Monday, December 20, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W51: Striking 12, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Hindle Wakes, A Christmas Carol

12/18/21: Striking 12
What: Chance Theater's holiday show, a concert retelling of "The Little Match Girl," from the writing team of Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda (Ernest Shackleton Loves Me) and Rachel Sheinkin (...Spelling Bee).
And? A charming little chamber musical, with the five cast members also serving as musicians (special props to Laura Leo Kelly and their drum solo, Lex Leigh sounding amazing on the electric violin, and Jacklyn Uweh on handheld percussives and bubbling over with charisma as the S.A.D. Light Seller/Little Match Girl), and it was fun to see an early work from writers I admire.

Jacklyn Uweh as S.A.D. Light Seller, with Laura Leo Kelly on drums.
Photo source.

What: Chance Theater's encore presentation of a family holiday show, a staging of exactly what it sounds like.
And? While the performances were deliberately very stylized (to appeal to the many many children in the audience and to harken to the television special), they were consistently so across the cast (yes, it grated a bit but it's also less than an hour). And I'll tell you what, I found the production design (Masako Tobaru and Megan Hill) and the staging (James Michael McHale) in this tiny theater a complete delight. Tiny houses and snow-laden trees appeared and disappeared on the snowy backdrop hills, manipulated by the actors using pulley systems. Two winter panels hinged from the walls to become the red velvet curtains for the rehearsal scene. Travel scenes were achieved by performers carrying houses and trees past the walking characters (yes, it's an old trick, but that doesn't make it any less charming). And, of course, Charlie Brown's sad and broken twig of a tree with its lone ornament was transformed by the children into a bedecked and lovely Christmas tree just in time for some singalong carols. 

Matt Takahashi and Juston Gonzalez-Rodholm as Charlie Brown and Linus.
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Onstage and Streaming: My Top Theater for 2021

The first three quarters of 2021 was still the era of Streaming Theater Only, but as Autumn loomed, as more people got vaccinated, theaters began to reopen and we were finally able to return. Now, at the end of 2021, most of the theater I'm seeing is in person, though I'm grateful for the companies who continue to make their work accessible online (particularly the companies not local to me, like APT, Wilma Theater, Original Theatre, Wise Children, and East West Players). I'm hopeful that the future will continue to bring accessible theater to the world, not limiting the audience to only those immediately there or those who can afford the steep ticket prices asked by Broadway, West End, and the major touring houses.
Stephen Sondheim. Photo by Fred R. Conrad.

This year, like last, was hard. It was exhausting. It was, as of November 26th, once more devastatingly heartbreaking, when the giant Stephen Sondheim passed away. As more variants appear and we still haven't reached majority vaccination in our population, we still don't know what the future will hold for in-person gatherings. But y'all know by now I'm a silver lining person, so I can but hope. Amidst our grief and fear, we can hope, we can love, and we can appreciate the good, good art we were lucky enough to experience. This year I am pleased to have two Best Of lists--one for the streaming works that remain vivid for me now, and for the live theater I got attend this last quarter.

Oh and because I know I'm supposed to provide my annual tally, here you go: 103 streaming productions, 25 live plays (+2 repeat), 13 live musicals (+1 repeat), totaling 141 distinct productions (3 repeats).

Love, peace, and health to you all.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W50: Cullud Wattah, Freestyle Love Supreme, Sympathetic Magic, The Gift of the Magi, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

12/07/21: Cullud Wattah
What: The Public Theater presents a new play by Erika Dickerson-Despenza about the Cooper family: three generations of Black women in the second year of Flint, Michigan's still-ongoing water crisis.
And? In 1985 (and again in 2004) The Public presented Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, about the very early days of the AIDS crisis (taking place before it was even called AIDS) in New York. In both productions the walls of the theater were covered in statistics about the crisis, highlighting the ways in which both the media and the government were complicit in ignoring and even exacerbating the crisis. Now in 2021, Adam Rigg's scenic design for Cullud Wattah, a play tracking the early days of Flint's water crisis, that tradition continues: the walls of the Martinson are covered in tally marks, counting the days Flint, Michigan has been without clean water. And hanging from the rafters surrounding the performance space, as well as lining the floors of the Cooper house, are bottle after bottle filled with toxic brown water. This evidence, equally as damning of systemic complicity, frames Dickerson-Despenza's extraordinary play, just as the opening invocation of the spiritual "Wade in the Water"--here rewritten to be "Lead in the water, Snyder's playing God with the water"--reminds us of Black people's troubled history with water and how this crisis is one more act of violence from this country against them, as Black communities have been the ones most affected by this travesty. The play also shows clear ancestral roots in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, about the Younger family, their ambitions, and the pride of owning their own property. In this play, the Cooper's family home has lost nearly all its value due to the crisis, and its characters must reckon with their own deferred dreams: Big Ma's lost love, a love she was not safe to pursue in her youth; Ainee, a year sober from her personal poisons but now subject to Flint's toxins, finally carrying a viable pregnancy after six miscarriages; Marion, offered a promotion that could give her family the financial stability they so desperately lack, from GM, the very company that has been complicit in the tainted water supply; and Marion's children Plum and Reesee, trying to balance their hope for a future of clean water and choices, against the despair of the permanent damage the crisis has already inflicted on their bodies--Reesee with her blistering skin and Plum with her leukemia. This play is infuriating. This play is devastating. This play is filled to the brim with love. This play is so many things to be reckoned with.

Andrea Patterson, Lizan Mitchell, Alicia Pilgrim, Lauren F. Walker, and
Crystal Dickinson as Ainee, Big Ma, Plum, Reesee, and Marion.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

What: The Broadway engagement of the hip hop improv group founded by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson, Thomas Kail, Arthur Lewis, Bill Sherman, Chris Sullivan, and Anthony Veneziale.
And? Both Sullivan and conceiver fVeneziale are still a part of of FSL's Broadway run (under the performer names Shockwave and Two Touch) and truly excellent, along with Tarik Davis (aka Tardis Hardaway) and musicians Kurt Crowley (aka The Lord and Lady Crowley) and Victoria Theodore, making her Broadway debut. Each performance also has an unannounced guest on microphone three, and the one for my performance was the delightful and powerful Tony winner, James Monroe Iglehart (aka J-Soul). This was a fun night, featuring a second chance at an unfortunate mushroom encounter, a love song to latkes and inner strength, and a musical day in the life of running a teacher training.

(Note: not the performers I saw) Chris Sullivan, Wayne Brady, Anthony
Veneziale, and Aneesa Folds. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W49: Kimberly Akimbo, A Christmas Carol, The System

12/02/21: Kimberly Akimbo
What: Atlantic Theater presents a new musical adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's play of the same name (adapted by Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori), about a teenage girl with a disease that causes her to age rapidly, making her appear in her seventies.
And? I loved this so much. So very very much. I need to read the play it's based on, to see how much it's changed in the rewrite. I need a cast album to be recorded. I need this to have a longer run. I have a lot of needs, y'all. This show could have been cloying, it could have been bitter, it could have been a manipulative tearfest. It is none of those things. It is cute without being twee, sweet without being sentimental, funny without being dishonest, and moving without being demoralizing. Looking at the cast list for the play, I see that the musical cast has expanded to include four of Kimberly's classmates (who, as members of showchoir, are a very willing and delightfully able backup group for songs). DLA's characters are all a bit off-center, in a delightful (and appropriately frustrating) way. Kimberly's parents are disappointments and often say the wrong thing, but at the core there is still love. Even her opportunist aunt (my god, can we just have Bonnie Milligan in everything? Her comic timing and her belt are a gift we need more of) has affection beneath her scheming. And Kimberly's growing friendship with Seth feels honest and earned. We watch the show knowing Kimberly's life has a ticking clock and that it will soon run out, but somehow the show doesn't leave us in despair, but rather in hope that we too can pursue happiness with the time we have. Oh and somehow I skipped over this but the entire cast is TO DIE FOR good, and especially especially Victoria Clark as Kimberly, whom you never doubt is a teenager, who breaks and wins your heart, whom you just want to be happy. Dear Theater Gods, a commercial transfer and a cast album, pretty pretty please and thank you?

Victoria Clark as Kimberly. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.

What: Merchant House's annual one man reading of Dickens's classic story, performed by John Kevin Jones.
And? Some may recall that I saw four or five online productions of A Christmas Carol last December. This was my favorite of the lot, so I was so excited to get to see it live this year. It's truly a special experience. You arrive at the Merchant's House Museum and walk through to the back garden for a cup of mulled wine or hot cider. Jones greets you, recites a poem, then leads you back inside to the parlor for his reading of A Christmas Carol. Up close you can see not only his joy but also his absolute and present empathy for every character he portrays. Worth every moment in that (unfortunately) extremely uncomfortable chair.

John Kevin Jones in A Christmas Carol. Photo source.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Monday, November 29, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W48: The Lehman Trilogy, Company, Woman in Black, Trouble in Mind, Flying Over Sunset, Morning's at Seven, Dana H

What: The Broadway transfer of the West End hit, about the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers, the family and the company.
And? Nearly a repeat visit, since I saw this identical production on the West End, though with Ben Miles in the role of Emanuel Lehman, now played by Adrian Lester. The production remains extraordinary and riveting, and Lester is superb.

Adam Godley, Simon Russell Beale, and Adrian Lester.
Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

11/23/21: Company
What: The Broadway transfer of the West End gender-bent Furth-Sondheim musical about the perpetually single Bobbie and her many married friends.
And? [This was drafted before the passing of Stephen Sondheim. My opinion still stands, but I don't want you thinking I'm being callous about him or his work.] I dunno, maybe it's my fault. I went in with these expectations that the rewrite of the show, making Bobbie a woman (and making one of the couples two men about to get married) would revolutionize the narrative. Instead I feel like they backed themselves into a few ill-advised corners. The comparatively minor--but still worth noting?--shift of changing Bobbie's gender as well as  Bobbie's three romantic options and the Amy-to-Jamie conversion, means that the gender balance of the cast has tilted to male-heavy, even with its female center (what was a 6m:8f ratio is now 9m:5f). Meanwhile, though it may be nice to have a queer couple in the mix, the production has backed away quickly from nearly any hint of Bobbie's queerness (a small dialog-less flirt during "Another Hundred People" aside), with the sometimes-included terrace overture eliminated and the potential of having one of Bobbie's three lovers be a woman unexplored (at least, I thought it would be a nice thought). I know the writers have been historically resistant to inferences that Bobby is gay and that's why he can't commit to a woman, but if this new revisal is acknowledging queer commitment, then that argument is now invalid. And then choosing to make Jamie and Paul the gay couple means that Bobbie's mid-show proposition makes next to no sense. It needs to be absurd because she's asking someone who loves someone else, not because she's asking a gay man to marry her.

More than that, though, this portrayal of Bobbie sets itself up for failure from the start. Male Bobby is positioned as a problem to be solved--someone incomplete, deliberately removed from living his life, with the genuine wish for real partnership and connection his end-of-play evolution. A female Bobbie with that same lack and arc butts up against more contemporary dialog about how women don't need a relationship to complete them. And indeed, Katrina Lenk's Bobbie doesn't seem to be lacking anything. She's not a problem to be solved. The scenic design is more obsessed with her turning 35 than she is (there are 35 markers everywhere you look--address plaques, wall art, even the clocks are set to 3:05). Meanwhile, they've inserted transitional moments when she hears a baby crying in a void and keeps trying different glittery keys to unlock her next option. Is this a nod to 35 being the marker for a "geriatric pregnancy?" Is it about her biological clock? If it is, why--in a script reflecting heavy revisions to both libretto and lyrics--is there nothing in the dialog about this at all? Even the couples with kids have their dialog revised to reduce reference to children (David and Jenny are no longer worried about waking the kids, but about bothering the neighbors). Meanwhile, when Joanne propositions Bobbie in the penultimate scene (here offering up Larry to Bobbie, rather than herself, because no queer ladies allowed), they reverse the dialog in a way that negates any sense that Bobbie may have been craving motherhood--Bobbie doesn't ask, as Bobby did, "who will I take care of?"; she asks "who will take care of me?" What? No. (Note: I just checked the published script from the West End production and this dialog reversal doesn't happen, which means they added it for the U.S. run? Why?) In this production Bobbie becomes even more of an inactive presence than in past productions, and you can't have a void as your centerpiece. You just can't.

