Urbanite Theater

In a monologue delivered with much activity, a 13-year-old girl dramatizes an outstanding, murderous day in her life and a journey to get rid of a body. It happens in a confusingly described St. Louis, MO areas but involves flashbacks in time and space (including a country scene). It may even delve into the girl’s future place, along with that of her sex-addicted mother and various men to which she is or has been attached.

Marie J. KIlker
Gun, The
Ruskin Group Theater

In Justin Yoffe’s quirky but provocative new play, The Gun, now in a world premiere at the Ruskin, Steve (Josh Drennen) comes across a homeless guy (Hamilton Matthews) in an alley. During the confrontation scene that follows, Steve discovers a pistol in a nearby pile of garbage. Surprisingly, the homeless guy not only denies ownership of the weapon but declines to take it from Steve, asserting in clairvoyant fashion that “you need it more than I do” (or words to that effect).

Willard Manus
Mamma Mia!
Westchester Broadway Theater

There’s a good reason Mamma Mia! ran for 14 years on Broadway; it’s just plain fun. Who wouldn’t want to be on a scenic Greek Isle, preparing for a wedding celebration?

Michall Jeffers
Destiny of Desire
Goodman Theater

Karen Zacarias's homage to the world of telenovelas delivers more fun than anyone has a right to expect from the Latinx author of solemn feminist dramas. Audience members not yet counted among the genre's two billion devotees, but who have encountered the fiction of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Georgette Heyer, and John Fowler will have no problem acclimating to the intricate narrative arc of this internationally popular entertainment.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Scullery Maid, The
The Edge

No one disputes the practicality of eliminating options as a means of expediting decisions — the fewer possibilities, the easier the choice, right? That's not how our big sloppy world works, however, and therein lies the lesson illustrated in Joseph Zettelmaier's speculations on a fragment of historical minutiae.

The aforementioned fragment recounts how a Jewish servant of King Edward III was tortured and subsequently executed by Italian partisans after being forced to make a false confession of attempted murder and terrorism.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Evening with Groucho, An
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

Although it has been 80 years since the heyday of Groucho Marx and his team of comical brothers, there aren’t many among us who are unaware of this master comedian. Actor Frank Ferrante proves this in his one-man tribute, An Evening with Groucho, which opened a two-month run at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret. The intimate space, dotted with tables that seat from two to eight, offers the perfect invitation to sit back, relax, have a drink, and get ready to belly-laugh ‘til it hurts.

Anne Siegel
Price, The
American Airlines Theater

Families: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em. No one is a greater chronicler of this phenomenon than Arthur Miller. Conflict is drama, and oh boy, is The Price ever dramatic. It’s also very long and very talky. Fortunately, this Broadway production features superb acting and directing. The last half hour or so is extremely repetitious; what keeps it moving is the uncomfortable realization that this is how siblings do argue with each other. There’s always plenty of blame and guilt to go around, more than enough deflection, and on the stage, one surprise revelation after another.

Michall Jeffers
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne Lab

Grounded takes a female ace pilot on a flight to a change of career and thus, at the core of her very being, to unexpected and supremely difficult family, moral, and mental positions. As a monologue, the drama requires a tour de force performance. Rachel Moulton delivers it.

Marie J. Kilker
Boynton Beach Club
Manatee Players PAC - Mainstage

Retirees are seldom the subject of drama, so it was refreshing a few years ago to have a film devoted to their lives in a gated Florida community. On stage, though, all that’s new is that their world is musical and, if anything, the music and lyrics chosen to convey Boynton Beach Club’s world and its inhabitants don’t defy the stereotypical but rather swim in it.

