Betrayal ***1/2

By: Isa Goldberg

October 18, 2019: Director James Lloyd’s revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal embraces a chilly minimalism.  As the pinnacle of this complex love triangle, Robert (Tom Hiddleston) is an opaque, fully restrained husband; one who’s certainly not into drama.

By: Isa Goldberg

October 18, 2019: Director James Lloyd’s revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal embraces a chilly minimalism.  As the pinnacle of this complex love triangle, Robert (Tom Hiddleston) is an opaque, fully restrained husband; one who’s certainly not into drama.

Last revived on Broadway in 2013, in a production starring Daniel Craig, one now sees how differently the role can be interpreted.  Handsomely, Craig brought the passion of Othello to the role. But Hiddleston, the Marvel Film hero (Thor, etc.), is anything but a shape shifter here. He is single mindedly in control of his every move, and more importantly the emotions – whatever they are – beneath his firm and silent demeanor.

Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox, Tom Hiddleston

As his best friend, and rival, Charlie Cox’s Jerry is such an amiable, and friendly companion, one can hardly find anything to dislike about him. Where Robert is sternly self-commanding, Jerry is relaxed; and while Robert is very sure of himself, Jerry is confident without stressing. In effect, Jerry is perfect. Still youthful, in service of his middle-aged success, he’s handsome, metrosexual, and worldly beyond conceit.

Similarly, Zawe Ashton’s Emma is an icon of physical perfection, unusually tall, and slender. Her flawless beauty captures our gaze, but her sense of quest feels vapid, especially to her. Put them all together on a single set with a rotating disk in the middle of the stage (Soutra Gilmour, designer), and you have a three-person theater piece that plays like chamber music.  Beautifully well-paced, the production averts any perception of the characters as fully human, or fully realized. 

Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox, Zawe Ashton

Their relationships are calculated like the mechanics of the rotating disk on stage, and manipulative in the way adultery is. But for a long term marriage, such deliberate and controlled behaviors also express a determination for mutual survival. This revival is also very sad in that way.

Mulling beneath the surface lies a sense of disappointment, sadness, and loss.  The mess of betrayals, revealing innate hypocrisy, and the fear of facing one another is bewildering, and omnipresent.  With all of the characters on stage throughout, we also watch them, painfully watching each other.

Tom Hiddleston

The contemporary staging, with its evocation of industrial design, flies on the heels of Pinter’s sparse use of language, telling pauses, and resonant silences. So do Gilmour’s costumes – one costume per actor for all of the scenes, regardless of where and when they take place. There is a relentless monotone to that. 

It leads us to that which lies between the lines. A betrayal of self, and fidelity to one’s self, speaks loudly here.  Things stay the same, the status quo isn’t altered, but there is something missing, something not stated but distinctly present that is revealing about all three relationships. It’s certainly revealing about love, middle age, and the fear of what is to come.          

Betrayal ***1/2
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater
242 W. 45th St., NYC. 
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. 
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. $25—$189. 
(212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Sept. 5—Dec. 8. 2019 
Photography: Marc Brenner

The Rose Tattoo ****, Linda Vista ****, The New Englanders **1/2 Heroes of the Fourth Turning ****

By: David Sheward

October 17, 2019: “My life is unhappy. I want to change it and I don’t know how.” That’s the subtext of a lot of American drama and four productions currently on and Off-Broadway explore this trope of angst with insight and compassion. One is a neglected classic from Tennessee Williams, the poet of the frustrated and lonely, while the other three offer new perspectives on the search for self-fulfillment from established and rising playwrights. Surprisingly, the Williams play is the most optimistic and life-affirming of this sad quartet.

By: David Sheward

October 17, 2019: “My life is unhappy. I want to change it and I don’t know how.” That’s the subtext of a lot of American drama and four productions currently on and Off-Broadway explore this trope of angst with insight and compassion. One is a neglected classic from Tennessee Williams, the poet of the frustrated and lonely, while the other three offer new perspectives on the search for self-fulfillment from established and rising playwrights. Surprisingly, the Williams play is the most optimistic and life-affirming of this sad quartet.

Marisa Tomei in The Rose Tattoo

We associate Williams’ heroines such as Amanda Wingfield, Blanche DuBois, and Alexandra Del Lago with delusion and disappointment. But Serafina Delle Rosa, the passionate seamstress of The Rose Tattoo overcomes her illusions and finds happiness in facing the truth. Williams called Tattoo his “love-play to the world” and wrote it in celebration of his relationship with his lover Frank Merlo. Intended for Anna Magnani who would win an Oscar for the 1955 film version, the play is a comic-tragic ode to the power of love to transcend tragedy. Serafina, an Italian immigrant on the Gulf Coast, withdraws from the world when her truck-driver husband is killed while transporting illegal drugs for gangsters. Her teenage daughter is becoming a woman and her heart is revived by a sweet, clumsy clown named Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Italian for “Eat a horse”). Initially she stubbornly resists the reality of her child’s growing up, her dead husband’s infidelity, and Mangiacavallo’s advances by railing against her community, but gradually she succumbs to romance. 

Overshadowed by Williams’ powerhouses Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tattoo is a gentle, funny romance and seldom performed. The current production at Roundabout Theater Company is only the third Broadway revival (Maureen Stapleton starred in the 1951 original and the 1966 revival, Mercedes Ruehl headlined a 1995 version.) Trip Cullman’s luminous production, previously seen at the Williamstown Theater Festival, gives Marisa Tomei’s intense Serafina plenty of air and space (reinforced by Mark Wendland’s lyrical set, though he does crowd the back of the stage with a flock of superfluous plastic flamingoes). The comic moments which easily could have been too broad are lightly played. Tomei seamlessly makes the transition from wild, tantrum-throwing virago to gentle, desperate widow. Emun Elliott captures Alvaro’s tenderhearted toughness and Ella Rubin infuses the daughter Rosa with determination and sass.  

 Jim True-Frost, Cora Vander Broek, Ian Barford and Sally Murphy in “Linda Vista”

Like Serafina, Dick Wheeler, the misanthropic protagonist of Tracey Letts’ Linda Vista at Second Stage’s Hayes Theatre, is no picnic. He rails against Trump voters, all contemporary music and film (especially comic-book adaptations), and Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature as signs of cultural rot. Divorced and depressed over his failure as a photographer and husband and working at a dead-end job at age 50, Wheeler reluctantly reaches out for companionship with the outgoing Jules, a life coach (of course, he gets in a few cracks about her profession.) But unlike Serafina, he throws his chance for happiness away, rejecting Jules in favor of the emotionally unstable, much younger Minnie who is carrying the baby of her abusive ex-boyfriend. No big surprise that it all ends badly.

From the sound of him, you wouldn’t want to spend over two and a half hours in Wheeler’s company, but Letts skillfully shows us all the facets of this complex, compelling character so that we are never tempted to label him as a loser or treat him as an object of derision. Yet despite the protagonist’s self-destructive narcissism, Letts has created a moving character similar to Chekhov’s brooding heroes such as Uncle Vanya and Ivanov. The dialogue is funny without venturing into sitcom territory, exposing the the quirks of Wheeler and his circle without mocking them. Dexter Bullard’s direction gives us just the right combination of humorous snap and detail-laden pathos.

Caroline Neff, Ian Barford and Troy West in “Linda Vista

Ian Barford captures Wheeler’s self-loathing at the root of his grouchiness as well as the spark of joy he has not quite successfully extinguished. Cora Vander Broek makes a sturdy Jules and Chantal Thuy’s layered Minnie is much more than a toxic mess.Sally Murphy and Jim True-Frost truthfully expose the rifts in the marriage of Wheeler’s best friends while Caroline Neff and Troy West provide insight into his co-workers.

