Thursday, April 25, 2019

THEATER: "ALL MY SONS" LACKS A FAMILY

ALL MY SONS * 1/2 out of ****
ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY AT AMERICAN AIRLINES THEATRE

The marvelous director Jack O'Brien comes a cropper on this deeply miscast revival of a lesser Arthur Miller tragedy. Every major role is played by an actor ill-suited to it, the show seems to have no sense of the play's conspiracy of silence or complicity and O'Brien even bizarrely places actors nearly out of sight behind an arbor when delivering a few lines. When two characters head to a car, they exit in the direction of a neighbor's backyard rather than going past the front of the main house. Don't  they even know where the driveway should be? This All My Sons lacks a sense of direction in every sense of the word.

The play must have been a thunderbolt back in 1947. With the US flourishing after World War II, Miller dared to write a drama about manufacturers who knowingly deliver defective airplane parts, dooming dozens of young American men to their deaths.  Two people ran the company, but only  one of them went to jail. Joe, the other partner, convinced the courts he was innocent and is making more money than ever. Still, a shadow hangs over his home. Joe (Tracy Letts) had two sons and one of them was lost in the war. His wife Kate (Annette Bening) refuses to admit that child is dead, even after three years have passed and all hope is lost. Now his remaining son Chris (Benjamin Walker) plans to marry Ann, the sweetheart of his dead brother and the daughter of Joe's business partner now rotting in jail.

Ann's arrival carries many dangers. If Kate  approves of the marriage, she'll finally have to accept her other son is dead. And if Ann marries Chris, will his loyalties remain with Joe or is it possible he might start to see the dreadful truth about his father?

Done right, All My Sons should have a cheerful surface and a dark, dark heart. Everyone is desperate to maintain the facade of a happy country, a happy neighborhood and a happy family. Everyone knows either directly or in their heart that Joe was just as guilty as his partner. But Joe is here and the partner is in jail, Joe is making money and employing people, Joe is a good neighbor and a good father and who wants to admit the roof over their head, the clothes on their back, the cheerful world they inhabit is a lie?

Each revelation by Joe's wife or his neighbors and finally himself that it's all a lie should be shocking. But you feel no frantic desire to deny the truth. Everyone is in on the secret, it seems and it all feels so matter-of-fact you wonder why they bother.



The central problem is casting. Good actors of course can play any role. And they can certainly surprise. I never imagined William Hurt could play a person who wasn't bright -- his innate intelligence always shone through. But there he is in Broadcast News playing a news anchor who is just smart enough to realize he's not that smart. Yet the truth is that actors often have a core characteristic and they wisely choose parts that suit them in some way. They don't deliver the same performance again and again, but they do know their wheelhouse. Barbara Stanwyck didn't play dumb broads who could be manipulated. Cary Grant didn't play losers. You get the idea.

Tracy Letts has a conniving aura about him and that turns Joe from a weak, desperate man into a Machiavellian figure. Instead of a man frightened his mask will drop and his son will learn the truth, you figure Letts set his partner up from the start and probably cackled with glee when he pulled it off. Annette Bening has tackled a vast array of women, but her best work is playing women with an iron core, or at least women who discover that strength in them. The ghost of a wife who denies the terrible reality in her life is not for her. I'm not sure yet what defines Walker as an actor, but a son who might collapse under the truth doesn't suit this towering oak of a man either. They're unsuited to these characters and never for a moment seem like a real family.

Scene after scene simply doesn't work. For example, Ann's brother shows up spitting fire. After years of refusing to speak to his shameful father, George pays a visit to his dad in jail, has a dramatic change of heart and takes the train to Ann  so he can stop her impending engagement. He's ferocious and determined to tell the truth...until Kate offers him grape juice and Joe drops some reminders of their dad's weak nature. Suddenly George is giggling and smiling again as if all is forgiven or worse forgotten. What happened to the avenger who walked onstage just a minute ago?

We don't need this example of weak plotting by Miller (trumped by the even hoarier device of an unread letter) to know the show won't go smoothly. This All My Sons actually begins with the sounds of a storm and perhaps warfare. Did they worry saying the play was set in 1947 wasn't enough to remind people it takes place right after WW II? That's followed by footage of a plane falling from the skies, as if the audience might not be able to imagine the end result of installing defective parts. And then, lightning strikes. It flashes on the curtain onstage and then cheesily flashes all over the theater, with white lights bursting on and off and the lightning streaking over the ceiling and balcony and walls, like something you'd see in Harry Potter. It's the only moment in the show that truly smacks of desperation.

THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

THEATER: 'HADESTOWN" FINDS HEAVEN ON BROADWAY

HADESTOWN *** 1/2 out of ****
WALTER KERR THEATRE

Is Hadestown the best new musical on Broadway or the best revival? I've been dying to see this show again since I was blown away by it at New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 (and named it one of the best shows of the year). As far as I was concerned, it was ready for the Great White Way. But Broadway was being gobbled up by Hamilton (and the following year by Dear Evan Hansen), director Rachel Chavkin was consumed by her similarly bold show Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and some show or another was always taking up space at Circle In The Square, the only Broadway venue where this immersive delight made any sense.

So the journey began. Just as Orpheus followed a long, hard road into the underworld to find his love Eurydice, the musical  Hadestown went from New York to Canada to London, transformed itself into a show with more traditional staging and -- finally! -- returns to New York in triumph. Somehow, this labor of love has proven a box office draw right from the start, much like Evan Hansen. Years of anticipation and great reviews will do that for an underdog. Now by all accounts it's certain to battle for Best Musical against Tootsie.

That cross-dressing show has old fashioned pizazz (reportedly; I'm seeing it soon),  while Hadestown has the aura of the cool kid. But Hadestown also has the appeal of veterans being showcased like never before, folk beloved in the theater community like Patrick Page as Hades, Amber Gray as Persephone and André De Shields, very dapper in a career capper of a turn as the narrator, Hermes. Combine that talent with a score that may be the richest and most varied since Hedwig and The Angry Inch along with a spirit that's both impassioned and consoling and you've  got a potent Tony contender indeed. I need to see the other shows, but if I were placing a bet right now, it would go to the devil.

Come to it fresh and you'll be delighted. It's like a New Orleans funeral, a joyous rendition of a sad, sad story. Hermes is there to paint the picture: an underworld where desperate people sell their souls to the devil in exchange for some "security" -- food to eat, a roof over the heads, a wall to keep out...something and endless work.

That's of no concern to the young lovers Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada). They're enraptured with one another. But Orpheus is working on a song, a tune so powerful it might be able to change the world, to bring nature back into harmony and end the hard, hard times. Eurydice encourages this golden-voiced dreamer but eventually realizes a poet is no provider. He's so focused on that song Orpheus never hears her hungry cries for help. In desperation, Eurydice makes a deal with the canyon-voiced Hades (a magnetic Page). She's not hungry for riches; she's just hungry.

Almost too late, Orpheus finds out what has happened. He braves the dangerous journey to the underworld and confronts Hades, hoping to free her with his song. As any fan of mythology knows, that song played on his lyre (in this case, a guitar) is so moving that Hades gives the young lovers a chance. They can leave, but Orpheus must go first. Eurydice will follow behind but if he doubts, if he worries, if Orpheus ever turns around before they're above ground, well then the deal is off. Myths don't usually end well and remember, they told you at the beginning of the show: this is a sad, sad song but they're going to sing it anyway.



In this production, the action is placed mostly in a New Orleans bar, though our expectations about the set will be dismantled before the end of act one. A band on stage makes a raucous noise, dancers strut their stuff, the three Fates offer a sassy chorus and the party really starts when Persephone comes back to the surface for her six months in the sun. (She must come up for air or it would be winter forever.) That sense of community, of sharing a story that has been told and retold for literally thousands of years is the show's calling card. This show is a celebration, with song after song raising a glass to good times, acknowledging the darkness and fighting anyway, even when you know you're going to lose.

The music, lyrics and book are by Anaïs Mitchell. It began as a concept album long before President Trump took office. So when you hear the song "Why We Build The Wall," don't think it's a timely political comment. It's actually a timeless number about despots using hate and fear to have their way, which makes it all the more chilling. It's an act one show stopper, but there are many more gems, like the raise the roof tune "Livin' It Up On Top," the plaintive "Wait For Me," the chilling "Hey, Little Songbird" and of course "Epic," a song that must be moving enough to make you believe it could heal the world and warm the heart of Hades himself. Damned if it doesn't pull that off.

As usual, the young lovers are not nearly as interesting characters as the colorful folk surrounding them. Page has been superlative in inferior shows for years, shows like Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Here, finally, he has a part worthy of his formidable presence and a voice that makes Leonard Cohen sound like a soprano. He's equalled every step of the way by Amber Gray as Persephone, the woman embittered by the fact that their romance has foundered on his obsession with work, with building the Wall and adding more and more factories and more and more workers and more and more misery to his empire. They're joined by André De Shields, who anchors the show with his quiet authority. He is not messing around here: every move, every gesture, every tilt of his head is a concise and powerful choice. God help the folk who have to decide who belongs in the Lead and Supporting Actor categories for this show. But however it shakes out, they've all got roles and a show they can cherish for as long as it runs.

Eva Noblezada brings her iron-sheathed vocals to the part of Eurydice, though as with that long-ago NYTW production, I never truly her character's desperation. It's just not a role with the time or songs to make a great impression, not when the devil gets all the best tunes.

Finally, I should apologize to Damon Daunno, who played Orpheus at that NYTW staging. I thought he made some poor choices, but I'm sure he's happy in the revival of Oklahoma! where his sexy charm comes through more clearly. Now that I see Reeve Carney delivering a performance of his own but very much in the same vein, it's clear to me that director Chavkin and creator Mitchell actually want Orpheus to be a sort of neutered dreamer. With those songs and his story, Orpheus could be a rabble-rousing union organizer of sorts. Or he could be a passionate lover who burns for Eurydice and will risk it all for her. But they've chosen to make Orpheus an unthreatening, safe figure, too pretty and wispy to have you imagine he wants to do more than sing to his love or politely comfort the afflicted.

