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1/7/15

A Plethora of Theatre Things I Loved in 2014, Part Two!

Feeling So Strong Feelings for Mothers and Sons


If I had any doubt as to the staying power of Mothers and Sons - a play I loved so hard, I saw it three times this past spring - let me flashback for you to the other night. As I was gift-wrapping my anniversary/holiday present to my girl Courtney (I gave her a paperback copy of all of her favorite plays, Mothers and Sons being one of them), I couldn’t help myself: I flipped through the pages of Terrence McNally’s story and loved it all over again. Maybe the fond memory of Tyne Daly’s and Frederick Weller’s award-worthy performances still rung vividly, but the writing, McNally’s finest work in years (if not, decades) with its brief respites of comedy amidst Katherine Gerard’s tumultuous, but ultimately heart-breaking journey, was worth enduring time and time again. With its small-scale cast and simple production design, I imagine Mothers and Sons will be a hit on the regional circuit...road trip, anyone?!

Woah! Here Comes Rachel Tucker 

You would think a Sting score, Joe Mantello’s direction and a lead performance from Michael Esper would mean that all other factors of The Last Ship would slip into obscurity. I’m there with you; that is a reasonable deduction…until Rachel Tucker was given the proverbial mic, sang “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor,” lit up the fucking stage and gave a masterclass on badass-ness. You guys, my body was not ready for that display…SHE KAREEMED OFF OF A GUY’S BACK AND SLID SHOT GLASSES AT MEN WHILE SANGING ABOUT HOW AWFUL THEY ARE. I think she’s my new hero.

Never Too Much When Nicky Silver and Linda Lavin are Here

As anyone who saw The Lyons will attest, Linda Lavin was a pitch-perfect actress to recite Nicky Silver’s biting one-liners and carry the bulk of the work. Too Much Sun, which debuted at the Vineyard Theatre this past spring, echoed their previous collaboration. I’d normally point that out as a fault, but they are such a dream team that I am willing to overlook it. Too Much Sun played out like an absurdly fun soap opera and Lavin chewed up the entire stage as an actress reconnecting with her daughter after she abandons her regional musical production of Madea (I MEAN!). Just a delightful, fun experience that I could not omit it here. Also, I put it out to the world that these two could work together again and I’d cut every bitch in my path for a ticket.

Joshua Henry and the Pregnancy Epidemic of 2014

There is a part of me that thinks fate has done right by us when it comes to Violet’s Broadway run, 17 years after its Off-Broadway debut. Because 17 years ago, Joshua Henry wouldn’t have been playing Flick as he was probably too busy lady-charming all them other adolescents around him. But oh…when Henry revved up, belted and riffed “Let It Sing” - seriously, the cast recording does not do it justice - my jaw-dropped, I melted into my seat and felt twins starting to kick. HOLY FUCKBALLZ. Henry was not even in the general vicinity of fucking around. World-class talents like Henry don’t come around too often, so all you can do is let them vocally-impregnate you and hope they’ll return to Broadway in due time again.

The Cleverness and Hilarity of The Heir Apparent

You want to know how much of a boss David Ives is? It’s not enough that he wrote Venus in Fur, which has my heart and loyalty until I’m in my casket. He went on and adapted The Heir Apparent, a French farce from like 350 years ago, and made that sucker rhyme. No, really…a two-hour plus show where every other line rhymed. Do you know how many lines were in this show? Like a thousand, I reckon. As contrived as it sounds (and some lines occasionally were), it was an overall stroke of writing comic genius that only David Ives could pull off because he is David Ives and he did as David Ives does. And speaking of comic geniuses, Carson Elrod - whom I love - playing Crispin, one of the relatives opining for a large family inheritance, brought the slapstick and the funny as his whirling dervish of characters and costumes made their way on stage. When I say I laughed so hard it hurt, I mean it. These two are reuniting this winter for Lives of the Saints and I cannot wait to see what else they can conjure up. I want to have tea with them as we roll our heads back in sophisticated laughter. Oh, gentleman!

The Money Shot Made Me Tolerate Neil LaBute Slightly More

Ugh, I know; I am gonna go to the dark side for the moment. Look, anything Neil LaBute typically makes me want to strap on a body condom and roll my eyes at his ways. But the bitch can write and can do side-splitting comedy and misanthropic commentary…hate on him all you want, but you can do worse then some of his plays. I’ll go one step further; The Money Shot was a laugh-riot for the ages and while it wasn’t exactly infallible, it was sooooo worth sitting through. LaBute and his cast of four were game and campy as fuck and I live for that shit. Watching Frederick Weller play a dim-witted asshole actor and Elizabeth Reaser playing a newly out, Hollywood starlet-turned-brand were joys to behold. And when Missy, the young actress whom married Weller’s character, reenacts her “nun being possessed by Satan" dance routine from her high school musical production of The Crucible, set to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” (you can only imagine how happy I am typing out that sentence!), I bowled-over in laughter and I needed time to recover. One of the funniest sequences I have ever seen rendered on stage, right up there with Molly Ranson singing “Summertime” in Bad Jews.

