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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).


'Ironbound' - Gritty, Moving Drama

Shiloh Fernandez and Marin Ireland in Ironbound
(©Sandra Coudert)

Playwright Martyna Majok distills a Polish woman's tumultuous and difficult life in America to absorbing effect in the new play Ironbound, which has just opened in at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in a co-production with Women's Project Theater.

Delivered in a series of taut two-character scenes that take place at an almost abandoned bus stop in New Jersey (authentic scenic design by Justin Townsend), the play takes audiences on a bracing journey with this woman, Darja, hopping back and forth through time. There are moments when she is mid-breakup with Tommy, a postal worker and womanizer who is the third man in her life.

At others, theatergoers see the optimism and prickly relationship she shared with Maks, a fellow immigrant who seems to be the love of her life. Audiences never meet the abusive man who Darja married in between her time with Maks and Tommy, but Majok does introduce them to Vic, a teenager—a privileged, wannabe-thug—whom Darja encounters after she has been assaulted by her husband.

Through the course of the episodic play, what audiences come to understand is how Darja, already hardened by an arduous life in her homeland, becomes even more embittered and calculating as both genuine affection—she believes—and the "American Dream" elude her. It's not entirely an unfamiliar tale, but thanks to Majok's crackingly blunt writing, Daniella Topol's detail-rich direction, and a quartet of splendid performances, Ironbound delivers a punch.

At the center of the production is Marin Ireland's ferocious and yet still vulnerable performance as Darja. Never a retiring performer, Ireland embraces Darja's willfulness and anger with passion, never shying away from the woman's hardness and sometimes mean-spiritedness. At the same time, Ireland never loses sight of Darja's innate warmth.

It's a performance of marvelous complexity that's matched by the actors playing the men who pass through Darja's life. As the Polish man who is also the father of Darja's son, Josiah Barnia turns in a decidedly sweet performance. He imbues the character with a dreamy naiveté, which makes it nearly instantly understandable why he and Darja, though in love, are ill-suited for one another.

As Tommy, Morgan Spector brings a wiry and tautly strung energy to the stage, and his presence and performance beautifully complement Ireland's. During the scenes that the two share, as the couple negotiate the terms of their relationship and cope with his myriad infidelities, Spector and Morgan make it abundantly clear why these two are both constitutionally suited for one another and also, in the long run, in for a long, difficult life together.

Playing the most surprising character in the play, Vic, the teenager who has come to the bus stop to meet pals who for a night of weed smoking at a hotel (both of which he'll pay for), Shiloh Fernandez delivers a performance of sensitivity and restraint. This would-be suburban white thug could become a gross caricature of affluent pretenders, but thanks to Fernandez' shrewd work, it's a one that becomes decidedly touching.

The same can be said about Ironbound in its entirety. This gritty and hard-hitting play could very well turn into a tiresome exploration of themes and stereotypes audiences have often encountered. Thanks to director Topol's and the cast's work, though, the play proves decidedly stirring.

---- Andy Propst

Ironbound plays at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place). For more information and tickets, visit: rattlestick.org.

'She Loves Me' - A Beautiful Musical Bon-Bon

Laura Benanti in She Loves Me
(©Joan Marcus)

Delicacy abounds in Scott Ellis' gorgeous revival of She Loves Me, which opened last night in a Roundabout Theatre Company production at Studio 54. From David Rockwell's pastel-colored sets to Laura Benanti's lilting soprano, the show brims with gentle pleasures.

For anyone unfamiliar with this 1963 show that has a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb, She Loves tells a story about two pen pals who have never met and who are very much in love. When their paths cross off the paper, however, they take an instant dislike to one another, each unaware of the other's identity. It's a romantic tale that's found its way to the movies often in films like Shop Around the Corner and more recently You've Got Mail.

She Loves Me unfolds in the story's original setting—1930s Hungary—in a small perfume shop. There, Georg Nowack (Zachary Levi) finds himself having to contend with a new salesclerk his boss hires, Amalia Balash (Benanti). They're the pen pals, and Georg finds her brash straightforwardness exceptionally unappealing. Similarly, she finds his gruffness and all-business manner distasteful.

When the shop owner Mr. Maraczek (Bryon Jennings) begins to take personal frustrations out on Georg, matters between the two unknown lovers only get worse. That is until he figures out who she is, and she begins to suspect that she might be feuding with the man she's come to adore on paper.

Scott Ellis' breezy production unfolds within the confines of Rockwell's handsome scenic design that works like a swirling pop-up book. It's hard not to just smile the first time the interior of the shop is revealed. The façade of the store splits open to reveal a two-story interior, filled with lighted display cases and a graceful wrought-iron staircase, all rendered in light pinks, yellows, greens, and blues. When the action moves to other locations such as the shop's storage room, Amalia's apartment, and the garish restaurant where Georg and Amalia's first pen pal tryst takes place, Rockwell's work proves to be equally deft . Each new setting evokes old world elegance as we'd like—in our most romantic imaginations—it to have been.

The same can be said of the characters and the cast's exquisite renderings of them. Benanti, who sings Bock's operetta-esque trills with beautiful grace, imbues Amalia with the sort of plucky charm that hearkens back to black and white screwball comedies. At the same time, she also brings a delicious sense of contemporary quirkiness to the role, making Amalia a woman audiences love almost instantly.

The same can be said of Levi's turn as Georg. There's something very upright and Jimmy Stewart leading-man about his performance (and Stewart did play the role at one point), and yet, Levi brings a lightness to the stage that has just a glint of modernity to it. Beyond this, Levi shares a marvelously prickly chemistry with co-star Benanti.

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski also spark with an amusing and palpable connection. They play, respectively, the womanizing Steven Kodaly, and the too-easily-put-upon-by men, Illona Ritter, two other clerks at the store who share an on-again, off-again relationship. One of the production's many highlights is a steamy pas de deux (from choreographer Warren Carlyle) they share, as he attempts to re-woo her during one of their "off-again" moments.

Rounding out the employee roles at Maraczek's is delivery-boy Arpad, who, played by Nicholas Barasch, proves to be a winning breath of pure innocence, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there's Michael McGrath's comically deft turn as the world weary clerk Ladislav Sipos.

Beyond Rockwell's design, there are some beautiful (and witty) period costumes from Jeff Mahshie, and lighting designer Donald Holder bathes the stages in a variety of colors that ably and astutely support the visuals. Unobtrusive sound design from Jon Weston means that Harnick's clever lyrics land perfectly on audiences' ears and simultaneously it balances what always can be tricky in this theater in particular: it balances the orchestral sound, gorgeous sweeping European melodies from Bock, that comes from boxes on either side of the stage. And, in this production that looks and sounds so remarkable, it's rough to just not fall for the musical bon-bon that is She Loves Me.

---- Andy Propst

She Loves Me plays at Studio 54 *254 West 54th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.roundabouttheatre.org.

'Disaster!' - 1970s Films Put Into Comic Musical Blender

Faith Prince, Kevin Chamberlin, and Kerry Butler in Diaster!
(©Jeremy Daniel Photography)

All of the stereotypical characters and confoundingly contrived relationships found in 1970s movies like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, and Airport mix with the pop hits of the era in the new comedy jukebox tuner Disaster!, which opened last night at the Nederlander Theatre. It's a recipe for theatrical cheesiness beyond compare and one that's served up with gusto by a spectacular array of Broadway talent.

