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Orchids and Polka Dots featuring Kistoffer Tonning and McKenzie A. Frye Photo credit Nathan Yungerberg

Kristofer Tonning and McKenzie Frye in “Orchids and Polka Dots”

The Fire This Time festival, now in its fourth year, features ten minute plays by young and emerging playwrights of color. (Check out my review for the 2010 season.) The founding producer Kelley Nicole Girod’s mission with The Fire This Time (the name of the festival is a play on the title of James Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time) is to broaden the scope of the Theatre of Color to include not only African-Americans and the conventions of Baldwin’s generation of writers, but to “any play written by a black playwright . . . even if it is a play about two white people in love.” This is an expansive definition of what constitutes “black theatre,” and the playwrights whose works are featured this year explore many of its implications.
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Cora Bisset and Matthew Pidgeon in "Midsummer" (photo by Chester Higgins)

Cora Bisset and Matthew Pidgeon in “Midsummer” (photo by Chester Higgins)

Midsummer [A Play With Songs], a play by Scottish playwright David Greig that is making its New York debut at the Clurman Theatre on 42nd street, is widely agreed to be a rom com. Its salient feature is a loveless man and a loveless woman who are thrown together by chance, torn apart by social convention, and reunited by Love’s cosmic flux. What more needs be said? Certain generic applications appear to be cut and pasted into the plot to lend the story the standard, twitterpated, magical realist Hollywood feel: The male protagonist is a low-level gangster with an ironically appropriate name; the female protagonist is a divorce lawyer who is ironically committing adultery with a married man; there is a wedding, a “lost” night of sex and substance abuse, and a soulful reckoning in the rain at Salisbury Crags, a popular lover’s lookout / suicide spot in Edinburgh.
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Urinetown! (photo: Chasi Annexy)

Urinetown! (photo: Chasi Annexy)

It’s fun to come back to an old favorite, even more so after you’ve grown a little older and wiser. I saw Urinetown on Broadway during the first G. W. Bush term. At the time, I was completely enraged by three years of right wing cynicism, war mongering, crony capitalism, and the vast, feckless, left wing conspiracy that allowed such perfidy to pass for policy. I cheered with Little Sally and Bobby Strong as they took down the evil Mr. Cladwell; I reveled in the quirky, postmodern, multi-layered, self-reflexive irony; and I applauded what seemed like its liberal take on environmentalism.

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Kalle Macrides as Lia

Kalle Macrides as Lia

Responsibility, obligation, and service are the themes of Erin Courtney’s new play The Service Road, running now at the Voorhees Theater of New York City College of Technology. The curtain rises on a typical day in the park, maybe Prospect Park, where Lia (Kalle Macrides), a tour guide for the ornithologically curious waits on the service road for a group to lead. Frank (Cory Einbinder), her friend and a park ranger, wishes her luck on the first anniversary of her new life. One year ago today he saved her from a botched suicide attempt in the park and gave her her present job. He tells her to play it safe because the news is forecasting strange weather.

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Pete Simpson and Ben Williams as Gregor and Alesh

Pete Simpson and Ben Williams as Gregor and Alesh

Grimly Handsome, a Modernist work that marks the longevity of the form on the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” the Armory Show of Modern Art, and Edmund Husserl’s Ideas, is a play in three acts. In part 1 we meet Alesh (Ben Williams) and Gregor (Pete Simpson), two Christmas tree lot attendants who appear to be salesmen, woodsmen, and gangsters all at once. Natalia (Jenny Seastone Stern) is a customer who is strangely compelled to shop for trees at Alesh and Gregor’s stand.

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