“Derby Day” East to Edinburgh Festival, Playing at 59E59 Theaters (Closed July 25, 2015)
“Derby Day” East to Edinburgh Festival, Playing at 59E59 Theaters (Closed July 25, 2015) Written and Directed by Samuel Brett Williams Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
Picture this: You’re stuck on a train at 1 AM with three drunken brothers. They’re arguing over the death of their father, their alcoholic breaths fumigating the train, as they argue about personal family issues as loudly as possible. At first, the conversation is hilarious, but as it picks up and becomes more violent, what was once entertaining, is now sickening, but impossible to look away from. Much like that train ride, “Derby Day” written by Samuel Brett Williams, is witnessing a drunken fight come to life, as three brothers escape to the race track following the funeral of their father.
The Ballard brothers, Frank, Johnny and Ned are back in Arkansas at the Oaklawn Park Race Track, mourning their late abusive father, who they call “Big Bastard”. Renting out a luxury box, drinking PBR, and placing bets on horses, these three brothers go down a path of uncovering family secrets that leave them unraveled forever. Encountering with their waitress, Becky, the boy are seen juxtaposed to a kind hearted woman who they mouth off to, and end up hurting horribly. Their chaos continues as truths come out: from sleeping with other brother’s wives, a history of alcoholism, and the truth behind their father’s death, “Derby Day” contains a pulse that leaves the audience shaking with every fight, curse, and shocking truth.
This play, though deeply entertaining, is hard to enjoy once you realize the heavy nature of it. It isn’t because it isn’t well written, or because the performances aren’t amazing (they truly are) but, the Ballard Brothers have no redeeming qualities about them. They are cruel to each other, cruel to a harmless waitress, and cruel to themselves.
This dance between dangerous and hilarious is all thanks to Williams’ deeply personal script, as he discusses the culture of a race track, and dysfunctional family, well. His pacing is so in tune to the actors, that it almost seems too real as the day uncovers the secrets of the brothers, creating the perfect moments of high tension. Standing out is a stunning scene when Johnny is on the phone with his ex-wife, having just left prison after facing drug charges. Through this conversation he is heavily drunk, and begging for the right to see his daughter. For a moment, the audience feels sorry for him, but then, he says words that bring the realization of what a horrible human being he truly is, and the sour taste is back in your mouth again and he pops open another round of Pabst, and the bubbly liquid explodes onto the floor.
The set, though minimal, gives the audience a literal view of a window into the luxury box at the races. Popping bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon that spill onto the stage, a table that smashes in half, destroying chairs, paper that is shredded, the stage and set pieces perfectly match the lives of the brothers that spiraled out of control. Their father’s abuse led for this path, and his death did not fix the turmoil he caused them, or the chaos they put on themselves. The chaotic destroyed Luxury Suite is as raw and real as the brothers disgusting attitudes are, and together they create the perfect atmosphere for the play. Robert M. Foster gives a gut wrenching performance as Frank, the oldest brother who now lives in Chicago. Frank’s performance is the meat of the show, creating a sense of reason, but then he is seen unwinding as his brothers encourage him to drink. A recovering alcoholic for four years, Frank’s vow is broken as he says “no one in Chicago will see me here,” and the audience feels their struggle. Constantly fighting with his brother Ned, he is a highly physical character and Robert delivers that with fierceness.
Malcolm Madera plays Ned in a sarcastic smart-ass way, allowing for Ned to pretty much stay as is the entire performance. He makes no great revelations, besides admitting fault to a lot of mistakes he’s made, and continuing to drink until he is unable to walk and has flung himself on top of a table. Malcolm plays drunk extremely well, it’s hard to tell that it’s an actor and not a real, live, angry, drunk man about to come onto the audience steps and scream in your face. His performance is hilarious and physical, and again, is hard to like.
Jake Silbermann‘s performance as Johnny is about as raw as it gets in live theatre. It’s rough in a perfectly planned fashion, as Jake knows every move that Johnny will make, every stumble, and unbelievably naïve stupid mistake that he creates throughout the day of the derby. His flirtation with Becky is both painful to watch, and then sweet, until he provides this perfect insight onto his character that will leave you shocked and your blood boiling.
Delivering a powerful monologue on the importance of women is Teresa Stephenson, Becky, who speaks on her self-worth as Frank attempts to buy her off when they destroy the luxury suite. She talks to the men as animals, and her performance is riveting. Using a sweet southern accent and then showing her importance to the story, Becky makes the play work. Without Teresa’s performance, the men would fall short. Her perfect blend of flirtation and edge makes her as real as a waitress comes, and her interactions allow for the play to have a sense of redemption for its otherwise hard to swallow content.
“Derby Day” is essentially a mix of assholes and alcohol. As dark comedy’s come, It’s a jam packed evening of amazing performances that allow the audience to be up close and personal to the actor. It is extremely intimate, but still has big moments of high action and contains twists that will leave your stomach in knots as you exit the theatre. in knots. The play closes in New York, but will continue onto the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and if you find yourself there, “Derby Day” should be on your “must see” list.
WRITTEN and DIRECTED Samuel Brett Williams.
FEATURING Jake Silbermann (Johnny), Malcolm Madera (Ned), Robert M. Foster (Frank), and Teresa Stephenson (Becky)
WITH Camisade Theatre Company (Producer)
DERBY DAY moves from 59E59 and begins its run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Gilded Balloon (Venue 14) on August 5th-31st. Tickets available for £10.00 here:
“the dreamer examines his pillow” at the Attic Theater Company at the Flea Theater (Through Saturday August 15, 2015)
Dennis Parlato and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti - Photo by Natalie Artemyeff
“the dreamer examines his pillow” at the Attic Theater Company at the Flea Theater (Through Saturday August 15, 2015) By John Patrick Shanley Directed by Laura Braza Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“So you're a comfort to me. lf there was somebody who was like that for you, somebody who was like you the way you used ta be before you were the way you are now, we could probably draw a straight line through the three of us and sec where we're goin.” (Dad)
That affirmation by Donna’s (played with explosive intensity by Lauren Nicole Cipoletti) Dad (played with the powerful indifference of a bad parent by Dennis Parlato) might be the most engaging theme in John Patrick Shanley’s 1986 “the dreamer examines his pillow.” In order to discover Dad’s kernel of truth, one must navigate through 90 minutes of non-stop dialogue (and a few lengthy monologues) and a delicious dose of magical realism. And that is not an unpleasant task, given the high quality of the Attic Theater Company’s production of the Shanley classic curtly running at the iconic Flea Theater.
After discovering that her estranged boyfriend Tommy (played with an edgy narcissistic streak by Shane Patrick Kearns) is “seeing” her sixteen-year-old sister Mona, Donna forces her way into his “new” apartment and confronts him. This incursion disrupts Tommy’s discourse with his refrigerator which apparently holds more than a steady supply of Budweiser beer. Donna calls Tommy a “doghead,” perhaps a euphemism for a chronic loser who not only has “been with” Donna’s sister, but has robbed his own mother. Despite all this, the two are still madly in love with each other and Mr. Shanley’s play apparently addresses the meaning of love (sex and all) and how we fall into and out of it and, more importantly, how we get the whole process “begun.”
Fearful that she is turning into her mother and that Tommy is a version of her father, she visits Dad to get his advice and bask in his guru-like exposition on love, sex, and art. Where is the Donna in Scene 1? After this magical mystery tour, Donna persuades her Dad to visit Tommy and straighten him out or at least beat him up. All three scenes are terribly funny although the audience on the night this reviewer saw the play seemed to prefer digging more deeply into Mr. Shanley’s script for the secrets to the universe. There is quite a bit of rather rich symbolism which is easily accessible throughout. And there is considerable “The Honeymooner’s” type bickering and threats to kick one’s sparring partner from “here to the moon.” Ralph and Alice would be proud.
The symbolism, along with the magical realism, are engaging and just under the surface of the text there are rich questions raised about life’s difficulties and the need to be honest and the need to “begin.” Dad’s final words are crucial. “Flyin’ in the face of the truly great mistakes, there is that consolation.” And, referring to the play’s title, after encountering a difficult time, relationship, or confrontation and vowing never to revisit those, a rematch is certain. Dad counsels Tommy that he has to dig deep and stop running away from himself. Dad says, “You can't stop. Once you step off the edge, you're gone. Once your head's been in that place, you can’t ever take it out.” The dreamer cannot be assured he or she will never revisit the dent made in the pillow during the nightmare.
Under Laura Braza's direction, the ensemble cast does what it can with Mr. Shanley's perhaps outdated script. Psychobabble was a hallmark of the 1980s. The characters need more depth. Who is Donna? Where does she live? Why foes she need Tommy? There is little or no exposition about this main character. We know a bit about Tommy and Dad but next to nothing about Donna.
Why do playwrights - even the most celebrated among them - assume everyone who attends a performance is straight and can immerse themselves in heteronoramtive culture and symbolism or that all heterosexuals are immersed in that culture? If you can affirm with Donna’s Dad that “Sex is for makin’ babies” then you will have no problem engaging with Mr. Shanley’s text. If not – or if you see love and sex as two separate entities – then you will have to work a bit harder to find a way to connect with this play.
THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW
The cast of ‘the dreamer examines his pillow” features Lauren Nicole Cipoletti as Donna, Shane Patrick Kearns as Tommy, and Dennis Parlato as Dad.
“the dreamer examines his pillow” has scenic design by Julia Noulin-Merat, costume design by Lauren Gaston, lighting design by David Upton, and sound design by Beth Lake. The casting director is Judy Bowman, CSA.
Presented by the Attic Theater Company, “the dreamer examines his pillow” will be performed at The Flea Theater (41 White Street, Tribeca) Saturday, July 25th through Saturday, August 15th, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM (there is an additional performance on Saturday, August 15th at 3 PM). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.theattictheaterco.com/. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
“Death of the Persian Prince” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Black Box Theater (Closed on Sunday July 26, 2015) Written and Directed by Dewey Moss Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Communism, like General Motors, is people.”
The above is an important reminder shared by a psychology professor to this reviewer many years ago. A reminder that people should always be more important than politics or social, political, and economic ideologies. Unfortunately, that truth seems difficult for humankind to grasp or achieve globally. After the Holocaust, humanity vowed to never let anything that horrific happen again. Yet currently the world seems to avert its gaze from the horrors of human trafficking, the enslavement and murder of Christians in the Middle East, the pandemic violation of civil and human rights, and the arrest, imprisonment, and murder of members of the LGBTQ community in the Middle East and in Africa.
Dewey Moss' "Death of the Persian Prince" chronicles the plight of gay men in Iran who often choose to undergo transsexual sex reassignment surgery in order to avoid execution by telling the story of one gay man (whose family called him “the prince”) who, after undergoing that surgery, left Iran for the United States to avoid being harassed and/or sold into prostitution. Samantha (Pooya Mohseni) has emigrated from Iran to escape from her brother Cas (Gopal Divan) who paid for his sister’s reassignment surgery and is now cashing in on her status by pimping her to friends and acquaintances looking for sexual encounters with transgender women.
Samantha chooses to live in New York City and establishes a five month relationship with James (George Faya) who served in the Middle East and continues to carry a mixture of guilt and rage from his deployment there. George wants to marry and have children; however he does not know that Samantha is a transgender woman. Ms. Mohseni and Mr. Faya bring a powerful and authentic energy to their performances as they explore important issues of sexual status, roles of women and men, cultural identities and differences, and commitment. It is impossible to watch the gifted Pooya Mohseni relate her character’s story without welling up with tears.
Their détente comes to a blistering climax when James leaves the apartment to buy more wine and Samantha’s brother Cas bursts into the apartment having come from Iran to find her and take her back to Iran to work for him. Mr. Divan delivers a riveting and believable performance as Samantha’s brother whose jealous rage spills over onto the stage with a venomous sting. It is in this exchange that the audience discovers Samantha’s identity and her history in Iran. James’ return to the apartment interrupts this exchange and he discovers from Cas Samantha’s full history and reacts with utter disbelief bordering on disdain. His connection to Samantha counterpoints with the hopelessness and fear inherent in his PTSD.
It is when Cas leaves and Samantha and James face each other in the brilliance of full transparency and honesty that Mr. Moss’ play grabs the psyche and soul of the audience and does not let go until the cathartic ending (which – without a spoiler alert – needs to remain undisclosed). Under Dewey Moss’ exacting and meticulous direction, “Death of the Persian Prince” remains one of the most riveting and life-altering plays in the current canon of LGBTQ theatre.
New York audiences have two more opportunities to see this important play at the south Asian International Performing Arts Festival on August 4th and 8th. See the link to this Festival below. “Death of the Persian Prince” will surely change your thinking about the transgender community and the deep prejudice that surrounds the lives of the brave and heroic individuals who choose to celebrate who they have always been. The Prince is dead. Long live the Princess.
“Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Closed on Monday July 27, 2015)
“Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Closed on Monday July 27, 2015) Book by Noemi de la Puente Music by David Davila Lyrics by Noemi de la Puente and David Davila Directed by Jose Zayas Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” is a powerful new musical that takes considerable risks in exposing the flaws in the United States Immigration System (USCIS). Noemi de la Puente’s engaging book personalizes the “nightmare” of USCIS as a knock-down-drag-out boxing match between a young illegal Manuel (played with a powerful grace by Gil Perez-Abraham) and the Statue of Liberty (played with cloyed playfulness by Shakina Nayfack). This fight symbolizes the larger struggle all illegal immigrants (including those awaiting Green Cards) experience when attempting to gain legal status.
Ironically, the Statue of Liberty represents the “American Nightmare” reminding Manuel that “It’s Against the Law to Be Here Illegally” and doing all she can to defeat Manuel’s spirit and his attempts to become a legal citizen. This is gritty theatre: the Statue is the enemy of freedom not the ally of the immigrant she seems to welcome. Watching Ms. Nayfack portray the “Statue’s” redemptive transformation is cathartic and electrifying.
The system seems designed to make the naturalization process not only difficult but impossible. Manuel came to the United States with his mother and his sister Yolanda (Alicia Taylor Tomasko) who was born in the United States and is therefore a legal citizen. It is Manuel and his Mami (Tami Dahbura) that face deportation if they do not get Green Cards. Manuel is not willing to live in hiding and with the encouragement of his mentor Mr. Walsh (Michael Marotta) he wants to go to Princeton then, upon graduation, to study abroad at Oxford on a scholarship from Princeton. If he leaves the country, he realizes he will not be able to return.
The ensemble cast under Jose Zayas’ impeccable direction skillfully portrays Manuel’s journey from his high school graduation through his decision to turn himself into USCIS authorities. Although things go well for Manuel, they did not go well for the inspiration for this musical Dan-el Padilla Peralta. Despite the requisite happy ending for musical theatre (not all but most), “Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” remains a scorching critique of immigration policies in the United States and a resounding celebration of the human spirit, the confirmation that “nothing good comes easily,” and the importance of fighting for the values upon which the United States was founded.
THE FAIRER SEX at Theatre Row (Through August 2, 2015)
THE FAIRER SEX at Theatre Row (Through August 2, 2015) Presented by Between Us Productions Written by Sander Gusinow Directed by Samantha Lee Manas Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
Imagine a world where women are free of sexual violence, oppression, and make the same, if not more, money than men. Finally, in a stunning humanistic dark comedy, “The Fairer Sex” presented by Between Us Productions, and written by Sander Gusinow, this women-run reality is featured. Following the aftermath of a rebellion, in which women fought back against men, and won, “The Fairer Sex” takes the audience on a journey of a society called the New World Order, in which women elect a queen, enforce the law, eliminate sexism, and take on a whole new meaning of the women’s title “fairer sex.” In other words: women rejoice!
The idea of “The Fairer Sex” came to Sander as he puts it, "with the whole Ariel Castro situation," in which three women were abducted, abused, and repeatedly raped. Taking that into consideration, the script and its characters provide a perspective on the world where women are no longer subjects to the brutal abuse every day, simply because of their sex.
The play begins in the New World Order as two (Lena and Kristen) apprehend Elam, who was being smuggled out of a hospital by Sean, a known worker of the resistance. Kristen is shown with Gwen, the commander, proudly wearing her New World Order uniform, showcasing the female sex symbol encased by a fist punching the air. Gwen instructs Kristen, with the help of Lena, to question the men and eventually, “put them down.” From there, the play unravels as Elam’s true identity is revealed, and Lena and Kristen fight a line between doing their duty and doing what is right.
“The Fairer Sex” is deeply hysterical from beginning to end as Gusinow’s script expands its themes, characters, and revelations. Gusinow lifts the characters up, with lines allowing the actors to make choices, understand their characters, and give stunning performances. Featuring three women, Gwen, Kristen and Lena, the use of femininity is highly different from what would be expected in today’s world. Instead of writing strictly overbearing characters, much like what is found in current productions and television shows, the women are portrayed as strong without being crazy. Yes, they still have guns, and occasionally blow a few balls off, but they are able to show strength through their minds, more than their physicality.
Showing some teeth, and some pure ass-kicking, is the performance of Kristen, played by Josephine Wheelwright. Fighting a few bullet wounds, her emotional state, and a few mishaps with her best friend Lena, Kristen is the vital centerpiece to the production. Wheelwright brilliantly delivers Kristen with as much strength as a nail, but also showcases her vulnerability. In the most tragic hair-raising scene, Gwen reminds Kristen of why she joined the movement, Wheelwright leaves the audience stunned and shaking with anger, as they witness Kristen relive the tragic, vile act that was placed upon her.
With a blinged out version of femininity, Lena is the female opposition of Kristen. Lena is portrayed as the perfect combination of southern ditz meets city class. Wearing bright red cowboy boots that fit just right, a giant bedazzled ‘L’ on her shirt, and a high pony tail that sways back and forth as she walks, Lena embraces her policing efforts with her own personal style. With a stunning performance given by Erica Becker, Lena’s so called “stupidity” by Gwen, played by Michelle Liu Coughlin, is deeply disproved, as Lena forces the resistance and Kristen to find common ground through her relationship with Elam. Erica Becker handles her role fearlessly, allowing for both the hilarious use of Lena’s physically and written lines, but still producing the undeniable nurturing quality of Lena, that leaves the audience both rolling in their seats and holding back a few tears of joy.
Lena also gives the play a look into sexual desire. Her loneliness is discussed frequently, and her libido is put to the test when she is left alone with Elam after his interrogation. Elam’s performance by Billy Giacci compliments Lena well, and their encounter is both sexy and sweet, and gives insight to a woman’s ability to be sexually enlightened and in command.
Elam is the voice for the more common, softer side of mankind. The two other male characters Mark, played by Michael Markham, and Sean, played by Chauncey Johnson, commonly describe women as “cum-bucket sluts,” and prove why the New World Order refers to men as animals. Their performances, though you may hate them at the end, are overly physical and brutal, allowing for Elam’s revelation to be effective. Michael Markham is present on stage, and Chauncey Johnson gives spit-hitting lines that hit that back wall every time he barks “Princess” at Elam. Billy’s portray of Elam’s tenderness towards women perfectly reminds the audience and the New World Order that not all men are animalistic rapists.
“The Fairer Sex” isn’t just a play on feminism. The cast all work in sync with one another to provide a full picture that the world needs both men and women to coexist, and not just for reproduction. Men and women depend on each other for guidance, mental wellbeing, and friendship. Without coexistence, both sides fall further away from embracing what makes each sex great. “The Fairer Sex” is a must see at Theatre Row, and triumphs in its ability to create a cathartic, hysterical, mind-changing theatre experience.
