Monday, June 26, 2017

AFTERGLOW: An Open Marriage Is Put To The Test


Alex and Josh – two men together for five years, married, expecting a child through surrogacy – are so secure in their relationship that they are certain they are perfect candidates for an open marriage. They’re young and horny, so no reason to give up their vibrant and varied sex lives as long as they are completely honest with each other and with their extramarital partners. As Alex explains, “we have one rule. No sleepovers.” 

That's the premise of S. Asher Gelman's new play, Afterglow, now The Loft at Off Broadway's Davenport Theatre.  

What could possibly go wrong?  



AFTERGLOW - Production photos by Mati Gelman


Much, as it turns out. Neither the best laid plans nor the best planned lays of men works out exactly as they imagine they will.  

Truly, if you were to do a little gender switching, you'd see that things unfold as they often do with heterosexual couples who dabble in affairs, open or on the sly.  Because, you know  gay, straight, bi, monogamous, polyamorous – there is always another body organ that comes into play, one that lies outside the groin area. As Josh is so fond of quoting Emily Dickinson: "The heart wants what it wants."  With two, that heart thing is tough enough; add a third party, and complications are bound to arise.  

As the play opens, Alex (Robbie Simpson) and Josh (Brandon Haagenson) are lying in bed, entwined with each other and with Darius (Patrick Reilly), who has joined them for a threesome. 

Much of Act I deals with the trio's no-strings-attached sexual fun and games. (Just to get the point out of the way, there is lots of nudity and sexual situations throughout the production).  But in Act II, things grow more serious as Josh and Darius start spending more and more time together, until they gradually cross the unspoken-but-always-present line of demarcation that starts with anonymous sex and evolves into friendship, genuine affection, and love.  

Will Alex and Josh's marriage survive? And what of Darius, who is younger by a few years (he's about 25, unattached, and rather insecure and vulnerable; the other two are edging close to 30, and, of course, have been a couple for some time). 

You could argue that all three know what they are getting into, thanks to the frankness of the "open marriage" arrangement. But knowing in your head is not the same as knowing in your heart. Life is messy, and love and affection are not the only emotions involved; there are also jealousy, mistrust, and feelings of betrayal that need to be factored into the mix.  

Afterglow hearkens back to a long string of works about extramarital relationships and the third party (usually, "the other woman"). There is a certain amount of narcissism and self-deception that floats about, and all three of the characters are most definitely playing with fire when they use the guise of openness to justify their behavior.

Still, the playwright, who also directs, has painted no obvious villains here, just, perhaps, a portrait of immaturity and poor judgment. If we feel for anyone, it is the unborn baby who is soon to need Alex and Josh's undivided attention. What kind of parents will these two self-absorbed individuals be? 

The production benefits from Ann Beyersdorfer's cleverly constructed set, which includes in its design a working onstage shower. And if you care about such things, the frequent nude scenes are intensified by the intimacy of the small theater space. But the play, a first for Mr. Gelman, does not necessarily add to our growing understanding about gay relationships, except to point out how they are not necessarily any different from heterosexual ones.  


Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  
  
   






















Thursday, June 22, 2017

THE ARTIFICIAL JUNGLE: Mind the Piranhas!




For a fun evening of silly entertainment, you might want to head on out to the Theater Breaking Through Barriers' revival of Charles Ludlam's film noir parody, The Artificial Jungle, at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row. Just make sure to keep an eye on the piranhas; they steal the show!






Production photos by Carol Rosegg



The play takes place in a family-owned pet store in New York's Lower East Side, run by Chester Nurdiger (David Harrell) and his wife Roxanne (Alyssa H. Chase). Chester's mother (Anita Hollander), who fusses constantly over her nerdy son, lives with them in their apartment in the back of the store.

Roxanne is fed up with her dull-as-dishwater life in which feeding and cleaning up after the animals, her chirpy and generally oblivious husband, and her irritating mother-in-law make up her tedious routine. Her opportunity for escape comes when Chester hires hunky Zach (Anthony Michael Lopez) to help out. It isn't long before Roxanne seduces Zach into killing Chester (right after she has taken out a hefty life insurance policy on her husband, of course).

That, in a nutshell, is the plot, clearly borrowed from Billy Wilder's film noir classic Double Indemnity, which starred Barbara Stanwyck as the discontented housewife and Fred MacMurray as the insurance salesman she targets to be her husband's killer. Of course, Double Indemnity was played for its melodramatic noir cynicism, whereas The Artificial Jungle is played for laughs.    

