Category: Theatre

Theatre Review: "All New People"

by Jonathan Warman

Zach Braff’s comic play is diverting in a way that is the slightest cut above the sitcom. Or, looking at it from another angle, All New People is at its best when it’s a smart, gently poignant sitcom, and seriously strained when it goes for much more than that.

Thirty-something Charlie (Justin Bartha, looking surprisingly unsexy in a full beard) is deeply depressed, and a rich friend loans Charlie his summer house (in the dead of winter) on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, for some time away from the rest of the world. A parade of unusual characters interrupts his solitude, eventually brightening his dour worldview.

Braff’s plot relies a bit too much on clichés, though enough of the dialogue possesses a biting wit to paper over Braff’s most glaring gaffes. Helpfully, director Peter DuBois focuses squarely on the underlying sweetness of Braff’s characters and themes, a wise choice that brings out the best in the play.

Even that isn’t enough when Braff goes too dark, as with an unneccessary and thematically unproductive subplot about British real estate agent Emma’s reason for leaving England. It’s a fine line, though, because the reasons for Charlie’s depression are quite dark, and they fit very well. Emma’s troubles are simply a melodramatic bridge too far. Kudos to Krysten Ritter, who plays Emma, for doing her damnedest to make it all work.

There’s no question that Braff is an intelligent and accomplished comic actor of considerable range. As a writer, he shows a lot of promise, but All New People – touching and amusing as it occasionally is – is decidedly more promise than fulfillment. I don’t discourage you from seeing it; it’s not a painful experience. But I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided to wait for Braff’s next play, which will probably be better.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

 

Theatre Review: “All New People”

by Jonathan Warman

Zach Braff’s comic play is diverting in a way that is the slightest cut above the sitcom. Or, looking at it from another angle, All New People is at its best when it’s a smart, gently poignant sitcom, and seriously strained when it goes for much more than that.

Thirty-something Charlie (Justin Bartha, looking surprisingly unsexy in a full beard) is deeply depressed, and a rich friend loans Charlie his summer house (in the dead of winter) on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, for some time away from the rest of the world. A parade of unusual characters interrupts his solitude, eventually brightening his dour worldview.

Braff’s plot relies a bit too much on clichés, though enough of the dialogue possesses a biting wit to paper over Braff’s most glaring gaffes. Helpfully, director Peter DuBois focuses squarely on the underlying sweetness of Braff’s characters and themes, a wise choice that brings out the best in the play.

Even that isn’t enough when Braff goes too dark, as with an unneccessary and thematically unproductive subplot about British real estate agent Emma’s reason for leaving England. It’s a fine line, though, because the reasons for Charlie’s depression are quite dark, and they fit very well. Emma’s troubles are simply a melodramatic bridge too far. Kudos to Krysten Ritter, who plays Emma, for doing her damnedest to make it all work.

There’s no question that Braff is an intelligent and accomplished comic actor of considerable range. As a writer, he shows a lot of promise, but All New People – touching and amusing as it occasionally is – is decidedly more promise than fulfillment. I don’t discourage you from seeing it; it’s not a painful experience. But I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided to wait for Braff’s next play, which will probably be better.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

 

Theatre Review: “A Strange and Separate People”

by Jonathan Warman

Jon Maran’s play The Temperamentals, about the formation of the United States’ first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, was one of my favorite gay-themed plays of the last few years. So I was excited to hear about his new play A Strange and Separate People which deals with homosexuality among 21st Century Orthodox Jews on the Upper West Side. It doesn’t have the epic breadth and power of The Temperamentals, but is, nonetheless, an engrossing play on an intriguing subject.

Dr. Stuart Weinstein, a newly Orthodox gay doctor, befriends Phyllis, a housewife with a side business as a caterer. As he gets to know Phyllis and her husband Jay – a psychiatrist who sometimes performs reparative therapy on his gay clients – things get increasingly complicated. Things all three of these intelligent people love – religion, learning and each other – come into ferocious conflict.

Once again Marans deals with very compelling ideas, and has created well spoken characters with a sense of humor that comes to their aid even in their most wrought moments. Director Jeff Calhoun has done a terrific job creating fluid and expressive staging, but hasn’t quite modulated the plays strong emotions and intense arguments to the acoustics of the tiny Theatre Row Studio. It’s not as though the actors are shouting throughout the entire production, but they do it often enough to be a bit grating.

What I most appreciate, though, is Maran’s willingness to look so unsparingly at the need for change in communities that are having a hard time adjusting to homosexuality, or even the modern world in general. I didn’t love A Strange and Separate People with the same intensity that I loved The Temperamentals, but I like it well enough, and find it to be a truly thoughtful play that deserves attention.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

Theatre Review: "A Strange and Separate People"

by Jonathan Warman

Jon Maran’s play The Temperamentals, about the formation of the United States’ first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, was one of my favorite gay-themed plays of the last few years. So I was excited to hear about his new play A Strange and Separate People which deals with homosexuality among 21st Century Orthodox Jews on the Upper West Side. It doesn’t have the epic breadth and power of The Temperamentals, but is, nonetheless, an engrossing play on an intriguing subject.

Dr. Stuart Weinstein, a newly Orthodox gay doctor, befriends Phyllis, a housewife with a side business as a caterer. As he gets to know Phyllis and her husband Jay – a psychiatrist who sometimes performs reparative therapy on his gay clients – things get increasingly complicated. Things all three of these intelligent people love – religion, learning and each other – come into ferocious conflict.

Once again Marans deals with very compelling ideas, and has created well spoken characters with a sense of humor that comes to their aid even in their most wrought moments. Director Jeff Calhoun has done a terrific job creating fluid and expressive staging, but hasn’t quite modulated the plays strong emotions and intense arguments to the acoustics of the tiny Theatre Row Studio. It’s not as though the actors are shouting throughout the entire production, but they do it often enough to be a bit grating.

What I most appreciate, though, is Maran’s willingness to look so unsparingly at the need for change in communities that are having a hard time adjusting to homosexuality, or even the modern world in general. I didn’t love A Strange and Separate People with the same intensity that I loved The Temperamentals, but I like it well enough, and find it to be a truly thoughtful play that deserves attention.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

Jonathan Warman to direct “Jeffrey Dahmer Live” at FringeNYC

Photo credit: Dixie Sheridan

This August, Jonathan Warman will be directing Avner Kam’s Jeffrey Dahmer Live at FringeNYC.

Jeffery Dahmer Live combines personal stories and hummable songs as it explores disturbingly mundane and human behind the extreme actions of the infamous title character. The setting: the jailed Dahmer, struggling to understand what has happened, creates a solo show with the aid of the prison drama club.

In 2011 it is 20 years since Dahmer’s “big reveal”, but he is still present, mentioned daily on the web; last year, Ke$ha, released “Cannibal” where she name-checked Dahmer, reaffirming his position as a cultural brand.

The show examines the case from various angles. The stories are factually correct, but the internal thought process and songs are creative extensions of the actual confessions. The character is placed in the cultural context of his time and prior, though the humor is, naturally, current.

Stories, songs and performance are by Avner Kam; he previously mashed his personality with those of Roy Rogers and Britney Spears. His previous solo show, The Singing Cowboy and His Invisible Backup Singers, played off-off Broadway, and the award-winning video for his signature song “I Want to Be like Roy Rogers (Yee Haw!)” played on MTV. Mr. Kam has honed his storytelling skills at The Moth where he won story slams. He is currently developing his next solo show: Helen Keller Live. Avner Kam is involved with FringeNYC behind the scenes. He is serving as their International Ambassador for the last 8 years, and his column, The Personal Shopper, humorously summarizes the yearly trends within the festival for their Propaganda publication.

For exact dates and venue for Jeffrey Dahmer Live, please consult FringeNYC.org or www.JeffreyDahmerLive.com.

For more information on Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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