“Informed Consent” at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd (Through Sunday September 13, 2015)
Tina Benko, Myra Lucretia Taylor, and Jesse J. Perez in "Informed Consent" (Photo by James Leynse)
“Informed Consent” at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd (Through Sunday September 13, 2015) By Deborah Zoe Laufer Directed by Liesl Tommy Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“A comprehensive movement toward informed consent began after World War II with the 1947 Nuremberg trials. In these war trials, it was revealed that physicians conducted abhorrent medical research experiments on concentration camp prisoners. The research included human experimentation with germ warfare, freezing individuals to learn what temperature kills individuals most effectively, and many more horrifying research trials.” (Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, Advameg Inc.)
The real power in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play “Informed Consent” is not what it first appears to be. The play is not about mythos versus logos – storytelling versus science. The play is not about early onset Alzheimer’s or one’s awareness that “something is different” and one’s short-term memory is slowly deteriorating. It is about decision-making and how that process might be affected by cultural norms and scientific information. It is also about motivation and transparency. However, it is difficult to sort all of that out in Ms. Laufer’s play.
And one would want to assume that all of this obfuscation of intent was somehow purposeful on the part of the playwright. The writing is good enough to assume Ms. Laufer might have been intentional in the execution of her script; however, the cop-out ending belies that and what is more likely is that the playwright set in motion too many “stories” and did not know quite how to resolve her own dramatic arc. Is “Informed Consent” about protagonist Jillian’s concern that her daughter will have the same chance of early onset Alzheimer’s as she did or is it about helping others whose Nation is slowly dying off?
The play becomes powerful when it is allowed to serve as a trope for the many crimes against Original Peoples by settlers from Europe who as Arella (played with a determined commitment by Delanna Studi) affirms took everything away from all Indigenous Peoples and left them with nothing except their stories of beginnings. “Informed Consent” follows closely the case of The Havasupai People and Arizona State University in 1989 when ASU genetic anthropologist Teri Markow solicited members of the Havasupai Nation to provide blood samples to test for a specific genetic link to Type II Diabetes. Dr. Markow tested for additional markers not agreed to by the Nation and they eventually sued ASU in 2004 and won an out of court settlement and were able to retrieve their blood samples. The retrieval of those samples is a powerful moment in “Informed Consent.”
In Ms. Laufer’s play, the genetic anthropologist is given the fictitious name of Jillian (played with a compelling urgency by Tina Benko) but the events are strikingly similar to the ASU/Havasupai People dispute. The story is complicated and raises a series of rich and enduring questions. Do horrific events in the past exclude the possibility for healing in the present? In her conversations with Nation Leader Arella, Jillian admits many grievous wrongs were committed against the Indigenous Peoples of North America. But does that preclude Arella’s Tribe from accepting knowledge that might help the Nation survive? Is Jillian’s lack of securing informed consent the same type of betrayal experienced by Indigenous Peoples since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas? If Tribe members undergo amputation and dialysis at an off-Reservation hospital, why is having a blood sample taken not allowed? Where does the Sacred-Non-Sacred boundary lie?
Nearly half of Native American people (42 percent) are under the age of 24; more than one-third of Native children live in poverty; and Native youth have the lowest high school graduation rate of students across all schools (Fact Sheet: The White House Tribal Nations Conference). Nevertheless, many Native Americans have found entrepreneurship to be a way out of poverty. And more are likely to take that path in the future. (Foundation for Economic Education). Why is entrepreneurship permitted but not the benefits of science? And why would science be able to damage the strong faith of a community of believers?
Under Liesl Tommy’s exquisite direction, the ensemble cast moves through time and space changes with ease and both narrate and perform this important story. In addition to Ms. Benko and Ms. Studi, Jesse J. Perez delivers a compelling performance as Ken the anthropologist who trusted Jillian to be his successor; Myra Lucretia Taylor portrays the Dean of the College with grace and honesty; Pun Bandhu gives Graham - Jillian’s husband – a suffering forbearance. Each actor – except Ms. Benko – portrays other characters including Graham and Jillian’s daughter Natalie portrayed convincingly by Delanna Studi.
"Informed Consent" raises significant questions about what informs decision-making and what motivates individuals in their actions and encounters with other people. There is no right or no wrong here, just enduring and rich questions some of which are morally ambiguous. The play provides no answers but gives the audience the opportunity to re-examine an important historical event under a new dramatic microscope.
“Informed Consent” is presented by Primary Stages and Ensemble Studio Theatre and features scenic design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Jacob A. Climer, lighting design by Matthew Richards, original music and sound design by Broken Chord, projection design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos are by James Leynse.
“Informed Consent” plays a limited engagement through Sunday September 13, 2015 at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday 7:00 p.m., Friday 8:00 p.m., Saturday 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday 3:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, September 2. Tickets for Informed Consent are $70.00 and can be purchased online at PrimaryStages.org or at Dukeon42.org, by phone at 646-223-3010, or at the box office. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
WITH: Pun Bandhu, Tina Benko, Jesse J. Perez, DeLanna Studi, and Myra L
“Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 6, 2015)
L-R: Heather Alicia Simms, Danyon Davis and Joshua David Robinson in SENSE OF AN ENDING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 6, 2015) By Ken Urban Directed by Adam Fitzgerald Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Charles, we must speak directly. I know that your career is not what it was because of the scandal. You were the young star and now all that is changing thanks to this problem. I will not let these nuns go free.” (Paul)
Theatre-goers in New York City have the opportunity to see Ken Urban's haunting "Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday September 6, 2015. This is a short run of Mr. Urban’s successful play (Theatre503 in London in May-June 2015) and it is playing in the smallest of 59E59 Theater’s performance spaces. As of this writing, three of the performances are sold out and the remaining performances will fill quickly. Therefore, it is imperative you secure tickets to see this remarkable play that raises the enduring and rich questions that challenge not just the broad issues of guilt and innocence but also challenge the larger issues of right and wrong and the ambiguity of morality.
At the core of these questions lies the alleged complicity of two Hutu nuns of the Benedictine Order in the ethnic Hutu extremist mass murder of hundreds Tutsi citizens who sought refuge in the church they served in Kigali Rwanda during the 100 days of Genocide from April 7 to mid-July in 1994. In an attempt to redeem himself and his position at the “New York Times,” Charles (Joshua David Robinson) travels to Kigali and arranges to interview the nuns five years after the murders in the church. They have been imprisoned by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as they await trial in Belgium.
The play’s the thing here to uncover the conscience of the audience (apologies to Shakespeare) and just as the play within the “Tragedy of Hamlet” uncovers the conscience of Claudius and Gertrude, the audience is “hooked” here into examining its own complicity in the inexorable “crimes against humanity” that occur locally and globally daily. The trial takes place on stage first prior to the transfer of the nuns to Belgium. Ken Urban has skillfully involved the audience in the trial. Audience members become jury and ultimately judge. Charles is unwittingly the defense attorney. Paul (Hubert Point-Du Jour) the RPF corporal assigned to guard the nuns is the prosecutor who calls Dusabi (Danyon Davis) - the only survivor of the church massacre - as the witness for the State. Dusabi purports to know the truth and he hopes his testimony (his private meeting with Charles) will generate justice.
Mr. Urban peels away layer after layer of ecclesiastical “privilege” as Sister Justina (sarcasm reigns!) played with a sinister motherly protection by Heather Alicia Simms and Sister Alice (played with a mix of naiveté and cunning by Dana Marie Ingraham) slowly lose their battle with truth. Sister Justina believes “The truth is what will set us free” but as the “trial” progress it might be the same truth that sets Dusabi’s grieving spirit free (his wife Elizabeth was dismembered by the Hutu and later “passed in her sleep”) and sanctifies Charles’ commitment to journalism and his mentor Dan.
Director Adam Fitzgerald mines every ounce of sheer genius out of his resplendent cast. His staging counterpoints so meticulously with Mr. Urban’s script that “Sense of an Ending” becomes a symphony for the senses. Hubert Point-Du Jour is unimaginably powerful in his role as Paul whose mission to unbridle the truth surpasses understanding. Danyon Davis gives Dusati the perfect balance between his unfathomable rage and grief and his tender love for his country and its people. And Joshua David Robinson manages to free the shackles of shame that have plagued his character Charles’ journalistic career and exposes him to “the blinding light of annihilation and hope of past and future of death and life of pain and the drug that banishes all grief of a truth that burns and burns the darkness forever.”
Ken Urban never disappoints in drawing the audience into important conversations. The frightening possibility that humans kill out of habit just as Paul killed a dog in front of the Kigali church looms large over the audience at the play’s end. There are no easy answers in this play, only difficult questions. No one is fully guilty or fully innocent and as the introductory paragraph of this review indicates even guilt and innocence are called to the witness stand. Moral ambiguity perseveres as it must if humankind is to experience the same catharsis Charles undergoes. In Paul’s words, “You will never forget this.”
SENSE OF AN ENDING
Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” is presented by kef theatrical productions at 59E59 Theaters and is directed by Adam Fitzgerald.
The cast of “Sense of an Ending” features Danyon Davis, Dana Marie Ingraham, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Joshua David Robinson, and Heather Alicia Simms.
The design team includes David L. Arsenault (scenic design); Hunter Kaczorowski (costume design); Travis McHale (lighting design); and Christian Frederickson (sound design). Samantha N. Spellman is stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
“Sense of an Ending” begins performances on Thursday, August 20 for a limited engagement through Sunday, September 6. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday - Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Coping” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro SEA at the Celemente (Through Friday August 28, 2015)
“Coping” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro SEA at the Celemente (Through Friday August 28, 2015) Written by Jacob Marx Rice Directed by Anna Strasser Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The stressors of coping with the loss of a dear friend and loved one seem to override the default coping mechanisms humans consciously or unconsciously depend on to navigate through the daily matrix of more “normal” stressors like missing a bus, or forgetting a wallet, or nor remembering to charge a cell phone. The dynamics of loss trigger an unhealthy set of inappropriate responses to even the most innocent question or challenge. The bereaved temporarily forget the need for adult-adult responses and slip too easily into parent-child responses which inevitable spiral out of control and leave friends and family pulled into in a dysfunctional vortex.
This process is exacerbated when the deceased has committed suicide as did soon-to-be physician Conner with the gun owned by his OCD girlfriend Sara (Lauren LaRocca) who joins Conner’s sister Jessica (Lipica Shah), her girlfriend Taylor (Lauren Hennessy), and Connor’s roommate Lucas (Scott Thomas) in his apartment to plan Connor’s service and sort out their individual and collective grief. Each member of this non-intentional extended family has her or his own life-problems. Sara is obsessive compulsive (more on this later); Jessica has attempted suicide in the past; Taylor often colludes with Jessica’s controlling and sometimes destructive behavior; and Lucas depends heavily on recreational drugs to get by.
Playwright Jacob Marx Rice brings these characters into the same setting and sparks fly! Mr. Rice has created well-rounded characters each with conflicts easily identified by the audience. These conflicts drive a matrix of interesting plots with rich layers of exposition. The process of grieving and the styles of coping are complicated by the dysfunctional relationships and the individual psychological idiosyncrasies of each member of this oddly configured extended family. An extended family that includes the whacky funeral director Janie (Dinah Berkeley) who is as “professional” as she is completely quirky.
The creative team has developed a convention to help the audience “visualize” the difficulty Sarah has coping with her boyfriend’s suicide. Grieving is one trigger that can “boot up” a string of uncomfortable obsessive- compulsive behaviors and the playwright and director have found an interesting way to deal with that event. It is also used to open the possibility of defining what is real and what is not in the context of the play.
Director Anna Strasser allows her talented ensemble of actors to “paint” with a large brush that fills the stage with colorful scenes that range from comedic interludes to deeply cathartic moments of truth and transparency. It is doubtful the audience will ever understand the process of coping in traditional ways again after seeing “Coping.”
“Coping” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Audra Arnaudon at Teatro SEA at the Celemente, 107 Suffolk Street (Rivington and Delancey).
All performances of “Coping” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 19th at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday August 22nd at 9:45 p.m.; Wednesday August 26th at 4:45 p.m.; and Friday August 28th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.copingplay.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“The Princeton Seventh” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 20, 2015)
“The Princeton Seventh” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 20, 2015) Written and Directed by James Vculek Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"The Princeton Seventh" was part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in August 2010 and has been reprised in August 2015 for FringeNYC. And that is good news for those who have the opportunity to see James Vculek’s quirky drama about the process of writing and the fine line between what is real and what is fiction.
The audience witnesses what might be the truth in Act II. Princeton scholar and writer Max Lonoff (Richard Ooms) arrives in a Midwestern town with his devoted wife Mindel (Alayne Hopkins) to deliver an homage to a recently deceased poet. He meets fellow Princeton alum and author Jack Cutler (Alex Cole) who has been chatting with a Man (Ari Hoptman) who claims to have been part of a prestigious group of Princeton scholars (the Princeton Six) that included Lonoff. Mr. Vculek has the ability to make dialogue intricately fascinating and his meticulous direction results in the fast-paced and delicious repartee between all parties that results in the outing of the Man as a phony and a fraud who in reality begged to be the seventh in Lonoff’s group.
What the audience witnesses in Act I might be the fictional account of what the audience discovers actually happened later in Act II when Cutler meets the Man meets Lonoff. Both Acts are written with layer upon layer of rich exposition that gives the charters an authenticity and believability and compelling personal and professional conflicts that drive a pair of engaging plots. Truth and fiction exist side-by-side and create a metacognitive dimension that defies definition and description. What actually happens and how that becomes a novel is explored with uncanny charm.
The ensemble cast is remarkable in both Acts redefining their characters and making them rich and interesting and believable. Ari Hoptman is quirky and clever in his dual roles. Alex Cole defines and redefines a Jack Cutler who can be filled with vengeful rage or infused with scholarly inquisitiveness. Richard Ooms successfully creates a Max Lonoff who is on the one hand a caricature and on the other a professor reflecting calmly on the events of the past. Alayne Hopkins shines as trophy wife in Act I and overzealous caregiving wife in Act II. And Isy Abraham-Raveson is the waitress extraordinaire who can handle any customer request with the appropriate aplomb.
Whether in 2010 or in 2015 or as a quick read (see below), “The Princeton Seventh” is a mind-exercising bit of great theatre.
THE PRINCETON SEVENTH
“The Princeton Seventh” is presented by The Present Company and The New York International Fringe Festival at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey).
“Maybe Tomorrow” at FringeNYC 2015 at Under St. Marks (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
“Maybe Tomorrow” at FringeNYC 2015 at Under St. Marks (Through Saturday August 29, 2015) Written by Max Mondi Directed by Tomer Adorian Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Based on the true story of a woman who was found stuck on her boyfriend’s toilet after sitting on it for two years in Ness County, Kansas, “Maybe Tomorrow” takes the premise of the meta-theatrical experience into the realm of a stunning psychological study of delusional behavior, the processes of collusion, and the consequences of controlling behavior. Playwright Max Mondi’s complex play might also be about marriage, fame, and a toilet but only in a secondary fashion.
Unable to cope with her marriage to Ben (Harrison Unger), arts-and-crafts entrepreneur Gail (Jennifer Bareilles) retreats to the bathroom of their trailer making it her “pause room” populated by her mantras “maybe tomorrow” and “I’ll figure it out.” From the relative safety of the toilet and her initial attempts to venture into the rest of the trailer, Gail manages to get pregnant, run her arts and crafts trailer-front store, and adjust to the move to New Jersey where Ben has landed a new job as a luxury car salesperson.
After the move, Gail retreats to the toilet and her “pause room” full-time, seemingly abandoning Ben and the new baby. At this point, it would appear that Gail is “suffering” from a psychotic disorder with hallucinations and that Ben had decided to collude with Gail’s “disorder” since it is the happiest he has ever seen her. But perhaps Gail just prefers “real” time and space and prefers to talk to a real audience (not a hallucination) and is colluding with Ben who is perhaps the delusional one thinking Gail sees no one and that they are simply actors in a play that is accountable to the convention of a fourth wall. Only when the reader attends a performance of “Maybe Tomorrow” can she or he decide if there is a baby beyond the bathroom.
Harrison Unger’s and Jennifer Bareilles’ strong commitment to Mr. Mondi’s complex and dense writing pays off. “Maybe Tomorrow” engages the audience in a rollercoaster ride that explores ego strength and the arrogance of diagnostic protocols that categorize the intricacies of what is considered mental illness. The title raises a variety of enduring and rich questions about life, love, and the thing we call theatre. Can two human beings make sense of marriage, money, and parenting? Does one member of a couple have the right to define for the other what life style she or he can assume? What defines ‘theatre’ in the twenty-first century? Are there theatrical conventions yet to be discovered and explored on stage? Why can the $18.00 FringeNYC performance of “Maybe Tomorrow” raise more important questions than any $150.00 (plus or minus) show currently running on Broadway?
Mr. Modi's challenging play also comments on the nature of the theatre itself and the assumed lack of realism and question (successfully) what is or what is not “permitted” in playwriting or on the stage. For example in a play where one member of the cast is sitting on a toilet should the audience be invited by the venue manager to visit the “real” bathroom at any time during the performance?
Tomer Adorian’s direction is meticulous, generous, and refreshing and allows Harrison Unger (Ben) and Jennifer Bareilles (Gail) room to explore Max Mondi’s script with impressive craft and commitment to authenticity. “Maybe Tomorrow” is one thing the reader should not put off until tomorrow. Take a break from the “pause room” and purchase tickets today.
“Maybe Tomorrow” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Poet Acts, Inc. at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place (1st and Avenues A).
All performances of “Maybe Tomorrow” take place at on the following schedule: Friday August 21st at 7:45 p.m.; Sunday August 23rd at 1:15 p.m.; and Saturday August 29th at 1:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.maybetomorrowtheplay.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“Single Room Occupancy” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (Through Thursday August 27, 2015)
“Single Room Occupancy” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (Through Thursday August 27, 2015) Book and Music by Ben Rauch Lyrics by Gaby Gold, Ben Rauch, and Rory Scholl Directed by Joey Murray Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Matthew is stuck. Stuck in his musical career. Stuck in his search for true love. Stuck in his miniscule apartment in New Jersey. Stuck with his group of friends stuck in their own millennial generation angst-ridden matrix of unrealized dreams. Additionally, Matthew would prefer not to perform his music anywhere but in his claustrophobic apartment just west of the Eden that is every musician’s paradise. Ben Rauch’s new pop/rock musical “Single Room Occupancy” purports to address the dilemma of being one’s own worst obstacle – not the distracting obstacles of social media, nor the quest for romance. Mr. Rauch’s musical seems not to provide answers to overcoming the obstacle of self. Indeed, it provides no clear answers to anything.
Perhaps the best thing about “Single Room Occupancy” is the music by Ben Rauch who also plays the protagonist Matthew. The book is lackluster and often inappropriate as are many of the lyrics (the reader is welcome to go and judge for himself/herself). The balance between band and cast is off and it is often difficult to hear the lyrics. The device of having Matthew and the cast be part of an improv group does not work and adds nothing to the thin story line.
Add to this the lack of air conditioning in the Lynn Redgrave Theatre and the result is less than favorable. It is difficult to understand how a cast and audience can be subjected to intolerable conditions that jeopardize the health and well-being of patrons who pay to see a performance.
SINGLE ROOM OCCUPANCY
“Single Room Occupancy” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and BR Productions at the Lynn RedgraveTheater, 45 Bleecker Street (at Lafayette Street).
