Monday, October 31, 2011

The Critics Celebrate Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”

When Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Estasy of Steve Jobs opened at the Public Theater right after Steve Jobs’ death, I was curious to see how the one-man “play” would be received. Well, for the most part, critics love the play, which has now been extended to December 4th.   

So, let see what they have to say of Mike Daisey monologue about the ecstasy of owning gadgets and the agony of Chinese workers (some children) laboring under horrible conditions in Shenzhen. 

Full disclosure, I personally own two iPods and an iPad.

A mind-clouding, eye-opening exploration of the moral choices we unknowingly or unthinkingly make when we purchase nifty little gadgets…Smart, pointed and often very funny exploration of the rise of Apple.

A work of theatrical art…strong a piece of theater…the most exciting show in town.

.. engaging, entertaining, provocative

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Stage Door: Mr. Samuel L. Jackson

Last night, I purposely cut across West 45th Street so that I could see this man as he exited the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

The Guinness Book of World Records just named Mr. Jackson the highest grossing actor of all time. His repertoire of movies have earned over $7 Billion. This must explain why he has just gotten around to making his Broadway debut.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Following "The Bus"

Ensconced in Theater C at 59E59 Theaters is The Bus, a modest production about two gay teenagers (Jordan and Ian) growing up in rural America. James Lantz's The Bus first caught my attention by its humorous audience warning. As I read more about the production on, I began to root for it because it seemed grassroots and intent on bringing a voice to an experience we don't hear about everyday. Isn't that what the theater is all about?

Overall, I liked this play with its simple set - planks of wood representing the titled bus - and its Our Town like narrator (a wonderful Julia Lawler). I really felt the small town experience and the influence of big church as Ian's father - a gas station owner - tries to get the church's bus (used by the two boys for secret rendezvous) off his property. The greatest issue I had with the play was the character of Ian (played by Will Roland, but reminiscent of a young Dave Foley). He just wasn't very likable, almost annoying, at times. Frankly, I wondered what Jordan (played by Brian Fitzgerald) even sees in him.

While I would have preferred a more nuanced Ian, I am still rooting for this production. The Bus plays through the end of the month at 59E59 and then heads to Kansas. Now, that's something to say "cheese and crackers" about.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Felt Miles Away at "Southern Comfort"

An eclectic group of theatergoers assembled on the 5th floor of a commercial building on west 18th street. One audience wore bed slippers; another walked in carrying a salad; others hunted for general admission seats since a third of the theater was reserved (most likely due to favorable reviews). As I took in the set which was quite large given the size of the theater, I began to feel miles away. And when Southern Comfort, a musical based on a 2000 documentary about a group of transgenders living in rural Georgia, began, I was truly transported.

The patriarch of the Southern Comfort clan is Robert, a partially transitioned female to male. According to Robert, gender is what is in your mind and heart not what is between your legs and partial transitions are necessary only for security reasons. Ironically, Robert is dying from ovarian cancer - her female self slowly killing her.

While Southern Comfort is about transgenders, I think that it has wide appeal. When Robert's girlfriend Lola (played wonderfully by Jeff McCarthy) sings of having to drive 200 miles before a hospital will accept and care for Robert, I am easily reminded of hospitals which would not accept blacks in a Jim Crow south.

This Off Off Broadway musical will interest and appeal to those who has not felt comfortable in their bodies, those who have been rejected; those who have felt like an outcast and anyone in a family who has lost a strong and influential patriarch. Southern Comfort plays through the end of the month at CAP21 but something tells me that it may extend or even move to a larger theater.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Black Female Playwrights - Part II

So let's take a closer look at the black female playwrights. Starting with the first row (and moving across) we have...

When I think of black female playwrights, the first name that comes to mind is Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African-American woman to be published on Broadway. She wrote a second play - The Sign In Sidney Brustein's Window - which closed on Broadway on the date of her death, at the young age of 35 in 1965. What a loss! A Raisin in the Sun was the inspiration for Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, which is expected to come to Broadway next year.

And of course when I think of Ntokake Shange, I immediately think of the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf even though Ms. Shange has written a number of plays including Mother Courage and Her Children. Now I've read somewhere (can't remember where) that For Colored Girls... is returning to Broadway soon. They play will star singer India Arie and Whoopi Goldberg is one of the producers.

