Sunday, October 28, 2018

THEATER: "Thunderbodies!" and the Glorious Mess of "The Ferryman"

THUNDERBODIES *** out of ****
THE FERRYMAN *** 1/2 out of ****


THUNDERBODIES *** out of ****
SOHO REP

At the beginning of Thunderbodies (which, honestly, should be styled THUNDERBODIES!) a string of letters spelling out Thunderbodies is bannered across the stage, much as you'd spell out Happy Birthday for a friend. Music starts playing, the banner starts bouncing up and down and then more ferociously and then it pauses only to start wiggling side to side. Either you start smiling or you're in for a long 90 minutes.

I started smiling, as Thunderbodies is the latest in a string of plays that seem right up Soho Rep's alley. Do they put out a request for plays that are formally playful, silly, avant garde, daring, extravagantly on the edge and yet just plain fun? I think so and with this piece by Kate Tarker directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, they've presented another one. It's utter nonsense, rat-a-tat goofy, impeccably directed and mounted and performed with gusto by a very game cast. Thunderbodies has just enough of an emotional core to make you feel something might be at stake, if not quite enough to make you genuinely care.

If you're in a game mood, this is a promising work and an excellent showcase for one and all, especially Deirdre O'Connell as Grotilde. She knew her performance needed to go big and then wisely decided twice as big would be a nice place to start before really taking off.




To describe Thunderbodies is to kill it, but here goes. The war has ended and desk jockey General Itterod (Juan Carlos Hernández) proposes to his true love, the dismissive and frightening Grotilde. How can she marry without her son safe at home? But her son (Matthew Jeffers) has refused a direct appeal from the President (Ben Horner) and refuses to come home from the war. Itterod heads reluctantly into enemy territory, hoping he can bring the lad back before fate (or the lovely refugee played by Monique St. Cyr) interferes.

And that tells you precisely nothing. There is dancing and singing (about thunder bellies and thunder butts and thunder unmentionables) and a candy colored multi-level set (courtesy Matt Saunders) that feels like a baby's playpen crossed with the desolate landscape of Beckett (with a recliner in the corner). The President speaks to his soldier via drone -- and the tiny little drone is manipulated by the actor playing the President which is somehow far more amusing than it should be. The General and his lady love plan to get divorced first so they can end in wedded bliss rather than the usual way around. And on and on it goes.

It's unfair to single out the set because every tech element is on spot. Director Blain-Cruz keeps the pace moving so that when the story momentarily flags, you barely notice. Jeffers and St. Cyr create a sweet yearning for peace that is the closest the play gets to an emotional core. But that other couple (the general and Grotilde) have their moments too and Horner consistently amuses as the President. They all manage the difficult task of being silly rather than acting silly.

But none better than O'Connell. Growling out her lines in a barking command, dominating the stage with a loose-lipped sneer, straddling that recliner like Cleopatra, O'Connell lasers in on the endless self-regard of her part and makes it hilariously real. In her hands, the least likable, most over-the-top grotesque of Thunderbodies is the most believable and lovable of all.  She and the rest of the cast make this nonsense -- which pulls off a moment of genuine pathos thanks to an "Oh shit!" fade out -- worth catching.


THE FERRYMAN *** 1/2 out of ****
BERNARD B. JACOBS THEATRE

What a glorious, well-acted ballsy mess of a play. That's no surprise coming from Jez Butterworth, a very hit or miss writer who broke out with Mojo in 1995 and then wandered far afield until 14 years later he scored a home run with Jerusalem. As with all his plays, I found Jerusalem scattered and unstructured (in a bad way). But he's always had a gift for dialogue and creating vivid characters and few loom as large as Johnny "Rooster" Byron, especially (or perhaps only?) when embodied by Mark Rylance.

I wouldn't have missed Rylance but his Falstaffian turn papered over a lot of problems. The play was admired in New York yet seemed to strike a profound chord in the UK. Sadly, Butterworth followed that triumph with his Emperor-has-no-clothes drama The River. Like a yoyo, Butterworth has rebounded again, this time with the most satisfying piece by him I've seen yet. It has the virtues and flaws Butterworth usually has -- reams of terrific dialogue and memorable characters, but no real idea what to do with them.

Here, however, he boldly tackles that quintessential drama, the Irish play about the Troubles. Drawing deeply on Sean O'Casey and the like, Butterworth doubles down on every cliche imaginable, not to mention every tried and true plot point. Large family? Check. (The children keep coming and coming in the opening scene, pouring out of cabinets and doorways and trouping downstairs until you can't help thinking it's a Monty Python skit taking the piss.) Drinking to excess? Check and check (and check again). A traitor. A mad old loon who bursts into song and truth tells. A boastful fool. A doomed romance. A righteous (or mad) obsession with vengeance against the British. Country vs city. The violent vs. the pacific. And stories? As many stories as there are children. And that's saying something.

Butterworth was born in London but this is a defiantly Irish work and he dares you to call him on it. How can you, when he's underlined and whooped and celebrated every trope possible before you've even figured out who is who in the cast? As a bonus, paying homage to O'Casey and the like has given him the bones of a well-structured play and that's what allows The Ferryman to be his best yet. I was with him every step of the way (misgivings and all) until the inevitably sour and doomed finale. I expected no less but still somehow it didn't add up. That's a small price to pay for some of the best acting on stage this season.



You don't know the plot but you know its type. It's 1981 and the hunger strike embodied by the late Bobby Sands is in full force. For the first time in ages, the sympathies with the world are aligned with the Irish Republican Army and they want to keep it that way. Unfortunately, a body has been found of an Irish traitor who was summarily executed and dumped in a bog. Now that it's been recovered, tongues may start wagging and reporters may start probing. A priest is quickly dispatched to make sure Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) keeps mum over the death of his brother. The IRA had absolutely nothing to do with it and they want to make sure Quinn understands that and his brother's wife (now widow) understands that and all two dozen or so of their children understand that. Shut your mouth and we can all remain friends and the focus will remain on the hunger strikers and not revert to the bloody violence the IRA doles out to those that cross them.

About a hundred other stories and plots and subplots are also involved in this corker of a play divided into three parts and lasting some 200 minutes. (Only an act of God presumably talked Butterworth out of five acts.) Quinn is actually in love with his brother's wife Caitlyn (Laura Donnelly), which may be why Quinn's actual wife (Genevieve O'Reilly) has slowly retreated to her bedroom with a host of "ailments." Aunt Patricia (a wonderfully waspish Dearbhla Molloy) practically spits every time she hears of Margaret Thatcher, in part because her beloved brother died during the Easter Uprising. Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan) stays in a chair nodding off in her own dreamland until suddenly she comes out of her daze and answers any questions put to her by the wee ones, as if she's the oracle at Delphi. She can tell you how many children you'll have, why Aunt Pat is so bitter, and regale you with her own lost love all before fading back into the mists. Tom Kettle (Justin Edwards) is a hulking British man who's a bit slow and somehow washed up on the Carney farm, quietly tending to the animals, producing apples out of his pocket and nursing a soft spot for the lovely Caitlyn. Have you got time? I could introduce a dozen other tales if you've the time.

Full credit to director Sam Mendes and his creative team, especially the set by Rob Howell, dominated by the kitchen of the Carney farmhouse, a warm and expansive space with a sloping roof that you can imagine funneling all these characters down towards the back wall in a big jumble. (Life is complicated and all their stories are intertwined.) When a reference is made to the Corcoran lads coming over to help with the harvest, I thought well surely THEY at least will remain offstage. But damned if more actors don't get thrown into the mix as well.

Nonetheless, Mendes juggles them all with ease. Any time a quiet moment is needed, somehow everyone vanishes this way and that in the most natural manner possible. (The backstage of this play must be the most crowded space on Broadway, if not all of New York.) It's like a magic trick and then Mendes does it in reverse and the room fills up again in a flash. Full credit to Butterworth's genuine gifts since there are so many characters and yet I feel like I know them well. I may not remember all their names at first blush, but when I see them I know them completely.

Nonetheless, the play's bold embrace of cliches sinks it at the very end. The gentle and sweet Tom Kettle is a nod to Lenny in Of Mice and Men but the play fails to make clear how much of a nod until far too late. Other last minute actions simply feel unnecessary. We know without doubt things will not end well; actually showing us how badly things will end somehow belabors the point. And yet, it's a funny piercing boisterous ride right up to the crash.

Truly, everyone is solid, right down to the little kids who might have cracked a smile once or twice (they're having a grand time) but are still specific and unique. Let them all take a bow but Paddy Considine in particular makes a marvelous stage debut. Donnelly has quite the gift from her husband Butterworth in a role that let's her shine. And Tom Glynn-Carney (who played the almost angelic son of Mark Rylance in Dunkirk) is wonderfully physical as the dickish, hard-drinking and boastful Shane Corcoran. (You know as soon as he's strutting about that Shane will be a trouble maker and his own worst enemy.)

For all my problems with the play, too many scenes are too good for me to do anything but wish I could see it again. The spell Aunt Maggie Far Away casts when she tells her tales, the late night drinking of the Corcoran and Carney lads (with Shane put in his place in a deflating manner), the gentle and unwished for proposal from Tom Kettle, the way Mary Carney finally shows some spine and lays down the law with her husband Quinn and on and on. When the Ferryman comes for Butterworth, the playwright will surely be able to delay the inevitable by simply saying, "Let me tell you a story...."

THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2
Bernhard/Hamlet * 1/2
On Beckett ***
What The Constitution Means To Me **
The Winning Side *
Oklahoma **
Mother Of The Maid *
Love's Labour's Lost ** 1/2
The Lifespan of a Fact **
India Pale Ale *
Thunderbodies ***
The Ferryman *** 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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

THEATER: 'Fact" Vs Fiction; Pale "India"

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT ** out of ****
INDIA PALE ALE * out of ****



THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT ** out of ****
STUDIO 54

Boy, was I amused and intrigued by the prospect of a Broadway play starring Daniel Radcliffe as a fact checker at a magazine. I began my (modest) career working as a fact checker at Premiere magazine. And not since the glory days of Michael J. Fox coking it up in Bright Lights, Big City and the sitcom Herman's Head has fact checking had such a glorious presentation in pop culture.

As an example of how fact checking works, the play is absurd. But that's no criticism, or at least not an observation that matters in the least. Plays (and films and TV shows and so on) about hospitals, cops, lawyers or whatever are almost never "accurate." If residents at a hospital had as much sex on the job as the folks on Grey's Anatomy, it would be a miracle if any patient survived.

Instead, let me treat The Lifespan Of A Fact as the light entertainment it is -- as such, it's thin stuff, elevated mostly by a cast that is far superior to the material at hand. If there's any surprise, it's that Radcliffe doesn't just hold his own with Bobby Cannavale and Cherry Jones. No, he practically wipes the floor with them.

Radcliffe has grown tremendously as an actor, choosing roles wisely, developing confidence and building up his skills film by film, tv role by tv role and play by play. (Or musical!) True, in this brisk undemanding work by the team of Jeremy Kareken and* David Murrell as well as Gordon Farrell, none of the roles are fleshed out in the least. We leave the play barely knowing who they are. Nonetheless, Radcliffe's role has the most stage time and the zingiest lines and he makes the most of it, with a spot-on American accent and a passionate focus. Or maybe I'm just inherently on the side of the fact checker.