All performances of “Single Room Occupancy” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 17th at 9:30 p.m.; Thursday August 20th at 7:15 p.m.; Friday August 21st at 2:15 p.m.; and Thursday August 27th at 12:00 a.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.singleroommusical.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“The Starter” at FringeNYC 2015 at The Celebration of Whimsy Theater (Through Tuesday August 25, 2015)
“The Starter” at FringeNYC 2015 at The Celebration of Whimsy Theater (Through Tuesday August 25, 2015) Written by Sean Murphy Based on “Platonov” by Anton Chekhov Directed by Katie Falter Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Sean Murphy has penned a new play “The Starter” based very loosely on “Platonov” an obscure work by Anton Chekhov, and being presented as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. The resemblance is not so much the story but the supposition, examining the egotistical, idealistic, selfish nature of a generation of twenty somethings as they encounter the truth about feelings and desire. The plot unravels as seven friends, some old, some new, gather for an impromptu dinner party. As in many plays that have preceded, the alcohol flows, sparks fly, dreams drown, love is lost and during the finale drinking game isolation and hopelessness are the winners and reverting to the past is the only hope of salvation. Serving up heaps of unhealthy, narcissistic, destructive choices by the youth of any generation at a table set with platefuls of denial and repressed feelings is nothing new.
What sets this production apart is the inspired writing and the litter of misfits assembled for the fierce festivities. Mr. Murphy’s dialogue is like a tennis match flinging comical barbs with lightning fast repartee, always within bounds, forcing the opponent to reach, stretch and dive for answers until they fault with a lie. Truth and honesty keep the game in play and there is no winner. The cast is well trained and breathes life into complex characters. Tori Hidalgo is a cold, cunning destroyer as Anna, confronting Harry Percy Sanderson (Parker) who constructs a disillusioned, confused everyman, lost in his own invention. As Gretchen, Mary Kate O’Neill envelopes oddball beauty emerging from caterpillar, too cocoon, too butterfly with a nuanced performance. Mr. Murphy as Trevor is centered, simple and hopeful, clinging to unrequited love. Lauren Friednash portrays an offbeat Sophie, a self-absorbed wannabe, like a spider catching its prey in her web of optimistic fantasy. Haley Jones creates the false façade of the perfect wholesome fiancé Jennifer with precision. Eric Folks masks a solid Stephen, concealing his bubbling turmoil and rage beneath a smooth, calm exterior.
No one survives the evening. All are casualties, some more than others, and when their wounds heal you can only imagine they will be ready for another battle, never learning the fragility of life and that waging war for personal gain, power and control, only results in the destruction of humanity. This is an engaging evening of theatre and a promising ensemble of thespians, deftly directed by the keen sense of Katie Falter.
“The Starter” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at The Celebration of Whimsy Theater, 21-A Clinton Street (Houston and Stanton).
All performances of “The Starter” take place at on the following schedule: Tuesday August 18th at 2:00 p.m.; Saturday August 22nd at 4:45 p.m.; and Tuesday August 25th at 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.thestarter.org/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“Elaine Stritch Still Here” at FringeNYC 2015 at Spectrum (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
“Elaine Stritch Still Here” at FringeNYC 2015 at Spectrum (Through Saturday August 29, 2015) Written and Performed by Jay Malsky Directed by Zak Sommerfield Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Elaine Stritch Still Here” is a new musical constructed in cabaret format, paying homage to the theatrical paragon, being presented as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. The legendary Ms. Stritch, played marvelously by Jay Malsky, with the accomplished Keith Rubin as Rob Bowman, her friend and musical director at the piano, deserve a much better venue that might help translate the stature of this theatrical icon. This diminutive look into her amazing career, peers into the short time capsule when she is 86 years old and preparing and performing her last cabaret tour. It is a reflection and a celebration, filled with her undeniable talent, appeal, strength and sarcasm laced with sadness, but not withstanding effects of the relentless demon of alcohol and the debilitating affliction of diabetes. What came before this time seems to have been only the preparation for the battle that takes place now, with no regrets for the misguided plan of attack.
Mr. Malsky captures the physical nuance with ease as he morphs into the larger than life character, appearing in her signature garb of black tights and oversized white dress shirt, announcing that “I hate pants.” He attacks the many vocals that can easily be associated with her name, with powerful insistence, reminiscent of the no nonsense style that was part of her charm. What makes this performance soar is the emotional connection Mr. Malsky displays as he digs deep down into the sadness of being alone after her husband dies, the anger at the debilitating disease, and the weakness for the demon that haunts her.
This show is not perfect but most of that is due to limitations of the space. Direction by Zak Sommerfield is spotty, with a wish for better flow and continuity, even musical interludes of familiar tunes. For those that are familiar with Ms. Stritch it is an opportunity to examine a more personal, intimate facet of her incredible journey; for those who are not that familiar, it may open up an entire new avenue of interest into the incredible life of this theatrical legend. Try to catch a performance during this short run.
ELAINE STRITCH STILL HERE
“Elaine Stritch Still Here” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at Spectrum, 121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor (Rivington and Delancey).
All performances of “Elaine Stritch Still Here” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 17th at 9:15 p.m.; Friday August 21st at 10:30 p.m.; Monday August 24th at 8:00 p.m.; and Saturday August 29th at 2:45 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 50 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit https://www.facebook.com/elainestritchstillhere. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“Hell Is For Real” at FringeNYC 2015 at Theatre 80 (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
“Hell Is For Real” at FringeNYC 2015 at Theatre 80 (Through Saturday August 29, 2015) Written by Gary Apple Directed by Jay Stern Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
It is Fringe season, and the lower East side of Manhattan is buzzing with the NY International Fringe Festival now celebrating a 19th year with a new theatrical kaleidoscope. As in years past, audiences, reviewers and staff search for the golden ticket, the reward of finding a few shows that might have a glimmer of hope for a future, or at least be treated to an hour or two of good solid theater. The new musical comedy “Hell is for Real” with book, music and lyrics by Gary Apple falls into the category of the typical fringe musical filled with satire, zany characters, vulgar language, derivative music and simple often mundane lyrics. Although this is not the quintessential example of dramatic structure and writing, what it offers is a couple of hours of crazy, ridiculous, superfluous humor in the dog days of summer. Six year old Davin is accidentally transported to hell where of course he does not belong. Upon returning from his visit, he is plagued with strange, weird and satanic events as well as visits from Carl the banjo playing Bogeyman. Dad Richard goes to all lengths to save his child visiting churches, secret satanic cults, exorcists and finally a trip to hell to meet with Lucifer who gives him an impossible task to complete in order to save his son. What follows is an absurd comical adventure that moves at a fast pace under the direction of Jay Stern.
The cast is strong and plays whole heartedly into the material giving it more substance than it actually has, riding the thin line between actuality and pasquinade. They work extremely well as an ensemble each supporting the other, fully committed to the task at hand. They are accompanied by an overly competent band that deserves more sophisticated material and arrangements. There is nothing new or inventive here, just what you might expect from a wacky musical comedy. Audiences should give it a try if you are looking for a few laughs, some good vocals and an evening of light, mindless entertainment reminiscent of an extended SNL sketch with music. It could possibly become one of those late night cult musicals that lasts for a while, and might be better after a few drinks.
HELL IS FOR REAL
“Hell Is For Real” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place (1st and 2nd Avenues).
All performances of “Hell Is For Real” take place at on the following schedule: Sunday August 16th at 1:15 p.m.; Thursday August 27th at 4:45 p.m.; and Saturday August 29 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.hellisforreal.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“Rapunzel in the Wild West” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (Through Friday August 28, 2015)
“Rapunzel in the Wild West” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (Through Friday August 28, 2015) Book by Bobby Becher, Ashley Mills, Marc de la Concha, and Ashley Whiting Music and Lyrics by Bobby Becher and Ralph Krumins Directed by Ashley Mills Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
Whoever decided to have Rapunzel use her hair to lasso criminals in the Wild West most certainly has the mindset for children’s theatre. It’s the premise of WhatFun! Theatre’s aptly named ‘Rapunzel in the Wild West’ an interactive children’s musical where the audience is encouraged to boo, cheer, and lament, all in the name of family-friendly fun.
Rapunzel is a long-haired lass locked away in her mother’s tower-like-tavern. Although our heroine has dreams to fight bad guys with her lasso-like hair, she’s content to play make-believe with her friends Willy and Sally since her mother seems dead-set on ensuring her fantasies stay, well, fantasies. When the evil Bandit Queen rolls into town, however, it’s up to Rapunzel to live her dreams, beat the baddies, and save her mother’s saloon.
Despite the show’s playfully soft touch, there are some highly admirable themes in WhatFun!’s new show: Rapunzel’s mother (played by Elise Holman) doesn’t keep her daughter cooped up because she’s evil, just overprotective. Rapunzel wants to be a cowboy but her mother would much prefer her to emulate her more ladylike best friend Sally. In the end we learn that, while being genteel is okay for some people, what’s most important is choosing your own way. (And if you happen stop the Bandit Queen in the process, all the better.) In a brilliantly rare subversion of the musical archetype, Rapunzel’s love interest, Willy, sings about how all he wants in life in a family and children. (Boom! Take THAT gender norms!)
Ashley Mills, who plays Rapunzel, is a perfect for children’s theatre. Mills is genuine without harshness and endearing without being hokey. Childlike without being childish Mills plays the kind of character you’d want children to take after, and that’s saying quite a lot.
It’s hard to ‘Boo’ at the loveable villains. The Bandit Queen, played by Jacqueline Wheeler, is boisterous, and manipulative, but admirable in her own headstrong sort of way. She’s closer Molly Shannon’s Mary-Katherine Gallagher than a traditional Black Hat. Of course that’s probably for the best, since the play’s sung through about half the time. Kurt Perry gives a side-splitting performance as the ever-awkward Bart, the Queen’s much-underappreciated sidekick.
Of course it’s not a flawless show. The singing is a bit on the soft side, and I did have one little gripe: Are the Bandit Queen’s fans magical? I mean, she can psychically control people with them, but that might have just been a theatrical convention. Maybe they couldn’t find a rhyme for ‘magic fans’ (in my hands? tragic tans? wedding bands? Just trying to be helpful).
But when kids are literally standing on their seats to get a better view, you know your children’s show is a success. I liked ‘Rapunzel in the Wild West,’ and I know a ten-year-old me would have liked it even more. Bring the kids, and get ready to boo (but only when they tell you, of course!)
RAPUNZEL IN THE WILD WEST
“Rapunzel in the Wild West” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and What Fun! Theatre at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (at 1st Avenue).
All performances of “Rapunzel in the Wild West” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 19th at 4:45 p.m.; Saturday August 22nd at 12:00 p.m.; Wednesday August 26th at 2:00 p.m.; and Friday August 28th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 50 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.whatfuntheatre.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
Featuring: Ashley Mills, Jacqueline Wheeler, Kurt Perry, Ariane Ryan, Bobby Becher, Elise Holman, and Tommy Walker.
“The Gap” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Falmboyan Theatre at the Clemente (Through Tuesday August 18, 2015)
“The Gap” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Falmboyan Theatre at the Clemente (Through Tuesday August 18, 2015) Written by Harrie Dobby Directed by Jamie Biddle and Gillian King Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Harrie Dobby's play "The Gap" purports to be about what individuals must sacrifice to be happy; however, that enduring and rich question seems to get lost in the gaps in time and place in this otherwise charming play about two seemingly star-crossed lovers who meet in Southeast Asia in the midst of their backpacking adventures across the globe. Lisa (Abigail Arnold-Ochs) decides to escape her trailer-park existence by taking her first flight to Southeast Asia where she stumbles upon Dave (Rafiq Richard), falls in love with him, marries him, gets pregnant, settles back in the UK and becomes totally miserable. Dave wants to stay in the UK after he gets a job offer from former backpacking friend Megan (Harrie Dobby). Dave is content to spend Saturdays with Megan and Andy (Jamie Biddle), work hard, earn money to properly raise his daughter, and enjoy vacation time. Lisa not so much.
Lisa is a wanderer and was identified as such back in Southeast Asia by Sylvie (Madeleine Brolly) with whom she and Dave stayed a night (along with Sylvie’s mate Sean also played by Jamie Biddle). That wanderlust drives her to leave husband and child and go back on the road again. Because the characters in “The Gap” are not clearly defined and their conflicts properly identified, the plot here is thin. There is a lot of kissing and cuddling and drinking and toking but the audience learns very little about the “inner lives” of the protagonists Lisa and Dave or their acquaintances. These characters need to match the grit of the language they speak – they need to be far more morally ambiguous to make their choices understandable and appealing.
There are musical interludes between scenes which one assumes comment (like a Greek Chorus) on the action of the play. Unfortunately, because of the dreadful acoustics in the Flamboyan Theatre, not a word of the songs could be clearly understood.
While it is clear Lisa and Dave see the world from two disparate points of view, their story in “The Gap” adds little to the important conversation about sacrifice, happiness, or the difficulty of making life choices that lead to happiness. The actors work hard but they do not have enough richness of text to create authentic and believable characters.
“The Gap” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Harrie Dobby at the Falmboyan Theatre at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street (Rivington and Delancey).
All performances of “The Gap” take place on the following schedule: Saturday August 15th at 7:15 p.m.; Sunday August 16th at Noon; Monday August 17th at 7:00 p.m.; and Tuesday August 18th at 2:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase (see a FringeNYC Ambassador). The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.the-gap-play.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) Announces Sold Out Shows
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) Announces Sold Out Shows Preview by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), the largest multi-arts festival in North America, will present the 19th Annual Festival from August 14 - 30, 2015. This year the festival will present programming by 184 of the world's best emerging theatre troupes and dance companies representing 8 countries and 21 US states. Shows will be presented in 16 venues in downtown Manhattan. With attendance topping 75,000 people, FringeNYC is New York City’s fifth largest event (just behind New York International Auto Show, Tribeca Film Festival, New York City Marathon, and New York Comic Con).
After beginning advance sales a week earlier than in previous years, FringeNYC will open on Friday with more sold out performances than ever before. At press time, 47 performances are sold out and two shows, “Maybe Tomorrow” and Feelings …,” have sold out their entire run. Shows with individual performances that have sold out include: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again,” “Father Kennedy,” “Popesical,” “Elaine Stritch: Still Here,” “An Inconvenient Poop,” “Schooled,” “Far From Canterbury,” “Parthenogenesis,” “Ripple of Hope,” “The Bad German,’ “Lucky Chick,” “Your Love Our Musical,” “Above Us,” “Small Membership,” “The Buffalo,” “butyou'reaman or: The Seven Men I Came Out to in India,” “The American Play,” “The Boy From Bantay,” “To Each Their Own,” “Type What Now,” “Baba,” “Bed Beth and Beyond,” “Shake The Earth,” and “To Dance - The Musical.” Nearly two dozen more performances have only a handful of tickets available. Shows leading the pack in overall ticket sales include: “Divine/Intervention,” “Far From Canterbury,” Popesical,” “The Report,” “Hell is For Real,’ “Virgin Sacrifice,” and “Beware The Chupacabra!”
If a show you want to see is sold out, never fear, you may have another shot; this year, FringeNYC inaugurates FringeFAVES. On August 30th, the final performance slot in each of the 16 theaters hosting the festival will be given to the best-selling show in that venue. The actual shows will not be announced until the final week of the festival, but the slots are currently on sale (at www.fringenyc.org/special-events/fringefaves). Patrons can buy tickets now and be surprised or wait and find out if their favorite show grabs one of the coveted slots.
FringeNYC is a production of The Present Company, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy. In 1997, New York City became the seventh US city to host a fringe festival, joining Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Orlando and San Francisco. FringeNYC has presented over 3000 performing groups representing every continent, prompting Switzerland's national daily, Neue Zuercher Zeitung, to declare FringeNYC as “the premiere meeting ground for alternative artists.”
FringeNYC shows run 2pm - midnight weekdays and noon - midnight on weekends. Tickets are $18 each ($13 for kids under 12 for FringeJR shows only), available at www.FringeNYC.org. Discount passes for multiple shows (including the Fiver and the all-you-can-see Lunatic Pass) are also available. Tickets can also be purchased in person at FringeCentral (56 E 1st Street between 1st & 2nd Aves) beginning August 7. For more information visit www.FringeNYC.org.
“Othello” at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Through August 28, 2015)
“Othello” at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Through August 28, 2015) By William Shakespeare Directed by Iqbal Khan Reviewed by George Caulton Theatre Reviews Limited
“I am not what I am” (Othello, Act I, Scene 1)
It is beyond human nature to supress emotions of jealousy, alienation and deceit. But what happens when these feelings become physical, and inevitably test the boundaries of the human psyche?
Iqbal Khan’s remarkable rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy, possesses a wild inventiveness that thoroughly yet elegantly explores the peaks and troughs of the human thought process. Last performed in 2004 at the RSC’s compact Swan Theatre under direction of Gregory Doran, Khan surpasses expectations though providing a veritable smorgasbord of inspiring characterisation, captivating music and impressive set design. As always at the RSC, the diversification of on-stage attributes fantastically contributing to creating the notion of Khan’s ‘recognisable world’ (21st century) whilst celebrating the epic brilliance of Shakespeare’s globally renowned tragedy.
With academy award winning actors ranging from Laurence Olivier to Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Quarshie successfully establishes his name amongst the many other greats in effectively depicting the compulsive and obsessive nature of Othello. With powerful monologues and dramatic expression, the excellence of Quarshie’s characterisation allures the audience to anticipate the devastating hamartia of Othello with the aid of personal tormentor Iago (played by Lucian Msamati). With both Quarshie and Msamati playing Othello and Iago, Khan adds a different dimension to the play raising new questions on race and alienation which merely challenges the term ‘outsider’, indefinitely providing new interpretations which grants the audience with further food for thought on the typical themes and insights of the classic play.
Despite it taking a substantial amount of time to warm to Joanna Vanderman (Desdemona), her flare and natural aptitude of performing was clearly exemplified in the second act until the devastating and teeth-gritting climax of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Fantastic contributions too from Ayesha Dharker (Emilia) who clearly knew her role as Desdemona’s attendant with outstanding authenticity and spine- tingling harmonics in Act 4, Scene 3.
Khan’s production of ‘Othello’ runs till 28th August 2015 at RSC Stratford-upon-Avon’s main auditorium space.
TONY AWARD NOMINEE MONTEGO GLOVER ASSUMES THE ROLE OF FANTINE
Montego Glover - Photo: broadway.com
Tony Award-nominee Montego Glover (Memphis) will assume the role of Fantine beginning Tuesday, September 1 in Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new Broadway production of Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil’s LES MISÉRABLES, now in its second year at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). She succeeds Erika Henningsen in the role. Glover, who also received the Drama Desk and Outer Critics’ Circle Awards for her acclaimed performance in Memphis, most recently co-starred on Broadway in the musical It Shoulda Been You. Also on September 1, Alex Finke makes her Broadway debut in the role of Cosette, succeeding Samantha Hill.
Glover and Finke join previously announced Alfie Boe, the internationally-acclaimed performer who takes over the role on Jean Valjean at the same performance. Tony Award nominee Ramin Karimloo will give his final performance as Valjean on Sunday, August 30. Boe is beloved to millions of LES MIZ fans for his legendary performance in the London 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena. He made his Broadway debut as Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed production La Boheme, for which he and his co-stars received a special Tony Award in 2003 for their performances. Montego Glover (Fantine). Tony Award Nominee, Drama Desk Award Winner, Outer Critics Circle Award Winner, and Drama League Award Nominee for her performance in Memphis. Broadway: It Shoulda Been You, The Color Purple. Other theatre: IRNE Award (Aida), Helen Hayes Nomination (Once on This Island), Craig Noel Award Nomination (The Royale). TV/Film: Alone, Black Box, The Following, Hostages, Smash, The Good Wife, White Collar, Golden Boy, Law & Order, Made In Jersey. Alex Finke (Cosette) originated the role of Hope Harcourt on the first national tour of Anything Goes, directed by Kathleen Marshall. She played Kit in the regional premiere of the re-worked The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Denver Center. In New York, she has been seen in a number of readings and workshops, working with directors including Casey Nicholaw and Michael Mayer. Regionally Alex has performed roles at Pittsburgh CLO and Music Theatre Wichita.
