Theater Reviews: Porgy & Bess, Fat Pig

Ahmanson Theatre | Through June 1
The controversial 2011 Broadway revival of the classic folk opera The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess has arrived on the West Coast. The story takes place in the late ‘30s in an area of South Carolina called Catfish Row. It centers on a disabled man, Porgy (Nathaniel Stampley), who falls in love with a free-spirited woman, Bess (Alicia Hall Moran), in need of a place to stay after her husband accidentally kills someone.

There is much to appreciate here, but truth be told, this show won’t appeal to everyone. Audiences can’t go into this thinking they are getting Rodgers & Hammerstein. Its mixture of spiritual folk songs and traditional opera might be off-putting, while the minimal set-design is a bit underwhelming. To be fair, this puts the focus where it needs to be—the cast.

Moran and Stampley are at the top of their craft, creating sympathetic characters and belting out the score perfectly. Add in a rousing supporting cast and you’ll find that nearly every number is show-stoppingly good. —Kevin Taft

Hudson Mainstage Theatre | Through June 1

Neil LaBute’s compelling 2007 seriocomedy offers a variation on his frequent theme of misogyny. He provides a heartrending glimpse at the ways our society values notions of physical perfection over inner beauty, coupled with an examination of how we struggle to live up to our noblest convictions. A whirlwind romance between a handsome yuppie (Jonathan Bray as Tom) and a personable librarian who is more than pleasantly plump (Deidra Edwards as Helen) challenges his values, prompting those around him to apply extreme pressure.

Director Alexis Jacknow helms a solid rendition of this affecting work, balancing belly laughs with thoughtful reflections on LaBute’s poignant premise. Bray gives a finely nuanced portrayal of an affable guy facing a crisis of conscience, while Edwards excels as a vivacious woman hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Superb sup- port comes from Kristen Kollender as an office clerk jilted by commitment-phobic Tom, and the hilarious Nick Stabile as his wise-guy coworker. —Les Spindle

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