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Posted on 02/06/11
Photo from The Witch of Edmonton
Photo: Carol Rosegg


The Jacobean-theater specialists at Red Bull Theatre Company have another winner on their hands with this extremely rare find, about the Devil coming to a small town in the form of a seductive dog. With the exception of That Sounds Cool's Aaron Riccio, all the critics are fascinated by multi-authored play itself, and nearly all are smitten with the show's design, as well as with director Jesse Berger's ultra-clear elucidation of the work's interlaced plots. A few note an unevenness in the performances, but as the demonic canine, Derek Smith gets raves.

Posted on 02/04/11
Photo from The Road To Qatar!
Photo: Carol Rosegg


Poor David Krane and Stephen Cole. First, they were asked to create an American musical to premiere in Qatar for which they were never paid (the true story that inspired this musical). Then the musical they wrote about that experience, The Road to Qatar!, opens to a rash of very negative reviews. Though critics think the backstory is an interesting one, they say this musical has too many stereotypes, undeveloped characters, and unmemorable music. More than one critic is bothered by the superfluous use of the exclamation point in the title. On the positive side, critics appreciate the efforts of the cast and director, and admire the set and costume design of Michael Bottari and Ronald Case.

Posted on 02/04/11
Photo from Three Sisters
Photo: Joan Marcus


Maybe because his writing is so subtle and mercurial, and there is still such disagreement about the best approach to his work, revivals of Chekhov almost never provoke a unanimous critical response, either positive or negative. But while this new CSC rendition is no exception, reviews are heavily weighted toward praise for Austin Pendleton's intimate, moody, contemporary take on the show's despairing siblings and lovers. Even critics who quibble with a performance or two, or who count themselves jarred by Paul Schmidt's slangy translation, find Pendleton's Altman-esque staging deeply involving and ultimately affecting. A handful of dissenters, though, can't get over the contrast between period clothes and modern speech, with most division centering on the brash performance of Marin Ireland as the grasping Natasha. Interestingly, that old standby the samovar is employed as a cudgel against Schmidt's translation: WSJ's Terry Teachout amusingly offers, "Dude, where's my samovar?", while TheaterMania's David Finkle boggles our minds with the challenging request, "Pass the samovar."

Posted on 02/02/11
Photo from Molly Sweeney
Photo: Carol Rosegg


This emotionally minimalist tragedy gets high marks across the board, with many critics saying that the questions the show raises have followed them home. The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, for instance, calls playwright Brian Friel “the greatest playwright of the English-speaking world,” and calls Molly Sweeney “one of Mr. Friel’s most remarkable plays.” Some warn that the play’s structure--three interlocking monologues--is somewhat static, but the actors overcome this pitfall through engaging performances in the intimate space of the Irish Repertory Theater. Still, the consensus around the production is clear: It's a touching, memorable production that provokes thought through poetic and beautiful language and a compelling human story.

Posted on 02/02/11
Photo from The Whipping Man
Photo: Joan Marcus


Young playwright Matthew Lopez gets due points for originality with his premise--a Jewish slaveholder meets with two of his former slaves, also raised as Jews, on a crumbling, war-ravaged plantation--and Doug Hughes' production gets mostly high marks for the acting, as well as for John Lee Beatty's evocative set. There's less consensus, though, on whether the play lives up to its striking opening, or to a moving Seder scene in the second act; the word "melodrama" crops up in several reviews, and while some critics enjoy that quality for its own sake or think the show's resonances transcend its lurid elements, others ding Lopez for not digging deep enough with a promising situation. The Observer's Jesse Oxfeld, in a thoroughgoing dis, offers the most memorable line; in noting that Beatty subtly affixed a mezuzah to the front door, Oxfeld adds, "Too bad he didn't put some lamb's blood on that door, too--it's a house well worth passing over."

