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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).

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ATW Review - Soul of Shaolin - Martial Arts Spectacle Tells Charming Tale

There's something exceedingly charming about large portions of Soul of Shaolin, the Chinese kung fu spectacular that opened on Broadway last night at the Marriott Marquis Theatre.

It may seem odd to consider a show that features nearly three dozen men expertly trained martial arts professionals from Shaolin Temple "charming," but consider the story that's told in "Soul." The show's a fairy tale of sorts about a woman (Wang Yazhi) in ancient China who is separated from her baby son during a time of war. Na Luo (Zhang Zhigang), a monk at the temple, finds the infant, Hui Guang, who's raised at the temple and learns to be an accomplished master of Shaolin Kung Fu himself. Eventually, mother and son are reunited, but only after each has taken a journey filled with hardship.

Underscored with a wildly eclectic recorded soundtrack, the story is told with no dialogue, and there's only scant narration (heard in what sounds to be a taped voiceover). Audiences will have no problem, however, following the tale, which unfolds through a series of sequences featuring intricate Kung Fu choreography and acrobatics (from Liu Tongbiao, who's also directed). The most dazzling work in "Soul" actually comes during the production's opening moments when the artists whirl and leaps across and around the stage as the warriors who are attacking the province near the temple. Many of the men wield weaponry – spears and scimitars with mylar blades that whir ominously, whips that produce short popping bursts when used, sounding like firecrackers. These aural effects (and Song Tianjiao's lighting design that shifts in fragmented staccato bursts) help make the first minutes of "Soul" simply heart-pounding.

After this, "Soul" settles into a sort of elaborate story theater mode (a sense enhanced by the backdrops and set pieces from Xie Tongmiao that look like ancient Chinese illustrations). Theatergoers see Hui Guang as a preteen (an enormously appealing and exceptionally talented Wang Sen), an adolescent (Dong Yingbo) and young man (a commanding Yu Fei). At times the show beguiles (particularly when a trio of teenage monks – really scallywags – is at play). At others, it astounds by virtue of the feats that the performers accomplish. Fei, when rescuing a woman in distress – whom he doesn't know is his mother – shatters two swords on his head. Another monk manages to send a threaded needle through a sheet of glass, puncturing a balloon. Perhaps the most amazing acrobatic feat, accomplished by young Sen and several of the adults are back flips that are accomplished not with their hands, but rather with their heads.

The art of Shaolin Kung Fu has been seen in any number of films, on television and recently at the opening of the Beijing Summer Olympics, and it's even more impressive to see it performed live than it is on screen. And when these artists' (or more appropriately athletes'?) routines are used to tell this slight story of love and overcoming obstacles, well, it is, in a word, charming.

---- Andy Propst


Soul of Shaolin continues through January 31 at the Marriott Marquis Theatre (1535 Broadway). Tickets are $50-$95. Performance schedule varies for complete information and ticketing visit: www.ticketmaster.com or www.SoulofShaolin.com. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 212-307-4100.

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ATW Reviews - Catch 'Em Before They Disappear - ¡Gaytino! & Jester of Tonga

It's been and is a weekend of heavy theatergoing to shows with shortish runs. I've caught two that really will disappear if you blink, and I think they're both worth mentioning, so herewith mini-reviews….

At the Zipper, Dan Guerrero will offer one more performance of his solo show ¡Gaytino! tonight – Sunday, January 11 – at 7pm. This is a sort of Chicano version of Billy Crystal's one-man play. In it, Guerrero charmingly pays tribute to his father, singer/songwriter Lalo Guerrero and boyhood friend Charles (better known today by his birth name Carlos) Almarez, who, like the younger Guerrero, re-embraced his heritage in adulthood, and became a world-class painter.

Guerrero's play charts his boyhood in East Los Angeles, his forays into the theater world of New York in the late 1960s and mid-1970s, and his later success as a producer back in California. Along the way, he shares his love of musical theater (his rendition of "Spanish Rose" from Bye Bye Birdie) is priceless, some fascinating tales about gay life in the days before Stonewall, and some juicy show biz gossip.

