The Shadow Of A Gunman *****

By: Samuel L. Leiter

February 15, 2019: The Sean O’Casey Season is off and running at the Irish Repertory Theatre, giving Irish and all other eyes every reason to smile (and weep). The “Dublin Trilogy” series, which begins with an exemplary production of O’Casey’s first produced play, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), will continue in chronological order with the playwright’s two other Dublin-based classics, Juno and the Paycock (1924)and The Plough and the Stars (1926). 

By: Samuel L. Leiter

February 15, 2019: The Sean O’Casey Season is off and running at the Irish Repertory Theatre, giving Irish and all other eyes every reason to smile (and weep). The “Dublin Trilogy” series, which begins with an exemplary production of O’Casey’s first produced play, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), will continue in chronological order with the playwright’s two other Dublin-based classics, Juno and the Paycock (1924)and The Plough and the Stars (1926). 

Each mirrors working-class Irish life during the bloody turmoil of those days a century ago when burgeoning nationalist currents created conflicts over whether or not to break free of British rule. The Shadow of a Gunman, which takes a negative position re: the fighting,is set in 1920, during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), while the others mentioned relate, respectively, to the Easter Rising of 1918 and the Irish Civil War

The play’s program offers helpful historical background on all of this, and, while waiting in the lobby you can also watch a silent but titled documentary showing old clips of the historical events.

James Russell, Michael Mellamphy

The Shadow of a Gunman is set entirely in a dingy, messy, and poorly heated Dublin tenement room, so realistically designed by Charlie Corcoran you may feel you’ve acquired chilblains while sitting in front of it. Outside, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is warring with the British army on behalf of the newly formed Irish Republic. 

The room’s shabby residents (grubbily dressed by Linda Fisher and David Toser) are Seamas Shields (Michael Mellamphy), a disheveled, lazy, boastful peddler, and his boarder, Donal Davoren (James Russell), a sensitive poet who tries to stay clear of politics and focus on typing his romantic poetry amidst the constant distractions surrounding him. 

Through no fault of his own, a rumor has spread among the locals that the reclusive Donal is a “gunman” on the run, meaning an IRA assassin, which gives him the totally undeserved cachet of a heroic patriot. It’s an identity he sometimes dismisses but at other times allows others to believe when it strengthens his shaky ego. Recognizing the irony in his position, he closes Act One with a sly smile, saying, “And what danger can there be in being the shadow of a gunman?” Well might he ask.

A stream of interestingly unpolished visitors arrives at the flat, beginning with Mr. Maguire (Rory Duffy), an IRA volunteer and associate of Seamas’s, who leaves behind a leather bag and is later shot by the British. Then we meet the angry landlord, Mr. Mulligan (Harry Smith), who Seamas volubly (and in newspaper letters) defames, and to whom he refuses to pay his back rent. The landlord is followed by Minnie Powell (Meg Hennessy), a lovely, free-spirited, young lass enamored both of Donal’s literary aura and his imagined heroic purpose, which, when her own bravery comes into play, eventually dooms her. 

Ed Malone 

There’s also Tommy Owen (Ed Malone), a hero-worshipping young man who yearns to be of service to the IRA. Mrs. Henderson (Úna Clancy) is a large, outspoken woman who wants Donal to turn over to the IRA for their assistance a letter of complaint written in comically verbose legalese by the elderly Mr. Gallagher (Robert Langdon Lloyd). And finally, we have the alcoholic Protestant Orangeman, Mr. Grigson (John Keating); and his simpering wife, Mrs. Grigson (Terry Donnelly). 

Terry Donnelly

Most of the slim plot is designed to express how these flamboyantly talkative and colorfully eccentric characters relate to someone they mistakenly assume to be other than he is, with some really good laughs erupting from a situation reminiscent of Gogol’s The Government Inspector

The comedy of mistaken identity is roughly pushed aside as danger beckons and tragedy arrives when it’s learned that the ruthless British Auxiliaries (a.k.a. Black and Tans) are aware of Donal’s presence. And then there’s that leather bag, the consequences of whose discovery reveal just how much Donal is the shadow, not only of a gunman, but of a man.

Robert Langdon Lloyd and Una Clancy

Ciarán O’Reilly, the Irish Rep’s producing director, has done an extraordinarily fine job of bringing this material to stinging, tragicomic life, making moot conventional criticism of the play’s reputedly uneven blend of comedy and tragedy. Each member of the mostly (if not entirely) Irish and Irish-American ensemble gives O’Casey’s unusually vivid dialogue, spoken in thick North Irish brogues, the kind of dynamic force it requires while embodying their characters’ physical attributes with a perfect tone of heightened naturalism. 

You almost feel you could as easily be watching the production at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, where it was first produced (and who introduced it to New York in 1932), as on Chelsea’s W. 22nd Street.

Harry Smith and Michael Mellaphy

You know O’Reilly takes his job seriously when exciting scenes of mayhem erupt late in the play, accompanied by sensational gunfire effects concocted by the redoubtable sound designers Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staub, and lit with thrilling results by Michael Gottlieb, as panicked residents and resolute Auxies run in and out, including through the audience. The terrified behavior of the characters, especially Mrs. Grigson, and the frighteningly brutal conduct of the British officer (Harry Smith) toward the cowering Donal and Seamas are about as potently dramatic as anything you’ll see on any New York stage. 

The brogues may now and then be a bit too thick to penetrate, and I’m tempted to nitpick about one casting choice (the actor, not his acting) because it seems out of line with O’Casey’s description. However, the hour and 45-minute production’s overall impact is so strong it would be almost ungrateful to make an issue of such things. 

The Shadow of a Gunman shines brightly in its sordid setting. So, one hopes, will the two O’Casey plays yet to come. 

