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Drama Desk Awards Nominations Announced for 2023



Nominations for the 67th Annual Drama Desk Awards were announced today and the full list of nominees is available below.

In keeping with the Drama Desk’s mission, the nominators considered shows that opened on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway during the 2022-2023 New York theater season, with the Drama Desk cut-off being April 26, 2023.  Only shows with 21 or more unique performances are eligible.

In determining eligibility of productions with recent Off-Broadway runs in prior seasons, the nominating committee considered only those elements that constituted new work. These productions included A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Ain’t No Mo’, Between Riverside and Crazy, Catch as Catch Can, Cost of Living, Dog Man: The Musical, Kimberly Akimbo, KPOP, The Thanksgiving Play, Wolf Play, and Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom.

Additional productions on and Off Broadway deemed not eligible as they were considered in their entirety in prior seasons included A Sherlock Carol, Cheek to Cheek, Fiddler on the Roof, Hitler’s Tasters, Just for Us, Take Me Out, The Jungle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Winnie the Pooh.

Winners will be announced the week of May 29 and the Awards will be presented during a ceremony at Sardi’s (234 West 44th Street) on Tuesday, June 6 from 3:00 – 6:00PM.

The Drama Desk Awards are the only major New York City theater awards for which productions on Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway compete against each other in the same categories. David Barbour and Charles Wright are The Drama Desk co-presidents.

In accordance with a decision by the Drama Desk board of directors, this year all performance categories will be gender-free, as they were for the first 19 years of the awards’ existence.  The updated gender-free categories are: Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play, Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical, Outstanding Featured Performance in a Play, and Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical.

Each of these categories have twice as many nominees as the former gendered categories and voters will cast two votes for each category. These categories will also have two winners each. If there is a tie, there may be more than two winners in a category.

The 2023 Drama Desk Awards nominations are:

Outstanding Play

A Case for the Existence of God, by Samuel D. Hunter, Signature Theatre

Fat Ham, by James Ijames, The Public Theater and National Black Theatre

Leopoldstadt, by Tom Stoppard

Love, by Alexander Zeldin, Park Avenue Armory

Prima Facie, by Suzie Miller

Wish You Were Here, by Sanaz Toossi, Playwrights Horizons

Outstanding Musical

& Juliet

Between the Lines

F*ck7thGrade, The Wild Project


Some Like it Hot

White Girl in Danger, Vineyard Theatre and Second Stage Theater

Outstanding Revival of a Play

A Raisin in the Sun, The Public Theater

Death of a Salesman

Endgame, Irish Repertory Theatre

The Piano Lesson

Ohio State Murders

Wedding Band, Theatre for a New Audience




Outstanding Revival of a Musical

A Man of No Importance, Classic Stage Company

Into the Woods

Merrily We Roll Along, New York Theatre Workshop


Sweeney Todd

Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play

Hiran Abeysekera, Life of Pi

Kyle Beltran, A Case for the Existence of God, Signature Theatre

Will Brill, A Case for the Existence of God, Signature Theatre

Brittany Bradford, Wedding Band, Theatre for a New Audience

Jessica Chastain, A Doll’s House

Sharon D Clarke, Death of a Salesman

Sean Hayes, Good Night, Oscar

Denise Manning, Amani, National Black Theatre and Rattlestick Theater

Audra McDonald, Ohio State Murders

Wendell Pierce, Death of a Salesman

John Douglas Thompson, Endgame, Irish Repertory Theatre

Kara Young, Twelfth Night, The Classical Theatre of Harlem

Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical

Annaleigh Ashford, Sweeney Todd

Nicholas Barasch, The Butcher Boy, Irish Repertory Theatre

Sara Bareilles, Into the Woods

Andrew Burnap, Camelot

Micaela Diamond, Parade

Andrew Durand, Shucked

Callum Francis, Kinky Boots, Stage 42

  1. Harrison Ghee, Some Like it Hot

Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along, New York Theatre Workshop