Every choice reinforces this. He wears baggy, pleated pants with a hole or two to indicate he's poor, along with a shirt and a dorky kerchief and suspenders. The effect is to make the rather sexy Carney (he was a superhero after all) as unsexy as possible, more Forrest Gump than Jeff Buckley or god forbid Woody Guthrie. When Eurydice actually grabs his chest and arms in a declaration of love, he pulls back as if freaked out by her touching him. When they finally kiss, she must make the move and it remains more sweet than smoldering. None of this is necessary and the show would be even stronger if they let an actor cut loose in this part. God knows, he's got a killer 11 o'clock number to deliver. But without a genuine anger about injustice or genuine desire for his love, Orpheus remains an indistinct kid with a pretty voice. It's a credit to the strong score and enduring power of the myth that the shows works as well as it does.

And work it does. I found myself moved again by the story, the talent on stage, the sad ending and the remarkable way the show turns that tragedy around and makes confronting the fact that things don't always work out both powerful and uplifting. (Do stay for the entire curtain call. Like most Marvel movies, there's a kicker!)

But the one looming message of Hadestown is Broadway's desperate need for more houses, especially black boxes or intimate and funky spaces like Circle In The Square. More and more shows like The Great Comet and Hadestown and Fun Home and Once On This Island and so many others are conceived -- brilliantly -- for a space that isn't the traditional one of just a proscenium staging. Few can afford to rip up a theater and redo it just for a show, even one as unconventional as The Great Comet. And with more and more houses locked up for years (Harry Potter isn't going anywhere, is it?), the need for flexible new spaces is tremendous.

Hadestown went to Canada and then London to completely rethink its staging. They've done it but almost every change is unfortunate. With an immersive staging and no fancy tools at their disposal, the sense of people coming together to tell a story was immediate and true. When Orpheus journeyed to the underworld, he crawled over and under and around other actors, wending his through and behind and in front of the audience. You craned your neck to follow him. Now, he just walks on a turntable for a few moments, an effect far less satisfying. Instead of everyone sitting in a circle to hear a story, we're just sitting in the audience, also less effective. When everyone around you was singing "Why We Build The Wall," it felt like the end of the world. It still works onstage, just not as well. Of course, it's easy to romanticize going to see an unheralded show and being blown away by the talent and the story. Your second time isn't always as fresh. But in fact, similar shows like Once and The Band's Visit grew even more powerful on Broadway. Sadly, that hasn't happened here. But let me emphasize again, the lucky few who saw it first can say, "Oh you should have seen it then..." while everyone new to the show will simply tell their friends, "You have to see this now."

So yes, Hadestown is still one of the best musicals of the year and the songs will endure. But I can't wait to see the next revival.

THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

THEATER: "BURN THIS" BARELY SMOLDERS

BURN THIS ** out of ****
HUDSON THEATRE 

Oh the mystery of chemistry. Two actors can be happily married in real life and yet on camera or onstage...nothing. The reverse is true, of course. Two actors can despise each other and yet sparks flies on stage and on film. You never really know what will happen until they actually share the same space and put in some work. More's the pity. When you're casting actors of the fame and calibre of Keri Russell and Adam Driver, they don't audition. Of course not. But they also don't sit together in a room and check to see if they're compatible, if they can feel that electric charge, that extra intensity that says "We've got something here." Maybe they should.

Lanford Wilson's Burn This was the last major success of the Pulitzer Prize-winner who helped revolutionize Off Off Broadway. Over the years, it has dimmed in the collective memory, now usually seen as a flawed play galvanized by Joan Allen and especially John Malcovich in a legendary, barn-burning performance. Any revival worth its salt hopes to redeem a show's first success or rescue a work from such retrospective downgrading. After 20 years away from Broadway, Wilson will have to wait for redemption. The utter lack of chemistry between the two leads makes the play confusing to newcomers like myself and leads to all sorts of lazy puns on a production not catching fire.

Russell is Anna, a young choreographer in the world of modern dance who shares a loft-like apartment in New York City with two gay men while dating a wealthy screenwriter. One of her roommates has just died tragically and she returns home, having endured a funeral where it was clear the family never saw their dancer son strut his stuff, can't or won't admit he was gay and prefer to pretend Anna was the dead  man's lover. She pours this out to her boyfriend Burton (David Furr) until her gay pal Larry comes home (Brandon Uranowitz, having the most fun in the cast) and pours it all out again to him. At least the worst is over.


Photo copyright 2019 Matthew Murphy 


But it's not. Late in the first act, late at night, Pale begins pounding on their door. Pale (Adam Driver) is the brother of the dead dancer and he's nominally there to pick up then guy's stuff. But Pale is drunk and belligerent, a motormouth who can't stop complaining in blunt, blue collar terms about the city, the streets, about parking and what about a drink and Anna sure is good looking. Sparks -- at least on the page -- fly.

Now in the play I saw, Pale is a thoroughly unappealing louse. Of course he's not Anna's type (not officially anyway), but he really doesn't seem anyone's type. He's dressed like a slob, but is obsessive about his pants being kept spotless. Pale wears silk shirts of the sort a low-level thug in the mob might wear thinking it's classy. He's the manager of a restaurant and I think he said it was in Jersey and I thought, well it wouldn't be in Manhattan, not this bruiser. When Larry says he's been to the restaurant (twice) and it's quite good, I'm surprised. Looking at him, you'd expect he manages an anonymous Italian restaurant with cheap house wine.

