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I Can’t Believe They Did That With the Cake

You mean you've never eaten cake with a cow?

We’ve all had this dream, right?

The surprising laughs in Parallel Exit’s New Show

If you’re watching a slapstick comedy and they wheel on a giant cake, then you’ve got to assume that somebody’s getting a face full of frosting. Or if there’s a smiley idiot who’s new to the big city and just dying to be a Broadway star, then you’re gonna prepare yourself for a hilarious song and dance.

Right? After all, decades of Marx Brothers and Muppets and Looney Tunes have laid down the rules for this sort of thing.

The fellows in Parallel Exit are certainly counting on us to know these standards for physical comedy. They’re assuming that living in the culture has taught us the classic structures for bits about comic characters trying to get what they want.

And then, in their new show Everybody Gets Cake!, they upend those structures every chance they get.

Now at 59E59, the show is a collection of sketches that utilize all sorts of physical comedy elements, from mime to clown to prop humor. And as the three performers bounce between characters and scenarios, you can feel their delight in surprising us. When the cake comes out, for instance, it launches a security crisis, not a food fight. And just when that hopeful performer thinks Broadway is calling, a mysterious figure knocks him out and drags him off stage.

Twists like that are partly what make the show so funny: We get a little bit of chaos and a little bit of wit, and we never know which is coming next.

This approach is a departure for Parallel Exit, which has made its name with straightforward shows that explore physical styles like tap dancing and silent film acting. “This feels like a bit of a danger zone for us,” says Mark Lonergan, the company’s artistic director (and the director of Everybody Gets Cake!). “We’re thinking, ‘If the expectation of the audience might be this, then how do we subvert that expectation and still embrace the audience?’” [Read more →]

January 23, 2015   No Comments

All That Russian Passion in Just Two Hours

Taylor Schilling & Peter Dinklage in A Month in the Country

Taylor Schilling & Peter Dinklage in A Month in the Country

Inside a muscular new version of A Month in the Country

Fans of Russian drama—or anyone who’s slogged through War and Peace—might be startled to learn that Classic Stage Company’s current production of A Month in the Country lasts roughly 120 minutes. Since the original script for Ivan Turgenev’s 19th century comic romance can run nearly five hours, does that mean important moments have been tossed aside?

Not according to director Erica Schmidt, who commissioned a new translation from John Christopher Jones. For her, the massive cuts to the original text were necessary to tease out the play’s throbbing heart.

And make no mistake: For all its propriety, the play is feisty and alive. As Natalya (Taylor Schilling), a landowner’s wife, tries to decide which man she loves—be it her husband (Anthony Edwards), her longtime friend Rakitin (Peter Dinklage), or Aleksey (Mike Faist), the young man who’s tutoring her ward—she veers among calculated schemes, impulsive declarations, and sweaty trysts.

Meanwhile, the servants and social climbers in her orbit engage in all sorts of hijinks. “Part of what I love about what Chris has done [with his translation] is highlight the comedy,” Schmidt says. “Because when you read earlier translations of the play, you can see that it’s funny, but there’s so much language that I imagine it would be hard to get the comedy across.”

The same goes for Natalya’s fiery temperament. Take a scene where she discusses a pesky doctor. “Chris has the doctor call Natalya an ‘obsequious cynic slithering around,” Schmidt says. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so strong. I can’t believe she would say that.’ Then I looked back at the text, and she does say each of those words, but it’s in three paragraphs of equivocation. I love that he has given it this rocket pace.” [Read more →]

January 22, 2015   No Comments

When Theatre People Attack

A scene from Halley Feiffer's I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard

A scene from Halley Feiffer’s I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard

In Halley Feiffer’s new play, family drama literally changes the world on stage

Maybe you know a theatrical person. Maybe they squeal with rapture when they get a great deal on paper towels. Maybe they rage like an opera villain when Verizon drops a phone call. These megawatt people can be intense, but they’re also incredibly captivating, turning every brunch into a platform for passion.

For playwright Halley Feiffer, these are the folks who make good drama. “There are people who are kind of heightened, and sometimes I’m one of them,” she says. “And when the stakes are really high, a lot of people do swing between these places where everything is either desperately tragic or euphorically, orgasmically amazing. I’m interested in putting that on stage.”

Which brings us to her play I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard, now at Atlantic Theater Company’s Stage 2. It imagines two crucial encounters between Ella, a burgeoning actress, and David, her legendary playwright father. In the first scene, father and daughter wait in their kitchen for the reviews of her latest performance, and as their anxiety mounts, they go through a lifetime’s worth of rituals. David makes thundering pronouncements, Ella cheers and gasps in all the right places, and both of them goad each other to get bigger, bigger, bigger.

There’s a dark thread in their performances, though, and eventually we see the need and fear and brutality beneath their banter. By the second scene, on the set of one of Ella’s later plays, those heavy emotions have transformed the show in startling ways, making us consider how family strife alters the way we speak, think, and even move.

Or put another way: The play gets less and less realistic as the feelings get more and more intense. It’s like David and Ella’s thundering dysfunction warps the very room they’re standing in.
“It’s a bit heightened, and I think that’s appropriate because these characters are heightened,” Feiffer says. “The style and tone of the play need to match that.”
[Read more →]

January 20, 2015   No Comments

What’s on Broadway This Spring?

broadway-sign

Your Broadway spring preview

Are you ready for a theatre avalanche? Each spring, as the cut-off date for Tony Award eligibility looms, a barrage of plays and musicals opens on the Great White Way. Use our Broadway spring preview for a glimpse of everything coming soon!

NEW PLAYS

Airline Highway
(Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Previews April 1. Opens April 23.)

Arriving from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, Lisa D’Amour’s drama follows a motley group of New Orleans natives who have gathered to celebrate Miss Ruby, a local burlesque legend. Miss Ruby has wants to attend her own funeral party before she dies, so everyone gathers in the parking lot of a run-down hotel.

The Audience
(Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Previews February 14. Opens March 8.)

How’s this for getting the gang back together? Helen Mirren won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth II in a movie written by Peter Morgan, and now she’s playing the Queen again in Morgan’s play The Audience, which imagines Elizabeth’s private, weekly meetings with all the Prime Ministers under her lengthy reign.

Constellations
(Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Playing now through March 15.)

During this season of Gyllenhaals, Maggie appeared last fall in Roundabout’s revival of The Real Thing. Now her brother Jake makes his Broadway debut in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Nick Payne’s play. A romantic drama that earned rave reviews in London a few years ago, it stars Gyllenhaal as a beekeeper who has a rich and remarkable relationship with a scientist played by recent Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson.

Fish in the Dark
(Cort Theatre. Previews February 2. Opens March 5.)

He may or may not deliver a ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the meantime, Larry David is writing and starring in this comedy about death in the family. Upping the prestige factor, the play is directed by Tony Award-winner Anna D. Shaprio (August: Osage County), and David’s co-stars include Rosie Perez, Jayne Houdyshell, and Ben Shenkman.

Hand to God
(Booth Theatre. Previews March 14. Opens April 7.)

Robert Askins’ wild and hilarious play is about a demonic sock puppet that terrorizes a small Texas town. (Yes, you read that correctly.) It’s coming to Broadway after a popular Off Broadway run last year.

Living on Love
(Longacre Theatre. Previews April 1. Opens April 20.)

Beloved opera singer Renee Fleming makes her Broadway debut in this comedy about a celebrated diva, her maestro husband, and the schemes they hatch to infuriate each other. The script comes from Joe DiPietro, who was last on Broadway with Nice Work if You Can Get It and Memphis.

Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2
(Winter Garden. Previews March 20. Opens April 9.)

If you love the intrigue of Henry VIII’s England, then buckle up and get ready for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s epic adaptation of Hillary Mantel’s celebrated novels. The show runs over six hours if you see both parts in one day, but who doesn’t love a theatrical marathon now and then?

(Read on for a preview of New Musicals, as well as this spring’s Broadway revivals) [Read more →]

January 12, 2015   No Comments

Can You Handle What I Really Think of You?

Marcus Youssef & James Long

Marcus Youssef & James Long

In Winners and Losers, two real-life friends get brutally honest

In one way or another, most of us compete with our friends. Maybe we feel relieved that our jobs make us happier or that our marriages seem healthier. Maybe we feel the slightest bit smug when we understand a political reference and they don’t. Living in Western society, it’s just hard to avoid that kind of one-upmanship.

But most of us don’t talk about it. We push the judgments to the back of our minds and get on with our relationships. In Winners and Losers, however, Marcus Youssef and James Long refuse to let anything drop. Throughout the play, now at Soho Rep, they explicitly confront the ways they rank and categorize each other.

Yet it’s all framed as a game. At the start, both actors sit at a simple wooden table and banter back and forth about which things are “winners” and which things are “losers.” Topics include everything from microwave ovens to subway musicians, though they grow more personal as the show goes on.

And the “personal” themes are piercingly specific. Long evaluates Youssef’s sexual appetites and his attitudes about money, while Youssef goes after Long’s macho entitlement and his need to feel poor. By the end of the show, there’s a sense that both men have exposed something brutal about their relationship to each other and to themselves.

Which makes sense, considering how the show started. As two indie artists living in Vancouver, Youssef and Long are longtime friends and colleagues, and a few years ago, they started having casual winner/loser conversations as they developed another project. The back-and-forth got recorded, and eventually, it became the basis of this play.

In the beginning, it was a lot for the men to relive. “In its first year of existence, it felt fairly dangerous,” Youssef says. “There were times when I’d leave the stage feeling too exposed.” [Read more →]

January 7, 2015   No Comments