By William Wolf

OLD STOCK: A REFUGEE LOVE STORY  Send This Review to a Friend

Bearded Ben Kaplan, who performs at times like a roaring lion, is a singing narrator dubbed The Wanderer, who coordinates a charming saga about refugees finding a home in Canada and the evolvement of a family through generations. The work, presented by 2B Theatre Company, has been created by Caplan, Hannah Moscovitch and Christian Barry and is highlighted by a score that’s a mix of klezmer and folk, with actors doubling as musicians.

Most of the songs are by Caplan and Barry, with the music as the unifying force in the tale that takes flight when two refugees meet early in the 20th century. Chaim (also on woodwinds) and performed by Chris Weatherstone, is a shy man. Chaya, also on violin, is a widow played by Mary Fay Coady. Her late husband was the love of her life. Can she ever find happiness with another man? Yet she and Chaim, tentative at first, are to make a new life together despite her lingering past love. (The other musicians are Graham Scott on keyboard and accordion and Jamie Kronick, percussion.)

Caplan comes across as a life force that keeps the story spinning, but the gentle characterizations of Chaim and Chaya set the stage for a sensitive look into their relationship and ensuing struggles to make a new life.

It is almost too obvious to point to the timeliness of such a show, given the pitiful growing refugee problem in today’s world and the Trump administration’s hostility to admitting refugees from certain countries. There is a lovely unity formed by the integration of music and acting, and the cast merits high commendation, as do the show’s creators.

At times Caplan’s colorful signing and narration ignite sparks, and at other times the musical’s subtleties emerge with intense feeling communicated by the blending of the performances and the instrumentals. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed March 19, 2018.


As it happened, I went to see “Three Small Irish Masterpieces” on St. Patrick’s Day, very appropriate as it turned out. And these really are little Irish masterpieces, enacted by an excellent cast and crisply directed by Charlotte Moore.

After a delightful fiddle and songs overture, the first play to unfold is “The Pot of Broth” written in 1903 by William Butler Yeats in collaboration with Lady Gregory. It involves a very funny con by a tramp, played niftily by David O’Hara, who invades a household to find something to eat. Claire O’Malley and Colin Lane play Sibby and John Coneelly, the couple visited by the tramp, who is told there is no food for him. But the tramp claims he has a magic stone that when put in water will make broth. Sibby is impressed and blindsided as the tramp proceeds to subtly steal ingredients from the table to put in the water.

The whole situation is very amusing and one wonders how stupid a person can be to be hoodwinked by such a con man. But then, thinking of the many who voted for Donald Trump with his assorted con promises, I answered myself in the positive. But there’s a difference-- the con man in the play proves to be charming.

The second play, “The Rising of the Moon” (1907) by Lady Gregory, deals with questions of compassion and solidarity. Here Lane is a sergeant on duty and on the lookout for an escaped political prisoner with a 100 pounds reward for his capture. The sum is a great temptation. A ragged man (Adam Petherbridge) turns up and in the course of conversation it is revealed that he is the man being sought.

What will the sergeant do? It turns out that his own youthful political passion makes the sergeant reluctant to capture the man despite the lure of such a large reward. The way in which this little drama works out sheds light on issues of human relationships and moral principles. It is a very compelling piece.

The final play (there is no intermission), “Riders to the Sea” (1904) by John Millington Synge, is a wrenching drama rooted to the age-old dangers awaiting men going out to sea. Terry Donnelly, a fine actress often in Irish Repertory Theatre productions, plays Maurya, a mother who desperately wants to keep her son Bartley (Petherbridge) from venturing to sea in wicked weather. But he is determined not to be held back.

We, of course, know what his fate will be, and when his body is brought back, Maurya’s reaction captures the aura of bereft mothers through the ages. One is emotionally pierced by her outstanding performance.