This young playwright is on fire and I love it! In the UK, she won an Olivier award last year for her play The Mountaintop and now it is on Broadway with two of the hottest black Hollywood actors. Next year, her play - Hurt Village - will be at the newly renovated Signature Theatre Company. I can't wait.

Now, I have been getting emails with video clips of singer Alicia Keys talking about producing Lydia R. Diamond's Stick Fly which begins Broadway previews on November 18, 2011. I don't know much about this playwright; but from what I've read, her works seems interesting and I plan to check Stick Fly out next month.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Newfound Obsession with Stephen Sondheim’s "Losing My Mind"

Meet Sally and Phyllis. They are roommates and Follies showgirls. Now meet best friends Buddy and Ben. Sally is in love with Ben but he snubs her and marries Phyllis. Sally settles for Buddy. Fast forward some 30 years at the reunion at the soon to be torn down Weismann Theater. Sally, Phyllis, Buddy and Ben are miserable in their marriages. Not surprising, Sally is still in love Ben. Ben and Sally have a tender moment and she is so ready to leave Buddy and run off with Ben. They are then transported to Loveland – some sort of souped up Follies dream show where Sally, Phyllis, Buddy and Ben all perform wonderful Stephen Sondheim songs. However, the one song that I cannot get out of my head these days is Losing My Mind where Sally sings of her obsession with Ben morning, afternoon and through sleepless nights. 

She sings:  

You said you loved me
Or were you just being kind
Or am I losing my mind

Most recently I saw Losing My Mind performed on the New York City stage by Barbara Cook in Sondheim on Sondheim, Bernadette Peters in FOLLIES (currently in revival on Broadway) and Karen Akers in her Live, Laugh Love – Akers Sings Sondheim currently at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. If you youtube the song, you will find many many many performances of the torch tune. However, while I had issues with FOLLIES (check out my thoughts here), Bernadette Peters' rendition of Losing My Mind now resonates most with me. Why? Hadley Freeman sums it up best in her review  in The Guardian
When she sings Losing My Mind, she sings with biting anger, as opposed to the usual blind adoration. She is furious – maybe at Ben, maybe at herself – that she has wasted the past 30 years obsessed with a man who has never loved her and never will.
The new Broadway cast FOLLIES CD comes out in late November. When it does, Ms. Peters' rendition will most definitely be added to My Broadway Playlist.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Stage Door: Ms. Bassett Gives Words of Encouragement

Angela Bassett, currently starring in The Mountaintop on Broadway, was looking very fierce as she spent Sunday evening chatting with Jordan Roth as part of the 92Y Broadway Talks Series. She then signed playbills (I think that might be my playbill she is holding in the photo below) and gave words of encouragement to fans.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Godspell" Post-Show Stage Door Lottery

I am a fan of Broadway lotteries and have seen a number of shows this way, including The Book of Mormon. Check out my first Mormon lottery attempt here

However, Godspell (currently in previews and opens November 7th on Broadway) has upped the lottery game and is introducing a post show lottery in addition to its pre show lottery. According to the website
The stage door lottery will be held at the main entrance to the Circle in the Square Theatre following each performance. Any person with a ticket from that performance can enter for a chance to win. One winner will be chosen at random after each performance, and that person will be escorted backstage with one guest, where they will get an exclusive glimpse into the behind-the-scenes workings of GODSPELL.
How freaking cool is that!!! I don't think that I've ever heard of any shows allowing the typical audience member back stage. The Commercial Theater Institute (CTI) has a Behind the Scenes program this season; however, the behind the scenes seem to be primarily talkbacks. 

Hopefully other Broadway shows will follow...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Ventured Way Off Broadway and Found a Love Letter and Some Arias

I get a little lazy when it comes to theatergoing and typically stick to areas around midtown Manhattan, rarely venturing to the outer limits of Manhattan island and almost never to the outer boroughs. However, at the recommendation of a friend, I ventured way off Broadway last weekend for two late shows. And you know what - I found a love letter and some arias.

The Love Letter You've Been Meaning to Write New York
So when my friend described Love Letter, I had to see it. Similar in some ways to The Ride (you know, that huge tour bus that circles midtown), the audience sits inside the theater facing floor to ceiling windows and watches the actors who perform outside the theater on the the NYC sidewalk. Love Letter is about a heartbroken filmmaker who decides to give up on and leave New York. However, things change when he has several NYC encounters. Definitely youthful and creative.

Arias with a Twist
As I walked east on Grand Street, I wondered where the heck was the Abrons Art Center - in Brooklyn!! However, while the plot was somewhat weak, the throwback vibe and puppetry of Basil Twist made the walk worthwhile because Arias with a Twist was a visually exciting and campy production that was more entertaining than Broadway's Priscilla Queen of the Desert! I am so glad that I caught this production starring drag artist Joey Arias before it closed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

They Did It Their Way - "Traces" and "Noctu"

In the show notes for Traces, where seven performers engage in fun, heart-thumping circus acrobatics at the Union Square Theatre, the Montreal based 7 Fingers Production writes:  

...what would circus performers do if they had it their way? What kind of circus troupe would they create if they were allowed to do more than just their speciality act and push themselves to the furthest limits of their abilities.
A similar theme can be seen easily in the show notes for the dance play Noctu at the Irish Repertory Theatre where the creator - Eriu Dance Company writes:
...I would often find myself sitting in small, beautiful theatres wondering what I could do with such spaces - given the Riverdance shows...lent themselves to larger stages...a separation of performers and audience...Here the nuances of the dance are often lost and I felt that it would be exciting to reintroduce them and highlight the stuff of the dance that excites the dancer.
The artists behind these two productions - Traces and Noctu - did it their way and what they have done is give New York city audiences an intimate and entertaining view into the lives of circus performers and Irish dancers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Have Finally Seen "The Mountaintop"

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?  Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
I haven’t been to the mountaintop referred to in Dr. King’s famous last speech, but I sure got to experience Katori Hall’s play this weekend at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.  After reading about the young playwright’s journey to Broadway, I have been blogging about and anxiously waiting to see The Mountaintop for the past couple of months. I found Ms. Hall’s journey ironic and her inspiration touching. I expressed concerns about the casting of the not so young Hollywood action hero Samuel L. Jackson as the venerable Dr. King and the not so young and extremely intense actress Angela Bassett as Camae. Then, I became deflated after I unfortunately read an audience member’s online review and revelation of the twist in the play. I was finally knocked out when many critics including The New York Times (the only one that matters according to Broadway star Patti LuPone) slammed the play as thin and cute.

However, rejuvenated by Minetta Tavern’s protein intense black label burger at brunch, I headed to Times Square and enjoyed one of the most engaging plays I've seen all year. The Mountaintop wonderfully and mystically imagines an encounter between Dr. King and a mysterious maid in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on the night before Dr. King was shot. As an African American, I no doubt have an emotional connection to Dr. King, the struggle for equality and this play - perhaps in a way that many of New York's theater critics will never have.

Now, please note that this play is not a perfect one. However, Samuel L. Jackson not as captivating as the Dr. King handled his part with reserved dignity. After finally seeing the play, it is very clear that this play is a woman's play in many respects; it was written by Ms. Hall for her mother, who was not able to see Dr. King’s final speech in Memphis in 1968. For once, I was not as distracted by Ms. Bassett's sassy intensity as she played Camae and would be shocked if she does not earn a Tony Award nomination for her riveting performance (highlights include a Black Panther inspired sermon and moving monologue at the end of this 90 minute gem).  

When I watch plays, I often wonder whether it will be timeless. Can I see myself watching this play five or ten years from now? With The Mountaintop, I most certainly can. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Backyard Tour: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

One Saturday afternoon as I stood in the airy David Rubenstein Atrium checking out same day discounts available at Lincoln Center, I noticed a small tour group returning to the atrium. Curious, I asked a tour participant how she liked the tour and she replied that it was very good. I began to wonder why do I visit great performance spaces when I am abroad (most recently – La Scala) but not at home. So months later, I ventured out on my first backyard tour of New York’s great performance spaces – first stop Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.  

On the sunny afternoon, a group of 19 from Vienna (of all places) to Milwaukee to NYC (yes NYC representing!) embarked on a 90 minute tour of the Lincoln Center campus; specifically we visited the David H. Koch Theater, the Metropolitan Opera House and Avery Fisher Hall. 

By far, the coolest thing about the tour is that you never know which rehearsals you may encounter. On the day of our tour, we stumbled upon a NYC Ballet seminar, rehearsals for Siegfried and planning for a private event. You learn interesting things such as NYCB dancers only wear their ballet shoes for one performance, that the David H. Koch Theater was designed to resemble the shape of a ballerina’s rounded arms and that the stage and backstage takes up roughly two-thirds of the Metropolitan Opera house building. 

The Lincoln Center campus is very large and unfortunately the tour did not include visits to the drama theaters, the Julliard School or Alice Tully Hall. Also, I would have loved to see backstage at the Met (now that would have been a treat) but this was not included.

So, is the tour worthwhile? For a taste of this great performance space and $15 (less if you can dig up a discount somewhere), I would say yes but you may leave just a little dissatisfied. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quote from Theater Critic Roma Torre

Quote from NY1's Roma Torre's review of The Submission
...a most engaging not quite the same as a good one

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Priscilla Queen of the Desert!" Advisory

Don’t go to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert! about three drag queens on a bus traveling from Sydney to the Australian outback in a Broadway state of mind. Don’t expect original music and an engaging plot. Have a few cocktails beforehand, expect a disco ball, confetti, divas and a lot of color, and just have a damn good time!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Still Can't Wait to Get to "The Mountaintop"

I was dining with a friend. Knowing that I am a theater enthusiast, she asked what was I excited about on the stage. I did not know where to begin – Patti LuPone, Nina Arianda, Chinglish, Alicia Keys, Tanya Pinkins, Ellen Burstyn… So I mentioned The Mountaintop since I had already purchased tickets to see the show. I told her a bit about the play - how it was written by a young African American women and imagines the evening before MLK’s death. I also mentioned that Samuel L Jackson was playing MLK and it was at that moment that my friend broke down and began to laugh almost uncontrollably. Obviously, she could not imagine Mr. Jackson playing the venerable MLK.


So, this weekend, I finally get to see The Mountaintop. Unfortunate for me, disgruntled audience member Carol revealed the twist in play in her user review on Thanks a lot Carol for the spoiling the play for those interested. Real nice girlfriend!! Also, according to a New York Post article by Michael Riedel’s, Mr. Jackson’s performance has been tentative during previews; he seems to be very nervous about his Broadway debut. However, even after this and my friend's laughter, I am still optimistic. From what I’ve read, Angela Bassett gives a knock-out performance, and after New York Magazine’s wonderful article In Search of Lost Time about re-creating the Memphis motel room where MLK spent his final night in 1968, I still can’t wait to see the show. Hopefully, the reviews won't change this when they come in on Friday. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Intersection of Reality and Drama

I had problems sleeping on the night I learned that Steve Jobs passed away. I kept thinking over and over about how important one’s health is and how all his wealth could not buy him more time. Words from his Stanford University commencement speech kept echoing in my head:

…for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

On Friday, as I strolled down Fifth Avenue to attend a show at 59E59 Theatres, I was moved by the outpouring of flowers and notes outside the Apple store. Again I was reminded of the importance of health and living life. 

With the wound from the sting of Steve Jobs’ passing still raw, I am in no rush to see Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which begins tomorrow night at the Public Theater. According to a statement from The Public Theater, the show will still go on however and " is inevitable that reality and drama will intersect in surprising, sometimes uncomfortable ways. This isn't to be regretted; it’s to be celebrated." 

I am curious to see if this critical play will be celebrated. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Black Female Playwrights - Part I

After seeing The River Crosses River II, I began putting together a list of black female playwrights that I am familiar with. Then I began to search the web for more names. Now, I am pretty sure that I have missed many, but in no particular order, here is my initial attempt. Can you tell who they are...

I will disclose who they are in the coming days...

Check out the playwrights on the first row here 
Check out the playwrights on the second row here
Check out the playwrights on the third row here
Check out the playwrights on the fourth row here
Check out two more black female playwrights here

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What Popstar Rihanna and Playwrights Have in Common

Recently, there has been a lot of press surrounding bubblegum popstar Rihanna's fondness for the c-word. It turns out that the c-word is used casually in her island hometown of Barbados and is not at all offensive there. However here in the US, when she kept referring to those around her using the c-word, someone had to pull her aside and say - uhm, that's offensive.

But I find it a little funny that there is so much press about the word because I hear the cringe-worthy word quite a bit on the New York City stage. Let's see the ones I can recall easily off the top of my head: 
  • By a husband to his wife in Marie and Bruce 
  • By a mother in Cradle and All
  • Then in that awful Broadway production of That Championship Season
  • Then again in Jerusalem, then The Book of Mormon, and of course how can I forget Silence! The Musical where it is used in a song. 
Perhaps, someone should pull the writers aside and say - uhm, that's offensive.

