Friday, March 31, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Claude Solnik's The Fare at Theater For The New City by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Claude Solnik's The Fare at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Fare
Written by Claude Solnik
Directed by Scott David Reeves
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 3/24/17

The Fare is Claude Solnik's latest play being produced at Theater For The New City. Claude is a prolific playwright who is unafraid to dive into touchy subjects. The Fare is an interesting play and I enjoyed it, but it does have room for improvement. The story leaves little to the imagination and while the dialogue is generally realistic, there are some rough moments. It's direct and punchy, but unfortunately, it fails to deliver a coherent message. It is a fast-paced drama about a banker and a cabbie that gives the audience a chance to contemplate how some Manhattanites might relate to one another in a difficult circumstance. 


The play itself revolves around the conflict between a Pakistani cab driver (Omar, played by Hemang Sharma) and a New York banker (Rich, played by Scott Reeves). We come to learn that neither of the characters is perfect and that while both of them tell the same story to the police and to the audience, they each frame themselves as the victim. After a disagreement regarding the cost of a cab ride after Rich's late night of drinking at a charity event, Omar locks the cab doors on him. In response, Rich pulls out a pen knife. The knife cuts Omar when he reaches through to the back of the cab and somehow Rich runs off leaving the pen knife behind. Rich says injuring Omar was an accident while Omar says it was malicious intent. While this does provide for the drama of the play, there are some inconsistencies that make it questionable. How did Omar's hand end up in the back seat? What is the deal with this fare and how come it is not paid? Now, it may be easy to say "well, that's the point of the play," but yes and no. The banker had the cabbie stop at a deli/convenience store and he could've gone to an ATM if he didn't have any cash to pay for the cab ride. Otherwise, he could have just paid by credit card. Regardless of these details, you may be entertained by the circumstances that envelop the two characters after this confrontation.

The real strength of the plot lies in Rich's fall from grace and subsequent legal battle to reclaim his life. He has a revelation that he may not be leading the life he wants to lead after being fired for the cab confrontation and subsequently filed lawsuits. His friend, Larry the Lawyer (Scott Zimmerman), helps to get his deferred bonus back from his former employer and to fight the criminal charges filed by the District Attorney on behalf of the cabbie. The whole of the banker's life and circumstances feel pretty well-researched. The banker and his wife, Claire (Sarah Sanders) are both high performers who struggle to cope with the potential of not being able to work after the negative press from the cab confrontation affects both their lives and their social circles. They also come to terms with some of the factors that have plagued their relationship over the years. For example, why wasn't she at the charity social event with her husband?

Omar, the Pakistani cabbie, is the other key character. He is pretty much a non-factor during the first act. However, he speaks in asides here and there about how tough it is to be a cabbie in New York. This isn't such a bad thing, but the out-of-place commentary is inserted and presented in an awkward manner. At some point, Omar comes to Rich's door to serve him with papers initiating a civil lawsuit (another unrealistic fact since the party to a lawsuit in New York State is not permitted to serve process - it must be a Process Server or a non-party 18 years of age or older) and then Rich meets with him regularly in a random park at his own insistence. The conversations between these two are interesting and well-thought out despite the truly ridiculous and unrealistic circumstances. The dialogue does raise some serious questions about respecting each other, and yet also sometimes feels like a completely misguided view of what a Pakistani person might feel living in New York City. For example, do all Pakistani's think they are being associated with terrorists especially in New York City, which is fairly liberal? In some ways this over-simplification of characters allows us to address the issue at hand: the perception and social classes of the two characters. However, the play's characters are all very simple and while this allowed for the intended dialogue to take place, it kept the story going in circles toward the end until Sarah Sander's Claire ended it emphatically.

Far and away the acting carried the play, and while they all did a decent job, Scott Reeves as Rich and Hemang Sharma as Omar were stalwarts that displayed their talent by effectively delivering controversial dialogue. I think that without the strong acting, we would have stopped to think more about the strange circumstances of the plot. I felt like Sarah Sanders as Claire started out a little stiff. Without her settling down, I think the play would've suffered even more from the lack of cohesive direction toward the end. There were a lot of issues trying to be addressed by the plot at the same time, and she did a good job of pulling that all together with decisive monologue.

Ultimately, I think this play would have a lot of appeal to young people as it is relevant. However, it relies heavily on current events. While it addresses important subjects such as immigration, class, and relationships, it stated the obvious so much that it could star in a commercial as Captain Obvious. I think that presenting the same idea in a more subtle manner and with a single thesis would allow the play to develop in a manner that impressed upon us a particular idea rather than confronting us with a series of disjointed ideas. At times, I was uncomfortable and that was good, but often, it seemed a little overdone especially with Rich choosing to meet with Omar in the park. It doesn't make sense for either character to want to meet regularly. At least most of the jokes were pretty funny. With a little more development and patience, this same story could look slightly different and be able to communicate a clearer message.

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The House Of Blue Leaves
Written by John Guare
Directed by Dennis Gleason
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 3/26/17

As part of an active U.S. Army Garrison, the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater is a mixed-use facility, hosting live concerts, community performance, and town meetings. Currently, the theater is the permanent home for the Narrows Community Theater, who uses the facility in exchange for offering acting workshops to military families. The Narrows Community Theater has produced at least two shows a year since 1971 and showcases both a regular season as well as youth productions for their students. NCT offers opportunities to learn stagecraft, musical theater performance, acting technique, dance, teamwork, and the "business of show business." The seating at the theater is comfortable, and although it is far below the stage, most of the play is performed toward the edge of the stage due partially to the fact that each character addresses the audience.


The House Of Blue Leaves premiered Off-Broadway in 1971 and was set in 1965 when Pope Paul VI visited New York City. The play won the Drama Critics' Circle and Obie Awards for Best American Play in 1971. Subsequently, it was revived on Broadway in 1986 and again in 2011. The 1986 Broadway revival won multiple Tony Awards. Set in Sunnyside, Queens, the play is about Artie Shaughnessy (played by Gregory Mueller), a zookeeper who dreams of making it big in Hollywood as a songwriter. This dark comedy focuses particularly on Artie's deteriorated relationship with his wife and son alongside his new relationship with Bunny Flingus (Adella Rae). 

