Letters from a Nut
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

The history of Letters from a Nut goes back to 1995, when comedian Jerry Seinfeld was watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon in a friend’s house and discovered a handful of letters sitting on a coffee table. The letters were written by his host, fellow comedian Barry Marder, to various companies, countries and celebrities. Using the pseudonym of Ted L. Nancy, Marder played practical jokes with these letters, making outrageous requests of the recipients, punking them with a straight face.

Willard Manus
59E59 Theaters

In Torben Betts’s play Invincible, presented by The Original Theater Company and Ghost Light Theater Productions at off-Broadway’s 59E59 Theaters (as part of their Brits Off Broadway series), a London couple named Oliver and Emily move to Northern England and experience culture shock. Specifically, they invite their neighbors, Alan and Dawn, over for a visit one evening and find that they have no mutual ground. Oliver and Emily are quintessential sophisticates, unmarried, progressive, slender, refined. Alan and Dawn are boors.

Steve Capra
Jacques Brel's Lonesome Losers of the Night
No Exit Cafe

Playgoers attending Theo Ubique's musical anthology drawn from the canon of Jacques Brel are advised to set aside their memories of the 2008 premiere production, as well as those of the seriously flawed, 1970-vintage “Alive and Well” cabaret revue.

Late Company
Pride Arts Buena

Two sets of affluent parents meeting to discuss an incident involving their respective offspring is a premise inviting anticipation of a comedy of manners in the style of Yasmina Reza, where rational discourse quickly gives way to voices raised in angry protest, often to the exclusion of the subject initiating the dispute. Throw in a hot-issue topic, hints of class warfare and a touch of Pinteresque menace and you have all the components for a plot that could skew in a myriad of directions—which is precisely Jordan Tannahill's goal in Late Company.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Night with Janis Joplin, A
Geary Theater

The psychedelic 1960s found a home in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district; so, where better than to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Summer of Love” than in the heart of San Francisco, seeing A Night with Janis Joplin?

Anne Siegel
I am not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce
Theater 68

Ronnie Marmo has been channeling the late Lenny Bruce for the past ten years in a one-man show which he wrote for himself. Previously called “Lenny Bruce is Back,” the show has returned to L.A. under the new–and much more cumbersome--title of I am not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce, directed by Joe Mantegna, for a five-week run at Theater 68.

It’s to be hoped that young people who might not even know who Bruce was will see this show and learn something about the man who revolutionized American comedy in the 1950s—and paid a tragic price for that accomplishment.

Willard Manus
Equal To
City Garage

Almost Equal To, by Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri (translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles), is an all-out assault on capitalism. The play’s U.S. premiere at City Garage is directed by the company’s artistic director, Frederique Michel, always a friend to post-modern playwrights like Khemiri.

Willard Manus
Jersey Tenors, The
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

When they descend from staircase to stage, the Jersey Boys in red-jacketed tuxes look like the combo of nightclub and operatic concert artists they are. As they start the second half of their program, their grungy outfits tell that they’re going to be rockers. Somehow they transition back to singers well suited with white-jacketed tux and the kind of send-off songs that soar. All well planned and executed.

Marie J. Kilker
As You Like It
Cal Shakes - Bruns Amphitheater

As part of the American Theater Critics Association visit to San Francisco, we were conveyed by vans to the stunning campus of Cal Shakes. It features an al fresco amphitheater for its productions, in this case, As You Like It. We were warned to bring layers as during evenings temperatures are known to plummet. But it proved to be an unusually hot June day that resulted in a balmy evening under the stars. It was a delight to hear the occasional bird chirping.

Charles Giuliano
Legend of Georgia McBride, The
Marin Theater Company

As part of the American Theater Critics Association’s recent conference in San Francisco, a small group of board members took in a performance of Marin Theater Company’s The Legend of Georgia McBride. It was, to tell the gosh-darn honest truth, a mixed blessing.

Charles Giuliano
Tychyna, Zhadan, and the Dogs
La MaMa

Tychyna, Zhadan, and The Dogs is a production conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz and presented by La MaMa and Yara Arts Group. It combines Ukrainian poetry with Ukrainian rock music. The poetry was written by Pavlo Tychyna just after World War One, and by contemporary poet Serhiy Zhadan (with additional verse by Bob Holman of the Yara Arts Group). Mr. Zhadan is the lead singer for the rock group, Zhadan and the Dogs.

Steve Capra
Death Comes for the War Poets
Sheen Center

At The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, off off Broadway, Blackfriars Repertory Theater and Storm Theater Company are presenting Death Comes for the War Poets. It calls itself “a dramatic verse tapestry,” and the phrase describes the piece well. It is composed of the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, with additional verse by Joseph Pearce. It’s wonderful to see a show almost entirely in verse.

Steve Capra
Graduate, The
Lucie Stern Theater

There’s a fresh breeze blowing through Palo Alto in the form of a play calledThe Graduate. While many audiences are familiar with the ground-breaking 1967 film, there is still much to explore in this coming-of-age play.