Now in its second year on Broadway, this newly-reimagined production of LES MISÉRABLES opened on Broadway March 23, 2014 to critical acclaim. The Associated Press raved, “A glorious LES MISÉRABLES! This terrific new production is beautifully sung and acted.” NY 1 said, “LES MISÉRABLES is born again. This is as close to perfection as we’ll ever get in the theater.” And The Huffington Post proclaimed, “This is a LES MISÉRABLES for the 21st century! It stirs the audience and rocks the rafters.” The new Broadway production of LES MISÉRABLES is now exclusively the only place in North America where the shown can be seen.
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, LES MISÉRABLES is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. The magnificent score includes the classic songs “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Stars,” “Bring Him Home,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” “Master Of The House” and many more.
Cameron Mackintosh’s production of LES MISÉRABLES is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg and is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, original adaption by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and additional material by James Fenton. The original LES MISÉRABLES orchestrations are by John Cameron with new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker.
The new production is directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with set and image design by Matt Kinley inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland, lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Mick Potter and projections realized by Fifty-Nine Productions. Musical staging is by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt. Musical supervision is by Stephen Brooker and musical direction by James Lowe.
While the original London production of LES MISÉRABLES prepares to celebrate its record-breaking 30th Anniversary on October 8th of this year, the new version of the show is making history playing to packed houses on Broadway, and in Australia, Japan, South Korea and Spain. In 2015, all four of Mackintosh’s ‘mega-hits’ were back in London’s West End: the original productions of Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, the smash hit new production of Miss Saigon, now in its second year, and the limited return engagement of Cats.
The original New York production of LES MISÉRABLES premiered first at the Broadway Theatre on March 12, 1987, later moving to the Imperial on October 17, 1990, where it played until May 18, 2003, for a total Broadway run of 6680 performances. LES MISÉRABLES is the 5th longest-running Broadway production of all time.
Seen by 70 million people worldwide in 43 countries and in 22 languages, LES MISÉRABLES is undisputedly one of the world’s most popular musicals ever written, with new productions continually opening around the globe. The worldwide gross for LES MISÉRABLES is $2.5 billion. The 2012 Universal film version of LES MISÉRABLES co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Working Title Films, is one of the most successful musical films ever, grossing more than $450 million. The film received the Golden Globe Award as Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) and received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won three Academy Awards. The film’s soundtrack debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Album chart and has sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
There have been 47 cast recordings of LES MISÉRABLES, including the multi-platinum London cast recording, the Grammy Award-winning Broadway cast and complete symphonic albums and live recording of the New 25th Anniversary Production.
The cast of LES MISÉRABLES also features acclaimed British actor Earl Carpenter as Javert, Tony Award and Olivier Award nominee Gavin Lee as Thenardier, Rachel Izen as Madame Thenardier, Brennyn Lark as Eponine, Chris McCarrell as Marius and Wallace Smith as Enjolras. Tickets to LES MISÉRABLES are available at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 447-7400. Ticket prices range from $37 - $147.
“Holden” at the Ice Factory Festival 2015 at the New Ohio Theater (Through Saturday August 8, 2015)
"Holden," produced by George & Co. - Photo courtesy George & Co
“Holden” at the Ice Factory Festival 2015 at the New Ohio Theater (Through Saturday August 8, 2015) Conceived and Written by Anisa George with the Ensemble Directed by Anisa George Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“It’s like all sandwiched together. And so they tesser to this other planet and Ms. Whatsit turns into this weird horse with wings kind of thing, and the earth from where they look far off is half under the power of this Black Thing.” (Peggy to Salinger)
Margaret (Peggy) Salinger, daughter of J. D. Salinger, is a character in Anisa George’s “Holden” currently running at the New Ohio Theater and part of the Ice Factory Festival 2015. What is certain in “Holden” is that at the age of ten Peggy could have been reading Madeleine L’Engle’s science fantasy novel “Wrinkle in Time.” What is also certain is that nothing else in “Holden” really could have taken place. Anisa George tessers the audience to “this other planet” that is J. D. Salinger’s writing bunker “which (in Peggy’s words) is this way where you can go from one place to another, kind of like time travel, in the sense that you go to another place, but you don’t really change what time you’re in.”
Two infamous assassins and “lovers” of “The Catcher in the Rye” Mark Chapman (played with the perfect mixture of adolescent ambiguity and latent pathology by Jaime Maseda) and John Hinckley (played with a weird demonic innocence by Scott Sheppard) end up in J. D. Salinger’s (played with a poetic winsomeness by Bill George) writing bunker along with Zev (played with unwitting worldly wisdom by Matteo Scammell) who, although he is not a lover of the Salinger classic, is an “unambiguous lover of guns.” To confirm young Peggy’s (played with youthful charm and naiveté by Adele Goldader) assessment of everything being “sandwiched together,” none of these characters ever met in real life and there was never a time Peggy was 10 and Mark Chapman was 25 since they were both born in 1955. Chapman and Hinckley have hunkered down in Salinger’s bunker in Cornish, New Hampshire to convince him to finish and publish his final novel (perhaps “Hapworth 16, 1924?”) and interact with the reclusive author in a delicious matrix of magical realism. On this same “planet” and yet in a seemingly parallel time, Salinger interacts with his daughter who lives up in the house with her mother. Feeling “tessered yet?
Ms. George and the ensemble cast have concocted an engaging theatre piece that seems to raise the kinds of questions J. D. Salinger was dealing with in the iconic “The Catcher in the Rye” and an ancillary theme of whether or not the dense rich text of the novel can act as an assassination trigger. It certainly does not raise the same kind of existential questions in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” which with it has been loosely compared. Indeed, the three young men cannot exit the bunker (“Can’t do that!”) but there is no indication Ms. George is trying to affirm that “hell is other people.” Her existential concerns are capable of standing on their own without the underpinning of Sartre’s novel.
In real life on a real planet, both Chapman and Hinckley “used” “The Catcher in the Rye” to substantiate their Holden-like disdain for the status quo and for dishonesty and other significant issues raised by teenage angst and alienation. In their case, that disdain resulted in taking the lives of others. But are not these two “boys” children who failed to be caught before falling out of innocence and into the pernicious abyss of the adult world? In the parallel story mentioned above, Salinger “catches” Peggy from her “Wrinkle in Time” nightmare and assuages her fears by telling a marvelous story of the alligator who swallowed the monster.
Under Ms. George's meticulous direction, the ensemble cast delivers remarkable and memorable performances that transfix and transform the audience and deliver them to the doorstep of perhaps life-altering decisions. The long discourse about the “Bhagavad Gita” is not frivolous filler. Dharma, duty, maya, and illusion are themes relevant to “Holden’s” expansive umbrella of important, redemptive, and cathartic themes. Nick Benacerraf’s set design and Seth Reiser’s lighting design transport the audience – tesser them – to the formidable bunker where all things are “sandwiched together” and Anisa George’s script works its magic.
As Peggy enters the bunker at play’s end, Zev escapes and the audience will never know if he will find his “catcher in the rye” or whether he will become a mass murderer who manages to break the record of sixty-nine in gun-shooting fatalities. But the audience does know that Chapman and Hinckley “lay their hands on father and daughter” as they sleep and the lights fade. Perhaps in the midst of alienation and angst (at any age) and in the midst of horrific events (natural and human-made) there is redemption. Perhaps as we wade through the rye there is or will be someone prepared to catch humankind and keep it from falling over the cliff.
“Holden” is produced by George & Co. The creative team includes Nick Benacarraf (scenic design), Rebecca Kanach (costume design), Seth Reiser (lighting design), Alex Bechtel (sound design), Cem Ozdeniz (props design), Anne Ketcham (stage manager), Megan Thibodeaux (production manager), and Katherin Lopez (technical direction). Dramaturgy by Madeline Charne. Production photos by plate3.com.
Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City. Tickets are $18.00 and $15.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 1-888-596-1027. For info visit NewOhioTheatre.org, like them on Facebook at /IceFactoryFestival, follow on Instagram at NewOhioTheatre, and for up-to-the-minute festival updates follow on Twitter at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time is 95 minutes including intermission.
“Summer Shorts 2015” – Series B at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
“Summer Shorts 2015” – Series B at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015) By Lucy Thurber, Robert O’Hara, and Stella Fawn Ragsdale Directed by Laura Savia, Robert O’Hara, and Logan Vaughn Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Unstuck” – Written by Lucy Thurber and Directed by Laura Savia
The audience does not know exactly how stuck Pete (played with delicious undercurrents of sadness by Alfredo Narcisco) is until his girlfriend Deirdre (played with restorative emotional strength by KK Moggie) comes home and finds Pete sleeping on the couch instead of getting out of the house as he promised to do. Pete blames his procrastination on two birthday visits by his tap-dancing sister Jackie (played with an exquisite clueless and controlling demeanor by Laura Blumenfeld) and his narcissistic friend Sara (played with a zany unbalanced charm by Carmen Zilles) who comes bearing a large cupcake, singing Happy Birthday in two languages, and an endless song/meditation. Although the two visits would exhaust anyone, Pete’s lethargy has been going on for some time.
Despite Jackie’s and Sara’s affirmations that their visits supplied needed surcease for Pete, it is only the honest and transparent conversation with Deirdre that successfully “unsticks” Pete and allows him to begin to move forward. Although this is not a surprising discovery, Lucy Thurber’s script makes the journey to that discovery engaging and restorative of spirit.
Laura Savia tenderly directs this short and gives the actors the opportunity to develop wonderfully well-rounded characters that are believable and that one can care about in all their quirkiness and layered as they are with so many authentic human foibles.
“Built” - Written and Directed by Robert O’Hara
"Built" is the most engaging of the three shorts in Series B and deals with the emotionally charged issue of Registered Sex Offenders who were convicted of child molestation. In this case, Mrs. Back (Merritt Janson) had inappropriate sexual relations with fifteen-year-old Mason (Justin Bernegger) when he was a student in Mrs. Backs’s Social Studies class (in the back of the classroom and in the athletic field bleachers.) In “Built” Mason has been summoned to Mrs. Back’s home ten years later – Mason is now (ostensibly) a twenty-five-year-old sex worker and Mrs. Back has returned to town after her ten year exile looking to re-ignite her delusional affair. Seemingly our Mrs. Back is a fan of illicit sex or is there another reason for the anniversary tryst?
Complicating the story is Mason’s confession that Mrs. Back was not his only faculty tryst – she was only one of several in what Mason describes as a “sex ring.” And it was Mason who reported the incident to his mother which resulted in her arrest and conviction. So was Mason seduced? Was Mrs. Back entrapped then (and perhaps now)? Do those questions even matter since Mrs. Back was the adult? Add to this mix the need for revenge and the result is an engaging, complex, and satisfying short.
Under Robert O’Hara’s appropriately spare direction, Mr. Bernegger and Ms. Janson give this Summer Short a jolt of authenticity and believability. Ms. Janson successfully moves her character between a mousy victim and a sparring partner that has been training for ten years for this event. And Mr. Bernegger brings both of the characteristics of an actor he shares in his biography: he is a superb young physical actor who has already displayed his spiritual commitment to his role and he does this with remarkable kinetic prowess.
“Love Letters to a Dictator” - Written by Stella Fawn Ragsdale and Directed by Logan Vaughn
Ms. Vaughn has staged Stella Fawn Ragsdale’s play with such dogged lethargy that it is difficult to the playwright’s message to be discerned or appreciated. Stella (Colby Minifie) is a needy young woman who has moved to New York City to escape the provincialism (and apparently the judgmental attitudes) of her family, friends, and neighbors in her Tennessee home.
She chooses an intriguing – but not that inappropriate – pen pal with whom to share her concerns and from whom to seek advice. In a somewhat convoluted way, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s former Supreme Leader (until 2011) is the ideal “therapist.” Stella can easily project her fears and suspicions on him and identify with his “problems” as similar to her own. In fact, throughout the course of her correspondence with the “non-judgmental” and “unconditionally loving” dictator, Stella restores the strength of her ego and is able to move on. In her own words in her final letter, she affirms, “I have to be loving. I have to try. I will be home for Christmas. Maybe it will be alright. We’ll see.”
Ms. Minifie is in no way to blame for the sluggishness of this production. She is a gifted actor who, although she understands her character Stella with impeccable exactitude, the director requires her to carry around unwashed vegetables, wash her hands face, and legs, take clothing off and put it back on, and hang up and take down letters, photographs, and dried herbs from two clotheslines throughout the performance. The power of the correspondence is “washed out” by the cumbersomeness of the set and the direction.
SUMMER SHORTS – SERIES B
SUMMER SHORTS is presented by Throughline Artists (J.J. Kandel, Producing Director) and runs through Saturday, August 29. The general performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. For individual performance dates for Series A and Series B, download the calendar at https://www.dropbox.com/s/9h1p0vf8khgweb8/SummerShorts2015_Calendar.pdf?dl=0. Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). A Pair of Shorts (a ticket to both Series A & B) is $40 (available until August 12). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
“Derby Day” East to Edinburgh Festival, Playing at 59E59 Theaters (Closed July 25, 2015)
“Derby Day” East to Edinburgh Festival, Playing at 59E59 Theaters (Closed July 25, 2015) Written and Directed by Samuel Brett Williams Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
Picture this: You’re stuck on a train at 1 AM with three drunken brothers. They’re arguing over the death of their father, their alcoholic breaths fumigating the train, as they argue about personal family issues as loudly as possible. At first, the conversation is hilarious, but as it picks up and becomes more violent, what was once entertaining, is now sickening, but impossible to look away from. Much like that train ride, “Derby Day” written by Samuel Brett Williams, is witnessing a drunken fight come to life, as three brothers escape to the race track following the funeral of their father.
The Ballard brothers, Frank, Johnny and Ned are back in Arkansas at the Oaklawn Park Race Track, mourning their late abusive father, who they call “Big Bastard”. Renting out a luxury box, drinking PBR, and placing bets on horses, these three brothers go down a path of uncovering family secrets that leave them unraveled forever. Encountering with their waitress, Becky, the boy are seen juxtaposed to a kind hearted woman who they mouth off to, and end up hurting horribly. Their chaos continues as truths come out: from sleeping with other brother’s wives, a history of alcoholism, and the truth behind their father’s death, “Derby Day” contains a pulse that leaves the audience shaking with every fight, curse, and shocking truth.
This play, though deeply entertaining, is hard to enjoy once you realize the heavy nature of it. It isn’t because it isn’t well written, or because the performances aren’t amazing (they truly are) but, the Ballard Brothers have no redeeming qualities about them. They are cruel to each other, cruel to a harmless waitress, and cruel to themselves.
This dance between dangerous and hilarious is all thanks to Williams’ deeply personal script, as he discusses the culture of a race track, and dysfunctional family, well. His pacing is so in tune to the actors, that it almost seems too real as the day uncovers the secrets of the brothers, creating the perfect moments of high tension. Standing out is a stunning scene when Johnny is on the phone with his ex-wife, having just left prison after facing drug charges. Through this conversation he is heavily drunk, and begging for the right to see his daughter. For a moment, the audience feels sorry for him, but then, he says words that bring the realization of what a horrible human being he truly is, and the sour taste is back in your mouth again and he pops open another round of Pabst, and the bubbly liquid explodes onto the floor.
The set, though minimal, gives the audience a literal view of a window into the luxury box at the races. Popping bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon that spill onto the stage, a table that smashes in half, destroying chairs, paper that is shredded, the stage and set pieces perfectly match the lives of the brothers that spiraled out of control. Their father’s abuse led for this path, and his death did not fix the turmoil he caused them, or the chaos they put on themselves. The chaotic destroyed Luxury Suite is as raw and real as the brothers disgusting attitudes are, and together they create the perfect atmosphere for the play. Robert M. Foster gives a gut wrenching performance as Frank, the oldest brother who now lives in Chicago. Frank’s performance is the meat of the show, creating a sense of reason, but then he is seen unwinding as his brothers encourage him to drink. A recovering alcoholic for four years, Frank’s vow is broken as he says “no one in Chicago will see me here,” and the audience feels their struggle. Constantly fighting with his brother Ned, he is a highly physical character and Robert delivers that with fierceness.
Malcolm Madera plays Ned in a sarcastic smart-ass way, allowing for Ned to pretty much stay as is the entire performance. He makes no great revelations, besides admitting fault to a lot of mistakes he’s made, and continuing to drink until he is unable to walk and has flung himself on top of a table. Malcolm plays drunk extremely well, it’s hard to tell that it’s an actor and not a real, live, angry, drunk man about to come onto the audience steps and scream in your face. His performance is hilarious and physical, and again, is hard to like.
Jake Silbermann‘s performance as Johnny is about as raw as it gets in live theatre. It’s rough in a perfectly planned fashion, as Jake knows every move that Johnny will make, every stumble, and unbelievably naïve stupid mistake that he creates throughout the day of the derby. His flirtation with Becky is both painful to watch, and then sweet, until he provides this perfect insight onto his character that will leave you shocked and your blood boiling.
Delivering a powerful monologue on the importance of women is Teresa Stephenson, Becky, who speaks on her self-worth as Frank attempts to buy her off when they destroy the luxury suite. She talks to the men as animals, and her performance is riveting. Using a sweet southern accent and then showing her importance to the story, Becky makes the play work. Without Teresa’s performance, the men would fall short. Her perfect blend of flirtation and edge makes her as real as a waitress comes, and her interactions allow for the play to have a sense of redemption for its otherwise hard to swallow content.
“Derby Day” is essentially a mix of assholes and alcohol. As dark comedy’s come, It’s a jam packed evening of amazing performances that allow the audience to be up close and personal to the actor. It is extremely intimate, but still has big moments of high action and contains twists that will leave your stomach in knots as you exit the theatre. in knots. The play closes in New York, but will continue onto the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and if you find yourself there, “Derby Day” should be on your “must see” list.
WRITTEN and DIRECTED Samuel Brett Williams.
FEATURING Jake Silbermann (Johnny), Malcolm Madera (Ned), Robert M. Foster (Frank), and Teresa Stephenson (Becky)
WITH Camisade Theatre Company (Producer)
DERBY DAY moves from 59E59 and begins its run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Gilded Balloon (Venue 14) on August 5th-31st. Tickets available for £10.00 here:
“the dreamer examines his pillow” at the Attic Theater Company at the Flea Theater (Through Saturday August 15, 2015)
Dennis Parlato and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti - Photo by Natalie Artemyeff
“the dreamer examines his pillow” at the Attic Theater Company at the Flea Theater (Through Saturday August 15, 2015) By John Patrick Shanley Directed by Laura Braza Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“So you're a comfort to me. lf there was somebody who was like that for you, somebody who was like you the way you used ta be before you were the way you are now, we could probably draw a straight line through the three of us and sec where we're goin.” (Dad)
That affirmation by Donna’s (played with explosive intensity by Lauren Nicole Cipoletti) Dad (played with the powerful indifference of a bad parent by Dennis Parlato) might be the most engaging theme in John Patrick Shanley’s 1986 “the dreamer examines his pillow.” In order to discover Dad’s kernel of truth, one must navigate through 90 minutes of non-stop dialogue (and a few lengthy monologues) and a delicious dose of magical realism. And that is not an unpleasant task, given the high quality of the Attic Theater Company’s production of the Shanley classic curtly running at the iconic Flea Theater.
