Roundabout, The
59E59 Theaters

In J. B. Priestley’s 1932 play The Roundabout, Lord Kettlewell is having a trying day. He plays host to his mistress, to a dowager aristocrat, and to a chubby old buddy named Chuffy. What’s more, his daughter, a young woman he hardly knows and a communist to boot, drops by, maybe to stay. She’s brought a male comrade (they’ve just returned from Russia). And finally his estranged wife drops in.

Steve Capra
Les Blancs
The Met Theater

Rogue Machine’s production of Les Blancs deserves a 21-gun salute. The late Lorraine Hansberry’s last play is Shakespearean in form and scope, one that tells a complicated African story and calls for a large cast of both white and black actors to make it work. Many of the actors must speak in dialects and wear native costumes. The set and lighting effects are tricky; music and dance must be woven into the scheme of things as well. Whoever directs faces formidable challenges of every imaginable kind.

Willard Manus
Black Pearl
Black Ensemble Theater

An Art Deco motif nowadays considered only fit to be invoked in the rarefied environment of museums is that of a smiling young African girl wearing a bikini-length skirt fashioned of bananas and very little else.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Radiant, The
Athenaeum Theater

In recent years, plays about working women have evolved from waitresses, hairdressers, and secretaries obsessed with personal family issues to female CEOs, senators, and nuclear physicists obsessed with personal family issues. Traditional gender assumptions die hard, you see, making even women of proven historical accomplishment vulnerable to reduction of their social role to domestic spheres.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Objects in the Mirror
Goodman Theater

Our play's author is Charles Smith; its director is Chuck Smith. If you confuse these two names, you will probably find yourself addressing the wrong person. This illustrates the importance of names, long before the house lights signal the start of our fable.

Mary Shen Barnidge
We're Gonna Die
The Den

Whether you think that life is a "walking shadow" like in Shakespeare, or a "vale of tears" like in the Bible, or just an old-fashioned unvarnished bitch, there's no disagreement on its ending. Oh, sure, we may invoke the D-word in everyday casual conversation — as in "I could just you-know-what" — but do you remember the moment when you first realized, down deep, that one day, we will dddddiiiiieeeee?

Tight End
Pride Arts

"I'm a physical education teacher. My job is to protect the students," declares the coach of the Westmont High School Titans. "In a small town like this, football is life," insists the widow of former champion Adam Miller. They both want to make sure we know that, since the story they are about to recount points toward trouble from the very get-go.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Battlefield
Wallis Annenberg Center - Bram Goldsmith Theater

An epilogue to his famed stage version of the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata, which he directed some thirty years ago, Battlefield is Peter Brook’s lament on the madness and futility of war.

Willard Manus
Expanded Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, The
La MaMa

Karen Finley’s latest work is The Expanded Unicorn Gratitude Mystery. It’s recently been presented by La MaMa as part of its Downtown Icons Series. And that’s suitable: Ms. Finley has been the very picture of downtown theater for decades. In the 1990’s she was one of the NEA Four, performers whose NEA grants were canceled for violating “general standards of decency”. Ms. Finley took the government to court. The case finally ended up before the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the government.

Steve Capra
Sweeney Todd
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

There’s no need to beg the audience to “attend the tale of Sweeney Todd;” not when the telling is being done by Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre. The long-established theater company is right at home in Sweeney’s barbarous barber shop: this is the third time they’ve staged the musical in the past 30 years. And this production is a heck-of-a-ride that takes your breath away.

Anne Siegel
Kidnap Road
La MaMa

Ingrid Betancourt was a Colombian Senator who was kidnapped by FARC rebels while she was running for President in 2002. She was held hostage in the jungle for six-and-a-half years. Catherine Filloux has written a play based on Ms. Betancourt’s experience, Kidnap Road, which was recently presented by La MaMa.

The handsome set, by Justin Townsend, consists of a cube of violent white representing Ms. Betancourt’s prison. It has perforations in it, and it’s surrounded by long sticks representing the forest. There’s a swing downstage, suspended from the ceiling.