The plays are staged in the Irish Rep’s intimate downstairs Studio, and Moore directs with the utmost simplicity that brings out the essence of the writing without unnecessary flourishes. The result is an experience well worth the visit. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed March 18, 2018.

GOOD FOR OTTO  Send This Review to a Friend

Patients and psychiatrists alike have their problems in Dave Rabe’s play “Good for Otto,” being presented by The New Group, with direction by Scott Elliott. The nearly three-hour drama, inspired by Richard O’Connor’s book “Undoing Depression,” is a wide-ranging exploration of mental problems with an excellent cast in a psychiatric facility setting.

The stage is lined with chairs in the back and on the sides, with major and minor players stepping forward to enact the roles of various characters, and some occupants apparently just seated as fill-ins. At the outset we meet Ed Harris as Dr. Michaels, who speaks to the audience with a lengthy reference to his life and the loss he has suffered. His mother committed suicide when he was a boy.

Here the Rabe play introduces free-form, as the mother, played by Charlotte Hope, materializes to haunt Michaels, and we quickly understand the demons that plague him even as he proceeds to help his assorted patients. Harris, always a fine actor, is excellent here as a dominating force in Rabe’s unusual drama.

Amy Madigan plays Evangeline Ryder, who also has the task of trying to help her patients as we are induced to ponder her life as well. Madigan, too, is effective in illuminating the concerns the playwright raises.

Among those who come forward to reveal themselves is F. Murray Abraham. as Barnard, who is 77 years old, doesn’t like to get out of bed and is resentful of having to undergo therapy. Rabe gives him colorful lines and he is commanding when he ventures into a long speech.

Much is made of the plight of the 12-year-old Frannie, movingly portrayed by Rileigh McDonald, who is in foster care and increasingly troubled. There is the problem of getting insurance to pay for her treatment, which opens another avenue in the drama. One patient is Mark Linn-Baker as Timothy, who has an ailing hamster named Otto to worry about (that gives the play its title).

The characters are fleshed out in a succession of therapy sessions conducted center-stage, and taken together, the sweep of dealing with the various problems adds up to a play deeply concerned with mental health. It is to Rabe’s credit that he manages to cover so much territory, and it is to director Elliott’s credit that the various threads are illuminated clearly as they are woven into the play’s overall psychiatric portrait. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed March 9, 2018.

AMY AND THE ORPHANS  Send This Review to a Friend

Every so often one encounters a happy surprise in the theater, and “Amy and the Orphans,” a play by Lindsey Ferrentino being presented by Roundabout Theatre Company and superbly directed by Scott Ellis, is such an occasion. It is a deeply felt drama, expertly constructed, and offers laughs along the way to its strong emotional impact. The play deals candidly with Down syndrome and how it is confronted, and in addition has a person with Down syndrome in the title role.

We first meet Diane Davis as Sarah and Joseph McDermitt as Bobby, a quarrelling couple whose marriage is under a strain, and it soon becomes clear that a major problem in the relationship is what to do about their daughter Amy, who, we eventually learn, has Down syndrome. Bobby is furious that Sarah has been scouting placement homes on her own.

As we also learn, the couple is being depicted in an earlier flashback time than the contemporary action of the play. They are the parents of the adult brother and sister whom we next meet, Mark Blum as Jacob and Debra Monk as Maggie, who have come together, he flying in from California, on the occasion of the death of their father (their mother is already gone). Maggie now frantically looks upon herself and her brother as orphans. Jacob, although he has seriously veered toward Christianity from his Jewish roots, much to his sister’s chagrin, and has become a health food junkie, is more flippant about their status. Much of their dialogue is very funny.

But they are both agreed on a mission—how to tell their sister Amy, who has grown up in a residence and looked after by Vanessa Aspillaga as the outspoken, larger-than-life Kathy, that her father is dead. They have not had much contact with Amy, and their well-intentioned approach is driven by ignorance and condescension.

