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, December 30, 2005

Review: Five Course Love
by Eric Miles Glover

“Musical theater aficionados need get on the good foot to bear final witness to what promises the American musical is aflame and its fire spreading.”

Read entire review:

Fifteen unusual characters. Five odd restaurants. Three memorable actors. One riotous musical. During an era when the demise of the American musical has been heralded, Five Course Love is both unsuspecting surprise and breath of air. Big-name composers are failing to entertain their cults uptown but composer Gregg Coffin has prepared excellent fare downtown that entertains and induces emotional responses at the same time.

Five Course Love occurs one fateful night, when fifteen unsuspecting people frequent five different restaurants in pursuit of sex, love, companionship, or all the above. It is a musical made from five vignettes. Yes, what unfolds is light and cute, but it overflows with heart. The gimmick is, at each restaurant, the three-person ensemble (two men, one woman) becomes three of the fifteen unsuspecting people. In addition, at each restaurant, the ensemble appropriates the musical tradition of the culture from which the restaurant is born. At the beer bar and grill, for example, Western music is appropriated; at the German cabaret, Sprechstimme and liebestod are appropriated; at the Mexican restaurant, the forerunner of Tejano (or Tex-Mex music) is appropriated, etc.

Overall, the greatest vignettes are “Trattoria Pericolo” and “Ernesto’s Cantina.” In the former, the miniskirt-wearing girlfriend of an Italian mobster meets her gelled-hair lover at an Italian restaurant to rendezvous. High drama ensues when the mobster arrives to confront them. All things about the vignette and its clichéd characters scream melodrama and high camp. However, intelligent staging and song help the actors become indomitable forces that stop at nothing to entertain. What is awesome, the vignette appropriates Italian opera seria, and thus the actors emulate the guttural and brooding vocal techniques of opera singers to tell their sordid tale. At each riff and nuance in the music, the eccentricities of Sofia, Gino, and Carlo are magnified tenfold, and the suspense the viewer feels is heightened. In musical theater, singing is an emotional release, and each time one of the actors opens their mouth, the thoughts and feelings of their character are projected. How ironic and innovative to afford low characters the chance to communicate through use of high art.

“Ernesto’s Cantina” is über-comical. A Zorro reject (with a fake mustache) and a guitar-toting musician fight for the affection of a unibrowed Black Swan. That the actors do not maintain straight faces during the vignette—which is chockfull of slapstick, sight gag, sexual innuendo, and a well-placed scabbard—is a testament to the raucous nature of the scene as well as the vigor and liveliness the actors add. All the vignettes are different but united with an ongoing joke—the sound of drinking glasses, plates, and utensils crashing to unseen-kitchen floors is followed with the snap: “Trouble in the kitchen!” In “Ernesto’s Cantina” the snap becomes “¡problemas en la cocina!” Hilarious.

All three actors warrant commendations for their outstanding performances. Each moves from vignette to vignette with ease, making their tasks of becoming five distinct persons with five distinct personalities look like pieces of cake. Actor John Bolton is the star. In 80 minutes, he changes from bifocals-wearing geek to Italian stallion to German changeling to swashbuckling avenger to 1950s matinee idol to bifocals-wearing geek once more. A talented character actor, it is almost as if five actors perform the roles Bolton has been contracted to perform. His antics, comic timing, and over-the-top exuberance attract the viewer, contribute to the success of the musical, and threaten to upstage—succeeding 90 percent of the time—his fellow actors.

The score Coffin has composed is memorable, and boasts several well-written individual numbers that reveal character and advance plot. “Jumpin’ the Gun,” “Give Me This Night,” “Gretchen’s Lament,” “The Ballad of Guillermo,” “The Blue Flame,” “Love at the Lone-Star Tonight,” and “Love Looking Back at Me” are surefire additions to the repertoires of musical theater hopefuls. “The Ballad of Guillermo,” for example, is the theme song for the Zorro reject. In the number, its singer, Ernesto, flubs the words three times, with purpose, to cast Guillermo in a bad light. Each time, Guillermo protests and orders the song started from the top, all before he himself sings the number with self-flattering and exaggerated compliments. Each number from Five Course Love is lilting and makes the musical an entertaining vehicle.

Emma Griffin has done excellent work as director. She has woven one seamless production that does not leave the viewer wanting. Her stage business is smart, suiting the fifteen characters as well as their five respective situations.

Bettie O. Rogers has designed fabulous coiffures. The costumes G.W. Mercier fashions are colorful and suited to their wearers. (His costumes for the German vignette—“Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz”—evoke the 1998 Sam Mendes-directed revival of Cabaret, almost poking fun at that production and its star turns.) His set, however, is sparse—its main feature is the Minetta Lane proscenium arch saturated in silverware. Mark Barton uses lighting effects well, making the restaurants look and feel different from each other.

Musical theater aficionados need get on the good foot to bear final witness to what promises the American musical is aflame and its fire spreading. Alas, Five Course Love closes December 31, 2005, after 16 preview performances, 170 regular ones, and a million laughs for sure.

New Year's Eve at the Theater, by Matt Windman

Who will be the mystery guest tomorrow night at Prince Orlofsky’s ball? The Metropolitan Opera has a tradition of incorporating celebrity performers into its operas on New Year’s Eve such as Barbara Cook and Dame Edna. Tomorrow night, one or more celebrity performers will be added to the company’s enchanting revival of Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus.”

Sung in German with English dialogue, this light operetta from 1874 is viewed today as one of the world’s first musical comedies. Also making his MET debut is Bill Irwin, who adds a delightful dose of slapstick comedy as a screwball jail attendant.

On Broadway, New Year’s Eve will mark the final performances of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Latinologues,” and “Sweet Charity.” At Joe’s Pub, the controversial comedian Sandra Bernhard will rant, rock and rail over the ups and downs and further downs of 2005.

For cabaret, Elaine Stritch will perform her new show at the Carlyle, and Michael Feinstein himself will sing at Feinstein’s. And at 59E59 Theaters, the entire theater complex will be turned into a multi-floor “New Year’s Whirl” party with music, dancing and cocktails.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Producers" by Flora Johnstone

Money can’t buy you love and the new Producers movie proves it can’t buy you a good film either. Sadly, this glitzy remake of the classic Mel Brooks film (and blockbuster Broadway musical) just doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s still the same zany, lighthearted story about a pair of producers who attempt to strike it rich by putting on the worst musical ever but somewhere along the line it has lost its wit and become totally brainless. What’s especially disappointing is that theoretically this movie had everything going for it. It boasts a star-studded cast, an outstanding creative team (Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan wrote the screenplay, Susan Stroman directs), and a wildly successful theatrical run. But even though the costumes and cinematography are admittedly beautiful and it’s as glossy and polished as the next Hollywood hit, the Producers manages to feel completely uninspired.

Susan Stroman is undoubtedly a very talented theatrical director, yet her efforts here feel awkward and a bit over done. The direction definitely has its moments (the dancing grannies are great) but overall is just doesn’t pop.

The performances are uneven at best, and with few exceptions the actors are all merely playing AT their characters, mugging for the camera and laughing at their own jokes. Surprisingly, Matthew Broderick plays a smug and boring Leo Bloom and is completely insincere and uninteresting in the role. Uma Thurman is undeniably gorgeous but feels totally miscast as Ulla and next to seasoned theatre actors she appears self conscious, timid and lackluster. Nathan Lane is great as Max Bialystock but still, isn’t this a role we have seen him do a thousand times before? Will Ferrell however, is truly the standout in the cast. He is fantastically hilarious as Franz Liebkind, the author of the infamous Springtime for Hitler. It’s almost worth the price of admission just to see him do his thing…almost.

If you’re looking for a good time, try to score some tickets to the musical; failing that, rent the classic ‘cause there ain’t nothing new here.

"Candida," by Matt Windman

Compared to the increasingly commercialized Off-Broadway landscape, the 35-year-old Jean Cocteau Repertory at the 132-year-old Bouwerie Lane Theatre maintains an old-fashioned sense of community amongst its actors and audience.

A repertory company, one where select actors perform together regularly, is a dying art in American theater. At the opening of “Candida” on Wednesday, the artistic staff even shook hands with regular subscribers.

Using small casts and minimal stagecraft, the company presents about five productions each year of classics by Ibsen, Shakespeare, and other authoritative playwrights. George Bernard Shaw’s Shaw’s “Candida” is the season’s third play following “Mother Courage” and “Medea.”

A witty examination of the modern roles of husband and wife, “Candida” is one of Shaw’s most easily digestible plays. That it is less demanding theatrically than perhaps “Heartbreak House” or “Man and Superman” works to the company’s advantage.

Though not superlative, the six-actor ensemble, under director Michael Halberstam, performs with sincerity. Danaher Dempsey stands out as Marchbanks, a confused 20-year-old, while several others awkwardly use artificial accents and depend on gestures.

This “Candida” lacks the liveliness of Shaw’s “Mrs.’s Warren’s Profession” starring Dana Ivey, now at the Irish Repertory. Still, it remains a satisfactory, generally likable production.

Bowerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery, 212-279-4200, $40-50; Wed 7pm, Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Jingle From St. Nick!

Loaded with Christmas carols and Spanish translations, A Jingle from St. Nick is a delightful and educational rendition of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The show (directed at children, but great for all ages) portrays Aunt as Jewish, and thus, is able to show the difference between Christmas and Hanukkah in a unique, entertaining way.

Also, Mama is Puerto Rican, and through her, we see how Puerto Ricans celebrate Christmas. With dinner props (like pernil and chuletas), and an explanation of Three Kings Day, we see an entirely different view of Christmas.

Although it only lasts about an hour, A Jingle From St. Nick is so entertaining, you will walk away with the largest smile. Singing along to Christmas Carols (in both English and Spanish) and watching as the children dance along with the actors, makes the show too great to pass up. It puts you in the true Christmas spirit and makes everyone just a bit more merry.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" by Aaron Riccio

And you will laugh. People keep tuning into soap operas because there’s something appealing about melodrama: the more absurd the characters, the more distanced from reality, the easier it is to just let go and enjoy.

