Fall 2015 New York Theatre Roundup

From the high wattage of Broadway to a studio apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, adapted for intimate production, here is a varied roundup of the latest offerings from New York City theatre:

The Christians by Lucas Hnath, Playwrights Horizons

The pastor of a megachurch (Andrew Garman) preaches tolerance of those with differing religious views and suggests that Hell may not exist. His church and personal life descend into chaos as a result in this sensitive and heart-rending work by Hnath. Director Les Waters has his cast use hand-held microphones to surprisingly powerful effect, in a dynamic work that makes believers out of the audience, regardless of faith or lack thereof.

Hamlet in Bed by Michael Laurence at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Playwright-performer Laurence has crafted an ingenious two-hander in which he plays an actor-director who stumbles upon the diary of his actor mother (Annette O'Toole), who gave him up for adoption. Without revealing his identity, he casts her in a production of Hamlet and the lines between their identities blur with great dramatic effect. O'Toole is mesmerizing, alternately sensuous, boorish and terrified, and she and Laurence drive Lisa Peterson's highly impressive production to a shattering climax.

Fondly, Collette Richland by Sibyl Kempson at New York Theatre Workshop
Elevator Repair Service, under the direction of John Collins, bring this two and one half hour absurdist concoction to life. It has the feeling of childish myth, school pageant and while the performers are clearly having a fun time of it, its length and diffuse themes become enervating, despite a wealth of imagination and puckish spirit.

Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street

With great comedic aplomb and cleverness, playwright Payne takes a fresh look at 50s McCarthyism, as it related to persecution of gays and lesbians. His two supposedly heterosexual couples are secretly homosexual and their threatened exposure in the world of Washington politics manages to be both funny and inevitably, damning. Director Michael Barakiva's snappy direction and absolutely stellar cast make this a comedy with a welcome, pointed social bite.

Last Call by Terri Girvin at terraNOVA Collective at IRT Theater
Writer-performer Girvin has a charming personality and her one woman show about working as bartender-actor with an alternately zany and irresponsible mother is mildly entertaining, made more impressive by a great sound design by Phil Palazzolo, who captures random bar chatter and bottle clinking. But the narrative never surprises and the inevitable mother-daughter clash has an almost anti-climactic feel.

The Black Book by Phil Blechman at American Theatre of Actors

When director-playwright Blechman lost a college friend to suicide, it inspired him to write this well-intentioned, fast-moving but, alas, confusing story about murder and split personalities. His young cast keeps up with the short scenes and frequent lighting cues by speeding through their lines, without much emotional investment. Due to its fragmented structure and abrupt changes in plot, The Black Book seems like material for the basis of a psychological thriller feature, rather than a 99 minute play, done without intermission.

Hand to God by Robert Askins at the Booth Theatre
Having originated off-Broadway, Hand to God has made it to the Great White Way. And lead Steven Boyer is nothing less than amazing, as a young man whose puppet for a Christian themed school play seems to be possessed by the Devil. Or is he possessed himself? Boyer's fluid voice is entrancing but less so the play, which begins as drama, moves to black comedy and ends with stage blood and melodrama. The cast is uniformly top notch, especially Geneva Carr, who richly deserved the Tony nomination she received as the over-sexed, hyperactive mother of one very confused son.

Kitchen Sink Experiment(s) by Colby Day at an apartment in Brooklyn at Crashbox Theatre
It is a marvelous idea to do immersive theatre in a Brooklyn studio apartment that seats 20 and addresses a scientist who lives with and observes a couple's every move for a week. But director Andrew Scoville allows his lead actors to mumble through lines and takes far too much time with transitions, including having his scientist character move the hands of a clock we cannot even read. As for Day's intriguing concept, he seems more interested in simulating sex than exploring the psychological depths of characters who break down under observation.