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  • AmericanTheaterWeb Original News & Reviews

  • Use the calendar above to find ATW News & Reviews for a specific day, or use the list to the right to go to a specific review or article. The site's updated 3-4 times a day generally. For you convenience, links below will take you to ATWTopNews (a quick listing of links to some of the day's top stories) and to ATWClips (the complete digest of the day's news from ATW).


ATW Review: 'The Visit'

As the old saying goes, "Money makes the world go around." This phrase was immortalized in song by John Kander and Fred Ebb for the film version of their 1966 breakthrough musical, Cabaret. The team returned to the theme of the power and allure of cold cash for their musical version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit, which premiered in 2001 at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. For a while, it was rumored that the show, which reunited the team with bookwriter Terrence McNally and stage legend Chita Rivera, both involved in another Kander and Ebb hit, Kiss of the Spider Woman, would find its way to New York, but a production has never materialized on the East Coast, until now. Last night, The Visit, an ambitious and often quite satisfying enterprise, opened at the Signature Theatre in Arlington Virginia.

The musical centers on what happens when Claire Zachanassian (Rivera) returns to Brachen, the tiny European city that she grew up in, a penniless outcast. She's now the wealthiest woman in the world while Brachen, once thriving, is bankrupt and its citizens live in poverty. The townspeople of Brachen are, understandably, delighted by Claire's visit, reasoning that they might be able to persuade her to use some of her fortune on their behalf. What they do not anticipate is that she has come to town with the very idea of financially assisting them, but on one condition: they must take steps to avenge the wrongs that were inflicted on her when she was a teenager. Specifically, she wants the people of Brachen to kill Anton Schell (George Hearn), father to the illegitimate child Claire carried as a teen, and the man directly responsible for her leaving Brachen in disgrace.

While the good folk of Brachen – from the officious mayor (Mark Jacoby) to the town's moralist schoolmaster (Jeremy Webb) –scoff at Claire's request, they almost simultaneously begin to buy things on credit – primarily from the general store that Schell runs. The lure of the windfall proposed by Claire clearly has had its impact. The only remaining question is if her condition is to be met, how will it be carried out?

Dürrenmatt's play, and McNally's book, takes a dark look at human nature, hypocrisy, avarice and even love. Elements of the symbolism from the original remain here, including the chief purchase that's made by all of the Brachen citizens: yellow shoes. Also, many of the tiny details about the affair that sent Claire from Brachen remain deliciously in place.

Kander's score for The Visit is a complex blend of sounds. At times, the music brings to mind composers like Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel; at others, Kander seems to be referencing traditional folk melodies and/or popular music from the first decades of the 20th century. Ebb's lyrics, written before his death in 2003, as always fit Kander's work flawlessly, even as they match the piece's overall bitter and rueful tone.

Unfortunately, though, even as the score impresses, The Visit, as a musical, doesn't always fully satisfy. Directed with efficiency by Frank Galati, on a dour set from designer Derek McLane that features two levels of archways, the production never quite finds an even keel where distant youthful romance and mordant humor can combine to electrifying effect. Periodically, this does happen, generally when Rivera, looking regal, leonine and ever-so misty eyed in Susan Hilferty's elegant couture ensembles, and Hearn, singing powerfully, even as he makes Schell something of a broken man, are together. Together, these two simultaneously are ex-teen lovers thrilled to be in one another's presence and two adversaries, who know that death lies just around the corner.

Elsewhere, though, success is sporadic. Choreographer Ann Reinking adds sparkle to "The One-Legged Tango" – a macabre sequence that Claire (who has a wooden leg) shares with her entourage: a manservant (Doug Kreeger), bodyguards (Howard Kaye, Alan H. Green), whom she dresses as 18th century footmen, and two eunuchs (Ryan Lowe, Matthew Deming), who are dressed as sort of erstwhile Charlie Chaplins. Here, glamour and gallows humor combine marvelously, but during the moments danced by D.B. Bonds and Mary Ann Lamb, who play the teen incarnations of Claire and Anton, one feels neither the surge of young love nor the ironic disdain that middle age can cast on such emotions.

Similarly, as the play moves toward its conclusion, Anton prepares to go to a town meeting. His wife (Karen Murphy), son (Kevin Reed) and daughter (Cristen Paige) ask if he'll need them there. If not, they'd prefer to go into the next town to shop. He assures them that they don't need to be at the gathering, and asks only that they share a family drive in his son's new car. It's a chilling moment – clearly Anton's been abandoned: financial gain has superseded familial love and duty. Yet, curiously, the ride does not propel The Visit toward its brutal and intricately layered ending, which artfully comments on the townspeople's greed and the love that Claire and Anton shared.

Audiences leave The Visit grateful for many things: Rivera and Hearn's beautifully crafted performances, the fine work from the ensemble surrounding them, and Kander and Ebb's lush – perhaps most ambitious – score, yet strangely unsatisfied by this darkly cautionary piece.


The Visit continues through June 22 at The Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA). Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8p.m.; and Sunday at 2 and 7p.m. Tickets are $56.00 - $77.00 and can be purchased by calling 703-573-SEAT. Further information is available online at www.Signature-Theatre.org.

ATW Review: 'Port Authority'

In Conor McPherson's Port Authority, which opened last night at the Atlantic Theater Company in Chelsea, three interlocking monologues, delivered by three generations of Irishmen, converge with striking resonance, as they describe their hopes, fears and failures.

The youngest of the three, Kevin (John Gallagher, Jr.), has just come off a disastrous attempt to move out of his parents' home. He's moved in with a group of friends. The eldest in McPherson's comedy-laced play is Joe (Jim Norton), who's remembering the early years of his marriage, thanks to a package that he's received at the retirement home where he now lives. The middle-aged member of the trio, Dermot (Brian D'Arcy James), shares perhaps the most heartbreaking of the three stories, relating the unfortunate details of a new job offer that he recently accepted.

McPherson, a consummate storyteller, weaves these three men's tales together across their generational divides in surprising and ingenious ways (although in one instance, how a crossover between the histories is never fully explained). More impressively though, the men's stories echo one another thematically in delicate ways. By the time the piece, running just under an hour and a half, ends, we've learned how that no matter what the men's ages, they've all experienced, for instance, the exhilaration and fear attendant on new love.

As with one enmeshment between stories that goes unresolved, it's never clear why the three men are all in a train or bus station (represented in Takeshi Kata's spare scenic design by a single large wooden bench). Somehow though, thanks to the invaluable contributions of lighting designer Matthew Richards and sound designer Bart Fasbender, the location where the men are first discovered becomes unimportant. Through gentle shifts in the lighting and soundscape, we're transported to a variety of locations in Ireland and even into the U.S.

Under Henry Wishcamper's sure-handed direction, the trio of actors delivers beautifully nuanced performances. Gallagher, late of Spring Awakening, is almost unrecognizable as the angst-ridden scruffy teen from the Irish hinterlands. Norton imbues the eldest of the trio with a general goodwill and sort of impishness that charms. Most impressive is James, who downplays Dermot's working-class background crassness, making him endearing rather than grossly harsh.

Ultimately, Port Authority compels with its powerful blend of storytelling and performance.


Port Authority plays at Atlantic Theatre Company's Linda Gross theater (336 West 20th Street). Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2 and 8pm; and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $55.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200. Further information is available online at: www.AtlanticTheater.org.

Review: 'Fuerza Bruta' [from the archive]

There's no question – Fuerzabruta is a dazzling acrobatic and thrilling technological theatrical event. This new show, which opened last night at the Daryl Roth Theatre, has been developed by Diqui James, the man who brought New Yorkers the aerialist event De La Guarda, and for 65 minutes, it swirls tantalizingly around its audience.

Ostensibly, there's no traditional narrative in Fuerzabruta. And, according to the show's program there is no hidden message in the piece: "No one knows the meaning of the work, because it doesn't have one." Yet from the moment Fuerzabruta begins, and as each amazing sequence unfolds, one senses that the show does have a unifying theme: the ability for the individual to overcome enormous obstacles. Initially, audiences witness this as a man walks, then runs, on a 6' high treadmill that's wheeled into the center of the theater. As his running becomes more frantic, chairs – placed onto the treadmill's belt by technicians – rush by him. Soon other performers are zipping along the treadmill, only to zip straight off. Ultimately, the man's crushing through walls made of white cardboard boxes even as a strong wind tries to hold him back.

When the treadmill has been removed from the playing area, the audience filling in where it had stood, a giant silver mylar curtain surrounds theatergoers and two women cavort on the curtain's surface, suspended in mid-air, jumping and running around the curtain's arc parallel to the ground. It's a stunning visual – particularly as illuminated in magenta and yellow by lighting designer Edi Pampn. Soon, though, the curtain begins to undulate and one watches as the women are "bounced" on the surface on which they frolicked – tumbling to and fro – tossed seemingly by an earthquake underneath the shimmering surface.

Other sequences – one involving what can best be described as a huge mylar flyswatter which gyrates wildly as a man and woman attempt to reach one another from opposite sides, and one – perhaps the show's most stunning success – involving a shallow swimming pool the size of the theater that descends to just above theeatergoers' heads – are equally playful and yet somehow disturbing, particularly in the latter sequence as the performers in the pool literally slam themselves into the water and onto the audience.

Here, there's a barrier between the performers (there are 13 in total) and audience. At other moments, the performers, drenched in both their sweat and water from the show's aquatic sequences, crash into the thick of the spectator/participants, urging the individuals to dance along to Gaby Kerpel's pulsating electronic score that pumps through Hernan Nupieri's sound system at levels that set the heart racing. During another segment, the performers proffer rectangular pieces of Styrofoam to audience members, goading theatergoers to break the white sheets on their own heads.

It's perhaps at this moment that one ceases to search for meaning in Fuerzabruta (which means "Brute Force"), and simply allows oneself to be swept away in the piece's Carnival-like atmosphere (which flags ever-so slightly at the piece's midpoint) and into this controlled rave-like world where gravity seems to have disappeared. One leaves exhilarated by the event, marveling at the designers' achievements, at the performers' physical prowess, and (and this comes well after one has left the theater), contemplating the deeper implications of the visuals that one has just experienced.


Fuerzabruta plays at the Daryl Roth Theatre (29 Union Square East). Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 8pm; Friday at 8 and 10pm; Saturday at 7 and 10pm, and Sunday at 7pm. Tickets are $70.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200. Further information is available online at www.fuerzabruta.net