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Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sinners on a Southbound Bus” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)

Pictured: Nabil Traboulsi, Michael Coppola, and Katie Healy in “Sinners on a Southbound Bus.”
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sinners on a Southbound Bus” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)
Written by Ben Holbrook
Directed by Phoebe Padget
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Normally long bus rides usually do not cause much discomfort, taking the stress out of driving, providing some time to catch up on your latest read, or having a relaxing conversation with your travel mate to pass the time. Often the traveler can meet a stranger, strike up a conversation, share some snacks, and learn secrets about them and quite a bit about one’s self. The audience grabs a seat on this particular late night bus ride through the misty swamps of Alabama, becoming involved in a tension filled, roller coaster ride that is difficult to escape at the next stop either because of fear or just plain curiosity as to what will happen. Such is the story that unfolds in a new play by Ben Holbrook entitled “Sinners on a Southbound Bus” being presented by Ruddy Productions as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival.

At the beginning of the bus trip there is an odd pair of young men seated together. A small framed Silas played by Nabil Traboulsi with a somewhat streetwise, southern intellect and a larger, taller, unsophisticated companion Morgan, portrayed by Michael Coppola with vulnerability, sensitivity and a heart big enough to share his stash of RC Cola and Moon Pies with fellow passengers. The recipient of these tasty offerings is the more refined Trudy (Katie Healy), exhibiting a mischievous quality, fearful and fearless, experiencing moral ambiguity, as simple to understand as the layers of the moon pies she cannot resist as part of her southern childhood upbringing. They are joined by Bible-wielding Delta played with God fearing tenacity by Renette Oracien, two other passengers (Adam Towers and Ashley Versher), the bus driver (David Bell), and officer Triplett (Scott Brieden).

To divulge any part of the play would be a major spoiler alert. What can be said is that it is an intriguing story, told in a way that raises many questions, is relevant in today’s social climate and leaves the audience thinking. The cast is fine, defining characters and playing into the ambiguity of the situation. One problem is the southern accents, although providing a sense of Southern Gothic, they are inconsistent and difficult to understand, taking away from the energy and tension of the production. The script can be revised, shortened to quicken the pace, or lengthened to flesh out the characters. There is plenty of opportunity to increase the dramatic arc. As it stands now it is certainly worthy of a look and a good conversation builder over after theater drinks.

SINNERS OF A SOUTHBOUND BUS

“Sinners on a Southbound Bus” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Ruddy Productions at the Kraine Theater, 84 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.ruddyproductions.org/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Nabil Traboulsi, Michael Coppola, and Katie Healy in “Sinners on a Southbound Bus.”
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 26, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Miss” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Adam Petherbridge and Rosie Sowa. Photographer: Kaitlyn Samuel.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Miss” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Michael Ross Albert
Directed by Kaitlyn Samuel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Miss” is about unspeakable acts: horrific, unforgiveable, heinous acts committed by seemingly “normal” and “respectable” individuals. Because of the structure of Michael Ross Albert’s play, it is difficult to speak of these acts without having to issue a plethora of “spoiler alerts.” The most unspeakable are committed by a Laura (played with a suspicious gritty innocence by Rosie Sowa) a private boarding school English teacher and her troubled fiancé Gil (played with a frenetic and dangerous vulnerability by Daniel J. O’Brien). Gil is a CPA and most likely an alcoholic; however, those are not among his unforgiveable acts. Nor is – at face value – Laura’s teaching career problematic to anyone.

Laura’s and Gil’s heinous acts have little to do with what they do for a living; rather their misdeeds have everything to do with who they are as individuals and the health of their moral courage. “Miss” begins with a heated argument between Laura and Gil about their recent lack of communication, about Laura’s miscarriage, about Laura’s car in a ditch, about a fight between two of Laura’s students, and about Gil’s inability to understand Laura’s state of mind.

As this argument progresses, Mr. Albert reveals layer upon layer of secrets and discloses bits of information in carefully crafted exchanges between the fractured pair. Then into this mix comes one of those students Tyler (played with a fractured but fragile persona by Adam Petherbridge) and the lid of Pandora’s box opens even further as more secrets are disclosed and more heinous acts revealed.

Why is Tyler being expelled from the school and why has he left two other boarding schools before landing in this one? Why is Tyler’s father not able to attend Tyler’s disciplinary hearing? Why was Tyler fighting his “best friend” Derrick? Why does Gil despise Tyler? Why does Gil want Laura to speak to an attorney? Why is Laura such an unlikeable character?

Director Kaitlyn Samuel moves the action of “Miss” at a reasonably even pace and supports her cast as they peel away the layers of dissemblance and desperation. It is the peeling of those layers that gives “Miss” its strength. Too often, however, the characters get involved in implausible situations – in the past and in the present – but the dénouement is worth the wait despite some bumps in the dramatic arc. Mr. Albert’s characters are well-defined and their conflicts clear. The resulting plot is interesting and thought-provoking.

“Miss” is a play with a core of moral ambiguity. The audience needs to gather everything the playwright offers and make decisions about Laura, Gil, and Tyler based on their individual belief systems and personal and cultural value systems.

MISS

“Miss” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Outside Inside at the 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://michaelrossalbert.com/Michael_Ross_Albert/Miss.html. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Adam Petherbridge and Rosie Sowa. Photographer: Kaitlyn Samuel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Reconciling” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: JoJo Ginn, Katie Morrill, Jenny King, Cesar Munoz, Dillon Heape, and David Beckett. Photographer: Jenny King.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Reconciling” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Jenny King
Directed by Julia Hinson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

As lapsed Baptists, Molly (Jenny King) and Chris (David Beckett) know that reconciliation is a serious business. True Reconciliation requires: an awareness of having “missed the mark;” an admission of that “transgression” (also known as confession); an act of forgiveness by an “other;” and the acceptance of forgiveness and the decision to “change” on the part of the “miscreant.”

Playwright Jenny King’s “Reconciliation” focuses on three dyads: former lovers Molly and Chris; current lovers Monica (JoJo Ginn) and Tate (Cesar Munoz); and estranged siblings Jane (Katie Morrill) and Charlie (Dillon Heape). Molly and Chris seek reconciliation after feeling abandoned in the past. Monica discovers Tate has posted sexually explicit photos of her online, seeks revenge (revenge sex and pink handcuffs are involved), then becomes open to reconciliation with Tate. And, following their father’s death, Jane and Charlie move through layers of deep-seated jealousy and anger to attain reconciliation (with a surprise about Jane’s family membership).

Each of these stories begins to play out separately, sharing the same set. Eventually, the stories begin to collide – first with characters from the three “plays” using the same word and letting the audience “in” on the convention by freezing or looking at the other characters. Finally, the three stories completely intertwine with characters from separate plays addressing one another, seeking assistance from one another, and even giving direction to one another. “Next,” one character booms to the character in a different play. There is a feel of reader’s theatre or a millennial Greek Chorus gone off key.

Like reconciliation, this type of theatrical convention is extremely difficult to accomplish. Impeccable timing, acute awareness of fellow cast members, and precise direction is required. In “Reconciliation,” things go better when each “play” is running as a separate piece. When the stories impede upon one another, clarity is lost, dialogue is difficult to sort out, and the actors often seem left in awkward positions on the set. It might have been better for playwright Jenny King to cast someone else as actor Molly. It is difficult to write a complex piece like “Reconciliation” and be in the cast. Her decision to perform both roles might have detracted from the overall strength of the production. Additionally, Julia Hinson's inconsistent and extempore direction needs tightening throughout.

Although the convention demonstrates that stories of reconciliation are not unique and the elements of these stories often repeat themselves, it does little here to increase the strength of the individual conflicts or their resolutions. At best, the convention does bear witness to importance of the role of the community in achieving lasting and meaningful reconciliation. There is no need for Tate, after confessing his atheism and being “shunned” by his sweaty pastor and disingenuous congregants, to become to Monica and the community “as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

RECONCILING

“Reconciling” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Barrington Collective at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Reconciling” features, David Beckett, Dillon Heape, JoJo Ginn, Jenny King, Katie Morrill, and Cesar Munoz. Production photos by Jenny King.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.barringtoncollective.com/reconciling. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. The running time is 50 minutes.

Pictured: JoJo Ginn, Katie Morrill, Jenny King, Cesar Munoz, Dillon Heape, and David Beckett. Photographer: Jenny King.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Sean Peter Drohan. Photographer: Luke Cheng.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Sean Peter Drohan
Directed and Choreographed by Eamon Foley
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the many LGBTQ themed offerings in the N.Y. International Fringe Festival is “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” penned by Sean Peter Drohan who has attempted to create a play that slightly parallels the infamous Rostand drama but with a modern day gay twist. In this adaption, Cyrano, played with a nerdy self-pity in flawed physical shape, (according to the character’s gay male standards), by Mr. Drohan, is in love with his hunky unemployed dimwit roommate Christian, infused with simplistic charm by Adam Roberts, who is in love with the gym bod Adonis, Rock, portrayed with self- centered intellectual bravura by Judah Frank. This establishes the love triangle, in which Cyrano helps Christian answer texts from Rock about the characters and plot of Candide. This is where the similarities to the classic begin and end.

The characters fall prey to stereotypes and clichés of gay culture which do not provide much depth or interest. Cyrano is not only in love with Christian but has had sex with Rock and a myriad of other partners found on Gay websites, whose messages are viewed in video projections. Rock finds both of them inferior and ends up abandoning any romantic or sexual interest. The outcome reverts back to Cyrano and Christian standing by each other, being friends once again.

Directed and choreographed by Eamon Foley parts of this production have the distinct feel of a music video, with remarkable choreography and stunning graphic scenic projections by Jason Lee Courson, with both contributing to a polished, refined look not often found at a festival. The problem is that it is difficult to determine where this fits into the plot or story and why it is even necessary other than being entertaining. The script is a bit scattered and loses focus with vapid dialogue.

The playwright and director allocate almost two entire pages in the program to explain their intentions and reasoning, which indicates that the production itself does not provide clarity for the audience. Mr. Drohan has a brilliant idea, to write a gay play about friendship. It would be unique to see a story with positive role models, addressing conflicts, struggles, insecurities and the pitfalls of navigating gay lifestyle in a big city, but unfortunately this production falls short and misses the mark.

CYRANO: A LOVE LETTER TO A FRIENDSHIP

“Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Grind Arts Company at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” features Sean Peter Drohan, Judah Frank, and Adam Roberts. Production photos by Luke Cheng.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit https://cyranotheplay.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pictured: Sean Peter Drohan. Photographer: Luke Cheng.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sheila and Angelo” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Simone Lazer and Judy Bennett. Photographer: Michelle Best.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sheila and Angelo” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Nick Raio
Directed by Michelle Kristine Best
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to categorize Nick Raio’s “Shelia and Angelo” currently running at FringeNYC 2016. The play defies categorization. It is neither comedy nor drama, nor is it some amalgamation of the two genres. To compare it to anything with a serious dramatic intent would be insulting to the effort. One wonders why Mr. Raoi wrote this play and why he would choose to produce it. One further wonders why it could possibly have been accepted into the FringeNYC 2016 Season. It is offensive from beginning to end and is no more than a wobbly series of hackneyed jokes strung together with the hope that a story about a dying spouse might somehow salvage the mess.

When a play begins with a septuagenarian couple enjoying multiple orgasms because the husband took his “new vitamins” (think ED medication) and has to make a visit to the Emergency Department because the “four-hour” side effect has kicked in, one knows the best choice would have been to exit the theatre. Choosing to remain exposes the audience member to ninety minutes of sexist and ageist “humor” none of which has any purpose or in any way advances a plot – a plot which does not even exist. There can be no plot without believable characters with conflicts that are authentic and engaging.

How does one care for a wife with end-stage lymphoma who commits suicide and murders her husband of over forty years just so he can be with her in heaven? And how does one care for a husband who flirts with the woman in his Florida Retirement Community who is a “serial spouse killer” – boasting of ending her mates’ lives “with a smile on their faces?” And how can a playwright introduce a character who, once she receives her death diagnosis, proceeds to bargain with the God she has had no interest in heretofore?

To these queries, add how one could possibly care for a cadre of stock characters who spout senseless lines from the comedy eras of 1950s and 1960s that were not even funny then? The program “warns” the audience that “Sheila and Angelo” “deals with mature themes.” Unfortunately, there is not one mature moment in Mr. Raio’s play.

Actors need to exercise their craft and kudos to the cast of “Sheila and Angelo” for committing themselves to this project. This critic, however, will not mention any of their names here. As disturbing as the play is, perhaps even more unsettling is the evidence the audience actually found the piece funny – well, except for the obnoxious patron who texted throughout the performance from the front row.

The staging by Michelle Kristine Best is at best amateurish and puerile. There is nothing the remainder of the creative team could do to raise the level of this play to any form of acceptability so they, too, shall remain nameless. If this review possibly motivates the reader to secure a ticket to this play, the reader is out of luck – the show has been fully sold out for its entire run.

SHEILA AND ANGELO

“Sheila and Angelo” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Two Headed Dragon Productions at 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.sheilaandangelo.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Pictured: Simone Lazer and Judy Bennett. Photographer: Michelle Best.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Is That Danny DeVito” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Julian Gordon and Natasha Edwards. Photographer: Melissa Weiss.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Is That Danny DeVito” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Alexander Janosek Doyle
Directed by Amanda Levie
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It seems that this year in FringeNYC more than a few offerings are based on, connected to, or somehow resemble “Waiting for Godot” and almost all contain notes in the programs from the directors or authors explaining what makes their particular production different from the absurdist classic that is in constant revival. The new play “Is That Danny DeVito? (and other questions from west of the Hudson)” is one of those many offerings that share this notification tactic. The questions that come to mind is why this explanation is necessary and does the audience need this information to enjoy or understand the performance? In the case of this new work penned by Alexander Janosek Doyle, being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival, the answer is no and the young playwright should trust his material.

Mr. Doyle’s script is more than a play about waiting, a trope used too often to shed light on a myriad of other emotional, social, and life experiences. It is more than a play about having nothing more to do than think and question, ultimately learning about one’s self and others. Dusty (an animated, inquisitive Julian Blake Gordon) and Geoff (a solid, natural, unassuming Finn Kilgore) are waiting for a bus to take them back to Jersey City, New Jersey after a short vacation on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. These two millennials have different viewpoints on life but share the same regard for their – what seems to be necessary – friendship. Intangible questions arise. Are they really waiting or is this just part of living? Is where they are going any different then where they are? Will what they do, who they discover and what they say change anything? Does any of it really matter since their actions and dialogue create an illusory correlation?

Mr. Gordon and Mr. Kilgore have great chemistry and make the most of the material they are given. They have created real characters, two millennials who seem to be lost rather than waiting for something to take them in the right direction, which they think is home. They are everyman filled with hope, fear, anxiety, dreams, and knowledge. They are sensitive, abrasive, willing, and combative. They are human. Natasha Edwards as Ghoul and Carlo Fiorletta as Ass-Biter round out the competent cast. Amanda Levie moves the piece along at a comfortable pace but there is absolutely no need for an intermission which interrupts the tension and frustration.

Mr. Doyle has delivered a refreshing twist on the classic, filling it with humor and sensitivity. Don’t wait to see, or go wait and see or just wait till you see for yourself, but don’t wait too long to catch the remaining performances at The WOW Café.

IS THAT DANNY DEVITO

“Is That Danny DeVito” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Box Colony Theatre at WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.isthatdannydevito.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and thirty-five minutes with a brief intermission.

Pictured: Julian Gordon and Natasha Edwards. Photographer: Melissa Weiss.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 21, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Gorges Motel” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Dustin Charles and Jody Flader. Photographer: Britannie Bond.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Gorges Motel” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Gretchen Cryer, Lynne Halliday, Isaac Himmelman, James Hindman, Arlene Hutton, and Craig Pospisil
Directed by Chris Goutman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright James Hindman invited a group of playwrights to write short scenes all set in Watkins Glen, New York in a roadside motel that – although it might have “seen better days” – is still frequented by those looking for some semblance of self, by those looking to get married, by those looking for “something new,” and by those who for one reason or another might just be passing by. The result is the new play “The Gorges Motel” currently running at FringeNYC 2016. The individual playwrights shared their work and the resulting piece has the feel of somehow being “woven together” without the scenes necessarily depending upon one another. The parts work as well separately as they do in concert.

Mr. Hindman’s “Missing” – Parts I, II, and III – frames the work and sets the context for the remaining six plays. Because of their brevity, these scenes require actors who are able to quickly develop characters with recognizable conflicts and who have the ability to establish setting with alacrity. Under Chris Goutman’s steady and generous direction, the cast of seven handle these tasks with exceptional craft and flexibility. For example, Dustin Charles’s Robert in “Missing – Part I – is barely recognizable as the Greg in “Here Comes the Drone.” And Amanda Sykes brings individuality and charm to her characters Wendy in “Kissing Cousins” and Kayla in “Here Comes the Drone.”

Brevity sometimes weakens the scenes. There are times the audience is not so much left wanting more than it is wondering, “what else could I have done with those five minutes?” Overall, however, the scenes are interesting, provocative, and worth seeing.

Standing out are Craig Pospisil’s “Kissing Cousins” and Gretchen Cryer’s “Breckenridge.” In “Kissing Cousins,” two sisters discover they both have slept with the groom – Dani (Jody Flader) their mutual friend’s bridesmaid slept with him recently, and sister Wendy (Amanda Sykes) experienced a similar tryst years ago back in school. Ms. Flader and Ms. Sykes have impeccable comedic timing and play the discovery and processing of the unexpected information with great skill. Ryan Wesley Gilreath is their competent and equally funny straight man.

In “Breckenridge,” Terry the handsome motel maintenance man (Brian Sheridan) arrives in Penelope’s (Ilene Kristen) Unit to unclog her plumbing so she can stay a while and get some work done. Penelope has been waiting a long time for her Odysseus and her patience has just about run out! Terry and his collection of tools is just the ticket to end of Penelope’s pining and the two actors make this unlikely tryst completely likable. Ms. Cryer’s script is perhaps the most developed and her writing is rich in tropes and authentic characterization.

Cynthia Mace is the consummate “eccentric motel proprietor” and provides the necessary “glue” to hold the play together from disclosing here painful secrets, to welcoming an estranged brother Robert (Dustin Charles) as the guest in the unnumbered Unit 22, to letting us gather our collective and disparate catharses together as she welcomes us – as she always has over the years – to the Watkins Glen laser show.

A visit to the “The Gorges Motel” will not disappoint. Just be sure to book a spot before it closes for the season on August 27.

THE GORGES MOTEL

“The Gorges Motel” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Schondeikkan Productions and Miracle or Two Productions in association with The Journey Company at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://gorgesmoteltheplays.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Dustin Charles and Jody Flader. Photographer: Britannie Bond.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 21, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Steve Got Raped” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Photo: (L to R) James E. Smith and Dan Morrison, Credit: Aaron Kinser.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Steve Got Raped” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Sam Gooley
Directed by Melissa Firlit
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Steve (played with a sincere and charmed ambiguity by James E. Smith) has a lot on his mind. His important story is stalled on his editor’s desk at work and has not yet been published. His fiancé Katie (played with a bubbly ferocity by Sarah Moore) is apparently pregnant – Steve comes home from work early to change his soiled shirt and finds the smiley-face on the trashed pregnancy kit – and has not told him. And he is worried about what kind of bachelor party is being planned for him by his less-than-reliable best friend Derrick (played with an unbalanced loyalty by Dan Morrison). The discovery of the pregnancy kit with the positive result puts Steve in an odd meltdown when he confronts Katie and the couple grapples with the unexpected pregnancy coming so closely on the heels of their imminent nuptials.

