Two plays, two women, one each. “In the Body of the World” and “Wild Horses”

It takes more than memorization to put across a solo play (although that element should not be minimized). Those sometimes deceptively crowded affairs require the establishing of unique personal connections to the audience and, in most, the enacting of multiple characters through variations of voice and demeanor in such a way that leaves no doubt as to who is whom when. High profile Broadway outings this season have included John Lithgow’s “Stories By Heart” and John Leguizamo’s “Latin History for Morons.” (Solo Performance is a category at both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.)

No one has achieved more solo-show recognition than Eve Ensler, primarily for “The Vagina Monologues,” which she wrote and performed solo. (It has morphed into a women’s ensemble piece, not to its detriment.) Ensler’s “In the Body of the World” is now running off-Broadway, while on the Broadway in Long Branch, New Jersey, the resourceful NJ Repertory Company is featuring “Wild Horses,” written by Allison Gregory and performed by Estelle Bajou. Both pieces are also directed by women: “World” by Diane Paulus (“Waitress,” etc. on B’way) and “Horses” by NJ Rep artistic director SuzAnne Barabas. Both actors deserve that memorization shout-out, but it is their rapport with the audience and their evocations of diverse persons (of both sexes) that most impress.

Eve Ensler [Photo: Joan Marcus]

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway, Professional, Regional

A Thornton Wilder adaptation at Two River Theater is a bridge too far

A Pulitzer Prize-winning piece by Thornton Wilder opens with no curtain, no scenery. Presently an actor enters and addresses the audience. He names the play and who wrote it. He sets the locale and the precise day-date and outlines the enactment to follow. He tells a bit about the characters that will populate the play, including that he himself will appear later as a character; then the play unfolds on a mostly bare stage with minimal furniture and props.

Sound familiar? It should, but it isn’t. It’s not “Our Town,” but a version of Wilder’s 1928 Pulitzer novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” adapted for the stage by David Greenspan, who also plays the Stage Manager…oops, the Narrator, and a character in the ninety-minute one-act, world-premiering through March 18 at Two River Theater in Red Bank NJ..

Camila Perichole (Elizabeth Ramos) and Uncle Pio (David Greenspan)

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A night at “Jerry Springer – The Opera” (Not for the faint of heart)

My exposure to the Jerry Springer Show has been limited to an occasional YouTube clip, but I’ve seen enough to know that the following topics are representative: “My mom used to be my dad – snip, snip” and “I was jilted by a lesbian…dwarf…yum yum” and “I used to be a lap-dancing pre-operative transsexual.”

One thing to know about The New Group’s “Jerry Springer – The Opera,” running through March 11 at the The Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street, is that those are lyrics from the opening number, sung by a dozen faux audience members  – and cleaned up for inclusion here!

Another thing to know is that the show really is operatic in form…mostly sung, with limited spoken dialogue. It is hardly austere or Grand in subject matter, but it is close in style to what you find some sixty blocks uptown. Even more so, really, than some mainstream sung-throughs. (“Les Mis” comes to mind.) That is, much of the acting is self-conscious, as in so much ‘real’ opera. The difference is that here it is intentional. Half parody, half homage and wholly outrageous in topic and language, it is also devilishly funny. (In fairness to Mr. Gelb’s uptown venue, much of Grand Opera has toned down the histrionics, but still…) With music,lyrics and book by Richard Thomas (not that one) and additional book/lyric input by Stewart Lee, the off-Broadway premiere of the “gleefully profane” musical arives fifteen years after its multi-award-winning run in London.

Jerry (Terrence Mann) and “guests with guilty secrets”

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

Contrasting premieres at New Jersey Regionals: “The Outsider” and “American Hero”

As if we needed a reminder about the difference between governing and politicking, along comes “The Outsider,” running through February 18 at Paper Mill Playhouse. The wide chasm that exists between those two concepts is old news (and hardly fake), but Paul Slade Smith’s farcical romp puts a quirky spin on it.

When the governor of an un-named state is forced to retire (the usual reason), his Lieutenant Governor is revealed as a mumbling fumbler. Ned Newley (Lenny Wolpe) appears not only to be incompetent, but also incapable of coherent communication in a public forum, but he is actually a policy wonk with a firm grasp on budgets, infra-structure and other facets of statewide government. The bumbler-cum fiscal whiz is acted to a tee by Wolpe, whose familiar visage has never been more pliable, and it is no surprise that Governor Newley’s brand of governmental accountability eventually triumphs.

Power-broker (Burke Moses) grooming the Governor (Lenny Wolpe) for a public appearance

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Blog, Professional, Regional

Glorious still: “A Chorus Line” in Westchester

Here’s a list of those individuals who should see “A Chorus Line”: Anyone who has ever auditioned for a show or competed in any way for any job; anyone who has ever sung, danced and/or acted on any stage (or “air-danced” in private); and anyone who remembers “A Chorus Line” from years ago or who, by some fault of timing or misguided choice, has never seen it.

And here’s a list of who should see it at Westchester Broadway Theatre before it closes there on April 1: All of the above.

It had been a while since my last “A Chorus Line.” The 2006 Broadway production was more an attempt at re-creation than a revival: faithful but somewhat mechanical. WBT’s is a fresh revival (oxymoron noted), a vibrant rendering of the 1975 musical that not only took Broadway by storm, but that also altered the face of the American musical. No history lesson here, but when’s the last time you saw separate singing and dancing ensembles? Try to get a gig now at any level if you can’t do both. (And, oh yeah, act.)

The auditions begin [Photos: John Vecchiolla]

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“El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” at Two River Theater: Bueno, muy bueno

Write what you know, the saying goes. Playwright Matt Barbot and director José Zayas both credit their Hispanic heritage with having inspired their collaboration on “El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom.” After being showcased at Two River Theater’s Crossing Borders New Latino Plays festival, Barbot’s play, directed by Zayas, is premiering in a full production at Two River through February 4.

The play is about the creation of comic book character El Coquí Espectacular by an aspiring Brooklynite cartoonist of Puerto Rican descent – a Nuyorican, as that ethnicity is known. El Coquí will be the first Latino super hero, and having committed him to comic-book panels, writer/artist Alex (Bradley James Tejeda) ventures out into the dark of night dressed as his alter ego, not exactly in search of burglaries in progress or damsels in distress. “I thought it would help to get inside the character,” says Alex.

Bradley James Tejada as El Coquí Espectacular [Photos: Richard Termine]

          [The coqui is a singing tree frog native to Puerto Rico, so named for the sound of the male’s call. From such humble origins do super heroes emerge…at least this one.]

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