It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2015 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

I’m not sure how many shows I saw this year, and I didn’t keep good enough record to count. Suffice it to say, I saw a lot, but not everything. Therefore, I’m not in a position to tumake a “best of” list or anything of the sort. Instead, I present to you a list of my favorite theater from 2015, in alphabetical order.

Last year, I listed a top 13, with one honorable mention plus three additional shows I had loved enough in previous years to see for a second time during 2014. This year’s list includes 15 shows, two of which were return trips, plus two honorable mentions, so I guess I have a fairly consistent amount of love in my heart available for great theater.  Continue reading

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250 Word Reviews: Puffs

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

Third or Nothing

PUFFS, OR: SEVEN INCREASINGLY EVENTFUL YEARS AT A CERTAIN SCHOOL OF MAGIC & MAGIC
(Off-off-Broadway: The Peoples Improv Theater)

Churchill said, “History is written by the victors,” but how often do we hear about life during great events for the rest of us? Playwright Matt Cox provides this lens on the Second Wizarding War, through the eyes of one Wayne Hopkins (Zac Moon). Wayne dreams of being the hero of his story, but that position has already been filled be a certain Mister Potter. Neither brave nor smart nor anguine, he is sorted into the house for everyone else, Hufflepuff, and makes two best friends: Oliver, a math whiz (Langston Belton) and Megan (Julie Ann Earls), a wannabe villain. Mentored by Cedric Diggory (Evan Maltby), the Puffs’ rallying cry represents their dreams of someday not coming in last: “Third or nothing!” Do they have a chance at making a difference in a world dominated by legendary heroes and villains?

Like Kapow-i GoGo (from the same team) before it, Puffs transcends parody and fan service to create a three-dimensional world populated by believable characters whose tragedies resonate as strongly as their triumphs. There’s a lot of story to get through in 80ish minutes, but director Kristin McCarthy Parker’s sure hand keeps the story clear even as the pace gets frenetic. Moon’s performance, more Hamlet than ham, provides a strong center around which wackier characters orbit. The whole cast excels, but special kudos to Andy Miller for the best “rally the troops” moment this side of Henry V. Knowledge of the Potter canon is helpful but not necessary to love Puffs.

Production photograph by Colin Waitt: Zac Moon (l) as Wayne with (l-r) Nick Carillo, Andy Miller, Eleanor Philips, Jessica Cannizzaro, Madeleine Bundy, and Stephen Stout.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to note that I contributed $10 to this production’s Kickstarter campaign.

250 Word Reviews: The Pavilion

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

The Pavilion

THE PAVILION
(Off-off-Broadway: The Producer’s Club)

You know the story: middle-aged white guy has a mid-life crisis, so attends high school reunion to attempt to rekindle things with his high school sweetheart. In Craig Wright’s The Pavilion, the white guy in question is Peter (Jeffrey Delano Davis), returning to Pine City, MN from his life in the Twin Cities to make amends for impregnating then abandoning Kari (Ayesha Adamo). Their encounter is placed into cosmic context by a professorial narrator (Jon Adam Ross), who alternates between spouting philosophy about the nature of time and giving voice to all the other (unseen) reunion guests.

Michael Kostroff’s direction is strongest in the scenes between the two former-lovers, which find Davis exposing raw vulnerability only to be met by Adamo’s measured resistance. Ross is less successful overcoming his obstacles, often lecturing from a podium far off to the side of the stage or adopting ridiculous character voices while facing the opposite direction of his scene partners. The play’s reliance on a projection design (by Javier Molina) that feels straight out of Myst is unnecessary at best and often distracting. Zoey Russo’s simple but effective sets would have more than sufficed on their own.

The play itself isn’t nearly as profound as its philosophizing monologues indicate it wants to be, but it does feature a nice moment of meta-theatrics in the second act that offered one of the few surprises in the writing.

Production photograph by Melissa X. Golebiowski: Jeffrey Delano Davis as Peter and Ayesha Adamo as Kari.

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.

250 Word Reviews: Sylvia

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

sylvia

SYLVIA
(Broadway: Cort Theatre)

If there’s one reason to see Sylvia, A. R. Gurney’s 1995 canine comedy making its Broadway debut, it’s Annaleigh Ashford. As the titular tail-wagger, she delights with comic delivery worthy of Lucille Ball and canine physicality that even Lassie would admire. (Credit to “Physicality Consultant” Nathan Peck.)

Unfortunately, there’s no second reason. Under Daniel Sullivan’s direction, the show plays like burlesque for gentiles, more over-extended sketch than play. Greg (Matthew Broderick) and Kate (Julie White) are recent empty-nesters relocated to the Upper East Side. He is unhappily an investment banker, she a do-gooder educator determined to bring Shakespeare to the city’s underprivileged junior high schools. When Greg brings home a stray dog he befriended in the park, he sees companionship and new vitality; Kate only sees disruption of their newly organized life.

While Ashford brilliantly milks everything from chasing cats to being in heat for laughs, Broderick is saddled with the uncomfortable task of making rape jokes about animals mating while not appearing to be a beastialist himself. Robert Sella, juggling a trio of supporting roles, dispenses with all dignity playing two drag parts that might have been amusing to Republicans in the 90s but were exceptionally distasteful to this liberal today. While Broderick manages to deliver one of his better performances in recent memory despite sub-par material, White disappears beneath her underwritten part of nagging-but-well-meaning wife.

While one might imagine this was a charming amusement off-Broadway twenty years ago, today it is largely a bloated embarrassment.

Production photo by Joan Marcus: Matthew Broderick as Greg and Annaleigh Ashford as Sylvia.

 

Jewschool: Handle With Care: A Jewish Play Born From An Interfaith Marriage

Originally published on Jewschool.

Handle With CareWhen I first skimmed the press release for Handle With Care, a play currently running off-Broadway in the theater that used to house Old Jews Telling Jokes, I thought I had the whole thing figured out in advance: a non-Jewish playwright married an Israeli actress and wrote a show for her. Simple, I thought. It must be a comedy exploring the hilarity of intermarriage, like an Abie’s Irish Rose for the Pew Report generation. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For although playwright Jason Odell Williams has written a play about love bridging disparate lives, it’s about a burgeoning love affair between an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances: their “meet cute” occurs when a delivery man loses the box containing the remains of Ayelet’s recently deceased grandmother, which he was supposed to be bringing to the airport for return to Israel. Josh, Ayelet’s love interest, is the delivery man’s only Jewish friend, so naturally he gets the call to help translate the situation to the distressed Israeli who speaks very little English.

The result is a charming romantic comedy that would be right at home on JCC stages anywhere in the country. That the play was written by someone who’s not himself Jewish (although he is part of a Jewish family) is surprising, so I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with both Williams and his wife (and star of the show) Charlotte Cohn about that play, their marriage, and working with one’s spouse. Continue reading