“Ugly Lies the Bone”

Susan Granger’s review of “Ugly Lies the Bone” (Roundabout Underground Black Box: Oct.,2015)

In the World Premiere of this new drama, writer Lindsey Ferrentino confronts the topical dilemma of the wounded female soldier whose biggest battle is on the home front.

Jess (Mamie Gummer) has just returned to her hometown on Florida’s “Space Coast” after her third tour in Afghanistan. After being nearly killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), she’s in a pain management program, bravely trying to stretch her limbs and move her scarred skin – since third-degree burns cover over 90% of her body.

But it’s her deeply scarred face that reflects her enduring emotional agony.

After the suspension of NASA’s shuttle program, Titusville’s economy has plummeted. Jess’s mother (Caitlin O’Connell) suffers from dementia. Her schoolteacher sister Kacie (Karron Graves) is struggling to make ends meet, while Kacie’s boyfriend, Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen), lives on disability for a knee injury.

Jess’s former boyfriend, Stevie (Chris Stack) is now married and working as a gas station/convenience store clerk. He shares a memorably poignant scene with Jess, as she asks him to describe what she looked like before the burns disfigured her.

Helping her tenuous grip on sanity, Jess is participating in a new form of therapy which involves Virtual Reality headgear and a disembodied vocal guide to psychically take her out of the painful present and into tranquility.

Director Patricia McGregor was wise in casting talented, versatile Mamie Gummer. The oldest daughter of Meryl Streep, Mamie made her New York stage debut 10 years ago in “Mr. Marmalade” and recently appeared on-screen opposite her mother in Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash.”

But any play is only as good as its script – and Lindsey Ferrentino needs to do more work. Clocking in at 75 minutes without an intermission, it’s overly bleak and needs to be fleshed out, particularly the supporting roles.

FYI: The title is allegedly derived from Albert Einstein’s couplet about the impermanence of beauty.

Apparently, Ferrentino was inspired by a therapeutic video game called Snow World, in which burn victims are immersed in a wintry landscape, complete with penguins. After the show, audience members can try the game in the lobby.

“Ugly Lies the Bone” has been extended at the Roundabout Underground’s Black Box through December 6. For ticket information, call 212-719-1300 or go to roundaboutheatre.org.


“Other Desert Cities”

Susan Granger’s review of “Other Desert Cities” (Hudson Stage Company: Oct., 2015)


Truth hurts – it stuns, shocks and stings. That’s why Jon Robin Baitz’s dazzlingly dry, witty observations about parents and children, secrets and blame have such resounding resonance.

Patrician former movie star-turned-United States Ambassador Lyman Wyeth (Malachy Cleary) and his self-righteous, Jewish wife, Polly (Colleen Zenk), are Old-Guard Hollywood conservatives, now living in retirement Palm Springs. Polly’s bitter sister, Silda (Peggy J Scott), a recovering alcoholic and Polly’s former screenwriting partner, has just moved in with them.

It’s Christmas, 2004, as their grown children gather for the holidays.  Depressive Brooke (Brenda Withers) is an anguished novelist whose upcoming memoir spills long-kept family secrets, while Trip (Davy Raphaely) is a laid-back ‘reality’ television producer. An older son, Henry, is there in spirit only; he committed suicide after being implicated a fatal Weather Underground-style bombing which mortified and socially ostracized his parents during the Reagan era. This shame is the subject of Brooke’s book.

Creator of ABC-TV’s “Brothers & Sisters” (2006-2011), Baitz is in familiar territory, exploring social dysfunction, hypocritical politics and tantalizing drama. His barbed dialogue crackles as the family painfully probes its past.  Ironically, Baitz was fired in 2007 by ABC executives because he wanted the series to take a darker, more dramatic tone, while they insisted on retaining its sit-com sensibility.

Familiar to TV audiences from “As the World Turns,” Colleen Zenk embodies the ferocious matriarch who is determined to protect the family from her daughter’s betrayal. She’s an extraordinarily witty actress who can deliver a good line like a stiletto through the ribs.

As her combative, liberal offspring, Brenda Withers is determined to breaks the barrier of things that polite, well-bred Republicans simply don’t discuss – supported by her diabolical aunt, Peggy J. Scott. Davy Raphaely and Malachy Cleary add satisfying support as voices of reason.

