By William Wolf

KINGS  Send This Review to a Friend

The inherent message of Sarah Burgess’s play “Kings” is probably that politicians may come and go but lobbyists will go on forever.

Eisa Davis plays Representative Sydney Millsap, the first woman and woman of color to be sent to Congress from her Texas district. Davis does an excellent job in giving Millsap a strong, no-holds-barred principled position of fighting for what she believes will benefit the public.

Enter Gillian Jacobs as Kate, a determined lobbyist who presses to get what she needs from Millsap. Kate is a smooth talker and persistent in the face of the resistance that she encounters from her target. Aya Cash plays Lauren, another lobbyist, who has less personality than Kate but is even more rooted to working within the familiar, corrupt system.

The plot gets complicated when Millsap decides to challenge Senator John McDowell, played impressively by Zach Grenier, for his long-held seat. He is sort of a good old boy whom she wants to replace with her idealistic approach to government. Very tough, he warns her about what she will be up against.

How will the contest turn out? We know that despite Millsap’s will to fight and stand on principle, it will be an uphill battle. In the process, her refusal to knuckle under to lobbying will be a fund-raising handicap. Whatever happens we are led to expect that Millsap will retain her honesty.

As for Kate, when all is done, we see her contemplatively alone on stage, a slight indication that she may be having second thoughts about where she is at in life.

There is a simple bare-bones scenic design by Anna Louizos and the audience is split into two sides, with the stage in the center. Director Thomas Kail has made an effort to enable both sections of the audience to hear the cast members, For example, a table at which characters sit and talk revolves. The play is heavy on discourse, and Kail strives for clarity.

“Kings,” although at times rather diffuse, succeeds in taking us into the whirl of politics, maneuvering and pressures and provides insights that can be useful in thinking about what is going on today in the real world of those we send to Washington and those we don’t. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed February 21, 2018.

PARTY FACE  Send This Review to a Friend

Colorful acting makes Isobel Mahon’s play more watchable than one might expect from the work itself and the author’s set-up. For starters, a party is being given and yet there are only four guests, apart from the hostess. What kind of a party is that?

But the party-giver has an interesting situation. She is Mollie Mae, played by Gina Costigan, who has created a new kitchen in her home in Dublin, Ireland (scenic design by Jeff Ridenour). The glossy, modern kitchen contrasts with the suicide attempt and nervous breakdown that led her to a recent stay in a psychiatric center. Mollie is also trying to put an optimistic sheen on her marital relationship, refusing to recognize that her husband who has departed has really left her for good.

Her take-charge mother, Carmel, played by Haley Mills, has arrived a bit early, and we see her quickly bustling about the kitchen. Mills is excellent in her role as Carmel, very dominant but played with an understated tone rather than a loud one. She does her pushing but with an outward demeanor of charm even as she angers Mollie, who is trying hard to be her own person and is aghast at her mother’s suggestion that it would be good for Mollie if her mother moved in with her.

To Mollie’s chagrin, her mother has taken it upon herself to invite the very annoying Chloe, who puts on airs as a know-it-all. Attractive Allison Jean White plays her way over the top, but is amusingly pretentious in the part. Another guest, Maeve (Brenda Meaney), spends most of the time mocking just about everything Chloe says by making snide asides or casting incredulous looks. The other guest is Bernie (Klea Blackhurst), who was in the psychiatric residence with Mollie and the last to arrive. Bernie bursts in with the force of a truck and has her share of funny lines to go with her bullish behavior and unabashed candor about her psychiatric treatment.

One the one hand the play has its serious side, with Mollie having to face the realities of life and her glib mother having to face the fact that her daughter has embarrassing problems to overcome. But the author also tries to turn the play into a comedy, best defined by Chloe’s shrill platitudes about life and the efforts to overcome difficulties by such silly steps as a ritual of plunging the mind into imagined situations. There is also much traditional type comedy in the mother-daughter relationship.

The mix is odd and shallow, leaving it to cast members under the direction of Amanda Bearse to bear the burden of providing amusement via their acting. The venerable Ms. Mills does very well in this respect, with the audience inevitably harking back to memories of her early, youthful success, but primed to see her totally in her present light, leading to recognition that she can be very effective now at the age of 71. Mills earns her hearty welcome. At New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed February 16, 2018.

THE BAR MITZVAH BOY  Send This Review to a Friend

A charming discovery has been made by the York Theatre Company for its Musicals in Mufti series. “Bar Mitzvah Boy” began as a teleplay in England, was turned into a stage musical there, and had a brief run in New York in 1987 with an American Jewish Theater production at the 92nd Street Y. Unfortunately, the “Bar Mitzvah Boy” musical is currently little known despite its score by the late renowned Jule Styne.

The virtues of the work become delightfully clear in this new venue, which has lyrics by Don Black, a new book by David Thompson (original book by Jack Rosenthal) and new musical arrangements by David Loud. Chief among the pleasures is the captivating performance by 13-year-old Peyton Link as Eliot Green, who, at 13, is being prepared in the Jewish family tradition for a Bar Mitzvah, the religious ceremony signifying his moving from adolescence to manhood. But poor Eliot is troubled by doubts. What can he do?

Meanwhile, his parents, cab driver Victor Green (Ned Eisenberg) and his mother, Rita (Lori Wilner) are steeped in preparations for the event, which they are turning into a major social opportunity with a huge guest list. The show deftly captures the near hysteria, especially by Rita, who is so anxious for everything to go right, and boy, can Wilner sing her woes.

But Eliot, who addresses his concerns to the audience in word and song, is nervous. Apart from having to memorize what he must recite in Hebrew as part of the ceremony, he has grave doubts about the lives and behavior of the adults around him whom he will be symbolically joining. Eliot fervently wishes he didn’t have to go through with it all.

Link, whose young career includes having been in a revival of “Falsettos,” is good-looking and charismatic. He connects charmingly with an audience and projects talent beyond his years, whether by his acting or showing off a pleasing voice. One can expect him to go far, and the York scored a coup in casting him.

Styne wrote some lovely songs, as well as amusing ones, and Don Black provided witty lyrics. Although the family and confirmation ritual is Jewish, this is also a broader growing up story about a sensitive lad trying to come to terms with his life. Annette Jolles has directed with a feeling for both the comedy and the humanity in the work. The plot indulges in some amusing but questionable religious manipulation to arrive at a resolution.

Typically, this Mufti presentation is bare-bones, with cast members having less than a week to prepare and allowed to have scripts in hand. Musical direction is by Darren R. Cohen, who is also the one man “orchestra” at the piano. The production conveys so much spirit that it feels almost like a full-fledged mounting. At the York Theater Company at Saint Peters, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street). Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed February 12, 2018.

HANGMEN  Send This Review to a Friend

Playwright Martin McDonagh is at his grim humor best with “Hangmen,” the Royal Court production of London now presented in New York by the Atlantic Theater Company. Be prepared to laugh and cringe at the same time, thanks to the talent of McDonagh, who also is currently in the news for scripting the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

The play is inherently a hostile comment on capital punishment, but that alone would be too simple, for also involved are ego, competition, parentage, wickedness and perhaps revenge. The tone of “Hangmen” is wrapped in the aura of the 1960s in Lancashire, England. You may have to listen extra hard to penetrate the accents.

At the start we witness the run-up to and the execution of a chap named Hennessy (Giles Geary), defiantly protesting his innocence all the way to his demise at the end of a rope. In addition to giving us a horrific portrait of what a hanging can be like, with dark humor injected here too, we get to meet Harry, the executioner, played with cocky bluster by Mark Addy.

The action subsequently shifts to later at the pub that Harry now runs, complete with its hangers-on characters. Executions have just been banned, and given his fame with the rope, Harry is approached by a persistent young reporter, Clegg (Owen Campbell), whom Harry rejects at first. But when the story does appear, a comment he makes stirs resentment toward Harry by Albert Pierrepoint (Maxwell Caulfield), the hangman noted for dispatching German war criminals.

However, that’s blip in the plot, which takes shape when Mooney (Johnny Flynn), a brash, comically obnoxious stranger arrives and focuses attention on Harry’s teenage daughter, Shirley (Gaby French). Later, when she disappears, Harry is convinced that Mooney has done something harmful to her. As for Mooney, there is a hint that he may be seeking to avenge the execution of Hennessy, but that idea is not developed.

When Mooney returns to the pub, he is seized by Harry, who beats him. puts a noose around his neck and threatens to kill him if doesn’t confess to what he did to Shirley. Mooney is in a lethal predicament, and even here, McDonagh revs up macabre comedy. One can guess what might happen, as the play becomes increasingly grim.

There are some excellent supporting performances, including one by Sally Rogers as Alice, Harry’s wife, whom he orders about and who finds her way to express rebellion. “Hangmen” may leave you pondering its various aspects and meanings after it has kept you riveted by the playwright’s expertise at mixing laughs and horror and by the first-rate acting. At the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed February 11, 2018.

HEY, LOOK ME OVER!  Send This Review to a Friend

Exactly appropriate in observing the 25th year anniversary of the ever-popular New York City Center Encores!, “Hey, Look Me Over!” (February 7-11) provided an abundance of pleasure in mining excellent songs from shows that didn’t make it as long-running hits but nonetheless had their high points. The ambitious, entertaining survey was smartly in keeping with the Encores! tradition of honoring show biz past.

Conceived by Jack Viertel, directed by Marc Bruni and choreographed by Denis Jones, “Hey, Look Me Over!” featured an impressive overture by the excellent Encores! Orchestra, led by music director Rob Berman and characteristically displayed on stage. But the show began with a clever introductory set-up--Bob Martin initiating congenial and often funny running comments that he wrote for his role as Man in the Chair. To those who recall “The Drowsy Chaperone,” it imitated the same role Martin had in that show and helped to neatly tie the potpourri of the chosen Encores! numbers together.

Martin even had some negative comments to spotlight flaws. My low spots emanated from efforts to give a taste of the storylines involved. Criticisms aside, there were many highlights presented by a superb cast, such as Bebe Neuwirth deftly singing Nöel Coward’s “Why do the Wrong People Travel?” in the “Sail Away” section.

In excerpts from “Milk and Honey” (music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), Marc Kudisch demonstrated his forceful singing voice teaming with appealing Judy Kuhn in the defining number “Shalom.” The survey also revealed highs of music and lyrics by Frank Loesser from “Greenwillow,” which suffers from a clunky book. The star here was Clifton Duncan, with a magnificent and powerful voice winning audience cheers for his renditions of “Gideon’s Charm” and “Never Will I Marry.”

Douglas Sills sang impressively as Mack with “Movies Were Movies” from “Mack and Mabel” (music and lyrics by Jerry Herman). There was sheer beauty in the number “Once Upon a Time” as sung by Reed Birney and Judy Kuhn from the show “All American” (music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams). Birney was excellent as the immigrant Professor Fodorski who accepts a job from Kuhn as a university dean. In a nod to contemporary emotions, the audience applauded when the customs officer (Michael X. Martin) welcomed every immigrant equally, although he then hypocritically started separating them ethnically.

One of the best songs was “Hey, Look Me Over” from the 1960 “Wildcat” (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh), sung by Carolee Carmello and Britney Coleman. (Lucille Ball starred in the original Broadway production.) The number still has a special impact.

Another highlight was the appearance of Vanessa Wiliams, looking great and singing "Ain’t It the Truth” from “Jamaica” (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg), as well as joining with others in the catchy “Push De Button.”

The other show represented in the expedition of discovery was “George M!” (music and lyrics by George M. Cohan and revisions by Mary Cohan) with Clyde Alves as Cohan and doing some exhilarating tap dancing, abetted by Ensemble tapping backup in “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

An encore treat after the curtain call was the company singing Irving Berlin’s setting to music the famous Emma Lazarus words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty for the song “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” from the 1949 show “Miss Liberty.” As one might expect, given President Trump’s war on immigration, the performance drew an eruption of applause from a New York audience that generally believes in the Lazarus spirit so counter to the president’s policies. At the New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-247-0430. Reviewed February 11, 2018.

IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD  Send This Review to a Friend

Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”) gives a bold and brave solo performance in “In the Body of the World,” a play that she has written and an American Repertory Theater production presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club. Ensler has dug deeply into her personal experiences and passion for helping those treated unjustly in the world in her effort to move an audience as she dramatically enacts her work.

Filling in family and personal background, Ensler recounts how she was affected when she received the drastic news that she had uterine cancer. Ever dramatic, Ensler fantasizes that the tumor may be a baby. But she faces the reality of having to go for cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She giftedly leads us through the process, sometimes with chilling humor, but always revealing the blow to her psyche and sense of her place in the world.

At one point she removes her black wig with bangs to reveal the mostly shaven head that went with her chemotherapy. It sharply changes her appearance, and also has the effect of stripping down to the essence of how she must deal with her illness and the world in which she is sociologically engaged.

But there is a stretch in trying to tie the personal problem of her cancer with world problems, such as the abuse of women, which prompted her to help establish a refuge in Congo for rape victims. The link is the basis of her play, and one has to make the leap with her in order to appreciate her concept. There is a certain amount of ego in this connection, yet the passion in Ensler’s performance glows with sincerity and dynamism.

Director Diane Paulus helps considerably by keeping Ensler moving about as she dramatizes various stages of her life and the experiences that she endures. There is a challenge to solo performances, even when this one is but 80 minutes without an intermission. It takes talent and excellent direction to hold one’s attention, which Ensler mostly does, assisted by the savvy staging by Paulus.

At the end there is a sublime scenic coup provided by designer Myung Hee Cho—the revealing of a glorious tree-filled garden that expresses the hope that Ensler strives to communicate. Members of the audience at the performance I attended were invited to go on stage and stroll through the garden after the play ended. At New York City Center Stage 1, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed February 9, 2018.

FIRE AND AIR  Send This Review to a Friend

Playwright Terrence McNally ventures into challenging territory in “Fire and Air,” in which he digs into evolving dance in Russia to dramatize homosexual longings mixed with the dynamics of ballet. The play, presented as part of the Classic Stage Company’s 50th anniversary year, centers on the emotional turmoil of renowned producer Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, who founded the Ballet Russes and brought change to the world of ballet in the early part of the 20th century.

Douglas Hodge plays Diaghlev to the hilt, with periodic outbursts of passion, both for the art of the dance and for his relationship with the superstar Vaslav Nijinsky (James Cusati-Moyer), whom he showcases and loves. The drama pays verbal homage to the Nijinksy-choreographed-and-performed “The Afternoon of a Faun,” which in 1912 caused a stir in Paris. “Fire and Air,” a drama without the benefit of dance, recounts the split between Diaghilev and Nijinsky, who marries but still haunts the mind of the devastated impresario. Diaghilev’s lust then focuses on the sexy newcomer Léonide Massine (Jay Armstrong Johnson), but the impresario, overweight and plagued by boils, is hardly a man of physical attraction.

In the current time when there is much discussion of relations between producers and their performers, it is pertinent to observe how Diaghilev’s passion for making new strides in ballet is interwoven with, as shown here, homosexual liaisons. Not that anything is forced. When applying to impress Diaghilev with his body and talent, Massine is all too willing to strip completely. “Not yet,” Diaghilev says, and the audience is made to feel the budding eroticism.

The subject matter is interesting whether or not one is informed about this era of dance history, and Hodge portrays Diaghilev charismatically, but often over the top. Directed by John Doyle, the staging is, as one might expect from him, intimate. But it is a stretch to make everything seem very Russian or Chekhov-like, and plunges into portrayal of imaginary thoughts are strained.

Other cast members include John Glover as Dmitry “Dima” Filosofov, who still harbors a love for Diaghilev stemming from an early affair; Marsha Mason as Dunya, the long-time retainer, who spends a lot of time knitting, and Marin Mazzie as Misia Sert, the chic patron. But the emphasis is primarily on Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and Massine.

The overall result is a production that has its fascinating and informative moments, but also is ultimately overwrought and not very deep. At the CSC, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 212-677-4210. Reviewed February 2, 2018.

HALLELUJAH, BABY!  Send This Review to a Friend

There are various reasons to see the York Theatre Company’s concert-style revival of the musical “Hallelujah, Baby” as part of its Musicals in Mufti series. A major one is the smashing performance by Stephanie Umoh in the central role of Georgina. Seeing her reconfirms my enthusiasm for her artistry.

When I saw her in the York’s presentation of “Jerry’s Girls,” I took pleasure in writing: “Umah has what it takes to become a major star. She has terrific stage presence, power and acting ability, and she pulls it all together when she sings “I am What I Am,” an exciting rendition of the coming-out anthem from ‘La Cage Aux Folles.’ She demonstrates that the impassioned musical statement can be as strong and meaningful coming from a woman as from a man.”

Umoh’s performance in “Hallelujah, Baby” adds to the belief that she deserves major stardom if given the opportunity. As Georgina, a woman from the South who aspires to a stage career, she sparkles with charisma, enhanced by a powerful voice as she delivers such impressive numbers as “My Own Morning,” “Talking to Yourself” and “Now’s The Time.”

The show itself, originally on Broadway in 1967 with Leslie Uggams as Georgina, has an excellent score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, additional lyrics by Amanda Green and book by Arthur Laurents. It is a work that definitely merits a fresh look.

The book, although sometimes a bit clunky, cleverly spans decades, starting just before World War I, with the characters going through the decades as if the same age. Georgina makes this concept clear at the start. The musical proceeds to examine through the show biz idiom the battle for African-American rights over the years at various levels, as reflected by what the characters endure in the framework of Georgina’s striving for success.

There is, of course, the requisite love story, in this case her on-and-off affection for Clem (Jarran Muse), an African-American who becomes politically radicalized, and the competing attraction for the white Harvey (Tally Sessions), who helps her climb the ladder to success. Muse and Sessions are excellent and appealing in their roles, both in acting and singing.

Further spice is added by Vivian Reed as Georgina’s nagging Momma, starting with satirizing the need to smile in subservient maid occupations to please the white folks. Reed later has her breakout, show-stopping moment in the second act when she tears into the song, “I Don’t Know Where She Got It.”

Randy Donaldson and Bernard Dotson add enjoyment as Tap and Tip, who capture the kind of tap routines that light up show numbers. Other cast members contributing skillfully are Jennifer Cody, Michael Thomas Holmes and Latoya Edwards. Musical direction is by David Hancock Turner, who is at the piano, with Richie Goods on bass, both doing an amazing job as the “Orchestra” playing Styne’s score.

The overall direction is by Gerry McIntyre, who deserves credit for whipping the musical into shape with about a week’s rehearsal. As with other Mufti productions, performers hold scripts due to the short time for memorizing lines. That doesn’t intrude on the oomph that they manage to convey throughout.

“Hallelujah, Baby!” is more than a curio interesting to revive. It was certainly a product of its time with respect to the civil rights movement, and the score by Styne is special. As Charles Wright points out in his program notes, the show on Broadway won Tonys for Best Musical, Best Actress (a tie), Best Original Score and Best Featured Actress, and it had a host of nominations. The show had a brief tour in 1968 with Diana Sands as Georgina. Laurents revised the book in 2004, and, as Wright reports, “He asked Amanda Green to create lyrics to supplement those by her late father and Betty Comden.” That version was presented at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J. and the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The updated version is what we are now seeing at the York (January 27-February 4).

Note: One can listen to a CD of songs from the original 1967 show in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

The York has two more shows in its current Mufti series—“Bar Mitzvah Boy” (February 10-18) and “Subways Are for Sleeping” (February 24-March 4). At the York Thatre at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street). Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed January 29, 2018.

HINDLE WAKES  Send This Review to a Friend

It is gratifying and fascinating to find a play taking controversial positions advanced for its time, and such is the case with “Hindle Wakes,” first staged more than a century ago (1912). It was written by British playwright Stanley Houghton, who died the following year at the age of only 32. What his play had to say about the independence of women still hits a forceful mark in this re-discovery production by the Mint Theater Company. Astutely directed by Gus Kaikkonen, it is convincingly acted by the kind of fine cast one usually associates with Mint Theater presentations.

There are complexities in the plot involving three families. Fanny Hawthorn, a mill worker in Hindle, a town in Lancashire, is played by Rebecca Noelle Brinkey. Fanny returns from a weekend away and tries to cover up that she spent it with a young man. But grilled by her mother (Sandra Shipley), she is trapped into admitting the tryst. It turns out that the weekend date was with Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), the son of the mill owner Nathaniel Jeffcote, deftly portrayed by the seasoned actor Jonathan Hogan. The Hawthorns decide there is one course of action to save Fanny’s honor—to visit the lad’s father and convince him that Alan must marry Fanny.

Being an honorable man who has worked his way up in life from being a workman to mill owner, Jeffcote, upon learning that the son did the deed, feels there is no other course but the proposed marriage. Unfortunately, this involves breaking Alan’s engagement to Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer), whose father, the successful Sir Timothy Farrar (Brian Reddy), is a long-time friend of the elder Jeffcote, and Sir Timothy fumes with anger at the news.

Thus you have the set-up for Fanny and Beatrice to eventually have their say. Will the in-love but ethical Beatrice bow to giving Alan over to the working class Fanny? Will Fanny even want to marry Alan who will inherit his father’s wealth, or be disinherited if he refuses to wed her? Is it possible that Fanny would say in effect that she was happy to have a lay for a weekend without the thought of anything permanent?

Even to have such issues raised caused consternation for some when the play was first staged in London. The thought of single women wanting the right to enjoy sex with the same freedom men have was a shocker—and sometimes it still is even in this 21st century. In Houghton’s play both women get to have their say, much to the consternation of the men, and there is a sly look on the part of Mrs. Jeffcote (Jill Tanner) at the outcome.

“Hindle Wakes” is very well constructed, and the acting proceeds without the kind of melodramatic histrionics that would have made it less realistic than in the civilized manner in which the action and dialogue unfold.

For the record, “Hindle Wakes” opened on Broadway on Dec. 9, 2012, and lasted only 32 performances despite critical praise, but reportedly it did well at Chicago’s Fine Arts Theatre in 1913. Congratulations are due the Mint for reviving the play in this compelling new production. At the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed January 20, 2018.

JOHN LITHGOW: STORIES BY HEART  Send This Review to a Friend

In this Roundabout Theatre Company presentation that affirms John Lithgow’s impressive acting ability, he tells us two stories, one titled “Haircut,” written by Ring Lardner, the other “Uncle Fred Flits By,” written by PG Wodehouse. In a way Lithgow’s charming, heartfelt introductions to the stories almost top the stories themselves.

The set designed by John Lee Beatty is a simple wood-paneled space that gives the impression of a large drawing room, which Lithgow occupies with his magnetism and likability. I have long admired his acting, most recently as a Trump-like capitalist in the film “Beatriz at Dinner.” He has staged his “Stories by Heart” in various venues, including a previous off-Broadway run, and now the work flows smoothly from all that practice, yet it seems totally fresh.

Lithgow’s prop is a family book containing the chosen stories and many more, and on the night I attended, he singled out two people in the first row to whom he displayed the book close-up. Movingly, he tells how his father would read stories from the book to him when he was a youngster. In the second act, he delves more deeply into the relationship with his mother and father, and poignantly talks about his dad, once an actor who started a theater in Ohio and did all of Shakespeare’s plays, falling into illness and depression and necessitating Lithgow’s moving in to give what special care he could. Lithgow discovered that reading the very funny “Uncle Fred Flits By” to his parents revived the spirits of his father and his mother as well. Lithgow’s recitation of the story that follows could also revive our spirits, as he masterfully brings out the humor of this very nutty tale with characters designed to make one laugh heartily.

The Lardner piece of the first act is very different, with Lithgow as a barber deftly going through the motions of working on a customer while chattily spinning a story leading to a local tragedy. It is a nice turn that reflects Lardner’s individuality as a writer. However, the “Uncle Fred” piece is much more entertaining and provides Lithgow with the opportunity to demonstrate his range with comedy and assorted character voices.

But I have to say that what stays with me most is the warmth, intimacy and gentle passion with which Lithgow introduces us into his background and love for his parents, especially his father. That is a performance unto itself, with the two stories icing on the cake. At the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed January 14, 2018.


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