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London Wall, Milk Like Sugar, and ten more new theater reviews

The off-Loop scene is heating up again.


[Recommended] Animals Out of Paper This 2008 play by Indian-American writer Rajiv Joseph concerns three emotionally fragile people: Ilana, a reclusive origami artist, holed up in her studio and blocked by depression following the collapse of her marriage; Andy, a determinedly optimistic high school teacher and origami fan with a crush on Ilana; and Andy’s student Suresh, a smart but troubled teenager with uncanny and untrained skill at turning blank paper into animal figures. Andy convinces Ilana to take Suresh on as an apprentice. But when Suresh accompanies Ilana to an origami conference in Nagasaki, the triangle develops some dangerously sharp edges, with painful but liberating results for all involved. Joseph’s plotting relies too much on angst-ridden backstory for Ilana and Suresh, and his metaphors are sometimes heavyhanded. But the 100-minute one-act works thanks to Joseph’s well-crafted dialogue and his clear affection for his characters. Shattered Globe Theatre’s production, directed by Devon de Mayo, features excellent performances by Cortney McKenna (Ilana), Joseph Wiens (Andy), and the dynamically physical Awate Serequeberhan (Suresh), who skillfully reveals flashes of the wounded sensitivity behind his character’s hop-hop bravado. —Albert Williams

Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan in American Theater Company's Bruise Easy
  • Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan in American Theater Company's Bruise Easy

Bruise Easy After a long absence, Tess returns to her childhood home in the suburbs of southern California in order to settle some mysterious unfinished business with her mother, who’s nowhere to be seen. Reluctant to enter the house, Tess camps out on the driveway with her younger brother, Alec, a sulky slacker with emotional wounds of his own. As the siblings get reacquainted, Dan LeFranc’s script suggests currents of hurt and resentment passing between them, conveyed with scrappy charisma by performers Matt Farabee and Kelly O’Sullivan. But LeFranc’s efforts to turn the story into a kind of contemporary Greek tragedy—indicated by a masked chorus of neighborhood children, the suggestion of a family curse, and the introduction of some larger-than-life passions—ultimately make this American Theater Company production feel lurid and forced. —Zac Thompson

Evan Linder and Liz Sharpe in Byhalia, Mississippi
  • Evan Linder and Liz Sharpe in Byhalia, Mississippi

[Recommended] Byhalia, Mississippi A world-premiere coproduction from the New Colony and Definition Theatre Company, this superb play by Evan Linder follows Jim and Laurel Parker, “proud white trash” in the titular Mississippi town. That there has been a breach of trust between them becomes starkly apparent after the overdue birth of their son reveals that he’s black; both sexes’ capacity for guilt and forgiveness are called into question in what follows. Linder as Jim and Liz Sharpe as Laurel give nuanced, emotionally raw, and often humorous performances supported by an all-star cast including Cecilia Wingate as Laurel’s overbearing mother, Kiki Layne as wronged wife Ayesha, and Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr. as Jim’s best friend, Karl. Directed by Tyrone Phillips, the work broadens into a thoughtful examination of racism’s tentacles and the grip they have on even the most intimate of relationships. —Marissa Oberlander

Mike Mazzocca, Jon Beal, Casey Chapman, Pavi Proczko, and Kevin Webb in Trap Door's The Duchess of Malfi
  • Mike Mazzocca, Jon Beal, Casey Chapman, Pavi Proczko, and Kevin Webb in Trap Door's The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi You’d think the Duchess of Malfi would be the subject of The Duchess of Malfi, but you’d be wrong. At least insofar as this Trap Door Theatre production is concerned, the duchess is the object of John Webster’s famously lurid Jacobean drama. The subjects are four men: her two brothers, one a Machiavellian cardinal, the other a sick tyrant; a moody hired gun called Bosola; and Antonio, the social inferior to whom she’s secretly married. Director Christopher Marino pushes these guys forward while the duchess gets treated like a sexed-up teenager in a horror movie. Unfair as that strategy sounds, it leads to some striking moments—especially when we’re watching Casey Chapman’s tyrant descend from powder-faced aesthete to incestuous, necrophilic wolfman (really!). Overall, though, Marino has trouble controlling the tone, with the result that the play too often comes across as a cartoon rather than a nightmare. —Tony Adler

Drew Johnson and Jacquelyne Jones in City Lit's The Gilded Age
  • Drew Johnson and Jacquelyne Jones in City Lit's The Gilded Age

[Recommended] The Gilded Age Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, though not much read anymore, receives a spirited adaptation from Paul Edwards and the folks at City Lit. Twain and his neighbor supposedly wrote this book in alternating chapters, without knowing how it would end, as a kind of dare from their wives. The shaggy dog that resulted has been trimmed for the stage, though Edwards still retains too much of the novel’s rambling, aimless quality. Mike Speller and Philena Gilmer delight in various ensemble roles, and Jacquelyne Jones alternates quite well between toughness and sweetness in the role of adopted daughter Laura. The play tries to honor Twain’s original subtitle; its scenes set in Washington—full of political blowhards, backroom deals, and desperate journalists—succeed wonderfully in doing so. —Max Maller

Rochelle Therrien and Vanessa Greenway in Griffin Theatre Company's London Wall
  • Rochelle Therrien and Vanessa Greenway in Griffin Theatre Company's London Wall

[Recommended] London Wall Originally staged in 1931, this rarely revived workplace comedy by John Van Druten centers on the typists at a London law office and the cocky young solicitor who thinks he’s God’s gift to them. In a refreshing break from the era’s norms, Van Druten not only sides with the women—who feel a lot of pressure to get hitched or die trying—but by the end he’s granted two of them their independence. Robin Witt’s crisp, period-perfect production for Griffin Theatre Company is filled with sparkling performances, including smart, tangy work from Vanessa Greenway as the conscience of the piece. She plays the typing pool’s senior member, whose age (35) and marital status (un-) is regarded by her peers as comparable to a leprosy diagnosis. —Zac Thompson

Ireon Roach and Megan Napier in the Yard's Milk Like Sugar, a coproduction with Raven Theatre - DEAN LA PRAIRIE
  • Dean La Prairie
  • Ireon Roach and Megan Napier in the Yard's Milk Like Sugar, a coproduction with Raven Theatre

[Recommended] Milk Like Sugar Kirsten Greenidge’s moving, well-written 2011 play concerns a group of aimless, low-achieving high school girls and the people around them who keep them down. So it’s fitting that this production, codirected by Mechelle Moe and Joel Ewing, is cast mostly with students from Senn Arts Magnet School (where they’re members of the Yard, which coproduced the play with Raven Theatre). But these guys are anything but low achieving—their performances are universally strong, the cast negotiating the emotional twists with grace and power. Honestly, this ensemble could hold its own in any non-Equity production in town. Ireon Roach and Tevion Lanier are particularly compelling as a striving but confused sophomore and the quirky boy who shows her there's a better way. —Jack Helbig

  • Mutt

Mutt Christopher Chen’s spastic political satire imagines the GOP responding to party chair Reince Priebus’s call for Republicans to court minorities by nominating an Asian-American to run for president against the Democrats’ Asian-American candidate. Vanessa Stalling’s production for Stage Left and Red Tape Theatre nods to the nonpartisan South Park school of political comedy by portraying both sides of the aisle as full of bumbling oafs, to limited effect. Mary Williamson excels at making Chen’s broad and insufferably smug commentary feel spontaneous, but all the other characters are loud grotesques too broad to have passed muster on Mad TV. —Dan Jakes

Eunice Woods and Andres Enriquez in Lifeline Theatre's Sparky! - SUZANNE PLUNKETT
  • Suzanne Plunkett
  • Eunice Woods and Andres Enriquez in Lifeline Theatre's Sparky!

Sparky! Lifeline’s latest is a charming musical adaptation of Jenny Offill’s children’s book about a lovable pet sloth. Libby (Eunice Woods) is an only child who really wants a pet; after consulting the Animal Encyclopedia, she chooses one that meets her mom’s conditions by not needing to be walked or bathed or even fed. Sparky the sloth (Andres Enriquez) is sweet but slow and not very exciting, as Libby discovers. Nevertheless she prepares for a Great Sloth Extravaganza to impress her judgmental friend, Mary Potts (a winning Juanita Andersen). As you might guess, this doesn’t work too well. Ultimately, though, Libby learns to love Sparky for who he is, and not what she wants him to be. It’s a great lesson, and not overplayed in this tight production. —Suzanne Scanlon

Hollis Resnick, Patrick Rooney, and Kevin Gudahl in Marriott Theatre's Spring Awakening - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Hollis Resnick, Patrick Rooney, and Kevin Gudahl in Marriott Theatre's Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening With a score that includes songs like “The Bitch of Living,” “The Word of Your Body,” and “Totally Fucked,” Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s great musical won’t be anybody’s pick for the high school spring show this year. But give it time. After all, a 2011 national tour was tamer than the 2006-’09 Broadway production, and this version from Marriott Theatre suffers from an even greater excess of decorum. Preopening news stories made much of the idea that Marriott was risking its blue-hair subscriber base by staging the hit adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s play about teenagers trying—and failing—to cope with sexual repression in 1890s Germany; director Aaron Thielen apparently decided the risk was too great. He’s got the thing onstage, all right, but doesn’t take chances even with hairstyles. Though the cast perform beautifully, there are ways in which they’re already stuck in a parent-safe high school presentation. —Tony Adler

Alexis J. Rogers and Shanesia Davis in Congo Square Theatre's What I Learned in Paris
  • Alexis J. Rogers and Shanesia Davis in Congo Square Theatre's What I Learned in Paris

What I Learned in Paris Whether or not she learned them in Paris, Pearl Cleage clearly understands the conventions of French comedy. This 2012 play takes an old Gallic (and before that, Italian) gambit—that of the ingenue promised to a rich old man but yearning for a certain young one—and gives it an American spin. Paris is set in 1973 Atlanta, at the moment when Maynard Jackson became the first black mayor of a major southern metropolis. In Cleage’s telling, Jackson’s campaign staff gear up for their next battles—romantic as well as political. The script flags a little toward the end as Cleage stops to stuff in her various messages. Still, Daniel Bryant’s staging for Congo Square Theatre moves nicely, and there are charming performances by Ronnel Taylor as the youthful beau and Shanesia Davis as yet another figure Moliere et al would recognize: the wise older woman who sets things right. —Tony Adler

Rasaka Theatre's A Widow of No Importance - LAVINA JADHWANI
  • Lavina Jadhwani
  • Rasaka Theatre's A Widow of No Importance

[Recommended] A Widow of No Importance Not unlike Sideshow’s Theatre’s No More Sad Things, Rasaka Theatre’s will-they-or-won’t-they romance playing upstairs at Victory Gardens centers on a middle-aged woman’s flame with a man half her age, this time in Mumbai. Pay no mind to how predictable or sometimes campy it all is—Lavina Jadhwani’s production of Shane Sakhrani’s comedy is a warm, family-friendly screwball delight that effortlessly translates the cultural implications and stakes of life as an older woman in modern India to something universal. Age discrepancy notwithstanding, it’s hard not to root for Anand Bhatt’s adorably dorky young Vinod to end up with Alka Nayyar’s title widow; you’ll be sold immediately. —Dan Jakes

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