Monday, April 24, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W17: The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Leopoldstadt, Kimberly Akimbo

What: Red Bull and Fiasco Theater present Francis Beaumont's 1607 satirical romp, wherein a disgruntled grocer, his wife, and his apprentice interrupt a theater troupe's play to demand they create a heroic role for his grocer to play.
And? What a weird, fun play. A bit of Don Quixote meets Every Shakespearean Trope you can think of. If it does start to sag about an hour in, Fiasco Theater is adept at inserting musical moments to lift it back up and make the audience smile. (I should mention I'm not versed enough in Red Bull's style/voice to know what here is their brand; but with Fiasco company members Noah Brody and Emily Young directing, the voice of Fiasco is strong here) The cast is having as good a time as the audience is. It's a bit overlong (I know I already said that, but you do start to feel it in both halves), but it's still a very good time. Excellent performances particularly from Darius Pierce, Jessie Austrian, and Paco Tolson.

Royer Bockus, Ben Steinfeld, Paco Tolson, and Tatiana Wechsler. Photo by
Carol Rosegg.

4/22/23: Leopoldstadt
a repeat visit

a repeat visit

Monday, April 17, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W16: A Beautiful Noise, The Wife of Willesden, MCC Miscast, King Lear

What: It's the Neil Diamond musical!
And? As a friend of mine put it, this show knows exactly what it is. It's a jukebox bio musical about a singer-songwriter beloved by many. It knows it has to nail all the big hits, it knows the audience will feel a feral need to sing along to "Sweet Caroline" (and allows for that to hit right before intermission), it knows it needs a good actor who can sound like Neil Diamond to sing all those songs, and it knows it needs sequins. So it does all that (I assume; I don't know a lot of Neil Diamond, but Will Swenson, always so good at disappearing behaviorally into his roles you forget he doesn't always behave that way, sounds fantastic and big-voiced). The show's got some smart bits of stagecraft with hidden trapdoors, magically fast quick changes, and a vanishing-and-reappearing onstage orchestra, all of which satisfy without overtly announcing themselves.  The ensemble is having a great time (and yay! we've got some body diversity!), as are the supporting players and principals (workhorse character actor Michael McCormick especially is clearly having a blast playing a mafia don). And hey, Mark Jacoby, playing Neil - Now looking back on his life through a series of therapy sessions, even made me feel things in the climax with tears glittering in his eyes as he sang "I Am ... I Said." And while Linda Powell is also great as his unnamed therapist, I do wish they weren't so blatantly utilizing the Black Woman Therapist archetype. Like. Y'all. At least Crazy Ex-Girlfriend hung a lantern on it when they did it. Anyway, some of the usual quibbles aside (it's not like it's a sparklingly brilliant book), this is a perfectly fine jukebox bio musical, and if you like Neil Diamond songs you'll probably have a good time.

Will Swenson and the ensemble as Neil - Then and The Beautiful Noise.
Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

What: BAM  in association with A.R.T. hosts Kiln Theatre's production of Zadie Smith's playwriting debut, an adaptation of "The Wife of Bath" from Canterbury Tales.
And? Fantastic. Uses one of my favorite tropes, collaborative storytelling, to give us a lock-in at a pub in North West London, so that when the Wife of Willesden steps to the mic to tell her story, everyone there becomes a player in her narrative. Superb cast led by Clare Perkins.
Clare Perkins, center, as Alvita, with the men of The Wife of Willesden
Photo by Marc Brenner.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched
  • MCC's annual Miscast concert.
  • Shakespeare Theatre Company's stream of Patrick Page in King Lear

Monday, April 10, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W15: Rough Trade, White Girl in Danger, Fat Ham

4/03/23: Rough Trade
What: The Tank presents a new play by Kev Berry about four gay millennial men in New York who connect and disconnect over ideological and economic disparities.
And? Just excellently done, from top to bottom. Well staged by Alex Tobey against Brendan Gonzales Boston's intelligent and deceptively simple scenic design. The dialog is as fast and quippy as it should be, while still being sharply brutal, genuinely hilarious, and all of it grounded in these four specific individuals. If the explosion that shatters the relationships is telegraphed from beat one (and from the playwright's note in the program), that doesn't mean the journey isn't still worth it. Fantastic cast, especially Derek Christopher Murphy and Remy Germinario as roommates Finch and Bunting, whose verbal sparring showcases not only their habitual barbed rhythms but also how incapable they are of stopping to think before speaking.

Derek Christopher Murphy and Max Kantor as Finch and Hawk. Photo by
Hunter Canning.

