I saw Bright Half Life at MTC’s black box theatre last Friday and although the two women in it (Rebecca henderson and Rachael Holmes) were very good, I left scratching my head asking why I bothered spending 70 minutes in that theatre. 

Bright Half Life was exactly the same thing at Constellations but with a lesbian couple instead of a heterosexual couple.  

I have no idea how this got produced. At all. If you want more insight into what it was about, read my Constellations comments but basically it was watching a relationship from beginning to end and lots of jumps in time.

I still have no idea how this and Constellations got produced during the same season. 

I attended the opening night of Manhattan Theater Club’s When We Were Young a couple of weeks ago. I had seen the word ‘feminist’ thrown around in writing about the plot of the show but didn’t really know what to expect.

Cherry Jones plays a woman (Agnes) who runs a home for women who are domestically abused and looked to escape their husbands. Agnes also has a daughter of her own, Hannah (Cherise Boothe), the feminist of the house who wants to go to an Ivy League school and has no time for boys. Mary Anne (played by Zoe Kazan) arrives at their doorstep and while she’s staying with them, she coaches Hannah on how to get her dream guy to ask her to the prom, among other things, and this totally changes Hannah, for better or for worse, who knows.

When We Were Young is much deeper and thought-provoking than I’m making it seem, but it’s also a very heavy. You definitely need to take a moment to remember to breath during intermission.

Cherry Jones is, of course, spectacular. Boothe and Kazan are both enjoyable to watch and believable. Patch Darragh and Morgan Saylor play two supporting roles as well and help keep the play moving and exciting.

This is a fine production at MTC and Jones’ gives a performance not to be missed. 

(Full disclosure: The company I work for works on this show, but the opinions are all my own.)

The Encores productions at City Centers have done loads to open me up to new theatre. In 2001 I saw HAIR, starring the likes of a pre-Wicked famed Idina Menzel, and also Luther Creek and Kevin Cahoon. I was also exposed to the likes of Kismet in 2006 and Follies in 2007.  Suffice it to say, I owe a great deal to Encores’ producers.

I had purchased a $26 balcony ticket for the final performance of Merrily We Roll Along just to be in the house, hear the music, and feel the energy. When I arrived with my friend (who’d just gotten off a 15 hour flight from India), he realized he’d been given an extra ticket so I was upgraded to row H in the orchestra. I was thrilled. We also happened to be sitting next to Joe Mantello, which I was more stoked about because of his performance in last seasons heart-wrenching production of The Normal Heart.

The lights eventually dimmed and the audience cheered from the moment the curtain rose and revealed the minimalistic set with the orchestra on top.  I’d only heard a few songs from Merrily before (whatever was in Side by Side by Sondheim) but I knew it was about three writers and I liked the premise alone with that minimal knowledge.

Sondheim shows are happy.. but only when they start at the end and work their way backwards chronologically, which is exactly how Merrily went. We followed the story of three friends whose friendship had deteriorated over the course of a couple of decades backwards to see exactly how they met.  It was truly heart breaking to see how they ended up, but even more so when you witnessed what a happy and hopeful beginning that they had.

My favorite in the company was Celia Keenan-Bolger, who was perfectly cast as novelist Mary Flynn. Colin Donnell sang exquisitely as Franklin Shepard, and Lin-Manuel Miranda surprised a lot of us by handling the role of Charley Kringas with expertise and humor. Not being a singer by nature, a Sondheim score could have been the end of him but he pulled off the difficult score. My favorite number that he sang was Franklin Shepard Inc.  The audience errupted when he sat down in his studio seat in exasperation for the final beat. Rounding out the six leads were Adam Grupper (as Joe Josephson, Franklin’s producer), Elizabeth Stanley (as Gussie Carnegie, Franklin’s second wife), and Betsey Wolfe (as Beth Spencer, Franklin’s first wife), each of whom were exceptional vocally and performance-wise.  The ensemble, which was quite large, were each and every one entertaining.

We had a few drinks after at the after party and congratulated the cast members that we saw. Stephen Sondheim himself even made it to the party, but only at the very beginning and only to sign something and then he disappeared.  Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rebecca Luker, Danny Burstein, and Kevin Cahoon, among others were also in attendance.  

The low-key party was fun, but the highlight of the night was certainly the show itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Merrily transferred but honestly, the show as touching as it is, is very insider-y and only very specific groups of people would appreciate it (probably most of those in attendance last night). Maybe Roundabout will pick it up sometimes. Until then, we will all just have to roll along.