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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sundial, The
Edgewater Presbyterian Church

In an uncertain world, rarely is there a shortage of free-floating dread (dubbed "anxiety" by the shrinks).

Since putting a name to unseen terrors provides an illusion of control, this inescapable condition has been attributed, at various times, to forces spiritual, natural and industrial. Prominent among the first is the Biblical prophesy of a holocaust destroying all earthly life (excepting its adherents, of course). The invention of the atomic bomb, however, introduced the secular specter of a cataclysm annihilating both good and bad alike.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Her America
The Greenhouse

In theater jargon, the term "vehicle" indicates a play or production designed to showcase the talents of a particular artist, often — but not always — at the expense of other dramatic factors (plot, character, plausibility, etc.). Brett Neveu's conveyance for Chicago icon Kate Buddeke meets this definition, but his efforts to impose a second agenda thereupon encumbers Her America with unnecessary baggage.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Present, The
Barrymore Theater

The Present, Anton Chekhov's unfocused and drawn-out melodrama is enlivened by the Broadway pairing of charismatic Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh. Blanchett entices audiences to Broadway's Barrymore Theater and, with Roxburgh's magnetic energy, she keeps them there. Without them and the stellar Sydney Theatre Company cast of 13, Anton Chekhov's first play might still be in the safe-deposit box where it was hidden until 16 years after his death in 1904.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Great Society, The
Asolo Theater - Mertz Theater

Like hell, The Great Society is paved with good intentions, but it has more layers than Dante imagined. They mesh not in a Miltonian epic but rather in a Cliff Notes summary of what Robert Schenkkan seems to have meant to be a modern Greek-ish tragedy. Structurally, it works as a narrative panorama of problems — mainly a hellish war-- that bring down the presidency and personal status of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Marie J. Kilker
New Ohio Theater

When he murdered John Lennon in 1980, Mark David Chapman was carrying a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.” When John Hinckley shot President Reagan a year later, he had a copy of that book in his hotel room.

Playwright Anisa George has taken this strange confluence and used it as the basis for her play Holden, presented by George & Co. and The New Ohio Theatre. The piece takes place in J.D. Salinger’s writing retreat. Salinger himself is there, of course. We also find Chapman and Hinckley living there, acting as a sort of pair of muses.

Steve Capra
Tony n' Tina's Wedding
Chicago Theater Works

Here's the premise: Anthony Angelo Nunzio and Valentina Lynne Vitale are getting married. Their families are not happy with the match. The groomsmen and bridesmaids also have mixed feelings toward the impending nuptials. The caterer is anxious to promote his business and the band would rather be playing hard rock than lovey-dovey MOR pop.

We, by the way, are the guests at this guazzabuglio-waiting-to-happen and, as such, are expected to eat, drink, sing, dance, catch bouquets and garters, nosh on wedding cake and carouse in joyful celebration.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Rosenkranz Mysteries, The
Royal George

It's not merely the nimble fingers — the mechanics are the same, whether the perpetrator is a professional illusionist charging hefty admissions in Las Vegas or a bartender short-changing an unwary customer. What makes us eager to be bamboozled by a stranger into mistrusting our own senses is the story attached to the manual dexterity.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Lion, The
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion comes to L.A. two years after it won a Drama Desk Award for (an off-Broadway) solo performance in 2015. Long before that Scheuer honed the show in various coffee-house gigs and then during a residency at Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut. Several of his songs have also been turned into animated music videos.

Willard Manus
Stalking the Bogeyman
Florida Studio Theater - Bowen's Lab

Stalking the Bogeyman dramatizes a narrative by a man who seeks to avenge his rape at age seven and some molestation afterward. The “Bogeyman” rapist was about a decade older, son of the boy’s parents’ best friends. The victim has been silent to avoid hurting his parents, while his own hurt and urge for revenge festered through the years, coming to the point where he’s ready to murder. The mystery is: Will he?

Marie J. Kilker
View from the Bridge, A
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Though known for directing Russian and Near and Far Eastern European drama, Andrei Malaev-Babel has never to my mind been more successful in capturing a dramatic essence than in directing Arthur Miller’s American tragic drama, A View from the Bridge. He has wrung maturity out of comparatively young FSU/Asolo Conservatory actors in a take on ancient myths informing the location and action of the modern play.