Written by Seth Rudetsky (who co-conceived the piece with Drew Geraci) and Jack Plotnick, who also serves as director, Disaster! takes audiences aboard a gargantuan floating casino that's moored in the Hudson River. The vessel's unscrupulous owner (Roger Bart) has cut corners every step of the way in his development process, and because of this, all of the passengers and crew find themselves fighting for their lives, even as they offer up snippets of songs ranging from Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" to Lionel Richie's "Three Times a Lady" to Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

Rudetsky and Plotnick liberally borrow from the archetypes familiar from the schlocky movie genre and hence, Disaster! boasts a guitar-toting nun (played with perfect comic dryness by Jennifer Simard), a has-been disco diva (an underutilized Lacretta Nicole), and a career woman (the always-marvelous Kerry Butler), who has let her newspaper job get in the way of romance.

There's also a couple just-the-other-side-of-middle-age (a hysterical Faith Prince and an appealing Kevin Chamberlin), who are out for a night of fun; a cater-waiter (the still-ironlunged Adam Pascal) who's pining for the reporter; and a ditzy singer (brought to hysterically vapid life by Rachel York), who's trying to be a single mom to opposite-sex tween twins (both played with relish by Baylee Littrell). This woman, too, hopes to get the Barracuda's owner to marry her, but finds that maybe she'd be better off with the rabidly anxious scientist (Rudetsky) who predicts the perils awaiting the ship.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the genre at hand will anticipate most of what happens to these folks well before it takes place. What's harder to anticipate are the seriously silly ways in which Rudetsky and Plotnick spin them and how they incorporate the songs. Richie's "Lady," for instance, becomes a very, very odd number for a funeral at sea in act two.

Visually, the production also resembles the films that are being spoofed. Tobin Ost's scenic design brims with the sort of chintzy opulence one associates with movies of this ilk, and it does manage to dopily recreate the big moment from Poseidon. Similarly, William Ivey Long's costume designs recall the era's worst fashion moments to comic—yet consistently flattering to the performers—effect.

Lighting designer Jeff Croiter and sound designer Mark Menard both provide able support to the production visually and aurally, and ultimately, Disaster!, thanks to the inestimable talents of the company, has steady enough theatrical sea-legs to provoke roars of laughter for those looking for a goofball night out.

---- Andy Propst

Disaster! plays at the NederlanderTheatre (208 West 41st Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.disastermusical.com.

'Eclipsed' - Smoldering Drama Set in War-Torn Liberia

Pascale Armand, Lupita Nyong'o, and Saycon Sengbloh in Eclipsed
(©Joan Marcus)

Five performers are turning in immaculate and heartrending performances in Danai Gurira's Eclipsed, which has just opened at Broadway's Golden Theatre.

The slow, smoldering drama, which had its New York premiere at the Public Theater last fall, plunges audiences into civil war-torn Liberia in 2003 and the compound of a rebel commander. At this home base, the "wives" of this unseen man struggle to survive and maintain a sense of dignity in face of unconscionable degradation.

These women, along with Rita (Akosua Busia), who comes a peacemaker with an agenda of her own, also fight to retain—or more appropriately relearn—their senses of individuality and identity: the things that have been "eclipsed" by the war.

Rich in detail and drama, the characters' stories are rife for searing performances, and the company, led by Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o, deliver turns that simultaneously touch and amuse. Nyongo plays a character simply known as "The Girl," a young woman who, as the play begins, is being hidden inside a bombed out concrete shelter (handsome scenic design and vibrant lighting design by Clint Ramos) by the commander's Wife #1 (Saycon Sengbloh) and Wife #3 (Pascale Armand). It's not long before the commander has raped Girl, making her Wife #4.

Nyong'o, effortlessly radiates warmth and goodness each time she smiles, traverses Girl's discomfiting tale with grace and ultimately harrowing finesse. As audiences slowly discover, Girl saw soldiers slaughter her parents, and while she endures life at the hands of the commander, she has more fight in her than her placid exterior might indicate. When the commander's Wife #2 (Zainab Jah), who has struck out on her own as a solider herself, arrives, she recruits Girl with a promise of self-sufficiency and a life free from abuse. Girl comes to learn, though, that her life with Wife #2 comes at a cost, and in the end, Nyong'o renders delivers a heartbreaking performance as Girl faces exceptional moral conundrums.

Under Liesl Tommy's assured direction, Nyong'o's cast mates deliver equally nuanced and appealing performances. In her turn as Wife #1, Sengbloh exudes both strength and weariness as a woman who, by all estimates, has been tied to the commander for over a decade. There's also an incredible warmth to this woman who finds herself not only attempting to shield Girl, but also the very pregnant Wife #3, whom Armand imbues with comic and charming aggressiveness. Jah's turn as the Wife #2 sparks with appropriate fierceness and gruffness, as well as a cunning level of innocence that lies just below the character's warrior façade.

As the outsider who finds herself both witness to the women's lives and a part of them, Busia brings a wonderful hauteur to the stage, and it's marvelous to watch as Rita's cool, business-like demeanor crumbles during her time at the commander's camp.

Gurira concludes her play on both hopeful and an ambiguously sad notes. What will come next for these five women could be any theatergoer's guess. What's certain is that the time that has been spent in their company is immensely moving and unquestionably rewarding.

---- Andy Propst

Eclipsed plays at the John Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.eclipsedbroadway.com.

'Broadway and The Bard' - Two Different, Yet Related, Theatrical Worlds Meet

Len Cariou in Broadway and The Bard with Mark Janas at the piano.
(©Carol Rosegg)

A bit of theatrical lore from 45 years ago informs Len Cariou's appealing new show Broadway and The Bard, which opened last night at Theatre Row on 42nd Street. In 1969 this Tony-winning performer went directly from playing the title role in a brief run of Shakespeare's Henry V on Broadway to his first musical role, that of director Bill Simpson in Applause.

For this classically trained actor, who spent seasons at Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival and at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, it was a turning point of sorts. Since that time, he has originated roles in equal numbers of musicals and plays on Broadway. His work in the classics in New York has been limited but he has continued to perform them regionally. And yes, Cariou will probably be always associated with one role in particular: that demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd.

In this new show, created by Cariou with director Barry Kleinbort and musical director–pianist Mark Janas, the performer strives to bring the classical and musical sides of his career together, offering up portions of soliloquies from Shakespeare's plays alongside show tunes that echo or comment on the Bard's words.

The concept both intrigues and works remarkably well. For instance, it's fascinating when Cariou wryly delivers Petruchio's thoughts on how he'll "tame" the shrew Kate and then follows it with a delicate rendition of Lerner and Loewe's gentler "How to Handle a Woman" from Camelot. Equally successful is a pairing of one of Berowne's speeches from Love's Labour's Lost and Bob Merrill's "Her Face," as both beautifully explore the confusion and longing hunger that can accompany feelings of love.

There are some odd disjoints in the couplings of "Broadway" and "Bard." After Cariou intensely delivers a speech from King Lear, the lightly comedic "I'm Reviewing the Situation" from Lionel Bart's Oliver! seems somehow inappropriate, even it echoes the monarch's fears about aging. The same can be said of hearing the boisterous title number from Applause just after Cariou's offered up a galvanizing interpretation of Henry V's immortal battle cry. In this case, though, the whiplash audiences feel between the two probably is akin to what the performer himself experienced as he started in on the tuner.

Regardless, Broadway and The Bard ultimately succeeds because, throughout, Cariou commands attention during the spoken portions of the piece (one longs for him to take on some Shakespeare in the city soon). And when singing, his voice has a suppleness to it that charms.

The show unfolds in an environment from scenic designer Josh Iocavelli that evokes the back stages and front of houses of myriad theaters, and Matt Berman's lighting design gently shifts through the varied moods of the selections, as does Kleinbort's gentle direction for this journey through two different, yet related, theatrical worlds.

---- Andy Propst

Broadway and the Bard plays at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.amasmusical.org.