News & Reviews from New York

March 31

The Japanese-influenced screen-dominated design by Douglas Stein and lighting by David Weiner in 36 VIEWS at the Public Theatre are breathtaking - some of the most brilliant, ingenious visuals seen in this town ever. With Mark Wing-Davey's genius-level direction, in a blending of Japanese and Western styles, this play by Naomi Iizuka about importing Asian art and
artifacts, a "Pillow Book," and treachery in the Art world, aided by Matthew Spiro's soundscape of flutes and clacks, with beautiful costuming by Myung Hee Cho, gives us an evening of stunning, tasteful theatre that tickles the senses, jingles the thoughts, excites the emotions. Although the play has weaknesses in its dialogues, and the cast is slightly uneven, each member does have enough strength to fulfil the director's vision, and the totality is a theatrical experience not to be missed.

*** 3/4 Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER

Want to spend a dollar a minute to see a cute little sit-com? It's Broadway; it's $70 a seat; it's 70 minutes long: THE SMELL OF THE KILL by Michele Lowe. The boorish, idiotic husbands of three well-to-do women are trapped in the meat freezer in the basement. Should they let them out? That's the play. And it does start cute. Then it gets dumb; then it segues into real stupidity, with a sprinkling of good sit-comish jokes. It's all really one joke, though.
It tries to be a black comedy, but doesn't have the bite of an Orton, a Pinter (or anybody). The set, an upper crust kitchen, by David Gallo is inspired,
costumes by David C. Woolard work perfectly, and the three actresses, Lisa Emery, Claudia Shear and Jessica Stone, are all excellent. Director Christopher Ashley gets whatever can be gotten out of the writing, but you can't turn a sit-com into a Broadway silk purse. Maybe a second act, showing the husbands in the freezer might help. It couldn't hoit.

** Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 27

The Fred Garbo Inflatable Theatre Co. gives us two of the finest performance artists around (or is it "New Vaudeville?"). Garbo is a juggler, mime, clown,
gymnast, who has created a unique extravaganza using huge inflated cubes as his costumes and props. His partner, the stunningly beautiful Brazilian dancer Daielma Santos, does the acrobatics with him, and lights up the stage with her dancing. The show, which runs thru April 14th at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd St., is an exposition of creative fun (for all ages) from start to finish.

**** Richmond Shepard, Performing Arts INSIDER

Wit, sophistication, charm- where do you find it these days? At the Mint Theatre on West 43rd St. in S.N. Behrman's 1939 play NO TIME FOR COMEDY. Directed by Kent Paul, who captured the flavor, the style of the
time, with a fine set by Tony Andrea, it works as well today as it did then. To be in the presence of people who are educated and clever engaged in intelligent verbal combat is so much more entertaining than a "Kitchen Sink" drama of slovenly losers. Behrman was a quipmaster and in a Noel Cowardish domestic comi-drama, we have an evening of good smart fun.
Okay- the end of the play misses the point (although cleverly enticing) that in a time of conflict in the world it is appropriate for a comedy writer to attempt a drama: his humor will sneak in anyway. This production also has a fine cast, especially Hope Chernov, so make time on your schedule for NO TIME FOR COMEDY.

***1/4 Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER, and

The new Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! is, from start to finish, a gorgeous rendition. This is a musical for all time,
one of the very greats, with a hit song every ten minutes. And this production outdoes all others I've seen in its integration of all the elements,
particularly the dance numbers by Susan Stroman- a perfect blend of music and movement. All of the cast members can really sing-- I somehow like that in a musical. Patrick Wilson is a strong Curly, Justin Bohon as Will Parker and Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey are first rate dancers as well as singers, Jessica Boevers is a charming Ado Annie, and Shuler Hensley
just about steals the show as the lumbering Jud. The ensemble is top level Broadway. Anthony Ward's simple but profound set, with its weather changes of mood reflected in the clouds, David Hersey's lighting, and
the overall direction by Trevor Nunn, who brings new insight into the dark areas of the show, all combine to make this three hour show feel like half an hour. There's not a moment of drifting. It's a splendid musical, more fully realized than ever.

**** Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER, and

March 19

QED, now at Lincoln Center, is a visit with Nobel-winning physicist, drummer and humorist Richard Feynman, one of the most interesting men of the 20th Century, portrayed by one of the most likable actors on Earth— Alan Alda. Both men have a contagious life spirit, and this show is the rare one with intellectual and philosophical content that is unceasingly engaging. It’s a treat for the mind and a theatrical delight. Feynman and Alda— What a combo! Peter Parnel has somehow fashioned Feynman’s material into a play that is an uncommon treat— it has fascinating content and is totally entertaining. Gordon Davidson’s direction is filled with imagination, flair and humor which doesn’t undercut the drama of the end of Feynman’s life.
**** Richmond Shepard

FURTHER THAN THE FURTHEST THING at Manhattan Theatre Club is basically about moronic people in a wretched situation. It starts with incomprehensible rapid-fire chatter from Jennifer Dundas, goes to the stupidity of dropping eggs so they break— twice. A magician/capitalist enters, and things pick up a bit, and it’s "should the factory come to this primitive island?" "Local Hero" did that one a lot better. The cast of five utilizes five different accents as their community rolls towards disaster. It’s miserable people in a miserable situation leading to death, and destruction. Not a lot of fun.

* -- Richmond Shepard

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is a terrific show— A brilliant, inspired cityscape set (once again) by the incomparable Bob Crowley with superlative lighting by the great illuminator Natasha Katz (once again), good
songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia, a book by John Guare, Broadway dancing at its best by a top level ensemble imaginatively choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the powerful John Lithgow, who
fills the stage with his energy and presence, in the lead, all snappily directed by the ever-innovative Nicholas Hytner. But— the show is off-kilter.
Something turns in your stomach because of the content. The two leading men, a reprehensible columnist (Lithgow) and a self-serving rat of a press
agent (Brian d’Arcy James) have no redeeming features, and we can identify with neither. The decent people in the show are squashed like bugs. Lithgow is the protagonist, and he’s such an attractive performer, that being unable to identify with him because he’s so rotten gives a feeling of unbalance. He gets to do a vaudeville number near the end as vile acts that he set in motion take place, and it’s a real "Springtime for Hitler." Is it a good show? Definitely. Did I have a good time? For much of it. Did I leave the theatre with a satisfying catharsis? No— with an ironic, unfulfilled, sense of injustice.

*** Richmond Shepard

March 16

For a lesson in overacting and scenery-chewing, you might want to check out Eve Ensler's cliché-ridden new play NECESSARY TARGETS at Variety Arts. The performers are acting instead of being even on powerful lines with content strong enough to move one by just being spoken. Except for Catherine Kellner, a fine actress who is real throughout the play. An hour into the show, I was unmoved; until a simple scene between Shirley Knight and Diane Venora which was toned down because they were drunk. Basically, the show is the old "Patients teach the doctors," and let's end up with the atrocity stories, as expected, which are also overacted. If you're a flagellation fan, go see this play. You'll get your emotional whipping towards the end. Director Michael Wilson destroyed what value there is in the script. But-- the set by Jeff Cowie is GREAT!

*-- Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER, and

There's a delightful little musical playing at The Minetta Lane Theatre: THE LAST 5 YEARS by the talented and original Jason Robert Brown. When we enter the theatre we are struck by the beauty, brilliance and originality of Beowulf Boritt's magnificent set of a wedding chapel seen from above. It's breath-taking. The show is about a five year marriage between a writer and an actress, both twenty-three years old. Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, a beautiful woman with a clear lovely voice and great physical communication, have presences that fill the theatre with the inner and outer lives of their characters. The lyrics are clever and insightful, the music memorable, the direction by Daisy Prince clear and original, the lighting by Christine Binder a powerful compliment to Boritt's set. Although elements of the story are missing (Jason Brown is young, and the major problem in the marriage of the couple is their youth) it's a thoroughly enjoyable evening of musical theatre.

***3/4 -- Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER, and

March 15, 2002

Don't go to see ONE MO' TIME, now on Broadway, unless you want to smile for two hours. This show is basically a concert of happy New Orleans music- a 1920's "Colored Show" on tour. Written and directed by Vernel Bagneris, who, with his relaxed sleepy tone defines the soft shoe dance. He's the epitome of cool, singing and dancing. Co-starring three spectacular women who sing, dance and characterize, B.J. Crosby, Roz Ryan and Rosalind Brown, with a scintillating five piece band, the show is part Bessie Smith, part minstrel show, all good natured, all entertaining, all fun.

***1/4 -- Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

March 14, 2002

THE GOAT by Edward Albee posits a happily married successful architect who falls in love with a goat. For the first two thirds, it's lots of fun, full of jokes about this weirdness, delivered sharply by the brilliant comedienne/actress Mercedes Ruehl, with the placid Bill Pullman as her foil. The writing here is crisp and smart, and clever director David Esbjornson keeps things rolling comically by having Ms. Ruehl smash things. Sections with their gay son, well-played by Jeffrey Carlson, also work. Other parts of the play, particularly those for Pullman's "best friend," are inept, inconsistent, and although necessary for the conveyance of information, as played by the badly miscast Stephen Rowe, an awkward intrusion into the bizarreness of the play. The last part gets serious, and I'm unclear as to what the metaphor is. Albee can be relied upon to be interesting, to take you on a trip. As this one reached its destination, although not a bad trip, it left me unsatisfied. Except for Ruehl. What a treasure!

**3/4 --Richmond Shepard- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

March 13, 2002

URINETOWN- a title to repel any audience. WellŠ my first instinct to skip this show was at least partly right. It's a mildly amusing one joke show with good professional performances in a silly, sometimes campy, sit-com with one slightly off-color bathroom joke: you have to pay to pee. The sit-com oriented audience laughed on cue. It's great to see John Cullum do the Bunny song, and the romantic leads, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Hunter Foster, are fine singers and actors (as are the rest of the cast). The Fosse dance takeoff and the faux folksong Freedom in Act 2 give a needed lift to the proceedings. But the totality is an attempt at a spoof that only sometimes works, and has, for me, an unsavory flavor not entirely dispelled by the good performances. Director John Rando does as much as one can with the material, and URINETOWN is getting large, enthusiastic audiences-- dumb bathroom jokes often do, but rarely on Broadway.

** --Richmond Shepard- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

Richard Eyre has directed a gripping, powerful production of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE, now on Broadway. Liam Neeson brings the main character to vivid life, and is so strong that it amplifies his fall when this invulnerable, honest man is attacked by religious fanatics in the 17th Century. Brian Murray, bringing a soft honesty to his role, gives one of the finest performances of his career, and Angela Bettis shines as the unrelenting accuser. The entire ensemble, including Laura Linney, John Benjamin Hickey, and some first rate Salem witches, is strong and believable, and the amazing set by Tim Hatley becomes a character in the play, aided by Paul Gallo's moody lighting.

**** --Richmond Shepard- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

The enchanting show METAMORPHOSES, now at the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre, is in the perfect home for this imaginative concoction. Where else could the audience get as wet? It's an Arabian Nights out of Ovid-ancient tales retold with marvelous theatricality "Story Theatre" style, with brilliant conception by writer/director Mary Zimmerman, set by Daniel Ostling, costumes by Mara Blumenfeld and great lighting by T.J. Greckens. There are vivid images, and many funny moments in the juxtaposition of ancient doings with contemporary language. It's all played in a wading pool by very drenched actors, all of whom splash well. Go see-it's fun-- with a touch of profundity stirred into the mix of Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes, Midas, Phaeton, et al.

***1/2 --- Richmond Shepard

The generally high level Manhattan Theatre Club has a show called FOUR, by the very inept (for much of the show, we're listening to one half of a telephone conversation) Christopher Shinn, whose forebear was undoubtedly the bumbling Mayor Shinn in "Music Man." Much of the dialogue rings false in this story of two interactions: a teenage gay white boy and a fifty or so year old black man who likes boys, and the man's lovely bright daughter and her illiterate basketball-playing young lover. The styles of acting in the production are at odds with each other. Pascale Armand as the girl is real and believable, Armando Riesco as her boyfriend defines his character by grabbing his crotch and imitating a Puerto Rican East Bronx accent. Keith Nobbs, as the teenage boy, is naturalistic and introverted, and Isiah Whitlock,k Jr. doesn't act- he declaims loudly, and punctuates every sentence with severely irritating phony laughter. In one spot, he moves himself to tears. The result is a tedious hour and a half, poorly directed by Jeff Cohen, with a worthy set by Lauren Helpern.

* --- Richmond Shepard