Jane Eyre
Quadracci Powerhouse

This delightfully updated version of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s Victorian classic, is one of the most wonderful plays in a season filled with wonderful plays. Polly Teale’s adaptation, while not new, has been launched with charm, wit and polish by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in its largest performing space, the Quadracci Powerhouse. The play was developed by the Rep in conjunction with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Anne Siegel
Kiss
Odyssey Theater

Kiss, by Guillermo Calderon, begins as a parody of a telenovela, with two young couples dealing with their complicated love lives in an intense but clueless way. The play, which is set in 2014 Damascus, is intermittently funny, silly, impassioned, and melodramatic. But just as its banality begins to get on your nerves, the way most soap operas do, Calderon executes a sleight of hand and turns the piece into something unexpected: a mordant and ironical political fable.

Willard Manus
Other than Honorable
Geva Theater - Wilson Mainstage

I think this is an important play. It has won acclaim in development around the country, clearly knocked out the opening night audience on its world premiere at Rochester, New York’s Geva Theater Center, and is most certainly headed for a Broadway debut. Some of award-winning, fearless Jamie Pachino’s hard-hitting script and trail-blazing director Kimberly Senior’s showy, theatrical second act may get more subtly tuned-up first, but Other than Honorable is sure to make a lasting impression and win awards.

Herbert M. Simpson
Indecent
Cort Theater

At long last, Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who is now 65, has made it to Broadway. Indecent, her play-within-a-play, encapsulates The God of Vengeance, which was considered so offensive in 1923 that the cast was thrown into jail for obscenity. The controversy revolved around the first lesbian kiss to be performed on Broadway. By today’s standards, the same scene is sweet and pure in comparison to the blatant sex and violence we see in the media.

Michall Jeffers
Visiting
The Edge

Bipolar disorder — the psychological infirmity once known as manic-depression, characterized by bouts of intense emotional obsession — is hereditary. Its symptoms are manifested through behavior, rather than through any measurable pathogen. It is often found in large, quarrelsome, stress-riddled groups, the propensity of the afflicted to attempt suicide usually contributing to the aforementioned stress. It is also frequently evidenced in only one child per generation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Happily Ever at the Box
Music Box Theater

For a long time, I have wondered if the talented quintet of players at Houston’s evermore popular Music Box nightclub wouldn’t eventually run out of cleverly planned and executed themes for their numerous shows each year. Happily, that time has not yet come, and “Happily” is the operative word for the current production titled, Happily Ever at the Box, As that title suggests, the show is built around traditional fairytales, but with an amusingly off-beat collection of princes, princesses, fairy godmothers and witches.

David Dow Bentley
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Lunt-Fontanne Theater

Roald Dahl was a strange, strange man. He was a leading writer of children’s books, but he had a shockingly dark side. This is not immediately evident in the current production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, if you leave after the first act, you’ll probably come away humming “The Candy Man” and musing on the fact that Willy Wonka, who owns and runs the best chocolate factory in the whole wide world, is pretty quirky but basically benevolent.

Michall Jeffers
Bandstand
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater

Donny Novitski has big problems. He’s just gotten back from fighting WWII, and he can’t find work. He’s a fine singer and musician, but what he isn’t is younger, as he’s told in no uncertain terms when he’s out job hunting. It’s thanks-a-lot-for-your-service, but there’s the door. Donny can’t sleep at night, smokes way too much, and is haunted by the memory of his best army buddy, Michael “Rubber” Trojan. They were in a foxhole together, and only Donny made it out alive. Now, he’s obligated to keep his promise to his friend and to look out for the widow. What to do, what to do?

Michall Jeffers
Glass Menagerie, The
Belasco Theater

Sally Field should be declared a national treasure. Very few frequent theatergoers haven’t seen The Glass Menagerie, many times and in several incarnations. But I doubt anyone has ever seen an Amanda Wingfield like Field. As the matriarch of a family which is barely a step away from poverty, Amanda does what she can to bring in a little money by selling magazine subscriptions over the phone. She is chatty and cheerful during these calls, but underneath, she wants to scream at having to grovel.

