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Meet Stephen Unwin Director, Playwright and Advocate for Disabled Children

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Who decides if a child lives? A terrible crime took place in a German clinic for disabled children. The persecution, sterilization and murder of hundreds of thousands of disabled people is one of the most overlooked chapters in the history of Nazi Germany. Between 1939 and 1945, it is estimated that well over 200,000 people with a wide range of disabilities were dismissed as Lebensunwertes Leben (‘lives unworthy of life’) and systematically killed in six converted psychiatric hospitals across Austria and Germany. Public opposition to the program was limited. The most striking intervention came from the Bishop of Münster, Clemens von Galen. Stephen Unwin’s riveting new play All Our Children is set against a forgotten chapter of the Holocaust, the murder of disabled children and young people, remembering those who died and those who fought against this injustice. Playing at The Sheen Center All Our Children,started previews April 6th and plays until May 9th.

T2C had a chance to talk to this author, to learn just a little bit more.

T2C: You have directed in Scotland and England and now your play is in New York.

Stephen Unwin: Briton is a small country, in my 20’s I worked in Edinburgh at the Traverse Theatre. A lot of actors that I worked with made it big like Alan Cummnings and Tilda Swinton. I am really a play and opera director. I have directed over 50 or 60 productions. Doing this play is terrifying. 

T2C: You have written several books.What is the difference between writing books and a play?

Stephen Unwin: The books are are factual, the play took historical research. It is also imaginative. The translation is informative in writing the play. You are creating dialogue that trips on the tongue.

T2C:What aren’t you directing All Our Children ?

Stephen Unwin: I directed All Our Children in London, but its right to do it here with an America cast and director for an American audience. I could have done it, but it was great to have an experienced director for here.

T2C:What made you write All Our Children?

Stephen Unwin: It comes from the experience of a father who has a severally disable child. My son Joey has no speech, epilepsy and will always need to be taken care of. My mom was also a German Jew and there is something in that inheritance. I was also brought up on Catholicism. This play weaves all that together.

In this play, the bishop has a line “all God’s children need”. The play was my question and answer as to what is the onset of that? The Nazi killed over 200,000 disable children because it is too expensive to keep them. I think that the tax payer and the state needs to support the most vulnerable. We have a responsibility through our tax dollars and commitment. I admire that religious commitment and now the rest of the world needs to find a political answered to helping our seniors and disabled. The Nazi’s wanted to spend money on the military instead of their people’s needs. This play has a series of arguments. Society has a contribution to make.

T2C:What made you write about the holocaust?

Stephen Unwin: This story is before the Jewish holocaust, it is the attack on the disabled people. This is a story that is completely forgotten about. Bishop Galen was very grand and aristocratic, the Nazi’s thought he was one of them. However he stood up against the murders and stood up for the disabled. Hitler stopped the program, because of his speeches and bravery.

T2C:How did you get the play to New York?

Stephen Unwin

Stephen Unwin: I directed it in London and it was a big success, then somebody form the Sheen Center contacted me. This play sparks an ethical debate. When the forces of the state go against the most vulnerable, we need to band together and state this must never happen again!

T2C:I know the US had commercials wanting to sterilize disabled children and in Germany they were being experimented on. What is it we don’t know?

Stephen Unwin: There was an absurd amount of eugenics going on in America and London. It was a misunderstanding of Darwin theory. The thought was that if we sterilized, we could stop the diversity of people, that this is good for everybody. We forget that perfect is not good for anyone. When I was younger I used to be so scared of people with disabilities and now I’m not. Fear creates hate.

T2C: You are an advocate for disabled children. What do we not know that could help?

Stephen Unwin: What we forget is that disabled children should have every right that every other child should have. I took my daughter Bea, to the playground here and there was not one disabled child. Children need to play. They need access to education, to grow and be the best they can be. The psychological stress to fight for a disabled child’s right shouldn’t be taken for granted. This is not something a family should fight for. A child should be kept safe. The casual language of moron, stupid and dumb are all abusive. Virginia Wolfe when seeing disabled children on a bridge stated; “They should all be killed.”

T2C:How does theatre help disabled children?

Stephen Unwin: This little play has helped some people have more empathic and has helped create a political change towards disabled people. 

T2C:What are the challenges you face as a father of a disabled child?

Bea and Joey

Stephen Unwin: My boy Joey is now 22, so he is nearly an adult. The challenges are you have to fight and fight and fight. Joey gets what he needs, because I am a privileged person. I try in what ever way I can to help people do not have the advantages that I have. Joey is a lucky swine, because he has family around loving him. 

T2C: Is this play spiritual?

Stephen Unwin: This play is the most personal thing I have done incorporating my Jewish inheritance and Catholic upbringing. This terrible crime was committed, yet a voice when brave enough is clearly and forcibly enough, people will follow you.

T2C:What would you like our readers to know that I haven’t asked?

Stephen Unwin: It’s not a date night play, this is not as terrifying as people think it is. It is emotional and you will cry. It is humane. Human’s no matter how they are born is worth infinite value.

All Our Children: The Sheen Center, 18 Bleeker St. until May 9th.

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

Off Broadway

Despite Its Ambiguous Title the Play N/A Is Very Applicable for Today

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N/A A New Play at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater makes current political discourse interesting and fun. Don’t worry this is neither a preachy lecture or harangue about what’s wrong with the world nor is it a one-sided political commentary; but a lively discussion between two women who represent different generations, experiences and methods of how to get a job done. Very clearly based on the real-life Nancy Pelosi (N) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (A); we see how two passionate women have similar goals for America, but very different ways of achieving them. Holland Taylor, who previously became Ann Richards on stage, again plays a powerhouse woman as N. She delivers the dialogue in Mario Correa’s well-paced new play with strength, passion and wit. N, the experienced legislator wants change and progress for the country; but, after forty years in the political arena knows how the fight is fought.

Ana Villafane is A, a newcomer to Congress and a worthy opponent to N (A is in fact the youngest woman ever to be elected at the age of 29).  Ms Villafane previously seen as Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet proves she can do more than sing as she is a wonderful sparring partner with Ms Taylor. Being young and new to Congress, A thinks that the system doesn’t work and will do what she feels is right to not only change the world but also break the system – two causes that can defeat each other in the long and short term.

Conflict between the two could have been a dull slog to watch but thanks to the wit of Mr Correa’s writing, Diane Paulus’ seamless directing and these two wonderful actors the 80 minutes flies by. The show, however, will stay with you for days. It is a play that all generations should see not just to for the political story but to create a better understanding of each other regardless of when we were born. The “Baby Boomers” had their causes when they were young and they wanted change ‘NOW!’ just as Gen Z feels today. But those in position know through years of experience, triumphs and defeats that change takes time and it is not just the opposition to ideas that have to be overcome but also the system, consensus and tradition that need to bend slowly without causing irreparable cracks.

Mr Correa, who was a Congresswoman’s aide prior to becoming a playwright, knows of what he writes which makes the dialogue flow so easily. Myung Hee Cho’s basic yet effective set allows Ms Paulus to move from scene to scene quickly to keep the story moving (and special shout out to that unmistakable liquid red lipstick she has for A). Ms Holland and Ms Villafane are both terrific and not to be missed.

If we want to sum up the lesson of this evening in two letters as the title does I will say P/P. Passion and Patience – have passion for change but also be patient for that change to occur and also be patient with those who don’t know how long it takes for that change to happen.

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Events

Sail On Sail On Great Ship Titanic To Broadway

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It has been forever since I have bought tickets for a show, however I believe in the Encore series and Titanic holds a special place in my heart. New York City Center production of the Tony-winning 1997 musical, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston (Broadway’s Nine), reminded me why I love musicals and what is sorely lacking in musicals now.

First there is Yeston’s magnificent score that sails, soars and captures you in its powerful cadence. Music Director Rob Berman, and the full orchestra brought the nuanced score to life from the depths, filling the theater with a powerful emotional tug.


The cast was the best Broadway has to offer. standing out was Ramin Karimloo ( Broadway’s Funny Girl) as the ship’s stoker whose solo’s were heartfelt and sung in perfect voice. His duet with Harold Bride played by Alex Joseph Grayson (Encores!/Broadway’s Parade) brought out what makes Titanic so tragic, the feelings of love, hope, and desire that will never be fulfilled.


“I Want To Be A Lady’s Maid” sung by sung by the 3rd class passengers and the three Kate’s Samantha Williams, Lilli Cooper, and Ashley Blanchet, Irish lasses who all dreams of lives in America that will never be attained, as more than 1,517 and out of the 710 in 3rd class, only 174 survived.

Outher key players who made this show their own were Jose Llama as the architect Andrews. Brandon Uranowitz (Tony winner in Broadway’s Leopoldstadt) as Ismay, the villainous owner of the shipping line. Chuck Cooper (Tony winner Broadway’s The Life), as the Captain of what should have been an unsinkable ship.

As the social climbing 2nd Class passenger Alice Beane, who feels she should not be deterred from hobnobbing with the rich and famous. Bonnie Milligan (Broadway Kimberley Akimbo) brings comic relief. Drew Gehling (Broadway’s Almost Famous) is her husband who can not see his wife’s vision of a new society where classes do not exist.

As the owners of Macy’s department store Chip Zien (Harmony) and Judy Kuhn portray Isidor and Ida Straus whose love keeps Ida staying to go down with her husband. There duet “Still” proves love can always conquer all.

We know the iceberg is coming but the haunting melodic “No Moon” makes it that much more sobering.

Anne Kauffman direction is seamlessly and she brings out the comedy, passion, and horror of Peter Stone’s words. Paul Tate Depot III (Broadway’s The Great Gatsby) is one of the best scenic designers around and his simple design is effective. The costumes by Márion Talán de la Rosa (Off-Broadway’s The Connector) keep us in the time frame.

City Center Encores! Titanic needs to be resurrected and come to Broadway. It is sure to be triumph, at least it was last night.

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Off Broadway

Empire A New Musical Meets The Press

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One of the shows opening up this summer is Empire: The Musical, premiering off Broadway in July.

Empire: The Musical is created by Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull


Directed by Tony Award winner Cady Huffman.

Inspired by the history of the Empire State Building, the show centers on the people who saw the skyscraper’s construction through in desperate times and when it seemed impossible. The story jumps between three time periods: the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the Bicentennial Year of 1976.


The Empire: The Musical cast includes Danny Iktomi Bevins, Monique Candelaria, Devin Cortez, Morgan Cowling, Kaitlyn Davidson, Joel Douglas, Joseph Fierberg, Alexandra Frohlinger, Matt Gibson, Albert Guerzon, Julia Louise Hosack, Kiana Kabeary, Howard Kaye, TJ Newton, April Ortiz, Kennedy Perez, Jessica Ranville, Paul Salvatoriello, J Savage, Robbie Serrano, and Ethan Saviet.

The show also features choreography by Lorna Ventura

scenic design by Walt Spangler, costume design by Tina McCartney, lighting design by Jamie Roderick, sound design by Shannon Slaton, music supervision and orchestrations by Lena Gabrielle, arrangements by Hull and Gabrielle, music direction by Gillian Berkowitz, and props design by Brendan McCann.

Performances begin July 1st with a July 11th opening night at New World Stages, for 12 weeks only.

 

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Broadway

No Break…. Theatre Coming In July And August To Broadway and Off Broadway

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The theatre season has not stopped. Already opening Off Broadway have been Marin Ireland’s Pre-Existing Condition at the Connelly Theater Upstairs. Directed by Maria Dizzia, starring Tatiana Maslany, Tavi Gevinson, Deirdre O’Connell, Maria Dizzia, Julia Chan, Dael Orlandersmith, Sarah Steele, Greg Keller, Raquel Chavez and Gregory Connors. In the aftermath of a life-altering event, Pre-Existing Condition explores the challenges, shared community and everyday indignities of learning to move forward.

Cats: “The Jellicle Ball” A radical reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic dance musical based on T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Inspired by the Ballroom culture that roared out of New York City over 50 years ago and still rages on runways around the world. Staged as a spectacularly immersive competition by Zhailon Levingston and PAC NYC Artistic Director Bill Rauch, with all new Ballroom and club beats, runway ready choreography, and an edgy eleganza makeover that moves the action from junkyard to runway.  Come one, come all, and celebrate the joyous transformation of self at the heart of Cats and Ballroom culture itself. Now at the Perelman Performing Arts Center with Baby, Jonathan Burke, Emma Sofia Caymares, Tara Lashan Clinkscales, André De Shields, Sydney James Harcourt, Antwayn Hopper, Dava Huesca, Dudney Joseph, Jr., Capital Kaos, Junior LaBeija, Dominique Lee, Robert “Silk” Mason, “Tempress” Chasity Moore, Shereen Pimentel, Primo, Nora Schell, Kendall G. Stroud, Frank Viveros, Garnet Williams and Teddy Wilson, Jr.

At Abrons Arts Center Isabel. Matt is fixing a Cheap Old House in the middle of nowhere; then Harriet and Isabel show up unannounced, bringing news about mysterious abandoned staircases in the forest, a backpack named Loaves, and the uncannily human screams of mountain lions.

N/A starring Holland Taylor, Ana Villafañe and directed by Diane Paulus at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre. Marrio Correa’s
whip-smart play is a battle of wills — and wits — between N, the first woman Speaker of the House, and A, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Inspired by real people and events, this riveting two-hander illuminates the person whom many consider the most powerful woman in American history… and the once-in-a-generation political talent who defied her.

Off Broadway Opening

From Here at Pershing Square Signature Center/Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. First preview June 27th, opening: June 29th. Book, Music, Lyrics by Donald Rupe, starring Blake Aburn, Becca Southworth, Omar Cardona. Set in 2016, From Here tells the story of Daniel, a 30-something gay man on his journey through life, love, and family when the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub changes his hometown, and him, forever.

Clowns Like Me at the DR2 Theatre. First preview June 21st, opening: June 30th. Playwright and director Jason Cannon directs this deeply personal and universally resonant one-man show, seasoned actor and master storyteller Scott Ehrenpreis tells his humorous yet profound story of living with mental illness. Like, lots of mental illness. Clowns Like Me fearlessly confronts the challenges of living with autism spectrum disorder, OCD, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, and depression, weaving a tale that is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Through his journey, Scott uncovers a remarkable truth: the stage becomes his sanctuary, a place where, if only for a few hours, he can emerge from the shadows of his struggles into the spotlight of empowerment and self-expression.

Empire The Musical is told through the lens of three generations of dreamers and doers spanning New York City in the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the Bicentennial Year of 1976, this original story shines new light on one of history’s greatest feats of will and desire. With a desperate city pinning its hopes on this seemingly impossible project, only skyscraper-high levels of grit and determination can keep it climbing. Discover the dramatic tales of derring-do through spectacular choreography, foot-tapping music, and colorful, timeless characters. Take the thrilling ride to the sky with the brave Mohawk Skywalkers, industrialist visionaries, and can-do immigrants, all of whom had the guts to go up when everyone else was down. Witness the extraordinary resilience and optimism that built a landmark that still inspires today.  At New World Stages Stage 1. First Preview July 1st, opening: July 11th. Book, Music, and Lyrics by Caroline Sherman & Robert Hull, directed by Cady Huffman. Starring Danny Iktomi Bevins, Monique Candelaria, Devin Cortez, Morgan Cowling, Kaitlyn Davidson, Joel Douglas, Joseph Fierberg, Alexandra Frohlinger, Matt Gibson, Albert Guerzon, Julia Louise Hosack, Kiana Kabeary, Howard Kaye, TJ Newton, April Ortiz, Kennedy Perez, Paul Salvatoriello, J Savage, Robbie Serrano and Ethan Saviet

The Journals Of Adam And Eve at the Sheen Center starring Hal Linden, Marilu Henner. Inspired by the Biblical characters and the work of John Milton and Mark Twain, The Journals of Adam and Eve follows the famous first couple, allowing them to tell their own story in their own words for the first time. First preview July 10th, opening: July 11th. Playwright Ed. Weinberger and director Anders Corcoran.

