OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Last Match

October 24, 2017:

The “whiz” — or is it the “whoosh,” or maybe “sh-sh-sh-sh-sh”? — of an ace being served is described (competitively, of course) by rival tennis players in the opening moments of Anna Ziegler’s “The Last Match.” The speakers concede, though, that an onomatopoeia doesn’t do the job of explaining what it’s like to have a meteoric ball hurtling past your ears, shattering your hopes if not the sound barrier.

And besides, there’s another, graver noise that fills the heads of Tim (Wilson Bethel) and Sergei (Alex Mickiewicz) as they face off in the semifinals at the U.S. Open. That’s the roar of what Tim describes, in an agonized rush, as “the pressure and the failure and the death and the ambition and the coming up short.”

In other words, don’t you dare say it’s only a game. It’s not just a shiny cup that’s at stake in the ominously titled “The Last Match,” which opened Tuesday night at the Laura Pels Theater. It’s life itself.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Othello: The Remix

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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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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: Blue Man Group

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: Sex Tips for Straight Women From a Gay Man

February 12, 2014: Every theater in New York should hire Stefan to make the precurtain announcements. With his baby face, bedroom eyes and alluring if indeterminate European accent, he can order us to turn off our cellphones and unwrap our hard candies any time. Unfortunately, at the one show that Stefan is introducing these days, things go way downhill fast. Matt Murphy’s Sex Tips for Straight Women From a Gay Man could have been zingy and smart and actually helpful, like Bravo’s erstwhile reality series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Sistas: The Musical

October 23, 2012: When you go to one of those shows that seem to exist only to be marketed to a certain age or ethnic group (like “Menopause: The Musical” or “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, & I’m in Therapy!”), your expectations may not be particularly high. But Dorothy Marcic’s “Sistas: The Musical,” now playing at St. Luke’s Theater, is a sweet and sassy if slightly rickety little show.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Avenue Q

October 22, 2009: They may have no legs of their own, but darned if those fuzzy creatures aren’t still standing, long after more full-bodied competition has bitten the dust. I mean the singing, occasionally foulmouthed hand puppets of “Avenue Q,” the “Sesame Street”-style musical for adults who can’t quite believe they’ve grown up, which reopened Off Broadway on Wednesday night at New World Stages, after a six-year, Tony Award-winning run on Broadway.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Stomp

July 29, 2005: Three years after "Blue Man Group: Tubes" opened, another Off Broadway sensation came on the scene with no talking, even more drumming and a familiar joke in common.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Blue Man Group

July 28, 2005: Blue Man Group has been around so long and played so many cities that it's easy to forget that its roots are in the New York performance art scene of the 1980's.

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