THE FARIER SEX
Written by Sander Gusinow and directed by Samantha Lee Manas
FEATURING Josephine Wheelwright (Kristen), Erica Becker (Lena), Billy Giacci (Elam), Michelle Liu Coughlin (Gwen), Michael Markham (Mark), Chauncey Johnson (Sean/Solider).
WITH Paul Kennedy (Lighting Design), Samantha Lee Manas (Costume and Set Design) Mickey Lee Nelson (Graphic Design), Jasmine Brown, Graydon Gund, and Karl Custer (Producing Company Members).
THE FAIRER SEX is performed July 29-31st at 8 PM, August 1 at 2 PM and 8 PM; August 2 at 3 PM at Theatre Row Studio Theatre, located at 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $18 and available at www.Telecharge.com. For more information about Between Us Productions, go to betweenusproductions.wix.com/betweenusprod.
“Single Wide” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Closed on Saturday July 25, 2015)
Matt Miner and Derek Carley in "Single Wide" - Photo by Robert Aroujo
“Single Wide” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Closed on Saturday July 25, 2015) Book and Additional Lyrics by George D. Nelson Music and Lyrics by Jordan Kamalu Directed and Choreographed by Jeff Whiting Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Single Wide" is a charming musical with an interesting book, a pleasing country-rock score with solid lyrics. The creative writing team of George D. Nelson and Jordan Kamalu has constructed an engaging musical with strong well-rounded characters with authentic and believable conflicts (problems), with an interesting setting, and strong rich themes. The conflicts drive a powerful plot with enough tension to make the story line sustainable and absorbing.
Katy (played with a redemptive sadness by Emma Stratton) and her mother Amanda (played with the strength of a protective hopefulness by Stacia Fernandez) have had a rough time and are trying to make a new start so Katy’s son Sam (played with an endearing and reparatory charm by Matt Miner) won’t have to “end up just like [them].” Both work tirelessly and hope soon to leave the trailer park where they live. Flossie (played with joyful decadence by Jacqueline Petroccia) occupies an adjacent trailer and does all she can to snag a man, most often making poor choices and not spending much time regretting those choices. Maclain Nelson portrays Flossie’s beaus including Bodie (the perhaps keeper). Freddi (Maya Landau) and Ali (Alex Lanning) round out the women living from paycheck to paycheck and ready for a life they feel is long overdue. It seems the consistent problem for all of these women has been unreliable, unfaithful, and unappreciative men.
The trailer park is a dysfunctional family and it is unlikely anyone would be able to escape their “Microwave Life.” This setting (brilliant design by Jason Ardizzone-West) is a trope (here an extended metaphor) for all life’s situations where people feel stuck, disenfranchised, betrayed, cheated, ignored, discounted, discouraged, or marginalized in any way. Into this dysfunctional family enters a guy named Guy (perhaps an Everyman or an Anyman) played with stunning energy by the remarkable Derek Carley. Guy comes to the trailer park to drink away his problems including his PTSD after serving in Afghanistan but instead, after being befriended by Sam, becomes the catalyst for significant change.
This change agent has his work cut out for him in the person of Flossie who, despite knowing Katy likes Guy (Sam sets that one up), is determined to win him over with her charms (“The World Revolves Around Me”). If there is any disappointment with “Single Wide” it is with the character of Flossie (not with Ms. Petroccia’s spot-on portrayal of that character). Flossie needs a morally ambiguous backbone. She is too flat and her begonia “children” do not give her enough dimension to balance likability with dislike.
It is difficult to say more about Flossie’s attempt to betray Katy without a spoiler alert. Under Jeff Whiting’s deft and decisive direction, the ensemble cast keeps the action moving with enough twists and turns to keep the audience in suspense and completely engaged. The chemistry between Guy and Sam is electric and charged with emotion and attributable to the extraordinary craft of Mr. Carley and the young Mr. Miner.
The musical numbers in “Half Wide” are all effective. Standing out are Derek Carley’s interpretation of Guy’s “Till It Feels Like Home,” “Just Takes One” sung by Stacia Fernandez, and the trio sung by Emma Stratton (Katy), Derek Carley (Guy), and Jacqueline Petroccia (Flossie). “Single Wide” is a new musical for all those who believe in the redemptive power of unconditional and non-judgmental love and the resilience of the human spirit. Hopefully it will find a home on another stage very soon.
For complete information on "Single Wide” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/single-wide. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.
“Pearl” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theater (Through August 2, 2015)
“Pearl” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theater (Through August 2, 2015) Written by CB Murray Directed by Ben Harney Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
“There are two kinds of talent, man-made talent and God-given talent. With man-made talent you have to work very hard. With God-given talent, you just touch it up once in a while.” – Pearl Bailey
Fame, family, devotion, race, relationships, cabaret, feminism and a voice: “Pearl” a new musical written by CB Murray, and performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is a hair-raising testament and biography of the journey of Pearl Mae Bailey. Told through the progression of her career, “Pearl” uncovers the hardships, trials, and fearlessness of the woman who was born gifted, but polishes herself into a timeless star.
“Pearl” tells Bailey’s story with hard-hitting historical accuracy that includes cabaret interruptions by Pearl (songs both classic and original), making for a perfect weave of her professional and personal life. Mixing glamourous red lips, fur and stunning beaded gowns, the production itself creates a juxtaposition of the beauty of Pearl’s talent and appearance, to the anxiety driven life she was facing behind closed doors.
Showing the serious side of Pearl, CB’s script focuses in on one particular theme. Her life and career was surrounded by men who followed her every move. Whether it was a relationship gone wrong or her brother asking her for drug money, Pearl is in a constant battle to not be defined by a man. Showing Pearl’s inner battle with the desire to be married, she is left with three divorces and in the arms of an abusive husband. Using this material, the show is able to showcase Pearl’s strength and transformation.
Ben Harney’s staging leaves the audience alone with Pearl, as she sits at her vanity and looks into a mirror with a powder puff in hand, dabbing at the red swollen mark on her eye. She says “I will never be in an abusive relationship ever again,” and the visual of a girl who was afraid to be alone is gone. In her place is Pearl Bailey, who’s fierceness is striking, and the show takes on another level of importance.
Playing the role of Pearl is the brilliant and stunning Jennie Harney. Her classic and timeless performance of this once in a lifetime role is easily categorized in “must see performances.” She is enchanting; her transformation of Pearl from a teenager, to a young star, to the final destination of Pearl Bailey is so well done, that it is hard to believe it’s the same actress on stage. Understanding every move, line and song she sings, Jennie leaves her heart with this show, with so much passion that she left the national tour of “Motown” to rejoin this musical.
Behind her is a cast of men who take on the deep themes, and multiple character roles, with ease. Their outstanding performances include unbelievable tap numbers played brilliantly Pearl’s brother, Bill Bailey (Dewitt Heming Jr), a cameo by Frank Sinatra (Sean Gorski), and a hilarious performance of Nat King Cole (Thaddus McCants) that leaves the audience howling with laughter. Her final husband Louie Bellson (Stephen Dexter) gives a heartfelt performance as he shows Pearl what it means to love after years of bad relationship.
Louie and Pearl are shown as awe-struck lovers as they take on the journey of becoming an interracial married couple. At the time, this was an unheard offense, one that both of them in some southern states could be arrested for. Their defiance of the law and their love for one another triumphs, and the moment of their kiss send shivers throughout the room. This is a testament to how far we’ve come thanks to the work and dedication of Pearl Bailey and others who fought for equal rights in this country.
“Pearl” is a testament to everything that is good about seeing live theatre, especially an original work. With a script containing the perfect amount of complexity and fun, an amazing cast, and a driving artistic team, anything is possible for this show. It will be devastating to the theatre community if the production of “Pearl” takes its final bow. Given a bigger venue where it could properly shine, the story of Pearl Mae Bailey will hopefully find itself a home after the festival lights dim.
FEATURING: Jennie Harney (Pearl Bailey), Stephen Dexter (Louie Bellson), Dewitt Heming Jr. (Bill Bailey), Sean Gorski (Bob Hope), and Thaddus McCants (Nat King Cole).
The creative team includes Charles Czarneski (Music Director), Dewitt Fleming Jr. (Tap Choreographer), Amaris Harney (Stage Manager) Olive Pointer Harney (Costumes), Sean Gorski (Set Design), Pamela Thompson (Projections), and Legal Representation (Edward M. Kellman).
“Deep Love” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Allice Griffin Theatre (Closed Saturday July 24, 2015)
Jon Peter Lewis and Melanie Stone in "Deep Love" - Photo by Jeremy Daniel
“Deep Love” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Allice Griffin Theatre (Closed Saturday July 24, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Garret Sherwood and Ryan Hayes Book by Jon Peter Lewis Directed by Michael Rader and Jon Peter Lewis Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Deep Love" began its journey as a rock concert and that is precisely where its journey should have ended. It is not musical theatre. It could be theatre dance if the dancers told the story in dance with music and text supportive of the movement (not the reverse which is the case in this current incarnation). As it stands, Garrett Sherwood’s and Ryan Hayes’ “Deep Love” seems to be in search of an identity. And that is somewhat unfortunate given the quality of the music, the lyrics, the overall story, and the talented cast.
But all of that quality and talent is not working in the current incarnation of “Deep Love.” The use of five dancers to help tell the story does not work despite the significant skills of the dancers. Mr. Sherwood’s and Mr. Hayes’ book, music, and lyrics and Mr. Lewis’ book seem underserved by the choreography and the direction – both which distract from the characters, their conflicts, and the plot those conflicts drive.
Unfortunately, the program does not list what actors sing the musical numbers so it is difficult to give special mention to specific actors. Garrett Sherwood (Friedrich) has a delightful raspy rock voice that can handle any song and his vocal range and interpretation of lyrics is impressive. Jon Peter Lewis (Old Bones), Amy Whitcomb (Florence), and Melanie Stone (Constance) have powerful voices that handily interpret the lyrics. It would be a pleasure just to sit back and see them perform this Opera without the distractions of dancers and erratic direction. And it would be a delight to be able to hear an outstanding band without their faces covered in ghoul masks and forced to stand throughout the performance. The creative team might consider rethinking several of their choices in the creation of this re-birth of “Deep Love.”
“Karaoke Bacchae” at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre (Through August 8, 2015)
The Cast of "Karaoke Bacchae" - Photo by Jenny Sharp
“Karaoke Bacchae” at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre (Through August 8, 2015) Presented by Meta-Phys Ed. Written and Directed by Jesse Freedman/Meta-Phys Ed. Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
“Theatre without alcohol is a museum piece” once quipped Bertolt Brecht. If that’s the case, Meta-Phy Ed’s “Karaoke Bacchae” belongs as far away from MoMA as humanly possible. A drunk, delirious adaptation for Euripides's ‘The Bacchae’ set in a Karaoke Bar, writer/director Jesse Freedman delivers an enjoyable, if decidedly incoherent dance theatre piece that’s heavy on fun and glamor.
For those unfamiliar with The Bacchae, Pentheus, a straight-laced ruler comes into conflict with Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, disguised in human form. When Pentheus orders Dionysus arrested, he sends the women city into a ravenous frenzy. In Karaoke Bacchae however, Pentheus Is a bar owner who’s showing the Stanley Cup during Karaoke night, and Dionysus arrives with a cadre of wasted sorority girls to punish him.
Most of the play revolves James Tigger! Ferguson prancing about as the hyper-glam Dionysus, who comes to earth in the form of Iggy Pop. This Dionysus seems something out of the mind of Charles Mee: funky, endearing, and without menace. Tim Craig is brings an arresting pride to the stage as Pentheus, but from the moment he comes onstage covering Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ one never gets the feeling he’s any less fun-loving than his rival. Yes, he tries to escort the sorority girls out of the bar, but they’re so wasted it’s hard to feel like he’s ever in the wrong.
The play certainly captures the hazy bliss of a bar karaoke night, and succeeds in lifting the revelry into the occasional moment of prescience. A drag-queen tango between Pentheus and Dionysus make for a delightful show-stopper, but there’s a lot of muddle in “Karaoke Bacchae.”’ Frenzy is not the same as messy, and the play’s devolution can disunite when it wants to enter.
For example, at one point the four sorority girls launch into the much-tweeted ‘Deranged Sorority Girl’ email meme of 2013. While it’s funny at first, the performers are less than precise in delivery. They stumble over each other, the bit becomes laboriously lengthy, and instead being swept up in the revelry, it feels like the audience is just there to watch the performers have fun.
Those who have never seen or read ‘The Bacchae’ will most certainly be confused. The lines of Greek Chorus don’t mesh all that well when sung to the tune of Karaoke Classics. It’s only in Don Castro’s delirious summary of the play (as the rest of the cast lies in a drunken stupor) that the show achieves its impact. Castro gives an endearing, playful performance as a wasted English Professor who observes the unfolding chaos. Through his alcohol-fueled epiphanies; he relates The Bacchae to both The New Testament and the Lord of the Rings, the play finds its subtle sloshed comedy.
Meta-Phys Ed’s proclaimed Raison d'être is “Investigating the inseparable relationship between spirituality and art.” While one may not leave the theatre feeling any more spiritual per se, ‘Karaoke Bacchae’ is a jovial wild-eyed piece of revelry. If you're a lover of Euripides, Karaoke, and (most importantly) glamor, I highly suggest you give it a go.
Featuring: Don Castro, Timothy Craig, Mehdya Fassi, James TIGGER! Ferguson, Sheree Grate, Benoit Johnson, Youn Jung Kim, and Sarah Matusek.
Set Design Michae Minahan Costume Design Karen Boyer Sound Design D.R. Baker Lighting Design Jennifer Reiser Projections Arron Minerbrook Choreographer Mor Mendel Meta-Phys Ed. Co-Founder Bronwen Mullin.
“Songs for the Fallen” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Closed on July 27, 2015)
“Songs for the Fallen” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Closed on July 27, 2015) Book by Sheridan Harbridge Lyrics abd Musuc by Basil Hogios and Sheridan Harbridge Directed by Shane Anthony Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Songs For The Fallen,” a new musical, tackles the fascinating life and passionate times of Marie Duplessis, the infamous courtesan of the upper echelon in 19th century Paris. It is being presented as part of NYMF at Theater 3. Although the subject has been depicted in various mediums including the popular film “Moulin Rouge,” this incarnation penned by Sheridan Harbridge, takes a risk in the intimate form of cabaret, immediately breaking down the fourth wall to share her secrets and trysts. The music and lyrics by Basil Hogios and Ms. Harbridge might be categorized as pop, but the extensively varied styles, for some uncanny reason are able to keep you planted in the French boudoir where Marie lived, entertained, played, suffered and eventually died. The sounds reflect a Kurt Weil for the new age. The cognoscente Mr. Hoglios plays everything including computer beats, synthesizer, drums and more, producing sultry ballads to raucous celebrations supporting every mood and situation that arises. The lyrics are glued to the character and expose all, some brash and bold, others quiet and thoughtful but all tearing off layers of emotion and tossing them aside in order to reveal past and present. The entire production is well structured and complete, deftly directed by Shane Anthony, who ensures, that as the insanely crafted production unfolds and unleashes the debauched tale it never fails to understand the focus.
The cast is nothing less than superb coaxing every morsel of entertainment out of the inspired script, attacking with a blitzkrieg of singing, dancing and morphing into several characters. Garth Holcombe and Simon Corfield are amazing as an entourage of supporting characters and undertake every task with ebullience and sincerity. Now, move over Sally Bowles, this Marie as inhabited by Ms. Harbridge, is the epitome of “divine decadence.” Her character oozes with sexual charm, emotional intelligence and vulgar values. Her vocal ability is captivating with a bold mezzo that is powerful, sensitive, seductive and beguiling. Her amazing ability to break down the fourth wall and at times walk along that keen edge, always returning to suspend belief, is mystifying, reinforcing her as an aficionado of cabaret performance. It is “Rocky Horror” meets “Hedwig”. She is brilliant!
This current production is ripe and ready for the New York theater scene and would be embraced by the audiences. It is new, fresh, entertaining and filled with exceptional talent.
SONGS FOR THE FALLEN
For complete information on "Songs for the Fallen” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/songs-fallen. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.
“Summer Shorts” – Series A at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
“Summer Shorts” – Series A at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015) By Neil LaBute, Matthew Lopez, and Vickie Ramirez Directed by Neil LaBute, Kel Haney, and Stephen Brackett Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“10K” Written and directed by Neil LaBute
In “10 K” a Man (played with a delicious passive coyness by J.J. Kandel) and a Woman (played with an equally delicious aggressive coyness by Clea Alsip) meet at a suburban (“Whispering Pines”) park and decide (after a good stretch) to jog together. Immediately, both disclose the less-than-satisfying natures of their married-with-children statuses. The Woman’s two-year-old is always “underfoot” and she leaves the child at home unattended and her husband “doesn’t listen.” As the pair work up a considerable sweat, the marital ennui becomes playful seduction, the Woman more aggressive than the Man. Their banter includes some odd racist agenda on the part of the Woman which seems to do nothing to advance the plot driven by these characters’ otherwise believable conflicts. Predictably, the heat of the run fires up the possibility of a tryst but both decide to forego that diversion from reality.
There a many double entendres like the Man’s, “Right, but...I mean...people need relief.” And Mr. LaBute’s text skillfully reveals the real motivations of the pair and their impressive reserve of frustration and disappointment. They each desire a new life, a different life, but lack the conviction and the “plan” to achieve that level of freedom. Director LaBute keeps the pace up in this delightful extended metaphor for all the 10Ks humankind runs every day, mostly coping, often compromising, and – for better or worse – “getting back” to their realities with the promise of “meeting again” at the same place and time.
“Glenburn 12 WP” Written by Vickie Ramirez and Directed by Kel Haney
Although Ms. Ramirez’s script requires the reader/audience to confront the important issues of racism, colonialism, and privilege, her characters seem not to be as full developed as they might be to deal with such significant conflicts. Troy Davis a twenty-something African-American man (played with just the right amount of millennial hipster bravado by W. Tre Davis) enters a small Irish pub near Grand Central Terminal. The bartender is not to be found and after assuring the missing barkeep he “is not stealing anything,” Troy settles in to wait to order a beer and is soon joined by Roberta Laforme (played with seductive aggressiveness by Tanis Parenteau) a thirty-something woman who is a member of the Mohawk Nation and an attorney.
Troy flirts with Roberta, and after getting rebuffed, the two engage in a convoluted discussion about race, gender, sex, white privilege, the discontent of the marginalized, and the missing bartender Kieran. Although their conversation raises important and rich questions about the topics raised, it is so clearly intended to set the stage for Robert’s unexpected revelation about her two visits to the bar and the reason for Kieran’s absence that it becomes forced and uninteresting.
Why Troy is not participating in the “protests” and why Roberta has returned to the bar and why Kieran is missing is all answered in Ms. Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP.” The question to be answered is whether the 30 minute discourse (although it is key to the mystery) is enough of a reason to wait for the shocking solutions or why Roberta askes Troy to call the police.
“The Sentinels” Written by Matthew Lopez and Directed by Stephen Brackett
Matthew Lopez's short is the best of the three in Series A and deals with the important process of grieving and bereavement. As the thanatologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross affirmed in her ground-breaking writings on the stages of grief, different people grieve differently: some go from denial to acceptance in a year, some stay stuck on bargaining for years. Alice (Meg Gibson), Kelly (Michelle Beck), and Christa (Kellie Overbey) have met on the same day (September 11) at the same place to remember the day the Twin Towers were destroyed by a terrorist attack and their husbands were killed in that attack.
