Give it All Back
The Biograph

Give it All Back opens backstage, where an unnamed solo musician resembling—but never identified as—Bob Dylan is preparing for a concert. Later, we will meet his traveling companion on this tour, a bearded beat bard eerily reminiscent of the late Allen Ginsberg. Other visitors include his generic recording agent, an African-American singer-songwriter whose memories of their early days together in the protest movement recall those of Joan Baez, and his current consort, whose physical appearance is only a hair color away from fashionista Sara Lownds, the future Mrs. Dylan.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hedda Gabler, A
Pride Arts Center

This is not your schoolroom Ibsen. Over a hundred years after his tale of an angry housewife's misanthropic machinations shocked audiences, Nigel O'Hearn's translation, titled “A Hedda Gabler,” has winnowed its progress to an efficiency better suiting the small stages of our time. More noticeable, however, are the changes to the locale and presentation rendered this Red Tape Theatre production in pursuit of facilitating accessibility to modern audiences.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

If the thought that crosses your mind upon initially viewing the parlor of Pemberley is "Did British families have Christmas trees in 1815?" or if the news that the Darcys' Yuletide guests will include an Oxford-educated nerd fascinated by the study of snails makes you think of P.G. Wodehouse's Gussie Fink-Nottle, you may imagine that you've second-guessed the authors of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, but you will only be half right.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Fundamentals, The
Steppenwolf Theater

The speechwriters for the recent election got it wrong. The people of whom we should beware are not those with nothing to lose, but those with just a little to lose—and that little is all they have.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Oh Hello
Lyceum Theater

Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney), two messy golden-agers from New York's Upper West Side, could be today's Felix and Oscar, more crotchety and disheveled than golden, appearing as stars in a disorganized, screwy Broadway production.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Wholehearted, The
Kirk Douglas Theater

Stein/Holum Projects, the experimental theater group headed by Suli Holum and Deborah Stein, has brought its latest production, The Wholehearted, to Los Angeles. The short, blood-spattered solo play tells the story of Dee Crosby (Holum), a female pro boxer who used her fists to become a champion, only to be suddenly attacked one night by her knife-wielding ex-manager and -husband. Seething with rage and jealousy (after she dumped him for another woman), he stabs her repeatedly and almost kills her.

Willard Manus
Piano Men
Florida Studio Theater

Piano Men sparkles like the curtained-with-lights background of the small stage at Florida Studio Theater’s Goldstein Cabaret. Keyboarders John Grieco and Brian Walters team up to present the compositions and styles of key piano players of America’s 20th century. As performers, these may have played in venues from honky tonks to grand concert halls, but here the two energetic piano men play directly to the audience of a distinctly intimate cabaret.

Marie J. Kilker
Merrily We Roll Along
Annenberg Center - Bram Goldsmith Theater

Michael Arden, the Wallis’s new Artist in Residence, has given the troubled musical Merrily We Roll Along a galvanizing shot in the arm with his culturally diverse casting and imaginative staging. Now on tap at the Wallis, this locally produced revival of Merrily has a lot going for it, thanks largely to the unflagging energy and spirit of its youthful, inter-racial performers.

Willard Manus
Wonderful Town
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera’s revival of Wonderful Town is a winner in every respect, despite it being a concert performance and not a full production. But thanks to David Lee’s direction, Leonard Bernstein’s dynamic score, Comden & Green’s witty lyrics, and the cast’s inspired performances, the evening can only be described as a triumph.

Willard Manus
Lobby Hero
Milwaukee Chamber Theater

This isn’t the first time Milwaukee Chamber Theater has launched a production of Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 play, Lobby Hero. But the interpretation of the main character, a security guard whose actions don’t exactly make him a “hero,” is vastly different than what was presented in its original production.

