It is obvious that Neil LaBute is not Jewish. You can tell because he writes the most wonderfully despicable characters that even when self-aware, they never feel guilt about their bad behavior. The fascinating and spellbinding new show ALL THE WAYS TO SAY I LOVE YOU could have easily followed suit with his REASONS TO BE PRETTY and REASONS TO BE HAPPY and been titled REASONS TO LIE TO YOURSELF.
Once again Judith Light does her chameleon disappearing act into a character. Wearing no makeup and a sad little wig, she embodies a midwest high school English and Drama teacher who has an affair with one of her students. And I am not giving away anything by telling you this. This story has so much more to divulge.
As with most of Mr. LaBute’s cannon, there is a central theme to this play: what is the cost of a lie? and like most of his plays, he is going to tell you the answer in a vicious, devastating tale that leaves you breathless. This is a 60 minute, one woman tour-de-force and every single minute is enthralling and unnerving.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom © T Charles Erickson Photography firstname.lastname@example.org
August Wilson, Neil LaBute and Horton Foote; I get to see works by three of my favorite playwrights this month! First up is August Wilson’s MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM at Two River Theater, Red Bank, NJ. Ruben Santiago-Hudson has directed a superb, thrilling production of one of August Wilson’s finest plays.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM takes place at a sound studio in 1927 Chicago, where Ma Rainey and her band are recording some new songs in a style that is popular in the African-American community, for a Caucasian owned Record label. Although the topic of the play is race, the story is not black and white (sorry). The characters are drawn so beautifully and performed so skillfully that no one is a cliche, there are no easy solutions.
August Wilson was a poet; his ear for banter, his beautifully phrased monologues revealing multi-layered characters culminating in actions that speak louder than words are all hallmarks of his work. Brandon J. Dirden gives a strong, intelligent performance as Levee, but the entire cast is remarkable, performing on a multi-leveled Set, where each section is uniquely atmospheric. Highly recommended.
The Berkshire Theater Group’s production of FIORELLO!. Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware.
I love Bock & Harnick’s score to FIORELLO!, the musical about how Fiorello LaGuardia became Mayor of New York. Set in 1919-1934, the book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott was written in 1959 with a 1959 mentality, both good and bad. The idea that politics is just a “song and dance” is such a breath of fresh air given the current nasty political climate, however the dated female tropes of being helpless and emotionally desperate are painful to watch, even in a period setting.
The Berkshire Theater Group has transferred their production of FIORELLO! to the East 13th Street Theater (better known as the home of Classic Stage Company). The cast is very young. The show feels like a college production. The voices are untrained, the acting is uneven, the dialects are a rollercoaster of awkward sounds. There are some gems; Dan Cassin and Chelsea Cree Groen are adorable as Floyd and Dora, Bob Moss‘ direction is smart and sophisticated, and the concise Set design packs all of the essentials. Austin Scott Lombardi gives a credible performance as LaGuardia, a role that should be charm personified. I am afraid this production is only for the die-hard fans of the musical.