Dennis Boutsikaris in A Picasso(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Dennis Boutsikaris in A Picasso
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
An engaging if lumbering play, A Picasso details a fictional showdown between the titular artist (played by Dennis Boutsikaris) and a representative of Nazi Germany (played by Jill Eikenberry) in occupied Paris, circa 1941. It's engaging insofar as it relishes the sharp, cutting edges of Picasso's prickly personality. As the play develops, it becomes even more artful as Jill Eikenberry's character reveals far more depth and humanity than one expects from someone who's been sent to choose a Picasso for burning.

And there you have the plot. A Picasso runs into trouble when it tries to jam Picasso's history into the dialogue between the play's only two characters. Some of this can be excused because the action begins as an interrogation, but one often senses the hand of the playwright (Jeffrey Hatcher) instead of the free thoughts of the characters. The early scenes feel written rather than immediate.

However, once the exposition has been hammered out, the play begins to come alive as a verbal boxing match with plenty of jabs, feints, and fancy footwork. Both actors acquit themselves well, Boutsikaris bristling with ego and Eikenberry alive with power. John Tillinger directs the piece as a careful blend of character revelation and suspense story. It's also worth noting that Allen Moyer's set design is rich and elaborate, especially for Manhattan Theatre Club's Second Stage, where this worthy production can be seen.

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A Heap of Slag

Slag Heap is the sort of play that 's supposed to get our attention as an exposé of today's lost kids. Oh, the movies and plays that have been spawned as result of Rebel Without A Cause! It's an endless parade, indeed.

This time, we get a look at kids in the U.K. They indulge in drugs, sex, and a good deal of self-abuse. It's not a pretty picture, but that's not the problem; the plot is the problem because it's too schematic. We can connect the dots and understand how how each scene relates to the next, but we can't find the connections between these characters and the rest of the world.

That doesn't stop a couple of the cast members from giving startling performances. They provide what the play does not: a sense of universal humanity. The actors to watch, both in this play and in their future work, are Vincent Kartheiser and Polly Lee.

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John Turturro in Souls of Naples(Photo © Gerry Goodstein)
John Turturro in Souls of Naples
(Photo © Gerry Goodstein)
The Soul of Souls of Naples

Souls of Naples offers a tour-de-force comic performance by John Turturro. His soulful interpretation of a desperate man provides the realism that roots the play and makes the comedy work.

The action begins with Pasquale and his young, beautiful wife moving into a palazzo that has long been vacant due to rumors that its haunted. He's made a deal with the owner to live there for free, in order to prove there are no ghosts. After that, he'll make his profit by becoming the rental agent for the rest of the rooms in the palazzo. The fun begins when Pasquale mistakes a man whom he discovers in his apartment for a spook, not knowing that the fellow is having an affair with his wife.

In addition to Turturro's exquisite performance, the play boasts a sly turn by Max Casella as the palazzo's doorman and Juan Carlos Hernandez's comically slimy portrait of a man obsessed with another man's wife. All of the actors are lucky to be working with a smooth, wonderfully accessible translation of Eduardo De Filippo's play by Village Voice critic Michael Feingold. Souls of Naples is a production of the very much up-and-coming Theatre for a New Audience.

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And Now, a Play to Miss

Don't be misled by the fact that one of the two playwrights who share credit for Shoe Palace Murray is William M. Hoffman, who wrote the brilliant and groundbreaking As Is. This new play is a stinker. Set in New York in 1926, the story follows a handful of characters that come in and out of a theatrical shoe store.

Accurately described as "a play with music," there are several original songs in Shoe Palace Murray, only one of which is well sung. The show is interesting as a recreation of a specific time and place on Broadway, but that's all there is to it. You've been warned.

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Keely Smith(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Keely Smith
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
MAC is Back

The 19th Annual MAC Awards ceremony was held last night at Symphony Space, celebrating excellence in cabaret as voted by the groups' membership. After last year's abysmal awards show, MAC rebounded this time with a more polished, star-studded event. The evening was peppered with more entertainment and fewer speeches than before, the latter made possible by a decrease in the number of competitive categories to 19. And it's a pleasure to report that the event was better attended than last year's, although it appeared that Symphony Space was still about one-third empty. MAC appears to be on the mend, fighting its way back from the edge of oblivion.

The highlight of the show was an extended performance by Keely Smith, the Lifetime Achievement Award honoree. Smith, who performed a similar set at Town Hall less than three months ago when she won a 2005 Nightlife Award, was great fun, bringing not only an infectious energy to the show but a sense of history as well.

The wise choice was made to honor several members of the cabaret community who passed away this year, but the way this was handled often tilted the show too far into the arena of a memorial. More than four hours long, this year's MAC Awards ceremony was remarkably well paced by director Peter Flynn, dipping in energy only in its third hour. We congratulate the winners, as follows:


2005 MAC Award Winners

Female Vocalist
Natalie Douglas

Male Vocalist
Brandon Cutrell

New York Debut -- Female
Maude Maggart

New York Debut -- Male
Ritt Henn

Major Engagement
Karen Mason

Stand-Up Comedy/Monology
Nancy Witter

Impersonation
Chuck Sweeney (Peggy Lee)

Musical Comedy Performer
Ray Jessell

Vocal or Musical Comedy Duo/Group
Marcus Simeone & Eva Ladas

Revue
The Johnny Mercer Birthday Show

Variety Production/Recurring Series or Special Production
"New Mondays"

Piano Bar/Restaurant Entertainer
Leslie Anderson

Piano Bar/Restaurant Instrumentalist
Jerry Scott

Director
Phil Geoffrey Bond

Musical Director
Alex Rybeck

Technical Director
Thomas Honeck

Recording of the Year
Ann Hampton Callaway, Slow

Song of the Year
Ann Hampton Callaway, "My Answered Prayer"

Special Musical Material of the year
Ray Jessel, "The Short Term Memory Loss Blues"

Hanson Award Winner
Lucille Carr-Kaffashan

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]