In the first act, after failing to win over the crowd at an amateur night at the El Dorado Bar & Grill, we find Artie asleep in a sleeping bag on the couch. First, his seventeen-year-old son Ronnie breaks into the apartment and then Bunny Flingus arrives in a whirlwind of support, demands, and anger. While she wakes up Artie to go see the Pope, Bananas (Christa Comito) appears. Bananas is Artie's mentally unstable wife and while she showcases that instability, Artie forces pills down her throat and works to keep her out of the kitchen where Bunny is hiding. Bananas discovers Bunny sparking a confrontation between them that ends with Artie telling Bananas he is tired of taking care of her and that he is planning to place her in a mental institution. Artie then calls Billy Einhorn (Nicholas Hudson) to tell him of his plan to move to California. Artie had been promising Bunny that Billy would help him make it to the top. Bananas, Bunny, and Artie then go down to the street to get a glimpse of the Pope during which time Ronnie comes out of his room with a box of dynamite.

The first act of the play was completed for a staged reading in 1966, but it took a few years before John Guare was able to complete the second act - and it shows. The second act is a lot more farcical and includes the majority of the characters of the play starting with Ronnie discussing his eagerness to have been cast as Huckleberry Finn. The second act seemed a lot more like a string of one-off moments as the characters either stumbled over or betrayed each other in some way. For example, Ronnie kills Billy Einhorn's bride to be, Corinna Stroller. Einhorn then arrives to identify Corinna's body and runs off with Bunny to Australia.

The first act was funnier, but that may have also been in part to the delivery of the three main actors who were the only ones on stage and the best in the play. The performances of Adella Rae (Bunny) and Christa Comito (Bananas) demonstrated their skill and talent. Gregory Mueller's (Artie) performance stood out alongside these two. The play itself was light-hearted, comical, and amusing, but it in no way left the audience "roaring in laughter" as some critics wrote of the original production and revivals.

Ultimately, this was a quality production of The House Of Blue Leaves. It may have had a little more potential if delivered with an exorbitant budget on Broadway but for $20.00 at Fort Hamilton, it is a lot of fun and a great deal. The performance of the lead actresses will impress you and, if you like, you can contemplate whether you would sacrifice your integrity, marriage, and friendships on your quest for fame and fortune. Online tickets can be purchased for $20.00 at http://narrowscommunitytheater.com. The play runs through April 2nd.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The House Of Blue Leaves
Written by John Guare
Directed by Dennis Gleason
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 3/26/17

The House Of Blue Leaves premiered Off-Broadway on February 10, 1971 at the Truck & Warehouse Theatre, where it ran for 337 performances. A revival that opened Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on March 19, 1986 transferred to Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on April 29, 1986 where it played for five months before transferring again to the Plymouth Theatre on October 14, 1986, closing on March 15, 1987 for a total run of 398 performances. This production won four Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play (Jerry Zaks), Best Featured Actor in a Play (John Mahoney), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Swoosie Kurtz), and Best Scenic Design (Tony Walton). A 2011 Broadway Revival began previews on April 4, 2011, opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 25, 2011. A limited sixteen-week engagement was anticipated but it closed early on June 25, 2011 after 21 previews and 72 performances. 


The play is set in Sunnyside, Queens in 1965, on the day Pope Paul VI visited New York City to perform a mass at Yankee Stadium. The night before, Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper who aspires to become a famous singer/songwriter in Hollywood, sang at Amateur Night before an inattentive audience at the El Dorado Bar & Grill. Bunny Flingus, his girlfriend and neighbor (who will sleep with him anytime but will not cook for him until they're married) continues to encourage him to call Billy Einhorn, his childhood buddy who is now a famous director in Hollywood, in the hope that if Billy hears Artie's music that he might become a big success. Besides Artie's lack of talent, another barrier to this plan is that Artie is already married to Bananas, a woman with severe mental problems who Artie hopes to have committed to a mental institution. Ronnie, Artie's son, has gone AWOL from Ft. Dix and, to gain some notoriety, plans to pose as an Altar Boy in order to kill the Pope. He tells the audience, "My Sergeant laughs at me and my father thinks I'm nothing." When as a child he performed for Billy Einhorn in the hope of getting cast as Huckleberry Finn, Billy responded to the performance by saying to Artie, "You never told me you had a mentally retarded child and that I had an idiot for a godchild." Ronnie, feeling humiliated, ran to his room. He has always felt ignored and disrespected. Ironically, when Ronnie tells his father of his plans to kill the Pope, Artie doesn't even pause to acknowledge what was just said to him. Ronnie is ultimately arrested for being AWOL but the bomb ends up killing Corinna Stroller (Billie's deaf girlfriend, successfully portrayed by Allison Greaker, who lost her hearing in a "very realistic" mine explosion on the set of her last movie) and two of the three nuns from a convent in Ridgewood (who climbed to the top of Artie's building to get a better look at the Pope). Ronnie, played by the very talented and charismatic Jacob Henry (on the night I saw the play), put in an impressive performance and had an extraordinarily moving monologue that opened the second act. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Adella Rae did a good job as the flighty, but determined, Bunny Flingus, the ambitious young woman who hopes Artie Shaughnessy will be her ticket to success and financial stability. Bunny has saved $1,000.00 working as an astronomer's assistant (she thinks Orion is "the Irish constellation"), in a law office, at a travel agency, in a furniture store, as an usher, and at ConEd. When her plans to go to California fall through, she betrays Artie by leaving for Australia with Billy (She thanks Artie for having been "a good neighbor" and sincerely tells him, "All my life I've been treated like an old shoe & you've turned me into a glass slipper."). Nicholas Hudson was very strong as Billy Einhorn and I particularly appreciated his little "kangaroo hand gesture." Artie betrayed his wife by cheating on her, by planning to divorce her, and by making arrangements to have her committed to a mental institution. Christa Comito stole the show as Bananas Shaughnessy, showing just the right balance between sanity and insanity (Her best line came when she dressed up for Billy and said, "It's a shame it's 1965. I'm like the best-dressed woman of 1954.") Objecting to being sent to a mental institution (that has a tree outside with bluebirds in it which Artie mistook for blue leaves), she argues for being allowed to stay at home even if her prescription medications have taken away her ability to feel. She says, "I don't need to feel as long as I'm in a place where I remember feeling." Billy betrayed Artie by having no interest in his music and telling him, "The most important talent in the world is to be an audience." Billy also stole his girlfriend and paid the remaining nun to move into Bunny's apartment to help Artie take care of Bananas. With a lot of money in hand, the nun decides to betray God and the Catholic Church by either taking her vows with her fingers crossed or else to leave entirely ("I wanted to be the Bride of Christ, but I guess now, I am a divorcee"). When Bananas first saw the three nuns sitting on their couch watching the television, she asked Artie, "Did you bring your work home from the office?" to which he responded, "Bananas, they're nuns, not penguins!" The hilarious nuns were played by Dawn Barry Hansen (Head Nun), Nancy Cucinotta (Second Nun), and Sherry Wallack (Little Nun). The most disagreeable character in the show, successfully portrayed by Gregory Mueller as a lower-class, bigoted, immoral "bull in a china shop," was Artie Shaughnessy, a character you will absolutely despise. The man was cruel to his Italian wife and couldn't even comfort his friend Billy, who was grieving over the loss of Corinna. All he wanted to do is to promote his own career at any cost. He even despised the Pope and criticized him and his "Dago friends" who were flying to the United States first class. He scoffed at the Pope's blessing of his sheet music, telling the audience, "You've heard these songs. They don't need blessings!" All I can say is that I hope his character literally and repeatedly gets his just reward in the end, which is entirely possible given where Artie's next residence is likely to be. 

