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Off Broadway

Almeida’s The Doctor Powerfully Takes Up Residency at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC



I haven’t stopped talking about The Doctor since I was lucky enough to see it in the West End of London a few years ago. It might have been one of the best-written and constructed plays I’d seen in a long time, maybe since The Lehman Trilogy. And definitely, one that can’t be missed. So I was thrilled to be invited to its staging at the Park Avenue Armory this summer in NYC. Yet, when I heard a few days prior to my return to The Doctor that the lead, Juliet Stevenson, who has been involved in this production since 2019, was not going to be in attendance the night I was going, I was both disappointed (like many of those around me were verbalizing before the production began) and somewhat excited to get a chance to see another actor take on this magnificent part inside this meticulously constructed assault on our personal perceptions and unconscious biases. Would it register in the same way, to the same level of deep conscious rebuilding? Or would it falter a bit without the star power of Stevenson? Only time would tell (but I really didn’t think that would ultimately be the case).

With the insider knowledge about all the reveals ahead, Robert Icke’s play, The Doctor continues to stride confidently in, taking control of the expansive Park Avenue Armory stage with aplomb, as expected. Breathing some fresh, sharp air into Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play, Professor Bernhardt, Icke’s play stands as strong and stoically upfront as ever, unpacking the powerful complexities of medical ethics, identity politics, racism, antisemitism, and a whole bunch of other compelling conflicts that are rampaging through our society today with a brilliance that remains utterly astonishing.

One of the main focal points embedded in the construction is that it forces a confrontation within the constructs of our unconscious bias and projected ideals. The play sneaks in loudly, filling the space with a focused intensity from the moment the music and the lights pinpoint the actors intently walking in, placing their costume identities in a line across the front of the stage and stepping themselves back. They quickly make the rounds, reconfiguring themselves to a different place, stack, and identity, taking on their newly positioned role with complete assurance of their new stance. It’s a compelling beginning, one that sucks you in deeply, madly, and wonderfully, even when you already know what lies ahead. On repeat viewing, the texture that unpacks before us still dazzles and draws us in, giving us a moment to comprehend a deeper level of meaning that is being purposefully and secretly expressed in those first few minutes of this truly astonishing and powerfully smart play right to the bitter end.

Naomi Wirthner and Juliet Stevenson in The Doctor, Park Avenue Armory, 2023
Photo credit: Stephanie Berger Photography/Park Avenue Armory.

As written and directed by Robert Icke (Almeida Theatre’s Oresteia), the conflict that reveals itself quickly is just the beginning of a cascade of constructs that never lets up, and never really shows its intricate ideals until it is ready. Icke, in all of his sharp reveals, has crafted something particularly intelligent and engaging. It takes its time, delivering forth characters with depth and complexities, one by one, and yet deliberately shifting our perception of them and finding a way for us to see them in a completely different light at a moment’s notice. Tense and abrasive, much like the doctor in question, the complete formulation is utterly astonishing and completely electric from beginning to end.

At the center of this rotation is The Doctor, the key that turns the long table round and around all in the name of Professor Ruth Wolff, a part usually played by the magnificent Juliet Stevenson (Robert Icke’s West End adaptation of Mary Stuart) but this time around portrayed equally as strong by Dee Nelson (Broadway’s The Heiress). With the impressive Stevenson in the part, her portrayal of the doctor was the strong-armed glue that held this majestic puzzle together and kept it from spinning out of control. The same can be said of Nelson, who never faulters or flinches from the task before her. She is, in her very being, a doctor, and secondary, the director of a leading medical institute where this play basically takes place. She doesn’t see herself as fitting into any other important groups, yet she does, at least in our eyes, which is, in essence, what this play is all about. What we see, and how we respond to it is the focal point. An important question that keeps being asked to her, by her, and by others, is “Would you have responded to that person differently if they were ___?” (filling in the blank with a different gender/race/identity/religious order, depending on the pinpointed moment in question). And the answer, even when we believe it is “No“, isn’t always so confidently easy to be one hundred percent certain about.