Pale is definitely a character. He's loud and tiresome and drunk and angry and maybe sort of sad about his brother dying and maybe you feel a little bad for him but mostly you just want him to go away. Then he's sitting on the couch with Anna and they're talking and he puts his arm around her and you freeze up. Yikes, he's totally misread the situation and how is she going to get out of this him exploding or hurting her or worse? To my surprise, she doesn't want to -- indeed she's eager to make love to him. That one night stand becomes -- against her better judgment -- an ongoing fling that threatens to end her relationship with Burton (naturally) but finally unleashes her imagination. Anna's choreography has never been better because she's finally feeling something.

Later I read the script and discover Pale is supposed to be inescapably sexy, a rough Brando-esque of a beast that may be rough and angry but my god women want him. He's supposed to be a very good dresser (clearly costumer Clint Ramos went in another direction) and these mismatched lovers are fated to be together. Yet that magic something, that chemistry that is utterly lacking in these two acclaimed actors left me utterly at sea. Nothing they said or did made sense because I never thought for a second they wanted each other. Eventually, the entire play felt forced. Uranowitz made the most of his cliche of a "funny gay roomie" but even he can't make sense of his character quoting an old movie and shaking his ass at a climactic moment.

Just as impenetrable to me is Anna's relationship with Burton; they don't seem to have any particular chemistry either. We know he's rich and eventually we learn he's asked her to marry him several times. Even that is a surprise, since their relationship just doesn't feel that significant. If we're meant to believe he's the safe pick or the compromise pick of Anna, that doesn't track either -- not because he seems so great but because it's hard to say what she thinks of him at all. And while Pale is an obvious sort with no hidden depths, who is Anna? Larry "explains" her to Burton late in the show -- he says she's never had to carry her own passport or plane ticket. Huh? She's rich too? Other than a brief reference to her fancy childhood neighborhood, we don't have the slightest sense that she's wealthy or sheltered or privileged to any particular degree. And if she is, the lure of Burton is surely lessened. Who needs him?

Even the music cues are confusing. It's mostly a parade of 80s era songs (Yes's "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," Roxy Music's "Avalon," Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" and so on) keying us into the late 1987 time period. The parade of tunes sets the tone for the entire evening, long before the play even starts. But at the last second they drop in a killer: the moody classic "Pink Moon" by Nick Drake. It's a great song and it's played just as the lights go down and the play begins. If anything is supposed to tip the show's hand, to say "This is what we're about," playing a particular song just as the show begins should be it. But it's most assuredly not a key track from the 1980s, having been released to zero attention in 1972 and finding belated success in 1999 via a car ad. More to the point, unlike every other song they play, it's not by any stretch a love song. I'm not sure they even know that.

So does this mean the reputation for Burn This should fall further? Not really, not based on a single revival that doesn't work and at least in part for a reason that has nothing to do with the play itself. If they do it again in ten years and it fails again, then maybe Wilson's final success will slip further in our estimation. Happily, his key role in making Off Off Broadway viable will remain.

THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

THEATER: THE PAIN OF "THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE"

THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE * out of ****
PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZON 

What a baffling, inexplicable play. A man and a woman are on a date in a Japanese restaurant and it's a struggle to decide who you like less. The man (Hamish Linklater, doing his damndest with an awful role) is a walking billboard for "toxic masculinity." He's boorish, egotistical, pushy, physically aggressive, married, insulting and tiresomely boastful about it. You might say he's not one-tenth as charming as he thinks, but that would imply he actually thinks rather than merely acts on instinct. But the woman (Halley Feiffer)!! She's dithering, sad, painfully unconfident, incapable of speaking up for herself longer than a second or two and just...pathetic. You want to empathize with her of course, but that's trumped (yes, trumped) by your desire to shake her and say, "Get a hold of yourself!"

Naturally, you start to ask yourself questions. Are these two grotesque caricatures of these types? Should we be laughing at them? Will those grow more and more absurd? Will the blunt obviousness of the scene be amped up or toned down into something real? What the heck are we supposed to think about all this? Those are the sort of questions you ask yourself when absolutely nothing is going right in a show. The two characters aren't funny or real or satirical enough to hold our attention in the least and the date goes on and on.

Slowly, the play reveals itself. The overlong first scene is their date. The dull second scene takes place four years later, with the woman still having an affair with this married man. The final scene is a confrontation of sorts between the mistress and the wife. Worse, with a groan you realize the three scenes all take place on Presidential election nights: 2012, 2016 and 2020. (No word on who the Dem nominee will be.) With the play failing to create a single interesting character, its attempt to hijack politics for a stab at significance lessens what was already a very poor affair.



When nothing is going right, it's hard for anyone to do good work. The three settings (Japanese restaurant, bedroom and living room) all blur together visually. The actors do what they can, with Linklater trying to inject some energy into a paper-thin conceit and Feiffer the actress surely wanting to have a talk with Feiffer the writer.

