Drama of an “American Son” at George Street Playhouse

“American Son” is an intense, racially-charged, cautionary tale in which the title character hovers over every minute but does not appear in person. The play is set at 4AM in the waiting room of a Miami-Dade County police station, where Kendra Ellis-Connor is waiting for information about her eighteen-year-old son Jamal, whom she had reported missing the previous day. Jamal had left home in his late-model Lexus, a gift from his father, and had not checked in or answered his cell phone. Mom is deeply concerned, a state of mind conveyed in Suzzanne Douglas’s performance before she speaks a word.

Suzzanne Douglas with Mark Junek

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Blog, Professional, Regional

May the farce be with you: “A Comedy of Tenors” at Paper Mill Playhouse

Great art it’s not, but if you’re looking for a recipe for farce, all the ingredients can be found in “A Comedy of Tenors,” Ken Ludwig’s sequel to his enormously successful “Lend Me a Tenor.” Slamming doors to resounding laughter this month at Paper Mill Playhouse, this second coming of operatic tenor Tito Merelli is, for my money – and, I suggest, yours – funnier than the first. (I’m not fond of the first play’s blackface gimmick, but that’s another matter.)

Set in a 1930s Paris hotel suite with a facetiously drawn Eiffel Tower seen out the window, harried impresario Henry Saunders is producing an operatic concert in a soccer stadium. With an ensemble of four tenors, one fiery wife, a canoodling young couple and a predatory ex-lover all entangled in a roundelay of misunderstood relationships, the play defies one’s ability (okay, mine) to summarize it coherently. Playwright Ludwig’s ability, however, to create such a tangle and then untangle it with dexterity, is unquestioned.

BRAVI!! John Treacy Egan, left, Michael Kostroff and David Josefsberg in “A Comedy of Tenors”

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Blog, Professional, Regional

A Tempest at Two River: “Hurricane Diane” in Red Bank

If you wished to come back as a Greco-Roman God, you could do far worse than to opt for Dionysus (Greek), also known as Bacchus (Roman), the god of wine, fertility and agriculture as well as the patron god of the Greek stage. He was also able to bring a dead person back to life, which would make you a sought-after dinner-party guest (or a shunned one). You’d also have a couple of plays written about you: “the Bacchae,” written by Greek dramatist Euripides in the BCE year 407, and Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane,” which premiered last week at Two River Theater. (That’s 2424 years later, if you’re counting.)

Among other endeavors, Dionysus, son of Zeus (and an ill-fated mom), headed a cult of wine-imbibing women who promoted the natural cultivation of grapevines and other flora, an activity that, for reasons best left to Ancient Historians, sometimes led to orgiastic ritualistic displays.

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Blog, Professional, Regional

“August Wilson’s Jitney” on B’way; “The Jag” in NJ

Seeing different August Wilson plays directed and acted by the same theater artists must be like it was for Elizabethan theatergoers watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later The King’s Men for King James I) perform Shakespeare’s “Richard II” one week and his “Twelfth Night” the next. That’s what I imagine after having seen Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” last September at Two River Theater in Red Bank NJ and his “Jitney” last week on Broadway, both directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featuring Brandon J. Dirden in pivotal roles.

Having seen Santiago-Hudson’s Tony-Award performance in Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” and his directed productions of that play as well as of “Ma Rainey,” I am once again blown away by his handle on “Jitney,” finally on Broadway. Reunited here with several actors from previous productions, notably with Dirden, Santiago-Hudson has emerged as the go-to August Wilson interpreter. (He had previously directed a mostly different-cast “Jitney” at Two River in 2012.)

Brandon J. Dirden, left, and John Douglas Thompson (Photos: Joan Marcus)

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Blog, Broadway, NY Theater, Professional, Regional

Take the A (for Any) Train to “In Transit”

The last time I walked by the TKTS booth on Time Square at 47th Street, 22 Broadway shows were offering same-day discounted tickets, most for half-price plus a two dollar service charge. Several have since closed, but in relatively low-attendance January and February, it’s a Broadway-bargain- hunters’ market.

Except for “Wicked,” which surpassed a billion-dollars all-time in December and the Disney perennials “Lion King” and “Aladdin” and (duh) “Hamilton”, pretty much every other Broadway show will be available over the next six weeks. Long-running musicals (plays are shorter-lived) that are still worth catching include “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Kinky Boots,” “The Book of Mormon” and “School of Rock,” all favorably reviewed. (My ‘tween granddaughter loved “Rock”;  “Mormon” is adult fare.)

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Blog, Broadway, NY Theater

Celebrity sightings with Santa…

A seasonal departure from play reviews to reviewing having played…                                                                  Santa Claus

As a young New York actor, I found employment driving a cab, tending bar…the usual. And every December I’d get out my red costume, fluffy white wig and beard, and make a decent month’s salary playing Santa Claus at corporate and home parties. The most rewarding Santa gigs, however, were not for pay.

After Robert F. Kennedy was elected to the United States Senate from New York in November 1964, he announced that in memory of his brother, the President who had been slain the previous year, he would host Christmas parties for New York City school children. I phoned his office and volunteered as Santa. The next day they called back to accept my offer. (I learned later that they had vetted me with the FBI, the NYPD and Actors Equity. Sheesh.)

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