Take One
Clemente Soto Velez Center - Flamboyan Theater

Take One is a musical presented by The Council of Nine as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The conceit in Take One is that there were false starts to some noted projects. It’s composed of three vignettes.

Steve Capra
Wild Party, The
Next Act Thetaer

For those who’d eagerly rush to see the musical, Chicago, All in Productions currently offers a variation on a similar theme in the musical The Wild Party. All In Productions does a fine job of executing the musical’s Milwaukee premiere at Next Act Theater.

In 2000, the Manhattan Theater Club’s production of The Wild Party premiered Off Broadway with a sterling cast that featured Brian d’Arcy James, Taye Diggs, and Idina Menzel. Even Menzel’s co-star from Wicked, Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda), appeared in a workshop version of the show.

Anne Siegel
Streetcar Named Desire, A
The Players Center

Director Elliott Raines has made sure no one mistakes his take on A Streetcar Named Desire is in any way tied to the famous movie version. Brunette Blanche (Alana Opie) may be mentally deteriorating, but her sturdy build and posture and spring-patterned dress belie her condition. She seems fit to be protector of her slight blond younger sister Stella (sweet Lauren Ward) with whom she’s come to stay in New Orleans after losing their ancestral estate. Also her last home and job.

Marie J. Kilker
The Greenhouse

Once upon a time, a young couple fleeing poverty and starvation emigrated to the United States seeking their fortune in the great city of Boston.

Like most recently arrived ethnic minorities, they were shunned by their neighbors initially. Over decades of determined assimilation, the descendants of these proud settlers rose to positions of power, until a third-generation son, impatient with his progenitors' slow progress, vowed to sire a succession of leaders to the entire nation. His ambitions were fulfilled — but not without terrible sacrifice.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Good Friday
Oracle Theater

Our prologue in Good Friday presents us with a line-up of multiethnic young women dressed in underwear. After examining their bodies, they don street clothes and depart. We next see them in a classroom, ostensibly discussing Ibsen's A Doll's House but mostly engaging in the sort of pecking-order games employed by playwrights nowadays to assure us that smart, educated, third-wave feminist "scholaristas" can still behave like seventh-graders.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Day by the Sea, A
Samuel Beckett Theater

Undeniably, A Day by the Sea is languid, even placid, an amiable but bittersweet visit with the comfortable middle-class Anson family as they examine glances into their own lives and comment on the lives of each other. In its first New York revival, this droll and poignant look at human nature and its all-too-human vicissitudes and illusions is portrayed by a fine-tuned cast.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Direct from Death Row
Raven Theater

The title, Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, references a real-life chapter in our nation's history, but this is not another cut-and-dried, preserved-under-glass docudrama. Likewise, its subtitle promises "An Evening of Vaudeville and Sorrow," but don't worry — the sorrow doesn't come until after the "vaudeville" has supplied so much merriment, you'd almost think this was the Kander and Ebb musical of similar name.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns, The
Stage 773

Anton Chekhov is mostly known for his plays, not for the hundreds of short stories serving as a kind of verbal photo album of his society as he viewed it. Moving Dock Theater Company's page-to-stage adaptations of these sketches formed the basis of their 2015 anthology titled, “The Anton Chekhov Book Club” — a venture that proved so popular as to mandate a sequel, this one appropriately dubbed "The Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Promise of a Rose Garden, The
City Lit

In stories about men and war, the soldiers squabble among themselves and raise ruckus out of sheer boredom, but stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield, only to be haunted in later years by memories of horrors witnessed. In stories about women and war, however, the soldiers share sororal unity, pine for boyfriends left behind, are discharged for getting pregnant, and — in recent years — reassure husbands and children via Skype that mommy will be home soon.

Mary Shen Barnidge
John Gabriel Borkman
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

This John Gabriel Borkman was the world premiere of Paul Walsh’s translation from Ibsen’s Norwegian, which the Stratford Festival commissioned. I haven’t read or seen the play since Harry Truman was President, so I can say only that this version seems clear and effective with no jarring anachronisms that might obviously conflict with Ibsen’s original. In fact, the play deals with a former bank manager who illegally invested his customers’ deposits in a grandiose scheme.