Without spoiling the entire plot, it's hard to describe just how perplexing the entire work proves from start to finish. When no one is believable, nothing makes sense. In the second scene, the two characters veer back and forth randomly from playful to bitter to tender, never at the same moment. But nothing tops our astonishment that they have been dating on the sly for four years. Four years? Nothing in the first scene would make you believe they would remain together for four hours, much less four years. And since the woman has been tragically stumped by a debilitating chronic illness, the idea that this man in particular would waste any time on her goes against everything we ever know about him,

Even that pales in comparison to the bewildering final scene. Bewilderment and perplexity, I hasten to add, are not the same as interest. You never wonder what the characters are thinking; you spend the entire evening wondering what the hell the playwright was thinking.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

THEATER: QUESTIONING "SOCRATES"

SOCRATES ** out of ****
PUBLIC THEATER

I felt nervous at the start of the new play by actor Tim Blake Nelson. Not because it's a three hour drama about the philosopher  Socrates. Heck, plays tackling big ideas -- plays like Arcadia and Copenhagen and New Jerusalem and Isaac's Eye -- are my idea of a feast. I wasn't nervous  even though, for some reason, the outfits of ancient Greece and Rome distract me as "costumes" in ways that clothes from other eras simply don't.

No, I was nervous because after an awkward and unnecessary framing device, the play begins with a raucous party. Everyone is laughing uproariously and quite drunk and you desperately want to catch up and share their mirth. But it just isn't happening, even as Socrates is lovingly roasted at length by the handsomest and most popular figure in all of Athens. Pair that with Plato's bland assurance that we're about to visit "a world more full of wit, passion and above all ideas than anything you ever imagined possible" and your heart sinks.

That framing device is a hoary one. The great Socrates (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been executed for corrupting the youth of Athens and more to the point offending its high and mighty. Nonetheless, a Boy (Niall Cunningham) has shown up on the doorstep of Plato (Teagle F. Bougere) and in a rather sullen mood demands to be educated. Plato tells the Boy what everyone wants to know. How could this happen? How could the greatest mind of his age be murdered by the proudest democracy in the world, a society that values the free exchange of ideas? And how could the friends of Socrates -- Plato very much among them -- allow it to happen? 

What follows is precisely what one would expect. In this static and un-involving drama, Socrates wanders the city of Athens, probing and asking questions of one and all. He has a devoted band of followers like the quiet and observant Plato, along with an entourage of young men who love learning how to question authority...and thus drive their parents nuts. Socrates begins gently and playfully, but most arguments end with him piercing the intellectual armor of one and all.

That's fine when dealing with friends eager to debate weighty ideas. It's not so fine when Socrates mocks a well-connected poet or questions the very pillars of democracy in a way that the powerful see as traitorous. Socrates makes so many enemies -- notably by opposing the wholesale execution of military generals who failed in combat -- that he himself goes on trial. The charges are voluminous and contradictory. Socrates is condemned both for atheism and for worshipping false gods, for example. Yet, his self-absorbed code of ethics is so stringent that Socrates is unwilling to save himself or simply leave. Death seems inevitable.



Well, of course death is inevitable since -- spoiler alert! -- Socrates drinks the hemlock and dies. That knowledge is no barrier to a good play. But Tim Blake Nelson hasn't begun to dramatize the action. Director Doug Hughes and the fine cast do their best, led nobly by the always intelligent Stuhlbarg, but it never comes close to catching fire.

The biggest problem is that Socrates has no one to challenge him, emotionally or intellectually. His enemies are cardboard villains spitting out their hatred or so vain they don't even realize they're fools. One never doubts for a second his rightness. On the other hand, Socrates clearly allows himself to be executed. A better play might have taken him to task for possible vanity, for wanting a death to raise him to martyrdom. It's not ethics that doom this Socrates; it's ego.

Plato is the most devoted of disciples, but it's a silent form of worship, leaving a black hole of emotion where our narrator should be. And he's talking to a cipher when it comes to his pupil. At one point Plato says the Boy reminds him of Socrates. Really? That character has said virtually nothing, so how in god's name could the kid remind him of the greatest philosopher alive? Worse, the Boy responds that he thought the same thing.

In an attempt to create some drama at the last moment, when execution looms the wife and a son of Socrates show up. They beg him to leave Athens and save his life. Their sense of abandonment might actually matter if they were characters throughout the play, rather than popping in at the end. (The wife also appears earlier for a brief scene.) How can we be upset about the son feeling his father doesn't love him when their goodbye is the first time we see the lad?

Bougere has a thankless role in Plato, but Robert Joy has the livelier, more human part of Crito. The rest fade into the background or have one-note parts they can do little with. That leaves Stuhlbarg, who brings his formidable talent to the part of Socrates and does what he can. While the story is inert emotionally, Stuhlbarg provides the necessary intellect and wit to this shambling questioner. Still, one feels him pushing for drama that simply isn't there when a handful of debates end with Socrates suddenly barking in rage.

Yet one scene works very well indeed. Socrates questions everyone and one day that practice takes him to a smithy who makes armor and weapons. Socrates peers intently as the man works a forge, asking questions. This leads to the idea of war and whether "right" wins or whether the victor simply decides they were right. The smithy (a good Lee Wilkof)  is a bit out of his element and doesn't like it one bit. Is Socrates questioning the greatness of Athens, the shining light of democracy?

His rising temper doesn't deter Socrates, who probes and prods the man some more. Then the man says his own son died in battle. Even that can't stop Socrates. "But does that mean the Assembly is always right? Including sending your only son into battle? And am I right to take it therefore that it was right and just and good that your son was killed?" The man knocks Socrates down and starts beating him savagely and if Socrates felt  he deserved  it, we wouldn't be surprised. 

