Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The mind of a fifteen year-old girl is a dangerous place to tread, yet the Vital Theatre Company’s current production of “Full Bloom” by Suzanne Bradbeer navigates that landscape with confidence. Rightly so, for “Full Bloom” features a talented cast in which everyone brings likeability and depth to their character.
“Full Bloom” is about a fifteen year-old New Yorker coming to terms with a more complicated adult world than she has previously known. The play brings up a good number of issues that teenagers are often faced with: parental infidelity, divorce, their own changing bodies, questioning of role models, etc. That the play does not come off as a Lifetime movie of the week is a credit to the writing and the directing. Phoebe, the adolescent in question, deftly portrayed by Jennifer Blood, reacts to her shifting world not with rebellion but by retreating inward, to a place where her mother (a superb Jennifer Dorr White) cannot reach and where her new friend/love interest / neighbor Jesse (an awkwardly charming William Jackson Harper) can only skim the surface.
The show may bring up to many issues to adequately delve into any single one, and the ending leaves you feeling not that you understand Phoebe, but that you cannot understand her. However, the show is an overall success, intriguing and thought-provoking, with moments of humor and genuine tenderness.“Full Bloom” runs through April 1st at 8pm and April 2nd at 7pm at the Vital Theatre Company at The McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, 4th floor at 76th Street. Tickets through Theatermania.com
Monday, March 27, 2006
Baby Girl showcases the frenzied life of a girl named Elise. In the course of a few days, Elise deals with at least three men in love with her, having to sleep with her no-name newborn in their car, the baby’s father turning transsexual and much more. And while the play may seem a little soap opera-ish at times, it more than makes up for it in entertainment value.
Trisha LaFache (Elise) perfectly portrays the young New Yorker lost and confused in a world she herself created. The other cast members also add to the convincing world of NYC life – where nothing (and I mean nothing) is unusual.
Baby Girl is fast-paced fun that will definitely have you on the edge of your seat – yearning to know what other mischief Elise will get herself into. Also, its comedy takes the edge off of what normally would be seen as a serious situation and creates a highly entertaining performance.
A woman, Corrine, just lost her husband and lies sleeping on the couch. In comes her step-daughter, Rena and Rena’s husband, Mark. Rena and Mark now own the house and everything in it. Corrine has been cut of her husband’s will.
The circumstances linking these characters couldn’t be more chaotic, and based on the simple living room set where most of the action takes place, you’d never expect all the turmoil that would ensue within. But unfortunately, there’s more to this story. If you think the fact that these three have been railroaded together is bad enough, add the fact that Corrine is an alcoholic while Rena and Mark are devout Christians – determined to save her.
Gip Hoppe’s Mercy on the Doorstep portrays the lives of these three individuals as they try to cope with the loss of their loved one, deal with each other’s vices, and most importantly, desperately try to understand each other.
It is not until near-tragedy occurs that each character finally does understand a bit more of each other. But rather than insist on changing one another, they finally just learn to accept the things they cannot change.
When you try to figure out exactly who is giving “Mercy” and who is asking for it, you realizie that it’s no longer entirely clear. But what is clear is that by the end of the performance, everyone has changed for the better. Gip Hoppe’s play demonstrates love, friendship, understanding and acceptance at their very best. A wonderful performance, with an all all-star cast, it’s a show we all just might learn from.
One Man’s War is a show that reminds you of what theatre is all about. Action, drama, emotion…One Man’s War provides all this and so much more. Only once in a blue moon do you catch a show more emotionally stirring and heart-wrenching.
The play focuses on Doug Hulbert, a young gangmember on the streets of
At this time of war in the
Sunday, March 26, 2006
“The Cataract” is the story of two families in Minnesota, circa the late 19th century, who have come together through the necessity of circumstance. Dan and Dinah are free-spirited travelers from the South, come to board with the puritanical Cyrus and Lottie. Lottie is unhappy with having to share their home with these “commoners” (especially Dinah, who may very well be the first Hippie), whereas Cyrus seems thrilled by Dan’s electric energy, and for his assistance on the bridge that he is helping to build across the Mississippi. As it turns out, the explanation for all this unrest is simple: both Cyrus and Lottie love Dan, and no matter how they cling to routine, they can’t escape the constant hammering of their thoughts. Katie Pearl, the director, and Lisa D’Amour, the author, have found a perfect expression for this in the sequential storytelling: every “day” begins with a cock’s crow and then layers scenes atop one another as the tension steadily builds through breakfast, work, and dinner, often culminating in a revelatory dream sequence.
The dialogue itself also follows a tightly wound pattern, often repeating itself in the effort to take only the essence of what is necessary. D’Amour succeeds in this (although a great deal of credit belongs to the cast), and the words become larger than life, adorned simply with subtext. These basic, matter-of-fact phrases are also brutally effective upon the stripped set (all plain wood, cut to resemble objects), as it pares away all distractions. It also gives the charming impression that these people are desperately trying to convince themselves of things they do not feel or cannot express.
Of course, this conventional trick would grow stifling, even from the most seasoned of actors (and this cast is incredible), so D’Amour also frequents the metaphorical. This is fine for the first act, where the expressions stick to creatively staged dream sequences. It even helps to illuminate where these characters are coming from. But when that line is crossed in the second act—at one point Dinah pulls an iris (the flower) from her iris (the eye)—a lot of the solid foundation she has built up dissolves into the inexplicable. I admire D’Amour’s lack of explanations, but in my confusion, I can’t help resenting her, too. “It’s funny how mysterious things start making sense,” is one of the lines in the play, but it’s a bit hypocritical.
