Review: ASTORIA at Portland Center Stage is a wooden, pre-modern melodrama about heroic white men battling the wilderness – minus Eugene Levy

ASTORIA Adapted by Chris Coleman at Portland Center Stage

3-stars

Thru February 19, 2017

If you’re setting sail on the perilous journey of adapting a long historical drama for the stage, particularly one that tries to deal with the glorious (or not) story of America’s early days, you should be very familiar with two examples from the genre that define a spectrum of possible outcomes.

On one end, HAMILTON, the international juggernaut that breathes life into history by using forms and multi ethnic bodies of the present.  On the other, RED, WHITE AND BLAINE, the show staged inside of the film WAITING FOR GUFFMAN that has become a defining reference for amateur community theatre and (more subtly) oblivious historical white washing of what life on the merry frontier was like.

Astoria at Portland Center Stage
“How high a ridge I could not tell.” Eugene Levy could make ASTORIA really fun.
Continue reading “Review: ASTORIA at Portland Center Stage is a wooden, pre-modern melodrama about heroic white men battling the wilderness – minus Eugene Levy”

CAREER SUICIDE by Chris Gethard at Culture Project

CAREER SUICIDE by Chris Gethard

Culture Project at Lynn Redgrave Theater

Thru Jan 8, 2017

3-stars

Stand up comedy seems to have its share of substance abuse and extreme emotions. From the smoking craters of several career directions, Gethard weaves a personal story about how he finally figured out the right dosage and made a life on stage and off. Now we know: NJ is crazy.

THE DEATH OF THE LAST BLACK MAN… by Suzan-Lori Parks at Signature Theatre

THE DEATH OF THE LAST BLACK MAN IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD AKA THE NEGRO BOOK OF THE DEAD by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

Signature Theatre

Thru Dec 18

4-stars

When in the theatre – do what can only be done in the theatre.  Color, costume, words. The avant garde language of Parks is framed and filled out by masterful direction from Lileana Blain-Cruz. This talented new director keeps her streak of utterly theatrical experiences going strong.

MATILDA by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin at Shubert Theater

MATILDA by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin (via Ronald Dahl)

Shubert Theater on Broadway

Thru January 1, 2017

4-stars

#JoyAlert. Even while many ingredients are well known and commonly used, the combination here connects deeply.  That’s what arch types do.  Willow McCarthy mesmerizing as our little reader and revolutionary.  Bryce Ryness crucial as the iron-breasted Miss Trunchbull.  Though it must be said he simply channels the great David Thewlis.

THE PRIDE by Alexi Kaye Campbell at Theatre22

THE PRIDE by Alexi Kaye Campbell at Theatre 22

Thru Nov 19, 2016

2-stars

Rendering plausible British accents – so often a challenge for American actors – here turns into a minefield of problems with a near constant barrage of detonations. Potential melodrama of story not helped by excessive directorial pauses, teeth gnashing, tearful breast beating. Setting between two eras is not clear enough. Not authentic.

 

BLOOD ON THE BOOKS by Nick Zagone at Shaking the Tree

There are compelling dramatic threads and several strong performances here. But the central scaffolding does not always hold up. Perhaps too much direct address to audience, and not enough interaction between the characters. One thing that’s prescient though: One day Powell’s will go under. You heard it here first. Poof.

NIGHT IS A ROOM by Naomi Wallace at Signature Theatre

NIGHT IS A ROOM by Naomi Wallace at Signature Theatre

Directed by Bill Rauch

4-stars

Stunning piece of modern art. Like a glittering shard of glass. But as soon as you stop to pick up this jagged jewel you’re going to get cut. One of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time. With a dark, unmentioned Irish back story careful viewers will see.

Thru Dec. 20

ECLIPSED by Danai Gurira at the Public Theater

ECLIPSED by Danai Gurira at the Public Theater

Immaculately crafted and accurately rendered. But what is missing is theatre magic – something to take the story into another level of resonance, impact, meaning. The gaze of the offstage men is chilling. After we get the setup, there’s little significant development or change. Inevitably a comparison to RUINED comes up.

Thru Nov. 29

Then headed to Broadway.

HIR by Taylor Mac at Playwrights Horizons

HIR by Taylor Mac at Playwrights Horizons

Taylor Mac’s disruptive and often gripping play is 3/4 of the way to being something great. But problems of physical pacing, plot and setting hold it back. Laundry lists of acronyms serve as unintentional parody of our own self-obsessed present. Mother’s bright demeanor does not ring true. Still quite an achievement.

Thru Dec. 20