The Weir ****

Amanda Quaid

By: David Sheward

July 24, 2020: Five lonely people swap ghost stories in a secluded Irish country pub in Connor McPherson’s touching play The Weir. This woes of this disheartened quintet are strikingly relevant for the COVID-19 era. They are attempting to make human connection despite the psychological barriers that separate them. Shuttered along with all other Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters because of the pandemic, the Irish Repertory Theater has adapted its 2013 staging of the play for remote streaming, subtitled “A Performance on Screen,” and created a hybrid between theater and video, emphasizing the isolation of the characters. Each of the five actors filmed their roles in different states from Vermont to North Carolina, performing against green screens (set designer Charlie Corcoron created the atmospheric, homey environment). Director Ciaran O’Reilly has seamlessly woven together the bits and pieces into a cohesive whole, creating the illusion they are all together in the same space.

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The Line ****

Lorraine Toussaint, Santino Fontana, and John Ortiz in “The Line” Credit: The Public Theater

By: David Sheward

July 14, 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closures of theaters and reinforced the feeling of being in suspended animation. With no live dramatic reaction to this national crisis which has brought all of our lives to a near screeching halt, it feels as if there has been scant considered reflection or introspection—just talking heads endlessly pontificating on cable news shows and a disconnected chief executive engaging in magical thinking. We have had Richard Nelson’s Apple Family Zoom plays give us some perspective through an artistic lens, and now the Public Theater has commissioned documentary theater-makers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen to assemble the heart-breaking real-life stories of first responders in a unique, interwoven series of monologues called The Line, available on the Public’s YouTube channel through Aug. 4.

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And So We Come Forth****, Les Blancs ***

And So We Come Forth: The Apple Family: A Dinner on Zoom, Les Blancs

By: David Sheward

July 7, 2020: As the hiatus from live theater continues with no respite in sight until at least 2021, we draw what sustenance we can from Zoom plays, archival broadcasts, benefit readings, and Hamilton on Disney Plus. Richard Nelson’s fictional Apple family is experiencing a similar sense of depravation and loss. In And So We Come Forth, the second piece about the middle-class clan in Rhinebeck, NY, since the coronavirus lockdown began, the four adult Apple siblings plus one romantic partner, sit down to a remote dinner and commiserate over the devastating effects of the pandemic. Each expresses a sense of emptiness and futility. Though not much happens and there is a minimum of activities such as game playing or political discussion which propelled action in the previous plays, this hour-long rumination on our fractured state between quarantine and normalcy resonates with sorrow and empathy. 

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Bleeding Love *****

Cast and Team. Photo: Broadway Podcast Network.

By: Paulanne Simmons

June 4, 2020: Bleeding Love, a musical about romance in catastrophic times, might seem to be the brainchild of someone living in 2020. However, book writer Jason Schafer, composer Arthur Lafrentz Bacon and lyricist Harris Doran (who also directed and edited) began the creative process nine years ago.  What’s more, Bleeding Love is based on “The Nightingale and the Rose,” a fairy tale found in Oscar Wilde’s 1888 collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. And“The Nightingale and the Rose”wasWilde’s answer to Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Nightingale,” published in 1843.

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A Streetcar Named Desire ****, Mad Forest ***

Ben Foster in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

By: David Sheward

May 24, 2020: There is one upside to all the theaters being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through streaming, YouTube, Zoom and other digital platforms, we get a chance to catch up with intriguing productions we may have missed. One such is the Young Vic’s innovative 2014 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire which was shown in cinemas through HD Live and played a limited engagement at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2016 following an extended run in London. NT Live at Home will play the production for free on YouTube through May 28. Though Tennessee Williams’ classic clash between the faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois and her brutish brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski has been interpreted numerous times for stage and screen since its 1947 premiere, director Benedict Andrews has found new insights as well as invigorating the essential conflict and message. 

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In- Zoom ***, Macbeth (Shakespeare’s Globe) ****, MacBeth (Stratford Festival) **

Bill Irwin

By: David Sheward

May 16, 2020: “We’re heads now. We talk in windows,” cries one of two nameless characters in Bill Irwin’s touching, ten-minute play In-Zoom, presented by the Old Globe Theater of San Diego. The cry of frustration sums up our current lockdown status. This short two-hander addresses our lack of connection and the attempt to reach each other, literally breaking the barrier of cyberspace. The premise is simplicity itself and like a Samuel Beckett playlet, In-Zoom captures the comic and tragic conundrum of daily life. 

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What Do We Need to Talk About? *****, Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration *****

Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett, Sally Murphy, Laila Robbins and Stephen Kunken in What Do We Need to Talk About?

By: David Sheward

May 1, 2020: With Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional stages closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, theater artists have adapted to the new normal rather than waiting in limbo for a return to their traditional venues. Playwright Richard Nelson has taken his fictional Apple family into the current world of social distancing and videoconferencing and delivers a poignant and insightful portrait of how we live now. His 70-minute work What Do We Need to Talk About subtitled The Apple Family: Conversations on Zoom, is probably the first play written to be performed on the platform which has become the main means of live communication in a quarantined world. 