Anne Siegel
Night with Janis Joplin, A
American Conservatory Theater - Geary Theater

What could be more appropriate to help kick off San Francisco’s Summer of Love than a musical devoted to the life and performances of Janis Joplin?  At A.C.T., the house gets as full and animated as at Woodstock and other concerts back in the day.  If you love Joplin’s brand of music, you can have a treat.  But that’s not all.

Marie J. Kilker
Bette Davis ain't for Sissies
Athenaeum Theater

It was a blunder to be remembered throughout cinema history. On the night of the 1939 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards presentations, the evening edition of the Los Angeles Times published the names of the winners in defiance of the embargo prohibiting revelation thereof until after the ceremonies.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Native Gardens

History provides ample testimony to wars arising over initially trivial differences, so we shouldn't be surprised when our own citizens amplify petty squabbles into full-out conflicts requiring vast investments of time, expense and even violence to resolve. The two couples in Karen Zacarias's minimalist fable, Native Gardens, have their counterparts in spheres as limited as teenagers defending a street corner and as far-reaching as politicians disputing election returns.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Her Majesty's Will
Lifeline Theater

Some say it all began in 1973 with the novel, “The Princess Bride,” some in 1998 with “Shakespeare in Love,” and yet others attribute the revival of the sword-and-cloak literary genre to theatrical combat designers weary of applying their skills to the same few plays. Whatever the source, consumers of historical fiction in 2017 can find Elizabethan superstars William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe starring in whodunits, bodice-rippers, glam-camp farces, graphic novels and even cookbooks.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Pride, The
Lovelace Studio Theater

Michael Arden, Artist-in-Residence at the Wallis, has directed a favorite play of his, The Pride, written by his fellow-Brit, Alexi Kaye Campbell, back in 2008. Its gay theme has resonated with audiences ever since then, with productions taking place in London, New York, and other major cities. Now it’s L.A.’s turn to experience the play, in a homegrown version featuring mostly local actors. And what actors they are.

Willard Manus
Naked Boys Singing!
Theater Wit

The six males referenced in the title of this musical revue sing—quite capably, too. It's likewise true that the ensemble of physically diverse players—lissome or cuddlesome, bear-hairy or baby-bottom bald, tattooed and tabula rasa—appear totally unclothed for all but perhaps 14 out of the 85 minutes required for the duration of the performance. To be sure, that same description could be applied to a rush-week fraternity party or a post-game locker-room revel, but this 1998 vaudeville promising "No crudity/Just gratuitous nudity" delivers much, much more.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Geffen Playhouse

Fiendishly clever are the first words that came to mind after the conclusion of Constellations, the play by British playwright Nick Payne which is now having its West Coast premiere at the Geffen, directed by Giovanna Sardelli. The much-sought-after play (which has been a hit in London and New York) is a star vehicle for its two actors, in this case Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech.

Willard Manus
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage Theater

For all avid theater lovers who lament that there’s nothing original in theater nowadays, rejoice! Bella has come to town with a terrifically talented cast, memorable music, and a wholly unique premise. We expect no less from the consistently visionary Playwrights Horizons. Equally exciting, Ashley D. Kelley in the title role, is poised for stardom in the musical pantheon of performers who grab our attention from the beginning, and delight us for years to come. As she says in her program bio, “God is good all the time!”

Michall Jeffers
Naming True
Urbanite Theater

Amy, a transgender young adult from Seattle, enters out of a tumultuous rainstorm into a Florida motel room to get a memoir from Nell, a black woman, about her growing up in Detroit. Nell’s lost her family, been chronically homeless, and wants her manuscript published before she kills herself (or maybe her liver disease does). Because Nell intends suicide, more or less immediate to celebrate publication, Amy tries both to get the manuscript and to keep Nell alive.

Marie J. Kilker
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Florida Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

As Jules Verne did in his novel, two Canadians‘ multimedia/virtual reality-filled version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea brings a union of fiction and science to explore adventures involving the state of our oceans. It is aimed at everyone from third graders to their grandparents and other adults, but after the multimedia novelties wear off, its the kids who’ll want to stick with the rest.

Marie J. Kilker
Hunger Artist, A
Connelly Theater

A Hunger Artist is one of Franz Kafka’s most difficult stories. The writer’s concern in here is the nature of the artist, his relationship to his public, his motivations. Kafka’s not dealing here with the ordinary guy, the Everyman that he writes about in so many of his other stories.

Steve Capra
Night Season, The

"Earth, receive an honored guest/William Yeats is laid to rest" — don't you believe it! Ireland's most lauded export may have died nearly 80 years, but all it takes is the mention of his name to make a household mired down in gloomy resignation embark on reckless ventures involving romance, risks, and maybe a fresh start on life (or at least a satisfying end thereto).

