News & Reviews from New York

May 20

The hottest ticket in town is RICKY JAY ON THE STEM now at the Second Stage Theatre. His last two appearances in New York were sold out the moment they went on sale, and the same is happening now. What's the show? Ricky is a master card manipulator, magician, raconteur, huckster, historian of the odd and old time carney, con, and hustle. And he's funny.
He's unique. Don't play cards with him. Don't miss his show. His skill as a showman, his insights, his peerless legerdemain, his humor, tickles, provokes grins and some head-shaking many hours after seeing the performance. He could sell an icebox to an Eskimo, an electric heater at the equator, or the Brooklyn Bridge to you. Watch him do it. Tricky Ricky Jay- the greatest spielmeister in town.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


May 17

CAPITOL STEPS at the John Houseman-- why is this comedy review, "When Bush Comes to Shove," different from all other comedy reviews? One, it's a troupe of grownups whose insights and satires show mature
writing with depth and intelligence as well as humor, and, two, they are all Broadway-level singers. From Bush's malapropisms to Arafat and Sharon to baseball to the environment to cloning, they are right on target as they take familiar melodies and skewer something. It's full of mind-ticklers like the
exceptionally brilliant word backward (or bird wackward) trip that Mike Tilford takes us on. And with the addition of Mike Carruthers' physical comedy,
the totality is a rare evening of hilarious smart parody on a level about nine stories above other groups.

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


May 16

THE GODFADDA WORKOUT brings a new star performer to New York. Okay, he's 43 and has been a performer for many years, but he's new to us. Seth Isler is an actor, comedian, impressionist, flexible in body and
character, with great charm and athleticism. He gives us an amazing variety of vocal and body attitudes as he captures and satirizes all the major characters in the movie "The Godfather." It's not only a brilliantly performed tour-de-force stunt, it's so well produced and directed by Susan Jane Sullivan, with props, set pieces, an almost chorus of six stagehands, and lighting, that even though one man is playing all the characters, it has the feel and dimension of a full stage production, with many people, many settings. As Isler performs the familiar scenes, both realistically and slightly askew, he is truly funny, and dead-on in his comedy impressions. And, he's magnetic, unceasingly fascinating-- an all too rare quality. At the end, I wanted to see him do "Godfather II" and maybe even "III." Or anything
else. What a performer!

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


May 13

NIGHTTOWN, written and directed by Susan Mosakowski, now at the Flea theatre in Tribeca, is a fascinating psychological interaction between two Dubliners in the looney-bin, one of whom thinks he is James Joyce and
that the other is Leopold Bloom. They are two madmen whose imaginations allow them to survive in a psycho ward where they are locked up for a probably-imagined killing and an actual assault. Mosakowski gives us
guilty innocence, bent reality, madness fighting sanity, and finally full retreat into fantasy to enable survival. I found the play, beautifully performed by Michael Ryan and Matthew Maguire (who has a fine mimish physicality), to be a truly intriguing trip, mixing dark and light subtly into a fine theatrical mash.

***1/2 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER

I generally love John Guare's writing for both stage and film. But you can't win 'em all. A FEW STOUT INDIVIDUALS, his new take on a dying, debt-ridden Ulysses S. Grant and the question of who will write his memoirs, starts with a stiff opening with nothing happening, and then dives into repetitious banter and haranguing, much by an acerbic Mark Twain, which is
painful to watch, and although the acting is professional, with an outstanding Donald Moffat as Grant, and director Michael Greif tries his best, the
effect is stultifying. I found it to be one of the least interesting plays of recent time, and I felt trapped until I could escape at intermission, which I did.

* Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


May 10

If you like Gilbert and Sullivan, and I do, there's a terrific production of PATIENCE at Symphony Space on 95th and Broadway. It's a big company of really good singers, co-directed and choreographed with the broadest of strokes by Mary Lou Barber. It's full of Delsartian poses, and movement that is at once both satirical and lyrical. Michele McConnell is outstanding as the perkiest milkmaid ever, Mark Womack is indeed the prettiest boy in town, Larry Raiken is properly slimy as the oily Wilde caricature, and you want to hug Melissa Parks as Lady Jane, if you could only get your arms around her. All are fine singers, with the Gilbertian twinkle in their performances as
they waft or march about in Jean Brookman's fun costumes. A good time was had by all.

***1/2 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


May 08

Arthur Miller's first play, THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK, written when he was twenty-five, truly shows the promise of the great writer he became. In this play we see the seeds of his marvelous "Death of a Salesman," with a failing father who has false ambitions for one of his two sons. The conflicts are more blatant, but the power was there in this play, full of drama, anguish, even some humor and melodrama. And what an interesting problem- what goes on inside a man who is lucky in all of his endeavors? How does that affect him and those around him? Director Scott Ellis's cast is uneven: Chris O'Donnell, the lead, has the nervous habit of actors new to the big stage: he does a stutter/stammer at the beginning of each
paragraph, but he does come through in the emotional scenes near the end. I particularly liked David Wohl, Sam Robards and Mason Adams. The flat barn-like set, by Allen Moyer, doesn't quite work for me, especially when it becomes a living room. The play stands on its own as rather good theatre, regardless of who wrote it or when. It's definitely worth a look.

*** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


May 06

In the Broadway one-man show THE MYSTERY OF CHARLES DICKENS, starring Simon Callow, we see a 19th Century man portrayed in 19th Century grand ham performance style, when there was no amplification in theatres, and one must above all be heard, mustn't one. The show, for the most part poorly written by Peter Ackroyd, begins with rather boring exposition about Dickens' early life. As it continues, Callow, at least in this show, is basically a voice actor with unused physical capability. He gives us no reality in his characters- all are exaggerated poses, and they overlap. There are some entertaining moments, but we are not emotionally engaged as he chews up the scenery. In Act Two, there is a fast series of character changes that grabs us for a few moments, but for most of the show we sit back and watch him blow, and are unmoved. Odd, puzzling intrusive lighting is by Nick Richings, the broken-frame set by Christopher Woods suffices. Patrick Garland, the director, doesn't seem to get that bluster and ranting do not make a show for more than ten minutes.

*1/2 Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER


May 02

Good theatre doesn't get much better than Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan in Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES. As directed by Howard Davies, the actors emphasize and embellish the human side of the brisk brittle
characters we usually see in this play. Flip dialogue is not enough for these masters of comic timing, they also dig into the underlying conflicts of these two smart, wealthy wastrels as their relationship survives through conflict. Act One is one of the funniest ever written. Act Two could be condensed into fifteen minutes, as we watch them dance, bicker, sing and make love in an intimate peek into how these neurotics pass their time. Act Three goes back to quick hilarious action. The other two actors in the play, the almost
husband and wife of the leads, Emma Fielding and Adam Godley, play their roles as cartoons, and so we don't really have emotional contact with them, although they are quite amusing. But the show, with its breathtaking sets by Tim Hatley, perfect costumes by Jenny Beavan and fine lighting by Peter Mumford, works so well, that I didn't want it to end.

**** Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER, and

Stephen Sondheim's deconstruction of fairy tales, INTO THE WOODS, is both an intellectual and a theatrical experience. He's a unique wordsmith, and a quirky, zany, subtle, tunesmith. The fun in Act One is his cleverness in retelling the familiar tales. The fun in Act Two is his dark take of the aftermath of "Lived happily ever after." Also great theatrical fun. With the flawless casting of John McMartin, Laura Benanti, Kerry O'Malley, Molly Ephraim, Gregg Edelman, and the entire rest of the ensemble, playing in Douglas W. Schmidt's imaginative sets, costumed perfectly by Susan Hilferty, and with fine lighting by Brian MacDevitt, book writer and director James Lapine gives us that unusual evening in theatre: you really want to
catch and enjoy all the lyrics, and vibrate to the non-ordinary music.

**** Richmond Shepard Performing Arts INSIDER,

April 2002
March 2002