Samuel J. Friedman Theater

The key to a successful two-person play is that there has to be massive amounts of chemistry between the players. As unlikely a duo as septuagenarian Alex and more than a little unpredictable Georgie, in her early forties, may be, there is definite electricity on the stage. Kudos to the eternally young Mary-Louise Parker and to her leading man, Denis Arnt. The air fairly crackles when they’re onstage together- which is all the time.

Michall Jeffers
Le Cantarice Chauve
Lucernaire’s Theatre Rouge

Introduced by “God Save the King,” British seeming protaganists Mr. and Mrs. Smith stand together and speak directly to the audience. In fact, one very new thing in Alex Rocamora’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s absurd classic, The Bald Soprano, is that all the characters line up for what seems like today’s interactive theater but may also be an old fashioned carnival or burlesque act. The main thing I noticed that the subtitle predicted I would not have seen before is most of the actors in white face and formal black dress.

Marie J. Kilker
Todd Wehr Theater

Milwaukee’s First Stage offers its own version of a Halloween treat with the opening of Goosebumps: The Phantom of the Auditorium. This world premiere was written by John Maclay, who also contributed lyrics along with Danny Abosch, the show’s music writer.

Anne Siegel
Holiday Inn
Studio 54

Christmas in October? Just fine this year, with the opening of Holiday Inn, The New Broadway Musical. The show is based on the hit 1942 movie that is best known for the classic “White Christmas,” which won the Oscar for best song and featured song and dance by Bing Crosby as Jim Hardy, and Fred Astaire as Ted Hanover. Here, Jim is played by Bryce Pinkham, who, it must be said, is a much better singer than crooner Bing. Corbin Bleu skillfully tackles the role of Ted, who loves performing almost as much as he loves himself.

Michall Jeffers
More Lives Than One
Theatre de Nesle

Les Clack proves in his monodrama, More Lives than One: Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas, that Wilde indeed lived a number of lives. In flashback from an account of references to his clash with his lover Bosey’s father and the trial that followed, Clack goes back to Wilde as always a topic of conversation, no matter where: even at Oxford. In London, of course. On a tour of America. Back in England--where, for the most part, Clack chronicles Wilde’s life.

Marie J. Kilker
Room, The
A Red Orchid Theater

One of the reasons that actors love Harold Pinter is the almost limitless opportunities for individual interpretation offered by his enigmatic texts. The atmosphere of impending disaster arising from intense emotional agitation devoid of expository signposts occurring within everyday environments is what made Pinter's reputation in 1957, when this brief—running barely over an hour—one-act exercise in shivery menace premiered in an England still recovering from wartime devastation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Red Velvet
Raven Theater

The conventions of the biographical play have remained largely unchanged since their inception: a single individual with an exceptional idea stands by his/her convictions against adversity, authority and assorted naysayers. In the movies, our hero typically emerges triumphant, but in plays, not always so.

The hero of Lolita Chakrabarti's meticulously researched biodrama, Red Velvet, is Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor whose career, from 1825 to 1867, spanned all of Europe in a repertoire dominated—but not restricted to—Shakespearean classics.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Odyssey Theater

The Irish writer/performer Pat Kinevane has become a master-monologist, beginning with Forgotten and Silent in 2006 and 2011, respectively. Now he has come to L.A. with his latest solo piece, Underneath, which he has been developing since 2013 with his usual collaborator, Jim Culleton, head of Fishamble, Dublin’s new-play theatre company.

Willard Manus
Oh, Hello
Lyceum Theater

Zing! There goes another one-liner, and the audience howls with laughter. The two altercockers onstage are yucky it up, often cackling at their own jokes. They are Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland ( John Mulaney), residents of the Upper West Side who have seen better days.

Michall Jeffers
Nat Turner in Jerusalem
New York Theater Workshop

Nathan Alan Davis's new play, Nat Turner in Jerusalem, at the New York Theatre Workshop, presents Turner, shackled in a holding room, contemplating the sunset. It is the evening before his execution after his recent conviction of leading the infamous and bloody August 1831 slave rebellion.

"The sun will set over the hill. Then it will be the moon’s turn to keep watch over Jerusalem. And tomorrow, all of Virginia will come to the gallows to watch me die."

Elizabeth Ahlfors
The Geffen Playhouse

No animals were harmed during the course of Barbecue, but an awful lot of fun was poked at two low-life families, one white, the other black, who have gathered in a park to pull off an intervention.

Willard Manus
FreeFall Theater

Assassins not only begins with the song “Everybody’s Got the Right,” but freeFall’s production characterizes with its title how everything about murderers and attempted murderers’ motives make sense in a clear context. Their story takes place in a carnival whose theme is a meeting to help each other get off what’s on their minds. To mainly balladic music, the protagonists aim (and that’s the operative word) to pull off the stunt of making fame via killings in a festive marketplace.

Marie J. Kilker
Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

In probably the sexiest show in FST cabaret history, three female performers exemplify the title, Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, but with sophisticated twists. Like the sparkling baubles on the blue-curtained stage background, they scintillate in an opening medley characterized by its beginning “Shoop Shoop Song” subtitled “It’s in His Kiss.” FST favorite Jannie Jones leads the trio of Juliana Davis Ditmyer and Southern sweetie Meredith Jones, all in suggestive mode.

Marie J. Kilker
Made in Texas
Music Box Theater

It was a night to showcase the singers & songwriters of the Lone Star State, and the stars of Houston’s Music Box Theater were certainly up to the challenge with their latest production, Made in Texas. Rebekah Dahl, the company’s co-founder (along with husband and fellow Masquerade Theater veteran, Brad Scarborough), gave a Texas-sized welcome to the crowd, and then it was on to a sample of Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” that offered just a brief strident moment of excess volume concern until the talented cast members gave an eye-roll to the sound board operator who quickly had

David Dow Bentley
Siamese Sex Show
Lounge Theater

Siamese Sex Show is a rap musical set in a dystopian USA ruled by Monocorp, a conglomerate headed by a power-hungry CEO (Keith E. Wright) who has started a campaign to make intimacy illegal. In its place, people will be obliged to take emotional comfort from “the love light,” a pseudo-sex product manufactured by the conglomerate.

Willard Manus
Trial of an American President, The
Lion Theater

A month before a presidential election seems like an appropriate time for The Trial of an American President by Dick Tarlow with Bill Smith at Theater Row's Lion Theatre. On trial is former United States President George W. Bush, and the question posed at the International Criminal Court in the Hague considers his guilt or innocence of extended crimes against the world. After 15 years of political and social discussion, will the former president be found guilty of war crimes and escalating the rage of terrorism after invading Iraq in 2003?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Always Look on the Dark Side of Life
Glad Cafe

Working out of the back room of a funky bar in the south side of Glasgow, Graham de Banzie and Alex Cox have been doing their best to keep intimate theater alive in their home city. For the past three years, the partners have been mounting bi-monthly original stage works in the back room of the Glad Café, in front of audiences ranging from 20–60 people.

Willard Manus
Visiting Edna
Steppenwolf Theater

The first characters we meet introduce themselves to us as, respectively, Television, played by a bubbly Sally Murphy, and Cancer—the disease, not the astrological sign—portrayed by a suave Tim Hopper (not to be confused with the Angel of Death, who appears later in the play as the most ludicrous personification of the Grim Reaper since Edward Albee's beach boy in The American Dream).

Mary Shen Barnidge
Man in the Ring
Court Theater

Boxing fans recognized the real-life events fictionalized in Oliver Mayer's Blade to the Heat right away when it premiered in 1994, but changing social attitudes since then currently permit Michael Cristofer to safely recount the facts in the scandal that forever altered public perceptions of a once-popular pastime.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Encounter, The
John Golden

And now, for something completely different…The Encounter must be heard to be believed. As soon as the audience is seated, a very casually dressed British fellow (Simon McBurney) begins talking. So, not a stagehand at all. He asks “Has the show begun?” Indeed, it has. He informs us that he’s taking a photo of us to show to his daughter, a charming little voice who keeps interrupting his story when she should be in bed asleep. We never see her, or any of the other characters who are mentioned. There’s a standing microphone on stage, topped by what looks like the head of a robot.

Michall Jeffers
Royale, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio

Young Milwaukee audiences who can’t recall the early days of this century and the furor over African-American boxer Jack Johnson’s match with a white heavyweight champion will certainly be familiar with the notion of race riots that Johnson’s victory caused. The Royale opens at Milwaukee Repertory Theater just weeks after the city was involved in a racially charged night of shooting, looting, and arson following the fatal police shooting of a black man.

Anne Siegel
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios
Randalls Island

Kurios is the best Cirque du Soleil production New York has seen. It’s by far the most cheerful, and the most family friendly. Of course, there are the usual zany moments, beginning with a conglom of crazy scientists dressed in white lab coats. A huge clock on the back wall reads 11:10. There’s smoke coming from the ceiling, and the optical illusion of conjoined twins. Cast members carry a huge train overhead. There’s an obviously well-padded enormously fat man, an elegant lady in a straw hat, a fellow with a slinky on his head, and other phantasmagorical characters.

Michall Jeffers
East 13th Street Theater

Gone and mostly forgotten in all but name – think LaGuardia Airport and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts – is his eminence, Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1945), arguably the best mayor New York City ever had (1934-1945).

Thanks to Berkshire Theater Group which shipped us, cast and all, their highly touted summer hit musical from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the late great hizzoner is now back in town, this time singing, dancing and tipping his hat in a joyous, high-energy rival of Fiorello!

Edward Rubin
Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, A
Studio Theater

Four adult single women, one Sunday morning and afternoon in St. Louis. The year is 1937. This is the set-up for one of Tennessee Wiliams’s final plays, written just a few years before his dealth. The rarely produced A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur offers the last of Williams’s famously familiar Southern belles, trapped in her own idealistic version of reality.

Anne Siegel
Happiest Place on Earth, The
The Greenhouse

Communicative dissonances are often evidenced when novelists attempt to write plays, but no less so when a playwright steps out of his comfort zone. There is no denying Philip Dawkins's talent for spinning complex yarns populated by diverse and vividly etched personalities, but documentary accounts mandate different rules of discourse than fiction, just as third-person narratives demand differences in structure from real-time live-action re-enactments.

Mary Shen Barnidge
You on the Moors Now
Den Heath Mainstage

Unreconstructed jokesters who still derive amusement from invoking the so-called "battle of the sexes" may well consider retiring that divisive wheeze after viewing a genuine gender war, where those of Heart both Faint and Stout are wounded, sometimes going so far as to die, and nobody "wins" Fair anything.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Comedical Tragedy for Mr. Punch, A
Chopin Theater

Grotesque human representations exercise a curious power, changing in seconds from objects of amusement to a source of menace.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Passage to India, A
Off the Wall Theater

The strong smell of incense as one walks into Off the Wall Theater in downtown Milwaukee is the first indication of the play’s locale: India. In fact, local theater impresario Dale Gutzman has taken on the task of writing an original stage adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, considered to be among the finest novels of the 20th century. The novel, written in 1924, was based on Forster’s own travels to India. Gutzman, too, lived in Southeast Asia for 17 years.

Anne Siegel
Mechanics of Love
Paradise Factory

Mechanics of Love is a comedy by Dipika Guha, produced by To-By-For Productions. It’s about Glen, husband to Faizi and buddy to Georg, who marries Francesca. It seems that Glen has a condition – he forgets things. And he’s forgotten that he’s married to Faizi. We learn later that this isn’t his first bigamous blunder. “After the fourth wife, I got used to it,” Faizi tells Georg.

Steve Capra
Grizzly Mama
Rivendell Theater Ensemble

The same audiences who make the mistake of assuming they are watching another quickly dated, political-themed comedy during its first act will be the ones howling in outrage when the stakes get serious—very, very serious—in its second. George Brant's reputation is based in his sleight-of-hand narrative, however, and playgoers gulled by his snappy repartee and physical hijinks have nobody but themselves to blame.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Marie and Rosetta
Linda Gross Theater

Times are deplorable when you have to live in a funeral parlor and sleep in the caskets. That's how it was for traveling black gospel singers in 1946 Mississippi, even those as acclaimed as Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Kecia Lewis) and as talented as her protégée Marie Knight (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Tharpe and Knight were two women who helped propel rhythm and blues into the rock 'n' roll fame of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Jimi Hendrix.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Birds, The

Don't expect the deliciously elegant terror of Hitchcock's 1963 film, “The Birds,” in Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 2009 more cerebral version at 59E59 Theaters. While McPherson turns to the original 1952 Daphne du Maurier short story and Hitchcock's film as springboards, the play takes a different focus. Going beyond surviving a terrifying world-wide attack by rogue birds, McPherson’s conceit focuses on doomed humans battling for survival and questioning the existence and need for God in the universe.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Neil Simon

Feline lovers, rejoice! Cats is back in town. The original production was highly touted in London before brought to Broadway in 1982. It made history by being performed for a record 18 years, some 7,485 performances in all. Only The Phantom of the Opera tops it in Broadway longevity. This production is a bit leaner; the theater is smaller than The Winter Garden, and the orchestra has been diminished.

Michall Jeffers
Theater Wit

There are two kinds of suburbs: those born of tract homes constructed on former cornfields and christened with names reflecting lofty fantasies (e.g., Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates), and those like Evanston and Wheaton, boasting full-service communities before mid-20th-century sprawl stereotyped all exurban settlements as ghettos for automobile-enslaved breeders.

In the 150-year-old town of Naperville, however, even a franchise facility lying 35 miles southwest of Chicago can become a fortress, serving its citizens as similar shelters did their pioneering forebearers,

Mary Shen Barnidge
I Do Today
The Greenhouse

Our narrator's first words to her audience are "I could marry you." Before we look for an irate father brandishing a shotgun, however, she explains that, although raised Jewish, she is certified by the Church of Spiritual Humanism to perform marriage ceremonies — a call possibly inspired by her family's propensity for declaring wedlock the solution to every crisis of indecision and, therefore, a practice to be embraced impulsively and often.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Playwrights Horizons

The aubergine of the title is the shiny purple vegetable we call “eggplant.” It’s a gift to Ray (Tim Kang), a troubled chef who reluctantly agrees to take his father (Stephen Park) home to die. Lucien (Michael Potts), the hospice worker in charge of the case, explains that he prefers the French name, because it more closely matches the beauty of the plant. Lucien has seen a lot of death and dying, not only because of his job, but also in the refugee camps in his native Africa. He understands all too well the desperation of survival, in a place where his people were unwanted and unwelcome.

Michall Jeffers
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

For those who were born too late to encounter the real-life jazz singer Billie Holiday, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is a terrific recreation of one of Holiday’s final appearances. The cast includes only two people: Holiday (Alexis J. Roston), who sings onstage in a small, run-down Philadelphia nightclub, and her current watchdog and pianist, Jimmy Powers (Abdul Hamid Royal).

Anne Siegel
Walkerspace Theater

History is long. Memory is short. And much is buried under the rug. Unearthing the past, Gregorian, Matthew Greene’s latest play, produced by Working Artists Theatre Project at the Walkerspace Theater, digs deep into the painful history of the Armenian people, examining the century-long effects of the 1915 genocide on four generations of the Gregorian family, in which the Ottoman Empire slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians

Edward Rubin
Dutchman / TRANSit
The Greenhouse

The map on the wall of the train car, the empty seats, and the advertisements for Burma-Shave indicate that we are in New York City on an early evening during the mid-20th century for the first in this double bill of plays. Amiri Baraka's career-making 1964 one-act, Dutchman, recounts how black corporate Clay is lured by white free-spirit Lula's seductive banter into sharing an erotic fantasy that turns suddenly ugly following the entrance of other passengers.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Zuccotti Park
Clemente Soto Velez Center - Flamboyan Theater

Zuccotti Park opens with a man drumming on a plastic bin. This is a musical set in the turbulent milieu of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in New York City. The relationship at its core concerns Cooper and Kate, both from Rockwell City, Iowa. They haven’t seen each other since high school. She has a Master’s degree from NYU now and works with the Occupy protestors. He served in Afghanistan for eight years and is unsympathetic with the movement. They’ve agreed to meet again in New York.

Steve Capra