Despite the turmoil, Katie convinces Steve to go to his bachelor party and have fun: she is not even worried about the possibility of strippers being present. Flash forward to the morning after the bash in Derrick’s trashed apartment: Steve is sitting hunched over, distraught and disheveled, sans the new pants purchased by Katie for the event. When confronted by Derrick, Steve eventually shares he was raped by one of the strippers. From this significant crisis the play’s falling action becomes somewhat disjointed and sometimes lacks believability.

If Steve got raped at his bachelor party by Ariel (played with a dark mean spiritedness by Mara Gannon) one of the female strippers hired by Steve’s friend Derrick, one would expect a series of repercussions similar to those experienced when a woman is raped by a man. Some of these are evident in Sam Gooley’s “new dark comedy” “Steve Got Raped.” Others are strikingly absent leaving the audience wondering how successful Mr. Gooley is when addressing the important issues of male rape survivors and the equally important issues of male status and identity.

Steve is ravaged by shame and embarrassment. He fails to share the event with Katie despite her concern that he seems no longer interested in having sex with her. He stops by a rape clinic and is summarily dismissed by the staff. He does not report the incident to the police. All of this seems realistic and Mr. Gooley compares and contrasts the two types of rape victims – female and male – with detailed scenes between all characters, including Steve’s decision to confront Ariel at the strip club where she works. All of this works well.

One would, however, hope for a more serious treatment of the subject of rape, particularly when the victim is a young man at his bachelor party. Katie’s reaction seems somewhat unbelievable – especially given she lies twice about her pregnancy – when she tells Steve, “a girl cannot rape a guy!” In fact, after the rape, “Steve Got Raped” seems to become more about characters struggling with issues of truth: what is truth and are there times/situations when not telling the truth to others or to self is appropriate? Why does Katie lie about being pregnant early on then decide to go to an abortion clinic? Would it not make more sense for her to support Steve in his journey to healing and wholeness? And why is Steve not concerned about having unprotected sex with a stripper?

Under Melissa Firlit’s well-paced direction, the ensemble cast members play well off one another and bring the issue of male rape to the forefront with a welcomed sensitivity. However, sometimes the script’s insistence on being comedic gets in the way of their ability to explore their characters with necessary depth and intuition.

All of that said, “Steve Got Raped” raises deep and rich enduring questions about rape in general and about male rape specifically. Mr. Gooley is to be commended for his decision to tackle this topic in FringeNYC 2016. Perhaps the comedy here is simply not dark enough to bring the suffering of male rape victims out from the shows of doubt and denial. It is definitely worth visiting this play to begin or to continue the conversation about an issue too often swept under the carpet of shame and denial.

STEVE GOT RAPED

“Steve Got Raped” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The New Collectives at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.thenewcollectives.com/fringenyc.html. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L to R) James E. Smith and Dan Morrison, Credit: Aaron Kinser.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 21, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Dementia Americana” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Pictured: Kenneth Robert Marlo as Stanford White and Kari Buckley as Evelyn Nesbit. Photographer: Jeremy Benson.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Dementia Americana” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Louis Aquiler and Chris D'Amato
Directed by Paul Mancini
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Anyone who is inclined to have a penchant for New York City history might be drawn to a new play entitled “Dementia Americana” telling the story of what is billed “the Crime of the Century,” when Harry K. Thaw murdered architect Stanford White, shooting him three times in the back of the head point blank. The crime took place at the theater restaurant atop Madison Square Garden in 1906, a building that White had designed. He is also credited for his most prominent architectural landmark, the Washington Square Arch. The murder was prompted by the jealous rage of Thaw, when he discovers that Stanford had raped his now wife Evelyn, on a date that occurred long before they were wed. When brought to trial he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in a state hospital for the criminally insane, from which he escaped, was retried and found not guilty, no longer insane and set free.

The twist in this production is the narrator or story teller psychoanalyst Rollo May who was not even alive when the event took place being born in 1909. His purpose is to make sense of the psychotic episodes of Thaw, and finally make note of “Dementia Americana” or temporary insanity, a contemporary tool used by defense attorneys to plead their murder client’s innocence and have then set free to roam the streets. It seems it has and always will be a flawed judicial system.

The cast does what it can with the enactment of the story realizing it is more informative rather than action packed and broken up into short vignettes. There is a problem with hearing some actors especially when directing dialogue upstage or into the wings further exacerbated by the noise of the two window air conditioners (granted this complaint comes from being seated in the last row of the theater). Director Paul Mancini moves the story along but could pick up the pace during some stagnant scenes that seem to drag. This production is more interesting than exciting and a look at a strange, bizarre character and a notorious murder that happened just crosstown from the theater over one hundred years ago.

DEMENTIA AMERICANA

“Dementia Americana” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Synapse Theatre Ensemble at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.synapsete.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Kenneth Robert Marlo as Stanford White and Kari Buckley as Evelyn Nesbit. Photographer: Jeremy Benson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 20, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)

Pictured: Andrea Alton and Allen Warncok. Photographer: Jenny Rubin.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)
Written by Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock
Directed by Mark Finley
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Self-described foul mouthed talking, pill popping, lady loving Molly “Equality” Dykeman (Andrea Alton) is back – again it turns out according to the ratings on Yelp – at Enchilada Shelly’s for a friend’s wedding. Molly is a butch security guard at P.S. 339 in the Bronx who, unapologetically, sports a mullet and an orange vest – she wears the vest 24/7 although she only works one day a week. Molly is ninety-nine percent dyke and one percent lesbian and a poet.

While at Shelly’s, Molly meets Angie Louise Angelone (Allen Warnock) freshly arrived in New York City from Kentucky and a waitress at Shelly’s. On the LGBTQ spectrum, Angie describes herself as more “Q.” Questioning and gloriously queer, Angie would like to begin gender reassignment surgery but cannot afford the cost and finds in Molly someone she can talk to and trust. That’s the thing about Molly – she loves unconditionally and non-judgmentally. And she is funny as hell.

Molly has never paid rent, is high most of the time, and is always in the present. She speaks her mind and wears her heart on her sleeve. Although her girlfriend Giselle has jilted her (and owes Molly an apology), Molly will stay with her girl – at least until she finds Queen Latifah.

Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock have created an engaging story for Molly and her new friend Angie. Their characters are richly layered and carefully developed. Each has interesting conflicts that drive interesting plots that engage their audience to reflect upon the comedic elements in the vicissitudes of the human experience.

Mark Finley directs Ms. Alton and Mr. Warnock with collaborative genius since these two consummate comics play off one another with improvisational distinction. Their timing is perfect, their humor endearing and freshly contemporary. Molly once told this critic – on the sly of course – that her poetry was not Brechtian. Although there might be a grain of truth in her self-criticism, the work of her creator (and alter ego) Andrea Alton here is somehow reminiscent of the relationship between Mick Kelly and her little brother Bubber who desperately wants a pink costume (“The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Carson McCullers). The lover and the beloved exist in tragedy and comedy; in the best of times and in the worst of times.

Molly gets around the boroughs of New York City (and on YouTube an on her Blog), but why not see her up close and personal in “A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” at the Huron Club at Soho Rep before she moves on Wednesday August 24.

A MICROWAVED BURRITO FILLED WITH E. COLI

“A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival in association with Emerging Artists Theatre at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street). Photo by Jenny Rubin.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.amicrowavedburrito.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 55 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Andrea Alton and Allen Warncok. Photographer: Jenny Rubin.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 20, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Off Track” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Off Track” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by James Comtois
Directed by Tim Errickson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At some point on “Off Track,” – it might have been in a phone conversation with his ex-boyfriend just before his phone died – Ian (Matthew Trumbull) says, “It’s too late to fix it.” This phrase could easily describe James Comtois’s “Off Track” several scenes earlier when it was already too late to fix his FringeNYC 2016 play currently running at Teatro SEA at The Clemente.

“Off Track” circumlocutes several important issues without raising one deep, rich, enduring question about any of them. This failure on the part of a playwright is unfortunate and unfair not only to an audience but to the show’s actors that have to struggle to make sense of a play they are called to enliven with sense and sensibility.

Back to those issues: white privilege; systemic racism; unemployment; drug-dealing; economic disparity; and crimes of passion to name but a few of Mr. Comtois’s sub-plots. All of these left on Rosie’s Yeauxlanda Kay) bar to evaporate before last call. The playwright chooses – one assumes it must have been a choice – to write about none of these themes. He also has chosen to introduce characters he abandons on page and on stage as underdeveloped stock characters without convincing or interesting conflicts.

After meeting Gary (Anthony F. Lalor) at his local bar just before the Chicago Transit Union’s strike, Ian spends the night with the young man “from the other side of town” who is found the next morning murdered and left behind a dumpster at a bar far from Ian’s “safe” neighborhood. That story – one which does pique the interest of the audience member – ends as quickly as it began. Eighty-five minutes later, the audience still yearns to know something, anything about the motivations of the only character no longer on the stage.

If only Yeauxlanda Kay (a.k.a spoken word artist Yolanda K. Wilkinson) had stepped out from behind her bar, stood next to Gary’s bar-top memorial, and with some power poetry challenged the audience about any one of the themes that remain buried in “Off Track.” That experience would have gone a long way to putting the play back on track.

OFF TRACK

“Off Track” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Off Track Arts at Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Zuccotti Park” at FringeNYC 2016 at Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)

Pictured: Brian Kinnard, Levin Valayil, Jessica Smith, Daniel Karp, Sonya Higgins, and Ashley Brooke. Photographer: Victoria Medina.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Zuccotti Park” at FringeNYC 2016 at Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)
Book and Lyrics by Catherine Hurd
Music and Additional Lyrics by Vatrena King
Directed by Luis Salgado
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Serious political and socio-economic themes have always been an acceptable genre for playwrights in the contemporary theater landscape but more recently this subject matter is becoming a more prevalent subject matter in musical theater. Shining examples of this art form are the mega musical hits such as “Hair,” “Rent,” and “Les Miserable” that manage to find the perfect balance between message and enjoyable entertainment. “Zuccotti Park” a new musical being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival, is yet another example of a failed attempt to conquer the daunting task of establishing equilibrium between addressing important social issues and formulating a source for song and dance that will provide enjoyable entertainment without negatively affecting the importance or integrity of the message. Creating lively, foolishly choreographed musical numbers, that diminish the importance of a serious situation is self- indulgent and insensitive behavior that sabotages the structure of good musical theater.

The book and lyrics by Catherine Hurd, although still relevant, are old news that has been heard over and over on news broadcasts since the Occupy Wall Street protest movement started in 2011. There is no debate that it was a monumental effort to bring attention to the economic tragedy that our nation faces but in question is it a provision of substance for a good musical. In this particular instance each problem is addressed in a vignette, monologue or song which interrupts the flow and subplots detract from the main theme. The music by Vatrena King is less than pedestrian, relying on simple repetitive downbeats to keep the vocalist in tempo while delivering non melodic songs spouting trite lyrics that try desperately to rhyme. Luis Salgado fairs well orchestrating a huge cast of twenty-five around the large playing area but fails to incorporate any character development. His choreography is basic and at times intrusive. At this stage, this production does not provide any insightful ideas nor does it provide enough engaging entertainment to warrant spending two hours in the theater.

ZUCCOTTI PARK

“Zuccotti Park” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Salgado Productions at Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.zuccottiparkmusical.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Pictured: Brian Kinnard, Levin Valayil, Jessica Smith, Daniel Karp, Sonya Higgins, and Ashley Brooke. Photographer: Victoria Medina.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Curse of the Babywoman” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Pictured: Allie Brown, Ali McGhee, Mike Wirsch, Taylor Pedane, Sarah Misch, Kurt Cruz, Ryan DeForeest, Alexa Peyton, and Justin Phillips. Photographer: Hunter Pedane.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Curse of the Babywoman” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Michael Paul Wirsch
Directed by Olivia Hartle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Falling somewhere between a cheap Penny Dreadful and a horrific Sci-Fi B-movie, Michael Paul Wirsch’s “The Curse of the Babywoman” (hereafter “The Curse”) has found its way onto the stage of the Lower East Side’s Teatro SEA as part of FringeNYC 2016.

The residents of Shrubtown live in fear of the hoard of shapeless, formless babies who haunt the woods at night waiting to gum their victims with their toothless mouths and bring them under their spell. By day these vampire-like, werewolf-like creatures live alongside their neighbors unnoticed. But after sunset they morph into “babywomen” a fearful curse on the law-abiding citizens who frequent Bob’s Big Boy and savor the fast-food chain’s dog meat (one cannot make this stuff up – well someone did of course).

It is not necessary to share the cast of characters or their insipid conflicts or the thin plot those conflicts drive. The play’s characters have conflicts that drive a plot as absurd and dull as the puppet stage which provides the production’s “special effects.”

If “The Curse” is attempting to provide a trope for the repercussions of fearing the unknown, it does not succeed – the play is simply not that multi-layered nor that complex. If the play is trying to lift up the hearts and minds of people who do not hate what they do not understand, it does not succeed there either – the play is too convoluted to support that important theme.

“The Curse” is not well written, it is not well directed, and it leaves the unfortunate cast adrift in one hour and forty-five minutes of nonsense. There is no reason to see this woebegone play.

THE CURSE OF THE BABYWOMAN

“The Curse of the Babywoman” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and BIG Theatre Company at Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

The cast of “The Curse of the Babywoman” features Alexandra Brown, Kurt Cruz, Ryan DeForeest, Ali McGhee, Sarah Misch, David Nackman, Taylor Pedane, Alexa Peyton, and Justin Phillips. Production photos by Hunter Pedane.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.bigtheatre.org/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.

Pictured: Allie Brown, Ali McGhee, Mike Wirsch, Taylor Pedane, Sarah Misch, Kurt Cruz, Ryan DeForeest, Alexa Peyton, and Justin Phillips. Photographer: Hunter Pedane.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Pucker Up and Blow” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Pucker Up and Blow” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)
Written by Daniel Reitz
Directed by Paul Schnee
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is really nothing fresh in the new play “Pucker Up and Blow” by Daniel Reitz, being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival. It is vulgar, exploitive, offensive, contains full frontal nudity and is a play within a play, mirroring the play being performed. So what’s new? It has certainly all been seen and done before, on stage, in film, on television and nowadays on one’s cell phone. To set the record straight, I did not find the language or the content disturbing. However, what was unsettling, was the reaction of the audience and their choice to laugh at vulgar, racist, immoral situations that are currently seditious crimes in are present social climate.

The plot centers around David, a children’s theater actor from the Midwest, who arrives in New York to seek a successful career in the theater. When his aspirations are achieved and he is cast in a new Broadway show, written by a noted inflammatory playwright, he is challenged with the decision of sacrificing his self-worth and dignity in return for fame and fortune. The subplots of deception, infidelity, power, racism and revenge, are valid but are insipid.

Kudos to the nudity scene which is not gratuitous, providing a peak to the dramatic arc, and is pivotal to the script, mostly resulting from the brilliant performance by Will Dagger as David. Mr. Reitz has penned a provocative script, but when considering our country’s present turbulent state of affairs, it comes to mind that this production may fuel the fires of desensitization rather than assist in extinguishing them. Take a look for yourself but be warned it is not for the theater goer who is faint of heart and easily offended by sexual content and vulgarity.

PUCKER UP AND BLOW

“Pucker Up and Blow” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Barden Schnee Casting Inc. at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

The cast of “Pucker Up and Blow” features Shane Allen, Sydni Beaudoin, Jeremy Burnett, Will Dagger, Alex Emanuel, Asa James, and Chandra Thomas.

For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Anonymous, Anonymous” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)

Pictured: Dustin Charles, Kristin Wetherington. Photographer: Marco Torre.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Anonymous, Anonymous” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)
Written by Jason Sofge
Directed by Jason Sofge and Michael Melkovic
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” – William Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” Act II, Scene 2.

If a play has no playwright, is it a play? If a playwright’s play is entitled “Anonymous, Anonymous,” is he or she really a playwright? When is any play finished? When it has a working title? When the playwright fulfills all the requirements in Aristotle’s “Poetics?” Perhaps only when it has been published and produced? Perhaps a play is a play only when it is being conceived? Playwright Jason Sofge explores these and many other questions about his craft in his new play “Anonymous, Anonymous” currently running at FringeNYC 2016.

Mr. Sofge seduces his audience into his presumed play-within-a-play throughout its hour and ten-minute length hoping its members will stay with him and his talented cast of characters as they explore the convention time after time, trick after trick, twist after turn, ending where it begins and enjoy being pushed and pulled through time and space only to wonder where they have been and why they have been there. It is a risky business for any playwright to undertake.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s ruse to trick his uncle (who is perhaps his real father – but that is yet another critical conundrum) works because his play-within-a-play has a purpose, serves its purpose, comes to an end, and the tragedy itself moves forward. In “Anonymous, Anonymous” the convention continues to collapse in upon itself too many tines to maintain a significant level of interest in the piece. Once the audience is in on the “trick” – which occurs early on in the play – they begin to grow weary and, despite Mr. Sofge’s apparent lack of interest in dramatic arcs, fourth walls, and cathartic resolutions, the audience begins to beg for a bit of a decent dénouement.

To his credit, Mr. Sofge has created interesting characters for his playwright Dan’s (Dustin Charles) magnum opus including his lost love Natalie (Kristin Wetherington) and the cast of his plays that move between years of writing, production, re-writing, and reflection. Under Mr. Sofge’s and Michael Melkovic’s direction, the ensemble cast does its best to pull the whole thing off and are convincing as the actors auditioning for and performing in the play not yet written. Nick Westemeyer, Dereks Thomas, Tony Del Bono, and Nathan Larkins (who is on stage the entire time!) round out the cast.

“Anonymous, Anonymous” continues at the Kraine Theatre in the East Village through August 25, 2016.

ANONYMOUS, ANONYMOUS

“Anonymous, Anonymous” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Pogue Mahone Productions at the Kraine Theater, 84 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue). Photo by Marco Torre.

Remaining performances of “Anonymous, Anonymous” take place at on the following schedule: Tuesday August 16th at 4:45 p.m.; Friday August 19th at 2:00 p.m.; Sunday August 21st at 7:00 p.m.; and Thursday August 25th at 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team and the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Dustin Charles, Kristin Wetherington. Photographer: Marco Torre.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Still Not” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Monday August 22, 2016)

Pictured: Shelby Hightower and Harrison Bryan. Photographer: Jay Zawacki.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Still Not” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Monday August 22, 2016)
Written by Harrison Bryan
Directed by Rory Lance
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A woman is sitting on a bench. A man walks by and notices her sitting there alone. They silently flirt, coyly and innocently, until the man decides to sit on the bench next to her and attempt to have a conversation. When the silence is broken, this dramatic presentation shatters and falls apart. This unfortunately is the dilemma the new one act play “Still Not” is facing. It is billed as a play about waiting for love, but the commonly used literary trope of beginning where it ends and ending where it began, just reinforces the futile situation.

