Posts Tagged ‘scott elliott’

Culture Vulture: best theater of 2014

December 22, 2014

There was a time when I saw over 200 shows a year. I went to everything I could. I was insatiable. That time is long past. I don’t feel the need to see everything “to keep up,” but I still love going. Here is my list of my ten favorite shows of 2014:

curious-huge1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – I dragged my heels about seeing Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel about an autistic kid with high math skills and low social skills but Marianne Elliott’s staging dazzled me with major contributions from Bunny Christie’s visual design, Steven Hoggett and Scott Graham’s choreography, the superbly contained lead performance by Alex Sharp (above), and Ian Barford’s deep, moving work as his loving, imperfect father.

2. The Ambassador – John Tiffany’s theatrical staging at BAM of a suite of songs about Los Angeles written and performed by Gabriel Kahane (below), the most interesting singer-songwriter I’ve encountered in recent years (Adam Guettel meets Ben Folds, brainy dense lyrics with high conceptual vision and pop friendliness).
AMBASSADOR-articleLarge3. Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Director Michael Mayer did a fantastic job of blowing up John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s beloved up-from-Squeezebox rock musical to fit a Broadway house and helping Neil Patrick Harris more than fill Hedwig’s stacked heels. Special kudos to Mike Albo and Amanda Duarte for the faux-Playbill framing the show as the aftermath of Hurt Locker The Musical.

intimacy cast
4. Intimacy –
The New Group’s Scott Elliott staged Thomas Bradshaw’s outrageous suburban family play, a smart and shocking comic book about the prevalence of pornography in American culture, with brave performances by game actors, none more than David Anzuelo in a role requiring him to be naked and erect every night.

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5. Indian Ink –
The long-delayed New York debut of Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play about sisters, art, and the ownership of memory got a splendid production at the Roundabout by Carey Perloff with a luminous leading performance by Romola Garai with help from Firdous Bamji and the great Rosemary Harris.

6. This Is Our Youth – The terrific cast (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson) made Kenneth Lonergan’s play about overprivileged lost white kids compelling, in Anna D. Shapiro’s Broadway staging.

scenes from a marriage
7. Scenes from a Marriage –
the great Flemish director Ivo van Hove exerted his usual inventiveness in transferring Bergman’s film to the stage at New York Theater Workshop with an immersive set design by Jan Versweyveld and excellent performances by Arliss Howard and Tina Benko (above), Susannah Flood, Alex Hurt, and Mia Katigbak.

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8. Cry, Trojans! –
The Wooster Group managed to go even deeper, weirder, and more complicated than ever with this adaptation of Troilus and Cressida with eerie costumes by Folkert de Jong – hard to love, impossible to forget.

9. St. Matthew Passion – Peter Sellars’ grave, exquisite production of Bach’s oratorio at the Park Avenue Armory showcased the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle’s direction with several great performances, especially by Mark Padmore as The Evangelist (below).

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10. Red-eye to Havre de Grace – This intimate musical spectacle at New York Theater Workshop about the last days of Edgar Allen Poe was a welcome introduction to the quirky talents of writer-director-designer Thaddeus Phillips and composer-performers David and Jeremy Wilhelm.

Other pleasures:

Audra McDonald’s fierce turn as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

Sting’s tuneful original score and David Zinn’s monumental set for The Last Ship

Tyne Daly in Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s season within the Lincoln Center Festival

Landfall, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Kronos Quartet at BAM

The original cast recording of Dogfight, which made me wish I’d seen the show at Second Stage

Theater Review: INTIMACY

March 6, 2014

intimacy logo
I’ve mostly cycled out of writing theater reviews, in an effort to concentrate my writing energy in the direction of my therapy practice. But I couldn’t resist writing about Thomas Bradshaw’s latest play,  Intimacy, because of the issues it raises, particularly about how pornography has become an integral part of our lives in a way that hardly anyone talks about. Directed by Scott Elliott for the New Group, the show is finishing up its run — the last performance is Saturday night. It’s really worth seeing and discussing.

Here’s my first paragraph: Thomas Bradshaw is a 33-year-old black American playwright who might as well have his middle name legally changed to Provocative, because no one seems to be able to talk or write about his work without conjuring that adjective. The most recent of his 11 plays, “Intimacy,” has been playing Off Broadway for the last two months; the production at the New Group concludes its run March 8. I’m fascinated by this play not just as a theater scholar but also as a sex therapist. Bradshaw’s plays almost always address hot-button issues of race, class, and sexuality very directly and explicitly. His previous play, “Burning,” performed at the New Group two years ago, took off from the Marquis de Sade’s “Philosophy in the Bedroom” and included several extremely graphic scenes of simulated sex by naked actors only a few feet away from the audience. “Intimacy” goes even further by taking as its main subject the prevalence of pornography in American culture, specifically as it plays out among three suburban families.

You can read the entire review for CultureVulture online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Theater review: BURNING

December 2, 2011

My review of Thomas Bradshaw’s mind-boggling new play Burning, directed by Scott Elliott at the New Group, has just been posted on CultureVulture.net. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The play is strong stuff but had a big impact on me. “The 30-year-old author of ten plays (including “Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist”), Bradshaw does not, I think, set out primarily to shock, although shock he does…His remarkable accomplishment is to build a clear-eyed contemporary narrative that is as matter-of-fact about sex, drugs, and violence as it is about death, art, and politics. And he does so in a way that makes other playwrights look coy, cowardly, or faint-hearted.” You can read the full review online here.

Theater review: MARIE AND BRUCE

April 12, 2011

Still catching up from last week, I’ve just posted my review of Wally Shawn’s Marie and Bruce, being revived by the New Group in a production starring Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley, beautifully staged by Scott Elliott. I liked everything about the production but one thing. It’s a big but, though. Check out the whole review online here and let me know what you think.

It’s a tough play, in many ways, but I retain very fond memories of the original production at the Public Theater, which I saw not long after I moved to New York in 1980. Directed by the late great Wilford Leach, the production starred Louise Lasser and Bob Balaban (below).

photo by Martha Swope

Performance diary: THE KID

May 8, 2010

May 6 – I’ve been hearing about The Kid, the musical adaptation of Dan Savage’s book about adopting a child with his boyfriend, for several years. A friend of Stephen’s, Michael Zam, wrote the book, and with his partners lyricist Jack Lechner and composer Andy Monroe he has been chasing down producers until Scott Elliott agreed to mount the show at the New Group, directing it himself. And it’s terrific: funny, honest, entertaining, smart, and theatrical, not unlike, say, the musicals of Bill Finn. It tells a real and compelling story with a lot of humor but also a lot of heart, and it’s shockingly free of bogus moments that pander either to the audience or to some tradition of musical theater.

The real Dan Savage is a larger-than-life character already, an incredibly smart, sharp-tongued and potty-mouthed sex columnist and political commentator. I was amazed at how successfully the musical created a stage version of Dan that refers to the real-life guy and yet becomes a separate entity – a tribute to the writing and the directing but mostly to the performance of Christopher Sieber. I’ve never felt one way or another about Sieber, but he really puts out here. It’s a little shocking that he’s chubbed up for the part, which makes him NOT look like Dan Savage, but he stays wonderfully true to the character’s highly neurotic, rage-filled smartass and yet completely inhabits a very intimate vulnerability. Lucas Steele as his boyfriend Terry is fine but somewhat thinly drawn – it’s hard to know what Dan sees in him, other than his being “young and cute” (not my taste, but whatever). But their relationship is sexy and feisty and culturally plugged in (I love the role Bjork plays in their life). And the rest of the cast is absolutely terrific – minor superstars of contemporary New York theater including Ann Harada (Christmas Eve in Avenue Q), Tyler Maynard (Altar Boyz), the spectacularly pale and skinny Brooke Sunny Moriber (The Wild Party, The Dead, Parade), and especially Susan Blackwell (of [title of show] fame), who plays the woman from the adoption agency who serves as liaison to the birth mother whose baby the guys adopt. The story has plenty of potential for both zany comedy and dramatic tension, and the treatment of the birth mother – Melissa, a homeless alcoholic teenager – is handled with extraordinary respect and restraint. She’s very well played by Jeannine Frumess, and everything about her has a different tone than Life At Home with Dan and Terry. The score carefully walks a line between storytelling and show-biz. There’s a modesty about it that I really liked, and there are several moments that are genuinely touching. Melissa’s song, “Sparechangin’,” is a dramatic highpoint that shifts the show to an intriguing deeper layer. Many of the songs are chatty and fun, along the lines of, say, Falsettos or Baby, with the occasional change-of-pace blast (“Seize the Day”). But at key moments things drop into truer and realer in a way that feels really solid (the candidate for instant classic is “I Knew,” a PFLAG anthem if I ever heard one, nicely sung by Jill Eikenberry as Dan’s mother). Bravo to this team for pulling it off. I think The Kid is going to be a hit.

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