For this revival, director Everett Quinton, who played Zach in the original production back in 1986 and later took over as artistic director of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, gives us more smiles and appreciative chuckles than guffaws and belly laughs. 

The story focuses on the multiple efforts by Roxanne and her half-hearted co-conspirator to successfully bump off Chester. For one thing, they are always under the suspicious gaze of Mother Nurdiger. They also have to work around the many unannounced visits by the local cop and family friend Frankie (Rob Minutoli). But eventually, they manage to pull it off and then make it appear that Chester got chomped to death when he slipped and fell part way into the store's piranha tank (just the sort of "ridiculous" the production could use more of).   

The play also picks up a bit from another sourceÉmile Zola's novel Thérèse Raquin, which comes into play when Mother Nurdiger suffers a stroke and has to sit in silence, knowing that her daughter-in-law and her lover have killed her beloved Chester. Anita Hollander handles the grimaces and eye movements with just enough spoofy exaggeration to bring the silliness to its peak, especially if you recall Judith Light's Outer Critics Circle Award-winning performance of the mother in similar circumstances in last year's otherwise painfully gothic Broadway adaptation of Thérèse Raquin.

The cast as a whole does well with their roles, but because the plot itself is predictable, there are only a few surprises.  The best of these involve the participation of the marvelous piranhas (Vandy Wood is the puppet designer and Satoshi Haga is the puppet master). Keep your eye on them as they move around in their tank and follow the action with their eyes. They are full of personality, and enrich the production ten-fold.

  

Watching the cavorting carnivorous fish makes me think that The Artificial Jungle might make for a fun and quirky musical, along the lines of Little Shop of Horrors. Now that could well be something to sink your teeth into!



Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  
  

  



  


Thursday, June 15, 2017

FAREWELL TO THE TONYS: NOW WHAT?






With the airing of the Tony Awards, the 2016-2017 Broadway theater season officially came to an end. So, let's take a look at some of the shows that are scheduled to open in the coming months.


1984

I've seen this one already, and I will have more to say about it after it officially opens on June 22.  For now, here are two things to think about:  (1) It pays to be very familiar with George Orwell's remarkably prescient book on which this production is based, and (2) The production is raw, rough, and edgy.  Look at Point 1 and think hard about the significance of "Room 101."  Not for the faint of heart.


Marvin's Room

Now in previews and opening on June 29, this is a revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company of Scott McPherson's 1990 play about estranged sisters who come together at the home of their elderly and bedridden father. One of this sisters, Bessie, has served as his primary caregiver, while the other one, Lee, has stayed far away. Bessie has been diagnosed with leukemia, so the ball is now in Lee's court. A well-received 1997 film version starred Diane Keaton as Bessie and Meryl Streep as Lee.  In this production, Lili Taylor (known primarily for her work in films at television) appears as Bessie, and Janeane Garofalo (a standup comic who has also done films and television) is the wisecracking and unstable Lee.  

The Terms of My Surrender

Provocative political filmmaker Michael Moore's one-man show begins previews on July 28.  It is scripted (by Mr. Moore) and has a well-established director in Michael Mayer (Tony winner for the 2007 production of Spring Awakening). Few will wander into the theater unaware that Mr. Moore is no fan of the current President of the United States, who is likely to be mentioned with some frequency and in less than glowing terms over the course of the evening.  

Prince of Broadway

Begins previews on August 3. This is the long-awaited production highlighting the career of producer/director Hal Prince, the winner of 21 Tony Awards. It is a revue of songs by Stephen Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and many others with whom the impresario has been associated over the years.  If they don't stint on talent, including (please) a decent-sized orchestra, it could be quite entertaining. The cast includes well-known Broadway stalwarts Chuck Cooper, Emily Skinner, Tony Yazbeck, Karen Ziemba, and others of that ilk. Mr. Prince co-directs with Susan Stroman, herself a five-time Tony winner.  

Time and the Conways

Don't expect a Downton Abbey look-alike with this revival of J. B. Priestley's pre-World War II play that follows an upper class British family from 1919  to 1937.  The most exciting thing about the production is that it will be directed by Rebecca Taichman, who did a marvelously creative job helming Indecent this past season, earning a well-deserved Tony for her efforts.  Previews begin September 14. 

Junk

Playwright Ayad Akhtar, who gave us the excellent high-tension drama Disgraced and (to my mind) the even better The Invisible Hand, is back with this play about the financial mess brought about by the banking/investment industry in the 1980s. Not the first play to tackle this topic (Caryl Churchill's Serious Money from 1987, and Lucy Prebble's Enron from 2010 are two that come to mind), but Akhtar is a master at writing thrillingly about serious conflicts.  I do expect this one to be a strong entry, under Doug Hughes's direction. Previews begin September 14. 


