By William Wolf

HAMLET (PUBLIC THEATER 2017)  Send This Review to a Friend

It is a given that when a director wants to stage “Hamlet” anew there is the desire to do something different from all the productions that have been previously staged. So it is with Sam Gold and his mounting of “Hamlet” at the Public Theater with Oscar Isaac in the title role. Recently Gold did well with “A Doll’s House, Part 2” but he ruined his revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” Now he has very mixed results with “Hamlet,” depending on what your tolerance level is. In effect, Shakespeare has a co-author.

There are some good creative moments in the use of the small stage of the Public’s intimate Anspacher Theater, such as keeping the place in total darkness for the scene with the ghost of Hamlet’s father appearing while we hear astonished gasps. I’ll get to Isaac’s portrayal in a moment.

On the other hand Gold indulges in some utterly gross approaches that severely undercut the play. Peter Friedman gives an excellent performance as Polonius, but do you really want to see Polonius taking a crap in a modern bathroom with the door open while he talks to a bystander? (Shades of President Lyndon Johnson.) Or Hamlet emerging from that bathroom with a newspaper and implying that he has also been on the can? And speaking of that bathroom, do you want to watch Ophelia puking into the toilet?

On the subject of Ophelia, Gold has cast her senselessly against type. This Ophelia (Gayle Rankin) is tall and powerful looking, appearing strong enough to kill anyone in sight with her bare hands. She carries on dramatically, but there’s nothing fragile about her to indicate she would drown herself. Incidentally, that drowning is symbolized by a very long hose emerging from the bathroom and spraying water on herself and poor dead Polonius as she lies down beside him.

And why have Hamlet going around in his briefs? To show off his buns? All right, enough of the desecrations. Let’s get to the performance by Isaac. His Hamlet is a very energetic, even aggressive, one. If you accept that concept and tone, he does brilliantly and creates an especially dynamic Hamlet. However, that approach strips away the idea of a melancholy Dane. This Hamlet is filled with more rage than inner turmoil, and again the staging detracts from a key scene. His “To be or not to be” speech is partly spoken while he is lying on his back on a table. Why?

Charlayne Woodard is effective as Gertrude, and Ritchie Coster is properly arrogant as Claudius. (He also plays the ghost of Hamlet's father.) And there is Keegan-Michael Key as an impressive Horatio. But here again, the staging sometimes undercuts them and other well enacted characters in various ways. Role interchanges can sometimes be confusing and actors hang around in the background when not speaking.

But the production has the advantage of getting the audience to feel extremely close to the action, which helps in the best parts but works against the play when the staging is tasteless. The production is nearly four hours long (even with Norway's Fortinbras eliminated) and although whatever one may think of the direction, Gold succeeds in holding audience attention even at that length.

As for Isaac in his interpretation of the challenging role, his performance is a major one to see this season, given his skill, his importance as a film star and his parallel gift for acting in the theater, especially with his easy conversational command of Shakespeare’s language. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Reviewed July 14, 2017.

ME & ELLA  Send This Review to a Friend

The Ella is, of course, Ella Fitzgerald and the “Me” is Andrea Frierson, who has written a show that fuses her love for Fitzgerald’s singing and career with her own personal and professional life and vocal ability. “Me & Ella” is part of the York Theatre Company’s “New 2 New York” series. The show is described as a work in progress, but it is already extremely enjoyable in light of Frierson’s talent and likability.

It would be easy for such an offering to come across as an egotistical exploitation of Fitzgerald. But Frierson’s personal appeal prevents that from happening. Her stories about her own family, including the singing careers of her parents, and the emotions she feels as a result of having grown up idolizing Fitzgerald ring with sincerity. She weaves in biographical information about Ella, aided by background projections of photographs and newspaper headlines depicting Ella’s life and career.

But the success of this one-woman show comes down to Frierson’s singing as she runs through the numbers that the late Ella sang. Of course, there can be only one Fitzgerald immortalized in her recordings and style, but in her own right Frierson is terrific. She zips into “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” the number that became a huge Fitzgerald hit. She provides a zingy “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and scores with “Lucky to Me Me,” “’S Wonderful,” “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Get Out of Town,” a poignantly expressed “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and a litany of other numbers.

Frierson has a potent voice, expert delivery and holds her own captivatingly, with songs well integrated into the text. The direction by Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel keep the focus on target with simplicity, and Ron Abel’s musical direction and arrangements work invitingly, with Abel also at the piano, Rex Benincasa on percussion and Richie Goods on bass.

