If you look behind its brash tone, Passing Strange actually offers a ruminative, rueful, and often witty view of the story it tells. Stew, the co-composer-writer-narrator-bandleader, has the easygoing presence of a jovial genie, his commentary always pitched to convey compassionate awareness rather than condescension, as his hero—incarnated with touching, defiant haplessness by Daniel Breaker—stumbles from one misguided foray to the next. Annie Dorsen's staging, much of it carried on in front of a full-wall light sculpture for which David Korins (set) and Kevin Adams (lighting) should presumably share the praise, catches just enough detail to focus the narrative while moving it along with breezy elan. If there's a flaw here, it's in the material's lack of emotional "grab"; it never gives its score a chance to peak. Luckily, Breaker's performance, and that of Eisa Davis as his patient, devoted mom back home, supply Passing Strange with plenty of emotional heft.
Quaint it ain't: Roger E. DeWitt, Joel Hatch, and Daniel Marc in Adding Machine
By Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
By Stew and Heidi Rodewald
111 West 44th Street
By Gertrude Stein and Al Carmines
Judson Memorial Church
In 1967, In Circles was an extraordinarily light-hearted event, one of the earliest triumphs in the magical collaboration of minister-composer Al Carmines and director Lawrence Kornfeld on Gertrude Stein's allegedly intractable plays. In Circles, written in 1920, is steeped in post–World War I atmosphere; for all its lightness, it rang with eerie resonance in those Vietnam days. Ours is a darker wartime, and John Sowle's revival at Judson, for Kaliyuga Arts, reflected that deeper darkness in its sometimes overinsistent staging. Fortunately, Sowles's cast boasted many first-rate singers, particularly the sopranos, so that Carmines's enchanting music kept rescuing the situation with its plangent melodies and deliciously unexpected turns of phrase. A little Stein and Carmines every month might cure all kinds of contemporary ills.