Theatre Hub

Straight Couples Adrift on Fire Island in Terrence McNally’s ‘Lips Together, Teeth Apart’: REVIEW



Fire Island lovers already nostalgic for summer will find themselves immediately transported upon entering Off Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre, where a revival of Terrence McNally’s 1991 play set in the idyllic Pines opened last night. The oceanfront deck (complete with infinity pool) is so lovingly rendered by designer Alexander Dodge, you can practically smell the sea-salt air and feel the cool relief of a cocktail against your lips. But don’t get too comfortable: The dream home’s occupants on this Fourth of July weekend are none too keen on the locals.

Lips3Sally (America Ferrera), a stymied artist with a 9-to-5, inherited the house from her brother, who recently died of AIDS. She and her staunchly salt-of-the-earth husband, Sam (Michael Chernus), are taking a holiday weekend away from their modest life in New Jersey to decide what to do with the property. Along for the stay are Sam’s moderately hyperactive sister Chloe (Tracee Chimo), a community theatre actress, and her husband John (Austin Lysy), a private school admissions director, who live a bit less modestly in Connecticut.

As they enjoy typical, leisurely distractions (the Times’ crossword, landscape painting, kite-flying, charades), audience-directed asides clue us into their inner conflicts and secrets. Sally is pregnant and fears another miscarriage; John has cancer; Sally and John once slept together; Chloe has an almost maniacal need to feel useful and Sam is, well, pretty much an open book. A dark cloud rolls in at the play’s outset, as Sally spots a man swimming purposefully straight out into the ocean. She has a sinking feeling he won’t return.

Lips2Neighbored on all sides by gay men, a group they neither understand nor accept, these are strangers in a strange but picture-perfect place. But it’s their isolation from each other, rather than their surroundings, that takes up McNally’s three-act story. Its focus on intimate drama allows the play’s subtler reflections on deeply rooted homophobia and AIDS panic to resonate all the more profoundly. The characters’ fear of mortality and desire to be known and loved parallel those of their gay neighbors, but most of them are too blind to see it—except for Sally, who wants so badly to try.

Director Peter Dubois does fine work bringing the play to a modern audience and orchestrating its talented cast. Chimoo is a standout as nutty, gabby Chloe, preening fearlessly like an exotic show bird confined to mundane, everyday life. As her younger brother, Chernus is a perfect fit, endearing us to Sam’s unassuming bluntness and rough edges, thus making his casual bigotry that much more bracing and uncomfortable. Lysy is likewise well suited to buttoned-up John, whose range of bottled feelings finds sly and often sudden outlets. As sullen, probing Sally, Ferrera brings a sweet earnestness that at times only skims the surface of Sally’s well of emotions rather than reaching for its depths.

Lips1For a play set on Fire Island during the AIDS crisis, McNally’s play is remarkably subtle (The Normal Heart it is not), and Dubois’ production lovingly embraces its characters, despite their flaws. Their narrow-minded anxieties may have sounded closer to ordinary in the early 90s, but now they take on a certain shocking sting, particularly for a New York audience. It’s a testament to how far we’ve traveled in 25 years. That they’re not altogether unfamiliar is a mark of how far we still have to go.

Recent theatre reviews...
Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol Open in Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Disgraced’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing Open in ‘It’s Only a Play’ on Broadway: REVIEW
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Political Sex Scandal Comedy ‘Tail! Spin!’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne Open in ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)

'Oh Hell No!' Brings David Mixner's Riveting Political and Personal Tales to the NYC Stage

(David Mixner, Point Foundation Executive Director Jorge Valencia, DOMA plaintiff Edie Windsor, and actress Judith Light outside New World Stages theater: twitter the point foundation)

Political luminaries, LGBT personalities, and friends ranging from DOMA plaintiff Edie Windsor to White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard filled the audience at New World Stages in New York City last night for Oh Hell No!, a night of engaging, often humorous storytelling and occasionally shocking remembrances from career activist and political firebrand David Mixner (also a friend and a contributor to this site) who in the past year has been to death's door and back, surviving a critical health scare in February. The show benefited The Point Foundation and raised more than $175,000 for the organization, which enables deserving LGBT students with scholarships and financial aid.

2_ohhellnoMixner's show (previewed in an interview I did earlier this week) took listeners on an emotional "personal [he] remember[s] it" in three parts. In addition to describing the formation of the nation's first LGBT political PAC MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles) the first portion recounted his work at the time of Anita Bryant's well-known anti-gay crusade in 1978 to defeat California's Briggs Initiative, which would have put teachers in public schools on trial if they were accused of being gay. The successful routing of this awful piece of legislation involved a turning-point meeting with then Governor Ronald Reagan during which Mixner says he and a group of activists convinced Reagan that the legislation would lead to "anarchy" when any kid with a poor grade could simply take revenge by accusing their teacher of being gay.

The second part of Oh Hell No! descended into the dark, early days of the AIDS crisis describing how the Los Angeles community worked, Dallas Buyers Club-style, to shuttle illegal yet necessary drugs from Mexico. It also hit its emotional peak when Mixner, describing the horrific experience of seeing dozens of friends and loved ones "go into the hospital on Friday and die on Monday," confessed he and others, aided by allied medical professionals, were part of an underground euthanasia network - which helped gay men fill their requests to die when there was no hope left.

