Play Comments by Albert Fried-Cassorla

Last updated: 12-29-15

***** = Loved it and recommend it **** = Enjoyed it *** = Decent ** = Dull * = Why did I bother?

2016

***** = Loved it and recommend it

NYC 4 - Blackbird  

Blackbird by David Harrower

I saw this provocative play, a revival from 2007, at the Belasco Theatre in Manhattan.  "Provocative" is something of an understatement.  A friend of mine pointed out that this play is disturbing.  I must agree.  I will tell you some of the things this play is about, but not much.  This way, you can get the main idea and decide if it is something that intrigues you.

But if you want to know NOTHING about the play's plot, please stop reading now.

The axis of the play is a monstrous crime that the main character, Ray (played with fierce intensity by Jeff Daniels, committed with a 12-year old, Uma (played with equal intensity by Michelle Williams). As the play begins, Uma is now returning to confront Ray at his workplace.  She is hopping mad and perhaps a bit insane. The story that unfolds is detailed, and believable.  The story has many mini-climaxes and shifts of tone and intent. Plus it has a double-whammy surprise, which of course I will not reveal. 

Now, about its being disturbing... The playwright leads you to empathize with Ray, in my opinion.  So you wonder: should we forgive him, because he is a criminal who has served his time?  How would people feel about a person like this of they met him in person?  Those are the questions I wondered about.  In many ways, these re the same problems or questions that arise when reading or watching Nabokov's Lolita or Paula Vogel's play, How I Learned to Drive.  Knowing there are predecessors does not make it easier to sift and weigh.

All of us in the audience were wowed and amazed by this theatrical experience, despite eh above objections or reservations. The play simply grabs you by the throat and does not let go until 90 minutes later, when it ends (without intermission). An immediate standing ovation occurred. I could barely see the actors because of the wall of audience members on their feet in front of me.  The actors at their curtain call were seething and upset, still either in their roles... or just actors showing their incredible involvement.

The sound engineering was wonderful, including a deep hum and rumble that I at first thought belonged to some nearby heavy equipment.  And the lighting shifted the mood tremendously in ways I will not say.  The direction by Joe Montello was superb, although One cannot easily parse out his influence form the creativity of the actors.

Actor Jeff Daniels is an wonderfully reflective artist, and a playwright in his own right.  For more very interesting background on this play and his role, I would visit nytimes.com and search for Ben Brantley's review and Jeff Daniels' own article.

http://blackbirdbroadway.com/?gclid=COrbi_P23swCFU5ZhgodQ1YLKA

 

 

 

***** = Loved it and recommend it

Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason

Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.  Seen on May 8th, 2016. Despite its title, this play is actually about relationships. JoAnna Rhinehart plays Olivia, a writer who yearns for more appreciation and a chance to have her novel published.  She is holed up at an inn in the country. In waltzes Kyle Coffman as Ethan, a blogger/novelist/entrepreneur.  What happens next is a sophisticated drama about attraction, commitment, literary aspirations and sex. Not much actual sex happens, although when it does it is accompanied skillfully by drumming and dimmed lights.

This play is sometimes billed as a comedy.  I see it more as a drama with many comic moments.  You care about the characters and want to see what becomes of them; as opposed to wanting to be entertained by as many hijinx as possible.

The play was intelligently staged.  Ms. Rhinehart showed so many emotions at various turns -- her face was a stage in itself. And Mr. Coffman was jittery, quick-witted and natural. Ms. Eason's script is tight and charming.  The ending is remarkable - no give-aways here!  Many of us also enjoyed chatting with Ms. Rhinehart after the show. She was so happy to be in Philly and complemented our attentive audience. And she had such a good read of her Olivia character, both on stage and off. Unfortunately, the play's run in Philly has ended.  But look for works by Ms. Eason and these talented actors, plus director David Saint.

Visit:  http://www.fried-cas.com/creative/

 

 

 

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

EDISON HIGH students attend TWELFTH NIGHT!

Thirty students from Thomas Edison High School in North Philadelphia were treated today to a trip to see Shakespeare's charming comedy, Twelfth Night .

 

The trip took place on May 5th, 2016. It was arranged by English Teacher Mrs. Emily Cohen, and was a great success. Students were very attentive and were exposed to something almost entirely new for many of them -- a live play. The production by the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre was nothing short of fantastic, and I say so for many reasons. Although the language is often dense and archaic, this company under the direction of Carmen Khan made it delightful for our audience of high-schoolers.

