It was a very clever idea playwright Jeffrey Hatcher had, to write a Chekhovian style comedy about American theatre’s royal couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, set in their country home as they prepare to go into rehearsal for a production of The Seagull. And Ten Chimneys, named after the Wisconsin estate that provides the play’s setting, frequently lives up to that cleverness; though its wit could be somewhat sharper and its character study could go a bit deeper in order to match the potential of the idea.
The Lunts, as they were known, regularly turned down handsome sums of Hollywood money, preferring to trod the boards both on Broadway and on tours, so there is little remaining recorded evidence of their sporadic work in film, television and radio. Married in 1921, they happily spent their careers appearing together in plays that offered good roles for both of them.
Designer Harry Feiner fills the stage with a lovely cottage that would give most playgoers a severe case of real estate envy – exterior for Act I and interior for Act II – and the playwright populates it in Chekhovian fashion, with an assortment of characters spanning generations and social statuses.
Hatcher has the couple preparing for a tour of the classic, playing Arkadina and Trigorin, and wanting to do a bit of exploratory work before formal rehearsals begin. Byron Jennings, a familiar Broadway face who specializes in playing elegant period gentlemen, is a perfect choice to play Alfred Lunt; charmingly proper with hints of insecurity that bubble to the top on occasion, but confident and knowledgeable when working at his craft. As the British-born Fontanne, Jennings’ real-life wife, Carolyn McCormick, comes off a bit exaggerated in her cultured tones and mannerisms, but she handles the light comedy of her role very well.
Michael McCarty plays the portly Sydney Greenstreet (“You don’t look a day over 400 pounds.”), their friend and cast-mate whom they’ve invited to work with them and enjoy a stay. Greenstreet also takes the opportunity to visit his wife in a nearby sanatorium and has begun thinking he should give up the stage for a chance to make more money and have more time to be with her in Hollywood.
Arriving on the same train as Greenstreet, days earlier than expected, is the young, up-and-comer cast as Nina, Uta Hagen (Julie Bray makes the character both naive and ambitiously flirtatious), whose attractiveness and early success – and the fact that she was hand-picked for the role by Lunt – causes bottled up friction between the co-stars. This is in addition to the full-blown friction caused by Alfred’s mother’s (Lucy Martin) disapproval of his choice of a mate and the casual hints that Lynn is more concerned about a male friend of her husband.
Representing the working class, in a sense, is Lunt’s overworked half-sister (Charlotte Booker), who cares for their mother full time, and his pool shark half-brother (John Wernke), who is regarded somewhat as an errand boy.
Director Dan Wackerman’s genial production is lathered with sufficient froth and style, especially in the script’s best scenes where Lunt and Fontanne talk about their craft or are immersed in scene work, but Ten Chimneys tends to get a little tiresome when parallels to The Seagull don’t quite fly.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick; Bottom: Lucy Martin, Carolyn McCormick, Byron Jennings and Julia Bray.
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Posted on: Tuesday, October 09, 2012 @ 01:26 PM Posted by: Michael Dale
Marry Me A Little: The Girl Upstairs
In musical theatre, it’s not enough to write a good song. You have to write the right song. Character, plot, placement and various intangibles all go into making music, lyrics and performance all effectively fit into a moment and contribute to the piece as a whole.
So, in the case of musical theatre dramatist Stephen Sondheim, the fun and frisky “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” gets replaced by the emotionally rich “I’m Still Here.” The acidic “Happily Ever After” gets rewritten into the hopeful “Being Alive.” And as for “There Won’t Be Trumpets”… Well, if the top-billed star is getting a better response for her delivery of the speech that introduces the song than for the song itself, the song gets axed and the speech stays.
By 1980, the Sondheim trunk was packed with quality material; not just unused songs penned for the then seven Broadway shows for which he wrote both music and lyrics, but also from unproduced works and lesser-known projects. It was the idea of Sweeney Todd chorus member Craig Lucas (Ten years before making his Broadway playwriting debut with Prelude To A Kiss) and director Norman Rene to shape a collection of them into a sorta-revue/sorta-book musical called Marry Me A Little; its title taken from a song of sorta-commitment that was cut from the original production of Company but has since become a permanent part of the score.
