Monday, December 29, 2014

14 for '14! My Top Theater Picks

As I did last year, I've made a list of all the theater I saw in the past year. My numbers, while arguably impressive, are down a lot from last year: last year I saw 122 distinct shows (not counting repeats); this year, not counting repeats, was the tragically small number of 97. NINETY-SEVEN. Why was it so much lower? The easiest scapegoat could be the fact that in 2013 I visited London with my family and caught a bunch of theater, a trip I did not take this year. But it could just be there was less to see, or at least less to get excited about this year. I don't know. I know I spent close to the same amount of money on tickets, so as far as my budget's concerned, I'm on an even keel.

Firdous Bamji, Romola Garai, and Brenda Meaney in Indian Ink.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
When I was making my list for this year, some contenders were easy includes, but at the first culling, a lot made the initial list of 30 or so, merely by not being that bad. I think it was a weaker year, all told, at least in quantity. In quality, mind you, there were some truly stellar theatrical pieces (for those who see the list and decry my not including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I did include the West End production last year, and didn't feel right listing it two years running. That being said, the Broadway transfer was equally stellar and would have made this list otherwise, in the top five).

So without further ado, here are my Top 14 for '14!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Increasingly Inaccurate Tony Predictions

Andy Karl as Rocky in Rocky. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
*a follow up to last year's post. well as innumerable mini rants and opinionated declarations stated as fact. I didn't write that many reviews this season, though I did manage (yay me!) to see every Broadway show of the season (I'm pretty sure - in any event, I saw every nominated show). While I had a good time doing it, I do think this season was peculiar in a number of ways. There's no big blockbustery front runner this year, so I don't predict any nominated show getting a clean sweep of its nominations. And while I had a number of favorites, I don't feature many of them succeeding very far outside of New York. It's been a weird season. I'm not sure how else to put it.

It's a weird season, but there was a lot of talent - which means, of course, that there were a number of "snubs" too. I get into most of the ones that actually bothered me below (Realistic Joneses getting ZERO nominations just blows my mind, and I regret also the lack of recognition for either The Winslow Boy or my favorite brotp, the Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in their rep productions of No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot. And yes, I'm still surprised about Bridges of Madison County.)

So clearly there were shows forgotten or ignored that stood out for me, which means, of course, that I have nearly no credence when I make the following predictions of what will win and what should win. But this is my blog, this is my house, and in my house, I get to do what I want.

So without further ado, my predictions for the 2014 Tony Awards:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

May Violets Spring: Not Just Shreds and Patches

May Violets Spring, by James Parenti (and William Shakespeare). Directed by Reesa Graham. Featuring Gwenevere Sisco, James Parenti, and Monique St. Cyr. Produced by Dare Lab, currently running at The Bridge Theatre through April 27th, 2014.

**Extended! Now playing at Joria Productions Theatre, April 30 - May 3.

Disclosure: This humble reviewer is friends with the lead actress, although she did not know that when she agreed to review this production. She'll try to keep objective, but it's hard when your friends are really talented.

"Am I to blame for all this blood now shed, or am I not, as I would fain believe, an instrument of those of stronger will?" If this were any ordinary production of Hamlet, the answer to Ophelia's cry of despair would be clearly that no, she is not overly culpable; she is a tool in the hands of strong-willed men - of her father, her brother, her erstwhile lover - a weapon they use against each other and against themselves. In Dare Lab's inaugural production, playwright James Parenti has capitalized on this dichotomous responsibility of Ophelia within the world of Elsinore with his deconstruction (or perhaps reconstruction) of Hamlet's story - this time from Ophelia's perspective. Parenti's Ophelia has a good deal more agency than Shakespeare's - helping Hamlet in his scheme to expose the murderous King, to fabricate Hamlet's madness, and to eventually escape Denmark for a quieter life. Such changes certainly make her a more interesting character, one with true strength and convictions, with ideas and creativity - but those elaborations come hand in hand with the culpability she later fears. This Ophelia is wise to the machinations around her, so when she submits to her father's instructions and rejects Hamlet's love in front of a listening Claudius and Polonius, or when she (spoilers!) fakes her own death in what she herself acknowledges could lead to Hamlet's real death, yes, there is some blood on her hands.

Parenti has taken liberties aplenty with his adaptation - not just supplementing Shakespeare's text with his own (a more or less seamless addition, though sometimes marred by too-contemporary sounding syntax, or a seeming purposeless shuffling of lines) - or doling out dialogue from other characters to Ophelia in scenes where she was formerly silent or absent. He's also borrowed, with a delicate hand, snatches of dialogue, here and there, from the entire Shakespeare canon. Rather than feel like a tiresome wink at the audience, however, these scraps of familiarity help guide us on our newly-lit journey down a old trodden path. So when Ophelia, hearing that Hamlet has slain her father, asks, "Can Heaven be so envious?" we feel, not just Ophelia's grief, but the echo of Juliet's as well.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hurlyburly: Sex, Drugs, and Hollywood

Brandon Scott Hughes and Kirk Gostkowski as Phil and Eddie.
Photo by Abi Classey.
Hurlyburly, by David Rabe. Directed by Rich Ferraioli. Featuring Kirk Gostkowski, Deven Anderson, Brandon Scott Hughes, Chris Harcum, Christina Elise Perry, Jacklyn Collier, and Rachel Cora. Produced by Variations Theatre Group, currently running at The Chain Theatre through March 1st, 2014.

"Is everybody ripped here?" It's the middle of what seems to be an ongoing series of days and nights getting trashed on booze, dope, and pills, and the answer is most assuredly yes. Hurlyburly is David Rabe's scathing look at the overindulgence of the climbers and would-be kingmakers of Los Angeles in the 1980s, and it ain't pretty.

The play opens with the protagonist, "good old Eddie," passed out on his sofa, the evidence of cocaine snorting in front of him, and an open bar not far behind him. He's an overly gregarious casting director, and at first glance it seems he's perhaps too indulgent of the various acolytes that endlessly populate his apartment. His roommate and fellow casting director, Micky, aloof and dry as a martini, regards the whole charade with more disdain; but on the other hand, he's not fooling himself the way Eddie clearly is.