Frierson moves easily about the compact York stage, with copies of the script she is still using available on tables at both sides. The overall effect is to both introduce an audience to Frierson’s considerable vocal talent and remind us anew about what a treasure Ella Fitzgerald was. At York Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street). Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed July 17, 2017.

MY DEAR WATSON  Send This Review to a Friend

Part of the New York Musical Festival, “My Dear Watson” is a lethargic Sherlock Holmes musical that needs plenty of work if it is to have any legs. There is too much talk and not enough singing, and what music there is has little power. Book, music and lyrics are by Jami-Leigh Bartschi.

The plot involves Dr. John Watson (Kyle Stone) arriving in need of a place to rent and is referred to Sherlock Holmes (John Didonna, also the show’s director), who has space. Holmes becomes the friend Watson so desperately needs. The best song is Watson singing “Where Are You, My Friend?” He injects a bit of emotion.

There is a murder, of course, but there’s not much of interest about it. Yes, Professor Moriarty (Jason Blackwater) appears as the arch villain, and that leads to one of the most ridiculous fight scenes imaginable. Didonna as Holmes is a relatively short fellow compared to the tall, hulking Blackwater as Moriarty, and when they engage in hand-to-hand combat it is totally ludicrous, as Moriarty could easily crush his opponent. Fortunately they quickly disappear off stage.

The scenery consists primarily of projections, which are nicely done by Dana Mott. Bartschi is musical director, and Pati Sayers is on piano and Eri Park as violinist. At the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street. Reviewed July 12, 2017.

BROADWAY RISING STARS (2017)  Send This Review to a Friend

Twenty-one immensely talented hopefuls strutted their stuff last night (July 10) at the annual “Broadway Rising Stars” show at The Town Hall, created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel and snappily directed by Scott Coulter. They stem from various parts of this country and even from abroad, and are mostly from schools for the arts in New York and elsewhere. Not unexpectedly, their various numbers often ended with big finishes as they enthusiastically strived to flash their ranges and power.

The opening was most appropriate. The entire company, an impressive lot as a group, tore into the song “This Is The Moment” from “Jekyll and Hyde,” making it clear that this was their moment to shine. For the closing number, the group reassembled to sing “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” and it came across as a prediction for their future. The challenge is great, given the array of competing talent in show business. But many in the contingent have already had significant experience, reflected in their résumés accompanied by photos in the program. Many performers in past "Broadway Rising Stars" showcases have gone on to success.

The audience was filled with parents, relatives and friends who cheered enthusiastically. In all cases the applause was well-deserved. Scott Siegel, ever the amiable host, provided introductions with information about the assorted backgrounds and in many cases family support. The most dramatic family connection was for Andy Kear, who energetically and entertainingly sang “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls.” His three brothers managed to get leave from the Navy to see their brother perform.

It is tough to do justice to all. Ladies first. Brooke Wetterhahn, who studied an New York University’s Tisch Department of Drama’s New Studio on Broadway, projected maturity in ```zestfully singing “Before the Parade Passes By” from “Hello, Dolly!” Naree Ketudat, from NYU Steinhardt, gave a bouncy, full-of-movement interpretation of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” from “Sweet Charity.” Sophie Rapiejko, a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College’s musical theater program, rose to the occasion with a powerful rendition of “Astonishing” from “Little Women.”

Nazarria Workman, who studied at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York (AMDA), impressively sang the difficult “Home” from “The Wiz.” Elisa Galindez, who studied at CAP21 and Hofstra, gave a sample of her big voice with “I Think I May Want To Remember this Day” from “Starting Here, Starting Now.” Katelyn Malloy (AMDA), with a striking stage presence, rendered “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” in a well-modulated interpretation. Lauren Kolas (CAP21) has a golden voice, excitingly on display with her “Someone Like You” from “Jekyll and Hyde.”

The show “Urinetown” yielded a very funny number--“It’s a Privilege to Pee,” and Sarah Burke (AMDA) turned on the comic heat with a superb delivery. The song “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” presents a strong challenge, and Shauna Topian (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music) dramatically rose to the occasion. Liron Gavri, who studied at Lipper ‘s Musical Theatre Academy in Israel, wisely used “I Don’t Want to Know” from “Dear World,” enabling her to demonstrate her fine voice and solid stage presence.

