Non-Registered Critics: Joel Beers


The Vandal

There isn’t a monster, per se, in Hamish Linklater’s engaging, compassionate dark comedy The Vandal. But Linklater, a stage and screen actor of no small repute, does set his three-character play in a graveyard and, far creepier, a public bus stop. But there are ghosts in this piece-—those of lost spouses and parents who never materialize, but are never too far way. And thanks to crisp direction by Kari Hayter and three standout performances, we see the cumulative weight of those ghosts, or memories, upon the central characters...

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It’d be tough for any play to juggle what is essentially three plots in one, and with so many characters and musical numbers, even Stangl’s more muscular production isn’t enough to keep things from feeling as if they’re stuck in second gear some of the time. But thanks to a uniformly well-voiced cast and killer six-member band, the rhythm slows at times but never breaks.

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One Slight Hitch

Jason Sutton wants to direct it as a madcap farce, but mostly, everyone runs around in a flurry and drinks and screams a lot (although Cameron Patrick Murray as the spurned boyfriend does as much as he can with the cheap and dumb material as possible) and that's enough of that.

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Next to Normal

Living with mental illness is no joke, whether it's inhabiting the faulty wiring in your brain or some hole in your soul, or it's in a person you love. Next to Normal gets that. And even though the trace of hope that lingers at this play's end feels nice, the reality of such situations is even crazier than people suddenly bursting into song—and yes, even more agonizing than many musicals (but not this one!) are to endure. But at least this one beautifully—and sadly—captures some aspect of that reality.

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Fans of Sweeney won't be disappointed by this production, as director Kent Nicholson has assembled a vigorous 11-member cast (a bit small for a show that, if budget allowed, could easily be doubled) graced with powerful and beautifully complementary voices that capture the goofy, low-brow vernacular of the poorer denizens of the rapidly industrializing 19th-century London streets, where the play takes place, and the twisted corridors ratcheting through the minds of the bloodthirsty, revenge-driven barber at its heart, as well as those caught up in his madness. (Special mention also to musical director David O and his team of nine musicians; no guitar, but there is a piccolo!)

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As smart and well-intentioned as Kings may be, and as contemporary as it may feel, it also feels just as irrelevant. Trump gets one thing right, if right means so terribly wrong: Politics is personal, and the more personal you make it, the more people pay attention. Kings needs more personal in its political—or a few artfully placed grenades to blow some shit up.

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The Other Place

It's an impressive feat on both the playwright's and the actress' part. Narrators are supposed to have all the answers; all too often, their entire reason for being is to make the audience not have to think about what's going on. But Juliana not only doesn't have any answers, but she also isn't even sure about the questions she's supposed to ask. This turns the narrator trope on its head, making the whole affair more of a mystery, or a riddle to be solved, rather than the kind of spoon-fed familiarity that too many playwrights settle for.

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