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Archive for the ‘Theater Reviews’ Category

THEATER REVIEWS

ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS (Broadway, December 1993)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kN

ADDICTED: A COMEDY OF SUBSTANCE (off-Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lG

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (Broadway, May 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ll

ALICE (Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 1995)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-F5

ALL THE WAY (Broadway, June 2014)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-AE

AN ALMOST HOLY PICTURE (Broadway, February 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lt

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (Marquis, March 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ly

ARE YOU DAVE GORMAN? (off-Broadway, December 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lK

ARTS & LEISURE (off-Broadway, May 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-EJ

AS YOU LIKE IT – FRESH (off-Broadway, Sept. 1990)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-F7

THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES (Broadway, April 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hy

AVENUE Q (Broadway, August 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lC

BARBARA COOK: MOSTLY SONDHEIM (Broadway, July 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lP

BARTENDERS (off-Broaday, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-u2

BAT BOY: The Musical (off-Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-u6

BE (off-Broadway, April 2007)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-oH

BEA ARTHUR ON BROADWAY: JUST BETWEEN FRIENDS (Broadway, February 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lT

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Broadway, April 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-m1

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Broadway, April 1994)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lX

BELLS ARE RINGING (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-m4

BETTY RULES (off-Broadway, November 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ua

BIG APPLE CIRCUS – Big Top Doo-Wop (off-Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ue

BIG RIVER (Broadway, July 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-m8

BILL MAHER: VICTORY BEGINS AT HOME (Broadway, July 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mc

BLAST! (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mg

BLUE MAN GROUP: Tubes (off-Broadway, August 1994)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-um

BOOBS! THE MUSICAL (off-Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uq

BOOK OF DAYS (off-Broadway, November 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uu

THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE (Broadway, September 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mk

BRUTAL IMAGINATION (off-Broadway, January 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uy

BURIED CHILD (Broadway, April 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-Ey

BURN THIS (off-Broadway, September 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uC

BUTLEY (Boston, MA, November 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uG

BY JEEVES (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mo

BY THE SEA, BY THE SEA, BY THE BEAUTIFUL SEA (off-Broadway, May 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-EG

CABARET (Broadway, Jan. 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uO

CABARET (Broadway, March 1998)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uK

CAFE A GO GO (off-Broadway, June 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-t4

THE CARBON COPY BUILDING (off-off-Broadway, October 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-t9

CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE [Todd Robbins] (off-Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-td

CATS (Broadway, June 1997)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sJ

CATS (Broadway, 1994)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sF

A CELEBRATION OF SILLINESS! [Fred Anderson] (San Francisco, CA, August 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tK

THE CHANG FRAGMENTS (off-Broadway, 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ED

CHICAGO (Broadway, November 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sM

CINDERELLA [aka Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella] (Broadway, April 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hD

A CLASS ACT (Broadway, March 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sS

THE COLOR PURPLE (Broadway, December 2005)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sW

COMEDIANS (off-Broadway, January 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tz

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) (off-Broadway, October 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tC

COOKIN’ (off-Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lp

THE COUNTESS (off-Broadway, September 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tG

CRASHING (off-off-Broadway, November 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tN

CRIMES OF THE HEART (off-Broadway, May 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tR

CRISS ANGEL MINDFREAK (off-Broadway, December 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tV

THE CRUCIBLE (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-t0

CYMBELINE (off-Broadway, January 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tZ

DANCE OF DEATH (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rL

DANGEROUS CORNER (off-Broadway, October 1995)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-F9

DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rP

A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG (Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rT

THE DAZZLE (off-Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sd

DE LA GUARDA: VILLA VILLA (off-Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sh

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Broadway, May 2012)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-D0

DEBBIE DOES DALLAS (off-Broadway, February 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sl

DEF POETRY JAM ON BROADWAY (Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rX

DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN (Broadway, March 1995)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-s1

DESIGN FOR LIVING (Broadway, March 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-s5

DESPERATE MEASURES (off-Broadway, October 2018)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-v6

DINNER AT EIGHT (Broadway, January 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-s9

DISGRACED (Broadway, Jan. 2015)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-z0

DRAGAPELLA! WITH THE KINSEY SICKS (off-Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sB

EARS ON A BEATLE (off-Broadway, April 2004)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rq

ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY (Broadway, February 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-st

THE ELEPHANT MAN (Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sp

ELI’S COMIN’ (off-Broadway, June 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rv

ENDPAPERS (off-Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rz

EPIC PROPORTIONS (Broadway, October 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sx

EVERETT BEEKIN (off-Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rD

THE EXONERATED (off-Broadway, October 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rH

THE FANTASTICKS (off-Broadway, March 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qk

FAR AND WIDE (off-Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qr

THE FATHER (Broadway, January 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qT

FIRST LOVE (off-Broadway, September 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qv

FISH IN THE DARK (Broadway, July 2015)
http://wp.me/pzvIo-cv

THE FLAMING IDIOTS (off-Broadway, January 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qA

FLOWER DRUM SONG (Broadway, October 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qX

FOOTLOOSE (Broadway, October 1998)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-r1

FORBIDDEN BROADWAY CLEANS UP ITS ACT (off-Broadway, January 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qE

FORTUNE’S FOOL (Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-r5

42ND STREET (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rd

45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-r9

FOSSE (Broadway, January 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rh

FOUR (off-Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qI

THE FOURTH WALL (off-Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qL

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE DE LUNE (Broadway, August 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rl

FRED ANDERSON: A CELEBRATION OF SILLINESS! (San Francisco, CA, August 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-tK

FROM DOOR TO DOOR (off-Broadway, March 2004)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qP

THE GATHERING (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-px

GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE (Broadway, May 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pB

THE GIN GAME (Broadway, December 2015)
http://wp.me/pzvIo-c3

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY (off-Broadway, October 2018)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-v2

THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pF

GOD SHOWS UP (off-Broadway, Feb. 2019)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-Fd

GOLDA’S BALCONY (off-Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nt

THE GOOD THIEF (off-Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nx

THE GRADUATE (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pJ

GREASE! (Broadway, May 1994)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pN

THE GUYS (off-Broadway, September 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nB

GYPSY (Broadway, May 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pR

HAIRSPRAY (Broadway, August 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pV

HAND TO GOD (Broadway, July 2015)
http://wp.me/pzvIo-cv

HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY (off-Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kV

HEDDA GABLER (Broadway, October 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pZ

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (off-Broadway, January 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kZ

HENRY IV (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-q4

HIGH DIVE (off-Broadway, February 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-l3

HIGH FIDELITY (Broadway, December 2006)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-oj

HOLLYWOOD ARMS (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qc

HOMECOMING (off-Broadway, January 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-lb

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS… (Broadway, January 2006)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-qg

HOWARD KATZ (off-Broadway, March 2007)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ow

I AM MY OWN WIFE (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ms

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE (off-Broadway, August 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kR

I’M NOT RAPPAPORT (Broadway, August 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mA

IF YOU EVER LEAVE ME, I’M GOING WITH YOU (Broadway, September 2001)
http://wp.me/pzvIo-cI

IMAGINARY FRIENDS (Broadway, January 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mE

INTO THE WOODS (Broadway, May 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mL

THE INVENTION OF LOVE (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mP

IT AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT THE BLUES (Broadway, June 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mT

IT’S ONLY A PLAY (Broadway, Dec. 2015)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-A6

JACKIE MASON: LAUGHING ROOM ONLY (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mX

JACKIE MASON: PRUNE DANISH (Broadway, October 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-n1

JEKYLL & HYDE (Broadway, April 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hu

JEKYLL & HYDE (Broadway, May 1997)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-n5

JOE EGG (Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-rT

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (Broadway, March 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nd

KAT AND THE KINGS (Broadway, September 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nh

KING HEDLEY II (Broadway, May 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nl

THE KINSEY SICKS: DRAGAPELLA! (off-Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-sB

KISS ME, KATE (Broadway, September 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-np