The Shadow of a GunmanIrish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St., NYC
Through May 25, 2019
Photography: Carol Rosegg

The Dance of Death ***1/2, Mies Julie ****

By: Isa Goldberg

February 14, 2019: Off Broadway, CSC (Classic Stage Company) is performing 2 Strindberg plays in repertoire. In Dance of Death, an ageing couple, in a hateful marriage, are pitted against one another in a life and death struggle. Last seen on Broadway in 2001, with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, this new translation by Conor McPherson mines the contemporary spirit of Strindberg’s marriage play, its bleak pessimism, and absurdity. Written at the turn of the 20th century, Strindberg’s black comedy was well ahead of its time. 

By: Isa Goldberg

February 14, 2019: Off Broadway, CSC (Classic Stage Company) is performing 2 Strindberg plays in repertoire. In Dance of Death, an ageing couple, in a hateful marriage, are pitted against one another in a life and death struggle. Last seen on Broadway in 2001, with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, this new translation by Conor McPherson mines the contemporary spirit of Strindberg’s marriage play, its bleak pessimism, and absurdity. Written at the turn of the 20th century, Strindberg’s black comedy was well ahead of its time. 

Directed here by the Tony Award winning musical actor, Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza), the production moves briskly, with an effecting sense of the brutality in Edgar and Alice’s 25-year marital interment. As Edgar, Richard Topol embodies the misanthropic husband who makes Alice’s every moment unbearable. And, as portrayed by Cassie Beck, the wife plays an active role in making sure their hateful marriage remains that way. 

Elise Kibler, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, James Udom in “Mies Julie” 

Like Dance of Death, Mies Julie delves into the notion of the survival of the fittest. In this brilliant and disturbing reimaging of Strindberg’s play, Yael Farber sets the action in  21st century South Africa, on the day of the annual Freedom Day celebration. Here, the violent romance been Mies Julie (Elise Kibler), and John (James Udom) reflect the country’s ongoing issues of race and class. 

Directed by Shariffa Ali, the production is performed in the round, on a minimalist set (David L. Arsenault), leaving lots of breathing room for the raw emotional life that pervades. Here, in the most basic living quarters, intense sexual acts, rape, and murder occur, around the family dinner table. It’s a visually arresting production, opening with the ethereal figure of John’s maternal ancestor (portrayed by Vinie Burrows), wafting through the kitchen, and his mother pounding through the stones of the kitchen floor, in search of the land that had once been their own.

Visually arresting, the actors are each incredible looking, and their chemistry is explosive. Udom is a powerfully strong looking man; Patrice Johnson Chevannes as his mother is so frail she looks like the widow of all of South Africa’s fallen men, and Kibler is fetching, really an eyeful. She’s also a fabulous actor – one to watch out for. Just as dangerous in his way, Udom forces us to experience the volatility of a black man who, having been forced to suffered his fate silently, arrives at a violent end. 

That director Shariffa Ali achieves both the political and psychological realities with equal force, creates this most effecting production, as chilling as it is hot!

The Dance Of Death ***1/2
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St., NYC
Through March 10, 2019
Photography: Joan Marcus

Richard Tool and Cassie Beck “The Dance of Death”

Mies Julie ****
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St., NYC
Through March 10, 2019
Photography: Joan Marcus

Elise Kibler, James Udom “Mies Julie”


True West ****

By: Isa Goldberg

February 14, 2019: Riding into the sunset, that’s the way all true cowboy movies end, isn’t it?  At least, Sam Shepard seems to have thought so. His popularly revived, True West, currently at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre drives a classic Hollywood chase scene, to a heightened level of dark comedy. 

By: Isa Goldberg

February 14, 2019: Riding into the sunset, that’s the way all true cowboy movies end, isn’t it?  At least, Sam Shepard seems to have thought so. His popularly revived, True West, currently at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre drives a classic Hollywood chase scene, to a heightened level of dark comedy. 

Riding in on his metaphysical saddle, Ethan Hawke plays Lee, the ferial son, living like a real man, out in the desert. It is an incredible stage role for this actor, and he’s thriving in it. Grossly uncouth – both verbally, and physically – he shows up at their mother’s LA home, where his younger brother Austin is holed up, working on his film script.  As played by Paul Dano, he’s reflective, and normal, in a nerdy middle-class kind of way.

When a third character, Austin’s Hollywood producer, Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) arrives, Lee usurps their negotiations, selling Saul on his own movie. The triangulation, and competition that occur move the action to an absurd new level.  Driven by their sibling rivalry, the 2 flip. Lee becomes the up-and-coming filmmaker, while Austin turns into a sociopath, stealing toasters from the neighbors to prove himself, and his capacity to menace. 

Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano

It’s a slapstick role reversal, set in the natural homeland of all true TV sitcoms. In fact, in the last Broadway revival, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Rilley, the actors literally switched roles from one performance to the next. 

Here, Director John Macdonald mines the metatheatrical nature of the play. Lee’s movie about cowboys who run out of gas, jump on their horses, and escape to the desert, is pretty much the way things work out for these 2 brothers. 

Jane Cox’s lighting evokes the romanticism of the desert at sunset, and Mimi Lien’s set design gives us a look at LA domestic life. The family home, fashioned in middle American style, projects a sense of peacefulness that transforms into strangely embattled terrain.  Cloaked in stereotypical wardrobe by Kaye Voyce, Lee looks like he wreaks, in his dirty desert rags, while Austin is squeaky clean. 

As the deal maker who breaks them both, Wilmes is predictably Mephistophelian, albeit in casual disguise.  In a story heading to tragedy – these 2 really want to kill each other – their mother (Marylouise Burke) arrives only to find herself in the midst of utter estrangement. Perhaps, she is the real grave digger here.

