By William Wolf

YES! REFLECTIONS OF MOLLY BLOOM  Send This Review to a Friend

One of the best acting performances currently on stage in New York can be found at the Irish Repertory Theatre, which is presenting “Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom,” based on a section of James Joyce’s landmark novel “Ulysses.” Aedín Malomey is bringng to life one of the most famous of Joyce’s passages in “Ulysses”—the “Yes” soliloquy by Marion “Molly” Bloom that reflects the frustrations, sexual hunger and an onrush of feelings bursting with the need for fulfillment as a woman.

Maloney’s performance is phenomenal as she takes the stage alone for 75 minutes and explodes with Joyce’s expressive language, with no holds barred. Under the direction of Kira Simring, Maloney, tall and striking looking, roams Molly’s bedroom as she pours out Joyce’s provocative lines, her sexy body language underscoring what she is communicating to herself as well as to the world. Maloney commands complete attention as she fiercely, often with humor, describes Molly’s thoughts and longings.

The candor, including exposing her breasts at one point, is such that the Irish Rep has decreed that audience members must be at least 16 to be admitted.

The history of Joyce’s novel being banned but ultimately cleared in 1933 for publishing in the United States by court decision is a story in itself. When director Joseph Strick’s movie “Ulysses” was released in 1967, it also ran into censorship problems. His film included part of Molly’s soliloquy, poignantly performed by Barbara Jefford, and the explicit words spoken broke new ground in cinema.

The current staging of “Yes!” is an adaptation by Moloney and Colum McCann and is being presented by the Irish Repertory Theater in association with Gabriel Byrne. It takes place in Dublin in the early hours of June 17, 1904, in the bedroom of Molly and her at-the-moment absent husband, Leopold Bloom. The no-frills flat set has been designed by Charlie Corcoran.

Molly’s marriage to Leopold has cooled, and she has been having an affair with Blazes Boylan. She hungers for the kind of sex she has with him and muses about it. She talks explicitly about body parts and sensuality. As important as sex is to her, the overall impression is of a woman who needs to be liberated from restrictions and male attitudes toward the clichéd kind of person a woman is supposed to be. The soliloquy is Molly’s symbolic outcry for total freedom and Moloney is simply wonderful in conveying aspects of Molly and her psyche inherent in Joyce’s perceptive writing.

Maloney’s performance can be studied by other actors as an example of how to dig down and find the deep meanings in a complex character. When she gets to her climactic repeated breathy declarations of “Yes!” to punctuate her emotions, the effect is shattering, all the more so because the audience is close to her in the small W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage, downstairs from the main theater. When Maloney makes Molly come vividly alive, it is as if we are right in that Dublin flat with her. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed June 23, 2019.

THE MOUNTAINS LOOK DIFFERENT  Send This Review to a Friend

The Mint Theater Company has dug up the 1948 play, “The Mountains Look Different,” by Micheál mac Liammóir (1899-1978), the Englishman who reinvented himself as Irish. The drama produced protests in Dublin with charges of immorality, and it is easy to see why the contents may have rattled some at the time. Looking at the current production in light of present standards, it is the playwright’s blatant plot contrivance, not daring, that stands out. However, the gimmickry is overridden by the excellent performances one has come to expect in Mint revivals, in this case under the taut direction of Aidan Redmond.

Most of the action takes place on a farm in the West of Ireland on St. John’s Eve, followed by what happens on the next day. Matthew Conroy (Paul O’Brien), a successful miller, arrives to inform farm owner Martin Grealish (Con Horgan), that his son, Tom, has just married Conroy’s niece, Bairbre, and that they will be arriving and wish to stay at the farm for a while. Early on we see that Grealish is a stern character not easy to deal with.

Tom (Jesse Pennington) does arrive with Bairbre (Brenda Meaney), who is very attractive and sexy looking, with Tom doting on her. When Martin sees her there is a look of recognition on his part, and we soon learn that he thinks she is the prostitute with whom he had sex quite a few years ago. By now, it is clear this play that will not end happily.