Steve Capra
archduke
Mark Taper Forum

History begins in tragedy and ends in farce. Rajiv Joseph builds his new play, Archduke, on that truism, turning the story of the 1914 assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, into a loony comedy worthy of The Three Stooges. The play, which was commissioned by CTG and is now in a world-premiere run at the Taper, tries to get serious as it trundles along, only to be undone by its less-than-believable plot and by its insensitive director, Giovanna Sardelli, a charter member of the “Loud and Louder” school of performing.

Willard Manus
West Side Story
Owen Theater

Something quite remarkable is happening at the Owen Theater in Conroe, Texas. For those within the sound of my journalistic voice, I would recommend obtaining tickets to the Players Theater Company’s splendid production of West Side Story before the word-of-mouth results in an inevitable sellout for the entire run. It was already a full house on the recent night of my attendance, and I can readily understand why.

David Dow Bentley
Actually
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Did he or didn’t he? That’s the question that lies at the heart of Actually, the two-character play by Anna Ziegler which is having a world-premiere run at the Geffen Playhouse (to be followed by a co-premiere at the 2017 Williamstown Theater Festival). In Ziegler’s tight little drama, the issue of campus date rape gets an airing. Samantha Ressler takes on the role of Amber, an 18-year-old motor-mouthed freshman at Princeton University who accuses a fellow-student named Tom of raping her at a wild dorm party. But is it really rape?

Willard Manus
By Jeeves
Village Church Arts

For the past 24 years, Windfall Theater has lived up to its tagline of presenting “fearless” theater. It is known for producing seldom-seen plays and musicals. Some of the latter include Anyone Can Whistle, The Last Five Years, and Celebration (coming in 2018). Windfall’s staff create these elaborate musicals with very little in the way of sets or props. (Somewhat more money usually goes into costumes.) Casts are large to the point where they almost comprise about one-third of audience members. And tickets are only $20.

Anne Siegel
Lady X
Mary's Attic

Gangland-crime buffs may detect traces of Charles "Lucky" Luciano's arrest in this musical adaptation of the 2010 romp-in-pumps burlesque from Hell in a Handbag productions, just as cinema aficionados may experience vague reminders of the 1937 film-noir classic Marked Woman, but audience members knowing nothing of these events — or even those too young to have heard of the actress named Bette Davis (oh, the tragedy!)—will find this no obstacle to appreciation of the liberties imposed by David Cerda and Scott Lamberty upon their source material.

Mary Shen Barnidge
My Name is Annie King
Pride Arts Broadway

According to their playbill bios, the authors of My Name is Annie King met at a BFA program in New York City, eventually collaborating on this musical about religious cults in Appalachia — not the region as we know it today after significant coverage in the recent elections, but the romantic Eden celebrated in folk ballads, before government programs introduced electricity, plumbing and highways to the once-isolated region, quickly followed by private enterprises bringing factories, automobiles, televisions, and cell phones.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Beatsville
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

In its world premiere, Beatsville seems a take-off on a Roger Corman movie wedded to a diminished Big Cafe-Shop of Horrors stage play set to rhymes encased in a mix of be-bop and sort of jazz-swing. It’s set in a Greenwich Village basement coffee house in 1959 frequented by pre-hippie hipsters dressed in black with white and wearing berets more suited to French existentialists. It’s a satire but of what?

Marie J. Kilker
Firebirds Take the Field
Rivendell Theater

Centuries of empirical evidence attest to the phenomenon of psychological stress manifesting itself in physical symptoms, as well as the quasi-infectious nature of this mind-body connection — particularly in groups of adolescent females, though all ages are susceptible. Famous cases of such mass delusion in our own country include the 1692 witch scare in Salem, Massachusetts, and the 1944 "Mad Gasser" scare in our neighboring city of Mattoon, Illinois.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Threesome
The Greenhouse

If you're going to write a play discussing gender issues in the Middle East, it certainly doesn't hurt to introduce it with three attractive young people—a man and woman wearing PJs and a third man wearing nothing but an eager smile—occupying a king-sized bed.