The other big trickle-down flaw here is I think director Marianne Elliott quite simply doesn't trust the audience with any intelligence. There's very little nuance or complication of any relationship (see: the elimination of any hint of Bobbie's queerness), everything is Right There to be easily and lazily consumed, no subtext necessary, and there are so many missed chances, so many unexamined facets. It's very surprising to me, because I thought Elliott did excellent work with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and War Horse, but so much of this revisal just misses the mark for me. The choreo and scenic design are unnecessarily busy during "Another Hundred People," as if she doesn't trust the music, lyrics, and Bobby Conte's performance to convey the beautifully frantic but purposeful energy of New York (can we talk about how much I hated the giant letters caroming around the space--a choice that, per production photos, was added between the West End run and Broadway). And "Tick Tock," well, that's a choice I guess.

So maybe it's my fault I was so disappointed, because the people around me seemed to enjoy the night readily enough. John Doyle's 2006 revival finally convinced me this show could make sense, could have a true throughline for its protagonist, and he won me over. And now I can't stomach seeing a production just misunderstand the point of the show (why would you cut Sarah telling Harry she loves him? That line is key to buttoning the scene, as well as pivoting to the next song!) and not even bother to activate its central character. I thought West End directors were supposed to give us the smarter versions of Sondheim musicals? Or are the distinctions I've noted between the West End and Broadway productions an indication that it's not audiences Marianne Elliott doesn't trust as a whole, but specifically those idiot Americans? Gee, thanks.

Fine, fine, let's talk about what's good. Patti Lupone delivers Full Patti (no surprises, but no disappointments). Jennifer Simard ends up being the real comedic treat of the production, stealing the show with every single line delivery, doing yoga stretches that allow her to steal a brownie when no one is looking, and throwing Christopher Sieber around the stage. The vocals and choreo for "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" truly delight (a wonderful harmonic blend of Claybourne Elder, Bobby Conte, and Manu Narayan). But beyond that I can't say that anyone in the show (powerhouse comedic cast though they be) surprised me in any way. They were fine, they didn't get in the way of the show, but they didn't give me something new.

And I guess, with this production, I was expecting something new.

Katrina Lenk, center, as Bobbie, with cast of Company.
Photo by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Only Cups of Tea and History and Someone in a Tree

 Thank you, Stephen Sondheim.

Stephen Sondheim. Photo by Fred R. Conrad.

On Friday morning, one of America's most important theater writers, not just of the 20th century, but of all time, passed away. Stephen Sondheim was 91. In a career spanning six decades he gave us so much work, work that has changed so many lives, including mine. I wrote my college essay about his Pulitzer Prize-winner, Sunday in the Park with George, and how it resonated with me as someone hoping to spend her life telling stories. And with the parents we had, my siblings and I grew up knowing Into the Woods and Assassins and Sunday and Sweeney by heart. A precocious child, I tried to explain the interconnected plot of Woods to anyone who would listen. By fifth grade I was doing the same with Sweeney, including a full recital of "Worst Pies in London." My dad and I discovered the TV recording of Pacific Overtures together at Paley. My mom took me to the six shows of the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. Sondheim appears in every chapter of my dad's musical theater books. My mom realized she was pregnant with me while crying through Sunday's act one finale. My sister and I attended (nearly) twelve hours of Sondheim at Symphony Space's Wall to Wall Sondheim event. I saw John Doyle's revival of Company ten times (possibly eleven; I lost count). Sondheim's words and music are woven through so much of my life and the thread has just snapped. Or--as he himself wrote--something just broke.

For a lyricist so often accused of austerity, of coldness, he consistently managed to write with a poignancy that spoke to our souls and spirits. He continued to honor the assignment given by Dot to George: "Anything you do, let it come from you. Then it will be new. Give us more to see." He gave us so much. Last year, in an April that saw my community in perpetual mourning, Raul Esparza organized an online concert to honor Sondheim's 90th birthday, and I cried through at least half of it. I'm so grateful for Mr. Sondheim. So grateful for the work he did, for the care he took. 

I can count on one hand the writers who changed my life, who changed the way I approach theater, writing, and storytelling. Sondheim's been one of them since I saw the VHS of Into the Woods, years before I knew I wanted to be a writer, wanted to be part of the theater. I'm not trying to be greedy. I know people age, they die. I just ... wasn't ready for him to go yet. His loss cannot be measured and my words are insufficient. 

Thanks for everything we did.
Everything that's past.
Everything that's over too fast.
None of it was wasted.
All of it will last.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W47: Medicine, Baby, Caroline, or Change, Clyde's, Constellations

 11/18/21: Medicine
What: St. Ann's Warehouse presents the American premiere of Enda Walsh's play about, well, about what an Enda Walsh play is about.
And? This feels very much a companion piece to Misterman, in part because while I was engrossed in the journey and feeling empathy for a character in clear crisis as he attempts to untangle the threads of his experience and tell his story, I was also waiting in vain for a moment of clarity or epiphany that never came. But listen, knowing that that's what you're often in for with an Enda Walsh play means that, to paraphrase Lincoln, for those who like this sort of play, this is the sort of play they would like.

Aoife Duffin as Mary 1, with Clare Barrett as Mary 2 in background.
Photo by Jess Shurte.

11/20/21: Baby
What: Out of the Box Theatrics presents an intimate whitebox revival of the Maltby & Shire musical about three couples of different generations and their potential pregnancies, with an updated script (in collaboration with the original authors) to reflect contemporary times and a more diverse representation of society.
And? This production doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to representation. Not only has the middle couple been revised to two women of color (Danielle Summons as Pam and Jamila Sabares-Klemm as Nicki) trying to conceive via a sperm donor, but the younger couple are both people with disabilities (Johnny Link as Danny has moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss and Elizabeth Flemming as Lizzie--also OOTB's Founding Producing Artistic Director--is visually impaired). Even the older couple has been aged up to reflect the performers, as well as highlight how much Arlene (Julia Murney) has deferred her own dreams in favor of raising four children. It's a beautiful thing when the writers are still around to help revise their script for a new society, both book and score. The book remains a bit clumsy--there's a lot of characters explaining to their partners who they are (including their marginalized identities), rather than character moves, and some character moves are never even dramatized (Danny's transformation during his three month tour), but I'm giving them a lot of credit for what they're trying to do, and the score--well, that score still sings. Theaterlab is an intimate whitebox space and the production is ably staged by Ethan Paulini for an alley audience configuration with only three hard-working ensemble members, and you don't miss a word or moment, no matter where you're sitting (seriously, excellent sound design by W. Alan Waters of DimlyWit Productions).  For the cast, Julia Murney and Danielle Summons are the most adept at the emotional heavy lifting (and comedic timing), as well as in wonderful voice, but truly there are no bad performances here.