Professor Wolff, the title she demands to be referred to by, isn’t an easy doctor to deal with. She is respected, that is clear, but not well-liked, we are told, and within minutes we see why. It’s also clear that she has a strong sense of what is right, and what is morally and clinically wrong. When she believes she has acted correctly, she holds to that moral standard of not apologizing when no wrong has been committed, even as the tables are turned on that dynamic set designed strongly by Hildegard Bechtler (Old Vic’s Mood Music), who also did the detailed costuming. It gives solid access to see and take in every argument from every angle, with compelling lighting by Natasha Chivers (Donmar’s Belleville), music and sound by Tom Gibbons (NT/St. Ann’s People Places & Things), and a drummer’s beat by musician Hannah Ledwidge (who is also credited for additional sound compositions). Nelson’s big bad Wolff, with two f’s, is steadfast and demanding, of herself and all those who work alongside her within her team. She can be abrasive and seen as arrogant and bullying, but ultimately, she believes fully in her role as a doctor as the most important part of her being.

To be anything but a doctor,” is her calling and an ideal she subscribes to. The trouble that ignites the spinning forward of this drama is when a 14-year-old patient, her patient, is dying, pretty much without a doubt, as a result of a botched, self-administered abortion. Following her role as her doctor, Ruth refuses entry to a Catholic priest who the patient’s parents called in to read her last rites in the minutes before her death. The interaction is intense, strong-minded, yet smart, written with a complexity that becomes deeper and wiser as we walk through the mess that follows. She refuses because her patient didn’t ask for this or for him, and as her doctor, she doesn’t want to assume that her patient is as Catholic as her parents. She doesn’t want to add stress to her patient’s last few minutes, even though her death is without question quickly approaching. She refuses this man, unknown to anyone in the hospital, who walked off the streets saying that he is the priest connected to her patient’s parents. Rightly so, by the rules that these doctors live by. But that refusal is seen as having something to do with the doctor’s religious beliefs, as she is Jewish (or, as she likes to point out, that her parents are Jewish, not her), and this man is referring to himself as a Catholic priest (John Mackay), or is there something else we aren’t seeing just yet. He appears to be one thing, yet maybe he’s something quite different. A collar tells you something, but it doesn’t tell you all. It’s a brilliant setup that leaves many, including the audience, on opposite sides. But are we even assuredly aware of the rules that a doctor must live by, or are we just responding to our fired-up emotions? That is the question. Or at least one of many.

John McKay, Christopher Osikanlu Colquhoun, and Juliet Stevenson in The Doctor, Park Avenue Armory, 2023
Photo credit: Stephanie Berger Photography/Park Avenue Armory.

The refusal sparks a firestorm, fueled by an online protest and the parents’ grief and rage, especially within the girl’s biological father, also played solidly by John Mackay (Almeida’s Machinal). The doctors and personnel of the medical center try their best to move around this issue, even when some of them strongly disagree with Wolff’s handling of the situation. The actors that are assembled around that meeting table playing an assortment of types are all superb, delivering forth remarks and attitudes that speak the emotional truth as strongly as the logical.

But it’s in the unpacking of what we are seeing before us where this drama really starts to wind itself up so wisely and strongly. One by one, we start to understand what that beginning rotation was all about. These actors are not a product of color-blind casting, which is what we might first imagine. Not at all. And It becomes clear through the dialogue that their race, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender identity, are not the same as the characters these fine actors play. But it’s not blindly done, it is specifically constructed with intelligence and determination, forcing us to come to terms throughout the play with all the aspects and ideas we have projected onto these characters based on how they appear on stage. And when we are told differently through the text, we must confront our unconscious bias and all the layers and attitudes we have laid at their feet. It’s a complete shock to the system, and in those moments, we realize quite intensely, that this is where the heart of The Doctor lives and breaths.

The cast of The Doctor, Park Avenue Armory, 2023
Photo credit: Stephanie Berger Photography/Park Avenue Armory.

The shoving at the center of this play shifts and morphs dramatically scene after scene, revealing layers of bias that we weren’t aware of. We are given different ways of looking at that moment and at Wolff’s response. It’s a fascinatingly complex and forever-shifting vantage point, even when we are already aware of the unraveling. The protest rises and becomes harder and harder to contain and deal with internally, with board members quitting their positions in protest of The Doctor‘s actions and stepping outside the fire that is building. The Minister of Health, played exceptionally well by Preeya Kalidas (Royal Court’s Oxford Street), gets involved, who also just happens to be one of Wolff’s old medical school colleagues. She states, that it’s “a good time to talk about Jews,” but as the play continues forward, spinning further and further out of Ruth’s control, loyalties and alliances are not strong enough to handle the identity politics that have taken over the medical center. And the timing couldn’t be worse, as it becomes clear. Money, specifically the donations needed for a newly planned building, is also a primary player in this three-ringed circus. Money, and how this all looks, speaks volumes to some of these characters. Far more than ethics.

It’s a superbly complicated takedown at the core of The Doctor, with symbolic nods toward the idea of doctors being the equivalent of witches back in the day. The burning of the town witch becomes the central theme with a governmental intervention, a medical board argument, and the antisemitic scapegoating of the doctor within the media. And the medical center duly taking on the role of the townsfolk chant for the burning at the stake. It’s an exceptional layering, stated by the strongly constructed “little friend,” Sami, who has keys to Ruth’s home. Their conversations and the revelations made about unsaid relationships are absolutely lovingly written, and expertly delivered by both Matilda Tucker (Guildford’s The Snow Queen) as the high school student friend, Sami, and Juliet Garricks (Hope Theatre’s 100 Paintings), as Ruth’s partner, Charlie, who floats in and out, dispensing love and warmth, two qualities that Ruth rarely shows outside of that safe space. There is little known about these two, and in one of the most meaningful ways, we learn early on, not to project, just like we did with the others in the cast: Chris Osikanlu Colquhoun (Young Vic’s Yellowman) as Copley; Doña Cross (Chichester’s Home) as Cyprian; Mariah Louca (Young Vic’s Best of Enemies) as Roberts; Daniel Rabin (Playhouse’s 1984) as Murphy; Naomi Wirthner (National’s Paradise) as Hardiman; and Jaime Schwarz (Hulu’s “Difficullt People“) as Junior. Because when we pull back, and make the vantage points wide and diverse, we are at our best to understand.

Juliet Stevenson and Matilda Tucker in The Doctor, Park Avenue Armory, 2023
Photo credit: Stephanie Berger Photography/Park Avenue Armory.

The heart of the piece lies in the hands of Nelson and her Ruth, clinging to her hardened belief system that has its roots in medical science and not in religion. Her arguments are persuasive and logical yet she’s stuck in an inability to see that she might have missed something. It is in the same way that we find ourselves unpacking biases left, right, and center throughout that we weren’t aware we were holding onto so unconsciously. These biases hit hard when they are unveiled, quietly, in the sharp dialogue, even when we know they are coming. The formulations and contradictions are stunningly portrayed intellectually and emotionally, finding surprising and disconcerting connections in their determination and captivating honesty. The overall witch hunt politics astonishes, cause it’s all right there, in between the lines. It’s difficult to see upfront until it is uncovered by something so smart and ceaselessly strong in its emotional stance. The Doctor is as magnetic as one could hope for, so do what you need to do to get an appointment before it closes up shop at the Park Avenue Armory on August 19, 2023. You won’t regret it, cause it’s just so darn good and memorable in its double-edged lines.

For tickets and information, click here.

Juliet Garricks and Juliet Stevenson in The Doctor, Park Avenue Armory, 2023
Photo credit: Stephanie Berger Photography/Park Avenue Armory.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

Off Broadway

Ruth Stage’s “Lone Star” Guzzles Down Edgeless Revelations and Trauma at Theatre Row NYC




By Dennis W

Hey, grab yourself a six-pack and head out to Angel’s Bar (at NYC’s Theatre Row) where Ray, Roy, Cletis, and Elizabeth will meet you in the backyard.  It’s just a place to hang out, where tired old lawn furniture and a few milk crates hiding in the scrub go before they retire to the junk pile. It’s the early 1970s, and there isn’t much to do in the backwater town of Maynard, Texas, as a matter of fact, the town almost disappeared not too long ago.

The main players, Roy and Ray, in Ruth Stage’s Lone Starwritten by James McLure (Original Adaption by Ruth Stage) seem to be the brothers. They exist here, living out a dark comedy about a psychological casualty of war who comes home. It begins with a substantial monologue and mini-concert by Roy’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Ana Isabelle (Off-Broadway’s I Like It Like That).  She is trying to save her marriage to her high school sweetheart, a former soldier who came home from Vietnam two years ago and suffers from PTSD (which was not even acknowledged by the military until the 1980s). Isabelle gives an adequate performance but it feels very odd that she is alone on stage talking about how her husband’s condition has and is affecting her, him, their life together, their family, and their strained marriage. What’s odd is that when she’s finished she leaves, not to be seen again, until just before the final curtain.

Ana Isabelle in Ruth Stage’s LONE STAR at Theatre Row. Photo by Miles Skalli.

Ray, the somewhat dimwitted brother, played by Dan Amboyer (Netflix’s ‘Uncoupled‘) arrives first in the backyard of Angel’s Bar. Amboyer seems to have captured the “not so bright” tone of the younger brother who isn’t as dumb as you might expect. He’s actually pretty smart in handling some surprises that are about to unfold. Ray is followed out in the backyard by his alpha male brother, Roy with tattooed arms, a shirt with cut-off sleeves, and a bandanna, played by Matt de Rogatis (Off-Broadway’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). The two “good old boys”, Ray and Roy (their names tell you a lot about them and their family as Ray points out), gear up for a night of beers and man talk. Tonight’s conversation begins with the questions; where was Roy and what he was doing these past two days after disappearing without a word – not that he hasn’t done that before. There’s a lot of hollering as the two boys talk about the good old days, Vietnam, Roy’s pink 1959 Thunderbird, sexual exploits, and love of country. The actors have good chemistry and you can see their combative sibling relationship living and breathing before us. It’s strong and honest, as they reminisce about growing up and raising hell together with Roy taking the lead, but all this talk doesn’t seem to take us anywhere new. Most of it is a rehash of what we found out during Elizabeth’s opening monologue.

Ryan McCartan and Dan Amboyer in Ruth Stage’s LONE STAR at Theatre Row. Photo by Miles Skalli.

Finally, there is some tension: Ray’s high school friend, Cletis, who Roy hates with a passion arrives. He’s the antithesis of Ray and Roy, and as played by Ryan McCartan (Roundabout’s Scotland, PA), Cletis is exactly what you might expect. He’s the perfect nerd with high-water pants, a buttoned-up shirt, loafers, and, of course, a pocket protector filled with pens. He comes in with what should be catastrophic news for Roy, but Ray has his own bombshell to toss into the mix. You would expect fireworks, especially from a veteran who is suffering from PTSD, but what you actually end up getting is ‘good old Roy’ who puts his arm around his brother’s shoulders and heads on home. You get quiet defeat. But, who knows how long that will last.

Director Joe Rosario (Off-Broadway’s Cat on a Hot Tim Roof) only has a small space to work with on that stage as designed by Matthew Imhoff. The set fills much of the space giving the effect of a rundown bar with the back door of Angel’s opening to a small porch leading to a narrow yard with ample clutter. Rosario’s direction is a bit linear but works within the space available.  