Running list of new plays I've seen (since this posting) with the c-word in it:
The Atmosphere of Memory
Venus in Fur
Burmese Days
Happy Hour (City Lights)
Outside People
Hurt Village (Interestingly by a female playwright)
pool (no water)
Clybourne Park 
If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
Emotional Creature 
The Flick
Really Really 
I Know What Boys Want 
Bad Jews 
Taking Care of Baby

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My "Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling"

So, I had this dream – Adam Rapp's Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling
There were these two rich dysfunctional families in Connecticut.
Then there was a dinner party and a plot to take out one of the husbands.
Then there were these wild geese flying into the house.
Then the sky turned different colors.
Then the son of one couple and the daughter of the other had sex right there on the dining room table (with the maid watching - can you imagine).
Then there was this dead lion from the basement.
Then I woke up and wondered what the hell was that all about...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gregor Antonescu, You Are a Psychopath!

With the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, consumer confidence at a three-decade low and Wall Street protests, it is easy to see why someone would want to blow the dust off and produce Terrence Rattigan’s 1963 play - Man and Boy about a manipulative financier trying to save his empire amidst a confidence and liquidity crisis in 1934. 

Financier Gregor Antonescu (played by the awesome Frank Langella) does anything to save his business empire including cooking the books and manipulating those around him, even his loyal son.

Man and Boy is somewhat predictable, but I just ate it up nonetheless given the times we are in, and days later I cannot help but think of an article I recently read in Time magazine. According to the article - Study: 1 in 25 Business Leaders May Be Psychopaths:

Psychopaths, who are characterized by being completely amoral and concerned only with their own power and selfish pleasures, may be overrepresented in the business environment because it plays to their strengths. Where greed is considered good and profitmaking is the most important value, psychopaths can thrive.
Mr. Antonescu, that would be you.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Broadway Productions Featuring Black Casts

I must admit that I am impressed with the number of productions on or coming to Broadway featuring a meaningful number of black actors in their casts. Now let's hope that we can begin to see other groups represented. In the meantime, let’s take a look at what is out there....

The Lion King (opened on November 13, 1997)
An impressive Disney musical based on the successful animated film. Actors skillfully portray all the wonderful animals we love from the jungle.

Memphis (opened on October 19, 2009)
While this story focuses on one of the first white DJ to play black music on the radio, it features a large ensemble of black actors.

The Book of Mormon (opened on March 24, 2011)
Similar to Memphis, this story focuses on two young white Mormons and their interactions with a impoverish Ugandan community – played by an ensemble of black actors.

Sister Act (opened on April 20, 2011)
Like The Lion King, Sister Act is the musical version of a successful film. The star is a young black woman and the musical features a number of black actors.

The Mountaintop (limited run - previews began on September 22, 2011)  
Two famous Hollywood black actors re-imagine the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (previews begin on December 17, 2011)
A musical about African American life in Catfish Row in Charleston in the early 1920s.

Stick Fly (previews begin on November 18, 2011)
Alicia Key produces this story about an affluent African American family that comes together to spend a weekend in Martha's Vineyard.

Clybourne Park (scheduled to open in April 2012 – hopefully)
Inspired in part by of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic, the first part of this play picks up where A Raisin in the Sun leaves off. The second part looks at the same neighborhood in the present day when the neighborhood is being re-gentrified.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"The River Crosses River II" - Plawrights of Color Representing...

On a rainy evening, I headed to the far West Side of the city to see Ensemble Studio Theatre’s The River Crosses River II, an eclectic mix of 10 minutes plays. Several were interesting including one about an encounter between two Bengalis (what a treat since I rarely see South Asians on the New York City stage) and another about reparations.

However, the standout for me during the evening was Waking Up by Cori Thomas. Waking Up weaves the story of dealing with breast cancer from the perspective of a well off American woman and an African woman. In the brief 10 minutes we learn how their stories are different (e.g., access to health care) and how they are the same (e.g., survival). It was extremely well done and I now have to keep an eye out for Ms. Thomas.

The River Crosses River II showcases plays by female playwrights of color, who are underrepresented in the theater world. But I am hopeful that since we are seeing serious representation by playwrights of color on the New York City stage this season, hopefully this is all changing...

Check out...