On Beckett at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Bill Irwin can’t escape Samuel Beckett. He has spent a lifetime captivated by the Irish writer’s language. In this intimate 90-minute evening, Irwin will explore a performer’s relationship to Beckett, mining the physical and verbal skills acquired in his years as a master clown and Tony Award–winning actor. Irwin’s approach to the comic, the tragic, to every side of Beckett’s work—including Waiting for Godot, Texts for Nothing, and more—will allow audiences to experience the language in compelling new ways. Whether you’re encountering the Nobel Prize winner’s writing for the first time, or building on a body of Beckett knowledge, this dynamic showcase is not to be missed.  First Preview July 10th, opening: July 11th.

Cellino v. Barnes is a darkly comic play following the tumultuous partnership between infamous lawyers Ross Cellino and Steve Barnes, documenting their rise and fall as the top injury attorneys in the country. Through the ’90s, 2000s, and 2010s, we witness our pals navigate the ethical ambiguities of the law, grapple with personal demons (and fax machines), and aspire to world domination. They’re a couple of bros with big dreams and loose morals, trying to make it in the cut throat world of ambulance chasing. At The Asylum Theatre
opening July 23rd. Playwrights Mike B. Breen and David Rafailedes and directors Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse.

Six Characters at Lincoln Center Theater/Claire Tow Theater. When some trifling citizens storm a renowned cultural center where they’re not meant to be, all hell breaks loose. Wigs go flying. Wounds get opened. An archive explodes. Will the audience make it out alive? Playwright Phillip Howze, director Dustin Willis, starring CG, Will Cobbs, Seven F.B. Duncombe, Claudia Logan, Julia Robertson, Seret Scott. First preview July 13th, opening: July 29th.

Someone Spectacular at The Pershing Square Signature Center/Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. Once a week, six recently bereaved strangers gather for group therapy. It’s a stable routine — until one day, their grief counselor is inexplicably MIA. The group’s typical session quickly goes off the rails, offering an open-ended meditation on loss, with revelations that are at once beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking. Playwright Domenica Feraud, director Tatiana Pandiani, starring Gamze Ceylan, Alison Cimmet, Delia Cunningham, Marcus Gladney Jr., Ana Cruz Kayne and Damian Young. First preview July 17th, opening July 31st.

Table 17 at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space/Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater starring Kara Young, Biko Eisen-Martin, Michael Rishawn. If your ex wanted to meet up again, would you? Previously engaged, Jada and Dallas reunite for dinner to hash out the good, the bad, and the ugly from their romantic past. Despite the intrusion of sassy waiters, complicated memories, and their best efforts to keep things casual, the estranged couple find themselves cornered by the truth. Playwright Douglas Lyons, directed by Zhalion Levington. First Preview August 14th.

Forbidden Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song will parody current Broadway shows, including Hell’s Kitchen, Stereophonic, The Outsiders, The Great Gatsby, Back to the Future, The Wiz, and Merrily We Roll Along. Attendees can also expect sendups of Roger Bart, Patti LuPone, Daniel Radcliffe, Ariana DeBose, Jeremy Jordan, and the the 2024 Tony Awards as well as selections from Alessandrini’s recent Forbidden Sondheim. At Theater 555. Created and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, starring Chris Collins-Pisano, Jenny Lee Stern.
First preview August 23rd, opening September 12th.

Broadway Openings

Oh, Mary! Cole Escola’s hit farce following the life of Mary Todd Lincoln arrives on Broadway for a limited run. Previews begin June 26th, opens July 11th, closes September 15th. At the Lyceum Theatre. Also starring Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Bianca Leigh, Tony Macht
and directed by Sam Pinkleton.

Job at Hayes Theatre starring Peter Friedman and  Sydney Lemmon. Max Wolf Friedlich’s psychological thriller transfers to Broadway after an acclaimed run downtown. Previews begin July 15th, opens July 30th, closes September 29th.

Once Upon a Mattress Sutton Foster and Michael Urie star in the Broadway revival of this beloved musical fairytale, transferring to Broadway after a successful run at City Center Encores! Previews begin July 31st, opens August 12th, closes November 30th. At the Hudson Theatre, adaptation by Amy Sherman-Palladino and directed by Lear deBessonet

The Roommate Patti LuPone and Mia Farrow return to Broadway in a new comedy by Jen Silverman. Previews begin August 29th, opens September 12th at the Booth Theatre. Directed by Jack O’Brien, Jen Silverman’s comedy about identity, morality, and the promise of reinvention.

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Off Broadway

The Welkin Is A Play About The Cruelty Of Women

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Lucy Kirkwood’s The Welkin asks several questions about right and wrong, the violence women deal/dealt with, power between wealth and not, the belief that men are the better species, even to women and why and how women do not defend or truly help each other.

Stepped in 1759, Suffolk, England, the story centers around Sally Poppy (Haley Wong), who’s sentenced to hang for helping her lover murder a little girl, except she herself is with child, so she claims. It is up to twelve women to decide her fate. Is Sally telling the truth or lying to save her skin. Under English law “pleading the belly” could commute the sentence saving Sally’s and her child’s life.

Midwife Lizzy Luke (Sandra Oh) believes in life, but these women have issues that effect the outcome. One has miscarried 12 times (Emily Cass McDonnell) in eight years and delivered a stillborn son, one is going through menopause and is overheating (Ann Harada), Sarah Hollis (Hannah Cabell) lost her voice in childbirth and has not spoken since, one is not who she says she is (Mary McCann). These women’s circumstances and beliefs often blur their choices and we are like peeping Tom’s looking in.

Wong, as the complex Sally, is a rebellious teen, who is over life as it was dictated for her. She wants to live by her own rules and when the puzzle has been exposed this plays leaves more questions than answers, which is impossible to ask or state here without giving the whole play away. Lets say, who her mother is, who her father is, who the child is and who the women who ultimately decides her fate was never really explored and that is the fascinating psychology that would have made this play soar.

Sandra Oh last seen on Broadway in 2006, is best known for TV’s Killing Eve and Grey’s Anatomy. She is the heart and soul until she is not. Once her secrets are out the play seems a little like Mother’s Play.

Emily Cass McDonnell makes us hate women whose own self centered needs and wants take no prisoners. Hannah Cabell makes us wish women who are like her would stay silent. Ann Harada and Dale Soules as Sarah Smith bring humor to challanging aspects of a women’s journey.

There are two men in the play Mr. Coombes (Glenn Fitzgerald), the bailiff who is a special friend to Oh’s character, until he is not and Danny Wolohan as the doctor that the women choose over a midwife, because he is a man. In The Welkin women eventually choose a man over their own. This man’s opinions of women, is beyond tragic.

Hanging over the play is the arrival of Halley’s Comet, why really is this play called The Welkin and an odd section where The Bangles “Manic Monday is sung ala an ode to Bridgerton. In a show that is over 2 hours, that could have been cut.

Director Sarah Benson’s direction at times seems odd and leaves more questions than answers. What is extremely well done \s the casting, as this cast all shine in their respected roles.

The Welkin is disturbing on so many levels. What it is saying seems unpalatable, but we do need to take it’s message to heart for at some point for the sake of humanity we need to connect and be on each other’s side.

The Welkin: The Atlantic Theatre Company at the Linda Gross Theatre, 336 West 20th Street until July 7th.

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