July 1, 2020

MCCARTER LIVE: McCarter Theatre presented an online conversation between outgoing artistic director and resident playwright Emily Mann; and composer Lucy Simon (above). (Photo by Jamie Levine)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter LIVE: In Conversation with Lucy Simon” was presented June 26. Artistic Engagement Manager Paula T. Alekson curated this final installment of McCarter’s series of discussions between Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann, and some of her collaborators on past and current projects.

Singer, songwriter, and Broadway composer Lucy Simon is working with Mann and lyricist Susan Birkenhead on a musical adaptation of Kent Haruf’s 2015 novel Our Souls at Night.

Her sisters are singer and songwriter Carly Simon and opera singer Joanna Simon. “There was always music in our house,” Simon recalls, speaking from her home in Nyack, N.Y. “My father [the co-founder of Simon & Schuster] was a wonderful pianist. My mother was a beautiful singer. We would all sing together. Joanna would bring home three-part glee club songs.”

A setting of Eugene Field’s 1889 poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” was Simon’s first composition. “I was in sixth or seventh grade,” she says. “We had to recite a poem to our class. I had difficulty remembering words; I didn’t have difficulty if I set them to music. Carly and I recorded it years later, and it became a big hit.” When Lucy was 16 she and Carly formed a duo, the Simon Sisters. “They were just a little bit older, and I wanted very much to be them!” Mann remembers. more

June 24, 2020

“LIVE MUSICAL THEATER REVUE”: The Princeton Festival organized an online concert of soloists performing songs from classic and recent musicals. Top row, from left: Erin Brittain, Michael Caizzi, Ronald Samm, Rachel Weishoff, and Billy Huyler. Middle row: Matt Flocco, Mekelia Miller, Paloma Friedhoff Bello, Jami Leonard, and James Conrad Smith. Bottom row: Amy Weintraub, Michael Motkowski, Natalie Rose Havens, Jordan Bunshaft, and Shannon Rakow. (Photo montage courtesy of the Princeton Festival)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton Festival presented a Live Musical Theater Revue on June 20. The free concert was part of the Festival’s ongoing series of online events, “Virtually Yours.” Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk hosted the livestream, which featured 14 soloists performing selections from Broadway or off-Broadway shows.

The soloists chose the songs they performed. The resulting selection was an eclectic but remarkably well-balanced mixture of numbers from mid-20th century “Golden Age” classics, and more recent material.

Online concerts present unique technical challenges. One soloist, Mekelia Miller, was unheard due to a lost connection. At times a few of the other performers’ voices were less audible than their instrumental tracks. On the whole, however, the evening proceeded smoothly, with little lag time between performances. Every soloist briefly chatted affably with their predecessor before starting their own song.

The opening soloist was mezzo-soprano Shannon Rakow. who confidently began the concert with a cheerful, sincere rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” singing to an orchestral track. Composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill wrote the exuberant, uptempo number for Funny Girl. Isobel Lennart wrote the book of that 1964 musical, whose semi-biographical plot is based on the life and career of entertainer Fanny Brice (1891-1951). more

June 17, 2020

“IN CONVERSATION”: McCarter Theatre presented an online conversation between outgoing Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann and playwright and librettist Nilo Cruz. (Emily Mann photo by Matt Pilsner; Nilo Cruz photo by Marc Richard Tousignant)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter LIVE: In Conversation with Nilo Cruz” was presented June 12. Artistic Engagement Manager Paula T. Alekson curated the discussion between playwright and librettist Cruz; and outgoing Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann. McCarter’s productions of Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics and Bathing in Moonlight were directed by Mann.

The conversation begins on a somber note. “Given the events of the past two and a half weeks, I felt the need to not simply dive into the past, but to be in the present at the top of our time together,” Alekson says, adding that she felt a responsibility not to create a “structured absence of the outrage, pain, unrest, and division. I thought, as a memorial, we might mark the present moment first.”