Mary Shen Barnidge
King Liz
Windy City Playhouse

From the moment that Fernanda Coppel's morality fable opens to reveal a sumptuous office in the corporate headquarters of Candy Agencies, where "It's-good-to-be-king" African-American sports agent Liz Rico and her much-abused assistant, Gabby, are simultaneously issuing orders via Bluetooth, we know that these are powerful people and that big bucks are at stake.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Interference, The
Met Theater

Close on the heels of Actually, Anna Ziegler’s drama about campus date rape (which is still running at the Geffen), comes The Interference, a play on the same subject.

Willard Manus
Six Degrees of Separation
Ethel Barrymore Theater

Six Degrees of Separation took off after a newspaper account in 1983 about a wealthy Upper East Side couple conned by a needy grifter. The situation is not funny, but John Guare, in this revival of his razor-edged cynical drama at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, again shows his ear for witty dialogue within a blistering undercurrent of loneliness, racial polarization, and human separation. The question is if the original show, a 1990 major Broadway hit, holds up over the passage of time.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Greenway Theater

It must have seemed like a good idea to playwright Boni B. Alvarez: doing an updated, gay-oriented version of Chekhov’s Ivanov. His radical adaptation of the play, now called Nicky, found favor with the Coeurage (sic) Theater Company, which has backed the drama with a lavish production at the Greenway Theater (impressive set, large cast, costumes galore).

Willard Manus
Burt & Me
Florida Studio Theater

Do you think a love story set to music is a good way to start a summer season of theater? That's what the folks at Florida Studio Theater decided, and the audience of which I was a part certainly agreed. In this instance, the music is by Burt Bacharach with lyrics by Hal David and how they enriched the life of a Pennsylvania guy who's a fictional representative of Bacharach fan and author Larry McKenna.

Marie J. Kilker
Studio Theater

There is a moment in Fusion Theater’s production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone (at Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre) when Creon says to Antigone “Don’t annihilate me with those eyes.” And indeed, Antigone’s unrelenting stare does seem to be annihilating him, as it’s been annihilating everyone. As Antigone, Eilin O’Dea motivates Creon’s line so well that it seems Anouilh has written it in response to the actress.

Steve Capra
Building the Wall
New World Stages

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle), said about his current play, Building the Wall, “I wrote this in a white-hot fury. We no longer live in a world that is business as usual — Trump has made that very clear — and if theater is going to remain relevant, we must become faster to respond."

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Present Laughter
St. James Theater

Kevin Kline returns to Broadway after ten years to take a role he can dine on with relish. This is Noel Coward, after all, and Kline's charmingly supercilious role as fading matinee idol, Garry Essendine, is tailor-made for swanning around his London digs, lording it over his entourage, an ex-wife, nubile wannabe actress, housekeeper, snippy manager, and sycophantic playwright. Who wouldn't have fun with such a captivating witty and complex character—one who is satirically based, some say, on the playwright himself? And few can do it better.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Glass Menagerie, The
Belasco Theater

It seems like as soon as the curtain comes down on one production of The Glass Menagerie, another revival out there is working its way to Broadway. Maybe it's because there was a decisive revival of Tennessee Williams's haunting play on Broadway with Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, and Celia Keenan-Bogden just four years ago, and two productions before that since 2005. Now, however, at the Belasco Theater, director Sam Gold has a minimalistic slant on the poetic memory play.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Doll's House, Part 2, A
John Golden Theater

What happened after Nora slammed the door? We get one possibility in A Doll's House Part 2, Lucas Hnath's vibrant sequel to Henrik Ibsen's landmark 1879 play.

The new work opens 15 years after Nora had been stifled enough in her marriage and walked out the door. A four-hander, Hnath's conceit presents the aftermath with challenging questions and crisp dialogue but at the end, there are no concrete answers.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Great Expectations
Chicago Temple

Once upon a time in India — 1861, to be exact — a poor Hindu orphan boy is accosted by an escaped African convict. The lad aids the fugitive, initially out of fear, but later motivated by pity for prisoners of the British colonialist government. Soon thereafter, Pip — as our young hero is named — is invited to visit a reclusive English lady in his village, who introduces him to her haughty mixed-race ward, launching a series of life-changing events that will take him to Calcutta, there to be tutored in Eurocentric values under the sponsorship of an anonymous benefactor.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Johnny 10-Beers' Daughter
Chicago Dramatists

The hero of this world-premiere play, former Gunnery Sergeant John Russell — nom de guerre, Johnny 10 Beers (because "nine aren't enough") — is not the first North American white male to find a home in the warrior culture of the United States Marine Corps, nor is he the only military man who, lacking sons, raised his daughter to pledge unswerving loyalty to the creed at the foundation of his call to arms. Be advised, though, that awareness of this precedent will not prepare you for Dana Lynn Formby's exploration of war's hidden toll in Johnny 10-Beers’ Daughter.

Mary Shen Barnidge
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