Thursday, December 5, 2019

Jagged Little Pill--Powerfully Alive

       By Joseph Cervelli

The opening scene of the powerfully alive and thrilling new musical "Jagged Little Pill" based on the concept album by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard at the Broadhurst Theater has the Healy family posing for their annual Christmas letter. They are smiling but you know immediately that something is just not right. Those antlers on the mother's head, Mary Jane (a superb Elizabeth Stanley), look perfectly set but nothing can camouflage that there is an undercurrent of sadness. The workaholic father Steve (an equally excellent Sean Allan Krill) is addicted to porn according to Mary Jane which seems to take the place of having sex with his wife.

We soon learn that Mary Jane is addicted to opioids and is in a constant state of nervousness. There is one brilliantly staged scene thanks to the always inventive director Diana Paulus in which Mary Jane is squirming on the sofa and one of the young ensemble players is her inner self slithering around unable to get herself together. Another equally potent scene during the incisively ironic "Smiling" has some cast members walking past her and then suddenly as the pills take full effect walking backwards a metaphor for her own being. The inner turmoil going on in Mary Jane's mind and body is perfectly depicted in these two scenes.  Paulus who never received the recognition she deserved for the wonderful musical "Finding Neverland" which had a much too short lived life knows how to construct shows and have them relate to the storyline.

The other two family members equally have their own angst. Nick (a fine Derek Klena) is the "golden boy" who can seem to do no wrong despite the fact he is tired of trying so hard to be that perfect son his mother seems to demand. He even has gained early admittance to Harvard. Things are going fine until he attends the wrong party and is caught up in something he learns to regret. Frankie (played to perfection by Celia Rose Gooding) is their adopted black daughter who has enough to contend with. The family dynamics and her own sexuality. She states she is bisexual while having a relationship with Jo (Lauren Patten) while falling in love with Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano.) Patten has a show stopping number in the second act where she is falling to pieces knowing that Frankie has left her. I cannot even begin to convey the emotional roller coaster she goes through in this number. Trying to contain her emotions and then falling apart again and again. It is a bitter, sad and yet loving song which is filled with remorse and despair. Another compelling  performance is that of Kathryn Gallagher who portrays Bella a victim of date-rape whose “No” which  is incredibly effective.

Diablo Cody's ("Juno") book is razor-sharp throughout. It is not easy tackling so many of the problems these young people are going through and make them feel fresh and she does completely.

The inventiveness of movement director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is ceaseless and the very capable ensemble accomplishes these moves with deepest emotion.

Again, praise must go to Paulus who makes sure that the show which runs about 2 hours 45 minutes never lags. The staging feels so real that you come to understand the sorrow and despair that the characters are going through.

If there is one problem it is the fact that a good many of the  lyrics which are so tantamount to what is occurring in each character's life are indecipherable. It is unfortunate that the music overpowers the strong words being sung. Except for this caveat it is a show blessed with a team that makes sure all else works to perfection.


Tickets are available at the Broadhurst Theater 235 West 44th Street.

Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston: A Most Fitting Tribute 

       By Joseph Cervelli

Maury Yeston is a treasure as a composer. His music is melodious and his lyrics are wonderfully clever and pertinent to whatever show he is writing for. They weave in so beautifully with the storyline. Take his scintillating score for the sumptuous "Nine" and his equally sparkling one for the dark "Grand Hotel."

A retrospect of his work is being presented in the delightful revue "Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston" by The York Theater Company at St. Peter's. There might be two mishaps along the way, but for the most part it is a very loving tribute. The young cast of five Benjamin Eakeley, Jovan E'Sean, Alex Getlin, Justin Keyes and Mamie Parris give their all to each of the numbers and do well in conveying the emotional range of each of their respective numbers. The show is conceived and directed by that whiz of the "Forbidden Broadway" series Gerard Alessandrini.

Some of the songs will be quite familiar to theater buffs of Yeston's shows. Eakely tackles the deeply emotional and difficult song to sing "Love Can't Happen" from "Grand Hotel." He gives it his all and pulls it off admirably.  He also charms with the more lighthearted number from "Nine "Only With You."

While Mamie Parris does a magnificent rendition of "Unusual Way" also from “Nine" making it feel very fresh (and I must say I have heard many renditions of this song) she is, unfortunately, caught in two less than successful numbers. "A Call From the Vatican" falls flat despite all she puts into it. One can simply not forget the original production with Anita Morris singing it in her indomitable sexy manner with that unforgettable body suit nor in the revival in which  Jane Krawkowski being lowered onto the stage upside down. So, unless Alessandrini devised it in a more creative way it becomes mundane. Also, the not very good "Cinema Italiano" which was in the lacklustre film version of "Nine" featuring both E'Sean and Keyes as back up dancers With Parris singing  goes nowhere as choreographed by Gerry McIntyre. McIntyre's choreography is much better in the  rousing "The Mardi Gras Ball" from "The Queen of Basin Street."

E'Sean sings the wistful "I Had a Dream About You" beautifully with just the right amount of melancholy. Hard to make me forget Betty Buckley version, but he comes mighty close. He also casts a graceful spell on "Mississippi Moon" a song I have never heard before.

Justin Keyes displays a keen sense of slightly wicked humor in his "Salt n' Pepper" also an unfamiliar number to me. Filled with double entendres he makes the most of it. His duo with E'Sean "You're There Too" from the lesser known "In the Beginning"  is sweetly staged.''

Alex Getlin has a gorgeous voice and sings one of my favorite Yeston compositions "Danglin" about the end of a  love affair. You can feel the heartbreak in every word as Getlin stands perfectly still drawing every emotion from it.  She does equally well on the haunting "Strange" which I have heard for the first time.

The show has a fitting ending with two beautiful numbers from his Tony Award winning musical "Titanic."

For a nice respite from some blockbuster musicals currently on the scene give this small but big hearted show a try.

Tickets are available at the York Theatre@Saint Peter's Citicorp Building 619 Lexington Avenue.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Cyrano--A Less Humorous Famous Character

       By Joseph Cervelli

When I first heard Roxanne (Jasmine Cephas Jones) utter the word "Wow" at the beginning of the misguided New Group production of the musical "Cyrano" based on Rostand's novel and at the Daryl Roth Theatre I knew we were in trouble. It is not so much that I aim bothered by anachronisms, but it just set the tone for one of the worst productions of Cyrano de Bergerac I can remember. And to hear Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) and Christian (Blake Jenner) say "Whaaat?" was even too much for me.

The big problem is that the play as adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt is devoid of any humor so inherent in Cyrano's character. As played by a too serious Dinklage with a basso profoundo singing voice he wears no prosthetic nose.  Dinklage is an otherwise fine actor in all he does, yet here he is instills Cyrano with ceaseless anger. Even what should be a gorgeous moment when he meets his friend Roxanne (in the book she is his distant cousin) at the local bakery thinking she is going to confess her love for him it is played with so little emotion on his part. When he hears those fateful words of her loving Christian you should feel how it "pierces his heart" but Dinklage just remains with a scowl throughout. Cyrano always felt his greatest asset was his panache. There is no iota of that in Dinklage's portrayal.

There are just too many scenes that are unintentionally humorous. During that meeting with Roxanne,  in the background we see bakers in slow motion spreading flour all over as if they were snow showers. The battle scene in the second act is played out like a facsimile of the one in   "Les Miserables" in slow motion on a slanted platform that the soldiers slide down. And the last scene with Roxanne at the convent with the once cruel De Quiche (Ritchie Coster) is not very believable. He is supposed to now be her friend though nothing much leads up to that at this point. We don't see the transformation of his villainy to his mellowing.

The cast is adequate but never captures their roles with any type of fulfilment. Jones seems to be acting in another time period and her singing voice has a warbling character. I was also not sure why she is wearing a blue rayon dress in one scene then something more time appropriate the next. Jenner is too silly for the more capable Christian. Never felt for one moment he was the great soldier he was supposed to be.

The score by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner is generic throughout  and the lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser is sophomoric. Take for example, "No Cyrano, I won't let you go. I'm alone Cyrano. I've nowhere to go." If you want to hear a truly memorably lush score with poetic lyrics let me direct you to "Cyrano" the majestic musical starring Christopher Plummer. One of the most gorgeous songs written for the stage "You Have Made Me Love" will bring you to tears.  Sadly, this score falls completely flat.

The near empty set is by Christine Jones and Amy Rubin and the minimal choreography is by Jeff and Rick Kuperman. Not sure why two are needed.

Too bad this version does not work more than a pale Spark Notes production which should appeal to high school students who may have just read the play. For others, I would easily pass.

Tickets are available at the Daryl Roth Theater 101 East 15th Street.

PHOTOS: Monique Carboni

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Is This A Room?--More like, Is This a "Play?"

       By Joseph Cervelli

Perhaps, the question we should be asking about "Is This A Room" at the Vineyard Theatre is "is this a play?" Based on word for word FBI transcripts it tells about the interrogation of Reality Winner (Emily Davis) who was a former Air Force linguist and worked for the NSA is accused of removing classified material from the office and leaking it to the news media. The information dealt with the Russian interference in the 2016 election. You would think this would make for riveting, edge of your seat theater, but I kept thinking while watching of the famous line from the old "Dragnet" series "Just the facts, ma'am." It certainly is an interesting and sometimes fascinating work but feels like a rough draft. I kept thinking,"why isn't there a second act?"

The play is staged in a kind of static manner by Tina Satter. She has her actors speaking in a kind of staccato fashion and you keep thinking you are listening to the actual tapes. You might think this makes it more authentic thought I kept thinking then why am I sitting at the theater when they might be accessible to listen to. Pete Simpson portrays Agent Garrick who speaks like the most inexperienced agent imaginable. He stumbles in his speech (not the fault of the actor) and there were moments you almost laugh at his inept statements he makes towards Reality. He along with Agent Taylor (TL Thompson) interrogate her at her home back in 2017. Reality is a cross fit and yoga trainer and seems confounded by all of this until you gather she indeed release the documents. There is also another character known as the Unknown Male (Becca Blackwell) although not sure why that the character is listed as such when FBI is on the jacket he is wearing. I use the term "he" although "they" might be a better term because Blackwell is "existing between genders" and prefers the term "they." Davis is quite good as Winner although she tends to speak very rapidly probably keeping up with her character's nervous nature.

Satter also has directed with some  distracting touches (no need for the row of seats on other side of the platform stage designed by Parker Lutz) and having the unnamed agent roaming around her house  and removing her dog (a stuffed animal that greets you as you enter the theatre) and a stuffed black cat are unnecessary features. Also, there is little need during one interrogation scene for the lights to keep going on and off as to indicate a change time. More annoying than atmospheric.

It is such an intriguing story that you want to read about her life when you leave the theater.  Yet, as a stage play it falls completely flat far from as compelling as it should be because you are only seeing the first interrogation. It ends so abruptly that I honestly thought there might be a talkback or, perhaps, an announcement of a  sequel to the play. Having a sheet on a table when you leave the theater where you can read more about her is far from sufficient.

Tickets are available at the Vineyard Theater 108 East 15th Street.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Rose Tattoo--This Much Comedy?

        By Joseph Cervelli

I have never seen a stage production of Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo" although it is hard to imagine he intended it to be presented so over the top as it is by director Trip Cullman at the American Airlines Theater.  The excellent film version starring Anna Magnani who deservedly won an Oscar was serious yet had some comedic moments thanks to the antics of Burt Lancaster who played her love interest.  The play is more lighthearted than any of Williams' other works that I can recall, yet Pullman has turned it into a laugh fest with the audience laughing heartily. There are even some slapstick moments which make no sense. The theme of the play becomes so lopsided with performances all over the place that it is very disconcerting.

Marisa Tomei gives  a strong and earthy performance as Serafina Delle Rose until the comic touches become so heavy handed that she becomes awash in such silliness that all sensitivity in her character becomes lost. Serafina is madly in love with her sight unseen truck driver husband who as the play opens is killed  as he was hauling bananas and drugs. She is unaware of his corrupt behavior and falls into a state of depression never leaving her house. The neighborhood women act as a Greek chorus and frequently break into song which never coalesces with the seriousness of the play because of presenting it almost strictly as a comedy. They also become tiresome as the play continues.

Serafina's lovely teenaged daughter Rosa (a good Ella Rubin) falls in love with Jack (Burke Swanson)  who is a sailor. Serafina spends more time praying to the cremated ashes of her husband as a kind of shrine rather than show any connection with her daughter. Here again Pullman slips up badly. There is no emphasizing the love that she really has for her daughter. They may fight and scream but her adoration of her daughter which is presented in spurts never radiates. Rosa and Jack are no more than stick figures when instead the play needs to show how much they care for each other. Actually, Swanson is made to look rather doltish which provokes laughter.

Things turn around and become even more ridiculous when the truck driver Alvaro Mangiacavallo Emun Elliott) comes to her house. They joke around to the point where the aforementioned slapstick takes over. So, when they start to have strong sexual feelings it feels forced and not believable.  Alvaro is a bit of a clown as he was represented in the film but then needs to become more sympathetic towards Serafina. Not the fault of Elliott who is a fine actor. He is just lost in this misguided production. And if you have little chemistry between both leads despite the fact both work very hard the play sinks. Even the tense scene where Alvaro unsuspecting approaches the sleeping Rosa which throws Serafina into a frenzy becomes absurdly humorous.

Tina Benko plays the casino blackjack dealer who also was Serafina's husband's lover in a white jumpsuit walking and acting like the faded movie star Alexandra Del Largo from "Sweet Bird of Youth."Constance Pullman struts around as the witch with a patch over her eye chasing the screeching neighborhood kids looking like she belongs in a "Pirates of the Carribbean" film.

Even before the play starts you are find something rather strange about Mark Wendland's set design featuring  rows of pink flamingos near the back of the stage and the never-ending rolling of waves along the back wall which you find yourself starting at during a lot of the play.

I am not sure if Cullman has ever directed a Williams' play before but after this one I shudder to think what he would do with the more popular ones. Who knows how he would interpret
"The Glass Menagerie?" I can't even begin to imagine.

Tickets are available at the American Airlines Theatre 227 West 42nd Street.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Linda Vista--One of Letts' Best Plays

        By Joseph Cervelli

 How do you figure out a guy like 50 year old Wheeler (a winning Ian Barford) in the frequently hilarious and yet tender and touching "Linda Vista" by Tracy Letts presented by the 2ndStage at the Helen Hayes Theater. He is a miserable mess. He has moved into a beautiful new condo in San Diego and that is probably the only good thing in his life. He is in the thoes of a messy divorce; his teenage son is addicted to humiliation porn; and he has a nowhere job as a camera repairman. It does not help that Michael (Troy West) the owner of the shop is a lewd guy forever making harassment comments about his younger employee Anita (an excellent Caroline Neff). I did wonder how Wheeler who has little money and having problems paying alimony can afford a condo with a great view (the lovely set by Todd Rosenthal.)

