Written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein

Well served by the perennially solid Keen Company, A. R. Gurney’s Clinton-era seriocomedy pins its astute psychological insights to a clever theatrical conceit. As the two romantic leads carry the main story line, two versatile supporting players stretch their acting muscles (and the wardrobe department’s ingenuity) as they morph into cavalcade of incidental characters. The production falls just a hair shy of the crisply timed delivery the material demands. But it will no doubt tighten during the run as the actors – all of them equipped with remarkable comedic skills- become more accustomed to the show’s myriad costume changes and entrance cues. As for the script, it’s old school in the best sense of the word. Taking in place in real time and in a single setting, the story unfolds naturally, with just a hint of farcicality, like a splash of crème to cassis in a glass of champagne, to keep things interesting.

On a balmy night in Boston, dapper Austin (Laurence Lau), attends an elegant soiree held in a swanky apartment overlooking the harbor. His fashion-conscious friend Sally (Jodie Markell in the first of her many roles) tells Austin to wait on the rooftop patio while she fetches a friend she wants him to meet. Austin scarcely has time to take in the view before his reverie is punctured by the arrival of Jimmy (Liam Craig in the first of his many roles), an eccentric college professor who sermonizes on the virtues of smoking even as he struggles to give it up. There are many such episodes throughout the next 90 minutes, as a series of endearingly odd party guests wander out to the roof, disrupting the growing intimacy between Austin and Ruth (Barbara Garrick). At first, the two seem to be, as Sally predicted, perfect for each other. But as the evening wears on, they discover they have profound differences as well. For their budding romance to have a chance, Austin will have to overcome his New England stuffiness, Ruth to resist the impulse to reunite with her dangerous-but-exciting ex-husband. Large questions loom as well. Does later life bring greater self-awareness and therefore better odds of getting it right? Or are we, like Jimmy and his cigarettes, fated to repeat old patterns even when we’re old enough to know better?

Jonathan Silverstein, handles the story’s blend brightness and melancholy with a light, but never timid touch. Steven Kemp’s set and David Lander’s lights vividly underscore the story’s shifting moods, making the rooftop background a kind of character in its own right. Jennifer Paar’s opulent costumes speak volumes about the personalities and social training of a sprightly Ruth, staid Austin, and motley host of revelers. Wig and hair artists Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas rise to the show’s challenges with panache and precision.

LATER LIFE continues through April 4, 2018 at The Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Aves) New York, NY 10036. Tickets at




Written by Lizzie Vieh
Directed by Maria Dizzia

The course of true love never did run smooth. In fact, for the denizens of Lizzie Vieh’s confounding universe, even arranging a casual kinky encounter can be fraught with hazards.

John (Maurice Jones) Wendy (Leigh Williams) have reached an impasse in their marriage. The initial passion that drew them together has cooled, and because a bout with testicular cancer has rendered John infertile, they haven’t been able to start a family.  Desperate to liven up their intimacy, the couple decide to experiment with threesomes. The way some couples decide what to see on movie night, they take turns choosing third partners. Wendy’s picks eccentric (possibly mildly autistic) coworker Kevin (Justin Yorio), whose social awkwardness makes John uncomfortable. As it turns out, Kevin is up for the ménage a trois, but for the wrong reasons. He’s deeply in love with Wendy, and will do anything to be close to her. This wasn’t in the plan, but Wendy likes being desired and begins seeing Kevin on the sly. Further complications arise when it’s John’s turn to choose. Free-spirited Arianne (Cassandra Paras), is game for some polyamory, but Wendy begins to lose her nerve. What she really wants, it seems, is out of the marriage. But when John’s illness returns and Kevin’s dark side emerges, she is forced to search her soul for the right answer.

Intriguingly, the male characters are more emotionally available than the women in the play. John, especially, careens to extremes of feeling as both his marriage and his health become increasingly unstable. Under Maria Dizzia’s bold direction, Jones throws himself into the role with powerful rawness and vulnerability. In less mercurial but equally challenging roles, Williams, Yorio and Paras maintain the honesty and spontaneity the material demands. Vieh’s script is tender and insightful, and the issues it probes are timely. But there’s potential here for further exploration of the characters’ drives and desires. It never becomes clear what Wendy’s looking for as she channel surfs through different life choices. And Arianne is likable, but, outside of a brief sermon on the virtues of eco-friendly dry cleaning, exhibits almost zero passion. As it is, THE LONELIEST NUMBER is a moving evening of theater. A more fully-rendered cast of characters would raise it to a higher level.

THE LONELIEST NUMBER continues through March 10, 2018,  at The Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente Soto Vélez Center, 107 Suffolk Street, in Manhattan. For tickets, call 646-299-2140 or visit



Written by Donald Marguiles
Directed by Jerry Heymann

TIME STANDS STILL made its New York debut in January of 2010. Though it sported a cast of A listers, the material wasn’t well served by the production. Something of the nuances of Donald Marguiles’s multilayered script were overwhelmed by the size of the show’s Broadway venue. The script plays better in an intimate venue, and audiences who were underwhelmed by the original production will discover new relevance, rawness and humor the New Light Theater’s heartfelt revival.

After suffering a near-fatal injury, photojournalist Sarah (Nancy Nagrant), returns home to Brooklyn to recuperate. Her boyfriend James (John Long), a war correspondent and freelance writer, tries to help as much as possible. But the relationship between them is as strained as it is loving. For one thing, James is burdened by guilt. He and Sarah worked side by side overseas, James filing dispatches while she took photos, until a nervous breakdown forced him to flee the war zone. Having abandoned her, he now seeks to be the man he failed to be. Sarah, too, suffers from feelings of remorse and secret grief. While James was away, she allowed her relationship with Tariq, a local interpreter (a “fixer” in press jargon), to become more than just professional. The affair did not end because of loyalty to James, but because Tariq was killed in the same blast that wounded Sarah. One thing that wasn’t destroyed is Sarah’s work, and when close friend Richard (Ross DeGraw) drops by for a visit, he’s wowed by the new pictures. A photo editor at a major magazine, Richard believes he can help James and Sarah to turn their war reportage into book. James worries that it’s too soon, but for Sarah the only way forward is by doing what she’s always done. Just as she readies herself to get back into the action, James finds himself infused with newfound desire for home and stability. After all, Richard and his pregnant wife Mandy (Assol Abdullina), seem happy (even if she is half his age). Renewing their commitment, Sarah and James decide to tie the knot, but the way forward is more fraught than a minefield. Simmering resentments and deep disagreements threaten to topple everything they’ve built.

The script goes to both painful and tenderly funny places as these intelligent, troubled characters navigate the intersection of personal and polemical. Both Sarah and James wonder if, for its righteous intent, their work even has any relevance anymore. Does anything really change? Or do readers linger only briefly on what Mandy calls “bummer stories”, before moving on to puff pieces and celebrity profiles? Does pointing a camera at tragedy commemorate, or merely exploit the sufferers? These questions are borderline unanswerable, but they refuse to go away.

Under Jerry Heymann’s tight direction, the little battles fought in the living rooms and kitchens no longer seem trivial. In their own way, domestic negotiations are as important as the larger crises raging in the world. Nagrant movingly captures Sarah’s battered idealism, her unspoken hurts, the blend of romanticism and trench-worn toughness with which she pursues her calling. Equally compelling, Long embodies James’s disillusion and resilience, his ambivalent relationship with the high ideals that both drive and drain him. The two leads receive ample support from the supporting cast. DeGraw strikes both the fatherly and conniving aspects of and editor’s persona with equal authenticity. As the uncorrupted Mandy, Abdullina provides both comic relief and a voice of hope. Brian Dudkiewicz’s sets Ashleigh Poteat lighting add realism and panache to this memorable production.

TIME STAND STILL continues through February 24, 2018 at 13th Street Rep,  50 W 13th Street New York, NY 10011 between 5th and 6th Avenues. Tickets: tssplay.



Written by John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby

Though it’s in need of some judicious trimming, John McKinney’s engagingly surreal romcom largely succeeds in building a delectable Dagwood sandwich of multiple genres, archetypes and conventions. The play’s premise and tone bring to mind both the metaphysical mayhem of BLITHE SPIRIT and the fantasy-vs-reality tension of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. But THE CHEKHOV DREAMS takes these themes to unexpected, often lyrical places, and the wit and tenderness with which McKinney renders his vibrant characters  give the audience both an enjoyable ride and something to talk about after the curtain falls.

Ever since the untimely death of his fiancé Kate, Jeremy (Dana Watkins), has been living a life of purposeless squalor. Living on an inheritance, he seldom cleans – let alone leaves – his apartment, and avoids any meaningful connection with other people. He only feels alive in his dreams, where he and Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) are reunited. These nocturnal rendezvous have a dark undercurrent, though. Kate wants Jeremy to commit suicide, so he can join her in the afterlife. A tug of war ensues as Jeremy’s hedonistic brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) attempts to pull him towards life. The opposite of mopey Jeremy, Eddie leads a life of perpetual motion, indulging his voracious appetite for booze, cocaine and kinky sex clubs. At Eddie’s insistence, Jeremy gets back to work on his unfinished novella and enrolls in an acting class. His scene partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber), is sincere and enthusiastic, but the material they’re assigned, proves problematic. It’s a scene from THE SEAGULL, and Jeremy can’t stand Chekhov. In one of the play’s funniest diatribes, he takes the Russian master to task for his ponderous plots, morose characters and florid dialogue. Still, Chrissy manages to convince him to make an effort: the words are supposed to be empty on the page. It’s up to the actors breathe life into them as they find the emotional truth of the scene. For Jeremy and newly-engaged Chrissy, that truth is an uncomfortable one. Like Trigorin and Nina, they are falling in love. Once the possessive Kate finds out about the new woman in Jeremy’s life, she ratchets up her tactics. No longer content to stay on her side of the consciousness line, she begins popping up unexpectedly in the real world as well. Even sleep brings scant from stress, as Jeremey’s reveries with Kate are increasingly disrupted by none other than the good Dr. Chekhov himself (Rik Walter). With his nerves in a state of emergency, our troubled protagonist must figure out a way simultaneously find an ending for his book, unearth the real meaning of the SEAGULL scene, and free himself from the seductive grip of his otherworldly lover’s icy fingers. That’s a hell of a to do list, and it’s no wonder he’s tempted to opt for oblivion instead. Luckily, both the subconscious and everyday worlds have a few more tricks up their respective sleeves.

Under Leslie Kincaid Burby’s thoroughgoing direction, the actors remain scrupulously devoted to Chekov’s admonition not to act, but to feel. Balancing disarming vulnerability with sharp comedic skills, Watkins provides the show with a solid emotional core. His understated intensity is adroitly counterbalanced by Ingrham’s cold allure and Stoiber’s winning spontaneity, as well the broader drollery of Ryan and Walter. They are given a fanciful and picturesque world to play in thanks to Scott Aronow’s protean set design, A. Christina Giannini’s opulent costumes, and Diana Duecker’s mood-enhancing lighting.

THE CHEKHOV DREAMS continues through Feb 17, 2018 at The Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, Between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York NY 10036.

Tickets: https://



Written and directed by Paul Calderon

Co-directed by Katherine Calderon

A kind of AMERICAN BUFFALO simmered in the flavors and rhythms of the barrio, Paul Calderon’s gritty crime drama puts a fresh spin on the heist-gone-wrong genre. Beginning on a surreal note, DIVINE HORSEMEN’s prologue shows Jojo (Sebastian Mitre) committing seppuku while images of video superheroes, salsa musicians, and other elements of his addled psyche. Jojo’s suicide is but one of many casualties that have devastated the neighborhood’s old guard. Hardly anything remains of crew that used to hang out at the Caballeros Divinos social club, and the few who have managed to sidestep death and imprisonment are finding it harder and harder to make a buck, let alone get a little respect. Iffy (David Zayas), runs a candy store that proves an easy target for robbers. Dapper Willie (Paul Calderon), ekes out a living as a thug-for-hire. Among other rackets, Iffy and Willie kidnap dogs and return them for reward money. It’s a distasteful business, especially when the less desirable dogs have to be euthanized with baseball bats.

Prospects don’t seem much brighter for the younger generation. Benny (Robert Lee Leng), who was once a promising baseball pitcher, is now reduced to seducing and bilking older women. Unfortunately, it’s not enough: Benny owes money to a local loan shark, and is running out of time to pay it back. All three of these desperate men could use a break, and one finally arrives in an unexpected place. Jojo, it turns out, left behind a huge cache of mint-condition comic books and baseball cards. Benny convinces Iffy and Willie to help him make the most of this treasure trove of collectibles, but there is, of course, a catch. To get all that swag out of Jojo’s crib, the gang will have to sneak past his autistic little brother Raffi (David Deblinger). This proves challenging, especially when Raffi turns up at the social club at the worst possible time. Easily provoked and prone to wild tantrums, Raffi is more dangerous than a loaded gun. This volatile situation inevitably descends into madness, as the men find themselves forced to make split-second decisions in a world where human life has less value than an old issue of Spiderman.

Calderon’s dialogue captures the cadences and embellishments that distinguish New York Street-speak. He and Zayas make the most of their staccato exchanges and imagistic monologues, while also embodying the physicality of their archetypes. Zayas lumbers about the stage like a weary combat veteran who has seen too much bloodshed. He is nimbly counterbalanced by the agile Calderon, who moves with the grace and lethality of a prizefighter in his prime.

For all it’s vitality, DIVINE HORSEMEN is still in a raw stage of its development. It needs a more even pace, and a smoother execution of its fight choreography. Most likely, though, if the production gets the longer, better-funded run it deserves, these rough edges will correct themselves in time.

DIVINE HORSEMEN continues through January 27, 2018 at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, New York, NY 10013. Tickets:



Written by James Haigney, Neal Labute & Carter Lewis

Directed by John Pierson

Always worth a look,  LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL varies from year to year in length and tone. This year’s edition is, in the best sense of the word, leaner than in previous years. The energy seldom lags, and all three cherry-picked one acts are provocative, timely and adroitly crafted.

The plot of Neil LaBute’s HATE CRIME unfolds like a James M. Cain novel. Man 2 (Chauncy Thomas) paces in his luxury hotel room, watching, appropriately enough, a documentary about alpha male animals in the wild. He is joined by likeable Man 1(Spencer Sickmann), his devoted lover who brings coffee, Danish pastries and smiles. Man 2 is understandably anxious. He wants to make sure the scheme the two of them are hatching goes off without a hitch. Here’s how it works: Man 2 is going to marry a wealthy older man. Right after the wedding, Man 2 will murder the old guy and make it look like a gay bashing incident. He and Man 1 will then live happily ever after on the dead man’s life insurance. As the two conspirators rehearse the plan, they begin to reveal symptoms of the nagging self-contempt – exacerbated by society’s biases- that leads to aberrant behavior. The play feels like Scene One of a larger story, and it would be interesting to where this 21st Century Double Indemnity would go if it were expanded to a full-length piece. As it is, we’re left with a cliff hanger. But, as always, LaBute’s mordant writing is well served by the short form. The dynamic between coolly predatory leader and eager protégé is expertly mined for both laughs and chills by Thomas and Sickmann.

In WINTER BREAK, by James Haigney, religious conversion divides an American family. Christened Joanna, a high-achieving college student (Kelly Schaschl) now insists on being called Aisha. Having adopted Sufism as her guiding influence in life, she wears a head scarf and is planning a trip to Turkey to study the Koran. Aisha’s Episcopalian mom Kitty (Autumn Dornfeld) is worried she’ll throw away her education. Her brother Bailey (Sickmann), takes a more extreme view, going as far as calling Aisha’s Facebook friends “sadistic, Nazi, anti-Semitic, homophobic delusional fanatics.” Aisha argues back, pointing out that life in the status-driven west is largely devoid of real meaning and that the “freedoms” most Americans enjoy amount to little more than empty self-indulgence. The real agenda behind the conflict is, of course, as personal as it is ideological; Aisha’s need for a sense of self is as strong as Kitty and Bailey’s fear of losing her. The action stalls somewhat as the hysterical Bailey and exasperated Aisha hit the same emotional notes too many times. When it’s cooking, though, Haigney’s intelligent script shows remarkable insight and compassion in its even-handed treatment of both sides of the debate.

The most innovative entry of the evening is Carter W. Lewis’s PERCENTAGE AMERICA,
which ruthlessly skewers a host of contemporary phenomena from online dating to presidential tweets. After meeting though a matchmaking website, Arial (Dornfeld) and Andrew (Thomas) discover they have a lot in common: Both have posted horribly misleading information on their profiles. The smart thing to do would be to call the whole thing off. Yet, once the pretense is dropped, both parties feel an exhilarating sense of relief. Honesty, they learn, can be a potent aphrodisiac. This discovery leads Arial to suggest that she and Andrew experiment with what she considers a kinky activity: deciphering the evening news. Amid all the hype, there has to be some truth, provided one is brave enough to look for it. The top story the news outlets concerns a preadolescent girl (Schaschl) who has broken into the White House rose garden and seemingly berated the president using obscene language. Dubbed variously “The Whore in The Garden”, “The Rose Garden Terrorist” and host of other epithets, the young girl becomes the object of rampant speculation. Like a modern-day Woodward and Bernstein, dig through the dirt, consult clandestine sources build their own narrative – and discover that the truth is not for the faint of heart. Lewis’s razor-sharp satire comes to life as Dornfeld and Thomas throw themselves into their roles with farcical zeal. Schachl balances their antics with arresting vulnerability as the story speeds to its dark, and unexpectedly touching, conclusion.

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL continues through February 4, 2018 at 59E59Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Madison & Park Avenues, New York, New York. Tickets:


Written and performed by Joanne Hartstone

Directed by Vince Fusco

We all know fame has its dark side. Some show business luminaries reach the pinnacle of stardom only to topple to tragic depths, others simply fade with time. For many aspiring actors though, success proves elusive, and Hollywood can be a very lonely place for those who remain stuck on Obscurity Boulevard. In an affectionate, if flawed tribute to the screen sirens – and wannabes – of yesteryear, dynamic writer-performer Joanne Hartstone puts her considerable skills to work exploring the emotional hills and canyons of 1940’s Los Angeles.

The story begins in Saint Louis, where little Evelyn Edwards is born into a working-class family. After the death of her mother and the collapse of the stock market, Evelyn and her father are destitute and have to move to a “Hooverville” community. Eventually, Dad’s fortunes improve and the family departs the shanty town for a room in a comfortable home. The landlady is fond of playing the piano, and Evelyn learns to sing and dance. She spends her pocket money at the pictures, and soon learns all about the lives of the great leading ladies. She even develops a morbid fascination with starlets whose lives ended sadly, like Jean Harlow, and Peg Entwistle (who actually did jump off the Hollywood sign).  World War II brings a boost to the economy, and Evelyn’s father hears that Los Angeles is “about to become the boomtown of all boomtowns”. The timing couldn’t be better. Evelyn is 18, comely, and ready to try her luck in show business. Now known as Evie, the enterprising young ingenue takes a job as a studio messenger and dances with GI’s at the famous Hollywood canteen, goes on auditions, takes dance lessons, and rubs shoulders with a number of Hollywood notables. Yet somehow the doors to stardom refuse to open for her. Getting past the gatekeepers will require a sacrifice: one the girl from Missouri isn’t sure she’s willing to make.

Hartstone’s writing is concise and vividly descriptive, packed with images that evoke the bustling atmosphere of golden age Hollywood. Her well-researched script is populated with entertaining archetypes, including real life figures like actor Alan Hale, studio exec Jules C. Stein and the infamous Scotty Bowers, a pimp who catered on the downlow to both gay and straight celebrities. Plotwise, though, some of the show’s potential goes untapped. We’re told that things don’t end well for Evelyn’s father, who appears to be mixed up in some shady business. And the young actress herself dips her toe into the L.A. underworld. Yet the play ends before these darker plot elements have a chance to cook. It’s a puzzling choice. If Evie’s life is like a movie, why not make it a film noir?

As a performer, Hartstone and embodies both the vulnerability of a struggling artist and the independent moxie of the quintessential Swing Era dame. However, she needs a bit more guidance from director Vince Fusco, who should bring out the subtler notes in her performance. Most of Evie’s lines are delivered in the same high vocal register, with a melodramatic warble added for emphasis. At first the affectation makes sense: Evie knows she’s something of a cliché: a naive Hollywood hopeful playing the part of Naive Hollywood Hopeful. It’s only natural that she imitates the stylized speech patterns of the heroines she admires. Over the course of 70 minutes, though, the conceit wears thin. A softer, less affected approach might have played better in the Cino Theater’s intimate space. Despite these missteps, Hartstone’s warmth and charisma shines through and she is clearly a talent to watch. Unlike her alter ego, she really does have the skills, sensuality, and drive to become a star. With a little more trust in her gift, and in her audience, she could be ready for her close-up.

THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN continues through January 21, 2018 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets) New York, NY 10003. Telephone: (212) 254-1109.

Tickets: /Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&DateSelected=&SalesEventId=7047



Written by Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Robert McDonald

THE CHILDREN seems a curious title for a play in which the characters are all over 65. Perhaps playwright Lucy Kirkwood intends chose the name for the same reason Arthur Miller called his first great morality play ALL MY SONS. Kirkwood isn’t selling any religious agendas, but it’s a safe bet she’s familiar with Exodus 20:5, which states that sins of one generation are visited upon the next. With good reason, the 33-year-old playwright, though compassionate towards her elders, clearly isn’t pleased with the job the stewards of the earth have done so far.

In a farmhouse kitchen somewhere in rural England, two old friends reunite after decades apart. Nothing unusual there, but the conversation Hazel (Deborah Findlay) is having with Rose (Francesca Annis) isn’t limited to small talk.  There are repeated references to a disaster that has affected the area, and Hazel intuits that Rose’s sudden, unannounced visit isn’t just a social call. Then there’s the matter of the blood which has just spattered all over Rose’s blouse. She claims it’s from a nosebleed, but Hazel isn’t easily convinced. Further questions arise when Hazel’s husband Robin (Ron Cook) arrives home. He puts on a show as if he hasn’t seen the prodigal Rose for ages, but again, Hazel doesn’t buy it.  As tensions simmer and generous helpings of turnip wine are consumed, the veneer of British understatement begins to dissolve and grim details emerge about the nature of the recent calamity. Echoing 2011’s Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, the event in question involved nuclear power plant whose shoddy construction collapsed under the impact of an earthquake and a tidal wave. Homes are flooded, animals die from radiation, coastal towns have had to be evacuated. Unlike other survivors, Hazel, Rose and Robin can’t merely get on with their lives. After all, they’re the nuclear scientists who designed the plant all those years ago. And therein lies the ulterior motive behind Rose’s surprise visit. It’s all too much for Hazel. This woman has disrupted her daily routine, overflowed her toilet and slept with her husband. Hasn’t she done enough?  Yet someone has to take responsibility for the mistakes of the past, and when Robin reveals his own troubling secret, Hazel is forced to let go of her illusions and find a way forward.

Intriguingly, Kirkwood has chosen and unusual approach to a difficult topic. THE CHILDREN is, quite literally, a kitchen sink drama. It takes place in real time, and exposition is skillfully interwoven with present-day banter. Yet the apocalyptic world it portrays resembles is more reminiscent  of dystopian literature than naturalistic theater. The message is clear: yesterday’s sci fi is today’s concrete reality. The characters, both in their scripting and the nuanced performances of the cast, are not at all the scientists-as-socially-inept- brainiacs stereotypes. Refreshingly real, these people are more function like the rest of us, obsessing more over dinner and yoga than fusion theory.  So little hard science appears here, in fact, that the show’s lack of playwright-splaining may leave some viewers confused. If one plays close attention, though, definable features emerges of the coming Armageddon. Director James McDonald understands this balance of the quotidian with the apocalyptic, and keeps the action grounded in the rituals of daily life. Set and costume designer Miriam Buether frames the play in a universe that is both recognizable and unsettlingly odd. Lighting designer Peter Mumford chillingly evokes an encroaching darkness which must, one way of another, be reckoned with.

THE CHILDREN continues through February 28, 2018 at The Samuel J. Friedman Theater,  261 West 47th Street (between Broadway & 8th Ave.) Tickets:



Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

Music by Stephen Flaherty

Based on the novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy,

Directed by Michael Arden

First produced in 1990, this darkly hopeful fairy tale sports an impressive list of cultural ingredients. The story incorporates a Shakespearean duo star-crossed lovers, a cast of powerful figures from Caribbean mythology, a dash Zola-esque social realism, and a nobly-doomed heroine worthy of Hans Christian Anderson. Book and lyric writer Lynn Ahrens, working from a novel by Rosa Guy, skillfully blends these disparate flavors into a satisfying narrative stew. The musical menu is, unfortunately, not so zesty, but it’s solid enough to hold the story together and give the singers something to work with.

The eponymous island, located somewhere in the Antilles archipelago is populated by two distinct. The  wealthy side of the island is inhabited by the light-skinned descendants of French colonialists, who live lives of luxury and sport. Down in the village, the indigenous people cling to their own traditions while earning a livelihood for the earth and sea. Though they have little in the way of material goods, the peasants possess a rich tradition of storytelling. On a stormy evening, to comfort a little girl frightened by thunder the townspeople (Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Tyler Hardwick, Cassondra James, Grasan Kingsberry, Loren Lott T. Oliver Reid, and Aurelia Williams) gather together to spin the yarn of a young woman who dares to challenge the island’s never-the-twain-shall-meet attitude towards class.

The tale begins when water god Agwé (Quentin Earl Darrington), unleashes a bitter squall which causes the rivers to overflow. Many towns are destroyed in the deluge, but the life of little a little girl (Emerson Davis) is spared. Safely ensconced in a tree, the child is discovered by villagers Mama Euralie (Kenita R. Miller) and Tonton Julian (Phillip Boykin). Figuring the gods must have their reasons, the couple adopts the girl and school her in the ways of island life. As she grows to womanhood, though, the inquisitive Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore) desires to know more about the outside world. Fascinated by the rich young people who whizz through town in sports cars, Ti Moune beseeches the gods to let her be more like the grande hommes. Hearing her prayer, the gods scoff at Ti Moune’s lofty ambitions. But love goddess Erzulie (Lea Salonga), sees no harm in letting the girl have the happiness she desires. Not to be outdone, death deity Papa Ge (Merle Dandridge), places a bet with Erzulie: we’ll see weather love or death is the stronger force. The wager gets interesting when Agwe arranges for Daniel Beauxhomme (Isaac Powell), the son of prosperous hotelier, to crash his car while driving through Ti Moune’s neighborhood. Against her parents’ wishes, Ti Moune insists on nursing the unconscious Daniel back to health. She falls in love with the lad, and when Papa Ge comes to claim his life, Ti Moune offers hers instead. When Daniel is returned safely to his family’s estate, Euralie and Julian breathe easier. Ti Moune will forget him in time. As usual, though, the young woman has her own ideas, and insists on taking a journey to the rich side of the island. Here, Ti Moune  believes, she and Daniel will live happily ever after. Earth goddess Asaka (Alex Newell) sees to it that Ti Moune reaches her destination safely, but that’s only half the battle. In her zeal, the young woman has reckoned without the rivalry of Daniel’s promised bride (Alysha Deslorieux), the interference of his stern father (David Jennings), and a secret curse that has haunted the Beauxhomme family for generations. And, of course, there’s that rash promise she made to Papa Ge, who isn’t likely to let a debt go uncollected.

Wisely, Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty forgo the typical musical-comedy happy ending in favor of a more sublime finale. Director Michael Arden and choreographer Camille A. Brown use Circle in The Square’s round space creatively, creating a functioning village – replete with live animals – in which to ground the story-within-a-story. The shifting moods and changing locales of the plot are handled with confidence and imagination by set designer Dane Laffrey and lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Costume designer by Clint Ramos uses a palette of rich, warm colors that evoke the exotic flora of the Caribbean. The actors radiate warmth and emotional honesty, and go at the songs with sensitivity and impressive vocal prowess. Innovative casting choices, such as the Dionysian Dandridge in the usually male role of Papa Ge, help to give the material a fresh interpretation.

There is only one respect in which ONCE ON THIS ISLAND falls short of the greatness it might have achieved. The score, though perfectly pleasant, isn’t particularly memorable. There are few catchy melodies and, with the exception of an exhilarating dance sequence, little exploration of Afro-Caribbean musical idioms. Most of the score sounds a bit like Jimmy Buffet: agreeable pop chord sequences with a light seasoning of calypso. It works, but with a more powerful musical spine, ISLAND could go from a great evening of theater to a classic.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND continues in an open run at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019 Tickets:











Written by Charles Cissel

Directed by Gabriel Vega Weissman

The legendary William Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid, has been called many things. Up until now, “self-absorbed” wasn’t one of them. After seeing the Burgess Group’s revisionist take on the famous bandit’s life, audiences may leave the theater wondering if Billy’s biggest problem was that he was born before the age of Facebook. In an effort, apparently, to put a human face on the Bonney myth, Charles Cissel has turned the Kid into a thinker rather than a man of action. It’s an intriguing idea: we already have action-packed movies about the West, why not, in a theater piece, focus on the psychological? It might have worked were it not for the fact that MUST’s central anti-hero engages in excess navel gazing and offers mostly tepid and undramatic responses to the people around him.

As the play begins, Billy (Brendan Dooling) and Pat Garrett (John Clarence Stewart) are cohorts who run various hustles across the saloons and cattle fields of the frontier. The two end up on opposite sides of the law as Billy falls in with a band of outlaws and embarks on his notorious crime spree. Mostly, though, Billy waxes philosophical, lamenting the futility of chasing horizons (as soon as you get there, the horizons’s gone, he muses repeatedly). Along the way, he is visited by apparitions. His dapper father (Marl Elliot Wilson), who abandoned the family when Billy was a boy, now struts about drinking fine whisky and offering vaguely cynical commentary on the nature of manhood. Billy’s self-sacrificing, consumptive mother (Sally Ann Triplett) did her best to raise Billy well, but couldn’t quell his penchant for trouble. For a time, Billy shacks up with Luisa (Meredith Antoian), who seems to be the fugitive’s last chance at happiness. Dooling and Antoian have a good chemistry. But the dialogue mostly stays in the cliché zone, with a petulant Luisa wishing Billy would just settle down and stop chasin’ those durned horizons. Ultimately, Billy begins to sound less like an 1880’s desperado than a 21st Century urbanite in the throes of a quarter-life crisis.

Far more compelling is the subplot involving the Kid’s nemesis. Like Bonney, Garrett is a man haunted by a legend he helped create but can never quite live up to. His transformation from con man to lawman is handled with wit and energy by Stewart, and the dramatic stakes are higher in his scenes with Billy than elsewhere in the play. More stage time devoted to the sheriff, and less to Billy’s ruminations, would have been a stronger choice.

Visually, the show is impressively staged: Alexander Woodward’s scenic design depict a barren but lyrical desert landscape, Zach Blane’s lighting shifts nimbly with the changing moods of the story, and Brooke Cohen Brown’s opulent costumes help to make the characters both true to life and larger than life. Their efforts, though appreciated, are sadly not enough to turn MUST into a must-see.

MUST continues through November 19,2017 at the Theater at St. Clements,

423 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036. Tickets: