Smart Review: POST TRAUMATIC SUPER DELIGHTFUL

There are only two more chances to see Antonia Lassar’s rip-roaring, thought-provoking, solo-clown show Post Traumatic Super Delightful, at the New York Frigid Festival: Wednesday, March 4 at 5:30pm and Friday, March 6 at 8:30pm. See it! See it if you consider yourself a feminist, see it if you or someone you know identifies as a survivor of sexual assault, see it if you’re a college graduate. Lassar and director Angela Dumlao are using the power of theater to both educate audiences on an increasingly hot-button issue and offer a revolutionary way of discussing it: through laughter. Read my review below or over at TheatreIsEasy.com.

Post Traumatic Super Delightful

Antonia Lassar in ‘Post Traumatic Super Delightful.’ Photo by Kati Frazier.

BOTTOM LINE: Equal parts incisive and hysterical, Antonia Lassar’s one-woman show investigates sexual assault on college campuses using clowning and laughter as a means of healing.

Can sexual assault be funny? As one character in Antonia Lassar’s Post Traumatic Super Delightful points out, laughter “means connection with someone.” What better way, then, to cope with the lingering anguish of rape than finding a way to collectively laugh about it?

Lassar’s solo show, now playing at the Kraine Theater as part of the aptly named Frigid New York Festival, opens with a series of fart noises interrupting a tormented confession from a survivor. The scene invites you to laugh — in fact it dares you not to — just as the play later invites you to sympathize with an alleged rapist. Continue reading

Smart Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

I reviewed Broadway’s newest hit! And I liked it. Check it out below or over at TheatreIsEasy.com!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Helen Carey, Mercedes Herrero, Jocelyn Bioh, Alex Sharp, Richard Hollis, David Manis, and Ben Horner in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo by Joan Marcus.

BOTTOM LINE: Powerful visual language turns an idiosyncratic perspective into a stirring and imaginative theatrical adaptation.

Christopher, the 15-year old narrator of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, does not see the world the way most people see it. The book’s first-person perspective allows readers an intimate glimpse into the mind of someone who would in diagnostic terms be dubbed a high-functioning autistic teenager. How lucky — and how extraordinary — that the stage can transport an entire audience into that visceral, chaotic, and incredibly distinct mindset, and challenge not only our awareness of such disorders, but also the limits of theater itself.

Most responsible for the power of Curious Incident’s stage adaptation, opening October 5th in a Broadway transfer from London’s National Theatre, are surely its designers. Paule Constable’s lighting and Finn Ross’ video design in particular offer proof that theater and visual technology can together elevate a story to dazzling heights. Three towering walls depicting a mathematician’s grid double as a kind of LED grid on steroids, projecting the multitudinous contents of Christopher’s brain everywhere; constellations, diagrams, and maps materialize above and around the actors. For those of us accustomed to high-concept designs involving little more than an impeccably detailed set or elaborate costumes, this show’s breathtaking effects never get old. This is particularly true during Christopher’s harrowing journey on the London Underground. You may never carelessly step into a subway car again.

Playwright Simon Stephens includes most of the elements from Haddon’s book, which, other than said Underground journey and the garden fork-skewered pooch referenced in the title, offer little in the way of plot. Christopher (Alex Sharp, in a staggering Broadway debut) spends the first act trying to solve the mystery of Wellington the dog’s murder, and the second enmeshed in domestic disputes he can’t comprehend. As someone who decries metaphor (“I think it should be called a lie, because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards”), and who cannot process stimuli in a cursory, big-picture manner, our hero is aware of — but not fully attuned to — the grown-up issues and secrets surrounding him. Continue reading

Smart Review: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY

I reviewed a really terrific new Atlantic Theater Company play over at TheatreIsEasy.com – good luck getting tickets!

Between Riverside and Crazy

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Elizabeth Canavan, Michael Rispoli, Rosal Colón, and Ray Anthony Thomas in Between Riverside and Crazy. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

BOTTOM LINE: The New Yorkers in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ new play are vividly depicted with the help of a superb cast led by stage veteran Stephen McKinley Henderson.

“Everybody hates cops. Even cops hate cops.”