Somi Kakoma, Dreaming Zenzile, New York Theatre Workshop

Lindsay Mendez, Merrily We Roll Along, New York Theatre Workshop

Anna Uzele, New York, New York

Outstanding Featured Performance in a Play

Emily Bergl, Good Night, Oscar

Danielle Brooks, The Piano Lesson

Amelda Brown, Love, Park Avenue Armory

Ray Fisher, The Piano Lesson

  1. Todd Freeman, Downstate, Playwrights Horizons

Francis Guinan, Downstate, Playwrights Horizons

Nick Holder, Love, Park Avenue Armory

Arian Moayed, A Doll’s House

Brian Quijada, Wolf Play, MCC Theater and Soho Rep

Miriam Silverman, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, Brooklyn Academy of Music

Brandon Uranowitz, Leopoldstadt

Kara Young, Cost of Living

Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical

Kevin Cahoon, Shucked

Kevin Del Aguila, Some Like it Hot

Robyn Hurder, A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical

Mark Jacoby, A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical

Tarra Conner Jones, White Girl in Danger, Vineyard Theatre and Second Stage Theater

Julia Lester, Into the Woods

Alex Newell, Shucked

Daniel Radcliffe, Merrily We Roll Along, New York Theatre Workshop

Phillipa Soo, Into the Woods

Mare Winningham, A Man of No Importance, Classic Stage Company





Outstanding Direction of a Play

Zi Alikhan, On That Day in Amsterdam, Primary Stages

Shayok Misha Chowdhury, Public Obscenities, Soho Rep and NAATCO

Miranda Cromwell, Death of a Salesman

Adam Meggido, Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Max Webster, Life of Pi

Alexander Zeldin, Love, Park Avenue Armory

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Jeff Calhoun, Between the Lines

John Doyle, A Man of No Importance, Classic Stage Company

Maria Friedman, Merrily We Roll Along, New York Theatre Workshop

Thomas Kail, Sweeney Todd

Jack O’Brien, Shucked

Outstanding Choreography

Andy Blankenbuehler, Only Gold, MCC Theater

Tislarm Bouie, the bandaged place

Edgar Godineaux, The Harder They Come, The Public Theater

Casey Nicholaw, Some Like it Hot

Susan Stroman, New York, New York

Jennifer Weber, KPOP

Outstanding Music

Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, Shucked

Michael R. Jackson, White Girl in Danger, Vineyard Theatre and Second Stage Theater

Tom Kitt and AnnMarie Milazzo (vocal designer), Almost Famous

Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, Between the Lines

The Kilbanes, Weightless, WP Theater


Outstanding Lyrics

Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, Shucked

Jonathan Hogue, Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical

Michael R. Jackson, White Girl in Danger, Vineyard Theatre and Second Stage Theater

Adam Schlesinger and Sarah Silverman, The Bedwetter, Atlantic Theater Company

Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, Some Like it Hot


Outstanding Book of a Musical

Jonathan Hogue, Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical

Robert Horn, Shucked

Matthew López and Amber Ruffin, Some Like it Hot
Marla Mindelle, Constantine Rousouli, and Tye Blue, Titanique

David West Read, & Juliet

Outstanding Orchestrations

Bruce Coughlin, A Man of No Importance, Classic Stage Company

Jason Howland, Shucked

Charlie Rosen and Bryan Carter, Some Like it Hot

Kenny Seymour, The Harder They Come, The Public Theater

Daryl Waters and Sam Davis, New York, New York

Outstanding Music in a Play

Ben Edelman, Zane Pais, and Sinan Refik Zafar, Letters from Max, a ritual, Signature Theatre

Mauricio Escamilla, the bandaged place, Roundabout Theatre Company

Suzan-Lori Parks, Plays for the Plague Year, The Public Theater

Ian Ross, Wuthering Heights, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Wise Children, National Theatre

Daniel Schlosberg, Montag, Soho Rep







Outstanding Scenic Design of a Play

Jason Ardizzone-West, Wedding Band, Theatre for a New Audience

Beowulf Boritt, Ohio State Murders

dots, Public Obscenities, Soho Rep and NAATCO

Tim Hatley, Life of Pi

Natasha Jenkins, Love, Park Avenue Armory

John McDermott, Chains, Mint Theater Company

Outstanding Scenic Design of a Musical

Beowulf Boritt, New York, New York

David Korins, Only Gold, MCC Theater

Scott Pask, Shucked

Walt Spangler and Brendan McCann (production props), Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical

Michael Yeargan, Camelot

Outstanding Costume Design of a Play

Kara Branch, According to the Chorus, New Light Theater Project

Enver Chakartash, Public Obscenities, Soho Rep and NAATCO

Qween Jean, Wedding Band, Theatre for a New Audience

Sarah Laux, Wish You Were Here, Playwright Horizons

Emilio Sosa, Ain’t No Mo’

Roberto Surace, Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Outstanding Costume Design of a Musical

Gregg Barnes, Some Like it Hot

Tilly Grimes, Shucked

Jennifer Moeller, Camelot

Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi, KPOP

Anita Yavich, Only Gold, MCC Theater

Donna Zakowska, New York, New York

Outstanding Lighting Design of a Play

Isabella Byrd, Epiphany, Lincoln Center Theater

Jiyoun Chang, The Far Country, Atlantic Theater Company

Natasha Chivers and Willie Williams (video), Prima Facie

Allen Lee Hughes, Ohio State Murders

Cha See, On That Day in Amsterdam, Primary Stages

Japhy Weideman, The Piano Lesson


Outstanding Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington, New York, New York

Jeff Croiter, Only Gold, MCC Theater

Heather Gilbert, Parade

David Grill, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’

Natasha Katz, Sweeney Todd


Outstanding Projection and Video Design

Simon Baker, Wuthering Heights, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Wise Children, and National Theatre

Andrzej Goulding, Life of Pi

Caite Hevner, Between the Lines, Tony Kiser Theater

Josh Higgason, White Girl in Danger, Vineyard Theatre and Second Stage Theater

Nicholas Hussong, On That Day in Amsterdam, Primary Stages

Johnny Moreno, Public Obscenities, Soho Rep and NAATCO


Outstanding Sound Design of a Play

Justin Ellington, Ohio State Murders

Tom Gibbons, Hamlet, Park Avenue Armory

Josh Anio Grigg, Love, Park Avenue Armory

Lee Kinney and Daniel Kluger, You Will Get Sick, Roundabout Theatre Company

Ben & Max Ringham, A Doll’s House

Mikaal Sulaiman, Fat Ham, The Public Theater and National Black Theatre


Outstanding Sound Design of a Musical

Peter Hylenski, Almost Famous

Scott Lehrer and Alex Neumann, Into the Woods

John Shivers, Shucked

Joanna Lynne Staub, Weightless, WP Theater

Jon Weston, Parade


Outstanding Wig and Hair

Campbell Young Associates, Almost Famous

Cookie Jordan, The Piano Lesson

Mia M. Neal, Ain’t No Mo’

Earon Nealey, Twelfth Night, The Classical Theatre of Harlem

Mitsuteru Okuyama, Chushingura 47 Ronin

Luc Verschueren, A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical

Outstanding Solo Performance

Jodie Comer, Prima Facie

David Greenspan, Four Saints in Three Acts, Lucille Lortel Theatre

Jessica Hendy, Walking With Bubbles, AMT Theater

Anthony Rapp, Without You

Tracy Thorne, Jack Was Kind, Irish Repertory Theatre

Unique Theatrical Experience

Asi Wind’s Inner Circle

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Plays for the Plague Year, The Public Theater

Zephyr, Cirque Mechanics at The New Victory Theater


Outstanding Fight Choreography

B.H. Barry, Camelot

Rocio Mendez, Día Y Noche, LAByrinth Theater Company

Rocio Mendez, How to Defend Yourself, New York Theatre Workshop

Unkledave’s Fight-House, soft, MCC Theater

Outstanding Adaptation

A Doll’s House, by Amy Herzog

Arden of Faversham, by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kathryn Walat, Red Bull Theater

black odyssey, by Marcus Gardley, Classic Stage Company

Oresteia, by Robert Icke, Park Avenue Armory

Wuthering Heights, by Emma Rice, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Wise Children, National Theatre

Outstanding Puppetry

John Leader, Wuthering Heights, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Wise Children, National Theatre

James Ortiz (design), Kennedy Kanagawa (as Milky White), Into the Woods

Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, Life of Pi

Kirjan Waage, The Immortal Jellyfish Girl, Wakka Wakka and Nordland Visual Theatre at 59E59


Harold Prince Lifetime Achievement Award

Stephen McKinley Henderson has been bringing in-depth, gripping portrayals of memorable characters to the stage for over four decades. With his return to Broadway this season as Pops in Between Riverside and Crazy, which the Drama Desk previously nominated in 2015, this year’s Harold Prince Lifetime Achievement Award marks Henderson’s role in this powerful production as a celebration of his brilliant career.


