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He Says: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau The Star is Born

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Jenny Jules, Adepero Oduye
Hubert Point-Du-Jour, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Hubert Point-Du-Jour, Chinasa Ogbuagu. All Photos by Joan Marcus.

Mfoniso Udofia is a playwright that I have had little to no connection to. So the prospect of seeing two of her plays, one right after another, held a great excitement and sense of promise.  I’m not sure why, but the words that make up the titles of her two plays, Sojourners & Her Portmanteau, felt powerful and packed deep with emotions. ‘Sojourners‘ signifies someone who is on a temporary stay and ‘Portmanteau‘ means a bag to carry clothing in while traveling. Seeing that this play is connected to the four generational Ufot play cycle created by Udofia to examine a Nigerian family who entered the United States in the 1970s, it was bound to be heavy in familial baggage. Packed to the rim. Just the kind of play that intrigues me.

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Directed with skill and focus by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar on an exquisite stage design by Jason Sherwood (The View UpStairs), the revolve the floats these powerful tableaux out center stage works its magic on us. The images are ripe with emotion as they revolve in and out of sight. In the first play of the day, Sojourners, the exploration begins concerning the life journey of the very pregnant young woman standing before us, Abasiama Ekpeyoung, played with grace and maternal glory by the magnificent Chinasa Ogbuagu (PH’s The Qualms). We are certain from that moment, the leading character of the whole Ufot cycle will be that baby that is giving her mother such discomfort and pain. For the time being though, this play is about the mother-to-be and her struggle forward into her life as an immigrant student and wife in America. We are given a glimpse into what brings her and her difficult husband, Ukpong Ekpeyoung, portrayed devastatingly by Hubert Point-Du Jour (Primary Stage’s The Model Apartment) to Houston, Texas, and the troubles that are in store for this mismatched couple. The play is subtitled, “duty and desire” and essentially, that is the conflict at the heart of this moving play.

Chinaza Uche, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Chinaza Uche, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Furthering our unwavering devotion to Abasiama Ekpeyoung, is the relationships she fosters during the late hours at her night job at the gas station. A young American girl named Moxie Wilis, perfectly embodied by Lakisha Michelle May (Signature’s Everybody) needs this woman’s attention and care more than she can ever imagine.  Their love and need for each other is one of the most touching and heart-breaking relationships in this two play day. One that will stay with me long beyond this day. Moxie needs a mother, and luckily for her, Abasiama is there. But there is another who is also in need of the warmth of Abasiama Ekpeyoung, and that is the struggling lost soul, Disciple Ufot, convincingly portrayed by Chinaza Uche (LAByrinth’s Dolphins & Sharks), who finds his way into that gas station at just the opportune moment. There is something not quite right about this man, but his need of Ekpeyoung’s warm embrace is so huge, it can not be ignored.

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu, Chinaza Uche

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu, Chinaza Uche

These powerful relationships set up the saga of the Ufot Cycle of plays, although I didn’t put 2 and 2 together at the moment, but ultimately, creates a strong platform to jump off of.  Much to my surprise, the ending of Sojourners not only made me desperate to get back from the hour and half dinner break NYTW gives us, but the last seconds unsettled my heart. I was not prepared for what happened, nor what it would mean for the rest of these character’s lives, but that is the beauty of Udofia’s writing.  The surprise that lives in the authentic-ness; a power that packs quite the punch.

Chinasa Ogbuagu, Jenny Jules, Adepero Oduye

Chinasa Ogbuagu, Jenny Jules, Adepero Oduye

Arriving back to the theatre, ready to dive back into the exploration of this family, I was well aware of the time jump. Her Portmanteau, the fourth in the cycle, after Sojourners (the first)The Grove (2nd) and runboyrun (3rd, for more details, check out her website by clicking here) jumps forward over thirty years, and as expected, this story subtitled “legacy and forgiveness”, is really about that child that was born to Abasiama Ufot (formerly Ekpeyoung), now played by Jenny Jules (The Crucible), near the end of Sojourners. That child, bearing the name Iniabasi Ekpeyoung, played by the powerful Adepero Oduye (The Trip to Bountiful), has arrived ready to connect again with her roots. She finds herself in the apartment of her half sister, Adiagha Ufot, but unaware why. Adiagha is amazingly portrayed by the same actress who played her mother in the earlier play, the almost unrecognizable Chinasa Ogbuagu.  It’s a knock down brilliant transformation that still astounds me. The three are brought together to come to terms with abandonment, history, and cultural divides. The apartment is thick with unsaid grievances, desires, and complications forcing these three compelling characters into a cycle of conflict and repair at an alarming rate. All are excellent and completely engaged in this one act play. A true marvel that is only made better after watching the origin play, Sojourners.

Jenny Jules, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Jenny Jules, Chinasa Ogbuagu

Little did I know how meaningful Loren Shaw’s (Restoration Comedy) costume design would carry us through, along with the beautiful subtle work of Jiyoun Chang’s (Roundabout’s Ugly Lies The Bone) lighting and projection design on the ceiling, and Jeremy S. Bloom’s (New Group’s Buried Child) sound design. Each ingredient adds depth and development to this rich piece. The very first image of suitcases revolving; arriving from destinations unknown, is as telling as can be. They speak of the greater dynamics of these immigrant travelers and the displacement and collision of their cultural worlds. Creating clashes that will reverberate over generations. Sojourners is the birth of this family and Her Portmanteau is just the start of the unpacking that is needed. When duty and desire collide, legacy and forgiveness can begin. What an appropriate and perfect way to spend my Mother’s Day. PS: I love you, Mom.

So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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 last...so 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 frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway

Theatre News: Teeth, Soft Power, Redwood, BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical and Pre-Existing Condition

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Jenna Rose Husli, Wren Rivera, Alyse Alan Louis, Phoenix Best and Helen J Shen in Teeth (Photo: Chelcie Parry)

Teeth is coming back to New World Stages in the fall for an open-ended run. The transfer begins on October 31, Halloween night, as its official opening. While casting for the commercial remount is yet to be announced, the Playwrights Horizons cast featured Alyse Alan Louis, Steven Pasquale, Will Connolly, Jason Gotay, Jared Loftin, Courtney Bassett, Phoenix Best, Jenna Rose Husli, Lexi Rhoades, Wren Riveras and Helen J. Shen.

The off-Broadway cast album for Teeth, written by written by Pop! creator Anna K. Jacobs (book and music) and Pulitzer Prize-winning A Strange Loop creator Michael R. Jackson (book and lyrics), is now available to stream on all major music platforms. The physical CD will be released August 30. Teeth opened its off-Broadway world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in March with direction by Sarah Benson and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.

Based on Mitchell Lichtenstein’s screenplay for the cult-classic 2007 horror comedy, Teeth is a tale of revenge and transformation that tears through a culture of shame and repressed desire one delightfully unhinged song at a time. The musical follows Dawn O’Keefe, an evangelical Christian teen struggling to be an exemplar of purity amongst her community of fellow Promise Keeper Girls. As Dawn’s desires become tested and twisted by the men in her life, she discovers a deadly secret not even she understands: when men violate her, her body bites back—literally.

I loved Jeanine Tesori and David Henry Hwang’s SoftPower when it appeared at The Public, now it’s coming to the Signature Theatre in Washington  D.C., newly revised production and directed by Signature Associate Artistic Director Ethan Heard. The show opens August 6 and runs until September 15. Could NYC be next? The cast will feature Steven Eng as DHH, Daniel May (Flower Drum Song) as Xue Xing, and Grace Yoo (Hadestown) as Hillary Clinton with Eymard Cabling (Miss Saigon national tour) as Randy Ray and others, Andrew Cristi (A Christmas Story) as Chief Justice and others, Jonny Lee Jr. as Bobby Bob and others, Quynh-My Luu as Waiter and others, Christopher Mueller as VEEP and others, Ashley D. Nguyen as Jīng and others, Chani Wereley as Betsy Ross and others, Nicholas Yenson as Holden Caulfield and others, and Sumié Yotsukura as Flight Attendant and others. Olivia Clavel-Davis, Brian Dauglash, Emily Song Tyler, and Joey Urgino are swings.

