Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play, A Brief History of Women, has the recognizable hallmarks of the best plays in his vast repertoire. His knack at dissecting and satirizing British society is unparalleled (Anglophiles will particularly enjoy them, but they’re accessible to all). There is the great British obsession with class, along with Ayckbourn’s distinctive mastery of exits and entrances familiar from The Norman Conquests, Communicating Doors, and the double bill of House and Garden. There’s poignancy, too, since the new comedy—the title is a bit of misdirection—is an homage to one man’s affecting life.
The Metromaniacs is an adaptation of an obscure play from 1738 called La Métromanie, written by Alexis Piron—a poet who failed to make it in to the acclaimed Académie Française due to the lewd content of some of his writing. The production by the Red Bull Theater Company, however, is credited primarily to David Ives, who writes in the program note: “The Metromaniacs is a comedy with five plots, none of them important.” That sums up the one hour-and-45-minute farce and is also what makes the play so delightful. It is a classic comedy of mistaken identity, love at first sight, and, well, absolute fluff.
The reputation of Kurt Vonnegut nowadays rest on his comic novels—a mainstay of 1960s counterculture. He combined flights of hilarious whimsy with science fiction and sharp satire in works such as Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). But at the height of his powers, Vonnegut also wrote a Broadway play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June. The play may not be a masterpiece, but the production by the Wheelhouse Theater Company under director Jeff Wise breathes screwball life into it with strong performances and unabashed theatricality.
Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked has played somewhere around 6,020 performances and counting, and last week the show cleared $2.7 million. The newly opened Frozen, despite some dreadful reviews, was at 99.9% capacity. And both musicals—Wicked since its 2003 opening, Frozen via the 2013 Disney animated smash that inspired it—are cultural phenomena, especially among musical-loving teenage girls who respond to the heroines’ frustrations, bonding with other young women (a sister, in Frozen’s case), and their eventual triumph over adversity. Both shows have earworm empowerment anthems that have saturated social media since their premieres, Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” and Frozen’s “Let It Go.” And both would seem ripe for spoofing, of the Forbidden Broadway sort. Who, except possibly their most die-hard fans, wouldn’t want to have a little fun at these monoliths’ expense?
Abby Rosebrock is a different kind of triple threat. As a playwright, she brings an invigorating new voice to the stage with the debut of her comedy-drama Dido of Idaho, at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. As an actor in her own play, portraying a former beauty pageant contestant in crisis, her comic timing is precise. And as a practitioner of stage combat, “threat” is too gentle a word for her character who, when faced with a challenge to her domestic security, brandishes a razor-sharp pair of cuticle scissors.
The triple bill of one-acts at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a rare chance to see plays by Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge, although in small-space productions downstairs at the invaluable venue. One may not feel that the first two plays, The Pot of Broth and The Rising of the Moon, should occupy the umbrella title of Three Small Irish Masterpieces alongside Synge’s Riders to the Sea, which fits the bill; the first two seem slight by comparison. But they make a pleasant enough evening of unfamiliar entertainment, enhanced by the proximity to St. Patrick’s Day.
Is middle age too late for an earth-moving romance between a Bostonian with Brahmin reserve and a Midwesterner for whom grand passion is essential? In Later Life, the 1993 hit comedy revived by the Keen Company, playwright A.R. Gurney dramatizes this question with characteristic wit and capacious heart. Gurney, who grew up affluent in Buffalo, N.Y., carved a niche for himself Off-Broadway with a handful of urbane comedies—notably The Dining Room and The Cocktail Hour—whose characters have origins similar to his own. When Gurney died last June at age 86, he left a legacy of 49 plays, plus operas, musicals, and novels.
Forming a theater company is a bold move; ending a successful one is even bolder. A hat tip, then, to Scott Alan Evans, a founding member of TACT (The Actors Company Theatre) who, over the past quarter century, has produced and/or directed more than 150 productions for the company. Having declared the troupe’s artistic mission accomplished, Evans takes a final bow with an uneven production of a new work, Three Wise Guys, which he not only directs, but also co-wrote, with screenwriter and occasional lyricist Jeffrey Couchman.
As inspirations go, the combination of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is certainly an odd one, yet those sources are echoed in Max Baker’s charming, offbeat comedy Hal & Bee.
It’s almost quaint to remember the pearl-clutching inspired by The Jerry Springer Show in its late-1990s heyday. The daytime tabloid presented America as a bottomless basket of deplorables, with any number of people willing to air their dirty laundry in public for a chance to be on TV. Though our current political circus offers more than enough trashy tragicomedy, the still-running Jerry Springer Show once claimed the corner on tacky, made-in-America escapism.
Bromance, an acrobatic show from London that has opened at the New Victory Theater, offers strength-defying acts and acrobatics. Geared towards a younger audience, the creation by Charlie Wheeller, Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico includes hand-to-hand feats, the cyr wheel and various types of dancing. They incorporate humorous gestures and silly body movements that are choreographed to draw infectious laughs from children.
Signs of the decline and fall of the American Empire are everywhere visible, but perhaps nowhere more than in the Rust Belt, which has decay and depression hammered right into its nickname. Detroit may be its most potent symbol, but this ribbon, stretching from New York to Wisconsin, is peppered with towns both large and small that have never quite recovered from the trauma of deindustrialization.
Martin McDonagh is riding high now on the success of his second feature-length movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but he first made his mark in theater in the 1990s with several pitch-black comedies, notably The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which raised bloodletting to high art. He has a Jacobean gift for slapping together murder and guffaws.
Popular culture lately seems overrun with talking animals. The funny-sad Netflix series BoJack Horseman stars a talking horse, backed by a talking dog, a talking cat, and a supporting talking menagerie. The movie Ted a few years back had Mark Wahlberg’s teddy bear coming to life. And let’s not even get started on Pixar.
Miles for Mary, the sly new play at Playwrights Horizons, has a lengthy writing credit: “Written by Marc Bovino, Joe Curnutte, Michael Dalto, Lila Neugebauer and Stephanie Wright Thompson in collaboration with Sarah Lunnie and the creative ensemble of Amy Staats & Stacey Yen.” That credit may be accurate, but it’s also a wink at the audience. Miles for Mary is a comedy about a committee at a high school, and, defying dire axioms about things done by committee, it’s a hoot.
Despite being written and directed by women, Steph Del Rosso’s Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill [or Fill x 7], directed by Marina McClure, is a macho exploration of the female condition. The production at the Flea Theater’s Siggy space, named for Sigourney Weaver, kicks off with confidence, succeeding in creating a stadium-sized atmosphere in a substantially smaller area. The raunchy, adrenalin-infused performance that Roland Lane gives as Noah, an ego-bound pop star on his Break-Up tour, fuels the theater with pheromones. He charms his demure, unsuspecting photographer girlfriend, Joni, acutely performed by Sarah Chalfie, from backstage onto the stage, like a deer in the headlights, and proceeds to embarrass her, leaving her mortified and alone.
Balls, an ambitious mashup of docudrama and satiric commentary, takes the Sept. 20, 1973, exhibition match between Wimbledon champs Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs as a starting point for assessing social upheavals of the past 45 years. When Riggs challenged King to the match eventually dubbed the “battle of the sexes,” she was 29 years old. Riggs had won at Wimbledon four years before she was born. They squared off in front of more than 30,000 spectators in Houston’s Astrodome as millions more watched on television. Riggs lost in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and King walked away with the “winner take all” purse.
Disco is one of those words that the senses respond to instantly with several very particular references: late 1960s or early ’70s New York City spring to mind. However, the world of Disco Pigs is a far cry from that, and disco assumptions are turned on their head. Enda Walsh’s play strips the term bare of its bright-lights, big-city ballroom connotations, throws a hefty dose of punk into the trunk, then turns off-road onto the aimless side of life. But it does so with deep, dark humor, wide-eyed invention and heaps of passion.
Robert O’Hara’s new play, Mankind, opens with a gay couple’s strained pillow talk, as one man, Jason (Bobby Moreno), advises his partner, Mark (Anson Mount), that he is pregnant—by Mark. From that simple start O’Hara spins a broad, futuristic satire of sexuality, feminism, religion, commerce and talk shows. It’s more than the playwright is able to manage smoothly, and much of it feels familiar, but it has its moments before it arrives at its circular ending, one reminiscent of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s Twentieth Century.
The Fiasco Theater production of Twelfth Night is energetic, clearly spoken and firmly middle-of-the-road. The company, with standard members, must try to cast every actor in a part, even if the requirements are slightly off. In Shakespeare’s story of twins, a brother and sister, who are shipwrecked in a foreign country, Illyria, where they have amorous mix-ups before they are reunited, an audience may notice that Emily Young’s slender Viola bears little resemblance to Javier Ignacio’s chunkier Sebastian, apart from wearing glasses and a ribbed, russet sweater, though it’s unlikely that will spoil one’s enjoyment.