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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Review: The Black Bird Returns
by Eric Miles Glover

In writing The Black Bird Returns, Barbara Panas and Alexis Kozak have written the perfect foundation for a resonant drama. Through their writing, Panas and Kozak have captured the subtleties of human romantic relationships, including the quarrels that leave lovers second-guessing romantic feelings and the tit-for-tats that leave lovers pondering the whereabouts of that “one pure love.”

In college, Kat and Cliff tested the waters of romance with adventurism. When the time came to commit to the relationship, however, Cliff skirted the decision and settled with another woman. Now, after considerable time has passed, Cliff longs to reawaken the relationship, though Kat and he are involved with other people. While Kat has emotional ties to Cliff, she is not certain that reawakening—reliving?—romance past is viable and smart. Is there one pure love to experience, or is love a decision? The Black Bird Returns asks. A concrete answer is not provided, but an attention-grabbing examination of two people and their taxing relationships—with current significant others and with each other—is dramatized.

Having breathed substance into original characters, Panas and Kozak have afforded their creations genuine voices and genuine eccentricities. Kat and Cliff, though fictional, communicate on an emotional, human, and tangible level, letting the viewer infiltrate their complex but absorbing world of Want, Need, and Desire with eagerness and ease. The Black Bird Returns has one shortcoming, however, and this is the hurried nature of the drama. Having written interesting characters and presented them with a shocking problem, it would have been constructive to see the struggles and doubts that Kat and Cliff face expanded further. In 75 minutes, Panas and Kozak touch the surface of the complex relationship that Kat and Cliff share(d). The Black Bird Returns, in its current state, does not probe what lies beneath that surface in a fulfilling manner.

In the role of Kat, Panas captures the expressive range of a woman whose emotions contradict and conflict. David Walters is excellent as Cliff. He infuses his performance with weakness and charisma that, without absolving him for past errors, humanize Cliff and earn him compassion from the viewer. A talented actor, Walters reveals the emotional depth of his character and heightens the desperate measures his character—as well as a real person—takes to regain affection from his one pure love.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Review: The End of Reality by Jonathan Cristaldi

Richard Maxwell's latest spectacle is so properly composed in its simplicity that the banal tonality of discourse in "The End of Reality" takes a back seat to the development of what is a wholly flawed "reality." This is not to say that Maxwell's penchant for exploring the mundane qualities of tone becomes irreverent, rather, it is done so well that the absurdity of it only compliments the narrative and never distracts from story.

Set in a "'lobby-citadel'…where guards attempt to secure a vulnerable area against unidentified intruders," the situation is hardly questionable, as the presence of uniformed individuals at checkpoints has become something most people are accustomed to nowadays. At least it's second nature in New York City – just last week heading into the subway I was asked to display the contents of my bag. (Perhaps there was something sinister in the Windsor of my knotted tie). And the exchange was routine: I said, "Sure," he said, "Got some books?" I said, "Yup," and he said, "Thanks." This kind of reality we are learning to deal with – under a constant watchful eye – is in Maxwell's world not ending, as the title might suggest, but beginning.

Conflict comes to the playing space in the form of an intruder who attacks the guards. There is hardly any revealing dialogue that would lend some insight as to why this intruder attacks. Maxwell's characters (1,2,3,4, and 5) suffer from nostalgia for the past and an inability to deal with the immediate present. The metaphysical buffer between what was, and what is now, is disrupted by this intruder who essentially tips the scales at their tipping points. Fights break out in overtly aware choreography, which comically parodies what one might expect from yet another Tarantino film – blood included.

Maxwell artfully presents a breakdown of language, character, and even emotional attachments to love and principles. Where the play lacks in the kind of anticipatory plot structure plays typically beg for, it opens up a barrage of potential questions and leaves in even more room for answers. “The End of Reality” is not a show you should miss.

Final performances:
January 26 – 29, 8pm.
The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street

Review: Richard Maxwell’s "The End of Reality" by Georgia Kirtland

Richard Maxwell, irreverent theater deconstructionist extraordinaire, focuses his satirical eye on the banality of violence and the true nature of security in "The End of Reality", his latest work at the Kitchen.

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To have such a clearly recognized style is an homage to the ground-breaking and paradoxical methods of most unconventional playwright Richard Maxwell, to whom all things distinctly “anti-theater” are attributed. Fluorescent lights, lethargic delivery, the most mundane of dialogue, sometimes no more than half hearted non-sequiturs…and yet all the trappings of the quintessential bad play have become essential devices in some of the most eloquent and understated staged works in recent history. In past productions like "House" (1998), "Showy Lady Slipper" (1999), "Good Samaritans" (2004), and even a staging of Shakespeare’s "Henry IV" (at BAM, 2003), Maxwell provides a blank canvas, with paper doll actors for his audience to project upon - allowing the subjectivity of one’s viewing to color in that third dimension. If you happen to get the heartstrings tugged or the funny bone tickled, that’s your doing, not his. The playwright merely presents cross sections of the most ordinary aspects of our culture, employing his methods of deconstruction to turn the familiar, and even unnoticed, into new, uncanny territory.

His newest work keeps the signature style in full effect: in "The End of Reality", guards- indicated by numbers as opposed to names - secure a building against intruders. What the nature of that being guarded is, or the intent of those that intrude, is never really determined, but that’s besides the point; what matters more are the lackluster and elliptical conversations that while the time at the guard station. "1" (Thomas Bradshaw) extols upon the importance of rules and procedure, quotes the Bible often, and bemoans the erosion of the neighborhood. He wants to be in a movie – even a small part – so he’ll live forever. His goddaughter, "5" (Marcia Hidalgo), a temporary security fill-in, and eventually the emotional epicenter of the piece – if such bold terminology could be applied - deadpans on family, God, and the horoscopes. "2" (Brian Mendes), with a clipped tone and appropriately understated swagger, speaks of his headshots, his sneaker collection, his new initiation into love. Security camera images flicker in and out in the background; static images of people appear in the frame, only to disappear in segments. The guards’ inane ramblings appear to be just as flat and dispensable, but somehow stumble onto unanticipated lucidity, as is the usual M.O. of a Maxwell production.

However, what separates "The End of Reality" from its predecessors is that the ramblings, besides satirizing, attempt to harness the mystical that surrounds the mundane, using language’s own inefficiency to make some sort of definitions out of “Faith” and “Fear”. These two rather unclear concepts have emerged as rather culturally pertinent in recent times, where we – maybe as a nation, maybe as believers - have come to question what it is we “secure” ourselves against. In the ambiguity of Maxwell’s presentation, this could be the most damning, and the most insightful, depiction of the current state of national affairs…that is, if we choose to construe it that way.

Detractors and Devil’s Advocates have questioned how long Maxwell can employ the same staging concepts before they tire; with "The End of Reality", the tradition pushes past tongue-in-cheek American satire and explores the impetus behind it - what justifies this daily ordinariness, what keeps us going. The idea of fate being in control re-emerges continuously throughout the piece, which is magnified by the non-committal manner of speaking - in the face of the unstoppable inertia of love, violence, time, change…all we can really do is talk at each other about it.

And then there are the fight scenes. The guards engage in full combat with those that intrude, and blood even makes an appearance…but contenders quietly and clumsily kick, jump, roll and slap; the cinematic, grandiose fantasies of violence are mimicked in marital arts poses, as well as the cocky machismo of Mendes, sputtering tough guy lines upon a victorious match…but in the end, fighting is not nearly so exciting as the movies. Violence enters, it exits, and even with blood-splattered faces, the guards don’t really raise an eyebrow about it. It has become as routine in daily affairs as talking.

"I don't care if it happens to everyone, it's new to me,” laments a lovelorn Mendes, in surprisingly uncharacteristic passion, another element that separates this production from Maxwell’s former works - at some points, voices are raised, and even some set pieces are upended. However, even for these flashes of real emoting, like the Shakespearean "sound and the fury", it signifies nothing in the end. Mendes’ assertion could give the best summation of Richard Maxwell’s universe: we only recognize our own fears and thoughts, coloring only our own lives with a third dimension... and without any real connections forged between us, there are only collisions.

The End of Reality
@ The Kitchen
512 W. 19th Street (btw. 10th and 11th Ave.)
Runs until January 29th.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bridge & Tunnel, by Matt Windman

Although she performs only by herself, Sarah Jones creates a shining sense of community in her new Broadway show that is sorely lacking in many other multi-character plays.

A poet, playwright and leading advocate of hip hop theater, 32-year-old Sarah Jones had the Off-Broadway hit of 2003 when “Bridge & Tunnel” played the Culture Project in a production produced by Meryl Streep.

Now at the Helen Hayes Theatre for a two-month engagement, the play seems less at home in midtown than it did in the East Village. However, it does provide the opportunity for a more mainstream audience to discover Ms. Jones’ work.

In her 90-minute show, she portrays about a dozen immigrants participating in a poetry slam in Queens such as an elderly Jewish woman, a young Vietnamese man, and a young Jamaican woman. After each monologue, she finds a new jacket and jumps into a new personality.

Whereas the majority of one-person shows recreate famous figures like Mark Twain or Golda Meir, Sarah Jones sets out to understand and connect with those around her. It is this shared, powerful feeling of spirituality that makes “Bridge & Tunnel” a must-see play for anyone who cares about new theater or contemporary society.

Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th Street, 212-239-6200, $26.25-86.25. Tues 7pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 3 & 7pm. Through March 12.