After discovering that her estranged boyfriend Tommy (played with an edgy narcissistic streak by Shane Patrick Kearns) is “seeing” her sixteen-year-old sister Mona, Donna forces her way into his “new” apartment and confronts him. This incursion disrupts Tommy’s discourse with his refrigerator which apparently holds more than a steady supply of Budweiser beer. Donna calls Tommy a “doghead,” perhaps a euphemism for a chronic loser who not only has “been with” Donna’s sister, but has robbed his own mother. Despite all this, the two are still madly in love with each other and Mr. Shanley’s play apparently addresses the meaning of love (sex and all) and how we fall into and out of it and, more importantly, how we get the whole process “begun.”
Fearful that she is turning into her mother and that Tommy is a version of her father, she visits Dad to get his advice and bask in his guru-like exposition on love, sex, and art. Where is the Donna in Scene 1? After this magical mystery tour, Donna persuades her Dad to visit Tommy and straighten him out or at least beat him up. All three scenes are terribly funny although the audience on the night this reviewer saw the play seemed to prefer digging more deeply into Mr. Shanley’s script for the secrets to the universe. There is quite a bit of rather rich symbolism which is easily accessible throughout. And there is considerable “The Honeymooner’s” type bickering and threats to kick one’s sparring partner from “here to the moon.” Ralph and Alice would be proud.
The symbolism, along with the magical realism, are engaging and just under the surface of the text there are rich questions raised about life’s difficulties and the need to be honest and the need to “begin.” Dad’s final words are crucial. “Flyin’ in the face of the truly great mistakes, there is that consolation.” And, referring to the play’s title, after encountering a difficult time, relationship, or confrontation and vowing never to revisit those, a rematch is certain. Dad counsels Tommy that he has to dig deep and stop running away from himself. Dad says, “You can't stop. Once you step off the edge, you're gone. Once your head's been in that place, you can’t ever take it out.” The dreamer cannot be assured he or she will never revisit the dent made in the pillow during the nightmare.
Under Laura Braza's direction, the ensemble cast does what it can with Mr. Shanley's perhaps outdated script. Psychobabble was a hallmark of the 1980s. The characters need more depth. Who is Donna? Where does she live? Why foes she need Tommy? There is little or no exposition about this main character. We know a bit about Tommy and Dad but next to nothing about Donna.
Why do playwrights - even the most celebrated among them - assume everyone who attends a performance is straight and can immerse themselves in heteronoramtive culture and symbolism or that all heterosexuals are immersed in that culture? If you can affirm with Donna’s Dad that “Sex is for makin’ babies” then you will have no problem engaging with Mr. Shanley’s text. If not – or if you see love and sex as two separate entities – then you will have to work a bit harder to find a way to connect with this play.
THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW
The cast of ‘the dreamer examines his pillow” features Lauren Nicole Cipoletti as Donna, Shane Patrick Kearns as Tommy, and Dennis Parlato as Dad.
“the dreamer examines his pillow” has scenic design by Julia Noulin-Merat, costume design by Lauren Gaston, lighting design by David Upton, and sound design by Beth Lake. The casting director is Judy Bowman, CSA.
Presented by the Attic Theater Company, “the dreamer examines his pillow” will be performed at The Flea Theater (41 White Street, Tribeca) Saturday, July 25th through Saturday, August 15th, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM (there is an additional performance on Saturday, August 15th at 3 PM). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.theattictheaterco.com/. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
“Death of the Persian Prince” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Black Box Theater (Closed on Sunday July 26, 2015) Written and Directed by Dewey Moss Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Communism, like General Motors, is people.”
The above is an important reminder shared by a psychology professor to this reviewer many years ago. A reminder that people should always be more important than politics or social, political, and economic ideologies. Unfortunately, that truth seems difficult for humankind to grasp or achieve globally. After the Holocaust, humanity vowed to never let anything that horrific happen again. Yet currently the world seems to avert its gaze from the horrors of human trafficking, the enslavement and murder of Christians in the Middle East, the pandemic violation of civil and human rights, and the arrest, imprisonment, and murder of members of the LGBTQ community in the Middle East and in Africa.
Dewey Moss' "Death of the Persian Prince" chronicles the plight of gay men in Iran who often choose to undergo transsexual sex reassignment surgery in order to avoid execution by telling the story of one gay man (whose family called him “the prince”) who, after undergoing that surgery, left Iran for the United States to avoid being harassed and/or sold into prostitution. Samantha (Pooya Mohseni) has emigrated from Iran to escape from her brother Cas (Gopal Divan) who paid for his sister’s reassignment surgery and is now cashing in on her status by pimping her to friends and acquaintances looking for sexual encounters with transgender women.
Samantha chooses to live in New York City and establishes a five month relationship with James (George Faya) who served in the Middle East and continues to carry a mixture of guilt and rage from his deployment there. George wants to marry and have children; however he does not know that Samantha is a transgender woman. Ms. Mohseni and Mr. Faya bring a powerful and authentic energy to their performances as they explore important issues of sexual status, roles of women and men, cultural identities and differences, and commitment. It is impossible to watch the gifted Pooya Mohseni relate her character’s story without welling up with tears.
Their détente comes to a blistering climax when James leaves the apartment to buy more wine and Samantha’s brother Cas bursts into the apartment having come from Iran to find her and take her back to Iran to work for him. Mr. Divan delivers a riveting and believable performance as Samantha’s brother whose jealous rage spills over onto the stage with a venomous sting. It is in this exchange that the audience discovers Samantha’s identity and her history in Iran. James’ return to the apartment interrupts this exchange and he discovers from Cas Samantha’s full history and reacts with utter disbelief bordering on disdain. His connection to Samantha counterpoints with the hopelessness and fear inherent in his PTSD.
It is when Cas leaves and Samantha and James face each other in the brilliance of full transparency and honesty that Mr. Moss’ play grabs the psyche and soul of the audience and does not let go until the cathartic ending (which – without a spoiler alert – needs to remain undisclosed). Under Dewey Moss’ exacting and meticulous direction, “Death of the Persian Prince” remains one of the most riveting and life-altering plays in the current canon of LGBTQ theatre.
New York audiences have two more opportunities to see this important play at the south Asian International Performing Arts Festival on August 4th and 8th. See the link to this Festival below. “Death of the Persian Prince” will surely change your thinking about the transgender community and the deep prejudice that surrounds the lives of the brave and heroic individuals who choose to celebrate who they have always been. The Prince is dead. Long live the Princess.
“Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Closed on Monday July 27, 2015)
“Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Closed on Monday July 27, 2015) Book by Noemi de la Puente Music by David Davila Lyrics by Noemi de la Puente and David Davila Directed by Jose Zayas Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” is a powerful new musical that takes considerable risks in exposing the flaws in the United States Immigration System (USCIS). Noemi de la Puente’s engaging book personalizes the “nightmare” of USCIS as a knock-down-drag-out boxing match between a young illegal Manuel (played with a powerful grace by Gil Perez-Abraham) and the Statue of Liberty (played with cloyed playfulness by Shakina Nayfack). This fight symbolizes the larger struggle all illegal immigrants (including those awaiting Green Cards) experience when attempting to gain legal status.
Ironically, the Statue of Liberty represents the “American Nightmare” reminding Manuel that “It’s Against the Law to Be Here Illegally” and doing all she can to defeat Manuel’s spirit and his attempts to become a legal citizen. This is gritty theatre: the Statue is the enemy of freedom not the ally of the immigrant she seems to welcome. Watching Ms. Nayfack portray the “Statue’s” redemptive transformation is cathartic and electrifying.
The system seems designed to make the naturalization process not only difficult but impossible. Manuel came to the United States with his mother and his sister Yolanda (Alicia Taylor Tomasko) who was born in the United States and is therefore a legal citizen. It is Manuel and his Mami (Tami Dahbura) that face deportation if they do not get Green Cards. Manuel is not willing to live in hiding and with the encouragement of his mentor Mr. Walsh (Michael Marotta) he wants to go to Princeton then, upon graduation, to study abroad at Oxford on a scholarship from Princeton. If he leaves the country, he realizes he will not be able to return.
The ensemble cast under Jose Zayas’ impeccable direction skillfully portrays Manuel’s journey from his high school graduation through his decision to turn himself into USCIS authorities. Although things go well for Manuel, they did not go well for the inspiration for this musical Dan-el Padilla Peralta. Despite the requisite happy ending for musical theatre (not all but most), “Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” remains a scorching critique of immigration policies in the United States and a resounding celebration of the human spirit, the confirmation that “nothing good comes easily,” and the importance of fighting for the values upon which the United States was founded.
THE FAIRER SEX at Theatre Row (Through August 2, 2015)
THE FAIRER SEX at Theatre Row (Through August 2, 2015) Presented by Between Us Productions Written by Sander Gusinow Directed by Samantha Lee Manas Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
Imagine a world where women are free of sexual violence, oppression, and make the same, if not more, money than men. Finally, in a stunning humanistic dark comedy, “The Fairer Sex” presented by Between Us Productions, and written by Sander Gusinow, this women-run reality is featured. Following the aftermath of a rebellion, in which women fought back against men, and won, “The Fairer Sex” takes the audience on a journey of a society called the New World Order, in which women elect a queen, enforce the law, eliminate sexism, and take on a whole new meaning of the women’s title “fairer sex.” In other words: women rejoice!
The idea of “The Fairer Sex” came to Sander as he puts it, "with the whole Ariel Castro situation," in which three women were abducted, abused, and repeatedly raped. Taking that into consideration, the script and its characters provide a perspective on the world where women are no longer subjects to the brutal abuse every day, simply because of their sex.
The play begins in the New World Order as two (Lena and Kristen) apprehend Elam, who was being smuggled out of a hospital by Sean, a known worker of the resistance. Kristen is shown with Gwen, the commander, proudly wearing her New World Order uniform, showcasing the female sex symbol encased by a fist punching the air. Gwen instructs Kristen, with the help of Lena, to question the men and eventually, “put them down.” From there, the play unravels as Elam’s true identity is revealed, and Lena and Kristen fight a line between doing their duty and doing what is right.
“The Fairer Sex” is deeply hysterical from beginning to end as Gusinow’s script expands its themes, characters, and revelations. Gusinow lifts the characters up, with lines allowing the actors to make choices, understand their characters, and give stunning performances. Featuring three women, Gwen, Kristen and Lena, the use of femininity is highly different from what would be expected in today’s world. Instead of writing strictly overbearing characters, much like what is found in current productions and television shows, the women are portrayed as strong without being crazy. Yes, they still have guns, and occasionally blow a few balls off, but they are able to show strength through their minds, more than their physicality.
Showing some teeth, and some pure ass-kicking, is the performance of Kristen, played by Josephine Wheelwright. Fighting a few bullet wounds, her emotional state, and a few mishaps with her best friend Lena, Kristen is the vital centerpiece to the production. Wheelwright brilliantly delivers Kristen with as much strength as a nail, but also showcases her vulnerability. In the most tragic hair-raising scene, Gwen reminds Kristen of why she joined the movement, Wheelwright leaves the audience stunned and shaking with anger, as they witness Kristen relive the tragic, vile act that was placed upon her.
With a blinged out version of femininity, Lena is the female opposition of Kristen. Lena is portrayed as the perfect combination of southern ditz meets city class. Wearing bright red cowboy boots that fit just right, a giant bedazzled ‘L’ on her shirt, and a high pony tail that sways back and forth as she walks, Lena embraces her policing efforts with her own personal style. With a stunning performance given by Erica Becker, Lena’s so called “stupidity” by Gwen, played by Michelle Liu Coughlin, is deeply disproved, as Lena forces the resistance and Kristen to find common ground through her relationship with Elam. Erica Becker handles her role fearlessly, allowing for both the hilarious use of Lena’s physically and written lines, but still producing the undeniable nurturing quality of Lena, that leaves the audience both rolling in their seats and holding back a few tears of joy.
Lena also gives the play a look into sexual desire. Her loneliness is discussed frequently, and her libido is put to the test when she is left alone with Elam after his interrogation. Elam’s performance by Billy Giacci compliments Lena well, and their encounter is both sexy and sweet, and gives insight to a woman’s ability to be sexually enlightened and in command.
Elam is the voice for the more common, softer side of mankind. The two other male characters Mark, played by Michael Markham, and Sean, played by Chauncey Johnson, commonly describe women as “cum-bucket sluts,” and prove why the New World Order refers to men as animals. Their performances, though you may hate them at the end, are overly physical and brutal, allowing for Elam’s revelation to be effective. Michael Markham is present on stage, and Chauncey Johnson gives spit-hitting lines that hit that back wall every time he barks “Princess” at Elam. Billy’s portray of Elam’s tenderness towards women perfectly reminds the audience and the New World Order that not all men are animalistic rapists.
“The Fairer Sex” isn’t just a play on feminism. The cast all work in sync with one another to provide a full picture that the world needs both men and women to coexist, and not just for reproduction. Men and women depend on each other for guidance, mental wellbeing, and friendship. Without coexistence, both sides fall further away from embracing what makes each sex great. “The Fairer Sex” is a must see at Theatre Row, and triumphs in its ability to create a cathartic, hysterical, mind-changing theatre experience.
THE FARIER SEX
Written by Sander Gusinow and directed by Samantha Lee Manas
FEATURING Josephine Wheelwright (Kristen), Erica Becker (Lena), Billy Giacci (Elam), Michelle Liu Coughlin (Gwen), Michael Markham (Mark), Chauncey Johnson (Sean/Solider).
WITH Paul Kennedy (Lighting Design), Samantha Lee Manas (Costume and Set Design) Mickey Lee Nelson (Graphic Design), Jasmine Brown, Graydon Gund, and Karl Custer (Producing Company Members).
THE FAIRER SEX is performed July 29-31st at 8 PM, August 1 at 2 PM and 8 PM; August 2 at 3 PM at Theatre Row Studio Theatre, located at 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $18 and available at www.Telecharge.com. For more information about Between Us Productions, go to betweenusproductions.wix.com/betweenusprod.
“Single Wide” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Closed on Saturday July 25, 2015)
Matt Miner and Derek Carley in "Single Wide" - Photo by Robert Aroujo
“Single Wide” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Closed on Saturday July 25, 2015) Book and Additional Lyrics by George D. Nelson Music and Lyrics by Jordan Kamalu Directed and Choreographed by Jeff Whiting Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Single Wide" is a charming musical with an interesting book, a pleasing country-rock score with solid lyrics. The creative writing team of George D. Nelson and Jordan Kamalu has constructed an engaging musical with strong well-rounded characters with authentic and believable conflicts (problems), with an interesting setting, and strong rich themes. The conflicts drive a powerful plot with enough tension to make the story line sustainable and absorbing.
Katy (played with a redemptive sadness by Emma Stratton) and her mother Amanda (played with the strength of a protective hopefulness by Stacia Fernandez) have had a rough time and are trying to make a new start so Katy’s son Sam (played with an endearing and reparatory charm by Matt Miner) won’t have to “end up just like [them].” Both work tirelessly and hope soon to leave the trailer park where they live. Flossie (played with joyful decadence by Jacqueline Petroccia) occupies an adjacent trailer and does all she can to snag a man, most often making poor choices and not spending much time regretting those choices. Maclain Nelson portrays Flossie’s beaus including Bodie (the perhaps keeper). Freddi (Maya Landau) and Ali (Alex Lanning) round out the women living from paycheck to paycheck and ready for a life they feel is long overdue. It seems the consistent problem for all of these women has been unreliable, unfaithful, and unappreciative men.
The trailer park is a dysfunctional family and it is unlikely anyone would be able to escape their “Microwave Life.” This setting (brilliant design by Jason Ardizzone-West) is a trope (here an extended metaphor) for all life’s situations where people feel stuck, disenfranchised, betrayed, cheated, ignored, discounted, discouraged, or marginalized in any way. Into this dysfunctional family enters a guy named Guy (perhaps an Everyman or an Anyman) played with stunning energy by the remarkable Derek Carley. Guy comes to the trailer park to drink away his problems including his PTSD after serving in Afghanistan but instead, after being befriended by Sam, becomes the catalyst for significant change.
This change agent has his work cut out for him in the person of Flossie who, despite knowing Katy likes Guy (Sam sets that one up), is determined to win him over with her charms (“The World Revolves Around Me”). If there is any disappointment with “Single Wide” it is with the character of Flossie (not with Ms. Petroccia’s spot-on portrayal of that character). Flossie needs a morally ambiguous backbone. She is too flat and her begonia “children” do not give her enough dimension to balance likability with dislike.
It is difficult to say more about Flossie’s attempt to betray Katy without a spoiler alert. Under Jeff Whiting’s deft and decisive direction, the ensemble cast keeps the action moving with enough twists and turns to keep the audience in suspense and completely engaged. The chemistry between Guy and Sam is electric and charged with emotion and attributable to the extraordinary craft of Mr. Carley and the young Mr. Miner.
The musical numbers in “Half Wide” are all effective. Standing out are Derek Carley’s interpretation of Guy’s “Till It Feels Like Home,” “Just Takes One” sung by Stacia Fernandez, and the trio sung by Emma Stratton (Katy), Derek Carley (Guy), and Jacqueline Petroccia (Flossie). “Single Wide” is a new musical for all those who believe in the redemptive power of unconditional and non-judgmental love and the resilience of the human spirit. Hopefully it will find a home on another stage very soon.
For complete information on "Single Wide” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/single-wide. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.
“Pearl” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theater (Through August 2, 2015)
“Pearl” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theater (Through August 2, 2015) Written by CB Murray Directed by Ben Harney Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
“There are two kinds of talent, man-made talent and God-given talent. With man-made talent you have to work very hard. With God-given talent, you just touch it up once in a while.” – Pearl Bailey
Fame, family, devotion, race, relationships, cabaret, feminism and a voice: “Pearl” a new musical written by CB Murray, and performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is a hair-raising testament and biography of the journey of Pearl Mae Bailey. Told through the progression of her career, “Pearl” uncovers the hardships, trials, and fearlessness of the woman who was born gifted, but polishes herself into a timeless star.
“Pearl” tells Bailey’s story with hard-hitting historical accuracy that includes cabaret interruptions by Pearl (songs both classic and original), making for a perfect weave of her professional and personal life. Mixing glamourous red lips, fur and stunning beaded gowns, the production itself creates a juxtaposition of the beauty of Pearl’s talent and appearance, to the anxiety driven life she was facing behind closed doors.
Showing the serious side of Pearl, CB’s script focuses in on one particular theme. Her life and career was surrounded by men who followed her every move. Whether it was a relationship gone wrong or her brother asking her for drug money, Pearl is in a constant battle to not be defined by a man. Showing Pearl’s inner battle with the desire to be married, she is left with three divorces and in the arms of an abusive husband. Using this material, the show is able to showcase Pearl’s strength and transformation.
Ben Harney’s staging leaves the audience alone with Pearl, as she sits at her vanity and looks into a mirror with a powder puff in hand, dabbing at the red swollen mark on her eye. She says “I will never be in an abusive relationship ever again,” and the visual of a girl who was afraid to be alone is gone. In her place is Pearl Bailey, who’s fierceness is striking, and the show takes on another level of importance.