Mary Shen Barnidge
La Havana Madrid
Steppenwolf Theater - 1700 Theater

Chicago has been described as a "city of neighborhoods" — a sobriquet suggesting a tour of the world encapsulated in a few square miles — but also hearkening to feudal ages, making its legacy a chronicle of multicultural displacement as well as assimilation. The instigators of these shifting populations nowadays are not hostile governments so much as commercial conglomerates bent on economical gain — a phenomenon not restricted to communities of color, as demonstrated by the current upheaval in Lake View and Old Town.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Doll's House, Part 2, A
John Golden Theater

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is not so much a sequel as a modernized view of the dynamics of the Helmer family. There are anachronisms aplenty scattered throughout, in case we miss the point. There’s a square box of Kleenex on the table, a water bottle stuck in a bag, children are called “kids,” the heroine sits with her legs spread, and there’s quite a bit of cursing. This all goes to point us in the direction of this ain’t your grandmother’s Doll House.

Michall Jeffers
Ragtime
Ford's Theater

Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., is a national landmark. The Presidential box where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated hovers above the curtain-less stage, and the historic site encourages the idea of his lingering legacy. Ford’s new production of Ragtime thrives in this setting and seems driven by Lincoln’s First Inaugural injunction to find “the better angels of our nature.”

Amy Henderson
Six Degrees of Separation
Barrymore Theater

Why Six Degrees of Separation cannot be updated to today: We can google anything, and within moments, the central “My father is Sidney Poitier” lie would be unmasked; everyone has a cell phone, so it’s safe to assume the victim of a mugging would call for help (or, we hope, someone else would); AIDS would be a top concern; and most of all, in a post 9/11 world, we would never be so foolish as to let a stranger into our homes and lives just because he claims to know our kids. So, we must put all of this aside to experience this latest production.

Michall Jeffers
Jane Eyre
Quadracci Powerhouse

This delightfully updated version of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s Victorian classic, is one of the most wonderful plays in a season filled with wonderful plays. Polly Teale’s adaptation, while not new, has been launched with charm, wit and polish by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in its largest performing space, the Quadracci Powerhouse. The play was developed by the Rep in conjunction with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Anne Siegel
Kiss
Odyssey Theater

Kiss, by Guillermo Calderon, begins as a parody of a telenovela, with two young couples dealing with their complicated love lives in an intense but clueless way. The play, which is set in 2014 Damascus, is intermittently funny, silly, impassioned, and melodramatic. But just as its banality begins to get on your nerves, the way most soap operas do, Calderon executes a sleight of hand and turns the piece into something unexpected: a mordant and ironical political fable.

Willard Manus
Other than Honorable
Geva Theater - Wilson Mainstage

I think this is an important play. It has won acclaim in development around the country, clearly knocked out the opening night audience on its world premiere at Rochester, New York’s Geva Theater Center, and is most certainly headed for a Broadway debut. Some of award-winning, fearless Jamie Pachino’s hard-hitting script and trail-blazing director Kimberly Senior’s showy, theatrical second act may get more subtly tuned-up first, but Other than Honorable is sure to make a lasting impression and win awards.

Herbert M. Simpson
Indecent
Cort Theater

At long last, Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who is now 65, has made it to Broadway. Indecent, her play-within-a-play, encapsulates The God of Vengeance, which was considered so offensive in 1923 that the cast was thrown into jail for obscenity. The controversy revolved around the first lesbian kiss to be performed on Broadway. By today’s standards, the same scene is sweet and pure in comparison to the blatant sex and violence we see in the media.

Michall Jeffers
Visiting
The Edge

Bipolar disorder — the psychological infirmity once known as manic-depression, characterized by bouts of intense emotional obsession — is hereditary. Its symptoms are manifested through behavior, rather than through any measurable pathogen. It is often found in large, quarrelsome, stress-riddled groups, the propensity of the afflicted to attempt suicide usually contributing to the aforementioned stress. It is also frequently evidenced in only one child per generation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Happily Ever at the Box
Music Box Theater

For a long time, I have wondered if the talented quintet of players at Houston’s evermore popular Music Box nightclub wouldn’t eventually run out of cleverly planned and executed themes for their numerous shows each year. Happily, that time has not yet come, and “Happily” is the operative word for the current production titled, Happily Ever at the Box, As that title suggests, the show is built around traditional fairytales, but with an amusingly off-beat collection of princes, princesses, fairy godmothers and witches.

