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Mar 18th

NEW YORK REVIEW: All In The Timing

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

David Ives is a master of subtle intellectual comedy. We saw that most recently in “Venus in Fur,” a feminist reimagining/twisting of the Sacher-Masoch classic, and a few years back in “Is He Dead?,” adapted from a Mark Twain story about an artist who fakes death to elevate the price of his paintings. But earlier, he had written a series of one-acts that were presented twenty years ago and that we are lucky to see again. John Rando’s direction is spot-on, letting no grass grow between the laughs. The actors are an ensemble and connect as if they were used to finishing each other’s sentences.

Liv Rooth, Matthew Saldivar, Eric Clem, Carson Elrod and Jenn Harris, photo James Leynse.

Liv Rooth, Matthew Saldivar, Eric Clem, Carson Elrod and Jenn Harris, photo James Leynse.

My favorite, as brilliant in its way as the artist he spoofs, “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” reduces “witty” and “clever” and “imaginative” to pale imitations of the adjectives one would like to use.

The dialogue is divided as if it were orchestrated. Indeed, if you look at the script, you will see four columns representing characters saying words and phrases that are distinct, as if each were a different instrument. Which is how they sound.  A deconstruction of Philip Glass arriving to purchase a loaf of bread.

First woman (Liv Rooth):  Isn’t that.
Second woman (Jenn Harris): Think it is.
Baker (Matthew Saldivar): Help you sir?
Glass (Carson Elrod): Yes, I need.

And it repeats. At a certain point Glass interjects: “loaf of bread.”  And everything is repeated, as Glass of course would do.

There’s also some parody swimming though a wavy blue cloth and a surreal giant baguette. You have to be there.

Liv Rooth as Mrs. Trotsky, Eric Clem as Ramon and Matthew Saldivar as Trotsky, photo James Leynse.

Liv Rooth as Mrs. Trotsky, Eric Clem as Ramon and Matthew Saldivar as Trotsky, photo James Leynse.

My other favorite was “Variations on the death of Trotsky,” which is wonderful first because, who in the current political atmosphere is allowed to profess interest in Trotsky, and second because it is so absurd.

It is August 21, 1940. A guy sporting a short beard and wearing a brown suit and vest proclaims that, “The proletariat is right…. The proletariat must always be right… And the revolution of the proletariat against oppression… must go on … forever!”  It is Leon Trotsky (Saldivar), who unfortunately has an axe protruding from his skull. He is in the Coyoacán suburb of Mexico City and he has the day before been attacked by a Spanish Communist disguised as a gardener (Eric Clem). Ramon of course has a serape, straw hat, huaraches and a black moustache.

Trotsky seems unaware of what has transpired. However, his wife (Rooth) reads about it in an encyclopedia. Trotsky asks: “And this is 1940 right now?” She says yes. “And we have a Spanish gardener named Ramon?” She says yes. “Hmm…. There aren’t any other Trotsky’s living in Coyoacán, are there?”

Liv Rooth as Betty and Carson Elrod as Bill, photo James Leynse.

Liv Rooth as Betty and Carson Elrod as Bill, photo James Leynse.

Did you ever wish you could take back a remark you made? “Sure Thing” deals with a man and woman who meet by chance at a café and redo each line in their conversation when the particular line doesn’t work. I might retitle it “How to chat up a woman.”

Where did he go to college? Bill says “Oral Roberts.” Betty frowns. A bell rings. He gets another chance. He says Harvard.

I wasn’t as interested in the other three plays. “Words, Words, Words” is a take-off on the professor who said that if some monkeys typed into infinity they would sooner or later produce “Hamlet.” So Ives puts Milton, Swift and Kafka before us, as kids/monkeys.

In another, “The Universal Language,” a young women (Jenn Harris) arrives at an office where a language guru (Carson Elrod), in black gown and mortar board, addresses her with distorted words: Sitz and Ha vard you. It’s the school of Unamundo (of course that means one world), which is a satire on Esperanto. He says, “Gavot Kennedy do for you?” After a while you can even figure it out. There’s a bit of  German. Door is Isadora. Chair is cha cha cha. He even throws in Tom Stoppard. So, it’s about communication. It didn’t communicate.

“The Philadelphia” is a shaggy dog story about the city everybody likes to make fun of. In a crummy restaurant, Mark (Elrod) is hyperventilating to his friend Al (Saldivar) about how about nothing works. Al explains to him that “physically you are in New York. But metaphysically you are in a Philadelphia.” He says that “in a Philadelphia, no matter what you ask for, you can’t get it.”

If you’re asking for sophisticated wit, the place to be is currently 59E59 Street in New York.

“All in the Timing.” Written by David Ives; directed by John Rando. Primary Stages at 59E59 Street, New York City. 212-279-4200. Opened Feb 12, 2013; closes April 14, 2013. 3/17/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic. Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Mar 18th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Katie Roche

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

It’s rural Ireland in 1936. The house is comfortably lower middle class, with a lace-covered table and a fireplace mantle topped with old photos. It’s a picture of the times. And so are the personal relations.

Jon Fletcher as Michael Maguire, Wrenn Schmidt as Katie Roche, photo Richard Termine.

Jon Fletcher as Michael Maguire, Wrenn Schmidt as Katie Roche, photo Richard Termine.

This feminist work by Teresa Deevy, an Irish playwright who wrote in the 1930s, is about a spunky young woman whose only way out was to marry an older man. Director Jonathan Bank stages it as if it were an old movie, with no modern lens.

Katie Roche (given an appealing performance by Wrenn Schmidt) has no family (that she is aware of) and must work as a maid in the household of Amelia Gregg (Margaret Daly) and her brother Stanislaus (Patrick Fitzgerald), an architect who spends a lot of time in Dublin.

Patrick Fitzgerald as Stanislaus Gregg, Wrenn Schmidt as Katie Roche, photo Richard Termine.

Patrick Fitzgerald as Stanislaus Gregg, Wrenn Schmidt as Katie Roche, photo Richard Termine.

Katie is sweet on young Michael Maguire (a charming Jon Fletcher) who likes her. But Stan, about 20 years older, wants to marry her.

Katie seems both naïve and tough. She doesn’t quite know how to handle Stan, but some gut survival instinct tells her that’s where her better future lies, if not with romance, then with security. Better than entering a convent to save her soul, which was her earlier considered way-out.

Katie is not careful enough to keep Michael far away from the jealous Stan. When he comes home suddenly and finds Michael hiding behind a curtain, he leaves her for Dublin without explanation. He treats Katie like a child.

Wrenn Schmidt as Katie Roche, Margaret Daly as Amelia Gregg, photo Richard Termine.

Wrenn Schmidt as Katie Roche, Margaret Daly as Amelia Gregg, photo Richard Termine.

Amelia, by the way, about the same age as Stan, turns out to have a suitor she is rejecting almost out of embarrassment. Daly is good at showing her sweetness and her terrifying timidity. There’s also a busybody sister Margaret, a persuasively overbearing Fiana Toibin.

Then Katie finds that a local “godly” guy from a “grand family” is her nasty father. A bit of hypocrisy there, appropriate for Catholic Ireland.

Still, she stays on her feet and you believe that with fortitude she’ll overcome her situation. Maybe.

“Katie Roche” is dated, but noteworthy as social history. Deevy had her plays performed by the Abbey Theater in Dublin. She also had a lot to overcome. She wrote her plays and achieved her success even though she was deaf. She died in 1963.

“Katie Roche.” Written by Teresa Deevy; directed by Jonathan Bank. Mint Theater Company, 311 West 43rd Street, New York City. 866-811-4111. Opened Feb 25, 2013; closes Mar 31, 2013. 3/15/13/.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic. Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Mar 11th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Old Boy

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Peter Rini as Sam and Chris Dwan as Perry, photo Carol Rosegg.

Peter Rini as Sam and Chris Dwan as Perry, photo Carol Rosegg.

A.R. Gurney wrote this play in 1991, when the issue of AIDS was a hot button. The story takes off when Sam (Peter Rini), a U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, returns to his prep-school to give a commencement address. Now in his early 40s, he had been the “old boy” of a younger student named Perry, charged with showing the new boy the rounds.

The play like the décor is a bit dated. A red leather couch represents a preppy school lounge. But it is nevertheless engrossing, and it’s a treat to see Laura Esterman’s performance as Harriet, Perry’s upper class mother, who pushed him to play tennis when he really loved opera and played Viola in the all-boys school’s “Twelfth Night.” (You already know where this is going.) Perry won a local tennis championship, but Sam criticized his game, saying he refused to go to the net, a metaphor for that he wasn’t tough enough.

Peter Reni as Sam, Laura Esterman as Harriet, Masha Dietlein Bennett as Alison, photo Carol Rosegg.

Peter Reni as Sam, Laura Esterman as Harriet, Masha Dietlein Bennett as Alison, photo Carol Rosegg.

Harriet, who we see as a charming manipulator in a Chanel-style suit, has arrived to present a gift to the school to build a tennis center in Perry’s name. The son’s widow Alison (Marsha Dietlein Bennett), has also come for the occasion. Sam learns that Perry died of AIDs. Alison who years ago had an affair with Sam, had been set up with Perry by Sam who wanted to keep the young man “straight.” But Perry left her, came out as gay, and Harriet is now paying Alison off to keep her quiet. Cool, lower economic class and sharp, Alison remarks, “They say if you marry money, you earn every cent of it.”

Though the story unfolds with Gurney’s play-writing skill, it is by now rather predictable, since there are many signposts to the dénouement. And it’s not helped by a cast that doesn’t always appear credible. Though Rini is also a manipulator (he and Harriet have that in common) and a womanizer, which fits quite well with Washington culture, he lacks the self-involved gravitas of a high-level State Department official; he’s too jokey, never departing from his preppy demeanor.

Peter Rini as Sam, photo Carol Rosegg.

Peter Rini as Sam, photo Carol Rosegg.

Bud (Cary Donaldson), Sam’s aide, who would sign up to his campaign for governor if it got off the ground, is a nonentity. He doesn’t have the shark’s teeth such government and political operatives display.

However, Chris Dwan gives Perry the requisite sensitivity and sense of tragedy. Tom Riis Farrell is good as Dexter, the Episcopal priest school official who was a finalist to be rector but didn’t get the post, because he wasn’t married.

Sam in his commencement speech is challenged to rise to the occasion of acknowledging Perry’s reality, but he also shows his embedded attitudes with lines like, “There are Jewish guys here now and they raise the level of discourse, and we have black guys on scholarship who are a credit to their race.”

This is good as a reflection of the time. From the author of “The Cocktail Hour,” “The Dining Room” and “Mrs. Farnsworth,” it is not one of Gurney’s best plays.

“The Old Boy.” Written by A.R. Gurney; directed by Jonathan Silverstein. Keen Company at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. (212) 239-6200, (800) 447-7400. Opened Mar 5, 2013; closes Mar 30, 2013. 3/9/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic. Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Mar 11th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Wild Bride

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

This is a children’s story that cuts to the quick and speaks to the heart, that fascinates and shocks with its creativity and is definitely for adults. Besides that, it’s a musical, with country and blues sounds and songs about woe, jazz and modern dancing, punning wit and horrific metaphors. There’s even a classical painting that comes alive.

The British Kneehigh company production of “The Wild Bride,” based on the Grimms’ fairy tale “The Handless Maiden,” is, says adapter/director Emma Rice, a romantic story about how long it takes to find yourself, how many bad bargains you make and other people make for you. It’s a voyage of endurance and healing. Along the way, the creators use some jarring imagery to make their point.

Andrew Durand as The Devil, Stuart Goodwin as the Father, photo Richard Termine.

Andrew Durand as The Devil, Stuart Goodwin as the Father, photo Richard Termine.

The blues band set on one side opens with a song of woe and a plaintive, “Won’t somebody help me?”

The story of this innovative play, with text and lyrics by Carl Grose, is that The Devil (an excellent smarmy Andrew Durand in a brown vested suit), who is bored and enjoys putting folks to the test, tricks a poor farmer (a comic hayseed Stuart Goodwin) into trading whatever is in his yard for a mess of new clothes and riches. But it turns out that his beloved daughter (Audrey Brisson) is in the yard, hidden by the leafless branches of an apple tree. The Devil leaves his card, which says succinctly, “The Devil.”

Audrey Brisson as The Girl, Patrycja Kujawska as The Wild and Etta Murfitt as The Woman, photo Richard Termine..

Audrey Brisson as The Girl, Patrycja Kujawska as The Wild and Etta Murfitt as The Woman, photo Richard Termine.

When The Devil returns to claim the girl, she won’t acquiesce. She is too clean. So he orders daddy to set her in a tub and smear her with mud. Still no success. Then to make her abject, so she’ll have no other choice in life, he orders the farmer to cut off her hands.

The farmer doesn’t want to hurt the girl, and the language of his conflict with The Devil is expressed in the vocabulary of an aggressive Polish folk dance. (Meanwhile the girl has picked up an accordion and joined the band. The actors are all musicians.) The Devil insists that unless the farmer does as ordered, he will take the girl to Hell for eternal torment.

Audrey Brisson as The Girl, photo Steve Tanner.

Audrey Brisson as The Girl, photo Steve Tanner.

Three women (the very fine Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Etta Murfitt) play the girl at different stages of her life, pulling off their aprons to reveal flesh colored slips, to make the point that this is abused and suffering “Everywoman.”

The story is so clearly a fantasy that though you wince for a moment, you are caught up in the whimsy and the tough parts don’t bother. The Devil, by the way, often speaks in rhyme.