Monday, January 23, 2006

"Safety," by Aaron Riccio

Being a passive observer may be an inherently silly thing, as some of Safety’s characters posit, but I’d gladly sit back and watch such fine stagecraft any day of the week. And no, that’s not just laziness speaking: this is a damn good piece of theater, thought-provoking, entertaining, and—dare I say it—picture perfect.

Isn’t it funny how guns and cameras both shoot people? Well, no, not really; but it can be a stark and darkly comedic nuance to quibble about. And British playwright Chris Thorpe is really good at it: he’s got a keen ability to go straight to the heart by completely circumventing it. In his brilliant play Safety (part of a trilogy, though it more than stands alone), loose, fragmented, emotionally-wrought chunks of text carry more bite in one little mouthful than any slack-jawed proselytizing. Rather than speak to the ineffable “horrors of war,” Thorpe makes an awkward dinner party into “enemy lines” and treats words as bullets. And while that’s been done before, these characters have not: a war photographer, haunted by his 1/125th of a second stills; his wife, haunted by the realization she neither loves nor knows her husband anymore; and a blissfully ignorant stranger, who just happened to save their daughter from drowning.

And with words as bullets, wordplay is the armor. It’s meager defense for such roiling emotion, but it makes for invigoratingly terse theater. One scene begins with Michael making a mundane comment to Susan, his wife: “You forget, you know.” What follows is a subtle rant on the vagueness of language (ironic, because it only shows how absolutely precise language can be), each point ramming home another of Michael’s faults. Words might allow characters to hide, but not for long, and they certainly cannot cover the discomfort of the speakers.

Given all that sub-text, Safety is a very intelligent play, extremely well-written, to the point where every syllable’s elocution is precise, and both the director (Daisy Walker) and cast (especially David Wilson Barnes and Jeffrey Clarke) deserve credit for managing to execute the enunciation with such vicious charm. “Was that observation or imperative,” asks Susan of Michael’s sparse comment. “It’s just that there are a number of ways to interpret the statement you just made, Michael, and I’d hate to disappoint you by choosing the wrong way.” Lines like these often have a tendency to come across as inhuman or callous—they produce the knee-jerk reaction: “Real people don’t talk like this!”—but I assure you, in these hands (i.e. larynxes), it’s wholly believable.

So too, the progression of scenes: Thorpe shuffles like an magician between the dinner party, an interview turned affair, some out-of-place expository monologues billed as “Michael’s World,” and Michael’s vivid memories of a bombed-out house, somewhere in the Balkans, 1994. It’s seamless, alleviated by a wonderfully chilling original techno score and an eerie sterile white set, whose single wall creeps closer and closer in, giving the verbal metaphor of being “boxed in” a physical parallel. Even better, every scene starts and ends in the middle of something, which speeds the show—already a fleet-footed affair—on.

Being a passive observer may be an inherently silly thing, as some of Safety’s characters posit, but I’d gladly sit back and watch such fine stagecraft any day of the week. And no, that’s not just laziness speaking: this is a damn good piece of theater, thought-provoking, entertaining, and—dare I say it—picture perfect.

Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street
Tickets (212-868-4444): $15
Performances (until 2/12): Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 7:00

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Review: “TRACES/fades” By Jonathan Cristaldi

Lenora Champagne’s latest piece, “TRACES/fades” was presented as a work-in-progress at Here’s Culturemart 2006 over two nights this past week.

Situated in a space that evokes an assisted living center, TRACES/fades is a meditation on Alzheimer’s disease and our national inability to remember history. The characters are “stuck” somewhere between the way things were and the way things are. The text is at times natural with deliberate poignancy intended to arouse nostalgia for a physical past that is being erased by technology: hand-writing letters, crocheting, etc. Other times, characters talk directly at the audience as if each in their own time has a great narration to impart, constantly fading however, never materializing.

Champagne is known for employing the unexpected in her work, and this piece is no exception. Though not billed as a musical, there is singing with original compositions by Daniel Levy. Very funny and satirical in the spontaneity of the songs, the lyrics however, are affective, politically charged, and hard to swallow: “I had a son in the war/which war?/ big war/the Arabs didn’t kill him/friendly fire did.”

Televisions on the right and left side of the stage project static images, eerie in composition, of a hand scribbling in elegant script, vast landscapes of ice and water, old houses – metaphors for memories, or traces of memories, disconnected and weathered by time.

The latest development of TRACES/fades is very successful in evoking resonant feelings of unrest for the ongoing war in Iraq, the hypocrisy with which our government conducts itself, and the degradation of the mind and what is expected from the minds of today. Champagne will continue to develop this work as a HARP (HERE Artist’s Residency Program) artist at Here Arts Center.

For more information go to: or

"In the Continuum," By Matt Windman

How did an acting project created by two NYU students suddenly turn into an Off-Broadway hit that will soon be seen in both national and international tours?

“In the Continuum,” which Nikkole Salter and Danai Gurira have written and also perform in, dramatizes the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the first-hand experiences of an African woman in Zimbabwe and an African-American teenager in Los Angeles.

The setup is seemingly simple, as each actress alternates turns delivering monologues. There are few, if any, props or scenic devices. One may even fear that this will turn out to be a night of whiny, expository theater, as recently seen in “’RFK” and “Latinologues.”

But the humanity, honesty, and tragedy of both women’s lives are emboldened in what turns out to be a stylized experience that explores society’s demands, personal rituals and human spirituality.

Each character, in fact, has been given a full dramatic trajectory marked by inner and outer conflicts and well-constructed arcs. We, in turn, are compelled to analyze their actions intellectually but understand their decisions emotionally.

As such, what seems to be an unpretentious, down-to-earth drama is offering two great performances and one compelling work of dramatic literature.

Through Feb 18. Perry Street Theatre, 31 Perry Street. 212-868-4444. $20-60. Mon-Fri 8pm, Sat 3 & 8pm.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Review: The Color Purple
by Eric Miles Glover

“In terms of narrative structure, The Color Purple, on the whole, is imperfect. As a universal tale of oppression and survival, however, the musical does not disappoint, and this is what is bizarre. The Color Purple is spellbinding. That no person leaves the theater without having felt its magic is evidence in need of consideration. In the end, do negative notices matter? Do imperfections matter? Hell no. The Color Purple guarantees an action-packed and entertaining time.”

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If one reads criticism about The Color Purple, the judgments overflow with comparisons to the Alice Walker novel and the Stephen Spielberg film. While the comparisons are the natural place to start discussion, the viewer should not expect carbon copies of the novel and the film in the theater. Likening the musical to the sources upon which it is based is almost criminal. Film, literature, and theater are distinct entities. When the viewer approaches the musical, he needs to assess its merits as an original work. A discussion about whether the musical captures the heart of the novel is warranted, but the viewer should not expect to see a duplicate of the novel in the theater. How the musical jolts, jerks, and jars needs examination from a theatrical context.

The Color Purple is the tale of an embattled Black woman, Celie, who uses her harrowing life experience as incentive for self-empowerment. After bearing two children, the results of rapes at the hands of the man she believes is her father, she is sold to Mister, a local farmer, who barrages her with corporal, sexual, and verbal abuse. When his mistress, Shug, arrives in their Georgia parish, the maltreatment continues but is ended when both women, realizing the parallels between their conditions, form an emotional and lesbian bond. Through Celie, Shug learns self-worth, and through Shug, Celie learns strength in the veneer of sexual, mental, and financial emancipation from men. A new musical, The Color Purple—about the low position of Black women during the 1900s due to their sex and color—is flawed.

The book rushes action and narrative structure, forgetting to expound meaning. In Act II, for example, Shug tells Celie that it angers God when a person walks past the color purple in a field without stopping to admire it. She launches into the beautiful title song, which, full of metaphors about the color, fails to explain and educate the viewer about its meaning and how that meaning relates to Celie. “Like a blade of corn, all a part of me,/Like the color purple, where do it come from?” Shug sings. What is the meaning of the color purple? Here, the book fails. The meaning of the color is never discussed, and that characters sing a song about its merits is off-putting. In fact, the color has several meanings. One, purple is one of the liturgical colors in Christian images, meaning sorrow and mourning. Two, purple means womanhood, lesbianism, and feminism. Three, purple means courage and classlessness. Without background knowledge of the several meanings of the color, however, including the three abovementioned meanings that are applicable to the themes and events of the musical, significance is lost.

“What about Love?” is the greatest number in the musical. Its words and music are beautiful. However, the composers do not afford the number and several others the proper time to grow and impact the viewer, because each number falls victim to the desire to keep the production in motion. The first six numbers are well-made, but the remaining ones threaten to lose the interest the first five cultivate. Numbers like “What about Love?” are musical interludes.

What is more, characters are superficial. While the viewer feels for them, is the emotional response proof of the success of the musical, or is the emotional response due to the longstanding connection the viewer has had with the characters in their novel and film forms? It is almost as if the musical operates from the belief that the viewer, having read the Walker novel and seen the Spielberg film, will summon past experiences with characters and plot when the musical is lacking. In other words, the musical relies on the viewer being familiar with its sources to alleviate the burden of dramatizing a 350-page novel in 150 minutes. If the musical took the time to enliven the characters and plot, however, rather than rushing, the musical would be perfect. If The Color Purple needs to last five hours for narrative to unfold and develop in an organic manner, this is what is needed. Theater, when right, is awesome.

Despite unmistakable imperfections, The Color Purple still enthralls. The Color Purple serenades and seduces with its lush score, a fusion of blues, gospel, and jazz. (The numbers “Big Dog,” “Hell No!,” “Push da Button,” and “The Color Purple” capture the full range of musical traditions used.) When it was announced three composers with combined talent in all music except musical theater were charged with making The Color Purple sing, concern was aired. However, the composers have accomplished an undertaking of epic proportions that is admirable for a first attempt. When emotion becomes too strong for speech in The Color Purple, characters sing in a musical language rooted in passion and feeling; and when emotion becomes too strong for song, the music the composers have written affords characters the occasion to dance in spirited fits of handsome movement.