Meaney succeeds admirably in conveying the nuances of Bairbre at that point in her life. She acts convincingly in showing her determination to put the past behind her with her marriage three days earlier to a decent chap. To build a new pure atmosphere she hasn’t yet had sex with him. We see immediately that she is on a collision course with Tom’s father, and the playwright contrives a set-up with the father’s demands bound to lead to ultimate tragedy. Audiences should have no problem predicting such an outcome even if not yet privy to the exact details.

Father and son, as well as supporting characters, are also very well acted, and as the inevitable storm gathers, the play commands rapt attention even if so much is telegraphed. The set by Vicki R. Davis has a convincing outside look of the farmhouse, which then opens to reveal a convincing inside. The playwright, who acted the role of Tom in the original staging, endows the work with eerie atmosphere by tying it to the celebration of St John’s Eve.

By presenting “The Mountains Look Different” the Mint calls attention to the career of mac Liammóir, whose birth name was Alfred Willmore, and who achieved considerable success. His works include “The Importance of Being Oscar,” his one-man show about Oscar Wilde.

By the way, Theatre Row, where the play is being shown, although deserving praise for an attractive renovation job, has dropped name designations of its theaters, and assigned numbers instead. Thus “The Mountains Look Different” is in Theatre Four, instead of The Beckett, which it used to be called. This means we will no longer attend the Clurman as well. I herewith register my objection. It was always so nice in going to Theatre Row to be reminded of the great playwright Samuel Beckett and the valued director and drama critic Harold Clurman. Giving theaters named after them numbers instead makes no sense at all and insults their memory. How about putting their names back? At Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed June 21, 2019.

TONI STONE  Send This Review to a Friend

Baseball has lately been on the entertainment agenda. In the film world there is “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” the saga of baseball player Moe Berg, who became a United States secret agent doing valuable work in World War II. Now, on stage, “Toni Stone,” a production by the Roundabout Theatre Company,” celebrates the first woman to play professional big league baseball.

It is easier to create a baseball aura on film than on stage, but director Pam MacKinnon has done well with her team of actors in bringing Lydia R. Diamond’s play to life. The play is based on Martha Ackmann’s book “Curveball, The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone.”

MacKinnon is fortunate to have April Matthis in the lead as Ms. Stone. Matthis infuses Stone with the fierce determination not to take no for an answer and to find a way to fulfill her dream of playing ball among the men in the league of African-American teams.

The play takes place from the 1920s to the 1950s. We see Toni as a youth who desperately wants to be a baseball player, and we follow her success as she becomes a second baseman. Or shall we say second basewoman? There is the expected opposition of the men who mock the idea of a woman on the team, and the eventual acceptance of Toni.

However, that acceptance comes partially with the idea of using her as a novelty to draw people to the games with the promise of seeing something different. The story unfolds through the narration by Toni framing the enacted episodes in her life.

It was in 1953 that Toni, whose name was Marcenia Lyle Stone before becoming known as Toni, joined the black team Indianapolis Clowns, part of the Negro League, which flourished before African-Americans were accepted into the major baseball teams.

Stone, who died in 1996 at the age of 75, has been a footnote in baseball history, but this play is a step toward gaining her more recognition for her achievement. A problem with the play, however, is that once you set up the basic situation of Toni getting on the team, there is not a lot more to say, although the author does include racial discrimination of the time that Toni and others faced.

But the play’s main strength is the winsome performance by Matthis, who earns audience sympathy and admiration for her portrayal of Toni. She holds everything together with her display of Toni’s spirited persistence. Matthis is very likable, and that goes a long way toward achieving the goal of planting Toni more firmly in baseball history. At the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed June 21, 2019.

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES  Send This Review to a Friend

The new theater season has been blessed by a profound and deeply moving musical with a book by Lynn Nottage, score by Duncan Sheik, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and direction by Sam Gold, an immensely talented group. “The Secret Life of Bees” is, of course, based on the very popular novel by Sue Monk Kidd, and the Atlantic Theater Company can take pride in its presentation. Although an adaptation, the staging deserves to be judged entirely on its own whether or not one has read the novel.

I note that in my review of the earlier film based on the book, I called the adaptation a tearjerker (see under Search). There is no such put-down about this fine stage version, which is a majestic telling of a sensitive story set in the context of the civil rights movement and boasting glorious music sung by a superb cast and interpreted by a band of nine excellent musicians under the direction of Jason Hart.

The story is set in Sylvan and Tiberon, South Carolina, in the summer of 1964. Elizabeth Teeter is first-rate as Lily, the 14-year-old white girl who has an abusive father (T-Ray, portrayed by Manoel Feliciano), and escapes his clutches along with rescuing African-American Rosaleen (wonderful Saycon Sengbloh), who has worked for T-Ray. Bonding in their flight for freedom, Lily and Rosaleen take to the road and are soon given shelter by the Boatwright family of beekeepers who produce a known brand of honey, and the relationships that develop form the basis of the expanding plot.

LaChanze, ever the effective actress and singer, plays August, one of the Boatwright sisters, and she gets the opportunity to excel in powerful numbers, as do Sengblow and Teeter. Much of the inherent emotion is delivered through song.

Lily sings the painful “The Girl Who Killed Her Mother,” expressing the guilt she feels for her mother’s death. (A weakness in the show is that there is not enough clarity as to what actually happened.) In the plot Lily desperately needs to know that her mother loved her, and issues with her father require confrontation.

Dramatizing the fight against racism confronting African-Americans at the time, Rosaleen, Lily and the ensemble sing a rousing number, “Sign My Name,” about asserting the right to vote. Other songs reflecting aspects of life’s struggles include “All About You,” “Better Than This,” “Tek a Hol A My Soul,’ “Trouble on the House,” and “Hold This House Together.”

A tender relationship develops between Lily and a young black, Zachary (appealing Brett Gray), who is working at the beehive to earn money for college. Their feelings are best conveyed when they sing “What Do You Love?” Being seen alone together leads to Zachary’s harrowing racist arrest and the urgent need to free him.

What’s going on in the country at the time is voiced via a radio broadcaster, and Lynn Nottage’s book makes a point of placing the characters in that context. There is a side story of Nathaniel Stampley as Neil, persistently pursuing the reluctant Boatwright sister June (Eisa Davis) with requests of marriage, and he has a delightful, audience-pleasing song, “Marry Me,” which he delivers on bended knee. The third Boatwright sister is emotionally fragile May, played by Anastacia McCleskey.

The people portrayed become very much alive, which gives heft to the production instead of the story coming across as merely polemical and a structure for the music to be wrapped around. The artistic elements are well integrated.

Mimi Lien’s set design provides the entire stage for Gold’s direction to unfold, with the band visible and split into three groups. There is a large statue of a black Madonna, to whom cast members pray in song. There are lovely touches, including ensemble members circulating wands with end lights to simulate bees buzzing about.

Chris Walker provides some striking choreography, and further credit is due Dede Ayite (costumes), Jane Cox (lights), Dan Moses Schreier (sound) as well as others responsible for bringing the total production together with such effectiveness. “The Secret Life of Bees” merits a long life, possibly following its run at the Atlantic Theater with a Broadway venue. At the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed June 19, 2019.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” lends itself to playing around, and the Public Theater has gone to town in its robust, entertaining and relevant up-to-date staging (May 21-June 23) as part of Free Shakespeare in the Park. The cast is all-black, and in this production Messina is plopped into the American South, presumably an Atlanta suburb, with the mansion around which the action abounds bearing a sign saying “Stacey Abrams in 2020,” the one “candidate” not yet running. Through an open door if seated at the right angle one can see a picture of Barack Obama on an inside wall. That’s just for starters.

The Beatrice in this production is played by the full-figured Danielle Brooks, who is best known for her long stint in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and for her Broadway debut as Sofia in “The Color Purple.” As Beatrice she moves about like a powerful force of nature and comes across as blazing hot and sharp-tongued and at one point she tauntingly shakes her derriere as if to advertise her sexuality. Grantham Coleman as the initially reluctant but really smitten Benedick has his hands full with this Beatrice, who, while also smitten, is a very assertive modern gal who cannot be denied equality in their give-and-take sparring.

