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Jan 6th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Richard III

By Cameron Lowe

Review by Lucy Komisar in New York

Mark Rylance as King Richard III, photo Joan Marcus. Mark Rylance’s portrayal of the malevolent Richard III is a complex and original psychological study. Let’s take this beyond what was expected of power seekers in Elizabethan times, that they might be rapacious and without morals. (Plus ça change, as they say.) Shakespeare doesn’t just assume the pathology of 15th-century English politics, but wonders what is wrong with a man who plots to kill everyone, including family members, that stand between him and the throne.

And as he is a master actor, Rylance’s way into Richard’s psyche is achieved by making him a guy who speaks in normal tones, whose every grimace reflects utter realism. In this version, Richard is not hunch-backed but has a shrunken arm, which he hides in his doublet, concealing the physical flaw that represents his badly camouflaged moral flaw.

Rylance arrives on stage, limping, with a flower. He notes that since he can’t be a lover, he will be a villain, and his goal is to be king. Everything follows from that, which is grist for psychoanalyists. His brother King Edward (a very good Colin Hurley) is frail, and his mantle is up for grabs.

Richard/Rylance, with a funny laugh and high-pitched wailing, pulls out his shrunken left arm and, one by one, orders the murders of those who stand in his way.

Richard’s first victim is his own brother, the Duke of Clarence (Liam Brennan). Richard invents lies that lead the King to imprison Clarence and order his death. He is quite open to himself about his own immoral character.

“To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate, the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just,
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up.”

Edward, overcome by remorse at the death of Clarence, dies – one of the few natural deaths.

Joseph Timms as Anne, Mark Rylance as King Richard III, photo Joan Marcus.

Joseph Timms as Anne, Mark Rylance as King Richard III, photo Joan Marcus.

Attempting to consolidate his power, Richard manipulates Anne Neville (Joseph Timms), widow of Edward, Prince of Wales, whom Richard had murdered, to take his marriage ring. (Like the other men playing women in this production Timms is excellent. He could deceive anyone about his gender.) Richard gushes phony tears and expresses triumph to the audience through the fourth wall, declaiming:

“I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter.
What, though I kill’d her husband and her father?”

And Richard plots the short future of his wife:

Richard [Aside]: “So wise so young, they say, do never live long.”
Prince Edward: “What say you uncle?”
Richard: “I say, without characters, fame lives long.”

Mark Rylance as King Richard III, Samuel Barnett as Queen Elizabeth, photo Joan Marcus.

Mark Rylance as King Richard III, Samuel Barnett as Queen Elizabeth, photo Joan Marcus.

There’s a lot of camping or almost camping. When an Irish major arrives with the head of Hastings, another enemy Richard has ordered killed, he holds it and shed crocodile tears. When he is told he will be crowned king, he reacts with feigned surprise like any good phony politician: “Oh! Oh! Oh!” The audience laughs.

Rylance is also very good at showing Richard’s insecurity; he giggles, he gnaws at his fingers. Anne by then is like a zombie and she soon dies. Aiming at a next in line, he wants to marry his brother’s daughter, Elizabeth. But she will not marry him. And his brother’s widow, Queen Elizabeth (the excellent Samuel Barnett), helps stall him off. Another tough woman, Richard’s noble mother, the Duchess of York (Kurt Egyiawan), displays cool passion and unyielding determination against her son’s infamous intent. Some good women here.

Toward the end, when it seems that his plans will be upended, Richard/Rylance declares, “Women! Ah Ah Ah!” He seems to be losing it. Rylance does a little jig. His voice is fearful and trembling. Richard talks to himself, declaring, “I hate myself.” He knows he is guilty. “There is no creature loves me.” He displays his shrunken left arm as if it were a talisman of his crimes.

Angus Wright as Buckingham, Joseph Timms as Anne, Mark Rylance as King Richard III, photo Joan Marcus.

Angus Wright as Buckingham, Joseph Timms as Anne, Mark Rylance as King Richard III, photo Joan Marcus.

Richard turns friends into enemies, failing to pay off the Duke of Buckingham (Angus Wright) for his past services after the Duke doesn’t want to murder Edward’s young sons. So Buckingham joins other enemies who will return in battle. Then, Richard is thrown from his horse, leading to the famous line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Except you know that this is also a desperate lie, another con. It ends the only way it could. Richmond (Egyiawan), a leader of the opposition, kills Richard in a duel. He will marry the princess, Elizabeth.

What Rylance brings to this production is the subtle expression of evil that does not require loud malicious tones, but is achieved quietly, subtly, even sotto voce. It’s a memorable performance. Director Tim Carroll keeps the mood tense and real, so that it feels like a thriller.

And he preserves the mood of the original with a set that aims to conjure up the Globe Theater. The stage features sconces with tapers on chandeliers that descend from above, trumpets and trombones played from a high walkway, and a double row of wood benches holding audience members at the sides. The design is by Jenny Tiramani and music by Claire van Kampen. It is unforgettable theater.

Richard III.” Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Tim Carroll. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., New York City. 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400. Opened Nov 10, 2013; closes Feb 15, 2014. 12/29/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop 
Nov 19th

The Dungeon Master

By Irish Reviewers
DM.jpgThe Dungeon Master is an interactive theatrical horror show based in Los Angeles which has been popping up in cool venues for over 30 years. LA has always proved to have been a vast place but the truth is we would have never known about th...is underground world if we hadn’t of met one of the stars at AFM last week, who was kind enough to invite us along last Sunday.

The venue this season is a large warehouse in downtown LA. It was candle lit and draped in red velvet curtains and there was a sound of the violin playing as we were greeting by many audience members in costume. There is an option to wear costume or not.

We were previously informed that the show never has the same script twice and is held every Sunday but they take about a month’s break in between seasons. The general format is they have a new storyline each week. They select audience members to be part of the cast, giving them their own identity and costume while taking them on their quest throughout the story. This is perhaps why they have such a large following, particularly for people who like to wear costumes and step into the world of make believe.

The Dungeon master cast consists of approximately 10 actors and at each interval they had 6 audience members join their enormous stage which swiftly moved from scene to scene marvellously.

This particular show that we caught was a medieval themed horror story about a werewolf. While we were brought on a scary mystical journey of people being murdered and the frightening reality that there was a werewolf on the prowl we are introduced to the selected audience members who can use spells and certain rules on their quest (which you can study on their webpage). It almost reminded me of a life size Xbox game only it was far more tantalizing and real. Throughout the storyline we are brought on a journey with strong improvisation actors and clever, bold set design.

It seems that an audience thoroughly enjoys this format because it encourages costume and allows its audience to become part of the show. It attracted a majority of intelligent and intellectual 20 & 30’s crowd and everyone seemed to embrace being able to creating their own character while in their seats or hanging out at the bar.

All in all it proved to be an exciting format that allows its patrons a different experience of theatre. I don’t see much of this theatre style format around and I’m not sure that it is for everyone but for those that do like it – they seem to come in the masses.

To keep up to date or find out more about this show you can visit: http://the-dungeonmaster.com/

Marti Steward
Irish Reviewers
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Oct 30th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Winslow Boy

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Terrence Rattigan’s “The Winslow Boy” is a British period piece that is still eminently satisfying. Written in 1946 and set in 1912 to 14, it is based on a true story.

The-Winslow-Boy-Roger-Rees-as-Arthur-Winslow-Michael-Cumpsty-as-Desmond-Mary-Elizabeth-Mastrantonio-as-Grace-Winslow-Charlotte-Parry-as-Catherine-photo-Joan-Marcus.jpg
Roger Rees as Arthur Winslow, Michael Cumpsty as Desmond, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Grace Winslow, Charlotte Parry as Catherine, photo Joan Marcus.jpg

A father in an upper class household – at least upper class enough to afford a full-time servant – gets a letter informing him that his son has been accused of purloining a five-pound postal order from another boy at the Royal Naval College. He believes the son that the accusation is unjust and must immediately make a moral choice that could risk the family’s financial status.

This Old Vic production, directed by Lindsay Posner, is smart and gripping and not at all creaky. In fact it reminds one of the Shaw plays of the time. That owes a lot to the strong performances of the tough sinewy Roger Rees as the boy’s father, Arthur, Charlotte Parry as his daughter, the feminist charmer, Catherine, and to others in a superb cast. Rattigan was, like Shaw, ahead of his times in writing admirable feminist characters.

The scene is the Winslows’ sitting room. There is a green couch with throw pillows, green floral wallpaper and double doors to the dining room. In a corner is a victrola, which will play jazzy music of the era. It’s comfortable, but not too elegant.

As befits the times and the family’s station, while son Ronnie (Spencer David Milford) is at the naval college, son Dickie (Zachary Booth) is at Oxford. Catherine, who is by far smarter than her brothers, is a volunteer at the women’s suffrage association. Point clearly made.

The-Winslow-Boy-Alessandro-Nivola-as-Sir-Robert-Morton-interrogates-Spencer-Davis-Milford-as-Ronnie-Winslow-with-his-father-mother-and-sister-looking-on-photo-Joan-Marcus.jpg
Spencer Davis Milford as Ronnie Winslow interrogated by Alessandro Nivola as Sir Robert as Roger Rees as Arthur, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Grace and Charlotte Parry as Catherine Winslow look on, photo Joan Marcus.

Although pressing the case to overturn the judgment against the boy threatens to provoke a public scandal, which Victorian families eschewed, Arthur refuses to accept Ronnie taking the fall for another’s peccadillo.

Though his wife Grace (the very purposeful Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) opposes his stance, because it is eating into the family fortune, he insists on hiring the best lawyer in the country to fight the case. The barrister, Sir Robert Morton (Alessandro Nivola), a member of parliament, is personally conservative but also committed to uphold justice. You get some of the play-by-play of the off-stage courtroom, where Morton uses his wits to challenge the key witnesses.