Cruz recites “The Weight of a Knee,” a poem he has written in memory of George Floyd. The harrowing elegy is unsparing: “The knee in uniform, made of law, crushed the tendrils of an already buried throat, as it strangled the breath of history once again,” Cruz reads. “The knee, known to be used for the sacred ceremony of prayer, now profaned.”

Reflecting on the ensuing national dialogue about racial justice, Mann offers, “We are at a turning point in history. It’s a seismic shift that has great possibility — and of course great danger in it as well, as all great possibilities do.” She observes “people around the world feeling the need to walk together, and show … their need to see justice and change for their fellow human beings. This is something that artists know: the whole thing is to go deep inside yourselves and dream big, and see where you want to go, so that then you can go there together.” more

June 3, 2020

MCCARTER LIVE: McCarter Theatre presented an online conversation between outgoing Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann; and actor, director, and political activist Cynthia Nixon. (Emily Mann photo by Matt Pilsner; Cynthia Nixon photo by Victoria Stevens.)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter Theatre presented “McCarter LIVE: In Conversation with Cynthia Nixon.” The May 29 discussion was part of the theatre’s ongoing live-streamed series, McCarter @Home. Artistic Engagement Manager Paula T. Alekson curated the conversation between Nixon and outgoing Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann.

Nixon perhaps is best known for her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in the television and film series Sex and the City, for which she received the 2004 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She also has appeared in films such as Amadeus and A Quiet Passion. She has won Tony Awards for her Broadway performances in Rabbit Hole and The Little Foxes.

In 1996 Nixon portrayed Nora Helmer, the protagonist of A Doll House (1879), in McCarter’s production of the Ibsen classic. She regards being directed by Mann, who staged that production, as “one of the high points” of her career.  more

May 27, 2020

“EXECUTION OF JUSTICE”: A community reading of “Execution of Justice” was presented May 22 as part of McCarter Theatre’s continuing McCarter@Home series of online events. Written by McCarter’s outgoing Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann, the docudrama examines the trial for the murder of Harvey Milk — and reactions from a “Chorus of Uncalled Witnesses.” Above: “My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!” (Photo ©1978 by Daniel Nicoletta)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Emily Mann started writing Execution of Justice in 1983, seven years before she began her 30-year tenure as McCarter Theatre’s artistic director and resident playwright. The docudrama examines the trial of Dan White, who in 1978 assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk; the latter was the first openly gay official to be elected in California.

Execution of Justice was commissioned by San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre Company. The play was presented in 1985 by Arena Stage in Washington D.C. A Broadway production followed in 1986.

McCarter hosted an online community reading of Execution of Justice last Friday. The event commemorated the 90th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s birth, and was presented in collaboration with the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice.

“No theatrical or performance experience is presumed; this is not a performance,” Artistic Engagement Manager Paula T. Alekson assured a multigenerational and diverse group of over 50 participants who had logged into Zoom, or dialed into a specially designated telephone line, to play one of the roles. Readers who participated via Zoom were asked to log in using their first name and last initial; before the reading started their captions were edited to identify the characters they were portraying.  more

May 13, 2020

MCCARTER@HOME: McCarter Theatre presented an online conversation between Emily Mann, its outgoing artistic director and resident playwright, and Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater. (Mann photo by Matt Pilsner; Eustis photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy of The Public Theater)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter Theatre presented “McCarter LIVE: In Conversation with Oskar Eustis” on May 8. The discussion was part of the theatre’s ongoing McCarter@Home series of livestreamed events. McCarter’s artistic engagement manager, Paula T. Alekson, curated the conversation. The event was hosted via Zoom, as well as McCarter’s Facebook page.

Eustis became artistic director of San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre Company in 1986, following his position there as resident director and dramaturg. He became artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum (Los Angeles) in 1989, followed by Trinity Repertory Company (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1994. He has been artistic director of The Public Theater in New York City since 2005. His association with Emily Mann predates her 30-year tenure as McCarter’s artistic director and resident playwright.

