“Manahatta” At The Yale Rep.

“Manahatta” Yale Repertory Theatre.
The Symmetry

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Time Stands still.
Robert Massimi.

Throughout time, things have both changed and have also stayed the same. Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle constantly brings us from the present, to the past and somewhere in the middle. This play has many constants, variations and much symmetry too it. In the one hour and forty intermission less minutes we go back and forth between a Wall Street firm where a talented, young Indian woman with a propensity for mathematics, who is originally from Oklahoma, lands a job in investment banking. Proud of her Indian roots, she has lost many of the customs and the traditions of her culture. Even though she has to go back and forth to tend to her dying father, she has her eye on the prize… the glory of being a Wall Street big shot.

“Manahatta” has three parts to it; three different scenarios of history that can often be confusing throughout the play. In a single functioning set (Mariana Sanchez) that serves as a Wall Street office; the families home and the Lower East Side where the Dutch have landed to take up trading,( a different kind of trading which we know from Wall Street). We get a very different look and feel from the three kinds of places thanks to the very talented costume designs by Stephanie Bahniuk.

Pre 2008 housing bubble, Jane Snake (Lily Gladstone) has been brought to Lehman Brothers to assess risks in lending. When she is not giving out loans as fast as the firm would like, her job becomes in jeopardy at the firm. Her bosses question whether a woman, let alone an Indian woman is right for this job. Back home, Jane’s mother who has no credit score, needs money to pay for her husbands operations. She is talked into taking an ARM loan from her local bank. All too eager to make loans as well, her local bank sets her up for failure. Much like the lending bubble, the Dutch trade with the Indians for furs, food and other things; but the Indians, like people trying to secure mortgages, who have no business getting these mortgages, are set up for failure, as well as slaughter. The slaughter, however, is symmetrical to the slaughter that innocent people received with these toxic loans.

The play had a constant pace too it. Director Laurie Woolery kept the show both sharp and crisp. The same can be said for its lighting (Emma Deane). In both efforts, “Manahatta” was easy to visually watch. What was not so easy, however, was keeping up with the core of the story. The chronology of this play switched back and forth to fast and too often and lost the audience at times. Other times it seemed that dialogue was added into the performance that did not add anything to the plays plot. Words were sometimes just meaningless words and seemed to come from no where of relevance.

With strong acting; direction and strong staging, “Manahatta” had some strong writing as well. With the exception of the last seven minutes, this was a first rate show. The problem with the plays ending is that it seemed that Nagle ran out of ideas on how to conclude this body of work. It was further confusing as to Jane/Le-le-wa-you… what and even who she was trying to portray. Her mother/Bobbie and her seemed to switch roles in the end and it was never made clear to us what this signified. In normal circumstances it would seem that she morphed into the mother but that was clearly not the case here. Further to the plot, (not as confusing), was why wouldn’t Luke, a Native American step in and do more to save the mother? Many things were left unresolved at the end, even so, “Manahatta” gave a sensational effort.

Pinter and Howe… DirectorFest.

Pinter and Howe at DirectorFest.
The Drama leagues DirectorFest.

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Pinter/Howe.
Robert Massimi. Member Dramatists Guild.

The Drama League has been doing this for 36 years! DirectorFest gives a culmination of directors a chance to work with both new and established writers. In venues across Manhattan, DirectorFest runs over five weeks and this year will feature productions of John LaChiusa’s “Hello Again” and Harold pinter’s “The Lover”; revivals of “Appearances” by Tina Howe and Marcus Gardley’s “The Sporting Life Of Icarus Jones”; “The Drowning Girls” by Beth Graham and “Pure”, created by Belgium director Bakalov.

The Drama League propels creative visions into the performances full life on stage. The League tries to identify and nurture new directors, providing them with the nation’s only full time artistic home. This Festival puts exceptional directors like the ones being presented this year, in a position to have their talents noticed and further promoted.

This year, I had the opportunity to see both Pinter and Howe’s work. In Pinter’s “The Lover”, we see a typical Pinter play, edgy, ever changing and at times raw. Like Last years “The Betrayal”; “lover” gives us the same twists and turns that is Pinter method of operation. What the audience believes at the beginning of the play is nothing what actually happens in its ending, not even close. The brilliance of Pinter was at the forefront with great acting from both Maribel Martinez as Sarah and Greg Brostrom as her husband, Richard. With great British accents, NJ Agwuna directs the two through this quick one hour action packed play. This play is tight in every way, great directing, sets and sound design, I enjoyed this play even better than “Betrayal” on Broadway this fall, last. Agwuna’s direction had a deft energy, (the two characters bantered about the stage in a smooth, easy flowing way).

