According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"Just Happy to Be Here?" and "Skinpoppin", Review by Elizabeth Devlin

Two actors highlight their unique talents in two one-man shows that attack large themes and successfully address them through individual stories in “Just Happy to Be Here?” and “Skinpoppin.,” a double bill produced by ArchProductions and DramaHouse Entertainment, which runs this weekend.

The first piece, “Just Happy to Be Here?” sets the audience up as students observing a psychological study of the effect of 9/11 on African-American males. As the writer and performer, Damien D. Smith’s portrayal of 5 diverse characters, each his own energy and purpose, is a delight to watch. Each character has a sense of urgency, a combination of the nervousness about their pysch-study participation and the desire each character has to tell his story. Damien D. Smith’s ability to transform from one character to another is impressive and evocative of Anna Deveare Smith’s work “Twilight: Los Angeles” in its honest treatment of each character, although it must be noted that Damien Smith’s characters are fictional.

“Skinpoppin”, a work both written and performed by Basil Scrivens, is a much darker work than “Just Happy…” and tells the story of Manchild Jones’ heroin addiction. The story of Skinpoppin is, sadly, less than shocking: a cycle of addiction in a family and in society. Scrivens takes an innovative approach to the tale, however, interrupting the action at times with spoken word poetry and playing a fairly constant jazz-funk soundtrack in the background to evoke the 70’s heroin “shooting galleries” he grew up around. Manchild as a character has a very different energy than any of the characters in “Just Happy…” which provides the main distinction between the two pieces. Smith’s characters are excitable and come across with a sense of urgency; Scrivens’ Manchild lives an empty life and has nothing to be excited or urgent about. His senses have been numbed through two decades of heroin, and this numbness is thoroughly projected throughout the work.

Damien Smith and Basil Scrivens have created realistic and captivating pieces. Smith’s work speaks to a broad audience by questioning our preconceptions of African-American men and showing us that that group is too large and complex to pre-judge. Scrivens shows us in a stark and sometimes painful way the how life can come to mean little more than the next high- and how one can begin to find a way out of the numbness.

Just Happy to Be Here? and Skinpoppin runs
November 17-20 at 8pm and November 19 at 2pm at
The Michael Weller Theatre
311 West 43rd St. 6th Floor
(between 8th & 9th Avenues)
Tickets are $20.
Call 212.545.4127 for tickets and info

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