Patrick Breen and Kara Young in “The New Englanders

The characters in Jeff Augustin’s The New Englanders from Manhattan Theater Club at City Center Stage II are just as unhappy as Serafina and Wheeler, but they’re whinier about their comfortable misery. Interracial gay couple Aaron (dignified but yearning Teagle F. Bougere) and Samuel (tender Patrick Breen) have lost the zip in their marriage while their teenage daughter Eisa (fiery Kara Young) aspires to be the next Lauryn Hill and obsessively fears being ordinary. This leads her into a battle of wills while her equally neurotic English teacher Laura (brittle, sarcastic Crystal Finn) who still hasn’t gotten over losing big time on Jeopardy. Meanwhile, Aaron is hooking up with old flame Raul (sweet Javier Munoz), a drifter with the case of the glooms and his own daughter issues, and Samuel finds a friend in Atlas (sharp Adam Langdon), Eisa’s classmate and drug dealer. Like Chekhov’s three sisters, all six bemoan their unhappy lot at being trapped in a nowhere town.

There are moments of wit and connection despite the over-reliance on coincidence as the characters meet and regroup in hardly believable pairings (Atlas and Samuel, Raul and Laura). Musings on race and gay-straight relations are often pointed but these characters often come across as overwhelmingly self-pitying. Fortunately, the professional cast endows this dreary un-self-aware sextette with vitality and spark and Saheem Ali directs with pace and punch.

John Zdrojeski, Michele Pawk, and Jeb Kreager in “Heroes of the Fourth Turning”

Will Arbery depicts yet another group of teary-eyed souls dealing with loss and doubt in Heroes of the Fourth Turning at Playwrights Horizons. To continue the Chekhovian theme, this bunch is gathered together to mourn the absence of a cherished past, but feel powerless to move forward, sorta like the folks in The Cherry Orchard. They are recent graduates of a conservative Catholic university in Wyoming attending a celebration of their former professor’s promotion to president. Each longs for the security of the campus and certainty of their Christian faith and traditional values in an uncertain and increasingly liberal society. Abortion, LGBT issues, racism, terrorism, Trump, and much  more are all addressed. Arbery introduces right-wing viewpoints not usually encountered on New York stages and creates complex, ambiguous personalities rather than representatives of perspectives. 

Zoë Winters, Jeb Kreager, and Julia McDermott in “Heroes of the Fourth Turning”

The playwright lays on the symbolism a bit thickly at times—the lights go out at irregular points, plunging everyone in the dark, and a deafening cacophony erupts from a broken-down generator as they speak past each other. But the dialogue is startlingly intelligent and these are real people. You may not agree with what they have to say, but you can understand their position (thanks to the author) and emotions (thanks to a precise job by director Danya Taymor and the empathetic five-person cast). Zoe Winters is burningly intense as a fast-taking ideologue. Jeb Kraeger achingly suppresses his emotions while John Zdrojeski and Julia McDermott let them spill out with eloquent force. Michele Pawk   is devastatingly sharp as the Peggy Noonan-ish university president. 

The title refers to historians William Strauss and Neil Howe’s book that theorizes America is headed for a crisis or “turning.” Arbery has skillfully crafted a moving, disturbing portrait of a massive turning of our nation and five of its citizens.

The Rose Tattoo ****
Oct. 15—Dec. 8. Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 30 mins. including intermission. $59—$299. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabouttheatrecompany.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus

Marisa Tomei, Emun Elliott in “The Rose Tattoo”

Linda Vista ****
Oct. 10—Nov. 10. Second Stage at the Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 40 mins. including intermission. $79—$149. (212) 541-4516. www.2st.com. 
Photography: Joan Marcus

Cora Vander Broek and Ian Barford in “Linda Vista”

The New Englanders **1/2
Oct. 2—20. Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th St., NYC. Tue 7:30pm, Wed 2:30pm & 7:30pm, Thu 1pm & 7:30pm, Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2:30pm & 7:30pm, Sun 2:30pm. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. $35. (212) 581-1212. www.nycitycenter.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus

Teagle F. Bougere, Patrick Breen “The New Englanders

Heroes of the Fourth Turning ****
Oct. 7—Nov. 10. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue—Wed 7pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2:30pm & 8pm, Sun 2:30pm & 7:30pm. Running time: two hours with no intermission. $59-$99. (212) 279-4200. www.playwrightshorizons.com.
Photography: Joan Marcus

Jeb Kreager, John Zdrojeski, and Zoë Winters in “Heroes of the Fourth Turning”

Slave Play ****1/2

By: Isa Goldberg

October 17, 2019: The raves and buzz surrounding playwright Jeremy O. Harris are well deserved. A surprising young writer, his grasp of dramatic form, from medieval miracle plays to silent movies, is on par with his sociological observations, and psychological insights. His Broadway premiere, Slave Play is equally all over the place, and delightfully so. 

By: Isa Goldberg

October 17, 2019: The raves and buzz surrounding playwright Jeremy O. Harris are well deserved. A surprising young writer, his grasp of dramatic form, from medieval miracle plays to silent movies, is on par with his sociological observations, and psychological insights. His Broadway premiere, Slave Play is equally all over the place, and delightfully so. 

 O’Hara, who has championed Harris from early in his career. While O’Hara paces the production for satire and farce, which it is, he also allows the actors to breathe fully in the dramatic scenes. And his appreciation for the actors’ gifts is clear from the way this diverse ensemble teams up to stage their stories. In so doing, they perform scenes that evoke the debacle of American slavery.

Structurally, the play falls into two completely diverse spheres. In Act I the characters act out their relationship issues through sexual fantasy play. And in Act II, they deconstruct the fantasies, also at times through sex play.  

James Cusati-Moyer and Ato Blankson-Wood

In the second act, we meet the graduate students, Tea (Chalia La Tour) and Patricia (Irene Sofia Lucio) who lead the program, “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy.” It’s designed for people with “RID” – “Racialized Inhibiting Disorder.” And the participants in the study are “minoritarians” whose self-image has been shaped by racial trauma. Their difficulties in identifying and expressing feelings about race also fuel the impasse to empathy and communication. So we are told.

While the study appears cut and dry, the dissertation overall is delivered with a dose of sarcasm that is so impish and well-intended that we are happy to receive it. Still, as the program notes attest, the overall effect for audiences is “discomfort.” And some of the assertions we hear, and sex acts we see are defiling.

An especially coy dynamic takes place between young gay men in a 2-year relationship. A sexy actor type, Dustin, played by James Cusatic-Moyer with boundless magnetism, and Gary, sensitively played by Ato Blandson-Wood argue about their racial differences. 

Joaquina Kalukango, Paul Alexander Nolan

Gary being black seems to have the stronger case, but Dustin’s claim that he is of the other “nonwhite” race is believable.  After all, his racial appearance is ambiguous. And if you take that to be facetious, you’re discriminating against Hispanic people, and Middle Eastern people, etc. 

Also, in erotic pose (Act I), Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) and Kaneeisha (Joaquina Kalukango) work out their psycho sexual fantasies in Comeddia della arte fashion. Their stereotypes of a “masa,” and his slave are presented so fully as to appear indelible, iconic even. Sweeping the stage with her hoop skirt, Kalukango performs the sexual rituals demanded by Jim. When we meet them again in Act II, they are a contemporary married couple who are violently, and self-destructively entangled.

Commanding performances from Sullivan Jones as the mulatto sex slave to the plantation owner’s wife (Annie McNamara) in Act I round out the cast of characters. Later in the play, however, we observe Phillip’s (Sullivan’s) narcissistic obsession as the primary obstacle to communication with his white wife, Alana (Mcnamara). Their relationship speaks to the playwright’s fair, and unbiased depiction of racial conflict. 

A dark comedy that is intricately constructed, and complex, still carries a clear and bright message. The urgency to listen sings out. Hopefully, there is comedy to be found in that.

Slave Play ****1/2
Booth Theater
252 W. 45th St., NYC. 
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. 
Running time: two hours with no intermission. $39—$159. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com. Oct. 6—Jan. 5.
Photography: Matthew Murphy

On Broadway

“On Broadway” directed by Oren Jacoby makes World Premiere at Hamptons International Film Festival

October 13, 2019:  An all-star cast tells the inside story of Broadway theatre, and how it came back from the brink thanks to innovative work, a new attention to inclusion, and is, an often uneasy, balance between art and commerce. 

“On Broadway” directed by Oren Jacoby makes World Premiere at Hamptons International Film Festival

October 13, 2019:  An all-star cast tells the inside story of Broadway theatre, and how it came back from the brink thanks to innovative work, a new attention to inclusion, and is, an often uneasy, balance between art and commerce. 

The documentary directed by Oren Jacoby goes behind the scenes of Broadway’s most groundbreaking shows, from A Chorus Line to Hamilton.  On Broadway features Helen Mirren, Christine Baranski, August Wilson, James Corden, Alec Baldwin, John Lithgow, Viola Davis, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen, and includes performances by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters, James Earl Jones and Mandy Patinkin.  The tale is an insightful ride through the hurly-burly Times Square of the late 1960’s to becoming the main street of American show business. On Broadway is a Storyville Films Production and was produced by Oren Jacoby, and Holly Siegel with additional support by Riki Kane Larimer and sponsored by Netflix. The film was shown as a Feature Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival @ Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

Christine Ebersole, Riki Kane Larimer, Sandra Mcfarland
Pat Schoenfeld, Riki Kane Larimer
Randi Levine Miller, Pat Schoenfeld
Sidney Baumgarten, Pat Schoenfeld

Hamptons Film Festival announce Winners

October 14, 2019: The 27th Hamptons International Film Festival, presented by HamptonsFilm, announced their award winners at a ceremony in East Hampton. The 2019 festival was dedicated to Michael Lynne, a HIFF Board Member for almost two decades, and Mark Urman a member of HIFF’s Advisory Board for eleven years, both of whom passed away earlier this year.

October 14, 2019: The 27th Hamptons International Film Festival, presented by HamptonsFilm, announced their award winners at a ceremony in East Hampton.  The 2019 festival was dedicated to Michael Lynne, a HIFF Board Member for almost two decades, and Mark Urman a member of HIFF’s Advisory Board for eleven years, both of whom passed away earlier this year.

A WHITE, WHITE DAY, directed by Hlynur Pálmason, won the Award for Best Narrative Feature, sponsored by Warby Parker. OVERSEAS, directed by Sung-a Yoon, received the Award for Best Documentary Feature, sponsored by Investigation Discovery. JUST ME AND YOU, directed by Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers received the Award for Best Narrative Short Film, and GHOSTS OF SUGAR LAND, directed by Bassam Tariq, won for Best Documentary Short Film.  Both Short Films will qualify for Academy® awards consideration.

Narrative cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz received a Special Cinematography Award for his work on THE VAST OF NIGHT, and THE BEST OF DORIEN B., directed by Anke Blondé, a Breakthrough Achievement in Filmmaking Award. In addition, these actors received Special Jury Mentions for Acting Performances: Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir for in A WHITE, WHITE DAY; Mama Sane in ATLANTICS; Corinna Harfouch in LARA; Kim Snauwaert in THE BEST OF DORIEN B.; and Sierra McCormick in THE VAST OF NIGHT.

Documentaries CUNNINGHAM, directed by Alla Kovgan, received a Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision; TALKING ABOUT TREES, directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari, a Special Jury Prize for Indomitable Spirit of Storytelling; ALL CATS ARE GREY IN THE DARK, directed by Lasse Linder, a Special Jury Prize for Originality; and THE NIGHTCRAWLERS, directed by Alexander A. Mora, a Special Jury Prize for Creative Filmmaking.

FOR SAMA, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, was awarded the 2019 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award to Films of Conflict and Resolution, which is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

THE ARTIST’S WIFE, directed by Tom Dolby, was awarded the Suffolk County Next Exposure Grant. This program supports the completion of high quality, original, director-driven, low-budget independent films from both emerging and established filmmakers who have completed 50% of principal photography within Suffolk County. The film was awarded a $3,000 grant.

Lesley Chilcott, David Nugent, Zelda Penzel, Fox Deatry “Watson”
Photo: Barry Gordin

WATSON, directed by Lesley Chilcott, was awarded the Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award. This award is presented to a film that raises public awareness about contemporary social issues, including the moral and ethical treatment and the rights of animals as well as environmental protection. The film was awarded $2,500.

CONSCIENCE POINT was presented with the Victor Rabinowitz & Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice. The film is directed by Treva Wurmfeld. The annual award is handed to a film that exemplifies the values of peace, equality, global justice and civil liberties, and is named after iconic civil rights lawyer Victor Rabinowitz and his wife Joanne Grant, an author, filmmaker and journalist. The award, which is accompanied by a cash prize of $2,000, is named in honor of two people who spent their entire lives fighting for those values.

The festival also announced the recipients of the University Film Awards, short films highlighting the extraordinary talent and achievements of five exceptional students. Each will receive a $500 cash prize. Awardees include BIRCH, directed by Paisley Valentine Walsh (London Film School); THE BOXERS OF BRULE, directed by Jessie Adler (School of Visual Arts); FINE, directed by Maya Yadlin (“Minshar For Art” Film School); PERFECT MOMENT, directed by Matthew Noydens (Luca School of Arts in Brussels); and THE UNITED STATES OF PARANOIA OR: HOW I STAYED ON THE LINE TO REPAIR MY AIR CONDITIONER, directed by Rashan Castro (Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College).

The Audience Award and the Zicherman Family Foundation Screenwriting Award will be announced tomorrow.  New in 2019, the Zicherman award for $10,000 is presented to an early-career screenwriter who has demonstrated singular vision and dedication to their craft. This award seeks to both celebrate their current work and encourage the development of future projects.  

Brian De Palma Photo: Lisa Tamburini

As previously announced, legendary director Brian De Palma was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by HIFF Co-Chairman Alec Baldwin at the festival, and artist and HIFF co-founder and founding Chairman of the Board Toni Ross was honored with the Dick Cavett Artistic Champion Award on opening night by Baldwin and additional HIFF Co-Chairman Randy Mastro. 2019 Breakthrough Artists included Aldis Hodge (CLEMENCY), Camila Morrone (MICKEY AND THE BEAR), and Lulu Wang (THE FAREWELL).

This year’s narrative jury was comprised of American novelist, playwright, screenwriter and director Peter Hedges, whose film credits include BEN IS BACK, ABOUT A BOY, and DAN IN REAL LIFE; Dori Begley, Executive Vice President, Magnolia Pictures,some upcoming and recent titles include SCANDALOUS, CUNNINGHAM, COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD, and MIKE WALLACE IS HERE; and Scott Feinberg, Awards Columnist for The Hollywood Reporter and host of “Awards Chatter” podcast.  The Documentary Jury included Jannat Gargi, producer, whose documentary credits include GHOST FLEET, STEP, BALLET NOW, and BODY TEAM 12; Alison Wilmore, Film Critic at Vulture and Chair of the New York Film Critics Circle; and Jill Burkhart, Senior Director of Documentary Programming for EPIX

This year the Festival was honored to partner with the New York Film Critics Circle for the eleventh year.

David Nugent, HamptonsFilm Artistic Director, said “This year brought an abundance of captivating films with wide ranging topics and engaging conversations.” He added “We are proud of all the incredible premieres, screenings and events over the past five days for the 27th Hamptons International Film Festival,” said Anne Chaisson, HamptonsFilm Executive Director. “We are thankful to all of the filmmakers for sharing their extraordinary films and talents with our audience, and also wish to extend sincere gratitude to our staff, sponsors and film loving community, without whom the festival would not be possible.”

Attendees of the 2019 festival included Waad al-Kateba, Hamza al-Kateab, Annabelle Attanasio, Alec Baldwin, Bob Balaban, Christine Baranski, Noah Baumbach, Candice Bergen, Anke Blondé, Ebs Burnough, Ric Burns, Lesley Chilcott, Chinonye Chukwu, Brian De Palma, Tom Dolby, Mati Diop, Tracy Edwards, Jonathan Eirich, Alex Gibney, Lauren Greenfield, Tom Harper, Fred Hechinger, Aldis Hodge, Oren Jacoby, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Susan Lacy, Mark Landsman, Todd Leiberman, Tracy Letts, Alex Lewis, Marcus Lewis, Matthew Miele, Rob Morgan, Camila Morrone, Kathrine Narducci, Tim Blake Nelson, Lena Olin, Andrew Patterson, Ed Perkins, Tracy Pollan, Jonathan Pryce, Jane Rosenthal, Toni Ross, Ira Sachs, Brooke Shields, Trey Edward Shults, George Stephanopoulos, Jenno Topping, Lulu Wang, Edward Watts, James Waterston, Ali Wentworth, Alfre Woodard, Treva Wurmfeld, and more.

The Festival was pleased to welcome back returning Premiere Sponsor Audi, Lead Sponsors Delta and Altour, Signature Sponsors Netflix, Douglas Elliman, and JP Morgan, and Official Media Sponsors WNBC, The East Hampton Star, and Purist Magazine. For more information please visit www.hamptonsfilmfest.org.

HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL CONGRATULATES THE 2019 WINNERS:

The HIFF Award Winner for Best Narrative Feature sponsored by Warby Parker

A WHITE, WHITE DAY, directed by Hlynur Pálmason

HIFF Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature sponsored by Investigation Discovery

OVERSEAS, directed by Sung-a Yoon

The HIFF Award Winner for Best Narrative Short Film

JUST ME AND YOU, directed by Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers

The HIFF Award Winner for Best Documentary Short Film

GHOSTS OF SUGAR LAND, directed by Bassam Tariq

Special Cinematography Award

Miguel Ioann Litten Menz for THE VAST OF NIGHT

Breakthrough Achievement in Filmmaking Award

THE BEST OF DORIEN B., directed by Anke Blondé 

Special Jury Mentions for Acting Performances

Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir for IN A WHITE, WHITE DAY

Mama Sane in ATLANTICS

Corinna Harfouch in LARA

Kim Snauwaert in THE BEST OF DORIEN B.

Sierra McCormick in THE VAST OF NIGHT

Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision

CUNNINGHAM, directed by Alla Kovgan 

Special Jury Prize for Indomitable Spirit of Storytelling

TALKING ABOUT TREES, directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari 

Special Jury Prize for Originality

ALL CATS ARE GREY IN THE DARK, directed by Lasse Linder 

Special Jury Prize for Creative Filmmaking

THE NIGHTCRAWLERS, directed by Alexander A. Mora 

The 2019 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award to Films of Conflict and Resolution

FOR SAMA, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts

Suffolk County Next Exposure Grant

THE ARTIST’S WIFE, directed by Tom Dolby

The Zelda Penzel “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” Award

WATSON, directed by Lesley Chilcott

Victor Rabinowitz and Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice

CONSCIENCE POINT, directed by Treva Wurmfeld

University Short Film Awards

BIRCH, directed by Paisley Valentine Walsh 

THE BOXERS OF BRULE, directed by Jessie Adler 

FINE, directed by Maya Yadlin

PERFECT MOMENT, directed by Matthew Noydens

THE UNITED STATES OF PARANOIA OR: HOW I STAYED ON THE LINE TO REPAIR MY AIR CONDITIONER, directed by Rashan Castro 

And as previously announced:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Brian De Palma

The Dick Cavett Artistic Champion Award

Toni Ross

2019 Breakthrough Artists

Aldis Hodge, Camila Morrone, Lulu Wang

HIFF Narrative Feature Jury

Peter Hedges, American novelist, playwright, screenwriter and director whose film credits include BEN IS BACK, ABOUT A BOY, and DAN IN REAL LIFE

Dori Begley, Executive Vice President, Magnolia Pictures, some upcoming and recent titles include SCANDALOUS, CUNNINGHAM, COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD, and MIKE WALLACE IS HERE

Scott Feinberg, Awards Columnist for The Hollywood Reporter and host of “Awards Chatter” podcast.

HIFF Documentary Feature Jury

Jannat Gargi, producer, whose documentary credits include GHOST FLEET, STEP, BALLET NOW, and BODY TEAM 12

Alison Wilmore, Film Critic at Vulture and Chair of the New York Film Critics Circle

Jill Burkhart, Senior Director of Documentary Programming for EPIX

ABOUT THE HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), celebrating 27 years, is a year-round non-profit organization with monthly screenings of current films, filmmaking workshops, a Screenwriters Lab, master classes, summer documentary screening series, and an annual film festival each October. The Festival is the premiere film event on New York State’s east end, and is an intimate showcase of some of the year’s best offerings in contemporary cinema from around the world. Selections from all of our programs continue to play an important role during awards season. 2018 marked the 9th time in a row that a film in the Festival has become the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars, making HIFF the only Festival in the world with such a distinction. For more information please visit www.hamptonsfilmfest.org

The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter ****

By: Paulanne Simmons

October 14, 2019: As the name implies, “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” is more about the times Porter lived in than the man himself. In fact, the years in question, 1919 to 1945, saw many events that might make anyone think civilization was indeed coming to an end: two world wars, Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression.

By: Paulanne Simmons

October 14, 2019: As the name implies, “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” is more about the times Porter lived in than the man himself. In fact, the years in question, 1919 to 1945, saw many events that might make anyone think civilization was indeed coming to an end: two world wars, Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression.

But Ben Bagley, who created the show just months after Porter died, was more concerned with celebrating the naughty anarchy of the era than condemning its descent into chaos. The revue includes many songs with some of Porter’s cleverest lyrics, although for the most part, they are not his hits. Perhaps Bagley, knowing Porter stopped writing in the last six years of his life, after his leg was amputated, wanted to preserve Porter’s legacy by creating a complete picture of the composer/lyricist’s work. Or maybe he had the same sly sense of irony that makes Porter’s lyrics so delicious.

Danny Gardner, Diane Phelan

This season, The York Theatre Company is presenting “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” as part of its Musicals in Mufti series, which features staged concert performances of “musical theater gems.” True to form, the revue, directed by Pamela Hunt, relies on nothing but a few music stands, a piano (played by music director Eric Svejcar) and the talent of its cast of four: Danny Gardner, Lauren Molina, Diane Phelan and Lee Roy Reams.

The Finale, a whirlwind tour of Porter’s greatest hits performed by the entire cast is a tour-de-force. Coming at the end, it’s what the audience has been waiting for.

Lee Roy Reams

The sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek Lee Roy Reams is a master of ceremonies/narrator we can have no doubt both Bagley and Porter would have appreciated. His impersonations of Sophie Tucker and Mae West are priceless Gardener impresses as a singer but really wows with his superb tap. And Molina and Phelan, whether they’re taking a jaundiced view of romance (“Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”) or just having fun (Molina’s “The Tale of the Oyster” or Phelan’s “I Happen to Like New York”), are sexy and smart.

Despite his wealth and talent, Porter did not have a happy life. A horseback accident in 1937 left him in constant pain. His wife, Linda, died slowly from emphysema. And by 1958, despite 34 operations, his injured leg had to be amputated.

Diane Phelan, Lauren Molina

The revue contains none of this unpleasant information. Perhaps Begley was trying to tell us that an artist’s life is not nearly as important as his work.

