OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Measure for Measure-TFANA

June 25, 2017: It’s hard to know what to do about “Measure for Measure,” the kind of play for which Shakespeare’s “problem plays” were named. It includes some of the finest moral argumentation in the canon: thrilling back-and-forths between well-matched antagonists with a great deal on the line. It also includes inane subplots, fake friars, punster tapsters and a tiresome denouement. That trade-off is never easy to negotiate, and the version of “Measure for Measure” that opened on Sunday at Theater for a New Audience, in a production by the British wunderkind director Simon Godwin, leans too heavily on the supposedly funny elements. Leaning on funny elements is almost always counterproductive.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Traveling Lady- Cherry Lane

June 22, 2017: Even though she’s just off the bus in Harrison, Tex., with no one to meet her and nowhere to sleep, the young woman will not answer a reasonable question from a man who might be able to help. She is Georgette Thomas, looking for a place she and her little girl can lodge until her husband, who has been absent for six years, arrives as promised to join them. The man who might help, a judge with houses to rent, naturally insists on knowing more about the husband’s mysterious absence — this is, after all, 1950, when a woman alone raises questions and eyebrows. “Don’t keep asking me where he’s been, Mr. Judge,” Georgette says uncomfortably. “I can’t tell you that.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Fulfillment Center

June 20, 2017:

Human contact is always a compromise in Fulfillment Center, Abe Koogler’s quietly shattering new play, and never a satisfactory one. The four lonely characters in this impeccably realized Manhattan Theater Club production, which opened on Tuesday night at City Center Stage II, keep brushing up against one another — tentatively and clumsily — while aching for fuller connection.

Kisses, for instance, seldom involve two willing participants, so when sets of lips meet, they don’t meld. Everyday social rituals, like having a drink or a meal together, become imbalanced exercises in which nothing is really shared.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Ghost Light

June 19, 2017:

The glorious ghosts who walk the halls of the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center have greasepaint in their ectoplasm, and they do hope you’ll like what they do. These wandering souls are doomed to an eternity of narcissism, yet there is something they love even more than themselves.

That would be the theater. And anyone who shares that obsession will want to spend the enchanted two hours in their company provided by, Ghost Light, the new immersive performance piece from Third Rail Projects, which opened with a profound and shivery sigh on Tuesday night.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Bella: An American Tall Tale

June 12, 2017:

Tall tales are, by definition, unruly. But Kirsten Childs’s “Bella: An American Tall Tale,” a musical about the eventful travels of a wide-eyed beauty in the 1870s, sprawls in so many directions — with changes in tone to match (or mismatch) — that it collapses into inertia.

This comic picaresque, which opened on Monday night at Playwrights Horizons under the direction of Robert O’Hara, follows Bella (Ashley D. Kelley), who is celebrated in her hometown, Tupelo, Miss., for her shape. “All of her stacked proportions make a grown man scream/She cause your glasses to fog and steam,” goes a line in the opening number, “Big Booty Tupelo Gal.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Cost of Living

June 7, 2017:

John has cerebral palsy. Ani is a double above-the-knee amputee. Neither has patience for tactful solicitude or delicate terminology. John warns Jess, the caregiver he hires to dress and shower him, that the term “differently abled” is “retarded.” Most of what Ani tells her estranged husband, Eddie, who wants to help her with ideas he’s gleaned from the internet, cannot be printed here.

So the first of many great things about Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living,” which opened on Wednesday in a gripping Manhattan Theatre Club production, is the way it slams the door on uplifting stereotypes. John is no sympathy case but a rich, bratty grad student at Princeton, protective of his privilege. Ani is a hilariously foul-mouthed North Jersey terror: a cat, as Ms. Majok puts it, that refuses to be petted. You get the feeling she was like that long before the accident that made her quadriplegic and that going soft now would be, well, crippling.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Animal-Atlantic Theater Company

June 6, 2017:

When Rebecca Hall is depressed, attention must be paid. In recent years, this British-American actress has become one of our foremost interpreters of the mood abject, bringing a stinging brightness to pitch-black corners of despair.

Consider her performance as the fate-flattened heroine of Sophie Treadwell’s "Machinal" on Broadway in 2014, or her even more harrowing portrait of the suicidal newscaster in the recent film "Christine." In both cases — and in two mediums — Ms. Hall showed an uncanny gift for finding tonal variety in flatline feeling that made you watch raptly even when it hurt to do so.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The End of Longing

June 5, 2017:

Matthew Perry, the author and star of “The End of Longing,” doesn’t list “Friends” in his program bio, but he doesn’t need to. That hit television series, on which he played the wiseacre Chandler Bing for 10 seasons, sticks to him like a sweaty shirt.

Far from a Bing-ectomy, “The End of Longing,” which opened on Monday in a slick MCC Theater production, amounts to a relapse. The part Mr. Perry has written for himself is a Chandler gone to seed, a round-the-clock drunk named Jack who is eking his way through his late 40s on sarcasm and a last filament of charm.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Building The Wall

May 24, 2017:

How long should it take to write a political play? I don’t mean to ask how speedily it should be written — though if I did, Robert Schenkkan’s “Building the Wall” would surely win a prize. It was drafted, Mr. Schenkkan told The New York Times, in a weeklong “white-hot fury” after the election of President Trump in November, and has already been produced, or will be imminently, at theaters around the country. Here in New York, it opened on Wednesday at New World Stages, where I found it to be slick and dispiriting.

But put that aside for a moment. What I really mean to ask is how long it takes for a specific political situation to become ripe for dramatization. Eager critics, and audiences, too, now seem to be asking for a turnaround that all but prohibits introspection. Yet without introspection, how valuable is the result? It is a very rare political work that speaks directly to its time from its time, and also deeply and lastingly. “The Normal Heart” and “Angels in America” come to mind.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Sweeney Todd (2017)

March 1, 2017: Spend the night with a world-famous serial killer! That’s the promise, proffered with the hopeful luridness of a penny dreadful title, behind the site-specific Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which opened on Wednesday night at the Barrow Street Theater. It must be said that the Tooting Arts Club’s deftly, uh, executed stunt of a show, which originated in London, delivers on its ingenious, if limited, objective. As directed by Bill Buckhurst, this latest version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1978 musical macabre puts its audience within throat-slashing distance of its sociopathic title character.

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