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NYMF 2010 Roundup #3

Reports on My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, The History of War, and Above Hell's Kitchen.

Ann Harada, David Hein, and Liz Larson in
My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding
(© Carol Rosegg)
[Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the seventh annual New York Musical Theatre Festival.]


David Hein and Irene Sankoff's My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, at the TBG Theatre, is much more sincere than its title implies. The heartwarming one-act musical recounts Hein's parents' divorce and his mother's subsequent lesbian reawakening.

We see this unfold through the first few songs as his mom, Claire (Liz Larsen), moves from Nebraska to Canada and meets Jane (Ann Harada) while singing in a folk choir. This connection unfolds organically with small gestures and quick, spontaneous smiles, and soon the two women are an item.

Hein narrates the story, commenting on his younger self (played by Lev Pakman) during pivotal moments such as when he first learns of his Mom's new life. It doesn't bother him, which surprises Claire a little, and he simply asks, "can I play Nintendo now?" This phrase punctuates several more pivotal scenes as Jane and Claire's relationship develops. It's a refreshing approach to the hot-button topic and brings out the everyday element in a way that isn't overly sentimental while juxtaposing it with political protests and the real life impact of the impending legalization of gay marriage on Jane, Claire, and their friends.

If there's one glaring flaw here it's that Harada's comic talents aren't put to much use -- despite playing a witch. In "Wiccan 101," Jane explains that while she has a broom and other witch accessories, her religion isn't that different from others.

Director Stafford Arima makes the most of the space with fluid staging and lively pacing, but the show would benefit from letting it's wacky side run a little more wild. One of the highlights, "Don't Take Your Moms," illustrates the pitfalls David encounters when he ends up at Hooters with his Moms and his new girlfriend. Christina Decicco shines as their ditsy but busty waitress, and the scene reminds us how much untapped hilarity lurks just under the surface.

-- Chris Kompanek

A scene from The History of War
(© Matthew Murphy)

Set in the imagination of a 12-year-old boy, The History of War, at the Chernuchin Theatre, shows a gathering of seven of the most feared tyrants in history as they brag about their exploits, argue over who was most powerful -- and sing and dance. Unfortunately, musical comedy numbers performed by Julius Caesar (Paul Kandel) or Napoleon (Jason Kravits) are not the best means for conveying the show's anti-war message.

Unquestionably, the show -- which features music by Deborah Abramson, lyrics by Amanda Yesnowitz, and a book by Chip Zien -- serves up a unique concept. As the young Manfred (Michael D'Addario) works through his fiery essay on how to win wars, he interacts with each tyrant while his mother and stepfather (Sophie Hayden and Jim Walton) watch in fear or play their own parts in Manfred's fantasy.

The songs are serviceable, but are often either too silly or heavy-handed, giving an uncertainty to the show's overall tone. Indeed, the musical's efforts to make a grim commentary on war don't fit with its outlandish caricatures of its tyrants. Each time Manfred's parents or two soldiers (Andrew Pandaleon and Robbie Tann) representing wars through the ages remind the boy of war's atrocities, the show jumps to Alexander the Great (Max von Essen) admiring his muscles or Osama Bin Laden (William Michals) hiding behind scenery.

James Maloof's set design builds upon the show's darker sentiments by featuring a world map in pieces, while Gail Baldoni's costumes capture the looks associated with characters such as Hitler (Christopher Gurr), Genghis Khan (Herman Sebek), and Idi Amin (Eric Poindexter).

Ultimately, though, The History of War feels more like an exercise about the immorality of war than a compelling musical, and needs more development from its writers before its conflicting themes work together cohesively.

-- Meredith Lee

Jonathan Spottiswoode and Yasmeen Sulieman
in Above Hell's Kitchen
(© Peter Fox)

Jonathan Spottiswoode's Above Hell's Kitchen, at the TBG Theatre, is a self-described "modern, gothic retelling of Mozart's Don Giovanni." Sadly, the work is so disjointed that aside from a womanizing protagonist and an awkwardly tacked on ending involving a statue, the show bears no resemblance to the world-renowned opera.

DJ (played by Spottiswoode) is a stereotypically promiscuous, aging musician who charms women despite (or maybe because of) his scrappy looks and mediocre abilities. His latest victim is the enchanting Isabel (Yasmeen Sulieman), a sweet, young photographer who wants a relationship with DJ but starts seeing Gary (George Merrick), an equally cocky mountain climber, when he won't commit.

The show begins with a number by Dr. Charity (Andrea Frierson), DJ's therapist and a seemingly minor character -- an odd choice that never pays off and is emblematic of the musical's mismatched structure. Indeed, songs come basically out of nowhere throughout the 100-minute running time . A particularly excruciating ditty, "That's What I Like," has DJ detailing his attraction to all different kinds of women. The lyrics are vague and the music abrasive, having the effect of a drunken vagrant who gets in your face to shout something nonsensical.

Early on, Isabel accuses DJ of "simplistic, intellectual masturbation" which is ironically and painfully true of the show. Spottiswoode's characters never transcend being mere mouthpieces for his exceedingly cynical opinions on the music business and relationships. Moreover, whatever substance is there is buried under convoluted plot lines. If Spottiswoode stops trying to be so cool, perhaps something real would have room to emerge.

-- Chris Kompanek