Performing Arts: Theater
April 15, 2023
"I'm leaving." The measured finality of that statement, uttered by Nora, reverberates throughout the Hudson Theater in the mesmerizing revival of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House set in 1879 and succinctly adapted by Amy Herzog.

Stripped to the bones, this quiet but ravishing production directed by Jamie Lloyd, plays out like Japanese Noh theater or spare, ancient Greek drama. All the elements are distilled in the service of the language and slippery emotion built into each word.

Straight backed, blond wood chairs on a turntable (by Soutra Gilmour) establish the time, place and ambiance. Lloyd moves individuals around the bare stage like chess pieces: Characters stand behind one another, in front, to the side, close by, or far away. In gradual increments, the stage choreography by Jennifer Rias frames individual's relationships to one another.

Nora (Jessica Chastain) commands center stage. Her porcelain skin and delicate build suggest a living doll caught between her husband Torvald's (Arian Moayed)fantasy and her reality.

It's Christmas in Norway and Nora, a young woman with several small children, appreciates beauty and the finer things despite her husband's frugal household allotment. Due to an illness that befalls Torvald, the doctor recommended they spend a year in Italy. Nora secretly secures a loan to pay for Italy by forging her father's name to the document. Desperate to keep this information from Torvald, Nora secretly works to pay off the loan.

Just about every evening, Nora and Torvald are joined by their dear friend Dr. Rank (Michael Patrick Thornton). Part of the family lubricant, Dr. Rank feels Nora's distress and at one point, it appears as if Dr. Rank might help. But that never materializes as he loses strength struggling with a severe illness.

When her widowed friend Kristine (Jesmille Darbouze), steps through the door and pleads for a job at Torvald's bank, that action triggers the unraveling of a family. Kristine's new job comes at great cost to Nils Crogstad (Okieriete Onadowan) who loses his job when she's hired. Aware of Nora's forgery, Nils, desperate to regain his job, leans on Nora to get it restored. In no time, he darkens her thoughts with talk of blackmail and quickly becomes her psychological predator.

At every corner, there is another revelation or another secret, another love, another lost leider. Although not as severe, echoes of Ibsen's male/female relationships remain with many couples to this day: Women "dress up" and "perform" for men, while men control the purse strings.

Explosively contained performances permeate this searing production of A Doll's House. See it.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 9, 2023
The audience enters the BAM Harvey theater to a British pub scene happening on stage (designed by Robert Jones) and peopled by ten ethnically diverse, colorful characters played by members of the Kiln Theatre in The Wife of Willesden. Folks mingle about telling personal stories, as a narrator/ “author” (Jessica Murrain) enters, connecting these present-day “pilgrims” to Chaucer’s age old The Wife of Bath from Chaucer's age old The Canterbury Tales.

Zadie Smith’s modernized, adapted script addresses the endangered feminist values of today and mimics Chaucer’s bawdy, highly sexualized wife, raising the question, “What do women really desire?”The wife, Alvita, exceptionally performed by Clare Perkins, tells her life story of five husbands, expressing her sexual vitality and need to be “in control of her men.”

The five husbands appear and disappear, acting out misogynistic behaviors. Judgments erupt from the pub as well in the form of the religious right: a preacher, Alvita’s “auntie,” “Jesus,” and Greek gods and goddesses. Still, she relentlessly recovers from disappointment and mistreatment from each encounter, to remain dominant.

Many audience members stood up and cheered each time Alvita’s sexual needs reigned supreme.

Following Chaucer’s form, Smith then takes us to a story within the story: to Jamaica, (lush green grassy set design by Robert Jones, spectacular lighting by Guy Hoare), where a young Maroon (Troy Glasgow), rapes a young woman and is taken to court. Judged by Queen Nanny (Jessica Murrian), she grants him life if he can return in a year to answer the question “What do women most desire?”

His pilgrimage leads to many dead ends and male confusion until he meets an old hag ((Ellen Thomas) who bargains with him to save his life if he promises to marry her. In the end, desperate, he agrees. After Queen Nanny grants him life, he is anguished to hold true to his promise, surrendering to the ugly hag; but once committed, he is surprised to find she has turned into a beautiful and loving wife.

Smith’s script and Indhu Rubasingham’s somewhat frantic stage direction succeed in connecting age old issues to the present, but do not really leave us with a satisfying resolution or dramatic ending. Instead, the “narrator” offers the audience an apology if we are disappointed. It’s as if Smith is admitting she couldn’t wrap it up more provocatively or, sadly perhaps, she realizes the past continues to repeat itself.

The evening ends with all dancing on stage, (music and sound design by Ben and Max Ringham; movement direction: Imogen Knight) as if it’s all been one big pub party.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mary Seidman

April 5, 2023
How can Stephen Sondheim's remarkable and ghoulish musical tragedy Sweeney Todd exhume such glee from audiences? Hugh Wheeler's book wryly comments on graft and unchecked political greed and power. It's a place where "truth" is suspended between obsession and evil in the misty and dank Dickensian streets.

Helmed by Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, the revival sweeps into the dank London mist with superb singing, acting and lots of friskily questionable characters. Rescued from the sea by a young man, Anthony (Jordan Fisher), the haunted Sweeney Todd (Josh Groban) slinks around the once familiar myriad of backstreets to the foreboding mantra "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd."

Barely making a living dishing out wretched meat pies, Mrs. Lovett (the delightful Annaleigh Ashford) spies Todd and recalls his true identity: Benjamin Barker (the barber accused of murder). Undaunted, she invites him to return to his barbering profession in the room above her meat store.

Full of energy and twisted enthusiasm, Ashford's physicality enlarges her comedic delivery. Despite the gruesome nature of the macabre musical--a barber kills clients stuffing them into meat pies for consumption -- the viler elements fuse to amplify the compulsion for human bonding.

All the theatrical elements mesh to establish grisly nights invested by the obsessive longings of a man scarred by the loss of his family.

Intent on rescuing his daughter Joanna (Maria Bilbao) from the evil Judge Turpin (Jamie Jackson), Todd first eliminates a competitor by giving him a deadly close shave. In the process, his young helper, the immensely affable Tobias (Gaten Matarazzo) becomes Lovett's assistant and de facto son.

Through the smog of industrialized London, eerily illuminated by Natasha Katz, people swarm around wood tables to eat Lovett's delectable pies, while upstairs, the barber's chair is rigged to flip into a slide (courtesy of set designer Mimi Lien) that shoots the dead bodies into the incinerator, barbecuing them.

Human threads criss-cross when the elderly Judge (responsible for all of Todd's tragedies) wants to marry Todd's daughter Johanna (an excellent Maria Bilbao). However, she's in love with the kind-hearted Anthony who delivers one of the evening's marvelous anthems "Johanna."

Director Thomas Kail's inspired direction keeps kinetic momentum at a strong boil, collaborating effectively with choreographer Steven Hoggett whose pedestrian choreography accents Kail's theatrical strategies. Indeed, Kail and Hoggett achieve the complete synchronization of sound and motion.

Wearing his character like a monk's robes, Groban, with his classically trained voice, barrells songs -- gripped by the mighty Sondheim score -- into the rafters. Groban's handmaiden, Ashford enlarges the tiniest of gestures into masterful comedic puns while Groban darkens his character through a slightly stooped back, and a psychopathic interior rage.

A powerful ensemble, and excellent musicians supervised by Alex Lacamoire, Sweeney Todd soars.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --Celia Ipiotis

April 4, 2023
It’s the first true day of spring and a small troupe of people find themselves waiting for a walking tour to begin on an unassuming street corner near Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Two things that make this walking tour special: first, it’s led by a die-hard fan of the mother monster herself, Lady Gaga, and second, it isn’t a walking tour at all. Instead, A Gaga Guide to the Lower East Side is an immersive performance written and created by Ron Lasko.

The tour guide introduces himself as Phill—a role played by a rotating cast of Lynwood McLeod, Taylor Hillard, and Adam Lawrence—but as he leads the group through the streets of LES it soon becomes clear that he’s much more than an ambitious little monster. In fact, a scandalous Yelp review left the day before has spurred fifteen more minutes of fame for the former reality TV star.

Between fielding calls from his agent, and explaining the historical significance of places such as Katz’s Deli, and CBGB, he finds the time to bring the group up to speed on his short stint on Let’s Make Up, a fictional reality series something like a mashup of “Big Brother, America’s Next Top Model, and RuPaul’s Drag Race”.

After going on a tirade about the network for attempting to sue him for making merch with his catchphrase (he first said it on the show) and accusing the producers of giving him a villain edit (all eight-and-a-half minutes he was on screen were spent scowling), he points out the handful of clubs where Lady Gaga gave early performances.

Most of the tour covers the history of buildings and monuments, unrelated to Lady Gaga, such as the preserved facade of The Providence Loan Society of New York, where Jasper Johns kept his studio for many years. But the highlight of the tour is a rather unassuming apartment building, which Phil reverently declares to be the birthplace of Lady Gaga. Sure enough, Stephanie Germanata was living on the fourth floor when she invented her superstar alter ego.

Closing the tour standing around a circular map of LES, Phil says something that borders on profound; the reason that he loves Lady Gaga and giving this tour is that the city’s constant transformation reminds him of our capacity for change, that we could reinvent ourselves whenever we want.

And it’s certainly true for him because he’s just been invited to appear in the upcoming Let’s Make Up: All-Stars season.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

March 29, 2023
Spoiler alert -- all doesn't go well for Ivan in The Harder They Come at the Public Theater. Intent on becoming a famous recording artist, Ivan, the impressive Natey Jones, ships out of his village to his mother's home in Kingston, Jamaica. Within minutes of landing in the big city, Ivan is ripped off and an inherently naive sensibility hangs over him throughout the rest of the show.

A real charmer, Ivan ends-up destitute in a church led by a powerhouse Preacher (J. Bernard Calloway). Grateful to be cared for by the congregation, he falls for the Preacher's ward. Yes, turmoil ensues.

Based on the film The Harder They Come (which I did not see) the role of Ivan features Jimmy Cliff, the great reggae artist who was the first to popularize the music form internationally. With his head full of songs, Ivan believes he can be a music star. Surrounded by graft, ganja, and underground rowdies, Ivan rises as a savior of the working class people.

The work of choreographer Edgar Godineaux along with co-director Sergio Trujillo is visible in the animated Afro-Caribbean style dancing, driven by earthy beats, hip rotations, and creamy, rhythmic walks.

Many strong performances surface including the Preacher; Hilton (Ken Robinson), the blustering, over the top record mogul; Ivan's hard working mother Daisy (Jeannette Bayardelle); his innocent, loving wife Elsa (Meecah) plus the good-humored friend Pedro (Jacob Ming-Trent).

Directed by Tony Taccone, Ivan and Elsa exude a real chemistry, despite the cartoonish aspects of the musical, while Pedro's goodwill consumes the theater. With a book by the immensely talented Suzan-Lori Parks, this over-long production benefits exponentially from Kenny Seymour's kick-ass band pounding out the roster of Jimmy Cliff songs.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 29, 2023
The New Group’s The Seagull/Woodstock, NY is a rare adaptation that allows its audience to better understand the original. With Thomas Bradshaw’s contemporary text, and the deft direction of Scott Elliot, the production’s star-studded cast brings each character to life with delicacy and care.

Framed against a luminous red velvet curtain, elegant wooden surfaces, and boho chic set dressing by Derek McLane the world of an upstate New York artist colony is evoked with crystalline vision.

Just as in Chekov’s original, the first act finds a fictional play as its focal point, an experimental and fourth-wall-breaking work written by Kevin—played by Nat Wolff--—and starring Aleyse Shannon’s Nina, the aspiring actress he is in love with. The pseudo-intellectual production is preceded by a content warning that is mirrored nearly word for word on the play’s paper program, alerting both audiences to the provocative content of the play within the play.

Sure enough, racial slurs and sexually explicit stories scandalize Kevin’s mother Irene, especially as the performance climaxes with her partner William (Ato Essandoh) being invited to peek behind the makeshift stage’s curtain to watch Nina masturbate in a porcelain bathtub.

Parker Posey shines as the ebullient actress, drifting about the stage in flowing dresses and jumpsuits full of self-involvement and oozing with a tacky style that conceals a considerable amount of wisdom.

Costumes by Qween Jean often provide such insights as with the acerbic Hari Nef who plays Sasha, a gloomy heiress who dresses almost exclusively in ratty black athleisure. In the face of her unrequited love for Kevin, her self-destructive tendencies are realized in both her presentation and actions.

Early in the second act, while eating Kashi cereal straight from the box, she asks William to sign her copy of his novel. Within the seconds it takes him to write an inscription, the emotions that flash across her face as she resigns herself to having the child of a man that she does not love are breathtaking.

While moments of complex emotional drama unfold throughout the play, its greatest strength is the comic performances that come from all angles of the performances. Oblivious to their hubristic desires, the miseries, and frustrations that abound in the characters’ lives are handled with care even as the humor inherent to Chekov’s work is drawn into sharp focus.

Even as Kevin’s suicide marks the penultimate moment of the play, a crass game of scrabble between the unknowing Irene and her friends holds the production firm in its commitment to not tumbling into simple tragedy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

March 23, 2023
Screams and whistles rattled the theater during the Bob Fosse Dancin' performance on a Wednesday evening. Studded with wildly enthusiastic dance students, shouts of encouragement -- "that's right!" "work it!" -- saluted dancers pouring themselves 125% into the impossible dance deeds.

The title Bob Fosse Dancin' suggests all the choreography is credited to Fosse, but that isn't always the case, and when bits and pieces are pasted into the production, pacing drags. Admired for his very specific, minimalist isolated movements-- eyes shift, eyebrows lift, fingers flick, feet flex, and hips snap -- Fosse moves are excitingly expressive. Contrary to the exaggerated, "watch me" Broadway musical dance style, Fosse's technique is subtle and exquisitely difficult.

Directed and staged by the highly regarded Wayne Cilento, who was once a Fosse dancer, Dancin' suffers from overstatement. Many in the cast performed in Fosse productions, so they hold his voice inside them, but time passes and if a dancer isn't imbued in the razor sharp incisions of this technique, the form loses its tightness.

Opening strong, the show throws a spotlight on the legendary Black tap dancer "Mr. Bojangles" effortlessly interpreted by Manuel Jacob Guzman. The rousing "Percussion" section demands liquid body rolls tightened into crystalline joint isolations with bent legs raised to the side, held high while tilting hips up and down---yup, and no one crashes.

One after another, the hits like "Big Spender" and "Sing, Sing, Sing's" Trumpet Solo, originally made famous by the unforgettable Ann Reinking, features an exuberant Kolton Krouse. Other standouts include Jacob Guzman and Mattie Love in "Romantic Fantasy," and the balletic whiz Peter John Chursin along with Dylis Croman in "Big City Mime." Quite frankly, anything featuring Croman hits the mark. Superb Fosse dancers like Croman and Love are distinguished by the vivid clarity of each gesture, each glance and each thrillingly measured choreographic sequence.

In the Second Act, if I understand correctly, "America" appeared in the original Fosse Dancin' production, but was actually choreographed by Charles Ward. Well known songs like "Yankee Doodle Dandy" kick the pizazz up a notch, but by this point, the revue starts to feel over-packed with goodies.

Robert Brill's set and David Grill's lighting design smartly mesh to suggest the Broadway scene with spotlights, line maps of the NYC, plus ceiling high ladders and poles. The music, conducted and directed by Justin Hornback, churns uninhibitedly underneath the breath-catching dancing.

Larded with top notch dancers, singers and actors, the company keeps up a heart-pounding pace. Despite some qualms about the production's shape, you certainly can't do better than Dancin' when it comes to watching the best dancing on Broadway.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 18, 2023
There are many reasons to see Parade, but experiencing Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond should top that list. Few voices convey humanity like Platt's silky, seamless sound or Diamond's intelligent compassion.

Based on a true story, Parade unfolds in 1915 Georgia (one year after the start of WWI). An unlikely man in an unlikely location, Leo (Platt) holds the position of manager at a pencil factory, courtesy of his wife's uncle. Eager to hustle back to his Brooklyn neighborhood, Leo remains aloof from his workers and community.

Contrary to Leo, Lucille (Diamond), born and bred in Georgia, has eased into the rhythms and mores of Southern society. One ominous day, a young 13-year old worker Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle) is found murdered in the factory. Although the factory employed Blacks as well as whites, the politically influenced district attorney (a fine Paul Alexander Nolan) is convinced that framing a Jew is more politically useful than convicting a Black.

Up to this point, Lucille's most prominent characteristic is invisibility. She cares for the house, deals with the "help" but as for Leo, he remains wholly self-centered and disengaged. After Leo is incarcerated, Lucille, who at first considers leaving town, blossoms into his tireless champion.

Stripped of unnecessary visuals, the set, consisting of a couple of platforms by Dane Laffrey, suggests all the interior and exterior scenes with the simple addition of furniture -- like table and chairs, a podium -- and the audience's imagination.

A superb soundtrack by Jason Robert Brown lifts Alfred Uhry's book. Director Michael Arden keeps up a spirited pace while Brown's music unlocks each character's emotions through incisive lyrics and transporting songs. Arden's knack for harmonizing story, score and cast into an appetizing alchemy explodes in the most understated, unnerving way.

Surrounded by an artful cast, Georgia's Governor Slaton (the congenial Sean Allan Krill) reconsiders the unlikeliness of Leo murdering Mary. Nudged by Lucille and supported by his loving wife, Slaton represents the conscience of Georgia.

Of course, this story of false evidence leading to a wrongful conviction continues through the ages. Indeed, the anti semitic and racist hostilities in our country and beyond underscore the vigilance required to keep America honest.

Robed in the past, Parade feels contemporary in its fear of the "outsider" and justice as political expediency.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 11, 2023
The gentle, poetic Letters From Max will undo you. Completely uplifting and life-affirming, this dramatic love song digs deep into the recesses of your mind, delicately persuading you to curve into the frailty and inevitability of mortality.

Written by Sarah Ruhl (based on a book by Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo) and seamlessly directed by Kate Whoriskey, Letters From Max produces an exquisite symbiotic chemistry between Max (Ben Edelman) and Sarah (Jessica Hecht). Once a student of hers, Max becomes Sarah's guide. An unfettered set by Marsha Ginsberg, establishes place and time basically with a simple desk, chair and chemo lounge chair.

Between writing poetry for publication and falling in love, Max shifts in and out of one chemo bed after another, one protocol after another, but the gem-like letters exchanged with Sarah remain the one constant. Through Whoriskey's sensitive direction, the tender epistles matter-of-factly read aloud, shift lyrically between one another.

Years fill with picturesque autobiographical anecdotes and updates on families. Not much happens action-wise, but a universe shifts and reveals the beauty of love, of hope, and truth at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis

March 5, 2023
In Samuel D. Hunter's 2010 play A Bright New Boise industrial lighting, and a color drained set by Wilson Chin depicts a Hobby Lobby break room in Boise, Idaho. Overhead, an invasive, closed circuit TV gruesomely shows close-up surgical procedures on various parts of the body. A sign of sorts?

Stuck in a drab job, the well-meaning but harried manager Pauline (Eva Kiminsky) juggles a group of just slightly "off" employees. Sitting across from her, a nervous applicant, Will (Peter Mark) anxiously agrees to a minimum wage cashier's job. The no-nonsense Pauline introduces the inscrutable Will to the store's procedures and co-workers populating the shifts.

Unexpectedly, Leroy (Angus O'Brien), a brusque staff person, reveals he's a painter enrolled in an MFA program. Although difficult to believe, Leroy makes and sells offensive T-shirts which he actually wears to work. Leroy works alongside his younger brother, an anxious teenager, Alex (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio).

Nearly always wearing headsets, Alex listens to unlikely music including the Brazilian contemporary classical composer Villa Lobos among others. Easily succumbing to panic attacks and questionable claims of trauma, Alex looks to Leroy--who's especially suspicious of Will -- for protection. Intent on keeping to himself, Will sneaks into the break room after hours to write a blog. Unsuspectingly, he encounters another stowaway, the quirky, but congenial female co-worker Anna (Anna Baryhsnikov)--who intently reads her books and imagines a better future.

In one exchange with Anna, Will reveals a dream: He sees a day when darkness prevails; no moon, no sun, no stars, just the blackness before the "rapture." Is this real, or is this a metaphor for the bleakness swelling inside so many people suspended in a universe like Sartre's foursome in No Exit? That underlying shadow tugs at the revival of A Bright New Boise directed by Oliver Butler at the Signature Theater.

Packed with roller coaster twists and turns, all the mysteries fall into line, including Will's explicit decision to move to Boise and work in this specific Hobby Lobby. In combination, all the production elements reek of mid- American malaise.

On the few occasions when the action takes place outside of the break room, the lighting designer cleverly indicates the shift to outdoors by blacking out the set and illuminating a floor length perimeter of either blue or amber lights.

A fine ensemble cast collectively expresses the emptiness experienced by so many people looking for spiritual remedies to fill joyless lives. Suddenly, I felt incredibly privileged to be living in NYC.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis

February 20, 2023
There was a time when the host of a dinner party would pull out the slide wheel carousel or 8 millimeter film projector and entertain guests with home movies of vacations. For some, that screamed "time to go," for others--generally family members--it conjured warm memories of beaches edging Florida or camping trips in the Adirondacks.

The scrapbook lives of a family pinned to the pages of Larry Sultan's photo memoir are brought to life in Pictures From Home written by Sharr White and playing at Studio 54.

The son, Larry Sultan (Danny Burstein) steps into the starring role as family archivist. Determined to retrieve all the family photos, slides and films, Larry, a professional photographer, finds comfort in the celluloid traces of his family. Captured on film is the very, very complicated psychological infrastructure tinting his family.

Converted to a three-person play, Larry is conflicted about the passage of time, the ultimate loss of his parents and subsequently, cherished parts of his life. Once a charismatically urbane salesman, Larry's father, Irving (Nathan Lane), dominates the family and all his one-liners. Spot-on representation of traditional marriages in the 1950's and 1960's, positions the mother, Janet (Zoe Wannamaker) just a step below her husband, his handmaiden and the family negotiator.

Visually, the projected photographs (by 59 Productions) recall the halcyon days of martinis and sports cars, parties by the pool and the belief in youthful invincibility. A handsome man, Irving thrives in the spotlight of his own making. Subsequently, Lane revels in nailing the majority of the witty lines, spitting them out with the timing of a Swiss watch tuned to the loudest laugh track.

Determined to unearth all the archival visual materials in order to help decode his life, Larry also manufactures historical incidents never recorded. All the "performed" photographs place Irving in the center of the family's universe, which is more a male child's view of his father than reality. In truth, when Irving prematurely loses his job at Schick, Janet becomes a super real estate agent and single-handedly finances their lives.

Despite her gumption, securing a real estate license then beating out the competition, Janet's depicted as a ditzy, yet somehow grounded comforter. Constantly losing her glasses or misplacing her bag, Janet works to keep the peace between the bellicose Irving and Paul who, despite his age, is desperately seeking his father's acceptance.

Adeptly directed by Bartlett Sher, occasionally, the photographs speak more eloquently than the text.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 11, 2023
Audience, written by Vaclav Havel, a true revolutionary artist whose writings shaped the politics of his time, is a compelling political play with a delightful twist. Presented at LaMama the one hour absurdist work is invigorated by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre’s exceptional puppetry.

Opening with a newsreel-style montage projected onto one of the huge projector screens that float above a sparsely dressed stage, the audience is loosely guided through the politics of 1968’s Prague Spring, a period of political upheaval in Czechoslovakia under their Communist Party.

As the film’s light fades, Vít Horejš—who performs as the play's protagonist, Havel’s alter ego Vanek, as well as serving as its translator and director—enters pushing a heavy wooden barrel. Heaving its top up a short ramp it rolls into a standing position as Horejš sighs. Something within the barrel makes a small sound and knocks its lid askew, and when Horejš investigates the impossible seems to happen: the barrel opens revealing the curled figure of the second performer, Theresa Linnihan in the role of the Brewmaster, who stretches her legs and belches cradling an empty beer stein to her chest. Most miraculous however is that the inside of the barrel is filled with tiny puppets that are brought to life by minuscule motors throughout the performance.

The handheld puppets bob about the stage, often changing hands in tightly choreographed and seamlessly executed routines that makes the technical nature of their craft seem effortless. As the play progresses the Brewmaster’s puppet gradually increases in size eventually dwarfing the tiny marionette of Vanek and plunking him into a stein of beer.

Linnihan’s performance is exquisite as she manipulates the increasingly larger Brewmaster puppets while talking in a robust voice punctuated only by the short and meek replies of Horejš.

Defined by repetition, the text swings back and forth between Vanek and the Brewmaster circling around the suggestion that the Brewmaster has been asked to spy on Vanek. This culminates in Vanek refusing to inform on himself which spurs an impassioned monologue from the Brewmaster about the state of working class and leaving him in tears before he comically drifts to sleep.

By balancing political weight and specificity with comedic sensibility, Audienceproves outstanding, and certainly upholds La Mama’s reputation for platforming excellent avant- garde performance.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

January 25, 2023
Presented at La Mama as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild is a compelling story about brotherly love and a raucously good time. Directed by Seth Bockly and set to live music by Moneka Arabic Jazz, the two-man tour-de-force weaves ancient Sumerian mythology with contemporary humor and politics.

The set, designed by Lorenzo Savoini, fills La Mama’s brick-walled downstairs theater with handsome wooden furniture, lush plants, and the warm glow of exposed Edison bulbs, as sharp lines of light mark out the actor’s playing space downstage of the five-piece band.

Both Jesse LaVercombe and Ahmed Moneka shine as their characters strike up unlikely friendships in a Toronto cafe and ancient Mesopotamia. LaVercombe takes up the mantle of Enkidu, a creature of the forest who is transformed into a man in order to challenge the reign of Moneka’s tyrannical Gilgamesh. But after the two great warriors fight for days on end, they abandon their conflict in favor of brotherhood, where each brings out the best in the other.

In a modern day parallel to the legendary duo’s adventures, newfound friends Jesse and Ahmed—who share their first names with their performers—bond over the fact that neither is native to Toronto and chat the evening away by sharing details of their lives while tripping on a magic mushroom.

As the show progresses the lines between the characters begin to blur: Ahmed rushes through the streets of Toronto to attend the birth of his child narrated with mythical pazazz. Gilgamesh and Jesse contemplate where to go and what to do next while standing side by side on the shore of the Mediterranean sea.

The crystal-clear staging and choreography makes the transitions between characters and times seem effortless, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the oceanic depths of the beautiful and fraught relationships that drive the story forward. While much of the story is uplifting, a thread of tragedy runs beneath much of the play as Enkidu grapples with the fact that he has lost the wild place where he was born as both he and the world have changed too much to ever return to the way things once were.

Closing out the evening with a joyous concert from Moneka Arabic Jazz King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild cements itself as a testament to the joyous community of artists who came together to make it possible to tell a hopeful story about finding companionship across difference; a worthy pursuit indeed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

January 19, 2023
Still reeling from two years of culture changing life, artists, presenters, producers and supporters gathered at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan to reconnect and share visions of hope.

Ready to welcome the crowds, APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) Director Lisa Richards happily noted that nearly 40 of attendees were first timers. She invited everyone to take time over the space of the conference to make clear their dreams and concerns.

Opening the seminar, Chuck Schumer applauded the artists for their grit and the audience applauded him for his tireless support of the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. His appearance tied into each speaker's mantra: Meet your representatives. Introduce yourselves and turn your organization's work into a partnership with the community.

Multiple workshops, affinity group sessions, performances and networking meetings flowed in and around the Hilton.

In one session, artists gave a 5 minute pitch to a room full of presenters and producers . Most started with an introduction, followed by a video or slides, succinctly stating their case. One of the contenders -- a group of differently abled dancers in wheelchairs -- were seen in a video flying over their audience; in another, letters of rejection read by community members built vast, richly nuanced stories; while musicians represented different cultures and aesthetics.

For many, the inclusion of community was central to the artists' mission. All artists would do well to prepare a pitch of this sort. Presenters are busy and the competition is fierce. Make an unforgettable first impression.

In a session with National Endowment for the Arts representatives, the community was, once again, underscored. Evidently, there's a growing interest in finding people who are invested in the arts through their everyday works.

APAP closed the 2023 conference on a positive note, one that embraced a vital future engaged with the arts.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 17, 2023
Dressed in an outfit shouting flamenco dancer and toreador, Migguel Anggelo (a self described  transdisciplinary performing artist), snaps an outsized red fan and the solo music theater performance LatinXoxo begins. 

With musical direction by Jaime Lozano and a new book by J. Julian Christopher, LatinXoxo is conceived by Migguel Anggelo and directed and developed by Srda Vasiljevic. Performed at Joe's Pub, it's part of Public Theater's Under the Radar Theater festival coinciding with the APAP conference.

Fronting a combo of 4 wonderful musicians (Piano and Guitar, Jaime Lozano; Guitar, Alberto Jiménez;Guitar and Bass,  Victor Murillo; Percussion, Joel Mateo), Anggelo soars through world-wide Latin hits like "Besame Mucho," an outstanding mash-up of "Fever"  plus original songs and boleros. Stretched across several octaves to a countertenor lyricism, music, spoken word and dance, weave a tale of his relationship to his father--someone he loved but who died when he was 14. 

