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.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Daddy--Bizarre and Disturbing
       By Joseph Cervelli

"Daddy" the bizarre but never dull new play by Jeremy O. Harris ("Slave Play") presented by The New Group and The Vineyard Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center is bewildering. There are moments when you believe you really know where Harris wants to go and then by the third act (the play could easily have been condensed into two) you are confounded. The road he is taking us on suddenly takes a sharp curve leading us into new territory that takes us out of what has transpired.

Franklin (a superb Ronald Peet) is a young, aspiring African-American artist who meets the wealthy art collector Andre (an equally excellent Alan Cumming) in a club and immediately moves in Andre's luxurious Bel Air home complete (set designer Matt Saunders) with a swimming pool which is frequently used. The pool seems to play a symbolic role in the play though what exactly is not completely clear although one thinks of a kind of rebirth although that is never clearly  delineated.

Franklin's two friends Max (Tommy Dorfman) and Bellamy (Kahyun Kim) are in awe of Andre's home and make use of the pool and marvel in Franklin’s new residence.  Max's first thought is that Andre is some kind of "troll" who is nothing more than Franklin's sugar daddy. You are not quite sure exactly about the relationship in the beginning although Franklin never gives the appearance of a user. He loves art and wants to learn from someone like Andre besides being his lover. Andre from the first scene has a strong sexual desire for the young man yet he strangely keeps calling him Naomi after the stately model Naomi Campbell.

There is some innocuous talk in the first act with Franklin's complaining about his not understanding how Andre can put two different artist's works in the same room which to him is an affront to his sensibility as an artist. While the play seems to be going nowhere it takes a sudden unsettling turn when the usually mild Andre starts to delve into some  "soft" domination with Franklin. Suddenly Franklin starts to call Andre "Daddy" which pleases the older fellow. Slowly, we begin to see a kind of emasculation of Franklin as noted by his beginning to suck his thumb. There is a feeling the playwright is emphasizing white domination over blacks through the years. He is the controlling figure and Franklin even delves into creating the deplorably racist "coon babies"  which were sold in the early 20th Century. There is a Gospel Choir of three women (Carrie Compere, Denise Manning and Onyie Nwachukwu) who play a part in the spirituality which was an integral part of his life taught by his adoring mother Zora (a wonderful Charlayne Woodard.) But even the meaning of the Choir becomes a bit foolish when Andre breaks into the George Michael song "Father Figure" while walking in his pool.

What becomes very strange and upsetting are the large dolls that the young man has created one representing himself, one as Andre and one as his mother. They become part of the third act when his friends including the gallery owner Alessia (Hari Nef) are there to celebrate Andre and Franklin's marriage. This is where the action begins to take a new turn and not a successful one. Each of the guests start to have a speech which never gels clearly with the action of what has occurred. And even when Andre starts to take on the role of Franklin's actual father arguing with his mother it feels forced upon us.

There is a tentative uplifting conclusion but even that feels labored and forced despite Danya Taymor's keen direction.

Tickets are available at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre 480 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.244.7529.