(Not) Water
3D Technology Center

For the first hour or so of (Not) Water, the audience sits in a large circle in a very large room. The actors present, in a disjointed flow, vignettes representing the process that led to the production. We meet the artists and watch some fictitious scenes and hear some stories, even some stand-up.

Steve Capra
Bastard Jones
the cell

Bastard Jones, produced off-Broadway by the cell, is a musical adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.” Fielding’s title character, of course, is a good-natured libertine, the sex addict who falls in love with the nice girl, Sophia. The plot, which is convoluted even in this pared-down adaptation, is of no particular importance. It just concerns Tom’s sexual adventures. He’s banished and nearly executed for his ill-considered lifestyle. At the end, of course, he wins the virtuous Sophia.

Steve Capra
Marvin's Room
American Airlines Theater

Bessie is a saint. As played by Lili Taylor in Marvin’s Room, she’s also warm, optimist, and altogether lovely. So why is she so annoying? Maybe our sensibilities have changed, but it’s hard to identify with this woman who has sacrificed her life to take care of her father, who’s been dying slowly for the last twenty years. He’s the Marvin of the title, and while we hear him moaning throughout, we never see him. The other obvious question is when Bessie needs a bone marrow transplant, why does no one suggest Marvin?

Michall Jeffers
Roommate, The
Williamstown Theater Festival

When well-presented, Jen Silverman's quirky two-hander, The Roomate, is absorbing, suspenseful, and full of inventive surprise. The production at Williamstown Theater Festival, however, diminishes the subtle nuances and best assets of the play by overproducing them.

Yet again we have seen an intimate, potentially charming play which is more suited to the smaller Nikos Stage, over-inflated to fill the less forgiving space of the Main Stage. That is, perhaps, motivated by the marquee casting of two players primarily known for their work and awards for the small screen.

Charles Giuliano
Westchester Broadway Theater

We all remember the tunes from Annie: “Tomorrow,” “Maybe,” “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” What we tend to forget is the political message and the real underlying poignancy.

Michall Jeffers
Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

Leonard Pelkey, a 14 year old boy, is missing from his New Jersey shore small town. Hard-boiled detective Chuck DeSantis (played by Jeffrey Plunkett who also plays everyone else in monologues plus scenes) tells us about the search for him. He’s letting us in on Leonard’s “absolute brightness” that physics defines as what a star might have in certain light years from earth. Leonard let his shine all over town.

Marie J. Kilker
It's Only Life
Attic Theater

Thanks to splendid singing, catchy tunes, and clever direction, the musical revue It’s Only Life sparkled in its just-closing run at the Attic Theater. Based on the music of John Bucchino, who has written for such disparate vocalists as Art Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli, and Deborah Voight, It’s Only Life features six young singers who surely will be heard from again in future: Jill Marie Burke, Devon Davidson, Kayre Morrison, Joaquin Nunez, Philip McBride, and Ken Shepski.

Willard Manus
Mark Taper Forum

Simon Stephens’s take on the May/September love story formula, Heisenberg, is slight but entertaining, thanks largely to the comedic gifts of its two actors, Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker, who have been performing the play since it was first produced in New York by Manhattan Theatre Club in 2015, with a subsequent Broadway run a year later.

Willard Manus
Going To a Place Where You Already Are
Redtwist Theater

Rare is the human being who has not grappled with the mystery of death and its aftermath. Cultural speculations on the realms beyond the grave encompass simple regression to the earth (as observed in animals) and regeneration (as observed in plants), as well as elaborate recycling schemes involving transmigration into altered physical states. Christianity, however, promises its believers eternal liberation from corporal restraints within a mythic sanctuary—descriptions of which differ widely, no first-hand witness accounts ever having been reported.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Johnny Johnson
Stage 773

Some experiences cannot be described in words, war being one of them. The difficulty of summarizing so vast and varied a topic accounts for the similarities evident in their documentation, popular motifs generally focusing on assertions that armed conflict is cruel, that warriors suffer and die at the behest of reckless leaders, and that those who survive are shunned by their fellow citizens as reminders of how quickly populaces can be gulled by flag-waving oratory.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Guys and Dolls
Festival Theater

Director/choreographer Donna Feore seems to have solidified Canada’s Stratford Festival’s standing as not only the largest and finest classical repertory theater in this hemisphere but also Canada’s greatest musical theater. This season’s superb Guys and Dolls may not be the astoundingly perfect production that her 2013 recreation of Fiddler on the Roof became, nor so daring a restaging as her A Chorus Line last season, but it may be more pleasing than either, and is certainly the all-around best version I’ve seen to date (and that includes the Broadway original).

Herbert M. Simpson
Napoli, Brooklyn
Laura Pels Theater

There is a definitive time — 1960 — and place — Brooklyn — and characters — an Italian family poised at the brim of a tumultuous decade that will shake up racial equality, gay rights, equal opportunities for women. Unfortunately, playwright Meghan Kennedy’s premiere of Napoli, Brooklyn at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater tackles an intriguing era with a stereotyped cast and an unsatisfying text.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Traveling Lady, The
Cherry Lane Theater

Initially, the calm of a small Texas town in 1950 shows little hint of the turbulence simmering beneath the surface. Returning to the New York stage, The Traveling Lady is a snapshot of Harrison, Texas, the community that playwright Horton Foote knew so well, and again, he draws the drama from the everyday comedy and heartbreak of ordinary people.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cost of Living
City Center - Stage I

Manhattan Theater Club's New York City premiere of Cost of Living explores the abyss separating people, those who have, those who don't, and the universal needs that everyone shares. It could be a drama ripe with sentimentality. Instead, Cost of Living studies four people, emotional but pierced with bitterness and, surprisingly, laughter.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Imbible, The
New World Stages

We live in a crazy busy world. With jobs, families, and other responsibilities, there just isn’t a whole lot of time to hang out with our friends. Add to this the sense that everyone is on the phone, all the time, and the very pleasant notion of a leisurely brunch with pals sinks to the bottom of the to-do list. This is the dilemma faced by four modern, over-scheduled, over tech-connected New Yorkers who really want to get together but just can’t fit socializing into the schedule.

Michall Jeffers
Tenth Avenue Theater

The relatively young Outskirts Theater takes on its biggest challenge with a production of Bare: A Pop Opera. As artistic director Ryan Albrechtson explains to the audience prior to the performance, this is the company’s largest and most complex production in its four-year history. If nothing else, Outskirts deserves credit for tackling material that is far beyond what many community theaters would attempt. It truly lives up to its name, which implies something more daring than what’s offered at mainstream theaters.

Anne Siegel
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Odyssey Theater

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was first performed off Broadway in 1968, where the revue ran for several years and was released by Columbia Records in a two-box set that made the hit-parade charts. The Belgian-born Brel became a major influence on such artists as Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, thanks to the English translations of his French-language songs by Rod McKuen.

Willard Manus
Twelfth Night
Festival Theater

Canada’s great Stratford Festival’s 63rd season also celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday. Its dazzling opening week of stunning productions this year consisted of seven major classic works; the later openings this season will feature new and experimental theater.

Herbert M. Simpson
Broadway in Black
WBBT Theater

African Americans impacted Broadway through performances and literary and musical creations that significantly contributed to the American theater and culture. Broadway in Black celebrates this contribution by reproducing parts of it in musicals and highlighting — through exemplary entertainment — their importance.

Marie J. Kilker
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