Herbert M. Simpson
Dutch Masters
Met Theater

Clearly an homage to Leroi Jones’s Dutchman, Greg Keller’s Dutch Masters also takes place in a New York subway car and deals with the racial differences between a white/black couple. But where Jones tapped into the sexual sub-text of that first meeting, with a white girl needling, provoking, and finally stabbing the black guy, Keller takes his story in a different direction, one that is more contrived and artificial.

Willard Manus
King Lear
Up the Hill (outdoor stage)

King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, also can be remarkably difficult to stage. So it is no wonder that 17 years have passed since American Players Theater in Spring Green, WI, has tackled this tragedy of a mad king, his ungrateful daughters, and a kingdom disintegrating into chaos.

Anne Siegel
Gigi's, The
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Like the possessive in their name, not followed with any noun, The GiGi’s seem incomplete somehow. They appear to want to emulate popular, great girl groups in song from the 1930s onward. But they follow through in a context of Disney World performance, meant to wow tourists. They are insistently energetic. The girls claim from the beginning to be like “Sisters” and name themselves Peggy, Maggie, and Jo, but don’t look alike among themselves or look like the singers they try to emulate.

Marie J. Kilker
Hypochondriac, The
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Moliere’s Le Malade Imaginaire was perhaps his favorite play, incorporating farce, satire, music, dancing, physical clowning, and lectures on beliefs he thought important. That description may suggest why it has never been one of his most beloved or popular plays, despite its dazzling wit. Add the fact that in most versions and translations, it is also shocking enough in details and language to appear to many to be censorable.

Herbert M. Simpson
Jackie Wilson Story, The
Black Ensemble Theater

Matinee audiences frequently are slower to warm up than evening crowds, daylight hours tending to discourage suspension of disbelief. At the remount of this, Black Ensemble's most successful show — its second since premiering in 2000 — almost a whole 15 minutes went by before spontaneous applause burst forth from playgoers unable to contain their enthusiasm or anticipation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Good Person of Szechwan, The
A Red Orchid Theater

Ever since Bertolt Brecht's plays were declared safe for classroom curricula, young theater companies have eagerly embraced his aesthetic precepts, based in intellectual detachment, austerity, and didacticspeak as dry as week-old toast. Tony Kushner knows that from stale bread come croutons, however, and serves them up simmering in a vibrant multi-ethnic stew immediately recognizable to modern audiences.

Mary Shen Barnidge
The Greenhouse

To create a good hard-boiled noir whodunit, you need a good story — preferably involving murder, money, mysterious temptresses, duplicity and double-crosses, shady jamokes from all levels of society, and plenty of surprise twists. What you also need, however, is a good storyteller fluent in the gritty urban poetry rendered synonymous with the genre by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and, more recently, Robert Parker. The talents of Chicago playwright Douglas Post and British actor Simon Slater together add up to the perfect combination.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Up the Hill (outdoor stage)

Should it be necessary to have a Ph.D. to enjoy a play? If you said no, then by all means feel free to pass on one of the current offerings at American Players Theater in Spring Green. Well-known playwright Tom Stoppard assumes that anyone walking into a production of Arcadia should be able to draw from a breadth of knowledge that extends to advanced theories in math, science and sociology. The result is a confusing mish-mash of a production under the direction of James Bohnen.

Anne Siegel
Drama Queens from Hell
Odyssey Theater

In the first scene of Drama Queens from Hell, the Peter Lefcourt comedy now in a world premiere at the Odyssey Theater, we meet talent agent Artie Paramecium (Rick Podell) doing business on the phone while seated on the toilet with his drawers down around his ankles. Having thus made it clear how much he likes vulgar humor, Lefcourt proceeds to satirize the film “Sunset Boulevard” in the most crude, lowbrow way imaginable.