The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter runs through Oct. 20, 2019 at The York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Ave (off 54 Street) www.yorktheatre.org.
 Photography: Ben Strothman

Lauren Molina
Diane Phelan
Lauren Molina, Diane Phelan, Eric Svejcar 
Danny Gardner, Lee Roy Reams
Lauren Molina, Danny Gardner, Diane Phelan

Alfre Woodard @ HIFF

A Conversation with Alfre Woodard @ Bay Street Theater

October 12, 2019: In celebration of one of this year’s most talked about performances for her role in Chinonye Chukwu’s CLEMENCY, the HIFF festival honored Alfre Woodard with a special A Conversation With… featuring the Emmy Award winner, Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress in person for a career spanning discussion.

A Conversation with Alfre Woodard @ Bay Street Theater

October 12, 2019: In celebration of one of this year’s most talked about performances for her role in Chinonye Chukwu’s CLEMENCY, the HIFF festival honored Alfre Woodard with a special A Conversation With… featuring the Emmy Award winner, Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress in person for a career spanning discussion.

Artistic Director of the HIFF David Nugent, Alfre Woodard

For her work as an actor, Alfre Woodard has received an Oscar® nomination, four Emmy Awards and seventeen Emmy nominations, three SAG Awards and a Golden Globe. Woodard’s illustrious body of work includes her Oscar-nominated performance in Martin Ritt’s CROSS CREEK; HBO’s MANDELA (ACE Award for her portrayal of Winnie Mandela); Lawrence Kasdan’s GRAND CANYON; John Sayles’ PASSION FISH; Joseph Sargent’s MISS EVERS’ BOYS (Emmy, SAG, Golden Globe Awards); Spike Lee’s CROOKLYN; Gina Prince-Bythewood’s LOVE AND BASKETBALL; Tyler Perry’s THE FAMILY THAT PREYS; and Maya Angelou’s DOWN IN THE DELTA. Her television work includes ABC’s Desperate Housewives and HBO’s True Blood. Woodard co-starred in Lifetime’s hit remake of Steel Magnolias, (SAG and Emmy nominations), for which she won an NAACP Image Award.

Most recently, Woodard appeared in the critically acclaimed 12 YEARS A SLAVE, directed by Steve McQueen; Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR; New Line’s ANNABELLE; and the Netflix Original JUANITA. On the small screen, she most recently starred in Marvel’s Luke Cage, and will next appear in the Apple series See.

Woodard can currently be heard as the voice of Sarabi in Jon Favreau’s THE LION KING, and this fall she stars in Clemency, which received critical praise at the Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Grand Jury Prize.

In addition to her acting career, Woodard is a longtime activist. She is the co-founder of Artists for a New South Africa, and in 2009, President Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She is an active advocate for the arts in education, working to narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement through the arts.

Photography: Barry Gordin

Richard Lawson, Alfre Woodard
Alfre Woodard, Patrick Christiano
Richard Lawson (Chief-Critic for VanityFair ), Alfre Woodard, David Nugent

Slave Play **

By: Paulanne Simmons

October 13, 2019: Playwright Jeremy O. Harris is making his Broadway debut this season with Slave Play, which premiered last season at New York Theater Workshop. The play, directed by John O’Hara, can be summed up as follows:

By: Paulanne Simmons

October 13, 2019: Playwright Jeremy O. Harris is making his Broadway debut this season with Slave Play, which premiered last season at New York Theater Workshop. The play, directed by John O’Hara, can be summed up as follows:

Part One: Three skits, in the style of Saturday Night Live, a bit more prurient and a lot longer, are set in the antebellum South. One concerns the slave Kaneisha (Joaquina Kalukango) and the boorish white overseer, Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan), who lusts after her. Another is about Alana (Annie McNamara) a married Southern belle who seduces her house slave, Philip (Sullivan Jones), and ends up completing the seduction with a black dildo. The last skit involves the slave, Gary (Ato Blankson-Wood), and the object of his desire, Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer), the white indentured servant he has been put in charge of.

Carol Burnett’s “Went with the Wind” is a lot funnier and, when you come down to it, a lot more biting.

Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones 

Part Two: The three skits morph into a sit-com, as we find out Part One was really a session of the “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” the couples have undertaken so the white partners can figure out how to make their black partners happier. Group therapy (predictably) reveals the inherent racism of the white partners and the victimhood of the black partners. In fact (guess what) the actual relationships of the couples mirror those of their antebellum selves.

Part Three: A bedroom scene between Kaneisha and Jim in which she talks about his white, shriveled penis and Jim parades around naked to show everyone that his penis might be white, but it is neither shriveled nor small.

Not surprisingly, Harris is a 30-year-old graduate student of the Yale School of Drama. Enough said.

Slave Play **
Booth Theater, 252 W. 45th St., NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm.
Running time: two hours with no intermission. $39—$159. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com. Oct. 6—Jan. 5.
Photography: Matthew Murphy

The Pass

The Pass, a musical by Denise Marsa

October 11, 2019: It was 2016 and I was thinking about my life as a singer-songwriter and how it all started for me. I recalled pretending, at the age of 14, to play piano at my mom’s Art Deco vanity table, singing songs that popped into my head and sometimes writing down the words.

The Pass, a musical by Denise Marsa

October 11, 2019: It was 2016 and I was thinking about my life as a singer-songwriter and how it all started for me. I recalled pretending, at the age of 14, to play piano at my mom’s Art Deco vanity table, singing songs that popped into my head and sometimes writing down the words.

I have sung most of my life, starting as a child performer: in musical theater, in bands, talent shows, choir, you name it, I sang it. I had my first top ten hit record in the UK in my early 20’s, singing the female part in a duet. By this time I had moved to NYC and had taught myself the piano, sneaking into NYU’s practice rooms, teaching myself to play and at the same time I was writing songs. I was playing shows, from Max’s Kansas City, Reno Sweeney’s, to Trax, an Upper West Side Club popular at the time, as well as touring in the UK to promote my hit record.  Despite all the exposure, and the adventures that went with it, I was already disgruntled and somewhat disappointed at the music business and all the games, egos and double standards I was facing as a young woman in the music business. I became determined to change this business for the better.

Forty years later, I am still here. With more stories to share than I ever imagined my somewhat naïve and optimistic psyche would be able to digest yet alone remember! My stories are about performances, managers, lawyers, contracts, publishers, producers, dozens of musicians, recording sessions, as well as relationships…family drama…paying the bills, thanks to an array of jobs and learned skills that helps others define me as a Renaissance woman.

 In 2017 I performed the first run through of THE PASS, my new show, which is pretty much my life and times told through music and vignettes. This show debuted for a select audience in the salon of Gretchen Cryer, my brilliant mentor. I worked with Gretchen for over a year, developing the script, learning so much about saying more with less words, and about the value of timing. I was totally obsessed with putting my show out there, with getting my music heard; it was something I had to do to validate my life’s work. I define myself as a singer-songwriter; it is my life’s passion. You could say my successes as a songwriter have remained unsung. Sure, I have had publishing deals with Warner Brothers, Warner/Chappell and, most recently, BMG yet my songs are virtually unknown. And I am a good songwriter. Has this been due to bad timing or is it just not in the cards?  How much of a role has fate played in my musical career? I’m still looking for that answer. 

Back to The Pass–at the beginning of our work together I kept asking Gretchen is there something here, does this show have “legs”? She said everything I wanted and needed to hear, and she meant it. I’ve come to know her as one of the most honest and diligent professionals I have ever worked with. She is a big part of THE PASS.

In 2018 I returned to London, where as a young woman filled with hopes and dreams, I’d experienced my first hit record. For two nights in late September I performed my show at The Playground Theatre in West London. Having never performed it other than at Gretchen’s, I was all in. Much to my relief the reviews were really good–the intention of the show, was understood.  I could breathe a little better the next few months. Accomplishment set my blood on fire, made me grateful I had not given up. 

The experience of mounting a musical, taking care of the lights, sound effects, projections, was challenging to say the least; however not overwhelming. The day before the show I realized the set consisted of just a table and a microphone; so my niece and I went shopping and got a rug. There was also a beautiful grand piano featured stage left, brilliantly played by my pianist Tracy Stark.  It was an amazing experience, I had come full-circle; it was the highlight of my career thus far. 

On Tuesday, November 26th Tracy and I are performing THE PASS again at The Revelation Gallery in NYC.  It will not be a full production; this is more about keeping the machine oiled and adding a few new songs to replace a few existing ones. Songs do not appear in sequence, the stories do. We urge anyone who wishes to be inspired, to enjoy some good stories and heartfelt music, to come out and support us.

Today is October 11th, 2019 and we have sold two tickets!  I wonder how many tickets we will sell and if people will be curious enough to buy a ticket for a show about a virtually unknown singer-songwriter who lives in the West Village? Here is the link to tickets: https://thepassamusical.eventbrite.com.  Special free download: THE PASS Medley with every ticket purchased! Please visit www.ThePassMusical.com for more. 

The Great Society ***, Slave Play ****, The Wrong Man ***

By: David Sheward

October 10, 2019: Robert Schenkkan provided a brilliant example of political theater with his Tony winning All the Way which played Broadway in 2014 after premiering at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The epic drama’s trajectory concerned President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s efforts to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress and ended with his election in 1964. Now Schenkkan has followed up that laser-focused work with a sprawling sequel, The Great Society at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont, also directed by OSF artistic chief Bill Rauch, and the results are certainly informative and thought-provoking, but not as dramatically effective as its predecessor.

By: David Sheward

October 10, 2019: Robert Schenkkan provided a brilliant example of political theater with his Tony winning All the Way which played Broadway in 2014 after premiering at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The epic drama’s trajectory concerned President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s efforts to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress and ended with his election in 1964. Now Schenkkan has followed up that laser-focused work with a sprawling sequel, The Great Society at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont, also directed by OSF artistic chief Bill Rauch, and the results are certainly informative and thought-provoking, but not as dramatically effective as its predecessor.

The Great Society was the catch-all phrase for LBJ’s myriad social programs to improve the lives of American’s poverty-stricken masses and curb racial discrimination including Medicare, urban renewal, stimulating employment, and aiding economic development. The play recounts Johnson’s herculean efforts and Machiavellian strategies to push his agenda through while activists led by Martin Luther King demonstrate to go further and conservative Republicans push back because he’s gone too far. A skirmish in Vietnam slowly grows into a monstrous war and swallows the president’s well-intended domestic template whole, forcing LBJ to not seek re-election and his vice-president Hubert Humphrey to lose the 1968 election to the regressive Richard Nixon. 

 Brian Cox, Richard Thomas and Gordon Clapp “The Great Society

Schenkkan plots an enormous canvas with 19 actors playing over 35 roles and Rauch does an admirable job of cleanly and clearly staging a plethora of incidents including MLK’s march on Selma, J. Edgar Hoover’s clandestine surveillance of the administration’s opponents, the student protest movement, the passage of Medicare, riots in Watts and Chicago, and the Democratic primaries. There’s a lot going on and the lens is too broadly drawn to be completely effective despite the invaluable aide of Victoria Sagady’s graphic video images, David Weiner’s stark lighting, and David Korins’ sleek unit set. As a result, the play is closer to a Ken Burns documentary than a moving drama.

All the Way had the benefit of a commanding central performance from Bryan Cranston as Johnson. Brian Cox is to be commended for tackling the mammoth role of LBJ who narrates and comments upon the action with lengthly monologues and is seldom absent from the stage.  But the accomplished British star, renowned for playing tough-minded authority figures in everything from Shakespeare to the X-Men franchise and the HBO series Succession, appears ill at ease and hesitant in his delivery of Schenkkan’s folksy dialogue. Plus his Texas accent is a might shaky. It’s a hit and miss performance. He occasionally scores a direct hit when Johnson successfully manipulates the various political figures into doing his bidding, but not often enough. When he confronts David Garrison’s cartoonish Nixon in the final scene, the impact of LBJ’s condemnation of his shifty successor should be devastating, but instead it fizzles and the play ends on an anti-climactic note.

Grantham Coleman and company in “The Great Society

Even with these flaws, Society has powerful moments and the versatile cast creates memorable cameos of key historic figures such as Richard Thomas’ dithering Humphrey, Grantham Coleman’s conflicted MLK, Marc Kudisch’s wolfish Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Bryce Pinkham’s opportunistic Bobby Kennedy, Matthew Rauch’s troubled Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and Barbara Garrick’s compassionate Lady Bird Johnson.

Race relations are examined at a much deeper and more complex level in Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, now on Broadway at the Golden. The play opens on Clint Ramos’ mirrored set, reflecting images of an antebellum Southern plantation. Three interracial couples, each a variation on the slave and master set-up and dressed by Dede Ayite in character-defining 19th century costumes, engage in power dynamics which quickly become sexual. The occasional slipping into 21st century slang or the incongruous intrusion of Rihanna’s “Work” on the sound system reveals all is not quite as it seems.

Joaquina Kalukango and Paul Alexander Nolan “Slave Play”

SPOILER ALERT: Since the play has already had a successful run Off-Broadway last season at New York Theater Workshop, it will not be too much of a spoiler to continue with the plot, but if you want to be surprised by the twist, which is kind of predictable, skip ahead. One of the characters calls out “Starbucks” and the amorous action stops. It turns out these are contemporary couples engaging in a radical form of therapy, acting out fantasies of black and brown servitude and white supremacy to get the root of their sexual dysfunction. Two cliche-spouting therapists then conduct a group session “unpacking” the participants’ interactions which is theorized to be based on centuries of racial oppression.

This is a startling choice for a Broadway transfer since Harris unflinchingly delves into uncomfortable territory with a razor-sharp wit which cuts like a scalpel through polite liberal assumptions on race. Director Robert O’Hara skillfully balances riotous comic staging with searing pathos as each of the lovers and their counsellors rips off their masks and bares their wounds and psyches. 

James Cusati-Moyer and Ato Blankson-Wood “Slave Play”

Joaquina Kalukango, the only new addition to company from the Off-Broadway run, is shattering as the most vulnerable of the patients. As Kaneisha, the suppressed African-American wife of the suffocatingly white, British and proper Jim (an appropriately wound-up and buttoned-down Paul Alexander Nolan), she holds in her repressed desires and conflicted emotions for much of the play and then releases them like a volcano in a marathon monologue, summing up Harris’ thought-provoking and barbed observations on the state of race relations today.

Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones “Slave Play

Annie McNamara still garners loads of laughs as the politically correct Alana getting in touch with her inner dominatrix. The gorgeous Sullivan Jones finds new levels to Philip, Alana’s seemingly above-it-all husband while Ato Blankson-Wood and James Cusati-Moyer as a gay couple adeptly juggle satire, affection, and rage. Chalia La Tour and Irene Sofia Lucio are a bit broad as the therapists—themselves a pair with issues—but they expose the duo’s rifts and pretensions with verve.

Joshua Henry (center) and company “The Wrong Man”

A basic plot synopsis of Ross Golan’s musical The Wrong Man—no relation to the 1956 Hitchcock classic with Henry Fondamight lead you think it also deals with racial tensions in contemporary America. In Reno, Nevada, an African-American young man with a troubled past named Duran (dynamic Joshua Henry) is framed for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend Marianna (passionate Ciara Renee), also a victim of unfortunate choices. The crime was actually committed by the woman’s psycho ex who quickly disappears in Mexico. Themes of social justice are not developed beyond a cursory once over and Duran’s race is not even addressed. The emphasis is on the melodramatic, implausible machinations of the crime. Duran and Marianna are hardly sketched in further than a few broad strokes while her dangerous former spouse, known only as the Man in Black (a charismatically evil Ryan Vasquez), at least has a riveting dark presence.

