Doug Strassler's West Side Theater Roundup

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From a Morningside Heights hostel all the way down to the West Village, there are plenty of October openings all the way down the West Side. Here is a sample of the diversity in a few reviews of recently opened shows: Bug Tracy Letts' 2004 breakout hit Bug arrived low in budget but high in ideas. Akia directs this latest re-working of the genre-pushing sci-fi paranoia play as part of Rising Sun's Hotel Suite, in which lonely waitress Agnes (Sarah Norris) meets Gulf War vet Peter (Michael Aguirre) in an Oklahoma City motel room. Their own personal chemistry eventually must face a different kind of scientific matter in the form of an insidious insect infestation. This production doesn't crackle quite as loudly as the original did down on Barrow Street, but Akia keeps the stakes high in this charged production by setting it in a real room at an uptown hostel, adding audience intimacy and claustrophobia. Aguirre and Norris are a matched set in playing lost people whose problems come from both outside and within. Supporting players Amanda Berry, Carl Fengler, and John Hart also give good aimlessness. This is a must-see for anyone who likes site-specific theater with a side order of intensity. Hostelling International New York, 891 Amsterdam Ave. Thru Nov. 3. [caption id="attachment_57822" align="alignright" width="300" caption=""Don't Go Gentle," photo by Joan Marcus."]([/caption] Don't Go Gentle Stephen Belber's newest traffics in familiar troubled family territory, recalling everything from Other Desert Cities to Tony Kushner's The Complete Homosexual's Guide?; in fact, just like the latter, an excellent Michael Cristofer again plays an acerbic ailing patriarch figuring out to whom custody of his home should be awarded. He's Lawrence Driver, a retired conservative judge known for having doled out cruel sentences and for being equally unforgiving, if not outright absent, at home to his two children, Ben (David Wilson Barnes) and Amelia (Jennifer Mudge). Tanya (Angela Lewis), an African-American pro bono client with a teenage son named Rasheed (Maxx Brawer), engages in a quid pro quo arrangement with Lawrence; she'll play stay-at-home nurse in exchange for free lodging and his legal counsel. Conveniently, and all too predictably, though, Lawrence sees a chance for redemption with his new tenants, and his decision to bequeath his home to Tanya and Rasheed sets off a too-familiar brand of discord and disintegration. If Belber's plot treads water, director Lucie Tiberghien's fluid direction and a top-notch ensemble work buoyant wonders. Cristofer 's gravitas prevents Lawrence from curmudgeonly caricature-dom and Barnes and Mudge (reunited after last year's triumphant The Big Meal) bring subtle reality their stunted adult characters and reject much of the inherent melodrama in Belber's writing (a talented playwright whose works include Tape and Dusk Rings a Bell, Belber is slumming here). Brawer and Lewis hold their own as well, clinging to their characters' dignity even as the play ambles swims in a direction both predictable and not quite fulfilling. One wishes that his schematic, thematic work leaves more of its messages as implicit as Belber leaves titular reference to Dylan Thomas's work. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St. Thru Nov. 4. Natasha Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 Just as it did for last year's "The Lapsburgh Layover," midtown's Ars Nova has turned itself inside for director's hilariously askew adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace," "Natasha," "Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812." Rachel Chavkin rewinds the clock two centuries and invites audiences to an intimate Russian bar (courtesy of set designer Mimi Lien) replete with free tabletop vodka and pierogies to enjoy Dave Malloy's spirited combo of rock opera and Cliffs' Notes. Hilarious but still moving, and always engaging, Chavkin's musicalized novel dwells on Tolstoy's love geometry. Natasha (Philippa Soo), while engaged to an aloof Andrei (Blake DeLong), falls for the wayward Anatole (Lucas Steele) brother-in-law of Pierre (Malloy himself). Chvkin and Malloy dust off the intimidating classic with vibrant energy; characters race around the bar set mere inches in front of the audience, and occasionally interact with them as well. All of the performers suit the irreverent tunes-score highlights include "Letters" and "In My House," sung by a truly awesome Amelia Workman-with Soo, Malloy and Brittain Ashford and Nick Choski serving the material particularly well. One of the highlights of the fall theater season, "Comet" is the epic in all the right ways. [At Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th Street]( Thurs Nov. 12.

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