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Posted on 03/15/14
Photo from Hand to God
Photo: Gerry Goodstein

A

Critics swear that Robert Askins’ Hand to God—which had a successful run at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011—is a wild and unconventional crowd pleaser. Steven Boyer, reprising his Obie Award-winning role, is unanimously hailed for his virtuoso performance. New Jersey Newsroom’s Sommers lauds a “devilishly droll show thanks to [playwright Robert] Askins’s nimble writing, a talented cast and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s pitch-perfect staging,” but the locus point is Boyer doing double duty as man and possessed appendage. Urges The Post’s Vincentelli, “‘Hand to God” boasts the kind of berserk, star-making performance you have to see to believe.” “Curse yourself if you miss it…” raves Time Out’s Feldman. “Talking to the hand has never been this good.”


Posted on 03/12/14
Photo from The Open House
Photo: Joan Marcus

A-

Overall, critics admire Will Eno's offbeat way with words and praise his latest offering as an enjoyably sharp, quirky, and poignant variation on the dysfunctional family drama. Detractors, on the other hand, are left scratching their heads at Eno's "incomprehensible" and "puzzling" style, but even the negative reviews give high marks to the "impeccable," "expert" cast, design team, and direction by Oliver Butler. If nothing else, The Open House "whets the appetite" for Eno's The Realistic Joneses, opening on Broadway next month.


Posted on 03/10/14
Photo from All the Way
Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

B+

All hail the history play! Critics are digging the Shakespearean sweep of Robert Schenkkan's bioplay of LBJ's first year in office, though many feel it might be too broad (sketchily drawn supporting characters, too many subplots) to be really effective. There's admiration for director Bill Rauch's fluid direction and mostly high marks for the supporting cast. But it's Bryan Cranston's ferocious star turn as the "accidental president" that really gets critics' blood pumping. Without him, many wonder whether the play would land at all.


Posted on 03/10/14
Photo from A Doll's House
Photo: Richard Termine

A

In large part, the Young Vic’s revival of A Doll’s House—reportedly the most performed play in the world—scores accolades for the production and its lead acress, Hattie Morahan. The “brilliantly designed” turning set (reminiscent of this season’s Machinal), Simon Stephens’ “smooth” adaptation, the solid ensemble and Carrie Cracknell’s “energetic” direction have critics asking, “How can suspense be so enthralling when you know exactly what’s going to happen?” (NYT’s Brantley). Even with such praise, most agree that “it’s Morahan’s extraordinary performance that holds the show together” (NYP’s Vincentelli). The primary naysayer is Time Out’s Helen Shaw for whom “Morahan's deliberately vapid, unpleasant, narcissistic Nora…makes much of the play's universal, humanist resolve into nonsense.”


Posted on 02/24/14
Photo from The Tribute Artist
Photo: James Leynse

B-

Critics love the premise of The Tribute Artist--Charles Busch turning a Tootsie-like story on its head by playing a character who is gay and already skilled at female impersonation--but they don't always love the execution. Some of the problems cited are one-dimensional characterizations and a lack of success as either farce or realism. An exception is Ben Brantley, who writes in his New York Times review that the play shifts "so fluidly between naturalism and theatrical artifice that you’ll give up on drawing distinctions." All critics agree, though, on the joys of watching Busch impersonate legendary actresses.


Posted on 02/23/14

A-

The stars and the score shine brightest for critics in this adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, which many happily welcome as a throwback to the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. But they also largely take issue with the soapy source material, and while many find Marsha Norman's book elegant in its reconfigurations, there are those who find her supporting characters flat and unnecessarily diverting from the main love story. Critics are similarly divided on Barlett Sher's direction and the show's spare design. But ultimately most of these flaws are sidelined when considering Jason Robert Brown's lush, romantic score (many declare it his best), and Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale's exquisite--and gorgeously voiced--portrayals of the central couple.


Posted on 02/22/14
Photo from Love and Information
Photo: Joan Marcus

B

Caryl Churchill has never been an easy writer to love. Her plays consistently divide opinion and critics tend to fall into camps of enthrallment or boredom. Love and Information is no exception. The Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli praises the mosaic structure of the play and the character development, while amNY’s Matt Windman calls the whole piece a “pointless, puzzling and pretentious bore.” The fragmented nature of the play is what seems to split critics the most: Some read the multiplicity of vignettes as a commentary on the sporadic and fleeting nature of our ever more technologically atomized world, while others just throw up their hands in defeat. The Huffington Post’s Bess Rowen gives perhaps the clearest explanation for the critical split: “Love and Information is not a bad play, but it's also not a great play. Rather it is something in between that has been written by someone who I consider a great playwright.”


Posted on 02/22/14
Photo from Almost, Maine
Photo: Carol Rosegg

B

Almost every reviewer notes Almost, Maine's success with high school drama clubs--in 2010 it replaced Midsummer Night's Dream as the most produced play in that set. Regarding this revival, critics' response is a bit cooler--somewhere between lukewarm and frigid. While most praise the performers for bringing authenticity to the production, some voice a sense that the script itself undercuts the tone. The script is called both overly literal and predictable, and even the more forgiving reviewers walk away feeling that the production is just light romantic fun.


Posted on 02/22/14
Photo from Dinner with Friends
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

B+

Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends wins mostly positive reviews in this Off-Broadway revival, and in some cases, even greater appreciation than during its first production, appearing “more substantial now than ever” (New York’s Green). Even those who consider the play itself somewhat thin (“Where’s the beef?” queries the Daily News’ Dziemianowicz) laud the strong ensemble: “a less well-acted, straighter production would point up the limitations of the play, which is insightful if never quite revelatory” (Time Out’s Cote), especially “[Jeremy] Shamos and [Marin] Hinkle,” who “couldn't be more perfectly matched” (EW’s Bernardo). Director Pam MacKinnon (recently of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) also garners approval for her “fluid direction” (Bergen Record's Feldberg).


Posted on 02/22/14
Photo from Bronx Bombers
Photo: Joan Marcus

C-

Given the mostly average reviews Bronx Bombers received in its initial run, it's somewhat surprising that there was a Broadway transfer in the first place, and the critical consensus seconds this puzzlement. Indeed, reviewers seem to have had more fun coming up with sports-related jokes for their reviews than at the actual show. The Daily News’ Joe Dziemianowicz thinks the retooling for Broadway “has paid off,” even if, in the ultimate analysis, it’s “too feel-good and fawning for its own good.” Meanwhile, the far less appreciative David Cote from Time Out—inspired by Yogi Berra, if not the play—quips, “The main reason the play is lousy is that it’s no good.” One especially sour note: Jesse Green's jokes about Lou Gehrig's disease are in breathtakingly poor taste.