Nivola makes the fellow a bit mysterious; you don’t quite know what makes him tick. Catherine is strong and supportive of pressing the case, even though this jeopardizes her impending marriage to the weak-minded and somewhat patronizing John Watherstone (Chandler Williams), who is concerned at the scandal’s effect on the allowance he gets from his conservative father. (We immediately conclude that she is better off without him.)

They are all rather stock characters, including Desmond Curry (the comic Michael Cumpsty), a slightly maladroit fellow who is mad about Catherine.

The-Winslow-Boy-Michael-Cumpsty-as-Desmond-Curry-Alessandro-Nivola-as-Sir-Robert-Morton-photo-Joan-Marcus.jpg
Michael Cumpsty as Desmond Curry and Alessandro Nivola as Sir Robert Morton, photo Joan Marcus.

Neither of the Winslow boys seems to have much inner strength, or at least maturity. Ronnie goes to the movies during a crucial moment in the case, and Dickie is a lackadaisical fellow who is devoted to his own amusement. (As a fellow without much substance or work ethic, he is deemed not worth the tuition at Oxford and will be sent to work at a bank. I don’t think Rattigan knew how prescient that was!)

Posner’s direction keeps the play current and on the mark about the moral conflict between money and principles. Morton is attracted to Catherine though he’s a sexist who denigrates the fight for women’s rights. At the conclusion, when he tells her, “Goodbye, Miss Winslow. Shall I see you in the House then, one day?” She replies, “Yes, Sir Robert. One day. But not in the Gallery. Across the floor.”

Well said!

“The Winslow Boy.” Written by Terence Rattigan; directed by Lindsay Posner. The Old Vic at the Roundabout Theatre Company, 227 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-719-1300. Opened Oct 17, 2013; closes Dec 1, 2013. 10/26/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.

Oct 28th

The Lala's

By Irish Reviewers

IMG_0493 (2) - Copy.jpg
The Lalas is a burlesque show based in Los Angeles, who travel throughout the world with their show. The Lalas consist of approximately 8 talented performers and is choreographed and produced by Erin Lamont - choreographer to the stars!

The act opened with a dancer moving to their signature song as the room began to blossom with the cast of performers in burlesque attire banging out their cute dance moves. The dancers moved in and out of the crowd and interacted with the audience. Each song they performed to had a theatrical theme and proved very entertaining to the crowd. Amidst the performance one of the dancers – Tonya Kay, took position of being the host while cracking jokes and performing strange body movements on stage – her big and bold personality proved a hit with the audience too.

The overall act was very sexy and theatrical but given the nature of the show don’t expect much suspense – these girls go all with their fun stripper style theme which had the crowd hootering and hollering as they dined and partied for the full 90 minute performance.

One of my favourite acts was two dancers coming out to the floor while drinking lots of alcohol and sharing it with the audience. They then took to the centre of the room for a hilarious sexy drunk performance.

Overall the Lala’s proved to be a fun night’s entertainment - but don’t expect an exhilarating, seduced, suspenseful thrill – its more Daisy Duke style, which seems to be a successful hit with pulling in the crowd of ladies and gents!

To keep up to date with the Lala’s you can go to http://thelalas.com

The venue that we caught the Lala’s at was the Federal Bar in North Hollywood. Tickets were $30 for seats and $15 for standing at the bar. The Federal bar has a theatre upstairs that seats aprox. 120 people. They serve delicious healthy food and both their food and drink menu is notorious for its extremely low prices and big portions.

Eirin was kind enough to give us a quick chat after the show. Here’s how it went……

Tell us how you formed the Lalas

I formed The Lalas back in August of 2009 on a whim. Basically, I have been dancing my entire life, moved to LA and began choreographing. A few years in, walking around Manhattan Beach I saw a burlesque show and I thought to myself, Hey – I know sexy women. Let’s do this!

What gave you the inspiration for costume and music for the show?

Music is first and foremost. Then everything else naturally follows from there. I think that most of my time is actually spent listening to music. Then I go downtown to the fashion district and I begin constructing costumes.

Can you tell us anything about your casting process for the Lalas and why you selected any girls in particular?

I have AMAZING Lalas! They make the show. Without them – we wouldn’t have had such great success. The girls are funny, ridiculous, often times loud, often times weird, but that’s what makes the show. They are all different shapes, ages, sizes, but they work together like glue. It is a beautiful thing to see

What’s your favourite part of the show or the Lalas?

Watching the audience watch the girls and laugh hysterically, seeing all the phones in the air trying to grab snapshots of their performances and hearing the audi /sound crew crack up. The girls evoke such laughter and craziness – which I believe burlesque is all about!

Oct 24th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Glass Menagerie

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Cherry Jones as Amanda, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Cherry Jones as Amanda, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Cherry Jones is acknowledged as one of the best actresses on the American stage today. I first saw her in 1998 in “Pride’s Crossing” at Lincoln Center where she played a woman from childhood to dotage with no change in make-up, making you believe the age of the characters with the expressions and twists of her face and the angles and rhythms of her body and walk.

She dominates this play in a portrayal of a character who she makes at once sympathetic, annoying and absurd.