These three women are the self-appointed sentinels who guard the collective memory of those who lost loved ones in the 911 terrorist attack and who preserve memory of the horrific event itself. Matthew Lopez’s remarkable script shows how three disparate women have dealt with grief and bereavement over the ten years after the attack (including the year they choose not to meet). Even more remarkable is how Mr. Lopez chooses to tell this story from 2011 back to the year before the fall of the twin towers when the three women meet their husbands at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Meg Gibson’s Alice is the glue that holds the trio together and assures the continuity of the memorial meetings. She never remarries. Ms. Gibson’s performance is authentic and believable and deeply rooted in her craft. Michele Beck’s Kelly does remarry but remains faithful to the group and its commitment to remember. Kellie Overbey’s Christa needs to get on with her life – move on – and eventually loses interest in the group. Under Stephen Brackett’s meticulous direction, this ensemble cast captures the distinct personalities of three women to deal with grief in unique and authentic ways. Zuzanna Szadkowski shines as the waitress at the restaurant where the women meet.
SUMMER SHORTS – SERIES A
SUMMER SHORTS runs through Saturday, August 29. The general performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. For individual performance dates for Series A and Series B, download the calendar at https://www.dropbox.com/s/9h1p0vf8khgweb8/SummerShorts2015_Calendar.pdf?dl=0. Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). A Pair of Shorts (a ticket to both Series A & B) is $40 (available until August 12). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
“What do Critics Know?” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“What do Critics Know?” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Book by Matthew Gurren Music and Lyrics by Matthew Gurren and James Campodonico Directed by Michael Bello Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
I assume that there are times when audiences just want to go to the theater and see a good old fashioned musical comedy since there is a constant flow of revivals opening on Broadway to satisfy that urge. There is certainly room amongst the cutting edge subject matter and new music genres that keep creeping onto the scene for a new classic romantic comedy with good structure, a decent dramatic arc to the plot and a score where you actually might find yourself leaving the theater humming a tune. Strong belting solos, dynamic duets, harmonizing trios, exuberant ensembles and the good old chorus of singers and dancers that give life to the exhausting production number are just a few things that can assure a success. You need wait no longer if you happen to catch the new musical “What Do Critics Know?” being presented as part of NYMF at the Alice Griffin Theater. The book by a young Matthew Gurren is a testament that a solid book for a romantic comedy, albeit set in a past decade, can still captivate and entertain. The music and lyrics by Mr. Gurren and James Campodonico are classic and varied, visiting several different styles which serve and support the characters and situations that arise. The lyrics work most of the time and are simple and smart, move the plot forward and integrate into the story easily.
The capsulated plot is about a Broadway composer that is having a run of shows that are being panned by the critics and has hit rock bottom. His wish is that the critics have to write a musical for Broadway and fall prey to the critics themselves. Not to complicate things I will only say the critics are blackmailed and his wish comes true. Of course there is a happy ending, or I should say a few. Quite a bit, and I mean a lot happens in between the lines and all is in the greatest innocent fun. Even if you don’t like this type of show there are times that you cannot help but laugh out loud at some of the silly antics.
The cast is ever so solid and understands so well what they need to do and what they can do to make this production work. Characters are well defined, three dimensional and emotionally connected to the material and they tend to be a bit stereotypical but that element disappears quickly as you get caught up in the amusing capers. Yes the plot is predictable but what sometimes what is more important is the journey not the destination.
Chris Gleim gives a clear, innocent and noble portrayal of defeated playwright Nathan, with a pure tenor and wholesome look. As Dahlia, Sarah Stevens is delightful as a love interest and ineluctable understudy, demonstrating strong vocal ability. As the critics, Ryan Knowles, Mary Mossberg and Prescott Seymour are absolutely perfect, fully immersed in their characters, with great comic flair, solid vocals and just the right amount of emotional depth to make an audience fall in love with them. Ms. Mossberg is a vocal powerhouse and turns in a good dramatic transition in Act two, although a bit more subtlety could enhance the performance. There is nothing that can describe the antics of Shakespeare and Bach, played respectively by Bruce Ribold and Jason Fleck, as they boldly roll in to save the day. They are both hysterical.
Mind you this show is not perfect and that is to be expected. Something that occurs often, the second act needs work. It drags just a bit because Act one seems to be so structurally sturdy. Also after some great musical numbers the finale needs to be more robust and rousing, more of a celebration. I am sure with continued commitment to this project and some alterations, it will overcome any hurdles and only improve.
“Foolerie” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“Foolerie” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Santino DeAngelo Directed and Choreographed by Tralen Doler Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
I have never felt like a bigger fool than when I wasted two hours and fifteen minutes enduring the new musical “Foolerie” presented as part of NYMF at the PTC Performance Space. To substantiate my point, regarding the reason to persevere, I ran across this quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do”
Yes, it is the audience who were the biggest fools who were hoodwinked into thinking they were actually going to see what is billed as “A Shakespearean Musical Comedy.” It actually has nothing to do with Shakespeare except for the shallow, stereotypical, references to some of his works, which desperately try to evoke a humorous storyline without much success. The book, music and lyrics are credited to the young Santino DeAngelo. His book is empty and meaningless with no plot or dramatic arc to speak of but merely serves as a vehicle for tasteless humor similar to the borsht belt of the early seventies. Sparing any innuendo or inventive parody the result is sophomoric vulgarity. The characters are shallow, shapeless and two dimensional with absolutely no emotional depth. The music is not an homage to the great Sondheim but more of a carbon copy and a bit too close for comfort. The lyrics are pretentious and insipid lacking any character support. If asked to give a vivid description of this production, I would say it was as if Don Rickles wrote a Monty Python skit that was a total disaster and complete failure.
There is an ominous foreshadowing as you leaf through the program and notice that two full pages are filled with the Author’s and Director’s Notes which acknowledges the following: “Lords and Ladies, Madams and Messieurs, Clergymen and Whores, Welcome.” Director and Choreographer Tralen Doler is able to move his troupe of fools through the antics but fails to add anything to the already bleak storyline. The choreography is pedestrian with constant replication of movement from several popular shows, and believe me this has nothing to do with parody. The cast does what it can with the material they are given to work with but most end up falling prey to stereotype which only adds insult to injury. Standing out vocally are Olivia Polci and Patrick Massey does a fine job with Malvolio’s Soliloquy but relies too much on a conventional and clichéd image.
In summation, I quote another playwright well known in many theatrical circles: “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit” (William Shakespeare).
For complete information on "Foolerie” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/foolerie. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
“Head Voice” at the New York Musical Theater Festival at Theater 3 (Through Saturday July 25, 2015)
“Head Voice” at the New York Musical Theater Festival at Theater 3 (Through Saturday July 25, 2015) Book, Lyrics, and Music by Ethan Anderson Directed by Charlie Johnson Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Portraying himself and explicating his understanding of the creative process in “Head Voice,” Ethan Andersen has continued to re-work his new musical (originally workshopped in New Orleans in 2010) and showcase it in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival. The result is mostly quite pleasant and often impressive. Mr. Andersen writes sophisticated music and his score here is quite pleasing. His lyrics are serviceable. The cast members (the “thoughts” in his head) are uniformly committed to his work and their collective craft is a joy to experience. Charlie Johnson’s attentive direction outstrips his more pedantic choreography and keeps the performance moving swiftly.
Entering the stage (left) through a door that separates his creative space from the “mess outside,” Ethan begins work on his musical about – what else – his life and follows the creative approach to writing a musical beginning with feelings, constructing chords, finding words, and writing. Ethan is interrupted by the voices in his head that remind him of his unresolved issues, his recurrent self-doubt, and his apparent penchant for procrastination. With the snap of a finger, the voices appear on stage as Susan (Nicole Dalto), Izzy (Katie Emerson), and Ian (Matthew Summers. These three fine actors, singers, and dancers visualize Ethan’s thoughts for the audience (and for Ethan) and they portray Ethan’s addicted mother, his girlfriend, his own self, and a variety of other characters that inhabit Ethan’s thoughts, daydreams, and memories. Sometimes these intrusive voices are helpful; at other times, they confuse Ethan and attempt to inhibit his progress.
Three songs stand out among the sixteen and are representative of Mr. Andersen’s skills as a musician and lyricist: “Moving On,” “The Distance Song,” and “What you Need.” These – along with the remaining songs – chronicle Ethan’s childhood, life at school, his difficulties understanding how his addicted mother was able to show her love for him, and his experience at unrequited love.
There are some bumps in the musical’s road. There is far too much mention of being or not being gay and some unsettling references to his experience at a Jewish Summer Camp – even though he was Episcopalian (Styrofoam Hasidic hat and payos and a song-and-dance in Hebrew). When Ethan tells his mother he has something to tell her, she replies. “You’re gay.” When his girlfriend finds things going well in their relationship, she blurts out, “He’s gay.” If one is straight, so be it. There is no reason to establish that status by denying being gay. The musical would be better served to leave out these messy bits. To help the composer understand the concern, would a gay child, when telling his mother he has something to say to her expect the response, “You’re straight!”
Ethan’s head voices allow him to finish his musical, deal with the unresolved issues from his past, and move on. The “mess out there” is less messy when the artist (or anyone) comes to terms with his or her past and successfully moves on.
“Held Momentarily” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“Held Momentarily” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Oliver Houser Developed with Hunter Bird Additional Material by James Zebooker and Hunter Bird Directed by Harry Shifman Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Held Momentarily” being presented as part of NYMF at PTC is certainly on the move and getting closer, I hope, to a prolific destination. Since first viewed at the 2014 NY International Fringe Festival it has experienced welcomed modifications that are beneficial to the growth of this pleasant chamber musical. In this present incarnation the book, music and lyrics are allowed to take center stage, reaching the audience on an essential emotional level, which enables the actors to access the material with determination and conviction. Choreography by Ben Hartley is never intrusive or affected but when incorporated lends a lighthearted touch with conventional movement in absurd situations. Music director Scott Stein, at the piano, is a driving force, insisting his musical posse evoke every passionate chord from the germane score to support poignant, heartwarming and robust moments.
The cast is intact except for the new passenger, Ciaran Bowling as Liam, who seems to join this journey with comfort and enthusiasm. The entire cast has been able to hone their craft to produce an impressive ensemble. Perhaps this is due in part to the new, deft direction of Harry Shifman. There seems to be a sharper focus with character exposition now blending well with emotional connection which intensifies situations, elevates the dramatic arc and most of all creates vulnerable persona. India Carney as Asherah (an important name change) gives a powerful performance creating a homeless rider with grace, dignity and a significant rendition of “If You See Something.” Geena Quintos infuses her complex Mindy with comic charm and intelligence, along with impressive vocals. Jordan Barrow as forlorn lover Stan, captures your heart with a sensitive performance never falling prey to stereotype. Yael Rizowy inhabits pregnant Sam with a precise amalgamation of optimism and delusion. James Zeebooker turns in an honest and sincere Greg with a graceful, effective transition.
It is a joy to witness the growth of a young new voice for the American musical, with a hope Mr. Houser (also turning in a fine performance as Cal) continues to develop this current work, as well as moving forward. There is room for improvement that will only result in a more powerful production that dissects complicated manifestations of a kaleidoscope of characters caught in a dire situation. Do not hesitate to catch one of the remaining performances. I assure you will not be disappointed.
“Threesome” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday August 23, 2015)
Quinn Franzen, Alia Attallah and Karan Oberoi in ‘Threesome’ at 59E59 - Photo by Hunter Canning
“Threesome” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday August 23, 2015) By Yussef El Guindi Directed by Chris Coleman Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“After great pain a formal feeling comes--/The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;/ This is the hour of lead/Remembered if outlived,/As freezing persons recollect the snow--/First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.” (Emily Dickinson, 372)
On a visit to Cairo, Egyptian-American Leila (played with a passionate intensity by Alia Attallah) suffered great pain on two occasions. The assault in a crowd and the additional assault at the police station left her first chilled, then in a stupor, unable to let go what had happened to her. Her decision to write a book about her experience initiated a sequence of events that would change her life forever. Alia’s journey to “letting go” is the gritty mix that makes up “Threesome,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their 5A Season.
After returning home to the United States with her photographer boyfriend Rashid (played with the right mix of reserve and bravado by Karan Oberoi), Alia meets Doug (played with a coy and deceptive persona by Quinn Franzen) at a publisher’s gathering and decides to invite him for a threesome with her and Rashid. The motivation for the invitation is complex and indicative of the equally complex nature of playwright Yussef El Guindi’s dense rich script. Doug’s entry into the bedroom from the bathroom, unwashed from a bout of diarrhea and failing to flush the toilet signals this threesome is not destined for success. There is also rich symbolism in Doug’s entry completely naked while Alia and Rashid have difficulty baring all.
Alia had hoped the threesome would address some of the emotional distance she was experiencing with Rashid after their return from Cairo. Instead, the experience exacerbates the tension between the couple, stirring up deep-seated gender/sex role stereotypes, unresolved sexist attitudes, fractured self-images, and endemic racism. In the midst of the failed groping (physical and emotional), Alia argues, “And I made the point that it always seems the woman had the wrong end of the contract. The obligations always seemed to be on her. Whereas the freedoms belonged to the guy.”
Doug understands he has become more catalyst than sex toy: “I was not anticipating this. It’s like a seminar. Without and clothes on. But that’s cool, I’m easy.” Doug is easy with the dynamic because he comes to the threesome with a hidden agenda and a secret that will explode in Act II. That secret is embedded in his comment to Alia, “I did it once with an Arab before. When I was an embedded photographer.”
Act I ends with the revelation that Doug read Alia’s book and will be doing the book design – not Rashid who assumed Alia had put his name in for the job. This news opens a Pandora’s Box of secrecy, revenge, jealousy, and a matrix of motivations that will keep the plot moving forward with lightning speed. During Act II, the important themes of sexism, racism, and sexual violence are developed in the conversations between Alia and Rashid and Alia and Doug. This is a powerful Act and each character is provoked to expose his or her motivations and deeply held prejudices.
Under Chris Coleman’s exacting direction, this ensemble cast brilliantly showcases Mr. Guindi’s dense text, exposing its layers and its challenging deep questions about the relationship between men and women, the exploitation of women, how sexual violence affects women, and how issues of race and culture interact in the development of significant human relationships.
The ability of each character to be transparent about her or his true feelings, motivations, and agendas has a direct correlation to the character’s ability to “bare all.” This is a sophisticated convention not an exercise in gratuitous nudity. In the final scene, Alia is able to “let go” of those things that have shackled her and imprisoned her in cultural and sexual stereotypes and the worst kind of contemporary colonialism.
The design team includes David McCrum, Seth Chandler and Erinn McGrew (scenic design); Alison Heryer (costume designer); Peter Maradudin (lighting designer); and Casi Pacilio (sound designer). The Production Stage Manager is Emily N. Wells. Production photos by Hunter Canning.
“Threesome” runs for a limited engagement at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Sunday, August 23. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM. There are added 7 PM performances on Sunday August 2, 9, and 16. Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 2 hours.
WITH: Alia Attallah, Quinn Franzen, and Karan Oberoi.
“The Dinner” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Saturday July 25, 2015)
“The Dinner” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Saturday July 25, 2015) Written and Directed by Darryl Reuben Hall Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
“It was just a simple dinner,” is far from the truth of Darryl Reuben Hall’s “The Dinner,” a fiercely accurate drama involving race equality, the birth of white privilege, and media brutality in our nation. This play, given life thanks to the money-sharing Kickstarter, is a post-Civil War piece that tells the story of Booker T. Washington’s journey of becoming the first African American to dine at the White House.
“The Dinner” begins with Booker T. Washington, who was invited to the White House to discuss race with President Roosevelt in 1901. Washington, who was one of the strongest leaders of race equality, battles with the American community, the press, and white senators, representatives and governors that speak out against him. “The Dinner” vividly shows the audience Booker’s journey from a slave’s son, to becoming a dominant leader of the African-American community.
Using quick pacing, the show is an emotional journey through the eyes of Washington. Hall does a brilliant job at capturing the realistic nature of the dinner’s backlash. His script is a fierce combination of incredible historical accuracy, with at least 50% of the text taken directly from speeches and written letters, and originality to create a moving piece of theatre. There are no apologies for word choice, using thick, harsh voices to say horrific lines ringing with racism, that send shivers down the audience’s back with every over-pronounced harsh N.
Shockingly, Booker T. Washington enters the stage wearing blackface, and the audience receives a sick, on edge, feeling in their stomachs. Instantly, the mood is set with lighting, wide and bright as he enters, dancing and holding a newspaper that said, in their harmful words, “disgusting to have a Negro at the White House.” In turn, the lighting shrinks to his face when the number is over, closing in as Washington wipes off the make-up, shreds the newspaper, and strikes at the audience with his disbelief for the media’s reaction to a dinner.
Is it a play? Is it a musical? This question lingers throughout as the drama starts to form a not so obvious arch. As a production, it is very New York Theatre Workshop-esque, using very minimal set pieces with great costumes to create the feel of the beginning of the 20th century. The staging is excellent for the space, using the lighting to masterfully create tone. Musically, there is dance, a Capella singing, American patriotism numbers, and a big kick-line-riffing-feel-good gospel number. Hall belts out “Come to my house, my brother,” and the audience is left feeling brought together as a community, much like what Booker T. Washington wanted by attending the dinner.
The cast does a brilliant job at interpreting Mr. Halls’ script. Nicholas Tucci and Darrel Blackburn give stand out performances with their riveting portrayals of racist, foul senators that speak out against Booker. The blood boils when they set foot onstage, but their teeth clenching performance gives the show weight. Roosevelt is portrayed accurately, describing his struggle and not realizing his actions would affect Booker as much as it did Mark Montague does a brilliant job at embodying Roosevelt, from his mannerisms to the way he pronounces “spot on.”
Struggling, though, is the climax of “The Dinner.” The pacing starts to break away towards the end, and instead of finding a pivotal moment, the plot moves non-linearly, and never finds a moment as shocking, or game-changing as the beginning. Dragging is the 20 minute monologue in which Washington delivers the entire 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech. It is hard to keep focus on it, as the context is never given in a way that an audience today could understand. It requires a deep level of concentration to hear every word of the vast speech, and the after effect makes the scene end on a sour note.
Saving that though, is a simple, yet beautifully done ending to the play. Using a circle effect, the audience is taken back to the beginning of Washington’s story, as a table is set with fine china, and Roosevelt and Washington meet in the middle, shake hands, and sit for dinner. As they do, the stage black outs, and the audience is left reeling in the aftermath that takes place from this simple dinner.
“The Dinner” comes at a time when the nation is facing headlines of police brutality, the confederate flag, and re-evaluating race. This piece invokes deep thinking and a well needed, important conversation on race in America. With many historical shows making their way to the Broadway stage, such as “Hamilton” and “Amazing Grace”, “The Dinner” could potentially fit into this trend, and shine.
STARRING: Darryl Reuben Hall (Booker T. Washington), Darrel Blackburn (Senator James K. Vardaman), Mark Montague (Theodore Roosevelt), Robert Sivers (Whitefield McKinlay), Nicholas Tucci (Senator Ben Tillman), and Bryant Wingfield (Emmett J. Scott).
Hope Clarke, (Artistic Support), Harlan Penn (Artistic Support), Garyle Samuels (Casting Director), Ken Crutchfield (Musical Director), Roumel Reaux (Production Manager), Christopher Liddel (Choreographer), and Joyce Pena (Stage Manager).
