Under the Shadow of the Tonys – The Siegel Column
By Barbara & Scott Siegel
During the weeks leading up to the Tony Awards and in their recent aftermath – and despite all the attention being paid to the shows on The Great White Way, something rather wonderful has been happening in that seemingly far-away world known as Off-Broadway; the 2015-2016 theater season has been getting off to a great start, leaving Broadway (for the time-being) in its dust.
For starters, The Labyrinth Theater Company, generally known for their gritty, streetwise work, is presenting a rather unexpected charmer of a play called Nice Girl. And it is an exceptional piece of work about, of all things, ordinary working class people trying to do the right thing, the good thing, and, yes, the nice thing. Well-written by Mellissa Ross, deftly directed by Mimi O’Donnell, it resonates with a classic movie from the early 1950s, Marty. In the earlier film, Ernest Borgnine played a middle-aged butcher who yearns, against all hope, to find love. In Nice Girl, Diane Davis plays a woman verging on spinsterhood who yearns, against all hope, to find love…with a butcher (Nick Cordero).
Nice Girl centers on the Diane Davis character but it is very generous to its other three characters (her needy mother played by Kathryn Kates, and a co-worker/friend played by Liv Rooth) giving them depth, humor, and humanity. All of the characters are flawed and hurting, but all of them are sympathetic and very real
While Melissa Ross is a playwright to not only watch, but to encourage, the performances of Davis and Cordero are heartbreaking and unforgettable. Davis has previously shown that she is a strong, appealing, and compelling dramatic actress, but Cordero, best known for his Tony Nominated musical comedy performance in Bullets Over Broadway, is a revelation as a sensitive and complicated man with problems of his own.
Already on its second extension, Nice Girl is scheduled to close on June 21.
Another surprise, and also going against the grain of its recent offerings, The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (in association with The Theatre at Boston Court, has recently put up a fascinating two-hander titled The Twentieth Century Way by Tom Jacobson. It makes an interesting companion piece to The Tempermentals, as both plays examine the early American twentieth century history of the homosexual experience.
The new play offers some razzle-dazzle performances as both characters play actors who are, ostensibly, about to audition for a part in an early silent film in 1914 in Los Angeles. Based on a true story, about two actors who were hired to entrap gay men and arrest them in Long Beach, California, our two actors (played by Will Bradley and Robert Mammana), acquit themselves extremely well as they play a dizzying number of characters.
In short, while this is a flashy play, it is also a fascinating piece of fictionalized history that rings true as art. Happily, this play is running until July 19th.
The New Group continues its association with Jesse Eisenberg, the playwright/author/actor, who has been keenly ambitious as a playwright/theater actor, but not entirely successful at the former – until now with his new play The Spoils.
Eisenberg plays a rich kid, with dreams of being a celebrated independent film director, who is at once charming, conniving, deceitful, and perhaps bordering on crazy. In a whirlwind plot that involves his roommate, a sweet and rather loveable Tibetan business student studying at NYU delightfully performed by Kunal Nayyar, the plot spins on our tragic protagonist’s need for love and success, neither of which he knows how to achieve. Considering the dark nature of this play’s comedy, it is, nonetheless, a rather modern morality play.
Eisenberg has written a terrific play this time around, which is directed by the New Group’s Artistic Director, Scott Elliott, with empathy for all of Eisenberg’s characters, including – rather impressively — his own.
The Spoils, at The Signature Theater complex, runs through June 28th.
Many other shows around town have much to recommend them. For instance:
You might want to see New Country for the performance of its playwright in a key role. The play is solid, but the performance of Mark Roberts is entirely original in conception and execution. He is both hilarious and touching and like no other character you have seen in a very long time. The play has been extended to June 27th at the Cherry Lane Studio Theater.
Another show to catch is Cagney at The York Theater. This new musical about James Cagney features a swell performance by Robert Creighton in the title role. He was born to play Cagney, and you simply can’t take your eyes off of him.
There is a great deal more happening right now in what is a busy Off-Broadway season — and the majority of it is extremely good. In other words, the new theater season is off to a splendid start!