David Dow Bentley
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Lunt-Fontanne Theater

Roald Dahl was a strange, strange man. He was a leading writer of children’s books, but he had a shockingly dark side. This is not immediately evident in the current production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, if you leave after the first act, you’ll probably come away humming “The Candy Man” and musing on the fact that Willy Wonka, who owns and runs the best chocolate factory in the whole wide world, is pretty quirky but basically benevolent.

Michall Jeffers
Bandstand
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater

Donny Novitski has big problems. He’s just gotten back from fighting WWII, and he can’t find work. He’s a fine singer and musician, but what he isn’t is younger, as he’s told in no uncertain terms when he’s out job hunting. It’s thanks-a-lot-for-your-service, but there’s the door. Donny can’t sleep at night, smokes way too much, and is haunted by the memory of his best army buddy, Michael “Rubber” Trojan. They were in a foxhole together, and only Donny made it out alive. Now, he’s obligated to keep his promise to his friend and to look out for the widow. What to do, what to do?

Michall Jeffers
Glass Menagerie, The
Belasco Theater

Sally Field should be declared a national treasure. Very few frequent theatergoers haven’t seen The Glass Menagerie, many times and in several incarnations. But I doubt anyone has ever seen an Amanda Wingfield like Field. As the matriarch of a family which is barely a step away from poverty, Amanda does what she can to bring in a little money by selling magazine subscriptions over the phone. She is chatty and cheerful during these calls, but underneath, she wants to scream at having to grovel.

Michall Jeffers
Little Foxes, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

There is nothing like a crackling family drama and few deliver it with as much crunch and bite as Lillian Hellman delving into her Alabama gene pool. However, what makes the current production of Hellman's 1939, The Little Foxes an especially tempting slice of malevolent enjoyment is the bitch-goddess, Regina, and the actress who portrays her. The Manhattan Theater Club's answer? Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon, two talented stage actors, are alternating those Southern belles, one evil, the other damaged and frail.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Oslo
Lincoln Center - Vivian Beaumont Theater

The widely acclaimed Off-Broadway production of J. T. Rogers’s play, Oslo, >last year in Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater has now moved to the spacious Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The story, documented but almost completely unknown, is rich and ambitious. The wide stage illuminates its dramatic depth, presenting its vitality and timeliness with more strength and humor than the previous production. Watching it today, when diplomacy seems frighteningly absent in our current political atmosphere, this behind-the-scenes exploration is especially thrilling.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Anastasia
Broadhurst Theater

Christy Altomare is a shining star; a true beauty with a soaring soprano voice and real acting chops; who wouldn’t believe she’s the late czar’s youngest daughter? At least, that’s the plan, as hatched by the rascally Vlad (John Bolton) and Dmitry (Derek Klena). They’re not really bad, as con men go, but they see a chance for a big score when the outcast orphan Anya comes into their lives. She’s the perfect candidate for them to prep as Princess Anastasia.

Michall Jeffers
Sex with Strangers
Geva Theater - Fielding Studio

Sex with Strangers has been making the rounds. Developed through Steppenwolf Theater Company’s New Play Initiative, its world premiere was at Steppenwolf in Chicago, and its New York premiere was at Second Stage Theater New York in 2014. Geva’s production was originally staged at Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY March 12-April 2, 2017.

Herbert M. Simpson
Chicago
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The city of Milwaukee is a lot closer to Chicago than it is to Washington, D.C., but the musical Chicago is basically a next-door neighbor to the national capital in terms of what it takes to succeed. A solid production of Chicago recently played in Milwaukee as part of its regular Broadway series.

Anne Siegel
Dearly Departed
West Coast Black Theater

Where are both a death and its aftermath funny?  In a play that leads to a funeral of a Dearly Departed but is anything but funereal. It takes a strange path from a play about Southern rustics to a film in which all were also African Americans and to this stage version that mimics the film. Indeed, with its multitude of scenes, it seems overly long and complicated, though perhaps its best feature is The Joy of Life Singers bringing music into the darkness of scene shifts.

Marie J. Kilker
War Paint
Nederlander Theater

It is no surprise that Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole two of Broadway’s most beloved Tony-winning performers, each with her own cadre of diehard followers, are filling the seats at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater. It is equally unsurprising that the audience goes over the moon after each Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics) War Paint song that they sing. And there are some twenty of them.

Edward Rubin

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