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In the wake of the midterm elections, the pollsters are telling us that America is growing even more politically polarized, and that we’re less willing than ever before to listen to those with whom we disagree. If that’s so, what effect will this heightened polarization have on the world of theater, a one-party state whose citizens usually vote for the most progressive candidate?
For my part, I expect to see fewer political plays whose purpose is to persuade the unsure, and more that seek instead to lift the spirits of true believers, rather in the manner of an old-fashioned revival meeting. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to stimulate the faithful. Witness “The Prom,” the new Broadway musical about what happens when Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen), a small-town lesbian, tries to take Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla), her closeted girlfriend, to the senior prom. The results are a bit sanctimonous in spots, but most of “The Prom” is really, really funny—and much of it, to my happy surprise, is funny at the expense of the good guys….
It starts out not in middle America but on Broadway, where Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel), a pair of preposterously self-centered stage stars, have just gotten the worst reviews of their lives for a musical in which the critics blitz them for being “aging narcissists.” In order to change the narrative, they resolve to become celebrity activists, teaming up with two other actors suffering from mid-career crises (Angie Schworer and Christopher Sieber) and flying to Edgewater, Indiana, to lend a hand to Emma and Alyssa. Instead, they make matters worse by condescending to the natives…
Mr. Ashmanskas, who specializes in Paul Lynde-type parts, gives a performance that is not merely campy but affecting….
Would that there were anything half so surprising about “Natural Shocks,” the new one-woman play by Lauren Gunderson, whose work is popular throughout America but rarely seen in New York. I was much taken with Ms. Gunderson’s “The Book of Will,” which I saw last summer at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, but this time around she’s given us an all-too-predictable 70-minute monologue by a battered wife (Pascale Armand) whose husband collects guns. Like “The Prom,” “Natural Shocks” is an example of what I call the theater of concurrence, whose practitioners take for granted that their audiences agree with them about everything and thus assert instead of arguing…
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Read the whole thing here.
Excerpts from The Prom: