A couple a days ago I wrote an article on why I think Caitlyn Jenner is not to be admired and then I saw the new musical Southern Comfort at the Public Theater. Based on Kate Davis’s 2001 documentary of the same name, we follow the final year in the life of Robert Eads, a female-to-male transgender man who found love with his “chosen family,” in rural Georgia.
Take plenty of Kleenex to this touching and heartfelt show that is sure to move you. Annette O’Toole (Smallville) plays Eads and it is a performance not to be missed. It will actually take some time, before you realize the romantic lead in all those Robby Benson movies is the scruffy rail thin man in the black cowboy hat.
The play begins in the Spring, as the band (Lizzie Hagstedt (Bass),Elizabeth Ward Land (Percussion), David M. Lutken (Guitar), Morgan Morse (Piano) and Joel Waggoner (Violin)) of uber talented musicians sing and act as storytellers. The book and lyrics by Dan Collins and bluegrass score by Julianne Wick Davis are musical gems. As we meet Robert’s “chosen family,” first up is Jackson (Jeffrey Kuhn) a younger transgender man who Robert has raised as his own son, Sam (Donnie Cianciotto) another transgender female to male and his wife, Melanie (Robin Skye) round out the intial group. Robert is excited to introduce them to his lover the strapping Miss Lola Cola (Jeff McCarthy). Still closeted and shy Jackson takes none to kindly to this stranger, despite the cruel fate of Robert having terminal ovarian cancer. Robert refuses to give up making the most of this horrific diagnosis. When Jackson gets serious with Carly (Aneesh Sheth), a transgender woman, he decides to undergo phalloplasty despite Robert’s angry belief that gender is a matter of mind and spirit, not genitals. The show’s name comes from “SoCo,” short for Southern Comfort, the annual transgender convention in Atlanta, where the love Robert and Lola feel, show the pain of what being a transgender person is like as well as the joy.
This cast is remarkable, but it is Ms. O’Toole who immerses herself so much into the character, she disappears and we only see Robert. Right now, this is the performance to beat as the best of the year. There is not one piece of Robert we do not know by the end of this. I went and watched the documentary and it is scary how much she has embodied him. Jeff McCarthy, brings humanity, a spirit and a realism to his role. Mr. Kuhn adds a feisty rebellion and energy to add conflict to an already conflicted life. Ms Sheth adds another comic dimension, as does Ms. Skye and Mr. Cianciotto.
Director Thomas Caruso who conceived this piece with Robert DuSold, brings a piece so well though-out and tender to the stage and does not try to over stage but allow the story to enlightening. I was so impressed, I sought out the documentary and now after seeing that, I am even more impressed.
James Fenton’s setting is lovely, as Robert’s family tree becomes a collection of the pieces of our lives.
In an age where we have people like Caitlyn Jenner shoved down out throats, I am so grateful that a piece like this shows the reality and the struggle of those seeking to be comfortable in their own skin and not after fame.
This is a show not to be missed!
Southern Comfort: Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. until march 27th.
I leave you with a video from the production at Barrington Stage, where the cast is almost the same.
*Mark Returns To The Magis Theatre Company
Magis Theatre Company will present a revival of their critically acclaimed production of *mark, a solo performance of the Gospel of Mark. Originally produced at La MaMa ETC and directed by Luann Purcell Jennings in 2014, it features original music composed by internationally acclaimed, award-winning composer Elizabeth Swados. Actor George Drance will again perform the role of the storyteller. *mark will be performed at Theatre 315 located at 315 W. 47th St. New York, NY. The show dates are as follows: Wednesdays, April 12 and 19 at 7PM; Thursdays, April 6, 13 and 20 at 7pm; Friday April 7, 14 and 21 at 8PM; Saturday April 8, 15 and 22 at 2PM. Tickets are available at Eventbrite: tinyurl.com/36h7rzdt. The production is directed by Jackie Lucid.
The Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the four gospels, had an early tradition of being performed aloud from start to finish. It was finally written down during Nero’s brutal persecution of the followers of “the Way.” Recited in its entirety to give courage to this community of quiet rebels, their radical compassion put them in danger because their inclusivity threatened the Empire’s status quo. Today it is rare for an audience to hear this gospel performed in its totality, or to experience it with the immediacy of that dangerous period of oppression. In his contemporary solo performance, Drance, reclaims the urgency of the words as when they were first spoken. He examines the message of commitment and love through the eyes of a street artist, using drawings to illustrate and illuminate the text.
Magis Theatre Company, founded in 2003, is an ensemble of actors and teaching artists who came together out of desire: desire to teach, desire to train, and desire to act. The company has produced a variety of actor driven, physically based theatre productions that explore the human condition. Recent productions include: Thornton Wilder’s The Alcestiad performed at FDR Four Freedoms Park; Calderon’s Two Dreams, presenting both the 1636 comedia and the 1677 auto sacramental of Life is a Dream; Leslie Lewis’ Miracle in Rwanda, testifying to the transformative power of prayer and forgiveness. Their adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s fantastical spiritual tale The Great Divorce was hailed by the New York Times as “thought provoking… long on theatrical skill and remarkably short on preachiness.”
Actor George Drance, Artist-in-residence at Fordham University, has performed and directed in over twenty countries on five continents. He has served as artistic director of Theatre YETU in Kenya and artistic associate for Teatro la Fragua in Honduras. Drance has been a guest artist and lecturer at Columbia University, Cornell University, Marquette University, Marymount Manhattan College, Hebrew Union College, and Boston College. In March, Drance, who is Ukrainian, will appear at LA Mama in Radio 477!, a new show created by Yara Arts Group and Ukrainian artists about the city of Kharkiv, its jazz history, and how it stood up to Putin today. With texts and lyrics by award-winning Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan, music by Anthony Coleman, it is directed by Virlana Tkacz.
Perhaps best known for her Broadway and international smash hit Runaways, the late Elizabeth Swados (1951-2016) composed, wrote and directed issue-oriented theatre for over 30 years. Some of her works include the Obie Award winning Trilogy at La Mama, and Alice at the Palace with Meryl Streep at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her awards include: Five Tony® nominations, three Obie® Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Grant, the Helen Hayes Award, a Lila Acheson Wallace Grant, PEN, and others.
Visit the Magis Theatre Company online at: https://www.magistheatre.org
Broadway’s A Doll’s House Meticulously Stunning Revival Soars Like a Birdie Above That Clumsy Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
For a revival to find its footing, it has to have a point of view or a sense of purpose far beyond an actor’s desire to perform a part, whether it suits them or not. It needs to radiate an idea that will make us want to sit up and pay attention. To feel its need to exist. And on one particular day in March, I was blessed with the opportunity to see not just one grande revival, but two. One was a detailed pulled-apart revolutionary revival of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that astounded. The other, unfortunately, was a clumsy revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that fell lazily from that high-wired peak – not for a lack of trying, but from a formulation that never found its purpose.
Theatre News: Smash, I Need That, Good Night, Oscar, Funny Girl, This Beautiful Lady and In The Trenches: A Parenting Musical
The NBC television series Smash is coming to Broadway for the 2024-2025 season. Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron and Steven Spielberg will produce. The musical will feature a book co-written by three-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice and Tony winner Bob Martin. Tony and Grammy winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Some Like It Hot). The team earned three Emmy nominations for their songs from the “Smash” series will pen the score, which will feature numbers from the TV show.
Five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman (New York, New York) will direct and Tony nominee and Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse will choreograph.
The series was created by Theresa Rebeck and Spielberg, launch the series. Spielberg is also one of the co-producers of Good Night, Oscar, which begins performances at the Belasco Theatre on April 7.
Official dates, theater, creative team and casting for the “Smash” stage musical will be announced at a later date.
Speaking of the Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Theresa Rebeck, Danny DeVito and Lucy DeVito are set to star in her new play I Need That at the Roundabout. The new comedy will be directed by Tony nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel which will open at the American Airlines Theatre in October. The cast will also include Ray Anthony Thomas. … Also newly announced for Roundabout’s new Broadway season is a spring 2024 revival of Samm-Art Williams’ 1980 Tony-nominated play “Home.” Tony winner Kenny Leon will direct
Speaking of Good Night, Oscar, Doug Wright’s play was named finalist for 2023 new play award by The American Theatre Critics Association. The other six finalists for the 2023 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award include: Born With Teeth by Liz Duffy Adams, the ripple, the wave that carried me home by Christina Anderson, Sally & Tom by Suzan-Lori Parks, Spay by Madison Fiedler and
Swing State by Rebecca Gilman.
Paolo Montalban and Anne L. Nathan are joining Lea Michele in Funny Girl as Florenz Ziegfield and Mrs. Strakosh. Montalban and Nathan will replace original cast members Peter Francis James and Toni DiBuono, who take their final bows on March 26th.
Elizabeth Swados’ This Beautiful Lady will play at La MaMa this May. Previews will begin May 5 for the Off-Broadway run ahead of the May 8 press opening, with performances set through May 28 in the Ellen Stewart Theatre.
In The Trenches: A Parenting Musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Graham & Kristina Fuller, will receive industry readings on Friday, March 24th at 11am & 3pm at Ripley Grier Studios. The readings will be directed by Jen Wineman (Dog Man: The Musical) and will feature music direction by Rebekah Bruce (Mean Girls) and arrangements by Dan Graeber, Graham & Kristina Fuller.
The cast of In The Trenches features Amanda Jane Cooper (Wicked), Jelani Remy (The Lion King, Ain’t Too Proud), Christine Dwyer (Wicked), Caesar Samayoa (Come From Away), Max Crumm (Grease, Disaster!), and Vidushi Goyal.Join two bleary-eyed young parents as they trudge through the trenches and discover their new post-baby identities. In an evening of new-parent greatest hits, a foul-mouthed toddler zeroes in on “the most dangerous thing in the room”, tap dancing towards bleach, knives, and tide pods; a chronically-overlooked younger sibling sings the “second child blues”; a mom trio celebrates yoga pants in an R&B love song to the “official mom uniform”; dad discovers he’s not the “ice-cream and movie-night cool parent” but rather the “do your homework real parent” amid a kiddo sugar-crash; and mom retrieves a sticky, hair-covered pacifier from the floor of a LaGuardia bathroom while her baby screams bloody murder and her flight boards without her.
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