Amy is wonderfully played by Jamie Brewer, an actress with Down syndrome wisely chosen to play the role. She was in the cast when I saw the play, but at some performances Edward Barbanell, who also has Down syndrome, plays the role, then called Andy instead of Amy.

While Maggie and Jacob, partly as concerned human beings and partly out of guilt, want to take Amy to live with one or the other, Amy, we find, is deeply rooted in her own world, with friends and self-confidence. She loves movies (her father used to visit and take her to see films). The portrait is a revealing one of a young woman of potential, an affirmative statement flying in the face of societal tendencies to dismiss such individuals as inferior.

There is an emotionally thrilling scene in which Amy asserts herself by quoting famous movie lines she has memorized through years of being a film fan, including “I coulda been a contender.” She is her own person and wants no part of being uprooted and taken anywhere else. It is an educational moment for Maggie and Jacob—and for us.

Ferrentino, inspired by her aunt Amy who had Down syndrome, has written a deeply personal play with wisdom and humor. It works splendidly as a poignant, uplifting drama, and with special importance, it shows what Down syndrome performers can accomplish. The entire cast is excellent, and at curtain call time, there is the pleasure of applauding what a talented group of actors can accomplish within the framework of an exceptionally creative and stirring play. At the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Phone: 212- 719-1300. Reviewed March 5, 2018.

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR--1930 & AND 1964  Send This Review to a Friend

In an unusual perspective, the Broadway by the Year series doubled down by covering time-spanning years of 1930 and 1964 in exploring songs of those periods in the program given at The Town Hall last night (February 26). Creator-writer-director-host Scott Siegel was especially informative and entertaining in illuminating the chosen songs in the context of the times. But it all came down to the quality of the performances, and as one has come to expect from the series, the cast was choice.

There were some last minute substitutions to make up for a few who had to bow out for various reasons, but what a sparkling show those who were previously scheduled and those who stepped in put on! Siegel assembled top notch talent who gave the audience a consistently entertaining time.

The women included the exceptional Tonya Pinkins, Christine Andreas and Christiane Noll. As for the men, Scott Coulter, Mark Nadler and the Brazilian singer Pedro Coppeti were show-stealers. To add further sparkle, there was the dancing, choreographed by Danny Gardner, who performed stylishly with Kelly Sheehan, Drew Humphrey and Bryan Hunt.

The 1930s, marked by the trauma of the 1929 stock market crash, produced songs that tried to be uplifting. Pinkins soared with her interpretation of “Get Happy” from the “Nine-Fifteen Revue.” Coulter gave the audience “The Sunny Side of the Street” from “Lew Leslie’s International Revue.” But there was also a general mix reflecting the range of 1930s numbers and shows.

Noll, who sings with perfection, performed “But Not for Me” from “Girl Crazy,” as well as poignantly singing “Love for Sale” from “The New Yorkers.” It was moving to hear Pinkins do “Body and Soul” from “Three’s a Crowd.” There was real class in Andreas and Gardner teaming for “Dancing on the Ceiling,” a number that had been cut from “Simple Simon.”

The lure of Manhattan was expressed when dynamic Nadler took over the stage to sing “I Happen to like New York” from “The New Yorkers.” (More about Nadler later.) Coulter also pitched in with “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” also from “The New Yorkers.” Coulter, always a favorite, showed even more range than usual in his numbers. A perfect first act closing that sent audiences out on a high at intermission was a rousing “I Got Rhythm” from “Girl Crazy,” sung and tap danced by Gardner, Humphrey and Hunt.

The 1964 songs and shows featured in Act 2 were markedly different, as the year yielded major long-running hits establishing a new Broadway era. “Hello, Dolly!” gave Pinkins another chance to exhibit her vocal power with “Before the Parade Passes By.” Coulter mined that show for an exquisite rendition of “It Only Takes a Moment.” It was a special treat to hear Andreas interpret “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from "Funny Girl,” a show also represented by Noll impressively singing “Who Are You Now?”

