ECLIPSED is a five character play about the concubines of a warlord in Liberia. Concubines is a euphemism; they are sex slaves. This is a political play about how women protect themselves when in dire circumstances.

This is a challenging review for me to write. I am aware that this production has glowing reviews from multiple sources, but no matter how I look at it: this is only a tolerable play with minimal structure and a deus ex machina to tie up the story. The characters are well drawn, but the dialogue is repetitive and needlessly wordy in the first Act and while the second Act is more lively, it is didactic and preachy. Are we really so shocked that women will do whatever it takes to survive?

Am I too privileged to properly enjoy this play? Then the audience is also. Am I not empathetic to the cause?  I cannot fathom how you can write a play about this kind of inhuman treatment of people and not elicit a flood of tears from the audience, yet it doesn’t.

The cast is all excellent, Lupita Nyong’o gets to show her awesome range. The direction does nothing to help the script through rough patches, but does service the play when it is moving along. Ultimately, my real problem is with the writing. This is an “issue” play that allows the audience to come in fed and leave satisfied that they have seen an important play without having to feel uncomfortable.

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la-et-cm-blackbird-play-review-20160311Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

BLACKBIRD could have easily gotten the “movie of the week” treatment, but instead David Harrower is true to his name and gives us a concisely structured, harrowing story of a 27-year-old woman who hunts down the man who sexually abused her when she was 12 years old.  Jeff Daniels as Ray, with his shoulders stooped and his world-weary attitude, tries his darndest to make us think that this is a love story, but just one look at the shattered, emotionally stunted Una played by the amazing Michelle Williams, and we begin to worry for her safety.  Her speech is halting and she is a mess of ticks.  Her performance is just shy of too broad, but she pulls back just in time to break your heart and you realize; this is a fine actress.

Joe Mantello is on a winning streak as a director that has lasted decades.  The opening movement sets the tone perfectly.  Some of the dialogue in the beginning is a little too stilted for my taste, but this show roars through its plot and has something to add to our understanding of the psychology of criminals and victims.  This is no “movie of the week,” indeed.

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She Loves Me Studio 54 Cast List: Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, René Auberjonois, Gavin Creel, Nicholas Barasch, Peter Bartlett, Michael McGrath, Cameron Adams, Alison Cimmet, Justin Bowen, Preston Truman Boyd, Benjamin Eakeley, Sara Edwards, Michael Fatica, Gina Ferrall, Jenifer Foote, Andrew Kober, Laura Shoop, Jim Walton Production Credits: Scott Ellis (director) David Rockwell (scenic design) Jeff Mahshie (costume design) Donald Holder (lighting design) Jon Weston (sound design) Larry Hochman (orchestrations) David Krane (dance arrangements and incidental music) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Sheldon Harnick Music by: Jerry Bock Book by Joe Masteroff -

SHE LOVES ME is based on the film “The Shop Around The Corner” which was also the inspiration for Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail.”  Although I can watch “..Mail” endlessly and feel the same flood of joy every time Meg Ryan says “I was hoping it was you,”  I can barely stomach the treacly musical SHE LOVES ME.  This may be due to my intimate knowledge of the show.  I was Head of Properties at Playwrights Horizons in 1980 when we did SHE LOVES ME in their Queens satellite theater.  Back then, after multiple viewings, I said “how can Amalia be so stupid as to take what Georg says at face value and how can Georg be so wishy-washy about everything! Plus the first 1/4 of the show is just quaint, old-fashioned blandness.”

My opinion has not mellowed with age.  The score is split between Hungarian melodies and unabashed 1960’s show tunes and I find the clash of these warring elements peculiarly unsettling.  It’s the same with the book; one minute we are bound by customs and propriety, the next we are all about sex.  I was hoping this production would use these opposing poles to create something with a new attitude that might give them a reason for being in the same show.  Instead, we get a blind eye on the problems, the jokes are punched up, the romance oversold and the result gave me a sugar headache.

Don’t blame the cast.  They are wonderful, each one of them shines.  The set is gorgeous, the costumes divine.  If you have a higher tolerance for cloying sap than I, you will love this show.

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