Sunday, December 5, 2021

 Mrs. Doubtfire--Hilarity Abounds With a Brilliant Rob McClure

       By Joseph Cervelli

Rob McClure was nominated but shamefully never won a Tony for his triumphant portrayal of Charles Chaplin in the underrated musical "Chaplin" several years ago. He certainly will be in the running again this season for his hysterically funny performance in the wonderfully appealing and family oriented musical "Mrs. Doubtfire" at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre based on the film of the same name. Originated on screen by the incomparable Robin Williams it must have been daunting for McClure to step into that role so associated with the late, great Williams. But McClure being such an incredibly talented performer makes the role his own. Yes, the Scottish accent and look are there but he does not replicate Williams. As Daniel Hillard before he becomes the fictionalized Mrs. Doubtfire, McClure comes across as a lovable lunatic playing with his kids like a child himself but also has a beautiful vulnerability he displays in various scenes. His transition from both personalities is done with such expertise that he is quite amazing. 

Daniel is a voice over actor more unemployed than not. He is a loving father to his three children Christopher (Jake Ryan Flynn,) Lydia (Analise Scarpaci) and Natalie (Avery Sell). The three actors are simply marvelous and believable. Scarpaci especially has a strong and lovely voice and Flynn is a comic find. The always excellent Jenn Gambatese plays the wife and mother Miranda who is starting a new clothing line. As much as she loves Daniel she cannot deal with his being constantly being unemployed nor his antics with the kids who love every minute of his silliness. For her it is like having another child. Things get worse when he throws Christoper a birthday party unbeknownst to Miranda and inadvertently hires a stripper. She finally files for divorce. The scene in the courtroom is beautifully moving as McClure practically begs the judge to reconsider his judgment that he only be allowed seeing his children on a Saturday with supervision.  His plea "I Want to be There" is a gorgeous ballad. That courtroom scene was reminiscent of the almost forgotten film "Penny Serenade" wherei  Cary Grant makes a similar plea. Impossible to not shed a tear at that moment in the film and just as impossible here. Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick wrote the versatile score filled with lovely ballads along with catchy, lively ones in the production numbers. And both Karey and John O'Farrell's book is heartfelt when not wildly hilarious. 

Daniel moves in with his make-up artist brother Frank (Brad Oscar)  in a rather shabby apartment. When Daniel finds out that his wife is hiring a nanny he creates the role of the Scottish nanny whom the kids eventually adore. Anyone familiar with the film knows exactly what transpires. The bookwriters have incorporated some terrific numbers especially the inventive one where as Doubtfire, Hillard tries to create chicken fricassee and turns to Siri for a recipe. What occurs is delightfully clever and extremely well staged by Lorin Latarro whose choreography is appropriately flashy and energetic. What I love about her work (as she showed in the underrated "The Visitor") is how infectious it is.    

The cast is a complete joy. There are few actors, as the saying goes, that can "read the proverbial phonebook" and make me laugh like Peter Bartlett who portrays the over the hill Mr. Jolly who  hosts a children's show as if he was hosting back in the 50's. Bartlett just says "hello" and he can have me laughing uncontrollably. I had wished they had included Bartlett in the second act's flamenco scene which has McClure doing quick changes as both Hillard and Doubtfire at lightning speeds. 


J. Harrison Ghee is a hoot as Frank's partner and costume designer who adores both Donna Summer and Jennifer Holliday. Don't dare say one disparaging word about either of them. 

Charity Angel Dawson is convincing as the case worker and belts out a number in the second act. While she does a great job, the dream sequence is silly and really makes no sense at all. 

The handsome Mark Evans is charmingly good as Miranda's love interest who invests in her clothing line helping to make it a success.  

Who but a director with wizardry skills but Jerry Zaks could be at the reins of such a fast moving and insanely funny show incorporated with real heart and feeling.

David Korins sets are appropriately on target and the wonderful Catherine Zuber again proves what a first rate costume designer she is. Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting is colorful and blends in perfectly especially with the costumes.

At the end of the show, When Mrs. Doubtfire takes over the aforementioned children's show she delivers a lovely sentiment which blends into the terrific "As Long as There is Love" that cannot but  touch you. 

"Mrs. Doubtfire"a jubilant and honest in these troubled times is the perfect anecdote.

PHOTOS: Joan Marcus

Tickets are available at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre 124 West 43rd Street. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021


Clyde's--Lynn Nottage Again Proves to be One of the Most Gifted Playwrights Around

       By Joseph Cervelli

Well, if you want to meet, and you surely do not, the boss from hell may I introduce Clyde (a hilariously scary Uzo Aduba.) She runs a restaurant named after her in Lynn Nottage's sometimes rollickingly funny and more often than not a sharply serious new play "Clyde's" presented by 2nd Stage at The Helen Hayes Theater. Nottage is truly one of the most versatile and gifted playwrights around. From her intensely beautiful "Intimate Apparel" to her gorgeous musical adaptation "The Secret Life of Bees" and the Pulitzer Prize winning "Sweat" she never fails to disappoint. Director Kate Whoriskey as in the past (I believe this is her fifth show working with Nottage) captures the deep rooted emotions of all the characters.

The foul mouthed Clyde owns a sandwich shop which is popular with truckers off some road in Berks County, PA. All the action takes place in the not very clean kitchen of the restaurant so it would be a place to avoid. But for a quick ham and cheese with coffee this is the place. There is some talk about the fact that the restaurant is being funded by some undesirables whom you never see and is never delved into.     

Clyde herself was in prison for unknown reasons and the four workers she has hired all have been incarcerated for different reasons. Montrellous (Ron Cephas Jones) does not reveal why he served time until the end of the play but now that he is out wants to make more of the place by creating sandwiches that are not typical. He takes pride in his creations although Clyde wants none of it.  She wants what she thinks the customers will like and is concerned about what  those who are footing the bill for the purchase of the food would think.  Jones who is excellent both here as he is in the terrific Apple TV series "Truth Be Told" is a kind of father figure.  He acts as a buffer between the other workers and the callous Clyde. He also is a kind of poet and therapist telling them how making better food will help them gain respect among themselves. His introduction of Swiss chard to the workers is priceless. 

The two that have been working there the longest are Letitia (Kara Young) who is a single mom and has been in an abusive relationship. She and Rafael (Reza Salazar) who humorously considers himself a sous chef have a working kinship although he would like to carry it further. She was in prison for stealing prescriptive medications. Letitia played beautifully by Young is generally late trying to get a sitter for her daughter who is disabled. Of course, the coarse Clyde could care less while the hyperkinetic Rafael, a wonderful Salazar was in for a botched bank robbery shows compassion. There is one scene where Rafael gets angry with Letitia that can easily break your heart.


Into the picture comes Jason (Edmund Donovan) whom they both have little respect for. He served time for aggravated assault and has quite of bit of tattoos which sends up a warning of his being a racist to Letitia. Clyde almost fuels the flames between the three of them while Jason says that all he wants is "a paycheck and peace." If you saw Donovan's award winning performance in "Great Clements" several seasons ago you know how amazing an actor he is. He again proves himself here. 

The three of them start to get along thanks to Montrellous whose guidance helps them feel better about themselves and they may not create the best concoctions first try but it makes them gain dignity that  they never had before despite Clyde's every given chance to destroy that. Aduba creates quite a character in Clyde. She is brilliant showing a caring smile in which you think she just might be changing until it turns malevolent. She thinks nothing of physically hurting anyone of them as you learn she did. 

Takeshi Kata's set is on target and what is particularly interesting is Christopher Akerlind's fascinating lighting which works in conjunction with the show. As Montrellous starts to teach the three to make better food the lights take on an almost pinkish kind of light transporting them out of the harsh white lighting to a better place. 

Whoriskey beautifully balances the hilarity with seriousness. Watching the expressions as each of the four workers near the end is memorable. 

There is a wildly inventive ending involving Clyde which I won't dare give away. The clue might be (not a spoiler alert) something that occurs at the beginning of the play. That is all I will divulge.

"Clyde's" is most definitely one of the best shows of the season, thus far.

PHOTOS: Joan Marcus

Tickets are available at The Helen Hayes Theatre 240 West 44th Street. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

 Trouble in Mind--An Absorbing Work with a Knockout LaChanze

        By Joseph Cervelli

Alice Childress' absorbing and moving 1955 play "Trouble in Mind" is being given a dynamic production at the American Airlines Theater. It was well received when it opened over 60 years ago off Broadway but the producers who wanted to bring it to Broadway would not unless the playwright eliminated scenes that dealt firmly with racism. She rightfully refused. Thankfully, but sad that Childress is no longer around, it  has been brought where it rightfully belongs. 

