At Primary Stages there’s a string quartet. Let’s start again. It’s a story about a fictional string quartet performing Beethoven’s OPUS 131, a radical piece for its time, since it redefined the structure of the string quartet as a form.
Playwright/actor/songwriter Grant James Vargas plays a self loathing lead singer for a rock band in his new musical, 33 to Nothing, being presented as the first offering of the Wild Project in their sleekly renovated East Village Theater, formerly known as the Bottle Factory. 33 to Nothing chronicles a band’s turbulent rehearsal as they prepare for what will ultimately be their final gig. Although the evening often works as clever entertainment, especially the group’s performance of the songs, the concept seems to exist merely as an excuse to showcase the Vargas music and market the CD. Incidentally, Vargas wrote all the songs, except “Lost to Me,” which he co-wrote with John Good and Preston Clark.
Veteran Broadway director Daniel Sullivan has helmed a broadly comic production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the second and final installment of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater. The often produced romantic comedy in which the course of true love never runs smooth is a magical tale and directors over the years have often emphasized the dreamlike qualities inherent in the story, but Mr. Sullivan has given us a fast and furious staging that stresses the comedic aspects. His Midsummer Night’s Dream is a screwball comedy filled with an assortment of hilarious tricks that underscore many moments with extremely silly behavior that is often a raucous delight. The evening, however, despite all the calculated shenanigans is wildly uneven. Many of the mysteries of love, which are alluded to in the play, are glossed over as the complexities of that glorious emotion are left unexplored.
Who’s going to kill whom? Suspense brings a surprise element to MASKED, a drama about three Palestinian brothers staged on a single set – the back room of a butcher shop where the blood is already splattered against the wall.
The fourth and youngest brother was the first sacrifice, shot by the Israeli army during an uprising. Now Khalid lives at home to take care of the boy who is nothing but a vegetable while Daoud commutes to Tel Aviv to support them, his wife and baby. When middle brother Na’im returns from the mountains, Khalid embraces him. The older brother he admires is a rising star in a Palestinian militia group much like Hamas. As portrayed by Arian Moayed, he is an angry young man, striking, virulent and as we watch him in this back room, he’s caged.
Really engrossing theater is popping up in New York. Some of it the offshoot of numerous summer festivals – The Midtown Festival, Summer Shorts, along with the diverse international festival at Lincoln Center.
The Fringe Festival with a series of productions from around the world brings us DIRT. The most frequently performed solo show in Austria arrives here in English translation, performed by a startling young actor whose name Christopher Domig, will not remain unknown for long. Watching Domig in DIRT brings to mind a young Dustin Hoffman or Al Pacino when they were just starting off Broadway.
For lighthearted fare, don’t miss GONE MISSING a little musical running downtown at The Barrow Street Theatre, an ode to lost items – rings, car keys, blackberries, loved ones, you name it. Performed by a sextet comprised of three men and three women, MISSING is mostly charming as it delves into our ability to obsess over things. The material here is culled from real life interviews.
Talk about malady, here’s a musical review without a single compelling note. SESSIONS with book music and lyrics by Albert Tapper is built around a psychotherapist and his patients who we meet primarily in group therapy. While the story is supposed to draw us into their human experience, it only latches on to issues that are both obvious and predictable. As musical theater goes, this is the stuff of amateurs.
Imagine the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a modern day tale like this. Eurydice, played by Maria Dizzia arrives in Hades after falling from the penthouse apartment of a rich older man, a snake of a character portrayed by Mark Zeisler. Wearing a proper pink suit, carrying a suitcase and umbrella she travels on to the land of the dead. And what trumpets her arrival? Not the sonorous notes of her beloved Orpheus, but the clatter of tin pans created by sound designer Bray Poor.
Low. Very low. The lowest of the low, as in burlesque. ABSINTHE in the Spiegeltent by The South Street Seaport evokes German cabaret of the 30’s & 40’s as though it were iPod music with an ear to the taste of today’s busy urban professionals.
As the lead singer, a cross dresser and female impersonator Paul Capsis says early in the show “Marlene let me be your personal iPhone.” Besides Miss Dietrich and Janis Joplin, he does a Judy Garland imitation in which he takes the hand of an audience member. The night I attended it just happened to be the gossip columnist Cindy Adams. He looked deeply into the octogenarian’s surgically enhanced eyes and remarked in a drunken haze, “Liza, it’s Mama. We look more and more alike every day.”
Two vastly different brothers confront their traumatic past in Neil LaBute’s latest offering In a Dark Dark House, a mysteriously twisted tale of sibling rivalry and abuse that despite a powerfully volatile performance by Frederick Weller in the central role, curiously lacks tension. MCC Theater is presenting the world premier of the new drama Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, where the play opened a limited run engagement just last week.
Omigod I think Broadway’s Palace Theater totally has a huge hit with the new musical Legally Blonde. Based on the Reese Witherspoon film of the same name, the savvy new show is an effervescent delight, bristling with non stop energy for almost two and a half hours of lively fun. First time Broadway director Jerry Mitchell rarely lets up on the frenzied pace and I doubt the target audience will care one iota. The smart creative team has delivered the message of being true to yourself in a candy coated; pastel colored package that explodes with oomph bombarding the senses like an overdose of adrenalin.
Frank Langella is Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States and his towering portrayal of our disgraced leader is at the center of the briskly entertaining new play Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan. In his story, Morgan dramatizes the account of the 1977 television interviews between the TV personality David Frost and the post Watergate Nixon as a winner take all prize fight between two hungry opponents. Michael Sheen playing Frost is Langella’s worthy adversary and watching the two consummate actors go at each other with all the skills in their arsenal is thrilling indeed.
An immensely entertaining Radio Golf, the final play by the late great playwright August Wilson has arrived on Broadway in a handsomely staged production by Kenny Leon that bristles with forceful urgency. Convincingly performed by an outstanding cast of five, Wilson’s potent story has numerous plot twists that bring added dimension and suspense to his compelling tale.
“What becomes a legend most?” For an in the flesh answer travel to West 45th Street in New York where a true legend, Angela Lansbury, is making her eagerly awaited return to Broadway in a first rate production of Te
rrence McNally’s latest offering Deuce, a fictitious comedy about arguably the greatest women’s doubles team in tennis history.. Lansbury, the musical actress, and McNally, the prolific playwright, need little introduction to Broadway audiences having each won four Tony Awards, but the fact that Lansbury, at 83, hasn’t appeared in a production here for 25 years has become a cause to celebrate.
No matter how professionally it’s produced, Thornton Wilder’s classic, OUR TOWN, typically evokes the feeling that one has just visited the high school auditorium. For better or worse, The Roundabout Theatre’s production of 110 IN THE SHADE at Studio 54 is a similar experience as it asks us to visit a moment of innocence in which story telling is laid bare.