`The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’


‘Shockheaded Peter’

‘Hiding Behind Comets’


Corrections or additions?

This review was prepared by Simon Saltzman for the March 13, 2005

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review : Off Broadway Roundup

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`The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

There is no need to brush up your spelling before you see the new

William Finn (music and lyrics) musical, because you won’t be able to

keep up with the delightfully eccentric and touchingly nerdish

pre-teen brainiacs who are competing with whiz kid enthusiasm for the

championship. Finn, the composer of the award-winning "March of the

Falsettos," in collaboration with Rachel Sheinkin (book), has written

an absolutely charming show based on the play "C-R-E-P-U-C-U-L-E" by

Rebecca Feldman. A small show with a big heart, "Spelling Bee"

vibrates with the hopes and aspirations as well as the doubts and

personal issues that trouble these bright but incontestably socially

challenged young people. Part of the show’s joy comes from adults

playing the six contestants, all of whom will have you holding your

sides from laughter. Presided over by an equally funny moderator (Jay

Reiss), a hostess (Lisa Howard), and a parolee grief counselor

(Derrick Baskin), this is one Bee that gets an A. ****

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Second Stage,

307 West 43rd Street. $75. 212-246-4422 or visit

www.secondstagetheatre.com. The production will begin performances on

Broadway at Circle in the Square beginning Friday, April 15, with an

official press opening on Monday, May 2.

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If some of the major reviewers had not danced a metaphysical jig in

praise of Will Eno’s existential stream of anger management monodrama,

subtitled "based on nothing," and had not the audience that attended

the same performance that I did respond with enthusiasm, I would have

been inclined to dismiss it as an enervating and unfathomable journey

into a splintered mind. I’m still so inclined. But it is possible that

I just didn’t get it. Deep in a state of mental disarray and

depression, the title character (James Urbaniak, who played the shoe

fetishist in "Sex and the City") uses the audience both as an ally and

as a therapist. This, as he ponders aloud whether his disjointed

memories of childhood, his aptitude for failure at romance and his

general anxieties about other random things that keep popping in and

out of his head, are, in the scheme of things, of any value or

consequence. My question is what could director Hal Brooks have done

to bring shape and coherency to this slightly more than one hour’s

worth of existential gobbledygook? Did I mention this is one of the

hottest tickets in town? *

ThomPain, DR 2 Theater, 103 East 15th Street. $45.

212-239-6200. Extended through July 3.

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‘Shockheaded Peter’

‘Shockheaded Peter" is a macabre, darkly-humored entertainment with

luridly-conceived esthetics grounded satirically in Grand Guignol. We

haven’t had much from that genre since "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber

of Fleet Street" sliced his way through Stephen Sondheim’s

blood-spurting opera. Inspired by Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter),

Heinrich Hoffman’s 19th century book written expressly for

(misbehaving) children, this part vaudeville, part penny-dreadful

staging by Julian Crouch & Graeme Gilmour of selections from the

book’s 10 cautionary morality tales may leave many in the audience

amused but others scratching their heads. I’m still trying to figure

out whether watching Harriet, the infant pyromaniac go up in flames; a

thumb-sucker literally lose his thumb; a child starve himself into a

skeleton to save on wood for his funeral; and parents dispose of their

newly-born physically-impaired baby under the floor boards,

constitutes anything other than strictly adult entertainment. Of

course, if the art of Edward Gorey and the films of Tim Burton are

your cup of cyanide, then by all means partake of the ghoulish doings

that include puppetry and intervals of morbid songs sung by a castrato

with instrumental accompaniment supplied by a diabolical musical group

called the Tiger Lillies. With shades of Victorian melodrama,

"Shockheaded Peter" should enthrall those who have a craving for

nightmarish bedtime stories performed by scenery-chewing actors. **

Shockheaded Peter, Little Shubert Theater, 422 West 42nd

Street. $49.50 to $65; $25 at every Thursday performance at 10 p.m.


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‘Hiding Behind Comets’

Brian Dykstra’s "Hiding Behind Comets" is just the kind of

in-your-face gutsy, violent, scary, and sexy drama that the 29th

Street Rep has built its reputation upon. In it, Troy (Robert

Mollohan) and his sister Honey (Moira MacDonald) are preparing to

close up for the night their father’s seedy little roadside bar in

northern California. Troy’s horny girlfriend, Erin (Amber Gallery) is

gyrating in front of the blaring jukebox when a mysterious,

scruffy-looking, middle-aged stranger named Cole (Dan Moran) enters

and begins to taunt Troy with unnerving questions that lead to a

shocking admission and his more frightening agenda. Cole may be the

siblings’ father, or maybe it was Jim Jones, the cult preacher

responsible for 900 deaths and for whom he had worked. The potential

for violence percolates as Troy’s fear is matched by Honey’s

increasingly unstable behavior. A bizarre sexual triangle is woven

into this well-acted and riveting potboiler directed by David

Mogentale. **

Hiding Behind Comets, 29th Street Rep, 212 West 29th

Street (between 7th and 8th avenues). $19. 212-868-4444 or visit

www.smartix.com. Through April 17.

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Undoubtedly playwright Stephen Belber ("Match") has kept a

conscientious ear and an observant eye on the manipulative power of

our easily misguided/hoodwinked mainstream media and its ability to

willfully deceive itself. His play, "McReele," courageously if not

always cogently illustrates this unfortunate state of affairs in the

affairs of state. In it the title character (Anthony Mackie), a

self-educated African-American, is serving a jail sentence for murder.

A man with a plan, he is not only able to convince an earnest

investigative reporter Dayne (played by Michael O’Keefe) of his

innocence but also to astonish him with his intellectual prowess and

passionately felt political and social views. With Dayne’s help,

enough evidence is collected to exonerate him. Eager and enthusiastic

about assuming the role of McReele’s manager and promoter, Dayne, in

what seems to be a rather illogical decision to groom his protege‚ for

political life as well as to change the course of his own, Dayne puts

McReele on a strict regimen to mold his public persona and master his

already glib manner of speech. If the play, under Doug Hughes’

surprisingly pedestrian staging, takes a notably superficial path

towards its not very revelatory conclusion, it does manage to hold our

attention. **

McReele, Roundabout Theater Company at Laura Pels

Theater, 111 West 46th Street. $51.25 to $61.25. 212-719-1300. Through

May 1.

– Simon Saltzman

The key: **** Don’t miss; *** You won’t feel cheated; ** Maybe you

should have stayed home; * Don’t blame us.

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