By William Wolf

1984  Send This Review to a Friend

George Orwell’s futuristic year for his 1949 classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four” has long since passed, and while in this country we are not yet in the horrific state of repression he described in the fictional country of Oceania, the warning signs are tragically upon us. They are forcefully touched upon in the searing, well-acted version of the Orwell work adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan and now at the Hudson Theatre.

The most apparent parallel for today is the concept of an authoritarian government defining what is true in this age of alternative facts and fake news. When poor Winston Smith is brutally interrogated—and I mean brutally in an unnerving torture session—he is asked to agree that if the government says that four fingers are five, he must accept it. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to think of Donald Trump’s patent lies that he asks us to think are true.

The stakes, of course, are much higher in Orwell’s vision of a regime that suppresses all dissent at the pain of death, devalues language with “Newspeak” and has Big Brother ever watching. We are not at that stage, but the play’s warning message is loud and clear, especially as presented in this caustic and properly unsettling production.

Tom Sturridge as Winston starts off as a meek employee in the Ministry of Truth with the task of cleaning history to conform to official versions. He knows something is wrong, but what can he do about it? Ultimately, he tries to resist, both in his mind and in his stubbornness, and in the ultimate scenes of the play, he attempts to hold on to his independence under the interrogation by the superb actor Reed Birney as the smooth-talking, frightening O’Brien, who orders escalating torture. Sturridge’s entire body writhes with pain as he is increasingly bloodied, and he makes us feel deeply for him as an Everyman trapped in the web of fascism. Both Sturridge and Birney give remarkable performances defining `the individual against the state.

Olivia Wilde excels in the key role of Julia, who becomes Winston's lover, and symbolizes the one element that is supposed to remain constant no matter what—love. She blends both ferocity and sexuality in the relationship that develops. But there is the eventual betrayal that is devastating. We see the love scenes between them projected on a huge screen that hovers at the rear of the stage.

As a matter of fact, much happens on this screen. Projection (video design by Tim Reid) is a key part of the production, as are the technical aspects that add immeasurably to the overall brutal mood. The lighting (design by Natasha Chivers) and the sound (design by Tom Gibbons) are vital, controlling elements in communicating what we are meant to feel. The same can be said of the stark set (design by Chloe Lamford, also responsible for costume design).

The staging has the chilling effect that it is meant to have, and the torture scenes can send shivers down one’s spine. (One must be at least 13 years old to attend a performance.) It so happens that I had just read in the New York Times the story in which two outsourced individuals credited with designing torture for he C.I.A., including waterboarding, rationalized their work as following orders. (Where have we heard that before?)

I found it interesting and encouraging on the night I saw “1984’ to see so many young adults in the audience. The novel has been a staple in schools, and in this Trump era, sales have grown, which would explain special interest in the play.

The adaptation contains some new lines designed to make a contemporary connection, but they are superfluous. The reason why Orwell’s work has endured is because of its inherent global relevance. This theatrical version touches the right bases, and with the combination of fine acting all around and the vigorous use of staging technique, it becomes a memorable, terrifying experience that is both emotional and food for thought in today’s world. At the Hudson Theatre, 139-141 West 44th Street. Reviewed June 25, 2017.

THE TRAVELING LADY  Send This Review to a Friend

The late Horton Foote could write so effectively and beautifully, as has frequently been proven. The evidence is sensitively on display again in a revival of his “The Traveling Lady,” presented by the Cherry Lane Theatre and La Femme Theatre Productions. The characters he has created grow on you right up until the very touching ending.

There is the unpretentious setting in the small Texas town of Harrison in 1950. We meet the local characters and get some of the back story. Lynn Cohen makes the most of her colorful role as the dotty Mrs. Mavis and her funny lines.

The main thrust of the drama begins when Georgette Thomas (Jean Lichty) comes to town with her young daughter, Margaret Rose (Korinne Tetlow). Georgette intends to meet her messed up husband, Henry (PJ Sosko), who is working after being released from prison and having returned to the town where he grew up in abusive conditions. He delays meeting Georgette until he feels ready, and meanwhile, Georgette needs a place to stay and is introduced to a friendly local judge (George Morfogen) who owns property. She doesn’t want to admit her husband was in prison, but finally does so and gets a sympathetic response.