Felicia P. Fields and Elisabeth Withers-Mendes are treasures. As Sofia, the Black feminist taboo, Fields gives an outstanding performance. With her booming voice and grounded stature, she demands respect from her male counterparts—her husband included—and wins undivided attention and affection from the viewer. In comparison, Brandon Victor Dixon is cute and infectious as her husband, Harpo, whom she dominates.

As Shug, the wild, sexual, and free-spirited blues singer, Withers-Mendes is phenomenal. From rude and brutish inebriate to mentor and lover of Celie, each step Withers-Mendes takes is passionate. During her stage time, she is filled with the exuberance and raw élan that is the exact reason unattached and married men fight, fawn, and drool in her presence. Her performance is nothing but heightened when she sings the numbers “Too Beautiful for Words” and “What about Love?” She has an awe-inspiring voice that, powerful and numbing, leaves the listener wanting when her vocalizing ends. A gifted singer, Withers-Mendes riffs with patience and care, unlike popular singers who flaunt superfluous ornamentation and assist the listener in forgetting what their songs—their messages—are about.

The ensemble is amazing. The Color Purple carries no dead weight. Whether the three actresses who provide comic relief or the eight dancers who amaze with their athleticism, the combined talent of the ensemble renders the viewer speechless.

In terms of narrative structure, The Color Purple, on the whole, is imperfect. As a universal tale of oppression and survival, however, the musical does not disappoint, and this is what is bizarre. The Color Purple is spellbinding. That no person leaves the theater without having felt its magic is evidence in need of consideration. In the end, do negative notices matter? Do imperfections matter? Hell no. The Color Purple guarantees an action-packed and entertaining time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

NEUROfest review: "Tabula Rasa" and "Cincinnati" by Jess Lacher

Neurological science and art come together for NEUROfest, presented by Untitled Theater Company #61 and running now through January 29. Reviewed below are two of the eight featured plays, readings and seminars will also be presented.

What do a nineteenth century feral boy, a contemporary young woman with autism, and Hansel and Gretel have in common? Nothing and everything, as evidenced in TABULA RASA, a new musical presented by High Fidelity Theater. As three blank chalkboards are filled over the course of the evening with scribbles and words, the play itself is in constant danger of being consumed by an avalanche of ideas, and the huge cast threatens to burst the seams of a small stage.

There are big ideas about civilization and wildness at play here, but the second act throws up its hands in frustration and devolves into a string of devices and gags which keep the story at arm’s length. The production has more than its share of problems, notably its stock characters and uneven vocals, but it has something to say about our insistence on putting people into comfortable boxes—it just takes a long, shaky time to get there.

Another lost child is at the heart of Don Nigro’s CINCINNATI, an arresting one-woman show performed (only once, unfortunately) by Nancy Walsh. A literature professor has lost her baby girl in a fire, and we are the college seminar to whom she delivers a wrenching one-hour lecture on her ensuing grief and madness. Walsh’s performance is spare and funny, even as it becomes painful to watch. Presented with a seminar on Walsh’s true-life encounter with neurological trauma: a brain tumor which nearly took her life shortly before her acclaimed performance of CINCINNATI in Edinburgh.

NEUROfest is a good place to go and think about your brain. For schedules and more information, go to

Review: Fish Bowl
by Eric Miles Glover

A singing hopeful. A pre-operative male-to-female transsexual. A greeting card writer. A chocolate-addicted southerner. A fitness-obsessed triathlete. What is the link between these people? Each is a contestant on the unscripted television program at the center of Fish Bowl.

Six people are chosen at random to compete for eleven million dollars. While waiting for the production team to give instruction, an unpredictable series of events unfolds when the six contestants stop being polite and start getting real.

Katie Apicella, Mike Borrelli, Simone Harrison, and Pamela Stewart are hilarious in their roles that exploit clichéd characters from unscripted television. Victor Verhaeghe is hilarious as pre-op transwoman Alberto Riverez but walks the fine line between performance and insult with serious risk. Rieko Yamanaka, Christine Poland, and Shevaun Hiler are skilled dancers, capturing the sharpness and silliness of the energetic movement Jennifer Rocha has created.

Jian Jung has designed an incredible setting that uses neon colors and college student furnishings to keep the viewer focused. The frame around the proscenium Jung has designed is clever and evokes the image of a television, allowing the viewer to watch the performance as if he were watching an actual television program. Jason Kichline has created cool video diaries that are used to optimum effect throughout the production, and Stephen Pitkin has composed music full of suspense and atmosphere.

I Ate What? Theater produces original work integrating multimedia and dance that exposes the ridiculous nature of American culture with resolve and humor. Fish Bowl, an attempt to realize that mission, is humorous but lacks substantial social comment. Writers Simona Berman and Andrew Thomas Pitkin have written an amusing reflection on the impact of unscripted television in American culture but their work is problematic, undermining the potential seriousness of their effort. Yes, Fish Bowl exposes the ridiculous nature of American culture, but it is not explicit in its attack and criticism. Characters are underdeveloped. Each represents one of the clichés seen time and again in unscripted television when it seems the point of a social and cultural exposé is to humanize as opposed to pigeonhole people, showing them and the viewer how exploitation factors into perception. What is more, events occur that are inorganic in terms of the dramatic structure. Scenes are unrelated and serve to foster laughter as opposed to foster serious discussion about a serious societal problem. Fish Bowl neither shows the devastating effects of the unscripted television in a believable fashion nor presents positive alternatives to the genre.

For all the viewer knows, however, Berman and Pitkin use Fish Bowl to show how the American public has become complicit in the endorsement of television programming like Wife Swap, Extreme Makeover, Average Joe, and American Idol. That the ridiculousness of Fish Bowl causes laughter on the part of the viewer shows how he has become disillusioned, and that is an achievement on its own.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream
by Eric Miles Glover

In the Vital Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, director John Ficarra has probed the sexual and dark elements of the Shakespeare favorite in an overall engaging production.

An extraterrestrial-like Oberon and vampire-like Titania are King and Queen of the Fairies, and a beer-bellied rebel lacking social graces is Puck. Yes, the character interpretations are striking, but the viewer finds comfort in accepting the production for what it is—ridiculous—and witnessing the imaginative performances of several talented actors. Justification for probing the sexual and dark elements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not offered, but the probing has forced the actors to develop original perspectives for their characters. Their inventiveness threatens to upstage and lose the heart of the piece at times, but their performances are inspiring.

As the four lovers, Aaron Simms, Kristin Price, Sorsha Miles, and Linda Jones are excellent. Actors oftentimes recite Shakespeare with breath-filled voices, dramatic phrasing, and emphasized iambic pentameter. Simms, Price, Miles, and Jones, however, make the language fresh with their spirited performances. As Demetrius, Simms exudes perfect Alpha Male pheromones when fighting for Hermia—the wonderful Miles—who now loves another woman. In her now gender-bending role, Jones is not a disappointment. Her acting is sharp and hilarious, and is the highlight of the production.

Laura LeBleu and Sara Moore are excellent as well. LeBleu makes Titania an interesting character as opposed to one that Oberon and Bottom upstage. LeBleu exudes perfect doses of passion and heat that the role requires. Moore is the perfect Bottom. Her comic timing and expressive qualities are driven from character. Watching her movements and facial expressions when she is not speaking—its own experience—shows her dedication to the role.

If ever Shakespeare had grounds to roll in his grave, this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is it. However, what makes Shakespeare dramas interesting is their willingness and openness to off-the-wall interpretations, and this is what the Vital Theater proves.

"Almost, Maine," by Matt Windman

In his first play, John Cariani (Tony-nominated actor for his portrayal of Motel the tailor in "Fiddler on the Roof") invents a playful image of a romantic utopia in the community of Almost, Maine. Gabriel Barrie’s direction brings a smart style to production, which takes place on a spare, surreal nighttime setting and uses light pop music.

Though Cariani’s collection of skits does not add up to the sum of their parts, his enthusiastic romanticism is catchy and creative. This would probably make a perfect date show for both young and old couples. If you’re in love, you’ll like it; if you're a cynic, you probably won't buy into it. The show may have been more effective at an intermissionless 90 minutes, rather than at a dragging 2 hours, 15 minutes with an intermission.

Still, in spite of what might be interpreted as cloying cutesiness or , there is certainly something brave and noteworthy in Cariani's optimism. I look forward to seeing his next play "Cul-de-sac," which the Transport Group will produce in the coming months.

Daryl Roth Theatre, 20 Union Square East, 212-239-6200, $26-66. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"Fish Bowl": Reality TV Parodied - Again. Review by Elizabeth Devlin

Fish Bowl deals with a reality-television game show, with six contestants chosen to duke it out for 11 million dollars. Before the game officially begins and the rules are explained, however, something goes awry and no one is really sure if they are fighting for money or just to survive. This play seems to beg the question of “How far is too far in voyeurism and ratings?” Unfortunately for the piece, this question is not a new one, nor does it succeed it its attempt to answer said question in a new and entertaining way. The main problem with this production is that it parodies that which has already been joked about the nth degree. Egomaniacal transsexuals, egomaniacal television producers, and socially awkward hillbillies are not new or shocking subjects.

