Saturday, May 27, 2006
Founded by Stephen Sondheim, Young Playwrights Festival is the only professional theater company dedicated to producing the work of playwrights under the age of 18. It is an invaluable enterprise, encouraging novices to write and develop their dramatic skills. And I really wish that I could recommend this showcase of one-acts by three female teenagers. But at $35 a ticket, they are still not ready for Off-Broadway.
The most successful of the three offerings is “Suicide Club” by Miriam Eichenbaum, which studies at three girls at a Catholic high school who have attempted to commit suicide. They slowly confront their demons till they are ready to embrace life by graduation day. The play’s problem lies in how it attempts to tackle too many characters and scenes, leading to superficiality.
On the other hand, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon is considered to be New York’s preeminent forum for new one-acts, showcasing the work of professionals like Horton Foote, Christopher Durang, and David Mamet. “Marathon 2006” features eleven premieres in three separate evenings. I attended the first series earlier this week, which features one-acts by David Ives, Anton Dudley, Amy Fox and Lloyd Suh.
Though the evening offered smart writing and good production values, it was more of a writers’ workshop than a coherent evening of theater. The best of the four offerings was “The Other Woman” by David Ives, who is well-known for his absurdist one-acts like “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.” Here, Ives attempts to create an erotic thriller about a man who has an affair with his wife’s altar ego, who appears when she is sleepwalking.
The only one-act evenings that become memorable are those connected by a single playwright or theme such as Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” where three one-acts take place in the same hotel room. Still, events like Young Playwrights Festival and Marathon offer an important resource where playwrights can develop work and audiences can take a look at raw product.
Young Playwrights Festival XXIV, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, 212-279-4200, $35. Schedule varies. Through Saturday.
Marathon 2006, Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, 212-352-3101, $18. Schedule varies. Through June 25.
Jordan begins by teasing the taste buds, as a man and woman fidget their way through the opening act of a one-night stand: small talk. This is difficult, since the two have chosen to remain nameless and impersonal, and awkward, since they’re already in her house. To prepare themselves for meaningless sex, they play a meaningless game (“Tell me something I don’t know”), although nothing is ever meaningless, is it? A gun, a dead son, and the truth come into play—all of which are dangerous things—and that’s not even counting the revenge motif looming over everything. (Given the extremely small stage, it would be hard for anything not to loom.)
The deceptive banter, under the excellent direction of Nick Sandow, is compelling, and the two talented actors (Elias Koteas and Tina Benko) manage to make the awkward situation charming. Slowly, the power shifts, and while the superb Benko (“Jen”) continues to ground the show, Koteas (“Bob”) grows unhinged, more and more feverish in his verbal perambulations.
Ironically, for all Bob’s creepiness, the show never achieves the chilling immediacy of the pitch-black opening monologue (which I dislike, as it gives far too much information away). Jordan seems to be operating in two different theatrical styles, and while they never really collide, they don’t compliment the other either. The suspense is uncorked at the first startling gunshot, and for the next eighty-five minutes, Jordan has to skate on thin ice (which, as far as dramatic tension goes, ends up being for the best). Marvel at her craft that she keeps us all so interested in her characters and their needs, despite the somewhat obvious secret.
Dark Yellow succeeds by clinging to character rather than potboiler thrills, allowing their nuances to shock us, rather than their overt statements. It’s the little things, as they say, and Jordan has a lot of little things.
~ [Aaron Riccio] ~
Studio Dante (257 W 29th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $35.00
Performances: Wed. – Sat. @ 8:00
Friday, May 26, 2006
“Columbinus,” which opened this week at New York Theatre Workshop, examines the timing, terror, tears and teens that led to the shocking Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999 in which two male students murdered 12 students and one teacher. It has already inspired a number of films like Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” and Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” as well as numerous “I was there” testimonial books.
Described as a “theatrical discussion” based on extensive interviews, “Columbinus” features eight young actors who take on multiple roles in a manner similar to contemporary plays like “The Laramie Project” and “Twilight Los Angeles.” Rather than tell a straightforward story, the authors (the United States Theatre Project) aim to expose how the high school politics of social status unknowingly inspired deadly results.
Act One studies the collaborative identity of the student body, as seen in “Saved by the Bell” fashioned stereotypes like the hot blonde, jock, overachiever, and so on. The frustrations of the misunderstood loners – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – then grow to a dangerous boiling point. In a brilliant montage set to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve, the boys finally don black trench coats while other characters are too consumed with their own problems to take notice.
Half of Act Two exposes Eric and Dylan’s fears while they await their “Judgment Day.” Then it gets gruesome... Thanks to the show’s sound design, the theater reverberates each time a gun shot is sounded. We are then left with some expository dialogue from “parents,” and then the actors rip off their disguises and thank us for listening.
“Columbinus,” was a last-minute replacement for New York Theatre Workshop after its controversial decision to “postpone” the one-woman drama “Rachel Corrie,” about the American girl who was killed by bulldozers as she protested for Palestine. It is certainly not perfect, but “Columbinus” gives off a youthful vitality that makes it a breathtaking and cathartic piece of ensemble theatre.
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, 212-239-6200, $15-55. Tues 7pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 3 & 8pm, Sun 2 & 7pm. Through June 11.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Brien Friel’s play, Faith Healer, is not about hope. It’s about hopelessness: three companions, Frank (the faith healer), Grace (his wife), and Teddy (his promoter), who are alone and adrift, even after the twenty-odd years they have spent together. There are very real things that they want—Frank (to be needed), Grace (to be acknowledged), and Teddy (to be loved)—but these things are forever out of reach, even when they are right beside them. The play’s structure, four scene-long monologues (each essentially a one-act play), is therefore quite fitting: together, these stories complete their history, but each appears separately, dismally, and alone. In the end, we realize there is one thing worse than hopelessness: hopeless hope.
As far as the monologues go, it’s a little hard to sit through 130 plus minutes of them, and harder still given the tacit lifelessness of the faith healer’s bookending role. Ralph Fiennes is a talented and engaging actor, but his charisma withers with Frank, a man intent on moping from one illumined portion of a barren stage to another. He’s flat and ethereal, prone to lapsing into a Gaelic gibberish (like Joyce), and in voice and posture, a man who is forever withdrawing into himself. When he speaks of his former miracles, those rarified occasions, it is with a certain level of dramatic flair and wild gesticulation, but this brightness merely reveals him as a shadow. He haunts the stage, monotonous and slight, (as in the film Spider), and the stage, in turn, swallows him up.
The other two performances are as dazzling as they are claustrophobic, both contained to a tiny sliver of a light on a scant portion of stage. Ala Sweeny Todd, Jonathan Kent’s direction boils everything to an immediate, undistracted performance, and both Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid rise up to meet the demands of their characters. McDiarmid has the easier role, since as the cockney manager, Teddy, he’s already a likeable rascal, filled with anecdotes and the buoyant flair of a man born on the stage. McDiarmid’s voice is so textured, so intricate, that it’s hard to believe this man also played Palpatine in the Star Wars films, but here he is, telling a tale of unrequited love—how he’s pined for Grace—and the dark underbelly of passion, i.e., what happens when the magic dies.
Cherry Jones, however, is the real center of this play: her Grace is more emotionally raw and connected to feeling than either of the men. She is a great justifier, and attempts to rationalize her own love, even though she knows love is unexplainable. Ms. Jones takes us through all the highs and lows of the relationship, from those great miracles to the disturbing stillborn birth of their child, before dissolving into the hysterics of a woman who realizes, finally, that she will never really exist to the only man she lives for. She’s getting stronger, she says, just before going under for the last time, and that’s just one more of the brilliant lies Faith Healer gives us.
Give that these three act the hell out of this play, the script is still remarkably hard to grasp. One goes about digesting things in nuggets, but the play continues even as the audience struggles to finish with the line before. The most enjoyable part of the evening ends up being the slight-of-hand scene changes, which occur, like magic, in the time it takes a curtain to slide from one end of the stage to the other.
Watching Faith Healer is an exercise: at first in endurance, and then in indulgence. There are so many elliptical asides that the focused realism contributes more to a distracting than an understanding. It’s hard to recommend this play, but I find myself drawn to something in it anyway. Or perhaps that’s just a form of hopeless hope itself: searching for meaning where there is none.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Suzanne Lee hasn’t written the classiest play, but it is one of the most unambiguous. Stereotype and situation keep things black and white, and director Marc Parees lingers, indulgently, in those moments of exaggeration. (Because they’re fun; because sometimes it takes an Ebonics-speaking Vietnamese stripper to speak the truth.) The quieter moments are occasionally stilted, or unmotivated, but they remain real: a symptom, perhaps, of America today.
