Fall/Winter 2017 on Broadway

David Zinn’s fabulous set and costumes for SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS.

Dear Readers,

Since my last review, I have been withholding; I saw six shows. Why didn’t I write reviews of these shows? Because they were one and all utterly uninspiring. None was so bad as to receive a pithy reproach. Equally, none inspired glee. So here is my short catch-up on this lackluster season to date:

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONSJohn Leguizamo’s entertaining one-man show includes a short political diatribe which is to be expected considering the “Wall” etc. Not quite the insightful, thrilling journeys we’ve gone through with him in the past, but amusing enough.

METEOR SHOWER – I expected so much more from the author of SHOPGIRL and BRIGHT STAR, this slight play reads like a college exercise in surrealism, but damn, that is a “grade A” cast of comedians and I laughed A LOT during the first 2/3rds.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND – I’m not one for folk tales about women sacrificing for love. Don’t you think we’ve had enough of that? This show has some great music, some great dancing, but comes off like an overstuffed Disney Caribbean Princess story.

THE PARISIAN WOMAN – Bland show with a bland leading actress. Politics-lite.

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS – If you know the cartoon, you will love this show. The characters are absolutely spot-on, David Zinn‘s set & costumes are eye-popping. The story is a jumble of unresolved plots and the songs are a jukebox mess.

FARINELLI AND THE KINGMark Rylance is always enthralling on stage, and the castrati-style vocalist supported by original instruments (and no sound system) are stunning. Unfortunately, the play is slight and drags.

So what’s the take away from this mediocre start of the 2017-2018 season? Producers are mostly back-ending the shows to the spring, closer to the TONYS, but once the theaters are all full, there may be a traffic jam and it’s usually the interesting straight plays that lose out when that happens.

I’ll be reporting from LA for the next few months. Stay warm.

TIME AND THE CONWAYS

Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew James Thomas, Cara Ricketts and Anna Camp in Roundabout Theatre Company’s TIME AND THE CONWAYS. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

*** 1/2

In TIME AND THE CONWAYS, by J.B. Priestley of AN INSPECTOR CALLS, a fatherless family of siblings, led by their capricious Mother, throw a birthday party in 1919 Britain at the end of the war. The play then makes a jump to 1937 where we can see the effect of time on the characters and the result is not heartwarming.

Director Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony for last season’s INDECENT, once again shows her flair for theatricality with a mise en scène that fits the melancholy action elegantly. There is a Set change that is so achingly mournful, I won’t easily forget it.

Nevertheless, this is not a perfect revival. Ms. Taichman concentrates on the grand illusion while the cast is sidelined. The performances are uneven and some of the revelations are diluted. This is a charming play with inventive staging, so I am happy I saw it, but like the Conways themselves, I only wish it had fulfilled its potential.

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JUNK

JUNK at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

***

Imagine a dystopian society where everyone’s sole motivation is greed and the only god anyone worships is Money. No, this isn’t a Margaret Atwood cautionary tale about the future, it’s JUNK, Ayad Akhtar‘s take on 1980s indulgence and the subsequent financial collapse. Using a funhouse mirror set, this is a play about only seeing the world thru the distortion of avarice.

I loved Ayad Akhtar‘s 2012 play DISGRACED, which delved deep into identity as defined thru religion and race, told in very modern and bold terms. You can still see Mr. Akhtar’s wit in JUNK, but with more than quadruple the number of characters his skill at showing the many conflicting layers of personality gets narrowed to just the lead, Robert Merkin. Merkin is an obvious swap for IRL Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King, famous for hostile takeovers and insider trading.

Disappointingly, this is a story we have seen in MANY plays and movies. There are no real surprises, until the last few minutes of the play. So although the pace is quick and the text is smart, it is an old story that plays out as expected. And if he mansplained “Junk Bonds” one more time, I would have walked out.

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A Wordless Show Clip (why?)