Behind him, a candle lights a photo of his father who was a matador -- something he found both thrilling and fearsome. Although saddened when his father killed a bull, the drama and performance surrounding bullfights clearly influenced Anggelo's own aesthetic. Never able to confess his queerness to his father, Anggelo still yearns for his approval and love.

Easily connecting with the audience, Anggelo invites a young man up to the stage and sings him a song; later snaking through the audience to get a little closer to his fans. 

An engaging, multi talented artist, Anggelo's tightly shaped, heartfelt performance wins over the audience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

seven methods of killing kylie jenner
January 14, 2023
First a confession: I know the name and dollar-heavy dynasty surrounding Kylie Jenner, but I can't pick her out of a celebrity line-up. Yet, that's the heart of seven methods of killing kylie jenner by the British Royal Court Theatre Production at the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival running during the APAP conference.

Two dynamic actors Cleo (Leanne Henlon) and Kara (Tina Banon) drag a body across the floor and into a ditch, then begin exchanging riffs on racialized gender politics. Cleo, of strong physical build, rants to her mixed race, more lyrical friend Kara about Jenner. Maddeningly, Jenner receives tons of bucks and publicity for plumping out her lips. Of course, for white girls, that 's sexy; but on black girls it can be ridiculed as is a fully curvaceous body.

On the night I went, Jasmine Lee-Jones' vivid production was riddled with technical problems. Lights went out mid conversation and audio distorted the sound to the point where it was difficult to understand for the first 45 minutes. After gallantly struggling against the technical snafus, the actors left the stage for about a 30 minute break and then returned to complete the show.

Filtered through the twittersphere, Cleo's death-rattling tirades calling out Jenner for maximizing her wealth by appropriating Black features ricochets through the ravenous social media. Stressed by a recent break-up, Cleo unloads on her friend Kara who reminds her that when she revealed her affinity for women, Cleo failed to support her.

In a bedroom, the two young women bring up plenty of issues entwined in the beauty dilemma: what and who is beautiful, who gets to decide and why is it still so important to young women?

Framed by the seven announcements identifying seven ways to kill Kylie Jenner, Cleo rebelliously yells out each different murderous method. In-between each threat, the friends unravel years of misguided acts, girlish taunts, misgivings and heartbreaks.

A highly physical performance directed by Milli Bhatia, the actors are in constant motion, dancing and jumping, broadly gesticulating, singing and reminding us all of the cascading vulnerabilities experienced by young women-of-color.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 11, 2023
Descriptions of the Oval, library, High Street and dorms brought back vivid memories of my days on the OSU campus. By the time I arrived, however, the student population was much more diversified and politically active than in the 1950's, when just a handful of Black students were matriculated and living in segregated dorms. This kind of invisible racism infiltrates Adrienne Kennedy's girpping tragedy Ohio State Murders published in 1992.

Kennedy tenaciously reveals the countless strategies employed to physically and intellectually restrict Black students in the 1950's. When the curtain rises, a Black female guest speaker stands behind the podium. Suzanne Alexander (the remarkable Audra McDonald), now a successful author, returns to OSU to lecture on the use of violent imagery in her novels. In a series of flashbacks, Alexander attacks ghosts ravaging her student days at OSU.

The daughter of college educated parents, Alexander enters OSU with barely a notion of her future when Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles devastates her. A first year teacher, Professor Hampshire (Bryce Pinkham) calls her into his office and challenges the authorship of her paper. In short order, he recognizes her abundant literary gifts.

Determined to pursue American Literature, Suzanne is denied permission to declare this major because Blacks are considered intellectually incapable of mastering the course load. Instead, OSU directs her towards a teaching degree. Tragically, her immediate dreams are cut short when two nights spent with the cowardly Professor Hampshire produce an unwanted pregnancy.

Shrinking back from the news, Hampshire insists it's impossible to get pregnant after only 2 episodes only to become wildly paranoid about the ramifications of this affair on his budding career. McDonald gracefully shudders at the multiple offenses she, an industrious, cultured and obviously intelligent woman must endure.

After leaving OSU due to her pregnancy, Alexander joins her loving aunt in Harlem (an effective Lizan Mitchell) and gives birth to twins. But somehow, she can't leave OSU behind and returns to the scene of her disgrace. Director Kenny Leon perceptively directs this intimate, densely articulate chamber play contained by designer Justin Ellington's tilted metal bookshelves strewn across the stage.

Leon's approach replaces physical action with McDonald's operatic vocal and emotional range. Once back at OSU, Alexander falls in love with a Black law student David (Mister Fitzgerald); however, tragedy awaits. One day, she visits the doctor, and leaves one of the twins in the car. When she returns, the other baby is gone. Then we learn the unthinkable. Audra McDonald, who's acting chops now equal her vocal talents, commands the stage for an uninterrupted 75 minutes.

Entirely convincing, McDonald breathes life into dreams and aspirations blunted, but never buried, by racism and madness.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 7, 2023
Is our time really up, or can we reverse action for a redo of the ecological rape of our world?

Audiences at the Bam Fishman Fisher Theater experienced ARE WE NOT DRAWN ONWARD TO NEW ERA by Ontroerend Goed a Flemish theater group known for performing outside the lines.

Six actors, one balloon, a blizzard of candy ball colored plastic bags, a begonia tree and giant male statue reminiscent of ancient 30 foot Kouros found on its back on the Greek island of Naxos appeared, disappeared and reappeared in the space of 75 minutes.

In a surrealistic ode to humanity's disregard for the dissolution of nature through consistently crass, destructive actions a vibrantly visual and nearly non-verbal performance art piece unfolds.

A small tree stands in the center, its bright green leaves glistening against the single, crimson apple. Soon, a woman and man enter. Yes, she (Karolien De Bleser) takes the auspicious bite, so does he (Michael Pas). And so begins the disintegration of creation.

Minimalist movements accumulate: four actors point fingers like little shotguns, smile, and speak some gibberish; a round man (Angelo Tijssens) rolls out from under the curtain, jiggling and catching a balloon from the sky; an agile man in track pants (Jonas Vermeulen) rips the tree apart--limb by limb. Brightly colored plastic bags rain down and the performers drag in the statue, severed in several parts and put back together again like Humpty Dumpty, ropes wrapped around limbs and hauled to a standing position.

The curtain drops and the scene, projected on a screen, is meticulously deconstructed, step by step, from end to beginning. Will humanity make the same mistakes; selfishly disrupt mother earth? Perhaps, but according to Ontroerend, at least we should give it another go.

ARE WE NOT DRAWN ONWARD TO NEW ERA is part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival during the APAP 2023 Conference.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 18, 2022
Hallelujah! A smart, entertaining, boisterous musical landed on Broadway. Some Like It Hot directed and choreographed by the masterful Casey Nicholaw soars at the Shubert Theater. The brilliant mixed cast tosses zingers worthy of Chris Rock, Lindy Hops their hips off, sing to the rafters and swing that 1930's jazz music off the charts.

Originally a wildly popular Billy Wilder film, Some Like It Hot starred the inimitable Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. Hard to top? Perhaps. Yet, the Broadway transformation renovated by Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin injects freshness into an old-fashioned musical, the likes of which we haven't seen in ages.

Chased by an AL Capone-style thug after witnessing a murder, two itinerant jazz musicians Joe (Christian Borle) and Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee) disguise themselves as females and join an all-female jazz band featuring the gorgeous vocalist Sugar (Adriana Hicks). When the vulnerable star Sugar sings, she stands behind an oversized microphone, breaks at the waist, tilting her torso forward and exerting an uncommon sensuality.

Entranced by Sugar, Joe dons a wealthy "male" disguise in order to woo her, while Jerry finds they feel very comfortable communing inside female society. In a manically funny turn, the eccentric millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Kevin Del Aguila) is smitten by Jerry who finds his attention pleasing.

In a new twist, Osgood reveals he's really Mexican and takes the ladies for a flashy night across the border. His delicious vocal delivery melts into an implausibly rubbery physicality and Latin dance pizazz. In truth, the whole ensemble shines, sending the audience out the door smiling and humming the knock-out songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 4, 2022
More a storyteller than a comic who bolts jokes one after the other, Mike Birbiglia exudes an easy intimacy with his audience of friends.

Birbiglia focuses on a list of ailments, from heart disease and diabetes, to nocturnal sleepwalking, that positively add up to a hypochondriacal looney. Intent on getting healthier, Birbiglia recounts knotty conversations with a doctor who recommends a healthier lifestyle.

When the doctor suggests working out, Birbiglia demures, so she suggests swimming 5 days a week to which he replies, "no one swims 5 days a week," and she responds, "yes they do" and he retorts "Phelps doesn't swim 5 days a week" while she demures "yes, he does." Inane as that sounds, the everyday banter strikes home.

Alone on the stage in front of a projection of aqua water in a swimming pool (you really don't want to know the stats about the ratio of urine to chlorinated water) dsigned by Beowulf Boritt, The Old Man & The Pool is effortlessly directed by Seth Barrish.

Interestingly, throughout the show, I kept thinking about his wife, the woman he describes as introverted to his extroverted self. Fortunately, Birbiglia's gentle and all encompassing humor is infectious--otherwise he might be a bit challenging on a day-to-day basis.

Despite all the talk about mortality and disintegrating elder bodies, this show's genuineness reaches all age groups (my twenty-something nephew laughed throughout the show). Birbiglia's everyman tickles all hearts.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 30, 2022
Angel of the Amazon, presented by Encompass Theater at The Sheen Center’s Frank Shiner Theater, is an elegant one-act opera by Evan Mack. The historical musical drama chronicles the true story of Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun whose activism with farmers in the Brazilian rainforest was influential in the evolution of environmental and labor politics in her time and continues on after her death.

Mack began writing and developing Angel of the Amazon in 2009 with Encompass Theater, culminating in a performance of the full-length opera at The Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2011. More recently Nancy Rhodes, Encompasses’s artistic director, has been working with Mack to transform the opera into a touring production in order to “spread vital awareness of the urgent need to preserve the Amazon rainforests and indigenous tribes who are on the front lines protecting them.”

With a tight runtime of only one hour the scope of the show’s timeline is impressive, spanning from Stang’s arrival to Brazil in 1966 until her assassination in 2005. Crucial moments throughout her life are brought to life by Mack’s vibrant music, such as her initial discovery of the exploitation of poor farmers by the landowner sponsoring her ministry in the song “Some Mother of God You Are!”.

Melanie Long’s performance elegantly brings Stang’s pious and moral convictions to the forefront as she never questions her faith and devotion in the face of hardship. Her friend and compatriot Luiz, a well-respected but hotheaded farmer, is a strong foil to her stoicism: when their small village is burned down by vengeful landowners Luiz rallies the community to strike back before Stang tempers the moment by leading the chorus in a soaring prayer for rain.

The final scene depicts the assassination of Stang, as two gunmen hired by her wealthy enemies corner her on the road. Stang proclaims that her only weapon is her bible, and reads from Beatitudes, convincing one of the gunmen to have a change of heart but not before the other empties his pistol into her. When Stang’s body is discovered by Luiz he cries as a huge cloth unfurls over the stage, while a rainstick rattles somberly from the orchestra.

Angel of the Amazon is certainly a compelling story, and this production’s virtues lie in the simplicity of its telling. The small cast and three-person band elevate each detail and poignant musical choice to a level of prescient social commentary that would make Sister Dorothy Stang proud.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

November 29, 2022
The country's largest booking conference, Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) is set to descend on NYC January 13 - 17. Based midtown at the Hilton Hotel, the conference spins a spider web of performances, workshops, demonstrations and talks throughout the city.

APAP was recently described by CEO Lisa Richards Toney as "the vital engine for the performing arts presenting, booking, and touring industry in North America and beyond."

This marks the first time since 2019 that artists and presenters. producers and bookers will convene in person in the cultural capital of the world. A critical networking event, APAP offers a myriad of professional workshops and development sessions, performance showcases, an EXPO Commons and inspirational talks by leaders in the field.

Be sure to check listings because many of the performances and showcases are open to the public as well as APAP members including the Public Theater's renown Under The Radar series.

For more information go to:
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 24, 2022
Youthful energy soars during the new jukebox musical & Juliet at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Determined to reshape Will's (Stark Sands) tragedy Romeo and Juliet, his wife Anne (Betsy Wolfe) takes quill to imagination and rewrites the lovers' union. With a book by David West Read (of the deliriously funny Schitt's Creek) irreverent humor bounces giddily along the soundtrack of many a youngsters headsets.

Donning edgy, boho-chic a la 16th century corsets and cod-pieces by Paloma Young, the attractively diverse, nonbinary company easily straddles centuries of love stories. In this version Juliet (a standout Lorna Courtney) never dies next to Romeo and instead journeys on a search for self fulfillment along with her gregarious nurse, Angelique (Melanie LaBarrie), her honey-voiced best friend May (Justin David Sullivan) and a youthful entourage.

Like any urban fairy tale, they encounter a royal family roiled in questions of identity and perpetuation of their lineage. As animated as any Disney cartoon, the unendingly energetic cast is directed by Luke Sheppard over a sea of motion choreographed by Jennifer Weber.

Street dance moves laced with acrobatics underscore the angst and ebullience shedded by teenagers on a moment to moment basis. Once Juliet's posse crashes the neighboring land's ball, she befriends the young prince Francois (Philippe Arroyo) while Angelique reconnects with a lost love, Lance (the opeartic Paulo Szot).

And just to re-scramble all the options, Romeo (Ben Jackson Walker) re-appears. (Evidently, the poison wasn't life-ending.) Outside of the excellent performances rounding out the sing-along soundtrack popularized by music stars like Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Pink and Backstreet Boys, the lyrics effortlessly enlarge the emotional landscape tweaking Shakespearianisms.

Nonstop plot twists wrap around musical gumdrops unified by a muscular movement score and tireless vitality.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 10, 2022
What price family heritage? For some, ancestral knowledge is easily traceable. For others, it's a painful, tumultuous mystery.

Exhaltingly rooted in the Black experience, August Wilson's emotionally drenched The Piano Lesson at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre revolves around the complex issues surrounding Black families. Uninhibitedly directed by LaTanya Richard Jackson and choreographed by the seasoned Otis Sallid, The Pinao Lesson exudes a physicality that speaks of jazz music, ancestors and the rich culture of Black America.

Committed to preserving her family's story, Bernice Charles (the compelling Danielle Brooks) safeguards the family heirloom, a majestic, upright piano carved by an enslaved ancestor and master wood carver. Decorated with cascading wooden carvings of the family tree, Bernice's father died removing the piano from the slave owner's home. This visual record digs deep into Bernice's soul.

Landing on her doorstep unannounced, Willie Boy (a dynamic John David Washington) Bernice's brother, drives up North to sell a truckload of watermelon and seize the piano. This conflict between brother and sister boils over. To keep the family's only connection to its past or sell it to buy land once worked by enslaved family members burns through the drama. Meanwhile, ghosts haunt both Bernice and her daughter. Is that a sign they should move forward and free themselves of the horrific past or preserve those blood memories?

Bernice's uncle Doaker Charles (an understated, wry Samuel L. Jackson) cooly listens to the disputes, at times offering sage advice or remaining silent while observing the damage carried inside so many bodies.

Doaker's pal, the nouveau-posh Wining Boy, is a frequent visitor always in need of a few bucks. A former club performer and piano player, Wining Boy (Michael Potts) no longer wishes to be associated with the entertainment business and what it says about Blacks' limited capabilities.

Lymon (Ray Fisher), a guileless, lanky young country fellow, joins the street-smart Boy Willie to Bernice's place. The very "country" Lyman becomes Wining Boys' money target. In a great vaudeville-style scene, Wining Boy sells Lyman a totally ill-fitting suit guaranteed to be a babe-catcher.

Comically dressed, Lyman joins Willie Boy for a good-time out followed by a hot-time on Bernice's couch resulting in a furious fight with his sister. Contrary to Willie's brutish behavior, Lyman takes Bernice in his confidence, easily touching her heart with his tenderness and perceptiveness.

Written in 1987, and the fourth play in August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, The Piano Lesson received the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Dense text detonated by a barrage of vaudevillian pranks, as well as physical and psychological threats, stir up a complicated history of enslavement from Africa to Americ; migration from South to North and an enduring desire to understand our past in order to cross over to the future.

EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 2, 2022
Attention must be paid to The Death of A Salesman, Arthur Miller's American tragedy starring Wendell Pierce (the doomed Willy Loman), Sharon D. Clarke (the stalwart wife, Linda Loman), and the sons, McKinley Belcher III (Happy Loman) and Biff Loman (Khris Davis).

On the brink of psychological and spiritual collapse, Loman, an aging and increasingly out-of-touch salesman, rants against the forces that push time ahead of him. Disturbed by his unscalable descent, Linda Loman calls their two sons home to help level the shaky raft.

Problematically, the two sons wrestle with their own ingrained demons. Once a promising football star, Biff finds he must repeat math in summer school to graduate. Intent on discussing his future with his father, Biff walks in on him having an affair. Stunned by the betrayal, Biff drops out of school and never realizes his potential. Then there's Happy, the younger brother. He enjoys a passion for women, drink and fast money.

Once back home, the brothers fall into deeply creased patterns in relation to one another and their parents. Everyone appears to live in dreams built on quicksand. Much as they love their father, the boys can't straighten out their own lives, and like their father, they can't find their way in a rapidly changing world.

Forcefully directed by Miranda Cromwell, the potent cast reveals shifting layers of tolerance. An unadorned set by Anna Fleischle allows the imagination to sift through competing fantasies.

One of the more compelling fantasies materializes in the form of Willy's ghostly older brother Ben, the magnetic Andre de Shields-- blinding in a white suit and shoes. Taunting his brother, de Shields slips and slides across the stage like a fancy flim-flam man goading Willy to be the aggressor, an unleashed animal, and not be oppressed.

A top flight cast muscles Miller's words into a truth bent by an unjust reality. Guaranteed to stay by your side for weeks.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 26, 2022
Ako Dachs really does it all! The founding artistic director of theater company Amaterasu Za is the director, script adaptor, costume designer, and a performer in "Chushingura - 47 Ronin" presented at A.R.T./New York Theater’s Mezzanine Theater. The play, a thick political intrigue about the pursuit of justice in the face of a corrupt government takes place on a bare stage, allowing the actors to conjure up the serene gardens and rooms separated by invisible thresholds with their words and subtle lighting.

By contrast the costumes are lushly textured, traditional ensembles of wrapped fabric that mark each new character’s status even if the actor is familiar, as the ten performers take on many roles. The cast, made up of entirely New York-based Japanese actors is well assembled, each bringing to the stage the intensity of the historical drama.

With a tightly paced script each scene steadily drives the plot towards the promised end which, reflecting the very real history of early 18th century Japan, is apparent from the outset but nevertheless satisfying to watch unfold.

Holding the storytelling together is Dachs as she takes the position of the narrator, a woman named Riku, who speaks in English to the audience between acts. She is the wife of Oishi Kuranosuke: councelor to the Ako Asano clan whose lord was sentenced to death after an altercation with the villainous Lord Kira.

The clan’s samurai plot their revenge, spending years deciding the exact moment and manner to strike to return the Ako Asano name to honorable renown. When the day finally comes, the titular 47 ronin lay siege upon the house of Lord Kira in an exquisite bout of fight choreography by Kyo Kasami.

As the nine ensemble members portray all 47 samurai and their opponents in a flurry of entrances and exits, bringing the audience to the edge of their seats as Oishi’s son is wounded in the battle. But once their revenge is exacted on Lord Kira the honorable samurai must commit sepuku, an honorable ritual suicide, and ascend in Japanese legend.

A large part Amaterasu Za’s mission is bringing Japanese theatrical traditions to wider audiences, English and Japanese-speaking alike, and in that "Chushingura - 47 Ronin" is a wild success. Whether the audience is well versed or entirely new to Japanese theater they’re certainly in for a treat.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

October 19, 2022
When the lights rose on the all female cast of 1776, I confess tears welled in my eyes. The sight of an all-female Congressional Congress felt absolutely common while simultaneously looking wildly uncommon.

Transformed in an instant, women bend over, pull up white socks to form knickers and step into black shoes with buckles. They coalesce into the obstreperous (posse) First Congressional Congress responsible for creating and ultimately passing the flawed but exquisite Declaration of Independence in  1776.

Directed by the ever-inventive Dian Paulus along with director/choreographer Jeffrey L. Page, many of the musical fireworks are poured into the first half.

An immensely talented cast led by the disdainful and obnoxious John Adams (Crystall Lucas Perry),  a superbe Benjamin Franklin ( Patrena Murray) and the fine Thomas Jefferson (Elizabeth Davis), as well as Abigail Adams (Allyson Kaye Daniel) and Jefferson's wife (the outstanding understudy Ariella Serur). All prove valiant actors and roof-shaking vocalists.

Determined to cut loose from the tyranny of Great Britain, this revolutionary act is all the more astonishing given no other colonized countries had broken the shackles of their oppressors.

John Dickinson of Philadelphia (Carolee Carmello) serves as a  thorn in the side of the Congress and who in the end, abstains from signing the Declaration of Independence. Examples of today's intransigent lawmakers echo throughout the musical.

Minimal sets by Scott Pask promote a sense of sparse comforts for the congressmen, incessantly fanning themselves to survive the sweltering heat.

The issue of slavery falls under the bloody bartering that strips the Declaration of some basic human rights--rights that take nearly another 200 years to address. Strains between the North and the South nearly topple the signing of the declaration. Today, echoes of those strains remain.

Swift scenic changes and David Benhall's projections exude time overlapping in seismic developments. In combination with the book by Peter Stone, the songs and music by Sherman Edwards unfurl a complicated history lesson.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

September 25, 2022
Hysteria stars in the energetic musical parody Stranger Sings. For those who are devotees of Stranger Things, the Netflix sci-fi thriller pinned to a cast of teenagers, a mother, sheriff, girl with supernatural abilities and oh yea, a monster -- Stranger Sings nails the "upside down" and "right-side-up" mayhem.

Adhering to the serial's characters and early plot lines, the effervescent cast's talent and ingenuity conspire in sourcing an evening of entertainment all will enjoy, regardless of familiarity with the original.

In fact, without any previous knowledge of the series, my date howled at all the overwrought characters including the mother, Joyce (Caroline Kennedy), the tough/ softie Sheriff Hopper (Shawn W. Smith); forever hunky Steve (Garrett Paladian) intensely committed to his "great" hair and chick magnetism; the overlooked "friend" Barb (a knockout singer, SLee); supernatural Eleven (Harley Sleger) whose nose bleeds after every super act; plus the nerd pals Lucas (Jamir Brown), Dustin (Jeremiah Garcia), and Mike (Jeffrey Laughrun).

Hardly worth explaining the plot, Stranger Sings toys faithfully with the interaction of the characters, zapped into frenzied passions by the tuneful music and songs scored by the talented Jonathan Hogue.

Written by Hogue and turbo charged by director Nick Flatto, the audience surrounds the small square performance space. Whiplash costume changes shock the senses,and punctuate hilarious choreography wrapped in some serious ballet moves by Ashley Marinelli. The horror of it all is embedded in the high-energy score.

A youthful "je ne sais quoi" feeds the tightly scripted parody that does not fail to raise everyone's spirits at Playhouse 46.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

September 1, 2022
How to know? Really, how does one know the difference a single person makes to a production? That question will only be answered should I make it back to see Kinky Boots with Callum Francis instead of his excellent understudy, Nick Drake.

A choreographer, dance captain and dancer of note, Nick Drake grabs center stage in the Kinky Boots revival at Stage 42. Surrounded by an exuberant cast, Lola (Drake) negotiates some truly tricky choreography on Empire State Building high heels over conveyor belts, staircases and multi-level platforms.

Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell effectively prunes Harvey Fierstein's book boosting the drama, spiking Cyndi Lauper's catchy score and amping up the dancing.

Shoemaker and store owner, the senior Mr. Price (Ryan Halsaver) who loves shoes and his workforce, loses market share to competitors producing much cheaper product.

Originally uninterested in extending the family business, Price's son Charlie (Christian Douglas) joins his fiance in London where he meets a drag queen named Lola. In need of dangerous, eye-popping shoes for her act, Charlie has an epiphany --- meet this unmet niche and save his now-deceased father's failing legacy.

This jump starts the fabulous and poignant plot that joins unexpected foes into allies and transforms a business, and its workers into an unlikely family.

A uniformly strong cast, there are a few standouts like Danielle Hope (Lauren) who is sweet on Charlie and can belt a song while balancing a hilarious kookiness over genuine kindness. An original cast member, Marcus Neville (George) holds everyone's heart in his grandfatherly warmth and the burly Sean Steele forms a Greek chorus of suspicion and acceptance.

If you've seen it once, you'll want to see Kinky Boots again.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 23, 2022
When the lights came up on Stephen Sondheim's glorious musical Into The Woods the audience went wild applauding. In the end, the reception was well earned. Several fairytales are braided into one comical and disturbing story executed by a stupendous cast.

Conceived by Sondheim, written by James Lapine, and skillfully directed by Lear DeBessonet, this production transferred from City Center Encores! with just a couple of cast replacements. The result: brilliant. Perched above the stage, the orchestra conducted by Rob Berman, bolsters the soundscape.

Matched to perfection, the cast features James D'arcy, the slightly wishy-washy baker; his spot-on wife, Sara Bareilles, and the wicked Witch with attitude, Patina Miller. Childhood fables form a crossroads between the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and The Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella plus a Mysterious Man (Rumpelstiltskin-type character).

Intent on getting to grandma's house, Little Red Riding Hood (a new comedic talent, Julia Lester) stops at the baker's house for goodies, then heads into the woods trailed by the vicious(ly) funny Wolf and later Prince, Gavin Creel. Scarily street smart, Red not only nearly gets the best of the wolf, she basks in a new red cloak trimmed with his wolf fur.

Rounding out the tableau, Jack (a congenial Cole Thompson) and his power-singing Mother (Aymee Garcia) struggle to force a living from their mangy white cow, expertly manipulated by the puppeteer Kennedy Kanagawa.

Meanwhile, all the kingdom is fussing over the glamorous palace ball. Longing to meet the prince, Cinderella (the golden voiced Phillipa Soo) toils away, beating back her step-sister's and step- mother's (Nancy Opel) taunts.

Further afield, in a tower locked away from the world, Rapunzel (Alysia Velez) sits mooning out the window, winding a laddar-long golden braid to the ground for her lover, Prince (Joshua Henry) and on occasion, for her mother, the Witch!

All these stories are set in motion when, desperate for children, the Baker and his Wife realize a spell cast by the Witch has caused their barrenness. In exchange for a baby, the Witch demands the Baker fetch a number of items including a red cloak, a cow white as milk, a golden slipper and lock of hair yellow as a cornhusk. The odyssey curls them through the forest on a hero's journey that reveals many human foibles, and socio-political inequities.

Sent to market to fetch money for the cow, Jack crosses paths with the Baker who spies his cow -- white as milk. In exchange for 5 "magic" beans, Jack gives up his beloved pet cow. Distraught by his folly, Jack's mother chides him, but after the beans are planted, the stalk grows as does their wealth. Eventually, all the items are collected; the Baker and his wife have a baby and all the characters sail through their designated rites of passage and arrive at their "happy spot"---or so they think.

Part 2 takes a turn towards the dark side. All is not well in the castle or the far-reaching lands. A giant terrorizes the folks, and the fault lines between the wealthy and the poor appear seismic.

Sondheim's riveting score propels the story up to the generally expected fairy tale ending, a place where everyone's wishes come true. But that's when everything falls apart. Happy endings are built on dreams that age and distend. Soon, new worries replace old dreams.

Despite the sober ending, when an act closes with the sublime "Children Will Listen," all is well with the world.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 21, 2022
Not an era known for its gaiety, the 1929 crash destroyed many lives and plunged the country into a soul-crushing depression. Presented by Less Than Rent at 59E59, The Panic of '29 features a sharp group of actors in an intimate play buoyed by jazz music.

Caught in the noose of the financial crash, the smartly dressed, and very wealthy Richard Whitney (Erik Locktefeld) takes a financial dive. His secretary, Dot (Olivia Puckett) escapes the cascading dilemma and arrives at a jazz joint fronted by Eva (Joyelle Nicole Johnson) and featuring nightly vocal entertainment by the accomplished Lady Generosity (Julia Knitel).

Written by Graham Techler, and directed by Max Friedman, the "Roaring Twenties" draw the audience into speakeasies, flappers in boas and fringe (by Corina Chase), gritty suspects, cops and flim-flam artists. Suddenly everyone goes into an upside-down world, where the wealthy tango with the con artists and plain ole' artists.

Spotlighting a strong cast, there's lively music, a winsome band of characters, and wacky, Keystone cops romp. Central to the play's dynamic heart stands Lady Generosity who falls for a writer, the winning Jimmy Armstrong (Will Roland).

Set in a compact space, the company activates all corners of a stage that's capable of inventively shape shifting through flexible sets by Friedman and atmospheric lighting by Jamie Roderick.

The Panic of '29 punches above its weight.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 1, 2022
A committed cast barrels into the Park Avenue Armory with Robert Icke's interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Young and confused, Hamlet (a transformative Alex Lawther) is caught in an existential dilemma when his father dies at the hands of his brother Claudius.

Within two months of that trauma, Hamlet's mother Gertrude (a marvelous Jennifer Ehle) marries Claudius (the stentorian Angus Wright). In a suspended state of indecision, the highly kinetic Hamlet resembles a hummingbird spiriting from one conclusion to another, plotting lethal ruses, and ambiguously tangoing with his love, Ophelia (Kirsty Rider).

Contemporary in look (sets and costumes by Hildegard Bechtler), the language, thankfully, hews to the cadences of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, a rhythm that's said to mimic the heartbeat. Immediately assuming the royal air of a king, Claudius feigns concern for Hamlet and his well being, while simultaneously surveilling his actions.

Constantly tossing himself on and off the sofa, the athletic Hamlet finds a modicum of solace in Ophelia, the lovely and beloved daughter of Horatio. Despite his longing for her embrace, Hamlet senses the oncoming tragedy and cruelly pushes her away suggesting she get herself "to a nunnery," in other words, a protective space. Later in the play, when Ophelia has gone mad, she reappears in a wheelchair. However, as designed, the scene loses some of the ephemeral beauty and melancholy of Ophelia's original haunting song and loosed dance.

Determined to unmask Claudius, Hamlet edits a play to be performed by a traveling theater troupe so it includes a scene where the king is poisoned. After parading to the front row of the audience, the King and Queen are seated while video cameras (designed by Tal Yarden) hone-in on the on-stage actors and royals' reactions. Visibly disturbed, Claudius charges out of the theater confirming Hamlet's suspicions originally seeded by the ghost of his father.

At this point, the jig is up, and deaths abound. Intent on proving Hamlet's loose grasp on reality, the fleshy, pompous Horatio hides behind a curtain in Gertrude's room. When Hamlet agitatedly confronts his mother, he suspects a trespasser and pierces the curtain with his sword killing Horatio.

Returning to avenge his father, Laeretes (Luke Treadaway) plots with Claudius to eliminate Hamlet with a poisoned sword tip. Surprising everyone with his fencing skills, Hamlet kills Laeretes, and witnesses his mother drinking a goblet of poisoned wine intended for him. Struck by Laeretes' poisoned tip, and soon to die himself, Hamlet finally eliminates Claudius.

Running nearly 3 hours and 40 minutes, Icke's streamlines Hamlet through the clarity of the staging as well as the actors' immaculate enunciation and natural inhabitation of the story. In particular, Icke's impetuous Hamlet looks like a young, contemporary man who speaks Elizabethan English as if it were his first language. Gone is the artifice and posturing.

The Park Avenue Armory and Almeida Theatre Production of Hamlet create a perfect introduction to this classic and a revelation for Hamlet aficionados.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipoitis Comments

July 28, 2022
What does it take to be a friend? In The Kite Runner, two inseparable young men live within yards of each other; only one is the master Amir (Amir Arison), the other the servant Hassan (Eric Sirakian). The boys' fathers, also close friends, are raising their sons without a mother. At the dismay of Amir's father, Baba, (Faran Tahir) Amir eschews athletics for writing and poetry.

When the play opens, the boys are twelve years-old and yearn for the day when they can compete in the kite running competition. (Until this show, I never thought of kite flying as a sport.) Without the benefit of kites billowing overhead, Amir's narration illuminates the soaring kites tricked out with glass pieces on the stings making them lethal weapons in kite battles. The handlers nimbly swerve between kite "cutting" competitors.

One tall and lean, the other, short and compact, the two young boys share a love for one another, but are otherwise opposites. Athletic and driven by honor and a mean sling-shot, Hassan protects his much smarter and privileged friend Amir; whereas, the poetic and privileged Amir can barely find a spine to hold up his back.

Bullied by the local thug Assef (Amir Malaklou), Hassan releases his lethal sling shot -- like Daniel before Goliath--but soon after, he suffers irredeemable humiliation. Amir's response to Hassan's trauma is cowardly, insensitive and wholly stomach turning.

Years pass, Amir and his father escape Iran after the Shah's assassination in 1979 which gives way to the Russian invasion in 1981. After passing through Pakistan, they land in San Francisco. The redemption of Amir transpires over a series of revelations and miscalculations. Married to a deeply understanding Iranian American wife Soraya (Azita Ghanizada), Amir retraces his lineage and faces Hassan's spirit and the blessings of his friendship.

Perceptively directed by Giles Croft, Barney George's traditional and contemporary costumes place Amir in a white shirt and black pants while Hassan adopts the traditional tunic over loose pants. They move through George's spare set enlivened by Charles Balfour's atmospheric lighting, William Simpson's evocative projections and the mesmerizingly soulful Mideastern beats played by the onstage table player, Salar Nader.

A profoundly personal story portrayed by an intensely stirring cast, the audience sits transfixed until the end, when everyone erupts in cathartic applause.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 25, 2022
The Final Veil is a history lesson. The movement opera tells the story of Franceska Mann, a Polish ballet dancer whose actions sparked one of Auschwitz’s few uprisings. Chelsea's The Cell is a worthy venue for such a story with high ceilings and a stage which the audience walks across to find their seats before the exit is shrouded by curtains.

Some seemingly unremarkable chairs make up the set, rearranged throughout the performance to evoke everything from Warsaw’s Melody Palace—the venue where Mann performed before the war—to the train that carried her and many other Polish Jews to Auschwitz.

The eight female performers, equally split between opera singers and contemporary ballet dancers, are costumed in simple black dresses, the only exception being Cassandra Rosebeetle in the role of Mann. She begins the show lying naked on the slab as a disembodied male voice reads her autopsy before time rolls back and she reenters in absolutely classic ballet attire: an elegantly wafting tutu.

Leaving Warsaw by train, she wears a brilliant red skirt and delicate blouse which, in the final scene, are doffed with burlesque precision to distract the Nazi guards long enough for Mann to snatch a gun and kill an SS officer. This moment of violence and the massacre that followed are not present on The Cell’s stage. Instead, Mann performs her strip- tease for the audience, ending abruptly as a banner falls from the ceiling detailing the aftermath of the uprising through its first-hand accounts.

JL Marlor’s music is beautifully performed by a live quartet of string musicians. The four vocalists are each a powerhouse in their own right, and together their voices cut to the bone with a libretto made up of the words of Holocaust victims and survivors. A standout is the searing soprano Abagael Cheng, whose expressive face as she sang in the interior voice of Mann brought depth to Rosebeetle’s doll-like portrayal.

The choreography by Rosebeetle and Katherine Crockett is compelling, particularly when dancers spin tightly with hands angled upward, syncing with the vocalist’s operatic vibrato. But the most effective moment is the dancer’s alone, a tight line of three rocking with the motion of a train and a cool spotlight pooling on Rosebeetle’s face as she arches back, forming a tableau so memorable it graces the front of the program.

The Final Veil is a somber affair, but its attention to how history is remembered is careful and transfixing.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

June 26, 2022
Unlike in the Bible at HERE Arts Center Lot’s wife has a name: Edith. Played by Cynthia Bastidas, she is centered in Don’t Look Back, Adam Kraar’s modern retelling of the biblical story. The play begins with Edith, Lot, and their two daughters—Annie and Molly—fleeing the impending destruction of Sodom.

The ceiling of the HERE’s black box is a square of tightly stretched fabric. Across it stars are projected, along with churning clouds, and mysterious divine lights that drift above the plain the family is forbidden to look back upon. The costumes by Peri Grabin Leong are excellent, delivering that vaguely modern timeless style that always seems at home in a black box.

Lina Silver, who plays Molly, is a compelling actor, playing below her age effectively to round out the archetypal family: Lot the pious father, Edith the doubting mother, Annie the rebellious teen, and Molly the innocent child.

The sisters’ scene together elucidates the dynamic relationship the actors have brought to the roles and shines in the script as one of the places where comedy and drama meld seamlessly. Elsewhere, the style flips back and forth, sometimes bawdy, course, and funny, others dark and sometimes disturbing.

When Annie recounts a vision of the destruction of Sodom including “children without faces, only clicking teeth” the play is deliciously chilling, like a horror movie. But when Lot, played by Jeff Rubino, forces his family to their knees and commands them to pray in a booming voice and strikes Edith across the face when she refuses to comply, the grimness of domestic violence strikes an entirely different note.

When the play reaches its peak the sky and stage turn red as the family struggles across the stage through the storm that is obliterating Sodom. Edith monologues: her rough timbre is rightly full of pain and anger at the total destruction of the only city she has ever known. The city where she raised her children and found moments of joy and pleasure. She turns to take one last look at her city, and chooses to be judged along with its inhabitants.

Years later, when Annie and Molly visit their mother—now a frozen pillar of salt, wrapped in pale knit fabrics—they tell her about their lives and, in a private moment, Annie asks for advice: should she elope with her lover? Edith shockingly breaks her stillness and nods gently. Such gentle moments shine bright throughout the evening, resulting in a play that seems at once classic and fresh.

June 25, 2022
A metal grey cyclopean robot commands center stage in The Orchard, Igor Golyak's adaptation of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Immersed in filtered white light (by Yuki Link) and a scattering of snow, the characters file in looking quite vulnerable next to the machine. 

Reunited to determine the future fate of their country estate and glorious cherry orchard, the financially weary aristocratic Russian family, headed by Ranevskaya (Jessic Hect), attempt to cope with  this time of impending loss. Raised on the estate and the grandson of a serf, Lopakhin (Nael Nacer) is the only one realistically assessing impending options and consequences. In one generation he's gone from peasant to businessman, so he understands how quickly an aristocrat's fortune can change.

Surrounded by a family loosely connected to reality, Ranevskaya's mind wanders from the drowning of her seven year-old son in the nearby river, to unspoken passions, and daydreams of a place that is no more. 

Old and young roam the grounds consumed by worries, and fantasies, unrequited love and anxiety. Caught in their own spheres of deception, the family is forced to face reality when served with foreclosure papers. Lopakhin begs them to save their inheritance by breaking up the estate into consumable plots. Unable to visualize such a future, they give up and Lopakhin purchases the estate at auction with plans to build summer  cabins for the newly rising middle class.

A strong ensemble cast features Ranevskaya's wayward brother Leonid (Mark Nelson), the daughters Anya (Julie Brett) and Varya (Elise Kibler), the idealistic Pyotir Trofimov (John McGinty) and Anya's  governess, Charlotta (Darya Denisova) -- who delights all with her magic tricks and innocent clowning. 

Compressed into a two hour production, the central robot morphs into -- among other things--a  telescope and projector. Images float through the dark, hallucinatory space designed by Anna Fedorova with lights by Yuki Nakase Link. Although I didn't experience it, audiences can view the play on-line and engage with some extra backstage perks.

The dystopian environment eliminates The Cherry Orchard's usual realistic set  fringed with cherry blossoms, a ramshackled wooden estate and the omnipresent samovar. Golyak's production incorporates disorienting elements, from the technological intrusions to the several languages (including ASL) spoken for brief spells with no translation.

Intellectually, it's possible to relate these unfathomable disruptions to czarist Russia's reaction to the 1917 Revolution, and the rise of Lenin followed by the age of Stalin. Or maybe it points to today's horrifying dissociative Russian war on Ukraine. 

Either way, those production elements aren't as potent as Baryhshnikov's stooped body, bent low after years of carrying luggage and tending to the grounds or Hecht's breathy, nearly non corporeal existence. It's the people of The Orchard who touch you and who haunt you.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 18, 2022
Darkness falls off the black walls surrounding Macbeth, in a tale of all-consuming desire for power at the Longacre Theatre. Before Macbeth unfolds, Michael Patrick Thornton congenially addresses the audience while nonchalantly wheeling around in his wheelchair.

He sets the scene and informs us Shakespeare wrote Macbeth (as well as King Lear) in 1606 while brooding during a pandemic lock-down. Director Joh Gold burrows into Shakespeare’s thick, heavy rich soil where slugs feast on living plants but where vegetables fruit despite attacks on their roots.

In this pared-down production, actors are predominantly robed in black by Suttirat Larlarb in a spare, black space designed by Christine Jones. Off to the side, a clique of witches hunch over a mysterious brew they're cooking while listening to a podcast.

When approached by the victorious, war-weary Macbeth (Daniel Craig) and his pal Banquo (Amber Gray--traditionally the role is played by a male) the witches forecast a complicated future, one that places the crown on Macbeth but none of his heirs. Later, these same bearers of mystical tidings reveal Macbeth cannot die by someone who is "...of woman born."

Invested in the thrill of her husband's reign over the land, Lady Macbeth (the intoxicating Ruth Negga) plots with Macbeth to assassinate their house guest, King Duncan (Paul Lazar, a downtown thespian darling). Frequently speaking directly to the audience, Lazar's quirky persona engraves the King with an insouciance unusual for royalty.

Physically fit and menacing, Craig harnesses his strongman chops to portray the wrath of Macbeth. Negga, on the other hand, synthesizes sheer ambition to unquenchable guilt in a performance that digs into Shakespeare's rich soil for sustenance and redemption.

What sets Negga apart is her effortless kinship to the language. She morphs from the steely, murderous accomplice to a woman gnawed by remorse and afflicted by apparitions. Simply put, she doesn't convert Lady Macbeth into a monster, instead, she fully portrays an iron-willed woman whose moral compass disintegrates.

While there is no denying Craig’s theatrical presence and appetite for power, the expression of the internal conflict that poisons his reason treads lightly on the tragedy's topsoil.

A fan of the complete James Bond franchise and a Shakespearean neophyte, my date was thoroughly engaged by the fresh, relatable style employed by Gold. Satisfyingly, all the fine cast members enunciate Shakespeare clearly without losing the original poetry and timbre.

At that same performance, the second balcony was jammed with what appeared to be junior high and high school students. Throughout the entire performance the audience was utterly silent. Now that’s a sign.

Purists might buck at "sacred" passages nonchalantly tossed into the stage fog, but if this production convinces viewers that Shakespeare embodies drama for our times — I count that as a win for classic theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 18, 2022
"Yes Sir, Yes Sir" The Music Man is back on Broadway high- stepping to Meredith Wilson's irrepressible musical. Full of vim and bluster, Professor Hill transforms the citizens of River City, Iowa from skeptics to optimists on an innocently sunny day in 1912.

Set in its ways, River City residents suspect all strangers, yet Professor Hill, the unscrupulous salesman, charms his way through town, sweeping the librarian off her feet and transforming a young boys life.

This heartwarming tale rides on the talents of musical theater royalty, Hugh Jackman (Professor Hill) and Sutton Foster (Marian the librarian). Enjoying the audience's loving embrace, Jackman slides into River City mesmerizing everyone from the politicians and town elders to the young people and the straight-laced librarian.

As important as any character, the music, songs and dance numbers carpet the show with joyous melodies and movement sequences. By amassing an outstanding group of dancers, choreographer Warren Carlyle elicits extra dance mileage out of the whole cast.

All the beloved musical gems chime in from the clickety-clack of the train barreling into Sioux City to young folks erupting in dances dislodging the library's quiet and ending with the ecstatic tribe of school kids strutting to the joyous "Seventy-Six Trombones." Working in tandem with noted Broadway director Jerry Zachs, Carlyle's choreography enlivens the production. Each musical number suggests a different dance genre demanding a high level of technical expertise. Multiple spins erupt into leaps landing in perfect balletic fifth positions or polyrhythmic tap sequences tumble into athletic flips with added twists and kicks.

More than the original choreographer, Oona White, Carlye manufactures an environment of constant motion. In the library scene, dancers are moving on no fewer than four discrete levels--the desks, balcony, book shelves and check-out counters. Heart-stopping leaps rip from the rafters propelling dancers into the arms of a partner for a few swings around the room, ending in tidy foot shuffles.

This is probably a good time to mention David Chase's sizable contribution with the vocal and dance arrangements and Patrick Vaccariello, the conductor of a fine pit band.

A solid cast includes high caliber actors like Jefferson Mays as Mayor Shin and his wife, Eulalie Shinn (Jayne Houdyshell. Marian's Irish mother (Marie Mullen) deploys wicked winks while the woefully shy, heart-stopping Winthrop (Benjamin Pajak) blossoms under the spell of Mr. Hill.

The Music Man at the Winter Garden Theatre delivers some much needed musical theater therapy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 14, 2022
This year's Drama Desk Awards were produced by Scott Mauro/Scott Mauro Entertainment and the show is being written by six-time Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch.
Drama Desk honors Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. Here are just a few of the winners. To see the complete list go to
Outstanding Play
**Prayer for the French Republic, by Joshua Harmon, Manhattan Theatre Club
Outstanding Musical
**Kimberly Akimbo, Atlantic Theater Company
Outstanding Revival of a Play
**How I Learned to Drive, Manhattan Theatre Club
Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Outstanding Actor in a Play
**Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues, Manhattan Theatre Club
Outstanding Actress in a Play
**Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew, Manhattan Theatre Club
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
**Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop
Outstanding Actress in a Musical
**Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
**Ron Cephas Jones, Clyde’s, Second Stage Theater
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
**Francis Benhamou, Prayer for the French Republic, Manhattan Theatre Club
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
**Matt Doyle, Company
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
**Patti LuPone, Company
Outstanding Director of a Play
**Rebecca Frecknall, Sanctuary City, New York Theatre Workshop
Outstanding Director of a Musical
**Marianne Elliott, Company
Outstanding Choreography
**Bill T. Jones, Garrett Coleman, and Jason Oremus (Irish + Hammerstep), Gelan Lambert and Chloe Davis (associates), Paradise Square Outstanding Solo Performance
**Kristina Wong, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, New York Theatre Workshop
Unique Theatrical Experience
**Seven Deadly Sins, Tectonic Theater Project & Madison Wells Live
Harold S. Prince Lifetime Achievement Award
In four decades as playwright, novelist, actor, and director, Alice Childress (1912-1994) challenged racism with engrossing stories and memorable characters. When a New York producer demanded revisions to soften the impact of Trouble in Mind, after an initial run Off Broadway and prior to its Broadway debut, Childress withdrew the script. Sixty-five years later, the Drama Desk celebrates the long-delayed Broadway premiere of this timeless masterpiece and salutes Childress as a towering figure in contemporary theater history. Ensemble Award
In Six, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack, Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, and Anna Uzele bring to musical life the women who married England’s King Henry VIII. The fanciful result is a buoyant dramatization of their individually purposeful and collectively empowering journeys.
The Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award This season, as a woman hiding her brother from the Taliban in Sylvia Khoury’s Selling Kabul and an English instructor straddling two very different cultures in Sanaz Toossi’s English, Marjan Neshat embodied disparate characters so fully that it was hard to recognize the single actor in the two roles. Whether in drama or comedy, Neshat mines the playwright’s text for a vast panoply of emotions that yield vivid, intricate portrayals of the parts she undertakes.

May 5, 2022
An iconic musical force, Michael Jackson sailed through the pop charts, revolutionized music videos and discovered a magical universe in which he moved and sang like no one else. In the new Broadway musical, MJ, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon along with  Rich + Tone Taulauega (responsible for Michael Jackson's choreography) captured Jackson's manic rehearsal process prior to the Danger Concert.

Deftly synced flash backs filled in the outlines of Jackson's volatile family life  and rise to fame. Versatile actors seamlessly slipped into family characters and back to the rehearsal room. A standout ensemble is buoyed by the multi-talented manager/father Joe Jackson (Quentin Earl Darrington); mother, Katherine Jackson (Ayana George); and Little Michael (Walter Russell III).   Coming from a ballet and contemporary dance background, Wheeldon knows how to design spatially rich, kinetically compelling movement sequences that jauntily mesh ballet and modern dance, with street and commercial dance. 

And rather than rely on unison dancing and gymnastic tricks (like too many musicals), Wheeldon broke apart the space in irregular chunks of movement and counterpoint that teased the eyes.  In the role of Michael Jackson -- the adult manifestatio -- Myles Frost, shared Jackson's high-pitched sweet voice, laced with conviction and sharply honed body isolations. Although no one can fully replicate Jackson's genius and charisma, all the actors assuming the role of MJ as he grows up, excelled. 

For Jackson fans, the soundtrack produced non-stop grins particularly the way the band, lead by Jason Michael Webb punched out the never-ending hits. 

When the set (Derek McLane) converted to the phantasmagoric "Thriller" scene, the visuals went wild, however the dance got buried in the layers. The choreographic choices in this section steered relatively clear of the memorable choreography singed in the memory of many a fan.

Deftly directed, MJ is one of the best examples of seamlessly shifting the narration from past to present wrapped in body tingling dance and music.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 30, 2022
Fierce and fanciful, the women of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf intentionally animate their innermost feelings through verse and movement.

Directed and choreographed by an impressive talent, Camille A. Brown, this Broadway revival of the choreopoem by Ntzoke Shange (published in 1975 and produced in 1976), holds its original freshness. In the 1970's poets frequently coupled words with music, and movement strengthening the overall visceral impact. Brown heartily honors Shange's vision.

An all female cast explodes in individual stories that delve into --among other things -- love, fantasy, abortion, violence, friendship, male patriarchy and female invincibility.

The day I attended, several understudies appeared, but as a whole, these alternate members sustained the cast's blazingly wholehearted investment.

Expert at excavating emotions through movement, Brown invests the performances with playful street games next to traditional African dance movements, modern and vernacular dance forms. Highly rhythmic and gestural, each performer adds a dose of their own, improvisational movement personality to the mix.

Structurally, individual actors feed in and out of the spotlight and then join in a sisterly chorus of refrains. When a cast member grabs center-stage, they relay--through patterned motions, and song-- a life-story, one that evokes exterior actions and soul-stirring reactions.

By deploying dynamic patterning, Brown keeps the edges of the stage as dynamic as the center, harnessing a force that softens and hardens with each episode.

Ms. Shange gave her women permission to be themselves, fully and unapologetically. Life actions are not weighed in terms of "good" or "bad", but rather "essential" and "non-essential."

For those scouring each imperfect day for a glimmer of hope during these troublesome times, run to the Booth Theatre for a jolt of inspiration.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 28, 2022
Step inside a small town City Council meeting haunted by historically fractured ghosts and you get Tracy Letts' The Minutes, a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production at Studio 54.

Busily preparing meeting packets for council members, the efficient Ms. Johnson (Jesse Mueller), a no-nonsense woman, keeps meeting secrets zipped up.

Back from a family funeral, Mr. Peel (Noah Reid) a new member of the community, wonders why a fellow-councilman, Mr. Crap (Ian Barford) departed the City Council. Everyone, including the fatherly Mayor Superba (Tracy Letts), avoids answering. Something is rotten in Middle America.

A line-up of A-list actors fill the cushy seats set inside scenic designer David Zinn's town hall complete with coffee maker, American flag, and school pennants. An elderly luddite who has seen plenty and forgets quickly, Mr. Oldfield (Austin Pendleton) is a one-man demonstration of essential acting. There's not a wasted moment or superfluous move. Next to him on stage and in stature, Blair Brown (Ms. Innes) remains professional, formal and operates by the book.

Unwilling to clarify the reason for Crap's disappearance, the meeting is called to order without reading the minutes from the last session. Why the mystery? Well, there's much to unpack in a town called Big Cherry represented by "The Savages" -- their local football team. After some horse-trading over bills, the main event sneers into action. If one believes it takes a village to raise a child, can that grown child challenge its village's values?

Letts targets large issues that haunt the backdrop of every main street in America. Neither logic nor compassion convene to overturn insidious traditions built on prefabricated, evasive truths. Despite an attempt by Mr. Crapp and Mr. Peel to illuminate past indiscretions, communal intransigence ruthlessly dominates.

In the latter half of the 90-minute play, members of the council enact a sort of cartoonish, school-play version of their town's historically flawed roots. Off-putting in its wrong-minded hysteria, the audience is torn between laughter and despair.

Under the skillful direction of Anna D. Shapiro, the bracing ensemble works with the precision of the Rockettes in a drama guaranteed to keep you thinking long after the curtain descends.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 16, 2022
Richard Greenberg's play, Take Me Out centers on the "coming-out" of a beloved Major League center fielder, Darren Lemming's (Jesse Williams). No drama, no explanations--he simply issues a statement -- of course, this comes after signing one of the League's most lucrative contracts.

Almost 20 years ago, Greenberg's Pulitzer-nominated play raised eyebrows. Nowadays, when a sportsperson reveals they are gay, the news might be surprising, but it's not shocking. In 2003, "coming out" could be scandalous and ruinous. That said, it's hard to believe that even to this day, no Major League baseball athlete has admitted to being gay.

Fall-out from Lemming's announcement rocks the team and rabid baseball fans. A popular player, he keeps to himself with the exception of his friend the cerebral Kippy Sunderstrom (a very fine Patrick J. Adams) and another pal, Davey (Brandon J. Dirden). Soon after his revelation, Lemming hires Mason Marzac (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) to handle his money.

Adept at navigating live audiences, Ferguson's comedic timing packs multiple home-runs. Openly gay, Mason becomes an unintended baseball fan and unexpected friend to the "too cool" and deeply remote Lemming.

Another thread tugged by Greenberg contemplates baseball's mystifying claim on the American psyche. While some consider baseball boring and deadly slow, others claim it is poetically meditative and spiritually up-lifting.

Sexual politics and baseball's philosophical allure intertwine in a complex tale of identity and recognition. When a power pitcher from the South joins the ranks, the team hits a blaze of winners. In an interview, the lanky, and woefully undereducated Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer) is asked about his relationship to the team. In response, Mungitt releases a string of epithets denigrating just about every single person on the team.

The cascade of slurs sounds like a baby vocalizing a long thread of words once heard. This episode pierces the team and finally forces Darren to come to terms with his life.

Nimbly directed by Scott Ellis, the action pops while tossing the sinewy narration from Kippy to Darren; Mason to the nearly illiterate Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer). Primarily set in the men's baseball locker room and shower stall, Take Me Out is awash in white bath towels and "stop and gaze at the audience" frontal nudity.

Led by the charismatic Williams, the finely-tuned ensemble cast includes the convincing Adams and hilarious Ferguson. For those who are fans of these three actors from their popular TV shows "Grey's Anatomy," "Suits" and "Modern Family"----you will not be disappointed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 16, 2022
One family ages, expands and contracts over the space of 10 decades in Noah Haidle's congenial Birthday Candles at the American Airlines Theater.

Starring Debra Messing (Ernestine), the audience journeys through an unremarkable life that mirrors so many other families struggling to find love, fulfillment and happiness.

Planted next to her mother in the kitchen (designed by Christine Jones), the 17 year-old Ernestine is learning to bake the traditional birthday cake. Adored by her mother, Ernestine wants to do no less than astonish the world. Young and full of promise, her innocence is shattered by her mother's untimely death.

Scenes float ahead from decade to decade, designated by a slight light fade. Many of the episodes revolve around baking a birthday cake: on one occasion it's for Ernestine's daughter, another time it's for a grandchild and much later,  for herself.

A rotating cast assumes the roles of relations morphing through the years. Lighthearted and thoughtful, the sometimes sentimental conversations touch on how people relate to one another through personal ritual--whether it's painting nails, baking a cake, measuring one's height in the door jamb or playing pin-the-tail on the donkey.

In one of the funnier gags, Ernestine's neighbor,  Enrico Colantoni (Kenneth) pursues her from the high school prom until their twilight years. A couple of people around me nearly choked laughing when a very old Kenneth contemplates kneeling on the kitchen floor in front of Ernestine.

Gentle and playful, the racially mixed cast in Birthday Candles extends a warm hug to the audience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 12, 2022
At a time when money could be made by showcasing peculiarities in traveling shows like "The Greatest Show On Earth"Americans demonstrated an appetite for gazing at "exotic" beings. Native Americans, transgender people and peculiar animals held the public's imagination at circuses, and traveling shows.

Capitalizing on this tendency, American importers leased a 14 year-old girl for two years and bring her to America. Displayed for maximum observation, a Afong Moy (the impressive Shannon Tyo) sits inside an observation room depicting her life in China. The time is 1834.

Self-possessed and demure, Afong Moy sits inside what resembles a diarahama of a room in a Chinese house. Penned in like an exotic animal, the presumably first Chinese lady to arrive on our shores depicts "a day in the life of Afong Moy".

Off to the side of the frame, her untrustworthy translator/narrator Atung (a wry, dry witted Daniel K. Isaac) explains what and why she does what she does when brewing tea, walking on bound feet (an endless source of fascination) and eating with what look like knitting needles -- chopsticks.

Time wears on and Afong Moy's license continues, but so does her subservient position. Becoming acclimated to American society, Afong Moy wonders at America's own oddities, like women's corsets, slavery and the financial system. Atung remains by her side explaining America to Afong and China to Americans. Their rapport is disarming, and offer one of the season's most irresistible on stage relationships.

Immaculately directed by Ralph B. Pena for the very fine Mai-Yi Theater Company at the Public Theater, the sets and costumes by  Junghyun Georgia Lee assert the fantasy setting built inside a country grappling with very real cultural bias and xenophobia. 

The Chinese Lady adds layer upon layer of complexity surrounding identity, decency and the profound human need guiding people in search of a home. Worth every bit of your 75 minutes in the theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 28, 2022
Frustrated dreams plague the Melody inn and pub. After losing his castle and dreams in Ireland, the only thing Cornelius Melody (Robert Cuccioli) retains is his outsized pride in Eugene O'Neil's A Touch of the Poet.

