Schreiber Shorts 2017
Gloria Maddox Theater

Drama should be compressed. That’s why short plays – 10-minute or 15-minute plays – have such potential. But it’s a very challenging form, and most short plays fail. The playwright needs to make us care quickly, and a lot depends on the characterization being specific.

T. Schreiber Theater, Off-off-Broadway, has presented ten short plays in its program Schreiber Shorts 2017. The evening is a success. Most of the scripts are quite good. The directions is uniformly adroit, and the acting throughout is first-rate.

Steve Capra
Shirley and Me
Crocker Memorial Church

A native of England, Jan Wallace went to acting school there and, right after finishing the course, she was hired by a small London Rep Company but never got on stage. That was life for her, even through marriage and raising children. She didn’t act until the family moved to the United States. She finally got parts in New York and other regional theaters, but the play that made a difference to her career on stages is Shirley Valentine. And that’s extended to her life.

Marie J. Kilker
Stopping Place, A
Crocker Memorial Church

A beginning glitch in the sound system did not bode well for the entrance of Stephen Powell’s persona, coming onstage barefoot and backward. After putting on a tie, he faced the audience to proclaim that the sounds (apparently of a storm) “connect us.” He then moved forward to an imagined edge of a roof of a tall building where he could have “a private view of an urban place.” That he had intended to fall to his death from there was his sole absolutely clear communication.

Marie J. Kilker
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater comes to the rescue with a perfect date-night treat: the wacky musical revue, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

The show, written in 1996 by Joe DePietro, takes audiences through a series of loosely linked vignettes. Most of them only last for 10 minutes or so as they follow the rituals of the mating dance. The show progresses from first date through marriage, having kids, and pick-up tips for singles over 75.

Anne Siegel
Longing Lasts Longer
St. Ann's Warehouse

I have always appreciated the bravery, as well as the chutzpah, of those performers who choose to go it alone in a one-man or one-woman show. Not unlike comedians who stand totally exposed before an audience hoping to avoid the slings and arrows, or for that matter the stink of rotten tomatoes, these all-but-naked actors rely, ultimately so, on the sheer force of their god-given personality, and well-honed talents, to wow their audience, and in the best of cases, bring them to their feet amidst thunderous applause.

Penny Arcade
Syndrome
Crocker Memorial Church

Tim McCown Reynolds gives a tour de force performance as a metaphorical “tourist” traveling in his own home and body through the persona of a man with Tourette’s Syndrome. Because of what that does to a person mentally and just as absolutely excruciatingly physically, Reynolds must perform acts and attitudes that make extreme actors’ exercises seem like preschool activities.

Marie J. Kilker
Top Drawer
Crocker Memorial Church

Adelaide Mestre has turned her life story into the book of her musical, and it ends up being a comedy. In the path, though, come serious problems and tragedy.

Pretty in a deep pink evening dress, Mestre both sings and says how, in overcoming what she viewed as the need to be “Top Drawer” in life and art, she actually reached her own transcendence of early strictures and being set up for crises on and off stages.

Marie J. Kilker
Guidance on Demand
Crocker Memorial Church

Flanked by her audience, Kaylene McCaw walks, waving two large flags of quasi-transparent gold material, down the central aisle. She sings “O-le-o-le-ocean-free” until taking to the stage. Another wave and she stresses that “free” was her important word. She next calls attention to her blue hair. At a Masonic temple, she fell in love with a gal with blue hair and decided to be “magical like her...and tell stories that change the world.” They’re revealed in rites and ceremonies such as will follow.

Marie J. Kilker
Late Company
Reuben Cordova Theater - Theater 40

Theater 40 introduces the work of Jordan Tannahill, who one Toronto-based critic called “the future of Canadian theater.” In Late Company, the first of 28-year-old Tannahill’s plays to be produced in the USA, we sit through a dinner party at the upscale home of Michael Shaun-Hastings (Grinnell Morris) and his wife Debora (Ann Hearn), whose late teenaged son Joel was bullied and humiliated in high school — to such an extent that he committed suicide.

Willard Manus
Becoming Mia Rose
Crocker Memorial Church

The title, Becoming Mia Rose, may be misleading or mysterious like the text. Both it and the production are a mishmash apparently linking a character named Mia Rose with Marilyn Monroe. The soloist Clara Francesca is good to look at in her silky teal dress and she can move like crazy. Purveyors of an illogical theatrical fad call this, I think, abstract movement. It seems to try for artistic credibility by linking it with modern ballet that’s abstract, but here there’s little music.

