THEATER REVIEW: Game cast wrings a few giggles from Barn’s ‘Nerd’

IF PLAYWRIGHT LARRY SHUE were still alive, he might have decided that he no longer wants to confess to having created “The Nerd.” But beyond that, one may wonder why his name appears nowhere on the title page of Theater Barn’s program. Hmmm.

The plot of his play involves an extremely peculiar person who 1) moves into an architect’s home, 2) ruins his life, and 3) will probably never leave—unless whacky, desperate measures from the architect’s friends ensue. They ensue. And those desperate measures take the term “whacky” to new depths and high decibels.

In this production, the extremely peculiar person is played by Brett Epstein. Epstein has one of those wonderful faces that leaps off the stage and could, if asked, zoom to the last row of an amphitheater. The actor makes full use of it to make a nice/irritating, reality-based cartoon out of his character. For the role, he has also adopted the body language of a seven-year-old girl. If this were a solo gig, it could really work. But Epstein has six other actors on stage with him—actors who are obviously striving for more naturalistic characterizations, and the conflict of styles can be difficult to watch. The play does in fact strain that theater axiom: to have fun, audiences must be able to suspend disbelief. This watcher had difficulty suspending. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: This ‘Funny Girl’ Fanny leads cast of strong voices

“Funny Girl” / Mac-Haydn Theatre

“NICE” IS NICE. But probably real-life comedienne Fanny Brice, subject of the musical “Funny Girl,” was both something more and something less.

In any case, this woman’s story inspired some of the classiest musical theater songs of the sixties and beyond: “Who Are You Now?” “Music That Makes Me Dance,” and the amazing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” (Of course, there was also “People,” which became ubiquitous and mildly nauseating in endless radio and cabaret repetitions.)

At the Mac-Haydn Theatre, Lauren Palmeri is Fanny. The woman can sing. The eyes in that face are stunning, belying the show’s complaints about “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty….” Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Tenor’ evokes a grange and hilariously wacky world

“Lend Me a Tenor” / Copake Grange

THE TWO OF THEM, Constance Lopez and Steve Sanborn, who produce theater as “The Two of Us Productions,” are intrepid. They gather community actors, musicians, techies and costumers together to do big musicals (with full, live orchestras), and small murder mysteries. Now, they have taken on… what shall we call it? Maybe “Grange Entertainment” (Bands, karaoke, and yes, smaller-cast plays.)

More and more, producers are touting their wares in terms of the “total experience,” and The Two of Us now gets to tout Copake Grange. The Grange building is a major player in the experience of their production of Kenneth Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor.” The environmental connection is not logical. It’s just a decidedly unstuffy, mood-maker in which to toss a play.

The wonder of the building called Copake Grange in southern Columbia County is that no interior decorator has come near it. The unimposing wood structure sits close to the road. Inside, theater-goers witness two big rooms, one of which features worn wood floors and interesting old photographs, and the other (the theater), mixes radiators with dark wainscoting, 95 comfy old movie seats, an elderly, sound-quenching ceiling, and a small stage. The place smells great—of dust and old wood, and the lived-life of small-town history. Read more…

REVIEW: Hudson Hall opera nurture’s new life for ‘Mother…’

“The Mother of Us All” / Hudson Hall

WOMEN GET TO VOTE. Yay! Susan B. Anthony didn’t live to see it, but we couldn’t have done it without her. She deserves an opera, and Gertrude Stein (words) and Virgil Thomson (music) gave her one. It’s alive at Hudson Hall.

The 1947 piece is also about varieties of coupledom, marriage and pervasive male power. It is also about words and sentences and about the author herself.

During Stein’s lifetime, among the artsy intelligentsia, innovation was a huge motivator. Visual arts were busy smashing up realism, serious music dived into folk idioms and dissonances, and writers deliberately mucked around with meaning and messed with its building supplies (words, sentences, story and linear logic). The opera is a lot about Gertrude and Virgil reaching to be more-innovative-than-thou. Lots of people think they succeeded. Still, since 1947, playwrights and composers have not rushed to explore the Stein-Thomson mode. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: This ‘Peter Pan’ gives fantasy a good name

“Peter Pan the Musical” / Performing Arts Center at Taconic Hills

KURT ANDERSEN’S NEW BOOK “Fantasyland” traces our American love affair with fantastical untruths from the Pilgrims to the Trump. The author is thorough, clever, timely and scathing about the moribund condition of “truth” and “fact,” then and now.

However, the flip side of our very human gullibility is our marvelous talent for living temporarily in a novel or theater piece, swallowing it like a gulp of fresh air for a few hours or a few days before breathing back to “reality,” somehow the better for it.

“Peter Pan the Musical” lets us do that—almost. It invites us to be simultaneously gullible child and sophisticated, rational adult. (The authors have put the “never” in Peter’s “Neverland,” and Kurt Andersen would approve.) Read more…