She and her daughter are offered shelter by Clara Breedlove (Angelina Fiordellisi), whose brother, Slim Murray (Larry Bull), a widower, befriends Georgette. Slim is a decent, quiet man, and he is soon smitten by the lovely Georgette, but he is shy about making a move. However, when Henry commits a theft and is captured, which will surely send him off to prison again, Slim facilitates the opportunity for Henry to meet his wife and daughter (handcuffs are taken off) and say goodbye to her and the child.

The situation at that point is sad and deeply emotional, thanks to the acting all around. Henry suddenly breaks loose and is pursued, and Georgette is left stranded and must plan a next step. Will Slim get the courage to proclaim his feelings and if so, what will be Georgette’s response?

The beauty of the play, directed with care and intelligence by Austin Pendleton, lies in Foote’s ability to develop believable characters and place them in believable surroundings. The excellent cast succeeds in making Foote’s characters come alive. Lichty as Georgette gives such an appealing performance that one roots for her to move ahead with her life successfully.

In Pendleton’s staging the aisles are used for entrances and exits, which takes advantage of the small theater’s limitations. Harry Feiner’s scenic design suggests the small town atmosphere in which the drama unfolds. Everything unites to make one leave with appreciation of having had a moving experience and renewed respect for the author. At the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Reviewed June 23, 2017.

TEREZIN  Send This Review to a Friend

The horrors of the Nazi camp Theresienstadt in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II are examined anew in Nicholas Tolkien’s play “Terezin,” based in part on “The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich.” Tolkien, the great grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, the renowned author of “The Lord of the Rings,” has also directed the play. His approach is impressionistic rather than realistic in this presentation by the Steinberg Theatre Group.

At the core are two Jewish girls, Alexi (Natasa Petrovic) and her friend Violet (Sasha K. Gordon) who are sent to the camp, which the Nazis attempted to palm off as a showplace for how well people are treated even though Terezin is a hell hole. Alexi, distinguished by her excellence at playing the violin, is distraught when Violet disappears.

The Nazi commander, Karl Rahm, is effectively played by Michael Leigh Cook as a brute who tries to seem as if he has a touch of humanity but really is a committed Nazi and anti-Semite. He is impressed with Alexi’s skill as a violinist, and offers to find Violet if Alexi will each him to play the violin. There is no reason to trust him.

As an example of the impressionistic approach, a shawl is used to simulate playing the violin while we hear the accompanying music. That is one of the most successful touches.

But other examples of the approach are strained, such as dead characters seen crawling off stage, or coming back to life in the imagination of survivors. Such surrealism is intrusive and unconvincing, even muddling.

Admittedly, there is the old problem of conditions being so terrible in the camps that attempts at realism can never do justice to depicting the atrocities. Surrealism is sometimes considered a superior form of interpretation.

The ensemble cast excels in getting into the overall mood of the play. One effective scene occurs when inmates are supposed to act is if all is rosy when inspectors come to examine conditions.

However, as sincere as this effort to expose Terezin and the lethal anti-Semitism at the heart of murderous life there is, the style of the production sometimes impedes evoking emotions connected to what we see even though the horrors are forcefully referenced. At the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street. Reviewed June 22, 2017.

THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 2007-2016  Send This Review to a Friend

And a little child shall lead them. A highlight of “The Broadway Musicals of 2007-2016” at TheTown Hall Monday night (June 19, 2017) was the smashing appearance of eight-year-old Rianna LaVerdiere, taking center stage, along with her parents, singers Christiane Noll and James LaVerdiere. With impeccable poise and a pleasing voice she sang “When I Grow Up” from “Matilda,” and indeed, she already looked quite grown up with her winsome show biz know-how. The audience embraced her, and her participating parents looked so pleased. Rianna must get superb home training, and there is the clear possibility of following professionally in her the footsteps of Noll and LaVerdiere.

The latest in the Broadway By the Year series, created, written, directed and hosted by Scott Siegel, with musical direction by Ross Patterson, brought the decades covered in the past up to date. There was less reaching down memory lane and more recent recollections of hit songs from Broadway shows. However, there were some favorite oldies as a result of their being incorporated into musicals during the past decade.

Noll and LaVerdiere did sharp work when their daughter was backstage. Noll shone with “Pure Imagination” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the defiant “Woman” from “The Pirate Queen,” and “Journey to the Past” from “Anastasia,” as well as teaming with her husband on “A Christmas Song” from “Elf.” The Number from “Anastasia” included signers from the Broadway by the Year Chorus and the entire company.