Marie J. Kilker
Words from the Heart
Crocker Memorial Church

To tell mainly the youthful part of his own story, Alan Brasington interweaves his personal poetic words with lines from “Alice in Wonderland.” Other literature — like “Black Beauty” and The Tempest — influenced his life, but mainly the influences were real. They are vividly presented through his own words and his straightforward oral interpretation of his script in Words from the Heart.

Marie J. Kilker
Made in China
59E59 Theaters

Made in China opens with 56-year-old Mary Harrison sitting naked on her sofa with her dog Lily. Mary sings:
This is me
Talking to my dog
Sitting in a fog
Eating macaroni
But in my head, I’m far away.

Steve Capra
Lake Effect, The
Nextsttage

Nice set! It’s a sizeable modern restaurant with a big front window (over to the stage-left side), and we find out it’s an Indian restaurant — curry and “Oh! My goodness! Indian, not feathers and Blankets Indian! — and it’s in Cleveland in 2010. Deserted. “Closed!” sign. But a raffish looking black guy with a limp comes in the open door anyway and startles the man in a suit who’s straightening things up, and keeps asking him for something to eat, even though the man keeps telling him that they’re closed and he should go away.

Herbert M. Simpson
Brownsville Song
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

A teenager named Tray is dead. But he lives in the memories of his grandmother Lena. If Tray were depicted on an old 45 rpm record, how his death came about would be on the A side of a tragic story too frequently told in his Brownsville Brooklyn neighborhood. The B side depicts Tray as an individual caught up in time, place, and situations that illuminate his story as an important part of current events — that is, contemporary history.

Marie J. Kilker
Hedy
Crocker Memorial Church

In a gorgeous reddish-beige gown, all sparklingly jeweled, Heather Massie is the image of Hedy Lamarr. That’s not inconsiderable considering Hedy once was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Massie takes her back to her original name, Eva, in Austria in the family with the father who taught her to be smart, not just pretty. And she was very scientifically knowledgeable at a time when those responsible for movies just wanted her to “Stand still and look stupid.”

Marie J. Kilker
Blues for an Alabama Sky
Court Theater

Oh, how we adore the romance associated with young people rejecting shallow materialistic imperatives to pursue a selfless lifestyle devoted to art, ideals and adventure — and since nothing is more romantic than the untimely death of the innocence sustaining their starry-eyed vision of a better world, chronicles thereof are required to end in tragedy, after the delicate blossoms of Haight-Ashbury have wilted, the studios of the East Village have fallen to gentrification and a single teabag with five cups of hot water is insufficient sustenance.

Mary Shen Barnidge
By Association
The Greenhouse

Our nation's immediate response to the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001 was not its finest hour. If it was, the days that followed — after the shock of being attacked on our own ground gave way to a free-floating fear attaching itself to anything or anyone not like "us" (however you define that term) — were characterized by the primitive paranoia always lurking beneath the veneer of rationality in a fundamentally uncertain universe.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Yours Unfaithfully
Beckett Theater

Open marriage was TV talk show fare in the 1960's and '70's but the topic certainly wasn't new. The idea has long been discussed, written about and even staged. Yours Unfaithfully, a droll examination of an iconoclastic British couple and their progressive marital experiments, was written in 1933 by actor/playwright Miles Malleson and is now making its world premiere at the Mint Theater. How one couple faces their emotions and reactions when they open the marriage doors to others is an insightful and witty exploration of love, sex and family.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Jitney
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

August Wilson has a prime seat joining Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams in the top tier of American playwrights. His language is musical and heart is poetic, showing deep respect and understanding in the well-illuminated characters of "The Pittsburgh Cycle," ten plays exploring different decades of African-American culture in the 20th century. One of those earliest plays, Jitney, is now making its premiere Broadway appearance at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Starlight! Starbright!
Crocker Memorial Church

Though Joseph Galata presents his story, enhanced by dancing, as an autobiography, it’s difficult to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction. The central story of Starlight! Starbright! is about “his” experiences as a Bacha-Bazi. Literally, that means “boy play” but today and through Bacha-Bazi history, it describes a “Dancing Boy” of certain Middle Eastern areas. Galata embodies such a boy in dramatizing what appears to be his own history.

