I was asked to captain a survey team for The Broadway League on Saturday for the matinee of Manhattan Theatre Club’s “Constellations.” It received raves from the New York Times and has pretty much been sold out since previews. We were told over and over that we probably wouldn’t be able to watch the performance since they are always sold out, but it was cold out and there had to be subscribers that would refuse to walk out into the cold, right? Right. I’ve never seen a show with not a single seat empty – there’s always something.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, this show straight from the National Theatre of Scotland couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. With the semi-recent release of Interstellar, this show is very related. Ruth Wilson plays Marianne, a cosmologist, and Jake Gyllenhaal is Roland, a bee keeper. One of their first conversations they have is about her work in which she says there are many parallel universes all existing at the same time and every choice we could make, we do make, but in separate universes.

Well, in Constellations, there are 8 universes and we see all of them. You could say it’s like If/Then but without music and more artistic. More subtle. More beautiful (no offense to If/Then). The set is simplistic – a slightly raised dark blue platform (which has honey combs outlined on it) with dozens of white balloons hanging from the ceiling. Wilson and Gyllenhaal were both magnificent. They’re both amazing actors. 

If you can scrounge up a ticket to Constellations, consider yourself lucky. 

Benjamin Scheuer’s Coming-of-Age Musical The Lion Will Roar Off-Broadway

I’m super late to the party on this, but can I just say how excited I am for this to be onstage again? This show is a gem. I adored it at MTC last season and I will definitely be paying $$ to see it again downtown. I’m sure there will be some kind rush, so you should go check it out too.

Benjamin Scheuer’s Coming-of-Age Musical The Lion Will Roar Off-Broadway

Last Saturday I went to see Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway production of Lost Lake, by David Auburn, starring Tracie Thoms and John Hawkes. 

I adore Tracie Thoms so I was excited, having not seen her onstage since Rent closed in 2008. Lost Lake was about a single mother who is renting a run-down lake house for a week to get her kids out of the city. It turns out that the owner is in cahoots with his family, broke, and living in his car outside the house while they’re there.

I was pretty sure Hogan, the owner of the  lake house, was going to lose it and kill Veronica (Thoms) at any moment. The whole play was incredibly creepy. Thoms and Hawkes were both excellent, and believable. 

It sort of dragged towards the end and I’m not sure what Auburn’s motive was for writing Lost Lake, but it was okay. Not half bad at all.

The Country House, by Donald Margulies, opened a couple of weeks ago to stellar reviews at the Samuel Friedman Theatre. It was about a bunch of actors (a family, multiple generations) who gather at their summer home to honor the death of the mother of the family who passed the year before. 

There were tons of funny and meaningful one-liners in the first act, but the first act ended with a cliche moment that was only meant to give the playwright a reason to write a second act.  While I enjoyed the first act a lot, it was obvious Margulies had no idea where to go in the second act. It had a few moments, but it was pretty pointless.

The performances were great though: Blythe Danner was wonderful as the famous dame of the family, Daniel Sunjata was wonderful and a bit sleazy as Michael Astor (the famous TV actor who needed a place to stay), and Sarah Steele was probably my favorite, as the Danner’s granddaughter, and the only one in the family who wasn’t in show business, Susie. I’ve seen her in many shows and she’s always fabulous and this performance was no different. Kate Jennings Grant was also endearing as the new wife to Walter (the funny David Rasche), who was obviously a little uncomfortable being there.

Although it had it’s moments, MTC has produced more focused work in the past and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next. 

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.)

Last weekend I was thoroughly surprised and delighted by this little show off-off-Broadway at MTC’s smallest stage at City Center, The Lion, written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer.

I’d read that it was about his life, so I expected it to maybe be a little self-indulgent and full of hyperbole, but it wasn’t. At all. It was deeply honest, at times very sad, with lots of comic relief to get you through the sad points. And Scheuer is a very attractive man who writes beautiful songs, so watching him play these songs is no hard task.

I had no idea what to expect going in to this but I’d be lying if I wasn’t telling everyone to go see it now. It’s really a gem.

Go see it

Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Casa Valentina (written by Harvey Fierstein) was both educational and thought provoking. Inspired by true events that took place at the Chevalier d’Eon Resort in the Catskills in 1962, it was about a small group of men (all claiming to be heterosexual with wives and children at home) who would come to the resort to spend the weekends dressing in drag. It is an interesting notion to think that there are men who like dressing in women’s clothing just for fun who are straight and vice versa. it’s one that I’m still trying to sort through in my head.

Brilliant performances were given all around, starting with Patrick Page and Mare Winningham as George and Rita, the resort’s owners, to John Collum and Tom McGowan as some of the regulars at the resort.

Though I found it a bit slow during a couple of moments, I still enjoyed it. It showed me something new, something real.

The day after These Paper Bullets, my friend Kristen and I went to see a matinee of Manhattan Theatre Club’s newest production at their off-Broadway space, Tales from Red Vienna by David Grimm. I jumped at the chance because… well: Nina Arianda. What was the surprise second best part? Michael Esper. I’d totally forgotten that he was doing a new show, so that was pretty rad too. 

The play is about a woman (Arianda) who’s husband is assumed to be dead after he’s unheard from in two years after World War II and like many women (apparently) during that time, she turns to prostitution to pay the bills. Her world is turned upside down when she is set up by a friend (more like a frenemy) with the man (Esper) who happened to have been her first customer. 

It was interesting and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed Arianda way more in Venus in Fur, but I suppose I have to succumb to the fact that not every piece Arianda works on will be Venus in Fur. Esper was, of course, fantastic. he’s actually such a brilliant dramatic actor – something that never would’ve been apparent if you only knew his work in American Idiot

Would I recommend this just to see Nina Arianda and Michael Esper? Probably. Just go. 

Several years ago Manhattan Theatre Club produced a show on Broadway called “Shining City.” It was about ghosts and it was interesting, but you didn’t go “oh my god!” until the final moment of the play right before the blackout. The Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater’s current production of “The Correspondent,” by Ken Urban, is kind of the same.

About a man named Philip (Thomas Jay Ryan) whose wife was murdered, shortly after the funeral he hires a service that gets paid for having their on-their-death bed employees deliver messages to their loved ones once they have also passed. Philip fought and slapped his wife the night before she was killed by a speeding driver and he questions whether or not she forgives him. Shortly after he speaks with the woman (Mirabelle, played by Heather Alicia Simms) who’s going to deliver his message, he starts receiving letters in his wife’s handwriting including intense detail about their relationship. Mirabelle decides to help him find out who’s leaving the letters (Jordan Geiger).

That’s when things get weird. Very weird. Sometimes awkward as well. But once the man gets his answer your jaw drops and the play is over and the black out occurs.

The writing was at times questionable but made sense at the end. The acting was solid and the set was simple and effective – a modest, well kept living room in a Boston apartment.

The last line though? It’s worth seeing just for the last line.

Murder Ballad

I saw Murder Ballad on Friday night after hearing numerous positive accounts from friends whose opinions I trust. Also: Rebecca Naomi Jones, Will Swenson, and Cassie Levy? Yes, please sign me up.

I guess site-specific, make your stage shows are the rage now. I guess everyone has to have some schtick and Murder Ballad capitalized on this by basically creating their own theatre in the round at the Union Square Theatre. Where I was sitting was basically where the stage would’ve been. The show’s action centers around a long bar in the front orchestra and a pool table in the house left section of the orchestra.

The plot, although semi-cliche, is compelling enough to keep you interested for 80 minutes (No intermission! Score!) and despite the upfront admission that the ending is not happy, is pretty happy. I have to admit that after being told by Jones’ character that someone dies, I spent much of the show guessing who it’d be.

The score is great. There is LOTS of belting. It’s a great rock score, with just the right number of ballads to make sure you don’t get a headache from the volume. The lighting and staging is beautiful, and very creative. John Ellison Conlee was out, so Josh Tower covered for him; and he was great.

Jones’ character is mainly the narrator who breaks down the fourth wall from the very first note. I thought she was, of course, fantastic. And like in American Idiot she wears very little clothing the entire time. 

The show begins and ends in exactly the same, which is something I always love, because it gives you chills. Murder Ballad is eerier form start to finish, and it’s also quite amazing.

Murder Ballad is paying at the Union Square Theatre through July 21st.