Our Leading Lady

Photo: Joan Marcus

Charles Busch has fashioned a gleeful love letter to the theater with his seriocomic new play, Our Leading Lady, set backstage at the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. on the days surrounding April 14, 1865, the day President Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth while watching a performance of Our American Cousin. The play a blend of fact and fiction focuses on a scheming actress Laura Keene, who was on stage that eventful night becoming a footnote in history. From his inspired idea, the talented Mr. Busch has crafted a two act smorgasbord of laughs that bogs down in the somewhat heavy handed second act. Director Lynne Meadow has mined his vision for all its campy comedy, but the play, although vastly entertaining, feels stretched and not always sure of its footing.

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Journey’s End

In R.C. Sherriff’s war drama Journey’s End the men wait in trenches about 70 yards behind the enemy line with only a modest dugout for respite between their shifts. They are caught in limbo, but they carry on as best they can, knowing the waiting will ultimately end in battle and possibly death. The British director David Grindley has crafted a beautifully paced experiential retelling of the play that will haunt you for days, possibly even weeks, after you have seen it. Be warned this is not escapist theater, but a grim depiction of three days in these soldier’s lives as they prepare for the moment when the waiting will end.

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Jack Goes Boating

Photo: Monique Carboni

The Labyrinth Theater Company is stirring up a little bohemian magic at the Public Theater where a delightful production of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating directed by Peter DuBois is making its world premiere. The top notch cast is headed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his first New York stage appearance since winning the Oscar “gold” for Capote. Not much happens in terms of excitement but what does transpire is lively, heartwarming, and poignant. Here is a slice of New York City life told from the struggling journeyman’s point of view.

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Talk Radio

Photos:Joan Marcus

“Get me a gun”, Barry Champlain the late night talk show host of TALK RADIO demands, using an expletive never heard in this medium. As Champlain, Liev Schreiber makes a commanding and physically riveting presence…his legs twitching with angst, the veins in his forehead pulsing with anger.

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King Hedley 11

Photos: Carol Rosegg

To witness one of the most powerful theatrical productions in the entire city, walk a few blocks West of Times Square on 42nd Street to the Signature Theatre Company and pay $15 for a ticket to King Hedley II, the final installment of the Signature’s 2006/2007 tribute to the late playwright August Wilson. Earlier this season the Signature scored impressively with their staging of Wilson’s Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running. The company had long planned a Wilson season, but when the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright died on October 2, 2005 that season took on greater significance.

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Dying City

The Lincoln Center Theater production of Dying City, a new play by Christopher Shinn directed by James Macdonald is an engaging 90 minute journey into the troubled souls of three people impacted by the war in Iraq. The little play with much to say was originally produced in London last spring at the Royal Court Theatre and has been beautifully staged here at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.

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The Coast of Utopia:Salvage

The journey has concluded with Salvage, the third part of Tom Stoppard’s ambitious trilogy The Cost of Utopia which opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The visually stunning Lincoln Center production is an impressive achievement covering decades of time, cram packed with ideas and philosophies and peopled with a multitude of characters. Directed by previous Stoppard collaborator Jack O’Brien, the richly evocative evening is stylishly dazzling, but despite all its accomplishments the epic drama chronicling the life of a group of 19th century Russian intellectuals longing for the revolution is ultimately less than compelling theatre.

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The Coast of Utopia:Shipwreck

Photos: Paul Kolnik

Shipwreck, the second installment of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy The Cost of Utopia, is an impressive achievement; however the visually stunning production directed by Jack O’Brien is more dramatically engaging than the playwright’s unfolding storylines told by an enormous cast of over 40 actors. O’Brien and his design team have created many astonishing images that have trumped Stoppard’s epic drama of 19th century Russian intellectuals during the repressive reign of Tsar Nicholas. Indeed the dramatic design elements are the real stars of the evening upstaging not only the actors, but the play as well. Set designers Bob Crowley and Scott Pask have provided diversely arresting images including: the Place de la Concorde, before, during and after the French revolution; a marvelous chandelier that hangs over many of the salon scenes commenting on the lavish lifestyle of the main characters; and many incandescent backdrops. Kenneth Posner’s imaginative lighting enhances the visual components to such a degree that several of the scenes have an awe inspiring effect. The intensity of the visuals will linger in your mind long after you have forgotten much of the evening’s philosophical debates.

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The Coast of Utopia:Voyage

Amy Irving

Voyage now being presented at Lincoln Center, is the first part of Tom Stoppard’s ambitious project, The Coast of Utopia that premiered four years ago in London. Coast is a trilogy of plays chronicling the life of a group of 19th century Russian intellectuals longing for the revolution, and the magnificent Lincoln Center staging directed by previous Stoppard collaborator Jack O’Brien is visually stunning. However, the play over-brimming with smart ideas and detailed characters, although stimulating, ultimately fails to move.

