Sugar in Our Wounds

Michael Turrentine (top) and Londen Shannon in First Floor Theater’s production of ‘Sugar in Our Wounds.’ (Photo: Gracie Meier)

“The powerful script, which premiered Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2018, drops the audience in on James (Michael Turrentine), a gentle young slave and part of a makeshift family toiling on a plantation in the Deep South (exact state undefined). The Civil War is nearing its bitter end, although James and his “people,” Aunt Mama (Renee Lockett) and Mattie (Ashley Crowe), have no way of knowing this. What they do know, via a literate James who reads old newspapers during his infrequent leisure time, is that President Lincoln may soon sign a law freeing slaves from their formal subjugation. A glimmer of hope, and a prayer to the mystical old tree that seems tied to James’ destiny fortify the trio that divine justice is imminent.

Into this overworked, physically and emotionally abused, but tight-knit family walks Henry (Londen Shannon), a handsome and mysterious stranger with sexy qualities that command the attention of Mattie and James in similar ways. Mattie is keenly aware of the emotional and physical desire she feels in Henry’s presence. James, giving off more than a touch of pure, Christ-like goodness in the style of Melville’s Billy Budd, is slower to understand the nature of his attraction. In any case, after Henry’s arrival, a potentially dangerous sexual tension is introduced between the two men.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

A Man of No Importance

Ryan Lanning (center) and the cast of ‘A Man of No Importance.'(Photo: Heather Mall)

“As the musical begins, Alfie’s internal life finds expression in his commitment to community theater. Leading a merry band of invested misfits in a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Alfie courts controversy — and a reckoning with his own soul — as he prepares his team for “Going Up” in the basement of St. Imelda’s church. The arrangements of the songs in each scene, such this one about the flurry of preparing for opening night, categorically respond to Alfie’s own internal, if invisible, mood swings. With music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics from Lynn Ahrens, A Man of No Importance’s score supports a small story, compelling for its ability to give voice to the people we fail to notice each day.

If the work is intentionally understated, that doesn’t prevent a dynamic and capable cast from pulling off big emotional drama, matched only by show-stopping song and dance. Staged inside the relatively small, 85-seat Broadway Theatre of the Pride Arts Center, the production feels large, owing to onstage and creative talent adept at realizing big visions in tight spaces.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Twice, Thrice, Frice

(l to r) Annalise Razie, Catherine Dildilian, and Marielle Issa in ‘Twice, Thrice, Frice…’ (Photo: Airan Wright)

“Directed by Patrizia Acerra, Twice, Thrice, Frice… drops audiences in on the interconnected lives of three suburban Muslim women. Khadija (a terrific Annalise Raziq) is the mother hen/older sister figure to Amira (Catherine Dildilian), an artist and real estate professional, and Samara (Marielle Issa), a young 30-something balancing a career with an MBA program. Samara is also the daughter of Khadija’s deceased bosom friend, investing their relationship with what at first seems like a relatively harmless co-dependency.

Without giving away spoilers, the women’s somewhat predictable lives begin to quickly unravel. The play prophetically opens with an intense debate between the three on the subjects of adultery, polygamy, Sharia law and how all of these forces are shaped by American citizenship and culture. The discussion underpins the plot points to follow, as well as the dynamics between the women.

Amira—childless, happily married but somewhat lonely—initially serves as the rhetorical antagonist to her more culturally conservative friends, rejecting the notion that Muslim men are entitled to sensual gluttony by either gender or divine providence. Khadijah and Samara adopt more traditional positions that are taken apart and reconfigured as the story evolves. Over 100 intermissionless minutes, we learn that perhaps neither Khadijah nor Samara are quite as conventional as first presented. This is a tangled, complicated story of survival, betrayal and moral responsibility—written, directed and acted by talented women aware of their agency.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Big Fish

(l to r) Kyrie Anderson and Tommy Thurston in BoHo Theatre’s ‘Big Fish.’ (Photo: Time Stops Photography)

“In modern-day Alabama, Edward Bloom (an utterly transfixing Tommy Thurston) and his wife Sandra (Kyrie Anderson) are preparing for their son’s (Jeff Pierpont) wedding. Will Bloom has become emotionally estranged from his father, who he views as an odd man in a complicated relationship with the truth. While Sandra and Will’s new bride (Nicole Besa) take delight in Edward’s Odysseus-like coming-of-age stories, Will is annoyed by his father’s opacity as he prepares to start his own family.

Mr. Thurston is a revelation as an admittedly imperfect husband and father who nonetheless regards life as a series of colossal possibilities. No experience is limiting except as beheld by the small thinker. It can’t be easy for an actor to play a character who repeatedly vacillates between a teenager and an elderly man without ever losing sight of subtle shifts in energy, appearance and wisdom. Mr. Thurston is so effective at these quick changes that it’s easy to forget we’re watching the same performer.

