Two Plays to See in NYC Over New Year’s

If you’re ringing in the New Year in New York, why not add some theater to your celebrations? Two comedies — one gay, one transgender — might be just the ticket. Both can be found off-Broadway, within a block of each other on 42nd Street, and both are in charmingly intimate venues that will make you feel almost part of the action. Best of all, they’re superbly performed, and will leave you with a smile (and, in the case of Hir, a lot to think about!).

Steve

Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in "Steve" | Photo by Monique Carboni

Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in “Steve” | Photo by Monique Carboni

Mark Gerrard’s play – a mostly humorous study of how quickly the comfortable lives of middle-aged adults can be disrupted – works hard to please the audience, and it does. The show is laced with funny one-liners, brightly paced by director Cynthia Nixon, and expertly performed by six fine comic actors, especially Matt McGrath and Mario Cantone. Ultimately, I found its affluent world too insular, but there’s plenty of humor and pathos. If you go, by all means get there early. There’s a captivating preshow concert of musical theater songs, lustily delivered by the cast. And make sure you stay for the deliciously sly curtain call, a mini-show in itself – it’s beguiling from start to finish, and you’ll want to sing along. (Full review here.)

Through January 3rd, New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, thenewgroup.org.

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Review: The Three Maries at Prince Theater is Steeped in Philadelphia Charm

Deirdre Finnegan, Franklin Anthony, Mary Martello and Josh Totora in 'The Three Maries'

Deirdre Finnegan, Franklin Anthony, Mary Martello and Josh Totora in ‘The Three Maries’ | Photo by Christoper Sapienza, Wiseman Productions

What a sense of nostalgia I felt, entering the Prince Theater for the first time in years! I haven’t been in the main auditorium since the days when it was our leading venue for developing musical theater.

So I was especially joyful to be there to see a new musical: The Three Maries, by Michael Ogborn. At this point, the show looks like a work in progress – but even now, its tuneful, good-natured, boosterish Philadelphia charm is pretty irresistible.

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Interview: Hamilton Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler

Blankenbuehler

I couldn’t have an interview with Andy Blankenbuehler without asking about Hamilton, the mega Broadway musical which he choreographed that has equivocally become a cultural phenomenon. Sure, I was chatting with him about his new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat —which is coming to Philly at the end of December — but his creative juice behind both productions is quite similar.

“It’s hard to talk about it because it is so big,” he says of Hamilton. “The process mirrored my life. My daughter was going through chemo while I was working on the show, so we were literally fighting for life, which is what the show is about. It’s a rite of passage. It tested everything that created my emotional life for the last 45 years, and it is all the things I’ve ever wanted to do.” Read more »

My 30 Minutes With Tom Stoppard

I go into my interview with Oscar and Tony-winning British playwright Tom Stoppard with a laundry list of questions, but I quickly forget all about them once I sit down across from  him. He’s in town for a Q&A with world-renowned cognitive scientist David Chalmers at Wilma Theater — a venue that has become something of Stoppard’s East Coast home — about his newest work, The Hard Problem, which opens soon at the Wilma. 

“Are you going to stick around for this, this thing tonight?” he asks.

“Yes. I’m pretty excited about it.”

“You’re excited about it?” he responds sarcastically. “Well, that makes one of us. Honestly, I’m a little nervous about the entire thing. I’ve never met any of the other panelists. ‘In Conversation’ it’s called? Well, I’m hoping everyone else does the talking.”

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Review: Pig Iron Theatre Restages Gentlemen Volunteers, and It’s Fantastic

TK and TK in Pig Iron Theatre's "Gentlemen Volunteers."

Bryant Martin and Scott Sheppard in Pig Iron Theatre’s “Gentlemen Volunteers.” | Photo by Lindsay Browning Photography

Who says you can’t go home again?

Pig Iron Theatre is now 20 years old. In that time, the locally based company has moved from home-team status (they established a cult in Philadelphia almost instantly) to national and international prominence. They’ve done many shows, experimenting with a variety of styles, forms and configurations. Some of their work involves adaptation; other pieces are entirely original. They’ve worked with conventional theater configurations – a seated audience watching the action on stage – while at other times, that relationship is up-ended. (Gentlemen Volunteers is performed in promenade – the audience physically moves with the action.)

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Review: Hedda Gabler at Physick House

review-hedda-gabler-physick-house

Cast of Laurel Tree Theatre’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ | Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Scholars of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler will continue to debate why the protagonist (that’s Hedda, of course) is so profoundly unhappy. But there’s no doubt she’s miserable, pacing like a caged animal in the elegant home she claims she wanted.

I’ve never seen that sense of containment more vividly depicted than in Laurel Tree’s production, rather daringly performed not in a theater, but in Society Hill’s Physick House. The home could almost have been built for Hedda (the character and the play) – despite its grandeur, we quickly understand how limited her days must seem.

There are, of course, drawbacks to staging a play in a house. Sight lines aren’t optimal; there’s no theatrical lighting, which so often helps establish mood. In fact, the audience is as brightly lit as the “stage.”  And, candidly, it’s not the most comfortable seating.

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Bill Irwin on That Time He Met His Idol Samuel Beckett

Bill Irwin

Bill Irwin

The first time I saw Bill Irwin perform Fool Moon in the 1990s on Broadway, with his co-conspirator and fellow clown David Shiner, my cheeks and sides ached from laughing so helplessly throughout the expert comedy improv — an audience-interactive masterpiece. I don’t mean like, gentle and occasional har-haring. I mean like they worked up the crowd into laughing so hard we were wheezing in a communal catharsis. The show drew patrons back again and again. It was that good, and also weirdly therapeutic.

But Irwin may be more familiar to fans from his Sesame Street character, the bumbling Mr. Noodle, or from his time on Northern Exposure as the ever-silent “Flying Man” Enrico Ballati, or his role in the indie tearjerker Rachel Getting Married. But he’s also a Tony-winning stage actor who’s spent significant time during his career performing Samuel Beckett’s bleak, darkly comic plays.

We caught up with the actor by phone in Atlanta as he rode to the set of the television show Sleepy Hollow, where he plays the not-so-nice Atticus Nevins to talk about Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and Irwin’s one-man show that pays tribute to him. On Monday, Irwin will read passages from his works and share anecdotes, thoughts and maybe even do a little clowning.

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INTERVIEW: Mark McCloughan and Jaime Maseda of No Face Performance Group

Abbot Adam

They dress up as nuns at midnight, fall asleep, wake up every half-hour, and improvise.

That may sound really strange, and, heck, it sort of is, but it’s just a regular part of the creative process for Mark McCloughan and Jaime Maseda. The pair make up No Face Performance Group, and they’re exploring a series of acts that were inspired by artwork they discovered in The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The second in the series, titled Abbot Adam: None, comes to FringeArts this week. Both McCloughan and Maseda chatted with me about their work, their very interesting nighttime improvisation, and what audiences can expect from one of their shows. Read more »

REVIEW: A Knee That Can Bend With Orbiter 3

Jennifer Kidwell and Anna Zaida Szapiro.

Jennifer Kidwell and Anna Zaida Szapiro.

There are few works currently playing in Philadelphia that are as thought-provoking and engaging as the premiere of Emma Goidel’s A Knee That Can Bend, which opened last week at Theatre Exile’s Studio X. The newest production by Orbiter 3, Philly’s sustainable playwriting cohort, is deeply moving, emotionally gripping, and beautifully performed. In short, I’d argue it’s one of the best productions currently playing in the region. Read more »

REVIEW: Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Philadelphia Theatre Company

Henry Clarke as Dr. Watson and Ron Menzel as Sherlock Holmes | Photo by Mark Gavin

Henry Clarke as Dr. Watson and Ron Menzel as Sherlock Holmes | Photo by Mark Gavin

Philadelphia Theatre Company’s dazzling production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville comes to us as part of a trifecta – Princeton’s McCarter Theatre and Washington’s Arena Stage have also done it, though there’s a new cast here.

It’s good news for everybody — more people can experience the visual wizardry of this endlessly inventive show, which is a kind of bewitching conjurer’s trick.  For starters, five actors play multiple roles (one is Holmes, another is Watson, and a three-person ensemble plays everybody else).

Even more complex are the multiple locations — and that’s where the genius comes in. On a largely empty stage, the designers and director manage to pull settings seemingly out of thin air.  One moment, we’re in a fog-bound moor, looking at a distant manor house; the next, in a spring flower garden. Carriages and animals (and doors and wind and rainstorms) come at us in an instant. Some effects are achieved with technology — the spectacular lighting design is visible from the start — but more are done through simple means, appropriately reminding us of the kind of trickery that 19th-century melodrama audiences would have enjoyed.

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