By the Way, Meet Vera Stark ****, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine ****

Jessica Frances Dukes, Jenni Barber, Heather Alicia Simms in “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”

By: David Sheward

February 20, 2019: As L.P Hartley stated in his novel The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” In two current Off-Broadway productions, playwrights translate the unfamiliar people and events of previous decades employing modern sensibilities, creating a pair of fascinating portraits of America’s cultural, social and political history. From Signature Theatre Company, Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark—ironically a revival of the original Second Stage production from 2011—employs a mix of satire and sharp observation to comment on African-American women’s depiction in popular media and how it effects their self-image. Jack Cummings III’s adaptation of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine reimagines Daniel Berrigan’s 1971 work on the infamous civil disobedience action he and other eight others took against the Vietnam War. Both give us startling and fresh visions of where we’ve been as a country.

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The Shadow Of A Gunman *****

Meg Hennessy, James Russell

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). 

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

Cassie Beck, Richard Topol “The Dance Of Death”

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. 

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True West ****

Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke

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. 

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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).

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To Kill a Mockingbird **1/2

Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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.

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The Light **1/2

Mandi Madsen, McKinley Belcher III

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. 

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Maestro **1/2

John Noble

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. 

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True West ****

Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano

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. 

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Night of the Living Dead! The Musical ***1/2

Jamie Cepero & Meg Lanzarone

By: Paulanne Simmons

February 4, 2019: George A. Romero and John Russo’s classic horror Film, Night of the Living Dead, cost $114,000 to shoot, grossed $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally, led to five subsequent films, and inspired two remakes. The film entered the public domain when the original distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, erroneously removed the copyright statements from the prints.

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Nassim ***1/2

Nassim Soleimanpour in “Nassim”

By: Isa Goldberg

February 3, 2019: In Nassim, the actor faces the challenge of performing a play they have not read, and which is written primarily, in Farsi. There are no rehearsals, and the staging is minimal. For the actor this must be like landing on a dangerously deserted island, as in the reality TV series, Survivor.

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To Kill A Mockingbird ****

Jeff Daniels

By: Isa Goldberg

February 3, 2019: Black Lives Matter carries its torch in this year’s Oscar nominations with nods to Black Klansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Green Book, among them. On the stage, American Son and To Kill A Mockingbird also bring to light the senseless and wrongful incarceration of African-American men. 

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Colin Quinn Red State Blue State ****1/2

Colin Quinn

ALL OVER THE MAP: COLIN QUINN RED STATE BLUE STATE

By: Samuel L. Leiter

January 25, 2019: I have to admit to being a Colin Quinn novice, not having seen this actor-comedian’s previous New York shows, most recently 2015’s well-received Colin Quinn: The New York Story (directed by someone named Jerry Seinfeld). I must have been in a bubble because I don’t believe I caught much of his extensive TV work either, not even his gig on SNL (which I only returned to once Alec Baldwin began doing Donald Trump). I’ve surely seen him on shows like Girls, though, and I know I caught him in the Amy Schumer movie Trainwreck because this YouTube video kickstarted my memory.

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Pelleas et Melisande ****

Kyle Ketelsen as Golaud and Isabel Leonard as Mélisande

  Metropolitan Opera

  By: David Sheward

January 27, 2019: Claude Debussy’s moving Pelleas et Melisande defies operatic convention. Eschewing passionate arias where the divas pour out every thought and motive for their extreme actions, this mysterious love triangle is all recitative with inner feelings largely unexpressed in words. The music does that, exquisitely conducted at the Metropolitan Opera by new music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Those yearning for a splashy solo will be disappointed. The music is delicate and subtle, requiring careful attention. When it opened in Paris in 1902, some critics found it “sickly and practically lifeless.” But there are contemplative joys to be found in its nuances and complex melodies. The Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1995 production (restaged by Paula Williams) takes its time to establish an emotional connection between characters, music and audience, but by the third act, a mystical spell has been woven.

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About Alice ****

Carrie Paff, Jeffrey Bean

By: Paulanne Simmons

January 23, 2019: Full confession, a few decades ago I interviewed, on separate occasion, both Calvin Trillin and his wife, Alice at their Greenwich Village apartment. So I was especially interested in seeing Trillin’s play, About Alice, inspired by his 2007 memoir of the same title.

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