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Off Broadway

All the Natalie Portmans Is Well Crafted With Performances That Sear

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Kara Young, Joshua Boone Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez

I was late to the table in seeing All the Natalie Portmans, at MCC Theater.  C.A. Johnson’s play, takes on loss, poverty and alcoholism and shines a 100 watt electric light on the African American family in crises. Here Samuel (Joshua Boone), has been forced to give up his dreams and his childhood to support his 16-year old sister Keyonna (Kara Young) and their alcoholic mother Ovetta (Montego Glover). Thier father’s has died leaving Samuel to become the man and the mother of the house. Though Ovetta works, she has a drinking problem and has gambled away the hard eared rent money. Often staying away for days at a time Keyonna has only Samuel to guide and watch over her. She escapes into her dreams of becoming a screenwriter. Her enjoyment is watching movies over and over again. She has created a vision board with mostly white actresses, which drives her mother insane.When life gets too tough Natalie Portman (Elise Kibler), appears as various Portman movie characters. They act out scenes from these movies in order to escape reality. Keyonna is smart, sassy and gay. She just needs to live through today.

Montego Glover, Joshua Boone Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez

When Ovetta who works as a housekeeper at a hotel, goes off on a binge and spends the rent money, Samuel and Keyonna’s lives are turned upside down. It doesn’t help that Ovetta also shares a drink or more with their landlord Epps (Raphael Peacock). 

Kara Young, Renika Williams Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez

Add into this mix Chantel (Renika Williams) the girl both Samuel and Keyona love, who loves them back and you have fireworks that just keep exploding.

Kara Young, Elise Kibler Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez

Mark the name Kara Young. This girl is incredible. She will win you over with her vulnerable fierce performance that embeds itself into your heart. You will not be able to take your eyes off her. You believe her relationship with Boone that seems real and touching. Montego Glover performance will tear your heart out as she brings this mother to life who is trapped by poverty, loss and addiction. You won’t even recognize her, this performance is so layered. Ms. Williams and Ms. Kibler make the most out of their roles, making the acting in this show superb.

Montego Glover, Kara Young Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez

Kate Whoriskey direction infuses this show with life, that despite its struggles just keeps on moving forward.

As for Ms. Johnson’s script, it is painfully real and will touch your heart. There are many Natalie Portman appearances and I have to admit I am not a big movie buff, so I missed a lot of those references, but the writing is so impactful that they almost became an after thought.

I recommend this show highly for the acting, the writing and a fleshed out script that will make you think. This is on my best play list.

All the Natalie Portmans: The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 W 52nd St. until March 29th.

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Off Broadway

Jonah Off-Broadway at Roundabout Cracks Wide Open Trauma and Repair

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The story that is being told is a complete page-turner. Back and forth, up and around, and deep within, flipping from now to back then in a light flash of repeated verbal moment and some lightning cracks in the time continuum. It’s a fantastically compelling unpacking, these articulate moments of disturbing wonder, playing with frameworks and fantasies that gnaw at our stressful hearts and imagination. We are pulled, sweetly, at first, into the world of Ana, played to perfection by the magnificently detailed Gabby Beans (LCT’s The Skin of Our Teeth), completely and within an instant, wanting and waiting for this tender kind of interaction to blossom, but also realizing she walks too fast and too forward. We want to hold on to this cautious, overly emotional tingling, and gigantically charming awkward fumbling. It can make a young man cry. Or a young woman lean in with hope and faith.

Roundabout Theatre Company‘s Jonah, a new play most vitally and inquisitively written by Rachel Bonds (Goodnight Noboby; The Lonely Few), asks us to follow in the quick footsteps of Ana, begging us to keep up, but falling through doorways with abstract oblivion at a moment’s notice. It’s the tenderest of beginnings, with a crack that opens up a world of problematic trauma and complex formulations. Those trapped constructs, and those “deep deep sick” feelings, sneak inside our senses and leave us wondering where we are moment to moment, and what should we believe.

