Brave Title, Generic Show: “The Book of Moron”

When’s the last time you heard a Dumb Blond joke? Me neither, until Robert Dubac pulled one early in “The Book of Moron,” his solo comedic commentary in a limited engagement through October 3 at SoHo Playhouse, hard by the Holland Tunnel entrance. Later, he seems to retract the transgression, but instead doubles down on it. Granted, it is a small part of the 80-minute running time, but the “lengthy pre-show announcement” suggests that people might leave with some unwanted ideas. Those antediluvian gags were mine.

Robert Dubac [Photos courtesy of Moment-to-Moment Productions]

As first encountered, Dubac is trying to remember who he is. “Not so easy to answer,” he tells us. Soon enough, he comes up with a supporting cast of Inner Beings: Voice of Reason, Common Sense, Inner Child, Inner Moron, Inner Asshole (his list, not mine) and Scruples. Each Inner Robert has a share of the narrative, in accents that vary so little you can’t be sure which Inner is Outer. Common Sense is a ‘redneck,’ which leaves Alabamans vulnerable. (Their state’s name is the only four-syllable word they know.)

The show  was originally directed by Garry Shandling, who died at age 66 of a pulmonary embolism in 2016. Just how much of Dubac’s performance is traceable to the prolific writer/director/comedian is unknown (to me), but to be fair to both Garry and Robert, there is a discernible amount of wit and intelligence woven into Dubac’s routine. Some of the swipes at the usual suspects – Kardashians, Cosby, Epstein, altar boys/priests and Viagra among them – hit their marks, as does his riff on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A Pavlov-based routine amuses, and Dubac also scores with a bit about the overuse of verbal interjections, including “just kidding” and “this is interesting;” “this may sound stupid” and “I’m just sayin’;” and the ubiquitous “not a problem” and “whatever.” (I would add restaurant servers’ “you got it,” which can precede actually getting it by a half hour.)

Overall, “The Book of Moron” is a pretty generic outing, relying on that low-hanging fruit and adult references that rarely exceed PG-13.

I got the feeling that Dubac’s true calling is traditional standup. His rap with an audience woman, whom he assures he won’t embarrass by asking her age and then zings her (harmlessly) from another direction, is clever; and his comeback to a heckler’s lame remark is spot-on: “Now you know how hard it is,” he told the guy – pause – “to be funny.” Yup, sure is.

Through October 3 at SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, NYC. Fridays at 9pm and Sundays at 3pm. For tickets ($38-$59):  PROOF OF VACCINATION REQUIRED FOR ENTRY. There’s a bar downstairs in the Playhouse. Drinks may be carried up to the seats. I’m just sayin’.

NY Theater, Off Broadway

“Merry Wives” in Harlem, via Central Park

Tradition holds that Queen Elizabeth I, enamored of Sir John Falstaff from Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, asked the playwright to depict that character in love, and that he complied, writing “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in under a fortnight. Maybe she asked and maybe she didn’t, and maybe The Bard speed-quilled and maybe he didn’t, but the play got writ. Somewhat short of a masterpiece, it has nonetheless remained a comic touchstone for four hundred years and counting.

It’s been said that alterations and updates to Shakespeare generally do no harm, but neither do they shed new light. Jocelyn Bioh’s adaptation of “Merry Wives,” playing through September 18 at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park, sheds new and different light on the farcical warhorse. Transposing the only Shakespeare comedy set entirely in England to one set entirely in Harlem is an unexpectedly smooth transition.

The cast of “Merry Wives” on designer Beowulf Boritt’s Harlem street set [Photos: Joan Marcus]

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Long Live the King! (Lear, that is…and Cordelia too)

In calendar year 2014 I saw four different productions of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” In all of them, and six or eight others over the years, Lear and his daughter Cordelia [spoiler alert] died at the end.  As devastating as are the deaths of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it is Lear’s death from heartbreak as he cradles the just-hanged body of his loyal daughter that routinely brings me to tears. Performed as well as I’ve seen it at Stratford, Ontario, for instance (three since 2002), the only onstage Shakespeare death not externally caused can be agonizing to watch.

