Sunday, May 27, 2012

‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’: The Creator of 'Becky Shaw' Is Back With a Splendid New Play



Virginia Kull, Beth Dixon, and Amy Brenneman in "Rapture, Blister, Burn"
Photo by Carol Rosegg


Playwright Gina Gionfriddo, who a couple of years back gave us the sharply comic Becky Shaw (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), is back with Rapture, Blister, Burn, an equally smart and funny new play that pits feminist theory against the complicated reality of human relationships, and where Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly both emerge as worthy role models.

As she did with Becky Shaw, Gionfriddo proves herself to be a great weaver of a complex tapestry, in which the obvious and predictable become less and less so as the play moves along, while still leading us to a most satisfying ending.

If you are not quite sure who Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly are, or if you need to brush up on First-Wave, Second-Wave, and Third-Wave Feminist Theory, no worries!  Cathy, a renowned author and professor of women’s studies, is on hand to elucidate.    

Cathy has taken a leave of absence from her prestigious job and apartment in New York City to return to her family home somewhere in suburban New England, ostensibly to care for her mother, Alice, who has suffered a mild heart attack. 

Once we meet Alice, however, and see how peppy, independent, and full of life she is, we begin to wonder whether Cathy might be seeking something else entirely.  Could it be Don, the man she was once in love with and whom she lost to her college roommate Gwen? 

Of course, that is all in the past.  Gwen and Don have been married for 15 years and have two sons.  Gwen is a stay-at-home mom, while Don is a dean at the local college.  Very settled.   

Or not.

Don has secured Cathy a teaching job at his college starting in the fall, but she will also teach a feminist seminar during the summer term.  She only has two students, Gwen and Avery, Gwen and Don’s former babysitter.  They will hold their weekly meetings at Alice’s home. 

Granted, this is a writer’s setup, but what a great setup it is, since it allows for three generations of women to come together to consider the impact of feminism of the lives of U. S. women over the years.   Alice is in her 60s, Cathy and Gwen in their 40s, and Avery in her 20s.  Their discussions, which take up a large portion of Act I, are most enlightening in showing how quickly perceptions have changed over a short span of time. 

And because the group is so intimate, the conversations, fueled in part by the martinis that Alice mixes and serves each week, quickly move from the intellectual to the personal. 

Gwen, who is a recovering alcoholic, is sick of her slacker pot-smoking, beer-guzzling, porn-addicted husband (a “charming devil” he calls himself; you decide) and wishes she could have the kind of free and productive life she envisions Cathy as having.  For her part, Cathy, faced even fleetingly with the thought of her mother’s mortality, feels she has missed out on the stability and comfort of a husband and children. 

You may be able to guess at some of the plot twists—but not all of them.  Gionfriddo has a way of keeping you off balance by making sure her characters are reliably unpredictable, and she reminds us that in the war between mind and heart, the winning side is never a sure bet.  

So raise a glass to Alice and to Betty Friedan and, yes, even to Phyllis Schlafly, as well as to Gina Gionfriddo for giving us this splendid new play.

And kudos to director Peter DuBois and the entire ensemble cast:  Kellie Overbey as Gwen, Amy Brenneman as Cathy, Lee Tergesen as the hapless Don, Virginia Kull as Avery, and especially Beth Dixon as Alice, the kind of mother any woman (or man) would want to have, about whom Cathy understands that no one will ever love her more.

DISCOUNT TICKETS TO RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN for BLOG READERS:

Regular run:  May 18-June 24
Tues 7, Wed-Fri at 8, Sat at 2:30 & 8, Sun at 2:30 & 7:30
Additional Monday evening perf June 11 at 7

Order by June 5 and use the code RBBLOG [note two B’s]
$40 (reg. $70) for all performances May 18-27
$50 (reg. $70) for all other performances May 29-June 24

Online:
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Or Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8 PM daily
Or Go to Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street.


Feel free to tell your friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.  And if you can't get enough of ProfMiller, check out his column, ProfMiller@The Theater, at BroadwayShowBiz.com.

Friday, May 25, 2012

'Title and Deed': Attention Must Be Paid



Conor Lovett stars in "Title and Deed."
Photo by Ross Costigan


Beckett is dead.  Long live Beckett.

That is one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind while watching Title and Deed, the new theater piece by Will Eno being performed at the Signature Theatre’s intimate Alice Griffin Jewel Box with sweet, soulful quirkiness by Irish actor Conor Lovett.

