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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).


'Washer/Dryer' - Newlyweds in A Comedic Spin Cycle

Nandita Shenoy and Johnny Wu in Washer/Dryer
(©Isaiah Tanenbaum)

Nandita Shenoy has the makings for a pretty good sitcom in her new play Washer/Dryer that opened last at Theatre Row in a Ma-Yi Theatre production.

If she wanted it to hit the small screen, she might be able to pitch it as a contemporary urban comedy about two newlyweds trying to figure out life together in a tiny New York studio after their impetuous Las Vegas marriage. Complicating their lives are a crew of quirky neighbors and relatives.

Indeed, Michael (played with increasing exasperation by Johnny Wu) and Sonya (playwright Shenoy) have just embarked on married life together in her studio apartment. They've known each other only three months, and he's just moved in after their quickie ceremony out West. The trouble is that he's not told his mother about the wedding and has even stalled his family meeting his new bride. Further complicating matters, Sonya can't tell anyone that Michael has moved in with her. There's a clause about the space being only single occupancy in her agreement with her co-op board.

It shouldn't be any surprise that both Michael's mom (a dry turn from Jade Wu), who just goes by her professional name, Dr. Lee, and Wendee (amusingly rendered by Annie McNamara), the nosy, self-involved president of the board arrive to complicate matters for the couple. So, too, does Sonya's downstairs neighbor, the flamboyantly gay Sam (a sweetly sassy turn from Jamyl Dobson). His presence actually helps the couple scrape by as they attempt to fool Wendee about Michael's presence; for a while, Michael has to pretend to be Sonya's best gay pal.

Some might wonder what the big deal is, and why the couple just doesn't plan to sell and move somewhere else. The reason that Sonya's not looking at this option is that she refuses to give up the place because it has a washer/dryer combo.

The scenario amuses and brings to mind some classic comedies, including Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and Three's Company. Shenoy has a good ear for dialogue and sets up some funny situations. The problem, though, is that she does this at the expense of logic. For instance, how Michael moved his boxes of stuff in past unseen doorman Felipe, remains a mystery.

Nevertheless, Washer/Dryer, directed by Benjamin Karmine, breezes along as Johnny and Sonya swerve around the complications that crop up over the course of one rather frenetic evening, and although they squabble, they do manage to reach a new and happier place in their marriage. There are, no doubt, other issues that they'll face as they wend their way through life. What will her parents make of the marriage, and what about Michael's dad? Chances are this is a couple whose lives could be in a comedic spin for a while.

---- Andy Propst

Washer/Dryer plays at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). For more information and tickets, visit: ma-yitheatre.org.

'Sojourners' - Nigerian Immigrants Face Life in 1970s America

Chinasa Ogbuagu and Hubert Point-Du Jour in Sojourners
(©Chasi Annexy)

A potentially moving play lies underneath the surface of Mfoniso Udofia's Sojourners, which opened at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater last night in a Playwrights Realm production.

Udofia's timely drama centers on a trio of Nigerian immigrants who are all attempting to carve out a life for themselves in the late 1970s in Houston, Texas while also grappling with issues of assimilation. There are also other struggles, particularly for Abasiama and her husband Ukpong. They are both students and expecting their first child. The trouble is that, while she carries the baby, works a job, and diligently studies, he's more interested in carousing with friends and listening to the Motown music that he holds near and dear to his heart.

Difficulties of a different sort loom for a man who has taken the name "Disciple." He has found himself completely stalled when it comes to his writing in this country. Even attempts at dictating in his native tongue and then transcribing in English prove fruitless. At one point, as he struggles to complete one sentence, he exclaims, "My Lord! How many words for almost the same thing here?!"

Their stories have the potential to be fascinating and powerful stuff. So to does that of streetwise Annamae, who has taken the apt name of "Moxie," and whose life intersects with the three others after she's met Abasiama at the gas station where the once-privileged Nigerian woman works, Unfortunately, much of Udofia's detail-rich script plays as if it were a series of overlapping monologues, many of which repeat the same information.

Further undermining the potential of the play is Ed Sylvanus Iskandar's direction which requires the performers to generally look toward the audience as they speak. This style breaks any sense of emotional connection that the characters might have with one another and only further distances theatergoers from the action.

It's a pity because the tales that Udofia's sharing are pungent, and Iskandar has a superlative four person ensemble at his disposal. Chinasa Oguagu and Hubert Point-Du Jour both spark with a genuine chemistry as the married couple and even as they bring the pair's antagonisms to uncomfortably to life. There's also fine work from Chinaza Uche, who never makes Disciple's religious zealotry caricatured, and from Lakisha Michelle May, who brings both feral toughness and lovely vulnerability to her turn as Moxie.

Beyond the performers, Sojourners benefits from Jason Sherwood's clever scenic design, which underscores how Udofia's characters are living on their own sort of personally created islands, while simultaneously allowing the show to flow between apartments, the gas station and ultimately a hospital room.

Sojourners, which Udofia labels as "the first ufot family play, may not succeed in touching theatergoers, but there's enough intelligence in the piece to make one wonder what might follow in this seeming series.

---- Andy Propst

Sojourners plays at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (416 West 42nd Street). For more information and tickets, visit: playwrightsrealm.org.

'Wide Awake Hearts' - A Pirandellian Look at

Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole, and Clea Alsip in Wide Awake Hearts
(©Carol Rosegg)

Theatergoers enter a multimedia Pirandellian universe in Brendan Gall's Wide Awake Hearts, which opened last night at 59E59 Theaters.

Gall's conceit for the piece centers on the seemingly sunny relationship between a hotshot filmmaker and his actress wife as they start work on his newest project, a movie about a woman's infidelity. As the woman's costar and her onscreen love interest, the director has cast one of their oldest and dearest friends. The man also happens to be someone with whom the actress may have had an affair.

The cinematic fiction that the director creates and the perhaps-reality of this love triangle blend together in Gall's drama as scenes from both the movie and the characters' real lives play out. Gall further complicates matters by having the director hire a new editor for the movie, a woman who also happens to be the actor's on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Gall gives none of the characters names. They are simply A, B, C, and D, and this abstraction distances theatergoers from the action, allowing them instead to concentrate on the blurred layers of the script and Gall's overall agenda with the play. On one level the piece resembles a contemporary revenger's play as, throughout, theatergoers suspect that the director's motivations stem from wanting to catch and punish his wife and friend.

On another plane, the play serves an exploration of a query the director makes about people's desire to consume almost any form of popular entertainment: Given that conflict lies at the heart of any drama, he wonders, as he pitches a new television show to an unseen crowd of producers, "What is it about us that makes us want to introduce more conflict into our already conflicted lives?"

Interestingly, the director's manipulation of the people around him prompt theatergoers to wonder the same thing about the man himself.

In director Stefan Dzeparoski's sparely elegant staging, which benefits enormously from Rocco Disanti's shrewdly conceived projection design that makes the filmic aspects of the piece spring to life with a noir-like sensuality and Mike Riggs' subtly blazing lighting design, the query lingers and teases the imagination.

So, too, do a quartet of intensely delivered performances, particularly Tony Naumovski who makes the actor a marvelously brooding and gently menacing figure and Clea Alsip who brings devil-may-care allure to her turn as the actress. Ben Cole's work as the director has a seen-it-all arrogance about it that both amuses and charms, and Maren Bush brings a wearied aloofness to her turn as the editor who's a pawn in the director's cat-and-mouse game, which isn't very different from the one that playwright Gall plays in his opaque play.

---- Andy Propst

Wide Awake Hearts plays at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: 59E59.org.

'Our Mother's Brief Affair' - A Trio of Memory Plays Intertwine

Kate Arrington, Greg Keller, Linda Lavin, and John Procaccino in Our Mother's Brief Affair
(©Joan Marcus)

Richard Greenberg offers up a trio of intertwined memory plays in Our Mother's Brief Affair, which opened last night at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway. The densely constructed piece also happens to be frustratingly sprawling, nevertheless it has the ability to amuse and stir hearts.

At its most basic, Brief Affair centers on Seth's recollections of his mother Anna's dotage and her admission of having had an affair while he and his twin sister Abby were just teenagers. Seth assumes that Anna's confession in her hospital room comes from the senility of old age, but as she relates the specifics of how she met her lover—and thanks to corroborating evidence provided by Abby—Seth has to accept that his mother did indeed have the relationship.

It's the moments when Brief Affair shifts back to Anna's middle age heyday that the play's second memory play comes to the fore. Audiences see how Anna and her lover met and watch as their trysts in Central Park become increasingly serious, ultimately leading to the moment they begin taking a hotel room. It's there that the lover makes a startling revelation about his real identity.

As for the third level of memory at work in Brief Affair, it's one that concerns Anna's own childhood and an event that has informed the entirety of her adulthood. Audiences never witness the events of this tale unfold, but when Anna relates the sad story, it almost feels as if it has come to life on the stage.

Greenberg's play flows back and forth in time as these various narratives mesh together, and in director Lynne Meadow's understated and beautifully fluid staging, what could potential confound feels crystal clear, thanks to careful shifts in Peter Kaczorowski's lighting design against Santo Loquasto's abstract, autumnally-hued set and a pair of immaculate performances from Linda Lavin, who stars as Anna, and Greg Keller, who plays son Seth.

Lavin, who delivers Greenberg's expertly phrased epigrams with a marksman's precision, glides between Anna's old age and middle age simply by removing the woman's signature Burberry coat, which doubles as a bathrobe, and shifting her posture. Keller, without the aid of any costume differentiation from designer Tom Broecker shifts between adulthood and childhood simply by changing his body language. Lavin ultimately shifts back even further in time when Anna recalls events from her own childhood, and for a few brief moments, one almost feels as she has become a teenager herself.

Alongside Lavin and Keller are Kate Arrington, who brings a certain dry-humored feistiness to her portrayal of Abby; and John Procaccino, who imbues his portray of the Anna's lover with genuine warmth and, for one brief scene, makes Greg and Abby's dad a coarsely gruff and comic figure.

They are all performance to savor, and oftentimes they are enough to help theatergoers overlook the moments when Greenberg attempts to make his play more grandiose than it probably needs to be. For instance, the problems that Abby, who has relocated from New York to California, has with her lesbian partner seem to be a distraction initially. The playwright ultimately resolves them to balance themes about growing into marriage, just as Anna did on some levels. Nevertheless, these small sections of the play feel as if they are simply literary devices.

Even more problematic are the larger political themes that come into play after the lover has revealed his identity. It's at these moments that Brief Affair takes on a rather didactic tone, and though Greenberg once again resolves them to bring closure to notions of forgiveness—of both others and oneself—the politics upset the balance of what is otherwise a thoroughly charming and compassionate novella that has found its way to the stage.

---- Andy Propst

Our Mother's Brief Affair plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: manhattantheatreclub.com.

'Skeleton Crew' - Timeless and Moving Human Drama

Jason Dirden, Lynda Gravatt, and Nikiya Mathis in Skeleton Crew
(©Ahron Foster)

A timeless and moving human drama unfolds in Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, which opened last night at Atlantic Stage 2 in Chelsea.

Set in 2008, the play centers on four employees at a troubled car factory as the auto industry undergoes a crisis while facing its potentially imminent demise. At the show's heart is Faye (Lynda Gravatt), a veteran of nearly 30 years at the company, where, as she puts it, "I been from stamping doors to installing shocks to them seven years I spent sewing interiors." Faye also serves as the union rep at the plant, a kind of surrogate mother, not just for her assembly-line co-workers Dez (Jason Dirden) and Shanita (Nikya Mathis) but also for Reggie (Wendell B. Franklin), a foreman at the plant and a man whose late mother was Faye's dearest friend.

The action unfolds in the break room at the plant (brought to the stage with a lived-in warmth and also factory-filled grime by scenic designer Michael Carnahan and lit with careful fluorescent glare by Rui Rita), and it reveals what happens when Faye has to balance her friendships with both sides of the corporate equation. Reggie reveals early on that the plant is going be shut down and asks her to help him keep it quiet. This, of course, is antithetical to her position for the union, but out of friendship she agrees.

The balance of the drama comes from both smaller life incidents, such as the ongoing flirtation between Dez and Shanita, and larger ones, like Reggie's ongoing persecution of Dez, which ultimately brings the play to its climax and sad conclusion.

Directed with gentleness, an eye for detail, and a sure sense of style by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Skeleton Crew captures audiences' imaginations. Adesola Osakalumi's stylized dance-movement sequences complement Santiago-Hudson's work, re-creating the arduous and monotonous routine of the assembly line. These sequences—set to sound designer Robert Kaplowitz's original music—open the production and punctuate certain scenes.

The cast delivers Morisseau's drama—and comedy—with aplomb. Gravatt's turn as Faye combines gruffness and seen-it-all weariness with incredible compassion and sensitivity. As Dez, Dirden blends hotheadedness and streetwise hauteur with an air of maturity to exquisite effect, and, as Shanita, Mathis fuses a sense of femininity and tomboyish-ness in her performance, layering it with a kind of dreaminess that makes the character continually intriguing. Franklin's rendering of Reggie is equally nuanced, and even when the character is at his most "managerial," it's difficult not to feel for this man, who’s walking a thin line of being both a businessman and friend.

The play slowly and consistently goes to work on theatergoers' minds and hearts and in the end proves both deeply moving and thought provoking. It's a sumptuous combination of writing and performance, resulting in a production that lingers well after the audience has left the theater.

---- Andy Propst

Skeleton Crew plays at Atlantic Stage 2(330 East 16th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: atlantictheater.org.