Apparently, Irish poet and gospel preacher Nahum Tate thought so as well, because in 1681 he published a “happy ending” version of the play that became the dominant one until Shakespeare’s original text was restored some 150 years later, circa 1838. Rarely seen since then, it is being performed in Manhattan parks through August 8 by NY Classical Theatre Company, whose artistic director Stephen Burdman took Tate’s makeover and ran with it. The resulting mashup succeeds on multiple levels. (Shakespeare purists may now be excused.)

The Lear family of Olde England: Foreground from left, Duke of Albany (Clay Storseth), Goneril (Jasminn Johnson), Cordelia (Connie Castanzo), papa Lear (John Michalski), Regan (Aryana Sedarati) and Duke of Cornwall (Michael Stewart Allen). [Photos:Miranda Arden]

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

The Gershwins and Oscar Wilde Live On Stage! What’s not to like…

As ‘S Wonderful as “Who Could Ask for Anything More? The Songs of George Gershwin” is as it stands, and it truly is, I would suggest one change: adding George’s principal lyricist, his brother Ira, to the (already long enough) title. In Barrington Stage Company’s exhilarating tribute to the Gershwins’ American Songbook, five exceptional singers honor George’s incandescent melodies with pitch-perfection while also using Ira’s sublime lyrics to elevate the concert into real Theatre. (The whole enterprise having been co-conceived and co-directed by BSC artistic director Julianne Boyd and musical director Darren R. Cohen undoubtedly contributed to that result.)

From left: Alan H.Green, Alysha Umphress, Jacob Tischler White, Allison Blackwell, Britney Coleman [Gershwin photos: Daniel Rader]

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Blog, Professional, Regional

Dream Along With En Garde Arts

Considering, as Rehena Mirza’s disembodied voice intones in her segment of “A Dozen Dreams,” that nothing is more boring than hearing about someone else’s dream, you would think a gaggle of dreams, assembled into an “immersive theatrical installation” would be an endurance test. Not so.

What saves the unique En Garde Arts presentation from that destiny is its brevity and variety. Clocking in at just under sixty minutes, “A Dozen Dreams” delivers what it says: twelve of someone else’s dream, each one too brief to bore. (Do the math.)

Invited by En Garde Arts founder and artistic director Anne Hamburger to share their pandemic dreams, a daunting dozen playwrights (all women, hardly by chance) contributed pieces that range from airily poetic to sternly assertive, some more pandemic-related than others. (And, frankly, some more engaging than others.) Regardless, each is richly enhanced by four other women: co-conceiver Irina Kruzhilina’s evocative physical design, revelatory projections by Brittany Bland, mood-enhancing lighting (Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew), and multi-tone sound (Rena Anakwe). Thus enriched, “A Dozen Dreams” emerges as more than the sum of its parts.

[Photos, unless otherwise noted: Maria Baranova]

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

John Cullum at Ninety-one…and Counting.

What might you be doing one month past your ninety-first birthday? For John Cullum, who achieved that milestone in March, the answer was a sort of fallback plan: Two years earlier, the venerable two-time Tony Award Leading Actor in a Musical was preparing a retrospective of his storied six-decade stage career for a run at Feinstein’s/54Below. Titled “John Cullum: An Accidental Star,” his performance plan was derailed by a bout of pneumonia, an emergency heart surgery and, upon recovery, by the COVID shutdown.

Effectively turning a negative into a positive, Mr. Cullum instead filmed his erstwhile cabaret piece. Streaming online through April 22, it will be accessible to many more theater junkies than would have seen it in person. In this case, dare I say, the restriction on live performance might be a blessing. Intimately acted, directed and filmed, “Accidental Star” is an affecting pleasure; watching it at home is akin to having John over for tea. Abundantly comforting, it put me in a reverie.

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway