By William Wolf

OF GOOD STOCK  Send This Review to a Friend

There is a poignant element in Melissa Ross’s play “Of Good Stock,” presented by Manhattan Theatre Club and directed by Lynne Meadow, that stands in contrast to its ditsy aspects. It is a poignant husband and wife relationship that is well-written and well-acted.

Jess, performed with intelligence and sensitivity by Jennifer Mudge, has been stricken with breast cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy. Her mother died of cancer and she is trying her best to cope with her fear of death. Her husband Fred, a writer specializing in food, played conviningly by Kelly AuCoin, loves her, is devoted to her and struggling not to face the possibility of losing her. In a dramatic moment when their fears and emotions burst to the surface, we see a portrait of love and potential loss that seems totally genuine and the play at that point is very moving.

One cannot say the same with respect to the portraits of Jess’s two sisters, who visit in July to celebrate her 41st birthday at the fancy Cape Cod beach house left to Jess by her late father, Mick Stockton, a famous Pulitzer Prize-winning author, but also a philandering husband and careless father. Her having inherited the house is a cause of jealousy. The house, by the way, is impressively designed by Santo Loquasto, and when rooms revolve, we can also see the beachfront.

At the core, of course, is the relationship between the three sisters, often spelled out with comedy and gag lines but also showing family dysfunction and long-simmering tensions. Celia, played with twitching nervousness by Heather Lind, struggles to control her feelings and sometimes is quite funny whether or not we are meant to laugh at her. She has brought to the messy family gathering her boyfriend Hunter, played by Nate Miller, who seems to be a very nice guy and has a speech in which he describes Celia as being such a beautiful loving and sensitive person. Unfortunately, nothing we see confirms his take on her.

The other sister is Amy, played by Alicia Silverstone as a real pain who weeps most of the time and has been planning an elaborate wedding to which Jess and Celia resent having to attend. They apparently needn’t worry. Celia’s intended Josh (Gregg Keller), unable to take her constant hysteria, is out of there in a dramatic but perversely comic moment of abandonment when he leaves abruptly, causing more endless tears.

The playwright obviously has feeling for these privileged women and the baggage in their lives, but the only one I cared about was Jess. There is the obligatory scene in which the three sit together at the beach and release their frustrations and anger with a supposedly funny bursts of profanity—repeatedly shouting “f—k you” to the entire world. It’s not exactly gifted dialogue.

Apart from the interesting Jess, it is Fred and Hunter who come off best. They reflect substantial personas and maturity in contrast to the vacuous Celia and Amy.

The playwright’s take on her characters, their confrontations and the described backgrounds of their lives, especially when the knives are out, would indicate her affection for them, flaws and all. The humor she finds in the relationships and the flare-ups hold our attention. But the only depth to be found is in the relationship between Fred and Jess. They would be entitled to a play all their own. At City Center Stage I. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed July 2, 2015.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER  Send This Review to a Friend

The world is full of people trying to find a mate with whom to share life and achieve happiness. In “Significant Other,” presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, playwright Joshua Harmon focuses on four such people in New York, three women and a gay young man. Harmon digs deeply into their longings, emotions and friendships, mixing humor with sadness. The result is an involving and entertaining play enlivened by an excellent cast and kept on target by Trip Cullman’s superb direction.

I was less impressed with Harmon’s previous “Bad Jews,” which while bristling with clever dialogue, was strident and built around a thoroughly obnoxious woman character who was hard to endure, even though her self-righteousness was part of the point. With “Significant Other” Harmon’s characters are easier to care about, although I do find lacking an absence of more than their self-involvement without talking about the world beyond or even shedding light on their working life. But I suppose that tight focus is also part of the point.

In any event the cast elevates interest in those they are portraying. Although all three women are extremely well depicted, the most flamboyant and play-stealing performance comes from Gideon Glick as Jordan Berman, whose unfulfilled longings and frustrations can break your heart. He is a jumble of nerves, hungering after a hunk of a man he desires, but who is out of reach. He struggles over how to behave, whether to send a candid email or not. But in truth Jordon is so frenetic and hysterical that a romantic candidate would be hard-pressed to deal with his emotions and neediness.