The charm of the original Peanuts strip found humor in a depressingly wishy-washy blockhead. Dog Sees God, a parody of the classic comic, strips away this humanity in favor of the grotesque and shallow stereotypes of teen life, and it’s actually pretty funny—but always in spite of itself. Too many of the jokes come from the satire itself: the clever ways in which C.B. (Eddie Kaye Thomas), now ten years older, still finds ways to “augh” and “good grief” his way through life. It’s about as rich as reality television but also as decadently satisfying. Just look at the cast, pop-celebrity at its finest: from Buffy (Eliza Dushku) to The O.C. (Logan Marshall-Green), American Pie (Thomas), and Lost (Ian Somerhalder).

There are issues presented, yes, about fitting in and the acceptance (or lack thereof) of being gay, but it’s such farce that the tragic is served for our amusement. The play opens with C.B., illuminated in a thin stream of light, speaking in the clipped monotone of narrative, rather than monologue, about his late dog. It seems that Snoopy got rabies and ripped Woodstock apart; there was blood everywhere. It's matter-of-fact, but rather than yielding a traumatizing collision between fantasy and reality (as in the provocative Smurf-killing anti-war propaganda), it's just awkward; all we can do is laugh.

And you will laugh. People keep tuning into soap operas because there’s something appealing about melodrama: the more absurd the characters, the more distanced from reality, the easier it is to just let go and enjoy. Marshall-Green, as Beethoven, is probably the best actor of the bunch, lending conflict and nuance to the nerdy pianist (a polar opposite from The O.C.’s bad boy Trey). But actors like Kelli Garner (Tricia, or a blond, dumb lesbian Peppermint Patty, ten years down the road) and Keith Nobbs (Van, the pothead who smoked his precious blanket after his sister, Lucy, burned it) are the ones who wind up stealing the show. It’s a compliment to the actors, but perhaps a telling flaw that the two most compelling characters are also the most over-the-top, and perhaps we’ve arrived at a circus (“bigger is better”) rather than a play. Most disappointing is probably Somerhalder (Matt, a germaphobe who freaks out at the words ‘pig’ and ‘pen’), who acts as if he’s still in front of a camera and fails to emote beyond the first few rows.

Don’t let this necessarily discourage you from seeing Dog Sees God. Bert V. Royal’s script may not be the most nuanced, but it has at least a little profundity to counterbalance all the profanity. When asked by C.B. if he believes in heaven, Beethoven looks away and quietly replies, “There has to be some kind of reward for living through all this.” In that moment, all the overbearing and overabundant comedy is exposed for what it is: a mask to hide the children as they play adults. No wonder the once-lovable Peanuts gang turns to alcohol, meaningless sex, and marijuana; the grown-up world's a scary place. The moment that mask slips, as it does in the climax, there is violence and violence only. Maybe life is this grotesque.

Century Center for the Performing Arts (115 East 15th Street)
Tickets: $65 (212-239-6200)
Performances: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday @ 8:00; Friday at 7:00 and 10:00; Saturday at 4:00, Sunday @ 7:00

"Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," Review by Matt Windman

Life has really changed for the Peanuts gang, according to “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”: Linus is a burnt out Buddhist, Pigpen is a homophobic quarterback, Lucy is a pyromaniac, Linus is an abused pianist, and Charlie Brown is dealing with sexuality issues.

Bert V. Royal’s play premiered at last year’s Fringe Festival and has now graduated to an open-ended Off-Broadway staging, thanks to a cast of young actors bearing screen credits: Ian Somerhalder (“Lost”), Eddie Kaye Thomas (“American Pie”), Eliza Dushku (“Bring It On”), Ari Gaynor (“Mystic River”), and Logan Marshall Green (“The O.C.”), among others.

But what could have been a fabulously funny five minute skit is actually an amateurish attempt to write an existentialist comedy in the style of “Avenue Q” with hints of teen melodrama. The script is of such a doggerel quality that curse words and sexual references make up about half of the play.

The cast seems to enjoy themselves while making their characters more exaggerated, and Eddie Kay Thomas actually manages to make us care about his portrayal of Charlie Brown as a troubled high school youth. Even so, the play does not succeed in disguising unbearable mediocrity as outrageousness. In fact, fans of the Charlie Brown comic strips are most likely to be offended or bored.

Century Center for the Performing Arts, 111 East 15th Street, 212-239-6200, $25-65. Mon 8pm, Wed-Thurs 8pm, Fri 7 & 10pm, Sat 4 & 8pm, Sun 7pm.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Jackie Hoffman: Chanukah at Joe’s Pub," by Matt Windman

Upon being told that Nicole Kidman is a character actress, the outrageous comedian Jackie Hoffman makes the following conclusion: “If she’s a character actress, I’m deformed.”

Ms. Hoffman was commiserating over the fact that she was not asked to be a part of the recent “Bewitched” movie. Her “Chanukah at Joe’s Pub” is an hour-long cabaret show seething with unabashed anti-sentimentality, dark humor, and shameless personality.

Upon taking the stage, she breaks into a long medley of Chanukah songs, most of which are in Hebrew. She then proceeds to lead us through the angry, sarcastic details of her life since she left the cast of Broadway’s “Hairspray.”

Still, there are moments when Hoffman descends too deeply into tastelessness. In the “What Was I Diagnosed With This Year” segment, she literally sings a love song to her fibroid tumor. And as a climax, Death (played by David Rakoff) reveals to her that she will never become famous, thus remaining “the poor man’s Bette Midler.”

Needless to say, Radio City is unlikely to produce a “Chanukah Spectacular” anytime soon. But until that day arrives, Jackie Hoffman is providing an irreverent, delightful holiday gift meant only for the adult crowd.

Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. 212-239-6200. $25. Sat 7 & 9pm, Mon 7:30 & 9:30pm.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Presented by The Lady Cavalier Theatre Company, a Manhattan based, not-for-profit organization now in its fifth season, THE LADY CAVALIERS: SIGNATURE STORIES is a wild collection of ass kicking, no-holds-barred vignettes examining history’s female archetypes and the women warriors fighting to break them. Cleverly directed by Peter Hilton, this estrogen heavy production is part Uma Thurman, part Susan B. Anthony, all flash, and all brain. Through a mutiny of jabs, kicks, and lunges, SIGNATURE STORIES finds a rare, winning combination which dazzles and educates its audience in equal shares.

Hilton, who also doubles as playwright (then triples as actor), constructs the show’s short stories around theatrical combat, a staple of LCTC and a lost form of theatre arts picking up steam once again in universities and theatrical programs around the nation. Jujitsu, karate, and (quite oddly) ballet embellish the female-friendly themes fittingly. And, although it may seem peculiar and somewhat forced to construct a show around choreographed fighting sequences, Hilton’s succeeds magnificently. Since it has been the goal of LCTC from their inception to educate and challenge stereotypes of the “weaker sex,” the audience, by way of Hilton’s brainy script and the company’s wholehearted performances, understands the physicality of the show is a devise representative of the female struggle.

There are whips, chains, swords, and spears—a litany of medieval weapons bound to keep anyone entertained (including boyfriends). However, SIGNATURE STORIES isn’t simply about snap kicks and roundhouses.

Seen most clearly in “Contestant 325” (performed with tear-jerking excellence by Ricki G. Ravitts), a short story about an international fencer during the 1936 Olympics incorporating little to no blocking, the beating heart of this unique collection makes itself known. More so than the crane kicks, judo flips, or jousts, the controlled tenderness of each piece, in my opinion, is what will be remembered. THE LADY CALAVIERS: SIGNATURE STORIES is a muscular, yet feminine show; a theatre experience that will leave you wanting more long after the curtain has dropped.

Lady Cavaliers: Go for the Swordfight, Stay for the Bullwhip (Review by Elizabeth Devlin

If the idea of a theatre company based on female empowerment and creating opportunities for female stage combat sounds a little too “Xena: Warrior Princess” for you, fear not: The Lady Cavalier Theatre Company doesn’t use leather miniskirts to get its “women-can-kick-butt-too” message across. Well, at least not in this production.

The Lady Cavaliers: Signature Stories is a unique work by a unique group. Actually 5 short plays, all written by Peter Hilton, the evening presents a variety of women as weapon-wielders, and provides a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable experience for the audience.

The best plays include ‘A Silent Exchange’ and ‘Contestant 325’. ‘A Silent Exchange’, the last work of the night, is a comedic romp performed in the style of a silent film, about a director hopelessly trying to get his actors to behave for a fight scene. ‘Contestant 325’ takes a very different tone as a Jewish German fencer relays her experiences as an Olympic athlete during the Nazi regime. The text could be made more comprehensible, however a powerhouse performance by Ricki G. Ravitts lets this play shine.

Other highlights of the evening included performances by the very funny Maggie MacDonald and the versatile Peter Hilton (yes the writer). If you get a chance to see this show, in one incarnation or another, do not be alarmed by the suffragette play – it is by far the most obviously go-women-power piece, though all the plays get their message across in different ways.

The Lady Cavaliers: Signature Stories is playing at the Greenwich Street Theatre through December 18th. Go now. for more info and tickets.

Review: “The Producers” by Evan Robert Pohl

ATTENTION! ATTENTION! BROADWAY LOWERS TICKET PRICES! The Gods of the Great White Way have finally come to their senses by allowing the masses behind the velvet ropes of some of B’Way’s hottest shows. “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ smash musical comedy and winner of a historic 12 Tony Awards—a show previously garnering ticket sales up to $400—can now be seen for a meager $10.75!

Oh, wait. Wait a minute—my mistake. That’s the ticket price to see the film. Oops. Silly me. The staged musical adaptation is still outrageously overpriced.