The play follows Shakespeare’s plot of conniving that soils the reputation of Hero (Margaret Odette), about to be married to soldier Claudio (Jeremie Harris), who believes the slander, which can be taken today as male bias against women. When the truth is revealed and the wedding is about to take place, Hero, before taking her vows, hauls off and gives Claudio a resounding smack in the face, teaching him a lesson that triggered a huge burst of applause at the performance I attended. It was a moment that epitomized the contemporary thrust of this romp.

Director Kenny Leon, abetted by choreographer Camille A. Brown’s snappy dancing, has staged the festive interpretation with the kind of music (by John Michael Webb) and bursts of singing one might expect in such a setting. I only wish the Bard could materialize to see what fun he spawned for a 21st century reprise. I can just imagine him saying in amazed recognition, “Methinks that is my play.”

The look of it all was a joy to behold on a clear summer night. The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt features what appears to be a solidly constructed building, with ample grounds surrounding it and a driveway into which an S.U.V. enters at one point. Central Park itself provides background foliage.

The costumes (designed by Emilio Sosa) are eye-filling, as is the design of wig and hair by Mia Neal, also credited for make-up design. This is a very good-looking staging.

What works especially well is the casting. I particularly enjoyed Chuck Cooper as the impressive Leonato, who is shaken with fury at his daughter Hero when she is falsely accused of having pre-marital relations with someone other than her intended, and newly furious at the culprits when the truth becomes known. Lateefah Holder is very amusing as the blustering, credit-seeking constable Dogberry.

Often when there is switching of settings in Shakespeare’s plays and contemporary attempts to be inventive, the results make one long for the conventional. But the spirit of this production fits neatly into the concept and enables one to have a very good time without feeling that the Bard would have anything to complain about. On the contrary, inherent in the ultimate romantic resolution is an appeal for peace and people getting along, a today-ring of hope without seeming heavy-handed. At the Delacorte Theater. Enter at 81st Street and Central Park West. Reviewed June 12, 2019.

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

The revival of playwright Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” teams Audra McDonald as Frankie, a waitress, and Michael Shannon as Johnny, the restaurant cook, and they give dynamic performances that show their acting prowess. But the balance in the duet is off under the direction of Arin Arbus despite the impassioned performances.

Seeing the previous 2001 version that starred Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci as the middle-aged characters, I described them in my review as “two lost souls in need of each other.” In this new staging Shannon comes across as such an aggressive, lost-soul Johnny that Frankie would need him like a hole in the head. Under Arbus’s direction Johnny is the overwhelmingly needy one, while Frankie’s basic vulnerability, including her experience with an abusive lover and failed efforts to become an actress, part of the background ultimately revealed, doesn’t get equal treatment in the need department, which is mostly about overbearing Johnny in the tone set in this production.

Thus the sparring, while enhanced by the playwright’s funny and witty dialogue, doesn’t do justice to Frankie’s inner hunger for a fuller life than she has waitressing, while Johnny is tearing up the stage with his own hunger for a relationship and his total fixation on Frankie as the one to change his life. A basic difficulty in the play is that so much has to happen to make the couple totally connect in one long night that credibility is a problem. One has to root for the barriers to come down and the feeling that Frankie and Johnny are good for each other and will make it together. I felt like that with Falco and Tucci, but not here.

In the play’s setup, we hear the couple’s loud grunts of pleasure as they have sex in the bed in the center of Frankie’s Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment (scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, sound design by Nevin Steinberg). The lights are dim (lighting design by Natasha Katz), and we see the couple in the shadows. After having sex, there is some visible nudity and a burst of laughter by Frankie and Johnny, who have thoroughly enjoyed this sexual escapade on this first date following their having worked together for a long spell.

The play then moves into a situation in which Frankie fights back against Johnny’s dominating attitude and insistence on spending the night. He is colorful, quoting Shakespeare and being blunt about his sexual demands, although he feels inadequate when he is unable to perform in a second sexual round we hear about. She doesn’t hold that against him, but still needles him with her comments. Battling back against his persistence, Frankie wants him to leave, but he won’t go, frantically asserting that this is love and permanence. Frankie insists that she wants her space and that she is not ready for the kind of immediate commitment Johnny urges. There is even a nasty moment of physical conflict, and Johnny’s back is accidentally burned as Frankie shoves him against a stove. She regrets it, of course, and applies butter to his wound.