Deftly directed by Dan Foster, who staged the play in Nantucket this summer, it’s a redemptive tale of reconciliation, made even more believable by the entitled authenticity of David L. Arsenault’s sleekly chic set, Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s costumes, Andrew Gmoser’s lighting and William Neal’s sound.

(For those unfamiliar with California geography, the title comes from a roadside sign on Interstate 10, indicating the way to Palm Springs and Other Desert Cities.)

“Other Desert Cities” runs through Oct. 31 at North Castle Public Library’s Whippoorwill Hall in Armonk, New York. For ticket info, call 914-271-2811 or go to www.hudsononstage.com.

“Clever Little Lies”

Susan Granger’s review of “Clever Little Lies” (Westside Theatre, off-Broadway: 2015-16 season)


Marlo Thomas headlines Joe DiPietro’s domestic comedic about infidelity – not hers, her son’s.

Set in the suburban Connecticut living room of Alice (Ms. Thomas) and her husband Bill (Greg Mullavey), it revolves around their wayward son, Bill Jr. (George Merrick), and daughter-in-law, Jane (Kate Wetherhead), whose three month-old daughter gurgles off-stage in another room.

When Bill returns from a tennis match with their New York-based son, busybody Alice immediately senses that something’s wrong. Determined to delve into whatever dilemma’s bothering him, she insists that Billy and his wife drive up to New Canaan for cocktails, cheesecake and espresso.

It seems that Billy’s canoodling with a sexy 23 year-old personal trainer named Jasmine, an adultery concept that has already become a cliché. Observing his gym-honed abs, Alice notes: “There’s no reason for a straight married man to be in that good a condition.”

Bookstore owner Alice then reveals an extramarital secret of her own, a kind of randy mind game or parable – which may or may not be true.

“In the long run,” she says, ruminating on the merits and perils of marriage, “people always stop showing you their shiny side and reveal their unpolished truths.”

Daughter of comedian Danny Thomas, Margaret Julia Thomas is perhaps best known as ABC-TV’s “That Girl” (1966-71) – and now, at age 77, Marlo hasn’t left her wide-eyed sitcom sensibility far behind, meaning that the audience can anticipate the punchlines long before she delivers them.

Director David Saint does his best to make these genial but obviously stock characters likeable, primarily by astute casting. After seasons of sparring with Louise Lasser on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Greg Mullavey has mastered a deadpan expression, while Kate Wetherhead, who co-created her own web series “Submissions Only,” exhibits quiet strength and George Merrick’s distress is palpable.

First presented in 2013 at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey, this trifle follows Joe DiPietro’s last year’s “Living on Love” with Renee Fleming. Previously, DiPietro authored the long-running comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and wrote the book/lyrics for the musical “Memphis.”

Running 90 minutes without an intermission, “Clever Little Lies” plays at the Westside Theatre through January 3, 2016.

“Broken Glass”

Susan Granger’s review of “Broken Glass” (Westport Country Playhouse)


Westport Country Playhouse concludes its 2015 season with this respectful revival, celebrating the centennial of the birth of playwright Arthur Miller, who lived in Roxbury, Connecticut, for many years.

Set in November, 1938, it evokes Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Germany, when Nazi mobs burned synagogues and looted stores belonging to Jews, forcing the elderly to scrub the streets with toothbrushes.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, New York, Philip Gelberg (Steven Skybell) is concerned about a strange paralysis that has suddenly afflicted his wife, Sylvia (Felicity Jones). For the past two weeks, she has been unable to stand, walk or feel anything but numbness in her legs.

After running a full battery of tests, attentive Dr. Harry Hyman (Stephen Schnetzer) concludes that Sylvia’s problem is psychological. To that end, he quizzes Philip about their sexual relationship and begins visiting bedridden Sylvia at home, much to the chagrin of his wary nurse/wife (Angela Reed).

In talking with fragile Sylvia, Dr. Hyman realizes that she’s obsessed with brutal Nazi oppression of Jews in Germany. And that neither she nor Philip have been intimate or honest with each other for many years, an observation confirmed by Sylvia’s sister (Merritt Janson).