The House Of Blue Leaves is an extremely funny play. In terms of making fun of crazy people, it is very politically incorrect. It also might be offensive to Christians since one of the nuns stole a pair of binoculars while another was willing to betray her vows after she came into money. The entire Shaughnessy family and Bunny are not very good Christians. Artie is cheating on his wife. Bunny is sleeping with a married man. Ronnie murders people and Bananas tries to maim Bunny to make her less attractive to her husband. Even Billy grieves for 5 minutes over the death of Corinna before taking up with another woman. The play is full of morally bankrupt characters seeking fame, fortune, and immediate gratification. If this doesn't deter you, I think you will enjoy this play and have a thoroughly entertaining evening. The show runs through April 2, 2017 at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater (bring ID). Tickets cost $20.00 for adults, $15.00 for seniors, and $15.00 for students under 21 years of age. You can make reservations at www.NCTheaterNY.com. For more information, call 718-482-3173.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of King Lear at The Secret Theatre by Christopher M. Struck

This review of King Lear at The Secret Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

King Lear
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alberto Bonilla
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 3/25/17

The Secret Theatre is a custom built theatre and rehearsal rooms facility in the heart of Long Island City's artists' quarter. The place feels brand new and well-kept despite being around since 2007. It has a long history of performing Shakespeare's plays. Despite the nice aesthetics, the seating is a little close together and isn't all that soft after a few hours of sitting. However, it is very easy to see the production and there is no separation between the front row and the stage, which probably influenced the decision of the director to use stage knives instead of swords making for some interesting takes on the classic fight scenes.


King Lear has been regarded as one of Shakespeare's supreme achievements. Originally drafted in 1605/1606, it has been produced regularly throughout the centuries with some modifications. The play follows the descent of King Lear as his actions in response to his various daughters slowly precipitate the gradual losing of his mind. The happy kingdom, as quoted by Richard Mazda as the Earl of Gloucester, may have "seen the best of times" but domestic insurrection and internal conflict will follow King Lear's decision to disinherit his youngest and most precious daughter Cordelia (Meggy Hai Trang) for her unwillingness or inability to explain to her father the nature of the "pure love" she holds for him. Her older sisters, Goneril (Elizabeth A. Davis) and Regan (Melissa Macleod), heap praise upon their father only to undermine and plot against him later. With no inheritance, the Duke of Burgundy has no interest in marrying Cordelia, while the King Of France promises himself to her and views her as a sincere person who is praiseworthy. The King of France isn't the only one to call King Lear's actions into question. The "noble" Earl of Kent (Arthur Lazalde) also attempts to defend Cordelia only to find himself banished from the kingdom.

Goneril and Regan's disingenuous statements and subsequent betrayals of their father eventually drive King Lear to the brink of madness. Goneril, the King's eldest daughter, becomes frustrated with the King's entourage and publicly rebukes him. Oswald, her steward, blatantly shows him disrespect, which angers him greatly. One suspects Goneril might take her father's life if her entourage was ever larger than his. When the King appeals to Regan, his middle daughter, for help, she sides with her sister suggesting the King reduce the size of his personal forces to nothing. This, combined with Regan's mistreatment of the King's messenger results in him storming off into the woods during a terrible thunderstorm with no one by his side but his Fool (Jack Herholdt). King Lear rebukes the gods for turning his daughters against him. The Earl of Kent offers his help to Cordelia, who has arrived at Dover with an army from France intent on returning King Lear to power over his daughters, Goneril and Regan, who have overstepped their bounds. Fearful the elder daughters plan to assassinate the King, the Earl of Gloucester sends him to Dover to meet up with the French army and Cordelia.

Meanwhile, Edmund (Zachary Clark), the Earl of Gloucester's illegitimate son, first manipulates his father into turning against Edgar (Nick Chris), his brother, and then betrays his father to the Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband). In the ensuing confrontation between the Duke of Cornwall and the Earl of Gloucester, the Duke is mortally wounded by his own servant who tries to prevent the complete blinding of Gloucester, who sets off on the road to Dover. Edmund, now Earl in his father's place, uses this opening to turn Goneril and Regan against each other and to further enhance his position and power. When the English capture Cordelia and King Lear during the defeat of the French, he plans to have both the King and Cordelia killed. Fortunately, Edgar discovers his blind father on the road to Dover, and when Oswald appears with instructions to kill Gloucester, Edgar saves his father's life. Also on Oswald is a letter from Goneril to Edmund asking him to kill her husband, the Duke of Albany.

The play wraps up where it began, in the King's court. Edgar arrives just after the capture of Lear and Cordelia. He appears in disguise and defeats Edmund in a duel to the death. During this same scene, Goneril poisons Regan and then, when confronted by the Duke of Albany with the letter Edgar found, she commits suicide. As Edmund dies, he confesses to having planned assassinations of Lear and Cordelia that same day. Albany and Edgar rush to the rescue but they are too late. The play ends with King Lear returning to the stage with the body of Cordelia (In some Shakespeare's editions, either the Duke of Albany or Edgar become King). 

The casting was really well done for this play. Zachary Clark, who played Edmund, was a standout performer who brought much energy to the part. Arthur Lazalde as the Earl of Kent delivered some of the few comedic lines in this generally dark play. The extremely talented Jack Herholdt appeared as the Fool (the King's constant companion)  and Elizabeth A. Davis was particularly impressive in the lead female role. On the other hand, there were a few times it was hard to understand what was being said. Shakespeare's lines can be mouthfuls. At times, it was a little difficult to understand Austin Pendleton as King Lear. While he delivered some excellent monologues, he stumbled over more than a few lines. However, he acted the mad King at the end of the play with flair. 

In the Secret Theatre's production of King Lear, modern songs are used to accompany certain scenes, especially during Poor Tom's parts (Poor Tom was Edgar's disguise after being shunned by his father). Most of Poor Tom's original dialogue was a hodgepodge of popular lyrics from Shakespeare's heydey. In this production, the action is framed as a recollection occurring within the mind of King Lear, now a hospitalized, dying man. I think these adaptations, along with stage props and lighting, created a cool and eerie atmosphere that made the personal descent of the King into madness more pronounced. 

Go see this Shakespearean Tragedy at The Secret Theatre! It is wonderfully done and offers one of the best examples of Tragedy you will ever see. King Lear runs almost every night (except Mondays and Tuesdays) between March 23rd and April 9th. Tickets can be reserved for $18.00 ($20.00 at the door) on their website at http://www.secrettheatre.com 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Thorton Wilder's Our Town at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Thorton Wilder's Our Town at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Our Town
Written by Thorton Wilder
Directed by Frank Dispigno
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 3/24/17

We all know the dates of major historical events and sometimes we are lucky to have books available written by those who were involved providing context and perspective to those moments that influenced the society in which we currently live. But it is rarer to obtain glimpses into the daily lives and struggles of everyday people facing challenges, dreams, and the eventuality of death. The Stage Manager tells us Our Town is such a story. It is divided into three basic parts. In "Daily Life," the Stage Manager introduces us to the fictitious town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire (population 2,642 people), telling us where the main buildings of the town are located and who some of the people are who reside there. The second part entitled "Love & Marriage" occurs a few years later when George Gibbs and Emily Webb are preparing to get married. They suffer from marriage jitters and we learn about the moment they acknowledged their love for one another. The third part of the play, "Death & Dying," takes place in a cemetery. We come to understand that most people do not appreciate life. They spend and waste time as if they had a million years to live failing to appreciate the joy that can be found in simple everyday activities. The Stage Manager intends to place the book Our Town into a time capsule so future generations will know how we lived.


Our Town was first presented on January 22, 1938 at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey before opening on Broadway on February 4, 1938 at Henry Miller's Theatre (later moved to the Morosco Theatre) and closing on November 19, 1938 after 336 performances. Thorton Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this work in 1938. There were four subsequent Broadway revivals of Our Town at City Center (January 10-29, 1944 - 24 performances), ANTA Playhouse (November 27-December 27, 1969 - 3 previews and 36 performances), Lyceum Theatre (November 9, 1988-April 2, 1989 - 27 previews and 136 performances), and Booth Theatre (November 22, 2002-January 26, 2003 - 15 previews and 59 performances). The 1989 Broadway Revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival. An interesting side note is that in 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave." That fact raises the issue of whether the message of this play is, in its essence, uplifting (enabling those who see it to better appreciate every moment of their lives and to truly pay attention to those people sharing it with you), or depressing (people are so busy distracting themselves with worthless, time-consuming endeavors they think are meaningful until the day they die). Mrs. Gibbs never did get to spend her legacy money on a trip to Paris, France because Doc Gibbs was concerned seeing Paris might make him discontent with Grover's Corners. I guess, in the end, the choice is up to you. You can appreciate the sunrise and the birds and see where a strawberry ice cream soda will lead or you can become depressed at the monotony and sameness of everyday existence. Millions of ancestors setting out to live two by two leading boring lives, which the Stage Manager as Minister (and perhaps The Mind Of God) says is entertaining "once in a thousand times."  

The strength of this production lies with the very powerful performances of Evan Donnellan as George Gibbs, and Nicole Intravia as Emily Webb. They have a great rapport and their bonding at the ice cream parlor is an extremely tender moment. In anticipation of showing us how their relationship got started, the Stage Manager tells the audience, "I want you to try and remember what it was like to have been very young. And particularly the days when you were first in love; when you were like a person sleepwalking, and you didn't quite see the street you were on and didn't quite hear everything that was said to you. You're just a little bit crazy. Will you remember that, please?" In deciding to take over Uncle Luke's farm now and not go away to State Agricultural College for three years, George reflects that "new people aren't any better than old ones" and that there is no reason to risk losing a possible life-partner you love by going away to college. He asks Emily if she might be able to love him if he stops being conceited and stuck-up to which Emily confesses she has always loved him. George reflects, "I think that once you've found a person that you're fond of...I mean a person who's fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character...Well, I think that's just as important as college is, and even more so. That's what I think." At the end of their conversation, George realizes he doesn't have the money to pay for the strawberry ice cream sodas and asks the store owner to give him a short time to run home to get the cash. Reflecting the trust existing in a small town where nobody locks their doors, the store owner tells George, "I will trust you for 10 years - not a day more!"

