What We Wanted, David Harms new and first produced play focuses on what appears to be an idyllic three-person marriage in a small Ohioan university town. The play attempts to explore the complexities of this arrangement and the interactions and attachments within and beyond it. Watching this long 100-minute play is akin to sitting in on a college poetry reading. The reader has this beautifully bound journal, which makes us smile with approval, in which he has written his deepest and most heart-felt thoughts about alternative relationships and the world that surrounds them. We can tell the reader is deeply connected to this subject matter, and wants us desperately to feel the intensity of the love and the conflict, but like many a student writer, it doesn’t ring quite true. Not yet. It still feels like a work in progress. The words have a playful rhythm and charm, but as we dive deeper into his world, the inexperience to create depth and realistic moments become evident. The endeavor to create a heady poetic play begins to unravel before us, and reveals the slight romantic notions of a dreamer, too desperate to show us how intense, beautiful, and meaningful this all is for him.
The play, as directed by Drew Foster, begins interestingly enough, with a woman, Sally (an earnest but radiant Amy Bodnar) in full spotlight mode, speaking directly to us about a class she taught today about comets and the gravitational pulls and collisions with other planets. The seriousness and the straightforwardness of this storytelling not-so-subtly hints that this concept is a metaphor for What We Wanted is all about. And if this wasn’t obvious enough, Bodnar, as the free spirited mother, lover, and teacher, explains it more clearly, “Maybe that’s how it is for us, too. Except we aren’t comets, and don’t we have a say in this?” It’s a compelling start, but sadly the idea is forgotten; pushed aside by too-numerous other metaphors, complications, and entanglements, like all those pages on the wall.
This is a tale about two middle-aged women, a college-aged daughter, and one grown, but child-like man, all intellectuals flaying around each other, colliding and engaging. Be prepared for lots of emoting on what is right and what is wrong, theories of love and betrayal, and thoughts about attachment, anger, and disappointment. It’s like a class in Existential Poetry 101.
Agnes (a grounded and solid Elizabeth Rich), the maternal core of this family of flighty bohemians, is essential the symbolic editor in chief of this dynamic round table. She seems more grounded and mature then those revolving around her. She is offered a promotion of a lifetime at the literary magazine she already works for, but it would require a move. Julian, her husband, (a sincere but too earnest Steven Hauck) is a professor of literature, who has gotten himself entangled in a possible sexual misconduct suit with a mentee. And this is not the first time, as Agnes reminds him. The rise of Agnes and the possible fall of Julian throws the central relationship into turmoil, threatening the security of all in this unconventional family.
Sally, the third wheel in this romantic marriage, gave up the care of her daughter years ago in order to be with Julian and Agnes. Desperate after the disillusionment and failure of her marriage, all Sally wants is to be enveloped in their supposed pure love: to have nights of pure affection and adoration, dancing and caressing one another. It’s a bit too superficial for my tastes, but at moments this arrangement feels dream-like and beautiful, but other moments, especially when one or another character cries out “Dance with me” and music swells out of nowhere, that it all begins to feel forced and contrived.
Sally has her own baggage that she brings into the relationship, namely her daughter, Reggie (a fiery Kerry Warren) who’s a smart but combative student at Julian’s university. She has returned to be closer to her mother, living in a dorm room nearby, but carries a powerful grudge against the mother that abandoned her for this couple. Warren seems to flip back and forth from feisty to ferocious with a bat of an eye. This feels more manufactured then authentic, although as with most of the reactions here, the underlying sentiment is understandable. This in itself would be an engaging and compelling family dynamic to deconstruct, but Harms throws in one more conflict; a simplistic “Neanderthal dropout”, Dale (a compelling and appealing Brandon Espinoza), the underachieving boyfriend of Reggie. Sadly, Espinoza is saddled with far too many moments when the dialogue is unreasonable and irrational. Even an uneducated man wouldn’t do or say some of these things. In one very peculiar scene, the only one that flashbacks in time to three months earlier, Sally meets Dale for the first time and pressures him (too quickly to be believed) into taking the GED’s and agreeing to tutor him through the process. It’s an odd and disturbing scene as Dale flirts shamelessly with Sally, saying and implying very inappropriate things to his girlfriend’s mother. When Reggie finally arrives, she rightly wonders what the hell is going on, but also dismisses it just as quickly. I’m not quite sure I understand what the intentions of that time -traveling scene is, as we know all the details from previous dialogue, and already had the suspicion that something strange was going on there.
The main problem with Harms’ writing is that he is trying too hard to enrapture us, enthrall us, and impress us with phrasing and intellect, while simultaneously not trusting us to see the complexities. He uses flowery dialogue while getting muddled in the interpersonal relationships. The actors do a magnificent job trying to place these words, actions, and reactions in a grounded place, but the impulses and motivations register as haphazard and not of this earth. The dramatic arch feels unfocused rather then clear, deep, or thoughtful. The characters behave in ways that don’t ring true and we just aren’t buying it enough to take that plunge into his overly romanticized world. The poetic nature of this play loses its handle on the real world, and the inconsistencies in its characters reveal the falseness of the scenario. The look of the piece is lovely, and the craftsmanship that bound this play together shows a great deal of expertise (an eclectic but slightly too busy set design by Deb O-the paper walls are just too much), but the artificiality weighs on us, and our mind disconnects as the poetry is read. When What We Wanted finally comes to an end, we applaud and move on, not entirely sure what that was all about or if it is something we truly wanted; similar to the reactions of the other characters when Agnes reads them a piece of poetry. After much discussion, Agnes states, “Julian’s right. It’s rather slight.”
What We Wanted: Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row until January 15
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
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.
Jason Robert Brown, Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Sutton Foster, Lillias White and More To Perform at TheaterWorksUSA Spring Gala
TheaterWorksUSA, currently presenting the hit family show Dog Man The Musical at New World Stages, will host its annual Spring Gala on Monday, April 24 (cocktails begin at 6 PM) at The Current at Chelsea Piers.
100% of the net proceeds from the event will support our mission to create exceptional, transformative theatrical experiences that are accessible to young and family audiences in diverse communities across New York City and North America.
This year TWUSA will honor Lisa Chanel (TWUSA Board Chair 2019-2022), Andréa Burns (Award-winning Broadway actress & educator), Peter Flynn (TWUSA alumnus and award-winning director, writer, and educator), and Holly McGhee (Founder and Creator of Pippin Properties, New York Times best selling author). The event will feature appearances by some of Broadway’s biggest stars, including Jason Robert Brown, Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Kevin Del Aguila, Sutton Foster, Lillias White and more.
On behalf of TheaterWorksUSA’s Board of Directors, we are thrilled to celebrate the people who have generously supported our mission, making it possible for us to bring high-quality theater to young audiences of all backgrounds throughout the country. We look forward to recognizing Lisa, Andréa, Peter, and Holly publicly at this very special event. – Tracy A. Stein, Board Chair
It’s a privilege to honor these individuals for playing such an important role in the work we do. Their vision, creativity, and ongoing commitment to our mission is truly something to celebrate. They are very much a part of our TheaterworksUSA family.- Barbara Pasternack, Artistic Director
TheaterWorksUSA (Barbara Pasternack, Artistic Director; Michael Harrington, Executive Director) has led the Theater for Young and Family Audiences movement in New York City and across North America for over half a century. At TWUSA, we believe that access to art—and theater, in particular—is vital for our youth. Since 1961, the 501(c)3 not-for-profit has captured the imaginations of 100 million new and veteran theatergoers with an award-winning repertoire of over 140 original plays and musicals. Acclaimed alumni include Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Disney’s Frozen), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent), Jerry Zaks (The Music Man), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen), Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton), Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America), and Chuck Cooper (Tony award-winning actor, The Life). WWW.TWUSA.ORG
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