Lone Star loses its way as it propels forward, with slow brother Ray not really as out of touch as he seems, macho Roy dealing with the trauma of PTSD, long-suffering Elizabeth, and the nerd Cletis, who’s managing his father’s appliance store and is better off than the brothers. In many ways, the evening that we are privy to, out back behind Angel’s chugging Lone Stars, seems to be just like yesterday and probably just like tomorrow, even with all of its Lone Star revelations.

Matt de Rogatis and Dan Amboyer in Ruth Stage’s LONE STAR at Theatre Row. Photo by Miles Skalli.

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Have You Begun Dreaming of It Yet?  (PART I) 



What else – White Christmas, of course! 

December is jampacked with great entertainment, so I hope you’re caught up on your shopping, because there are lots of treats for you this month. Here’s a stockingful of events that you shouldn’t miss.   

If you’re looking for probably the most glamorous gift of the season, drop by Doyle Galleries to at least look at The Ellin and Irving Berlin Sapphire and Diamond Ring.  Bidding is estimated to begin at $200,000 at the December 14th auction. 

Jason Henderson kicked off the month reprising his highly acclaimed latest venture, Getting to Noël You at Don’t Tell Mama on the 4th.  If you missed this evening, don’t worry – he’s back by popular demand—same time, same location—on January 24th and February 11th.  It’s quite a curious and fast-paced ride he takes us on, and it’s one not to be missed.   

The York Theatre has delivered a mitzvah–just in time for Christmas. Billed as a Musical Comedy of Biblical Proportions, The Jerusalem Syndrome certainly lived up to expectations.  You must see it to discover the meaning of the title, which is fact, not fiction. 

 While this has been in development for several years, the skilled midwifery of the York brought forth a little bundle of joy that had the audience laughing at its humor and touched by its message.  Sensitive to the current Middle East conflict, the York bravely went ahead with the project, which affords everyone a chance to marvel and understand the miracle that is Israel. 

 It’s running through the end of the year—visit the York website for more info. 

Urban Stages has announced its “2023 Winter Rhythms” series, the award-winning music festival at Urban Stages Theater (259 West 30th Street – between 7th & 8th Avenues). 

It began with a gala on December 6 entitled “Nights at the Algonquin: A Celebration of The Oak Room Supper Club,” featuring many legendary cabaret performers including  Natalie Douglas, Boots MalesonSteve Ross, and Daryl Sherman.  Hosted by Michael Colby (author of The Algonquin Kid), the evening began with a champagne and wine reception followed by the show at 7:30 with a post-show gathering to follow.  

On Sunday, December 10 at 3pm “Created at the Algonquin: Songs from Musicals Written at The Algonquin,” featuring performances by Craig Bierko, Shana Farr, Jenn Gambatese, Anita Gillette, Jon Peterson, Steve Ross and others. The program will be directed by Sara Louise Lazarus with Michael Lavine directing the music.   

As part of the festivities, Shana Farr will reprise her glorious Barbara Cook tribute on the 16th.   Ice Cream,. Anyone?   


Everyone’s favorite is Karen Mason, whose show Christmas!  Christmas! Christmas! is one night only at Birdland at 7 pm on the 11th.   

Stay tuned for Part II for Christmas romance, tradition, and good will! 

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Off Broadway

T2C Talks to Patrick Olson About Emergence



Patrick Olson, is a musician-scientist and now a performer with his own show Emergence, Off-Broadway at The Pershing Square Signature Center through January 7, 2024.

T2C talked to this  prolific artist to learn more about what seems more like a movement and a unique experience.

See t2C’s review here. 

Emergence: Things Are Not As They Seem: Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street through January 7th. Tickets and information:

Video by Magda Katz

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Off Broadway

Off Broadway Girl Talk Madwomen of the West



Right now at the Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street is the New York premier of Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West. The show in a way reminded me of the 1996 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, where celebrities joined on stage. Here you have Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron, all actors who have performed on film, TV and stage. They are like long lost friends, they are so familiar.

Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron, and Brooke Adams Photo by Carol Rosegg

The four have gathered together for Claudia’s (Mayron) birthday. It is being thrown at the Brentwood home of Jules (Adams) and Marilyn (Aaron) has decorated. Enter the long lost Zoey (Henner) and what you think you know about these friends, isn’t what it seems. As a matter of fact, this birthday brunch is about to turn into the brunch from hell. These Baby Boomers, are also feminists admiring Hilary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, though not always on the same side. They break the 4th wall, as they banter back and forth to themselves and to us, the audience. They confront, encourage, justify and talk about transgender, health, the horror of Trump and those “pussy hats”, sex and so much more. Think “girl-talk” to the max.

They sit on couches, as a backdrop of palm trees, and a lone piñata take center stage, thanks to set designer Christian Fleming. The play has no money, so the production is bare bones…. so they say. Everything about this show is tongue and check and is well directed by Thomas Caruso.

Each actor here shines and in an out of the way aside, each has pieces of their real selves written into the roles they play. Not having seen Aaron on stage before, I was impressed by her vocal quality and humor. Adams brings sophistication and Mayron adds that knowing, we are all in the same messed up boat. Henner will make you want that body and her sex appeal.

These women knocked down doors for the women to come, but I was surprised that the one issue they missed out on was that women are still not equal in this country. It takes 1, count it 1 state to approve this and yet plays about feminism leave this vital information out.

The show ends with “The Bitch is Back.” they sing in glee. I guess it is ok when we call ourselves that.

Madwomen of the West: The Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street through December 31.

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Off Broadway

“Stereophonic” at Playwrights Horizons Sings Solidly




It’s July 1976, in a recording studio in Sausalito, CA and we are being invited into a space that only a select few get to visit, let alone witness. This is art in the making, pure and simple, with ego and love, getting mixed and faded in through the process most musically. In Playwrights Horizons‘s magnificent new play, Stereophonic, written most delicately by David Adjmi (The Blind King Parts I and II), a band on the cusp of greatness has assembled, and they are tasked, casually and with great intent, to something magnificent and meaningful, a lasting piece of musical art, to follow up their last album that has become, over the timeframe, a breakout hit.

Andrew R. Butler, Sarah Pidgeon, Chris Stack, and Juliana Canfield in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

The play is exceptionally well framed and constructed; both musical and meandering, in the best of all possible ways, yet somewhere inside Adjmi’s engaging Stereophonicand its three-hour running time, a deeper level of contextual art formulation is unpacked quite beautifully. It saunters forward, with a complicated level of exhaustion, angst, and inspiration, unearthing something that almost defies expectations and compartmentalization. It’s a 1970s rock saga, clearly modeled on the legendary Fleetwood Mac and their dynamic backstage friction, that leans into and plays with the problematic relationships within this unnamed band as they try to create magic behind a glass wall, while also trying to fulfill their emotional needs in the confines of the studio and real life.

It’s all emotional breakups and reconciliations, with a layer of bored and sleep-deprived banter; around a broken coffee machine and the annoying reverberations of (not only) the drum. It’s electric and conflictual, playing havoc on every one of these characters’ insecure hearts, while offering up no grand solutions or final product. Stereophonic is all about the tiny details and the little frustrations that grow and become emotional cannonballs bent on destruction, leveled and defused out of an undercurrent of love and need for creation. It is incandescent in its artful construction, displaying and writing about a realm few of us can understand. It’s the agony and ecstasy that lives and sings inside the magnificent creative process of musicians, arts, singers, and writers, who hear aspects that most of us can’t understand, let alone hear or comprehend. And we have been invited in, to bear witness to its creation, in all its meticulously dull and exhausting detail. Giving light to the darkness of the process, and how art can both create and destroy those involved in its coming to life.

Eli Gelb and Andrew R. Butler in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

Stereophonic, as directed solidly by Daniel Aukin (LCT’s Admissions), is relentless, casual, and wonderfully detailed, giving us the band experience of trying to organically create music, supplied by the immensely talented musician and composer, Will Butler (Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs). It all plays out over a long period of time, driving each other mad with their internal and external struggles and ego manipulations. The set, miraculously well designed by David Zinn (Broadway’s Kimberly Akimbo), with the solid help of sound designer Ryan Rumery (PH’s Placebo) and lighting designer Jiyoun Chang (Broadway’s The Cottage), delivers the dichotomy of the control room in the foreground and the soundproof recording space in the back, separated by a wall of glass, where different elements unfold with deliberation. It’s a fantastic formulation, that resembles and plays with the making of ‘Rumours‘ whole also paying tribute, (I am told – this detail flew over my head), to albums by Todd Rundgren, Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, and Elton John.
The unnamed Stereophonic band before us seemingly has a hit album that is climbing the charts as they start recording, and their record label is becoming more and more generous as they become more and more famous. All the actors find their fantastically unique space within that iconic construct, with the two couples taking center stage, along with nods to those around them. It’s a compelling narrative, with their body language giving off the boredom and exhaustion that comes with all the late-night partying and endless recording and re-recording. Dominated by an American guitarist and singer, the aggressive Peter, played strongly by Tom Pecinka (TFANA’s He Brought Her Heart Back..), and his insecure songwriting girlfriend, Diana, beautifully portrayed by Sarah Pidgeon (Hulu’s “Tiny Beautiful Things“), they act out a dynamic that is as raw and rocky as one would imagine when two artists collide, both with faltering egos and needs. The cling to one another in desperate need, while also mistreating and hurting one another endlessly. It’s electric and disturbing, while being entirely believable and dynamic.

Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

There is also, almost more fascinating, a trio of Brits, two of which are struggling to connect within their explosive marriage; namely Holly, magnificently embodied by Juliana Canfield (ATC’s Sunday), who sings and plays the piano, and Reg, brilliantly portrayed by Will Brill (Off-Broadway’s Uncle Vanya), who plays the bass and drinks and snorts so much that he can barely walk, at least at the beginning of this play. There is also the captivatingly complicated Simon, played well by Chris Stack (ATC’s Blue Ridge), who plays the drums while trying hard to manage the mess that slowly and almost lazily unravels around him.
Staying firmly on the control side of the glass, we are also given a peek inside those who live in the background; the young sound engineer Grover, meticulously unpacked by Eli Gelb (RTC’s Skintight), and his hilariously well-constructed assistant, Charlie, wonderfully played by Andrew R. Butler (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland Sings…). Their drive and infatuation with the band and their creative power play strong and true, especially at the beginning, but as the mystique of the band’s unity begins to unravel and explode into chaos and compulsion, their determined connection to the musicians shifts from worship to irritation as the weeks turn into months and years. Or does it, in the end?

The creative energy and compounded exhaustion that live inside every brilliantly performed song cause Stereophonic to sing, most magnetically and is clearly as real and authentic as one could hope for, drenched in authentic swagger, courtesy of the costuming by Enver Chakartash (Broadway’s A Doll’s House). Even as the clock ticks forward, for them and for us, the pitfalls of collaboration and the art of creation mingle and mix like only musicians can, hurting one another while also elevating their craft in order to create that piece of art that makes all of us sit back in wonderment. They riff and talk rough to one another, accessing imagery of the hotness of Donald Sutherland and the bonding of artists, regardless of gender. The music in the background soars, thanks to the beautiful songwriting work done by Arcade Fire’s Butler, but it’s more in the magical interpersonal dynamics that elevate this experience into something special, powerful, and utterly unique. Aggressiveness and control hit hard against love, creation, and connection, playing with loyalties and solo careers in a way that unlocks chaotic relationship complications that echo far beyond the room. Sudden fame does wonders to the energy within, and in Stereophonic, we are gifted with the fly-on-the-wall syndrome, watching magic develop out of thin air and focused minds, even when clouded by love, pain, and that big bag of white powder.

Will Brill and Chris Stack in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic.

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