What resonates in this two-hander is the desperate need to once again learn how to physically communicate in this new world of technical dialogue, where it is easy to hurt, disappoint, and make excuses without much consequence. In that respect the dialogue between these two strangers demonstrates how the art of physical communication is lost and how words can sabotage intentions and emotions when a conversation is awkward at best. After the first of five meetings on the park bench the chitchat becomes inane and repetitious, only serving as a vehicle for comedic overtones and situations. It is devoid of character development and dramatic arc leaving one scene indiscernible from another.

The two actors Harrison Bryan (Him), who also penned the piece, and Shelby Hightower (Her) come as close to creating interesting characters as the script allows but lack the chemistry to provide and support emotional content. Mr. Bryan relies too much on his clowning experience to win his audience over and at times undermines the creation of a viable character. That being said, perhaps this piece of theater would fare better as a sensitive, powerful pantomime, sans script, reminiscent of the great Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

At this incarnation “Still Not” still does not reach its full potential and leaves the audience still waiting for something more.

STILL NOT

“Still Not” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and at WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

The cast of “Still Not” features Harrison Bryan and Shelby Hightower. Production photos by Jay Zawacki.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Shelby Hightower and Harrison Bryan. Photographer: Jay Zawacki.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Jump It” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)

Pictured: Phillip Cruise and Bethany Geraghty. Credit Ze Castle.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Jump It” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)
Written by Phoebe Farber
Directed by Gama Valle
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Stu Napolitano (played with a charmed angst by Philip Cruise) owns his own towing business and still lives at home with his abusive father and collusive mother. Stu drops everything and dashes home to administer insulin to his diabetic father whenever his incompetent mother calls. Stu’s dreary – and troubled – life gets interrupted by the return of his brother Ray from LA (played with a suspicious exuberance by Eli Ganias) and Ray’s high school squeeze Wendy (played with a doleful indignity by Bethany Geraghty) who, at the play’s start, needs a jump start for her car battery deadened by her husband’s predisposition to leave the car radio on. Wendy and Ray, by the way, are unhappily married and generally unhappy people and turn to Stu for surcease from their near-dead batteries.

When these characters from the past collide years later in the present, their lives should change as a result of the collision. Also it is an accident that is not expected, a surprise and creates a situation that is unpredictable. That is the premise of “Jump It” written by Pheobe Farber which defies any of the aforementioned conclusions. It is a play where characters do not change but merely adapt. The music does not change. There are no surprises and everything is predictable. It is stuck in time and does not budge even though the present tries to coax it from the shortcomings of the past. It is a flat tire with no dramatic arc.

The cast does an admirable job in trying to overcome the obstacles of the script, creating believable flawed characters but fall short when trying to give them an emotional transfusion, though no fault of their own. The direction by Gama Valle is somewhat stagnant and fractured by very short scenes severed by the same repetitious music. None of this overcomes – or jump starts – Ms. Farber’s disconnected and convoluted story line.

JUMP IT

“Jump It” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Phoebe Farber at 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

The cast of “Jump It” features Philip Cruise, Eli Ganias, and Bethany Geraghty. Production photos by Ze Castle.

Remaining performances of “Jump It” take place at on the following schedule: Tuesday August 16th at 9:00 p.m. and Friday August 19th at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://jumpitnyc.weebly.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Phillip Cruise and Bethany Geraghty. Credit Ze Castle.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 18, 2016)

Pictured: Khalid Hill. Photographer: Daniel Coston.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 18, 2016)
Written by Cherry Jackson
Directed by James Vesce
Reviewed by
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Their relative ineffectiveness, however, is reflective of larger forces that combined over many decades to make blacks in the city all but invisible. And by now, the truth is that the black community has few genuinely influential advocates in San Francisco’s centers of power, the business community, and at City Hall.” – Amy Alexander, “The Atlantic”

Following fifteen minutes of a smooth jazz jam session by Noel Freidline (piano and keyboards) and Tim Singh (bass) and a transcendent tap routine by Khalid Hill, the real business of Cherry Jackson’s “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” begins. And it is not a business for the weak of spirit or the faint of heart. It is a business that requires action, decision, commitment to change, and “discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Mr. Hill settles onto a stool in front of the two-man jazz band as he assumes a new role yet to be determined. The lights dim and in lighting designer Matt Fergen’s chilling shadows, the mortician (played with a vacuous complacency by Jay Morong) finishes his “good work” on his latest Medicaid client Tyrone (played with a disarming but charming virulence by Kineh N’gaojia) and lays him out ready for viewing. Tyrone is one of many young black men who are victims of police violence who end up at the mortician’s door and the payments from Medicaid are enough to keep his arms open wide.

Tyrone’s childhood friend Larry James Fletcher (played with an exuberant and charmed naiveté by Codara Bracy) has taken off work in the fields and taken the bus up from Gainsboro, Texas to see his slain friend. After completing the Medicaid required grilling (are you married, Mr. Fletcher?) and thumb-printing, Larry approaches Tyrone’s covered body; the mortician uncovers his “work” and leaves the room.

What follows is one of the most challenging pieces of theatre in FringeNYC 2016. Tyrone – like Lazarus – comes back from death and he and Larry rehearse their childhood, their adolescence, and their young adulthood as young men of color in what continues to be a world molded by the “Master’s” hand. Without having to provide a spoiler alert and diminish the cathartic power of Ms. Jackson’s play, it is possible to reveal that “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” raises many rich and enduring questions. Why are young black men still being killed as a result of police violence? Do members of black communities across America have any true advocates? Where are these advocates and why are they not more vocal and more proactive?

Under James Vesce’s electrifying direction, the cast is uniformly brilliant and engaging. They each bring authenticity and a level of honesty to their characters that challenges the status quo and reverberates through the performance space with disquieting truthfulness.

The title of Cherry Jackson’s engaging and disarming 1978 play is a mind-bending distortion of the well-known phrase in John 14:2-3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” “My Father” has become “the Master” and the verses now are unsettling tropes for systemic racism, white privilege and supremacy.

The play ends with his signature “rapid-fire” up on his toes tap routine by Khalid Hill. Mr. Hill moves in and out of the shadows during the play, sometimes just observing, sometimes assisting the mortician, sometimes weaving in and out of the lives of “the quick and the dead.” Death is a funny guy sometimes and – as Tyrone points out – will find his way into your house no matter how hard you try to keep him out. In the case of Tyrone and the three new clients (one riddled by the bullets from a police officer’s gun) called in at the end of the play, Death far too often appears in the guise of armed men in uniform called to protect and serve. Who is better off? Tyrone or Larry? The one dead or the one still quickened and believing in the goodness of his master?

This is a play that needs to be seen. Please see it before it closes on August 18, 2016.

IN THE MASTERS HOUSE THERE ARE MANY MANSIONS

“In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Twilight Repertory Company at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

The cast of “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” features Codara Bracy, Khalid Hill, Jay Morong, and Kineh N’goajia. Production photos by Daniel Coston.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.jamesvesce.com/twilight-repertory-company.html. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Khalid Hill. Photographer: Daniel Coston.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 18, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Mother Emanuel” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)

Photo: Christian Lee Branch (with tambourine), Nicole Stacie (with tambourine), Lauren Shaye, and Marquis Gibson. Credit: Michela Rynczak.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Mother Emanuel” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)
Written by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, Adam Mace, and Christian Lee Branch
Directed and Choreographed by Rajendra Maroon Maharaj
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders was 26 years old when he returned to his Father in Heaven. A poet and entrepreneur, he died while reaching to save his Aunt Susie. Just a few hours before his death, his last Instagram post was a meme with a quote from Jackie Robinson. It read, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.’” – Charlestonian 2, “Mother Emanuel”

In “Mother Emanuel” there is no mention of twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof who, after spending an hour in a Bible Study with members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, shot nine of those church members and fled the building uttering a racially inflammatory statement over the bodies. In fact, the only reference to this June 17, 2015 massacre is the word ‘shooting.’

Described as “An American Musical Play,” Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, Adam Mace, and Christian Lee Branch’s “Mother Emanuel” focuses on the lives of the nine victims of this shooting prior to the massacre – the time each of them found “Grace” and “returned to their Heavenly Father.” This new musical focuses on how each of these nine believers led exemplary lives of faith and commitment that continue to influence others beyond their untimely deaths.

“Mother Emanuel” takes place during the Bible study but includes a series of flashbacks that describe in detail the lives of each of the “nine.” These flashbacks are emotional and honest and give authenticity to each individual. The audience easily connects to these stories through the significant craft of the cast who play not only the lives of the massacred but also the lives those individuals touched and the lives of those who were left behind. These “testimonials” are powerful and life-changing.

Under Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s meticulous direction, Christian Lee Branch, Marquis Gibson, Lauren Shaye, and Nicole Stacie act, sing, and dance their ways into the hearts of the audience. As they depict how the “nine” were fired up by their deep and abiding faith, this remarkable ensemble cast fires up the audience and prepares them for that cathartic moment when, after hearing “The Old Rugged Cross,” there is a blackout and they hear the shots fired that ended those lives of the faithful.

The musical includes eleven songs of faith delivered by the cast with powerful voices that interpret the songs’ lyrics with purity and grace. And the musical does not shy away from depicting the unique experience of the AME church and its distinctive charismatic style of worship and preaching. For some members of the audience, it might be the first time they experienced the depiction of one “slain in the Spirit.”

The spirit of redemptive love pervades “Mother Emanuel” – both the musical and the historic church it celebrates – and reminds the audience of the strength of one community of faith and its insistence on overcoming hate with love. Part revival, part history, part testimonies, “Mother Emanuel” challenges the choices of vengeance and hatred with the ability to lean on “Everlasting Arms.”

MOTHER EMANUEL

“Mother Emanuel” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Rebel Theater at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Mother Emanuel” features Christian Lee Branch, Marquis Gibson, Lauren Shaye, and Nicole Stacie. Production photos by Michela Rynczak.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit www.MotherEmanuelThePlay.com. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. The running time is 90 minutes.

Photo: Christian Lee Branch (with tambourine), Nicole Stacie (with tambourine), Lauren Shaye, and Marquis Gibson. Credit: Michela Rynczak.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 18, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Scratching” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Photograph: FRINGENYC 2016 Logo. Photographer: Filip Rudnicki.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Scratching” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Britton Buttrill
Directed by Miles Mandwelle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Britton Buttrill’s “Scratching,” four characters who seem to have no interest in “climbing up and scratching” their ways to “start something new” appear stuck in a Sisyphean loop with no hope of purifying their karma.

Estranged brothers Christian (Karsten Otto) and Adrian (Tyler Gardella) spent their early years watching their abusive father beat their collusive mother. Christian left their Southern town for New York City with Tracy (Alexandria Collins) to start a new life as the tattoo artist who is able to see within a person that which lasts beyond death. That venture fails and he returns home to stripper drug dealer Brianna (Andi Morrow) who is not the least bit supportive. Tracy travels to the South to reclaim Christian and instead lands in the arms of Adrian who stayed home and continued to be abused by his father.

It is difficult to care for these four self-destructive characters who have no clue who they are or where they are going or when they are being objectified. Their lives are beyond hope and there is no chance of a redemptive catharsis at the end of this misbegotten play.

The actors do what they can with the script with seemingly little help from director Miles Mandwelle. The whole ordeal is far too long, extended by a meaningless and gratuitous sex scene.

SCRATCHING

“Scratching” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Skeleton Rep at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

The cast of “Scratching” features Alexandria Collins, Tyler Gardella, Andi Morrow, and Karsten Otto.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://scratchingtheplay.weebly.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Photograph: FRINGENYC 2016 Logo. Photographer: Filip Rudnicki.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “ChipandGus” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)

Pictured: John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen. Photographer: Chris Young.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “ChipandGus” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)
Written by and Directed by John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The rapid fire repartee that bounces back and forth faster than the ping pong balls that fly through the air is the source of energy in “ChipandGus, the remarkable two-hander one act play presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival. It is a sort of a contemporary Gin Game on steroids with two unlikely characters in an unusual, mesmerizing relationship, getting pumped up in a lengthy one hundred minutes. It is an emotional, intellectual and physically challenging game where the stakes are high and a friendship is at risk. It is written by John Ahlin (Gus) and Christopher Patrick Mullen (Chip), who also credit themselves with the adroit direction. They are a perfect team, amiable opponents that manage to play with rather than against each other. Their chemistry is not an experiment but an explosion that can only be accomplished when combining two incredibly skilled actors together in a clever and precarious script.

Mr. Mullen’s lean frame moves with an almost psychotic bravura that conceals Chip’s damaged and deflated ego. He creates a character that merely simmers with frailty and vulnerability until he allows it to erupt to the surface. Mr. Ahlin’s large and dominant presence concedes to expose a cuddly teddy bear, sensitive, articulate and caring but emotionally wounded retreating within merely to protect himself. Chip, a musician and Gus a philosophy professor manage to create a complex human symphony with mellow, striking and bombastic movements that support the recurring theme of an endearing friendship. They are a pleasure to watch and intriguing to hear.

If there is any constructive criticism it would be in reference to the length of the piece and the constant repetitious pace and style of the dialogue. Perhaps this is intentional to concur with the structure of the ping pong game, but nonetheless it becomes a bit tiring way before game point. Most of the verbal sparring is subsidiary to plot development even though it provides a few good laughs.

Take a break from your summer routine and stop by the back game room of a run- down neighborhood bar to realize it is not about winning as long as you are in the game, and more important, not so much about the story but how you tell it. Chip and Gus are in the game, play it well and both come up winners.

CHIPANDGUS

“ChipandGus” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Fat Knight Theatre at WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

The cast of “ChipandGus” features John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen. Production photos by Chris Young.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.fatknighttheatre.org/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen. Photographer: Chris Young.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Naked Brazilian” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Sunday August 21, 2016

Pictured: Gustavo Pace. Photographer: Jim R. Moore.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Naked Brazilian” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Sunday August 21, 2016)
Written by Gustavo Pace
Directed by Stephen Brown-Fried
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the many solo shows being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival is “Naked Brazilian,” written and performed by Gustavo Pace. The script follows his life from childhood in Rio de Janeiro to the streets of New York City and beyond elaborating on copious experiences that contribute to his engaging journey to the present day. The monologue is filled with rich and demonstrative characters that Mr. Pace has mastered physically and vocally. He deftly morphs from one to another in the blink of an eye, captivating his audience and keeping the life train chugging along at a comfortable pace. His inexhaustible energy, charming presence and impeccable timing all help to achieve his dream of “just entertaining others.”

Unfortunately, that is what the stories become, merely entertainment with almost no personal emotional investment to compliment the experience. It is easy to like Gustavo, enjoy the comedy and appreciate the drama but it is very difficult to connect with him and care about him. When you leave the theater you remember the stories but do not necessarily remember Mr. Pace. There is also a problem with the first ten minutes or so being spoken in Portuguese even though it does take place in Brazil. Authentic but not too interesting to those who do not understand making it seem longer than it actually is. Just establish the language in the first dramatic scene and continue in English. Explaining what was said becomes repetitive. Establish the premise and move on. There is also room for refinement of the script eliminating some unnecessary scenes that do nothing to move the story forward and abandon the already scarce dramatic arc.

Take a chance and spend a bit more than an hour with a very good story teller who has a few interesting tales to share and does it with the skills afforded a proficient actor.

NAKED BRAZILIAN

“Naked Brazilian” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue). Photo by Jim R. Moore.

Remaining performances of “Naked Brazilian” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 17th at 9:30 p.m.; Friday August 19th at 9:15 p.m.; and Sunday August 21st at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.nakedbrazilianshow.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Gustavo Pace. Photographer: Jim R. Moore.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Music and Lyrics by Don Chaffer
Book by Chris Cragin-Day
Directed by Amelia Peterson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“When Herod saw that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was filled with rage. Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according to the time he had learned from the Magi.” – Matthew 2:16

Don Chaffer’s “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby” is an interesting retelling of the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus from Gabriel’s “Annunciation” to the “Flight into Egypt” to escape Herod’s attempt to find and murder the child born a ruler who will be “the shepherd of God’s people Israel.” The new musical – still set in the time of Herod – sports a Joseph who builds for the Romans and has to decide what to do with his fiancé Mary who claims to be pregnant with God’s child. Mary here, as in the Biblical story, is a devout young woman who awaits God’s deliverance from the oppression of the Romans and their puppet king Herod.

Don Chaffer’s and Chris Cragin Day’s musical comes to the stage with great promise. His retelling is fresh and, in most cases, brimming with humor. If only the cast members had stronger voices and were able to develop their characters more deeply giving them a freshness and a new depth of spirit. Michael Castillejos (Joseph), Ava McCoy (Mary), Katherine George (Elizabeth and others), and Andrew Nielson (Benjamin (and others) often seen adrift in clearly articulating the themes of “The Unusual Tale.” Perhaps it would have been better to have a contemporary setting to correspond to the contemporary costumes. And why is Joseph in a contemporary builder’s costume and the Roman soldiers in period costumes? And the lengthy scenes with the large puppet informing Joseph and Mary of God’s will are unnecessary. Again, an announcement over the loudspeaker at work that only Joseph can hear might have worked better.

Director Amelia Peterson should be giving her actors a firmer hand and move the entire show at a much quicker pace. Was the show perhaps under rehearsed? This reviewer does know the company’s tech rehearsal was cancelled and rescheduled for 6:00 a.m. the day of their first performance. Still, stronger direction is needed and the Music Director should let the actors know that they need to deliver their songs with more strength and conviction. Perhaps the director and creators should be thinking more of an SNL skit or even – if they watched a few re-runs – something like a “Honeymooners.” Andrew Nielson’s portrayal of Benjamin and his other characters could not be more in the character of Art Carney.

In its present writing, the musical seems not have found a clear purpose or a clear direction for its future. If the musical is a riff on the story of the birth of Jesus, hoping to reach out to a new generation of theatre audience members or is it intended to reach out to existing faith communities to embolden faith and commitment in an already believing audience? The character of Benjamin (played with an exuberant playfulness by Andrew Nielson) – and the other roles played by the same actor – would indicate the former. But the characters of Joseph and Mary and Elizabeth fall clearly into the latter category of appealing to the faithful. This is an important decision the musical’s creators have to make. If the show’s purpose is to proselytize, then it belongs in a religious context. Music, lyrics, and book all contribute to this current confusion.

All of that said, “The Unusual Tale” is a charming love story of a young couple faced with important decisions in a world of judgement and conditional love and worth a visit.

THE UNUSUAL TALE OF MARY AND JOSEPH’S BABY

“The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Firebone Theatre at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

Remaining performances of “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” take place at on the following schedule: Friday August 19th at 5:00 p.m.; Monday August 22nd at 7:30 p.m.; Friday August 26th at 7:00 p.m.; and Saturday August 27th at 12:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hours and 30 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.firebonetheatre.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Cleaning Guy” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)

Photo: Paul Adams. Credit: Hershey Miller.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Cleaning Guy” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)
Music by Paul Adams and Matt Casarino
Book by Paul Adams
Directed by Melissa Attebery
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is rare to find a solo show in the NY International Fringe Festival that includes original music and lyrics: that welcoming combination can be found in Paul Adams who happens to be “The Cleaning Guy.” A transplant from Kansas, he has been cleaning NYC apartments for the past twenty-five years and has an incredible roster of clients and their stories to verify it. If Mr. Adams attacks his cleaning missions with the same burst of energy shown when he enters the theater belting out the first musical number, there is no doubt he is good at his job. Most of his stories are interesting, ranging from comedy to heartfelt drama. Though some slightly miss the mark, it is of no concern, since he writes about what he knows and has experienced in this sometimes bizarre occupation. It is the first thirty or so minutes of the show that sometimes feel repetitious: the tales exhibit a sameness in content and dynamic. But then the performance suddenly takes off and starts to fly. It just seems a bit long to climb that first hill on the roller coaster before you feel your heart pound as you speed down the first drop and continue to have your emotions erupt as he leads you around sharp unexpected turns. It is a well-constructed piece of theater that can only improve with time and tightening the script to an hour. His lyrics are an extension of his stories, usually taking on a comedic flair, and the music by Matt Casarino is a perfect complement that is sharp and clean. Melissa Attebery moves the piece along at a steady pace but should push Mr. Adams a bit further in the delineation of his client’s characters. If you have the chance, try to catch one of the remaining performances at the Soho Playhouse for a refreshing evening of entertainment.

THE CLEANING GUY

“The Cleaning Guy” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street). Photo by.

Remaining performances of “The Cleaning Guy” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 15th at 7:15 p.m.; Thursday August 18th at 9:30 p.m.; Sunday August 21st at 4:30 p.m.; and Wednesday August 24th at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.thecleaningguy.nyc/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 13, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Black Magic” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)

Photo: The Cast of "Black Magic." Courtesy: "Black Magic."
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Black Magic” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)
Written by Tony Jenkins
Directed by Tony Jenkins and Chessa Metz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I was not born for death and yet I have died a thousand times, he thought. And now I am born again for these hard times.” – Kathryn Lasky, “Frost Wolf”

In forty powerfully engaging minutes, the cast of “Black Magic” explores the lives of seven slain black men “in the era of Orlando, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter.” There are not ordinary “dead” men. These slain men speak to the audience about their lives, their grieving families, their murderers, their lovers, their children, and their remarkable ability to have died and “yet still are still here.” They speak to their gay sons, to their mothers and to their grandmothers who raised them. They even speak directly about the systemic racism that killed them and directly to the guns that killed them and to those who pulled the triggers of those guns time after time after time.

The stories of the slain black men are told in spoken word, stunning movement, and song with just the touch of clowning around. Mr. Jenkins is an accomplished spoken word artist whose work relies heavily on the rhetorical devices of ethos and pathos and employs rich imagery and figurative language to persuade the audience to share not only in the responsibility for the ravages of systemic racism but how to be change agents embracing non-judgmental and unconditional love instead of the weaponry of hatred and mistrust. Under the co-direction of Tony Jenkins and Chessa Metz, the uniformly brilliant cast – together for just one week – bring the stories to redemptive catharsis that lingers long after the final scene. Although they number seven, they manage to speak with one clear voice jettisoning between the joys of their lives and the tragedies of their collective deaths.

In that final scene, the cast engages the audience in deciding how to move forward after death and rebirth, how to rethink choices given humankind in the recurring gifts of new Gardens of Eden where the fruit (or the glove) of the knowledge of good and evil challenges each First Man and First Woman. How humankind moves forward is a choice not to be taken lightly. What is clear is that the resilience of slain black men will not diminish and that somehow, sometime death and crying will be no more.

In a talkback following the first performance of “Black Magic,” writer Tony Jenkins shared that the new play was not something he intended to write, not even something he wanted to write. The play chose him and he had to write it. After the recent string of gun violence and violence against men and women of color, there was nothing else to do “but write.” Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Metz and their cast have collaborated to create a moving piece of theatre that will endure beyond its time at FringeNYC 2016.

“Black Magic” is not always easy on the mind but it is undyingly kind to the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The play’s message transcends race, color, sex, sexual status, and age: its rich and enduring questions connect with all who seek to move East of Eden with a renewed spirit of hopefulness rooted and grounded in love.

BLACK MAGIC

“Black Magic” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Black Magic” features Tony Jenkins, Justin Campbell, Malik Squire, Aaron Marshall-Bobb, Skyler James, Ibn Days and Evan Reiser. Chessa Metz is the choreographer and co-director.

Remaining performances of “Black Magic” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 15th at 2:00 p.m.; Wednesday August 17th at 2:45 p.m.; Friday August 18th at 7:15 p.m.; and Saturday August 20th at 5:45 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit www.blackmagicplay.wordpress.com. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 13, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)

Photo: Analisa Velez and Bobby Crace. Credit: Caz McKinnon.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)
Written by Maya Contreras
Directed by Lorca Peress
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Among the shows opening the FringeNYC 2016 season is “Let The Devil Take the Hindmost,” a new play by Maya Contreras who – in a program note from the playwright – shares that she penned the play in response to the horrific crimes fueled by systemic and institutionalized racism. It deals with a family that, in resolution, blames its dysfunction and destruction on the racially provoked murder of matriarch Vera’s father when she was fifteen when he ventured outside his neighborhood to get her ice cream. Unfortunately, the few minutes allocated to this disclosure does not validate Vera’s alcoholic self- destruction or the need to merely touch upon a vast array of other equally important issues. Set in Washington D.C. in 1969, the script loses focus and sabotages itself when delving into topics such as the Viet Nam War, infidelity, dementia, unwed motherhood, protests, political unrest, civil rights, and alternative lifestyles, all of which have no bearing on the effect of the aforementioned past tragedy.

At times the plot seems implausible given the situation and circumstances. Vera is African American and her husband is Latino. She is a high school mathematics teacher, he is a college professor and their daughter is a college graduate living on the lower east side of Manhattan. They are an affluent, mixed race couple. They are intelligent, aware, employed, married for twenty-four years and have obviously had to overcome many obstacles to achieve their present status. To suddenly have this revelation that she is scarred by racism and to have a deep seeded anger surface to destroy herself and her family seems unlikely. It is difficult to have much compassion for the under-developed characters without having some insight into their personal family history. The meaning of the proverbial title of the show indicates that those who lag behind will receive no aid, and can certainly be significant to this production on many different levels.

LET THE DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST

“Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” includes Thursday Farrar, Felipe Gorostiza, Analisa Velez, Kaitlin Large, Nicole Thompson-Adams, and Bobby Crace. “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” features video design by Christopher Marston, lighting design by Kirk Bookman, hair and wig design by John Dallas and fight choreography by Carlotta Summers. Lionel A. Christian is the stage manager. Production photos by Caz McKinnon.

Remaining performances of “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” take place at on the following schedule: Sunday August 14th at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday August 17th at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday August 20th at 3:45 p.m.; and Tuesday August 23rd at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.letthedeviltakethehindmost.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 13, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Implications of Cohabitation” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Photo: Connie Saltzman, Andres de Vengoechea, Gladys Perez, and Vanessa Verduga. Credit: Michael Blase.
Off-Broadway Review: “Implications of Cohabitation” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Vanessa Verduga
Directed by Leni Mendez
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Homeless Man (David Pendleton) sums up Nelson’s (Anthony Ruiz) dilemma in a simple phrase, “You should know there are implications to cohabitation.” Nelson is the husband and father of two families and he has not fulfilled either of those roles with any distinction from their beginnings. After the death of his wife Caitlin, Nelson wants to “make nice” with his three adult children and his former lover Carmen (Adriana Sananes). He summons his three children to the Ecuadorian restaurant where Carmen once worked to begin the process of reconciliation and suggests the best way to accomplish regaining their confidence in him is to takes turns living with each of them.

Cohabiting with these three has disastrous implications and provides the storyline for Vanessa Verduga’s play “Implications of Cohabitation” currently running at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in Midtown Manhattan. Nelson finds fault with his two children by the deceased Caitlin: Kevin (Andres de Vengochea) his firstborn son is an unemployed actor who has no interest in joining his father’s business; and Jenny (Connie Saltzman) his third child is a free-spirited punk-rocker. And although his second child Sara (Vanessa Verduga) is a successful attorney, his visit to her apartment results in a mistaken identity fiasco when he walks in on Sara’s ex-boyfriend Jake (James Padric) making a visit after having had a “huge argument” with his gay partner Jean.

Nelson’s attempt to create a harmonious blended family fails and in the process of trying to reconcile with his children after abandoning them, he discovers his need to change. This macho Ecuadorian father simply cannot control his Ecuadorian-American child (Sara) or his Irish-Ecuadorian children (Kevin and Jenny). However, Sara’s upcoming wedding to Ben provides Nelson the opportunity to complete the redemptive process of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Whether he manages to walk Sara down the aisle into a new relationship with his children and Carmen provides the resolution of Ms. Vergara’s play.

Although Ms. Vergara’s characters are well-developed on the page and although the talented cast appears to make every effort to further develop their characters on stage, the overall effect of “Implications of Cohabitation” is akin to a lackluster soap opera. It is difficult to care deeply about anyone except perhaps the Homeless Man played with a gentle caring spirit by David Pendleton, Nelson’s lover Carmen played with a steely resolve by Adriana Saranes, and the deceased Caitlin who had to suffer with Neslon’s infidelity and lack of concern for his children. Gladys Perez rounds out the cast as the waitress and Kevin’s visitor.

It appears the script itself is the problem here as well as Leni Mendez’s erratic and unremarkable direction. Additionally, a couple of the cast members went up on lines consistently throughout this reviewed performance: this requires the remainder of the cast to constantly be prepared to cover and obviously can affect their performances.

With time, hopefully “Implications of Cohabitation” will find its mark.



IMPLICATIONS OF COHABITATION

The cast of “Implications of Cohabitation” features Anthony Ruiz, Vanessa Verduga, Adriana Sananes, David Pendleton, Andres de Vengochea, Connie Saltzman, James Padric and Gladys Perez.

“Implications of Cohabitation” features Set Design by Anna Grigo, Costume Design by Steven Daniel, Lighting Design by Jackson Miller and the Asst. Director is Joseph Barone. Casting is by Orpheus Group Casting. The production’s General Management is by DTE Management. Production photos are by Michael Blase.

Performances of “Implications of Cohabitation” are on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.,
and on Wednesday August 17th at 2:00 p.m. For a full list of performances visit: http://sudacastheater.com/.

Tickets for “Implications of Cohabitation” are $20.25 and available at Telecharge.com. Direct Link to purchase tickets: http://sudacastheater.com/. Running time is 90 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 11, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Newton’s Cradle” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Closed on Sunday August 7, 2016)

Photo: Andrea Jones-Sojola and Heath Saunders. Credit: Michael Kushner.
Off-Broadway Review: “Newton’s Cradle” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Closed on Sunday August 7, 2016)
Book and Additional Lyrics by Kim Saunders
Music and Lyrics by Heath Saunders
Directed by Victoria Clark
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Newton’s Cradle” is an earnest attempt to create a serious musical that sheds some light on the subject of Autism by revealing some significant situations experienced by Evan Newton, who is living with this disorder. It joins the ranks alongside the Broadway play “Curious Incident” in trying to bring to the forefront the consequences associated with this condition and how they affect relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. The play takes place over a series of summers at the family cabin just outside Denali National Park in Alaska at three different stages of Evan’s life, as a child, an adolescent and a young man. These stories are interwoven throughout the two hour production and do nothing more than create situations that enable a character to engage in musical numbers that are laden with exposition dialogue and do nothing to move the plot forward. The book by Kim Saunders needs to focus more on character development to achieve an emotional connection with the audience which convinces them to care. The music by Heath Saunders is interesting in that its unmelodic structure mimics the mental and physical synapses that sometime surface in Evan. The lyrics are derivative of Sondheim and too intellectual and informative, rather than emotional.

The cast is first rate and is committed to the material. Heath Saunders creates a sensitive, vulnerable Evan with an equally pure, precise and charming vocal. As brother Michael, Trent Saunders is engaging and steadfast even when sabotaged by some unbelievable situations in the book. Rose Hemingway gives a solid performance as a spunky, thoughtful and intelligent Chelsea in fine vocal form. Rachel Kara Perez is determined and solicitous, staying focused to produce a believable Charlie. David Dewitt establishes the confused, conflicted and fickle father, Nate with conviction. The powerful, impassioned vocals of Andrea Jones-Sojola is a redeeming element of this musical, seizing the opportunity to fill Audrey, the mother of Evan, with a fervent spirit and enduring soul.

Director Victoria Clark puts all the pieces of this puzzle together with a firm hand, but unfortunately it does not create a successful production. Choreographer Sara Brians infuses cognitive movement into scenes that compliments the action. At this stage of development, the creative team needs to step back, regroup and decide what they are attempting to communicate and more so how they can better tell this endearing story.

NEWTON’S CRADLE

Starring in the show are David Dewitt, Rose Hemingway, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Rachel Kara Perez, Heath Saunders, and Trent Saunders.

In addition to director Clark, the production team includes Producer Robb Nannus, Associate Director and Choreographer Sara Brians, Tara Rubin Casting, Scenic Designer Luke Cantarella, Costume Designer Maria Hooper, Lighting Designer Zach Blane, Sound Designer Quentin Chiappetta, Stage Manager Melanie T. Morgan and Musical Director Jesse Kissel. Production photos by Michael Kushner.

“Newton’s Cradle” concluded its New York Musical Festival run on Sunday August 7, 2016. For more information on the musical, please visit http://www.newtonscradlemusical.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Insomnia” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Closed Sunday August 7, 2016)

Photo: Jesse Manocherian and the Cast of “Insomnia.” Credit: Shira Friedman Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Insomnia” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Closed Sunday August 7, 2016)
Music and Lyrics by Charles Bloom
Book by Theodore Wolf
Directed by Ovi Vargas
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “Insomnia” played as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival. It is complicated, enjoyable and derivative, some of which might contribute to a possible successful future. The music and lyrics by Charles Bloom are like a collision between Sondheim and Finn, a beneficial “marriage” contributing to the progress of the production at this developmental stage. Screenwriter Brad cannot sleep and decides to write a screenplay about his dilemma. The musical’s creators have written a wonderful mindscape, shuttling the audience between reality and fantasy, conscious thought and subconscious angst.

The book by Theodore Wolf is less effective and certainly can use an overhaul. Perhaps the most derivative aspect of the show is the direction and choreography by Ovi Vargas which at times resembles a gay version of “Company.” The storyline is less complicated than the sum of its parts. There needs to be a constant for the insomniac in order to delineate his actions between reality and illusion. It is uncertain where the blame lies when it comes to the weak chemistry between actors in certain scenes and situations but it results in flat characters with little or no emotional substance. One needs to care more for these “friends and family” of the protagonist Brad.

The cast is a bit uneven, by no fault of their own, and this concern might possibly be credited to either casting or direction or both. Jesse Manocherian embodies the character of Brad with a strong commitment and great integrity. He provides an infectious charm with pliable emotions in tune with his scattered thoughts and situations, completely supported by his strong, clear, tireless baritenor vocals. He is a joy to watch and hear. Anette Michelle Sanders gives a colorful portrayal of the washed up “B” movie star landlady Sylvia Sylver. Philip Skinner provides an admirable performance as boyfriend Dan but needs to establish more chemistry with his beau. Lauren Lukacek is delightful as Linda juggling her emotions with proficiency while establishing a very authentic, contemporary character. The remainder of the supporting cast includes Chris Brick, Dennis Holland, and Tyler Milliron, who do what they can with the material given.

This new musical, even at this current incarnation provides an enjoyable evening of entertainment. Hopefully the creative team with continue working and this project develops into a vital part of the New York theater scene.

INSOMNIA: A NEW MUSICAL

“Insomnia” closed on Sunday August 7, 2016. For further information about the new musical, please visit http://www.charlesbloomusic.com/insomnia/.

WITH: Chris Brick, Dennis Holland, Lauren Lukacek, Jesse Manocherian, Tyler Milliron, Anette Michelle Sanders, and Philip Skinner.

Photo: Jesse Manocherian and the Cast of “Insomnia.” Credit: Shira Friedman Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Summer Shorts 2016 - Series B at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday September 3, 2016

L-R: Ruy Iskandar, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Francesca Carpanini in "Black Flag" by Idris Goodwin, directed by Logan Vaughn, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2016, Series B at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Summer Shorts 2016 - Series B at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday September 3, 2016)
By Idris Goodwin, Alexander Dinelaris, and Richard Alfredo
Directed by Logan Vaughn, Victor Slezak, and Alexander Dinelaris
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“BLACK FLAG” – Written by Idris Goodwin and Directed by Logan Vaughn

The success of Detroit native Deja’s (Suzette Azariah Gunn) freshman year depends – as it always does for every first-year college student – on having a congenial roommate. Her Facebook conversations with that roommate Georgia native Sydney (Francesca Carpanini) have gone well as does the initial “in the flesh” meeting in their shared dorm room. Deja is even happy with Sydney’s choice of the side of the room away from the door – the prime spot. Everything continues to go well until Sydney (who is white) unpacks her Confederate Flag and proceeds to hang it above her bed. Deja (who is black) is less than comfortable with the new wall hanging.

Despite Sydney’s protestations about the flag representing her “culture,” the flag obviously bothers Deja yet she still tries to be accommodating telling Sydney, it’s “your side of the room.” Deja’s discomfort and her roommate’s inability to understand how the flag is inherently offensive is the conflict that drives “Black Flag’s” plot. The tension mounts when an inebriated Sydney stumbles in on Deja making out with her Korean-American boyfriend Harry (Ruy Iskandar) who challenges Sydney about her racist past and present.

A possible breakthrough comes in January of the Spring Semester when Sydney returns to campus with a confession about a family gathering at Stone Mountain that has resulted in her understanding of why the flag is offensive and why it needs to come down. Yet the flag does not come down and exactly why structures the resolution of this short play.

All three actors develop their characters with authenticity and, under Logan Vaughn’s direction, bring Mr. Goodwin's script to a successful level of believability. Though the conflicts might seem predictable and facile, the subject matter is of utmost importance.

“QUEEN” – Written by Alexander Dinelaris and Directed by Victor Slezak

Inspired by the heavyweight playwright Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Woman Who Came at Six O’Clock,” “Queen” is a lightweight short play that never really makes it off the ground. It takes approximately one minute to figure out why Queen (Casandera M.J. Lollar), a regular at Joe’s (Saverio Tuzzolo) café, insists Joe confirm she entered the café not at her usual six o’clock but rather at five forty-five. Alexander Dinelaris does not give the actors enough to work with and, despite a set replete with freshly prepared food, cloth napkins, and shiny flatware, the action falls flat and the audience is left wondering, “Why?” Police detective Mike’s (Chris McFarland) entrance and Joe’s dramatic moment in the spotlight are superfluous in this flimsy offering.