Marie J. Kilker
Bed, Beth, and Beyond
Crocker Memorial Church

On a stage filled with props, Beth Dzuricky establishes three spots — center, left, right, in addition to one without props down front. In Bed, Beth, and Beyond, she uses them to span many places in which she lived, loved, sometimes languished, other times was let down, or left determined to lift herself up to a better level. Her story is long, yet so engaging, it seems to get to its end — the present — perhaps too soon.

Marie J. Kilker
Spitting in the Face of the Devil
Crocker Memorial Church

A blow-up pic of what looks like a happy family dominates the stage throughout Bob Brader’s autobiographical monologue, Spitting in the Face of the Devil. The picture is deceiving. The devil is in the picture. It’s Brader’s father, at the center. He’s the Satanic creature Brader dealt with throughout their intertwined lives, and the play is a way of showing how he finally dealt with that devil.

Marie J. Kilker
Gutless & Grateful
Crocker Memorial Church

The message of Amy Oestreicher’s musical based on her personal experience is so heart-rendering that it’s hard to judge it as theater. But that’s the form she has it take. A critical view finds it more like a therapy session shared with an audience who might need help to “cope in the face of unexpected events” or who might be able to aid others in coping.

Marie J. Kilker
Pink Hulk, The
Crocker Memorial Church

Working to win a struggle with breast cancer after having won a struggle against lymphoma doesn’t seem like matter for a comedy. But for Valerie David cancer matters and she fights it with comedy to show cancer patients they’re not alone in expressing feelings about it. As a genre, comedy is defined by having a happy ending. That’s what Valerie hopes for herself and other patients as she illustrates how acceptance of self, whatever cancer has done to affect self, can be positive and foster defiant humor.

Marie J. Kilker
Plasticity
Hudson Guild Theater

Hats off to Alex Lyras, Robert McCaskill and the creative team behind the world-premiere production of Plasticity, which just opened at the Hudson Guild Theater. What they have achieved with this solo play is nothing short of miraculous.

Lyras and McCaskill have collaborated on many previous stage and film projects, both in L.A. and New York; that the relationship is a fruitful one is evidenced by the brilliance of this work, a play and a production that succeeds — nay, dazzles — on many different levels.

Willard Manus
Golden Roads
Crocker Memorial Church

Actress-Singer Sharon Ohrenstein, accompanied by Composer-Pianist David Ohrenstein, present Golda Meir as a person of humble origins bound to husband, family, and finally her largest family. The latter are the people of Israel who make her their Prime Minister.

Musically, Sharon’s Golda begins “Safe at Home” in Milwaukee. But after going through education and teaching, she wants to spread out and use her abilities to help Jewish people also do the latter — in their own homeland. She asks Morris to “Will It with Me.” Both say “I Do” to that and in marriage.

Marie J. Kilker
Sassafras-Skin
Crocker Memorial Church

Frannie Oates’s program title, Sassafras-Skin, may refer more to herself than her song lyrics and characters from her stories. At the center of the stage, a platform on which she performs mainly is filled with mostly stringed instruments. In the platform’s center is a box seat covered with what looks like buckskin. It becomes her prominent instrument as she uses it for background rhythms or for punctuating her stories and comments.

Marie J. Kilker
Ideation
Urbanite Theater

In a secret consulting firm office, Hannah is chairing a secret meeting of the company’s creative thinkers, newly in from abroad. Their job: to come up with an ultimately secret way and means to liquidate a mega-amount of people and dispose of the remains. Boss J.D., communicating by voice only from a secret “on high” position, expects a full report in 90 minutes.

Marie J. Kilker
Luna Gale
Studio Theater

The heroine in Luna Gale is a careworn social worker, single and near retirement. She is compassionate but overwhelmed by her caseload, just trying to hang on until she can look forward to a modest future. She is torn by the thought of abandoning the children she has shepherded through children’s services and the court system, but, as she says, “they keep coming, and coming.”

