Monday, July 6, 2015

Let's get the party started

There are many types of couples. Among these are those who swing and those who don't. Those who don't are generally censurious of those who do.

Bruce Norris' The Qualms, at Playwrights Horizons through July 12th, analyzes the relationships of couples who swap.

What brings newly weds, Chris (Jeremy Shamos) and Kristy (Sarah Goldberg), to the party seems to be a a kink in their marriage. Not the usual kink which might lead readily to swinging, but more like a rift. 

Chris, it seems, is reluctant to join Gary (John Procaccino) and Teri (Kate Arrington) in their fun. This of course, despite the good will of the other participants, ultimately puts a damper on the proceedings.

While Deb (Donna Lynne Champlin), Ken (Andy Lucien), and Regine (Chinasa Oginbuagu) are all welcoming, Chris and super macho Roger (Noah Emmerich) bump heads from the minute they meet.Kristy is happy to play along and enjoy herself. 

Pam MacKinnon directs this excellent ensemble who take us on an unexpected and entertaining jaunt. 

For tickets and information, please visit 

See also

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shipbuilding in Wallsend

Don't expect to see Sting on stage at the Neil Simon Theatre!
Is there a genre we could call "the working man's musical?"

The Full Monty would fall into this category. Billy Elliot also wore its working class roots with distinction.  Kinky Boots is an exuberant example of this presumptive classification.

The Last Ship, with music and lyrics by Sting and story by Brian Yorkey and John Logan, at the Neil Simon Theatre in an open run, is an illustration of the style gone sadly awry.

Fred Applegate and Jimmy Nail with the cast of The Last Ship.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

With a who-cares plot, choreography (by Steven Hoggett) replaced mostly by stomping, and songs that generally misfire, and seem to be there mostly just for the exposition, The Last Ship is anything but the pride of Wallsend.

Young Gideon (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) sails away from home after his father is injured and before taking on as an apprentice in the shipyards. He wanders on the seas for fifteen years and comes back (played on his return by Michael Esper) too late for his father's funeral.

He has left behind a girl (young Meg played by Dawn Cantwell) to whom he made promises and whom he still seems to love. Meg Dawson (Rachel Tucker playing the adult woman), has a son, Tom (Kelly-Sordelet again), and a new beau, Arthur Millburn (Aaron Lazar). Arthur has run afoul of the townfolks. He is working with the fellow who is taking over the shipyard and transforming it into a new industrial site.

Lead by Jackie White (Jimmy Nail), a foreman at the works before they closed, the weilders refuse to sign on for new jobs and plan to occupy the yards and yes, build The Last Ship.

Collin Kelly-Sordelet as Tom Dawson in a scene from The Last Ship.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.
In the interests of being completely honest with our readers, from the first tune "Island of Souls," I yearned for intermission. By "We've Got Now't Else," the third song from the end of Act I, my passion for escape rivalled young Gideon's. As a born romantic, "What Say You Meg," a quasi-lovesong before the break, was moderately effective.

The minimalist sets by David Zinn are like so much else on the stage of The Last Ship, generically workmanlike. Among the cast, Fred Applegate as Father O'Brien, generic Irish priest with the soul of a rebel, and Collin Kelly-Sordelet as the wise fifteen year old Tom Dawson are standouts. Aaron Lazar is a likeable hero although my suspicion is I was routing for the wrong lover.

For more information about The Last Ship, or to purchase tickets, please visit The Last Ship,

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

The Flames of Paris.
Photo by Stas Levshin
The Flames of Paris. 
Photo by Stas Levshin

Not just any Russians, of course, but the Mikhailovsky Ballet Company is visiting us from St. Petersburg.

There was a time when a visit from a Russian ballet company and the subsequent defections of its dancers to the West was viewed as a Cold War triumph. These days a touring Russian troupe simply offers the chance to witness part of a grand tradition of superlative dance.

Don Quixote. Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. Photo by Stas Levshin

The 80 year old Mikhailovsky Ballet Company has never been state-side before. When it aarives on November 11th for its stay at the David H. Koch Theater on Lincoln Center's campus through November 23rd,   consider this your  opportunity to enjoy great dance programs from its varied repertoire.

Don Quixote. Photo by Nikolay Krusser
The Company will play to a live orchestra for its 15 performances in New York. From there it goes to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in California from November 28th through the 30th.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre, where Fyodor Lopukhov founded the Ballet Company in 1933, had hosted many an opera and ballet in the 100 years it had already been in existence.  Its long and storied history included the  George Balanchine choreography of a Rimsky-Korsikov opera in 1923.  Since its official founding as a Ballet Company at the Mikhailovsky Theatre by Lopukhov, the Company has had an outstanding number of top Ballet Masters at its helm.  The Ballet Company staged the premiere of  Lopukhov's production of Dmitry Shostakovich’s The Bright Stream in 1935

Today, the Ballet Company is home to world class Principal Dancers and is headed by Ballet Master in Chief Mikhail Messerer. It blends tradition with modernity in its productions and will bring a sampling to its US tour, including "Three Centuries of Russian Ballet" which will feature choreography from Petipa, Asaf Messerer, and Nacho Duato among others.

November 15th matinee commentary: at Tand B On The Aisle on wordpress

For more information about The Mikhailovsky Theatre and its  Ballet Company, visit The Mikhailovsky Theatre Ballet
For tickets and programs, please visit

Monday, October 20, 2014


"Dog Silhouette 01" by Amada44 - Own work. Licensed under
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -
The theater has gone to the dogs!

Emotional support animals (ESAs) and service dogs (let Patricia Marx define the difference in her excellent New Yorker article, Pig On A Plane) occupy the best seats in the house. 

Not content with being upfront, some of them distract by barking at the actors, as they did at the Women's Project for a show called "Row After Row." (More on this performance here on this blog at 

Some "trauma dogs" scratch themselves during a performance, or demand petting from their disinterested (in the play at any rate) owners.

Their presence in the audience is mostly to satisfy some perverse demands of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and may be utterly spurious. 

It is most definitely annoying to this theater-goer and her spouse. How do you feel about sharing the theater with four-footed critters?
"Tan ferret named cincin" by Kerri Love - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -
Before you answer, note that the ferret pictured above may also qualify for categorization as a "trauma" or emotional support pet. 

If the pet owners are in need of emotional support, perhaps they should bring their psychiatrists to the show. The interval would be a perfect time to hold a mini-therapy session.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Too modest by half: McNally's "It's Only A Play"

Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick, Nathan
Lane, and Stockard Channing in a scene from Terrence
McNally's It's Only A Play, directed by Jack O'Brien, at the
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Matthew Broderick's inflections suggest a deeply wounded soul. As Peter Austin, a playwright awaiting opening night notices, in Terrence McNally's It's Only A Play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in a limited 18 week run through January 4, 2015, he delivers his lines with an aggressive hesitance, that seems perfectly suited to his character. Each sentence is punctuated through the middle, which adds a certain piquancy to the play.

Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane in a scene from It's Only
A Play.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Peter's best friend, James Wicker (Nathan Lane) is also jittery. He expects bad press, but he is actually more distressed over the fate of the sitcom that kept him from being in Peter's Broadway debut.

Lane, by the way, is on stage and either delivering or reacting to the funny zingers for the entirety of this comedy. He is in every sense of the word "on!" Lane's performance is wonderful.

It's Only A Play mocks everyone involved in the theater. Critics are skewered, of course, and embodied as Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham,) a particularly nasty specimen. Actors are self-absorbed, and playwrights are needy. Hotshot British directors, in this case an eccentric Frank Finger (Rupert Grint, ) are made fun of for their ubiquitous successes. Sir Frank yearns for a failure.

Micah Stock, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint and Nathan Lane
in a scene from It's Only A Play. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Even matinee audiences are not safe. Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing) really sticks it to the seniors in their headsets. The producer, Julia Budder (Megan Mullally,) whose gorgeous bedroom (designed by Scott Pask) is the setting for the post-opening soiree, drops misquotes and malapropisms at fever pitch. Not to dwell too much on voices, but Mullally's squeaky delivery is delightfully antic. Rounding out the cast is the hat-check boy, Gus P. Head (Micah Stock, who has some shticks of his own to add.)

The pace of It's Only A Play is kept moving at a steady and uproarious clip under Jack O'Brien's able direction. In an excellent cast, standing out along with Lane is Stockard Channing who gives a grand and understated performance in a role that could go way over the top, and goes just right.

Unlike poor Peter Austin, playwright Terrence McNally will be able to add this hit to his slew of award-winning Broadway productions. Be warned that your fifteen year old from Atlanta might not be as happy at It's Only A Play as we were.

It's Only A Play is a theater-crowd pleasing satiric comedy, with great sets and lovely elegant costumes (by Ann Roth), a star-studded cast, and very witty name-dropping dialog.

Additional commentary from Tamara Beck can be found at

For more information about It's Only A Play, please visit

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Too close: Billy Porter's "While Yet I Live"

Sometimes we are just to close to our own lives to properly document them.

Billy Porter's While Yet I Live, at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street through October 31st, is a case in point.
S. Epatha Merkerson and Sharon Washington in While I Yet Live.
(c) 2014 James Leynse.
Primary Stages production of While I Yet Live by Billy Porter,
directed by Sheryl Kaller at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street.

The cliche- (and on occasion, stereotype-) laden script does not let the characters fully develop, despite a mostly stellar cast.

While Yet I Live tells the story of Calvin (Larry Powell), a stand-in for the author, or rather of his family.

Living in "The Big House" in Pittsburgh, PA, are his mother, Maxine (S. Epatha Merkerson), his grandmother, Gertrude (Lilias White), his great aunt Delores, aka Aunt D (Elain Graham), and his little sister Tonya (Sheria Irving in a standout performance.) Also living with them is the shut-in Arthur, whom we never see, but to whom Tonya brings trays of food, and Maxine's best friend, Miss Eva (Sharon Washington)

Calvin leaves home for complicated reasons which involve his stepdad Vernon (Kevyn Morrow) to return at the end of Act I after success on Broadway.

Elain Graham, Lilias White and Larry Powell in While I Yet Live. 
(c) 2014 James Leynse. 
S. Epatha Merkerson is completely at ease in her role as a troubled, handicapped woman who is taking care of everyone around her. Sharon Washington makes you want a friend like that. It's Sheria Irving's Tonya, narrating and moving the drama along, who steals the show.

While Yet I Live is too loose and gangly. A few too many "Name it and claim its" and "You are not brokens" keep it from being taut. In fact, While Yet I Live, could easily be trimmed to bring the play to a more desireable intermissionless hour and fifteen. It could shed some ghosts to let the narrative move more smoothly and dramatically.

To learn more about Primary Stages and get tickets for While Yet I Live, please visit