The relationship rages back and forth, ultimately leading to revelations about their respective working class pasts. They are supposed to reach eventual understanding and harmony, building to a climactic tender moment of mutual affection. However, with Johnny’s incessant powerfully demanding behavior, one might have the impression that Frankie might soon find the relationship impossible. Johnny, perhaps through Shannon’s entertaining overacting under Arbus’s directorial concept, is the dominating one, negating the idea of two lost souls blending.

Incidentally, the credits list Claire Warden as Intimacy and Fight director. Intimacy direction is a relatively new job in stage production. The purpose is to see that actors are comfortable with the way in which they must handle nudity and sexuality as productions become more candid. At the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed June 5, 2019.

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR--MUSICALS OF 1965 AND 1978  Send This Review to a Friend

Some shows flopped, but produced memorable songs, and some numbers emerged from hits. In the 19th year of the Broadway by the Year series, created, written, hosted and directed by Scott Siegel, the years 1965 and 1978 were mined for the latest program presented by The Town Hall (May 20, 2019). As expected based on solid past achievements, the show featured a strong team of talented singers, with much expert dancing also adding to audience appeal.

Two women were especially impressive. The show “Drat the Cat!” (1965) has long since been forgotten, but Lianne Marie Dobbs sexily delivered its number “He Touched Me.” The character she expressed in song thrilled to being touched and sang as if she certainly wouldn’t mind if Joe Biden grabbed her by the shoulders. With a great voice and stage presence to match, Dobbs also delivered royally in singing “Keepin’ Out of Mischief” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (1978) and also “It's All the Same” from “Man of La Mancha” (1965), abetted on that one by Jake Owen on guitar and snappy footwork by the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, choreographed by Danny Gardner.

I also can’t say enough about Nicole Henry, who can establish heightened intimacy with everything she sings, whether slow and dreamy or under-your-skin provocative. Her “Honeysuckle Rose” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was breathtakingly sexy, and she extracted great depth from “Mean to Me,” another from “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” She also gave a delightful rendition of “Feeling Good” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd” (1965).

Among the men, Douglas Ladnier demonstrated once again the power he can bring to a song, as with his thrilling show-closer, “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha,” and before that his strong interpretation of “Stranger in Paradise" from “Timbucktu!” (1978) and the melancholy “Hard Candy Christmas” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1978).

Siegel scored a casting coup in getting Ethan Slater, who appeared as SpungeBob in “SpungeBob Squarepants.” He demonstrated his special talent singing “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the show of the same title (1965), and “If I Ruled the World” from “Pickwick” (1965).

This show had more than usual dancing. For example, Corbin Bleu and Rick Faugno wowed the audience with their fast-stepping to “Sing Sing Sing” from “Dancin’” (1978). Faugno choreographed the number. Danny Gardner did the choreography for two dynamic numbers, “Nothing Can stop Me Now” from “the Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd” and also was lead singer and dancer in “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” from “Dancin’.” Both numbers featured the superb Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, including Lamont Brown, Bailey Callahan, Gardner, Bryan Hunt, Brooke Lacy, Lily Lewis, Danny McHugh, Kelly Sheehan and Michael J. Verre.

Recently I saw Betsy Wolfe perform as half of a New jersey couple being targeted by the con man in “High Button Shoes,” revived by New York City Center Encores! In that show Wolfe, teamed with Chester Gregory in “I Still Get Jealous,” with the original choreography of Jerome Robbins. Now here she was again with Broadway by the Year showing off her voice with the diverse numbers “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora, The Red Menace” (1965), “Someone Woke Up” from “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (1965) and “Doatsy Mae” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

A highlight of the series is always Scott Siegel’s entertaining well-researched recounting of what was going on in the world in the years selected for surveying Broadway musicals. Also, I am always amazed at how musical director and pianist Ross Patterson excels with the great variety of musical styles and demands in providing the accompaniment by his Little Big Band, which included Don Falzone on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Patterson, who always looks as if he is enjoying the task, has been with the series for all of its 19 years.

Others making contributions included Holly Cruz as staging consultant, Rick Hinkson as assistant director and assistant stage manager and Joe Burke as production assistant. Siegel always makes a point of extending thanks for the participation of his wife, Barbara, and on this occasion, taking off from one of the songs, the way he put it was that “If I Ruled the World,” everyone would have a mate like Barbara. At The Town Hall. 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 800-982-2787. Reviewed May 21, 2019.

HAPPY TALK  Send This Review to a Friend

Susan Sarandon has to summon her vaunted acting skills in an attempt to pull off a credibility-challenged plot surprise that author Jesse Eisenberg has handed her in his play “Happy Talk,” a New Group presentation directed by Scott Elliott. She does her best, but her acting prowess doesn’t make his gambit any more believable. However, until that moment Sarandon’s performance and fine acting by the rest of the cast make watching Eisenberg’s intriguing basic set-up and character creations rewarding.

Sarandon plays Lorraine, who finds enjoyment in acting and is rehearsing a production of “South Pacific” for a suburban Jewish Community Center. A laugh is earned with the revelation that she is cast against type as Bloody Mary. Despite her outward cheerfulness most of the time, Lorraine’s life is hardly a hoot. Her husband Bill (Daniel Oreskes) is seriously ill and very uncommunicative, indicating a marriage gone blah. Her mother, whom we never meet, lies ill in an bedroom offstage from the homey set designed by Derek McLane.

Lorraine’s primary communication is with her mother’s caretaker, Ljuba, an illegal immigrant from Serbia, who seems extremely competent and engenders laughter when she wonders whether people would notice her accent, which is extremely heavy. Marin Ireland plays Ljuba dynamically, and when she reveals that she has saved $15,000 that she could use to purchase a mock marriage that would earn her citizenship, Lorraine puts her together with a fellow thesbian, Ronny (Nico Santos). That gambit doesn’t stand the credibility test. Ronny is so clearly gay that immigration investigators would quickly suspect a scheme.

Barging suddenly into the household is Lorraine’s estranged daughter, Jenny (Tedra Millan), who absolutely loathes her mother, apparently for feeling neglected. But Jenny acts like such a bitch that when at the performance I attended Lorraine forcibly kicked her out of the house the audience applauded.

Sarandon succeeds step by step in portraying Lorraine’s basic loneliness and having a difficult personality, partly illustrated when she learns that actors in the company have been going out after rehearsals without her. Sarandon is especially effective in a private crying scene after the perceptive Ljuba urges her to let her inner feelings emerge. We get the impression that Lorraine is a complex person, self-absorbed and trying to hide, even from herself, the emptiness in her life, for which she tries to compensate with her love for acting.

What we don’t get is the expectation that Lorraine would do something that the playwright concocts for her in the play’s nasty windup. Sarandon plunges into it with conviction, but she cannot surmount the unlikelihood of the cruelty and sick selfishness Lorraine displays no matter how hard Sarandon skillfully tries. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed May 18, 2019.

ENTER LAUGHING (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

The York Theatre Company, which successfully staged the musical “Enter Laughing” ten years ago, has done it again. The result ranks among the company’s best productions. With a book by Joseph Stein and music and lyrics by Stan Daniels, it is superbly cast and directed, filled with laughs and colorful renditions of the songs, whether comic or romantic. You can have a wonderful time.

First, a bit of a history refresher: “Enter Laughing,” written by Joseph Stein from Carl Reiner’s novel, was a hit as a play in 1963 and gave a boost to the career of Alan Arkin, who played a young man aspiring to be an actor. It then became a film. In its further 1976 reincarnation as a musical under the title “So Long, 174th Street, Robert Morse had the lead.

In this new version, directed and musically staged by Stuart Ross, who also contributed additional material, the role of wannabe actor, David Kolowitz is played by Chris Dwan , and he is terrific. For one thing, he is very believable. For another he has his comically awkward moves down pat, with hilarious expressions and sputtering dialogue. His antics trying to play a role in a miserable company production, with his vaudevillian slapstick and precise timing, can have you in stitches. He also delivers his singing numbers effectively, including in duets with his girlfriend Wanda, played and sung with charm by Allie Trimm.

