Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“Juno and the Paycock”- A Brilliant Look at Those in the Dregs of Despair

By Judd Hollander
Photos by James Higgins

The Irish Repertory Theatre hits a home run with their presentation of Juno and the Paycock, a searing indictment of how far a man will go to keep the cloak of deniability about him, while at the same time showing how some people, no matter how patient and understanding they may be, eventually reach the breaking point. All brought powerfully home by J. Smith Cameron and Ciarán O'Reilly as the title characters.

1922 - Dublin, Ireland. A civil war is raging and people are getting shot in the street. Living in the midst of the turmoil is the working class Boyle family. The matriarch of which is Juno (Cameron), a hardworking woman with an alcoholic and basically worthless husband - "Captain" Jack (O'Reilly) - whose chronic "pains in his legs" seem to get worse whenever he learns of even the remotest chance of a job opportunity. Jack, who still has more than a little spirit left in him, spends most of his time with Joxer Daily (John Keating) another useless fellow, the latter sponging off whomever he can. There's also Juno and Jack's bitter son Johnny (Ed Malone) who had his arm shattered in one of the street clashes and who still has nightmares what happened; as well as their pretty daughter Mary (Mary Mallen) who recently broke up with longtime boyfriend Jerry Devine (David O'Hara) after she becomes attracted to Charlie Bentham (John Russell), a person who may be the key to a better life for her.

As it turns out, the entire family may soon get a better life when Charlie, who works in a law firm, reveals Jack to be one of two heirs set to receive monies from a huge estate. Overjoyed, the family begins to dream about what is to come, with no shortage of people willing to offer them credit once word of the expected windfall spreads. However things are not always as bright as they first appear and soon talk arises that what has been promised may not arrive at all as the family's window of opportunity that all too unexpectedly opened in front of them, slowly and inexorably begins to shut.

Juno and the Paycock is at its heart a strong family drama with the different political factors that enveloped Dublin at the time helping to give it a specific sense of atmosphere. This is nicely illustrated by having a funeral procession passing by the Boyle's front door while they celebrate their sudden change of status inside. It also helps immeasurably that every one of the characters is clearly drawn with nothing stereotypical or caricature-like about any of them.

Smith-Cameron is superb as Juno, a no-nonsense woman who has the patience of a saint and the tooth of a serpent. One long since fed up with the antics of her husband but still sticking by him both for the sake of the family and because she loves him still. It takes a threat to one of her children to realize that if she doesn't try to change things for herself and those around her, no one else will.

O'Reilly does very well with the character of Jack, a rouge of a fellow with a gift for the blarney. The stories he tells even when everyone, including the audience, knows full well he is lying are hilarious. The Captain is not so much a dreamer as he is a realist, accepting his position in life, happy in drink and in the company of Joxer - a man who's presence can lead to no good, but Jack is long past the point of caring about such things. There's a pivotal moment when he realizes what his options are and one can see just how tiny this once gregarious man has become.

Keating is interesting as Joxer, playing the role as more of one continually in the right place at the right time rather than a consummate schemer who cannot be trusted. Likeable enough, he will not think twice of betraying a friend if it is to his advantage. Joxer is also a born survivor, always finding someone he can take advantage of and leaving one with no doubt he will always land on his feet, albeit on the backs of others.

Malone nicely gives Johnny a haunting quality, a man prone fits of terror as a result of past events and his involvement in them. Mallen is good as the hopeful Mary, a girl wanting something more than the life to which she was raised, though she's not above letting her heart get in the way of reason. O'Hara gives Malone a salt-of-the-earth quality as one who loves Mary dearly even as she begins to grow beyond him. Russell works well as Bentham, a man whose motives may not be as pure as originally thought.

Charlotte Moore's direction is excellent here, keeping the show tightly focused and intimate while allowing the cast and situations to connect with the audience; be the moments comic, dramatic or a combination of both. There is also no feeling whatsoever of the show being stilted or overlong.

James Noone's set of the Boyle home is well done, nicely adding to the feeling of both the hopelessness, and later hopefulness the family feels - at least for a while. The lighting effects by Brian Nason are good and the sound design by M. Florian Staab is strong.

An intimate portrait of a family at wit's end as life threatens to completely overwhelm them while they continue slowly tearing each other apart, this production of Juno and the Paycock is a winner at every level.

Also in the cast are Terry Donnelly, Fiana Tobin, Laurence Lowry, Ciaran Byrne and Kern McFadden.

Juno and the Paycock

Featuring: Mary Mallen (Mary Boyle), J. Smith-Cameron (June Boyle), Ed Malone (Johnny Boyle), David O'Hara (Jerry Devine), Ciarán O'Reilly ("Captain" Jack Boyle), John Keating (Joxer Daly), James Russell (Charlie Bentham), Terry Donnelly (Maisie Madigan), Fiana Tobin (Mrs. Tancred), Laurence Lowry (Neighbor/An Irregular/A Moving Man), Ciaran Byrne ("Needle" Nugent), Kern McFadden (An Irregular Mobilizer)

Written by Sean O'Casey
Scenic Design: James Noone
Costume Design: David Toser
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Sound Design: M. Florian Staab
Properties: Sven Henry Nelson
Wigs: Robert Charles Vallence
Dialect Coash: Stephen Gabis
Casting: Deborah Brown
Production Stage Manager: Pamela Brusoski
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca C. Monroe
Press Representative: Shirley Herz Associates
Directed by Charlotte Moore

Presented by The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Tickets: 212-727-2737 or
Running Time: Two Hours, 15 minutes, with one intermission

Closes: December 29, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sheri Sanders Blows the Roof Off the Joint - "Sheri Sanders: In Concert"

By Rob Hartmann

Part rock concert, part master class, part interactive exploration of pop music history, and part autobiography-confessional, Sheri Sanders: In Concert is a theatrical experience unlike any other.

Sheri Sanders is currently best known for her long running series of classes, “Rock the Audition” (which later became a book and DVD), in which she gives musical theater actors the tools to fully engage with pop and rock music – music which can be intimidating and mystifying to performers raised on show tunes.

Sanders, along with director Joe Barros and musical director Meg Zervoulis, created an evening which gives three dimensional life to her credo: that rock and pop songs are inextricably entwined with the social history of their time – but that performers today can connect with them as still-living, still-relevant personal expressions.

Each performance of the concert featured a different opening act: Todd Almond, (, Bobby Cronin ( Joe Iconis (, Michael Mott (, Brad Simmons and Paul Oakley Stovall, Katie Thompson ( and, at this performance, Max Vernon (

Max Vernon, accompanying himself at the piano, began with a wry song that drew on his days as a young fixture on the fashion-punk-party scene: “Lower East Side Angry Face.” His set included two moving numbers from his new musical, The View UpStairs, inspired by the horrific 1973 arson attack on a gay club in New Orleans.

Sanders is a tasty explosion of fizzy giddiness as she charges onto the stage. The simple setting pays respect to both the past and the future: downstage is a portable record player and a collection of LPs; stage right is a flat-screen where images of pop music icons float by.

