Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Parallelogram - A Bit Off The Mark

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

What if you knew exactly how your life was going to turn out, and there was absolutely nothing you could do to change it? One woman finds herself in exactly that situation in Bruce Norris' rather intriguing, but ultimately unfulfilling A Parallelogram at Second Stage Theater.

Bee (Celia Keenan-Bolger) is a person with a self-destructive streak. Currently living with Jay (Stephen Kunken), she's continually trying to find proof that their relationship is not working out. Thus providing her a reason to end things between them before Jay ends them first. That Jay left his wife and family to be with her only adds to Bee's feeling of insecurity. Adding to her pile of possibly imagined woes is the continual presence of an older woman - referred to in the program as "Bee 2" - (Anita Gillette), that only Bee can see. This cynical and world-weary soul claiming to be a future version of Bee; and who has very few words of comfort to offer about Bee's current situation, or any of her situations still to come.

Bee's relationship with her doppelganger is further complicated by the fact that although no one else can see her, her presence can be felt in other ways. Such as with traces of the elder woman's cigarette smoke. Visible due to what B2 describes as a "glitch" in the system which allows her to be there in the first place. Jay reacting angrily to Bee's denials of smoking, while Bee 2, who is clearly enjoying her younger self's discomfort, watches the entire exchange with a self-satisfied grin.

As quickly becomes evident, what one is seeing is the virtual train wreck Bee's life is fast becoming. To that end, it's not long before Bee finds herself starting to fulfill some of her elder's prophecies. Such as taking up smoking, or putting on weight. Bee's inability to accept anything but the worst possible outcome, also causing her to sabotage various chances she may have of finding happiness. Though that doesn't stop her from continually going back in time to try to make things better. This accomplished with the help of B2, who is able to generate a sort of "Groundhog Day" effect, with different scenes playing out over and over again as Bee tries to alter what has gone before.

Underlying all the "doom and gloom" Bee is facing, both now and in times to come, is Norris' idea that while one cannot change the future in any overall sense, one can subtly alter certain circumstances to make the end result more hopeful. Coupled with this is the unspoken question: do we really want to know our own personal future?

An intriguing idea to be sure, especially when the play starts to explore the relative fluidity of time, and how the future may have actually already happened. Sadly, any possible appeal of this premise collapses almost immediately due to the way the show's narrative is structured. Bee vehemently declaring in one scene that she will not allow certain aspects of her future to occur, and then accepting them in the very next, with no explanation of what has caused this change in attitude.

A far more serious problem is that the play never shows Bee's initial meeting with her future self. Bee 2 already present, with Bee having accepted who she is and what she represents, by the time the show begins. As such, the audience never learns why the elder Bee decided to visit the younger version of herself in the first place. Other than that she seems to enjoy tormenting her. In truth, when it comes to either character, there is no real depth present. This then makes it extremely hard to care about them, or be concerned when it comes to their final fate. This is particularly true when it comes to Gillette's character, who ends up being more annoying than anything else.

Most problematic of all is when Bee finally does understand the ultimate truth of what Morris has been trying to say, the realization comes far too late to be effective. The work having basically meandered for more than two hours without any firm direction. Matters aren't helped by the lackluster work of director Michael Greif, who takes the few interesting elements the show has to offer and does nothing with them. A good case in point being the various repeating scenes, all of which come to feel tiresome and repetitive very quickly.

Despite all the obstacles, Keenan-Bolger is able to project an appealing quality as Bee. The actress doing the best she can with a part that goes nowhere. Kunken comes off well as Jay, his character the only one that is ever anything more than one-dimensional. He giving a very good performance as a man trying desperately to understand Bee's increasingly odd behavior; and finally finding refuge in medical science rather than other, more intangible possibilities. Juan Castano is okay as JJ, a fellow who comes over to Bee and Jay's apartment complex to cut the grass and never quite leaves. However, it's a role that's strictly superficial, and as such, not all that interesting.

Lighting design by Kenneth Posner and sound design by Matt Tierney work nicely together, particularly when they're used to herald the resetting of the various scenes for Bee to try to change the past. Set design by Rachel Hauck is okay.

A Parallelogram is not so much a particularly bad play, but rather one that feels somewhat unfinished, and with an ending that just doesn't work.

Featuring: Stephen Kunken (Jay), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Bee), Anita Gillette (Bee 2, Bee 3, Bee 4), Juan Castano (JJ).

A Parallelogram

by Bruce Norris

Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck

Costume Design: Jeff Mahshie

Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner

Sound Design: Matt Tierney

Animal Trainer: William Berloni

Production Stage Manager: Jane Grey

Stage Manager: Shae Candelaria

Press: Polk & Co.

Casting: Telsey & Company/Will Cantler CSA/Karyn Casl CSA/Adam Caldwell CSA

Associate Artistic Director: Christopher Burney

Production Manager: Bethany Weinstein

General Manager: Seth Shepsle

Directed by Michael Greif

Presented by Second Stage Theater

305 West 43rd Street

Tickets: 212-246-4422 or

Running Time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes, one intermission

Closes: August 20, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Fun and Frolic, But Too Little Heart

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The Public Theater pulls out all the stops with its eye-catching presentation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. One of the most beloved and original works in the Shakespearian canon, and last presented at the Delacorte a decade ago, the show features star-crossed lovers, spurned suitors who don’t take “no” for an answer, a host of magical beings, and a group of strolling would-be thespians. While there is certainly much to enjoy, what's missing in this production is the subtle charm and magical essence the play has to offer.

In the city of Athens, Egeus (David Manis) has pledged his daughter Hermia (Shalita Grant) in marriage to Demetrius (Alex Hernandez). Hermia however, is in love with Lysander (Kyle Beltran) and will marry none but him. Lysander loving Hermia just as dearly. Enraged at his daughter's defiance, Egeus brings her before Theseus, Duke of Athens (Bhavesh Patel). While the Duke is in a charitable mood, as he is about to enter into matrimony with Hippoltya (De'adre Aziza), Queen of the Amazons, he is also bound by Athenian law, and orders Hermia to either marry Demetrius or be banished from the city. In response, Hermia and Lysander decide to travel to the home of Lysander's aunt, some distance away, where they can be married. Their route taking them through a nearby wooded area where they will spend the night. Upon learning of the couple's plans, Hermia's friend Helena (Annaleigh Ashford), quickly informs Demetrius, who sets off in pursuit. Helena following him soon after. Helena was once Demetrius' fiancée and still carries a torch for her former intended. She hoping that by giving Demetrius this information, it will cause him to see how unworthy Hermia is, and that he will then turn his love back to her.

Meanwhile deep in the woods, Oberon (Richard Poe), King of the Fairies is traveling to Athens with his magical entourage to bless the upcoming union of Theseus and Hippolyta. Oberon is also is angered at his Queen, Titania (Phylicia Rashad) over a young changeling boy (Benjamin Ye) whom she is determined to raise as her adopted son. Filled with anger and jealousy, and wanting to teach Titania a lesson, Oberon calls on Puck (Kristine Nielsen), a mischievous sort of sprite, to drop the juice from a very special flower into Titana's eyes as she sleeps. This affect of which will cause her to fall in love with the first thing she sees.

Shortly thereafter, Oberon sees Demetrius arguing with Helena and orders Puck to place the same potion in Demetrius' eyes in order that he fall in love with Helena once more. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned, as Puck unknowingly infects the wrong person. The result being that both Demetrius and Lysander are now in love with Helena, much to her consternation and Hermia's despair. It falling to Oberon to try to put things right with the four young people, while also trying to repair his own relationship with Titania. She having become totally enamored with one Nick Bottom (Danny Burstein), a local weaver and would-be actor who, thanks to Puck's sense of humor, has been given the head and partial body of an ass. Bottom being in the woods with several of his fellow craftsman rehearsing a play to be performed at the wedding celebration for the Duke.

One of the reasons for the popularity of A Midsummer Night's Dream is that it has something for everyone. Including great opportunities for comedic slapstick - which this production milks for all its worth. At the same time, the text offers moments of quiet reflection. Where matters of love and magic become intertwined, and one can truly feel a part of the essence of the story.

In this particular presentation, director Lear deBessonet has chosen to put the emphasis on the comedic. So much so in fact, that almost all the subtlety and nuance in the play is gone. Case in point being the verbal exchanges between Hermia, Lysander, Helene and Demetrius. Their scenes in the forest played so broadly, that while one laughs continually at their antics, any deeper connection to the characters is lost and thus, the chance to really identify with them. Since the strength of these scenes depend on the comedy smoothly blending with elements of underlying pain and pathos; particularly regarding Helena's fury when she feels mocked by Lysander and Demetrius; as well as Hermia's anger at what she sees as Helena's betrayal; the removal of such emotional underpinnings leaves one left with some rather enjoyable, but quickly forgettable moments.

It doesn't help that Ashford is able to act her three co-stars right off the stage; and the imbalance clearly shows. Her hilarious portrayal of a woman scorned giving a new definition to the word "clingy". Beltran and Hernandez do okay when they have the chance to display some nice acrobatic moves, but Grant's character ends up feeling like almost an afterthought in their various scenes together. One actually feels more chemistry between Theseus and Hippolyta, two characters usually treated as little more than throwaways, than with anything going on between the four young lovers.

Another problem occurs with the character of Puck. Nielsen treating the role more as a standup comic routine, with none of the overt playfulness usually associated with the character. The actress gets more than her share of laughs, but is never able to imbue her part with any real sense of fun. The usually reliable Nielson is also unable to bring any depth to the final moments of the play, as she recites the epilogue in a completely matter-of-fact manner, without any emphasis on what those words really mean.

Where the show does take off in terms of characterization is when all that's required is comedy. Such as with Peter Quince (Robert Joy), a carpenter by day turned hapless director, who miscasts everyone in his company when assigning roles for the play to be presented before the Duke. He also has to deal with one interruption after another from the egomaniacal Bottom, Burstein bringing a truly scenery chewing performance to the part. Both when the character is a mortal man, and when he has been transformed into an ass. In the latter scenes, Burstein and Rashad show a wonderful and winning chemistry. Rashad playing her absurdist scenes of love with complete believability; the resulting sequence being one which is absolutely hilarious.

David Rockwell's set of the show is fantastic, giving the entire production a New Orleans-style feel, with moss-covered trees trunks and weeping willow trees. Hand in hand with this is a musical score with a prominent jazz beat and some lovely zydeco music. The various songs belted out with gusto by Marcelle Davis-Lashley; billed in the program as the "Fairy Singer".

Also quite good are Clint Ramos' costumes, particularly the outfits worn by Aziza and Rashad. Also deserving of mention is the work of hair, makeup and wig designer Cookie Jordan.

This presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream offers a grand time for all, and one will certainly leave the theater with a smile on their face. Though despite all the frivolity it has to offer, the production is continually unable to bring forth the show's more substantial elements lurking beneath the surface.

Featuring: Bhavesh Patel (Theseus, Duke of Athens), De'adre Aziza (Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons), David Manis (Egeus/Cobweb), Shalita Grand (Hermia), Kyle Beltran (Lysander), Alex Hernandez (Demetrius), Annaleigh Ashford (Helena), Justin Cunningham (Philostrate), Robert Joy (Peter Quince), Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom), Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute), Patrena Murray (Snoot), Austin Durant (Snug), Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling), Richard Poe (Oberon, King of the Fairies), Phylicia Rashad (Titania (Queen of the Fairies), Kristine Nielsen (Robin Goodfellow, a puck), Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy), Keith Hart (Third Fairy), Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy), Min Borack (Fifth Fairy), Judith Wagner (Note), Warren Wyss (Mustardseed), Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy), Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare

Choreography by Chase Brock
Sound Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design: Jessica Paz
Original Music & Music Supervisor: Justine Levine
Orchestrations: Justine Levine
Additional Orchestrations: Charlie Rosen
Music Coordinator: Dean Sharenow
Music Director: Jon Spurney
Productions Stage Manager: Rick Steiger
Stage Manager: Stephen Milosevich
Fight Captain: Austin Durant
Dance Captain: Robert Joy

Directed by Lear DeBessonet

Presented by the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park

Address: Enter at 81st Street and Central Park West
Admission: Free
Information: 212-539-8500 or
Running time: Two Hours, Fifty Minutes, with one intermission

Closes: August 13, 2017