Marie J. Kilker
Phantom Pain
The Greenhouse

Barbara Lhota's fondness for procedurals is no secret to playgoers familiar with the canon of this prolific playwright. Although employed most often in crime stories, this literary construct may be applied to any plot proposing a riddle at the outset and then gradually disclosing — in infinitesimal increments, and not necessarily in chronological order — the information necessary to connect the dots until the complete picture is revealed.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Wiz, The
Theater Wit

If the brothers and sisters of Huckleberry Finn, Peer Gynt, Alice Liddell, or Ebenezer Scrooge were not to be found in every culture the world over, their stories would have faded from memory with their generation, rather than endure to achieve the status of a "classic." L. Frank Baum's tale of a farm girl in 1900 learning life lessons on an odyssey through a magical land should have easily adapted itself to Charlie Smalls and William F.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Twenty Four Words
Stage 773

In an interview, Charles Kouri, book writer and lyricist for this history lesson framed in a musical revue, expressed concern over the number of young people who approach gender issues as if the Equal Rights Amendment introduced to Congress in 1972 hadn't failed to pass into law.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Source, The
The Den

Vernon Jenkins is a newspaper correspondent, and Oona Del Negro is a documentary filmmaker. He is armed with a laptop and all the latest apps; she packs old-school analog photography equipment. We are never told the location of this "large foreign city" where they have arrived, though their wardrobe hints at a warm climate. Neither of them knew that they would be sharing a single hotel room (boasting fridge, coffee-maker and minibar) registered under married-couple aliases, where they wait for an informant claiming to possess government secrets of interest to U.S security.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Night and Dreams
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Thanks to the vision and daring of director Yuval Sharon, those in the audience of Night and Dreams at Disney Hall recently were privileged to be in on the birth of a new theatrical art form. Sharon, head of the avant-garde opera company, The Industry, and an artist-collaborator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, mounted six short plays by Samuel Beckett into whose text was woven Franz Schubert’s words and music. The result was a night of remarkable theatricality and originality — a miracle, really.

Willard Manus
Last Days of Judas Iscariot, The
La MaMa - Ellen Stewart Theater

Courtroom dramas can’t be expected to have much plot. In plot, each piece of action leads to the next. In a courtroom, witnesses are called in a series without dramatic cause. And so we can’t expect Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot to have any sort of through line. It’s a courtroom drama, presented by La MaMa, in which Judas Iscariot is on trial. It’s not really about his last days. In fact, he isn’t on stage very much.

Steve Capra
Significant Other
Booth Theater

It's not fun watching your best friends find their life partners and dance their special wedding song, leaving you standing alone clutching a soggy hanky in your fist. It's not fun to be the only one who has not found a significant other, desperate you never will. Yet in the hands of playwright Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews), the Broadway production of Significant Other has fiercely funny moments. Well, funny in a bittersweet but truthful way.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Little Foxes, The
Asolo Repertory - Mertz Theater

The Little Foxes could almost be a template for a realistic three-act melodrama, yet in this era of nontraditional structures, Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play laid in 1900 Alabama still works. Its anti-heroine, strong like women now more often onstage, is as grasping as her wealthy town-controlling brothers. Like a famous contemporary Wall Street film hero, this family acts on the premise that greed is good . . . for themselves. They want to make their fortunes great again and again and again in their family future. Men first, of course. That’s what grates on their sister Regina.

Marie J. Kilker
Light Year, The
Playwrights Horizons

Once again, Playwrights Horizons has given us a play that’s thought provoking. The Light Years demands our full attention; fact is mixed in with fiction, and the time frame swings back and forth. Let your mind drift, and you may get lost. Before the curtain even goes up — and there is a gorgeous deep red curtain — we hear yips and cries of men being shocked as they attempt to bring the new marvel of electricity to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Michall Jeffers
Still Life
Met Theater

Death does not take a holiday in Still Life, Alexander Dinelaris’s play at Rogue Machine. On the contrary, death crops up everywhere in the play, beginning with the portraits of dead chickens shot by lead character, Carrie Ann (Laurie Okin), a photographer we are asked to believe makes profound statements with her work. Carrie Ann also references mortality in the speech she gives at the gallery opening of her exhibition, which concludes with these banal words, “We’re all going to die.”

Willard Manus
Beauty and the Beast
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

It appears the old fable, Beauty and the Beast, is well-represented these days. Disney just opened its live-version film recently, and the Milwaukee Ballet Company is taking a crack at it soon. But there’s no need to feel overkill at yet another version, such as the one presented by Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater. This bewitching blend of vocal gymnastics, lovely costumes, medieval-style dancing and fantastic puppetry make this production not to be missed.