After the 2016 election, when a Chinese American playwright is attacked by an unknown assailant, he hallucinates a Golden Age musical comedy about a Chinese theater producer and Hillary Clinton falling in love. Hilarious and biting, this political satire dares to ask: Does American Democracy still work? And is it worth believing in?

An exhilarating ride through political absurdity with a faceoff between Chinese and American exceptionalism, Soft Power makes an electric debut in the nation’s capital.

Idina Menzel, will open at the Nederlander Theatre in Redwood. This new Broadway musical starts previews January 24,  with a February 13 opening. Written and directed by Tony Award nominee Tina Landau, Redwood features music by Kate Diaz and lyrics by Diaz and Landau. The show is conceived by Landau and Menzel, with additional contributions by Menzel. The musical premiered earlier this year at La Jolla Playhouse. “I made my Broadway debut at the Nederlander Theatre in Rent almost 30 years ago, so to be returning there with Redwood is very emotional for me as it feels like a real homecoming. It has been such a gift to collaborate with Tina and Kate on this show, and I’m so proud to bring it to Broadway” stated Menzel. Redwood follows Jesse (Menzel), a successful businesswoman, mother and wife who seems to have it all, but inside, her heart is broken. Finding herself at a turning point, Jesse leaves everyone and everything behind, gets in her car and drives. Thousands of miles later, she hits the majestic forests of Northern California, where a chance meeting and a leap of faith change her life forever.

BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical has found is set to open at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre on April 5, 2025. Tony Award®-winning director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell brings the Queen of the Animated Screen to the theater  with celebrated multiple Grammy® Award-winning composer David Foster, Tony Award®-nominated lyricist Susan Birkenhead and Tony Award®-winning book writer Bob Martin. This score is fabulous and we can’t wait to hear the rest of it.

Edie Falco Photo by Emilio Madrid

Today, producers O’Henry Productions, The Cohn Sisters, Jessica Chase, Taylor Williams, David Blum, Jesse Eisenberg and Charlie Kaufman announced that Pre-Existing Condition by Tony Award® nominee Marin Ireland will extend for two weeks through August 17 and will star Emmy Award® winner Edie Falco in the rotating role of “A” beginning on August 6

Pre-Existing Condition, directed by Maria Dizzia, is currently playing at the Connelly Theater (220 East 4th St.) in the intimate 60-seat Upstairs space. The play was originally set to close on August 3.

Pre-Existing Condition is a play exploring the challenges, shared community, and everyday indignities of learning to move forward after a life-altering, harmful relationship.

About the play, Ms. Falco said, “I am thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of something that moved me so much as a spectator. It involves an intimacy and vulnerability that I’ve sorely missed in the theater. I can’t wait to work with these people who I deeply respect so that hopefully more people can see and feel what I did when I saw the play.”

The role of “A” has rotated throughout the production and is currently played by Tony Award® winner Deirdre O’Connell (Dana H.). Tavi Gevinson (“American Horror Story”) will play the role from July 24-August 3 with Ms. Falco starting August 6-August 17. Previously, the role was played by Emmy Award® winner Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), Julia Chan (Uncle Vanya) and Tony Award® nominee Maria Dizzia (In the Next Room).

The cast also includes Sarah Steele (“The Good Fight”), Dael Orlandersmith (Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Yellowman), Greg Keller (Alliance); with Raquel Chavez (Uncle Vanya) and Gregory Connors (The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window), understudies.

Tony Award® nominee Anne Kauffman (Mary Jane) serves as Creative Consultant on the production. In addition to Ms. Kauffman, the creative team includes Louisa Thompson (A Simulacrum), Set Designer; Tony Award® nominee Enver Chakartash (Stereophonic), Costume Designer; Tony Award® nominee Isabella Byrd (Enemy of the People, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club), Lighting Designer; Tony Award® nominee Palmer Hefferan (The Skin of Our Teeth), Sound Designer. Taylor Williams is Casting Director, Ashley-Rose Galligan is Production Stage Manager, Eric Nolan Mattingly is Assistant Stage Manager with Wagner Johnson Productions serving as General Management.  Associate Producer is Joe Meyer. David Manella at Loeb & Loeb LLP serves as Production Counsel.

For information on performance dates, ticketing lottery information please visit preexistingconditionplay.com. Tickets start at $49.

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Off Broadway

Coney Island Nursery Rhyme Is a New Play Still In Its Embronic State

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In the press release and on their own site Coney Island Nursery Rhyme sounds so intriguing. This historical fiction set in Connecticut and New York in the 1930’s is based on a true story. They state; Follows the esteemed incubator-doctor, showman, and unofficial father of Neonatology, Martin A. Couney. In a time where eugenics-focused medical culture refused to employ incubator technology. Martin A. Couney took it upon himself to save premature babies in his own incubators at a sideshow at Coney Island where funds were used to hire nurses and essentially create an unofficial hospital. We focus on Beatrice Winthrop, a woman from the American gentry who seeks Couney’s assistance after giving birth prematurely.

This is what we are told, but what the play is about, is less about the doctor and more about Raymond Abbot (Zachary Speigel) a fool who has a secret to confess. His friend Beatrice Winthrop (Jessica Noboa) has had a premie and her mother Candace Lahey (Phyllis Lindy) thinks the child would be better off dead. The doctor in charge (Judge Boothby) doesn’t hold out much hope and wants to send the child to Chicago. In the meantime Lt. Peter Petrovick (Pete Marzilli), wants to capture the killer of Mrs. Winthrop husband who was shot dead by his friend.

Jessica Noboa

The play by Lubomir Rzepka spends the first hour teaching us nothing about eugenics, making us wonder why we are here. We are introduced to Martin A. Couney (Mike Timoney), but Mrs. Winthrop dismisses him, until Raymond Abbot steals the child, saving the child’s life.

Mike Timoney, Jessica Noboa, Phyllis Lindy

Rzepka also directed the piece, but this was a mistake, as the actors for the most part scream for two hours.

Mike Timoney, Zachary Speigel

So little is spent on “The Infantorium”, in which visitors paid 25 cents to view prematurely born babies displayed in incubators. Thanks to Couney, who was one of the first advocates for premature babies, and his Infantoriums have become widely accredited with saving the lives of over 6,500 premature babies in the 30’s. Couney is additionally recognised as one of the first pioneers of neonatological technology. Now that is interesting.

Coney Island Nursery Rhyme: 754 9th Ave 4th floor (word of warning NO elevator). Premiering for 8 select shows July 12 through July 20th as an Equity Approved Showcase at the NuBox Theatre.

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Ken Fallin's Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway:​ Inspired By True Events A New Play by Ryan Spahn

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Off-Broadway’s Out of the Box Theatrics is presenting Inspired By True Events, a new play by Ryan Spahn.

In the green room of a community theater in Rochester, the Uptown Players are getting ready to play to a full house after opening to rave reviews the night before. When their star actor arrives in a dangerously unhinged state, they must improvise on and off stage in ways they could not have imagined. By turns hilarious, harrowing, and horrifying, Inspired By True Events follows a tenacious group of show people who must determine at what cost the show must go on.

Inspired By True Events received development workshops with New York Stage & Film, Vineyard Theatre and EST.

Knud Adams is directing, and the cast will feature Lou Liberatore, Jack DiFalco, Mallory Portnoy, and Dana Scurlock. The play opens July 17 at 154 Christopher Street (formerly the New Ohio Theatre). The play was developed by Michael Urie.

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Obituaries

Saying Good Bye To Dr. Ruth

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“I was left with a feeling that because I was not killed by the Nazis — because I survived — I had an obligation to make a dent in the world,” Dr. Westheimer stated.

Becoming Dr. Ruth was a compelling play that chronicled the remarkable journey of Karola Siegel, who was best known as Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the iconic sex therapist. Dr. Ruth’s escape from the Nazis as a child, her time as a sniper in Jerusalem, and her courageous pursuit of success in America as a single mother, Becoming Dr. Ruth was and is about a triumphant spirit. On July 12, 2024 Dr. Ruth passed on at her home in Manhattan. She was 96.

Sex sells and Ruth Westheimer, a child survivor of the Holocaust who was a sex therapist knew that. At a time when the world didn’t talk about sex Dr Ruth’s frankness led to a long-running radio and television call-in shows. She was the go-to for tips on the art and science of lovemaking.

The sexual revolution that began in the 60’s but the world was still repressed on subjects like erectile dysfunction, masturbation, fantasies and orgasms.

Dr. Ruth was not the typical radio and TV personality, She stood at 4-foot-7, she was bedecked in pearls, and had a recognizable German-inflected voice.

Dr. Westheimer was over 50 when she debuted in 1980 on New York’s WYNY with “Sexually Speaking.” The radio program started out in 15-minute segments and was later syndicated and extended to two hours to accommodate those who were curious. There was also “Good Sex With Dr. Ruth Westheimer,” She was a frequent guest on late-night talk shows.

After surviving the Nazis, she went to Israel, where she joined the Haganah paramilitary group fighting for Jewish statehood (and where, she said, she lost her virginity in a hayloft). After that to France and to New York. As Dr. Westheimer she taught university courses in human sexuality before a producer at WYNY, an NBC affiliate, booked her for quarter-hour segment, first broadcast on Sundays after midnight. Within a year, she was on prime time at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.

She wasn’t the first on-air therapist, but the most remembered.

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Off Broadway

The Journals of Adam and Eve The World’s First Love Story Starring Hal Linden and Marilu Henner

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photo by Paul Aphisit

“Some day we’ll look back on this and laugh.”

The Journals of Adam and Eve The World’s First Love Story starring Hal Linden and Marilu Henner is a master class in acting. Created by Emmy-winning comedy writer Ed Weinberger (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Cosby Show), the show is very reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Ultimately an endearing love story, the  show records the couple’s initial ambivalence to growth within themselves and in love.

Done like a reading, the actors are in black street clothes. They refer to their scripts from adjoining music stands. There is water on small tables and a chair for each.

Hal Linden and Marilu Henner are very amusing and powerful storytellers. Linden’s journey as Adam, starts off with “Much to my amazement, I was born a full-grown man,” to “It wasn’t the Garden of Eden. Not by a long shot.” We meet and see a man who is flawed, childlike in full blown ego to a man content with the journey. It is truly funny to see Mr. Linden recall his favorite herb. “A few swallows of the bud and I soon found myself wolfing down handfuls of figs drenched in honey and sprinkled with crunchy chili peppers. It also made me giggle when I counted my fingers.”

Henner commands the stage squeezing every laugh out of goading Adam, flirting in a way that is subtle and innocent. When he tries to rule over her she states; “Well, it just so happens that this living thing that ‘moveth’ is not one of your birds, fishes, or any other animal you have dominion over. So maybe you and this God ought to have another little talk about who is whoest and what is whateth.”

As the mysteries of life and love are explored desire, discoveries, temptation, lust, being the world’s first parents, joys, sorrows, separation and contentment in their twilight years all are explained and shown in a way that makes you think.

This thought-provoking comedy’s makes you wonder did we ever really know the first couple, that in a strange way has influenced all of our lives?

Amy Anders Corcoran’s direction is simple, yet effective and you will leave the theatre more satisfied than Adama dn Eve after they bit that apple.

The Journals of Adam and Eve: The Sheen Center, Loreto Theater, 18 Bleecker Street, until July 28th

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