I’ve spoken parenthetically about the cast so far, so let me acknowledge them here. Vanessa Aspillaga, who plays Dinah, the least plausible of the characters, manages to find a commonality with the role that makes us instantly sympathize. Barnaby Carpenter (Cyrus) manages to capture the churning tide of passion, blossoming from a repressed to confident man, and Tug Coker, as Dan, is one of those charismatic actors who draws out the best in everyone, most of all, himself. As for Kelly McAndrew: she should never be out of a theater. As Lottie, she constantly swerves between dynamics (particularly in her erotic fantasies), and manages to put so much into a single word—heck, even into a lengthy silence—that I’m tempted to produce a play that has her simply reading from the dictionary. And while I’ve already lauded the writer and director, I can’t stress enough how much crystal-clear imagery the two have managed to put on such a simplistic stage, nor how effective it is.
“The Cataract” is not a perfect show, for in the second act, variety does lead to insanity. But this dazzling madness, so marvelously captured on stage, is a beautiful thing, too, and much as I love being grounded on the earth, it also feels great to be swept away.
Julia Miles Theater (424 West 55th Street)
Tickets: $52.00 (212-239-6200)
Schedule: Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00 & Saturday @ 3:00
Bernarda Alba, an adaptation of the sinister Federico García Lorca drama, explores themes similar to the ones explored in See What I Wanna See. In composing Bernarda Alba, however, LaChiusa has captured the realism of tension and repression in Andalusia at the same time he remains dedicated to the spirit of Lorca. Infused with Spanish cadences and the indicators of progressive musical theater, Bernard Alba is unparalleled.
Bernarda Alba boasts an engrossing score its ten-woman ensemble delivers with perfection. Its combination of “hummable” and “unhummable” numbers is a revelation—the hummable numbers heighten and compliment the unhummable numbers LaChiusa unveils during certain dramatic moments. One of the strengths of the work is the changing perspective. Bernarda Alba is named for the matriarch in the narrative but each of her five daughters is afforded an existentialist and stream of consciousness aria during Act II. Each aria enlivens each daughter and provides the viewer with an understanding of each of their frames of mind. Under the direction of Graciela Daniele, the ten-woman ensemble facilitates the changing of perspective with assistance from simple gesture and chiaroscuro lighting that draw attention to dramatic movements in the music and dramatic moments in the narrative structure.
Daphne Rubin-Vega is Martirio, the ugliest of the five daughters. Forced into perpetual mourning and isolation after the death of her father, Rubin-Vega uses her raw and evocative talents to complete her character. She is phenomenal. Droll, Judith Blazer is perfect as ambivalent Magdalena. Yolande Bevan is affecting as Maria Josefa, the senile mother of the matriarch.
Bernarda Alba is amazing. Surpassing See What I Wanna See in terms of resonance and content, Bernarda Alba reigns supreme.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Corrine, a vivacious binge drinker in her fifties, wakes up to finds her house invaded by Mark, an insecure and overcompensating minister, and his wife, Rena (her stepdaughter). On his deathbed, Corrine’s husband converted to Christianity and ceded all property to Rena, including a porn—“and vintage comics!”—shop that Mark plans to turn into his first ministry. They haven’t arrived to throw her out, though, they only want to save her (particularly Rena, who shares a sisterly bond with Corrine). But Corrine is far from needing salvation, and with a needling passive-aggressiveness begins to turn the tables on her uninvited houseguests, perhaps even saving them.
Jim Simpson’s direction lends itself to this open-ended script: the blocking is wide and natural, and Hoppe’s short, terse scenes, which never tell more than necessary (sometimes not enough), flow smoothly from moment to pivotal moment. Then there’s the set itself, as irrepressibly homey as it is New Age-y. The audience enters through the front door, and the seats cluster closely around two corners of the stage; the effect equates with coming over for dinner and being allowed to stay for a dysfunctional family drama.
This cozy, intimate feeling also exudes from the performers. Laura Esterman and Jenn Harris (Corrine and Rena) have the kind of onstage chemistry and understanding that makes text seem superfluous, and although Mark (Mark Rosenthal) isn’t as uninhibited, Mr. Rosenthal finds a smoothness in him that makes the antagonism likeable, flaws and all. Hoppe’s script shifts perceptions frequently, but this cast never lags behind.
The only flaw in “Mercy on the Doorstep” is that some of Hoppe’s short scenes seem reversed in their construction. Rather than jumping into the action and sticking with it, some of the scenes open dully, and end just as they're getting interesting. Rena and Mark are passive characters, but I wish Simpson could find a theatrical truth to at least extend these final moments. Once the emotion is out there, it seems cruel to abort it.
A lot of modern playwrights and directors find it necessary to exaggerate characters or find some technical spectacle with which to captivate the audience. Hopefully, “Mercy on the Doorstep” will serve as a reminder that all you really need is a good, solid story and the integrity to remain honest in its telling.
Flea Theater (41 White Street)
Tickets: $35.00 (212-352-3101)
Schedule: Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00; Saturday @ 3:00
Friday, March 24, 2006
Alongside the productions of Richard Foreman and the late Spalding Gray, the Wooster Group has been one of the mainstays of the Off-Off-Broadway experimental theater scene. And though the troupe often produces impressive work, they purposely make it hard to appreciate. Their production of Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic one-act “The Emperor Jones” is currently being revived at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. And in a role played by such greats as Charles S. Gilpin and Paul Robeson, Kate Valk is now taking the reigns of Emperor Brutus as a woman in blackface makeup.
In spite of how absurd that casting sounds, Ms. Valk is actually quite stunning. Hugging a microphone stand against a background of video imagery, she takes her black box theater by storm as O’Neill’s once terrorizing leader who must now run away mentally and psychologically from demons of the past. But in spite of the abundant creativity in director Elizabeth LeCompte’s deconstructive vision, choices such as the minstrel-era blackface or the blasting music are questionable and potentially irritating or offensive. I would advise anyone interested in attending to forgive their political incorrectness and to bring earplugs.
St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water Street. 718-254-8779. $25-37.50. Wed-Sun 8pm. Through April 2.
Monday, March 20, 2006
The actors are bound cohesively in action and dialogue. They tell stories, chit chat , goof around and express heartfelt emotions in such a familiar fashion with one another that the idea of the unit really rings through. These soldiers trained, ate, slept, fought, and died together and the actors really did justice to these character they portray.
The story follows group of gang members given the choice to risk it in jail or to play a hand in American foriegn affairs as Marines, having the chance to come back with some honor and without the life-long stigma a yellow rap sheet would put on them. These street hustlers know a better deal when they see one. Though they never expected to leave on the spot they never the less leave obediantly cracking jokes along the way.
We see them transport themselves on stage back in time, from being on the open streets of NY's wild wild West Side, a hoard of rowdy rascals and thrill seekers swiftly shifting back to the murky haunted existence of Vietnam where these silent, pensive, embittered men have nothing but death + survival on the forefront of their existence. The main character narrates and leads us through this time warp but with discipline, humility, and candor and by the play's end, starting through a small hum falls into line with his comrades during a beautifully sung rendition of Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" in this fantastic touching true tale of friendship and heroism in and out of tough times of war. Hurrah.
Premiered at the Hartt School, University of Hartford New Play Festival on May 9, 2002 this run was recently re-incarnated at the Triad Theater at 158 West 72nd Street. Call 212-362-2590 for info or go to http://www.triadnyc.com/ Thanks - MP the Infamous
Some of which seemed to affect both the crowd and the actresses themselves.
A lovely night where the truth pentrates time and censorship though I admit to agree with my partner that the accents at times are distracting and almost offensive.
The Laurie Beechman Theater is located inside and downstairs of the West Bank Cafe 407 42nd St at 9th Ave. MP the Infamous
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Of course, there are downsides to these knee-splitting torture scenes (which makes them literally knee splitting, too). The play has such paroxysms of narrative that it often seems not only that “Not Clown” was written by two different people (it was, Steve Moore and Carlos Trevino), but that these two people never met. While Trevino cleans up many of the nuances with his brilliant direction and set design, the script doesn’t help; in that, it’s a lot like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Disconnected moments peek in and out from behind curtains, teasing the audience like some intricate dance of the seven veils. In fact, for all the physical clowning—what a talented ensemble—these pantomimed, exaggerated motions are very much like a dance: a very bleak and dismal dance.
The substance is all there, but the contrivances of experimental theater often trap it. The performers are supposedly real clowns who escaped their oppressive country thanks to the writer/director/producer of “Not Clown,” Linda Johns, who wrote the show based on her experiences. After her indulgent introduction and an overlong dream sequence, the clowns take on the roles of their own torturers for show, which leads one of the actors to “quit” the show. Does “Not Clown” want to screw with us, or to paint a picture of the cruelty that we inflict on others and, more secretly, on ourselves?
This who-is-playing-who mind game also makes it hard to judge some of the acting in the final scenes. The last scene is either under-rehearsed or supposed to fall apart; both take away from Lee Eddy’s performance. I’ll assume she didn’t break character, simply because she was magnificent as the naïve clown, Dimples, and even better as Dimples’ “real-life” alter ego, Agnes McKee. With the exception of Elizabeth Doss (who plays Linda, and who is quickly overpowered, not just in the script, but by the other performers), all the actors are playing double-roles as (1) actors and (2) their clown characters, but only Eddy and Josh Meyer (who plays Alfred McKee) manage to bring sincerity and life to both roles. To be honest, they’re also the only two with stage time; the other clown-actors get little development beyond their clowning. I don’t want to fault the actors for that; they make comedy seem natural, especially Matt Hislope, who spends most of his time providing sound effects for the first of several shows-within-a-show.
Sure, “Not Clown” has flaws, but only from trying too much. The story is solid, even if the plotting isn’t, and the acting is marvelous, even if it’s necessarily one-dimensional for some. Think of “Not Clown” as a three-ring circus: there are three shows at once, which may be distracting, but some still call it the Greatest Show on Earth.
Soho Rep (46 Walker Street)
Tickets: $15.00 (212-868-4444)
Schedule: Thursday-Saturday @ 7:30 [CLOSES NEXT SATURDAY!]
Friday, March 17, 2006
Fat Boy is an obstreperous bulky representation of just about anything you like, or dislike: a politician, a patriot, a thief, a lover, a veteran, a landlord, a butcher, etc. He is poor, so broke and starving he eats his own furniture; so self-consumed and vile he kills a helpless peasant girl and later tries to kill his own wife, but not before she attempts to assassinate him. But this is only a subtle hint at the havoc that ensues onstage. And though killed several times, Fat Boy never dies, in fact, reminds us constantly that he is only playing a part – and we might give him great props for delivering such an inspiring performance.
The play itself is pure spectacle – purposefully cheap sets and actors caked in clown-face, the acting presentational and Elizabethan-esque: hands in the air, soliloquies galore. And better than the metaphors or references to the current socio-political state of our world affairs, the play offers no apology for feeling the way it does: angry, betrayed, belittled, and shameless in its harangues. In 1896, there was a riot at the first performance of Ubu Roi when Firmin Gemier, playing Ubu, took the stage and exclaimed: "Merdre!" at the audience. Now, in 2006, when Del Pentecost as Fat Boy shouts words far worse and demands of his audience they do something, there are no riots, no shouts of blasphemy – only silence. You can feel people's thoughts bouncing around the theatre: someone they know in the war; that woman who camped outside President Bush's Texas Ranch – what's her name? Imagining how they would feel if someone drew a funny cartoon of Jesus or Mary or the Pope. But in their silence the thoughts pass, and the house lights brighten and remind everyone they have a train or taxi to catch – maybe a glass of wine to drink first.
This begs the question: are we so desensitized? Or are we just more polite than people who went to the theater in the 19 century were? I doubt the later. If Mr. Clancy is looking to provoke his audiences, he's certainly forcing them to listen, but is he asking them to react as well? Perhaps, the lack of response is more powerful than any riot or strike because what it exposes is a communal despair, helplessness in the wake of sudden and uncontrollable changes, when everything you've known transforms and the solution is not as easy as lowering the curtain and getting out of costume.
The ensemble of actors in "Fat Boy" present some of the best comedic timing and melodromatic acting you'll see. Go see this. Go see it now.
7pm, Sun @ the Ohio Theatre
until March 25th
66 Wooster Street, between Spring and Broome
Monday, March 13, 2006
Savages, like all theater, is plagued with exposition. (A significant part of the four-character drama is a social studies lesson.) Focus is sharpened, however, when the divisive principles and beliefs of a Filipina nurse and an American soldier reveal unseen evils at the same time United States Marine Major Littleton Waller is court-martialed for war crimes in 1902.
All the exchanges between Maridol and John are poignant, and it is shameful Nelson did not devote the drama to them. A need to pinpoint the savages during war—the natives defending their land with force, or the outsiders restoring order to an established culture with force?—is the defining element of the drama. Nelson does not pinpoint the savages, but her characters are memorable people full of observations about the power in perception and the changing conceptions of what the term savages means. That negligence is unacceptable—that people are responsible for educating themselves about the impact of martial action on civilian populations—is manifest in the drama and resonates with United States occupation of Iraq.
In short, Savages is an intense drama. Nelson has written an absorbing and reactive work that, uncovering an event from the Philippine and American War (1899-1914), brings to life two people as well as the circumstances that overcome them in times of weakness, truth, and discomfort.
Many people talk about choice, but for a girl like Elise, who sleeps in her car with her two-month-old baby, hoping the heater doesn’t drain the battery, what choice is there? Her only option, odious as it seems, is to sell her baby to the father, now a pre-op transsexual, and his well-off lover, a crazy black man with a penchant for Dr. Pepper (Andrew Stewart-Jones, one of those rare scene-stealing forces of nature). It’s all so fantastical (and in fact, may be a metaphorical means of Elise dealing with the pressures of motherhood), and yet so sincere and sad that we buy the whole thing, crook, swine, and drinker. What other choice do we have?
As Elise, Trisha LaFache is a modern tragic hero, brought low by her own manic flaws. Whether by necessity or habit, her lies turn everything to shit, justify them as she might. She is the type of woman who “could burn water.” A normal discussion between her and her ex goes like this: “You cheated on me.” “Once!” she replies. “You brought a married couple home and you fucked them in my bed,” retorts the man. “Yeah,” she admits; “But you can’t count that as twice!” It’s a funny line, a funnier thought, but an altogether serious situation. Complicated, too: this man, Patrick (the noble and conflicted Curran Connor), still wants to love her. His brother, Jason (the slightly monotonous Chris Kipiniak) loves her, too. Even their half-brother, Richie (the delightful John Summerour) the baby’s father, once loved her. In another tragic, realistic twist, none of them can learn simply to love her, as is.
“Baby Girl” goes a bit over-the-top sometimes (the actors, as well as the plot), but it’s all purposefully crafted to bolster this dystopian faerie tale. Open your eyes to the vibrant life radiating out of every inch of the show, and don’t make the same mistake as these characters. Love them simply, as they are.
Center Stage, NY (48 West 21st Street, Floor 4)
Tickets: 15.00 (212-352-3101)
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The non-fictional topic is Major Littleton Waller’s “butchering” of some Filipino prisoners. He’s on trial, however, not for breaking protocol, but for improperly following orders (to execute all Filipinos older than 10). The army’s policy is necessity—“us or them” mentality—and the vague Filipino view is innocence: the U.S. should leave, and they’ll kill them until they do. Instead of capturing this ugliness of war, “Savages” captures the prettiness of conversation.
This needs to be a courtroom drama; instead, Waller waits (guarded by the fictional Corporal John Hanley) for his verdict, which makes “Savages” the breather after the fight. We don’t transcend black and white, or the conviction from both sides of being right, because there are no emotional stakes, and hence no reason to “play.” Maridol (the Filipino nurse) and these harsh military figures may repress their emotions to survive their jobs, but I don’t want to justify an absence of intensity with an abundance of intent. Most people go to the theater to experience something, anything, and all I felt after “Savages” was the humiliation that America is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is a valuable lesson, but not a particularly theatrical one.
The central character, Hanley, is too simple-minded an everyman for his own good. With a tyro’s hyper-formality and narrow perspectives, Hanley is a blank slate meant to be talked at, not to. Brett Holland plays him as a well-meaning southerner who just wants some action (pronounced ayk-SHUN), but no matter how entertaining, he’s nothing more than a device for ignorance. “Savages” feels, even at its most intimate, like a classroom.
However, I’d pay for a teacher like Waller (James Matthew Ryan), a man both eloquent and passionate about the injustice of war. The metaphor he uses to explain his situation—a game of chess—has become a cliché in theater, but he barrels through it, as best a man with malaria can. However, Maridol (Julie Danao-Salkin) comes across more as a prop for Waller (“Exhibit A”) than as a complex or compelling character. You can make the point that her submissive front is just a cover for her rebellious nature—and the play’s poor, melodramatic climax supports this—but it’s boring to watch.
Waller puts it best: “A good idea that didn’t work . . . we call that a bad idea.” “Savages,” despite being a perfect, poetic parallel for Iraq, is a bad idea.
Lion Theater (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $19.25
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00
Saturday, March 11
In brutal warfare who are the savages? Anne Nelson plays skillfully with semantics in her play which centers on the true story of the trial of Major Littleton Waller for war crimes in the Philippine-American War which spanned from 1899 until 1914. Here a savage is one who commits the atrocities of war and also one who lives in an uncivilized culture. However these roles are unclear and flip between the Americans and the Filipinos. There is no resolution in this play, no clear victim, and no clear aggressor.
Nelson uses the historic figures of General Adna Chaffee and Major Littleton Waller and also creates the fictitious characters of Maridol, a Filipino nurse, and Corporate John Hanley to give the conflict more depth.
This play is fantastically acted. In one of the most beautiful moments of the play, Maridol, played by Julie Danao-Salkin, cradles the Major in her arms under a mosquito net canopy as she sings a Filipino patriot song as sweetly as a lullaby. Julie Danao-Salkin as Maridol looks almost saintly with her billowing white sleeves and with her gentle touch. However, is Julie Danao-Salkin not only a simple, sweet nurse. She plays Maridol with the nurturing of Florence Nightingale and the bravery of Joan of Arc. Nelson has created here a wonderful character who changes like the sides of a coin between the nurturer and the insurgent.
Also dynamic is the pairing of General Chaffe and Major Waller played by Jim Howard (General) and James Matthew Ryan (Major). These two are pitted against each other in every aspect of their characterization: army verses navy and the southern major verses the northern general at a time where the ‘war of northern aggression’ was still fresh in the minds of Americans. Jim Howard plays Major Waller with such haunting fervor that his words are depictions and the audience sees war through his eyes. Completing the ensemble is Brett Holland who plays the inexperienced corporal. Chris Jorie has been with this project since its staged reading in
The production is also excellently designed with a gorgeous set by Lauren Helpern and lighting by Betsy Adams that is subtle and poetic.
Nelson has all the components of a great play: characters with pivotally different viewpoints, a situation that puts these viewpoints in conflict, and a team of talented actors and designers to flesh out a thoughtful and honest text. What this production needs is seamless transitions between scenes. Though each scene is strong and stands well on its own, the flow of the production is broken by the shifts which are slightly jarring. However this play is well worth catching. Savages runs until April first at the Lion Theatre.
want to keep watching, but you can’t take your eyes away. The entire play, all seventy minutes of it, may be nothing more than a log-flume ride of violence, verbal and physical, but it’s oddly compelling, too: an entertaining, satirical, nightmarish “what-if” on just how close our government may be to totalitarianism. Unfortunately, David Barth, the playwright, is all statement and very little substance: the whole show is trigger-happy for effect, and therefore a one-sided, one-dimensional, sloppy wreck. I can’t stop watching.
In the first five minutes of Hard Right, Barth eschews any responsibility to care for his characters, shallow stereotypes that they are, and delves fully into angry, allegorical propaganda. We quickly forget about the “James Dean” of a rebel son, the passive-aggressive father, the sweet but silent supportive girlfriend (there to meet the folks), and the bipolar housewife. All the attention shifts to Bob, the uninvited houseguest if there ever was one (and a plum theatrical part if there ever were one). Bob is psychopathic, but gentle; Bob is full of manic reversals and wild emotional swings; Bob is genuinely frightening and unpredictable; and Bob has a gun, a nightstick, and an agenda.
In Barth’s hands, even the plot is nothing more than a prop, and Hard Right is nothing more than Bob’s shtick: enigmatic moralizing. We don’t just forget the other characters; they cease to exist in “Bob World” (unless you count extended whimpering as bravura performance—if so, Jeremy Beck, who plays the son, should win an award). This is very good for Dylan Price, who uses this over-the-top Bob as a vehicle to rival Christopher McDonald. This is very bad for the rest of the cast, who may perhaps go on to play soon-to-be-dead people in low-budget horror films. It’s not that they’re necessarily terrible actors; they just literally have nothing to do.
Hard Right’s only means of propulsion is a morbid fascination with what exactly Bob is going to do next. The plot’s repetitive, the allegory’s whisper-thin, and should you miss something, Barth repeats it dozens of times. Still, it’s amusing to watch this family being terrorized by such a comedic villain...and it’s frightening to think that maybe, just maybe, this could actually happen. Yes, it’s lowbrow, but it’s a good time for lowbrow political passion plays.
Barth may be a 2005 Edward F. Albee Foundation Fellow, but his writing lacks any real emotion beyond this fear (and loathing). Whereas Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe spun an awkward dinner party and its vicious banter for hours--without being grating or redundant-- Hard Right is shrill after the first few minutes. Think of a gritty SNL sketch that just won’t end. Welcome to Circus Theater: lots of props, loud growling, a mess-load of glitter, one hell of an overbearing ringmaster, and a real spectacle of a plot. As I said before, I can’t stop watching.
Players Theater (115 MacDougal Street)
Tickets: $25.00 (212-352-3101)
Performances: Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Phenomenon is a stylized breakthrough in experimental theater, but restrained enough to command our attention (deservedly so), and elegant enough to be beautiful, idiosyncrasies and all. It is odd to have characters sing in a non-musical, but Phenomenon successfully defies genre with good humor, great acting, and an excellent sense of self. (At one point, the reporter sings “These are the biscuits of my heartbreak,” and the lovesick waiter replies, intentionally off-key, “I like mine with honey.”)
If the effective use of uneven tones is dissonance, Phenomenon elevates that to creative discord. The constant shift in style keeps the audience entertained and bewildered, all of which fits with the mood for this unsettling and unique day in history. However, the eruption remains secondary; its purpose is merely to parallel the dying relationship between Mary, the reporter, and her husband Mark, the geologist, as well as the burgeoning relationship between Christine, the rebel without a cause, and “the cowboy,” a rebel with one.
The volcano is a metaphor too, which only highlights Gordon Cox’s sleek dialogue—one brilliant observation is that when the mountain erupts it will not be “failing” so much as it is “succeeding.” Of course, the text itself only highlights the even sleeker direction of Alyse Rothman, who also conceived the show. Rothman uses the essentials of scene work (movement exercises) to pare down, and sculpts that into artificial-free tension and beautifully lucid moments. Nothing is one-dimensional; the entire set becomes a character, and the characters take on their environment. Passion boils and erupts in a slow and sultry pantomime of sex (far more elegant than it sounds). The chorus explodes from the set and washes away like a mudslide. And for all this avant-garde work, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such believable, compelling acting.
Phenomenon surpasses every expectation that it sets up: more than a play about a volcano, more than a musical about love, more than performance art about estrangement. Phenomenon gets past that by reinventing the rules and remembering that no matter what life throws at us, the greatest natural disaster is, and has always been, that of the heart.
HERE Arts Center (145 Avenue of the Americas)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances: Thursday – Monday @ 8:30
Friday, March 10, 2006
PHENOMENON is part physical theater, part musical, part dance, and part drama. The ensemble and director, Alyse Rothman, did an admirable job weaving together these disciplines while maintaining a clear story underneath. For the most part, the actors were able to allow the characters to be truthful even while crossing into more exploratory art forms. The Cowboy (Marshall York) and his punk rock waitress counterpoint Christine (Rebecca Hart) had some delightfully sincere musical moments but when the other characters burst into song it felt forced and paled in comparison. In contrast, Rothman did an excellent job incorporating dance in a way that was not distracting but served to both heighten the volcano’s looming threat and give the actors an addition outlet for emotion.
It is important to note that PHENOMENON was also developed through HERE Arts Center’s Artist Residency Program (HARP), a unique program that supports artists by producing works and providing subsidized rehearsal space, marketing, technical, and administrative support. HARP’s goal is to nurture the artist and their audiences through a cross-disciplinary exchange. PHENOMENON was a perfect example of a successful blend of disciplines alongside simple storytelling and for that I commend both the Nerve Ensemble and HERE’s HARP program.
PHENOMENON is playing at the HERE Arts Center from March 4 - 25, Thursday - Monday at 8:30 PM. HERE Arts Center is at 145 Stxth Avenue, one block below Spring St.
Tickets are $18 and can be purchased through SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 and online at www.here.org or at the HERE Box Office (from 4 PM to showtime).
Every so often, a Broadway musical can actually get better a full year after it has opened thanks to a new lead actor. This was the case when Reba McEntire took over for Bernadette Peters in “Annie Get Your Gun,” and when Harvey Fierstein took over for Alfred Molina in “Fiddler on the Roof.” And now, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” has taken on a new life with Jonathan Pryce (“Miss Saigon,” Evita”), who has entered the show as Lawrence, the lead role originated by John Lithgow.
Though Lithgow was not necessarily bad or mediocre in the show, he came across very awkwardly in a musical comedy setting. His singing was not exceptional, and Norbert Leo Butz easily outshined him in the sidekick role of Freddy.
And while Jonathan Pryce is a classically trained actor, he has found the essential energy that makes a musical comedy work. Unlike a year ago, the musical’s leading pair of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” has finally become a dynamic duo with chemistry.
Also new to the cast is Broadway veteran Rachel York (“City of Angels,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel”), who also shines as the supposedly innocent, actually naughty character Christine. From the moment she delivered her opening number “Here I Am,” her presence was simply irresistible.
If “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” had opened on Broadway in 2000 or 2002, it would have easily won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Instead, it was easily outshined and outnumbered last year by “Spamalot.” But in any case, this genuinely fun and well-directed musical is still running and is worth checking out.
Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, 212-239-6200, $26.25-111.25. Tues 7pm, Wed 2 & 8pm, Thurs-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm. Open run.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
A “melting pot.”
It is assumed that the term describes the uniting of different peoples from different cultures and the communitas—or universal human experience—that results from their dense quarters. A melting pot, however, is a metaphor for cultural assimilation, and its meaning is derived from the 1908 Israel Zangwill drama of the same name, which is receiving its first English language revival since 1909. An intense drama, The Melting Pot follows a Jewish émigré, who, having survived a pogrom that massacres his siblings and parents in tsarist Russia, resides with relatives in tenement New York.
David Quixano, a promising composer, wants to transcend his past and, through assimilation, create a new life. In wanting to become American, however, problems arise when non-Jewish people learn about his cultural origins. His uncle, Mendel, detests the fact that he considers assimilating, while his romantic interest, Vera Revendal, the daughter of a Russian baron, entertains the idea, as assimilation will lessen the upset her father feels when her love for a Jewish man is professed. The complicated feelings of the characters reach their melting points during the startling climax of the four-act drama. It is hard for the viewer to sustain interest in the characters during Act II, for example, but the shared past between Jewish David and non-Jewish Baron Revendal promises to renew interest and egross the viewer during Acts III and IV.
Robert Z. Kalfin has done masterful work with the actors. Since the production is directed with seating on three sides of the stage, the actors perform with their backs to the viewer at times, but the actors emote and communicate without the viewer having to see their faces. Under the direction of Kalfin, the actors use their bodies as well as their voices to deliver excellent performances. Daniel Shevlin and Margaret Loesser Robinson are excellent as David and Vera. Page Hearn is outstanding as disapproving Baron Revendal. Kendall Rileigh, as the anti-Semitic Irish maid, provides needed comedic respites from intense subject matter. In the almost nonspeaking role of Frau Quixano, Suzanne Toren is unparalleled. Her character speaks no more than two minutes of dialogue during the 150-minute drama, but her movements and expressions of a powerless matriarch enliven her character without her having to speak.
It is hard to imagine The Melting Pot as melodrama. The production is without stock movements and gestures, and the text is without stock characters. The drama uses music to increase emotional responses and finishes in high spirits, but its subject matter—an achievement for 1908—is substantive, resonant and powerful in 2006. (The language anti-Semitic characters use to demean their Jewish counterparts is camp, provoking laughter,—as if the viewer were watching a 1950s B-movie [think Imitation of Life with Susan Kohner]—but the language is shocking and racist.) The Melting Pot dramatizes sensitive issues and airs racist thought processes that, though the viewer envisions them as not manifest in 2006, persist. What is more, the personal struggles David experiences are ones with which the viewer identifies. In short, The Melting Pot is an incredible drama that deserves attention.
In a nation that puts extreme emphasis on the (supposed) silliness of political correctness, nationalism, and merging identities,—we are all part of the human race, right?—assimilation is the means through which people are beseeched to bond with and understand each other. It is important that the dangers of assimilation are realized, however, and The Melting Pot affirms that difference is empowering,—for reasons good and bad—cultivating self-esteem, pride, and groundedness.
For better or worse, due to financial realities, new Broadway productions of classic musicals like “Sweeney Todd” or “The Pajama Game” are forced to substitute stylistic alternatives for visual and musical grandeur. Lately, the only NYC companies to recreate that original splendor have been City Center Encores and now New York City Opera, as seen in its pitch-perfect revival of Frank Loesser’s heavenly musical “The Most Happy Fella.”
In 1992, a Broadway revival of “Most Happy Fella” received a minimalist treatment that reduced its orchestra to two pianos. And though it was a well-acted production, its larger-than-life quality was gone. New York City Opera, on the other hand, has painstakingly and unpretentiously recreated the musical’s original spark with a super-sized orchestra, competent cast, and old-fashioned stagecraft and dance choreography.
Paul Sorvino (“Goodfellas,” “Nixon”) gives a brave performance as Tony, an aging Italian man who impractically dreams of gaining the love of a waitress whom he has named Rosabella. And as his ingénue, Lisa Vroman gives a breakout performance as a complicated woman who, just like Tony, experiences hopes and fears.
Of course, such an attempt to recapture the original musical’s scope could be viewed as tired and hopeless by many theatergoers. Nevertheless, I prefer this production over many similar Broadway revivals.
New York State Theater, 63rd Street and Columbus. $16-120. 6500. 212-271-Check www.nycopera.org for schedule. Through March 25.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
PHENOMENON, the new multimedia work from the OBIE award-winning HERE Arts Center and The Nerve Ensemble, uncovers the theoretical effects of one of our nation’s largest natural disasters. This brilliant new piece, written by former theater critic GORDON COX, combines modern dance, digital media, and song to investigate the geographic and spiritual damage left in the wake of Mt. St. Helen. Set 24 hours before the eruption, PHENOMENON follows the lives of six colorful and engaging characters, including an enigmatic, David Lynchian cowboy crooner (MARSHALL YORK), a nihilistic waitress and Joy Division devotee (REBECCA HART), and an anesthetized and lovelorn reporter (JULIE JESNECK), as they come to terms with their debilitating contradictions and clandestine truths.
With standout performances from YORK and JESNECK, affecting music by LANCE HORNE, and masterful direction from ALYSE ROTHMAN, PHENONMENON, a revelation of theatre that outshines Broadway’s best, should not be missed!
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, March 3rd – 25th
For tickets call (212)868-4444 or visit www.here.org
“OEDI@:us [pronounced “Eddie at Colon Us”] is an incredible fusion of three separate and distinct mediums. OEDI@:us, designed to entertain preadults and nontheatergoers, combines rock music and political rebellion to tackle longstanding points of contention the events of September 11, 2001 realized ... OEDI@:us, the second installment of a two-part “The Best” series, is made with the recipe for success.”
Read entire review:
In an attempt to prevent The Homeland from attaining world domination, a group of Web-based singer-revolutionaries created “The Best,” a World Wide Web computer code for the development of stardom,—a futuristic Making the Band?—which disseminates subconscious messages to the masses. “The Best” received widespread attention when OEDI, a posthuman living computer and government-funded experiment in “reverse engineered digital consciousness,” saved it from government hackers. The group was indebted to OEDI, but, because he required an enormous external processor to operate, he was uninstalled from “The Best” and became inactive. What results during OEDI@:us—pronounced “Eddie at Colon Us”—is the course of action the group follows to find OEDI an appropriate Web host. Problems arise, however, because group members have different agendas—including the pursuit of independent music careers—and, though each wants to save the world, group members have problems “hitting ‘save’ in a text document without having a big fight about it first.” OEDI is installed to the :us server before OEDI@:us concludes, but how he will use his newfound (processing) power is the lingering concern.
In the opening moments of OEDI@:us, it is difficult to understand the work writer and director Eamonn Farrell has created and make sense of what is happening. What he and his assembled ensemble of real-life singer-revolutionaries unveil thereafter, however, promises to please.
Adapting Oedipus at Colonus, Farrell has created an innovative and enlightening musical theater work. His writing—about the eeriness of survival in an age when technological advancement and globalization are markers of power and capital—is humorous, but sharp and aware. During OEDI@:us, conventions of visual pleasure and proscenium theater are frustrated, as the ensemble—through experimentation with video projection, sound mixing, and camera work in plain sight of the viewer—reinforces the political subtext of the work and heightens the critical consciousnesses of the characters and the viewer. Since OEDI@:us is staged in a nightclub, the breathing room once reserved for the viewer is fair game for the ensemble, leaving the viewer entertained but uncomfortable and alert. This is an interesting reflection on intercultural exchange and its discomforts and dangers, because the viewer participates in an exchange with “The Best.” This kind of exchange, which includes the transfer of culture, is part of the trend of globalization. Through dramatizing the problematic politics and culture of The Homeland, OEDI@:us illustrates the errors of the United States. Both are nations of consumption where thought is seldom given to the dangers that befall people who oppose the government and the danger of the globalizing images people consume on a regular basis.
Masi Asare and Jim Iseman III have written commanding music. “The OEPIC of OEDI,” “Good Touch Bad Touch,” “I Am a Flower,” “War Song,” “The OEDI Tango,” and “Encore Tag: Hit The Best” are exceptional numbers. Each has purpose—introducing characters and providing thorough revelations into the significance of the work—but each is allowed room to breathe and amuse as well. “Homegrown” is the best number. It speaks to the maintenance of Self despite the overwhelming obstacles The Homeland (the United States!), with purpose, creates. Its music—full of fervent percussion and bass—matches and accentuates the expressive qualities of its words and singers.
Jessica Weinstein is Hilda, the droll emcee of the performance. Her stiltwalking, facial expressions, and “seizure”-induced movements endear her to the viewer. As Melissa, Liz Davito is hilarious. In her video montages and on-the-spot musical performances (“I Am a Flower” in particular), her comic timing is what the doctor ordered. Her out-of-place seriousness of tone recalls the invocations of actors in self-help infomercials and Herpes medicines television spots. Eirik Gislason is excellent. His representation of a character that embodies cultural globalization—Ethan appropriates urban cultural properties in his speech, movement, and dress—is another comedic highlight. His singing—powerful and amazing—captures the innate and evocative temperament of the music. He excels in the numbers “Homegrown” and “Garden.”
OEDI@:us is an incredible fusion of three separate and distinct mediums. OEDI@:us, designed to entertain preadults and nontheatergoers, combines rock music and political rebellion to tackle longstanding points of contention the events of September 11, 2001 realized. Utilizing the power of theater, music, and electronic media, OEDI@:us—one part Web broadcast, one part theater, one part rock concert, infinite parts entertainment—addresses survival, power, and omnipresence in the wake of constant and interrelated threats of cultural globalization, global domination and militarization, and technological advancement. OEDI@:us, the second installment of a two-part “The Best” series, is made with the recipe for success.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
“[title of show],” which premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, follows the adventure of two young guys as they attempt to write an original musical. Now playing at the Vineyard Theatre, the work is a silly, messy adventure through Broadway folklore.
Writers Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, who also make up half the cast, are so familiar with musical theater culture that we witness “Cats” ring tones on cell phones, references to obscure musicals like “Kwamina,” and celebrity voiceovers performed by Marin Mazzie, Kerry Butler, Emily Skinner, and Amy Spanger.
According to the plot, Jeff and Hunter are desperate to write their musical in three weeks time so that they can submit to a theater festival. And while they dream of making it big, they sing self-referential material with titles like “Opening Song,” “Award Song,” and “I Am Playing Me.”
So, while “[title of show]” is not a particularly memorable musical, it will surely provide fans of better musicals with a fun night of theater. To determine if it is for you, just ask yourself whether you enjoy Sondheim lyrics and jokes about bad vampire musicals.
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, 212-352-3101, $55. Mon 8pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 5 & 9pm, Sun 3pm. Through April 9.