A Midsummer Night’s Theater Roundup

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


What’s the best way to beat the (ungodly) summer heat? Catching a show in an air-conditioned theater, of course! Below is a sampling of three diverse works alighting the New York stage.

The Castlethecastle-stanbarouh

Potomac Theater Project is mounting another work from one of their favorite playwrights, Howard Barker, in the form of his 1985 The Castle, marking the latest entry into what he has coined his “Theater of Catastrophe.” Richard Romagnoli directs this tale of the women who kept the home fires burning during the Middle Ages while their husbands were off at war. Theatrical godsend Jan Maxwell leads the pack as Skinner the witch, entangled with lover Ann (Jennifer Van Dyck) while the men are away, while they turn their community into a bastion of free love and religion – but also anomie.

When the Crusaders come back, however, they must confront the world they left behind, provoking Stucley (David Barlow) to enlist the architectural skills of Arab Krak (Quentin Maré) in the construction of a massive fortress. Romagnoli valiantly guides a largely impeccable ensemble – particularly Barlow and Maxwell – and finds ace support in Jon Craine’s set and Hallie Zieselman’s lighting design through Barker’s spiky play, which dabs mordant humor atop Brechtian agitprop tendencies. Despite an occasional stumble into robust tedium, make no mistake about the fearless, peerless Castle: not since Edward Bond’s Saved has suffering felt so theatrically necessary.

Runs through August 4. www.ptpnyc.org.

Forever Tango

forevertango-waltermcbrideLuis Bravo’s latest infusion of dance in a Broadway house, Forever Tango – his third revue of the Argentian art form since the mid-1990s – offers plenty of hoofers light on their feet and easy on the eyes, through a series of disconnected chapters. There’s crooner Gilberto Santa Rosa, aka “El Caballero de la Salsa,” performing “Que Alguien Me Diga” in a rousing Act 1 ender. There are hilarious moments featuring Ariel Manzanares and Natalia Turelli, in “Felicia” and “la Tablada”). And there’s a compelling group number, “La Cumparsita.”

But the star attraction is the pair of Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff, onstage for the first fraction of the show’s summer run. The Dancing with the Stars fixtures, last seen on the Great White Way in Burn the Floor, offer standout turns (and ochos, and llevadas) – and that’s both good and bad. There’s a self-awareness to their numbers, including “Romance entre el Dolor y mi Alma” and “Comme I’ll Faut” not to be found among their counterparts, who seem consumed by the dance. Chermkovskiy and Smirnoff, on the other hand, seem a little too consumed by themselves, but this sense of attitude actually adds extra heat to their scenes (which were choreographed by the team of Victoria Galoto and Juan Paulo Horvath, rather than Bravo). Oh how it sparkles, and oh how it shines. But without a bit more threading to keep it together, Tango dangles precipitously, like a spinning top that hasn’t quite got anywhere to go.

Runs through Sept. 15. www.forevertangobroadway.com

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin

Can there be such a thing as Bernie Madoff fan fiction? There can if you’re Steven Levenson, whose starry subscriber-friendly The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, now playing at the Roundabout Theater Company’s Laura Pels Theater.

The title character, brought to life by a chilling, understated David Morse in a performance that says everything about the corrosive nature of power and greed, is a disgraced attorney released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for bilking friends, family and clients alike in a Ponzi scheme. He turns up on the doorstep of his lost son, James (Christopher Denham), hoping to manipulate his way back into his family (including Lisa Emery as his remarried ex, Karen) and work (seen through his visits with son-in-law Chris, played by Rich Sommer). Director Scott Ellis harnesses particularly focused work from the stellar Denham, all bitterness and fragility in his portrayal of functioning depression and arrested development.

Durnin is a respectable sins-of-the-father story that works better as a vehicle for its lead actors than it does for Levenson, who never fully integrates his cast: most scenes are only two-handers, and Sommer interacts only with Morse; the two could live in their own show (odder still, Chris’s wife Anne is mentioned but never seen onstage). Emery makes the most of her limited stage time to show a woman recovering from a comfortable life shattered, and Sarah Goldberg elevates Katie, James’ potential love interest, above mere shrill plot convenience. But the playwright, who demonstrated keen ability to mine arresting dramatic tension from the most seemingly banal moments of human life in Core Values and The Language of Trees, tackles material here that feels neither fresh nor elastic enough to stretch into a full show. Still, the performances assure that paying audiences won’t feel they’ve been taken for a ride.

Runs through Aug. 25. http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/The-Unavoidable-Disappearance-of-Tom-Durnin.aspx

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