Tag Archives: Lynn Nottage

My Favorite NYC Shows of 2017

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By Karen Isaacs

 Of the 40 or so shows I saw in NYC in 2017, which were my favorites

 Musicals

Come from Away

COME FROM AWAY, Jenn Colella Photo by Matthew MurphyIn 2017, I needed a show that reminded me of people’s goodness and caring. Come from Away did just that without being manipulative nor saccharine. The show combined extraordinary direction by Christopher Ashley, fine cast with Jenn Colella as a standout and a enjoyable score by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. I was delighted it was a hit.

 

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

natasha-pierre-the-great-comet-of-1812-photo-by-chad-batka_edited-6 I had missed the various off-Broadway incarnations of this show, but the one at the Imperial Theater was amazing. I loved how the theater was totally transformed into a Russian café and the cast was all around me. I thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of musical genres and was delighted with Josh Groban’s performance as the depressed and lonely Pierre. I only regretted the limited awards it won and the producers’ missteps that led to its early departure.

The Band’s Visit

           

THE BAND'S VISIT, Photo by Matthew Murphy the band

Tony Shalhoub and the band. Photo by Matthew Murphy

David Yazbek’s score and this sweet, gentle story—though occasionally slow – again reminds us of people’s innate kindness. Plus it featured an astounding performance by Katrina Lenk.

Hello, Dolly!

I won’t say this is a definitive production of this classic musical, and Bette Midler may not be the perfect Dolly, but what a show it was. She is an amazing performer and the rest of the cast was able to hold own against her star power. Brava!

My runner-up Musicals

War Paint 
Goodman Theater

 Of, the Broadway musicals that opened or were revived, I enjoyed War Paint the best. To see Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole together was wonderful. Plus I found the score delightful.

Off-Broadway, John Kander (with new partner Greg Pierce) tackled a tough subject in Kid Victory. The return of a teen boy who was abducted and held captive by a predator before being returned to his conservative, religious family. Karen Ziemba as the mother and Jeffrey Denham as the predator were terrific.

My Top Plays

 Oslo

         oslo _jenniferjefferson.jpg__50000x390_q85_subsampling-2 The back story of the Israeli-Palestine Peace Accords signed in 1993 might not seem made for theater, but playwright J. R. Rogers, director Barlett Sher and a top notch cast led by Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle turned this into a fascinating and suspenseful drama.

Indecent

          

indecent topol and lenk rosegg

  I saw this play at Yale Rep and was entranced; the magic continued on Broadway with this spectacular ensemble cast and a fascinating look at a piece of forgotten American theater history.

 Sweat

           

Sweat 
Studio 54

Lynn Nottage play about blue collar workers losing their economic footing in 21st century America made me want to cry. It was real, it touched the economic issues and the personal ones.  It featured another terrific ensemble cast.

 

 

Jitney

           

Jitney

A strong ensemble cast led by John Douglas Thompson and Brandon J. Dirden plus superb direction by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and a great set by David Gallo brought out all the strengths in this August Wilson play.

Shadowlands (off-Broadway)

 

SHADOWLANDS 3 photo by Jeremy Daniel (2)

This revival of William Nicholson’s play about the unlikely love story between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham was intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving. It also featured a fine cast and set – that easily would have garnered praise on Broadway.

The Little Foxes

        

LILLIAN HELLMAN’S THE LITTLE FOXES
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
With Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon
Darren Goldstein, Michael McKean, Richard Thomas
David Alford, Michael Benz, Francesca Carpanini, Caroline Stefanie Clay, Charles Turner

    I saw Laura Linney as Regina and Cynthia Nixon as Birdie and wished I had also seen them in the opposite roles. They were terrific as were the entire cast including Richard Thomas as Horace. The production was both chilling in its depiction of greed and spell binding.

In the runner-up category, I’d include

The Price

           

The Price

Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht were all terrific in this revival of Arthur Miller’s play, directed by Terry Kinney.  I found that Danny DeVito was over-the-top as the antique dealer, detracting from the piece.

Present Laughter

           

Present Laughter
St. James Theatre

Kevin Kline made this revival a must see. He WAS the perfect actor to play Gary Essendine. Of course, the fabulous set and the strong performances by Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Cobie Smulders and Bhavesh Patel added to the fun.

The Home Place

It isn’t Brian Friel’s best play, but this production at the Irish Rep was so good and focused on such interesting topics that any failings of the play were easily overlooked.

 

The Man from Nebraska

          

MAN FROM NEBRASKA
By TRACY LETTS

Directed by DAVID CROMER

  Pitch perfect performances by Reed Birney and Annett O’Toole as a conventional man who loses his faith and his wife, made this Tracy Lett’s play at Second Stage riveting. Lett shows us what happens when those who always follow the rules, stop doing so, but he doesn’t provide easy answers. Birney and O’Toole also did not take the easy road in their performances.

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“Sweat” Will Move and Chill You

sweat 5 marccus_edited.jpg

Alison Wright, Johanna Day, Khris Davis, James Colby, Will Pullen. Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 “Sweat” – Lynn Nottage’s new play that has transferred from off-Broadway is a chilling tale of the plight of working class people. It is a story all too familiar to residents of “the rust belt.”

A family owned industry that has provided good paying jobs with benefits for generations to the working people of a community first tries to force draconian union concessions, then locks out the workers and hires cheaper, non-union replacements, and finally, almost inevitably departs for a foreign location.

So what happens to the people on the plant floor?  They, and their parents and grandparents have given their blood and their sweat to the company, making the executives rich and gaining a secure middle class life for themselves.

Sweat Studio 54

Alison Wright, Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson. Photo by Joan Marcus

The play is set in Reading, Pennsylvania, mostly in the local bar where a number of the workers hang out. But it opens in 2008 in a drab, office like setting with cinder blocks walls. In two separate rooms we meet two young men:  Jason and Chris, an African –American. Each is being questioned and talked to by a man, who we realize is their parole officer. Each has just gotten out of jail for an incident in 2000. Somehow these two young men – in their early twenties – know each and were both involved in the incident. Each is having difficulty adjusting to life on the outside and to getting a new start. But Jason has Aryan nation symbols tattooed on his face and neck, while Chris has almost completed his bachelor’s degree.

The play then flashes back to a series of scenes over months of 2000. Over the course of months, we see the all-too-familiar events play out. Three women hang out at the bar, celebrating birthdays and other events: Cynthia is Chris’ mother—she’s hardworking and ambitious, but married to Brucie who has fallen into addiction. Tracey is Jason’s mother; she too is hard-working but has an “attitude.”  Jessie, the third friend seems more like a mediator between the two though she does tend to drink way too much. The bartender is Stan, who had worked in the plant until he was injured on the job.

This is a working class bar. People come in after work and the talk mostly is involved with the work. Brucie, Cynthia’s estranged husband, had worked at another plant until the owners demanded concessions, the union went on strike, the workers were locked out, replacements were hired, and now the company refuses to talk with the union, even though it is willing to capitulate.

In the months that follow – the same scene begins at the plant where Cynthia, Tracey and Jessie work. Even Chris and Jason get jobs there; Chris for the summer to make enough money to go to college and Jason sees it as his future.

Sweat Studio 54

Will Pullen and Khris Davis. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For them, it seems like a way into middle class. For Oscar, the bar assistant who is Colombian but born in the U.S., it seems like a closed system. To get a job you have to know someone. The jobs tend to go to the families who have spent their lifetime in the plant.

The rumors begin of the plant owners asking for concessions. Then there is an opening for a supervisor which both Cynthia and Tracy apply for. Cynthia gets the job which creates a fracture between the three women. Tracey believes Cynthia was promoted because of her race.

As the rumors flow, machines begin disappearing until the day the employees are locked out. Soon replacements are hired, including Oscar.

Jason reacts with increasing anger until, one night when Oscar comes back to the bar to get his remaining things, violence occurs. Unfortunately, Stan is an unintended victim.

This is why Jason and Chris were in jail.

In the last scenes, we see what has happened to Cynthia, Tracey, Chris, Jason, Oscar and Stan, as well as Jessie.

All have suffered devastating losses.

Director Kate Whoriskey has assembled a terrific ensemble for this play and then directed them with a master’s touch. They work seamlessly as an unit. Johanna Day has, perhaps, the showiest role as Tracey who is outspoken and abrasive. She speaks her mind. Day creates a character who we are both annoyed with and sympathetic towards. Michelle Wilson gives as a Cynthia who is more refined and determined. With that determination, she and her son, Chris (played by Khris Davis) seem cut from the same cloth. You know why Chris is striving to better himself. Will Pullen’s Jason also seems so obviously related to his mother, Tracey. Pullen gives us the angry and impulsive young man whose resentment seems to ooze from every part of him.

James Colby as the bartender, Stan, is the voice of reason while John Earl Jelks as Brucie is the warning of what can and is about to happen. Carlo Albán gives us a sensitive Oscar, the outsider who just wants a piece of the dream.

The set by John Lee Beatty creates the typical neighborhood bar – a little run down – yet a place the workers feel at home. It is bolstered by the lighting by Peter Kaczorowksi, the sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen and the costumes by Jennifer Moeller.

Sweat is a disturbing and moving portrait of working class America today. It is at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th Street for a limited run. For tickets visit telecharge.

Sweat Studio 54

Alison Wright, Will Pullen, Michaelle Wilson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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