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Posted on 03/18/11
Photo from Arcadia
Photo: Carol Rosegg


Are critics stupid? Or do they just think their readers are? It's hard to judge from this crop of reviews, which relentlessly hawk the idea that perhaps Tom Stoppard's masterpiece Arcadia is too smart. Even the glowing reviews make pains to reassure the reader that the play won't commit the ultimate sin of making them feel dumb. It might commit the penultimate sin of boring them, however; according to several of the reviews the production just misses the mark, with an uneven set of performances contributing to a night at the theatre that never quite coalesces. Still, everyone's grateful to have Arcadia back in town and on Broadway, and a minority of critics even thinks this production bests the original.

Posted on 03/13/11
Photo from Cactus Flower
Photo: Carol Rosegg


When critics begin reviews by posing the question of why anyone would want to put on your play, you know you're in trouble. Cactus Flower is compared unfavorably to the recent revival of Boeing Boeing, and even to the recent Jennifer Aniston movie Just Go With It (based on the same play), and although some critics can see some potential in Abe Burrows' play, most think it has aged badly. Reviewers almost all fault Michael Bush's direction as plodding and lethargic, and many have harsh words for Anna Louizos' bland and unrealistic set. Some are more sympathetic to the performances of the actors, but more than one reviewer finds Maxwell Caulfield in the lead as being uncomfortable with comedy, and unbelievably over-the-top. The only positive review is Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray, who concedes many of the criticisms but believes that the humor wins the day.

Posted on 03/13/11
Photo from Treasure Island
Photo: Ken Howard


On the technical side, it's smooth sailing for this production and its more-than-competent cast, but apparently the bilge pump isn't working, because critics find the script to be waterlogged and bloated, so much so that the whole enterprise sinks. Bits and pieces, like the "superlative" fight scenes or the winning use of a live parrot, keep the audience afloat (albeit aimlessly adrift), and despite "convincingly authentic" gunfire, the New York Times's Neil Genzlinger dutifully reports that "a couple of past-their-bedtime preschoolers...were asleep." Or, as Joe Dziemianowicz of the NY Daily News succinctly puts it, "Yo-ho-ho yields to yo-ho-hum."

Posted on 03/10/11
Photo from Peter and the Starcatcher
Photo: Joan Marcus


With grades ranging from Ben Brantley's A+ to Matthew Murray's F-, there isn't a clear consensus on this Peter Pan prequel. But for the most part, critics love the story-theater approach and inventive design elements (costumes by Paloma Young, sets by Donyale Werle, and lighting by Jeff Croiter). There is also much praise for the cast, especially Christian Borle's comedic turn as the pirate Black Stache (following up his Prior in Signature's Angels in America). Where the production fails for some critics is the self-indulgent humor, which most critics credit to co-director Alex Timbers.

Posted on 03/08/11
Photo from The Method Gun
Photo: Alan Simmons


The complexity and fun of this irreverent parody of performance cults--by the Austin, Texas-based company Rude Mechs--is granted by most critics, but whether the play manages to transcend the witty gags and insider jokes about theater is up for debate. New York's Scott Brown is excited by this “fiendish” piece, but other critics observe that it doesn't garner as many laughs as it could have. The unevenness of styles and moments is acknowledged by all, whether seen as a pro or a con, including nudity and balloons, a person in a tiger suit, and an impromptu dance number.

Posted on 03/07/11
Photo from That Championship Season
Photo: Joan Marcus


Most critics agree that 1972's Pulitzer and Tony winner That Championship Season hasn't held up over time, and that this production doesn't offer a compelling case for the play. For one, the play doesn't shock as it used to, especially compared to the works of playwrights like Mamet and LaBute. (Interestingly, both Ben Brantley and Elisabeth Vincentelli mention parallels to another epochal drama of the era, The Boys in the Band.) Reviews of performances from the heavy-hitting cast are all over the field, with each actor getting both positive and negative notices.

Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 03/05/11

There was no contest in the past few weeks, a busy time with some strong showings: Invasion!, Jonas Hassen Khemiri's topical satire, sailed to the top spot with a resounding A. (This Play Company import from Sweden only runs through Mar. 13, so time is ticking.)

The next best grades were in the respectable B+ range. That was the grade stamped on the past week's most auspicious opening, David Lindsay-Abaire's dramedy Good People, at Manhattan Theatre Club; on The Public LAB's lean, modern Timon of Athens; and on the Wooster Group's twisted multimedia take on Tennessee Williams' late Vieux Carre.

Meanwhile, at the Village's Rattlestick Theater, prolific bad boy Adam Rapp unleashed an ambitious triptych of plays in repertory, all set in a single tenement hallway over the span of a century, and titled simply The Hallway Trilogy; reactions were intense on both ends of the spectrum, with a resulting median of B-. The folks behind the Scottish hit Black Watch returned to St. Ann's Warehouse with Beautiful Burnout, which critics found stunning but somewhat empty, with a C+ result.

Finally, bringing up the rear was the unbeloved political romcom The Body Politic at 59E59, with a D+. From A to D+ is quite a spread, but the past few weeks managed to cover it.

Posted on 03/05/11
Photo from Beautiful Burnout
Photo: Gavin Evans


Critics find a lot to like about Beautiful Burnout: the boxing-inspired choreography, the aggressive music courtesy of Underwold, the talented seven-person cast, and the innovative design elements (set by Laura Hopkins, video by Ian William Galloway, and lighting by Andy Purves). The problem for most critics is that Byrony Lavery's script is a generic boxing story, keeping the play from being anything more than all style. Elisabeth Vincentelli, giving the play its highest grade, makes the interesting point that boxing stories are never original, so what matters is the way the story is told.

Posted on 03/04/11
Photo from Good People
Photo: Joan Marcus


When last Abaire his pen for scripts did work,

His Rabbit Hole critics could not despise.

His abandonment of surreal and quirk

Led straight to glitt’ring Pulizer's Prize.

Now with Good People he returns to stage-

With Sullivan and McDormand in tow-

The tale of Margaret, deep in middle age,

From whose Southie life a full play must flow.

This is no noble king set for a fall,

But a single mother sharply drawn;

Some critics thus find the matter too small,

Or jokey, lacking in dramatic brawn.

But most the scribes do solemnly agree,

Good People makes good watching, go and see.

Posted on 03/02/11
Photo from Timon of Athens
Photo: Joan Marcus


Taken together, the critics seem to be saying that this is a fresh, crisp production of a notoriously messy play. Only Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News gives an unalloyed rejection. Most reviews discuss the flaws of the script and the limits of Richard Thomas's titular performance, with both or either blamed for a sagging second half. For taking on a timely "problem play" with sweep and style (and doing so at $15 a ticket), the Public's inaugural LAB Shakespeare production receives mostly encouraging reviews.