Posted on 02/01/11
Photo from Gruesome Playground Injuries
Photo: Joan Marcus


Critics are looking forward to Rajiv Joseph's Broadway debut with his Pulitzer-finalist play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, but they remain divided on this short two-character study about friends with a tendency to externalize their internal injuries. While most critics agree that Joseph has a knack for dialogue, the biggest complaint is that the characters are underdeveloped, despite the efforts of Pablo Schreiber and Jennifer Carpenter. Critics also praise Ellis's smooth direction and Neil Patel's appropriately sterile set. Note to Matt Windman of amNew York: It was actually Kristoffer Diaz who wrote The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.

Posted on 01/31/11
Photo from The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
Photo: Joan Marcus


If you could graph in three dimensions, dear reader, you could make a chart in which you plotted each of these reviews (Script: Good/Bad, Direction: Good/Bad, Dukakis: Good/Bad). Instead your lowly StageGrade median will have to do. For there is really no consensus about The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. EIther Tennessee Williams' mid-career flop is deserving of greater recognition, or it's a heavy-handed, tonally confused mess. Olympia Dukakis is called out by several reviewers as the one reason to see the show, and by several others as the show's Achilles heel. Even Williams expert Michael Wilson (who helmed last year's smash Orphans' Home Cycle at Signature) fails to emerge as the reviewers' hero. To several, his approach is too straightforward and realistic to manage the plays borderline-camp extremities, while to others his just the right polisher for this diamond in the rough.

Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 01/29/11

Daniel Kitson's solo piece may have had the least promising title in ages--The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church--but this odd, funny import from the U.K. (already closed) got the only grade in the A range over a two-week span of good-to-middling grades beyond Broadway.

On the up side were Fiasco Theater's rollicking rendition of Shakespeare's Cymbeline (also just closed!), which accrued an admiring B+; the same grade goes to the Pearl Theatre's staging of Moliere's The Misanthrope, to Parallel Exit's workplace romp Room 17B, and to the Mint's new revival of an obscure 1909 media satire, What the Public Wants.

It was a relatively steep dropoff in median grades from there to a string of B-minuses, with the most high-profile example being David Auburn's refurbishing of an obscure 1906 farce, The New York Idea. Critics felt similarly unsure about Stephanie Zadravec's Bosnia-set drama, Honey Brown Eyes, about Diana Amsterdam's deathbed meditation Carnival Round the Central Figure, and about Ralph B. Pena's Filipino-American family portrait Flipzoids, all of them garnering a B-.

Perhaps most surprising is the C+ given to Taylor Mac's new reminiscence The Walk Across America to Save Mother Earth, given the ecstatic praise for last piece, The Lily's Revenge. We guess this only proves that the only certainty in show business is that there's no certainty in show business.

Posted on 01/29/11
Photo from What the Public Wants
Photo: Richard Termine


The Mint has another modest success on its hands with this revival of Arnold Bennett's 1909 satire of a social climbing tabloid mogul. Apart from a few dissenters, critics find its observations on the business of media relevant if not revelatory. The generally warm reviews praise the solid cast for its work both individually and as an ensemble, and laud Matthew Arbour's well-turned direction, with a few knocks for the play's stodginess and some inconsistency of tone. We did note with amusement that, in her lede, Elisabeth Vincentelli of the Post stops just short of naming a contemporary equivalent for the play's media emperor, a "driven media tycoon who reaches millions via dozens of publications." Can't bite the hand that feeds you, I guess.

Posted on 01/27/11
Photo from The New York Idea
Photo: Ari Mintz


For some reason, The Atlantic Theater Company has decided to borrow a page from The Mint Theater's mission and do a "worthy but neglected" play from 1906, dusting it off with a major rewrite from Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn. According to the critics, the results range from a light, fairly enjoyable night at the theater to a travesty of epic proportions. While the positive reviews dominate, the chorus of approval is notably muted, with many finding Mark Brokaw's production not quite effervescent enough for the play's proto-screwball antics. David Barbour, once again proving he's Stagegrade's great find, pens a review that gets into the details of the source text, the adaptation and the production to demonstrate what does and doesn't work and why.