Ensemble Award

The cast of Soho Rep’s Public Obscenities – Tashnuva Anan, Abrar Haque, Golam Sarwar Harun, Gargi Mukherjee, NaFis, Jakeem Dante Powell, and Debashis Roy Chowdhury – embodied the transnational world of Shayok Misha Chowdhury’s bilingual play with memorable authenticity, remarkable specificity, and extraordinary warmth.

Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award

From his standout performance in american (tele)visions, to writing and performing the autobiographical Dark Disabled Stories, Ryan J. Haddad’s work this season has expanded on and interrogated what the idea of “accessibility” really means. Whether riding a shopping cart like a throne, or relating his experiences on a “gay, pink bus,” Haddad shared with audiences an unabashed queer fabulosity that was both unforgettable and deeply human.

Productions with multiple nominations:

Shucked: 12

Some Like it Hot: 8

Into the Woods: 6

New York, New York: 6

Life of Pi: 5

Love: 5

Merrily We Roll Along: 5

Ohio State Murders: 5

The Piano Lesson: 5

White Girl in Danger: 5

A Doll’s House: 4

A Man of No Importance: 4

Between the Lines: 4

Camelot: 4

Death of a Salesman: 4

Only Gold: 4

Parade: 4

Public Obscenities: 4

Sweeney Todd: 4

Wedding Band: 4

Wuthering Heights: 4

A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical: 3

A Case for the Existence of God: 3

Almost Famous: 3

On That Day in Amsterdam: 3

Peter Pan Goes Wrong: 3

Prima Facie: 3

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical: 3

& Juliet: 2

Ain’t No Mo’: 2

Downstate: 2

Endgame: 2

Fat Ham: 2

Good Night, Oscar: 2


Leopoldstadt: 2

Plays for the Plague Year: 2

the bandaged place: 2

The Harder They Come: 2

Twelfth Night: 2

Weightless: 2

Wish You Were Here: 2

The 2022-2023 Drama Desk Nominating Committee is composed of: Martha Wade Steketee (Chair; freelance:, Linda Armstrong (New York Amsterdam News), Dan Dinero (Theatre is Easy), Peter Filichia(Broadway Radio), Kenji Fujishima (freelance: Theatermania), Margaret Hall (Playbill) and Charles Wright, Drama Desk co-president, ex-officio.


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:

Off Broadway

Meet Michel Wallerstein and Spencer Aste of Chasing Happy



Pulse Theatre will be presenting Chasing Happy a new comedy by Michel Wallerstein (Flight, Five Women Waiting, Off Hand). Directed by Pulse Theatre co-Founder Alexa Kelly (Strings Attached).

Video by Magda Katz

The company of Chasing Happy features Spencer Aste (Wake Up, Axis Theatre), Jenny Bennett (City of Ladies, Pulse Theatre), Schyler Conaway in his Off-Broadway debut, Christopher James Murray (The Falling Season, Theatre Row), and Elizabeth Shepherd (Relatively Speaking and Conduct Unbecoming on Broadway; War and Peace and Inherit the Wind in London’s West End).

T2C talked to Michel Wallerstein and Spencer Aste to learn more.

Chasing Happy is a modern comedy about personal identity, love, acceptance …and the elusive pursuit of happiness. Nick is in love with another man’s boyfriend. (Oops.) Nick’s mother says George Clooney wants to date her (Really?). Nick’s ex-wife says she has to have surgery.( Now?) …It’s a laugh a minute on an unexpected merry-go-round when you’re chasing happy.

The limited engagement will play a five-week limited engagement, October 11 through November 11, at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, NYC). Opening night is Thursday, October 19 at 7PM. Tickets are now on sale at or by calling the box office, 212-714-2442 ext. 45.

For more information visit

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Off Broadway

Primary Stages’ “DIG” Does Exactly That Into What’s Underground




By Dennis White

The theater is filled with eerie almost tribal music with birds chirping as the audience finds their seats for Primary Stages’ production of DIG at 59E59 Theaters. It’s a new play written by Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet) who also directs and as the name implies, DIG is not going to let us just see what’s on the surface. This story wants us to DIG to find out what we don’t see going on underground. The play’s setting is a garden shop that we’re told is failing but is filled with what looks like thriving plants.

David Mason in Primary Stages’ DIG at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

Roger, the owner, played with elegant restraint by Jeffery Bean (Broadway’s Amadeus, Bells Are Ringing) seems content with keeping his shop even though developers are buying up the neighborhood. But Roger is unaware of how his complacent life is going to change thanks to his longtime friend Lou played by Triney Sandoval (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), a man who reluctantly has his tormented daughter Megan come live with him. Megan deftly played by Andrea Syglowski (Broadway’s Pass Over) is a woman lost but even though it seems futile, she has not given up – completely. Entering the shop Megan takes a seat in the corner facing the wall attempting to camouflage herself in greenery covering her face with a hoodie.

Greg Keller, Jeffrey Bean, and Andrea Syglowski in Primary Stages’ DIG, photo by Justin Swader.

She has committed an unforgivable act that has made national headlines. After a failed suicide her father agrees to supervise his daughter’s release even though he cannot forgive her. Megan reaches through her pain and within minutes she offers to repot a plant hoping to convince Roger he needs her help and she’ll work for free. You can feel how Syglowski’s Megan feels caught like the plant’s bound roots pushing against the sides of the pot, trapped and in pain. But she sees hope in the garden shop and Roger. The relationship between Roger and Megan is tenuous at first but the actors reel in the audience. The garden shop is coming alive as a place where they can both grow but it’s not as easy as they find out.

The rest of the cast is vital as they build the grotesque puzzle pieces of Megan’s horrifying past with pros like Mary Bacon (Public’s Coal Country) as Molly. Bacon does a good job as the judgmental nosy customer who turns into a helping hand. Stoner Everett aptly played in what can be described as a life lived in a pot cloud haze by Greg Keller (Playwrights Horizons’ The Thanksgiving Play) seems like a comical diversion but there’s a darker side coming. A surprising element is the appearance of Adam, Megan’s ex-husband, played with the intensity of a caged animal by David Mason (Broadway’s Pictures from Home) who makes the most of this small part. You can feel the audience cringing through the entire scene as writer/ director Theresa Rebeck finally gets her chance to see her play fully realized as she saw it in her mind, line by line.

Jeffrey Bean and Mary Bacon in Primary Stages’ DIG, photo by James Leynse.

DIG takes us to places we could not imagine when we first meet the characters. She builds relationships, tears them down, and then gives them some hope by the end. The play’s surprising revelation leaves the audience stunned, gasping at the turn of events and the secrets revealed. Rebeck’s direction seems effortless, moving her actors in the garden shop through this story of realization, forgiveness, and redemption. The scenic design by Christopher and Justin Swader (Off-Broadway’s The Boy Who Danced On Air) fill the garden shop with life, growing and changing reflecting the events of the play. Lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins (MCC’s Space Dogs) helps set the mood with deep shadows and the original music and sound design by Fitz Patton (Broadway’s Choir Boy) give us an ominous melody to add to the tension, giving DIG a chance to get a lot of it right. The cast led by Syglowski and Bean hit all the right notes as they travel through tormented waters, some raging, while others swirl below the surface. Rebeck’s play with its unexpected twists and turns wrenches our guts and we follow gladly to the end.

Jeffrey Bean and Greg Keller in Primary Stages’ DIG, photo by James Leynse.
For more information and tickets, visit

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Ken Fallin's Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Dracula: A Comedy Of Terrors



Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, is now playing at New World Stage, 340 West 50th Street, until January 7, 2024 or beyond.

In this caricature you will find James Daly’s Dracula and clockwise: Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Arnie Burton, Ellen Harvey and Jordan Boatman who make up this amazingly talented cast.

You can read T2C’s mouth watering review here.

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Out of Town

The Innocence of Seduction Will Seduce You



The Innocence of Seduction, now being presented in a World Premiere Production by City Lit Theater in Chicago, is the second installment in an ambitious trilogy of new plays by actor, director, and playwright, Mark Pracht, about the comic book industry and the individuals who created it. Although not as interesting a human drama as was the first play in the series, The Innocence of Seduction remains a fascinating glimpse into a little known aspect of pop culture history.

Frank Nall Photos by Steve Graue

The Innocence of Seduction revolves around a group of artists, writers and publishers who were producing the lurid, violent, and sexually provocative comic books which lead to a congressional investigation into the comic book industry in the 1950’s. The claim that comic books were corrupting our young people and contributing to juvenile delinquency lead to the creation of the Comics Code.  That was censorship solely at the personal discretion of  one man, Judge Charles Murphy. In a sad parallel to our current times, legislators back then sought to repress access to ideas by their children, rather than teach their children how to think for themselves and live in a world with opposing viewpoints.

The whole story is framed with narration by by Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book, The Seduction of the Innocent, warned that comic books contributed to juvenile delinquency.  In Pracht’s play, Wertham, played with oily, Germanic smarm by Frank Nall, keeps things moving with a creepy comic book gestalt of his own.

Zach Kunde, Laura Coleman, Sean Harklerode Photos by Steve Graue

The first play in the trilogy, The Mark of Kane, was an excellent, character driven drama. That story was shaped by the personal ambition of artist Bob Kane, creator of The Batman, who stole the credit for all the key story elements added to Kane’s very basic idea for the Batman character by his writer-collaborator, Bill Finger.

John Blick Photos by Steve Graue

In The Innocence of Seduction, largely unchanging characters are dragged through the events swirling around them. That formula, called melodrama, has been around ever since the bad guy twirled his moustache as he tied poor Pauline to the railroad tracks. The focus is on the dilemma rather than character development.

: Robin Treviño, Sean Harklerode, Paul Chakrin Photos by Steve Graue

But it takes a long time to get to the central conflict between the creators of early comic art and their would-be censors. When we finally do get to the bad guys, in the person of a grandstanding senator, Robert C. Hendrickson, played with appropriate bluster by Paul Chakrin, and Judge Charles Murphy, the creator and administrator of the Comics Code, played with self-righteous indignation by the fine Chuck Monro, neither antagonist is given enough stage time.

Brian Bradford, LaTorious Givens Photos by Steve Graue

Pracht has no apparent interest in giving the opposing point of view equal time. So both antagonists are quickly reduced to one-dimensional cartoons. What is interesting, however, is that such simple mindedness is frighteningly close to today’s reality, when you look at the behavior of those who are leading the call for censorship in our own times.

Brian Bradford (lying down), Andrew Bosworth (kneeling) Photos by Steve Graue

The central figure in this story is William Gaines, Jr., a failed teacher who reluctantly assumes the helm of Educational Comics. That  company was established by his father, Max, who had created the first American comic book, Famous Funnies, in 1934.  Max, embodied by bellowing actor Ron Quaide, visits his son, William, like Hamlet’s ghost, haunting his dreams and stoking William’s feelings of inadequacy.  William’s passivity until the very end of the story frequently feels like a big hole in the action instead of moving it forward.

Sean Harklerode, Charlie Diaz Photos by Steve Graue

Realizing that nobody wants to buy the illustrated bible stories his father created, William rebrands the company as Entertainment Comics, better known as “EC”.  Their bread and butter would be stories with dark, twisted, graphic, sexually provocative and violent imagery. The artists and publishers in this story just see their work as innocent fun, until they run into censorship under the nascent Comics Code.

Zach Kunde, Sean Harklerode, Chuck Munro, Charlie Diaz Photos by Steve Graue

One of those artists is Matt Baker, played with sincerity if not complexity by Brian Bradford.  Baker was a closeted, black, gay artist, who drew the sexiest female characters in the industry. Matt has a clandestine affair with his bisexual publisher, Archer St. John, played with sensitivity by John Blick, while hiding his real sexual preferences from his long suffering lady friend, Connie, played honestly by Latorious Givens.  Despite the potential of the juicy ménage a trois, Pracht’s sketchy rendition of their interaction comes off as simultaneously simplistic and overwrought.

Zach Kunde, Chuck Munro, Sean Harklerode, Charlie Diaz, Paul Chakrin Photos by Steve Graue

Apart from that relationship, the production features a gaggle of really fine character actors who bring lots of individual color to their roles.  They include Laura Coleman as Gaines’ wisecracking secretary, Shirley; actor Robin Treveno, who is especially engaging as the good hearted publisher, “Busy” Arnold; Paul Chakrin as Senator Robert C. Hendrickson, who led the congressional investigation against the comic book industry; and affable Andrew Bosworth, doubling both as Max’s friend, Frank, and as artist Jack Davis, whose work would later define the look of Gaines’ greatest success, Mad Magazine.

Andrew Bosworth, Megan Clarke Photos by Steve Graue

However, for me, the shining star of this production is Janice Valleau as Megan Clarke. Ms. Valleau was a talented female artist trying to get a foothold in a male dominated industry, and the creator of a pioneering female detective character. Ms. Clarke is an absolutely riveting performer, full of heart, smarts, depth, and personal fire. See her while you can, as Chicago off Loop theater will not be able to contain her for long.

Andrew Bosworth, Robin Treviño, Megan Clarke Photos by Steve Graue

The set, lighting and projection design by G. “Max” Maxin IV is the best I’ve seen from him in this space. Beth Laske-Miller adds some nice, accurate period elements to a slim costume budget. Music composition and sound design by Peter Wahlback were a great enhancement of the foreboding atmosphere. Finally, Tony Donley’s program cover and poster art captured the tone of the story brilliantly.

As his own director, Pracht does a very good job weaving all the elements of his production together, and giving his work a fine showcase.

As with the previous play in the trilogy, you don’t need to be a comic book nerd to enjoy this tale of creative expression battling conservative oppression. The Innocence of Seduction will seduce you as well.

With The Innocence of Seduction, City Lit Theater continues a 43 year tradition of bringing intelligent, literate stories to the Chicago stage.  In conjunction with this presentation, they also are presenting readings at libraries across Chicago and the suburbs of works from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which have been identified as the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books” facing censorship in libraries and schools. That series is called Books on the Chopping Block.  If you live in the Chicago area, be sure to check for a presentation near you.

The Innocence of Seduction continues at City Lit Theater in the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr in Chicago, through October 8th. For ticket information call (773) 293-3682 or visit

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Out of Town

“speaking of sneaking” Spins It’s Queer Folktale Web Fascinatingly at Buddies In Bad Times Toronto




Weaving and bobbing, drawing chalk lines with a focused gyrating audacity, a fascinating dynamic radiates out from the central core of an all-encompassing plastic spider web. The actor/playwright squats and shifts his black-clad body close to the ground, teasing us almost to enter the web, and maybe get caught in its arms. It’s a sharply defined space to walk into, fantastically intricate but straightforward in its plastic sensibilities, created with thoughtful intensity by set + costume designer Rachel Forbes (Canadian Stage’s Topdog/Underdog). It makes us feel that we are inside something intimate and intensely important as we make our way to our seats in the main theatre at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto to see and get enveloped by the unveiling of speaking of sneaking.

The new play, performed and written by theatre artist Daniel Jelani Ellis (Buddies’ First Stone), comes alive slowly, seizing the stylistic moment that takes its time connecting. Deep inside this queer Black man’s ultimate navigation through folklore and reality-based hardship, the play shifts itself inward, as directed and dramaturged with a fiery fluidity by d’bi.young anitafrika (Trey Anthony’s ‘da kink in my hair) with a strong sense of movement and momentum by choreographer Fairy J (Obsidian/Canadian Stage/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is), from his youth in one “Yard” to another “Foreign” place, Canada. The tension and engagement are as tricky to outsmart as a folktale spider, that weaves out captivating stories with wisdom, knowledge, and power. The formula engages, even when it loses some captivating focus along the way.

Daniel Jelani Ellis in Buddies’ speaking of sneaking.Production photos by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Yet, it is a compelling web that is woven, ultimately feeling important and personal throughout the intersectionalities of identity and culture, playing with the deep multidiscipline unpacking of complicated self-discovery drawn from his familial Jamaican roots and the complexities of gender, sexuality, and class that creep out of the “Yard”. The performance is vivid and vital, frenetic and feisty, combining aerial light-footedness with dance, poetry, and all that lies in between. It attempts with a true heart and unending energy to captivate, and Ellis, as the determined Ginnal, manages, maybe not at first, but eventually, to take us in and snag us, as the web he weaves gets more grounded in the complications of survival alongside familial expectations.

Surrounded by barrels of regret and disappointment in himself, Ellis needs to keep weaving and weaving, “for me, not for you!” He shifts himself around the space, throwing his arms off balance but fully in control, collapsing his past and future from a spider-framed creation from Jamaica to a video web call rubbing his feet and seeing the future for a few PayPal donation dollars. The playful but ancient guide, “Anansi” lifted up from an Akan folktale slides in to the perspective to illicit shouts of “That’s enough” to the symbolic quarreling married sky and earth, trying to weave a web that will keep the collapse from occurring.

Daniel Jelani Ellis in Buddies’ speaking of sneaking.Production photos by Jeremy Mimnagh.

These folklore spider tales, which I knew little about, long ago sailed their way to the Caribbean by way of the transatlantic slave trade, and became a mythical model about skill and wisdom, giving praise to Anansi and his ability as a spider, to outsmart and triumph over any and all powerful opponents through the wise use of cunning, creativity, and wit. It’s no surprise Ellis as Ginnal digs into these formulations and folklore, basking in the delicately crafted light designed by André du Toit (Stratford’s R+J) with a strong sound design by Stephon Smith (B Current’s Wheel of the Year Walks). It will take all that cunning creativity to unpack the complexities of culture, homophobia, and ideas of masculinity that are weaved into his Jamaican “Yard” and the family that celebrates unity and care from way over there.

Wrestling with the fraught and trickster dynamics of survival in this new “Foreign” land, the expensive city of Toronto, Ginnal struggles with empty barrels waiting to be filled with donations of a different kind, feeling guilt and shame each time the phone rings. The spider steps in, initiating a journey towards liberation and freedom, after leaving one home to find another. The web is a complex construct, sometimes captivatingly embodied, sometimes not, with Ellis shifting from one well-formulated character to another, generally drawing us in as he straps himself in from above for this aerial journey, bungee jumping and creeping towards a new sense of home and acceptance.

Daniel Jelani Ellis in Buddies’ speaking of sneaking.Production photos by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Anansi was seen as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, turning the constraints of those plantation power dynamics around onto the controlling oppressors. Ellis embraces that energy, as he finds his way to generate dancehall-infused formulations by igniting cunning online trickery of his own. Through a compelling examination of colonial imprints on queer Jamaican identities by all those involved, as well as utilizing Afro-Caribbean-Tkarontonian storytelling aesthetics to elevate the spider mode of behavior and performance, the details of the intricate interweaving of bodies and family transcend the battle for survival and shifts it all into the flight for authenticity and identity. It has been written that the symbol of Anansi played a multifunctional role in the enslaved Africans’ lives, inspiring strategies of resistance to establish a sense of continuity with their African past and offering a context and formulation to transform and assert their identity within the darkened boundaries of captivity. It’s fairly clear how that energy resonates throughout the piece.

As he asks for world peace from a bachelor pad base camp created by new family members by choice, the weaving in of Granny Luna to “Petty Labelle” offers itself up into the sky wonderfully, ultimately capturing us in its complex web. Groundwork Redux and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre‘s production of speaking of sneakingdelivers, working its magic, eventually, fulfilling the folktale form with chaotic care. Through a Black queer lens, with the support of Buddies, Obsidian Theatre, and the Toronto Arts Council Black Arts Program, this new weaving finds its way into our collective consciousness, navigating itself through portals of neo-colonial contexts and out of the escape room axe throw party that might have destroyed him. The archetypal Jamaican Ginnal and the mythical African Anansi, together, discover and embody something akin to survival and connection. And in the weaving of that web, we find a different kind of soul rubbed true all for our wonderment and enlightenment.

Daniel Jelani Ellis in Buddies’ speaking of sneaking.Production photos by Jeremy Mimnagh.

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