Anne Siegel
Studio 54

Finally, Lynn Nottage’s powerful, timely play is on Broadway, officially opening March 26, 2017. I read it for an award-granting committee in 2015 and got detailed reports on its sold-out productions at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage in D.C. They got rave reviews. Then I saw this same production at the Public Theatre in New York, which also sold out and got raves. Now it’s moving intact to Studio 54 with only one cast change.

Herbert M. Simpson
Cruise, The
Los Angeles Theater Center

The Latino Theater Company has given a new play by a young L.A.-based Mexican-American playwright, Jonathan Ceniceroz, its world premiere at the Los Angeles Theater Center. Called The Cruise,, the five-character play is set aboard a luxury cruise ship toodling around the Caribbean islands; the secondary meaning of the title refers, of course, to the insatiable hunt for sex on the part of some homosexuals.

Willard Manus
C.S. Lewis: The Most Reluctant Convert
Acorn Theater

C.S. Lewis lived between 1898 and 1963. He’s best known for his works of fiction such as “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” although his non-fiction work is arguably more important. He ranks among the foremost 20th-century Christian apologists and theologians.

Max McLean has written a terrific solo show in which he presents Lewis in his study at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1950, C.S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert. Mr. MacLean is the show’s actor, and he’s co-directed it with Ken Denison.

Steve Capra
At Home at the Zoo
Wallis Annenberg Center - Lovelace Studio Theater

Deaf West (recent producer of Spring Awakening) has teamed up with the Wallis Center in its presentation of At Home at the Zoo, two short plays by Edward Albee. In keeping with its mission to “improve and enrich the cultural lives of deaf and hard of hearing individuals,” Deaf West’s productions feature deaf and hearing actors working together, using a mixture of ASL (American Sign Language) and spoken English.

Willard Manus

(see reviews under MOUNTAIN BIRD, THE)

Mountain Bird, The
La MaMa

In 1859, Henrik Ibsen wrote an opera libretto – more precisely, the beginning of an opera libretto. He never finished it. It’s titled ”The Mountain Bird” (in Norwegian, “Fjeldfuglen”), and it was produced for the first time in 2009 by a Norwegian company, Grusomhetens Teater, with contemporary music by Filip Sande.

Steve Capra
Wakey Wakey
Pershing Square Signature Center

We first meet Guy (Michael Emerson) passed out on the floor in his pajamas. Lights out.

When the lights come back on, he is in a wheelchair, alone in a room surrounded by boxes, a free-standing door, and a wall where photos and videos can be flashed. "Is it time yet? Guy asks. "We're here to say good-bye and maybe hopefully also get better at saying hello. To celebrate Life, if that doesn't sound too passive-aggressive." Designed by Christine Jones, the set gives a feeling of transition, and Guy has things he wants to say in this time he is given.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Kid Victory
Vineyard Theater

Kid Victory is a powerful, ambitious and disturbing new musical by legendary John Kander and playwright Greg Pierce about pedophilia, kidnapping, and adolescence. It is a story as gripping in emotion as in psychological insight.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Object Lesson, The
New York Theater Workshop

The New York Theater Workshop, one of the most audacious theaters in New York City, never fails to astonish its audience in the wide-ranging fare that it chooses to present, the directors and actors that tread its stage, and its stunning production designs. I’m talking about set, lighting, sound, costume, and film. In fact, in can be said that visual and audio surprises – you never know what is going to hit you between your eyes and ears upon entering the theater – is one of the NYTW’S major calling cards.

Ed Rubin
Glass Menagerie, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

In discussing his history with directing The Glass Menagerie, Milwaukee Repertory Theater Artistic Director Mark Clements recalls his first production many years ago, when he was much younger. In that version, Clements said he identified the most with Tom, the young man trying to create his own artistic voice and, at the same time, see the world. Now, as the father to a young child, Clements says he can emphasize more with Amanda, who tries to protect her children from the world.

January 2017
God of Carnage
Backstage at The Players

As flies to a wanton God of Carnage who kills for sport are the two couples in Yasmina Reza’s collision of civilized society with its opposite. They meet because one of their ll-year-old sons hit the others’ son with a stick and took out two of his teeth. It happened just that afternoon in a schoolyard. Now the parents are dealing with the incident at the modest Brooklyn home of the injured.

Marie J. Kilker
Girl Groups
WBTT Theater

West Coast Black Theater founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs dreams of making a signature female musical revue, since he’s done for one for the troupe’s male artists. Girl Groups takes a giant step toward meeting that ambition with its coverage and celebration of “The 60s Explosion” of the talents of groups of African-American songstresses. They went beyond previous but rare victories by individual women to open up music industry success previously experienced only by male groups to female ones.

Marie J. Kilker
Henry V
City Lit

"To be, or not to be" may come to mind initially, but this is not the question most often asked in Shakespeare. In play after play, from Macbeth to Coriolanus, the argument's focus is what best constitutes leadership in time of war versus desirable traits for leadership in time of peace. History — whether that of the author's country or our own — evidences the rarity of a single person possessing the talents for both.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Meatball Seance
Mary's Attic

By the end of Meatball Séance, a double portion of spaghetti and meatballs has been dropped on the floor, bread crumbs and fresh herbs have been scattered throughout the room, five audience members have been rewarded with on-the-house drinks in remuneration for gigolo/gigola services rendered, the rest of us have lifted up our voices in a call-and-response incantation, and the air is rich with the savory aroma of grilled beef and the gentle harmonies of vintage Fleetwood Mac.

Mary Shen Barnidge
If I Forget
Laura Pels Theater

Memory changes. The ways we regard memories — individual and collective — change. This message comes at you fast and strong in Steven Levenson's new play, If I Forget, at the Laura Pels Theater. While the playwright's Dear Evan Hansen enjoys an esteemed Broadway run, Levenson now engrosses audiences confronting the contemporary world's arresting sociopolitical issues and brings them firmly into the heart of one family.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Taking Shakespeare
Plymouth Church

Who loves a Shakespeare play the first time they read it? Not many high school students, and certainly not “Murph,” who’s now in college and trying to wrap his head around the Bard. Perhaps an intensive series of study sessions with the school’s premier Shakespeare scholar will help him live up to his mother’s expectations. That’s the premise of John Murrell’s Taking Shakespeare, which received its Midwest premiere in a production by Milwaukee’s Boulevard Theatre.

Anne Siegel
Fried Chicken & Latkes
The Braid

Rain Pryor’s autobiographical solo show, Fried Chicken & Latkes, deals with her mixed-race — and mixed-up — family in a frank, touching but always entertaining way. Now in its L.A. premiere, the show is something she’s been working on (and touring) for the past 15 years. She also wrote about her family in a published memoir, “Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love and Loss with Richard Pryor.”

Willard Manus
Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theater

To say that Glenn Close brings down the house during the musical Sunset Boulevard is almost an understatement, as the hoots, hollers, and applause — I even heard a bravo or two — offered by her admirers shook the very rafters of the Palace Theater after every number she sang. And that was not the end of it. At curtain call, the now-standing audience celebrating Close’s return to the iconic role of silent screen star Norma Desmond after a 22-year Broadway absence — both the musical and Close won a Tony in 1995 — just about refused to let Close leave the stage.

Edward Rubin
A Wonder in My Soul
The Biograph

No one disputes the importance of communal space in promoting social unity, whether the public baths of Athens and Rome, the trading posts of frontier settlements, or the galleys of seagoing vessels. If the barber shop represents the urban working man's agora, the beauty salon is its feminine counterpart. More than simply a grooming facility, these refuges serve as sanctuaries where confidences are exchanged, plans devised, and loyalties forged.

Mary Shen Barnidge
My Brother's Keeper
Steppenwolf Theater

Rueben D. Echoles wrote the script for this 41st-anniversary season revival of the show premiering in 2010. The Black Ensemble senior company member is also claims playbill credit for composing eight of the score's 21 songs, choreographing the breathtaking dance sequences, designing the dazzling costumes and wigs, and directing the athletic performers that make it all look so easy. He could probably play all the characters, too, but since this is live theater and not film, his onstage contribution is limited to a single role.

Mary Shen Barnidge