Shepard delivers the raw goods for a tale about man, in his natural setting. Macdonald elevates the regionality of the piece; this is really La La Land, after all. Still, the murderous playpen reality that Hawke and Danes create, blends the physical and psychological humor that give this production a hysterical ring of truth. 

True West ****
Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theater, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3 pm (check with theater for early curtain times). $59—$169. Running time: two hours including intermission. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org. January 24th- March 17, 2019
Photography: Joan Marcus

Westminster Dog Show

Wire Hair Fox Terrier, King, takes Best in Show

February 12, 2019: King, a Wire Hair Fox Terrier, triumphed over last year’s Best in Show winner and crowd favorite Bean, a Sussex Spaniel, who earlier in the evening was named the winner of the Sporting Group for a second year in a row.

Wire Hair Fox Terrier, King, takes Best in Show

February 12, 2019: King, a Wire Hair Fox Terrier, triumphed over last year’s Best in Show winner and crowd favorite Bean, a Sussex Spaniel, who earlier in the evening was named the winner of the Sporting Group for a second year in a row.

On Tuesday evening Metropolitan Opera star Ailyn Perez sang The National Anthem at Madison Square Garden to open the second and final evening of competition at the Westminster Dog Show. The sold-out Garden house saw the final three groups, Sporting, Working and Terrier, compete before for vying for the ultimate achievement, winner of Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  

The respective four winners from Monday’s group competition of Hounds, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding, were Burns, a Long-Haired Dachshund, Bona, a Havenese, Colton, a Schipperke, and Baby Lars, a Bouvier Des Flanders. At the end of the show on Tuesday, these four went against Tuesday’s evening three winners.

Bean, the crowd favorite and last year’s Best in Show winner, took the prize again in the Sporting Group. Bean, a Sussex Spaniel, had the audience on their feet cheering when she sat up to show her joy and appreciation. Wilma, a Boxer, took top prize in the Working Group followed by the Siberian Husky, and the ultimate winner King triumphed in the Terrier group before going on to take Best in Show.

Bean
Metropolitan Opera star Ailyn Perez
Metropolitan Opera star Ailyn Perez

My Very Own British Invasion ***

Paper Mill Playhouse Presents World Premiere of Rick Elice’s My Very Own British Invasion, Based on the Life of Herman Hermit’s Peter Noone

By Ellis Nassour

February 11, 2019: Paper Mill Playhouse(Milburn, NJ) is presenting the world premiere of My Very Own British Invasion, through March 3. Billed as “a musical fable of rock n’ love,” the book is by two-time Tony nominee Rick Elice(Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher), currently represented on Broadway with The Cher Show,  loosely based on the life of Herman Hermits’ vocalist/guitarist Peter Noone. Direction and choreography are by two-time Tony winner (choreography) Jerry Mitchell(Kinky Boots, 2005 La Cage aux Folles), recipient of eight nominations (including one for Hairspray).

Paper Mill Playhouse Presents World Premiere of Rick Elice’s My Very Own British Invasion, Based on the Life of Herman Hermit’s Peter Noone

By Ellis Nassour

February 11, 2019: Paper Mill Playhouse(Milburn, NJ) is presenting the world premiere of My Very Own British Invasion, through March 3. Billed as “a musical fable of rock n’ love,” the book is by two-time Tony nominee Rick Elice(Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher), currently represented on Broadway with The Cher Show,  loosely based on the life of Herman Hermits’ vocalist/guitarist Peter Noone. Direction and choreography are by two-time Tony winner (choreography) Jerry Mitchell(Kinky Boots, 2005 La Cage aux Folles), recipient of eight nominations (including one for Hairspray).

The musical, bursting with 30 classic tunes, “tells a fable of young love, set against the backdrop of the exploding 1960s music scene – when England launched the little dustup that became known as the British Invasion. The setting is mainly the Bag O’ Nails club on Kingly Street in Soho, accurately rendered by Tony winner (2018 She Loves Me; and a six-time nominee) David Rockwell’s set, the home-away-from-home for London and touring rock musicians. They included The Who, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger, Twiggy, and Freddie Mercury. 

Noone did wander into Bag O’Nails, a Cockney corruption of “bacchanal,” where he was befriended by Lennon, who became his idol “even before the Beatles became famous,” and Jagger.

In the mid-60s, the Hermits and any group with “pudding basin haircuts and an adorable English accent” was in demand in the U.S. Tailgating on the fame of the Beatles, they may have lost the Revolutionary War, but their subsequent “invasion” was won on the concert circuit and TV variety shows, such as Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, “not with soldiers and muskets” but screaming female fans drowning out the music.

Andrew Lazarow’s colorful full-stage projections take the audience to dozens of U.K. and U.S. locales; and, in the finale, a classy, poignant rendering of the lyrics of “In My Life.” 

Loosely based on the experiences of Noone, in the musical he’s in love with Pamela – a  stand-in for Marianne Faithful, who’s in an intense but masochist relationship with bad boy rocker Trip, a stand-in for Mick Jagger. Noone is willing to sacrifice international stardom to have girl he loves. 

“It’s not exactly my story,” Noone points out. “My life was bit different … There was no love triangle between Mick, Marianne, and me. I was only 16 and not old enough for any of that. Mick did get her. I just wanted her.”

The partly fictional Noone is played by the U.K.’s Jonny Amies, at 22 and straight out of drama school, making his theatrical debut. He has the authentic drawl and accent to impersonate Noone. He also has acting chops. The opening night audience gave him quite a royal welcome.  

The 19-strong American cast, with assist from dialogue coach Kate Wilson, acquit themselves quite well in the accent department but aren’t always that easy to understand. 

Stunning singer/dancer Erika Olson (Cynthia Weil, Beautiful, First National Tour) is Pamela,. The unquenchable egotist Trip is played by lanky Connor Ryan (seen in the 2013 Cinderella), who won accolades recently as Johnny Blood in Off Broadway’s Desperate Measures. Hemarvelouslychannels Jagger’s strut and swagger.

The musical’s narrator, Everyman, and excellent soul belter is Geno, in the capable hands and great voice of Kyle Taylor Parker (recent Off Broadway revival Five Guys Named Moe and a 2015 Lola in Kinky Boots), whom Elice loosely based on American R&B singer Geno Washington of the Ram Jam Band, popular in the U.K. in the mid- and late 60s. [Washington met his wife Frenchie, sister of Noone’s wife Mirelle, at the Bag O’ Nails – making them brother-in-laws.]

With tunes recorded by the Animals, Beatles, Hermits, Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Yardbirds, and Zoombies, it’s a jukebox musical feast of the era. Some are written by names you’ll know: Dave Clark, Jagger and Keith Richards, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Lennon and McCartney, Frankie Lymon, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Steppenwolf, and Bobby Troup.

Herman’s Hermits not only made hit records – selling in excess of 60 million and racking up 14 Gold singles and seven Gold LPs, but were also starred in hit movies with teen appeal. Their hits in the show include “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “There’s a Kind of Hush  (All Over the World),” and a 1910 Brit music hall chestnut the band had immense success with, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.”  

In development since 2015 and with its eyes set on Broadway, My Very Own British Invasion, is an entertaining but often rambling balance of fact and fiction. As he showed with Jersey Boys, Elice knows something about song placement. With so many songs in just over two hours, however, there’s not a lot of character development. It’s not until Act Two, when the love triangle gets heated, that Elice gets deeper into the story and provides some dimension. 

Trip attempts to turn Pamela against Noone by revealing some past sexual misconduct. Later, when Noone crosses the pond in an attempt to rescue a now drug-addled Pamela from her U.S. tour, he explains the gossip is actually about Noone’s character (Stanley), which he (actually) portrayed during the 1961 season of the long-running Brit soap, Coronation Street..Finally, Pamela realizes Trip just sees her as eye candy, “the kind that rots your teeth and drives you mad.” Still, one minute she’s in bed with him and the next swooning over Noone, who’s  ready to ditch his career and marry her — give her a dream home with white picket fence, a porch, garden and a “world [that] smells clean and kind and holy.” She castigates Trip: “You just want to freeze me in a cake and thaw me out when you want to” Though deeply in love with Peter, she can’t find the backbone to break away.

Ryan accomplishes his task of being despicable with aplomb, only redeeming Trip  (albeit briefly) in Act Two with a heartfelt rendition of “You’re My World” in an attempt to win her back. Sadly, just as you’re buying it as much as Pamela seems to be, the tender ballad segues into a heavily-amped, bravado-filled rendition at the club destroying an opportunity for the audience to feel what has been impossible for them to feel for him. 

Mitchell recreates such 60s dance fads as the Freddie, Frug, Loco-motion, and Twist, but the show is absent of the energetic choreography Mitchell is known for until he finally pulls a couple of tricks out of his bag. One of the best sequences of Act One is set in the New Orleans French Quarter where Parker delivered a poignant “House of the Rising Sun” that brought extended thunderous applause. 

At the end of the act, in “Born to Be Wild,” there are 15 cast members playing guitars while march-stepping across stage; then, in Act Two, a male ensemble of six guitar players dancing in the style of Brit guitar virtuoso Hank Marvin*; and, the lively “In My Life” finale, with the company featured on guitar and tambourine and doing some smart choreography.    

* For an example of the marvelous Marvin in action, check out the YouTube video of Marvin accompanying Tim Rice in a telecast showcasing the first pop tune Rice wrote lyrics and music for, “That’s My Story.” 

An Act Two highlight is Olson’s sizzling madcap romp to “The Girl Can’t Help It,” the title tune from the 1956 Jayne Mansfield comedy.

There are impressive moments from company members, such as Emma Degerstedt as Suki, the Yank in the mini mini-shirt who tries in vain to tear Peter away from Pamela; Jen Perry, who plays three (or more) roles: Ringo Starr, Betty, and Peter’s mum; and ensemble member Trista Dollison (most recently in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), who’s uncredited in the song line-up but who, as Woman late in Act Two delivers a radiant soul belt on a verse of the gospel-infused reprise of “What Can a Man Do.” 

Costume design with influences from 60s Carnaby Street fashions is by Olivier and two-time Tony Award winner Gregg Barnes (2012 Follies revival, Drowsy Chaperone), recipient of eight nominations (currently, Pretty Woman). Lon Hoyt is music director and vocal arranger.

Mark S. Hoebee is Paper Mill’s producing artistic director, with Michael Stotts as managing director. My Very Own British Invasionis produced in association with Hal Luftig, Craig Haffner and Rodney Rigby. Running through March 3. 

My Very Own British Invasion is sponsored by Investors Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co. and generously supported by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation. 

Tickets for the show are $34-$122, available at Paper Mill’s box office at 22 Brookside Drive in  Millburn or online at www.papermill.org. Groups of 10 or more may receive up to a 40% discount on tickets by calling (973) 315-1680. Students may order $23-$28 rush tickets over the phone or in person at the box office on the day of the performance.

Accessibility Performances

Audio-described performances will take place on February 24 and March 2 at 1:30 P.M.Prior to these performances, at noon, the theatre will offer free sensory seminars, an opportunity for patrons with vision loss to hear a live, in-depth description of the production elements with hands-on interaction with key sets, props, and costumes. There’ll be a sign-interpreted and open-captioned performance March 3 at 7 P.M.

Audience Enrichment Activity

There’ll be a Q&A with the cast following the March 2 matinee. 

