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The Play’s The Thing

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Here's what I've been up to — theater-wise — in recent months, to give you some idea of what you might enjoy if you can pull yourself away from the TV set and get out of the house. I often hear reasons why people don't show up at a particular event, lots of reasons actually, but what I really want to know is what does it take to get them there. After all, Woody Allen put it best when he said that "80 percent of success is showing up."

I've been to the Thalia Spanish Theatre a couple of times, for "The Ladies of Avignon" and the current flamenco musical, "The Count of Orgaz." Both have to do with Pablo Picasso, one about his youth, the other written by him. Thalia, located in Sunnyside a couple of blocks from Queens Boulevard, presents shows in English as well as in Spanish, and the out-of-the-ordinary entertainment is highly professional.

At the Parkside Players in Forest Hills I saw "The Tempest" (by William Shakespeare, if you have to ask). Kevin Schwab played the lead role of Prospero, and has directed for the company, doing such a credible job that he's now the president of Parkside, replacing long-termer Glenn Rivano. (I understand that it was a bloodless coup.) They're now doing "The Cocoanuts," the Marx Brothers musical comedy by George S. Kaufman, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

Over in College Point are the Phoenix Players, one of the most innovative groups around. Bob Combé and Annie Wolf sometimes extend a production for a limited run in Manhattan, which they did for "Tea" (which I had the pleasure of seeing), a play about Japanese war brides. Friday they open "Enchanted April," a romantic comedy, at the Poppenhusen Institute, where every seat is a good one.

Everybody seemed guilty in Agatha Christie's "A Murder is Announced," a recent presentation by the Douglaston Community Theater, where once again Ed Dzioba created a wonderful set. In Elmont, Broadhollow's new venue keeps turning out a lot of upbeat shows, most directed by Laura Wallace-Rhodes. The one I saw was "Springtime Canteen," a musical featuring songs from the 1940's.

And, of course, there were the plays of the 15th season of The Outrageous Fortune Company, "Shining City," "The Moonlight Room" and "Regrets Only."

On Broadway, home of the standing ovation, this season an unusual number of plays have been produced. I was able to see "The Farnsworth Invention," about the beginnings of television; "The Seafarer," Conor McPherson's beautifully acted devil story; Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll"; a revival of "The Homecoming" by the great Harold Pinter; and one that's still playing, "August: Osage County," a melodrama in three acts, very funny and a Pulitzer Prize winner. The one musical I saw, the exciting "In The Heights," will make you feel good, and it leads the pack with 13 Tony nominations.

Also on the musical front, I saw Barbara Cook in concert at Lincoln Center, backed up by the New York Philharmonic. At age 80, she's better than ever.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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