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.
First I attended
the ultimate touring show, Forbidden Broadway:
Rude Awakening. According to the show's
"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
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
or call 212/239-6200. For more information visit
March 5, 2008
Tracy Letts' August
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
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
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