The two person musical, which originally starred Lucas and Suzanne Henry, is set simultaneously in two New York apartments (one just above the other), where, via nineteen songs and no dialogue, two young singles go about their business on a dateless Saturday night, wishing there was a special someone to share such evenings with. But instead of splitting the stage in two, the actors inhabit the same space, never acknowledging each other until moments where each of them imagines being with a fantasy lover.
Director Jonathan Silverstein‘s sweet and sexy production for the Keen Company tweaks the score just a bit, updates the action to the present and places the apartment building firmly into one of the trendier areas of Brooklyn. Jason Tam, dressed by costume designer Jennifer Paar in Williamsburg hipster garb, plays the male half of the company as a laid-back dude hiding a romantic heart. His counterpart, Lauren Molina, comes off as more of an outer-boroughs arty type. Both are engaging performers and it’s a special treat that their vocals are unamplified. Music director John Bell provides on-stage piano accompaniment, presumably from an adjoining flat.
Modern technology is highlighted in the staging. When the “Saturday Night” lyric mentions spending the evening at home with the Sunday Times, it sends Tam to his laptop for the web edition. Later, the staging of “Bring On The Girls” makes it clear that he’s logged on to a porn site. Likewise, as Molina sings of the boy who can foxtrot so well she’s giddily sexting the thickheaded lad. Fortunately, both of them are into vintage record players, as playing a vinyl disc is necessary for an intimate moment.
Since Sondheim is a dramatist who specifies music, vocabulary and rhyme schemes to the characters singing, a healthy suspension of disbelief is necessary to believe that Tam’s nervous, distracted juvenile dueting “Your Eyes Are Blue” with Molina is the same martini-tongued sophisticate singing “Ah, But Underneath” or the dejected cynic of “Happily Ever After.” (He makes a game effort with the middle selection but is far more effective in the other two, which are closer to the image he projects.)
Molina, whose cello playing skills are well incorporated into the scenario, benefits from having more material that genuinely contributes to shaping a believable character. She lights a fine, simmering flame beneath the quietly jazzy “The Girls of Summer” and belts out “There Won’t Be Trumpets” with a firm conviction that her ideal mate is out there somewhere.
Perhaps the only oddball inclusion to the score is “Bang!,” a number cut from A Little Night Music, where the original show’s dragoon uses the language of war to describe sexual conquest. The song’s formal language and graphically literal staging stands out as just too different from the way the characters are presented in the rest of the production.
Then again, it’s been over thirty years since 1980 and many of these once-obscure songs have become better known via recordings, cabarets, concerts and various Sondheim revues. Put a couple of theatre posters on the wall and Marry Me A Little would make perfect sense as two theatre geeks alone in their apartments acting out their favorite showtunes; the musical theatre equivalent of playing air guitar.
Photos of Lauren Molina and Jason Tam by Carol Rosegg.
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Posted on: Friday, October 05, 2012 @ 11:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Through The Yellow Hour: Apocalyptic Boho Days
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Adam Rapp’s Through The Yellow Hour is that the playwright/director has intentionally written a piece that will never be performed with a completely age-appropriate cast – at least not legally in this country – since it includes a fully nude, sexually suggestive scene between a thirty-year-old character and another who is fourteen. But because the person playing the youth is obviously of age, the scene is likely to leave audience members thinking of the older character as someone who has learned to trust and be caring again, rather than as someone committing statutory rape.
Of course, the age of consent may have been lowered a bit in Rapp’s apocalyptic vision of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Major American cities have been bombed with both explosives and germs by… well, you know… and surviving men are being castrated while healthy young girls are being harvested, presumably for procreation. Even worse, audience members get stamped on the neck with a red circle on their way into the auditorium and the playwright never tells us why.