Production Photography by Jerry Dalia

To Kill a Mockingbird **1/2

By: Paulanne Simmons

February 11, 2019: Even before its official opening on Dec. 13, To Kill a Mockingbird may have been the most talked about show on Broadway. Not only is the play based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that was the inspiration for the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck; the production was almost derailed by what The New York Times called “a blistering pair of federal lawsuits.” Harper Lee’s estate was concerned over changes playwright Aaron Sorkin made to several of the characters: Atticus Finch; his children Scout and Jem; and the family housekeeper, Calpurnia.

By: Paulanne Simmons

February 11, 2019: Even before its official opening on Dec. 13, To Kill a Mockingbird may have been the most talked about show on Broadway. Not only is the play based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that was the inspiration for the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck; the production was almost derailed by what The New York Times called “a blistering pair of federal lawsuits.” Harper Lee’s estate was concerned over changes playwright Aaron Sorkin made to several of the characters: Atticus Finch; his children Scout and Jem; and the family housekeeper, Calpurnia.

According to Sorkin, his adaptation speaks to today’s social climate by allowing Atticus to undergo a gradual moral evolution. The estate may not have agreed, but eventually litigation was “amicably settled,” and the show did indeed go on. The resulting production, however, makes this reviewer wish the estate had not compromised. The problem is not that Sorkin made a bad choice in venturing too far from his source material, but rather that he made poor choices while writing his play.

The first bad choice was having the play narrated by the children, Scout Finch (Celia Keenan-Bolger); her brother, Jem (Will Pullen); and their friend Dill (Gideon Glick). The narration makes the play overwritten and repetitive. Sometimes the same story (such as Tom Robinson’s defense) is repeated several times.

With all this repetition, the play can scarcely take the time to fully explore several subplots. Why don’t we find out more about Boo Radley (Danny Wolohan) and why is Mrs. Henry Dubose (Phyllis Somerville) in the play at all?

What’s more, the three narrators are constantly getting in the way of the action, explaining what’s evident and telling the audience how to react, almost as if they were holding cue cards with the message “cry” or “laugh.”

To make matters worse, the children are played by adults. Did Sorkin or director Bartlett Sher make this decision? It doesn’t matter. Watching two grown men and a grown woman dressed like children, gamboling about the stage, offering tongue-in-cheek jokes and the kind of worldly wisdom that makes folks say “from the mouths of babes” turns much of the play into a vaudeville. The narration also helps split the play in two, with one half T.V. courtroom drama, the other T.V. sitcom.

Sorkin has stated that he wanted to give the black people in the story more of a voice. And so he has a “passive-aggressive” Calpurnia forever wearing a pout because (as revealed toward the end of the play) Atticus made an insensitive remark even someone not paying close attention will immediately realize is totally out of character.

When Calpurnia actually comments on the trial, her insights are limited to general remarks on the unfairness of racism. If Sorkin had really wanted to give Calpurnia a more prominent voice, he could have had her comment on what is actually happening to Tom, a man she probably knew since he was a child. She might have remembered seeing him in church or watching his mother take care of him after his accident. She might have then been a real person instead of a representative “black woman.”

And what about the black people in town? If they have any ideas about what’s going on, we certainly never hear them.

So, is there anything that works well in To Kill a Mockingbird? Of course. Miriam Buether’s set and Ann Roth’s costumes authentically re-create the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama several decades back. And Adam Guettel’s original music is folksy and haunting.

If Jeff Daniel’s Atticus Finch can find no other way to express his affection other than kissing the top of the children’s head, he is a believable southern lawyer, righteous, but not self-righteous. Dakin Matthews, who plays Judge Taylor, seems to have stepped out of a Tennessee Williams’ play (and that’s a compliment). And Erin Wilhelmi (Mayella Ewell) and Gbenga Akinnagbe (Tom Robinson) both tell their side of the story with conviction (Wilhelmi with the conviction that she is lying). As for Keenan-Bolger, Pullen and Glick, one can only imagine what they had to go through in order to find their inner child.

Leaving the Shubert Theatre, one thought came to mind: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

To Kill A Mockingbird **1/2
Shubert Theatre
225 W. 44th St., NYC. 
Tue 7pm, Wed 1pm & 7pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. 
Running time: two hours and 35 mins. including intermission. $39—$189. 
(212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com
Photography: Julieta Cervantes

Haim Mizrahi @ Janet Lehr Fine Arts

“The New in Dynamic Abstraction”

An Opening Reception for HAIM MIZRAHI – will be held on Saturday Feb 16th,    2019 from 6-8pm 68 Park Place, East Hampton, NY 11937
RSVP: adam@janetlehrfinearts.com
An evening to anticipate – Gala dress optional.

“The New in Dynamic Abstraction”

An Opening Reception for HAIM MIZRAHI – will be held on Saturday Feb 16th,    2019 from 6-8pm 68 Park Place, East Hampton, NY 11937
RSVP: adam@janetlehrfinearts.com
An evening to anticipate – Gala dress optional.

Westminster Dog Show

The dogs take over Madison Square Garden for two nights.

February 11, 2019: On Monday evening competition at the143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show moved from Pier 92 & Pier 94, where the preliminary breed competition is held, to Madison Square Garden, where the group competition began at 7pm. In total 2800 dogs compete in seven groups. Monday evening was the Hounds, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding groups, which will be followed on Tuesday by Sporting, Working and Terrier groups. On Tuesday the seven group winners will compete for the coveted title of Best in Show at Westminster.

The dogs take over Madison Square Garden for two nights.

February 11, 2019: On Monday evening competition at the143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show moved from Pier 92 & Pier 94, where the preliminary breed competition is held, to Madison Square Garden, where the group competition began at 7pm. In total 2800 dogs compete in seven groups. Monday evening was the Hounds, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding groups, which will be followed on Tuesday by Sporting, Working and Terrier groups. On Tuesday the seven group winners will compete for the coveted title of Best in Show at Westminster.