Felicity Jones is subtly riveting as the emotionally vulnerable wife, while Steven Skybell embodies the anger, frustration, and resentment of a Jew coping with an anti-Semitic boss (John Hillner) in WASP-dominated banking. Propelling the complexity of the plot, Stephen Schnetzer epitomizes an empathetic physician trying to unravel the cause of his patient’s mysterious malady.

Under Mark Lamos’s astute direction, this intense, affecting play runs for 90 minutes without an intermission. Written in 1994, it’s one of Arthur Miller’s lesser-known works and his only exploration of the conflicts inherent in Jewish/American identity. Its world premiere was at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater before a brief Broadway run, starring Amy Irving, David Dukes, Ron Rifkin, and Frances Conway.

Michael Yeargan’s abstract set of shard-like, reflective glass panels is stunning, as are Candice Donnelly’s period costumes, Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting and David Butler’s sound.

You can see “Broken Glass” through Oct. 24 at the Westport Country Playhouse. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org.


“The Christians”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Christians” (Playwrights Horizons: 2015-2015 season)

Lucas Hnath tackles the internal politics of theology, as the founding pastor of an evangelical megachurch declares a radical shift in doctrine during his weekly sermon.

Set in a stunning wood-paneled church with a giant white cross – and large video screens showing images of nature – the play commences with several hymns, performed by a blue-robed chorus, followed by a Sunday sermon, delivered by charismatic Pastor Paul (Andrew Garman).

In a lesson covering “The Fires of Hell,” Pastor Paul declares that Hell doesn’t actually exist and that everyone – from saints to sinners – will wind up in Heaven, whether or not they’re believers.

Amid general consternation, Associate Pastor Joshua (Larry Powell), quoting Scripture, announces his disagreement, leaving the church, followed by like-minded congregants, as Pastor Paul notes, “In order for a tree to grow, some pruning is necessary.”

As a result of this schism, there are a series of skirmishes, including an ostensibly private one with Jay (Philip Kerr), a church elder. A financially-strapped single mother, Jenny (Emily Donahoe), asks if Paul believes that someone as evil as Hitler went to Heaven. When Paul responds affirmatively, she says, “That’s hard to swallow.”

Unfortunately, despite all of Paul’s provocative ideas and the best efforts of the cast, including Paul’s wife Elizabeth (Linda Powell), whose final confrontation is devastating, the drama never fully ignites. Perhaps that’s because it’s overly stylized. Director Les Waters marches each actor up to the pulpit, holding a hand-held microphone to deliver the dialogue.

With “Isaac’s Eye” and “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney” on his resume, author Lucas Hnath’s passion about religion was kindled by his upbringing, and he demonstrates profound knowledge about this subject, which is particularly relevant now, as conservative congregations are grappling with the concept gay marriage.

“The Christians” is making its Off-Broadway New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons, running through October 11, before transferring to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.


Susan Granger’s review of “Hamilton” (Richard Rodgers Theater, Sept. 2015)


Even seasoned New York theater pundits are amazed that this vivacious, innovative musical about the nation’s first Treasury secretary just bested “Aladdin,” “The Book of Mormon,” and “Wicked” to become the second-highest-grossing show on Broadway, following Disney’s “The Lion King.”

Utilizing a racially/ethnically diverse cast singing exhilarating R&B, jazz, pop and hip-hop music, writer/composer/performer Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of a poor immigrant kid who was born in 1755 and came from a broken home on the tiny island of Nevis in the West Indies.

Cocky, energetic and verbally blessed, Alexander Hamilton (Javier Munoz) was known as George Washington’s (Christopher Jackson) favorite strategist – until he was killed in a duel by his perennial frenemy, manipulative Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.).

Based on Ron Chernow’s exhaustive and insightful biography (2004), it not only revels in Hamilton’s relentless ambition but also his capacity for romantic entanglements. Even after marrying Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), he maintains a relationship with her sister Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry), who was his intellectual soulmate, and indulges in an adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas Jones) that became the nation’s first sex scandal.

Most of the humor derives from arrogant King George III (Jonathan Groff), who is clueless about why the rebellious colonists demanded their independence.

And Hamilton’s duet with France’s Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) delivers a timely patriotic tweak, astutely observing: “Immigrants – we get the job done.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda reunited with his 2008 Tony-winning “In the Heights” collaborators director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, along with set designer David Korins, costume designer Paul Tazewell and lighting designer Howell Binkley.