The cast of Baby. Photo by Kyle Huey.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W46: Urinetown: The Musical, Assassins

11/11/21: Urinetown: The Musical
What: Blue Hill Troupe's revival of the surprise Broadway hit about a town where the water shortage is so bad that people have to pay to pee.
And? The lovely thing about Blue Hill Troupe is you know the voices will be good--an especially nice thing when none of the cast are miked. And they're always having a lot of fun. In terms of acting and staging, they're about on par with community theater, which unfortunately means that a lot of the cast (and the directing) struggle to nail the tone of the script. However, three of their leads--Brady Lynch, Andrew F. Neuman, and Lauren Cupples, as Little Sally, Officer Lockstock, and Hope Cladwell--nail the tone, the acting, and the comedy.

The cast of Urinetown: The Musical. Photo source.

11/13/21: Assassins
What: Classic Stage Company's long-delayed John Doyle-directed revival of the Weidman-Sondheim musical about the various individuals who have tried to kill the U.S. President.
And? I should start off by saying that this is such a good show in its bones, so tight and clear, that even with the nits I'm about to pick, I still thought it was pretty good. Nit #1: while I think Doyle is more capable than a lot of other directors at staging his actors on a thrust stage so that they don't seem to be wandering aimlessly, the majority of his stage pictures still favor a minority section of the audience: the less than a third facing the front of the thrust. Seated as I was at the end of the side, I missed a number of the intended tableaux, especially in  the utilization of the projection screen bullseye (see image below). Similarly, while I don't know how the sound mixes from that minority angle, seated where I was, the instruments sometimes drown out the vocals. My biggest issue though is with Doyle's penchant for deliteralization. I still think his production of Company is the finest production of that show I've seen (don't worry, I'm seeing the newest one later this month), but I thought his Sweeney was weakened by not making it clear what particular actions were taking place. Similarly here, a number of the stakes are lost in particular scenes because we don't understand the physical threat: Booth parades around the space with no sign of a broken leg preventing his escape; Guiteau falters in his cakewalk but with no gallows for him to physically shy from, it's unclear why; Zangara screams from his chair but unless you have a good angle on the projection of the electric chair overhead, you don't realize these are his last words before his execution. And rather than being physically overwhelmed by the assassins, who shred him to transform the Balladeer to Oswald, actor Ethan Slater voluntarily surrenders his instrument and coverall.

Those issues aside, a lot works. Ann Hould-Ward's costume design is clear and clean, even against the rather unsubtle scenic design (which appears to be Doyle's work).  Will Swenson's Guiteau is twitchy mesmerizing, unable to be still even in stillness, his eyes darting in ever direction from beneath his lowered brow. Steven Pasquale's quiet dignity and charisma carry Booth well through many of the scenes, though I don't think he leans enough into the ugliness of Booth to remind us that this man is no hero. Brandon Uranowitz brings an earnest pathos to Czogosz. I could wish that Doyle brought more variety to the staging and light choreo for his ensemble--the first time they do a hopping march during "The Ballad of Czolgosz" it charms, but when that same move is repeated in later numbers, it becomes clear that there aren't a lot of tools in this particular box, and there is no staging particularity being given to the different musical styles. Final note, while the barbershop quartet harmonies still don't quite work (has anyone nailed them since the original 1991 cast?), the vocals are uniformly excellent and the orchestrations satisfying.

Regardless of the production, the thesis of the show remains chilling: the flipside of The American Dream, where Americans are born not only entitled to the pursuit of happiness, but happiness itself--and when happiness is denied, someone else is to blame and must be punished. This has always, unfortunately, resonated, but it is particularly pointed in light of January 6, 2021. 

I wouldn't mind seeing it again from a "better" angle.

Steven Pasquale as John Wilkes Booth, with Bianca Horn as the Flag Bearer,
and the cast of Assassins. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W45: GNIT, Wuthering Heights

11/06/21: GNIT
What: TFANA presents Will Eno's newest, an adaptation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt.
And? I found myself wishing I knew Peer Gynt, in order to see what was lifted and what was added/reinterpreted. For instance, this play seems a pretty clear indictment of a man with blinders so big he can never see what he has, including how privileged a position he occupies in the world, continually failing upward. Is that part of Ibsen's message, or a modern lens? And when he sees that a woman achieved peace and self-knowledge while he pursued aimlessly and failed over the same thirty years, he reacts by attempting to destroy what she built. Toward the end he looks to the audience and challenges us, if we feel sympathy, to feel sympathy for him, and bad news, Peter, I can't. Production-wise, Oliver Butler does a marvelous job crafting the play, with a poetic and appealing scenic design by Kimie Nishikawa, and a top tier cast, who all manage to deliver Eno's heightened and wry script with perfect straightforward manner (especially Jordan Bellow and David Shih).

