Saturday, September 22, 2018

Resident Acting Company in Reading of Shaw's DON JUAN IN HELL September 24 at Players Club

This fall, The Resident Acting Company, a new troupe drawn from the performing ensemble of The Pearl Theatre Company, will present "The Language Series," a new readings series at The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park South. The series is devoted to plays that delve into the use of words to lie, deceive, manipulate, conquer, tell the truth, work out the meaning of life and even to find love.

It launches Monday, September 24 with Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell," followed by Cowley's "The Belle's Strategem" October 29 and Pirandello's "It Is So (If You Think So)" November 19.

The company will explore ways that playwrights have used language to portray the human condition, to get to the heart of how we communicate, and to understand reality itself. All three plays explore questions of fake or real, true or false and truth that isn’t truth. Through the lens of these classics and their approach to language, the troupe aims to help us sharpen our perception of the rumors, reports, misleading statements and alternative facts we now experience every day.   

September 24, 2018
"Don Juan In Hell" By George Bernard Shaw
6:00 PM Cash Bar, 7:00 PM Reading
Don Juan is in Hell and he’s not happy. Turns out Hell is where most people go when they die and it’s actually a very nice place. He is determined to go to Heaven so he can contemplate the great questions of human existence, but first he must debate Satan, an ex-girlfriend, and her father, whom Don Juan killed back on earth and with whom he has become very good friends. This is Shaw’s hysterical funny dream sequence from his play "Man and Superman." Shaw presents us with a fun, playful and thought provoking examination of Religion, Marriage, Death, and the all-powerful Life Force. With Bradford Cover as Don Juan, Dan Daily as The Statue, RJ Foster as The Devil and Rachel Botchan as Ana. Directed by Bradford Cover.

Oct 29, 2018 7:00 PM
"The Belle’s Stratagem" By Hannah Cowley
6:00 PM Cash Bar, 7:00 PM Reading
In 1780, David Garrick presented this play at The Drury Lane and it was a smash success. Letitia Hardy is engaged to marry the handsome and wealthy Doricourt, but there is one problem – he has agreed to marry her but seems totally uninterested in her. She loves him and is determined to get him to feel the same. So she endeavors to get him to hate her as she believes it will be easier to flip hate into love rather than indifference into love. With a cast of wild characters--including Flutter, Miss Ogle and Sir George Touchwood--we galivant through the amusing misadventures of these anti lovers until they reach their final realizations in a “crazy” final scene. Casting TBA as of this writing.

Nov 19, 2018 7:00 PM
"It Is So (If You Think So)" By Luigi Pirandello
6:00 PM Cash Bar, 7:00 PM Reading
What do you do when a new family moves into your small Italian town? You absolutely welcome them and ask them where they came from and why they moved here. However when each member of that family gives you a vastly different version of their story, what do you do then? In this wonderfully absurd piece of theater Pirandello asks us to examine why we think we know certain things. The play creates a hilarious world in which one doesn’t know who to trust, and the more we learn the less we know. It is possible to learn the truth, right? Translation and casting are TBA as of this writing.

The True - Where Loyalty is Everything

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

What do you do when the one thing you’ve always counted on is suddenly yanked out from under you? This is the question posed in Sharr White’s new political drama The True, presented by The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center.

Albany 1977. Dyed-in-the-wool Democrat Polly Noonan (Edie Falco) is one of those tireless party workers who lives and breathes politics. A staunch defender of long-time Albany Mayor Erastus Corning II (Michael McKean), Polly has worked by his side for close to 40 years. Indeed, in many ways, Polly is closer to Erastus then she is to her own husband.

Though Polly uses the term “confidant” when describing her and Erastus’ relationship, their long-time association has long since caused tongues to wag. Polly often thought of as “the Mayor’s girlfriend,” as well as other, less polite terms. Despite Polly and Erastus’ continual denials of anything improper, the issue has put a strain on Polly’s marriage to Peter (Peter Scolari), someone who Erastus considers to be his best friend; as well as on the Mayor’s relationship with his wife Betty.

On this particular night Polly, Erastus and Peter are gathered at the Noonan home while reflecting on the recent death of Dan O'Connell, the 91-year old Democratic party chairman who Erastus regarded as an important father figure. Eventually Erastus makes an announcement which dramatically changes his relationships to the Noonans, and leaves Polly stunned and confused. Yet even as word of the Mayor’s actions sends more rumors flying, Polly must decide whether to help Erastus when he needs it most. Erastus finding himself in the fight of his political life as he faces both a battle for the party chairmanship and a serious primary challenge in the upcoming election.

 L-R: Michael McKean, Edie Falco, Peter Scolari in The New Group Production of  The True.   Photo Credit: Monique Carboni.

The True offers a nuts-and-bolt look at party politics, through the work Polly does to ensure her team’s machine runs smoothly. She knowing every major political player, as well as all the important constituents, donors, and their families. This knowledge, which stems from endless hours of phone calls, and meet and greets, allows her to make sure those in need are properly helped out, regardless of their political persuasion. Polly reasoning that being good to those who don’t always agree with you just might help change their minds, come election time. Though coupled with this pseudo-altruistic scenario is the realization that politics, especially when it comes to party infighting, turns on backroom deals, clandestine meetings, and loyalty that all too often only goes so far.

Also explored is the danger people face when they get too comfortable or rigid in their thinking. Thus making them incapable of adapting to a changing world. Polly and Erastus both looking a bit like relics from a bygone era whose time may be drawing to a close. Polly gets a particularly abrupt wakeup call when she meets Bill McCormick (Austin Cauldwell), a young man who she convinced the Mayor to appoint to an important position in the party. However, she explodes in rage when, after outlining Bill’s career track for him, he responds by saying he doesn’t want to be a politician for the rest of his life. Or at least not in the manner she’s laid out.

While offering a fascinating look at politics, as well as the sexism that exists therein, as a piece of entertainment, The True falls rather flat. Clocking in at an hour forty-five, parts of the work still end up feeling bloated. A good example of this is how long it takes for Erastus to explain exactly why he changed his relationship with Polly and her husband. Said answer being parceled out in endless dribs and drabs. Additionally, none of the characters presented are particularly likeable and, other than Falco’s powerful portrayal of Polly, none are strong enough to hold one’s interest. 

McKean’s character in particular comes off as tired and indecisive, with no shading or subtlety that would better define him. Scolari, it should be noted, does nicely portray Polly's husband as a long-suffering spouse. Peter never wanting to force his wife to make a choice which he knows he will lose. However, we never get enough information to really care about this person, or his eventual fate. As for the other characters in the show, they all exist solely as plot points, rather than anything resembling flesh and blood.

L-R: Michael McKean & Edie Falco in The New Group Production of The True.  Photo Credit: Monique Carboni.

On the plus side, Falco grabs and holds the spotlight as Polly. A take-no-prisoner type in both conversation and action, and who, when she finds her back against the wall, fights to reaffirm her self-worth the only way she knows how. Unfortunately, Falco’s efforts are also hamstrung by the lackluster script, which covers no new ground and ends not with a bang, but rather a whimper. Scott Elliott’s direction is rather uneven here and is unable to make the story, or the characters, anything more than mildly diverting.

Feeling more like a novel one would read on a commute to kill time rather than a piece of theatre, The True makes some interesting points; but other than a sterling performance by Falco, doesn't have that much to recommend it.

Featuring: Austin Cauldwell (Bill McCormick), Edie Falco (Dorothea “Polly” Noonan), Glenn Fitzgerald (Howard C. Nolan), Michael McKean (Erastus Corning II), John Pankow (Charlie Ryan), Peter Scolari (Peter Noonan),
Tracy Shayne (Voice). 

The True
By Sharr White
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design & Music Composition: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
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
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or
Running Time: 1 Hour, 45 Minutes, no intermission
Closes: October 28, 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Be More Chill - A Delightful Experience

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Big Brother is no longer simply watching. He’s now taking an active role, in everything. So suggests the musical Be More Chill at The Pershing Square Signature Center. Boasting one of the most enthusiastic audiences in recent memory, and based on the novel of the same name, the show presents a refreshing new take on the oft-told tale of someone trying to become one of the cool kids.

Jeremy (Will Rolland), now in his junior year at a New Jersey suburban high school, just wants to survive it. A self-described “geek”, he’s regularly tormented by jocks and looked upon with disdain by the popular girls. Even Christine (Stephanie Hsu), a sensitive sort he would love to ask out, gives him little more than the time of day. Meanwhile at home, Jeremy’s Dad (Jason Sweettooth Williams) is going through a major downward spiral in the wake of his wife’s departure, and is no longer emotionally there for his son. Jeremy’s one great joy is spending time with his longtime friend and fellow social outcast, Michael (George Salazar). The song “Two-Player Game” giving a nice overview on the depth of their friendship.

(L-R) Will Roland and George Salazar in BE MORE CHILL
Photo by Maria Baranova

Things change for Jeremy when Rich (Gerard Canonico), a fellow junior, and one of Jeremy’s major tormentors, suddenly offers him the chance to jump to the top of the school social ladder. All thanks to a Squip. A grey oblong pill which, when taken, will show him how to make his dreams come true. Just as it has already done for Rich. No one now remembering him as the loser he used to be. Even Jeremy.

The Squip (Jason Tam) is, in actuality, a kind of supercomputer. Appearing inside Jeremy’s head in the persona of Keanu Reeves, it begins mapping out a course for Jeremy’s future. In short order, Jeremy starts to become one of the popular kids in school and gets invited to the important social gatherings. At the same time, he finds himself becoming estranged from Michael. The Squip explaining how Michael is no longer someone with whom Jeremy should associate.

As with many works of this type – Heathers and Mean Girls are two that immediately come to mind – the real issue facing Jeremy is the importance of staying true to what you believe. Rather than being coerced or convinced to go along with everyone else, simply because that’s the easier thing to do. Coupled with this is a warning to beware opportunities which seem too good to be true. It eventually becoming apparent that Jeremy and the others may be pawns in a much bigger plan. One which has to do with conformity and free will. Or the lack thereof.

Despite its various messages and more than a few serious moments, the heart of Be More Chill is its underlying sense of fun. The work often feeling like a spoof of the very situations it seeks to explore. More importantly, the musical never hits the audience over the head with its message, nor does it ever talk down to them. The entire show akin to a technological thrill ride through the territory that is teenage angst. A good part of the show’s success due to the strong work by lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, and the excellent projection design efforts by Alex Basco Koch.

Be More Chill can also be called “the little musical that could’. The show seeming to reach the end of the line after a regional production several years ago. However, thanks to a cast album and strong word of mouth, the work became a cult hit with an enormous online fan base. Its growing popularity leading to this current theatrical rebirth. One which will continue with a move to Broadway in 2019.

Will Roland and the cast of BE MORE CHILL
Photo by Maria Baranova

The score by Joe Iconis is enjoyable, if not always memorable. Direction by Stephen Brackett is, for the most part, rock-solid. The only missteps occurring during several early transitional moments, when cast members switched between singing and dialogue. These shifts not coming off as seamlessly as they could have. There was also a running problem with the music being too loud, it often drowning out the various song lyrics.

Roland gives a superb performance as Jeremy, a conflicted kid who just wants to fit in, and hopefully get the girl. Hsu is fine as Christine. Someone who, like the rest of the students, is just trying to make it through high school. Talia Suskauer (who subbed for Lauren Marcus the night I saw the show) and Katlyn Carlson worked well as the so-called “popular girls”. Salazar was nicely stalwart as Jeremy’s loyal friend Michael, while Tam did a great job as the mysterious Squip. Williams does a nice turn as Jeremy’s Dad. Particularly in the serio-comic number “The Pants Song”, when he realizes he has to do more than try to be Jeremy’s buddy. He has to start being his father again.

Be More Chill makes for a welcome addition to the New York theatre season and is heartily recommended.

Featuring: Gerard Canonico (Rich Goranski), Katlyn Carlson (Chloe Valentine), Stephanie Hsu (Christine Canigula), Tiffany Mann (Jenna Rolan), Lauren Marcus (Brooke Lohst), Will Roland (Jeremy Heere), George Salazar (Michael Mell), Britton Smith (Jake Dillinger), Jason Tam (The Squip), Jason Sweettooth Williams (Jeremy’s Dad/Mister Reyes/Scary Stockboy).

Be More Chill

Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis
Book by Joe Tracz
Based on the Novel by Ned Vizzini

Scenic Design Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Bobby Frederick Tilley II
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design: Ryan Rumery
Production Design: Alex Basco Koch
Wig/Hair Design: Dave Bova
Props Design: Sven Henry Nelson
Associate Music Director: Geoffrey Ko
Casting: Telsey + Company
Productions Stage Manager: Amanda Michaels
Production Supervisor: Senovva Production Core
General Management: LDK Productions
Advertising & Marketing: AKA
Social Media: Marathon Digital
Press Representative: Keith Sherman and Associates
Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Emily Marshall
Music Supervision and Orchestrations by Charlie Rosen
Choreography by Chase Brock

Directed by Stephen Brackett

The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission
Closes: September 30, 2018

Broadway previews begin February 19, 2019 at the Lyceum Theatre
Broadway tickets: 212-239-6200 or