Groundhog Day
August Wilson Theater

Andy Karl gets a huge hand just for appearing on stage. The applause isn’t only for his reputation as a performer; in large part, the audience is applauding the guts he’s displayed by going on despite a potentially career-ending knee injury.

Michall Jeffers
Little Foxes, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

How our perception changes with time and circumstances. In The Little Foxes, Regina Giddens is routinely excoriated for being a cold, heartless woman who’ll do anything to get what she wants. In this day and age, that judgment is far from a foregone conclusion. Maybe in less skilled hands she’s be the female equivalent of the moustache-twirling villain, but Cynthia Nixon lets us see so much more. Regina is intelligent, ambitious, and shrewd; none of these qualities has been rewarded in the atmosphere of the deep South in the spring of 1900.

Michall Jeffers
Exonerated, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

A decade ago, I reviewed The Exonerated positively for its power at presenting true cases of people of all kinds wrongly imprisoned. This drama fortunately retains all of its power. Unfortunately, its subject has also retained its currency. Lest we forget, in its strong presentation, we are moved to support efforts to seek justice for those wrongly accused of crimes and punished.

Marie J. Kilker
Room Sings, The
La MaMa

Sitting in the audience of The Room Sings, I thought of Caliban’s marvelous speech in The Tempest:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Steve Capra
Tenth Street Theater

Even as the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus is packing its tents for good, one of Milwaukee’s pluckiest theater companies isn’t going to let the sun set on the big top — at least not yet. In Tandem Theatre is presenting the rarely staged musical, Carnival. And the bag of free popcorn you get when entering the performing space is only one of many treats in store.

Anne Siegel
Violet Hour, The
Studio Theater

There’s more than meets the eye in Richard Greenberg’s riveting The Violet Hour, in a production by Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theaterworks. The characters seem quite normal, as they come in and out of a publishing house in New York City in 1919. At the center of things is John Pace Seavering (Neil Brookshire), who’s just starting a publishing career after his recent graduation from Princeton. In his office, almost overrun by paper (mostly unsolicited manuscripts by would-be authors), Seavering has just enough of Daddy’s money to publish one book.

Anne Siegel
Come from Away
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

The award for best ensemble on the New York stage should be handed out right now; the cast of Come from Away simply can’t be beat. Not coincidentally, this example of the best in theater is also an example of Canada at its best. On 9/11, 200 airplanes landed at the airport in Gander, Newfoundland, diverted and stranded there because American airports were shut down. Typically, the count was about a half dozen. Suddenly, the small town was faced with the challenge of accommodating 6,700 extra people.

Michall Jeffers
King of the Yees
Goodman Theater

Lauren Yee's play is a chronicle of San Francisco's Chinatown that refuses to turn a blind eye to its corrupt politicians and gangster warlords. It's also a tour of the district, with exotic xenophile-pleasing sights cited by names and addresses, in addition to cute parade lions, CGI action-movie violence and silly fortune-cookie games.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Failure: A Love Story
Kirk Douglas Theater

The angel of death hovers over a preternaturally cheerful 1920s Chicago family in Failure: A Love Story, now playing at the Kirk Douglas. The play, which is a remount of Coeurage Theatre Company’s 2015 staging, is being presented by CTG as part of its new Block Party series (and its 50th anniversary season.)

Willard Manus
Lincoln Center - Vivian Beaumont Theater

Oslo is definitely a thinking person’s play. The subject matter itself is thought provoking; is peace in the Middle East possible? How do you get people who hate and blame each other into the same room to discuss and resolve important issues? Norwegians Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and his wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), think they may have the answer.

Michall Jeffers
Great Expectations
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater

It’s nice to see another Dickens classic being revived besides A Christmas Carol, arguably his best-known story. Milwaukee Chamber Theater tackles Great Expectations with a vengeance. Like Dickens’s other books, Great Expectations has a large and varied cast of characters. Also, it floats from one location to another in the blink of an eye. And it carries the burden of delivering timeless themes about the nature of humanity. This is what great literature is all about.