M. Butterfly

This revival of David Henry Hwang's best known play, a Tony winner from 1988, marks a first return to Broadway for director Julie Taymor since the debacle that was Spiderman. Date for first preview is not yet set, but will probably be late September.  

The Band's Visit

As long as Katrina Lenk arrives with this Off Broadway-to-Broadway transfer, the musical (book by Itamar Moses and a terrific score by Yazbek) that won much acclaim with its debut at the Atlantic Theater Company ought to be a winner.  David Cromer once again directs. Previews begin October 7. 

Spongbob Squarepants

Ya never know -- not with music by the likes of Steven Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, David Bowie and others of that caliber. Could be a real hoot.  Previews begin November 6. 


Once On This Island

Revival of Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty musical fantasy from 1990 begins previews on November 9. Directed by Michael Arden, who did the honors for the recent and highly touted revival of Spring Awakening.


The Children

British playwright Lucy Kirkwood's well-received, if disturbing drama about a post-apolocyptic world is coming to New York, with a first preview on November 28.  

Farinelli and the King

Mark Rylance stars.  Need I say more?  OK.  Here's more. Written by Claire van Kampen (who is married to Mr. Rylance), the play is about the power of music to heal the mind of a Spain's depressed King Philip V. The celebrated castrato singer, Farinelli, provides the cure. Rylance plays Philip, in case you were wondering. Previews begin December 5. 






Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 TONYS : Who Won (and how did I do with my predictions)?





The musicals



BEST NEW MUSICAL  

My pick:  Come From Away 

The winner:  Dear Evan Hansen


BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

My pick:  David Hein and Irene Sankoff, Come From Away

The winner: Steven Levenson,  Dear Evan Hansen


BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

I picked:  Hello, Dolly!

***The winner: Hello, Dolly!


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE 

I picked:  The Great Comet of 1812

The winner:  Dear Evan Hansen


BEST LEAD ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

I picked:  Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly! 

***The winner:  Bette Midler


BEST LEAD ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

I picked:  Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

***The winner:  Ben Platt


BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

I picked:  Jenn Colella, Come From Away

The winner:  Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen


BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

I picked:  Lucas Steele, The Great Comet of 1812

The winner:  Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!


BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL

I picked: Rachel Chavkin, The Great Comet of 1812

The winner: Christopher Ashley, Come From Away


BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

I picked:  Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand

***The winner: Andy Blankenbuehler


BEST ORCHESTRATIONS

I picked: Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand

The winner:  Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen


______________________________

The plays


BEST NEW PLAY

I picked: Oslo

***The winner:  Oslo


BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY

I picked:  The Little Foxes

The winner:  Jitney


BEST LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY

I picked: Laura Linney, The Little Foxes

The winner:  Laurie Metcalf


BEST LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY

I picked:  Kevin Kline, Present Laughter

***The winner:  Kevin Kline


BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

I picked:  Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes

***The winner:  Cynthia Nixon


BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY

I picked:  Danny DeVito, The Price

The winner:  Michael Aronov, Oslo




BEST DIRECTOR OF A PLAY

I picked:  Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes

The winner:  Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

________________________


Design elements


BEST SET DESIGN OF A PLAY 

I picked:  Nigel Hook - The Play That Goes Wrong 

***The Winner:  Nigel Hook



BEST SET DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

I picked:  Mimi Lien, The Great Comet of 1812

***Winner:  Mimi Lien

 
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

I picked:  Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes

***The Winner:  Jane Greenwood


BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

I picked:  Catherine Zuber, War Paint  

The Winner:  Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!


BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

I picked:  Christopher Akerlind, Indecent.

***The Winner:  Christopher Akerlind



BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

I picked: Bradley King, The Great Comet of 1812

***The Winner:  Bradley King


_________________________________________



So, how did I do? 


MUSICALS  

Of the 11 categories, I correctly predicted the winners of 4


PLAYS

Of the 7 categories, I correctly predicted the winners of 3


DESIGN ELEMENTS

Of the 6 categories, I correctly predicted the winners of 5


OVERALL

Of the 24 categories, I correctly predicted the winners of 12 or 50%



Happiest Surprise:  So pleased that Rebecca Taichman won for best director of a play for Indecent. This was a wonderful work and a great collaboration among playwright Paula Vogel, Ms. Taichman, the design team, and the splendid cast.  

Biggest Disappointment:  Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 was shut out for all but its lighting and scenic design.  





Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.