“Anyone Can Whistle,” a favorite of many if underrated at the time, enabled Noll to deliver the rapid-fire lyrics with “Everybody Says Don’t.” Pinkins dramatically demonstrated why “Night Song” from “Golden Boy” merits remembering. Gardner and Sheehan sang and danced to “I had a Ball” from the show of the same name.

Then there was the matter of the great show “Fiddler on the Roof.” The Brazilian Coppeti pleased the audience with “If I Were a Rich Man,” even singing a section in Portuguese. And he did it without a mike. And then there was Nadler, also without a mike (as if he ever really needs one). Nadler, a whirlwind force, sang “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” with an abundance of gestures and flair.

All, of course, was performed to skills of musical director Ross Patterson, at the piano with Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums, forming the “Little Big Band.” The evening ended with a rousing finish harking back to 1930 with “Strike up the Band” from the show of that title, with dancing by Gardner, Sheehan, Humphrey and Hunt, and even a special brass quartet consisting of Frank Huber and Andrew Smith on trumpets, and Dan Lehner and Brandon Moodie on trombones. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-997-1003. Reviewed February 27, 2018.

SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING  Send This Review to a Friend

It was back in 1961 when “Subways Are for Sleeping” hit Broadway, and now we are getting a refreshed look at that show, courtesy of the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti series, with this season celebrating the late composer Jule Styne. The result is a lively treat, thanks to an excellent, larger-than-usual cast and the entertaining qualities of the show itself. It adds up to a a welcome experience of rediscovery and pure fun.

The book and lyrics are by the wonderful team of Betty Comden & Adolph Green, suggested by the same-titled book by Edmund G. Love. This concert-form revival, with various alterations, has been directed with plentiful spirit by Stuart Ross, with musical direction by David Hancock Turner, who is also at the piano along with George Farmer on bass. Turner and Farmer sub for an orchestra in playing the appealing Styne score. Projected sheets of the music were flashed on screen to accompany the overture, and during the staging there is an assortment of projections suggesting Manhattan’s subways and major buildings.

The book is a socially-conscious, romanticized view of the homeless who in searching for places to spend nights find refuge in New York’s subways. Some of the book is a stretch, but that is redeemed by plenty of funny lines, appealing romance and the smart array of songs that Styne and his lyricists provided. As usual, The York has assembled a superb cast to bring the show to new life.

The number that was a show-stopper in the original is now handled by Gina Milo as Martha Vail, who is in danger of being forced out of her apartment for owing back rent. She spends most of the show only wrapped in a towel, and her big number “I Was a Shoo-In” is still a show-stopper, thanks to Milo’s perky, sexy and enticing rendition. Years were bridged in the York offering on opening night with Phyllis Newman, who won a Tony as best supporting actress in the original, sitting in the audience and applauding Milo.

The chief romantic lead is played by Alyse Alan Louis as Angie, a reporter who works for the publication edited by tough Myra, played convincingly by Beth Glover. Angie goes undercover to write about the homeless and falls for handsome nice-guy Tom, portrayed with special charm by Eric William Morris, who spends his time attempting to find solutions for the group of homeless men who look to him for daily assistance. One of the best songs is the title one, which expresses the reality of countless homeless existing under our eyes. Angie is eventually exposed, causing Tom to be furious. They express their romantic feelings in the number “Who Knows What Might Have Been.”

Another romance is under way between Tom’s pal Charlie, amusingly played by David Josefsberg, and Martha, who excel together in the song “Strange Duet.” One of the show’s funniest situations occurs when Charlie can’t wait to see Martha with her clothes on instead of the towels that show off her sexy figure.

This production spends more time on the book than other Mufti stagings in order to hold the story together so that the numbers make sense. But the highlights come from this very engaged cast interpreting the musical numbers that are the key strength of “Subways Are for Sleeping.” The cast also includes David Engel, Kilty Reidy, Karl Josef Co, Gerry McIntyre and Kathryn McCreary.

