Broadway’s high season is kicking into gear with major Broadway openings starting now and picking up through the next several weeks. For productions to qualify for the Tonys or the Drama Desk Awards, they need to open by the end of April. Since the beginning of 2023, there have been a few bright spots, off Broadway mostly—like the fabulous UK import, The Jungle (five stars) at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn (the mostly sold out run ends this weekend, sadly)—but most other offerings have been less than sensational. Here’s a brief look at a few Off-Broadway shows currently on the boards.
The Wanderers – (Off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre – ends April 2)
***/***** 3 out of 5 stars
The theater community was abuzz when it was announced that Katie Holmes would be returning to the New York stage. Unfortunately, the vehicle in which she arrived, The Wanderers, provided her very little material to work with. Largely, Anna Ziegler’s play about two struggling married couples—who at first appear to have little in common—seems high in concept and low on content. One of the primary twists feels like someone’s clever idea that had to have a story built around it. What’s more, Ms. Holmes plays, surprise of surprises, an extremely popular and desirable movie star. Not much of a stretch, of course, and though Holmes nails it, she’s given very little to work with. The attractive set (Marion Williams), built of walls and books, promises more intellectual weight than the play delivers.
Asi Wind’s Inner Circle – (Off-Off-Broadway at the Judson Theatre in Greenwich Village – ends May 28)
****/***** 4 out of 5 stars
To produce a long running magic show on a New York stage, on Broadway or off, it’s imperative that it be a show that comes with a well-established reputation. And Israel-born Asi Wind—backed by the mega magician David Blaine as his producer—delivers just such a show. Eschewing traditional “deck of cards” magic tricks, Wind has his preciously small audience (no more than 50 seats available for each show) write their names on cards as they enter the theater, making for unmistakably recognizable props. And, sans magic (or “rigged” deck of cards), Wind delivers a mesmerizing and astonishing series of tricks, illusions or feats of magic—whatever you prefer to call them. His stage banter, delivered as he sits at a large round table with a dozen or so audience members (while the rest sit in stadium style seating in the semi-round), is crisp, affable and genuinely charming. Wind provides awe-inspiring magic (that has been known to fool even the illustrious Penn & Teller) and an entertaining evening of light theater.
The Seagull/Woodstock, NY – (Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre – ends April 9)
***/***** 3 out of 5 stars
Shakespeare and Chekhov’s works are the most frequent targets of re-imaginings (or full-blown rewrites) by precocious producers or budding playwrights. More often than not, their efforts fall flat (why not just do a faithful version of their spectacular plays?); but, occasionally some are fun. It doesn’t hurt, as in The New Group and Thomas Bradshaw’s version of The Seagull—set contemporaneously in Woodstock, NY (so full of, you know, intellectual and liberal snobs)—to have delightful stars like Parker Posey driving the magic bus. Where the play falters, Posey is right there to pick it up, making the show a good value for its off-Broadway ticket price. It’s funny, sometimes crass and often interesting in its insight into Chekhov as seen through this modern lens.
The Coast Starlight – (Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater – ends April 16)
*** 1/2/***** 3.5 out of 5 stars
A group of strangers stuck together in a confined space is a frequent vehicle for a movie, story or play because, well, you never know what might happen. In The Coast Starlight you really don’t know what might happen because . . . it doesn’t. Six strangers wind up in the same Amtrak train car on a voyage from Los Angeles to Seattle (the play’s name is the actual name of this very real rail line), all of 35 hours and 1,377 miles. But the play is really about the lives we live in our heads, for everyone’s experience is of the “what I would have said” variety, as opposed to actual dialog re-hashed. It’s an intriguing trope, and the stories told by these introspective, middle class Americans, says more about the country we live in today than most plays ever manage to. Terrific acting by all and a well-written script from Keith Bunin make this a contemplative (and not overly-long, at just 95 minutes) night of theater.
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