Review: The Sound Inside (Roundabout)

Two weeks I finally, finally, finally got around to seeing The Sound Inside at Studio 54.

Adam Rapp has been one of my favorite playwrights – if not my absolute favorite – since 2006 when I saw his play Red Light Winter at the Barrow Street Theatre. I’m sure I’ve talked about this all before on here in prior reviews of shows of his but I just love his writing. I can almost never pinpoint what he’s trying to say but I love how he writes and how his characters talk. I really grasped onto one of the themes of Red Light Winter (although I’d yet to ever travel to Amsterdam, and I wasn’t a prostitute, etc.) and I was a fan ever since.

Yes, if you must know, I knew who Adam Rapp was because I was a fan of his brother initially. But after Red Light Winter, I was a fan of his solely for his writing talents.

Anyways, Rapp had been quoted a few times saying that producers had approached him to mount his pieces on Broadway but he’d always refused their offers because his audience was downtown. Totally valid, and probably true given the content of some of (most of) his stuff.

But when it was announced that a play he wrote would be produced by Roundabout Theatre Company and be on Broadway at Studio 54, I was giddy. AND it was starring Mary Louise Parker? Things just kept getting better. Well, I finally saw it after it opened and I made sure not to read anything about the show. I wanted to go in with a fresh mind.

I sat down in my seat in the front mezzanine and waited for the lights to go down.

It began with a monologue from Mary Louise Parker, who played an accomplished 53-year-old Yale professor named Bella Baird. It was sardonic, dry, and comedic. Everything that I love about Adam Rapp’s writing. You could tell she was over her job.

After her monologue, she is soon visited by a fellow misfit student from one of her classes, Christopher Dunn (the lovely and captivating Will Hochman), who doesn’t use email and refuses to make an appointment like everyone else. He begins to share his novel with Bella and they grow closer and closer over the next 80 or so minutes. You never know where their relationship is going to go and I won’t spoil it here. Towards the end of the play, Bella enlists Christopher to help her with the ultimate task after she learns she has advanced-stage cancer (which, spoiler alert, he doesn’t).

Spoiler: A friend told me a theory she’d heard from another friend that Christopher actually doesn’t exist and a multitude of reasons why. I tweeted this theory and Rapp liked it, but he didn’t confirm or deny, so that was helpful.

I was on the edge of my seat most of the play, trying to guess what would happen, but I wasn’t really sure why. I liked both of the characters, a lot, but it’s not like I was dying for them to get together.

This isn’t for everyone, sure, but I really liked it and I’m happy that Roundabout didn’t water Rapp down for Broadway audiences. As per usual, Adam Rapp produced a masterclass in foreboding drama and I loved every second of it.

Review: The Underlying Chris (Second Stage)

I guess last week was the week to see vague plays because last Sunday evening, I celebrated the 3-day weekend by seeing The Underlying Chris with my partner. Written by Will Eno, the Pulitzer-Prize nominated playwright who also wrote The Realistic Joneses, which was on Broadway back in 2014 (and that I sadly did not see). However, I have seen his play Thom Pain twice, in two different productions, so I sort of knew what I was getting into. (But not really.)

I read in reviews of The Realistic Joneses was a series of small scenes and I think that must be a theme in Eno’s work because that was also the structure of The Underlying Chris. On Second Stage’s website, it describes the playas “a life-affirming and high-spirited look at how a person comes into their identity, and how sometimes it’s life’s tiniest moments that most profoundly change our lives. In these divided times, The Underlying Chris serves as a celebration of our differences, our individuality, and the many mysterious, difficult, and beautiful things we share simply by being alive.”

I believe this may come across in the final scene, which is a funeral for someone named Chris, but a better description of this play would’ve been: “A play about many Chris’ in many different stages throughout one’s life and each scene is connected to the previous scene in a subtle or not-so-subtle way.

An example of these unrelated scene connections is in the first scene, Chris is a newly born baby boy. The scene ends with his mother getting a call, but we never find out the nature of that call (though we do hear sirens so we’re led to believe that something’s happened). In the next scene, Chris is a young girl in a doctor’s office and she tells the doctor that her father died in a car accident when she was a baby.

This happened for scene after scene after scene culminating in the funeral of a person named Chris.

I’m sure there was a big point somewhere that I completely missed but I completely didn’t see any celebrating of our diversity here.

I thought the best performances came from Howard Overshown and Isabella Russo, though the ensemble cast, each playing multiple roles, were equally strong.

It was an entertaining night, sure! But if you want something clear and focused with an easy to spot theme, this won’t be it. But I applaud Second Stage for giving space to a play like this.

Did you see it? What did you think?

If you want to find out more about The Underlying Chris, click here!

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: My Terms of Surrender

Michael Moore’s My Terms of Surrender, his one-man piece on Broadway, closes today and I waited until the last minute to see it but I’m damn glad I did. I’m a fan of Michael Moore’s documentaries, although some truth’s may be hard to believe at times, he’s coming from a good place. They are slanted, yes, but all documentaries are. Documentaries are made subjectively, not objectively. Anyways, I felt it was my patriotic duty to see this show at least once.

I have to give Moore props for standing onstage for two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes, without an intermission. I expected this to be 90-minutes-no-intermission so I was stunned when I left the theatre and it was 10:15pm. Anyways the audience was pumped and the house was buzzing. I even spent $15 on a sippy cup of wine and wore my RESIST tank top. I was excited.

