Review: The Height of the Storm

I’m back.

After two years of only blogging about travel (check it out over here), I decided I was going to end my silence over here. I continue to pay for the domain and I also continue to see a lot of theatre, despite the fact that I don’t work in the industry anymore.

In all honesty, you’re way more likely to get an honest opinion out of me because I will never be working on one of the shows I see!

Anyway! Last week I saw Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of The Height of the Storm, currently playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street. I wanted to see it because Jonathan Pryce is fantastic – the original Engineer in Miss Saigon! And this was a transfer from London and usually, the critics over there are on top of their shit.

It was also the best length a show could possibly be: Ninety minutes, no intermission.

It’s weird how all people who consider themselves “theatre people” LOVE this expression and its meaning. Like, we are the people who LOVE theatre and spend a vast majority of our time sitting in a tiny cramped seat but we also lose our shit over a show that is short and has no intermission.

Is it because of our ever-diminishing attention spans? Quite possibly.

As I was saying, there’s no way that this could be bad, right? But I also had no idea what it was about because I didn’t bother to read a synopsis. Was it about a literal storm? Or was it a metaphor for something else? This is the synopsis on MTC’s website: “For 50 years the lives of André and Madeleine have been filled with the everyday pleasures and unfathomable mysteries of an enduring marriage, until suddenly their life together begins to unravel, and this loving relationship is faced with the inevitability of change.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t bother to read that before I saw the play either because that wouldn’t have helped me at all.

To be quite frank: I have never been so confused during a play (this includes at off-off-Broadway shows and the Fringe Festival) as I was during The Height of the Storm. My friend, with whom I was at the theatre, looked at each other multiple times, mouthing, “What is going on?”

It was like a not-scary version of the movie The Others but you never actually found out what was going on.

At times it was implied that Pryce’s character had passed away.

At times it was implied that Atkin’s character had passed away.

At times they were on stage together, and they were both alive with their children.

I tried to look for subtle shifts in the lighting or slight costume changes that could signify when someone was physically present in a scene, as opposed to a ghost on the sidelines. But I couldn’t spot anything to give any clues.

When I Googled reviews of the play, I read that it was about dementia and aging. Okay, that makes sense. Sort of, I guess. I don’t know.

BUT on a more positive note: everyone onstage gave fantastic performances. Jonathan Pryce was amazing. Eileen Atkins was extremely moving. Lucy Cohu, Amanda Drew, James Hillier (who you’d recognize from The Crown), and Lisa O’Hare as their children and one of their child’s spouses also gave nuanced performances.

Unsurprisingly, I’m going to say this play is not for everyone. It is probably only for dedicated theatre-goers and even then, please do your research before you go so you have some idea of what’s going on.

If I missed a huge plot point somewhere, please let me know below in the comments. I’m more than happy to admit I’m wrong when it comes to my interpretations of theatre, or to even be told what this show was truly about.

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.

Vietgone closes today at MTC, but, nevertheless, I thought it was important to write about it. It is about the Vietnam War, yes, but it is also an insanely timely moment in American history to be remembering how the Vietnamese refugees who were relocated to America were treated.

First, let me address the pink elephant in the room, the rapping. I wish all of the rapping had been turned into monologues, but it’s there and it’s reminiscent of Hamilton and there’s nothing that Vietgone or we, the people who saw Vietgone, can do about it. I will just say that it came off as a little cheesy.

Anyways, the play opens up with Paco Tolson as the playwright, Qui Nguyen, explaining how the story is about how two Vietnamese refugees met in America after the Vietnam War, and no, no, no they’re definitely and totally not based on his parents. He explained how the refugees would talk (kinda ghetto), how the elderly Asians would talk (stereotypically), and how the Americans would talk (basically southern accents saying nonsensical words).

Vietgone was told nonlinearly, skipping back and forth between the present day in refugee camps and back in Vietnam before it fell. We needed to be reminded just how much the Vietnamese refugees were hated and distrusted when they got here. Their faces were the faces of the enemy. (Kind of like today with Syrian refugees.)

Quang (Raymond Lee) is a refugee who wants to get back to Vietnam to continue fighting (he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam who was trained in America) and get back to his family who was left there during the fall is Saigon. He meets Huong (Samantha Quan), an elderly Vietnamese lady who was forced to leave Vietnam when her daughter Tong (Jennifer Ikeda) had an extra ticket (perks of working at the embassy) in one of the refugee camps in Arkansas. Huong is over America with no desire to learn English and upon meeting Quang, plans to make her escape with him, to the disbelief of her daughter. 

Obviously, Quang and Tong meet and fall in love, eventually, to both of their dismays. Jon Hoche, who plays a friend of Quang’s, convinces him that he needs to just let his family in Vietnam mourn him because he doesn’t know if they’re even alive and when he steps off the boat, he will be immediately arrested and detained for being an American-trained pilot. The two eventually marry, work really hard to make a life for themselves in America, and give birth to the playwright. 

The final scene really brought everything together. It’s between the playwright and his father and he’s still asking him about the war, while at the same time dismissing it, saying that American had no business getting involved. His father looses his temper and dresses down his son, telling him that the only reason either of them are alive is because the Americans got involved. It really makes an American, and we so easily dismiss the war, rethink their opinions on the Vietnam War. 

This was the perfect show to see before the upcoming revival of Miss Saigon, rapping or not. The cast was fantastic and versatile, with some playing a half-dozen characters. I hope Vietgone has a second life somewhere. It deserves it.

Heisenberg @ MTC

Last Friday night I went to see Heisenberg at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel Friedman Theatre starring Mary Louise Parker and Denis Arndt. I’ve only seen Parker onstage once, years ago in The Snow Geese. She’s brilliant. I think we all know that.

Heisenberg was about two people in London who meet at random when Georgie (Parker) thinks that Alex (Arndt) is someone she knows and rushes him from behind. Despite the fact that Alex wants to be left alone, Georgie keeps talking to him about nothing in particular. She discovers there is 30-something years between them. The play takes place across various locations over a few weeks. They develop something like a relationship and it feels kind of awkward.

I was kind of confused about what I was watching. I don’t know what the playwright was trying to say. That said, I enjoyed both Parker and Arndt immensely and the pointless, sometimes funny banter in the script.

If you have any idea what this show means, please feel free to leave me a comment and let me know. 

I was able to attend a performance of Our Mother’s Brief Affair, by Richard Greenberg, last Friday night starring the hilarious Linda Lavin. About a hypochondriac older woman (Anna, played by Lavin) in the hospital, her children Abby (Kate Arrington) and Seth (Greg Keller) come to her side knowing fully that this will not be her last time in the hospital (”it’s become her pied-a-terre,” jokes her son about the hospital). 

Anna admits to Abby that she had an affair when he was a teenager and her lover was an infamous American who had committed treason. Abby and Seth start to investigate her past to see if she’s telling the truth or not.

I’ve seen Lavin previously in Collected Stories and The Lyons and she’s always. the. best. I realized this time around that she basically plays the same role over and over – crazy, overbearing mother. I also realized that Lavin’s portrayal is becoming more and more like my paternal grandmother. A batshit crazy, narcissist who never should’ve had kids. 

In addition to Lavin, I really enjoyed Greg Keller’s performance. I can’t pinpoint why but I really felt for his character. Arrington was fine, as was John Procaccino as both their late father and Anna’s lover.

I walked away from this feeling the same way that I had after Big Fish. They’re both memory pieces. Is this a mind blowing play? Nah. Is it entertaining? For sure. 

Last Saturday I saw Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love at MTC’s Samuel Friedman Theatre. Frankly, I went because Nina Arianda is amazing, and so is Sam Rockwell. I was obsessed with Shepard’s Buried Child in college, but it was pretty absurd and took a lot of studying to process even a little bit, so I knew this play would probably little to no sense at a first glance. And it didn’t. And that’s OK. It’s basically about a couple who have been on and off and about 15 years going at it again and we get to watch it go down for 75 minutes. 

Arianda is amazing in anything and everything she does, but I don’t think I’ll ever be as amazed with her performance as I was in Born Yesterday or Venus in Fur (this is also OK). Her timing and nuance is impeccable. Sam Rockwell is great. As always. He’s so funny. He is ridiculous in a cowboy hat and holding a lasso, but he got the job done regardless. 

I wouldn’t go see Fool For Love again, but I’m glad I saw it once. 

Last month I landed a ticket to Manhattan Theatre Club’s Airline Highway at the Samuel Friedman Theatre after learning that Julie White (!) was in it so how could I not see it?!

The play takes place in the Hummingbird Motel on the Airline Highway outside of New Orleans and is a pretty depressing place to live. The residents are throwing a “living funeral” for one of their favorite inhabitants, a former dancer named Miss Ruby. The other residents have pretty much not done a whole lot with their lives but they at least had a good time not doing anything. A resident who’s gotten out and done well for himself is coming back which is a problem for Krista, who was in a relationship (of sorts) with him for six years, still loves him, and is still in the same spot where he deserted her.

Bait Boy brings his girlfriend’s daughter with him to the party where she asks the residents questions for her high school sociology project and is filled with life from the fun and good times that these people are having while having not a care in the world.

Things get messy and I think the overall message of the show is that we spend our life running from ourselves and our feelings instead of actually, you know, feeling them. 

It’s dark, and depressing, but it felt relevant. 

Last June I saw The Lion at MTC and was blown away by this little show with a lot of heart written and performed by the fantastically talented Benjamin Scheuer. So, I was thrilled to be able to go back to it’s new temporary home at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre at the Culture Project to see it again last week. 

The story was the same, the music was the same, the intimate setting was the same, and Scheuer was the same (okay, he may have gotten even better since the last time). 

I’m sad I only got to see this the Thursday before it closed and I wish I could’ve given it the accolades it truly deserved on here before it closed, but alas. I heard it’s going on tour though, so book your tickets ASAP.

Spoiler alert: The World of Extreme Happiness is anything but happy. Written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, It takes place in China, starting in 1992 when a poor family is trying to have a boy (the husband is of course blaming the wife) and when a little girl is born and survives being through into a bucket of pig feed, they decide to keep her and name her Sunny (played by a very hopeful Jennifer Lim). Sunny grows up unwanted and unacknowledged while her brother is doted on (played the lovely and talented Telly Leung). 

Sunny meets a fellow female janitor, Wang (played perkily by Sue Jin Song), who convinces her to come along with her to see Mr. Destiny – a self-help guru played vibrantly by Francis Jue. They meet him and he changes Sunny’s life. She is given the courage to speak up and get a promotion at work but eventually goes too far. She speaks out against her company at a conference that she’s been asked to speak at (they work at the infamous Foxcon) and is committed and given ECT, leaving her as a shell of her former self. 

Yeah, The World of Extreme Happiness is actually Extremely Miserable. It was interesting to see what another culture was like and how miserable it can be to have self expression discouraged. The cast was great.

This is playing through March 29th at Manhattan Theatre Club. Check it out if you’re in need of a history lesson. 

That Time I Spoke to Jake Gyllenhaal

Before the performance of Constellations that I attended, I was sitting in the front row of the mezzanine with one of my friends. We were watching Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson were onstage warming up. Gyllenhaal kept up his British accent the entire time. A few minutes after we sat down, he looked up, straight at me, shielded his eyes and said, “There are new people up there! Who are you guys?” and I responded, telling him who we were, saying hi, and he responded, “Hi there! Welcome to warm ups!!

He seems like a cool dude, I’m just saying. 

Also: He studied Buddhism at Columbia in 1998. Doubly cool.