Orfeh and Andy Karl, who are currently starring on Broadway in the hit new musical Pretty Woman, kicked off the festivities with The National Anthem.  And then it was onto the Hounds, where 34 varieties were represented, with the winner Burns, a Long-Haired Dachshund taking the group’s top prize.   

A Havenese, named Bono, was named the winner in the Toy Group, followed by the Pug, and the Yorkshire Terrier. Colton, a six-year old Schipperke with 15 best in shows under his belt, took top honors in the Non-Sporting Group and Baby Lars, a Bouvier Des Flanders, won the Herding Group.

Tomorrow evening winners will be crowned in the Sporting, Working, and Terrier groups, followed by Best in Show, where the winner of the seven groups will vie for the coveted title.

Photography: Barry Gordin

Bono the Havenese
Orfeh, Andy Karl
Colton Schipperke

The Light **1/2

By: Samuel L. Leiter

February 10, 2019: The grand opening of the MCC’s beautiful new, state-of-the art, two-theatre complex—the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space—gives what was once a quiet stretch of Hell’s Kitchen real estate yet another reason to celebrate as a growing theatrical/cultural center. Bunched together on W. 52nd and W. 53rd Streets near Tenth Avenue we now have the MCC, A.R.T./New York Theaters, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, INTAR, and Ars Nova. And just a short distance away, on W. 51st Street, there’s the Irish Arts Center, which sometimes stages plays, and is running a capital campaign for a new building on Eleventh Avenue. 

By: Samuel L. Leiter

February 10, 2019: The grand opening of the MCC’s beautiful new, state-of-the art, two-theatre complex—the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space—gives what was once a quiet stretch of Hell’s Kitchen real estate yet another reason to celebrate as a growing theatrical/cultural center. Bunched together on W. 52nd and W. 53rd Streets near Tenth Avenue we now have the MCC, A.R.T./New York Theaters, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, INTAR, and Ars Nova. And just a short distance away, on W. 51st Street, there’s the Irish Arts Center, which sometimes stages plays, and is running a capital campaign for a new building on Eleventh Avenue. 

I’m forced to admit, though, that the new MCC theater’s debut production, Loy A. Webb’s The Light, may not be as good a reason to make the trek from the nearest subway as to see the place itself, with its attractive frontage, sizable lobby, and sparkling restrooms. All are huge improvements over the company’s previous home at Greenwich Village’s Lucille Lortel Theatre. 

The Light, briskly staged by Logan Vaughn, is located in the 100-seat Susan and Ronald Frankel Theater, right across from the Newman Mills Theater, where the musical Alice by Heart will soon open. Kimie Nishikawa’s set at the Frankel is arranged in the three-quarters round but the black box space is adaptable to multiple configurations. 

McKinley Belcher III, Mandi Madsen

Playwright Loy A. Webb, who is also a Chicago-based attorney, is interested in social justice; in The Light she allows that interest to supersede the writing of a convincing play about what appears to be an issue of significant concern among black women, but which may not be that familiar to non-black audiences. It’s what Genesis (Mandi Masden, Jitney), one of the play’s two mid-30s, African-American characters, refers to as black male privilege. White privilege of the male persuasion is a theme of plays like Straight White Men, but privilege doesn’t have a racial preference.

McKinley Belcher III

The other character is Rashad (McKinley Belcher III, The Royale), a sleekly striking slice of muscular manhood who lives with Genesis in a coolly stylish, white-walled, apartment in Chicago’s Hyde Park, dominated by a long, black granite-topped island, and smoothly lit by Ben Stanton. It’s the eve of Rashad and Genesis’s second anniversary as lovers, and Rashad, a college football star turned fireman, is preparing to spring a surprise on her. 

From the moment of his lively entrance into the empty apartment, an air of light comedy fills the room, only to increase after Genesis, a lovely, well-dressed (by Emilio Sosa) school principal, arrives and the pair banter, he in conventional black dialect (an affectation more than a necessity), she with more educated discourse.  

For the hour and 15-minute play’s lighthearted first third, we watch this handsome couple chat and quip, noting their mutual admiration, attraction, and affection, until Rashad surprises Genesis with a marriage proposal, a ring, and, what really freaks her out, hard-to-get tickets to a concert featuring her favorite female singer. When she realizes that the concert—intended to bring violence-torn Chicago together—is headed by a male singer named Kashif, she refuses to go.

Mandi Madsen, McKinley Belcher III

What follows abandons any sense of Tracy-Hepburn repartee and descends into a class in Polemics 101. Loy has set us up with romantic comedy only to turn her lovers into combatants spatting over Genesis’s resistance to doing anything to support Kashif, regardless of his charitable and socially positive activities. Her resistance stems from something unforgivable she claims he once did to a “friend,” that old alarm-bell word.

Suffice it to say that the latter two-thirds are a vitriolic debate between the lovers over her disgust at what she considers Rashad’s black male privilege in supporting men who have done what she pins on Kashif. The back and forth forces us to agree and sympathize with Genesis’s point of view. Other racially charged topics arise but the one about what Kashif did stands out.

Even if we accept Genesis’s revelations, though, it’s difficult to believe that a woman as knowledgeable about the dimensions of this problem, and so passionate about it that she’d break up with the man whose proposal she just joyously accepted, would never previously have mentioned her concern. Indeed, since the names Kavanaugh and Ford are mentioned several times, it’s clear that the opportunity to at least weigh in—not on Ford’s credibility, which they did discuss, but on its implications regarding black men’s treatment of women—was abundantly available, even without Genesis mentioning anything personal.

