Oh, Off-Broadway…the Associated Press might hate you, but I surely do not. And clearly they forgot that all four Tony nominees for Best Play originated from Off-Broadway last year and this year's Tony-winner for Best Play did the same. Girl down. I may not be the AP, but I do have some eyes on what you have coughed up so far this year to join the ranks of my Broadway Transfer recommendations from last year (and so far, I am 1 for 5 on that list!). Because I care Off-Broadway, maybe even a little too much...
The Vandal was Hamish Linklater's writing debut and I think he pulled an Annie Baker. Except Linklater is able to marry atmosphere with an actual story (which is why Baker's The Flick fell apart to me). This little unseen gem that debuted at the Flea Theater, and will be screened on PBS down the road, creates a doom-and-gloom, suspended-in-time mood that was so strong, it was palpably breath-taking. Revolving around the encounter between an elder woman checked out on life and a rebel-rousing high schooler hitting her up for alcohol at a desolate bus stop in upstate New York, this show was minimalism done right with gripping tension, character backstories and nuance for miles. It is hard not to get swept up in the story or the strong performances from Dierdre O'Connell and Noah Robbins. And after an entire spring season where only Christopher Durang and a little bit of Richard Greenburg and Sharr White could achieve anything of greatness on a writing level, The Vandal was one of the few new Off-Broadway/Off Off Broadway shows that had that in spades.
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If I had to single out a contender for my favorite play of the year (other then Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), that would be this little gem that debuted at the Lucille Lortel Theater this past winter. It is easy for writers to overindulge in the dark side of human nature and the cynicism of the young-20's generation. But Paul Downs Colaizzo sidestepped both while writing this "hard to watch because it is so true" play about the aftermath of a night of drunken debauchery and an alleged rape scandal. I can't express enough how this show strikes a chord with anyone living in the modern, technology-driven, "every bitch for him/herself" that is the competitive college and post-college atmospheres. We all have been there or paid witness to the masterminding and manipulative folk seizing any situation they can to benefit themselves…especially those of us that live in the cutthroat world of New York. Even amidst all the drama unfolding, there are some laugh-out-loud lines to successfully make this a top-notch dark dramedy. I imagine this show isn't high on the pantheon of potential Broadway transfers. It doesn't exactly appeal to the Broadway masses (but then again, neither did The Testament of Mary and that happened). However, if $5,000,000 were to drop out of the sky and land in my lap, I'd assume the role of lead producer in a heartbeat and hope that the quality of the show wins out in the end.
I'm not the biggest fan of actor vehicles transferring to Broadway because…well, exactly that. Actor vehicles. But man, Danny Burstein is long overdue for a Tony award and his perfect performance in Talley's Folley would be such a strong contender, I imagine. The rest of this revival was well-received - Langford Wilson's ethereal language, Sarah Paulson's also-compelling performance, Michael Wilson's minimalist direction - and the production costs are as low as I can imagine, which is certainly a major selling point (especially when speaking in Roundabout Theatre terms) when a Broadway show operates on a weekly six-figure budget after an initial investment of millions. Oh, inflation...
Hit the Wall
I know this show underwent some degree of criticism regarding its historical accuracy of the Stonewall Inn riots, to which I say," bitch, please." Hit the Wall nailed late-60's nostalgia and the heavy-hitting dialogue and themes without overcompensating. And how the show managed to find its entertainment center with its myriad of LGBTQ tropes and characters is way beyond me. It is rare for a show to attempt such a balancing act of soft and hard, dramatic and funny, historical and relevant, grounded and over-the-top…but it is even rarer for a show to be well-rendered with such finesse. I think it will follow the path set by The Laramie Project and move forward with local (and less full-frontally nude) readings, productions and maybe another movie (the film Stonewall focuses primarily on events leading up to the riots, where as Hit the Wall examines the before, during and after), but if it arrives on Broadway, it has my blessing. And man, those student matinees will have audiences that may actually learn about a pretty cool moment in LGBTQ history.
The Last Five Years
Will someone explain to me why this show keeps getting the shaft for some reason? Even with a million extensions during its run at Second Stage Theater, this show was glossed over for the entire award season gamut and some critics had the gall to criticize its sung-through nature as if that very idea is some sort of blasphemy (um, Les Miserables anyone? Rent?). It is debatably one of Jason Robert Brown's best scores (my personal favorite, hands down) and the chronological and reverse-chronological combined storytelling is every bit genius and avant garde as it was since its debut over ten years ago. I think its time this cult classic mounts a Broadway run and I am shocked that the film adaptation with Anna Kendrick's horrible costuming may come to fruition first (as of now). Also, casting? Betsy Wolfe is your Cathy. It is not hard to pull a random actress from a cattle call and get a decent performance (c'mon, every actress has a Cathy in her somewhere), but Wolfe was absolutely flawless. The point at which The Last Five Years becomes "The Cathy Show" - the "A Summer in Ohio," "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence" and "I Can Do Better Than That" sequences - was mind-blowingly amazing just to watch Wolfe devour the stage and then some with her striking vocals, corky charisma and comedic timing. I've been singing the praises of Laura Osnes and Patina Miller, but Wolfe was easily my favorite of the three.
I'll start off by saying that The Call had some issues that need to be tackled on the drawing board. But it is easier to forgive conceptual problems when the vast majority is on point...and above all, The Call has a premise I've never seen before that is quite intriguing (a white couple going about adopting a baby. But oh, the baby is black. And from disease-ridden Africa. And maybe not newborn-aged). The story may have an idea or two too many, but it was certainly provocative and even funny at times. Two of the performances also stuck out - Kerry Butler giving a vulnerable, "who knew she had it in her" performance that caught me off guard as the adoptive mommy-to-be and Crystal A. Dickinson as the sharp, speaks her mind, no-BS lesbian friend.
Photo Credit: Janna Giacoppo via stageandcinema.com
Photo Credit: Broadway.com