There is also a winsome supporting cast. David Schramm plays blustering director Marlowe, who is beside himself with David’s ineptness. He also rattles off the great number “The Butler's Song,” which cements David’s imagining himself a big Hollywood star, and his butler (sung by Schramm) warding off Garbo and other callers who want to have sex with David, whose schedule is packed with bedding famous women stars. I had enjoyed this song masterfully sung by the late George S. Irving in the York’s previous staging and on special occasions. Schramm makes the bawdy number delightfully his own.

Farah Alvin is a gem as Marlowe’s actress daughter Angela, who is hot for David and makes the most of a ribald number “The Man I Can Love.” David’s parents, who want him to become a pharmacist, not an actor, are played by Robert Picardo and Alison Fraser, with the mother tremendously funny with her doubled-edged number, “If You Want to Break Your Mother’s Heart.” Picardo also has a funny number, “Hot Cha Cha,” sung with Ray DeMattis as Mr. Forman, for whom David works. Dana Costello flashes plenty of sex appeal as Miss B, whom David also wants to date. Raj Ahsan, Magnes Jarmo and Joe Veale make up the rest of the troupe.

Jennifer Paulson-Lee contributes snappy choreography, and the score is played by a trio consisting of Phil Reno, music director and pianist, Perry Cavari on drums and Michael Kuennen on bass.

A pleasant surprise is the cameo appearance of genial James Morgan, the York’s producing artistic director, as someone who is persuaded to remove the tuxedo he is wearing to supply it in an emergency situation to David for the part he has to play. Given Morgan’s larger size in comparison to the slim built David, one is laughing even before David dons the overly loose-fitting tux.

The new mounting of “Enter Laughing” in such entertaining fashion is an indication of why that work has longevity. The laughs, the clever songs and the colorful roles still hold up. At the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 54th Street just east of Lexington avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed May 17, 2019.

CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS  Send This Review to a Friend

Sam Shepard’s 1977 play, “Curse of the Starving Class,” is a particularly nasty look at a disintegrating family, apparently symbolically meant to depict a disintegrating society. This new staging by director Terry Kinny features an excellent cast interpreting Shepard’s tortured characters.

At the outset one sees an elaborate stage-wide kitchen set (scenic design by Julian Crouch), and one admires the overall look. Then presto—the shocking surprise. The set explodes in a mighty blast, and we are left with shredded walls, hanging utensils and a totally desolate look of the wasteland within which a family lives.

The depiction of the characters that follows conforms to the rubble. The parents are David Warshofsky as Weston, who lives in a drunken stupor, and Maggie Siff as Ella, who desperately wants a change in her life and is scheming to sell the house and land without her spaced-out husband’s knowledge.

Their children are the troubled, angry son, Wesley, played by Gilles Geary, and his sassy, bitter younger sister, Emma, portrayed accordingly by Lizzy DeClement. She throws a tantrum when she finds the chicken she has raised missing from the fridge. Emma is headed for trouble with a violent outburst that lands her in the clink. (Speaking of animals, a lovely lamb is brought out and put into a cage on the kitchen floor. Given the tenor of the play, one is anxious about the lamb’s future.)

Ella has latched onto a lawyer for developers, Andre Rothenberg as Taylor, and they are in the process of negotiating the secret sale. Unknown to Ella, her husband in a drunken binge has sold the property for a pittance to Ellis (Esau Pritchett), owner of a local joint called the Alibi Club. When that situation is exposed, Taylor erupts in frustration and gives a diatribe that reveals his contempt for Ella and the way in which he has been using her to promote the sort of development that Shepard appears to be condemning as the usurping of people’s lives in the name of profits that result in spoiling local areas.

In the second act we see a sudden, not very believable revival of the father into a changed, sober human being who wants to make something of the property. When he is made to realize that he had sold it while drunk he is devastated. His situation is compounded by debts he has incurred and cannot pay and he needs to get out of town to avoid danger from enforcers.

The problem at that point is that the play sort of peters out. Yes, the characters disperse according to their needs of the moment, but the dramatic punch has been weakened and there is nowhere near the bang at the end that there was in the beginning. One may leave pondering what Shepard has wrought, yet still have been entertained by the performances and the author’s malevolent take on their lives in this mean-spirited play, his gift for peppering dialogue with some observantly funny lines and speeches that border on the poetic. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed May 16, 2019


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