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 »

THEATER REVIEW: Worlds Collide in Lantern Theater’s Coriolanus

Robert Lyons and Charlie DelMarcelle in Coriolanus at Lantern Theater. (Photo by)

Robert Lyons and Charlie DelMarcelle in Coriolanus at Lantern Theater. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

It begins thrillingly. At Lantern Theater, the skirmishes of ancient Rome in Coriolanus have a high-stakes muscularity that instantly grabs the audience, and doesn’t let go. Every inch of the playing area (including some of the house) is pressed into service in Charles McMahon’s production, and the updated visual world cleverly suggests Road Warrior—with all the visceral impact that implies.  For the first 20 minutes or so, I kept thinking of the lucky students who will be introduced to Shakespeare through this staging, so imbued with the sense of living excitement that a great 400-year-old-play can still muster. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In The Lyons, The Family That Stays Together… Probably Shouldn’t

John Zak and Renee Richman-Weisband in The Lyons at Isis Productions. (Photo by Kristine Di Grigoli)

John Zak and Renee Richman-Weisband in The Lyons at Isis Productions. (Photo by Kristine Di Grigoli)

Rita Lyons is the least cuddly Jewish mother you’ve ever seen. If you don’t believe me, just ask her kids (daughter Lisa and son Curtis). She doesn’t complain if they don’t phone. (More likely, she’ll ignore the call if she recognizes the number). She won’t tempt them with treats—Curtis is too pudgy already, as Rita is quick to notice. And forget about family visits—she hasn’t even bothered to tell them their father is at death’s door. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Adam Langdon and the Cast of Curious Incident of the Dog at the Kimmel Center. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Adam Langdon and the Cast of Curious Incident of the Dog at the Academy of Music. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

In moments of stress, Christopher, the 15-year-old, brilliant but troubled hero of The Curious Incident of the Dog, comforts himself with facts, numbers, and a search for congruity (his behaviour suggests Asperger’s syndrome, though it’s not referred to explicitly). So, let’s start there. This visually brilliant theatrical adaptation (by Simon Stephens, directed by Marianne Elliott) is in Philadelphia through March 5.  Good timing: it’s here at exactly the moment when Mark Haddon’s novel on which the play is based is the centerpiece for this year’s One Book, One Philadelphia event—an initiative which is celebrating its 15th anniversary.  This tour of Curious Incident follows hit runs on Broadway (799 performances), and originally in the U.K. at the National Theatre (it opened in August 2012, and continues to run at London’s Gielgud Theatre). Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In Sh*theads, A Bicycle Shop is a Cross Section of America

Charlotte Northeast, Akeem David, and Harry Watermeier in Sh*theads at Azuka. (Photo by Johanna Austin)

Charlotte Northeast, Akeem David, and Harry Watermeier in Sh*theads at Azuka Theatre. (Photo by Johanna Austin)

Don’t take this the wrong way, but if Douglas Williams’ Shitheads were the pilot of a TV workplace comedy (and it’s much more than that) it would be snapped up by a big network, and win Emmy awards for its wonderful cast (Akeem Davis, Charlotte Northeast, David Pica, Harry Watermeier), pitch-perfect direction (by Kevin Glaccum), and fantastic design (Apollo Weaver’s you-are-there set). And everybody would make a gazillion dollars.

Fortunately for us (if not for them), Shitheads is onstage at Azuka, where you can see this funny, touching story up close and personal. Also fortunately, Williams’ play has a lot of layers. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Lost Girls Doesn’t Find Its Tone

Molly Ward, Catharine Slusar, Sean Bradley, and Amy Frear in Lost Girls at Theatre Exile. (Photo by Paola Nogueras)

Molly Ward, Catharine Slusar, Sean Bradley, and Amy Frear in Lost Girls at Theatre Exile. (Photo by Paola Nogueras)

As America learns more every day, many of us are just a step away from catastrophe.  So it is for Maggie, a Manchester, New Hampshire divorcée, living of the edge. She’s perpetually behind on bills, overworked and stretched to the limit, and living a tense truce with her difficult mother. Then Maggie’s car is stolen—an event that would be a challenge for anyone. Will this be the moment where everything in her life, including her family, implodes?

From here, John Pollono’s wildly uneven Lost Girls goes every which way. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: More is More in The Bodyguard

Deborah Cox and Company in The Bodyguard at the Academy of Music.

Deborah Cox and Company in The Bodyguard at the Academy of Music.

Posted at the Academy of Music: Guest Alert! Strobe lighting, loud gun effects and lasers will be used during the performance. But hey, wait—they forgot the holograms, bad ‘90s hair, and big gay stereotypes!

And that’s just the beginning. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Tancredi had Pomp, Circumstance, and a Whole Lot of Voice

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Stephanie Blythe in Tancredi at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

There’s a lot to be said for the old-fashioned pleasures.

Opera Philadelphia’s Tancredi was a throwback on several levels—starting with the work itself, one of Rossini’s first major successes. Tancredi’s plot (a political power struggle/star-crossed romance, set in the Byzantine Empire) and its rather sequential, stately dramatic structure are representative of early 18th Century style. Storytelling in opera would grow more nuanced and fluid over the next hundred years, but Rossini knew the power of virtuoso music—arias, duets, ensembles—to thrill an audience.  A similar sense excitement was very much present here at the Academy of Music. Read more »

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