Just as you’ve gotten used to the “long ago and far away” fairy tale, the girl, with bloodied hands, comes to the microphone stage center and sings as if in a cabaret. Brisson has a fine, rich voice.

Andrew Durand as The Devil in the tree, Stuart Goodwin as The Prince, Patrycja Kujawska as The Wild, photo Richard Termine.

Andrew Durand as The Devil in the tree, Stuart Goodwin as The Prince, Patrycja Kujawska as The Wild, photo Richard Termine.

A charming bit involves the prince (Goodwin) in a short Scottish kilt and red sash, who finds that one of his orchard pears (a light bulb hanging from the branches) is missing: “A fruit crime!” He investigates. There is the sound of clanging doors and raising of a drawbridge. He declares, “I can wait all day; I’m royalty, I don’t do anything.” There follows a litany of puns. When he comes upon the young woman, he calls her “pear-fect.” And pointing to the light bulb/pear she has stashed in her bodice, “That’s a royal pear you’ve got there.” And, “You really are quite disarming.”

So, this horrific tale is really rather clever and funny. When the prince introduces her to his mother, we discover that the Queen is an 18th-century painting whose hands project out of the painted sleeves. One hand swishes a handkerchief. The young woman (Kujawska) ends up with a fur-trimmed cape and prosthetic hands that look like farm implements. But her trials are not over.

Andrew Durand as The Devil and Stuart Goodwin as The Prince, photo Richard Termine.

Andrew Durand as The Devil and Stuart Goodwin as The Prince, photo Richard Termine.

The Devil declares, “For a feminist folk tale, this book ain’t that bad.” That’s a pretty good judgment. The ensuing scenes show sex jocularly simulated to sounds of an accordion, a serious declaration that “The Devil brings war,” the prince’s departure to the army, smoke and staccato gun shots, a dastardly Devilish plot, and a couple of wonderful metal life-size puppets of the style of “War Horse.”

“The Wild Bride” is one of those productions that make the outer reaches of New York theater, in this case St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge, sometimes so special.

“The Wild Bride.” Written by Carl Grose; adapted and directed by Emma Rice. Original music by Stu Barker; choreography by Etta Murfitt. St Ann’s Warehouse. 29 Jay St. Brooklyn, NY. Subways F to York Street; A, C to High Street; 2, 3 to Clark Street. 718-254-8779. Opened Feb 23, 2013; closes Mar 17, 2013. 3/8/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic. Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Mar 4th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, photo Joan Marcus.

Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, photo Joan Marcus.

Interesting how misogynistic this 1955 melodrama feels in 2013. In Tennessee Williams’ view, the men are victims and the women are perpetrators. That fits into Williams’ theme about Brick (Benjamin Walker), the former school football star, being a victim of homophobia.

Except, in a curious turnaround, the wound is self-inflicted when his wife Maggie (Scarlett Johansson), forces Brick and his college buddy to confront their relationship or maybe just their unspoken desires.

In some ways, the play is as much about class as gender. As the actors in this production, directed by Rob Ashford, play it, Brick is a bit of a wimp/nonentity and Maggie is one tough babe from a proud but impecunious family. She had a “debut” and knew the girls whose families had cash. Now, she is fighting to make sure she and Brick don’t get cut out of the family inheritance.

Johansson, by the way, is very good as the tough babe. She isn’t a sultry sexpot, as the role has been played in the past.

The action takes place in the large bedroom Brick and Maggie are inhabiting on their visit to Brick’s parents’ estate in the Mississippi Delta. The room has a curlicued bedstead, double high ceiling and French doors onto the balcony. There’s a cut-glass chandelier above and several old blue raffia chairs.

Benjamin Walker as Brick, Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, photo Joan Marcus.

Benjamin Walker as Brick, Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, photo Joan Marcus.

Struggle is the underlying mood. We are on a plantation run by Big Daddy (Ciarán Hinds), not quite as physically big as you expect him to be. A self-described redneck, he started as a lowly worker and built up the business, because he was in the right place at the right time and worked hard. Now, 65, he is dying of cancer. Except he doesn’t know it, because he’s been lied to.

His corporate lawyer son Gooper (Michael Park) has arrived with wife Mae (Emily Bergil) and five noisy kids with the idea of getting Big Daddy to sign a will insuring a responsible (to Gooper) handover of the family wealth. That includes 28,000 acres of good farmland.

But Big Daddy prefers Brick, for a reason one can’t quite fathom, maybe because he’s contrary. Brick, a one-time star athlete, has quit work as a local TV sports announcer. He is on crutches, having just broken his ankle jumping over a hurdle at his old high school athletic field at 3 am. Recapturing lost youth?

Walker plays Brick as amiable, with no personality, not much presence, no inner life, no torment. Johansson on the other hand seems about to explode. Her voice grates. Brick points out that she has become hard. But no wonder. In her silk beige slip, before dressing to join Big Daddy’s birthday party, she tells the man who will no longer sleep with her, “You were a wonderful lover.” His indifference makes her feel like a cat on a hot tin roof who stays on it as long as it can. (Later she changes to a yellow strap dress and sling back heels.) The big bed in the middle of the stage becomes an ironic commentary. My sympathy is with Maggie.

Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy, Debra Monk as Big Moma, photo Joan Marcus.

Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy, Debra Monk as Big Mama, photo Joan Marcus.

In and out of the bedroom also marches Big Mama (Debra Monk). Unlike in other prominent productions, she is heavier than Big Daddy. She is a screamer, a brayer: “Do you make Brick happy in bed? You’re childless. Brick drinks. When a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are there.” Brick, however, tells Maggie he’d be relieved if she found a lover.

The big gay story – remember this was 1955 – is that Brick had an “attachment” to his football buddy Skipper. Maggie tells him that when she and their friend Gladys double-dated, “it was more like you and Skipper. You two had something that has to be kept on ice.”

When Brick and Skipper graduated from Ole Miss, they turned down good jobs to keep being football stars with the Dixie Stars. Maggie tells Brick, “I said, Skipper stop loving my husband.”

Flashback. During their Dixie Stars football days, Maggie seduces Skipper. He can’t perform, which persuades him he is gay. He turns to booze, he dies. Brick turns to booze. So, here we are. It’s never actually certain that the two had a homosexual relationship. But Williams makes the tragedy Maggie’s fault for even raising the issue.

Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy, Benjamin Walker as Brick, photo Joan Marcus.

Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy, Benjamin Walker as Brick, photo Joan Marcus.

Brick tells his father he drinks because of disgust, “to kill my disgust.” He says, “Skipper and me had a clean, true thing between us!—had a clean friendship, practically all our lives, till Maggie got the idea you’re talking about.“

Meanwhile, Big Daddy, full of fury, accuses his wife of wanting to take control of the estate on news of his illness. He cruelly excoriates her “fat body” and curses the hypocrisy of 40 years living with her. He wants “attractive women.” Not that he is George Clooney. But he is rich.

Maggie and Big Mama, alas, had no other choices in 1955 Mississippi than to attach their lives to these dreadful men! (My view, not Tennessee Williams’.)

Mae (Emily Bergl) and Gooper are nonentities. Mae is good as an obnoxious lady who is sweet but can stick it to her targets.

Scarlett Johansson is excellent as Maggie. Benjamin Walker is not there enough as Brick. Ciarán Hinds’s Big Daddy is not big enough. Debra Monk’s Big Mama is too much a screamer. And Tennessee Williams is too fixed on his gay male agenda to understand the women in this play.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Written by Tennessee Williams; directed by Rob Ashford. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street, New York City. (212) 877-250-2929. Opened Jan 19, 2013; closes Mar 30, 2013. 3/2/2013.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic.  Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Feb 25th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

By Cameron Lowe

In case you missed this classy music hall parody during its short run at London's Arts Theatre in May 2012 ... and you find yourself in the Big Apple before the 10th of March ...

Review by Lucy Komisar

I loved this hokey, funny, vaudeville-style parody of a British mystery melodrama. My mouth stretched into a wide grin at the lampooning of British imperialism. My feet tapped at the high-stepping, high-kicking choreography. A combination of operetta and English music hall, “Drood” gives clichés a bad name and this production – book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes – a very good one.

Will Chase as John Jasper, Betsy Wolfe as Rosa Bud, photo Joan Marcus.

Will Chase as John Jasper, Betsy Wolfe as Rosa Bud, photo Joan Marcus.

Directed with great élan by Scott Ellis, the musical, is based on the unfinished Charles Dickens novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. That last work was published, in part, as a serial in 1871–1872. And then it stopped with his death. It seems quite out of character when compared to his socially-conscious books about the exploitation of workers, women and children. It’s a spoof of British society of the time. “There you are” is a lively number that asks “What’s a king without a crown.”

“Drood” is presented as a music hall play-within-a-play, with the company chairman (the very good Jim Norton) explaining that Dickens’ story was never completed and that the audience will be asked to finish it. We are told that the key character Edwin Drood will be played by a male impersonator, Alice Nutting (Stephanie J. Block, a charmer).