One event that overshadowed the original at the time was the theater’s most famous stunt by producer David Merrick and publicist Harvey Sabinson. People with the same names as New York critics were found and their photos appeared alongside of their quotes with lavish praise for the musical. The Herald Trbune fell for the stunt and published the ad, but the New York Times didn’t.

Another note: As Charles Wright reports in his historical account in the program, competing in the same supporting actress category as Phyllis Newman was Barbra Streisand for her portrayal of the secretary Miss Marmelstein in “I Can Get It for You Wholssale.” While Streisand’s performance was an attention-grabber that opened doors for her, Newman had the juicier, more demanding role.

“Subways Are for Sleeping” continues through March 4, and it would be great if here could be a continued life in some venue. At the York Theatre Company at Saint Peters, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed February 26, 2018.

JERRY SPRINGER--THE OPERA  Send This Review to a Friend

The wildest show in town is surely “Jerry Springer—The Opera,” which uproariously nails the coarse Springer TV programs, still being broadcast. As Springer’s low-life guest conflicts are almost satirical themselves, it is hard to go a step further. But the creators of the pseudo-opera format have accomplished that feat by burgeoning the on-stage doings into non-stop hilarity, at least in the first act.

I saw the show in 2004 when it was done in London, and while it now has essentially the same approach, it has been vastly improved by the staging set-up in this presentation by The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center. The action is more intimate with the audience on three sides of the stage and the first rows of the side sections occupied by motley-looking cast members who jump up to interact with the spectators. Thus the imitated shouts of “Jerry, Jerry” pep up the audience and have the effect of making us feel close to the mayhem.

This is not for anyone who recoils at profanity and vulgar ideas. No bleeping out words here. An excellent Terrence Mann as host Jerry, looking, sounding and acting like the real Jerry Springer, parades guests who have a secret to reveal, such as sexual cheating (no words minced) with breakout fighting as encouraged on the real Springer broadcasts. There is also, for example, the song “Diaper Man,” sung on the night I saw the show by a very funny Brandon Contreras in the role of Montel, usually played by Justin Keyes. Montel confesses that he wants to be a baby, strips to his diapers and sings about how he wants to “s—t in my pants.”

The “opera” has music and lyrics by Richard Thomas, with book and additional lyrics by Stewart Lee and Thomas; choreography by Chris Bailey; a studio-like set design by Derek McLane and broadly colorful costume design by Sarah Laux. John Rando has directed with the emphasis on outrageousness and shock and awe.

The cast is blessed with lusty singing voices, male and female. A prime example is when beefy Tiffany Mann as the rear-wiggling Shawntel confesses her desire to be a pole dancer, provides an illustration and wonderfully belts her big number “I Just Wanna Dance.” The power of her voice and personality combined to elicit audience cheers when I attended.

At one point the ensemble, appearing in required white sheets and hoods sings and dances to “This Is My KKK Moment,“ which comes across as a reminder of the deliberately tasteless satirical “Springtime for Hitler” in “The Producers.”

Would that the second act worked as well as the first act. After Springer is shot at the end of the first, the second descends into a cockamamie plot of Springer hovering between heaven and hell, with Satan being played by Will Swenson, who doubles as the show’s amusing and busy Warmup Man. The book becomes plodding rather than continuing along the lines of the confessions that generated so much laughter in Act One.

Even so, the level of the acting and singing is so spirited that the cast members still continue to score with the audience and the numbers are geared to energize the show’s mayhem. I would have preferred two first acts, and that was also the case when I saw the show in London all that time ago. But if one can’t have everything, taken as a whole “Jerry Springer—The Opera” offers one unusually bawdy, entertaining and satirically on-target good time. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-2579. Reviewed February 26, 2018. .