Anne Siegel
Love, Love, Love
Laura Pels Theater

Cheers to Mike Bartlett's critical look at the rise and fall of a generation over the soundtrack of the Beatles' song, "All You Need is Love." Playwright Bartlett examined a generational divide from past and present viewpoints in Charles III. In the Roundabout's dark comic tragedy of Love, Love, Love, he explores the self-centered milieu of the 1960's to the present.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Soldier's Tale, The
Bitef Theater

Although Company Club Guy’s production of The Soldier’s Tale uses Igor Stravinsky’s music, the play should not be confused with either the originally conceived ballet or the subsequently original staged drama. What is alike in the contemporary production staged for the Bitef Festival is that this theater piece combines spoken drama, music, and dance integrally to convey “travel through imaginary yet true events and emotions.”

Marie J. Kilker
The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart
Reuben Cordova Theater

The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart, now in its West Coast premiere at Theater 40, is a cousin to Blueprint to Paradise, which ran last summer at Hudson Theater. In that play (based on a true story), we met two Nazis who had come to L.A. in 1940 to confer with a local Hitler-loving businessman on the construction of a building which would house the Fuhrer when he came in triumph to rule over America’s West Coast. John Morogiello’s play, which is also based on fact and unfolds right before WWII, looks at the Nazi influence on L.A.

Willard Manus
UnSilent Night
Next Act Theater

As holiday-themed productions continue to roll into town, a single light is burning brightly at Next Act Theater, which is presenting the world premiere of a new holiday play by local playwrights John Kishline and Edward Morgan. Called UnSilent Night, the show, set in 1953 Milwaukee, takes place entirely in a radio station, where the crew is finishing up its broadcast on Christmas Eve.

Anne Siegel
Bitef Theater

Based on the authors/performers’ research trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, their drama, Freedom: The Most Expensive Capitalist World, combined monologues, speeches interactive with the audience (including sales pitches) and with each other, and principally the film of their North Korean experience. They began with the notion that North Korea “is the last remnant of the Cold War” which could be examined as an “enemy” of the West according to stereotypical descriptions and propaganda.

Marie J. Kilker
La Gringa
Batey Urbano

When your present is boring and/or future uncertain, it's easy to muse upon your past. This search for "roots" may be based in recorded lineage, or may reach back centuries to an age/place/tribe/event rendered all the more mythical by the reluctance of immediate relations to share in your obsession. After all, hasn't the promise of North America always been that of putting the old behind and making a fresh start in the new?

Mary Shen Barnidge
King Charles III
Navy Pier

Once upon a time, there was a prince who assumed the throne late in life. Vowing to rule wisely, when his advisors proposed a law violating his conscience, he refused to grant his approval, and when his kingdom's voting body objected, he voided their power, throwing his country into turmoil. The ensuing unrest spurred his elder son to depose the royal sire in order to restore peace and unanimity, while his younger son longed only for an "unpredicted life" with his leftist working-class girl friend.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Screwtape Letters, The
Pearl Theater

C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” was first published in serial form and was published as a book in 1942. It’s a brief, apologetic novel exploring Christianity. It takes the form of 31 letters written from an administrative demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a minor demon, Wormwood. Screwtape is guiding Wormwood in the corruption of a human soul, a man known simply as “The Patient”. It’s heavily ironic satire, taking the perspective of evil in exploring the nature of the Christian life and salvation.

Steve Capra
Touch of the Poet, A
Pacific Resident Theater

Thanks to Pacific Resident Theater, we have a rare chance to see Eugene O’Neill’s last completed play, A Touch of the Poet. First written in 1935 as part of an unfulfilled 7-play cycle dealing with the fortunes of two clashing New England families, Poet centers on one of the most vivid characters in all of O’Neill: a vain, swaggering Irishman, Major Cornelius Melody (Matt McKenzie), who had served in Wellington’s army and now, in 1828, was reduced to running a sleazy saloon near Boston.

Willard Manus
Foreigner, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

Plays typically don’t age like fine wine but, surprisingly, this seems to be the case with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s signature comedy, The Foreigner, by the late Rep playwright/actor Larry Shue. Or perhaps the credit for this thoroughly entertaining production goes to Director Laura Gordon, who takes a restrained approach to some of the play’s more outrageous scenes.