In part three, Mixner delivered a tough rebuke of President Bill Clinton's decisions to sign DOMA and implement the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy after breaking a promise to his longtime friend and confidante that one of his first acts as President would be to sign an executive order that would have allowed gays to serve openly in the military. The rift climaxed in Mixner's well-known and highly publicized arrest (with more than two dozen others) in front of the White House and a humiliating Advocate cover story in which the magazine declared him "Friend of Nobody". But the power of this portion of Oh Hell No! - as in the others - was delivered in the nuance. One portion of the White House arrest story that many may not have heard - told with a signature flourish of wit and innuendo - involved the cop who arrested him.

ArrestMixner says he demanded, jokingly, to his fellow arrestees, that he be arrested by the most attractive young cop in the group (seen directly behind him in this photo). But he didn't know what was coming. As Mixner was pushed into the police wagon, the cop whispered "Thank you, Mr. Mixner. My brother is gay." And also ran the paddy wagon siren (against White House rules) so that Clinton could hear the arrestees being driven away to jail.

Offered as an evening of entertainment and interspersed with musical performances by Will Reynolds, Sarah, Uriarte Berry, Megan Osterhaus, and Christopher Bolan serving to bridge its various sections, Oh Hell No!, as Mixner reminded those watching and wrote in the show's program, is a reminder that history "is an elusive to interpretation and revisionism."

"This evening I am telling stories from my personal journey," he added. "There are dozens, no thousands, of others who have given more or deserve more recognition. I hope I have somehow honored them..."

If we're lucky, the show, which was directed by Stephen Brackett and musically directed by Mat Eisenstein and deserves to be seen by a wide audience, will make it to video and/or broadcast.

Among those taking in the sold-out 90-minute show were Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank Fred Hochberg, DNC treasurer Andy Tobias, Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims, NYC Councilman Corey Johnson, Jane and Joe Clementi - the parents of the late Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, presenters Amy and Jeff Towers, MSNBC's Thomas Roberts, political consultant Bob Shrum and Marylouise Oates, photographer Nigel Barker, actor Alan Cumming, Athlete Ally's Hudson Taylor, political consultant and pundit Hilary Rosen, producer Bruce Cohen, actor Rory O'Malley, Broadway producer Hal Luftig, ESPN contributor LZ Granderson, author and blogger Kenneth Walsh, and actress Judith Light, a board member of the Point Foundation, who offered a gracious, poignant, and humorous introduction.

(instagram mileage)

Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol Open in Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Disgraced’ on Broadway: REVIEW



There is a chilling, heart-stopping moment at the height of Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s sharp and engrossing Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opened on Broadway last night at the Lyceum Theatre. Once you recover from the shock of it, you’ll wonder how you allowed yourself to be so caught off guard.

Disgraced4Maybe you were busy admiring the seductive surfaces of director Kimberly Senior’s sleek, vivid production, getting wrapped up in the lives of the über smart, affluent and self-possessed thirty-somethings onstage, who seem to embody every astute, aspiring young person’s idea of That Perfect New York Life.

Amir (Hari Dhillon), a dapper corporate lawyer and second-generation Pakistani immigrant, and his wife Emily (Gretchen Mol), a thoughtful, blossoming visual artist, share an enviable, impeccably modern Manhattan apartment and cut a prime yet casual example of cross-cultural harmony. While Emily mines Islamic forms and aesthetic ideals in her latest work, Amir is a self-professed and often vocal apostate to Islam.

Disgraced2The drama begins when Amir’s nephew Abe (Danny Ashok) asks him to offer legal counsel to an imam imprisoned (falsely, Abe believes) on suspicion of funding Hamas. Amir strongly resists stepping in, while Emily urges him to help. Fast-forward several weeks when Emily has a shot at being included in a show at the Whitney. The curator Isaac (Josh Radnor), husband to a close colleague of Amir’s, Jory (Karen Pittman), visits to view Emily’s work. Jump ahead another few months to find the four friends gathering for an intimate dinner party.

Akhtar’s drama unspools a number of distinct threads that come together only in its explosive, compelling climax. Above all, it’s a play about ideas and appearances—intelligent, grounded people who think they know who they are and what they believe, until they don’t. The play raises provocative questions—about identity, race, faith, art, love and at times, the whole of human history. This is, of course, no small feat in 90 minutes and could easily go down like a giant pill.

DisgracedBut Akhtar’s characters are people you want to know, and uniformly excellent performances from the cast make you feel as though you already do. The heady and pressing questions that arise are firmly grounded in the very human and messy drama unfolded onstage. That they come from the mouths of characters so convincingly rendered makes them all the more haunting.

Senior, who also directed the play’s Off-Broadway premiere at Lincoln Center Theatre in 2012, does fine work balancing the Akhtar’s litany of nuanced perspectives on hot-button issues. For a drama so much about visual surfaces, the production’s design adds rich texture to the story, including the set by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Jennifer Von Mayrhauser and lighting by Kenneth Posner. 

In the time between the play's first production and its Broadway premiere, the context in which we hear and understand its core dilemma has changed dramatically, with renewed violence in the Middle East and racial tensions at home. Akhtar's drama certainly doesn't have the answers, but it asks the poignant questions.

Recent theatre reviews...
Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing Open in ‘It’s Only a Play’ on Broadway: REVIEW
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Political Sex Scandal Comedy ‘Tail! Spin!’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne Open in ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy Open ‘Love Letters’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)

The Story of Gay Rugby Star Gareth Thomas is Coming to the Stage

A stage play about the life of gay Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas is in development, Wales Online reports:

ThomasA joint production between National Theatre Wales and Out of Joint, it tells the story of the former Wales rugby captain who came out as gay five years ago.

Alfie has been involved in the production, which is described as telling “a great Welsh story about sport, politics, secrets, life and learning to be yourself.”

Full details about the show’s tour, and its cast, are to be announced in the new year.

Writer Robin Soans is known for his documentary verbatim plays based on interviews with real people, and it is being directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

The announcement said: “This is the story of two Welsh names bruised, but not beaten, by media speculation; Gareth “Alfie” Thomas, 100 caps for Wales, once its captain, now the world’s most prominent gay sportsman; and his hometown, Bridgend.”

National Theatre Wales' artistic director John McGrath said: "National Theatre Wales has always set out to tell great Welsh stories, and they don't come much greater than this. Gareth Thomas is a hero to thousands of people, and his journey from world-class rugby player to world-class gay rights campaigner is extraordinary.

An upcoming movie about Thomas stars Mickey Rourke. Over the summer Rourke told Jimmy Kimmel about a scene in which he shares a bath with another man:

“There’s a scene where I’m in the tub with another guy and I remove my teeth at the front and put them on the edge of the bath – you know, before we get it on."

Theatre News: A New Hedwig, Pacino Back on Broadway, 'Once' Closing, Upcoming Sondheim Musical

Michael c hall

This month in theatre news, Broadway gets a new Hedwig, Once sets closing date, Pacino teams with Mamet and Sondheim at work on a new musical.

> Michael C. Hall began performances last week in the title role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, stepping in after Girls star Andrew Rannells completed his 8-week run as the trans rocker. Hall, best known for Dexter and Six Feet Under, was just on Broadway last spring in Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses. No stranger to gender fluidity, he previously played several stints as the Emcee in Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1998 production of Cabaret. Hall will continue as Hedwig through January 4.

Once> Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical Once announced a closing date of January 4 at the Jacobs Theatre. Based on the acclaimed Oscar-winning film of the same name, the Dublin-set musical about a passionate and unlikely romance featuring an ensemble of actor-musicians, will have played 1,167 regular performances and 22 previews. The show’s U.S. national tour continues and a number of international productions are currently running or in development, including a West End production that will close in March of next year.

> Producers announced that Al Pacino will return to Broadway next fall in China Doll, a new play by David Mamet. In a statement, the playwright described it as “a play about a wealthy man, his young fiancé, and an airplane […] I wrote it for Al. It is better than oral sex.” The new play will be directed by Pam MacKinnon and produced by Jeffery Richards, Jerry Frankel and Steve Traxler at a Shubert theatre to be determined.

Stephen-Sondheim-08> Lincoln Center Theatre announced two new additions to its 2015 docket: Shows for Days, a new comedy by Douglas Carter Beane (The Nance, The Little Dog Laughed) set in a 1970s community theatre, to be directed by Jerry Zaks Off Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, and Preludes, a new musical by Dave Malloy, directed by Rachel Chavkin (creators of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) about Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theatre.

> Stephen Sondheim is at work on a new musical with playwright David Ives (Venus in fur) based on two films by Spanish director Luis Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, according to the New York Times. The Public Theatre and Scott Rudin are producing the new work. No timeline has been set; Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public, said in a statement, “We will do it whenever Steve tells us to.”

> Producer Kevin McCollum announced that Robert Askins' dark comedy Hand to God starring Steven Boyer will open on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on April 7, 2015 with previews beginning March 12. Featuring a critically-acclaimed performance by Boyer as a young man whose hand puppet takes on a demonic life of its own, the play was previously produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre and again at MCC Theater earlier this spring. Moritz von Stuelpnagel directs.


Alan Cumming Discusses the Shia LaBeouf Butt-Grabbing 'Cabaret' Incident: VIDEO


Last week, actor Shia LaBeouf appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and told an insane story about the night he drank too much last June and ended up in a jail cell after causing a scene at a performance of Cabaret on Broadway and grabbing actor Alan Cumming's butt in the process.

Cumming told Conan O'Brien his side of the story last night and showed some concern for LaBeouf's state of mind. He said that the cast of the show that night was "freaking out because somebody seemed to be a crazy person in the audience", or "a LaBeouf quality to the air" as Conan puts it.

Cumming says that he thinks LaBeouf has "made a good recovery" in the public eye given the craziness of the incident and forgives him also given the fact that he said Cumming is "the sexiest guy he's ever seen."


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