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.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

FRINGE 2006: The Burning Cities Project

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The Dreamscape Theater has just landed on the "it" list for notable companies. Their contribution to the Fringe Festival is The Burning Cities Project, a dramatic ensemble piece conceived and assembled by Brad Raimondo. This is Play With a Mission: to define and understand tragedy. And not Hamlet-level tragedy: we're talking Holocausts and Hiroshimas, Dresdens and Pompeys (and, of course, 9/11).

Danielle Monica Long, Mark Lindberg, and Laura Moss find
themselves struck by the moment in The Burning Cities Project.

Director Jennifer McGrath has assembled a diverse cast to populate this fractured world, and she guides them expertly through spoken word, movement, fragments, modern dance, dark comedy, avant-garde, and a political rant. Between each piece, an actor speaks directly to the audience about the purpose of the show, as in The Laramie Project, and on the whole, it's a moving evening.

Interestingly enough, the more recent the tragedy, the worse the presentation: the Katrina piece, entitled "The Usual Conversation," is too jaded and off-key to be strike any nerves or funny bones, and the 9/11 scene "Everyday/That Day" winds up digressing from loneliness into melodrama. As affecting as Mark Lindberg's in-character confession of loneliness is, the scene doesn't fit the oeuvre of the piece, and makes the early moments of The Burning Cities Project a little unsteady.

Luckily, the rest of the evening is a phenomenal tour-de-force of young actors who know how to strike a chord with the audience. The horrific bombing of Dresden, a much ignored tragedy (unless you count Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five), springs to tear-soaked life in the most relentless piece of the night, "Survivor's Words." On the other side, the way in which people dance around the topic of the Holocaust (or the more recent genocides in Sudan and Rwanda) finds a fitting satire in "The H-Word." Ricardo Perez Gonzalez plays the manic host of a Jeopardy-type game show where all the answers vilify the Jews. ("Q: Oprah calls them the future, Jews eat them; A: the children.") His relentless badgering of a conscientious contestant (Brad Raimondo) makes us feel bad, up until the "Final Solution" round reveals the contestant's own shortcomings: "What horrible tragedy resulted in the deaths of over 12,000,000 people?" "The Holocaust." "Wrong. The slave trade." "Well, yeah, but that's exaggerated."

This strong performance piece stands well in comparison to other cultural awareness plays like The Vagina Monologues. But even alone, The Burning Cities Project is a strong and passionate presentation of suffering and the human will to express (and thereby overcome) it.

FRINGE 2006: Never Swim Alone

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Bravo, Daniel MacIvor, and I don’t mean the military letter that comes after Alpha and before Charlie. Never Swim Alone is a technically perfect, dazzlingly verbal, low-budget show that solidifies the Fringe as a showcase of pure talent. While not a theatrically daring piece—it has a cast of three, no set, and two props—but by investing all of its energies in a story, a particularly moving story, it has all the thrills you expect of the theater.

Arguing in a stylishly clipped tone, together or overlapping, two men (Douglas Dickerman and John Maria) walk into a room. As the story goes, one is the first man, and the other has a gun. A woman (Susan Louise O’Connor) clad in a blue bathing suit that complements the two men’s suits (black suit, silk tie, black shoes, black socks), referees from a stool as the two men compete. Why they compete is not as important as the fact that neither of these friends wants to lose, and all that matters is that they'll unleash the playful banter of David Ives's All in the Timing or the furious sarcasm of David Rabe's Hurlyburly in order to get it. This passionate dexterity is enough to sell the show alone, but MacIvor's got a secret buried in all the semiotic dissections of character that make up his thirteen "rounds." There are these two men, sure, but there is also a beach, a bay, and a point, and that point is both a far-off place and the dramatic hook.

Never Swim Alone is about one-upmanship, but it’s also about the costs of such fixation, and as the insults grow more personal, MacIvor paints a perfect satire of the American workaholic. More so, he does it all with a few lighting cues and a few exceptional actors. The rightfully confident John Maria, who has been with this show since the original ’99 Fringe production, is joined by newcomer Douglas Dickerman (though by the chemistry, you’d swear he’s been with this show forever). Their interplay, like Tom Stoppard’s warped Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, leaps off the stage with personality. (O’Connor is fantastic too, commanding when she speaks, but this is a showcase for the swaggering male stereotype.) This is a well-oiled play: there’s no reason this couldn’t run off-off-Broadway forever, perhaps in repertoire with the similiarly themed Israel Horovitz play, Line.

Bravo, Mr. MacIvor. Bravo. And encore.

Friday, August 25, 2006

FRINGE 2006: Absolute Flight

Review by Aaron Riccio

The cast is all winners, and I'm not just saying that: will Amy Landon, Marishka Phillips, Cameron Hughes, Effie Johnson, Garth T. Mark or Keith Eric Chappelle be the one to fly?
Photo/Sam Rosen

In a world that already has shows as hilariously full of self-loathing as Who Wants to Be a Superhero, do we really need parodies of reality TV like Absolute Flight? Sure, why not? "Reality" is a simple, painless device that brings disparate characters into close proximity, complete with pre-installed motivations--in this case, the right to be dropped from a plane while buckled into some wings, i.e., to fly. All the author needs is some playful banter and a twist or two and a play is born. To be sure, Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich has done more than adapt a genre, but for all the manic nuances, Absolute Flight seems a bit tethered by its own substance.

To apply the play's beautiful ending to itself, Absolute Flight takes awhile to get off the ground. It runs on a tarmac made of sound bites and groveling, and only ascends when we see that the actors have infused these characters with souls, too. The more depraved, the more likeable--and these are some very likeable characters. From Michael, the "war veteran and sex-crazed cripple," to Joshua, a man "who pretends he's an alien because he's too fat to be human," to Iris, a bright young thing who constantly chirrups "I could die at any moment" (with stage-four ovarian cancer, she just might). Yes, it's that kind of comedy.

The next bit's a little choppy as it heads through the turbulence of plot development. In this case, it's a little backstage intrigue before the Season Finale, and a dramatic buildup to finding out the "celebrity" contestant's tragic past; by the second act, we've Leveled Off, and we're ready to take a plunge of glory. Blumenthal-Ehrlich piles on so many neuroses at once that there's a constant cacophony of pathos, and the actors (led by Effie Johnson) sure love smearing themselves with that muck.

What can I say? It's entertaining to watch good actors dirty themselves with dark comedy. And it's shocking to find that all this "reality" has a point: the ending pulls Absolute Flight away from those who would simply dismiss the concept as lowbrow and puerile. Nothing's perfect, but for a show about reality, this one feels just right.

The Fringe: 24 is 10 the BEST of the 24 HOUR PLAYS

Review by Liza White

NOTE: In honor of the talents of the writers, actors, and directors who create respectable works of theatre in 24 hours and rehearse them in 9 hours, I plan to write this review in 10 minutes (not including the time it takes me to post this on our blog which may take me the rest of the afternoon - Start Time 12:01 PM).

Ten years ago a phenomenon hit the New York theatre scene when a group of friends challenged each other to write, rehearse, and perform 6 plays in 24 hours. It was intended to be a one night stand sort of event but here I sit in 2006 in awe of one of their productions. For 5 days during the NY Fringe Festival the producers of the 24 Hour Plays are presenting 25 of their and the audiences top pics.

I saw the Thursday night performance which included: “Karla Says” by Mac Rogers, “The Woman” by Michael John Graces, “Vikings!” By Greta Billinger, “Poor Bob” by Elizabeth Meriwether, and “A Weekend in Brazil” by Ted Travelstead and Julie Wright. I was impressed by the quality of the writing but more so by the subtle nuances and grace the actors brought to the scripts in only 9 hours of rehearsal. Most notable was Karla Mosley in “Karla Says” for her duality of character as a child entertainer turned unfaithful spouse. (It is now 12:14 PM) Another standout was “Poor Bob” about a hysterical girl on the crux of adulthood who still in love with fictional character Atreyu from the film “The Never Ending Story”. Her hysterics lead to a ball gag, a yahtzee game purchased on e bay, and an unobservant lover with a turkey hat. Meriwether’s crafty writing gives us an humorous take on childhood obsessions.

The night led to other enjoyable moments such as a Spanish speaking orgasm, a retarded boy named Jesus Christ who mistakenly kills his friend with a rubber ball, and Vikings giving each other bouquets of flowers and debating the manliness of this. The triumph of creating not only comprehensible works of theater in a day, but creating enjoyable worthwhile theater in such a short time is commendable and quite frankly as fun for the audience as it seems for the artists involved...perfect for the Fringe. (Time 12:37…I received a phone call, had to do some googling and run spell check. I'm just not cut out for the 10 minute review.)

The Best of the 24 Hour Plays is playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Tuesday Aug 22 at 11, Wednesday Aug 23 at 6:15, Thursday Aug 24 at 6:15, Saturday Aug 26 at 8:45 and Sunday Aug 27 at 6. Check out or for more information.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

FRINGE 2006: Americana Absurdum

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

God bless America, home of non-sequiturs and overzealous greed, and also, as we're reminded in Brian Parks' Americana Absurdum, rabid pursuits and hyperactive life. Parks' piece dials way past eleven, running on the fumes of an ever-elusive America. Split into two identically styled one-acts titled Vomit & Roses and Wolverine Dream, the evening is an explosive satire of America, as fast, furious, and inane as our culture.

Shone with a light from above, Paul Urcioli's direction uses clip lights to focus all the attention on whatever portion of the pitch-dark stage is currently under scrutiny. Of course, those vague, ominous shapes in the background, those performers holding down the lights, they're as much of the show as anything. It's all an effect, including the 100-meter-dash speed of the lines, meant to disorient and distract you, to suck you into a world of overwhelming superfluities, one that, as the show continues, looks more and more like a certain land that we love.

Sitting there, one becomes a half-baked theater potato. Verbal rapture, sure, but also mindless intellectual entertainment (oxymoron or not) that shifts between scenes so fast that only TV commercials draw comparisons, those zippy little spots that pause long enough to occasionally be funny. What distinguishes Parks from a commercial is that he isn't selling anything, he's lampooning it, and moreover, he isn't occasionally funny: he is consistently hilarious. (One wishes he were more sporadic; then we wouldn't feel so bad about missing a line here or there.)

When talking about Marquez, Ibsen, Dickinson, &c.--sometimes in the same breath--it's almost inevitable that at some point, mania takes over. That's the beautiful, irrepressible point. Parks jumps from issue to issue within his overarching "plots" not because he has ADD, but because the theme he's representing, America, has ADD. These satires have points--even beginnings, middles, and ends--but the deluge of scenic interjections and oral non-sequiturs make those inconsequential. Parks is shaping a mood, a mood that happens to be attached to a product, a product that happens, in this case, to be a fantastic play.

Excellently performed, every superlative phrase fits this counter-countercultural canon: nothing is ever simply "cracked" when it can be "cracked like a toddler's vertebrae." More is better, and examples (ala Family Guy) are everywhere: "Mummy could be sad about anything. Remember her suicide note?" If you're wondering just how over-the-top and speedy Americana Absurdum is, look no further than Greg Kotis (Pig Farm) . . . squared. One of the most absurdly entertaining pieces of the Fringe Festival, this returning favorite is still at the top of its game, and is a must-see staple for anybody, be they hip or hip-replaced, cool or cooling, smart or just into art.

The Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street)
Thurs. AUGUST 24 @ 11, Fri. AUG 25 @ 6:30, Sat. AUG 26 @ 12

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Middle East, in Pieces

By Leila Buck, Kia Corthron, Israel Horovitz, Anne Nelson, Heather Raffo, Betty Shamieh and Beau Willimon
Produced by Back House Productions and Cherry Lane Theatre
Reviewed Thursday, August 17
By Nancy Vitale

About a month ago, playwright Beau Willimon extended his own kind of olive branch to Cherry Lane to counter the most recent war in the Middle East. He wanted to provide New York theatre artists an opportunity to channel their angst into a nearly two-hour staged reading of The Middle East, in Pieces, seven dramatic short plays that ranged from the satirical to the deeply personal. The company of talented writers, actors, directors and collaborators sought the human behind the inhumanity in the struggle, and what emerged overall was a human face, an Arab face that lusted and feared and lost.

Many of the emerging and established writers who participated avoided the pedantic, the melodramatic and the stereotypical. The two excerpts from Betty Shamieh and Heather Raffo, for example, convincingly captured the female Arab and explored the power of the women in Arab culture. Original pieces included Beau Williomon’s charming epistolary play, Dog River, in which lovers communicate via email as the hope that they will see each other again and the even more remote possibility of peace crumble around them. Kia Corthron’s Power Lunch delights and exasperates as Condi and Hillary flee their lunch date when their rhetoric fails them, and they are unable to adequately respond to their Lebanese waitress.

The highlight of the evening came from Israel Horovitz’s Beirut Rocks in which the writer populated his poignant and hilarious story with the most clichéd personalities on the world stage. Disguised as frightened American college students awaiting deliverance from a hotel in besieged Beirut, the characters threaten to destroy one another before whistling bombs outside their windows can do the job.

Enabled by a stellar cast of actors and directors who focused on communicating the intentions of the writers, the readings successfully expressed the importance of words amidst the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts raging in the Middle East. And happily, it was more entertaining than reading the op-ed page.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

FRINGE 2006: Only a Lad

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Eric Shelley, Jenny Weaver, Joey Calveri & Barret Hall are "On the Outside" in Andrew Loschert's Oingo Boingo musical, Only a Lad. Photo/Andrew Loschert

As the story (or at least the author's note) goes, writer Andrew Loschert, fresh out of grad school, got the idea for Only a Lad while listening to the Oingo Boingo Greatest Hits CD. His idea was sound (no pun intended): use the narrative-driven eccentricities of Danny Elfman's '80s rock band and make a musical out of it. The concept was in the right key too: a good-at-heart gangster who just happens to be different from the "cool cats" gets framed for murder and must find a way to save himself and reconcile his spirit. The thematic nature was there too: if we've learned nothing else from VH1, it's that America Loves the 80s. So what went wrong?

Many, many things, the first (and most important) being the technical design. The inability to hear the lyrics over the band and the inability to hear the band over the static crackle of feedback makes it difficult to gauge just who's to blame for the lackluster production. Loschert's written a decent frame for Elfman's excellent music, and though his efforts come across as a straight-up jukebox adaptation, his source material really is that good. Also, his performers have great voices, which is why it's more the shame that we can't hear Barrett Hall and Joey Calveri. These two really capture Oingo Boingo's spirit, both in look and feel, and even the numbers that don't fit the book (like "Little Girls") rock all the same because of that x-factor.

This cultural exploitation is nicely finessed by director Rob Seitleman. In my eyes, he has more than redeemed himself for his last project, Paradise Lost; he's taken an incomplete project and strung together a visually stimulating '80s homage. What the musical lacks, and I suspect Seitleman and his choreographic partner Jason Summers know this, are group numbers and big choruses -- both of which are difficult with Oingo Boingo's music and Loschert's script.

Speaking of which, if we strip away production gaffes, Loschert's own problems come back into focus, which is that he hasn't fleshed out his idea. The story is straight out of Grease or Cry Baby or any other movie about teen culture clashes, and while Oingo Boingo should be on Broadway, this isn't the vehicle for them. Not yet, at least. Slap some more meat on these bones and figure out a way to work "Nasty Habits" into the show, and Only a Lad may one day find its way onto the Great White Way. Here's hoping.

Harry De Jur Playhouse (466 Grand Street)
WED, AUG 23 @ 9:15; THURS, AUG 24 @ 9:30

Saturday, August 19, 2006

FRINGE 2006: Letter Purloined

Review by Aaron Riccio

The intricate elegance of Letter Purloined deserves a review written in twenty-six lines which can be read in any order. It should be a metacritical review, one that constantly refers to the structure of the piece itself, using wonderfully oblique metaphors like golf. It should also serve as a form of psychotherapy, drawing on the sex dreams of Freud, the language of Derrida, and the works of both Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare. Of course, this would require a lot of work on my part -- and a near-genius capacity for post-modernism. For this reason, I prefer to just highly recommend David Isaccson's Letter Purloined and to extol the talent of Theater Oobleck, the group that performs it, sans director.

The plot applies the mash-up philosophy of albums like "The Gray Album" and runs two concurrent beats: Poe's detective story about a stolen letter and Shakespeare's classic tragedy of a certain Moor (and we don't mean a dock). In this version, a sinister minister named Ogai frames General Cassio by stealing a letter sent from him to King Navodar's wife, Queen Diri. It's best if you're familiar with the conceit: the show is performed in a random order every night, and figuring out the twists and deviations is great fun for the bohemian surveyor. The one annoyance is that Cassio speaks as if he's a Casio keyboard. Get it? The joke doesn't stretch for the two-plus hours of the show, even though Colm O'Reilly is a good imitator; thankfully, characters and transitions clarify his subtext often enough for story to still work.

There's so much other stuff to praise though: Isaccson (who also plays the insecure, soft-spoken king) manages to make difficult literary theory not only comprehensible but funny, and just wait until you see how he incorporates psychoanalysis into Queen Diri's manic and overwhelming personality. The actors also deliver this purposely convoluted story with full bravura and intonations of significance.

Aside from being a novelty, a show that can boast of cramming Kofi Annan and Lacan into the same breath, Letter Purloined is also a rich, deep metadrama. It's intellectual, it's not very sexual, and it's not full of over-the-top action: it is the anti-Fringe Fringe show. It's also a must-see, and I certainly hope this play finds producers willing to take it to the next level.

Friday, August 18, 2006

FRINGE 2006: Minimum Wage: Blue Code Ringo

Review by Aaron Riccio

Minimum Wage: Blue Code Ringo
is an infinitely catchy, abundantly energetic, absolutely ridiculous, half-musical half-improv Frankenstein's monster of a show. It's great fun, but for a show that's four years old, it's remarkably unpolished. The music, co-composed by Jeff & Charlie LaGreca with Sean Altman (the witty a capella punster, formerly of Rockapella), is so crisp and delightful that it seems unfair to match it with poorly staged multimedia presentations (interruptions, really). Or maybe it's just that Jeff LaGreca's beatboxing talent is so good that it actually makes everything else less interesting (in particular, a scene about the uses of the spatula that devolves into a D&D-inspired "swordfight").

But you know what? They've got the heart, and the darkly comic wit, to succeed. They've also got an utter disregard for inhibition; this brings the sometimes mediocre staging to a simmering temper. Suzanne Slade goes all out when shaking her booty with danger, Tony Dassaunt's deadpan "Kooky, the Happy Burger Clown" is fantastic, and William Caleo, who plays the slapsticky-Altman role, pulls faces like no other. Charlie LaGreca, who plays the diminutive nerd Orwell, is tremendous in his own right: he plays his character so seriously that when he departs from the norm, as in "Connecticut," you can't help but giggle.

The plot, by far the least important thing, involves the cast training you, the audience, to become new employees of the Happy Burger franchise (where you can rise to the middle), and serves as little more than an excuse to impart anecdotal wisdom (through songs) about love affairs with grills, or what to do when you start hallucinating about psychopathic french fries. It works to get through the show, though the real justification is in the way the cast interacts WITH the audience, most notably in their innovative finale, "Balls!!"

The playful simplicity of the project is reminiscent of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, but the lack of character development keeps the production too reliant on sheer energy. This is fast food theater that happens to be about fast food--but unless drinking Red Bull causes you to hallucinate a really good vocal a capella group, Minimum Wage is still worth watching.

Players Theater (115 MacDougal Street)
Performances: FRI, AUG 18 @ 7:30; WED, AUG 23 @ 4:30

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

FRINGE 2006: The October Sapphire

Review by Aaron Riccio

A depressed genie, three furies, a male nurse with a "lithsp," an overly cheerful and hyperactive social dunce, a murderous nephew with a penchant for arsenic and chocolate, a crazed old maid who pleasures and is pleasured by the lovesick monster in her closet, and yeah, the monster in the closet. Throw enough things at the wall, and something's bound to stick: welcome to the Fringe. Welcome also to The October Sapphire, a play (with music) by Nick Coyle that tries so hard to be eccentric that it forgets to be anything else (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

If you believe that going to the theater is first and foremost supposed to be shocking, that is, if you're of the camp that loves raunchy puppet humor, forced or not, this is a good start for you. If you're, say, a suicidal transvestite midget child actor who succumbs to the more is more philosophy, The October Sapphire has enough laughs and indomitable spirits to rise to the occasion. But as for that smidgen of meaning, that deeper sense that justifies the madness . . . I'm afraid this "gem," on closer inspection, is roughly the same kind you'd find in one of those twenty-five cent toy-vending machines. There's no plot, just a lot of whirligig running around for each new segment as characters randomly fall for one another or for their own delusions.

There are some standout performances from Hetty Marriott-Brittan, who plays the hallucinating matriarch of the house. While her character may be oblivious to everyone around her, the actress has such keen rhythm that she seems literally animated, as if she might, at any moment, burst out with an "Eh, what's up, Doc?" type moment. Simon Greiner, who provides the voice and mannerisms of his puppet, Pesto, could easily be in Avenue Q, and it's his irrepressible charm that gives the "real" actors such leeway. But the actors stuck playing the genie and his posse of Furies have nothing to use that leeway for and simply suck up stage time, and other actors, like Ben Harrison and Claudia O'Doherty grow more and more annoying as their caricatures balloon up and overwhelm them. Nick Coyle's script peters out too, caving in completely to over-the-top shock which is more like under-the-radar schlock.

Here's where the dialogue ultimately winds up: "I'll bet you've never woken up to think: have I just killed someone, or is this just another miscarriage?" No, I haven't. My question after the shock of The October Sapphire wears off: should I have?

The Harry DuJour Playhouse (466 Grand Street)
Two Performances Left: THUR 17 @ 6:45, FRI 18 @ 4:15

Monday, August 14, 2006

Review: Black Stuff, at the New York International Fringe Festival
by Eric Miles Glover

Black Stuff follows two regular black men who, denied entrance to the black section of heaven, share the experience of finding themselves in a culture that prizes false perceptions and re-presentations of black manhood in life and visual culture. Through use of satire, Black Stuff explores the negative and positive roles black men perform and raises important points about ignorance and racism in American culture. The production is far too tongue-in-cheek to make its statements about false identities valid (like Disposable Men), but Black Stuff is an engaging and winning multimedia examination of black men and popular culture.
Click here for information about the show.

Marco Million$ (based on lies) Review by Elizabeth Devlin

Combining film noir and vaudeville style with O’Neill’s original text, Marco Million$ provides a fast-paced, more or less cohesive evening of entertainment.

Waterwell’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s lesser-known work Marco Millions makes the material fresh and innovative, while bringing in the audience with contemporary references and the removal of a forth wall.

Combining film noir and vaudeville style with O’Neill’s original text (save some ethnic slurs and song and dance numbers), Marco Million$ provides fast-paced, more or less cohesive evening of entertainment. Using no set and 1920s fashion as costume, the troupe creates a world – multiple worlds out of blank space, aided only by excellent music, lighting, and their own ingenuity.

The best moments come from the more subtle touches of humor, such as when Marco and his beloved say good-bye, and the touching scene turns into a remark on teenage sexual frustration.

Marco Million$ is one of the best examples of an ensemble piece I’ve seen in quite a while, with the actors all playing numerous roles and seamlessly slipping into varied relationships with one another. It is also very obvious that all five talented actors are having a ball with this show, and take true delight in the quips and insults they hurl at each other in some scenes.

Marco Million$ takes great pains to point out certain themes in O’Neills original play, such as Marco’s self-absorbed obliviousness of other cultures, or the hyper-capitalism that seems to have fueled his journeys. (The song, “Money”, which consists of no lyrics other than that single word, is more a sledge hammer than a suggestion.) To take the work too seriously would be to demean it, and to applaud would be to ignore the actors’ plea to “just throw money.”

For more info about the show, running through August 26th:

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Marco Million$
by Aaron Riccio

The cast of Marco Million$ is hit-and-rarely-miss. Wallowing in flamboyance, they wend their way through so many accents, characters, and scenes that it’s hard to be less than impressed.

Arian Moayed and Tom Ridgley at play in the play Marco Million$
Ryan Jensen/Photographer

Marco Million$ (based on lies), Waterwell’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s little-known play, is a drama wrapped in slapstick surrounded by vaudeville drowned in cabaret. It is also an excellent example of how to refurbish and contemporize a stolid piece for a hipster crowd.

