Monday, December 22, 2014

Cafe Society Swing Premieres at 59E59 Theaters


Evan Pappas in CAFE SOCIETY SWING.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Café Society, the first racially integrated nightclub in New York City (and possibly the first in the country), was opened by Barney Josephson in Greenwich Village in 1938 - not only to be a fully racially desegregated club, a showcase for African-American talent, and an American version of European cabarets, but also as a way to mock the pretensions of the wealthy (who were satirized in wall murals painted by some of the most prominent Greenwich Village artists of the time).  As it happened, the club also provided Josephson with a place in which he could host political events and fundraisers for left-wing organizations.  Within a decade, the club (and its sister club, Café Society Uptown, which Josephson opened on East 58th Street in 1940) launched the careers of innumerable jazz and comic superstars including Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Big Joe Turner, Count Basie, Zero Mostel, Sid Caesar and Carol Channing.  The clubs were a roaring success, flaunting the slogan “The Wrong Place for the Right People” and they were the place where celebrities as diverse as Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Robeson and Errol Flynn might be found.  But in 1947, as the “red scare” hysteria of the late 1940’s gathered steam, it all began to fall apart.

That year, Josephson’s brother Leon was subpoenaed and found guilty of contempt when he refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Affairs.  Given his own record of having hosted left-wing events at his club, his staunch stand against racial segregation, and his relationship to Leon, Josephson was pilloried as a “fellow-traveler” by a number of newspaper columnists including Westbrook Pegler,  Walter Winchell, and Dorothy Kilgallen (who accused Josephson of  “operating a Moscow-line night club.”)  Within weeks, business at Café Society and Café Society Uptown was down nearly 50%, Josephson was losing money, and he had to sell both clubs.

Café Society Swing, a homage to the original Café Society, is now enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan, a block away from the club’s original uptown location.  It was written by Alex Webb who, in addition to being the play’s creator, is also its musical director and leads the play’s terrific eight piece jazz band on the piano.

The play’s book is slight, intended only to provide a scaffolding for the delivery of nearly two dozen songs, ranging from such classics as Stormy Weather and What Is This Thing Called Love to less well-known numbers such as Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ and Hurry On Down. The book is almost entirely the responsibility of Evan Pappas who delivers its message in several guises – as a newspaper reporter struggling to write the story that best captures Josephson’s persona with all its contradictions; as a bartender at the club itself providing us with a window into what it really was like; and, ultimately, as Josephson himself.  Pappas does a fine job with this material and (together with Cyrille Aimee) even gets to sing one of the play’s numbers, Closing Time.

L-R: Charenee Wade, Allan Harris, and Cyrille Aimee in CAFE SOCIETY SWING.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.

But the play is really all about the music, not the book, and that’s where Cyrille Aimee, Allan Harris, and Charenee Wade, three extraordinarily talented vocalists, get to shine.  Harris, who also plays the guitar in the band and ties all the music together, gets it all going with a wonderful opening rendition of Cafe Society and Rollin’ and follows up with several other great performances, including One Meat Ball, I Left My Baby, Society Jump, Lush Life and Wrong Place, Right People.   Aimee exhibits a remarkable talent with a repertoire that ranges from an all-time classic (Stormy Weather) to a French love song (Parlez Moi D’Amour) to a traditional folk song (Lord Randall) to the perkiest of pop songs, Hurry On Down.  And Wade proves that she can belt out gospel and blues with the best of them, delivering super performances of What a Little Moonlight Can Do, All of Me, Rock Me, Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues, Bad Girls Need Love Too and What Is This Thing Called Love, with the very best of her performances being the play’s concluding number, Strange Fruit - first performed by Billie Holiday at Cafe Society in 1939.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ASYMMETRIC by Mac Rogers Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Kate Middleton and Sean Williams in ASYMMETRIC.  Photo by Travis McHale.
If Showtime’s Homeland, FX’s Tyrant, Sundance’s The Honorable Woman, CBS’s Madam Secretary, and USA’s Covert Affairs all failed to provide you with your needed fix of televised international espionage shows, there’s still time for you to go to 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan to catch a performance of Mac Rogers’s Asymmetric in its New York premiere live on stage.  Directed by Jordana Williams, Asymmetric is a very well-written and tightly constructed espionage drama, rife with twists and surprises, with a modicum of gratuitous omphaloskepsis thrown in to boot.

Josh Ruskin (Sean Williams) is a washed-up one-time successful spymaster whose former wife, Sunny Black (Kate Middleton), a highly effective spy in her own right, now stands accused of selling secrets involving a futuristic drone program to the enemy.  When Josh is brought out of retirement by Zack (Seth Shelden), who currently heads the top secret unit, The Fifth Floor, originally built and run by Josh, to interrogate Sunny, all hell breaks loose.

All sorts of unexpected questions are raised – and the answers are often even more unexpected than were the questions.  Why did Sunny leave Josh in the first place?  Is it possible that Sunny, ostensibly a true patriot, really could be guilty of treason – and, if so, why?  How does the drone program work and who might gain from its disclosure?  How does Ford (Bob Maitner), Zack’s callously sadistic and quite insubordinate subordinate fit into the equation?  When, if ever, is the killing of innocents or civilians – or anyone else, for that matter – really justified?  And how will all the play’s loose ends be tied up – if, indeed, they will? 

The play’s title refers directly to the “asymmetry” that exists in wars between established states and terrorist organizations.  World War I and World War II, both wars between established non-rogue states, were relatively “symmetric” in that both sides were similarly armed and accepted similar rules of engagement: truces were honored; attempts were made (admittedly not always successfully) to avoid the destruction of hospitals, schools and churches; suicide bombing was the exception (think hari-kari dive bombers in World War II) rather than the rule; and the torture of prisoners, even if it did sometimes occur, at least was understood by all to be a war crime.  But wars between ISIS or Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah (all terrorist organizations) or rogue states such as Iran or North Korea, and the rest of the civilized world (e.g., the US, Great Britain, France, Israel, et al) are quite “asymmetric”: terrorist organizations and rogue states know no boundaries, using children and civilians as human shields or engaging in the beheadings of innocents.  And under those circumstances, the civilized world, whether rightly or wrongly, sometimes finds itself forsaking its own moral principles in an effort to redress that “asymmetry.”

But while that is my understanding of the direct significance of the play’s title, I believe that the playwright actually had much more in mind.  I think that he was referring as well to the “asymmetry” that exists in many other human relationships: the relative intensity of the feelings that Josh and Sunny had for one another; the conflict between Zack and Ford; and that between Ford and Josh, as well.  It is a tribute to the playwright (and to the play’s entire cast) that all of these “asymmetries” have been brought so effectively to the surface and have been so well integrated in this production. 


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen Star in A. R. Gurney's LOVE LETTERS on Broadway

Alan Alda in LOVE LETTERS.
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Candice Bergen in LOVE LETTERS.
Photo by Carol Rosegg
















Love Letters, arguably A. R. Gurney’s best play, premiered at the New York Public Library in 1988 before moving to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.  From there it moved on to the off-Broadway Promenade Theatre in New York, and thence to the Edison Theatre on Broadway.  Over the next quarter century, this terrific two-hander was staged at venues throughout the nation, featuring a pantheon of super nova stars in the roles of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, two wealthy WASPs whose lifetime devotion to one another, expressed through their extraordinary correspondence from the age of six until the very end of their days, nearly 50 years later, transcended time and space.  Since 1988, Melissa’s role has been played by actresses ranging from Kathleen Turner to Julie Harris; from Dana Ivey to Marsha Mason; from Frances Sternhagen to Coleen Dewhurst; and from Lynn Redgrave to Stockard Channing.  And Andrew’s role has been played by actors as disparate as George Segal and Christopher Walken; Jason Robards and Cliff Robertson; Fritz Weaver and William Hurt; Robert Wagner and Mel Gibson.

Now this remarkable  two-hander has returned to Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on West 47th Street with various combinations of illustrious actors in the featured roles: Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy; Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy; Angelica Huston and Stacy Keach; Diana Rigg and Martin Sheen; and Candice Bergen and Alan Alda.  We just saw a production featuring Ms Bergen and Mr. Alda and while we are not in a position to comment on how well any of the other actors might have portrayed those roles, it is difficult to imagine how they could have been any better.  Sitting side by side at a table and reading from their lifetime’s correspondence, both Ms Bergen and Mr. Alda performed magnificently, maturing before our eyes from callow innocent children into complex, tortured adults.   These are memorable performances not to be missed, both comedic and touchingly evocative, and we urge you to see them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

James Joyce and Samuel Beckett Portrayed in OUT OF THEIR MINDS

L-R: Tony Greenleaf, Roxann Kraemer, Enka Salazar, and Greg Horton in OUT OF THEIR MINDS.  Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
If (like me) you are a fan of James Joyce and/or Samuel Beckett, then Out of Their Minds by David Willinger, currently premiering at New Media Repertory Company on East 80th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is definitely not to be missed.  This is a wonderful play, sharply written and cleverly evocative of much of Beckett’s future work (ranging from Waiting for Godot to Footfalls and Endgame), and beautifully performed by four very talented actors.

The entire play takes place in the Joyce home in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s where James Joyce (brilliantly brought to life by Tony Greenleaf) is gradually going blind, while enjoying a modicum of success from the publication of Ulysses, and struggling to write Finnegan’s Wake.  He shares his home with his wife Nora (effectively played by Roxann Kraemer as the sanest member of the household) and his highly neurotic and possibly schizophrenic daughter Lucia (Erika Salazar).  They are joined early on by Samuel Beckett (whose awe of Joyce and personal insecurities are deftly captured in his portrayal by Greg Horton), who arrives at the Joyce home to serve as Joyce’s secretary and all around gofer.

The play is presented as a “tragic tale of thwarted love” between Beckett and Lucia and in a way it is that but it is really very much more: it is also a depiction of the dysfunction of the Joyce household, the extreme narcissism and self-centeredness that affected all of its members to the point of insanity, and the very mundane events which provided the raw material from which some of the greatest literature and theatrical works of the Twentieth Century emerged.  Or, as Lucia expresses it to Beckett:

You’re a genius Mr. Beckett.  You shall revolutionize the entire world theatre.  You shall enshrine a brand-new quality as the chief of all aesthetic virtues in the modern theatre – a uniquely Irish virtue – Boredom!  Boredom revealing and boredom transcendent.  Boredom that reveals us to ourselves.  And in it we glimpse our paltry dignity.  Our pathetic dignity.  You shall!”

The play is only running through November 16.  Try not to miss it.



Monday, October 27, 2014

The Brightness of Heaven at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre

L-R: Peter Cormican, James Michael Lambert, Paula Ewin, Kate Kearney-Patch, Emily Batsford, Kendall Rileigh, and Mark Banik in THE BRIGHTNESS OF HEAVEN.  Photo by John Quilty.
From time immemorial, children have rebelled against their parents, testing the bonds that tie them to prior generations, their real challenge being to stretch or loosen those bonds sufficiently to accommodate the new world into which they were born without breaking the old bonds entirely.  For their part, parents have always attempted to inculcate their own religious, social and moral rules and beliefs in their children, the challenge for them being to do so without completely alienating their kids through a heavy-handed dismissal of the very real changes taking place in their world.  And never was that more true than in the 1960s and 1970s, when the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and Watergate all came together to create one of the biggest societal upheavals in American history.

That is what The Brightness of Heaven by Laura Pedersen, now enjoying its Off Broadway premiere at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre on Commerce Street in Greenwich Village, is all about: the inevitable intergenerational strife that all too often tears many families apart but that leaves those who survive it all the stronger for having dealt with it successfully, once it has played out.  The play is set in Buffalo, NY in 1974, in the home of the Kilgannon family and it is likely to resonate especially well with those who share the characters’ Irish Catholic backgrounds.  But the play has much more universal appeal than that and those of entirely different ethnic and religious backgrounds should be fully able to appreciate and enjoy the play’s message.  (I certainly did, despite being Jewish and of mixed Russian and Austrian descent myself.)

The play’s action takes place on the day that a surprise party is to be held for Ed Kilgannon (Peter Cormican) at St. Aloysius Catholic High School, as a tribute to him on the 30th anniversary of his having joined the school as its music teacher.  (Ed once dreamt of having a successful career in show business but was forced to settle for the life of a music teacher instead; with the help of a whisky bottle, he seems to have made his peace with that).  Many of his former students are expected to show up for his party but, most importantly, his family will be there.

That, of course, will include his wife, Joyce (Kate Kearney-Patch), who once aspired to be a nun but ultimately opted to become a good Catholic wife and mother instead and who now teaches Home Economics at St. Aloysius;  Brendan (Bill Coyne), Ed and Joyce’s first-born prodigal son (but still their favorite) who has been no more successful than was his father before him in seeking a theatrical career and who shares his father’s taste for the sauce; Dennis (Mark Banik), their middle and highly responsible son, on whom they rely for considerable support; and Kathleen (Kendall Rileigh), their successful and very strong-willed youngest child whose life choices are most at odds with those of her parents.  Also in attendance will be Mary Jablonski (Paula Ewin), Ed’s widowed sister and her two children: Grace (Emily Batsford), her 28-year old, unmarried, clinically depressed daughter; and Jimmy (James Michael Lambert), her gay 24-year old son who would prefer to be out of the closet but who is continually pressured by his family to conceal his sexual orientation.  

We meet all of the actors at the Kilgannon family home where they have come together for dinner before going on to St Aloysius (where Joyce is determined that they will again do “the family act,” their traditional song and dance routine).  The conceit is that their real “family act” is the one to which we’re all being made privy onstage, the one in which they all pretend to be other than they really are, whether by choice or under pressure from the other members of their family.

The play is set within the context of the Irish Catholic faith which consumed the lives of the members of the older generation.  As Joyce readily admits: “You children don’t understand.  The Church was the whole world for us.  That’s where our friends and social life were.  We went from Mass to Sunday School to Thursday Night CYO to Friday Night Fish Fry.”  And implicit in that was the conviction that the “hereafter” or the “next life” was of far greater consequence than the real world around us which was perceived as little more than a testing ground for the ”world to come.”  Thus, Mary can seriously justify her having urged her children to wear clean underwear not for any reasons of health or comfort in this world but because “whatever clothes you’re wearing when you die are what you’ll have on throughout all eternity.”  And when Mary discloses that she has “thought about taking my own life,” Joyce doesn’t seek to dissuade her by pointing out everything she’d be losing in this world but, rather, exclaims “Why Mary!  You wouldn’t go to Heaven and spend eternity with Ronnie [Mary’s son who died in Vietnam]! – and that, remarkably, really seems to have been the strongest argument Joyce could have made to her sister-in-law in her moment of despondency.

It is this attitude toward the primacy of the hereafter, the Church, and the Church’s rules regarding sex, abortion and homosexuality, that the members of the younger generation all seem to be rebelling against, each in his or own way and some more strongly than others.  As Kathleen puts it: “much as I’d like to go to Heaven, I’m more interested in Heaven on Earth – a place where all God’s creations are at home, complete with all the glorious faults, differences, and desires that He in His infinite wisdom bestowed upon us.”  Brendan’s alcoholism; Grace’s decision to see a secular therapist rather than a priest in dealing with her psychological problems; Jimmy’s overt acceptance of his homosexuality; and even Dennis’ decision to teach at a public school rather than a Catholic school - all are expressions of the same generational shift in values and attitudes away from the Church’s teachings.

Depending upon your point of view, you might see the four male characters as strong and admirable and the four female characters as far less worthy.  It was Ed, after all, to whom Kathleen turned in her moment of greatest need and who has kept her secrets – not her mother.  It is Dennis who can always be counted on by his parents when they need help, not his sister.  Brandan does manage to overcome his alcoholism, at least temporarily, so as to be there for his father on his special day.  And even Jimmy defers to his family by downplaying his sexual orientation in their presence.  Joyce and Mary, on the other hand, are so self-righteously stuck in their ways that they cannot really countenance homosexuality, abortion, pre-marital sex, and even intermarriage as anything other than sin or an offense against God and the Church, resulting in eternal damnation.  Kathleen is a headstrong young woman who, despite her business success, seems to have made all the wrong choices in her personal life and who appears to be concerned only for her only life, with little thought for her parents’ well-being.   And Grace is so psychologically damaged and depressive that there is not much good that can be said about her.

But it all can be looked at quite the other way around: maybe it’s really the women on top and the men toward whom we ought be dismissive.  There is no question but that Kathleen is the strongest willed character in the play: she has succeeded in becoming the first female manager at her bank at the tender age of 23 and in 1974 she was clearly well ahead of her time in refusing to let anyone but herself control her body and her life.  Difficult as it may be for Mary, given her religious values, she never rejects her gay son.  Joyce, too, can always be counted on to be there for her children, should push come to shove: she might not approve of her daughter’s life style but she’ll always be there for her.  (When Kathleen angrily attacks her mother, saying “You’ll never change!” her mother’s response may say it all: “No I won’t Kathleen.  And my greatest hope for your child is that you’re always there for him or her.  For the most part, that means not changing.”)  Even Grace merits our respect for seeking medical help for her condition, rather than relying on religious guidance.  But when we look at the men we realize that while Ed may have been there for Kathleen when she most needed him, he’s never willing to stand up to Joyce, apparently modeling himself after Mary’s husband Joseph in the Bible who never speaks a word.  Both he and Brandan are alcoholics, after all, and they may have other weaknesses that they have kept secret to boot.  Brandan may have sought a theatrical career simply to appease his father and Dennis may have become a school teacher simply because that was the easiest route to follow.  Even Jimmy, eager to be out of the closet, doesn’t seem to have the guts to come out all the way.

So which view is correct?  Both!  None of us are all of a piece and the characters in this play are no exception.  They have their strengths and their weaknesses, their good points and their bad, and it is a credit to Ms Pedersen, to Ludovica Villar Hauser, the play’s director, and to the entire cast that they have succeeded so well in conveying their multi-layered personae.  Or as Ed responded, when Kathleen told him that sometimes she wondered who he really was: “Different things to different people.  But I’ll always be your father and I’ll always love you.  And that’s been my favorite role of all.”


Friday, October 24, 2014

Pulitser Prize Winning "Disgraced" by Ayad Akhtar on Broadway

L-R: Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman, Hari Dhillon, and Josh Radnor in DISGRACED.
Disgraced, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Ayad Akhtar, is a highly contrived, yet disturbingly compelling, work that forces one (especially one who may pride herself on her “political correctness”) to face some of the more unpleasant realities in a world that all too frequently fails to conform with how one might prefer it to be.  Having opened to positive reviews in Chicago, the play subsequently enjoyed short runs off Broadway at the Claire Tow Theatre and in London’s West End; it has now moved to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street in midtown Manhattan, where I should expect it to generate considerable controversy.

The play’s five person cast manages to cover a plethora of ethnic bases: two male Pakistani Muslims (Abe and Amir), one male white Jew (Isaac), one female African-American (Jory), and one female WASP (Emily).  Both Abe and Amir are attempting to assimilate in America: Abe (Danny Ashok) has gone so far as to change his name to Abe Jensen from Hussein Malik.  His uncle, Amir (Hari Dhillon), an American-born upwardly mobile attorney, has changed his own surname to Kapoor, thereby emphasizing his pre-partition Indian (rather than Pakistani) ancestry and deflecting attention away from his Muslim roots by suggesting that he might actually be Hindu instead.  Jory (Karen Pittman) is Amir’s colleague - and they are both on partner track at the same firm.  Emily (Gretchen Mol), Amir’s wife, is an artist whose paintings are heavily influenced by Islamic themes.  And Isaac (Josh Radnor) is not only Jory’s husband but is also a curator at the Whitney Museum who is considering including Emily's work in an exhibition at the museum.  It all makes for one helluva combustible mix.
 
Ayad Akhtar has not written a balanced play but that is not meant as a criticism; it was obviously his intention not to do so.  To be sure, he provides us with a host of politically correct liberal shibboleths right from the get-go: There’s a happily married white Jewish man and his black Christian wife and there’s a happily married Pakistani Muslim man with his blond WASP wife.  Sure, the Koran can be interpreted as condoning wife-beating and worse – but it doesn’t have to be – and anyway, aren’t there pretty outrageous mandates in the Talmud as well?  Yes, Ahmadiinejad  is monstrous – but Netanyahu’s no saint either, is he?  The bombing of the World Trade Center was horrific – no one will deny that - but does that really justify racial profiling?  Beneath such superficial differences as skin color or religious conviction, aren’t we all basically the same?

Unfortunately, Akhtar suggests, we may not be.  As it turns out, his having paid lip service to a batch of politically correct platitudes may have been nothing more than his clever ploy to lull us into a state in which he might hit us with his much more disturbing politically incorrect message: in many respects, Islam is an inherently violent and barbaric religion that truly deserves our condemnation, rather than our convoluted attempts to equate it with other religious traditions which, for all their shortcomings, have evolved over millenia to levels well beyond that of mainstream Islam.  And Muslims, having been inculcated with its values virtually from the time they were born, may very well see the world quite differently, and hold very different values, from non-Muslims.  It is not that Muslims are genetically different from the rest of the human race – that would be quite an absurd contention – but the very different cultural and religious influences to which they have been subjected from birth has resulted in their acceptance of a value system quite different from that of the rest of the civilized world.

That is not to say, of course, that every Muslim is evil or violent or a terrorist; indeed, many are fine, upstanding, principled, compassionate, and decent human beings, exhibiting the very best human traits.  But it is to say that those who have so earned our respect have done so by overcoming, rather than succumbing to, the worst aspects of Islamic culture.  In other words, many of the teachings of Islam must be surmounted, not embraced, and the humanity of many, if not, most Muslims is a function of the degree to which they have succeeded in rejecting, rather than accepting, the worst aspects of their culture.

All of the action in this 90 minutes long one act play takes place in Amir’s and Emily’s Upper East Side apartment to which they have invited Isaac and Jory for dinner.   But as talk turns to politics and religion, the underlying cultural differences among people that form their personalities inevitably rise to the surface: notwithstanding Emily’s love of Islamic art and culture and Amir’s superficial rejection of his Islamic roots, the Koran and its commands cannot mean to her what they still mean to him.
 
(Similarly, of course, Jory has been molded by American racism and Isaac by anti-Semitism in ways not fully comprehensible by those with other racial, religious or cultural backgrounds.  But that is not a serious problem today since Judeo-Christian culture, unlike Islamic culture, has evolved well beyond the primitive strictures of its early beginnings.) 

Today, the problem, it would seem, is almost unique to Islam; much as we might like to deny it, the world today, by and large, is not confronted by Buddhist terrorism, or Jewish terrorism, or Christian terrorism, or Hindu terrorism.  It is confronted by Islamic terrorism promulgated by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, by Boko Haram and Al Nusra, by Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS.  Certainly we can attempt to explain, or even justify, such terrorism as a natural reaction to the fact that Western civilization attempted over the centuries to impose both its values and arbitrary geographical borders on the Islamic world.  But the very suggestion of such an explanation requires an acceptance of the reality that, yes, for whatever reason, justifiable or not, the greatest threat to the civilized world today is, indeed, posed by Islam.  (And that is without our even addressing such issues as stoning, beheading, genital mutilation, and forced conversions upon pain of death, all of which, it would seem, have become integral to more different Islamic societies around the world than one would like to admit.)

Karen Pittman is outstanding as Jory, capturing both her drive to succeed in white America and her recognition of her own African-American history, a black woman married to a white man who persists in defining herself without relinquishing that right to anyone else, and who recognizes the tenuous balance that exists in our society between justice and order.  I was, however, somewhat less impressed by the other four actors, all of whom left me with the feeling that I was watching four excellent actors performing on stage but who never really succeeded in bringing me fully into their world.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Signal Failure Premieres at Soho Theatre

L-R: Sasha Ellen and Spencer Cowan in SIGNAL FAILURE.
Signal Failure made a bit of a splash at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, garnering rave reviews and playing to sold-out audiences, but it has made scarcely a ripple since transferring to the Soho Theatre on Vandam Street in downtown Manhattan for its US premiere.  At the matinee performance I attended, there were only eight others in the audience and, judging from their subdued reaction, that is not about to change.  Their reaction really was one of willing acceptance or, at best, mild satisfiaction, rather than enthusiasm or exuberance and I’m afraid I’d have to agree.

Lorna (played by Sasha Ellen, who also wrote the play) and Brian (Spencer Cowan) are two damaged souls who meet as a result of their convoluted travels on the London Underground.  From there, the play is basically a minor variation on the “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy recovers girl” theme, spiced up with some gratuitous sex.  As it turns out, both characters have been mourning losses, which presumably affects their relations with one another, but the playwright seems to have thrown that in after the fact with little theatrical exploration or analysis of the effects of those losses on the two protagonists.

Both Ellen and Cowan are accomplished, talented actors and they play this two-hander for all it’s worth.  But, unfortunately, the play itself isn’t worth much. with the result that the actors’ formidable talents are largely wasted.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Feast for the Philosophically Famished: Uncanny Valley at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Barbara Kingsley and Alex Podulke in UNCANNY VALLEY.  Photo by Seth Freeman.
Although Julian Barber is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, he still harbors visions of his own immortality.  Not that he thinks that his emaciated 76 year old body might yet be salvaged – that, of course, would be quite impossible.  No, it is not his body that concerns him for he realizes that his “self” is something quite other than his body - just as we all do when thinking about our own “selves.”  The religious among us may think of our “selves” as our “souls” but even the most scientifically-inclined, secular non-believers recognize that we are “something” more than the mere sum of our body parts.  After all, at least in theory, if we were to replace all of our limbs and organs with prosthetics, wouldn’t we still be “us” -  if only we could retain the “essence” of who we are (however we might define that): our memories, our behavioral patterns, our emotional states, our intellects, our personality traits – what we might refer to as our very “consciousness”?

It all sounds quite far-fetched but that’s where Mr. Barber has a big advantage over the rest of us: he’s a billionaire and is prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of his improbable dream.  And that is precisely what he does in Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons, currently enjoying its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan.

Inspired by the supposedly “sentient” robot BINA48 commissioned by Martine Rothblatt and created by Hanson Robotics in 2007, and billed as “a modern-day Frankenstein tale,” the play revolves around Mr. Barber’s contracting with a highly advanced robotics company to create a perfect simulation (in physical appearance) of himself when he was 34 years old – a thoroughly lifelike android into which he could download his “consciousness” (whatever that might entail), thereby achieving the immortality for which he yearns (or at least another couple of hundred years of life).  The android turns out to be Julian (Alex Podulke) whom we first encounter onstage as nothing more than a head and torso but to which are sequentially attached first one arm and then the other and then the legs, until he constitutes a remarkably complete replica of Mr. Barber’s younger self - even if only in physical appearance.

But it is one thing to build an android that looks very much like a particular human being and that can simulate a host of human actions including seeing, hearing, walking, talking, remembering, analyzing, recognizing, and so on.  It is quite another to actually breathe life into that creation which is where Claire (Barbara Kingsley), the play’s updated version of Dr. Frankenstein, comes in.  Claire is the 70 year old brilliant neuroscientist whose job it is to teach Julian how to really be human, how to smile, how to laugh, how to express surprise - in short, as Claire herself put it, how to pass “a Turing test of the emotions.”

The play has everything one might expect from an updated version of the Frankenstein legend including the creation of the “monster” itself (Julian), the scientist who brings it to life (Claire), and allusions to the “villagers…gathering with torches and pitchforks” to destroy that which they cannot comprehend.  But it really is a great deal more than that.  Indeed, it is truly a feast for the philosophically famished.  It touches on issues ranging from the philosophy of science to the philosophy of mind, from epistemology to metaphysical questions regarding the identity of the self, from ethics to the meaning and purpose of life itself.

Ultimately, the play provides us with no answers but it raises the most important questions and it articulates them both intelligently and entertainingly.  Once Claire has taught Julian to smile, to laugh, to express surprise, in short, to pass an emotional Turing test, is he really conscious or aware or intelligent or human?  Or is it all nothing but a facade?  And if it is nothing but a simulation, why should we believe that we humans are doing anything different?  Are we ourselves anything more than a set of algorithms and electrical synapses?  Alan Turing would argue that passing a Turing test would, ipso facto, constitute evidence of true artificial intelligence.  But John Searle (he of the Chinese room) surely would disagree.

Once Julian has been completely assembled and Claire has taught him all she can, but before Julian Barber’s “consciousness” has been downloaded into him, we can think of him as “Julian A”.  And when Julian Barber’s “consciousness” has been downloaded, we can think of him as “Julian B”.  But then what has become of “Julian A”?  Or is he now “Julian C” – a composite of “Julian A” and Julian B”?  And what are the implications of all that for you and me?  Are we the same people we were ten or twenty years ago?  If we are, how can we explain how different we seem today?  And if not, when did we change – and what does it even mean to be “me, myself” (or “you, yourself”) anyway? 

We learn, too, in the play, of Claire’s husband, Paul (who we never actually get to meet), who is in the early stages of dementia, and of her daughter, Rebecca (who we also never meet), who was once a lovely, vibrant girl, but from whom Claire is now completely estranged.  Are they the same people they were decades ago?  We know that matter retains its continuity over time (Rebecca proved that for herself when she was just a little girl by pouring water from a tall narrow container into a short wide one and back again).   But much as we tend to believe similarly in the continuity of self, is that necessarily the case?
   
And then there is Julian’s son, Paul (who also never actually shows up in the play), who denies that the Julian android is his father in any sense and who claims that his real father abused him as a child.  But did he, and how would we even know?  Julian has no recollection of such abuse but perhaps he simply deleted such memories from his download.  And if he has no memory of those events, in what sense was he (the he of today, that is) truly a participant in them, if we define him in terms of his memories?

Alex Podulke is superb as Julian, expressing the evolution of a machine into a human being and Barbara Kingsley is equally impressive as the brilliant scientist, overwhelmed by the demands of her profession and her marriage and, for whatever reason, largely in denial regarding her relationship with her daughter.  In sum, this is an extremely thought-provoking play, beautifully performed, finely designed and directed, and certainly well worth seeing.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Walk in the Woods Revival on Theatre Row

L-R: Kathleen Chalfant and Paul Niebanck in A WALK IN THE WOODS.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing was first produced on Broadway in 1988, starring Sam Waterston as John Honeyman, an American arms negotiator, and Robert Prosky as Andrei Botvinik, his Russian counterpart.  Based largely on the 1982 arms negotiations that took place between Paul H. Nitze and Yuli A Kvitsinsky, the play was generally well received, garnering both Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominations.  Now it is being revived at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row by Keen Company in celebration of the opening of Keen’s fifteenth season.

The current revival is excellent – with a twist.  The roles of Honeyman and Prosky have typically been played by men but, in this production, Botvinik’s name has been changed from Andrei to Irina and the role is being played by a woman, Kathleen Chalfant.  (The role of John Honeyman is still being played by a man, Paul Niebanck.) This gender shift in casting might have had enormous consequences – but it didn’t.  The change didn’t introduce any sexual dynamics into the relationship between Honeyman and Botvinik and it didn’t attempt to express any special female insights or attitudes on issues of war and peace or the arms race or disarmament.  Minimal changes (mostly pronouns) were made to the script and the net result was no substantive difference between the scripts of the 1988 and the current productions.

That is not to say that Chalfant interpreted the role of Botvinik in the same way that Prosky did.  Far from it!  But the difference was not one of sex; rather it was the difference between Prosky and Chalfant themselves.  Prosky played the role as a joyful, earthy, boisterous, cynical Russian bear whereas Chalfant plays it as a much more sophisticated, self-controlled, worldly-wise (albeit just as cynical) Russian technocrat.  And while Prosky was superb in the original role, Chalfant is also absolutely delightful in her own very different interpretation.

The role of Honeyman – a callow, uptight, idealistic youth who has not fully grasped just how the game of international arms negotiation is really played and the politics behind it - is not nearly as juicy a part as that of Botwinik but Niebanck does a fine job with it.  But there really is no way he can compete with Chalfant, who truly steals the show.

When all is said and done, however, A Walk in the Woods, while very well written, remains quite dated (even if Botvinik is now played by a woman, which would have been totally unrealistic a quarter century ago when the play was first produced).  It is hard to imagine that any similar sort of disarmament negotiations could take place between the US and Russia today, what with Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its incursion into the Ukraine, and any “disarmament” talks with Syria, regarding the elimination of its chemical weapons stockpiles, or with Iran, regarding its nuclear aspirations, are of a wholly different nature and would require a completely different play.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bauer by Lauren Gunderson at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Sherman Howard, Stacy Ross, and Susi Damilano in BAUER.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Bauer by Laura Gunderson, currently being staged at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in Midtown Manhattan, is a cleverly contrived, smartly written, and very well acted, imagined account of what might have occurred had Rudolf Bauer (Sherman Howard), his wife Louise (Susi Damilano), and his one-time lover Hilla von Rebay (Stacy Ross) actually met again in the months prior to Bauer’s death.  Of course they never did but Ms Gunderson has composed the purely fictionalized meeting well, using the conceit to tell Bauer’s real story in a most entertaining fashion, while engaging the audience in a counterfactual quest for “what might have been.”

In reality, Rudolf Bauer, a contemporary of Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Marc Chagall, was a German painter and leader of the Non-Objective (abstract) art movement.  Between 1917 and the early 1920s, he had a love affair and shared an art studio with Hilla von Rebay and they remained friends for decades after their affair ended.  Subsequently, Hilla came to the United States where she met (and bedded) Solomon Guggenheim, introduced him to Bauer’s work and encouraged him to create a collection of Non-Objective art. 

In 1936, the Gibbes Museum of Art hosted the first public exhibition of Guggenheim’s collection of Non-Objective art and Bauer traveled to the US to attend the opening.  A year later, Guggenheim officially formed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to house his collection and appointed Hilla as its curator; ironically that was the same year that the Nazis staged the infamous Degenerate Art Show in Munich, a show designed to mock and threaten the abstract art movement, and in which they included Bauer’s work. The following year, Bauer was imprisoned by the Nazis for producing and selling his “degenerate art” but somehow Hilla and Guggenheim managed to extricate him and he emigrated to the US in 1939.

Bauer arrived in New York just after the Museum of Non-Objective Painting opened in midtown Manhattan, living with Hilla for a few months before moving into one of Guggenheim’s homes in New Jersey. He then signed a new contract with Guggenheim, misunderstanding many of its implications because of his limited English: what he thought was to be a lump-sum payment for 110 paintings he already had provided to Guggenheim turned out to be a $300,000 trust fund from which he would receive monthly stipends; the major role he had expected to have in running the Guggenheim Foundation turned out to be no such thing; and, worst of all, he discovered that the contract committed him to leaving all his future work to the Foundation.

Things careened downhill for Bauer from there.  With no real role to play at the Foundation, he had little to say about what would become of those of his paintings already in the Foundation’s possession; in reaction, he stopped painting, thereby depriving the Foundation of any more of his works.  His relationship will Hilla deteriorated and virtually ended when he sued her for libeling his new wife, Louise (who had previously been his maid) in 1944.  When Guggenheim died in 1949, the Foundation’s trustees abandoned his vision of a Non-Objective art collection, relegating all of Bauer’s paintings to storage, and dismissed Hilla as curator.  Bauer died of lung cancer in 1953, without ever painting again.

Ms Gunderson’s play, which originally premiered at the San Francisco Playhouse, takes off from these facts, imagining what might have occurred had Bauer, Hilla and Louise re-united.  Would the Bauers have forgiven Hilla for having defamed Louise?  Would the spark between Bauer and Hilla have been rekindled?  Would Louise and Hilla have convinced Bauer to pick up his brushes again?  It’s all speculation, of course, but none the less entertaining for that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Boys and Girls at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Sean Doyle, Maeve O'Mahoney, Claire O'Reilly, and Ronan Carey in BOYS AND GIRLS at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo by Carol Rosegg..
Boys and Girls, written and directed by Dylan Coburn Gray, was a hit at the Dublin Fringe where it won the Fishamble New Writing Award before transferring to the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.  It is now receiving its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of Origin’s First Irish, the world’s only all Irish theatre festival.

The play, emerging from the Irish spoken word scene, features Ronan Cary, Sean Doyle, Claire O’Reilly, and Maeve O’Mahony as four young, single individuals hitting the Dublin bars and hoping to get lucky.  The playwright has a wonderful ear for language, including its rhymes and rhythms, and a talent for playwriting in a form almost the equivalent of free verse.  The four characters’ intercut monologues, all addressing one or another aspect of their sexual desires and performances, are individually clever, sharp, literate, and articulate - and range from impersonally analytic to sexually exhilarating, from potty-mouthed to emotionally incisive, from banally mundane to rollickingly funny.  And yet, when all is said and done, although the play is well-written and all four actors are quite competent in their respective roles, the entire production comes across as being something less than the sum of its parts, with the intercutting of the actors’ passages serving to fragment, rather than integrate, the play as a whole.

In its promotional material, the play’s producers urge would be theatre-goers not to bring their kids to this one and they’re quite right: the play is well-written, humorous and entertaining, but it is also dirty to a fault, and most inappropriate for children.  A good example of this would be Maeve O’Mahony’s riff on what to call the vagina (her own personal “vagina monologue,” as it were) which was, to my mind, one of the play’s funniest, albeit dirtiest, passages. 

So given that this is not one for the kids, what about you adults out there: ought you make an effort to see it?  Well, that’s really up to you.  If you can appreciate unabashedly low-class and grossly ribald humor, then you might very well find it worth your while.  But if gutter language and rampant sexuality is not your cup of tea, then this is one you might do best to avoid.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Next in Line Productions Revives Someone Who'll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness

L-R: Austin Jones, John Garrett Greer, and Hardy Pinnell in SOMEONE WHO'LL WATCH OVER ME.
Next In Line Productions, a relatively new theatrical troupe, has just launched its inaugural production – an excellent revival of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness.  This is a fine production of which any long established off off Broadway theatrical company might well be proud and it is truly a remarkable accomplishment for such a newly formed group.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me was first produced in London’s West End in 1992 and was subsequently staged on Broadway where it ran for more than a year, receiving Tony Award nominations for Best Play and Best Actor.  It has been successfully revived several times since, both in London and in the US, and this latest revival - at the Gene Frankel Theatre on Bond Street in lower Manhattan – is well worth seeing.
 
This is the story of three men – an American, an Irishman, and an Englishman – who have been kidnapped separately in Lebanon by unknown captors but who were all brought to the same place and who now are all being held as prisoners in the same room.  In a way, reviving this play today may seem especially timely, in light of events in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza.  And so it is.  But in a larger sense, the Middle East today, while providing a backdrop for the play, is not really what this play is all about.  Rather, this is a classic rendition of man’s indomitable spirit, in the face of the inevitable despair he must feel in light of his own mortality and the incomprehensibility (if not outright meaninglessness) of the world.  Thus, the play is not so much an international geopolitical narrative as it is an existential exposition of man’s helplessness in the face of forces beyond his control, coupled with his fortitude in confronting them, much in the manner of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.
 
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is a three-hander, featuring John Garrett Greer as Adam Canning, Hardy Pinnell as Edward Sheridan, and Austin Jones as Michael Watters.  All three are not only convincing but exceptionally accomplished in their respective roles: Greer is cool and self-controlled as Adam, an American doctor; Pinnell is much more volatile and belligerent as Edward, an Irish journalist; and Jones is effectively prissy and mildly paranoid as Michael, an English professor who can’t even fully accept that he is where he is.  Through it all, the three are chained to the walls of their prison (suggestive perhaps of Plato’s allusion to man’s limited perception of the world as being based erroneously only on the shadows cast on the walls of his cave rather than on true reality), somewhat limiting their physical mobility but not their imaginations.

And so, in the course of the play, the three play games, sing, act out their recollections of past events, compose letters that they know will never be posted, imbibe imaginary drinks, pretend to direct and film movies, and force themselves to laugh in the face of the horror confronting them, in sequences that range from the inane to the insane, with the line between the two increasingly blurred.  It is, in its way, theatre of the absurd or, as the characters themselves are wont to say: “Ridiculous.”
 
The final words in Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable, actually may say it all: “You must go on.  I can’t go on.  I’ll go on.”  And so they do.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Pianist of Willesden Lane at 59E59 Theaters

Mona Golabek in THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Lisa Jura, a Jewish child prodigy, had two dreams: (1) to debut at the Vienna Musikverin playing the Grieg piano concerto and (2) to have a daughter of her own someday and teach her to play the piano, just as her mother, Malka, had taught her.  Lisa never quite realized her first dream but she certainly came close: she didn’t debut at the Vienna Musikvering but did debut at London’s Wigmore Hall – and did it playing Grieg’s concerto.  And her second dream, surely the more important of the two, was fully realized: she bore a daughter, Mona, who she not only taught to play the piano but who went on to become an exceptionally accomplished professional pianist herself.

In 1938, when Lisa was just fourteen years old, her parents, Abraham and Malka, arranged for her to evade the Nazis by traveling from Vienna to London via the Kindertransport (the children’s train) - which explains why she debuted in London rather than in Vienna.  In London, separated from her parents, her sisters, and her friends, Lisa had a tough time, being handed off from one guardian to another.  But she was fortunate in being cared for and befriended by other compassionate adults and she never abandoned her musical dreams, ultimately winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music which led to her debut at Wigmore Hall.
 
Several years later, after World War II had ended, Lisa managed to emigrate to the United States, where her daughter, Mona, was born.  And many years after that, in 2003, Mona (together with Lee Cohen) wrote The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival as a testimonial to her mother’s extraordinary life.  Subsequently, that book was adapted by Hershey Felder into the play The Pianist of Willesden Lane, currently enjoying its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, directed by Hershey Felder and starring Mona Golabek both as herself and as her mother, Lisa.

This is a wonderfully evocative production.  Ms Golabek is not simply a very talented pianist but is also a charming story teller to boot.  Her virtuoso piano performances range from Bach and Beethoven to Grieg, Chopin, Debussy and Rachmaninoff, with a bit of Gershwin thrown in as icing on the cake.  And the musical performances are vastly enriched by Ms Golabek’s accompanying commentary on her mother’s life.

This play is especially timely today.  Ms Golabek’s final words to her audience are these:

“It will always be through the music that I pay tribute to my mother’s life, to the grandparents I never knew, and to every mother and father who had the courage to save their child by saying goodbye.”

In those few words, Ms Golabek makes crystal clear the sacrifice that all parents, whatever their backgrounds, have made for their children since time immemorial.  Italian parents, Irish fathers, Jewish mothers from Russia and Eastern Europe, Asian parents – all have sent their children to America with tears in their eyes and hope in their hearts.  Today it is Central American parents whose children are massed on the southern border of the United States in one of the major humanitarian crises of our time.  And whatever your politics, whether you believe that America’s highest immigration priority should be to secure our borders or whether you believe it should first address the issue of providing a path to citizenship for those illegal aliens who already are here, few would deny that a compassionate concern for the children arriving here in droves must trump all other considerations.

Indeed, the only exception I can think of to such universal parental love is that being evidenced today by Palestinian parents toward their own children to whom they say goodbye after cloaking them in explosive vests and utilizing them as human shields in playgrounds and school yards, on beaches and rooftops, in furtherance of their own political and religious agendas.  It is a monstrous distortion of the normal bond between parents and children and it is well past time for the entire civilized world to take a stand against it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ayckbourn Ensemble Concludes With Time of My Life

L-R: James Powell and Rachel Caffrey in TIME OF MY LIFE.  Photo by Tony Bartholomew.
Time of My Life, the third and final Alan Ayckbourn play being performed in repertory by the Ayckbourn Ensemble, opened last night at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of that theatre’s annual Brits Off Broadway program.  We very much enjoyed the first two-thirds of this extended Ayckbourn program as we attested to in our reviews of Arrivals & Departures and Farcicals: A Double Bill of FrivolousComedies on June 5 and June 11.  But Time of My Life is far and away the best of them all.

The Ayckbourn Ensemble is a very talented troupe of 11 actors.  Four of them, Elizabeth Boag, Bill Champion, Sarah Stanley and Kim Wall were outstanding in both Arrivals & Departures and Farcicals but do not appear at all in Time of My Life.  The other seven did not appear in Farcicals and played multiple supporting roles in Arrivals &Departures where their considerable talents were not readily apparent.  But now, in Time of My Life, all seven have come into their own.  Each has been given a chance to shine and every one of them has made the most of it.

The play revolves around the lives of three couples: Gerry Stratton (Russell Dixon) and his wife Laura (Sarah Parks); their elder son, Glyn (Richard Stacey) and his wife, Stephanie (Emily Pithon); and their younger son, Adam (James Powell) and his latest girlfriend, Maureen (Rachel Caffrey).  Gerry is a successful businessman who has been happily married to Laura for more than thirty years but whose discovery of a decades old indiscretion of hers devastates his life.  Laura is a cold, self-centered bitch whose only concern, other than for herself, might be for Adam, with little love left for her older son, Glyn, or for his family.  Glyn is a philandering, unloved son, overshadowed by his successful father, and insensitive to his wife’s needs or those of his children.  Stephanie is his long-suffering wife – but only up to a point.  Adam is a spoiled, infantile romantic, seemingly unable to break free from his mother’s control.  And Maureen is a warm, loving, lower-class, hair dresser who doesn’t seem to have much of a chance if Laura Stratton is her competition.

It’s a volatile mixture and, in Ayckbourn’s hands, it holds forth the promise of great theatre.  With this very talented cast, that promise is realized.  All of the action takes place at tables in the Essa de Calvi, a restaurant owned by Calvinu (Ben Porter), at which the Stratton family tends to hold its celebrations and luncheon meetings.  But all of that action takes place over a period of years which provides the cast with ample opportunity to bloom, notwithstanding the confines of space.

Although Ayckbourn wrote Time of My Life in 1992, this production marks its New York premiere and it is difficult to understand why it did not make it to these shores sooner.  The play is intricately written in typical Ayckbourn fashion, with both flashbacks and flash forwards and with the most entertaining spatial and temporal convolutions.  It makes for a splendid conclusion to this long overdue Ayckbourn program. 


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Farcicals: A Double Bill of Frivolous Comedies: Chloe With Love and The Kidderminster Affair

L-R: Sarah Stanley, Kim Wall, Bill Champion, and Elizabeth Boag in FARCICALS: A DOUBLE BILL OF FRIVOLOUS COMEDIES.  Photo by Andrew Higgens.
The Ayckbourn Ensemble is a wonderfully talented company of actors currently taking New York by storm, performing three of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays in repertory at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of that theatre’s annual Brits Off Broadway program. The first of the three, Arrivals & Departures, opened last week and we loved it, as we expressed in our review of June 5.  Last night, the second of the three, Farcicals: A Double Bill of Frivolous Comedies, opened as well and, while strikingly different from Arrivals & Departures, it was even more fun.

Farcicals: A Double Bill of Frivolous Comedies consists of two one-act comedies, Chloe With Love and The Kidderminster Affair, featuring the same four characters: Penny Bottlecamp (Elizabeth Boag), her husband, Reggie Bottllecamp (Kim Wall), her friend and neighbor, Lottie Bulbin (Sarah Stanley), and Lottie’s husband, Teddy Bulbin (Bill Champion).  Ms Boag, Mr. Wall and Mr. Champion were terrific as the stars of Arrivals& Departures and Ms Stanley played several important supporting roles in that play.  In Chloe With Love and The Kidderminster Affair, all four are equally outstanding, providing comedic performances that will keep you laughing for nigh on two hours.

Chloe With Love takes place in the Bottlecamp’s garden on a warm summer evening while all of the action in The Kidderminster Affair occurs in the Bulbin’s very similar garden on another warm summer evening.  Both plays are slapstick farces and the plots of both revolve around Lottie’s suspicions of her husband’s infidelity.  The ways in which the two plays then evolve and their ultimate outcomes are strikingly different, but they both are rollickingly funny and deliciously insightful in their depictions of those fundamental psychological differences between men and women that remain at the root of the battle between the sexes.