THEATER REVIEW: In Inis Nua’s Swallow, Paths Collide Off the Beaten Track

Felicia Leicht, Samy el-Noury, and Corinna Burns in Swallow at Inis Nua. (Photo by Katie Reing)

Felicia Leicht, Samy el-Noury, and Corinna Burns in Swallow at Inis Nua. (Photo by Katie Reing)

Inis Nua, one of Philadelphia’s most consistently fine theater companies, defines its mission as presenting contemporary theater from the British Isles. To me, though, their plays are notable also for exploring the lives of outliers. Artistic Director Tom Reing has introduced a number of plays that debuted at fringe festivals, and predictably there’s often a sharp, dark edginess. In much of their work, an equally piercing sense of compassion shines through.

These qualities are very much present in Stef Smith’s Swallow, an Edinburgh Fringe hit here in its American premiere. Three characters—Anna, Rebecca, and Sam—begin by telling the audience a little bit about themselves. The stories are intriguing, off-putting, and sad—these are lives on the margins. At first, the delivery is in monologues; we will come to discover connections between characters (Smith’s segues are elegant), but in the truest sense, all three are isolated.  Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Hedwig, Both Lost and Found in Translation

Euan Morton is Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Forrest Theatre.

Cut to the chase: Hedwig and the Angry Inch is here at the Forrest for only a few days, it’s a terrific show, and you should go. If you’ve seen it before—but not this production or its current star, Euan Morton—see it again.

I was thrilled and also a little surprised, and not because I don’t love the show. Quite the contrary—I saw Hedwig twice in its original incarnation at the Jane Street Theatre in Greenwich Village, and both times were extraordinary. I adore the piece, a quirky, funny, but very profound two-character rock musical about a fragile East German-born transgender performer tenaciously trying to make her way. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: PTC’s Hand to God Proves the Devil is in the Details

Aubie Merrylees in Hand to God at Philadelphia Theatre Company. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Aubie Merrylees in Hand to God at Philadelphia Theatre Company. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

The alchemy that makes comedy gold is so fragile that even seasoned veterans can’t always produce it. Of course, a great script is the beginning—but it’s not enough. To fully click, the material also needs just the right balance with the cast and creative team, not just individually, but together.

Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Hand to God has some of our best actors (Aubie Merrylees especially shines in the dual role of Jason, a young boy, and Tyrone, his puppet other-half), and a fine director (Matt Pfeiffer). They’ve even brought in local legend Robert Smythe to design the puppets. But despite lots of good work, the show doesn’t consistently achieve lift-off. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Cabaret is Back Again… and Edgier than Ever

The 2017 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre’s Cabaret. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret is now 50 years old. It’s never been out of the spotlight, but at times of political uncertainty, the show takes on special resonance. We’re deep in one of those times now—though in fact, the presidential election has nothing to do with this tour, which derives from a 2014 Broadway revival that was itself a revival of a landmark production by co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.

Part of Cabaret’s staying power is its theatrical permutability, a rare quality in a musical. Each new Hello, Dolly! looks pretty much like the last one—but every generation reinvents Cabaret along strikingly new lines. Harold Prince’s original defined the show as radical in 1966; six years later, Bob Fosse rebuilt it for his hit movie adaptation.  Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: EgoPo’s Anna — Tolstoy in a Provocative Frame

Andrew Carroll, Colleen Corcoran, Lee Minora, and Maria Konstantinidis in Anna at EgoPo. (Photo by Dave Sarrafian)

Andrew Carroll, Colleen Corcoran, Lee Minora, and Maria Konstantinidis in Anna at EgoPo. (Photo by Dave Sarrafian)

Trees, lights, tents, rugs, screens—who could resist the gorgeous decorative excess of EgoPo’s Anna (scenery designed by the multi-talented Aaron Cromie)? Over the next two hours, this marvelous adaptation of Anna Karenina, devised by director Brenna Geffers and the ensemble, will build on that magic.

I was hooked pretty much instantly, despite some initial wariness about the central construct. Geffers and company give Anna a meta-theatrical frame, wherein a company of actors in the 1970s are presenting their take on Tolstoy’s novel. Would it all seem too twee?, I wondered. What value could there be in adding an additional layer to this already complex story? Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In InterAct’s You for Me for You, the Parallel Risks of Leaving and Staying

Bi Jean Ngo and Mina Kawahara in You for Me for You at InterAct. (Photo by Kathryn Raines / Plate 3)

Bi Jean Ngo and Mina Kawahara in You for Me for You. (Photo by Kathryn Raines / Plate 3)

If you see You for Me for You at InterAct—and I think you should—I have some advice: don’t try too hard to make all the pieces fit. Mia Chung’s provocative, gripping, occasionally frustrating play is rich in ideas. Some are fully developed; others appear and disappear out of nowhere, without a resolution. Even the genre is an open question. You for Me is a comedy, a drama, a thriller, and pretty much everything in between. Don’t ask why—just go with it. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In the Wilma’s Adapt!, Immigration Even Pre-Trump Is No Picnic

Aneta Kernová in Adapt! at the Wilma Theater. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

Aneta Kernová in Adapt! at the Wilma Theater. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

A few weeks ago, I saw the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie—a highly unconventional, radically pared-down take on the play—while it was still in previews. Though I didn’t agree with every choice, I found it profoundly moving. But I was certain it would perplex, even enrage many other people. Theater can be like that.

I’m leading with this here because I have a similar reaction to Adapt!—alas, this time from the other perspective. I can imagine some audiences loving Blanka Zizka’s playwriting debut, a memoir-ish chronicle of a young Czech woman leaving her country in the 1970s.  But though it was often very striking to look at (more on that in a minute), I find the script hyperextended and tedious, largely recycling familiar tropes on immigration and assimilation. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In The Importance of Being Earnest, Victorian Bark Without the Bite

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Mary Martello and Daniel Fredrick in The Importance of Being Earnest at Walnut Street Theatre. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

How do you like your Earnest?  Many modern productions of Oscar Wilde’s beloved, still delectable comedy of manners have, interpretively speaking, gone to town. We’ve seen The Importance of Being Earnest deconstructed and reconstructed, gender-bended and performed in drag. There’s probably even been an earnest Earnest, though that seems off the mark—if there’s one thing everybody can agree on, it’s likely that Importance of Being Earnest should be funny and naughty. But of course, that in itself is a spectrum—so there have been drily acerbic Earnests; also, raucously slapstick ones.

Do you find all this rethinking exhausting? If so, I have good news about the Walnut Street Theatre’s production—it takes a respectful, almost reverent approach. This is also the bad news—the show feels like a museum piece.  If some productions of Importance of Being Earnest run aground with too many ideas, this one has scarcely a single original one. Read more »

THEATRE REVIEW: Old Meets New and East Meets West in The King and I

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Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana in The King and I at the Academy of Music.

Bartlett Sher, one of America’s busiest and most accomplished directors, has worked in every medium from straight plays to opera—but he’s won particular acclaim for two classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that he revived at Lincoln Center. Before The King and I (now onstage at the Academy of Music) came Sher’s revelatory South Pacific. What was notable from the start was Sher’s approach—first and foremost, to fundamentally trust the material.  He and his designers gave the show a beautiful frame; he also focused on the acting values inherent in both Hammerstein’s book and Rodgers music. Otherwise, Sher allowed the piece speak for itself, even when it creaked a little with age. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Murder on the Orient Express Arrives at McCarter by Way of Hollywood

The Cast of Murder on the Orient Express at McCarter Theatre Center. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

The Cast of Murder on the Orient Express at McCarter Theatre Center. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

I’m going to tell you whodunnit, and it’s not a spoiler. Are you ready? It’s film director Sidney Lumet—and what he did, in his 1974 blockbuster movie version, is fundamentally change the nature of Murder on the Orient Express.

Agatha Christie’s original novel—written and set four decades earlier, in a Europe on the brink of war—had moments of humor, but was mostly a mystery with a serious and sinister core, as well as a message about culpability.  Lumet reinvented it as a deluxe, star-studded romp, full of sumptuous costumes and décor. Oh, the mystery is still there—but it’s on the back burner, behind a lot of campy humor. Lumet knew what he was doing, certainly—his Murder on the Orient Express initiated a new cottage industry for lavish Christie film adaptations. Read more »

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