The moment the astonishing LaChanze takes to the stage you know you are witnessing a performance that will linger long in your mind and hopefully on those of voters at award time. As Wiletta Mayer in this play within a play looks out at what is to be an empty theater with revelation that she will be starring in a new play called "Chaos in Belleville." She jokes with doorman Henry (played with conviction by Simon Jones) whom she recognizes from years ago when he was an electrician on one of her shows.


John Nevins (a very fine Brandon Micheal Hall) is a young Black actor who has little acting experience so Wiletta tries to give him some advice upon meeting the director. Both John and she form a bond because she knows his family from the town she grew up in.

The other actors all mill in. The only white female actor Judy Sears (a very good Danielle Campbell); the younger and flamboyant Millie Davis (a delightful Jessica Frances Dukes); and the oldest of the troupe Sheldon Forrester (a superb Chuck Cooper.) 

Michael Zegen gives a masterful performance as the play's director, Al Manners. He appears to be thoughtful and comforting until he proves to be both insensitive and a bully. What adds to his callousness is his own personal problems. Zegen who gave an especially fine performance in the last production of "A View From The Bridge"  gives an equally admirable one here. 

There is one other white actor in the play, Bill O'Ray (a very good Don Stephenson),who has this never ending speech from the play they are rehearsing. But O'Ray himself has his own prejudices with the black cast members never joining them for lunch. 

The racial aspects start to emerge as the actors read from the play which supposedly is to deal with sharecroppers and the horrors of lynching. But slowly as the actors recite their lines  they are nothing more than racist stereotypes. Al makes John wave his hands around with histrionics that certainly is degrading and Wiletta's emotions are just as insultingly stereotypical. Yet, she deals with it wanting the job as she had to do with so many other acting roles.  Sheldon also kowtows to the director even more so  trying to act as a buffer between actors and director. He is accused of being an "Uncle Tom" but just trying to keep his job knowing through years of experience that this was the way to sadly keep from being fired. There is one sensationally moving scene where Cooper  breaks out of his character's calm demeanor to give a devastating monologue about as a child he witnessed a lynching. 

Things get more heated and under Charles Randolph-Wright's astute direction.  Wiletta refuses to go though with one scene in which she states to Al whom she acted with years ago that a mother of a young man who is about to be lynched would never act that way. The combustibility between Al and Wiletta is electric. LaChanze  plays the role of Wiletta at that moment as a real mother would and not as written. It is an unforgettable moment. 

Here is a forceful work that took too long to get to Broadway but now it is here you would be quite foolish to pass this one up.

PHOTOS: Joan Marcus

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

Monday, November 15, 2021

 Morning's at Seven--A Heartfelt Delight

        By Joseph Cervelli

I was unaware that the very well received Tony Award winning 1980 production of Paul Osborn's "Morning's at Seven" was not the original. The show premiered in 1938 and only played about 44 performances. Thankfully, the first Broadway revival ran for over 500. The show which is a perennial regional favorite is now being revived at St. Clement's Theater and it is a sheer delight with a superb cast you cherish every given moment. 

For some strange reason I never saw any production of "Morning's" so had this fear it would not hold up well and be some rickety relic. On the contrary. While there is a scene in which Carl (John Rubenstein) is going through a serious midlife crisis while  looking for a "fork in a road" and places his head against the tree is played for laughs you just need to accept the fact that depression was not taken as seriously as it rightfully is right now. There were some laughs at that scene but it does not exacerbate what turns out to be a temporary mental instability of the character.

Harry Feiner's pastoral looking set with two houses sit next to each other and Barbara A Bell's well calibrated costumes along with James E. Lawlor III's warm lighting set the mood for what is deceiving. Everything looks tranquil on the surface but there is a lot of tension between the four sisters three of which live across from each other. 

Taking place in 1922 in what is simply called "An American town" Cara (Lindsay Crouse) lives with her her husband, Thor, (Dan Lauria) and Cara's loquacious unmarried sister, Arry (Alley Mills.) While Cara seems very content (not long lasting)  there is a unsettling annoyance she feels for Arry. First, having her living with them for close to 45 years is not easy. Second, there is some other prickly issue I won't divulge that has been festering in Cara all this time. Thor is more of a laid-back type of guy trying to keep the peace between both of them. 

