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Did somebody decide when I wasn’t listening that this would be the season where all translations of classic plays must contain occasional forays into anachronistic contemporary language?  First came An Enemy of the People and Cyrano de Bergerac, and now Carol Rocamora’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Ivanov, being used in CSC’s schizophrenically handsome/punkish production, would have us believing the playwright had his characters uttering the 19th Century Russian equivalents of “harangue,” “He’s a real operator” and “Hope you choke.”

Regarded as Chekhov’s Hamlet – probably because the title character has a lengthy soliloquy where he keeps referring to himself as Hamlet – this youthful effort helps establish the playwright’s tradition of dramatizing tales of financial woes set in grand estates.

Director Austin Pendleton’s staging has Ethan Hawke as Nikolai Ivanov, the guilt-ridden, self-loathing land owner who tried fixing his finances by marrying Anna (Joely Richardson), from a wealthy Jewish family.  But Anna lost her dowry when her parents disowned her for converting.  Now she’s dying of tuberculosis and her husband not only ignores the doctor’s recommendation to send her to Crimea, but ponders an affair with young Sasha (Juliet Rylance), the daughter of one of his creditors.

Marco Piemontese’s period costumes and Santo Loquasto’s striking setting – the front façade of a fine mansion with just enough open space to suggest the rooms inside – provide suitably stately visuals and the first half of the play, mostly expository scenes involving supporting characters, is enjoyably played in the familiar manner.  Particularly humorous is the elderly elitist give and take between Pendleton, filling in for the injured Louis Zorich as Sasha’s father, and George Morfogen as a gregarious count.  Richardson’s quiet moments when she sees her marriage crumbling are very effective and Jonathan Marc Sherman also stands out in the fine ensemble as the young moralistic doctor.

It’s not until the second half of the play when the title character begins dominating the proceedings, particularly with a lengthy soliloquy where Hawke appears to have been directed to address the audience, a practice that hadn’t been establish previously in the production.  His contemporary physicality as Ivanov confronts his own depression plays like a bad-boy rocker trying to rouse up the crowd with his rebellious anger.  In one sardonic moment he reacts to a mention of hisalma materwith a half-hearted fist pump and the established realism play is cracked when he runs up the aisle, making the actor invisible to the audience during his verbal confrontation with the doctor.

Hawke is a capable stage actor and, to his credit, he passionately dives into the interpretation with full commitment.  And perhaps there is an intentional contrast of his modern spin to the rest of the production, as there are in those contemporary blurts in the text.  But nevertheless, the result undercuts what works well in the evening and lays focus on the performer instead of the character.

Photo of Ethan Hawke by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2012 @ 11:00 AM Posted by: Michael Dale

Checkers: Nixon in Love

When it comes to television, the 37th President of the United States is best remembered for an unfortunate debate against John F. Kennedy and later for those infamous words, “I am not a crook.”  But it was a younger, more idealistic Richard Milhous Nixon who used television to warm American hearts and save his political skin by telling the story of a little cocker spaniel named Checkers and bringing new respectability to the words “Republican cloth coat.”

But that half-hour speech from 1952, where the Republican vice-presidential candidate defended himself against accusations of financial improprieties that were about to cost him his place on the ticket, is merely the frame of Douglas McGrath’s charged up, gritty and frequently funny drama, Checkers.  In fact, though the career of the guy they used to call Tricky Dick has been famously explored on stage and screen numerous times (The Selling of the President, All The President’s Men, Nixon in China, Frost/Nixon…), this may be the first major work that focuses on the crumbling romance between the candidate and his wife, Pat, as his growing expertise in playing the political game makes him less and less the man she married.

The play is bookended by scenes set in 1966, where political strategist Murray Chotiner (Lewis J. Stadlen, terrific as the hard-boiled, old-school politico) tries to convince Nixon, retired from politics since losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962, to head the 1968 Republican ticket.  He knows his old pal is still smarting from the 1960 loss where he won the popular vote and lost the electoral college under strong suspicions of voter fraud in the close contests in Illinois and Texas (winning those states would have given him the election), and is feeling useless in his private life as an attorney, but he isn’t aware that Pat is blissfully happy to be out of politics and raising a normal American family.