On the edge of bankruptcy, Cornelius expects his wife Nora (the marvelous Kate Forbes) and her daughter Sara (Belle Aykroyd) to work the place, and haggle for credit while he preens.

Self-effacing, kind and generous towards all, Nora can never forget she got pregnant after falling in love with her husband while working on his family's grounds. The pregnancy forced them to abscond for America.

On the other hand, her daughter Sara faces forward towards the future, a place of open opportunity not paralyzed by class distinctions.

When a young man of means falls ill and lands at the inn, Sara willingly nurses him. Not surprisingly, she falls in love with the fella.

This sets-up the powder-keg plot pitting the frequently drunk Cornelius against the young man's uppity, sanctimonious family. Their encounters cruelly remind Cornelius of his leavened place in society.

Directed by Ciaran O'Reilly, the admirable ensemble confronts a couple of creaky transitions, but for the most part, they perform in sync.

Set in a town a few miles from Boston in 1828, A Touch of the Poet, runs two hours and forty minutes with one intermission at the always welcoming Irish Repertory Theatre.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 26, 2022
Does changing your skin change you and your life circumstances? George S. Schuyler's 1931 Afrofutrist novel poses this riddle in his novel. Transformed into a musical, Black No More features book by John Ridley, lyrics by Tariq Trotter and music by Trotter, Anthony Tidd, James Poyser, Daryl Waters--all associated with the legendary Philly band "The Roots."

Jazzed-up by a hard driving band positioned off-stage, Black No More bisects Harlem and Georgia, the Ku Klux Klan and the Savoy.

In the sizzling days of the 1930's, the Harlem Renaissance exploded, galvanizing music and dance, art and literature with glamour and pleasure. Whites and blacks tangled on dance floors and clubs, but any semblance of "equality" evaporated once the public exited the entertainment centers.

Opportunity for Blacks was limited, but for whites, it seemed unlimited. And despite surging "Black pride" and the advancement of Black art and culture, most doors were closed to non-whites. Ironically, a scientist, Dr. Junius Crookman (generally played by Tariq Trotter but replaced by the talented Akron Watson) invents a machine that can turn melanated people white.

Natty and ambitious, Max Disher (the superb Brandon Victor Dixon) meets a beautiful white woman Helen Givens (Jennifer Damiano) in a Harlem club, and everything changes. He wants her, but to get her, or anything else he truly desires, Max must be white.

Part of a tight knit circle of Harlem artists and professionals, Max's best friend Bunnie (the power singer Tamika Lawrence) as well as the capaciously voiced Madame Sisseretta (Lillian White) - her role is based on the Black hair product entrepreneur C. J. Walker and perhaps the amazing Black opera minstrel star Sissieretta Jones -- want Harlem to remain a bastion of Black ingenuity and creativity.

Seduced by the prospect of "passing" Max takes the treatment and poof! He's white. Then of all things, he heads down to plantation land in search of the white woman who stole his heart and gets swooped into the role of head wizard. Along with the right to make millions spouting bigotry and racism, Max (aka head wizard) gets the woman he loves as his wife. Weirdly, she doesn't want to be married to a racist.

Meanwhile, Max's tight knit circle of artists and professionals watch as Harlem loses its people, its businesses, its essence. And so the story loops through lies and the abandonment of Harlem, the power of friends, truth and love.

Besides the off- the charts singing, and fine acting, Bill T. Jones' choreography invisibly punches up the dramatic action with kinesthetic punctuation marks. A renowned modern dance choreographer, Jones has a particular gift for coupling movement and gesture to the spoken word. An undeniable rhythm joins the actors to the text's sentiment. Much of the choreography emerges from pedestrian moves amped up in rhythmic palettes that energize Scott Elliott's direction.

Coming in at nearly 2:30 Black No More could use some snipping. Considering Eugene O'Neil's Long Day's Journey Into Night was successfully edited from 4 hours to under 2, then Black No More can surely fire-up its impressively muscular, musical core by slimming down.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 26, 2022
"Getting high" generally means dropping "acid" and experiencing epic sensations and colors. Well, I'm happy to say that no drugs are necessary for a mind-bending, eye-opening experience that leaves you giddy with hope for the future of the arts in America. Assembly, the brainchild of Rashaad Newsome, is an astonishing production.

After stepping into the darkened cavernous Drill Hall at the glorious Park Avenue Armory, the sensory immersion begins. Projections of voguers strutting and squatting, smiling and smirking and passing on exhilarating messages of desire and strength ripple around the panoramic environment. These images of Black and Black Queer culture animate the the walls.

Overseeing the activities, Being, the Artificial Intelligence creation, appears as a self-assured, robot of long, agile proportions topped by a head referencing a Pho mask from the Chokwe Congolese. Being's face echoes the African art and masks that appeared in an exhibition in Paris around 1907 profoundly influencing the output of European abstract visual artists.

Behind the front installation, theater seating scales upward overlooking two platforms on either side of the dance area. One side holds the musicians playing classical, jazz and folk instruments and on the other side, stands the rousing gospel choir.

When the dancers come barreling out, the performers generates an insurmountable amount of electricity. Each dancer speaks their own kinetic truth. They exude individual points- of-view; personal perspectives embedded in entertaining movement that inverts forms and then blows them up.

Expertly choreographed by Kameron N. Saunders, Ousmane Omari Wiles and Maleek Washington, voguing struts through ballet's elegance, modern dance's openness and street dance's pride. I'm only surprised audience members didn't jump out of their seats to join the dancers on-stage. Perhaps on other nights they did?

Throughout the event, Being serves as an ancient storyteller, a griot who holds the past and opens up the present in a nonjudgemental, thoughtful space.

Generally, multi-media exhibitions falter because one form overwhelms another; the music floods the visuals; the visuals belittle the movement and so on. Assembly is one of the very few, to successfully, and seamlessly assemble visual elements, text, AI, music, and movement into one, cosmic production.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 16, 2022
A new order of artists create cross-boundaries, merging visual arts, movement, sound, tribal and performative practices. Known for its adventurous programming, the Park Avenue Armory will tap into the multi-lingual, interdisciplinary practice expressed by Rashaad Newsome from February 16 through March 6 in what could well be an unforgettable mind-bending experience.

Assembly -- deemed a multi-experiential work by Rashaad Newsome -- morphs the Wade Thompson Drill Hall into a landscaped "collage of sculptures and projected images of Black and Black Queer culture, fasion, West African sculptures, textiles and masks with 19th century ebony Dutch style frame."

Being appears in the next room functioning as a digital griot (storyteller) who intersects with the audience by generating poetry and guiding everyone in reflective practices, movement and dialogue.  For those who crave an even deeper immersion into this work, Being will lead daily, participatory workshops opening minds to decolonization through historical information, critical thinking, dance, storytelling, and mindfulness meditation. 

Throughout the season, audiences will come in contact with the Being's recitation of poetry based on queer poet Dazie Rustin Grego-Sykes bacekd by a soundscape composed by Robert Aki Aubrey Lowe. Excitingly, In the evening, performances feature an international collective of dancers, singers, musicians, and MCs that celebrate the many facets of vogue culture in our world. 

Newsome says of his commission: “Assembly will offer audiences a new way of thinking about rights, liberty, and humanity, using the so rarely explored paradox of the Black experience and the advancement of technology as a jumping-off point."
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 10, 2022
Should you suffer from hyper-tension, you might consider doubling up your meds before heading to Eugene O'Neil's devastating "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

Bound by love, and cradled in despair, O'Neill's 1916 tragedy exposes lost souls savaged by the past. Spartanly directed by Robert O'Hara, the tension-filled two hour Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Minetta Lane Theatre features a taut ensemble cast. The play unfolds in the space of one, disastrous day of truth.

Liquor, drugs and doubt fuel a family's origin myth -- the one repeated again and again until it overwhelms reality. Blind to Socrates' instruction "the unexamined life is not worth living," personal devils devour this family.

Located in a contemporary Connecticut house situated on a foggy coast, Amazon delivery boxes are strewn across a beat up floor and furniture, along with take-out cofe cups and never-ending crates of Scotch.

Spirits are high because Mary has emerged from her room hopefully rehabilitated. Her husband, Tyrone (Bill Camp) is visibly tickled to see her practicing yoga. As the morning fades, the two sons Edmund (Ato Blankson-Wood) and James Jr. (Jason Bowen) emerge skeptically optimistic their mother will persevere and pick life, perhaps her family--over drugs.

Hooked on heroin (in the original play it was morphine) after suffering the debilitating delivery of her son Edmund, Mary (Elizabeth Marvel) is incapable of managing her addiction. With nerves blistering on the surface of her skin, Mary struggles to process her trauma, terminal pain and a family incapable of embracing adulthood. Solitude offers escape from nightmares of her young son's death, and her pivotal decision to leave a convent's safety for marriage.

Throughout the day, dissatisfaction with career choices fester, erupting in repeated accusations: Tyrone dumps classical theater for popular pablum; Jamie never realizes his thespian ambitions and physical frailties limit Edmund's options.

Liquor fuels hours of urgently repeated hurts, the kind that if allowed, can haunt your every breath. Blessed with a voice trained to the level of an opera singer, Marvel's emotional vocal range shifts from a whisper to a frighteningly full blown yawp. These pyrotechnical vocal extremes mirror her psychic breakdown.

Despite the rampant toxicity suffocating the family, love does exist, only no one is capable of fully expressing it. Tyrone radiates feigned concern for all, but fails to truly support them (or even pay for essential medical care) when it counts. Only Edmund and Jamie convincingly portray affection for one another.

Produced by Audible, this expertly edited production pressurizes the plays's original four-hours into two hours of epic angst and human pathos.

My only wish: Allow audience members to join the cast in sharing bottle upon bottle of Scotch.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 27, 2022
After losing his father in the war and his mother to a mental institution, 12-year-old Christopher (Wyatt Cirbus) relocates to the coast of Maine where his curmudgeonly Aunt Lily (Samantha Mathis) manages a lighthouse haunted by a stylish couple from the 1920's. Accustomed to an isolated existence, Lily's only companion is a kind Japanese man (James Yaegashi) who arrived on American shores four years earlier and who elicits suspicion from the raucous sheriff (Jeb Brown). 

A promising set-up, Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow's new chamber musical Whisper House is boosted by Sheik's evocative music performed by 6 dynamic musicians positioned along the balcony.  Despite the score's expansive orchestrations (I would happily attend a concert featuring the instrumental score) Sheik and Jarrow's lyrics drone-on about death and disillusionment, ultimately weighing down the audience.

Although the presence of ghosts promised an eerie and creative dimension, they paled in comparison to the little known buzzing of the American coast by German U-boats in 1942 and the connection between Lily and Yasuhiro.

Directed by Steve Cosson, the crooning ghosts and Christopher do not plump up beyond a one dimensional existence while Lily and Yasuhiro languish inside a story not told. Additionally the choreography by the talented Billy Bustamante clutters the space without enhancing the characters. Despite its structural weaknesses, Cosson maintains a pleasant pace. 

Produced by the highly regarded Civilians at 59E59 theater, Whisper House runs nearly 90 minutes. 
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 20, 2022
Rather than age normally, Kimberly (Victoria Clark) ages in dog years meaning she's a junior high school student who looks like an old lady. Despite this genetic abnormality, Kimberly grows up like any child, wishing for friends and avoiding family tensions in David Lindsay-Abaire's fabulous new musical Kimberly Akimbo.

We meet Kimberly at the local ice skating rink waiting for her delinquent father Buddy (Steven Boyer). Alcohol and stress rule her father's actions making him an unreliable member of the family. Compared to her father and her pregnant, child-like mother, Kimberly projects the wisdom of her aged physical appearance.

A loner, Kimberly connects with an equally alone and smart young man Seth (Justin Cooley) who works at the ice rink and needs a science lab partner. Determined to get a good grade Kimberly and Seth meet at the library. Suddenly the calm is disrupted by the whirlwind arrival of Pattie (Alli Mauzey), Kimberly's ne'er do well aunt who has an affinity for larceny.

Utterly hilarious and outlandishly appealing, the full-bodied Pattie's charisma showers the audience. Determined to make her fortune through any illegal means available, she rallies Kimberly as well as her schoolmates into becoming partners-in-crime.

Of course, Kimberly wants nothing to do with her out-of-control aunt, but her "make money fast" scheme is vastly appealing. In no time, Pattie and her-underaged gang become outlaws in a money laundering game plan.

With little fuss, the minimal sets by David Zinn along with Lap Chi Che's keen lighting design transform the Atlantic Theater into multiple indoor and outdoor locations.

But the essence of Kimberly Akimbo resides in Lindsay-Abaire's book and lyrics as well as its musical score by the startlingly talented Maria Tesori. She plunges richly hewn pop and soul beats into lush classical orchestrations.

Additionally, a thunderous, driving band is so exciting it makes you wish they would play a set during intermission.

Despite COVID concerns, the Atlantic Theater was packed with masked folks applauding a much-needed original musical buoyed by redemption and hope.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --Celia Ipiotis

January 18, 2022
"Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars....." rang in my ears while watching the visually stunning Lincoln Center Theater production Flying Over Sunset. An ensemble of seasoned actors escort the audience on a trip past the torturous McCarthy-era days and into the mind-bending experiments spurred by psychedelic drugs.

Directed and written by the venerable James Lapine, the chamber musical is set to music by Tom Kitt with lyrics by Michael Korie and choreography by Michelle Dorrance. In a surprisingly inventive twist, Dorrance's choreography seamlessly permeates the production. At certain points, actors walk on an amplified floor accenting words with the percussive sound of their feet. This nifty contrapuntal attack punctuates the scene changes and jazzes up the drama.

When LSD surfaced in the 1950's, it was considered a remarkable new psychiatric tool. Intrigued by the drug, Clare Boothe Luce (Carmen Cusack), the renown writer, politician and socialite; Cary Grant (Tony Yazbeck), film star and former vaudevillian; Aldous Huxley (Harry Haden-Paton), futurist writer and scholar, and Gerald Herd (Robert Sella), writer/philosopher convene one sunny weekend to "trip" together.

One by one, the audience is introduced to Huxley, his wife Maria (Laura Shoop) and dear friend Gerald. Clearly this trio engages in expansive thinking, going beyond society's conventions. Sharp and witty, Maria bravely contends with a terminal illness. Her passing upends Huxley and Herd's sanguinity.

Cast in a similar state of suspended animation, Clare questions her next steps. Another person delving into career choices and psyche, Cary Grant, hooks up with the trio during an arranged lunch. Since everyone is ingesting controlled portions of LSD, they agree to spend a weekend of psychological, cosmic exploration.

Through a breath-taking combination of Beowulf Boritt's sets, 59 Production projections and Bradley King's lighting, the audience is transported from department stores, to homes, a psychiatrist's office, restaurant, beach home, and the unending expanses of the mind.

An integral part of the high-caliber cast, Yazbeck snares a terrific opportunity to flaunt his dance and comedy talents. With the help of a psychiatrist (Nehal Joshi) and a tab of LSD, Yazbeck returns to his olden, scrappy vaudeville days. In a high-powered dance routine, Yazbeck expertly marries tap rhythms and clowning -- rousing the audience to cheers.

Once the gang gathers at the country house to "trip," they space-out, indulging in individual dreams or nightmares. Ultimately, theatrically capturing everyone's surreal mindset proves slippery, and yet, Flying Over Sunset offers stellar company.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 15, 2022
Plans were dashed for an in person congregation of leading presenters and performing arts from across the nation and abroad; instead, faces emerged on-line and minds opened up to words filled with inspiration, choices and decisions forecasting the future.

While performances were pock-marked by cancellations and shortened seasons, audiences opened browsers and stepped into artists' worlds on-line. And what was the measurable impact on audiences, artists and organizations? Turns out, it was a mixed bag.

Over the space of four days, professionals exchanged data accumulated and assessed over the past two years. Despite the interruptions, news was not all grim.  New pockets of hope opened up creating more spaces for diverse voices and experimental works.

In the opening keynote, a gifted grants director from the Jerome Foundation, Ben Cameron, made one thing very clear: what matters most are values. It's time for everyone to re-think what they're about (in truth this is not advice limited to arts professionals) and to ask:"Why do we do what we do, what is our purpose and what do we believe in?"

Another panel put together and pulled apart stats on attendance by live and virtual audiences, donations, and feelings about representation in the arts. Compared to white audiences, people of color saw disparities in representation whether it was dance, music, theater or the visual arts. Jazz fared best, but even this quintessentially Afro-American-Caribbean art form lacked some level of equity according to the survey participants.

Participants questioned the fiscal viability of free streaming. Suggestions ranged from a virtual "tip jar" to low fee structures meant to attract new guests. Everyone agreed that the internet drew new constituents, because the internet reached beyond the local area and offered a "no risk" opportunity to experience an art form.

Some ideas floated for attracting new audiences included giving supporters or subscription holders free tickets to give to friends, or set low-cost tickets on certain days. Chat  threads revealed some very creative approaches to personalizing the creative experience by uploading: interviews with artists, behind-the-scenes videos, games related to an upcoming performance or even opportunities to engage with the actual creative process.

Addressing everyone in the conference opening and closing, the supremely self-composed APAP CEO, Lisa Richards Toney, embraced the current COVID situation centering the health of the participants in APAP's decision to go virtual. So many factors played into this decision, as well as the cancellation of favored mini-festivals associated with APAP like Under the Radar Festival held at the Public Theater in NYC.

Affinity groups continued to meet like the Dance USA forum for dance professionals. A difficult time to navigate, dancers feared for their short-lived dance careers, loss of technical facility and diminution of audiences. Despite these challenges, dancers set out to create community actively embracing social and racial issues and diversity concerns in their works.

The transference of live dance to the internet activated voluble exchanges about videotaping dance---the cost, creative dilution, space restrictions, and clunky videos.

Then again, others appreciated the intimacy afforded by video and ability to be fanciful--to fly, to instantaneously change outfits or looks. Feelings ran high regarding accessing a platform to support dance videos or videodance (dance designed for the camera) like a Netflix for dance, which in fact, exists but has yet to design an attractive subscription platform.

During her closing remarks, Ms. Richards called out the names of all the keynote and plenary speakers as well as APAP's non-stop working staff, in particular, Krista Bradley, Director of Programs and Resources, who kept the conference running smoothly. 

APAP NYC 2022 proved poetry and prose animate a field in a state of transition, and loss, hope and regeneration.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 14, 2021
Excited by the notion of returning to a live Broadway show, I made one of those NYC mistakes and walked into the wrong theater. Expecting to see Thoughts of a Colored Man at the John Golden Theatre, I mistakenly sprinted into the Bernard Jacobs Theatre right next door where the legendary Stephen Sondheim's musical Company (with book by George Furth), was playing to an ample house of Sondheim enthusiasts!

Although it took a little time to readjust, I was surrounded by very good company.

It was birthday time! On her 35th birthday, Bobbie's (Katrina Lenk) friends gathered to celebrate the event and question her singlehood. How could a woman be 35 and not yet settled; not married?

Navigating the vagaries of a single life, Bobbie's friends, many of them couples, continually questioned her skittishness. A social construct does being married or engaged ina partnership equal satisfaction with life? Perhaps, but not so fast.....

Plucked from her radiant turn in The Band's Visit, Lenk assumes the role in Company originally inhabited by a man. Did this make a difference? In a way no, because women-- more often than men -- are questioned about their choice to be single. Women work against a biological clock and friends still fear more for a woman living alone than a man. Before his recent passing, Stephen Sondheim blessed this gender and racial swapping cast and in most cases, the performers emerge totally believable.

Of course, one of Broadway's leading stars, Patti LuPone (Joanne) savors the delicious role of the wealthy woman, whose tarnished innocence still intrigues her devoted husband. Acidly commenting on life, just about every line she utters spits out an arsenals of gritty, arch wit aimed at sabotaging others in subtle and not so subtle ways. Legs swinging like a wicked child on a chair, the boozed up LuPone exalts in the song "Women Who Lunch" made famous by another icon Elains Stritch.

Broken into skits, Company lunges back and forth between couples trying to convince Jane of the glories of married, or partnered life. Yet, in the process, each couple reveals interpersonal complications that might, or might not be insurmountable.

Questioning his decision to marry his partner Jaime (Matt Doyle) sails into "I'm Not Getting Married Today"-- the famous tongue twisting, verbal marathon that sprints through the lyrics at the speed of a blaring police car. Contextually, nothing is lost in the translation from a woman questioning her marriage and a man triggered by his impending nuptials to another man.

Most of the cast is up to Sondheim's vocal standards, yet Bobbie, who was swell in The Band's Visit does not move comfortably through Sondheim's musical range. A cat-like quiet and litheness marks Jane's actions. Her wide set eyes constantly question and gauge the veracity of friends' situations and the reality of relationships versus the imagined.

Bobbie's cherry red pantsuit pops against Bunnie Christie's malleable, whimsical sets. The score remains memorable, perhaps maybe too memorable considering the people behind me insisted on singing along...nothing I ever thought would happen at a Sondheim musical... then again, who imagined the past two years?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 12, 2021
Finding My Voice is a deeply personal show packed with humor, great music, and one of a kind insights from the lady herself at Town Hall.

Directed by Andy Gale, Finding My Voice features musical direction, arrangements and accompaniment from Mark Janas and the production designer is Ed McCarthy.

"In the show, I talk about growing up and how I started acting 42 years ago; then into present-day projects and the wild variety of work that I do,” said Kathleen Turner. "I want to take audiences inside my life – about me, my adventures, what I’ve learned and what I believe in. In Finding My Voice, there’s no hiding behind a character, but I really enjoy that.”

A compelling actress whose husky voice invites dreams of wonder, Ms. Turner will likely spin a tale of complex and dryly humorous experiences.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 5, 2021
Second chances restore lives, particularly in the case of convicts. Released with little pocket money, no permanent residence or job options, inmates navigate a treacherous tightrope between prison and freedom.

Produced by Second Stage, Lynn Nottage's Clyde's takes a crack at the mental anguish, insatiable hope and insecurities plaguing people constantly worried about stumbling in society and returning to jail.

For four felons, their "get out of jail" cards lead them to a truck stop diner specializing in sandwiches. Owned by a former inmate, the commanding Clyde (Uzo Abuda) is worse than any drill sergeant. Clyde's threats and incessant mental cruelty insure her subjects toe the line.

Insisting the kitchen staff stick to the traditional sandwich making rules, Clyde lays down a hard line on culinary experimentations. The kitchen staff, Ron Cephas Jones, Edmund Donovan, Reza Salazar and Kara Young, become a family supporting each other's imagined futures that take the shape of fanciful sandwiches. Although the lowly sandwich hardly claims culinary heights, the staff recognizes that even a truck driver is enchanted by a decorative sprig of parsley next to a basic grilled cheese sandwich. Beauty in all its forms captivates the soul.

Despite a history of seriously bad judgements, the staff's inherent humanity is revealed through playful banter summoned in the kitchen. Letitia (Kara Young), a wiry bolt of energy, is raising a partially abled child. She engages in flirtatious exchange with Rafael (Reza Salazar) a highly emotional man, and fabulous dancer. A new arrival sporting white supremacist tattoos, Jason (Edmund Donovan) is both the only white man and the least experienced cook.

At the zen center stands the head chef Montrellus (Ron Cephas Jones). He encourages and inspires the kitchen staff to find their wonder through their real and fancied culinary concoctions.

Montrellus insists on the eloquence of simple ingredients combined with imagination and intentionality. Despite the harshness evoked by Clyde, the staff not only finds love in the back kitchen; through their camaraderie, they release entrapped laughter, generosity and forgiveness.

Kate Whoriskey's sure-handed direction convenes an outstanding ensemble cast led by Montrellus who represents a beacon of inspiration for all.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 2, 2021
"You're not paid to think!" Sadly, that admonition is heard by many actors. The idea that someone else controls all your decisions is galling and in the newly revived drama Trouble in Mind it's downright maddening.

Written in 1955 by the African American playwright, Alice Childress, Trouble in Mind was an Off-Broadway theater hit that never got a ticket to Broadway because of its controversial subject matter. Some 66 years later, the play is finally making its Broadway debut.

The grand ensemble cast is led by a spot-on LaChanze as the esteemed, seasoned actor Wiletta Mayer joined by the elder statesman Sheldon Foresster (Chuck Cooper) who's just about seen it all; a brash Millie Davis (Jessica Frances Dukes); the white, privileged ingenue Judy Sears (Danielle Campbell); her counterpart, the young, idealistic John Nevins (Brandon Michael Hall); an actor of vaudevillian proportions Bill O'Wray (Don Stephenson); the backstage theater staple Henry (Simon Jones) and the challenging, myopic, self-described progressive director, Al Manners (Michael Zegen).

One by one, the actors arrive on a spare stage to rehearse a play based on a lynching. LaChanze appears in a marvelous tailored dress and jacket (by Emilio Sosa) and inhales mixed memories of a life in the theater. All the experienced black actors are grateful to have a job, yet frustrated with the assigned roles and expectations. 

When the young, optimistic John proudly announces his dramatic training and Off-Broadway credits, LaChanze insists he smiles when the white director arrives and pretend he was a child in the last production of "Porgy and Bess."  That cringy exchange is crammed with generational inequities experienced by non-white people, let alone actors.

Despite the fact that he believes he's directing a groundbreaking work, Manners' in-bred, stereotypical assumptions flatten the souls of actors. Longing to play a three-dimensional woman worn by concern over her son's future, her suggestion are met by Manners' insistence on outsized expressions--wide eyed amazement/horror and wild gesticulations. 

When LaChanze continues to challenges the portrayal of a mother actually willing to give up her son to a lynch mob, Sheldon explodes the charade and recounts, in chilling detail, his horrifying memory witnessing a lynching. 

Despite this reality by baptism, Manners plunges forward because, afterall, the question is less about the truth and more about the limits of white America's acceptance of a fully integrated America.

A collegial group of professionals constantly jostling for favor, all the characters find their voices at one point or another. A delicious competition between LaChanze and Mayer wring out the majority of the laughs. Immensely likable, both the young buck John and old-school Sheldon represent the past the and future while the misguided director points to changes still in the making.

Director Charles Randolp-Wright engineers a complicated scenario of racial politics and biting humor. 
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 1, 2021
What better way to bust the COVID blues than be in the presence of the cabaret duo Kiki & Herb. This season's holiday event Sleigh coupled Justin Vivian Bond (Kiki) and Kenny Mellman (Herb) in performance at the Harvey Theater. The crowd yelped and swooned while Kiki swirled one martini after another. 

Propped on a stool within eyesight of Herb -- nearly consumed by the grand pian-- Kiki(Justin Bond) dangles finely shaped gams forward and backin time with the holiday tunes.

Known for weaving dark humor through well known ditties, Kiki and Herb play the house as much as their song list. That's part of their uncanny ability to turn a theater into an intimate salon.  The tunes wove around the holiday season, with social commentary dribbled around the edges to make the sweetness curl up at the edges.

Gayly sporting a sparkly red jacket jacket (Marc Happel) Mellman complemented Bond's multitude of shoulder baring gowns slashed up the center for maximum exposure.

Somehow, Kiki and Herb managed to transform the audience into a safe-space cushioned in the nostalgia of holidays past and future dreams.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 30, 2021
Last year the performing arts industry was reeling from the unexpected closures due to COVID. Much of the industry moved to an online presence, until, hope came in the form of vaccinations. By taking baby steps, dance, theater and music ventured into outdoor arenas. Presenters began organizing theaters for live performances, artists rehearsed and audiences bought tickets.

Now, months after the euphoric yet carefully staged openings, come closings again. This time for one day, two days a week, or even a few hours.

And now, it's time again for the biggest marketplace of presentors and performers, The Association of Performing Arts Professionals 65th Annual Global event in NYC Jan. 10 - 17. In response to this year's temperamental health landscape, APAP is dividing the conference into two parts: virtual and in-person.

On-line events runs Jan.10, 11 and 13. In-person activities occur Jan. 14 - 17 at the New York Hilton Midtown which will be layered with on-line events and artists' presentations.

Through the various platform professionals connect with colleagues, network, attend performance showcases. At a time when community counts for so much, APAP animates a field eager to connect on issues of concern, desires for reforms and a brighter, stronger, healthier future.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 6, 2021
Industrialized northern cities drew millions of Black and brown people from the rural South to the urban North for jobs, jobs, jobs. Enclaves of Black workers congregated in neighborhoods around Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, and NYC -- cities where hopes and dreams gestated amidst urban woes.

Lackawana, NY, was one of those towns that lured hopeful laborers up North only to test their spirits and claim their bodies. That hotspot of mobility and stagnation was home to Santiago Ruben-Hudson.

Vivid memories of childhood animated Santiago-Hudson's autobiographical one-man show Lackawanna Blues at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Positioned on a relatively bare stage with only a stool, couple of chairs, table and the guitarist Junior Mack next to him, Santiago Hudson peppered his conversation with the soulful sound of a harmonica wailing the blues. 

A portrait of extended family members exploded in Santiago-Hudson's monologue. By slyly altering his voice, he embraced  the 25 or so characters by assuming a slight stoop of his back, heavy drag of a foot, poker straight spine or curved arms ready to embrace the wounded flock.