Their first collaboration was a production of Mann’s Obie Award-winning play Still Life. Speaking from his home in Brooklyn, Eustis recalls that Still Life — the result of Mann’s interviews with three people whose lives have been affected by the Vietnam War — was “one of the most brilliant and piercing things I’d read. I was about 21 years old. This was before I’d met Emily; I just knew she’d written this brilliant play, and somehow we’d get the rights to do it.”

“That’s how I got to meet Oskar,” says Mann. “I remember Oskar calling with Tony Taccone [the Eureka’s artistic director at the time]. We had what ended up being, for me, a life-changing conversation. I had never talked to a pair of directors, or a dramaturg [Eustis], who understood the play on such a deep level. So I got on an airplane, and I went out to San Francisco — and the rest is history. We became fast friends.” more

May 6, 2020

CELEBRATING 30 YEARS: Emily Mann, McCarter’s outgoing artistic director and resident playwright, delivered heartfelt remarks to conclude an online gala celebrating her 30-year tenure with the theatre. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The arts — and the theatre — are not a luxury,” asserts Emily Mann. “They are essential for the health of the soul.”

This comment was included in a segment of a video that was shown during a livestreamed tribute to Mann, who in 2019 announced her decision to step down from her dual position as McCarter Theatre’s artistic director and resident playwright. Because current restrictions necessitated by COVID-19 rendered a live gala impossible, McCarter hosted Saturday night’s heartfelt event via Zoom, as well as the theatre’s Facebook page.

A slideshow was presented before and after the event, featuring candid photos and production stills. Music by jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger Baikida Carroll — who composed the score for the musical Betsey Brown (1991), one of Mann’s first McCarter productions — accompanied this montage.

The event served as a retrospective, featuring effusive plaudits from colleagues who have worked with Mann throughout her 30-year association with the theatre. Managing director Michael Rosenberg began the program by welcoming “over a thousand” viewers. He recalled meeting Mann in the mid-90s, when McCarter presented his West Village theatre company’s production of George Kaufman’ and Ring Lardner’s play June Moon. more

February 12, 2020

“ANTIGONICK”: Performances are underway for “Antigonick.” Presented by Theatre Intime and directed by Paige Elizabeth Allen ‘21, the play runs through February 15 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Antigone (Allison Spann, center) is visited by the spirits of her dead brothers, personified by NIck (Natalia Orlovsky, left) and Chorus (Kai Torrens). (Photo by Naomi Park ‘21)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Poet, essayist, and former Princeton University professor Anne Carson’s 2012 play Antigonick originally was published as a book, with illustrations by Bianca Stone. The work is an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone (c. 441 B.C.E.), as well as a meditation on previous interpretations of it, including mid-20th century productions by theater practitioners such as Bertolt Brecht.

Theatre Intime, whose cast and production team consist of Princeton University students, is presenting Antigonick. Directed by Paige Elizabeth Allen, the production brings its own point of view to the story, while borrowing some of the book’s imagery.

Carson retains Sophocles’ use of a chorus, whose poetic interludes demarcate the play’s seven scenes. However, Allen has repurposed these lines for a single character, still referred to as “Chorus” (portrayed by Kai Torrens). more

February 5, 2020

“THE BIG TIME”: Directed by librettist Douglas Carter Beane, and conducted by Fred Lassen, “The Big Time” was presented January 31 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. The cast included, from left, Michael McCormick, Jackie Hoffman, Bradley Dean, Raymond Bokhour, Will Swenson, Laura Osnes, Santino Fontana, and Debbie Gravitte. (Photo by Tom Miller)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

During a scene in The Big Time a prim British diplomat, Penelope Briggs-Hopkins, stiffly asserts that she is “not a fan of musical comedy.” She would disapprove of the musical in which she is a character; The Big Time is an unabashedly cheerful comedy, in the style of Hello, Dolly! or The Producers.

A concert performance of The Big Time was presented January 31, to an enthusiastic audience that filled McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. The event was the second installment of the Princeton Pops series, a new collaboration between McCarter and the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.

The show’s witty book is by Douglas Carter Beane, and the sprightly, memorable songs are by Douglas J. Cohen. The lyrics, which match the tone of Beane’s dialogue, have been set to music that evokes the big band era, as well as the sly saxophone-infused sound of a 1960s spy movie. Cohen’s well-crafted score establishes the characters’ personalities, while taking advantage of the performers’ vocal ranges.

Music director Fred Lassen opened the show by leading a band, formed by 16 members of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, in a crisp rendition of the overture, which established the jaunty musical style. The orchestrations favor the drums, saxophones, and brass; however, the flute and clarinet stand out in other numbers.

In a program note Beane relates that the show originated as a screenplay for Oliver Stone. The plot was crafted to parody the film Under Siege (1992), in which mercenaries, posing as caterers and led by an ex-CIA operative, hijack a battleship. more

January 22, 2020

“GOODNIGHT NOBODY”: Performances are underway for “Goodnight Nobody.” Directed by Tyne Rafaeli, the play runs through February 9 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. While discussing the frustrations of parenthood with a new mother, K (Ariel Woodiwiss, right), Mara (Dana Delany, center) tells a story that embarrasses her grown son, Reggie (Nate Miller, left), who was friends with K in high school. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Goodnight Nobody is receiving its world premiere at McCarter Theatre, which commissioned the show from playwright Rachel Bonds. This tragicomedy depicts a weekend during which artistic friends reunite, but an initially affable atmosphere becomes contentious when buried feelings erupt.

The effect of motherhood on the life of a creative person is one of several themes that are examined in Goodnight Nobody. The play also offers a more general exploration of inter-generational relationships, including romantic entanglements. It also considers situations in which jovial conversations mask feelings of deep pain that unexpectedly collide.

Mara, an acclaimed sculptor who is in her late 50s or early 60s, lives in a rustic farmhouse in upstate New York. She is dating Bo, a painter who is her age. However, she also has romantic feelings for Nan, a successful artist who is in his 30s — the same age as Mara’s son, Reggie.

To the character of Mara, Emmy Award-winner Dana Delany brings commanding stage presence and smooth, often wry, line delivery. The performance poignantly juxtaposes early scenes, in which Mara bluntly recalls the exasperating aspects of child care, against a later one in which she attempts to be more warmly maternal. more

December 18, 2019

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL”: Performances are underway for “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by Adam Immerwahr, the play runs through December 29 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Tiny Tim (Aria Song, left) receives a special gift from Scrooge (Greg Wood). (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

To fully experience McCarter’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, audiences should arrive at least 15 minutes before curtain time. Dressed in Linda Cho’s opulent costumes, which evoke Dickensian London, members of the community ensemble circulate the lobbies, ready to serenade anyone who will join them in a rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The caroling provides a seamless segue into the start of the show, as the performers exuberantly lead the audience in singing “In Dulci Jubilo.”

McCarter’s diverse and talented cast combines professional actors with nonprofessional performers who comprise a community ensemble (for ages 14 and older), and a young ensemble.

Old Marley’s ghost warns Scrooge, “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk … among his fellow men.” Director Adam Immerwahr’s staging lets the cast do this literally, as audience members periodically find characters standing next to them.

A banner bearing the inscription “London, 1843” is placed in front of the curtain. Scrooge climbs on stage and irritably tells the onstage carolers — and us — to stop singing. Then he disdainfully removes the banner. more

December 11, 2019

“MEASURE FOR MEASURE”: Theatre Intime and the Princeton Shakespeare Company has presented “Measure for Measure.” Directed by Naomi Park ‘21, the play ran December 6-8 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Angelo (Colin Vega, right) is briefly, and unwittingly, reunited with his former fiancée, Mariana (Eliana Abraham), in a pivotal scene that contains one of the play’s multiple uses of dual identity. (Photo by Nora Aguilar ’21)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Theatre Intime, whose cast and production team consist of Princeton University students, has continued its season with Measure for Measure. Presented with the Princeton Shakespeare Company, the production has offered a resolutely contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s play (1603 or 1604), which explores themes that include piety, lust, and hypocrisy.