Another special feature of the evening was the appearance of the always impressive Alice Ripley, who poured it on with “Fever” from “Million Dollar Quartet,” further delighted with “You Learn to Live Without” from “If/Then” and soared with her signature song, “I Miss the Mountains” from her triumph in “Next to Normal.”

There are always discoveries to be made in the series, and this time around the newcomer spotlight was seized by Chelsea Wheatly of the Broadway by the Year Chorus. She did a knockout rendition of “I’m Changing My Major to Joan” from “Fun Home,” expressing sheer delight in a sexual experience with a woman the night before. In addition to an appealing voice, Wheatley displays an extremely expressive face as she sings.

Jeanine Bruen sang “Burn” from Hamilton, and Siegel quipped concerning her up-and-coming talent that by the time people in the audience who had not yet seen “Hamilton” do get to see it, they might well find Bruen in it. Interesting looking Erin Davie, who has a voice that can soar, delighted with “Always Better” from “The Bridges of Madison County,” “What Baking Can Do” from “Waitress” and “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Standout male voices included Scott Coulter excelling with “Electricity” from “Billy Elliot,” a dynamic “I Will Survive” from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “You’ve Got a Friend” from “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” There was also talented Brandon Uranowitz singing “Build a Wall” (nothing to do with Trump) from “Shrek” and in a striking gender twist, “The Man I Love” from “An American in Paris.”

Tap dancing has long been a staple of the series, and this one went all out in that department. The first half ended with “Fascinating Rhythm” from "Nice Work If You Can Get It,” brilliantly choreographed and tapped by Luke Hawkins. The show was capped with a wow when Danny Gardner choreographed and tapped dazzlingly as he led a cane-wielding tap brigade in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” from “Young Frankenstein.” The perfectly coordinated troupers included Sean Bell, Allegra Bennett, Sarah Fagan, Kim McClay, Jake Primmerman, Tiffany Rudi, Joseph Sammour, John Scacchetti, Kelly Sheehan and Michael Verre.

Ross Patterson, ever on the piano as well as being musical director, was accompanied by Randy Landau on bass and Jamie Eblen on drums. Rick Hinkson was assistant director and assistant stage manager, with Joe Burke and Holly Cruz as production assistants. Members of the Broadway by the Year Chorus, in addition to the soloing Chelsea Wheatley and Jeanine Bruen, included Pedro Coppeti, Ashton Corey, Samantha Owen and Matt Weinstein. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed June 21, 2017.

THE ARAN ISLANDS  Send This Review to a Friend

Irish actor Brendan Conroy has the ability to hold an audience spellbound as he interprets J.M. Synge’s play “The Aran Islands” in his one-man show adapted and directed by Joe O’Byrne at the Irish Repertory Theatre. He creates an atmosphere that elicits the color in Synge’s writing as he describes the geographical area and spins the stories that Synge discovered.

The time is around 1900, and Conroy early on describes approaching the islands off the west coast of Galway, Ireland. There is a forbidding rocky, desolate look at first, and Conroy colorfully captures the initial feelings.

But as the two-act show progresses, the actor plunges deeper and deeper into island existence as conveyed by the author. There are a host of individual stories recollected. Some are droll, some are sad.

One islander, for example, observes that any man who doesn’t get married is an old jackass.

Through it all, Conroy modulates his voice to express reactions, and he also strides or strolls about the stage under O’Byrne’s direction to provide much-needed movement to keep the performance from becoming static.

It is mainly the actor’s gift for mellifluously immersing himself in Synge’s portrait of the islands and their people that commands attention and does justice to the play.

At the end of the first act a woman sitting next to me leaned over and said, “I grew up just across from there,” indicating that the play had special meaning for her. I have never visited the islands, but I came away with an intimate picture of what life would have been like in that period of history. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Reviewed June 21, 2017.


In view of the controversy that hit the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar,” the first thing that need be said is that the folks at the Public have every right to present a work in any way chosen. That is called artistic freedom, and in no way should the organization have to self-censor plays because of attacks.

As for evaluating the interpretation of the play by director Oskar Eustis, the result is a dynamic staging that ignites excitement and passion. Like other directors of various classics, Eustis was obviously searching for a way to make this staging unique. What of the particular choices?

Shakespeare’s powerful, insightful “Julius Caesar” has through the centuries impressed those who made a connection between the issues involved to make comparisons in their own eras and governmental situations. There have been all sorts of interpretations. When one views the play today, one doesn’t need gimmicks to make the play clear as to how it might apply in these times. If one trusts audience intelligence, a comparison will be evident.

Making Caesar look like President Trump gets a laugh, as does the casting of Caesar’s wife to resemble the First Lady. Their bathtub scene together is very funny. As for the assassination, it is extremely bloody and the egotistical Trump-alike portrayal (by Gregg Henry) suggests the horror of contemporary violence. Those upset by the idea should note that the chaotic slaughter that is an outgrowth of the assassination delivers a key message of the play— violence breeds more violence and is not a solution to political problems.

Was modernizing the classic in this way necessary to get what the play is saying with respect to today’s conflicts? Do we really need the Trump gambit? Do we need an American flag in the mix? Do we need a playful line inserted to solidify the reference to Trump? Yes, it makes for fun, especially in Democratic New York City, but is it superfluous?

Much more dramatically valid is the positioning of supporting players throughout the audience to shout at the competing powers in the play. That creates extra excitement and involvement. (On the night I attended two real protestors had to be ushered out while the action on stage stopped.)

There is also the decision to have Marc Antony played by a woman, with Elizabeth Marvel doing a good job. But I am not keen in the way it is done. It would make more sense if casting a woman in the role to have her perform dressed as the male character Shakespeare wrote. Here Marvel, with her flowing hair, is portraying a woman who would have been an unlikely leader in the mix at the time. After all, it is MARC Antony.

The rest of the cast is also excellent--for example, Corey Stoll as Brutus, John Douglas Thompson as Cassius and Nikkim James as Portia.

Physically the overall production effect is exemplary, with a huge, striking scenic design by David Rockwell fitting the dynamics of the play. The total presentation, with a vast company, makes for an entertaining and often moving evening in the park and allows us a fresh look at the play and its meaning despite the shortsightedness of the protests. At the Delacorte Theater, Central Park entrance at 81st Street. Reviewed June 17, 2017.


As a good union member in my youth I would join colleagues in sitting around and be energized singing such Woody Guthrie songs as “Union Maid,” “This Train is Bound for Glory” and “This Land is Your Land.” Seeing the wonderful musical tribute to Guthrie at the Irish Repertory Theatre, including those favorite songs, is not only an entertaining and emotional trip down memory lane but a reminder of what Americans must currently fight for in a time when workers and liberal principles are under assault.

“Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie” has been cleverly devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, with Corley directing and musical direction by Lutken. It is Lutken who charms on stage by leading us through Guthrie’s life and comments, as well as playing guitar as he takes us on the musical journey. Lutken has a lanky build, an easygoing style and is the perfect stand-in for Guthrie in speech and song.

Before this very special show begins we see a variety of instruments, different types of guitars, violins and a bass on stage, and gradually the cast, picks up the instruments and shows collective and individual talent in giving us samples of Guthrie’s prolific output as a working class troubadour who inspired a generation of folk music by others who picked up on his musical battle for causes in which he believed. He became very close, for example, to the iconic Pete Seeger.

The song list performed in two acts is staggering. Megan Loomis and Helen Jean Russell not only are excellent musicians, but they sing impressively with their folksy interpretations of Guthrie’s music and lyrics, and their effective acting contributes warmly to the Guthrie portrait to which the show is geared. Andy Teirstein also adds to the Guthrie spirit with his musicianship that even includes amusingly making music with spoons.

But it is Lutken who leads the way throughout, as he takes Guthrie, born in Oklahoma of parents of Scots-Irish descent, through his life and relationships that chronicle his restlessness and acquired sympathy for the underdog. One of the poignant segments involves Guthrie’s stop at a fruit picker location in California, where in the midst of the Great Depression poverty, workers struggle for existence along the lines of what John Steinbeck dramatized in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The show also alludes to Guthrie’s battles with censorship for his leftist and pro-Communist views and associations, his working class-inspired songs and his determination to be heard. Also covered is his stint in the Merchant Marines during World War II. There is the ultimate sadness of his inherited Huntington disease, of which his mother died, and which cut his life short at the age of 55.

The songs to which we are treated along the way also include “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” “I Ride an Ol’ Paint,” “Jolly Banker,” “Vigilante Man,” “Sinking of the Reuben James” and a host of others, all winningly performed in an intimate manner that connects with the audience. Although the songs are delivered with the height of professionalism after the show having being performed in various venues before this Irish Repertory Theatre outing, there is the feeling that it is just being done for those watching at the moment.

This is a production not to be missed for those who enjoy or especially treasure folk music. Audience members are invited to a second floor Guthrie exhibition, which is rich in his history via original documents, newspaper clippings, photos and examples of his writings. It is well worth planning to take the time to see it, during intermission or, preferably, after the show when you can take more time. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone 212-255-0270. Reviewed June 15, 2017.

INVINCIBLE  Send This Review to a Friend

First we meet one couple, then another, and by the time “Invincible,” a play by Torben Betts, is in full swing, there are dramatic fireworks for all concerned. Part of of the Brits Off-Broadway series, the entertaining and incisive drama is being presented by The Original Theatre Company and Ghost Light Theatre Productions.

I say drama, but there is a lot to laugh at in the close-up portraits of the characters depicted, even though the overview becomes very serious. Directed by Stephen Darcy, with the original direction by Christopher Harper, the play set in a small town in northern England deals with such subjects as political views, war, class, marriage and infidelity. The ease with which all is integrated not only stems from the savvy play text but on the four excellent actors who make the characters come vividly alive.

The two with whom we first become acquainted are Emily (Emily Bowker) and Oliver (Alastair Whatley). Emily, who paints, is extremely radical; she thinks the British Labour party is much too conservative, far from the Marxist views she holds. She takes pride in her dedication to being truthful in contrast to the dishonesty she sees as corrosive. Her avant-garde, abstract paintings are visible on the walls.

Oliver, a much more reserved type, has to contend with Emily’s very nervous state. She despises his dying mother as a right wing evangelist. There is a telltale line in which she informs him that she is trying to get “beyond sex.” That immediately signals trouble in paradise. They argue considerably about politics, given Emily’s extremism.

The couple has invited neighbors for a visit and the first to arrive is Dawn (Eiizabeth Boag), a shapley number who is wearing a sexy, revealing red dress. The sight of her is extremely erotic for Oliver, obviously frustrated given Emily’s attitude toward sex. Emily looks appalled at Dawn’s provocative image.

We next meet Dawn’s husband, Alan (Graeme Brookes), an over-the-top type who dominates the room with his crassness. He trumpets his patriotism, and is proud of a son who is serving in the British armed forces. Alan is certain he will come home in glory. Dawn doesn’t believe the lad should be risking his life.

Alan paints too, and there is hilarity when he produces the paintings of his beloved cat (the cat becomes a major part of the plot). The paintings are awful, but to Alan they are works of art, in contrast to the displayed abstract work by Emily that completely puzzles him.

Alan makes the mistake of asking for an unvarnished opinion of his paintings from Emily, and when, truth teller that she professes to be, she says he has no talent, that ignites a firestorm of ill feeling. It turns out that she insists on Oliver telling the truth about another matter that could unleash even worse results.

That is as much plot as you’ll get here. There are relationship ramifications all around as the play intensifies. The four actors are terrific and keep us involved. With the Brits Off Broadway series one can generally count on such acting expertise. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewd June 14, 2017.

COST OF LIVING  Send This Review to a Friend

Until Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living” takes a forced, not very credible late-play turn, the drama is riveting and deeply moving as a result of the writing, the poignancy attached to the characters and the true-to-life acting.

The production by the Manhattan Theatre Club in association with the Williamstown Theatre Festival has been directed with utmost sensitivity by Jo Bonney, at least until what seems a clumsy, tacked on conclusion.

John, upscale, well-educated, witty and brilliantly played by Gregg Mozgala, is mostly confined to a wheelchair due to his severe cerebral palsy. He needs a part-time caretaker, and applying for the job is Jess, played by Jolly Abraham. John is prickly as he interrogates her as to why she wants the job, and not cowed, she responds in kind with her explanation. After such entertaining sparring, Jess is hired. Mozgala isn’t only acting effectively; he also has cerebral palsy in real life.

