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Wendy R. Williams'
April 2008 Theatre Column

April 12, 2008

It was on Off Broadway month for me last month; I attended two blasts-from-the-past, the ubiquitous Forbidden Broadway and Jackie Mason The Ultimate Jew.

Forbidden Broadway

First I attended the ultimate touring show, Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening. According to the show's website: "Forbidden Broadway was first seen at Palsson's Supper Club on New York's Upper West Side in January 1982. An unemployed actor, Gerard Alessandrini, wanted a showcase for his talents. He decided to assemble some of the musical parodies of Broadway shows he had written since childhood into a nightclub act. Critics and audiences were wowed and it has since become New York's longest running musical comedy revue. Forbidden Broadway has won Drama Desk, Obie and Outer Critics Circle. Most of its victims (stars and casts) make a point of stopping by to see what Gerard Alessandrini has done to them."

I saw Forbidden Broadway for the first time more than fifteen years ago when it played Dallas, Texas. It was very well received because the south is famous for sending theater groups to New York to catch the shows. Plus it is a two-way street; all the big Broadway shows tour. So everyone in the theater "got it" and enjoyed it.

The show was much the same when I saw it last month. Forbidden features talented energetic casts who have a blast pillorying Broadway. Some of it was fresh (the latest Disney shows) and some of the jokes were a bit dated (Sarah Brightman with her trademark over-bite). But all over, the show is fun and definitely worth seeing.

Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening plays Monday through Saturday at 8:15PM, Saturday afternoon at 4:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm & 7:30pm at the
47th Street Theater at 304 West 47th Street. Tickets are $60-$65 at www.telecharge.com.

Next, it was on to Jackie Mason The Ultimate Jew. First, you absolutely do not need to be Jewish to "get" Jackie Mason; the guy is hysterical. Mason is the ultimate borscht belt comedian and he has over fifty years experience working an audience. And even though I do not believe him when he says that this is the last time he will play New York (I mean, does anyone believe Cher?), you might want to check him out now just to be sure. FUNNY!

Jackie Mason The Ultimate Jew plays Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3PM and Sundays at 3 PM. There will be a special Wednesday matinees on April 23rd at 2 PM. The show is playing at New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). The show closes on June 29th. For tickets from as low as $46 (including $1 facility fee), log onto Telecharge.com or call 212/239-6200. For more information visit www.jackiemason.com.


March 5, 2008

Tracy Letts' August Osage County

I saw only one play last month, The Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Tracy Letts' August Osage County. August was written by Tracy Letts (off Bug and Killer Joe fame) and directed by Anna D. Shapiro. August stars: Ian Barford as Little Charles Aiken (Cousin); Deanna Dunagan as Violet Weston; Kimberly Guerrero as Johnna Monevata (Housekeeper); Francis Guinan as Charlie Aiken (Uncle); Brian Kerwin as Steve Heidebrecht (Karen’s Fiancé); Dennis Letts as Beverly Weston; Madeline Martin as Jean Fordham (Granddaughter); Mariann Mayberry as Karen Weston (Youngest Daughter); Amy Morton as Barbara Fordham (Eldest Daughter); Sally Murphy as Ivy Weston (Middle Daughter); Jeff Perry as Bill Fordham (Barbara’s Husband); Rondi Reed as Mattie Fae Aiken (aunt).

I am a big fan of Tracy Letts. I reviewed Bug the play and Bug the movie. Both were excellent and were covered in my June 2007 Theater Column.

Bug was witty and eerie and had supernatural elements, so I was expecting something of the same genre with Lett’s new play. Well, I was certainly surprised. August Osage County may be set in heartland like Bug, but there the similarities end. August Osage County is one of the most brutally realistic plays I have ever seen. It is also one of the most brilliant.

August Osage County tells the story of the Weston family, a family headed by a paterfamilias, the (failed?) poet Beverly Weston. When the play opens we see Beverly, a talkative older man, interviewing a taciturn young American Indian woman, Johnna (played by Kimberly Guerrero) for the job of family housekeeper. He tells her that her main duty will be to care for his wife, Violet (played by Deanna Dugan), who has mouth cancer and needs to be driven to her doctor’s appointments. He also tells her that his wife does not believe in air conditioning (it is August in Oklahoma!!!) and that he and his wife have struck a bargain in life – he drinks and she takes pills.

In the next scene we find out that Beverly has disappeared and the extended family has been summoned to “help.” First to arrive is Violet’s sister, Mattie (the hysterically funny Rondi Reed). Mattie is talking to her husband Charlie (played by Francis Guinan) and she proceeds to give the audience some of the funniest exposition I have ever heard. She verbally dices and fillets all the expected family members and informs both Charlie and the audience just who is expected to arrive and when.

Already on the scene is the middle daughter Ivy (Sally Murphy). Ivy has never left town and is simply appalled that her father has left and now she will have to deal with her mother. But that is not all Ivy will have to deal with. Soon afterwards, the other two daughters, Barbara (played by Amy Morton) and Karen (played by Mariann Mayberry). And with the two daughters come additional baggage, Barbara’s husband Bill (played by Jeff Perry), Barbara’s precocious pot-smoking fourteen-year-old daughter Jean (played by Madeline Martin) and Jean’s new pedophile boyfriend, Steve (played by Brian Kerwin).

The program for August Osage County has a family tree of the Weston family, complete with photos of all the cast members (there are thirteen of them). But thirteen or not, it would take more than twelve additional cast members to handle Mamma Violet Weston.

When we first see Mamma Violet, she carefully creeps down the stairs of Todd Rosenthal’s excellent set. She actually appears harmless; an old woman suffering from cancer whose husband has gone missing. Well, when Beverly hired someone to “take care” of his wife, perhaps he should have considered hiring Britney’s body guards. Over the course of the next two and a half hours of the play (the play is over three hours long), Mamma proceeds to verbally destroy everyone who has come to “help” her. Anyone who has ever dreaded their own Thanksgiving dinner should see this play and its family dinner simply to get a little perspective.

The apple, however, has not fallen far from the tree and we quickly find out that Mamma’s oldest daughter, Barbara, would be perfectly capable of getting Hannibal’s elephants across the Alps, killing any and all who get in her way. And Barbara’s eerily precocious daughter Jean is no victim either. It may be hotter-than-hell and there may be pills, booze and a pedophile on-the-loose, but the Westons family produces warrior women. And Johnna, the housekeeper, delivers a few whacks too.

Tracy Letts wrote an astounding script for August Osage County. The characters in this play may have learned "to wit" before they learned to walk, but they are all rawly human. The play has been beautifully directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The show is also blessed with a fabulous set by Todd Rosenthal and an original music score by David Singer. But even with all of these advantages, the play could have easily floundered. It is over three hours long and has a cast of thirteen actors. If any one of these actors had not held their own, the show could have dragged. But every actor in this cast gave a wonderful performance and watching them duke it out on stage was a theatrical experience I hope to remember forever.

On a sad note, Michael McGuire has just taken over the role of Beverly Weston. The part had previously been played by Dennis Letts (Tracy Lett’s father), who died last week.

August will play its final performance at the Imperial on April 20, and re-open at the Music Box on April 29 and then reopen at the Music Box Theater on April 29, 2008.

Tickets are $26.50-$99.50 and can be ordered by phone at 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250. Tickets can also be ordered online at telecharge.com.

The Imperial Theatre is located at 249 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036. The Music Box Theater is located at 239 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036

For more information, log onto augustonbroadway.com


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