Although there were some rough spots in the show during its first performance, and though the piece would benefit from a sure-handed dramaturg who might help shape the material beyond a mere chronological biography, Guerrero is so winning and the stories so fresh and touching, that it's worth a look and hopefully will return to New York stages in a longer run.

You also have just one more chance to catch Jester of Tonga at P.S. 122 (tomorrow, Monday January 12 at 9:30p.m.). This piece, written and performed by Joseph Silovsky, is something of a multimedia shaggy dog story based on the exceedingly timely tale of Jesse Dean Bogdonoff, a banker charged with investing millions of dollars for the government of Tonga; money that eventually was lost, sending the country into chaos. (The SEC complaint against Bogdonoff can be found here.

Silovsky's play is notable on a number of levels. First there's the presence of the robot Stanley, who plays the financier. There's also Silovsky's use of shadow puppets, video and incorporation of tangential stories that make "Jester" not only a tale for today,but also an exceptionally amusing one.

---- Andy Propst

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ATW News Digest - Pre-Broadway Engagement of West Side Story faces critics - read the reviews

Washington Post

'West Side Story' at the National Theatre
This 'West Side Story' Is Fluent In the Language of the Heart

Baltimore Sun

Revved-up 'West Side Story' gets a trial run in Washington
The Broadway-bound revival of West Side Story that opened last night in Washington has dirt on its shins and blood under its fingernails.

Variety

Review: West Side Story
...a sincere and energetic production that still dazzles with Jerome Robbins' riveting choreography and the landmark Bernstein-Sondheim score. It could be the perfect tonic for Broadway's economic blues.

Potomac Stages

Review: West Side Story

ATW Digest - Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw opens off-Broadway - read the reviews

AmericanTheaterWeb

Review - Becky Shaw - A Dark Modern Comedy of Manners

New York Times

First-Date Dyspepsia and Marriage Queasiness
Gina Gionfriddo’s corker of a new play, “Becky Shaw,” is as engrossing as it is ferociously funny.

New York Daily News

'Becky Shaw' is 'slick, stylish,' but a bit too clever
A social study of haves and have-nots and the blurry line between the two, "Becky Shaw" is slick and stylish and flecked with pungent moments, but it buckles under too much clever dialogue.

amNY New York City Theater

Theater Review of Becky Shaw
It takes a while to see where exactly playwright Gina Gionfriddo is going in her slow-paced, verbose, yet intriguing black comedy “Becky Shaw,” which just opened at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage after a successful run at Kentucky’s Humana Festival.

New York Post

Sharp wit part of setup
Anyone planning to play matchmaker should first see "Becky Shaw." Gina Gionfriddo's scath ing, class-conscious comedy is a...

Bergen Record

Praised comedy opens off-Broadway "Becky Shaw"

Associated Press

Gionfriddo's 'Becky Shaw' Is a Sharp Social Comedy
''Becky Shaw,'' which opened Thursday at off-Broadway's Second Stage, is a sharp social comedy of articulate anger laced with large helpings of angst and ambition. The perfect nourishment for theatergoers starved for a dramatic conflagration or two.

Bloomberg.com

Tantalizing `Becky Shaw' Delivers Freakish Folks, Pithy Humor: John Simon
The plot of Gina Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw” is inconsequential and the characters are mundane, but the talk is a blue streak verging on purple. Presented by New York’s Second Stage, it is a comedy that subsists on its sweaty dialogue alone.

Financial Times

Becky Shaw, Second Stage, New York
Too often this play descends into soap-opera situations, writes Brendan Lemon

Variety

Review: Becky Shaw
...any charge of superficiality hardly counts as criticism, when character surfaces are so artfully defined by the savvy cast of Peter DuBois' slick production for Second Stage.

Back Stage

Becky Shaw reviewed by David Sheward
It seems as though all the hot action in Becky Shaw takes place offstage. A daughter has a nasty confrontation with her mother's new lover in a hotel lobby. Newlyweds have their first serious fight.

TheaterMania

Review: Bekcy Shaw
Gina Gionfriddo's cynical play about modern romance is as bogus as a Ponzi scheme.

Talkin' Broadway

Review: Becky Shaw
Economic problem drama, vibrant comic soap opera, or both? Who knows and who cares? For the majority of Becky Shaw, Gina Gionfriddo's deliciously unclassifiable new play at Second Stage, it hardly matters whether you're immersed in a hard-boiled domestic page-turner or an acid-toned satire of values and finances gone impossibly awry. All that's relevant is the insinuating energy of the title character, the helpless people in her orbit who are being wrenched apart by her gravitational pull, and the delirious plot twists and barbed-wire dialogue that unite them all in an addictive theatrical frenzy. . . .

CurtainUp

Review: Becky Shaw

ATW Review - Becky Shaw - A Dark Modern Comedy of Manners

A hearty laugh is never far away in Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw, a dark modern comedy of manners that opened last night at Second Stage Theatre.

Gionfriddo's title character doesn't appear until late in the first act. Until she does, we met a marvelously eccentric group of characters, including the steely and passive aggressive Susan (Kelly Bishop), who's recently widowed, fighting MS and dating her much younger house painter. Susan's ability to so rapidly move on with her life appalls her psychology graduate student daughter Suzanna (made somehow neurotically enchanting by Emily Bergl), who after four months still grieves her father's death and battles almost clinical depression over it. When things get really bad for Suzanna, she turns to Max (David Wilson Barnes), who was raised essentially as her adopted brother and who now acts as the family's financial consultant.

Max's ability to clinically focus on everything but emotions has made him a success as a businessman, but it means he's ill-prepared to deal with Suzanna's needs. He believes that if she simply finds something to do, she'll be able to pull herself together. She takes his advice and goes on a ski vacation where she meets Andrew (Thomas Sadoski in a warmly kooky turn), Max's antithesis, a touchy-feely writer, whom Suzanna almost instantly marries. It's through Andrew that the soft-spoken and desperately needy Becky (a perfectly calibrated turn from Annie Parisse) enters the scene. She's working as a temp at Andrew's day job, and misguidedly, Andrew and Suzanna decide that she would make a perfect blind date for Max. As if the mismatch of the two were not enough of a recipe for disaster, their first evening together is interrupted by a robbery, which sends Becky and, in turn, all of those around her, reeling.

Gionfriddo's comedy crackles with deliciously funny epigrams – many of which spring from Susan, a sort of 21st century Lady Bracknell who's having to deal with the fact that her husband has left her in dire financial straits. Bishop delivers each choice line with precision and dry aplomb. Max gets an equal number of choice zingers and, like Bishop, Barnes' delivery is pitch-perfect.

These two characters' almost icy view of the world and relationships contrasts beautifully, and often hilariously, with they way in which the other characters approach life. Interestingly though, even as audiences laugh, they feel for these characters and also find themselves swept up in the mystery of why Becky behaves the way she does. Are her actions – which begin with just incessant calls to Max following their disastrous date – motivated out of neediness or is she some sort of psychopath? Perhaps most important, the way the others treat Becky (and there are surprises to be found here and elsewhere) and one another make theatergoers consider the nature of empathy, kindness and love.

Director Peter DuBois' staging of unfolds with a grand fluidity thanks to the sliding panels and units from scenic designer Derek McLane which, lit with care by David Weiner, take theatergoers from New York to Providence and ultimately to Susan's opulent home in Virginia. DuBois' work, with its exceptional attention to detail, does not, however, completely mitigate some of Gionfriddo's over-plotting and writing in the second act, but it's of little matter. After a brief lull, the production rights itself marvelously, and theatergoers leave satisfied with a lot to discuss: not only what Becky's true nature may or may not be, but also which of Gionfriddo's one-liners was funniest.

---- Andy Propst


Becky Shaw plays at Second Stage Theatre (307 West 43rd Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8pm; Thurs. & Fri. at 8pm; Saturday at 2 and 8pm; and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $70.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-246-4422 or by visiting www.2st.com.

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