Anne Siegel
Punk Rock
Odyssey Theater

Punk Rock, now in a Los Angeles premiere at the Odyssey, is a British play about a Columbine-like campus shooting. It is written by Simon Stephens, one of Britain’s finest and most controversial young playwrights—his Pornography shook up the staid London theater world in 2007.

Willard Manus
Rare Birds
14th Street Y

Adam Szymkowicz’s play, Rare Birds, which has just been produced by The Red Fern Theater Company at the 14th Street Y (off-off-Broadway), is a study of high school bullying. I’m going to tell you the plot, so beware – I include a spoiler! I’m doing it because it needs to be discussed in detail.

Steve Capra
Rep Lab
Milwaukee Repertory - Stiemke Studio

Of all the shows offered this season by Milwaukee’s flagship theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the toughest ticket to get may be the Rep Lab. Consider this: the actors are all emerging artists (unfamiliar to audiences), and the names of these short plays aren’t announced before the programs are handed out when audience members walk into the theater.

Anne Siegel
Legend of Georgia McBride, The
Geffen Playhouse - Gil Cates Theater

A drag show with heart, The Legend of Georgia McBride tells the feel-good story of Casey (Andrew Burnap), an Elvis impersonator at Cleo’s, a Florida Panhandle dive, who discovers he can make bigger bucks by impersonating women. The play, first produced by Denver Center Theater in 2015 and now in its West Coast premiere at the Geffen, is a bawdy, raucous hoot, thanks to Matthew Lopez’s outrageously funny script, Mike Donahue’s expert direction, and to the dazzling work by Burnap and his four fellow actors (Matt McGrath, Nija Okoro, Larry Powell, and Nick Searcy).

Willard Manus
Present Laughter
St. James Theater

First reaction upon seeing Kevin Kline: Damn, he’s handsome. Perfect casting for the vain, egocentric actor Garry Essendine, the renowned lover whose greatest love is his own reflection. This is definitely a fine figure of a man; it’s easy to see why silly girls gush over him and mature women lust for him. Even when we first see him, coming down the stairs disheveled and hung over, he’s still dishy. Once again, Garry has had quite a night, and the melodramatic debutante ensconced in the spare bedroom has fallen for his line and reaped the reward.

Michall Jeffers
War Paint
Nederlander Theater

This show should come with a subtitle: Dueling Divas. It’s the story of two giants of the world of makeup, the Polish-Jewish Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone) and the cooler Canadian Wasp, Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole). The scene is New York City, and the time shifts from 1935 through 1964. In the beginning of their reign, “nice” women didn’t wear makeup, and they certainly didn’t fixate on it. So, the job of convincing them that they needed as much artifice as possible was a relentless battle.

Michall Jeffers
Play That Goes Wrong, The
Lyceum Theater

Odds are that the Mischief Theatre Company's production of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Lyceum Theater is the most accident-prone production on Broadway — and you'll love every minute of mayhem.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Midsummer Night's Dream, A
Marie Selby Botanical Garden - Outdoors

To thematically unite the four plots of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, director Jonathan Epstein has chosen change. FSU/Asolo Conservatory itself changes its venue to a beautiful outdoor setting with an inlet of water and isle of forest in back of a four-columned square of an inner stage. An expanse of grass between a tree with a bower on one side and bunches of bushes on the other complete the playing area, well lit by moonlight and all sorts of man-made lighting, including neon colors on costumes, even gloves.

Marie J. Kilker
Next Act Theater

There’s nothing more compelling – or painful – to watch than an unrequited romance. Most of us can recall “the one who got away,” and perhaps even keeps you wondering, “what if?” In Bloomsday, by Steven Dietz, one of these romances plays out in a charming and touching way.

