There is a sense of deja vu in Adam Bock’s suspenseful one act The Receptionist premiering under Joe Mantello’s skillful direction for the Manhattan Theater Club. Last year Mr. Bock gave us the critically praised The Thugs, which debuted downtown and like that previous effort his new play takes place in an office where small talk seems the order of the day, but beneath the glib chatter some sinister plot is unfolding. Both plays share the same clever gimmick, a normal everyday façade eventually reveals some horrible truth. The brisk 70 minute tale is an outstanding production with a pitch perfect performance by Jayne Houdyshell as Beverly the title character at the center of the story and a set by David Korins that becomes on ominous fifth character. But nonetheless this entertaining Receptionist feels incomplete awaiting a second act.
The American premiere of J. T. Rogers’ new play TheOverwhelming grippingly directed by Max Stafford-Clark for The Roundabout Theater Company is a thought provoking tale of an American family, newly arrived in 1994 Rwanda, where a genocidal civil war is about to break out and nothing or anyone is exactly what they seem. The family will find themselves embroiled in grim events beyond their understanding as they struggle to find the truth and ultimately discover what they will do to protect themselves.
Making his Broadway debut Chazz Palminteri plays all 18 characters in A Bronx Tale with impressive panache. His semi autobiographical reflections, although sentimentalized, is quite charming, even disturbing, but what stands out is Mr. Palminteri’s strong feeling for the old neighborhood and the forces that helped shape his character. Viewed from a distance of almost half a century his tale takes on added nostalgia that does not necessarily make for dynamic theater, but is nonetheless most entertaining.
A sex farce about a straight businessman hiding from the mob in a gay bath house must have been risqué to Broadway audiences back in 1975, but despite some funny situations, witty dialogue and much physical humor played at full throttle by the talented cast, the revival of Terrence McNally’s ground breaking play, The Ritz directed by Joe Mantello for the Roundabout, feels decidedly tame and dated. Mantello’s kind hearted send up of a more innocent time, the decade that predated the AIDS epidemic, is pure physical farce, an amusing homage to slapstick, but the dazzling tri-level set by Scott Pask with a series of shimmering red doors manages to upstage most of the action turning the evening into more of an interesting walk down memory lane than a riotous good time.
When the The Color Purple opened on Broadway back in December of 2005 we raved, “Hallelujah! The new musical is a joyous celebration of the human spirit, culled from Alice Walkers 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel,” and exclaimed “The impassioned tale is a shimmering mosaic, a triumph in every way. Here is a serious musical graced with intelligence and humor that is destined to become a classic.”
A suspenseful new drama, Maritius, from the playwright Theresa Rebeck launches Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2007-2008 season and if the tantalizing play does not fulfill completely, the evening is nonetheless clever entertainment by way of an accomplished cast. Two postage stamps from Maritius, a picture perfect island in the Indian Ocean, propels the action of five people, who squabble over the ownership rights of a stamp collection that may be worth over 6 million dollars.
The prolific playwright Adam Rapp is at it again, stirring up a heady brew of gritty realism stuffed with the twisted values of the Sligo household. Dysfunctional families and misfits have always been a favorite of his, and with his dark new comedy American Sligo, making its World Premier at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village, Rapp does not disappoint. Nicely directed by the playwright himself to maximize the play’s jarring effects and served with committed gusto by an excellent cast, the satire is a scathing attack on the moral decay of the American family that is by turns both shocking and hilarious.
Walmartopia is the bargain basement of musicals: everything’s stuffed into it from musical genres spanning the last 60 years to anti-war messages that are just too contemporary. In aisle one you’ll find issues about women and minorities: in aisle 2 you can have your pick of lesbianism or cross-dressing: aisle 3, products from China: a few aisles away fire arms and fascism. Sprinkled all over is “the American Dream”. You get the point.
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.