McKinley Belcher III, Mandi Madsen

The excellent performances of Belcher and Masden, both as lovers and as debaters, give great vitality to the dispute but their artistry only underlines the play’s contrivances, regardless of the resemblances to recent headlines. I felt sorry to see this appealing couple lose their cool for reasons reeking more of an urge to wrangle over a problem than because of an organic necessity. 

None of this is to deny the considerable interest in what Rashad and Genesis actually say. It’s just that the play comes off more as an excuse for a discussion than as an honest exploration of two people who, despite all that ties them together, are really not as well-matched as they believe. Polemics are fine but are sometimes more effective on the page than on the stage.

The Light
The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space
500 W. 52nd Street, NYC
Through March 17, 2019
Photography: Joan Marcus

Mandi Madsen, McKinley Belcher III

Westminster Agility 2019

Border Collie, Verb, takes top prize at Agility Championship.

February 10, 2019: Border Collies dominated on Saturday at the 6th Annual Westminster Agility Championships presented by Purina Pro Plan.  Not only did Verb, a Border Collie, take the top prize, along with winning the 20” category, Pink, another Border Collie, won the 16” category with a narrow victory over Boss. 

Border Collie, Verb, takes top prize at Agility Championship.

February 10, 2019: Border Collies dominated on Saturday at the 6th Annual Westminster Agility Championships presented by Purina Pro Plan.  Not only did Verb, a Border Collie, take the top prize, along with winning the 20” category, Pink, another Border Collie, won the 16” category with a narrow victory over Boss. 

The 2019 Masters Agility Championship at Pier 92 and Pier 94 in New York City precedes the main event, The 143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, at Madison Square Garden on Monday and Tuesday evenings, February 11th and 12th beginning at 7pm.

Activities at the Piers went on all day Saturday with the preliminary agility trials and also a “meet the breeds,” where patrons have an opportunity to get up-close and personal with man’s best friend at booth’s hosted by almost all the breeders.   

The big event of the day is the 2019 Masters Agility Championship that began a 7pm. The event crowns the winners, running the obstacle course in the fastest time, in five different categories according to height. 

The winners were Gabby, a Papillion from Westbury, NY in the 8” group, Pixel, a Miniature American Shepherd beat last year’s winner Pre, a Poodle, in the 12’ group.  Pink and Verb, both Border Collie’s won in the 16” group and 20” group, respectively. While Harley, an All American Dog, beat out Kaboom, the past two time winner, who finished second after a slight error slowed his time.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is in its 143rd year, will have 2,879 dogs competing across 203 breeds beginning on Monday and culminates with two events at Madison Square Gardern in the evening, airing from 7:30pm to 11pm on Fox Sports 1.

Photography: Barry Gordin


Bye Bye Birdie

on BroadwayHD

February 7, 2019– It’s time to put on a happy face because BroadwayHD, the premier streaming service for live theater, is bringing the 1995 Star-Studded TV adaptation of the delightful Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie to its platform on February 7.  This Emmy Award nominated musical comedy directed by Tony Award-winner Gene Saks (The Odd Couple) is supported by an all-star cast featuring Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty), and Chynna Phillips (Bridesmaids).  

on BroadwayHD

February 7, 2019– It’s time to put on a happy face because BroadwayHD, the premier streaming service for live theater, is bringing the 1995 Star-Studded TV adaptation of the delightful Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie to its platform on February 7.  This Emmy Award nominated musical comedy directed by Tony Award-winner Gene Saks (The Odd Couple) is supported by an all-star cast featuring Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty), and Chynna Phillips (Bridesmaids).  

Rock-n-roll icon Conrad Birdie (TonyAward® Nominee Marc Kudisch) is about to go into the army, and his fans are all shook up.  That’s when his manager (Alexander) and his girlfriend assistant (Williams) concocts one last publicity stunt to arrange his “farewell” television performance and kiss his biggest fan (Phillips) before he is drafted.  Featuring fan-favorites like “The Telephone Hour”, “Put On a Happy Face”, and “A Lot of Livin’ To Do”, this revisitation of the  show also includes three new songs penned by the original composer and lyricist, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams — “Let’s Settle Down”, “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, and “A Giant Step”.  

Awarded the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, the stellar cast gives a fun musical experience the whole family will enjoy!

BroadwayHD, founded in 2015 by Tony Award® winning producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, is the only streaming service offering premium full-length stageplays and musicals captured specifically for multiplatform viewing to theatre fans across the globe. In addition to exclusive live-streamed content of the world’s best productions, BroadwayHD offers subscribers unlimited on-demand access to a library of more than 250 theatre productions from Broadway, The West End and beyond.  If You Can’t Get to Broadway, Get to BroadwayHD.

Maestro **1/2

By: David Sheward

February 7, 2019: The life of Arturo Toscanini, perhaps the greatest conductor of the 20th century, would make a fascinating drama. In addition to collaborating with all the top names of the music world in his decades-long career, he bravely took a stance against fascism in his native Italy and in Nazi Germany, leaving Europe in the late 1930s to lead the NBC Orchestra and bring the classics into millions of American homes over the radiowaves. Plus a recent discovery of a cache of letters offers a glimpse into his intimate life, particularly a long-term affair with the pianist Ada Colleone Mainardi. Unfortunately, Maestro, a strange combination of solo show and concert presented by Ensemble for the Romantic Century, is not that work. 

By: David Sheward

February 7, 2019: The life of Arturo Toscanini, perhaps the greatest conductor of the 20th century, would make a fascinating drama. In addition to collaborating with all the top names of the music world in his decades-long career, he bravely took a stance against fascism in his native Italy and in Nazi Germany, leaving Europe in the late 1930s to lead the NBC Orchestra and bring the classics into millions of American homes over the radiowaves. Plus a recent discovery of a cache of letters offers a glimpse into his intimate life, particularly a long-term affair with the pianist Ada Colleone Mainardi. Unfortunately, Maestro, a strange combination of solo show and concert presented by Ensemble for the Romantic Century, is not that work. 

Playwright Eve Wolf, the company’s executive artistic director, stitches together excerpts from the newly-discovered letters with performances of memorable pieces Toscanini conducted from a sterling ensemble of musicians. The framing device is a 1938 rehearsal where the conductor displays his legendary temper at the NBC orchestra (the audience) then recounts how he got to this celebrated position. Actor John Noble bears a striking resemblance to the subject and he does impart some his renowned passion for his music, but we do not see much of the man beyond histrionics and pining for Mainardi who remained in Germany while Hitler was in power. Noble delivers a mostly one-note performance, varying little from angry rants. Wolf’s script doesn’t tell us much about Toscanini’s artistry and Donald T. Saunders’ direction is sluggish. 

John Noble

But the real heart of Maestro is the glittering professionalism of its musicians, particularly pianist Zhenni Li who gives brilliant life and fingering to Wagner’s Liebestod and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The latter also provides a magnificent solo for trumpeter Maximilian Morel who wrote the special arrangement for this glorious piece evocative of 1930s Manhattan. David Bengali’s imaginative projections create striking images to accompany the sublime sounds. Ironically, both the climaxes of the first act and the show itself are marked by musical performances with Noble as the main character off-stage. This tells us the music and not the actor or the script is the center of this show.

Maestro **1/2
Jan. 15—Feb. 9. Ensemble for the Romantic Century at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 7:30pm, Wed 2pm & 7:30pm, Thu 7:30pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm. Running time: two hours and 10 mins. including intermission. (646) 223-3010.  www.dukeon42.org.  Photography:Shirin Tinati

Mari Lee and Henry Wang on violins, Zhenni Li on piano, page turner Miles Mandwelle, Ari Evan on cello, and Matthew Cohen on viola.

True West ****

By: David Sheward

February 4, 2019: Sam Shepard’s True West is on the long list of American classics stars salivate to be cast in. Like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Long Day’s Journey Into Night and A Streetcar Named Desire, this oft-produced slam-bang symbolic brother act affords the opportunity for actors to prove their dramatic chops by thrashing the scenery as well as chewing it. The new Roundabout Theatre Company revival is a blazing hot showcase for a mature, but still dangerous Ethan Hawke and a subtly intense Paul Dano with insightful, soulful direction from James Macdonald. 

By: David Sheward

February 4, 2019: Sam Shepard’s True West is on the long list of American classics stars salivate to be cast in. Like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Long Day’s Journey Into Night and A Streetcar Named Desire, this oft-produced slam-bang symbolic brother act affords the opportunity for actors to prove their dramatic chops by thrashing the scenery as well as chewing it. The new Roundabout Theatre Company revival is a blazing hot showcase for a mature, but still dangerous Ethan Hawke and a subtly intense Paul Dano with insightful, soulful direction from James Macdonald. 

Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano

Originally produced in San Francisco in 1980, the play has gone through almost as many metamorphoses as the characters. After an unsuccessful mounting at the Public Theater starring Peter Boyle and Tommy Lee Jones, a sizzling revival from the Steppenwolf Theatre Company restored its reputation, launched the careers of John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, delivered a smash-hit run Off-Broadway for 762 performances, and was filmed for Public Television. An acclaimed 2000 revival featured Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly alternating in the lead roles. 

The deceptively simple premise masks a complex examination of America’s obsessions with myths of manhood, movies, art, and the Wild West. Screenwriter Austin (Dano) is housesitting for his vacationing mother when his estranged brother Lee (Hawke), a drifter and petty thief, shows up to bring his usual reign of chaos. The stage is set for an epic battle of sibling rivalry as Lee worms his way into the good graces of Austin’s producer Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) who drops Austin’s love story for Lee’s cliched Western saga. The brothers exchange roles as the rough-edged Lee attempts to refine his raw ideas into a coherent script and Austin descends into alcoholic despair and absurdly starts stealing toasters. Underneath the gradually eroding situation is bitter resentment over their absent father and a mutual emptiness neither can ever fill. Each wants what the other has; Austin feels his conventional nuclear family is not enough and Lee is dissatisfied with his drifting lifestyle. They think the desert—either of the movies or that of their imagination—can fill their inner voids.

Macdonald, one of London’s top stagers, captures the wild humor as well as the galvanizing energy of Shepard’s battling bros. His production works on two levels—the literal satiric conflict over the movie as well as the figurative struggle between Austin’s ordered world and Lee’s uncontrolled whirlpool of an existence. His transitions between scenes are startlingly sharp with lighting designer Jane Cox providing blinding immediate blackouts and Bray Poor’s eerie original music evoking country-western dreams and noir-ish nightmares. Kaye Voyce’s witty costumes perfectly capture each character.

Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke

Both stars deliver top-caliber work. You would think Hawke would dominate the show in the flashier part of Lee. He does charismatically command attention, endowing every line with sneering contempt for civilization (represented by Mimi Lien’s kitschy set), barely suppressing animalistic rage, and physically holding back nothing (even appearing to urinate in a potted plant.) But Dano is equally fascinating, slowly bringing deeply buried emotions to the surface and unleashing a tornado of anger as fearsome as Hawke’s. The cast is completed by the appropriately smarmy Wilmes as the producer and Marylouise Burke in an hilarious cameo as the boy’s bewildered mother. 

Macdonald’s final image is an arresting one—the normal world of the mom’s kitchen falls away and the brothers are caught in a stand-off in a symbolic desert (brilliantly realized by Lien,  Cox, and Poor), a perfect representation of Shepard’s disturbing vision of America.

True West ****
Jan. 24—March 17. Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theater, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3 pm (check with theater for early curtain times). $59—$169. Running time: two hours including intermission. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus