Thursday, May 2, 2019

CAROLINE'S KITCHEN Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Caroline Langrishe and Tom England in CAROLINE'S KITCHEN.  Photo by Sam Taylor.

Caroline Mortimer (Caroline Langrishe) is a well-known television personality with her own cooking show (Caroline’s Kitchen).  Her husband, Mike (Aden Gillett), is a successful banker with a penchant for golf.  And their son, Leo (Tom England), has just graduated with a “First” from Cambridge.  As Leo puts it, his mother presents herself as “the perfect woman with the perfect life and the perfect marriage in the perfect house with the perfect friends.”:And so it would seem.

Caroline and Mike are on the verge of selling their house in anticipation of paying off their son’s school debt, gifting him with a flat of his own, and embarking on the next stage of their own presumably ideal lives.  And tonight they are planning a champagne celebration for Leo.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything.  For starters, things really are not quite what they seem.  Caroline may be an admired television personality with an enviable marriage but she is also a discombobulated, religiously fanatic, alcoholic carrying on an affair with Graeme (James Sutton), a carpenter working at her home.  Mike may be a successful banker and golf aficionado but he is also a victim of child abuse, bi-polar, wallowing in remorse over his own previous infidelity, and seemingly incapable of expressing true affection for his wife of son.  And Leo is a cigarette-smoking, vegan, semi-closeted homosexual (Caroline knows he’s gay but Mike does not), who is heartbroken to have learned of his own partner’s infidelity and who plans to leave for Syria to help the refugees before the climate change apocalypse that he deems inevitable destroys us all.

Not to be outdone by the Mortimers, Amanda (Jasmyn Banks), Caroline’s inept, insouciant, and over-sexed assistant, is in the throes of her own affair with Dominic, a married man (although that doesn’t prevent her from flirting outrageously with Graeme).  And, as if not to be left out, it is then that Graeme’s own mentally unbalanced, previously institutionalized, and violence-prone wife, Sally (Elizabeth Boag),  bursts upon the scene and all hell breaks loose.

The entire entourage of fidelity-challenged dysfunctional characters appear in Caroline’s Kitchen, written by Torben Betts and directed by Alastair Whatley, currently enjoying its US premiere as part of the Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  The play (originally entitled Monogamy) is a classic example of British slapstick humor – a kind of hellzapoppin’ farcical pastiche, replete with mistaken identities, bumbling husbands, sexual revelations, the mandatory homosexual, and just plain tom-foolery.  The genre has never been  my cuppa but if that is the sort of thing that floats your boat, you won’t be disappointed by this one.

Monday, April 22, 2019


L-R: Matt Sheahan and Dan March in Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain.  Photo by Lidia Crisafulli.

Broad, slapstick British humor may not be everybody’s cup of tea but if it does happen to be yours, you might want to catch The Real MacGuffins (Dan March, James Millard and Matt Sheahan) in Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, currently enjoying its US premiere as part of this year’s Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  The Real MacGuffins, a leading sketch group on the British comedy circuit, adapted Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain from a pamphlet of the same name issued by the Americn War Office in 1942 to prepare GIs being sent to England during World War II for the idiosyncrasies of British (life ranging from cricket to the country’s inclement weather and from the near-incomprehensibility of the British monetary system to Brits’ predilection for warm beer).

The play takes place in 1942 when a horde of American GIs have arrived in England only to be confronted by a people ostensibly speaking the same language as Americans do but with so many customs so different from our own as to make social intercourse immensely difficult.  Two American officers, Lieutenant Schultz (James Millard) and Colonel Atwood (Dan March) have been given the responsibility of instructing the newly-arrived American troops and they are joined in their effort by a British officer, Major Gibbons (Matt Sheahan).

The characters are just what we have come to expect in British productions of this genre.  Lieutenant Schultz is another version of Jack Armstrong.  Colonel Atwood is the Iowa farm boy who has risen through the ranks but still remembers the dance steps to “kick the pig.”  And Major Gibbons is the relatively effete officer whose mother (also played by James Millard) still embarrasses him by telling his associates of the ballet lessons he took as a child.

The play breaks no new ground.  The characters are stereotypical and caricature-ish.  But that is not to say that they aren’t entertaining for they most certainly are.  Moreover, all three performers are consummate comedians and, at least at the performance I attended, the audience really seemed to love them and to enjoy the show.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Gordon Clapp Stars in TRICK OR TREAT at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Gordon Clapp and Jenni Putney in TRICK OR TREAT.  Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Every family has its secrets and the Moynihans certainly are no exception.  What is going on between Johnny Moynihan (Gordon Clapp) and Nancy (Kathy Manfre), his wife of more than 40 years, now that her Alzheimer’s disease is worsening?  What transpired between Johnny’s son, Teddy (David Mason) and Johnny’s neighbor, Hannah (Kathy McCafferty), years ago that ended Teddy and Hannah’s romantic relationship - and did Johnny have anything to do with it?  Who is Sharon - and what has become of her?

Johnny and Nancy have kept the family’s secrets for years but now that Nancy’s Alzheimer’s has worsened, can she still be relied on to do so? Claire (Jenni Putney), who is Johnny and Nancy’s daughter and Danny’s sister, never was privy to the family’s secrets herself but that’s all about to change tonight.  It is Halloween and Claire has just received a tearful call from her father imploring her to come to his house right away where all eventually wiil be revealed.

Teddy, as it turns out, is a cop, a police captain in fact and in line to become the next Chief of Police, an appointment that would delight Johnny since Teddy would be following in the footsteps of Johnny’s own father who once had held that post.  But Teddy’s appointment is far from certain.  For one thing, Claire’s influential husband, Sal, who publishes the town paper, vehemently opposes it.  Moreover, some in the town continue to hold Danny responsible for the “murder” of Normie Beauchamp, despite the fact that Danny was acquitted of all charges in that incident.  Additionally, that “bitch” Hannah still has it in for him.  And, finally, should the secret surrounding Sharon be disclosed, it could mark the end of Danny’s career.

Trick or Treat by Jack Neary is an exceptionally well-written play – a family drama, a mystery, and a black comedy all in one – currently enjoying its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  Neary’s ear for dialogue is terrific but that’s not all the play has going for it: it also has been blessed with a truly extraordinary cast.

David Mason is tough, bitter and menacing as Johnny’s son, Teddy, while Jenni Putney conveys an equally convincing sense of cold, calculating objectivity, tempered by concern for both of her parents, as his daughter, Claire.  Kathy McCafferty is splendid as the truly nosy, obnoxious, trouble-making “bitch,” Hannah, and Kathy Manfre is effective as Nancy, Johnny’s wife, suffering from Alzheimer’s.

But when all is said and done, the play really belongs to Gordon Clapp.  His is an award-worthy performance as Johnny, a working-class stiff whose own life never measured up to that of his father and who now seeks to live his life vicariously through his son.  He is a man who finds little to take pride in himself beyond the size of the candy bars he distributes to the neighborhood’s children on Halloween.  But at the same time, he is a man deeply in love with his wife, Nancy, and devoted to her care who, nonetheless, places the preservation of his family (as he perceives it) above all else – including Nancy’s well-being.  It is a performance that will remain with you long after you have left the theater.

Friday, January 18, 2019

ALONE IT STANDS by John Breen Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Ed Malone, Henry Raber, David O'Hara, Rob McDermott, Chase Guthrie Knueven, and Sarah Street in ALONE IT STANDS.  Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

The US victory over the Soviet Union in ice hockey in the 1980 Winter Olympics came to be known as the “Miracle on Ice.”  It was, after all, an extraordinary event: the Soviets were overwhelming favorites, they had taken the gold in five of the previous six Olympics, and their players were primarily professionals, whereas the American team consisted exclusively of amateurs and was the youngest team in the tournament. Little wonder that, two decades later, Sports Illustrated crowned the “Miracle on Ice” as the top sports moment of the Twentieth Century, nor that in 2008 the International Ice Hockey Federation named it the best international ice hockey story of the previous hundred years.

Less well remembered was a similar upset that occurred two years before the “Miracle on Ice.” Munster, a small Irish provincial rugby team stunned Ireland when, in 1978, it defeated the New Zealand All Blacks (who, at the time, were generally considered to be one of the greatest teams in rugby history).  To be sure, the event was not as momentous to the rest of the world as was the “Miracle on Ice,” but it sure was to the Irish who, at the time, were suffering through war and economic recession.  For the Irish, the upset victory could not have come at a better time.

Alone It Stands, written and directed by John Breen, relates the story of that remarkable sports event and its effect on the Irish people.  Originally opening in 2000 at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, the play transferred to London’s West End, and went on to become an international hit.  At last it has crossed the Atlantic and is currently enjoying its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival.

This is an exceptionally entertaining play, a brilliantly choreographed work, an exuberantly athletic romp, and a celebratory paean to the indomitability of the human spirit.  A truly talented cast of six play – wait for it, this is not a typo – sixty-two (62) different characters including the players on both rugby teams (Munster and the All Blacks), coaches, spouses, fathers, nurses, fans, street children, baby twins, a pregnant woman, a pet dog, and - before I forget – a newborn emerging from the birth canal!  Much of the play is devoted to the rugby game itself, with grueling scrums aplenty, but the multiplicity of scenes also include a celebratory bonfire, a wake (you can’t have an Irish play without a wake!) and, of course, that cheerfully and tastefully executed childbirth moment.

The play’s entire cast of five men (Chase Guthrie Knueven, Ed Malone, Henry Raber, Rob McDermott, and David O’Hara) and one woman (Sarah Street) deserve accolades for their performances, both on the field and off.  Casting is almost as gender-blind (and even species-blind!) as you can get: Sarah Street more than holds her own on the rugby field and in the scrums although her real star turn comes in a more natural role as the birthing mother; Chase Guthrie Knueven performs well as a pet dog but his strongest performances are barreling down the rugby field; and while several of the male actors do provide a bit of comic relief in their momentary performances as women, their finest performances still are as male rugby players.  I guess when push comes to shove (or scrum or childbirth), boys will still be boys and girls will still be girls (and dogs will still be dogs).