Gail Merzer Behrens is outstanding as the adventurous Mrs. Julia Gibbs, who sings in the Choir of the Congregationalist Church (They leave LOUD to the Methodists) and believes that "once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don't talk English and don't even want to." Frank ("Doc") Gibbs, well-played by Gary Tifeld, has a very moving moment with his teenage son explaining to him how his actions have caused his mother to be unduly burdened. Kathleen Eberhardt is a fine actress, who as Mrs. Myrtle Webb, has trouble having "the birds and bees" discussion with her daughter. When Emily asks if she is good-looking enough to attract boys, Mrs. Webb tells her, "you're pretty enough for all normal purposes." Michael Cesarano more than holds his own as Charles Webb, Editor of Grover's Corners Sentinel, which comes out twice a week. Rob Gold was hilarious as Professor Willard, and Daniel Schinina was quite charismatic as Joe Crowell and Sam Craig. Also worthy of note are Tina Lauro, who played Mrs. Carter, and Becky Neuhedel, who as Mrs. Louella Soames, provided a bit of comic relief at George & Emily's wedding. Scott Hofer, a very respected presence in the Long Island Theater Community, was the Stage Manager, and Tom Brown, another talented local actor sold concessions during intermission so we were surrounded by talent all around. There wasn't a weak link in the cast. Everyone performed to perfection. 

Our Town was the Seinfeld and reality television show of its day. It's Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb asking the milkman for more bottles than they originally ordered because relations are unexpectedly coming over. It's George Gibbs throwing soap at his sister Rebecca when both are getting ready to go to school. It's Doc Gibbs returning home late after delivering two babies in Polishtown (across the tracks where the new Catholic Church was built). It's gossip over how Simon Stinson (the choir director and church organist played by Eric Clavell) continues to have drinking problems and has been in "a peck of trouble." Although the play is basically about nothing except people living their everyday lives, it will still give you much to think about and have a lasting impact on how you view life. Two different reflections on life are provided by Simon Stinson and Emily Webb from their final resting places. Simon says, "That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To always be at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another." After having re-lived a portion of a single day of her life, Emily observed, "It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize all that was going on we never noticed...Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world, Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Whether or not you leave agreeing all human beings are blind people walking around in a cloud of ignorance unaware of the preciousness of life, you will be thoroughly entertained by this production of Our Town, which plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through April 9, 2017.  Tickets are $25.00. Reserve them by visiting www.StudioTheatreLI.com. For more information, call 631-226-8400.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical 
Based on the novel "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde"
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden & Frank Wildhorn
Book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricuse
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Directed & Choreographed by Paul Stancato
The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport
250 Main Street
Northport, New York 11768
Reviewed 3/19/17

Some people who appear to be moral and upright have a dark side they don't reveal to others for fear of being shunned, condemned and/or ostracized. Secret thoughts, attractions, and fetishes are not often shared in public but are kept undisclosed behind a facade. The Bishop who visits prostitutes and the Priest who has a special relationship with his altar boys are not likely to announce their indiscretions to their congregations. Poor delusional Dr. Henry Jekyll thinks he may be able to chemically separate the good from the evil in human beings and discover how to banish all evil from the planet. He had hoped to experiment in a controlled setting but when the Board of Governors of St. Jude's Hospital turns him down, he decides to use himself as the so-called guinea pig. The potion of chemicals he ingests brings out a murderous side of Dr. Jekyll, who he calls Mr. Edward Hyde. That man, by his own admission, "walks with Satan" and is "more dangerous than any animal stalking his prey." Mr. Hyde increasingly becomes the dominant personality and even though the transformations are now taking place more often and without notice, Dr. Jekyll still believes with a slight adjustment in the chemical formulation of his potion, he will be able to control Mr. Hyde's murderous rampages. However, Mr. Hyde knows the truth. He tells Dr. Jekyll, "Can't you see, you are me! I'll  live inside you forever. They'll never be able to separate Jekyll from Hyde." Jekyll becomes increasing concerned Hyde might be right and says, "Have I lost my mind. Will I lose the day?" Jekyll fears he will disappear forever and instructs his attorney, in the case of his unexplained absence for three months, to give his entire estate to Edward Hyde. But even that is insufficient. After Jekyll realizes Hyde has killed Lucy Harris, an entertainment specialist and the main attraction at The Red Rat, he knows Hyde must be stopped at all costs, and in the last moments of his self-consciousness as Dr. Henry Jekyll, he releases his fiance, who Hyde had taken hostage, and begs his best friend, John Utterson, to take his life while he still can. 

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical is based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde." It was first presented at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, where it ran from May-July, 1990. After embarking on a national tour of North America, the show premiered on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on March 21, 1997 (previews) and officially opened on April 28, 1997. The musical played an almost four-year run and became the longest-running show in the history of the Plymouth Theatre, closing on January 7, 2001 after 1,543 regular performances. There was a Broadway revival of the musical at the Marquis Theatre, which opened on April 5, 2013 and closed on May 12, 2013 following 29 regular performances and 15 previews.  

This production is another huge success for The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport that maintains a reputation for putting on Broadway quality shows. Nathaniel Hackmann is superb as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. He carries off his alternative personalities with aplomb and uses his hair, voice, hand gestures and body language to signal the arrival of evil and the return of good. Caitlyn Caughell is extremely impressive and exhibits her extraordinary talent and singing ability in the role of Lucy Harris. I particularly liked her renditions of "Sympathy, Tenderness," "Someone Like You," "A New Life," and "In His Eyes," her duet with Emma Carew, Dr. Jekyll's fiance, played to perfection by Liana Hunt. Emma's duet with her father, "Letting Go," was emotionally moving and extremely well down. Jeff Williams had a hard task trying to remain supportive of his future son-in-law while looking out for the welfare of his daughter and maintaining his own reputation at the same time. I thought Mr. Williams handled that challenge well making Sir Danvers Carew a believable, real person. Also worthy of note is Tom Lucca, who played John Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's best friend and attorney. Jekyll deeply respects his friend and noted that even Hyde warned him of the danger when Utterson happened to come upon Hyde one day in Dr. Jekyll's laboratory. The remaining stellar cast was top-notch. I particularly enjoyed the entire ensemble when they sang the two big production numbers, "Facade" and "Murder, Murder." Lucy Harris and the Ensemble were amazing when singing "Bring On The Men." The funniest line in the musical was when Lucy said, "Triple sandwiches are my favorite ones. I'm also partial to buns."

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical plays at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport through April 30, 2017. Tickets are $76.00 on Saturday evenings and $71.00 all other shows. The performance schedule is as follows: Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. You can purchase tickets by calling 631-261-2900, going online at www.EngemanTheater.com 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Maggie's Little Theater production of Something's Afoot at St. Margaret's Parish Hall by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Maggie's Little Theater production of Something's Afoot at St. Margaret's Parish Hall was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Something's Afoot
Book, Music & Lyrics by James McDonald, David Vos & Robert Gerlach
Additional Music by Ed Linderman
Direction & Choreography by Whitney Stone
Musical Director: Sarah Glassman
St. Margaret's Parish Hall
66-05 79th Place
Middle Village, New York 11379
Reviewed 3/18/17

Something's Afoot premiered at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, Georgia in 1972. It eventually made its way to Broadway opening at the Lyceum Theatre on May 27, 1976 and closing on July 18, 1976 after 61 performances and 13 previews. It subsequently ran in 1977 in London at the Ambassadors Theatre for 232 performances and was nominated that year for the Olivier Award for Best Musical of the Year. It is a murder mystery musical that spoofs detective stories in general and the works of Agatha Christie (i.e. And Then There Were None a/k/a Ten Little Indians), in particular. 


This production of Something's Afoot is charmingly performed by a dedicated cast of talented actors. The show is quite entertaining and I strongly recommend you see it. While there will be murder, as you might expect, the play also features love (lost and found), bravery, greed, infidelity, gruesome dismemberment, sexual assault, and more than a few cups of tea consumed (after all, the show is set in England in the late Spring of 1935). Between deaths, you will hear some lovely musical numbers, my favorites which included "A Marvelous Weekend," "Something's Afoot," "Carry On," "I Don't Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)," "Suspicious," "Problematical Solution (The Dinghy Song)," "I Owe It All," and "New Day." Miss Tweed, the elderly amateur detective, will do her best to help you solve the mystery and during intermission, you can speculate who might be doing what to whom while you consume reasonably priced baked goods, hot dogs, and refreshments. The set is beautiful and well-constructed, and the six live musicians add to your enjoyment of the show. All is all, if you attend, you will have quite a delightful time!

As for the plot, a number of people start to arrive who have been invited to spend the weekend at Lord Dudley Rancour's mansion, which is surrounded by a lake. When the wealthy lord is found dead, a storm prevents the remaining guests from leaving. A mysterious lad appears and we start to learn more about the backgrounds of the staff and invited guests. The only thing I can tell you (because I have been sworn to secrecy) is that Clive, the butler, played by Jim Gillespie, did not do it. That would have been too much of a cliche. The remaining staff includes Lettie, the saucy maid (Amelia Johnston) and Flint, the caretaker (Jason Kell), who is also a "gripper" (Ladies Beware!).  Guests include Dr. Grayburn, the family doctor (Rich Feldman), Nigel Rancour, the black sheep nephew (Navin Das), Lady Grace Manley-Prowe, The Grande Dame (Beatrice Miranda Holman), Colonel Gillweather, the old army man you can call Shirley (Mark York), Miss Tweed (Shana Aborn), Hope Langdon, The Ingenue (Kaitlyn Alexandria Abdul), and Geoffrey, the college student who is the only uninvited guest (Ryan Hiers).  

Miss Tweed is given the best lines in the show, which included, "Nothing is simple when murder is involved" and "Even the hardest criminal can, on occasion, display charm." She also gets to say "Something's Afoot" while literally holding a shoe, the only remaining piece of clothing belonging to one of the dearly departed. Shana Aborn excelled in the role of Miss Tweed even though her voice may not be as strong as it once was. The standout performers in this production were Kaitlyn Alexandria Abdul, who played Hope, and Ryan Hiers, who played Geoffrey. Ms. Abdul moved well on stage and was quite engaging. Mr. Hiers is very charismatic and talented. I look forward to seeing more of his work. The remaining cast members all did a fine job. If I were to nit-pick, I would say that Mark York was about twenty years too old to play the part of Col. Gillweather and that Navin Das, who sang "I Know What I Am Looking For" left a lot to be desired. But overall, the cast carried out their respective roles well and the production turned out to be a huge success.

Something's Afoot will be at Maggie's Little Theater through March 26, 2017. Tickets cost $20.00 for adults, $15.00 for seniors, and $12.00 for children. You can make your reservations by visiting www.MaggiesLittleTheater.org. Don't miss this show or forget to say, "God Bless You, Agatha Christie!"

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Schoenberg Spotlight Review of Kong: Skull Island by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of the movie Kong: Skull Island was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in The Schoenberg Spotlight.

Kong: Skull Island
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek Connolly
Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures & Legendary Pictures
Reviewed 3/18/17

I watched Kong: Skull Island on Saturday, March 18, 2017. It was an action-packed movie in search of a logical and believable plot. It is radically different from the three original King Kong movies that basically follow the same plot. In the three movies, a movie maker goes in search of a mysterious creature on an unknown island. While on the long voyage, the actress falls in love with the first mate. She is offered up as a sacrifice by the natives to King Kong who falls in love with her and protects her. The crew successfully captures the beast after losing some of their number to prehistoric creatures. The great ape bursts out of an entertainment center in NYC, goes on a rampage, and climbs the highest building with our heroine before being killed. As the movie maker declared in the original 1933 film, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."


The first still holds up with some of the best special effects of the time. It also birthed a sequel, The Son Of Kong, the same year. Both were critical and commercial successes. As Wikipedia notes, "The original King Kong is especially noted for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and a groundbreaking musical score by Max Steiner. In 1991, it was deemed 'culturally, historically and aesthetically significant' by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry." The 1976 version directed by Dino De DeLaurentiis was highly successful at the Box Office despite mixed reviews by the critics. The sequel, King Kong Lives! was a failure at the Box Office. The 2005 version was both a commercial and critical success acclaimed for its state of the art special effects, excellent acting, and its sense of spectacle. King Kong has also starred in various Japanese movies but since I have not seen them, I will not review them. The latest instalment of the King Kong franchise lacks the logical continuity of the original plot. In the three King Kong movies, you actually have three plots: a romance between the actress and someone on the ship, King Kong's infatuation with the actress, and the capture, rampage (or escape), and death of King Kong.