Imagine a new version of Waiting for Godot, with Didi wandering alone, separated from his Gogo (or vice versa), perhaps for all of eternity.  A sad image, yet one that Mr. Lovett most thoroughly embodies, even when coming out with some deliciously funny lines about home, family, love, life, and death. 

I don’t know whether it was the space or the acting, but in more than a half century of theater-going, I have never had such a strong feeling of being so personally addressed by the person on stage. 

It’s not that I felt like the song performed most famously by Roberta Flack—Killing Me Softly.  Mr. Lovett was not “strumming my pain with his fingers” or “singing my life with his words.”  But he looked his audience directly in the eye as he spoke, so that I felt more like a passenger on an airplane, buttonholed by a loquacious seatmate for the entire flight.  Being on the receiving end, you have the choice of zoning out or paying close attention. 

I recommend the latter, but I have to say that view was not universally shared with the audience at the performance I attended.  I have never been so acutely aware of ambient audience noise, which felt terribly intrusive.  Someone’s hearing aid kept squealing feedback; someone in the first row blew his nose loudly; someone behind me started snoring. 

Mr. Lovett took it all in, his eyes darting from miscreant to miscreant, with a silent reprimand.   For my part, I scrunched into my seat and stayed as still as possible, trying to muffle even the sound of my pen taking notes on my program.

Needless to say, Title and Deed is not for everyone.  It is a 70-minute monologue that is as much about the inner workings of the writer’s mind as it is about the teller of the tale.  One of the first things Mr. Lovett says is, “don’t hate me, if you wouldn’t mind.”  That’s a writer’s plaint if there ever was one. 

The story doesn’t so much unfold as shake out, bit by bit, non sequitur followed by tangential thought, always with a plea for our indulgence.  “We should thank our stars for the listeners of the world,” says Mr. Lovett.  Hint. Hint.      

The character Mr. Lovett portrays, called—rather preciously—“Man,” is a lost soul, a wanderer far from a home that, as we gradually learn, provided him with little comfort or joy.  “My parents taught me the difference between right and…left,” he says by way of explanation.  Later, in a rare moment of strong emotion, he slaps his leg angrily and repeatedly with a stick he has been carrying, a self-imposed flashback. 

And so it goes.  We learn that Man has come to our place, unsure of how to answer the question posed by the Customs and Immigration clerk:  “Business or pleasure?”  We learn about his time with Lauren, with whom he split (“I went my separate ways”), and with Lisa, with whom he would have wanted a longer relationship. 


More than anything, we are left, in the end, with a tale of loneliness.  It is no wonder that Man has latched onto us for the 70 minutes he has been given to do so—or that he struggles at times to find his voice.  We may feel a captive audience, but for Man, we are a momentary oasis in a lifetime of solitary wandering that will recommence as soon as we depart.

And when it is over, if you have been paying attention, you will leave the theater with a sense of admiration for both the writer and the performer, as well as for Judy Hegarty Lovett, who has directed her husband with a deft hand.  It is also possible you may not feel you have gotten your money’s worth, for this is no play but rather a haunting experience, communion with a ghost.  

Go home and be appreciative.


Feel free to tell your friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.  And if you can't get enough of ProfMiller, check out his column, ProfMiller@The Theater, at BroadwayShowBiz.com.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

'Harvey': A Little Pooka Magic Lights Up The Stage'




There is a singular magical moment in Harvey, the comedy-fantasy play by Mary Chase now in revival at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54. 

That moment marks the point where Harvey ceases to be a whimsical bit of fluff about the kind-hearted eccentric Elwood P. Dowd, the moment when disbelief goes out the window and it becomes possible—even sensible—to believe in pookas.

It turns on a remark made by the chief of a psychiatric rest home, Dr. Chumley, who—as the surrogate for the skeptics among us—has come to realize there is more to our existence than science alone can explain.

“I've been spending my life among flyspecks,” he says, “while miracles have been leaning on lampposts at 18th and Fairfax.” 

It is at that point that we understand why Harvey had a run of 1,775 performances and walked off with the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1945, the year the Pulitzer committee bypassed Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie

World War II had taken such a terrible toll; imagine having a friend who could stop time, so that—as Elwood explains it—“you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by.” 

Think about your own life and tell me this is not a tempting thought to get lost in for a while. 

Even though it is the film version of Harvey, dating from five years later, that has stuck in the collective unconscious of all who have ever seen it, I have to say it is a real treat to see this charmer on stage. 

No, Jim Parsons is not Jimmy Stewart, but he does a fine job as the man who is quite content to have as his best friend someone he describes as most closely resembling a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit, unfortunately invisible to pretty much everyone else.  It is Elwood's ability to apply his own gentle logic to every situation, his ability to charm everyone he meets, that makes him every bit as significant as his pal.  It is small wonder that Harvey has chosen to hang around with him.   

Elwood would be perfectly happy going through life meeting up with old friends and making new ones—with Harvey at his side—but for the obvious pain it has been bringing to his sister Veta (Jessica Hecht) and niece Myrtle (Tracee Chimo), who find the whole thing perplexing and socially embarrassing.

Reluctantly, Veta has decided that her brother—not to mention she and her daughter—would be better off if he were to be safely ensconced at Chumley’s Rest Home. The play unfolds with the clash of alternative realities, until all is set right at the end.

The production is aided in no small way by its slate of experienced and talented actors.  In addition to Parsons, Hecht, and Chimo, we have Charles Kimbrough as Dr. Chumley, and, in the role of his wife, the always-delightful Carol Kane.  Rounding out the cast are two other veterans, Angela Paton and Larry Bryggman, along with Holley Fain, Rich Sommer, Morgan Spector, and Peter Benson.  The fine set design is by David Rockwell, with costumes by Jane Greenwood, and the whole thing is kept moving at a steady clip by director Scott Ellis. 

If you have it within you to succumb to a little bit of pooka magic, then Harvey will leave you feeling very happy indeed.


Feel free to tell your friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.  And if you can't get enough of ProfMiller, check out his column, ProfMiller@The Theater, at BroadwayShowBiz.com.

'Medieval Play': Yuck, Blecch, Gross.






The nice young woman I was chatting with the other day during intermission at the Signature Theatre’s Irene Diamond Stage, where we were watching Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play, called the work a “vomit draft.”

That colorful description, which is sometimes applied to rough, rough drafts of works-in-progress, is apt on a couple of levels. 

There is the obvious one, an expression of the not-ready-for-public-display nature of the work.  But it is also an appropriate description for the too-numerous-to-count references to every manner of the expulsion of effluvia the human body is capable of producing. 

It is hard to know what this accomplished playwright, who has won and been nominated for numerous awards (This Is Our Youth may be his best-known play), had in mind when he came up with this most unusual work.

Imagine, if you can, what the frat boys characters on display in the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson would come up with if they were commissioned to write a play based on a dense, dry history textbook; let’s call it Medieval France and the Western Schism of the Catholic Church:  1376-1378.

That should give you some idea of what is in store for you if you decide to see Medieval Play—a truly baffling mix of history, politics, sex, religion, and table manners.

Before the play begins, we hear the sounds of battle.  The curtain parts, and we encounter two armor-clad knights resting on some rocks.  After a silence, one of them speaks:  “It’s certainly grim here in Medieval France.” 

And so begins the picaresque tale of two benighted knights, Sir Ralph (Josh Hamilton) and Sir Alfred (Tate Donovan), mercenaries eking out a living by fighting in the Hundred Years War.  Hey, it’s a job! (“I wonder how long it will last,” one of them wonders aloud.).

The dialog from beginning to end combines weighty exposition with low humor that continues to descend unrelentingly, slipping past Monty Python’s Spamalot and a lot of very bad Saturday Night Live sketches, before landing and staying squarely in the gutter. 

Ostensibly, the plot is about Sir Ralph’s desire to abjure raping and pillaging and to lead a better, purer, more chivalrous life, one that will lead him to God.  Fat chance.  At least not in the human muck and mire that pass for life in Medieval Europe. 

Amidst all of the unsavory goings-on (raping and pillaging are the least of it), there is one bit that could conceivably be viewed as a clever satire.  That is a banquet scene, in which the hostess (Halley Feiffer) reads aloud from a new book of etiquette, touching on appropriate manners regarding the discarding of bones, spitting at the table, what to do with one’s snot, and other bits of pleasantry.  This is potentially funny stuff, depending on one’s tolerance for gross-out humor, presumably based on an actual document from the time period.  

And if you do stick around for the second act (at the performance I saw, many in the audience chose not to return after intermission), you will find some tighter writing, and, surprisingly, you may even learn something you didn’t know about the historic battle over the papacy.

I’ll not discredit the actors, many of whom play several roles, from harlots to popes.  Messrs. Hamilton and Donavan, and Ms. Feiffer are joined by stalwart and brave colleagues:  C. J. Wilson, Kevin Geer, John Pankow, Anthony Arkin, and Heather Burns. 