Glick has some powerful lines as Jordan. At a movie date watching a film about the Franco-Prussian war and seeing soldiers die, he wonders, “How many people in the history of the world died without getting what they want in life?” Also, after seeing all three women friends, one by one, getting married, Jordan gives a passionate, accusatory speech in which he attempts to express how he feels, declaring to the woman who has been his closest friend, “Your wedding is my funeral.” At the end of the play we are left with a portrait of Jordan in all his frustrated loneliness.

The women observed are very different from one another. Exuberant Kiki, brashly enacted by Sas Goldberg, is the first to get her man. At Kiki’s wedding, for which her friends go to Kentucky, the more sophisticated Vanessa, impressively played by Carra Patterson, meets a man to whom she is attracted, and she is next to the altar. The last to wed is warmhearted Lindsay Mendez as Laura, who has been very buddy-buddy with Jordan, and his still being without Mr. Right makes her wedding extra difficult for him to take. His tirade is really unfair to her, but he cannot help but explode into an outpouring of his anxieties and disappointments.

Luke Smith and John Behlmann show admirable versatility portraying the different men in the mélange, sometimes adding amusement to scenes.

The play is given an extra dimension with the character of Jordan’s grandmother, Helen, wonderfully played by veteran actress Barbara Barrie. Jordan visits her and they chat and go over family photographs together. A widow, she wistfully copes with her own lonely life and attempts to encourage Jordan, for whom she remains an anchor. It is a tender portrait of a character sensitively interpreted by Barrie in a life-affirming manner, even though she talks contrastingly of suicide but makes clear it is just idle talk, not anything she would do. The scenes of youth and age coalescing are heartwarming.

The imaginative staging is due much credit. Mark Wendland has designed a multi-area set that enables the cast to move freely. Director Cullman makes the most of the characters weaving in and out of time and place. For example, when Jordan is on his movie date, as he sits there he is making comments about his experience to his friends elsewhere on stage. This breaking of time frames gives the play creative fluidity.

By addressing hopes and desires of characters trying to break through single status playwright Harmon touches on the struggles that go on daily in the lives of so many. He does so with respectful concern, a grab bag of effective lines, many humorous, and a wise overview. Through it all Gideon Glick is an extra special standout. At the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed June 28. 2015.

THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1991-2015  Send This Review to a Friend

The usual embarrassment of talent riches sparked “The Broadway Musicals of 1991-2015,” the conclusion of the salute to a century of musical theater as part of the Broadway by The Year series, presented by The Town Hall and created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel, who was on hand to wittily introduce the array of numbers and comment on the shows that spawned them. In the concert staged last night, June 22, 2015, some of the songs were performed by those who appeared in the original shows or are currently performing in represented productions.

Naturally, I had my favorites. Tony Danza in a bonus number dynamically reprised a song from his role in this past season’s “Honeymoon in Vegas,” in which he laments the death of his wife from skin cancer as he sings “Out of the Sun,” comically portraying her over-the-top broiling in the sun and wondering wistfully if he should have kept her out of it. It’s a very clever song and Danza wowed the audience as he made the most of it.

Lots of the numbers thrived on belting, so it was my particular pleasure to hear the different, elegant operatic voice of exquisite Sarah Jane McMahon thrillingly singing the title song from “The Light in the Piazza.” In a justifiably outsized turn without amplification, Klea Blackhurst aroused the audience with a Merman-like voice in “I Got Rhythm” from the 1992 “Crazy for You.” Another voice I always appreciate was that of Maxine Linehan, who is expert at interpreting a lyric, singing the poignant “Tell Me It’s Not True” from the 1993 “Blood Brothers.” The evening began with Larry Gatlin effectively singing “Look Around,” which he performed in the title role of the 1991 “The Will Rogers Follies.”