But, you can understand my confusion, can’t you? Because if you’ve seen the recently released remake of Brooks’ 1968 comedy classic you’d mix ‘em up, too. You see, there isn’t much to distinguish “The Producers” at the St. James from “The Producers” at the Ziegfeld. Susan Stroman, director of the film’s Broadway incarnation, and producers Mel Brooks and Jonathan Sanger have improved upon so little in between the opening of the show in 2001 and its nation-wide release four years later, the only noticeable differences are a few cast changes.

In its current version the pizzazz of the original “Producers” musical is nowhere to be found (thanks in part to Peter Rogness’ blindingly transparent art direction, though largely to blame on Stroman’s muddled cinematic translation). Leo Bloom’s big number? Flat. Roger De Bris’ hilarious Hilter-turned-hussy? Flaccid. Ulla’s tantalizingly titular audtition? Yawn. About the only asset spared by the director/choreographer’s destructive adaptation is the genius comedic pairing of Roger Bart and Gary Beach, who steal the film and make you wish for a spin-off.

Well, sort of. If “The Producers” movie has given us anything it’s the certainty this franchise should be killed. The only advise I can offer: stay alert and aware of the Brooks moneymaking machine. “Young Frankenstein” will soon be heading our way and you know “Spaceballs: The Musical” isn’t far off.

“The Producers,” 134 min. Opens nationwide January 13th, 2006.
For tickets call (212)307-4389 or visit

"The Producers" by Jess Lacher

The newest incarnation of Mel Brooks' classic film THE PRODUCERS is sure to please its target audience-- people who loved the Broadway musical, and who will be happy to see the celebrated performances of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick captured on film. In that respect, it is a success, but otherwise it is a bust.

Susan Stroman's direction results in fine performances all around, but the film looks bad. There's no poetry in the camera work, and the sets feel stuck within the confines of a stage, as if no one on the production team realized that there could be a real world outside that office. The musical version was a hit on Broadway, and perhaps this is because we watch theater differently than we watch film-- we are in the room with it, and it is alive, and so we will forgive the iffy lyrics and the tired stereotypes. But huge on a screen, everyone looks weird and mousey, and the light isn't right, and are you kidding it isn't over yet?

The original PRODUCERS was all about the hour spent in anticipation of "Springtime for Hitler," the moment when the movie exploded in chorus girls draped in sausage and lederhosen. But the new PRODUCERS has blown it twenty minutes in: we've already seen the chorus girls, we've already burst into song. If you know right now that this movie was made for you, go see it and have a lovely time. But if your feet are cold, it's not going to win you over, so stay in with Gene and Zero.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"The Producers (2005)," by Aaron Riccio

Freed from the confines of the stage, "The Producers" never misses a beat or an opportunity to delight in a good sight gag. Even the credits, which feature a "classical" version of "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop," are funny. With the tight focus of Susan Stroman's direction (she also helmed the musical, so these are familiar hands), you won't miss a beat either, unless you blink. Every frame is crammed with classic Brooks humor, and even (especially) the new additions to the cast, Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, know exactly how to milk a scene, despite playing to an invisible audience. Nathan Lane, though: he's the glue that holds this whole thing together. Though his spontaneity and ad-libbing are absent (or blocked by the impersonal barrier of film), his sense of self—deprecating and rotundly jubilant—is not. Nor his frenzy, that manic Brooksian energy that makes a song like "Betrayed" worth the price of admission alone.

The only wrong turns—minor flaws—are the occasional lapses where Stroman seems compelled to add some little theatrical flourish, just to occupy more space on the screen. Also, the "Springtime for Hitler" sequence just isn't as impressive as it was on stage, perhaps because the meta-narrative of watching a movie watching a play is too thick. And of course, Matthew Broderick, who, despite being likeable, seems all too aware that he's putting on a show.

The dancing, singing tour-de-force that took Broadway by storm is even more powerful here, meeting the bar and leaping over it. Be it Little Old Ladies doing a tap dance with walkers, a mad chase through the streets of New York while singing "We Can Do It," or the brilliant dream-sequence of "I Wanna Be A Producer/Unhappy," this new "Producers" is an unmistakable and not-to-be-missed hit.

The Producers vs. The Producers: Review by Liza White

The Producers, the movie musical about two producers who realize they can potentially make more money with a flop than with a hit, is just what a musical should be with its outrageously funny cast, flawless choreography, and larger than life directing. But what the general movie going public may not be aware of is how the director Susan Stroman has kept the musical true to its original Broadway roots not only by preserving the dynamic partnership of Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick but also by keeping the original costume designer William Ivey Long, bringing in current and former cast members of the Broadway show to make cameo appearances and only adding to her original choreography to heighten its beauty on the big screen.

In preparation for the movie’s release, I saw The Producers on Broadway and was thrilled to see a show where every single detail from the cast to the set was of the highest quality (something I always think costly Broadway should be but never quite is). The current Broadway cast takes Mel Brooks’ already provocative comic script and pushes the upper middle class audience to the edge of their seats with swastika dance formations and flamboyant displays of homosexuality. The audience not only gets the jokes but recognizes a “hit” when they see one. The ensemble acting, especially John Treacy Egan and Hunter Foster as Bialystock and Bloom, more than fills the big shoes worn by the original Tony award winning cast.

The movie version had the same big shoes to fill plus the added pressure of producing a successful modern movie from a traditional musical, something move makers just can’t seem to grasp. But Stroman’s keen eye for detail and deeps roots in the theatre smoothly transitions this Brooks classic to the big screen. The only new celebrity additions to the show were Uma Thurman as the Swedish bombshell, Ulla, and Will Ferrell as the Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind. While Thurman looked and sounded more beautiful than ever she just couldn’t get comfortable in her dancing shoes. Ferrell, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically natural as Liebkind. I hope he will reprise the role on the Broadway stage.

The other standout performances in the movie were not so much Lane and Broderick (though their performances were solidly funny) but Gary Beach and Roger Bart as the gay director Roger DuBris and his partner Carmen Gjia. Tony winning Beach, who is still playing this eccentric role nightly on Broadway, brings down the house both in and out of a wig. But the performance that steals the show is most certainly Bart’s. Better known as the creepy pharmacist George Williams on Desperate Housewives, his conniving grin, comic timing, and unwavering love for his partner shine on the silver screen and reinforce his Tony nominated original performance. From the flawless chorus girls to hilarious celebrity stars, this made in New York musical has given movie musicals a new standard to live up to.

The Producers (the movie) is now playing in select cities and opens nationally on December 25.

The Producers (on Broadway) is currently playing at the St. James Theatre located at 246 W. 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave.
Tuesdays at
7:00 PM
Wednesday through Sunday
8:00 PM
Wednesday and Saturday at
2:00 PM
Sunday at
3:00 PM.
For tickets call 212-239-5800 or 800-432-7250.

The Producers the movie

In a time where the movie musical is becoming ever so popular, The Producers is the best yet. In comparison with its stage counterpart, the two are almost identical. Minus a song here and an eliminated verse there, everything down to the costumes and choreography are mirror images of the stage show. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick give outstanding performances and shine as only the original Broadway stars can. Will Farrell adds Hollywood star power to the movie musical and does so with flair and perfection. Uma Thurman, while giving a lovely performance and has the character of Ulla pretty much down pat, does not deliver with same the vocal power of her stage comparison. Hunter Foster, the current Leo Bloom, and Broderick play the character strikingly different, but both still bring down the house with uproarious laughter throughout the entirety of the show (and movie). If you loved the stage version, you will not be disappointed with this movie musical since it is practically the same show, just shown through a different artistic medium. Unlike the recent RENT movie, The Producers lends itself to the big screen flawlessly.

The only thing missing was the audience’s applause at the end of the big, flashy, musical numbers. I found myself itching to applaud and could feel the rest of the audience sharing my desire, and once or twice, someone did cave in and start clapping. As much as I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed the stage version a little bit more just because there is nothing like live theater. But since most of the world might never have the chance to see The Producers on stage, this movie is an excellent substitute.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Review: Our Time
by Eric Miles Glover

Our Time has provided an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance for its dramatists that manifests in their one-acts. Bruno-Metzger, Jones, Messing, and Sethi have crafted dramas that exude confidence and emphasize the subjective expression of their inner experiences.

Read entire review:

Our Time bills itself as “an artistic home for people who stutter,” and no better adjective besides “artistic” describes the ingenious dramas four college-bound teenagers have crafted and directed for the second annual showcase of student-written one-acts.

In one, Naudia Vivienne Jones dramatizes the trials and tribulations of an introvert who overcomes her fears of people to win an American Idol-like singing competition. In another, Yoni Messing introduces an Italian-speaking woman and an English-speaking man who use nothing but gesture and facial expression—as well as his frequent misuse of Italian masculine and feminine verbs—to communicate.

In “I, Man on Stage,” after overcoming outer-directed obstacles and finding an inner-directed sense of Self, one man contemplates the meanings of Life, Success, and Survival. Using simple language, percussive movement, and repetitive phrases (altered each time one is spoken), Donn Sethi imparts his message of man having the gift of finding blessings in the storm.

In one more, “So You Think You Know Me,” a high school student struggles with lack of confidence in a world that refuses to acknowledge her hard work. Angelina Bruno-Metzger uses a non-speaking actress to represent the girl during regular encounters with loved ones and friends, and a second actress—in a speaking role—to express the frustration she feels. A wonderful and powerful moment occurs at the end of the drama, when the non-speaking actress speaks for the first time and her other half, emerging from behind her, embraces her. Here, external silent appearance and internal loud frustration are married for the first time. Wow.

In each one-act, the writing is sharp and character-driven, rivaling that of the Masters. What remains salient, the teenagers have written inspired pieces that resonate with child and adult viewers. Our Time has provided an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance for its dramatists that manifests in their one-acts. Bruno-Metzger, Jones, Messing, and Sethi have crafted dramas that exude confidence and emphasize the subjective expression of their inner experiences. Each is a talented dramatist for whom the future holds promise.

Our Time Theater is Worth Everyone's Time

Our Time Theater is for Everyone's time. What a raw inspiring night of theater was presented December 17, 2005. Our Time Theater shines with raw honest work, from playwrights who all have one thing in common, heart. One may think that because this group is for performers who stutter that they are going to see something less than real art, nothing could be further from the truth. Led by founder, Taro Alexander, these youth present honest, poignant One-Acts. They do so by avoiding sentimentality or self-pity and evoking universal truths that all can relate to.

Such fine playwrights, and to think they are all under 20! Memorable pieces include, I, Man on Stage, written by Donny Sethi. This play uses interpretive dance, song, and poetry, to captivate its audience and connect them to the struggling artist played well by Dashiell Eaves. Next came So you Think you Know me, written by Angelina-Bruno Metzger. This piece shows the duality of life; our "public" person and our "real person." Her work is full of rich text that hits the audience with its brutal honesty. Donisha Brown does an outstanding job showing the girls inner life and struggles.

After the One Acts end, the audience engages in a question and answer period with the writers. Their courage and sense of humor are a rare treat to find in today's theater. It is funny that they are depicting different struggles that are particular to them as stutterers. What they don't realize is their specific plights are universal, which allows everyone to share in the experience! This was an inspiring night and one that I am thankful to have been a part of.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"A Broken Christmas Carol" by Aaron Riccio

And yes, somewhere in the midst of all the politically incorrect comedy, there is even a little nugget of Christmas cheer and magic, appearing like a diamond from coal.

Watching A Broken Christmas Carol, all I could think of were those old Fractured Fairy Tales that used to run between cliffhangers in Rocky and Bullwinkle. This was a good thing (sometimes too much of a good thing). The Fractured segments used sight gags, clever twists stuffed with puns, and a minimalist approach to animation. This play (a combination of three interlocking one-acts by different playwrights) mostly follows that formula.

You see, A Broken Christmas Carol is cartoonish, from the characters (particularly Tiny Tim and Iggie) to the props (cardboard cutouts, all hand drawn): even the set itself, a giant book which flips open to reveal individual curtains (pages), each of which turn to reveal the backdrop. The effect is like a giant comic book, with live action superimposed over it. The sight gags cannot help but be painfully apparent (as with Iggie’s prophetic “doom,” scrawled onto his forehead by a malicious Sharpie), nor can the minimalism in such an off-off Broadway theater be avoided. (It can only be used well, and it is.) The only thing lacking are the puns (thankfully, with the exception of the mispronounced “Crotches”)—the scripts manage to be clever enough without them. The one exception is Kendra Levin’s offering, a boisterously ranting piece that, despite a beautiful closure and some subtle jokes, cannot help being overtaken by the manic energy of Iggie. The plot is overshadowed by individual monologues that, aside from all sounding alike, string together even looser than the one-acts themselves.

It’s difficult to give cartoon characters dramatic range, especially in a comedy, and yet J. Holtham’s piece, the strongest of the three, somehow manages. I suspect it’s mostly on the strength of William Jackson Harper, who manages to find the varying notes of his characters. In this piece, he plays DeWayne, a dead spirit visiting his old ghetto buddy Shawn (Keith Arthur Bolden: a little stiff, but a good straight man) before heading over to Mr. S’s (that’s Scrooge, by the way; yes, he’s one of those ghosts). In the final piece, by James Christy, he plays a television host; the two roles are written with a similar upbeat and sardonic wit, as if in a playful hurricane of language, and yet Harper doesn’t even seem to break a sweat. A lot of respect also to Aly Wirth, who not only finds the serious side of Maddie (DeWayne’s white girlfriend) but the playful side of the stripper-daughter Martha (in Christy’s play). As the old maxim goes, if you’ve got it, flaunt it: and always smile when you dance.

In all, A Broken Christmas Carol has something for everyone: anti-Christmas vindictive presented like a stand-up comedy with narrative, serio-comedic misadventures as X-Mas comes to the hood, and physical comedy when the Cratchit family tries to win a Reality TV contest as the ‘most neediest’ family. Even when jokes go bad (“God bless us, everyone,” spoken in parody every time, as if the intonation were trademarked), the pace stays up-tempo and the jokes keep coming, just like the Fractured Fairy Tales of old. And yes, somewhere in the midst of all the politically incorrect comedy, there is even a little nugget of Christmas cheer and magic, appearing like a diamond from coal. So stuff your stockings and have a wicked little Christmas.

Michael Weller Theater (311 West 43rd Street; 6th Floor; Suite 602)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $19.00
Schedule (Closing 12/30): Monday, Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 7:00; Saturday @ 3:00

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"A Broken Christmas Carol" by Hannah Snyder-Beck

"Packed with sarcasm and holiday cheer, this spoof on the old classic is entertaining yet has serious undertones, making it a complete, fun-filled theater going experience."

“A Broken Christmas Carol” is a modern version of the old classic, complete with a pot-smoking Mrs. Cratchit and biting jokes about the Jewish experience during the Christmas holiday. The play opens with Maddie (Aly Wirth) in bed with her loving, yet emotionally guarded, boyfriend Shawn (Keith Arthur Bolden). After the couple smoke a holiday doobie (indeed, pot pops up everywhere in this production), Shawn is visited by the ghost of his childhood friend DeWayne. As DeWayne, William Jackson Harper bursts with humor and energy and his arrival sets off a whole host of events--including a glimpse into Shawn’s past as a dope-dealing kid from a rough neighborhood who pushes pot to pay for college.

At times, Mr. Bolden garbles his lines, but overall gives a solid performance as Shawn. As Shandra, Shawn’s girlfriend from the old neighborhood, Danielle Davenport is uneven. Ms. Davenport brings depth to her character, yet she fails to emotionally carry through. Aly Wirth is believable as Maddie, but her real talent shines when she later appears as Martha, eldest daughter to the Cratchits. Depicting Martha as a strung-out exotic dancer, Ms. Wirth’s quirky antics are charming and funny. As Mrs. Cratchit, Ellen Daschbach hits all the right marks, yet her voice is noticeably constricted, adversely affecting her performance. Leo Lauer plays the head of the Cratchit family, and as such, has tremendous drive and energy. When he gets sentimental, however, Mr. Lauer becomes lost and fumbles emotionally. Chaz Brewer delivers an energetic and over-the- top performance as Tiny Tim, and Guil Fisher as the greedy corporate billionaire, Scrooge, is smooth and spontaneous.

An interesting twist in this updated Christmas Carol includes the Cratchits’ appearing on a reality show in an attempt to win some cash. The audience is suddenly treated as a television studio audience, complete with men with head sets encouraging clapping and participation. William Jackson Harper appears as the host of the reality show, humorously commenting on holiday gluttony poverty, social hierarchy and the pipe dream of the perfect Christmas.

The makeshift cloth set and props, smartly conceived by Joshua Alan Robinson, are Brechtian inventions: they remind the audience that we are watching a play, and in doing so, call attention to the ridiculousness of holiday over-indulgence. The script, co-written by James Christy, J. Holtham and Kendra Levin is witty and well written. Packed with sarcasm and holiday cheer, this spoof on the old classic is entertaining yet has serious undertones, making it a complete, fun-filled theater going experience.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"VITAL SIGNS" by Flora Johnstone

VITAL THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS "VITAL SIGNS" its annual new works series. This smart, irreverent and funny collection of one-act plays is sure to leave you smiling. If you like talented writers with a fresh and unique perspective this is definitely worth checking out. Only one week left! Get there if you can!

December 1-18
Monday – Thursdays at 7:00pm
The McGinn/Cazale Theatre
2162 Broadway, 4th floor at 76th Street
New York, NY 10024

"Vital Signs" by Rachel Maier

"Vital Signs," the new works festival put on by the Vital Theater Company seemed like it must be as enjoyable to be in, as it was to watch. The 6 one acts shared quite a few themes in common including the connection to ones family as well as direct address to the audience. Each of these plays focused on the telling and receiving of specific information which served as the main conflict for each piece. One line from the piece "Last Stop: Neverland" sums up the theme of the entire festival: "What good is having a voice if nobody wants to hear it?"

The sparse set and sufficient lighting worked well for the pieces and did not detract from the festival as a whole. Anything more would have been a distraction from the actors and would have been superfluous to the aim of the plays.

The actors put forth excellent work and were a joy to watch. I would recommend this new works festival to anyone who enjoys watching up-and-coming theater professionals do their thing and do it well.

"Vital Signs"
Dec 1-18, 2005
The McGinn Cazale Theatre
2162 Broadway, 4th floor

"Vital Signs" By Hannah Snyder-Beck

The Vital Theatre Company once again brings their annual New Works Festival to the stage with "Vital Signs." Each week of this three-week festival features new works from emerging playwrights. Week Two includes a brilliant one-woman piece written and performed by Jackie Maruschak. In "Last Stop: Neverland," Ms. Maruschak plays oversized and downtrodden Tinkerbell, who has been kicked out of Neverland because she grew up.

In another Week Two offering, "American Soil," Dennis Gagomiros plays a loving father who becomes obsessed with trees after hearing the results of the 2004 presidential election. Mr. Gagomiros exudes a kind presence and endows his character with complexity and depth, however his performance lacks the energy needed to broadcast past the third row.

In Michael John Garcés’s "Sandlot Ball," Nick Choksi successfully captures adolescent angst as he attempts to stand up to his older brother (Kevin Dhaniram). The performances given by Mr. Gagomiros, Mr. Choksi and, especially Ms. Maruschak remind us why it is crucial to support emerging talent. It is worth sitting through the rest of the clunky program to see these three perform.

Vital Signs New Play Fest

Vital Theater presented its first week in a 3 week series featuring new plays. After this round, its clear that Vital Theater is living up to its promise of vitality. All these plays reflect deep issues that are real and full of vital emotion.

Sorrento, by Lucile LichtBlau opens the evening with death with a twist. We actually see the Mother, played byWendy Scharfman, on her death bed-no stage is more like it. She offers flamboyance and insight to what her three children are feeling as they come to terms with losing their mother. Most memorable was Jordana Oberman (Dorrie) for her honest and specific work as the daughter grieving the loss of her mother. Despite some bad blocking and awkward movements, the relationships in this family become clear. Perhaps the excessive movement distracted the audience and prevented us from seeing the full potential of these relationships.

Relationtrip, by Sharyn Rothstein, ended the evening in a profound way. As a couple and her sister embark on a train ride to a wedding, all hell breaks loose. The couple, played by Jason Updike and Zakiyyah Alexander, turn the tables on each other when they are faced with having to talk about love and relationships. As the two are unable to resolve the issue heartbreak is unavoidable and ends the journeys abruptly. The two maintain amazing connections, filled with real emotional needs and scars. Watching them unfold is a human experience that scares and comforts us as it hits close to home.

With 2 more weekends to go, I have no doubt that they will be enjoyable pieces of theater if not Vital ones.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Review: Vital Signs, New Works Festival by Nicole Lemieux

In its 10th outing, Vital Signs, New Works Festival, running through December 18th at The McGinn/Cazale Theatre, presented a strong collection of five one acts in the first of three series.

The evening started off with Sorrento, a look at a family’s deliberation on whether or not to keep their comatose mother on life support, written by Lucile Lichtblau and directed by Cynthia Thomas. Wendy Scharfman, plays the mother, Cecily, a former actress, guiding the audience through the piece recalling past trysts, including one particular rendez-vous in Sorrento.

Passed Hordes, written by Mark Harvey Levine and directed by Brad Caswell followed a pair of loners played by Mary Catherine Donnelly and Michael Ruby at a holiday party who are eventually stripped of their insecurities and find love. Rebecka Ray and Alyssa Van Gorder provide wacky comic relief as waiters.

The strongest piece of the evening, Relationtrip, by Sharyn Rothstein confronts the nature of relationships, following a woman, her husband, her sister, and a gentleman they meet while on a train on the way to a friend’s wedding. Catherine Ward provides taught direction, and each of the four actors delivers humorous and heartfelt performances. Particularly strong are William Jackson Harper and Zakiyah Alexander as the married couple, Carrie and Eric.

Norman! by D.T. Arcieri and directed by Alexis Williams follows the title character, played wonderfully by Chris Stack, who is forced to confront his past when he sees an abandoned dog on the side of the road. Costars, Holly Lynn Ellis and Adam Wald each play multiple roles, to help bring this funny and thought-provoking story to life.

The final play, All in the Miming, is an uproarious romp by Qui Nguyen. Alexandra Hastings directs this comedy about a sadistic mime, played by the hilarious David Dean Hastings. Marius Hanford choreographed a series of impressive fights for Adam Alexander and Nicole Callender, a pair of pedestrians who take it upon themselves to fight back.

Vital Theatre Company (at McGinn/Cazale Theare)
2162 Broadway, 4th Floor
Tickets: $16.00, $10.00 (Students, with valid ID)
Schedule: Thursday-Sunday, 7:00pm

Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge

Based on a sequel to Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge is a testament to the limitless talent of author/actor, Marvin Kaye. Addressing the audience before the show, Kaye makes it known that the performance is NOT a staged reading, but rather a form of Readers Theatre - something I had yet to experience but enjoyed immensely.

Four stools and one script was all that awaited the small audience of thirty in a black box theatre as the show began. Four actors (Stacey Jenson, H. Clark Kee, Marvin Kaye, and Nancy Temple) walked onto a stage with no set, no props, and simple costume. Armed with only their scripts in hand (which Kaye notes, “are purely symbolic”), the four talented actors made the show come to life. Vividly describing each scene and each character, the audience is able to create the world in which the show is happening. Imagine your favorite book coming to life right in front of your eyes. Only it is not one director’s view of the book, it is your own view and your own imagination.

Picking up where Dickens left off, Kaye’s sequel showcases Ebenezer Scrooge after he has dealt with the three Christmas spirits. At the end of A Christmas Carol, we only get a glimpse of this changed, better, Scrooge. Kaye’s story is one of friendship, love and most of all, a heartwarming tale of the “Bah, Humbug” man who has changed for good. It brings joy to the heart, and is one show that will definitely put you in the Christmas Spirit.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"Phaedra x3" by Aaron Riccio

Phaedra x3
By the end of this marvelous experience—and it is an experience—you’ll not only appreciate theater more, but you’ll understand the process too.

How’s this for ambition: six actors and one director set out to train in Greece for a month and then come back to perform three dramatically different versions of Phaedra in repertoire. There’s the classic (Racine’s Phedre, as opposed to Euripides’ original), the modern (Matthew Maguire’s Phaedra) and the neo-expressionist (Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love). Each has its own unique vision and flair, but One Year Lease, by giving theatergoers the opportunity to compare and contrast all three, has triumphed with an overall production that can only be titled Phaedra x3. The classics are made contemporary (and vice versa), and while there are some imbalances throughout, this is edutainment for anyone interested in theater.

The only constant for each production, beyond the cast and crew, is a brilliantly minimalist set, designed by James Hunting. Plastic sheets that swing on hinges double as columns, windows and walls—only semi-transparent, they lend a ghostly air to each scene and play well with the lighting. Two lonely gray benches only accentuate the empty space, and it’s nice to get away from all the bells and whistles that plague today’s theater. This bare-boned approach forces the actors to really tell the story with themselves, and that singular focus is more grounded in the theater than any big-budget extravaganza.

Phedre (by Jean Racine; translated by Ted Hughes)
Be warned: Racine’s Phedre is perhaps more a necessary background to enjoy the other two performances than an enjoyable play itself.

Though Racine’s Phedre was written in the 17th century, in verse, Ted Hughes’s translation is surprisingly clear. Natural and direct, the language is often straight to the point and joyfully lucid. Unfortunately, it is often lucid over the course of repetitious rants, elongated exposition and ponderous pacing.

In this archetypal tragedy, “sadistic gods” amuse themselves by “toying with human hearts,” and while there are all the stereotypes of Greek myth—togas, bare-feet, swords—this tale of incest is far from standard. Phedre (Susannah Melone) is in love with her step-son Hippolytus (Danny Bernardy). What’s more, trying to suppress her feelings—she tries to drive Hippolytus away by acting as a cold-hearted bitch—has driven her insane, and she now yearns to die. Of course, you can’t have the climax at the beginning of the play, and so Oenone (Jennie Hahn) paves the road with good intentions and convinces Phedre to live . . . and to love. This is a great story (and perhaps a necessity to get the most out of the other two plays of Phaedra x3), but it’s also a bland bit of theater, full of one-dimensional archetypes delivering a lot of talk and no action.

That said, there’s not much for the actors or director to do here, save for an attempt at natural theater. The blocking seems minimal and imprecise and the acting is fine, but after a while, it all grows redundant. There’s a sense of lethargy, as if the cast would do more if they could, particularly Danny Bernardy (who plays Hippolytus). Here he’s like soda gone flat: not his fault; Racine’s Hippolytus just happens to be a martyr, and apparently nothing else. The one exception is Aricia (Christina Bennett Lind), love interest of Hippolytus. Although she is never allowed to do more than fawn, the desire in her eyes rings true, and her few monologues are like verbal orgies . . . if words were pictures, it would be soft-core porn. Susannah Melone, who plays Phedre, would do well to find that sexuality if she’s ever to be “a woman in frenzy.” All of her current whirling around is poetic, but it seems forced, and because she never calms down, we never see her as anything but deranged. (It doesn’t help that Melone has an unflattering vocal habit, inhaling deeply—like a fish gasping for water—throughout her speeches.)

By the second act, Racine’s already covered most of the interesting philosophical nuances; the dialogue loses its poetry and sounds suspiciously like summary (which makes sense considering the play loses all forward momentum); and without a real climax, it all just drags on.

Phaedra (by Matthew Maguire)
The trophy horse of other adaptations, Maguire’s Phaedra is swift (yet pervasive), violent (but not gratuitous), and physically compelling.

If Phaedra was music, it would be jazz. Along with a little bit of erratic techno, that’s the soundtrack director Ianthe Demos has chosen for Matthew Maguire’s adaptation. This sense of dance infuses the show with slow-building passion and then smoldering heat. The plastic walls swivel around and props—like a single wooden chair with a red cushion­—become the actor’s partners in one long, slow, sultry dance. The whole thing is a sleek machine that slows only to revel in its own masterfully modern poetic language (“Her ass bouncing up and down on my love nerve . . .”). The whole cast of Phaedra x3 has this version down best—especially Gregory Waller, whose rigid brooding and wry deliveries are a perfect match for the manipulative, all-business Thomas (Theseus), CEO (ruler) of a major corporation (kingdom).

The perfect medium between the tame and tedious Phedre and the wild and stylized Phaedra’s Love, Maguire’s Phaedra is the full package. While there are a few rough spots during set changes (and in some of the more abrupt and fragmentary scenes), the pacing is so swift and physical that we are happy just plunging ahead. Maguire also takes some much-needed liberty with the plot to enhance the familial tension: Thomas’s apparent death—the catalyst for Faye (Phaedra) to begin wooing her step-son William (Hippolytus)—comes much later in the show. Even then, he is never absent—he speaks cryptically and sporadically from behind a plastic curtain)—just like the cast itself, which watches from the front row of the theater. This effect serves to make the characters more present, even as the script develops them further. The one small complaint is Faye’s scheming servant: she’s written more like the ancient Oenone than the modern Nonny, and it’s a bit anachronistic. Thankfully, of Maguire’s wise redactions, Oenone’s manipulative, hand-wringing monologues are the first to go.

Instead, Maguire gets physical, and too much is never enough. From the pelvic grindings of William and Thomas to the sensual undulations of Faye and Aricia, clear physical actions are what allow the cast to swell with the text, rather than to be overpowered by it. The play is broken only by the interstitial scene changes, unwieldy black spots in an otherwise caroming plot. Perhaps this is director Ianthe Demos’ fault, since her blocking is also at times a bit too indulgent (characters climb atop benches and circle each other like wrestlers in heat), but I’m inclined to give Demos the benefit of the doubt, considering how impeccable the rest of her work in Phaedra is.

The one moment that really sells Phaedra (and Susannah Melone, who I’ll confess to disliking in the other two versions) is between Faye and William. With Thomas apparently dead, in a car crash, Faye has resolved to ensnare William with a drinking game involving grain alcohol (190 proof). The plan ultimately backfires, but Melone is absolutely giddy in the moment, and at last we see Phaedra as a vulnerable and helpless lover, rather than a despotic bitch using love as an excuse.

Phaedra’s Love (by Sarah Kane)
“Different” is the word that first comes to mind. It may possibly be the only word that comes to mind: all the shock value makes it hard to find the right word.

Phaedra’s Love begins simply enough: lights—here, the dim flicker of a television’s glow—up. Hippolytus—or at least Sarah Kane’s modern, apathetic rendition of him—slumps between piles of his own filth, listening to the loud blare of violence on the boob tube. He reaches for a dirty sock and blows his nose on it. After a few more minutes, between bites of a cheeseburger, he grabs another sock and carefully stuffs it down his boxer shorts and masturbates to gunshots on the TV. There’s a raw sense of discomfort, and Danny Bernardy (as Hippolytus) oozes this anti-hero charisma, and then all of a sudden, the scene shifts, the chorus comes on, and the play begins.

“Different” is the word that first comes to mind. It may possibly the only word that comes to mind: there’s a lot of shock value, and I’d belie its effect to try and describe it. What I can tell you is that this is a hyper-stylized performance piece, rigorously choreographed all the way down to the faux blow jobs and onstage bloodbaths. Ianthe Demos could push the envelope a bit further, but that’s like saying you could twist the knife a little more: either way, you’ve still been stabbed.

For all the detachment—actors interact with each other as if they’re on different planes of existence—Phaedra’s Love is extremely affecting. Not the lines themselves, those are either sterilized by their monotonous deliveries or laughed at nervously. Not the characters either: they’re absent, and it’s hard to feel attached or invested. But the technical precision, the whole process of subtle expressionism . . . you’d have to be familiar with Phaedra (and thanks to Phaedra x3, you can) to understand that we are seeing everything through Phaedra’s maddened eyes.

It is a numbing and reductive one-act, painfully bleak, and yet incredibly poignant. The climax here is frightening: an unseen stage manager, robotic and cold, reads the stage directions as a voice-over. Onstage, the actors go through the motions, like puppets, helpless and dangling. It may not be the Phaedra, or even the theater, that you expect: but it is a masterful work regardless.

Cherry Lane Theater Studio: 38 Commerce Street
Tickets: $15 for one, $25 for two, $35 for three (212-352-3101)
Racine/Hughes Performances: Dec. 13, 16, 20 @ 7:00
Maguire Performances: Dec. 14, 21 @ 7:00, Dec. 17 @ 2:00
Kane Performances: Dec. 15, 17, 22 @ 7:00

Lend Me A Tenor by Nicholas Linnehan

The Staten Island Shakespearean Theater, presents Lend Me A Tenor, led by Director Dina DiPilato. This play with all its farsical elements is acted well by a strong ensemble. The actors deal successfully with mistaken identity and sexual inuendo, which makes this play fun for everyone.

Brianne Berkson as Maggie and Richard Rella as Max lead the cast as the romantic leads. They fill their moments with impecable comic timing grounded in honest work, which makes them both funny and real. This is no small feat, as honesty can be lost in comedy but these two, and the rest of the cast, avoid that trap. Equally impressive are James Cunningham and Tina Barone as Tito and Maria Morelli. These two are a joy to watch as they fuel their scenes with Italian gusto; incredible anger toppled by a deep love.

The set and costumes are wonderful, making this a strong vibrant piece of theater. As the director requests, "Come see this show and relax and laugh." Im sure you will!

"The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge" Review by Liza White

The Open Book is currently presenting a charming continuation of Dickens’ beloved “A Christmas Carol” with their production of Marvin Kaye’s “The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge.” First and foremost, this production is Readers Theatre. That is, not a staged reading, but rather a form of theatre in which actors read literature on stage. Think of your mother’s best bedtime story. Now add a stage of accomplished actors and an audience and your drowsy story-time is transformed into a theatrical event full of live images and a compelling assortment of voices and characters.

Kaye’s text accurately captures Dickens’ language, style, and spirit. It was wonderful to see characters I’ve been familiar with since childhood as they proceed on a new journey and into new relationships. This sequel, set after that famed night of ghosts, follows Scrooge as he continues to seek out the unresolved wrongs of his past. The issues of anti-Semitism lost within the Dickens original are brought to the forefront in Kaye’s text as Scrooge becomes a father figure to a Jewish boy named Paul Cohen while being berated by his contemporaries for this cross-cultural relationship. But Scrooge is discovering himself as he takes on this father role and in addition his education about the life’s great lessons are continued, not by three ghosts, but rather from Paul’s endearing Jewish mother. A teenaged Tiny Tim outfitted with a much longer crutch also ignores the social rules of the time as he befriends Paul. Only once did I feel the story lose its integrity during a lengthy court scene, set at the pearly gates, which seemed much too contrived for the rest of Kaye’s tale. But in the end, the theme of brotherhood between Jew and Christian becomes a holiday story for all faiths about not only acceptance but also love and sacrifice.

The Open Book’s band of actors (Stacey Jenson, H. Clark Kee, Marvin Kaye, and Nancy Temple) delightfully brings Kaye and Dickens’ characters to life through an array of vocal accents and physicalizations. At some points their reading voices became muffled, maybe due to the fact they were glancing down at their books, and thus the story was lost. But their words were found again and heightened by beautiful choral moments and in the little movements this traditional style allows. I must admit, I wanted to further romanticize the Readers Theater style by setting this performance in an old library perfumed with the scent of aged books.

In a town where the lighting of a giant Christmas tree, extravagant shop window displays, and scantily clad synchronized kickers make up our holiday traditions, I say New York needs to make room for a tradition with substance and that is most certainly found in The Open Book’s production of Marvin Kaye’s “The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge” is playing at the 78th Street Theater Lab at 236 West 78th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam.
Thursday though Saturday,
8:15 PM, Dec 1 – Dec 17
Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 students and seniors
Box office: 212-362-9014

Friday, December 09, 2005

"A Touch of the Poet," Review by Matt Windman

Though Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of “A Touch of the Poet” marks the only drama to premiere on Broadway during the fall, this straightforward revival of the neglected Eugene O’Neill classic is more of a cause for appreciation rather than celebration.

Originally intended by O’Neill to be part one of an elaborate series of plays to chronicle American history, the play takes place in New England of 1828. A once prosperous Irish immigrant, now a tavern owner, refuses to accept his bleak realities, especially as his daughter falls in love with a wealthy American.

One year ago, Liam Neeson and Kaitlin Hopkins were expected to star in the show, to be directed by Edward Hall at the American Airlines Theater. Instead, the revival stars Gabriel Byrne and Dearbhla Molloy, directed by Doug Hughes, at Studio 54.

After having led “Doubt” and “Frozen” to Tony Award glory, Doug Hughes has become the hottest director on Broadway. However, he was unable to save Richard Greenberg’s less than amiable comedy “A Naked Girl…” earlier this fall. And though he conjures several striking visual images in this production, he again fails to bring originality or develop a sense of urgency.

Still, Gabriel Byrne gives an arresting, intriguing performance as Cornelius Melody, the play’s tragic-comic protagonist. Clad in his Lieutenant uniform from the olden, golden days, he emits a burning, glowing confidence that is sadly lacking from the rest of this satisfactory yet simultaneously somewhat disappointing production.

Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, 212-719-1300, $36.25-86.25. Tues 7pm, Wed 2 & 7pm, Thurs-Fri 7pm, Sat 2 & 7pm, Sun 2pm.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

PARADIS by Jonathan Cristaldi

For a truly fantastic evening of theatre, “PARADIS” is a must see. Rambert and the members of his company Side One Posthume Theatre, present a rare spectacle that should be seen by everyone, especially those who think the grandiloquent Broadway scene is a paradisiacal-tour-de-force.

Read entire review: Pascal Rambert’s “PARADIS (unfolding time)” does not blur the line between theatre and dance so much as it merely pushes the boundaries. The result: a beautiful and poetic spectacle that explores an impression of Paradise.

As the lights dim, a throng of people enters the theatre from the lobby, dressed as many New Yorkers would dress in the winter: layered. I thought this was rude of the Dance Theatre Workshop staff to allow so many people in at the start of a show, but when these people took the stage instead of seats, my attention was theirs.

In dim fluorescent light, layers of hats and gloves are immediately peeled away, along with tank tops, jeans, and underwear. The actors stand bare, stripped to the conscience, unwavering, their countenance baring no resemblance to the “guiltie shame" Adam and Eve experience in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, for what ensues is the discovery of Paradise.

The empty stage is soon littered by a plethora of microphones, blankets, guitars, work lights, chairs, and projectors projecting on small screens escalators and Renaissance paintings, all surrounding at the center a rectangular mat. Interaction between actor and space, actor and prop, actor and actor swells to a point of near-chaos, tensions release; the stage is cleared, the mat rolled up. “Why did I pass from the center,” begs a voice into a microphone when another mat of a different color is brought out, actors return to the center, and the piece builds in momentum until its next release.

Rambert’s thoughtful direction produces complex and physical concentrations of activity (extensions of Yoga), disconnected in space, yet connected in time. A leg extends in synch with an arm at opposite ends of the stage. Two actors cascade in slow motion around others somersaulting, crawling, always advancing toward a point in time until it unfolds. The choreography begs for extreme physically fit actors, as repetitive gestures and poses become draining. And take note: only a few are trained dancers.

Rambert’s text is poetic, at times abrasive and other times desperate for answers to questions that cannot be answered:

“Do you humiliate?
Will you make me suffer?
How can we suffer so much?
Is it beautiful?”

These often fleeting, vague statements and questions call to mind works by Richard Maxwell such as “House” and “Good Samaritans”. (Rambert mentioned Maxwell as influence in a post-show Q&A hosted by Mark Russell, former director at P.S. 122).

Underscoring the piece is music by Alexandre Meyer, listed in the program as a composer-interpreter, and lighting by Pierre Leblanc. Mr. Meyer plays the guitar, table guitar, and daxophone, often producing eerie sounds that magnify the urgency and at times sobriety of emotions laid out in “PARADIS”. Leblanc’s use of theatrical and fluorescent lighting compliments the sound and action in much the same way.

“PARADIS” was last performed in January 2004 at Le Theatre national de la Colline in Paris, and is being presented at Dance Theatre Workshop courtesy of ACT FRENCH.

For a truly fantastic evening of theatre, “PARADIS” is a must see. Rambert and the members of his company Side One Posthume Theatre, present a rare spectacle that should be seen by everyone, especially those who think the grandiloquent Broadway scene is a paradisiacal-tour-de-force.

(unfolding time)”
By Pascal Rambert/
Side One Posthume Theatre

December 7 – 10 at 7:30pm
Dance Theatre Workshop
219 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Apparition: A Swing and a Miss

Apparition is billed as an uneasy play of the underknown. I definitely agree with the first part. Apparition comes off as uneasy in its own skin. Apparition does not have any clear goals; or, if it does, falls short of those goals and fails to clue in the audience as to what we are supposed to be looking for.

A non-linear series of disconnected vignettes and scenes, Apparition is not without its share of scares- however, most of these are the result of well-conceived lighting and sound designs. There are some scenes which are conducted in total darkness, however the material in these scenes is not strong enough to keep the audience in the moment, and the darkness turns from eerie to tiresome.

Two actors in the six person ensemble of unnamed characters show true strength in their ability to turn otherwise lackluster writing and direction into suspenseful, disconcerting theatre. Maria Dizzia, in her best moment, speaks to the audience, recalling a frightening night in a new apartment where she feels she is not alone. The story is delivered simply but with true energy and presence. T. Ryder Smith also brings the audience in with his turn in another scene, combining both humor and horror in one of the few moments that achieve what the play should be striving for: scaring the audience of its wits. Sadly, Apparition gets lost in itself – and it shows.

Apparition was written by Anne Washburn and directed by Les Waters. It is being performed at the Connelly Theatre through January 7th.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Apparition" by Jess Lacher

The Dark Morton is coming. What is the Dark Morton, and from where does it come? No matter-- it is coming, and it is just one of the inexplicable terrors in Ann Washburn’s fine new play, aptly billed as an “uneasy play of the underknown.”

An ensemble of five, dressed in some combination of Gothic horror and Urban Outfitters, keeps Washburn’s text swirling and teasing. The restrained presentation (straight lines, little movement, near-total darkness) suits the writing, letting it play spooky without being scary, creeped out in the moment between hearing a twig snap behind you and turning to see that nothing is there. Two monologues and a few vignettes provide the whispers of narrative which keep the play from being swallowed up by vague and unnamed dread-- Maria Dizza stands out as a woman whose new apartment comes with a whispering maniac.

The lighting design is all shafts and shadows, flashlight-lit and changing so slowly it often feels like eyes adjusting to darkness. Director Les Waters has created a dark little space in which to spend eighty minutes, and everything feels intimate—sometimes, a little more intimate than you would like.

Usually, when the lights dim and the ghost stories begin, audiences know to cover their eyes and wait for the gasp of a big fright: the knife in the shower curtain, the hand on the shoulder. When Apparition pulls us in with grim and haunted tones, there is nothing to shut your eyes against, because the theater is already pitch black. There is no cathartic scare, just an uneasy release into the world—so you leave looking over your shoulder, waiting for something to jump out of the closet.

Apparition, at the Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street between A and B
Tickets: $35-$50
Through January 7

Sunday, December 04, 2005

"Otodama" by Aaron Riccio

If taken as a work-in-progress, Otodama is quite impressive, with a unique Eastern style and flair—a celebration of new and old­—that gives COBU a wide margin for error. After all, who isn’t a sucker for bow-legged, lightning feet and the whirligig speed of limber arms, all in unison?

As a veteran of STOMP, Yako Miyamoto is no stranger to rhythmic theater (that vibratory blitzkrieg of sound and style, that musical modernity). Nor is she unfamiliar with the Japanese Taiko drum, nor any of the other components in her work. However, Otodama (a combination of dance and drum) might be a little too difficult—as impressive as it is to watch—for all the COBU (her troupe) performers to master. Miyamoto is working with what she knows best, and Hana Ogata happens to be an extremely talented performer, but the rest of this cast (very young, and most still new to COBU’s style, despite their own impressive backgrounds in Japan) is still learning. They don’t have the cohesion or camaraderie yet that makes a Blue Man Group work. If taken as a work-in-progress, Otodama is quite impressive, with a unique Eastern style and flair—a celebration of new and old­—that gives COBU a wide margin for error. After all, who isn’t a sucker for bow-legged, lightning feet and the whirligig speed of limber arms, all in unison?

The company’s motto is “Dance Like Drumming, Drum Like Dancing.” It’s a Zen phrase: an expression, in other words, of something quite obvious, but never really put that way before. After all, what is dance—especially the highly punctuated tap dance—but a form of drumming on the floor with one’s feet? And what is drumming, really, save for a stylized form of dancing across a limited surface with one’s hands? While their overall presentation still lacks a little cohesion (un-tuned instruments, broken drumsticks, missed steps: just a few of the punches COBU had to contend with on this Saturday afternoon), it’s a great concept. When the whole company really gets synchronized, all eight in some combination of dance and drum, it’s electrifying: their feet become the beat of the drum, the beat becomes a heartbeat, and the rhythm stomps its way across the floor into the soles of our feet, the legs of our chairs. Of course, at this point, some of the pieces (all choreographed, composed and directed by Yako Miyamoto) still lack individuality, so there’s often a feeling of watching a drill rather than a performance, but it’s getting there.

Otodama also has a long way to go with costume and lighting before it becomes a full-fledged “experience.” There’s a point being made with the transition between classic kimonos and modern basketball jerseys and urban low-cut baggy jeans, but I’m not getting it, and I don’t think it’s just because I can’t understand Japanese. And while the lighting is efficient, it’s clinical: there’s no verve or excitement to it. There are, of course, a few exceptions and that’s where Otodama shines (pardon the pun). For instance, “Call” begins with a sea of blue outfits, all reduced to black silhouettes, marching in parallel to the beat of a drum illuminated in the background. The absolute symmetry and synchronous movement accents the fusion between drum and dance that COBU is going for, and it’s an impressive effect. Likewise, “Thunderstorm” focuses on a sea of dancers windmilling their arms with little clap-trap noisemakers in their hands that rattle (and dance), being pushed and pulled between two Jambe drums (an African influence) in the wings. Moments like these are lucid and hyper-stylized, and then they’re gone, lost in the chaos of the next unfocused piece.

There’s a lot of play going on here, including some vocal work (“Yell”) and some interpretative, modern (even a little of that rubbery upper-body break-dancing), and jazz dance. From the African to American to the Japanese, from all across the eras: there’s a lot of cultural influence to draw upon, and Yako Miyamoto seems completely up to the task. She’s just not there yet.

CSV Flamboyan Theater: 107 Suffolk Street
Tickets: $25 (212-352-3101)
Performances (Closes 12/11): Monday-Saturday @ 8:00; Saturday/Sunday @ 3:00; Sunday @ 7:00

"OTODAMA" by Rachel Maier


“Dance like drumming, drum like dancing,” the moto of the Japanese dance company COBU, defiantly sums up what you will see at Otodama, their newest work premiering at the Flamboyan Theater in Manhattan. The company utilizes traditional Japanese Taiko drums and hoofing style tap dancing to stimulate and entertain their audience. When experiencing this show, the reverberation of the drums impacts more than just your ears; the sound pulses through your whole body.
Otodama, an exciting fusion of funky tap dance and traditional Japanese Taiko drumming is defiantly a sight to see. The unity with which these dancers perform is simply mesmerizing. The heart of the piece, the meshing of Japanese traditions with the modern New York City vibe, is shown through the synchronization of the tap dance and drumming. The piece as a whole opens with Yako Miyamoto, the choreographer and creator of Otodama, striking a Taiko drum, sending vibrations through every audience member. Hoofing tap dance soon joins the drumming and on occasion, the drumming and tapping hold the same beat. The union of these two sounds symbolizes how Miyamoto feels about her living in NYC, the blending of her Japanese culture with the love for her new home. Miyamoto alludes to this idea in her message in the program: “I am proud of my Japanese soul. And I love this city where rhythm whirls. My heart beats sometimes to a Japanese pulse, sometimes to a NY pulse.”
Otodama is definitely a show worth experiencing and although this performance held a few mishaps, including broken drumsticks and some sliding of the performers, the heart of the show was always present.

CSV Cultural Center- Flamboyan Theater
107 Suffolk Street
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at the door or 212-352-3101
Limited engagement Dec 2-11, 2005

"Coronado" by Aaron Riccio

A doctor and a patient; a man, a woman, and her husband; a father and son. Generic sounding stuff, but Lehane tries (and generally succeeds) to give each a Sam Shepard-like twist. . . Coronado is cryptically minimalist.

In the industry of story-telling, there are two types of mysteries: thrillers­—which make a living off surprise twists—and fair-play detective novels, which give attentive audiences ample opportunity to solve the mystery. Dennis Lehane’s new play, Coronado, is by no means fair: though three groups of people share the same space, they are by no means in the same time or even the same place (mentally or physically). Abetted in obfuscation by director and set-designer David Epstein, Coronado is cryptically minimalist, from the unsubtle dialogue to the bone-dry set (empty chairs and empty tables). Both of these things are good, as they focus the audience in on the spoken word; but of the three distinct narratives, two are simply dull and filled with noticeable flaws (clichés). At the same time, Coronado is also extremely crisp and understandable, a boon for the sometimes too-modern theater. And yet, the ultimate choice to link these three stories together is a bit too pulp, an indulgent necessity in the stylized pacing of a thriller.

And so: a doctor and a patient; a man, a woman, and her husband; and a father and son. Generic sounding stuff, but Lehane tries (and generally succeeds) to give each a Sam Shepard-like twist. The patient and doctor have had some sort of illicit affair, but what’s interesting is the dominating role-reversal: the patient, all fire-and-ice, holds the doctor in her sway. Unfortunately, Jason MacDonald is so cool, composed and one-dimensional that all of Kathleen Wallace’s brilliant exertions are just hitting a punching bag. There’s no clash or sense of conflict.

With the love triangle, Gina (Rebecca Miller) is troubled by her conscience when she agrees with her lover, Will (Lance Rubin) to kill her husband, Hal (Dan Patrick Brady). Again, role reversal: Hal’s actually a boisterous and mostly harmless drunk, high on life, and Gina and Will are the depraved ones (Will’s downright sadistic, which becomes a problem, because he’s also supposed to be in love and Rubin only hits the more villainous note). The problem here is the utter lack of chemistry between Rubin and Miller: everything from body language to text seems to belie their relationship and just goes to prove that even the most eloquent metaphors can be lost on a callous soul. It doesn’t help either than Brady’s talent is on another level: he makes the two look like marionettes, especially with all of Rubin’s hurdy-gurdy jerks.

Where Coronado gets going is the final piece in the triptych: the story of Bobby (Avery Clark) and his father (Gerry Lehane). Picture this: you wind up in a hospital, two bullets to the brain, and from there, in a jail, two years to your term. Your father picks you up, brings you to a bar . . . and then demands to know where the fucking three million dollar diamond you stole is buried. These two actors have a real grasp for the ugly history between them, and go head-first into what appears to be a violent stalemate. There’s role-reversal here too, and along with the delightful presence of Gwen (Maggie Bell) as Bobby’s one true love, and the narrative tricks with time and place, this could be a play entirely on its own. It doesn’t hurt that these are two well-versed actors: along with Brady, they have a capacity to make Lehane’s script crackle with the deserved tension and to highlight the clever malapropisms, half-jokes, memory-laced metaphors and sharp anecdotes. . . not just the overabundance of cuss words.

So rather than a superb one-act, there’s a superfluous two-act, one that cannot avoid becoming contrived in order to wrap every loose end together. And for all the good direction, Act 2’s needlessly filled with blackouts to transition from scene to scene, all of which slows down what had previously been (and could still have been) a manic slapdash of a dance between stories. Whatever momentum gets built is chopped to pieces in little serial climaxes, all of which ruin the flow (and lead to some odd breaks in character). There’s a great story in Coronado, somewhere, but the road there is the slow, scenic one, replete with twists, turns and dead-ends. This show begs for an expressway: we want to visit; we just want to get there faster, and without all the dead weight of a detour.

The Invisible City Theater Company
Manhattan Theater Source: 177 MacDougal Street
Tickets: $15 (212-981-8240)
Performances (Closing 12/17): Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00

"Coronado" by Hannah Snyder-Beck

From the award-winning author of “Mystic River” comes an insightful new play about love, murder and the uncanny connections between six disparate characters. Dennis Lehane’s “Coronado” is complex, well written and darkly comic.

The play opens with Gina and Will, two young lovers who are desperate to be together. In her opening moments, Rebecca Miller renders an interesting portrait of Gina. As the production progresses, however, Miller’s performance becomes disconnected; rather than playing the truth of the moment, Miller relies instead on hysteria and generalized choices to pull her through. At times, she is difficult to hear, adding to her distracting performance. Lance Rubin as Will is also difficult to hear, particularly during his quieter moments. Rubin has clearly done his homework for the role, but he works too hard to prove it. Punching lines and relying on mannerisms throughout, he fails to bring depth to his role. Likewise, Kathleen Wallace as the Patient pushes too much and lives in the moment too little; a clear indication is that she frequently stumbles over lines.

Dan Patrick Brady delivers a stellar performance as Gina’s seedy husband Hal. Brady brings charm and charisma to his work, making it difficult to watch anyone else when he is on stage. Jason Macdonald has a smooth and captivating vocal quality that enhances his polished portrayal of the Doctor. The Lehane family is clearly a talented clan; Dennis’ brother, Gerry joins the cast as Bobby’s father, delivering a seamless and vivacious performance. As the waitress, Elizabeth Horn gives a well-rounded portrayal; given that her role is the smallest in the play and that she has no more than 10 lines, Ms. Horn deserves kudos for her work.

The set, executed by director David Epstein and Ed McNamee, is unencumbered and makes good use out of the theater’s small space. Epstein’s directing is clean, sensible and creative, and the lighting design by Driscoll A. Otto is spot on.

Dennis Lehane clearly delivers with “Coronado”; its jigsaw structure creates mounting suspense, and Lehane’s poignant mix of tragedy and perverse humor serve the actors well. The production features some first-rate performances and dark twists that should not be missed.

Presented by Invisible City Theatre Company, at The Manhattan Theatre Source
November 30-December 17

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Review: Rent (Film)
by Eric Miles Glover

As a stage musical, Rent is an incredible creation that captivates and pulls heartstrings. At the Nederlander Theater, the audience develops an intimate relationship with the characters, understanding them and wanting nothing but the best for them. However, that much-needed relationship and the musical’s command are not present in the silver screen adaptation.

Starting strong with the title number, the characters sing in East Village-reminiscent locations. A strong feature of the film, the musical is rooted in the environment that inspired it. However, the film nosedives. Brilliant scenes are few and far between but include “Santa Fe” and “Over the Moon.” The best is “Take Me or Leave Me,” when the Jeffersons host a soirée to celebrate Maureen and Joanne’s engagement. When the women quarrel about Maureen’s faithfulness in front of unsuspecting guests, a wonderful dramatic and comedic moment is born.

But Chris Columbus’s adaptation proves that serious, issue-driven musical theater seldom succeeds as film. Rent, as a film, gives the impression that film musicals—save Rob Marshall’s successful Chicago film from 2002—can be nothing but lighthearted fare in which characters sing and dance their troubles into the hearth, because this one does not work. During several scenes, the dialogue and characters are high camp, despite the fact that the verbatim dialogue and characters are convincing in a theater setting. In addition, parts of the original libretto are removed from their settings as songs, here spoken as straight dialogue. An interesting idea, the problem is that the actors speak in riming phrases, which disturbs the realism that Columbus attempts to deliver. Theater prizes suspension of disbelief, while film operates in realism; the divergent schemas lead to the film’s downfall, as a work rooted in the theatrical tradition cannot function under the limit(ation)s of film.

A person wanting to experience the real magic of Rent needs to visit the Nederlander Theater, refusing to see the film as an accurate representation of Jonathan Larson’s seminal and groundbreaking period piece.

Rent Film, By Matt Windman

As a fan of musicals, I adore the new “Rent” film. But as a critic, I confess that it wavers between being brilliant and flawed, clean and awkward, relevant and irrelevant. Attempts to turn songs like “One Song Glory” and “What You Own” into music videos are misbegotten, but “Take Me or Leave Me,” “Out Tonight,” and “Santa Fe” stand out as creatively conceived. Chris Columbus’ realism adds and detracts from the original stage production; but in the end, the film comes across as loud, proud, shameless, sentimental, thrilling art so electrified that it threatens to smash through the movie screen. Not in 525,600 years will you find a film so passionate.

Review: Fools in Love, by Nicole Lemieux

Fools in Love proves to be a wonderful introduction to Shakespeare for children. The bright sets and costumes, along with the Doo Wop music help to keep the show upbeat and accessible, while still remaining true to The Bard’s original text.

Read entire review:
Manhattan Ensemble Theatre is currently offering a fun and family friendly retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream called Fools in Love. Set in 1950s California, Fools in Love follows Hermia, Bottom, Puck, and company on a Doo Wop musical romp incorporating such classic ‘50s tunes as “Unchained Melody,” “Leader of the Pack,” and “Tequila” (cleverly changed to, “Titania;” this is family friendly, after all!).

The cast does an excellent job of keeping their characters animated enough for the young audiences to stay engaged, while also carefully avoiding resorting to completely over-the-top farce. Jacqueline Raposo’s Hermia and Breeda Keely Wool’s Helena were particularly engaging.

While the children in the audience appeared to be thoroughly entertained, the fact that the show is performed without an intermission may have been the its main drawback, as far as the target audience is concerned. Fools in Love clocks in at over two hours, including the pre-show activities including a brief lesson in stage combat and a bout of Name-That-Shakespeare-Play. As a result, as the show neared its conclusion, some of the younger members of the audience grew a bit restless.

Despite the slight issue with the running time, Fools in Love proves to be a wonderful introduction to Shakespeare for children. The bright sets and costumes, along with the Doo Wop music help to keep the show upbeat and accessible, while still remaining true to the bard’s original text.

Manhattan Ensemble Theatre55 Mercer Street (At Broome Street) New York NY 10013

Dates & Times:
Monday @ 7:30pm, Thursday @ 7:30pm, Friday @ 7:30pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 1pm & 6:30pm

Beginning January 2: Monday @ 7:30pm, Friday @ 7:30pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 1pm & 6:30pm

Beginning February 13: Monday @ 7:30pm, Friday @ 7:30pm, Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 1pmOn sale thru June 30

$40; Children's Tickets: $19.00 (tickets for children 10 and under are available at the Box Office only or by calling 1-212-239-6210).