The production is not without merit, however, as the cast does manage to provide entertainment with caricatures of reality show “stars” we love to hate. Katie Apicella, Jeff Edgerton, Simone Harrison, and Mike Borelli, all deliver laughs in the face of material that could be funnier. Jeff Edgerton’s role is the most grounded performance we see, and causes his Benjamin to be the most sympathetic character in the show. I’m actually still chuckling when I think of his security-blanket dry-erase board.

The integration of multimedia is not only done well, it actually enhances the show (because of the pre-established television setting) when so often such devices tend to detract from a production. All the technical aspects of the show deserve credit, from the set (which makes a good use of limited space) to the lights and sound.

The incorporation of dance, which is humorous in the beginning, becomes less so and feels rather pointless as the piece continues.

Perhaps more die-hard fans of reality TV would see more in this show than I did. The technical aspects and talent will, however, keep me on the lookout for the next production of the I Ate What? Theatre Company.

The I Ate What? Theatre Company presents Fish Bowl at the Michael Weller Theatre through January 22nd, no Tuesdays. for tickets and info.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

TSI Playtime Series Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

TSI presented an evening of diverse one acts. Most pieces had good actors, with far less talented writing. It was difficult to watch the artists struggle with ill conceived texts. An exception to this problem was How to Speak Women by Ray Payton. This play is a great example of what happens when great writing and great actors meet; vibrant and engaging theatre ensued. Played well by Jeff Besselman, Natasha Gavin, Ray Payton, and Carrrie Tarvis this play is funny and poignant, making it the highlight of the evening.

The other works show potential, but are in need of tighter scripts and technical assistance. The actors in these works do their best with the limited resources they are given. Yet, TSI notes that these are "works in progress" and should be commended for giving voice to new theater.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," by Matt Windman

Producing a comedy by Shakespeare, even one of his best comedies, will be a challenge for any theater company, of any size or stature. The Vital Theatre Company and Honkbark Production's Off-Off-Broadway “Midsummer” (though playing at an Off-Broadway theater) features about 20 actors, an onstage band, and some nice visual effects, but nevertheless does not present a unified, meaningful vision. The ensemble’s acting is very awkward, and many unsuccessfully try too hard for laughs. Even more out of depth is the decision to cast Lysander as a woman, an interesting idea that is never successfully explored or justified. Also, the set design creates a dark, dungeon-like atmosphere that is ill-suited to the play.

McGinn Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, 212-352-3101, $12-15.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Jess Lacher

HoNkBarK Productions' somewhat uneven interpretation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" features fighting, accordions, cross-gender casting, platform boots and ample silliness, which makes it a safe bet for even the Shakespeare-phobes among us. Falling somewhere short of inspired, the production manages more than a few luminous moments, picking up speed as it goes and delivering a beautifully clowned Pyramus and Thisbe in the second act.

Lysander is a lady, which makes for some generally successful same-sex coupling, thanks to Linda Jones’s strong performance. Earle Hugens’ sad Puck has seen better days, his gut hangs over his furry pants. Otherwise, things are much as you expect them to be-- confused lovers are tripping through the wood, fairies are causing mischief. The real joys are when Quince and his players take the stage, led by Sara Moore’s remarkable Bottom. Her cross-eyed, ass-headed excitement recalls Burt Lahr’s Cowardly Lion on speed.

Director John Ficarra is determined to make use of the multi-level stage, which means somebody is obligated to leap eight feet into the crash mat about every three minutes. Though the fight choreography isn’t as sharp as it should be, and the first act has its lulls, there is a lot to like about this “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Hippolyta is right when she declares, “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.”

Vital Theatre Company (at McGinn Cazale Theatre)
2162 Broadway, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10024
Tickets: 212-352-3101
$15.00 Adults
$12.00 Students
Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8:00pm / Saturday 8:00pm / Sunday 6:00pm

Saturday, January 14, 2006

In The Continuum by Nicholas Linnehan

It is not often that I go see a play and find one that reverberates in my soul. In The Continuum certainly is the exception. Played brilliantly by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, this show educates its audience about the epidemic of HIV among Black Women and those who live in Africa.

The real beauty in this production lies in its versatility. The actors inhabit many different people throughout the play, allowing the audience to grapple with different perspectives about each main character. The portrayal of each role is profoundly honest, which allows the audience to relate to the human truths of this piece.

Despite the serious nature of this work, the actors provide many wonderful moments where the audience can laugh, which is a necessity due to the heavy nature of the work. Remarkably, In The Continuum educates without pontificating, provokes without being patronizing, and effects you without indulging in needless emotion.

Rated a must see in 2005, this play is a definite one not to miss in 2006.

“Anton” by Hannah Snyder-Beck

“Anton” is a new play by Pierre van der Spuy that explores the life of one of the world’s greatest playwrights, Anton Chekhov. Using all sorts of sources--including actual letters between Chekhov and his wife and leading actress Olga Knipper--van der Spuy’s work depicts Chekhov’s difficult relationships with the women in his life and his ongoing conflict between work and familial responsibilities.

The central concept of van der Spuy’s play is interesting, indeed. However, there are numerous problems with this production. To begin with, Mr. van der Spuy has little theater training and/or experience. Before his acting debut in May 2005, Mr. van der Spuy was a strategic management consultant and, before that, a doctor with clinical experience in South Africa, Canada and England. Mr van der Spuy’s academic background is impressive; however, when it comes to creating theater, medical accomplishments and academic studies hold no currency.

Mr. van der Spuy is much too academic in his approach. His attempt to make his script Chekhovian is painfully self-conscious. Moreover, the script is clunky and, at times, feels too modern for the time period in which it is set. As an actor, van der Spuy has some raw talent in that he seems at ease on stage and has a substantive stage presence. However, his lack of training and experience is glaring. It is difficult to understand van der Spuy due to a thick accent and poor enunciation, and he fails to make any physical or emotional choices whatsoever.

As the title character and star of this production, van der Spuy is a one-note-nancy, failing to infuse his character with inner struggle, emotional drive and passion. At one point, Anton catches Olga (Ana Kearin Genske) reading his will behind his back. A moment that should have been filled with personal tragedy and feelings of betrayal was, instead, marked with unlikely calm. In Act II, Anton at last has an emotional outburst in a confrontation between himself, his mother (Loyita Chapel) and Dr. Isaak Altshuller (Kent Langloss). However, there was no character growth or movement leading up to this moment, making the outburst difficult to believe. Mr. van der Spuy’s monotonous portrayal might be explained by one of Dr. Altshuller’s lines. He says: “What’s behind your mask, Anton? Even when you’re drunk you don’t give anything away.” In his attempt to characterize Anton as a man who does not readily show his emotions, Mr. van der Spuy is too literal in his interpretation to give an effective performance.

In addition to writing and starring in “Anton,” Mr. van der Spuy also serves as the production’s director. As such, he is heavy-handed and his staging is static and repetitious. Throughout the production, members of the cast move to the center-down-stage position, a stage location that is usually quite powerful when used sparingly. However, van der Spuy uses the position too frequently and actors trying to lose themselves in reverie while in that spot end up looking amateurish and predictable.

It would be unfair to criticize the cast of “Anton” because flawed directing makes it nearly impossible to distinguish between choices that the actors themselves have made and instructions given to them. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that as Evgenia, Anton’s doting mother, Loyita Chapel manages to rise above the fray to deliver a solid and well-rounded performance. Kent Langloss also makes a valiant effort to wade through the mire. Langloss is clearly a talented actor, as evidenced by many truthful and stunning moments he has as Dr. Altshuller. If at times he seems inconsistent, it is through no fault of his own; like the rest of his compatriots, Mr. Langloss is an unfortunate victim of faulty directing.

Toward the end, the play becomes increasingly heavy-handed and didactic. As the tedious production at last grinds to a halt, one can’t help but think that it is never a good idea for a person to direct himself in a piece that he has written--unless of course the person is Clint Eastwood. The concept behind “Anton” is intriguing and Mr. van der Spuy should be commended for his bravery in trying out theater at such a late time in his life. However, Mr. van der Spuy needs to be reminded that most of us in the business have been working at it since pre-pubescence and have still not perfected our craft. To be a successful theater artist, it takes more than a few classes in “the biz” and a deep curiosity; it takes everything.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Beauty of the Father, by Matt Windman

In a Nilo Cruz play, the lyrical and metaphorical use of dialogue sends his audience into a suspended, poetic world of uninhibited sexual passions, imminent dangers, and vibrant Latin American culture.

Cruz suddenly gained national attention three years ago when his play “Anna and the Tropics” unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize. “The Beauty of the Father,” his newest play, is now receiving its New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Off-Broadway space at City Center.

Whereas “Anna” is an actual history play, “Beauty” takes place in the present day but conjures the spirit of the Spanish poet-playwright Federico Garcia Lorca as a narrator. Upon arriving in Spain, an American girl meets her father for the first time, gains feelings for his Moroccan companion, and ultimately becomes consumed and entangled in this unfamiliar foreign culture.

Clad in white, Oscar Isaac creates a mischievous but mysterious presence out of Lorca. Ritchie Costner, as the father figure, projects a kind of melancholy in the midst of impossible desire and unfulfilled youth.

Though the plot devices still seem undeveloped, Michael Grief’s eloquent choreography and stunning use of stagecraft ultimately makes “Beauty of the Father” a meaningful, magical, must-not-miss experience.

Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, 131 West 55th Street, 212-581-1212, $48. Tues-Fri 7:30pm, Sat-Sun 2:30 & 7:30pm.

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" By Hannah Snyder-Beck

"Now playing at the Mcginn Cazale Theater is HoNkBarK! company’s latest production, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” One of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a la HoNkBarK! includes a mammoth cast of 22, complex fight choreography and cross-gendered casting."

Now playing at the Mcginn Cazale Theater is HoNkBarK! company’s latest production, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” One of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a la HoNkBarK! includes a mammoth cast of 22, complex fight choreography and cross-gendered casting. In this version of “Midsummer,” Linda Jones takes on the male role of Lysander, fair Hermia’s devoted lover, and plays Lysander as a female. This makes for interesting commentary on same sex couples, particularly at the top of the play, where the lovers decide to elope because the Duke forbids their marriage.

Ms. Jones makes for a fierce Lysander. However, at times, she rushes through her dialogue; her rapid line delivery is somewhat disorienting and takes the audience out of the world of the play. As Hermia, Sorsha Miles stands apart from her cast mates, delivering a well rounded and solid performance. Sara Moore bravely assumes the role of the farcical and charmingly egotistical Bottom. Ms. Moore clearly has a penchant for comedy and a wealth of comedic skill; she does, after all, have extensive experience with circus performance. However, it seems that Ms. Moore has borrowed too much of her circus background for the role of Bottom. In this “Midsummer,” Bottom comes across as a goofy cartoon character. Unfortunately, Ms. Moore has missed that what lies at the heart of Bottom’s comical follies is his genuine belief that he is a formidable actor, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Bottom’s wayward troupe of actors includes Francis Flute (Richard Bolster), Peter Quince (Todd Faulkner), Starveling (Jo Mei), Snug the Joiner (Shauna Miles), and Snout (Bridgette Shaw). As Francis Flute, Richard Bolster delivers an effective and charming rendition of Thisby in the play within the play. The rest of the mechanicals, however, seem too self-conscious in their pursuit of comedy. Rather than make specific character choices, the actors who play the mechanicals have chosen to play caricatures and, in the process, have succumbed to comedy’s fatal trap: playing what the actors themselves believe to be funny.

Director John Ficarra makes good use of the multi-level set, expertly designed and implemented by Scott Aronow. There is the feeling, however, that Ficarra has allowed his determination to make good use of the marvelous set to overpower his directing process.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Head Trip: Overview / Review of NEUROfest by Georgia Kirtland

Strangers and Linguish, as part of the NEUROfest by Untitled Theater Company #61 = one part Twilight Zone, one part Kafka, and a whole lot of mind games …this makes for one cerebral evening of theater.

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Untitled Theater Company #61 is no stranger to a series, having put on both the 24/7 and the Ionesco Festivals, respectively; their latest offering is NEUROfest, a series of plays with the common theme of neurological disorders. In addition to original theater – running the gamut from musicals to found text to multimedia - seminars concerning the particular diseases – running the gamut from Tourette’s to Mad Cow - will be held in conjunction with certain performances: panels featuring both neurologists and playwrights. My particular viewing included the one-acts Strangers and Linguish, both penned and directed by UTC artistic director Edward Einhorn.

Strangers, an eerie and inevitably Kafka-esque scenario between a man and a woman in a waiting room, is a head tingling depiction of amnesia’s devastation. The dialogue is a slow burn of wit, un-canniness, seduction, and just the right amount of heart-wrenching. Aesthetically, the blaring sterility of Alexander Senchak’s set and fluorescent lighting illuminated the chill of the scene quite nicely (and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Richard Maxwell’s signature style).

The second half of the evening – Linguish – is slow to build, but once it does, it maintains an engaging velocity. Appropriating the classic science fiction / horror scenario of “the freak epidemic”, four strangers are quarantined together against a nasty outbreak of aphasia, a neurological disorder that affects language abilities. Their hysteria in close quarters postulates: will English become a dead language through misuse? Think Twilight Zone meets a linguistics textbook, as viewed through a playwright’s delicate lense - an episodic investigation into their surrender to the euphoria of untamed speech. As another detainee fittingly queries (though in reference to a botched round of pinochle), “If it’s a good game, who cares if we’re playing by the right rules?” Point taken.

The uniting link between the two one acts is actor Peter Bean, the star of the evening in caliber as well as in recurrence. In Strangers, he possesses an unsettling, calm-before-the-storm quality, as well as a muted sensuality, that makes him a fun and unpredictable fixation; in Linguish, he anchors the chaos around him – of course, it helps that he gets to utter some of the most penetrating lines of the piece. Of particular note is his musings on the etymology of “apple”; one can’t help but be even a little inspired.

Hats off to Einhorn and company for initiating such a fresh and innovative festival; if the other offerings of NEUROfest are as novel and cerebral as Strangers and Linguish, one might be obligated to make repeat visits.

Visit for a complete listing of performances and seminars, as days and times vary.

Theater 5
311 W. 43rd Street
Runs through January 29th.

"Anton" by Aaron Riccio

Perhaps the scope and focus are too wide and the jumps between acts too abrupt; whatever the reason, Anton at times sounds like Chekhov, but lacks the passion of Chekhov.

A doctor suddenly switches careers and finds a passion not just for theater, but for classic and highly-stylized Chekhovian Theater. No, that’s not the plot of Anton (would that it were); that’s the story of actor-writer-director Pierre van der Spuy, who is clearly in love with the extremely influential world of Chekhov, but who has only managed at best to flatter the playwright’s original intentions and at worst to be so pale an imitation that Chekhov burns all the brighter.

I don’t mean to be insulting, since der Spuy has clearly put a lot of work into this, his third play. And there are some extremely polished moments (almost all of which are in the second half), filled with the classic undertones that silence speaks best and the naturalistic “let’s talk about something else when we really mean this” tonalities of Chekhov’s finest. In fact, der Spuy has written one of the best drunken scenes ever, between Anton and Dr. Altshuller; a bleak and tormented narrative that achieves the rapport between Vanya and Astarov, even if Anton’s climax is turgid and forced.

The problem here is that der Spuy has very little experience with the theater, and it shows not only in his own staid posture and impregnable voice (a heavily accented—not from any effort trying to speak Russian, mind you—and slurred baritone), but in his own sense of stagecraft and pacing. How can this man, for all his broad ideas and passion, hope to direct and lead a cast without understanding enough about the essential craft (and history) of theater first? I think der Spuy has the makings of a very fine playwright, and some of the cast (the first production I’ve seen where Equity Actors—specifically Loyita Chapel—have made a marked difference) handles the script with great care and respect for Chekhov. At the same time, there’s no consensus on how to pronounce even the most mundane of words, like “Moscow” (a pretty big word in a Russian play, you’ll have to admit), and even the Equity members sound like they’re hurtling over names like Evgenia Iakovlevna Chekhov. (I don’t blame them, but we go to see people do what we can’t do.)

Another complaint would be that Anton is almost excessively long, a problem easily solved by severely redacting the first act. While it’s no doubt interesting to see Olga struggling to fit into Anton’s family (and you can see the eerie parallels that der Spuy has either found or invented to Chekhov’s own work, particularly Uncle Vanya), Anton, which professes to be about Anton, gives far too much time and plot to the secondaries. This too would not be a problem if their stories actually went somewhere. But whereas The Cherry Orchard’s comic relief, Yepikhodov, fails at love to make a point about the play’s theme, Anton’s comic relief, Bunin (Lee Kaplan: amusing, but just a little too ready to jump in with his lines) just disappears at the end of Act II. The same goes for Olga who, after suddenly marrying Anton between Acts I and II and having a miscarriage between Acts II and III, disappears for good before Act IV. Perhaps the scope and focus are too wide and the jumps between acts too abrupt; whatever the reason, Anton at times sounds like Chekhov, but lacks the passion of Chekhov.

Vladimir Nabokov said it best: “Chekhov’s intellectual... [knows] exactly what is good, what is worthwhile living for, but at the same time [sinks] lower and lower in the mud of a humdrum existence, unhappy in love, hopelessly inefficient in everything—a good man who cannot make good.” Anton here is merely a shadow of himself, a success without real regrets (or perhaps ones that are too obliquely referenced in sub-text) or tragedy, despite his very real battle with consumption. (Here, it’s almost laughable: a few coughs here, a few coughs there, pass the vodka bottle, would you?) I look forward to seeing the inevitable second draft of this production (it’s too good a story not to tell, and der Spuy is really too motivated to forgo telling it); but right now, Anton is not even the shadow of the imitation it so longs to be.

Greenwich Street Theater (547 Greenwich Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $15.00 General/$10.00 Students
Performances (to January 29th): Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00; Sunday at 3:00

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Celebration and The Room, By Matt Windman

In terms of timing, Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company got very lucky this fall. Similar to last year’s double bill of two one-act plays by Eugene Ionesco, the company was set to present two one acts by English playwright and novelist Harold Pinter, which also happen to be his first and latest plays to be written. And as for luck, Mr. Pinter just won the 2005 Noble Prize for his wide-ranging body of dramatic and descriptive literature, which includes classic twentieth century modernist plays like The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming and Betrayal.

Though reviled by a number of critics including John Simon (in his newly published retrospective collection of theater reviews, he refers to Pinter as an unworthy sham artist on several occasions), Mr. Pinter is without question one of the most influential English playwrights from the Angry Young Man/Royal Court generation, set off by the incendiary tactics of himself and other writers like John Osborne, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard. But in terms of dramatic conventions, what easily sets Pinter apart from the others is his incessant, but meaningful use and exploitation of dramatic pauses. It is in these moments that his characters often speak loudest, allowing actors to showcase their dramatic abilities and forward their characters’ emotional and mental subtleties.

And though neither “The Room” or “Celebration” is on the same level of quality of the terrorism in The Birthday Party or the human grittiness of The Homecoming, this new double bill nevertheless succeeds in successfully demonstrating the evolution of Pinter as a dramatist from 1957 (“The Room”) to 1999 (“Celebration”). And in terms of production, Atlantic Artistic Director Neil Pepe and his very talented adult cast understand how to perform these works effectively, without unnecessary hints of melodrama in “The Room” or of caricature in “Celebration.”

“The Room,” which takes place in a dreary London flat, resembles Pinter’s more famous works much more closely than does Celebration. It follows the garrulous behavior and antics of Rose Hudd (Mary Bell Peil), as she attempts to communicate with her reticent, emotionally vacant husband (Thomas Jay Ryan) and landlord (Peter Maloney), and later with a mysterious blind man (Earle Hyman) as well as a couple seeking to occupy her room (Kate Blumberg and David Pittu).

“Celebration,” on the other hand, is by comparison a much more humorous and seemingly lighter one-act. On New Year’s Eve at a fancy restaurant, two tables are featured onstage: one contains two heterosexual couples, of which the two women are sisters; and a separate couple on the other side of the stage. Though each couple is already at odds with each other, visitors such as the hostess or the manager or the loquacious waiter are on the prowl, and the six customers eventually find a reason to unite into one table by the end. Particularly noteworthy in the scene is the performance of David Pittu as a waiter who begs for attention by bragging about his grandfather, who apparently was a friend to all the celebrities of the early Twentieth Century, ranging from T.S. Eliot to nearly anyone involved in the Hollywood studio star system.

“Celebration,” though considerably funnier than “The Room,” also has much less conflict. However, it plays out onstage considerably better than does "The Room." Still, "Celebration" shows Pinter as a writer who is much more confident and fluid in his abilities to write for character. In fact, the transition from one play to the other makes "Celebration" seem even more enjoyable through the comparative setup.

Atlantic Theater Company
336 West 20th Street
Through January 21, 2005
Call 212-239-6200, $50, schedule varies

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Andersonville Trial

If you want a show that tests your emotions, your conscious and your heart, then The Andersonville Trial is the one you are looking for. The gifted cast of thirteen does an amazing job transforming the small black box theatre into a convincing courtroom with the audience as its jury.

The Andersonville Trial revolves around a former prison-superintendent, Henry Wirz (played by the exceptionally talented Moti Margolin) who was in charge of a prison during the Civil War, and is on trial right after the death of Abraham Lincoln. While he is charged with conspiracy and the death of over 14,000 men, there is a larger, moral issue at hand. Colonel Chipman (played by Kristofer Holz), the prosecutor, aims to make the trial about this moral issue. He fights with his own conscious during the course of the trial and whether he would have done any better than Mr. Wirz. The basic question: do you dare disobey your commanding officer even though you know you are killing hundreds of men a day?

Little can be said to sufficiently sum up the creativity in this show. The costumes and set make you feel as if you have stepped back in time and are struggling today with the issues they doubtlessly struggled with then. The show is a fantastic addition to New York theatre and is a definite must-see.

Review: "Christine Jorgensen Reveals," by Dane Harrington Joseph

How did the most famous woman in America fade into obscurity? It’s hard to imagine such a thing being possible, but that was exactly what happened to Christine Jorgensen, a New York man who in the 1950’s went to Denmark and came back the woman everyone wanted to know. Entering the theater, I had no idea who Christine Jorgensen was, but, as the evening progressed, I felt as if I should have. It amazed me that no one really mentions this fascinating woman much anymore. Luckily, for one month at Dodger Stages, she can finally live again and tell her story.

In Christine Jorgensen Reveals, Bradford Louryk, who also conceived the piece, lipsynchs the only recorded interview Jorgensen ever did. Throughout the 50 minute performance, we come to know a cosmopolitan woman whose candid intellect and retro ideas seem too complex for 1950s America. In fact, Jorgensen’s keen wit clashes with the interviewers ‘50’s mentality to create several moments of high hilarity throughout the evening. Louryk’s intricate portrayal of Jorgensen is astonishing; he lipsynchs the performance so fluidly that after awhile you forget that he’s not speaking. Much praise, also, to director Josh Hecht who has made this seated, one-man show captivating from start to finish.

The Bottom Line: If you’re looking for fascinating insight into a revolutionary mind that time has forgot, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you do not run to see Christine Jorgensen Reveals before January 28th.

Dodger Stages
340 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019
Tickets: 212-239-6200

Schedule:Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8:00pm / Saturday 8:00pm

Opening Date:
December 28, 2005

Closing Date:
January 28, 2006

Review: "In the Continuum" by Georgia Kirtland

In the Continuum, a brilliant debut from playwrights / performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, takes on the AIDS crisis in the African / African-American female community with fierce intelligence, delicate subtlety, powerhouse performances, and most importantly – and potently of all - humor.

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The Encarta Dictionary defines “continuum” as “a link between two things, or a continuous series of things, that blend into each other so gradually and seamlessly that it is impossible to say where one becomes the next.” With regard to In the Continuum, and its intricate threads of storyline and themes attentively woven, as well as the evocative versatility of playwrights / performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter…there could be no more appropriate term to title this piece.

The two protagonists are polar opposites in location, class, status: Abigail (Gurira) is a middle class Zimbabwean news reporter, married to an accountant, and a mother; Nia (Salter) is nineteen, African-American, and homeless in L.A., living off of “five finger discounts” from her Nordstrom clerk job, with aspirations to the good life with her hotshot NBA bound boyfriend. However, what allows their story to “blend so seamlessly” is their mutual discoveries of both pregnancy and HIV; In the Continuum is their separate, but shared, struggle to accept their thwarted dreams for upward mobility, taking action on a disease with no known cure and inaccessible treatments, and, most of all, how to confront the men in their lives they are desperate to keep, but who have infected them.

What makes this piece so powerful – and what separates it from other “issue” plays, so to speak - is that nothing is left to cliché; it doesn’t preach to the choir, it makes the choir re-evaluate what they claim to already know about. It honors the intricacy of each unique life while it highlights the common threads that tie us all together. The two women may be victims of their choices - but one also comes to question what choices they had in the narrow confines of their circumstances. A vital strength of this piece is that Gurira and Salter never allow their characters to sink into pathos or melodrama; even at their lowest and most desperate, there is humor to be salvaged, and it becomes the great equalizer between character and audience.

Besides thematically and textually, In the Continuum also excels in its stagecraft, and I dare say that big budget Broadway could take a cue from Gurira, Salter, and director Robert O’Hara – the stark and tasteful simplicity of the lighting, the props, and the blocking in conjunction really let the potency of the writing shine. The transitions, in keeping with the idea of “continuum”, truly were seamless: Gurira and Salter, besides playing their two protagonists, also play their circle of influence. With a mere re-tie of a sash, Gurira is a prep school chum, a prostitute chum, a nurse, even a witch doctor; Salter portrays Nia's nerdy counselor, her hardened estranged mother, her tough talking best friend. The men in question are never present, but their presence is keenly felt.

Lastly, In the Continuum, with all its attributes, would still be unrealized without the powerhouse performances of its two playwrights. Gurira and Salter infuse a three-dimensional humor and vitality into every character they portray; every emotion in their wide range is finely tuned and expertly delivered. This outstanding debut announces that these two women are a tremendous theatrical / socio-political force to be reckoned with.

In the Continuum
@ the Perry Street Theatre
31 Perry Street
Mon-Fri 8:00
Sat 3:00 and 8:00
Through January 14th

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Review: "In the Continuum" by Dane Harrington Joseph

I knew it was coming. She had enthralled me all night, but I knew her work was not done. I knew she needed to add a coda to her beautifully orchestrated performance. As she ascended that chair and began her passionate speech on the journey of the African woman, she truly enraptured the entire audience. Looking around the theatre, I could see that everyone was at the edge of their seats, completely engrossed by Abigail’s (Danai Gurira) speech, which summed up the fear, frustration, and fury that is masterfully contained in In the Continuum.

In the Continuum is a fiercely acted, moving, taut socio-political drama, which skillfully makes its point without alienating its audience. In fact, although the story is about two black women (one African-American, one Zimbabwean), the show’s message is accessible to all. Written by Gurira and Nikkole Salter, the show concerns two black women, Abigail & Nia, coping with the modern pandemic of HIV infection amongst that demographic. The story begins on the day they find out they have tested positive for the disease and traces the events that unfurl as each of the ladies attempts to deal with the news in their own distinct culture, which we come to realize share more similarities than differences. Under the direction of John O’Hara, the women embrace and become different characters throughout the night; some which make you laugh, others which make you think, and still those which bring tears to your eyes. Salter brings a brilliant comedic edge to the production that keeps it less heavy, but it is Gurira whose performance is both ravishing and dynamic. The actress has such skill that it would be blasphemous for her not to become legendary.

The Bottom Line: For an intelligent glimpse into the tragedy occurring both at home and abroad, it is your duty to see In the Continuum.

"In The Continuum" By Hannah Snyder-Beck

"Affecting, intelligent, and thought provoking, “In The Continuum” is a poignant new look at the HIV/AIDS epidemic...In a word, flawless."

“In The Continuum,” written and performed by the fiercely talented Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, tells the stories of Abigail, a married member of Zimbabwe’s middle class, and Nia, a 19-year-old struggling to survive in the ghetto of Los Angeles. Abigail and Nia are worlds apart, yet these women are connected by a dark secret they both share: they are both pregnant and H.I.V. positive. Although Abigail and Nia’s stories are told separately throughout the course of the play, their respective experiences of isolation, abandonment and betrayal are poignantly paralleled.

Ms. Gurira and Ms. Salter are emotional powerhouses, both taking on several characters throughout. Morphing from one character to the next, these actresses really strut their stuff. Abigail; a callous witch doctor; a judgmental nurse; Abigail’s highfalutin, ex-classmate; and a jaded prostitute are among the personages Ms. Gurira expertly portrays. For her part, Ms.Salter adroitly plays Nia; an uptight, nerdish parole officer; and Nia’s hard edged, unempathic mother, to name a few. The actresses have taken care to infuse their work with specificity, making each character physically, vocally and emotionally distinct.

Robert O’Hara’s talent for directing is clear: his direction is seamless. O’Hara’s considerable skill is evident in the fact that his presence is hardly felt; the action on stage flows from one moment to the next naturally, and effortlessly. The minimal props and costumes, designed by Jay Duckworth and Sarah Hillard, help the actresses to perform unencumbered, while forcing Ms. Gurira and Ms. Salter to rely on their imaginations to create their respective environments. Affecting, intelligent, and thought provoking, “In The Continuum” is a poignant new look at the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “In The Continuum” is, in a word, flawless.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Review: In the Continuum
by Eric Miles Glover

“With In the Continuum, [Danai] Gurira and [Nikkole] Salter have created one monumental and momentous work of theater that demands and deserves attention. Their words and performances entertain the viewer but, what is important, also educate him about HIV and AIDS ... HIV and AIDS do not discriminate—do not know the difference between sexes, races, creeds, and colorsand In the Continuum is the same. A profound drama, its message and the characters who are its deliverers are far-reaching. Flawless, In the Continuum is a must-see.”

Read entire review:

Featuring a flood of characters from Zimbabwe and South Central, Los Angeles, In the Continuum is told from the perspectives of Black women with HIV and AIDS. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes one to help a person survive HIV and AIDS, but, as writers and performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter make clear, this does not happen all the time.

From the beginning, the viewer knows In the Continuum is full of possibilities once Gurira and Salter sound timeless schoolgirl chants—Gurira in Bantu language, Salter in English—with engrossing excitement. Juxtaposed are the experiences of two Black women characters—one from Zimbabwe, one from South Central—with stories that weave and connect with those of the prominent people in their lives. This is an outstanding theatrical device—one occurring several times—that prepares the viewer for the character studies to follow. Abigail is a successful ZBC News anchorwoman who believes a second child will save her failing marriage and keep her husband interested. Nia, a pregnant but club-hopping teenager, lives in a shelter and works for minimum wage at Nordstrom, where she gives herself five-finger discounts to protest how the department store treats both her and “Javier and them,” its underpaid and unacknowledged non-English speaking workers. To think that neither woman would have learned about her HIV infection had circumstances—an unborn child for Abigail, a shooting for Nia—not forced them to seek medical attention is chilling.

In their character studies, Gurira and Salter breathe life into people all too often caricatured and dehumanized in mainstream culture. Gurira and Salter render each character as real as the persons sitting on either side of the viewer in the theater. With each character, In the Continuum explores the social dilemmas and feelings of Black people that are not captured in Black characters molded with White hands. AIDS as Government Experiment. AIDS as Homosexual Affliction. AIDS as Plot to Kill Black People. Each is a conjecture regurgitated on a regular basis within Black communities, and how important it is that In the Continuum regurgitates them but offers truth as well. Each character is an authentic original that, using well-timed interjections of Black colloquialism and teeth sucking, makes the viewer smile and laugh. Each uses drama as well, to make the viewer hurt—whether ghetto fabulous Nia, who will travel the road of motherhood alone, or “bougie” Abigail who, due to self-hatred and assimilation, loses all ties to her people but all of a sudden visits the fabled Witch Doctor with hope of a cure that is absent. HIV and AIDS in Africa and America—HIV and AIDS in Black communities—are real problems, and if the viewer did not know this upon entering the theater, it is this he knows upon exiting. In the past, African men who tested positive for HIV raped infants, thinking the penetration of newborn virgins the cure for the disease; the desperation the men feel is the same desperation Nia and Abigail feel—a desperation that saturates their characters and overcomes the viewer.

Gurira and Salter are exceptional writers and actresses. From the second the viewer meets Gurira as Abigail and Salter as Nia, he knows he has met characters that will fill his hunger for well-made stories. Each time Gurira finishes one of her character studies, Salter propels another one of hers into motion, and then Gurira returns. At the turn of a phrase, the start of a traditional African chant, or the sound of a musical cue, characters with vibrant personalities emerge. Unforgettable ones are “Witch Doctor,” who pockets extra dollars from tourists who want him to fulfill the Western construct of the head-shaking, gibberish-speaking, arms-flailing African healer, and “Miss Keisha,” the bad advice-doling friend of Nia, who has spunk, with the neck jerks, lip puckers, hair flips, and finger snaps as proof. Each character keeps the viewer at the edge of his seat, and this is where Gurira and Salter keep him. One of several powerful moments occurs when Abigail and Nia decide to confront their men with the news of their infections. Both women are from near opposite sides of the world, but disbelief is suspended and each helps the other in grieving and with the challenges of coming forward with her news. Will Nia reveal her infection? What will become of Abigail, her husband, and their two children? Will both women become statistics or survivors? The ending is a sad surprise—believable but heart-wrenching nonetheless. The stories Gurira and Salter tell are comedic but tragic helpings of entertainment and education. That the viewer will hunger for second and third helpings is guaranteed.

In 1988, Spike Lee premiered the film School Daze, a musical satire, which offered shocking observations about the intraracial conflicts between light-skinned and dark-skinned Black people, citing its rise as the result of outer-directed influences. At the end of the film, the character Dap Dunlap implored the Black viewer to awake from four centuries of ignorance about the inner workings of his people. In the Continuum does the same for HIV and AIDS in Black cultural centers—imploring the Black viewer to awake and realize that HIV and AIDS are real—but the universal appeal of the two-woman show includes all people in the exchange, as the show is “an invitation for more unheard stories to be brought [into the continuum].” Gurira and Salter unveil the struggles of people—not Black women alone—in modern times, and, in doing so, reveal the social, personal, and cultural norms keeping people from practicing safe sex and abstinence; and the lack of resources and education keeping people from understanding the lifelong impact of HIV and AIDS.

HIV and AIDS have reached pandemic proportions, each second infecting people on all seven continents, people sometimes oblivious to the virus inside their bloodstreams. HIV and AIDS have withstood three decades almost, without the advent of a cure. It was not until recent times, however, that the virus and subsequent disease affected Black Americans and Africans, their respective communities, and consequent impressions of their cultures in major media outlets, late afternoon talk shows included. What is more, it was not until recent times the virus and disease affected Black American and African women, who now represent the highest rate of new infections in the United States and Africa. How crucial it is that two Black women have created two characters with social voices—two characters that are not statistics but breathing, caring, and emoting human beings with as much grasp of their senses as the next person. With In the Continuum, Gurira and Salter have created one monumental and momentous work of theater that demands and deserves attention. Their words and performances entertain the viewer but, what is important, educate him about HIV and AIDS.

Never mind In the Continuum is about and told from the Black Female Perspective. HIV and AIDS do not discriminate—do not know the difference between sexes, races, creeds, and colors—and In the Continuum is the same. A profound drama, its message and the characters who are its deliverers are far-reaching. Flawless, In the Continuum is a must-see.

Friday, January 06, 2006

"In the Continuum," by Aaron Riccio

There are two women in the powerful must-see-play In the Continuum and yet it’s almost a one-person show. Save for a few directorially clever juxtapositions where the two talk at each other (but never to each other), the two stories, the two characters, the two worlds (USA and Africa), never meet. They alternate in rapid succession, one world bleeding into the next, but always apart. They are linked only by their parallels: two bright young women, suddenly diagnosed with AIDS, suddenly in that continuum. The singular use of monologue (though each actor plays multiple characters in their story) only emphasizes that while the two actors share a stage, they remain­—like too many good people—abandoned and alone. The stage, large and bare, heightens their helplessness; the brick walls look on like the world, mortared and remorseless.

Written and performed by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, In the Continuum never risks prettifying or glorifying AIDS (as other playwrights like Tony Kushner may have inadvertently done). These two women—Nia from South Central, LA (Salter) and Abi from Harare, Zimbabwe (Gurira)—are never shown any pity nor any escape into fantasy. Even the tribal witchdoctor admits, “We cannot cure that.” At best they are offered stopgap measures and at worst, vilified and accused of being less than human. It doesn’t matter that Abi’s husband unwittingly picked up the disease from one of his secret affairs or that Nia’s smug lover knew (and didn’t care) that he had AIDS: they, as women, are guilty. They are guilty because they are women.

It’s good that Gurira and Salter are such talented character actors (though only just out of NYU’s graduate program). To live in Nia and Abi’s shoes for ninety minutes might be too depressing. Instead, the two double as other characters in their stories—prostitutes, mothers, do-gooders, nurses, cousins, &c—although always keeping the two narratives separate. Any of the dark comedy is at our expense—their narratives are directed at us, and we become their suffering protagonists. The knife-sharp dialogue, raw and from the heart, doesn’t hold back either, and every moment builds towards the two soul-baring climaxes of In the Continuum. And yet, it is the subtle knife which twists deepest, and the accidental slights are worse than the openly vindictive ones. “Love between a man and a woman turns into death around here,” says a prostitute, as if that’s just how it is. That thought, even without the engaging story and acting, is frightening enough.

Should you see this play? I can only offer you the play’s sage advice: “Should a dope fiend in a crackhouse run from the police? Hell yes!”

Perry Street Theater (31 Perry Street)
Tickets: $45-$60 w/ $20 Student Rush (212-868-4444)
Performances: Monday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 3:00

Thursday, January 05, 2006


by: Dane Harrington Joseph

As I left out of the theatre, one audience member remarked, “He almost had the accent down. The Kennedy’s pronounced their A’s differently at times. He didn’t switch it up enough.” I thought it funny how much minute detail the audience member knew. Nonetheless, regardless of this dialect slip-up, he and his friend, both apparently of the Baby Boomer generation, left the theatre smiling. In fact, most of the faces in the crowd were smiling, laughing, and apparently enjoying the show. These faces were also of the same age group as the aforementioned dialect critics. I hope you’re starting to get my point. The memory of the Kennedy’s is quite a vivid and fond one for the older demographic, while it doesn’t necessarily provoke the same interest from those of us of Gen Y.

This passion, however, emotes out of Jack Holmes in the play RFK in which he play’s the titular character of Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of President John Kennedy. Holmes, who also wrote the one-man show, helms the intermission-less show with palpable admiration for its subject, so much, in fact, that it often makes up for the show’s less than critical view of Kennedy, which creates a lack of dynamism. In the end, though, Holmes paints a loving portrait of Kennedy from the time of his brother’s death in 1964 to his eventual assassination after winning the California Democratic primary in 1968.

The Bottom Line: If you want to take a stroll down memory lane and tap into the optimism a certain period possessed, RFK is certainly satisfactory.

The Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street #E48
New York, NY 10014
Tickets: 212-307-4100
Info: 212-253-9983

Tuesday 8:00pm / Wednesday 3:00pm & 8:00pm / Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8:00pm / Saturday 3:00pm & 8:00pm / Sunday 3:00pm

Closing Date: February 26, 2006

Dane Harrington Joseph is currently a senior at Seton Hall University and the Marketing Assistant at the Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, NJ).

"RFK," by Aaron Riccio

A bad play is just words, and a bad life is just memory; but when it’s done right—as in RFK—words can take on life, and memories can dance with white-hot images in our brains, and they can hurt us, please us and move us all the same.

“Ruthless Bobby,” they said. "Guts but no brains,” they said. Or “little brother,” they said. These were all just words, phrases, and nicknames for Robert F. Kennedy, a man I knew little about. He was an American leader, a hero, who got shot, like JFK and MLK before him. He was just a name, a character really, to be learned somewhere in the drudgery of endless, bland History classes. Now that Jack Holmes has once more given this potent figure a face, some depth, and real life, he should bring his one-man show, RFK, to schools. “Tragedy is a tool for living,” is the play's message; I’d offer another maxim to our apathetic youth: “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” And if learning can be this entertaining, this powerful, this emphatic, even to someone a generation removed, what excuse do you have not to see RFK?

It’s certainly good theater, full of dramatic possibility and invigorated by Mr. Holmes’ consistently impressive performance. This is the young Attorney General who took on Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, who supported his brother through the Bay of Pigs disaster, and who finally took on President Lyndon Johnson because he believed—imagine that, a politician who believes­—that we had to get out of the war in Vietnam. There’s so much history crammed into this two-hour performance that a little of the depth for each moment is lost or sped through, but each morsel is appetizing and easily digestible, even for the historically dense. And although the monologues lack the wit and narrative thrust of fictional political dramas, like The West Wing, it’s more real: believable, human, and hearty. A heart that beats, and then bites.

From the Tet Offensive to the tragedy of 11/22/63 to the home life of one of America’s indelible (and premature) celebrities, I follow in synch with Mr. Holmes’ passionate narrative, even as it skips back and forth through RFK’s career. Holmes is one of those rare actors with a true sense of vision, and while he is alone on stage, he never fails to conjure up the impression of others teeming all around him. It’s an invisible sort of chaos: imaginary, yet powerful all the same. Some of these moments are a bit jumbled, especially the abrupt shifts in time, but Holmes never loses balance, even as he jumps from an anecdote about Jackie O. catching a “bomb” of a football pass to the “limited bombing” that had begun in Vietnam. Carry that metaphor a bit further: Holmes knows how to run with the ball (and unlike Jackie, he runs in the right direction).

It doesn’t matter that Holmes’ RFK impersonation—while certainly consistent—is not wholly accurate. (It is exaggerated beyond the light lilt and hard “a” [“ah”] of RFK.) And despite lacking a cast, his imitation rarely grows monotonous (unlike David Strathairn’s portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck). And while Holmes may be overly reliant on mannerisms to impress the essence of RFK upon the audience (was he ever that spastic or stolid?), it’s still all too easy to simply get lost in Holmes’ imagination. Though there’s a slow build, every moment can’t be packed with high tragedy, and there has to be a set-up to allow for the emotional pay-off. (This script could use a little paring down, however; the pacing is still a bit off.)

A bad play is just words, and a bad life is just memory; but when it’s done right—as in RFK—words can take on life, and memories can dance with white-hot images in our brains, and they can hurt us, please us and move us all the same.

The Culture Project (45 Bleecker Street #E48)
Tickets: $30.00-$55.00/ $20.00 Student Rush (212-307-4100)
Performances: Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00/Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday @ 3:00

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Review: RFK
by Eric Miles Glover

“Yes, parts of RFK are without doubt unneeded, but it is simple for the viewer to overlook that flaw, because Holmes gives 110 percent, becoming Robert in a frightening show of acting prowess. Acting is hard work and requires that its practitioner give of himself in an unselfish fashion. In RFK, Holmes is acting.”

Read entire review:

In the one-man show RFK, its writer and performer Jack Holmes gives an inspiring performance as Robert Francis—Little Brother to John Fitzgerald, and former Presidential Hopeful. What he establishes, acting is his strongest means of expression.

As a writer, Holmes uses specific language that at times affects the viewer like salt on an open wound. A large part of RFK is excessive, however, and that the 100-minute show is performed without intermission is sometimes detrimental to its impact and flow. Assassination, politics, and racism are cumbersome issues from which the viewer needs time to recover. Another flaw, the viewer knows all the plot points from the life of RFK. When Holmes recounts them, the viewer loses interest with quickness.

It is through use of lesser-known details that Holmes strikes the heart. As Robert, Holmes recounts an interview with a journalist, during which his then ten children prove distractions and nuisances. The viewer watches Holmes, as he answers questions posed him and pleads with his children to behave themselves in a show of faux parental control. Here, Holmes humanizes Robert and becomes for the first time during the show the iconic figure with which several people—Americans and non-Americans—have felt deep connections. I liked Robert, one man said before the performance. He had so much feeling, he continued. He is right, as Holmes charges his character choices with feeling seldom seen in theater.

Watching Holmes shift from brother to father to politician is incredible. He does not miss one beat. His transitions from sad to upbeat are incredible as well, as David Weiner magnifies their strength with lighting that captures the poignant nature of the text. When Holmes recounts the time Martin Luther King, Jr. is trapped inside an Alabama Black church that Klansmen surround, looking to kill niggers, Weiner places Holmes in darkness but in front of the silhouette of a tree enclosed in a circle of red light.

The scenic design is minimal. The backdrop Neil Patel creates reads as a patchwork of mismatched Color Field paintings. When lights hit one or several, however, abstract renderings of recognizable iconic images and locations are created. When Robert visits Poland in RFK, for example, he delivers a speech before an American flag illumined from five secluded but well-lighted blocks of color suspended in space.

Phillip Lojo does phenomenal work as well. His sound design situates the viewer within the 1960s, when Robert is a burgeoning political figure. His use of music from The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix amongst others contributes to the authentic mood for which Holmes strives.

What the viewer knows, Robert is assassinated after emerging the victor at a presidential debate in California in 1968. In RFK, his assassination is handled with prudence. As Robert, Holmes recalls nights he climbed the Arlington fence to visit his older brother. When the lights dissolve all of a sudden, it is but one brief moment before the viewer realizes what has happened. Here, the show ends, and Robert has not climbed the fence once more but joined his brother in the afterlife.

Yes, parts of RFK are without doubt unneeded, but it is simple for the viewer to overlook that flaw, because Holmes gives 110 percent, becoming Robert in a frightening show of acting prowess. Acting is hard work and requires that its practitioner give of himself in an unselfish fashion. In RFK, Holmes is acting.

RFK has the power to strike emotional cords with each person who witnesses the masterful living portrait recreated each night at 45 Bleecker. Watching the commanding performance Holmes delivers is worth the excess.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Godsend: Atlar Boyz, review by Elizabeth Devlin

What do you expect when you hear that Altar Boyz is a rock musical about a Christian boy band? You probably expect to laugh, see cute boys, and hear some unoriginal Catholic jokes. All true- except for the last. The laughter is non-stop, whether you are a practicing RC (Roman Catholic), Jewish, or even an atheist who can’t stand organized religion. The boys are not only cute, but talented singers and amazing dancers. The Catholic jokes, for the most part, are fresh and unique. With songs about waiting until marriage and Jesus calling on a cell phone, this show turns the pop-rock image of boy bands on its head.

All the members of the cast – Scott Porter as the leader, Danny Calvert as the flaming believer, James Royce Edwards as the bad boy, Nick Sanchez as the fiery Latino, and Dennis Moench as the Brooklyn Jew, work terrifically as an ensemble and each have a chance to shine. Gary Adler’s music and lyrics and Christopher Gatelli’s choreography combine to create an evening that is high-energy and unapologetically light and amusing. You probably won’t come out of the theatre converted, but there is a good chance you’ll leave smiling.

Open-ended run.
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday at 8:00 p.m.Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Dodger Stages Stage 4340 West 50th St(between 8th and 9th Avenues)New York, NY 10019US