Elevate Difference

Reviews tagged theater

Draupadi – Will My Spirit Live On?

On the heels of International Women’s Day, the Indo-American Arts Council in New York City hosted the North American premiere of a unique and thought-provoking Indian play called Draupadi – Will My Spirit Live On? Produced and conceptualized by Shivani Wazir Pasrich, and co-directed by Pasrich and Tina Johnson, Draupadi weaves a tale from the Hindu epic Mahabharata with an intense contemporary story of a woman battling her experience with sexual abuse. The play sheds light on the plight of many women suffering such abuse, connecting a mythological tale with a modern parallel, and delivers a mostly engaging experience.

Marie and Bruce (4/8/11)

When I was a kid I used to stay out of sight when my parents fought, fearful that their vitriol would extend to me. But I always listened, eager to understand the conflict. So it is with Marie and Bruce, Wallace Shawn’s look at the most dysfunctional of dysfunctional relationships. The play begins even before a word of dialogue is uttered. As the audience enters the theater, Marie (a furious and pained Marisa Tomei) and Bruce (a disaffected and cool Frank Whaley) are lying on a large, ill-made bed in center stage. He’s asleep.

Spy Garbo (3/6/11)

Sheila Schwartz’s Spy Garbo, an innovative multi-media production, takes place in history’s limbo, the eternal resting place of three prominent twentieth century political players. The first is Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, played by Steven Rattazzi with a perfect mix of pomp, arrogance, and affability.

A World Apart (2/4/2011)

As Susan Mosakowski’s A World Apart opens, Mother Augustina, an abbess in a Cistercian monastery, is deeply engrossed in reading a religious text. Once interrupted, she explains that she is searching for answers to a host of troubling questions. Doubts about all kinds of things have begun to creep in, she says. Take the issue of heaven and hell. Common assumptions posit one above and the other below us.

Blood From A Stone (1/22/2011)

Tommy Nohilly’s first play, Blood From A Stone, treads the familiar terrain of family dysfunction, zeroing in on the return of oldest son Travis [played with anguished complexity by Ethan Hawke] to the family’s ramshackle Connecticut home. What exactly ails this prodigal child is a mystery. We know that he is jobless, broke, single, and addicted to pain killers, but the demons that hover near him are never fully revealed. At first, the reasons he’s returned home are also unclear. Is he looking for solace? Hoping for a financial handout?

Baby Universe (A Puppet Odyssey)

Baby Universe, a one-hour, adult-themed puppet show, begins with a DJ from Apocalypse Radio announcing to the audience that he is ”broadcasting live from the darkest corner of the bunkers.” His tone conveys urgency as he reports that the program will include an interview with one of the last people alive. The situation, we’re told, is grim: “These are the last days. Nothing can keep death from us. The plants are scorched, the animals blistered…The seas? What seas…?


Tom Stoppard’s 1988 espionage thriller, Hapgood, addresses the insanity of the Cold War by zooming in on a band of British spies. Alongside the CIA, the group engages in crosses and double-crosses, the end result being little more than a game of chicken. Led by Mrs. Elizabeth Hapgood, AKA Betty, AKA Mother--played by actor Elise Stone with a perfect mix of sass and sadness—the reconnaissance team’s efforts are a showcase for three distinct plot lines: The juggling of employment and child rearing responsibilities for single mothers; the temptation of forbidden love; and the competitive race for scientific knowledge between the “free world” and the Communist bloc. While the first two themes are presented with straightforward punch, the latter is muddled, perhaps emblematic of the Cold War itself. As Hapgood says near the denouement of the play, “It’s them or us. We’re keeping each other in business. We should send each other Christmas cards.”

A Man’s A Man

If playwright Bertolt Brecht were alive today, he’d likely blanch at the contemporary tendency to seek common ground with those whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to one’s own. His dozens of plays speak truth to power in daring, direct language and, while farce and sarcasm are employed, his repeated denunciations of colonialism, war, and militarism are boldly presented. A Man’s a Man (sometimes called Man Equals Man) was first staged in Dusseldorf and Darmstadt, Germany in 1926. Eighty-four years later, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s beautifully-presented staged reading of the play is so relevant that the audience quickly forgets the age of the work.

Pune Highway (11/11/2010)

During my childhood, visits to India were largely spent travelling. A lot of this involved time on the infamous GT Road, a dry scaly snake taking us wherever we wanted to go. Aside from the beauty of fields either side, there was always the fear of danger lurking nearby. Visiting these roads was always interesting—but you knew they had the potential to harbour deadly forces. Whenever something happened, people would react wildly. The road was both a blessing and a curse, progressive in its promise, but with a lot to hide. Whenever an incident on happened we looked on in wonder, not really knowing protocol. Minor scuffles in traffic would result in typical rambunctious arguments which proved entertaining for some—but larger incidents were a different matter. A cyclist thrown off his bike, for example, would result in a series of complexities not only for the culprit but also for spectators. Typically, they’d refrain from contacting the authorities, afraid of opening a can of worms.

Soul Leaves Her Body (10/08/2010)

In today’s digital age, people often communicate with each other via computer and cell phone screens rather than face to face. In recent years, Here Arts Center has taken the difficult leap of transporting this contemporary feeling of being disconnected (and yet overconnected) via the coldness of technology to the theater stage through their resident artist productions.

Estrogenius Festival (10/08/2010)

Considering how many women pursue a career in theater, it seems perplexing that so few women-centered plays or female directors make it to the stage. This was the problem Fiona Jones set to resolve when she created the Estrogenius Festival as a showcase of women in theater... a decade ago. With much of the theater industry still dominated by male voices and visions, this festival provides women a chance to step out from the sidelines and into the spotlight.

Detroit (9/18/2010)

Half of the U.S. population lives in suburbs, places where there are no theres there. In the suburb outlying the eponymous city in Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, all the streets in the Bright Homes subdivision are named after light. If Bill Vaughn’s observation is correct—“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them”—then this particular development is consistent in its dearth of light, literal and figurative.

The House Of Bilquis Bibi (7/2010)

Making her UK stage debut is veteran Indian singer and actress Ila Arun who plays the formidable lady in question. As the Pakistani mother of five unmarried daughters (Ghizala Avan, Vineeta Rishi, Shalini Peiris, Mariam Haque and Youkti Patel), Bilquis Bibi rules her house with an iron rod, almost literally.

A Parallelogram (7/1/2010)

In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines never intersect. In post-Euclidean geometry, all parallel lines under specific conditions—for example, placed on a globe—will converge. In Bruce Norris’ new play, A Parallelogram, parallelogram is the term used to describe a window of sorts in space and time. The protagonist’s future self visits her through such a passage and discloses details of her life and the world to come.

Black Pearl Sings! (6/18/2010)

With their current production, Black Pearl Sings!, InterAct Theatre brings a powerful story to the Mainstage of Philadelphia’s Adrienne. The intimate performance space, where third row is a mere six feet from the floor-level stage, helps one feel immersed in the story. Written by Frank Higgins and directed by Seth Rozin, the two-act play stars C. Kelly Wright as Alberta “Pearl” Johnson and Catharine K. Slusar as Susannah Mullally.

Prophecy (6/6/2010)

Forty years ago, Edwin Starr’s “War” was a Billboard Top 100 hit, an explicit denunciation of armed conflict. “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” he trilled. Karen Malpede’s Prophecy takes this sentiment as her starting point. Her latest play, an ambitious, layered look at the damage wrought by centuries of strife on the battlefield—and in the personal relationships that ensue once military action is over—is bold and dramatic. It’s also shrill. Numerous stories unfold simultaneously.

Kanyadaan (5/14/2010)

It is with much anticipation that I attended the opening night show of Kanyadaan, a play written by Vijay Tendulkar and directed by Pratidhwani’s Agastya Kohli. The reasons for my enthusiasm were multifold; for one, I’ve been a fan of Agastya’s (and Pratidhwani’s) work for a few years now, and second, I had personally worked with all members of Kanyadaan’s talented cast in last year’s incisive political satire, Ek Tha Gadha, Urf Aladad Khan.

Endgame (04/13/2010)

The final stage of chess, the endgame, is a stage of the game in which few pieces are left on the board and pawns increase in significance. Endgames often center on trying to promote a pawn by moving it to the eighth rank. The king, typically sheltered from checkmate, changes into a strong piece that can be brought to the center of the board for attacks.

MILK (5/1/2010)

Emily DeVoti’s provocative two-act play, MILK, opens in a spare farmhouse kitchen. It’s 1984. Ronald Reagan has just been elected US president and local newscasters seem to have nothing good to report. Meg (played by Jordan Baker), a former mathematician who loves precision and order, and her husband Ben (Jon Krupp), a former investigative reporter, are sitting at the table and talking, but it’s the kind of tense conversation that can quickly turn from controlled anger to fierce argument. Things are bad, very bad.

Women Writers of the Provincetown Players: A Collection of Short Works

For someone whose theater knowledge is limited to a high school rendition of Cheaper by the Dozen, the compilation of plays that comprises Women Writers of the Provincetown Players were both easy and enjoyable to read.

Chicago: The Musical (4/1/2009)

A few years ago, I took my two twenty-something nieces to see the Oscar-winning movie Chicago and was aghast at the plot. I thought, to borrow their words, “OMG!” Surely, my nieces would tell my family their “radical” aunt took them to see a movie where women imprisoned for killing men belt out, “He had it coming!” while doing the fiery Cell Block Tango.

Every Little Step

Despite the fact that I have lived in Manhattan for over six years, I have never once gone to a Broadway show. In fact, I make it a point to keep away from the theater district, period. I don’t much care for the stylized (read: exaggerated) performance style that theater actors have to adopt in order to make themselves seen and heard from the nosebleed seats.

Rose and the Rime (2/22/2009)

Folktales, fables, and fairy stories: all have a universal quality, display a certain timelessness and generality of place, and seek to instruct. Pedagogic confectionary. The Rose and the Rime provides a splendid and entertaining example, wrapping wry smiles and aesthetic enjoyment nougat around a crunchy nugget of Nietzsche. Radio Falls, Michigan is frozen in a perpetual winter due to a witch's curse one generation previous. The narrative unfolds beneath pretty fields of white with red accents and menacing chartreuse lights.

Homens ao Mar (Sea Plays) (1/28/2009)

Companhia Triptal's staging of O'Neill's Sea Plays refuses a fourth wall through three sets and forced-march participation, a “Blue Waterman Group,” perhaps. There was a risk of getting damp, but the audience was not pelted with salt pork. The plays are set on the S. S. Glencairn, a cargo freighter packed with dynamite heading from Baltimore to Britain. Viewers gather in the Owen Theatre and first hear intermittent singing, one presumes sea chanties—fifteen men on a dead man's chest, a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum—except in Portuguese. Supertitles were not provided, but a synopsis was.

Culture Project presents... In Conflict (11/11/2008)

There was no better way to celebrate Veteran’s day then going to see In Conflict. Not only will it remind you of the trying times our soldiers are facing in Iraq, but also why you are proud to be an American. Based on journalist Yvonne Latty’s 2006 book of the same name, Douglas Wager digests Latty’s interviews with Iraq War Veterans, who have just returned from their tour of duty, into a series of monologues.

The Marvelous Wonderettes (9/13/2008)

When The Marvelous Wonderettes, a crinolined quartet of powerhouse girl singers, line up friskily behind their mics and belt out the opener, “Mr. Sandman,” with such flawless harmony and contagious glee, you instantly know you’ve been transported to pop musical heaven. Suddenly ‘50s nostalgia feels fresh and fun again. The recently opened Off-Broadway show is set in 1958 at the Springfield High Senior Prom, and then later fast-forwards to the 1968 reunion.

The Clean House 7/10 - 8/17/2008

Sarah Ruhl's play The Clean House opens with Mathilde, a Brazilian housekeeper, telling a long and very funny joke - in Portuguese. I don't understand Portuguese, and I doubt very few of my fellow audience members in Austin, TX did, either. Luckily, Mathilde's self-induced laughter, gestures, and a summary translation projected for the audience onto a screen make it easy to get the gist. The joke is dirty, and it's hilarious. Mathilde goes on to tell the story of her parents: They were in love, and they made each other laugh.

I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda (4/13/2008)

I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda is an amazing two-person play set in London, England in the modern day. It chronicles one Rwandan refugee’s struggle to write about what happened to her in 1994, and the Englishman who helps her. While living in England, Juliette (Susan Hayward) meets an aging poet, Simon (Joseph J. Menino), who works at the refugee center part-time. She comes to him for help in getting her book about the Rwandan genocide published.

Throws Like a Girl Rocks! (2/8-2/24/2007)

The Austin Rude Mechanicals (or Rude Mechs) presented its fourth “Throws Like a Girl” (TLAG) series this year from February 8-24 at the Austin Off Center. Originally produced in conjunction with the University of Texas Theater and Dance Department, Rude Mechs has made the TLAG series a fixture in Austin’s theater scene since 2000.

The Mammy Project

Michelle Nicole Matlock’s one-woman show, The Mammy Project, is a provocative piece of theater that entertains and educates through a series of vignettes that deconstructs the controversial history of the Mammy stereotype. Matlock builds her show around two stories - the life of Nancy Green, a former slave who was hired as the first-ever Aunt Jemima for the World’s Fair in 1893, and Matlock’s own experiences as a full-figured African-American actress who thought she’d never have to play the part of the mammy-maid in today’s entertainment business, but found herself getting cast in those r