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
Fjeldfuglen

(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
Object Lesson, The
New York Theater Workshop

Most of us know that no matter how much closet space we have, it isn't enough. Stuff accumulates. Some items may depict a significant moment in our life; others just find a place and settle there. As writer/performer Geoff Sobelle tells us, “There’s a fine line between vintage and crap” and at times, it all becomes overwhelming and we turn from an overstuffed closet to filling piles of boxes.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cirque du Soleil - Paramour
Lyric Theater

Paramour - a three-ring mélange of Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil Ziegfeld Follies and the Golden Age of movie musicals on one Broadway stage has settled in for a long run at the Lyric Theater. For $25-million, it blends the fantasia of the French Canadian circus extravaganza with musical theater, adding jaw-dropping aerialists and trapeze artists all frenetically competing against each other.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Fun Home
Ahmanson Theater

Fun Home, the Tony Award-winning musical, sheds light on the sad/funny history of yet another dysfunctional American family. In this one, the father, Bruce (Robert Petkoff), is a closeted homosexual, the mother, Helen (Susan Moniz), is a silent, sad witness, and the eldest daughter, Alison (Kate Shindle), is a mixed-up, teenaged lesbian.

Willard Manus
Drunken City, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Before the curtain, three gal pals alternate between posing in their flowery pastel, swishy skirted dresses and speaking when displaying pictures of the guys they’re engaged to marry. They’re giggly. They’re warned: Don’t go into the Big City. But they have apparently done so, and a play in flashback shows their drunken adventure there.

Marie J. Kilker
Straight White Men
Steppenwolf Theater

They are so ubiquitous that we rarely even have to speak their name. They are the "baseline" against which metabolic functions, pharmaceutical dosages, and testimonial accuracy are measured. They are also often the loneliest creatures on earth.

Mary Shen Barnidge
By the Bog of Cats
Artistic Home

Euripides wasn't the first to recount the story of bad-mommy Medea, but his is the version best-known today: how the princess of Colchis eloped with Corinthian fortune hunter Jason, only to find herself alone and friendless in a foreign land, abandoned by her husband, who plots to take custody of their children and marry a rich heiress. Well, what did you expect in a time where royalty — abetted by gods, yet — pretty much did as they damn well pleased?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Newsies
Regal Hollywood 20 cinema

With its story based on the New York City Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, Newsies rings with an involving dramatic authenticity that music and dancing make doubly appealing. The show, based on a (then) little-known Walt Disney film, achieved great acclaim in NYC and touring. It’s this version, produced by Disney and distributed by Fathom Events, that captures the importance of a historic strike while highlighting chief personalities involved. It’s also unabashedly celebratory and romantic.

Marie J. Kilker
Allegiance
Regal Hollywood 20 cinema

On a Japanese-American Day of Remembrance and the 75th anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order 9066, a special Encore of the Broadway performance of Allegiance came electronically to select American theaters and, at the one in Sarasota, strongly engaged the audience. The Order evacuated Japanese Americans, like the dramatized Kimura family of farmers, from their West Coast homes to a hellish internment camp. Suspected as possible enemies after Pearl Harbor, they lost their homes, possessions, rights, and their dignity as American citizens.

Marie J. Kilker
Gidion's Knot
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne Lab

It’s no surprise that the title ”Gidion’s Knot” may be confused with the phrase “Gordian knot” and the concept it expresses. Gidion is a kid who has committed suicide, possibly due to bullying. A Gordian knot refers historically to a knot in a rope, symbolically representing civilization, that Alexander the Great had to untie with a single sword stroke or the world would suffer from evil political power and nihilism. It now refers to a problem solvable only by hard action or, at times, to a tie between mother and child that is all but impossible to destroy.

Marie J. Kilker
Illusionists, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

One of Milwaukee’s premier performing spaces, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, has never seemed too big of a space for the Broadway plays and musicals (and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concerts, Milwaukee Ballet performances, etc.). But when The Illusionists: Live from Broadway took the stage, many of the “illusions” were more suited to an intimate space. Thankfully, a camera person also was onstage, filming the performance so it could be viewed on a large overhead screen.

Anne Siegel
Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theater

Glenn Close enters the stage, and with one look, the audience goes wild. It soon becomes obvious that she can do no wrong. This is a Norma Desmond who is far more camp, far more of the gargoyle, than in her previous incarnation. The bright red, nearly maroon fright wig is a giveaway, as are the super-arched brows and the eyes that open way too wide. But the costumes are glorious; there’s so much gold, Norma almost seems gilded. Big, bold statement jewelry any aficionado would covet completes the glamour festival.

Michall Jeffers
Book of Joseph, The
Navy Pier

Joseph A. Hollander was a hero.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Scottsboro Boys, The
Stage 773

The real-life story related in The Scottsboro Boys is of how nine African-American teenagers, one day in 1931, all happened to be freight-hopping on the same Chattanooga-to-Memphis train. Their discovery and arrest revealed two more illegal passengers on board — white women, who accused the colored men of raping them. Despite evidence of the latter's innocence, regional justice mandated a guilty verdict, repeated in several appeals over the next six years, while drawing national attention to the prisoners facing an uncertain future on Death Row.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Zoot Suit
Mark Taper Forum

Thirty-nine years after its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, Zoot Suit has been revived in a gaudy, brash, slick production at the same theater. Written and directed by Luis Valdez, founder of a Chicano theatre group which at one time was the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers, Zoot Suit was a break-through event in American theater, one that put Chicano history on a mainstage for the first time. The play became a major hit not only in L.A. and New York but around the world.

Willard Manus
My Fair Lady
Crighton Theater

It’s literally “off to the races,” for another Stage Right blockbuster with the arrival of My Fair Lady at the Crighton Theatre. Director, Manny Cafeo, has done it again with another splashy Crighton success in the tradition of his earlier productions of Lend Me a Tenor, The Producers, and one of my own personal favorites, 2015’s Singin’ in the Rain. That latter starred the gifted actress and talented songbird, Sara Preisler. How fortunate we are that Mr.

David Dow Bentley
Older than Dirt
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Maybe the best possible tribute to give to the developers and performers of Older than Dirt is that they’re younger than most of their audience but can often pass themselves off as one of them. Sarasota, as projections remind, is known as “God’s Waiting Room” but those waiting yet watching seem to enjoy being kidded via clever portrayals and parodies.

Marie J. Kilker
Long Day's Journey into Night
Geffen Playhouse

The ghost of Eugene O’Neill hovers over the Geffen Playhouse’s production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Chances are O’Neill, seen between the scenes in a large super-imposed photo and heard on tape reading portions of the play (plus a relevant Swinburne poem), would, if he were alive, have approved of what transpires on stage. The Geffen’s production, directed by Jeanie Hackett, features an outstanding cast headed by Alfred Molina (as James Tyrone) and Jane Kaczmarek (as his wife Mary). The Tyrone family’s two sons, James Jr.

Willard Manus
Born Yesterday
Asolo Repertory - Mertz Theater

Though it is a laugh-out-loud comedy, director Peter Amster has made sure that Born Yesterday is no less a serious political revelation. As such, it belongs in Asolo Rep’s current line up of plays concerning America’s government. After two about executive and judicial branches, this one targets the legislative one. Highlighting the metamorphosis of a woman who’s never voted into a concerned citizen because a journalist teaches her about America’s history and government, Garson Kanin’s play set in 1946 D. C. illuminates today — same place, same problems.

Marie J. Kilker
946

See listing under Nine Hundred and Forty Six

Nine Hundred and Forty Six
Wallis - Bram Goldsmith Theater

Kneehigh, a Cornwall-based theatre company, reinvents musical theater with its latest touring production, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. Based on Michael (“War Horse”) Morpurgo’s young-adult novel of the same name, 946 employs just about every theatrical device imaginable to tell its complex story: drama, comedy, music & song, puppetry and dance. The show also breaks the fourth wall innumerable times, features adults playing children, men playing women (and vice versa), blacks playing whites (vice versa again).

Willard Manus
Assembled Parties, The
Raven Arts Center

Ben Bascov is New York Jewish, the pride of his Nassau County-dwelling kin. His wife, Julia, is Hollywood Jewish, a former teenage starlet raised by her single-mom fashion designer. On this Christmas day in 1980, their Central Park West apartment (so big that guests get lost in its many rooms) sports a decorated tree, gifts waiting to be exchanged, a kitchen emitting the savory aroma of roast goose, but nary a trace of religious tschotchkes.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hobo King
Athenaeum

Theater scholars might detect hints of Maxim Gorky's pre-revolution Russian drama, The Lower Depths, in Javon Johnson's world premiere play for Congo Square Theater.

Mary Shen Barnidge

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