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.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tommy Tiernan: Loose
by Aaron Riccio

If words are Tommy Tiernan's bullets, then jokes are his gunpowder, and his manic, explitive-heavy charisma is the trigger. His easy smile and giddy motions across the stage (he often skips) enable us to “laugh at the things we’re not supposed to laugh at” and his words are true enough to pierce the heart.

, the name of Tommy Tiernan’s last stand-up tour in the US, doesn’t really capture the aggressive joke-telling of this Irish comic. Loose, the name of this year’s tour, is much more appropriate. It’s wrong for the right reasons when Tommy’s at his best (tightly wound on a sensitive subject, like God as a selfish fucker, or the following knock-knock joke: “Who’s there?” “Not Mickey’s fucking dad!”). It’s right for the wrong reasons when Tommy ambles between highlights, leaving the audience to chew the cud through some unfortunate dead space. Luckily, there’s very little downtime, and there is a lot of laughter (hyena-like guffaws, up from the root of your soul).

Tommy’s act isn’t the most original (he draws immediate comparison with Dennis Leary), but he does have the saving grace of charisma, and the better grace of some genuinely funny material. It’s not your mother’s humor though: Tommy makes it clear early on that he (like all the Irish) uses “a fundamental darkness” to tell his jokes, and points out that when he first went to a shooting range, he was perturbed to only fire on targets. It’s a happy person he wants.

Well, if words are to be his bullets, then jokes are his gunpowder, and his manic, explitive-heavy charisma is the trigger. His easy smile and giddy motions across the stage (he often skips) enable us to “laugh at the things we’re not supposed to laugh at” and his words are true enough to pierce the heart. As for his jokes, they’re not all winners, but Tommy changes clips fast enough to get away from the blanks and back to his powder keg of material. Everyday observations, mixed with that sarcastic cynicism: “Have a nice day, they say. I don’t want that kind of pressure. I’ll have the kind of day I want.”

Among other things, Mr. Tiernan has a reputation for stirring up trouble with his religious material. Maybe I’m too jaded to tell, but I found him to be going a little too easy on the Church: save for the obligatory pedophiliac preacher joke, and a few remarks about what Jesus would really look like (Danny DeVito-ish), it was pretty light stuff. Plus, Tommy’s delivery sort of abnegates any serious implications he might try to make during his act; early on, he points out that “I’d hate you to think that I know something about something.... These are just words.”

They are just words, and, for the majority of the show, fairly funny ones. This may be a slightly diluted form of the Tommy I’ve heard talk of, but it’s still a set worth seeing. Laughter’s healthy for you, so consider Loose a Get-Out-Of-Gym-Free card, good for burning a heck of a lot of calories in the most enjoyable way.

[Aaron Riccio]

Actor's Playhouse Theater (100 7th Avenue South)
Tickets (212-239-6200): $20.00-$35.00
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Saturday @ 11:00PM

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

by Aaron Riccio

The energy is robust and the pacing brisk, both necessary for the free theatergoer’s attention span, and the visual effects only solidify an already top-notch production. A successful fusion of various theatrical styles on one of the classic greats, this Macbeth is not to be missed.

(6/25) Macbeth, when produced in scope and with a full ensemble, is a bloody Shakespearian play. Soldiers die en masse, chaos reigns, and power corrupts, absolutely. The Public Theater’s outdoor version, at the Delacourt Theater, is not only well served by the enormity of the space and the backdrop of mighty nature itself, but by Moisés Kaufman’s highly aesthetic approach. Here, corpses parade across the stage like a stricter version of Sweeny Todd, and 1940s sound effects collide with harsh modern lighting to rapidly contrast Macbeth’s guilt-ridden psychosis with the all-too-cruel world itself.

If you reap what you sow—and Macbeth’s tragic downfall is surely a measure of his overzealous attention to prophecy—then it’s no surprise that Kaufman’s adaptation is so delicately beautiful, nor that that the beauty cannot be sustained. His costuming—straying from classic trims to, by the final act, a modern tux—makes no sense, but looks stunning, and the makeup—particularly that of the Weird sisters—is compelling. The blocking of certain scenes—notably the banquet where Banquo “haunts” Macbeth and the famous “double, double, toil and trouble” cauldron scene—is arresting, and at least the comedic bits, like the Porter’s out-of-place monologue, are aimed at the audience, where such throwaway distractions work best. The set does more for effect than the rest of the show itself—the flimsiness actually works in its favor, a castle even more in decay than the missing chunks and scattered rubble belie.

Where Kaufman loses the beauty is in the second act, where scenes start to grow melodramatic and rushed, and actors like Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Ehle, who shone in the first act) don’t seem up to their “out damn spot” speeches. The acting is, on the whole, very consistent, and Liev Schreiber, as Macbeth, almost underplays the role, though I find myself agreeing with his wry and dry portrayal (especially since this leaves Schreiber with somewhere to go in the second act). By the climactic showdown between Macduff (the fiery Sterling K. Brown) and Macbeth, Kaufman is back on track; I just hope the slight imbalance is ironed out by the opening.

This production of Macbeth has nothing to be ashamed of: even in that mid-act slump, the cast still slings its phrases more naturally than most actors perform contemporary works. The energy is robust and the pacing brisk, both necessary for the free theatergoer’s attention span, and the visual effects only solidify an already top-notch production. A successful fusion of various theatrical styles on one of the classic greats, this Macbeth is not to be missed.

[Aaron Riccio]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pig Farm
by Aaron Riccio

What Pig Farm misses in cleverness, it makes up for in crudeness--the most lascivious, delightful kind. The kind that makes you wonder how you ever watched a political satire without such "hams" before.

(6/20) Pig Farm is a ridiculous comedy. That’s not exaggeration: Greg Kotis writes like a man freefalling through the sky while being devoured on the inside by piranhas even as his fingers spontaneously combust like fireworks on the fourth. And that’s ignoring both the surreal ending (pigs may not fly, but they might as well) and the farcical shifts in plot. Pig Farm isn’t near as good as Urinetown—much as director John Rando tries to carry that tune through to a straight show, with a bunch of lyrical blocking. But what it misses in cleverness, it makes up for in crudeness (and really, it’s a filthy, filthy play)--the most lascivious, delightful kind. The kind that makes you wonder how you ever watched a political satire without such "hams" before.

The plot, so much as there is one, is an expanded anti-government riff that stems, at least in invective and straightforwardness, from Kotis’s little-seen Eat the Taste. There is a pig farm, somewhere in America, that represents the economic plight of all pig farms, and through that, the economic plight of all mankind. For all their suffering, Tom and Tina have taken in a juvenile delinquent, Tim—a reminder not just of the free labor of a work-release program, but of Tina’s desire to have a child of her own. To make things harder (as if counting approximately 15,000 pigs wasn’t hard enough), a g-man named Teddy is expected at any moment, which means Tom’s got to dump the sludge before the rain comes and makes everything into mud. So it goes.

If these characters played it straight, this would be a terrible play. But Tom’s a violent drunk, Tina’s a baby- (and therefore sex-) crazed woman, Tim’s determined to prove himself a man, even though he’s clearly still a boy, and Teddy is one heck of a ham (and Dennis O’Hare busts his comedic chops). As the straight(est) man, Tom, John Ellison Conlee really serves as a foil for his boyish competitor, Tim, played by the exuberant and beautifully reckless Logan Marshall-Green. Green has consistently been the best thing of his last several productions (including Dog Sees God, and TV’s The O.C.), and his limitless energy seems to have raised everybody’s else’s spirits too, particuarly the fiery Katie Finneran, who might just have theater’s best and most accurate deadpan.

The art direction here—Scott Pask’s overwhelming staircase to the hidden second floor and Brian MacDevitt’s illumination of the unseen chaos out the window—also deserves note. Not only does it allow for some spectacular stunt/comic devices, but it keeps the focus on this one little slice of Americana, and our particular struggle with the adversity of age, government, and circumstance. Kotis doesn’t get eloquent about it—in fact, the majority of his script garners laughs from repeating lines—but he’s direct, and he’s honest, and most importantly, he’s funny.

[Aaron Riccio]

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Busy World Is Hushed
by Aaron Riccio

The three actors of this tight, witty drama are all great enthusiasts, and their energy is well-tapped by director Mark Brokaw to tell this play of passion (not a Passion play).

(6/23) For a little over two hours, The Busy World Is Hushed lives up to its title. Not a single cell phone goes off during the performance—it wouldn’t dare. There’s too much life onstage for such a rude interruption, and though I despise theological thinking plays, Keith Bunin never proselytizes—he just uses God as an all-inspiring passion. The three actors of this tight, witty drama are all great enthusiasts (even though Jill Clayburgh is forced to reel it in to play the restrained “bad guy”), and director Mark Brokaw has no problem tapping into all that energy.

So here’s a different sort of passion play: three characters subsumed by different levels of religious zeal, and each for their own reason. Though Bunin’s obviously written a play, there’s no sense of predestination for any of them, and their worlds joyfully, and then tragically, commingle. The first, Hannah (Clayburgh) is the full-on Episcopalian, a minister trying to make the world better, all the while failing to see her own personal hell. Her rival, Thomas, is the traditional rebellious son—wild, agnostic, and self-confident. Brandt, an inhibited but spirited ghostwriter, is the pivotal third, stuck in the middle after being hired to help complete Hannah’s discourse of a newly discovered gospel.

Brandt is in turmoil because his father has an inoperable brain tumor, but he falls in love with Thomas’s world-wizened ways anyway, and begins dating him after some surprising encouragement from Hannah. Then again, perhaps not so surprising, given Hannah’s role as a friendly manipulator who hides her own staggering hurt behind a religious shield. As the play continues, Hannah’s callous chessmanship seems perfectly natural—shouldn’t a mother try to prevent her son from following too far in his suicidal father’s footsteps? And that, perhaps, is the most revelatory moment of The Busy World Is Hushed: how perfectly normal it all seems. These are real characters: you prick them, and they do bleed.

This is truest of Hamish Linklater, who plays Brandt. Though Brant uses the classic loner act to bolster himself—sarcasm and self-deprecation—Linklater finds all the little movements, shifts, or pauses that expose, ever so slightly, all the cracks. We watch him bloom in his relationship with Thomas, and when he finally breaks, it’s like watching all the groundwork come to fruition. As for Thomas, he is such a rebel that in lesser hands, his charisma steals every scene (and thereby ruins the dynamic of the show). As played by Macfarlane, the role instead becomes that of the invaluable player on the court who takes one for the team with an assist rather than a slam-dunk.

One of Bunin’s themes is that notorious contradiction: why would a loving God allow there to be such pain? Wisely, he doesn’t take a stance. He steps back and allows his characters to show both sides, and their balanced treatment does more for religion than a million angry voices. (Bunin’s beautiful, beautiful prose doesn’t hurt his cause: “All souls are forged in pain, and burnished in death.”) The Busy World Is Hushed is one more reason never to sacrifice character for politics, and a reminder that the quiet are often louder than the shrill.

[Aaron Riccio]

Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $65.00
Schedule: Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Saturday/Sunday @ 2:30; Sunday @ 7:30

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Happy Idea by Maria Perez-Martinez

Little Miss Maple Leaf McCoy…living in a house with three other unforgettable characters: Angus (old and stubborn), Mrs. B. (Landlord) and Terence Harper (quite a mystery for a while). It is no wonder with names like these, and living in such a quaint little situation that life would seem happy. But as we soon find out, things are never what they seem.

It is no surprise that Maple Leaf (a name the character adopted) sounds a lot like Make-Believe and that she is not the only one in the show who pretends they live in a better world than they actually do. Angus is an old actor, struggling to write his memoirs. A man who claims he has “worked with the best of ‘em”! And Mrs. B.: an old woman whose lost her family and is desperately trying to replace them with her new tenants. Maple Leaf sings in a nightclub and tries her best to believe that she is famous. And Terrence... well he is the least like what he pretends to be.

At one point, Terrence states, “Kindness is just an idea, no one really uses it”. The parallel is immediately present. Happiness as just an idea. It doesn’t really exist at all, nor can you make it appear by pretending your life is one way when it is simply another.

This dark-comedy is cast exceptionally well and is a work of creativity and uniqueness. It speaks to all of us who many times pretend that life is exactly the way we want it to be. But as it seems, life is just one big Happy Idea.

45th Street Theatre
354 W. 45th Street
New York

Nosotras Lo Hacemos Mejor!/We Women Do It Better! By Maria Perez-Martinez

So what exactly do we women do better? Well, according to Roberto Ramos-Perea’s play, Everything! From learning not to live like our parents to knowing how to change when after our mistakes, we women do it better.

This hilarious one-woman show (oddly enough - written by a man), showcases the life of Teresa Allyson Perez (played remarkably by Merel Julia). In a workshop that the audience is attending, Teresa teaches us life’s by using her own life as support. As she says, you have to live everything yourself. Everything Teresa talks about and teaches about, comes from experiences within her own life and she can therefore, teach us what not to do. And by us, it’s mainly women I’m talking about.

Still, while the show is geared toward women, there are many moments within the show where the men become involved. Teresa talks to them and throws questions at them. She simultaneously tells the women what not to do while showing men what it is that they actually do.

Throughout her life, Teresa reveals how everything around her has had to do with men. As a child, she idolized her father (drunk and abusive as he was) and for most of her life, found herself running into men just like him. Teresa’s lessons (and there are many!) are used in order to show women (and some men) what we look and act like from an outsider’s perspective. Because while it may be Teresa’s life we are watching, every person in that audience related to at least one of her stories, if not more.

But why, how and when are women better? Because they learn from their mistakes, they change their lives with this newfound knowledge and they keep it with them permanently. This show is inspiring, funny and fantastic for any person who would just like to debate why women are better…because we are.

Thalia Spanish Theatre
41-17 Greenpoint Avenue
New York

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reviewed by: Nicholas Linnehan
Nicu's Spoon, a non for profit theater company, premiered Cherish by Ken Duncum. This melodramatic story of two gay couples trying to raise children is thought-provoking. Duncum's script is overly dramatic and too episodic at times, detracts from the power of the play.
However, Alvaro Sena (Tom) does an excellent job of finding honesty in his portrayal of a man trying to raise a child after his best friend betrays him. He fills his acting, with bravado, passion, and urgency. This makes him a delight to watch!
Despite partially Duncum's flawed script, Cherish will stir your emotions and make you laugh. The content of this play outweighs the manner in which it is being told.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Gold Standard
by Aaron Riccio

You need more than miles and miles of heart; you need characters too. And Daniel Roberts, with his new play, The Gold Standard has them: four standards revolving around one marvelous eccentric, and the wonderfully poetic dark comedy that follows.

Is like, Daniel Roberts found an engaging character, latched on to him, and rode him all the way home. Is like, the script is full of such clever dialogue that you don’t mind the standard “man steals other man’s girlfriend” plot. Is like, the rhythm of this eccentric Korean poet, this hurdy-gurdy machine of broken words and fortune cookie statements, fuels something so much bigger than itself that The Gold Standard appreciates in value with every minute he’s on stage. In the words of the playwright, is like life is a dream for people like that, but “only problem is world full of alarm clock.” Well, this is the play that lets you stay in that dream.

Short of a horrifically staged fight scene and an all-too tidy resolution to this dark comedy, there’s nothing negative I can say about The Gold Standard. Like the play’s drink of choice, the sea breeze, all the dialogue is loose, sweet, and airy, and despite the play’s violent, bitter—necessary—second act, quite comedic. Somewhere in the midst of John getting the girl of his dreams, Olivia, wooed out from under him by his ultra-smooth former classmate, Krego, it stops being a laughing matter—even more so when we tack on the baggage these characters are holding on to. Somehow, even in the midst of molestation, Roberts keeps the script buoyant, though it takes Yasu Suzuki's spellbinding performance to bring Krego’s drunken meltdown to life.

The effort to maintain a side-plot for the bartender, Malcolm, and his assistant Nomi, is valiant, but doomed to mediocrity. The two serve better as foils, especially since Jordan Charney’s gruff, but lovable bartender is a cliché, and Alie Carey’s sassy, but lovable apprentice isn’t far off from being the same. To that end, director Alex Lippard jumps at every opportunity to get the two offstage so that he can focus on the lovers, and while this does leave a lot of empty space—the emptiest bar in the world—it also makes it clear where the action is taking place. Not that any of it’s ambiguous: if anything, Antony Hagopian (as the loser, John) and Sabine Singh (as the user, Olivia) are so believable that Roberts barely needs to fill in their back-stories.

Even if the plot isn’t exactly surprising, the way it unfolds is—all the while punctuated by the beautiful broken English of Krego: “Too bad dying human don’t look as pretty as dying leaf. Hospital would be colorful place.” Or, “My man Jackson Pollock; he say genius is to madness like flair gun is to atom bomb.” This is the gold standard: a consistent play filled with soft, yet firm, beauty. A play that can only appreciate, and be appreciated.

[Aaron Riccio]

Irish Arts Center (553 W 51st Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $15.00
Performances: Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dead City
by Aaron Riccio

“Yes I said yes I will yes,” reads Joyce’s Ulysses, and it ought to continue with, “see Sheila Callaghan’s new play Dead City.” Callaghan’s work is inspired by Joyce, but not so much in plot as in the telling: a one-day account of Samantha Blossom’s (get it?) life and her fated encounters with Jewel, a starving poet. With a set of earthy revolving walls and a projector screen, director Daniella Topol flings open Callaghan’s already loose words, and for a hundred minutes, the city becomes like an oyster filled with infinite pearls.

Through a series of encounters in various Manhattan locales (like The Strand), Dead City traces the everyday struggle to feel like one exists. The internal creeps into the physical, which is where we see echoes of Joyce (though Callaghan’s beautiful language is her own). One minute, Samantha is catching up with an old friend, the next, that friend is asking about Samantha’s dead son. At a massage parlor, two masseuses are suddenly grilling her about the affair she’s contemplating with her postmodern online beau. Later, her thoughts project across the wall in a multimedia frenzy of stream-of-consciousness, and, in a dream sequence, as animation. For all the surreal tactics and alternative forms of expression—like a flying taxi—none of this seems out of place; Callaghan has created a fluid, lyrical world that riffs on reality as if it were jazz (which, if it’s not, should be).

To accommodate the myriad characters, Dead City presses an ensemble of five to the limit, casting each in at least three roles. Some are clearer than others (like the endlessly talented Rebecca Hart), and some are more versatile (like Alfredo Narciso), but the whole ensemble reeks of talent. Outside the ensemble, Elizabeth Norment (Samantha) centers and uncenters the show with her brilliant mental oscillations, while April Matthis (Jewel) grows more genuine by the minute.

Save for a humorous funeral, there’s nothing dead in Dead City; this sweeping production revitalizes an art form that prefers to imitate. This is the real McCoy, illusions and all, and like Ulysses, should soon fit the oxymoronic bill of a modern classic.

[Aaron Riccio]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dead City by Maria Perez-Martinez

Oftentimes, when you talk to a married man, he’ll tell you that the one thing he hates most about his wife is when she asks him, “What are you thinking?” Women seem to be just fascinated with knowing the every thought and dream of the ones we love. Why? Because we think and dream A LOT ourselves. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, then Dead City is a show you must see.

Following the character of Samantha (portrayed stunningly by Elizabeth Norment) throughout the course of one day, we get to see every single one of her thoughts as she grows and changes with every person she encounters. It is obvious from the beginning that Samantha is just one of those people who others never notice. One of those people who are practically invisible their entire lives. But as the play progresses she learns a lesson from one of the most unexpected places – a homely character by the name of Jewel.

Jewel is actually the first person you meet on stage. Played by April Matthis, Jewel seems very different from everyone else in this New York City based life. She is the poet. The outcast. And yet, Samantha understands Jewel’s language perfectly. They are two women lost in this maze that life has thrown at them and together, they learn from one another. Samantha learns that she actually exists (a defining moment for her) and Jewel learns that there are other people in the world besides herself. That there is someone out there who actually understands her.

From beginning to end, we watch as Samantha grows and changes throughout her day (it’s no coincidence that her last name Blossom). She becomes something entirely different from where she started and by the end, she makes herself known. A perfect touch added by the playwright at the finale, is having Samantha end up in the same place she started. But everyone has seen her mind, her thoughts, her past and her future. You almost never want the play to end just to see where she goes next. Dead City (aptly named) is a fantastic show with a superb, multi-talented (multi-roled) cast. A feast for the eyes and mind.

3LD Art and Technology Center
80 Greenwich Street, New York
Open until Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hello, Dolly! by Matt Windman

The sexiest possible moment in a musical does not involve nudity, but it does date back to the days of Ziegfeld. It happens when a young or adult woman (think Ruby Keeler) dances with an abundant army of men, or vice versa (think Fred Astaire). As such, is it no surprise that the title song of “Hello, Dolly!” – where Dolly sings with a corps of waiters – has become one of the most beloved scenes in musical theater.

Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” which is based on Thorton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” is all about embracing life’s possibilities. Allow us to summarize the musical in song: “Before the Parade Passes By,” you must “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” go “Dancing,” get some “Elegance,” proudly put “Ribbons Down Your Back,” remember that “It Only Takes a Moment” to fall in love, and finally shout “Hello, Dolly!” in happiness.

But in spite of the musical’s popularity, its title role continues to be associated only with Carol Channing. (Barbra Streisand played the role in the film, regrettably). As such, musical theater fans had been guessing for months over who would play Dolly in the Papermill Playhouse’s revival. The choice of Tovah Feldshuh, who is best known to theater audiences as the Israeli Prime Minister of “Golda’s Balcony,” was a big surprise.

It is a relief to report that Feldshuh is fantastic as Dolly Gallagher Levi. Those familiar with the show should be aware that Feldshuh performs the role with an Irish accent, a choice that stresses the Gallagher side over the Levi (i.e. Jewish) one. To be successful, Dolly must be confident, warm and sarcastic. But above all, she is a clown. Feldshuh has made new choices that make authentic eccentricities. And to add icing to the cake, she is a wonderful singer!

As director, Mark S. Hoebee also brings out effective performances from Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy, Jessica-Snow Wilson as Minnie Fay, Walter Charles as Horace Vandergelder, and Jonathan Rayson as Cornelius. Mia Michaels’ choreography is fine, though her staging of the title song resembles grinding rather than dancing.

The current revival of Jerry Herman’s “Mame,” which opened two weeks ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., is enjoyable but half-baked. This revival of “Dolly!” has no known plans to move anywhere, but it is one of Papermill’s best musicals in many years and a crowd-pleasing, smashing success.
Papermill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. 973-376-4343. $19-68. Wed 7:30pm, Thurs 2 & 7:30pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 2 & 7:30pm. Through July 23.

Arabian Night
by Aaron Riccio

The nice thing about the modern fairytale is that even when it’s not particularly affecting, the presentation’s always worth the price of admission. I thought this about Devil Land; I feel the same about Arabian Night, The Play Company’s import from prolific German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig. The script, which bounces back and forth between the thoughts of five mysteriously drawn-together tenants on a hot and magical night, comes across largely as wordplay—more a narrative trick than a necessity. Furthermore, Schimmelpfennig’s disparate blend of comedic drama often causes the one to obscure the other (as if the revolving narrative wasn’t already dizzying enough). And yet, while some might object to the sudden twist that places one character inside a bottle of brandy, and another in the middle of an Arabian desert, others might allow themselves to be entertained by the stupefying absurdity of it—a circus of the uncanny.

Would that Schimmelpfennig’s script made more of the premise, or that his endless devices actually worked their way to a resolution. Because they don’t, the play ends up with a limited scope (which is how I feel about other Schimmelpfennig works, like The Woman Before) and a mostly dispassionate set of characters running in circles through the circus’s three rings. So far as this big top imagery goes, director Trip Cullman makes for a brilliant ringleader, and the imaginative leaps of the script force him to be innovative (whereas with Dog Sees God, he was simply stilted and mundane).

Boxed in on three sides by the audience, Louisa Thompson’s three-dimensional, multi-leveled set is an amalgam of various parts of the apartment complex, each bleeding into the other, a bit like the Pompidou building. The scope of the stage succeeds where the script does not, and makes everything seem so much more important than it is. It also allows for some nifty physical feats, like a climactic chase through the hallways. In addition, thanks largely to Lenore Doxsee’s spot-on lighting, the performers also take on a larger-than-life presence, important for the jigsaw-like scenes that overlap one another. (In particular, Brandon Miller, who plays the bookish, doomed Peter Karpati, becomes arresting once he takes on a greenish glow and has an echo added to his voice.)

As I said before, Cullman’s orchestration of all the different tiers of action and design brings out his Broadway potential, even as Schimmelpfennig’s script persists in slowing down all the action. The cast needs to pick up their cues—that’s true—but even if they did this sixty-five-minute show in fifty-five, there’d still be a lot of dead space. For all the boundary-pushing narrative, Schimmelpfennig is careful not to take his idea where it needs to be: five truly overlapping narratives, filled with real missed connections, rather than neatly shelved moments.

A real fairytale has a moral—most often a warning—but Arabian Night seems determined to do without, intent on deconstructing itself. Allow me to supply one: all that glitters is golden, but you can’t take it with you.

[Aaron Riccio]

East Thirteenth Street Theater (136 East 13th Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $35.00
Performances: Monday-Saturday @ 8:00 / Saturday @ 2:00

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Exonerated
Reviewed by: Nicholas Linnehan
The Exonerated, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, depicts the tales of 6 real life people sentenced to death row and are later found innocent. This show has the potential to be powerful. Unfortunately, Hope Productions delivers a mediocre version.
The casts performances are flat and lack emotional investment, leaving one to wonder about the connection to their work. However Kimberly Nicole and Melvin P. Huffnagle are exceptional as their work is vibrant and full.
This production was well-intentioned as it benefits the real survivors of death row. It was a noble effort that fell short of being a great piece of theater.
The Exonerated
Reviewed by: Nicholas Linnehan
The Exonerated, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, depicts the tales af 6 real life people sentenced to death row and are later found innocent. This show has the potential to be powerful. Unfortunately, Hope Productions delivers a mediocre version.
The casts performances are flat and lack emotional investment, leaving one to wonder about the connection to their work. However Kimberly Nicole and Melvin P. Huffnagle are exceptional as their work is vibrant and full.
This production was well-intentioned as it benefits the real survivors of death row. It was a noble effort that fell short of being a great piece of theater.

by Aaron Riccio

Eight funny one acts. One unfunny theme. That's an odd amalgam of farce and rhetoric, but the evening's saucy, charming, and, most importantly, hip.

isn’t a play: it’s a collection of playful riffs on a theme—perfect for such an intangible ideal. The majority of these are political farces (an easy topic), from the elusive double-talk of government to gun control to the circus of world affairs. Two focus on the off-again-on-again rights of women, from the smarmy Victorian work of marital blackmail (“The Proposal”) to the sexually liberated American woman today (“100 Years War”). There are also pure character pieces: the gun-toting elderly couple of P. Seth Bauer’s “Killing Squirrels in Sleep Hollow,” the type of inadvertent racists who, nervous that there’s a robber downstairs, take the time to point out that “You don’t know he’s a Mexican. He could be black.”

For the thinkers, there’s a brilliant monologue, much like the recent Thom Paine, that dismantles the barrier between audience and action (“Don’t Quit”). For me, this quietly effective piece—written by C. Denby Swanson, coyly performed by Don Carter, and gracefully directed by Matthew Cowart—was the highlight of the evening . . . and that was before I was targeted by Mr. Carter. Also of note, Paul Siefken’s “Circus Berzerkus,” a hip-hop exploitation of the Bush Administration, buoyantly staged by Shana Gold and entertainingly emceed by K-Rove himself (Allesandro Colla).

You won’t find a better comedic value anywhere in the city, though to be fair, the acting is not always up to par with the writing. But even at its worst, Security (which will premiere another eight shorts in the fall) remains unflaggingly entertaining. The topic is a universal one, and even when the presentation is compressed and contrived, as in Kat Mc Camy’s “Safety Off,” there’s still enough truth to help us feel connected. The evening's only odd decision is to stage both Brian Dykstra’s “Bells and Whistles” and Neil Olson’s “Zahara.” Both deal with various government agencies working over and around one another, and the closeness in theme makes Dykstra’s incredibly flat, even though it has more characters and wordplay. Olson’s script, set in a featureless airport holding cell, observes the finicky nature of a government that one day uses innocents to smuggle weapons to friendly terrorists (e.g., anti-Iranian ones), only to arrest them for treason the next.

At about fifteen minutes each, the one-acts don’t run long enough to feel played out (if anything, they feel rushed). The Drilling CompaNY’s mission is to provide a springboard, and they succeed doubly, helping both to launch the careers of many talented artists as well as to provoke the thoughts of the audience.

[Aaron Riccio]

78th Street Theater Lab (236 West 78th Street)
Tickets (212-414-7717): $18.00
Performances: Wednesday – Saturday @ 7:30 / Sunday @ 3:00

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I Have Loved Strangers
Reviewed by: Nicholas Linnehan
Clubbed Thumb presents I Have Loved Strangers, by Anne Washburn, as part of its Summerworks Festival. The play, directed by Johanna Mckeon, delves into issues of good versus evil and morality. Two prophets, played by T. Ryder Smith and James Stanley, foretell very different stories of things to come. One tells of destruction, while the other one offers hope and triumph. This leaves the audience pondering who the true prophet is, or perhaps they both share truth. The actors in these roles fill their characters with passion and honesty so well that it is hard to decide who is prophetic and who is crazy.

Laura Flanagan (Emily) adds to a strong ensemble by delivering a profound performance as the complex terrorist trying to fight the resistance. She also brings much-needed humor into this intensely serious play. Equally compelling is Jennifer Ruby Smith (Ruthie) who plays the wife of one of "prophets". Her character struggles with her ability to trust in her husband’s gift. She delivers well with her ability to show the inner struggle of the woman. Both these women fill their characters with honesty and vibrant energy that engages the audience.

While this play does not offer any definitive answers to the questions it raises (how could it?). It provokes one to think, question, and contemplate. While it may take an audience member a while to "digest" the poignancy of this piece, it is definitely worth seeing and thinking about. It is a shame that few plays today tend to do this, which makes I Have Loved Strangers a great piece of theater!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sister by Maria Perez-Martinez

When it comes to the word “sister” in Mario Fratti’s play by the same name, there are many meanings that can be derived from the show. First, and most obvious, is the allusion to the character Rosanna who is herself a sister and daughter. But after a while, when you begin to wonder why the play would be named after someone who doesn’t appear in most of the first act, you begin to wonder why else this title would be chosen. That is when the second definition of “sister” arises: sister – as in Nun – as in a woman who is extremely pure and virtuous. This definition fits so perfectly within the play.

The story focuses on a small family of three – a brother, a sister and a mother. Each with their own issues and questions about life and most importantly, about love. The women in the play want to better understand men – why they betray, why they can easily move from one woman to the next without care. The young man in the play also wants to understand the opposite sex better: why women choose to be disobedient and why they don’t always strive to make their men happy.

What it all boils down to eventually is man’s betrayal and whether or not a woman actually needs a man to survive. Sometimes it seems as if a woman’s entire life is based around the existence of man in it. But this play shows a family who all agree to decide that life is about more than needing a husband or a father. It is about appreciating the family you do have and loving the people who stand by you no matter what.

The great cast of Sister (Eleanor Ruth, Brian Voelcker and Shân Willis) do a wonderful job portraying three totally different people locked together within this family. The show raises many questions about love and the opposite sex that makes sure your experience does not end at the curtain call. You are left with so much to think about and so much to question yourself. The plot itself is very entertaining (with a twist you never see coming) and highly inquisitive. If only everything could make us think about so much.

La MaMa e.t.c
74A E. Fourth Street, New York

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The History Boys
by Aaron Riccio

The show becomes much like a class: a broad study in a wide variety of theatrical forms, well-presented by talented teachers, and a potpourri of quotes and snippets, none of which move the heart ever so much as the teacher would like to believe.

As a comedy, The History Boys is simply brill.
It’s an ace work that demonstrates the profound ridiculousness of high school, especially the extra preparatory classes for college. Although it’s a British import, things are pretty much the same there as here, save for a few lexical issues, and it’s good that they’ve implanted the whole cast, since they’re bazzin’. The problem is, The History Boys is not presented as a comedy—at least, not entirely. There’s a niggling undertone of dramatics, involving a beloved but eccentric teacher, who has the slight habit of molesting his children, often while riding them home on his motorcycle.

Though it’s easy to believe that Hector (Richard Griffith) has a passion for pure teaching—he dislikes the idea of his students using the information he’s teaching them to pass their upcoming college exams—it’s hard to see him in that other light, and harder still to see everyone so breezily accepting that. “I wonder if we’ll be scarred for life,” remarks one student (who actually turns out—though it’s presented comically—to be scarred for life). Says the other, glibly, “I certainly hope so. Maybe I’ll turn out like Proust.” These attempts to make a dark subject funny go awry because while at first they draw the shocked laughs of the Durang class, the abrupt return to reality makes one wonder what’s actually so funny about it.

Another problem with Alan Bennett’s play, at least for the under-40 crowd, is his source material. Hector’s class draws from all forms of knowledge, and the showtunes the class sings, the movies they recreate scenes from, or, in particular, a French skit the class performs (hard to follow if you don’t know a romance language), make certain scenes inaccessible. It also makes the show seem snarky. This attitude isn't helped by the way Bennett opens each of the two acts with scenes set in the future, nor the all-too-clever manner in which the actors address the audience. One teacher, Mrs. Lintott, even goes so far as to say that up until now, she has not had the opportunity to address the audience. Witty, yes. Relevant, no. It's an excuse to add meta-drama to the list of genres The History Boys takes on, and it’s just out of place.

It's not fair, though, to say that something in The History Boys is out of place, for after all, Bennett has made his play so broad that it can conceivably cover anything (and so broad that it's flat and repetitive). The classroom scenes all come to resemble one another, with educated humor, and the only accurate thing that’s really said about history, which also applies to the show itself, is that it’s all “just one fucking thing after another.” So there’s a brief comment about when it becomes okay to discuss the Holocaust. And there’s another side-plot, the sum total of one monologue long, that observes how an athletic student doesn’t really need intelligence. And look, look! Over there! It’s a love story that would be tragic (between the effeminate Posner and the anything-goes Dakin) if, you know, anything were ever made of it. And, ultimately, nothing ever is made of it in The History Boys. The show becomes much like Hector’s class: a broad study in a wide variety of theatrical forms, well-presented by talented teachers, and a potpourri of quotes and snippets, none of which move the heart ever so much as Hector would like to believe.

The History Boys is an outstanding performance piece, with everything from philosophy to cabaret, and it smoothly jibes together to show a lot of disparate views (though, to be fair, it takes almost three hours to do so). But after class is dismissed, a lot of what’s been said turns out to be a lot of bunk, and to be fair, perhaps you’re better off playing hooky, where you might at least learn something useful.

~[Aaron Riccio]~