Anthony LaPaglia’s Nixon begins with the gravel-voiced California accent and suspicious stare that kept impressionists in business through the early 1970s, but when the man’s memory is triggered back to 1952, where the bulk of the play remains, he’s an earnest, decent and energetic 39-year-old senator just getting noticed by the public for his vigorous anti-Communist stance.  Loaded with ideas for America’s future, he sets them aside when presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower’s handlers explain that they want a running mate whose sole role is that of attack dog.

Shy about the spotlight, Kathryn Erbe’s Pat Nixon prefers to hand out campaign buttons rather that stand by her husband’s side as he makes speeches.  Their relationship is first seen as cordially affectionate, but a truly loving partnership, with Pat being the moral influence in her husband’s decision-making.  (There’s a wonderful scene where they reminisce humorously about their courtship.)  But being their first national campaign, Chotiner teaches her what is expected of a political wife, and while her husband still depends on her heavily she can see small changes in him as he begins sacrificing his honesty for the greater good.  Erbe is just outstanding as Pat, showing the woman struggling with her unpreparedness for her role and her disillusionment in the political process.  When she stands up for herself, it’s a thrilling and surprising moment, but the audience’s knowledge of what lies ahead makes it bittersweet.

The story is told in a collection of pointed short scenes, and while the main characters are solidly sympathetic, director Terry Kinney has the supporting ensemble playing at a slightly elevated level that makes the structure work like a series of editorial cartoons.  Particularly effective are John Ottavino’s Ike, a fatherly icon happy to stay far away from controversy, and Robert Stanton’s image-conscious RNC Chairman Herbert Brownell.  When you add Neil Patel’s uncomplicated interior set serving as a screen for Darrel Maloney’s clever collection of location-setting pen-and-ink style projections, Checkers often resembles a live-action Herblock cartoon.

Photos by Carol Rosegg:  Top: Kathryn Erbe and Anthony LaPaglia; Bottom: Anthony LaPaglia and Lewis J. Stadlen.

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Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 @ 12:43 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 11/11/12


"Marriage is trivial compared to finding a good director."

-- Erika Ritter

The grosses are out for the week ending 11/11/2012 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.


Down for the week was: EVITA (-17.1%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-7.7%), MAMMA MIA! (-6.3%), CHICAGO (-4.6%),

Posted on: Monday, November 12, 2012 @ 03:39 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Playwright Richard Nelson first introduced audiences to the family of Apple siblings with That Hopey Changey Thing, which took place on election night 2010 and, by design, opened on that same night.  He pulled the same trick last year with Sweet and Sad, which opened and was set on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

As you might have guessed, his third visit with the Apples, titled Sorry, opened this past Tuesday and, yes, was set on the day of America’s most recent election.  Like the previous two, Sorry is an intimate, Chekhovian-style drama centered on the mealtime conversations of a group of adults most easily identified as northeastern liberals.  Nelson directs the excellent ensemble, consisting of some of New York’s finest stage actors, which has remained intact for all three productions, save for Shuler Hensley, currently giving an extraordinary performance Off-Broadway in The Whale.  Rather than recast, his character does not appear in this one.

It’s 5am in the Rhinebeck home of schoolteacher Barbara Apple (Maryann Plunkett), who lives with her uncle Benjamin (Jon Devries), a former actor who, after a heart attack two years ago, has been losing his memory and the ability to function.  She and her divorced sister Marian (Laila Robins), who moved in with them after a personal tragedy, can no longer care for Benjamin properly and have regretfully decided to move him into a care facility for his own safety.

Their sister Jane (J. Smith-Cameron), a writer, is up from the city, pondering over the future of her on-again, off-again relationship with her boyfriend (the Hensley role), currently out of town on an acting gig.  (No, he’s not playing a 600 lb. guy Off-Broadway.)  Their brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders), who announced in the first play that he had left his position as a lawyer in the State Attorney General's office to join a firm that donates heavily to the Republican Party, is now reconsidering his choice, though he retains his disappointment in the present state of the Democratic Party.  (“Do we know what we’re rooting for? I think we know what we’re rooting against. And is that enough? Why have we become ‘not them’?”)

But the play is not a political round table, as discussion about specific current events is kept to a minimum.  Instead, Nelson’s characters bring out the mixture of personal events, large and small, that produce a family dynamic.  And the superb cast does indeed produce a realistic family dynamic.

Previously intended to be a trilogy, the playwright has announced there will be at least one more visit with the Apples, on the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination.  I’ll be sure to clear my calendar. 

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: J. Smith-Cameron and Laila Robins; Bottom:  Jon Devries and Maryann Plunkett.

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Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2012 @ 03:44 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

The Whale: Lonely Room

You know those people who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound?  Charlie, the central character of Samuel D. Hunter’s touching drama The Whale, isn’t one of them.  Charlie’s dietary habits declined in a sharp downward spiral after losing his lover under tragic circumstances.  He lives a reclusive existence in his Idaho home, teaching how to write basic essays from his laptop while spread across his couch, with his students able to hear his voice, but never see his face.  When he last used a scale, Charlie weighed in at 550 pounds.  He suspects to be close to 600 now.

Costume designer Jessica Pabst provides sufficient padding under Charlie’s casual outfit, but it’s the excellent, detailed performance of Shuler Hensley that really makes us see the character’s weight; wheezing with nearly every breath and making every physical movement an effort.  He spends most of the play center stage on the couch, but when he uses a walker to travel to the bathroom, his slow, exhausting journey is heartbreaking to watch.

Charlie nearly suffers a heart attack while masturbating to Internet porn and his life is saved with the help of a chance visit by Elder Thomas (Cory Michael Smith) an earnest young Mormon who came to his door wishing to talk about his church.  They’re soon joined by Charlie’s only friend, Liz (Cassie Beck, showing sincere affection through tough love), a nurse with reasons to reject any talk of the Mormon Church.

After taking Charlie’s astronomical blood pressure, Liz flatly states that unless he goes to a hospital now, he’ll be dead before the week is done.  But Charlie, who is uninsured, refuses.  Instead he uses what might be his final days to reunite with his 17-year-old daughter, Ellie (Reyna de Courcy, in a deadpan smart-ass performance that might make you think of Wednesday Addams).  They haven't seen each other since she was two, when Charlie, upon figuring out his true sexuality, left his wife, Mary (Tasha Lawrence).

Ellie, who claims to be extremely intelligent, is nevertheless failing in school, and has no interest in spending time with this man she doesn’t know until he offers to pay her and help her learn to write an essay.  Helping her achieve the ability to communicate and express herself is the most personal and loving thing he can do with whatever time is left.

Given the circumstances, Hunter’s references to Moby Dick and the Biblical Jonah do stand out as a bit heavy-handed, but the play’s strength is in subtly getting the point across that though the results of Charlie’s emotional problems are evident, the people surrounding him carry deeper, less visible scars.  Under Davis McCallum’s direction, the fine cast balances humor and drama, often getting very nasty without turning seriously ugly.

But it's Hensley’s performance – one that would be convincing even if the in-shape actor wasn’t wearing the fat suit – that rises above everything else, showing throughout how Charlie’s heart is truly his most prominent feature.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Shuler Hensley; Bottom:  Shuler Hensley and Cory Michael Smith.

