SHEEPDOG

(l to r) Drew Schad and Leslie Ann Sheppard in ‘SHEEPDOG.’ (Photo: Lowell Thomas)

“Should we care about the story of the police shooter in the aftermath of his or her life-claiming error, however well-intentioned? I’m not sure I would have otherwise considered the question, but SHEEPDOG dares audience members to get invested in Drew, even if we can’t fully understand or forgive.

In a display of dramatic brass, Artigue, a white male writer, successfully creates Amina, an independent, intelligent, tough, self-made African-American woman. She is the vehicle for our collective investigation of the complicated socio-economic and racial dynamics that so frequently end in the death of young black men. But she is also a fully-realized human being — in love, ready to start a family with her trusted “person,” a fellow servant of justice and the public.

The choice for a white male author to put this much burden on a black, female character could be interpreted as an act of unearned creative privilege. And in the hands of a less deft production company, the deployment of a black woman to take us through an “All Lives Matter” story might irritate. But in this production, it absolutely works for a few important reasons, including the narrative voice which belongs completely to Amina, forcefully articulated by Sheppard’s performance.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Stop Kiss

(l to r) Kylie Anderson and Flavia Pallozzi in ‘Stop Kiss.’ (Photo: Patrick McLean)

“As the play opens, the audience meets two very different New York City women. Callie (Flavia Pallozzi) is a sophisticated on-air traffic reporter who stayed in the Big Apple after graduating college. Callie knows all the good restaurants and maintains a somewhat messy friends-with-benefits arrangement with her longtime friend George (Shane Novoa Rhoades). She lacks real passion for any of it, assuming that existential boredom is a tradeoff for the sensory stimulation of urban life.

Bright, excited and freshly relocated from St. Louis, Sara (Kylie Anderson) is a sheltered free spirit ready to leave her mark on New York. A committed public school teacher who has already tried and rejected heteronormative suburban life with her ex-fiancé Peter (Joe Faifer, in a dual role), Sara is looking for something more. After a rather pedantic establishment of their friendship rooted in cat-sitting, it’s clear that Sara and Callie have simmering chemistry.

The structure of the play’s narrative fully supports the organic, but complicated development of the women’s relationship. Their mutual attraction becomes apparent, then the action and timeline flip to a violent incident months later, which explicitly calls upon the integrity, resilience and heretofore undefined commitment of both characters. As the production moves back and forth between the nascent days of Sara and Callie’s attraction, and the “after,” which must necessarily change everything, we can follow the halting emotional and spiritual investment the characters make in one another, finding it as relatedly imperfect as our own unpredictable experiences.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog

Hoodoo Love

(l to r) Martasia Jones and Shariba Rivers in ‘Hoodoo Love.’ (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

“Equal parts musical, mystical and pedantic, Hoodoo Love, as directed by Wardell Julius Clark, is a Depression-era, Tennessee prism through which an audience member can grow mesmerized by any refraction. The play ends as it begins, with Toulou (Martasia Jones) staring out toward the railroad tracks, guitar strapped to her back, ready to ‘catch that train’ in search of her soul-singing destiny. In between these identical scenes, there is labor, love, loss, friendship, hypocrisy and hope, all sprinkled with a little of the Hoodoo magic Toulou borrows from her neighbor, a widowed former slave and shawoman known as Candylady (Shariba Rivers).

The play’s second, lengthy, and impossibly sexy scene is a bedroom tussle between Toulou and her lover, a complex rolling stone of a music man named Ace of Spades (Matthew James Elam). To the sweaty credit of intimacy and violence designer Rachel Flesher, audiences may find themselves jonesing for a cigarette after the couple’s lovemaking is through. Set against the backdrop of a Deep South thunderstorm, these few minutes are excitingly erotic, without bawdiness, and establish an authentic foundation for understanding Toulou’s addiction.

While Toulou prides herself on resourceful independence, Ace’s artistic gifts behind the microphone (and between the sheets) spring the young woman into the sultry Memphis stratosphere. With the passionate impatience of the smitten, Toulou engages the “good” magical services of Candylady to make her Ace of Spades think about staying a while. The women’s best intentions inadvertently touch off a sequence of disastrous events beyond antidote, reinforcing the play’s central ideological argument. Circumstances may be manipulated, but love and human nature are inherently immutable, answerable only to their own animal instincts.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

You Are Happy

(l to r) Brendan Connelly, Michelle Mary Schaefer, Sara JK Shoemaker and Emily Turner in ‘You Are Happy.’ (Photo: Matthew Freer)

“Déraspe owes a tremendous ideological debt to the Existentialist school of thought, a philosophy to which she contributes her own perspective. The script develops Jean Paul-Sartre’s famous conclusion that ‘Hell is other people,’ extending the paradigm to include the self. After all, ‘I’ am still a person capable of rendering my world a psychological hellscape. The script asks audiences to consider the satisfying and painful aspects of both solitude and partnership, without offering a definitive value judgment of either state.

You Are Happy presents theatergoers with the small, quirky story of career woman and committed singleton, Bridget (Emily Turner – ASL, Elana Weiner-Kaplow – Voice). Bridget is the vigilant caretaker of her brother, Jeremy (Brendan Connelly – ASL, Bowie Foote – Voice), a suicidally depressed young man yearning for the stabilizing forces of domestic partnership. Bridget, who seems more evolved in terms of understanding the often-arbitrary nature of human happiness, plucks a potential girlfriend for her sibling from the aisles of a local grocery store.

Chloe (Michelle Mary Schaefer – ASL, Sarah JK Shoemaker – Voice) has been dateless for some time, confiding that work, the occasional outing with friends, and the confines of her apartment don’t offer much opportunity to meet available men, emotionally or otherwise. When Bridget accosts Chloe at the market with a “crazy” plan to move her brother into the single woman’s place, creating an instant relationship, Chloe’s not as terrified as logic might suggest she ought to be.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

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.