In the play, Jim (Radcliffe) is a Harvard grad eager to make his mark at a New York magazine. When top editor Emily (Jones) asks for a volunteer to work over the weekend and fact check a major essay by heavyweight writer John (Cannavale), well Jim eagerly raises his hand. He's done some fact checking during college but has never fact checked a piece at the magazine before.

Keep in mind, this essay --which begins with the suicide of a young man in Las Vegas -- is getting crashed into the new issue because Emily believes it's an award-winning, remarkable work that will make waves and garner all sorts of attention. So she needs the work done very quickly (Jim only has a few days -- including the weekend) and it MUST be done by Monday morning so the issue can go to press.




Jim wants to impress and goes whole hog, developing a spread sheet to cover all the relevant information, discrepancies and the like. The writer turned just one handwritten page of notes for his fifteen page essay. Jim soon creates a mountain of paperwork about ten times as big as the article itself. Phone calls to the writer don't go well. Jim keeps pointing out fact errors such as the number of licensed strip clubs in Las Vegas and the writer refuses to change it. Why? Because he likes the sound of the number he uses more than the actual fact. The color of bricks outside the hotel where the kid jumped? They're brown, but to the writer John they looked red. And "red" is better than brown because red is the color of blood. A bottle of tabasco sauce was unearthed beneath a certain bar, but John uses the name of the bar next door because it's called Buckets of Blood! That's a hell of a lot more evocative, isn't it? Yes, but it's not RIGHT. It's wrong. And Jim can't let go.

Before you know it, Jim has flown out to Las Vegas to check more facts on the ground, John is strangling him in frustration and Emily flies out to see if she can rescue this piece from fact-checking hell without ruining the integrity of her magazine. (Needless to say, as a fact checker in real life, I never cached any flier miles.)

Every once in a while the play threatens to reveal something about one of its three characters. Yet at the end, I don't think we really even know if any of them are gay or straight or anything in between, married or single, lonely or happy, dog lovers or cat fanciers, liberal or conservative or any of the other myriad details one might use to at least begin to define a person.

Sure, there's a suggestion that John comes from a hardscrabble background and Jim is privileged. (Harvard and all that.) But was Jim a legacy or did he go on a scholarship? John hints at Jim's higher socio-economic status but that goes nowhere too. It seems crazy that Jim just flew across the country on his own dime to fact check an article. But Jim may have already purchased that ticket to Vegas for a personal event. So if John challenged him on having the ability to jump on a plane on a whim, Jim might have responded that it cost pretty much everything he had and maybe he's living on a friend's couch in NYC because the internship at the magazine doesn't pay anything and he's got six figures of student loan debt and no idea how he's going to pay it. Or he might have 'fessed up to being wealthy and the ticket was charged to daddy's AMEX. I mean, he might have said something like that and we might get to learn something about Jim and John in the process but the play never bothers.

Thank goodness for the three stars. It's a very minor evening of theater but they make it as painless as possible. My guest was actually annoyed that Cherry Jones even accepted her role. (It's that minor of a part, though Jones does what she can. She deserves much, much better.) Cannavale has a more substantial turn as the writer John. But still. Only Radcliffe has any sort of growth when his character evolves from sort-of timid to determined.

I never sat around thinking "Boy, fact checking would make a great subject for a play!" But you might do something with the interesting power dynamic. Suddenly an important writer must deal with a persnickety little fact checker? Or a famous celebrity is fielding queries from a nobody about their childhood? (More often, it would be the famous celebrity's assistant, though Emma Thompson once responded personally to a fellow fact checker's fax of queries with her own fax that began, "Dear lonely fact checker!")

That imbalance of power could be fun and we do get a quick visual gag when the small-ish Radcliffe is burdened with a giant backpack to look even tinier as the glowering Cannavale towers over him. To be fair, this dynamic is about the only thing going on in the play, but even there the plotting is confused. Watching this intern interrupt the powerful editor he is meeting with for the first time and do it repeatedly made me squirm in my seat with disbelief as a magazine intern myself, never mind the man-splaining nature of the moment or how it spoiled Jim's arc.

Indeed, The Lifespan of a Fact fails to accomplish even the one essential task: making us care about the central debate of the entire play, that is the question of whether the essay gets published or not. More to the point, it never begins to make us care about their nebulous debate over facts versus fiction or god forbid come to care about the young man who committed suicide and sparked the whole story in the first place.

Instead, Jim makes an astonishing claim at the climax which at first I took at face value. It took me a minute to realize he was making some philosophical point about the nature of truth, conspiracy theories and the current online frenzy to seize on a factual error and spin off into lunacy. Finally, the editor Emily has the two men read out lines from the beginning of the essay as if it were Holy Scripture while morning light gently illuminates their faces. It's an absurd scene but the three actors are such pros they manage to create a quiet moment of grace through sheer talent alone. It's a fact that the play sure didn't help.

P.S. This is all based on a true incident. The writer and fact checker collaborated on a book about their imbroglio and it includes the original essay, the fact checker's notations and questions and the actual facts he dug up and their debate back and forth individual bits and the nature of "truth" in an essay as opposed to cold facts. After seeing the play, I actually tried to scare up a copy to read immediately but had no luck at The Strand or Barnes and* Noble. No such luck so for the moment I haven't read it. However based on the description, I can't help thinking they already found the perfect way to tell their story.