Anne Siegel
Beyond Caring
Water Works

If you think scrubbing out your own bathroom and kitchen is a chore, imagine applying your janitoral skills to the residue of a meat-processing plant. Would you rather be paid less than $50 a day for picking up spilled ramen noodles from the floor of the staff break-room with bare hands, or for swabbing disinfectant on bloody machines littered with scraps of raw animal flesh?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Mother of Smoke
Pride Arts Broadway

When confronted with a multiplicity of sensory stimuli, human beings tend to perceive motion first, then sound and, after that, sight. Further down the list comes verbal recognition and later, literary comprehension. Since most of this "collage" created by the Red Tape and Walkabout Theater companies presents these elements to its audience simultaneously, playgoers are advised to consult their syllabus, uh, playbill notes before the performance of Mother of Smoke commences.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Rich Girl
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Henry James started all this with his short novel, “Washington Square.” Ruth and Augustus Goetz make it into a hit play, The Heiress, which was made into a hit movie. It’s back onstage, updated a century, with a similar heroine, a Rich Girl who’s very inhibited and not very attractive. This time it’s her mother (not father) who’s cowed her. Except for the mother’s well made-up looks, she’s not attractive either. Neither is Victoria Stewart’s overlong and under-absorbing melodrama.

Marie J. Kilker
Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

No ordinary production, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity takes place in an arena surrounded by audience. They’re in turn surrounded by giant moving projections of what happens on center stage, a metaphoric boxing ring that, also in turn, becomes an actual one. With lights flashing and rap and hip-hop blaring throughout actors’ and audience spaces, the show offers a central monologue together with environmental and interactive theater. To what purpose?

Marie J. Kilker
Tao Marayao

Tao Marayao (The Good Person) is a dance/movement piece about the Samal Balangingi, a maritime tribe from an island in the Southern Philippines. It’s part myth, part cultural history, presented through traditional Samal dance and narrative movement. Its story concerns the Spanish Conquest, from the arrival of the conquistadors to a sort of Samal diaspora in America.

Steve Capra
Hobby Center

When I first saw the musical, Dreamgirls, back in 1982, the Broadway blockbuster was at the beginning of what would become a four-year run on The Great White Way. With the often-thrilling music of Henry Krieger, complemented by Tom Eyen’s story-telling skill for the book & lyrics, all that was needed was a stellar group of fine actors with powerful voices. That latter requirement was nicely filled with a talented original cast headed up by legendary vocal powerhouse, Jennifer Holliday.

David Dow Bentley
Studio 54 Theater

Painfully in-the-moment, playwright Lynn Nottage's new play, Sweat, at Studio 54, takes a sharp scalpel to a working-class town in Berk County, Pennsylvania during the slippery slope of their American Dream and job security. With authority and a solid nine-person ensemble, Nottage finely crafts the disintegration of opportunities, friendships, and families swept up in whirlpools of disappointment and a cycle of drugs, violence and poverty.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Price, The
American Airlines Theater

Decisions, dissembling, consequences and family — this is the meat in Arthur Miller plays. Directed by Terry Kinney, the Roundabout production of The Price has a universality as distinct in the 21st century as it was in 1968 and features a stunning cast of Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht, and Danny DeVito.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
The Coast Playhouse

Everybody’s nightmare — being trapped in an elevator with a bunch of strangers — comes true in Michael Leoni’s hilarious play, Elevator, which has returned to L.A. after successful productions elsewhere in the USA.

Willard Manus
Significant Other
Booth Theater

Every now and then an actor appears onstage, and you immediately know he’s got it all- talent, looks, presence. Gideon Glick is the whole package. As Jordan Berman, he takes what could be a cloying, rather annoying almost-30-year-old, and makes him sympathetic and real, with an Eddie Redmayne quality. Jordan, a gay man, is lamenting the fact that all his best friends are getting married, one by one. They’re all women finding the men with whom they want to spend their lives, and Jordan’s one real crush is not available or interested.

Michall Jeffers
Profane, The
Playwrights Horizons - Peter Jay Sharp Theater

On the one hand, this is a play about the question of who is, or isn’t American, and equally who is, or isn’t Muslim. On the other, it’s about the worst Thanksgiving ever, and the ordeal of meeting the in laws for the first time.

Michall Jeffers
Circle Mirror Transformation
Alchemist Theater

Years before playwright Annie Baker won the Pulitzer Prize for her play, The Flick, she wrote Circle Mirror Transformation. In it, a group of adults (and one teenager) come together for a six-week community acting class. The leader expresses her enthusiasm about persuading the non-profit organization (where her husband works) to fund this class. Her husband, James (Joe Krapf) has signed on as one of the students. The play’s title, Circle Mirror Transformation, gives a hint regarding what the would-be actors discover about themselves.

Anne Siegel
Encounter, The
Wallis - Bram Goldsmith Theater

This is the second time I’ve seen Simon McBurney’s The Encounter,> his epic solo play about a man fighting for survival in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. My first exposure was three years ago at the Edinburgh International Festival. Now writer/director/performer McBurney has brought his immersive, high-tech production to The Wallis in a West Coast premiere.

Willard Manus
Vanity Fair
Pearl Theater

William Thackeray wrote “Vanity Fair” as a monthly serial between 1847 and 1848. It was well received and set the foundation for later novels to come, in the Victorian era. Its story, set during the Napoleonic Wars, centers around two young women, friends, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley. We meet them as they leave Miss Pinkerton’s Academy and follow them as their and their husbands’ fortunes rise and fall.

Thackeray’s moral points are clear throughout. His concerns are with money and status, and their corruption of society and our personal relations.

Steve Capra
Walter Kerr Theater

This fanciful tale of a young woman and her private, inner life begins in style; a blue curtain features butterflies which seem to flutter into the audience. Amelie Poulain is a creative child born to parents who are not familiar with the concept of unconditional love. They decide early on that their daughter is fragile, and must be schooled at home.

Michall Jeffers
Play That Goes Wrong, The
Lyceum Theater

Far be it for me to incite anyone to imbibe before going to the theater, but I must say that having a couple of drinks before covering The Play That Goes Wrong may well have enhanced my enjoyment of this zany farce. This Olivier Award winner for best comedy is not for the starched-collar set; think Three Stooges rather than Noel Coward.

Michall Jeffers
Born Ready
Factory Theater

“All About Eve” and “Sunset Boulevard” are as celebrated for their manneristic melodrama as for their iconic status in the annals of Hollywood cinema. Born Ready, Factory Theater playwright Stacie Barra's wry parody of the two seminal films reaches beyond simple ridicule, however, instead reflecting a genre not only enjoyable in its own right, but departing from traditional ageist bias to grant the final victory to the proven survivor.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Born Yesterday
The Greenhouse

Since its premiere in 1946, Garson Kanin's satirical comedy, Born Yesterday, has been largely reduced to a retread of the Pygmalion myth, in which learned men endeavor to educate ignorant women, only to meet with unanticipated results. With present events precipitating renewed interest in cultural divisions refuting our society's claim to interclass fluidity, however, the ramifications of this deceptively frivolous North-American classic take the foreground.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Greater Tuna
Crighton Theater

Many years ago in New York I reviewed the opening night of a new musical titled, “The Devil of Delancey Street. I opened my report with these lines:
”Richard Nixon famously remarked, `I am not a crook!’ Let me paraphrase that and say, `I am not a crank!’ I don’t go to the theater looking for trouble, but like all critics, I do occasionally find it.’”

David Dow Bentley
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The bling and glamour of the Cinderella tour was met with cheers, oohs and ahhs, mainly by the youngsters who attended the opening of this fabled fairy-tale musical. No wonder: This version, which was adapted for Broadway in 2013, started out as a modernized version of a made-for-TV musical. Those of us who recall the original cast – with the lovely Leslie Ann Warren as Cinderella – may be shocked to imagine that this TV event debuted a half-century ago.

Anne Siegel