Non-Registered Critics: Charles McNulty

Feb

The Father

The play, however, is more adventurous in its format than it is expansive in its vision. The subject matter has a personal resonance for many of us, and I found myself gripped by the accurate depiction of the dementia dilemma.

But I wanted more from the drama than an ingenious theatrical illustration of the problem. I yearned to leap from the medical impairment into metaphor.

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Feb

She Loves Me

The comedy is overdone, the amplification system overlays a canned quality onto the singing and the performers stick mostly to the surface of their characters. But I have to confess I ate the whole thing, smiling even as I lapped up the sweet melted remains. “She Loves Me” is at once difficult to get right and impossible to completely mess up.

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Jan

UNTIL THE FLOOD

The production, directed by Neel Keller with a finesse that never calls undue attention to itself, presents a stage with a few different seating options representing a living room, a flexible public venue and a barbershop. These spaces coexist as Orlandersmith transforms herself from one figure to the next by merely throwing on a shawl or a baseball jacket.

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Jan

17 Border Crossings

The writing is too scattershot to tie the disparate pieces together. But there are moments when the political expectations raised by the title are poetically met.

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Jan

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

Let me preface this review of Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” with a strong plea to every man, woman and mature teenager in the Los Angeles area to see this play, which opened Friday at the Mark Taper Forum...

If the show sounds like it might have a medicinal aftertaste, rest assured that “What the Constitution Means to Me” is playful, often amusing and at times piercing in its pathos.

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Jan

THE LAST SHIP

This is an ambitious reworking of a musical epic that provides ample opportunity for singers to soar. But there’s something inorganic about the relationship between story and song. The musical sprawls rather than flows.

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Nov

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY

I didn’t want to miss a word of a production that makes the case that even this supposedly lesser Wilson work is a masterpiece by any other standard. There will be other “Jitney” revivals that will reanimate the life and times of these characters, but don’t make the mistake of skipping this one. It’s among the finest productions of a Wilson play I’ve seen.

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Nov

Key Largo

The film, with all its technological advantages, seems less real than the stage production.

But Garcia is the secret weapon in his reworking of “Key Largo.” Whether wandering around in a red robe like a debauched emperor or making an exit in the white suite of a Southern swell (the costumes by Linda Cho are all on the money), he wears Rocco’s intimating demeanor like a second skin. More impressive still, Garcia make us momentarily forget the illustrious precedent of the movie by keeping us completely absorbed in the machinations of this updated moral caper.

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Nov

Aubergine

The play, sensitively directed by Lisa Peterson at South Coast Repertory, gives all the characters a chance to share familial memories of food.

...something else comes through in “Aubergine” — history, familial and cultural — served with the reverent love of a ritual meal.

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Nov

The Thanksgiving Play

If “The Thanksgiving Play” could see its characters as more than the butt of punchlines, the skewering of cultural mind-sets might provoke more collective soul-searching than tired tittering.

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Nov

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

There’s energy but little attention to dramatic detail. The production won the 2017 Olivier Award for best musical revival, but something seems not to have made it past Customs. I left singing the show’s catchy number “What’s the Buzz” with impious sarcasm.

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Nov

THE NEW ONE

Let’s call the experience relaxed. There’s no great pressure to laugh. The show is 85 minutes or so of comedy foreplay. His delivery delays punchlines only to heighten the strangeness of the humorous payoff...

Not that you’d hold it against Birbiglia, who’s so agreeable that you’re happy to hear more about his new couch or latest health scare. A surrogate pal while onstage, he’s always admirably himself. And like those friends who stay in our good graces, he knows just when to leave.

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Oct

Between Riverside and Crazy

“Between Riverside and Crazy” has twists that are best not revealed in a review. The surprises that happen are genuinely startling. But what grounds the play is the credible interior journey Walter undertakes. His gruffness can’t conceal his compassionate heart for underdogs, as the movingly acted reckoning between Russell’s Walter and Hancock’s Junior makes clear with every resonant paternal stop and filial start.

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Sep

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

The production, directed by Mike Donahue, may not make a case for “Little Shop” as a top-tier American musical, but it’s by far my favorite rendition of the show...

...Donahue’s revival vibrates with virtuoso singing and authentic heart. After its grand success with “Ragtime,” Pasadena Playhouse is on a musical roll with this “Little Shop.”

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Sep

ON BECKETT

a better guide to playing Beckett would be hard to find. And when it comes to the clowning elements, a master class is in session. It’s astonishing the way Irwin can transform not only his own being but the few objects surrounding him by donning a pair of baggy pants. The trick, he explains, is all in his changing silhouette.

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Sep

A PLAY IS A POEM

The gathering of so much terrific acting talent for so little dramatic payoff struck me as some kind of casting savings plan — actors banking goodwill for a more significant Coen opportunity down the road. That’s a cynical take, but the lavishness wasted on “A Play Is a Poem” (when there are so many playwrights more deserving of a Taper production) is demoralizing.

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Sep

THE HEAL

Sophocles’ intricate plotting, which beautifully integrates internal movement with dramatic escalation, is simplified in a way that drains the play of its profundity of meaning. Nia’s maturity is stirring to witness in Rogers’ deeply felt performance, but the resolution of Philoctetes’ intransigence feels unearned.

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Sep

In Circles

The skillfulness of the singing is captivating, but equally so is the adventurousness of the actors. They seem game for anything, and not just game but committed. Schweizer has created a theatrical ensemble that lives in and for the babbling, warbling moment.

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Sep

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS

If the father-son story hits the same note once too often, Leguizamo’s embrace of his pedagogic failure glows with affection. Alternately referring to his son as “buddy” and “honey,” he teaches not only us but also himself that the root of education is a loving, two-way connection.

After learning that Latinos have shed blood in every American war, Leguizamo storms in protest, “We’re so American it hurts.” In the ongoing battle against bias and ignorance, he deserves a comic medal of valor for his indefatigable verve alone.

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Sep

Skintight

There’s a commercial appeal to the writing, a crowd-pleasing directness that would benefit from a tighter structure.

It’s not that “Skintight” is superficial. The place of beauty in our lives is a profound subject, and Harmon offers a complex understanding that respects the hazardous yet life-enhancing power of physical pulchritude.

Elliot, like Blanche DuBois, knows that the opposite of death is desire, and that skin-deep can cut to the marrow of our being. But more alluring than the play’s truth is the harmoniousness of the ensemble, led by a majestic musical theater star who, it turns out, can transform a comic monologue into a power ballad of luminous neuroticism.

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