250 Word Reviews: War

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

(Off-Broadway at LCT3)

So much of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s latest is summed up in its name, War. The title simultaneously refers to a family at odds with each other, the aftereffects of a grandfather’s WWII military service, and a look at how what was (“war” in German) affects what is. The family in question is anchored by Charlayne Woodard as Roberta, a mother felled by stroke, who speaks to the audience from within the cage of her mind as she tries to piece together who might need her to return to the world of the living. Who needs each other in a family is the bigger question of the play, as siblings (Chris Myers and Rachel Nicks) disagree about their mother’s treatment – and each others’ life choices. Michele Shay and Austin Durant’s appearance as strangers claiming to be hitherto-unheard-of family members in need should complicate the ethical discussion, but the play seems to take clear sides, going so far as to end with a long speech from the elder stranger (Shay) that shows everyone the errors of their ways and knits them into a happy family unit. The play suggests that “need” was never the right frame for asking these questions at all, and beyond need might lay a more potent framework for family.

Strong performances (particularly from Woodard) and a touch of heightened theatricality help War rise above the average American family drama. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz beautifully balances the play’s realism and metatheatrics, drawing the audience into the play both literally and figuratively.

Production photo by Erin Baiano. Pictured (l-r): Charlayne Woodard, Reggie Gowland, Rachel Nicks, Michele Shay, and Chris Myers.

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250 Word Reviews: Dada Woof Papa Hot

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

Dada Woof Papa Hot

DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
(Off-Broadway: Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse)

Most gay men of a certain age never envisioned a world in which they could get married and have children. At its surface, Dada Woof Papa Hot examines how two couples-with-toddlers adapt to this reality. But at its heart, Peter Parnell’s play considers whether relationships can survive when partners have radically different ideas of what their partnership should look like. Alan (John Benjamin Hickey) came of age in the pre-AIDS-crisis days of gay sexual liberation but was never much interested in partaking. By 2015, he’s married to Rob (Patrick Breen), who dotes on their daughter and relishes fatherhood – another activity in which Alan has only mild interest. They seek out friendship with younger dads Scott (Stephen Plunkett) and Jason (Alex Hurt), which goes well until Jason and Alan have a tête-à-tête, permitted in the Jason’s relationship but a clear violation on Alan’s part. Alan never wanted kids, Jason never wanted monogamy, and their partners who convinced them into their current arrangements feel betrayed.

As directed by Scott Ellis, the play feels more like a math problem than a drama, with a dose of armchair psychology sprinkled in for flavor. John Lee Beatty’s elaborately modular set is the most interesting thing on stage. Despite strong performances, particularly by Hickey and Plunkett, one gets the sense that neither the characters (beyond Jason) nor the playwright seriously considered that gay people might create and fit into relationships that don’t simply mimic heteronormativity, so the play becomes a straw man argument hardly worth engaging.

Production photo by Joan Marcus. Pictured (l-r): Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett, and Patrick Breen.

Flavorpill: Jose Llana Thrills at American Songbook at Lincoln Center

Originally published on Flavorpill.

jose llana

Jose Llana’s American Songbook concert had no title or theme. He sang songs from shows he’s appeared in, a few pop numbers from the likes of Billy Joel and George Michael, and one ballad in Tagalog from his uneasy attempt at pop stardom in the Philippines. Despite the fairly standard cabaret structure, there was nothing ordinary about what happened on the stage of The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center on Thursday night. Llana demonstrated that he is an exceptionally versatile performer, thrilling the audience with contemporary pop songs and Broadway standards alike. Continue reading

Flavorpill: Joey Arias Invocation of Billie Holliday Was Spot On

Originally published on Flavorpill.

joey-arias
It take balls to celebrate Billie Holiday’s centennial by inviting a white drag queen from downtown to sing Lady Day’s songs in one of the most uptown of venues, but that’s exactly what Lincoln Center did at Wednesday night’s American Songbook concert featuring Joey Arias. The intersection of uptown and down, black and white, male and female set the perfect tone for an evening devoted to Holiday, herself a complicated figure too often remembered lately for her struggles with drugs rather than her artistry. Continue reading

Flavorpill: Judy Kuhn: American Songbook Series Review

Originally published on Flavorpill.

Judy-Kuhn

There were a lot of good ideas on display at the Appel Room on Wednesday night: Giving Judy Kuhn the American Songbook spotlight before she returns to Broadway in Fun Home later this season was a good idea. Pairing Ms. Kuhn with Todd Almond as her arranger and musical director was a great idea. Giving them six additional musicians to play charts by Josh Clayton was a wonderful idea. Crafting a show around the three generations of composers in the Rodgers-Guettel family was a superb idea. Why then did the finish product feel much better in theory than in execution? Continue reading

Flavorpill: Review: American Songbook, Reich and Sondheim

 

Originally published on Flavorpill.

Reich-Sondheim

Lincoln Center stretched the definition of American Songbook with Reich and Sondheim: In Conversation and Performance, but the audience at Saturday night’s concert at the Appel Room was glad they did. There’s no question that Stephen Sondheim and Steve Reich are titans of American composition, the former in the realm of musical theater, the latter in contemporary classical. Each man has a Pulitzer, a Gold Medal in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, multiple Grammy Awards, the Praemium Imperiale… you get the idea. It turns out they are also friends and admirers of each other’s work, not to mention innovators and iconoclasts in their respective fields. Continue reading