Anne Siegel
Guys and Dolls
Asolo Repertory - Mertz Theater

In a big neon-colored return to Broadway of the 1950s, Asolo Rep’s Guys and Dolls shines brighter than usual in two respects: it’s the leading Dolls who most light up the stage, and it’s the choreography and dancing that illuminate plot and character as much as the iconic songs and vocalizing. With Josh Rhodes in charge, old-favorite routines achieve moments of new sparkle.

Marie J. Kilker
Edge Theater

A Wyrd Sister walks into a bar—one of Macbeth's Wryd Sisters, called "witches" by unreconstructed foozles, to be exact—where she encounters a young man acting like a jerk.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Rutherford's Travels
Chicago Dramatists

Virtually every culture includes in its folklore tales recounting the adventures of social misfits who forsake home and kin to roam the wide world, and in doing so, come to discover their place in the cosmos.

The chief contribution of the North American variety is the significance of nature itself in the hero's journey to maturity. Peer Gynt and Lemuel Gulliver might observe alternative civilizations, but in a nation spanning an entire continent, the role played by wilderness primeval in precipitating mortals to contemplate their legacies is inevitable.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Geffen Playhouse - Gil Cates Theater

A millennial comedy with a vengeance, Icebergs looks at an LA-based showbiz couple who are trying to cope with some major personal and professional problems.

Willard Manus
Apartment 3A
Windy City Playhouse

When a man dwelling in a shabby apartment building located on the fringes of a slated-for-gentrification district is seen always garbed in a sleek Armani suit with a blooming rose in his lapel, even in the wee hours of the morning, we suspect that there might be more to him than meets the eye — and when he eagerly extols the limitless virtues of his never-seen wife, whose job entails frequent travel, we also begin to wonder about her. That her faithful husband appears happy in his long-distance marriage only piques our curiosity further.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Magic Play, The
Goodman Theater

The sleight-of-hand trick dubbed "Sam the Bellhop" (popularized by Chicago magician Frank Everhart) is a tour de force turn requiring the magician to recount a story while simultaneously producing, from a randomly arranged deck, cards representing the characters and their various travels. Andrew Hinderaker's latest play likewise combines classic "close-up" magic with dramatic narrative, integrating the two so inextricably as to render negligible the question of which one determines the other's course of action.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Beauty Queen of Leenane, The
Mark Taper Forum

Bracing and fiery as a shot of Irish whiskey, The Beauty Queen of Leenane direct from the Druid theater company in Galway, where the Martin McDonagh play was first done in 1997. Druid’s current revival is directed by Garry Hynes, the play’s first director, and it stars Druid’s co-founder, actress Marie Mullen, who won a Tony for her work in Beauty Queen when it was done on Broadway in 1998.

Willard Manus
Thank You - I Think
Starlite Room

With their last show of 2016, Starlite Players once again bring original and also prize-winning short plays to a cabaret-type atmosphere. Their four comedies, as advertised, “laugh at life’s twists and surprises” and do so with gusto. It’s always fun to laugh at Starlite plays in a convivial atmosphere, so there was an aura of anticipation of a new year at the opening night of the last show of 2016.

Marie J. Kilker
Walter Kerr Theater

There’s not a show on Broadway with a finer ensemble than Falsettos. Each actor has a gem of a moment, and the audience is constantly dazzled.

What makes up this “Modern Family”? A somewhat ragtag group of friends and family. Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) is a bright, precocious, and, at times, nerdy, boy. His dad, Marvin (Christian Borle) has divorced Trina (Stephanie J. Block), and is in love with boyfriend Whizzer (Andrew Rannells) who doesn’t/does love him.

Michall Jeffers
Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

In probably the sexiest show in FST cabaret history, Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, three female performers exemplify the title but with sophisticated twists. Like the sparkling baubles on the blue curtained stage background, they scintillate in an opening medley characterized by its beginning “Shoop Shoop Song” subtitled “It’s In His Kiss.”