As directed with clarity and vision by Danya Taymor (Broadway’s Pass Over), the effect is deliberately destabilizing, giving you tenderness and discomfort within moments of each other, with the changing of the guard brought upon by sharp cracks and seizures in the universe. The titular character, Jonah, delicately and dynamically portrayed by the sweetest of creatures, Hagan Oliveras (“American Horror Stories“; Players Theatre’s The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends), runs in pursuit of the electric energy of Ana, trying hard to keep up with this fantastical creature. What is she running to? Or from? It’s the most engaging of beginnings, drawing us forward with awkward longing and a supersonic unseared outreach. We couldn’t want this union more as we say “yeah, yeah, yeah” to their cross-legged flirtation with love and understanding, but there is something that just doesn’t feel real, or maybe right, in their outreach. And an uneasiness starts to sink in.

I like you,” he says, with utter sincerity, and our hearts shimmer open a wee bit more. Jonah plays with our sensibilities and our own longing for this kind of thoughtful spring awakening, until that lighting crack and skipping occurs. Much like on an old-fashioned record player, courtesy of the stellar work of set designer Wilson Chin (MTC’s Cost of Living), lighting by Amith Chandrashaker (MTC’s Prayer for the French Republic), and sound design by Kate Marvin (MCC’s Wolf Play), a fracture comes into play, and we are thrown. Or is it he that is thrown? We are no longer in her dorm room, cozy and awkward, retelling our intricate fantasizes to a wide-eyed young man in love, but somewhere else, trying to survive the brutal hard world of before alongside her stepbrother Danny, played powerfully by Samuel H. Levine (Broadway’s The Inheritance). It doesn’t carry with it that same sense of authentic innocence and safety. It’s dangerous, and uncomfortable, even in the care and protective stance of her stepbrother.

Gabby Beans and Samuel H. Levine in RTC’s Jonah. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I do what I want,” is a refrain the young Ana keeps repeating to the lovestruck Jonah, and at first we believe in the bravado, until we see a different aspect of Ana’s existence, a parallel universe, in a way, where the trap has been set, not by her, but by the world of ‘have and have not’; ‘need and hunger’. “She just got trapped,” she says of her mother, “afraid of what he might do.” She knows this caged framework in a way that few of us can understand, yet maybe the third man that comes knocking on that door, later, in a different place and time, can ask the right question from the correct category of topics; the one that is now fixated on the flame of Ana; the very tall Steven, played to itchy delight by John Zdrojeski (Broadway’s Good Night, Oscar).

It is there in the third where something shifts, where protection and need come together, collide, and shatter on the floor. Ana is working hard to find something that resembles her fantasy, or push the thought away behind her writing and a closed door. But also, maybe she can discover at least a pathway for the opening up and the healing to begin. It’s the cleverest of constructs, looking at trauma and pain from a number of angles and vantage points, all at once, from up above, back and forward, and within such a detailed and unique lyrical unwrapping. Beans is absolutely ingenious in her complicated approach to the parallels, giving us a character worthy of the fixation. Jonah is the key, the ointment to stop the itch, and the pathway to healing.

John Zdrojeski and Gabby Beans in Roundabout Theatre Company’s .Jonah. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For more info and tickets, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Music

Jason Robert Brown’s The Connector Is Intelligent, Thought Provoking and Musically Seamless

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“The truth is not about the facts – forgive me. The facts can always be manipulated, arranged, massaged – We are not purveyors of facts, we are tellers of truths.” …..Or are we?

The Connector now playing at at MCC’s Newman Mills Theater space, has twice been extended and in all honesty should move to Broadway this season. If it did it would stands a massive chance of being nominated or winning Best Musical, Best Score, Best Orchestration, Best Direction, Best Lead Actor and many of the technical awards. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the Drama Desk and The Outer Critics Circle Awards come award season.

Set in 1996 at a newspaper called “The Connector”, this unrivaled purveyor of “the truth and nothing but the truth,” is about to be put to the test. Enter Ethan Dobson (the remarkable Ben Levi Ross), fresh out of Princeton who’s arrived with talent, guts and a smarmy style.

Scott Bakula, Ben Levi Ross By Joan Marcus

Ethan has long admired and longs to work for the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Conrad O’Brien (welcome back to the fabulous Scott Bakula), who is being over run by new owners, who care more about circulation and the color turquoise, than facts.

Jessica Molaskey By Joan Marcus

The first person Ethan meets and the voice of a collective conscience is Robin Martinez (normally played by Hannah Cruz, but at my performance Ashley Pérez Flanagan). At first attracted to Ethan, Robin starts to see the cracks, as does fact checker, Muriel (a layered performance by Jessica Molaskey). Right from the start, she does not like or trust Ethan. Nor do we. In a strange way, this almost seems like a musicalized version of “The Talented Mr. Ripley”.

As Conrad takes Ethan under his wing, we see three of his stories, each done in a different musical style. The first is about an eccentric West Village scrabble player (the terrific Max Crumm). With a “Rhythm of Life” feel, Ethan becomes an over night success with circulation increasing and a fan by the name of Mona Bland (a memorable Mylinda Hull) who will end up being his downfall.

Fergie Philippe, Hannah Cruz, and Ben Levi Ross Photo: Joan Marcus

The next story is about the take down of the mayor of Jersey City, done in rap/ gangland style that gets him a nomination for the prestigious National Magazine Award. As his source Willis, Fergie Philippe gives his all, but the problem we soon find out, is that though the story is sensational, there are gaping holes in the facts, which Muriel, Robin and Mona glaringly see. 

In the end who is Ethan really? What is truth and what is fact? Does the public really care or do they just want sensationalism? Has the world really gotten over its sexism? It’s racialism? Sadly, I don’t think so. Everything becomes the movie of the week and then goes away until the next big scandal.

The Connector was conceived and directed by Daisy Prince, who does a remarkable job and asks some really intelligent questions. She has also gathered a fabulous cast, who makes this show seem real, relevant and up to date.

Ben Levi Ross By Joan Marcus

Ben Levi Ross will remind you of Jessie Einsenburg. He is loaded with talent. Not only does he posses a vocal prowess that is unmatched, his nuances and phenomenal acting choices make him so watchable. He is like an onion slowly peeling away each delicate layer. He is seriously brilliant.


As Robin, I saw the understudy who is about to take over the role, Ashley Pérez Flanagan. She sings and acts well, but lacks some of the nuances that originally made me want to see this show. I fell in love with the song “Cassandra” in 2017 and either Jason Robert Brown rewrote some of the notes or they were different in the production I saw. This song is pivotal to the show, as the lyrics talk about how women writers are written off.

“Half the stories of the world are left unwritten, half the stories have been lost along the way. And so the people of the world will not encounter, anything but one perspective, one reflection, one directive, male and white and unenlightened, every day. It’s easy for you, it’s easy for you and I’m missing it”

These are the lyrics by Jason Robert Brown for “Cassandra”. Not only is his music rich in rhythm and style, but it reaches into your soul to take capture. His lyrics hit at the heart of pain, truth, anger and honesty. Each song is a playlet with character-driven narratives and stand on their own. Smartly his band is electric and musically I could sit through this show every night of the week and hear new emotional tugs. I am so excited to announce the album will be released in late spring by Concord Theatricals Recording, because I want to listen to these songs again and again. A plus is JRB is on the piano playing with his band.

Jonathan Marc Sherman’s book is funny, terrifying and taps on timely issues, however I did want more as to the why’s and psychology of Ethan, but maybe that’s the point, we don’t understand the why’s and never will.

Not only is the show wonderfully done, but the raw masterful set by Beowulf Boritt, lighting by and projection design by Janette Oi-Suk Yew and choreography by Karla Puno Garcia are shear perfection.

You will not be able to stop thinking about this show, that is full of thought provoking ideas on journalistic integrity and the difference between fact and truth. This is a show not to be missed and that’s a fact.

The Connector: MCC Theater Space, 511 W 52nd Street, through March 17th.

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Off Broadway

Opening Night of A Sign Of The Times

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The York Theatre Company production of A Sign of the Times, opened officially at New World Stages. A Sign of the Times, is a new musical featuring the songs of Petula Clark, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield and other classic pop hits of the 1960s. It features a book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman based on an original story by Richard J. Robin. Directing is Gabriel Barre, with music direction and orchestrations by Joseph Church and choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter.

On the red carpet were Lindsey Hope Perlman,Gabriel Barre., Richard J Robin, Joseph Church (opening picture)

Lee Roy Reams,

Lee Roy Reams, Lorna Dallas Brown

Michael D’Angora, Amy Hillner Larsen

Kristofer Buckle-make up artist

Jim Morgan

Gabriel Barre, Richard J. Robin

 

 

 

 

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Off Broadway

NYTW’s “I Love You So Much I Could Die” Asks A Lot From You. Are You Willing?

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I’ve seen several one-person shows this past week, 3 to be exact (Grand’s Huff, Tarragon’s Guilt, & TPM’s As I Must Live It); sorta 4 if you don’t want to get toooo technical about it all (Soulpepper’s De Profundis). And each one engaged our emotional soul in differing and unique manners. I couldn’t help myself thinking about that theoretical construct as I watched Mona Pirnot, writer and performer of I Love You. So Much I Could Die, walk in from behind, down the stairs, and onto the bare minimalistic set at the downtown New York Theatre Workshop. She sits, facing away from us all, staring upright at the back walk of exposed brick, and turns on her laptop and types a few things in to get this exercise rolling. And I was struck by the abstractionism we were about to sit through for the next 65 minutes. It was clearly going to be a different experience than any of these other shows I experienced last week, and I couldn’t help but wonder how I was going to respond to this setup.

It’s a structural theoretical experience, one destined to play mind tricks with almost every person in the audience. Pirnot (NYTW’s Usual Suspect) never turns to face us with the story she wants to tell. It’s unclear why at the beginning, but as she unleashes her story, not with her own voice, but with the voice of her computer, Microsoft text-to-speech tool, the complicated, and frustrating, unwrapping becomes more and more clear. It’s a completely devastating tale of pain and tragedy that she has set out to detail, most effectively in her “cut to” tense listing of events. And she doesn’t have the voice to actually say it out loud. It’s too much. Too difficult to vocalize. She has the words, obviously, and the wit and strength, but not the voice. Unless she is singing a sad song of sorry, or love, accompanying herself with her trusted guitar that sits, oddly enough, facing us on the wide expanse of the stage.

Mona Pirnot in I Love You So Much I Could Die at New York Theatre Workshop – photo by Jenny Anderson.

The story is spoken out to us from that Microsoft voice, somewhat flat and awkward, distancing ourselves and her from the horribly sad and dark moments of an accident of some sort that incapacitated (to put it mildly) her sister during that complicated timeframe of the pandemic when visiting a loved one in the hospital was just not allowed. It seems she needs that disconnect to really tell us that tale; of that difficult and chaotic time in Florida where she spent months trying to survive her emotional self and the space she found herself with her husband; the playwright and ultimately the director of this show Lucas Hnath (Broadway’s A Doll’s House, Part 2). It’s an understandable predicament, one that I’ve always praised when an actor can tell us such a sad tale and maintain their voice, so I wrestled with that inside my head, somewhat distractively, during her unpacking, and somehow came out the other end understanding and sympathizing with the theory and experiment.