*That's an ampersand in the company's name of Barnes and Noble, by the way. It's also an "ampersand" between the first two  credited writers of the play,  Jeremy Kareken and David Murrell. In credits for films, TV, theater and the like, an ampersand indicates two people working together, a team of sorts, like Abbott and Costello. If they were three individual writers, they would be listed as Kareken, Murrell and Farrell. Why no ampersand in this piece? Blogger can't handle an ampersand and messes up the text if I include it. Like I said, I was a fact checker.


INDIA PALE ALE * out of ****
MANHATTAN THEATRE CLUB AT NEW YORK CITY CENTER

Nothing makes one feel more like a grinch than to dislike a hopelessly earnest play brimming with good intentions. Time and again one hears about the valuable impact of people simply seeing themselves represented in popular culture. That's as true on stage as anywhere else. So with the vast majority of plays in the US about white people (and usually white men), one can appreciate and applaud plays that feature people from Puerto Rico or the Bahamas or Korean Americans or -- why not? -- Swedes and certainly Japanese and Italian and Irish and German and Filipino and Senegalese and gay and lesbian and bisexual and trans and a thousand other categories. Heck, when you never see yourself on stage, even a villain or cardboard character feels like a step forward.

So it's a pleasure to sense the palpable happiness of writer Jaclyn Backhaus, the cast and even audience members as they see Punjabi people onstage celebrating their families, their life in America, their traditions, their past and their future. India Pale Ale even winds up the play with a sharing of samosas between the characters and much of the audience, which is one way to win over critics and quite an effective one.

But good intentions get you nowhere and it would be an insult to the artists involved to grade India Pale Ale on a curve. Instead, one must be honest and say this thin, cliched drama plays out much like countless other stories about the same dilemma have done before. A young character yearns to break free of their family's constricting sense of what is proper and be a "real" American. Older folk tut-tut and others fall somewhere in the middle, some believing they must change and adapt while others see value in the old ways. What language to speak (at home and in public), what foods to eat, what religion to practice, arranged marriages, respect for elders, and on and on the issues go. Substitute Italian for Chinese for Haitian for Korean for Punjabi or for whomever and the story is comfortingly universal.





The story of assimilation can be told again and again but it must somehow rise above that familiar structure to be fresh and new. Backhaus unfortunately does not. The play struggles to breathe life even into the tiresome scene of a clueless (but not quite ill-intentioned) white person indelicately asking about a character's race/ethnicity/culture. Or to be more blunt and awkward, "So what are you?" When act two raises the stakes far too dramatically, the play falls apart completely.

But it was never held together by much. A banal family anecdote about being descended from the pirate Brownbeard leads to dialogue delivered at times in faux pirate lingo (a lot of "yaar" and the like) as well as a family song about pirates, all of it repeated laboriously throughout the show. Two characters who seem in love are randomly separated, just so they can move towards a reunion at the end. Feelings are hurt and lessons are learned. And so on.

One simply can't judge actors when the material is weak, though the lead Shazi Raja is certainly an attractive presence. Like everyone else, Raja is surely proud to be telling stories of the Punjabi people. This first shaky step will hopefully lead to better stories down the road.

Of modest note is the handsome backdrop of scenic designer Neil Patel. By far the best tech element of the show, it features a metallic border and round circles that appeared to be the bottom of beer bottles...and indeed some of them actually were. It echoed the dream of our heroine to open her own bar and easily evoked the high seas with the assist of some lighting by Ben Stanton and the sound design by Elisheba Ittoop. It was attractive and eye-catching, without getting in the way of the proceedings.

THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2
Bernhard/Hamlet * 1/2
On Beckett ***
What The Constitution Means To Me **
The Winning Side *
Oklahoma **
Mother Of The Maid *
Love's Labour's Lost ** 1/2
The Lifespan of a Fact **
India Pale Ale *

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next?Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter! Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! 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. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. 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.

Friday, October 19, 2018

THEATER: "Love's Labour's Lost"...But A Good Meal Is Never Wasted

SHAKE AND BAKE: LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST *** (but knock off half a star if you skip the alcohol)
SHAKE AND BAKE THEATER

What hath Tolstoy wrought? Ever since a musical version of War and Peace tossed some so-so appetizers and a shot of vodka at theater-goers and called it a meal, it seems like any offbeat show trying to stand out thinks, "What about food?" And while the food at the immersive Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 was the least of it, certainly the alcohol can't hear. Most any show is improved by a drink during the interval. (Though who can afford the typical prices of a Broadway bar?) Still, while the idea of dinner theater done with panache isn't precisely a bad one, it's not terribly good either when the food feels like subpar catering.

Happily, that is not the case with the meat-packing district presentation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. The title Shake and Bake is amusing, the food was more substantial than one usually gets (akin to a full meal rather than the hyped-up canapé or two usually proferred) and the choice of play was wryly amusing.

Shakespeare's early comedy involves a king and his friends pledging to AVOID good food and drink and merrymaking in general so they can devote three years to sober study. Good for them! They will eat just one meal a day. They'll even fast one day a week. They'll sleep only three hours a night. And they won't even lay eyes on a woman, much less woo them. Good luck with that. Their pledge lasts about as long as it takes for the Princess of France and her attendants to come to court

So a play that abhors food is presented while the audience indulges in nonstop food and drink. And a play that -- oddly for a Shakespeare romance -- has a slot for music only at the very end, here features music and dance from beginning to end. Shakespeare would approve, or at least the Groundlings would.