Directing Pinter is never easy, Pinter is all about interpretation; what the audience sees, or thinks it sees, are often different. Pinter’s plays also give way to the creative juices in all facets of play making, from set design; lighting; costumes, its fun to produce a Pinter play. You can see “The Caretaker” many times and have distinctly different productions. The same can be said for “The Collection” as well as an assortment of his other plays. In “The Lover”, NJ Agwuna reals us in and lets us out giving us a little at a time until its suspenseful ending.

“In “Appearances”, Lindsey Hope Pearlman too does a nice job directing. The comedic timing is done well, unfortunately the real good material and the essence of this show runs out after 20 minutes into this 40 minute play. What is fun to watch at first becomes hokey towards the end. The actors make the best of the material that they have, but it is not enough to sustain this comedy.

In a set from the 1970’s we have a department store manager who is strict about keeping the rules and a woman who is desperate to find the right dress to wear to a company function. Short on time she desperately wants to get in and out of the store quickly. Unable to find neither the right dress, or a dress that fits her properly, she is eventually broken down the store manager and gets her assistance. With some catchy music and funny lines, the two become friendly and differences get worked out. What needs to get worked out even more is the last half of this show.

DirectorFest runs from January 10th till February 4th.

“American Tranquility” Theater Review.

“American tranquility”
Plain Speaking.

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“American Tranquility”
Robert Massimi. Member of The Dramatists Guild.

“American Tranquility” is a very resonant one man show that is separated into four subplots (or different scenes). Daniel Damiano is an award winning playwright and a real good actor as well. He has performed “American Tranquility” in New York City (at the PIT Loft, The Downtown Urban Arts Festival, the East Village Playhouse and, last summer at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington DC.). In the past Mr. Damiano written “The Lepers”;”Harmony Park;”Day of the Dog” and “Wild Boar” which was a 2019 finalist for both the Newman’Woodward and the Janet & Bruce Bunch New Play Award.

In the first scene, Stanley is an older man who needs help getting around by a cane, he shakes from old age and he has something to say, in fact, a lot to say about the current state of our Nation and its youth. With a Southern, stern voice, Stanley is bitter about life; he say’s that we all became bitter which is natural as you get older. Damiano’s is a pragmatist, he looks at the world as it is and not through rose colored glasses. The basic essence of this show is so practical and spot on. As a throw away society, Stanley tells us that the youth and the Government cannot wait for old people to die, that old people are a bother. Damiano compares our society to that of the Asians, who have the utmost respect for the elderly. He goes on to say that when he was a youth, the only difference between young and old were the politics and music. He then goes on to say that the difference between young and old is too vast and great and that it is concerning.

In scene two, Damiano is playing a grateful man named Achmed. Achmed is in a Time Square subway playing the bongos and giving his opinions about what it is like to be a foreigner living in America. He wants to become a citizen because he thinks America is the greatest place in the world to live. He seems disappointed that people tell him to go back to where he came from. Achmed is proud to be here and he says that everyone at some point came here from a foreign nation. “We we’re all picked on as minorities at one point in our history, he brings forth. he works hard and has a good attitude, Kathy Gail MacGowan directs this scene brilliantly. Keeping Damiano upbeat throughout this scene is essential for it to work as well as it did.

Scene three was the most entertaining because Damiano hit the nail squarely as to what has happened to jobs going off-shore and that trans gender issues were more important than keeping jobs here in America. Morgan Ridge mocks “Hillary Rob Them Clinton” he calls the Democratic nominee. He goes on to talk about how dead people voted and how illegals voted as well. He goes on a tirade about the false whistleblowers in regards to the current impeachment and says that they are not even close to “deep throat” during Water Gate. The Communist Mayors and Governors also took a hit; the Hollywood phonies with their adopted kids from all over the world down to middle aged fathers moving home to live with their parent, nothing is out of bounds for this radio talk show host.

In this scene, Damiano is at full stride. From his sister becoming a man to building a wall to keep criminals out, he brings reality to how people like Madonna over react to the current president being elected. He believes we should go back to the roots of our forefathers and that we were better off then than now. Pouring his soul out, the audience get’s Morgan Ridge’s frustration and his determination to make people see things the way he sees them.

In his final scene, Ronnie has left the hustle and bustle of the real world to build a cabin in the woods. Fed up with Facebook and modern technology, Ronnie was most happen being a stoner back in High School and listening to rock. Unable to cope any longer, at fifty years old, he has moved away from everyone. His mother thinks that he is in a cult and his best friend now a days is a wolf in the wild. Poignant and deep at times…. his father hated life and gave up on it, his best friend committed suicide and people close to him in school moved on. In what was the best monologue of the evening with his hatred for the internet, it could not be out matched by how dire he sees the world today.

