“Borders” a gripping drama of Syria’s liberal opposition and often feckless western press

It‘s 1998. The 6-year-old Syrian Christian draws. Her father wants her to be an artist. There are secret police in her playground.
Sebastian, an idealistic photojournalist just out of university, accompanies a reporter who has gotten an interview with a man hiding in a cave. He takes photos of Osama bin Laden. Sebastian is 21 and wants to change the world. He has some minutes of celebrity through his photos of bin Laden, but he can‘t make a go of serious photojournalism, can‘t sell his pictures.

“Woman on Fire” tells thrilling story of militant British suffragists

This is a moving paen to the bomb-throwing and window-smashing militant British suffragists. A powerful play written and directed by John Woudberg and vividly performed by Claire Moore, it will set every feminist‘s blood boiling in anger and pride at what Edith Rigby, a heroic woman who forswore the advantages of being a doctor‘s wife, suffered and achieved in the British struggle for the vote. Suffered means being beaten and force-fed in jail hunger strikes, which today one recognizes as torture.

“Part of the Picture” are paintings of oil rig disaster victims Occidental Petroleum tried to suppress

You probably never heard of the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig disaster off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. It was the world‘s deadliest oil rig calamity. Occidental Petroleum, the American company which ran the North Sea oil platform with faulty maintenance and safety practices, is happy about that. It tried to bribe a painter who had been on the rig documenting the workers and their conditions.

“Foreign Radical” asks audience to profile selves in era of enhanced interrogation

In “Foreign Radical,” set in the age of surveillance aimed at catching terrorists, border controls become an immersive game show. The first dark space you enter has an Arab (Ayro Khakpour) naked, leaning over a table. There is Arabic writing on a wall; the emoji is a skull. In 2014, the US changed its requirements for putting individuals on a terrorism watch list. They no longer need concrete facts or irrefutable evidence, just suspicion. Get on the list, and you get enhanced surveillance and screenings at airports. In 2015 U.S. security added half a million people to the watch list.

Public‘s “A Midsummer Night‘s Dream” trendy take on Bard’s 16th-century comedy

Annaleigh Ashford as Helena and Danny Burstein as Bottom shine in Lear deBessonet‘s funny, inspired by teen movies, jazzy staging of Shakespeare‘s comedy about dueling lovers. But the rest of the cast glitters almost as brightly.
We know this will be a cool production when we meet the Duke (Bhavesh Patel) and his fiancée Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (De‘dre Aziza). He is in-your-face smart, and she is sensually on the mark.

In “Seeing You” experience U.S. military‘s dark mindset in great ‘patriotic’ WWII

Just before you enter the large open space where this immersive play takes place, you pick up a silver dog tag that says, “Seeing you – heaven, hell or Hoboken.” It‘s the fate of some American soldiers who have just been drafted to fight in World War II. It’s also their fate to be subject to flag-waving jingoism by the local congressman (Ted Hannan). And to endemic racism: at a see-off-the-draftees party at a local music club, one of the friends (Eriko Jimbo) is thrown out because she is Japanese. Welcome to the fight for democracy: plus ça change…

In Alessandrini‘s “Spamilton” you understand and love every word

The fellow on stage looks familiar. He wears an 18th-century blue coat and gold buttons and is rapping. But the words are not being played on Broadway, they are what some of us were thinking when we saw the original. Instead of hearing Thomas Jefferson sing “What Did I Miss?” we get, “What Did You Miss?” “What did you miss…..the lyrics so fast ….my diction is muddled.”

“Hello Dolly” and Bette Midler outdated on feminism and talent

Here’s a hit Broadway musical take on women and marriage in the mid-20th century, pre-second-wave feminism. First produced in 1964, starring Carol Channing, based on Thornton Wilder‘s 1955 comedy “The Matchmaker,” this is about a woman, of middle years, in the turn of the last century in New York, whose job is arranging marriages. The plot comes from an 1835 British play.

“Bandstand” great 40s music & dance about veterans tricked by US corporates

The terrific 40s sound and dancing – choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler – raises the level of a rather corny and predictable musical about a World War II vet who puts together a swing band to compete in a song contest. (Blankenbuehler is also the director.)
Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) in 1945 is home after four years in the military overseas and can‘t get the job he wants as a piano player at a club. He hears about a contest for a swing band to do a song for the troops. And he reaches out to musicians back from the war who are also struggling.

In “War Paint,” cosmetics titans Rubenstein and Arden must deal with male execs as well as the market

This imagining of the lives of two powerful women who founded cosmetics empires has been created by men – book (Doug Wright), music (Scott Frankel), lyrics (Michael Korie), direction (Michael Greif), choreography (Christopher Gattelli). It‘s a great production. But think of it as guys‘ take on women.
The invented heroines are Helena Rubenstein (Patti LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole), real women who built their fortunes on the desires for beauty of rich ladies of the 1940s.

“Miss Saigon” a hokey not very political take on America‘s war against the Vietnamese

Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil found worldwide success with Les Misérables, a drama of the political. The personal stories were of Jean Valjean, the man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, and the masses of the oppressed he represented. There was a minor love story. But in Miss Saigon, the star-crossed lovers are the major focus, with the crisis of America‘s war in Vietnam and how it destroyed the country just a backdrop. So, this play is often hokey and not very satisfying.

The Public‘s “Julius Caesar” brilliantly trolls Donald Trump, and masses “resist”

Oskar Eustis, director of a mesmerizing Public Theater staging of Shakespeare‘s play about taking down an incipient dictator, says that Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means. To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.

This Delacorte Central Park enactment may be one of the best of the plays inspired (or provoked) by the election and presidency of Donald Trump.

Most everything is right about “The Play That Goes Wrong”

One of the stars of this play is not human. It‘s the set for the riotous slapstick comedy put on by (real) British actors about a disastrous production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor” by a fake university drama society. Sometimes slapstick is silly, but this is exceedingly clever. It‘s co-written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields who also act in the play. Director Mark Bell does brilliantly at making everything go so wonderfully effortlessly wrong.

Andy Karl gives charismatic appeal to quirky musical “Groundhog Day”

New York TV weatherman Phil Connors (Andy Karl) is in Punxsutawney, PA, to cover the annual groundhog-comes-out-of-his-burrow-and-sees-or-doesn‘t-see-his-shadow day. If he sees it, there will be six more weeks of winter. (But how do they know?) It‘s a pretty silly made-for-media fake news story. With a made for TV weatherman.

“Anastasia” a fine colorful big-musical Russian Romanov princess fantasy

Complex, fascinating and gorgeous, this fantasy tale of the young woman who might be the surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas of Russia is a colorful musical mystery with elegant singing, marvelous dancing and costumes that light up the stage.

With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, it features the top talents of Broadway. That goes for director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Peggy Hickey, who have “big Broadway show” written all over them.

“The Little Foxes” are the capitalist killers of Hellman‘s riveting family conflict

Lillian Hellman‘s 1939 play is a family battle where the antagonists are class and gender. The title comes from the Song of Solomon in the King James Bible: Take [from] us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes. The Manhattan Theatre Club, under the direction of Daniel Sullivan, gives it a stunning production.
The place is a small Alabama town in 1900. The little foxes are the members of the Hubbard family of shopkeepers who lust after the pedigree and money of the cotton aristocrats. They attempt to move up the social and economic ladder through marriage, one to the naïve daughter of a plantation owner, the other to a banker. They will indeed spoil what they touch.

“Present Laughter” stars sublime Kevin Kline in delicious Noí«l Coward farce

You can see why an ingénue, femme fatale and ex-wife are smitten with Garry Essendine, the self-absorbed hammy stage star played by Kevin Kline in Noël Coward‘s delightfully funny sophisticated 1943 play, “Present Laughter.” Because, so are we, smitten.

It is 1939 in London. Garry, 57 going on 37, lives in a stylish duplex apartment furnished with lots of modern art, books, a baby grand piano and a very idiosyncratic staff, including a dry, sardonic secretary, a dour Swedish cook and a laid-back butler. He is cosseted by his ex-wife, who helps manage his theatrical affairs, and he is targeted by women, whose advances he deplores and enjoys.

“How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” satirizes couples‘ attempts to be cool

Sarah Ruhl satirizes a midlife crisis that turns two ordinary and apparently happy couples in their forties to group sex. They have been inspired by a three-some of 20-somethings and think they might be missing something. So they fall into a pretty joyless ménage à quatre. It‘s funny, if not profound. And the cast is fine as schmoozy, nice folks getting into trouble with their what are we missing that the young folks have?

“Angel” & “Echoes” on machismo underlying Islamic and colonial repression

Drawing on the crises of the Middle East, London playwright Henry Naylor has produced two powerful, insightful plays about women who struggle to defeat the machismo that incites Islamic militants. And which is hardly limited to the Islamic world. Naylor, 51, is a man with a strong feminist sensibility and a keen eye for drama. He shows in works that are political as well as theatrical how the domination and abuse of women is part of the psyche of political repression.

Trump, tax evasion and what Americans really need to do: #abolishtaxhavens

Trump, tax evasion and what Americans really need to do: #abolishtaxhavens

April 16, 2017 – The “Trump pay your taxes/tell us what you paid” protests around the country on Tax Day April 15th matter only if they are the beginning of a movement by the Berniecrats (since the Clintonites have finessed the issue) to deal with the institutionalized tax cheating effected by open scams such as the carried interest fraud which says that people who run hedge funds should pay a lower rate on their personal profits than anybody else. Why do they get that? Because they have paid off members of Congress to allow it. The Dems and Trump have said they are against it, but if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you.

O‘Neill‘s radical “The Hairy Ape” enthralls

You might never see a more powerful, stunning production of Eugene O‘Neill‘s “The Hairy Ape” than this one directed by Richard Jones and starring Bobby Cannavale at the Park Avenue Armory. It‘s a very early O‘Neill work, first produced in 1922, a time of radical ferment in the U.S., and it is imbued with the young man‘s poetic and fierce attack on capitalist exploitation of workers and the inequality that engenders. Which makes it a very modern play as well.

How German pastors collected church bells for Hitler

How German pastors collected church bells for Hitler

March 24, 2017 – I just saw an important film, “The Pastor‘s Children,” in which I learned to some astonishment that during World War II, Protestant pastors in Germany collected iron church bells for Hitler so he could make bombs from them. After the war, 50,000 bells were left over, because there were so many, that the military production couldn‘t use them all. It illustrates dramatically how supportive the Protestant (as well as the Catholic) churches were of the Nazis.

Robert Silvers, NY Review of Books editor, just died; he printed fake news

Robert Silvers, NY Review of Books editor, just died; he printed fake news

March 20, 2017 – Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, just died. You will read the expected hagiographies.

You won’t read how he censored comments on his neocon vision of Russia. He had run an article by Anne Applebaum replete with falsehoods about Russia. (She is a big fan of the corrupt Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.) After I talked about it with him, and he said to send my comments, I did. He refused to print them in the magazine but agreed to post them on line! Instead, he ran a comment saying people could find my views on my website — without even a link! So what does that mean? Either my comments were valid or not. Pretty tacky of him, I thought. Even sneaky. Lacking integrity.