LA BOHEME (Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nF

LAUGHING ROOM ONLY [Jackie Mason] (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mX

LES MISERABLES (Broadway, 1997)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nJ

LIFE SUCKS (off-Broadway, April 2019)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-Fj

LIFE (x) 3 (Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nN

THE LION KING (Broadway, November 1997)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nR

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nV

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Broadway, May 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-nZ

THE LOOK OF LOVE (Broadway, May 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-o3

LYDIA (Los Angeles, CA, April 2009)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kD

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (Broadway, March 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-oL

MAJOR BARBARA (Broadway, July 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-oP

THE MADRAS HOUSE (February 2007)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-os

MAMMA MIA! (Broadway, October 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-oT

MAN OF LA MANCHA (Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-oY

THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK (Broadway, May 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-p2

MASTER CLASS (Broadway, November 1995)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-p6

MAURITIUS (Pasadena, CA, April 2009)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kJ

MEDEA (Broadway, December 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pa

METAMORPHOSES (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pe

MISS SAIGON (Broadway, 1994)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pi

MORNING’S AT SEVEN (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pm

MOVIN’ OUT (Broadway, November 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pq

THE MYSTERY OF CHARLES DICKENS (Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-pt

NEVER GONNA DANCE (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-i1

THE NEW FACES OF AMERICA (Greeley, CO, Nov. 2009)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-yM

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (Broadway, April 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ES

NINE (Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-i6

NOISES OFF (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ic

NUDE NUDE TOTALLY NUDE (Andrea Martin) (off-Broadway, April 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-EM

OKLAHOMA! (Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ij

OLD HATS (off-Broadway, April 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hH

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-in

ONE MO’ TIME (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-is

THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Broadway, Dec. 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-B7

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Broadway, September 1994)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ix

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG (Broadway, July 2017)
http://wp.me/pzvIo-9X

THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE (Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-iC

POPCORN FALLS (off-Broadway, October 2018)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-uX

PRIVATE LIVES (Broadway, May 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-iH

THE PRODUCERS (Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-iL

PUMPGIRLS (off-Broadway, Dec. 2007)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ui

QED (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-iP

RAGTIME (Broadway, January 1998)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-iT

RENT (Broadway, May 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-iX

REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (off-Broadway, Feb. 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-EP

THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW (Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-j1

RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA (Broadway, April 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hD

SACRILEGE (Broadway, Nov. 1998)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-EY

SALOME (Broadway, May 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-j5

SAY GOODNIGHT GRACIE (Broadway, October 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-j9

SEXAHOLIX (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jd

SIDE MAN (John Golden, January 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jh

THE SLOW DRAG (off-Broadway, April 1996)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-EV

THE SMELL OF THE KILL (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jl

SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE (Broadway, March 1995)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jp

SOCRATES (off-Broadway, May 2019)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-Ga

STONES IN HIS POCKETS (Broadway, April 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jt

STUFF HAPPENS (off-Broadway, April 2006)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-od

THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (Broadway, March 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jx

TABOO (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jB

TAKE ME OUT (Broadway, March 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jF

TARTUFFE (Broadway, January 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jJ

TARZAN (Broadway, May 2006)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ok

THAT PHYSICS SHOW (off-Broadway, July 2016)
http://wp.me/pzvIo-bJ

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ (Broadway, October 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-o8

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Broadway, April 2002)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jN

THOU SHALT NOT (Broadway, October 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jS

A THOUSAND CLOWNS (Broadway, July 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-jX

TOM SAWYER [The Adventures of] (Broadway, May 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ll

URBAN COWBOY (Broadway, March 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-k2

URINETOWN (Broadway, October 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-k6

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (Broadway, April 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hr

VICTORY BEGINS AT HOME [Bill Maher] (Broadway, July 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-mc

VINCENT IN BRIXTON (Broadway, March 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-ka

VOICES IN THE DARK (Broadway, August 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kf

THE WEIR (Broadway, April 1999)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kj

WICKED (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kn

THE WOMEN (Broadway, November 2001)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kr

WONDERFUL TOWN (Broadway, December 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kv

A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD (Broadway, April 2003)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-kz

ZELDA AT THE OASIS (off-Broadway, January 2013)
https://wp.me/pzvIo-hV

INDEX: Theater Reviews: https://wp.me/pzvIo-an

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SOCRATES

reviewed off-Broadway by David Lefkowitz, May 2019.

Daily, my twelfth-grade English teacher would harangue us with the mantra, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” She told us the line came from teacher and thinker Socrates, who used questioning as a method to get to the heart of any matter. What she neglected to tell us is that the examined life ain’t so wonderful, either, and it can sometimes get you killed.

What Tim Blake Nelson’s drama, Socrates, now in an extended run at the Public Theater, gets grippingly right, is demonstrating how a smart and respected, if stubborn, man, who simply asks probing questions, can so rankle his admirers that they turn on him and use the state’s political machinery to destroy him. The play is replete with “socratic” dialogues, in which we see the master’s ever-hungry intellect at work. Bearded, shlubby, and jovial until he’s intractable, Socrates (Michael Stuhlbarg) asks a seemingly obvious question that his opponent is then forced to answer. Then come the relentless syllogisms (i.e., if this is so, then must that be so?) until the other arguer must acknowledge the shaky ground on which his belief system stands.

Heady stuff—literally and figuratively—and as long as Socrates the play focuses on Socrates the braniac, we remain as drawn to the character as his best friend Plato (Teagle F. Bougere), who frames the narrative by explaining to a Socratic acolyte why their mutual idol had to be sacrificed. Where the excessively long drama falters is in dwelling on the mundane aspects of Soc’s life (distracted husband and father, human with earthy appetites) without making them compelling. Thus we get an opening comical debate about the teacher’s assumed bisexuality and presumed predilection for young boys, but this has little bearing on his later trial or even the arc of his relationships with followers and enemies. Miriam X. Hyman, as wife Xanthippe, has one nondescript scene in act one and yet must carry a huge emotional aria about their marriage later on. And director Doug Hughes chooses to stage Socrates’s death in seemingly real time, drawing out the play’s last half hour with a ritual bath and poisoning that add long minutes to the finale but no weight to the drama. (I compare this to David Rabe’s 1997 play, A Question of Mercy, which showed the step-by-step preparation and enactment of an intentional overdose. That piece, however, was about the ramifications of assisted suicide, so the scene felt both agonizing and justified.)

All this extra baggage ultimately turns a stimulating and politically relevant work into something dutiful, enervated. Not helping is Scott Pask’s monolithic set of amber stones with Greek writing on them, soothingly lit by Tyler Micoleau. There’s little for the eye to fix upon when the dialogue gets sloggy, and no physical representation of earthiness and grit—which would be more appropriate considering the behavior of Socrates’s fellow citizens.

Nonetheless, and despite an overreliance on shouting to get his biggest moments across, Michael Stuhlbarg makes for a zestful educator. So long as the play sticks to this thickset gadfly’s inquiring mind, its entertainment value goes without question.

*

Socrates, staged by Doug Hughes, ran April 2-June 2, 2019 at off-Broadway’s Public Theater.

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LIFE SUCKS

**1/2

(reviewed off-Broadway in April 2019 by David Lefkowitz. This review was first published in Theater News Online, April 2019: http://www.theaternewsonline.com/NYTheaterReviews/UNHAPPYGATHERINGS.cfm)

Conventional boundaries between characters, the actors who play them, and the audiences who watch them, are being redrawn this off-Broadway season. Heidi Schreck begins her autobiographical What the Constitution Means to Me as a fairly straightforward recollection of her years winning VFW political debates and then deliberately (and to the play’s detriment) pulls the wheels off by stripping her co-star of his character and ending the show with a partially scripted disputation and audience vote. Nassim touches and amuses as its playwright guides an unrehearsed guest star via written prompts. Breaking the fourth wall, as well, is Aaron Posner’s Life Sucks, a riff on Uncle Vanya where a grumpy septet of actors become the denizens of Chekhov’s cruel universe.

After some “hey audience”-type remarks to start the production, the thesps jump into the longings and complainings of their Russian roles. There’s Vanya (Jeff Biehl), bald and embittered, infatuated with willowy Ella (Nadia Bowers) and therefore loathing her husband (Austin Pendleton), a professor whose pendantry is matched only by his own self-loathing. His daughter, Sonya (Kimberly Chatterjee), has eyes for the lanky local doctor (Michael Schantz), which is problematic because he, like Vanya, finds himself inexorably drawn to Ella. Also fascinated by the Professor’s wife is family friend Pickles (Stacey Linnartz), a semi-ditzy lesbian still grieving a past relationship. Add in Vanya’s mother (Barbara Kingsley), who turns out to be the doctor’s first conquest, and you have the makings of some seriously unhappy family gatherings.

For all the modern language and anachronistic references, author Posner and director Jeff Wise bring two ideas to the fore. One is making the subtext the show. This is not a play where characters hide their feelings; instead, in monologues and arguments, they say exactly what’s on their minds at all times, which makes the throughlines easy to follow if exhausting. Secondly, the folks of Life Sucks are brutally self-aware in terms of their physical attractiveness (or lack thereof), even as they move aimlessly, fruitlessly, through other aspects of their lives. Their gropings and mopings mirror those in Chekhov’s play but still feel weirdly disconnected from any time and place, be it rural Russia or New York’s Lower East Side (where Wheelhouse Theater is staging Life Sucks at The Wild Project).

Why we needed a half-formed adaptation of Uncle Vanya to grasp these themes remains the question. The characters’ interrelationships aren’t even explained until halfway through the first act—which is likely to leave any newbies to the source material at sea. So, despite pithy exchanges and some uncomfortably honest emotions, the whole of the piece fails to engage as anything deeper than a writing and acting exercise.

Though I never caught Aaron Posner’s earlier, Seagull-based Stupid Fucking Bird, my first encounter with Uncle Vanya was the intimate and fourth-wall-breaking Louis Malle film, Vanya on 42nd Street, and my first Seagull was a credible off-Broadway update set in the Hamptons, so I’m not averse to playing fast and loose with classic plays that get plenty of traditional stagings. Still, it behooves us to remember that, great as Bertolt Brecht could be, he succeeded best when he concentrated on the travails of one world instead of tugging us in and out of two.

*******

(Staged by Jeff Wise for Wheelhouse Theater Company, Life Sucks opened March 27, 2019 and ran through April 20, 2019 at off-Broadway’s The Wild Project.)

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GOD SHOWS UP

**1/2

reviewed off-off-Broadway Feb. 2019 by David Lefkowitz. This review was first published in New York Theater News/theaternewsonline.com, Feb. 2019: http://www.theaternewsonline.com/NYTheaterReviews/SPECIALGUEST.cfm

God is literally in the details in a new comedy having its world premiere at midtown’s Playroom Theater. When the deity himself is booked as a guest on a mega-vangelist’s TV broadcast, the talk soon turns, understandably, to His feelings about the planet. It is one of the charming conceits in God Shows Up that while the minister (convincingly Osteen-ish Christopher Sutton) expects humanity to be chastised for its wickedness, the lord is instead impressed by man’s ingenuity, with big cities and the invention of music garnering particular praise.

Of course, God’s visit to earth has an ulterior motive: to unmask the Lexus-driving preacher as a hypocrite—a satirical point that isn’t exactly fresh in 2019. Still, it’s not as if the defrocking of Oral Roberts and Jim Bakker types has dented the coffers of all the blithering yahoos on Sunday morning television. So maybe playwright Peter Filichia, revered in theater-journalism circles for turning his encyclopedic knowledge of musicals into playful essays—isn’t merely hammering an old nail.

That said, God Shows Up is more about epigrams (which land about a third of the time) and sub-Shavian religious debates than plot, so 75 minutes feels like 20 too many—especially after a gender switch and Armageddon-like twist extend the already obvious. Happily, Lou Liberatore (`memba him from the original Burn This?) makes an exceedingly ingratiating God—someone we’d want on our side not only as footprints on a beach but toasting us from a nearby bar stool. If he can’t rescue God Shows Up from its more laborious triflings, his buoyancy is a blessing nonetheless.

*

Staged by Christopher Scott, God Shows Up ran Jan. 31-Feb. 21 at off-off-Broadway’s Playroom Theater.

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POPCORN FALLS

***

reviewed off-Broadway by David Lefkowitz, November 2018. This review was first published in Theater News Online (http://www.theaternewsonline.com/NYTheaterReviews/SMALL-TOWNECCENTRICS.cfm) and then on TotalTheater.com (http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/8122) both in October 2018.

 

Call it “lesser tuna” with a greater heart. Much like the still-remembered comedy, Greater Tuna, James Hindman’s Popcorn Falls is a two-hander where both hands play myriad roles to tell the story of a small community and its eccentrics. Here, the crisis is that the titular town has gone bankrupt and is about to be taken over by an evil mogul who has cut off their water rights. He demands payment and fully anticipates their default. One obstacle to his victory: a big check arrives, earmarked for the town’s theater. One problem: the playhouse has long been out of commission, and there are no actors, no costumes, no sets—oh, and no play, either. But in true Andy Hardy mode, the well-meaning Mayor and his handyman pal have themselves one week to put on a show to save Popcorn Falls. Can they do it?

Buoying this silly stuff are the play’s leads, Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada, the former a New York theater veteran for three decades, the latter a longtime voice actor just starting to make his way in New York theater. Both have obvious rapport, with Heller mostly playing one role—the decent, albeit harried, mayor—and Souhrada, in a marathon-level performance, taking on a dozen characters, from a demure waitress to a frowzy former actress to the aforementioned repairman. The speed at which he switches personae is impressive, but more winning is the gentle gravity he gives Betty, the waitress. Her scenes with Mayor Trundle, played ever so quietly in contrast to the ubiquitous, sometimes exhausting, zaniness elsewhere, give the whole piece a poignant undertow.

That’s important, because as comedy, Popcorn Falls, staged by Christian Borle at off-Broadway’s aptly homey Davenport Theater, offers lots of bemused smiles but admittedly few belly laughs. It’s cute, familiar, and more than a little strained. But the quiet bits and overall belief in humanity’s ability to conquer obstacles both personal and external, render it an appealing trifle, much like the snack in its title.

*

Popcorn Falls opened Oct. 8, 2018 at off-Broadway’s Davenport Theater and, as of this writing, has tickets being sold through Jan. 6, 2019.

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GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

**3/4

Reviewed off-Broadway by David Lefkowitz, October 2018

 

 What do you get when you cross The Iceman Cometh and Pump Boys and Dinettes? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it would resemble Girl from the North Country, a downbeat jukebox musical set in a Depression-era boarding house full of lost souls who interrupt their unhappiness long enough to sing snatches of roughly two dozen Bob Dylan songs.

For about an hour, this conceit works amazingly well. The characters—ranging from the pitiable boarding house owner and his mentally ill wife, Nick and Elizabeth Laine (Stephen Bogardus and Mare Winningham) to their boozehound son (Colton Ryan), a conman preacher (David Pittu), on-the-lam boxer (Sydney James Harcourt), desperate bachelor (Tom Nelis), and widow (Jeannette Bayardelle) who vainly hopes for a fresh start with Nick—are dark and borderline desperate, but we see them at their worst because life has forced them to their lowest. Author/director Conor McPherson clearly makes some characters more immoral than others, but we sense that nearly all are a product of bad luck more than bad intentions. And then the Dylan songs start, most performed in a slow, country-ballad mode that perfectly sustains the overall mood. This is a musical where audiences don’t clap at the end of numbers; we simply return with the characters to their daily melancholy at the boarding house.

By the second act of this two-and-a-half hour show, however, what was engrossing gets soaked in sameness. The occasional rousing tune (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) may kick off a party or Thanksgiving dinner, but the songs—as with so many jukebox musicals—often feel shoehorned into the proceedings. Just because Joe is a fighter doesn’t give McPherson license to offer the first two verses of “Hurricane,” which feel jarringly anachronistic for 1930s Duluth, Minnesota: “Patty called the cops, and they arrived on the scene with their red lights flashing in the hot New Jersey night.” After awhile, we start to wonder if the show could take any tune off the radio, slow it to half tempo with acoustic guitars, piano, and fiddles, and make them serve the mood just as well.

As a director, McPherson cannot be faulted. The ebb and flow of the actors’ stage movements feels fully lived-in, and the production is beautifully wrought, right down to the occasional use of black and white projections to offer welcome relief from the sepia-toned boarding house kitchen.

What’s missing, then, apart from your basic happy ending, is a better connection between song and story, and more of a reason to care about these folks—as opposed to observing them almost clinically. Girl from the North Country is an admirable work, but there’s no getting around it being the feel-grim musical of the season. For that kind of thing, Kander & Ebb still serve better than “Empire Burlesque.”

*

Girl from the North Country opened Oct. 1, 2018 and, as of this writing, is scheduled to run through Dec. 23, 2018 at off-Broadway’s Public Theater.

 

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 DESPERATE MEASURES

***

reviewed off-Broadway by David Lefkowitz, October 2018

 

If musical geniuses can update Romeo and Juliet to follow warring gangs the west side of New York or The Taming of the Shrew to poke fun at feuding actors who open in Venice, no one’s stopping those with lesser (but still notable) gifts from doing their own bard raiding. Good thing, too, or else we wouldn’t have the always entertaining, occasionally inspired, new musical comedy Desperate Measures by composer David Friedman and librettist/lyricist Peter Kellogg. This riff on Measure for Measure, set in the Wild West era, follows a novice nun (Sarah Parnicky) who tries to help her brother (Conor Ryan) who’s set to hang for killing a man in a feud over their mutual girlfriend (Lauren Molina). Assisting Sister Mary Jo is the deputy, who finds himself drawn to her while she develops decidedly non-nun feelings for him. Standing in the way is the sheriff (Gary Marachek), who picks the Sister’s defloration as the trade for saving her brother’s life.

Shakespeare’s plotting is boiled down to easy-to-follow essentials—just enough for us to root for the good guys and boo the baddies. Storywise, we can usually guess what’s coming next—but not the twist right after it, so our interest rarely flags. Also helping is the energetic staging and—always an indicator that a musical is working—that three of the best numbers are saved for the second act and lift it higher than the first. One very funny showstopper, “Just for You,” even recalls the likes of “Everybody Ought to have a Maid” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” in ending and then adding a reprise—because the audience is having so much fun, we crave an encore.

Peter Kellogg’s lyrics are well-crafted and clever (just compare them to the relentless false rhymes of, say, Pretty Woman: The Musical) and the music on the appealingly serviceable side. The cast is game—sometimes too game. Because I caught Desperate Measures on its final weekend at New World Stages, I am hard pressed to tell whether the preponderance of mugging for laughs was director Bill Castellino’s original choice, or if, as is sometimes the case late into long runs, the performers have drifted from discipline to grimace-inducing overkill. Least affected by the showboat bug is Sarah Parnicky, who rightfully takes the comedy seriously. The worst offenders are Lauren Molina, Conor Ryan, and Gary Marachek, who all cost themselves, their characters, the show, bigger laughs by stooping to lower ones.

That’s a shame, because in its giddiest moments—and there are several—Desperate Measures is a playful hoot. When high school and college students end up tackling the show years hence, one hopes that they’ll realize the material is strong enough to measure up—with nary a hint of desperation.

*

Staged by Bill Castellino, Desperate Measures ran June 13-Oct. 28, 2018 at off-Broadway’s New World Stages.

 

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