5 Reasons Why Off-Broadway Shone in 2018-2019
By: Iris Wiener
May 12, 2019: The Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Award nominations have been announced, and as with any nominations list, plenty of deserving productions and performers have been left off. Here is our short list of those that didn’t make the cut (but should have):
1. Blair Brown and Tatiana Maslany’s performances in Mary Page Marlowe were studies in acting at its finest. Brown portrayed Ms. Marlowe at more than one stage of her fraught and fractured life, both as a cancer patient and as a comfortable mid-late aged woman who is finally learning to come to terms with herself. Her compassion, sentiment and subtle humor were heartfelt. Maslany demonstrated the dynamic talent that later led to a powerhouse role in Broadway’s Network; her takes on the 27 and 36 year-old Marlowe were incredibly nuanced as she embraced the character’s layered, hardened persona.
2. The Off-Broadway musical that aptly stole every heart that experienced it was Alice by Heart, a piece that is sorely missing from Best Musical lists. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, the poignant, impactful piece takes place in the rubble of the London Blitz of World War II. Alice Spencer’s (played with sensational aplomb by Molly Gordon) life is thrown for a loop when she and her friend Alfred (Colton Ryan) are forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. Alfred is quarantined, so Alice encourages him to escape with her into their favorite book and journey to Wonderland. Accompanying them on their journey are other teenagers who are immediately (and cleverly) characterized with great flair. Wesley Taylor and Noah Galvin were especially sensational as the Mad Hatter and Duchess, respectively, epitomizing the physicality and wonder that it takes to be a great theatre performer. Steven Sater and Jessie Nelson’s book is thought-provoking and heartfelt, while Sater’s lyrics and Duncan Sheik’s music are as memorable as they are thoughtful. Most astounding was Nelson’s smart direction, reminiscent of the phenomenal Alex Timbers and Roger Rees’ imaginative charge with Peter and the Starcatcher.
3. John Tillinger’s performance in Apologia was a gem. Under Daniel Aukin’s direction, the actor (and distinguished stage director) injected amusingly quaintone-liners as gay best friend and activist chumHugh to Stockard Channing’s exhausting Kristin. His entrance in a pivotal party scene was the much needed levity and perfect foil for Kristin’s dry, linear persona. Tillinger’s stage time was short but memorable and provided the most engaging moments in the Roundabout Theatre Companyproduction.
4. Narelle Sissons’ scenic design for Theresa Rebeck’s Downstairs at Cherry Lane Theatre included minutiae down to the finest details. A low ceiling in a dingy, unfinished, confined basement that had seen better years framed a surprisingly intense story. The set initially mirrored the cluttered, mundane nature of the small room, but eventually evolved into a space of thrillingly dark proportions, seeming to grow in scope expertly as dark secrets came to light. Never have footsteps descending a creaky, wooden flight of stairs felt so menacing, thanks also in part to John Procaccino’s excellent performance.
5. Primary Stages’ God Said This provoked thoughtful, intriguing conversation as it dealt with a broken family coming together to face their mortality and relatable differences. Leah Nanako Winkler found humor in a hospital room as matriarch Masako (Ako), a bubbly and optimistic patient, awaits her next round of chemotherapy. The event has brought about a reunion between her recovering alcoholic husband (Jay Patterson) and their two daughters (Emma Kikue and Satomi Blair). Another astute exploration of identity (see Mary Page Marlowe above), God Said This left an imprint on those who experienced it.