In the adjacent house lives sister Ida (Alma Cuervo) with Carl and their grown son, Homer, Jonathan Spivey. Homer who has been dating Myrtle (Keri Safran) for close to twelve years cannot commit to marriage despite the fact Carl has built a new house for them. The jittery Homer just cannot leave his home. 

There is another sister Esther (Patty McCormick) married to a retired snobbish professor David (Tony Roberts.) David dislikes the family calling them "morons" and with hilarious deadpan delivery announces to them,  "You all know how much you all depress me." He even forbids Esther from visiting them though the most grounded of the sisters refuses to comply. 

The key reason to pay a visit is the enchanting cast. Under Dan Wackerman's skilled direction he allows each actor to shine in their respective roles.

Crouse carefully balances her character's  love for Thor while trying to deal with the overbearing Arry. Lauria who gave a bravura performance portraying Vince Lombardi in the play "Lombardi" is on target  as Thor trying to offer advice to both his wife and sister-in-law who are at uncertain odds with each other. Mills who is a new addition to the show is perfect as a likable though annoying Arry whom you begin to feel sorry for. She wanted a home of her own but lives vicariously through her sister and brother-in-law. Cuervo does well as Ida trying to deal with her husband's issues and her son's own immaturity. McCormick easily makes Esther the most reasonable of the sister's probably because she does not live next to them. By the play's end you see exactly how shrewd a character she is and McCormick plays with with total believablity. 

Rubenstein is a joy as Carl and what a complete pleasure having that Broadway icon Tony Roberts back on stage. He certainly never misses with his wonderfully snarky remarks at the family. Both Spivey and Safran nearly steal the show with their impeccable comic turns. Safran is a real find reminding me of actress Julie Hagerty (who incidentally was in the 1980 revival.) She never tries to imitate Hagerty but has that same type of off beat humor. Her effusiveness at being almost nauseatingly polite when she first meets Ida is priceless. Watch what happens when she tries to be as ebullient to David. Spivey is completely entertaining as someone appearing to have a panic attack whenever he speaks and begins to drive the sweet Myrtle to wonder about their relationship. 

Osborne has written a play about old age and the travails that ensue but at the same time trying to get across the fact that as we age we need to embrace not only the years ahead but those family members that are still around. It is hard as he indicates to let go of past dalliances or lies that we have been through with those closest to us but to what end should we perpetuate them. His belief seems to be we may not forget but to forgive and move on.

PHOTOS: Maria Baranova

Tickets are available at Theatre at Saint Clement's 423 West 46th Street.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


Mrs. Warren’s Profession--Briskly Entertaining with a Blithesome Cast

By Joseph Cervelli

As presented by the Gingold Theaterical Group and directed by David Staller at Theatre Row,  George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession has turned into a brisk affair (and no pun attended considering the play does deal with the title character's vocation.

Shaw does have the tendency amidst all his insightful writings about feminism, male privilege and morality to be loquacious to the point of boredom. In other hands this play could be deadly dull, but with Mr. Staller at the helm and a blithesome cast it moves quite swiftly. 

Scenic designer Brian Prather has created a bucolic garden scene in Surrey, England, with flowers adorning the various trellis’s and doorways. We first meet the mathematical whiz Vivie Warren (Nicole King.) While King is sedate in the role she is believable considering her character’s life has been devoted to studies and never really knowing her mother Kitty Warren (a delightfully exuberant Karen Ziemba.) Ms. Ziemba never fails to deliver and she is in high gear here. Vivie is expecting her mother who left her as a child to stay with others while she takes off for Europe in a profession she never reveals to her daughter in all these years. While waiting for her Vivie meets Praed (Alvin Keith) who is a good friend of Kitty’s. Dressed as a fop and effete he is love with all things of beauty and culture. He quickly reminds one of Cecil Vyse in E. M. Forster’s “A Room With a View.” Keith plays it to the hilt. 

The boisterous Kitty enters with her wealthy and somewhat surly Sir George Crofts (an always excellent Robert Cuccioli) who has affections for the young Vivie. He jokingly states he could be her father. There is more to this comment that the young woman could imagine. 