 

There was much madcap humor, innovative costuming, cute props, acrobatics, sword fighting, astute and inappropriate acting, love, Slapstick and philosophy. All of which made for an intoxicating farrago of theatre. Plus, we were treated to an after-show meeting with the director and the actors for Q&A. The Theatre Company even prepared beautiful, colorful programs for students. Teachers were given a larger program, complete with many teaching tools. We all took public transportation, boarding four buses adroitly and all staying together with good discipline and high spirits.

Ms. Kendra Ursta, an English teacher, helped by chaperoning and by guiding the teens. As a volunteer teacher, had been able to assist a few days earlier by coming in to do a mini-teaching session on the plot and characters. And chaperoning them (I say this sincerely!) was a delight. Most of these students are A-level, and many are noted writers whom I know from my English and Drama Classes, Poetry Slams and via their writings in the Edison Literary Journals. It was a pleasure to be among them again.

 

Thank you, Mrs. Cohen for making this beautiful day possible!

 

 

 

****

The Hard Problem

A play by Tom Stoppard

 

(Please also see the endnote about my plays)

 

8 out of 10 Albert stars

 

At the Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia

Playing until February 6, 2016

 

Tom Stoppard is known for his brainy and challenging plays, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Arcadia.

 

This one is no exception. Ostensibly, the play is about the so-called hard problem of consciousness. That is, is the mind completely material? If not, then what else is it?

 

Stoppard writes witty, literary dialogue that keeps you hopping and following the action. The characters are interesting and have relatively clear motivations. However, this play hardly dealt at all with "the hard problem," a topic which I find an interesting field of study. But this being drama, one has to make allowances!

 

The main arc of the story is about a young woman's desire to succeed at an institute where they are studying the hard problem, and about the various challenges and depredations she faces. Consciousness is hardly talked about at all. On the other hand, we are treated two important sub-plots about these questions:

·        Is it justifiable to falsify data to advance one's career?

·          Should children be used as pawns in career ladder climbing games?

 

And there is an important sexual – romantic subplot, as well. This is still a heady brew, and it generally keeps theatergoers' interest alive.

 

The production I saw at the Wilma theater in Philadelphia was excellent. I had not previously seen the new stage scheme, which includes audience seating on both sides of the bifurcated theater. The actual stage area is kind of a truncated football in shape.

 

Enhancing the show are creative uses of simple white props and draperies, plus the very artistic use of a saxophone player during musical interludes to create a pensive mood. So while not great, in my opinion this play provides an entertaining evening in the theater for those willing to pay close attention.

 

Oh, about another playwright! 🤓

My two plays, Ariadne in Elkins and doesn't quick? are still set for Feb 20 at White Pines in Elkins Park. Rehearsals have been fantastic! Let me know if you're thinking of attending.

 

Thanks! -- Albert



Sent from my iPhone

 

 

2015

*****

The Metamorphoses - Arden Theatre - Magnificent production. The best! See my Facebook review.

****

The Book of Mormon - Forrest Theatre

****

This Is the Week That Is - Good political show, 1812 Productions, At Play & Players

 

2014

****

This Is the Week That Is - Good political show, 1812 Productions, At Play & Players

*****

Matilda (on Broadway) - Wonderful! At the Shubert Theatre

 

****

Gemini by Albert Inaurrato - funny gay coming out family comedy with pathos/

 

2013

*****

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang - at the Golden Theater

Assassins by

Talley's Folly by Lanford Wilson -

Awake and Sing by Clifford Odets, Waterfront South Theatre, Camden, NJ - Enjoyed it.

Pilobolus Dance Theatre, Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, January 2012

 

2012

Hairspray - music by Marc Shaiman Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan.  Oct. 19 at the Media Theatre, media, PA with Tamara Anderson as Motormouth Maybelle.

 

Clean House by Sarah Ruhl - by MN Players / Spotlight Theatre, Methodist Church, Swarthmore - Oct. 13, 2012  - excellent serious comedy

 

3 Wishes - by Ari Flamingo - Walking Fish Theatre - B. Someday Productions - with Michelle Pauls - a Fringe Festival show

 

New Jerusalem -New Jerusalem, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656 - by David Ives - Lantern Theatr, Philadelphia PA

 

 

Love Is here To Stay - a George and Ira Gershwin musical review or Musicale, Bristol Riverside Theatre - Singers included Philip Chaffin, Melissa Joy Hart (standout), Lauren Rooney, Annette Michelle Sanders and Keith Spencer. A song I did not know from this review, and which I enjoyed was "Do, Do, Do." 

 

Reasons to be Pretty - Neil LaBute - Suzanne Roberts Theatre - Excellent, wonderful! 

 

Endgame by Samuel Beckett's, (movie on Youtube)

 

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee (movie on Youtube)

 

Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill (movie on Youtube) with Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, others

 

Time Stands Still, by Donald Margulies, Act II Theater

 

Anything Goes - with Joel Gray, Stephen Sondheim Theater, Broadway, New York City

Sylvia - Act II Theater, Ambler, PA

 

2011

Jersey Boys,

Phantom,

 

*****

My Wonderful Day - by Alan Ayckbourn  - June 17, 2011 (our anniversary!) at the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, PA. A very entertaining comedy. More of a farce than I expected, but extremely fun to watch, particularly the young girl's expressions as all mayhem is occurring in the adults' lives.

****

Art  - by Yazmina Reza - at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA. With Tony Braithwaite, Ian Merrill Peakes & Peter Pryor. Directed by Bud Martin.  Very enjoyable comedy-drama about three men, their friendship, and a work of art that comes among them.

****

Let Me Down Easy - by Anna Deveare Smith - at the Suzanne Roberts Theater, Philadelphia, PA.  A great one-woman show where she portrays many varied people.

 

Million Dollar Quartet  - by Colin Wescott and Floyd Mutrux - at the Nederlander Theater in Manhattan. Levi Kreis was great as Jerry Lee Lewis.  A wonderful time of enjoying music based on an actual coming together of 4 rock and roll greats: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

 

****

The Glass Menagerie  - by Tennessee Williams - at the Walnut Street Theater 3. A great production of this classic play in a tiny theater, where had an amazing theater experience! 

****

An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf  - by Michael Hollinger - at the Old Academy Players in East Falls, PA - An amusing comedy about a man who is jilted by his intended... and who owns a restaurant where he intends to have his final meal.  A nicely done, spirited production!

Shows:

 

 

2010

Fela! - Broadway, NYC -

 

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov - at the Lantern Theatre.  I liked the acting, but strangely Chekhov was rather boring.

 

Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry - at Stagecrafters - An enjoyable family drama.

****

Avenue Q  - musical at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, June 18, 2010.  I did not like it, though others loved it. Had I had front row seats and enjoyed a good night's sleep before, maybe I would have liked it.  As usual, our seats at this theater's Amphitheatre section, $37.50, were torturous.  No one taller than 4" can possibly be comfortable there.  Only with binoculars would we get a sense of the show.  I liked the song Sahdenfreude best. Other tunes seemed mainly trite, occasionally funny.

****

Any Given Monday  by Bruce Graham  - Comedy at Act II Playhouse. Entertaining and good, rewarding evening.?

***

Rodgers and Hammerstein are Dead  - by Philadelphia Joke Initiative at the Latvian Theater. Inventive riffs on a Peruvian hot dog seller.

****

Next to Normal  - musical at the Booth Theater.

****

Fallen Angels  - by Noel Coward. April 16, 2010. Super-witty and fun show, a delightful comedy from the 1920's..

****

Scapin  - by Moliere.  January, 2010.  Funny comedy with puppets.

 

****

Idiot Savant  - by Richard Foreman - February, 2010. The Public Theater. Not for everyone, but strange and entertaining as well as cacophanous!

 

2009

****

Doubt  - by John Patrick Shanley at People's Light and Theater Company in Malvern, PA - Good moral tale with interesting character conflicts, about the destructive (and protective?) powers of doubt and suspicion.

****

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change  - by ??? at Dutch Country Players, Telford, PA - A charming musical review with four characters, all about romance, dating, relations between the sexes and generations and more.

****

August: Osage County  - by ??  at ?? in NYC - An entertaining farce with a serious side about a mad family. 

 

2004

****

The Producers - by Mel Brooks - At the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, with Bob Amaral as Max and Andy Taylor as Leo. As expected there were many laughs, some of them of belly kind. Mel Brooks is a volcano of comedic talent. Of course, he is never too delicate and maybe a third of his humor is of the laugh-in or Red Skelton era in its broadness and coarseness. Especially his treatment of gays, which is cliche-ridden. Still, this is a fun evening of theater. One of the surprises is the imaginative staging. I especially liked the "old ladies with their walkers" number. I wont elaborate here, because it should be a surprise to you. Also tops was the accountants with their filing cabinets number. The music s genrrall forgettable, but it serves its purpose and the whole show has a great flow to it.

 

*****

Anna in the Tropics - by Nilo Cruz - Story about a lector (played well by Jimmy Smits) or reader who comes to a cigar factory in Tampa, Florida. He believes in literature and romance, but this proves disruptive to the men of the shop and inspiring to the women. This play, which won the Best Play Pulitzer Prize for 2003, has much poetry and promise. But it does not reach a dramatic crescendo or realize its considerable potential. Still, despite these complaints, I enjoyed the characters, situation, ambience, acting and writing.

 

 

2003

*****

Top Dog / Underdog - by Suzan-Lori Parks at Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Reviewed by Albert Fried-Cassorla

This is a brilliant tale of two African-American brothers whose parents have split off and whom now live together in a rooming house. The play won the Pulitzer for Best Drama of 2001. Parks has a gift for creating colorful, interesting characters. One is named Lincoln, who plays Abraham Lincoln at an arcade, where he gets shot repeatedly. This is comical and ironic, though it's certainly requires a leap of faith to believe that Lincoln would just happen to play Lincoln.

Booth is a schemer who wants to master the game of 5-Card Monty, at which his brother used to excel. But his brother gave it up due to an associate being murdered in connection with playing this street game-scam. The story is about ego, the lack of ego-strength, closeness and antagonism of the brothersl, and their hard fight to maintain a scap of pride when everyhing else seems to be falling apart. Seth Gilliam played Lincoln in a wise, wiry way, and Billoah Greene played Booth suerbly-- presenting him as fast-moving, self-deceiving, mercurial and unpredicatable. It's a fascinating two-person story told well, with a powerful ending. I recommend it highly!

 

***

Iphiginia and Other Daughters - by Ellen McLaughlin, at Barnard College, Columbia University, Minor Latham Theater. I think the author had several good ideas: take many stories from Greek theater about Iphigineia, her brother Orestes, her father, Agamemnon, and mother Clytemnestra, and weave them together in one tale, mainly about the women.

Each character in this play is at times compelling. But the eveing has too many long disquisitions and is someties hard to follow. I would encourage the author, if asked (and nobody has!) to rework this play with less leaden dialog, more arch and interesting dialog (of which it does already have some), and more interesting stage action.

****

Kaiju Big Battel - At the Electric Factory. NOT for everybody, and NOT high-brow, to say the least. This is a campy, messy, loud fun-filled romp, where Japanese monsters and "hereoes" fight each other in a cage, accompanied by tumulutuous cheering from the crowd. Played as comedy with melodrama. Performance art, lots of spraying liquids, mayhem. Fun! To get an idea of what we saw, visit www.kaiju.com. Enter, then click on the videocassette icon (6th symbol down on the left). Then view Kaiju Rampage NY.

 

****
Dream a Little Dream - The Mamas and the Papas Musical - At the Village Theater, formerly the Village Gate, at 158 Bleecker Street, Manhattan. This musical was delightful. I loved it! But then again, I am a true fan. If you at least like the music of this group, then this musical is for you. Here's why...

It tells the story of the group with words, photos and song. Denny Doherty tells the story of the group in a personal fashion, providing integumentary tissue between the songs. The anecdotes are moving. Like many folk groups and individuals, they suffered poverty while cutting their musical teeth in Greenwich Village. The Dream Band is the name of the capable group that performs the songs with Doherty. The Michelle Phillips look-alike is stunning in her resemblance. The Cass actress looks less like her character, but no matter.

The beauty of the show lies in the exceptional harmonic beauty and style of John Phillips' arrangements. That is what I love, and having those harmonies wash over me was sensational! I especially loved the first song, Dedicated to the One I Love. It begins softly, achingly, and builds from there. Creeque Alley has some of the most amazing and clever lyrics of any pop song ever written. The movies, clips and stories all weave together into a beautiful evening. One reviewer wrote the Denny Doherty only tells his side of the story. Excuse me? Whose side is he supposed to tell? His stories are ot particularly self-flattering. He presents himself as booze-addled, and not up to loving Mama Cass because she was "too much woman for him to handle." He sounds embarrassed when he says it, sounding as though he missed a major opportunity.

The stories are excellent... but it's the beautiful music that means everything. By the way, the amazing rock photography of Henry Diltz adorns the back wall and provides the perfect backdrop.

Best related Mamas and the Papas sites:

http://www.mamasandpapasmusical.com - All about the current musical.

http://dredd.aaahosting.net/MamasPapas.html - a great resource

http://www.psycho-jello.com/creeque/ another great resource

http://www.creequealley.com/- all about analyziung the lyrics of one great song with wonderful lyrics, "Creeque Alley."

 

****
Les Miserables by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberrg, based on the novel by Victor Hugo - This classic musical was staged by Cheltenham High School with customary aplomb. Mr. Goltz presided and yielded excellent results! Nathaniel Granor played an excellent Javert, the unyielding tormentor and pursuer of Jean Valjean, the thief-turned mayor.

To me, the essence of the musical is not the music. It is the story, wrapped perhaps in a swam of music, which escalates, rolls, and carries. This is a story of fighting oppression, early tragedy, paternal love, and more. It must be heretical to say the music does not count as much... but like Miss Saigon, it is the tale that tells. Nobody sings a Les Miz tune, as great a show and experience as it is.

 

****
Lovers by Brian Friel - These are two short plays written in the 1960's by the famous Irish playwright, Brian Friel, author of the popular and well-received play, Dancing at Lughnasa (1990). The first play, Winners, is about a young man and woman who are about to be married and are enjoying some time in the country together. Mag and Joe are charmingly presented. Mag is beautifully emotional, charming, whimsical. Joe is hard-headed and committed to his studies and advancement. The he shows you that he realizes the inner beauty of his Irish rose. Utterly charming! There is a poignant aspect to this tale that gives it more substance, and which I will not reveal.

Losers tells a humorous tale of a middle-aged couple trying to get romantic, even while the woman';s mother is upstairs and pounding the floor with a stick to disrupt them and get attention. The couple "does something" to keep her at bay. Very funny and entertaining. Directed by Michael Brophy. Plays through March 2, 2003 at the Lantern Theater Company, St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets in Philadelphia. 215-829-9002. www.lanterntheater.org

 

***
At Liberty by Andy Prescott - This one-man show tells the story of a pudgy piano bar singer, and his escapades with women, and his all-pervasive Mom. Cute and entertaining. Could use some shaping, so the evening has more of a climax. Walnut Street Studio Theater. Philadelphia, PA.

 

****
Why I Live at the P.O. and Other Stories by Eudora Welty - Martha Kemper has taken three short stories by master novelist and short story writer Eudora Welty and woven them into an absorbing two hours of theater. "Clytie" is about a girl who is abused and mistreated. It is the most difficult piece, though the language is rich. "Where is the Voice Coming From?" is an imagining of the mind of the murderer of Medgar Evers. At the time this happened in the 1960's, Welty thought, "I know the kind of mind that did this..." And so she committed herself to portraying a powerful and disgusting portrait, if an imaginary one.

Lastly, "Why I Live at the P.O." is a delightful riff about a woman who cannot abide by her eccentric and spiteful relatives, and who decides to move out. Kemper is marvelous as this churlish, witty character, and her portrayal is filled with laughs. Martha Kemper teaches theatre and directs plays at Penn State Abington College, Abington, PA.

 

2002

****
Dinner at Eight by Edna Ferber and George S. Kauffman - At the Vivian Beaumont Theater of Lincoln Center, NY, NY. This is a fabulous revival of the great 1920's comedy-drama, which was made into an excellent film in the 1930's with Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, and John Barrymore. It is quintessentially Manhattan.

Just a few plot elements... Character Millicent Jordan plans a dinner party and has trouble finding appropriate guests. Her husband has heart and business problems. Her daughter is in love with actor Larry Renault, a has-been actor modeled on John Barrymore, whom the authors knew. Those are just a few of the spicy ingredients! Many more make it a heady stew.

What happens and how it happens, I won't say. It's witty, well put together and a dynamite night in the theater. The Beaumont's theatrical presentation is superb, with sets flying in and out. The acting was also first-rate and well projected.

 

****
A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee - At the People Light &Theatre Company, Malvern, PA - This fascinating play presents a family in turmoil - a daughter has come home to live after her disastrous third marriage fails; neighbors are descending on them. Specifically a couple, Harry and Edna, want to move in and threatens to take daughter Julia's old room (I won't reveal what happens here). The situations are interesting and different. Sister Claire seems to return to her alcoholic ways - but she adds great levity to the proceedings during the course of the evening.
At the center of it all are father and mother Tobias and Agnes. Each in his or her way has preserved some dignity and a sense of what the delicate balance is that needs to be kept right.
In a word: Albee rewards.
****

Fuente Overjuna by Frey Felix Lope de Vega - At the at the Minor Latham Theater of Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, October, 2002. Lope de Vega lived. from 1562 to 1635.
This is a story about an oppressive local commander of the Spanish army, who terrorizes the town of Fuente Ovejuna (sheep fountain). The year is 1479, as Ferdinand and Isabella work to unify (and oppress?) Spain. The Mayor of the town resents the oppressive captain. The Mayor's daughter is sexually preyed upon by this captain. She prefers her peasant boyfriend, whose love is genuine. Much mayhem results, and the outcome is interesting - and partially though not entirely predictable.
There is a good deal of humor prior to the terribly intense scenes. It's a story of a village wiling to fight for its honors, and of the consequences. The play reminded me at times of the movies The Battle of Algiers (high-pitched protest whistling by women) and of Norma Rae (uprising led by women that gathers strength). An enthusiastic, wonderful student production

An excellent article about this play is at: http://www.shakespearedc.org/pastprod/fueplay.html

 

****
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis - adapted for the stage by Tony Lawton. At the Lantern Theatre Company, St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets in Philadelphia. Starring Tony Lawton as Screwtape and Monica Moran as Toadpile. Directed by Dugald MacArthur. Plays through Oct. 13th, 2002. 215-829-9002. www.lanterntheater.org

Reviewed by Albert Fried-Cassorla

This is a stunning dramatic adaptation of the novel by C.S. Lewis of the same name, as adapted by Tony Lawson. The subject matter is man's temptations into evil, and the desire of "the devil" to make process succeed.


But rest assured, you need not believe in evils to enjoy this play! We all are tempted by "evils" of all kinds, ranging from fattening foods, to irritability and beyond. The key question of the play is not what are the evils, but how do they add up? What can they do to a person's soul?
Tony Lawton plays Screwtape, the chief devil. At the play's beginning, he is extremely dissatisfied with the early work of a deputy devil, his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is trying to corrupt the soul of a young man. How or whether he succeeds we'll leave in abeyance to add you your suspense. Christianity is the devil's enemy, and Lewis plays this out satirically from an obviously committed Christian point of view.

As the play proceeds, various concepts are introduced and explored in intensely dyspeptic and dramatic fashion. These include notions of marriage love, Puritanism and more. Along the way, the story's narrative is interrupted by a different sort of story - highly intense scenes between Screwtape and his assistant, Toadpile, played by Monica Moran. These scenes are a total delight, with insane, over-the-top acting, dancing, S & M, fighting, fire-eating and more. They are a must-see! The staging is highly imaginative, with projections screens and props used to good advantage to enliven the sometimes abstract thoughts expressed.

If there is a caveat, it is that you will need to work in order to follow some of the lengthier discursive sections of monologue. Like a Shakespeare play, you can't expect to just sit there and let the language wash over you. Attending to it brings great rewards.

 

 

 

*****
Don't Make Me Look Too Psychotic by Bruce Pachtman. At Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia, PA. http://www.toopsychotic.com This one-man show tells an excellent story! That's the bottom line - Bruce Pachtman makes us believe in the characters he presents, the scenes he sets. And it's a good tale - funny, moving, well worth seeing. It's about a neurotic young singe man in San Francisco, and the people he meets - or more particularly, one woman. Beyond that, I won't say.
I was an "audience leader," which meant that Bruce, who found a kindred spirit in me, asked me to give responses, such as, "Should I do this, Albert?" Did I say the right thing, Albert?" Should I wear the short pants with the suit?" (No!)
Even apart from such audience participation, the writing, comedy, acting and story-telling meld to make an excellent evening. That's probably why it played for 68 weeks in San Francisco. I'd simply say, Go see it!

*****

The Fantasticks - Book and lyrics by Tom Jones, Music by Harvey Schmidt. Performed at the Hedgerow Theatre through March 10th. 2002. - Since its beginning as a short play performed at Barnard College in 1959, The Fantasticks has expressed a certain uniquely charming, naïve view of love, hurt and wisdom. It has defined its own theatrical style - the bare but poetic ambience that is not austere but is in fact rich.

The play has been beautifully interpreted in the current production at the Hedgerow Theatre in Media, PA. Although the show finally gave up the ghost in New York City after an epic run, it has certainly been reborn in Pennsylvania.
This is the story of two lovers, Matt and Luisa, and their scheming fathers. A character named El Gallo acts as the agent of wisdom, who provokes teases and torments. El Gallo, played with young Robert Goulet-like style by Brad Little, also gets to sing the musical's best known number, "Try to Remember." The tune itself is bittersweet, which captures the flavor of the evening.

Because this is a show with a philosophy, one that is soft-pedaled but always present, it does not drift into ultra-sweet storytelling land. The story may still be too sweet for some, though not for me. I saw it in the 1970's in New York and enjoyed it then, but it did not retain any deep power. Now, 30 years later, it captivates me. This may be because I am wiser - or simply sappier! But no matter. I loved this play and production, and judging by the reactions of those around me, so did the audience. Go see it!

***

Noonday Demons and Other Distractions by Peter Barnes - At the Red Lantern Theater, Philadelphia, PA. Six mostly amusing sketches. Several focused on an early Christian monk in a cave. Later, he duels for piety and religiosity rites to a particular cave, in a funny sketch. Includes a take-off on By Bye Birdie's "Kids, whats the matter with kids today?" Only this time it's done as "Monks." Also good was a Pythonesque routine about 3 revelers dressed up as Long John Silver, and each of whom wants te others to giv eup the idea before going to a costume party. Funny evening, but also dragged often.

 

2001

***

Girls on the Rocks: A Mermaid's Tale by Martha McDonald - At the Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia, PA - This piece held my attention for the most part and showed great creativity. Still, I would have liked a story, rather than a series of loosely connected vignettes. But that's probably old Linear Albert talking!

Martha McDonald is a performance artist who uses a team's talents to assemble her shows (or lt least this one). This one-hour presentation is all about sirens in history and art, across many cultures. McDonald sings Monteverdi and Handel and Purecell melodies in an operatic style and is very ocnvincing in creating an historic mood. She wears an evening dress and fan as she sings, and a string wuartet accompanies her sometimes -- at other times a trio of male singers. Female dancers act as sister sirens in some scenes. What I liked the best was her acting a siren on the rocks (a prop she sat on), while 50' wide video projection splashed huge scenes of waves crashing al about. It felt like the ocean was indoors! Quite remarkable.

As I said about preferring a story... I think all of McDonald's innovative techniques and evocative mod creations could find a home within a central tale, such as perhaps that of Ulysses. That would tie things together and I think make the evening more fulfilling. But I am probably a lone voice in that regard.

 

*
Museum by Tina Howe. At Temple University's Thomlinson Theater. A simply awful comedy of sorts about more than 40 characters who visit an art museum, chew on statues, rip up mannequins, and simultaneously regale us with screaming dialogue about various moderately amusing topics. With no plot and no interesting characters, this play trundles on to its none-too-quick conclusion. It does have a few funny moments scattered among its 90 minutes, but not enough. Our friend's son Nick was good, though, in his brief but nicely done appearances.

*****

Noises Off by Michael Frayne at the Hedgerow Theatre through August 11, 2001

Reviewed by Albert Fried-Cassorla

This is a great, classic farce presented with zest, full of charming caricatures moving at a breakneck pace. It's worth seeing -- a truly hilarious night at the theater.

Like the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera only set at a British theater, this play races on from one absurd situation to another. Or rather, you might see five concurrent bits of craziness followed by nine more in an ever-escalating torrent!

The crazy characters and motivations are all provided: the two-timing lover and director played by Tony Braithwaite; an actor who continually questions his character's motivational logic played by Paul Kuhn; the trysting lovers, the eccentric housekeeper played by Susan Wheel (who just about steals the show!); the drunken burglar portrayed by theatrical renaissance man Zoran Kovcic, and more.

In the first of the play's three acts, we see a troupe performing on the front of a two-story stage with oft-ascended stairs and umpteen slamming doors. After the first intermission we now observe the action from the back of he same set, literally flipped 180 degrees on castors. We are let in on the hilarious behind-the-scenes fights between actors. And it's a good place to be!

The final act is presented frontally again, and the "slapstickery" and comedy keep getting crazier and more frenetic.

As a playwright, I was amazed at the sheer mechanical complexity shown by Frayne in tracking so many shenanigans, and making it all come together with wit and aplomb.

Artistic Director Penny Reed and the cast are to be commended for a bravo performance. This is an evening of laughter that's well worth the trip to Malvern. Visit www.hedgerowtheatre.org for more information.

__________
Albert Fried-Cassorla is a playwright and Philadelphia Dramatists Center (PDC) member, as well as a direct response copywriter. His latest play is Info-Boy!. He may be reached at albert@fried-cas.com

****

The Myster of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam, presented by Brat Productions, in downtown Philadelphia. Ludlam was a comedic original. This is a story of campy British ladies, gentlemen who hunt, depraved servants, werewolves, and incredible quick-change artistry. Two actors, a man and a woman, play 8 beautifully diverse roles. It's non-stop madness! Daniel Ruth was incredible and Madi Distefano also did a good job. Ludlam died in 1987 of AIDS, and this was one of his last creations.

***

Outside the Box, including Agamemnon by Aeshylus, adapted by Tony Harrison; Dick Whittington and His Cat Adapted by gary Smith; and Dog, adapted from a short story by Robert J. Blake by Tony Teti and many other short plays. At People's Light and Theater Company in Malvern, PA. The version of Agamemnon is very gripping in key sequences. Would that I were exposed to this version in college! Dick Wittington's humor mainly escaped me, though many in the audience were amused. Dog was my favorite -- a short but sweet portrait of a man's churlish attitude towards his dog, and his growing affection for it.

 

****
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw - The Lion Theater, St. Mark's Church, Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia. This is Shaw's brilliant excoriation of the Catholic church and government hierarchy for murdering Joan of Arc. Having read the play once but never seen it performed, it did me good to have it all come alive.

The first half was filled with witty chatter and character delineation. Perhaps too many characters were introduced, it seemed that many have two names. This makes it a bit harder than it ought be to know "who's on first."

The relative lightness of the first three scenes constituting Act I does allow one prepare one for the death-dealing evil of the ecclesiastic church in later scenes. The church recoils as it defends itself against the imagined threat of Joan. For she claims to be in direct touch with God -- Joan hears voices that inspire and guide her. She pays no heed to the authority of the church. So her blasphemy lies simply in ignoring officialdom, not in leading an active rebellion against it. But this proves sufficient for her undoing.

Shaw's powers of language and dramaturgy are at their zenith in the play's sixth and last major scene, but for a modest epilogue. The fire of hared comes to the fore. Joan, as you may recall, wore a knight's armor and led French troops to victory at the siege of Orleans, defeating the occupying English. Her heroism gave her strength, which only led to her undoing. In the final courtroom scene, reason and passions are brought to fever pitch. It helps make the play great.

Adding to the luster of this particular performance were the grandeur of the St. Marks church's interior, and the beauty of the four-part harmonies displayed by an a capellla group, which sand chants by Dufay and Josquin de Pres. Lovely!

On a personal note, I felt the impact of this ignominious chapter of Catholic history in the record of Inquisition during the same or following period. The play occurs in he 1430's and the Inquisition was in 1492. My ancestors were exiled from Cazorla, Andalusia, Spain, in 1492 by the same church hierarchy (Spanish, not French division) that attacked Joan. Only in 1992 did Spain officially admit its errors. The King of Spain invited all descendents of persecuted Jews and Moors to return to Spain and receive Spanish social security payments.

I enjoyed Saint Joan. The language occasionally gets too full of itself, and it demands great concentration. But in the end, your attention is well-rewarded.