“Meteor Shower”

Susan Granger’s review of “Meteor Shower” (Long Wharf Theater: Oct., 2016)


Once known as the “wild and crazy guy,” Steve Martin’s sensibility hasn’t changed, judging from his new, outrageously quirky comedy about love and marriage, life and death.

Set in 1993, it revolves around an upwardly mobile, agonizingly self-aware married couple – Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin) – who are expecting guests, Gerald (Josh Stamberg) and Laura (Sophina Brown), to view an upcoming meteor shower from the patio of their suburban home in Ojai, California.

Designer Norm invited Gerald, hoping that it might lead to new business, but it quickly becomes apparent that garrulous Gerald and his passive-aggressive wife Laura have their own playful agenda. They enjoy using sexual temptation and psychological ploys to manipulate people for their own selfish amusement.

Although steadfast in their New Age marriage, Norm and Corky seem, at first, to be vulnerable but then the fiery stars seem to align with destiny in their favor. But one never knows – for sure – because Martin presents so many bizarre possibilities in this alternative universe.

The edgy, underlying menace is playfully directed by Gordon Edelstein on Michael Yeargen’s stylish turntable set. And there’s lots of audience laughter although, admittedly, many weren’t quite sure what was going on – since it veers toward caustic, cosmic confusion.

As playwright Steve Martin’s gently earnest Everyman, Patrick Breen strives for normalcy, which serves as wordplay on his character’s name, perfectly paired with Arden Myrin, whose overly-sensitive, often delirious character suffers from “brain explosions,” presumably caused by youthful cannibalism.

Completing the quartet, Josh Stamberg is mucho macho as obnoxious Gerard, well-matched with overtly sexy, slinky Sophina Brown as the femme fatale.

Crowd-pleasing “Meteor Shower” plays at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater through Oct. 23, 2016. For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call the box-office at 203-787-4282.

“Camelot” at the Westport Country Playhouse

Susan Granger’s review of “Camelot” (Westport Country Playhouse: Oct., 2016)


Artistic director Mark Lamos concludes the Westport Country Playhouse season with a freshly inventive, far more intimate take on the timeless Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe musical, focusing on the characters, not the grandiosity, delivering a carefully crafted interpretation of the Arthurian legend, filled with noble ideals and forbidden romance, with considerable insight and emotional impact.

Striding on-stage Robert Sean Leonard embodies the perennially conflicted, newly crowned King Arthur, voicing his nervous concern in “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight?”

Yet from the moment Britney Coleman, as feisty Guenevere, begins to warble “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” you can’t take your eyes off her. With a lilting, lyrical soprano, reminiscent of Julie Andrews (who originated the part), this lithe actress moves with seductive delicacy of someone wired with explosives.

That enhances this shorter, sexier version, highlighted by her taunting and teasing the virtuous French Knight, Lancelot du Lac, portrayed by Stephen Mark Lukas, whose commanding presence and utter lack of humility are obvious in “C’est Moi.

Their adulterous attraction becomes fodder for smarmy, suspicious Mordred (Patrick Andrews), who exposes their tryst, condemning the lovers.

The production is well served by a stalwart supporting cast, including Michael De Souza, Mike Evariste, Brian Owen and Jon-Michael Reese, while local actor Sana Sarr acquits himself admirably as young Tom of Warwick.

Based on T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” it’s adapted by David Lee and choreographed by Connor Gallagher with Michael Yeargan’s austere/abstract scenic design, Wade Laboissonniere’s Middle Ages costumes, Robert Wierzel’s bold lighting, Domonic Sack’s textured sound, and Wayne Barker’s eight musicians utilizing new orchestrations by Steve Orich.

Viewed at a preview performance, it’s a sure-fire heart-tugger and marvelously entertaining for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

“In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot for happ’ly ever-after’ing than here in Camelot!”

Indeed, “Camelot” has already been extended through November 5. Call the box-office at 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org

Cirque du Soliel’s “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities”

Susan Granger’s review of “Cirque du Soliel: Kurios” (Randall’s Island)


Cirque du Soliel’s blue-and-yellow striped Grand Chapiteau is back on Randall’s Island – delivering dazzling delights. Blending distinctive characters, engaging music and stylish choreography into surreal storytelling, it’s sensational – their best show in many years!