Through the eyes of little Ruben, we witnessed a whole community of people who struggled to live and love while navigating addictions, provocations and beatings. When Ruben's mother proved an insecure caretaker, Rachel Crosby took charge of his welfare. The owner of two boarding houses and a fleet of cars (in the early 1950's, Blacks could not ride in cabs driven by white drivers, nor rent rooms from white landlords) "Nanny", as she was known, leveraged her financial opportunities.

A good student, and Nanny's pride, Ruben's universe was brimming with folks who were wickedly talented, or down-on their-luck; hopped up on liquor, or determined to scale the confines of Lackawanna. 

On more than one occasion, the pistol-packing Nanny defused an explosive situation. Always composed, Nanny was a woman of substance--one who never countenanced the abuse of children or helpless women.

Like one of the many amazing Black women who always found ways to survive  and protect their families, Nanny was a healer who thrived in the middle of chaos and displacement. Santiago-Hudson lovingly inhabits the interior worlds of those Nanny embraced; a woman who forever remained his North Star.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 6, 2021
It's 1963 and America is reeling from the assassination of JFK while confronting the Civil Rights Movement. Jobs are scarce for women, particularly uneducated women-of-color who become part of the great American domestic corps. They assist the "ladies of the house" and care for the young, but mostly, they are invisible.

Caught in a web of limited opportunities, Caroline Thibodeaux (Sharon D. Clarke) works for a nice Jewish family in the revival of Carolin or Change.

An unlikely heroine, Caroline escapes to the basement with her brand new washing machine, the dryer and most coveted, the radio. Importantly, a little red plastic cup sits in the corner of the hamper where Caroline drops loose change hiding in pants pockets usually belonging to the young son, Noah (Jaden Myles Waldman).

In this realistic musical written by Tony Kushner (author of Angels in America) with music by the amply talented Jeanine Tesori, dark humor somersaults over whimsical events that turn the radio, washer, dryer, bus and moon into living, singing, dancing beings.

Astutely directed by Michael Longhurst, the musical plays against a backdrop of women finding their voices, earning degrees and busting into professional careers generally claimed by men. While politicians aim for the moon, the country reels in horror after the assassination of Kennedy and watches as Martin Luther King tries to heal the nation. But all this radiates as mere headlines behind Caroline's dilemma. Overworked, exhausted, vexed by a divorce and frustrated by her inability to provide for and manage her 4 children, Caroline is stuck--unable to escape the basement or debt. However, in that magical refuge Caroline smokes and dreams.

Outdoing the Supremes, the radio materializes into three Black women (Nasia Thomas, NYA, Harper Miles) in sparkling diva gowns and voices to match. The shiny new washing machine generates a sprightly Arica Jackson, and its partner the dryer hums along with Kevin S. McAllister who doubles as the trundling bus that ferries Caroline home and back under the gaze of the lady in the moon (N'Kenge) -- actually, she's the lady in a swing and silver cape by the inventive set and costume designer Fly Davis.

Besides the claustrophobic psychological drama cornering Caroline, the family is also caught in a depressing, emotional trap. Unable to communicate his pain after the death of his young wife, Stuart Gellman (John Cariani) forlornly plays the clarinet for psychic comfort. Resistant to Rose, Noah calls for his father at night, and transfers his love to a begrudging Caroline.

Dour and incessantly pessimistic, Caroline dominates the show with her commanding personality and ringing voice. Totally engrossed by Caroline, Noah is the one person who actually "sees" her and remains convinced she runs his universe.

The 2 and 1/2 hour show sustains a generous pace, animated through 60's style dance routines and vivid staging by choreographer Ann Yee. Musically, the score swings from Klezmer music to R & B, contemporary music and spirituals masterfully played under the baton of the fire red-haired Associate Conductor, Anastasia Victory.

When Broadway tends to favor feel-good musicals bustling with pyrotechnics and nostalgia, Caroline or Change challenges ideas about race, and communications between social classes and generations. A lot is packed inside a musical straddling the mecca of entertainment and our conscience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
Photos: EYE ON THE ARTS.Today

November 2, 2021
Spareness gives way to a carousel of characters and events that slowly compose a family dynasty on the march to becoming an indispensable American financial institution in Broadway's remarkable drama The Lehman Trilogy. From a cattle farm in Bavaria to the deep South, up to NYC-- the ballooning financial epicenter -- the Lehman brothers invest in nascent American industries.

Originally written by Stefano Massini in the style of an ancient Greek epic poem, Ben Power crystalizes the over 800 page tome into a riveting tour de force.

Three actors of exceptional range, Simon Russel Beale (Henry), Adrian Lester (Emanuel), and Adam Godley (Mayer), assume all the roles in the foundational story of the brothers who will Wall Street's Lehman Brothers into being.

Part of the mid 1800's wave of immigrants from Europe, Henry is the first of his family to assess this new country and establish a modest dry goods store dedicated to the king of crops, cotton. Over the space of one decade, Henry's brother Emanuel and then Mayer, less cerebral but more personable, join the nascent family business that expands with each succeeding year.

A visionary, Herbert's mind quickly maps out how money gives structure to ideas that build the nation's industries and compound the Lehman Brothers' wealth.

From their roots in Alabama, the Lehman brothers are poised to snap up all the financial oxygen around them by--among other things-- wrangling global industrial commerce and establishing municipal bonds to rebuild municipalities. Miraculously, they recognize the potency of monetizing imaginations.

Performed inside a glass cubicle stacked with bankers boxes, nondescript black chairs and desks found in so many financial institutions, the men don black formal suits generation after generation.

Insightfully directed by Sam Mendes, Trilogy is as much a ballet as a theater production because the physical choreography is electrifying. Through their detailed gestures, movements and postures, the actors prove unabashedly convincing as the young and old men and women populating the Lehman dynasty.

Do not allow this bumpy Broadway season to end without seeing The Lehman Trilogy, a truly monumental theatrical experience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 21, 2021
It's utterly astonishing to hear how a life is manifestly altered in the space of 5 months. In 1977, one unexpected transformative act steered Dana Higginbotham's life into the scabby, underside of society. Later, in 2015, Dana's unbelievable story was recorded, and that audio interview by Steve Cosson became the basis of the riveting and very disturbing Broadway show Dana H written by Lucas Hnath.

Seated in a cushioned turquoise blue chair positioned next to a large lady's handbag, Deirdre O'Connell moved her lips to Dana's recorded words describing a harrowing journey.

A chaplain on the psychiatric floor of a hospital, Higginbotham communicated with disturbed people, and she was good at it. When a former inmate, Jim, tired to commit suicide, she was called in to manage the hysterical man. This coalesced into a nightmare. After Jim was welcomed into her house that Christmas, her changed. For the next 5 months in 1998, Dana became the hostage of a nihilistic man entangled with the Aryan Brothers.

People always question why a "captive" does not escape, especially when encountering outside people. In this case, Jim belonged to a vast, underground web of people--primarily in Florida-- who were engaged in constant acts of surveillance.

Her incessant panic over who was "friend" or "foe" reminded me of manically disoriented soldiers constantly surrounded by the enemy in Oliver Stone's Platoon.

Most terrifying is the idea that this could happen to anyone. And now when I think about the January 6 uprising or read about another stolen human being, I'm chilled to the bone because this woman testified to an alternate reality manned by a network of zombie-like, nefarious outlaws.

Precisely directed by Les Waters, O'Connell gives a master class in the application of perfectly choreographed pedestrian gestures. From moving her glasses off the top of her head to the bridge of her nose, rummaging in her bag, shifting weight, looking side to side, relaxing and tensing her shoulders, leaning forward and back -- all these choreographed cues underscored the truth invested in every single word she uttered at the Lyceum Theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 20, 2021
A strong cast gamely pushes through the new Broadway show Chicken and Biscuits at the Circle in the Square. Led by the talented Norm Lewis and Michael Urie, the ensemble invests 100% of their energy in Douglas Lyons' production directed by Zhailon Levingston.

Set on the day of Baneatta's (Cleo King) father's funeral, and presided over by her husband Reginald Mabry (Lewis), the day is filled with congregating family members.

In a very clever twist, set designer Lawrence E. Moten III converts pews into vanity tables or kitchen cabinets while costume designer Dede Ayite makes some of the funniest and most sophisticated statements through the costumes, topped by Nikiya Mathis' Hair/Wig & Make-up Designs.

With a run-time of 90 minutes, the show experiences a "stop" "start" syndrome due to the number of predictable stories relayed by members of the family suddenly compelled to share long-held secrets. Perhaps one or two deeply penetrating family stories would have registered more powerfully? And because the play is stretched thin, cast members are robbed of their opportunities to really project their wares.

Chicken & Biscuits delivers laughs and some lively dialogue, but in the end, you are hungry to know more about Baneatta's father; the nature of the sister feud between Baneatta and Simone; Baneatta's son's (Devere Rogers) relationship with his white partner (Michael Urie); Simone's beautifully voiced daughter (Aigner Mizzelle) and so on.

The Circle in the Square suits the production and audience participation injects welcomed energy into the show.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
Photo HERE

October 15, 2021
I had the chance to work with Kevin Augustine very briefly back in 2018. A colleague told me this puppeteer had made some puppets of body parts and needed a dancer to partner them, which was enough to hook me.

When I came to Augustine’s Brooklyn studio, I was fascinated by his sort of inverse Bunraku in which, instead of multiple people operate a human facsimile, every part of Augustine’s body was articulating the joints of one mere body part (in this case, a leg). On top of this was a commitment to a physical intensity derived from Butoh.

The task to partner the puppet and not the operator was a challenge I hadn’t before considered, one that has stayed with me as a creator and user of props ever since.

Seeing the results of three years of development, however, in the La MaMa Puppet Festival, Augustine seems to have let go of his aspiration to have another body join him onstage – holding ever true to his company’s name, “Lone Wolf Tribe.” Body Concert begins, much like an orchestral concert, with the sounds of a tune up over a bleak stage picture resembling an unkept attic with sheets covering who knows (but we can all imagine) what.

First to emerge, however, is Augustine, who takes the bold move to, all the more Butoh-ishly, paint his body white versus traditional attempts to conceal puppeteers. In doing so, Augustine was able to satisfy his earlier desire to have a dancer partner the puppets, all the while simultaneously serving as the operator.

Body Concert has a loose plot of scattered body parts finding each other, but reads more like an essay of what juxtapositions possible with so many elements at one performer’s disposal. Gripping his toes on strategically places hooks, Augustine presides over an arm and a leg inch-worming towards each other.

He uncovers a jaw-less skull, blurring the boundary between puppetry and mask work as he wears it over his own head. Boundaries are blurred still between puppets, set pieces, and props as Augustine does his best to multitask with so many pieces. Flesh flares out from a femur head in a way that resembles a meaty flower, and a large eyeball that glares at us intensely (steered by Augustine’s legs) turns itself inside out into a breast.

The only puppet who exists as an intact body is a baby who crawls throughout the space, calling for mother. Finding the breast initiates a home stretch in which arm, leg, and skull articulate along a tall frame so that mother and child can be reunited, face to face.

Who is Augustine in all this? He is ostensibly an intact body, but pours so much of his spirit into these disparate parts that he sacrifices his own wholeness for his puppets. As the puppets (duly) overshadow Augustine, Augustine’s stagecraft (unfortunately) obscures his storytelling.
EYE ON THE ARTS -- Jonathan Matthews-Guzman

October 10, 2021
Ready for some high powered singing and nonstop action? Then SIX is for you. Meet six glam queens of all time at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. One after another, the six wives of Henry VIII, belt out pop-styled songs demanding who of all the wives was most beautiful, cleverest, sexiest, and deserving of Henry's love. Bits from each queen's bio filters through the solos filling out an existence solely determined by a male's whims.

According to the wives, Henry VIII owes his celebrity status to them. And from the sound of the cheering audience, these blazingly talented women are right.

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss's ebullient musical pits the queens in competition with one another and the one who wins over the audience with the most potent sob story takes all the glory!

Despite the wicked lyrics, a woman's lack of agency in the 16th century resounds loud and clear undergirding the nonstop hilarity. Tautly regal in a futuristic, high-collard 16th century royal gown, Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) remains by Henry's side for 23 years. After Catherine, the wives overlap in glorious highs and heady falls.

A fashion plate reviled by the public, Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet) claims superb confidence, until of course, she loses her head. Despite her indiscretions while Henry was hitched to Boleyn, Jane Seymour's (Abby Mueller) ballad of love and unselfishness Heart of Stone hits a special spot of recognition.

Less notorious, the final three wives -- Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), Catherine Howard (Samantha Pauly) and Catherine Parr (Courtney Mack) -- cement the king's view of women as political pawns, male baby progenitors and sex trinkets. Howard, who strays while married, punches out All You Wanna Do and Parr, the final, surviving wife, revels in I Don't Need Your Love.

What separates this sextet from other song-cycles is the heady direction by Moss and Jamie Armitage in conjunction with Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's tight, appetizing choreography. Propelled by catchy songs and lyrics, the staging --along with the inventively witty costumes by Gabriella Slade -- and ethereal lighting by Tim Deiling, SIX explodes in a rich tapestry of talent.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

September 9, 2021
On a warm fall evening in NYC, the line to the August Wilson Theater moved with great dispatch. Masked audience members produced vaccination cards and ID before entering the theater, perhaps for the first time in 17 months.

Excited theater-goers photographed playbills next to their faces and scanned the theater before applauding the opening seconds of Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu's jolting Pass Over viscerally directed by Danya Taymor and starring Jon Michael Hill (Moses), Namir Smallwood (Kitch), and Gabriel Ebert (Master/Ossifer).

Under the harsh light of a single streetlamp, Moses and Kitch joust and macho strut while actively slinging the N-word at each other. Wearing homeless attire--dirty sweats and baggy jeans (by costume designer Sarafina Bush) -- the two men champion existential hopes for the future infused by embodied demons from the past. They taunt each other with rhymes and lift their spirits by recounting 10-best lists. Are they traveling forward, backward and or stuck in place? 

After one of the "best 10" matches, a tall, lean man dressed in a white suit appears. He's holding a basket that's meant for his grandmother? Punctuating his non-aggressive, gentlemanly language with a slew of tangy gosh, golly and gheez, the white man in white invites Moses and Kitch to a picnic.

Like a "horn of plenty" the lavish lunch items materialize one after another from the basket--including, but not limited to-- bottles of wine, a pie, chicken and turkey legs. When the stranger reveals his name is Master, Kitch and Moses fail to accept it as just another name.

Master's interruption kicks up the already high-decibel energy level, and after Master starts to sing Louis Armstrong's famous song What A Wonderful World, Moses and Kitch join their voices to Master's crooning like old-time doo-woop groups gathered under the corner streetlight. The audience erupts in applause.

At a little over 90 minutes, the actors fiercely tangle with ghosts and magical thinking constantly complimenting each other in physical and vocal styles. More percussive, Moses's hardness, and steely ideas pop against Kitch's lyrical intellectual fluidly, morphing from one mental position to another. 

After Master leaves, another visitor arrives, perhaps the one they have been expecting however, the ending is not necessarily the one we are expecting.

Haunted by drafts of centuries-old horrors, Pass Over rides into the future on the back of humor and human resilience. Pass Over is a drama for our time.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 25, 2021
If you don't feel yet ready to jam into a Broadway theater for a night of entertainment by say, the great Bruce Springsteen, then perhaps you might consider relaxing in a chair and listening to The Designated Mourner. An addictive series, written and performed by Wallace Shawn, it captivates listeners with a tale of dystopian valor.  Audiences are sucked into the type of intimate storytelling generally heard at bedtime -- a time when children anticipate being transported to another land.

The tale revolves around a pompous, intellectual poet, Howard (Larry Pine) his cringely devoted daughter, Judy (Deborah Eisenberg), her husband, Jack (Shawn) and some others. Dominating almost every situation or conversation, Howard (Larry Pine) positions himself in the catbird seat, looking down on all his doting, devoted disciples.

Suspicious of this demi-god, Jack quietly begins to question the intimacy of the father-daughter relationship and his relationship to them. The corrosive trio mirrors a similarly degraded and discredited government bloated with accusations about loyalty, truth, honor and horror.

Despite the fact that  Shawn does not possess the sonorous tones of a Richard Burton, there's something utterly mesmerizing about his cadences and child-like inflections. Each word selected stands proudly next to its well-chileseld companion. Altogether, the text stretches into a glittering web of injustices and concealed emotions tipped in tentacles of dark humor.

Trust me when I say this spoken tale will transport you to the other side of imagination.

Originally a critically -acclaimed theater production, The Designated Mourner is directed by Andre Gregory with sound design by Bruce Odland. The six part adaptation is presented by Gideon Media on June 26.
EYE ON THE ARTS,NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 9, 2021
When Nina Simone wove “Good King Wenceslas” into her rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue,” a lyrical portrait of loneliness became all the heavier when wrapped in holiday subtext. In Use Your Head for More, Justin Hicks integrates the same tune to a much different effect, as the aural centerpiece of his series of audiovisual portraits, commissioned and streamed by Baryshnikov Arts Center.

A tender groove of percussion and autoharp, unusual harmonization and coy melodic fragmentation all but conceal the carol until the singers share in a deep and joyous unison “doo doo doo doo doo doo doo… doo doo doodoo… doo…doo.” Along the way, Hicks initiates and veers from the melody with soulful riffs and runs, filling it textually with quotes from and reflections on his mother, who often told him to “Use your head for more than a hat rack.”

Hicks’ mom is, of course, not the originator of this phrase, but her implementation of the idiom is certainly unique. In a Zoom-ed conversation with Hicks and his collaborators, moderated by singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello, Hicks explains that his mother employed “Good King Wenceslas” as a code song – if she needed someone to pick her children up from school, they would be equipped with the tune to confirm that they were sanctioned by mom and were not a kidnapper.

We never get this sort of clear context in the piece itself, 40-minutes of collaged material prompted by Hicks discovering a tape of a conversation he had with his mother in 2005. The text is largely mom’s words, spoken and sung through Hicks’ voice, supported additionally by sisters Jade Hicks and Jasmine Enlow, who chant and harmonize throughout the video. Three siblings, each about two years apart in age, have come together to create an “emotional heirloom,” a thought surprising to their mother, quoted in the work as unable “to imagine remembering something [they] woudn’t…couldn’t…”

Visually, Hicks’ wife Kenita Miller captures and mutates the couple’s Bronx home on camera, fixating on textures, shapes, and spaces in such a way as to seemingly chance upon Justin like a big foot sighting. Never do we see him up front and in focus. We get the skin cells of his hands sliding along a green, grainy wall, his face, blurred, emerging from a cloudy dark, and the topography of his back as he solemnly and delicately traces his way through the house in a blue suit. Lines and lyrics dubbed, the visual Hicks is a stranger in his own home, yet in a complete, multimedia familial embrace.

Tuce Yasak’s lighting just as well expands the sense of space. Dark, cool shades contrast a vibrant gold wash, punctuated by throbbing horizontal waves. These treatments cycle through every filmed area, layered in multiple exposures by editor Breck Omar Brunson. Through Brunson’s editing and Sean Davis’ mixing, we experience heightened aural potentials of regular household items – lamps switch on and off into a gamelan- esque rhythmic spectrum, and doors creak with a cello’s resonance.

This sort of repurposing doesn’t stop at being just another quarantine project – it is so much more an implementation of practices inspired by a mother who raised her children to practice radical and indiscriminate creativity in the name of survival. The same ethos that made clothes out of scraps finds music in all things, and demands that this imaginative power be used for good and never wane.
EYE ON THE ARTS,NY -- Jonathan Matthews

January 12, 2021
Promoted as a Persian food culinary lesson, Tara Ahmadinejad (Chef Vargis) faces the zoom camera and basically bungles the dish. Before the cooking even begins, she demonstrates one of the most important steps: rinsing rice. However, even that process is questioned by her menagerie of relatives and friends.

Affable in her dark shoulder-length hair and dark rimmed glasses, Ahmadinejad's real mission is to protest America's generated image of and antagonism towards Iranians. 

Despite the political rhetoric in this infoganda work, Anna effortlessly devises a homey way of personalizing Iranians. Her sous-chef, the marvelously droll Hassan Nazari-Robati, stands (virtually) next to her expertly preparing food.

In a hilarious segment, he demonstrates the proper way to remove dill leaves from the stalk. This painstaking process takes him a day--but hey, who doesn't have a day to meticulously clean an herb.

The zoom audience--at least those who agree to keep their cameras turned-on are targets for inscription into the story about an extended family -- one American's might not recognize. Doctors and scholars, educators and artists...these are the people of Iran; not terrorists. Oh yes, despite the interrupted cooking lesson, the good folks at the Public Theater forward the full recipe for Sabzi Polo as described by Ahmadinejad's mother on the phone.

DISCLAIMER, part of the 2021 Under the Radar Festival, is written by Tara Ahmadinejad, created by Piehole, and directed by Jeff Wood and Ms. Ahmadinejad
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 9, 2021
When APAP members gathered for the opening session, there was a collective sigh of delight to see colleagues and friends back together again. Not surprisingly, discussions swirled around the use of internet platforms to disseminate performances. Ideas about virtual reality -- the 3-D immersion format -- surfaced as an optional platform. Everyone agreed it was a time for imagination and flexibility to prevail.

Financial concerns prevailed peppering discussions about federal assistance and decisions to charge or not charge for digital performances. Divided in their approaches, everyone was unified in the desire to pay artists for work, whether new or old. A country's roaring appetite for content buoyed the conversation about creating virtual programming while noting the arts community was now inhabiting the same digital space as Netflix.

Jed Wheeler pointed out that Montclair University's Peak Performances reputation and avid audience was solely built on the artists who graced Montclair stages. For that reason, delivering new commissions overrode the pay-for-view format. OF course, Wheeler's in a coveted position because university leaders support his vision.

Another effective model saw presenters streaming free programs and relying on donations. Ultimately, everyone hopes for live performances returning in some capacity by the end of 2021 and start of 2022. Of course, all indicators point to the continuation of digital programming, in some form or another.

Although the field is shaken, they still stir with passion and consideration.
EYE ON THE ARTS/NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 9, 2021
Convened against a backdrop of a major pandemic, political divisiveness plus calls for racial diversity, equity and inclusion, APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) plunged into its annual conference. Instead of flooding Manhattan with eager artists and presenters, the partnering professionals convened on zoom from Jan. 8 - 11.

The composed and gracious Lisa Richards Toney, President and CEO welcomed everyone to a virtual conference that actually collected many newcomers because costs were cut simply by not having to leave one's home and pay for expensive hotel and living accommodations. Of course, there's the loss of human to human contact, but the chat lit up with kudos to APAP, while participants"high fived" each other and commiserated over the state of affairs.

Structured much like the annual high-energy live event, keynote speakers, plenaries, workshops, special interest groups, showcases, pitches and more were accessed by professionals sitting on couches, in kitchens, offices and outdoors. Missing were the hugs and screams of delight at seeing colleagues; artists bumping into favored presenters on the escalator or in the cofe bar--those moments were lost but zoom united participants relieved to see one another.

One of the conference's most anticipated events was the presence of Anthony Fauci in conversation with Maurine Knighton, Doris Duke Foundation Program Director for the Arts. Surrounding the professional development and special interest groups were showcases that benefited by the ability to replay the performance after the original showing.

Invaluable resources were consolidated and disseminated to the membership and that in itself might be enough to prompt people to join.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 12, 2020
Part film part Broadway musical, Ivo van Hove’s gritty vision of West Side Story draws inspiration from America’s immigrant story of a burning desire to belong, to love and be loved.

The iconic overture floods the audience. Almost imperceptibly, a strip-of men claim their turf on the lip of the stage, commanding hard-ass stances and glaring at the audience. Anticipated finger-snaps are eliminated and instead, cameras zoom-in on the tattoos decorating bare body parts signifying the two warring tribes. No one smiles; this is serious business.

Hard urban, pounding steps shoot into flying kicks as jabs ripple from one dancer to another in an anarchic, physical roar. This is not Jerome Robbins’ beloved choreography, instead, it is an appropriation of today’s angst brought to you by the stripped-down, post modernist Flanders' dancer/choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

In the leads, Maria’s (Shereen Pimentel) operatic voice effortlessly soars into the dark sky. Vocally, she’s exquisitely matched with her true love Tony (Isaac Powell). In contrast to the wistful Maria and Tony, Anita (Yesenia Ayala) and gang leader Bernardo (Amar Ramasar) vibrate with sexual heat.

Speaking of darkness, rather than the sun drenched playgrounds of the original, this version pushes into a state of nearly perpetual darkness -- in large part because of the projections. The animated set/visual design by Luke Halls works best when enlarging intimate spaces like the miniature sewing room in the back corner of the stage and Doc’s (Daniel Oreskes) Pharmacy.

Audience members peer into the dress shop’s open door, but don’t discern any detail until the camera zooms into giddy women primping for the party, clothes popping with color and draped all around. Throughout the production, a videographer wanders around the stage grabbing close-up bits and movements simultaneously projected on the screen -- rock ‘n roll concert style.

For many, “The Dance at the Gym” is pivotal to West Side Story; frequently performed as a “stand alone” dance, audiences anticipate this apocryphal meeting between the star-crossed lovers Tony and Anita. How did this version fare? Well, the choreography leans towards street dance mixed with Capoeira (martial arts) style kicks, but the wit evaporates in place of hard-lined couple stamps and harsh partnering.

This time, a woman referee (who does not mine the inherent irony of the situation) presides over the fraught community dance that pits hot Latin social dancing against cooler American jive. On the hot side, dancers dig into the ground, hips unlock and eyes grip the opposite sex. On the cool side, Riff’s peeps throw down some strong acrobatic lifts that ultimately don’t read as sharply as the Sharks' propulsive beats.

A couple of the stand-out performers include the sharply lean Ramassar (formerly of NYC Ballet), his partner Pimentel --who definitely knows how to shake a ruffle -- plus Luis (Roman Cruz), an utterly steamy dancer who magnetizes the audience with his penetrating eyes and deeply grounded hip rumbles.

Another juncture where wit oils the lunacy of youthful rivalries occurs in the “Gee, Officer Krupke” number. This satiric ode to the beat officer loses its snarky “psychoanalytic” stance. Missing are the arm gestures, the vocal imitations and all-out goofiness.

Actually, humor is in very short supply in “America” and throughout the musical. No doubt this is serious business, but even in the bleakest of times, humor pokes out. Importantly, van Hove along with De Keersmaeker sew the movement into the text so when the dancers erupt, the action appears organic to their turf.

In the end, who really belongs in America? When is it OK to romance your enemies’ women? Skin color certainly doesn’t divide these two camps but what does? Perhaps this West Side Story presents a microcosm of what’s happening daily on a larger scale throughout America.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 8, 2020
It may not be your next transcendent art experience, but it sure was all of the gaudy glamour that Broadway warrants. With rainbow color, laser bright lights, dance-breaks, and a love story thrown in, Emojiland surprised me with a hilariously entertaining show.

Taking place on the inside of the iPhone, the musical follows characters that are Emojis: Construction Worker, Police Officer, Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes (Smize), Smiling Face with Sunglasses (Sunny), Kissy Face, Skull, Princess, and Watch Guard. The set is designed of white boxes which transform based on various projections. Sometimes they take on the form of tropical apartment buildings, sometimes they light up into bright red or moody blue. Though the laser projections and mood setting tones can feel superfluous, it does its diligence by driving home the point of technology’s ability to influence environment.

The opening number introduces the audience to characters who smile, skip, and prance about their love of life, and how happy they are to live it. From the first number of this off Broadway production, directed by Thomas Caruso, I was left thinking “oh no, what have I just gotten myself into?”.

However, at the turn of the second song, the storyline begins to develop, and the longer the musical went on, the more it grew on me. Smize, the emoji programmed to love everything and never be sad, begs to cry and feels depressed. Sunny, the emoji who should be the shining one of the group, is the bully. What the emojis are programed to be on the outside, is the opposite of what they feel on the inside. Though it isn’t solely about self-examination, the musical makes subtly effective attempts at unmasking the overly positive portrayal of the self on media screens vs the underwhelming reality of “real life”.

The plot revolves around an update which brings new emojis into Emojiland. When the update introduces Nerdy Face, an overly smart all-knowing character, to Skull (an emoji who is obsessed with becoming death itself), he is manipulated into created a virus which un-programs emojis forever. With this imminent threat, Emoji’s must figure out how to save their home town. There are Trump wall-building parallels and perils, Lesbian love stories, and heterosexual affairs. There is also plenty of subpar dancing, and mediocre acting (though the vocals remained quite impressive). This musical really does have it all. I’ll spare you the ending, though ever so predictable, Emojiland was surprisingly hilariously and nothing if not an entertaining number.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY — Mia Silvestri

February 20, 2020
There are many good reasons to be made uncomfortable by a white man performing characters of color, and yet when it came to Dan Hoyle, it didn’t take long for me to let down my critical guard. The actor-playwright performs with such selflessness, his one-man show Border People feels like a string of spontaneous possessions.

A maker of “journalistic theatre,” Hoyle travels – a lot. Before deciding where to go, he sets an intention and researches it, going to where his intentions have the greatest contextual salience. Such integrity, as well as what can be assumed to be a fair amount of charm and listening prowess, have granted Hoyle the ability to visit spaces of passage and asylum. Even as an interloper, he has managed to find people with whom he is able to delve fully into their lives’ complexities, as well as to earn their consent to channel these experiences into characters.

Hoyle avoids verbal brownface by neither impersonating his subjects nor speaking a transcript of their conversations, but also not generalizing his subjects’ experiences into oblivion. What is ultimately written is a synthesis of a complete exchange, performed as one side of a conversation in which what is unheard is immaterial and yet key to unlocking a wealth of information from those conditioned to keep quiet – white privilege at its finest.

Bookending the piece is Officer Lopez, who, finding Hoyle in process, asks him what he’s doing on a known drug trafficking route. Other scenes take us to Canada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, Mexico, and the South Bronx’s Andrew Jackson Housing Project. In not only fixating on the Mexican-American border, we immediately understand Hoyle’s sense of border as transcending the physical, held instead by the marginalized, wherever they may go.

Common to many of these subjects is an often bleak sense of limbo. A young girl of Ghanian and Dominican descent is never Black or Spanish enough. A juice vendor must work diligently to seem worthy of approach to customers and yet not so fancy that his neighbors rob him. Islamic characters, whose nationalities are determined by whichever regime is in power overseas, are pressured just as well to leave the US for embodying that which they fled.

Hoyle’s thesis, therefore, broadens: we are human insofar as we defy our molds. The juice vendor elucidates the intricacies of code switching. A Mexican actor with HIV explains how his partner’s death led to the drug use that got him deported. A southwestern farmer tells of a migrant he once sheltered. Officer Lopez just so happens to be an aspiring standup comedian, and tries out some of his material on Hoyle who, until he bows, is on our side of the proscenium’s border.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

February 12, 2020
Well into Act 2 of Mark Saltzman’s Romeo and Bernadette, Tito Titone, fiancée to the latter titular character, is taking one of those pre-wedding dance lessons. The teacher is played, in drag, by Troy Rucker, dressed like an old Russian ballet mistress – all the more humorous given the additional disparity of skin color to gender expression.

Rucker’s character is teaching Titone the Cha Cha, and yet references her having been a principle dancer with Martha Graham. Titone, about to marry into a mob family, threatens her with a pistol to end the lesson, to which she pulls out a rifle, which “BELONGED TO MARTHA GRAHAMMM.”

Now, this is all happening in a vague 1960. It is certainly conceivable for someone who had danced with Graham at the beginning to be the general upper middle age Rucker has been directed into playing. I’m sure there were Graham dancers who could Cha Cha. She could just be a crazy New Yorker! At any rate, by the time we enter this level of thought, the play has long since ended.

This is the general modus operandi of Romeo and Bernadette – well-executed levity stemming from a thought experiment about which you must coach your brain to not think critically whatsoever: 1960 community theatre production of Romeo and Juliet happens.

In the audience is a couple; the girl, being emotional, is made emotional by the production, spoiling her desire to go home and make nookie with the boy. Wanting nookie, boy convinces girl that the story continues, spinning a tale of Romeo’s poison having been a sleeping potion from which he wakes up in 1960’s Verona, where Italian- American mob family the Penzas is on vacation.

Romeo is convinced, upon seeing their daughter, Bernadette, that she is Juliet. He follows them back to Brooklyn, but is taken in by warring mob family, the Del Cantos (sensing an analog yet?). Given that the show is written to be an improvised fib told by a desperate young man, the plot’s occasional lapses in logic are aesthetically excusable.

What I can’t stop thinking about is the casting of Rucker, who plays the role of “convenient brown person” in almost every scene – A theatre usher, a bellhop, an opera star, a southern minister who somehow ended up in Brooklyn, a gay flower shop owner, a female wedding dress designer, and the above mentioned Cha Cha teaching Graham alum.

Were these shallow bit parts written to be played by the same person? Did they think casting one black actor as many characters was a sensible alternative to actual diversity in casting an otherwise white story? I don’t suppose they intended for us to think too hard about that one, either.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

February 8, 2020
Two shots ring out. That act tosses the characters into a cauldron of suspicion poisoning the plot.

Creating a sensation when it debuted in 1981, Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play returns to the Roundabout Theatre. Sharply directed by Kenny Leon, it’s set in an army barracks based in the South in 1944, where the African-American battalion has seen little action overseas. However, the company baseball team is unstoppable.

When the detested black captain Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (David Alan Grier) is murdered, suspicion falls on the local Ku Klux Klan. The white captain (a wonderfully mercurial Jerry O’Connell) who presides over the whole barracks wants to bury the investigation but an African American lawyer, Captain Richard Davenport, newly (a fine Blair Underwood) assigned to the case upends the intended process.

Acapella blues songs and dance moves reminiscent of field hollers add a chilling, transporting dimension. All the physically fit men in the cast are such strong singers, movers and actors; it’s not difficult to believe they are all championship level baseball players.

After an expected standoff between the white and black captains, Davenport assumes full reign of the crime. One service man after another emerges to relay an alibi ending with a common refrain: everyone has a beef with Sgt. Vernon.

In intermittent flashbacks, Sgt. Vernon stomps the grounds, verbally and at times physically abusing his men – particularly anyone who suggests a “shuckin’ and jivin’ black stereotype.

Under the circumstances, Davenport struggles to retain objectivity and piece together the puzzle. Finally, the men confess to a tragic event that caused one of their brothers, the best hitter on the team and imminently likable Private C. J. Memphis, to hang himself.

Unable to stomach the remnant image of an uneducated, guitar-playing, blues-singing blackman, Grier confiscates Memphis’ beloved guitar and tosses him in solitary confinement. That proves fatal.

Kenny Leon’s steady hand guides the drama and skilled cast members -- expertly building up the drama until the final reveal.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

January 19, 2020
The Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater, now in its sixteenth year, presents new and cutting-edge work by a diverse, global group of artists that are redefining what theater can be. Selina Thompson’s salt. begins with her story of travelling from the U.K. to Ghana, then on to Jamaica and back, to experience the path of her enslaved ancestors -- but it evolves into much more than that: an intensely personal, sometimes disturbing journey of her own. Accounts of the African diaspora abound, yet this seventy-five-minute soliloquy uniquely penetrated our consciousness, slowly and masterfully weaving humor and grace with sobering anecdotes: from the smallest indignities to the outright violence that black people continue to face every day.

The spectacular Rochelle Rose presided over an altar-like table equipped with a mortar and pestle (and water bottle) staring proudly ahead like a priestess in a long, flowing white dress. A large neon-lit triangle hung above her, Cross-like as she observed us filing into the theater. Then right off the bat, she told us to wear the plastic safety glasses on our seats, whenever she wore hers.

A British accent inflected Rose’s reminiscences and gave us a sense of place. Each memory is alive, lively, and sometimes daunting, punctuated with an increasingly fiercely expressed mantra “Europe keeps pushing against me, and I push back.” From the shockingly racist mythology perpetuated by her grandmother’s British schoolteacher, to recently being accosted by a stranger with racist questions about black fatherhood, Rose kept us spellbound with her animated and magnetic presence as she peppered her stories with frank feelings, anxieties, joys and sorrows; her everyday lived experience writ large.

We watch her struggle to understand contemporary injustice, and we share in her pain. Through an intensely emotional series of repetitive verse that outlined a hierarchy of abusive Western power – from “the State,” to capitalism, to a ship’s master, to the crew, to herself and her companion, she attempted to divine the origins of evil. And with every line, she smashed a large chunk of salt with a hammer, again and again, struggling to make sense of the senseless chain.

Thompson’s writing traverses time past, present, and future, a complex symphonic layering of experiences where “time accumulates.” salt. is an exhilarating and exhausting piece of theater that more than compels empathy from the audience; it is art that touches hearts and minds.
For Eye on the Arts, NY – Nicole Duffy Robertson

January 14, 2020
Josh Fox released in 2010 a documentary GASLAND that won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and seemingly as many fans as enemies. Ten years later, this New York theatre director turned documentarian returned to New York to appear at The Public Theatre in his multi-media one man show The Truth Has Changed in the 2020 Under The Radar Series.

As a verbal showman, he has mastered the art of suspense, surprise, and nuance. He is mesmerizing as his voice rises and dips, he flips the lights, picks up a banjo, jumps on a table and pauses while a projection singes our nerves. But Fox isn’t here to entertain us. He reports the evils of fracking and its global repercussions to our health and climate change, along with the ocean of misinformation spread by white supremacists.

He outlines, with as much restrain as he can muster, the revenge of the gas and oil industry he experienced since 2010 and how methodical that backlash is. He holds the microphone out to the audience towards the close of the show, asking them what is stronger than fear? A few tentative voices say “Love” and “Hope,” almost wistfully.

He is haunted by the stories of his grandfathers. One bolted from Poland the night before the rest of his family were seized and taken to the gas chambers and the other took his life here in the United States. Did he dig his own grave by producing GASLAND? Are we all walking blindly in a world that is becoming a gas chamber? He convinces us of all the havoc fracking has caused and how apocalyptic the level of chemical pollution in our water, food and air, but also our hold on the truth.

But still he pushes on with an insatiable curiosity to know what is going on. He went down to investigate the damage done by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. A scientist confessed that BP had released a chemical to make the oil sink quickly out of sight, “killing everything on the seafloor for generations to come.”

Fox says that an order had been made to keep planes flying over the gulf above 3,000 feet. But he finagled the opportunity to see the difference in the view below and above 3,000 feet. Above 3,000 feet, the gulf seems to be in fine fettle; below 3,000 feet, he could see the oil hanging in the water like a tumor that spread for miles. Produced by International WOW Company and Nathan Lemoine, THE TRUTH HAS CHANGED changes its viewers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

January 11, 2020
In their production, Unmaking Toulouse-Lautrec, Bated Breath Theatre Company shares the dark story of the life of famed painter and poster maker Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Set in Paris in the late 1800’s, the interactive play follows along with Henri’s tragedies from aristocracy and great talent to alcoholism and homelessness.

“Bonjour chérie”! An actor giggles and waves patrons into the smoky, red lounge. Dressed in fishnet tights, bustiers, and colorful tutus the actors stretch, mingle, and saunter around the intimate setting mimicking a French salon. After getting a drink at the bar, patrons fill the red velvet couches and barstools as period music plays overhead. Without any prior warning, Toulouse-Lautrec stumbles into the space, trips onto a couch, and falls asleep. The girls laugh “Henri you’re drunk”, they giggle. He shouts back, “You should be drunk!” as he slumps back down onto the sofa.

This cues the beginning of the work as the rest of the cast enter into the small space, and begin to chronicle Toulouse-Lautrec's life in the form of a eulogy at his funeral. They describe how they met Toulouse-Lautrec, their relationship to him, and some highlights of his life. However, in many instances this form of story telling feels jumpy, inconclusive, and oddly biographical.

The audience learns that Toulouse-Lautrec's father and mother were first cousins, which is why he was born with a congenial birth defect. Weakness in his bones caused both legs to break and never heal properly inhibiting his movement for life. His disability forced him to be a social outcast.

Toulouse-Lautrec felt ashamed and depressed which led to alcoholism. His lack of mobility also led to his obsession with the human body- which is why the play places him most often at the infamous French brothels studying and sketching the women.

When Toulouse-Lautrec's fascination with the dirty and grotesque began to become well known, he was commissioned by the Moulin Rouge for illustrations and posters. The audience is told that today much of his work sells for multimillion dollars.

All this to say, this is the extent of the plot-line of the play. With brief interjections on his relationship with his mother and some women at the brothel, the plot feels under developed and unfinished. The bulk of the story is revealed to the audience by the actors as fact, instead of watching it play out in real time.

In many instances, the transitions between sections of information are filled with awkward dance breaks and choppy sing song story telling. Though the interaction with the audience was enjoyable, and the atmosphere made for the perfect collaboration, it felt as though the reliance on this environment compromised the need for the play to fully develop, leaving the audience members feeling somewhat confused.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

December 9, 2019
The house of BAM’s Harvey Theatre is indistinguishable from the stage as patrons flood in and walked around the set. Audience members sit in barber chairs for haircuts while actors introduce themselves and chat them up. From the moment you walk in to The Barbershop Chronicles it is clear that this is not a normal play- this is a community. Set across six different cities (five in Africa and London) on the same day, writer Inua Ellams and director Bijan Sheibani take their audience on a journey through barber shops around the world.

The set, created by Rae Smith, is minimally designed. At the center of the stage hangs an iron, neon globe which is used throughout the play to indicate the traveling shop locations. Transitions from shop to shop are achieved through riveting song and dance breaks which allude to the next setting. Arcing around the Chelsea v Barcelona world cup final, characters from different shops around the world connect through the day by watching the sporting event on TV.

Ellams and Sheibani know the expectations set by society on their black male cast. Instead of ignoring these stereotypes, they make the choice to open a conversation on being a black man in the modern world. On the surface, every shop conversation begins in light hearted, humorous banter. Sometimes there is talk over the game on TV, sometimes jokes break about someone’s appearance. No matter the starting banter, cutting hair becomes the facility for transition into deeper conversation.

Fatherhood is researched in an expression of tenderness that can only come from a place of longing. The barber/customer relationship in turn becomes a therapeutic way for men to speak openly about the complications of this familial relationship. Barbers and customers discuss politics, expectations, race, language, change, immigration, and culture. Other customers act as judge and jury in disputes, so that even when conflict arises, there is also resolution. The actors brilliantly locate fits of rage but also show soft moments of compassion. Old wise men find commonalities with young boisterous boys bridging a generational gap that can only be achieved between those four walls.

They say the barbershop is the place where “men come to be men”, but by the end of The Barbershop Chronicles it is the place where men can simply be.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

December 6, 2019
The nation’s major convening of performing artists, arts administrators, presenters, and producers, APAP (The Association of Performing Arts Professionals) storms NYC from January 10 -14. Thousands gather to network with colleagues, engage in professionally focused seminars and talks, view countless performances – many of which are free—and exchange ideas of acute relevance.

In 2020, the 63rd annual global conference opens on a plenary titled “The Power of Risk-Taking” featuring Kamilah Forbes (Executive Producer, Apollo Theater), Estelle Parsons (Academy award-winning actress) and Alice Sheppard (Dancer and Choreographer). Risk generates innovate arts, but risk also reduces opportunities in more conservative communities. That's why "risk" is a building block of any cooperative venture between artists and presenters.

Because the five-day intensive conference demands great reserves of energy, mornings and evenings will start with meditation sessions, mindfulness training and yoga sessions. This is all part of the new programming track: “R&R: Resiliency through Self-Care.”

One of the most coveted sessions is the APAP Annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon on January 13. This coveted event pauses to celebrate distinguished artists and organizations for their contributions to field. This year’s AWARD OF MERIT FOR ACHIEVEMENT IN THE PERFORMING ARTS honors Ping Chong, internationally acclaimed artist and pioneer in the use of media in theater.

Later in the day, APAP/NYC proudly announces its Young Performers Career Advancement Program spotlighting Jiii Kim, Hanzhi Wang, Invoke, Omar Quartet and the ivala Quartet at the Weil Recital Hall.

Besides on the performance workshops and events, there are a number of mini arts festivals scattered across the city like “Under the Radar” “globalFEST” among many other dance, jazz and performance events. For more information contact APAP
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

November 16, 2019
A gaping slot near the front of the dirt-strewn stage swallows one lifeless body after another in the Druid Company’s unsettling Richard III which appeared as part of this year’s White Light Festival.

Grippingly directed by Garry Hynes, she engages a great collaborator in the actor Aaron Monaghan. Bent to the side, perhaps so he can see others without notice, and stooped over two black canes that double as a cockroach manacles, he salivates over power and drools around ladies.

Richard III’s goal: to be king of England. After Henry VI dies, an ailing Edward IV is crowned. But Richard has plans that will not be denied. Swathed in black, this Svengali of the British monarchy is obsessed with power and unhesitant in his pursuit of the crown.

James F. Ingalls’ slats of light filters the smoky air of rot and disintegration trapped on Francis O’Connor’s dirt floor, grey pillars and most importantly, the skull of a king suspended in a lit cage. O’Connor’s costumes favor an Elizabethan-noir style that features lots of leather, spiky edges, and bulbous back ends for the females.

Strategically plotting each person’s fate, Richard (Monaghan) flatters his prey, and then blows them away. Instead of a handicap, Richard leans on his deformity as a shield of sympathy. Of course, what’s most unsettling is the way Monaghan breaches his prey’s ego with uncompromising flattery prior to their elimination.

Richard presides over an incessant whirlpool of intrigue and crime. Uncannily charming -- and almost a little too handsome-- Richard III is a master of the double entendre. First he quips pious platitudes, then tilts his head, allowing a smile to upend his lips before snarling the truth-of-the-matter. Skillfully adept at addressing the audience and immediately super-imposing himself back into the middle of the plot, Montague is an awe-inspiring Shakespearean interpreter.

Although the women do not figure prominently in Richard III, Hynes’ casts the bone-chilling Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen) as the soothsayer. The equivalent of Macbeth’s witches, Mullen crouches heavily over the earth, drawing Richard’s circle of life smaller, and smaller and smaller.

The whole cast is eloquent, totally at ease in their Shakespearean tempi, committed to deft articulation of the text and Hynes’ vision.

Uncannily echoing today’s political mayhem, Richard could not have succeeded in ruling over a morally poisonous reign without the willingness of high-ranking officials to whom he pledges loyalty only to dump them in the abyss.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 30, 2019
If someone approached you pleading for you to give up your life so that their children could be born, what would you do? Being a millennial, my newsfeed is often teeming with self-destructive jokes, so much so as to have prompted articles dissecting my age group’s dismal sense of humor to the point of it feeling as though my entire generation is on suicide watch.

It then follows that if there were ever a time to stage such a bleak bit of audience participation, it would be now, and Jenna Hoffman certainly delivers in her direction of Anna Jastrzembski’s stage adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “2BR02B,” The Happy Garden of Life. However, as largely millennial as my fellow spectators were, we are still New Yorkers after all. Being well versed in panhandlers, Brian Sanchez’s heart-rending performance of Ed Wexler’s desperation goes without response, and his story is able to continue towards its end as written.

The production productively dashes immersive expectations as though they were never set up in the first place. Convening in the lobby of the New Ohio Theatre, we are divided into groups. Customary for a piece meant to be performed on loop and/or in promenade, it merely brings us inside in order.

This is brilliant in a time when more and more performance claims to be immersive, isn’t, and never admits to it. Happy Garden poetically riffs on this petty aesthetic hypocrisy as politically analogous to the illusion of choice and makes it integral to its world-building.

In the New World Order, medicine has made death optional, but population control requires a death to make space for every birth. The World Preservation Party broadcasts propaganda encouraging citizens to sacrifice themselves, and yet has to force its convicts and debtors to be standby “volunteers.”

It is all the more poetic that, to a piece that so calculatingly breaks the fourth wall, we remain outsiders. Hoffman flips New Ohio’s layout, filling what is usually audience seating with Matthew Imhoff’s claustrophobic scenography – a raised, cinderblock cubicle just beyond an astroturf runway. Scenes, alternating between storyline, flashback, and live-action commercials are temporally sequenced, spatially broken up, and jarringly lit by Christina Tang in a way that structurally implodes the piece as the truth is more universally revealed.

With composer Emily Erickson, Assistant Director Yannik Encarnação, and her ensemble’s bold energies, Hoffman fashions a modular performance arena wherein actors can be both grotesque caricatures and deeply human, clearly shifting between the stylized mannerisms of who they have to be for the Party and who they really are.

This is precisely why we are here – to have this bird’s eye view overwhelmingly up close. The WPP is not the Trump Administration, as it is more a kind of socialism gone awry. What we can identify with, though, is the bewilderment of wondering how a population could ever achieve such a protestable reality.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

October 3, 2019
Little is known about the actual specifics of how Ancient Greek dramas unfolded on the amphitheaters of Ancient Greece. But the recent production of Shizuoka Performing Arts Center’s Antigone at the Park Avenue Armory is exhilarating due to its lucidity and quiet authority.

From the river of water flooding the stage, rock formations emerge reminiscent of Stonehenge or Isamu Noguchi’s set designs for Martha Graham’s Greek myth based works.

As the audience settles down in bleachers facing the long strip of stage, a ceremonial procession of performers in white robes and pants enter rubbing glass votives producing high-pitched thin rings.

Positioned at the lip of the stage in the middle of lie of actors, Maki Honda welcomes the audience and offers to brush up the audience’s memories of Sophocles’ famous tragedy Antigone. In a comedic riff, they provide a thumbnail overview of Antigone, exaggerating the central cast members’ characteristics. This funny introduction is reminiscent of the satyr plays that generally followed tragedies as a means of lifting the depressing mood.

Then the actors take their posts and the story begins. Despite women’s lack of rights in ancient times, on many occasions, it’s women who do the “right” thing in the face of moral dilemmas. They are fierce and determined as is Antigone. When her father Oedipus dies (remember, he accidentally married his mother, Jocasta) dies, both his sons engaged in battle for the crown of Thebes and die at each other’s hands. Uncle Creon assumes the reigns and decrees Antigone’s brother Eteocles will be buried with honors, but Polyneices (considered the traitor) will be splayed on the ground as food for the dogs.

This triggers Antigone’s moral crusade to bury her brother despite the king’s orders. In a nutshell she goes against King Creon’s orders, buries her brother and is stuffed in a cave to die. Her younger, more frightened sister Ismene, wails for her sister. When Hameon, Antigone’s fiancée, is unable to change King Creon, his father’s mind, Hameon follows Antigone into the cave.

What makes this particularly thrilling is the way the actors chant out the words and how the light casts shadows (Koji Osaka) suggesting day and night, life and death.

Ancient tragedies were sung because the definition of theater was the unification of text, music and movement. In this rendition, two actors take on each role: one speaks, the other moves.

Caught on top of a boulder, Antigone climbs higher and higher until she can go no further. The competing male voices on either side of the stage declare their lines while the fearless movers run across stones that barely rise above the water. Five men and five women flank their characters serving as the Greek chorus, the community that comments on the tragic action.

Sometimes, rituals rise above theatrical conventions because they conjure a sense of timelessness-- worlds where people battle the forces of good and evil, honor and corruption, morality and fear in a lifelong struggle to reclaim their souls.

Contributing to the “other worldly” yet very real production’s power, a group of musicians stretch across the back of the stage exquisitely performing Hiroko Tanakawa’s percussive composition.

Translated from Sophocles by Shigetake Yaninuma and masterfully directed by Satoshi Miyagi, Antigone interprets social, political and moral dilemmas into a contemporary world weighted by its struggle for survival.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

September 16, 2019
As the audience enters, American Moor’s playwright and primary performer Keith Hamilton Cobb spends a good deal of time pensively pacing his Wilson Chin-designed set – a sparse collection of chairs and two Corinthian columns, the one of which not tasked with holding a griffin conveniently toppled to the ground. Against the bricks bordering Cherry Lane Theater’s playing space, the mise en scene emits a fluid sense of backstage, onstage, and elsewhere, able to contain the manipulations of presence necessary for Cobb to illustrate his relationship to the notion of playing Shakespeare's Othello.

You don’t expect it from the intensity of his pre-show or the size of his biceps, but Cobb is an effortlessly convincing shape-shifter. He must be as he tasks himself to morph between his younger self, his acting teachers, some fleeting blips of Shakespeare, and his own reflection of the black vernacular he grew up in. It is as his present self, however, that Cobb demonstrates the most dimension. His actorly presentation is supremely articulate, deeply resonant, and satisfyingly thwarted by occasionally cracked smiles and boyish giggles.

It is often the case that these expressions of levity are in reaction to the more frustrating aspects of his story, namely Cobb’s visual presentation having been met by teachers and directors with, perhaps unintended but nonetheless tangible, attempts to limit his performative potential – the expectation to perform Othello through an unfortunately white lens.

This plays out in a suddenly Chorus Line-esque staging of Josh Tyson, seated among us, as a director, white-mansplaining his vision of the Othello for which Cobb is auditioning. Tyson wants Act I, Scene 3’s speech to the Senate played with a kind of amusing subservience, which elicits in Cobb a psychosomatic gag reflex of blanking on text he knows by heart.

As the exchange unfolds, Cobb spends increasingly little time in the actual audition room, as every utterance from Tyson hurls him into a mental flurry of indignance Shakespearianly staged by Kim Weild as though to make up for all the verse we would love to though never hear. These shifts are aided by Alan C. Edwards’ lighting, establishing spaces with reliable clarity, which, alongside Cobb’s equally autonomous channel-changing, allows us to feel just as transported.

The question becomes, which space is primary, and which the aside? The piece’s initial home base is unquestionably the present day Cobb telling his story in classic solo show form. The audition, however, literally colonizes the dramaturgical structure into a narrative play wherein Cobb must resist alienation within his own piece. It is then we understand Cobb’s charming shape-shifting to truly be the theatre of societal survival, ultimately forsaken for the sake of a character who demands better.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

August 25, 2019
Once a pop-up designer clothes emporium, the reclaimed ornate space on Broadway and 12th street is transformed into Third Rail’s immersive theater piece based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream.

Designed with a gastronomic twist, Midsummer: A Banquet tells a magical tale of love and mayhem between appetizers, entrees and desserts. Culinary delights mix with a fresh approach to the Shakespearean comedy in this immersive theater realization.

Actors roam willy-nilly through the space, joining guests at tables, pouting alone at the long bar or stomping out of the dinner club only to return reborn. The ballroom/dinner club forms a delightful theatrical playground for Third Rail Projects and Food of Love Productions Midsummer: A Banquet.

Compressed into a 90-minute show (adapted by Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook) the action focuses on the four attractive lovers who escape the deleterious laws of a patriarchal Athens and hide in the forest in order to be forever together. But, as always with Shakespeare, there are a few complications—to start, Hermia (Caroline Amos) loves Lysander (Alex J. Gould), not her father’s choice, Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales) who is being chased by Hermia’s best friend, Helena (Adrienne Paquin).

Invisible to humans but guiding unsuspecting humans’ whimsical fates, Oberon (Ryan Wuestewald) and Titania (Victoria Rae Sook), the faerie king and queen squabble over a Changeling. Their turmoil flips the hapless human lovers into a state of chaos causing numerous, humorous miscalculations.

However, the real scene stealing sections feature the rude mechanicals a peripatetic theater group preparing a drama headed for the Athenian court. In particular, the audience howls over the very large (in terms of charisma) Bottom (Charles Osborne) – the actor who is wickedly transformed into a donkey and simultaneously, Queen Titania’s lover.

Athletically directed and charmingly choreographed by Zach Morris, the play never feels forced, nor do the interactions between actors who double in roles and triple as wait staff. Additionally, Sean Hagerty’s music and sound design buoys the production.

The charming ambiance is reminiscent of people picnicking in a park on a warm, sunny day in view of a traveling theater troupe.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 12, 2019
What a nutty idea! Build a musical around aging Broadway actors and let them rip! Broadway Bounty Hunter at the Barrow Street Theater jumps along on Joe Iconis' funky music and lyrics and campy book by Iconis, Lance Rubin, and Jason Sweetooth Williams.

The zippy musical directed and choreographed by Jennifer Werner releases actors throughout the theater because the energetic production can hardly be contained on the Greenwich House Theater's intimate stage. Led by the inimitable Annie Golden (Annie) and Alan H. Green (Lazarus), Iconis' soulfully heart-pumping songs get quite the work out by an amply talented cast.

Unable to win an audition and still recuperating from her beloved Broadway producer’s drowning, the aging Annie is recruited by the sleekly attractive Shiro Jin (Emily Borromano) to become a bounty hunter and catch bad guys!

Once at the “School of Bounty Hunters,” Annie learns her mission is to track down a notorious drug dealer whose pills killed Ms. Jin’s brother. Driven by this personal vendetta, she’s coupled with the star bounty hunter and equally talented Lazarus. Tall and buffed he towers over Annie’s diminutive form.

Despite her slight stature, Annie’s amply equipped to spar with the best of them because she knows how to act, and most importantly, improvise—the elixir of life.

Surrounded by a knock-out singing and dancing ensemble, including the engaging villain Mac Roundtree (Brad Oscar), Annie reveals a talent for sniffing out bad customers and confusing them into submission. Adding to on stage commotion, Werner’s Martial arts based movement tipped in R & B swag fuels the dramatic action.

Light and kooky, “Broadway Bounty Hunter” is fine summer fare.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 10, 2019
Fireworks explode, windmills spin, confetti sprays, swings pop out of the ceiling and an oversized elephant sculpture takes a gander at the audience in Baz Luhrman’s eye-popping Broadway musical Moulin Rouge.

Based on Luhrman’s gaudy, 2001 Oscar-winning film, this tale of love and fame is set against the backdrop of the spectacular Moulin Rouge club located in Montmartre -- a gritty, working class district of Paris. Bohemian life rages through the Parisian left-bank streets where dreamers and outcasts, the wealthy and bourgeoisie collide.

This colorful palette of individuals at the turn of the 20th century is evocatively captured in the paintings of musical halls by Toulouse Lautrec, which resonate loudly in the scenic designs by Derek McLane. Spilling beyond the stage, plush red velvet valentines and sparkling chandeliers surround costume designer Karen Huber’s scantily attired chorines and voluptuously adorned Parisian patrons.

John Logan’s book draws from the film, tossing a naïve young songwriter (from Lima, Ohio) into the flames of love. Desperate to get close to his passion—Moulin Rouge’s famed chanteuse, Satine (Karen Olivio) – Christian (Aaron Tveit) buys into his pals’ Santiago (Ricky Rojas) and Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah) urgings to take his song directly to Satine.

This unleashes the story of mixed identities, and star-crossed lovers suspended in a fabulously decadent club that welcomes all.

Decked in top hat and tails, the lurid M.C. (a sensational and unrecognizable Danny Burstein) urges the patrons to release their inhibitions and instead, revel in their fantasies. This is accomplished through a string of over 70 R & B and pop hits. Rolling ballads and dance songs form the musical backbone. Those intimate with the soundtracks of the 1970’s and 80’s will be jiggling in their seats and humming along.

Besides the fine performances and dynamic direction by Alex Timbers, Sonyah Tayeh’s inspired choreography gussies up all the edges. Like one of the great choreographers of classical ballet, Marius Petipa (Sleeping Beauty), she moves bodies through three different vertical tiers while making jumps and turns explode. In other words, Tayeh crafts dances, which fill the stage from the floor to the ceiling. Additionally every performer’s walk suggests a different, wildly evocative personality.

Aided by Justin Townsend’s circular lighting, the choreography unleashes the music’s subtext in grinding moves and spiraling torsos dipped in extravagant leg extensions and the world famous can-can kick line. Timbers and Tayeh forge a volatile synergy that consistently animates the stage.

Another outstanding dance moment happens when the tango dancer—Santiago whips his partner Robyn Hurder into a steamy display of “vertical sex.”

Although Moulin Rouge echoes other productions including “La Boehme” and “Cabaret” it maintains its own, very distinct brand of lurid glory led in large part by the hard worn, but vulnerable Satine. Grit guides her every move and her sinuous voice ekes out the pathos in every song. Of course, another nod goes to Justin Levine’s bountiful orchestrations, arrangements and additional lyrics.

By the end, the audience wins a night gilded in fantasy and fun.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis [email protected]

July 30, 2019
Awk! Awk! The harrowing high-pitched screech of an enormous bird, the gauco, fills the theater. Does it signal freedom or imprisonment?

This question resounds throughout Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, an intimate and disturbing play about the journey of Mexican immigrants fleeing death and poverty. Spun from the threads of the ancient Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, Mojada updates the themes of displacement and revenge.

Arms outstretched, Medea (an intense Sabina Zuniga Varela) flaps large tropical banana leaves and repeats an incantation that releases the sounds of home. Medea knows her potions.

Living in a worn down apartment, Medea sits behind a sewing machine in the ramshackled backyard (by Arnulfo Maldonado) brightened by green plants in large pots.

Undocumented and fearing arrest, Medea relays in a harrowing flashback, the family’s escape from Mexico. Stuffed in an airless truck, she describes their trek across the dessert and her horrifying ordeal at the hands of brutal soldiers.

Emotionally paralyzed since the migration to Corona, Queens, Medea relies on the motherly servant, Tita (the very wry Socorro Santiago) to translate all things American. A gifted seamstress, Medea fashions “piece work” into impressive outfits. Because Medea is unable to step into NYC’s overwhelming streets, Tita invites the easy-going, expansively personable Churro vendor Luisa (Vanessa Aspillaga) over to enliven thier solitary lives.

Luisa, Tita, Acan (Benjamin Luis McCracken)-- Medea's 10 year old son and Jason (Acan's father) bring Medea stories of life outside the backyard. While Medea retains the rituals of her native Mexico, Jason, who is not officially married to Medea, aims for the American dream.

Gainfully employed in the housing business, the incredibly hunky Jason (Alex Hernandez) attracts the attention of his boss/owner, Pilar (Ada Maris). Intent on mainstreaming his son, Jason gets sucked into the opportunities dangled by the competitive and unsentimental Pilar.

For those who know how Medea ends, the dénouement is inevitable. Yet when Medea learns her son will be ripped from her side, she wields a harrowing soliloquy of sorrow. Like the Ancient Greeks, director Chay Yew takes the murderously gory action off-stage thus allowing the imagination to take over.

It's possible many attending Mojada at the Public Theater found the play emotionally overwrought, but those who have lived this story surely embodied the perilous tragedy. EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 17, 2019
Many years ago, David Cale unassumingly took the stage at downtown haunts like P.S. 122 and unspooled simple stories made riveting by his precise, self-effacing, and effortless presentation. This charming wordsmith immediately gained a loyal following. His text was simple but vivid and since then, Cale has appeared in many theater, film and TV productions.

Now he has returned to the Public Theater with We're Only Here For A Short Time a song play hitched to his family’s story. He hasn’t changed much -- diligently retaining his lanky frame and sense of childish wonderment. His long face and hawkish nose still suggest avian looks suit the opening song about Canada Geese gliding in the sky.

Born in Luton, England to a working class family that struggled with alcoholism, depression and rage, Cale winds facts and memory around an autobiography animated through text and song-- a one-man, one-band show. Among many other gifts, Cale manages to convert his multi-generational family members into universal characters. That’s what touches the audience. Easily shifting from a brutal man to a sensitive, artistic woman, Cale draws sympathetic characters despite their foibles or savage acts.

The story opens on a young boy’s love of animals. He builds an animal hospital and dedicates himself to saving all the injured creatures encountered around town. Happily restoring his four-legged and feathered patients to health, when it comes to the human species, Cale’s restorative gifts fail. But Cale fully and completely succeeds in ardently humanizing the people who frightened and ultimately inspired him.

Stretched across a dark strip at the back of the stage, six talented musicians -- Matthew Dean Marsh (Piano), Josh Henderson (Viola), Tomina Parvanova (Harp), Jessica Wang (Cello), John Blevins (Trumpet), and Tyler Hseih(Clarinet) -- accompany the songs and perform interstitial music composed by Cale and Matthew Dean Marsh.

Director Robert Falls gives Cale space to paint a poignant portrait of life in a small, working-class town – a place that nurtured him and stung him with the determination to leave. We’re so happy he migrated across the pond and into our theaters.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 12, 2019
From under twisted sheets, moans and pants cut through the dark, atmospheric lighting where two bodies heave in unison. Caught in the throes of wild sex, the couple emerges, spent. Soon all that euphoria translates into questions--countless questions about the authenticity of their night of lovemaking and future liaisons.

Despite their thrilling compatibility in bed, Frankie (Audra McDonald) and Johnny (Michael Shannon) clash in the light of day. Johnny, a short-order cook and Frankie, a waitress in the same restaurant share bits about their relatively unfulfilled lives.

Throughout Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune a two-act play by Terrence McNally, Frankie and Johnny bungee towards and away from each other, never fully knowing how close they’ll get before snapping back.

Their back-stories float up like auras of who they might have been until little by little, the puzzle pieces of each story fall into position.

Audra is deprecatingly matter-of-fact, while Johnny remains aspirational. Not interested in any sort of daily routine, Frankie’s protective of her independence. Already burnt once, she’s in no rush to be ensnared in another all consuming, one-sided relationship.

Spouting commentary from Shakespeare to ancient Greek philosophers, Johnny’s rough and tumble demeanor (enhanced by a naturally gravely voice) suggests a guy with either a romantic soul or dubious motives.

An imposing figure, Johnny’s palpable longing for genuine contact nearly eclipses Frankie’s apprehensions. Is this the start of a new relationship or just smoke dreams circling two middle-age people in search of something larger?

Under the direction of the talented Arin Arbus, the audience leaves holding its collective breath.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 6, 2019
Travel back to the first time Hillary Clinton vied for the presidency. After months of exhaustively campaigning, hopes fly high in New Hampshire but the coffers are drained. What to do? Oh -- sure, call Bill.

The new Broadway play Hillary and Clinton by Lucas Hnath clamps onto a very specific night when questions about “unlikeability” hover over Hillary’s unrelenting quest for the presidency. Her harried campaign manager, Mark (Zak Orth), serves as cheerleader, truth teller and man with a Dunkin' Donuts box perpetually attached to his hands.

Unable to stomach Zak’s pronouncement that the coffers are bare, Hillary (Laurie Metcalf) goes against all reason and invites Bill (who has been banned from the trail) to visit. She wants his advice, she wants his support, but mostly, she wants his foundation’s money.

Set in a sterile white room, dotted by a small frig, chair and door leading to a bedroom, set designer Chloe Lamford perfectly replicates all the anonymous motels and hotels tolerated by president-hungry candidates. Skillfully directed by Joe Mantello, Metcalf nails the plain spoken, intellectually vexed woman who’s generally smarter than everyone else but somehow, never fully appreciated. A haggard looking John Lithgow arrives still pouting about his ostracization, yet eager to get back in the game.

The dialogue between Bill and Hillary convincingly slips in and out of tricky issues that tread over the pros and cons of staying married or the dangers of accepting money from a politically tainted foundation.

When the two dissect the reasons for staying together, I was reminded of an interview on radio with Hillary Clinton about two years after President Clinton's impeachment. The interviewer posed this question: “Why don’t you divorce Bill. It would be so much easier on you?” Hillary quipped, “Because there’s no one I’d rather talk to.”

Both are political animals driven by ambition and powerful intellects yet, Bill knows how to speak to the voters’ emotions, while Hillary speaks to their reason.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 28, 2019
Suspicious of the written word, Socrates engaged in a constant verbal interaction based on questioning assumptions—actually, questioning anything and everything. Now the Public Theater with support from the Onassis Foundation, presents Tim Blake Nelson’s Socrates directed by Doug Hughes.

Set in ancient Greece circa 399BC, this is the last day Socrates walks the Agora. In this fictional version based on the information relayed by primary-source accounts in the “Apology of Socrates” by Plato, a young man (David Aaron Baker) asks an elder to retell the legend surrounding Socrates’ death.

Soon, the slightly grimy, taciturn Socrates (a convincing Michael Stuhlbarg) paces back and forth under a bright, Athenian sun designed by Tyler Micoleau. Belligerent in his demeanor, Socrates refuses suggestions that he alone has the power to save his life. After incessantly antagonizing the Athenian polis with his ideas, 500 male citizens (chosen by lot), accuse him of “corrupting youth” and “impiety“.

Dressed in Grecian robes, and sandals fashioned by Catherine Zuber, Socrates—surrounded by his Greek chorus of disciples -- ambles through stone walkways, boulders and benches by set designer Scott Pask. Unruly and unkempt, Socrates bats away offers of help from friends who hold wealth or high government positions.

Frequently popping off the stage, Socrates confronts the 500 citizens (in the form of the audience) insisting on the rigorous questioning of anything -- even the nature of color. Constantly sparring with his colleagues on any number of life and death issues, Socrates, an old man of about 80, insists that the polis has spoken, and he will not apologize for his actions. Instead, Socrates will swallow the poison and die.

The famous thinker cared not for worldly goods or apparently his wife, children or friends. Socrates only believed in the search for the truth, for the golden mean of human knowledge. When his wife, Xanthippe (Miriam H. Hyman) brings the two boys to see him, Socrates sends them away refusing sentimental women’s tears. If she’s to be believed, Socrates, who doesn’t bathe or care for his garments, neglects his family while plunging them into debt. Xanthippe alone manages the house and understandably despairs when Socrates refuses money from his many students.

Interestingly, politicians and wealthy landowners surround this man of pure ideals, as well as other scholars and students. Yet, he accepts no favors coveting only the mind. In the end, surrounded by grieving friends who pledge to care for his family, Socrates insists they stop their women’s’ tears. Before the poison circulates through his body, Socrates and Plato ((Teagle F. Bougere) engage in a profound exchange about the nature of the soul.

Despite an uneven cast, Hughes animates the philosophical language dramatically capturing an elusive man who helped set the foundation of Western philosophy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 21, 2019
Suzan-Lori Parks’ newest production White Noise at the Public Theater rips open the quiet side of racism and it’s insidious drone inside everyone. Comfortably seated in a chair, Leo (the captivating Daveed Diggs best known for his star turn in Hamilton) addresses the audience in a warm baritone voice coated in a light southern accent. Diggs relays his upbringing in a well-educated family and good neighborhood noting his only real problem growing up was insomnia.

Diggs’ solo, which by the way was so well delivered he could have narrated the whole play, segues into the discovery of a “fix” for the insomnia: a “white noise” recording. But there’s a downside—the remedy saps his creativity so he can no longer produce his art.

This scene folds into a dialogue with an enlightened, racially mixed quartet composed of an Asian woman, an African- American woman raised by lesbians, plus a Caucasian and African-American male. These school chums, share similar educations and backgrounds except for John who uneasily sits on a family fortune made by owning bowling alleys. Gabbing daily, they offer advice on career moves, gossip and bowl. Yes, Ralph and Leo are bowling champions who love popping beers over an actual bowling alley planted on stage.

At first, all appear to be leading relatively satisfying lives. Ralph’s partner, Misha (Sheria Irving), a vlogger, finds a new avenue of expression on a call-in forum she calls “Ask A Black” (adroitly visualized by Lucy Mackinnon’s projections) and Dawn, a lawyer, represents good causes.

Suddenly, the play dives below the line of social acceptability when Leo is roughed-up by the police while walking around the neighborhood. Outraged, everyone’s equilibrium is disturbed. Dawn wants Leo to press charges but Leo deflects the offer and contrives another, more cringe-worthy idea. He proposes his best bud, Ralph, buy him for 40 days and 40 nights for just a little under $100,000. The human sale would clear Leo of his debts and free him to ponder questions about his life and the sinister reality of racism.

Uneasy at first, Ralph agrees to the financial end but denies interest in holding Leo accountable. Without revealing the play’s frightful dénouement, know that everyone begins a descent into the chatter of his or her own personal underworld.

Muscularly directed by Oskar Eustis, the simple, effective set by Clint Ramos is enhanced by Xavier Pierce’s lighting design and effortlessly evolves from one domestic site to another. Be ready for a bumpy ride into gender, race and politics.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 15, 2019
Produced in 1943 (during World War II) to a score by Richard Rogers and libretto by Oscar Hammerstein, the legendary Oklahoma! team was joined by the equally formidable choreographer Agnes deMille. Together they fashioned a wildly successful show that became an equally successful film in 1955. For many, Oklahoma! is a musical staple about the great American pioneering spirit. Before its move to Broadway, Daniel Fish’s vision of Oklahoma! appeared at St. Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, a theater known for producing spine-tingling, avant-garde productions.

In Fish’s refashioning of Oklahoma! at Circle in the Square, the audience sits amphitheater style on three sides of the stage. Actors and musicians travel up and down the long rectangular performance space, entering and exiting from the aisles.

A down-home casualness draws the audience into the lives of folks at the turn of the 20th century eagerly establishing their lives in a territory on the edge of joining the Union. An outstanding, racially and mixed-ability cast exudes a naturalness and genuineness that immediately draws everyone into the sweeping story of young lovers and sinister antagonists.

The switch from an orchestral performance of the much-loved score, to the simpler folk tune arrangements, produce a very intimate musical experience -- more aligned with the actual musical sounds of the era. Scattered throughout are casually organized wooden chairs, tables, crockery, window frames and a rocker for the boisterous Aunt Eller (Mary Testa). Dressed in western garb including overalls, gallon hats, chaps and full skirts with petticoats, the cast looks mighty comfortable in Terese Wadden’s costumes.

One by one, the main characters are introduced: the handsome and goodhearted Curly (Damon Daunno), his love interest Laurey (Rebecca Naomi Jones), Laurey’s girlfriend and powerhouse actor Ado Annie (Ali Stroker), Annie’s witless lover Will Parker (James Davis), the slippery traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Will Brill) and menacing Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill).

There’s the usual tug-of-wits between Curly and his hard-headed heart-throb Laurey, but the real eye-opener hits when the captivating Ado Annie comes wheeling through the audience, radiating a fierce independence and unabashed sexuality. Ripping around the stage in a hand-manipulated wheel chair, more than anyone, Annie personifies the pioneering American spirit.

The close knit, quarrelsome Oklahoma families join in a number of festivities and hoedowns jauntily choreographed by John Heginbotham. Guys and gals kick up their boots, do-si- do, fling their gals to and fro so petticoats go high and low, then round-and-round in a promenade. All the dance sequences lighten the air with well deserved frivolity and intimacy, except for the famous “dream sequence.”

Considered one of Agnes deMille’s masterpieces, Fish and Heginbotham descend into a dance nightmare trading out deMille’s "dream sequence" ballet for one lone performer, Gabrielle Hamilton. Alternately running around and galloping on an imaginary horse, she flings herself from one end of the space to the other, slamming against a wall, falling, rolling, vertically splitting her legs and heaving from the exertion. The choreographically set and improvisatory sections are harsh and at times disorienting. Most disturbing is the ending of Oklahoma! Although DeMille’s ballet scenario is pretty much eliminated, many of the narrative elements are dropped into the show’s ending.

Despite the adjustments, Oklahoma! is not radically altered. Jud still terrifies Laurey, Curly touchingly donates all his possessions for Laurey’s picnic basket, Aunt Eller referees the cowboys and the farmers, and Ado Annie just can’t stop having the time of her life. Everyone delivers a heartfelt performance soaked in lighting designer Scott Zielinksi’s bright morning sunlight, and dusk’s fading rays.

And in a homey touch, everyone in the audience is invited to eat some home-cooked vittles during intermission. Now you can’t beat that! EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 8, 2019
There are nearly as many steps interwoven throughout the songs as words in the hip-stirring Broadway Musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.

The new production, exhilaratingly directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, underscores the centrality of the dance routines to the Motown signature. And although his name is absent in the script, it would be hard to top the original dance sequences devised by master Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins whose precision and style was coupled to cool and sex.

Trujillo nods to Atkins’ riffs by incorporating crystalline steps, contrasted against dramatic pauses, expressive hands and head snaps that punctuate huge smiles in some of Broadway’s best choreography.

For example, when the Temps sing "twiddle dee, twiddle dum, look out baby ‘cause here I come" the men pair off and rhythmically patty cake their fingers back-and forth; spit-out double turns and chug along without missing a note. None of this Mickey-Mouse “foot forward, foot back, sing and repeat” stuff in this show. Nope—the mighty-talented cast of men move with the fire of James Brown and finesse of Michael Jackson.

“Ain’t Too Proud” hugs the storyline of the Temptations’ original membership and ever- shifting singer combinations. Narrated by the designated leader (and last original member standing) Otis Williams (Derreck Baskin), the Temps’ taut backbone was built on five smooth singing and dancing men in sharp suits and neat moves. This “class act” produced the perennially popular Temptations. Although the original five were magic, the “sound” remained supreme despite the personnel swap- outs.

Besides the clean, well-enunciated book by Dominique Morisseau (based on Otis Williams’ 1988 memoir) the cast is a wonder of talent. In the role of the charismatic Ruffin, Ephraim Sykes pulls off some of Ruffin's spectacular signature moves—including the one where he tosses the microphone up in the air, starts to drop to the floor, catches the microphone, falls into the splits and bounces back up. Yes—the audience goes wild!

Equally talented and exuding a "lover-boy" sensuality, the dapper Eddie Kendricks (portrayed by the impressively gifted Jeremy Pope) struts around, keen on his threads and ladies. The booming bass of Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson) tickles the souls of your feet and James Harkness (Paul Williams) adds to the all important group glue.

The whole cast of eight men are vocal and movement chameleons, skillfully enacting the Temps’ rise to stardom. Like so many other musical groups of the 1970's, drugs, alcohol and physical abuse deteriorate the bonds linking the original members. The "leader/organizer" of the group, Otis understands the team’s sound reigns over any one individual. Despite interpersonal loyalties and tensions, Otis manages to replace destructive behavior -- even when it means losing the star, Eddie Ruffin. In the end, Otis gets it right: despite the brilliance of individual singers, the Temptations’ group ethos forges the sound that lives forever.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

March 24, 2019
Five years after arriving in NYC at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein, and 4 years after founding the School of American Ballet, George Balanchine was tapped to choreograph Roger and Hart’s 1938 musical featuring his fiancé Vera Zorina. A product of the Imperial Ballet in Russia, one thing Balanchine understood was spectacle; and by all accounts, that’s what was delivered.

Now eight decades later, City Center’s lauded Encores! Series dipped back into the coffers of dance-centric musicals to revive the slimmed-down version of I Married an Angel. Joshua Bergasse, the production’s director and choreographer, drew Sara Mearns, his fiancé and a wildly popular NYCB principal dancer, into the production.

Already a seasoned Broadway choreographer, Bergasse is testing his directorial wings. Although he’s still finding his directorial voice, Bergasse’s musical theater roots were particularly evident in the Act I show-stopping tap dance routine. Led by the mighty talented Hayley Padschun and Phillip Attmore the routine caused an eruption of clever tap figures that scattered rhythms into rich, percussive riffs lifted by acrobatic leaps and slides.

Tied to an old-fashioned story about a Budapest banker (Mark Evans) who claims he can only marry a pure, honest angel, he finally get’s his wish. She drops out of the sky (more to the point, Mearns flits across the stage in a flurry of runs en pointe) and he immediately marries her. Of course, she’s unfamiliar with human ways, and insists that “truth is beauty, and beauty is truth” -- unless it ruins her husband’s career. The underlying message resembles romantic black and white 1930’s films where women are not to be trusted because they are only out for themselves and a man’s money. This theory holds unless of course, you are an angel – but then, being perfect presents its own set of problems.

Most comfortable when bantering cheerily with her angel girlfriends, Mearns exuded a delightful “girl next door” quality. Earthy- voiced and appealing, Mearns’ native language is dance, not the spoken word, and that was most evident when Means struggled to hit her comic timing. People who saw Red Shoesat City Center last year, or New York City Ballet seasons, know Mearns’ dancing is sublime—and so it was again.

In this instance, Carlyle’s ballet choreography remained relatively basic and kept her trilling en pointe throughout the show. Despite the issue of limited space, Bergasse's “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as well as the “Roxy Music Hall” proved he can animate the entire stage—top to bottom, side-to-side. The many buoyant songs that tickled the throat were brought to life through the original, newly resorted Hans Spialek orchestrations and Rob Fisher’s musical direction. Tucked into the back of the stage, the Encores! Orchestra was outlined in silvery sashes by designer Allen Mayer complimenting Alejo Vietti’s sparkling, elegant costumes.

Innocently simple, I Married An Angel underscored the radiant talents of performers like Mearns, Attmore, Podschun and a standout corps dancer--Barton Cowperthwaite. Perhaps not the most cohesive Encores! production, it did offer a welcomed, cheerful respite from the day’s noise.
EYEON THE ARTS,, NY – Celia Ipiotis

March 22, 2019
A single ghost light announces the beginning of a rough-and-tumble comedy that pits immovable wills against implacable egos in the marvelous Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate.

Cole Porter’s play within a play, based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew debuted in 1948 and featured choreography by one of America’s modern dance pioneers, Hanya Holm. Because the musical thrives on a physicality that borders on a West Side Story rumble, the choreographer, Warren Carlyle is of central importance.

Embittered by a short-lived marriage, two musical theater actors – Fred Graham (a delightful Will Chase) and Lilli Vanessi (the sublime Kelli O’Hara) – star in Graham’s Broadway-bound musical. But trouble brews when Graham’s wandering eye and hands rout Vanessi’s amorous memories. Intent on seducing Graham, the hip-swinging, chest-thrusting ingénue Lois Lane (I saw the understudy Christine Cornish Smith) kicks the sand that ultimately produces the pearl between Graham and Vanessi.

High points primarily surround Ms. O’Hara’s crystal clear, soprano voice. There’s a halo of perfection that settles over every single note and syllable projected by Ms. O’Hara from the romantically lush ”Wunderbar” to the gutsy “I Hate Men” and heart-wrenching “So In Love.”

Besides the consistently hummable score, director Scott Ellis and Carlyle animate every scene with uninterrupted movement sequences that enlarge the characters. Dance fills much of the action, fusing ballet beats and leg extensions to Fosse-style hunches over tight prances, tap extravaganzas and acrobatics seamlessly integrated into the choreographic language. Most Importantly, the choreography does not rely on “tricks” for applause; it trades in Inventive recreations of traditional chorus line kicks, tap routines and intimate duets.

In the production’s now-famous number “It’s Too Darn Hot” (made famous in the 1953 film version by Bob Fosse) the racially mixed cast members mingle outside in the alley designed by David Rockwell. Action heats up when the multi-talented Corbin Bleu starts to click his heels against a wood crate. That blows up into a dynamic tap dance with James T. Lane -- reminiscent of the Nicholas Brothers’ renowned splits and sophisticated footwork. Impressively, percussive taps build on each other until they split apart into multiple syncopated rhythms.

Meanwhile, back in Padua, the viciously temperamental Kate is eligible and rich but unmarried because no man dares to tame her—that is until the mercenary Petruchio arrives to claim a bride. Their hilariously bitter battle for supremacy is evoked through overhead lifts that dodged Jeff Mahshie’s overflowing Shakespearean gowns, body flips and rough lindy hop maneuvers. There may be no rear-end paddling in this version, but by golly, the singing and acting never waivers under the pressure of the show’s acrobatics.

Not surprisingly, John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams (the two thugs intent on reclaiming cash for a bad bet) grab the spotlight in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Replete with canes, striped suits and straw hats, they happily milk the audience’s applause with every soft shoe strut and false exit.

What’s particularly pleasing, in a show replete with pleasing moments, is the chemistry between Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase. Not the most bombastic Petruchio, Chase establishes his male privilege in a quieter, more believable manner. Under Ellis’ keen eye, the dramatic arc builds into a tower of animosity that melts into a touching moment of loving, mutual recognition.

There is not downside to the Roundabout Theatre Company’s rousing revival of Kiss Me Kate at Studio 54.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 5, 2019
When the diminutive, elderly mother (a splendidly deadpan Marylouise Burke) walks into the disaster area once known as her kitchen, she puts down her two red suitcases and greets her sons before even asking about the destruction.

That’s pretty much the logic that follows--or not – in much True West, Sam Shepard’s play on a brotherly tug-of war. At once depressing and manic, Ethan Hawke (Lee) and Paul Dano (Austin) dance their Argentinean tango of childhood jealousies and adult animosities hooking legs and chest slams.

Quietly typing at the kitchen table, next to a burning candle, Austin’s serenity is sorely challenged by his vagabond brother. Draped over the kitchen counter, with a pack of beers strung around his finger, Lee leers at his brother and demands the car keys. Clearly a person who lives on the fringes of acceptable society, Lee developed his wits and trades in minor thefts while Austin snared an Ivy League education. The good boy, bad boy syndrome takes a radical turn when a producer arrives to discuss a screen project with Austin only to reverse course and agree to produce Ethan’s clichéd cowboy film concept.

By the second act, both are in a state of agitation. Intent on proving he can buddy up with Lee and roam the desert, Austin accepts Lee’s challenge to steal toasters from all the neighborhood homes. This leads to some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in a True West production. From the moment everyone witnesses a half dozen toasters parked throughout the kitchen—the ludicrousness escalates.

While Lee attempts to type his script with one finger, Austin ricochets from one toaster to another as bread pops up in time for him to catch, butter and pile it on a stack of toast resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Volcanic explosions knock the two brothers throughout the house, crashing over every piece of furniture until their childish rivalry rolls right in front of ---their clueless mother.

Roundabout Theater’s production of True West excels on the strength of its casting and radiant direction by James Macdonald.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 26, 2019
These days, life’s absurdities are the norm. Therefore, Ionesco Suite was both familiar and farcically disturbing. Exaggerated characters are draped around a long white table. At times it was reminiscent of an Ingmar Bergman play where a family gathers at the dining room table, at first in civilized fashion until family members start to regurgitate absurd realities in the darkness of winter.

A major voice in the world of the “theater of the absurd” Eugene Ionesco could skewer the best and worst societies. Scraps of his plays are sampled in the play including “The Bald Soprano,” Jack,” “Conversation and French Speech Exercises” and “The Lesson.” This particular production is the creation of Theatre de la Ville’s artistic and directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. Extremely physical, the animated actors used their faces as vividly as their bodies and voices. All parts of their physical being were activated by the stage directions and rhythmically composed, staccato language buoyed by Jefferson Lembeye & Walter N’guyen’s incidental music, and stark sets and lighting design by Yves Collet.

Hysteria of one level or another ties a selection of scenes together. Families rowdily ball at a son, a wedding couple bicker about whether or not a turtle and snail are one and the same, or a fireman races in desperate for a fire. There are plenty more examples two wacky people looking at the same thing but seeing two different realties. Both disturbing and funny, there’s the “Ground Hog Day” aspect to the people who just insisting or repeating their observations over and over again. One of the wildest physical comedy scenes erupts in the end—over and in a cake.

Sadly, “Ionesco Suite” reflects too many Americans who wake up on a daily basis to curiouser and curioser headlines.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 19, 2019
Spirituals bind the young African-American men of the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, and despite its prestigious reputation, Drew Prep’s refined atmosphere is curdling at the edges of propriety.

Insightfully written by Tarrell Alvin MacCraney, Choir Boy delves into the growing pains of young black men solidifying identities within a privileged school’s hierarchy and American society. Much of the dramatic action is driven by the soulful spirituals, Camille A. Brown’s urgent choreography and Trip Cullen’s energized direction.