“THE DARK CLOTHES OF NIGHT” Written by Richard Alfredo and Directed by Alexander Dinelaris

College film professor Rob (Dana Watkins) – like many others – lives a double life: one “real” the other “imaginary.” His dreary teaching life includes a loveless marriage with Sylvie (Sinem Meltem Dogan) who wants to establish an exit strategy and a disgruntled student Emily (Ms. Dogan) who wants to drop his class. Rob’s “fantasy” life is his “identification” (psychological and emotional) with Film Noir Private Eye Burke Sloan and Femme Fatale Delilah Twain (Ms. Dogan). Is He Rob or is he Burke? Think “American Psycho” off steroids and on sedatives. The film noire scenes – interspersed with the “real life” scenes – are filled with period humor, double entendre, and enough sexism to last a lifetime. The whole endeavor seems endless and could be shortened by half. However, the audience seemed to adore every minute and stay engaged throughout the penny dreadful (not the Showtime series) “double bill.”

SUMMER SHORTS: SERIES B

SUMMER SHORTS is presented by Throughline Artists (J.J. Kandel, Producing Director) and runs through Sunday, September 3. 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 http://www.59e59.org/calendar.php. 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 17). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Dust Can’t Kill Me” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Closed Sunday August 7, 2016)

Photo: Adrian Blake Enscoe and Michael Castillejos. Credit: Karen Santos.
Off-Broadway Review: “Dust Can’t Kill Me” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Closed Sunday August 7, 2016)
Book by Abigail Carney
Music and Lyrics by Elliah Heifetz
Directed by Srda Vasiljevic
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:19

On its first return to New York City since it was featured in FringeNYC 2014, “Dust Can’t Kill Me” is a powerful and delightfully complicated trope for humankind’s eternal search for the meaning of beginnings, endings, and all that comes in between. The musical focuses on the “in between” and raises rich and enduring questions about human finitude and fallibility, forgiveness, and redemption and humanity’s enduring hope for the future.

Five friends are experiencing the “burden” of being human in life’s dust bowl in 1936 Rolla, Kansas. The drought there, the resulting dust bowl, and the difficulty to farm successfully places them in jeopardy of not surviving. Complicating matters is Angelina’s (played with a steely yet frangible strength by Elizabeth A. Davis) delicate pregnancy resulting from a tryst with an abusive married man, the murder of said abusive man at the hand of Angelina’s sister Lily (played with brutal cunning by Kathryn Gallagher), the placing of the blame for the murder on Lily’s black lover Everett (played with a steady redemptive chord by Richard Crandle), and the community furor over Birch (played with a sensitive spirit of commitment by Michael Castillejos) being caught kissing Abraham (played with a deep and abiding truthfulness by Adrian Blake Enscoe) in an empty church.

This “Everyman” band of brothers and sisters is “rescued” from the depths of their despair by the mysterious appearance of the Preacher (played with a seductive persuasiveness by Paul Hinkes) who claims to have the ability to “save” them from their “sins” by leading them from their post-the-Fall home East of Eden back to the more idyllic time of their innocence and lack of knowledge of good and evil. Think of a video loop rehearsing salvation history over and over and over again – a spiritual Sisyphus perhaps, or a “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born” (W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”). The allegory is persuasive and richly mesmeric.

The cast is uniformly talented with remarkable vocal and acting skills as well as being accomplished instrumentalists and dancers. Their voices exhibit strength and range and each is capable of interpreting the lyrics with sensitivity and rich understanding. The musical numbers are rich in figurative language and imagery and laden with a treasure trove of tropes. Elliah Heifetz’s music and lyrics are engaging and enchanting and draw the audience deeply into the lives of the pilgrims seeking redemption and release. This redemption and release appears to be still just beyond the reach in the present as it was in 1936 or even earlier when humankind yearned for unconditional and non-judgmental love.

There are still some difficulties with the book, especially in the second act. Although the characters are all societal “outcasts,” their statuses as community pariahs have different provenances. Without judging their actions (the musical is rich with moral ambiguity), both Lily and Angelina have “sinned” by acts of commission. Everett is cast out because of racism and not as a result anything he “did.” And Birch and Abraham, likewise, are “punished” not by anything they “did” but because of their inherent immutable sexual status. They are victims of homophobia. And, of course, part of the community’s concern with Angelina is blatantly sexist. But to place all of these “conditions” under one umbrella of “sin” is confusing and detracts somewhat from the strength of the piece.

Srda Vasiljevic’s direction is inspired by his work on the “Spring Awakening” but here is richly connected to the core of “Dust Can’t Kill Me” and he stages the musical with an inspired vision. Jennifer Jancuska’s choreography, though reminiscent of the choreography in other shows – on and Off-Broadway – that feature actors who double as orchestra, is fresh and insightful. Reid Thompson’s set design is limited only by the stage at the June Havoc Theatre and he works wonders within those confines. His design is flexible and easily morphs into the musical’s various settings. Oliver Wason’s lighting, Max Gordon’s apocalyptic sound design, and Stephanie Levin’s costumes complement the musical’s dramatic structure.

“Dust Can’t Kill Me” is still a work in progress and – having seen it’s “incarnation” in 2014, this reviewer looks forward to seeing its grace-laden apotheosis in the very near future. Finally, a question and a suggestion. What would it be like for Abraham and Birch to lead the allegorical crossing over to the new land given Abraham is “the father of many?” And “Don’t Not Go Gentle” ought not to be a curtain call “one more song” number. It’s message – the stark and plaintive words of Dylan Thomas” – is integral to the cathartic dénouement of the musical. Mother Nature’s firing squad might appear to “shoot us down;” however, although “we got no cross, we hang around.”

DUST CAN’T KILL ME

The cast of “Dust Can’t Kill Me” includes Michael Castillejos, Richard Crandle, Elizabeth A. Davis, Adrian Blake Enscoe, Kathryn Gallagher, and Paul Hinkes. The creative team includes Reid Thompson (scenic design), Stephanie Levin (costume design), Oliver Wassson (lighting design), and Max Gordon (sound design). Production photos by Karen Santos.

“Dust Can’t Kill Me” concluded its New York Musical Festival run on Sunday August 7, 2016. For more information on the musical, please visit http://www.dustcantkillme.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 8, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Camp Rolling Hills” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Through Saturday August 6, 2016)

(l. to r.) James Ignacio, John Krause, Antonio Antonelli, Jasper Burke, David Hoffman, Lucas Casellas and Mitchell Sink in a Scene from "Camp Rolling Hills." Credit: Sarah Marie Mayo.
Off-Broadway Review: “Camp Rolling Hills” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Through Saturday August 6, 2016)
Book and Lyrics by Stacy Davidowitz and David Spiegel
Music and Lyrics by Adam Spiegel
Directed by Jill Jaysen
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Yeah, it’s always summer somewhere.” – Smelly, Act II, “Camp Rolling Hills”

The sixth musical number in “Camp Rolling Hills” is “A Reason to Smile” in which Slimey (camper Stephanie Gregson’s nickname) tries to convince new camper Smelly (camper Robert Benjamin’s nickname) that although “divorce isn’t easy soon you’ll see it’s not so bad.” This advice comes from a girl who has finished her bereavement process in exactly one year following the death of her father the prior summer.

Slimey’s (Betrice Tulchin) relationship with Smelly (James Ignacio) is main story line of “Camp Rolling Hills” with a variety of “typical summer camp” themes hanging loosely on that primary conflict-driven plot. The star-crossed pair quickly fall in love, fall prey to a prank gone wrong, just as quickly fall out of love, and eventually make it – literally and figuratively – to first base where the girls have buried the boys’ underwear following a revenge raid.

The creators of “Camp Rolling Hills” have been working on this musical for “eight or nine years” basing the characters and their pre-adolescent conflicts on their experiences at a “Camp Tranquility.” The result is a musical about a camping experience that might no longer exist. One wonders if the creators asked their young actors if they had ever attended summer camp and, further, asked them what their experiences were like. It appears the experiences of camping in the 1980s and 1990s have been simply transferred to 2016 without careful consideration about what “kids” are like today.

Adding an iPod here and a cell phone there does not address the complicated lives of contemporary pre-adolescents and adolescents. Life is not all about divorced parents or even the horrific loss of a parent. Children are facing these and far more challenging events in their lives. And the conflicts contemporary children experience would drive more complex plots than “tent raids” and girls “hating each other for real,” or boys dressing in girls’ dresses for a laugh. Children are struggling with their identity, their sexual identity, the dangerous worlds they live in, and whether those worlds will even be around tomorrow.

That said, a musical about retro-camping could be fun if the book, music and lyrics were sophisticated and interesting. Unfortunately, that is not the case with “Camp Rolling Hills.” Adam Spiegel’s 2014 “Cloned!” was brilliant. His music here has a dreary sameness about it providing a musical backdrop for songs that are literally spoken through with no interesting modulations or lyrical interest or tension. Likewise, the book and lyrics are bland and undistinctive.

The members of the cast work their best to enliven their characters. They often seem to be unsure of who they are supposed to be or what their “problems” are alleged to be. This confusion results in a series of sub-plots that generate little interest and fail to engage the audience in any significant way. And if the actors are having difficulty connecting to the musical, the audience also has to struggle to connect to the material. This musical does not tug at the heartstrings. Perhaps much of this difficulty relates to Jill Jaysen’s uninspiring direction as well as to the creators’ efforts.

“Camp Rolling Hills” needs to roll into the present as it moves forward in its development. This might seem difficult. But it is possible. To lift the show higher, the creators might consider a sleepover with a bunch of contemporary kids from multiple geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds and simply listen to their stories and observe how they interact with one another.

CAMP ROLLING HILLS

Sophia Gennusa, James Ignacio, Mitchell Sink, and Beatrice Tulchin lead the company of “Camp Rolling Hills.” Also featured in the company are Gia Asperas, John Krause, Jillian, Jamie Mann, Grace, Keith Varney, Antonio Antonelli, Sarah Bates, Carrie Berk, Maizy Boosin, Jasper Burke, Lucas Casellas, Jonathan Eiler, David Hoffman, Chloe Manna, Merin McCallum, Will Varvaro, and Samantha Webster.

The production will play on Friday, August 5, 2016 at 5:00 p.m., Friday, August 5, 2016 at 9:00 p.m., Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. at The Pearl Theatre, located at 555 West 42nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues on the north side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.50. For reservations and information visit http://nymf.org/camprollinghills or call (866) 811-4111.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 5, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Men on Boats” at Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 14, 2016)

Photo: Kristen Sieh, Kelly McAndrew, and Donnetta Lavinia Grays. Credit: Elke Young.
Off-Broadway Review: “Men on Boats” at Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 14, 2016)
By Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed by Will Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“On the 24th of May, 1869, we started down the Green River with provisions for eight or ten months, according to Major Powell. Our provisions got wet and were lost in different ways, and finally the largest boatload was lost in Diamond Falls on the Green River. All this reduced our rations. Though we had plenty of fish on Green River, we caught very few on the Colorado and soon found we were up against it for grub.” – Billy Hawkins' Account of the 1869 Expedition as related in a 1907 letter to Robert Brewster Stanton

Jaclyn Backhaus’s “Men on Boats” is an enjoyable mashup of a send-up and an extended Saturday Night Live sketch (and more) that is based on the actual events surrounding the first United States Government sanctioned expedition in 1869 (the Powell Geographic Expedition) led by Major John Wesley Powell – a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers culminating in the passage through what is now the Grand Canyon.

Kelly McAndrew portrays Major Powell with the rest of the ten-member cast portraying Powell’s team and other characters encountered on the Expedition. Based on historical documents - published diaries and letters from Powell’s Expedition - Ms. Backhaus’s script is a parody of the events of Powell’s travels. She gives the historic events a contemporary flavor allowing her actors to bring their own understanding of their characters to the stage. The action of the play is somewhat repetitive unfortunately. One ‘men on boats’ episode after another with turns “left” and turns “right” and “hugging the wall” becomes tedious. Oars are lost, boats capsized, provisions deep-sixed, men go overboard (and are rescued) repeatedly. But the send-up is pure fun and the audience is engaged and responsive.

The cast is uniformly excellent and works well together and no one stands out – as it should be. However, Jocelyn Bioh (Hawkins) and Donnetta Lavinia Grays (Sumner) deliver a particularly memorable scene with a rattlesnake and frying pan and Kristen Sieh (Dunn) and Kelly McAndrew have great fun naming mountains with the three “Unwritten Rules for Getting Something Named After You.”

Will Davis’s direction is as efficient as one would expect. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is simple, clean, and lends itself to the action of the script. Ásta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes are perfect for the gender-bending ruse. Lighting is important in a bare-staged production and Solomon Weisbard manages to successfully delineate playing areas and spaces.

Part of the “gag” of course is the reality that the team of misfits is by no means the first to traverse these rivers or make it this far west of Wyoming. Powell and his men encounter: Original Americans, in this case, Tsauwiat Chief of the Paiute Nation and his wife (Hannah Cabell and Danaya Esperanza); Mormans; and the smattering of “other settlers” on land not belonging to the White Man.

What precisely is innovative in “Men on Boats?” One could consider the “non-traditional” casting of all women in a play with all male characters and, additionally, casting actors of color in roles typically filled with white actors – and in the case of “Men on Boats – two male Paiute Original People. However, neither of these dramatic conventions is either original or particularly engaging. Women in drag, performing in drag is not new. True, it does not seem to draw as much interest in the United States as men in drag on the dramatic stage – nonetheless, not ground-breaking. One thinks immediately of Julie Andrews and Meryl Streep. And the Schmooze Brothers have made a successful career of performing as “drag kings.” And, fortunately, non-traditional casting based on color is becoming more evident. What is innovative in “Men on Boats” the play’s succeeding in not simply being a parody of an iconic post-Civil War Expedition, but a parody of itself. That creates the best humor and the best memories of Jaclyn Backhaus’s play.

MEN ON BOATS

The Cast of “Men on Boats” includes Jocelyn Bioh as “Hawkins,” Hannah Cabell as “OG,” Danielle Davenport as “Hall,” Danaya Esperanza as “Seneca,” Donnetta Lavinia Grays as “Sumner,” Birgit Huppuch as “Goodman,” Elizabeth Kenny as “Old Shady,” Layla Khoshnoudi as “Bradley,” Kelly McAndrew as “Powell,” and Kristen Sieh as “Dunn.”

The production features scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Ásta Bennie Hostetter, lighting design by Solomon Weisbard, and sound design by Jane Shaw. Production photos by Elke Young.

The performance schedule for “Men on Boats” is Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

Single tickets are $50.00 and may be purchased online via www.TicketCentral.com and www.Facebook.com, by phone at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8:00 p.m. daily) and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd Street (between Ninth & Tenth Avenues). Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 1, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The Last Word” at the New York Musical Festival at the Duke on 42nd Street (Closed on Friday July 29, 2016)

Center Michael Graceffa and Travis Kent. Photo by Clayton Jacobsen.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Last Word” at the New York Musical Festival at the Duke on 42nd Street (Closed on Friday July 29, 2016)
Book, Music, And Lyrics by Brett Sullivan
Directed by Michael Bello; Musical Supervisor Conrad Helfrich
Choreography by Nick Kenkel; Additional Lyrics by Ryan Cunningham
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Brett Sullivan’s “The Last Word” is a delightful new musical with a great deal to offer. Mr. Sullivan and his creative team have carefully thought through a musical that features an outstanding cast, a fully developed story with a clear dramatic arc, and an engaging theme that readily connects to the audience. “The Last Word” is one of the few “winners” in this year’s New York Musical Festival.

“The Last Word” here is not simply about one having the last word in a conversation: it is part of the clever trope used by Mr. Sullivan to develop his characters and their conflicts that drive an intriguing and comedic plot. That trope here is the extended metaphor of the iconic Scrabble game that protagonist Jay Subasinghe (Nathan Lucrezio) and his sister Santine (Jessica Jain) learned from their father Nish (Herman Sebek) prior to his death.

After his father’s death, Jay and sister inherited Paradise, their father’s Indian Restaurant in East Cleveland that Jay has neglected – Santine moved west - and now does not have the money to maintain the mortgage. Jay’s friends Neil Jackson (Travis Kent) and Benny Jacowitz (Philip Jackson Smith) are also struggling, not quite able to find the resolve to move forward in life. The musical centers around Jay’s attempts to save his father’s legacy from Earlene Floyd (Felicia Finley) who holds the deed to Paradise and wants to tear it down to put up a parking lot (yes, they go there more than once).

Neil is convinced to make a road trip with Jay and Benny, make a detour to Atlanta to pick up Scrabble star Carl (now Carlise), then head back west to make money on Scrabble (“Scrabble Hustle”). Sounds easy? Two minor problems. Santine does not know about defaulting on the restaurant yet. And Earlene gets wind of the scheme to raise the money and get the restaurant back and she and her two Billy Joes (Michael Graceffa and Kit Treece) plot to beat the team at their own game. To say more would spoil the fun. It is enough to say the Paradise team does not achieve what it expected but comes out on top in an unexpected way.

Nathan Lucrezio, Travis Kent, and Philip Jackson Smith are pure delight as the Three Musketeers-like band of childhood buddies bonding together to save Paradise. MJ Rodriguez delivers a moving performance as the transgender Carlise Washington who celebrates her true identity with grace. Felicia Finley’s Cruella De Vil-like Earlene is over-the-top nasty. And Michael Graceffa and Kit Treece who portray Earlene’s twin sons (why not have the same name?) are a seductive pair of powerhouse singers and dancers. Jessica Jain’s Santine is a young woman living with disappointment and loneliness. Ms. Jain gives her character the right balance of vulnerability and deep inner strength. And Herman Sebek as the spirit of Jay’s father Nish provides a calm spiritual presence in the midst of the musical’s fast-paced action. The ensemble is equally skilled at bringing their characters to level of authenticity and believability. Kudos to Amanda Braun, Kristian Espiritu, Haley Hannah, and Andreas Wyder.

Mr. Sullivan includes several allusions to Broadway shows and iconic personalities. Look for some choreography from “West Side Story” and a riff on the “Village People.” There are also some twists and turns and unexpected outcomes. Elizabet Puksto’s set provides spaces for all of the musical’s scenes and ties everything together with her Scrabble Board floor. Isabella Byrd, Christopher Vegara, and Josh Leibert have crafted appropriate lighting, costume, and sound designs. The musicians, under Conrad Helfrich’s direction are splendid. And Nick Kenkel’s choreography is the perfect blend of originality and a mashup of Broadway’s best. Michael Bello directs with a careful and sensitive hand throughout.

There are several musical numbers that show the Mr. Sullivan’s strength as a songwriter: Neil’s “Who Needs Friends Like Mine;” “The Word Is Out” the delightful song that reveals that Benny’s old roommate Carl is now “Carlise” (MJ Rogriguez); “Left on Rack” a captivating number that captures the lost hope and missed dreams of the pack of misfits; “Find My Way Home;” and the charming duet between Neil and Santine “Lost for Words” – words of affection between them and winning words in the National Scrabble Tournament. There is only one number that could easily be omitted. It is full of offensive stereotypes and though some found it funny, it is not and detracts from the overall musical.

“The Last Word” raises rich enduring questions about loyalty, letting go of the past, new beginnings, and the importance of friendship. It is a well-constructed and engaging musical that could easily have a future beyond NYMF. Just please dump the “Dementia” song. A musical that handles a transgender character with such sensitivity and care, need not disparage the aging and a terrible and insidious disease.

