Apr 26

The House of Blue Leaves Taunts Us One More Time

The House of Blue Leaves by John Guare, Walter Kerr Theatre, 4/4/11-7/23/11.  http://www.houseofblueleaves.com/flash.php?version=standard.   Contains stage violence, including an explosion.

Ben Stiller as Artie, Edie Falco as Bananas, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Bunny. Photo by Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Like Jay Gatsby, the characters of The House of the Blue Leaves long for love and notoriety.  But also like Jay Gatsby, their shallow dreams are based upon delusions.  David Cromer’s revival uncovers all the darkness and pain hidden in the recesses of a middle class home into the light of day with laughter and cruelty.

Scott Pask’s institution-like set provides the perfect environment for an evening of madness.  But who mad?  The housewife who feels that she is nothing more than the humiliating joke of celebrity?  The zookeeper who dreams of becoming a successful movie songwriter?  Or perhaps it’s the nuns? Continue reading

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Apr 24

Steel Magnolias is a tease

L to R : Rachael Warren (Truvy), Anne Scurria (Ouiser), Madeleine Lambert (Shelby) and Janice Duclos (M'Lynn) in Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias. Directed by Brian Mertes, the show runs through May 15, 2011 in the Chace Theater. Set design by Michael McGarty, lighting design by Dan Scully, costumes by William Lane. (Photo: Mark Turek)

Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, Trinity Repertory Company, 4/15/11-5/15/11.  http://www.trinityrep.com/on_stage/current_season/OC.php

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Most women know if they fix their hair and get it perfect, they shouldn’t mess with it.  Unfortunately, this production has sat too long coiffing itself after it already was looking good.  The beautiful script by Robert Harling and the talented ladies of the Trinity Repertory Company get lost in gimmicks and empty space.  Perhaps, in trying to distance itself from the movie, Mertes tried to make the production “new” and “fresh”, Trinity Rep’s production of Steel Magnolias loses the intimacy that the script requires. Continue reading

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Apr 15

SONS OF THE PROPHET: On Brilliance

Yusef Bulos (Bill), Kelsey Kurz (Joseph), and Dan McCabe (Charles) in the Huntington Theatre Company’s SONS OF THE PROPHET by Stephen Karam, directed by Peter DuBois. Playing 4/1/11 – 5/1/11 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. huntingtontheatre.org. Photo by Paul Marotta.

Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam, Huntington Theatre Company, 4/1/11-5/1/11, http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/production.aspx?id=8754.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

“Happiness does not await us all.  One needn’t be a prophet to say that there will be more grief and pain than serenity and money.  That is why we must hang on to one another.” Anton Chekov qtd. by Stephen Karam in the program.

If Roundabout Theatre Company and the Huntington Theatre Company takes Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet to Broadway next year, in June 2012 we will likely hear, “and the Tony Award for best play goes to…Sons of the Prophet.” Taking the seemingly sombre subject of pain, Karam has written a comic masterpiece.  Add to that the talented cast, direction, and set design and the result is a fast-paced night of laughter and poignancy that should not be missed.

A deer walks into a theatre…well, it doesn’t really walk..and it’s not really a deer…    And the audience hears a car crash.  Those who came from or have family from the Poconos area of Pennsylvania don’t have to question what has happened;  Car accidents with deer are common, but…a deer decoy?  We meet Joseph Douaihly, played by Kelsey Kurz, whose father was the victim of the high-school prank that went terribly wrong–and this is only another blow in a devastating year for the Douaihly family.  Joseph has physical pain that the doctors cannot diagnose; he works for a lonely, manic woman that uses his need for health insurance as leverage to try to get Joseph to write a memoir based on his distant relation to Kahlil Gibran.  When their father does not survive the accident, the Douaihly’s ailing uncle (played by Yusef Bulos) moves in with the Joseph and his brother Charles (played by Dan McCabe).   In addition, the boy who pulled the prank might be allowed to play football in his school’s playoff games prior to going to the juvenile detention center for his crime.  Hilarious, right?  –You have no idea. Continue reading

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Mar 18

EDUCATING RITA: Laughing at Learning

Jane Pfitsch as Rita in Educating Rita, by Willy Russell, directed by Maria Aitken at the Huntington Theatre Company, 3/10/11 Set Design Allen Moyer Costume Design Nancy Brennan Lighting Design Joel E. Silver © T Charles Erickson photoshelter.com/c/tcharleserickson tcepix@comcast.net

Educating Rita by Willy Russell, Huntington Theatre Company, 3/11/11-4/10/11.  http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/ Herbal cigarettes smoked during the show.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

During my studies to become a teacher, I was told one of the movies that I should not see on education was Educating Rita.  I can understand some of the caution; I would not want to be a teacher like Frank, but the story does remind us of the pure joy of learning and the need for critical thinking.  Knowledge is more than expertise and understanding is more than results.  The Huntington’s production of Educating Rita reminds us that learning should not be at the cost of  of our individuality.

Being a perpetual student, Allen Moyer’s set had my “geeky sense” tingling–a room full of books and a sterile, air of pomposity–typical of a professor’s office.  The office also hides the desperate desire of Frank (played by Andrew Long) to pretend that he is still an academic although he has been jaded for years.  Life and renewed purpose enter Frank’s office in the form of Rita (played by Jane Pfitsch).   Continue reading

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Mar 09

reasons to be pretty–Do these jeans make my butt look fat?

Greg (Andy Macdonald) confronts Carly (Danielle Muehlen) who is responsible for his break-up in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

reasons to be pretty by Neil LaBute, Speakeasy Stage Company, 3/4/11-4/2/11.  http://www.speakeasystage.com/doc.php?section=showpage&page=reasons Contains mature language.

Reviewed Becca Kidwell

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  When we get out of high school, we hope the teasing will stop; however, we find new forms of teasing in fashion magazines, tv shows, and hanging out with friends.  Have we become too sensitive?  No.  But where do we draw the line?  How do we stop feeling put down by the world and begin feeling secure in ourselves?  Speakeasy Stage Company’s production of reasons to be pretty by Neil LaBute makes us examine these questions through their dynamic production.

Anyone who knows about LaBute should not be too surprised by the tirade of expletives that open the play.  They will not be too surprised that the cause is Steph, played by Angie Jepson, who hears that her boyfriend Greg, played by Andy McDonald, has described her face as “regular”.  While it is an extreme reaction, we understand that it is akin to any answer to the question “do my jeans make my butt look fat?”  Andy McDonald plays a calm, normal guy who dodges the verbal missiles on all sides, but still ends up with Steph leaving him.  Angie Jepson’s belligerent performance is matched by the vulnerability she displays when Steph keeps returning to Greg for approval. Continue reading

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Feb 05

RUMORS fly like bullets

Rumors by Neil Simon, Walpole Footlighters, 2/4/11-2/20/11, http://www.footlighters.com/

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Photos by Dan Busler Photography

Walpole Footlighters breathes life into the wily, witty, wordsmith’s farce:  Rumors.  Although the script itself brings little to the genre other than being an obvious testing ground for Neil Simon, Walpole Footlighters offers a bubbly evening of laughs to take your mind off all of the snow.

The story surrounds an anniversary party gone awry:  the wife and the servants have run off, the host has shot himself in the ear, and the guests try to cover up an apparent scandal.  Comic craziness ensues.

Led by David Giagrando, the cast is able to overcome some of the script’s flaws.  Giagrando, as Lenny Ganz, tries to control the situation and fails hilariously; his performance produces the perfect neurotic New York yuppie while using every subterfuge in his arsenal (including a wonderfully performed “story” in the second act) to keep the host’s secret from getting into the news.  Barbara Shapiro and James Merlin (as Cookie and Ernie Cusack) amplify the neuroses with their screwball personalities and actions.  Shapiro’s physical comedy provides some of the funniest moments of the night.

While the script itself drags in some places, the show overall provides an enjoyable evening of belly laughs that remind us of a simpler time (who ever thought the 80’s would be called that?) when appearance was the only important thing.  Walpole Footlighters provides a delightful production to get you outside of the city and outside of yourself.  2/4/11.  TNETG.

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Jan 18

NEIGHBORS: What do you see?

Christine Power (Jean), Lori Tishfield (Melody), Johnny Lee Davenport (Richard)

Neighbors by Brandon Jacob-Jenkins, Company One, BCA, 1/14/11-2/5/11.  Explicit Language and Sexual Content.

http://www.companyone.org/Season12/Neighbors/synopsis.shtml

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

“Who do you think you are?”  With each generation, the answer to that question becomes more ambiguous and cryptic.  Yet, the question does not go away and becomes the fulcrum for the conflict in Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ play Neighbors.  Company One does not apologize for the rawness of the material, but embraces it and challenges the audience to do the same.

The young actors Lori Tishfield and Tory Bullock steal the show.  Ms. Tishfield’s portrayal of Melody Patterson, a confused teenager of a mixed-race family, underscores the need for love, acceptance, and belonging that we all search for.  Her honest performance is matched by the sweet naiveté of Tory Bullock as Jim Crow, Jr.  Jim does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps as a performer, but becomes more comfortable as he develops a relationship with Melody. Continue reading

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Jan 11

HYSTERIA: the naked women in Freud’s closet

Hysteria, or Fragments of an Analysis of a Obsessional Neurosis by Terry Johnson, The NoraTheatre Company, Central Square Theater, 1/6/11-1/30/11.  Nudity and mature themes.  http://www.centralsquaretheater.org/season/10-11/hysteria.html

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Freudian analysis?  A dream of Dali?  Too much spicy food?  These are questions the audience might ask while watching Hysteria.  Using the real meeting between Freud and Dali as a starting point, Johnson’s play moves from farce to surrealism to nothingness.  The Nora Theatre Company makes this strange journey palatable and pleasurable and  masks the flaws of the script.

The exaggerated perspective of the set, Freud’s study, immediately tells the audience that something peculiar is going to happen.  As the play unfolds, Janie E. Howland’s surrealistic set design matches the frenetic energy that is sent forth from the actors.  No one questions the absurdity of the situations that take place because the cast commit fully to the roles that they play.  Richard Sneed, as Freud, tries to hold the world together as it keeps trying to spiral out-of-control.  His warm-fatherly nature combined with Freud’s philosophies moves the audience from sympathy for a dying man to anger at an intractable man that will not even admit the possibility that he might have erred. Continue reading

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Dec 30

Building Relationships

Barefoot In The Park by Neil Simon, Zero Point Theater, 12/28/10-1/2/11.  http://www.zptheater.com/

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Zero Point Theater, a relatively new theatre company, brings Neil Simon’s crowd-pleasing favorite Barefoot In The Park to the stage.  While a few of the references from the 1963 play are dated, the integrity of this piece—underscoring the complexity of developing relationships—remains sound, along with the majority of the quips and witty dialogue that Simon is famous for. Continue reading

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Nov 30

Love in the Moonlight

(front to back) Anne Gottlieb (Frankie) and Robert Pemberton (Johnny) in FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE. Photo by Christopher McKenzie.

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally, New Repertory Theatre, 11/28/10-12/19/10.  Nudity and Mature Themeshttp://newrep.org/frankie_johnny.php

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is a difficult play to stage.  The tight, witty, intelligent romance by Terrence McNally requires a comparable production that will not fall flat; New Repertory Theatre’s current production rises to the challenge.

A two-person play needs two strong actors.  Anne Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton deliver beyond expectations.  Not only are they strong individual actors, but they also thrive as a couple.   While Terrence McNally has said that the play is a “romantic fairytale”, the play would not hold an audience’s attention if it was not grounded in genuine, believable characters.  As Robert Pemberton speaks every line, his eyes reveal the sincerity of his heart.  Over the span of one night, Johnny’s profession of love could seem ludicrous, even threatening—except for the fact that this Johnny is truly sincere and truly loves Frankie.  Ann Gottlieb walks the delicate line between being fragile and resilient.  If she does not display strength, the character of Johnny would crush her; at the same time, the character of Frankie has been hurt and the vulnerability still has to be there to create the tension.  As Frankie, Gottlieb has found this balance so that the character can hold her own against Johnny, but still fear the pain of heartbreak.  Gottlieb and Pemberton completely draw the audience in to Frankie and Johnny’s struggle where one can’t help but fight with them for the connection to something that can last.  They ARE Frankie and Johnny—trying to be more than just a couple of “bodies bumping around in the night”. Continue reading

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