Michall Jeffers
Little Foxes, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

There is nothing like a crackling family drama and few deliver it with as much crunch and bite as Lillian Hellman delving into her Alabama gene pool. However, what makes the current production of Hellman's 1939, The Little Foxes an especially tempting slice of malevolent enjoyment is the bitch-goddess, Regina, and the actress who portrays her. The Manhattan Theater Club's answer? Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon, two talented stage actors, are alternating those Southern belles, one evil, the other damaged and frail.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Oslo
Lincoln Center - Vivian Beaumont Theater

The widely acclaimed Off-Broadway production of J. T. Rogers’s play, Oslo, >last year in Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater has now moved to the spacious Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The story, documented but almost completely unknown, is rich and ambitious. The wide stage illuminates its dramatic depth, presenting its vitality and timeliness with more strength and humor than the previous production. Watching it today, when diplomacy seems frighteningly absent in our current political atmosphere, this behind-the-scenes exploration is especially thrilling.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Anastasia
Broadhurst Theater

Christy Altomare is a shining star; a true beauty with a soaring soprano voice and real acting chops; who wouldn’t believe she’s the late czar’s youngest daughter? At least, that’s the plan, as hatched by the rascally Vlad (John Bolton) and Dmitry (Derek Klena). They’re not really bad, as con men go, but they see a chance for a big score when the outcast orphan Anya comes into their lives. She’s the perfect candidate for them to prep as Princess Anastasia.

Michall Jeffers
Sex with Strangers
Geva Theater - Fielding Studio

Sex with Strangers has been making the rounds. Developed through Steppenwolf Theater Company’s New Play Initiative, its world premiere was at Steppenwolf in Chicago, and its New York premiere was at Second Stage Theater New York in 2014. Geva’s production was originally staged at Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY March 12-April 2, 2017.

Herbert M. Simpson
Chicago
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The city of Milwaukee is a lot closer to Chicago than it is to Washington, D.C., but the musical Chicago is basically a next-door neighbor to the national capital in terms of what it takes to succeed. A solid production of Chicago recently played in Milwaukee as part of its regular Broadway series.

Anne Siegel
Dearly Departed
West Coast Black Theater

Where are both a death and its aftermath funny?  In a play that leads to a funeral of a Dearly Departed but is anything but funereal. It takes a strange path from a play about Southern rustics to a film in which all were also African Americans and to this stage version that mimics the film. Indeed, with its multitude of scenes, it seems overly long and complicated, though perhaps its best feature is The Joy of Life Singers bringing music into the darkness of scene shifts.

Marie J. Kilker
War Paint
Nederlander Theater

It is no surprise that Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole two of Broadway’s most beloved Tony-winning performers, each with her own cadre of diehard followers, are filling the seats at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater. It is equally unsurprising that the audience goes over the moon after each Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics) War Paint song that they sing. And there are some twenty of them.

Edward Rubin
Hello, Dolly!
Shubert Theater

There’s always something so exhilarating about seeing a hit show, and Hello, Dolly! delivers that excitement in spades. This is a lavish production, and it warms my heart to see the money on the stage. Dolly! is a sold out smash, and people begin lining up early in the afternoon just for a chance of being able to buy a ticket, any ticket, for the next performance. And it ain’t cheap.

Michall Jeffers
Conspiracists, The
IRT Theater

“Every time they fire up The Large Hadron Collider, they open up a portal to a parallel universe,” a character in The Conspiracists points out. What’s more, “the collider was fired up 12 hours ago.” Quite promising for the first scene of a play. Or the second or third, for that matter. And indeed, we hear these lines in all three scenes of The Conspiracists, a clever play by Max Baker.

Steve Capra
Linda Vista
Steppenwolf Theater

It's been said of the United States that everything not fastened down eventually rolls westward to California, so it's unsurprising that we meet our AARP-aged protagonist adrift in San Diego, where cheap bachelor apartments come with two bedrooms, a swimming pool, cactus-fruit margaritas and a Vietnamese immigrant colony next door.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Groundhog Day
August Wilson Theater

Andy Karl gets a huge hand just for appearing on stage. The applause isn’t only for his reputation as a performer; in large part, the audience is applauding the guts he’s displayed by going on despite a potentially career-ending knee injury.

Michall Jeffers
Little Foxes, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

How our perception changes with time and circumstances. In The Little Foxes, Regina Giddens is routinely excoriated for being a cold, heartless woman who’ll do anything to get what she wants. In this day and age, that judgment is far from a foregone conclusion. Maybe in less skilled hands she’s be the female equivalent of the moustache-twirling villain, but Cynthia Nixon lets us see so much more. Regina is intelligent, ambitious, and shrewd; none of these qualities has been rewarded in the atmosphere of the deep South in the spring of 1900.

Michall Jeffers
Exonerated, The
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

A decade ago, I reviewed The Exonerated positively for its power at presenting true cases of people of all kinds wrongly imprisoned. This drama fortunately retains all of its power. Unfortunately, its subject has also retained its currency. Lest we forget, in its strong presentation, we are moved to support efforts to seek justice for those wrongly accused of crimes and punished.

Marie J. Kilker
Room Sings, The
La MaMa

Sitting in the audience of The Room Sings, I thought of Caliban’s marvelous speech in The Tempest:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Steve Capra
Carnival
Tenth Street Theater

Even as the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus is packing its tents for good, one of Milwaukee’s pluckiest theater companies isn’t going to let the sun set on the big top — at least not yet. In Tandem Theatre is presenting the rarely staged musical, Carnival. And the bag of free popcorn you get when entering the performing space is only one of many treats in store.

Anne Siegel
Violet Hour, The
Studio Theater

There’s more than meets the eye in Richard Greenberg’s riveting The Violet Hour, in a production by Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theaterworks. The characters seem quite normal, as they come in and out of a publishing house in New York City in 1919. At the center of things is John Pace Seavering (Neil Brookshire), who’s just starting a publishing career after his recent graduation from Princeton. In his office, almost overrun by paper (mostly unsolicited manuscripts by would-be authors), Seavering has just enough of Daddy’s money to publish one book.

Anne Siegel
Come from Away
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

The award for best ensemble on the New York stage should be handed out right now; the cast of Come from Away simply can’t be beat. Not coincidentally, this example of the best in theater is also an example of Canada at its best. On 9/11, 200 airplanes landed at the airport in Gander, Newfoundland, diverted and stranded there because American airports were shut down. Typically, the count was about a half dozen. Suddenly, the small town was faced with the challenge of accommodating 6,700 extra people.

Michall Jeffers
King of the Yees
Goodman Theater

Lauren Yee's play is a chronicle of San Francisco's Chinatown that refuses to turn a blind eye to its corrupt politicians and gangster warlords. It's also a tour of the district, with exotic xenophile-pleasing sights cited by names and addresses, in addition to cute parade lions, CGI action-movie violence and silly fortune-cookie games.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Failure: A Love Story
Kirk Douglas Theater

The angel of death hovers over a preternaturally cheerful 1920s Chicago family in Failure: A Love Story, now playing at the Kirk Douglas. The play, which is a remount of Coeurage Theatre Company’s 2015 staging, is being presented by CTG as part of its new Block Party series (and its 50th anniversary season.)

Willard Manus
Oslo
Lincoln Center - Vivian Beaumont Theater

Oslo is definitely a thinking person’s play. The subject matter itself is thought provoking; is peace in the Middle East possible? How do you get people who hate and blame each other into the same room to discuss and resolve important issues? Norwegians Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and his wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), think they may have the answer.

Michall Jeffers
Great Expectations
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater

It’s nice to see another Dickens classic being revived besides A Christmas Carol, arguably his best-known story. Milwaukee Chamber Theater tackles Great Expectations with a vengeance. Like Dickens’s other books, Great Expectations has a large and varied cast of characters. Also, it floats from one location to another in the blink of an eye. And it carries the burden of delivering timeless themes about the nature of humanity. This is what great literature is all about.

Anne Siegel
Punk Rock
Odyssey Theater

Punk Rock, now in a Los Angeles premiere at the Odyssey, is a British play about a Columbine-like campus shooting. It is written by Simon Stephens, one of Britain’s finest and most controversial young playwrights—his Pornography shook up the staid London theater world in 2007.

Willard Manus
Rare Birds
14th Street Y

Adam Szymkowicz’s play, Rare Birds, which has just been produced by The Red Fern Theater Company at the 14th Street Y (off-off-Broadway), is a study of high school bullying. I’m going to tell you the plot, so beware – I include a spoiler! I’m doing it because it needs to be discussed in detail.

Steve Capra
Rep Lab
Milwaukee Repertory - Stiemke Studio

Of all the shows offered this season by Milwaukee’s flagship theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the toughest ticket to get may be the Rep Lab. Consider this: the actors are all emerging artists (unfamiliar to audiences), and the names of these short plays aren’t announced before the programs are handed out when audience members walk into the theater.

Anne Siegel
Legend of Georgia McBride, The
Geffen Playhouse - Gil Cates Theater

A drag show with heart, The Legend of Georgia McBride tells the feel-good story of Casey (Andrew Burnap), an Elvis impersonator at Cleo’s, a Florida Panhandle dive, who discovers he can make bigger bucks by impersonating women. The play, first produced by Denver Center Theater in 2015 and now in its West Coast premiere at the Geffen, is a bawdy, raucous hoot, thanks to Matthew Lopez’s outrageously funny script, Mike Donahue’s expert direction, and to the dazzling work by Burnap and his four fellow actors (Matt McGrath, Nija Okoro, Larry Powell, and Nick Searcy).

Willard Manus
Present Laughter
St. James Theater

First reaction upon seeing Kevin Kline: Damn, he’s handsome. Perfect casting for the vain, egocentric actor Garry Essendine, the renowned lover whose greatest love is his own reflection. This is definitely a fine figure of a man; it’s easy to see why silly girls gush over him and mature women lust for him. Even when we first see him, coming down the stairs disheveled and hung over, he’s still dishy. Once again, Garry has had quite a night, and the melodramatic debutante ensconced in the spare bedroom has fallen for his line and reaped the reward.

Michall Jeffers
War Paint
Nederlander Theater

This show should come with a subtitle: Dueling Divas. It’s the story of two giants of the world of makeup, the Polish-Jewish Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone) and the cooler Canadian Wasp, Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole). The scene is New York City, and the time shifts from 1935 through 1964. In the beginning of their reign, “nice” women didn’t wear makeup, and they certainly didn’t fixate on it. So, the job of convincing them that they needed as much artifice as possible was a relentless battle.

Michall Jeffers
Play That Goes Wrong, The
Lyceum Theater

Odds are that the Mischief Theatre Company's production of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Lyceum Theater is the most accident-prone production on Broadway — and you'll love every minute of mayhem.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Midsummer Night's Dream, A
Marie Selby Botanical Garden - Outdoors

To thematically unite the four plots of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, director Jonathan Epstein has chosen change. FSU/Asolo Conservatory itself changes its venue to a beautiful outdoor setting with an inlet of water and isle of forest in back of a four-columned square of an inner stage. An expanse of grass between a tree with a bower on one side and bunches of bushes on the other complete the playing area, well lit by moonlight and all sorts of man-made lighting, including neon colors on costumes, even gloves.

Marie J. Kilker
Bloomsday
Next Act Theater

There’s nothing more compelling – or painful – to watch than an unrequited romance. Most of us can recall “the one who got away,” and perhaps even keeps you wondering, “what if?” In Bloomsday, by Steven Dietz, one of these romances plays out in a charming and touching way.

Anne Siegel
Beyond Caring
Water Works

If you think scrubbing out your own bathroom and kitchen is a chore, imagine applying your janitoral skills to the residue of a meat-processing plant. Would you rather be paid less than $50 a day for picking up spilled ramen noodles from the floor of the staff break-room with bare hands, or for swabbing disinfectant on bloody machines littered with scraps of raw animal flesh?

Mary Shen Barnidge

Pages