 His best friends are the married couple Paul (Jim True-Frost) and the feisty Margaret (Sally Murphy) whom he once dated. It is easy to see why she is better matched with the laid back Paul than the complaining Wheeler. They set him up with the lovely life coach Jules (Cora Vander Broek) who has a stunning moment near the end of the play in standing her ground in dealing with Wheeler. You find out early in the play quite briefly that she has her own past romantic issues. While they don't exactly hit it off at the karaoke club in which Paul and Margaret join in for some earsplitting singing they start to have a romance. One of the funniest if not the most hilarious sex scenes I have seen on stage  occurs in Wheeler's bedroom. It is graphically but honestly and realistically  presented by director Dexter Bullard who keeps the long play running quite smoothly. I won't give anything away but will say that little is left to the imagination. What makes is far from pruient is Letts' incisive and genuine dialogue. You would swear these are people who are real people from everyday life. Part of me wondered if any of this was autobiographical it is so authentic.

 The other character who plays a pivotal role in the proceedings is the lovely twenty something pregnant Minnie (Chantal Thuy) who was living with her boyfriend in Wheeler's complex with her boyfriend who throws her out. Feeling sorry for her Wheeler takes her in even though he spends every night with the lovely Jules either at his place or hers. One of the most prophetic lines which I won't divulge is what Minnie tells Wheeler which he chooses to ignore.

The performances are all so markedly on target. Barford turns Wheeler into  a character whom you want to feel sympathy for but find yourself disliking as the play goes on. He thinks he is one of those very hip guys although his hip (sorry for the bad pun) is causing him back problems. Seeing him trying to dress as a rocker at a picnic is so ludicrously funny. Yet, as much as you will grow to find him less likable Barford still imbues him with a certain amount of sympathy. He truly is a mess both emotionally and physically. Vader Broek's emotionally touching scene with him at the restaurant  is beautifully played and I cannot imagine anyone not sometime in their life finding themselves in such a similar situation.  All the other actors play their roles strongly and sincerely.

What makes this play which under any other writer could be little more than an above average sitcom is the observant writing which makes you reflect on your own relationships and life. Next to Letts' wonderful "August: Osage County" this is his best play to date.

Tickets are available at the Helen Hayes Theater 240 West 44th Street.



Thursday, September 5, 2019

Betrayal--A Pitch Perfect Production

     By Joseph Cervelli

The opening scene of Harold Pinter's incisive "Betrayal" being given an absorbing and strikingly icy production at the the Jacobs Theater has the three actors (Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox) in what looks like a final tableau. Staring out in uncertainty with barely a move. Contemplation? Sorrow? Both can apply.

Pinter has written his memorable play staged with deliberate concentration by Jamie Lloyd in reverse chronological order. Only the second scene is a bit later but all others go back over a nine year period in the marriage of Robert (Hiddleston) and Emma (Ashton). The opening has Emma and Jerry (Cox) who were lovers for seven years meeting rather uncomfortably having drinks. Immediately you notice how the superb Lloyd has distanced the actors as they speak to each other. Each on a chair (basically the only sets other than a snack table). Yet, a we go backward in time they are closer together.  Both search for words and while not speaking--you are aware of Pinter's famed pauses which seem even  more prevalent here--seem to squirm and almost comically search for the right words which don't come. Looming over them  against a nearly blank panel (design by Soutra Gilmour) is Robert. Stoic and ramrod straight he just looks with plaintive eyes. Jerry is astonished to hear from Emma that Robert has been cheating for years while she herself has been having an affair with the unseen Casey an author whose agent is Jerry and publisher Robert.

The second scene is intentionally humorous as later Robert tells Jerry he has known of his and his wife's affair for four years with Emma in the background staring at them. Why does Robert decide to still continue his friendship with Jerry? Because of his own betrayal? There is no doubt that Robert still is in love with his wife despite the fact that she herself tells him she and Jerry have been seeing each other for seven years. Is the "stiff upper lip" British expression what Pinter is satirically mocking?

One of the most penetrating scenes comes later in the play when Robert and Emma plan on a trip to the Italian town of Torcello. She is reading a book by an author whose agent is also Jerry. Robert laughing states he does not want to read it because of its dealing with betrayal. It is a sadly humorous comment and you are left wondering if you really care about any of these people but strangely you form an attachment.
Unlike the last uneven revival this being the third I have seen (never saw the original production) the three actors are magnificent. Each comes under a microscope and you watch one speaking while keeping an eye peeled out for the facial reactions and body movements of the other two.

Lloyd creates the most subtle scenes of Robert carrying their sleeping child on a revolving stage  while all three major characters are holding hands and then slowly they lose contact with one another.

Hiddleston comes across in a low keyed interpretation but not without a taut feel which comes to play in a scene where he attacks a melon with such force that you would think it was going to fall off the plate while having lunch with Jerry.

Cox is always smiling yet despite some of the scenes he plays as a relaxed fellow in others there is a pinched smile with concentration of what to say that would be appropriate.

Ashton is stunning as the gorgeous wife and lover. She seems so controlled yet there are moments when her deceivingly,  playful nature dissipates into a stiff disposition which even her casual shirt overhanging her jeans (costumes by Gilmour) can’t hide.

Clearly, "Betrayal" is not for everyone. It is very slow moving but if you go with it, it will linger with you as you think about your own life and how various aspects of betrayal come have a ruinous effect whether with a friend or lover.