Subtitled, “Cabinet of Curiosities,” it’s set amid a steampunk carnival that’s filled with fantastical clockwork toys, Victorian amusement machines, pianolas, phonograph horns and old-fashioned manual typewriters.

It begins as a simulated train pulls into a station, disgorging fashionable women, mustachioed men and an accordion-pleated fellow who join with jugglers, dancers and percussionists in a sensational opening number.

That’s followed by a fast-paced succession of acrobatic acts, each a little gem. One features a tiny ballerina who gets tossed around by huge strongman. Another introduces men wearing fish tails, bouncing up and down in perfect teamwork on a special Acro Net that resembles a trampoline. A pretty bicyclist soars high in the air. And there are the usual Asian contortionists.

Remember when every circus had a “freak show”? Cirque transforms a tiny woman, Mini-Lili (Antania Satsura from Belarus), less than three-feet tall, into an elegant miniature Mae West, whimsically toted around in a bathosphere.

Spanish hand puppeteer Nico Baixas creates magic, using a video camera that records shadowy finger-images that are projected on a hot-air balloon that becomes a big screen. An audience member is invited on-stage to participate on a ‘date’ with an engaging clown who winds up impersonating a cat. And perhaps the most amazing ‘staging’ emerges in “Upside Down World,” a dinner party that transforms into a triumph of rigging with a man climbing on stacked-up chairs.

Written and directed by Michel Laprise with creative direction by Chantal Tremblay, it’s visually enhanced by Stephane Roy’s set, Philippe Guillotel’s costumes, and Marin LaBrecque’s lighting. In many ways, it resembles Martin Scorsese’s film “Hugo” (2011), set in 1930s Paris.

Cirque du Soliel is currently touring 21 different productions but “Kurios” is perhaps its best EVER!

“Kurios” will play on New York’s Randall’s Island through November 27. For tickets, visit www.cirquedusoliel.com/kurios.

“The Birds”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Birds” (59E59 – Theater C: 2016-2017 season)


Movie-goers may remember that Alfred Hitchcock used Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 novella as inspiration for his terrifying 1963 tension-filled classic, starring Tippi Hedren.

Originally produced at Dublin’s Gala Theatre in 2009, Conor McPherson (“The Weir,” “Shining City,” “The Night Alive”) has adapted the concept into a futuristic, apocalyptic world in which marauding flocks of birds have achieved domination over Earth’s creatures.

Amid sounds of beating wings and rasping caws, three survivors seek shelter in an abandoned New England farmhouse with no electricity and little food.

Arriving with a flashlight, Diane (Antoinette La Vecchia) is a novelist who chronicles the avian onslaught in her diary/journal. She’s joined by Nat (Tony Naumovski), who is afflicted by crippling headaches and psychiatrically unstable.

They take in younger, injured Julia (Mia Hutchinson Shaw), who quotes from Ecclesiastes, seduces Nat, becomes pregnant, making a bizarre appearance at the conclusion as a birdlike creature carrying an egg.

There are numerous revelations and confrontations, few of which are particularly insightful or interesting. Which is doubly disappointing because Conor McPherson has previously proven himself capable of revelation and suspense.

The script is completely devoid of humor and the full-frontal male nudity is totally gratuitous.

In the tiny, cramped black-box space of Theater C, it seems that no audience members have an uncompromised view of the stage. So people either twist in their seats or stand up to try to glean what’s happening from moment-to-moment since, obviously, no one has scrutinized the sight-lines.

So it’s difficult to discern why Resident Birdland director Stefan Dzeparoski, set designer Konstantin Roth and video designer David J. Palmer made these peculiar staging choices – that result in 90 minutes of almost complete frustration – with no intermission in which to flee.

In a (mercifully) limited engagement, “The Birds” runs through Sunday, Oct. 2, at 59E59 Theaters.



“Gypsy” at Music Theatre of Connecticut

Susan Granger’s review of “Gypsy” (MTC – Sept. 2016)


Launching its 30th anniversary season, the Music Theater of Connecticut reimagines this classic show business fable in a smaller chamber setting, giving it an unusual intimacy.

Set in the 1920s-1930s, the story revolves around the relentless ambition of Mama Rose to make her youngest daughter, Baby June, a star on the vaudeville circuit and, later, turning her focus on her insecure older daughter Louise, who eventually becomes the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Sharply staged by director Kevin Connors with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, it reveals the shabby backstage shenanigans of an assertive stage mother/manager.

Her girls do her proud with perpetually smiling Abby Sara Dahan and stoic Natalie Steele as the younger versions, melding convincingly with their grown counterparts, played by Carissa Massaro as June and Kate Simone as Louise. The latter take over the roles seamlessly during the “Let Me Entertain You” transition, eliciting spontaneous applause.

Restlessly roaming the small stage, Kirsti Carnahan grapples with pugnacious Mama Rose, never quite summoning the energy and vocal strength to propel the show, eventually allowing the complex poignancy of “Rose’s Turn” to slip from her grasp.

The two most memorable musical numbers feature endearing Joe Grandy as the talented chorus boy Tulsa, warbling “All I Need is the Girl,” and dazzling Jodi Stevens stunning as the stripper Mazeppa, triumphing with her trumpet in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

Rounding out the cast are Paul Binotto, likable as Rose’s agent boyfriend Herbie, along with Jeri Kansas, Marcia Leigh, Peter McClung, Chris McNiff, Abigail Root, and Brittany Cattaruzza. Conductor/pianist Thomas Martin Conroy makes terrific music with Luke McGuinness, Chris Johnson, and Gary Ruggiero.

FYI: Since the show opened in 1959, starring Ethel Merman, Mama Rose has been played by Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, among others. And Baby June became actress June Havoc (Gentleman’s Agreement 1947) and longtime resident of Wilton’s Cannon Crossing.

“Gypsy” plays at MTC through Sept. 25.

“The Trojan Women”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Trojan Women” at The Flea (Off-Broadway, Sept. 2016)


First produced in 415 B.C. in the midst of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, shortly after the Athenian army’s massacre of the men of the island of Melos, Euripides presents a tragic situation which dramatizes the fate of the women, who are considered spoils of war.

Set amid the rubble that once was Troy – after the infamous wooden-horse calamity – the women are asleep, as the sea god Poseidon (Thomas Mucciooli) counsels, “Whatever you dream, even the most horrifying dream, cannot be worse than what you will awake to.”

There’s Queen Hecuba (DeAnna Supplee), widow of King Priam and mother of his 19 children, including the slain warriors Hector and Paris, her vengeful prophetess daughter Cassandra (Lindsley Howard), and Hector’s widow Andromache (Casey Wortmann), who tries desperately to save her infant son, Astyanax.

They all blame the legendary beauty Helen (Rebecca Rad), whom the Greeks went to war to recover, brutally attacking her. “Behind every man who took me stood a goddess/Who steadied his hips and whispered in his ears,” she reminds them.

Developed in 1995 for a staged reading performed by refugees of the Balkan conflict, which followed the fragmentation of Yugoslavia, Ellen McLaughlin’s current adaptation focuses on the wasted lives that war leaves in its wake. And its theme, of course, is timeless.

Classical scholars will note that McLaughlin has totally eliminated the part of Spartan King Menelaus, shortening the play considerably.

Modestly staged by Anne Cecelia Haney with Scot Gianelli’s ominous lighting and Ben Vigus’ sound design, this translation is performed by The Flea’s resident acting company, known as The Bats, many dressed in togas and not well served by Joya Powell’s distracting choreography.

Perhaps because of their youth and relative inexperience, they declaim the choral text, never seeming to grasp the emotional subtlety, which is as relevant today as it was back then.

As Poseidon observes, “Another war has ended. When will the next begin?”

“The Trojan Women” runs through Sept. 26, downstairs at The Flea, located at 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal.


“The Layover”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Layover” (Second Stage/Off-Broadway Sept., 2016)


It’s Thanksgiving and an American Airlines flight is delayed on the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. So two business-class passengers, seated next to one-another, start a casual conversation that soon evolves into snappy, erotic bantering.

Based in San Diego, Dexter “Dex” Reidman (Adam Rothenberg) is a somewhat neurotic engineer, headed to New York to spend the holiday with his fiancée. Shellie Sayers (Annie Parisse) is a professor of American crime fiction at Hunter College – and happily unattached.

“I absolutely lust for loneliness,” she informs him.

When a snowstorm forces the flight’s cancellation, it’s clear that Dex and Shellie are destined for a one-night stand at the Marriott.  Before that, however, they stop for cocktails at the hotel bar, where Shellie reveals that her favorite mystery novels are Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Edith’s Diary” – all revolving around murder and fabricating false identities.

Not surprisingly, it’s soon discovered that Dex is none too happy about his upcoming wedding, particularly since his wife-to-be, Andrea (Amelia Workman), is suspicious and controlling.

On the other hand, Shellie is neither ‘happy’ nor ‘unattached.’ She’s very much married to deadbeat Kevin (Quincy Dunn-Baker), living with him and her epileptic father Fred (John Procaccino), who is confined to a wheelchair.  Instead of teaching, she does janitorial work and cuts hair.

Perhaps the play’s most telling moment comes when Shellie subsequently confesses her illicit assignation to Fred, who observes, “You either steal someone else’s life – or you stay put.”

Acclaimed for her 2010 comedy “Bachelorette,” playwright Leslye Headland turns her acerbic wit toward the darker side with this somewhat contrived, psychological drama, delving into infidelity and its unanticipated consequences.

Adroitly directed by Trip Cullman, both Annie Parisse and Adam Rothenberg are convincing and compelling, aided in great part by recognizable flickering film-noir faces (Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Lisabeth Scott, Ruth Roman, Alan Ladd, Glenn Ford), supplied by video designer Jeff Sugg,

Mark Wendland’s set features translucent screens, creating images of the plane’s interior, along with the airport food court and lounge, along with their hotel room, subtly enhanced by Japhy Weideman’s lighting.

“The Layover” plays through Sept. 18 at the Second Stage Theater at 305 West 43rd Street.


“What the Butler Saw”

Review of "What the Butler Saw"

Review of “What the Butler Saw”

Susan Granger’s review of “What the Butler Saw” (Westport Country Playhouse: Aug., 2016)


It’s not a spoiler to reveal that there’s no butler in Joe Orton’s 1967 comedy. The title refers to peeping through a keyhole, heralding a classic British farce, skewering Freudian psychology, social propriety, sexual norms and government institutions.

In a psychiatric clinic, Dr. Prentice (Robert Stanton) is trying to seduce naïve Geraldine Barclay (Sarah Manton) who has applied for a job as his secretary. Having requested that she remove her clothes, his wife (Patricia Kalember) bursts into his office, wearing a black dominatrix corset under her fur coat.

Although admittedly a nymphomaniac, Mrs. Prentice is hysterical about being “raped” in a closet by Station Hotel bellhop Nicholas Beckett (Chris Ghaffari), who is threatening to blackmail her with photographs of their tryst.

Since Miss Barclay’s cowering behind a curtain in her underwear, Mrs. Prentice hastily dons the dress that Miss Barclay discarded before the unexpected arrival of autocratic Dr. Rance (Paxton Whitehead), a supervisor from Her Majesty’s Government sent to evaluate the clinic.

Obviously confused Dr. Rance declares Miss Barclay insane, while Police Sergeant Match (Julian Gamble) searches for a missing body part from a statue of Winston Churchill.

“The final chapters of my book are knitting together,” Dr. Rance declares delightedly. “Incest, buggery, outrageous women and strange love-cults catering for depraved appetites.”

Amid the zany disrobing, cross-dressing and donning of straitjackets, Miss Barclay begs Dr. Prentice to clarify the situation by telling the truth. He brusquely replies, “That’s a thoroughly defeatist attitude.”

Director John Tillinger is devoted to the subversive works of Joe Orton, having successfully revived the playwright’s “Loot” and “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.” And he’s previously staged “Butler” at the Manhattan Theatre Club and Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum.

Precise timing is of the essence – and nobody does it better than Paxton Whitehead. He exudes an irresistible lunatic conviction, while the rest of the cast submit to the frenetic silliness involving mistaken identities.

Although its manners and mores seem a bit stale, the levity of “What the Butler Saw” runs through Sept. 10. For tickets and more information, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org


Susan Granger’s review of “Quietly” (Irish Repertory Theatre: August, 2016)


Imported directly from the Abbey Theater in Dublin, Owen McCafferty’s sectarian drama is perfectly suited to the newly renovated Irish Repertory Theater, located off-Broadway at 132 West 22nd Street.

Set in 2009 in a Belfast pub, it begins as Robert (Robert Zawadzki), a Polish immigrant, is tending bar. 52 year-old Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) walks in, orders a pint and starts to watch a World Cup soccer match between Northern Ireland and Poland on TV.

They’ve been chatting amiably for about 20 minutes when another middle-aged man, Ian (Declan Conlan), walks in – and Jimmy, filled with fury, head-butts him.

Their backstories reveal how – on July 3, 1974 – when they were both 16 years old – their animosity began as Ian hurled a bomb into this same pub, killing six men suspected of being IRA sympathizers, including Jimmy’s father.

It was a savage time when unionist Protestants (“The Orange Bastards”) were battling nationalist Roman Catholics (“Fenian Bastards”).

“I can’t speak for the actions of a 16 year-old child,” Ian says, but he obviously harbors guilt, “not being able to look myself in the eye when I’m havin’ a shave.”

But apologies are of no use to grief-stricken Jimmy.

“Don’t ever come back here,” Jimmy tells Ian, when he eventually shakes his hand.

While its authenticity is never questionable, the terse dialogue often lacks believability, making one yearn for more layering or subtext, although all three actors and director Jimmy Fay do their best to propel the plot. And they’re well served by Alyson Cummins’ set design, Catherine Fay’s costumes, Sinead McKenna’s lighting, Philip Stewart’s sound and Donal O’Farrell’s fight direction.

Running 75 minutes with no intermission, this three-character play has the potential to be riveting theater with a timely message about the dangers of hatred and encouraging terrorism: “Kids can do more damage than you think.”

“Quietly” is scheduled to play through September 11, 2016.



“A Man Like You”

Susan Granger’s review of “A Man Like You” (IATI Theater-Off-Broadway, July, 2016)


Inspired by the real Somali terrorist attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall on September 21, 2013, Kenyan-born playwright Silvia Cassini envisions a conversation between a British hostage, diplomat Patrick North (Matthew Stannah), and his radicalized Al Shabaab captor Abdi (Jeffrey Marc) in a windowless concrete room in Somalia.

Meanwhile, North’s wife Elizabeth (Jenny Boote) provides a monologue counter-point from their home in Nairobi, relating plans for diplomacy that will lead to his negotiated rescue by the military.

During North’s 102 days of imprisonment, they discuss different practical and political points-of-view: who is a really terrorist and who is a martyr, what is good and what is evil, and the nature of a deity called God.

Abdi tells North he’s been targeted as a pawn and his life is no more than “a bargaining chip,” while Abdi’s cohort/enforcer Hassan (Andrew Clarke) ominously holds an AK-47.

Staged by director Yudelka Heyer, it’s a talky interrogation and, as such, more intellectually provocative than emotionally engaging. Yet it does present a psychological insight, along with a rarely-discussed rationale for these terrorist attacks.

As voiced by Abdi, his rationale is reminiscent of the Somali pirate played by Barkhad Abdi who commandeered Tom Hanks’ cargo ship in the movie “Captain Phillips.”

“A Man Like You” premiered in Nairobi earlier this year and has been imported to the New York theater scene by RED Soil, an African/Caribbean-inspired theater/film company, founded by Matthew Stannah (Nairobi, Kenya) and Yudelka Heyer (Dominican Republic). RED Soil’s purpose is to showcase new, innovative work that brings about new waves to share vivid stories, often untold, in which struggle and pain are depicted.

“A Man Like You” runs from July 13 to July 31 at the IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street. For tickets, visit BrownPaperTickets.com, call 800-838-3006 or ticket directly at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2554996