The trilogy follows six young idealistic noblemen, who meet as students at the University of Moscow during the repressive reign of Tsar Nichols and forge lasting friendships that will propel them though their challenging lifetime, and guide their struggles with the events that will eventually bring Russia into the modern age. Voyage, the initial installment of Stoppard’s heady concept, begins with the image of Premukhino, a country estate in 1833 Russia, where we hear the first ruminations of the coming revolution. Part two, Shipwreck, will take us to Moscow and 1848 Paris, the epicenter of change in the world.

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Sealed For Freshness

The press release hails Sealed for Freshness, the new Tupperware comedy written and directed by Doug Stone as “a hilarious journey of self discovery.” Don’t be taken in as there is nothing even remotely hilarious about this tasteless tale. Everything about the evening including the script, the set, the costumes and most definitely the direction is decidedly tacky. Sure you will laugh at the absurdity that anything about the play resembles a journey of self discovery, and you will roll your eyes in horror all the while laughing. No doubt there is an audience for this sort of exaggerated gross humor that pokes fun at five totally unconscious women and their attempts to spice up their lives with a Tupperware party, but I doubt that audience spends much time in a real live theatre.

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Butley **

Nathan Lane is giving what many will consider a dazzling performance as the title character in the troubled revival of Simon Gray’s 1971 play Butley that premiered back in 2003 at Boston’s Huntington Theatre. Mr. Lane is undoubtedly one of the few bankable Broadway stars around today, and he appears to be the main reason for the re-staging of this rather dated study of a brilliant, but self loathing college professor.With a reported three million dollars in advance ticket sales, what remains to be seen is if the limited run will have the legs to be a bona fide hit and ultimately be extended.

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Adrift in Macao

Playwright/lyricist Christopher Durang and composer Peter Melnick have crafted a zany new musical, Adrift in Macao, a parody of romantic Hollywood film noirs from the 1940s that is an entertaining romp from the docks of exotic Macao to a nearby smoky nightclub. The musical directed by Sheryl Kaller with seductive style is a playful love letter to films that featured alluring women, mysterious men, shady characters, and a murky Orient atmosphere where nothing is what it seems.Although little more than a gleeful lampoon of old Hollywood films set in the mysterious orient, Adrift in Macao is a little musical with a big heart, and little is the operative word here. The plot is paper thin, the characters barely two dimensional, the songs modest pastiches, and there is even some dancing. The mini-musical fits beautifully onto the relatively small stage of 59E59 Theater and everyone involved has made the send-up appear larger than life. References to the classic film Casablanca are obvious, but there are nods to Alfred Hitchcock and winks at various archetypes as well.

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Photo: Max Ruby

Imagine a lyrical little play couched as political theater and you would have a strange anomaly, like this new play “BFF” produced by WET, a young feminist theater company whose important voice is beginning to get heard. The subject appears way too simple. Call it mawkish if you like, but it’s certainly not trite. The story is about two girls who take the oath to be best friends forever, hence the title, “BFF”. But they wake up to adolescence, self consciousness and the fear that their affection for each other makes them lesbians. There are other problems, too, about family and loss that interfere with their coming of age. But the story clearly probes the impenetrable shell young women build around themselves and which we carry into adulthood, should we last that long.

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A Spanish Play

Photo: Joan Marcus

Who knows what this play by Yasmina Reza at The Classic Stage Company is really all about? But who cares, when it’s so fascinating to watch this cast of characters, all actors in the titular A SPANISH PLAY about a family who act like they’re constantly in the throws of some catastrophic telenovella.

In fact, two of the sisters are actresses. As the famous movie star Nuria, Katherine Borowitz offers the evening’s eye candy. Deciding what she should wear to the Goya Awards (Spain’s version of the Oscars), she models a series of transparent frocks by costume designer Donna Zakowska. What she finally realizes looks shameless also bares all the trappings of beauty.

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All That I Will Ever Be

Photos: Joan Marcus

Omar (Peter Macdissi) knows how to look good naked. Very good. Similarly, writer Alan Ball knows how to find the pulse of his self pitying, self destructive characters in ALL THAT I WILL EVER BE.

Ball, whose knack for writing has produced such works as SIX FEET UNDER and AMERICAN BEAUTY deftly turns a stereotype into an all consuming, all engrossing presence. Even more exacting is his sense of dialogue and the way he captures social nuance. In fact, the entire first act, structured around several quick scenes, runs like a series of digital photos or a video wall in which the characters’ poses speak volumes.

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