Andy Karl as Neville Landless, Jessie Mueller as Helen Landless, Stephanie J. Block as Edwin Drood, photo Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl as Neville Landless, Jessie Mueller as Helen Landless, Stephanie J. Block as Edwin Drood, photo Joan Marcus.

Edwin (Block) is going to marry the ingenue Rosa Bud (Betsy Wolfe, a terrific soprano), who is living at a ladies seminary. But she is also desired by her voice teacher, John Jasper (a perfectly sinister Will Chase), who is Drood’s uncle. To complicate matters, Rosa attracts Neville Landless (Andy Karl), who has come from Ceylon with his twin sister, Helena (the excellent Jessie Mueller). (Got that straight?)

We know that Helena is from South Asia, because often when she speaks, she holds her head to the side and circles her fingers in a parody of how the British imperialists viewed Asians. She comments, “I wish I could express my gratitude without this strange geographically untraceable accent.”

Kiira Schmidt, Janine Divita, Will Chase as John Jasper, Shannon Lewis in his opium dream, photo Joan Marcus.

Kiira Schmidt, Janine Divita, Will Chase as John Jasper, Shannon Lewis in his opium dream, photo Joan Marcus.

To continue that theme, Drood is planning to take rocks from Pyramids to construct a road across the desert. The belligerent Neville says, “It’s not enough you put muck in our tea…” (There’s a dispute and a clever song, “Ceylon.”) The gag is continued throughout with hands-put-together Namastes.

To make the story more interesting, Jasper, the villain of the piece, frequents an opium den run by the Princess Puffer (Chita Rivera), where he has erotic fantasies of ladies in underwear. (He sings “A Man Could Go Quite Mad.”) That provides a nice dance interlude choreographed by Warren Carlyle.

The Christmas dinner, photo Joan Marcus.

The Christmas dinner, photo Joan Marcus.

The crisis occurs after a Christmas dinner, when Drood takes a walk in the mist and doesn’t come back. His coat, which he had borrowed from Jasper, is found stained with blood. Months later, detective Dick Datchery appears to investigate. (Curiously, there is no Datchery listed in the playbill. Hmmm.)

Jim Norton as Willaim Cartright, Betsy Wolfe as actress Deirdre Peregrine and Stephanie J. Block as Alice Nutting, photo Joan Marcus.

Jim Norton as William Cartright, Betsy Wolfe as actress Deirdre Peregrine and Stephanie J. Block as Alice Nutting, photo Joan Marcus.

No need to tell the rest of the story here, except to say that it is full of surprises, as are all good mysteries. And animated production numbers. At one point, the actress playing Drood, carrying her small dog, departs in a huff through the theater aisles.

The dénouement? Up for grabs. At the end, the audience is asked to solve the crime and choose two (innocent) lovers from the cast for the happy ending. I didn’t much like the choice made by the tacky audience: the youngest boy and the oldest woman, a task which Chita Rivera carried off with aplomb.

The sets by Anna Louizos are lush, a great red wood-paneled dining room, a seminary greenhouse, the foggy Cathedral graveyard, a street with half-timbered houses.

When it was first staged in 1985 (with Betty Buckley as Drood) as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival, Holmes became the first person to, on his own, win Tonys for Best Book, Music and Lyrics. He and “Drood” also got New York Drama Desk Awards.

“Drood” is clever, smart, entertaining and the best musical revival of the New York season.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes; directed by Scott Ellis; choreography by Warren Carlyle. Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, New York City. (212) 719-1300; Opened Nov 13, 2012; closes March 10, 2013. 2/22/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic. Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Feb 25th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Man Who Laughs

By Cameron Lowe

Review by Lucy Komisar

This may be the most original play of the season. It’s a Chaplinesque melodrama in the style of a silent film, done in black and white, with titles on a translucent scrim and live piano music. There’s even a sense of the flicker of the old silents.

The story by Kiran Rikhye is inspired by a Victor Hugo novel that was also a 1928 American silent film directed by German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni. It takes place in England, 1686.

Dave Droxler as Gwynplaine, Jon Froehlich as Ursus, Molly O'Neill as Dea, photo Carrie Leonard.

Dave Droxler as Gwynplaine, Jon Froehlich as Ursus, Molly O’Neill as Dea, photo Carrie Leonard.

In the play (different from the novel and film), a boy (Noah Schultz) strays outside the orphanage where he lives. He is captured by a terrifying band of miscreants who disfigure him so they can show him at freak shows. But threatened with capture, they abandon the boy. We see his face hidden by a scarf. He finds a baby in the arms of a dead woman in the snow, rescues the child, and then comes upon the wooden shack of Ursus (Jon Froehlich), a ventriloquist. (Pretty hard to show that in a silent!)

It turns out that comprachicos (child buyers, in Spanish) have carved a permanent clown smile into the youth’s face.

The ventriloquist shelters the two. He vows to turn them out, but instead lets them stay. Nineteen years later, Gwynplaine (the excellent Dave Droxler) is grown, still with the clown smile. Dea (a fine Molly O’Neill), who alas was blind when she was rescued, is a beautiful woman whose blonde hair and bow lips give her an uncanny resemblance to Mary Philbin in the 1920s silent.

Dave Droxler as Gwynplaine and Molly O'Neill as Dea, photo Carrie Leonard.

Dave Droxler as Gwynplaine and Molly O’Neill as Dea, photo Carrie Leonard.

Ursus creates a show where they are seen as puppets in “The Marionette Romance.” Of course, they fall in love.

Gwynplaine is a sad clown in tradition of the Pagliacci. He wants to do a more serious play. Ursus tells him, “You think people will see what’s in your heart? They see only your face.”

The idyll is interrupted by the Duchess Josiana (the comic Rebecca Whitehurst) whose cap of black hair gives her a striking resemblance to Pola Negri. She is bored. Lying in bed in her chateau, under a chandelier, she eats bon bons, she pouts, she fights with her lover, Lord David Dirry-Moir (Raife Baker). When she rolls off the bed, he tries to pick her up and pulls a muscle in his back; she laughs. She is “bored, bored.” She thinks, “We could go out and eavesdrop on commoners.” So begins events wherein the aristocrats show they will inevitably get the better of the innocent commoners.

It’s a tragic, hokey, gripping melodrama, directed with artistry by Jon Stancato. Julie Schworm’s black and white period costumes are evocative of the time. Eugene Ma plays smart piano improvisations in the style of the silents. The production is one of a series of plays based on film genres that Stolen Chair is presenting on stage. The ensemble of actors is very good, making it difficult to select out some for special praise. This is an inventive, talented theater group whose work deserves attention.

“The Man Who Laughs.” Written by Kiran Rikhye, inspired by The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo; directed by Jon Stancato. Stolen Chair at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, New York City. 212-868-4444. Opened Feb 2, 2013; closes Feb 24, 2013. 2/17/13. See review on New York Theatre-Wire.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic. Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Feb 22nd

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Other Place

By Cameron Lowe

Review by Lucy Komisar

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and critic.  Her website is http://thekomisarscoop.com/

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, photo Joan Marcus.

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, photo Joan Marcus.

Sharr White’s play is a wrenching psychological mystery where the audience is kept in the dark until slowly clues emerge. Joe Mantello directs coolly and subtly so you see everything through the eyes of the protagonist until you don’t.

Juliana (Laurie Metcalf) is a medical scientist, 52. At doctors’ conference in St. Thomas, she is pitching a new miracle drug that will clear the plaque in the brain that causes dementia.

Lights play over a gray steel structure behind her. It is almost like a sculpture in the shape of piled up windows and frames and it becomes a video screen to display the chromosomes she is discussing. (Set is by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce.)

John Schiappa as Richard, Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, photo Joan Marcus.

John Schiappa as Richard, Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, photo Joan Marcus.

She wears a chic tight black suit and 4-inch heels. As she talks her eyes peer over the audience of male suits to focus on a provocative young woman, or maybe a girl, in a yellow bikini.

Back at her hotel room, she talks on the phone with Richard (John Schiappa), her son-in-law; in the background her daughter (Zoe Perry, Metcalf’s real-life daughter) curses at her. We learn that the daughter is 25 and that Richard is 15 years older.

The scene shifts back and forth from the stage where she is speaking, to the hotel room, and suddenly to a doctor’s office where she is being diagnosed.

Zoe Perry as the doctor, Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, photo Joan Marcus.

Zoe Perry as the doctor, Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, photo Joan Marcus.

She thinks she has brain cancer. She tells the doctor (Perry) that her husband (Bill Pullman), has been playing around and has left her. She accuses the doctor of putting down marks against her in the notes she is taking.

White makes you feel as if you are inside Juliana’s head, experiencing what she sees and feels — the girl in the bikini, her daughter screaming at her, her husband leaving her. Pullman is powerful as her husband, his anguish showing through a face that reddens in his distress.

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, Bill Pullman as her husband Ian, photo Joan Marcus

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, Bill Pullman as her husband Ian, photo Joan Marcus

But her erratic behavior begins to make you wonder. Her husband seems caring and affectionate. Now, you look at events from another perspective.