Marie J. Kilker
Babylon Line, The
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Let's start at the very beginning, which is really the end of Richard Greenberg's play, The Babylon Line, when the central character, Aaron Port (Josh Radnor), is 85 years old. However, it is 1967 when he begins the play’s arc, and Aaron is a 38-year-old struggling writer with one published story. Once a week he teaches an adult creative-writing class, taking the Babylon line from New York to Levittown.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth
Water Works

Lookingglass playwright Doug Hara is not the first to observe that what scholars smugly call "history" is rooted in pre-literate parables, recounted by elders instructing future generations in lessons for surviving defeat, achieving triumph, and preserving peace.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Second City, The
Piper's Alley

When the 105th Second City Revue opened a bare four weeks after the presidential election, there was no hiding its hasty response to what appeared a reversal of hitherto-unquestioned assumptions regarding the demographic their satire targeted. Audiences attending the performance on Dec. 27, 2016, however, were privileged to witness proof that nothing fuels the go-for-broke daring demanded of comedy like a challenge.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Weir, The
The Den

Our locale is a tavern in rural Ireland, close enough to seaside Ulster counties to attract summer vacationers, but this is not the nostalgic-mythic Ireland beloved of tourists.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Honky Tonk Angels
No Exit Cafe

There's these three young women hoping to make it in show business, see. Since Angela is from East Texas, Darlene from West Virginia, and Sue Ellen from Houston by way of Los Angeles, "show business" means Nashville, and since they are all church-raised girls, their fortuitous meeting in a Greyhound station is viewed as a Sign From Above, even before their voices are discovered to blend in perfect Appalachian harmony.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Greenhouse

The musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion was a romantic comedy because that's what musicals do best, but because musicals also require Big Stars to draw audiences, its leading male was old enough to be the leading female's grandfather, setting a perplexing precedent for decades to come. The Remy Bumppo Theater Company, however, returns to the play that Shaw wrote for its text.

Other Cinderella, The
Black Ensemble Theater

Once upon a time, an ambitious young girl living in the projects vowed to escape poverty for a better life, so she wrote a musical about an ambitious young girl living in the Projects who vows to escape to a better life. Is there a theatergoer in Chicago who doesn't recognize in this story Jackie Taylor, founder and artistic director of Black Ensemble Theater (BET), or the show that launched a thriving company still drawing audiences after 40 years?

Christians, The
Steppenwolf Theater

When a church leader undergoes a crisis of faith, the wise course is usually to take some time away from his duties in order to contemplate the source of his conflicts, and if, after a period of self-examination, he feels he can no longer fulfill his responsibilities to his congregation, he is well-advised to resign his office.

Mary Shen Barnidge
New York Theater Workshop

Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo are stand-outs in a galvanizing production of Shakespeare's Othello at the New York Theater Workshop. Under Sam Gold's perceptive direction, David Oyelowo plays Othello, the proud Moorish general, lauded for his heroic war deeds until he collides with the ruthless Iago (Daniel Craig), whose sadistic machinations result in the hero's tragic but inevitable downfall.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Martin Luther on Trial
Pearl Theater

The Fellowship for Performing Arts has just produced a play called Martin Luther on Trial, by Chris Cragin-Day and Max McLean, at The Pearl Theater. It puts Martin Luther in historical, personal and, most importantly, ideological context. It’s a sort of courtroom drama. The Devil himself is prosecuting Luther for “the unforgivable sin.” Luther’s wife, Katie Von Bora (“a runaway nun”), is his defender.

Steve Capra
Last Holiday Punch, The
Off the Wall Theater

In a perfect world, the cast of Holiday Punch would confine itself to the show’s script, foregoing such onstage antics as taking cell phone calls onstage, making snarky remarks to fellow actors, taking selfies, kissing men in the audience and basically disregarding all basic rules of actor conduct. But then, you would be watching some other show than Holiday Punch. All these elements (and many more) are found in this long-running homegrown holiday parody, which mixes comedy skits with political satire and traditional holiday songs.

Anne Siegel
Uncle Philip's Coat
The Greenhouse

There's this coat, you see—a voluminous woolen gentleman's overcoat of mid to late 19th-century Russian vintage with astrakhan cuffs and collar, now worn, tattered, and conspicuously malodorous — bequeathed to our narrator in his mid-50s, by his Uncle Philip. Matty (the character) makes frequent reference to the coat's — um, fragrance, but never describes this feature in detail, leading us to anticipate a later revelation concerning the secret of its singular redolence. We don't get one, but, as Philip himself would say, "is not the point, is not the point."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Front Page, The
Broadhurst Theatert

Long before cell phones and TV, breaking news was the corner newsboy shouting "Extra, extra! Read all about it!" It was an era that director Jack O'Brien celebrates in The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, two ex-newsman who knew the game and how to write about it.

Elizabeth Ahlfors