Category: ATW Reviews
By Andy Propst on Jun 26, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
It's not all that difficult to find a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in New York at some point during the course of a year. A few years back BAM had two different productions on their stage within a couple of months of one another, and through this weekend two have been playing simultaneously in the city. The most widely anticipated of these two, Daniel Sullivan's for the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, opened last night, and for anyone who thinks that they might be able to do without another staging of this romantic comedy about mistaken identities, this "Night" is a buoyant delight through and through.
Heading the starry cast that's been assembled for this Free Shakespeare in Central Park production is Anne Hathaway who plays Viola, who's separated from her twin brother by a shipwreck. From the moment that Viola washes up in Illyria (envisioned as rolling manicured green hills and ornamental trees in John Lee Beatty's elegant scenic design), Hathaway's work is marked by not only its graceful intelligence, but also her felicity with Shakespeare's poetry. After Viola's disguised herself as a boy named Cesario and has begun to serve Duke Orsino (an intense, but surprisingly unremarkable, turn from Raul Esparza), Hathway's performance deepens emotionally as she falls in love with the duke and proves to be often very funny, particularly once Olivia (Audra MacDonald) has come to fall in love with Viola in her guise as Cesario.
As Olivia becomes more forward with the young man who's come on Orsino's behalf to express his love, MacDonald's performance – shrewdly muted at the outset – becomes joyfully giddy and schoolgirlish, even as her Jane Austen-like Empire gowns, from designer Jane Greenwood, become increasingly coquettish. Anyone who's ever heard this multi-Tony Award-winning actress sing might imagine the skill with which she delivers the verse of the play; it's breathtakingly musical.
Director Sullivan has not only beautifully calibrated the performances from his two leading ladies, but from a host of actors involved in plots and subplots that unfurl alongside this romantic triangle, which becomes a square once Viola's brother Sebastian (Stark Sands) has stumbled onto the scene. Perhaps most notable is Sullivan's work with the actors playing the boisterous members of Olivia's household: her uncle, Sir Toby Belch (a buffoonish, but dignified, Jay O. Sanders), her gentlewoman Maria (played with understated flair by Julie White), her fool Feste (the always remarkable David Pittu) and the near-idiot suitor who has become a part of her home, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a show-stealing turn from Hamish Linklater). These characters' antics are generally always crowd-pleasers and, and in the hands of these four gifted artists, the plot to gall Olivia's morally self-righteous steward Malvolio (played with Puritanical stolidness by Michael Cumpsty) certainly has its moments of hilarity, but what's more remarkable is how much they seem like a marvelously dysfunctional family. These are people who have lived together for a while and know one another inside out. This sense of unity, ultimately, enriches this "Night" immensely.
Also adding to the script and the production is the gorgeously eclectic score from the songwriting team known as HEM. The songs in the production may use Shakespeare's words and evoke both the Elizabethan era and the early 19th century, but they also have an exceptional contemporary sound – a sort of fusion of country and folk that underscores the play's varied moods marvelously while simultaneously making this theatrical confection seem even lighter and airier.
---- Andy Propst
Twelfth Night continues through July 12 at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park (entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West; 79th and Fifth Avenue). Tickets are free and are distributed on the day of performance in a variety of ways. For more information, visit www.publictheater.org
By Andy Propst on Jun 25, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
A Salem, OR high school debate team provides with a means for students to expose issues considered too controversial for inclusion in the school newspaper, but when the student’s own secrets are revealed, censorship takes on a different meaning.
Such is the theme of playwright Stephen Karam’s snappy Speech and Debate running at TheaterWorks in Hartford. Budding reporter Solomon (Ben Diskant) wants to write about controversial issues like abortion and local Republicans who sponsor legislation to mask their private sexual practices (including the town’s mayor), but his teacher (Eva Kaminsky) squelches his plans, suggesting that he join the new Speech and Debate Club instead.
Club organizer Diwata (a dynamite Jee Young Han) convinces Solomon that the issues can be exposed through techniques used in debate, especially “dramatic interpretation, which not coincidentally will give this aspiring actress a chance to show the talent overlooked when she was passed over for leads in school productions of Once Upon a Mattress and The Crucible. The third reluctant member of the team is Howie (Carl Holder), a gay student who is a recent transfer to the school and who has incriminating evidence against a teacher who responded to his solicitation for sex on the internet.
The projected computer chat, Diwata’s hilarious karaoke podcasts and the physical settings of the school and the three individual teen’s bedrooms are ably created by set, lighting and sound designers Luke Hegel-Cantarella, Matthew Richards and Bart Fasbender.
When a news reporter (also played by Kaminski) begins to prepare a feature on the club, the students realize that their attack on censorship cuts two ways as they realize that their own secrets (Diwata’s abortion, Howie’s internet sex surfing and Solomon’s homosexuality) might be revealed even as they get what they want: Diwata a chance to perform, Solomon a chance to write a story in the daily newspaper and Howie a chance to find a sponsor for a Gay-Straight alliance club at the school. A bond develops among the students as they try to figure out what to do.
Director Henry Wishcamper keeps the pace moving and coaxes strong performances from the five actors, all making their debuts with TheaterWorks. Han, making her professional stage debut, is the standout as the obsessive-compulsive, self absorbed, stardom-driven Diwata.. The fit she throws over the guys’ “eclipsing her desire to perform with their ‘homodrama.” is a hoot, as is the dance she insists they perform where Mary Warren from The Crucible time travels to meet a sexually confused young Abe Lincoln, just so Diwata can do a striptease and use the body stocking left over from her ill-fated audition for The Crucible (John Carrafa provides the amusing choreography).
---- Lauren Yarger
Speech and Debate plays at City Arts on Pearl (233 Pearl Street, Hartford) through July 26. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets: General admission $37 for weeknights and matinees; $47 for Friday and Saturday evenings; center reserved seats $11 extra; and college student rush tickets are $11 can be purchased by calling (860) 527-7838 or by visiting www.theaterworkshartford.org.
By Andy Propst on Jun 25, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
Artistic Director Joanna Settle has given her first production at Shakespeare on the Sound a new twist – literally. It’s designer Andrew Lieberman’s a serpentine wooden stage that winds over the grounds at Rowayton, CT’s Pinkney Park where fairies and lovers weave their way along the lighted planks in an intriguing, but often uneven, new rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Original music by Passing Strange composer Stew (with recorded accompaniment musically supervised by Deborah Lapidus) includes incidental music between scenes, underscoring and stand-alone songs (vocals aren’t the strongest, but the outdoor/dreamlike setting steals attention), with a haunting love theme that sticks with you long after you have left the park. Choreography by David Neumann (a number of the actors crawl spider-like along the plank) and designer Ilona Somogyi’s black and white toned modern costumes that don’t detract from the tradition of the play but rather add to the drama and freshness of the production.
While Settle succeeds in creating a wonderful dreamlike setting (with just one glitch in sound (Jessica Paz, designer), an echo when microphones and monitors met at one part of the stage), she fails to draw out a sense of merriment and passion from the actors who turn into lovers and animals under the spell of the night. The exception is Ty Jones, who plays one of the best Nick Bottom’s I have ever seen. As the weaver-turned ass-turned lover of Fairy Queen Titania (Doan Ly), he infuses his lines (and a blues number) with great gusto and humor as he clicks his hooves and makes Shakespeare sound modern.
Gregory Wooddell gives a nice turn as Demetrius, loved by Helena (Gretchen Hall) but suitor of Hermia (Marjan Neshat) who is in love with Lysander (Albert Jones), and one of the play’s funniest moments involves Wooddell’s chewing gum, but none of the lovers seem to have any chemistry. It isn’t for lack of energy, however, as the actors make numerous entrances by running from a distance and jumping on to the winding stage, leap fences, climb trees and do flips.
It’s a pleasant evening under the stars and some of the best fun is listening to the giggles from little children around the lawn who enjoy the antics on stage.
---- Lauren Yarger
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through June 28 at Rowayton’s Putney Park, 177 Rowayton Ave, and July 4-12 at Baldwin Park, Greenwich, 100 Arch St. Performances are Tuesdays – Sundays at 7:30 pm. Admission is free, but a donation of $20 is suggested. For more information, visit www.shakespeareonthesound.org.
By Andy Propst on Jun 11, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
If the antics of this family weren’t so funny, they’d make you cry, but that’s the genius of playwright Horton Foote, whose Tony-nominated Dividing the Estate has transferred from Broadway to Hartford Stage with most of the outstanding original cast directed by Michael Wilson, including Foote’s daughter Hallie.
This Foote (who was nominated for a featured actress Tony for her portrayal) plays Mary Jo, who descends on the family manse with husband Bob (James DeMarse) and her two teen daughters Emily and Sissie (Jenny Dare Paulin and Nicole Lowrance) to convince her mother, Stella (Lois Smith, replacing Broadway’s Elizabeth Ashley) to divide the estate among the siblings while hiding her motivation: her family is on the brink of financial disaster following the 1987 real-estate downturn in Houston.
Brother Lewis (an understated Gerald McRaney) spends a lot of his time drunk and running for his life from the father of the young girl with whom he is involved, and who's demanding $10,000 from Lewis. Already $200,000 in debt to the estate, Lewis sides with Mary Jo, who has borrowed $300,000. They both feel that the estate should be divided so they no longer need to explain why they need money to their nephew Son (Devon Abner) who's managed the estate since his father's death. His mother and the third sibling, Lucille (Penny Fuller), argues against dividing the estate because doing so would put Son out of job and discontinue the rent-free situation she and Son enjoy in the house. Caught in the middle of all the bickering, much of it containing guffaw-inducing dialogue is Son’s new love interest, Pauline (Maggie Lacey).
Stella may be divided in loyalties among her children, but there is one thing that won’t be divided, she vows: the estate. She won’t sell the land, even though other farms in the area have gone the way of development. She reluctantly allows Son to contract for gas drilling in the hopes of striking oil.
A secondary concern for Stella is the welfare of the house's servants, Mildred (Pat Bowie), Cathleen (Keanu Richard) and ancient Doug (a particularly comic Arthur French), who insists on serving the family at table (a centerpiece in Jeff Cowie opulently rendered scenic design of the home's interior). despite the fact that he has a palsy so severe that he’s barely able to carry the smallest of items let alone a serving tray.
When Doug and Stella die within hours of each other, the children’s conflict comes to a head. Their greed and arguments might prove depressing, if not for Foote’s ability to create well-developed and very likable characters who throw some rather brilliant dialogue at each other. There's real affection amid the dysfunction in "Estate" as well as a tangible family bond. It's these qualities that make they play an enjoyable character study, which is made even more compelling by the strong performances from the ensemble.
---- Lauren Yarger
Dividing the Estate plays at Hartford Stage (50 Church Street, Hartford) through July 5. Performance times are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm and Friday and Saturday at 8 pm with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm. Tickets are $23 - $66 with student and other discounted tickets available they may be purchased by calling 860-527-5151 or by visiting www.hartfordstage.org.
By Andy Propst on Jun 11, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
A vocally strong cast, many with Broadway experience in their roles, brings the poignant tale of a young black woman’s struggle-filled journey to self acceptance and love to The Bushnell in The Color Purple.
Kenita R Miller comes to the tour from the Broadway show as Celie, a young girl raped by her father, forced to give up two babies, then forced into marriage with Mister (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) who, along with his unruly children, treat her as little more than a slave. When Mister’s attempts to seduce Celie’s sister Nettie (Latrisa A. Harper performed for LaToya London of American Idol fame the night I attended) are rebuffed, he sends Nettie away. When Celie doesn’t hear from her over the years (Mister has hidden her letters), Celie fears the only person who ever loved her is dead.
Celie does find friendship with two women: Sophia (a dynamic Felicia P. Fields who originated the role on Broadway), the wife of Mister’s bullied son Harpo (Brandon Victor Dixon also of the Broadway original), and Mister’s lover Sug Avery (Angela Robinson, a third Broadway veteran of the show), an entertainer and Mister’s first love, whom he was prevented from marrying by his overbearing father (Mike Hodge).
Over the years, in front of a plain wooden planked set with colorful changing backdrops (set design John Lee Beatty), the characters encounter various hardships and find ways to forgive and begin fresh while Celie and Sug form their own attachment. Gary Griffin directs the able cast through the saga, helped along by music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray that ranges from spirituals to rhythm to African beats with choreography (Donald Byrd.) and colorful costumes (Paul Tazewell) to match.
Fields practically steals the show with the number “Hell, No!” and an attitude that says the same as Sophia threatens anyone, including Harpo, who messes with her.
This, and other, strong performance work, however, doesn't mask some of the other problems with the show. The first half of "Purple" feels like a fast-forward version of the Alice Walker novel on which the musical is based as bookwriter Marsha Norman tries to cram the 30-year span into one act. Truthfully, if you aren’t familiar with the book or its film incarnation before seeing the musical, it might be difficult to follow what’s happening because of the hit-and-run plot and very poor sound mixing (designer Jon Weston) which makes it difficult to hear some of the dialogue and singers with crucial lyrics over the orchestra.
Still, the poignant story of love and forgiveness, like the show's heroine, seems unstoppable, and it's welcome to revisit Walker's tale as performed by some top-notch actors seasoned in their roles.
---- Lauren Yarger
The Color Purple plays at The Bushnell (166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT) through June 14. Performance times are 7:30 Thursday; 8pm Friday; 2 and 8 pm Saturday and 2pm and 7:30 pm Sunday. Tickets are $25-$75 and can be purchased by calling 860-087-5900 or by visiting www.bushnell.org.