Matthew Goodrich and Darren Ritchie 
PHOTO by Chad Batka

If you're a wine snob, you might want to splurge on the top ticket since that gets you an upgrade on the wines served (a glass of white and red). However, I must say that even the standard wine was palatable, which is saying something since I have no nose for rosé and the like but -- if this makes any sense -- it means I'm even less accepting of a so-so wine than someone who knows what they're tasing. The shot of Jägermeister of course can hardly go wrong. The play began with pickled seasonal vegetables -- in our case, carrots and green beans. I quite liked the tart flavor of the carrots, while the green beans were snappy too. In every case, I'd suggest diving in and consuming away; the sooner you're done, the sooner you can give your full attention to the action. (Unless of course, an actor is right next to you. I held off on chomping away while the clown cavorted on my couch or an actor soliloquied nearby. I mean, just because food is on tap is no reason to be a barbarian.

One more reason to eat away? The food keeps coming. A modest taste of salmon and cream cheese on a cracker, a fine side salad of mixed greens (of course), a Cheeto-dusted mac n cheese that was the only tricky item to consume (and really, being a mac n cheese fiend the only one I really felt was too small), a brisket taco served during the interval, a pink lemonade soda palate cleanser, a roasted beet gazpacho that should also be just a smidge bigger in portion and a dessert left for us to serve ourselves as the cast slipped away -- namely a buttermilk panna cotta that was a highlight to this sweet toothed critic.

I wouldn't want to oversell the food. But heck, I just saw Oklahoma at St. Ann's Warehouse and the down-home vibe of a barn social was sealed by the fact that they prepared chili and cornbread and then served it to the audience during the interval. Well, I love actress Mary Testa and she opened up a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix with zest and dumped it in a bowl, but she did NOT make corn break muffins. And the crock pots lining the set, sitting tantalizingly in front of the audience? Just for show! The muffins and chili were actually prepared elsewhere and offered up in a teeny tiny styrofoam cup with a sliver (yes, a sliver!) of cornbread laid on top that made the tasting menu of Shake and Bake look like a banquet worthy of Henry VIII in comparison.

Yes, many many shows have tossed in food and/or drink but rarely with skill. Executive chef David Goldman and the onstage chef Jeff Ventricelli delivered under the far from ideal surroundings of live theater.



Mary Glen Fredrick, Rami Margron, and Victoria Rae Sook 
PHOTO by Chad Batka


Hmm, now what am I forgetting? Ah yes, the play. The creative team assuredly did not. They chose wisely and they trimmed off the fat (which includes the longest word in the English language and the longest speech in all of Shakespeare) to deliver the meat of the play in under two hours, including a break. (I was, frankly, astonished when I looked at my watch after it was over.) They also kept the sense of the play, by and large, though the clownish subplot of the romantic feud between the Spanish lord (Charles Osbourne) and Costard (who surely should be spelled Custard here and was played engagingly by Rami Margron) was set up and then mostly dropped. That aside, the wooing and wordplay between the King's men and the Princess's women (none of whom were interested in sticking to their various vows) came across easily.

The adaptation by David Goldman, Victoria Rae Sook (who also gave herself the plumb role of the Princess and had an easy regal air) and Dan Swern (who also directed) inserted all sorts of nonsense, including wall-to-wall music (from an acoustic guitar slow jam on Walk The Moon's "Shut Up and Dance" to recordings of George Michael) and a food-themed dance that included tongs as castanets. With couches and chairs lining the walls, the main stage is an open rectangular space. So Swern's lighting in particular does heavy lifting to create scene-setting and change of moods in concert with modest props and costumes.

This version of Love's Labour's Lost, to be true, offers no great shakes in terms of insight -- just the usual hijinks a Shakespeare comedy can make an excuse for. Yet time and again the momentum is rescued by the flow of alcohol, a tasty bite and most of all a cast that rose above the dashed-off proceedings with a commitment to their parts and that difficult balance of not taking things too seriously but not clowning for its own sake.

Darren Ritchie made a strong king and had the best chemistry of the night w Sook. Mary Glen Fredrick and Alex Spieth made good impressions, even though the play as edited left them far fewer opportunities to shine than the men. Not so Osbourne who was the real clown of the night, popping in from various unexpected angles to assay the silly Spaniard or a very fey courtier for the women (a trope that proved tiresome to me until his good nature won me over). Like the women, Oge Agulué made the most of a small part, bringing charm and wit to his turn as Longaville, the King's man who is wary of the entire "let's have no fun and just study" oath. But Matthew Goodrich was the find for me, goofing and cavorting and yet taking very seriously the romantic stakes. He convinced me this really was a play about his character Berowne. (And he really needs a new headshot since the one in the program doesn't do justice.) An understudy in various Broadway shows, Goodrich will get his shot.

With another shot of Jäger I would have sworn that everyone in the show will do the same! And that Shake and Bake will run for years! They'll get that break and leave the actor's lot of catering and waitering far behind. The amusing (cruel?) irony is that here they have a good showcase and STILL don't leave waitering behind. Here they are delivering their lines while preparing food, serving it out, making a joke to the audience while offering wine, declaring their love to another character and then clearing a course away without breaking stride. The fact that they maintained their dignity and made all this stage business flow easily -- juggling lines and remembering which person at table 7 had the vegan option -- was a credit to the lot of actors everywhere and a show that caters to their many talents.


THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2
Bernhard/Hamlet * 1/2
On Beckett ***
What The Constitution Means To Me **
The Winning Side *
Oklahoma **
Mother Of The Maid *
Love's Labour's Lost ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next?Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter! Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! 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. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. 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.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

THEATER: "Mother Of The Maid" Lacks Fire

MOTHER OF THE MAID * out of ****
THE PUBLIC THEATER


My Aunt Peggy was pretty much a saint. I never saw a halo or found her spotlit by a heavenly glow. But Peggy Ann Walpole devoted her life to helping others. She worked as a nurse in Toronto in the 1950s, but found it just...unacceptable that women were sometimes discharged with nowhere to go. Prostitutes, homeless, out of jail, fleeing an abusive husband -- these women left the hospital to wander the streets. So Peggy simply rented a hotel room and told a woman, "You can stay there for the night." And then she did it again and again until she eventually founded Street Haven, providing shelter for women, services to help them mainstream back into society and so much more. Aunt Peggy received every honor you can think of, from the Order of Canada to the highest honor a layperson can be given in the Catholic Church. She met Popes and Mother Teresa but mostly just helped women...that is, when she wasn't in and out of hospitals her entire life with one debilitating illness after another. I know women prayed for her. And since she died in 2006, it wouldn't really surprise me in the least if women prayed to her.