I suspect “Hamilton” will equal or outrank “1776,” which first introduced members of the Continental Congress in song; it played 1,222 performances and was adapted into a 1972 movie musical.

A cultural phenomenon and the best musical on Broadway: “Hamilton” is absolutely fantastic!

“Love and Money”

Susan Granger’s review of “Love and Money” (Pershing Square Signature Center)


After three weeks of previews in Connecticut at the Westport Country Playhouse, A.R. Gurney opened his latest play at Off-Broadway’s Signature Center, where he’s the distinguished playwright-in-residence for the 2014-15 season.

Set in the library of a posh Upper East Side townhouse, the surprisingly trivial story revolves around elderly Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), who is determined to sell or donate everything she owns before moving to a retirement home. Her two grown children have died, and she’s decided that wealth is a “curse.” Which is why she wants to give it all away.

Her attorney, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), advises her to re-think her Will when, suddenly, Walker “Scott” Williams (Gabriel Brown) claims to be her long-lost grandson after a Buffalo newspaper article reveals Cornelia’s charitable intentions. His doubts are echoed by is Cornelia’s Irish maid of 30 years, Agnes Munger (Pamela Dunlap), who dutifully supplies soup and sandwiches.

Walter is a callow, obviously ambitious African-American who claims to have a letter, supposedly written by his mother, Cornelia’s daughter who died of cancer. Then there’s a sassy Julliard student, Jessica Worth (Kahyun Kim), who’s hoping to acquire Cornelia’s player piano for her school. For a brief interlude, Cole Porter’s music reigns supreme.

But then it’s back to wealthy Cornelia’s dilemma. Is Walter really her grandson or just a clever opportunist? How will this eccentric, melancholy matron handle his outrageous demands?

Although A.R. Gurney’s humorous plays (“The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour”) are astute observations, set in the WASP world of wealth and privilege, unfortunately, this simplistic plot isn’t really plausible, given the circumstances.

But perhaps that lack of focus and credibility can be forgiven in lieu of director Mark Lamos’ astute choice of the strong ensemble cast, headed by Maureen Anderman, who effectively embodies the genteel, altruistic widow.

Another plus is Michael Yeargan’s sumptuous scenic design with tags hanging from the antique furniture, rare books and expensive art work, indicating their future destination.

“Love and Money” runs through October 4 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, Signature Center on 42nd Street…for tickets and more information, go to http://www.signaturetheatre,org.


“This Side of the Impossible”

Susan Granger’s review of “This Side of The Impossible” (NY Int’l Fringe Festival, Aug. 2015)


Sebastian Boswell III’s mentalism show made its New York premiere at the 2015 International Fringe Festival in front of an audience of about 70 in a tiny basement experimental theater space called Under Saint Marks in the East Village.

Proclaiming himself “world-renowned,” Boswell declares that he is not a magician; instead, he claims to possess extraordinary powers as a result of a lifetime of study and travel. He credits Edmond Chastbury’s old tome about Thought Transference, explaining how words and images float on air waves.

Professing disdain for Harry Houdini, he claims to have been present when Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel created “The Andalusian Dog,” which he depicts with surrealist sock puppets.

Enlisting audience participation, Boswell begins his somewhat retro routine with counting cards and drawing exercises before proceeding to the highly-anticipated demonstrations of telekinesis, clairvoyance and extra-sensory perception, as practiced throughout history by fakirs and mystics.

During one, he swallowed a pill upon which he’d written some numbers, telling the audience he intended to regurgitate it – and then removed it from his eye. He followed that by pounding a 4-inch nail into his nostril with a hammer – and then extracting it with a pair of pliers.

While Boswell previously won “Best in Fest” at the 2014 San Francisco Fringe Festival, his pompous persona is a bit off-putting. When a performer assumes such an outrageously flamboyant character, he must commit 100%, otherwise it looks like a caricature.

On the other hand, Boswell’s mental agility is amazing, as are his effects, although – at a mere 45-50 minutes – this show seems a trifle short for the effort it takes to attend a New York International Fringe Festival event.

The New York Fringe Festival runs until August 30. If you missed Sebastian Boswell III in Manhattan, you can catch him at the 2015 San Francisco Fringe in September, introducing a new show, entitled “The Ineffable Experience of Impossible Achievements.”

“Legally Blonde, The Musical”

Susan Granger’s review of “Legally Blonde, The Musical” (Summer Theatre of New Canaan)


Omigod! They’ve done it again! The Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s production of “Legally Blonde, The Musical” is better than Broadway!

Omigod, you guys! I saw this gleeful show when opened in Manhattan in 2007 – and director Allegra Libonati has not only assembled a stellar, multicultural cast and staged a perfectly-paced production but Doug Shankman’s inventive choreography has elevated the energetic chorus numbers to stand-up-and-cheer level.

Based on Amanda Brown’s novel and Reese Witherspoon’s movie (2001), it’s all about Delta Nu president Elle Woods’ empowering quest to win back her smug, social-climbing ex-boyfriend – who wants a “Jackie,” not a “Marilyn” – by getting into Harvard Law School.

The rousing opening number, “Omigod, You Guys,” performed by the spunky, talented ensemble, sets the stage for the frothy fun of Heather Hach’s playful book, enhanced by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin’s peppy, light-hearted melodies.

Kara Dombrowski sparkles as the smart ‘n saucy UCLA sorority girl with a Chihuahua named Bruiser and a penchant for Pepto-Bismol pink. While Ivy League snobs view Elle as not serious enough for Harvard, her resourcefulness impresses Emmett (Matthew Christian), the scruffy teaching assistant.

Elle’s spirited sorority sisters form an amusing Greek Chorus, appearing at her side as she faces various dilemmas, but the real highlights come from Jodi Stevens as Paulette, the warmly humorous hairdresser, and Stephen Hope as predatory Professor Callahan.  Jodi Stevens shows her versatility, commanding the stage with hilarious timing, while Stephen Hope’s sly mannerisms are masterful.

Let’s not forget Brooke Wyndham’s exuberant skip-rope “Whipped into Shape” number and the scene-stealing UPS guy (Maxwell Schuster).

Julia Noulin-Merat’s sturdy two-tiered set is multi-functional, while Lauren Gaston’s costumes are fanciful, enriched by Daniel B. Chapman’s lighting.

Filled with vitality and joyous from start-to-finish, this show celebrates its bubbly ridiculousness with perceptive wit. Like “Hairspray,” it’s a feel-good family fare.

“Legally Blonde, The Musical” plays at The Summer Theatre of New Canaan through August 9. For tickets & information, visit www.stonc.org., contact boxoffice@stonc.org or call 203-966-4634.


“And a Nightingale Sang”

Susan Granger’s review of “And a Nightingale Sang” (Westport Country Playhouse)


Told from the compassionately wistful perspective of Helen Stott (Brenda Meaney), this nostalgic melodrama by C.P. Taylor recalls a mundane slice-of-life in Newcastle, England, from 1939-1943, during World War II.

Helen’s close-knit, yet outspoken family consists of her genial, piano-playing father (Sean Cullen), peripatetic yet observant grandfather (Richard Kline), devotedly Catholic mother (Deirdre Madigan), and younger sister (Jenny Leona), who’s initially indecisive about marrying the young soldier (John Skelley) who – in turn –  introduces Helen to his taciturn comrade (Matthew Greer) who becomes her lover.

Their rambling conversations overlap, as each is only concerned with his or her personal travails – yet a pervasive sense of human fallibility serves as a universal connective thread.

Along with the perceptive performances, particularly Brenda Meaney’s, what distinguishes this memory piece is its richly detailed authenticity, including musical selections, ration books, air raid shelters, spam sandwiches, wartime romances, a unwanted pregnancy and a rising interest in Communism, presaging the post-war influence of the working-class.

Even the use of the plural pronoun “us,” referring to oneself, was common in northern England during that period of time. As bit of background information, this C.P. Taylor play was written in 1977 – and commissioned by Newcastle upon Tyne’s Live Theatre Company as a chronicle of that time and place.

Kristen Robinson has created a simple, suggestive set that transforms itself in the observer’s eye from a modest, two-room house into an outdoor courtyard – under the deft direction of David Kennedy.

Michael Krass’ period costumes are obviously vintage, and Matthew Richards’ lighting is evocative, particularly when the family cowers in terror as German planes bomb the area.

“And a Nightingale Sang” will be performed at the Westport Country Playhouse through June 27. For more information, visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box-office at (203) 227-4177.