The actor is supported by a marvelous cast that includes Ms. Anderson as Sandra, Edward’s muse, best friend and wife. As portrayed by an actress gifted in emotional range, song and pulchritude, it’s easy to understand the passionate man’s love for Sandra at first sight. And Robert Quintanilla is remarkable as Karl, one of the characters from Edward’s whimsical tales. A gentle behemoth with a delicate cultural palette and thirst for learning, Mr. Quintanilla’s performance is reminiscent of Andre the Giant’s turn in The Princess Bride. His work is just as endearing as the former wrestler’s in that film, however, accompanied by stronger diction.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

X

(l to r) Sarah Price and Krystal Ortiz in Sideshow Theatre Company’s U.S. premiere of “X.” (Photo Jonathan L. Green)

“The most effective science fiction is that which places authentic people in fantastic situations, lending a constant and credible edge to intriguing unreality. Somewhere along his writing journey, Mr. McDowell stumbled over that paradigm and was unable to course correct (space pun acknowledged, if not intended). By the conclusion of X, the audience, like the characters onstage, must necessarily lose the narrative thread.

While Mr. McDowell alone is responsible for the rhetorical downshift into linguistic babble, there is enough empty space left for director Jonathan L. Green to clarify the narrative, but he doesn’t seem to know what direction it’s headed, either. In spite of the dramaturgical and production challenges, Gage Wallace delivers a worthy performance as British space bro Clark, a revelation of obnoxiousness, comedic timing and genuine pathos. Mr. Wallace, Ms. Price and H.B. Ward, who plays universe-weary elder crewman Ray all deserve better material.

If X ended after the first act, theatergoers would be treated to a meditation on the present stewardship of our planet as leading to inevitable tragedy. However, the fresh ideas, innovative structure and fearless reckoning with the mistakes of the cultural present that offer such early promise, yield to a confusing, senseless and forgettable conclusion.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Bernhardt/Hamlet

Terri McMahon in ‘Bernhardt/Hamlet’ at Goodman Theatre. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

“This rendering of Ms. Bernhardt offers a financially profligate legend who will never stop needing the approval and over-involvement of men in her life, be it her adult son Maurice (Luigi Sottile), her fellow actors or the transactional playwrights who trade art for sexual and emotional inspiration. She is in charge only in the pedantic, street-wise vein of a narcotics dealer.

Bernhardt had money, sexual magnetism and position – products judiciously withheld to advantage throughout her long career. However, minutes into Bernhardt/Hamlet it’s made clear that the now 55-year-old actress is no longer flush with any of these resources. She is, in fact, desperate. The publicly and critically shocking decision to dive headlong into Shakespeare’s alpha male tragedy is born, not of inspiration, but of a necessity to generate cash and headlines. Any theater history student knows this effort produced gossip, but certainly not riches or reborn critical acclaim. It was shortly after this experience that Ms. Bernhardt turned to film for salvation.

The material’s unacknowledged structural incongruity persists for over two and a half hours and is broken up only by long passages of dialogue from the work of male masters like Mr. Shakespeare and Mr. Rostand (John Tufts). As a critic and committed feminist, I found my patience routinely tested by these lengthy diversions from what should be the characters’ pursuit of their own deliberated truths – most notably, Ms. Bernhardt’s. Her relationship with Mr. Rostand as written is pathetic and depressing for both parties, only eclipsed by an utterly misguided collaborative attempt to remove the “poetry” from Shakespeare. Because somehow that places an actress on more equal gender footing? The idea is never adequately explained.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Trump in Space

The cast of Laugh Out Loud Theater’s ‘Trump in Space.’ (Photo: Tyler Core)

“Love it or (more likely) loathe it: the Trump administration has gifted America with comedy gold. POTUS 45’s more hateful policies (such as a xenophobic immigration strategy infused with class warfare or fossil-fuel tilted deregulation) are no laughing matter. Though many are feeling the country less morally tolerable by the second, we’re often surprised by genuine if unintentional humor. It’s hard not to laugh at former Trump press secretary-turned-dance-competition-contestant Sean Spicer, or the linguistic presents we’ve received from our Commander-in-Chief’s illiterate tongue and keyboard – “covfefe,” “infantroopen” and so much more. So why is Trump in Space not funny?

Many, including myself, had high expectations for the limited run at Chicago’s Laugh Out Loud Theater. Lampooning this White House should be as easy as shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. The show is a product of the esteemed Second City Hollywood Studio Theater, where it has enjoyed a 23-month stint with rave reviews. In the hands of the original, founding Windy City chapter of the comedy powerhouse, I figured what has already been found quality can only improve.

As it turns out, that’s not true. It’s impossible to say with certainty, having not seen the California edition, what liberties the Chicago troupe took with the source material. As with any improv comedy piece, Trump in Space appears to have broadly drawn plot elements with plenty of room left for individual craftsmanship. What I can say with conviction is that with this group of performers, in this city and on this stage, the work is disappointingly bland and uninspired.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.