The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
June 3, 2020 Update
"When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in batallions." Like so many famous Shakespeare lines, this one from Hamlet is once again all too relevant . As if the lost lives, lost normalcy, and economic problems caused by the pandemic weren't enough, another black man fell victim to racist police practices. But while protests that included vandslism have always generated enormous media coverage, the problem hasn't gone away.
And neither has the undue loss of lives and jobs suffered by minority Americans during the Pandemic prevented another African-American being killed by excessive police force. Hopefully the nationwide protests this has set off among people regardless of color will finally make the end of the pandemic the beginning of a better and more genuinely fair new normal, with opportunity and fair justice for all — and a police force that may have its bad apples but deserves thanks for its risk taking daily service. If only, the violence and looting by some opportunistic outsiders hasn't diminished the possibility of that opportunity. It won't be, if everyone follows up the protests by voting for true leadership in November!
While I admire the efforts by so many members of the theater community to maintain a meaningful presence despite the inability to put on a show as they once did. Playbill has already crested the Playbill Virtual Thestre Festival specifically for Online Performance to be presented with cutting edge technology Most of these zoomed conversations and performances are place holders for a return to a more topics for actors and audience experiences. But some of these experiments will no doubt be incorporated into that back-to-normal theater
As for me, I continue to prowl the various streaming services for content that comes closest to engaging us the staged plays that have been our focus for so many years. Though I usually went to see a play prior to its official opening, my current reviews are often of movies or series filmed years ago but that three or more theater outings a week didn't leave time to watch. And, so, while I did see Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, I missed While We're Young, Both are still available on Netflix, and the latter is reviewed below.
May 28, 2020 Update
Once upon a time (is it really just a year ago?) I would have spent last Thursday at Sardi's for the Outerc Critics Circle's annual awards celebration, schmoozing with fellow critics and taking selfies with the award recipients. The next day, for more than twenty years, my husband and Curtainup's proofreader-in-chief, would head for our home in the Berkshires to cover that area's vibrant summer theater season. There would be intermittent trips back to New York to cover an opening there.
But this year, there's no theater to cover anywhere, nor will there be for the foreseeable future. For now, everyone involved with putting on a show is experimenting with ways to keep live theater part of our lives. Playwright Richard Nelson, wrote a new play for some of the actors featured in his popular Rhinebeck dinner party plays. Innstead of having his actors share a real meal What Do We Need to Talk About? gathers the actors on a Zoom screen and has them, like the online audience , dealing with the pandemic.
Another successful and prolific playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, decided to complete an unfinished play and rework it in the format of the once popular genre of radio plays. Unlike many of these online presentations which are available for just a few times and date, Ayckbourn's Anna Domino can be accessed any time and for an entire month. What's more, while donations are welcome, it's free. And so, I've added it to my screening reviews even though the only thing you'll see on screen is the image of some domino anagram playing blocks.
May 21, 2020 Update
Since Queens ranks high on New York's pandemic "hot" zones, I'm fortunate to live in one of the borough's less endangered neighborhoods,, with tree lined and uncrowded streets. My lockdownwn existence is in a spacious apartment, with windows in every room providing a view of street life. My building is small by New York standards and many residents know each other.. Still, it's lonely and frustrating that it's going to be a long time before I;m likely to feel comfortable taking advantage of the around easy access to thesters in any l Manhattan neighborhood — as I was doing before everything except for these little blog posts and reviews of my only "theater" going courtesy of screened entertainment.
And so, my latest review is actually an update of Madam Secretary, the combination domestic and political drama. Dedicated bingers can now see all six seasons at Netflix.
A note about actors like Tea Leoni and Tim Daly. With future productions whether on stage or screen will be cautious about intimacy scenes between characters, actors who are real life parters as Leoni and Daly are, are likely to be in great demand.
And here's another update, this one an addendum to my April 15h As I was finishing up that now posted feature I found myself revisiting another of the superbly filmed Broadway plays available to PBS Passport members: Red, John Logan's riveting two person drama about Mark Rothko's preparation of a series of murals for their new Park Avenue restaurant, the Four Seasons . As I noted previously, for me that filmed version of Logan's play was a bittersweet second viewing since when I saw it at Broadway's Golden Theater my wonderful husband Mike was still with me and this was one of his favorite plays of the 2010 season. Given that Beethoven's 9th Symphony was his favorite and most frequently played classical work, Mike was especially blown away by the scene in which Rothko and his assistant primed a huge canvas to the accompaniment of the choral finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Mike was also a fan of the American Masters series. The one about Philip Roth was one we both thought was outstanding.
May 14, 2020 Update
The theater community has certainly taken a determined and open-minded approach to dealing with the quarantine that bought the 2019-2020 theater season to an abrupt early standstill, just as new shows were opening up in hopes of making a splash at one of the many awards ceremonies. (the big winner on Broadway being the Tony. When the pandemic finally lets go of its death grip on all our lives, the theater too will eventually come back to life but this new normal will retain some of the survival tactics currently used by theater folks to get through the crisis.
Performers are giving concerts from a new stage: Their living rooms, kitchens, basements. While there's nothing like the spark of performers and audiences being in the same room, there's something about the intimacy of this kind of stage that may call for an ongoing mix of both the old and new normal theater experience.
Songwriters are writing new songs. But if a song cycle has the makings of evolving into a musical, those songs must fit into a new normal style musical.
Playwrights are writing plays that will resonate with audiences even if on a smaller scale and without reliance on big casts — but hey, didn't the fabulous invalid's economic problems have them doing this for a long time already? What's more, haven't chronically underpaid and underemployed actors turned hardship into shows that gave them a profitable platform all over the country for years. And to include songwriters, think of Robert Jason Brown's widely produced 2-person musical, The Last Five Years (my review of the initial productio in 2002n).
Artistic directors ave had to rethink their plans Many seasons were canceled or postponed. Even anticipated reopenings have to come up with new strategies to deal with safety and economic issues. Some like Williamstown Theatre Festival is experimenting by partnering with Audible for a different kind of the show must go on.
The organizations giving out the various coveted awards have also had to decide whether and how to present their awards. Broadway's most high profile Tony Awards were postponed until further notice. Other organizations will hold their awards ceremonies but virtually.
The 65th Annual Drama Desk Awards has stuck to its schedule. The nominations were announced on April 21st and will be awarded at a celebratory ceremony on May 31 . The big difference is that the ceremony will be on line instead of at Town Hall and dedicated to former president William Wolf who fell victim to the virus. I was honored to serve on his board for five years and I still treasure memories of mine and my husband's friendship with him and his wife Lillian.
The Outer Critics Circle, another organization to which I've long belonged, chose a different path. In lieu of selecting and voting for one winner from each category, the 70th Annual Outer Critics Circle Awards is foregoing that format and celebrating up to five honorees in each of its technical categories, and up to six honorees in acting categories. In addition, four artists receive the annual John Gassner Award this season, commemorating works by new American playwrights. Instead of annual party (the most fun of all the awards ceremonies for years) past OCC Award honorees Kristin Chenoweth, Bryan Cranston, Patti LuPone, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Patrick Stewart, announced this season's honorees by video feed today, Monday May 11th/ For details abut who was honored for what go to: https://outercritics.org. Reviews can still be read at www.curtainup.com.
Given the likelihood of theaters being among the last to be able to reopen and audiences skittish about returning (especially the older theatergoers, tourists to major entertainment meccas like New York) I will continue to focus on streamed entertainment that's been everyone's alternative theatrical entertainment, and an important part of my creating something of a life-affirming normal routine. That said, even the studios that keep streaming organizations supplied with new contents will need to adjust to the safety issues involved in resuming their own locked down productions.
May 8, 2020 Update
As the pandemic continues to keep us locked into our homes, the streaming services continue to be the favorite alternative for listening to music, and watching movies, plays and musicals. Unsurprisingly, new content featuring big names and being most written about get the most viewers. And so, Becoming, the new documentary companion feature to Michelle Obama's best selling memoir of the same name became an instant must see. After all, this one has the former First Lady constantly and actively on scene. And, yes, there's a guest appearance of her husband as welll as her daughters. I'll admit, I paused my viewing of an older and probably not on everyone's must see or even re-visit list, to see if all the hype is warranted. For now, I'll just say it's worth seeing but I would have liked to see Obama allow it to go all the way to live up to her "go high" mantra.
Another much hyped new Netflix show is Hollywood. It's a 7-episode serial about post World War II La La Land that's stuffed with marquee name actors playing actual people dominating the legendary dream factory. While it's certainly fun to see the likes of Patti LuPone and Jim Parsons playing some of long ago filmdom's actual power players of the era, not to mention the terrific production values it fails to satisfy as a history drama or in its ambition to rewrite history as it could and should have been if not so ingrained with racism and homophobia.
So, go ahead and enjoy the glitzy new mini series, but for a charming and much more authentic behind the scenes look at the film world, consider my latest streaming feature about Harold and Lillian: a Hollywood Love Story.
May 4, 2020 Update
My 2020 day-book remains depressingly empty-- usually the pages are filled with names of shows booked, with where and when details. But as the sun is streaming in through my windows, the pages in my little black book are white as a snowy day in January. And, admirable as all the theater organizations and artists' efforts to keep us connected and hopeful that live theater will indeed live again, I'm finding all this "zooming" less a spirit lifter than watching and writing about screened entertainment available to watch by clicking on one of the devices that are currently our only access to full-bodied theatrical entertainment. As my review of Howards End indicates, playwright Kenneth Lonergan adaptation makes a strong case for playwrights like Lonergan to venture into the multiple episode series format. That said the pleasurable time spent watching this new look at E.M. Forster's novel, did have me wondering how film maker will be able to create new work within the realities of the new normal which will continue to demand that attention must be paid to the safety of the people in front of and behind the cameras
April 25, 2020 Update
Days continue to run together. The other trees on my street have blossomed like the big one that practicslly touches my living room window . I'd like to view this as a sign that the gathering places shuttered by the pandemic will l once again open like the blossoms on those trees. Unfortunately the future of life as it once was, and our return to again enjoy seing plays and musicsls in the company of others remains depressingly uncertain. What's more, even when the new normal feels safe again, for many for whom streamed entertainment will no longer be a temporarary respite from the grim reality of lockdown life. I hope I'm wrong. In the meantime, I'll continue to search for the cream of the crop at the vsrious streaming outlets, and maintain my writing muscles by writing about them.
Finally, I urge you to read George Packer's article "We Live in a Broken State" It's not escape fare, but if ever a famous quotation from a classic play applied to something written in another medium, Linda Lohman's famous "attention must be paid" quote in Arthur Miller's Death of a Saleman appiies to Packer's chilling but important piece. It's avsilable as one of the free preview articles from their June issue of the Atlantic Monthly. You can access it by putting the following link in your browser:
Better yet support this magazine's outstsnding and always relevant journalism by subscribing.
April 18, 2020 Update
Despite the theater's wide reaching impact on New York City's economy, if, when and how the city's shuttered by COVID-19 they will reopens is anybody's guess. With theater goers especially the vulnerable older ones, are likely to still be nervous about going back before a vaccine is available and while safety precautions are still needed.
Even Off-Broadway plays and musicals that completed their premiere runs in time to garner critical acclaim, may be unable to take advantage of what this would have triggered in the "old normal" days; for example, re-opening the show for a second run, responding to a flurry of requests to mountie productions in regional theaters — best of all planning a transfer to Broadway to give tourists a chance to appreciate the output of away from the rest White Way venues (Hamilton and Hadestown are just some of the big hits that begs life further downtown).
CurtainUp was fortunate enough to still see and review two such outstanding Off-Broadway shows: Heroes Of The Fourth Turning ( review) and Strange Loop ( review). Both premiered at Playwrights Horizon, Off-Broadway's long time champion of provocative new plays. and musicals.
The entire theater community is doing its utmost to insure a positive future for live theater. That includes other theater awards organizations opting to honor worthy shows with digital announcements and ceremonies. The prestigious New York Drama Circle did just that this week by giving best play and best musical awards to Heroes. . . and Strange Loop. Other awards outfits going the digital award announcement and ceremony route, are sure to include citations for these plays and increase their chances for winning more accolades.
While it's frustrating not to see any theater during this enforced stay-at-home-to-stay-safe crisis, don't write off screened entertainment as strictly second best escape from boredom. Within the over-stuffed listings at the home pages of most streaming sites, there have been some remarkable gems. Netflix's newly available 4-part Unorthodox actually had some of that special magic attributed to live theater. This adaptation of Deborah Feldman's 2012 memoir has been so beautifully expanded, filmed and performed that I became so absorbed in the unfolding story that the depressing reality of watching it all alone vanished long enough for me to just binge my way through the all four parts. No stage adaptation could have done this on the scope of this series and the expressive face of its star, Shira Haas, really needs to be seen in the sort of close-up only possible when filmed.
I'll be donning my critic's hat to add Unorthodox to my Streaming Features.
April 15, 2020 Update
As I continue to check out screened entertainment to ease our socially distanced, often isolated life styles, it's good to see that many shows produced and popular many years ago hold up very well indeed. Some, like Slings & Arrows, enough so to warrant one of my streaming features.
As I was finishing up that now posted feature I found myself revisiting another of the superbly filmed Broadway plays available to PBS Passport members — Red, John Logan's riveting two person drama about Mark Rothko's preparation of a series of murals for tehir new Park Avenue restaurant, the Four Sesons .
It was a bittersweet second viewing since when I saw it at Broadway's Golden Theater my wonderful husband Mike was still with me and this was one of his favorite plays of the 2010 season. Given that Beethoven's 9th Symphony was his favorite and most frequently played classical work, Mike was especially blown away by the scene in which Rothko and his assistant primed a huge canvas to the accompaniement of the choral finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. .
April 13, 220 Update
This is the last weekend in my calender that was filled with notes about shows for which I had reserved press tickets — a matinee at Lincoln center of an Opera version of Lynn Nottage's lovely 2004 play Intimate Apparel (my review>) and Visitor, a new musical at the Public Theater. I had high expectations for both shows and hoped I could share my enthusiasm with Curtainup readers in my reviews. Maybe this will be possible once life need no longer be dictated by COVID-19. In the meantime, I'll continue to share my thoughts about screened entertainment that should make life without live theater and many other daily pleasures easier.
One of my most pleasurable diversions this weekend was a revisit to a hilarious three part series aptly entitled Slings & Arrows produced in 2003, aired during the following two years, and still available as a DVD or as a 3-part streamer on AcornTV.
Count on my Slings & Arrows feature to highly recommend seeing this at once hilarious and touching take on all the goings on at a theater company (the model for the setting is he Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada)). The title taken from the beginning of Hamlet's To Be or Not to Be speech is apt since each parts takes us through the trials and tribulations of mounting one of the Bard's three ages of man plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear.
April 11, 2020 Update
Noel Coward's Present Laughter isn't the be-all and end-all of witty farces. But it's been a hit nevertheless. That's becsuse it's a great opportunity for an older actor to strut his stuff — not to mention a large ensemble of other seasoned thespians.
I last saw one of these star studded, colorfully staged productions just three years ago. It was just a year after the last presidentiial election so it was easy to see parallels between the self-absorbed Garry Essenden and the self-absorbed man in the White House, especially since he too seemed to spend much time in a bathrobe — though unlike Essenden . he kept it as much under cover as his financial history.
Now, with the awful pandemic made worse by Trump's incompetent and dishonest reign, a play like Present Laughter is no more substantially witty than ever but an escape from being shut in and stressed out. With the 2017 production I reviewed (review) still available to PBS Passboard members it's our only chance to see a great cast together on a lavishlly disigned set and eye popping costumes. As I've said before, these Great Performance flmed versions of high profile stage plays are exceptionally well done. Admirable as all the flood of theater pieces being produced within the confines of the pandemic are, here's hoping that live theater as we once knew will be an option for theater enthusiasts once again.
April 10, 2020 Update
Another day of streaming, zooming, texting and just coping as best we can in this new abnormal! People have done their best to enjoy virtual Passovers. But what keeps us all going is the hope that next year in live time!!. My latest streaming feature below.
April 9, 2020 Update
With theaters everywhere likely to remain shuttered much longer than anticipated, most organizations are in a wait and see mode even as they scramble to find some way to maintain a digital presence. The Williamstown Theatre Festival has come up with the most innovative so far. Though they will no longer proceed with their 2020 summer season as planned they've launched a partnership with Audible, which will bring audio versions of the season.s plays to the Audible platform.
As the Festival's artistic director Mandy Greenfield put it "This virus might get to tell us what we cannot do, but it does not get to dictate what we can do. The voices of these artists will be heard. Through this alliance with Audible, we keep artists and the generative artistic process centered and steady through this unspeakably difficult moment when public gathering simply isn't possible." Bringing these productions to Audible will preserve a 2020 season that otherwise might have gone unseen (or unheard) while providing continued work for the involved artists and making their work available for Audible listeners around the world. Audible Theater has previously worked to capture Broadway and Off-Broadway performances and also commissioned plays as part of their $5 million Emerging Playwrights Fund, which launched in 2017.
Audible will now work with Williamstown Theatre Festival to distribute their 2020 season, which includes A Streetcar Named Desire starring Audra McDonald and Bobby Cannavale, Anna Ziegler's Photograph 51, and the world premieres of Leslye Headland's Cult of Love, Sanaz Toossi's Wish You Were Here, Shakina Nayfac's Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club, Stacy Osei-Kuffour's Animals, and the musical Row with book by Daniel Goldstein and music and lyrics by Dawn Landes.
April 8, 2020 Update. At a time when members of theater organizations like The Drama Desk and Outer Critics are bracing for a show a day (somes two) schedule in order to vote our choices for the annual awards. But these are not ordinary days. Members like me and other CurtainUp critics are limited to "couch potato" theater viewing and theaters have been and continue to be shut. Naturally, this calls for difficult decisions about whether to postpone, cancel or give awards; and figure out how best to reconceive annual celebrations as virtual events
And so, the Drama Desk — recognizing that the theater community's thousands of artists and craftspeople make it more urgent than ever to honor the outstanding work of this season has decided to reconfigure the Awards within the constraints of the difficult reality of the life we all live in. Given the uncertainty about the reopening of theaters and shows that would normally still be running, DD Co-Presidents Charles Wright and David Barbour, have announced that the 65th Annual Drama Desk Awards will adopt a revised season end date of March 11 (when the shutdowns began), move forward with the release of nominations on April 21, and announce the winners online on May 31.
I'm deeply moved to know that this year.s Awards will be presented in honor of the life of my dear friend William Wolf on whose board I was privileged to serve during his tenure as Drama Desk president. I miss you, Bill! In a life of many accomplishments, this is one honor you didn't need. So would my husband Mike and favorite plus-one ticket holder and proofreader, if the Grim Reaper hadn't gotten to him just weeks before you.
April 7, 2020 Update
As Governor Cuomo stated repestedly in this morning's newsbriefing "This is about we, not me. However in today's New York Times letters to the editor section, one reader (Ryan Dowling of Jersey City, NJ) responded to the "No Face Mask for Trump" headline as follows: "Of course Donald Trump will not be wearing a mask. The C.D.C. recommends masks because they help “you” not “me.” In Mr. Trump.s world there is only “me.” As Britain's Boris Johnson, another "me" focused world leader, learned, being powerful does not exempt anyone from having to follow the "we" rules to avoid being struck down by the virus.
April 5, 2020 Update
On and on go the days of living in isolation and contact with family, friends and colleagues lmited to texts and emails, and very occasional six-feet-of-separation-masked visits from my daughter. No more regular theater outings and computer time spent writing reviews, editing submissions from my backups, and keeping our on and off-Broadway listings up to date.
Weekdays and weekends run together with each day spent segueing between three screens - — iphone, ipad, laptop . With many journalists reporting from their homes we get glimpses of their decor. Besides tuning in on television stations more than I ever did, I read several newspapers each day. One of my favorite background pieces triggered by the pandemic was Kate Murphy's "Stop Using Toilet Paper" in the New York Times. As Murphy noted "panic buying of toilet paper has spread around the globe as rapidly as the virus, even though there have been no disruptions in supply and the symptoms of Covid-19 are primarily respiratory, not gastrointestinal. " She quotes from various toilet paper historians, Who knew that there there are indeed a good many of these.
The stress of my personal trauma of losing my beloved husband and now this universal trauma has hardly made for sleep-trough nights-. And so watching new and old , good and not so good filmed entertainment has seen me through many of those "can't get bsck to sleep" post midnight hours.
Without the need for my usually disciplined work schedule, it's not always easy to get myself motivated to post a some more features about my streaming adventures. But more ARE coming.
April 1, 2020 Update.
My own beloved husband lost his bsttle with the Grim Reaper just before the Coronarovirus had us all battling for our lives. I'm gateful thst my Mike was spared dying alone without his family nearby and that we were still able to share memories of him at a get-together at my daughter's home. About those present were my longtime friend and Drama Desk colleague Bill Wolf and his lovely and beloved wife Lilian.
And now the unbelievsble has happened: Bill has succumbed to this nigtmsrish illness and Lilian, like me, must live with her memories of a wonderful man and a beautiful marriage.
Lilian's Bill and my Mike often shared jokes and memories of their long liffe histories when we attended press perforances. If there is indeed a heaven, here's hoping these wonderful men will find a corner where they can keep up that exchange.
March 29, 2020 Updste
Quote of the Day: "The idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another.s pain, sharing one another.s blessings — reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race or sex or geography or political affiliation." — Governor Andrew Cuomo including a quote of his father's definition of government's mission, in one of the dsily briefings that have made him America's source of facts and comfort. Another week of no theater-- no lots of things. And sadly , the coronarovirus has claimed too many more victims, including playwright Terrence McNally and one of our favorite actors, Mark Blum. Blum wasn't an actor whose name on the marquee sold tickets-- but his presence on any stage added character and depth. When the character he played in the Williamstown premiere of Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gsllery said "It's no fun getting old," he was talking about his octogenarian mother-in-law Gladys Green who was going through a painful decline. But neither is it fun to see so many vibrant people like Mark Blum die while still in their prime. And to know that even when this nightmare is over we won't see this versatile actor be part of the comeback of live theater. Our other shows posted to read about and also go to see remain shut down for the duration.
March 21, 2020 Update With this real life horror show escalating each day the enterprise long dubbed as "the fabulous invalid" is truly on life support. Shows are less likely than ever to actually reopen as announced-- if at all. The Broadway transfer of The Hangman and the latest revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf just aren't going to happen. London too has shut down so our London critic's postings have also hit a dead end.
Stay safe everyone, and if you haven't done so already, give streaming a chance
We are all living through an unprecedented chapter in civilization's history. In the thester, this is the first time ever that the motto "the show must go on" doesn't apply. The virus disaster has shuttered not just big Broadway theaters but the smaller ones. Even some of our critics who were able to see new shows during preview press performances have been asked not to post their reviews until the show until the show can indeed open( for example, Six).
Hopefully links to shows we did review will be active again when these precautions about people going to public plaes will no longer be necessary. Since Lonon theaters are still open, the postings there can indeed be seen.
My own recognition of the increased influence of streaming organizations and how their productions have more and more attracted top staage talent — and, of course, audiences — has led to my covering more stsge actor heavy shows like The Irishman & Marriage Story, The Two Popes , Binge Streaming Features:The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel & Shtisel, and Madame Secretary and The Crown. The current crisis is likely to make this "couch potato" style of entertainment the only one available
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