The plot hews closely to O’Neill’s, but the emphasis is now laugh-a-minute humor, a point occasionally taken too “seriously” by the troupe. Some jokes go a little too far, like in a poetry slam inspired by the far-more cultured II.iii of O’Neill’s play. (Black Jack the Vicious recounts his love for a bunkmate who “uncorks my scuppers/and pierces my billowing jib/8½ fathoms with his yardarm/I can feel it in my rib.”) Some don’t go far enough: two mock-1930s-film newscasts serve as summary of I.ii (Marco receives a papal commission to seek out Kublai Khan) and II.ii (Marco’s party prepares to escort Khan’s daughter, Kukachin, back to their Italy). Neither is particularly funny, and they serve only to point out how much of O’Neill’s work is riddled by exposition and superfluity. It’s not the sort of reminder you want in an otherwise-upbeat modernization.

Luckily, the players of Marco Million$ are hit-and-rarely-miss. Wallowing in flamboyance (especially Kevin Townley), they wend their way through so many accents, characters, and scenes that it’s hard to be less than impressed. Though the production is at heart quite sophomoric, it has such indefatigable energy that the show remains constantly captivating. Any unevenness can be attributed to the fact that all five cast members contributed to the script, and more so to the unevenness of O’Neill’s own script, which, in epic tedium, spans twenty years. In Waterwell’s hands, the play becomes such fun that we don’t mind that these good ol’ boys can’t sing in harmony, or that their waltz is a bit clumsy. Their instinct and rhythm is spot on (so is their tango). The scope is ambitious enough to make scenes good even when they’re not, and shining stars like Rodney Gardner, who plays a Mafioso Kublai Khan, eclipse the rough spots with their brilliance.

As for stars, director/actor/writer Tom Ridgley is a supernova. The troupe jests about the difficulty of transitions, but under Mr. Ridgley’s eye, they’re just another opportunity for a jest. Stale blocking? Now you jest. From Matrix-styled shifts in camera aboard a merchant ship to umbrella-fashioned boats to the piquant, zesty lighting (Stacey Boggs’s design), Mr. Ridgley keeps us rapt for a hundred minutes straight.

Marco Million$ also ends up a surprisingly faithful staging of O’Neill’s work. For all the clever emendations and boffo riffs, the closing minutes get to the heart of the story: greed wins and love suffers when the powerful face the emotionless. With the bluesy gospel finale’s condemnation of “the avaricious [who] relish in good fortune” we are reminded one final time not to applaud for Mr. Polo: “just throw money.” That cool critique of capitalism’s emotionless glamour is no joke.

[Aaron Riccio]

The Lion @ Theater Row (410 West 42nd)
August 4-26; Monday, Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00
Tickets (212-279-4200): $35.00

Friday, August 11, 2006

Anais Nin – One of Her Lives by Nancy Vitale

Anais Nin, one of the most enigmatic writers of the twentieth century, epitomized the "feminine mystique" in her work. But to penetrate the personal mystery of the prolific diarist, writer/director Wendy Beckett attempts with varying success to uncover the drama that provoked Nin's musings. In an elegantly understated production of an overwritten text, Anais Nin – One of Her Lives takes us into the exciting world out of which some of the century's most provocative writing about sexuality sprang.

Beckett approaches the woman who captured the imagination and ignited the libidos of so many readers through an appropriately Freudian lens. In the opening dreamlike moment, gaudily accented by Robin A. Paterson's lighting, young Anais – the lovely Angela Christian – clings to the memory of a father who abandoned her, sparking an imaginative fire in the young artist. Her unresolved relationship with her father, as illusive as a god to her, becomes the key to unlocking her troubled development throughout the play.

When next we meet Anais, she is lecturing amidst the artistic and ideological decadence of 1930s Paris. She expresses her need to create uniquely female work and encourages the female artist to "find her own language, articulate her own feelings, discover her own perceptions" as she strives to do. In attendance is Henry Miller, played with sexy bravado by David Bishins, who instantly captures Anais' interest with his unapologetically abrasive manner. "Delicacy," he temptingly growls at her, "meet violence."

Although Henry moves Anais, it is his constant obsession and wife June, saucily captured by the statuesque Alysia Reiner, who undermines the writers' platonic bond. She quickly claims Anais as her lover and creates a predictable emotional ménage-a-trois.

Tortured by her conflicting passions and unable to find consolation in her writing, Anais turns to psychoanalysis from Dr. Rank, the self-consciously stiff Rocco Sisto, who also doubles in the role of deadbeat dad. Her sessions with the doctor provoke a more dangerous fantasy of her father, after which Anais exorcises him from her psyche like a demon and is able to physically consummate her relationship with Henry.

Henry's love for Anais suffocates June, and she returns to New York, but Anais, too, feels the pressure of Henry's need to possess her. Determined to focus on her "woman's work" she separates herself from Henry. But Beckett's ending is just a little too neat.

Beckett's inability to reconcile the sloppiness of life with the precision of art expresses the attraction audiences have to Nin's work. But fitting such goals into a play presents a dramatic challenge. The moments that best capture the spirit of Nin's work by attempting to directly express her feelings – i.e., those that take place in Dr. Rank's office – are the most uninteresting dramatically and are painfully overwritten. Those that are the most active, including the two very well-staged sex scenes, pull the audience away from the focus of the piece.

Ultimately Beckett presents an unfocused portrait of a budding artist, who takes the long path filled with desire, desolation and self-destruction to create the work that will bring her the most satisfaction.

Anais Nin – One of Her Lives
Presented by Pascal Productions
Theatre Row, Beckett Theatre
August 5th – 26th nin.htm

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Everythings Turning Into Beautiful
by Aaron Riccio

She's cute and passive, he's endearing and seductive, but there's a lack of chemistry . . . until the music forces them onto the same page. But sadly, this isn't a CD review.

Meet the next genre of theater: the jukebox drama. In The New Group’s new production Everythings Turning Into Beautiful, it’s Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s dialogue that seems cheesy and the songs by Jimmie James that get to the heart of things. The two actors—Daphne Rubin-Vega and Malik Yoba—also seem more at ease when singing. That comes as no surprise, considering that Rubin-Vega’s claim to fame was originating the role of Mimi in Rent and that Yoba’s attempts to tone down his character mask his talent, something he doesn’t have to worry about when “performing.” Without the music, this would just be an average play about average life—with the music, it is able to liven the tedium long enough to reach the more engrossing second act.

Drama needs to establish character and circumstance through action, and barring the music, the first act of Everythings Turning Into Beautiful has none. Both Yoba and Rubin-Vega seem sleepy for the first twenty minutes, and this unfortunately shades a lot of the show with dull exposition and interesting stories that don’t have much heart behind them. For instance, Yoba’s character, Sam, has just walked from Washington Heights to his songwriting partner’s Chelsea loft, arriving at two in the morning on Christmas Eve. His explanation, lackadaisically delivered, is that he was so depressed that he wanted to give God the opportunity to hit him with a stray bullet or a drunkenly driven car. In the other corner, Brenda is a lonesome, manic woman, driven to seclusion by her secret fears. Interesting as these circumstances are, unless the characters come out swinging, it’s just a lot of talk. She’s cute and passive, he’s endearing and seductive, and there’s an utter lack of chemistry . . . until the music. But this isn’t a CD review.

I call this a jukebox drama because the script seems written to provide the back-story for the songs, not the other way around. There are a few exceptions, like the song “Seu Toda Bom,” which is just an upbeat shift between spats, but the play generally serves as liner notes for the cryptic poetry of songs like “Windows” or “A Safe Place.” Not that the songs are all mysterious—the headliner, “Everything, Too” speaks for itself. I’m just not convinced that the construction of Everythings Turning Into Beautiful is a good thing: it relies far too heavily on the gimmick of song, and even more heavily on the audience’s patience. The playwright’s mix of clever kitsch and natural blather won’t grab your attention unless you go for lines like “I want the cake, and to eat it, and not get fat” or “I wish I were passionate enough about life to want to die.” And though Rubin-Vega and Yoba both grow more and more into their roles as the play continues, the question persists of whether or not there was enough there to begin with.

Everythings Turning Into Beautiful isn’t turning anywhere: it’s a one-note song that’s simply missing a hook.

[Aaron Riccio]

Photo/Carol Rosegg
Acorn Theater (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $50.00
Performances: Monday-Saturday @ 8:00 & Saturday @ 2:00