For a  moment, we see a man in search of truth, a man who will question anything and everything and put himself into grave danger, fully aware of what he's doing, choosing to do it and yet perhaps also  incapable of not choosing to do it. For a moment, Socrates and Socrates both come alive.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I've Seen/Read/Heard So Far In 2019

Updated APRIL 12, 2019

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2


BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
(Increasingly, I am sampling books, reading 10%, 20% even 40 or 50% before deciding to move on. The books below are only the ones I've read completely. That also explains what looks like generous grading -- more and more, if I sense a book is not going to be among my favorites, I stop reading. Too many books; too little time!)


1. Love To Everyone by Hilary McKay (ya WW II) *** 1/2
2. The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926) *** 1/2
3. The Winter Of The Witch by Katherine Arden *** 1/2
4. The Music Of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg **
5. DogMan: Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey ** 1/2
6. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923) ** 1/2
7. Underground: A Human History Of The World Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt *** /
8. Unknown Man #89 by Elmore Leonard (1977) *** 1/2
9. The Falconer by Dana Czapnik (NYC coming of age basketballer) *** 1/2
10. Midnight In Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham *** 1/2
11. The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard (2005) ****
12. Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash -- The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol 2 1951-1952 by Walt Kelly ****
13. Pogo: Evidence To The Contrary -- The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol 3 1953-1954 by Walt Kelly ****
14. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (1937-1938) by Milt Caniff *** 1/2
15. The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown (1941) *** 1/2
16. The Last Samurai by  Helen De Witt (2000) ****
17. There Is No Planet B: A Handbook For The Make Or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee **
18. Cherokee America by Margaret Verble *** 1/2
19. A Taste For Honey by H.F. Heard (1941) ** 1/2
20. Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions And What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans De Waal ***
21. The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan **
22. The Players Ball by David Kushner ***
23. What Blest Genius: The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare by Andrew McConnell Stott ***
24. The Binding By Bridget Collins ** 1/2
25. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1865) *** 1/2
26. Falter by Bill McKibben ** 1/2
27.





CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS (A strong emphasis on the ones I like, so don't think I love everything I listen to -- I just don't bother really listening to the ones I don't )

1. The Beach Boys -- Smiley Smile (1967) *** (esp side two)
2. The Beach Boys -- Wild Honey (1967) **
3. The Beach Boys -- Friends (1968) ***/
4. The Band -- Stage Fright (1970) ** 1/2
5. The English Beat -- Public Confidential ***
6. The Band -- Cahoots (1971) *** 1/2
7. The Band -- Northern Lights Southern Cross (1975) ***
8. Van Morrison -- The Prophet Speaks *** \
9. Dee White -- Southern Gentleman **
10. Ken Nordine -- Speak With Your Ears (1979) *** 1/2
11. David Gray -- Gold In A Brass Age ** 1/2
12. Van Morrison -- The Healing Game (1997) ***/
13. Various Artists -- Joni 75: A Celebration ** 1/2 /
14. Maren Morris -- Girls ***
15. Elton John -- Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy (1975) **
16. Joe Jackson -- Fool *** /
17. Trevor Horn -- Reimagines The 80s **
18. India Arie -- Worthy ** 1/2
19. The Everly Brothers -- Roots (1968) ***
20. John Pizzarelli -- For Centennial Reasons: A Salute To Nat King Cole ** 1/2
21. Julio Gutierrez -- Cuban Jam Session Vol 1 (1956) *** 1/2
22. Lone Justice -- This Is Lone Justice: The Vaughn Tapes 1983 ***
23. Nancy Wilson -- Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (1962) *** 1/2 /
24. Nancy Wilson -- Something Wonderful (1962) *** 1/2
25. Nancy Wilson -- Tender Loving Care (1966) ***\
26. Ella Fitzgerald -- The Complete Decca Singles Vol. 1 *** \
27. Nancy Wilson -- The Swingin's Mutual w George Shearing (1961) ***
28. Antonio Carlos and Jocafi -- 20 Super Succesos ** 1/2
29. Idles -- Joy As An Act Of Resistance (2018) **
30. Mercury Rev -- Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited ** 1/2
31. Bobby Long -- Sultans **
32. Ramsey Lewis Trio -- Sound Of Christmas (side one solid, side two w strings awful) 1961 **
33. Hozier -- Wasteland, Baby! **
34. Better Oblivion Community Center -- Better Oblivion Community Center (Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers) ***\
35. Chet Baker and Art Pepper -- Playboys aka Pictures of Heath (1956) ***
36. Gilbert O'Sullivan -- Himself (1971) ** 1/2
37. Gilbert O'Sullivan -- Back To Front (1972) ** 1/2
38. Solange -- When I Get Home *** 1/2
39.



MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES 

(Not TV movies, of course, but movies and TV -- and TV movies if it comes to that. Mostly I only list TV shows when I've tackled an entire season at once or reappraising an entire series after it's over This doesn't really capture my ongoing watching of current TV.)

1. Sweepstakes Winner (1939) no stars
2. Captain Marvel **
3. Giant Little Ones *** (gay swimmers)
4. Leave No Trace (2018) *** 1/2
5. Minding The Gap (2018) *** 1/2
6. Wildlife (2018) *** 1/2
7. Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle (2018) **\
8. Us (w Luis) **\
9. Border (2018) ***/
10. Sweet Country (2018) *** 1/2
11. The Tale (HBO, 2018) * 1/2
12. Woman's World (at MOMA w Noam) **
13. Running On Empty (1988) ***
14. Shazam (2018) w Zoe * 1/2
15. The Good Fairy (1935 at MOMA w Noam) ***
16. Apollo 11 (doc) ***/



THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS
(The names after the shows are the people who joined me at the performance.)

1. Frankenstein (at Public) ** 1/2 
2. Minor Character (at Public) ***/ 
3. Ink (at Met) w Noam ** 1/2 
4. Choir Boy (at MTC) ** 1/2 
5. Chambre Noire (at Public) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
6. Weightless (at BRIC) (w Diego) (left early feeling ill, but quite promising)
7. Be More Chill (on Broadway) (w Noam) * 
8. Grease (at UN International School)  w Noam
9. Das Rheingold (at the Met w Noam) ** 1/2 
10.  White Noise (at the Public) ** 1/2 
11. Kiss Me, Kate! (alone) ***
12. Ain't No Mo (at Public w Zoe) *** 1/2 
13. Ain't Too Proud (w Cohen) ** 
14. Die Walkyrie at the Met (w the Machine and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Stuart Skelton as Siegmund) *** 1/2 
15. The Cradle Will Rock (at CSC w Noam) * 1/2 
16. Mrs. Murray's Menagerie (at Ars Nova w Noam) *** 1/2 
17. Socrates (at Public w Noam) 
18. Siegfried (Ring Cycle at Met w Noam) 
19. Oklahoma! (at Circle In The Square w Evans) ** 1/2 
20. 


KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2

Updated April 12, 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

THEATER: "OKLAHOMA!" IS OK THE SECOND TIME AROUND!

OKLAHOMA! ** 1/2 out of ****
CIRCLE IN THE SQUARE

Few things are as wonderfully indulgent as the chance to go see a new Broadway show...twice! Whether you're comparing casts, looking to deepen your appreciation or giving a show you weren't thrilled with a second chance, returning to a work of theater before it's gone forever (and most theater disappears all too soon, Phantom excepted, of course) is a marvelous luxury.

I saw the dark, daring revival of Oklahoma! at St. Ann's Warehouse last fall and it confounded and confused me. Now I've seen it again on Broadway and pretty much everything I said then holds true now. Since most critics raved, that's a compliment to a show that has moved into a new space but lost none of its edge. Indeed, I think the heady success of that first mounting has allowed everyone involved to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy themselves a little more. This production will go dark, but it's less afraid now to have fun along the way. My opinion hasn't changed on this take (if anything, it's been cemented) but it's a pleasure to savor the parts that go into director Daniel Fish's vision. Some thoughts:

HELLO TO THE TONY WINNER FOR BEST REVIVAL -- In a rather thin season, only two musical revivals have hit Broadway: Oklahoma! and Kiss Me, Kate! I enjoyed Kate more but there's not a soul on the planet who is excited by it. Everyone has an opinion about Oklahoma! and many of them are passionate in support. It's a riskier project based on a superior show; indeed, few shows are the equal of Oklahoma! much less its superior. Plus, Oklahoma! offers a lot more talent to cheer on in both supporting roles and technical contributions. Passion will always triumph over professionalism so I'll bet Oklahoma! clutches the big prize of Best Musical  Revival. (This assumes they'll keep this category separate from Play Revival and let these two duke it out.)

WHAT A GORGEOUS REIMAGINING OF THE SCORE -- Since we're talking about Tonys, the most deserved one should go to Daniel Kluger for his orchestrations, arrangements and music supervision. The seven member orchestra (along with star Damon Daunno on guitar) has a bluegrass vibe and the orchestrations reveal what a wondrous work the music of Richard Rodgers truly is -- not that we needed reminding. The smaller ensemble would work a treat for community theaters and regional productions around the country, if R&H would allow a classic presentation to include this more intimate approach to the music. The Tony for orchestration hasn't gone to a revival since Sweeney Todd in 2006 but I'll bet Oklahoma! pulls it off.

AND SPEAKING OF TONYS, THEY CAIN'T SAY NO TO ALI STROKER -- Stroker caught my eye in the lovely, 2015 revival of Spring Awakening by Deaf West Theatre. Now she's a ball on fire as the man-loving Ado Annie. By far this show's best element is the love triangle between Ado, her slightly dim but lovable cowpoke Will (James Davis) and the peddler Ali Hakim (Will Brill, picking up right where Mallory Portnoy left off). For all my complaints about the show, what a treat they pull off here. Will becomes more than a joke, the ugly ethnic stereotype that can be Ali is erased entirely and Stroker breaks down barriers because she was the best damn person for the role...and might just deserve a Tony for choreography, given the marvelous way she reveals character just be the way Ado swoops and dips and glides around the stage in her wheelchair. All three should be competing in the supporting actor categories. Here's Stroker and the cast performing her comic highlight "I Cain't Say No" on The Tonight Show.