So says Walter “Pops” Washington, the besieged patriarch at the center of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ absorbing new play Between Riverside and Crazy, now playing at the Linda Gross Theater. Walter is played by the great Stephen McKinley Henderson, whose performance is so good it’s difficult to imagine anyone else taking on the part of this self-hating, much-maligned former cop. Yet the real star of this show may be the rent-controlled Manhattan apartment to which its title refers.

Walt Spangler’s scenic design is a marvel of specificity. From the ratty doormat to the cramped bathroom to the can of Goya beans on the counter, the set evokes the clutter of New York living in an almost unsettlingly real way. Anyone who has paid rent in this city can relate to the pile of pizza boxes in the corner of the kitchen, a cardboard explosion destined sometime soon for recycling. That the accommodations swivel on a revolving stage makes Spangler’s attention to detail all the more striking. Director Austin Pendleton has judiciously employed the effect to enhance rather than distract from the story’s intimate goings-on.

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Haiku Review: THE CITY OF CONVERSATION

Welcome to Haiku Reviews, a series of reviews dedicated to condensing and expressing productions of theater in seventeen-syllable poems. If you don’t have time for a 600-word lecture, click on the Haiku Review tab and chew on some bite-sized theater criticism.

Today’s installment is Lincoln Center Theater’s superb production of Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.

The City of Conversation

Jan Maxwell in ‘The City of Conversation’

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Smart Review: TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ: AFTERNOON OF A FAUN

Tanaquil Le Clercq

Choreographer George Balanchine and his muse, Tanaquil Le Clercq

A beautiful young woman rests her hand on a ballet bar with tentative delicacy, contemplating the audience as though they are her mirror. This is Tanaquil le Clercq. Nancy Buirski’s documentary of her life on “American Masters,” Afternoon of a Faun, opens and closes with this same mesmerizing image: a ballerina of exquisite poise onstage, emanating that intangible, unknowable quality known as grace.

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Smart Review: Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s GYPSY

Leslie Uggams Gypsy

Leslie Uggams stars as Mama Rose in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s multiracial production of ‘Gypsy’

Leslie Uggams playing the role of Mama Rose in Gypsy is significant for two reasons.

Firstly, Leslie Uggams is an African American actress. This shouldn’t be noteworthy, but given the buzz of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s current production of Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, it is. Billed as a “mixed race” rendition, claiming “no African American actress had ever starred as Rose in an Equity production,” this show’s marketing flaunts its diverse cast even as it clarifies that Uggams got the part solely because of her legendary talent. Publicity gambit or no, it becomes obvious upon seeing this venerable actress onstage — for ten nights only! — that she desperately wanted to give it a shot.

And why not? Uggams throws herself into this formidable part as capably as she can, and a nonwhite Mama Rose suddenly makes all the sense in the world. Audiences members for whom a person’s skin color is distracting will accept that Rose, whose touring Vaudeville act recruits stray tap-dancing children, doesn’t have to be a specific ethnicity. Her daughters don’t even necessarily have to be the same race, as they could just as easily be adopted in this story of gypsies and chased dreams. As American audiences are slowly but surely learning, this is proof that even in period plays, characters that aren’t explicitly ethnic can easily be portrayed by nonwhite actors.

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Smart Review: An Evening in Mystic, CT

Mystic Pizza & the Ancient Mariner
A restaurant review by Jack Smart

Mystic Pizza

Mystic’s mystical MYSTIC PIZZA [Julia Roberts not pictured]

If, like me, you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the early-career Julia Roberts showcase Mystic Pizza, you may feel on the outside of some cultish form of nostalgia when visiting the restaurant that inspired the film. An otherwise unremarkable pizza joint in the middle of Mystic, Connecticut, Mystic Pizza (“A slice of heaven!”) daily attracts thousands upon thousands of movie fans who happen to be hungry — rather more than the amount of hungry patrons who happen to be movie fans.

The familiar ambience of this mecca is as important to its character as the merchandise shop on the bottom floor (for a mere $26, you can own the same t-shirt the movie’s waitresses wear!). Walls are plastered, Pinterest-style, with framed pictures of Lucille Ball’s eyebrows, classic Coca-Cola ads, and of course, Roberts’ timeless smile. It’s comforting and mainstream, a pop culture obsessive’s fever dream. The staff is bubbly yet laid-back, ready to recite recommendations from the menu, which dedicates more space to describing the Hollywood backstory than what’s for dinner.

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