In the latest version, we lack one simple logical plot. Out of nowhere, a scientific expedition is organized under cloak and dagger to go to a mysterious island. It is never clear what the expedition is supposed to achieve because its objectives keep on constantly changing. No one falls in love with anyone. There is no chemistry between the female photographer and the private tracker. The human beings are stick figures - not real live persons - the actors cannot bring to life. A nerdy geologist can shoot a big gun during the fighting without any training and hit the target every time. In the end, you get a lot of action but no interaction to bring whatever the plot is together, to life, or to a believable reality. The expedition invades the turf of King Kong who fights back at the invaders. The six or eight helicopters on the ship become fifteen before all are destroyed by Kong. There appear to be about twenty survivors as they land on the island but despite losing fifty or sixty people, there are still about ten left to return home.

In the threesome, you care about the characters because the movie took the time to develop the relationships and show them intimately together. On the island, we see King Kong as a gentle creature that falls in love with a girl while surviving in the jungle. King Kong dies tragically, but heroically, a creature trapped in a world not of his making, defending his turf and someone he loves. We care about the romantic couple, the actress and her lover, who will go on to make a life for themselves. In this new version, everyone is an action figure of superhero dimension. You enjoy the thrill but you don't really care what happens to them.

Where a couple of bullets brought down the mighty King Kong in the original threesome, the multitude of awesome weapons cannot lay a finger on King Kong who also battles a prehistoric monster. Samuel L. Jackson, the military leader of the expedition, decides to battle King Kong in order to punish him for killing some of his men even though this makes no logical sense. He would have been court-martialed in the real world for putting his people at risk once it was clear that anyone that he wanted to rescue was already dead. Toward the end, Kong bonds in a few seconds with the female photographer, protects her from an awesome prehistoric monster, and lets her go. The expedition leaves King Kong respectfully behind as they are rescued.

There is a lot of action in Kong: Skull Island but no coherent plot to tie stuff together. Our sympathies are muddied so we don't know for whom to cheer. You may enjoy the slaughter and the special effects but you will leave asking yourself, "Why should I care?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of It Shoulda Been You at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of It Shoulda Been You at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

It Shoulda Been You
Based on a concept by Barbara Anselmi
Book & Lyrics by Brian Hargrove
Music by Barbara Anselmi
Additional Lyrics by Michael Cooper, Will Randall,
Carla Rose Fisher, Ernie Lijo & Jill Abramovitz
Directed by Ronald Green III
Musical Director: Melissa Coyle
Choreographer: Allison Carella
Set Design: Timothy Golebiewski
Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts
2 East Main Street
Smithtown, New York 11787
Reviewed 3/11/17

It Should Been You premiered at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey on October 4, 2011 closing on November 4, 2011. It eventually made its way to Broadway opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with previews from March 17, 2015 with an official opening on April 14, 2015. The show closed after 31 previews and 135 regular performances. It is a highly entertaining play with an enjoyable score and a well-written book. Brian Howard, a Christian, is marrying Rebecca Steinberg, a Jew, and their parents couldn't be prouder except for a few reservations given their different religious beliefs. But as it turns out, Brian and Rebecca have more in common than is at first apparent. The web of deceit and chicanery is being aided and abetted by Greg, Brian's Best Man, and Annie, Rebecca's Co-Maid of Honor. They, too, harbor secrets. Clueless and out of the loop are Jenny, Rebecca's sister, and Marty, who was friends with both sisters and was accidentally told about the wedding. After some delays, second-thoughts, and disruptions, the wedding goes on as planned and the first act ends with a pair of unlikely kisses. The second act is far more interesting and humorous than the first. No matter what you think of the first act, don't leave! Every song, joke, and interaction in the second act will capture your attention as the book takes you on a roller-coaster ride that leads to three more wedding ceremonies and the announcement of a pregnancy. But who could the father possibly be?


This production of It Shoulda Been You features an extremely talented cast, live music, and some memorable show tunes. The impressive lead actress in the show is Katie Hoffman, who plays Jenny Steinberg, the bride's sister and Co-Maid of Honor. She has a marvelous voice and is given plenty of opportunities to show it off when singing "I Never Wanted This," "This Day" (with the full company), "Perfect" (with Rebecca & later with Marty), "Who" (with Marty), "Beautiful," and "Jenny's Blues." The Jewish Steinberg Parents, Judy (Emily Nadler) and Murray (Joe Morris) are stronger than the Christian Howard Parents, Georgette (Anne-Marie Finnie) and George (Mark T. Cahill) but all do a fine job. The parents' performance of "That's Family" is quite memorable. Judy also nails "What They Never Tell You." Brian Howard (Joey Mele) has good chemistry with Greg Madison (Bobby Peterson) as does Rebecca Steinberg (Katie Ferretti) with Annie Shepard (Alicia Bagley). Brian and Rebecca are also believable as having been long-time friends. Rebecca raised important issues while singing the lyrics of "A Little Less Than" and the most hilarious number was "Love You Till The Day," a duet sung to the new bride and groom by Greg and Annie. You have to see this number performed to fully appreciate it. Scott Johnson was particularly believable as Marty Kaufman and I was emotionally moved by his rendition of "Whatever." If I was so inclined, I might even have said yes. Mark Decaterina was forgettable and uninspired in the role of Albert, the Wedding Planner. Jodi Saladino was fine as jealous, spiteful, inebriated Aunt Sheila (she also was Mimsy) while Carl Tese was too old to be cast as Walt, the Busboy (he was also Uncle Morty).

Jenny's best line was when she told her mother she thought she saw a rat, "It came out of the closet but I think it went back in." Annie's best line was "I think it's easier to be black than it is to be gay. I never had to tell anyone I was black." Giving grief to his dad, Brian told his father, "Nature or nurture - it's your fault." Albert's best two lines were "It's time for the wedding deception" and "I didn't see that coming!" Murray Steinberg responded to the line "You can't imagine how shocked we were when we found out" by saying "Yes, I think I can" and when someone was hesitating about revealing yet another secret, Georgette Howard said, "Please! That horse has left the barn!" Georgette turns out to be one happy camper when she finds out her son is gay (for reasons I shall leave undisclosed) while Brian's father George is thrilled his son scored a home run for their team. 