THE LAST WORD

The cast of “The Last Word” includes: Amanda Braun, Kristian Espiritu, Michael Graceffa, Haley Hannah, Jessica Jain, Travis Kent, Nathan Lucrezio, MJ Rodriguez, Philip Jackson Smith, and Kit Treece.

The creative team includes: Adam Crinson (Scenic & Props Designer), Christopher Vergara (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), Josh Liebert (Sound Designer), Rachael Danielle Albert
(Production Stage Manager), Sharon Fallon (General Manager), Michael Cassara (Casting). “The Last Word is produced by Amber Jacobsen and Steam Musicals.” Production photos by

“The Last Word” completed its New York Musical Festival run on Friday July 29, 2016. For further information on the musical including the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.thelastwordmusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 31, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Lisa and Leonardo” at the New York Musical Festival at the Duke on 42nd Street (Closed on Friday July 28, 2016)

Photo: Timothy John Smith, Lizzie Klemperer, Ravi Roth, and Dennis Holland. Credit: Matt Monath.
Off-Broadway Review: “Lisa and Leonardo” at the New York Musical Festival at the Duke on 42nd Street (Closed on Friday July 28, 2016)
Music by Donya Lane with Lyrics by Ed McNamee
Book by Ed McNamee, Donya Lane, and Michael Unger
Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Never has a musical been so at war with itself than is “Lisa and Leonardo,” the new musical that finished its run at the New York Musical Festival on Thursday July 28, 2016. It is difficult to know how a talented and experienced creative team could create a musical that in almost two and a half hours’ time fails to find a center and a clear meaning for its existence. That is unfortunate for the exceptional cast who – despite their collective craft – seem adrift on a stage cluttered with disconnected concepts, scattered props, and absent a purposive dramatic arc.

“Lisa and Leonardo” focuses on only one – perhaps the most likely – back story for the painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Mona Lisa: the subject of the painting is Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo who becomes enamored with da Vinci and has a child with him. This could be an interesting subject for a musical but, in order for that to happen, several things would need to happen – none of which is extant in “Lisa and Leonardo” in its present form: interesting and well developed characters; believable and engaging conflicts; an attractive setting; and rich, enduring themes.

The musical’s principals are all exceptional professionals: unfortunately, “Lisa and Leonardo” does not provide them with a suitable project to properly exercise their craft. Lisa (“Bright Star’s” Lizzie Klemperer) and Leonardo (Timothy John Smith) are flat characters without depth and their conflicts poorly developed. The same is true for the remainder of the cast: no character development and no way to find ways to care about them. What is “Lisa and Leonardo” about? The moat around Pisa? The silly antics of a vapid character like Isabella D’Este (a character wasted on Marissa M. Miller)? And why is it not more about the significant relationship between Leonardo and his lover Salai: the show’s creators hand the talented Ravi Roth one of the most uninspiring LGBTQ characters imaginable.

The book is uninspiring. The music is sometimes a melodic reprieve; however, the lyrics are inconsistent in quality. Musical numbers that work are Lisa’s “How the World Looks to Me;” Lisa and David’s (Keaton Tetlow) “If We Decided;” and “Fixed to a Star” sung by the full company. Musical numbers that are numbing at best are “Can You Capture Her for Me;” “From the Master’s Hand;” “How Long Does It Take;” and “All Dressed Up Like Soldiers.” None of these numbers contribute to the progression of the plot and contain oddly uninspired and awkward choreography by Jonathan Cerullo.

It is impossible to know why the “best schemes” of the creative team went “aft a-gley.” Perhaps they launched the show before it was ready for an audience? Perhaps the team itself was at odds about the direction of the musical? Perhaps the blame lies at the feet of the director (Michelle Tattenbaum) who could not possibly have watched the show from a variety of angles in the Duke on 42nd and not seen actors completely visible in the wings waiting for their entrance? Perhaps the scenic designer (Reid Thompson) and the props master (Kate Testa) do not realize how distracting their work is – why, for example, does Francesco’s and Lisa’s home need to be relocated from one end of the stage to another requiring bolts of hanging fabric to be moved across the stage? Whatever the cause, “Lisa and Leonardo” requires a fresh coat of paint before it’s portrait is ready for viewing again.

LISA AND LEONARDO

“Lisa and Leonardo” completed its New York Musical Festival run on Thursday July 28, 2016. For further information on the musical including the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.lisaandleonardo.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 29, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Tink!” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Through Sunday July 31, 2016)

Elly Noble stars in the title role of “Tink! directed by Rachel Klein, for NYMF at the Pearl Theatre. Credit: Kelly Tunney.
Off-Broadway Review: “Tink!” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Through Sunday July 31, 2016)
Book by Anthony Marino
Music and Lyrics by Lena Gabrielle and Lyrics by Greg Kerestan
Directed by Rachel Klein
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The most significant accomplishment of the new musical “Tink!” is that it will send you flying back to the J.M. Barrie classic, yearning to reclaim the magic and fantasy created by the adventures of Peter Pan, which is sorely missing in this current production, examining the backstory of the infamous fairy Tinkerbell. The book by Anthony Marino strips this lovable character of any charm or enchantment, revealing her as a strong willed, stubborn, self-centered feminist. The attempt to parallel socio-economic issues of modern day is heavy handed and sabotages the otherworldly fairyland. The music by Lena Gabrielle is repetitive, with pop infused tunes possibly targeted for the younger audience this product might attract. Long musical interludes catering to persnickety choreography by director Rachel Klein and Danielle Marie Fusco appear to only showcase their ability, rather than compliment the action and integrate into the plot. The broad direction of Ms. Klein manages to serve the material but creates arrogant caricatures in lieu of impressionable fictional characters.

The cast is top rate, committed to the product and executing their individual tasks with remarkable enthusiasm and energy in the most professional manner. Elly Noble attacks the role of Tink with determination, an enduring smile and a Broadway belt that shakes the rafters. Max Sheldon creates the inscrutable love interest James, with pirate panache and solid vocals. At the end of the first act someone falls from the sky onto the stage and all of a sudden it feels brighter, lighter than air and tingling with an excitement that draws you into the imaginary Neverland. That someone is Kurt Hellerich as Peter Pan. He is the reason to return for the second act. He exhibits a balance of childlike enthusiasm and adult sensibility, physically capturing the lost boy spirit with playful, pliable characteristic movements. His duet with Tink which introduces the second act and the beginning of their relationship is inspiring, igniting their magical adventure. This is the one moment in the production that manifests Barrie’s classic tale and it is short lived.

Although the concept seems interesting material for a musical, perhaps it is better left as a fleeting thought, to entertain your imagination as you immerse yourself in the classic which has served us well for over a century. Peter Pan is a tough act to follow.

TINK!

“Tink!” performs at Pearl Theatre Company (555 W 42nd St), through Sunday July 31. Tickets are $27.50 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.NYMF.org. For more information, including the cast and creative team, please visit, http://tinkmusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission.

Elly Noble stars in the title role of “Tink! directed by Rachel Klein, for NYMF at the Pearl Theatre. Credit: Kelly Tunney.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 29, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: The Abbey Theatre’s “Quietly” Shouts Out at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday September 11, 2016)

Declan Conlon and Patrick O'Kane in the Abbey Theatre Production of
Off-Broadway Review: The Abbey Theatre’s “Quietly” Shouts Out at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday September 11, 2016)
By Owen McCafferty
Directed by Jimmy Fay
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A bit of shouting – everyone shouts here – it’s the national sport.” – Robert to Jimmy in “Quietly”

Fifty-two-year-old Ian (Declan Conlon) appeals to his teen years’ nemesis Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) to meet in the neighborhood Belfast pub where they first became aware of one another thirty-six years ago when they were both only sixteen. It is not the same bar really, just the location of that bar from the past, the bar the adolescent Ian tossed a bomb into killing six Roman Catholic men including Jimmy’s father who was quietly watching a football match on the television set he brought from his home.

It seems over the years Ian has been feeling remorse and hopes a meeting with Jimmy might lead to forgiveness, reconciliation, and release from his overwhelming guilt. He envisions the deep-seated tensions between Protestant and Catholic, republicanism and loyalism, criminal and victim melting into mutual understanding and forward movement. This meeting is at the dramatic core of Owen McCafferty’s “Quietly” that is currently playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre in association with the Public Theater. Ian’s confession is witnessed by barman Robert (Robert Zawadzki) who is battling his own demons and his own experience of xenophobia.

After a slow start, Jimmy and Ian tell the story of that night thirty-six years ago from their own points-of-view. Jimmy demands detail from Ian and playwright McCafferty skillfully gives his characters a treasure trove of figurative language and compelling imagery to complete that request. The pictures of that day that have haunted each of them become the stuff of stories of sadness and regret. Of the two stories, Jimmy’s appropriately is more compelling and cathartic. He does not want to make Ian feel guilty, he is not seeking pity from Ian, and he does not want this visit to develop into some kind of remorseful friendship. This somewhat bizarre retelling allows him somehow to reenter a quiet zone, a place where he can have a pint and watch the telly without really watching and cradle himself in the memory of his Dad and his Mum and sort out his own regrets.

Both Patrick O’Kane (Jimmy) and Declan Conlon (Ian) deliver coercive performances. Their use of Mr. McCafferty’s rhetorical devices is impressive and convincing. They build their characters with as much depth as they can and do that with honesty. One wishes the playwright had found a way to give his characters even more depth and roundness so the audience could feel even more deeply for them and connect with them on a more intimate and engaging level. Robert Zawadzki does the best he can to enliven Robert the barman although, again, he needs more than a few texts and calls to the women in his life to deserve an empathic response from the audience.

Alyson Cummins’s set design recreates an authentic Irish pub that might need just a bit more wear-and tear. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting is often subtle leaving the “confessor” in the shadows of the confessional. Jimmy Fay’s direction leaves more space between words than necessary and loses the opportunity to make the first scene as engaging as it ought to be.

The importance of “Quietly” is it in its relevance to the current socio-political climate of deep-seated and systemic racism, xenophobia, gun violence, and terrorism. Most of the planet only sees pictures of the results of these horrors with only a few knowing the stories of the tragedies that continue to pile on top on one another. “Quietly” gives us a brief glimpse, albeit a relatively quiet one, into one of those stories.

QUIETLY

The cast of “Quietly” features Declan Conlon, Patrick O’Kane, and Robert Zawadzki with scenic design by Alyson Cummins, costume design by Catherine Fay, lighting design by Sinéad McKenna, sound design by Philip Stewart, AV design by Neil O’Driscoll, and fight direction by Donal O’Farrell. Production photos by James Higgins.

The performance schedule for “Quietly” is Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets to “Quietly” are priced at $50.00-$70.00 and are on sale now through Irish Rep’s box office by calling 212-727-2737, or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 28, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Butler” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)

L-R: John G. Williams (as Shepard Mallory) and Ames Adamson (as Benjamin Butler) in Richard Strand’s BUTLER, directed by Joseph Discher, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Butler” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)
By Richard Strand
Directed by Joseph Discher
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“General Butler, you are fighting a war because some men saw things differently from some other men.” – Shepard Mallory

Based on true events, Richard Strand’s scintillating “Butler,” currently playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the successful 5A Series, addresses issues of systemic racism extant in the Civil War Era and in the present – racism that threatens the very moral integrity of our nation. The play also addresses how stereotypes divide and threaten relationships. In the first scene, newly appointed Major General Benjamin Butler (Ames Adamson) receives a “demand” from Shepard Mallory a runaway slave (John G. Williams) who has “illegally” entered Fort Monroe in Virginia. The demand, reports Lieutenant Kelly (Benjamin Sterling) is to speak to Butler and to receive asylum from the Major General. Complicating the challenge is the presence of an additional two runaways who accompanied Mallory to the fort.

These three fascinating characters are developed with precision and real depth. Playwright Strand delineates their conflicts carefully and – with the help of history – creates an admirable level of authenticity. These conflicts, and those of Confederate Major Cary (David Sitler) who arrives at the fort to retrieve his commanding officer’s “property,” drive a complicated and intriguing plot that is rich in imagery and figurative language and includes heartfelt drama as well as endearing comedy. This plot recounts how Benjamin Butler deals with Mallory’s request for asylum and discloses skillfully just why Mallory knew he would win his case for asylum despite all of the legal and military odds against him. To say more would be unfair. It is enough to say Shepard Mallory is not the typical runaway slave and Major General Benjamin Butler is not the typical attorney turned general.

Mr. Strand utilizes the rhetorical devices of repetition and parallelism to his advantage in his well-written script. The first several minutes consist of a prolonged dialogue between Butler and Kelly that serves not only to introduce significant exposition but layers of tropes and bits of dialogue that will reappear throughout the script. Often words like ‘protocol’ and ‘provocation’ are tossed back and forth with the speed of a tennis ball at Wimbledon. “Butler” explores the motivations of individuals who make assumptions about others based on appearance and background and individuals who choose to use stereotypes rather than reason to judge others.

Mr. Adamson (Benjamin Butler) and Mr. Williams (Shepard Mallory) portray two remarkable characters neither of whom claims to be very “likable” and both of whom are “arrogant oddities.” Yet their performances could not be more irresistible. Mr. Adamson portrays a giant of a man who knows what is right and knows he has to find the way to do what is right. Mr. Williams portrays a man in mortal danger who knows he has to use every rhetorical device in his arsenal to survive. Benjamin Sterling’s Lieutenant Kelly is the perfect foil for General Butler’s bluster and these two actors make magic together on stage. Mr. Sterling’s timing is impeccable and he imbues his character with a deep authenticity that resonates with the richness of honesty.

This stage magic could not happen without Major Cary’s visit to Fort Monroe. David Sitler’s comedic performance as the intrusive Major is just what the playwright needs to stir up the developing plot and make it even more difficult for General Butler to simply send the runaway slaves on a journey to escape certain killing. Mr. Sitler gives his character a full range of emotion and believability. Shepard Mallory knows all about the Major and warns Butler that since the visitor is “an expert in artillery” he is coming to the fort to accomplish more than retrieving Mallory for his boss. With Major Cary’s hilarious blindfolded entry and exit, the plot thickens.

Jessica L. Parks’s set is exquisite and serves well for the action of the play. Especially welcomed is the outer room from Butler’s office. Ms. Parks has also decorated the set appropriately with charming period touches. Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes are perfect in every way, her uniform for Butler almost exactly matching those worn in his portraits. The contrast between the officers’ crisp uniforms and Mallory’s tattered slave clothing is laden with emotion. Jill Nagle’s lighting design establishes appropriate time and mood changes. Joseph Discher directs with passion and sensitivity and brings out the best in his talented ensemble cast.

“Butler” challenges the audience to reexamine the role of presumption and stereotyping in making judgments about individuals and their worth and to revisit the urgent need to eradicate systemic racism from the fabric of the nation. One expects to see “Butler” beyond its run at 59E59 Theaters.

BUTLER

Produced by special arrangement with Eric Falkenstein, Czekaj Artistic Productions, Ken Wirth, and Catherine Adler/Jamie deRoy, “Butler” is part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).

The cast features Ames Adamson, John G. Williams, David Sitler, and Ben Sterling. The creative team includes Jessica Parks (scenic design and props); Jill Nagle (lighting design); Patricia Doherty (costume design); Steven Beckel (sound design); and Leah J. Loukas (wig design). The fight choreographer is Brad Lemons. The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Butler” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, August 28. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets range from $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Mr. Toole” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Sunday July 31, 2016)

Photo: Todd d'Amour and Laura Butler in "Mr. Toole." Photo by Mike Dote.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mr. Toole” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Sunday July 31, 2016)
By Vivian Neuwirth
Directed by Cat Parker
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Do I dare/Disturb the universe?/In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

After a successful run at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, “A Confederacy of Dunces” is possibly heading to Broadway. John Kennedy Toole’s picaresque novel was published in 1980 eleven years after his suicide and the novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction posthumously in 1981. What an auspicious time to bring to the stage a new play that focuses on the life of John Kennedy Toole and the publishing of his now iconic novel.

Playwright Vivian Neuwirth was Toole’s student at St. Mary's Dominican College in New Orleans and the events of her play “Mr. Toole” are inspired by that experience. In her play Lisette (Laura Butler) a fictional student of Mr. Toole (Todd d’Amour) – at St. Mary’s in New Orleans – confesses her love for her teacher and narrates the story of how the script for his novel eventually got published after his untimely death.

Ms. Neuwirth uses an engaging trope to encapsulate the life of John Kennedy Toole – T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Mr. Toole teaches Eliot’s poem, the poem that parallels his own struggles with self-worth and self-understanding and his efforts to “dare” to disturb the universe which is his domineering and manipulative mother Thelma Toole (Brenda Currin) who refuses to accept his sexual status and blocks her son’s every effort to separate from her and individuate in the privacy of his own space. Todd d’Amour delivers an authentic and honest performance as Toole and successfully portrays the novelist’s deep longing and hunger for acceptance. His performance is the anchor for this production and provides the soul needed to capture Toole’s depression and deep sadness.

Mr. Toole tries unsuccessfully to get his novel published by Simon and Schuster and much of the play revolves around the series of rejection letters he receives, his attempts to travel to New York City to work with the publisher, and his disappointment at his mother’s insistence that he remain in New Orleans and keep his teaching position to support her and his father John (Richard Vernon) who apparently shows signs of dementia.

The play uses flashbacks to Toole’s childhood as well as scenes at St. Mary’s, Toole’s home, the bars frequented by Toole in New Orleans, and Thelma Toole’s brother Arthur Ducoing’s (Lou Liberatore) home. George Allison’s scenic design features five LED screens that function well to establish these settings.

Director Cat Parker keeps the action moving early on in the performance, but seems to falter near the end when things begin to wobble and it is not clear whether Ms. Currin and John Ingle (who plays the writer Walker Percy who is eventually responsible for publishing Toole’s novel) are having difficulty with their lines or were not given helpful direction in rehearsal. Their important scene together in Percy’s office is not as powerful as it needs to be nor is the play’s final scene with Lisette when the LED screens seem to fail.

That said, “Mr. Toole” is an interesting look into the life of an iconic figure in American Literature and deserves a look at the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

MR. TOOLE

The cast of “Mr. Toole” includes Todd d'Amour, Laura Butler, Brenda Currin, John Ingle, Lou Liberatore, and Richard Vernon.

The creative team includes set design by George Allison, lighting design by Kia Rogers, video design by Eric Siegel, stage management by Earline Stephen, assistant director and stage manager Becky Abromowitz, dialect coach Charley Layton, and co-produced by Vincent Marano. Production photos by Mike Dote.