Jordan Bellow as Stranger 1. Photo by Daniel Vasquez.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Monday, November 1, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W44: American Utopia, The Visitor, Minor Character, Sanctuary City, The Taming of the Shrew

 10/28/21: American Utopia
What: David Byrne's completely staged and designed concert/celebration.
And? I keep going back and forth on this. During the first three songs I came to the conclusion that this just wasn't for me, and that's fine. But as the stage filled with more and more musicians, as their pure enjoyment of the evening spread, it turned into a good time. I had a few disadvantages: I'm not too familiar with Byrne/Talking Head's song catalog, and during one song in which he encouraged the entire audience to their feet (and they joyfully acquiesced), I could see exactly nothing of the stage for an entire song. Which is not the most fun, y'all. It was a pretty sour note to hit near the end of the night for me, and it brought me back around to "this isn't for me, and that's fine." Back to the stuff that worked: the kinetic chemistry of the performers was consistently engaging, the design was clean, and the between-song patter didn't get in the way too much (near the end he seems to try to tie it all together into a cohesive whole, and that didn't work for me, but whatever). Byrne is a strange performer, never quite seeming at ease in his body, which looks sometimes like it's being marionetted across the stage, and his face has little affect. In spite of that, he commands the eye and attention, because he doesn't apologize for who he is or try to be what he's not. He's there, he has some songs to perform, he has a bunch of friends to help him do it, and we'll all be out of here in 100 minutes. So ... not really for me, but it might be for you?

David Byrne and the cast of American Utopia. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

10/31/21: The Visitor
What: The Public Theater presents a new musical adaptation of the 2007 film about a mild mannered economics professor awakened to the dire consequences of being an undocumented immigrant in a post-9/11 world through his surprise exposure to a Syrian drummer and a Senegalese jewelry maker.
And? Ugh. I spent most of the show wondering who the intended audience was, because it certainly wasn't for people who are already upset about the inhumane treatment of undocumented individuals in this country (and, for all that we're already upset, this portrayal is strangely cold and unaffecting). But then in David Hyde Pierce's embarrassingly written eleven o'clock number, "Better Angels," he flat out says he wants other old white men to be upset about this to. Okay then. But maybe a downtown musical isn't the right venue to reel them in? That's just one of many missteps here, in a production that delayed its opening in an attempt to decenter whiteness (mission not particularly accomplished), and lost one of its leads, Ari'el Stachel, in the process (we haven't officially been told why, but rumors are rumoring). I don't really understand casting David Hyde Pierce unless the point is that he can't sing well (and if that's the point, then I have questions ... we see him gradually get better at learning the beat of the drum, but his voice remains what it is)--and listen, I have a lot of respect for DHP and his love of live theater, but this was a mistake. Meanwhile, Tom Kitt needs to stop and think whether his melodies are actually serving the story being told, and the tenor of that story. The melody for Tarek's song about life in the prison is a great melody but it doesn't actually match the fear and desperation of the lyrics. And that's just one example. Did you like anything about the show, Zelda? Yes, I thought Alysha Deslorieux and Ahmad Maksoud were terrifically voiced, and the drum circle stuff was fun to listen to.

The company of The Visitor. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W43: Girl From The North Country, Caroline, or Change

What: A transfer from The Public Theater, a new jukebox musical using the songs of Bob Dylan, about an assortment of personalities in and around a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934.
And? I have so many questions. And, since Conor McPherson both wrote and directed this show, I'm directing them all to him:
  1. What did I just watch?
  2. Why don't you establish the language and structure of the show and how the songs work (or don't) in conversation with the dialog, so we know how to listen? I was desperately looking for some character depth or emotional dilation in the lyrics and was lost so quickly.
  3. Would I have minded this less if I knew Bob Dylan's music better?
  4. Why does each scene feel like an excerpt from a different play? Why do you introduce characters, conflicts, or the idea of an arc, only to never return to them during the next 2.5 hours? 
  5. Why are you so afraid of writing scenes that reveal character, that you have a periodic narrator to explain things instead?
  6. Why are the majority of songs so dramatically inert and disconnected from their adjacent scenes?
  7. Why is there so little coherence among the various elements telling this story?
  8. Why are scene transitions such a bland inactive character drop that distract from the scene that hasn't yet ended? (except Jay O. Sanders, who valiantly holds character even to carry a chair across the space as he exits)
  9. Speaking of Jay O. Sanders, I understand you are making some kind of statement by having Nick, the center of the story, have no music, but since you never explained to me how music functions in this play (and really, it's a play with music, right? not a musical? I mean?), I don't know what that statement is intended to be. John Doyle's revival of Company this is not.
  10. Also what is up with those scrims? Why do we have a view of an empty road behind an interior scene?
  11. What is the point of the radio mics? The performers address most of the songs straight out to the audience regardless of the presence of one, like this is a concert and not a story.
  12. Why do you put the band onstage but not light them? Also why do you have a band onstage but ask your actors to handle the drum set (and then not light them)?
  13. Speaking of not lighting your performers, why don't you light the face of the character with the final emotional beat? Hasn't she earned that?
  14. Why do you include a song with the slur for the Romani people? Is that vital to the story you're telling? Is it? I know that we have a number of classic musicals which use that word (including "Anything Goes" and the Sondheim-Styne show whose title is the word itself, and that's something we need to grapple with), but this is a new show. You get to make choices. You chose this.
  15. Why are you contributing to the harmful narrative that people with mental illness are a danger to those around them?
  16. Why do you ask me to have empathy for a character that, one scene earlier, called a grown Black man "boy"?
  17. Why does the ghost of an implied murderer get the one song of lightness and joy?
  18. This show got good reviews in London. What got lost in translation?
  19. Who is the Girl from the North Country?
Jay O. Sanders and Todd Almond and Mare Winningham are great. Most of the cast is good. The vocal arrangements and orchestrations are beautiful. But what was that, Conor McPherson?

The cast of Girl From The North Country. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Margin Notes: Assemble

Seen on: Saturday, 10/15/21.
My grade: B

Plot and Background
A return engagement of Flying Leap LLC's immersive audio journey about Jane's 40-year crisis during a pandemic.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew it was immersive, audio, and choose-your-own-adventure. Beyond that I tried to avoid reading as much as possible, for my first return to immersive theater since the shutdown.


Preface: I'm going to avoid major spoilers here, since the location of Assemble is part of the secret and the surprise. The production (performance? experience?) is an interesting idea, simultaneously isolatingly private and completely exposed. It's a promenade experience, with the audience on their feet and moving. Each audience timeslot has only four attendees (each set of four staggered at twenty-minute intervals across a two-hour span), with audience members clutching their mobile, earbuds in. You are alone. You are surrounded by people. You are surrounded by people who don't realize you're having an experience. You are surrounded by people having their own experience. No one is looking at you but you're in everyone's way. And -- yes, that's someone else in your timeslot, sharing a conspiratorial grin before returning their attention to their phone.* As you follow Jane on her journey, making choices in the app, reliving the tedium of isolation at home and the anxiety of growing older without hitting the milestones everyone told you to hit, you and Jane both begin to realize your choices were wrested from you the moment you hit play.