Christina Bianco was delightfully sneaky as she came on showing how effectively she could sing in her own style, tenderly performing ‘Feed the Birds” from the 2006 “Mary Poppins.” Then she took off magnificently into a “Mary Poppins” medley with the uproarious impressions for which she has become noted, including the perfect but hard-to-do Julie Andrews and other stars as they might sing chosen numbers, including an absolutely dead-on skewering of Liza Minnelli. Bianco is in a class by herself. Check her out on YouTube as millions of others have done.

The Broadway by the Year shows often feature dancing, and this one scored in that category on two occasions. Jeffry Denman started by singing “Pennies from Heaven,” included in the 1995 “Swinging on a Star,” and then moved into an exhilarating and mesmerizing tap routine. Toward the end of the concert, Jimmy Sutherland dazzled with a plethora of intricate tap steps to “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing),” included in the 2013 “After Midnight.”

Backing both Denman and Sutherland to underscore their performances, as was done for other performers during the evening, were musical director, arranger and pianist Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band, with Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Patterson and his musicians faced a demanding, complicated job adjusting to so many different musical requirements. We were also treated to a number all their own at the start of the second act, the interesting and challenging “The Journey Home” from the 2004 “Bombay Dreams.”

Scott Coulter, director of the concert (Rick Hinkson was assistant director), applied his exquisite voice to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” from “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” (2014 and still running ). Sahr Ngaujah, accompanied by Ricardo Quinones on guitar, performed “Sorrow, Tears of Blood” from the 2009 “Fela!” with the same creative intensity that he exhibited when he starred in the show.

Also especially memorable were Quentin Earl Darrington singing “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime” (1998); Josh Grisetti, currently in “It Shoulda Been You,” performing “You Walk With Me” from “The Full Monty” (2000); bonus guest Jeannette Bayardelle with her soaring interpretation of “I Am Here” from “The Color Purple” (2005); Kyle Scatliffe stirring and heartbreaking with “Go Back Home” from “The Scottsboro Boys”(2010) and ever-impressive Randy Graff with “The Next Best Thing to Love” from “A Class Act” (2001).

Others noteworthy in the talented entourage included Natalie Toro; Jenn Gambatese; Brian Charles Rooney; Cheryl Freeman; Kenita Miller; Gay Marshall; Kristin Dausch; Lucia Spina; Denise Spann Morgan and the “Marvelous” Marvelettes, and the large Broadway by the Year chorus, including Dausch; Ally Bonino; Elijah Caldwell; Madeline Hamlet; Mary Lane Haskell; Emily Iaquinta; Rick Alan Saunders; Ryan Scoble; Hannah Solow; Justin Talkington and Matt Weinstein.

The closer was ultra dynamic, with the fabulous Lisa Howard’s powerful assertion as Jenny that it was now going to be her time to come into her own in “Jennny’s Blues,” the show-stopping number she is currently signing in “It Shoulda Been You.” It would have stopped this show too had she appeared earlier and not at the end, when she still earned an enormous ovation. At the Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed June 23, 2015.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS  Send This Review to a Friend

The fate of Doctor Faustus may be tragic, but you may have a cheery good time at the Classic Stage Company’s presentation of a loose version adapted from Christopher Marlowe’s classic by David Bridel and Andrei Belgrader, with Belgrader directing. The adventures contained in the original are bizarre enough to lend themselves to comic treatment despite the seriousness at the heart of Marlowe’s play.

Doctor Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil via emissary Mephistopheles in exchange for years of power and prestige in a limited time before he must descend to hell, is played by Chris Noth, primarily of television fame. In the beginning at the performance I saw his voice was overly quiet, but it gathered strength as the play proceeded, as did his acting. However, I can’t say there was much feeling for Noth’s Faustus, either with sympathy or disdain, when it was time to meet his fate no matter how desperate his pleading.

The cast is effective within the concept of the adaptation. Zach Grenier plays Mephistopheles, and Jeffrey Binder portrays Lucifer and other roles. There is audience interplay, real and feigned. On the night I saw the production, in a portion about the seven deadly sins, a woman was plucked from the first row to illustrate pride, and much sport was made with her as she was asked to undress. She gamely got into the spirit, but the gag was that the buffoons who led her center stage were the ones dropping their pants. On another occasion, the woman who was pulled from the audience turned out to be Marina Lazzaretto, a cast member who gyrated in ways that no audience member would or could.

Lazzaretto has her major moment as the conjured up Helen of Troy, appearing nude in the arms of Faustus in a momentary scene of nuanced sensuality.

Various cast members in multiple roles include Ken Cheesman, Carmen M. Herlihy, Walter Jones, Geoffrey Owens and Lucas Caleb Rooney. The play is enlivened by slapstick, especially by Rooney as Robin and Cheesman as Dick, two daffy misfits.

There are excellent special effects near the end when Faustus disappears in a haze of smoke and what looks like the fires of hell.

The emphasis on comedy may not be to everyone’s liking or true to the original. But if accepted, it makes for an entertaining evening, despite its undercutting the seriousness of the message that temporary rewards don’t look as great after one has enjoyed them but is faced with the pre-arranged consequences. However, laughter has rewards of its own. At the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 212-352-3101. Reviewed June 19, 2015.

THE TEMPEST (2015)  Send This Review to a Friend

Thunder and lightning broke out dramatically as an audience gathered at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on June 13, 2015. The good news was that it did not indicate a real storm of the kind that might threaten a performance. More good news was that it was part of the powerful effects provided for the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” a free Shakespeare in the Park presentation. It was a lovely summer night at the performance I attended, part of a run through July 5.

Compliments are due Riccardo Hernandez for scenic design, David Langer for lighting design and Acme Sound Partners and Jason Crystal for sound design, as well as others contributing to the spectacular ambience of the imaginative production.

The effects simulating a shipwreck at sea set the stage for an involving rendering of this difficult play, and with director Michael Greif creatively at the helm, the audience was being treated to one of the superior offerings under the auspices of the Public Theater, founded by the late Joseph Papp, who fought and won the battle for the right to stage Shakespeare in Central Park, a tradition followed ever since.

“The Tempest” in its present incarnation has the distinction of Sam Waterston playing the role of Prospero, outcast from his position as Duke of Milan and confined to the island where he exercises magical powers as we await resolution of the plot involving intrigue and eventual triumph. Waterston has long been a Public Theater favorite, and here he brings authority and impressive delivery of Shakespeare’s potent lines as he establishes the person and authority of Prospero, straightforwardly if not nuanced. It is a respectable performance and interpretation of the role that has challenged many an actor.

The other major casting is also successful. Chris Perfetti as Ariel, “an airy spirit,” magically speeds about the stage with the grace of a ballet dancer. Louis Cancelmi puts his own individual stamp on Caliban, “a savage and deformed slave.” He uses body distortions to help define the character and a guttural voice to further shape our vision of the creature who assumes special importance and communicates the play’s inherent message against anyone being enslaved or dominated.

Francesca Carpanini makes a delightful Miranda, Prospero’s naïve daughter, whom we must come to like. Carpanini and Rodney Richardson as Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, strike just the right tone of attraction as they unite romantically, a relationship which we can enjoy as a warmer aspect of the play.

Other casting also works well, including Cotter Smith as Antonio, Prospero’s brother, who took over the Milan dukedom, and the assortment of characters filling roles ranging from villainous to comic relief.

Once again Shakespeare in the Park is providing the opportunity for an enjoyable occasion out. At the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West. Phone: 212-539-8500. Reviewed June 17, 2015.

2 BY WOLF  Send This Review to a Friend

A double bill of plays by Wolf Mankowitz (1924-1998) is presented by the New Yiddish Rep, the company that gave us a Yiddish version of “Waiting for Godot” and is planning a Yiddish version of “Death of Salesman” to open in October. The Yiddish translation of the Mankowitz works is by Shane Baker, who appeared in the Yiddish “Godot,” which he also translated, and Moshe Yassur, who directed “Godot,” has also directed “2 by Wolf.”

One of the Mankowitz works, “The Bespoke Overcoat,” is based on the well-known story “The Overcoat” by Russian author Nikolai Gogol. Mankowitz shifted the action to the East End of London, where he was born, with other changes as well.

The play is about Fender (Baker), a poor clerk in a clothing factory who takes his threadbare overcoat to a tailor to get it repaired. But the tailor, Maury (Michael “Menachem” Fox), says it cannot be repaired and an arrangement is worked out for him to make Fender a new coat. But Fender dies of the cold before he can get the coat. However, he returns as a ghost, and Maury has another chance to make him the coat he covets.

The play is a poignant exploration of the pathetic life of an exploited worker and the irony of the fate that befalls him. It is a very folksy tale, enlivened by the performances. English supertitles translating the Yiddish are projected on a screen.

“The Irish Hebrew Lesson” is a human drama involving a pious Jew (Fox), who in the early 1920s provides shelter to an Irish revolutionary gunman (Fergal O’Hanlon) running for his life from the Black and Tans hunting him. In the process, there is a gradual, enlightened bonding that occurs between the two very disparate characters. It is a play filled with warmth and human understanding and it is performed in English, Irish and Yiddish.

It is intriguing to have Mankowitz’s plays revived in this fashion. “The Bespoke Overcoat” first appeared as a play in 1953, and then was made into a movie in 1956. “The Irish Hebrew Lesson” became a 1972 movie that starred Milo O’Shea and was directed by Mankowitz. It subsequently premiered as a play in London in 1978.

This unusual double bill is at the Cell, 338 West 23rd Street. Phone: 800-838-3006. Reviewed June 16, 2015.

PERMISSION  Send This Review to a Friend

We sometimes read of zealous but hypocritical preachers touting the glory of the Lord getting caught in sex practices that they condemn. Playwright Robert Askins, who wrote the hilarious “Hand to God,” has a twist with his smart married couples in “Permission,” an MCC Theater presentation. They use God and Biblical teachings to justify getting kicks out of spanking. The play, although somewhat ragged, is an often extremely funny farce set in Texas, thanks to the five gifted cast members and the right comic tone adhered to consistently by director Alex Timbers.

If measured in spanks, on a scale of four, I would award “Permission” three and one-half smacks. If I were writing in colorful Yiddish, I would call this the “patsh in toches play,” translated politely as smack in the behind.

Lucas Near-Verbrugghe plays Zach and Nicole Lowrence portrays Michelle, a couple who fall into the spanking habit, with Michelle taking on a sheepish look when she deliberately feigns having done something incompetent, thereby setting up the necessary excuse for her to be punished by spanking. Zach does it in accordance with the man being the boss that he finds in the Bible and according to the pro-spanking theory of Christian Domestic Discipline.

The other husband and wife, first shocked but then inspired by Zach and Michelle, are Eric, played by Justin Bartha, and Cynthia, performed by Elizabeth Reaser. They proceed along similar lines and begin the process of make-believe guilt, need for punishment and the resulting spanking by the dominant male.

All four performers are terrific, and I was especially amused by some of Lowrence’s facial expressions as Michelle. Of course, the spankings are stand-ins for sex. The farce thereby becomes somewhat of a metaphor.

Lest feminists get upset by the submission concept, rest assured that in the comic chaos that develops, the two wives are anything put submissive in a larger sense.

One other relationship is involved. Eric is a professor who heads a university computer science department, and his assistant Jeanie, played with amusing sexual aggression by Talene Monahon, is hot for him and teases him to the point of his near-submission, although he backs away from the impending tryst.

The play gets too complicated when she shows up during a foursome spanking sequence, and tells Eric the nasty action she is taking against him. That thickens the plot excessively, but her appearance does help build the comic mayhem.

Playwright Askins has the skill that makes this more than masochistic titillation. His satire of religion as an excuse for sexual behavior is sharp, he has created characters who are good subjects for his mischievous set-up and he writes funny lines. The play is witty rather than crude, and the practice of domestic spanking in the name of God and male authority is often hilarious.

The play may not be as good as “Hand to God,” but there are plenty of laughs to be found. There is a special task for costume designer Paloma Young—putting enough butt padding for the women so they can absorb the smacks performance after performance. But I read in an interview with Reaser that she doesn’t wear padding in one scene. I hope she enjoys it. At the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed June 8, 2015.

AN ACT OF GOD  Send This Review to a Friend

Television and stage star Jim Parsons (‘The Big Bang Theory” on TV and “The Normal Heart” on Broadway, is having a comic blast playing God in the play “An Act of God” by David Javerbaum, based on the memoir by God (and David Javerbaum). Parsons congenially assumes the guise of a wise-cracking God who skewers the religious dogma that has been handed down through the ages and Parsons's playful irreverence and sharply timed delivery evoke a barrel of laughs.

First we get a burst of opulent effects that looks as if the heavens have opened. There is plenty of visual and audio impact throughout the show, thanks to scenic designer Scott Pask, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone and sound designer Fitz Patton, with music by Adam Schlesinger, production design by Peter Nigrini, special effects by Gregory Meeh, illusion consultancy by Paul Kieve and costume design by David Zinn.

When Parsons appears in a flowing white robe over conventional wear, including red sneakers, he first makes fun of who he is in the entertainment world before he assumes the role of the man upstairs. During the course of the mostly funny tour de force, Parsons is abetted by two winged angles, Tim Kazurinsky as Gabriel and Christopher Fitzgerald as Michael, both of whomare droll in their own right and interact with the audience. God pontificates directly to the audience, seemingly enthusiastic to be part of his congregation on the night I saw the show.

Cleverness pervades, with such examples as God explaining that people are screwing up trying to act in God’s image because He is really “an asshole.” He also twits contemporary society with a nod toward global warming by saying that people will create their own flood without His help.

In addition to God debunking religious dogma, He makes fun of how a sudden change of heart re the Garden of Eden resulted in the creation of Adam and Eve when it was supposed to be Adam and Steve. As for the creation of the world in six days, God offhandedly makes that dogma sound as silly as creationists expounding in opposition to evolutionists.

The structure is built around God’s issuing ten new commandments to replace the old ones. Some of that is a bit labored, but overall the idea is welcome and some of the individual commandments are indeed funny. Although only 90 minutes without intermission,` the work could still use a bit of pruning.

There is consistently a good-natured air to the humor, although I doubt whether believers lacking a sense of humor for that sort of satire won’t be offended. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, or generally open-minded, you stand the best chance of having an evening of divine laughter. At Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed June 5, 2015.

CAGNEY  Send This Review to a Friend

Imitating James Cagney has long been an easy shot for a host of comedians. But it is a big challenge to create the character of Cagney in an entire show. Robert Creighton is delightfully up to the task in his portrayal in the new musical “Cagney,” with a book by Peter Colley ad music and lyrics by Creighton and Christopher McGovern, presented by The York Theatre Company in association with Riki Kane Larimer.

Creighton looks enough like Cagney to get by on that score, and he also has mastered Cagney mannerisms, including his stance, his walk and his overall feisty appearance that we know from roles that he played. What many may not realize is that Cagney, known for his tough guy movie characters, started as a hoofer in vaudeville and first made his mark in theater. He subsequently went to Hollywood and became a star with Warner Bros., then broke away in anger. But later he was back at the studio again.

The show is framed with Cagney being presented a Screen Actors Guild lifetime achievement award by producer Jack Warner, in effect a platform reconciliation of enemies. Yes, he did receive such an award. But I can’t find any evidence that the Warner presentation of the award was anything but an entertaining fictional device around which to build a plot. (I’m happy to stand corrected if anybody produces evidence to the contrary.) Bruce Sabath is extremely good as the late Jack Warner and quite resembles him. (Sabath, along with the rest of the cast, Creighton excepted, plays other roles as well.)

The musical bio involves Cagney trying to get more serious roles that would enable him to shed his tough guy image. It is filled with private life details, such as meeting and marrying his wife, Willie, played by a sprited Ellen Zolezzi, his affection for his mother, portrayed with returned affection by Danette Holden, his brother Bill (Josh Walden) and assorted show business friends, including Bob Hope (Jeremy Benton). There is some political reference to Cagney being smeared by the infamous congressional Dies Committee with its ridiculous charges of supporting Communism against Cagney and even child star Shirley Temple. The show makes a point of Cagney saying he just supported causes for the underdog and was pro-union, but doesn’t deal with how conservative he became later in life.

Fortunately, the effort is made to tell most of the bio through song and dance, including some rousingly enjoyable tap dancing choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. The overall direction is by Bill Castellino and musical accompaniment is provided by a five-piece orchestra conducted by pianist Matt Perri.

My favorite song is “Falling in Love,” in which Cagney and Willie can’t get the word love out with any more than a murmur in their early relationship. It is a very cute number approaching falling in love in a different way.

Other good songs include “Black and White,” “Cagney at Work,” “Some Other Guy,” and “How Will I Be Remembered?” Of course, a musical about Cagney wouldn’t be complete without working in George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Grand Old Flag.”

It is amazing what the five cast members playing the assorted characters supporting Creighton’s star performance do. They deserve a medal for versatility and verve. Danette Holden is a marvel in the way she goes from Cagney’s mom to Warner’s secretary and dancing away in the chorus routines. Zolezzi is superb too, and all of the transitions by the company members work smoothly. Benton has the toughest job trying to be Bob Hope, not looking a bit like him, but managing to summon the attitude one associates with Hope’s comedy. Generally the impressions of various Holywood stars fall flat in the looks department.

The show seems so much larger than it is, and although some trimming might be in order, the musical does a reasonable measure of justice to its protagonist, even giving him a chance to protest that “I never did say, ‘you dirty rat,’” a favorite line of comic impersonators. At the Theater at St. Peter’s, Lexington Avenue and 54th Street. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed May 29, 2015.

THE SOUND AND THE FURY  Send This Review to a Friend

My advice to anyone going to see the Elevator Repair Service’s return of its stage production of a section of William Faulkner’s 1929 novel “The Sound and the Fury” would be to read Faulkner first. Otherwise, one may be lost in the shuffle and find it difficult to follow what is unfolding. Of course, one could argue that a theater work should stand on its own without one having to do research to fully grasp the piece. One could also argue that it might just be preferable to read Faulkner in the first place.

The Elevator Repair Service, with its reputation for experimentation, has taken the first part of the Faulkner work titled “April Seventh, 1928” and adapted it for the stage, with its cast members giving their all in the elaborate interpretation, most playing multiple roles. The drama is set in Mississippi during the years 1898-1928, mostly in an unpretentious all-purpose living room designed by David Zinn.

There are parts of Faulkner’s dialogue projected above and characters read the conversations punctuated by “he said” and “she said,” giving the impression of carefully following the writing.

The key to understanding the play is to realize that it is told from the viewpoint of severely retarded Benjy Compson (Susie Sokol), who observes life about him skewered and bewildering for his underdeveloped mind. With so much whirling about, it is not always easy to keep realizing that events are unfolding from Benjy’s distorted perspective.

Various members of Compson family and their African-American servants have their lives dramatized, and sometimes characters break into fast-paced dancing. The result is a very busy tapestry played out flamboyantly in two hours and fifteen minutes without an intermission.

A sadness pervades the spectacle, occasionally relieved by humor reflecting the dysfunctional lives under inspection. But the work challenges audiences to keep up with it and make sense out of all of the performances and Benjy’s bouts with frustration and hysteria. Not everyone will think it worth spending so much intellectual energy in trying to follow everything instead of just curling up on a sofa and reading the source material. But for those who enjoy such a challenge and don’t find it an interminable slog, the Elevator Repair Service obliges big time.

This is the company that gave the world “Gatz,” the six-hour plus reading of “The Great Gatsby.” Credit the enthusiasm of company members, in addition to Sokol as Benjy, for bringing “The Sound and the Fury” to stage life, including Daphne Gaines, Rosie Goldensohn, Maggie Hoffman, Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Aaron Landsman, Randolph Curtis Rand, Greig Sargeant, Kaneza Schaal, Pete Simpson, Lucy Taylor, Tory Vazquez and Ben Williams. Director John Collins has whipped it all into shape, confusion intact. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed May 22, 2015.


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