Category Archives: 2017-18 New York Theater Season

Brian Friel’s Last Play Gets Touching Production at The Irish Rep

home place carol rosegg_edited

Rachel Pickup and Ed Malone. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Brian Friel’s The Home Place, now at the Irish Rep through December 17, looks at a period of upheaval in Irish history, 1878. Once more the cause of independence has been rising to the surface with new leaders and movement called “New Departure.” Home rule was the goal.  British landowners are a target and a symbol of British domination of the country.

The play, the last Friel wrote,  takes place during a single day – the day of the funeral of Lord Lifford, an English landlord, hated by the Irish who has been mysteriously murdered. It is set in Friel’s often-used, semi-mythical town of Ballybeg in County Donegal.

Christopher Gore, played touchingly by John Windsor-Cunningham, is an English widower who has lived most of his life on his estate in Ballybeg. Yet he also speaking lovingly of the time he spent in Kent, England and where he went to school. He lives mostly alone in the house with Margaret, the head housekeeper, a youngish local woman whose father is the school master and choirmaster in the town. Christopher’s son, David also lives there, seeing to the land.

On the day of the funeral, Christopher’s nephew, Richard Gore is visiting with his assistant, Perkins. Richard is a scientist, apparently well-known who is there in order to conduct some scientific explorations. He works in the fields of craniology and phrenology, which are the science of the shapes of heads. He believes that by measuring numerous of aspects of the skull, one can determine the ethnic background of an individual and his or her character.

Phrenology and craniology were popular from the later 1700s to the mid-1800s and then were revived in the early part of the 20th century. Today, is a discredited as a “pseudo-science.” But it had many adherents who believed skull shape and size affected brain size and that specific areas of the brain were responsible for character, thoughts and emotions.

Christopher has encouraged his tenants to come to be measured. While Richard thinks the reward should be only the photograph his assistant takes of them, Christopher, who views himself as a benevolent landholder, offers them more. No one disputes that he is benevolent, yet there is a growing group of people who want to reclaim land they view as theirs.

Among these are the maid Sally and her boyfriend, Johnny, who is the local man for the agitator Con who is also there.

The Home Place is a study of contrasts. Richard has little respect for the Irish while Christopher views them as humans towards whom he has warm feelings. After all he basically grew up in  Ballybeg. Christopher who is aging, longs to go back to England which he sometimes refers to as “the home place” – he has spent most of his life in Ireland, so he also feels a connection to it and the people. So which is his “home place?” He also is a contrast to the murdered Lord Lifford who was viewed as harsh and unforgiving.

Other contrasts abound. His son, David seems more a man of the land than the refined Christopher but they are both drawn to Margaret. Just after we see a rendezvous between Margaret and David, Christopher announces his desire to marry her, primarily you think because he is lonely.

A recurrent element of the play is music – Margaret’s father leads a well-respected choir which we sometimes hear. While he may drink excessively, he is also an educated man who teaches school and admires Irish poetry.

The play ends with Christopher siding with his fellow Ballybeg residents over his kin, but with increasing awareness that his time in Ireland is limited.

The Home Place is beautifully directed by Charlotte Moore, the Irish Rep’s Artistic Director. She has a fine cast to work with including Rachel Pickup as Margaret, John Windsor-Cunningham as Christopher and Ed Malone as David.  Christopher Randolph has the job of trying to make the supercilious Richard understandable and Stephen Pilkington provides some comic moments as his assistant Perkins.

The least developed characters are Con and Johnny, played by Johnny Hopkins (Con) and Gordon Tashjian (Johnny).

James Noone has provided a set that features the garden of the house. The lighting by Michael Gottlieb is excellent.

The Home Place is another fascinating play by one of Ireland’s best playwrights.

For tickets visit The Irish Rep or call 212-727-2737.

home place 2

Photo by Carol Rosseg

Advertisements

“Time and The Conways” Is More than a Just a Drawing Room Comedy

time and conway 3_edited

Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, Anna Camp. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

By Karen Isaacs

The curtain rises on the first scene of Time and the Conways now at Roundabout’s American Airlines theater through Nov. 26 and you will assume you are in for a typical ‘20s-‘30s British drawing room comedy.

The set by Neil Patel is a large, well-furnished room with a door to a hallway. Sounds of gaiety emanate from off-stage. Soon four young ladies enter, the four Conway sisters who vary in age from late teens to mid-twenties. The occasion is Kay’s 21st birthday party and they are going through costumes for a charade. But all is not exactly as it seems. It is 1919, a year after WWI ended; their father has died a few earlier in a bizarre accident, and one of their brothers is about to be demobilized from the army.

Though this is a well-to-do family, they are not the “idle rich.”  One sister (Madge) is a school teacher and ardent socialist, Kay is an aspiring writer/novelist, only the oldest sister (Hazel) seems to live a life of ease; her goal is a successful marriage and living in London.  Carol, the youngest is still in her teens. Their elder brother (Alan) works as clerk for the township. It is clear he has the least ambition of them all.

When Mrs. Conway enters (Elizabeth McGovern) she seems almost as young and vivacious as her daughters. By the time the scene has ended, Robin has returned home and quickly decided to marry one of Hazel’s friends (Joan).  A dour young man (Ernest) who is new to town has been introduced brought by another friend, Gerald. Hazel recognizes Ernest as the man she has seen around town and has felt as though he was stalking her.

The scene changes with the help of a set coming down from above and moving forward. It is 1937 but the set looks exactly like the earlier one. Now the entire family has gathered again, well almost of them, the youngest daughter is missing. Life has not necessarily been easy for some of the Conways.

The reason for the gathering?  Mrs. Conway has money troubles and the question is what to do. The house is not worth what was it was (this is still the depression) and she has not necessarily been careful about her funds. We learn what has happened to the siblings in the almost twenty years. Madge is now head of a school and is not only adamant about not helping to support her mother, but seems very angry with her.  Kay is a journalist working on magazines without the illusions or ideals she had as a budding novelist. Alan is still working the town, He’s the one that has been keeping a watch on his mother.

The marriage between Robin and Joan has deteriorated; he drinks and has left her with minimal support for their children. His big dreams have come to naught. Gerald is now Mrs. Conway’s solicitor.

Hazel is trapped in an unhappy marriage to Ernest who is cold and sneering. She may have money but she is dominated by her husband who obviously has little regard for her or the family.

time and conways by jeremy daniel_edited

Elizabeth McGovern, Brooke Bloom, Charlotte Parry.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Act two takes us back to the 1919 party, as the guests leave and we see the seeds that will lead to the 1937 situation. Why Madge is so angry with her mother, why Ernest views the family so negatively and why Joan made the wrong choice.

J. B. Priestley is best known for his layered works that examine British society (and all societies) in both a political and philosophical framework. This play which was written in 1937, uses the Conways to illustrate the actions and ideas that led Britain to the situation it found itself. At the same time, he is also discussing the philosophical concept of time.

His theories of how different dimensions link the past, present and future are woven into the plot of this play. The ending, when Kay realizes that Alan is the happiest of them all – and had the least ambition, is fascinating. Alan tells Kay (they are still in 1919) that in the future he could tell her something that would help her.

Tony winner Rebecca Taichman has directed this play keeping it in both the time and style of the period and the drawing room comedy. She allows the audience to slowly explore the depths of Priestley’s play. In this she is aided by the period costumes by Paloma Young and the effective lighting by Christopher Akerlind and sound by Matt Hubbs.

One of the attractions of this production is the return of Elizabeth McGovern to the New York stage. McGovern, who most recently played Lady Cora in Downton Abby, is an experienced stage actress. She handles the role expertly.  Her Mrs. Conway is almost as youthful (dare we say flighty) as her young daughters in the first act and by the time we get to 1937, she is still not truly mature. Her way to deal with difficulties is to ignore them or engage in wishful thinking.

It is hard to fault any of the supporting cast members. Gabriel Ebert has the challenge of imbuing the duller Alan with a sense of longing and quiet desperation. He does this so well, that your eyes are constantly drawn to him. Brooke Bloom as Madge, Charlotte Parry as Kay, Anna Barysknikov as Carol and Anna Camp as Hazel are all excellent. Steven Boyer as Ernest shows the lower class striver with a huge chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t seem to have an ounce of humanity in him.

Time and The Conway is at Roundabout’s American Airline Theatre, 227 W. 42nd Street through November 26. For tickets visit Roundabout Theatre.

time and conway jeremy daniel_edited

Matthew James Thomas, Alfred Narciso, Steven Boyer, Charlotte Parry. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

TheaterWork’s The Wolves Shows a Society of Teen Girls

TW Wolves 4

Photo by Lanny Nagler

By Karen Isaacs

 Teenagers are a gold mine for authors – they combine such conflicting elements in their personalities. Half adult and half child. They can be inquiring and well-informed while at the same time woeful ignorant. Emotionally they can leap from joy to despair in a second. The same teen can be kind and generous and in an instant become cruel.

It’s no wonder that playwright Sarah DeLappe looked to a group of teen girls playing soccer for the play The Wolves. The title comes from the team name. Just as William Golding and others have done, adults are missing from this society that the girls have created within their team.

These are very good players. They are playing indoors on a club team and are looking forward to their travel team come spring. For those not involved in youth sports and soccer in particular, this means that college scouts are looking at them as they play various tournaments and college “clinics.” (I have learned a great deal about this process with four granddaughters all of whom were recruited athletes and including two soccer players.)

This group of girls play in the Under 17 classification which means they are 16 or just turning 17. Most are high school juniors which is the year when the recruiting is in earnest and colleges can, under NCAA rules, sign players.

We see the girls before several games. As they warm up and do various drills, competing conversations take place. We only know the girls by their numbers, which can at times be confusing.

During the opening conversations, we learn that #7 is both the loudest, most self-assured and the most “advanced” as she swears often and talks about celebrating her up-coming 17th birthday by going away for the weekend to her dad’s ski lodge where her college-age boyfriend will meet her.  Then there is the “new” girl, #8 who has just joined the team. No one knows much about her, but she seems years younger than #7. The same is true for #46 who is trying desperately to fit in but has a tendency to make comments that don’t quite follow the conversational leads. In addition there is #11 who is the de facto leader of the group and runs the drills and #00, the goalie who is driven to seek perfection.

At times the conversations seem random. They talk about school work, particularly about a course some of them are taking on genocide. It’s interesting to hear them talk about the Khmer Rouge (one can’t pronounce it) and the Armenian genocide (#14 is of Armenian descent). But just as you are thinking how adult they are, the conversation will switch to menstruation and feminine hygiene products, boys and other things.

They are by turns kind to each other and cruel. Secrets emerge during the 90 minute play. One girl has had an abortion, another’s mother has breast cancer, a third girl is embarrassed that her mom is considered “hot”. There’s also talk of the stoner brother of one, and the fact that #00 vomits before every game.

Of course, they talk about the coach is who is apparently off on the sidelines. They view this coach as a “loser” and claim he is often inebriated or hung over; they long for their former coach, Patrick, who left the team to move  back with his mother who is battling cancer.

It all builds to a game at which a college scout (from Texas A&M) is there to scout a girl on the opposing team. But three of the Wolves are called over to speak with him; the others are crushed to be excluded and not considered “good enough”.

The climax of the play is the injury to #7 during a game; she blames the captain for not having them stretch before but it turns out that although her ankle was injured she went skiing during her birthday weekend. Now her ACL is torn, she will need surgery and could easily miss the up-coming season. And, perhaps predictably, there has to be a tragedy that is revealed in the last scene.

Although some of the conversations may be off-putting to some of the audience, you do develop a liking for these girls. You care about them.

Overall the cast is excellent. These young actresses do a terrific job, though a few of them look older than 16. In the case of Olivia Hoffman who plays brassy #7, that’s ok. She does an excellent job with this girl who is obviously rebelling. But Emily Murphy who plays the captain (#25) also seems older than her years in both appearance and manner. She is a “take charge” woman; her new haircut at the end of the play may be a form of “coming out.”

Rachael Caplan is excellent as #14 – she is shy and trying to fit in, but finally is willing to speak up for herself.  She is #7’s willing sidekick.  Karla Gallegos who plays the driven #00 is more off by herself than part of the total group. After all, the goalie does stand alone.  But each of the performers is excellent and it is hard to mention just one or two.

Eric Ort has directed this with a sure hand. The girls perform drills, stretch and job while talking. Mariana Sanchez has created a turf soccer field that slopes up in the back. It is the perfect backdrop for this play.

Overall The Wolves is a fascinating look at teenage girls and sports. Because of the language and some of the subject matter, the play may not be suitable for younger audiences; it is recommended for 14 and up though they may be somewhat embarrassed at times.

The Wolves is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford through Nov. 10. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.

This content courtesy of Shore Publishing Weeklies and zip06.com

TW Wolves 2

Photo by Lanny Nagler

Prince of Broadway –Looking Back at a Long, Successful Career

prince of broadway 3_edited.jpg

Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, Tony Yazbeck. Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Karen Isaacs

Follies, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Cabaret – the list is endless of shows that Hal Prince either directed or produced or both.

So a Broadway show that includes scenes from all these should be terrific. Right? Unfortunately, while Prince of Broadway has many delightful moments, the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to a hit show.

Why is hard to determine. Certainly the cast of the Manhattan Theater Club production (now at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through Oct 22) includes top notch musical theater talent – Tony Yazbeck, Brandon Uranowitz, Emily Skinner, Karen Ziemba and more.

Yet this evening that uses Prince’s biography to string together scenes from both hit and flop shows, only sometimes catches fire.

The show gets off to a slow start. The overture, arranged by composer Jason Robert Brown lists 17 songs as being included, yet somehow it was hard to identify many of them. It seemed as only phrase or two was included.

Throughout the show, various cast members, each speaking as if he or she were Hal Prince, detail parts of his biography. It opens with some bio and then just a snitch of the first show he was involved in – The Pajama Game.  We hear a few bars of “Hey, There” but we see no-one. From there were are on to a well sung, but somehow lifeless rendition of “Heart” from Damn Yankees.

 The show begins to gather some momentum with West Side Story, the first show Prince produced; at that point chronology goes out the window. Why the remainder of the show is organized the way it is, is a mystery. It seems relatively random.

prince of broadway 4_edited

Janet Dacal Photo by Matthew Murphy

So what are the highlights?  Each member of the nine person cast has moments that are terrific.  Kaley Ann Voorhees is a luminous Maria in “Tonight” from West Side Story and Janet Dacal is hilarious doing “You’ve Got Possibilities “ from It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. She’s also a very good Eva Peron and Aurora (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Byronha Marie Parkham does her best work as Amalia in She Loves Me with “Will He Like Me?”

 Tony Yazbeck once again demonstrates not only his exceptional dance talent, but also his strong voice. He’s Tony in West Side Story, Che in Evita, and with a nod to Jason Robert Brown, Leo in Parade. Since I had never seen nor heard the entire show, his rendition of “It’s Not Over Yet” was a highlight for me. It is an exceptionally moving song. But the extended dance number in Follies, while well executed doesn’t seem to have a purpose beyond showing off his skills.

Once again, I was delighted with the performance of Brandon Uranowitz,as the Emcee in Cabaret, George in She Loves Me and Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Chuck Cooper scored with songs from Showboat and as Sweeny Todd, though his Tevye was not as good.

Michael Xavier has followed up his performance as Joe in the recent Sunset Boulevard with some excellent work as the Phantom, Bobby in Company and Fredrik in A Little Night Music.

 The first act closing number, a series of songs from Cabaret was terrific. Not only was Brandon Uranowitz is excellent as the Emcee but Karen Ziemba gave us two characters – the gorilla in “If You Could See Her” and a touching Fraulien Schneider is “So What?” Her performance as Mrs. Lovett in “The Worst Pies in London” was a highlight of the second act. These are two roles I hope some director casts Ziemba in very soon.

Emily Skinner’s best number is“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company; her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is very good but not outstanding.

Certainly the production values are excellent. Beowulf Boritt (scenic and production

prince of broadway 2_edited_edited

Emily Skinner. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

design) and William Ivey Long (costume design) have handled the huge task for recreating moods for these diverse shows in different periods and location with finesse. As has Howell Binnkley with the lighting design.

Susan Stroman is credited as both choreographer and co-director with Prince himself.

Although I just wish that Prince of Broadway had somehow caught fire more than did, it is still a very enjoyable evening in the theater – revisiting favorite musicals or discovering some new ones.

It is at the Manhattan Theater Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.

prince of broadway 1 - matthew murphy_edited_edited

Tony Yazbeck, Kaley Ann Voorhees. Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

%d bloggers like this: