Pre-Thanksgiving Fun @ The Cherry Orchard 

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate play to take in before the Thanksgiving holiday than The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. I knew it was be pretty dry, but the cast sounded too great to pass up. I showed up to the American Airlines Theatre last Wednesday around 2pm and took my seat in the last row of the orchestra. 

I read the description in the Playbill, and the breakdown of the family members, so I had some idea of what I was getting into (tl;dr: A Russian family is going broke and losing the estate that they’ve lived on for generations). Sadly, Joel Grey was out that day, but I was still really excited to see Diane Keaton, as well as Tavi Gevison and Celia Keenan-Bolger. Oh, and Chuck Cooper, too. 

The script was as dry and depressing as expected. The sets and lighting were lovely and mesmerizing. The performances were stellar. I can’t decide whether Keaton was great or overacting, because her character is a little delusional and crazy (think: a Russian Blanche duBois) so it was hard to tell. I still enjoyed watching her regardless. Keenan-Bolger and Gevinson were more compelling, though that might be because their characters were just more interesting to me. Then there was Chuck Cooper. who played a Russian businessman who knows the family. I love him in any and everything and he can do no wrong. Philip Kerr, who was on for Joel Grey, was whimsical with great comedic timing. Honestly, I can’t figure out why Grey would take a small, supporting role, but as great as he may be, I enjoyed Kerr a lot. 

Roundabout has put on a stunning production with a stellar cast of a slightly boring Chekhov play. But hey, I knew what I was getting myself into when I took my seat. If you love this kind of play, this is a great production to see. 

Oh, Hello! (aka We Laughed So We Wouldn’t Cry.)

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Little did Kristen and I know that when we purchased our tickets to Oh, Hello! how much we would need a laugh that night. It was the day after the election and we were in shock, like much of the country. I’d been told that it was about two old guys talking about theatre for 90 minutes. I thought this sounded great – like The Drowsy Chaperone minus the plot line with Sutton Foster. Just perfect. 

I have to say, we laughed our asses off. The irreverent, inappropriate humor written by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney was just what was necessary to end such a depressing day. Now before you come at me and ask why it’s OK for a Broadway show to include crude and somewhat-racist humor but not our President-Elect, I’ll tell you: These comedians weren’t (and aren’t) running for president of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Thank you very fucking much.

It’s the day after the election and Donald Trump has just won. LET THAT SINK IN.

I can’t remember any of the jokes now, and I’m pretty sure at least 50% of the show is improvised. They commented on the election apologizing in advance to people who thought they’d have a night of escapism after it, but no such luck. They categorized the audience as theatre nerds, New Yorkers, tourists, and “old men who haven’t admitted to their wives who they’d voted for yet.” They played two old men who shared an apartment on UWS, one of whom is a “Tony Award-viewing playwright.” 

I had no idea that there was a special guest that they interview each night, but there was and it was Geraldo Rivera, who is a friend of Trump’s and it was perfect. 

I had no idea what kind of humor I was getting myself into when I walked into the theatre that night but I’m sure glad I walked in because I needed it. Mulaney and Kroll were fucking incredible at improv comedy, and acting, too. I hope to see them again onstage in the near future. 

This is the one show on Broadway that had me walking away thinking, “You know, I really want to see that AGAIN,” because I’m sure it’s different every night. As are all shows, because that’s what’s so amazing about the theatre. 

The Encounter // 10.4.16

Last Tuesday I saw The Encounter at the Golden Theatre on 45th Street. Transferred here directly from London and a tour, I had literally no idea what to expect so I was super surprised to see headphones on every seat when I arrived. Conceived by (and sometimes performed by) Simon McBurney, the first line in his note to the audience in the Playbill is, “We only see the version of the world that we want to see.” How true is that?! Having spent the last week or so reading Gabby Bernstein’s book, The Universe Has Your Back, I was totally onboard with the fact that what we concentrate on is what we manifest and see in our lives. I was into this play so far.

It was a Tuesday night, so Richard Katz was stepping in for McBurney. We took our seats, put on our headphones, and Katz came out and began the show. The first part of the show was was about how our brains assume a lot and fill in gaps with what we think is most logical. There’s a standing microphone onstage which leads directly into our ears, so as he moves around the microphone it sounds like he’s in back of us, or to our right or left, etc. The concept of seeing what we want to see is very Buddhist and I would’ve enjoyed if the entire 90 minutes were about that, but Katz eventually started telling a story.

The story of The Encounter was about an encounter that the protagonist of the story has with a rarely seen tribe in a Brazilian rainforest whom he is trying to photograph. He uses various sound effects and looping machines (which he produces using his own voice or various inanimate objects) to tell a simple story in a very compelling way. I found the beginning part of the story to be a bit slow, but the last half was more entertaining and quicker paced.

Richard Katz is an unbelievable storyteller. I can’t help but wonder how different it would be to see the creator, McBurney, perform the show, too. 

This is an unbelievably creative and unique piece. Clocking in at 90 minutes (no intermission – score!), it’s totally worth seeing. I mean, when else will you be wearing headphones during a show and thus unable to hear a cell phone go off? That alone is wroth the price of a ticket. 

MNDFL’s Meditation for Creativity with Emily Fletcher

Last Monday night, J and I went to the MNDFL Meditation in the EV for a meditation on creativity with Broadway veteran and founder of Ziva Meditation, Emily Fletcher (Chicago, A Chorus Line, The Producers, etc). I was intrigued because she was a former Broadway actress and who couldn’t benefit from being more creative? The cast of Small Mouth Sounds had been on the schedule as well (Fletcher is the meditation advisor for the show) but they were unable to make it. Eva Price, one of the producers of the play, attended, though, and talked about the experience of producing the play and trying to develop her own practice. 

We sat down and she first talked about her debilitating anxiety from being a swing in A Chorus Line (she wound up in the fetal position after she went on as Val for the first time) and asked her dressing roommate, who covered 6 roles (compared to her 4), how she stayed so cool and collected. Her dressing roommate introduced her to Vedic meditation (the training I completed in early August, though with a different teacher)  and her life was changed. She eventually spent 3 years training to be a teacher and opened her own studio (Ziva). 

She led us through her “Ziva Meditation,” which was like a body scan + light Vedic meditation + loving kindness meditation. She’s a really good teacher because she’s not too new agey. She knows her audience and qualified a lot of things that she said that she knew some people would be all skeptical about (ex. “as cheesy as it sounds, now visualize yourself sending love to everyone in this room”). 

I thanked her after and introduced myself, as did J, and she was super nice. Later on, I realized my Vedic teacher teaches at her studio sometimes so I might go check out one of his classes there, or one of hers.

As always, it was a really good time. I’m sure we’ll be back soon for another class, and sooner or later J will probably pick up his own practice. If you want to download Emily Fletcher’s free meditation, shoot over to Ziva Meditation and enter your email address and you’ll be able to download it for free!

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

Trigger Warning

I finally broke down and bought a ticket on TDF for Blackbird last week. I’d heard a lot of mixed things to downright “it’s just not worth it.” I knew Michelle Williams would be using her “serious stage lady” voice, but I would try to get past it because it was 85 minutes long and I love Jeff Daniels.

The basic premise of the show: a girl, now a woman, who, at 12, was sexually abused for 3 months by a neighbor who was 40, tracks down her abuser 15 years later, ready to make him uncomfortable at his office.

First: Williams’ Serious Stage Lady voice is annoying but I kind of felt like it worked. If you’d been abused as a child and then was still fucked up enough to go track that person down after he’s moved and changed his name, you’re probably very affected and there’s a chance there’s something strange in your voice.

The whole play just felt a little unnecessary. Daniels’ knew he’d done something horrible and now he was being tortured in person. I also seriously feel for Williams’ character, for sure, but I was really confused as to why she would want to go track her abuser down instead of moving forward with her life. But maybe I don’t understand what goes through someone’s mind who’s gone through that (spoiler alert: I definitely don’t).

The ending was contrived. I didn’t agree with that choice the playwright made. It was a quick 85 minutes and although it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a theatre, I’m glad I saw it. Would I recommend it to anyone though? Hell no.

Theatre Date With Myself, Part Two

On Tuesday night I took myself to see Ivan van Hove’s revival of The Crucible (again via TDF). I had never seen The Crucible onstage and I was super excited. Seeing Ciaran Hinds (Gov. Danforth) and Tavi Gevinson (Mary Warren) was just the icing on the cake. I remembered the basic plot – McCarthism masquerading as the Salem Witch Trials – but once the action started, all of the dialogue started flooding back into my memory.

The production is flawless. A very minimal set. Beautiful lighting. It was truly mind blowing how 70+ people were accused of witch craft by five girls who were faking it and they turn Salem upside down. 

Gevinson was excellent – a total 180* from This Is Our Youth. Sophie Okonedo (Elizabeth Proctor) and Ben Whishaw (John Proctor) had great chemistry together. Jim Norton (Giles Corey) was subtly funny and heart breaking as always. It was really a treat to see Jim Norton and Ciaran Hinds onstage together again – I was such a big fan of The Seafarer in 2008. I could list the rest of the cast because they were all excellent, but I won’t. You can check them out here if you’re interested. 

Like I said, I have nothing to compare this production to but this three hour production never dragged and it didn’t feel long for one minute. If you have three hours to kill, get thee to the Walter Kerr. 

Chipping away

I’m slowly chipping away at my list. 

Tuck Everlasting was on Saturday (review to come). Waitress is on May 18th. Today I bought a ticket on TDF to The Crucible for tomorrow (Tuesday) night and then I bought two more tickets for @endotique and I see to see The Color Purple on May 17th. 

What’s left: Bright Star, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Blackbird. Possibly Fully Committed and She Loves Me, too. 

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.