Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals thrive on ill-fated lovers. Consider the scenarios of four of their five most canonized works: A local ruffian and an innocent girl at a carnival. A French murderer and a passionate American Nurse. An uptight British tutor and a polygamist far-Asian King. A nun and an Austrian general (I daresay, this is still most people’s favorite despite Carrie Underwood’s acting).
No genre conveys the unique storytelling power of theater quite to the extent of horror. Feathers and Teeth at the Goodman Theater is a near-perfect synchronization of sound and visuals that proves that our greatest fears lie just out of our sight rather than within our grasp.
Among the highlights of Feathers and Teeth is the presence of a Foley Artist (Carolyn Hoerdemann) situated in a second-story booth overlooking the play’s action. The Foley Artist, dressed like a host from a late-night horror movie marathon, uses vocals and everyday utensils to vivify hungry little predators that are all the scarier because they are heard but never seen by the audience. More importantly, the Foley Artist serves as a disc jockey, playing Nixon-era records like The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” to illustrate the complex emotions felt by Chris (Olivia Cygan), the teenage protagonist tortured both by her mother Ellie’s recent death and by her father’s decision to romance Ellie’s nurse Carol (Christina Hall).
Aunt Ester’s house is a place of peace and sanctuary, but that peace does not last long in Gem of the Ocean. Eli (A.C. Smith) opens the door to a distressed stranger at the beginning of the first act, and when the stranger refuses to leave and return on Tuesday as instructed, he barges through the threshold and a struggle ensues. And thus, in the middle of these two wrestling men, does Aunt Ester enter.
On the positive side, D’Ysquith is a fun word to say. Pronounced dies-k-with, an audience member viewing A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder will hear actors sing and speak this word several hundred times (it seems like thousands) during the course of this over-stretched musical.
Peter and the Starcatcher begins exactly where it needs to begin—a world that bears minimal semblance to Peter Pan. Eleven actors (10 males and one female) stand at the front of a stage made of thick wood planks and dive headfirst into their well-rehearsed exchanges of dialogue and movements. They drive through the exposition at breakneck speed, explaining that two ships are leaving port from London at the same time carrying identical wood crates. The wood crates are switched, with the more important crate landing on the slower ship called The Neverland, and thus emerges the first hint of Peter Pan.
After Miss Julie marks my second Patrick Marber play and the second Patrick Marber show that I viewed in a theater with under 100 seats, and in this regard the Strawdog Theater Company has done justice to what should be an intimate production.
Art. Law. Religion. The Yankees. The Cubs. Banana pudding (mentioned, but not actually seen on stage).
Disgraced fits in a set of plays in which intelligent, successful people sit together and bate each other on topics like race and religion and justice and order, and eventually underlying prejudices and tensions emerge. At its best, this motif leaves the audience in a state of self-reflection that can last for days (Clybourne Park and God of Carnage are two of the best). Disgraced fits somewhere lower on the spectrum despite a promising start. Amir (Bernard White), a renounced Muslim, explains to his wife why he is not offended by people stereotyping him at the supermarket. In a powerful anecdote, Amir explains how his mother spat in his face for flirting with a Jewish girl. Now Amir is hoping to become a partner in a law firm showcasing Jewish names on its letterhead.