Anne Siegel
Temperamentals, The
Theater Wit

The Temperamentals is, first, a history lesson, its purpose to correct the popular myth of gay people in the United States owing their freedom to a handful of New York City clubbers who, inflamed by a vision of Judy Garland's funeral procession, rose up in spontaneous rebellion against their establishment persecutors.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Pride Arts Broadway

The lure of road trips is etched into our cultural heritage — our approval of the need for restless city-bred feet to roam remaining undiminished even when they belong to three drag-queen showgirls, whose reasons for striking out for the wide-open spaces are likewise universal. Tick (professional name "Mitzi") wants to reunite with his estranged wife and son, transgender woman Bernadette (formerly "Ralph") seeks solace following the death of her husband, and Adam (stage name "Felicia") simply craves adventure.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Our Secrets
Baryshnikov Arts Center - Jerome Robbins Theater

“None of us is perfect, and each one of us has his own secrets, no doubt. None of us is flawless…But we are sane fanatics of reality, living a treadmill of good compromises.” — said by Comrade Pánczél in Our Secrets

Sometimes the very best theatrical productions have only a few performances. Sadly, in this case a prime example of such a loss is Our Secrets, by Béla Pintér and Company. Performed in Hungarian with English subtitles the piece opened on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan and closes on Sunday, January 29th.

Edward Rubin
McGuire
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

An expanded version of the life story of veteran basketball coach and sports announcer Al McGuire is one of the season’s most entertaining shows at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. That’s a huge compliment to the playwright, Emmy-winning and Hall of Fame sports announcer Dick Enberg, and to the talents of Milwaukee-born, Tony-award winning actor Tony Crivello. He returns to his hometown after starring on Broadway in Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Phantom of the Opera, in addition to many other regional productions.

Anne Siegel
Disgraced
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

Disgraced opens in a sumptuous Manhattan apartment that most New Yorkers could only dream about. In trendy shades of gray and teal, the expansive space reflects taste and style. The Upper East Side apartment’s backdrop is a balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows displaying the twinkling lights of the city skyline.

Anne Siegel
Jitney
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Jitney: an unlicensed taxicab, according to Webster. Jitney on Broadway: a tour de force of great writing, brilliant direction, and stellar performances, according to anyone lucky enough to experience this production. The entire play takes place in a shabby storefront which acts as a base of operations for a car service business. It seems obvious that both the business and several of the men who work there are at the end of a long, hard journey.

Michall Jeffers
Originalist, The
Asolo Theater - Mertz Theater

Surrounded by red velvet curtains, Antonin Scalia appears under huge crystal chandeliers to sounds of a crashing climax of a traditional opera. All appropriately frame the Supreme Court Justice’s introduction of himself as that body’s “Originalist.” He will be engaged in a debate during the Court’s 2012-13 term over the merits of his judgments. But is claiming originalism best for the country in contemporary times?

Marie J. Kilker
Beckett 5
Odyssey Theater

The Koan Unit, a handpicked team of actors working under the auspices of Odyssey Theater Ensemble, has mounted a bill of Samuel Beckett short plays, Beckett 5.. Directed by OTE’s longtime artistic director, Ron Sossi, the bill includes four lesser-known works by Beckett (Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Catastrophe, Footfalls) and the now-famous Krapp’s Last Tape The actors, Alan Abelew, Beth Hogan, Diana Cignoni, Sheelagh Cullen, and Norbert Weisser, deliver well-honed, expert performances that bring these cryptic, metaphysical plays to life in vivid fashion.

Willard Manus
Adler & Gibb
Kirk Douglas Theater

The thud you heard emanating from the stage of the Kirk Douglas Theater was the sound of Tim Crouch’s Adler & Gibbs laying a gigantic egg. The 90-minute play, which comes to L.A. after productions at the Royal Court and Sundance Theater Lab, is a dud of a theatrical exercise: badly written and directed, devoid of passion or life, tedious from start to finish.

Willard Manus
Fringe of Humanity
Access Theater

Paul Calderon packs so many obscenities into his play Fringe of Humanity that they nearly form a barrier between the audience and the characters. The scatology can’t be defended by claims to verisimilitude or naturalism; it’s just vulgar writing. Calderon doesn’t seem to be able to write a line without obscenity.

Steve Capra
Piano Lesson, The
West Coast Black Theater

The Piano Lesson is multi-themed. As a realistic domestic drama, it presents a sister and brother at odds about the purpose of a piano they own. The drama is a historical one, too, highlighting the piano as representing their family history. Also, a a ghost story is intertwined with a mystery. August Wilson’s complex plotting and often poetic language enhance each theme. Westcoast Black Theater Troupe meets the challenge of presenting every facet of the play.

Marie J. Kilker

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