Using that flat computer tone and by staying turned away, she is able to unwind a story that may cripple her if she had to look us in the eye and tell us personally about her pain. I get that entirely, but I wasn’t convinced at the beginning (and maybe a little at the end as well) that this kind of confessional makes for good theatre. I soon discovered that there was little to look at on that stage after the initial few minutes, even with the fine work done by scenic designer Mimi Lien (Broadway’s Sweeney Todd), the fading lighting design mastery of Oona Curley (NYTW’s runboyrun & In Old Age), the simplistic but meaningful costume design by Enver Chakartash (PH’s Stereophonic), and the solid expanding sound design by Mikhail Fiksel (NYTW’s How To Defend Yourself). I could engage during the few musical interludes that filled the space with her lovely voice singing touching songs of sadness and love, but during the other moments, especially the “cut to” scenarios and a sad tale revolving around sickness and death, I could look away, stare at the floor or the wall of ladders that were to my left, and just dive into those flat words with abandonment.

Mona Pirnot in I Love You So Much I Could Die at New York Theatre Workshop – photo by Jenny Anderson

It’s not the simplest experience to endure, and endear, but there is another level, maybe one that director Hnath has played with before in his experimental Dana H., which played both off-Broadway and on (and on a Toronto stage next month that I hope to see) where we have to pull out internal connections to our own pain and sadness to really engulf ourselves in this somewhat slim play. It’s the flatness and metallic quality of the voice that forces us to find what we feel about the tale she is telling. Not an exercise of taking on what an actor is somehow transmitting to us, in a way, telling us how to feel about the pain being described. I’m crying, so you should be too. I’m laughing at this part, so you should laugh too. No one is giving us a sign or direction in the way we should be experiencing this, so we must look deep inside ourselves if we are to really embrace it.

Or we don’t have to. That is the other option. We can let the computer voice give us permission to nod off, and not engage with this terrible event she needs to tell us, nor the love and care she experienced from her husband. Pirnot tells us flat out (in a NYTimes interview), that she “couldn’t find the strength to verbalize her feelings to [Hnath] or her therapist … she typed her thoughts into her laptop, and prompted a text-to-speech program to voice them aloud.” Makes sense, even to this writer (who is also a psychotherapist in his real day job). Does it make great theatre? That is a question that only each audience member can decide for themselves, inside and within that very moment, as they sit in the ever-darkening theatre listening to I Love You So Much I Could Die. Do I dig deep and engage with my own emotional self, led there by no other person but myself? Or do I decide to not go there? Both are credible options, with very different outcomes. You decide. Dig deep or go home. And I won’t judge you for which you choose. I chose one-way last night. I can’t tell you what I might have chosen on a different night. That’s pretty impossible to know.

Mona Pirnot in I Love You So Much I Could Die at New York Theatre Workshop – photo by Jenny Anderson. For tickets and information, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Off Broadway

FIVE: The Parody Musical Meets The Press

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Look out SIX, here comes FIVE: The Parody Musical. Henry VIII and his six wives had nothing on Donald, the 45th, and these five ladies. This morning they met the press.

FIVE is an irreverent musical comedy revue starring Anyae Anasia as Ivana, Gabriella Joy Rodriguez (The Color Purple) as Marla, Jaime Lyn Beatty (Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical) as Melania, Gabi Garcia as Stormy, Hannah Bonnett (Legally Blonde national tour) as Ivanka, and Jasmine Rice LaBeija as Hillary Clinton.

Michael Cohen

Featuring a book and lyrics by Shimmy Braun and Moshiel Newman Daphna and music and lyrics by Billy Recce (A Musical About Star Wars), directed and choreographed by Jen Wineman, the production features orchestrations and arrangements by Terence “T” Odonkor, music supervision and arrangements by Lena Gabrielle, scenic design by David Goldstein, costume design by Florence D’Lee, lighting design by Marie Yokoyama, sound design by UptownWorks, hair and wig design by Ian Joseph, and props by Brendan McCann. Mark Osgood is production stage manager.

Moshiel Newman, Billy Recce, Jen Wineman, Shimmy Braun

FIVE begins its run Off-Broadway at Theater 555 February 15. Opening night is February 19, and the limited engagement will continue through March 10.

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