Tickets are available at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre 242 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.239.6200.

PHOTOS: Marc Brenner

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Mountains Look Different

       By Joseph Cervelli

The Mint Theater Company, as I have written before, is always a joy to attend because they present both American and foreign plays that are basically unknown.  Generally going back to the  early 20th century most are quite good although there are a few clinkers here and there. In some cases you find yourself marveling at just how ahead of their times they were. Unfortunately, their current production "The Mountains Look Different" at Theater Row under the direction of Aidan Redmond falls rather flat. Written by Irish playwright Micheal mac Liammoir the show played at Dublin's Gate Theater which the playwright founded with his partner back in 1948. The program which tells about the gay and "flamboyant"  writer is infinitely more fascinating than the play itself.

I can imagine  "Mountains" must have caused quite a stir when it first opened due to the subject matter about a prostitute marrying a well respected man. The playwright was intrigued with Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie" after she herself married a respectable man. What exactly happened to her? So, this is a kind of very loose variation on that occurrence.

A stylish looking Bairbre (Brenda Meaney) arrives from spending 13 years in London working at a hotel (and not as a desk clerk) in the Irish countryside with her husband Tom (Jesse Pennington) to live on the farm with her gruff father-in-law Martin (Con Horgan.)  Bairbre does not look like she fits in at all with her snazzy pocketbook and matching rose on her expensive looking black dress. Exactly how she and Tom met is never really delved into and they look like the most ill matched couple. He does not seem aware of her past profession other than her running the hotel. While married a few months for some inexplicable reason their marriage has not been consummated.

Martin takes and instant dislike to her and not just because he was not involved in the matchmaking process prevalent during that time period but because when in London he actually used her services which she does not recall. You know immediately where this is going to go. There is a long and somewhat tedious conversation between both Martin and Bairbre in the second act which makes what will precipitate even more obvious. I never thought of Irish dramas as melodramas, yet this one definitely is.

There are a number of other characters who are neighbors and all very good and ft  in well with the the time period. There is one lovely scene where a young local girl Bridin (McKenna Quigley Harrington) brings Bairbre some strawberries as a welcoming gift.

The performances are all good although there was something too quirky about Pennington. He seemed to speak through clenched lips and had some uneasy movements which he appears to have  adopted for this character. I am not sure why he decided to develop these mannerisms which made no particular sense. Was he expressing a kind of nervous uncertainty in his marriage to her? It became rather distracting and his heavy brogue did not help matters.

Vicki R. Davis is responsible for the quaint revolving set which has a very authentic quality to it.

The play just seemed to be a minor one compared to to other Mint shows under the producing artistic director Jonathan Bank.

Tickets are available at the Beckett Theater@Theater Row 410 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.239.6200.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Happy Talk--Not Much of that Here

       By Joseph Cervelli

Jesse Eisenberg's new play "Happy Talk" presented by The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center is not in the same league as his previous one "The Revisionist" in which he sparred perfectly with Vanessa Redgrave. Actually, this new work is more of a run of the mill comedy/drama sitcom until it turns oddly creepy towards the end. If there anything that makes this play worth interesting under Scott Elliott's direction it is the remarkable Susan Sarandon. This is not to belie the other performances especially the always welcome and immensely talented Marin Ireland. There is just something so delightfully sinister about the way Sarandon has of gnawing into a role with such subtlety. Watching the excellent Showtime series "Ray Donovan" Sarandon exudes charm with a winning smile and in the next moment can order the death of someone who did her wrong. Here it is not that extreme,  but she has this unsurpassed skill to make have you feel sorry for her and then slowly but almost manically turns the tables where you see what a loathsome character she really is.

She portrays Lorraine who is appearing as Bloody Mary (speak about politically incorrect casting!) In what sounds like a perfectly dreadful version of "South Pacific" presented at the Jewish Community Center. She flits around the stage informing her generally non-communicative husband sitting in his recliner addicted to books about the Civil War how much she adds to the role. And how her fellow actors adore her. Well, it is evident they feel the opposite for when they all go out for a drink without inviting her.  Of course, she makes up some flimsy excuse for not being included. Watching her carefully you know she is quite aware of their snub but is in her own theatrical world of self importance.

Her husband Bill (a very fine Daniel Oreskes) whom she frequently makes caustic remarks to  is suffering from MS and depression. Does she love him? Not really and you are never quite sure if she is capable of loving anyone but her narcissistic self. Her unseen mother whom she not so affectionately calls "the beast"  is in the other room and cared for by live in Serbian caregiver  Ljuba (an excellent Marin Ireland.) Lujba also attends to Bill except for Lorraine microwaving his food. Lorraine has little patience with Bill thinking if he really wanted to do more even as he writhes in a sudden onset of pain he certainly could.

Being undocumented Ljuba knows her troubles would be over if she could find a husband. She has saved $15,000 which she keeps in Lorraine's mother's room to paid towards finding a man for marriage. Lorraine being the magnanimous person she believes herself to be said she will find someone who will be willing to accept this amount instead of what most guys would want. The fellow Lorraine chooses is her flamboyantly gay co-star Ronny (an exceedingly funny Nico Santos)  from the show. I kept thinking how is this fellow going to convince immigration officials he is actually marrying Ljuba for other than devious motives. Surely, he does not give an impression that this will be anything other than a marriage of convenience. But by the play's conclusion there is something that clicks as to why Lorraine has chosen him.

In the midst of all this Bill and Lorraine's estranged (mostly from her mother) daughter Jenny (Tedra Millan) breaks in at midnight through the back screened door (a lovely set by Derek McLane)  which makes little sense. She plans on leaving he country with her new husband and wants to say goodbye to her father whom she loves. There is a very tender and loving interplay between father and daughter which is short lived. Lorraine is so in her own insular world that even  Jenny's diatribe against her mother means little and she pays no attention rather concentrating on her acting.

Lorraine really shows her  own malevolent character near the end in which I will go no further except to say that Sarandon sinks her claws into that moment with such a fallacious smile.

While all give their all the play itself seems to go awry throughout not really sure what it wants to be other than a character study of the lead. When Lorraine feels that Bloody Mary is "broken woman" she might easily have been speaking about herself.


Tickets are available at the The Pershing Square Signature Theater 480 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.279.4200.

Thursday, May 9, 2019


       By Joseph Cervelli

While there is certainly a plentiful amount of audacious humor in Aziza Barnes' new comedy "BLKS" at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, the characters remain stagnant. As much as I was waiting for something of real interest to occur in the lives of the three 20-something African-American women, especially at the conclusion, it never materializes.  While the three roomates have an undeniable camaraderie their partying, boozing and sexual encounters become tiring. What is really disappointing is that the male character, Justin (an excellent Chris Myers),  who is a respectable guy is treated with disdain. If Barnes had created a loathsome character it would have made more sense in the realm of the play, but he plays an admirable fellow who could have added a dose of seriousness to the play.  Barnes concentrates on the graphic and brazen comedic aspects of the show with results resembling a cable sitcom.

The play begins in a Buswick apartment with a lot of moaning and then a scream when Octavia (a great Paige Gilbert) runs out of the bedroom  telling her female partner Ry (Coral Pena)
she has a mole on her clitoris. While certainly not funny Barnes does make it humorous especially because of Gilbert's hilarious comments thinking the worst. The second roommate Imani (an excellent Alfie Fuller) not sure what to do,  runs out to CVS to get bandages. Amidst all this calamity the other roommate math-whiz June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) returns to the apartment in a state of distress finding out that her boyfriend has again been cheating on her. Probably around the eleventh time. While Crowe-Legacy is very good she does have a tendency to yell out her lines throughout the show which director Robert O'Hara could have curtailed. And for some strange reason a good deal of the staging  is on the left side so if you are seated on the right you can easily miss a good deal of the dialogue spoken with rapid fire delivery. It is when the women venture out to a club that the play takes place place more center stage.

Outside the club, June is accosted by a thug (Myers in a dual role)  who has been abusing a white woman (Marie Botha). Both Imani and Octavia try to get the police to come but being a basically a non white area they don't have much success being told that all units have been dispatched elsewhere. It is in the club that the play feels forced with silly humor, such as, Octavia meeting a serial thief of panties and June's encounter with Justin. There is a potentially good scene in which would be standup comic Imani tries to recreate Eddie Murphy's "Raw" routine only to fall flat. You later find out in a too quickly done scene the meaning of the that DVD in Imani's life.

There is a very touching yet fleeting moment where June is sitting in her bedroom in a white gown she wore at a gala her boyfriend took her to.

While Barnes is concentrating on the laughter which is fine, it deflates the issues facing these young women. The last and most troubling scene seems to indicate that they are on a vicious cycle and the potential that the characters fails to emerge.

PHOTOS: Deen van Meer

Tickets are available at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space 511 W 52nd Street.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Bigot

       By Joseph Cervelli

The writers (Gabi Mor & Eva Mor) of the well intentioned but not completely believable "The Bigot" at the Theatre of St. Clements explain in the program that both have met discrimination in their lives. One being religious and the other cultural. The message in this play is that according to the playwrights being kind and trying to understand a bigot, and one can't imagine one as worse as Jim (a very good Stephen Payne), will eventually work. That is hopeful thinking and if someone is not as extreme as Jim who hates Jews, Moslems, gays, all immigrants, etc. it would make sense. But he is such a cretin that it is hard to believe that even through the kindness of the lesbian couple living in the aparment across from Jim, especially what Aysha finally does for him, he would change.

Jim lives alone while his unattached son Seth (Dana Watkins) frequently comes in to check on his father who is going through dialysis and hoping for a kidney transplant. While Jim calls Seth "son" Seth only calls him Jim for reasons we eventually find out,  although the show is so predictable in so many areas it is not difficult to figure out why. Seth teaches history at Brooklyn College and what makes little sense is that he tries to change his father's belief that slavery was necessary by giving him a book to read and wanting to debate the issue. It is nearly impossible to believe that Seth would go through this trouble when he knows what his father is like.

The interracial lesbians well played by Jaimi Paige as Paula and Faiven Feshazion as Aysha differ on their approach to their neighbor.  Paula keeps going over bringing Jim food which he won't eat because of obvious reasons. Even when she touches him he exaggerates that touching him is literally contaminating him because of her being gay. But having the somewhat unrealistic fortitude she still persists. I never understood how she kept walking into his aparment which he never seems to lock.

While Paula persists, Aysha gets more upset with her partner for volunteering to get herself tested to see if she is a match as a kidney donor.

The dialogue seems to be generally contrived and the ending just ridiculous. What is even more of a problem is that Jim's invective and repulsive anti lesbian comments had people in the audience laughing which I found surprising. Perhaps, just nervous laughter but not what the playwright's have intended. Surely, they were expecting some shock not the audience reaction.

Director Michael Susko for some inexplicable reason has the actors yelling constantly. Doesn't anyone in this play speak at a less that deafening decibel?

I respect both playwrights for their good intentions but the show just falls flat from the onset.

Tickets are available at the Theatre at St. Clements 423 West 46th Street or by calling 212.239.6200. Currently the run ends on June 9.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Accidentally Brave--A Devastating Event to Change Your Life in One Moment

     By Joseph Cervelli

The title of Maddie Corman's  superb and riveting one person show "Accidentally Brave" at the DR2 Theater is aptly named. This well established actress never considered herself to be a courageous person. The brave part came out of her own determination to save her marriage for the sake of her children and her still possible love for her husband whose reprehensible behavior was certainly enough for her to end it.

The show (sensitively directed by Kristin Hanggi) starts pleasant enough with video photos (projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy) of her marriage to Jace Alexander the director of over 30 episodes of "Law and Order." A perfect couple or so it seems. There are even photos of their three children and various trips they have taken. Then one day Corman is driving to a shoot in Brooklyn when she gets a frantic call from her daughter that her husband has been arrested.  Hearing the way her daughter must have sounded  through Corman's voice is shattering. His arrest was the result of possessing child phonography on his computer.  She later makes a point that he always denied being  involved physically with any child and nothing was charged on that matter but this was bad enough. What makes the show so incredibly  powerfully moving is that Corman does not reiterate her story but re-enacts every scene. Notice that I by no means stated she acts it out. There is no acting here. When you hear her yell out in pain and frustration you never for one moment fail to realize the agony she is going through for herself and her children.

Her entire life has been turned into a tailspin. At the very beginning of the show she states that this is not one of those shows where the person telling upsetting stories of their lives become okay. She emphatically states she is not okay. Yet, you know that as time passes this woman has the fortitude to become while not completely whole again will get better as she already has to a substantial degree.

She emphasizes that this is a story about her and if you want to know about her husband or children you need to ask them. It is inconceivable to even begin to imagine how one's life suddenly collapses in a matter of moments. When his secret is discovered (she had no idea for over the 20 years they have been married) in moments pictures and headlines of all major publications about what he has engaged in are being made public. As any mother, her thought is to protect and shield her children. But that is nearly impossible. Rampant phone calls from friends are pouring in some helpful and some not so. As in any kind of distressful  moments suggestions from friends come in droves. Yet, she as we all do in bad situations must fend for ourselves. It is also at times like this that you know whom you can depend upon. But again the number one person who makes that ultimate decision is yourself. However, she is referred to a famous unnamed actress whom she calls her "angel" who offers the necessary guidance for she herself went through something exactly the same.

Before any sentencing she visits him in a rehabilitation center in Arizona. There are moments in this tragic but ultimately uplifting story of finding inner strength that are funny, such as, when she is envious of her husband's tan. Why indeed should he look so good when she has physically and emotionally become a wreck.

I should stop right here before telling any more as to not spoil any further details. I must say, however, that the one moment that I heard sobs and found tears welling in my own eyes was when she wishes her mother who died in her 40's from cancer was there to console her. It is a moment I shall not easily forget. She crunches herself into a ball and you know that only a mother could offer the assurance that she needs at that moment.

For 90 minutes you find yourself understanding what it has to be like to deal with this situation not for just for herself but guiding her children and shielding them from the cruel comments of others their age.

While listening to her I was thinking of their marriage and her own life  as a brightly burning candle in which suddenly that flame extinguishes.

The show is not a catharsis for Maddie Corman but a message for those in the audience who may be going through their own personal dilemma. After you have gotten through the worst parts there is still one more step she explains you must take to get you through everyday life.  I won't reveal what it is but will just say that what she suggests you search for is as inspirational as this amazingly unforgettable story.

Tickets are available at the DR2 Theater 103 E. 15th Street or by calling Ticketmaster 800.745.3000.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Juno and The Paycock--A Gem of a Revival

       By Joseph Cervelli

While theatergoers are rushing off to see Glenda Jackson in the title role of "King Lear" and eagerly anticipating the new play by Lucas Hnath starring Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow may I direct your attention to a gem of a revival playing at the Irish Rep with some truly unforgettable performances. Sean O' Casey's "Juno and the Paycock" is one of the highlights of this current season. The Rep's last production another O' Casey play, "The Shadow of a Gunman" was a bit lethargic whereas this one is both funny and strikingly moving in so many ways.