Playing the role of Pearl is the brilliant and stunning Jennie Harney. Her classic and timeless performance of this once in a lifetime role is easily categorized in “must see performances.” She is enchanting; her transformation of Pearl from a teenager, to a young star, to the final destination of Pearl Bailey is so well done, that it is hard to believe it’s the same actress on stage. Understanding every move, line and song she sings, Jennie leaves her heart with this show, with so much passion that she left the national tour of “Motown” to rejoin this musical.
Behind her is a cast of men who take on the deep themes, and multiple character roles, with ease. Their outstanding performances include unbelievable tap numbers played brilliantly Pearl’s brother, Bill Bailey (Dewitt Heming Jr), a cameo by Frank Sinatra (Sean Gorski), and a hilarious performance of Nat King Cole (Thaddus McCants) that leaves the audience howling with laughter. Her final husband Louie Bellson (Stephen Dexter) gives a heartfelt performance as he shows Pearl what it means to love after years of bad relationship.
Louie and Pearl are shown as awe-struck lovers as they take on the journey of becoming an interracial married couple. At the time, this was an unheard offense, one that both of them in some southern states could be arrested for. Their defiance of the law and their love for one another triumphs, and the moment of their kiss send shivers throughout the room. This is a testament to how far we’ve come thanks to the work and dedication of Pearl Bailey and others who fought for equal rights in this country.
“Pearl” is a testament to everything that is good about seeing live theatre, especially an original work. With a script containing the perfect amount of complexity and fun, an amazing cast, and a driving artistic team, anything is possible for this show. It will be devastating to the theatre community if the production of “Pearl” takes its final bow. Given a bigger venue where it could properly shine, the story of Pearl Mae Bailey will hopefully find itself a home after the festival lights dim.
FEATURING: Jennie Harney (Pearl Bailey), Stephen Dexter (Louie Bellson), Dewitt Heming Jr. (Bill Bailey), Sean Gorski (Bob Hope), and Thaddus McCants (Nat King Cole).
The creative team includes Charles Czarneski (Music Director), Dewitt Fleming Jr. (Tap Choreographer), Amaris Harney (Stage Manager) Olive Pointer Harney (Costumes), Sean Gorski (Set Design), Pamela Thompson (Projections), and Legal Representation (Edward M. Kellman).
“Deep Love” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Allice Griffin Theatre (Closed Saturday July 24, 2015)
Jon Peter Lewis and Melanie Stone in "Deep Love" - Photo by Jeremy Daniel
“Deep Love” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Allice Griffin Theatre (Closed Saturday July 24, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Garret Sherwood and Ryan Hayes Book by Jon Peter Lewis Directed by Michael Rader and Jon Peter Lewis Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
"Deep Love" began its journey as a rock concert and that is precisely where its journey should have ended. It is not musical theatre. It could be theatre dance if the dancers told the story in dance with music and text supportive of the movement (not the reverse which is the case in this current incarnation). As it stands, Garrett Sherwood’s and Ryan Hayes’ “Deep Love” seems to be in search of an identity. And that is somewhat unfortunate given the quality of the music, the lyrics, the overall story, and the talented cast.
But all of that quality and talent is not working in the current incarnation of “Deep Love.” The use of five dancers to help tell the story does not work despite the significant skills of the dancers. Mr. Sherwood’s and Mr. Hayes’ book, music, and lyrics and Mr. Lewis’ book seem underserved by the choreography and the direction – both which distract from the characters, their conflicts, and the plot those conflicts drive.
Unfortunately, the program does not list what actors sing the musical numbers so it is difficult to give special mention to specific actors. Garrett Sherwood (Friedrich) has a delightful raspy rock voice that can handle any song and his vocal range and interpretation of lyrics is impressive. Jon Peter Lewis (Old Bones), Amy Whitcomb (Florence), and Melanie Stone (Constance) have powerful voices that handily interpret the lyrics. It would be a pleasure just to sit back and see them perform this Opera without the distractions of dancers and erratic direction. And it would be a delight to be able to hear an outstanding band without their faces covered in ghoul masks and forced to stand throughout the performance. The creative team might consider rethinking several of their choices in the creation of this re-birth of “Deep Love.”
“Karaoke Bacchae” at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre (Through August 8, 2015)
The Cast of "Karaoke Bacchae" - Photo by Jenny Sharp
“Karaoke Bacchae” at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre (Through August 8, 2015) Presented by Meta-Phys Ed. Written and Directed by Jesse Freedman/Meta-Phys Ed. Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
“Theatre without alcohol is a museum piece” once quipped Bertolt Brecht. If that’s the case, Meta-Phy Ed’s “Karaoke Bacchae” belongs as far away from MoMA as humanly possible. A drunk, delirious adaptation for Euripides's ‘The Bacchae’ set in a Karaoke Bar, writer/director Jesse Freedman delivers an enjoyable, if decidedly incoherent dance theatre piece that’s heavy on fun and glamor.
For those unfamiliar with The Bacchae, Pentheus, a straight-laced ruler comes into conflict with Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, disguised in human form. When Pentheus orders Dionysus arrested, he sends the women city into a ravenous frenzy. In Karaoke Bacchae however, Pentheus Is a bar owner who’s showing the Stanley Cup during Karaoke night, and Dionysus arrives with a cadre of wasted sorority girls to punish him.
Most of the play revolves James Tigger! Ferguson prancing about as the hyper-glam Dionysus, who comes to earth in the form of Iggy Pop. This Dionysus seems something out of the mind of Charles Mee: funky, endearing, and without menace. Tim Craig is brings an arresting pride to the stage as Pentheus, but from the moment he comes onstage covering Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ one never gets the feeling he’s any less fun-loving than his rival. Yes, he tries to escort the sorority girls out of the bar, but they’re so wasted it’s hard to feel like he’s ever in the wrong.
The play certainly captures the hazy bliss of a bar karaoke night, and succeeds in lifting the revelry into the occasional moment of prescience. A drag-queen tango between Pentheus and Dionysus make for a delightful show-stopper, but there’s a lot of muddle in “Karaoke Bacchae.”’ Frenzy is not the same as messy, and the play’s devolution can disunite when it wants to enter.
For example, at one point the four sorority girls launch into the much-tweeted ‘Deranged Sorority Girl’ email meme of 2013. While it’s funny at first, the performers are less than precise in delivery. They stumble over each other, the bit becomes laboriously lengthy, and instead being swept up in the revelry, it feels like the audience is just there to watch the performers have fun.
Those who have never seen or read ‘The Bacchae’ will most certainly be confused. The lines of Greek Chorus don’t mesh all that well when sung to the tune of Karaoke Classics. It’s only in Don Castro’s delirious summary of the play (as the rest of the cast lies in a drunken stupor) that the show achieves its impact. Castro gives an endearing, playful performance as a wasted English Professor who observes the unfolding chaos. Through his alcohol-fueled epiphanies; he relates The Bacchae to both The New Testament and the Lord of the Rings, the play finds its subtle sloshed comedy.
Meta-Phys Ed’s proclaimed Raison d'être is “Investigating the inseparable relationship between spirituality and art.” While one may not leave the theatre feeling any more spiritual per se, ‘Karaoke Bacchae’ is a jovial wild-eyed piece of revelry. If you're a lover of Euripides, Karaoke, and (most importantly) glamor, I highly suggest you give it a go.
Featuring: Don Castro, Timothy Craig, Mehdya Fassi, James TIGGER! Ferguson, Sheree Grate, Benoit Johnson, Youn Jung Kim, and Sarah Matusek.
Set Design Michae Minahan Costume Design Karen Boyer Sound Design D.R. Baker Lighting Design Jennifer Reiser Projections Arron Minerbrook Choreographer Mor Mendel Meta-Phys Ed. Co-Founder Bronwen Mullin.
“Songs for the Fallen” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Closed on July 27, 2015)
“Songs for the Fallen” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Closed on July 27, 2015) Book by Sheridan Harbridge Lyrics abd Musuc by Basil Hogios and Sheridan Harbridge Directed by Shane Anthony Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Songs For The Fallen,” a new musical, tackles the fascinating life and passionate times of Marie Duplessis, the infamous courtesan of the upper echelon in 19th century Paris. It is being presented as part of NYMF at Theater 3. Although the subject has been depicted in various mediums including the popular film “Moulin Rouge,” this incarnation penned by Sheridan Harbridge, takes a risk in the intimate form of cabaret, immediately breaking down the fourth wall to share her secrets and trysts. The music and lyrics by Basil Hogios and Ms. Harbridge might be categorized as pop, but the extensively varied styles, for some uncanny reason are able to keep you planted in the French boudoir where Marie lived, entertained, played, suffered and eventually died. The sounds reflect a Kurt Weil for the new age. The cognoscente Mr. Hoglios plays everything including computer beats, synthesizer, drums and more, producing sultry ballads to raucous celebrations supporting every mood and situation that arises. The lyrics are glued to the character and expose all, some brash and bold, others quiet and thoughtful but all tearing off layers of emotion and tossing them aside in order to reveal past and present. The entire production is well structured and complete, deftly directed by Shane Anthony, who ensures, that as the insanely crafted production unfolds and unleashes the debauched tale it never fails to understand the focus.
The cast is nothing less than superb coaxing every morsel of entertainment out of the inspired script, attacking with a blitzkrieg of singing, dancing and morphing into several characters. Garth Holcombe and Simon Corfield are amazing as an entourage of supporting characters and undertake every task with ebullience and sincerity. Now, move over Sally Bowles, this Marie as inhabited by Ms. Harbridge, is the epitome of “divine decadence.” Her character oozes with sexual charm, emotional intelligence and vulgar values. Her vocal ability is captivating with a bold mezzo that is powerful, sensitive, seductive and beguiling. Her amazing ability to break down the fourth wall and at times walk along that keen edge, always returning to suspend belief, is mystifying, reinforcing her as an aficionado of cabaret performance. It is “Rocky Horror” meets “Hedwig”. She is brilliant!
This current production is ripe and ready for the New York theater scene and would be embraced by the audiences. It is new, fresh, entertaining and filled with exceptional talent.
SONGS FOR THE FALLEN
For complete information on "Songs for the Fallen” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/songs-fallen. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.
“Summer Shorts” – Series A at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
“Summer Shorts” – Series A at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015) By Neil LaBute, Matthew Lopez, and Vickie Ramirez Directed by Neil LaBute, Kel Haney, and Stephen Brackett Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“10K” Written and directed by Neil LaBute
In “10 K” a Man (played with a delicious passive coyness by J.J. Kandel) and a Woman (played with an equally delicious aggressive coyness by Clea Alsip) meet at a suburban (“Whispering Pines”) park and decide (after a good stretch) to jog together. Immediately, both disclose the less-than-satisfying natures of their married-with-children statuses. The Woman’s two-year-old is always “underfoot” and she leaves the child at home unattended and her husband “doesn’t listen.” As the pair work up a considerable sweat, the marital ennui becomes playful seduction, the Woman more aggressive than the Man. Their banter includes some odd racist agenda on the part of the Woman which seems to do nothing to advance the plot driven by these characters’ otherwise believable conflicts. Predictably, the heat of the run fires up the possibility of a tryst but both decide to forego that diversion from reality.
There a many double entendres like the Man’s, “Right, but...I mean...people need relief.” And Mr. LaBute’s text skillfully reveals the real motivations of the pair and their impressive reserve of frustration and disappointment. They each desire a new life, a different life, but lack the conviction and the “plan” to achieve that level of freedom. Director LaBute keeps the pace up in this delightful extended metaphor for all the 10Ks humankind runs every day, mostly coping, often compromising, and – for better or worse – “getting back” to their realities with the promise of “meeting again” at the same place and time.
“Glenburn 12 WP” Written by Vickie Ramirez and Directed by Kel Haney
Although Ms. Ramirez’s script requires the reader/audience to confront the important issues of racism, colonialism, and privilege, her characters seem not to be as full developed as they might be to deal with such significant conflicts. Troy Davis a twenty-something African-American man (played with just the right amount of millennial hipster bravado by W. Tre Davis) enters a small Irish pub near Grand Central Terminal. The bartender is not to be found and after assuring the missing barkeep he “is not stealing anything,” Troy settles in to wait to order a beer and is soon joined by Roberta Laforme (played with seductive aggressiveness by Tanis Parenteau) a thirty-something woman who is a member of the Mohawk Nation and an attorney.
Troy flirts with Roberta, and after getting rebuffed, the two engage in a convoluted discussion about race, gender, sex, white privilege, the discontent of the marginalized, and the missing bartender Kieran. Although their conversation raises important and rich questions about the topics raised, it is so clearly intended to set the stage for Robert’s unexpected revelation about her two visits to the bar and the reason for Kieran’s absence that it becomes forced and uninteresting.
Why Troy is not participating in the “protests” and why Roberta has returned to the bar and why Kieran is missing is all answered in Ms. Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP.” The question to be answered is whether the 30 minute discourse (although it is key to the mystery) is enough of a reason to wait for the shocking solutions or why Roberta askes Troy to call the police.
“The Sentinels” Written by Matthew Lopez and Directed by Stephen Brackett
Matthew Lopez's short is the best of the three in Series A and deals with the important process of grieving and bereavement. As the thanatologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross affirmed in her ground-breaking writings on the stages of grief, different people grieve differently: some go from denial to acceptance in a year, some stay stuck on bargaining for years. Alice (Meg Gibson), Kelly (Michelle Beck), and Christa (Kellie Overbey) have met on the same day (September 11) at the same place to remember the day the Twin Towers were destroyed by a terrorist attack and their husbands were killed in that attack.
These three women are the self-appointed sentinels who guard the collective memory of those who lost loved ones in the 911 terrorist attack and who preserve memory of the horrific event itself. Matthew Lopez’s remarkable script shows how three disparate women have dealt with grief and bereavement over the ten years after the attack (including the year they choose not to meet). Even more remarkable is how Mr. Lopez chooses to tell this story from 2011 back to the year before the fall of the twin towers when the three women meet their husbands at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Meg Gibson’s Alice is the glue that holds the trio together and assures the continuity of the memorial meetings. She never remarries. Ms. Gibson’s performance is authentic and believable and deeply rooted in her craft. Michele Beck’s Kelly does remarry but remains faithful to the group and its commitment to remember. Kellie Overbey’s Christa needs to get on with her life – move on – and eventually loses interest in the group. Under Stephen Brackett’s meticulous direction, this ensemble cast captures the distinct personalities of three women to deal with grief in unique and authentic ways. Zuzanna Szadkowski shines as the waitress at the restaurant where the women meet.
SUMMER SHORTS – SERIES A
SUMMER SHORTS runs through Saturday, August 29. The general performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. For individual performance dates for Series A and Series B, download the calendar at https://www.dropbox.com/s/9h1p0vf8khgweb8/SummerShorts2015_Calendar.pdf?dl=0. Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). A Pair of Shorts (a ticket to both Series A & B) is $40 (available until August 12). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
“What do Critics Know?” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“What do Critics Know?” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Book by Matthew Gurren Music and Lyrics by Matthew Gurren and James Campodonico Directed by Michael Bello Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
I assume that there are times when audiences just want to go to the theater and see a good old fashioned musical comedy since there is a constant flow of revivals opening on Broadway to satisfy that urge. There is certainly room amongst the cutting edge subject matter and new music genres that keep creeping onto the scene for a new classic romantic comedy with good structure, a decent dramatic arc to the plot and a score where you actually might find yourself leaving the theater humming a tune. Strong belting solos, dynamic duets, harmonizing trios, exuberant ensembles and the good old chorus of singers and dancers that give life to the exhausting production number are just a few things that can assure a success. You need wait no longer if you happen to catch the new musical “What Do Critics Know?” being presented as part of NYMF at the Alice Griffin Theater. The book by a young Matthew Gurren is a testament that a solid book for a romantic comedy, albeit set in a past decade, can still captivate and entertain. The music and lyrics by Mr. Gurren and James Campodonico are classic and varied, visiting several different styles which serve and support the characters and situations that arise. The lyrics work most of the time and are simple and smart, move the plot forward and integrate into the story easily.
The capsulated plot is about a Broadway composer that is having a run of shows that are being panned by the critics and has hit rock bottom. His wish is that the critics have to write a musical for Broadway and fall prey to the critics themselves. Not to complicate things I will only say the critics are blackmailed and his wish comes true. Of course there is a happy ending, or I should say a few. Quite a bit, and I mean a lot happens in between the lines and all is in the greatest innocent fun. Even if you don’t like this type of show there are times that you cannot help but laugh out loud at some of the silly antics.
The cast is ever so solid and understands so well what they need to do and what they can do to make this production work. Characters are well defined, three dimensional and emotionally connected to the material and they tend to be a bit stereotypical but that element disappears quickly as you get caught up in the amusing capers. Yes the plot is predictable but what sometimes what is more important is the journey not the destination.
Chris Gleim gives a clear, innocent and noble portrayal of defeated playwright Nathan, with a pure tenor and wholesome look. As Dahlia, Sarah Stevens is delightful as a love interest and ineluctable understudy, demonstrating strong vocal ability. As the critics, Ryan Knowles, Mary Mossberg and Prescott Seymour are absolutely perfect, fully immersed in their characters, with great comic flair, solid vocals and just the right amount of emotional depth to make an audience fall in love with them. Ms. Mossberg is a vocal powerhouse and turns in a good dramatic transition in Act two, although a bit more subtlety could enhance the performance. There is nothing that can describe the antics of Shakespeare and Bach, played respectively by Bruce Ribold and Jason Fleck, as they boldly roll in to save the day. They are both hysterical.
Mind you this show is not perfect and that is to be expected. Something that occurs often, the second act needs work. It drags just a bit because Act one seems to be so structurally sturdy. Also after some great musical numbers the finale needs to be more robust and rousing, more of a celebration. I am sure with continued commitment to this project and some alterations, it will overcome any hurdles and only improve.
“Foolerie” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“Foolerie” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Santino DeAngelo Directed and Choreographed by Tralen Doler Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
I have never felt like a bigger fool than when I wasted two hours and fifteen minutes enduring the new musical “Foolerie” presented as part of NYMF at the PTC Performance Space. To substantiate my point, regarding the reason to persevere, I ran across this quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do”
Yes, it is the audience who were the biggest fools who were hoodwinked into thinking they were actually going to see what is billed as “A Shakespearean Musical Comedy.” It actually has nothing to do with Shakespeare except for the shallow, stereotypical, references to some of his works, which desperately try to evoke a humorous storyline without much success. The book, music and lyrics are credited to the young Santino DeAngelo. His book is empty and meaningless with no plot or dramatic arc to speak of but merely serves as a vehicle for tasteless humor similar to the borsht belt of the early seventies. Sparing any innuendo or inventive parody the result is sophomoric vulgarity. The characters are shallow, shapeless and two dimensional with absolutely no emotional depth. The music is not an homage to the great Sondheim but more of a carbon copy and a bit too close for comfort. The lyrics are pretentious and insipid lacking any character support. If asked to give a vivid description of this production, I would say it was as if Don Rickles wrote a Monty Python skit that was a total disaster and complete failure.
There is an ominous foreshadowing as you leaf through the program and notice that two full pages are filled with the Author’s and Director’s Notes which acknowledges the following: “Lords and Ladies, Madams and Messieurs, Clergymen and Whores, Welcome.” Director and Choreographer Tralen Doler is able to move his troupe of fools through the antics but fails to add anything to the already bleak storyline. The choreography is pedestrian with constant replication of movement from several popular shows, and believe me this has nothing to do with parody. The cast does what it can with the material they are given to work with but most end up falling prey to stereotype which only adds insult to injury. Standing out vocally are Olivia Polci and Patrick Massey does a fine job with Malvolio’s Soliloquy but relies too much on a conventional and clichéd image.
In summation, I quote another playwright well known in many theatrical circles: “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit” (William Shakespeare).
For complete information on "Foolerie” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/foolerie. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
“Head Voice” at the New York Musical Theater Festival at Theater 3 (Through Saturday July 25, 2015)
“Head Voice” at the New York Musical Theater Festival at Theater 3 (Through Saturday July 25, 2015) Book, Lyrics, and Music by Ethan Anderson Directed by Charlie Johnson Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Portraying himself and explicating his understanding of the creative process in “Head Voice,” Ethan Andersen has continued to re-work his new musical (originally workshopped in New Orleans in 2010) and showcase it in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival. The result is mostly quite pleasant and often impressive. Mr. Andersen writes sophisticated music and his score here is quite pleasing. His lyrics are serviceable. The cast members (the “thoughts” in his head) are uniformly committed to his work and their collective craft is a joy to experience. Charlie Johnson’s attentive direction outstrips his more pedantic choreography and keeps the performance moving swiftly.
Entering the stage (left) through a door that separates his creative space from the “mess outside,” Ethan begins work on his musical about – what else – his life and follows the creative approach to writing a musical beginning with feelings, constructing chords, finding words, and writing. Ethan is interrupted by the voices in his head that remind him of his unresolved issues, his recurrent self-doubt, and his apparent penchant for procrastination. With the snap of a finger, the voices appear on stage as Susan (Nicole Dalto), Izzy (Katie Emerson), and Ian (Matthew Summers. These three fine actors, singers, and dancers visualize Ethan’s thoughts for the audience (and for Ethan) and they portray Ethan’s addicted mother, his girlfriend, his own self, and a variety of other characters that inhabit Ethan’s thoughts, daydreams, and memories. Sometimes these intrusive voices are helpful; at other times, they confuse Ethan and attempt to inhibit his progress.
Three songs stand out among the sixteen and are representative of Mr. Andersen’s skills as a musician and lyricist: “Moving On,” “The Distance Song,” and “What you Need.” These – along with the remaining songs – chronicle Ethan’s childhood, life at school, his difficulties understanding how his addicted mother was able to show her love for him, and his experience at unrequited love.
There are some bumps in the musical’s road. There is far too much mention of being or not being gay and some unsettling references to his experience at a Jewish Summer Camp – even though he was Episcopalian (Styrofoam Hasidic hat and payos and a song-and-dance in Hebrew). When Ethan tells his mother he has something to tell her, she replies. “You’re gay.” When his girlfriend finds things going well in their relationship, she blurts out, “He’s gay.” If one is straight, so be it. There is no reason to establish that status by denying being gay. The musical would be better served to leave out these messy bits. To help the composer understand the concern, would a gay child, when telling his mother he has something to say to her expect the response, “You’re straight!”
Ethan’s head voices allow him to finish his musical, deal with the unresolved issues from his past, and move on. The “mess out there” is less messy when the artist (or anyone) comes to terms with his or her past and successfully moves on.
“Held Momentarily” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“Held Momentarily” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Theater (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Oliver Houser Developed with Hunter Bird Additional Material by James Zebooker and Hunter Bird Directed by Harry Shifman Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Held Momentarily” being presented as part of NYMF at PTC is certainly on the move and getting closer, I hope, to a prolific destination. Since first viewed at the 2014 NY International Fringe Festival it has experienced welcomed modifications that are beneficial to the growth of this pleasant chamber musical. In this present incarnation the book, music and lyrics are allowed to take center stage, reaching the audience on an essential emotional level, which enables the actors to access the material with determination and conviction. Choreography by Ben Hartley is never intrusive or affected but when incorporated lends a lighthearted touch with conventional movement in absurd situations. Music director Scott Stein, at the piano, is a driving force, insisting his musical posse evoke every passionate chord from the germane score to support poignant, heartwarming and robust moments.
The cast is intact except for the new passenger, Ciaran Bowling as Liam, who seems to join this journey with comfort and enthusiasm. The entire cast has been able to hone their craft to produce an impressive ensemble. Perhaps this is due in part to the new, deft direction of Harry Shifman. There seems to be a sharper focus with character exposition now blending well with emotional connection which intensifies situations, elevates the dramatic arc and most of all creates vulnerable persona. India Carney as Asherah (an important name change) gives a powerful performance creating a homeless rider with grace, dignity and a significant rendition of “If You See Something.” Geena Quintos infuses her complex Mindy with comic charm and intelligence, along with impressive vocals. Jordan Barrow as forlorn lover Stan, captures your heart with a sensitive performance never falling prey to stereotype. Yael Rizowy inhabits pregnant Sam with a precise amalgamation of optimism and delusion. James Zeebooker turns in an honest and sincere Greg with a graceful, effective transition.
It is a joy to witness the growth of a young new voice for the American musical, with a hope Mr. Houser (also turning in a fine performance as Cal) continues to develop this current work, as well as moving forward. There is room for improvement that will only result in a more powerful production that dissects complicated manifestations of a kaleidoscope of characters caught in a dire situation. Do not hesitate to catch one of the remaining performances. I assure you will not be disappointed.
“Threesome” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday August 23, 2015)
Quinn Franzen, Alia Attallah and Karan Oberoi in ‘Threesome’ at 59E59 - Photo by Hunter Canning
“Threesome” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday August 23, 2015) By Yussef El Guindi Directed by Chris Coleman Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“After great pain a formal feeling comes--/The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;/ This is the hour of lead/Remembered if outlived,/As freezing persons recollect the snow--/First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.” (Emily Dickinson, 372)
On a visit to Cairo, Egyptian-American Leila (played with a passionate intensity by Alia Attallah) suffered great pain on two occasions. The assault in a crowd and the additional assault at the police station left her first chilled, then in a stupor, unable to let go what had happened to her. Her decision to write a book about her experience initiated a sequence of events that would change her life forever. Alia’s journey to “letting go” is the gritty mix that makes up “Threesome,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their 5A Season.
After returning home to the United States with her photographer boyfriend Rashid (played with the right mix of reserve and bravado by Karan Oberoi), Alia meets Doug (played with a coy and deceptive persona by Quinn Franzen) at a publisher’s gathering and decides to invite him for a threesome with her and Rashid. The motivation for the invitation is complex and indicative of the equally complex nature of playwright Yussef El Guindi’s dense rich script. Doug’s entry into the bedroom from the bathroom, unwashed from a bout of diarrhea and failing to flush the toilet signals this threesome is not destined for success. There is also rich symbolism in Doug’s entry completely naked while Alia and Rashid have difficulty baring all.
Alia had hoped the threesome would address some of the emotional distance she was experiencing with Rashid after their return from Cairo. Instead, the experience exacerbates the tension between the couple, stirring up deep-seated gender/sex role stereotypes, unresolved sexist attitudes, fractured self-images, and endemic racism. In the midst of the failed groping (physical and emotional), Alia argues, “And I made the point that it always seems the woman had the wrong end of the contract. The obligations always seemed to be on her. Whereas the freedoms belonged to the guy.”
Doug understands he has become more catalyst than sex toy: “I was not anticipating this. It’s like a seminar. Without and clothes on. But that’s cool, I’m easy.” Doug is easy with the dynamic because he comes to the threesome with a hidden agenda and a secret that will explode in Act II. That secret is embedded in his comment to Alia, “I did it once with an Arab before. When I was an embedded photographer.”
Act I ends with the revelation that Doug read Alia’s book and will be doing the book design – not Rashid who assumed Alia had put his name in for the job. This news opens a Pandora’s Box of secrecy, revenge, jealousy, and a matrix of motivations that will keep the plot moving forward with lightning speed. During Act II, the important themes of sexism, racism, and sexual violence are developed in the conversations between Alia and Rashid and Alia and Doug. This is a powerful Act and each character is provoked to expose his or her motivations and deeply held prejudices.
Under Chris Coleman’s exacting direction, this ensemble cast brilliantly showcases Mr. Guindi’s dense text, exposing its layers and its challenging deep questions about the relationship between men and women, the exploitation of women, how sexual violence affects women, and how issues of race and culture interact in the development of significant human relationships.
The ability of each character to be transparent about her or his true feelings, motivations, and agendas has a direct correlation to the character’s ability to “bare all.” This is a sophisticated convention not an exercise in gratuitous nudity. In the final scene, Alia is able to “let go” of those things that have shackled her and imprisoned her in cultural and sexual stereotypes and the worst kind of contemporary colonialism.
The design team includes David McCrum, Seth Chandler and Erinn McGrew (scenic design); Alison Heryer (costume designer); Peter Maradudin (lighting designer); and Casi Pacilio (sound designer). The Production Stage Manager is Emily N. Wells. Production photos by Hunter Canning.
“Threesome” runs for a limited engagement at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Sunday, August 23. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM. There are added 7 PM performances on Sunday August 2, 9, and 16. Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 2 hours.
WITH: Alia Attallah, Quinn Franzen, and Karan Oberoi.
“The Dinner” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Saturday July 25, 2015)
“The Dinner” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Saturday July 25, 2015) Written and Directed by Darryl Reuben Hall Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
“It was just a simple dinner,” is far from the truth of Darryl Reuben Hall’s “The Dinner,” a fiercely accurate drama involving race equality, the birth of white privilege, and media brutality in our nation. This play, given life thanks to the money-sharing Kickstarter, is a post-Civil War piece that tells the story of Booker T. Washington’s journey of becoming the first African American to dine at the White House.
“The Dinner” begins with Booker T. Washington, who was invited to the White House to discuss race with President Roosevelt in 1901. Washington, who was one of the strongest leaders of race equality, battles with the American community, the press, and white senators, representatives and governors that speak out against him. “The Dinner” vividly shows the audience Booker’s journey from a slave’s son, to becoming a dominant leader of the African-American community.
Using quick pacing, the show is an emotional journey through the eyes of Washington. Hall does a brilliant job at capturing the realistic nature of the dinner’s backlash. His script is a fierce combination of incredible historical accuracy, with at least 50% of the text taken directly from speeches and written letters, and originality to create a moving piece of theatre. There are no apologies for word choice, using thick, harsh voices to say horrific lines ringing with racism, that send shivers down the audience’s back with every over-pronounced harsh N.
Shockingly, Booker T. Washington enters the stage wearing blackface, and the audience receives a sick, on edge, feeling in their stomachs. Instantly, the mood is set with lighting, wide and bright as he enters, dancing and holding a newspaper that said, in their harmful words, “disgusting to have a Negro at the White House.” In turn, the lighting shrinks to his face when the number is over, closing in as Washington wipes off the make-up, shreds the newspaper, and strikes at the audience with his disbelief for the media’s reaction to a dinner.
Is it a play? Is it a musical? This question lingers throughout as the drama starts to form a not so obvious arch. As a production, it is very New York Theatre Workshop-esque, using very minimal set pieces with great costumes to create the feel of the beginning of the 20th century. The staging is excellent for the space, using the lighting to masterfully create tone. Musically, there is dance, a Capella singing, American patriotism numbers, and a big kick-line-riffing-feel-good gospel number. Hall belts out “Come to my house, my brother,” and the audience is left feeling brought together as a community, much like what Booker T. Washington wanted by attending the dinner.
The cast does a brilliant job at interpreting Mr. Halls’ script. Nicholas Tucci and Darrel Blackburn give stand out performances with their riveting portrayals of racist, foul senators that speak out against Booker. The blood boils when they set foot onstage, but their teeth clenching performance gives the show weight. Roosevelt is portrayed accurately, describing his struggle and not realizing his actions would affect Booker as much as it did Mark Montague does a brilliant job at embodying Roosevelt, from his mannerisms to the way he pronounces “spot on.”
Struggling, though, is the climax of “The Dinner.” The pacing starts to break away towards the end, and instead of finding a pivotal moment, the plot moves non-linearly, and never finds a moment as shocking, or game-changing as the beginning. Dragging is the 20 minute monologue in which Washington delivers the entire 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech. It is hard to keep focus on it, as the context is never given in a way that an audience today could understand. It requires a deep level of concentration to hear every word of the vast speech, and the after effect makes the scene end on a sour note.
Saving that though, is a simple, yet beautifully done ending to the play. Using a circle effect, the audience is taken back to the beginning of Washington’s story, as a table is set with fine china, and Roosevelt and Washington meet in the middle, shake hands, and sit for dinner. As they do, the stage black outs, and the audience is left reeling in the aftermath that takes place from this simple dinner.
“The Dinner” comes at a time when the nation is facing headlines of police brutality, the confederate flag, and re-evaluating race. This piece invokes deep thinking and a well needed, important conversation on race in America. With many historical shows making their way to the Broadway stage, such as “Hamilton” and “Amazing Grace”, “The Dinner” could potentially fit into this trend, and shine.
STARRING: Darryl Reuben Hall (Booker T. Washington), Darrel Blackburn (Senator James K. Vardaman), Mark Montague (Theodore Roosevelt), Robert Sivers (Whitefield McKinlay), Nicholas Tucci (Senator Ben Tillman), and Bryant Wingfield (Emmett J. Scott).
Hope Clarke, (Artistic Support), Harlan Penn (Artistic Support), Garyle Samuels (Casting Director), Ken Crutchfield (Musical Director), Roumel Reaux (Production Manager), Christopher Liddel (Choreographer), and Joyce Pena (Stage Manager).
For complete information on "The Dinner” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
“Judith: A Parting from the Body” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015)
Pamela J. Gray and Alex Draper - Photo by Stan Barouh
“Judith: A Parting from the Body” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015) By Howard Barker Directed by Richard Romagnoli Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) has selected two Howard Barker plays for their 29th Season. PTP/NYC is a remarkable theatre collective that has always been willing to take risks in presenting challenging plays in repertory. This 2015 Season is no exception. Mr. Barker’s “Scenes from an Execution” is brilliant and the production at Atlantic Stage 2 is as scintillating as it is challenging. The playwright’s “Judith: A Parting from the Body” (1992) unfortunately does not fare as well.
Mr. Barker’s “Judith” is a retelling of the story of the Israelite widow Judith (hero of the deuterocanonical “Book of Judith) who subverts the Assyrian general Holofernes’s attempt to destroy Israel by entering his tent with her maid, seducing him, then cutting off his head.
Retellings are difficult theatre pieces (or poems or novels). When they are successful they are remarkable; however, when they fall short the results can be frustrating for the audience and for the actors. Unfortunately, Howard Barker’s retelling of the story of Judith falls in the latter category.
Pamela J. Gray (Judith), Alex Draper (Holofernes), and Patricia Buckley (The Servant) seem, even under Richard Romagnoli’s usually energetic direction, to be adrift on stage. Ms. Gray and Mr. Draper were splendid in “Scenes from an Execution.” Here they both seem tepid and bored. And despite the importance and the urgency of the historical Judith’s mission, one could care less whether Barker’s Judith succeeds or not, undresses or not, succumbs to her suitor or not. The characters in this retelling are flat and uninteresting. Perhaps the piece is just too dated. Judith’s “language” is not shocking or repulsive, just out of place.
The Potomac Theatre Project is one of the treasures of the American theatre scene and it is disappointing to not be able to find merit in their “Judith.” But please be sure to see “Scenes from an Execution” before it closes on Sunday August 9.
Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35, $20 for students and seniors, $17.50 for previews, and can be purchased online at PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For info visit PTPNYC.org, “Follow” on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and ‘Like” them on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256. Production photos by Stan Barouh. Running time is 55 minutes.
“Pope: An Epic Musical” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Tuesday July 21, 2015)
“Pope: An Epic Musical” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Tuesday July 21, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Justin Moran Music and Additional Lyrics by Christopher Pappas Directed by Peter Flynn Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
With a traditional Broadway structure, a delightful and often “edgy” book, and engaging lyrics and music, “Pope: An Epic Musical” chronicles a pontifical journey of epic proportions. The Pope of this musical (played with superhero charm and a winning vulnerability by Sam Bolen) navigates his way through his own adventures with danger, temptation, fidelity, and faith. There are no Sirens (let those who have ears hear) but there is an alluring pair of dangerous creatures in the guise of an Archbishop (played with a Joker-like cunningness by Ken Land) and a scrapbooking Cardinal (played with an edgy evil naiveté by Jason Edward Cook).
It seems the Millennial Generation (and the rest of creation as well) is - with Ariel, Rusty, Wendy Jo, and Urleen - “Holding Out for a Hero” (“Footloose”). Apparently the past pantheon of heroes (male, female, and fictional) are not meeting the needs of contemporary readers, movie-goers, or theatre-goers. Margaret Meade once implied that when society’s “structures” no longer provide support and hope for citizens they often turn to “alternate” sources of hope and support. Some positive, others of a more deleterious nature. Searching for a hero certainly falls in the more positive category.
“An Inner City in the Not Too Distant Future” needs a superhero – a Batman as it were to its Gotham – and finds that “savior” in Pope who perpetually “saves the day” until the Archbishop plots, with help from the jealous reporter Dexter (played with a devilish handsomeness by Dylan S. Wallach), to unseat Pope and ascend to the position himself. How Pope got to be Pope is part of the fun of this musical that first appeared at Fringe NYC 2010. Through a series of flashbacks and fantasy sequences, we learn Pope’s history. And through the same conventions, we experience Pope’s overthrow of the Archbishop and his return to superhero status.
There are eighteen scenes in “Pope” and some memorable songs. Among them are “Muffin Mass,” “Never Seen a Pope Like Me,” Goodbye O Ye Shameful,” “Dear God,” “The Mass Duet,” the outrageous “What Would Jesus Do,” “Holy Crap,” “Serve Him,” and “Be the Hero.”
“Pope: An Epic Musical” is – like “Urinetown” – zany, offbeat, and sometimes corny. But that is part of its charm. And like Odysseus, Pope faces and overcomes what seem like insurmountable obstacles to his “return home.” Pope even sets sail twice! There are nuns with shotguns, Cardinals who snap the necks of those who fall from grace, and a Jesus who (with the last name Rodriguez) has his own challenges with grace. Under Peter Flynn’s proficient direction, the ensemble cast shines throughout, most portraying several characters. Justin Moran’s characters could easily become cartoonish but they do not. They are authentic characters with real conflicts that through humor and charm can be identified by audience members.
Hopefully, "Pope: An Epic Musical" will be seen again in the near future on another stage.
[Note to NYMF: If the PTC Theatre is going to be used as a venue in the future its owners/managers must be required to provide sufficient air-conditioning for the comfort of it audience and the actors. At the performance this reviewer attended the theater was unbearably hot and it is a tribute to the actors’ craft they were able to do their work.]
“Good Company” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Closed Sunday July 19, 2015)
“Good Company” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Closed Sunday July 19, 2015) Written by S. Karlan Directed by Cristhian Andrews Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
Goodness, rich people are nice. That is the lesson of S. Karlan’s “Good Company” when Leslie, a prostitute, is purchased by the wealthy Paul, an older man who keeps her in his house as a live-in friend. She quickly is enamored with the multimillionaire as he gives her everything her heart desires, but betrays him to her pimp because, well, she never says.
Ruya Koman gives the standout performance as Leslie. She sparkles with subtle charm. She’s especially entrancing in the first segment, as her frustration with the wet-blanket Paul dissipates as his outrageous proposal to buy her companionship becomes more and more tempting. The boorish Paul is bettered, but not necessarily rescued, by the gainly Gregory Davis, as the character is almost entirely defined by his money and magnanimity.
Playwright S. Karlan has little grasp of subtext or structure. Director Cristhian Andrews has a solid grasp of staging, but is unadventurous in “Good Company,” setting all of play around a table and two chairs, including a prostitute's den (why are there tables and chairs there again?) It’s tough to pin down what exactly “Good Company” is about. Love? Not really. Race? The audience is left unaware that Paul is written exclusively to be a black man until about three lines from the end.
In the end, it’s an interesting, albeit done-to-death, premise with nowhere to go.
For complete information on "Good Company” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/. The running time is 45 minutes without intermission.
Featuring Gregory Davis, Ruya Koman, and Brian Kelly.
“6 Actors in Search of a Character” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015)
“6 Actors in Search of a Character” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Monday July 27, 2015) Written and Directed by Edward Ericsson Reviewed by Brooke Clariday Theatre Reviews Limited
A character is nothing more than imagination, a flick of a ballpoint pen from a playwright, and an actor who struggles to find their voice. “6 Actors in Search of a Character” attempts to be a comedy set out to prove the notion that there is no reality in theatre. But, instead, tells a random, un-relatable plot that twists and turns and leaves the audience more confused than ready to question the true nature of a play.
It’s a nod to a theatrical version of “Inception;” the idea that actors can become lost in a character, that a character can then become an actor, and that a character is nothing without words on a page. Beginning with a rehearsal of a play, moving to a scene with a dominatrix gay husband holding a whip, drunk actors after opening night, a stabbing, ending with a theatre angel taking the characters to theatre heaven, and a cliché line of “We could be on Mars and not even know it!” the existential essence of the play’s intension is lost.
But, in one moment of clarity, and the highlight of the show, Eric Ericsson succeeds at telling the story of an actress struggling to find her character. Tiffany, portrayed by Katrina Clairvoyant, is seen hearing the voice of her character for the first time. The voice, played by Risa Del Angele, helps the actress find Tiffany’s actions behind the script. The actress then morphs before the audience’s eyes, changing her body language, her voice, and becomes Tiffany, rather than an actress playing Tiffany.
“6 Actors in Search of a Character” would have more of an impact if the script had underlying consistency. Due to an overuse of edgy material, ranging from stereotyping, to racial issues in acting, dominant vs. submissive culture, and passionate violence, the play loses focus. Without a rounded script, the audience is lost searching through moments that do not tie together. Given the right knot, and more scenes like Tiffany’s transformation, the play could have the desired impact: to prove that a play is not a true portrayal of reality.
6 ACTORS IN SEARCH OF A CHARACTER
Kimberly Pogorelis (Stage Manager), Andrew Brown (House Manager), Irene Ericsson (Costumes), Rocco Romeo (Transportation), Xanthe Dowd (Website Design). Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
Featuring: Nick Zale (Dante, the Director), Kimberly Pogorelis (Beatrice, the Stage Manager), Katrina Clairvoyant (Tiffany, the Actress), Jonathan Palmiotti (Jason, the Actor), Ceyoung Lee (Tina, the Police Officer and Unknown Woman), Risa Del Angele (The Character and the Angel), Nolan Charles (the Friendly Guy).
“Scenes From An Execution” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015)
David Barlow (Carpeta) and Jan Maxwell (Galactia) in Howard Barker's "Scenes From an Execution" - Photo by Stan Barouh
“Scenes From An Execution” at the Potomac Theatre Project at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 9, 2015) By Howard Barker Directed by Richard Romagnoli Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“I am not meant to be understood. Don’t you see? Oh, you miserable, well-meaning, always-on-the-right-side, desperate little intellect! Death to be understood. Awful death...” (Galactia to Rivera, Scene Nineteen)
The best learning results from the learner grappling with an authentic situation, with rich dense text, and with self and others. This process translates to the development and appreciation of the best in theatre where audiences ideally are given the opportunity to grapple with the performance, the characters, their authentic conflicts, and the stories these conflicts create. Approaching theatre in this fashion is risky and can easily “ruin our peace with life” (Prodo, Scene One).
In "Scenes From An Execution,” Venetian artist Galactia (Jan Maxwell) is commissioned to paint “The Battle of Lepanto” on “one thousand square feet of canvas.” This tale is loosely inspired by the 16th century Florentine Caravagesque Artemisia Genteleschi and is all about grappling and the welcomed demise of “being understood.” Too often theatregoers believe they need to understand what unravels on stage and unwittingly strive to be – in Galactia’s words – “always-on-the-right-side, desperate little intellects!” Audience members applaud, stand, chuckle, and weep when someone else does just to assure themselves (and those others) they did “get it.”
On the surface, Galactia is grappling with the State of Venice and its dogged alpha male understanding of battles and victory. Urgentino the Doge of Venice (Alex Draper) and Cardinal Ostensible the Secretary of State for Public Education (Steven Dykes) have high expectations of the famous realist painter Galactia but these expectations begin to crumble when the Doge drops in to monitor the painter’s progress. Galactia’s understanding of victory in battle is far different than the State’s understanding. “A battle is a slaughter,” she tells the Cardinal. And she tells her daughters, “So with one figure I transformed the enemy from beast to victim, and made victory unclean.”
The divide between artist and state widens and (no surprise, not even to Galactia), the artist is taken off the project and imprisoned for “denying the virtue of the actions of the State of Venice.” The new commission goes to Galactia’s married lover Carpeta (David Barlow). The conflict here is not as simple as a conflict between artist and state. That conflict has recurred throughout history with two significant examples: Hitler (Degenerate Art) and the impact of Cold War McCarthyism on writers, artists, and actors in the United States. The conflict in “Scenes From An Execution” is more sinister that state vs. artist, more insidious, more seditious. Determining the nature of that conflict is – as it should be – left to the audience to grapple with and, if it chooses not to, to live with the consequences of that dereliction of audience duty.
Jan Maxwell, who in a recent interview, claims her performance in “Scenes From An Execution” signals her retirement from the stage, is a wonder to watch and listen to. She is a brilliant actor who explores every morally ambiguous fiber of her character Galactia and epitomizes the meaning of a generous and gifted actor.
Under Richard Romagnoli’s meticulous direction, the ensemble cast of this remarkably enduring and ever relevant play deliver captivating and riveting performances. Each imbues her or his character with believability and authenticity. Why Mr. Romangnoli leaves Ms. Maxwell in total darkness during two prison scenes is puzzling. Doing so does place the audience in a state of angst similar to the prisoners and places a sharp focus on the text. However, to miss seeing Jan Maxwell exercise her craft is for this reviewer, a deep loss. This is no longer a BBC Radio Play (1984).
The Admiral believes that Galactia is “coarse.” The painter replies, “Coarse for an artist? It’s an artist’s job to be coarse. Preserving coarseness, that’s the problem.” Mr. Barker revels in exploring the mythos of womankind and his retellings of stories about powerful women are replete with delicious moral ambiguity and resounding shadows. Whether Galactia is able ultimately to preserve her coarseness in her post-prison relationship with the Admiral (and the State) is something for the audience to grapple with. Galactia certainly did.
SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION
Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35, $20 for students and seniors, $17.50 for previews, and can be purchased online at PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For info visit PTPNYC.org, follow on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and Like them on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256. Production photos by Stan Barouh. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.
“Puzzle the Will” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Sunday August 2, 2015)
“Puzzle the Will” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Davenport Theatre (Through Sunday August 2, 2015) Adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Lauretta Pope Directed by Lauretta Pope Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Who would fardels bear,/To grunt and sweat under a weary life,/But that the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns, puzzles the will,/And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of?” – William Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” Act III, Scene I
“Puzzle the Will” (part of Hamlet’s epic soliloquy in the first scene of Act III) is a production of the Hamlet Collective and gives audiences the opportunity to experience William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” and its characters in a new and quite satisfying way. Lauretta Pope’s adaptation – according to the Collective’s mission statement – “reassembles Shakespeare’s tale like a puzzle, strategically jumping between sections, juxtaposing some scenes and deconstructing others.”
This interesting and successful adaptation begins with the closing scene of “Hamlet” with bodies everywhere and a brief and comedic sob session followed by raucous belly-laughter as the cast gets up on its feet to literally re-boot the play (the clue to fasten the seatbelts for the glorious bumpy ride that follows). This is not your Senior Year “Hamlet.” Ms. Pope “scatters” scenes from “Hamlet” on the stage like storyboards for a new dramatic television series proving that “Hamlet” is “Hamlet” no matter in what order it is read or seen.
The ensemble cast is uniformly effective as they move into and out of their various roles. What this adaptation proves is that it is Shakespeare’s words that triumph (“So long lives this, and this gives life to thee,” Sonnet 18) and transcend all retellings, adaptations, modernizations, and revivals. Ms. Pope is particularly effective in her role as Hamlet and is to be commended on her performance and her adaptation of the Bard’s brilliant tragedy. The gender-bending in her adaptation proves again the resilience and continued relevance of Shakespeare’s works. Equally outstanding is Keith Chandler’s gender bending portrayal of Ophelia (one of the best I’ve seen) and his comedic portrayal (with co-digger Caroline Gombe) of the second gravedigger – harmonica and all!
Handled particularly well are the following scenes: the “Ghost” scene in Act I, Scenes IV and V; Ophelia’s madness in Act IV, Scene V; Hamlet’s scenes with Polonius (Caroline Gombe) and the Players, Act II, Scene II; Hamlet’s Scene with Ophelia in Act III, Scenes I and II; Hamlet’s scene observing Claudius (Stephen Hu) at prayer in Act III, Scene III; Hamlet’s scene with Gertrude (Lyn Kagen) in her chamber in Act III, Scene IV; and Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act III, Scene I which the Collective uses to end its adaptation.
Not everything about “Puzzle the Will” works as well as it might. It was difficult at times to hear Lyn Kagen (Gertrude, et al.) and Stephen Hu (Claudius, et al.). Caroline Gombe clearly understood the character of Polonius and her portrayal was exceptional; however, she, too, faded out as the play progressed. A simple observation: the cast needs to be mindful of the playing space and its acoustics.
This is a "Hamlet" well worth the visit during its MITF run. Here’s to more of Lauretta Pope’s adaptations!
“Wearing Black” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015)
“Wearing Black” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Riley Thomas Directed by Jeremy Scott Lapp Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Add “Wearing Black,” currently presented as part of NYMF at Theater 3, to the growing list of NYMF plays this week (number three) that deal with young adults dealing with the loss of a friend and a sibling in a frivolous and avoidable fatal car accident. In this play, a drug addicted twin brother drives his car off a bridge. The surviving brother has sex with the deceased brother’s drug addicted girlfriend before she does an overdose in a successful suicide. Moving on, the surviving twin brother then has a one night stand with his roommate’s fiancé, and his roommate (the only innocent nice guy) moves out. There is more: The alcoholic father shows up at apartment with a gift of a case of liquor for his substance abusing surviving twin because he is going sober and moving to Telluride. I guess everything will be OK but all the subplots are never really concluded. These characters are human, warts and all but there has to be something about them you like in order to care about them. They are self serving and one dimensional and are made to react to situations rather than people. The book is weak and the lyrics trite and cliché. The music is varied and at times supportive of the characters’ reactions but serves best - in combination with the lyrics - when exposing character development and moving the flimsy plot forward. Two good examples of this are “Stories” handled admirably by Mark Coffin as the father and “I’ll Learn from You” delivered with delight by Alexis Field as Alyssa and BJ Gruber as Nate.
The cast works hard but fails to overcome the aforementioned problems. The direction is erratic, with some scenes overemphasized, but in general the actors move at a comfortable pace. The production lies somewhere between a concept musical and a rock opera which might be fine individually but certainly does not work in tandem. We never know what these characters are feeling or thinking but only what they are doing in response to the ever changing present circumstance with no regard to the consequences. Grieving is an important subject to explore, especially in young adults who are effected all too often in this day and age. So the creative team just needs to dig a bit deeper, put some heart and soul into the characters and understand what it means to heal themselves so they can help those around them.
East to Edinburgh – New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival Review at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 26, 2015)
East to Edinburgh – New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival Review at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 26, 2015) Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Katt Tait’s “Black Magic: Songs Unchained” is a 50 minute rehearsal of the power of song to soothe, strengthen, empower, and organize. Against the backdrop of a powerful collection of images that focus on the slave trade (in Africa, in the United States, and throughout the privileged world) and slavery, Ms. Tait sings a treasure trove of songs from the musical canons of the American Spiritual and Protest Song. The lyrics and plaintive melodies of “Trouble of the World,” “Steal Away,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble” counterpoint images of the brutal treatment of slaves (slave collars, beatings, rape, recapture of runaways) that grace the 59E59 stage and challenge the audience to engage anew in the dialog about racism in America.
The Post-Civil War era (Reconstruction) and the post-Civil Rights era witnessed what some might see as “progress” for members of the African-American community. The Harlem Renaissance, the success of black jazz and blues writers and performers, and presumed advances in equal education opportunities numbed much of America to the continuing cycles of oppression.
Directed sparingly by Ray Ficca, Ms. Tait shares song after song in her rich, multi-ranged voice interpreting the lyrics with honesty and freshness. Her remarkable performance requires the audience to look closely at The New Jim Crowe and other contemporary reasons one needs to keeps ones “Eye on the Prize.”
Two of the final images projected behind Ms. Tait are images of black and white children reaching out to one another and (perhaps) adult black and white hands touching. Perhaps white Americans and Americans of color can begin deep and rich conversations about racism and perhaps from those conversations, new songs of freedom can be written and sung. And hopefully these songs unchained can break the chains of oppression and societal complacence, indifference, and numbness. _______________
"Kitty's Bound for Broadway" highlights the fictional account of Kitty Adler who aspires from childhood to appear on the Broadway stage. After Kitty’s children are out of the house and her husband has left her, she seizes the opportunity to revisit her dream (keeping her hope alive) when she wins the chance to submit her play to a panel of Broadway professionals. Kerry Miller’s book and music chronicle Kitty’s journey from self-doubt to self-awareness, to self-fulfillment. Ms. Miller also performs this entry into the Edinburg Festival Fringe. Despite its honesty and sincere effort, “Kitty’s Bound for Broadway” falls short of expectations: the lyrics are sophomoric and the music is unremarkable. Ms. Miller seems adrift on the stage without adequate direction from Susie Keating.
BLACK MAGIC: SONGS UNCHAINED AND KITTY’S BROADWAY BOUND
For complete information on the Annual Edinburgh Festival Preview including the shows, the casts, the performance schedules, and how to purchase tickets, please http://www.59e59.org/index.php. To learn more about 59E59 Theaters, please visit http://www.59e59.org/about.php. The running time varies for each performance.
“210 Amlent Avenue” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015)
“210 Amlent Avenue” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Tuesday July 14, 2015) Book by Becky Goldberg Music and Lyrics by Karl Hinze Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Judah (Zal Owen) is convinced that his parents’ closest friend Mrs. Jordan (Robin Skye) is harboring a deep secret. Both Judah and Elizabeth Jordan have recently suffered loss: his parents both died tragically within the year as did her Broadway director husband Matthew. Zal returns to Mrs. Jordan’s home in the Hamptons where he spent a great deal of time during his childhood taking with him his girlfriend Sarah (Lisa Birnbaum) and a photograph of his parents and Elizabeth and Matthew Jordan that was taken in Paris. On the back of the card Mrs. Jordan (who sent the photo) has written, “I’m Sorry.” What she is sorry for and the process of Zal’s journey to self-understanding are at the heart of “210 Amlent Avenue” the new musical currently running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Zal and Sarah arrive at the house just as Claire (Nikki Van Cassele) and Murphy (Steven Hauck) arrive and they enter the house together where family accountant Nick (Roger Yeh) and Nanny Leslie (Jen Brissman) have been busy helping Mrs. Jordan arrange for the receipt of her inheritance and the sale of her house and prepare for her guests. Elizabeth is embarking on a new theatre project and wants to move into Manhattan and leave the Hamptons for good – along with her secret. When questioned about the project by Nick, she replies, “It’s an adaptation of this turn-of-the-century novel called “The House of Mirth.” Scandal, romance, intrigue. Everything you want in a good story.” Obviously this foreshadows the goings on past and present at 210 Amlent Avenue which is itself replete with scandal, romance, and intrigue but little mirth.
Becky Goldberg has created interesting characters that become fully developed and believable during the course of the musical. The characters’ conflicts are also clear and mostly believable except that of Leslie who has never been to Manhattan and knows little about the canon of American poetry. This seems highly unlikely for a twenty-something young woman living in the Hamptons! Leslie is the niece of Elizabeth’s deceased husband and the care giver for Elizabeth’s young son Luke (whom the audience never sees but learns much about). The problem with the musical is that none of the characters (save perhaps Leslie and Nick and the unseen Luke) are at all likeable; indeed, they are contemptable and loathsome. It is difficult to care for these characters and their problems when they consistently behave so badly.
Although it is clear that the main conflict in the musical is Zal's need to find out what happened between his parents and the Jordans and how that affected his relationship to his parents, much of the book, music, and lyrics is unrelated to this important quest. Songs like “Here in This House” and “Making Sense” clearly relate to the quest and successfully move the plot forward. Others like “This Is Where” and “Do You Think She’s Pretty” seem irrelevant and extraneous to plot development. Before the end of the first Act, the audience already knows Elizabeth’s secret and it has been too long to wait for a predictable outcome: there is little suspense here but there is still enough to be disclosed in Act Two to prevent disclosing the plot here.
Under Samantha Saltzman’s inconsistent direction, the actors do their best to expose their characters’ well-defined motivations and conflicts. Early in the musical, as Judah sings “Making Sense,” he is directed to crouch down and sing to the seated Leslie and his demeanor is downright frightening. There are times when it is difficult to hear the actors particularly when they are gathered around the dining room table. When there are split scenes utilizing stage left and stage right, one side or the other is in near darkness (only one spotlight?). Karl Hinze’s music is charming but somewhat derivative. His lyrics are sometimes awkward, Elizabeth sings, “Here in this house I'm dying slowly, smothered by time and drowning in space. Here in this house I can’t be more than who I've always been inside this place.”
Despite these areas needing more attention, “210 Amlent Avenue” has some delightful songs. Robin Skye (Elizabeth Jordan) delivers a powerful and heartfelt “That’s My Man.” Ms. Skye and Zal Owen (Judah) share a chilling “What Kind of Man Am I” and Lisa Birnbaum (Sarah) and Roger Yeh (Nick) command the stage with “Have To Look After Yourself.” It is always a delight to see Steven Hauck (Murphy) on stage and his duet with the talented Nikki Van Cassele (Claire) is a comedic thrill. Jen Brissman’s (Leslie) solo “The Life I Might Have Known” is a touching account of the life of a character who seems to know only how to care for others.
“210 Amlent Avenue” is as dark as it is mysterious and the musical is well worth the look. It’s as thrilling as “Bloodline” and as celebrative of family dysfunction as Broadway’s “The Country House” – with a voice of its own.
“The Cobalteans” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015)
“The Cobalteans” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at Theater 3 (Through Wednesday July 15, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Yianni Papadimos Music by Andrew Bridges, Ben Chavez and Yianni Papadimos Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Perhaps I was already numb to the plot where young people are trying to cope with the death of a friend in an automobile accident, in which a surviving friend was driving, since I had endured the same theme in a show in a different festival the night before; however, I do not think that influenced my perspective as I viewed the new musical “The Cobalteans” being presented as part of NYMF. A group of young men, including the younger brother of Gabriel, the deceased, gather at the lake house that holds memories of their adolescence, coming of age, and fraternal bonding one year after the night of the fatal accident. The house is empty because it has been sold by the parents of the deceased in order to promote healing and move forward. What is still in the house is the piano and Gabriel’s guitar because they provoke too many memories (how convenient for a musical). The book by Yianni Papadimos is weak and the plot predictable with themes of guilt, accusation, and unsympathetic behavior. The lyrics by Mr. Papadimos mostly reflect the characters’ inner thoughts but tend to be too pretentious and do not move the plot forward or create character development.
Under the direction of Paul Stancato the actors keep a steady pace but sometimes move about the stage aimlessly in meaningless choreographed steps. The cast does an admirable job with the given material and have some good vocal moments. The music by Ben Chavez is interesting, soothing and lilting yet sometimes dark and gloomy which creates varied atmospheres. Somehow this critic felt the important issues of the grieving process (especially for young adults) were only examined on the surface and therefore did not translate emotionally to the audience. Hopefully with more character development and insight, this work in progress, will move forward and examine more closely how each and every one grieves differently.
For complete information on "The Cobalteans,” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/cobalteans. The running time is 1 hours and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“Claudio Quest” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival” at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Extended through Thursday July 16, 2015)
“Claudio Quest” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival” at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Extended through Thursday July 16, 2015) Book, Music and Lyrics by Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet Directed by John Tartaglia Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Theatregoers have had a decent dose of the epic video game Super Mario Brothers (Nintendo) in the recent past. The Fringe NYC 2014 featured “Jump Man – A Mario Musical” which garnered the Fringe Excellent Award for Best Musical. And “Claudio Quest,” currently running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, had its first incarnation at DC’s Fringe Festival in July 2010. Fortunately for the audiences at NYMF 2015, this current retelling of the Mario Brothers epic journeys is quite good.
Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet have put real meat on the pixelated bones of the familiar video game characters. These characters are well developed, believable and have been given equally authentic conflicts the audience can readily identify with. These conflicts drive an interesting plot than layers upon the game’s “here we come to save the day” theme and support a matrix of important themes for the contemporary audience. These include the rivalry between siblings (“No matter what you do you’ll still be stuck as player number two.”) and the redefinition of sex-role stereotypes (“Oh, so there's only one way to be a Princess?”).
Claudio (played with a charming strength and vigor by CJ Eldred) faces the challenges of being a hero with a limited number of lives and having to save Princess Poinsettia (played with the right mixture of pout and punch by Leslie McKinnell) over and over again (as many times as a player sets or resets the game!). Luis (played with a disarming and charming vulnerability by Ethan Slater) wonders what it would be like to be player number one and fall in love with Princess Fish (played with just the right amount of feisty humility by Lindsey Brett Carothers). All of these characters live with the constant threat of attacks from the “bad guy” Bruiser the platypus with the big (you guessed right) heart. Broadway veteran Andre Ward owns the stage every time he enters as the poorly misunderstood Bruiser who needs weekly therapy to get in touch with his inner self. Mr. Ward is a powerhouse of an actor and singer and brings exuberance and joy to this splendid production. His “The Platypus Song” is perhaps the highlight of the musical.
The six member ensemble is uniformly competent and exciting to watch. Their combined voices adequately support the cast and their puppetry skills are beyond commendable. The puppet design by Michael Schupbach and The Puppet Kitchen bring the video game pranksters to adorable (and sometimes frightening) life.
There might be little that is new in “Claudio Quest” but this does not detract from this musical’s ability to entertain and challenge the audience with rich and enduring questions about right and wrong, good and evil, and the importance of significant human relationships. John Tartaglia’s staging is brilliant and Mr. Fornarola’s and Mr. Pailet’s music is engaging and supports the book with a variety of musical styles and genres.
The connection to Eggplant Kingdom and the perils of saving a country one loves in non-gaming time is rich and makes “Claudio Quest” a musical to keep one’s eye on.
"Claudio Quest" features a book, music and lyrics by Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet and is directed by Tony Award nominee John Tartaglia (“Avenue Q”), with choreography by Shannon Lewis, scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee, costume design by Leon Dobkowski, lighting design by Jennifer Schriever, sound design by Matt Kraus, puppetry by Puppet Kitchen Productions, music direction by Gary Adler, orchestrations by Doug Katsaros, and casting by Telsey + Company/Craig Burns, CSA.
For complete information on "Claudio Quest,” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/claudio-quest. The running time is 1 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
WITH: CJ Eldred (First National Tour, “The Book of Mormon”) as “Claudio”, Ethan Slater as “Luis”, Andre Ward (Broadway’s ‘Rock of Ages”) as “Bruiser”, Lesley McKinnell (First National Tour, “Wicked”) as “Princess Poinsettia”, and Lindsey Brett Carothers (Broadway’s ‘Bring It On: The Musical”) as “Princess Fish”, with Max Chernin, Alex Goley, Abby Hart, Katie Lee Hill, Andre Jordan, and Tiffany Mann rounding out the cast.
“The Weir” at Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday August 23, 2015)
Paul O'Brien and Amanda Quaid - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“The Weir” at Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday August 23, 2015) Written by Conor McPherson Directed by Ciarán O'Reilly Reviewed by Sander Gusinow Theatre Reviews Limited
Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” a haunting play of effervescent charm, finds a cozy home at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Directed by Irish Rep veteran Ciarán O'Reilly, the play bathes comfortably in old-country charm, fireside folk tales, and sepulchral gloom.
The play centers around one night at a bar in rural Ireland. Excitement stirs in the placid village when Valerie, a young woman from Dublin, moves into town. When she comes to visit the bar, the grizzled regulars and young bartender Brendan, try their best to make her feel at home. As they begin to tell her the old ghost stories from years gone by, Valerie’s cosmopolitan exterior cracks, and she confides in them an intensely personal ghost story all her own.
Director Ciarán O'Reilly shows his mastery over the form, conducting the play so the ghostly folk tales and bar-counter hootenanny flow seamlessly in and out of one another. O'Reilly’s subtle bag of tricks sets an ominous pace, all the while capturing McPherson’s wit at every turn.
The cast is no less masterful in their portrayals of the country barflies, fawning over the attractive newcomer, and regaling her with their macabre tales of mystery. Paul O’Brein and Tim Ruddy’s playful chemistry shines in their portrayals of Jack and Brendan, a cantankerous old barfly and his bartending surrogate son. John Keating gives the jesterliest performance as Jim, the slightly unhinged town handyman, and Sean Gormley is loveably contemptible as the raunchy, boastful Finbar.
Yet the most stunning performance of the evening comes in the form of Amanda Quaid’s Valerie: It’s as if she soaks the tales directly into her skin. When she finally unburdens herself, the out-of-place urbanite proves more scarred and soulful than the rest of the pub combined. She’s a woman exhumed from the grave, closer to the deathly elements of the country than her polite demeanor betrays.
While the actual story of “The Weir” is less compelling than the tales told by its characters, it is a testament to McPherson’s power as a storyteller, and O’Reilly’s skill at arms, that the play entrances anyway. A haunting, captivating comedy buoyed by fine performances and directorial panache, Irish Rep’s “The Weir” rivets with wit, wise-cracking and good old gothic imagination.
Set design Charlie Corcoran, costume design Leon Dobkowski, properties Deirdre Brennan, lighting design Michael Gottlieb, production stage manager Jeff Davolt, dialect coach Stephen Gabis, assistant stage manager Fran Acuna-Almiron, sound design Drew Levy, casting, Deborah Brown. For complete information on theater location and buying tickets, please visit http://www.irishrep.org/. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
Featuring Sean Gormley, John Keating, Paul O’Brein, Amanda Quaid, and Tim Rudd.
New York, NY (July 11, 2015) –Roger Rees, the legendary, Tony Award-winning actor, and Tony Award nominated director, passed away last night at his home in New York City, after a brief journey with cancer. His husband, Rick Elice, and family and friends were at his side.
Roger Rees began his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and attended the Slade School of Fine Arts. He played Malcolm in the acclaimed Trevor Nunn 1976 stage and 1978 television production of Macbeth, to great acclaim. Most famously, Rees created the title role in the original production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, David Edgar's stage adaptation of the Dickens novel, winning both an Olivier Award and a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1982. He also starred in the original production of The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard in London in 1984.
Rees began to work in television during the 1970s, appearing opposite Laurence Olivier in “The Ebony Tower” (1984). From 1988 to 1991 he starred in the late 80s/early 90s British sitcom “Singles,” with co-star Judy Loe. From 1989 to 1991 and in 1993, he also appeared intermittently on the long-running American TV series “Cheers” as the English tycoon Robin Colcord. Later television appearances include “My So-Called Life” as substitute teacher Mr. Racine, British Ambassador Lord John Marbury on “The West Wing” and James MacPherson on “Warehouse 13.”
His film career began in 1983 when Bob Fosse cast him to star in Star 80 opposite Mariel Hemingway. Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks' film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). Later film appearances include Frida (2002) and The Prestige (2006).
Continuing his work in the theatre through the 1990s, both as an actor and a director, Rees was awarded an Obie Award for his 1992 performance in the Off-Broadway play The End of the Day. In 1995 he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Indiscretions. That same year, he also participated as narrator for the audiobook edition of “Memnoch the Devil” by Anne Rice. As for audiobooks, Rees performed in a wide variety of programs.
In November 2004, Rees was named Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, only the fourth person to hold the post in its half century history.
He succeeded Nathan Lane in the role of Gomez in the Broadway musical adaptation of The Addams Family, on March 22, 2010 and was in the rest of the run. His last West End appearance was in the acclaimed production of Waiting for Godot opposite Ian McKellen. They also toured the production globally, most memorably, to South Africa.
Rees achieved acclaim as a noted stage director including Peter and the Starcatcher (along with Alex Timbers) which he developed, first at Williamstown Theatre Festival, then La Jolla Playhouse, and in New York at New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Director (the play won five Tony Awards).
Rees’ last Broadway appearance was the starring role of Anton Schell in The Visit, opposite Chita Rivera, which opened 23 April 2015. Additional Broadway credits included The Winslow Boys, Uncle Vanya, The Rehearsal and London Assurance.
He is survived by Mr. Elice. A private funeral service will be held next week and details of a memorial will be forthcoming.
“Roger was inspirational. He had the perpetual boyishness and mischief of a Peter Pan, extraordinary wit combined with a gift for self-satire, and dauntless optimism coupled with deep-rooted belief. All these ingredients went into his acting, and I am sure, into his directing, and gave him an aura of rare, generous spirited humanity. He was always superb at being just ‘one of the gang’ in the company, while equally deft at leading by example, leading by commitment. All this was sublimated in his Nicholas Nickleby, the giant success of which led him to change his life by moving to America. I spent a magical evening with him in New York only a few months ago. He talked of his illness – with optimism, with wit, with self-satire, and with deep-rooted belief … and once again, to be in his presence was inspirational.” - Trevor Nunn
“The Calico Buffalo” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Extended through Saturday July 18, 2015)
“The Calico Buffalo” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the PTC Performance Space (Extended through Saturday July 18, 2015) Book by EJ Stapleton Music and Lyrics by Peter Stopschinski and EJ Stapleton Directed by Craig J. George Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
One of the most difficult tasks in musical theater is the creation of a theatrical piece that appeals to children and adults alike, and that is also based on a wonderful, well received illustrated children’s book. The new musical “The Calico Buffalo” now playing at PTC as part of NYMF, audaciously confronts this daunting task and the results are what can be expected from a work in development. The book by Ed Stapleton is endearing, thoughtful, provocative, and reasoned enough, to embrace this endeavor. The music by Mr. Stapleton and Peter Stopschinski, is varied and sophisticated but at times does not serve the ambience of the situations portrayed or the aura of the characters and would certainly not have a child or an adult leave humming a tune. The lyrics penned by both gentlemen respectfully tend to be overwrought and labored. The direction by Craig J. George is adequate and provides a good pace but lacks structure. As constructive criticism, the piece might fare better with the use of a narrator.
The cast is energetic, enthusiastic and works well as an ensemble. Brooke Shapiro does a fine job with her portrayal of Bittle. Rachel Coloff inhabits the character of Sih-Kuk with perspective, intelligence and confidence. Jennifer Apple, playing Amaruq the wolf and singing the Act 1 finale “Mother Nature’s Mistakes,” is a powerhouse and in fine vocal form.
One incredible feat this endeavor has accomplished, is that I left the theater wanting to purchase the book for my nephews. It is a well-crafted story filled with lessons of life that one would never be too young or old to learn, especially in the world we live in today. Perhaps they should be available in the lobby after the show!
A STATEMENT FROM BROADWAY CELL PHONE OFFENDER NICK SILVESTRI
A STATEMENT FROM BROADWAY CELL PHONE OFFENDER NICK SILVESTRI
The following statement was delivered by audience member Nick Silvestri at a press conference outside the Booth Theatre earlier today in regards to an incident on Thursday, July 2, in which he attempted to charge his mobile phone on stage during a performance of Broadway’s Hand to God.
“The past few days have been really crazy, and I wanted to have the opportunity to try to explain what happened and also offer an apology.
Ultimately, before coming to see Hand to God I downed a few drinks and I think that clearly impaired my judgement. Before the show started, I noticed that my phone’s battery was low, and the only power outlet I saw was on stage. I think you all know what happened next, and I don’t have a very good answer for the question that many of you are probably wondering: What was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t really thinking. I don’t go to plays very much, and I didn’t realize that the stage is considered off limits. I’ve learned a lot about the theater in the past few days – theater people are really passionate and have been very willing to educate me. I can assure you that I won’t be setting foot on a stage ever again, unless I decide to become an actor.
I would like to sincerely apologize to the Broadway community, all the other people in the audience that night, and most importantly the cast and crew of Hand to God. I am on my college lacrosse team, and I know just how bad it feels when you are out there working your ass off, and it feels like the crowd isn’t on your side or isn’t paying attention. I feel terrible if any of the amazing actors in this show felt at all disrespected by my actions.
Going to see a Broadway show is one of the most special things you can do in New York City, and if I want to give one message to folks out there it’s that you should give your complete attention to the actors on stage. You can make phone calls and send text messages all day long, so when you’re in the theater for a couple hours, just put the phones away and enjoy the show. Once again, I’m sorry for my actions, and I hope that I can become an example of a great theatergoer in the future. Thank you so much for listening.”
“Losing Tom Pecinka” at the Ice Factory at the New Ohio Theater (Through Saturday July 11, 2015)
Christopher Geary, left, and Zack Segel in "Losing Tom Pecinka." Credit Hunter Canning
“Losing Tom Pecinka” at the Ice Factory at the New Ohio Theater (Through Saturday July 11, 2015) Written and Directed by Morgan Gould Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
There is probably something important in Morgan Gould’s “Losing Tom Pecinka” currently running at the New Ohio Theater as part of this year’s Ice Factory but whatever that might be is buried beneath layers of self-effacing (and self-absorbed) puerile humor that resembles a mashup of the worst Saturday Night Live sketches and the dreariest of daytime soap operas both replete with cartoon-like characters who scramble around the stage searching for an ending. And, yes, that is part of the point. Viewers and audiences invest in many forms of theatre that do not warrant notice. And yes, MFAs and BAs in theatre do not guarantee performance excellence (obviously) or satisfying employment in academia. But the antics in “Losing Tom Pecinka” do not allow its audience to mine the importance of the text. The apparent “hey, I got it” laughter from Morgan Gould & Friends fans and family further muddies the waters of understanding. One of these “fans” laughed at every line of the play. It was not that funny.
Ms. Gould’s script riffs all things theatre including opening announcements, curtain calls, intermissions, set design, etc. Theatre-goers get that, understand that, and might even chuckle about it. But there is nothing in “Losing Tom Pecinka (who buy the way, is alive and well) that moves that discussion forward or brings those insights to some new level of discernment.
LOSING TOM PACINKA
Written and directed by Morgan Gould with Designs by Chris Barlow and Ryan Seelig. Staged Managed by Val Insardi. Produced by Barbara Samuels. Featuring Christopher Geary, Tommy Heleringer, Zack Segel, and Amir Wachterman.
Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City. Tickets are $18.00 and $15.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 1-888-596-1027. For info visit NewOhioTheatre.org, like them on Facebook at /IceFactoryFestival, follow on Instagram at NewOhioTheatre, and for up-to-the-minute festival updates follow on Twitter at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time is 95 minutes including intermission.
“Moses Man” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 13, 2015)
The Cast of "Moses Man" - Photo from Broadway World
“Moses Man” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Alice Griffin Theatre (Through Monday July 13, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Deborah Haber Music by Casey Filiaci Directed by Michael Bush Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Moses Man,” currently running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is based on the true story of writer Deborah Haber’s parents Kalman and Lily Haber whose nine-year journey from Nazi-occupied Austria throughout Europe, Cyprus, Palestine, and Africa finally – against many odds – leads to freedom and a new home in the United States. In “Moses Man” that survivor Opa (Kevin McGuire) shares the story of survival with his grandson Moshe (Evan Daves) as Moshe is opening his exhibition about his grandfather’s journey. Apparently Moshe curates this installation without consulting or seeking the facts from his grandfather. Although this seems odd, it is the convention Ms. Haber uses to relate her story: past and present coexist on the stage and Moshe can see the events of his grandfather’s journey play out before him. The only thing he cannot do is speak to those from the past.
Under Michael Bush’s inconsistent direction (some scenes are well staged, some seem to be without any direction), the talented cast does its best to enliven Ms. Haber’s characters and tell the important story of a journey of survival. This attempt has mixed results. Many of the scenes are driven by authentic emotion (pathos) and historical fact (logos). Missing is the ability of the cast and the story to connect to the lives of those in the audience (ethos). The story is simply “out there” to be viewed and understood. Many of the scenes become didactic as though the audience had no knowledge of the horrors of the Holocaust or the need to assure that “this never happens again.”
Casey Filiaci’s music is often endearing and reflects a variety of musical styles and genres depending heavily upon Sondheim-like phrasing. Some songs like “Take a Few … in Eight Days” in Act I soar and give the cast the opportunity to showcase its collective talent. Others, however, like the interminable “And Mama Needs Cherries” need serious editing. Numbers like the extraneous Act II opener “Opa” should probably be cut entirely. The entire production is overlong.
One wants to identify with Avi and his bride Lia (Tess DeFlyer) and one wants profoundly to identify with Freddy (Zachary Clause) who is outed in Belgium and is murdered in a concentration camp. For some reason, the performances lie flat and the director needs to address this issue in earnest and with alacrity and celerity.
“Moses Man” is about “journeys of choices” and had the creators attempted to counterpoint their story with the stories of so many others on the planet (and in the audience) attempting to navigate those journeys, this new musical would resound with success. It is “time to do something” about oppression throughout the world, “time to stand up” to those oppressors. At times, the actors do not seem to be in touch with their characters and the motivations and conflicts of their characters. It is therefore difficult for them to “tell the story” effectively. And sometimes they seem to move about aimlessly.
The "mission statement” of the producers of “Moses Man” includes the following. “Moses Man,” based on the historically significant implications of the displacement of those facing persecution during the Holocaust, also reflects the contemporary dilemmas faced by each of us.” Unfortunately, this connection fails to happen in this new musical. Also problematic is the missed opportunity to make strong connections between the biblical Moses leading his people to freedom in the Promised Land and Avi’s mission to lead his small tribe to freedom in America. This is unfortunate and significantly lessens the impact of this musical which has at its core an extremely important matrix of themes including the journal of survival. Instead of relying more on the biblical Moses story, the creators decide to mimic scenes from “Les Miserables,” banners and ramparts included.
At least this New Moses (Avi) had the opportunity to see his promised land. The First Moses was not afforded the opportunity to see his Promised Land. The cast and creative team have obviously worked hard to bring the musical to its current level and the musical is deserving of a close look by audiences.