It Shoulda Been You is the third show in the 15th season of the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts. It is a delightful and funny musical I highly recommend you see. "Once you start coming out" to see shows at this theatre, you will be quite impressed with their quality and will find it "hard to stop." Just don't throw up in the Ladies Room and make sure you don't unintentionally reveal any secrets there while Aunt Sheila is having sex with the Busboy in the next stall. Oh, and as a lawyer, I highly recommend you have your future life partner sign that prenuptial agreement. The trajectory of love is quite unpredictable and it is not all wine and roses. 

This production of It Shoulda Been You at The Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts runs through April 15, 2017. Tickets cost $35.00 for adults, $32.00 for seniors, and $20.00 for students with valid identification. You can make reservations by visiting www.smithtownpac.org. For more information, call 631-724-3700.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Sweet Bird Of Youth
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Jesse Marchese
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 3/11/17

I had the pleasure of attending Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn. They have a little bit of a gymnasium feel, but it is offset by charming decor, refreshments, and seating almost on top of the stage. The show was sold out and the crowd was lively during the intermissions and after the play. 

Sweet Bird Of Youth, written in 1956 and first performed in 1959, was the last critically acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams before drugs and alcohol destroyed his productivity. He was considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama. When he wrote this play, Tennessee knew exactly what he was doing. Sweet Bird Of Youth showcased his skill delivering a masterclass in dialogue and story development. He used characters and actors to portray both simple and complex metaphors for both love and careers. The play is timeless except for a few dated jokes only some of the audience members caught.

Sweet Bird Of Youth at first glance and after the first act appears to be a play centered on the male lead, a young actor named Chance Wayne. However, he is used in contrast to the female lead, Alexandra Del Lago, an older female character. Tennessee wrote the play for Tallulah Bankhead, a close friend and one of the premier actresses on stage and screen during the 20th century. The genesis for the play was essentially a confession game in 1956 where she said, "I wish always, always, for death. I've always wanted death. Nothing else do I want more." In response, Tennessee threw in not so subtle lines in the first act for Alexandra Del Lago such as "It is not death, but life I wish for. Life." While Chance, a young hapless actor, appears to dominate the first act with his vitality and youth, the stage is set quite literally for Alexandra Del Lago, an older female star, to steal the show and at The Gallery Players on Saturday night, steal it she did. Nancy Rich played the part exceptionally and delivered captivating soliloquies and well-timed jokes that showed her blossom into vibrancy and life beside the devolution of Chance Wayne. Tennessee may have hoped to cast Tallulah in the lead role, but she never did appear. The female lead in 1959, Geraldine Page, won a Tony Award for her performance.

The devolution of Chance is the main plot driver of the play. Chance is a 29-year-old actor who never quite made it big and seeks to reunite with a lost love, Heavenly Finley, in his hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Adam Fontana excelled in the role as Chance. He started out a little bumpy with delivering a southern accent, but in the end delivered it consistently and showcased his skill to emotionally deliver his lines. At the same time, the role may have originally been suited better for a Broadway actor nearing the end of his youth who viewed this part as his last chance to achieve something more. Researching this further, I discovered that this play originally starred a 34-yea-old Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke & Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid) and launched him to his own historic film success. At the beginning, Chance brags and boasts about his upward career trajectory, parts played and hearts won, saying he even dropped out of the Navy to keep his path to stardom alive while he was young enough to become a star. This sparks a conversation between Chance and Alexandra about youth where Chance answers Alexandra's pining for lost youth, beauty, and glory days with the lines "nobody's young anymore" and "nobody grows old."

This begs us to ask the question, what is youth? A mindset or a time in life when a person was successful, young, and beautiful. The play consistently discusses virility and sexual ability as more obvious metaphors casting the young Heavenly Finley, Chance's one-time lover and current obsession, as a seemingly old woman after having a hysterectomy at age 27. However, Alexandra states early on that time does that to a woman too (Menopause) and yet that she still pines for the sexual satisfaction of a young man such as her current companion Chance Wayne. 

More subtly, it seems Tennessee wants to contrast this typical vision of youth with how each character views their career. Each character worries that their career as an actor is over, but while Alexandra Del Lago speaks of diving into acting as an art, Chance Wayne speaks of getting his big break. She states that one "can't retire with the heart of an artist" while he parades a contract in front of his hometown friends. Much like Shakespeare had Hamlet give stage instructions, so too does Tennessee warn a young actor in Chance, through the voice of Alexandra, to devote himself entirely to his art and not to merely cling to the hope of making it big on one show. For example, Alexandra doesn't feel successful even after having performed on the biggest stages for years (without mass critical approval) while Chance feels successful after merely getting his first contract or appearing as a bystander. His main goal seems merely to be able to tout his "success" as an actor in front of his hometown peers who took steady jobs and earn a respectable living. In the end, he sacrifices a chance at his dream and loses his sexual ability through castration at the hand of Heavenly's brother, Tom Junior. While Chance's descent is completed, Alexandra completes her ascent by leaving St. Cloud to return to the glory of incomparable box office success.

Ultimately, the play delivered an entertaining spectacle. The actors and actresses performed their parts with emotion and passion. The play was funny, moving, and at times, unpredictable. Megan McDermott did a particularly wonderful job as Miss Lucy in the second act and I also really liked Benjamin Russell as Tom Junior. These characters appeared in the second act as obstacles to Chance Wayne resuming a life in his hometown. The actors all enunciated their lines well and their superior acting skills kept the full attention of the audience through three acts. Even when the lights fell on another part of the stage, they never took a moment off. I often wondered whether they would even take the time to blink. The Gallery Players did an awesome job on a well-written play. The only thing that surprised me is that we didn't at least give them a standing ovation as a courtesy for a job well done.

Sweet Bird Of Youth runs through March 26th at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased online at www.GalleryPlayers.com.