Although it is classified as a comedy in the 1623 First Folio, Measure for Measure is a “strange mix of comedy and serious topics,” director Naomi Park acknowledges in a program note. “I’ve tried to work through these issues, cutting and mixing up the text. I brought the show into the light of the Me Too Movement, highlighting women’s issues and homophobia.”

“However, it is still far from a perfect play,” Park continues. “I chose, therefore, to use the framing device of a staged reading — reminding you that this is a play, not a thing to take at face value, and not an art piece whose message I fully endorse.” more

November 20, 2019

“SORTA RICAN”: Passage Theatre has continued its Solo Flights series with “Sorta Rican.” Written and performed by Miss Angelina (above) and directed by Laura Grey, the musical monologue depicts the performer’s search for her cultural identity. (Photo by Rachel Kenaston)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre has continued its Solo Flights series with Sorta Rican, which was presented November 15-17. Written and performed by actor and recording artist Miss Angelina, this autobiographical monologue is a musical odyssey that humorously follows the singer’s quest to connect with her identity as a Latina.

Miss Angelina is a rapper who has released two albums, and has costarred in a music web series that has been featured on the television series American Latino. She has been touring with Sorta Rican since 2015, presenting it at venues such as the Hard Rock Café (San Juan), Broadway Comedy Club (NYC), and Improv Olympic Theater (LA).

The show itself is a tour. The journey starts with the monologist’s upbringing as part of an immigrant family in Little Silver, New Jersey. From there we follow her to New York City (where she lives in Washington Heights), Miami, and San Juan. These all are places that Miss Angelina visits in the course of a search for her cultural heritage. Along the way she encounters disparate preconceptions about what it means to be a Puerto Rican and/or a Latina. more

October 30, 2019

“CATCH ME IF YOU CAN”: Performances are underway for The Pennington Players’ production of “Catch Me If You Can.” Directed by Laurie Gougher, the musical runs through November 3 at the Kelsey Theatre. A bright red sweater is one of many costumes — and personas — worn by Frank Abagnale Jr. (Scott Silagy, center), as he tells the story of his many exploits, with the help of the ensemble. (Photo by Jon Cintron)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

As a con artist, Frank Abagnale Jr. gave the authorities plenty of metaphoric song and dance, so it is fitting that he gets to do so, literally, as a character onstage.

Catch Me If You Can is being presented by The Pennington Players at the Kelsey Theatre. This brash, energetic musical is based on the true story that became a hit Steven Spielberg film in 2002.

Abagnale originally detailed his exploits in his 1980 autobiography, which he authored with Stan Redding. The 2011 musical version has a flippant but amiable libretto by Terrence McNally. The music is by Marc Shaiman, and the lyrics are by Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

The score by Shaiman and Wittman is characterized by much of the jocularity and musical flavor present in their songs for Hairspray, which also is set in the 1960s. more

October 23, 2019

“MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN”: Performances are underway for “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Directed by playwright David Catlin, Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production runs through November 3 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Mary Shelley (Cordelia Dewdney, left) gazes reflectively at Frankenstein’s Creature (Keith D. Gallagher). (Photo by Liz Lauren)

By Donald H. Sanborn III.

McCarter Theatre is presenting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in time for Halloween. Lookingglass Theatre Company brings its brooding spectacle to Princeton following its premiere in Chicago earlier this year. David Catlin, whose Lookingglass Alice was presented by McCarter in 2007, is the playwright and director.

The title of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein hints at one of the elements that make this version unique: the author becomes a character. Brief glimpses into Shelley’s stormy life are juxtaposed against scenes from her famous novel.

As with McCarter’s production of Gloria: A Life, seats have been placed on the stage, so that the show is presented in the round. Daniel Ostling’s set is covered by an off-white sheet, which is suspended by a brick cubicle. During the opening scene we see the actors through this sheet, which somewhat separates them from us despite the intimacy inherent in the seating arrangement. more

October 16, 2019

“DAUPHIN ISLAND”: Performances are underway for “Dauphin Island.” Directed by Amina Robinson, the play runs through October 27 at Passage Theatre. Selwyn (SJ Hannah, left) and Kendra (Shadana Patterson) unexpectedly share an intimate moment, but they both face personal challenges that may present obstacles to their ability to build a life together. (Photo by Jeff Stuart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre is opening its season with an outstanding production of Dauphin Island. Jeffry Chastang’s bittersweet romantic comedy depicts an unlikely relationship between Kendra Evans, a cancer survivor who lives in seclusion in the piney woods of Wilcox County, Alabama; and Selwyn Tate, an injured stranger who stops at her house, on the way to start a new job.

Dauphin Island received a New Play Award grant from the Edgerton Foundation. Its world premiere was at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2017.

“This season’s shows all grapple with the question of where we come from,” promises Artistic Director C. Ryanne Domingues. “Our pasts, our families, and the places we grew up all have a huge impact on who we are and how we shape our futures.” She adds, “Dauphin Island is a refreshing play about what happens when we show a little bit of kindness towards each other.”

On the surface “kindness” initially seems an odd word with which to characterize the relationship between the characters. The edgy, gun-wielding Kendra’s first act consists of shackling Selwyn to the railing of her porch, “so you don’t kill me,” she says. Only then does she bandage his injured hand — with cobwebs. more

September 25, 2019

“GLORIA: A LIFE”: Performances are underway for “Gloria: A Life.” Originally directed by Diane Paulus and restaged for McCarter by playwright Emily Mann, the play runs through October 6 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Gloria Steinem (Mary McDonnell, above) speaks at the 2017 Women’s March. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter Theatre is presenting Gloria: A Life. Originally directed for off-Broadway by Diane Paulus, this groundbreaking drama has been restaged for McCarter by playwright Emily Mann. This production opens Mann’s 30th and final season as the company’s artistic director and resident playwright.

Gloria: A Life was conceived by actor Kathy Najimy. Najimy envisioned a show in which feminist activist and journalist Gloria Steinem would portray herself. Producer Daryl Roth presented the concept to André Bishop, the producing artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater, and Mann was commissioned to write the script. Ultimately Christine Lahti portrayed Steinem in the off-Broadway production, which opened at the Daryl Roth Theatre in 2018.

In McCarter’s current production Mary McDonnell portrays Steinem, who shares her life story with the audience in the first act. The shorter second act offers members of the audience an opportunity to react to the play, and share their own experiences. “The first act is Gloria’s life, and the history of the movement — and how those reflect on each other; the second part is about the audience,” Mann explains in a promotional video. more

August 14, 2019

“TOPDOG/UNDERDOG”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Topdog/Underdog.” Directed by Lori Elizabeth Parquet, the play runs through August 18 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Brothers Lincoln (Nathaniel J. Ryan, left) and Booth (Travis Raeburn, right) stare each other down during a game of three-card monte. (Photo by Kirsten Traudt)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton Summer Theater is concluding its 2019 season with a gripping production of Topdog/Underdog. This edgy, character-driven drama, which depicts the relationship between two African American brothers, is an apt fit for a season whose mission has been to “explore love in all its forms.”

Topdog/Underdog played on Broadway in 2002. It earned playwright Suzan-Lori Parks the Pulitzer Prize, as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award.

Lincoln is a former three-card monte hustler who now earns money at a carnival arcade by impersonating the famous president for whom he is named. This entails wearing whiteface and pretending to be shot.

Booth — the younger brother — has not given up three-card monte, and aspires to emulate his brother’s former success at the game. In his apartment he ceaselessly practices dealing cards, and luring potential victims with smooth chatter, although we will discover that in the past there was a crucial moment in which his skill drastically fell short of his ambition. He persists in attempting to persuade Lincoln to abandon his current occupation and join him. more

July 31, 2019

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Directed by Maeli Goren, the play runs through August 4 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Nick Bottom (Chamari White-Mink, center) entertains the company with a play within the play. (Photo by Kirsten Traudt)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton Summer Theater is presenting a bold, somewhat abstract reinterpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William Shakespeare’s comedy (c. 1595), in which fairies disrupt the romantic lives of ancient Athenians, is an apt choice for a season whose mission is to “explore love in all its forms.”

Director Maeli Goren has added an environmental focus, going so far as to begin the play with a speech that does not appear in the script until the second act. Titania, Queen of Fairies, offers this warning: “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world, by their increase, now knows not which is which. And this same progeny of evils comes from our debate, from our dissension.” more

July 10, 2019

“DEATHTRAP”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Deathtrap.” Directed by Annika Bennett, the play runs through July 21 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Sidney Bruhl, a playwright (C. Luke Soucy, left) implies to his wife, Myra (Kathryn Anne Marie) that he may kill a younger rival, in order to steal his script — leaving Myra to try to determine whether or not Sidney is joking. (Photo by Kirsten Traudt)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton Summer Theater (PST) states that the mission of its 2019 season is to “explore love in all its forms.” The company’s previous production, Falsettos, was an obvious fit for this theme. That musical’s near-adolescent protagonist sings about his ambivalence toward love, but grows to feel compassion for his father’s terminally ill lover, despite the extent to which the latter disrupts the boy’s family.

In this context Deathtrap (1978), currently presented by PST, is a somewhat curious choice. This cerebral, darkly comic thriller by Ira Levin (1929-2007) — the author of novels such as A Kiss Before Dying, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Stepford Wives — chiefly is characterized by urbane banter, professional jealousy, and violence. There are brief displays of physical affection between characters, but to the extent that the theme of love is explored, it is subtle and confined to individual moments, rather than overarching. more

June 26, 2019

“FALSETTOS”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Falsettos.” Directed by PST Artistic Director Daniel Krane, the musical runs through June 30 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Jason (Hannah Chomiczewski, second from left) comes of age, with the unlikely help of the adults in his life: his mother Trina (Bridget McNiff, left); his father’s lover, Whizzer (Dylan Blau Edelstein, second from right); and his father Marvin (Michael Rosas, right). (Photo by Kirsten Traudt)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

My father says that love is the most beautiful thing in the world,” sings 10-year-old Jason, in a recurring motif in the musical Falsettos. “I think chess is the most beautiful thing, not love.”

Princeton Summer Theater opens its 2019 season — which, a press release promises, “will explore love in all its forms,” — with Falsettos. This provocative tragicomedy, which centers on a Jewish boy’s coming of age in a broken home, has a sung-through score by William Finn. Finn’s agitated music is mostly uptempo, though there are reflective ballads that prevent the show from becoming relentless. Finn’s lyrics are conversational, intricately rhymed, and often wry. Finn, who happens to be Jewish, is not unlike Mel Brooks in being unafraid to play with stereotypes. more

June 12, 2019

“SHE LOVES ME”: Performances are underway for “She Loves Me.” Directed by David Kellett, the Princeton Festival’s production of the musical runs through June 30 in the Matthews Acting Studio at Princeton University. Coworkers Georg (Tommy MacDonell, left) and Amalia (Amy Weintraub) have a contentious relationship, but they unknowingly have exchanged love letters. (Photo by Jessi Oliano)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The 15th anniversary Princeton Festival includes the Broadway musical She Loves Me. Directed by David Kellett, this presentation of the charming romantic comedy boasts exquisite musical performances, as well as elegant choreography and production design.

 more

May 15, 2019

“SKYLIGHT:” Performances are underway for “Skylight.” Directed by Emily Mann, the play runs through June 2 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Kyra, a schoolteacher (Mahira Kakkar, left) attempts to rekindle her relationship with restaurant entrepreneur Tom (Greg Wood), but differences in lifestyle and ideology have caused them to grow apart. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter Theatre is concluding its season with Skylight. In this literate play by David Hare, schoolteacher Kyra Hollis unexpectedly is visited by her former lover, restaurant entrepreneur Tom Sergeant, and by Tom’s teenage son Edward. Tom and Kyra attempt to reignite their relationship, but find that differences in their ideologies and lifestyle choices may make them incompatible. This engaging production is directed by Emily Mann, McCarter’s artistic director.

Skylight premiered in the West End in 1995, and opened on Broadway the following year. A 2014 West End revival transferred to Broadway, winning the 2015 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

At the end of a winter day, Kyra, who is in her early 30s, arrives home at her flat in London, and empties a shopping bag containing ingredients for a spaghetti dinner. She is surprised to see the 18-year-old Edward, an intense young man who is taking a year off between high school and college, standing in her doorway. Although the encounter is awkward, it is clear that Kyra and Edward know each other well. She invites him in and turns on a rather ineffective electric heater. more

May 8, 2019

“MORIR SONYANDO”: Performances are underway for “Morir Sonyando.” Directed by C. Ryanne Domingues, the play runs through May 19 at Passage Theatre. Felix (Daniel Colón, left) and Genesis (Maria Peyramaure, center) try to come to terms with the abuse inflicted, and endured, by their mother, Paloma (Johanna Tolentino, right). (Photo by Jeff Stewart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre is presenting the New Jersey premiere of Morir Sonyando. This poignant family drama, which is set in North Philadelphia, had its world premiere in 2014 at Philadelphia’s Power Street Theatre Company, where author Erlina Ortiz is resident playwright and artistic director.

The title refers to a crucial moment in the story. It can be translated as “die dreaming,” and is the name of a drink that is popular in the Dominican Republic. According to the program, the misspelling of “soñando” is derived from the way Ortiz spelled the word when she was younger.

Morir Sonyando concerns the stormy relationship of a Dominican woman, Genesis — and her younger brother, Felix — with their mother, Paloma, who is a victim of domestic violence. Paloma has murdered her husband in a desperate attempt to protect her children, but inflicts on them the treatment she has endured. more

April 24, 2019

RICHARD III: Performances are underway for “Richard III.” Presented by Theatre Intime and directed by Naomi Park ‘21, the play runs through April 27 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Richard III (Paige Allen, left) persuades Lady Anne (Miranda Allegar, right) to marry him, despite the fact that he has murdered her first husband: Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. (Photo by Naomi Park ’21)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Theatre Intime, whose cast and production team consist of Princeton University students, is presenting Shakespeare’s Richard III. Director Naomi Park has opted out of drawing overt parallels to political events outside of those that occur in the play; this sleek production evokes the 15th century without being constrained by it.

The play is a fictionalized depiction of the bloody rise to the throne, and downfall, of King Richard III of England (1452-1485), the former Duke of Gloucester. It is believed to have been written in the early 1590s; the New Cambridge edition of 1999 conjectures that the play was written in 1593, with the premiere possibly having taken place in 1594. It was published in the first Quarto in 1597, and was included in the First Folio (Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies) in 1623.

“I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days,” Richard confides to the audience at the beginning of the show. To gain the crown, Richard schemes to pit his brother, King Edward IV, against his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, by having the latter arrested on a trumped-up charge of treason, and murdered while imprisoned in the Tower of London. This places Richard in a position to serve as regent until Edward’s son (and namesake) is old enough to be crowned. more