pen/man/ship **1/2

Lynn Nottage Photo: Lynn Savarese

By: Paulanne Simmons

April 22, 2021: Based in Prospect Park, Molière in the Park boasts a mission statement reinforcing the belief that “provocative and high caliber theater performed in public spaces and available to all, has the power to unite communities.”

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John Cullum: An Accidental Star ****

John Cullum Photo: Carol Rosegg

By: David Sheward

April 17, 2021: Still spry and charismatic at 91, John Cullum offers an enchanting and charming solo turn  in John Cullum: An Accidental Star, a 80-minute career retrospective with songs. This virtual cabaret piece, available online until April 22, was produced by the Irish Repertory Theater, the Vineyard Theater and Goodspeed Opera House, three theaters Cullum has worked with, and is simplicity itself. Cullum relates stories about his seven-decade career with subtle musical accompaniment by pianist and musical director Julie McBride. From his early days in New York with Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park to his Broadway debut in Camelot to recent triumphs such as The Scottsboro Boys, the two-time Tony winning star offers amusing anecdotes and backstage insights as well as memorable performances of songs from his shows.

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Blindness ****

By: David Sheward

April 9, 2021: If a live event has no live actors, stage, sets or costumes, is it really theater? That’s the conundrum posed by Blindness, the unique gathering at the Daryl Roth Theater and the first indoor New York performance presented on or Off-Broadway since all NYC stages were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic over a year ago. The piece was conceived in response to the pandemic and opened at London’s Donmar Warehouse last year. While it lacks the conventional accoutrements of a night at the theater, it does deliver a devastating emotional wallop—and that’s all any piece of entertainment requires to succeed.

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Voyeur: The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec ****

By: David Sheward

April 1, 2020: COVID vaccinations are ramping up and restrictions are beginning to loosen, but variant strains threaten another pandemic surge. Thus the reopening of Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters is still months away, probably the fall of 2021 at the earliest. However, a group of New York theater artists have cleverly circumvented the virus with an innovative event to feed your hunger for live performance while maintaining safety protocols. Voyeur: The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec has been running since October and touts itself as the longest-running live pandemic performance piece in New York City. 

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Nomadland ****, Pieces of a Woman ***, Supernova ***

Frances McDormand in Nomadland. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. ©

By: David Sheward

March 7, 2021: The COVID pandemic has not only shut down the American theater but it has also transformed the movie business—perhaps permanently. With movie theaters largely shuttered, viewership has shifted to home couches and is only now beginning to move back to the cineplexes. As a result, large-scale comic-book epics (or “teenage boy” pictures) have been postponed until the cinemas reopen and relationship-based flicks (or “adult women” pictures) have come to the fore through streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Also this year’s bizarre awards season has been skewed towards female-driven vehicles.

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One Night in Miami ***1/2, Little Wars ***, Falling Stars ***

One Night in Miami… Malcolm x, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke

By: David Sheward

February 6, 2021: When I was a kid back in the 1970s, PBS used to run a series called Meeting of the Minds. Created, written and hosted by the comedian-writer Steve Allen, the show brought famous figures from history together to exchange ideas. While the series has been largely forgotten, the genre lives on with numerous plays and films throwing prominent personages in a room and seeing what happens. Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is probably the most effective of this type of amalgam debate play because the discussion between time-tripping characters was a springboard for the protagonist’s conflict. Two new examples of this kind of fly-on-the-wall, what-if drama aren’t as successful or imaginative as Churchill’s fascinating work, but they offer some sharp insights.

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Dog Act ****

By: Isa Goldberg

February 3, 2020: Liz Duffy Adams’ “Dog Act,” published in 2009, currently in revival by The Seeing Place Theater on Zoom, is an absurdist farce couched in classical verse and song. It’s also riddled with malapropisms, laced with obscenities and some alarming made-up words. Visually it’s equally arousing.

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Little Wars *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

January 28, 2020: When a playwright decides to write about a group of literary luminaries, he’d better be able to turn a phrase or two himself. Fortunately, Steven Carl McCasland is the man for the job. His Little Wars, which begins streaming on Broadway On Demand February 1 as a “rehearsed reading,” is set in Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s wartime retreat at the foot of the French Alps. This is not exactly their salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, but soon their guests arrive.

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Falling Stars *****

Peter Polycarpou and Sally Ann Triplett in “Falling Stars”

By: Paulanne Simmons

January 27, 2020: The opening scene of Falling Stars, a musical revue from the UK that will stream on Broadway On Demand beginning February, features the talented singer/actor Peter Polycarpou wandering into an antique shop on the East Finchley High Road and discovering an old, tattered songbook. When he decides to buy it, the proprietor (an offstage voice) demands outrageously high prices until he agrees to sing a number from the songbook. 

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom ****

Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis

By: David Sheward

January 9, 2020: In the 20th century, the number of African-American playwrights who have had financially successful, non-musical productions on Broadway can be counted on the fingers of one hand—Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun) and August Wilson (Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, etc.). The situation has not improved much in the 21st. The record of transferring the plays of these authors to the screen has been even spottier.

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The Prom ***, Meet Me in St. Louis ****, Estella Scrooge **

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Meryl Streep in “The Prom”

By: David Sheward

December 21, 2020: With Broadway shut down at least until June of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, one must rely on streaming services and the occasional broadcast network special for a musical theater fix. The holiday season is usually rife with new shows and we have had to make due with filmed versions of Broadway hits such as Netflix’s The Prom. Directed by Ryan Murphy of Glee and American Horror Story fame, this adaptation of the 2018 tuner attempts to capture the snarky bite of Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin’s original book, but comes up short. Nevertheless, this is a fun, if overlong, romp for theater fans and might win over non-Broadway fanatics.

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A Christmas Carol in Harlem ****

The Cast of “A Christmas Carol”

By: Paulanne Simmons

December 13, 2020: With the pandemic surging, many theater companies are celebrating the holiday season by steaming shows from previous years. So, if you missed The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s 2019 A Christmas Carol in Harlem, you now have the chance to watch a video of the live performance.

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Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

November 29, 2020: In 1988, when Ute Lemper received the Molière Award for her performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in Paris, she was certainly very happy. But what really amazed and delighted the German-born actress, was when she was compared to the legendary Marlene Dietrich. As Dietrich was also living Paris at the time, Lemper sent her a postcard addressed simply to Dietrich at Avenue Montaigne. Not long afterwards she got a phone call.

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Give Me Your Hand ****

Dearbhla Molloy

By: David Sheward

October 18, 2020: The Broadway League recently announced that the hiatus for all of its member theaters has been extended until June of 2021. That means at least seven more months of no live performances on New York stages. Fortunately, many Off-Broadway companies are filling the gap with Zoom and virtual performances. The Irish Repertory Theater has been cleverly adapting performances pieces to the new media with actors filming from separate locations or acting in a properly socially distanced space. Their latest offering, Give Me Your Hand, places two actors in an empty, intimate London theater, combining theater, poetry and painting for a refreshing reminder of the importance of these arts while we are given limited access to them.

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Incidental Moments ****

Incidental Moments of the Day: The Apple Family: Life on Zoom

By: David Sheward

September 15, 2020: Dr. Anthony Fauci recently predicted we may not be able to sit safely in theaters until the end of 2021. If that is the case, we’ll have to make due with the new hybrid form of theater, the Zoom play of which Richard Nelson has become the main practitioner. His latest piece Incidental Moments of the Day: The Apple Family: Life on Zoom is his deepest and most profound of a Zoom trilogy, examining the impact of national social currents without descending into political propaganda or overt symbolism. We are listening in on the achingly real dialogue of believable people wrestling with the overwhelming polarization of their country, with no concrete solutions, only questions and anxiety.

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