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.

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. 

And next time on Broadway…

I went through Playbill’s list recently and there are a ton of plays, and some interesting new musicals coming up (as of yesterday) this season. So, here goes in case you missed it, because I definitely (almost) did, your next theatre season will include….

Anastasia – 1st prev. 4/24/17 – Even though they changed this quite a bit from the animated movie, I’m still excited for this. If not just for the costumes and the score. Between this and The Great Comet, there is a heavy Russian-vibe to this season in musicals so far.

A Bronx Tale the Musical – 1st prev. 11/3/16 – I went to the final dress rehearsal of the play based on A Bronx Tale in 2007, but the musical version should be interesting. It’s based on the movie, obviously. 

The Cherry Orchard – 1st prev. 9/15/16, RTC – I’m not a Chekov fan. But this has a pretty awesome cast with Chuck Cooper, Tavi Gevinson, Celia Keenan-Bolger, etc.

Come From Away – 1st prev. 2/18/17 – Interesting premise, awesome cast: Chad Kimball, Jenn Colella, Rodney Hicks. I saw a production photo today and it looks like the second incarnation of Once

Dear Evan Hansen – 1st prev. 11/14/16 – I kicked myself for not catching this off-Broadway at Second Stage, but I’ll definitely see it this time around. Jennifer Laura Thompson is back!

The Encounter – 1st prev. 9/20/16 – So this will be on Broadway. I know nothing more. 

Falsettos – 1st prev. 9/29/16 – This show is fine. It’s sad. It’s moving. I guess it’s an appropriate time for it to be revived. Great cast: Stephanie Block, Andrew Rannells, and Christian Borle.

The Front Page – 1st prev. 9/20/16 – Jefferson Mays! John Goodman. John Slattery. Nathan Lane. So seeing this!

The Glass Menagerie – 1st prev. 2/14/17 – I don’t know why this is being revived again so soon after an exquisite revival a couple of years ago but Finn Wittrock, from The Big Short, is in it!

Heisenberg – MTC – 1st prev. 9/20/16 – This doesn’t really sound interesting but you know who is interesting? Mary Louise Parker. 

Hello Dolly – 1st prev. 3/15/17 – I guess it’ll be nice to see this show live? Bette Midler and David Hyde Pearce are in this, which I guess is nice. I’m not really excited though.

Holiday Inn – 1st prev. 9/1/16, RTC – I’d go see this solely for Bryce Pinkham because he is lovely.

In Transit – 1st prev. 11/10/16 – This sounds really cliche and bad. I’m not sure you could pay me to see this. 

Jitney – MTC – 12/28/16 – August Wilson! Yay! 

Les Liaisons Dangereuses – 1st prev. 10/8/16 – Liev Schreiber! 

The Little Foxes – MTC – 1st prev. 3/29/17 Laura Linney AND Cynthia Nixon? Sign me up. 

Miss Saigon – 1st prev. 3/1/17 – I’m so excited for this. I saw the original production when I was 10, maybe 11. I loved it. It’s about time this is back with all the shit that’s seen revivals recently.

The Great Comet – 1st prev. 10/18/16 – Like I’ve said before, this show is great and I’m excited to see it on Broadway. 

Oslo – LCT 1st prev. 3/23/17 – Also kicking myself for not seeing this off-Broadway. Michael Aranov is great.

The Present – 1st prev. 12/17/16 – More Chekov! This time with Kate Blanchet. Still not excited for Chekov. 

The Prince – RTC – 1st prev. 2/16/17 – I don’t know what this is about, but John Tuturro!! After my fandom of The Night Of, I will certainly be seeing this.

Significant Other – 1st prev. 2/14/17 – I need to know who had money to burn because they can buy me a bigger apartment next time instead of bringing the Most Depressing Modern Play Ever Written to Broadway. Excited for Gideon Glick, who is adorable, but this play should stick to a small theatre. This way only small amounts of people can commit mass suicide when the curtain falls.

And that’s it (for now) folks. Happy theatre-ing! 

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. 

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.