In Dublin in 1922 we first meet 'Captain' Jack Boyle (played with wry humor by Ciaran O' Reilly) who supposedly is unable according to him to work because of a severe leg problem. Yet, it seems that this affliction only comes into play when there is a job offering.  While his levity is certainly fetching, his selfish behavior becomes upsetting and by the end of the play you find yourself having little respect--not that you had much to begin with--for him. He would rather go to the local pub with his equally hard drinking friend Joxer Daly (played with comic perfection by John Keating) then worry about how to pay the daily bills.

Jack lives with his wife the hard working Juno (magnificently played by Maryann Plunkett.) Plunkett is one of the finest actresses around and here she truly shines. Juno is her nickname because of the many important occurrences in her life during the month of June. She is the force in holding  the family together. She epitomizes especially at the end of the play a poignancy that can easily break your heart. Just watch the way she speaks words of comfort to her grown daughter Mary  (touchingly played by Sarah Street.) Mary has a job but is currently on strike in support of a fellow worker who was fired. While Jerry Devine (Harry Smith) is in love with her she is more attracted to schoolteacher Charles Bentham (James Russell.)

The other major character is the angry brother Johnny Boyle (played with searing intensity by Ed Malone) who lost his arm during the Easter Week rebellion. Even more of a problem for Johnny is that he could have been an informant causing to the death of his friend Robbie Tancred.

Like so many Irish plays those moments of  happiness come to a crashing end. So, when the family supposedly inherits a large sum of money from Jack's deceased cousin and start to spend it even before it is in their grasp you know there is going to be a serious problem.

There is another character who may appear minor but when you study the females in this play you become aware how strong O'Casey feels women are. Maisie Madigan which is played superbly by Terry Donnelly lives in the same tenement (same set design by Charlie Corcoran as in "Gunman") is a widow who has given money to the Boyles seems like an easy going hard drinking woman (I loved her singing) until she realizes what Jack is really like. O' Casey has made the women in his play to be stalwart in their dealing with family calamities.

While both sorrow and despair play a huge part in this play, the maternal instinct is inherent to keep things from completely falling into total despair The large and brilliant cast abetted by Neil Pepe's strong direction makes this one not to be missed.

Tickets are available at the Irish Repertory Theatre 132 West 22nd Street or by calling 2112.727.2737.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Kiss Me, Kate--Still a Robustly Entertaining Show

      By Joseph Cervelli

While it is hard to forget the wonderful 1999 revival of Cole Porter's masterpiece "Kiss Me, Kate" the new production presented by The Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 is just as robustly entertaining. There may be a few stumbles along the way but when you have the incomparable Kelli O' Hara in the title role with her rapturous voice (just try not to stand on your feet and applaud at her "So in Love") all is well with this joyous show.

The book by Sam and Bella Spewack is still intact, although there is some additional material added by Amanda Green to give it a bit more of a modern feel. But no worries. She knows that to make any major changes would be criminal to say the least and her light touches make it work and should appeal to all audiences.

The story has never been "Kate's" strongest asset for that belongs to the buoyant score by Porter. The book has the two leads O'Hara as Lilli Vanessi and Will Chase (he starts out a bit shaky but then zeroes into the role) as her egocentric actor ex-husband Fred Graham appearing in a touring company in a production of "The Taming of the Shrew" which resembles their own life together. While Graham has a roving eye he mistakenly sends flowers and a love note to Lilli who still has strong feelings for him even though she is involved with a pompous military man Harrison Howell (Terence Archie.) When she finds out that Graham is seeing someone else she decides to take the fighting moments in "Shrew" to a new level of kicking him every chance she gets. While Scott Ellis' direction is every bit as energetically entertaining as you would expect from this skilled director some of those scenes head too far into slapstick.

There is a subplot which works perfectly thanks to Corbin Bleu as the gambler/hoofer Bill Calhoun. With his megawatt smile Bleu lights up the stage. While it is hard to forget Michael Berresse's amazing climbing in his "Bianca" number in the previous revival Bleu makes the song his own with his tapping up the stairs and on the ceiling. He is in love with the slightly dippy showgirl Lois Lane (a fine Stephanie Styles.) Her "Always True to You in My Fashion" is a standout.

The one number that falls surprisingly flat is the crowd pleasing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" with Porter's brilliantly clever lyrics. Sung by the two hoodlums First Man (John Pankow) and Second Man (Lance Coadie Williams) the song never takes off. Both actors seem never to grasp the wittiness of the lyrics and seem to rush through it which is a big disappointment.

O'Hara is not only in magnificent voice but plays the humor just right without going over the top as in the savvy "I Hate Men." Chase does seem to be trying too hard in the beginning of the show (his voice is always top notch) but does far better in the second act.

Warren Carlyle still one of the best choreographers around never fails to disappoint with his bouncy, inventive dance routines.

The stalwart set designer David Rockwell has created a colorful set (love the sight gag with the clouds disappearing showing the next town the traveling troupe is touring in) and Jeff Mahshie's costumes are perfect.

Having the stage bathed in red lighting during the high powered "Too Darn Hot" is a tribute to veteran lighting director Donald Holder's expertise.

With O'Hara in the title role, that incomparable score, and a fine cast it is hard not to have a most fun filled evening at this revival.

Tickets are available at Studio 54 254 West 54th Street or by calling 212.719.1300.