Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Stage Door: Mr. Rock Signs Playbills

You never know what or who you will see while strolling through the theater district on a Sunday afternoon. Here we have Mr. Chris Rock signing playbills after a matinee performance of The Mother____ with the Hat.  His wife simply pulled up in a minivan. Mr. Rock jumped in the passenger side after signing playbills. They took off. How absolutely suburban?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Classic Stage Company

Last week, I went to see the Classic Stage Company's The School for Lies and enjoyed it immensely. As I left the theater after the performance and then a talk back with the playwright David Ives and two of the actors from the production, I struggled to recall if I had ever seen a production from this company. I don't think that I have, and what a shame because I'm sure that I've missed out on some very good theater. 

The Classic Stage Company is an off Broadway theater company which re-imagines classics for contemporary audiences. So, in The School for Lies, David Ives adapts Moliere's The Misanthrope. While the actors are in period costume, the verses are in today's language. How clever!!. According to their website, the company has been around for 43 years and has won various awards, including a recent Obie. As I look through last season's roster, I see that I missed another David Ives' piece - Venus in Fur - and to add to my pain, Nina Arianda (who I can't wait to see more of on the stage after Born Yesterday) debut in this production. 

However, I won't dwell on my loss, I only look forward to seeing what the rest of this and future seasons have to offer at the Classic Stage Company.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Was Not Blown Away by "The House of Blue Leaves"

There were a few reasons why The House of Blue Leaves revival was not on my hot list of shows to see on Broadway. First and foremost were the not so good reviews of the limited engagement production at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Second, I just needed a break from John Guare after that fiasco of a production of A Free Man of Color at Lincoln Center last year. 

However, it was a rainy midweek evening and I love to go to the theater when the weather is bad. Also, I was curious about Edie Falco's performance (hailed as the gem in this production) and David Cromer's direction. Armed with a discount code from playbill.com, I went over to the box office and was able to get an orchestra seat in the third row of the right side of the theater.

With a well designed stage and the star power of capable actors, I really do not have any strong feelings one way or the other about this production of The House of Blue Leaves. While I overheard some audience members praising the show, I somehow wish that I could have seen (for comparative purposes) the lauded production from 1986 when Mr. Ben Stiller made his stage debut.

As I left the theater, I saw a small group of people waiting by the stage door. I decided to wait with the group for a few minutes since I was not in a rush. A few minutes later, Mr. Stiller emerged. He graciously signed Playbills in the drizzle. I handed him my Playbill and asked that he not wait another 25 years for us to see him on the stage again. He said that he would not. 

Now we wait...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Oh Baby, Am I Ready for This?

The New York City stage deals with relationshipsstruggles, sickness, and grief all the time. Of course, parenthood is not excluded from the mix. Two current theater productions delve into just this topic.

Manhattan Theatre Club's Cradle and All at the NY City Center explores the impact of having children on two couples (neighbors) in a Brooklyn Heights building. One couple reexamines whether to have a child, while another couple examines how their marriage will survive after having a child. Either way, both relationships will never be the same again in this well-done piece.  

Jonathan Marc Sherman's Knickerbocker at the Public Theatre is a series of conversations between an expectant father and his wife, friends, and father in the "womb" of a booth at the Knickerbocker restaurant in Union Square. I have never met anyone  - mother, father, couple - who was completely ready for parenthood. However, I left the Public Lab performance unsure and really not caring whether the meandering neurotic Jerry played by Alexander Chaplin was up for the task of fatherhood.

While we are on the topic of parenthood in the theater, I must menthon Rachel Axler's skillful Smudge, which played last year at the Women's Project, about a couple coping with the birth of a baby girl who is severely deformed. All parents wish for a healthy boy or girl. But what happens when a parent's worst fears are realized?  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ms. Winfrey Wants to Act on Broadway

Live Your Best Life Event at Radio City Music Hall
According to the Chicago Tribune, it is Ms. Winfrey's dream to do Broadway, and she is aggressively perusing through stacks of plays to find just the right one to make her dream come true. Who knew how close she came to performing in Fences; in the end, however, her schedule could not accommodate both a talk show and Broadway. 

Ms. Winfrey as Rose?  Aah, just can't imagine it after seeing Viola Davis' amazing performance.

However, I saw Ms. Winfrey at Radio City Music Hall as part of her magazine's Live Your Best Life Weekend. There was a lot of speculation about what the surprise event would be on the Saturday evening of the weekend.  Would she have superstar guests and who would they be?  In the end, Ms Winfrey wound up standing on stage and  talking about the ups and downs in her life for roughly 80 - 90 minutes under George C. Wolfe's direction.  I was completely mesmerized. 

So while I cannot quite see her playing Rose, I look forward to seeing her Broadway acting debut. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Revival of "The Normal Heart" - The Play that Left Me Unsettled

First, there was the sound of one sniffle, then another, then another. The second act of The Normal Heart, a powerful drama by Larry Kramer about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, seemed to be hitting a tender spot in the hearts of those sitting around me in the mid orchestra section of the Golden Theatre. 

The anger felt after a doctor’s frustrated plea for funding was replaced by sadness when a lover dies. By the time the names of the dead were projected on the walls of the theater and across the actors, the audience could not be anything other than numb. 

On my commute home after The Normal Heart, I felt unsettled at the memory of lesions and our country’s fears during the early 1980s when AIDS became publicized. How many in the audience, I wondered, lost a loved one or loved ones to AIDS?  And when will there be a cure for this disease?  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two Impeccable Performances: Brian Bedford and Nina Arianda

By the time a production hits Broadway, you expect it to be polished, precise and entertaining. However, every so often you see an actor who is so well cast and so impeccable. Every so often, you see an actor who completely nails a role.

Hands down, two such actors this season are Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest at the American Airlines Theatre and Nina Arianda as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday at the Cort Theatre.

While the plays were a bit dated, I was captivated by these two excellent performances.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Stage Door: Unemployed in "Wonderland"

Cast members signed playbills after the final performance of Wonderland on Broadway yesterday. I couldn't help but get a kick out of the cast member who sported an "Unemployed" t-shirt with pride.

I did not personally see this production which opened only last month; however, some I have spoken to felt that the reviews were not fair. From the photos below and some of the praise I overheard from fans, others probably felt the same as well. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Listened to "The Book of Mormon"

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The Book of Mormon
I haven't read The Book of Mormon, but yesterday, I sure did stream the pre-release cast recording, which is now available for free on NPR. Listening before seeing is a precedent for me. But this only sparked my excitement even more. I can't wait to see this production, which is currently on my Hot List. Also, there is no doubt that the CD will be an addition to my permanent collection. Stay tuned to see which songs hit my Playlist.  

So, after listening to the recording, I get the difficulty expressed in this NY Post article about selecting a song from this musical to feature on the Tony telecast in June. The music will create a natural bob of the head. Clever yet profane, the lyrics however are not for the faint of heart or for prime time. No, this is not your mother's musical - check out Sister Act for that.

In addition to releasing the cast recording for free, a free fan performance will also be offered on Friday, July 1st. Last month, I tried to my luck at The Book of Mormon lottery and unfortunately didn't win. However, it looks like I get another chance on the 1st. Check out details here: Free Fan Performance.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Good People..Good Luck

The "Southie" women in David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre speak their poverty, wear their poverty, live their poverty, are their poverty. Hardened by their circumstances and instincts to survive, they don't hesitate to:
  • Pull a "maury povich" on a man
  • Kick a friend out on the street if she doesn't pay the rent
  • Don't bother to show up on time to babysit so that a mother can make it to her Dollar Store gig on time
  • Drop innuendos that may destroy a fragile marriage. 
If they were good at one point, they no longer are. You understand where they are coming from, but you don't especially like them.

No amount of good luck will save these women in Manhattan Theatre Club's pristine production (recently named Best Play by the New York Drama Critics Circle). They will most likely die their poverty.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Really Goes on Backstage?

With several extra minutes available prior to a show, I actually got though an entire Playbill recently and was tickled by Seth Rudetsky's Onstage and Backstage article entitled Stage Dictionary. I'm usually more interested in what happens on the stage, not behind it. The closest that I've gotten to such insight was The Understudy and more recently A Life in the Theatre with Patrick Stewart. But somehow I don't think that these productions are fair representations of what really goes on backstage.

So, here are a few phrases that Seth Rudetsky enlightened me on:

1) Half-Hour Call - the time that actors must sign in before a show
2) Rent Mics - visible mics worn by the actors - named after Rent
3) Ten Out of Twelves - 10 hour rehearsal days

Check out Seth Rudetsky's other Playbill.com articles at Seth Rudetsky Onstage & Backstage

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nobody Knew My Struggle

A rosy musical or a witty comedy is nice and entertaining.  But I like stories of people’s struggles. Looking back on my Theater Roll year to date, a few performances fit the bill and are worth mentioning – one a musical, one a comedy and one a drama.