What: 2nd Stage presents Michael R. Jackson's new musical, a satirically meta examination of narratives that always center, well, white girls in danger, and what happens when the "Blackground Best Friend" decides she deserves a story of her own.
And? There's a lot going on here. There's probably too much going on here. Michael R. Jackson is a smart and able songwriter, but a lot of the satire in this book lands kind of clumsily (maybe it's just me missing the too-short-lived Ain't No Mo'). While his final tie-it-all together coup with the wonderful James Jackson, Jr.'s quiet song is a good moment, everything leading up to it is a bit overstuffed. And very loud (Be More Chill flashbacks). Sure, we can hang a lantern the fact that Nell Gibbs, as voiced incredibly by Tarra Conner Jones, is written wailing belt after wailing belt to sing, but that doesn't change the fact that she's been wailing at us for nearly three hours to prove that point. Yes, she's up to the challenge, but there's too much sameness for us to keep listening with the same degree of attention. It doesn't help that the sound design is way too muddy throughout. MRJ is an incredible lyricist, but not if I can't hear his words (even the term "Blackground" I was mishearing as "Black-Brown" for the first third of the show). The cast is pretty great, though, especially Latoya Edwards as Keesha, the best friend who wants to be the main character for once. And Montana Levi Blanco's costume design is mostly really fun and imaginative (I say mostly because not all the pieces seem to fit the bodies they were designed for as well as I want them to; but when they do fit, they're truly excellent).

Lauren Marcus, Molly Hager, Latoya Edwards, and Alyse Alan Louis as
Meagan Whitehead, Megan White, Keesha Gibbs, and Maegan Whitehall.
Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Weekly Margin, 2023, W14: How to Defend Yourself, Bad Cinderella

What: NYTW presents Liliana Padilla's new work about a student-taught self-defense class in the wake of a brutal physical and sexual assault of a sorority sister.
And? Near the end of the play Nikki, whose arc from a hunched and whispering mien to a confident and jocular demeanor is shattered by an incident before class, says (and I paraphrase), "I feel like I'm just a body that can be attacked. And you know what? I am." This is the devastating gut punch of Padilla's play. We can teach all the self-defense courses we like, and some of the techniques can probably help, but at the end of the day we're still addressing the wrong problem. Instead of teaching (mostly but not exclusively) women how to not be assaulted, we need to be teaching (mostly but not exclusively) men to not assault. While I think I ultimately didn't pick up every thing this production was putting down (especially with the final sequence, a series of situations in which consent gets muddy--are these moments from the characters' lives, origin stories of their individual traumas, or just the many times in which we are bodies waiting to be attacked?), it's still for the most part a well-crafted script with an excellent cast able to articulate every unspoken nuance of interaction (extra big special shoutout to Amaya Braganza as Nikki, who absolutely steals the show). Communication, we well know, is never just verbal. (Also special nod to co-directors Padilla, Rachel Chavkin, and Steph Paul for navigating the scenes of overlapping dialog so that we catch every beat without panicking that we're missing an important moment elsewhere)

Ariana Mahallati, Sarah Marie Rodriguez, Talia Ryder, and Gabriela Ortega
as Mojdeh, Kara, Brandi, and Diana. Photo by Joan Marcus.

What: It's, you know, Cinderella. But bad.
And? The thing is, I could probably write a lot, but how much of it would actually surprise anyone here? We know what the NY critics said (even without reading the reviews, we know what they said). We know what the TikTok folk said. The show isn't good. The lyrics are insipid, the music feels like leftovers from better ALW scores (I'll trash this all I want, but I still have a fondness for JCS and Evita). I don't think the costume designer read the script. Or watched the show. The script? It's a no from me, dawg. The basic world premise--that everyone in this kingdom is beautiful, with the sole exception of Bad Cindy and her bestie-slash-true-love Prince Sebastian--holds very little water when you take into account 1, the fact that hey, nearly every musical ensemble looks like this, so there's nothing actually new onstage; and 2, guess what the two actors playing the leads are also beautiful (I'm quietly confused that Cinderella is expositioned to not wear makeup, then shows up in distinct eye and lip makeup, but whatever). There are so many plotholes we need to treat the show for termites. Even the surprise gay romance feels so cynically tokenizing I can't enjoy it. The cast tries. It's always a treat to see Carolee Carmello and Grace McLean onstage, to hear them sing (though their duet was the point of the first audience exodus I witnessed; by intermission the entire row behind us in the mezz had emptied out).

Honestly though this wasn't even that fun to dislike. It didn't invigorate me with anger like Sam Gold's travesty of King Lear. Its biggest sin? It's just boring.

And it didn't need to be.

Linedy Genao as Cinderella with the male ensemble. Photo by Matthew
Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.