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Posted on: Saturday, November 10, 2012 @ 01:14 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Modern Terrorism and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I daresay that playwright Jon Kern probably found a previously untried twist in the old staple of “meeting cute” in a romantic comedy by having the central couple of his play be a suicide bomber on a mission to sacrifice himself, and take as many lives as possible with him, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and a fellow terrorist helping to achieve his goal as revenge against an American drone attack that killed her husband on her wedding day when the celebration was mistaken for a Taliban gathering.

With a title reminiscent of the old paperback novel series, Modern Romances, and a subtitle (They Who Want To Kill Us and How We Learn To Love Them) that hints of the dark satire of Dr. Strangelove, Kern’s comedy will obviously offend many by its very existence as the story of loveably bumbling, but sincere and dedicated fanatics using deadly force to make political statements against the United States.  And even though one of the play’s strengths is that it never loses hold of the potentially horrific consequences of their actions up until its final violent moments, it would be perfectly understandable for someone to find the evening in the worst of taste.  But those who would give it a chance, read on.

Set in a nondescript New York apartment, the opening scene looks like something out of a 21st Century Three Stooges short.  Qala, a Somali trained in making bombs, is getting frustrated trying to properly set explosives inside college student Rahim’s underpants.  It seems the cheerful and not-very-bright suicide volunteer’s generous endowment has crushed his equipment.

Played with businesslike seriousness by William Jackson Harper, Qala hopes to gain honor and celebrity through masterminding such missions, but he’s also a loving family man trying to provide a good life for his wife and two daughters in Dubai.  Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Rahim is a sweet and likeable dude with no hatred towards Americans, but is inspired by his favorite Star Wars characters to do something daring and heroic, like a noble rebel fighting an evil empire.

As the emotionally guarded widow, Yalda, Nitya Vidyasagar plays the Pakistani-American as a woman striving to excel in a male-dominated field.  She has a friendly bonding with the presumed soon-to-be-dead Rahim and when the first attempt at his mission fails she is both disgusted and flattered by the suspicion that he might have intentionally bungled it to spend more time with her.  Eventually, they both show themselves willing to make the supreme sacrifice so the other may live; a romantic gesture if you can forget that it means killing innocent people.

Jamming up the works is slacker/stoner Jerome (Steven Boyer as a funny goofball) a white neighbor from the building who accidentally discovers the plot when he comes by to deliver a package FedEx sent him by mistake.  Jerome avoids getting killed by Qala when he convinces him that he can be useful buying supplies without causing suspicion.  Though Jerome expresses a desire to help get back at a society that alienates him, audience members might still wonder if he’s actually helping or cleverly playing along while looking for a chance to foil the plot.

Under different circumstances, the characters of Modern Terrorism might be more easily accepted as anti-heroes.  Kern wisely avoids having them discuss any kind of violent radical extremism or hatred toward Americans and the strong ensemble, under Peter DuBois’ direction, smoothly blends from cute comic scenes to the more serious matters at hand.  Daring the audience to laugh and enjoy themselves, the play works because it’s an unconventional premise played very conventionally.

Photo of William Jackson Harper and Utkarsh Ambudkar by Joan Marcus.


With its New England college town setting and its leading roles originated on stage by Arthur Hill and Uta Hagen and created for the screen by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Edward Albee’s knife-twisting marital grudge match known as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is traditionally played with an elevated tone of actorly sophistication; eloquence gone madly ugly as free-flowing alcohol propels well-aimed verbal daggers.

But director Pam MacKinnon’s 50th Anniversary production comes from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, those exporters of gritty revivals like their One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and harshly naturalistic originals like August: Osage County.  In her thrilling and completely engaging mounting, George and Martha are decidedly plain and non-theatrical; a sort of Edward Albee couple if created by Arthur Miller.  It’s a move that ups the chill factor without losing the humor of the script’s vicious banter.

August: Osage County’s author, Tracy Letts, who began his theatre career as an actor, makes his on-stage Broadway debut opposite frequent collaborator Amy Morton, a Tony nominee for the aforementioned.  George, the underachieving history professor whose job security is his marriage to the college president’s daughter, is traditionally played in various degrees of emasculation, enduring Martha’s domineering abuse only to a point where he’s driven to strike her weak spot involving the way she sees her relationship with their son.  But Letts’ George is craftily passive-aggressive.  He knows he’s married to a tiger and he’s quite adept at making her believe she has the upper hand.  Morton’s subtle, underplayed – at least as compared with previous essayists of the role – Martha becomes a more sympathetic character, as her public acts of humiliation are reduced to desperate shots aimed at a bulletproof target.

Nick and Honey, the young biology professor and his pretty, blonde wife become George and Martha’s audience and sometimes targets of verbal abuse, invited over for late-night cocktails after some heavy imbibing at a school function.  Madison Dirks’ ruggedly handsome and politely mannered Nick is gradually lured into the older couple’s dark side and Carrie Coon reveals Honey’s controlling nature ask she becomes more soaked in brandy.  The innocent pairing may be looking at themselves in twenty years.

Photo of Amy Morton and Tracy Letts by Michael Brosilow.

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Posted on: Thursday, November 08, 2012 @ 08:19 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Voting Reminder

New Yorkers, remember to vote "yes" on the referendum requiring replacement stars in Chicago to meet minimum singing, acting and Fosse-dancing standards as dictated by a panel consisting of Ann Reinking, Ben Vereen and Chita Rivera.

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Posted on: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 @ 03:25 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 11/4/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week


“If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of Congress?”
-- Will Rogers

The grosses are out for the week ending 11/4/2012 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.

Up for the week was: ANNIE (4.0%), EVITA(3.2%),

Down for the week was: NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-37.1%), GRACE (-27.7%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (-24.9%), WAR HORSE (-22.3%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-19.3%), WICKED (-17.8%), THE HEIRESS (-15.5%), CHICAGO (-15.1%), NEWSIES (-14.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-14.0%), CHAPLIN (-14.0%), SCANDALOUS (-12.4%), ONCE (-11.2%), AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (-10.3%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-10.3%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (-8.7%), THE LION KING (-8.4%), MARY POPPINS (-8.3%), JERSEY BOYS (-7.8%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-7.5%), ROCK OF AGES (-6.4%), THE PERFORMERS (-4.7%), MAMMA MIA! (-4.3%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-2.8%), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (-2.6%),

Posted on: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 @ 12:06 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

The Best of Broadway By The Year & Cyrano de Bergerac

The first 11 o’clock number of the evening came at around 8:05, when Marc Kudisch opened Town Hall’s The Best of Broadway By The Year concert by caressing Lerner and Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” with his rich, dramatic baritone and superlative musical acting skills.  It was a very appropriate opening since Kudisch, a regular participant throughout the concert series’ twelve-season history, very much represents what these evenings have evolved into; a look at what Broadway could be in a commercially different environment.

Broadway By The Year began as two modest concerts that were packaged as a part of Town Hall’s Not Just Jazz series.  Creator/writer/host Scott Siegel would select a calendar year (instead of a season) from Broadway’s past and a small ensemble of singers would perform selections from shows that opened that year, connected by narration that placed the songs in context in regards to developments in musical theatre, popular music and world events at that time.

They were an instant hit and soon expanded into a series of four concerts a season, all with music direction from Ross Patterson, with casts expanded to as many as a dozen and floor space expanded to include choreography.

And while musical theatre history has always been the focal point, loyal subscribers to the series have been witnessing a kind of alternate version of Broadway’s present, as Siegel has assembled an ensemble of performers as regular participants who represent some of the finest musical theatre talent that can currently be offered, yet their names are barely known beyond the relatively small population of frequent Broadway attendees.

Broadway audiences have always loved big-name stars, but for most of the 20th Century those big names came directly from the theatre and made Broadway the focus of their careers.  Today we have stars like Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, who are best known to the public for appearing in Broadway musicals and can still attract the valued tourist dollars, but newer names above marquee titles – such as Raul Esparza and now, Carolee Carmello – remain unknown to the general public, despite their proven expertise, while inexperienced celebrities with underdeveloped stage musical skills receive standing ovations for performances that can easily be topped by Broadway regulars who ride the subway home unnoticed.

But when Scott Siegel hosts a show at Town Hall – such as this finale to the 2012 Broadway Cabaret Festival – those lesser-known Broadway regulars are considered stars by the knowledgeable audience members who appreciate seasoned skill above celebrity.  So when Marc Kudisch comes back on stage to sing a standard like “If I Were A Rich Man,” the house responds enthusiastically because a worthy professional is giving a fresh interpretation of an old favorite – playing a robust, demanding Tevye – phrasing familiar lines with unexpected inflections.  And when he teams with Jeffrey Denman, playing romantically frustrated fairy tale princes expressing their “Agony,” their vocal prowess is matched by their pinpoint clowning.

And when Denman teams with Noah Racey for “Educate Your Feet,” the customers respond not only to the delight of watching two top-shelf Broadway song and dance men, but to the fine give-and-take between the snazzy sharpness of Denman and the boyish grace of Racey (who used that boyish grace so charmingly in Golden Boy’s “Yes, I Can”).

It’s expected that a great singing actress like Kerry O’Malley would thrill an audience with a dramatic solo like “I Dreamed A Dream,” but what’s unexpected is that she would take a seldom-heard piece like “Cigarettes, Cigars” (a sort of “Ten Cents A Dance” for a nightclub smokes salesgirl) and provide the same chills by playing its period melodramatics with gutsy honesty.  Exemplary musical dramatic skills were also displayed by Barbara Walsh with Marc Blitzstein’s sobering lesson in Depression Era economics, “The Nickel Under The Foot.”

Christine Andreas was joyously French with “Storybook” and “I Love Paris” and Lari White, the three-time Grammy winning country/gospel vocalist who Siegel plucked from the ensemble of the short-lived Ring of Fire, presented two wonderfully details portraits of troubled women with “Doatsy Mae” and “A Terrific Band And A Real Nice Crowd.”

Darius de Haas wowed the crowd with The Hot Mikado’s “I, The Living I,” Eddie Korbich was heart-breakingly sincere with “There, But For You, Go I” and Stephen DeRosa was slickly vaudevillian with “Is It The Girl Or Is It The Gown?”

Kendrick Jones, who performed in his first Scott Siegel concert while still in high school, frequently sends jaws dropping with tap dancing routines that switch from rapid-fire footwork to gliding moves that seem propelled by water jets.  Through the years his singing voice has matured with strength and confidence, as demonstrated by his fine rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”  The fact that this exciting young performer is not being given opportunities to stop shows cold in featured roles in Broadway musicals can be taken as proof that there’s something seriously wrong with Broadway.

The Best of Broadway By The Year also featured performers better known beyond the musical theatre stage.  Lumiri Tubo offered a smooth and mellow “St. Louis Blues” and Carole J. Bufford beautifully phrased the emotions of “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine.”  Christina Bianco, a Forbidden Broadway favorite, lent her hilarious mimicry to “Cabaret,” performing the tune as Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Judy Garland, Patti LuPone, Julie Andrews and Celine Dion.

Bill Daugherty, known in the industry as a vocal teacher, gave a lesson in musical theatre character acting and pathos with a purely Runyonesque “Sit Down, Your Rockin’ The Boat” and noble and dignified “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”

Despite such an abundance of talent on stage, Beth Leavel was the only Tony-winner in the bunch, wrapping up the proceedings with a delectably saucy “From This Moment On.”

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy:  Top: Jeffry Denman and Marc Kudisch; Center: Kerry O'Malley; Bottom: Kendrick Jones.


Douglas Hodge might well make a habit out of successfully injecting rough, working stiff edges into characters traditionally played for their elegance.  He pulled the trick with his decidedly unglamorous performance as Albin in La Cage aux Folles and now scores a palpable hit as the title character of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.

It’s all in the nose.  The lengthy proboscis describe by its owner as “a peninsula,” and usually crafted with a graceful slope, actually looks more like a pile of rubble in director Jamie Lloyd’s vivaciously rowdy mounting of Ranjit Bolt's invigorating translation.  (Although, what is it these days with adaptors sticking modern phrases into pieces that otherwise evoke a specific period?)

As the lesser-born nobleman who is swift with the sword, eloquent with poetry and nevertheless suffering from an extreme case of poor body image, Hodge’s Cyrano is a man who masks his self-doubt with swaggering humor, though crushed with the belief that his looks condemn him to never being worthy of the heart of his beautiful cousin Roxane, who favors the attractive, but inarticulate soldier, Christian.  In the famous balcony scene, where the poet hides in the shadows to impersonate Christian in feeding her the words of love she longs to hear, Hodge’s Cyrano is in agony, suppressing his longing for the selfless act of giving his love what he thinks she wants.  When the two men are sent to war and Cyrano risks death every day to send her letters of Christian's devotion from the front lines, it’s with a noble sense of duty.  Hodge’s Cyrano is a good guy who needs a hug, or at least a year of therapy.

Kyle Soller's Christian is boyishly callow and Clémence Poésy’s Roxane is suitably naïve, but it’s the lusciously timbered Patrick Page who matches Hodge’s star turn in his brief appearances as the villainously elegant Comte de Guiche.

Soutra Gilmour’s darkly-hued unit set and costumes under Japhy Weideman’s soft lighting give the handsome production the look of a classic oil painting.

Photo of Patrick Page and Douglas Hodge by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Friday, November 02, 2012 @ 01:35 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 10/28/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week


"Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."

-- Gore Vidal, The Best Man


The grosses are out for the week ending 10/28/2012 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE HEIRESS(0.1%),


Posted on: Thursday, November 01, 2012 @ 12:35 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

House For Sale

The program for Transport Group’s premiere production of director Daniel Fish’s stage adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s essay, House For Sale, tells us that every performance is different, because each actor has apparently memorized the entire ninety minute piece and the sections of the text they perform each night are determined on the spot when the on-stage rows of lights display the color they’ve been assigned.  Unfortunately, audience members don’t get programs until after the play is done, so if you’re not aware that the original piece was written in one voice you have no idea that each ensemble member represents the same person and may wind up spending too much time trying to figure out what the blinking lights are supposed to mean.

Frazen’s essay, published in his 2007 collection The Discomfort Zone, concerns the author’s childhood memories and more recent observations as he prepares the house he grew up in to be sold after his mother’s death.  Unfortunately, Fish’s abstract approach to the material not only does nothing to enhance Frazen’s words, it alienates the audience from whatever value the text may contain.

The five-member ensemble (Rob Campbell, Lisa Joyce, Merritt Janson, Christina Rouner and Michael Rudko) occupies a lengthy playing area that the audience looks down on from seats on risers.  A fourth wall lies horizontally between the stage and the seats and has a mounted video screen that projects directly upward and upside down from the audience’s vantage point.  Long rows of folding chairs give the playing space the look of an airport waiting room.  Inexplicably connected projections, like the bloody conclusion to the film Bonnie and Clyde, are shown on the upstage wall.

The play begins with each actor taking turns delivering the same monologue, speeding up each turn until the words are gibberish.  They sometimes sing the text.  There’s a point where they speak in unison while all jog furiously in place.  Soon after, there is text where each actor speaks one word at a time.  One cast member is dragged across the length of the stage while speaking of economic matters.  Another dons a Minnie Mouse costume while telling of a family trip to Disney World.

What is done is done very well, but what the production has to do with the text is baffling.

Photo of Lisa Joyce, Rob Campbell, Christina Rouner, Michael Rudko and Merritt Janson by Carol Rosegg.

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Posted on: Saturday, October 27, 2012 @ 03:35 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.