Sanders immediately takes the audience in hand as she unrolls the tale of her journey from performer to teacher and mentor. After early career success, she fell prey to vicious self-sabotage. In order to take the pressure off herself, she decided to put the focus on others: she would step back from the intensity of high-stakes auditions, and teach what she had learned.

Sanders immersed herself in studying pop music history hand in hand with cultural history, specifically from a performer’s point of view.  She developed a course (at one point she displays the very first flyer she ever posted, complete with rainbow background) which eventually grew into “Rock the Audition.”

She segues effortlessly into a brief survey pop music history, shifting into song to demonstrate points – dipping into the blues tune “Come Back, Baby” and later Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, as covered by Judy Collins.

Sanders is a consummate performer, able to shift emotional gears and fully inhabit any style of music with complete conviction and authenticity.  After completely mesmerizing the audience on her own, she takes the spotlight off herself, and transforms the proceedings briefly into a master class. Two different students took part each night of the concert; at this performance, they were Elijah Caldwell and Jessica Norland. Sanders first worked with Caldwell on his rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1979 hit “Boogie Wonderland”; in minutes she had him loosened up and fully embracing the spirit of the 70s with a full-on disco falsetto.

Norland’s song was Heart’s 1985 “Nothin’ At All.” At first, Norland gave a completely credible, straightforward rendition of the song, in a clear, strong voice. With quick, intuitive coaching from Sanders, Norland completely transformed her voice and physicality: a new power, strength, and confidence, completely emanating from the music.

Much credit must be given to music director Zervoulis, who coaxed sounds of every decade from the piano. Playing rock music convincingly at a solo piano is extremely difficult; the genre is built for guitars and drums. Zervoulis breathed along with Sanders and the student singers, while keeping a rock-steady rhythmic drive.

After watching Sanders in action as a master teacher, we resume the story of her journey: landing a book deal by cold calling the music publisher Hal Leonard. (The book and accompanying DVD were reviewed on this site here:

In a dizzying montage, we see Sanders come smack up against a grim truth of the entertainment industry: in the end, so many of the people employed to help  – publishers, PR reps, agents – do very little. The artist is on her own.

This is a point where many one-person shows would stop, content to sigh or sneer at the cynical realities of “the business.” Sanders moves through it, in a moving, deeply felt exploration of “The Great Escape”, written by Pink and Dan Wilson.

I’m the king of the great escape
You’re not going to watch me checkin’ out of this place
You’re not going to lose me, cause the passion and pain
Are going to keep us alive someday
Yeah the passion and the pain
Are going to keep us alive, someday

Sanders understands that the artist’s journey is equal parts passion and pain: they are inescapably bound to each other. She recognizes it in her own life’s story, and in the stories of the pop and rock artists whom she honors.

The evening was subtly and fluidly directed by Joe Barros, who keeps the narrative thread moving through each shift of format. Holly Long contributes skillful lighting design which moves effortlessly from intense, deep tones during the performances, to bright clarity when Sanders chats with the audience.

The innovative producers of the event were Kenny Metzger and Kristin Morris, operating under the auspices of the Araca Project, which seeks to mentor up and coming producers.

Sheri Sanders In Concert concluded its limited run in New York on October 2nd, but will tour in conjunction with Sanders schedule teaching master classes at colleges, universities and theaters across the country. If you have the opportunity to see Sheri Sanders work her alchemic magic of performance and transformative teaching in person, do not miss it. In days past, Broadway shows or television series would be built around Sheri Sanders and her extravagant hug-you-madly personality: we can only hope that the industry will take note and bring us more Sheri Sanders, pronto.

Sheri Sanders: In Concert. September 25 – October 2, The American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th Street. Produced by Kenny Metzger and Kristin Morris, KMM Productions, LLC. Conceived by Sheri Sanders. Directed by Joe Barros. Musical direction by Meg Zervoulis. Lighting design by Holly Long. Sound design by Andy Sowers. Casting by Kitay-Witt Casting. Stage manager, Tiffany de Bruyn. Assistant director, Aimée Cucchiaro.

"Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance" - Wonderful melding of movement and story

By Judd Hollander

With a crash of thunder and the stirring sounds of Tchaikovsky's music, Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty bursts wonderfully upon the City Center stage. Drawing inspiration from several sources - including the Grimm's fairy tale and Disney animated film - as well as new material created especially for this production, the work is able to stand completely on its own thanks to director/choreographer's Bourne's vision.

This particular tale begins in the year 1890 where a childless King (Edwin Ray) and Queen (Daisy May Kemp) implore Carabosse, the dark fairy (Tom Jackson Greaves) to bless them with the offspring they so desperately seek. Carabosse grants their request, but when the new parents fail to show the proper gratitude in return, the now-angry fairy descends on their castle with a pair of hellhoundish-like servants to place a curse on the infant child. One which will destroy her when she comes of age. Fortunately all is not lost as Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies (Liam Mower) and some of the magical creatures under his command arrive to save the infant Princess Aurora (played by a marionette as a child - wonderfully brought to life by the puppeteers in the Company - and Ashley Shaw as an adult). Yet even though Carabosse is defeated, her son Caradoc (Jackson) returns years later to wreck vengeance in his mother's name. This time, the best Count Lilac can do is soften the curse and place Aurora into a deep sleep until her one true love arrives to break the spell.

This is a production filled with universal themes: good versus evil and the power of true love being the two most obvious examples. There's also a hint of class prejudice present - as shown via Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper (Dominic North) who Aurora seems to love dearly, but as she's quite literally a pampered princess, she also enjoys the company of high society and all the attention that goes with it. Through it all, Bourne takes great pains to leaven out the more serious sequences by tossing in some enjoyable moments of merriment. Such as when the palace servants try to care for the tantrum-throwing infant Princess while her parents just flit in and out to dote on her now and again. Showing quite clearly how it takes a village to raise a child and that doing so is not all fun and games. There are also some funny moments in the beginning of act two - set in 2011 - when a group of kids with iPhones take pictures of themselves in front of the now-closed up castle which has become overgrown with rose bushes. Bourne also nicely shows the wonderment the child Aurora first experiences when the fairies appear at her bedside one night.

Just as interesting are the way the various acting styles themselves unfold. At first everything shown seems slightly off-center; as if what we're seeing isn't quiet real, with movements that look quite stiff - apparently deliberately so - with the different characterizations feeling only half formed. Something that also carries over to the dancing. It's only when Aurora becomes a young woman and she and Leo are together do the tightly controlled movements really start to explode, with everything becoming more fluid, graceful and flowing. In both dance and expression.

Some of the best dancing occurs in the second act where Caradoc holds the sleeping Aurora captive, and who is now determined to make her his unwilling bride, yet needing Leo's love to waken her after 100 years of slumber. While Cardoc's plans are unfolding, Leo is involved in a mission of his own. That being to find Aurora, while Count Lilac does whatever he can to aid him in his search. This entire extended sequence being a variation on the "quest" storyline with Leo having previously being given the ability to remain near the Princess thanks to Count Lilac in one of the more erotic moments of the production.

Mower is wonderful as Count Lilac, a sort of combination avenging angel and noble guardian. His various movements filled with passion and a determination to make sure Aurora ultimately survives the tragedy that has befallen her. Shaw is great as Aurora, her dancing and actions showing the exuberance of youth, the wonder of first love and the restraints and liberation that come with the privilege and position she holds. A particularly enchanting scene, one bordering on farce, occurs as Aurora is getting ready for a party with her friends and parents when Leo sneaks in and Aurora must take great pains to hide Leo's presence from others who walk in and out of her room. The nature of the story limits Shaw's performance at times, particularly in the second act, but she still rises to the occasion when called for. Who knew that a sleeping person could be so animated?

Greaves' performances come across as strong and impassioned. Playing both the dark and foreboding Carabosse, arriving in manner akin to a Disney villain, and her vengeful son, eventually becoming almost animalistic in his actions in the latter role. Caradoc's evil plans making him a good contrast for the heroic Leo, North nicely embodying the qualities of both rebelliousness and impetuousness as he too comes of age in this timeless tale, the two playing off each other well in their eventual showdown.

Bourne has a strong handle on what he wants to present, his directorial and choreographic efforts succeeding flawlessly while working in the various dance styles - ones which range from quietly subdued to those brimming with an athletic grace - into the storyline he helped envision. Juggling both moments of humor and despair, as well as those of hope and desire, he is able to make the entire production come brilliantly together in a cohesive and very satisfying whole.

Also deserving of credit are the various costumes by Lez Brotherston, which are wondrous to behold. Brotherston's impressive sets also working well in helping to set the atmosphere for the overall story.

Wonderfully conceived, beautifully executed to showcase a rich tapestry of both dance and performance, Sleeping Beauty is a joy from start to finish and a fine feather in the cap of Matthew Bourne as well as everybody else connection with the production.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance

Featuring: Edwin Ray (King Benedict), Daisy May Kemp (Queen Eleanor), Ashley Shaw (Princess Aurora, their daughter), Dominic North (Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper), Liam Mower (Count Lilac, King of the Fairies), Tom Jackson Greaves (Carabosse, the dark fariy/Caradoc, her son), Mari Kamata (Ardor, the Fairy of Passion), Katy Lowenhoff (Hibernia, the Fairy of Rebirth), Joe Walkling (Artumnus, the Fairy of Plenty), Dena Lague (Feral, the Fairy of Spirit, Luke Murphy (Tantrum, the Fairy of Temperament), Daniel Collins (Lord Rupert, Suitor to Aurora), Danny Reubens (Viscount Aubrey, another Suitor), Mami Tomotani (Miss Maddox, Aurora's Nanny), Pia Driver (Flossie (Aurora's Maid), Leon Moran (Archie, Palace Footman), Phil Jack Gardner (Bertie, Palace Footman)

Carabosse Attendants, Garden Party Guests, Tourists, Sleepwalkers, Caradoc's Henchman, Wedding Guests and Puppeteers all performed by members of the Company.

Directed, Choreographed, and New Scenario by Matthew Bourne
Music Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design by Lez Brotherston
Lighting Design by Paule Constable
Sound Design by Paul Groothuis
Associate Director: Etta Murfitt
Associate Choreographer: Christopher Marney

New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
Closed: November 3rd, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Natural Affection" - Powerfully Affecting

By Judd Hollander

The world is ugly. So says Sue Barker (Kathryn Erbe), a buyer for a Chicago department store at both the beginning and end of William Inge's rarely-performed 1962 work Natural Affection. A revival of which is kicking off The Actors Theatre Company's (TACT) 2013-2014 season. The group delivering a stunning production of people adrift and desperately trying to hold their lives together, but who are always just one half step away from falling completely apart.

Sue currently lives with Bernie Slovenk (Alec Beard), a somewhat younger former bartender turned Cadillac salesman who has big dreams of moving up in the business world. Bernie is not yet ready to commit himself to marriage, this despite Sue making no secret of wanting a ring on her finger. Bernie is also a man who likes things the way he likes things and has a short fuse whenever someone tries to upset his ordered lifestyle. As such, he's not particularly happy when Donnie (Chris Bert), Sue's seventeen year old son, who she had when she was a teenager and who's been spending the last several years at a work farm for teenage delinquents comes to stay with them for the Christmas holidays. It turns out Donnie can stay with Sue full time if she's willing to be responsible for him till he comes of age. Feeling the guilt of never being there for Donnie, Sue agrees. Something to which Bernie very reluctantly acquiesces.

Though Bernie attempts to take Donnie under his wing, the young man, who has a ticking time bomb persona is having none of it. Wanting instead to spend as much time as he can with his mother while slowly becoming accustomed to the finer things in life she can give him. The already volatile situation turns from bad to worse when Bernie loses his job even as Donnie's contempt for him continues to rise. Things comes to a head on Christmas Eve, with the three about to go to a party with their alcoholic, aging neighbor Vince (John Pankow) and his twenty year younger trophy wife Claire (Victoria Mack) - Claire being on the make for anything in pants and who has eyes for both Bernie and Donnie - as frustrations, anger, pain, hidden secrets and some grim realizations begin to spill out, leading to an inevitable and devastating explosion.

Natural Affection is a title with a loaded meaning, it referring in this case to the affection a boy has for his mother, a mother has for her son and that a man and woman can have for each other. Yet when that attraction isn't the same on one end of the equation as on the other, it can lead to disaster as Inge perfectly demonstrates here, stunningly deconstructing a series of relationships and stripping away the layers of the various characters to reveal the pain, ugliness and ultimate disgust they carry inside.

Acting is superlative down the line. Erbe is great as Sue, the most shaded character in the piece and the glue attempting to hold her patchwork family together. Desperately trying to find happiness with Bernie, who she dearly needs, while also trying to be the mother she thinks she should be in an attempt to make up for lost time with her son. Yet those around her are unable to live up to her idealized expectations, as is she herself, and Sue is forced to settle for what she wants most of all, though one suspects she will suffer a bit of an identify crisis because of it in the future.

Beard is good as Bernie, a sort of Stanley Kowalski lite. The reference to the Tennessee Williams character is not accidental as Williams and Inge were friends, the latter dropping in a couple of references to Williams in this story. Also like Stanley, Bernie is not above rationalizing his various misdeeds, coming clean in a half-hearted way at points. He's also an old-fashioned man through and through, feeling as though he has to be the king of his castle or if not, have no castle at all.

Bert does nice work with the character of Donnie, giving off the impression of someone quietly creepy, and a personality that is only seconds away from exploding. Donnie also has a somewhat unhealthy attraction toward his mother, wanting desperately to take Bernie's place in the home; his affections toward Sue almost going over the line as he tries to return to the childhood he lost and a future he believes will be perfect as long as his mother is in it.

Pankow is excellent as Vince, who takes the role of good time drunk and spews out venom and hatred, transforming the character into be a sad and lonely old man. Vince may have money, a beautiful wife and a lot of friends, yet he's so desperately afraid of seeing it all slip away that he starts to push those he loves toward the door before they can even think about leaving. Mack is fine as Claire, the tramp trophy wife looking for a good time with anyone but Vince. The role is a bit one note, but Mack is still able to bring some pathos to the character, especially when she recalls why she married Vince in the first place. In a nice touch of irony, Claire is revealed to be someone just as lonely and scared as Vince.

Rounding out the cast are Tobi Aremu as a person Donnie knows from the reformatory and who offers him a chance to make a quick buck - by becoming anything from a drug courier to a contract killer. Aremu also playing one of the various party guests Vince has over to his apartment. There's also Eve Bianco, playing two roles, one of which figures significantly in the play's powerful and completely unexpected conclusion.

Director Jenn Thompson keeps the show moving nicely, allowing the various characters to develop naturally while quietly bringing forth the underlying power of the text. Indeed, every line and scene comes across as having a definite purpose, with nothing presented on stage that feels forced, tired or extraneous.

A top-quality production through and through, thanks to a dedicated cast and creative team, one hopes Natural Affection will not be forgotten again after the play's final performance at TACT.

Natural Affection
Featuring Kathryn Erbe (Sue Barker), Alec Beard (Bernie Slovenk), John Pankow (Vince Brinkman), Victoria Mack (Claire Brinkman), Chris Bert (Donnie Barker), Tobi Aremu (Gil/Party Guest), Eve Bianco (Religious Woman/Party)

Written by William Inge
Set Design: John McDermott
Light Design: M.L. Geiger
Costumes: David Toser
Sound Design: Toby Algya
Publicist: Richard Hillman
Props: Lauren Madden
Fight Direction: Uncle Dave's Fight House
Wig Design: Robert Charles Valance
Casting: Kelly Gillespie
Production Stage Manager: Jack Gianino
Assistant Stage Manager: Kelly Burns
Tact General Manager: Christy Ming-Trent
Directed by: Jenn Thompson

Presented by The Actors Company Theatre
Beckett Theatre
Theatre Row Studios
410 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or

Running Time - Two hours, 10 minutes (including intermission)
Closes: October 26, 2013

"Women or Nothing" - An Interesting Look at Relationships

By Judd Hollander

Honesty is the best policy or what you don't know won't hurt you are the choices Ethan Coen postulates in his latest stage offering, Women or Nothing, now at the Atlantic Theater Company. Gretchen (Halley Feiffer) and Laura (Susan Pourfar) are a seemingly happy New York couple. Gretchen is a lawyer and the more grounded of the two in terms of going after what she wants; while Laura, a classical pianist, is more introspective and insecure. Laura often wondering if she is really as talented as everybody seems to think.

Gretchen and Laura also want to have a baby. However Gretchen, who is medically unable to get pregnant, doesn't like the idea of Laura going the anonymous sperm donor route, as she wants to have a say in the genetic makeup of their offspring. Her choice for the father: Chuck (Robert Beitzel), a young, divorced co-worker at her firm, and someone with apparent good genes as evidenced by his daughter, whom Gretchen has met. Chuck doesn't know Gretchen is a lesbian and has flirted with her in the past, and so, Gretchen's reasoning goes, he should be relatively easy for Laura to seduce. Yet the prospect of sleeping with a man, which Laura has never done, is not something she wants to consider. Laura becoming even more agitated when she learns Gretchen has set up the assignation with Chuck for that very night. Though her wanting to please Gretchen, coupled with the not quite unconscious realization that Gretchen will never give up on this issue until she gets her way, prompts Laura to reluctantly agree to the plan.

However Chuck turns out to be not at all the stereotypical male who just wants sex with a woman, but is in fact a rather nice guy. Lured to Gretchen and Laura's apartment after all traces of the two women's relationship have been removed - shades of La Cage aux Folles - Chuck learns Gretchen has been "unexpectedly" called away, with Laura, claming to be a neighbor, waiting there instead. After some awkward small talk and a drink or two, Laura finds herself opening up to Chuck, talking to him about her career, her personal insecurities and about how people interact in general, all of which Chick responds to with interesting and insightful opinions. Eventually the inevitable issue of where the two go from there emerges, the after effects of which are hilariously explored in Act II.

The question of how honest one should be forms the through line of the story, making the play, which centers on the subjects of family and relationships, both fascinating and delightful to watch. It also helps that the characters are well-defined, with the dialogue working beautifully throughout. Be it satirically sharp or quietly full of meaning. The script, coupled with David Cromer's expert direction, continually taking the play from comedy to farce to quiet drama and back again. 

If there is one major problem with Woman or Nothing, it's the ending, which finishes things up too neatly without really answering anything. There are a number of issues left unresolved and it's almost as if there's a missing final beat to the story that needs to be included in order to make for a more definite, though not necessarily complete conclusion. 

Pourfar makes a wonderful Laura. A strong yet vulnerable woman, someone who's not classically pretty and who worries about getting older while also battling various insecurities and unresolved issues. Among said issues being a rather contentious relationship with her mother Dorene (Deborah Rush). Yet underneath her airs of terminal resignation, Laura has a quiet core of inner strength allowing her handle whatever she faces. Even if she doesn't always realize it at the time. One can't help but wonder how the outcome of events depicted in the play will ultimately effect Laura and Gretchen's relationship, one having been changed by what went on, the other not having changed at all.

Feiffer works well as Gretchen, the weakest character in the piece in the way her character was conceived - pun intended. A woman who fixes her mind on a goal and who determinedly goes about achieving it may be okay in the courtroom, but she's a bit lacking when it comes to human interaction. Though there's no doubt of Gretchen's love for Laura and she clearly sees having a child to be the next step in their relationship, she doesn't consider how other people will be affected by her plans even as she tries to make things as uncomplicated as possible. This is shown in her selection of Chuck as the biological father, Gretchen knowing that he'll soon be moving out of state so they'll never have to see him again or tell him that he got Laura pregnant.

Beitzel is quite good as Chuck, the actor playing him neither as callow or as a white night, coming off as both interesting and sympathetic, thus allowing the audience to see the character as more than just potential father material. It also helps that Pourfar and Beitzel have a quiet chemistry together, the two playing off each other well, and their scenes having a sort of uneasy first date feel at times. Initially filled with halting communication, yet both eventually arriving at a sort of mutual understanding and respect.

Deborah Rush basically steals the show as Laura's narcissistic mother. Completely unflappable, even when she sees Chuck coming out of her daughter's bedroom, as well as self assured with a wry sense of superiority, Dorene comes in like a silent hurricane, leveling Laura time and again with a quiet remark or observation, against which Laura can do nothing but sputter in disbelief. Dorene's doesn't always come across as completely real, though in this scenario she's not required to be. She also has the best lines in the play, all delivered with impeccable timing. This being another example of the actors and director working well together. It's also interesting to note that Laura is more like her mother than she would ever care to admit, her distress about this fact continually in evidence whenever she says or does something that mirrors Dorene in any way.

Michele Spadaro's set of Gretchen and Laura's New York apartment is nicely eclectic, though it would have been nice if could have been a little less neat. A few books or newspapers in a pile somewhere would have given it that more of a lived-in look instead of a showroom effect.

Amusing and lightweight at times, quite serious at others, Woman or Nothing offers up an interesting tale which leaves too many questions at the end, but is still an enjoyable experience. Not to mention having some great acting and directorial work.

Women or Nothing
by Ethan Coen

Featuring: Robert Beitzel (Chuck), Halley Feiffer (Gretchen), Susan Pourfar (Laura), Deborah Rush (Dorene)

Sets: Michelle Spadaro
Costumes: Sarah Laux
Lights: Bradley King
Original Music & Sound: Daniel Kluger
Casting: Telsey + Company, Will Cantler, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Manager: Michael Wade
Associate Artistic Director: Christian Parker
General Manager: Jamie Tyrol
Directed by David Cromer

Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street

Tickets: 866-811-4111 or

Running Time: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes, including intermission

Closes: October 13, 2013

"You Never Can Tell" - Simply Delightful

By Judd Hollander

The Pearl Theatre Company starts its 30th anniversary season in high style with a sparkling production of Bernard Shaw's rarely performed work You Never Can Tell. Presented jointly by the Pearl and the Gingold Theatrical Group, the play offer a hilarious look at love, courtship, family ties that bind and a gentle poke at the Oscar Wilde classic The Importance Of Being Earnest. The connection between these two plays explained in the You Never Can Tell show program. 

In an English seaside town at the turn of the twentieth century Valentine (Sean McNall), a "5 shilling dentist", is pulling the tooth of Dolly Clandon (Emma Wisniewski), a flighty and repressive young girl, who's about to come of age. She also changes subjects at the drop of a hat while chattering on continuously about everything under the sun. These personality traits are shared by her twin brother Philip (Ben Charles), who enters Valentine's office shortly thereafter. Taking a liking to Valentine, the siblings invite him along for lunch, where they will be joined by their older sister Gloria (Amelia Pedlow) and their mother Margaret (Robin Leslie Brown). Margaret and her brood have been living in Portugal for the past 18 years where Margaret has become something of a celebrity, publishing books about life, love, etiquette, etc. as it applies to 20th Century morality. Margaret also becoming a sort of spokesperson for the cause, a position for which Gloria is being groomed to take over, Gloria being every inch the modern woman.

However lunch plans go completely askew when Valentine's guest, one Fergus Crampton (Bradford Cover), invited sight unseen to the luncheon by Dolly and Philip as Valentine already had a previous engagement with him, turns out to be the children's long absent father and Margaret's husband. Margaret and Fergus' marriage being a long-simmering wound that has never healed. There's also the matter of Valentine and Gloria, who become instantly smitten with one another the moment they first lock eyes, thus adding to a bit of romantic tension to the proceedings.

Light as a soufflé, sharp as a satirical bee sting - with a two and a half hour running time that just zips by - this production of You Never Can Tell is a winner from start to finish. Much of the credit being due to the direction of David Staller, the only person to have directed performances of all 65 of Shaw's plays. Here, Staller knows exactly what he needs to do to make the story come completely alive, having the characters play their roles completely straight but with just a touch of physical exaggeration in their movements and gestures. Or in Valentine's case, with leaps onto the couch. These directorial decisions moving the play into the arena of gentle farce but never into complete parody.

Many of Shaw's favorite topics and themes are present in the text. These include poking fun at the legal and medical professions, the consciousness of one's class status and an exploration of just what marriage entails. That last point illustrated here with both a marriage unfulfilled and one which may or may not succeed depending on what happens before the "I dos" are said - if they are said at all.

The cast is superb throughout. McNall is wonderful as Valentine, at first seemingly a hard working and honest fellow, who lost his two previous practices because he dared to tell his patents the truth rather than what they wanted to hear. But when Valentine sees Gloria and love strikes him right between the eyes, as well as in the heart, McNall launches into one of the most perfect reverse courtships ever seen on the stage; begging, pleading and changing course time and again. All the while accepting Gloria's not always kind compliments and putting himself down - all done with hyper kinetic energy - so she doesn't know which way to turn. Although Valentine isn't above a little jealousy at times, be it warranted or not. Pedlow is great fun as Gloria, a so-called modern woman - a common fixture in many of Shaw's play - who finds her well laid out life upended when reality gets too close. It's a testament of the actress's performances that she makes an often stereotypical role seem fresh and human, so one can easily emphasize with what she's going through when she experiences love for the perhaps the first time.

Brown nicely carries off Margaret, an older, wiser and at times surprisingly less cynical version of Gloria. She's also someone on the run from a failed marriage who was forced to reinvent herself in order to survive. Cover is very interesting as Fergus, perhaps the most shaded character in the piece. A hard and irritable man when we first meet him, and someone with old-fashioned values, Fergus clearly has unresolved issues regarding his marriage, although he is quite willing to take his share of the blame for the failure of said union. The scenes between Fergus and Gloria, with one or the other making awkward attempts at reconciliation, are surprisingly intimate and ultimately touching, allowing for a sort of quiet reflection in the midst of all the chaos occurring around them.

Wisniewski and Charles are very good as Dolly and Philip, siblings on perennial overdrive. They are also two of the hardest characters in the play to bring off properly, as they could have easily come across with an aura of sameness in their conversations, or simply felt downright annoying, their constant chatter and antics disrupting the flow of the story. Instead, the actors make their characters not only completely endearing but also fun to watch. It also helps that the two have great comic timing together and play off one another perfectly.

Dan Daily does a perfect job as Walter, a waiter. An English gentleman through and through and who probably sets some kind of theatrical record for saying "sir" the most times in a performance, Daily offers up a strong mixture of dry wit and common sense, as well as a reminder of the class consciousness that quietly permeates the play. An issue nicely explored with Walter's interaction with the rest of the characters, including a scene with his son Walter (Zachary Spicer), a well-regarded barrister, who's called in to help the family through the various legal troubles that arise after their unexpected reunion. Son Walter doing a nice job combining a cool head with just a bit of the bombastic in an attempt to allow everyone to come to a sort of understanding about what they think they want. Dominic Cuskern is fine in the role of Finch, the family lawyer, retained by both Margaret and Fergus for all these years. Finch is a man with a quiet way of speaking who turns out to be no match for the more fast-talking people around him. Cuskern does however, get off some wonderful double takes, along with an occasional air of befuddlement and who, like the audience, finds himself carried along by the conversations and events that are unfolding.

Staller, as mentioned above, is simply letter perfect in his direction. The various costumes by Barbara A. Bell are wonderful to behold, the outfits alternating between bright, beautiful (especially some of the garments Gloria and her mother wear); and in the men's cases - sharp and clean-lined. Lighting by Stephen Petrilli is very good, as are the various sets by Harry Feiner. Sound design by M.L. Dogg works well, as does the dancing by Wisniewski and Charles, which is used as a sort of transition between scenes, adding nice touch to the proceedings.

You never call tell what's going to happen in life, as the elder Walter mentions more than once. However there is absolutely no doubt that one would be hard-pressed to not completely enjoy the Shaw production currently holding court at the Pearl Theatre Company space. Simply delightful in every way, this is a production that should definitely not be missed. So don't miss it!

You Never Can Tell

by Bernard Shaw

Featuring: Sean McNall (Mr. Valentine), Emma Wisniewski (Dolly Clandon), Ben Charles (Philip Clandon), Robin Leslie Brown (Mrs. Margaret Clandon), Amelia Pedlow (Gloria Clandon), Bradford Cover (Walter Boon), Dominic Cuskern (Finch McComas), Zachary Spicer (Walter Bohun)

Scenic Designer: Harry Feiner
Costume Designer: Barbara A. Bell
Lighting Designer: Stephen Petrilli
Sound Designer; M.L. Dogg
Dramaturg: Kate Farrington
Casting Director: Stephanie Klapper Casting
Production Manager and Technical Director: Gary Levinson
Presented by The Pearl Theatre Company and the Gingold Theatrical Group

The Pearl Theatre
555 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-563-9261 or

Running Time: Two Hours, 30 Minutes (including one intermission)

Closes: October 13, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Heat is On in Arlington: An Intimate "Miss Saigon" Opens Signature Season

By Mark A. Newman
Photo by Christopher Mueller

When Miss Saigon first opened in London and later on Broadway, it was a part of the British mega-musical invasion of the 1980s that included Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Starlight Express, and Chess. Most of which were HUGE hits with so many cast members that the stages were seemingly too small to hold them all. Don’t forget the barricades, oversized tires, chandeliers, and helicopters that populated these spectacles.

And now Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., has brought Miss Saigon down to size in a tight production directed by Eric Schaeffer, and featuring a cast of less than two dozen. Miss Saigon as a chamber musical? Who knew? This compact version – which opened at Signature’s MAX Theatre this week – presents the tale of a doomed romance between an American G.I. and a Vietnamese bar girl as the infamous fall of Saigon approaches in 1975. The show’s score is filled with showstopper after showstopper and is a tumultuous journey for cast and audience alike.

Thankfully Schaeffer’s direction is fluid and tight, and the set design by Adam Koch has dumped a litany of airplane parts into the space that the cast maneuvers around admirably. One striking exit has three of the principals exiting their old lives at the end of Act I via an actual plane’s wing that doubles as an egress point.

There is much to adore about this intimate production. First and foremost, the chance to simply hear the music performed live by an amazing 18-piece orchestra led by Gabe Mangiante is worth the ticket price. Also the cast is a winning ensemble, for the most part. I have to confess that there were a few of the principals who weren’t having the best night when I saw it, but they pulled through. In fact, the original actor playing Chris had to drop out due to vocal issues and was permanently replaced by understudy Gannon O’Brien, whose voice soars through the score. O’Brien’s Chris is not the traditional pretty boy hunk of productions past but he brings an authenticity the character and the desperate emotions of the story.

The role of Kim, the innocent country girl who has to learn how to fend for herself in record time is undertaken by Diana Huey, a vocal dynamo who brought the house down after virtually every number she had. Huey’s and O’Brien’s voices blend superbly in their passionate and bittersweet duets. As The Engineer, Thom Sesma brings a devious sense of humor to a character that we know we shouldn’t like – he’s quite the cad – but whom we end up rooting for despite his numerous evil deeds. 

Those are the standouts. Chris Sizemore’s John was, at best, inauthentic and at worst, miscast. Previous U.S. versions of Miss Saigon cast an African-American actor in the role of John; Hinton Battle won a Tony for the role in 1992. His Act II opener, “Bui Doi,” normally a soaring aria about the injustice of “half-breeds in a land that’s torn,” came off a bit tepid and underwhelming. Also, Sizemore has a beard and shaved head, not a typical style in 1975. It should also be noted that the U.S. military typically prohibits facial hair of any kind in all branches. Am I being a bit of stickler? Perhaps, but authentic is as authentic does.

As Thuy the North Vietnamese soldier betrothed to Kim, Christopher Mueller sang the role magnificently. Problem is, he looks like a comedic actor; his resemblance to Jack Black was, in fact, a distraction. Even when he was on the brink of stabbing a toddler to death, he still didn’t instill fear or contempt. Yes, commenting on an actor’s appearance is pretty low, but let’s face it: theater is a visual medium therefore looks count. 

One of the landmarks of the Signature’s production is a brand new song called “Maybe” getting its English language debut and is sung by Ellen (Erin Driscoll), Chris’s American wife. The tune replaces “Now That I’ve Seen Her” and “It’s Her or Me,” the previous two placeholders. Not only is “Maybe” not as good as these other songs, it’s not good, period. In fact, it’s just plain awful. Obviously there’s a problem with the character if three songs can’t get Ellen emoting about how Chris ought to choose her over Kim, so why not just cut the song altogether and have a dramatic sung-through scene using an earlier melody (“Fall of Saigon” or “Movie in My Mind”)? Or how about a quartet with Chris, John, Ellen, and Kim a la discussing the situation. Seriously, does the show need such a draggy ballad at this point, especially since the other ballads are such showstoppers?

While Koch’s sets have transformed the MAX Theater into a gaudy underworld, one set piece puzzled me but I don’t want to give too much away. It slides out centerstage at the end of The Engineer’s showstopper, “The American Dream,” a song that cements Sesma’s place in history as one of the best performers to ever undertake this multi-layered and complicated character. The item has been scaled down and is simply a small portion of a classic American icon. Its presence reminded me more of the finale of The Planet of the Apes, specifically the musical version that The Simpsons mocked so brilliantly. 

Also, due credit must be given to the amazing lighting design by Chris Lee. This is probably the most astounding transformation I have seen of the space, and Lee’s lighting had a lot to do with that. From his subtle blues in the heartrending ballads to strategically positioned downlights that mimicked a helicopter landing, Lee’s rig should get a supporting character credit. And his use of sleeved, colored fluorescent tubes was spot on, striking, and beautiful in the sleazy way they were meant to be.
Make no mistake, the Signature’s production of Miss Saigon is unlike any that has ever been professionally produced, and with the show scheduled to be re-launched in London next year, this is a version that will likely never be seen again. In this show about a dismal slice of American history, Signature’s historical production is not to be missed. 

Due to overwhelming demand, Miss Saigon has extended for yet another week until October 6.

Featuring: Thom Sesma (The Engineer),Diana Huey (Kim), Gannon O-Brien (Chris), Christopher Mueller (Thuy), Erin Driscoll (Ellen), Cheryl Daro (Gigi), Eunice Bae, James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Kevin Kulp, Katie Mariko Murray, Ryan Sellers, Stephen Gregory Smith, Nicholas Yenson, and Tamara Young.

Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil
Additional Materials by Richard Maltby Jr.
Orchestrations by William D. Brohn
Originally produced on stage by Cameron Mackintosh
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Choreographer Karma Camp
Music Director Gabe Mangiante
Scenic Design Adam Koch
Costume Design Frank Labovitz
Lighting Design Chris Lee
Sound Design Matt Rowe
Wig Design Anne Nesmith
Production Stage Manager Kerry Epstein

Tickets: Ticketmaster (703) 573-SEAT (7328)
Signature Theatre • 4200 Campbell Avenue • Arlington, VA 22206

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What to do this weekend


SEPTEMBER 6, 7, 8, & 10



JACOB SILVER, BASS (9/7, 9/8, & 9/10)


7:30 PM



Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Love's Labour's Lost" - Fun and Musical Frivolity - Shakespeare Style

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Joan Marcus

One remarkable thing about a Shakespeare work is its seemingly endless elasticity which allows it to be stretched to fit almost any scenario under the sun. Such is the case with the Public Theater's musical adaptation of the Bard's comedy Love's Labour's Lost (songs by Michael Friedman, book adapted and directed by Alex Timbers) which just finished a run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Combining collegiate hi-jinks, a John Hughes film and an underlying look at just what love really means; this sometimes sophomoric, sometimes touching and always hilarious story offers a brilliant retelling of the Shakespeare tale, with a wide variety of comedic elements and musical styles coming perfectly together.

Somewhere in the Berkshires, right next to a college campus, the King (Daniel Breaker) and his close friends Berowne (Colin Donnell), Longaville (Bryce Pinkham) and Dumaine (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), all members of the secret society of Navarre, have agreed to give up such pleasures as good food, drink and the company of women for a period of three years in order to devote themselves to serious study. This despite Berowne's protests that men of their age - mid-20s - are supposed to be enjoying all that life has to offer; not shutting themselves away with musty books. In any event, their pledge of study, austerity and celibacy is doomed from the start as a Princess (Patti Murin) from a nearby kingdom and her entourage consisting of Rosaline (Maria Thayer), Maria (Kimko Glenn), and Katherine (Audrey Lynn Weston) is about to arrive for a long-planned visit. Making matters perhaps more uncomfortable, it seems the King and Princess are previously acquainted, the two having had a brief fling during their college days. In fact, Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville, have each had their own liaisons with Rosaline, Maria and Katherine respectively during that not-so-long ago period. An attraction which, on some level is still there for all involved.

The basic theme of Love's Labour's Lost is essentially an exploration of the idea of love and how that state of being often means different things to different people. For while the men soon find themselves romantically drawn to the Princess and her ladies, and thinking in terms of flowery verse, rhyming couplets, and endless passion, the women are having none of it. The Princess having long since tiring of one-night stands and promises of endless bliss, wants instead a more solid and serious commitment; these feelings brilliantly expressed through some of the songs Murin sings in this regard. Yet at the same the Princess and her group are not quite ready to fully embrace adulthood, as evidenced by their partying outside the men's lodgings at points. It's this internal conflict of people caught between the seemingly carefree days of youth and responsibilities of maturity which provides the main trust of the story.

After a few awkward moments at the beginning, which includes Berowne singing a song for a sequence that really doesn't need to be musicalized, the production quickly takes off, presenting some wild overacting and scenery-chewing moments, all to completely hilarious results. Some of the highlights include a scene where the Spanish Duke Armado (Caesar Samayoa), proclaims his love for the serving girl Jaquenetta (Naomi Jones). There's also an extended sequence where Berowne, the King, Dumaine and Longaville separately proclaim how much they are in love with their various ladies fair and break into four distinct musical styles of expression, each sequence being completely different from the one that came before and all so not in keeping with the characters as so far presented as to make it all wonderfully over the top in execution.

Yet mixed in with all the comedy are many serious and telling moments, such as Boyet (Andrew Durand), servant to the Princess and her party acting as a sort of moderator for the flirtations between the sexes as the various couples do a verbal dance around what they really mean. There's also Berowne, the rogue of the group, who sings about men committing themselves to the abject beauty of true love; while at another point in the story the Princess pushes her idea of serious commitment, one divorced from any romantic trappings that may come with it. The truth of the matter falling somewhere in between as shown when Rosaline, who makes a perfect romantic foil for Berowne, sings about how it's better to take a chance at love and risk getting hurt rather than wait for something completely safe and solid to come along, especially if that offer is bereft of passion and pleasure.

Acting is excellent throughout. Particularly Murin as the Princess who looks like her character could have stepped right out of a '80s or '90s coming of age movie, the actress showing a no-nonsense attitude coupled with a youthful exuberance lurking just below the surface. Thayer is fine as the more cynical Rosaline, who matches wits with Donnell nicely and who is determined not to be just another in Berowne's string of conquests, but who still can't help finding herself being swept off her feet by his charms. Glenn and Weston are good as the other ladies in waiting who get in few good lines and are able to imbue their characters with enough of a personality to make them stand out on their own and not just blend into the story - a common problem in some productions of this play.

Donnell meanwhile is terrific as Berowne, a likeable rapscallion who knows full well there is a time and place for study and a time and place for fun, yet he's not above being as foolish as the rest of the men when it comes to matters of the heart. The character's strength being that he's not afraid to admit this fact. Breaker makes a good King, nicely officious but with a somewhat checkered past and when he does cut loose, he brings the house down in a shower of laughter and applause via his transformation from a royal ruler to a would-be lover. Samayoa is wonderfully outrageous as Armado. Pinkham and Near-Verbrugghe do good jobs as Longaville and Dumaine, while Durand is fine as Boyet, another often underused character in most versions of this work. Another bit of fresh air comes from Charlie Pollack, a perennially bored servant – and one usually in trouble with the law - who comes across as kind of a stoned David Spade. Jones is nicely appealing as Jaquenetta, one of several working class folk popping in and out of the story. She and a number of the other servants and workers getting together to offer a nicely pointed song called "Rich People".

The score is a lot of fun with the various styles and sequences presented including tap, Mexican, a tuba number and a marching band. Along with multiple songs of love, angst and responsibility. With tempos ranging from ballad to pop-rock.

Direction by Timbers is not always the cleanest, but it works in allowing the various characters to act in a completely unexpected manner at times, all of which only serve to make them and their situations all the more endearing. Also on hand are Rachel Dratch and Jeff Hiller, playing two aging professor types, providing several amusing and comedic moments. The set by John Lee Beatty works well, giving the entire production a proper summer getaway atmosphere and the costumes by Jennifer Moeller are excellent. Danny Mefford's choreography is also very good, with a highlight being a sort of angelic chorus line sequence.

A great breath of fresh air blew through the Delacorte Theater with this production of Love's Labour's Lost which adds a wonderful new twist to a Shakespeare classic. Here's hoping the show will move somewhere else, or at least be recorded for posterity.

Love's Labour's Lost
A New Musical Based on the Play by William Shakespeare
Songs by Michael Friedman
Book Adapted and Directed by Alex Timbers

Featuring: Daniel Breaker (King), Colin Donnell (Berowne), Bryce Pinkham (Longaville), Lucas Near -Verbrugghe (Dumaine), Patti Murin (Princess), Maria Thayer (Rosaline) Kimko Glenn (Maria), Audrey Lynn Weston (Katherine), Andrew Durand (Boyet), Caesar Samayoa (Armado), Justin Levine (Moth), Kevin Del Aguila (Dull), Charlie Pollock (Costard), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Jaquenetta), Rachel Dratch (Holofernes), Jeff Miller (Nathaniel), Michael R. Douglass, Bradley Gibson (Ensemble)

Musicians: Kevin Garcia (Drums), Freddy Hall (Guitar), Marika Hughes (Cello), Justin Levine (Conductor, Keyboard, Synthesizer), Gray Reinhard (Keyboard 2), Charlie Rosen (Bass)

Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Music Director: Justine Levine
Choreographer: Danny Mefford
Wig Design: Leah J. Loukas
Orchestrations: Michael Friedman and Justin Levine
Music Supervisor: Matt Stine
Music Contractor: Antoine Silverman
Dramaturg: Anne Davison
Production Stage Manager: Arthur Gaffin
Stage Manager: Jamie Greathouse
Dance Captain: Patti Murin

Delacorte Theater in Central Park
Closed August 18, 2013

"Summer Shorts, Series B" - An Exploration of Relationships

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Carol Rosegg

Personal interactions are the key element in Series B of 59E59 Theater's annual Summer Shorts program. Consisting of three separate one-act works, all by different writers and all with a different director and cast, each of the pieces insightfully explores issues of maturity, change and emotional baggage.  Each piece also looks at people at different stages of life.

Things start off with Falling Short by Marian Fontana. Lee (Kendra Mylnechuk), a New York writer in her early 40s and a long-time widow is trying to get back into the dating game. Though she has the support of her family in this endeavor, she keeps running into one loser after another, all hilariously portrayed by Shane Patrick Kearns, on the dating website she frequents. However, one specific entry does receive her attention, Nate (J.J. Kandel), a thirty-something recently-separated actor who's currently working at a Renaissance Faire. After their first date gets off on the wrong foot, Nate arriving 23 minutes late for dinner at a Brooklyn restaurant, things go from bad to worse when it becomes clear that Nate lied in his on-line profile. Yet as the evening goes on Lee finds, to her great surprise, that she's unexpectedly drawn to this man. Especially when it's revealed she and Nate have both suffered great personal tragedies, and also that Nate isn't the only one who lied, or at least omitted certain things in the dating profile.

Both cute and funny, Falling Short offers some interesting situations when it comes to issues of love, loss and moving on, even though the show's ending is somewhat ambiguous. While both Kandel and Mylnechuk do a good job with their respective roles, the character definition is at times too one-dimensional. Thus one never feels more than a passing interest for the people involved. High marks must go to Kearns, who nearly steals the show in his role as Eric, a gay waiter who commiserates with Lee on the problems of finding a stable and happy relationship while she's waiting for Nate to make his belated appearance. Falling Short is directed by Alexander Dinelaris.

Next up is Paul Weitz's Change. The action takes place in the home of Ted (Alex Manette), and Carla (Allison Daugherty), a long-time and well-off married couple in their mid-forties who are seeing their old friend Jordan (Michael D. Dempsey) for the first time in about two decades. Jordan, who has just gotten out of rehab, has been involved with drugs since the trio's college days and also used to be Carla's boyfriend. During their verbal reminisces, Jordan wonders if Ted and Carla want to revisit their illegal substance days and offers to score some weed if they front him the money. After a bit of half-hearted hemming and hawing, Carla and Ted agree. However what Jordan returns with is something far stronger, the result leading to old feelings, sexual and emotional, coming to the fore, as well as the ironic realization that it's Jordan who may actually be the most mature and together person of the trio.

Interesting to a point, and a play which could easily have been presented as low comedy, high drama or a complete farce, the playwright and director Billy Hopkins seeming to go for something in-between all three; the central idea suffers due to a serious lack of characterization, with all three persons coming off as too shallow to really care about. A chief problem is Ted and Carla's unwillingness to take a stand on anything. Rather they continually pass decisions back and forth, each seeing how far the other will go or perhaps hoping the other will say "no" and bring everyone back to reality. Their overall behavior is also rather strange since their children happen to be asleep in the next room. A fact brought up constantly, lest anyone forgets.

The acting by Manette, Dempsey and Daugherty is okay, if nothing special. Though the comedic moments, especially those by Daugherty when her character is in the midst of a drug-induced haze, work far better than the dramatic ones.

The final piece of this collection, and by far the most poignant, is Alan Zweibel's Pine Cone Moment. A play about two elderly people experiencing what may very well be their last chance at love. That is, if they can find a way to leave their baggage from the past behind.

Harry (Brian Reddy), a widower for the past seven years, has been carrying on a clandestine and so far platonic affair with Emma (Caroline Lagerfelt), the wife of his deceased best friend. Now, Harry wants to take their relationship to the next level with a weekend trip together. However Emma isn't sure she's ready to for that, especially since her late husband Barry (James Murtaugh) is still constantly in her thoughts, even though he's urging her to move on and begin again. At the same time, Harry isn't completely free of his own former spouse, the overbearing Bunny (Camille Saviola), who ran roughshod over their entire marriage, with Harry always giving in simply because it was easier than to put up any kind of fight. Yet Harry now finds that need to take the easy way out preventing him from pursuing a future with Emma and it may take more than one otherworldly intervention to ultimately turn the tide.

Interspersed with flashbacks when Barry and Bunny were alive, Pine Cone Moment shows how marriages are shaped by how much effort one puts into them. All four actors play their roles very well. Reddy is especially good as a man wanting to come out of his shell for the first time in decades, but terrified to try to become the person Emma wants him to be, and the person Barry knows he can be. Lagerfelt strikes the right note as someone holding too tightly to the past, while Murtaugh does well as the wise husband who understands quite well the needs of the living. Saviloa's performance is a bit hamstrung by her rather stereotypical character, but it's both funny and realistic enough to work perfectly in the premise the playwright has set up.

Funny, touching and with a couple of gentle life lessons tossed in, Summer Shorts, Series B makes for an interesting and overly pleasant pastime.

Summer Shorts, Series B

Falling Short
Featuring: Kendra Mylnechuk (Lee), Shane Patrick Kearns (Eric, Others), J.J. Kandel (Nate)

Written by Marian Fontana
Directed by Alexander Dinelaris
Assistant Director: Isabel Carter

Featuring: Alex Manette (Ted), Michael D. Dempsey (Jordan), Allison Daugherty (Carla)

Written by Paul Weitz
Directed by Billy Hopkins
Assistant Director: David Friedman

Pine Cone Moment
Featuring: Brian Reddy (Harry), Caroline Lagerfelt (Emma), James Murtaugh (Barry), Camille Saviola (Bunny)

Written by Alan Zweibel
Directed by Fred Berner
Assistant Director: Megan Correia
Choreographer: Deanna Dys

Set Design: George Xenos
Lighting Design: Greg MacPherson

Sound Design: Marios Aristopoulos
Costume Design: Tamara Menear
Production Manager/Assistant Stage Manager: Mark Karafin
Jenna Lazar: Assistant Stage Manager

Wardrobe Supervisor: Megan Parker
Technical Director: Bob Teague
Casting: Billy Hopkins
Casting Assistant: Ashley Ingram
Press Representative: David Gersten & Associates, David J. Gersten/Daniel Demello
Production Stage Manager: Dee Dee Katchen
Producing Organization: Throughline Artists

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or
Information: or
Running Time: 1 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission
Closes: August 31, 2013