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Pride and Prejudice **1/2, Hamlet ***

Christopher Vettel. Heather Orth in “Pride and Prejudice”

By: David Sheward

April 18, 2020: Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced stages in New York City and around the world to close until further notice and much of the world remains in lockdown, many theater companies are offering productions online through various social media platforms. Many of these events are free or available for a limited time. Streaming Musicals recently presented a “virtual opening night” of Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, originally produced at TheaterWorks Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, California in December 2019. 

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72 Miles To Go ****

Jacqueline Guillen, Triney Sandoval, Bobby Moreno, Tyler Alvarez

By: David Sheward

April 1, 2020: Note: This production’s run ended abruptly on March 12 due to Broadway and Off-Broadway’s theaters closing because of the coronavirus crisis. Roundabout Theater Company has announced they will be making the show available digitally to ticket holders. 

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Scott Siegel’s March Birthday Show ****

By: Paulanne Simmons

March 9, 2020: We all like birthday parties. But Scott Siegel’s idea of a birthday bash is unique. Every month Siegel creates, directs and hosts a concert celebrating famous songs by famous people born in that month. The event takes place at Feinstein’s/54 below, and it features many performers who are well-known in their own right. The superb Ross Patterson is at the piano.

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Anatomy of a Suicide ***, Cambodian Rock Band ***, The Unsinkable Molly Brown ***

Carla Gugino and Ava Briglia in “Anatomy of a Suicide”

By: David Sheward

March 8, 2020: Fractured narratives are featured in two recent Off-Broadway offerings depicting how families of severe trauma victims cope—or don’t—with their personal tragedies. Three generations of suicidal depression play out simultaneously in Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide at Atlantic Theater Company after a run at London’s Royal Court, while Laureen Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band, at Signature Theater Company following multiple regional stagings, traces the Khmer Rouge’s brutal legacy on a former rock musician and his daughter. In both plays the storyline twists and turns, sometimes even shatters, occasionally resulting in confusion, but mainly inducing the unsettling, disturbing effects of their respective sources of psychological damage. These are not comfortable pieces of theater, but they are affecting and memorable.

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Cambodian Rock Band ***, Suicide Forest ***

Signature Theatre Cambodian Rock Band By Lauren Yee Directed By Chay Yew Songs By Dengue Fever

By: Isa Goldberg

March 7, 2020: Lauren Yee’s new musical, Cambodian Rock Band at the Signature Theatre introduces a style of popular music that emerged around the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, in the 1960s and ‘70s. A mix of traditional Cambodian music with the jukebox songs American soldiers introduced to Vietnam, along with influences from Europe and Latin America, it defined a flourishing musical movement. 

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About Love **1/2

Will Pomerantz (standing center) and Nancy Harrow (seated center) with the company of “About Love”

By: Samuel L. Leiter

“Summer of ‘33”

March 4, 2020: In 1860, the great Russian writer Ivan Turgenev wrote a semiautobiographical novella called First Love that beautifully captured the agony and ecstasy of a teenage boy’s sexual and romantic coming of age. While on vacation with his parents, a boy falls in love with a beautiful, older woman only for his heart to be broken. Even after he grows up, the memory of that first rush of longing and its poignant outcome remains with him so indelibly he’s compelled to put it down in writing. 

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No Strings ***

Annabelle Fox, Luke Hamilton, Cameron Bond

By: Paulanne Simmons

March 1, 2020: For many people, the most significant fact about the 1962 musical, No Strings, is that it has the only Broadway score for which Richard Rodgers wrote both the music and the lyrics. In fact, the book was written by Samuel A. Taylor (more famous for screenplays for films such as Vertigo and The Eddy Duchin Story), and was arguably the first Broadway musical to address the Civil Rights movement that was about to coalesce in the 1963 March on Washington.

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West Side Story ****

Isaac Powell, Shereen Pimentel

By: David Sheward

February 23, 2020: When it was announced controversial director Ivo van Hove would be staging a revival of  the beloved West Side Story, you could practically hear the screams of musical theater purists. While many classic tuners have undergone significant reinterpretation—My Fair Lady and Oklahoma! being the latest—the classic street-gang remake of Romeo and Juliet has never been altered in a major way. Since its 1957 opening, all four of its previous Broadway revivals, as well as numerous touring companies, have featured Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. Robbins also directed all of those revivals expect for the one in 2009 (he died in 1998). That last one was staged by Arthur Laurents, the author of the book and his staging retained most of Robbins’ concepts. Van Hove has turned such non-musical classics as The Little Foxes, A Streetcar Named Desire, A View From The Bridge, and The Crucible inside out, so a radical reimagining of this firmly established favorite was in the offing. Then news leaked during rehearsals that there would be no intermission and the charming “I Feel Pretty” and the “Somewhere” ballet would be cut, eliciting further moans of despair from the traditionalists. Something was coming but would it be something good?

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