Winter Off-Broadway Theater Guide

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


A glance at some of the talent shining on stages up, down and across the city

Fig Leaves was a notorious Broadway flop 44 years ago created by Albert Hague and Allan Sherman about changing attitudes among the sexes. I’m not sure why director Ben West decided to revive this at Alphabet City’s Connelly Theatre, nor why he thought chomping down on the show’s book would be the best solution to bring the show up to date. It’s the second “revisal” of sorts for a show of the mod era, after last season’s On a Clear Day, and one that is equally problematic.  Harry (Jonathan Rayson) is a buttoned-up exec at a Manhattan-based greeting card company with a wife and kid in Westchester. Using the loosey-goosey framing device of having smug friend Charlie (Matt Walton) host a TV show, Fig Leaves shows how Harry, first devoted to wife Lillian (Natalia Venetia Belcon), decides to leave her for his younger, less inhibited secretary Jenny (Morgan Weed). The plot unfolds exactly as you think it will, sputtering out song after song with no time for motivation or character development. Belcon and Rayson, in particular, are doing good work, though all is for naught. The voices in Fig Leaves soar, but the rest of the show falls flat.

Connelly Theatre, 220 E. Fourth St. www.smarttix.com. Thru Jan. 13.

 

 

[A Play With Songs]

David Greig’s infectiously funny and charming show is perfect for those who loved Once, but prefer shows with less filler. It debuted several years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and stars Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon as Helena and Bob, mismatched lovers who keep both eyes on the short-term and neither one on the long-term. She’s a lawyer prone to bad personal decisions, while he is a petty criminal about to celebrate his 35th birthday. Greig, who both wrote and directed, keeps Midsummer running at a fast clip but never loses his audience, even as both Bissett and Pidgeon play a host of characters, and even as at one point Pidgeon runs through the audience. Despite a rueful tone, this show is really a celebration of life and its many follies. Midsummer is a show for all seasons.

Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. http://www.theatrerow.org/theclurman2.htm.  Thru Jan. 26.

 

Solo artist Desiree Burch makes all audience members question how racist they are in her new show, Tar Baby, playing at the DR2 Theatre and co-written by her with Dan Kitrosser. Designed almost like a carnival sideshow, Tar Baby looks at the past history of the role of the African-American in our country, and looks at how the economy, physical appearance and even sociological norms have shifted – and how they have not. Burch relies heavily on audience participation, which can distract from the content of the show (she also gets an assist from Phoebe Mar Halkowich as, yes, “White Slave”). The show is directed by master ball juggler Isaac Byrne, who knows how let Burch take her audiences to the brink, and then bring them back to solid ground. Towards the end of Tar Baby, Burch lets loose with an epic rant about color and cruelty that’s both personal and objective, full of rage and also self-deprecation. It’s at this moment that you realize, despite all the guises and chicanery on display here, the greatest character Burch can play is herself. The good news is that there appear to be more stories left for her to tell.

DR2 , 103 East 15th Street. www.telecharge.com. Thru Jan. 19.

 

Second Stage Theater is mounting Spoonful, which is not only the midpoint of playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes’ trilogy focusing on the tribulation of Philadelphia’s Ortiz family (the first was 2006’s Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue) but also the 2012 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Directed by Davis McCallum, Spoonful is a complicated, and, at times, not fully formed drama about connections both missed and gained. Elliot (Armando Riesco) is a Marine who was wounded overseas in Iraq. Estranged from his mother, he was raised by an ill aunt and close to cousin Yaz (Zabryna Guevara). Meanwhile, a group of recovering crack addicts are portrayed in a chat room administered by Haikumom (Liza Colón-Zayas), designed by Neil Patel and projectionist Aaron Rhyne. The integration of these two threads feel a little playwriting student-familiar, and several of the character’s choices feel rather unearned. McCallum gets maximum intimacy from his performers, especially Frankie Faison and Bill Heck as two of the other addicts, and Guevara, the best interpreter of Hudes’ dialogue in the group. Ultimately, though, Spoonful is both ambitious and anemic, trying to say a lot but not quite completing any of its sentences. For a play about messy lives, everything happens a bit too tidily.

Second Stage Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street. http://www.2st.com/plays/viewPlay/0/168/. Thru Feb. 10.

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