Willard Manus
Coward, The
Theater at 14th Street Y

The Coward: a Madcap Fairytale is produced by The National Theater of MatMadia and presented as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. It’s created by Maddy Campbell and Matt Phillips. Its subtitle – “A Madcap Fairytale” – describes it aptly, but it’s also a sort of clown show. We’re presented with a king and queen, a maid who murders the king, and a servant dispatched after the maid. There’s lots of blood and vulgarity.

Steve Capra
Waiting for Obama
Theater at 14th Street Y

Waiting for Obama is an issue-based play by John Moore, presented as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. It’s produced by Wild Blindness Productions and Bas Bleu Theatre Company from Denver, Colorado. Readers considering seeing Mr. Moore’s play at a later production should be warned that this review contains spoilers.

Steve Capra
Till Birman Wood

Till Birnam Wood… is an adaptation of Macbeth presented by John Schultz as part of The New York International Fringe Festival. At the show’s opening actors crawl on to the stage under a curtain. They say “Tis time,” and that’s our cue to put on our blindfolds, which we will keep on for the entire show.

In the darkness, simple sounds like pats on the back, a kiss or the clinking of daggers become utterly eloquent. And the word “Horror”, shouted out when Duncan’s death is discovered, evokes a deliciously gruesome image.

Steve Capra
Legend of Oni, The
Clemente Center - Flamboyan Theater

The Legend of Oni is a charming musical from Musical Company OZmate, a company from Takarazuka, Japan. Onis are the Japanese equivalent of ogres. They come to punish us humans when we’ve been bad. They are fearful to behold, and we die if we see the Onis marching. We become Onis when we harbor in our hearts “grudges and anger” (the phrase occurs several times in the play).

Steve Capra
Social Savvy
Starlite Room

Man in the Attic by Arlene Hutton is the first of two comedies directed by Cory Boras, each involving family conflicts. Andrea Downer aptly conveys the nearly hysterical fear of a Wife who wants her not very brave Husband (Rodd Dyer, guarded) to do something about a Man she’s found living in their basement. Wife’s Sister, Liz Pascoe, fills in bravely with fine sneering at Husband. (Liz just took over the part last minute from an ailing actress originally cast!) The Man apparently enjoyed reading old magazines while using up food and drink in Husband’s emergency survival set-up.

Marie J. Kilker
Urbanite Theater

Alida, a renowned, reclusive author, wants to preserve in words the memories of her lifetime. Hopes for help in saving what she can have sent her to a social agency. Diagnosis received: Alzheimer’s, well underway. Unexpected addition: Beth, a laid-off young agency worker, trying to save a living, seeks a job recording Alida’s words. Both, then, go into their pasts.

Marie J. Kilker
Pirates of Penzance, The
freeFall Theater

The Pirate’s ship roams in a galaxy far, far away. Metal-pipe rooms inside with bottom-level aisles, flanked by musicians in their own spaces, come to jut out front in a space for confrontations and conversations. Side stairways climb up to adjoining runways, where windows show skies and planets outside, as well as entrances to interior controls. Here’s where Frederic (exuberant Nick Lerew) is celebrating his 21st birthday before leaving the Pirate King (dynamic Hayden Milanes) and his orphan band. As an ordained “Slave to Duty,” Fredric’s bound to oppose them.

Marie J. Kilker
Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike
Cabot Theater

If anyone needs a life coach, it would be adult siblings Vanya and Sonia, two characters in Christopher Durang’s zany comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The Broadway hit play is currently being produced at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in Milwaukee, WI.

Anne Siegel
As Straws Before the Wind

Filipinos are the largest Asian minority in California today, good reason for Filipino-American playwright Felix Racelis to dig deep into his people’s history in As Straws Before the Wind, now in a world-premiere production at the Ruby Theater.

Willard Manus
No Exit
Off the Wall Theater

As the title suggests, Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit suggests a place that someone would very much like to leave. In this powerful one-act, Sartre explores his own version of hell. Milwaukee’s Off the Wall Theater is staging the 1944 play in its intimate, 50-seat theater.

Anne Siegel
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Hershey Felder goes for the gold in Maestro, his one-man play about the great American composer/conductor/educator Leonard Bernstein. It’s quite a challenge to try and capture Bernstein’s many astonishing gifts in a single, brief evening, but Felder manages to do it — with much flair and finesse as well.

Willard Manus
2 by Tennessee Williams

see listing under Two by Tennessee Williams:

Two by Tennessee Williams
St. Luke's Theater

Tennessee Williams’s dialogue is naturalistic inasmuch as we can feel the southern heat in its details. It’s nearly expressionist in its evocativeness. It’s quintessentially American. Williams is served very well in 2 by Tennessee Williams, a pair of his one-act plays, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Kingdom of Earth, produced by Fabco Productions.

Steve Capra
God of Isaac
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Having reviewed this play before at Florida Studio Theater closer to the play’s time, 1977-79, I have to admit I find myself more critical of it now. God of Isaac tells of Chicagoan Isaac Adams as he tries to connect with his Jewish heritage, to find meaning in it for his present as a second-generation American Jew. Despite excellent actors and direction both humorous and sentimentally effective, the play sacrifices substance for theatricality and appeal to its obviously concerned audience.

Marie J. Kilker
Florida Studio Theater Improv Festival 2016
Florida Studio Theater

Organized by Florida Studio Theatre's Rebecca Hopkins, Managing Director, who first conceived of the Improv Festival, this year's 8th boasted three full days of performances. From July 14 through to an All Play and Midnight Buffet on the 16th, 18 groups of 92 performers brought various forms of improvisation to four FST's venues. This issue also benefitted from the organizational work of Will Luera, engaged as Director of Improv last year, with the goal of having FST as the Southeastern Capital of Improvisation.

Marie J. Kilker
Theater Wit

When the author is a hometown boy and the stage picture consists of three guys over the age of thirty swapping Big Talk in a bar, the odds are that at least one of them is trying to put one over on the others. This auspicious debut by CPS teacher-turned-playwright Michael Rychlewski fits snugly into the genre launched by David Mamet, whose tales of small-time hustlers continues to define the "Chicago style" of dramatic literature.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Portrait, The
The Greenhouse

The stage contains a room identifiable as an artist's studio only by its array of easels and canvases. A door leads to a sunny garden; tea and coffee-making appliances are in evidence, along with indications of resident felines. The owner of this cheerful habitat is a portly man of middle age, wearing a voluminous caftan and a full beard, whose first words to the waiting visitor seated unseen among us are to apologize for his tardiness.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Blueprint for Paradise
Hudson Theater

If it weren’t true, you wouldn’t believe it.

About a year before Pearl Harbor, some American Nazis teamed up with a German Nazi to build a compound in the hills above Los Angeles that would serve as headquarters for Adolph Hitler to rule over Western America. And the architect who designed the 50-acre property in Rustic Canyon was an African-American architect, Paul Revere Williams, designer of such local landmarks as Saks Fifth Avenue and the County Courthouse.

Willard Manus
Irish Repertory Theater

A climate of tension and enigma insinuates its way into the U.S. debut of the Abbey Theatre production, Quietly, by Owen Cafferty at the Irish Repertory Theater. With an icy scowl and a limp, Jimmy (Patrick O'Kane), enters a quiet bar in Belfast. The bartender (Robert Zawadzki), a Polish immigrant, draws him a beer from the tap and they both turn wordlessly to watch the World Cup match between Poland and Northern Ireland on TV.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Mitzi Newhouse Theater

In 1993, an historic handshake in the White House Rose Garden offered a promise but failed to deliver fulfillment. Closer to fulfillment is J.T. Rogers's captivating and inspired drama, Oslo, now on Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse stage. Rogers goes behind the scenes of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and reveal the vital role of Norwegians in bringing it all about.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Baby Doll
Fountain Theater

The Fountain Theater’s West Coast premiere of Baby Doll is based on Tennessee Williams’s 1956 screenplay as adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann. In its previous Williams incarnations, Baby Doll was first a short story, then a one-act play (both called “27 Wagons Full of Cotton”). This is only the second time the Williams estate has given permission for the adaptation to be staged, making it something of a coup for the Fountain.

Willard Manus