The People in the Picture at Studio 54 is full of struggles. Where do I even begin to start?  First, there is anti-semitism in Warsaw, Poland which leads up to a struggle to survive the holocaust. If that wasn't enough, there is the struggle to remember the past but not allow it to consume the present. Then making painful decisions that your children will never understand and appreciate and finally, there are the dynamics of aging and leaving a legacy. This understated musical really delves into a lot.

Lynn Nottage (2009 Pulitzer Prize Drama Winner for Ruined) By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at the Second Stage Theatre uses comedy to tell the story of a black woman’s struggle to make it in 1930s Hollywood. What do you do when you like to act but the only roles available are compromising. What is also interesting about this piece is the debate that takes place many years later about the impact of the title character's actions.

Urge for Going at the Public Theater touches on a young Palestinian girl’s struggle to use education to get out of a refugee camp in Lebanon. Her brother, on the other hand, doesn't stand a chance. I left this performance knowing a bit more about world history than I did walking in.

To the writers, directors, producers and actors who explore these struggles, we now know...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Give Me Grief...

I first learned about Dr. Kubler-Ross’ DABDA Theory in high school. It is one of those theories one never forgets because inevitably, we will all have to cope with death.

Two current plays work best when they deal with the issue of grief and loss head on: the Off Broadway production of The Dream of the Burning Boy and the Off Off Broadway production of Paper Cranes.

The stronger of the two plays is the Roundabout Theatre Company’s The Dream of the Burning Boy which deals with how a teacher, a sister, a mother, a girlfriend and an entire school deal with the untimely death of favored student. Packawallop Productions’ Paper Cranes at Access Theater in lower Manhattan also touches on a few characters who are coping with loss - a mother and daughter and a young man who loses his girlfriend under horrific circumstances.

The characters in these two productions are pretty much lost, until they begin to open up about their sadness and grief and realize that they can and must move on.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wait, The Show Started and I Haven't Even Taken My Seat!!

I enter the Acorn theater. The usher guides me to my seat. As I walk to my aisle, I look up and what do I see - Marie and Bruce in the middle of the stage in bed.  

As I finally make it to down the left side of the theater and slip into the first row, Marie casually gets up and walks off stage into the next room - a bathroom break perhaps in the middle of the night. Bruce is still asleep. Marie makes her way back to bed. 

The audience continues to spill into the theater. Marie lights up a cigarette. I am happy that this is theater because dosing off in bed with a lit cigarette is probably not a safe idea. I look around the theater, and there is the playwright Wallace Shawn two rows back (I'll never forget that face from The Princess Bride).

Then I sit back and wait for the dialogue to begin. And the show to start? Or has it already begun?

Examples of shows where the action starts before the audience is fully seated.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Whole Lot of Stars But A Whole Lot of Boredom

I cringed as I heard an actor say the "c" word for the second time this week (ironically in two plays published in the 1970s). The lady to my left was asleep (Theater Pet Peeve #9) and I was not happy. 

That pretty much sums up my experience at a recent performance of Jason Miller's That Champion Season at the Bernard B. Jacob's Theatre.
The 1973 Pulitzer and the male star power of Brian Cox, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth, and Kiefer Sutherland could not save this drama for me. Please note that Jason Patric was intentionally left off the list due to his skit-ish performance.

Overall, I did not like the unfunny racist Archie Bunkeresque dialogue. If this drama is representative of our country in the early 1970s, then I am glad that this period is behind us.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Hate My Man and I'm Gonna Leave Him!

I recently saw two productions which include female characters who are fed up with their marriages and essentially want out. The  first is Wallace Shawn's Marie and Bruce at the Acorn Theater. The actress in this instance is Marisa Tomei who plays the titled Marie. The second is Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Mother______ with the Hat where the actress of interest is Annabella Sciorra in her Broadway debut as Victoria. 

From the opening scene of Marie and Bruce, we (the audience) are crystal clear about how Marie feels about her oblivious husband (played very well by Frank Whaley). Similarly, we learn about the philandering of Victoria's husband in The Mother______ with the Hat and the unhappiness she feels in her marriage to Ralph D (played not as well by Chris Rock). 

Both women are obviously suffering in their marriages. However, the question is will they have the courage leave or will they give in to their husbands' charms.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Stage Door: The Actors from "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"

Here are some of the wonderful actors leaving the Richard Rodgers Theatre after a matinee performance of Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Saturday. Unfortunately, no Glenn Davis (however, I did spot Mr. Davis leaving an evening performance of The Dream of the Burning Boy the next day) and no Mr. Williams (FYI - he does not leave the theater after matinees).

First, we have Brad Fleischer, who plays Kev.  As I watched him during the performance, I wondered how many of our young men off to Iraq are like this character - unprepared, lost or simply gone.

Then we have Hrach Titizian, who plays Uday, son of the reprehensible Saddam Hussein. The gentleman standing next to me remarked to Mr. Titizian that his performance was "spooky". Yes, that was a good way to sum up his role in this play.
Next we have Sheila Vand who plays Hadia and a very young Iraqi Teenager. Either way, as one of the two females in this cast, her story is devastating.

Finally, Arian Moayed who plays the conflicted Musa, who no longer wants to work for tyrants. I asked Mr. Moayed how he feels after such an intense performance. He replied that he was exhausted, especially with two little ones as he strolled away with his family. Ironically this story about Mr. Moayed was printed in the Sunday New York Times: From Starry-Eyed to Star.

Overall, I was happy to see a play such as Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Broadway, which tends to stick to safe accessible commerical peices. I wonder if they would have been able to do it without the star power of Robin Williams. While the toned down Mr. Williams was fine as the titled tiger, this play was about the strong supporting cast and the impact of the situation in Iraq on everyone, including the dead.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nuns Galore!!

Dancing nuns, singing nuns, doubtful nuns, foul mouth nuns, mysterious nuns, Pope-seeking nuns... We can't seem to get enough of nuns at the theater.

While Charles Busch's hilarious The Divine Sister at the Soho Playhouse closes, theatergoers will continue to have their fill of nuns with Sister Act, which recently opened at the Broadway Theatre to mixed reviews (even though good things are being said about Patina Miller). My mother, a Whoopi fan, has already informed me that she would like me to pick up tickets for a matinee in the near future.

I recall many many years ago when my Catholic school friends and I trekked into the theater district to see Nunsense.  We got such a kick out of it. Since then,  I've seen several productions featuring nuns. 

So, what is it - what is our fascination with nuns? Any why do playwrights love writing about them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's Award Season...Big Deal or Not?

As an audience member, the theater award season doesn't interest me the way music and film does. Sound strange from a theater lover? 

Yes, I'll look at the nomination lists to see if there is a production that I somehow failed to consider or double check whether a production that I thought was great made the cut, but unlike music and film, it rarely inspires much action on my part. I must admit I can't even remember the last time I actually sat through a telecast of the Tony Awards, the grand pooh-bah of them all.

For me, it  seems that sometimes a production can receive unfavorable reviews and close early due to lack of interest, yet somehow receive an award nomination. How does that work? Limited selection? Favoritism? Who knows...I just don't see the same happening as much in film and music.  

Anyway, tis the 2011 season for award giving so let's run through the ones that I am aware of related to the New York City stage:

Tony Awards®
The Tony Awards is to theater as the Academy Award is to film. It covers productions that play in the 39 designated Broadway houses in NYC (i.e., primarily located within the theater district in midtown). Cut out the 8 or so long running productions (e.g., The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Jersey Boys) and that really leaves about 30 or so houses left to consider for Tony nominations across various categories and within this year's cut-off of April 28th. Not alot, right?

Check out the 2011 nominees here. Awards are announced on June 12th.

Drama League Awards
The pool of opportunity expands with the Drama League Awards, which cover both Broadway and Off Broadway productions in a limited number of "short and sweet" categories:
  • Distinguished Production of a Play
  • Distinguished Production of a Musical
  • Distinguished Revival of a Play
  • Distinguished Revival of a Musical
  • Distinguished Performance

Check out the 2011 nominees here. Winners are announced on May 20th.

Outer Critics Circle Awards
The Outer Critics Circle Awards covers both Broadway and Off Broadway productions in a variery of categories. The decision makers are writers and critics on NYC theater for out of town publications.

Check out the 2011 nominees here. Winners are announced on May 16th.

Drama Desk Awards
The Drama Desk Awards provides the most comprehensive coverage and considers Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway productions across a variety of categories. The decision makers are theatre critics, reporters and editors.

Check out the 2011 nominees here.  Winners are announced on May 23rd.

Obie Awards
The Obie Awards cover Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway productions across no predefined categories. The decision makers are a committee chaired by chief theater critic from The Village Voice.

No nominations are announced. Winners are announced on May 16th.

New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards
The decision makers are drama critics from major NY publications with the exception of the New York Times. They meet and vote on the best prodiuction.

Winners are announced on May 11th.

Lucille Lortel Awards
The Lucille Lortel Awards cover Off Broadway productions across a variety of categories.

Check out 2011 nominees here.  Winners are announced on May 1st.