Almost Christmas-For-Theatre-Nerds

The TONY Awards are tomorrow. That’s why I have a picture below of my cat, Playbill, laying on a TONY Awards tote bag that I got years ago at an afterparty. She’s still wondering why she hasn’t been formally invited. She’s always in black tie attire, right?

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I celebrated Theatre Nerd Christmas almost arriving today with a TONY Awards-themed 60 minute Flywheel ride at the Lincoln Square Flywheel, set to all kinds of show tunes. It’s how all rides should be. It was amazing. One of the actresses from Oslo even came by in between her matinee and evening show to ride, which is AMAZING and insane at the same time.

I sort of feel very removed from the TONYs this year, given that I haven’t seen Dear Evan Hansen yet, and that’s supposed to take home the big award of the night. My greatest hope for tomorrow night would be for the Best Musical award to go to Come From Away, inspiring one of the biggest upsets since 2004.  I loved Come From Away and I think it is so timely. But I think Dear Evan Hansen will probably win because the TONYs are usually predictable and boring. That said, here’s who I want to win and who I think will win:

Continue reading “Almost Christmas-For-Theatre-Nerds”

Oslo: #Not90MinutesNoIntermission

 

I’d mentioned a few weeks back that Kristen and I had bought a bunch of tickets on TDF after the Tony Nominations were announced and one of those shows was Oslo at Lincoln Center. It had a great cast and it was historical. How could it be bad?

Oh yeah, it was three hours long.

Should we get large coffees at Joe beforehand so we’re properly caffeinated?” I’d texted Kristen that morning. She concurred and with large cold brews in hand, we walked over to the Vivian Beaumont. We took our seats in the orchestra, off right of center. The seats were, once again, fantastic. TDF is really killing it lately in that sense. Although it must be mentioned that there’s literally not a bad seat in that theatre. I’ve sat in all of the sections, top and bottom, and they’re all good. A few minutes after 2pm, the incomparable Jefferson Mays walked onto the stage and the lights shifted.

In case you’re living under a rock, Oslo is about the Olso Accords that took place in Oslo (duh) from 1992-1993. Given that I was 6 years old when this happened, and we all know how anything we weren’t responsible for directly is skimmed over in the US school system, I was unaware of everything that went down.

Mays played Terje Rod-Larsen, a Norweigian sociologist and politician, who had a method for conflict resolution that he greatly wanted to attempt to use to solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine. His wife, Mona (the fabulous Jennifer Ehle) worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and together they worked “in developing the back-channel communications that (reportedly) saved the Oslo negotiations from collapsing.” Because despite what our current president might think, it’s pretty hard to negotiate peace in the Middle East and the US and major world powers in 1992 were attempting the same thing and fucking it up royally. His theory was, I believe, that it was more affective for people only associated with two side’s governments to be at the table, rather than the government officials themselves.

It’s incredibly sad to see how hard people worked on this and then how quickly it all fell apart. The last sequence is the cast onstage together reciting the events that lead to the atrophying of the peace agreements and the eruption into the chaos that we know it is today.

Besides Mays and Ehle, Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Dariush Kashani, and Daniel Oreskes all gave powerful performances as the people who involved in the actual negotiations.

But let’s get back to the length for one second. This was by far the quickest 3 hours in a theatre that I’ve ever experienced. I sat through (the slightly longer) August Osage County and that felt lightyears longer than Oslo. Oslo was so engaging that I was never, ever, even for one second bored. I never flipped through my Playbill or checked my watch. THAT’S how you know you’re experiencing a solid piece of theatre.

Oslo just won the Outer Critics Circle Award and I bet that’s not the last award it will win this season, at least I hope not. This is a simple, yet thoroughly engaging production on a timely AF topic with a top notch cast. Get your tickets.

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.

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.

Last Wednesday night I was invited to see Small Mouth Sounds by playwright Bess Wohl at the Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street. I’d been unable to attend the first “buzzmaker” event so I was super stoked to have another opportunity to see it. I mean, after all, could it be more perfect for me? A play about a silent meditation retreat? I think not. I brought J with me because he’s been getting a little more into meditation recently and enjoys seeing a play every now and then. 

The participants of the retreat are your basic stereotypes – obnoxious dedicated yogi, trainwreck white female, the couple who’s having issues, the grieving father, etc. We only hear the guru over the PA system (until the very end) and he’s not a very good guru because he sounds like he’s basically reading from a script. 

In yoga and meditation classes i’ve taken, we’re always told to be very mindful of what we discover in the silence between our breaths, the poses, etc, so a lot of what was being discovered onstage was ringing true to me. It’s always when we’re quietest that we learn the most (this is basically true in any situation in life). 

There are breakthroughs and deceptions, sexual encounters and realizations, and moments of comedy, too. Towards the end of the play, the guru begs his students to “PLEASE CHANGE” out of frustration at their lack of spiritual progress. Ironically, this leads to the most change that any of the characters experience throughout the entire week. 

The characters leave a little bit more woken up than when they arrived, but still basically the same. And so does the audience. I’d highly recommend Small Mouth Sounds, which is playing through October 8th.

For more information, check out this write up in Vanity Fair

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 accepted a last-minute invite to see Eclipsed, a recent transfer from the Public Theatre, last Thursday night, and I knew pretty much nothing about it. I’d read that it was about women in Liberia so I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a comedy. I also knew Lupita Nyong’o was in it and although I didn’t remember her in 12 Years a Slave specifically (I saw the movie once years ago), I knew I was in for a treat.

Written by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, it took place during the political conflict in Liberia in 2003 and focused on four wives of a commanding officer of the rebels. The newest wife was Lupita and she was actually educated meaning she could read and captured after her parents were taken (I think). The wives live together in a hut and are basically just there to satisfy the CO when he needs it. 

After the conflict ends, Lupita needs to decide whether to go with the rebels or go to safety. We’re not sure which she ends up choosing. The play was intense and depressing interspersed with moments of comedic relief. All five women were excellent, especially Lupita. Saycon Sengbloh has come a long way since Wicked

This wouldn’t be my first choice for a night out at the theatre, but it was definitely a powerful piece, as well as educational. 

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. 

I’d heard that The Humans, written by Stephen Karam and currently at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre off-Broadway, was fantastic and I knew it was transferring. Once Kristen reminded me that it wasn’t closing until January 3rd, I went to see last Wednesday’s matinee in a general rush ticket ($27) as the student rush was $50 (wtf?). The difference between the two seats was the student rush ticket was unobstructed while the general rush ticket was in the last row of the orchestra and thus the mezzanine overhang made it a little difficult to see the top floor of the set.

This play reminded me a bit of the movie Pieces of April as in a “Thanksgiving Gone Wrong” plot. Brigid (Sarah Steele) just moved in with her boyfriend Richard (Ariian Moayed) and Sarah’s family is coming to spend Thanksgiving with them in their unfurnished, barely-moved-into apartment. There were the usual witty lines of dialogue that inspired lots of laughter from the audience and it got serious and depressing in the last 1/3 of the script. Truths are revealed and Thanksgiving dinner is ended early.

Moayed mentions in the early part of the play that there’s a comic which takes place from the perspective of monsters and how all of their horror stories have humans as their monsters. Brigid’s mom (Jayne Houdyshell) and her sister Aimee (Cassie Beck) can hardly believe that would ever be the case as humans are basically not capable of such horror-inducing acts. By the end of the play, we know this isn’t true.

It felt like a horror/thriller movie towards the end when a couple of random items are knocked over and a door closed by itself. I’m not sure what Karam’s intentions were by adding those subtleties to the script. Their grandmother, “Momo” (Lauren Klein), is not well and basically catatonic throughout the entire play. I’d like to think the supernatural element of the script had something to do with her character, but honestly, I’m really not sure. 

Overall I really enjoyed it. I don’t see this being very popular on Broadway, but it’ll be good exposure for Sarah Steele and Reed Birney (who played her father). The cast executed the layered script as best they could; there were no weak links. With no big names and being a not altogether feel-good script, I’m interested to see what this does when it transfers. 

I scored a comp to Roundabout’s production Therese Raquin, by Helen Edmundson, on Wednesday afternoon and I decided to go despite having no idea what about and having not really heard any super positive buzz about it. I like Kiera Knightley and I love Judith Light, so how bad could it be?

I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised. Therese Raquin (Kiera Knightley) was about a 21-year-old girl in the mid-18th century in Paris. Raquin was orphaned and being raised by her aunt (Judith Light) and when Raquin and her cousin (Gabriel Ebert) are twenty-one, they oblige the aunt’s wishes to marry. Wouldn’t you be unhappy if he was coerced into marrying your cousin? Yeah.

What I didn’t expect was the thriller aspect of the play. The second act was the deterioration of Therese’s mental state as what her and her new husband (who’s also her former lover, played by Matt Ryan) did starts to haunt them. Knightley didn’t disappoint and was extremely impressive as Therese. Ebert, Light, and Ryan were also effective in their roles. Ebert’s portrayal of Camille, Therese’s cousin, reminded me of the his portrayal of Matilda’s father in Matilda

I never found myself bored or checking my watch during Therese Raquin. If you like a good thriller, it’s worth a trip to midtown.