Sugar In Our Wounds by Donja R. Love
Manhattan Theatre Club / directed by Saheem Ali
Seen on July 2, 2018
Thumbs-up: A deeply moving and resonant play, full of lively motifs and daring stylistic choices. Wonderful performances by all the actors, but especially by Stephanie Berry as Aunt Mama and Sheldon Best as James.
Thumbs-down: As atmospheric and refreshing as they were, the sudden and frequent changes in lighting felt somewhat tacky at times. The musical interruptions could have been blended in more subtly. Even though the play was staged in the round, not every scene was blocked with attention to this. There was a handful of moments when I found Chinaza Uche’s acting too static and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart’s too high-pitched.
Notes: At its very best, this production was tear-inducing and atmospherically wholesome. It operated in a distinct dramatic world but also knew well how to plant that world firmly within ours.
Dan Cody’s Yacht by Anthony Giardina
Manhattan Theatre Club / directed by Doug Hughes
Seen on June 30, 2018
Thumbs-up: The only strong actor was the young Casey Whyland, and even she lapsed at several points towards the end. The scenic design and the revolving set were another highlight, though the inexplicably unbalanced lighting diluted their power. Kevin and Angela’s scene at Starbucks was by far the most compelling and interesting scene in the entire play, though I don’t think it was intended that this superlative would go to that particular scene.
Thumbs-down: The play itself was built on a number of unexplained, incomprehensible premises about the characters and their actions. From the very start, with Cara’s appearance at Kevin’s house, I was disoriented and acutely felt the need for a sharper narrative. In terms of acting, the bulk of the performances were annoyingly exaggerated and over-the-top. Plus, they were at times accompanied by inauthentic gestures and movements. Kristen Bush as Cara was especially disappointing; I can envision a production of this play where the actress portraying her renders her character irresistibly interesting. And to reiterate, the lighting and sound designs were weak and did not feel in sync with the other elements. Relatedly, scene endings were directed quite clumsily.
Notes: This was a mediocre play and a mediocre production. With better acting and direction, the play can become slightly more intricate, but even then there would remain so much that’s surface-level and flat-out pedantic.
Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury
Soho Rep. / directed by Sarah Benson
Seen on June 28, 2018
Thumbs-up: Absolutely stunning. Everything was a supreme achievement—direction, performances, design, dramaturgy, and (above all) the work itself. Shattering in every sense of the word, certainly in more ways and on more levels than one.
Thumbs-down: Hmm… nothing? Maybe a minor point: The replay of the first part of the “play” with the overlaid conversation does grow slightly dull and somewhat predictable at some points. Yet I assume this is expected and perhaps even aimed for, given that the tyrannical familiarity of that script is central to our experience of it in this context.
Notes: At once intensely (and retrospectively) allegorical and disturbingly direct, Fairview is no less than a contemporary masterpiece. I needed a good 15 minutes after the show to come to my senses, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It affects one to the bone.
A Doll’s House, Part 3 | created and performed by Michael Breslin & Patrick Foley
Ars Nova / ANT Fest
Seen on June 26, 2018
Thumbs-up: The collage-like flow of the piece that could also build and sustain a skeletal narrative of its own. Incisive critiques of both contemporary and timeless questions that inhere in the practice of drama. Gloriously funny (and adept) performances by all four actors.
Thumbs-down: The last 5-7 minutes fell flat. The momentum of the show visibly dropped, and we were denied the final punch-in-the-face that I thought was in store for us. It wasn’t even clear, at least to me, what was taking place. Also, in general, I sensed a habitual over-reliance on the use of cameras and projections onstage, even when they did not seem to serve any particular purpose.
Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf by Kate Scelsa
Elevator Repair Service / directed by John Collins
Seen on June 23, 2018
Thumbs-up: Perhaps the strongest aspect of the production, one that I anticipated and secretly waited for, was the final transition from Martha and George’s living room to the alleged limbo of George’s afterlife. It was a near-flawless jump in terms of both narrative and design, and certainly stood out. Overall, the performances were pleasing, though I developed a greater affinity towards and appreciation for Vin Knight and Annie McNamara. In terms of writing, there were around a dozen hilariously sharp and laugh-out-loud funny moments.
Thumbs-down: The play could have been much stronger (and funnier!). This version of it should have been treated as a draft, or a work-in-progress, and it should have been developed in a number of ways, not the least of which pertain to structure, characterizations, and the nature (and scope) of the cultural critique that it’s engaged in. I do see the potential in both the work itself and the motivation behind it, and I wish it had found the final form it deserves. In addition, the scenic design of the living room could have been at least a bit more sophisticated.
Notes: Though filled with some great moments of acerbic humor and with aptly edgy performances, Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf does require substantial revisions to its text—and demands a more focused approach, on the part of the playwright and the ensemble, to its critical agenda.
Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr
Irish Repertory Theatre / directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Seen on June 21, 2018
Thumbs-up: This is an exquisitely written, lyrically explosive, and teasingly ambiguous play. The production featured a surprisingly strong cast, and especially the two lead women—Stephanie Roth Haberle and Pamela J. Gray—kept their performances refreshingly intricate. Ryan Rumery’s sound design and Michael Gottlieb’s lighting elegantly enhanced the tonal and narrative turns of the play.
Thumbs-down: I often favor small and intimate performance spaces, yet this was by far the tiniest (and most uncomfortable) stage I have ever seen. The production could have really benefited from a wider range of blocking opportunities for all four of the actors. I could see on their faces that they felt constrained by the size of the stage and wanted to move beyond it. Though much in keeping with the central idea, and feel, of the play, this sense of entrapment suppressed the true potential of the production.
Notes: What a joy it is to have finally seen for myself how delightfully talented Marina Carr is! And this production, with its many strengths, was perhaps the best introduction to her work.
The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre / directed by George C. Wolfe
Seen on June 20, 2018
Thumbs-up: Denzel Washington as Hickey was the force that energized the whole play and made it not only endurable (mainly time-wise), but enjoyable. He breathed a very distinct life to his character and embraced it fully. Other outstanding performances belonged to Reg Rogers (Jimmy), Michael Potts (Joe), and Bill Irvin (Ed). Further, the tonal and stylistic shift from Act 3 to Act 4 was especially refreshing and memorable.
Thumbs-down: David Morse as Larry was a great disappointment. He simply did not embody the inherent richness and complexity of his character and overacted most of the time (arguably to compensate for the former weakness). Especially when juxtaposed with Washington’s fierceness, Morse’s slovenly performance was even more frustrating. Austin Butler as Don was yet another significant casting mistake: he just was not the right person for his role. In terms of design elements, the frequent changes in light—both intensity and color—drew too much attention to the artificiality of the stage action and really bothered me. I would venture to claim that they cheapened the production.
Notes: Despite a bravura performance by Denzel Washington, this production suffered from some significant directorial and dramaturgical problems. There were quite a few scenes where blocking was not the most ideal, storytelling was not clear, and performances were not satisfying. Washington, in a sense, saved the play.