Written by David Harrower
Directed by Directed by Kim T. Sharp

Photo by Bjorn Bolinder

With its compelling subject matter, volatile characters, and minimal set requirements, David Harrowers’ acclaimed two hander would seem to be a perfect fit for a small, ambitious theater company. Unfortunately, the New Ohio Theatre Company doesn’t rise to the demands of the script and would do well to consider less challenging material. 

As the play begins, middle aged Ray (Lenny Grossman) is trying to shuffle through another uneventful day at the office and then go home to his family. His plans are disrupted when 27-year-old Una (Francesca Ravera) pays a surprise visit at Lenny’s place of work. Fearful that she’ll make a scene in front of his coworkers, Ray hustles Una into a slovenly room and tries to calm her down. At first, this appears be to a classic “woman scorned” scenario. As the layers of of plot peel away, though, we lean that this no Fatal Attraction setup. Yes, Ray and Una had a sexual relationship. And yes, she demands a reckoning. But there’s more to the story. Ray was forty years old at the time of their affair. Una was twelve. Ray has done prison time, survived being scorned by the media and shunned by former friends, and gradually blended back into society under an assumed name. Una’s unwelcome arrival threatens to upend the new life he’s worked so hard to build. Una has been less successful in moving on. She’s spent 15 years seeking to heal her pain through therapy, through trysts with multiple sex partners, and clearly nothing has worked. She needs to confront Ray face to face. The tables turn as Ray, once the powerful adult, is now vulnerable to Una’s threats. Perhaps she has a weapon in her purse, or plans to out him as a pedophile at his place of work. Then the balance of power shifts again as Una reveals her real reason for tracking down her former abuser.

The script stalls near the midpoint of the play, as Una and Ray begin backing over details details of their shared past. The word “remember” occurs numerous times as the two characters reconstruct the narrative of how their affair took shape, and much of this disclosure feels designed to convey information to the audience. Thankfully, Harrower skillfully moves past the exposition, into a more heated confrontation about the wounds left open by Ray’s seduction of abandonment of the child Una was at the time. 

BLACKBIRD continues through October 3, 2021 at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street, New York, New York. Tickets:



Written by Sharr White, Nancy Bleemer & Neil LaBute
Directed by JJ Kandel, Ivey Lowe & Duane Boutté

Set design by Rebecca Lord-Surratt
Lighting design by Greg MacPherson
Costume design by Amy Sutton
Sound design by Nick Moore
Projection design by Joshua Langman
Prop design by Jenna Snyder and Alexander Wylie

Everyone knows the official story of the “greatest generation”, the hard-working and self- sacrificing Americans who toughed out the Great Depression, bravely fought and won the Second World War, then settled into comfortable lives in the new prosperity. But a closer look reveals cracks in the façade of postwar contentment. Sharr White’s ironically titled LUCKY looks at lives that didn’t fit into the socially convenient narratives of the day. With a storm raging outside, veteran Phil Granger (Blake DeLong) holes up in a dingy motel room on the outskirts of his home town. Unexpectedly, Phil receives a visit from his wife Meredith (Christine Spang), who is interested to know why he keeps disappearing and if he ever plans to return home for good. Phil is evasive, unable to put his feelings into words. Meredith presses further, elaborating on the sorrows of Phil’s mother, the death of his disgraced father (apparently a suspected communist), of her own difficulty at transitioning from the role of a machinist during the war to a shop girl in peace time, and of how Phil’s prolonged absence has made her the butt of small town gossip. Phil has the power to change all this, but he suffers from what we now know as PTSD. Nursing his invisible wounds, he has chosen the life of a drifter rather than return to the wife of whom he now feels unworthy and the civilian life he no longer knows how to lead. There’s nothing in any of the government- issued training manuals about fixing a broken man, but with a little determination Phil and Meredith just might find a way forward. Spang and DeLong give honest and moving performances, but they’re underserved by the oddly stagnant script. Meredith spends a good deal of time unpacking information, but doesn’t vary her tactics much, which make her effort to win her husband back seem half-hearted. And by the time Phil gets around to admitting that he “cracked up” from battle fatigue, the audience has long since figured this out has wearied of waiting for the other shoe to drop. White would do well to shake things up by exploring the idioms of regional speech or examining how people in pain use humor as a coping mechanism: something to vary the tone.

In PROVIDENCE, Michael (Jake Robinson) returns home to Rhode Island for his sister Gina’s wedding. Though he’d like to get some rest before the big day, his wife Renee (Blair Lewin) requires his help. She is in need of a tampon: a tricky problem to solve when all the other family are asleep and none of the stores are open. With slumber a slender possibility, the two get to talking, and details emerge about Michael’s family. Renee feels like something of a secular-Jewish Alice in a Catholic wonderland of eccentric relatives, sauces with mysterious ingredients, and crucifixes adorned with human hair. The conversation is disrupted by a visit from groom-to-be Pauly (Nathan Wallace), who is also suffering from insomnia. Nervous about embarking on the biggest journey of his life, Pauly seeks advice from his more experienced soon-to-be relatives. What’s this marriage thing really all about anyway? How do couples communicate, sustain a healthy relationship, make love last?  Touched by Pauly’s sincerity, Michael and Renee begin by trying to help, but end by wondering if Pauly and Gina, sweethearts since fourth grade, could teach them a thing or two about coupledom. Several years into their marriage, Renee and Michael have thankfully outgrown their newlywed insecurities, but along the way they’ve inevitably lost some of the wonder – the Pauly-ness, you might say – that once made life seem so romantic. Playwright Nancy Bleemer wisely doesn’t spoon feed the audience an easy answer as to whether the passage of time will strengthen or erode the young couple’s bond, preferring instead to let us continue thinking about her vibrant characters long after the curtain goes down. Crisply timed direction and an emotionally honest cast help deliver Bleemer’s affecting blend of comedy and poignancy.

A different kind of relationship angst animates Neil LaBute’s APPOMATTOX. This time it’s a friendship that is put to the test. Buddies Frank (Ro Boddie) and Joe (Jack Mikesell) are out in a pleasant local park, planning to chat, throw a football around, and munch on some (scrupulously healthy) picnic food. But their idyll takes an uncomfortable turn when Joe brings up the recent (factual) news story in which a group of Georgetown students voted to increase their tuition in order to create a scholarship fund for descendants of the slaves that were once owned, and sold, by the University. Joe finds the young people’s action commendable, but Frank has his doubts. After all, the increase in tuition is only $27.20 per student per semester: symbolic, yes, (272 is the number of people sold by Georgetown in 1838), but is that amount really enough? If this is really about payback, shouldn’t it hurt a little? Perhaps it’s better to consign what he calls the “un-make-up-able” things to history and just move one with our lives. With increasingly absurd results, Joe keeps frantically trying to brainstorm reparations ideas that will please his black friend. Frank wishes his oafishly well-meaning white pal would just change the subject, but Joe refuses to let it go. Well then, reasons Frank, if that’s the way it is, game on. He, too, escalates, and soon both men find themselves speeding down that famous paved-with-good-intentions road to hell with little hope of turning back. The script raises important, often unanswerable questions. What exactly is the correct price for a human life, let alone a compensation package for thousands of lives destroyed of a period of 400 years? Should we, as Frank would prefer, put the past behind us, or is it better, as Joe believes, to at least do something to push the conversation in the right direction? LaBute’s point here isn’t to hold a Shavian debate on the pros and cons of slave reparations, but to show America’s dark past, bewildering present and foreboding future can toxify even the most positive of relationships. Smartly, Mikesell and Boddie portray Joe and Frank not as ideologues, but as engaging guys who genuinely like each other and strive for nothing loftier than a little casual bro time. Their rapport makes the story’s painful trajectory all the more resonant.

SUMMER SHORTS 2019, SERIES B continues through August 31 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022. Tickets:


Written by Deb Margolin
Directed by Jerry Heymann

When Bernard Madoff was arrested in 2008, the very DNA of the financial system was called into question. The sheer volume of the scam was staggering. Billions of dollars had gone AWOL, thousands of lives were shattered. And all the while, our trusted regulatory agencies had ignored the red flags and questionable math that characterized Madoff’s bogus business transactions. The entire world was shaken by the aftershocks of the scandal, but in Jewish circles, the Madoff debacle took on an even deeper significance. Fears arose that the image of the Ponzi schemer would be used validate antisemitic stereotypes of greedy, conniving Hebrews, and that Jews, historically a popular target of conspiracy theories, would be scapegoated for the Great Recession. More painfully still, many of Madoff’s targets were themselves Jewish, and even charitable institutions like Hadassah were plundered without mercy. Jews who had invested with Madoff were hit with a double whammy: not only did they suffer grievous monetary losses, but had to also cope with the unthinkability of being betrayed by one of their own. The police term for this phenomenon is “affinity fraud”: a category of chicanery in which a con artist uses his cultural, religious or ethnic identity to gain entrée into a specific community, as Madoff did among the well-to-do Jewry of New York City and Palm Beach.

In the aptly titled IMAGINING MADOFF, playwright Deb Margolin muses on what may have transpired between Bernie (Jeremiah Kissel) and one of his high-profile victims, the fictional poet Solomon Galkin (Gerry Bamman). Reminiscent of the late Elie Wiesel, whose private holdings and non-profit foundation were devastated by Madoff’s treachery, Galkin is a Talmudic scholar and a Holocaust survivor. The essence of piousness and generosity, he seeks only to do good in the world. At first, he would seem to have nothing much in common with Bernard. Yet the two enjoy talking and drinking, pondering the nature of the universe and what the Torah says about humanity’s role in it. Each man is subtly maneuvering the other. Sol seeks to enlighten his spiritually undernourished friend, while the fraudulent financier uses a hard-to-get seduction strategy, knowing that the idea of an “exclusive” investment club will whet Solomon’s appetite. For a moment, it seems as if Galkin may win the battle for Madoff’s soul after all. When he winds his tefillin around Bernie’s wrist, something odd happens. A “small perfect pain” enters Madoff’s head, as if the ancient traditions are awakening some long dormant godliness within. In the end though, Madoff returns to his old habits.  He worships no god other than money, and the sacrifices it demands of him are as severe any in the Old Testament.

In between the scenes with Galkin, there are short monologues in which post-conviction Madoff, confined to a prison cell, justifies his actions to an unseen reporter. The action also shifts now and then to a courtroom, where Madoff’s secretary (Jenny Allen), seems credible as she testifies that nothing usual seemed to be going on at the office. She, too, struggles to find a moral center in a world where, merely by telling the truth, she may be defending a monster.

All three actors deliver solid performances, with Bamman’s plummy European baritone providing an effective foil for Kissel’s staccato New Yorkese. Margolin gives them plenty to work with, and the rhythm and intelligence of her dialogue keeps the audience engaged in the Galkin-Madoff relationship even though we already know the outcome.

Unfortunately, the script – though never boring – stops short of exploring some of the tougher truths of the Madoff scandal. Questions linger as to why so many of Madoff’s marks failed to look under the hood, why they chose to hand over their life savings rather than pursue a more conservative investment strategy. Perhaps Madoff seemed like the right kind of capitalist: a classically American (and classically Jewish) example of a man of humble origins rose to the top through hard work and smart maneuvering. Or was it those the lure of easy profits, the ego boost of being on the winning side, that kept his investors on the hook? Could there be a touch of avarice in all of us, even a man like Galkin? It’s understandable that Margolin didn’t want to blame the victim. But it might have been a stronger choice to fully render the duo as a yin and yang design: A quintessentially righteous man as the mirror image of a starkly immoral man, each containing a touch of its opposite.

Interestingly enough, the state with the highest per capita incidence of affinity fraud is not New York or Florida, but Mormon-heavy Utah. Yes, the Jewishness of the Madoff Experience is one of its salient features. But dramatizing its details also serves as a reminder that, in these morally muddy times, no one is same from ganeffs.

IMAGINING MADOFF continues through March 23, 2019 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY, between Park and Madison Avenues. Tickets:


Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
Directed & conducted by Albert Bergeret

The third in the duo’s legendary series of collaborations, Gilbert and Sullivan’s exuberant sendup of Victorian pomp wastes no time in plunging its audience into the world of topsyturvydom. The title alone radiates sheer silliness, as Penzance, a cheery seaside resort town, was hardly a breeding ground for bloodthirsty privateers. Of course, that’s only the beginning of the show’s many spins on Victorian narrative conventions.

In keeping with the customs of the time, loyal nursemaid Ruth (Angela Christine Smith) has dutifully consigned her young ward Frederic to a professional apprenticeship. Due to Ruth’s impaired  hearing, though, the lad did not become a pilot-in-training, but rather a pirate-in-training. Lucky for him, the buccaneers, led by the Pirate King (Matthew Wages), are hardly the most murderous of men. They look impressive, but their gentlemanly nature prevents them from harming the defenseless. Nevertheless, adult Frederic (Carter Lynch), having just turned 21, feels he must repudiate his pirate pals and join the ranks of polite society. He even plans to marry but, having never laid eyes on any female personage other than Ruth, doubts his ability to select an appropriate bride. No sooner has he voiced his lament than a bevy of eligible maidens cheerily alights on the shore. Naturally, they’re as curious about Frederic as he is about them. He and Mabel (Katie Dixon) fall in love, and are Ali set to sail towards a sunny future. But complications lurk around every turn. It turns out Frederic’s contract with the pirate crew runs out on his 21st birthday, not his 21st year. Since he was born on a leap year, the wedding plans will have to be put on hold for about, oh, 63 more years. Little help comes from Mabel’s dad Stanley (David Macaluso). Though he’s the very model of a modern major general (you might say he’s also the father of the modern patter song), he isn’t quite sure he and his men are up to a scrimmage with the infamous Pirates. Of course, there are more twists to come, some involving the bungling, if vocally gifted, police force commended by a melancholy sergeant (David Auxier).  

Given its age (140, this year), it’s remarkable how modern PIRATES feels. The production boosts the plays’s relevance by adding a few anachronistic touches (bunny slippers, New Years Eve hats, even a sly Trump reference), but for the most part it’s the cast’s commitment and confluence of talents, coupled with the opulent set and costume design, that brings the evergreen material to rollicking life. From Auxier’s Ray Bolgeresque dance moves to Malacuso’s verbal dexterity, Wages’ charismatic roguery to Smith’s winsome sauciness, the cavalcade of wit and slapstick keeps coming. Of course, all this drollery would mean little if it weren’t counterbalanced by a sincere approach to the show’s romantic storyline.  Lynch’s beguiling innocence and pluck make him an ideal protagonist, while Dixon’s agile soprano turns ballads like the lilting “Poor Wandering One” into showstoppers. Director/conductor Albert Bergeret moves his baton at the ideal tempo: allegro, but never rushed.

THE PIRATES OF PENANCE ran through December 30, 2018 at the Kaye Playhouse. Check here for information on upcoming shows:


Written by Idris Goodwin
Directed by by Kristan Seemel & Niegel Smith

Whether 19th Century dramatist Christian Friedrich Hebbel would enjoy waving his arms in the air to the infectious hip-hop beats of HYPEMAN is anybody’s guess. But he would certainly have to agree that his most famous maxim, “in a good play, everyone is right”, is adroitly and compassionately embodied in Idris Goodwin’s touching and timely exploration of the rigors of friendship, the power of art and the struggle for social justice.

Rapper Pinnacle (Matt Stango) is on the brink of success. But he feels a little lost without his longtime friend and collaborator Verb (Shakur Tolliver), who‘s gotten into some trouble lately. Thankfully, the hype man (backup rapper and call-and-response leader) has been able to sober up and return to the studio ready to work. Not much music will be made, though, until beatmaker Peep One (Tay Bass), arrives. She’s stuck in traffic, which is not an unusual occurrence. But this time the mess on the highway was caused by a tragic incident. Unarmed teenager Jerrod Davis, in a hurry to help his grandmother with a medical emergency, led the cops on a highspeed chase. When he tried to surrender, he was shot to death by the police. Verb has had enough. There have been far too many Jerrods, and somebody needs to do something. Pinnacle’s reaction is different. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the issues, but right now his focus is on making sure everything goes well when the team travels to New York for a Tonight Show spot.

The performance is a hit, but as the song is wrapping up, Verb throws the audience a curveball by taking of his jacket to reveal a tee shirt with “justice for Jerrod” scrawled on it. Pinnacle finds himself inundated with hateful reactions posted on Twitter and indignant feedback from the law enforcement community. He and Verb, once as close as brothers, find themselves on opposite side of a rift. The hype man’s argument is a valid one: Does the world really need another rap song about girls and money, another braggadocious reboot of the hackneyed street-to-elite-and-rhyming-all-the-way narrative? All the great MC’s spoke truth to power. Why can’t Pinnacle? The rapper’s perspective makes sense, too. The team has struggled in obscurity for years. If they blow it now, they may not get another shot. No one wins if their talents go unrecognized.

Seeing value in both agendas, Peep feels torn. And in her quiet way she, too, has been fighting an uphill battle for equality and inclusion. She loves hip hop, but with all the hypersexualized, even misogynistic, lyrics spat by male rappers, she doesn’t always feel that the genre loves her back. She’s also tired of getting hit on, treated more like a sexual commodity than a colleague. She can’t be sure whether Pinnacle and Verb are part of the solution or of the problem.

As the trio disbands, things take a dark turn. Without his collaborators, Pinnacle is a hollow shell. And Verb, protesting in the streets and clashing with police, wonders if he’s really making a difference. Perhaps the mic is mightier than the picket sign after all. He and Pinnacle would be stronger together than they are apart, and they both know it. But bridging the divide – if it’s even still possible — will take courage and commitment. 

Under Kristan Seemel and Niegel Smith’s economical direction, the show’s quiet beats are as compelling as its high octane musical numbers. Bass, Stango and Tolliver are so deeply in sync as musicians that it would be no surprise to learn thar a record label had signed them on the spot. They bring the same deep connection and joy in performing to the complex, vibrant characters they portray. 

HYPE MAN continues through December 18, 2018 at the Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street, New York, NY 10007. Tickets 


Book by Jack Thorne
Music and Lyrics by Eddie Perfect
Directed & choreographed by Drew McOnie

The temptation to reinvent the quintessential creature feature, billed in its day as “The Most Awesome Thriller of All Time” is understandable. After all, the original King Kong defined movie magic and captivated audiences with its groundbreaking special effects and a story that mashed up mythic allegory and crude Darwinism with emblems of modernity like the Empire State Building. But the world has turned a few times since Kong was billed as its eighth wonder, and any contemporary author attempting to reboot the classic story is faced with two daunting challenges. Firstly, how in the hell do you keep the plot of the original while making it acceptable to today’s sensibilities? Even by 1933 standards, Kong’s gender politics are old-school. Many pre-Code Hollywood films featured street-smart, independent female protagonists,whereas Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) does little but writhe fetchingly as the ape, a raging male libido incarnate, sniffs, ogles, fondles and abducts her: no courtship or consent required. And then there’s the problem of Skull Island’s natives,those drum-pounding, spear-brandishing savages who are so impressed with Ann’s blonde locks and milky skin that they kidnap the “golden woman”and serve her up as an antipasto to appeasement their simian god. Clearly, none of this would fly today, but once you jettison the story’s racism, sexism and imperialism, is it still King Kong? Secondly, in a time when IMAX 3D movies are playing at the mall and hyper-real graphics are available on X Boxes and smart phones, is it still possible to concoct a spectacle capable of filling an audience with awe?

The creative team behind the great ape’s latest incarnation struggles valiantly with the first of these two conundrums. Their efforts yield, to put it gently, uneven results. When it comes to the second question, though, the show is truly breathtaking, so much so that the sense of wonder its gargantuan star provokes almost compensates for the inconsistencies in its score and script.

Like the movie, KKAOB takes place in Depression era Manhattan. But its heroine is decidedly more proactive. Ambitious Ann Darrow, (Christians Pitts) a farmers’ daughter from the Midwest, dreams of being a Broadway star. She auditions tirelessly, but finds the competition fierce and the jobs scarce. Down to her last few pennies, she is loitering in a greasy spoon one night when a waiter tries to get fresh with her. She gives the chap a well-deserved biff on the chin, and the commotion attracts the attention of impresario Carl Denham (Eric William Morris). Denham buys Ann a hot meal, and presents her with an offer to star in his new movie. There’s a catch, of course. The picture will be shot on Skull Island, uncharted terrain rumored to be populated by primordial beasts. It’s sure to be a treacherous journey, but with few prospects on the horizon, Ann decides accept Denham’s proposal. No sooner has the boat launched than tensions begin to simmer. Ann puts up resistance when Denham wants to shoot a test reel of her screaming. Uncomfortable in the role of damsel in distress, she’d rather roar with power than screech in terror. The sailors, too, get tired of doing Denham’s bidding, and Ann again asserts her strength by quelling a potential mutiny. The only person who doesn’t seem to have a problem with Denham’s tyranny is his faithful factotum, Lumpy (Erik Lochtefeld) a gentle soul who takes a liking to Ann. When the crew comes ashore, they find no indigenous people (and therefore no offensive stereotypes) on Skull Island. There are, however, sentient trees, and Ann finds herself bound by grasping vines, unable to escape when the big primate comes to call. As the giant King slowly emerges from the sultry darkness, Ann is awed but not afraid. When he roars, she roars back. More protector than predator, he rescues her from a giant serpent  and she, in turn, uses her homespun wisdom to remedy a wound he has acquired during the fight.

Their bond deepens when Denham has his people tranquilize Kong and ship him to New York, where he’ll become the center piece of a new musical extravaganza. Ann, heartbroken at seeing the majestic animal in chains, wants to walk out on Denham, but the avaricious showman threatens her into fulfilling her contract. Thus, like Kong himself, she is held captive and put on display. Inevitably, though, the need for freedom proves stronger than any psychological or physical bonds imposed by an exploitative system. Liberty may have its price, but both Ann and the King are (and Lumpy, too, in the show’s most skillfully written scene), are willing to take their chances.    

Christiani Pitts is passionate and appealing as the spirited Ann, and impressively holds her own even when playing opposite her 20-foot costar. Lochtefeld, amid the production’s noise and derring-do, manages to turn a small, quiet moment into one of the show’s few poignant beats. They could do better still with stronger material: the songs aren’t particularly memorable, and some of the dialogue is so on-the-nose that the characters begin to feel more like polemics than people. But when the magnificent brainchild of creature designer Sonny Tilders takes the stage, these shortcomings recede into the distance. Kong is not merely a mechanical marvel, but a living, breathing creature endowed with soul. In one particularly heart-stopping moment (in a word, a gorilloquy), the orchestra goes quiet and Kong is alone onstage, his penetrating eyes taking in the audience, his guttural noises expressing more truth than can be found in any of the play’s homilies. It’s the beauty of the beast that keeps this show from becoming the most dreaded of Broadway monstrosities: a colossal turkey.

KING KONG continues through April 14, 2019 at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, between 52nd & 53rd Streets. Tickets @


Written by W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan

Directed by Albert Bergeret

If the kickoff show is any indication, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players are set to have a grand 44th season. Both in terms of production values and the level of performance, YEOMAN OF THE GUARD serves as a reminder of the enduring warmth and brilliance of the G&S catalogue and as a master class for aspiring musical theater practitioners. YEOMAN, though no less erudite than the boys’ more iconic pieces, represents something of a departure from their customary cocktail of social criticism and farcical derring-do. Here, Gilbert controls his urge to syllable-binge and rarely uses the story to hold a mirror to the hypocrisies of late Victorian society. Instead, he spins a fanciful, bittersweet yarn about the machinations of love, requited and otherwise. Sullivan’s score is rich with soaring arias, catchy melodies and even a nod here and there to English folk and madrigal traditions.

Set in 16th Century England the story concerns the dashing Colonel Fairfax (Daniel Greenwood), whose interest in alchemy has landed him in the Tower of London (one man’s science, is apparently another man’s sorcery). It’s all part of an evil scheme perpetrated by Fairfax’s avaricious cousin Sir Clarence Plotwhistle, who stands to inherit the entire family estate if Fairfax dies unmarried. As the Colonel awaits execution, his buddy Sergeant Merryll (Richard Holmes) cooks up a plan to sneak him out of the tower and find him a bride, thereby foiling Plotwhistle’s plot. The Sergeant’s daughter Phoebe (Abigail Benke) is only too happy to volunteer, as she has a thing for Fairfax. As complications ensue, more characters are roped into the scheme, including head jailer Wilfred (Matthew Wages), who has a thing for Phoebe, and then there’s the tower’s housekeeper Dame Carruthers (Angela Christine Smith), who has a thing for Sergeant Merryll, and of course roving Jester Jack Point (James Mills), who has a thing for his bandmate Elsie Maynard (Laurelyn Watson Chase). As the folderol thickens, identities are switched, passions intensify and unexpected allegiances are forged. No heads are severed, of course, but not all hearts escape unscathed.

The mellifluous voices and razor-sharp comedic skills of the cast are matched only by the painterly splendor of the scenic design, costumes and lighting (the day I saw it, the set itself got a round of applause). David Auxier’s seamless choreography and Albert Bergeret’s assured direction highlight both the robust and somber turns of the story with equal skill.

Up next, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE promises to provide a spirited antidote to the between-the-holidays doldrums. Both diehard fans and the G&S curious are urged to check it out. Click here for affordable ticket options and subscriptions:



Written by Thornton Wilder

Directed by Dan Wackerman

Featuring James Beaman, Victoria Blankenship, Merissa Czyz, Brad Fryman, LaMar Giles, LaWanda Hopkins, Michael Sean McGuinness,  Kristin Parker, John Pasha, Jeremy Russial, Barbara Salant, Gael Schaefer, Anna Marie Sell, Rafe Terrizzi, Barbra Wengerd  and Giselle Wolf

Before OUR TOWN won him a Pulitzer (and a place on the syllabi of countless grade schools), Thornton Wilder experimented with shorter, meta- theatrical pieces that chronicled the changing social landscape of the early 20th Century. As this opulent, if uneven revival proves, Wilder was deeply attuned to the rhythms of a society in which automobiles, railroads and factories energized the national self-image while simultaneously trampling over tradition and increasing the geographical and ideological distances between generations.

Said to have influenced the famed breakfast table scene in “Citizen Kane”, THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER telescopes 90 years in the life of the prosperous Bayard family into 35 minutes. The setting remains fixed, but the shifting  mood and carriage of the characters indicates that significant blocks of time have elapsed between scenes. The first holiday banquet takes place in an optimistic, frontier America, where Mother Bayard recalls a time when Indians lived on the land that now contains the house. A few Christmases later, her son Roderick has launched a successful business. He and his wife Lucia soon have children, Charles and Genevieve. As death (represented by a luminous gate at upstage) inevitably claims some family members, Charles grows into manhood, takes over the Bayard firm and marries his sweetheart Leonora, while Genevieve struggles to find a purpose in life. As a new generation rises, modern warfare, college education, and Jazz Age innovation replace the staid life of a small town and family business. The young depart for brighter prospects and the house grows colder and emptier, a relic of an era of simpler aspirations.

PULLMAN CAR HIAWATHA turns the microcosm of a Chicago-bound sleeper car into a spiritual journey. Like OUR TOWN, the play is narrated by a Stage Manager who interacts with the public, even calling on audience members to read passages of poetry and history. The passengers and staff of the locomotive  represent a cross section of society, each lost in a personal reverie. One woman pores over her Christmas gift list, a doctor peruses a medical journal, a regular guy reads a pulp fiction magazine, a mentally ill woman is calmed by her nurse, etc.  One of the travelers, Harriet, falls ill as she rests in a separate cabin from her husband. The doctor is urgently summoned, but to no avail. As she passes into the afterlife, figures from the Bible and Greek mythology attend Harriet’s final judgment. Looking down on the heartland from up above, Harriet sees at last the meaning that was there all along, easy to miss as she rushed through life. The infinite resides in the minutiae of daily existence.

Visually, the production is topnotch. Marianne Custer’s costumes, Nelly Reyes’s prop designs and Harry Feiner’s scenic and lighting design evoke the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton and others who, like Wilder, saw nobility and promise in America’s fecund fields, booming industries and determined citizenry.  Quentin Chiappetta’s lyrical music and sound design eases the show’s transitions of time and space. Director Dan Wackerman effectively blends the ethereal with the commonplace in HIAWATHA. He is less successful in THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER, which, despite its title, feels a bit rushed. The actors nail the technical aspects, such as the period accents and the physicality of aging, but rarely get the opportunity to breathe within their roles. The audience would be better able to invest emotionally in the fates of the characters if they would linger in their struggles long enough for us to get to know them.

A WILDER CHRISTMAS continues through January 10, 2016 at the Theater at St. Clements, 423 W 46th St (at 9th Avenue), New York, NY 10036. Tickets:




Written by Jerry Mayer

Directed by Evelyn Rudie
Out-of-work adman Josh (Kip Gilman) isn’t the first person to swear at Will Shortz. For over 20 years, the wickedly clever cruciverbalist has challenged and confounded those brave enough to enter the daunting intellectual thicket known as The New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Like many puzzle enthusiasts, Josh gets a few clues right, then finds the whole enterprise too daunting and gives up. Not so with circumspect psychologist Janet (Andrea McArdle). In her view, a quitter never wins.

The two discover each other’s differences – and a few surprising commonalities- during a chance encounter on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train. It’s early morning and there are no other passengers in their car. Janet’s lost in her own troubled thoughts, but given their shared penchant for puzzles, and Josh’s innate yenta-like nature, the two soon get to talking. Significantly, Janet does the crossword with a pen, carefully thinking her answers through before making a mark. Josh jots things down in pencil, believing errors can always be rectified. Opposites attract, but Janet is understandably hesitant to jump into a relationship with a total stranger. This leaves Josh with the challenge of winning her over in only ten or so BART train stops. If he reads the clues carefully, he just might have a chance.

Given the show’s constraints of time and space, it’s only natural that a few contrivances are needed in order to steer the story to its destination. Yet the exposition rarely feels forced, and the characters have more dimension than the  romcom cliches that usually accompany this type of premise. Playwright Jerry Mayer endows Janet and Josh with complicated lives, and the script touches, albeit lightly, on real issues like career regret and strained familial relationships. Direcor Evelyn Rudie keeps the action flowing convincingly in confining space of the subway car, while Gilman and McCardle bring buoyancy and charm even to the play’s more somber beats.  The production’s only major problem is technical one: the actors are miked in a way that feels tinny and artificial. Amplification is a necessary evil in today’s theater, but in a naturalistic presentation, the audience should never be aware of it.

2 ACROSS continues in an open run at St. Luke’s Theatre , 308 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues).  Tickets, 




Written by Stephen Kaliski

Directed by Stephen Kaliski & Amanda Holston

As in a 1950’s sci fi movie, the exclamation point in the title of Stephen Kaliski’s dystopian satire signals the arrival of a frightening new era. This time around, though, the menace of the moment isn’t a swarm of giant insects or a horde of hostile aliens, but the pathogens found in the very food we eat and in the air we breathe. Like all futuristic stories, it’s really a comment on its own time, and GLUTEN! uses hyperbole to highlight the absurdities of our purity-obsessed culture.

Newlyweds Copious Fairchild (Jeremiah Maestas) and Hibiscus Van der Waal (Shawna Cormier) have just moved into the Goldilocks, a state-of-the-art, sterile, “character-free” new home. They subsist on a diet of Goji berries and calming tea, and are required to wear hazmat suits when they go outside. Copious and Hibiscus are trying for a baby, but sex (for that matter touching of any kind) is entirely off limits to this germaphobic generation. Thankfully Copious lives up to his name as he saves his emissions in a jar (in a clever twist, he watches Paula Deen style high-cal cooking shows instead of porn). But  the young couple have barely begun to practice contact-free fertilization when a monkey wrench is thrown into their perfectly ordered world. Copie’s mom Linda (Maggie Low) drops by (gasp!) unannounced. As if that spontaneity weren’t anathema enough, Linda has brought a stranger along. Maple (Roger Manix), is the leader of a new movement, one in which people live as they did before the cataclysmic event known as the Great Correction changed the way people do things. Hibiscus seems curious about the wider world, but Copious is appalled at the prospect of relocating to the wasteland known as The Suburbs. Generational differences heat up and values are called into question– until at last Copious pays attention to his own yen for a more authentic life.

Much of the play’s humor is visual, and the design team rises to the show’s quirky requirements. The hermetically sealed world of the story is neatly evoked by Jason Sherwood’s traverse set design and Jessica Greenberg’s lighting. William Mellette’s costumes highlight the ideological differences between the wooly elders and the puritanical youth.  Matt Sherwin’s sound design gives the Goldilocks a mind and personality that lampoons the increasing role of artificial intelligence in modern life.

The ensemble, which also includes a versatile Josh Tobin in multiple roles, mine the comic possibilities of the script’s jargon-rich dialogue while maintaining a truthful emotional core beneath the blather. Kaliski and co-director Amanda Holston, for the most part, keep the pacing tight. The action stalls a bit in the show’s midsection, and the emotional turnarounds that drive the plot could be delivered at a more rapid clip. Nevertheless, the play’s startling, darkly hopeful ending makes a timely and touching point. This world is a hazardous place: increasingly so, if the headlines are to be believed. And yet we have to live our lives, embrace one another while we’re here, and somehow try to make sense of it all.

GLUTEN! continues through December 5, 2015 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison, New York, New York. Tickets: 212-279-4200