up the axes!”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Tiny Beautfiul Things

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December 7, 2016: Whenever a certain flicker — of curiosity, recognition and bone-deep affinity — lights up the gaze of the woman who calls herself Sugar, brace yourself for a good (and good is the word) cry. You can first spot that wakening flame in the opening minutes of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the handkerchief-soaking meditation on pain, loss, hope and forgiveness that opened on Wednesday night at the Public Theater. At that point, a professional writer who is also a mother of two has just agreed, via phone, to be the agony aunt for an unpaid online advice column called “Dear Sugar.” Portrayed by Nia Vardalos, the newly anointed Sugar finds her toy-cluttered kitchen and living room invaded by a multitude of voices, embodied by three performers who circle her like wandering satellites. Questions pour out of them, about being seasick and about being spied on (by the widow next door), about needing money and about having an eighth-grade science class partner who picks his nose. But it’s the guy who identifies himself as “Confused” who causes Sugar to open her eyes wider and really, really focus.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Rancho Viejo

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December 6, 2016: Gary, a bearded bourgeois in his 60s who talks like a stoned surfer, has firm literary preferences. He likes “weird books,” he says, the kind that don’t grab your attention right away. “I mean you gotta have patience for these things, man,” he says. “They’re kinda like what I guess you’d call a slow burn?” Reading them, he continues, is akin to waiting and waiting in the ocean with your board for a big wave to come. That more or less describes the surprisingly pleasurable experience of the comedy in which Gary appears, Dan LeFranc’s sweet and scary, lackadaisical and hypnotic “Rancho Viejo,” which opened on Tuesday night at Playwrights Horizons.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer

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December 5, 2016: Even before you enter the auditorium at St. Ann’s Warehouse to see Penny Arcade’s solo show “Longing Lasts Longer,” the voice of the performer can be heard echoing through the lobby as she wanders the aisles engaging with the audience. I overheard a funny aria about her trials with the health care system even before I took my seat. Ms. Arcade, whose delivery suggests what might have happened if Phyllis Diller had fallen in with the Andy Warhol crowd (as indeed Ms. Arcade did), trains her stiletto wit on the gentrification of New York in this entertaining if rambling show. The city, she laments, was once a place of renewal, where creative people came to invent themselves anew, shedding the skins of conformity. “We were inspired and intoxicated by the palpable sense of freedom in the streets,” she recalls, having herself fled a Connecticut factory town. “Now,” she continues, “people come to New York and they want New York to be like where they’re from, the suburbs.” What’s worse, they no longer see the city as a beacon of possibility, except narrowly. “They don’t feel the need to reinvent themselves. They just think that they need to become successful and make a lot of money.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Babylon Line

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December 5, 2016: Finding a voice as a writer often involves much throat clearing — false starts, rough drafts, crazy riffs and paralyzing stretches of analysis. Such self-consciousness occupies a lot (and I mean a lot) of stage time in “The Babylon Line,” Richard Greenberg’s new play, which opened on Monday at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. In a way, that’s appropriate. Mr. Greenberg’s latest work unfolds within a creative-writing class, taught by a not-so-young man, Aaron Port (Josh Radnor), who has an affliction he would really prefer you not define as writer’s block. Call him instead, he insists rather winningly, “a patient worker.” Unfortunately, authorial throat clearing — the kind that can try a theatergoer’s patience — seems to be the style as well as the subject of this unresolved comedy. Though it offers choice examples of the off-kilter lyricism that is Mr. Greenberg’s signature, “The Babylon Line” feels like a gifted writer’s notebook, stuffed with beguiling phrases and ideas still waiting to cohere into a compelling shape.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Ride The Cyclone (MCC)

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November 30, 2016: If your knees go weak at the mere sight of a roller coaster, and you shrink in your seat whenever a Six Flags commercial comes on television, you may want to think twice before snapping up a ticket to “Ride the Cyclone,” a musical comedy about, odd as it seems, a gruesome accident at an amusement park that takes the lives of six teenagers. Doesn’t sound like something worth singing and dancing about, does it? But for all who aren’t coaster-phobes, this delightfully weird and just plain delightful show, which opened on Wednesday at the Lucille Lortel Theater, will provide the kind of thrills we look for in all musical comedies, however outlandish their subject matter: an engaging and varied score, knocked out of the park by a superlative cast, and a supremely witty book.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: This Day Forward

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November 21, 2016: Nicky Silver is driving with the brakes on in “This Day Forward,” his bumpy and tentative new comedy, which opened on Monday night at the Vineyard Theater. Usually, for better or worse, this mordant playwright can be relied on to go tearing through the barricades of good taste, good manners and sane plotting into his own ecstatic no man’s land of misery. Yet fans of Mr. Silver’s angry wit and whimsy may feel he is missing in action in this portrait of a misbegotten marriage. True, the show has been staged at the Vineyard, Mr. Silver’s longtime creative incubator. The production has been directed with as much smoothness as the script allows by his frequent and fruitful collaborator, Mark Brokaw. And it features themes — monster mothers, emotionally crippled children, love that dies aborning — that have always been dear to Mr. Silver’s darkly sentimental heart. Nonetheless, if I had started watching this play with no foreknowledge and no program, I’m not sure I would have been able to identify it as his work. Though it has been mounted with elaborate care, with a polished cast and fully detailed sets (Allen Moyer) and costumes (Kaye Voyce), “This Day Forward” feels unfulfilled, like a skeleton in search of animating flesh.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Sweet Charity (2016)

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November 20, 2016: In keeping with the dominant mood of New York City these days, the dance hall hostess known as Charity Hope Valentine has finally shed her middle name. As compellingly portrayed by Sutton Foster, in an archetype-shattering performance, the title character of the 1966 musical “Sweet Charity” has never before seemed so hopeless. Oh, sure, she’s still smiley and goofy and bouncy in the New Group production that opened on Sunday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center. She sings, she tap dances, she leads a fantasy parade in her own honor. But from the beginning of this willfully wan, small-scale revival, directed by Leigh Silverman, Charity seems plagued by a vague awareness that becoming a doormat for men was not a good career choice. And that no matter what course her life takes, men aren’t going to change and neither, God help her, is she.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Dead Poets Society

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November 17, 2016: A lone spark of subversion brightens the generally damp proceedings of “Dead Poets Society,” which opened on Thursday night at Classic Stage Company, directed by that streamliner deluxe John Doyle and featuring the comic film star Jason Sudeikis in an advanced state of decency. This enlivening flicker occurs well past the midpoint of Tom Schulman’s tidy adaptation of his Oscar-winning screenplay from 1989, when hopes have worn thin. Here’s the setup for the moment in which it seems that the show might actually catch fire. John Keating (Mr. Sudeikis in the role originated onscreen by Robin Williams) — an anti-conformist English teacher at a conformist New England boys’ school in that ultimate decade of conformity, the 1950s — is overseeing an exercise that requires his students to walk around the classroom.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Othello: The Remix

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November 16, 2016: Last time I checked, there were not a lot of laughs in Shakespeare’s tragedy about a Moorish general beset by the green-eyed monster. Yet giggles abound in “Othello: The Remix,” a clever and exuberantly performed hip-hop version of the play that opened on Wednesday at the Westside Theater. If the unlikely combination of hip-hop and Shakespeare rings a bell, it’s because the writer-composers, directors and stars of the show — known as the Q Brothers, GQ and JQ — have concocted this kind of madcap mash-up before. They had an Off Broadway hit back in 1999 with “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” adapted from — well, you can guess — and have written versions of several other Shakespeare plays.

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