FST favorite Jannie Jones leads the trio of Juliana Davis Ditmyer and Southern sweetie Meredith Jones, all in suggestive mode.

Marie J. Kilker
Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas, A
Concordia University - Todd Wehr Auditorium

For something as simple, innocent and beautiful as new-fallen snow, Milwaukee audiences are treated to A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas. The play is being produced by Christian-themed Acadia Theater Company in a university auditorium in a northern Milwaukee suburb.

Anne Siegel
Roads to Home, The
Cherry Lane Theater

What terrific work we see on stage in Primary Stage’s production of Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home, presented at the Cherry Lane Theatre!

Steve Capra
Million Dollar Quartet
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Rock ‘n roll’s not only alive but kickin’ -- maybe more than ever -- in Sarasota, thanks to the Million Dollar Quartet. Florida Studio Theater becomes Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, for the musically historic night of December 4, 1956, when icons-to-be recorded together.

Marie J. Kilker
Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The
The Wild Project

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui isn’t usually considered Brecht’s best play. It’s the complex story of a Chicago gangster who rises to power through control of the vegetable trade. The plot is overly complicated. There’s no hero appearing throughout the play with whom we can identify, as there is in The Good Woman of Setzuan, or Saint Joan of the Stockyards. Brecht fails to involve us either intellectually or emotionally in this play.

Steve Capra
Second Woman, The
Bootleg Theater

The Second Woman by Marissa Chibas explores female aging in a complex, mysterious, and highly intellectual way. Now in a world-premiere production at Bootleg Theater, the two-character drama kicks off with a video segment (shot by John Hawk) which pokes fun at a modern-day rehearsal of Medea. A once-famous actress, Zohra (Chibas), now playing the role of the Nurse, objects to what the snotty young director is doing to the play, tricking her out in an ugly grey wig and telling her to think about “colors and lines” instead of character motivation.

Willard Manus
Waiting for Grace
Odyssey Theater

Sharon Sharth, a veteran stage and film actress, has put her own life on stage in Waiting for Grace, the new comedy now in a world-premiere run at the Odyssey Theatre. Sharth, who also plays the lead role in the production, decided her relationships with men were fit material for a play, one that would tackle the sexual politics of the day in a bold, personal way.

Willard Manus
My Barking Dog
Urbanite Theater

In an allegorical mode, My Barking Dog concerns today’s society and the environment as a problem but with a comic coating. The play begins with monologues by two loners in the same urban apartment building who receive visits by a hungry coyote, probably from a nearby park. From then on, they experience a call of the wild.

Marie J. Kilker
Piano Lesson, The
Hartford Stage

August Wilson (1945-2005), in the “Pittsburgh Cycle,” created ten plays set in the decades from the 1900s to 1990s. Two of the dramas that chronicle generations defined by the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural, agricultural south to the industrial north, earned Pulitzer Prizes. Not in chronological order, the plays started with Jitney (the 1970s) in 1982 and ended with the 1990s and Radio Golf in 2005. He died between its premier and Broadway opening in 2007.

Charles Giuliano

There are few sure things in American theater, but dramatist Mark St. Germain is one of them. For the past two years he has been included on the New York Times list of most- produced homegrown playwrights, and theaters are lining up to stage his latest play, Relativity. The script was commissioned by the Florida Studio Theater, where it premiered in August. Productions are scheduled for Iowa and Illinois and others in the works. Closer to home, the drama is opening TheaterWorks’ 31st season in a production that stars veteran actor Richard Dreyfuss as Albert Einstein.

Charles Giuliano
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Booth Theater

In Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the endangered aristocracy whiles away the years leading up to the French Revolution with games of seductive manipulations to humiliate and avenge those who did them wrong. While Christopher Hampton's adaption of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's 1782 epistolary novel has been done before, London's Donmar Warehouse's current production at the Booth Theater brings in two eminent big guns, Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber, to portray the scheming protagonists. Therein lies the problem.

Elizabeth Ahlfors