Performances take place at the WorkShop Theater Company, 312 West 36th Street (between 8th & 9th avenues), 4th Floor, New York, New York 10018. Subways: 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, N, R, Q, W to 34th Street. Tickets are $18.00 and are available at www.midtownfestival.org or by calling 866-811-4111 – Running time: 90 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 25, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “A Scythe of Time” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Through Tuesday July 26, 2016)

Photo: Danny Rutigliano, Lesli Margherita and PJ Griffith. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Scythe of Time” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Through Tuesday July 26, 2016)
Book by Alan Harris
Music and Lyrics by Mark Alan Swanson
Directed by David Alpert
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Creating a musical based on two Edgar Allen Poe short stories, “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament,” is no easy task given the subject matter and the genre. In this day and age, competing with horror films - given the amazing special effects available - trying to frighten, shock or terrify an audience with a stage play (let alone a musical) seems nearly impossible. The talented team of Alan Harris (book) and Mark Alan Swanson (music and lyrics) enlists the challenge and has created “A Scythe of Time,” skirting the issue mentioned above by incorporating some camp and comedy. The result as a whole might be considered unbalanced, lacking in character development and relationships, but the plot is certainly entertaining splattered with comedic overtures, absurd situations and exposing sensational, tabloid journalism. The skeleton of the story addresses themes of artistic integrity, business ethics, narcissism, power, allegiance and devotion. The music has a pop rock feel reminiscent of Frank Wildhorn which keeps the production moving at a good clip, but lacks a good solid anthem or ballad that is memorable and provides a climax. The dramatic arc lacks intensity.

This production is blessed with an incredible cast that discovers all the necessary elements bequeathed them by the deft direction of David Alpert. Lesli Margherita’s depiction of Zenobia is just plain remarkable, demonstrating her instinctive craft as an actor and an incomparable vocal that is striking in power and purity. P.J. Griffith is a perfect counterpart as Blackwood, developing a despicable character with a robust stride and vigorous vocal. Danny Rutigliano develops a stalwart character in Pompey, strong and vulnerable, but coaxing humor out of the most horrific situations. Matt Dengler creates an appealing Malachi with a soothing vocal and intentional determination. The ensemble is finely tuned and serves the product with undeniable commitment. Lighting by Nick Solyom is moody as it casts evil shadows. Costumes by Lindsey McWilliams are spot on and the scenic design by Starlet Jacobs uses the small stage to capture an eerie atmosphere.

At this stage of development it is clear that there is promise in this new musical. Sure it needs some major attention especially with the sketchy book and weak character motivation but nothing that cannot result in a successful product. Listening to the music one can imagine full, lush orchestrations and with the addition of more melodic and lyrical musical numbers there is a hopeful future. Catch the last performance if possible, it is certainly worth a look.

A SCYTHE OF TIME

The cast of “A Scythe of Time” includes Lesli Margherita, PJ Griffith, Matt Dengler, Brandon Brune, Blair Alexis Brown, Emily Claire Hughes, Danny Rutigliano, and Alex Syiek. The creative team includes: Starlet Jacobs (Set Design), Lindsay McWilliams (Costume Designer), Nick Solyom (Lighting Designer), David M. Lawson (Sound Designer), Dan Scully (Projection Design), Marisa Levy (Production Stage Manager), Lisa Dozier King (General Manager), Michael Cassara (Casting). “A Scythe of Time” is produced by Nicole Swanson. Production photos by Russ Rowland.

Tickets are $27.50 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.NYMF.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 25, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “ICON” at the New York Musical Festival at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Tuesday July 26, 2016)

Cast photo by Shira Friedman.
Off-Broadway Review: “ICON” at the New York Musical Festival at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Tuesday July 26, 2016)
Book by Sebastian Michael
Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Kaldor
Directed by Paul Stancato
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A tiny foreign nation, a people’s princess, a gay prince, an arranged marriage, a scandal, a revolution, and a fire that destroys lovers’ hopes and dreams certainly makes interesting material for good old-fashioned musical theater. “Perfect,” the opening number of the new musical “Icon,” is derivative of Kander and Ebb in style and tempo and explodes onto the stage to set an exciting tone for the story of Princess Constance - a cross between Princesses Diana and Grace. Unfortunately, about halfway through the first Act, the book by Sebastian Michael seems to lose energy and becomes disjointed and uneven in paralleled storylines and the surprise ending too easily deduced. The music and lyrics by Jonathan Kaldor seem to waver in the direction of an Operetta. The beautiful, lush orchestrations by Igor Kogan and Athan Gousios, match the royal setting and elegant costumes by Liene Dobraja, but it is difficult not to crave the romantic sounds of a string section which is missing.

The overall cast is superb and does what they can to keep the plot moving at a good pace, but at times they are derailed by the hesitant direction of Paul Stancato, who fairs better with some entertaining choreography that livens up the production.

Charlotte Maltby gives a believable performance as the princess, with regal stature and a strong, clear voice exhibiting pure tonal quality. Sam Simahk has that vigorous quality of an operetta character, with a beautiful, full, dramatic and romantic vocal range. Tony Sheldon serves the character of Gualtieri with equal candor and discretion. Donna McKechnie gives us a respectful Miss Vine filled with charm, confidence and vulnerability but waiting nearly two hours to hear her wonderful familiar voice is unjustified with plenty of missed opportunities for musical numbers that could easily convey her emotional performance. At this stage of development there is a glimpse of a fine piece of musical theater but that comes with a great deal of work and many revisions. See for yourself and try to catch one of the final performances as part of the New York Musical Festival.

ICON

“ICON” is an Official Selection of the 2016 New York Musical Festival. Executive Producer/General Manager: Simpson & Longthorne Theatricals; Music Director: Jesse Warkentin; Lighting Designer: Isabella Byrd; Costume Designer: Liene Dobraja; Media Designer: Kevan Loney; Casting Director: Michael Cassara, CSA; Production Stage Manager: Lily Perlmutter; Assistant Stage Manager: Hai Alvarez-Millard; Production Assistants: Samantha Stevens; Publicist: Paul Siebold/Off Off PR.
“ICON” plays on the following schedule: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 4:00 pm.
Tickets are $27.50 and can be purchased online at nymf.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information, including the full cast, please visit http://www.nymf.org. The runtime for “ICON” is two hours, which includes one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 25, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Children of Salt” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Through Tuesday July 26, 2016)

Photo: Mauricio Martinez and the Cast of "The Children of Salt." Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Children of Salt” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Through Tuesday July 26, 2016)
Music by Jaime Lozano
Book and Lyrics by Lauren Epsenhart based on the Play “Los Ninos de Sal” by Hernan Galindo
Directed by Jose Zayas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jaime Lozano’s and Lauren Epsenhart’s new musical from Mexico follows successful entrepreneur Raul’s (Mauricio Martinez) return to his childhood seaside home to visit his ailing grandmother Marina (April Ortiz). The musical begins in the present and, through a series of flashbacks introduces the characters, their conflicts, and how those conflicts brought them and Raul to the present.

After seeing his adolescent love Coral (Barrie Linberg), Raul – now forty years old - regrets leaving his home after the death of his brother Jonas (Javier Ignacio) who died of a drug overdose. His failed relationship with Coral is not Raul’s only regret and his visit dredges up a myriad of memories – many unpleasant – that prompt Raul to want to “rewind” his past deeply regretting he failed to express his love for Coral. He also confronts Sabina (played with a soulful countenance by Florencia Cuenca) the prostitute who befriended him in his teens.

The musical employs the trope – here an extended metaphor – of the biblical story of Lot’s wife (the “pillar of salt” story) to reflect on the regrets of Raul and his friends whose inability to move forward threatened their ability to extricate themselves from their conflicted pasts.

Mauricio Martinez has a stunning stage presence and a powerful voice with a rich tonal quality and range. Joshua Cruz’s character Angel is as despicable as they come and Mr. Cruz successfully gives the character more angel of death than angel of mercy. Both Barrie Linberg (Coral) and Florencia Cuenca (Sabina) have strong voices that deftly interpret their songs. Sabina’s “My Mother Took Me to Mexico City” and Coral’s “I Married A Man” are exemplary. Coral and Raul’s duet “Morena, Carino” is perhaps the best song among the musical’s numbers.

At the musical’s end, Raul finally enters his grandmother’s home and reunites with her through their shared interest in collecting shells on the beach. That meeting stirs in him the desire to move forward in one of the show’s better duets a reprise of “Children of Salt.” The full company – characters among the living and the dead – sing “Tomorrow Starts Today.”

Jaime Lozano’s music is pleasant enough and features a variety of Latin American music styles including rumba, salsa, merengue, tango, and samba. Lauren Epsenhart’s lyrics and book are less pleasing and often diminish the overall strength of the musical. Many of the songs provide important exposition and the give the overall effect of a sung-through musical. Stephanie Klemons’s choreography is minimal and less than original. Arnulfo Maldonado’s beachfront set works well to accommodate the musical’s multiple scenes all lighted well by Zach Blane. The musicians, under Geraldine Anello’s direction are a superb group of performers.

“Children of Salt” works diligently to entertain its audience but falters with a weak book and inconsistently satisfactory lyrics. See the caveat below before deciding whether or not to attend.

Caveat: “Children of Salt” is meant for mature audiences only. There is an abundance of foul language and multiple depictions of drug use. There are also several unacceptable misogynistic and homophobic slurs which the writer could have easily avoided. Additionally, one of the characters is referred to as a “half-breed” in Camaron’s song “Tourist Season.”

CHILDREN OF SALT

“Children of Salt’s” cast includes Nicolas Baumgartner, Mario Cortés, Joshua Cruz, Florencia Cuenca, Javier Ignacio, Barrie Linberg, Mauricio Martínez, and April Ortiz. The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (Sets), Raul Ozuna (Costumes), Zach Blane (Lights), David M. Lawson (Sound), Joshua Quinn (Production Stage Manager) Stark Naked Production (Casting), and Lisa Dozier King (General Management). Production photos by Russ Rowland.

“Children of Salt” performs at Pearl Theatre Company (555 W 42nd St), through Tuesday July 26. Tickets are $27.50 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.NYMF.org. For more information, please visit, www.childrenofsalt.com. Running time is 1 hour 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 24, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “In the Shadow of a Dream” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Saturday July 23, 2016)

Photo: Actor Nick Ryan in "In the Shadow of a Dream."
Off-Broadway Review: “In the Shadow of a Dream” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Saturday July 23, 2016)
By John A. Adams
Directed by Alexander Harrington
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Joey Miller’s (Nick Ryan) dream in college in 1985 is to play professional basketball after graduating. Ideally – like his favorite player Larry Bird – he could play for his favorite team the Boston Celtics. Although he would imitate Bird’s moves on the court, his 5’9” stature prevents him from reaching his dream. But it is not only his height that gets in the way of dream fulfillment. Joey responds to the advances of Rob a gay student at a post-game party by beating him violently. His vicious attack loses Joey his scholarship and his place on the college team and lands him in the hands of a judge that delivers a two-year community service gig at a hospice run by the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Center.

Joey’s on-site supervisor Melinda Curtis (played with a requisite toughness by Laura E. Johnston) assigns him to care for Richard “Buck” Farrell (John Fennessy) a gritty foul-mouthed ex-cop who lives alone and needs help with some light housework and cooking. She recognizes Joey’s deep-seated homophobia and profound anger and reminds him that he can either control his homophobic outbursts or go to prison. Joey’s anxiety about the assignment heightens when Melinda suggests Joey can also have his meals with Buck and stay in Buck’s apartment.

The encounter between Joey and Buck is the gritty stuff of John A. Adams’s play “In the Shadow of a Dream” currently running at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater in Manhattan. As one would expect, the two clash in every possible way each challenging the other’s firmly entrenched stereotypes and prejudices. Mr. Adams’s period piece has layers of disclosure and motivation for the main characters which evolve in the course of the two act play. There are wonderful tropes including the extended basketball metaphor and intriguing parallels between Joey’s and Buck’s seemingly disparate lives.

But it is on their road trip back to Los Angeles to attend a Laker’s game with a side trip to Buck’s family home - to confront his parents and his demons - that rivets the audience in the second half of the play and brings the rising action to the first half to a chilling climax. A spoiler alerts prevents detailed rehearsal of the plot driven by the authentic conflicts of these two well-developed characters. It might be enough to say the action includes: a weapon; the revelation of Buck’s motivation for asking Joey to drive him to Plainfield, New Mexico; the underbelly of Joey’s homophobia and self-loathing; and whether or not Buck saw Joey prior to his assignment as his caregiver.

Nick Ryan and Broadway veteran John Fennessy are the perfect match for the roles of Joey and Buck. Mr. Ryan gives Joey the inner vulnerability and secret longing for authentic connection his angry homophobic persona masks. This young actor uses his craft to portray Joey’s complex range of emotions and layers of self-denial and self-hatred. And Mr. Fennessey brings a deep resilience and complexity to his character Buck Farrell. He skillfully cradles Buck’s pain and rage and parcels them out with a delicious range of emotions and expressions. These generous actors work well together in every way.

Director Alexander Harrington keeps the action moving at a reasonable pace with some quickening needed in the beginning of the second half. Elizabeth Bove plays Buck’s mother Susan with a contemptible core of hatred and Robert Vincent Smith plays Buck’s father who harbors a secret that shatter’s Buck’s expectations. Rounding out the cast is Matthew Porter who handily plays Joey’s coach, a loan officer, and a cab driver.

Hate crimes – often violent ones – continue to be committed against members of the LBGTQ community in major cities and rural enclaves around the United States and throughout the world. “In the Shadow of a Dream” not only highlights those crimes and the entrenched and systemic homophobia extant in our culture; it also focuses attention on the roles played by dysfunctional families, dishonesty, and religious organizations in the maintenance and spread of homophobia and its attendant horrors inflicted on members of the LGBTQ community.

IN THE SHADOW OF A DREAM

The cast of “In the Shadow of a Dream” includes Elizabeth Bove, John Fennessy, Laura E. Johnston, Matthew Porter, Nick Ryan, and Robert Vincent Smith. The creative team includes Conor Moore (projection and set design) and Samantha McCann (production stage manager).

For more information about “In the Shadow of a Dream,” please visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/. Tickets remaining for the final performance on Saturday July 23, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 22, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Normativity” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Sunday July 24, 2016)

Photo: Cast of "Normativity." Credit Steve Riskind.
Off-Broadway Review: “Normativity” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Sunday July 24, 2016)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jaime Jarrett
Directed by Mia Walker
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“It’s not always the way it is in plays. Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story!” - Michael in “The Boys in the Band” by Mart Crowley (1968)

It must be said that it is refreshing to find a young, talented member of the LGBTQ community using their voice to bring awareness to a valid concern regarding the depiction or treatment of Gay characters found in today’s literature, film and television. “Normativity,” a new musical by Jaime Jarrett (they/them), exposes the “Bury Your Gays” trope and tries to combat the issue, using a clever (although not new) concept for a storyline. The interspersed musical numbers which are more analytical and introspective do not always serve to move the plot forward as much as exposing a character’s feelings. Also there needs to be more of a balance in the controversy, illuminating the positive strides that have already been made, in order to validate the current battle and need for this specific change. To eradicate the entire LGBTQ literary cannon because of negative depiction, would be destroying history and diminishing the past valiant efforts of our Stonewall forefathers and those before them.

The book may be the trying to cover too much territory and could benefit from a keener focus on the subject at hand, the need for more positive gay role models in all literary mediums. The music many times seems to exhibit repetitive style and tempo. The lyrics although revealing sometimes feel too intellectual then emotional. The talented cast puts forth an energy that almost conquers the lack of emotional content but most characters remain two dimensional. This production deftly directed by Mia Walker moves at a steady pace and she is able to accentuate the important categorical issues. Michael’s line quoted above form “Boys in the Band” sums up why this is an important project that needs to continue to development and make changes in order to become a more powerful message to make changes.

NORMATIVITY

The Cast of “Normativity” includes Izzy Castaldi, Christopher Livingston, Soph Menas, Geena Quintos, Aneesh Sheth, Mitchell Winter, and Madeline Wolf.

The creative team includes Kristen Robinson (scenic design), Tristan Raines (costume design), Zach Blane (lighting design), and Shannon Slaton (sound design). Katie Kavett is stage manager. Emily Marshall is musical director; Adin Walker is choreographer; Adam Kaufman is music supervisor; and Rebecca Feldman is casting director. Production photos by Steve Riskind.

For the location and schedule of performances and to purchase tickets for “Normativity,” please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2016-events/normativity. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 21, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Sunday July 24, 2016)

Ben Curtis as Jim Jr. and James Padric as Kris in "The Crusade of Connor Stephens"
Off-Broadway Review: “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Sunday July 24, 2016)
Written and Directed by Dewey Moss
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Big Jim’s (James Kiberd) Baptist Mega-Church is expanding. More space is need for its growing congregation. That conservative congregation also seems to need a television studio and a gym with a basketball court for outreach and youth ministries. One of the church’s young recruits is Connor Stephens the teenager the church “took in and helped him and his mama get off the streets.” Connor ends up shooting and killing Tess Williams the six-year-old daughter of Big Jim’s son Jim Jr. (played with a brooding sadness that masks a deep-seated anger by Ben Curtis) and Jim Jr.’s husband Kris (played with a sweetness and deep sadness by James Padric) who is also wounded by Stephens. After the shooting Connor takes his own life.

Dewey Moss’s “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” deals with the events on the day of Tess’s funeral service as the extended family gathers at Jim Jr. and Kris’s home. Jim Jr.’s mother Marianne (played with a submissive explosiveness by Katherine Leask), his Grandma Vivi’n (Kathleen Huber), Kris’s sister Kimmy (played with a charming strength and willfulness by Julie Campbell) and her husband Bobby (played with a charming and powerful devotion by Jacques Mitchell)gather to mourn and to support Jim Jr. and Kris. The surprise guests are Big Jim and Connor’s coach Dean (played with a clever disingenuous loyalty by George Faya). When Big Jim shows up, all hell breaks loose and the grit of Mr. Moss’s script unfolds.

Big Jim is a preacher who commands not only his pulpit but his wife, his mother, and his congregation. The only family member he fails to command is his gay son Jim Jr. Big Jim despises not only what he considers “the sin of his son being gay;” he also despises his son for not succumbing to his authoritarian demands to “return to the fold.” Playwright Moss has created one of the most despicable characters in recent memory. Big Jim’s deep-seated homophobia and his abusive behavior toward his wife and mother is only superseded by his enormous ego. James Kiberd successfully captures Big Jim’s character and brings a level of honesty and rich authenticity to his powerful performance.

It is difficult to say much about the secrets that are revealed when Big Jim visits his son on the day of Tess’s funeral without a spoiler alert. What Big Jim and Dean know about Tess’s death is revealed through a series of flashbacks (one of Big Jim’s sermons), confessions by Grandma, and hard evidence provided by a letter written to Dean just after that Big Jim sermon and prior to the shooting. It is enough to know that these secrets – once revealed – explain not only the events surrounding the shooting of the six-year-old, but disclose decades of “skeletons” in Big Jim’s closet. Kathleen Huber delivers a brilliant performance as the aging matriarch Grandma Vivi’n who has “held her tongue” far too long and chooses honesty and grace as her way forward.

As those skeletons are unearthed, “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” explodes across the stage with a gripping emotional force that brings the day’s considerably bumpy ride to an explosive cathartic resolution.

Dewey Moss directs his engaging play with the care of a playwright and – after creating some distance between himself and his work – he will surely quicken the pace of the action to more exactly match the emotional strength of this important play.

“The Crusade of Connor Stephens” could not be more relevant in the current climate of gun violence in the United States and in the face of the looming anti-LGBTQ platform ready to be unleashed if a particular political party’s victory should occur in November 2016.

THE CRUSADE OF CONNOR STEPHENS

The cast of “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” includes Julie Campbell, Ben Curtis, George Faya, Kathleen Huber, James Kiberd, Kathryn Leask, Jacques Mitchell, and James Padric.

For more information about “The Crusade of Connor Stephens,” please visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/. There are no tickets remaining for this event. Running time is 105 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 21, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Either/Or” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Sunday July 24, 2016)

Off-Broadway Review: “Either/Or” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Through Sunday July 24, 2016)
By Dayle Ann Hunt
Directed by Rachel Flynn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Dayle Ann Hunt’s uber-dysfunctional family play “Either/Or,” currently running at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, protagonist Deni Rutland (Courtney Bess) contemplates a way to escape the cycle of abuse and collusion extant in her nuclear family – a family that apparently has not made any effort to address the alcoholism of its head Herbert “Pop” Rutland (Joseph Rose) and the effects of his disease on the entire family system. Mother Edie Rutland (Mimi Bessette) – chief among the enablers – has simply succumbed to her husband’s abuse and allowed him to abuse his family for forty years.

On her fortieth birthday, eldest daughter Deni hopes she can successfully make it from New York City to Hollywood to enroll in a school to train as a professional makeup artist. She tried to extricate herself from the broken family system before without success. Her prior trip to the west coast ended in a meltdown in Phoenix. “Either/Or” takes place at Deni’s fortieth birthday party attended by her younger sister Lorriane (Kathleen Clancy) pregnant with her alcoholic boyfriend’s child and Edie’s favorite grocer Raymond Blackwell (Ken Perlstein) who is a recovered alcoholic. Edie hopes Deni will find Raymond a suitable candidate for marriage. One can easily see where this insipid script is headed. The characters have choices to either remain in the madness or find a way to escape into some self-realization.

As one would imagine, the birthday party is a total disaster: Deni discovers she was/is an unwanted daughter; those present discover the third sister – who has not been home for years – has just married her lesbian partner; and Mom and Pop Rutland’s racism is rampant. Unfortunately, there is nothing new in Ms. Hunt’s script. Her characters are mostly caricatures no one could possibly care about. Only Raymond is a character with an interesting conflict and the playwright does not seem to know what to do with him. The director certainly does not, leaving him standing upstage left muttering, “Maybe I should leave” over and over and over as he ducks dysfunction from all sides.

Rachel Flynn’s direction is all but lacking and the talented cast does its best to fend for themselves to make some sense of Ms. Hunt’s script. Actor Ken Perlstein deserves special mention for drawing on his considerable craft to stay present throughout the play. He knows who Raymond is and his endearing performance of a once-broken man seeking a meaningful connection is exemplary. If only that were enough to recommend a visit to “Either/Or.”

EITHER/OR

The cast of “Either/Or” includes Courtney Bess, Mimi Bessette, Cathleen Clancy, Ken Perlstein, and Joseph Rose.

For the location and schedule of performances and to purchase tickets for “Either/Or,” please visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10096192. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The First Church of Mary…” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Through Friday July 22, 2016)

Photo by M. Chris Pennell
Off-Broadway Review: “The First Church of Mary…” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Through Friday July 22, 2016)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Geoff Davin; Additional Music and Lyrics by Nicole Boggs and KelleyAnn Hocter; Additional Music by David Mescon
Directed by Martha Wilkinson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The medium is the message.” – Marshall McLuhan

Evangelist preacher Adamenses Huckster (Geoff Davin) is a huckster indeed. Her “redemptive” message seems simple enough: “You can choose to see things differently.” And that is exactly what the revivalist hopes to accomplish in her fifth annual benefit concert, revival, and pot luck dinner for her First Church of Mary, the Repentant Prostitute’s “ministries.” She wants her congregation to see a dedicated, caring pastor simply raising funds to missionize Hawaiian children; however, what is revealed in Mr. Davin’s high-energy new musical “The First Church of Mary…” currently playing at part of the 2016 New York Musical Festival is a hypocritical charlatan who has consistently preyed on the spiritual aspirations of her congregation. Pastor Huckster is indeed the man behind the curtain no one ought to pay attention to.

Geoff Davin is splendid as Adamenses Huckster (the provenance of that given name will become clear during the musical). It is clear he enjoys playing the female preacher and gives his character an aggressive yet somehow vulnerable persona. He give’s Huckster the level of moral ambiguity needed to carry off the role. Mr. Davin leads the revival with passion and draws the audience/congregation into his scams and schemes with a chilling – and somewhat sultry – performance. Apparently Mr. Davin experienced a pastor like Adamenses in his youth and bases his caricature on that preacher.

Mr. Davin’s strength is in his music and lyrics. The ten soul/gospel songs in the musical are uniformly powerful. Eight of the songs are original with two being traditional spirituals (“Gospel Train” and “Higher Ground”) with additional music and lyrics and arrangements by Mr. Davin. Her revival concert normally features the three voices of the Johnson Sisters; however, the death of one of the sisters leaves Ruwanda (Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva) and Luwanda (Brooke Leigh Davis) to carry on with ankle-monitored prisoner Shelly Braithwaite (Rosemary Fossee) to fill in. These three vocalists are powerhouses of vocal skill. Their rich multi-tonal voices grab the lyrics of Mr. Davin’s songs and deliver them with unquestionable authority.

Perhaps most impressive is Charlotte’s (Megan Murphy Chambers) “Soldier On” which she delivers after her testimony – the turning point of the musical. Ms. Chambers has a well-trained voice with strong support and has impressive interpretive skills. When Ms. Cambers deliver’s Charlotte’s testimony, the audience sits in awe of the strength of that character.

Guitarist Michael San Miguel leads the SOUL’D OUT NYC band that accompanies the concert. This is a talented group of young musicians who know their instruments well and know how to unite to present a big sound with requisite interpretive skills that make their performance delightful to the ear and to the heart. Mr. San Miguel also delivers an engaging performance as Huckster’s “number one” band member and disinterested “squeeze.”

Interesting characters with believable conflicts manage to support the musical’s plot mostly through song. Mr. Davin’s book is weak and will hopefully develop further in the future. It might even be desirable for him to bring an experienced book writer on board the creative team. Director Martha Wilkinson generally keeps the revival moving at a desirable pace. That pace begins to diminish in the second act, particularly around the revival team’s testimonies. This section of the musical needs tightening. That said, “The First Church of Mary…” is a delightful foray into the underbelly of one errant evangelical ministry too focused on new cars and glitzy vacations for the huckster-at-large.

THE FIRST CHURCH OF MARY, THE REPENTANT PROSTITUTE’S FIFTH ANNUAL BENEFIT CONCERT, REVIVAL, AND POT LUCK DINNER

“The First Church of Mary...” is an Official Selection of the 2016 New York Musical Festival’s Next Link Project. Lighting Designer: Benjamin Weill; Sound Designer: Megan Culley; Production Stage Manager: Katie Veglio; Publicist: Paul Siebold/Off Off PR. Production photos by M. Chris Pennell.

The cast includes Megan Murphy Chambers, Geoff Davin, Brooke Leigh Davis, Rosemary Fosse, and Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva.

Musical accompaniment is by SOUL’D OUT NYC, including Keys: Olivier Court; Trumpet: Paul Tafoya; Sax: Gabriel Richards; Trombone: Nathaniel Ranson; Bass: Louis de Mieulle; Drums: Antoine Cara; and Guitar: Michael San Miguel.

“The First Church of Mary...” plays for four remaining performances at the June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street (2nd Floor), on the following schedule: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm; Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 9:00 pm; Friday, July 22, 2016 at 5:00 pm; Friday, July 22, 2016 at 9:00 pm. Tickets are $27.50 and can be purchased online at nymf.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information, please visit http://www.nymf.org. The runtime is two hours, which includes one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Small Mouth Sounds” at Ars Nova at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through September 25, 2016

Cast photo by Ben Arons.
Off-Broadway Review: “Small Mouth Sounds” at Ars Nova at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through September 25, 2016)
By Beth Wohl
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Reviewed by Michele Willens

When a play is about something more than boy meets girl or boy meets boy, (or boy becomes girl) it can be an inspiring, even cathartic experience. This week, for example, I saw a show that is theoretically about suffering, but it is funny and touching and relatable. Oh, did I mention that it is also about not talking?

I still recall when my pal Susan said she wanted me to meet her wonderful new friend. I asked where they’d met and she said, straight faced, “at a silent retreat.” Well, now that I have seen “Small Mouth Sounds,” written by Beth Wohl, and playing at the Signature Pershing Sq. complex, I kind of get how that might be possible. The play follows six characters over a few days as they get instructions, follow a manual, but are otherwise left to fend for themselves. In silence.

This is an interesting and enjoyable production in an appropriately intimate venue. (It previously enjoyed a successful run at Ars Nova, the ‘new work incubator’ from which it emerged) The audience sits on two sides of a stage and a long, bare wood floor, so it feels as if we are out in those rural lakeside woods with the ‘hush-hush-ers.’ The performers begin and end on stage, but otherwise roam up and down before us. They are all seemingly in some kind of pain, (lost child, bad marriages, illness and so on) though because they don’t speak, much of this we are left to surmise. The actors are all so good that it is relatively easy to do so. The rather perfect cast includes Max Baker, Babak Tafti, Brad Heberlee, Marcia DeBonis, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and Zoe Winters.

With one key exception--a funny and sad monologue by Heberlee at what is supposedly a Q and A night--the only spoken words come via the invisible leader of the retreat. Voiced by Jojo Gonzalez, he is unintentionally hilarious. “Perhaps the key to enlightenment,” he suggests in between hacks, “is cough medicine.” At another moment, his word of advice to the fragile group is “CHANGE!” We watch these six individuals sort of get to know one another: flirting and then some in the case of one man and woman; a lesbian couple bickering and mending; the most touching character sharing a secret with another through a photograph.

There is a surprising amount of humor, sparked by the smallest actions and expressions, and plenty of tears. (Theirs not ours) It’s amazing when you are spending almost two hours in virtual silence, how sound effects like a sneeze, the opening of a bag of goldfish, or leaves blowing in the rain can sound like a bomb exploding. The noise is from the action on stage, by the way, not from the closely listening audience.

The squeamish should be warned that “Small Mouth Sounds” has frontal nudity, though it is harmless, in character, and almost charming. The play, nicely directed by Rachel Chavkin, is a bit too long and seems to spend the last fifteen minutes in search of an ending. The bottom line turns out to be not much more than “you are not alone.” Still, the pivotal issue is feeling disconnected in these strange and fast times. And who doesn’t?

Words can be very powerful, of course. So, it turns out, can finding other ways to say something.

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

For complete production information for “Small Mouth Sounds,” including ticket prices and to purchase tickets, please visit http://arsnovanyc.com/small-mouth-sounds-transfer/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 18, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming” at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 7, 2016)

Photo: Alexander Burnett, Christo Grabowski, Valerie Leonard, and Christopher Marshall. Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: “No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming” at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 7, 2016)
By Howard Barker
Directed by Richard Romagnoli
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.” – Seamus Heaney, “Digging”
“Give us a pencil. . .Somebody. . .Give us a pencil.” – Bela in “No End of Blame”

The Potomac Theatre Project is celebrating its thirtieth repertory season in 2016 with ten consecutive seasons in New York City. The Company’s annual visit is always highly anticipated and its exit back to Maryland and Washington, D.C. bittersweet. PTP/NYC brings the highest level of quality in performance and production values and brings its unique brand of engaging theatre to the Atlantic Stage 2 annually. The offerings are not always easy on the audience and the company’s commitment to “engaging dialogue from the stage” is sometimes – but of necessity – deeply daunting.

This is certainly the case with Howard Barker’s 1981 “No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming” currently running in repertory with C. P. Taylor’s “Good” through Sunday August 7. Playwright Howard Barker is the consummate wordsmith, a writer whose insistence on being heard and seen can – and should – feel a bit intrusive at times. “No End of Blame” - from the opening scene in 1918 on a battlefield near the Carpathians until the final scene in 1973 in an institution – Hungarian cartoonist Bela Veracek (played with a brooding intensity by Alex Draper) brandishes his pencil and creates political cartoons that not only challenge the status quo but also unequivocally criticize the political-economic systems of the governments he exists within.

In the play’s thirteen scenes (divided into two acts), playwright Barker rehearses events in the life of protagonist Bela that serve to not only provide exposition but also support the main character’s conflict and move the plot forward in engaging and challenging ways – raising rich and enduring questions throughout. What is art – the Franciso Goya hanging in a corporate board room or the Renald Luzier political cartoon in Charlie Hebdo? Which is mightier the brush or the pencil – the oils or the graphite? What does art look like? Could it look like the life of the studio model and not just her/his anatomy? Is there a time the artist should lay down his or her pencil and succumb to the sounds of silence?

The owners of the newspapers Bela works for, including the “Mirror,” often find “a quality of depression” in his work – usually a euphemism for “your cartoons are hitting the bourgeoisie a bit to truthfully.” Bela champions the truth as he understands it and never shies away from revealing it in his work. He is a champion of the “self” and refuses in every “scene” of his life to surrender that self to anyone or to anything. Bela “does not like the world” but gives his life to expose its deleterious underbelly.

Under Richard Romagnoli’s taut and considered direction, each member of the ensemble cast of “No End of Blame” delivers powerfully authentic performances. The principals – in addition to Mr. Draper – include David Barlow as Belas’s friend Grigor, Stephanie Janssen as Ilona, Valerie Leonard as Stella (and others), Christopher Marshall as the 2nd Comrade (and others), and Jonathan Tindle as Hoogstraten (and others). The remainder of the ensemble cast all bring honest performances and give their characters depth and believability.

Although “No End of Blame” focuses specifically on the life of the artist, Bela’s conflicts resonate profoundly with Everyman’s ennui and angst and the extended metaphors of this important play counterpoint the oppressive political environment extant currently in the United States (and beyond). Only one caveat: Howard Barker’s words are so powerful, so incisive, one must listen carefully and be sure not to miss a moment of the action they generate on stage.

NO END OF BLAME: SCENES OF OVERCOMING

The cast for “No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming” includes David Barlow, Alexander Burnett, Alex Draper, Ashley Fink, Christo Grabowski, Shannon Gibbs, Nicholas Hemerling, Stephanie Janssen, Valerie Leonard, Christopher Marshall, Steven Medina, Gabrielle Owens, and Jonathan Tindle.

The production team includes Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Mark Evancho (Lighting Design), Danielle Nieves (Costume Design), Gerald Scarfe (Cartoon Projections) and Eric Conner Marlin (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Stan Barouh.

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35.00, $20.00 for students and seniors, 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. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 15, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat” at Ice Factory 2016 at the New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 16, 2016)

Photo: (R-L) Madeline Boles, Sam Bell-Gurwitz, Anna Nemetz, Simon Henriques, Christopher Fitzsimmons, Molly Jones, Justin Phillips, and Jared Bellot. Credit: Cheno Pinter.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat” at Ice Factory 2016 at the New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 16, 2016)
Written by John Kuntz
Directed by Skylar Fox
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I want us to start over. I don’t want to fight any more. I don’t want to be angry, all the time. I just want us to be happy, just you and me. No one else.” – Patsy to Trevor, Part 3 “And a garden [for our two dogs] to play in.” – Trevor to Patsy, Part 3

There are very few who would argue with Patsy (Anna Nemetz) that seeking redemption and release from the world’s pain – specifically America’s apparent long-term dysfunctional state – would be a very good thing. And few would take umbrage at Trevor’s (Simon Henriques) suggestion that a retreat to Voltaire’s “tending one’s own garden” might be one source of surcease from the center not holding in the land of the brave.

Foxy Henriques and Circuit Theatre have decided to resurrect their 2014 production of John Kuntz’s “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat,” currently running at Ice Factory 2016 at the New Ohio Theatre, to address the nation’s perennial brokenness. In a series of “Saturday Night Live” skits loosely structured around several through stories (the muskrat experiment, Trevor (Simon Henriques) and Patsy (Anna Nemetz) and others) playwright John Kuntz utilizes an extended metaphor counterpointing the escapades of eight muskrats with the history of the United States.

The skits include conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Pat Nixon (Justin Phillips) and Betty Ford (Molly Jones), Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, the “Pilgrims” and the Original Americans and “appearances” from Queen Elizabeth II (Sam Bell-Gurwitz), Little Debbie, Mary Todd Lincoln, President Gerald Ford (Jared Bellot), and Jane Pierce – to name but a few.

All of this chicanery is – or is not – meant to expose the questionable underbelly of the history of America and perhaps – or not – challenge the audience to rethink history in a new way. The audience is also challenged to explore “Big Brother” in different ways. Who is watching whom? And where does the string of “watchers” begin or end?

Of the many “skits,” two stand out – one because of its cleverness and the other because of its relevance. The retelling of the Iroquois creation myth is marvelous. Teharonhiawako, creator of the Earth, depends on the diving skills of the muskrat to retrieve the matter needed to complete creation. The ensemble cast does well here and handily engage the audience in the muskiness of mythos. And when Trevor (Simon Henriques) and Patsy (Madeline Boles) pressure Keith (Jared Bellot) to rehearse “The History of Black People in America,” the audience falls into attentive and blessed silence for the first and only time throughout the otherwise laugh-track-filled time.

The rest – most from the precarious American 1970s – work too hard for laughs. If the Circuit Theatre is hoping to re-connect audiences with the foibles of America in the hopes of redemption or at least catharsis, then silliness needs to be balanced with thoughtful exposition. Even if the Company has no agenda at all – and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that – there needs to be some purpose in asking the audience to sit through almost three hours of flying feathers, gales of glitter, Little Debbie treats (why weren’t those sold at the concession stand?), and a frenzy of farce.

That said, if the revival of “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat” fosters a discussion about the serious racial divide in the United States and the serious deterioration of individual rights, the endeavor is worth the effort. Only two of Ice Factory 2016 shows are open to press for review. See the schedule below for the remaining shows in performance through August 13.

THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT

The cast of “The Annotated History” includes Sam Bell-Gurwitz, Jared Bellot, Madeline Boles, Christopher Fitzsimmons, Simon Henriques, Molly Jones, Anna Nemetz, and Justin Phillips.

The production team includes Scenic Design by Adam Wyron, Costume Design by Corina Chase, Lighting Design by Christopher Annas-Lee, Props Design by Amalia Sweet, Production Stage Manager Lida Richardson, and Executive Produced by Jenny Gorelick. Produced in association with Foxy Henriques, The Circuit Theatre Company, and The Ice Factory Festival at New Ohio Theatre. Production photos by Cheno Pinter.

Performances are at New Ohio Theatre at 154 Christopher St. on Wednesday July 13 at 7:00 p.m., Thursday July 14 at 7:00 p.m., Friday July 15 at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday July 16 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are available at web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/958131 or by calling 212-352-3101. Tickets are $18.00 general admission and $15.00 for students and seniors. For the full Ice Factory 2016 lineup, visit newohiotheatre.org/icefactory2016.htm. Follow the muskrats on twitter @foxyhenriques. For more information about Foxy Henriques, visit foxyhenriques.com. Running time is 3 hours including two 10-minute intermissions.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 14, 2016

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