My Terms of Surrender is half-memoir and half-how-to-activism. I knew absolutely nothing about Moore’s life, like the fact that his speech about Abraham Lincoln and the hypocrisy of the Elks Club got the ball rolling on Capitol Hill to change the loop hole in the 1964 Civil Rights Act so that private clubs couldn’t keep discriminating. He was 17 at the time. Or the fact that he hated being slapped with a paddle by his principal so when he was 18, he figured out how to run for president of his school’s board and won (and 11 months later he had the principal and VP fired !!!!).

He realized when he was 17 that someone who was seemingly without power wasn’t necessarily powerless. He realized that somebody small, like him, could get shit done and it only took a little. Not doing anything big.

He talked about the beginning of the Iraq War when he was one of the only ones speaking out against it and he was ostracized for it. He said that when (not if) Trump declares war on North Korea, we have to speak up and speak out against it, and until we see North Koreans marching through the arch at Washington Square Park, there’s no reason to go to war with North Korea. “I can’t do this alone again,” he pleaded. I got you, dude. As a 17 year old I was against the Iraq War, and I’ll be against a North Korean war, too.

He also talked about the poison water in Flint, ridiculous TSA standards, and how we ended up with Trump. His post-show to-do list in the Playbill includes: 1) Make the Daily Call (go to 5calls.org); 2) Make the Monthly Visit (to your local reps office), 3) Show up at townhalls (duh); 4) Help Flip Congress in 2018 (oh yes, we must – we need 24 seats in the house); 5) The electoral college music go (another duh); 6) Join, join, join (the ACLU, BLM, Greenpeace, etc.); 7) Help form blue regions of resistance (help keep your blue state blue!); 8) YOU must run for office (what office should I run for??); 9) You must become the media (use our social media for good); 10) Join the army of comedy (#mockhimup) because he is thin skinned AF.

This closes in a few hours and I’m tempted to go see it again just to get inspired, but if you have the means and the time, GET THEE TO THE BELASCO THEATRE! The entire balcony is $29.

Winning in 2018 and 2020 is not an option. Let’s do this.

 

 

Review: War Paint

I began my Labor Day Weekend with a performance of the musical War Paint on Friday evening. I had minimal expectations because, honestly, I hadn’t heard much buzz about it at all. I knew Patti (Lupone) and Christine (Ebersole) would be fabulous, so that’s really all the convincing I needed to go see it, and I knew it was about some rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden but not much else. Douglas Sills was out that night and Chris Hoch stepped in for him. I wasn’t there to see Sills, so I couldn’t care less.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the story the most (Doug Wright did a great job with the book). Helena Rubenstein is my new hero, although she was portrayed a bit more punk rock in the script than in real life (for example: she had kids in real life which were never mentioned). We began in the 1930’s when Rubenstein moved back to New York City and Elizabeth Arden finds out from her associates and: drama. Arden’s salon is the ultimate destination for feminine pampering (and everything is “Arden pink”) and Rubenstein sells herself as beauty + science. It was because of the questionable ingredients they both used in the “age-defying” products that the FDA decided all ingredients must be printed on the bottle (thank you!).

Helena Rubenstein was, at one point, one of the richest women on earth and attempted to make an all-cash offer on a penthouse triplex on Park Avenue. When she was denied board approval because she was Jewish, she instead bought the entire building and lived in the triplex for 35 years until she died (per Wikipedia).

Elizabeth Arden’s first marriage falls apart in part because she won’t give her husband any credit for the sales work he’s doing. She says, “The moment I give you [her husband] credit is the moment I lose all of mine.” So true.

These two women detested each other and only met once.  They died within months of one another, too.

The music was fine – as in I don’t remember hating it. The dancing was also fine. But really, everyone was there to see LuPone and Ebersole and they were AMAZING. They are worth any price of admission (within reason, unless you’re Rubenstein-esque levels of rich then by all means, buy premium tickets). You should put “seeing two powerhouse women portray two powerhouse women onstage” on your bucket list right now because OH MAN.

War Paint is your standard length – two acts, two and a half hours long, but I never felt like it dragged. It was too much of a pleasure watching those two badasses onstage to check my watch.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a photo of Rubenstein’s childhood home in Krakow that I took last year while I was in Poland. (It’s the little green house.)

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Review: Six Degrees of Separation

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I had seen exactly zero of the nominees of Best Revival of a Play until last week when Kristen and I purchased tickets on TDF for Six Degrees of Separation, starring the hysterical Allison Janney. The show isn’t selling well and we ended up in the front row. We questioned why this was the case because: Allison Janey, until we saw the play. It’s 100 minutes that is really incapable of being sold in an elevator pitch. Let me try though: “Six Degrees is about three different couples in Manhattan who all have the rug pulled out from under them by a talented conman.” Okay, there, I did it, sort of. But really, does that sound like a play that you’d pay $130/ticket to see? Probably not.

It starts out the day after a couple (Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey), an affluent pair of Manhattanites, have been conned, and they’re entertaining their friends with the story. Flashback to the night before and we meet Paul (Corey Hawkins) an incredibly well-spoken and smart African American young man who claims to be friends with their son at Harvard.

The most hysterical part of this one-act anomaly was a monologue delivered by Doug (played by Cody Kostro) during a montage of whiny monologues from the children of these upper Manhattanites. His is by far the most affected and dejected, and hysterical. “You said sex with dad was like having sex with a salad.” Epic. That was the only way to describe it.

This a relatively large cast for a straight play, but luckily, it’s a talented cast. Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey, and Cody Kostro were the stand-outs for me for sure.

Since it’s only 100 minutes, it’s a good night at the theatre to see some fantastic talent and laugh your ass off. Even if you leave the theatre a little confused.

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.