Four very different scenes; four very different characters, Daniel Damiano gives a brilliant performance. With his many accents and looks, Damiano gives that Brooklyn swag (at times he reminds me of Andrew Dice Clay with his as – a- matter- of-fact attitude. Not to be missed, “American Tranquility” is a fun show and where an hour flies by with a range of emotions to go with it.

“Grand Horizons” Theater Review.

“Grand Horizons”
Family Dysfunction.

“Grand horizons” At The Helen Hayes Theater.
Robert Massimi.
(Member Dramatists Guild).

In Bess Wohl’s playwriting debut on Broadway comes a warm and witty production filled with raucous laughter and delightful acting. Nancy (Jane Alexander and Bill(James Cromwell) decide to get a divorce after fifty years of marriage. It seems that things have been building up for quite some time and the two want to call it quits. As Bill is aloof towards his marriage, he is equally so towards his children and pretty much the same towards everything and everyone he comes in contact with. A former pharmacist, Bill is a regementated person who never missed a day of work in his life. Although not bitter from the outset, it becomes obvious as the play goes on. Not happy about having a gay son, Brian (Michael Urie), he is dismissive towards Brian’s weaknesses, his melodrama and his profession. Although Bill respects Ben (Ben McKenzie) a little more, he can’t be bothered that his wife is to give birth any day, nor does he share any emotion with his daughter-in-law.

In a very innovative curtain (a cookie cutter row of homes to give us a feeling where these people live), we face a very warm set of the French’s kitchen/living area. Clint Ramos design is a innovative work while giving the actors plenty of room to rumble. Jen Schriever’s lighting let’s all the warmth into this home through the kitchen windows and the front door. Open and airy, the plot develops into one disaster followed by another, all the while leaving the audience in stitches. In a senior citizens development known as Grand Horizons, people are measured by which development they live in and what committees they partake in. Bill is working on his stand up comedy which is anathema to his personality. He thinks he has a new craft, one in which he thinks people enjoy, instead his family is horrified by his jokes.

“Grand Horizon” is deeper than just the hilarity of the French family; we see the deep seated feelings that roll out in due course as a result of the pending divorce. The boy’s start to wonder if a relationship is worth it; Jess (Ashley Park) who is due to give birth in day’s wonders aloud if this is what she has to look forward too in fifty years. Depressed by her in-laws, Jess begins to panic even more at how her husband has been dismissing her in every way. Coupled with her brother-in- laws condescending attitude, Jess is ready to run for the hills. In fact the entire cast wants to take a powder and that is the charm of this play. Under strong direction by Leigh Silverman ;”A Lifespan of a Fact(Studio 54); “Wild goose Dreams”(The Public), Silverman is able to keep the comedy coming as well as creating some very poignant, touching moments in the play.

The cast is brilliant and the production is first rate, “Grand Horizons” clicks in every way. For everyone who has ever loved sitcoms, “Grand Horizons” is for you. From a U-Haul crashing the set to Brians would be comic love fling, the laughs are non stop. Jane Alexander is the loveable wife who say’s just what’s on her mind even if it means mortifying her children. James Cromwell is a loveable curmudgeon who never minces words when it comes too his feelings and his family. To the chagrin of the children who at times are road kill, Nancy and Bill are two zany people.

Show’s Opening On Broadway.

Robert Massimi. Member of The Dramatists Guild.
Here are up coming Broadway shows that will open in the next few months:
West Side Story will open Feb 20th
Girl From The North Country will open on March 5th. I thought this show was very slow with very little plot when it played at The Public Theater.
Six will open on March 12th at The Brooks Atkinson Theater.
Tracy Letts much awaited “Minutes” will open at The Cort Theater on March 15th.
“Hangman”, Martin McDonagh’s play will open at The Golden Theatre on March 19th.
The great Patti LuPone will be in “Company” at The Jacobs Theatre and opens on the 22end of March.
The “Lehman Trilogy” which played at The Park Avenue Armory will make its way to The Nederlander Theatre on March 26th. This is a very long show (over three hours). Audiences will either love it or hate it depending on how it get’s directed. If it is the same show as at the Armory, this one can be missed.
“Diana”, the story of the former Princess of England will open on March 31st.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” will open at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre April 5th.
“Caroline, or Change”, The Tony Kushner show will be at the iconic Studio 54, and opens on April 7th.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” opens at the Booth Theatre on April 9th.
The much awaited husband and wife team of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in “Plaza Suite” will be at the Hudson Theatre and opens April 13th.
Mamet’s “American Buffalo” will be at Circle in the Square Theatre- opens April 14th.
“Flying Over Sunset” opens April 16th at the Vivian Beaumont Theater-Lincoln Center Theater.
“Sing Street” at the Lyceum Theatre opens April 19th.
Deborah Messing in “Birthday Candles” at The Roundabout opens April 21st.
Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse under direction by Mark Brokaw will in “How I Learned To Drive” will open April 22end.
“Take Me Out” which previously played on Broadway, will make another go-round at the Hayes theater-Second Stage and opens April 23erd.

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“My Name Is Lucy Barton”.

Robert Massimi.
“Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life” is what Laura Linney confides in us. Her profound isolation is vast and deep and “it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth” she tells us. Reflecting on her traumatically impoverished childhood in rural illinois, she recalls being locked in a trunk by her father, a PTSD-scarred veteran. Now, a success in New York City, she once again is alone: hospitalized after complications from an appendectomy.
An unexpected visit from her estranged mother, who spends five days with her in the hospital is where the story kicks in. Her mother is a judgemental,gossipy and pushy. Her mother takes pleasure in talking about people from the old neighborhood, how many messed up their lives with infidelities and other failings. Even though Lucy is grateful for the company, it is the things not said that is most significant.
Linney is best in this play when she’s inhabiting her mother, her voice becomes Midwestern, more through her nose and very effective. Narrating as Lucy, however, is where this play becomes so-so. Even though Linney tries very hard to put forth internal struggle, we get the sense that Lucy is writing for us and not speaking to us. The big problem with this play is that it does not feel like a novel nor a play and it leaves us wanting more.

“She Waits” Theater Review.

“She Waits”
One Acts At St.Marks Downstairs.

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Robert Massimi.

“She Waits” is the newest production by 99c Theater Co. The Company itself was founded by actor and producer, Lindsay Nolin, and co- produced by Shawna Wigney. The Companies mission is to collaborate with up and coming artists of all backgrounds. The creators want the productions to be artist driven and to be at the nexus of the creative process.

“She Waits” is a collection of three act plays: “Fixin”; “Gameplay” and “Water Strider/Jesus Bug”. all three plays were written by Alex Shannon. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ms. Shannon’s “Water Strider/Jesus Bug” was runner-up in the Judith Barlow Prize in a national playwriting competition. Recently Alex has made her directorial debut in the short film, “Open” which is currently streaming online.

In the first play, “Fixin”, Ruthy (Alex Shannon) and Willa (Jonina Thorsteinsdottir) are sisters from a poor southern town. Whereas Willa is more selfish than her sister, she still wants the best for her… to one day leave this hopeless town and move on with her life. Willa is married only because it was her way out of her mother’s house. Ruth on the other hand is always doing what is right, even if it means sacrificing her youth doting on her mother and foster children. The two women with their deft southern accents are able to let the audience see the despair and dysfunction of the environment in which they grew up in. We see the two different ways that each sister deals with the scars of their youth.

“Gameplay” is a completely different play, but it deals with two very similar characters that we saw in “Fixin”. In “Gameplay”, two single young women with two different ideas about life, boy’s and commitment. As Florence, Thorsteinsdottir is rather aloof about relationships with boy’s. She is non committal about relationships and is even experimenting with girls. Charlie, (Shannon) is more into a serious relationship and commitment to the people she dates. Even though she is coming off a one night stand with a good friend, she is hoping for a relationship with him. The two women are polar opposites in just about every way, but like “Fixin”, they have a loyalty to each other and a bond that cannot be easily broken.

In what was the best play of the evening, “Water Strider” takes place in a laundromat; New York City, 1965. Two woman; Rhea (Elizabeth Saunders) and Indie, (Shannon) deal with a death in Rhea’s family, the brutality of her husband and the times they live in. While Indie is younger, she has more opportunity, more than Rhea could ever hope for. Indie is thinking of attending Stanford to study science. Although she is not certain that she will do this, the banter of the two shows that even though she is much younger, she is more grounded in her life, less dependent than Rhea. This play is more subtle than the prior two, yet it goes deeper, it has a more psychological effect on the audience. Setting this play in a 60’s style laundromat was brilliant, it gave us a passive place where people had nothing but time to talk and watch their cloths go round and round. It gave these two characters time to open up to the audience and let us know what they were feeling.

Not all the plays worked at times, some of the political messages in the plays came out of nowhere and were not germaine in the plays action and general plot, even seemed forced into its plot without any rhyme or reason. Shannon for the most part stayed true to the writings body of work, only delving off it a few times. The three plays moved quickly and established themselves in rapid pace keeping the audience interest throughout the hour and fifteen minutes.