Monday, January 6, 2020

Judgment Day - The Degrees of Responsibility


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The idea that every person is responsible for their own actions is a basic tenet in most societies. However, when those actions are called into question, uncovering the truth behind them is another matter. Especially when gossip, innuendo and the complete refusal to believe anything but one's own certainty is involved. Such is the case in Ödön von Horváth’s 1937 drama, Judgment Day. The work being given an absolutely wonderful revival, with a stellar new adaptation by Christopher Shinn, at Park Avenue Armory.

Thomas Hudetz (Luke Kirby) is the Stationmaster and sole employee at the railway station of a small town in 1930s Germany. An officious sort, he is extremely devoted to his job. Well-liked by the locals, the fact he keeps mostly to himself, and has a wife (Alyssa Bresnahan) 13 years his senior, has been a frequent source of gossip. Frau Hudetz's intense jealousy when it comes to her husband also providing endless grist for the rumor mill.

On this particular day, Thomas is at his post when he is distracted by the flirtatious behavior of Anna (Susannah Perkins), the daughter of the local innkeeper (Tom McGowan). Her actions causing Thomas to delay setting a signal lever, which results in two trains colliding, leaving 18 people dead. In the aftermath of the accident, Thomas' account of his becomes suspect. Further complicating matters are conflicting accounts from two witnesses, each of whom claim to have seen exactly what Thomas did just before the crash. As Thomas struggles with what happened, Anna finds herself consumed by guilt over her own involvement in the matter. In addition, Anna's growing feelings for the married Thomas, even though she is engaged to someone else, sets in motion a further series of events which will have their own lasting ramifications.

                    Luke Kirby in Judgment Day at Park Avenue Armory. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

While these events are unfolding, the feelings of the townsfolk continue to shift. They at first standing by those they are certain are innocent, before ultimately turning against them. Not because of any new evidence, but because those in question do not act in a manner the townspeople consider acceptable. Thomas, his wife, and pharmacist brother-in-law Alfons (Henry Stram), among those who find themselves, albeit at different times, on the receiving end of the townspeople's scorn.

Judgment Day takes an unflinching look at two types of incidents. Ones which people are directly responsible for, and thus can be prosecuted; and those where people may be morally guilty - through the spreading of gossip and moral condemnation of others - but which are almost impossible to legally punish. This is also a play filled with ironies. Such as how those with a conscience may pay the ultimate price, as shown in a particularly riveting encounter in one of the final scenes; while others, who honestly feel they have done nothing wrong, are free to continue just as they please.

At the same time, the play makes quite clear how important it is for some people to be on the right side of public opinion. Alfons going so far as to publicly denounce his sister in order to get back in the community's good graces. Only to later receive a warning about the dangers of going against the town when he once more stands by her.

Luke Kirby (right) and the cast of Judgment Day at Park Avenue Armory. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

It also becomes obvious how Judgment Day, with only some minor changes to the text, could easily take place almost anywhere in the world. This being a rather sad indictment on the state of society in general. Especially one continually poised to accuse first and examine the evidence later.

An added bonus to this already powerful story are the truly massive sets by Paul Steinberg. Ones which include the train station where Thomas is employed, a series of railroad tunnels, and a rather imposing entrance to a viaduct. The structures often used to deliberately dwarf the human characters in the play, making them appear tiny and insignificant.

Mimi Jordan Sherin's lighting effects, and the work by sound designers Drew Levy and Daniel Kluger all help to create a perfect foreboding atmosphere for the piece. Also quite good are the costumes by Antony McDonald, particularly the immaculate uniform Thomas wears. The direction by Richard Jones also works perfectly here. His efforts keeping the story moving forward while continually building up the tension, and never giving the audience a chance to catch their breath until the end.

                   The cast of Judgment Day at Park Avenue Armory. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Kirby is excellent as Thomas. A man outwardly quiet and calm, until circumstances sets him on a path he cannot change. One can see his growing despair and desperation the more he tries to deny what he has done. Bresnahan does a good job as his wife. Someone who has long since lost herself to the demons of jealousy and insecurity. She also being so afraid of losing her husband to someone younger, she has long since pushed him away - yet another irony in the story.

Stram is very compelling as Alfons, the closest thing one has to a sympathetic character in the piece, though even he doesn't have completely clean hands when it comes to his actions. Perkins projects just the right amount of innocence and sexuality as Anna. Harriet Harris does a nice turn as Frau Liemgruber, one of the townspeople clearly aware of the social power she can wield. McGowan works well as the innkeeper. As does Alex Breaux as Anna's fiancée.

Judgment Day pulls no punches while delivering a searing indictment against those who refuse to accept responsibility for what they have done, no matter the circumstances involved.

Featuring: Andy Murray (Lumberjack), Harriet Harris (Frau Liemgruber), Alyssa Bresnahan (Frau Hudetz), Henry Stram (Alfons), Jason O'Connell (Salesman/Trackworker), Luke Kirby (Thomas Hudetz), Alex Breaux (Ferdinand), Susannah Perkins (Anna), Charles Brice (Policeman), Tom McGowan (Innkeeper of the Wild Man), Glen Daniels (Frau Krenn), Jeena Yi (Lena), John Glowacki (Herr Koller), George Merrick (Stoker/Truck Driver), Maurice Jones (Prosecutor/Pokorny), Cricket Brown (Inspector), Joe Wegner (Detective).

Judgment Day
by Ödön von Horváth
Adapted by Christopher Shinn

Set Designer: Paul Steinberg
Lighting Designer: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Costume Designer: Antony McDonald
Music and Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
Sound Designer: Drew Levy
Anjali Mehra: Movement Director
Kate Wilson: Vocal Coach
Thomas Schall: Fight Director
Lisa Iacucci: Production Stage Manager
Janet Takami: Stage Manager
Michael Medina: Assistant Stage Manager
Casting: Telsey + Company/Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA/Karyn Casl, CSA

Directed by Richard Jones

A Park Avenue Armory Production
643 Park Avenue
Running Time: 90 Minutes, with no intermission
Closes: January 10, 2020

Friday, January 3, 2020

Greater Clements - Starting Over Is Not For Everyone


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Just about everybody has wished for a second chance at least once in their lives. The opportunity to undo a certain decision, change the direction of one's life or simply move on from the past. So it is in Samuel D. Hunter's fascinating and often bleak new play, Greater Clements. A place where possibilities and emptiness walk hand in hand. The show now at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center.

