Review: Six Degrees of Separation

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I had seen exactly zero of the nominees of Best Revival of a Play until last week when Kristen and I purchased tickets on TDF for Six Degrees of Separation, starring the hysterical Allison Janney. The show isn’t selling well and we ended up in the front row. We questioned why this was the case because: Allison Janey, until we saw the play. It’s 100 minutes that is really incapable of being sold in an elevator pitch. Let me try though: “Six Degrees is about three different couples in Manhattan who all have the rug pulled out from under them by a talented conman.” Okay, there, I did it, sort of. But really, does that sound like a play that you’d pay $130/ticket to see? Probably not.

It starts out the day after a couple (Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey), an affluent pair of Manhattanites, have been conned, and they’re entertaining their friends with the story. Flashback to the night before and we meet Paul (Corey Hawkins) an incredibly well-spoken and smart African American young man who claims to be friends with their son at Harvard.

The most hysterical part of this one-act anomaly was a monologue delivered by Doug (played by Cody Kostro) during a montage of whiny monologues from the children of these upper Manhattanites. His is by far the most affected and dejected, and hysterical. “You said sex with dad was like having sex with a salad.” Epic. That was the only way to describe it.

This a relatively large cast for a straight play, but luckily, it’s a talented cast. Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey, and Cody Kostro were the stand-outs for me for sure.

Since it’s only 100 minutes, it’s a good night at the theatre to see some fantastic talent and laugh your ass off. Even if you leave the theatre a little confused.

Review: The Little Foxes

I have this really bad habit of going to see shows for the last… I don’t know, two years and not having any idea what they’re about. This leads to some anxiety, but usually it just leads to low (or no) expectations. If I have no idea what it’s about, I have no idea whether it will be good or not. I went to see The Little Foxes this week because of it’s two stars: Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney. Because they’re fucking amazing on their own, so together onstage? Sign me up. Manhattan Theatre Club is producing this in rep (sorta) where Nixon and Linney are trading off roles every other performance. When I saw it, Nixon was playing Birdie (the shier of the two sisters-in-law) and Linney was playing Regina (the.. not-shy sister-in-law).

The Little Foxes is a play about southern life, wanting to keep the family money within the family, and trying to make a good investment by any means necessary. There are three siblings Regina (Linney), Oscar (Darren Goldstein), and Ben (Michael McKean) whom want to go into a business deal together with the family money. But Oscar and Ben (Birdie’s husband) need Regina’s husband’s, Horace (the lovely Richard Thomas), permission to use her money (hello, 1900) and he’s been away at a far away hospital recovering from what I presumed was TB. When he returns and refuses to go into the deal, the brothers and Oscar’s son, Leo, take matters into their own hands.

Written out, it sounds terribly complicated, but it’s much more clear onstage. I think The Little Foxes might be (wrongly?) perpetuating the joke that southerners marry their cousins, but that’s exactly what two of the brothers try to facilitate at one point. They decide that Leo, Oscar’s son, will marry Alexandra, Horace’s daughter. The sane thinking characters in the play object wholeheartedly.

This is a play about family and revenge in three acts, but they’re three quick acts. Special shout out to Caroline Stefanie Clay and Charles Turner who are featured as the servants, coming in and out to bookend the scenes.

Going into this, I had zero intention of seeing both casts, but now I definitely want to see Cynthia Nixon play Regina. It’s really hard to imagine her in the role that Linney played but she’s an amazing actress, so she’s definitely capable. Same with Linney in the role of Birdie.

Needless to say, it’s definitely worth seeing at least one of these casts.

A Doll’s House, Part 2: Nora’s Back

I love A Doll’s House. I love that it pushed boundaries at the time when it was written and Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending because it gave such a middle finger to conventional endings. (To be clear: I don’t like that he had to write an alternative ending though to get it produced.) I saw it three years ago at BAM  and it was an exquisite production. I didn’t know what to expect at all from A Doll’s House: Part 2, or even why it’d be written (by Lucas Hnath) but Kristen and I both love Laurie Metcalf so we grabbed tickets on TDF and went last Sunday. Our seats were in the front-rear mezzanine which was fine. There’s only one setting and all the action takes place downstage.

There was modern punk rock music being played during walk-in which was very unexpected but also awesome, and also reminiscent of the walk-in music used during Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. All good things.

A Doll’s House: Part 2 takes place 15 years after Nora (Metcalf) walks out on her husband and she’s back now because she wrongly assumed that her husband had filed divorce papers after she’d walked out and when that turned out not to be the case, she realized her career (writing books about why women should feel  free to leave their husbands and how marriage is a sham) was in jeopardy. Sorry, spoiler? She has a huge monologue when she first arrives at the house and is talking to Anne Marie (the impeccable and hysterical Jayne Houdyshell) that is up my alley, 100%. She says something about why get married to spend the rest of your life with someone? You can do that without getting legal papers involved, she says, and I concur.

I was so onboard after her rant and ate up every word that Nora said. Torvald (the stern and unforgiving Chris Cooper) refuses to divorce her because she walked out and her daughter Emmy (the matter-of-fact and comical Condola Rashad) has a rebuttal for every one of Nora’s cynical comments about marriage, as she herself is engaged. And Metcalf is incredible, as always. She’s irreverent and direct and loves her life since she left her husband.

I won’t tell you it ends, but I went in not knowing what to expect and loved every minute of this 90-minute-no-intermission masterpiece of a follow-up on a classic play. It closes on July 23rd, so get your tickets soon.

Sweat, by Lynn Nottage

A couple of weekends ago I saw SWEAT, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage, on Broadway. I had no idea what it was about but I’d heard everything from “weird” to “intense.” It was no at all what I was expecting. It was about a group of friends in the factor town of Reading, PA and how they’re adversely affected by NAFTA. Could it be more timely? I think not. Anyways, here’s my brain dump on it:

This piece reminded me a lot of Clyborne Park, probably because of the timeline of the plot. Clyborne Park took place in two different decades and although Sweat switched between past and present, both pieces used time jumps to show how things have declined in their respective neighborhoods.

Sweat was the perfect representation of racism in America, especially after there are layoffs and people who look like immigrants are hired because said-immigrants are desperate for higher paying jobs. The promotion of one of the African American member of the primary group of friends also brings out her friend’s true colors (“they get tax breaks because she’s a minority”).

The ensemble cast was ace, with not a weak link onstage from where I was sitting, and these characters go for a ride on a very emotional rollercoaster. Shitty acting would’ve made this unwatchable.

There’s excellent writing onstage at Studio 54 to bring to life something that’s very current. It’s over two hours, but it flies. It’s playing through June 4th.

On Tuesday night I went to see a preview performance of the Broadway transfer of Steppenwolf’s, “This Is Our Youth,” by Kenneth Lonergan. I was extremely excited because I remember really enjoying reading the play in college and I adore both Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin. I didn’t actually remember what the play was about, and I didn’t know whether or not Michael Cera could actually act onstage, but I had high hopes going into the show.

This Is Our Youth is about affluent youth living on the Upper West Side in the early 80’s, trying to figure out their next steps in life, deciding whether or not to continue using various drugs, and attempting to be independent from their parents. After one of their friends, and primary dealers, dies during the night, they contemplate what they’re doing with their youth and if THIS is how they want to remember it.

Michael Cera, as Warren, was great onstage. He did what he does best: lanky, socially-awkward teenager. My favorite was Kieran Culkin though. I’ve seen him onstage a few times previously and he’d always been good, but he just rocked it as Darren. He spouted off line after line with such ease and his comedic timing for darkly humorous lines was perfect. His physical comedy was also natural. Rounding out the small cast was Tevi Gevinson as Cera’s love interest Jessica. Gevinson, I believe, is just out of high school and doing this in her gap year between high school and college. She was perfectly awkward and nervous as Jessica.

 Needless to say, I really enjoyed this production. I’m also someone who has a soft spot for plays about entitled kids bitching endlessly (ala Suburbia, etc.). This play will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was definitely mine and I highly recommend it.