Annaleigh Ashford: Scene-Stealer Extraordinaire

You Can’t Take It With You will never not be a dust-filled, plot-conveniant story reserved for high-school and community theatre productions because EVERYONE GETS A ROLE BECAUSE THIS PLAY HAS LIKE 50 CHARACTERS BECAUSE REASONS. But credit where it’s due: Scott Ellis and that ensemble-cast injected some life into the revival and made it a lot easier to sit through. Okay, yes, I had fun. There...I said it. And while most of the cast are deployed to great effect (hey Kristine Nielsen, love you girl!) Annaleigh Ashford’s Essie was the MVP. Homegirl’s ballet-dancer wannabe made valuable use of every second she was on stage, ridiculousness and all. It felt like a nice change of pace from some of her previous roles, but regardless, the rest of the play around her never hit the high marks she did. It’d be nice if a role on Broadway or in television features her more prominently (she’s a regular on Showtime’s Masters of Sex)  - because girl has PRESENCE! - but I’lll take her in whatever role she comes in given she routinely blows everyone else out of the water.

That Hilariously Sad (or Sadly Hilariously) Trip to Inishmaan

Honestly, what else can be said about The Cripple of Inishmaan? Literally, everything about it was in top form. It shot up to the top of my list of my favorite Martin McDonagh pieces. The ensemble was wickedly hilarious (in the literal sense of that expression) - the drunken grandma MADE. MY. LIFE. - and Michael Grandage’s direction was as impeccable as I can see. I’d see ‘Inishmaan’ again tomorrow if given the chance to feel all the feelz again. Pardon me, but I'm off to ‘accidentally’ discover a bootleg.

That Time Nick Offerman Showed, The Fuck, Up

As Parks and Recreation airs its final season - and with its cast of actors now free as birds - Nick Offerman is welcome to do more theatre in New York if I were to be asked for an opinion (although, no one seemingly consults me. I wonder why that is). When given the opportunity to flex his comedic and dramatic muscles - just as he and his wife Megan Mullally did in Sharr White’s Annapurna - he triumphs at everything and churns out some mesmerizing work. His Ulysses - a cowboy/writer/poet with cancer whom isolated himself in the Colorado mountains - was the best part about White’s play as his internally wounded character went to extremely dark places.

Multiple Returns to the Cabaret, Old Chum

Cabaret is one of my all-time favorite musicals, and hauling out the awesome and successful late-90’s production (that I couldn’t see during its original run because I was a youth) was only going to make me giddy. Sam Mendes’ production was everything I ever hoped for and Alan Cumming reprising his role as the Master of Ceremonies was a gift that kept on giving. The new additions to the cast only helped matters, especially Danny Burstein and Linda Emond as Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider respectively. The only weak-ish spot to me was Michelle Williams, whom acted the shit out of Sally Bowles, but her singing voice sounded like a doggie chew toy. But then, Emma Stone succeeded her…and she OWNED everything. In fact, in a role that is notoriously mis-cast or mis-performed every time, she turned out to be the best Sally Bowles I’ve ever seen and she single-handedly raised this Cabaret from a near-flawless show to a flawless one. It was also refreshing to see someone whom actually looked excited to be up there on stage singing and dancing, which speaking of, she nailed the former without being too polished for the role. I feel bad for Sienna Miller having to follow in her footsteps.

Jan Maxwell Has Got This

I mean, has she ever not been stellar? Nothing is coming to mind and in this past spring’s The City of Conversation, she stuns again as a woman whom uses her charm and behind-closed-door pull in Washington D.C to sway political agendas in her favor. Her character was basically the stage version of Claire Underwood from House of Cards, and Maxwell was up to the task of being bluntly funny, manipulative without being too ostensibly sinister, and ultimately, someone with just enough compassion to fully experience the harmful consequences of her actions. It was a strong play overall, but Maxwell took the show where it needed to go. Now, get this lady a Tony please…God knows, she’s long overdue.

Counting Down the Days until The Last Five Years is Released

My little rendezvous at the Hamptons International Film Festival confirmed what I and every other theatre fan was hoping for. The Last Five Years film did more then just “not suck”…it is pretty spectacular in its own right. Jason Robert Brown’s astounding score is met with some great, if periodically fallible direction from Richard LaGravenese. And Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan are on hand to belt and sing and fornicate and belt some more while fornicating still. Their chemistry is off the charts and put to rest any casting speculation; they are the Cathy/Jamie dream team of 5ever. Now, it is time for people to actually see the film (Valentines Day 2015!). And let’s be honest; other then Pitch Perfect 2, is there any other movie in 2015 you are excited to see?

The Curious Incident of Being Flawless at Everything Everywhere Until the End of Time

Even in a Fall/Winter filled with some strong showings (Disgraced, The River and the unopened Constellations), I don’t see anything undermining The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time express. Marianne Elliot’s direction is OMGAMAZEBALLS and the best I’ve ever seen. The production details are immersive and impeccable. And Alex Sharp, making a Broadway debut for the ages, can stake his claim as the Top Performance of the year. I’d say grab your tickets before it closes, but with a new block of tickets on sale until next Fall, you have some time. But why are you waiting…go. Go see it now. Stop reading this and put down your computer/phone and hit up the rush line or Telecharge.

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You’re still reading this, aren’t you? Tsk, tsk...


Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

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