News & Reviews from New York

December 27th , 2004

DOUBT by John Patrick Shanley, is a powerful play- a peek into Catholic education; a conflict between a loving, compassionate priest and a severe nun who runs the school. The play is a brilliant dissection of the human soul, with a stunning performance by Cherry Jones in which she totally invests herself into the
character. It's one of the finest, most moving performances of the year. The rest of the cast of the four character play is quite good, especially Brian F. O'Byrne as the priest. John Lee Beatty's set, which is both expansive and constricting, Pat Collins'
lighting, and sharp direction by Doug Hughes, all enhance Shanley's most recent play; one in which he goes deeper, is less playful and more profound than in his other works, without subduing his gift for language that rings true. My spies tell me that it is moving to Broadway in March, where it should win
many awards- it's a great show. To see it up close and personal, catch it now at Manhattan Theatre Club on W. 55th St.

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


December 20th , 2004

AFTER THE BALL, Noel Coward's musical based on Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan," now at the Irish Repertory Theatre, is a perfect holiday entertainment. It starts as a Frimlesque operetta, develops into a musical, and the drama and comedy flows into a lovely show with beautiful period costumes, fine stage design
and elegant, lively direction by Tony Walton. While Coward's songs are witty and appropriate, the most fun is still Wilde's quips and his thrusts at the British. The stage movement and choreography by Lisa Shriver is all in clean patterns, and the cast, including a delightful Kathleen Widdoes, is uniformly excellent.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

Florence Foster Jenkins was a great joke as a singer. In college, my friend Buddy Sharter and I used to listen to her records and laugh and cringe at her awfulness. Judy Kaye's performance as the worst singer of the 20th Century is absolutely brilliant.
Her stage cohort, Jack F. Lee is a fine pianist and good storyteller as he shows us Jenkins' life. The show combines subtle comedy and dramatic writing by Stephen Temperley, a sprinkling of pop songs by Lee, and a layered performance by Kaye, who is a great
singer, giving us the coyness and the conviction of the woman she is portraying. Direction by Vivian Matalon is superb, with impeccable timing, and costumes by Tracy Christensen show us a reality, and ultimately reach the sublime. And-- Kaye gives us a
magnificent capper that will knock you socks off.
Run! Don't miss it!

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

Experimental Theatre doyen Lissa Moira's latest version of her creation THE BEST SEX OF THE XX CENTURY SALE, now at the Theatre for the New City, is an amusing, absurdist history of Sex in the 20th Century, with a lively cast of singers and dancers doing songs, decade by decade, of the progressing century- movies, pop music and culture, including a "Boop-boopy-do by
Betty Boop and writer/director Moira herself as Mae West. Choreography by Mariana Bekerman is delightfully in tune with the proceedings. It's an odd agglomeration of comedic musical sketches, and its constant change and innovation keeps us engaged. You'll smile a lot at the silly antics and impressions
performed by the large, talented cast, and co-writer Richard West's musical direction and pianist Franca Vercelloni, keep things jumping.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


December 10th , 2004

Richmond's New York best & worst of 2004


SAFETY IN NUMBERS, written and performed by Jan Rudd
BRIDGE & TUNNEL, Written and performed by Sarah Jones
BUG by Tracy Letts
A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry
THE TWO AND ONLY by Jay Johnson
SLY FOX by Larry Gelbart and Moliere HERE LIES JENNY
SOUVENIR by Stephen Temperley
THE GOOD BODY by Eve Ensler
THE TALK OF THE TOWN by Ginny Redington and Tom Tawes
TRYING by Joanna McClelland Glass

Special Awards to The Actors Company Theatre TACT) for
their reading series
and to DAME EDNA for being hilarious.


DROWNING CROW by Regina Taylor
EMBEDDED, written and directed by Tim Robbins
MINISTRY OF PROGRESS, created and directed by Kim
Hughes from a play by Charlie Morrow
SARAH, SARAH by Daniel Goldfarb
DRACULA THE MUSICAL, with book and lyrics by Don Black
Christopher Hampton and music by Frank Wildhorn
WHITE CHOCOLATE by William Hamilton
DEMOCRACY by Michael Frayn


December 9th , 2004

PACIFIC OVERTURES, songs by Stephen Sondheim, book by
Jerome Weidman, now revived on Broadway is a mish-mash. It’s sort of a “The Americans Are Coming! The Americans Are Coming!” in 1853 Japan, and the production is in several styles. It doesn’t seem to know if it’s a farce or a drama; real so that we can
identify with someone or spectacle that we can watch without emotional involvement. It’s like the director/choreographer, Amon Miyamoto, didn’t trust the material to just say the words and sing the songs (and do the movements). Trying to be funny, as in
part one, isn’t funny. Much of the dialogue is like a bad children’s book, and with a miscast B.D. Wong as the strong cohesive central figure, the show flounders. There is an alien feeling in terms of choreography, set (Rumi Matsui), music and action.
It’s mostly a slapstick rendering in Act One: they seem to be mocking the event of the first incursion of American trading missions to Japan, with great, grotesque, fun masks for the Americans. But it all feels stilted in language and action. Sondheim’s lyrics, however, with his personal approach to Musical
Theatre, are interesting and do engage your mind. But the show seems to have separate scenes and styles, with nothing followed through, such as a suicide followed by an unrelated musical number, and the intrusion of an unnecessary King story, enacted sort of like their version of a “Little House of Uncle Thomas.” Act Two has a good sword fight, and segues into an interesting real section with the influx of Western clothing and articles, and ultimately, with the flash of The Bomb, it turns into a Broadway
Musical with a big dance number in the contemporary world. An interesting mish-mash, with creative costumes by Junko Koshio, and scattered direction and choreography.

The show “Cabaret” is over at this theatre. Why not take out the tables and hard chairs that make up much of the orchestra and put in theatre seats so one can sit comfortably for three hours? As it is, it’s a tough sit, and I believe it’s a fire hazard.

** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

Martha Clarke’s BELLE EPOQUE is an impression of an Impressionist, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the costumes, dances, atmosphere of late 19th Century French Café culture. Clarke creates living paintings with four foot tall Mark Povinelli as Lautrec. Stories about Lautrec range from the sentimental to the bizarre. There are arresting visual images from his paintings
of a skewed society, with some lovely songs from music of that time well-sung by Joyce Castle that lift the show, rhythmic dance numbers with swirling skirts (costumes by Jane Greenwood), a red-headed woman clown (Ruth Maleczech), and the most supple dancer in town, Robert Besserer, who has truly Amazing Grace:
flexibility, plasticity, fluidity, elasticity-- it’s worth the price of admission just to see him move, lean, bend, dance. And we get to look at a naked lady as we hear a description of Absinth. The strength of the show is the movement and music (directed by
Clarke), the weakness is in the text: stilted verbiage (by Clarke and Charles L. Mee). Some is simplistic and obvious as people comment on Lautrec’s life, some is merely boring, and it is ultimately depressing because of his miserable, frustrating, ultimately disease-ridden existence. Povinelli is a good Lautrec,
Tome Cousin and the rest of the cast are all excellent. I’d say trim the text way down, add another (perhaps abstract) dance number giving visual insight into his life, and you’ve got a terrific show.

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


December 6th , 2004

Okay, maybe I saw a different show. Ben Brantley of the New York Times feels that DEMOCRACY by Michael Frayn, now on Broadway, is one of the greatest dramas of our time. I found it to be a colossal bore. In this view of German leader Willy Brandt and his rise to power, of the intricacies of the spy system between
East and West Germany, of interlocking loyalties, the political machinations are interesting, the endless exposition gets dull. Director Michael Blakemore keeps the actors moving physically—there is lots of motion on the creatively-designed two level set by Peter J. Davison, and it is well lighted by Mark
Henderson. But performances are all external: demonstrated rather than “being,” and they go on, and on, and on........and on. A few broad strokes could have communicated the essences of the goings-on. I don’t go to the theatre for a history lecture. I want to see human interaction, empathize with someone, and
feel something— whatever the genre. In this production there is no intimacy— we stay outside the performances. It all lacks dynamics despite the content of the politics. In the hour and a half first act I felt something strong for about a minute and a half as Brandt, stolidly played by James Naughton, kneels at a Polish Holocaust monument. Most of the large cast of suited men, most of the time, despite their walking around a lot, seem artificial:
speechifying figures, pretenders of feelings, rather than real humans. Sorry—maybe it’s me (although I did notice that several people seated near me nodded off, and then left at intermission).

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

Fritz Weaver, with his patrician look and tone, is a perfect melding of actor and role in Joanna McClelland Glass’s smartly written play TRYING, now at the Promenade theatre. He gives a wonderful, convincing, commanding performance as an eighty-two year old annoying, irascible curmudgeon with a classic WASP
sensibility. He curmudges better than anyone since Monty Woolley came to dinner. There are political events of the ‘60’s here, but they are subjugated to the human drama of the foibles of deteriorating old age with real people and real feelings. Weaver’s depiction of a very old (but sentient) and then even
older judge, a Republican who, in the depression, became a Roosevelt Democrat and then a Nurenberg judge, is superb. Kati Brazda is an excellent foil for Weaver in an in depth performance of his assistant as he completes his life. The production comes
directly from Chicago, and I can’t imagine it being better: director Sandy Shinner, set designer Jeff Bauer, costumes by Carolyn Cristofani, and lighting by Jacqueline Reid. TRYING is a powerful, moving, piece of Theatre.

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


November 22nd , 2004

What a season for one-person Broadway shows! Two more, and they’re both lots of fun and well worth seeing.

Mario Cantone’s LAUGH WHORE gives us the hyperkinetic whirlwind spouting observational humor at full blast—he sings, he dances, he jests. His absurd impressions of Shelley Winters, Cher, Tina Turner, Kate Smith (who remembers her?), LL Cool J, Carol Channing, Katherine Hepburn, Elvis, Ann Margaret, Liza, and others keep the audience laughing. And that’s only Act One. Act Two is his takeoff on his family, and he is vivid as he portrays relatives and their foibles and mannerisms. Plus—Judy Garland. Cantone is an energy storm with a great physicality, filling the theatre with his presence, and the imaginative set by Robert Brill and lighting by Jules Fisher & P eggy Eisenhauer, as snappily directed by Joe Manatello, all add up to lots of bold, outrageous fun.

In DAME EDNA—BACK WITH A VENGANCE! creator/performer Barry Humphries, the worldclass lively transvestite and master comedian pours out brilliant quips. He’s a great actor in a great role, and it’s all laugh after laugh with amazing timing. His audience interaction, which is a good part of the show, is as good as it gets, and far superior to most comedians I have seen (I’ve only seen 2026 of them). It’s insightful, good natured, and hilarious. And this time he’s got Wayne Barker on the piano and four gorgeous performers to dance, sing and assist him as he brings audience members onto the stage. Dan Scheivert’s set and Jane Cox’s lighting are quite good. Will Goodwin and Stephen Adnitt’s ridiculous fantastical costumes take the show to another dimension. Go, Possums-- enjoy-- it’ll keep you smiling for days.


November 18th , 2004

'NIGHT, MOTHER by Marsha Norman is in its second Broadway run, and there was a movie of it. So someone liked it a lot. Well, it is a great vehicle for actresses, and Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn as inept mother and suicidal daughter are two of the best, and it's rewarding to see them in action pouring their guts out. There is a certain tension in the play when the daughter declares at the opening that she is going to commit suicide and shows us the gun. But despite a tiny bit of humor here and there, the play soon became quite ordinary in the homey dialogue, mostly exposition, that drones on as the women do ordinary, trivial kitchen things as we wait to see if she will die. These two excellent actress portray deep suffering in different ways- it's hope versus hopelessness. Falco shows us the doomed life of a miserable epileptic loser; Blythyn the desperation of a mother about to lose her child. The problem is I felt more like a spectator than a participant (my
companion felt the opposite). Director Michael Mayer mostly paces the emotions well, the fine kitchen/living room set is by Neil Patel, and Brian MacDevitt's subtle light changes enhance everything. I've always loved Edie Falco, admired Brenda Blethyn.
They do just fine in 'NIGHT, MOTHER.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


November 16th , 2004

How can contemporary writers dare to attempt to rival the wit of the literary cavaliers of The Algonquin Roundtable? In THE TALK OF THE TOWN, now at the Bank Street playhouse, Ginny Redington and Tom Tawes pull it off with dash and aplomb. Some of the quips are by Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott and the others, but the lyrics, newly coined, are in
the same league. And what a city this is to have a talent pool so vast that director Dan Wackerman has found nine people who not only can sing, dance and act really well, but they actually look like the characters they are portraying. The show is lively, and Act One moves with non-stop choreography (by the vastly creative Mercedes Ellington) in a montage of scenes and incidents. Subplot: Robert Sherwood and Edna Ferber: What it takes to be a Writer. Act Two is a peek into the hearts and souls of the witty characters and has a vaudeville dance number in
splashy costumes (by Amy C. Bradshaw). Subplot: Parker's love for Benchley. I thought "Where am I? Actually back in the time of the original Roundtable? And they all sing and dance! What fun!" With the fine simple functional set by Chris Jones, lighting by
Dana Sterling, Bradshaw's costumes, and Wackerman's clear guidance, TALK OF THE TOWN is a Broadway show.
Long may it wave! (212/868-4444)

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


November 14th , 2004

I saw two extraordinary actresses in their one-woman shows: WHOOPI, starring Whoopi Goldberg, (and since no writer or director is credited, I guess she did it herself) and THE GOOD BODY, written by and starring Eve Ensler, directed by Peter Askin. Each woman becomes, fully inhabits, a series of contemporary
characters who express their ideas, their lives, their problems and conundrums. And, interestingly, each does a take on Anne Frank.

Ms. Goldberg starts with "Fontane," a politicized junkie, in a piece of observational humor on the political situation which felt about two weeks too late. It's good standup, but she's preaching to the
choir. She then goes to Texas with "Lurlene," who muses on sanitary napkins, testicles, vaginas, penis handling, and urine trajectories. Very funny. She has a good portrayal of a spastic who finds romance, and of a Valley girl. And there's amusing pretentious nonsense from a New Age philosopher who loves "Law and Order" on TV. It's a really good comedy show from a great comedienne who can transfix you with her intimate personna. There is no set, and lights shone in my eyes.

Ms. Ensler is funny as a writer, performer, and philosopher, with universal deeply felt insights that go beyond comedy. She's funny, sometimes hilarious, with depths that plumb the heart and consciousness. THE GOOD BODY explores being overweight- with a Southern fat woman-and she gives us an 80 year old Cosmo woman, a pierced lesbian, a Puerto Rican girl, a wife with an unsatisfactory sex life getting her vagina tightened, a high fashion model, Botox, and a coda with an Indian summing up her "You're Okay!" philosophy. Set by Robert Brill, costumes by Susan
Hilferty and lighting by Kevin Adam, and Askin's impeccable direction, help turn this very moving, very funny play by the remarkable Ms. Ensler into a Broadway show that is not to be missed.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


November 7th , 2004

The incredibly flexible Himiko Minato and her dancers performed YELLOW, a dance-drama, at Joyce Soho that gradually builds in intensity, from four dancers with empty tree branches communicating slow-moving anguish, to a single dancer, Anne-Kathrin Tatz, whose dynamic solo infuses life into the proceedings, to the appearance of the star dancer/choreographer Minato. She is a fluid wisp with amazing dimension in her
movements as she relates to a rope, then is enveloped by a sea of fabric provoking fascinating abstract images in the several bodies under the stormy filmy cloth. Minato is roped by a male dancer, Pascal Rekoert: conflict, strength against strength. A
powerful "Pity me!" pose, and then rebirth. The branches the dancers carry now have green leaves, which leads us to an umbrella dance with tongue clicks for all, and a grand finale with all seven dancers on a beach in peaceful sunlight. A happy ending to a journey begun in torment and distress. This is a complete seventy minute journey, with music, some of it performed live by fast-fingered pianist Megumi Kitamura, some sung by Penelope Thomas and others, some by Debussy and Rachmaninoff recorded. Lighting by Julie Ana Dobo enhances everything. Himiko Minato is a fascinating figure on the stage, with an elastic
plasticity rarely seen. I eagerly await her next choreographic endeavor.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


November 5th , 2004

FIVE BY TENN, now at Manhattan Theatre Club, gives us five Tennessee Williams short plays from 1937 to 1970 interspersed with words from his letters and other writings as intros. It is interesting to see Williams's treatment of mostly gay themes grow and develop through time as the world changed. Sketches of later fully rounded characters appear, such as Penny Fuller's frantic hopes for her somewhat different son in "Summer at the Lake." It is an uneven show, with some miscasting and misdirection (by
Michael Kahn). Cameron Folmar is twenty years too old for his role as the hopeless gay son in "Summer At the Lake," but he gives an award level, riveting performance as a transvestite in "And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens." His nuance and depth blaze on the stage. The "rough trade" he seduces in this play is performed by a one level (the same drunk and sober), unconvincing Myk Watford. David Rasche is over the top as the husband in "The Fat Man's Wife," a little closer to an actual person (although a bit like Monty Wooley) as D.H. Lawrence in "Adam and Eve on a Ferry," which has some rather good jokes in it, and just fine as the inarticulate man in "I Can't Imagine
Tomorrow," which is about depression and cancer. Ms. Fuller is quite good in both of her roles, including a trembling supplicant to Lawrence, and Kathleen Chalfant is great in all her roles: an arthritic ancient servant, a wealthy dowager, Lawrence's
mittleuropean wife, and as the woman dying of cancer. Good lighting by Traci Klainer on James Noone's serviceable set and Catherine Zuber's excellent costumes enhance the proceedings. All in all, the evening, despite its flaws, with its flares of
language from one of America's greatest playwrights, is indeed worth seeing.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


November 2nd , 2004

BROOKLYN, by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson, a kind of Cinderella story about a singer and the street performers who live under the Brooklyn Bridge, has a cast of great singers: Cleavant Derricks, Eden Espinosa, Karen Olivo, Ramona Keller and Kevin
Anderson, and that, basically, is the reason to see this show. It's a cute, simplistic fairy tale about an orphan singer, set in the best urban decay (by Ray Klausen) since "Rent," with imaginative, award-caliber costumes (by Tobin Ost) that coined a new word for me: trashtumes. If BROOKLYN left out the moralizing, and
the old "Blame it on Vietnam" bathos, perhaps put in some dancing to match the singing (Espinosa gets a standing ovation in her big big number), they'd have a hit. As it is, if you want to hear some fine voices and see some energetic performers, here they are.

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

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