Light Raise the Roof, by Kia Corthron, is the work of a promising playwright who seems to be overwhelmed by ambition. Corthron’s most famous previous work, Breath, Boom, suffered from a similar ailment: a grasping toward greatness minus the reach. Be that as it may, give her credit for tackling big subjects — in this case, the homeless situation — in her new play at the New York Theatre Workshop.
Corthron gives her street people a sort of pseudo-poetic style of speaking that melds contemporary language with prose of a different color (purple). The dialogue does not ring true; in fact it doesn’t ring at all. This is a sprawling story about a homeless man named Cole (Chris McKinney) who’s driven to build whatever kind of housing he can for the destitute surrounding him. His dream is to convert an abandoned school into safe haven apartments for the needy.
This should be an epic story that builds (if you will) to a dramatic finale. The moment is there but the emotions are not, squandered as they are by the play’s meandering plot and dialogue that fizzles rather fizzes. Drama is provided instead by a combination of lighting (Ben Stanton) and set design (Narelle Sissons) that lends a kinetic force to the production. The production is further enhanced to the point of inspiration by the director (Michael John Garces), who goes so far as to place one of the actors — before the play begins — outside the theater to beg for spare change. He is generally ignored and/or shunned by the play’s patrons, living proof of our attitude toward the homeless.
McKinney is excellent in the leading role and other standouts include April Yevette Thompson, Colleen Werthmann, and J. Kyle Manzay. Rarely has so much talent — in terms of acting and stage craft — shone so brightly in such a disappointing play.
A Show You Won’t Mind Seeing
Marc Salem’s Mind Games on Broadway is not very much different from his Off-Broadway show of several years ago nor his cabaret act at Feinstein’s at the Regency, which ran for an entire summer. If you saw it before, you know how mesmerizing Salem can be; if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat that will both befuddle and entertain you. (Of course, the befuddlement is a major part of the entertainment.)
Salem doesn’t do magic tricks; he has simply harnessed his mind to a deeper understanding of what makes people tick, from accurately guessing where you traveled on your vacation to predicting what you’ll say and do long before you say it or do it. The mental shtick is amazing and Salem’s patter is dry, bright, and funny. He puts on a show that makes for wonderful family entertainment. It can be seen every Monday night at 8pm at the Lyceum Theater, where I Am My Own Wife plays the rest of the week.
You’ve Got a Friend
We hadn’t been to a “Jamie deRoy & Friends” show in a very long time. In the past, deRoy could always be counted upon to provide a stage full of widely diverse talents and she frequently introduced new acts to the cabaret world. She also had a well-deserved reputation for offering cabaret artists access to a wider audience through her sold-out variety shows. Having recently gone to see her at Dillon’s, we are pleased to report that she’s still the queen of such shows; deRoy offered a genuinely diverse and entertaining evening of comedy and music.
On this occasion, she displayed her acumen for picking winners by booking the group Toxic Audio before they won the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience for their show at the Houseman Theatre. The five-person vocal group was a sensation at deRoy’s show, proving once again that cabaret is a big tent under which all sorts of acts can work. She also featured Jeff Pirrami, a comic who goes by the sobriquet “The Fat Rat Bastard.” Vulgar, insulting, and hilarious, he was yet another hit in an eclectic lineup that also included the award-winning vocalist Anne Steele and many others. “Jamie deRoy & Friends” continues to be cabaret’s Viennese table, offering a variety of tasty acts for every sensibility.
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