In 2017, Maggie (Judith Ivey), a 65 year-old widow, runs the local historical museum in the former mining town of Clements, Idaho. A place which, for all intents and purposes, has ceased to exist. Having lost its major industry with the closing of the mine 12 years earlier, Clements has seen a major influx of new arrivals - mostly from California - in recent times. These newcomers are on the verge of becoming plentiful enough to determine the town's legislative agenda going forward. As a result, the remaining Clements old-timers, in the ultimate form of rebellion against change, chose to unincorporate the town in a recently completed, highly charged vote.

As Maggie prepares for the closing of the museum, in the wake of the aforementioned decision, she learns that her old high school sweetheart Billy (Ken Narasaki), with whom she has remained in touch over the years, will be passing through town with his 14-year old granddaughter Kel (Haley Sakamoto). That Maggie and Billy still have feelings for each other is immediately obvious, raising the possibility the two might start a new life together.

             Judith Ivey as "Maggie" in Greater Clements. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

For Maggie however, things are not as simple as just packing up and leaving. She also has her son Joe (Edmund Donovan), to consider. Joe has struggled with mental illness for many years, and has recently moved back in with his mom. A somewhat jumpy sort, Joe used to take great pride in giving tours of the now-disused mine. Including describing a fire there in 1972 which claimed the lives of 81 miners, including his own grandfather; Maggie's dad.

Running through this story is the idea of rebirth and beginning again. Be it with Maggie and Billy and a new chance at romance, or the dogged efforts of Maggie's friend and town busybody Olivia (Nina Hellman) to overturn the unincorporation, and thus start to put the community back together. Though as it becomes quite clear, sometimes one is simply carrying too much emotional baggage to be able to move on. Which also makes it rather ironic that the one character who has the most possibilities in their future doesn't want any of them. At least not until a dose of reality is delivered from a most unexpected source.

Another very strong element in the story is the way many of the characters come off as both sincere and pragmatic. Its as if their very words are weighed down with the experiences of the past. This clearly visible in Maggie's various conversations with both Billy and Olivia.

        (L-R) Judith Ivey and Ken Narasaki in Greater Clements.  Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Ivey gives a very powerful performance as Maggie. She being one of those dependable people always ready to lend a hand to those in need. At the same time, Maggie carries a deep seated guilt stemming from those times she did put herself first. As well as an undercurrent of anger when forced to deal with matters she's since come to terms with. Her scenes with Billy are especially sweet and touching as this normally guarded soul tries to balance her needs and responsibilities both as a woman and a mother.

Donovan is thoroughly dynamic as the thirty-something Joe. He showing the character to be both a manic and officious sort, while continually trying to hold himself together; both for his sake and his mom. Yet despite all the progress he has made, via medication and psychiatric visits, there are those who, for various reasons, will always judge him for what he has done before. A conversation between Joe and Wayne (Andrew Garman), the county sheriff, being particularly telling in this regard.

Narasaki is fine as Billy, a gentle sort and a realist who just wants to enjoy whatever time he has left with someone he cares about. Hellman is both passionate and annoying as Olivia, a woman who wants things to go back to the way they were. The vote to unincorporate the town and the apparent heated debate over the question can almost be a stand-in for the feelings Americans had over the 2016 election, and the upcoming one in 2020 in regards to who they support and why.

(background L to R) Nina Hellman, Ken Narasaki, Andrew Garman; (center) Judith Ivey and Edmund Donovan in Greater Clements. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Direction by David McCallum is strong for the most part, though things could have been a bit more focused at points, with certain sections of the play tending to meander. It would also have been nice to see a bit more backstory for the characters of Wayne and Olivia. Plus the way the final scene is set up - while also introducing a completely new character - has the effect of taking away some of the play's overall impact.

Dane Laffrey's sets, which include the museum, Maggie's living quarters, and the mine itself, are excellent. As are Yi Zaho's lighting effects and the sound design work by Fitz Patton.

A deeply absorbing tale about people and places bypassed by time and circumstances, Greater Clements is quite the powerful work indeed.

Featuring: Edmund Donovan (Joe), Judith Ivey (Maggie), Nina Hellman (Olivia), Ken Narasaki (Billy), Haley Sakamoto (Kel), Andrew Garman (Wayne), Kate MacCluggage (Mona).

Greater Clements

by Samuel D. Hunter

Sets: Dane Laffrey
Costumes: Kate Voyce
Lighting: Yi Zhao
Original Music and Sound: Fitz Patton
Stage Manager: Roxana Khan
Assistant Stage Manager: Karen Evanouskas
Dramaturgs: Anne Cattaneo, John Baker
Casting: Daniel Swee
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
General Manager: Jessica Niebanck
Production Manager: Paul Smithyman

Directed by Davis McCallum

Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th Street
Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes, including two intermissions
Closes: January 19, 2020

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Gospel of John - An Enlightening Tale, Masterfully Told


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The key to telling a story, no matter how old it may be, is the ability of the one doing the telling to imbue it with passion from the here and now. A particularly tall order when the story in question is, in all probability, quite familiar to the audience that’s come to hear it. Actor Ken Jennings delivering all that’s required and more in his very engaging one-man show, The Gospel of John. This offering currently running at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture.

Walking slowly around the stage,
Jennings, who also conceived the piece, assumes an almost reverent position as he prepares to begin. One that has him stretching his legs in a manner as if getting ready to exercise, before seeming to lapse into reflective prayer. He starting the performance proper, after giving the audience some reminders about cell phones and text messaging, by saying "In the beginning was the word". He then proceeds to show just how impactful the word can be.

The tale Jennings has come to relate starts with John The Baptist. A man sent by God to foreshadow the coming of Jesus. The narrative exploring John's purpose, his first meeting with Jesus and how he knew immediately that this man was the Son of God. The story then chronicling Jesus' travels and his actions on Earth. Actions such as his teachings, his gathering of disciples and performing of miracles, and his encounters with those who opposed him. The latter of which would eventually lead to his betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.