Parts of this experience worked very well for me, immersion-wise. I felt enveloped in the moment, in the choices, in the world being tapestried around me. But too often I was pulled out, either for fear of being in the way of someone who didn't realize they were part of the show, or trying not to overlap too heavily with my fellow time-slotters, or--frankly--window shopping. I got lost a few times. I couldn't do precisely what the app requested, for reasons outside my control. And pretending you're doing a thing for an audience of zero, as you wait for the next step to prompt, is its own weird dissociation. Especially when I wouldn't go with option A, B, or C at times.

That being said, I like the bones of this experience very much, and wouldn't mind seeing what comes next from this group. Maybe next time I can latch into the story better, and disappear for a few hours into somewhere else (though traveling between Brooklyn and Queens on a weekend is rough y'all).

Monday, October 11, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W42: Assemble, Oedipus

10/16/21: Assemble
What: An immersive audio adventure in a secret location (Brooklyn).
And? Full review here.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Weekly Margin 2021, W41: Thoughts of a Colored Man, Chicken and Biscuits

What: Playwright Keenan Scott II makes his Broadway debut with a play about what it means to be a Black man in the 21st century, spending one day with seven men as they pursue their hopes and grapple with their demons.
And? I loved it. I loved it so much. Dynamic and poignant, deeply personal and universal, heartbreaking and uplifting. All the goodies. It's such a potent mix of naturalistic dialogue, slam poetry, and even music, and each character is painted so carefully. Even with each man's name in the program listed as representing a core emotion--Love, Happiness, Wisdom, Lust, Passion, Depression, Anger--they none of them feel like symbols, but like real men trying to be the best versions of themselves. Add this to your must-see list.

What: Circle in the Square hosts Douglas Lyons's comedy about mourning, a take on "Guess Who's Coming to Dad's Funeral."
And? It was okay? It was nice to be in a theater full of laughter again. But a lot of the jokes or please-clap lines sound canned, like they could have been lifted from any sitcom script. And anyone who reads my blog knows I have strong opinions about the virtues of an arena or thrust stage, and how they can expose a director's weakness. Zhailon Levingston is working hard to keep the movement kinetic, so that no part of the audience is stuck looking at the back of someone's head for too long. But too often this movement feels like wandering rather than purposeful, and leaves actors who normally fare well on a proscenium looking a bit lost. Ebony Marshall-Oliver and Aigner Mizzelle are delightful as a mother-daughter team who can't help but speak their mind.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W40: Is This a Room, Dana H, Badass Galboss Power Hour (Mandatory Meeting - 11/18/2020), The Sitayana (Or How to Make An Exit)

What: The Broadway transfer of the celebrated Vineyard production, taken from the actual transcript of the interrogation of Reality Winner regarding an information leak.
And? I'm still puzzling through what I actually thought of this play. It's for sure an interesting experiment, including the slightly tinny sound design by Lee Kinney and Sanae Yamada, to remind us that this is taken from a transcript of a recorded conversation. Further verisimilitude is achieved by the inclusion of random asides that go nowhere, sudden topic shifts and non sequiturs, and other conversational sandpits that occur in real life but less so in structured drama. So it's interesting, and strange, and unnerving, especially as the two interrogators shift from friendly chat to frightening threat, as the two men tighten the net around Reality, boxing in a young woman in cutoff shorts and a loose white shirt. I was also especially excited to see former classmate Emily Davis's much-lauded performance, and she did not disappoint. She's so good at sinking into the role that you forget she's acting.

10/01/21: Dana H
What: Another Vineyard transfer, running in rep with Is This A Room, Lucas Hnath's newest work is a documentary play about the harrowing events in his mother's life in 1997.
And? My initial impulse was to go back and rewrite my Is This a Room section above, knowing now how these two plays are not only in rep, but also in conversation with each other, but I decided to let it stand, as an unfiltered reaction to the first show on its own. What's interesting about how these two plays work is they're both somewhat deconstructed attempts at documentary. While Room takes every line from the transcripts of the interrogation of Winner and plays with our senses to ratchet up tension, or to disassociate with Winner out of the reality she is trapped in, Dana comes from interviews conducted with Hnath's mother by his friend Steve Cosson--and uses the tapes of the interview for the play's audio, with actress Dierdre O'Connell lip-synching to the tape. It sounds limiting but it's instead quite liberating (as well as shutting down arguments against Samuel Beckett's prescriptive stage directions as being too confining for individual artistic expression). O'Connell's precise fidelity to Dana's words, inflections, and pauses create just enough dissociative distance to protect (in my interpretation) both performer and Dana herself from fully living in the reality of her horror twenty years previously. They also make that reality inescapable for the audience. We must sit in silent witness. We are the attention finally being paid. It's harrowing, it's devastating, and I'll warn you now it's not exactly healing. But as she speaks of her work as a hospice chaplain, of standing witness to people as they slip away from life, of the importance of her work, of the extreme empathy it demands, she asks without asking that we offer her that same empathy. She is still alive as she tells this story, but the woman she was before 1997 is gone, and this is how she died.

If you were to pick only one of the two Vineyard/Lyceum plays to see, I'd say Dana H is the one, BUT I would also say that I think both plays are so much richer for seeing them in each other's context. Room primed me to see Dana; Dana taught me how to revisit my night at Room. [Warning now, I kept my review vague, but the content of Dana H contains discussions of abduction and assault, both physical and sexual. Please take care of yourself and decide what you feel safe experiencing.]

