Cockroach Dialogues
Dorie Theater

Franz Kafka meets Nathanael West in Cockroach Dialogues, William Whitehurst’s black comedy now running at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Hollywood is the setting – and the target – of this one-act play, which centers on Wayne (Mark Binet) and Tea (Kate Poisson), two young, impoverished performers trying to make it in the entertainment capitol of the world.

Willard Manus
Prospect
IATA Theater / Teatro Circulo

In Octavio Solis’s play Prospect, Vince and Liza pick up Scout at a bar. Vince brings the two others home to meet his wife. Scout is intended to screen Vince’s relationship with Liza by appearing to be her date. Scout’s a bit of a dupe. But he and Vince’s wife, Elena, bond over being Hispanic and create a complex and subtle relationship.

Steve Capra
Peer Gynt
Classic Stage Company

Henrik Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt before he wrote the realistic dramas he’s so famous for (Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House). It’s a verse drama, published in 1867, based on a Norwegian folk myth. Its 40 scenes are sometimes realistic, sometimes surreal, and its many characters populate the stage for five hours or so. It’s enormously whimsical and theatrical, and it was originally paired with Edvard Grieg’s incidental music (which included “In the Hall of the Mountain King”).

Steve Capra
Indian Summer
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage

Yes, that’s real sand setting the tone for Indian Summer, the final production of the splendid Playwrights Horizons season. Waves are crashing on the beach as Daniel (Owen Campbell) tries to pass the time. He wears a plaid shirt, khaki shorts, and sneakers, and sports long, shaggy bangs. His mom has dumped him off on his step-grandfather, George (Jonathan Hadary) for who knows how long. Daniel is bored, worried, and not having a very good time until Izzy (Elise Kibler), a local girl, shows up. She’s spunky, pretty, and in a bright yellow crop top and short shorts, really sexy.

Michall Jeffers
Taming, The
Shakespeare & Company

The thirtysomething Lauren Gunderson is widely regarded as among the best and brightest of the emerging generation of playwrights. During the 2014 Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky she was the keynote speaker for the annual meeting of American Theatre Critics Association. On that occasion she also was the recipient of ATCA’s prestigious Steinberg Award.

Having much enjoyed her perky persona and brilliant insights in Louisville, it was with great anticipation that we attended last night’s opening of the regional premiere of her 2013 political comedy, The Taming.

Charles Giuliano
Fabulous Lipitones, The
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Old-fashioned in a good new way, The Fabulous Lipitones takes up the quandary of a barbershop quartet that’s become a trio shortly before they’re to sing in a big national contest. The men experience difficulty finding their newly deceased member’s replacement and overcoming the newbie’s lack of experience with their kind of music. Just as unhelpful are their ample preconceived attitudes and misconceptions.

Marie J. Kilker
Hetty Feather
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theatre

A popular British children’s book made into a play, Hetty Feather is about a foundling who searches from infancy through teens for her biological mother. Hetty also relentlessly pursues happiness itself through hard times at the foundling home, a nicer short stay with a foster family, and finally, a hook-up with a travelling circus.

Marie J. Kilker
Cirque du Soleil: Paramour
Lyric Theater

No doubt about it; there are times Paramour does seem like a three ring circus, and it’s tough to know where to look. On the one hand, you have a classic romantic triangle, set against the background of grand old movie musicals. On the other, you have the daredevil excitement of classic Cirque du Soleil, including breathtaking acts of tumbling, high flying, and juggling.

Michall Jeffers
Kinky Boots
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Kinky Boots finally makes its Milwaukee debut with a big splash of glitz, glamour, humor and heartfelt confessions – all a part of what makes the show a Broadway showstopper and a multi-Tony Award winner.

Anne Siegel
Honky
Rogue Machine at The Met Theater

Playwright Kalleres satirizes racial politics and attitudes in Honky, his jaunty, fast-moving, and irreverent comedy now in its Los Angeles premiere run at Rogue Machine. Slickly and snappily directed by Gregg T. Daniel, and masterfully performed by its eight-person cast, Honky zeroes in on a Manhattan ad agency headed by Davis Tallison (Bruce Nozick) whose main client makes gaudy, overpriced sneakers — “Sky Ballers” — which are treasured by black kids in the ‘hood.

Willard Manus
Hairy Ape, The
Odyssey Theater

First produced in 1922, Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape has been given an Expressionistic take by director Steven Berkoff. Shouted dialogue and choreographed movement are the order of the day, powered and punctuated by the drumbeats of percussionist Will Mahood. More surreal than real, this production goes all out for high energy and extreme emotion, sacrificing subtlety and complexity for excitement and drama with a capital D.

Willard Manus
Shakespeare Show, The
Royal Shakespeare Company

Note: Reviewed via pre-recorded video electronically transmitted by Fathom Events to a movie theater in Florida.

Marie J. Kilker
City of Conversation, The
Bram Goldsmith Theater

First produced by Lincoln Center Theater in 2014, The City of Conversation is particularly relevant in this election year, dealing as it does with Washington DC politics. The L.A. production, now on tap at the Annenberg Center, stars Christine Lahti as Hester Ferris, an elegant DC power-broker who fights for liberal causes from the drawing-room of her DC townhouse (elegant set by Jeff Cowie).

Willard Manus
Pirates of Penzance, The
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

The veteran Skylight Music Theatre closes its current season with a joyous, charming and utterly daffy production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, Pirates of Penzance. . All the appropriate elements are assembled here to guarantee an audience’s satisfaction: gorgeous voices, attractive lovers, darling maidens, soft-hearted pirates, bumbling police officers, an outstanding live orchestra, and lovely sets that hint of the modern-day elements of this show.

Anne Siegel
Mind Games
Starlite Room

In the one-act collection, Mind Games, Reverse Psychology (by George Freek) works on nice guy Ren Pearson’s approach to a job as Michael, who’s been told by fiance Sara (Samanta Centerbar, adamant) that he has to be more assertive. In an interview with Steve Bikfalvy’s surprising Charles, Michael is asked to seduce Charles’s wife Susan (Alana Opie, as forward as Sara had been) to prove how much he wants to work for them. Director Mark Woodland makes sure that his actors’ characters not only seduce but also surprise both each other and the audience.

Marie J. Kilker
Hillary & Monica
Odyssey Theater

No, Hillary & Monica is not a two-character play about a meeting between Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky, the White House intern who got it on with the president. It’s about a couple of comedy writers who are trying to write just such a play, on the assumption that it will hit big with the public.

Willard Manus
Sweeter Than Justice
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Sweeter Than Justice plays more like the novel Robert Lipkin says he started out to write before he converted it to a drama. It’s hard to tell what the play’s point is. Is it how being raped completely changed the life of Geanina Palmieri? Is it how that crime got so involved in others’ lives? Is it that legal procedure can be twisted to go beyond justice or even pervert it?  Though all these ideas overwhelm Lipkin’s play, his ways  of posing questions about them are underwhelming. 

Marie J. Kilker
In & Of Itself
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Derek DelGaudio, the magician/illusionist, returns to the Geffen with his latest one-man show, In & Of Itself. Directed by Frank Oz, the show hopes to duplicate the success of DelGaudio’s previous appearance at the Geffen, Nothing to Hide, which was so popular that it got extended to 18 weeks and became one of the five-highest-grossing productions in the theater’s 20-year history. In & Of Itself is a collaboration with producer Glenn Kaino (DelGaudio’s partner in the art duo A. Bandit) and composer Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo, numerous Wes Anderson movies).

Willard Manus
Long Day's Journey into Night
American Airlines Theater

British director Jonathan Kent helms the current production of Eugene O'Neill's epic of a doomed family. The Roundabout Theater Company's exceptional revival of A Long Day's Journey into Night reminds us of the prominence theater can achieve in the arts.

The three and three-quarter hour semi-biographical play follows a long day from morning to midnight, a harrowing and riveting focus on the epic, artistic Tyrone family and its fatal flaws. Kent evokes the essence of its characters and the life of desolation they all live, engrossed and repelled by each other.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Ttwo Trains Running
Arden Theater

The time is 1969. The place is Pittsburgh, more specifically The Hill (or Black) District, most specifically a restaurant going downhill because its area’s slated for destruction as urban renewal. A first production problem at Arden Theater’s staging of Two Trains Running is that the restaurant’s sign and entrance with unused cashier’s counter space is angled so it’s readable only from the audience’s left. The sign covers projections on opposite outer walls that seem to have important pictures but who knows?

Marie J. Kilker
Josephine
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

The curtain of art nouveau, illustrating the kind of dance and music to which Paris was treated in the first third of the 20th Century, opens on a Folies Bergere progression of near-nude but jeweled-all-over gorgeous women down a glittery stairway. The orchestral accompaniment suits their parade and their meeting up with tuxedoed men in song and rhythmic movement. Then, banana-clad Deborah Cox as Josephine Baker shakes all as quasi-native dark dancers surround her doing the same. It’s the high point of a show that descends from there on.

Marie J. Kilker
Endgame
Kirk Douglas Theater

Hail and Farewell. Alan Mandell, the distinguished, 88-year-old L.A. actor, has said that his performance in Endgame might be his final one, citing the difficulty of learning lines at his age. If that’s the case, he has gone out in a blaze of theatrical glory, giving us a Hamm we will long remember, a blind tyrant with a sly, sardonic sense of humor. With his oracular voice and instinctive feeling for the music and rhythm of Beckett’s language, Mandell is a commanding presence from beginning to end. Miraculously, he has managed to direct CTG’s production of the play, as well.

Willard Manus
American Psycho
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

The year is 1989, and in the Masters of the Universe world of New York City’s high rollers, it’s all about me, me, me. Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker) admires his nearly naked body, spouts the brand names of everything he wears and owns, and likes himself a lot. He’s at the top of his game, and like the Mad Men who have gone before, he’s an expert at selling the sizzle. Life is all about going to the flashiest clubs, snorting cocaine, being seen with the most attractive women, and above all, winning. But Patrick’s also completely stressed out, and it starts to take its toll.

Michall Jeffers
Sex with Strangers
Philadelphia Theater Company - Suzanne Roberts Theater

On a snowstormy dark night, tending a Northern Michigan B&B for a friend, Olivia (handsome Joanna Rhinehart) is curled up on a couch next to the fireplace. No internet connection or phone, just pen in hand as she works on a paper. She hears the screeching halt of a car, then at the front door, a man pounding on it, roaring a need and right to enter. So the dignified 39 year old teacher lets the guy in. Yeah, sure.

Marie J. Kilker
Long Day's Journey Into Night
American Airlines Theater

Long Day’s Journey into Night is aptly named. At nearly four hours long, this glimpse into the life of a highly dysfunctional family can take its toll. The Tyrones are a mess. James, the patriarch (Gabriel Byrne), is a second rate actor who gave up dreams of playing great Shakespearean roles for a quick buck touring around the country in potboilers. His wife, Mary (Jessica Lange), is a morphine addict and obviously has other psychological problems to boot.

Michall Jeffers
Fences
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

To borrow from the world of sports, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater hits a home run with its end-of-season production of Fences.

Anne Siegel
Tuck Everlasting
Broadhurst Theater

Tuck Everlasting may be that musical you’ve heard about, the one where you go out humming the scenery. That’s how gorgeous the sets are, as created by Walt Spangler. The woods in back of little Winnie Foster’s house are green on green on green, with boughs overlapping to create what turns out to be a truly magical place. The tree that Winnie (Sarah Charles Lewis) climbs with her new friend, Jesse (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), takes up nearly the whole stage and moves to accommodate those who choose to climb. At the bottom of the tree is a hidden spring.

Michall Jeffers
Waitress
Brooks Atkinson Theater

Some actors are so instantly lovable that from the moment they step onstage, they can do no wrong. Add an unmistakable sincerity, a glorious voice, and real acting chops, and you’ve got Jessie Mueller in a nutshell. For her turn as Jenna, the put-upon Waitress of the title, she also has just enough spice to strive to break free from her dreary life with her totally boorish and self-pitying husband, Cal (Eric Anderson).

Michall Jeffers
Effect, The
Barrow Street Theater

Connie and Tristan are volunteers in a four-week residential study of a new anti-depressant, RLU37. The drug, as it happens, contains dopamine, the chemical associated with general good feeling and, specifically, with love. One of the doctors involved calls RLU37 “Viagra for the heart.”

Steve Capra
Fully Committed
Lyceum Theater

It’s very possible that we’ve gotten so comfortable watching Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Modern Family that we’ve forgotten how superb an actor he really is. The fact is that even though he makes delivering those funny lines look effortless, comedy is not easy. No one can deny that being the only one on stage for 90 minutes is hard work; add to that the fact that he’s playing at least 40 different characters, and even the most hard-boiled theatergoer has to marvel at how well he brings Fully Committed to life.

Michall Jeffers
Bald Soprano, The
Plymouth Church

Veteran director and Boulevard Theater founder Mark Bucher has thrown local audiences a screwball pitch. He has turned Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano into a hilarious farce. Whether or not Ionesco would approve, he undoubtedly would have admired Boulevard’s brave and hysterically funny treatment. After all, it sure beats one of Ionesco’s own suggestions: to have the audience mowed down by machine guns at the end of the play. (Thankfully, no one has attempted such a bloody ending.)

Anne Siegel
In the Secret Sea
Beckett Theater

In many ways, In The Secret Sea is an old-time domestic drama, not unlike Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. The action takes place between two sets of couples; there is enough conflict to go around without the harrowing complication which pulls them apart and, ultimately, brings them together.

Michall Jeffers
Currency
VS Theater

L.A. Playwright Jennie Webb finds love in the strangest of places in Currency, her madcap farce now premiering at the Inkwell Theater (formerly Black Dahlia). Directed by Annie McVey, the play kicks off at breakfast-time, with Helen (Dale Waddington) and Dan (Warren Davis) facing each other awkwardly, after having spent an unexpected night in bed together. Passion gone, the couple now find they have very little to say to each other. But just as Dan is just about to walk out the door, he gets a phone call telling him that his long-homeless brother has been murdered.

Willard Manus
Ernest in Love
Tenth Street Theater

There are so many good lines in Ernest in Love, a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, that’s it’s too difficult to choose one to sum up the show. So this critic will refrain. Suffice to say this is a delightfully calorie-free confection that is so well-played that it could get giggles from a stone. Impossible, you say? Then consider how much more fun a superbly performed production of Oscar Wilde’s classic would be if the characters broke into cleverly written songs about all the facets of love.

Anne Siegel
Drowning Girls, The
Urbanite Theater

Inspired by “Brides in the Bath” murders in England at the start of the 20th century, The Drowning Girls presents a haunting ghost story. It’s told by three victims from their graves, reproduced in tubs of water in a tiled atmosphere of real and metaphorically sad blues. How could they have they turned over themselves and their possessions to the hardly prepossessing man in the photo on the far wall?

Marie J. Kilker
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Starlite Room

Beginning the one-act comedies of Let Me Call You Sweetheart, The Naked Truth by Tom Sivak has Scott Vitale aiming to be slick as an emcee of an improvisational theater show. But he’s discombobulated when Amanda Helsey’s bold Georgie takes the stage to act out her fantasy: appearing onstage in the buff. Rules get Scott’s emcee into the act that Georgie’s Boyfriend (Logan Junkins, somewhat weak) isn’t about to let get overly improvised. Thank goodness for Cindy Schlotterback’s good intrusion to uphold goodness.

Marie J. Kilker
He Who Gets Slapped
Broad Street Ministry

He Who Gets Slapped proves why playwright Leonid Andreyev, but for embroilment in Russia’ s political situation, might have been heir to Chekhov’s important position in Russian drama. The play is a powerful illustration of deadly results of quests for money and control over others’ lives and even bodies. Andreyev uses elements of circus and goings on backstage as emblematic of what happens in the world outside the tent.

Marie J. Kilker
For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday
Actors Theater of Louisville - Pamela Brown Theater

I can’t believe that this adored play -- the talk of this year’s Humana Festival – is not yet scheduled for a Broadway showing or any further production. Probably the most appealing and exhilarating work thus far by the highly regarded playwright Sarah Ruhl, To Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday stars one of America’s finest actresses in a delicious showcase role. So I guess we just wait to hear about its next appearance.

Herbert M. Simpson
Cagney
Westside Theater

Cagney is a total joy from beginning to end. Robert Creighton couldn’t be better as the Irish street kid turned hoofer turned movie tough guy. The story of his struggle to be thought of as more than just a growling hood is one that hasn’t been brought to light before. The stage features a proscenium arch, behind which are posters of Cagney movies. The floor is covered in purple squares, and “Cagney” is on the marquee overhead. All of this lends a theatrical flair to the show.

Michall Jeffers
Fallen Angels
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater

Following a subtle theme of inequities between the upper and lower classes in the early part of the 20th Century, Milwaukee Chamber Theater ended last season with Jeeves Takes a Bow by P.G. Wodehouse. In it, members of the hopelessly inept upper-class are saved from themselves by a highly intelligent, multi-talented and resilient butler named Jeeves. This year, the torch is passed from man to woman, as Jeeves is replaced by Saunders (Molly Rhode), a new maid who takes charge of the household in Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels. It’s the closing play for this season’s run.

Anne Siegel

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