                                       Ken Jennings in The Gospel of John © 2019 Maria Baranova 

But Jennings does far more than deliver a simple litany of what has occurred. Through his performance, he allows every one of the instances described to come vibrantly to life. Playing multiple characters, Jennings is also able to make each one appear completely distinct. The attitudes of said characters ranging from the calm, quiet and all-knowing manner of Jesus, to the more assertive John, the excitable Peter, and the irritation of Pontius Pilate; who finds himself pressured by an angry mob to order Jesus' crucifixion.

Also particularly compelling is the astonishment and wonder expressed by those who witness the miracles Jesus performs. As well as the condescension from those who demand answers from Jesus, only to become incensed when he responds with words they don't want to hear. Most important of all, there is never a time when Jennings comes off as someone telling you what you should believe. Rather, he lets the tale stand on its own and if the audience is drawn into what is being said, that's their choice.

If there is one problem with the play, it's that it assumes (and rightly so for the most part) that those who attend will have both the knowledge and interest in the subject matter. No argument there, but for someone like yours truly, whose closest religious experience as a child was watching his mother light the menorah during each night of Chanukah, it would have been nice to see some maps projected on the background showing the various locations of the places described. 

                                         Ken Jennings in The Gospel of John © 2019 Maria Baranova 

John Pietrowski's direction is very strong. He giving Jennings free reign to impart the story, but never allowing him to dwell too long on a particular point, so as not to overstay his welcome. Charlie Corcoran’s set, basically a bare stage, works fine; as does the lighting by Abigail Hoke-Brady and sound design by M. Florian Staab.

Passionate and involving from start to finish, The Gospel of John offers a masterful performance by Jennings as he takes an oft-heard tale and makes it seem as powerful and inviting as the day it was first told.

The Gospel of John

Conceived and Performed by Ken Jennings
Scenic Design: Charlie Corcoran
Costume Design: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Design: Abigail Hoke-Brady
Sound Design: M. Florian Staab
Production Management: Drew Francis
Press Representative: Keith Sherman & Associates
Associate Producer: Julia O'Brien
Production Stage Manager: Danielle Constance
Directed by John Pietrowski

Presented by The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture
18 Bleecker Street
Tickets: (212) 925-2812 or www.ovationtix.com
Running 1 Hour, 50 Minutes, no intermission
Closes: December 29, 2019




Saturday, November 23, 2019

Slava Snowshow - A Wonderful World to Visit


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Clowns exist in their own pocket universe. A point from which they can project everything from a childlike innocence to a bit of misguided whimsy, a can-do attitude, or a feeling of being slightly apart from everything else. All as they deal with whatever situation they find themselves in. Such is the effect of Slava’s Snowshow. Created by Russian performance artist Slava Polunin, this absolutely delightful undertaking has returned to the New York stage just in time for the holidays. First seen in New York in 2004, the show reached Broadway four years later and now makes a triumphant return there at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

When seeing this rotating company of clowns upon the stage, (the actual members performing often changes from day to day) an image of a moth-eaten goony bird comes to mind. The group, except for the lead clown, clad in floppy hats, oversize coats and oversize shoes as they shamble about in a sort of parody of conformity. That is, until someone or something shakes things up a bit. Though as quickly becomes obvious, they're not always the brightest lights bulbs in the drawer. A point made clear when one of the group tries to outsmart the others over a bit of food, only to fall victim to the very trap he set for everyone else. Other slightly off-center occurrences can be seen during encounters with giant telephones; a jacket on a hanger which begins to have a personality all its own; and a tiny room - complete with table, chair and occupant – that's set on an angle. At least that’s how it appears to those of us observing the action from a "normal" plane of reality.

                                       Slava Snowshow  - Snowball. Photo by Veronique Vial

Deeper meanings aside, the chief attraction of the show is the window it offers to this very unique wonderland. One containing odd landscapes, giant balloons, and a massive blizzard of white. Everything presented with just enough familiarity to partially ground things in the real world. Thus allowing the audience to easily relate to what’s happening while they go quite willingly along for the ride. The folks watching all this getting continually involved in the story whether they want to or not. Thanks to some the company members who continually and enthusiastically interact with those in attendance.

Presented with almost no spoken dialogue, the use of music plays a key part in the festivities. Each such interlude meshing perfectly with the comedic elements the performers bring forth in the separate segments. Among the music used are the themes from “Peter Gunn” and “Chariots of Fire”. The latter featured in a sequence with a sail boat, an ocean liner, and a shark; among other elements.

Slava Snowshow -  Colour balloons in the audience, Photo by Veronique Vial

Children will delight in this very enjoyable offering – Indeed, I often heard shrieks of glee at the performance I attended - while adults will get a chance to become reacquainted with their own inner child as the show progresses. After all, there is something very appealing about seeing a clown with a butterfly net as he attempts to catch, well, whatever. Events eventually culminating with a comic confluence that makes one feel as if it’s the planets themselves that are colliding. The entire experience being one you will not soon forget.

A treat for all ages, Slava’s Snowshow is the perfect antidote for the holiday blues and one show you very definitely do not want to miss.

Featuring: Slava Polunin, Francesco Bifano, Spencer Chandler, Georgiy Deliyev, Alexandre Frish, Vanya Polunin, Robert Saralp, Nikolai Terentiev, Elena Ushakova, Aelita West, Bradford West, Artem Zhimo

Slava’s Snowshow

By arrangement with Slava and Gwenael Allan
Created and Staged by Slava Polunin


Marketing Strategy & Direction: On the Rialto
Advertising: Serino Coyne
Digital Marketing & Advertising: Arthouse
Press Representative: Vivacity Media Group

Scenography: Slava Polunin/Victor Plotnikov
Production Management: Tinc Productions
Production Stage Manager: Lee Micklin
Legal Counsel: Nevin Law Group
Company Manager: Joel Glassman
General Management: KGM Theatrical

Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 West 43rd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200, www.Telecharge.com, SlavaonBroadway.com
Running Time: 1 Hour 40 minutes, including one intermission
Closes January 5, 2020


Friday, November 8, 2019

Big Apple Circus - Thrills and Fun for All!


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The most important element of any circus is the ability to instill feelings of joy and amazement in its audience. Something Big Apple Circus, now beginning its 42nd season, repeatedly provides. The audience responding with continual and enthusiastic applause as they witness attractions guaranteed to make one cry out in delight or gasp in wonder. This one-ring extravaganza currently ensconced under a gigantic big top at Lincoln Center in New York City.

The fun starts the moment one enters the circus grounds. As ticket holders get to walk through a sort of midway that offers everything from cotton candy and snow cones to ice cream and pretzels. There is also an area for adult beverages, should those of a certain age so desire. And of course, there is popcorn. Pieces in boxes one can munch on, and pieces the size of small boulders (appropriately colored) the younger set can investigate. Members of the Big Apple troupe - including a rather impressive fellow on stilts - mingling with the audience before the show begins. There’s even appropriate music provided, with such songs as “Lollipop” and “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” heard over the sound system.

Once the circus proper begins, the show's thrill factor makes an appearance rather quickly. Thanks to, among others, Maryna Tkachenko and Tetyana Yudina, two Ukrainian aerial acrobats. Particularly heart-stopping is a sequence where one of the two supports the other via a strap in her teeth while being suspended by a wire from the ceiling. Did I mention this takes place as they are twirling around in mid-air without a net? Other acts that fall into the “don’t try this at home” category involve a performer (Jayson Dominguez) jumping rope atop a continually moving Wheel of Death. As well as a sequence featuring a person doing a handstand on the handlebars of a bicycle, on a tightrope, more than 30 feet above the floor. 

                                                 Big Apple Circus. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

One can’t help but be impressed by the level of control the performers need to have over their body's muscles in order to make all these feats come off as planned. The intense concentration often clearly etched on their faces. Not to mention the tremendous trust they have with those they work with. One person holding onto a pole while completely parallel to the floor as another performer was balanced on their body being one such example of this. As was the splendid work done by the acrobatic Aliev Troupe; whose performances on the tightrope and the trapeze yielded more than a few electrifying moments.

A bit closer to the ground, one could enjoy the efforts of horse riders Caleb Carinci and Renny Spencer. Carinci at times leaping from one animal to another while both were in motion. Also quite fun are the various routines performed by the Savitsky Cats. A group of very talented, and occasionally temperamental “acrocats” making their Big Apple Circus debut. There were also some rather inventive juggling routines; such as one that featured open umbrellas, courtesy of Kyle Driggs.

                                               Big Apple Circus. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Comic relief is provided by a large purple pigeon (Amy Gordon). While she hasn't quite gotten the hang of flying yet - she's afraid of heights - she's more than happy to strap on some roller skates, or let loose with a few pigeon-related puns every so often. The various events, some of which include a bit of audience participation, all taking place under the watchful eye of Storm Marrero; Big Apple Circus' Brooklyn-born female singing ringmaster. Ms. Marrero proving to be quite the master of ceremonies. She introducing the different acts and inserting herself into the ongoing narrative when needed. The work by directors Cecil MacKinnon & Jack Marsh, composers Ada Westfall and Janine Delwarte, and costume designer Emilio Sosa, as well as the music provided by the live in-house band, all go a long way towards making the show a totally enjoyable experience.

Big Apple Circus succeeds so well thanks to its ability take the audience out of themselves and put them completely in the moment with the action taking place. Be it kids “oohing” and “aahing”, or adults re-discovering their inner child, the end result is one of sheer delight. Go make plans to see this one. Now. Whatever your age, you’ll be very glad you did.

Also featuring: The Lopez Troupe (High Wire Act), Hovey Burgess (Circus Scholar), Abel Driggs, Daniel Bridon Benitez (Chinese Pole), Rafael Ferreira, Alan Pagnota (Hand to Hand).

Big Apple Circus

Directors: Cecil MacKinnon & Jack Marsh
Composers: Ada Westfall, Janie Delwarte
Music Director: Wages Argott
Lighting Designer: Jess Alford
Costume Designer: Emilio Sosa


Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park
Approximately 137 West 62nd Street - between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues)
Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes, which includes one intermission
Closes: February 2, 2020

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Slave Play - An Attempt At Understanding


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

One of the most important aspects in a committed relationship is one partner’s willingness to help satisfy the emotional needs of the other. Even if those needs don't necessarily align with their own. This message is at the heart of Jeremy O. Harris' penetrating, messy and brilliant work, Slave Play. The show transferring to Broadway’s Golden Theatre following an acclaimed run at New York Theatre Workshop last season. At times hard to watch, the piece looks at the issue of racism and relationships, while showing how much, and how little has changed in the U.S. since the days of slavery.

Act one of this intermissionless work opens at the MacGregor Plantation in the Antebellum South. Those at the Plantation include slaves, overseers, indentured servants and the sexually frustrated lady of the house. The overall grimness of the situation offset by several all-too familiar stereotypes. Think "Gone with the Wind" meets "Roots", with a bit of "The Carol Burnett Show" thrown in. Also quiet telling are the various hierarchical actions observed among the aforementioned groups.

Act two shifts the action to the present day where several interracial couples - all of whom see themselves at different points on the racial spectrum - are participating in an unusual therapy session. "Spectrum" being a deliberate world choice by this reviewer, as not all of the characters define themselves as simply “black” or white”, but instead being somewhere in-between. Explaining any more would give away too much of the story. However, suffice it to say there are some parts of the play that may make one rather uncomfortable - either due to what you are seeing or how you find yourself reacting to what is taking place on stage.

         Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Slave Play starts by saying "racism exists, but the way people are affected by it, and how they perceive it in others, often depends on how they were raised". Many factors thus contributing to shape the characters' different viewpoints. From attending a privileged school, to taking a trip to a plantation as a child, or having no direct cultural connection at all because you spent your formative years in a different country. The question then becoming whether it's possible to move beyond certain long-held mindsets; and through that movement, start to work towards a better understanding of issues people have grappled with for decades. Harris' script and Robert O'Hara's  direction delivering these ideas through the use of shock, grim reality, and humor. James Cusati-Moyer doing an especially nice job in the latter context with a turn as a totally self-absorbed actor.

The entire cast is excellent, though most of them function more as stand-ins for a particular point of view, rather than anything really three-dimensional. Joaquina Kalukango and Paul Alexander Nolan are the two notable exceptions, as their characters make their case to each other - and the audience. Particularly amusing are Chalia La Tour and Irene Sofia Lucio as the therapists who run the session. Two people who, while they have clearly read all the requisite materials for their rather novel approach to the issue of sexual dysfunction when it comes to race, ultimately fall short on just about every level; both personally and professionally. They also tend to favor the use of multi-syllabic words when something simpler will do just as well. There's also more than a bit of irony present, it taking the one character most opposed to the therapy process in the first place to get to the heart of the matter; while everyone else is more often than not, just dancing around the truth.

Joaquina Kalukango and Paul Alexander Nolan (photo by Matthew Murphy)

O'Hara nicely juggles the different styles and pacing of the various scenes. Though the story starts to get bogged down in the group discussion, and an excise of about 10 minutes here would help to make things a bit clearer. Conversely, an intermission between the first and second acts would certainly not have destroyed the flow of the story, and probably made it even more of an abrupt change for the audience. The only thing that didn't ring true in the play was the sudden halting of all of the different therapy sessions, when only one was deliberately ended prematurely.

Clint Ramos' sets - with a liberal use of mirrors - works especially well. Jiyoun Chang's lighting nicely runs the gamut from simple and stark during the therapy discussion, to subdued and shaded for the more intimate moments. Special mention must also go to Bryon Easley's use of movement, and the work of intimacy and fight director Claire Warden. Their efforts helping to make the different sequences crackle with tension and passion throughout.

Slave Play doesn't so much as grab the audience by the throat as open an intriguing window into a situation most people would rather not discuss. One seductive enough to draw the audience into the story before they know what's happening. It's also a play that strikes very close to home, no matter where one sees themselves on either the racial, or the human spectrum. 

Featuring: Ato Blankson-Wood (Gary), James Cusati-Moyer (Dustin), Sullivan Jones (Phillip), Joaquina Kalukango (Kaneisha), Chalia La Tour (Teá), Irene Sofia Lucio (Patricia), Annie McNamara (Alana), Paul Alexander Nolan (Jim)

Slave Play

by Jeremy O. Harris

Scenic Design: Clint Ramos
Costume Design: Dede Ayite
Lighting Design: Jiyoun Chang
Sound Design & Original Music: Lindsay Jones
Hair & Wig Design: Cookie Jordan
Movement: Bryan Easley
Intimacy & Fight Director: Claire Warden
Dramaturg: Amauta Marston-Firmino
Advertising: RPM
Press Representation: O&M
Social Media: Marathon Digital
Public Relations & Strategic Marketing: The Chamber Group
Casting Director: Taylor Williams
Production Stage Manager: Gwendolyn M. Gilliam
Dialect Coach: Dawn-Elin Fraser
Production Counsel: Nevin Law Group
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions
Company Manager: Brian Tucker
General Management: Foresight Theatrical/Mark Shacket

Directed by Robert O'Hara

Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
Tickets: 800-447-7400, www.telecharge.com or www.slaveplaybroadway.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes no intermission
Closes: January 19, 2020

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Caesar and Cleopatra - More Intellectual Than Gripping


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Who would have thought Julius Caesar would be turn out to be a moderate sort? At least that’s how he appears in George Bernard Shaw’s seldom-seen comedy, Caesar and Cleopatra. Written in 1898 and presented by Gingold Theatrical Group at Theatre Row, the play offers some valuable lessons on wisdom born of experience, and the dangerous impetuousness that comes with youth.

In ancient Egypt, Roman commander Caesar (Robert Cuccioli), head of a conquering army, has a chance meeting with Cleopatra (Teresa Avia Lim), the young Egyptian Queen. At first bemused by her impetuous attitude - and her fear of the approaching Roman soldiers; she thinks they will eat her - he quickly sees possibilities in this young upstart. His plan being to mold her into someone who will rule Egypt in his stead when he departs. Caesar's efforts met with the initial displeasure and eventual grudging consent of Cleopatra's Chief Nurse and defacto ruler of the royal palace, Ftatateeta (Brenda Braxton).

While Cleopatra soon begins to grow into her role - as evident from the way she carries herself, and by the clothes she learns to wear - her actions show her to still be very much a child. Especially when it comes to choices made in the heat of anger. The results of which neither Caesar or Cleopatra can afford. Egypt being in turmoil when it comes to the leadership question. A situation Pothinus (Rajesh Bose), guardian to the young King Ptolemy, is doing his best to inflame.

       Robert Cuccioli (Caesar and Teresa Avia Lim as the title characters in Caesar and Cleopatra.
                                                                  Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.

Containing more than a few elements of Shaw’s later work, PygmalionCaesar and Cleopatra is all about the teacher/pupil relationship. However, where in Pygmalion, the student eventually outgrows the teacher; here it is the teacher who is firmly in control. A keen military strategist, and a student of human nature, Caesar understands just how far he can cajole, threaten and push those who oppose him. Violence always being for him, the final option. Of course, the underlying message here is that those who do not heed Caesar's warnings, do so at their own peril. As one person, who stays too long where they are not wanted, ultimately finds out.

As with most of his plays, one can find numerous examples of Shaw’s caustic wit sprinkled throughout. The chronological differences between the two main characters being a frequent subject of discussion and through it, a window into the play's take on the eternal battle between youth and age - and which of them actually knows best. Though it should be noted that Caesar himself is far from infirm and can still indulge in a bit of youthful exuberance under certain circumstances. The show also takes the occasional poke at late 19th century British society – another favorite target of Shaw's – through the character of Caesar's loyal servant, Britannus (Jonathan Hadley).

Cuccioli does an excellent job as Caesar. The actor bringing a genial, and at times almost whimsical world-weariness to the character. While never letting anyone forget the power he commands. Lim is fine as Cleopatra. No Eliza Doolittle here, the actress shows Cleopatra as one who too quickly becomes the person Caesar tries to create. She embracing her new role, but initially unprepared for the responsibilities that go with it.

Braxton is fine as the officious, but always to be reckoned with Ftatateeta. Jeff Applegate is very good as Rufio, basically matching Ftatateeta when it comes to loyalty; and someone always more comfortable when he has a sword in his hand. Bose gets in some good political points as Pothinus, and Dan Domingues offers enjoyable comic relief as Apollodorus - the Sicilian.

                                       Brenda Braxton as Ftatateeta. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.

Despite its many pluses, the Gingold presentation also suffers numerous missteps. David Staller's direction in particular, never able to make the production feel anything more than amateurish. As such, one is never truly enveloped in the story. The entire presentation lacking any real passion, which makes it hard to care what happens to any of the characters on an emotional level. There is also never a true feeling of danger or peril present in any of the more tension-filled moments of the story. Something those involved with the production needed to find a way to properly bring out.

This is a work that also screams for something more than the “one size fits all” set design by Brian Prather used here. Ftatateeta also acting as a narrator of sorts during various transitions from scene to scene and location to location. Some of Frederick Kennedy’s sound effects also come off as more laughable than realistic.

Caesar and Cleopatra is an intriguing work with some very important points to make. But this production, despite an excellent cast, is unfortunately not able to do its message full justice.

Featuring: Brenda Braxton (Ftatateeta), Robert Cuccioli (Caesar), Teresa Avia Lim (Cleopatra), Jeff Applegate (Rufio), Jonathan Hadley (Britannus), Rajesh Bose (Pothinus/Ptolemy/Sentinel), Dan Domingues (Apollodorus).

Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra

Scenic Design: Brian Prather
Costume Design: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Design: Jamie Roderick
Sound Design: Frederick Kennedy
Production Stage Manager: April Ann Kline
Assistant Stage Manager: Kate Mandracchia
Production Manager: Cate DiGirolamo
GTG General Manager: Alyce Stark
GTG Associate Director: Stephen Brown-Fried
Advertising & Marketing: DR Advertising
Press Representative: David Gersten & Associates

Directed by David Staller

Presented by Gingold Theatrical Group
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.Telecharge.com
Running Time: 2 Hours, with one intermission
Closes: October 12, 2019


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Tech Support - When Life Is What You Make It


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Who among us hasn't at one point longed for a break from hi-speed technology and a return to a time when things were simpler? This is the starting point for Debra Whitfield's time-traveling romantic comedy Tech Support, presented by Chatillion Stage Company at 59E59 Theaters.

In New York City, in the year 2020, 40 year-old Pamela Stark (Margot White) is having a meltdown. Her printer is jammed, her coffee maker won't work, and her husband recently broke up with her on Instgram Live. There are also over 200 people in the phone queue ahead of her waiting to speak to a computer technician. A rare book dealer by trade, Pamela increasingly feels like "an analog girl trapped in a digital world" and yearns for the days where everything isn't measured by information bytes, and "trolls were just dolls with funny hair".

Finally getting through to a tech support guy named Chip (Ryan Avalos), and pouring her heart out to him, Pamela is suddenly offered a choice not only for a different technical department, but also a different time period. She then finds herself in 1919, the first of many time jumps she will experience, interacting with those around her as she attempts to find her way home. Though with each successive shift, Pamela must also face the consequences of what her visits to earlier eras had set in motion.

                          Margot White in Tech Support.  Photo by Russ Rowland 

Containing echoes of Eric Overmyer's 1985 stage work On The Verge, and the classic Twilight Zone episode A Stop at Willoughby, Whitfield's script stresses the danger of taking life for granted. This shown via the various women's issues - such as abortion and birth control - explored in the play; and how the rights and choices people in the present have long since grown to expect, may not always be there in the future. Each of the time periods Pamela visits being on the cusp of societal change in regards to traditional women's roles.

Probably the most important decision by Whitfield was to show Pamela as one of those everyday people just trying to get through life. Thus making her far more relatable to the audience than say, a scientist working on a major breakthrough. White does an excellent job in the role; the character growing more confident in herself as the play progresses. This change gradually leading Pamela to realize the importance of living in the here and now - whenever that here and now happens to be. It's a truth the rest of the characters already understand and one Pamela must learn before she can get to her final destination.

Another important aspect of the play is the enjoyable mixture of humor and drama throughout. A nice continuing element, one which ties in to the growing adaptability of Pamela's character, is her ever-quickening ability to recover whenever she accidentally drops in a 21st century saying in the wrong era. There's also an enjoyable running gag of why Coca-Cola seemed to have had more of a kick to it in 1919 than in later times Pamela visits.

                        Margot White and Mark Lotito in Tech Support. Photo by Russ Rowland

It also helps that many of the people Pamela meets are well-rounded enough to make them seem quite real. Particularly interesting is Charlie (Mark Lotito), a widowed World War I veteran and someone who, in his own way, has just as many problems with technology in 1919 as Pamela did in 2020. Lauriel Friedman does very well as Grace, a character whose changes through the decades provides a perfect example of how opportunities for women have changed over the years. Avalos does quite well as various people Pamela encounters in her journey - all of whom have the same name. Leanne Cabrera nicely rounds out the cast in the two roles she takes on.

The various technical elements of the play come together well; particularly in regards to the different temporal shifts. Deborah Constantine's lighting and Ed Matthew's sound design being key here. As are the projection design by Elliott Forrest. Natalie Taylor Heart's sets nicely makes full use of the relatively small playing area.

The once place the script unfortunately does go off the rails is during a brief sojourn to 1978. Too many of the characters in this sequence being presented as stereotypical caricatures; which ends up cheapening much of the entire scene - one which is only there to present a single plot point in the first place. Whitfield, who also handles the directing chores, being unable to make the characters gel here in a way she did with ease in the other segments.

There are a few other elements in the script that don't work as well as they should. A riff on the classic "walk this way" routine falls flat, and a reference to the dancing team of Vernon and Irene Castle doesn't fit chronologically the way it's delivered. On the whole however, Tech Support is an entertaining tale of one woman's attempt to find her place in the universe, and who winds up finding herself in the process.

Featuring: Ryan Avalos (All the Chips), Leanne Cabrera (Maisie/Lupé), Lauriel Friedman (Tech Support Voice/Grace/Tori), Mark Lotito (Charlie/Joe/Biff), Margot White (Pamela Stark).

Tech Support

Written and Directed by Debra Whitfield
Scenic Design: Natalie Taylor Hart
Costume Design: Janice O'Donnell
Lighting Design: Deborah Constantine
Sound Design: Ed Matthew
Sound Design Consultant: Carlene Stober
Projection Design: Elliott Forrest
Hair & Make-Up Design: Inga Thrasher
Prop Master: Cyrus Newitt
Dramaturge: Benjamin Viertel
Casting: Stephanie Klapper, CSA

Presented by Chatillion Stage Company
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Tickets: 646-892-7999 or www.59e59.org
Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission
Closes: September 21, 2019

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Moulin Rouge! The Musical - Where Love Triumphs


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Love and passion collide with loyalty and responsibility in Moulin Rouge! A stirring powerhouse of a Broadway musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

It's 1899 and the fabled Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris – where one’s darkest fantasies can become reality – is on the edge of bankruptcy. Owner Harold Zidler's (Danny Burstein) only chance to save the club is to convince the Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu), a frequent visitor, to become its financial patron. The Duke however, is more interested in Satine (Karen Olivo), the Moulin Rouge's beautiful and seductive star. As such, it has been arranged for Satine to meet and seduce the Duke; thus making him more pliable to any financial requests.

Yet on the very night this is to happen, Satine, in the grand tradition of mistaken identities and convenient coincidences - unexpectedly encounters Christian (Aaron Tveit). A singer/songwriter from America, Christian has come to Paris to be an artist, and has arrived at The Moulin Rouge at the urging of his friends Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah) and Santiago (Ricky Rojas) to sing one of his songs to Satine. The three hoping she will be impressed enough to induce Harold to put on the show they have been working on.

With Satine and Christine each having their own agenda, neither expects the immediate connection that occurs when they first lock eyes. Christian quickly falling deeply in love with this beautiful vision; while Satine, who has long since let her heart grow cold after a lifetime of hardship, is surprised to find herself genuinely attracted to this young man.
                       Aaron Tveit as Christian and Karen Olivo as Satine. Photo by Matthew Murphy

For those who work at The Moulin Rouge, the most important thing is survival. The club may not be perfect, but it is a safe haven from the outside world, and certainly better than trying to survive on the street. This need also translates into a deep-seated loyalty among the dancers, all of whom consider themselves a family. Each willing to do whatever it takes for the others, even at the expense of their own happiness. It's a value system Christian, having never been in such a situation, is unable to understand. It's the same reason Satine, who has agreed to become the Duke's mistress so he will save the club from closing, initially dismisses Christian's belief in love above all as foolish and childlike.

Based on the hit motion picture of the same name, Moulin Rouge! at times feels like an immersive experience. One which begins the moment you enter the theatre and see the stage decked out in red, with a windmill on one balcony and a blue elephant on another. The story may be set in 1899, but the music, through which most of the story is told, is altogether modern. The songs used ranging from the Beatles and David Bowie to the Talking Heads and Lady Gaga.

Alex Timbers' direction skillfully handles the blending of the various musical elements with John Logan's text. With none of the musical numbers, some of which provoke knowing laughs from the audience, coming off as tired or strained. Matching Timbers beat for beat is Sonya Tayeh's flawless choreography. Particularly enjoyable are the dance numbers at The Moulin Rouge in act one, as well as "Bad Romance". The latter a sequence from the show Toulouse-Lautrec and the others have conceived.
                            The Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical   Photo by Matthew Murphy.

While not all of the songs necessarily advance the plot, they all wonderfully help set the mood and feel of the show, and work to make the overall experience a rousing success. It's also nice for a change to be actually able to hear the lyrics in question, instead of the music being so over-amplified, the audience is unable to discern what the actors are singing. (A sadly frequent problem in musicals today.)

Another strong touch is the continual showcasing of color throughout. A can-can dance number being particularly striking in that regard. Said color use also making it rather jarring when we see the muted and lifeless hues worn by those in high society when the Duke attempts to integrate Satine into that part of his life.

Just as important is the mixing of the show's dramatic elements with moments of humor. Such as Christian's first meeting with Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago, where he warbles a tune from "The Sound of Music". Christian and his friends, along with Satine and Harold, also doing a hilarious take on the backers audition process when they are forced to quickly improvise themselves out of an awkward situation with the Duke. There's also an amusing subplot involving Santiago, supposedly the "greatest tango dancer in Paris", and Nini (Robyn Hurder), one of the dancers at The Moulin Rouge.

Olivo perfectly embodies Satine, a strong, cynical woman who has long since learned to use her various talents to her advantage. Her dark demeanor nicely offset by the softer, yet just as striking performance of Tveit as Christian. The two meshing quite well as the star-crossed lovers. Burstein is excellent as Harold. He taking what could easily be a stereotypical villain and turning him into a three-dimensional character; struggling to balance what is necessary with what is right. Ngaujah adds both humor and pathos as Toulouse-Lautrec. Someone who once shared Christian's worldview when he was younger, but unlike Satine, has never forgotten what it is to dream. Muto is convincingly menacing as the Duke. His performance calling to mind a combination urbane gentleman and coiled snake.
                              Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler.  Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Exploring the idea of love in its many forms, Moulin Rouge! is nothing less than a heart-wrenching journey through both the darkest and brightest parts of the human soul.

Featuring: Jacqueline B. Arnold (La Chocolat), Danny Burstein (Harold Zidler), Robyn Hurder (Nini), Holly James (Arabia), Reed Luplau (Pierre), Jeigh Madjus (Baby Doll), Tam Mutu (The Duke of Monroth), Sahr Ngaujah (Toulouse-Lautrec), Karen Olivo (Satine), Ricky Rojas (Santiago), Aaron Tveit (Christian).

Ensemble: Jacqueline B. Arnold, Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Max Clayton, Aaron C. Finley, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, Holly James, Reed Luplau, Jeigh Madjus, Morgan Marcell, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Benjamin Rivera.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Book by John Logan

Based on the 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Motion Picture Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, Directed by Baz Luhrmann.

By special arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical

Scene Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Makeup Design: Sarah Cimino
Creative Services: Baz Luhrmann/Catherine Martin
Casting: Jim Carnahan/Stephen Kopel
Music Producer: Matt Stine
Music Director & Additional Arrangements: Cian McCarthy
Co-Orchestrates: Katie Kresek/Charlie Rosen/Matt Stine
Dance Arrangements: Justin Levine/Matt Stine
Music Coordinator: Michael Aarons
Associate Director: Ashley Rodbro
Associate Choreographer: Katie Spelman
Music Supervision, Orchestrations, Arrangements and Additional Lyrics: Justine Levine
Choreographed by: Sonya Tayeh
Directed by Alex Timbers

Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 25th Street
Tickets: 877-250-2929 or www.ticketmaster.com
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes, with one intermission
Open run

Monday, June 3, 2019

Happy Talk - Portrait of an Unhappy Narcissist


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

When one continually projects a sunny disposition, no matter the circumstances, it’s possible the person in question is trying to hide some deep personal pain. Such is the situation one character faces in the world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s ironically named Happy Talk. The play being presented Off-Broadway by The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

At first glance,
Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) seems like a happy suburbanite. She is married to Bill (Daniel Oreskes), whom she loves; and is an apparent social pillar of her community. She is also an amateur actress and is currently in rehearsal for a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the local Jewish Community Center. Perhaps the only dark spot in Lorraine's existence is her strained relationship with her aged mother. The caring of her mom the responsibility of Ljuba (Marin Ireland), the family’s live-in maid/nurse. Ljuba hails from Serbia and happens to be in the U.S. illegally. Lorraine being all too aware of Ljuba's situation.

L-R: Marin Ireland and Susan Sarandon in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk,” in a world premiere production from The New Group, directed by Scott Elliott, at The Pershing Square Signature Center. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni. for more, www.thenewgroup.org

When Ljuba mentions her constant worry of being discovered by the authorities, Lorraine comes up with the idea of marrying her off to Ronny (Nico Santos), one of the actors in the South Pacific company. This despite the fact Ronny is already in a committed relationship, one he has no desire to terminate. However, Ronny and his partner are not in the best financial straits; and when learning he will receive $15,000 for entering into the marriage, said money coming from what Ljuba has saved over the years for this express purpose, he agrees to the plan. 

While things quickly begin to feel like a television sitcom - one can almost hear the canned laughter at points – it soon becomes obvious what we are seeing is a case study of someone’s world falling apart. Lorraine desperately trying to maintain an air of happiness and certainty, even as key elements in her life begin to unravel. 

Lorraine, as one quickly learns, needs to be the total center of attention – of everything. She happily getting involved in Ljuba and Ronny’s lives, clashing with the South Pacific director about her character, and always steering the flow of any conversation so it becomes all about her. She is also able to come up with convincing excuses for any unfavorable situation, so nothing ever becomes her fault. As when she learns the South Pacific cast has never invited her out for drinks after rehearsals.

It also soon becomes apparent that Lorraine is quite well-versed in the art of denial. She continually putting up a happy front so she does not have to face other, more serious realities. Including certain medical issues concerning those closest to her. Coupled with this is the fear she has of being abandoned and left alone. An issue which further manifests itself when she realizes Ljuba’s upcoming marriage could result in her getting a green card, and thus no longer in need of Lorraine's protection.

L-R: Daniel Oreskes, Nico Santos, Susan Sarandon and Marin Ireland in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk,” a world premiere production from The New Group, directed by Scott Elliott, at The Pershing Square Signature Center. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni. for more, www.thenewgroup.org
Especially interesting are the events set in motion by Lorraine and Bill’s daughter, Jenny (Tedra Millan). A confrontational sort, she has totally rejected her mother’s sedate, middle-class world. The irony being that Jenny’s various acts of defiance may prove to be just as hurtful to others as her mom’s behavior has been to her.

Eisenberg has crafted a story with a number of possibilities, but misses several key points which would have made everything come together. Such as a fuller exploration of the relationships between Lorraine and her various family members. Yet despite this weakness, one still can connect with Lorraine and what she is feeling. That is, until the final scene where the playwright takes things in a completely new direction. One which makes no sense in relation to what has come before. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to surprise the audience with a last minute reveal. But after closing the previous scene with a deeply emotional moment - and an indication of where things are going – by changing gears so abruptly, the entire play falls flat. The final scene also giving the impression of being tacked on as an afterthought. In addition, the last sequence is missing several important points when it comes to characterization and plot. Ones which, if worked into the story earlier, might have made the ending make sense.

Sarandon does an excellent job as she takes Lorraine from annoying to sympathetic to something much darker. Oreskes is quite good as Bill, a character who says volumes with very few words; yet in the end is able to perfectly get any across any point he needs to make. Marin does well as Ljuba, a woman looking to start a new life, although her trust in the wrong person may prove her undoing. Millan is fine in what amounts to an extended cameo as Jenny. Her scenes with Lorraine showing neither woman really listening to what the other has to say. Santos unfortunately, is saddled with a role which never rises above parody. His scenes designed to be light and cute, rather than anything deeper. Also, his habit of joining Lorraine in quoting lines and singing bits of song from South Pacific becomes tiresome very quickly.

The direction by Scott Elliott is uneven. His efforts working better in the dramatic moments, but floundering whenever he tries to bring to life any of the comedic situations in the script. Though ironically, his sharpness in staging the ending only serves to call attention to its failure in respect to the overall narrative of the piece. The scenic design by Derek McLane nicely calls to mind the suburban setting that the play imagines.

Ultimately, Happy Talk feels either like a play rushed into production too soon, or one labored on too long with someone on the creative team not knowing when to stop.

Featuring: Marin Ireland (Ljuba), Tedra Millan (Jenny), Daniel Oreskes (Bill), Nico Santos (Ronny), Susan Sarandon ( Lorraine ).

Happy Talk
By Jesse Eisenberg

Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Fight Direction: UnkleDave’s Fight-House
Hair, Wig & Makeup Design: Leah J. Loukas
Production Supervisor: Five Ohm Productions
Production Stage Manager: Valerie A. Peterson
Casting: Judy Henderson, CSA
Public Relations: Bridget Klapinski
Advertising: AKA

Directed by Scott Elliott

Presented by The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or www.TheNewGroup.com
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermissions
Closes: June, 16, 2019