THEATER REVIEW: ‘Deathtrap’s’ got lotsa plot and a 1st class cast

“Deathtrap” / Copake Grange Theater

PLOT, PLOT, PLOT! “I plot, therefore I am!” sayeth Ira Levin, the author of “Deathtrap.” (No, he didn’t really say that, but he could have.) In this play he nests his plotty murders like Russian dolls and gives the plot-device such a starring role that it thumps its chest and moves from epistemology to Peter Pan shouting “Oh the cleverness of me!” By the final murder in this mystery there is nothing to do but laugh, and the audience does–unabashedly.

The playwriting embraces a smart but surfacy conceit; and if you prefer multifaceted characters and profound insights, this play may not be for you. However, “Deathtrap” has won lots of awards and has been reproduced on film and by theater companies everywhere. For a few hours in the rustic Copake Grange, it works.

Out front, brains are mildly engaged, emotions and positive notions about humanity are largely set aside, and on stage, seductive novelty reigns. (We Americans crave novelty and often happily settle for it.) Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Audience wins as Two of Us rises to challenge of ‘Sweeney Todd’

Taconic Hills Performing Arts Center / “Sweeney Todd”

REALLY? Community theater is doing “Sweeney Todd”? They’re doing one of the best and most difficult works in musical theater literature? Are they are doing “Sweeney Todd”–with orchestra—in spite of the fact that the whole cast, crew, and orchestra members have day-jobs, other life-responsibilities and obligations besides theater?

Yes, they’re doing it. Darn well.

While every small theater company, even the so-called “professional” unionized ones, are digging around for the smallest cast, the cheapest production, the most minimal musical accompaniment, The Two of Us Productions seems to be saying, “Hell no!” (Or in the case of wicked “Sweeney,” “Hell” yes!) Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: With fun balance overdrawn, cast, music revive ‘Stiff’

“Lucky Stiff” / The Theater Barn

Cast members in the The Theater Barn production of ‘Lucky Stiff’ are (l to r) Mark Shane-Lydon, Joseph Sicotte (in the title role) and Nicole Weitzman. The production runs through September 1 at the New Lebanon stage. Photo contributed

“LUCKY STIFF” IS A MUSICAL FARCE about a man who takes a corpse for a weekend in Monte Carlo. Murder, dogs, romance and a six-million dollar inheritance are involved.

At the Theater Barn, director Robert Schneider has chosen to emphasize a gathering-of-clowns approach to the story. I’ve seen and preferred less stylized concepts applied to “Lucky Stiff,” but it’s a choice, and his staging is clean, clear and consistent.

Set designer Sam Slack has followed suit, giving the set a lively carnival feel rather than the lush look of Monte Carlo. There are giant betting chips, giant tinsel walls, and giant face cards adorned with—yes, royal dogs. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Brothers Size’ brings searing story to stage

“The Brothers Size” / The Ancram Opera House

IT’S A PLAY not a musical, but at one point, Oshoosi, the younger of the Size brothers, sings. He sings an old ballad called “Try a Little Tenderness.” (Oshoosi adds his own Baroque embellishments in the mode that black jazz and pop singers have made their own.)

It is a rare moment in “The Brothers Size,” a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. At that moment, the character is joyous, free and persuasive, though much of his young life has been none of the above.

Oshoosi has recently come home from prison. At the Ancram Opera House, home has crooked wood slats and a crooked thrusting stage adorned with unidentifiable metal objects and two metal guardians of the homestead—who look surprised to be there. The set is a marriage of African folk art and American car repair. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: 20th century tale reminds us how little has changed

“Ragtime” (the Musical) at Mac-Haydn Theatre

“RACISM!” TURN ON YOUR TELEVISION, open your computer news-feed, your newspaper. There find the word racism nearly in tatters from extraordinary repetition. It appears with subjects of the day: inequality, immigration, police brutality, hate, sassy and abused women, wealth, patriotism! America the beautiful. America the brutal.

In “Ragtime,” the same issues appear, but the show is not about 2019. It’s a musical set in the early twentieth century. The piece is derived from a big thick novel by E. L. Doctorow, musicalized by composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and book writer Terrance McNally. It played on Broadway in the late 1990s and won many awards. It’s entertaining, a sort-of history lesson served with a teaspoon of sugar.

Do today’s historical similarities suggest that we Americans are running in place? Growing, not stronger or more civilized, just more out of breath? In “Ragtime,” a number of famous people turn up (Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, et al.); however, it is mostly the loving unknowns who fight back against racism. Read more…