What power Mia Gerachis (NYU's Tisch-New Studio on Broadway) demonstrated singing “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret”! Annette Berning (AMDA), who hails from Bergen, Norway, brought class in singing “You There in the Back Row” from “13 Days to Broadway.” Lieselotte Nickmans studied at AMDA and also at The Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Her song was “Being Alive” from “Company” and she made the number soar. There is no question that Ruby Shadley (AMDA) has a great soprano voice, convincingly demonstrated when she sang “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from the “The Sound of Music.”

Turning to the men in the show, one of the evening’s most entertaining stints came from Matt Ross (Steinhardt) singing “Pink Fish,” Alan Menken’s song about a rube coming to New York and being bewildered by lox. Ross, striding all over the stage, did the novelty number hilariously. Tyler Jensen (University of Northern Colorado) cut a handsome figure with a romantic voice as he sang “Why, God, Why?” from “Miss Saigon.” Anthony Massa (Macaulay Honors College of CUNY) showed off his appealing voice with “If I Can Love Her” from “Beauty and the Beast.”

There was extra meaning for Dan Gettler (CCM) when he passionately and powerfully sang “I Am What I Am” from “La Cage Aux Folles.” In his introduction Siegel disclosed that Gettler had been born prematurely and in growing up had to struggle to overcome breathing problems. The song in effect came across as his own statement of conquest. Ryan McConville (Wagner College) was especially enjoyable singing “Purpose” from “Avenue Q” and Willie Demyan (AMDA) showed his special talent dynamically singing Craig Carnelia’s “Flight.”

Director Scott Coulter merits credit for giving the performers a professional glow, and communicating energy in the mass numbers, as with the company’s supercharged first act closer, “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In” from “Hair.” Vibecke Dahle’s choreography added sparkle in appropriate spots. With so many varied numbers, John Fischer accomplished a big task as music director, in addition to being at the piano, along with Jerry DeVore on bass and Zak Eldridge on drums. Rick Hinkson was assistant director and assistant stage manager, and Joe Burke and Keith Thompson were production assistants. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed July 11, 2017.

MARVIN'S ROOM  Send This Review to a Friend

Bessie is a woman with a good heart and she is warmly played by Lili Taylor in the revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company of the late playwright Scott McPherson’s “Marvin’s Room.” Bessie has been devotedly caring for her long-ill, stroke-victim father, whom we never see as he lies in a room at home making only occasionally heard sounds. Bessie is also caring for her colorfully vocal but physically deteriorating aunt Ruth, portrayed with amusing complaints by Celia Weston. In short, Bessie is a very good soul.

But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. At the office of quirky doctor Wally, played with ditsy absent-mindedness by Triney Sandoval, Bessie is diagnosed with the suspicion of leukemia, later confirmed. Unless the condition can be reversed, she is doomed, just as the playwright was doomed to die of complications from AIDS at the age of 33 in 1992, not long after his play was originally staged and after the loss of his partner in the AIDS epidemic. The play is set in Florida in the early 1990s.

Perhaps a bone marrow transplant could help Bessie, and that sets off the plot. Bessie’s sister Lee (Janeane Garofalo), whom she has not seen for years and who lives in Ohio, might be a candidate, and the same goes for Lee’s two sons. The older one, Hank (Jack DiFalco), we learn, is a disturbed 17-year-old who has been treated in a facility for his mental problems. His brother is Charlie (Luca Padovan), a more normal kid. Hank behaves with eruptions of hostility and resistance to his mother’s strict authority. The family arrives at Bessie’s home for scheduled doctor’s appointments to see if there is a match that can enable a medical procedure.

The play emerges as a hybrid of comedy and emotion, reflected in the dialogue and the conversations that occur, as well as in the attitudes of the various characters. A major achievement is the airing of family issues between Bessie and Lee, and the closeness that develops under the pressure of the situation. Lee has kept at a distance through the years and their lives evolved differently. Her gestures toward Bessie are minimal but well-meant.

What are we to make of “Marvin’s Room?” It is part family drama but in the overall picture is also a demonstration of how illness can affect anybody, and how one can be stricken no matter how undeserving of tragedy. The play also demonstrates the need for bonding. Anne Kaufman has directed this production with sensitivity to what must be illuminated in the characterizations and in the balance between the writer’s sense of humor and seriousness.

Laura Jellinek has designed an enormous, glossy and glassy set that, while it works in her concept, is at odds with what I believe the play needs. The writing and acting call for intimacy, which often gets lost against the gigantic background of the set, within which there must be movement into individual scene set-ups. Important conversations sometimes take place at the corners of the stage, which makes audience members at opposite sides need to strain to hear, especially when a character’s back is turned toward them. It would be helpful if there were a more intimate set in tune with the intimacy of the play.

Even within the framework of this staging, the performances combine to bring the play to life and keep us focused, sometimes even amusingly, on their situations, conflicts and the overall view of people struggling in the face of what life has dealt them. At the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-718-1300. Reviewed July 8, 2017.

ME THE PEOPLE  Send This Review to a Friend

President Donald Trump’s actions are often so zany in themselves that they defy satire. “Me the People” solves that problem by satirically taking on his administration, policies and other targets involved in our world of Trump, as well as the president himself. The result is is often downright hilarious, thanks to the blend of clever lyrics and song parodies, and especially thanks to the four exceptionally talented, very funny and inventive performers who assume a rapid-fire variety of identities. For the show’s overall style think “Forbidden Broadway.”

For openers we get the founding fathers tearing up the constitution with the implication of that’s what Trump is busy doing. For a closer, we get the wonderful, versatile Mia Weinberger doing a riotous impression of an angry Hillary Clinton singing a “F-You” song aimed at just about everyone, and including a lyric that says “Comey can blow me.”

The show, which should have a substantial run (one cast member promises it will continue until impeachment), was conceived by Jim Russek, Nancy Holson and Jay Falzone. Holson did the book and lyrics, with musical direction and arrangements by James Higgins, who does the hefty piano accompaniment and occasionally chimes in with his voice. Direction and choreography is by Falzone. In addition to the aforementioned Weinberger, the others in the superb cast are Aisesha Alia Dukes, Mitchel Kawash and Richard Spitaletta.

One clever adaptation takes a “The Sound of Music” number and changes it to “How Do You Solve the Problem of Korea?” Good use is also made of “The Sound of Silence.” A satire of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner is served us by way of their singing and dancing hilariously to “Good Morning,” lifted from “Singin’ in the Rain.” Kushner also comes in for laughs when depicted seeming quite lost trying to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In one sketch Sigmund Freud rants about Trump being just plain crazy. The revue demonstrates the ability to be up to date. The official opening night when I attended came on the same day of Trump’s infamous sexist tweet against Mika Brzezinski, and a reference was worked into the show. Melania Trump, with stress on her accent and bland demeanor, also comes in for a very funny ribbing.

Spot on impressions of Richard Nixon (he advises “Do It Your Way”) and Bill Clinton are included. The wide-ranging sketches and character assortment involve rapid changes of costumes and wigs. Credit colorful costume design to Stephen Smith and imaginative wig design to Kathy Pecevich. The political fun and catharsis provided by “Me the People” can be had at The Triad Theater, 158 West 72nd Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed June 30, 2017.

NAPOLI, BROOKLYN  Send This Review to a Friend

One test of a good play is whether its characters come believably alive in the hands of a talented cast and solid direction. “Napoli, Brooklyn,” a new play by Meghan Kennedy presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, passes with honors. The family drama is steadily involving, and even though it can at times feel over-jammed with conflict and events, it carries the ring of truth.

The time is 1960, the place Brooklyn, and the main setting is the home of Ludavica (Luda) Muscolino (Alyssa Bresnahan) and her husband Nic (Michael Rispoli). They are immigrants from Italy who have made a life in America. Eugene Lee has created an impressionistic set to define their home, the neighborhood and their religion. A row of residential buildings is in the background, and hanging from above is a crucifix. Also hanging is a sign for Duffy’s butcher shop. The stage is divided into a kitchen, a dining room, a doorway and a bedroom.

The Muscolinos have three daughters. Sixteen-year-old Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale) is living at home but plotting romantically with her friend Connie Duffy (Juliet Brett), the butcher’s daughter, to flesh out their growing lesbian relationship, stow away on a ship and go to live in Paris. Feisty twenty-year-old Vita (Elise Kibler) has been sent to a convent with the unlikely possibility that she will follow that path in life. She harbors anger for her father who beat her up seriously in a family squabble when she came to the defense of Francesca. Tina, the oldest sister, is working in a factory to help support the family and she is becoming increasingly friendly with her sympathetic African-American co-worker Celia Jones (Shirine Babb).

As you can gather, there is little family calm. Nic has a short fuse, and can be abusive to Luda as well as to his daughters. Yet Luda still remembers the romantic times of their youth, and on occasion the old flame is rekindled. She takes pleasure in cooking, but lacking the steady romantic attention she should be getting at home, she is flattered by the flirtatious attention of Albert Duffy, the butcher (Erik Lochtefeld), when she does her shopping.

Director Gordon Edelstein handles all of the action smoothly, as the spotlight shifts from one situation to another, occupying different parts of the stage, and sometimes with characters talking solo directly toward the audience. Nothing seems overly contrived.

As if the aspects of family drama were not enough, the playwright ups the stakes near the end of the first act in a highly dramatic way. I will not give you a spoiler, but the effect is to place matters in a new context. Later, an ultimate Christmas family reunion dinner, which Albert, the butcher, and Tina’s co-worker Celia, are invited, erupts into family hell, and the play proceeds from there.

All cast members distinguish themselves, but I am especially impressed by Bresnahan as Luda. She gives a terrific, moving performance, hitting various notes as a wife, mother and a woman who deserves a better life than she has but, infused with firm values and decency, carries on to do her best. Her performance stands out most dramatically.

As family sagas go, playwright Kennedy has given us a very absorbing one filled with sharp dialogue, insights and characters tailor-made for good acting opportunities. At the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111West 46th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed June 29, 2017.

1984  Send This Review to a Friend

George Orwell’s futuristic year for his 1949 classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four” has long since passed, and while in this country we are not yet in the horrific state of repression he described in the fictional country of Oceania, the warning signs are tragically upon us. They are forcefully touched upon in the searing, well-acted version of the Orwell work adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan and now at the Hudson Theatre.

The most apparent parallel for today is the concept of an authoritarian government defining what is true in this age of alternative facts and fake news. When poor Winston Smith is brutally interrogated—and I mean brutally in an unnerving torture session—he is asked to agree that if the government says that four fingers are five, he must accept it. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to think of Donald Trump’s patent lies that he asks us to think are true.

The stakes, of course, are much higher in Orwell’s vision of a regime that suppresses all dissent at the pain of death, devalues language with “Newspeak” and has Big Brother ever watching. We are not at that stage, but the play’s warning message is loud and clear, especially as presented in this caustic and properly unsettling production.

Tom Sturridge as Winston starts off as a meek employee in the Ministry of Truth with the task of cleaning history to conform to official versions. He knows something is wrong, but what can he do about it? Ultimately, he tries to resist, both in his mind and in his stubbornness, and in the ultimate scenes of the play, he attempts to hold on to his independence under the interrogation by the superb actor Reed Birney as the smooth-talking, frightening O’Brien, who orders escalating torture. Sturridge’s entire body writhes with pain as he is increasingly bloodied, and he makes us feel deeply for him as an Everyman trapped in the web of fascism. Both Sturridge and Birney give remarkable performances defining `the individual against the state.

Olivia Wilde excels in the key role of Julia, who becomes Winston's lover, and symbolizes the one element that is supposed to remain constant no matter what—love. She blends both ferocity and sexuality in the relationship that develops. But there is the eventual betrayal that is devastating. We see the love scenes between them projected on a huge screen that hovers at the rear of the stage.

As a matter of fact, much happens on this screen. Projection (video design by Tim Reid) is a key part of the production, as are the technical aspects that add immeasurably to the overall brutal mood. The lighting (design by Natasha Chivers) and the sound (design by Tom Gibbons) are vital, controlling elements in communicating what we are meant to feel. The same can be said of the stark set (design by Chloe Lamford, also responsible for costume design).

The staging has the chilling effect that it is meant to have, and the torture scenes can send shivers down one’s spine. (One must be at least 13 years old to attend a performance.) It so happens that I had just read in the New York Times the story in which two outsourced individuals credited with designing torture for he C.I.A., including waterboarding, rationalized their work as following orders. (Where have we heard that before?)

I found it interesting and encouraging on the night I saw “1984’ to see so many young adults in the audience. The novel has been a staple in schools, and in this Trump era, sales have grown, which would explain special interest in the play.

The adaptation contains some new lines designed to make a contemporary connection, but they are superfluous. The reason why Orwell’s work has endured is because of its inherent global relevance. This theatrical version touches the right bases, and with the combination of fine acting all around and the vigorous use of staging technique, it becomes a memorable, terrifying experience that is both emotional and food for thought in today’s world. At the Hudson Theatre, 139-141 West 44th Street. Reviewed June 25, 2017.

THE TRAVELING LADY  Send This Review to a Friend

The late Horton Foote could write so effectively and beautifully, as has frequently been proven. The evidence is sensitively on display again in a revival of his “The Traveling Lady,” presented by the Cherry Lane Theatre and La Femme Theatre Productions. The characters he has created grow on you right up until the very touching ending.

There is the unpretentious setting in the small Texas town of Harrison in 1950. We meet the local characters and get some of the back story. Lynn Cohen makes the most of her colorful role as the dotty Mrs. Mavis and her funny lines.

The main thrust of the drama begins when Georgette Thomas (Jean Lichty) comes to town with her young daughter, Margaret Rose (Korinne Tetlow). Georgette intends to meet her messed up husband, Henry (PJ Sosko), who is working after being released from prison and having returned to the town where he grew up in abusive conditions. He delays meeting Georgette until he feels ready, and meanwhile, Georgette needs a place to stay and is introduced to a friendly local judge (George Morfogen) who owns property. She doesn’t want to admit her husband was in prison, but finally does so and gets a sympathetic response.

She and her daughter are offered shelter by Clara Breedlove (Angelina Fiordellisi), whose brother, Slim Murray (Larry Bull), a widower, befriends Georgette. Slim is a decent, quiet man, and he is soon smitten by the lovely Georgette, but he is shy about making a move. However, when Henry commits a theft and is captured, which will surely send him off to prison again, Slim facilitates the opportunity for Henry to meet his wife and daughter (handcuffs are taken off) and say goodbye to her and the child.

The situation at that point is sad and deeply emotional, thanks to the acting all around. Henry suddenly breaks loose and is pursued, and Georgette is left stranded and must plan a next step. Will Slim get the courage to proclaim his feelings and if so, what will be Georgette’s response?

The beauty of the play, directed with care and intelligence by Austin Pendleton, lies in Foote’s ability to develop believable characters and place them in believable surroundings. The excellent cast succeeds in making Foote’s characters come alive. Lichty as Georgette gives such an appealing performance that one roots for her to move ahead with her life successfully.

In Pendleton’s staging the aisles are used for entrances and exits, which takes advantage of the small theater’s limitations. Harry Feiner’s scenic design suggests the small town atmosphere in which the drama unfolds. Everything unites to make one leave with appreciation of having had a moving experience and renewed respect for the author. At the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Reviewed June 23, 2017.

TEREZIN  Send This Review to a Friend

The horrors of the Nazi camp Theresienstadt in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II are examined anew in Nicholas Tolkien’s play “Terezin,” based in part on “The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich.” Tolkien, the great grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, the renowned author of “The Lord of the Rings,” has also directed the play. His approach is impressionistic rather than realistic in this presentation by the Steinberg Theatre Group.

At the core are two Jewish girls, Alexi (Natasa Petrovic) and her friend Violet (Sasha K. Gordon) who are sent to the camp, which the Nazis attempted to palm off as a showplace for how well people are treated even though Terezin is a hell hole. Alexi, distinguished by her excellence at playing the violin, is distraught when Violet disappears.

The Nazi commander, Karl Rahm, is effectively played by Michael Leigh Cook as a brute who tries to seem as if he has a touch of humanity but really is a committed Nazi and anti-Semite. He is impressed with Alexi’s skill as a violinist, and offers to find Violet if Alexi will each him to play the violin. There is no reason to trust him.

As an example of the impressionistic approach, a shawl is used to simulate playing the violin while we hear the accompanying music. That is one of the most successful touches.

But other examples of the approach are strained, such as dead characters seen crawling off stage, or coming back to life in the imagination of survivors. Such surrealism is intrusive and unconvincing, even muddling.

Admittedly, there is the old problem of conditions being so terrible in the camps that attempts at realism can never do justice to depicting the atrocities. Surrealism is sometimes considered a superior form of interpretation.

The ensemble cast excels in getting into the overall mood of the play. One effective scene occurs when inmates are supposed to act is if all is rosy when inspectors come to examine conditions.

However, as sincere as this effort to expose Terezin and the lethal anti-Semitism at the heart of murderous life there is, the style of the production sometimes impedes evoking emotions connected to what we see even though the horrors are forcefully referenced. At the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street. Reviewed June 22, 2017.


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