May 11, 2020

Finally, Some Good Theater News, Compliments of the Outer Critics Circle

Good news, particularly good news about theater, has been hard to find over the last two months since concerns about the coronavirus locked most of us indoors and closed theaters around the country. Prognosticators have been saying that theaters will be among the last things to reopen once it’s been deemed safe enough to resume some semblance of life as we once knew it. So that’s why I’m delighted to be able to share the very good news that the Outer Critics Circle has come up with a way to honor the truncated 2019-2020 season and to celebrate the better days that are sure to come.

The OCC board, of which I am proud to be a member, decided to suspend our traditional practice of issuing a slate of nominees for shows on and off-Broadway and then having our members select one to be the best in each category. Instead, we’ve decided to honor ALL our nominees this year.

And on top of that, we’re doing something a little extra special for the honorees cited for our John Gassner Award. Named for one of the group’s co-founders, it is usually given to an American play by a new writer at the beginning of his or her career. We’re proud of the fact that our past winners have included Aaron Sorkin, August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, John Leguizamo, David Henry Hwang, Suzan-Lori Parks, Ayad Akhtar and Bess Wohl.

This year, we’re cheering on four young writers: Will Arbery for Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Eboni Booth for Paris, Catya McMullen for Georgia Mertching Is Dead and Alexis Scheer for Our Dear Dead Drug Lord. And we’re giving each of them $500 as a token of our belief in their talent and their ability to help lead American theater into the future.  

This is the OCC’s 70th anniversary season and we’re so pleased to be able to celebrate in this way.  And we’re just as pleased that, as you’ll see below, some special friends have joined us to mark the occasion.

You can see the full print list of our honorees by clicking here.  And our president David Gordon will talk even more about it with my buddy, and boss, James Marino on the Tuesday edition of BroadwayRadio's "Today on Broadway," which you can listen to here.

April 23, 2020

Where There's A Will...

It's been a month since I last posted here. With theaters everywhere closed, there's been too little to say. But today is Shakespeare's birthday and I'm taking comfort from the fact that he made it through the plague of the Black Death in his day. So here's hoping we all make it through this one in ours. In the meantime, Happy Birthday Will!

March 21, 2020

Theater Life in these Uncertain Times

We’re all longing for moments of clarity, sanity and even a little levity during these days of social distancing and self-isolating.  But while there may be no live performances on Broadway, off-Broadway or in regional or community theaters right now, theater folks are finding other ways for the show to go on. They’re:

 ●livestreaming performances, like Andrew Barth Feldman’s “Living Room Concert” series that features Broadway stars performing favorite songs from their own homes (click here for it)

●creating theater GIFs; like the hard-to-beat one featuring a dog-ear-wearing Judi Dench (which you can find by clicking here)

●moving the annual 24-Hours Play Festival to Instagram, with monologues from such New York theater faves as Patrick Wilson, Richard Kind and Marin Ireland (for that click here)

●giving school kids who won’t get the chance to do their senior class shows an online audience with Laura Benanti’s "Sunshine Songs" project (found here)

●offering online instruction, such as Debbie Allen’s joy-filled dance classes (find out more about them by clicking here)  

●lobbying for government assistance to help everyone from ushers and dressers to actors and musicians who've been put out of work by the crisis (read more about that here)

●raising money to help people in the community who lost their jobs when shows closed, as Rosie O'Donnell is doing with her videothon that is scheduled to feature just about every Broadway star you've ever heard of this Sunday night starting at 7 p.m. (you can find out more about it here.) 

●celebrating Stephen Sondheim who turns 90 on March 22 with all kinds of tributes including this really superb one by Jesse Green that was part of a New York Times collection of them (which you can read by clicking here) 

My colleagues at BroadwayRadioMatt Tamanini, Ashley Steves and James Marinoare doing their part with daily podcasts that update the latest news from the theater world along with some feel-good recommendations to lift your spirits too (find that here).

I’m trying to do my little part by prospecting for interesting articles about how the theater community is dealing with this truly unprecedented global health crisis and posting them in a new Flipboard magazine I'm calling “Theater in the Season of the Coronavirus."  I'd advise reading just a few pieces at a time but you can find them all by clicking here

One big comfort in these uncertain times is knowing that we’re all in this together and that there’s no finer company with whom to see the tough times through than the people who make and love theater. May you and yours stay healthy.

March 14, 2020

The Coronavirus Forces All of New York Theater to Turn on the Ghost Light

I had planned to post a review this week but it was a pan of a play that I really didn’t like and that seems somehow wrong at this time when concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus have prompted the unprecedented closing of most Broadway and off-Broadway shows for at least a month.

That will be a hardship for the hundreds of people who make their living from the New York theater (some shows have prematurely ended their runs; others may now never open) and for those of us who love the work they do. But, as New York magazine critic Justin Davidson explained in his clarion call for the theaters to close, it is the right thing to do for the health of the people who put on shows and the health of those who go to see them (click here to read his full piece).

So the theaters are now scheduled to stay dark until April 12. Here’s hoping that by that time, the virus will have been brought under control, the fewest possible lives lost and the ghost lights in theaters here and around the country can be turned off and the shows allowed to go on again. In the meantime, I hope you and yours stay healthy.

March 7, 2020

Dragging Out the Ghost Light

Spring doesn’t officially arrive this year until week after next but the spring theater season is already here, with new shows opening almost every day. And I’m already running behind as I try to see as many of them as I can in addition to tending to the other obligations in my life. That's left me too little time to write my regular weekly post. So I am—reluctantly—turning on the ghost light that theaters set up when they’re temporarily empty. But I’m hoping that it won’t be here for too long. 

February 29, 2020

The Clever Mysteries of “The Headlands”

Christopher Chen’s intriguing memory play The Headlands works on so many levels that it’s hard for me to keep track of all of them.

It starts out as a crime procedural centered around an investigation into a long ago murder in San Francisco’s Chinese community. Then it cloaks itself in the film-noirish moodiness of illicit love and shady financial dealings. And ultimately it becomes a meditation on assimilation, identity and the narratives that we and others weave around ourselves.

The play bounces back and forth between the present as a young armchair sleuth named Henry tries to figure out what caused the mysterious shooting death of his father, an earlier period of the 1970s when Henry’s parents—his father a poor immigrant to this country and his mother the daughter of one of the city’s wealthy families—met and fell in love and a bit later when the child Henry fears they may be falling apart.

The result is a kaleidoscope of a play that shifts constantly as new information is added, reinterpreted, viewed from different angles. The tone is jokey at first but gradually becomes more pensive as Chen and director Knud Adams peel away the layers of the stories that Henry's investigation reveals.

They’re ably assisted by a top-notch cast, whose first among equals is Johnny Wu who, with just a subtle alteration of voice and posture, convincingly plays the father at several periods in the character’s life, from an almost nebbishy immigrant dishwasher to a seemingly confident businessman.

But everyone is terrific and it’s particularly wonderful to see Asian actors getting to explore a full spectrum of emotions that range from the romantic to the malevolent. And what a pleasure it must be for them to be in a play that doesn't shy away from the issues of race and otherness but that doesn't wallow in them either. 

Still, the production’s true MVP is its video projections, which may be the best I’ve ever seen. The stage of LCT3’s Clair Tow Theater, where the show is running through March 22, is almost bare except for white scrims on which projection designer Ruey Horng Sun displays images of mid-century San Francisco that provide a perfect backdrop for the slight but still glamorous seediness of the story (click here to read more about how they were assembled).

The title borrows its name from the often foggy promontory across the bay from the city and it made me nostalgic for the time I spent in San Francisco before the tech bros took it over. The Headlands only runs 90 minutes but I would have happily stayed longer.

February 22, 2020

Joyfully Celebrating 13 Years of B&Me

© maksum iliasin |
Time flies. And this year it’s whizzing by so quickly that I almost forgot to take some time out to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Broadway & Me. But although I’m a week or so late, I'm no less exuberant about having survived, and even thrived, for this long.

Thirteen, my birth date, has always been a lucky number for me and this past year has been filled with all kinds of happy-making events. At the top of the list, of course, was seeing lots of shows and discovering some fine new playwrights, several of whom were kind enough to talk with me about their plays for the “Stagecraft” podcast I continue to do for BroadwayRadio (you can check out those interviews by clicking here).

I also got to talk to other theater makers for stories I wrote for other theater-related sites from a Q&A with playwright Jeremy O. Harris and director Robert O’Hara for their much-talked about production of Slave Play (click here to read that) to a profile of the young actor Will Hochman who made his Broadway debut opposite Mary-Louise Parker in Adam Rapp’s wonderful The Sound Inside (you can read it by clicking here)

Another highlight of the year was accepting an Emmy on behalf of an episode I co-hosted for the still-much missed TV show "Theater Talk," created and produced by my pal Susan Haskins-Doloff. A few weeks later, I joined Susan and a panel of other theater critics to talk about the season for a reunion episode of "Theater Talk" that was filmed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and later broadcast on stations across the country (we’re scheduled to get together again this May 5, so I hope you’ll keep an eye out for that.)

And just a month ago, I produced a panel for this year’s BroadwayCon to kick off the 70th anniversary celebration of the Outer Critics Circle. The panel was moderated by my fellow OCC board member Broadway World’s Richard Ridge and featured a super talented panel of playwrights that included Ming Peiffer (Usual Girls) Donja R. Love (Sugar in Our Wounds, One in Two) and Bess Wohl (Small Mouth Sounds, Grand Horizons).

As I said, really happy-making stuff. But it all began here, when I published my first blog post on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2007. And writing here and sharing theater with you all remains the thing closest to my heart.

I am endlessly grateful to those of you who have stuck with me over the years —and to those of you who may have just stumbled onto this post for the first time today. The 2020 spring season is heating up so I’m already looking forward to another terrific year of theatergoing and I hope you’ll share it with me.