But a saint? Well, that seems strange to say the least when you actually know someone. Aunt Peggy never mentioned a mission from God or visitations from on high. If she had, I would have probably rolled my eyes. Just as a prophet is never honored in their own hometown, a saint is surely never treated as holy in their own family.

That, perhaps, was the starting point for Emmy winner Jane Anderson's new play Mother of The Maid. It stars Glenn Close as Isabelle Arc, whose child Joan would indeed claim a mission from God to cleanse France of the English rabble. What would it be like to raise a girl who would be raised up by the Church and the French court to lead men into battle, only to be captured and burned at the stake as a heretic? One can imagine all sorts of approaches, with Joan's family offering caustic commentary or perhaps revealing the deep wellspring of faith that Joan drew upon. It might be funny, with these modest people contrasting amusingly with the French courtiers aghast or delighted by their frankness.


Glenn Close and Grace Van Patten. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sadly, while Mother of the Maid hints very modestly at all of these possibilities, it succeeds at none of them or more accurately barely strives for any of them at all. The tomboyish, blunt Joan (Grace Van Patten) is clearly bothered by something and her mother -- no stranger to the facts of life as a farmer's wife -- thinks Joan might be feeling sexual urges. When she sees her daughter in what we know to be religious ecstasy, Isabelle's assumption is far more prosaic.

But no, that's not it at all. Joan reveals the truth -- that she has been visited by Saint Catherine and is called by God to lead the French army into battle and defeat the British. Nonsense! And Joan's father (Dermot Crowley) beats her backside and ties the child up before she can disgrace the family any further with her mad talk. Too late, for Joan has already garnered attention. Before you know it, she and her brother (Andrew Hovelson) are off to court, with Joan's mother not far behind, just for a look around and to make sure her daughter is ok.

It's a curiously flat play. Even at the break, indeed even three-quarters of the way through I was still trying to puzzle out exactly what Anderson had in mind. Scenes with Kate Jennings Grant as a Lady of the Court felt especially beside the point. Those scenes aren't funny or insightful or dramatic or much of anything. They feel like the sort of scenes that may get written but are soon cut out for the simple reason that nothing -- dramatically speaking -- happens in them. And on it goes, from triumphs in battle to capture to Joan's execution. Sometimes we are with Joan and sometimes her family but never are we remotely engaged.

Isabelle's husband accuses her of too much faith. Her daughter Joan accuses her of not enough. It hardly seems to matter. Isabelle appears to have an unquestioning simple faith and if she encourages her daughter to deny the visions that came to Joan, well who can blame her? She just wants her child to live. If it's meant as a moment of crisis, the struggle hardly registers. The entire play we stand on the sidelines of historic events. But our perspective doesn't undercut the grandiosity on display or bring great people down to size or offer insight or insert humor or do anything one might hope for.

Among the tech elements, John Lee Beatty does wonders in the tiny three-sided space of the upstairs theater this piece is staged. With the vivid assist of the lighting by Lap Chi Chu, Beatty offers up multiple convincing scenes from a farmhouse to court to a dungeon. The cast can do little with the material on hand, but star Glenn Close is nonetheless admirable in setting the right tone for everyone. She's too much of a pro to not realize the play isn't working. But Close never rides roughshod over the work; she never tries to underline the humor or pathos on tap. She stays resolutely in key with the story when a lesser talent might have tried desperately to cover up the flaws by going bigger.

At the end, the mother of the Maid describes the heartache of Joan's death and how Isabelle's husband died shortly after. She refused to fade away. Instead, Isaballe got a cart, taught herself to read, traveled widely and then headed to Rome where she stared down the Pope, stood before tribunals and insisted her daughter was no heretic. Ultimately she prevailed. Well, heck, that sounds interesting and one is tempted to say Anderson should have told that story instead. But there's no reason to believe that play would have been any stronger than this one. I fear I lack faith.



THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2
Bernhard/Hamlet * 1/2
On Beckett ***
What The Constitution Means To Me **
The Winning Side *
Oklahoma **
Mother Of The Maid *

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next?Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter! Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! 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. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. 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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

THEATER: "Oklahoma" Is (Just) OK

OKLAHOMA ** out of ****
ST. ANN'S WAREHOUSE

At the end of this particular Oklahoma, our hero and heroine are spattered in blood, the cast is spitting out the lyrics of the title song and it climaxes with their faces contorted in rage, frustration and despair as they growl a defiant "HAAA!!" and we are plunged into darkness. Clearly, director Daniel Fish wants to expose the violent underbelly of our nation's history. But the final scenes of this classic musical are so muddled -- and so little of what comes before leads logically to this ending -- that we're left exhausted and annoyed.

It begins nicely. The cowboy Curly (Damon Daunno) wanders onstage, guitar in hand and turns "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'" from an ode to wide open spaces into a flirtatious charmer. (Ditto for "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top.") A bluegrass band at one end of the wide open rectangular stage provides down home accompaniment, chili is cooking in crockpots on pinewood tables that stretch from one end to the other and Aunt Eller starts whipping up some cornbread. (She's played with wit and vinegar by the marvelous Mary Testa).  Laurey (Rebecca Naomi Jones) does her best to resist Curly's appeal and take him down a notch, something his amiable ego can easily handle and probably needs. The singing cowboy is a familiar trope but Laurey still gets a laugh by muttering, "Oh no, please don't play your guitar" when he launches into another song.

Right away, Fish sets an appealing, intimate tone. No full orchestra to overwhelm the simple story, the audience as family sharing a meal and dialogue that weaves in and out of song (just as in the original production). Fish also plays with microphones, allowing characters who want to shout out their sentiments to grab a mike and hear their voices amplified. It works a treat. The show can breathe, the marvelous songs sound fresh and natural and the story simply unfolds. No meta conceit needed here -- they're just holding a classic up to the light.

Curly and Laurey are clearly meant for each other, but she's not going to make it that easy for him. Fair enough, but she goes a little too far by accepting a ride to the dance that Saturday from her hired hand Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill, dressed like a Seattle grunge musician). Jud may be the best hand Aunt Eller ever had, but he's also creepy. Laurey is so scared of him she takes care never to be alone with the man, if possible. Jud keeps to himself, puts nudies up in his room out back and is in general a malignant presence, more disturbed than disdainful.

Laurey goes too far but Ado Annie can't go far enough. Played with charm by Ali Stroker of the marvelous Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening, Ado loves whichever man is in front of her, be it the dimwitted but lovable cowboy Will Parker (a winning James Davis) or the traveling peddler Ali Hakim (Mallory Portnoy, demolishing the stereotypical take on the role and making this part his own). Unlike the main romance, this triangle is pure fun and the three actors make the most of it from start to finish. Davis avoids making Parker too dumb -- he's just determined to get the girl he loves...and maybe not so good at math. The peddler can sometimes be done too broadly; Portnoy makes Ali so specific and fun (he just loves a good time) that a problematic part becomes a showstopper. This Hakim is more traveling-salesman-with-the-farmer's-daughter than a wheedling, ethnic stereotype. And the fringe on top of this particular Surrey is Stroker. She is an actress with a disability and spends most of the show in a wheelchair. It's notable how easily that fact is incorporated into the movement and song and dance, helped immeasurably by Stroker's yodeling vocals, sexy presence and the witty dip in her wheelchair she's given when kissed by Hakim towards the end.

Despite the refreshing presentation, this really is your mother's Oklahoma: the subplot is silly hijinks and the main story is a little serious. As in most productions I've seen, Jud isn't just a loner or outcast, he's a genuine threat to this civilizing territory soon to be a state. It's not that he doesn't fit in: someone as unhinged as Jud doesn't really belong anywhere.

That's driven home by the scene where Curly visits Jud in his lodgings and gives this snake of a man a good rattle. Fish pulls out all the stops here: the theater is plunged into darkness and a camera swoops in to deliver a close-up of Jud's face which we see displayed on a back wall. Curly paints a picture of Jud dying and the whole town coming out to mourn him, suddenly realizing what a swell guy Jud really was. Like some sour Tom Sawyer, Jud eats up this idea for a while until he turns on Curly and the rest of them, vowing to have his revenge once and for all. For all the flashy staging (movie cameras! total darkness!), nothing in this scene changes our understanding of Jud (or Curly) so it's hard to see the point. Perhaps we're meant to be glimpsing into Jud's dark soul, but the moment shows Curly in equally unpleasant terms.




All bets are off in the beginning of Act Two. After some chili and cornbread doled out to the audience (thanks Mary Testa!) during the interval, we're given a whole new slant on the show. While the cast is hardly costumed in period clothing, the suggestion of prairies and country folk and the heartland has been strong (except for Jud's annoyingly anachronistic clothes and facial hair worthy of Kurt Cobain). But following on the high-tech flash of those movie cameras in Act One, we get fog rolling on stage and then dancer Gabrielle Hamilton appears in a dream ballet choreographed by John Heginbotham.

You can hardly pretend they're not making a statement when the five foot nothing and bald-headed woman of color Hamilton comes striding out of the fog. She's wearing an exceptionally ugly top emblazoned with the slogan "DREAM BABY DREAM" and disco shorts, both glossy and modern and looking more appropriate for a Donna Summer musical than Oklahoma. It's a statement writ large, but a rather juvenile one.

Hamilton's diminutive height and strong stage presence creates an interesting dynamic when she stares at multiple cast members, somehow looking down on them even as she looks up. Yet other than some modern technology, nothing in the first act has brought a modern sensibility or revisionist commentary on Oklahoma, so the clothing and the slogan and the vibe of this number just feels like a desperate attempt to carry some import and get in our face.

Whereas the color and disability blind casting for the rest of the show is natural and unforced, here it feels unearned. The show is asking Hamilton to symbolize something they haven't given her the context to deliver. The house band suddenly breaks out an electric guitar and rocks the score, as if Jimi Hendrix tackled songs from Oklahoma at Woodstock rather than the national anthem. Hamilton dances with poise and determination, but to what effect? The sudden appearance of a dozen of so more dancers (all wearing the same garish costume) for a very brief flourish feels similarly wasteful and pointless. I look forward to seeing Hamilton in something worthier of her talent.

It gets worse. Laurey's scene alone with Jud is done in total darkness, just like Curly's scene with him. But since Jud's actions here can be portrayed as anything from awkward to assault and Laurey's reaction is key,  having it take place in the dark is unhelpful dramatically. We're left a little in the dark too, even though before this Laurey has been wise to keep him far, far away. She angrily fires Jud as he buckles up his pants and vows revenge, yet again.