There are two other characters who balance things out. The ne’er-do-well Frank Gardner (David Lee Huynh) who spends his time gambling and tries to woo both ladies knowing they are each worth a considerable amount of money—especially Kitty. Huynh is good although he could take down his enthusiasm a bit. His scampering around is a bit overboard. His father Reverend Samuel Gardner (Raphael Nash Thompson) is the hypocrical male character that Shaw delights in creating.  The Reverend won’t enter a home of someone of dubious character yet we find out exactly how bogus his so-called puritanical behavior really is. Thompson adds humor though he could have displayed more pomposity that I would have expected from  his character. 

The profession in the title, of course, refers to the fact that Kitty started out as a prostitute out of necessity because there were very few opportunities in 1912 for women. She then along with her sister opened a number of brothels which prospered.  It helped having Crofts as a man helping with the investments. Things do not go well when Kitty explains all this to her daughter who has lived a sheltered life. 

The costumes by Asa Benally are appropriately dapper for the men and subdued for Vivie. I would have liked to have seen Kitty's somewhat more embellished. 

The messages of the objectification of women and the plight they were forced to endure comes across loud and clear along with the privileges of men in this especially fine and lucid production.

PHOTOS: Carol Rosegg

Tickets may be purchased at Theater Row 410 West 42nd Street.

Monday, October 18, 2021


Autumn Royal

    By Joseph Cervelli 

Both sadness and despair permeate throughout Kevin Barry's new play Autumn Royal at the Irish Repertory Theater. Yet, somehow, I was never as moved as I felt I should have been in a play dealing with the plight of an unhappy and trapped brother and sister caring for their father living with them who is suffering from dementia. Part of the problem is that we have seen this type of drama before and also the lack of connection between the two characters. 

The action takes place in Cork, Ireland, in a minuscule nondescript room (the set by Charlie Corcoran features not more than a table and a glimpse of a stairway heading upstairs to where the father's bedroom is). May (Maeve Higgins) appears wearing a kind of a spangled dress top making you at first think she may have been out but more likely putting it on to make her think of being part of socializing with others.  It is no doubt that she and her brother Timothy (John Keating) rarely leave the house other than for the bare necessities.  Timothy is the far more interesting character possibly being on the spectrum. He has illusions once their dad either dies or is placed in a nursing home that he can take off surfing in Australia. He even imagines being married giving a name to his fictitious wife and daughter. May takes every opportunity in her dark and sullen disposition to burst his bubble reminding him that he nearly "surfed" in four inches of water and dislocated his elbow. Timothy has false hopes which keeps him going while the reality that May feels becomes relentlessly dire. 

When they decided to place their father in a home they go through the phone book deciding on a facility that sounds nice thus the title of the play, Autumn Royal. Never a thought about looking into the home itself. Their goal is just to get him out so they can have a life. But throughout their life they have had nothing but misfortune. Their mother walked out on them when they were children. We really learn little about their father. And it does not help that both siblings are more concerned about what neighbors think about them putting their father away. They spend a lot of the day just looking out the window criticizing their neighbors. 

There is an interesting touch with the whirring sound of a washing machine and then the washing cycle being flashed on the walls of both sides of the kitchen walls with May just motionless knowing her life is nothing more than mundane chores. Herein lies a problem with the play as directed by Ciaran O'Reilly. During the few times this takes place we should feel the agony that May is going through but she seems to be emotionless, and O'Reilly should have made this a more penetrating and meaningful scene.  It is easy to state that the character is just lost and battered from years of unhappiness, but Higgins tends to mistake darkness with blandness. The only time I found her portrayal to work is when Timothy puts on music to soothe their father from stomping around in his room and both he and may start to dance. There is a glimmer of forced happiness which is short-lived in this household 

The good news is that Keating makes his character much more believable. Timothy is living in his own world and even when he tries to take a selfie of himself to put on social media you know this is not going to go anywhere. He has a faraway look in his eyes and sees not to make much eye contact with May. Perhaps, if the playwright had built more on their relationship the play could have been more absorbing. 

I have always looked forward immensely to attending the plays put on by the wonderful Irish Rep and rarely, if ever, disappointed. I imagine there is a first time. Still, I eagerly await their next production. 


Tickets are available at the Irish Repertory Theatre 132 West 22nd Street. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Chicken and Biscuits


Chicken & Biscuits

    By Joseph Cervelli

"Chicken & "Biscuits" at Circle in the Square is a delightfully funny and warm hearted show that is reminiscent of those great sitcoms of the 70's, most especially "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times." Families may bicker to the point where you think they might do bodily harm to each other, but after they have calmed down they realize the importance they are to each other.

Written with a barbed wire comic touch by Douglas Lyons, the playwright throws in a red herring from the first scene. We are in a church for a funeral service. As the very stylish and cultured Baneatta Mabry (Cleo King)  is making sure everything is in order when she receives a phone call that is a mystery to us because it is from someone she most definitely does not wish to speak to. Her husband Reverend Reginald Mabry (Norm Lewis) has taken over the church from her late reverend father whose service he is presiding over. 

They have two grown children, Kenny (Devere Rogers) an actor who is gay and his attention desiring sister Simone (Alana Raquel Bowers.) It is evident they have never been and still are not close. To make matters worse neither she nor her mother are not that accepting of his lifestyle. And to make matters worse his partner Logan Leibowitz (Michael Urie) is white. Baneatta purposely mispronounces his name which is a running gag.  Logan being Jewish tries to fit into behaving accordingly in church whether it be white or black and ends up unintentionally causing some inappropriate behavior. 

The sassy and quite vocal younger sister of Banetta, Beverly Jenkins (Ebony Marshall-Oliver) who attends in a low cut, short dress with fringes that would be more appropriate if she was going to a cocktail party or a club. Her daughter La 'Trice Franklin (Aigner Mizzelle) is the epitome of a saucy fifteen year old who has no filter. 

Without getting into too much detail, sparks fly as do the hearty laughter throughout the most of the show. You know immediately the comments by the family as they stand beside the on stage casket will be causing some disruption. Simone thinks she is on stage more interested in the attention she is getting while Beverly feigns her loss with hyperbolic hysterics. 

The performances are laugh out loud pitch perfect. The always wonderful Norm Lewis starts off in a quiet way as the reverend until he goes on an unending eulogy that has family members thoroughly exasperated. And taking advantage of Lewis's mighty singing voice (this is his first non musical Broadway role) he has a show stopping scene. Both Marshall-Oliver and Mizzelle vie for top spot of unrestrained comedy. A better mother daughter duo would be hard pressed to create.

Rogers is excellent as Kenny and always reliable and the entertaining Urie provides the ineptness of behavior in such a setting.

King is the perfect contrast to her sister as is Raquel Bowers to her cousin La 'Trice.

There is one other character I will not mention, but you may be able to figure out who she is as she enters near the end of the show. 

Director Zhailon Levingston keeps the action moving at a very steady speed although one caveat is that the show could be trimmed by around 15 minutes or so.

Still it is just a show filled with non-stop laughter and good feelings. And is there a better time for this?


Tickets are available at the Circle in the Square Theatre 235 West 45th Street. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

 Sanctuary City--Slightly Touches on Issues Without Much Conviction

    By Joseph Cervelli

While I never saw playwright Martyna Majok's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Cost of Living," I was fortunate to see her excellent "Ironbound" with a bravura performance by Marin Ireland who will be returning to Broadway this season.

Unfortunately, I was not so taken with her new play, "Sanctuary City," that skims the surface. It is a New York Theater Workshop production playing at the Lucille Lortel.  The two major characters (a third appears in the latter part of the one hour forty minute play) never address each other by name. Jasai Chase-Owens portrays B (as in boy?)  and Sharlene Cruz is G (girl?).   B is concerned that he will be deported because his mother is not a citizen. We know very little about her except for some inexplicable reason she goes back to her country of origin leaving the high schooler alone in the apartment. Already, this does not make a lot of sense for it is hard to believe that no one from the school would be aware of this. The time frame is 2006 and there is a brief talk about the horror of 9/11. G's mother has just become a citizen though has a negative track record with men in her life. G's current stepfather has beaten her so she wants to stay with B while his mother is still around. 

An extremely distracting and annoying occurrence is the clipped dialogue both characters have along with repetition of dialogue and lights flashing on and off with a clicking sound to denote a change in scene. Not sure if this was the playwright's decision or the director Rebecca Frecknall.  I could not understand the reason for this since it should be happening during a  scene change which in many cases  there really is not. This goes on for a about 30 or so minutes. There is a great deal of insignificant dialogue and what makes the play never really involve the audience is that the two actors while adequate have little chemistry.

G goes off to college and returns  about 3 1/2 years later wanting to marry B so he can remain in the States. G did bring this up earlier in the play but it appeared to be nothing more than just what a teenager thinks could help without thinking it through A thought that kept going through my mind was "why wait this length of time" to return and again bring up this proposition. When B asks her that very question she looks at him with a blank stare before finally answering "guilt." Probably guilt because she feels she should have done this earlier. Still her answer makes no sense and it is never pursued by the playwright as it should have.

The latter part of the play we are introduced to Henry (Austin Smith), B's boyfriend who wishes he could marry him so he could remain here. There is a conflict that results between Henry and G that never rings true. And it also makes little sense that G would object to this relationship when it is apparent that she and B as indicated never had a sexual one. It always appeared they were no more than friends. Majok touches on gay marriage not being accepted which we know was the case at that time. 

Smith is also not particularly convincing in the role and seems to be struggling to find what his character is all about. This is not completely the actor's fault but again has to do with the dislocated characters that Majok has created.

What sums up this weak and talky play is the last bit of obscure dialogue from B: "when did you," "decide," "what did you have in," "when did your."  Need I go on? 

PHOTOS: Joan Marcus

Tickets are available at the Lucille Lortel Theater 121 Christopher Street. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Sound Inside--A Beautifully Rendered New Production

 The Sound Inside

    By Joseph Cervelli

Adam Rapp's "The Sound Inside" which justly received superlative reviews when it opened back in 2019 on Broadway is now being streamed as part of TheaterWorks Hartford in partnership with Revisionist Films. It runs from now through April 30.

Whether or not you might have seen it in New York when it featured the amazingly gifted Mary Louise Parker (as Bella Baird) and newcomer Will Hochman (as Christoper Dunn)  who made a smashing  Broadway debut I urge you to purchase tickets (information below) to view this mesmerizing new production.

While I greatly admired the New York production, I did find it a bit bookish and was engrossed but wanted it to envelop me more than it actually did. Part of the problem then was that it played in a rather large theater. A smaller, more intimate one would have worked even better.  And now beautifully crafted by two directors Rob Ruggiero and Pedro Bermudez it still is an enigmatic work, but Rapp's gorgeous words come shining through in an even more resonant manner. I remember the lush descriptions in the dialogue although the humor which seemed to  to have escaped me then no longer does after this viewing. What might be lost in physicality of staging here works in other ways. 

The first thing you notice is how physically different Maggie Bofill is from the original actor. Parker looked more of an academician (her character is a professor of creative writing at an Ivy League college) whereas Bofill's Bella has the look of someone who might have worked in any profession. I point that out because her less than scholarly appearance may have made Christopher more willing to open up to her. Either way makes Bofill perfectly  captures the sadness and loneliness of this character We are first introduced to her in a monologue about her life. Amidst the seriousness she does describe herself as "sneakily attractive." She loves the author James Saulter because he writes about infidelity, loneliness and divorce. While she was never married the disappointment in her life is quite evident. And to make matters much worse she is suffering from advanced cancer. There is no self pity in her monologue. She states the facts as they are.  No morose mournfulness. It is what it is and she will deal with it anyway she so chooses.  Deciding whether to have chemo or not is discussed later in the play, and she handles that with objectivity which seems to sum up her life. Yet, she does tell one hilarious tale of a one night stand which is refreshing from the heavy material. This is not only thanks to  Bofill's excellent performance but Rapp's elegiac writing which never veers into sentimentality. 

While in her office, the frenetic and highly intelligent Christopher (a superb Ephraim Birney) barges in. He refused to email her office to set up an appointment because of his distain for any type of technology. Is it any wonder he has few friends. His tirades against Twitter, etc. is instantly funny and makes a great deal of sense if not necessarily realistic in today's world. He still does a convincing job of stating his beliefs. Birney captures every nuance as the slightly peevish yet likable young student. It's not much wonder he appears to lack friends stating that when playing sports he is no more than a "dodgeball target." There is a discussion about "Crime and Punishment" which subtlety leads to concern that the murder which takes place in that book may have something to do with the novel that Christopher is currently writing. 

Even though there is limited staging according to CDC guidelines there is never a claustrophobic feel whether they are in a restaurant or Bella's apartment.  Rapp shows the affection they have for each other but it never, thankfully, goes beyond a warm, platonic touch on the cheek. These two characters have more in common with each other psychologically than they even realize.


The chemistry between both actors is what makes this production really soar and makes Rapp's words even more glorious. When Christopher explains to Bella he stopped writing for a while because  somehow the story was actually writing him it sounds like an ominous comment and possibly prophetic one which I will go no further in explaining. When he states this looking at their faces you cannot help but notice a definite bond between them.

While the lighting which was so stunning when seeing the show live is a bit less effective because of  unavoidable limitations, you still see glimpses of the always excellent Amith Chandrashaker's (another designed the Broadway production) craft here. And may I add it in no way hinders the production. 

This is a beautifully transfixing work which leaves you with no clearcut answers. A lot of "why's" might be your question to whomever you see it with but that is the mark of a skillful playwright. And that is what Rapp most certainly is. 

For tickets: or call the TheaterWorks Hartford Box Office (860)-527-7838. 


Monday, March 29, 2021


Laura Benanti—Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

By Joseph Cervelli

I have been an admirer of  Laura Benanti from the first time I saw her as the replacement for the late, wonderful Rebecca Luker in the Broadway revival of “The Sound of Music.” I may not have seen every one of her performances but enough to appreciate her gorgeous voice and excellent acting.  I most certainly have never seen a better Gypsy Rose Lee in arguably, the most perfect musical of all time “Gypsy.”

I recently listened to her new CD “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” several times, and it is both lovely and moving in many ways. The title of the CD is a song written by the vastly talented Rufus Wainwright. His uniquely fascinating and innovative lyrics are are a class unto themselves.  Benanti is the perfect match for him. There is a naughty innocence as she adds a caress to his lyrics which go from “cigarettes and chocolate are a couple of my cravings” to “I like it a little bit stronger, a little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me.” You begin to understand the person’s life he is writing about as Benanti adds strength to “playing with prodigal sons…Takes a lot of sentimental Valiums.” Few composers comes up with such distinctive lyrics other than Wainright. 

It tore at me listening to the heart wrenching “Someone You Loved” by Benjamin Kohn, Lewis Capaldi, Peter Kelleher, Samuel Romans and Thomas Barnes. The 'someone' in the song is the person who left her.   She tears into this song with complete disillusionment about how what she conceived to be a perfect relationship fell apart.   What really gnawed at me is the almost  almost emptiness as she cry out for some help as she sings “Now the day bleeds into nightfall.” 

I thought what could Benanti do to make any new changes to the beautiful yet ubiquitous “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?” But wait. The lyrics always struck me as kind of simplistic despite the catchy music, but she brings a very dreamy almost ethereal quality to it. Her last prolonged note really had me.

The Jonas Brothers’ buoyant “Sucker” fits her perfectly  in a similar style they wrote the song about relishing every moment of being with someone who you just cannot get out out of your mind. Whether it be “stumblin’ out of bars” or “dancin’ on top of cars” you get the picture here. She sings it a bit slower which works to her advantage and the unforgettable line  “your the tattoo inside my brain” remains ingrained in your mind. 

Julie London had this smoldering quality in her voice and was the perfect singer to bring out the sexiness of “Go Slow.” That same incredible sexiness is found in Benanti’s rendition which to to call it steamy is a puny description. 

If there is one rendition that left me a tad unsure of how I felt it was the hilariously funny “The Boy From….”first heard in the 60’s  off Broadway revue “The Mad Show.” Written by Stephen Sondheim it is a brilliantly clever parody of “The Girl From Ipanema.” It is impossible to forget Linda Lavin’s adorably kooky interpretation. It’s not that Benanti doesn’t do a good job, I just expected a bit more daffiness especially after know how she handled the manically funny “Model Behavior”  which she sang in the Broadway musical "Women on the Verge of a Breakdown.  Her interpretation of  “Boy” was a bit too tame for me.

There is a lovely and bittersweet quality to her “The Party’s Over.” I am always  taken with the way she embraces each lyric and  here brings out the happiness and sadness of this wonderful song from Comden and Green’s  “Bells Are Ringing.”

Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is sung with a delightful twang in a country western vein until it ends in what sounds a church chorus. Quite imaginative.

Until we are fortunate enough to see Laura Benanti back on stage again, there are several CD’s in which we can listen to hear her glorious voice. Yet, for me this is her best solo one.