Ciara Renée and Joshua Henry “The Wrong Man

Fortunately, Golan’s sung-through score and lyrics have enough drive, heart and sizzle to maintain involvement for the 90-minute running time. Pulsating rhythms, multiple genres, and rap-infused rhymes make up for the lack of character depth as does the intense, heart-felt performances, particularly that of Henry whose intense vocals and acting endow Duran with a substance the script lacks. Thomas Kail of Hamilton fame has directed the show with incredible variety, utilizing the nine-person ensemble on Rachel Hauck’s minimal set imaginatively. Travis Walls’ eloquent choreography and Betsy Adams’ neon-accented lighting add vitality to this half-right Wrong Man.   

The Great Society ***
Oct. 1—Nov. 30. Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65th St., NYC. Mon—Tue 7pm, Wed 1pm & 7pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm.   Running time: two hours and 40 mins. including intermission. $99—$159. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Photography: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Barbara Garrick and Brian Cox “The Great Society

Slave Play ****
Oct. 6—Jan. 5. Booth Theater, 252 W. 45th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours with no intermission. $39—$159. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Photography: Matthew Murphy

The company of “Slave Play

The Wrong Man ***
Oct. 7—Nov. 17. Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 W. 52nd St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. $56—$132. www.mcctheater.org.
Photography: Mathew Murphy

Joshua Henry (center) and company “The Wrong Man”

Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz ***

Paper Mill Playhouse Presents Young Judy Garland Chasing Rainbows: [on] The Road to Oz 

By: Ellis Nassour

October 9, 2019: Judy Garland, maybe along with Streisand, might be the exception to the rule, but bio musicals of great stars/legends from Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age often suffer from the fact that today’s audiences, save for those of a certain age, have no idea who these iconic stars are.

Paper Mill Playhouse Presents Young Judy Garland Chasing Rainbows: [on] The Road to Oz 

By: Ellis Nassour

October 9, 2019: Judy Garland, maybe along with Streisand, might be the exception to the rule, but bio musicals of great stars/legends from Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age often suffer from the fact that today’s audiences, save for those of a certain age, have no idea who these iconic stars are.

The audiences at Paper Mill, exemplified that on opening night of Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz by their unbridled enthusiasm, wild applause, and sustained, loud standing ovation, proved to be the exception to that thought. If you build it, they will come and this show has been on its way to the Yellow Brick Road since 2015 where, following readings and workshops, it premiered at North Carolina’s Flat Rock Playhouse; and was presented a year later at Goodspeed. There’s no denying there’s a wish to have it cross the Hudson to Broadway. If it will fly, however, is anyone’s guess. 

Chasing Rainbows’ focus isn’t on Garland the legendary star and entertainer, but her beginnings as vaudeville trouper Frances Ethel Gumm in an act with her parents and two sisters. Family life disintegrates as her mother and beloved father split. The segue to Act One’s finale of Gumm’s signing with M-G-M is slow. However, the pace picks up on the lot where she meets irrepressible Joe Yule. Both are renamed: She’s christened Judy Garland; he becomes Mickey Rooney. A life-long friendship is born. As his star rises, Garland’s self esteem is destroyed by staff ridiculing her as an ugly duckling with an unattractive body.

Studio chief Louis B. Mayer, in spite of Garland’s vocal talent, is convinced she’ll never win over moviegoers. He regulates her to singing on radio. Then came the troubled production of The Wizard of Oz, set to star juvenile wunderkind Shirley Temple. After being axed [for unexplained reasons], Garland auditions and, voila!, is on the, sadly, unsteady Yellow Brick Road to becoming one of the world’s greatest entertainment icons. 

Chasing Rainbows has book by Marc Acito (2015’s Allegiance), an award-winning playwright and novelist, after a concept by actress, teacher, and director Tina Marie Casmento. The score is stuffed beyond the brim with tunes from the Tin Pan Alley Songbook. The adaptation and additional music is by David Libby, keyboardist and music director (2011’s short-lived Off Broadway Play It Cool). Directing and choreographing isDenis Jones (choreographer, Tootsie; Tony-nominated choreographer, 2016’s Holiday Inn).

Often the show borders on musical comedy fact, but Acito’s book gets a lot right. There’s a heavy dose of hilarious one-liners and enough namedropping to fill a Hollywood Who’s Who – with many making if-you-blink-you-won’t-see-them cameos. Among those are Temple, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Buddy Ebsen, Lana Turner, George Jessel, and, in quite a fun bit, Oscar-winner and veteran character actress Gale Sondergaard (The Spider Woman; The Letter; so many more) who was cast to play the The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, but turned it down because her character wasn’t going to be beautiful.

Executing Garland’s rise from unknown to not-quite legend with a powerful belt is 22-year-old singer/dancer and NJ native Ruby Rakos (a later Ballet Girl, Billy Elliot; 2010 national tour, young Cosette/Eponine, Les Miz), who’s been developing her character since the earliest workshop – some six years ago.  

Helping make the show occasionally soar are some of Broadway’s best vocalists (who can also act): Tony nominee Max Von Essen (An American in Paris) as Garland’s father Frank Gumm, Olivier Award-winner Lesli Margherita (Matilda; 2015 Broadway revival Dames at Sea) as Garland’s stage mother from hell Ethel Gumm, belter/beloved Broadway veteran and multi-MAC Award winner Karen Mason (original cast, Mamma Mia!, so many more) portraying M-G-M school teacher and Mayer’s scene-stealing smart-cracking secretary, high-flying hoofer Michael Wartella (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Mickey Rooney, Colin Hanlon (ABC’s Modern Family; Paper Mill’s Benny & Joon) as Metro composer/producer Roger Edens, Stephen DeRosa (Into the Woods, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) as Mayer, and last but absolutely not least, 11-year-old Sophie Knapp (Young Cosette/Young Eponine, 2017 Les Miz tour; later cast, Once) who brings down the house channeling Merman as young Judy.

There are some lost opportunities, such as, instead of so much irrelevant choreography, Jones making better use of golden-voiced Hanlon for a sequence to show how Roger Edens was one of the main guiding forces behind Garland’s stardom.

The almost non-stop music has bright orchestrations by three-time Tony nominee Larry Blank and Libby. The 13-strong orchestra is directed by veteran Broadway keyboardist, and arranger Lawrence Yurman. Set design is by Tony nominee Alexander Dodge (Anastasia, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder).

Even though there’s much too much of it, and some of it seemingly filler, Jones is a deft choreographer and gifts audiences with two knock-out production numbers: a school house jazz and jitterbug cut-up and a memorable Act Two tap marathon – both headlined by the irrepressible Wartella. 

There are many gems in the 30 or so classic tunes, such as Harburg and Arlen’s “If I Had a Brain” and “Over the Rainbow,” Joe McCarthy and Harry Carroll’s “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” James Monaco and McCarthy’s “You Made Me Love You,” and James Hanley’s “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” but the musical would be so much stronger and more poignant with an original score. The show cries out for a show-stopping “I Want” number for Frances and a defiant “11 O’Clock “Roses’s Turn” for Judy; not to mention a soul-searching tune to better explain Mr. Gumm’s double life.

Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz runs through October 27 at the Paper Mill Playhouse [22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ]. Accessibility performances are October 20 and 26 at  1:30 P.M.  A cast Q&A will follow the October 26 matinee. Season subscriptions for four more shows, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Unmasked and The Wanderer, based on the life and music of Dion, are on sale at the box office or by calling (973) 379-3717. Individual tickets are $34-$112 and available at the box office, online at www.PaperMill.org, or by calling (973) 376.4343. Groups of 10 or more may receive up to a 40% discount. Call (973) 315-1680. Students may order $23-$28 rush tickets by phone or in person day of the performance. For additional information, please visit www.papermill.org.

Bank of America is Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz‘s major sponsor. Paper Mill Playhouse’s 2019-2020 season is sponsored by Investors Bank. 

Production Photographs by Evan Zimmerman/Murphy Made and Jerry Dalia 

Opening Night Photography by Magda Katz

Lorna Luft
Lorna Luft, Max Von Essen
Stephen DeRosa
Lorna-Luft, Michael Wartella
Michael Feinstein
Violet Tinnirello, Molly K. Lyons , Sophie Knapp
Dennis Jones
Karen Mason, Ruby Rakos, Stephen DeRosa
Lesli Margherita
Sean Thompson
Ruby Rakos
Max Von Essen

Freestyle Love Supreme

Five Reasons Why Freestyle Love Supreme is a Welcome Change for Broadway

By: Iris Wiener

            October 8, 2019: Before there was Hamilton and In the Heights there was Freestyle Love Supreme. An improvisation extravaganza created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale in 2004, the powerhouse team’s Freestyle Love Supreme combines music, humor, hip-hop and theatrics in an experience completely unique to any work ever to hit Broadway. Fresh and invigorating in its concept and execution, here is how it sticks out from the rest of what theater has to offer:

Five Reasons Why Freestyle Love Supreme is a Welcome Change for Broadway

By: Iris Wiener

            October 8, 2019: Before there was Hamilton and In the Heights there was Freestyle Love Supreme. An improvisation extravaganza created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale in 2004, the powerhouse team’s Freestyle Love Supreme combines music, humor, hip-hop and theatrics in an experience completely unique to any work ever to hit Broadway. Fresh and invigorating in its concept and execution, here is how it sticks out from the rest of what theater has to offer:

1.      The cast varies at every performance, and often features special guests. Veneziale leads a slate of performers including (at this reviewer’s performance) fellow rappers Utkarsh Ambudkar and Aneesa Folds; beatboxers Kaila Mullady and Chris Sullivan; and two multitalented keyboardists, Arthur Lewis and Bill Sherman. While Miranda is known to stop by his playground of percussive poets, this particular experience featured the exceptional stylings of Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Kinky Boots’Wayne Brady.

Anthony Veneziale, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Arthur Lewis, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Chris Sullivan

2.      A ban on electronic devices demands that the audience be present. One of a few reasons to get to the Booth Theater early (see #3) is to allow time to have phones and electronic devices stowed in Yondr pouches, mechanisms that remain locked and in their owner’s possession throughout the show. They can only be unlocked upon leaving the theater, allowing audiences to truly be in the moment (and not distracting theatergoers around them with rude behavior).

3.      The audience helps to create the show. Whether audience members are tasked with writing random words on cards to be used in the performance (get there early to participate in this exercise) or shouting the name of things that they hate, they are setting the stage for numbers entirely built around their suggestions. The audience gets personal, offering embarrassing anecdotes that will then be re-enacted and made into the basis for entertaining bits too good to spoil here.

Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Aneesa Folds. Arthur Lewis, Kaila Mullady, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Veneziale.

4.      There is no script and anything can happen. It may sound cliché, but nothing is further from the truth. Case in point: A woman hilariously shared the experience of having her picture taken without consent, only to have her fiancée discover her face transposed on a Playboy model weeks later. Her back and forth repartee with Veneziale was epically personal and joyous (despite the intrusiveness of the act itself which happened over forty years ago). Baring emotions is not one-sided at Freestyle Love Supreme; the performers share unbelievably intimate narratives with gusto, using suggested words from the audience (such as “grace”) to spin spur-of-the-moment reflections of their own about failed marriages (Brady), familial connections (Folds) and life-affirming moments (Diggs).

5.      The talent is unprecedented. Beatboxing on Broadway? You don’t need instruments when you have Chris Sullivan on hand to provide a percussive soundtrack that is mesmerizing and strikingly hypnotic in all of its brilliance. Veneziale and Ambudkar are especially intuitive, referencing gags from previous numbers (the word “enigma” and a take on female cramps saw smart allusions), intertwining them at impeccably paced moments that exude hilarity and prove their sensational abilities with their crafts. Thanks to the extraordinary minds on stage, the tone of the show is always light, lacking judgement, and full of, well…freestyle love.

Freestyle Love Supreme
Booth Theatre
222 West 45 Street
8o Minutes, with no Intermission
For Tickets
Photography: Joan Marcus

Sunday **

By: Paulanne Simmons

October 7, 2019: Jack Thorne’s new play, Sunday, making its premiere at Atlantic Theater Company, is about a group of 20-somethings, members of a book club, who meet one Sunday to discuss Anne Tyler’s novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. And so we know right away there’s a problem here. Young people, for the most part don’t read, and even if they do, they don’t join a book club, even if they call it a “post-ironic joke.” Clearly, that’s for their parents, or worse yet, grandparents.

By: Paulanne Simmons

October 7, 2019: Jack Thorne’s new play, Sunday, making its premiere at Atlantic Theater Company, is about a group of 20-somethings, members of a book club, who meet one Sunday to discuss Anne Tyler’s novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. And so we know right away there’s a problem here. Young people, for the most part don’t read, and even if they do, they don’t join a book club, even if they call it a “post-ironic joke.” Clearly, that’s for their parents, or worse yet, grandparents.

In the world of Thorne, however, these almost adults are so in love with books they’ve decided to turn off their cell phones and only check them at designated times. Such self-policing is admirable. Most college professors would be grateful if their students showed even a fraction of this restraint in class.

Extending the theme, the play is set in the apartment of roommates Marie (Sadie Scott) and Jill (Juliana Canfield), in a room that’s dominated by a veritable wall of books. It seems not only do these young people read books; they actually treasure them, or at least keep them. Later in the play, Marie explains she merely “accumulates” the books. But even that seems a bit beyond the inclinations of a typical twenty-four-year-old.

Sadie Scott, Juliana Canfield

And finally, if none of the above is enough to throw the play and the audience off-track, at one point, Marie’s friend (and the narrator), Alice (Ruby Frankel), tells us Marie masturbates while picturing Burt Lancaster, an actor who died in 1994 at the age of 80. Really?

But even if, despite all this, you think Thorne, a 40-year-old British playwright, is in touch with American youth (after all it’s not at all impossible, and he did have enormous success with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), the play leads inevitably to the conclusion he is not.

With Keith (Christian Strange), a middle-class African American, and Milo (Zane Pais), the scion of a wealthy, white family, thrown into the mix, the book club meeting proceeds like most parties fueled by youth, drugs and alcohol. Friends find each other’s vulnerabilities and dig in. Allegiances shift. Sexual aggression and anxiety are constantly rearing their horny head. And, most certainly, the conversation is dominated by the males in the room

Anyone who didn’t hide under a mushroom during their early twenties will recognize this gathering with a touch of horror. Why on earth attribute such behavior to today’s youth?

Perhaps someone on the creative team recognized that this Sunday was somewhat stale and decided to provide more action. That’s the only possible reason for the choreographed dancing director and choreographer Lee Sunday Evans has created for the play.

The cast of “Sunday”

Of all the characters, Marie, who lost two years of school as a result of extreme allergies and has to fend off a mother who is at the same time over-protective and over-careless, is the most developed. She’s the one who deals with the upstairs neighbor, Bill (Maurice Jones), who is worried the book club’s activities may keep him awake. And she’s the one he (unsuccessfully) tries to comfort when everyone leaves.

It even seems for a short while that Bill may be the Messiah who will save Marie from her self-destructive tendencies. But it would take more than the Messiah to save this play.

Sunday **
Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th Street in NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. $66.50—$86.50.
www.atlantictheater.org or www.ovationtix.com.
Photography: Monique Carboni