BLONDE ON BLONDE -- It's not all good news. As is often true at Circle in the Square, there's not a bad seat in the house, though surely the folk seated on stage by the crockpots cooking up some chili had extra fun. This time my seat was right by the ramp where the actors usually entered and exited. It was terrific...but it also gave me a new perspective on the set. The expanse of unvarnished wood melting into a brown backdrop depicting farmland proved especially monotonous. Setting the show in a barn of sorts and serving chili and cornbread during intermission? Perfect! Still, did the overall look of the set have to prove so bland to the eye?

KEEP MESSING WITH IT -- I may not agree with director Daniel Fish's vision here, but I'll defend to the death his right to vision it. As my guest said, mess with it all you want --  Oklahoma! will survive. This production mildly hints at a gay angle by having Curly and Jud talk so close to one another in one scene they seem ready to kiss, yet that idea isn't taken seriously. But why not an Oklahoma! where the tension between the two men arises from attraction? (The nominal love interest Laurey would have all the more reason to be annoyed with both of them.) Or why not the idea I considered at length in my original review: cast Jud as black or Native American and suddenly the outcast nature of that character makes perfect sense.

This is Oklahoma! after allone of the seminal works of musical theater. It deserves to be done in a reverent, classic style; it also deserves to have the darker shadows explored (as they were in the tremendous 1998 West End revival that turned Hugh Jackman into a star); and it deserves to be torn down and reimagined completely as it is here. (And stop saying they didn't change a word of the dialogue, as if staging and action and orchestration and everything else don't matter too. The words may be the same but the action at the climax is dramatically, substantially new.) No matter what you do to it, Oklahoma! will be perfectly OK, so boring old purists can just shush. I can't wait to see the next revival.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma (on Broadway) ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Monday, April 08, 2019

THEATER: LESS IS MORE AT "MRS. MURRAY'S MENAGERIE"

MRS. MURRAY'S MENAGERIE *** 1/2 out of ****
ARS NOVA 

I love the epic. The Inheritance just won the Olivier for Best Play and I can't wait for this six hour AIDS drama to come to New York. I admire the manic. A stream of new shows are as influenced by In Living Color and Monty Python as Oscar Wilde, with Ain't No Mo' at the Public as the latest, thrilling example. But let's hear it for restraint, for not going overboard, for stopping far short of the kitchen sink and being all the more powerful for it.

That's my reaction to the subtle, very funny, absorbing and spot-on new play Mrs. Murray's Menagerie. Directed and acted to quiet perfection, it's a pitch perfect execution of a simple idea. The setting is the 1970s and we watch as six varied adults take part in a test group. They're all parents and all fans of the children's TV show, Mrs. Murray's Menagerie. That beloved series combines live actors with puppets a la Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and after a long run, it's coming to an end.

The adults sit around a table and are led in a discussion of the show they love and two potential spin-offs. Mrs. Murray is played by a black woman and the focus group is notably diverse, featuring three men and three women that amount to a nifty microcosm of society. Race, needless to say, rears its head. So does gender and class and child rearing and a dozen other ideas, all of them embedded in the story so simply and naturally that you never really feel they're being raised at all. They're just...there, as in life.

Created by The Mad Ones and the ensemble with Ars Nova, the show is directed by Lila Neugebauer so invisibly that you half believe the audience is sitting behind a one-way mirror  and watching an actual focus group. Without histrionics, without a big explosion, without tossed-back chairs or collapsing walls, Mrs. Murray's Menagerie creates a tension and believability and empathy far noisier shows will never know.



Photo copyright by Ben Arons

Like writing a play set in a jury or hospital waiting room or stalled elevator, throwing a disparate group of people together to see what happens is a time-proven dramatic device. Nonetheless, watching these particular people debate the finer points of a kid's show and the behavior of various puppets is fascinating. We come to know them without anyone revealing much of anything about themselves.

Typically, I'd go down the cast list and describe the actors and characters. While it seems silly to discuss spoilers in a show where very little happens, much of the pleasure comes from discovering who these people are and making up your own mind about them, rather than me tipping you off that this person is kind of a jerk or that person has low self-esteem. (Mind you, I do have very strong opinions now on Mrs. Murray's Menagerie. Why the heck isn't the spin-off being built around the human librarian everyone loves?) 

Just trust me that this is an ensemble in every sense of the word and each actor is doing exceptional work. Director Neugebauer works with them and a terrific creative team to create one of the most finely tuned productions I've seen in ages. My guest referenced Clybourne Park and I thought of the Bobby Steggert drama Boy -- not because they have so much in common, but simply because they are all shows that succeeded so well on every level.

Of course, we're trained to expect High Drama. Even though I admired the restraint, I instinctively wondered if -- as good as it is -- the plot might have pushed itself just a little bit further, increased the confrontation that little bit more? No, they hit it right. A hand on a knee creates an uncomfortable moment...but not the #MeToo calling out you want, but which you know almost never happens. Answers to questions from the moderator become passive aggressive taunts, but other than a sidelong glance, no one says anything. At the end, the adults go  their own way and each goodbye feels weighted with meaning. One departure is hilarious, another just as jerk-ish as you'd expect, and a few are heartfelt -- the goodbyes of people who sort of made a connection but know they'll never see each other again. Just like life.

This is miles away in tone from Underground Railroad Game, the Ars Nova hit which returns to NYC for about two weeks from May 30-June 15. But just like that success, this will surely be remembered as one of the best plays of the year. 


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.