Of course, Laurey and Curly get married but, after weeks away, Jud returns to spoil the moment. Yet now he's modest and shy and nicely dressed? He bashfully asks to kiss the bride, but it's no peck on the cheek. To add to our confusion, Laurey responds positively to his kisses, looking at him wonderingly or with confusion when they're done, rather than the fear or disgust one might expect. In the final absurdity, Jud's death is staged as essentially "suicide by Curly," with Jud handing him a pistol, cocking it and then waiting politely to be shot down. No fight instigated by Jud, no attempt to murder Curly, no self-inflicted mortal wound -- just Jud standing there, knowing what must be will be. Laurey and Curly are splattered with blood and what in God's name any of this could mean escapes me. That leads right into the would-be blistering reprise of the title song.

What began as a rare chance to see talented pros tackle this work in an intimate setting turns into a frustrating shambles by the end. I found Jones rather stiff in her dialogue scenes. Vaill has the unenviable task of tackling Jud in a show that has no clue what to do with him, but Vaill certainly doesn't help matters. My guest preferred Daunno in the musical Hadestown while I liked him more here. But there's no doubt he has charm and presence. Most everyone else is delightful whenever this production gets out of the way and let's them deliver those songs. But that gets rarer and rarer as the show goes on. Whatever Fish wanted to do, he failed to consistently fulfill that vision from start to finish.



I would hardly say Oklahoma is a problem musical. But I've never seen a production that quite makes sense of Jud, not even the brilliant 1998 revival in London that made Hugh Jackman a star and featured Shuler Hensley as Jud. Why is Curly so hostile to Jud? Any fool would realize Jud is hardly a threat to woo away Laurey and Curly is no fool. If Jud is genuinely dangerous then Curly is unnecessarily antagonizing him. If Jud is just a confused, inept loner with poor social skills then the handsome and winning Curly is just being cruel.

Jud makes me think of the John Wayne character in John Ford's classic The Searchers. Wayne's violent, racist Ethan Edwards is a relic of the past, the murderous sort needed to clear the land of "hostiles" (that is, the Native Americans who lived there first). Now that pioneers are settling down in West Texas, Ethan is an unwelcome reminder of how that land was made available in the first place. He was a necessary evil but he's not necessary any more. At the end of that film, the door is firmly shut on Ethan, leaving him on the outside of hearth and home.

Jud on the other hand is hardly necessary at all. Laurey says she is scared of him and -- in the original production -- Jud spoils the wedding, harasses her and tries to kill Curly twice, eventually dying by stumbling and accidentally stabbing himself with his own knife. Jud is his own worst enemy. Making him both hateful, frightening and a sacrificial lamb as in this production simply makes no sense.

But what if Jud were black? (And Laurey and Curly white?) Presumably this has been done somewhere before. Fish's desire to cast a new light on this story might have paid dividends with some color specific casting. (Indeed, it crossed my mind at the beginning of the show that actor Will Mann might be playing Jud; more's the pity he wasn't.) With that change, many of the questions are answered and new possibilities open up.

Aunt Eller insists Jud is the best hired hand she ever had and yet he's given poor lodgings and clearly isolated from the rest of the town folk. If Jud is black, that treatment takes on a whole new meaning. Laurey insists she is scared of him and refuses to be alone with the man. Take your pick: that could be played as simple prejudice or a case of her protesting too much, with Laurey loudly proclaiming one attitude but her genuine desire being quite another.

Curly's immediate antagonism -- especially if he suspects Laurey might actually fancy Jud -- makes more sense here, too. Curly's suggestion Jud simply hang himself takes on an even uglier tone. Some dialogue and action would be better if cut (like Jud's lame attempt to kill Curly with a novelty toy that's booby trapped), but much more that remains would take on new resonance.

When Laurey and Judd are alone, it might be her initiating romance, only to have them be discovered. At that point she could push him away, angrily implying an attempted rape and unfairly firing the man because they're seen by others. His brutal murder by Curly and the joke of a trial at the end? That would be far more potent too. If a production wanted to underline the violence and darkness in American history, a casting choice like this would be consistent with that goal, letting scene after scene build to a shattering conclusion, rather than simply having it come out of nowhere. Certainly it would be in keeping with the bold and provocative work Rodgers and Hammerstein delivered throughout their partnership.

It would certainly be in keeping with the history of Oklahoma. That territory once featured such a vibrant free black population that President Teddy Roosevelt toyed with the idea of turning the area into a black-majority state. Needless to say, such success wasn't allowed to last. The prosperous black people of Tulsa were targeted by a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, the city government, the police and the white community. Their campaign of intimidation climaxed with the shameful 1921 Tulsa Race Riot in which black-owned businesses were decimated and an untold number of black people numbering in the thousands were beaten, hospitalized or killed.

Heck, Jud could be a Native American. The Oklahoma Territory was the location where countless indigenous Americans were forced to relocate by the US government. Eventually, dozens of tribes were displaced to the area and -- again -- just as government officials considered creating a black-majority state, an all-Indian state was almost formed there as well.

No such luck, but their presence remain. The name Oklahoma itself is a combination of two words in the Choctaw language, literally meaning "red people" or more colloquially "Native Americans." So the title song in this all-American musical, the one almost anyone can sing a snatch of (or at least spell), the state name they proclaim as "OK!" with exuberance and joy? That's a Choctaw word. They're shouting out "Native Americans!" The chorus is loudly and proudly (and cluelessly) reminding us of the people that were here first and then brutally removed. If you want to rethink the musical Oklahoma, you could start right there.

THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2
Bernhard/Hamlet * 1/2
On Beckett ***
What The Constitution Means To Me **
The Winning Side *
Oklahoma **

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next?Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter! Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! 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. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. 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.