A source of Drew Prep pride, the much-lauded choir engenders joyful camaraderie and cut-throat competition that pits a legacy student against a scholarship student. Arrogant and assertive, Bobby Marrow (a fine J. Quinton Johnson) lobs sexual slurs at Pharus (a stand-out Jeremy Pope) during his vocal solo at senior commencement. This core friction generates a fistful of the sparks inside this coming-of-age tale.

Respectability is paramount at this school, so any suggestions of impropriety results in expulsion. There's very little wriggle room. Although there is no hard evidence, the angel-voiced Pharus inspires whispers of homosexual proclivities. Refusing to confirm or deny his sexual leanings, Pharus spars with Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper) about his behavior and determination to lead the choir.

Choreographer Camille A. Brown employs step dancing, that percussive form of dance that piles rhythmic structures one on top of the other to drive the emotional undercurrents. The complex layers mirror the psychological mine-field experienced by teenage boys.

This team of men forge a powerful unit of youthful questioning. When the group begins to unravel, an old civil rights activist and friend of Headmaster Marrow comes in as mediator. Ostensibly, the respected Mr. Pendleton (Austin Pendleton) is popped into the script to teach “creative thinking” – but it feels like he's there to represent America's liberal white, racial conscience.

Midway through the human chess match a discussion ensues about the role of spirituals in the black community. Are coded messages woven throughout the spirituals; do they warn about cruel slave owners, daily inequities, escape routes or other guideposts? Regardless, the spirituals fulfill in a way that other songs do not. Through the spirituals and dance, blood memories surface.

One of Ms. Brown’s inherent talents is allowing actors to find a way to make the movement ooze out of their skin and become an organic extension of their personalities. Step dancing snakes throughout the piece -- feet pound out catchy beats syncopated against the voice. Even when sections of the choreography align the actors in synchronized steps, each person moves in his own distinct way. These vulnerable young mens' narratives are writ large through personalized movements that tap into the collective unconscious of the African diaspora.

Intersecting storylines punch through the fragility of young men desperate to conform yet yearning to find an individual path. There’s much to ponder in this scrum for acknowledgement and echoes Pete Townshend’s lament “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 18, 2019
Nothing panics parents more than the absence of a teenage son or daughter after a night on the town. Too many bad things happen between the hours of midnight and 4 am, and considering today’s instantaneous communications options, a child’s silence is devastating.

That’s exactly what happens in the Broadway drama An American Son realistically penned by Christopher Demos-Brown and shaken alive by director Kenny Leon. When Kendra Ellis-Connor’s (Kerry Washington) son, Jamal, fails to return home, she personally reports it to the authorities in the steely lit Florida police station, then whips uncontrollably around an erupting core of anger and helplessness.

Unremittingly pinging away at her phone, Kendra gets no response from her son, his friends or mothers-of-friends. All lines of communication are stilled. Expertly compounding her frustration, the officious young police officer refuses to give-up information. Unable to restrain herself, Kendra rages around him, begging, pleading for information; while he stalls, her gut tells her that it’s “definitely not alright.”

Around this nightmare swirls a heady domestic, social and political drama. Born of a black mother who is a professor of psychology and white FBI father, the biracial Jamal (a name the father found “too black”) attends a private school. Smart as a whip, he’s got growing pains and argues with Kendra before leaving home—in part because of an incendiary bumper sticker on his car.

When the assertive, imposing father, Scott (Steven Pasquale) arrives, answers materialize. Coincidence? Perhaps the officer is impressed by Scott’s FBI badge—or his white maleness. After all, they both nod in agreement when officer Jordan whispers this despicable comment: “she goes from ghetto to nothing in zero flat.”

Soon the anger flips from the officer to the couple. She’s rightly horrified by the camaraderie between the two men. Then they begin to download their own unresolved affairs. Clearly, a sexual energy lingers between the two, but their marriage did not survive. A blame game unravels, spotlighting the domestic land mines. There’s the son who misses his father while simultaneously wanting to claim his black identity. The dynamic between Scott and Kendra is dead on. In fact, the ensemble cast delivers a potently jarring portrait of life in America.

Demos-Brown invests this nonstop, contemporary drama with an unrelenting barrage of accusations and questions. Stirred to a neat chill by Leon, the show does not resolve the conflicts, merely airs them for public contemplation.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

APAP 2019
January 15, 2019
APAP 2019
APAP is coming to town right after the holidays, so don't put away your festive outfits and get ready to meet the artists, presenters, and professionals that populate the world of the performing arts. The conference provides a platform for those working in performing arts to engage in discussions around pressing current cultural, artistic and professional issues. The gathering draws members of the arts community from around the globe, but also offers events open to the public including free live-streaming of plenaries and many free pre-conference sessions. There are countless performances, demonstrations, talks and networking opportunities. If you haven't caught up on the details, click here: Hilton Hotel

1/4 - 8
APAP Pre-Conference Before the massive APAP/NYC Conference invades the city--in a good way--APAP is offering scores of workshops and professional development seminars free--that's right--FREE to the public. All you need to do is sign up. Here are a few of the categories: Artists Building a Code of Ethics in the Era of #MeToo; Broadway, Dance or Transgender Forums; Agents and Manager Affinity Group and Wavelenghts: APAPA World Music Pre-Conference. Check this out: Hilton

APAP Plenaries
Friday, January 4 -- Jane Chu celebrates the leadership role the arts play in our world. Bringing her unique perspective as an artist, former arts presenter, recent head of the National Endowment for the Arts, and now adviser to PBS, Chu has seen first-hand how the arts are a positive force that brings people together across the U.S. and across differences.

Saturday, January 5 -- Plenary Session: 5 Provocations for Rethinking the Industry: Leading into the Future In the face of a chaotic present and a wildly uncertain future, artists and arts leaders don’t have the luxury of “business as usual”. The leaders of today and tomorrow must take charge of making and remaking the future of our art.

Sunday January 6--Plenary Session: APAP|NYC Town Hall: The Power of WE:Make your voice heard as we forge the future of the field together! This year we will host a true Town Hall to tackle tough questions facing our field about the roles, rules and realities of the evolving performing arts industry. Are the tried and true approaches still working?

Monday, January 7--Annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon: This special event honors achievement, service, excellence and advocacy in the performing arts field. Tickets are required and must be purchased in advance when you register or at the APAP|NYC registration desk at the conference.

Tuesday, January 8 -- Closing Keynote: Year after year, the closing keynote is one of the most popular events of the APAP|NYC conference. Guaranteed to entertain and inspire, our soon-to-be-announced celebrity speaker will deliver the perfect send-off to APAP|NYC attendees!

January 11, 2019
It was a dreary night when Mary Shelly accompanied her husband and fellow poet Percey Shelley to the home of writer Lord Byron. Storms kept a congenial group of friends in the house, and that’s where Ms. Shelley penned Frankenstein. Already depressed because of the loss of her baby girl, Shelley imagined a story of a monumental misfit who had a tender heart but uncontrollable, laboratory constructed strength. The sketched out story of Shelley’s life and the writing of this monstrously popular story is told through the use of shadow puppets, puppets, projections and videos by the talented Manual Cieman Company. Presented during the annual APAP festival, Under-the Radar Festival draws arts professionals from around the world. This sets-up an opportunity for the artists to attract multiple presenters and organize a fruitful touring schedule. Frankenstein, an incredibly intricate production is a marvel of visual elements. Created by Manual Cinema and adapted from the novel by Mary Shelly, members of the company collaborated on its realization with the primary concept by Drew Dir. Live actors zoomed from one end of the darkened stage to the other, feverishly moving stick figures and light fixtures. Characters danced across the white walls like Kara Walker’s panoramic cut-paper silhouettes to the atmospheric music by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman.

Despite the two-dimensional aspect of the images, the audience felt Shelley’s sadness--her despair and manic desire to write a story that captured her colleagues’ praise. Running over close to two hours, no intermission, the production is enviable but the story unspools on a single, theatrical note. Much of the energy went into the actual depiction of the storytelling rather than development of dramatic arc. That said, they deserve an award for the production’s visual elements.

For some reason, Chekhov’s 19th century Russian play Uncle Vanya never ceases to fascinate contemporary theater professionals. And so, New Saloon pays witty tribute to Chekhov in their “mash-up” of English translations featuring characters portrayed by multiple actors, sometimes speaking simultaneously. Settled on an aging estate in the Russian countryside, the quiet, hard working family members are disrupted when their sophisticated, urban relatives descended on the premises. Suddenly, mundane lives are pitched into emotional extremes not experienced in years. The potency of the concept was most evident in the beginning when the tall blonde actor, Madeline Wise, began a deadpan delivery as the tree-hugging doctor who is a regular visitor to the estate. What was particularly exhilarating was the way she spoke just a few words punctuated by repeated minimal gestures—a hand opening and closing, eyes focusing on one person, turning away and back again. That unleashed a thrill because the words and gestures formed a provocatively syncopated rhythm that supplied the emotion. Soon the rest of the play’s outsized characters entered.

Gender roles switched constantly adding a sense of whimsy to this rendition of dysfunctional family dynamics. If a viewer is not familiar with “Uncle Vanya” there might be some confusion over the characters in Minor Character. However, everyone understood there was an old crotchety professor (played by the singular David Greenspan—the only single actor/role) married to a young beauty salivated over by all the adult men in the house. At times, Morgan Green’s direction pitted the actors into a genial contra dance: characters met up, and split apart bisected by the huge dining room table. But nothing else in the play reached the heights of Ms. Wise’s opening monologue.

One of the most upbeat productions of the Under the Radar Festival was The Evolution of a Sonero. Primarily a bio-musical, the theater piece is written and performed by Flaco Navaja who grabs the audience in the very first minutes and doesn’t let go until the calls for encore! Directed by Jorge B. Merced, the pace cooks with the help of the on-stage band The Razor Blades. Slim and dressed in a three-piece suit, Navajo wove together stories about life growing up in the Bronx. Shaped by his extended Puerto Rican family and an unforgiving urban decay, he struggled to shed skinny, geeky looks and in the process was tripped up by a fierce tango with drugs and alcohol.

What differentiated this from most solo performances was the introduction to Puerto Rican music: how it rose from the African diaspora, and how the clave formed the heartbeat of the Afro-Caribbean social music genres. Produced by the venerable Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, much of the program’s success is centered on Navajo’s charismatic presence, soaring voice and nimble dance body. In the end, it’s the music that solidified cultural identity, the spirit of perserverance and hope.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 6, 2019
When APAP comes to town, NYC, already the center of cultural activity turn into a tsunami of artistic events. That’s because the conference draws performers, presenters, producers and professionals from all corners of the performing arts community to NYC for about one week of non-stop cultural activity. Disciplines across the performing arts spectrum organize platforms to introduce the all-powerful presenters to the available productions. In this vein, the Joyce Theater presents the American Dance Platform series curated a by a different presenter every year. Generally, the companies present a tasting of their repertoire to tantalize the presenters and producers into wanting to learn more and help press the touring button on.

Opening night of the Platform was stellar. Stephen Petronio and the Martha Graham Dance Company shared a bill. And like Janet Eilber suggested in an introductory talk, the Graham Company was eager to share the spotlight with such a cool, and nervy dance company. In truth, both proved their offerings were perfectly capable of standing the test of dance time.

Petronio presented the full length “Hardness 10” with music by Nico Muhly choreographed in 2018. Clear and precise, the movement architecture was pristine. Dancers moved in strong formations, generally 4 bodies in counterpoint to 3. Straight arms shoot out from the shoulder, legs snap into long lines, and torsos frequently face in relief. There’s geometric satisfaction in this work in the Baroque sense, which means it’s mathematically satisfying and emotionally gratifying: a wonderful mix of soul and structure.

To start the performance, the audience was treated to what might be one of this decade’s finest reconstructions of a male solo,” Goldberg “Variations.” Originally created performed by Steve Paxton in 1981, the godfather of contact improvisation, the solo is a wonder of muscle control and an internal rhythmic high.

When Petronio Company member Nick Sciscione performed an “iteration” of the piece in 2017, I asked Yvonne Rainer --Paxton’s colleague and founding member of the Judson Dance Theater--what she thought about the solo: “Celia, I wept when I saw it.” And that was because Sciscione channels Paxton’s idiosyncratic, intuitive movement sensibility encased in liquid matter and cosmic imagination.

On the heels of this postmodern setting, the Martha Graham Dance Company arrives. First there was “Woodland” by Pontus Lidberg to music by Irving Fine for the Graham Company in 2016. Very Flemish or possibly Tudoresque (Antony) in the vein of Graham -- a community of dancers outfitted in simple dresses or pants and shirts -- circle one woman in black and white. Soon, the outer dance circle dons wolf masks underscoring the single female’s “outsider” status until she becomes one of them.

The company executed the steps with finesse, easily moving between the softer lines of contemporary modern dance and Grahams sharper edged dips and contractions. But again, the real heart of the Graham program arrived with the performance of two excerpts from Martha Graham’s “Chronicle" created in 1936 in response to the disturbing actions of Hitler in Germany and actually chronicles the 1914 -1936 era.

Two sections from this larger production were performed including “Steps in The Street” and “Prelude to Action.” A perfect antidote to today’s political folly, the women dressed in black marched out in determination. With fists clenched, knees rose up and slammed into the floor as ramrod straight torsos thrust fiercely into the future. Simple steps arranged in dynamic patterns unfurled defiant images of females in deep diagonals and in the end circles of determination.

In truth, Stephen Petronio and Janet Eilber (Direct of the Graham Company) should not be surprised if presenters ask to tour this exact program.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis

January 11, 2019
It was a dreary night when Mary Shelly accompanied her husband and fellow poet Percey Shelley to the home of writer Lord Byron. Storms kept a congenial group of friends in the house, and that’s where Ms. Shelley penned Frankenstein. Already depressed because of the loss of her baby girl, Shelley imagined a story of a monumental misfit who had a tender heart but uncontrollable, laboratory constructed strength.

The sketched out story of Shelley’s life and the writing of this monstrously popular story is told through the use of shadow puppets, puppets, projections and videos by the talented Manual Cieman Company. Presented during the annual APAP festival, Under-the Radar Festival draws arts professionals from around the world. This sets-up an opportunity for the artists to attract multiple presenters and organize a fruitful touring schedule.

Frankenstein, an incredibly intricate production is a marvel of visual elements. Created by Manual Cinema and adapted from the novel by Mary Shelly, members of the company collaborated on its realization with the primary concept by Drew Dir. Live actors zoomed from one end of the darkened stage to the other, feverishly moving stick figures and light fixtures. Characters danced across the white walls like Kara Walker’s panoramic cut-paper silhouettes to the atmospheric music by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman.

Despite the two-dimensional aspect of the images, the audience felt Shelley’s sadness--her despair and manic desire to write a story that captured her colleagues’ praise. Running over close to two hours, no intermission, the production is enviable but the story unspools on a single, theatrical note. Much of the energy went into the actual depiction of the storytelling rather than development of dramatic arc. That said, they deserve an award for the production’s visual elements.

For some reason, Chekhov’s 19th century Russian play Uncle Vanya never ceases to fascinate contemporary theater professionals. And so, New Saloon pays witty tribute to Chekhov in their “mash-up” of English translations featuring characters portrayed by multiple actors, sometimes speaking simultaneously. Settled on an aging estate in the Russian countryside, the quiet, hard working family members are disrupted when their sophisticated, urban relatives descended on the premises. Suddenly, mundane lives are pitched into emotional extremes not experienced in years.

The potency of the concept was most evident in the beginning when the tall blonde actor, Madeline Wise, began a deadpan delivery as the tree-hugging doctor who is a regular visitor to the estate. What was particularly exhilarating was the way she spoke just a few words punctuated by repeated minimal gestures—a hand opening and closing, eyes focusing on one person, turning away and back again. That unleashed a thrill because the words and gestures formed a provocatively syncopated rhythm that supplied the emotion. Soon the rest of the play’s outsized characters entered.

Gender roles switched constantly adding a sense of whimsy to this rendition of dysfunctional family dynamics. If a viewer is not familiar with “Uncle Vanya” there might be some confusion over the characters in Minor Character. However, everyone understood there was an old crotchety professor (played by the singular David Greenspan—the only single actor/role) married to a young beauty salivated over by all the adult men in the house. At times, Morgan Green’s direction pitted the actors into a genial contra dance: characters met up, and split apart bisected by the huge dining room table. But nothing else in the play reached the heights of Ms. Wise’s opening monologue.

One of the most upbeat productions of the Under the Radar Festival was The Evolution of a Sonero. Primarily a bio-musical, the theater piece is written and performed by Flaco Navaja who grabs the audience in the very first minutes and doesn’t let go until the calls for encore! Directed by Jorge B. Merced, the pace cooks with the help of the on-stage band The Razor Blades. Slim and dressed in a three-piece suit, Navajo wove together stories about life growing up in the Bronx. Shaped by his extended Puerto Rican family and an unforgiving urban decay, he struggled to shed skinny, geeky looks and in the process was tripped up by a fierce tango with drugs and alcohol.

What differentiated this from most solo performances was the introduction to Puerto Rican music: how it rose from the African diaspora, and how the clave formed the heartbeat of the Afro-Caribbean social music genres. Produced by the venerable Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, much of the program’s success is centered on Navajo’s charismatic presence, soaring voice and nimble dance body. In the end, it’s the music that solidified cultural identity, the spirit of perserverance and hope.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 10, 2019
The new Broadway musical The Cher Show grabs profile fragments floating in the universe and composes a collage picture of Cher. Contemporary myths promoted Sonny as Cher’s Svengali. He was the star maker; she was the musical talent. There are times when the musical pulls back the curtain on that simplistic origin tale, but never enough to bring the story into focus. The hopscotch book by Rick Elice glosses over historical milestones, which is probably OK because the songs and Bob Mackie outfits take center stage.

That Cher was blessed with a remarkable voice is indisputable. Happily, choreographer Chris Gattelli animates the musical in tandem with director Jason Moore. The hard working corps flips through dance crazes of the 1960’s-80’s or so. Hips wiggle, bodies shimmy and arms pump over quicksilver feet. Out come steps from the sultry Madison, disco’s finger pointing snare and for added flair a flip, split and cartwheel or two. Gattelli’s potent chorus frames the stars, ultimately enlarging the performance. In fact, the dances gins up the pacing.

Cher’s lifespan is divided between three actors and when Stephanie J. Block plays the “bad ass” mature Cher; the show is in good hands. Additionally, Jarrod Spector rather successfully captures Sonny’s comedic timing and Italian swagger. However, results are more mixed when Michaela Diamond plays Cher as a young woman and Teal Wicks portrays “smart mouth.”

We are reminded that the stars of the 1970’s “Sonny and Cher” weekly, variety TV show were really Sonny, Cher, and Bob Mackie. In retrospect this would be a great fashion runway show because a large part of the musical and theatrical talent is sewn into Cher’s fashion moxie.

Despite Cher’s fashion independence, that confidence did not originally extend to her business affairs. Sonny was in charge until Cher uncovered misappropriation of funds and then, she took over. This part of the narrative deserved more time.

Besides singing along, the audience ogled the sparkling, form fitting outfits that plunged down the front, slit up the sides, slashed down the back and topped by headpieces rivaling Nefertiti’s crowns.

A lightly seasoned musical, Cher dispenses lots of musical hits into an audience willing to embrace a star who remains relevant.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 25, 2011
Before a word is spoken or a move is taken, the costume identifies a characters’ station in life, frame of mind and personality. The best of the costume designers make costumes that feel perfectly in balance with a production while simultaneously forming an ever-lasting image.

According to one of the theater, dance and opera community’s most active and beloved costume designers, Martin Pakledinaz believes his job is to support the director’s or choreographer’s vision. And that he does.

This year alone--the two time-Tony Award winning, in-demand costume designer--Pakledinaz suited up Frank Langella for Manhattan Theater Club’s “Man and Boy,” glamorized “Anything Goes” and added dazzle to costumes for the famed Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

As a young person, Pakledinaz who liked drawing, felt an immediate affinity for the theater. “I just wanted to be in the theater and I had a talent for drawing clothes. When I looked at people, I noticed what they wore and how it was designed. Cuts and colors, and draping fascinated me. When I came to NYC after getting a graduate degree in costume design from the University of Michigan, I worked with Theoni Aldredge for seven years. She always said to learn from everyone you ever meet. Look and then think about it. For instance, I might borrow an overall style, and then tailor it to my sensibility. In the end, the costume becomes an extension of the production. My costume designs are character driven and known for a certain elegance--not funky—I’m not known for funky.”

“For instance, a strong, deep thinking actor like Frank Langella poses a different design situation from the vibrant Sutton Foster in “Anything Goes.” You know, I designed the costumes for Sutton in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” – the production that brought her into adulthood. She’s wearing those lavish evening gowns in “Anything Goes” like they are blue jeans—she’s terrific! (And anyone who has seen her perform knows she can belt songs like the old style Broadway stars).”

“One thing I do that surprises people at a fittings is to ask them to show me how they move. The actors (and dancers) need to feel comfortable executing the largest as well as the smallest gesture or movement. You have to find a good fit and one that breathes with the character. “

“Inevitably, each form (theater, dance, opera, film) has its own needs, but sometimes it’s surprising what does not change. Comfort factors in for everyone. There’s always a woman who wants a smaller waistline or man who wants his body lengthened. What I find, is that everyone breathes in a different place. Some breathe from the back, others from the abdomen. I ask questions—pretend you are hugging someone very tight. Then I can see how much their back expands. Or I might ask them to squat or lunge in order to better calculate how the costume fills out the bottom half of the body.”

“For Frank Langella, I brought a chair and told him to sit and cross his legs. See if the fit is comfortable no matter what position the body assumes. Along with the director Maria Aiken, we decided on a double-breasted, dark suit to telegraph seriousness and power. I try to be logistical about breaking down the script. I don’t feed artistic vision in it until I hear the idea.”

“When I walked into Radio City Music Hall and met with the Rockettes, they were delighted by my urging to move around and explain what was comfortable and what was problematic so I could change the costumes accordingly. They couldn’t believe someone was asking their opinion. And you know those dancers work as hard as any professional ballet or modern dancer. The Rockettes have countless costume changes and have to do everything from tap to ballet while looking perfectly collected.”

“Everything I do has its own joy.”

And Martin Pakledinaz gives many people untold joy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

October 21, 2011
City Center is all dressed up for her inaugural ball, and it only took two years of diligent restoration and renovation to put her back together again.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, City Center will throw open the doors to the opening show of the Fall For Dance Series, flaunting a newly refurbished façade, marquee, lobby, auditorium, promenade, patrons room, and – yes, more bathrooms! A couple of days before the Fall For Dance Season (Oct. 27 – Nov. 6), City Center will celebrate with a spectacular Opening Gala Event on October 25.

Arlene Shuler who started her professional career on the City Center stage as a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, now runs that same theater. Giddy with excitement, Shuler joined with Duncan Hazard, Partner in Charge of Ennead Architects, LLP, to highlight just a few of the numerous visual and physical adjustments.

To start, the City Center marquee is visible from both (6th and 7th) avenues. For those who stand in front of the theater waiting for guests or star-gazing, overhead heaters minimize winter’s chill. Inside, the box office area sports a new bar “Joe’s Bar” (a gift of Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Charitable Trust) that will operate at intermission, creating additional lobby space. Just beyond the ticket-takers, the lobby wall is dotted with six high-definition plasma monitors projecting artists’ videos (currently showcasing work by Rashaad Newsome) curated by the New Museum. Gone is the little balcony that jutted out, and instead, the stairways on either side are gracefully enlarged, adding a touch of grandeur that welcome the theater going throngs.

Audiences will be pleased to hear that there are 500 fewer seats, staggered and re-upholstered for optimum viewing and comfort not to mention an extra, really speedy elevator. Windows on the promenade level are now clear glass replacing the plastic faux stained glass versions allowing people to see the glorious ceiling from outside the building. A photographic display on the Promenade curated by Lynn Garafola for the Jerome Robbins Foundations focuses on choreographer Jerome Robbins in class and rehearsal.

But the most thrilling part of the $56 .6 million renovation is the painstaking refurbishment of the ceilings, glorious metal filigree and walls detailed in exotic Moorish colors (painting restoration by Creative Finishes) resembling precious stones of gold, blue and turquoise, clay, cream, emerald and more. It was noted as well that the terra cotta tiles were manufactured by Boston Valley, one of only two exiting companies in that “old crafts” line of work.

From the outdoor lobby to the sweep of the promenade ceiling, heads will be crooked up, staring and admiring the glory of what once decorated the hall when it was built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and transformed 1943 into the city’s first major performing arts center.

There’s much to applaud and much to see at City Center.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 6, 2011
Here we go again! White missionaries to the rescue! Time to convert heathen natives to the all-contradictory—I mean –soul saving Christianity.

When a graduating class of Mormons accept missionary assignments, tall, blond golden boy Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is paired off with short, chubby, fibber Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad).

Carted off to Africa, Elder Price dreams of Orlando, Florida while Elder Cunningham just wants someone-anyone—even his parents-- to like him. Two by two the Mormon Elders infiltrate Uganda, braving blistering heat, maggots, murderous tribal lords, rampant AIDS, infant rape and uninhibited female circumcision. And you call that fun? Well, the campy songs, and perky numbers by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone make death and destruction pop to a Dr. Seuss-like musical beat.

But these aren’t your every day bible thumpin’ sorts. They wield the book of Gideon, and trade on the crystal-gazing visions of New York state’s Joseph Smith, buried gold tablets plus an angel called—no really, this is the name—Angel Moroni. OK, go ahead, crack a few jokes. That’s exactly what the Parker, Lopez and Stone triumvirate intended for their wily musical “The Book of Mormon.”

Lack of conquests in Africa and a frown lashing from the Mormon Church brass jazzes Cunningham into converting the natives by switching-it-up and telling “tall” Mormon tales. The sacred Mormon mythology passes from northern NY and Salt Lake City to the hobbits and “Star Wars” iconography. Much more colorful and useful in everyday conversions than any Angel Moroni, randy mouthed Ugandan natives succor spiritual enlightenment from the band of Mormon Boy Scouts decked in white short sleeved shirts and black pants palming The Book of Mormon.

Duly impressed by Elder Cunningham’s remarkable success, Mormon brass pay a visit. To honor the Elders, the Ugandan natives put on a play to demonstrate their true devotion to Mormonism. In a giddy flip on the “The King and I” retelling of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” the natives re-enact the Mormon scripture according to the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

In Scott Pask’s appropriately cartoonish set, fragments of the Mormon Tabernacle frame the proscenium and a disco ball splinters celestial light over the Mormon dust. Choreographer/director Casey Nicholaw kicks up some basically unremarkable soft shoe toe-heel clicks, jazz dance potions and traditional African body contractions. Still, the cast members give it their all.

Jokes about suppressing naughty (gay) feelings by metaphorically turning off the switch, blacks’ acceptance into the Mormon Church only after 1978 and Cunningham’s inability to articulate African names calling the lovely and dynamic Nabalungi (Nikki M. James) Neosporin or Noxzema keep the laughs coming.

But as my nephew said at the end “ya think this might offend some people?” Ya think? Politically correct it’s not, but it is a clever musical diversion that points to the grace we all feel when helping others and embracing and believing in something larger than ourselves. Unselfish acts yield spiritual laughter.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--By Celia Ipiotis

November 28, 2005

Eager for a feel-good holiday tonic? Walk past the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree and head straight for the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys."

Whether or not you know the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, your spirits will dance to the tune of their story. Rising from Newark’s gritty, working class, four guys merge into a wildly successful pop vocal group identified by Frankie Valli’s stratospheric, three-octave falsetto. And like the original group, this amiable cast positively quakes with the high-voltage performance of John Lloyd Young as lead singer Frankie Valli.

This economic production struts with a well balanced diet of story line, music and nostalgia. Director Des McAnuff nimbly captures the exhilarating spirits of young men catapulted into the music industry. In the process they shed names and members before finding their "sound" but never lose their pronounced loyalty to each other. Contracts between band members were honored by a simple handshake. Mob ties oiled their ascent to stardom and their near demise. So strong was their brotherhood that when Frankie’s mentor and fellow band member faces financial and possibly bodily ruin, Frankie pays off his debts.

But all of this would not pop if the cast wasn’t so totally inside the 60’s style. That comes from the Jersey swagger and spot-on choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Granted, the cast excels in the choreographed sequences, lashing out tight moves, finger snapping bounces and unison spins -- but Trujillo is a master at replicating standard pop routines and tweaking them with fresh, bold gestures.

McAnuff revels in his tight cast, as he animates the clear and amply detailed book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The ambiance is accessorize with large comic strip styled pop art by Michael Clark while the set suggests urban sprawl and claustrophobic clubs as visualized by designer Klara Zieglerova.

The dynamite cast revolves around the charismatic Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito and Young along with strong performances by Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio, and J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi. (My only concern: the wear and tear on Young’s vocal chords).

A kicky pit band lead by Music Director, Ron Melrose juices up this show about an all-American band rooted in New Jersey’s urban sprawl and mob camaraderie. "Jersey Boys" will keep you smiling long after you leave the theater singing "Sherry"-----"Sherry Baby!"

"Jersey Boys" at the August Wilson Theater features music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe. Tickets move fast, so get in line.

Celia Ipiotis

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