For complete information on "The Dinner” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
“Judith: A Parting from the Body” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015)
Pamela J. Gray and Alex Draper - Photo by Stan Barouh
“Judith: A Parting from the Body” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015) By Howard Barker Directed by Richard Romagnoli Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) has selected two Howard Barker plays for their 29th Season. PTP/NYC is a remarkable theatre collective that has always been willing to take risks in presenting challenging plays in repertory. This 2015 Season is no exception. Mr. Barker’s “Scenes from an Execution” is brilliant and the production at Atlantic Stage 2 is as scintillating as it is challenging. The playwright’s “Judith: A Parting from the Body” (1992) unfortunately does not fare as well.
Mr. Barker’s “Judith” is a retelling of the story of the Israelite widow Judith (hero of the deuterocanonical “Book of Judith) who subverts the Assyrian general Holofernes’s attempt to destroy Israel by entering his tent with her maid, seducing him, then cutting off his head.
Retellings are difficult theatre pieces (or poems or novels). When they are successful they are remarkable; however, when they fall short the results can be frustrating for the audience and for the actors. Unfortunately, Howard Barker’s retelling of the story of Judith falls in the latter category.
Pamela J. Gray (Judith), Alex Draper (Holofernes), and Patricia Buckley (The Servant) seem, even under Richard Romagnoli’s usually energetic direction, to be adrift on stage. Ms. Gray and Mr. Draper were splendid in “Scenes from an Execution.” Here they both seem tepid and bored. And despite the importance and the urgency of the historical Judith’s mission, one could care less whether Barker’s Judith succeeds or not, undresses or not, succumbs to her suitor or not. The characters in this retelling are flat and uninteresting. Perhaps the piece is just too dated. Judith’s “language” is not shocking or repulsive, just out of place.
The Potomac Theatre Project is one of the treasures of the American theatre scene and it is disappointing to not be able to find merit in their “Judith.” But please be sure to see “Scenes from an Execution” before it closes on Sunday August 9.
Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35, $20 for students and seniors, $17.50 for previews, and can be purchased online at PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For info visit PTPNYC.org, “Follow” on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and ‘Like” them on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256. Production photos by Stan Barouh. Running time is 55 minutes.
“Pope: An Epic Musical” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Tuesday July 21, 2015)
“Pope: An Epic Musical” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Tuesday July 21, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Justin Moran Music and Additional Lyrics by Christopher Pappas Directed by Peter Flynn Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
With a traditional Broadway structure, a delightful and often “edgy” book, and engaging lyrics and music, “Pope: An Epic Musical” chronicles a pontifical journey of epic proportions. The Pope of this musical (played with superhero charm and a winning vulnerability by Sam Bolen) navigates his way through his own adventures with danger, temptation, fidelity, and faith. There are no Sirens (let those who have ears hear) but there is an alluring pair of dangerous creatures in the guise of an Archbishop (played with a Joker-like cunningness by Ken Land) and a scrapbooking Cardinal (played with an edgy evil naiveté by Jason Edward Cook).
It seems the Millennial Generation (and the rest of creation as well) is - with Ariel, Rusty, Wendy Jo, and Urleen - “Holding Out for a Hero” (“Footloose”). Apparently the past pantheon of heroes (male, female, and fictional) are not meeting the needs of contemporary readers, movie-goers, or theatre-goers. Margaret Meade once implied that when society’s “structures” no longer provide support and hope for citizens they often turn to “alternate” sources of hope and support. Some positive, others of a more deleterious nature. Searching for a hero certainly falls in the more positive category.
“An Inner City in the Not Too Distant Future” needs a superhero – a Batman as it were to its Gotham – and finds that “savior” in Pope who perpetually “saves the day” until the Archbishop plots, with help from the jealous reporter Dexter (played with a devilish handsomeness by Dylan S. Wallach), to unseat Pope and ascend to the position himself. How Pope got to be Pope is part of the fun of this musical that first appeared at Fringe NYC 2010. Through a series of flashbacks and fantasy sequences, we learn Pope’s history. And through the same conventions, we experience Pope’s overthrow of the Archbishop and his return to superhero status.
There are eighteen scenes in “Pope” and some memorable songs. Among them are “Muffin Mass,” “Never Seen a Pope Like Me,” Goodbye O Ye Shameful,” “Dear God,” “The Mass Duet,” the outrageous “What Would Jesus Do,” “Holy Crap,” “Serve Him,” and “Be the Hero.”
“Pope: An Epic Musical” is – like “Urinetown” – zany, offbeat, and sometimes corny. But that is part of its charm. And like Odysseus, Pope faces and overcomes what seem like insurmountable obstacles to his “return home.” Pope even sets sail twice! There are nuns with shotguns, Cardinals who snap the necks of those who fall from grace, and a Jesus who (with the last name Rodriguez) has his own challenges with grace. Under Peter Flynn’s proficient direction, the ensemble cast shines throughout, most portraying several characters. Justin Moran’s characters could easily become cartoonish but they do not. They are authentic characters with real conflicts that through humor and charm can be identified by audience members.
Hopefully, "Pope: An Epic Musical" will be seen again in the near future on another stage.
[Note to NYMF: If the PTC Theatre is going to be used as a venue in the future its owners/managers must be required to provide sufficient air-conditioning for the comfort of it audience and the actors. At the performance this reviewer attended the theater was unbearably hot and it is a tribute to the actors’ craft they were able to do their work.]
“Good Company” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Closed Sunday July 19, 2015)
“Good Company” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Closed Sunday July 19, 2015) Written by S. Karlan Directed by Cristhian Andrews Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
Goodness, rich people are nice. That is the lesson of S. Karlan’s “Good Company” when Leslie, a prostitute, is purchased by the wealthy Paul, an older man who keeps her in his house as a live-in friend. She quickly is enamored with the multimillionaire as he gives her everything her heart desires, but betrays him to her pimp because, well, she never says.
Ruya Koman gives the standout performance as Leslie. She sparkles with subtle charm. She’s especially entrancing in the first segment, as her frustration with the wet-blanket Paul dissipates as his outrageous proposal to buy her companionship becomes more and more tempting. The boorish Paul is bettered, but not necessarily rescued, by the gainly Gregory Davis, as the character is almost entirely defined by his money and magnanimity.
Playwright S. Karlan has little grasp of subtext or structure. Director Cristhian Andrews has a solid grasp of staging, but is unadventurous in “Good Company,” setting all of play around a table and two chairs, including a prostitute's den (why are there tables and chairs there again?) It’s tough to pin down what exactly “Good Company” is about. Love? Not really. Race? The audience is left unaware that Paul is written exclusively to be a black man until about three lines from the end.
In the end, it’s an interesting, albeit done-to-death, premise with nowhere to go.
For complete information on "Good Company” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/. The running time is 45 minutes without intermission.
Featuring Gregory Davis, Ruya Koman, and Brian Kelly.
“6 Actors in Search of a Character” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“6 Actors in Search of a Character” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Written and Directed by Edward Ericsson Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
A character is nothing more than imagination, a flick of a ballpoint pen from a playwright, and an actor who struggles to find their voice. “6 Actors in Search of a Character” attempts to be a comedy set out to prove the notion that there is no reality in theatre. But, instead, tells a random, un-relatable plot that twists and turns and leaves the audience more confused than ready to question the true nature of a play.
It’s a nod to a theatrical version of “Inception;” the idea that actors can become lost in a character, that a character can then become an actor, and that a character is nothing without words on a page. Beginning with a rehearsal of a play, moving to a scene with a dominatrix gay husband holding a whip, drunk actors after opening night, a stabbing, ending with a theatre angel taking the characters to theatre heaven, and a cliché line of “We could be on Mars and not even know it!” the existential essence of the play’s intension is lost.
But, in one moment of clarity, and the highlight of the show, Eric Ericsson succeeds at telling the story of an actress struggling to find her character. Tiffany, portrayed by Katrina Clairvoyant, is seen hearing the voice of her character for the first time. The voice, played by Risa Del Angele, helps the actress find Tiffany’s actions behind the script. The actress then morphs before the audience’s eyes, changing her body language, her voice, and becomes Tiffany, rather than an actress playing Tiffany.
“6 Actors in Search of a Character” would have more of an impact if the script had underlying consistency. Due to an overuse of edgy material, ranging from stereotyping, to racial issues in acting, dominant vs. submissive culture, and passionate violence, the play loses focus. Without a rounded script, the audience is lost searching through moments that do not tie together. Given the right knot, and more scenes like Tiffany’s transformation, the play could have the desired impact: to prove that a play is not a true portrayal of reality.
6 ACTORS IN SEARCH OF A CHARACTER
Kimberly Pogorelis (Stage Manager), Andrew Brown (House Manager), Irene Ericsson (Costumes), Rocco Romeo (Transportation), Xanthe Dowd (Website Design). Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
Featuring: Nick Zale (Dante, the Director), Kimberly Pogorelis (Beatrice, the Stage Manager), Katrina Clairvoyant (Tiffany, the Actress), Jonathan Palmiotti (Jason, the Actor), Ceyoung Lee (Tina, the Police Officer and Unknown Woman), Risa Del Angele (The Character and the Angel), Nolan Charles (the Friendly Guy).
“Scenes From An Execution” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015)
David Barlow (Carpeta) and Jan Maxwell (Galactia) in Howard Barker's "Scenes From an Execution" - Photo by Stan Barouh
“Scenes From An Execution” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015) By Howard Barker Directed by Richard Romagnoli Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“I am not meant to be understood. Don’t you see? Oh, you miserable, well-meaning, always-on-the-right-side, desperate little intellect! Death to be understood. Awful death...” (Galactia to Rivera, Scene Nineteen)
The best learning results from the learner grappling with an authentic situation, with rich dense text, and with self and others. This process translates to the development and appreciation of the best in theatre where audiences ideally are given the opportunity to grapple with the performance, the characters, their authentic conflicts, and the stories these conflicts create. Approaching theatre in this fashion is risky and can easily “ruin our peace with life” (Prodo, Scene One).
In "Scenes From An Execution,” Venetian artist Galactia (Jan Maxwell) is commissioned to paint “The Battle of Lepanto” on “one thousand square feet of canvas.” This tale is loosely inspired by the 16th century Florentine Caravagesque Artemisia Genteleschi and is all about grappling and the welcomed demise of “being understood.” Too often theatregoers believe they need to understand what unravels on stage and unwittingly strive to be – in Galactia’s words – “always-on-the-right-side, desperate little intellects!” Audience members applaud, stand, chuckle, and weep when someone else does just to assure themselves (and those others) they did “get it.”
On the surface, Galactia is grappling with the State of Venice and its dogged alpha male understanding of battles and victory. Urgentino the Doge of Venice (Alex Draper) and Cardinal Ostensible the Secretary of State for Public Education (Steven Dykes) have high expectations of the famous realist painter Galactia but these expectations begin to crumble when the Doge drops in to monitor the painter’s progress. Galactia’s understanding of victory in battle is far different than the State’s understanding. “A battle is a slaughter,” she tells the Cardinal. And she tells her daughters, “So with one figure I transformed the enemy from beast to victim, and made victory unclean.”
The divide between artist and state widens and (no surprise, not even to Galactia), the artist is taken off the project and imprisoned for “denying the virtue of the actions of the State of Venice.” The new commission goes to Galactia’s married lover Carpeta (David Barlow). The conflict here is not as simple as a conflict between artist and state. That conflict has recurred throughout history with two significant examples: Hitler (Degenerate Art) and the impact of Cold War McCarthyism on writers, artists, and actors in the United States. The conflict in “Scenes From An Execution” is more sinister that state vs. artist, more insidious, more seditious. Determining the nature of that conflict is – as it should be – left to the audience to grapple with and, if it chooses not to, to live with the consequences of that dereliction of audience duty.
Jan Maxwell, who in a recent interview, claims her performance in “Scenes From An Execution” signals her retirement from the stage, is a wonder to watch and listen to. She is a brilliant actor who explores every morally ambiguous fiber of her character Galactia and epitomizes the meaning of a generous and gifted actor.
Under Richard Romagnoli’s meticulous direction, the ensemble cast of this remarkably enduring and ever relevant play deliver captivating and riveting performances. Each imbues her or his character with believability and authenticity. Why Mr. Romangnoli leaves Ms. Maxwell in total darkness during two prison scenes is puzzling. Doing so does place the audience in a state of angst similar to the prisoners and places a sharp focus on the text. However, to miss seeing Jan Maxwell exercise her craft is for this reviewer, a deep loss. This is no longer a BBC Radio Play (1984).
The Admiral believes that Galactia is “coarse.” The painter replies, “Coarse for an artist? It’s an artist’s job to be coarse. Preserving coarseness, that’s the problem.” Mr. Barker revels in exploring the mythos of womankind and his retellings of stories about powerful women are replete with delicious moral ambiguity and resounding shadows. Whether Galactia is able ultimately to preserve her coarseness in her post-prison relationship with the Admiral (and the State) is something for the audience to grapple with. Galactia certainly did.
SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION
Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35, $20 for students and seniors, $17.50 for previews, and can be purchased online at PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For info visit PTPNYC.org, follow on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and Like them on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256. Production photos by Stan Barouh. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.
“Puzzle the Will” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Sunday August 2, 2015)
“Puzzle the Will” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Sunday August 2, 2015) Adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Lauretta Pope Directed by Lauretta Pope Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Who would fardels bear,/To grunt and sweat under a weary life,/But that the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns, puzzles the will,/And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of?” – William Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” Act III, Scene I
“Puzzle the Will” (part of Hamlet’s epic soliloquy in the first scene of Act III) is a production of the Hamlet Collective and gives audiences the opportunity to experience William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” and its characters in a new and quite satisfying way. Lauretta Pope’s adaptation – according to the Collective’s mission statement – “reassembles Shakespeare’s tale like a puzzle, strategically jumping between sections, juxtaposing some scenes and deconstructing others.”
This interesting and successful adaptation begins with the closing scene of “Hamlet” with bodies everywhere and a brief and comedic sob session followed by raucous belly-laughter as the cast gets up on its feet to literally re-boot the play (the clue to fasten the seatbelts for the glorious bumpy ride that follows). This is not your Senior Year “Hamlet.” Ms. Pope “scatters” scenes from “Hamlet” on the stage like storyboards for a new dramatic television series proving that “Hamlet” is “Hamlet” no matter in what order it is read or seen.
The ensemble cast is uniformly effective as they move into and out of their various roles. What this adaptation proves is that it is Shakespeare’s words that triumph (“So long lives this, and this gives life to thee,” Sonnet 18) and transcend all retellings, adaptations, modernizations, and revivals. Ms. Pope is particularly effective in her role as Hamlet and is to be commended on her performance and her adaptation of the Bard’s brilliant tragedy. The gender-bending in her adaptation proves again the resilience and continued relevance of Shakespeare’s works. Equally outstanding is Keith Chandler’s gender bending portrayal of Ophelia (one of the best I’ve seen) and his comedic portrayal (with co-digger Caroline Gombe) of the second gravedigger – harmonica and all!
Handled particularly well are the following scenes: the “Ghost” scene in Act I, Scenes IV and V; Ophelia’s madness in Act IV, Scene V; Hamlet’s scenes with Polonius (Caroline Gombe) and the Players, Act II, Scene II; Hamlet’s Scene with Ophelia in Act III, Scenes I and II; Hamlet’s scene observing Claudius (Stephen Hu) at prayer in Act III, Scene III; Hamlet’s scene with Gertrude (Lyn Kagen) in her chamber in Act III, Scene IV; and Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act III, Scene I which the Collective uses to end its adaptation.
Not everything about “Puzzle the Will” works as well as it might. It was difficult at times to hear Lyn Kagen (Gertrude, et al.) and Stephen Hu (Claudius, et al.). Caroline Gombe clearly understood the character of Polonius and her portrayal was exceptional; however, she, too, faded out as the play progressed. A simple observation: the cast needs to be mindful of the playing space and its acoustics.
This is a "Hamlet" well worth the visit during its MITF run. Here’s to more of Lauretta Pope’s adaptations!
“Wearing Black” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015)
“Wearing Black” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Riley Thomas Directed by Jeremy Scott Lapp Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Add “Wearing Black,” currently presented as part of NYMF at Theater 3, to the growing list of NYMF plays this week (number three) that deal with young adults dealing with the loss of a friend and a sibling in a frivolous and avoidable fatal car accident. In this play, a drug addicted twin brother drives his car off a bridge. The surviving brother has sex with the deceased brother’s drug addicted girlfriend before she does an overdose in a successful suicide. Moving on, the surviving twin brother then has a one night stand with his roommate’s fiancé, and his roommate (the only innocent nice guy) moves out. There is more: The alcoholic father shows up at apartment with a gift of a case of liquor for his substance abusing surviving twin because he is going sober and moving to Telluride. I guess everything will be OK but all the subplots are never really concluded. These characters are human, warts and all but there has to be something about them you like in order to care about them. They are self serving and one dimensional and are made to react to situations rather than people. The book is weak and the lyrics trite and cliché. The music is varied and at times supportive of the characters’ reactions but serves best - in combination with the lyrics - when exposing character development and moving the flimsy plot forward. Two good examples of this are “Stories” handled admirably by Mark Coffin as the father and “I’ll Learn from You” delivered with delight by Alexis Field as Alyssa and BJ Gruber as Nate.
The cast works hard but fails to overcome the aforementioned problems. The direction is erratic, with some scenes overemphasized, but in general the actors move at a comfortable pace. The production lies somewhere between a concept musical and a rock opera which might be fine individually but certainly does not work in tandem. We never know what these characters are feeling or thinking but only what they are doing in response to the ever changing present circumstance with no regard to the consequences. Grieving is an important subject to explore, especially in young adults who are effected all too often in this day and age. So the creative team just needs to dig a bit deeper, put some heart and soul into the characters and understand what it means to heal themselves so they can help those around them.
East to Edinburgh – New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival Review at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 26, 2015)
East to Edinburgh – New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival Review at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 26, 2015) Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Katt Tait’s “Black Magic: Songs Unchained” is a 50 minute rehearsal of the power of song to soothe, strengthen, empower, and organize. Against the backdrop of a powerful collection of images that focus on the slave trade (in Africa, in the United States, and throughout the privileged world) and slavery, Ms. Tait sings a treasure trove of songs from the musical canons of the American Spiritual and Protest Song. The lyrics and plaintive melodies of “Trouble of the World,” “Steal Away,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble” counterpoint images of the brutal treatment of slaves (slave collars, beatings, rape, recapture of runaways) that grace the 59E59 stage and challenge the audience to engage anew in the dialog about racism in America.
The Post-Civil War era (Reconstruction) and the post-Civil Rights era witnessed what some might see as “progress” for members of the African-American community. The Harlem Renaissance, the success of black jazz and blues writers and performers, and presumed advances in equal education opportunities numbed much of America to the continuing cycles of oppression.
Directed sparingly by Ray Ficca, Ms. Tait shares song after song in her rich, multi-ranged voice interpreting the lyrics with honesty and freshness. Her remarkable performance requires the audience to look closely at The New Jim Crowe and other contemporary reasons one needs to keeps ones “Eye on the Prize.”
Two of the final images projected behind Ms. Tait are images of black and white children reaching out to one another and (perhaps) adult black and white hands touching. Perhaps white Americans and Americans of color can begin deep and rich conversations about racism and perhaps from those conversations, new songs of freedom can be written and sung. And hopefully these songs unchained can break the chains of oppression and societal complacence, indifference, and numbness. _______________
"Kitty's Bound for Broadway" highlights the fictional account of Kitty Adler who aspires from childhood to appear on the Broadway stage. After Kitty’s children are out of the house and her husband has left her, she seizes the opportunity to revisit her dream (keeping her hope alive) when she wins the chance to submit her play to a panel of Broadway professionals. Kerry Miller’s book and music chronicle Kitty’s journey from self-doubt to self-awareness, to self-fulfillment. Ms. Miller also performs this entry into the Edinburg Festival Fringe. Despite its honesty and sincere effort, “Kitty’s Bound for Broadway” falls short of expectations: the lyrics are sophomoric and the music is unremarkable. Ms. Miller seems adrift on the stage without adequate direction from Susie Keating.
BLACK MAGIC: SONGS UNCHAINED AND KITTY’S BROADWAY BOUND
For complete information on the Annual Edinburgh Festival Preview including the shows, the casts, the performance schedules, and how to purchase tickets, please http://www.59e59.org/index.php. To learn more about 59E59 Theaters, please visit http://www.59e59.org/about.php. The running time varies for each performance.
“210 Amlent Avenue” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015)
“210 Amlent Avenue” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015) Book by Becky Goldberg Music and Lyrics by Karl Hinze Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Judah (Zal Owen) is convinced that his parents’ closest friend Mrs. Jordan (Robin Skye) is harboring a deep secret. Both Judah and Elizabeth Jordan have recently suffered loss: his parents both died tragically within the year as did her Broadway director husband Matthew. Zal returns to Mrs. Jordan’s home in the Hamptons where he spent a great deal of time during his childhood taking with him his girlfriend Sarah (Lisa Birnbaum) and a photograph of his parents and Elizabeth and Matthew Jordan that was taken in Paris. On the back of the card Mrs. Jordan (who sent the photo) has written, “I’m Sorry.” What she is sorry for and the process of Zal’s journey to self-understanding are at the heart of “210 Amlent Avenue” the new musical currently running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Zal and Sarah arrive at the house just as Claire (Nikki Van Cassele) and Murphy (Steven Hauck) arrive and they enter the house together where family accountant Nick (Roger Yeh) and Nanny Leslie (Jen Brissman) have been busy helping Mrs. Jordan arrange for the receipt of her inheritance and the sale of her house and prepare for her guests. Elizabeth is embarking on a new theatre project and wants to move into Manhattan and leave the Hamptons for good – along with her secret. When questioned about the project by Nick, she replies, “It’s an adaptation of this turn-of-the-century novel called “The House of Mirth.” Scandal, romance, intrigue. Everything you want in a good story.” Obviously this foreshadows the goings on past and present at 210 Amlent Avenue which is itself replete with scandal, romance, and intrigue but little mirth.
Becky Goldberg has created interesting characters that become fully developed and believable during the course of the musical. The characters’ conflicts are also clear and mostly believable except that of Leslie who has never been to Manhattan and knows little about the canon of American poetry. This seems highly unlikely for a twenty-something young woman living in the Hamptons! Leslie is the niece of Elizabeth’s deceased husband and the care giver for Elizabeth’s young son Luke (whom the audience never sees but learns much about). The problem with the musical is that none of the characters (save perhaps Leslie and Nick and the unseen Luke) are at all likeable; indeed, they are contemptable and loathsome. It is difficult to care for these characters and their problems when they consistently behave so badly.
Although it is clear that the main conflict in the musical is Zal's need to find out what happened between his parents and the Jordans and how that affected his relationship to his parents, much of the book, music, and lyrics is unrelated to this important quest. Songs like “Here in This House” and “Making Sense” clearly relate to the quest and successfully move the plot forward. Others like “This Is Where” and “Do You Think She’s Pretty” seem irrelevant and extraneous to plot development. Before the end of the first Act, the audience already knows Elizabeth’s secret and it has been too long to wait for a predictable outcome: there is little suspense here but there is still enough to be disclosed in Act Two to prevent disclosing the plot here.
Under Samantha Saltzman’s inconsistent direction, the actors do their best to expose their characters’ well-defined motivations and conflicts. Early in the musical, as Judah sings “Making Sense,” he is directed to crouch down and sing to the seated Leslie and his demeanor is downright frightening. There are times when it is difficult to hear the actors particularly when they are gathered around the dining room table. When there are split scenes utilizing stage left and stage right, one side or the other is in near darkness (only one spotlight?). Karl Hinze’s music is charming but somewhat derivative. His lyrics are sometimes awkward, Elizabeth sings, “Here in this house I'm dying slowly, smothered by time and drowning in space. Here in this house I can’t be more than who I've always been inside this place.”
Despite these areas needing more attention, “210 Amlent Avenue” has some delightful songs. Robin Skye (Elizabeth Jordan) delivers a powerful and heartfelt “That’s My Man.” Ms. Skye and Zal Owen (Judah) share a chilling “What Kind of Man Am I” and Lisa Birnbaum (Sarah) and Roger Yeh (Nick) command the stage with “Have To Look After Yourself.” It is always a delight to see Steven Hauck (Murphy) on stage and his duet with the talented Nikki Van Cassele (Claire) is a comedic thrill. Jen Brissman’s (Leslie) solo “The Life I Might Have Known” is a touching account of the life of a character who seems to know only how to care for others.
“210 Amlent Avenue” is as dark as it is mysterious and the musical is well worth the look. It’s as thrilling as “Bloodline” and as celebrative of family dysfunction as Broadway’s “The Country House” – with a voice of its own.
“The Cobalteans” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015)
“The Cobalteans” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Yianni Papadimos Music by Andrew Bridges, Ben Chavez and Yianni Papadimos Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Perhaps I was already numb to the plot where young people are trying to cope with the death of a friend in an automobile accident, in which a surviving friend was driving, since I had endured the same theme in a show in a different festival the night before; however, I do not think that influenced my perspective as I viewed the new musical “The Cobalteans” being presented as part of NYMF. A group of young men, including the younger brother of Gabriel, the deceased, gather at the lake house that holds memories of their adolescence, coming of age, and fraternal bonding one year after the night of the fatal accident. The house is empty because it has been sold by the parents of the deceased in order to promote healing and move forward. What is still in the house is the piano and Gabriel’s guitar because they provoke too many memories (how convenient for a musical). The book by Yianni Papadimos is weak and the plot predictable with themes of guilt, accusation, and unsympathetic behavior. The lyrics by Mr. Papadimos mostly reflect the characters’ inner thoughts but tend to be too pretentious and do not move the plot forward or create character development.
Under the direction of Paul Stancato the actors keep a steady pace but sometimes move about the stage aimlessly in meaningless choreographed steps. The cast does an admirable job with the given material and have some good vocal moments. The music by Ben Chavez is interesting, soothing and lilting yet sometimes dark and gloomy which creates varied atmospheres. Somehow this critic felt the important issues of the grieving process (especially for young adults) were only examined on the surface and therefore did not translate emotionally to the audience. Hopefully with more character development and insight, this work in progress, will move forward and examine more closely how each and every one grieves differently.
For complete information on "The Cobalteans,” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/cobalteans. The running time is 1 hours and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“Claudio Quest” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival” at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Extended through Thursday July 16, 2015)
“Claudio Quest” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival” at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Extended through Thursday July 16, 2015) Book, Music and Lyrics by Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet Directed by John Tartaglia Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Theatregoers have had a decent dose of the epic video game Super Mario Brothers (Nintendo) in the recent past. The Fringe NYC 2014 featured “Jump Man – A Mario Musical” which garnered the Fringe Excellent Award for Best Musical. And “Claudio Quest,” currently running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, had its first incarnation at DC’s Fringe Festival in July 2010. Fortunately for the audiences at NYMF 2015, this current retelling of the Mario Brothers epic journeys is quite good.
Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet have put real meat on the pixelated bones of the familiar video game characters. These characters are well developed, believable and have been given equally authentic conflicts the audience can readily identify with. These conflicts drive an interesting plot than layers upon the game’s “here we come to save the day” theme and support a matrix of important themes for the contemporary audience. These include the rivalry between siblings (“No matter what you do you’ll still be stuck as player number two.”) and the redefinition of sex-role stereotypes (“Oh, so there's only one way to be a Princess?”).
Claudio (played with a charming strength and vigor by CJ Eldred) faces the challenges of being a hero with a limited number of lives and having to save Princess Poinsettia (played with the right mixture of pout and punch by Leslie McKinnell) over and over again (as many times as a player sets or resets the game!). Luis (played with a disarming and charming vulnerability by Ethan Slater) wonders what it would be like to be player number one and fall in love with Princess Fish (played with just the right amount of feisty humility by Lindsey Brett Carothers). All of these characters live with the constant threat of attacks from the “bad guy” Bruiser the platypus with the big (you guessed right) heart. Broadway veteran Andre Ward owns the stage every time he enters as the poorly misunderstood Bruiser who needs weekly therapy to get in touch with his inner self. Mr. Ward is a powerhouse of an actor and singer and brings exuberance and joy to this splendid production. His “The Platypus Song” is perhaps the highlight of the musical.
The six member ensemble is uniformly competent and exciting to watch. Their combined voices adequately support the cast and their puppetry skills are beyond commendable. The puppet design by Michael Schupbach and The Puppet Kitchen bring the video game pranksters to adorable (and sometimes frightening) life.
There might be little that is new in “Claudio Quest” but this does not detract from this musical’s ability to entertain and challenge the audience with rich and enduring questions about right and wrong, good and evil, and the importance of significant human relationships. John Tartaglia’s staging is brilliant and Mr. Fornarola’s and Mr. Pailet’s music is engaging and supports the book with a variety of musical styles and genres.
The connection to Eggplant Kingdom and the perils of saving a country one loves in non-gaming time is rich and makes “Claudio Quest” a musical to keep one’s eye on.
"Claudio Quest" features a book, music and lyrics by Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet and is directed by Tony Award nominee John Tartaglia (“Avenue Q”), with choreography by Shannon Lewis, scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee, costume design by Leon Dobkowski, lighting design by Jennifer Schriever, sound design by Matt Kraus, puppetry by Puppet Kitchen Productions, music direction by Gary Adler, orchestrations by Doug Katsaros, and casting by Telsey + Company/Craig Burns, CSA.
For complete information on "Claudio Quest,” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/claudio-quest. The running time is 1 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
WITH: CJ Eldred (First National Tour, “The Book of Mormon”) as “Claudio”, Ethan Slater as “Luis”, Andre Ward (Broadway’s ‘Rock of Ages”) as “Bruiser”, Lesley McKinnell (First National Tour, “Wicked”) as “Princess Poinsettia”, and Lindsey Brett Carothers (Broadway’s ‘Bring It On: The Musical”) as “Princess Fish”, with Max Chernin, Alex Goley, Abby Hart, Katie Lee Hill, Andre Jordan, and Tiffany Mann rounding out the cast.
“The Weir” at Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday August 23, 2015)
Paul O'Brien and Amanda Quaid - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“The Weir” at Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday August 23, 2015) Written by Conor McPherson Directed by Ciarán O'Reilly Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” a haunting play of effervescent charm, finds a cozy home at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Directed by Irish Rep veteran Ciarán O'Reilly, the play bathes comfortably in old-country charm, fireside folk tales, and sepulchral gloom.
The play centers around one night at a bar in rural Ireland. Excitement stirs in the placid village when Valerie, a young woman from Dublin, moves into town. When she comes to visit the bar, the grizzled regulars and young bartender Brendan, try their best to make her feel at home. As they begin to tell her the old ghost stories from years gone by, Valerie’s cosmopolitan exterior cracks, and she confides in them an intensely personal ghost story all her own.
Director Ciarán O'Reilly shows his mastery over the form, conducting the play so the ghostly folk tales and bar-counter hootenanny flow seamlessly in and out of one another. O'Reilly’s subtle bag of tricks sets an ominous pace, all the while capturing McPherson’s wit at every turn.
The cast is no less masterful in their portrayals of the country barflies, fawning over the attractive newcomer, and regaling her with their macabre tales of mystery. Paul O’Brein and Tim Ruddy’s playful chemistry shines in their portrayals of Jack and Brendan, a cantankerous old barfly and his bartending surrogate son. John Keating gives the jesterliest performance as Jim, the slightly unhinged town handyman, and Sean Gormley is loveably contemptible as the raunchy, boastful Finbar.
Yet the most stunning performance of the evening comes in the form of Amanda Quaid’s Valerie: It’s as if she soaks the tales directly into her skin. When she finally unburdens herself, the out-of-place urbanite proves more scarred and soulful than the rest of the pub combined. She’s a woman exhumed from the grave, closer to the deathly elements of the country than her polite demeanor betrays.
While the actual story of “The Weir” is less compelling than the tales told by its characters, it is a testament to McPherson’s power as a storyteller, and O’Reilly’s skill at arms, that the play entrances anyway. A haunting, captivating comedy buoyed by fine performances and directorial panache, Irish Rep’s “The Weir” rivets with wit, wise-cracking and good old gothic imagination.
Set design Charlie Corcoran, costume design Leon Dobkowski, properties Deirdre Brennan, lighting design Michael Gottlieb, production stage manager Jeff Davolt, dialect coach Stephen Gabis, assistant stage manager Fran Acuna-Almiron, sound design Drew Levy, casting, Deborah Brown. For complete information on theater location and buying tickets, please visit http://www.irishrep.org/. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
Featuring Sean Gormley, John Keating, Paul O’Brein, Amanda Quaid, and Tim Rudd.
New York, NY (July 11, 2015) –Roger Rees, the legendary, Tony Award-winning actor, and Tony Award nominated director, passed away last night at his home in New York City, after a brief journey with cancer. His husband, Rick Elice, and family and friends were at his side.
Roger Rees began his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and attended the Slade School of Fine Arts. He played Malcolm in the acclaimed Trevor Nunn 1976 stage and 1978 television production of Macbeth, to great acclaim. Most famously, Rees created the title role in the original production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, David Edgar's stage adaptation of the Dickens novel, winning both an Olivier Award and a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1982. He also starred in the original production of The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard in London in 1984.
Rees began to work in television during the 1970s, appearing opposite Laurence Olivier in “The Ebony Tower” (1984). From 1988 to 1991 he starred in the late 80s/early 90s British sitcom “Singles,” with co-star Judy Loe. From 1989 to 1991 and in 1993, he also appeared intermittently on the long-running American TV series “Cheers” as the English tycoon Robin Colcord. Later television appearances include “My So-Called Life” as substitute teacher Mr. Racine, British Ambassador Lord John Marbury on “The West Wing” and James MacPherson on “Warehouse 13.”
His film career began in 1983 when Bob Fosse cast him to star in Star 80 opposite Mariel Hemingway. Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks' film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). Later film appearances include Frida (2002) and The Prestige (2006).
Continuing his work in the theatre through the 1990s, both as an actor and a director, Rees was awarded an Obie Award for his 1992 performance in the Off-Broadway play The End of the Day. In 1995 he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Indiscretions. That same year, he also participated as narrator for the audiobook edition of “Memnoch the Devil” by Anne Rice. As for audiobooks, Rees performed in a wide variety of programs.
In November 2004, Rees was named Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, only the fourth person to hold the post in its half century history.
He succeeded Nathan Lane in the role of Gomez in the Broadway musical adaptation of The Addams Family, on March 22, 2010 and was in the rest of the run. His last West End appearance was in the acclaimed production of Waiting for Godot opposite Ian McKellen. They also toured the production globally, most memorably, to South Africa.
Rees achieved acclaim as a noted stage director including Peter and the Starcatcher (along with Alex Timbers) which he developed, first at Williamstown Theatre Festival, then La Jolla Playhouse, and in New York at New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Director (the play won five Tony Awards).
Rees’ last Broadway appearance was the starring role of Anton Schell in The Visit, opposite Chita Rivera, which opened 23 April 2015. Additional Broadway credits included The Winslow Boys, Uncle Vanya, The Rehearsal and London Assurance.
He is survived by Mr. Elice. A private funeral service will be held next week and details of a memorial will be forthcoming.
“Roger was inspirational. He had the perpetual boyishness and mischief of a Peter Pan, extraordinary wit combined with a gift for self-satire, and dauntless optimism coupled with deep-rooted belief. All these ingredients went into his acting, and I am sure, into his directing, and gave him an aura of rare, generous spirited humanity. He was always superb at being just ‘one of the gang’ in the company, while equally deft at leading by example, leading by commitment. All this was sublimated in his Nicholas Nickleby, the giant success of which led him to change his life by moving to America. I spent a magical evening with him in New York only a few months ago. He talked of his illness – with optimism, with wit, with self-satire, and with deep-rooted belief … and once again, to be in his presence was inspirational.” - Trevor Nunn
“The Calico Buffalo” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Extended through Saturday July 18, 2015)
“The Calico Buffalo” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Extended through Saturday July 18, 2015) Book by EJ Stapleton Music and Lyrics by Peter Stopschinski and EJ Stapleton Directed by Craig J. George Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
One of the most difficult tasks in musical theater is the creation of a theatrical piece that appeals to children and adults alike, and that is also based on a wonderful, well received illustrated children’s book. The new musical “The Calico Buffalo” now playing at PTC as part of NYMF, audaciously confronts this daunting task and the results are what can be expected from a work in development. The book by Ed Stapleton is endearing, thoughtful, provocative, and reasoned enough, to embrace this endeavor. The music by Mr. Stapleton and Peter Stopschinski, is varied and sophisticated but at times does not serve the ambience of the situations portrayed or the aura of the characters and would certainly not have a child or an adult leave humming a tune. The lyrics penned by both gentlemen respectfully tend to be overwrought and labored. The direction by Craig J. George is adequate and provides a good pace but lacks structure. As constructive criticism, the piece might fare better with the use of a narrator.
The cast is energetic, enthusiastic and works well as an ensemble. Brooke Shapiro does a fine job with her portrayal of Bittle. Rachel Coloff inhabits the character of Sih-Kuk with perspective, intelligence and confidence. Jennifer Apple, playing Amaruq the wolf and singing the Act 1 finale “Mother Nature’s Mistakes,” is a powerhouse and in fine vocal form.
One incredible feat this endeavor has accomplished, is that I left the theater wanting to purchase the book for my nephews. It is a well-crafted story filled with lessons of life that one would never be too young or old to learn, especially in the world we live in today. Perhaps they should be available in the lobby after the show!
A STATEMENT FROM BROADWAY CELL PHONE OFFENDER NICK SILVESTRI
A STATEMENT FROM BROADWAY CELL PHONE OFFENDER NICK SILVESTRI
The following statement was delivered by audience member Nick Silvestri at a press conference outside the Booth Theatre earlier today in regards to an incident on Thursday, July 2, in which he attempted to charge his mobile phone on stage during a performance of Broadway’s Hand to God.
“The past few days have been really crazy, and I wanted to have the opportunity to try to explain what happened and also offer an apology.
Ultimately, before coming to see Hand to God I downed a few drinks and I think that clearly impaired my judgement. Before the show started, I noticed that my phone’s battery was low, and the only power outlet I saw was on stage. I think you all know what happened next, and I don’t have a very good answer for the question that many of you are probably wondering: What was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t really thinking. I don’t go to plays very much, and I didn’t realize that the stage is considered off limits. I’ve learned a lot about the theater in the past few days – theater people are really passionate and have been very willing to educate me. I can assure you that I won’t be setting foot on a stage ever again, unless I decide to become an actor.
I would like to sincerely apologize to the Broadway community, all the other people in the audience that night, and most importantly the cast and crew of Hand to God. I am on my college lacrosse team, and I know just how bad it feels when you are out there working your ass off, and it feels like the crowd isn’t on your side or isn’t paying attention. I feel terrible if any of the amazing actors in this show felt at all disrespected by my actions.
Going to see a Broadway show is one of the most special things you can do in New York City, and if I want to give one message to folks out there it’s that you should give your complete attention to the actors on stage. You can make phone calls and send text messages all day long, so when you’re in the theater for a couple hours, just put the phones away and enjoy the show. Once again, I’m sorry for my actions, and I hope that I can become an example of a great theatergoer in the future. Thank you so much for listening.”
“Losing Tom Pecinka” at the Ice Factory at the New Ohio Theater (Through Saturday July 11, 2015)
Christopher Geary, left, and Zack Segel in "Losing Tom Pecinka." Credit Hunter Canning
“Losing Tom Pecinka” at the Ice Factory at the New Ohio Theater (Through Saturday July 11, 2015) Written and Directed by Morgan Gould Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
There is probably something important in Morgan Gould’s “Losing Tom Pecinka” currently running at the New Ohio Theater as part of this year’s Ice Factory but whatever that might be is buried beneath layers of self-effacing (and self-absorbed) puerile humor that resembles a mashup of the worst Saturday Night Live sketches and the dreariest of daytime soap operas both replete with cartoon-like characters who scramble around the stage searching for an ending. And, yes, that is part of the point. Viewers and audiences invest in many forms of theatre that do not warrant notice. And yes, MFAs and BAs in theatre do not guarantee performance excellence (obviously) or satisfying employment in academia. But the antics in “Losing Tom Pecinka” do not allow its audience to mine the importance of the text. The apparent “hey, I got it” laughter from Morgan Gould & Friends fans and family further muddies the waters of understanding. One of these “fans” laughed at every line of the play. It was not that funny.
Ms. Gould’s script riffs all things theatre including opening announcements, curtain calls, intermissions, set design, etc. Theatre-goers get that, understand that, and might even chuckle about it. But there is nothing in “Losing Tom Pecinka (who buy the way, is alive and well) that moves that discussion forward or brings those insights to some new level of discernment.
LOSING TOM PACINKA
Written and directed by Morgan Gould with Designs by Chris Barlow and Ryan Seelig. Staged Managed by Val Insardi. Produced by Barbara Samuels. Featuring Christopher Geary, Tommy Heleringer, Zack Segel, and Amir Wachterman.
Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City. Tickets are $18.00 and $15.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 1-888-596-1027. For info visit NewOhioTheatre.org, like them on Facebook at /IceFactoryFestival, follow on Instagram at NewOhioTheatre, and for up-to-the-minute festival updates follow on Twitter at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time is 95 minutes including intermission.
“Moses Man” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 13, 2015)
The Cast of "Moses Man" - Photo from Broadway World
“Moses Man” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 13, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Deborah Haber Music by Casey Filiaci Directed by Michael Bush Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Moses Man,” currently running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is based on the true story of writer Deborah Haber’s parents Kalman and Lily Haber whose nine-year journey from Nazi-occupied Austria throughout Europe, Cyprus, Palestine, and Africa finally – against many odds – leads to freedom and a new home in the United States. In “Moses Man” that survivor Opa (Kevin McGuire) shares the story of survival with his grandson Moshe (Evan Daves) as Moshe is opening his exhibition about his grandfather’s journey. Apparently Moshe curates this installation without consulting or seeking the facts from his grandfather. Although this seems odd, it is the convention Ms. Haber uses to relate her story: past and present coexist on the stage and Moshe can see the events of his grandfather’s journey play out before him. The only thing he cannot do is speak to those from the past.
Under Michael Bush’s inconsistent direction (some scenes are well staged, some seem to be without any direction), the talented cast does its best to enliven Ms. Haber’s characters and tell the important story of a journey of survival. This attempt has mixed results. Many of the scenes are driven by authentic emotion (pathos) and historical fact (logos). Missing is the ability of the cast and the story to connect to the lives of those in the audience (ethos). The story is simply “out there” to be viewed and understood. Many of the scenes become didactic as though the audience had no knowledge of the horrors of the Holocaust or the need to assure that “this never happens again.”
Casey Filiaci’s music is often endearing and reflects a variety of musical styles and genres depending heavily upon Sondheim-like phrasing. Some songs like “Take a Few … in Eight Days” in Act I soar and give the cast the opportunity to showcase its collective talent. Others, however, like the interminable “And Mama Needs Cherries” need serious editing. Numbers like the extraneous Act II opener “Opa” should probably be cut entirely. The entire production is overlong.
One wants to identify with Avi and his bride Lia (Tess DeFlyer) and one wants profoundly to identify with Freddy (Zachary Clause) who is outed in Belgium and is murdered in a concentration camp. For some reason, the performances lie flat and the director needs to address this issue in earnest and with alacrity and celerity.
“Moses Man” is about “journeys of choices” and had the creators attempted to counterpoint their story with the stories of so many others on the planet (and in the audience) attempting to navigate those journeys, this new musical would resound with success. It is “time to do something” about oppression throughout the world, “time to stand up” to those oppressors. At times, the actors do not seem to be in touch with their characters and the motivations and conflicts of their characters. It is therefore difficult for them to “tell the story” effectively. And sometimes they seem to move about aimlessly.
The "mission statement” of the producers of “Moses Man” includes the following. “Moses Man,” based on the historically significant implications of the displacement of those facing persecution during the Holocaust, also reflects the contemporary dilemmas faced by each of us.” Unfortunately, this connection fails to happen in this new musical. Also problematic is the missed opportunity to make strong connections between the biblical Moses leading his people to freedom in the Promised Land and Avi’s mission to lead his small tribe to freedom in America. This is unfortunate and significantly lessens the impact of this musical which has at its core an extremely important matrix of themes including the journal of survival. Instead of relying more on the biblical Moses story, the creators decide to mimic scenes from “Les Miserables,” banners and ramparts included.
At least this New Moses (Avi) had the opportunity to see his promised land. The First Moses was not afforded the opportunity to see his Promised Land. The cast and creative team have obviously worked hard to bring the musical to its current level and the musical is deserving of a close look by audiences.
“spot on the wall” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015)
“spot on the wall” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Kevin Jaeger Music by Alex Mitchell Directed by Devin Dunne Cannon Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“spot on the wall,” currently playing at Theater 3 as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is a complicated, entangled love story utilizing art and mythology as metaphors. The book by Kevin Jaeger introduces themes including a love triangle, unfaithful marriage, struggling artists, and father/son antagonism that provide no perspicacity, resulting in feeble dialogue and idealistic situations. Mr. Jaeger’s clever lyrics fare much better and help character definition and plot development although at times too self-absorbed. The music by Alex Mitchell is soothing, creating beautiful undertones but quite tedious consequently not supporting the drive and angst of the vocalist’s interpretation. Two Sondheim like numbers “Just Keep Living” are given due justice by Neal Mayer and “Who Cares,” a duet delivered delightfully by Madison Stratton and Robert Hager, are great examples of promising careers.
The mythological gods of Daphne and Apollo serve as the metaphor to the modern day conflict and portray a sculpture in the art museum that awakens to inhabit present characters in the past through dance and dialogue. Although Lisa Kuhnen and Michael Warrell approach this technique with proficiency, the result of the dance sequences, whilst beautifully executed, are at times distracting from the defining lyrics and characters emotional content. Perhaps some of this is due to the small space.
The cast as an ensemble is very strong, all capable of imbuing life, sentiment and intuition into their characters. Mr. Hager exhibits incredible vocal quality, with clear tone and definition. Neal Mayer captures a father in turmoil never relying on stereotype and choosing interesting interpretation. Ms. Stratton explicates Laurel with conviction and a developed soprano, even with insufficient material. Charles West is admirable as the curator and rounds out the cast. It is a work in progress so take a look and you may find yourself surprised and at the same time supporting the next generation of theater artists.
SPOT ON THE WALL
For complete information on "Spot on the Wall,” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/spot-wall. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes, plus one intermission.
“Acappella” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival” at the PTC (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015)
Gavyn Pickens, Anthony Chatmon II, Janelle McDermoth, Miche Braden, Garrett Turner, Cheryl A. Freeman, Katrina R. Dideriksen and Rachel Gavaletz - Photo Credit Broadway World
“Acappella” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival” at the PTC (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015) Conceived by Greg Cooper Book by Vynnie Meli Music and Lyrics by the Acappella Company Directed by Lee Summers Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
It is difficult to imagine it getting any better: a group of talented a cappella singers (Broadway veterans and vocal band members), beatboxing, traditional American spiritual hymns, and a decent book about finding one’s voice and finding one’s way. All of that is featured in the new musical “Acappella” enjoying its weeklong run at the Pearl Theatre Company as part of the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Conceived by the show’s Executive Producer Greg Cooper, “Acappella” has been twelve years in the making and this NYMF run gives the creative team an opportunity to further develop what is already an entertaining experience about the journey of a young rock star from fame and fortune to the rediscovery of his faith in other and in self.
Jeremiah (played with a conflicted sweetness by Tyler Hardwick) gets the opportunity to tour with a popular “Boy Band” and leave his southern Georgia home. He also leaves his best friend Simon (played with a marvelous intensity by Anthony Chatmon II), his girlfriend Sarah (played with a powerful yet playful persona by Darilyn Castillo), his Aunt Leona (played by Cheryl Freeman who balances her character’s protectiveness with parental authority), and his church family and friends. While on tour, Jeremiah is inspired by the passion of a blues singer (Darryl Jovan Williams) and decides to return to his Georgia home during his brief furlough from the band.
“Acappella” deals with Jeremiah’s journey, his attempts to reunite with his best friend Simon and his girlfriend Sarah – who is now engaged to marry Simon, and with himself. The title has more importance than describing the lack of traditional instruments (the voice, after all, is an instrument): ‘a cappella’ serves as a rich trope (here an extended metaphor) for the “unaccompanied” state all of the characters find themselves in. Even the small town they live in is no longer “attached” to its roots despite the Festival to celebrate its Anniversary. It seems no one can truly find a deep connection to others without first having a deep connection to self. Jeremiah has to be set free (“Set Me Free”) before attempting to reconcile with his past and redesign his present and future.
All of the cast members have outstanding voices. Tyler Hardwick (Jeremiah) has a strong well-supported tenor which easily soars into a pleasing falsetto. Anthony Chatmon II has a similar pleasing upper vocal range that counterpoints powerfully in his duets with Mr. Hardwick. Mr. Chatmon is also a strong actor who brings authenticity and believability to his character Simon. Darilyn Castillo’s vocal range is impressive and is showcased in her solo “We Are One.” Broadway veteran Cheryl Freeman rocks the traditional “His Eyes Are on the Sparrow” with perfect phrasing and interpretation. One wishes the talented Miche Braden had been given a solo that allowed her to display her dramatic (as well as her comedic) vocal strengths. Garett Turner, Darryl Jovan Williams (the Blues Singer who brings the house down with his character’s “Jesus in the USA”), and Virginia Ann Woodruff bring honesty to their performances as vocalists and actors.
The Vocal Band supports the action of the musical throughout with songs from The Acappella Company’s rich canon. Stand out numbers are “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Set Me Free” in Act One, and “No Excuse.” The beatboxing was a breath of freshness replacing the traditional musical band or orchestra. Bassist Janelle McDermoth shines. Lee Summers’ minimalist direction is appropriate for this musical and his staging is certainly engaging. Evan Feist’s arrangements are pleasing and supportive of the music and Leslie Dockery’s choreography showcases the movement talents of the cast. Kyu Shin’s scenic design and Sarah Johnston’s lighting design – again minimalist – are appropriate to the action of the musical.
As with any product in development, “Acappella” has room for growth. Its book needs some attention and certainly needs to flex its text to compete with the music. And that music, splendid as it is, needs to more uniformly connect with Ms. Meli’s book. Some numbers – albeit well performed and quite funny – do not move the plot forward. Among these are the numbers by Leona’s Group which provide comic relief and the opportunity to showcase the amazing talent of Miche Braden, Cheryl Freeman, and Virginia Ann Woodruff but do little to help the audience understand the conflicts of Jeremiah, Simon, and Sarah.
As it stands, “Acappella” is a moving testament to the strength of the human spirit, the importance of the human community, and the endurance and richness of personal faith. Clink on the link below and try to get tickets as soon as possible. The opening night performance was sold out.
“Araberlin” at the 4th Street Theatre (Through Sunday July 19, 2015)
Pictured L to R: Rafael De Mussa, Elena Rusconi, Lisa LaMattina, Gabriel Diaz DeSalas, Scott Mandel,and Malin Barr. Photo by Richard Termine.
“Araberlin” at the 4th Street Theatre (Through Sunday July 19, 2015) By Jalila Baccar Directed by Rafael De Mussa Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
It is difficult to know precisely what playwright Jalila Baccar envisioned her award-winning play would look like on stage but it is doubtful it was anything like the disappointing production of her important drama currently running at the 4th Street Theatre in Manhattan’s East Village. This Horizon Theatre Rep production is overlong, overwrought, and depends too heavily on projections of news footage about self-radicalized youth and the impact their leaving home has upon families and friends. A modest estimate is that half of the 105 minute performance time is projections.
This is all the more disappointing since the presumed content of Ms. Baccar’s play resounds with relevance. Since 2002 (the play’s first performance), there has been a disturbing increase in the number of youth who have self-radicalized through exposure to internet (and deep web) ISIS recruitment. And the threat of terrorist attacks on the United States homeland has increased almost exponentially.
It appears that Ms. Baccar’s script has become shadowed by the video projections and her translated text secondary to technology. Additionally, the staging of the play is less than successful. Ms. Baccar’s characters and their conflicts are not developed and therefore the plot is all but impossible to delineate. The text is rich and dense but its impact on the page does not translate to the action on the stage. Both the actors and the creative team (particularly the director) are responsible for this less than satisfying production. It might be more satisfying to purchase Ms. Baccar’s script (now part of the published trilogy “The Trilogy of Future Memory”) or to watch any broadcast of CNN that deals with self-radicalization and its consequences.
Directed by Rafael De Mussa, the cast of “Araberlin” includes: Malin Barr, Rafael De Mussa, Gabriel Diaz DeSalas, Lisa LaMattina, Scott Mandel, and Elena Rusconi.
The creative team for Araberlin is comprised of: Yuriy Nayer (lights), Ari Fulton (costumes), Aristides Li (sound/QLab programmer), and Rafael De Mussa (set/video). Production photos by Richard Termine.
“Araberlin” will play the following performance schedule: Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and may be purchased online at www.smarttix.com. The running time is 105 minutes without intermission.
“This Is Mary Brown” at La MaMa (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Winsome Brown (Photo Credit - La Mama Website)
“This Is Mary Brown” at La MaMa (Through Sunday June 28, 2015) Written and Performed by Winsome Brown Directed by Brad Rouse Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Everything seems to be in place in Winsome Brown’s one woman tribute to her late mother Mary. Ms. Brown has gathered stories from her mother’s life, written a script which tells those stories from the points of view of a cast of fifteen characters (in addition to several Irish cousins), used more than the requisite number of rich tropes, and packaged it in a palatable seventy minute performance – a product she intends to take to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And although Ms. Brown's commitment to honoring her feisty mother’s memory is admirable, there are concerns about the overall success of this well received performance piece.
“This Is Mary Brown” is episodic in structure (not linear), character driven, depends on a variety of points of view, and employs the use of strong imagery and often compelling figurative language. What is missing unfortunately is much needed emotional connection to the characters Ms. Brown has created. One comes away from this piece not really knowing who Mary Brown was and why she is such a morally ambiguous individual. A woman who flicks cigarette ashes into her child’s hands, fails to respond quickly to the report that her young son has been electrocuted, and fails to deal with her addictive behavior is somehow less than endearing – unless somehow that matrix of behaviors is redemptive. There is no sense of redemptive catharsis in Winsome Brown’s convoluted script.
Adding to this is the cast of poorly defined “supporting characters.” No one is really likable. Funny, yes. Likable, no. And the actor Winsome Brown does not distinguish between these characters in her performance. Perhaps Ms. Brown is too close to this material and should hand the role over to another actor. Or perhaps director Brad Rouse needs to better assist the playwright gain emotional distance from the script.
The script itself needs attention. There are scenes which seem completely extraneous or wrongly placed in the narrative. And the final scenes are troubling as well. Mary’s remorseful speech is not convincing and the audience really does not care about Mary’s husband Covell’s daughter Tracy’s gluten allergies. And whether or not the priest administering extreme unction is gay is puzzling and out of place.
The audience is clear about one thing: Winsome Brown loves her mother deeply and attempts to pay homage to her memory in this tribute script. Perhaps that is enough. But one longs for more understanding about the woman who breaks hospital rules when she brings her son Nicholas a new bike covered up on a gurney she wheels to his bedside. In its current incarnation, this understanding is missing and whether is can be included before the Edinburg Festival Fringe remains an open question.
THIS IS MARY BROWN
Presented by La MaMa Earth. The creative team includes Michael O’Connor (lighting design), Jane DiBartolo (stage manager), James Physick (production manager), and Jack Reynolds (light board operator). Photo credit - La Mama Website.
Scheduled through June 28, THIS IS MARY BROWN performs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $18; $13 for students/seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.lamama.org or call 646 430 5374.
“My Perfect Mind” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge - Photo by Manuel Harlan
“My Perfect Mind” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015) Written by Kathryn Hunter, Paul Hunter, and Edward Petherbridge Directed by Kathryn Hunter Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Who we are, who we were, who we think we are, who we think we were, who others think we are, and who others think we were is the stuff of the process of examining one’s practice – even the stuff of metacognition. Such thinking can be restorative or contemplative; however, often it results in a kind of restlessness that skews one’s perception of the world or even one’s perception of one’s self. "Restless Mind Syndrome” sufferers lie awake for hours, deprived of sleep, thoughts and images racing through their minds in a seemingly unstoppable barrage of data demanding attention and/or resolution. “My Perfect Mind” splays the contents of Edward Petherbridge’s post-stroke mind in kaleidoscopic wonder across the stage at 59E59 as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.
Edward Petherbridge suffered a stroke just before starting rehearsals of “King Lear” at one point in his long career and, despite having a long recovery from the effects of the stroke, the whole lot of “Lear” remained in his mind. Mr. Petherbridge enacts scenes from "Lear" throughout “My Perfect Mind” (including the scene from which the title originates) and each enactment is a tribute to the actor’s enormous talent. Paul Hunter (as a host of interesting characters drawn from theatre, film, and television) plays various roles from “Lear” and the pair are at the same time profoundly touching and oddly hilarious.
On Michael Vale’s dramatically raked stage (complete with trapdoor) and a set stuffed full of theatrical accoutrements (thunder, rain, wind machines), the pair use the stuff of “Lear” to celebrate survival and longevity of spirit and resilience of mind. Directed with care by co-writer Kathryn Hunter, “My Perfect Mind” becomes Everyman’s opportunity to examine the often thin line between sanity and that which is not sanity and traverse that line with dignity and hope.
Whether it is advice from professional colleagues (Sir Laurence Olivier, for example) or from our post-stroke memories or from things we learn about our Dads long after they are gone, it is all part of the “telling of who we are” and the sorting out of what is real and what is not, what makes sense and what does not. And this is the gritty stuff of “My Perfect Mind” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. See it before June 28.
MY PERFECT MIND
Produced by Told by an Idiot, Young Vic, and Theatre Royal Plymouth, MY PERFECT MIND is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The creative team for “My Perfect Mind” includes Michael Vale (designer), Alex Wardle for Charcoalbue (lighting designer), Gregory Clarke (sound designer), Andy Beardmore (production manager), and Devin Day (AEA stage manager). Production photos by Manuel Harlan.
MY PERFECT MIND begins performances on Wednesday, June 10 for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 28. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Please note, there is an additional performance on Sunday, June 21 at 7 PM. Tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Cuddles” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Carla Langley and Rendah Heywood in "Cuddles" - Photo by Alex Beckett
“Cuddles” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015) By Joseph Wilde Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose, And nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free.” Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby Mcgee”
Under the guise of a grippingly gory vampire story, Joseph Wilde’s “Cuddles” exposes more than throbbing veins. His sharp and witty (actually, it is) tale of two sisters living a symbiotic life in the elder’s home exposes the throbbing and broken hearts of two women whose co-existence has bordered more on mutual control than mutual love and just might be no longer necessary for survival. How can the younger exist without the supply of the elder’s blood? Therein lies the wonderful conflict between two well developed and – oddly - easily accessible characters. “Cuddles” is part of the very smart Brtis Off Broadway Festival currently running at 59E59 Theaters.
What happens when Tabby (the witch?) meets Eve (the mother of all humankind?) is not unlike when any two humans conspire to stay together after history or chance or necessity tosses them together. And that is the brilliance and the challenge of Mr. Wilde’s well-crafted play. For reasons which are disclosed ever so subtly throughout the play, Tabby (Rendah Heywood) has sacrificed much of her life to “care for” her younger sister Eve (Carla Langley). This caregiving includes sometimes chaining Eve to her attic bed and – when jam sandwiches seem not to sate Eve – allowing Eve to satisfy her vampire hunger for blood with a fix of blood from Tabby’s veins. When this relationship becomes too stressful, one or the other of the sisters utters “cuddles” and a hug (of varying degrees) follows.
But hugs are not enough for this star-crossed pair and one (Eve) fears the other will one day not return home from work and the other (Tabby) is beginning to feel more trapped than her sister. She meets someone and would like to develop a relationship that does not include the loss of blood (sometimes more than she bargains for). Eventually Tabby needs to disclose the secret she has kept since Eve’s untimely birth, the secret that cannot be disclosed here.
Carla Langley is absolutely brilliant at the vampire sister Eve. Ms. Langley gives Eve the cunning charm of the First Woman who, though tempted, knows how to seduce others into her Fall. And Rendah Heywood counterpoints Ms. Langley’s performance with explosive witch-full antics. Her Tabby is at the same time wounded and warrior. Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s meticulous direction moves the performance in brilliant twists and turns that expose layer after delicious layer of Joseph Wilde’s stunning script.
Tabby vows never to leave Eve but Eve keeps a few things under her bed just in case Tabby gets a case of wanderlust. Prepare to be surprised. There is no vampire tale quite like “Cuddles” and all lovers of the Gothic should see it before it dissembles on June 28.
Presented by Arch 468 and Ovalhouse at part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters. The design team includes James Turner (production design); Pablo Baz (lighting design); Edward Lewis (sound design). The fight director is Mathew McKay. The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos are by Alex Beckett.
CUDDLES runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 28. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 & 7:30 PM. (Please note there is no 7:30 performance on Sunday, June 28.) Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.
“Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Gym at Judson (Through Saturday June 27, 2015)
Brian Miskell and Seth Numrich - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Gym at Judson (Through Saturday June 27, 2015) Written and Directed by Daniel Talbott Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Remember that feeling? Of endless energy?/Endless joy? Like when you’d have your/parents’ car late at night with your friends? All/the windows down? In the summer? Loud/music? Your hands on the wheel? Everything/felt so strong? So easy? So light?/Where is that?/Who feels that anymore?” – Mom to Smith
Daniel Talbott has written one of the best surreal, kaleidoscopic fables about not just the horrific legacy of combat on “foreign” soil but perhaps more importantly about the specter of all human conflict – physical, psychological, and spiritual. The unnamed military outpost that serves as the setting for Daniel Talbott’s “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” serves as a trope for all of the “mental wards in the middle of the desert” where feelings become numb and connections to moral centers become unhinged.
On the surface, this challenging and well-constructed play centers around the conflicts between Smith (Seth Numrich), Leadem (Brian Miskell), Miller (Chris Stack), and their collective demons past, present, and future. Those demons include the Serbian woman (Jelena Stupljanin) who introduces the play and serves as the soldiers’ superego and the fusillade of hallucinations that both anchor the three men and challenges them to ultimately question the possibility and desirability of survival. Beneath the surface, covering the play’s underbelly, is an absurdist exploration of the meaning of life and the ability of the species to survive (yes, it is that dark).
Raul Abrego’s multilayered set, covered with the dry desert sand that stretches into the audience, connects profoundly to the creviced contours of the brain and the elusive mind that mysteriously counterpoints the more tangible structures of the brain. Just as the audience steps carefully over uneven terrain to get to their seats, actors and audience members are challenged to stumble over repressed memories and navigate their own issues of survival. The specter of discomfort pervades the spaces of set and mind.
The cast is uniformly brilliant. Seth Numrich brings a tortured authenticity to his portrayal of Smith the young soldier who attempts to hold onto the belief that somehow what he has done in the desert mattered and that someone was on the way to rescue him and his mates. Abject angst pours from every pore of Mr. Numrich’s being as he gives life to the deconstruction of his character Smith. Brian Miskell gives a charming vulnerability to Leadem who leans heavily on his vivid imagination to survive the desert. Chris Stack’s Miller completes the trio of soldiers awaiting rescue. Mr. Stack brings a frenetic presence into the well-established family system and manages to add his character’s own brand of dysfunction to daily life in the outpost.
This talented cast is rounded out by the equally talented Jimi Stanton (Brother), Kathryn Erbe (Mom), Andy Striph (Soldier 4), and Stephen Dexter (Soldier 5). Ms. Erbe is a powerful presence as the hallucination (“Do you think they’re real?” Leadem asks) that not only haunts Smith repeatedly but eventually ushers him into a new and unfamiliar place. More cannot be said about this encounter without a spoiler alert.
Just as the spoils of war continue to leave trails of death, destruction, rape, suicide, and despair so the spoils of living leave trails of joylessness, ennui, weakness, numbness, regret, and guilt. Soldiers of war and soldiers of civilian life hunker down waiting for reinforcements or for much-needed supplies which, more often than not, never arrive or fail to arrive on time. Whether it be Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Kuwait, Charleston, Birmingham, Ferguson, or Aurora (among many other outposts) these soldiers long for times of peace, justice, equality, freedom, joy. Daniel Talbott raises profoundly rich questions in his new drama that resound far from the battlefields of war.
AFGHANISTAN, ZIMBABWE, AMERICA, KUWAIT
Written and directed by Daniel Talbott. Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and piece by piece Productions. The set design for “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” is by Raul Abrego; costume design is by Tristan Raines; lighting design is by Joel Moritz; sound design is by John Zalewski; projection design is by Dave Tennent; violence and dance choreography by UnkleDave’s Fight-House. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.
“Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” plays Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street. Tickets are $45.00 and may be purchased by visiting www.ovationtix.com; by phoning 866-811-4111; or by going to the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater box office, 224 Waverly Place, Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Student tickets are $10.00 and are available for advance sale at the Rattlestick box office with a valid student ID. For more information about “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait,” please visit www.rattlestick.org. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
WITH: Stephen Dexter, Kathryn Erbe, Brian Miskell, Seth Numrich, Chris Stack, Jimi Stanton, Andy Striph, and Jelena Stupljanin.
“The Spoils” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Cast of "The Spoils" - Photo by Monique Carboni
“The Spoils” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday June 28, 2015) Written by Jesse Eisenberg Directed by Scott Elliott Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Jesse Eisenberg's "The Spoils," currently running at the New Group, is the “This Is Our Youth” for the twenty-first century millennial generation and captures the angst of this generation with gripping honesty and often disturbing realism. The complicated dynamics between the protagonist Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), his Nepalese roommate Kalyan (played with a charming innocence by Kunal Nayyar), Kalyan’s girlfriend Reshma (played with a steely veneer by Annapurna Sriram), Ben’s high school mate Ted (played with the right mix of naiveté and revenge by Michael Zegen) and his fiancé Sarah (played with splendid resolute dignity by Erin Darke) enliven the iconic Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and splay the stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center with identification, projection, delusional behavior, magical thinking (to name but a few) and near ego strength meltdown. Mr. Eisenberg’s script is the best on or off Broadway at the present time and for quite some time before.
Ben lives in a New York City apartment (a splendid design by Derek McLane) purchased for him by his father. He is a (sometimes) filmmaker, having – through a “mutual falling out” – left NYU believing the University “did not know how to think of him, what little box to put him in.” Ben invites Kaylan – who have come to the United States from Nepal to start a new life - to be his roommate and a relationship brimming with classism and racism ensues despite Ben’s seeming bromance with Kaylan. In an offbeat way, Kaylan is Ben’s doppelganger. Kaylan’s quest to make sense of living as a stranger in a strange land parallels Ben’s identical quest: Ben does not quite fit in and is out of synch with his environment. Despite his mantra that “the best revenge is a life well lived” he simply cannot achieve that goal and he alienates everyone in his circle of friends.
The apartment becomes a war zone as Ben manages to alienate not only Kaylan, but Reshma, Ted, and Sarah. To detail the emotional warfare waged by Ben would require a spoiler alert. It is enough to know that Ben intends to leave no survivors in his verbal and emotional assaults – all meant to isolate himself and become the champion of self-effacement. And the actual success of his friends – new and old – and the rebuff from Sarah (after he makes advances toward her) push Ben further to the dissolution of his ego strength. The spoils of this inter and intra psychological battle spread across the stage – neatly symbolized by Ben’s burst bag of microwaved popcorn that leaves its contents like fallout from a nuclear blast. Scott Elliott’s direction throughout is exacting and supports the entire cast in delivering outstanding performances that explore the depths of the human psyche with deliberate honesty and authenticity.
In one of the plays most engaging scenes, Ben lashes out at Kalyan, "The thing that the world has been telling you to do at every turn. It’s why your f**ing girlfriend won’t commit. It’s why you can’t get a job at that place. It’s why people like me aren’t going to let you freeload forever. Everything is pointing in one direction for you but you keep walking the other way.” Ben is not really speaking to Kalyan here; rather, Ben is speaking of himself and his situation. It is not until Ben experiences this cathartic moment that he can begin to heal and Sarah further enables that healing with her touching story of eleven-year-old Ben’s rescue of Inga Lushenko, his grade school classmate from the Ukraine. None of the students would go near her because of childish rumors she “had like deadly radiation that was really contagious.” Ben proved Inga was able to be touched, to be cared for and Sarah – despite being abused by Ben – wants Ben to know that he is “not radioactive” and is capable of being embraced and restored to the community he has alienated himself from.
Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of twenty-something Ben is brilliant. The actor is always in the moment and his every move defines his character’s failure to come to terms with his inability to cope with disappointment and rejection. Watching Mr. Eisenberg navigate the vicissitudes of Ben’s experience puts the audience members in touch with their own sense of alienation and cultural ennui. One would expect to see “The Spoils” on stage beyond its current run scheduled to end on Sunday June 28, 2015.
“The Spoils” is presented by The New Group (Artistic Director Scott Elliott and Executive Director Adam Bernstein) and is directed by Scott Elliott. “The Spoils” features Erin Darke as Sarah, Jesse Eisenberg as Ben, Kunal Nayyar as Kalyan, Annapurna Sriram as Reshma and Michael Zegen as Ted. This production includes Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Sound Design by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen and Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky. Production photos are by Monique Carboni.
Performances of “The Spoils” take place at The Pershing Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street in Manhattan through Sunday June 28, 2015 and run on the following schedule: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00pm; Sunday at 2:00 p.m.; with Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m. on June 10 and June 24. For further information and to purchase tickets ($77.00 - $97.00), please visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/the-spoils.html or call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.
"Nice Girl" at the Labyrinth Theatre Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday June 21, 2015)
Diane Davis and Kathryn Kates in "Nice Girl" - Photo by Monique Carboni
"Nice Girl" at the Labyrinth Theatre Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday June 21, 2015) Written by Melissa Ross Directed by Mimi O'Donnell Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
What is a nice girl to do when her grieving mother insists she keep the promise made to her now deceased father that she would return home from her freshman year of college after the funeral to care for her mother? If the young woman were nineteen it might seem a reasonable and necessary – although temporary – decision: suspend matriculation at college, spend some bereavement time with mum, and return to her studies. Unfortunately, this is not the case In Melissa Ross’s new play “Nice Girl,” currently playing at the Labyrinth Theatre Company. Josephine Rosen (Diane Davis) the nice girl is late thirty-something and never returned to college, never dated, never married and is now - in her words - a spinster. And her mother Francine (Kathryn Kates) is an insufferable and controlling agoraphobic hypochondriac who never encouraged her daughter to return to college and has sacrificed Josephine on the altar of arrested development.
Josephine is part of a dysfunctional extended family that includes her mother, her co-worker Sherry and Sherry’s married (but promising soon-not-to-be) love interest Donny (Nick Cordero). Needing rescue from a string of married cads promising to abandon their loveless marriage to take Sherry to wife, Sherry is certain Donny is the one – after all he’s a neurologist. “He’s like a gynecologist,” Sherry tells Francine, “except he’s for men.” In those few words, playwright Melissa Ross manages to define the wonderful character of Sherry played with a clueless competence by Liv Rooth. Sherry ignites Josephine’s latent desire to be separated and individuated from the clawing claustrophobia of her life with Francine and – combined with a new love interest Josephine finds in the local butcher – pushes Josephine to the tipping point.
It only takes one member of a dysfunctional family system to bring that system to dissolution and in this interesting new play, Josephine is that change agent. No longer willing to be at her mother’s beck and call, she informs her mother she is moving out. That announcement puts Francine’s controlling behavior into hyper drive (perhaps the climax of the dramatic arc) and the falling action – further driven by Josephine’s discovery that her butcher might have a split personality – provides a solid tragi-comedic theatre experience. Directed meticulously but at times unevenly by Mimi O’Donnell, the competent ensemble cast brings rich authentic performances to their characters, each seeking in her or his unique way, to hold on to or discover some semblance of a loving relationship.
Diane Davis brings depth and dimension to her character Josephine. Her ‘nice girl’ is brimming with repressed anger and guilt and Ms. Davis’s performance gives a realistic balance between that bubbling rage and the fear involved in removing the character from the dysfunction. Kathryn Kates is the perfect mother unwilling to let go of her daughter because she refuses to abandon two decades of bereavement and move on with her life. Francine is not a likeable character and sometimes Ms. Kates might ratchet up her character’s controlling demeanor. Nick Cordero’s puppy-eyed Donny is the perfect counterpoint to Sherry’s naiveté and Josephine’s innocence and his performance is solid. Director Mimi O’Donnell might have challenged her cast to deepen the connections between the characters particularly the bittersweet relationship between daughter and mother.
David Meyer’s multipurpose set functions splendidly and makes use of every corner of the Labyrinth Theatre Company’s stage. Sliding and rotating walls function seamlessly and, nicely lighted by Japhy Weideman, these walls envelope the play’s action with authentic charm.
At the play’s end, Josephine waits outside on the porch for her ride to a new life. Someone has promised to help her escape her self-inflicted prison. The audience wonders if the car lights illuminating the driveway are those of her rescue vehicle or perhaps something else Francine has concocted to further delay her daughter’s ascent into adulthood. “Nice Girl” is a delicious bit of theatre well worth the visit.
The creative team for “Nice Girl” includes David Meyer (set design), Emily Rebholz (costume design), Japhy Weideman (lighting design), Ryan Rumery (sound and music), and Dennis O’Leary-Gullo (production manager). Production photos by Monique Carboni. At the Bank Street Theater, 155 Bank Street in the West Village, 212-513-1080, www.labtheater.org Through June 21. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission.
With: Nick Cordero, Diane Davis, Kathryn Kates, and Liv Rooth.
“A Queen for a Day” at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (Through Sunday July 26, 2015)
Vincent Pastore and David Proval in
“A Queen for a Day” at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (Through Sunday July 26, 2015) Written by Michael Ricigliano, Jr. Directed by John Gould Rubin Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
When Giovanni (David Proval) tells his attorney Sanford Weiss (David Deblinger), "I shouldn’t be here,” only he knows why that is true and the audience will not know until minutes before the end of Michael Ricigliano, Jr.’s beguiling thriller “A Queen for a Day” currently running at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York City. Mr. Ricigliano’s script is pure mob-inspired drama and – in a compelling way – examines the meaning of loyalty, family, and trust. The play also examines the limits of those phenomena: is there a tipping point where acceptance ends and non-acceptance begins?
That tipping point for Giovanni “Nino” Cinquimani’s Family Boss brother Pasquale (Vincent Pastore) is all about sexual status. Nino thinks he and his attorney have arranged to negotiate a proffer agreement with U.S. Attorney Patricia Cole (Portia) – a one day only immunity Queen for a Day deal. All Nino has to do is turn on his brother and all his own past transgressions will be forgiven – along with a new identity. Playwright Michael Ricigliano makes it clear from the start things are not going to work out in this deal: Nino does not feel the warehouse meeting spot is safe and he is missing Mass to mess with the government.
And Nino is quite right. Both he and his attorney have been duped by Pasquale who sets up the meeting to confirm a directive he gave Nino in the past regarding Nino’s lover Jimmy. To say more about that particular directive would require a spoiler alert; however, confirming his brother’s relationship to Jimmy and Nino’s sexual status is enough for Pasquale to do what he has to do to preserve organized crime’s cloaks of loyalty and trust.
Actor Portia is the perfect plant for the U.S. Attorney and skillfully sways between interrogator and confidant as her character slowly excoriates Nino. And the rest of the ensemble cast – David Deblinger, Vincent Pastore, and David Proval – make an easy transition from their former “The Sopranos” roles into their roles in “Queen for a Day.” All four actors deliver authentic and convincing performances of characters struggling with their commitments to self and family and try to enter the unfamiliar territory of forgiveness. Each manages to bring an honest dose of moral ambiguity to their characters giving them depth and richness.
"A Queen for a Day" is a powerful trope (here an extended metaphor) for all of the decisions that need to be made quickly. Life delivers a multitude of Proffers to humankind and it is the way women and men respond to those offers that defines character. The audience will need to decide whether Pasquale made the “right” choice or simply the expedient choice, the selfish choice, the survival choice.
A QUEEN FOR A DAY
“A Queen for a Day” is written by Michael Ricigliano Jr. and directed by John Gould Rubin. The creative team includes: Andreea Mincic (Set Designer), Bobby Tilley (Costume Designer), Isabella F. Byrd (Lighting Designer), Leon Rothenberg (Sound Designer), Arielle Toelke (Effects Designer), Libby Jensen (Production Manager), Erin Cass (Stage Manager) and Cheryl Dennis (General Manager). Presented in association with Steve Acunto and Ric Zivic. Production photos by Russell Rowland.
“A Queen for a Day” runs through July 26, 2015 at Theatre at St. Clement’s located at 423 West 46 Street (Between 9th & 10th Ave). “A Queen for a Day” plays Sunday - Tuesday at 7:00 PM; Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 PM with matinees on Saturday at 2:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $49.00-$99.00 and can be purchased by visiting www.AQueenForADayPlay.com, or by calling Ovationtix (866) 811-4111.The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
The cast includes David Deblinger, Portia, Vincent Pastore, and David Proval.
“The Assistant” Presented by Six Part Productions at the Treehouse Theatre (Through Sunday May 31, 2015)
“The Assistant” Presented by Six Part Productions at the Treehouse Theatre (Through Sunday May 31, 2015) Written by Ashley Minihan Directed by Kelly Johnston Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
“The Human Brain is such a fu** up” says Craig, praising the elegance of a computer and lamenting his learning-disabled daughter. It’s a sad, if vexingly relevant, notion that fits right at home in “The Assistant, “written by Ashley Minihan. (The Sunrise Side, Remission) A show about the future, family, and faulty-wiring, her play is a beautifully delicate balance of intellect, anxiety, and melancholic charm.
The show centers on a family that owns the first ever Empathetic Assistance robot. The machine (named Steven) was created for Julie, an emotionally challenged teenager, by her genius father, Craig. Frustrated with his failures and unwilling (or perhaps unable) to bond with Julie, Craig abandoned his family. This derailment left his exhausted wife Lynn as Julie’s sole provider. When Craig returns to reclaim Steve to jumpstart his waning career, Lynn and Julie rally to defend the synthetic being they’ve grown to love.
The breath, psychosis, and unease of the characters is brought vividly to life by director Kelly Johnston. Johnston’s sophisticated guidance imbues ‘The Assistant’ with the fierceness and awkward comedy it needs to soar. Julie’s severe anxiety issues coupled with Lynn’s mounting frustration erupts with visceral intensity. The comedy is equally as satisfying, most notably the scenes involving Dave, Lynn’s lovesick co-worker. Josh Evans brings a delightfully painful awkwardness to the stage as Dave; he’s a perfect flipside to Shana Wiersum's frantic, end-of-her-rope Lynn, who just wants a little peace and quiet.
The robot, played with flawless diligence by Jamie Geiger, is eons away from the sexy metallic sociopath seen so often on stage and screen. Steven is exactly what one would expect from an android prototype: He’s imperceptive, buggy, and (as Dave cleverly points out) is more akin to a grandparent with dementia than anything else. Steven’s goal in life is to help Julie (portrayed with violent distress by Gina Trebiani) and along the way, his programming allows him to make certain connections, leading to a genuine care for her. Is Steven sentient? Probably, but "The Assistant" is not about the humanity of robots. Instead, the play brings to light just how machine-like the human brain can actually be. The neuroses of the characters, especially Julie, are impeccably comparable to faulty computer programming; the humans descend to the machine’s level, rather than the machine ‘rising’ to theirs.
It’s a tragicomically blunt lesson, but in the end, hope prevails. As Steven surmounts his hard-wiring to love Julie (instead of just asking her how she’s feeling) there’s the faint, unquenchable optimism that we can do the same. Despite our massive fears to the contrary, the whole, suggest Minihan, might still be more than the sum of its parts.
Written by Ashley Minihan, Directed by Kelly Johnston. Featuring David Bunch, Josh Evans, Jamie Geiger, Gina Trebiani and Shana Wiersum. Susannah Baron, Lighting design. Ian Wehrle, Sound and Projection design. Leslie Ann Ken, Stage manager. Photos by Andrew Wilchak.
Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 31, 2015)
Eve Burley and Oliver Devoti in "Anthony Burgess' One Hand Clapping" - Photo by Emma Phillipson
Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 31, 2015) Adapted and Directed by Lucia Cox Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The world is going to hell in a handbasket and Howard Shirley (Oliver Devoti) knows that perhaps better than anyone. Not only does he have a photographic memory, but he is clairvoyant so Howard – if anyone would - knows the center is not holding and it might be time for him and his wife to check out. In an impassioned plea, Howard tells his wife Janet (Eve Burley), “It’s a rotten world, love. We gave it a chance. We fed money into it like it was a big machine and it paid out nothing. And it’s all collapsing all around us, decaying with rottenness. It won’t last much longer if it goes on as it is going on. It’ll be finished soon.”
Using his extraordinary powers, Howard amasses enough money to buy Janet the things he feels she deserves and to travel to the United States with her before returning home and disclosing his plan to execute a suicide pact to remove the couple from the “one big disappointment” of life. “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” (Robert Burns) and Howard’s well thought out scheme fails in the end (but not to his end) as “One Hand Clapping” concludes. This failure is the result of Janet’s tryst with Redvers Glass (Adam Urey) and her fear of “eternal fire and torment” after “doing away” with oneself.
Under Lucia Cox’s careful direction, the ensemble cast successfully brings Ms. Cox’s adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel to the stage and challenges the audience to examine its culpability in the alleged downturn in the affairs of humankind. Like the “very, very strong” American sleeping pills Howard plans to use to end his life, every culture creates ways to induce insomnia in its citizens and, with Janet” to see “it’s not too bad of a world when you come to look at it.” Oliver Devoti is perfectly stoic and armed with reason in his role as Howard. Eve Burley brings a blend of innocence and devilishness to her portrayal of Janet. And Adam Urey balances naiveté with cunning debauchery in his dual roles as Red and the game show host Laddie O’Neill.
It is easy to mistake “One Hand Clapping” for a diatribe against global consumerism; however, its polemic is more far-reaching and nihilistic. Anthony Burgess is questioning the ability of society to survive. The consumerism evident on the television screens on Meriel Pym’s (appropriately) claustrophobic set is only one of many symptoms of the decay and rottenness Howard senses. And placing the fireplace poker and the hammer in reach of the audience is a brilliant trope for “everyman’s” culpability in all that’s rotten in Denmark and beyond.
ANTHONY BURGESS’ ONE HAND CLAPPING
Written by Anthony Burgess and adapted and directed by Lucia Cox. The design team includes Meriel Pym (sets, props and costume design) and Owen Rafferty (sound and video design). The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos by Emma Phillipson. Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” is presented by House of Orphans (Manchester UK) and runs for a limited engagement through Sunday May 31, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes without interval.
Anthony Burgess' “One Hand Clapping” features Eve Burley, Oliver Devoti, and Adam Urey.
Simon Callow in “Tuesday’s at Tesco’s” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 7, 2015)
Simon Callow in "Tuesdays at Tesco's", part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59
Simon Callow in “Tuesday’s at Tesco’s” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 7, 2015) By Emmanuel Darley, Adapted and Translated by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande Directed by Simon Stokes Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Tuesdays that’s that. I spend the day there doing this and that dusting and all sorts. I shake out the tablecloth. I change the sheets. I empty the bin.” Pauline in “Tuesdays at Tesco’s”
The only thing that interrupts the samsara of Pauline's (Simon Callow) hum-drum life is the string of dream ballets that spontaneously burst forth from the piano in her cramped apartment, or from inside the cramped interior of her expansive mind when she is out an about. These brief balletic romps remind Pauline of the life that could have been if only she were loved unconditionally and nonjudgmentally by her father for whom she cares and shops on Tuesdays.
Pauline’s father wants his son Paul back, the Paul who from childhood knew he was a girl - not a son, a daughter. But her father will not, cannot accept his transgender adult daughter though she caters to his every need. He seems able to tell a friend he has a daughter but that “confession” is not enough to redeem his insolence and his rabid intolerance of Pauline.
Robin Don’s set clearly defines the repetitive nature of Pauline’s life from which she attains liberation and sanctity not through practice but through an unexpected and unwelcomed incident on the night before the Tuesday she determined not to submit to her father’s abusive ranting. Conor Mitchell is splendid as the onstage musician whose “unfinished symphony” counterpoints Pauline’s unfinished journey from self-acceptance to freedom from external judgement.
Under Simon Stokes’ direction, Mr. Callow wrestles Emmanuel Darley’s sparse story and manages to kick it to the curb, finding within the few morsels of transcendence that make his performance authentic and memorable. But it is not an easy match. The script – as translated and adapted by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande – is full of repetition and leaves the actor the daunting task of creating a believable character. Mr. Callow is successful in this effort and his Pauline emerges as a transgender woman who has all her life struggled to simply be what she has “always been as I am now me myself a woman.”
"Tuesdays at Tesco's" is - because of Mr. Callow - a rich examination of the interior-scape of a transgender woman and invites the audience to examine its collective trove of misconceptions and prejudices about all who simply want to, in Pauline’s words, affirm “I am as I am. Myself me and that’s that.”
SIMON CALLOW IN TUESDAYS AT TESCO’S
Produced by Richard Darbourne Ltd. in association with Assembly & Riverside Studios, “Tuesdays at Tesco’s” is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The creative team includes Robin Don (set and costume design), Chahine Yavroyan (lighting design), Quinny Sacks (movement director), Tara Llewellyn (wardrobe), and Jess Johnston (production stage manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
“Tuesdays at Tesco’s” runs at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday, June 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM & 7:00 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 80 minutes without interval.
In addition to Simon Callow, the cast includes Conor Mitchell.
“Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 31st, 2015)
(L to R) Jason Stanley, Julia Torres, Lawrence Jansen and Nick Paglino in "Cool Hand Luke" - Photo by Jason Woodruff
“Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 31st, 2015) Written by Donn Pearce and Adapted for the Stage by Emma Reeves Directed by Joe Tantalo Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"No more my Lord/No more my Lord/Lord, I’ll never turn back/No more my Lord” (Traditional American Spiritual, Composed for Choir by R. Nathaniel Dett)
What matters about “Cool Hand Luke” is the corpus of enduring questions Donn Pearce’s rich text raises and what matters about Emma Reeves’ stage adaptation of the 1965 novel is whether or not those enduring questions transfer from Pearce’s rich word to the engaging adaptation of the novel currently running at 59E59 Theaters. On the surface, "Cool Hand Luke” is about the troubled Luke Jackson (played with the perfect balance of grit and vulnerability by Lawrence Jansen), the war veteran who takes the tops off parking meters to make ends meet and it might appear this is the story of a specific man against the broken and unjust system he encounters. However, when one strips away issues of sexual status, age, and race, “Cool Hand Luke” is ultimately an extended metaphor (an allegory) for every person’s struggle with systems that violate rather than free the human spirit. The play effectively raises rich and deep questions through this extended metaphor.
“Cool Hand Luke” raises important questions that transcend the text. How well does America care for its war veterans? How effective is the justice system at rehabilitating convicted criminals? The engaging play raises even more rich and deep questions like: “What is forgiveness?” Is faith in a superior being necessary? Do political, economic, and education systems “enslave” participants? Are systems more interested in conformity (“getting the mind right”) or creativity? Is it possible to escape oppression? Is there no other world but the world we experience in the present? Does that world define us? When Luke is captured and returned to prison after a successful escape, his mates ask him to tell them “the way it was supposed to be.” Luke replies, “Cain’t help ya fellas. Guess there is no other world but this.”
When is enough oppression enough? This is perhaps the most compelling rich question raised by “Cool Hand Luke” and the question continues to be raised by those living on the fringes of “mainstream” and privileged society. This question often explodes with moral ambiguity, the kind of ambiguity expressed by Luke, “Anything I do, no matter how I do it, it’s all wrong. An’ you know what? By now, I don’t even know myself what’s wrong and what ain’t.”
Under Joe Tantalo’s direction, Mr. Jansen and the ensemble cast of "Cool Hand Luke" effectively portray characters locked in systems of oppression - as the oppressed and as the oppressors – with authenticity and exuberant believability. The members of the chain gang, Luke’s fellow inmates, attempt to “play a cool hand” in the game with the prison bosses and those bosses deal hard blows to keep the inmates from getting the upper hand.
The Godlight Theatre Company's commitment to creating original adaptations of modern classical literature is to be commended and should be supported by the theatergoing audience. “Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters is clear evidence of the success of this company’s brave mission.
COOL HAND LUKE
“Cool Hand Luke” is written by Donn Pearce and adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves and directed by Joe Tantalo. The design team is Maruti Evans (set and lighting); Ien DeNio (sound); and Orli Nativ (costumes). Rick Sordelet is the fight choreographer. Original music by Bryce Hodgson and Danny Blackburn. The production stage manager and dramaturge is Christina Hurtado-Pierson. The stage manager is Cris Knutson. The production photos are by Jason Woodruff.
“Cool Hand Luke” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 31. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Tickets are $30.00 ($21.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. The running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.
The cast features Kristina Doelling, Lars Drew, Lawrence Jansen, Mike Jansen, Ken King, Nick Paglino, Jason Stanley, Julia Torres, Brett Warnke, and Jarrod Zayas.
“Forever” at the New York Theatre Workshop (through Sunday May 31st, 2015)
“Forever” at the New York Theatre Workshop (through Sunday May 31st, 2015) Created and performed by Dael Orlandersmith Directed by Neel Keller Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” Richard Wright, “Black Boy” (1945)
With rhythms more reminiscent of song than spoken word, Dael Orlandersmith’s “Forever” is a requiem with three movements with a choir of Ms. Orlandersmith’s relatives looking on and an orchestra of audience members in awe of Ms. Orlandersmith’s remarkable artistry. The playwright’s long-awaited trip to Paris and her spiritual encounters with the “ghosts” of Jim Morrison, Richard Wright, Balzac, Modigliani, Piaf, and Oscar Wilde in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery comprise the first movement (the Introitus). These encounters lead her to reflect upon another “ghost” – that of her abusive and alcoholic mother Beula. This ghost “pulls her back” to her birth in October of 1959, through her childhood and adolescence, and to her eventual escape from her mother’s powerful hold.
Ms. Orlandersmith’s haunting recollections of her life with her “cut off, closed off” mother comprise the second and third movements of the “Requiem” (the Sequenz and the Offertorium) and include graphic verbal images of physical and psychological abuse by her mother and sexual abuse and rape by an intruder into her bedroom when she was fourteen. Her rage in the present reflects the depth of the pain inflicted upon her in the past and Ms. Orlandersmith’s performance here is deeply authentic and painfully believable. Ironically, this performance occurred on Mother’s Day perhaps the most saccharine-coated invented holiday in the calendar. Amidst the “hardness” in her mother, there was apparently a “softness” which came to Beula through “books/music/poetry” and often emerged in recitations of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Dreams.” The soft moments seem rare and there are more moments when Beula is “not human” and hurls insults and painful barbs at her daughter Dael. This long middle section of “Forever” is as difficult to see and hear as it must be for the playwright to share.
The only surcease for Dael was her childhood friend Tommy and the relationship was so salvific and redemptive for Dael that her mother forbade it, ended it. The second and third movements include graphic depictions of Dael’s mother’s hospitalization and death and these recollections are as powerful and engaging as the prolonged description of the rape. Under Neel Keller’s expansive direction, Ms. Orlandersmith commands the mindscape set designed by Takeshi Kata, moving in and out of the mood-filled pools of light provided by Mary Louise Geiger and re-membering her struggle for separation and individuation from her mother.
In the final movement of this requiem for her mother (the Communio), Ms. Orlandersmith seems to soften her tone and almost become forgiving of her mother’s abusive behavior. Crediting her mother for her love of books and music seems out of place and insincere. The young girl she sees at her first visit to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery morphs into her mother upon her return visit and Dael confesses that her mother is there with her in her “head/mind forever” and seems to welcome reconciliation with her mother. Obviously, this is Ms. Orlandersmith’s story and one must accept it in its entirety. However, the end of the play just seems out of place, perhaps out of time. Despite the decrescendo of the closing, “Forever” is a formidable piece of theatre full of sound and fury and a stream of consciousness that lingers with the audience long after the lights on the stage have dimmed.
Created and performed by Dael Orlandersmith and directed by Neel Keller. The creative team for “Forever” includes Takeshi Kata (scenic design), Kaye Voyce (costume design), Mary Louise Geiger (lighting design), Adam Phalen (sound design), Joy Meads (dramaturg), and Sunneva Stapleton (stage manager). Production photos by Joan Marcus. Presented the New York Theatre Workshop. At the New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, Manhattan; Ticket Central 212-279-4200 or http://nytw.org/tickets.asp. Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
Pompie’s Place at Don’t Tell Mama (Through Thursday May 28, 2015)
Ehud Asherie, Lezlie Harrison, Arthur Pomposello, Brianna Thomas, and Hilary Gardner
Pompie’s Place at Don’t Tell Mama (Through Thursday May 28, 2015) Hosted and Produced by Arthur Pomposello with Beck Lee, Consulting Producer With Hilary Gardner, Lezlie Harrison, and Brianna Thomas Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
A welcomed case of the blues has landed in Manhattan at the new pop-up blues supper club currently residing at the iconic Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row in midtown Manhattan. Under Ehud Asherie’s music direction, three of New York’s most distinguished blues and jazz singers croon and make the audience swoon with their rich blend of voices and superlative interpretive skills. With Ken Peplowski on reeds, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Jackie Williams on drums, and David Wong on upright bass, the three chanteuses charm the audience with a program of blues standards that pleases any blues-lover’s palate.
After an introduction by “Pompie” ( producer Arthur Pomposello), the three artists sing solo, in duet, and in trio following a fictional back story provided between each number by the impresario Pompie. Lezlie Harrison delivers a sultry and engaging rendition of “Saint Louis Blues” by the Father of the Blues W. C. Handy. Brianna Thomas struts slowly down one of the aisles singing “Darkness on the Delta” (Jerry Livingston and Marty Symes) a cappella. She finishes on stage with the mike but her rich voice and careful styling hardly require amplification. Hilary Garnder follows with a plaintive “10 Cents a Dance” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. The singers have three distinctive vocal qualities and approach their songs with equally distinctive stylings and interpretations of the lyrics.
Other highlights of the evening are Brianna Thomas’s brassy, bawdy, and bluesy rendition of Lil Johnson’s “My Stove’s in Good Condition” which prompted the audience to do its best to “turn [its] damper down”; Lezlie Harrison’s seductive rendition of “Kansas City” (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller); and Hilary Gardner’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of “When I Get Low I Get High” (Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald). The band’s instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s jazz standard “Creole Love Call” highlighted the remarkable skill of each member of the show’s band.
The evening rounds out with duets by Hilary Gardner and Lezlie Harrison (“After You’re Gone”) and Brianna Thomas and Hilary Gardner (“Willow Tree”) and two songs highlighting all three singers (“Mood Indigo” and “Blues in the Night”). Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s lyrics “The evenin' breeze'll start the trees to cryin'/And the moon'll hide it's light/When you get the blues/Blues in the night” capture the mood at the successful start-up of Pompie’s Place where the audience gets a good dose of “blues in the night” and yearns for more.
The setting is intimate and the seating is limited allowing an excellent view of the stage. The three-course meal is delivered quietly by the Don’t Tell Mama staff and the drinks delivered personally by the venue’s bar tender. The menu provides a choice of a market salad or a large bowl of homemade chill (with Mamas amazing cornbread) for the appetizer; pan roasted Atlantic salmon, butternut squash ravioli (with a cream sauce topped with pecans), or baby back BBQ ribs (with garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread, and sautéed vegetables) for the entrée; and either lemon meringue pie or a rocky road brownie for dessert.
POMPIE’S PLACE AT DON’T TELL MAMA
Remaining performances are on Sunday May 10 at 1:00 p.m., Monday May 11 at 7:00 p.m., and Thursday May 28 at 7:00 p.m. at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). All tickets are $65.00 and include the three-course meal. Drinks and gratuities are separate with a two-drink minimum. For reservations, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.pompiesplace.com Running time is one hour and forty minutes.