I believe it is Mr. Lonergan, who serves as both playwright and as the playwright’s most indulgent director, who needs some time-out. 

Perhaps with a huge amount of editing, there is enough here to sustain a sharper, shorter play, but for now, “vomit draft” is the operant description. 


Feel free to tell your friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.  And if you can't get enough of ProfMiller, check out his column, ProfMiller@The Theater, at BroadwayShowBiz.com.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

51 Shows in 50 Weeks: A Look Back


No matter how many shows I have seen, that moment of anticipation as the lights dim is always a thrill. 


Since we are now in the midst of the theater award season, this is a good time to reflect on the past year’s experience as a member of the audience.

I’ve been to  51 shows since last year’s Tony Awards.  Since I don’t differentiate between Broadway and Off-Broadway, I offer my own short takes on the lot. 


I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, and have given each a letter grade.  There are 16 shows with a grade in the A range (A+, A, A-), 20 in the B range, 13 in the C range, and 2 with grades of D. 

For the shows that I have previously reviewed, I have also included the dates when those reviews appeared.

The List:

And God Created Great Whales.  Revival of Rinde Eckert’s moving play/chamber opera dealing with the intricacies of mind and memory.  Well-performed by its creator and smartly directed by David Schweizer.  Grade:  A-

Assistance (Reviewed on Feb. 11, 2012).  Despite its lack of a straight-through plot, this New York premiere Leslye Headland play was exceptionally well-acted by a cast featuring, among others, Michael Esper and Bobby Steggert, under the razor sharp direction of Trip Cullman.   Grade:  A

A Strange and Separate People (Reviewed on Aug. 5, 2011).  Playwright Jan Marans, who gave us the wonderful The Temperamentals a couple of years back, needs to rework this effort, about homosexuality within the Orthodox Jewish community.  A play filled with ideas without much of interest going on.  Grade:  C-

A Streetcar Named Desire (Reviewed on Apr. 7, 2012).  Intriguing production of the Tennessee Williams classic, viewed through a feminist lens, starring Nicole Ari Parker as a strong-willed and resilient Blanche DuBois and Blair Underwood as her brute of a brother-in-law Stanley.  Grade:  B+

Balls:  The Musical.  A harmless bit of fratboy silliness performed with good humor by a game cast.  Best thing about it, I won a bottle of vodka in a pre-show “tweeting” competition.  Grade:  B

Blood and Gifts (Reviewed on Dec. 10, 2011).  How we became mired in Afghanistan.  A rare piece that turns a history lesson into real drama.  Written by J. T. Rogers, and featuring a great ensemble cast (a special ”thumbs up” to Jefferson Mays), under the steady hand of director Bartlett Sher.  Grade:  A+

Blood Knot  Taut, powerful, and moving revival of Athol Fugard’s tale of mixed-race half-brothers (one light skinned, the other dark) in Apartheid South Africa.  Superbly acted by Scott Shepherd and Colman Domingo, under the playwright’s savvy direction.  Grade: A+

Burning (Reviewed on Nov. 10, 2011).  Naked folks acting.  A real head-scratcher by Thomas Bradshaw, with in-your-face directing by Scott Elliott.  Grade:  D.

Chinglish.  Jennifer Lim was the standout in this thoroughly enjoyable (if lightweight) comedy about international miscommunication, written by David Henry Hwang and directed by Leigh Silverman.  Grade:  B+

Completeness (Aug. 30, 2011).  Itamar Moses’s play about the convergence of science and love owes a lot to Tom Stoppard, but cleverness can take you just so far, and Moses ain’t Stoppard.  Grade:  C

Death of a Salesman.  Despite the high praise Mike Nichols’ production of this classic Arthur Miller play has garnered, I couldn’t get past mere appreciation to fully engage with it the way I did with the absolutely brilliant revival of Miller's A View From The Bridge from a couple of years back.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman is less a victim of disillusion than he is of dementia, which throws everything off balance.  Grade:  B

Death Takes A Holiday (Reviewed on July 25, 2011).  A soaring and romantic score by Maury Yeston could not overcome the composer’s mundane lyrics and a muddy reworking of the early 20th century Italian play.  Grade:  C

Don’t Dress for Dinner (Reviewed on Apr. 29, 2012).  Clashing comedic styles bring this ultra-lightweight farce to a halt.  Only Spencer Kayden stands out in the cast. She gets an A, but the play itself, C-