Once inside, though, we can admire Andromache Chalfant's splendidly detailed work creating a claustrophobic East Village apartment crumbling from blown out windows and a collapsing ceiling. (The kind of place where a character originated by the playwright’s brother might have lived.) Keith Parham’s shadowy lighting with sharp beams of sun forcing their way in and Christian Frederickson‘s sound design depicting the war zone outside are also excellent. The most foreboding aspect of the visual design, however, is the on-stage toilet; especially if you believe Mr. Rapp isn’t above using it as a stand-in for a Chekhovian on-stage gun.
Speaking of gunplay, the evening begins with the apartment’s inhabitant, a nurse named Ellen (a tense and daring Hani Furstenberg), shooting an unexpected visitor (Brian Mendes), whose dead body spends the next several weeks slumped in a corner, apparently never decomposing, causing a stench or attracting rodents. He may have been just a poor bloke looking for food, but nobody can be trusted in this new world and Ellen hasn’t left the place since her husband has been missing; living on a seemingly endless supply of canned peaches and trading painkillers for means of survival.
An expected guest, drug-addicted Maude (Danielle Slavick), has arrived to hand over her baby girl who, if deemed healthy, can be shipped to a better life through a connection of Ellen’s. Since there’s a big bathtub smack dab center stage, Maude strips down and takes a bath, but when she’s done she puts her grimy, smelly clothes back on instead of, perhaps, rinsing them out a bit first.
Rapp keeps our attention by dishing out information about what the heck is going on in tiny morsels involving Muslims, corporations and mysterious “Egg Heads,” and for the most part, despite lapses of logic, it’s a popcorn-worthy thriller that crosses into B-movie camp only with the arrival of a businesslike doctor (Matt Pilieci) and a deadpan, icy official (Joanne Tucker); both dressed by designer Jessica Pabst in cartoonishly futuristic pristine white getups. They seem to be performing some kind of barter, exchanging the girl for the nervous farm-raised teen (Vladimir Versailles).
With the arrival of a seriously wounded man (Alok Tewari) with information about Ellen’s husband, the dialogue turns to gruesome details of what’s happening to men who are captured, putting some pretty disgusting images into audience members’ heads.
At 100 minutes, Rapp and the strong, committed company provide an enjoyably tense diversion that, as such projects are known to do, warns us of a (hopefully) avoidable future.
Photos by Sandra Coudert: Top: Hani Furstenberg, Brian Mendes and Danielle Slavick; Bottom: Joanne Tucker, Matt Pilieci and Hani Furstenberg.
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Posted on: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 @ 01:15 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 9/30/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"Failure in the theater is more dramatic and uglier than any other form of writing. It costs so much, you feel so guilty."
The grosses are out for the week ending 9/30/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (12.8%), GRACE (10.1%), CHAPLIN (8.3%), MAMMA MIA! (6.6%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (6.4%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (5.9%), WAR HORSE (5.5%), JERSEY BOYS (4.8%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (4.8%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (4.3%), ONCE (2.7%), MARY POPPINS (2.7%), AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (1.8%), THE LION KING (1.4%), NEWSIES (1.1%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (1.1%), CHICAGO (0.9%), EVITA(0.7%),
Down for the week was: WICKED (-0.9%), ROCK OF AGES (-0.3%),
Posted on: Monday, October 01, 2012 @ 05:02 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Before the comedy boom of the 1980s began dotting New York and every other major American city with clubs devoted exclusively to showcasing stand-ups, comedians worked primarily between sets at music venues or at random comedy nights at bars and restaurants. And while the emergence of burlesque as a form of female-empowered entertainment where men and women both cheerfully whoop it up for their favorite ecdysiasts is still only an occasional feature of variously appointed venues, I do think we’re heading in a direction where before the end of this decade we’ll be seeing the emergence of burlesque clubs – much like today’s comedy clubs and jazz clubs – providing nightly opportunities for good, clean, non-judgmentally positive body image fun.
Reinforcing that notion is The Metropolitan Room’s twice-monthly hosting of The Sophisticates; the popular destination for Gershwin and Porter enthusiasts opening its doors to the strip-tease set for their late-night hi-jinks.
Bastard Keith, a smarmy gadabout throwback to the days when bad boys were the well-dressed intellectuals in glasses who quipped irreverently (“There’s a lot of music that speaks to me, and as a Jew, the most inspirational is the black spiritual.”), hosts the evening with a little song and a little friendly audience bonding. (“I’d say ‘no homo’ but that would be inherently dishonest.”)
Joining Mr. Keith as co-producer is Madame Rosebud, an accomplished writer of sexual issues and self-identified guerilla feminist who sheds layers of her red ensemble like delicate flower petals. Although all the music used in The Sophisticates is recorded, the grand piano remains on stage (Those things are expensive to move.) and Ms. Rosebud grandly hopped atop it for some delightful pinup poses, finishing with a move that I strongly suspect was the reason the show was once kicked out of The Plaza Hotel.
Every performance features a new lineup of guest stars and I was happy to see The Maine Attraction, a performer who has sufficiently dazzled me in the past, on the bill when I attended. It may be a cliché to say a woman of color who dances in an outfit suggesting La Revue Nègre has a bit of Josephine Baker in her, but Ms. Attraction, though certainly of her own style, exudes the same kind of frenetic comic energy that first earned the chanteuse-to-be the title of Highest Paid Chorus Girl In Vaudeville. She acts out routines with the skill of a silent movie clown (in one bit she appears to have swallowed her glove) and stops the show when jiving to “Sing, Sing, Sing” upside down with legs akimbo.
Bettina May, a willowy-armed Canadian with curly red locks and a big wholesome smile, demonstrated how her fan-dancing skills helped earn her a green card as an “alien of extraordinary ability” and Kristina Nekyia displayed wondrous flexibility in her East Indian-inspired routines. Stage kitten Delysia LaChatte found enticing ways to ensure the stage remained spotless after each performance.
Though the sightlines of The Metropolitan Room may not be ideal for burlesque (head-to-toe visuals being so much more important for this sort of thing than for singing Rodgers and Hart) the dancers all compensated by bringing the fun out into the house, sometimes making for special moments with select audience members. Let’s just say the cast of Hair never quite connected with their fans so intimately.
Photo: Madame Rosebud and Bastard Keith.
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Posted on: Friday, September 28, 2012 @ 05:56 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Red Dog Howls
Sophie’s choice was a casual coin flip compared with decision forced upon a young mother in Alexander Dinelaris’ drama recalling the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide, Red Dog Howls. As a 91-year-old grandmother enduring life with the memory of a horrific confrontation with three sadistic Turks, Kathleen Chalfant gives an extraordinarily convincing performance balancing pain and dark humor, climaxing with an agonizing scene where she reveals a sickening secret. But Chalfant’s performance, certainly worth remembering when award season comes along, is all the production has to recommend.
Set in 1980s New York, the heavy-handed text begins with a writer named Michael (Alfredo Narciso) informing us that, “There are sins, from which we can never be absolved. Sins, so terrible, so... unimaginable, that if, or when, we finally acknowledge the depths of our complicity, we will be changed forever.”
By the evening’s end we’ve discovered the nature of his sin, as Michael narrates a tale from his recent past involving a cryptic message left to him by his now deceased father and the discovery of a grandmother he thought had passed on long ago.
Chalfant’s Rose is a crusty, old world sort who feels compelled to pass on her Armenian heritage and family history to the stranger who turns out to be her grandson, but only at a proper pace and never mentioning the grave secret until he’s ready.
Florencia Lozano plays Michael’s pregnant wife, Gabby, whose presence is more symbolic than dramatic.
Director Ken Rus Schmoll’s production is filled with stilted pauses and Chalfant is the only actor who finesses around the sluggish staging, but the play itself, with its declarative, fact-filled narration and thin characters, is the primary reason the evening is emotionally empty.
Photo of Kathleen Chalfant by Joan Marcus.
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Posted on: Thursday, September 27, 2012 @ 05:16 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
While nobody ever said musical theatre was easy – at least, nobody with any real knowledge of the art – you would think that in writing a musical about the first worldwide beloved figure of the 20th Century there wouldn’t be too much trouble establishing empathy. But the surprisingly dry and emotionless Chaplin, presented in a respectably strong Broadway production, tries to cram so many facts into its two acts that there’s little room left for feeling.
Bookwriter/composer/lyricist Christopher Curtis’ Behind The Limelight, as the show was previously known, seemed extremely promising when it played the New York Musical Theatre Festival six years ago. But despite the addition of master craftsman Thomas Meehan to co-author the book, Chaplin, though it has its moments of charm, comes off as more of a check-list of events than a dramatically propelled entertainment.
The evening begins symbolically with a recreation of Charlie Chaplin’s high wire scene from The Circus, perhaps not the most iconic image from his career. As he struggles to keep his balance, characters below yell out lines from conflicts that are yet to come. While singing on a high wire may not be the easiest task in the world (even when, as in this case, the actor is hooked to safety wires), the moment cries out for a musical reaction from the protagonist, but he remains silent.
We then go back to the man’s London childhood, where his saloon-singing mother (the lovely-voiced and underutilized Christiane Noll) encourages her son (Zachary Unger) to watch the people he passes by every day and imagine the stories that lie beneath their faces. It’s a strong beginning to the story, but once the grown-up Chaplin (Rob McClure) takes over, we’re told that his comedy act, with his straight man brother Sydney (Wayne Alan Wilcox), is a popular music hall attraction without ever getting a sample of it.
We suddenly find out that director Mack Sennett (dependable comic tough guy type Michael McCormick) happened to be in the audience one night and has offered him a higher salary than he’s ever imagined to go to Hollywood and make movies. But when he arrives in California, Sennett finds him completely unfunny on his first day filming. Under the threat of being fired, Chaplin remembers his mother’s advice and develops his Little Tramp character by thinking about the Londoners he once observed. And while the sequence climaxes with the creation of the Chaplin we all came to see, the authors have yet to establish any sense of the man who created him, nor whatever talent he had that the film director originally saw. There’s no thrill in seeing what he became if we have no idea from where he started.
Once we’re told that Chaplin has fast become a popular star (instead of seeing the public’s reaction and learning what it was about the Little Tramp that immediately appealed to audiences), Sennett is out of the picture and Sydney starts negotiating new deals as Charlie’s manager. Though the relationship between the two brothers is the one with the most dramatic potential – particularly because of issue of their mother’s long-term dementia – the authors instead race through decades of material (four teenage wives, the affect of talkies on his career, his on-screen mockery of Hitler, accusations that send him to exile in Switzerland and, finally, an honorary Oscar in 1972) with a parade of one-note characters. The first act ends with a ballet of a dozen Chaplins mimicking the star as part of a look-alike contest; well-executed, but meaningless to the drama.
In the second act brassy-voiced Jenn Colella injects some much-needed musical comedy adrenaline into the proceedings as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who, according to the text, tried to ruin Chaplin’s career because he wouldn’t give her an interview.
Though the material is lacking (the revised score felt much stronger at the festival) director/choreographer Warren Carlyle mounts a handsome enough production, smoothly mixing live action with film clips of McClure. Designers Beowulf Boritt (set), Ken Billington (lights) and Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) nicely dress the evening in monochrome visuals.
Through a silent art that defied boundaries of language and a new technology that could quickly distribute that art around the globe, Charlie Chapin became world famous faster than anyone could have imagined when the 1900s began. And yet this musical conveys none of the excitement of that time, none of the romance of the period and certainly none of the joy of Chaplin’s work. McClure does an admirable job impersonating the icon, but the gloomy musical he carried on his shoulders offers little opportunity for the actor to shine.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Rob McClure; Bottom: Jenn Colella.
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Posted on: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 @ 08:08 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 9/23/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"It is a hopeless endeavour to attract people to a theatre unless they can be first brought to believe that they will never get in."
-- Charles Dickens
The grosses are out for the week ending 9/23/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (12.2%), PORGY AND BESS (3.9%), WICKED(0.8%),
Down for the week was: CHAPLIN (-14.9%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-14.9%), GRACE (-12.8%), MAMMA MIA! (-11.9%), EVITA (-10.9%), WAR HORSE (-10.7%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-10.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-10.3%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (-8.1%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-7.2%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (-6.5%), MARY POPPINS (-6.2%), CHICAGO (-4.2%), ONCE (-3.2%), NEWSIES (-3.1%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.8%), ROCK OF AGES (-2.1%),
Posted on: Monday, September 24, 2012 @ 04:05 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
It’s not unusual for theatergoers at 45 Bleecker Street to see cheery 8x10 photos of the actors they’re about to see displayed in the lobby, but those attending Culture Project’s 10th Anniversary production of The Exonerated are greeted by more somber headshots. Mounted before them are thirteen portraits by painter Daniel Bolick. Titled The Innocence Portraits, they are the faces of people who spent 10… 18… as much as 27-and-a-half years in prison – a combined 71 years on death row – for crimes that DNA and other evidence eventually proved they did not commit.
There are a great many emotions you can imagine when looking into the eyes of Bolick’s depictions: fear, sorrow, confusion and even wisps of relief at having survived a horrifying experience. But oddly enough, none of the portraits appear to be emoting anger. There’s a certain stillness in the display that is also very evident in director Bob Balaban’s production of Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s play. Despite the controversies and injustices described, The Exonerated contains no dramatic extremes of emotion, and yet the stories themselves, told simply and quietly, are thoroughly compelling and heartbreaking.
Six stories are told during the course of the 90-minute production; alternating sections so that we follow them simultaneously. Ten actors sit across the stage in a row, dressed in street clothes and reading their scripts from lecterns. There are six regular company members, but the play is designed to easily accommodate a rotating cast of name stars who can slip into the show as their schedules allow. The evening I attended the rotating cast included Stockard Channing, Chris Sarandon, Delroy Lindo and Brian Dennehy. (A complete schedule of rotating cast members can be found on Culture Project’s web site.) Nearly every word they speak is taken from personal interviews with those depicted and documents and transcripts of public record.
The spiritual center of the piece is poet Delbert Tibbs (Lindo), who refuses to despair despite being convicted for rape and murder based on evidence that was later found to be tainted. Sonia ‘‘Sunny’’ Jacobs (Channing) spent 12 years on death row for a murder that someone else confessed to. When police found the parents of Gary Gauger (Dennehy) murdered, his words were misused to suggest a confession. Kerry Max Cook (Sarandon) was found guilty of killing a woman when his fingerprint on her doorknob was found by an “expert” to have been left at the time of the murder; despite the fact that determining the time when a fingerprint was left is impossible. Robert Earl Hayes (JD Williams), a black man, was found guilty of murdering a woman despite the fact that light-colored hair that could not have come from him was found grasped in her hands. (There’s a bit of comic relief in his interactions with his sassy wife, played by April Yvette Thompson.) After spending two years in prison, David Keaton (Curtis McLarin) was found to have been beaten into giving a false confession for killing a police officer, but even after being exonerated he was not released until six years later, after the real killer was found and convicted.
Though the stage is dimly lit, designer Tom Ontiveros places each of the characters in a small cell of light while they speak, exemplifying their loneliness.
The circumstances which lead to their original convictions involved combinations of human error, incompetence, inexperience, racism, red tape and, it’s suggested, the pressure to secure a conviction superseding the need to discover the truth. While this could be seen as a one-sided indictment against the legal system – particularly in the smug, unfeeling way authority figures are portrayed by Jim Bracchitta and Bruce Kronenberg – The Exonerated is not a judgmental piece. Facts are laid out before the audience to inform whatever conclusions they may make.
At the performance I attended, the actual Sunny Jacobs was introduced to the audience, seeming very sweet and upbeat. From September 25-30, she is scheduled to appear on stage playing herself. Expect emotions to be particularly high.
Photo by Carol Rosegg: Bruce Kronenberg, Erik Jensen, Amelia Campbell, Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, Stockard Channing, JD Williams, April Yvette Thompson, Curtis McClarin and Jim Bracchitta.
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Posted on: Saturday, September 22, 2012 @ 02:43 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
In the life they had planned for themselves, upscale suburbanites Mary and Ben probably never thought they’d be trading hosting duties at weekend barbeques with people like Kenny and Sharon. In the life they had planned for themselves Mary and Ben surely never imagined they’d be neighbors with people like Kenny and Sharon. But with their dreams of a secure and prosperous life temporarily – at least they hope temporarily – put on hold because of a precarious American economy, the couple next door just might be a mirror image of what is only a few missed payments away.
Though it debuted with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company two years ago, Lisa D'Amour’s Detroit, a Pulitzer finalist, remains a topical comedy during an election season where unemployment and job creation are hot issues.
The titular city is never mentioned in the play and the program notes describe the setting as a “first ring” suburb outside a mid-size American city; a suburb we eventually find was created as a community of affordable “little boxes.” The notes also include a quote from architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, teaching us that after 40 years the glue that holds plywood together will dry, causing the wood to buckle and peel until rooms made of the material “morph into trick-or-treat versions of themselves.” Hence the happy suburban lifestyle that may have raised people like Mary and Ben in the 1970’s has started turning ghoulish.
Ben (David Schwimmer) is a laid-off bank loan officer approaching the end of his severance pay, but insisting his new web-based financial planning business will soon be ready to take off. Meanwhile, Mary (Amy Ryan) pays the bills as a paralegal and, growing more and more frustrated with Ben’s lack of financial productivity, has turned more and more to alcohol.
Also frustrating them is the patio umbrella that won’t stay open and the sticky sliding door, neither of which faze their new neighbors. Having fallen in love while both were in rehab, Kenny (Darren Pettie) and Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic) fell into taking the house next door through family, though they lack the money to furnish it with their low-income jobs. Having nothing to lose actually looks comfortable on them, as they live their lives without inhibitions; happy to dine on the steaks and imported cheeses served by Mary and Ben while burgers and Cheetos are on the menu when they have company.
While the set-up works, the development is lacking, as the playwright presents the ill effects the couples have on one another in a manner that’s too jokey to be empathetic. Her dialogue is often amusing, but it rarely digs deep into the issues she’s laid out. And while Anne Kauffman’s direction effectively mixes the play’s potentially volatile combination of funny and creepy, Ryan too frequently lunges into a different plane of reality whenever Mary loses control and Schwimmer tends to overplay his underplaying. Pettie and Sokolovic are spot-on, though, subtly showing the potential for violence under Kenny’s genial exterior and the combination of sturdiness and vulnerability that alternates within Sharon.
The best work all around comes in the play’s penultimate scene, where Kenny and Sharon’s influence on Ben and Mary comes to a dangerous climax, but it’s followed by a rather heavy-handed thematic summary of sorts by a character making his first appearance in the play. The fact that the character is played by John Cullum means the heavy-handedness is softened as skillfully as possible, but Detroit, despite being sufficiently entertaining and thought-provoking, feels more like a play of unrealized potential.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel: Top: Amy Ryan and David Schwimmer; Bottom: Sarah Sokolovic and Darren Pettie.
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Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2012 @ 09:31 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 9/16/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"Movies are a fad. Audiences really want to see live actors on a stage."
-- Charlie Chaplin
The grosses are out for the week ending 9/16/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: PORGY AND BESS (17.6%), WAR HORSE (10.6%), MAMMA MIA! (9.4%), WICKED (7.6%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (6.8%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (6.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (6.1%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (4.6%), EVITA (4.4%), NEWSIES (4.2%), JERSEY BOYS (3.9%), CHICAGO (2.3%), ONCE (2.2%), MARY POPPINS (1.6%), AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (1.3%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (1.2%), ROCK OF AGES(0.9%),
Down for the week was: CHAPLIN (-6.9%), THE LION KING (-0.9%),
Posted on: Monday, September 17, 2012 @ 04:53 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in
dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular
audience participation murder mysteries (try
improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours
of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical
ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once
housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all
been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his
name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who
wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th
Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The
Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring
free live theatre to underserved communities, and
dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing
cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an
email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first
Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows
Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the
Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals
and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared
celebrities making their stage acting debuts by
starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.