News & Reviews from New York
 
June 22nd, 2010

Cirque du Soleil tried a tangent— BANANA SHPEEL, written and directed by David Shiner-- a clown show mixed with the supergymnastics of Cirque’s usual spectacles, and it is partially successful. It is basically a vaudeville show, circus act after circus act, like the amazing twirler Vanessa Alvarez spinning umbrella-like cloths contrapuntally on all four limbs, with clowns in between. But— it has an unfunny opening, then good dancing to irritating music, and most of the jokes as we progress are not funny. I have this weird idea that comedy should be funny. There is some good tap dancing, but overamplifying the tappings dissipates the effect with its reverb. Thank goodness for the entrance of Patrick De Valette, a hilarious skinny dancer/mime with a Buster Keaton deadpan who gives us the laughs we hope for. There is a terrific hat-juggler, a gymnastic duo, and then some physical clown shtick that works. Act 2 has a terrific black light dance, pole dancers, and one of the best segments: Claudio Carneiro in a Mime piece about a date. There is good tapping by the chorus, a puppeteer with a live puppet, three serpentine sister contortionists, etc. Costumes by Dominique Lemieux, lighting by Bruno Rafie and design by Patricia Ruel are all imaginative and effective. Ultimately, the show, despite the forced, extended, trying-to-be-funny of the main clowns, is entertaining, mostly because of the amazing, athletic, gymnastic performers. Nice try, David.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
June 15th, 2010

The acting at Ensemble Studio Theatre is always top level, and their MARATHON 2010-Series B is one of the most consistently well-written and engaging group of five plays they have presented. In THEY FLOAT UP by Jacqueline Reingold, directed by Michael Barakiva, choreographed by Mimi Quillin, a young man meets an older topless dancer in a bar, and there is an exploration of trauma in New Orleans after The Storm. It is well performed by William Jackson Harper and Kellie Overbey.

In the very funny INTERVIEWING MISS DAVIS by Laura Maria Censabella, directed by Kel Haney, Bette Davis (a killer Delphi Harrington) gets a new assistant.

AIRBORNE by Laura Jacqmin, directed by Dan Bonnell, with stunt choreography by Maggie MacDonald, is a powerfully written, beautifully staged and acted (by Megan Tusing and Amy Staats) stylized parachute action-movement piece.

AMATEURS by David Auburn, directed by Harris Yulin, gives us a play about political expediency with fine performances by Diana Ruppe, Debbie Lee Jones, and a deeply moving, well-rounded portrayal by David Rasche.

And the closer, ANNIVERSARY by Rachel Bonds, directed by Linsay Firman, gives us a romantic encounter between two very different people, and the consequences of that difference.

All in all, a satisfying evening of good Theatre with some of the best acting in town by this outstanding company.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS- A Romantic Musical adapted from Emily Bronte’s book, with music and lyrics by Paul Dick, directed by Matthew Gutchick, is an opera with most if its dialogue, as well as its songs, sung. The singers are all excellent, with the very strong Erin Wegner as Cathy, the woman who loves the young gypsy Heathcliff (the handsome Jonathan Grunert). With an imaginative set by Tim McMath and fine period (1790’s) costumes, this melodramatic story, full of anguish and unfulfilled love is performed by a talented, earnest cast, and when Wegner opens up her pipes in “I Love Him,” as musical director Michael Sheetz accompanies on piano, it’s quite moving. This is Bronte’s actual story, not a take-off, and is a strong piece of Musical Theatre.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
June 14th, 2010

I just saw CAVALIA at The Meadowlands. My pre-conception, from the ad in The Times, was that it might be something like The Spanish Riding Academy—beautifully performed intricate steps by perfectly trained horses. No No No. This is a fantasy trip ABOUT horses, filled with Cirque dancing and gymnastics, and the horses are mostly riderless, solo or in bunches, amazingly controlled in intricate patterns by soft voice commands from a lovely woman or men who stand on them like heroes of old as they race around the track on the stage. It has a cast of superb athletes who flip, twirl, use trampolines like elfin figures flying through the air, and there are rope dancers, trapeze acrobats-- all masterfully coordinated. And, in Act 2 there is Western trick riding. The fantastic projections and brilliantly subtle lighting are magical. The artistry in CAVALIA, with its special view of horses, is a masterpiece on the level of Cirque du Soleil’s “O.” It’s a privilege to have experienced it.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

DOESN’T EVERYBODY DO IT IN PARIS? directed and choreographed by Liz Vacco is a fascinating piece of truly Abstract Theatre slightly related to Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” as elements of that novel (and its translator) flit through the piece. With a mixture of English and French (which is translated) live piano in a section, an angular kind of dancing, imaginative costuming by Maki Takenouchi, Siobhan Towey and Vacco, a large set and fine lighting filled with hints of character and time by JJ Lind, terrific sound and video by Nathan Lemoine and Rob Ramirez, recorded “Jass” (the 1920’s spelling of Jazz) stirred in, including a pastiche of “Blue Skies,” it’s a surreal, abstract, Dada Theatrical at its best. (If I say it’s Art, it’s Art. Stay cool and you can do anything-- and they are cool.) It’s all deliberate, all interesting obscurities, with games, with romance, planned chaos, full of literary references, performed with a controlled randomness by a highly professional troupe. It’s probably the most interesting show in town. IRT, 154 Christopher St., thru June 26th—800/838-3006.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
May 26th, 2010

In THE GLASS HOUSE, June Finfer explores ideas and concepts in Architecture and in Morality, giving us the most interesting work on the subject since Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” Fictionalizing the work of actual innovative architects Mies van der Rohe, (played by Harris Yulin, an actor with great presence, and total immersion into the character— every moment is real and believable) and Philip Johnson (played by David Bishins, whose gravelly voice makes George C. Scott sound like Mel Tormé), Finfer gives us the ultimate conceiver, van der Rohe, and the ultimate borrower, Johnson, who, after getting the concept and mechanics of it from van der Rohe, beats him to the punch, building the first glass house. With an intense, deep performance by Janet Zarish, plus Gina Nagy Burns rounding out the cast, the play’s ideas about architecture and views of the world kept me engaged. The clean design by Jo Winiarski reflecting the spirit of that time (1945 – 55) and of van der Rohe’s vision is award-level-- not for its complexity, but for its simple beauty. Fine lighting by Pamela Kupper and appropriate costumes by Valeris Marcus Ramshur enhance this fine script which has nuances and surprises that keep the action flowing. Anybody with any interest in architecture (or in seeing first class Theatre) will enjoy THE GLASS HOUSE.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE MARATHON 2010 Series A

Notes on the 5 One Act Plays:

SAFE by Ben Rosenthal, directed by Carolyn Cantor, is a crude play about crude, quirky people: a young insecure man and his gruff stepfather, crudely acted (by Gio Perez and Danny Mastrogiorgio) with a bright phrase here and there. Each actor stayed on one basic note, with one shift

WILD DREAM by Adam Kraer, directed by Richmond Hoxie, with nice old people (Jack Davidson and Marcia Jean Kurtz) bickering at an Art exhibit; a former student (Catherin Curtin) arrives; more bickering. The play is about the need for old people to take care of each other, and it works well.

(The first two plays are about discomfort)

MATTHEW AND THE PASTOR’S WIFE by Robert Askins gives us a bible lesson in the South with a sweet lady teacher (Geneva Carr) and a criminal (Scott Sowers) who seduces her. This piece is well-written, well-acted, well-directed (by John Giampietro.

TURNABOUT by Daniel Reitz, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, has two scenes which seem as if they were directed by different directors. In scene one, in which the acting is all “indicating,” a gay man (Lou Liberatore, who nods his head after every line) asks help from an ex-boyfriend (John-Martin Green, who does threatening riffs in soprano). Act two is the consequence of the deal they make wherein Liberatore must be a waiter at a gay event, and wear an absurd, nearly naked costume. He is totally believable in this uncomfortable situation, and Haskell King, with great comic timing and a gorgeous sixpack of an abdomen as another waiter, is hilarious as a sharp, feminine, counterpoint. It’s great fun well done.

WHERE THE CHILDREN ARE by Amy Fox based on a story by Fox and Caitlin Shetterly, directed by Abigail Zealey Bess, is a series of “Our Town” type monologues, but it’s not Thornton Wilder, and is barely engaging. There is a vague relationship with the war in the Middle East, a father, a wife, others not seemingly related to the war. Aha! Parents of people in the war. It seems to me a dismal, a well-intentioned boring play about reactions to, and the effects of, war.

Was I a little harsh in some of my comments on Series A? Perhaps. But I still look forward to series B: EST’s work is generally some of the highest caliber in NY.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

The Talking Band’s new production NEW ISLANDS ARCHIPELAGO, written and directed by Paul Zimet, has the feeling of a band of old time Mummers in this Performance Art piece taking place on a cruise ship. This is high level Theatre in all aspects with an accomplished cast who act, sing, dance. All the characters are odd, but all of the actors, including Todd D’Amour, James Himelsbach, Kristine Haruna Lee, Bianca Leigh, Ellen Maddow and Steven Rattazzi are totally believable. It’s an extraordinary piece, filled with imagination, full of humor based on character, and surprises. The design by Nic Ularu creating the inside of a ship, and an ocean is brilliant, and lighting by Nan Zhang is excellent. Costumes by Olivera Gajic are perfect for these skewed characters as their domestic dramas, including elements of Silent Film, with a Madoff scheme mixed in, unfold. Video projections by Simon Tarr give dimension and scope to the entire production. Ellen Maddow’s music, well-played by Harry Mann and Beth Meyers, is original, and enhances everything. Choreography by Hilary Easton is clean and clear in this fun play performed by its talented, versatile cast. Thru June 6th at 3LD Art & Technology Center

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

Tony Award winning French singer Yvonne Constant in “Paris in the 60’s and 70’s” at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd St. is indeed an older woman, but she has the energy, verve, and the body of a forty year old. It must be a secret known only to the French. Her alto voice still carries the tune, and her charisma pours out as she sings and tell tales. She delivers— in a collection of songs both familiar and new to me—with atmosphere, with a history of French songs by the best those decades offered, all delivered by a master of the medium. What a pleasure to spend an hour with this charming, talented, constantly entertaining performer. I wanted more! She’ll be at the same spot on June 6th and 7th at 7: PM. 212/206-0440.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
May 14th, 2010

NEXT FALL by Geoffrey Nauffts starts as if written as a sit-com, with a punchline every minute, and the audience seemed to be so conditioned by television laugh tracks, that they seemed to be sitting there, grinning, with a titter or a chuckle coming out on cue. But the jokes are good ones, so a lot was justified, and I laughed too. Then we get to the core of the play, and find that it has moral, spiritual and social issues, particularly: can you be gay and a Christian? With a fine cast featuring an excellent Patrick Breen as the complex 40 year old whose romance with a young “Born Again” Christian man (the very likable Patrick Heusinger) addresses religious issues and contradictions more than gay ones. A tragic accident to the young man brings a group of people together, including the young man’s parents, with a powerful performance by Cotter Smith as the injured boy’s conservative Southern father. Maddie Corman, Sean Dugan and Connie Ray also give strong, convincing performances on Wilson Chin’s wonderful mobile set, perfectly lighted by Jeff Croiter. Jess Goldstein’s costumes give subtle hints as to the character of each person, and particularly work with Breen as Breen’s character reveals sides of himself later in the play that are hidden early on. Tastefully directed by Sheryl Kaller to reveal the inner connection between these men who care deeply for each other despite intellectual/religious differences, NEXT FALL is a fine, engaging play that will make you think-- and feel. And laugh.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
May 13th, 2010

THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Marans is a fascinating historical examination of the start of the Gay movement to fight for acceptance in the 1950’s by the designer Rudy Gernreich and his partner Harry Hay. The five member cast, with a powerful Thomas Jay Ryan as Harry, an elegant Michael Urie as Rudy, and the versatile trio of Arnie Burton, Matthew Schneck and Sam Breslin Wright playing many parts each, the acting is first rate, the dialogue crisp, and, as directed by Jonathan Silverstein, this biodoc is a captivating theatrical experience. Sure, we learn things about the era and the lives of these people and their struggles, but basically it’s a personalized drama, filled with humor, about some flesh and blood men with a consciousness about injustice— their lives, loves, foibles and an early triumph. Designed by Clint Ramos (Urie wears the best cut suit on Broadway), with lighting by Josh Bradford, this production is an engaging evening of really good Theatre.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

BLOOD BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, written and directed by Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, is 18th Century history done in Rock and Roll played in 19th Century Melodrama style with Brechtian influences. It’s full of creative physical activity, jokes and songs in a psychedelic, anachronistic view of events. It’s full of comic shtick and surprises, and stands on the shoulders of Monty Python. The set by Donyale Weble is a kitchy mish-mash that works perfectly in the lighting by Justin Townsend, and the funny, exciting, creative choreography by Danny Mefford in this super satire on politicians, politics and American History helps make it fly. Benjamin Walker, who plays Jackson, is a handsome, charismatic singer, and he and his surrounding gang of lively, talented comedian/singers/musicians give us an outrageous comic musical show with bold contemporary no-holds-barred splash. It’s brash, funny, and has an underlying comment on the treatment of American Indians in Jackson’s time. I had a great time.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

Oh Boy! What a Show! MILLION DOLLARE QUARTET, with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, gives us the masters: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, performing their best-known songs, at the one actual recording session at Sun Records with all four of them present in 1956. It’s a great Rock and Roll concert, and this cast lives up to the originals-- super guitarist Robert Britton Lyons as Perkins, Lance Guest (in black) with Cash’s bass rumble, the spectacular Levi Kreis going nuts on the ivories as Lewis, and the Elvis of Eddie Clendening, who brings the beautiful, sexy Elizabeth Stanley in as his girlfriend, giving the group on the stage the needed female voice. Hunter Foster, in a non-singing role as Sam Phillips, head of Sun, holds it all together. With fine period costumes by Jane Greenwood, Eric Schaeffer has staged the show with action, energy, taste, and gives it all a sweet good nature. Aided and abetted by the lively Larry Lelli on drums and Corey Kaiser on bass, this is the real essence of Rock and Roll, and it kept me jumpin’ in my seat.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

John Logan’s play about the painter Mark Rothko, RED, under Michael Grandage’s direction, performed by two outstanding actors, Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his helper, is quite interesting as a piece of intelligent Theatre full of ideas about Art and The World, with two terrific performances. The painter’s studio set by Christopher Oram has a dramatically realistic flavor, and lighting by Neil Austin supports the play as the action moves. I have a skewed view of the play-- I’m familiar not only with the progression of Rothko’s life’s work, but also with what he actually said about his work. The play takes place as he changes his painted perspective from the most familiar (almost) window shapes, with a top and bottom, to what seemed, as he declined spiritually towards his end, to vertical bars (maybe he was behind them), in which, gradually, more and more, the negativity of black overtook the red, finally into an ultimate: black on black. His very last painting was a bright red splash in his usual "window" form with a thin streak of white separating the top from the bottom. After that scream, he left the planet. The only comments about his work Rothko himself made are such as: "I paint very large pictures," and "I found the figure could not serve my purposes." But that is all only background, and Logan has distilled much from the reality of the paintings, and added what he thought Rothko might have said about his work to an assistant. That’s justifiable dramatic license, and the play, and the theatrical experience of RED, including comments on Jackson Pollock, Rembrandt, Picasso and others, is really good, engaging Theatre. There is even the exciting interlude when Rothko and his assistant do a lively Paint Dance as they energetically paint the undercoat on a new canvas. So ignore my musings on actuality, and you’ll enjoy a smart, stimulating, Theatre experience created by a bunch of master Artists.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
May 10th, 2010

Sherie Rene Scott is a charming elf who is a terrific singer, and in her show EVERYDAY RAPTURE, which she co-authored with Dick Scanlan, she gives her life’s journey a reverent irreverence as she brilliantly juxtaposes Judy Garland and Jesus. This basically solo bio-concert (she has two backup singers and an amazing, fey, lip-synchronizer, Eamon Foley) is comfortably designed by Christine Jones and clearly directed by Michael Mayer. Scott invokes the spirit of Mr. Rogers and others as she gives us stories that touch the universal heart as she opens up her pipes and sings, illustrating the tales, with the band behind her on the stage in this top-level professional presentation of a wonderful performer with a great human spirit who will move you (and make you laugh).

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

This week I saw one show by a prestigious off-Broadway company with a well-known star, and an off-off-Broadway production by a bunch of unknowns in a truly undistinguished venue. The contrast was amazing.

CSC (Classic Stage Company) on East 13th St. is presenting THE FOREST, about a family in 19th Century Russia, their troubles and interactions, financial and romantic, by the Russian writer Alexander Ostrovsky, adapted by Kathleen Tolan. The leading lady is Dianne Wiest, and she declaims and sings her lines, rather than speaking like a person, with almost a mid-Atlantic accent. The set, by one of the best designers in town, Santo Loquasto, looks like decaying wooden sticks under a boardwalk—it’s really uncomfortable, and seemed totally inappropriate for the material-- even if it was meant to suggest the decay of the lives of these people. The play is physically poorly directed (by Brian Kulick) with unnecessary idiosyncratic behavior (like the lady of the house flopping down on her back on a table). With few exceptions (like Sam Tsoutsouvas), the acting is basically awful. My companion, Dr. Barbara L. Horn, who has eight published books on Theatre, said it was like people performing in their garage pretending to be actors. For me, it seemed to be the representation of people rather than actual human beings. Barbara also said that the tone of the period is absent, and that the director doesn’t understand the soul of the play. I agree. We found it so irritating that we left at intermission. A number of other audience members did too, and we encountered several of them on the way home-- they were more derisive than we were. Sorry-- you can’t win ‘em all.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

On the other hand:

BARRIER ISLAND by David Stallings, at United Stages, 48 W. 21st St. thru May 22nd, based on the true happenings on Galveston Island, Texas, with the hurricane in 2008, is a homey, folky play that takes play in and outside of a bar just before Hurricane Ike destroyed the island. It’s a complex, interesting story, and the real approaching storm is a metaphor for the complications in the lives of these people, both romantic and financial. All the actors and the characters as written are totally believable, totally convincing-- these ARE the people— from the very old man (Stu Richel) to the twelve year old boy (Frankie Seratch). Jennifer Laine Williams and Anthony Crep give a depth of feeling to their interactions that goes right to the heart. A powerful Alex Bond as a feisty woman and young Anne Clare Gibbons-Brown as the epitome of teenage rebel are outstanding, and so is Mark Emerson as a troubled man, but the entire cast, including David L. Carson and Carol Hickey, is Broadway-level. It’s one of the best directed shows (by Cristina Alicea), in terms of staging and emotional guidance and taste, that I’ve seen. The fine set by Craig Napoliello, costumes by David Withrow and lighting by Dan Gallagher enhance and make this adventure into the world of these people, who must decide whether to flee or withstand the hurricane, real. I look forward to Part 2 of the trilogy about these folk, and their lives after the storm. Through May 22nd.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
May 03rd, 2010

COLLECTED STORIES by Donald Margulies is a literate play about literate people, a professor/author and a graduate student, performed by two fine actresses: the veteran Linda Lavin who has both a sense of the dramatic and great comic timing as the strengths and weaknesses of her character gradually emerge, and the very talented, quite beautiful Sarah Paulson as an ambitious young writer whose youthful talent resonates with the mature, well-known writer/professor. The play ultimately is an exploration of the sources of literature, and the night I saw it audience members left the theatre arguing about boundaries in terms of sources. It was exhilarating to be at a play that is not only gripping entertainment, but provokes thought, ideas, and perhaps controversy. On an ideal set for a professor’s living and working quarters by Santo Loquasto, with Natasha Katz’s appropriate lighting and clothing by Jane Greenwood, director Lynne Meadow’s Manhattan Theatre Club once again gives us an example of Theatre at its highest level as she guides the two stars in this terrific play.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

WHITE’S LIES by Ben Andron, now on Theatre Row, is a shallow, but kind of fun, sex comedy that takes shots at funny, and there are some laughs. The leading man, played by Tuc Watkins, who is built like the proverbial brick shithouse, is a conscienceless bastard in his mid forties, still preying on young women, who find him irresistible, and leaving a trail of them in his dust. So his mother is dying of cancer, and wants a grandchild. Ah ha! That sets the action in motion. The actors are all excellent: the agile sprite Peter Scolari as his inept sidekick, the fabulous Betty Buckley as his mother, Andrea Grano as his ex-girlfriend, Rena Strober as several women, Jimmy Ray Bennett as several men and the very strong and attractive Christy Carlson Romano-- well I won’t tell you her role. It’s a well-produced and designed show (multipurpose set by Robert Andrew Kocach, costumes by Michael Bevins, lighting by Solomon Weisbard), and director Bob Cline keeps the series of short scenes moving very well. It’s mostly predictable, with a few twists, turns and surprises, but the laughs are infrequent in the second act. Ultimately it is a fun sitcom full of references to TV series that I’ve never seen, and the TV-watchers in the audience had a good time watching live actors perform in a sitcom without commercials.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
April 30th, 2010

PROMISES, PROMISES, book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, based on the film “The Apartment” by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, is a star vehicle, and its stars, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, shine brightly in this hit song filled musical. The story is simple: a guy lends his apartment to married executives in the firm where he is trying to climb the ladder for their trysts, and the girl he loves just happens to be the mistress of one of them. Ha. The show is really two shows: 1. The flashy, innovative, truly sexy choreography and zippy staging by the director/choreographer Rob Ashford who gives us an exciting chorus of top-level athletic, gymnastic dancers, and 2. The love quest of a charming everyman with great comic timing and physical agility, Hayes, and the most adorable leading lady on Broadway who brings great heart (and voice) to her singing of the lovely, memorable, hummable songs with their clever lyrics and catchy tunes, Chenowith. The two elements seem to be from different shows, and while both are well done and engaging, and I hope it has a long run, because I did enjoy it a lot, I’d like to see a more intimate presentation of the love story without all the pazazz and the attempt at dazzling us with footwork. In Act 2 the amazing Katie Finneran does a turn as a drunken floozie that is a show-stealer. I will definitely be sneaking in at intermission to catch her again. Wow! She won the Supporting Actress Tony in “Noises Off” for doing a quadruple “take,” and I bet she wins again for this bit. The fine active set by Scott Pask, lighting by Donald Holder and super costumes by Bruce Pask enhance this light-hearted tuneful, enjoyable entertainment.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

LEND ME A TENOR by Ken Ludwig, about an opera star scheduled to play Othello, is one of the funniest farces ever written. Standing on the shoulders of Feydeau, with its many doors opening and closing, many misunderstandings and misinterpretations, it’s constantly hilarious. Stanley Tucci, who has had Comedia training, has directed with impeccable comic timing as his actors pursue their absurdities. Tony Shalhoub tears up the stage as a harried manager, proving himself a first class farceur, and Anthony LaPaglia and Justin Bartha are right there with him. All of the women, Brook Adams, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Jan Maxwell, go all out in powerful uninhibited performances, and the result is a brilliant farce full of comic fol-de-rol. Played on John Lee Beatty’s many-doored two room hotel suite set, with appropriately imaginative costuming by Martin Pakledinaz, it’s the most fun on the New York stage this year.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

I caught Noelle McGrath’s cabaret show at the Laurie Beecham Theatre downstairs from the West Bank Café. She’s a warm, outgoing singer with a rich musical voice underlining a wry sense of humor. Her Bea Lilly impression doing Noel Coward is vividly comic. There is a terrific rendition of Randy Newman’s “Sail Away,” some Tom Lehrer, a lovely Irish ballad filled with nostalgia for the “Old Sod” and Kurt Weill’s dramatic resonance. And her two daughters did numbers-- Lily de Paula is a lovely, charming young singer and Juliet de Paula whose strength, in addition to her sense of humor is heart, warmth and a good voice and musicality. This family is filled with charming, talented women. Accompanied on piano by Rachel Kaufman who has a great sense of time and nimble fingers, this is a totally enjoyable cabaret show.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

Playwright extraordinaire August Wilson’s FENCES is a masterpiece of exploration of the human soul as people struggle against the quicksands of life in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh. Denzel Washington gives a virtuoso performance as the firm head of a working class family whose frustrating life that was unfulfilled because of his color has turned him into a man who protects and covers his soul as he runs his family with a tight grip. He is surrounded by a superb cast including a vivid Viola Davis as his wife and Mykelti Williamson as his head-wounded brother. Under Kenny Leon’s direction, there isn’t a role that isn’t brought to a sense of reality that engrosses the audience, pulls us into the interactions of these marvelous actors as their characters’ lives unfold. Played on a wonderful backyard set filled with detail by Santo Loquasto, with superb lighting by Brian MacDevitt, with perfect costumes by Constanza Romero, Wilson’s sense of drama with a sprinkling of humor unfolds with not a moment that isn’t totally engaging. To be at a play that has such heart, humor and depth of insight into the essence of the human spirit is a privilege (and a delight).

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.

       
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