It’s the 30s, the Depression, which had a place in Tennessee Williams’ political consciousness. We see it in the musings of Tom (the very fine Zachary Quinto), who declares that, “In Spain there was revolution. Here there was only shouting and confusion. In Spain there was Guernica. Here there were disturbances of labor, sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis… This is the social background of the play.”

But after that moment, you must exert yourself to imagine the social backdrop of the hermetically sealed existence of Tom’s mother, the overweening and overwhelming Amanda (the brilliant Jones) and his sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger).

Zachary Quinto as Tom, Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Zachary Quinto as Tom, Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura, photo Michael J. Lutch.

It is St. Louis, but the sense of place is as much the Mississippi Delta where Amanda grew up as the belle of the ball. She tells us that she choose her husband, a telephone company worker. Then things fell apart when he skipped out 16 years ago though she keeps his picture on the wall. It takes only a while to realize he was running for his life.

The set is a bare living room with a salmon-colored sofa, a round brown wood table, a coat rack, a dining table and chairs, a Victrola and a (symbolic?) fire escape which is the stairway to the street.

Amanda in her 40s, who remembers the years when she had many beaux, works the phone selling subscriptions to a ladies’ magazine. Jones shows her as dominating, assertive, still flirtatious, sometimes histrionic, always a nudge. Her pretenses are as implausible as the romance stories in the magazine. But she is living half in a fantasy past and refusing to recognize the limitations of her present. That comes through in her voice, which is specifically Delta, with a high sometimes nasal pitch that often turns into a shriek.

She is seeking life and security through her children. But they each deal with reality through some kind of fantasy.

Zachary Quinto as Tom, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Zachary Quinto as Tom, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Tom in his early 20s feels trapped in a job at shoe warehouse which he does to bring home money. His way way out is escape through writing poetry and going to the movies.

Daughter Laura, who has a slightly twisted foot and a limp, is morbidly shy. She plays with glass animals and listens to records. She is as fragile as the glass. (In his play notes Williams wrote that Laura ”is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.”)

Sometimes we see in her imagination the lights of the menagerie spread over the stage.

Amanda had sent her to business school, but she dropped out after a few days and covered that up by spending days wandering in parks and museums.

A brief moment of hope comes when, on Amanda’s urging, Tom invites a warehouse co-worker to dinner. Amanda imagines he will be the gentleman caller who will marry Laura and solve their financial problems. She brings a string of lanterns to pretty up the dreary apartment.

Amanda dresses absurdly in a frilly white ball dress. Jones moves and talks like a whirlwind, sashaying across the floor as if she were recapturing her youth. When Jim (Brian J. Smith) arrives, she is so overbearing that he wipes his forehead.

Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura and Brian J. Smith as The Gentleman Caller, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura and Brian J. Smith as The Gentleman Caller, photo Michael J. Lutch.

Then are some charming moments when Laura and Jim sit on the floor remembering their high school days. He tries to buck her up. But he has another life. Smith makes him a more rounded, sympathetic character than I’ve seen in the past.

John Tiffany’s production is as shattering as the miniature glass unicorn we expect will break. Characters don’t just say their lines, they express them physically. Tom crawls on the floor in his misery.

This is an autobiographical play for Williams, who saw himself as the struggling writer Tom (Williams’ given name was Thomas) but also feels guilt for his sister, Rose, who was schizophrenic, subjected to a lobotomy and put in an institution. He/Tom says at the end of the play, “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!”

The Glass Menagerie.” Written by Tennessee Williams; directed by John Tiffany. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St. (btwn 7th & 8th), New York City. 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250; Opened Sept 26, 2013; closes Feb 23, 2014. 10/19/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Oct 17th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Lady Day

By Cameron Lowe

Review By Lucy Komisar in New York

“Lady Day” with Dee Dee Bridgewater as Billie Holliday is terrific cabaret, but not so memorable theater.

Dee Dee Bridgewater is an accomplished jazz singer who recreates Billie Holliday so expertly you’d swear she had channeled her. Musically. But the play written and directed by Stephen Stahl is so hokey and histrionic that it gets in the way of the artistry. Stahl has been working on this production and trying to bring it to New York for years, decades. But perhaps his emotional connection overwhelmed his artistic sense.

Dee Dee Bridgewater at Billie Holiday, photo Carol Rosegg.

Dee Dee Bridgewater at Billie Holiday, photo Carol Rosegg.

The play shows Billie in London where her manager (a too-laid-back David Ayers) is trying to steer her sober as she rehearses with a band for a bet-the-house performance to salvage her reputation so she can return to work in New York.

She was a brilliantly successful singer/songwriter, but the play focuses on just the horrors. It’s true that Holliday had a tough life. She was born in Philadelphia in 1915. The script shows her at 11 being raped by a neighbor. She was sent to a Catholic reform school – just the way the court system punished victims. Her mother left her to go north and find work. The story ignores her then joining her mother in New York and as a teenager working at a brothel, but maybe we’d seen quite enough.

The first act songs are alternated with such vignettes of Billie Holiday’s life, which seems to have eluded happiness. The play picks her up traveling as a singer in the South, blistered by virulent racism. Perhaps to dull the pain and because it was endemic in the jazz milieu, she drank a lot and shot heroin.

Billie Holiday had a long and interesting professional life including singing with Count Bassie and Artie Shaw and as a recording artist for Columbia Records. She got the nickname Lady Day from the tenor saxophonist Lester Young. But you don’t see any of this.

In the bad-old good-old days, from Prohibition to 1967, New York City required performers in clubs to have police-issued cabaret cards, which could be taken away for a variety of reasons, including use of drugs. Other greats who lost their cards were Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, for drug charges, and Lenny Bruce for “obscenity.” Frank Sinatra refused to perform in New York, saying that applying for a card was demeaning. After a year in jail on drug charges, Billie Holiday lost the card. The system was abolished after a campaign by prominent intellectuals and artists.

But she was more than a sometimes-drugged world-class singer, she was a songwriter. She wrote the music and lyrics for “Billie’s Blues (I Love My Man).” She wrote the music and lyrics of “God Bless the Child” with Arthur Herzog Jr. She did the music for “Don’t Explain” with lyrics by Herzog. She collaborated on the music and lyrics of “Lady Sings the Blues” with Herbert Nichols. They are now all jazz standards. You don’t get a sense of the intellectual chops that allowed her to collaborate on music and lyrics.

The second act, with Dee Dee/Billie decked out in white gown and fur, the trade market gardenia in her hair, is hardly different than the first. She can’t focus on her performance, tells the audience of her troubles, and makes you think, alright already, just let this extraordinary jazz artist sing.

Lady Day.” Written and directed by Stephen Stahl. Music director Bill Jolly; music conductor John Miller. Little Shubert Theatre, 422 West 42nd Street, New York City. (212) 232-6300, (800) 432-7250. Opened Sept 20, 2013. 10/14/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Oct 11th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Old Friends

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Betty Buckley as Gertrude Ratliff, Adam LeFevre as Albert Price and Veanne Cox as Julia Price, photo Joan Marcus.

Betty Buckley as Gertrude Ratliff, Adam LeFevre as Albert Price and Veanne Cox as Julia Price, photo Joan Marcus.

Horton Foote’s “The Old Friends” reminds one of a Tennessee Williams play or a Faulkner novel. Director Michael Wilson in fact is a Williams scholar. Wilson knows how to direct Foote’s dysfunctional Southern family yarn to make it engrossing and keep it from descending into soap opera.

And Southern they must be, because the place is the old farming South where inhabitants in that time — 1965 — agreed more than in other regions to be tied by the rules of society. Except that when they were rich white folks, they might obey rules on the surface but break them with abandon. This is Harrison, TX, the imaginary town driving distance from Houston where Foote set many of his plays.

The anti-heroine is Betty Buckley, excellent as the fast-talking Gertrude, a moneyed widow in her early 50s. Close to her in age and interest is the fine Veanne Cox as Julia. Julia has a fat husband, Albert (Adam LeFevre), who wears a white suit and to whom she is egregiously nasty. Why don’t they split up? Perhaps because she has the money. In fact, how rich people treat non-rich people is the defining politics of the play.

Lois Smith as Mamie Borden, photo Joan Marus.

Lois Smith as Mamie Borden, photo Joan Marus.

We start out at the small town home of Julia and Albert. The living room has unstylish sofa and chairs. (Set is by Jeff Cowie) Julia is flirting with Howard (Cotter Smith), also early 50s, the brother of Gertrude’s late husband Gaynor, who manages Gertrude’s farms. Gertrude wants more from him than professional services.

Gertrude and Julia are rich, spoiled and bored. Gertrude wants to go to New York to see plays — light musicals and hits. Julia wants to go to New York to go shopping and visit nightclubs. They plan a trip.

Another presence is Mamie (the terrific Lois Smith), 80, who is bubbly and giggly, perhaps to hide her angst. She is the mother of Julia and of Hugo, who has been out of the country for three decades. Mamie under pressure from Julia signed over the family property to Julia and cut Hugo out. Now she lives with Julia, who displays no warmth much less appreciation of her mother’s forced generosity.

Hallie Foote as Sybil Borden and Cotter Smith as Howard Ratliff, photo Joan Marcus.

Hallie Foote as Sybil Borden and Cotter Smith as Howard Ratliff, photo Joan Marcus.

The drama picks up pace with the arrival of the mild Sybil (Hallie Foote with a deep Texas twang), who married Hugo 30 years before and spent the time since then unhappily wandering around Venezuelan oil fields. Their return was not auspicious: Hugo died of a heart attack getting off the plane, and Sybil has no money.

Sybil had a history with Howard and could have married him instead of Hugo, but for no good reason didn’t. She, the congenial Howard and the good-natured Mamie are the only people we like. (All are people without money.) I exclude here the black maids.

Gertrude is raucous especially when she is drunk. Buckley, who is from Fort Worth, exudes Texas. She gives a riveting performance. Red-haired Julia is tough and sullen, and flirty when it’s not appropriate. Albert, who has not much personality, comes alive only when he finally puts on a good drunk.

Hallie Foote as Sybil, Betty Buckley as Gertrue Ratliff, Cotter Smith as Howard, brother of her late husband, photo Joan Marcus.

Hallie Foote as Sybil, Betty Buckley as Gertrue Ratliff, Cotter Smith as Howard, brother of her late husband, photo Joan Marcus.

Foote writes a smashing second act opening with Gertrude in her grand bed. When she pulls off her sleep mask, she orders the maid (Melle Powers), “Bring me my dressing gown, my rings and a mirror.” She reminded me of one of those nasty fairy tale queens. Gertrude looks around darkened room and remarks, “I think it’s like being in my coffin.” Well, they’re all a little emotionally dead.

Since Howard has announced he’s going to quit her employ, she begins auditioning a young replacement, Tom (Sean Lyons), the son of a woman she went to school with. “Do you want to be rich, you good looking thing?”

“The Old Friends,” of course, is a pretty ironic title. At a talk back after the performance, Hallie Foote, daughter of the playwright, said the first title was “The Dispossessed.” Not of land or money, but of humanity.

The Old Friends.” Written by Horton Foote, directed by Michael Wilson. Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York City. (212) 244-7539; Opened Sept 12, 2013; closes Oct 20, 2013. 10/4/13.

- See more at: http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/2013/10/theres-little-affection-between-the-old-friends-in-horton-footes-biting-family-drama/#sthash.ULsGmg3s.dpuf

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Oct 3rd

NEW YORK REVIEW: Breakfast with Mugabe

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Gripping, disturbing, unsettling, this picture of Robert Mugabe, the despotic president of Zimbabwe, depicts a psychopath who is haunted by the spirit of a man he killed, a fellow fighter in the armed movement of the 1970s to oust the white minority that ruled Rhodesia.

The play was written by British writer Fraser Grace, who was inspired by newspaper accounts that Mugabe, depressed, had sought treatment from a white psychiatrist.

Ezra Barnes as Andrew Peric, Michael Rogers as Robert Mugabe, photo Joseph Henry Ritter.

Ezra Barnes as Andrew Peric, Michael Rogers as Robert Mugabe, photo Joseph Henry Ritter.

Mugabe (a chilling, sepulchral Michael Rogers) has called Andrew Peric (an earnest Ezra Barnes), who works in the psychiatric unit of Harare Hospital, to help him with some troubles – psychological, emotional, it isn’t clear.

(In fact, the psychiatrist Mugabe engaged was from Serbia, since he hardly trusted Zimbabweans to hear his inner thoughts.)

Mugabe appears a copy of the whites he deposed. He is dressed in a gray Western suit, has gray hair, a small moustache, glasses. The receiving room is decorated in period French furniture, the kind with claw feet, and an ornate crystal chandelier. An intelligence officer Gabriel (Che Ayende) in gray suit and vest, is a malign presence.

The time is 2001, five months before the 2002 presidential elections. It could just as well be today.

Peric, who appears to be about 40, is a white Zimbabwean whose family several generations before cleared brush to establish the farm he grew up on. The point is that they didn’t throw blacks off the land. And he seems committed to the country, having married a black woman who was an activist and is now a nurse.

Rosalyn Coleman as Grace Mugabe, photo Joseph Henry Ritter.

Rosalyn Coleman as Grace Mugabe, photo Joseph Henry Ritter.

Nevertheless, war veterans of the campaign that in 1980 ousted the dominant whites are camped inside the gates of his land.

Peric seems quite earnest and somehow not terribly suspicious of the man who he must know is a mass murderer of his own people. It’s hard to believe he could be so naïve.

Grace Mugabe (the very good Rosalyn Coleman), the president’s former secretary who maneuvered to become his current wife, is hard and harsh and manipulative and is trying now to get out of Mugabe’s grip. Decades younger than he, she’s got the wealth she desired, but now she wants freedom. She tells Peric that the president is behaving strangely. And she wants him to persuade Mugabe to let her go.

Perci discovers that there’s a malevolent presence in Mugabe’s consciousness, a fearful ancestor, Ngozi, who is terrorizing him. He is a stand-in for Tongo Gara, who had been involved with Mugabe in intraparty struggles at the time of the first elections. People thought Mugabe would be second in command, but Tongo was killed in a motor accident. Can a psychopath feel guilt, be haunted by the man he had murdered?

The breakfast is the imaginary meal Mugabe has with Tongo. There will be an ironic breakfast for Peric, too, who will discover that having a close relationship with Mugabe is disastrous.

Michael Rogers as Robert Mugabe, photo Joseph Henry Ritter.

Michael Rogers as Robert Mugabe, photo Joseph Henry Ritter.

Still, he tries seriously to get Mugabe to think about his problems. Mugabe’s first wife Suly was an idealist, an activist. Perci tells him he feels guilt toward his first wife for sleeping with Grace. It’s hard to believe a psychiatrist would talk to Mugabe that way. Most psychiatrists listen and say very little. Peric is the reverse.

The only outcome must be horrific, brutal. It is unnerving to see Mugabe the twisted scoundrel, the demagogue, shouting at a party rally, “Our party must strike fear into the hearts of the white men.” Now Mugabe is dressed in a bright red Africa patterned suit.

Two white Zimbabweans who left the country years ago told me, “We could not stand up at the end of the performance. So visceral , so strong.”

Breakfast with Mugabe.” Produced by Two Planks and a Passion Productions. Written by Fraser Grace; directed by David Shookhoff. Signature Center, 480 W 42nd St, New York City. Opened Aug 17, closes Oct 6, 2013. 9/27/13.

- See more at: http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/2013/09/breakfast-with-mugabe-chills-in-portrait-of-brutal-zimbabwean-dictator/#sthash.UoJK19Mv.dpuf

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Sep 25th

What would Beyonce Do?!

By Irish Reviewers

What Would Beyonce Do?

“What would Beyoncé do” is a belly aching, raw, emotional comedy show performed by funny girl Luisa Omielan. The 75 minute show takes you on a journey of a strong independent woman who gets knocked down and hurt in life. Omielan picks herself back up by asking herself “What would Beyonce do” while breaking into smash hit songs from Beyonce. This fabulous diva will have you crying with laughter and sadness at the same time. Created, written and performed by this bucket load of British Talent, this masterpiece is like watching an emotional movie unfold. The HIT solo show from Edinburgh Fringe Festival is running until September 28th at Oh My Ribs in Hollywood, Los Angeles: http://www.ohmyribs.com/#!what-would-beyonce-do/cau7

Approaching 30 and finding herself having to move back home to her mum’s and breaking up poo in the toilet because her little brother blocked it, she’s starting to wonder: ‘Does this ever happen to Beyoncé?!’ this girl tells it like it is with no frills.

THE SCOTSMAN describe her performance perfectly: ‘An inner monologue taking momentary possession of her body like a malignant demon’. She has been mentioned in LA Times, The Gaurdian, The Telegraph, Vogue and after her LA performances she is going on to New York were fans such as Whoopi Goldberg are in line to see this sell out show.

What I most liked about Luisa Omielan and this show is how she captures the life of the average Joe who isn’t in the top 1% with super model looks and size 0 figure. She looks life right in the eyes and says I’m not skinny, I’m not a super model while sailing through life in an average job, with a broken heart and no different from the vast majority. She doesn’t claim to have super powers or an amazing wardrobe but she gets up, makes the most herself and believes that she can make it. There is something refreshing about the truthfulness of her show, she bares her naked inner soul and we don’t often see that at this level, particularly in Hollywood.

If they gave Oscars for theatre then Luisa Omielan would definitely be a strong contender. Her ability to tell a story is down right talent when it comes to comedy, yet there is something much more to her than just a comedian. You can’t help but notice the raw naked truth she exudes. She does not pretend to be something she is not and with the help of Beyonce she picks herself back up, every time she gets knocked down in life. Involving her audiences in dancing and singing to hits such as “I’m a survivor”, this feels like a non stop party with a big slice of the human journey. You can follow Luisa on twitter at @luisaomielan and for her up and coming tour dates check out www.iloveluisa.com

Marti Stewart

Irish Reviewers

 

Sep 17th

Komisar: Musical "Annie" is Thomas Meehan’s Assault on the Cartoonist’s Rightwing Polemics

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Anthony Warlow as Oliver Warbucks, photo Joan Marcus.

Anthony Warlow as Oliver Warbucks, photo Joan Marcus.

I’ve noticed for years that major theater critics often review political plays without mentioning their politics. In an egregious example, some years ago the New York Times critic wrote about Arthur Miller’s “The American Clock,” about the Depression, without noting that it was powerfully anti-capitalist. As it’s a political season now — when isn’t it? — I thought it worthwhile to look at the similarly ignored back-story politics of a current hit.

It’s “Annie,” based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip created by Harold Gray in 1924. Gray attacked income taxes, labor unions and welfare programs. He is cited in the Boston Globe as saying “I . . . have despised Roosevelt and his socialist, or creeping communist, policies since 1932, and said so in my stuff, so far as I was allowed to do so. I despise Truman’s efforts to carry on the socialization and eventual communizing of this country. I hate professional do-gooders with other people’s money.”

The “Annie” comic strip was a reactionary screed. It grew livid in the 1930s when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Oliver Warbucks was an obvious hero for Gray. Just think of the name. He gets his bucks from war profiteering. And that’s supposed to be a good thing. In the strip, it turns out he owned a machine tool shop and got rich producing munitions for the military during World War I. Now one of the 1%, he wears a fur-trimmed coat over a tuxedo and diamond stickpin.

Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan, photo Joan Marcus.

Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan, photo Joan Marcus.

Aside from Katie Finneran’s smashing portrayal of the nasty orphanage overseer (Gray’s attack on social welfare), the best thing about the play is the back-story about how book writer Thomas Meehan turned a right-wing, anti-union fable by a conservative free-enterpriser who hated Roosevelt into a pro-New Deal musical where FDR has a cameo role.

I thought “Annie” was hokey, not terribly imaginative, certainly slight compared to that other little-girl play, “Matilda.” (Annie makes it by being taken up by a rich guy; Matilda succeeds on her own ingenuity and guts.) At first I was surprised about the corny narrative. The only thing realistic about the musical’s Oliver Warbucks (Anthony Warlow) is that he has his staff look for a Christmas orphan as a public relations ploy.

But Meehan has progressive politics. He wrote the book of “Hairspray,” the powerful civil right musical that ran from 2002 to 2008 and picked up eight Tonys. (He also wrote “The Producers.”)

Lilla Crawford as Annie, and the orphans photo Joan Marcus.

Lilla Crawford as Annie, and the orphans, photo Joan Marcus.

It’s December 1933, the depths of the Depression, at the New York City Municipal Orphanage. The parents of eleven-year old Annie (Lilla Crawford) had left her as an infant with a note asking she be taken care of.

Annie hides in a laundry basket to escape the orphanage, which is run by the mean and alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Finneran).

Annie comes upon a Hooverville, a shanty town of shacks at the East River, underneath the 59th Street Bridge. The inhabitants express a lot of sarcasm, of the sort Meehan but not Gray would convey. A man declares, “I need some more wood, for the penthouse.” An apple seller says, “Make way for John D. Rockefeller.”

And they sing: “We’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover
For really showing us the way
We’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover
He made us what we are today.
Prosperity was ’round the corner
The cozy cottage built for two
In this blue heaven that you gave us
Yes! We’re turning blue!

James Lapine’s direction is good in bringing out the real misery and anger of the those homeless people. The scene reminded me of the “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” song in Elton John/Lee Hall’s “Billy Elliot.” The police break up the Hooverville the way they attacked the striking miners in “Billy Elliot.”

Back at the mansion, at 987 Fifth Avenue (it would be just south of East 80th Street), Warbucks has an English butler, a pair of French maids, a housekeeper, a cook, and four man-servants.

Grace Farrell (Brynn O’Malley), his private secretary, tells him that President Roosevelt (Merwin Foard) “wants you to call him at the White House.” Now that’s pretty odd. And she reminds him, “Remember, sir, your public relations people advised you to invite an orphan here for Christmas so as to soften your public image.”

Financier Bernard Baruch calls and Warbucks tells him, “Barney, your pal Roosevelt has got to do something drastic. He’s got to come up with a new approach, a new plan, a new…” Hmmm.

Lilla Crawford as Annie, and FDR (Merwin Foard) and his cabinet, photo Joan Marcus.

Lilla Crawford as Annie, and FDR (Merwin Foard) and his cabinet, photo Joan Marcus.

Warbucks talks on the phone to Roosevelt, alluding to his hostility, and says, “Listen, Mister President, why don’t we bury the hatchet and you come for supper on Christmas Eve, on your way to Hyde Park.”

Segue to the Cabinet Room at the White House. Warbucks and Annie show up. Labor Secretary Perkins declares that there are fifteen million out of work and nearly fifty million, a whopping forty percent of the country, with no visible means of support.

So Annie stands up and sings “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.” FDR gets his Interior Secretary Ickes to sing. OK, I thought that a little ridiculous, but this is a cartoon.

But then, when Warbucks and Annie leave, it gets real. Fascinating how Meehan segued into this.

Ickes says, “Mr. President, what if we set up a hundred – no, a thousand new Federal projects?
Perkins says, “Dams!”
Hull says, “Highways!”
Morgenthau says, “New Post Offices!”
And Ickes declares, “Yes. And put the unemployed to work building them.”
Perkins: “We could create five million new jobs within six months.”
Howe: “And weekly pay checks would get all of those millions off relief and back to paying taxes.”

Ickes says, “Mr. President, what we’ve got to give this country is nothing less than a new… outlook.”
Perkins: “A new… vision.”
Hull: “A new approach.”
Morgenthau, “A new concept.”

Roosevelt declares, “A new deal!”

Lilla Crawford as Annie, Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbuck and the servants, photo Joan Marcus.

Lilla Crawford as Annie, Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks and the servants, photo Joan Marcus.

Warbucks’ Christmas party is pretty glitzy, with servants and all. But when FDR shows up, Warbucks sings, “I know the depression’s depressing…. But we’ll get a new deal for Christmas this year! …..Santa’s got brand new assistants/ There’s nothing to fear/ They’re bringing a new deal for Christmas/ This year.”

He adds, “Those happy days that we were promised…

And Roosevelt says, “Are finally here!”

Remember that FDR’s theme song was “Happy Days are here again.”

The cast wraps it up: “We’re getting a new deal for Christmas this year!”

Harold Gray died a multi-millionaire in 1968, the year of the apogee of international left-wing activism. If one accepts the metaphor, Harold Gray would be turning over in his grave. Bah, humbug! A New Deal, indeed!

Annie.” Book by Thomas Meehan, lyrics by Martin Charnin, music by Charles Strouse. Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray. Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York City. (877) 250–2929. Opened Nov 8, 2012; closes Jan 5, 2014. The Harold Gray quote was cited by comics historian Jeet Heer. 9/14/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her website is The Komisar Scoop.