Worth opens with karaoke at a funeral, an easy opportunity to illustrate Edward Lee’s pathos. This broken-English speaking father (odd, since he’s also an executive) bravely attempts to sing, before he chokes up at memories of his wife. His daughter, Joanna, comforts him (an easy opportunity to exploit the generational gap), and a widow, Sunny Pak, aims to do the same. The twist is that Pak’s intentions are pure, and Edward’s—once he loses his job and reneges on his daughter’s Ivy-League tuition—become twisted. He pretends to love her, as she turns out to be rich, and the daughter, who can’t stand the father’s lies, takes up stripping, as all good girls gone wild do. These three illustrate the ambiguous value system we have, the shady ethical brokering we do within it, and ultimately, the titular “worth” of a life, love, and lie.
The acting is fine, but not especially flattering. Jenn Pae (Joanna’s cousin, Grace) has a flimsy role to throw herself into that exposes nothing of her own life (despite her intimate stripping), but passes judgment on everyone else’s and Constance Boardman remains so much the dutiful widow/matriarch that only in the last scene does she have the opportunity to really live. Hana Moon, who plays the daughter, has the most range, and it’s through her interactions with the others that they seem less cardboard-ish. On the other hand, Ben Wang, who plays the father, is often unintelligible, and even when he’s clear, his emotions are often all over the map. He sits around in a bathrobe flipping idly through Playboy, even as he calls for his daughter, and then acts surprised when she catches him in the kitchen with the magazine. It’s as if he has no expectations; and that makes him a very limited actor.
For the most part, Marc Parees does well with the script: Lee Savage’s sliding-door set neatly shuffles the scenes, compartmentalizing and tidying up all the loose ends. The production is extremely clear, but it keeps a lot bottled up, and gets sloppy when props start crossing the neatly arranged boundaries. (This would work as an artistic choice if it seemed intentional). It may not be classy, but life isn’t, and hey: there’s a live strip show. In all seriousness, modern plays could use more stripping: when you bare it all, there’s no room left to hide anything.
Urban Stages (259 West 30th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances: Monday, Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 7:00 [END 6/3]
In 1995, the GOP controlled the 104th Congress in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time since 1953. Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls, and the prosecution delivered its opening statement in the trial against O.J. Simpson. Ginger Rogers died, both UPN and the WB Television Network initiated operations, and Showgirls—Showgirls!—the NC-17-rated film full of “adult” overtones and themes—was released to universal acclaim (from teenaged males, who, according to network television news reports at the time, stole copies of the film from video rental stores to see girl-next-door “Jessie” bare her intimate parts).
Showgirls, like Mommie Dearest, Night of the Living Dead, Office Space, and Pink Flamingoes, has achieved cult status and is aired—due to the advance in digital censorship—on VH1, with “animated” undergarments that veil once-visible female anatomies. Sock Puppet Showgirls, one of the attractions at FringeNYC Festival 2004, returns with an engagement at Ace of Clubs in SoHo. About agitated outsider Nomi Malone, who climbs the sordid Las Vegas il-legitimate entertainment circuit ladder from humble beginnings as an inexperienced stripper to superstardom as a dancer—showgirl!—Sock Puppet Showgirls lampoons the film and, though faithful to its source material, uses comedic license when appropriate with oh-so delicious reckless abandon.
“Nomi Malone is what Las Vegas is all about!” and sock puppet smut is what Sock Puppet Showgirls delivers. During the puppet show, sock puppet Nomi: (a) befriends sock puppet Lamb Chop; (b) engages in lascivious sock puppet behaviors with sock puppets Cristal—like the champagne—and her beau, Zack; (c) exhibits her sock puppet temperamental side (“I AM NOT A WHORE!”); (d) flashes her sock puppet breasts and intimate parts alongside sock puppet dancers—showgirls!—Big Bird and Elmo; (e) pole-dances; (f) shows sock puppet aggression toward sock puppet DRRS (or Date Raping Rock Star); and—to the satisfaction of the jam-packed audience—(g) throws sock puppet Cristal down that long and unforgettable flight of stairs. Complete with choreographed sock puppet production numbers and sexual favors, Sock Puppet Showgirls—unsuitable for children (and prudes!)—guarantees a raucous, tasteless, and vulgar excursion for Showgirls addicts, sock puppet enthusiasts, and people in search of sidesplitting excitement.
In 2004, MGM released the Showgirls V.I.P. Edition (do not ask!), which includes a “Greatest Film Ever Made” featurette, a “how-to” lap-dance tutorial, and a “Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl” game. Given the sock puppet innovation and theatrical achievement of Sock Puppet Showgirls, it behooves MGM to re-release the V.I.P. Edition with sock puppet Nomis—accessories, costumes, and temperamental sides included—among its goodies.
“The gifted actors reject custom to generate an On the Town that caters to them and, like the George Wolfe production from 1998, re-presents the multi-ethnic place ‘New York, New York,’ was before and during the 1940s and is at present.”
Read entire review:
Rosetta LeNoire (1911-2002) founded Amas Musical Theater as a multi-ethnic and nonprofit performing arts organization in 1969. It is devoted to celebrating the perspectives of persons from underrepresented groups and persons of color—the recent Amas benefit production re-presented Damn Yankees in the Negro Leagues—and developing new American musical theater, which includes Bubbling Brown Sugar, Little Ham, Lone Star Love, and Zanna!
In addition, Amas is devoted to encouraging teenaged talent. All the teenaged actors, dancers, singers, and triple threats in the current production—On the Town—participate in the Amas training program, where participants receive instruction from performing arts professionals to prepare for performances in an important work from the American musical theater canon. One of the gems from that canon, On the Town follows three servicemen who, granted 24-hour leave, seek love before returning to an uncertain future during the Second World War. Presented at the intimate Hudson Guild Theater, the production is outstanding.
Leonard Bernstein afforded On the Town an incredible score of saccharine ballads and succulent melodies that keep fingers snapping and feet tapping. He and wordsmiths Comden and Green created the delightful numbers “I Can Cook To,” “New York, New York,” “Some Other Time,” and “Ya Got Me” among other ones. Each contributed to intricate patterns of musical sound and rime that the actors hone with ease. During each beat, jut, pulse, and song, the actors beat, jut, pulse, and sing to life—with all the eccentricities the book and score allow—the characters Bernstein, Comden and Green, and Jerome Robbins created.
Damion Anthon, Delbert Moore, and Desmond Nicholson are affecting and comical as the three servicemen. Each acts, dances, and sings with passion, and reveals proper doses of charisma, naïveté, and sass. Moore is entertaining as Chip. His facial expressions and over-the-top movements prove his comic abilities and nature.
Stephanie Christie delivers an incredible performance as an aggressive and go-getting-no-holds-barred-no-nonsense taxicab driver who abducts Chip—with unadulterated intentions, of course!—and wins his affection. She captivates each time she sings—so much so that she whets the audience appetite—and enthralls with her comic timing. She is amazing.
Amanda Moreau is sophisticated as anthropologist Claire DeLoone (the role Comden created in the original 1944 production) and Jason Depont is riotous as her over-the-top and queer—the word has several definitions!—fiancée. Moreau and Nicholson (in the Green role) shine during their hilarious show of adult humor and camp at a museum exhibit about prehistoric man.
As minor characters, Lisette Ffolkes is comical as Flossie, the eternal complainant, and Rashia Burrell is perfect as her simpleton girlfriend. Christina Matthews is side-splitting as an old woman. Akil Noel is hilarious in Jack-of-all-Trades roles, and Denise Sillman is a hoot as an inebriated and “relations”-deprived music teacher. Leslie Ruiz, an intelligent dancer full of pizzazz and spirit, makes an impression, and accolades and praises for all the actors and the entire production are endless.
Monica Celeste Johnson has created original dances that—complete with extended arms, extended right legs, and no-longer-pedestrian movements—evoke Robbins. Her choreographic achievement is at its height during “Times Square Ballet,” where she channels the riches, subtleties, and textures of the music to create the expressive movements the actors execute.
In the program, director Christopher Scott writes that On the Town allows the teenaged actors to learn about another time period as well as live it, and “live it” the actors have done under his expert direction.
As the large part of the American musical theater canon does not celebrate multi-ethnic perspectives, it is ironic that On the Town—with dance, drama, and song not intended for people from multi-ethnic backgrounds to perform—is the canonical work chosen. Whatever hesitation about “ethnic” representation and re-presentation in the American musical theater the viewer carries, however, the gifted actors reject custom to generate an On the Town that caters to them and, like the George Wolfe production from 1998, re-presents the multi-ethnic place “New York, New York,” was before and during the 1940s and is at present.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Claudia and Frank are vacating an apartment—stuffing belongings and memories in boxes—when the woman Frank loved decades ago reappears. She—the woman before—wants to start anew with him. Claudia and he are married, however, and raised an angst-obsessed teenage son, Andi. Despite the circumstances, Frank entertains starting anew with the woman. He experiences second thoughts, however, when Andi near kills her and sets into motion an unexpected series of shocking events.
Presented as part of Stadttheater New York and produced under the auspices of German Theater Abroad and HERE Arts Center, The Woman Before exposes (ab)normal human states of mind. Though The Woman Before seems like an average episode in the lives of Andi, Claudia, and Frank, the script undergoes several changes when the woman before reappears. After Claudia confronts Frank about the woman, for example, that same dialogue is re-presented with nuance, and this is the device that Roland Schimmelpfenning uses to add weight to the comedic drama. Each time the actors re-present dialogue, the re-presented dialogue is infused with the fire absent from the original line reading. Each time the actors re-present dialogue, the characters become more and more human, and the re-presented dialogue pares the artifice to expose the damage underneath the once impenetrable skins that Andi, Claudia, and Frank created for emotional protection. Each time, the viewer gleans invaluable insight about the characters he did not learn the first time around. He recognizes the magnitude of what seemed like the simplest decision (jilting the woman before for the established home life). Using aural and visual devices, The Woman Before exposes, with humorous effect, the damaged critical consciousnesses that Andi, Claudia, and Frank use to make choices that lead to destruction.
Director Daniel Fish has done excellent work highlighting the heart and humor in the Grand Guignolesque drama, and his actors find genuineness in the characters and win compassion from the viewer.
One consummate work of total theater, The Woman Before is an intense lesson in consequence that proves bad things happen to normal people and good things affect abnormal results.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Get to the show early to treat yourself to a menu of specialty Showgirls cocktails like Sex in the Pool, Iced Nipple, Las Vegas Iced Tea, and Nomi Between the Sheets. Once you are good and liquored up, sit back to enjoy the brashness that only sock puppets can provide (sorry Avenue Q, there are some new offensive puppets in town).
Harvey Finklestein’s Sock Puppet Showgirls follow the same basic (and I do mean basic) plot of the original movie. The ambitious dancer, Nomi, claws (and strips) her way to the top of the Vegas showgirl circuit. The puppets, wonderfully manipulated, add new flare to this age old story. Ever seen a sock puppet pole dance? You will. And you will be delighted as your childhood friend Lambchop makes her adult debut. Hmmm it’s almost like when Elizabeth Berkley of childhood classic Saved by the Bell bared all for her adult debut in Showgirls. Harvey Finklestein’s Sock Puppet Showgirls reminds us that eventually all socks become dirty.
Harvey Finklestein’s Sock Puppet Showgirls runs every Saturday at 8 PM beginning May 13 at Ace of Clubs (9 Great Jones Street – inside Acme). Tickets are $15, available at 212-352-3101 or TheaterMania.com.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
An evening of short plays is often a mixed bag. The 3Graces Theater Co. however, has produced solid block of entertaining and thought-provoking pieces, where some works shine and all entertain.
Pieces that stood out included Remind Me Again by Sharyn Rothestein, I Think You Think I Love You by Kelly Younger and Roller Coaster by Kayla Cagan. In Remind Me Again, Elizabeth Bunnell’s character Miranda is deeply affected by a stranger’s attempt to kiss her randomly on the street. Asking questions such as what is the difference between harassment and flirting and the line between feeling flattered and feeling violated, this piece made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt. Chelsea Silverman and Annie McGovern are hysterical as Miranda’s coworkers who try to convince her that this “invasion” was a perfectly normal and non-threatening act. One of the best lines in the show comes when they try and convince Miranda that she is totally safe during the day: “Rapists are like hedge-hogs – nocturnal.”
I Think You Think I Love You, Nitra Guttierez performs what amounts to a 10-minute monologue as she relays her actions and feelings as she deals with the death of her mother – and her sister’s insistence that Mom’s ashes be spread with Henry the cat’s. She carries it off with true aplomb and is both touching, honest and true as she pours her heart out to a complete stranger.
Roller Coaster is the most disturbing piece of the evening, as a brother and sister walk on an emotional tightrope to communicate. The sister, played eerily and wonderfully by Catherine McNelis, has obvious violence/familial issues and a love for her brother crosses many lines.
The entire evening was entertaining, and all the actors involved brought talent and insight to their roles. 3Graces is definitely a theatre company to keep an eye on, for if they consistently produce works as solid as these, they cannot let you down.
Spring Shorts 2006 runs Saturday, 5/13 at 3pm and 8pm, and on Sunday 5/14 at 3pm at the Milagro Theater at CVS Cultural & Educational Center at 107 Suffolk Street, NYC.
Friday, May 12, 2006
“You’ll notice I’ve compressed time a bit here,” says a very jocular Thomas Edison (the excellent Gian-Murray Gianino), the inventor cum sideshow narrator cum ringleader of Bone Portraits, a fantastically theatric new play. Edison pauses for a moment, adjusting a minute wrinkle on his bright red jacket. “Or maybe you won’t.” Another beat. “Kids these days,” he says, dismissively, walking behind a homemade proscenium (of ghost-white curtains), as he reveals more about the x-ray’s accidental birth and consequences.
It’s a lovely bit of meta-narrative, filled with knowing asides to the audience. Fitting, too, since there are moments where Deborah Stein’s carnival of a script is more confusing than a hall of mirrors, and you won’t know what’s going on. No matter: the incredibly talented director, Lear deBessonet, throws so many visual bones your way that you won’t care. “I’m a scientist and a showman,” Edison says (which explains why the show’s antics are so digestible). “Back then, there wasn’t that much of a difference between the two.”
Bone Portraits is ambitious to the point of overindulgence, but it’s never redundant, and every moment onstage crackles with electricity (sometimes literally). The many storylines grow jumbled and confusing and characters are hard to keep track of since the ensemble is triple-cast. But there’s so much magic onstage that the lack of cohesion is hardly a problem: the explanation and exploration of science gives way to a kind of theatrical magic rarely seen (especially off-off-Broadway), and the scenic and lighting design of Justin Townsend and Peter Ksander often speaks for itself (as does Gregory King’s multimedia film.)
Bone Portraits uses its loose frame to jump between gothic experimentation and vaudevillian sketch comedy. One scene, where the ensemble re-enacts the daily news, is so much like watching good improv that it explains the actors’ co-creator status. A bit much? Sure, but deliciously so. The only real shortcoming is the romantic plot. It’s hard enough to mix comedy and horror: love seems like a third wheel (especially when you forget who’s who). It’s also just not as interesting as watching a character suddenly break into song, or a tap dance.
There’s the sad tale of Clarence Dally (Adam Green), who died of a “mysterious” bone disease after constantly taking x-ray photographs for his employer, Edison. There are the humorous monologues of Nana (Miriam Silverman), an old woman who suggests the ladies wear “lead underwear” to protect against those “men with the x-ray glasses.” There’s desperation in Marie Curie (Jessica Wortham)’s attempt to reach her husband through a séance. There’s a Greek pathos to Roentgen (Michael Crane), inventor of the x-ray, when Edison uses his idea to seek money rather than the people’s good. Bone Portrait’s little bit of everything might not come together with the cohesion of the bones in our body, but it has a contortionist’s flexibility. Remember: these are just portraits—the very briefest glimpses of the soul.
Walkerspace (46 Walker Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Wed. – Sun. @ 8:00 / (also) Saturday @ 3:00 [Closes May 20]
Yussef El Guindi’s brilliantly woven play, directed stylishly by Jim Simpson, begins as an innocent interrogation of Khaled (Adeel Akhtar), an Arab-American writer, after an unnamed terrorist attack in the United States. The play takes a sickly turn when the two homeland security officers discover Khaled owns questionable books and ordinary porn. As I own some of the same books in question and maybe even porno or two, will a day come when I too could be accused of terrorism? How do our belongings define us and how do these definitions change according to the color of our skin? As an actor, Akhtar captures beautifully the pride of being American, the fear of being the hunted, and the intelligence of a man who sees both sides of an issue.
Unfortunately for Akhtar, his level of acting is not mimicked by the bulk of the cast. Much of the play comes off as an excersise for the actors to practice regional accents. Their accents gave a sophomoric quality to the sophisticated script. Jason Guy who uses a fake Southern accent to play Bartlett, one of the homeland security officers, sounds like he is trying to play a dumb Southern stereotype instead of the complex character that is written. But alas the fake Southern accent does not stop there. Erin Roth in an attempt to differentiate her multiple roles falls back on the accent when playing a stripper and again the character’s intricacies become lost. However, not all accents were in vain, Bandar Albuliwi, who plays Asfoor, uses a Middle Eastern accent flawlessly and most poignantly in a monologue about the power of language.
Back of the Throat is the most successful response to the 9/11 attacks that I have seen on the stage. It addresses issues that have been minimally reported on by our press while using comedy to point out our own prejudices and realities.
Back of the Throat is playing at the Flea Theater from May 11 – July 1, Thursday – Saturday at 7 PM. The Flea Theater is located at 41 White Street (between Broadway and Church Streets). Tickets are $20 and may be purchased by calling 212-352-3101 or by visiting www.theatermania.com.
Monday, May 08, 2006
For instance, Kretzky (a suave Sanjit De Silva) laughs off every little embarrassment as if it's a joke, and it's a pleasure to watch his smiling facade dissolve as he gloats in one aside about how he'll get his co-workers fired. (The delight is watching this second layer of reality, the one we normally repress, rise to the surface.) Hufschmidt (John Summerour), on the other hand, physically abuses the others, in particular Kruse (a gleefully pathetic Ron Domingo), before he too loses his facade, at one point devolving into a growling dog. Schmitt and Kristensen (Danielle Skraastad and Andrea Ciannavei) play the two women: one confident and belittling, the other hopeful yet hopeless. The contrasts are well illustrated by director Simone Blattner, who artfully makes the action too close for comfort.
Much as this violence is admirable, Blattner has a habit for belaboring certain points. Those uncomfortable moments where a joke has gone on for too long often stretch on (and on) into the artificial. It isn't viscerally uncomfortable, it's just dull. For example, when Kristensen gathers the characters together to air their complaints, the five actors stand there, silent and complacent, as if running out a clock rather than actually having nothing to say. (This is also how the play opens: to sit down, you must walk across the stage, around the immobile actors, and onto an elevated portion of the set.) Ingrid Lausund's script (translated by Henning Bochert) isn't very deep to begin with; attempting to draw a deeper significance out of it, or to make the words (or lack thereof) more resonant doesn't always work. But when it does (mostly if an actor's charisma sustains it), it's effective: Kruse's lengthy acceptance of the fact that Hufschmidt slaps him around for no reason grows more and more pathetic, until we are drowning in pity.
We can easily be any one of these spineless characters (thankfully, none are caricatures), and Slipped Disc does well to remind us that we can more easily talk our way into acceptance of circumstance than out of a situation.
*Stadttheater is a mini-festival going on at the HERE Arts Center through May, featuring talk-backs, symposiums, and staged readings of new works, as well as another play, The Woman Before, also a US premiere.
HERE Arts Center (145 Avenue of the Americas)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances: Varying evenings at 8:30 (in Repertoire with The Woman Before)
BLOODY MARY, an epic account of Mary Tudor's rise to power in sixteenth-century England, features disembowelment, fornication, and a corseted cast of twenty throwing themselves with abandon at Rachel Shukert's uneven script. The first act works itself into a frenzy proving its ability to shock and scandalize (the Catholic school master wears S&M under his tunic! Jimi Hendrix is young Mary's spiritual guide! sex on stage!), but falls somewhere short of the easy, engaging absurdity achieved in the second. An hour in, the show gets where it needs to be, thanks in large part to James Ryan Caldwell's virtuosic and silly performance as Elizabeth, Mary's busty, beloved half-sister. The second act is clever and quick and ridiculous, grounded always by Audrey Lynn Weston's grave Mary, and pausing only to take a few well-aimed shots at the current administration.
BLOODY MARY is a big funny tangle of a play, inspired and frustrating in equal parts. When all is said and done, though, hooray for Third man Productions, a young company not afraid of huge casts and racks of well-made costumes and unnecessary set pieces, and hooray for big risks like this one.
BLOODY MARY: A Comedy of Tragic Proportions runs through Saturday, May 16th. Clemente Soto Velez Ctr (CSV)
107 Suffolk Street
New York, NY 10002
Saturday, May 06, 2006
The trial -- and therein the plot (and therein the problem) -- is a simple matter of whether or not a mutiny has occured on the (fictional) U.S.S. Caine. Was Lt. Stephen Maryk (a mostly silent, yet animated, Joe Sikora) within naval law in his usurpation of Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeq in the midst of a typhoon-generated crisis? Or was he a disgruntled executive officer looking to finally revenge himself upon a stern yet righteous captain? For the first act, the arguments of the prosecution (the slick, yet often irrationally angry Tim Daly) and the defense's cross-examination of the testimony are the plot itself, and it quickly wears thin, especially as the tactics and statements repeat themselves. (The two exceptions, the jumpy Paul David Story [who plays a dimwitted signalman] and the gleeful Brian Reddy [a pompous psychiatrist, as if there could be no other kind] are justifications for the whole trial-as-narrative-device.)
However, in the second act, the defense has opportunity to question the stellar Zeljko Ivanek (Queeq), and at this point, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial becomes rather engaging. Operating as both a spotlight for fine performers and a mouthpiece for playwright Herman Wouk’s views on the military (of the late 1940s, at least), the show picks up steam and plows out of the stagnant waters of the first hour. So what if the good stuff is hastily scripted as a denouement in the second scene (which, true to courtroom style, remains a prosecutorial monologue)? At least it got said. If only Jerry Zaks’ stilted direction didn’t seem to build solely for this moment (and this moment only); if only it didn’t take David Schwimmer two hours as the defense to snap out of his lethargy. (There are other ways to express inner turmoil, Mr. Schwimmer, than through boredom.)
So there's substance at the center of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, and there are some engaging performances along the way. And if you love a good (yet dull) legal battle, it's a thriller too. No Hollywood surprises though, no suspensions of reality. It's just a trial of some talented actors and the audience's patience.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
In spite of its awkward title and a red and black logo that resembles a blood clot, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is an absolute treasure for theatergoers who truly cherish the golden age Broadway musical. It was originally created as a wedding present for Bob Martin in 1998, and has since then been developed at a variety of fringe and professional theaters.
The show is a postmodern commentary on musical comedy delivered by “The Man in the Chair” (Bob Martin). Seeking escape from his humdrum life, the devoted fan plays an LP record of the long-forgotten 1928 musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and the show suddenly materializes in full form within his tiny apartment. (Please note that “The Drowsy Chaperone” never actually existed in 1928 as a musical.)
The show within a show of “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a ludicrous, old-fashioned tale of a wedding day involving a narcissistic actress (Sutton Foster), flamboyant foreigner (Danny Burstein), aviator, gangsters and more. Though a power outage suddenly stops the recording, The Man in the Chair begs for our patience and manages to save the day.
The bits of slapstick comedy are entertaining and the songs are cute, but it is Bob Martin’s avid enthusiasm and adorable personality that drive the show’s success. One could even think of “The Drowsy Chaperone” as an ordinary musical comedy starring Sutton Foster inside of an extraordinary one-man show starring Bob Martin.
In his debut as a director, Casey Nicholaw deserves credit for making this unusual production move so well. And the cast members of the musical-within-the-musical are brilliantly charming in their purposely one-dimensional roles.
Compared to the current onslaught of terrible programming like “Hot Feet” and “Lestat,” “Drowsy” is a desperately nostalgic wish to revisit a time when musicals were just about fun. This show cannot be missed by anyone who has ever fallen in love with a Broadway musical. More than just brains or courage, “The Drowsy Chaperone” has miles and miles of heart.
Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway, 212-307-4100, $25-110. Mon-Tues 8pm, Wed 2 & 8pm, Thurs-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm. Open Run.