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Monday, September 27, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W39: Moulin Rouge!, Persuasion, Stupid Kids, Tony Awards

9/24/21: Moulin Rouge!
What: The Broadway return of the adaptation of one of my favorite films (a repeat visit).
And? I saw this show for my friend Marissa's birthday back in 2019, so I knew ahead of time the weaknesses in the book, including the fact that the momentum just flat out drops when they speak more than four lines of dialogue. The changes made to try to confront some of the issues in the film, for the large part, don't know how to stick the landing (a perpetual issue of mine with adapter/playwright Logan) So putting all that aside, this was my first Broadway musical back (not first musical or first Broadway, but first Broadway musical) and it was the show's reopening, so the energy was ecstatic in that theater. Entrance applause for every ensemble member during the preshow, standing ovations to greet the entrances of Tveit and Burstein, standing ovations at the end of numerous songs, including twice during the opening "Lady Marmalade." "Backstage Romance" was as showstoppingly good as I remembered it being. The night was joyous. I cried when Danny Burstein appeared, knowing what a hard year he's had, and hearing his voice sounding gloriously healthy. Aaron Tveit continues to sound wonderful as well, and Satine replacement Natalie Mendoza is gloriously suited to the part and a gift.

Photo by Zelda Knapp.

9/25/21: Persuasion
What: Bedlam presents Sarah Rose Kearns's new adaptation of Jane Austen's novel about love rekindled.
And? I am ready for director Eric Tucker to stop using a man in a woman's wig as a joke in and of itself. I am ready for femininity to cease being a punchline. Honestly I feel like this is a play trying desperately to be good despite its director's best efforts. The random, uncomfortable, and tonally inappropriate horniness that plagued Peter Pan (Bedlam's worst outing to date) is back in mercifully muted force, and beyond that Tucker's usual bag of tricks is in somewhat effective use. Les Dickert's lighting design, which like many Bedlam productions utilizes a number of handheld lamps manipulated by the actors, is inadequate for this proscenium venue--too often the actors' faces are too shadowed for anything to be conveyed beyond maybe the first few rows. This would work fine in some of Bedlam's earlier, more intimate stagings, but not at the Connelly. John McDermott's scenic design also has a number of headscratchers (someone needs to explain the sheep to me. anyone?), but I will say Jane Shaw's sound design is effective and enjoyable, especially its utilization of the two standing mics for the actors to create ambient sound (the satisfying clink of fork against plate in the dinner scene, yum). The cast is mostly okay, with Caroline Grogan and Yonatan Gebeyehu two particular standouts in a number of roles (even if I hated every choice involving Lady Dalrymple, I still enjoyed Gebeyehu quite a bit). I didn't dislike the show so much as this review is making out--like I said, it's trying so hard to be a good play despite the questionable production choices imposed upon it, and the cast is working hard. But the degree of frustration engendered from the show's shortcomings is ... acute, especially with the memory still fresh of how wonderful Kate Hamill's Sense and Sensibility was.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched
  • Broadway's Best Shows's livestream reading of Stupid Kids.
  • The Tony Awards.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W38: Letters of Suresh, Lackawanna Blues

 9/14/21: Letters of Suresh
What: 2nd Stage presents Rajiv Joseph's epistolary play about a found box of letters to a priest in Japan, and the lives touched by the letters and their author.
And? While watching, I kept being struck by what a smart choice this was for 2nd Stage's return to live theater: the structure is largely monologue/audience address, which allows for a safer rehearsal set up, and a big theme of the play is the connections and relationships we can build, even while far away from each other. And, like the origami figures built by its title character, Rajiv Joseph's play tucks and folds its various plot threads neatly together to give a well-packaged and satisfying conclusion. The play may not be life-changing, but it's very well done, anchored by strong performances from Ramiz Monsef (Suresh) and Ali Ahn (Melody, the woman who finds the letters), as well as a final cameo-button from the ever-talented Thom Sesma. The sound design and original music by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts is subtle but powerful, and in collaboration with Jiyoun Chang's lighting design and Shawn Duan's beautiful projection design, adeptly shapes the time passing between and even within letters as they are composed and spoken aloud. If I had one complaint (and it feels so minor to point it out, but the truth is it was continually distracting to me), it would be Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams's build of the scrims which host Duan's projections. The seams in the fabric are so visible, some of them even warped, and it keeps drawing the eye away from the beauty of the origami koi fish, or even the square of yellow paper which changes Suresh's life. I tried to find a textual rationale--perhaps it represented Japanese screens or the origami paper's folds--but neither rationale sees verification in the use of space. Even with this quibble, it's lovely to be in a theater filled with people who are so profoundly grateful to be back--I hope this audience goodwill will continue for a good stretch.

What: Manhattan Theatre Club presents Ruben Santiago-Hudson's tribute to "Nanny" Rachel Crosby, the woman who raised him.
And? It's a great opportunity for Santiago-Hudson to showcase his range as a performer, vocally, physically, and musically, and it's a very loving ode to the woman who saved not just him but countless others while running her boarding houses in upstate New York. Backed by Junior Mack on guitar playing original music by Santiago-Hudson's longtime collaborator Bill Sims Jr. (to whose memory the play is dedicated), the author/performer plays over twenty different characters from his childhood (as well as a mean harmonica). Parts of this are truly very strong--virtuosic even--but the momentum drops a few times into a restlessness until the next big story or character can begin. And, even if it's a reflection of the times, I am uncomfortable with the pejorative language regarding mental illness.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W37: Sanctuary City, A Phoenix Too Frequent, Angela's Ashes

9/10/21: Sanctuary City
What: The Lucille Lortel hosts NYTW's semi-aborted March 2020 production of Martina Majok's play about two teens in a post-9/11 world with the threat of deportation looming over them. 
And? I love it. The first half of the play is a series of lightning strikes--quick fragments of scenes that quickly shift to other scenes, then shift back, and yet somehow the audience isn't lost in the journey. A beautiful demonstration of what a strong voice and good collaboration among playwright, director (Rebecca Frecknall) and actors (Jasai Chase-Owens and Sharlene Cruz) can look and sound like. And when the Girl finally leaves for college, three and half years go by in a prolonged moment of poetic half-light, with the Boy standing still and watching as she rotates slowly. The second half of the play is a different kind of unrelenting to the first: one long unbroken scene, with no escape from the uncomfortable truths now finally forced into light. And though even the final moments of the play are over a decade in our nation's past, the immediacy, the urgency, and the knowledge that this crisis remains just as terrifying today for undocumented minors are ever-present.

Jasai Chase-Owens and Sharlene Cruz as B and G. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched
APT's stream of A Phoenix Too Frequent.
Irish Rep's online presentation of Angela's Ashes.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W36: What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad

9/03/21: What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad
What: Hunter Theatre Project presents the final play in Richard Nelson's Rhinebeck Panorama as the Michaels and their friends gather in Angers, France on September 8, 2021, to mourn Rose and to witness the dance performances of her daughter and niece.
And? Last year, Richard Nelson's Apple Family plays found me at just the right time. His Zoom continuation plays for that family were one of the streaming-theater-hybrid highlights of 2020 for me. Although I haven't seen The Michaels, the predecessor to What Happened?, I knew I couldn't pass up the chance to see the final Rhinebeck play in person. I am sorry I hadn't seen any of the others live; I am so grateful I got to see this one. It's hard to describe a Rhinebeck play to someone and make it sound compelling: people prepare a meal, talk, eat the meal, and talk. At some point there is a pause to enjoy a work of art: poetry, choral music, dance. There is in Nelson's plays an appreciation for life, for the here and now. A gratitude and an awareness. That which Wilder warned us in Our Town is all too rare. This play, which takes place five days after I saw it, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (September 8, 2021, its opening night), is grateful to be alive, while mourning the innumerable losses of this past year and a half. When the show ended I remained in my seat a few extra moments, to weep in gratitude that I was here, that I was home. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W35: The Last of the Love Letters, Bagdad Cafe, Viral, Cymbeline

What: Atlantic Theater Company presents a new epistolary play by Ngozi Anyanwu about two people at the end of something, unable to finally say goodbye.
And? Honestly, I'm not really sure what to make of the structure or the conclusion of this play. The first section seems wholly disconnected from the second. While both yield strong solo performances from playwright Anyanwu and her costar Daniel J. Watts, I remain unclear just what the playwright or director intended for the audience to leave with.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched This Week

Monday, August 9, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W32: Pass Over

8/07/21: Pass Over
What: Lincoln Center's Broadway transfer (and indeed the first Broadway show to perform since the shutdown) of Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu's powerful three-hander about Moses and Kitch, two Black men on a sidewalk planning to escape their circumstances.
And? I adored this play when I saw it Off-Broadway, and was so thrilled when the transfer was announced. The three actors are extraordinary (award nominations for Smallwood and Hill please!), and the expansion of Wilson Chin's scenic design is breathtaking. Playwright Nwandu has rewritten aspects of the play, particularly its conclusion, to reflect the change in dialogue in the States about violence against Black bodies over the past few years. Beyond that, I don't want to delve too deeply into spoiler territory, so I'll just say I'm so glad this play and playwright and production exist, and I think when they publish the script it would be fascinating to publish the different versions that have received major productions (the Steppenwolf run/Spike Lee film, the Off-Broadway run, and the Broadway run). Someone better credentialed than me could write a compelling article about that journey.

Namir Smallwood and Jon Michael Hill as Kitch
and Moses. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W31: Edges, An Iliad, Rough Crossing, The Wolves

 7/29/21: Edges
What: Chance Theater presents Pasek and Paul's first collaboration, a song cycle written when they were 19.
And? I'm trying to keep the "they were only 19" dominant in my head because the writing in this show isn't there yet (wasn't there yet? tense is weird). It has strong vibes of wanting to be Songs For a New World without actually reaching those heights (there's even a semi-"Stars and the Moon" song in the last third). Too many of the songs lack a journey--they're catchy and tuneful, but they don't go anywhere new between the first and last verses. So, that aside: yes, I cried as soon as I sat down, in my first time in an indoor theater since March 11, 2020. The four performers have good voices, and Tyler Marshall and Elizabeth Curtin especially have great timing and physicality throughout, doing the most work to build an arc to the songs they sing. Bradley Kaye's scenic design is an appealing abstract space for the different songs to exist, and director James Michael McHale makes good use of the thrust space, playing to three sides without neglecting sections. There is some work done by McHale and costume designer Christina Perez to create throughlines for suggestions of characters (connecting songs out of the vacuum to be some sort of arc), but this work is so uneven and unbalanced (much more work has been done to build arcs for the women than the men, with any arc for Jewell Holloway treated more as an afterthought than any sort of plan). If this show is aspiring to be a new SFANW, this is another place it misses the mark: SFANW trusts its audience to do the work of building an emotional arc for the four performers and doesn't try to superimpose anything on top of the individual songs. I felt, watching, that I was being asked to either forgive the slight mismatches that resulted in joining up different songs to the same character, or allow myself to acknowledge that the lack of specificity of voice in the lyrics--more common in pop music than in musical theater--is what they're counting on. Still, I was happy to be back in a theater and hear songs sung live, right in front of me. That was huge.

Tyler Marshall, Elizabeth Curtin, Jewell Holloway, and Sarah Pierce.
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments
The Broadway League is requiring all Broadway audiences to show proof of full vaccination.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W29: Merry Wives, Ride Share, An Iliad, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

7/13/21: Merry Wives
What: Shakespeare in the Park presents Jocelyn Bioh's adaptation of the Bard's somewhat obscure spin-off about Falstaff, this time set in South Harlem.
And? This was so damn delightful. I'll confess it's a play I don't know at all, but this adaptation was full of so much playfulness and joy, a truly excellent cast (especially Pascale Armand and Susan Kelechi Watson as the titular Merry Wives, oh my god so good). Other standouts include Gbenga Akinnagbe as the attempted-cuckolded Ford and Joshua Echebiri in the dual roles of Slender and Pistol. Jacob Ming-Trent's Falstaff was funny if a bit less nuanced than either of the two wives he attempts to seduce. Jocelyn Bioh's script adapt is quick and punchy, and a happy blend of Shakespeare's text and the eclectic language of the blended West African immigrant communities in South Harlem. Dede Ayite's costume design is swoonworthy gorgeous, Beowulf Boritt's set is appealingly modular, and Jiyoun Chang's lighting achieves breathtaking beauty in the climactic spirit scene. What a happy return to the Delacorte after a terrible year.

Jacob Ming-Trent and Susan Kelechi Watson as Falstaff and Madam Nkechi
Ford. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched