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: Marvin’s Room @ Roundabout

My friend Matt and I went to see Roundabout’s revival of Marvin’s Room, by Scott McPherson, staring Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor, at the American Airlines Theatre last weekend. Matt told me it was about death. Yippee. We’d seen Garofalo onstage once before, years ago when she was in The New Group’s “The Russian Transport” (also an uplifting piece) so we had optimistic expectations.

Lili Taylor is Bessie, a woman taking care of her bed-ridden father with her elderly aunt Ruth, living in Florida, and her life, as you can imagine, is difficult, and it only gets worse when she’s diagnosed with leukemia. After she’s in remission, her sister Lee (Garofalo) comes to visit with her two children, Hank and Charlie (played by Jack DiFalco and Luca Padovan, respectively). Hank also happens to be on leave from his stay at a “looney bin” (their words) after burning his family’s house down.

To say Marvin’s Room is depressing is an understatement of epic proportions. Bessie and Lee try to revive their sisterly relationship and Bessie connects better with Hank than his mother ever could have. Garofalo is very good – she gets the job done. And although I’ve enjoyed Lili Taylor onscreen in the past, the stage is not her sweet spot. DiFalco and Padvocan, the sons, were probably the highlight for me, as well as Celia Weston (Bessie’s aunt Ruth).

I’m not sad I saw this, but you should definitely know how depressing it is before you head into the theatre. Just so that your expectations are tempered enough.

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.

Review: 1984 (aka Timely AF)

Last Thursday Kristen and I went to see the London-transfer of 1984. I’ve never read the book but I heard it was incredibly timely and she had heard it a great production, so off we went. We had great seats in the center orchestra and we eagerly waited for the lights to dim.

I will admit that I was a little bit lost for the first twenty or so minutes. I didn’t fully comprehend that most of the play was a flashback. But when we went back in time and this frightening world of Big Brother and constant surveillance was revealed, it was intense. It did get a bit graphic in the latter part of the single-act piece and it was a full- blown sensory overload; with incredibly bright flashing lights and defeating sound design.

The line that resonated with me the most was the line that went “they didn’t see it coming; they didn’t look up from their screens.” BOOM. Yup, that’s what’s happening now. (I say as I type this on my iPhone.)

Reed Birney was excellent (as always) as O’Brien. Olivia Wilde did a good job, but she was nothing extraordinary. The rest of the (I’ll call it an ensemble) cast did an exceptional job of bringing this unfathomably weird story to life onstage as well.

I hope they tighten it up a bit while it’s in previews. It’s listed as an hour-45 online but it was almost two hours in reality and it was a little slow at times, to be honest. But I think given the current state of our country, a refresher of 1984 is appropriate. So hopefully we WILL look up from our screens should we need to.

Oh, and props must be given where they are due. The social media team for 1984 is killing it. Both of our Instagram postings were found, scoured, and creepy stalker comments were left under our photos. Good job, kids.

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.

A Doll’s House, Part 2: Nora’s Back

I love A Doll’s House. I love that it pushed boundaries at the time when it was written and Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending because it gave such a middle finger to conventional endings. (To be clear: I don’t like that he had to write an alternative ending though to get it produced.) I saw it three years ago at BAM  and it was an exquisite production. I didn’t know what to expect at all from A Doll’s House: Part 2, or even why it’d be written (by Lucas Hnath) but Kristen and I both love Laurie Metcalf so we grabbed tickets on TDF and went last Sunday. Our seats were in the front-rear mezzanine which was fine. There’s only one setting and all the action takes place downstage.

There was modern punk rock music being played during walk-in which was very unexpected but also awesome, and also reminiscent of the walk-in music used during Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. All good things.

A Doll’s House: Part 2 takes place 15 years after Nora (Metcalf) walks out on her husband and she’s back now because she wrongly assumed that her husband had filed divorce papers after she’d walked out and when that turned out not to be the case, she realized her career (writing books about why women should feel  free to leave their husbands and how marriage is a sham) was in jeopardy. Sorry, spoiler? She has a huge monologue when she first arrives at the house and is talking to Anne Marie (the impeccable and hysterical Jayne Houdyshell) that is up my alley, 100%. She says something about why get married to spend the rest of your life with someone? You can do that without getting legal papers involved, she says, and I concur.

I was so onboard after her rant and ate up every word that Nora said. Torvald (the stern and unforgiving Chris Cooper) refuses to divorce her because she walked out and her daughter Emmy (the matter-of-fact and comical Condola Rashad) has a rebuttal for every one of Nora’s cynical comments about marriage, as she herself is engaged. And Metcalf is incredible, as always. She’s irreverent and direct and loves her life since she left her husband.

I won’t tell you it ends, but I went in not knowing what to expect and loved every minute of this 90-minute-no-intermission masterpiece of a follow-up on a classic play. It closes on July 23rd, so get your tickets soon.

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.

Significant Other

Despite my better judgment, I went to see Significant Other, the new play by Joshua Harmon that recently transferred to Broadway from Roundabout, this past Sunday with my significant other, my best guy friend, and his significant other. I saw this shortly after I met J in 2015 while it was off-Broadway and it hit me hard in the emotions. I walked out of the Laura Pels thinking Gideon’s character surely killed himself after the lights went down. And to be honest, I kind of wanted to kill myself after the lights went down on Sunday afternoon, regardless of my relationship status. My friends concurred.

I want to start by saying that Gideon Glick is brilliant as the protagonist Jordan, a late twenty-somethings city-dweller. He gives a flawless performance of an extremely flawed character. He has genius comedic timing and I was exhausted watching him exert himself onstage for two and a half hours(ish). I would watch this guy read the phone book because he could make it entertaining. He has monologues that are pages long but he makes it look effortless.

Sas Goldman, who plays the first bride of the night Kiki, reminded me in a weird way of Tracee Chimo in Bachelorette. But in a totally good, weird way. Lindsay Mendez plays a wonderful best friend to Jordan, Laura, who gets caught up in wedding madness when she finally gets engaged. She was able to be strong even when hurt by Jordan’s page and a half tirade on the evening of her bachelorette party. And, last but not least, Rebecca Naomi Jones is the hilariously dark Vanessa who gives no fucks about anything until the day of her wedding.

The men in this show are not at all the focus. Hence why two actors play all six male characters (in addition to Jordan). John Behlman and Luke Smith both do a lovely job playing the various boyfriends and husbands and coworkers of the four main characters.

Because of its incredibly depressing tone, and it’s suicide-inducing ending, I’m not sure it’ll find it’s audience on Broadway, but I know that a lot (most) people could probably relate to Jordan’s feeling of being alone and feeling hopeless. There are lots of parts to make you laugh, and many to also make you feel all the feels. Like any good play should.

How five fallen Broadway theaters paved the way for a new Times Square

This is interesting AF. If you’re into NYC or Broadway history, read it.

It goes without saying that I can’t remember a time when the Marriott Hotel wasn’t dead center in the middle of Times Square. This is obviously the case as it was finished in 1985 and I was born in 1986. However, the thing is, I never even thought about a time when it might not have existed. When other buildings would have been in it’s place. Is that crazy? Sort of. I mean, why would I just assume?

I also never thought about the possibility that the city, or landlords more specifically, could fathom tearing down a Broadway theatre. I mean, WHAT? You say you want to do WHAT? I knew Times Square was a shit hole before the mid-90′s, but I never figured Broadway houses were endangered species of the time. 

I know New Yorkers are required to hate this hotel because it’s in Times Square and is thus the enemy, but the Marriott was an escape off the cold city streets when I was a teenager and needed a place to eat my Cosi takeaway sandwich in between the Rent lottery and showtime. I went there after my 21st birthday party and the waitress refused to serve my slightly-under-21-year-old friends. I also spent more than my fair share of time at the Marquis Theatre selling merchandise at various shows. 

But I can’t help but be sad about the loss of these five theatres. Who knows what we’d have playing there. 

How five fallen Broadway theaters paved the way for a new Times Square

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.