We learn that her daughter had run away from home at 15 after her mother ordered her out, accusing her of sleeping with Richard, one of her students, who was their guest at a Cape Cod vacation house.

Metcalf is brilliant. In the scene at the Cape Cod house where she goes to search for her daughter, her face seems puffy, her eyes are tired and her frail body curls up in a frightened position.  She is unrecognizable from her first cool appearance.

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, Zoe Perry as the young woman, photo Joan Marcus.

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, Zoe Perry as the young woman, photo Joan Marcus.

She is at “the other place,” which has a double meaning, this house and the clouded world she is living in. We learn the mystery of what transpired and its relationship to an illness and the drug she is pitching. Quite an original and fascinating production.

The Other Place.” Written by Sharr White; directed by Joe Mantello. Manhattan Theatre Club at Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York City. Opened Jan 10, 2013; closes March 3, 2013.  212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400. 2/21/13.

Oct 11th

The Belle of Belfast (Los Angeles)

By Irish Reviewers
The Irish national cause receives a resounding reception through the LA production “The Belle of Belfast”. The new original play is set during the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland in 1985 and centres around a seventeen-year-old school girl, Anne Malloy who is lost and angry after the senseless killing of her parents by a terrorist bomb. Like many who suffered and survived during Northern Ireland's "troubles", she turns to the comforts of the Catholic Church. However, her passion is not just for the church. Anne Malloy is played by American born Sarah Gise brilliantly. With her well-polished Belfast accent she captures you with emotional depth superbly from start to finish. This is Gise’s first professional production. Daniel Blinkoff takes on the role of Father Reilly, a priest dealing with the confession box in Belfast while questioning whether to act on his impure thoughts or not. Blinkoff masterfully reproduces the prototypical catholic priest. The absolute “man of the match” has to go to Father Behan played by Dublin born Billy Meleady. He plays the supporting role of the older priest with humour, excellent character and one or two too many whiskeys! From his personality, hilarious banter and wit you can’t help but love how Meleady plays Father Behan. The first time published playwright, Nate Rufust Edelman, was born in Los Angeles in 1983. He began studying drama at Trinity College in 2004 for 4 years while living with a flatmate from Belfast. The show is currently on a 4 to 6 week run at AtWater Village Theatre in Los Angeles. What is particularly likeable about this production is how Edeleman treated the conflict between celibacy and sexuality, while keeping his story relevant to the time. Cleverly including Irish folklore songs such as “The Belle of Belfast”, Edelman depicts the harsh reality of Belfast in 1985 beautifully. Edelman’s playwriting career should be interesting to keep an eye on. The cast consists of five actors played superbly under the direction of Claudia Weill. Their excellent Belfast accents were polished by dialect coach Austin Grehan. Grehan is from Ballymun, Co. Dublin and is currently based in Los Angeles. This production is currently funded by Atwater Village Theatre under a private benefactor. The venue is recently established and is situated in a low key area in the middle of Atwater Village, Los Angeles. It has its own bar, seats 70 occupants and supports its own theatre company, EST (Ensemble Studio Theatre).

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Irish Reviewers were lucky enough to catch Billy Meleady for a short interview. Here’s how it went: Irish Reviewers: Where are you from? Billy: I’m from Coolock, Dublin, Ireland

Irish Reviewers: How were you cast for this production? Billy: The Director and playwright both wanted me after I worked with them on a staged reading of an earlier draft on Martha's Vineyard. And they got me!

Irish Reviewers: What is your favourite scene for Father Behan? I don't have a favourite scene, they all string together beautifully.

Irish Reviewers: How many years have you been acting? Almost 25 years

Irish Reviewers: How long where you in rehearsals for? It was a 5 and a half week rehearsal period.

Irish Reviewers: Where were you accommodated while on this project in LA? We found wonderful accommodation with terrific people in Studio City who are now dear friends.

Irish Reviewers: What do you love or hate most about performing in theatre? I've always loved story-telling, I just love live audiences. (Much better than dead ones.) There's nothing I hate about theatre.

Irish Reviewers: What was Nate like to work with? Wonderful to work with, always very flexible, he has the utmost respect for actors. The director Claudia was wonderful to work with. Beyond her directing, she was crucial to the shaping of the script.

Irish Reviewers: Do you think the script does 1985 justice? I think the script does justice to Belfast of the 1980s.

Irish Reviewers: Billy, what is it that makes you particularly love and perform theatre as an actor? I love the collaboration of all aspects in the medium - actors, directors, designers, etc. I love the creative process that leads to the telling of the story. Of course, how can you put that into words, that energy that is manifested in the sharing of a story in a room with a live audience? It's magical and very fulfilling.