End of the Rainbow (Reviewed on March 22, 2012).  Only Tracie Bennett makes this play about a drug-addled Judy Garland worth seeing, but that is more than enough.  I don’t know when I’ve seen a performer throw herself into a role to this extent.  A+ for the star, but the play itself, C-

Follies (Reviewed on Sept. 5 and Dec. 30, 2012).  Your enjoyment of this amazing work would depend on which day you caught it and the extent to which Bernadette Peters—at that particular performance—was able to find her way into a role for which she was miscast. I saw it three times; the middle time was perfection.  Grade:  A-

How the World BeganCatherine Trieschmann’s drama about the clash between the theory of evolution and religious faith did not quite move beyond debate mode, but its central idea and characters (a high school science teacher and a troubled student) were definitely interesting.  Grade:  B

Hurt Village. Katori Hall’s gut-punch of a show piled on too many of the clich├ęs of life in the inner city, not to mention the language.  Hard to watch at times, but a strong ensemble cast, which included Tonya Pinkins as a prematurely aging grandmother nearly brought to her knees, made this a significant contribution to the theatrical season.  Grade:  A

In Masks Outrageous and Austere (Reviewed on Apr. 22, 2012).  What may or may not have been Tennessee Williams’ final fully-realized play had its world premiere, under the direction of David Schweizer.  Many critics dismissed it as a confusing mess, but I found it utterly fascinating and often quite funny in a druggy sort of way.  Grade:  A

Jesus Christ Superstar.  Only Tom Hewitt as Pontius Pilate seems to be making an effort at actually acting, and the direction by Des McAnuff is uninspired.  Grade:  C-

Johnny Johnson.  The glorious Estelle Parsons directed a two-performance staged reading of this rarely seen Kurt Weill musical for the ReGroup Theatre Company, and a splendid event it was.  Grade:  A+

Leap of Faith (Reviewed on Apr. 27, 2012).  The musical lost faith in itself somewhere along the line and became snarky and bloated where it should have been straightforward and modest.  Grade:  D

Lemon Sky (Reviewed on Oct. 3, 2011).  This early rambling work by Lanford Wilson was given a confusing production and failed to rise above its basic weaknesses.  Grade:  C-

Look Back in Anger (Reviewed on Jan. 17, 2012).  Sam Gold, the directing wunderkind, fumbled with this revival of John Osborne’s famous “angry young man” play.  The potential is there for a compelling evening of theater, but this production was strictly one-note:  unrelenting and unmitigated rage.  Grade:  C-

Lost in Yonkers (Reviewed on March 18, 2012).  Splendid revival of Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning family play.  Cast was uniformly strong, as was the direction of Jenn Thompson for TACT/The Actors Company Theater.  
Grade:  A

Lysistrata Jones (Reviewed on Jan. 4, 2012).  A fluffy bit of cotton candy inspired by Aristophanes. Charming and fun, but probably had no business moving from downtown’s Judson Gym to the Walter Kerr (at  Broadway prices, yet!).
Grade:  B.

Man and Boy (Reviewed on Sept. 10, 2011).  Mesmerizing performance by Frank Langella, but the play itself and the overall production directed by Maria Aitken were ho-hum.  And would someone stop finding parts for Adam Driver that call on him to use British accents.  An A+ for Langella, but overall C

Maple and Vine (Reviewed on Nov. 27, 2012).  Potential for satire was lost in this unfocused work about a couple who try to simplify their lives by joining a community of 1950s re-enactors.  Grade:  C

Master Class (Reviewed on June 26, 2011).  The theater season got off to a terrific start with this revival of Terrence McNally’s play about opera diva Maria Callas, featuring a top-notch performance by Tyne Daly at its center.  Grade:  A+

Merrily We Roll Along (Reviewed on Feb. 15, 2012).  Despite the best efforts of a talented cast, this Encores! production did little to dispel the view that this Sondheim musical is deeply flawed.  Grade:  C

Milk Like Sugar (Reviewed on Oct. 21, 2012).  Gritty and engrossing play by Kirsten Greenidge offered a cautionary tale about the lives of inner city teenage girls who make all the wrong choices.  Tonya Pinkins gave a powerful performance as the worn-out and bitter mother of one of the girls.  Grade:  A

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.  An oddball revival of the Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner musical about reincarnation and psychotherapy that, among other things, switched out a gay man for the woman at the center.  It had its moments, thanks to the heroic efforts of the cast (headed up by Harry Connick Jr.), but still…  Grade:  B-

Once.  Can’t fault the production or the two charming actors (Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti) at its heart, but the show does tend to be one long romantic sigh.  Grade:  B+

Painting Churches.  The pleasures of this revival of Tina Howe’s play came from watching veteran actors Kathleen Chalfant and John Cunningham as an aging couple dealing with a lifetime of love and loss.  Grade:  B+

Psycho Therapy.  Great idea for a play:  couples therapy for three.  Directed by Michael Bush as if it were a farce, but it just doesn’t work.  Grade:  C-

Seminar.  Admit it.  The coolest thing about the play was seeing Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) appearing on stage just down the block from where Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was performing in How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.   Actually, I liked Jeff Goldblum (Rickman’s replacement) better.  Grade:  A-

Sons of the Prophet.  No doubt about it, playwright Stephen Karam creates wonderful characters, but the plot, not so much.  Well acted though. Grade:  B+

Stick Fly (Reviewed on Dec. 31, 2011).  Lydia Diamond’s comedy-drama was a real crowd pleaser, and Condola Rashad’s performance lingers in the mind many months later.  Grade:  A

Suicide, Inc. The premise is brilliant—a business catering to those who want to write the perfect suicide note.  The satire segues into something more serious, and the mix of tones doesn’t always work, but like Stephen Karam (Sons of the Prophet), Andrew Hinderaker is a playwright to watch.  Grade:  B+

The Blue Flower (Reviewed on Nov. 10, 2011).  Oddball musical about art, love, and war.  I found it intriguing, however, and Marc Kudisch and the rest of the cast were excellent.  Grade:  B+

The Caretaker.  Pinter but not Pinteresque enough to my way of thinking.  Where are the significant silences and the thrum of anxiety and threat that underscore Pinter's best work?  Grade:  B

The Columnist.  Well acted, with a powerhouse performance by John Lithgow, but—with all due respect—who cares all that much any more about Joseph Alsop, the subject of David Auburn’s bio-play?  Grade:  B-

The Lady from Dubuque.  A stunning and surprisingly moving revival of what has generally been considered to be a second class Edward Albee play.  Bravo!  Grade:  A+

The Lyons.  Linda Lavin is a first-rate actress, and her presence in this dysfunctional family comedy is the play’s biggest draw.  But, as funny as many of the lines are, there’s not much of substance here.  Grade:  B

The Mad Show.  This was one of the York Theater Company’s Musicals in Mufti, and what a romp it was.  The cast seemed to be having the time of their lives with this Mary Rodgers’ revue (with a fun contribution by Stephen Sondheim), and so did the audience.  Grade:  A

The Pretty Trap.  An early version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, starring Katherine Houghton.  Not the stuff of great drama, but intriguing and well done.  Grade:  B+

The Road to Mecca. Wonderful to see veterans Jim Dale and the glorious Rosemary Harris in this Athol Fugard work about an elderly South African woman trying to hang on to her independence. The play does border on tedium, especially in the first act, however, and is unlike the more vibrant Fugard plays that are being showcased by the Signature Theatre Company.  Grade:  B

The Silver Tassie.  Sean O’Casey’s anti-war play, mixing comedy and drama in a not altogether successful brew, was given a heartfelt revival by Ireland’s Druid Theater Company.  Worth seeing as a piece of dramatic history, but it doesn’t hold up theatrically.  Grade:  B-

The Visit (Reviewed on Dec. 3, 2011).  This was a one-shot deal, a fund raiser for the Actors Fund and the Vineyard Theater.  Chita Rivera was magnificent in this seldom-seen Kander and Ebb musical.  It’s on my wish list for a longer run in New York.  Grade:  A

Tryst (Reviewed on July 25, 2011).  A melodrama with Shavian overtones, but not nearly enough to keep it interesting.  Grade:  C

Unnatural Acts (Reviewed on Aug. 5, 2011).  Intriguing play about a group of gay students who were run out of Harvard back in 1920.  Fine addition to the growing list of plays looking at the history of gays in America.  Grade:  B

Wit (Reviewed on Jan. 22, 2012).  Cynthia Nixon starred in this revival and first Broadway run of the Pulitzer Prize winning play about a tough, independent scholar facing the pain and indignities of cancer.  The play holds up just fine, but I would have preferred an actress who could show that toughness better; Ms. Nixon is just too likeable.  Grade:  B

And there you have it--51 shows in 50 weeks.   And how was your year?


Feel free to tell your friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.