In a four-character show like The Scene, usually each character will have his/her moment in the spotlight. That spotlight might include an extensive monologue or a critical decision which not only changes the direction of the plot but also explores his/her depth as a character. One character might start as the villain and another as the most sympathetic character, but those perceptions will shift as the show progresses. Above all else, the playwright tries to introduce us to complex, realistic people; then the playwright allows the fireworks to explode as the characters interact in different pairings.
The fall of the Berlin Wall inspires one of the most striking images from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The stage goes black following the searing, heavy metal song “Angry Inch,” and when the lights fade in, Hedwig stares straight into space. And the audience laughs—not out of cruelty, but because, as Hedwig says, “I laugh, because I would cry if I don’t.”
Love’s Labor’s Lost has held a mythical place in my memory for the past 25 years—in large part because it was the first Shakespearean play I saw produced professionally.
I was 13, and my family drove to Stratford, Canada, to take in three shows at the annual theater festival. Our docket included Romeo and Juliet and HMS Pinafore, but the show I was most excited about was Love’s Labor’s Lost. The plot line (as described in festival’s brochure) was so intriguing. Four friends (including a King) swear off women and all other pleasures of life for three years so they can isolate themselves in study… only to have four women (including the Princess of France) show up at their door on the first night of their pact.
We can all scratch “Get a job in the publishing industry” off of our list of life goals.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria begins at an unnamed New York magazine, and as usual the Goodman sets tell a story of their own. A pod of four cubicles sits center stage surrounded by offices isolated by closed doors and fogged glass. The offices belong to the editors; the cubicles belong to their assistants. The message is clear—privacy is one component of status.
Before seeing Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth at the Lookingglass, I assumed that my tendency to mourn out-of-print books was unique. Take, for example, Sweet Pickles. This series of children’s books focused on a town populated by 26 animal characters—Angry Alligator, Bashful Bear, Creative Camel, and so on—each with his/her own book. My father ordered these books through a subscription, and we received one in the mail every two months. I learned to read with Sweet Pickles. I attribute my love of maps to the hours I spent studying the town map attached to the back endpaper of each book.* What has happened to Doubtful Dog, Enormous Elephant, and Fearless Fish? They live on in my memory, but they become a little more translucent each time one of their few-remaining books is discarded. Someday, I realize, they will simply disappear.
If you have never heard Nina Simone sing “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood,” you need to click here. Dominique Morisseau’s masterpiece script embodies the pain and desperation of Simone’s song (which serves as a backdrop). The struggles Nina (AnJi White), Kenyatta (Phillip Edward Van Lear), and Damon (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) face in escaping crime are all the more heartbreaking with the realization that not all three will find the happiness they seek. Each is a soul whose intentions are… if not “good,” at least essential for survival. A stellar script (second in recent memory only to Bruce Norris’s The Whale) thrives with three award-worthy performances and expert direction from Ron OJ Parson.
With so many phenomenal theater offerings in 2016, I took the easy road and split my “Year’s Best” list into Musicals and Non-musicals.
First, my picks for the top five musicals (check back tomorrow for the non-musicals):
Yes, the leads were fantastic. And, yes, this Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim collaboration delivers one classic number after the next. However, director Jim Conti’s vision for a grittier, more modern West Side Story was the true star of this production. From beginning to end, the actors sizzled with rage, channeling deeply rooted perceptions of injustice into their singing, their choreography, and their fighting with the rival gang. A much needed reboot for a show that has clung stubbornly to the daintier interpretation immortalized 55 years ago by the film version.