Evidence of why the late Edward Albee was such an effective playwright is dynamically on display in the juxtaposition of his “The Zoo Story” and his later-written “Homelife,” which he decreed must be performed together. His rationale is apparent and justifiable, and fortunately, three superb actors --Katie Finneran, Robert Sean Leonard and Paul Sparks—succeed admirably in carrying out Albee’s mission.

In “Homelife,” the opener, we meet Peter (Leonard) and his wife Ann (Finneran) in a brilliant exploration of a marriage that while one of surface contentment, Albee’s dialogue demonstrates emotional gaps, emphasized with well-timed silences in the astute direction by Lila Neugebauer. Peter, a publishing executive, sits stoically buried in reading a textbook that he considers utterly boring. Ann, darting in and out of the room, struggles to capture his attention and engage him in meaningful or sometimes outlandish conversation.

Talk eventually gets deeply personal. Finneran wonderfully communicates desire for something more in their marriage even though she loves her husband. She talks about the attention-grabbing thought of maybe having a mastectomy. She describes their sex life on the one hand as satisfyingly regular, but indicates she’d like a bit of animalistic behavior for a change. Peter confesses that in college he acquiesced in a woman’s demand for anal sex that resulted in her bleeding, and he vowed to himself to be more traditional in the future. He also confesses to the phenomenon of his penis retreating in what he describes as loss of foreskin.

This conversational dance between the two is marvelously executed by Finneran and Leonard, and demonstrates Albee’s skill in tensely commanding audience attention with his blend of humor and repressed desires in what becomes a poignant marital description. At the end of “Homelife” Peter informs Ann that he is going to the park to read, setting the stage for “The Zoo Story” after intermission.

“The Zoo Story” was the 1958 play that catapulted Albee into success and in this production by the Signature Theatre it is easy to see why. The drama turns out to be devastating after Peter’s passivity while reading on a bench in Manhattan’s Central Park is interrupted by the arrival of Sparks as Jerry.

Sparks gives an outstanding, penetrating and particularly memorable performance as the interloper. Jerry is a bundle of nerves, resentments and dissatisfaction with his life. It is an extremely difficult role which Sparks conquers with the creative way in which he displays the various facets of Jerry's personality via the lengthy, complex almost non-stop speeches that Albee has provided.

Jerry quickly brings an element of fear to the situation, then is increasingly aggressive toward Peter while beginning to teasingly tell the story of what happened at his just-completed visit to the Central Park Zoo. What sharply emerges is the issue of class and Jerry’s deep resentments toward Peter’s life on Manhattan’s East Side with a wife and two daughters and his high salary in contrast to Jerry’s life in a bare-bones, confined apartment on Manhattan’s West Side. Everything about Jerry indicates bitter jealousy, and yet he has a humorous swagger about him that Sparks nails entertainingly along with the projection of danger and the possibility of exploding.

We know this situation cannot end well, aggravated when Jerry sits on the bench with Peter and demands that he move to another bench. Instead of obliging, and more sensibly just leaving, Peter’s ire is aroused and against the pattern of his quiet personality as seen in “Homelife,” he takes a principled stand that ignites Jerry’s anger, and when Jerry draws a knife, we surely know something dreadful will happen. The play’s set-up obviously offers the possibility of reading societal symbolism into the work.

Such is the taut drama and range of exploration that Albee has provided, and in “The Zoo Story” we see nothing short of a great performance by Sparks, who has built a reputation as a particularly fine actor with his work in theater, television and film.

The production of Albee’s two combined plays affords the perfect opportunity to enjoy and scrutinize his work anew, thanks to the insightful staging by Neugebauer and the sublime acting of her cast. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed February 24, 2018.

KINGS  Send This Review to a Friend

The inherent message of Sarah Burgess’s play “Kings” is probably that politicians may come and go but lobbyists will go on forever.

Eisa Davis plays Representative Sydney Millsap, the first woman and woman of color to be sent to Congress from her Texas district. Davis does an excellent job in giving Millsap a strong, no-holds-barred principled position of fighting for what she believes will benefit the public.

Enter Gillian Jacobs as Kate, a determined lobbyist who presses to get what she needs from Millsap. Kate is a smooth talker and persistent in the face of the resistance that she encounters from her target. Aya Cash plays Lauren, another lobbyist, who has less personality than Kate but is even more rooted to working within the familiar, corrupt system.

The plot gets complicated when Millsap decides to challenge Senator John McDowell, played impressively by Zach Grenier, for his long-held seat. He is sort of a good old boy whom she wants to replace with her idealistic approach to government. Very tough, he warns her about what she will be up against.

How will the contest turn out? We know that despite Millsap’s will to fight and stand on principle, it will be an uphill battle. In the process, her refusal to knuckle under to lobbying will be a fund-raising handicap. Whatever happens we are led to expect that Millsap will retain her honesty.

As for Kate, when all is done, we see her contemplatively alone on stage, a slight indication that she may be having second thoughts about where she is at in life.

There is a simple bare-bones scenic design by Anna Louizos and the audience is split into two sides, with the stage in the center. Director Thomas Kail has made an effort to enable both sections of the audience to hear the cast members, For example, a table at which characters sit and talk revolves. The play is heavy on discourse, and Kail strives for clarity.

“Kings,” although at times rather diffuse, succeeds in taking us into the whirl of politics, maneuvering and pressures and provides insights that can be useful in thinking about what is going on today in the real world of those we send to Washington and those we don’t. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed February 21, 2018.

PARTY FACE  Send This Review to a Friend

Colorful acting makes Isobel Mahon’s play more watchable than one might expect from the work itself and the author’s set-up. For starters, a party is being given and yet there are only four guests, apart from the hostess. What kind of a party is that?

But the party-giver has an interesting situation. She is Mollie Mae, played by Gina Costigan, who has created a new kitchen in her home in Dublin, Ireland (scenic design by Jeff Ridenour). The glossy, modern kitchen contrasts with the suicide attempt and nervous breakdown that led her to a recent stay in a psychiatric center. Mollie is also trying to put an optimistic sheen on her marital relationship, refusing to recognize that her husband who has departed has really left her for good.

Her take-charge mother, Carmel, played by Haley Mills, has arrived a bit early, and we see her quickly bustling about the kitchen. Mills is excellent in her role as Carmel, very dominant but played with an understated tone rather than a loud one. She does her pushing but with an outward demeanor of charm even as she angers Mollie, who is trying hard to be her own person and is aghast at her mother’s suggestion that it would be good for Mollie if her mother moved in with her.

To Mollie’s chagrin, her mother has taken it upon herself to invite the very annoying Chloe, who puts on airs as a know-it-all. Attractive Allison Jean White plays her way over the top, but is amusingly pretentious in the part. Another guest, Maeve (Brenda Meaney), spends most of the time mocking just about everything Chloe says by making snide asides or casting incredulous looks. The other guest is Bernie (Klea Blackhurst), who was in the psychiatric residence with Mollie and the last to arrive. Bernie bursts in with the force of a truck and has her share of funny lines to go with her bullish behavior and unabashed candor about her psychiatric treatment.

One the one hand the play has its serious side, with Mollie having to face the realities of life and her glib mother having to face the fact that her daughter has embarrassing problems to overcome. But the author also tries to turn the play into a comedy, best defined by Chloe’s shrill platitudes about life and the efforts to overcome difficulties by such silly steps as a ritual of plunging the mind into imagined situations. There is also much traditional type comedy in the mother-daughter relationship.

The mix is odd and shallow, leaving it to cast members under the direction of Amanda Bearse to bear the burden of providing amusement via their acting. The venerable Ms. Mills does very well in this respect, with the audience inevitably harking back to memories of her early, youthful success, but primed to see her totally in her present light, leading to recognition that she can be very effective now at the age of 71. Mills earns her hearty welcome. At New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed February 16, 2018.


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