When the location changes, there is another case of a physical challenge. Ani, portrayed with defiant gusto and rat-a-tat-tat, amusing profanity that masks her inner pain, has lost both legs in an auto accident. She is played by the wonderful Katy Sullivan, who in real life also is legless. Mozgala and Sullivan do not rely on their personal situations for audience sympathy. Everything effective that they do is earned by their excellent acting.

The fourth character in the play is Eddie, an out-of-work truck driver portrayed profoundly by Victor Williams. He and Ani, although still legally married, were separated before the accident. He is lonely and sad and returns to Ani both out of lingering affection and a desire to care for her. She exudes resentment and insists on his departing, but she is also susceptible to his sincerity despite the talk of divorce.

There are scenes in the play that are erotic and extremely sensitive. In one, Jess gives John the shower he cannot take alone, and as they banter, she undresses him until he is totally nude and maneuvers him into position. There is gentle sensuality, although Jess hands him a washcloth to do his privates on his own. The scene communicates the extent of John’s basic physical helplessness and Jess’s adjustment to her task.

In Ani’s apartment, we see her in a bath with Eddie attending to her. She forthrightly wants him to attempt to use his hand to see if she can feel pleasure, and he, somewhat embarrassingly, slides his hand into the tub water and obliges. Even more sensuous is the way in which at one point he very delicately runs his fingers along her arm. There would at that moment seem hope that she and Eddie could get back together.

As for John and Jesse, we observe an increasing attraction for her on his part, and she agrees to come back at night for what would seem to be a date unrelated to her work. We wonder what will happen.

Essentially the beauty of the play in its writing, acting and contemplating of the challenging situations has all been set before us. But suddenly the author takes us down a further road that undercuts everything that has gone before, and although still deeply moved by what has passed, one might wish that the play had undergone a severe back-end edit. At Stage I, New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Reviewed June 9, 2017.

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR  Send This Review to a Friend

Jeffrey Hatcher’s spirited adaptation of Russian author Nikolai Gogol’s play “Revizor” is broadly staged by Jesse Berger with hilarious results in this Red Bull theater presentation. The cast is wonderfully up to the uproariously funny satire on government dishonesty, and you can read what you will into making modern comparisons even though the farce is set in 1836 in a provincial Russian town.

Michael McGrath is steadily funny as the corrupt, blustering mayor, Anton Antonovich, who goes into a frenzy when he gets word that an investigating government inspector is in town. There is urgent need for a cover-up of the bribery that abounds in running everything from a hospital with rooms so small that beds don’t fit in them, a school where the teachers are totally inept and a postal system with a mailman who reads everybody’s letters.

The central joke is that Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov, a preening, debt-ridden failure who talks daily of suicide but looks in the mirror and egotistically fixes his hair before balking at pulling the trigger of his gun, is mistaken for the expected inspector. Michael Urie as Ivan gives a gloriously comic performance and is a show unto himself. His long drunk scene in which the mayor schemes to get him intoxicated and amenable to bribes is side-splittingly hilarious. Urie is a comic genius whether verbally or with his gift for slapstick requiring deft use of his pliable body.

Ivan easily takes to enjoying all the money shoved at him and the fawning flattery that boosts his ego, ultimately reveling in putting one over on the dishonest lot who have mistaken his identity.

Mary Testa makes the most of playing the mayor’s haughty wife, Anna, whom her husband denigrates as being dressed like “a lamp shade in a whorehouse.” She flirtatiously gets hot for Ivan, but so does her competitive daughter, Marya, played by Talene Monahon with comically deadpan determination to make Ivan woo her into submission with song and poetry.

The entire company deserves much praise for providing the ensemble merriment, including Arnie Burton, Mary Lou Rosato, Tom Alan Robbins, David Manis, Stephen DeRosa, James Rana, Luis Moreno, Ryan Garbayo, Ben Mehl and Kelly Hutchinson. There is some doubling of roles, always smoothly, and the cast members are attired in the amusing period costumes designed by Tilly Grimes.

Set designer Alexis Distler has cleverly created a two-tier playing area, the upper one serving as the mayor’s home, where much of the plot unfolds.

Much credit should go to director Berger, whose vigorously over-the-top staging, with cast members who skillfully immerse themselves into the broad comedy concept, gives an audience a rollicking good time. At The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. Phone: 246-223-3042. Reviewed June 4, 2017.


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