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.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Burial at Thebes

Exploring current political issues through an ancient lens, The Eleventh Hour Theater Company presents a topical but tepid production of Seamus Heaney's translation of Sophocles' Antigone, entitled The Burial at Thebes.

Frank Anderson as Creon, surrounded by members of the Chorus.

Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Reviewed by Ilena George

The question of what it means to be a patriot during wartime has become increasingly relevant to our society. Seamus Heaney's new translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, explores this question, and works to sound out the resonance and parallels between the current American political landscape and King Creon's dictum of either obeying his mandates or being branded a traitor to Thebes. Director Alexander Harrington takes some risks in his interpretation of the ancient story, but it is Heaney's translation that stands out most notably in this otherwise uneven production.

Antigone, the doomed-since-birth daughter of Oedipus' accidental incest with his mother, insists on burying her brother Polyneices, killed while battling the city of Thebes. King Creon has declared Polyneices to be an enemy of the city, unworthy of burial, and Antigone refuses to accept this; she buries her brother and is buried alive as punishment for defying the king. Standout performances from Frank Anderson as Creon and Jessica Crandall as Antigone pit the two main characters against each other as worthy adversaries: Antigone has youth and religious conviction on her side while Creon relies on his position as all-powerful ruler. Antigone is an easy character to fall for, and despite Creon's poor rationale for his decisions, he still evokes pity as an old, stubbornly dogmatic man watching all he's worked and stood for ripped from him by a young girl.

Heaney’s poet’s eye provides a graceful lyricism to his translation that alternates between poetic description and accessible idiomatic speech. His interpretations of the choral sections were powerful when half-spoken and half-sung by the eleven members of the chorus; the words seemed meant for song. Except often the chorus' singing was underscored by Carman Moore's oddly upbeat-sounding music, which jarred with the tragic events the chorus described and lessened the words' impact. Overall, the play lacked cohesiveness; the chorus switched from its operatic recitations to different styles—including a section styled after spoken-word and one with a rhythm that seemed more appropriate for ballroom dance—that abutted each other and felt awkward and inconsistent. This was just one rough edge to the production; the staging was at times gauche—speeches delivered with the actor's back to the audience, chorus members placed in positions that blocked the audience's view of the stage—and it wasn't just Moore's music that was inconsistent in tone. The performances of the rest of the cast were not on the same level as the leads, both in terms of skill and in the style of delivery.

The bare-bones set and costumes, including cheekbone-highlighting face paint eerily reminiscent of death masks, were simple but effective, allowing Heaney's translation to remain the real focus of the show. For hardcore aficionados of the classics, that alone may make this production worthwhile. For those less devoted to ancient drama, a trip to Barnes and Nobles to browse Heaney's translation may suffice.

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The Burial at Thebes, translated by Seamus Heaney,
directed by Alexander Harrington.
January 25 - February 11, 2007
La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theatre), 74A East Fourth Street
Thursday through Sunday at 8:00 pm plus Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm.
Tickets: $18, Box Office (212) 475-7710. Online ticketing available at
www.lamama.org

The Mammy Project

This critical and, at times, educational jaunt through the past 140 years of historical and pop culture representation of the African American woman is marred by the writer's need to lighten the mood and shock the audience. This one woman show which was created out of the desire to, in the artists words, "show my abilities and talents beyond what the industry could fathom," proves that even the most personal project doesn't spell success.
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Reviewed by Kristyn R Smith

The Mammy Project attempts a difficult mission in its short hour-long running time. The goal- to cultivate a discussion of the stereotypes that have plagued African American people from the days of slavery, and thereby alter our perceptions - is not consistently effective. Reasons include the short-scene method used for covering such a vast time span, as well as the clown-y shock-value style acting. The solo performance by Michelle Matlock, who is also the writer/creator, has moments of poignancy. Her strengths, and in turn, the piece's strengths, derive from the historic creation of Aunt Jemima and the woman who was the first to bring this “larger than life” character to the world, Nancy Green. Character development here is minimal, as Matlock seems intent on portraying as many different people as she can, story notwithstanding. Even then, the speech excerpts from the likes of Booker T. Washington and Fredrick Douglas are intriguing. If only these dramatic vignettes weren’t interspersed - interrupted - by poorly executed mime, prat falls, obscenities, and sexual innuendo. One glance at the publicity poster below says it all.

I can appreciate the message that this work tries to get across. It is important to tear down walls built by stereotypes. Unfortunately, this mission derails through missteps inherent in the writer-performer relationship. For Michelle Matlock composing and starring in her own show is an excellent way to showcase her skills, but considering what she brings to the table, and the magnitude of her project, it's a challenge indeed to convince her audience of the seriousness of her mission.
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The Mammy Project is playing in repertory at
The American Theatre of Actors
314 West 54th Street
Now through February 10, 2007
Tickets are $18

Silence















(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)
Silence
by Moira Buffini
Dir. by Suzanne Agins
The Roundtable Ensemble
American Theatre of Actors, 314 W 54th St

A tale of medieval corruption, brutality and mysticism by Moira Buffini, Silence is a problem play: interesting material but mishandled. It would be a hard production to pull off on any level and this particular production has it’s moments, but never seems up to speed.

Running in rep with the Taming of the Shrew and a one woman show, the Mammy Project, and sharing similar themes, Silence deals with issues of gender, power, identity, and transformation in Dark Age England. In particular, the play concentrates on the suppression of distinct social sectors- the female sex, servant class, and clergy- with obvious moral lessons for the modern audience.

The plot follows French princess Ymma (Kelly Hutchinson), sent to England in punishment for her wild-ways, where, at the mercy of King Ethelred (played skillfully with growing power and blood lust by Joe Plummer) she is married to an adolescent Duke of Cumbria- the eponymous Viking boy “Silence” (Makela Spielman).

Following a treasonous incident, Ymma’s court, including a patient handmaid (Helen Coxe), fumbling priest (Greg Hildreth) and self-proclaimed clairvoyant guard (Chris Kipiniak), flee to the north pursued by the hot-headed King. It is along this journey that the play looses momentum, puttering into stagnant direct address. A major fault of the play in my opinion, these spoken narratives hinder the play’s dramatic integrity, effectively spoon feeding the plot, with no room remaining to decipher dialogue and actions. The sheer size of the space itself renders the play all the more unsubstantial, swallowing the modest set and pondering characters.

Still, the actors did their best to serve the script, with the comedic Shakespearian rendering of “Roger the priest” by Hildrith and macho, divinely inspired characterization of “Eadric, the king’s man” by Kipiniak adding much needed seasoning. All in all the production was well intentioned and the play is interesting conceptually, but both seem in need of guts and some good old medieval gumption.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Vertical Hour

Bill Nighy's stage prowess and idiosyncrasies run rings around Julianne Moore in David Hare's new timely, politically-driven drama. Unfortunately, even Bill's magnetic performance is unable to stay the inevitable boredom that seeps in from watching all politics with few and far theatrics in between.

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Reviewed by Cindy Pierre


David Hare is no fool. His ability to chew on foreign policies and the ramifications of capitalism is impressive. The fact that he can package his political awareness in a two-hour drama is admirable, but the feat isn't flawless in The Vertical Hour. In it, Hare foregoes entertainment for intellect with near snooze-inducing consequences.

Julianne Moore is insecure in the role of Nadia Blye, an ex-foreign correspondent who's not quite ready to retire her ideals as a Yale Professor. She finds love with Philip (a watchable Andrew Scott), a british physical therapist with a quiet anguish tied to his n'er do well, ex-physician father, Oliver (Bill Nighy). Philosophies clash when Philip takes his girlfriend to the Welsh border to meet him.

Bill Nighy outshines all when he enters the stage. Most popular for inhabiting the role of Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest, he bears no facade when portraying the estranged father, living in solitude. He is comfortable in his lovable mannerisms as he challenges Moore in speech and in presence. He shreds through his technique whereas Moore, who is usually sensational, forgets hers. But the credit should also go to Hare for writing such a wonderful role. The best idioms and desire for debate belong to Oliver. He may irritate you with his need to know the specifics about everything, but he is a great, unique character.

In terms of structure, the monologues for each actor are awkward, and they all flail in the pursuit of substance. Seemingly a window into their intentions, I was left trying to spit-shine their meanings. Scott Pask's set design is lush and realistic, complete with a warm, sprawling tree. He makes clever use of the spacious stage, which allows for impeccable scene changes. The pace of the narrative vacillates, often lulling with Moore's distracting inability to connect with the characters or the audience.

With witty and informed dialogue, The Vertical Hour is a nice stroll down government lane. The British perspective of US-Iraq relations delivered by a quirky character is especially interesting. If only Hare had created a drama that was less like C-Span, and more like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Still, for political enthusiasts, this is a good one.
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Written by David Hare. Directed by Sam Mendes. Set Design by Scott Pask.
Show Dates:Performances from 09 Nov 2006 Opening 30 Nov 2006 Closing 01 Apr 2007 Performance Schedule: Tuesday - Saturday @8pm Wednesday and Saturday @2pm Sunday @3pm Tickets: Pricing: $76.25 - $96.25 Show Run Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission Theatre Information: Music Box Theatre 239 West 45th Street New York, NY 10036

SILENCE

The Vikings are running! The Vikings are running! Shenanigans abound in this fast-paced, silly "chase and run" comedy that has a motley crew of people fleeing from King Ethelred's wrath and rule. A coming of age tale with a dark ages backdrop, Silence delves into topics such as paganism, brutality, Christianity, class distinction and much more with verve.

(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)



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Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

You don't need to know much about Viking history or norse mythology to understand Moira Buffini's drama, but that knowledge may enhance your experience. Otherwise, what you are left with is an extremely talky piece whose characters treat emotion as if it were an afterthought. The main perpetrator, Kelly Hutchinson's French princess Ymma, barrels through her dialogue with nary a thought for depth or fiestiness, traits that the script calls for her to embody. With the exception of a delightful Roger, played by Greg Hildreth (a young Vincent D'Onofrio look-alike), a deliciously brooding Eadric, personified by Chris Kipiniak, and Joe Plummer's hammy King Ethelred, Silence's actors are muted in more ways than the playwright intended.

Fortunately, Buffini has a nice plot soup to fall back in. Between the rather keen observations made on religion, royalty, and gender roles, there are enough dramatic twists to propel the story forward even if they're not always congruent. Color it long and comprehensive, but I wouldn't color it dull.

Some of the topics merely broached in Silence should have better representation. The Vikings, exemplified only by a 14-year old, should have a presence that is much more barbaric. And King Ethelred's hokey outbursts are not sufficient to give the illusion of a tyranny. The element of danger needs to be revamped. With the potential to be so explosive, the audience is only given a glimpse of these worlds where there should be a tour.

Because there is often dual-action on stage, the transition from one scene to the next could be more distinct. The use of a two-tiered stage, however, is very effective in communicating Ethelred's grandeur and denoting a different environment.

The light cues are sluggish, and the score is questionable for the era and narrative arc. The set pieces are beautiful, but they should be more rustic. They are too contemporary and refined for the boorish environment that the characters are in.

Silence
may speak volumes, but much of its content is either intellectual or amusing. Despite some predictability and re-heated themes, it does tackle many of the issues that consistently trouble human nature. Perhaps a light-hearted approach is a great way for the audience to assimilate them.
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Written by Moira Buffini, and directed by Suzanne Agins. SILENCE plays Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through Sunday, February 10. American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street. TICKETS: $18 212-352-3101

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gutenberg! The Musical!

(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)

Hysterical, sharp, and extremely smart, Gutenberg! The Musical! is one of the best shows off-Broadway this season. Whether you are proficient in musical theater, or going to your first theatrical experience, this show does not fail to entertain. Featuring exceptional writing by Scott Brown and Anthony King, and spot-on direction by Alex Timbers, this musical is definitely not to be missed.

Gutenberg! The Musical! revolves around Bud Davenport and Doug Simon, spectacularly played by Christopher Fitzgerald and Jeremy Shamos, who are trying to get their musical produced on Broadway. To do so, they decide to act out their musical by playing all the characters, distinguished only by the names printed on the baseball caps they wear. Early on, Bud and Doug admit that there is not much information on Johann Gutenberg, the creator of the printing press, so their musical is based on events that could have occurred. They proceed to perform a musical filled with catchy music, witty lyrics, and very entertaining staging. The show openly acknowledges itself as a musical by using numerous theatrical devices, and the audience is made to feel like they are being let in on a very exciting secret; a secret they cannot wait to spill.

Gutenberg! The Musical! is currently playing at the Actors’ Playhouse; 100 7th Avenue South, NY, NY

NTC Editor AARON RICCIO on This Weekend's
THEATER TALK on CUNY TV

New Theater Corps' Editor-in-Chief AARON RICCIO is one of the guests, Friday night on THEATER TALK. He joins producer MARK RUSSELL to discuss the UNDER THE RADAR Festival, curated by Russell and now at The Public Theater.

Also, on the show, a new interview with the outspoken Broadway legend ELAINE STRITCH, taped in her suite at the Carlyle Hotel. She weighs in about the new production of COMPANY, Christine Ebersole in GREY GARDENS (see NTC preview below), MOTHER COURAGE and much more.

The show will debut Friday, January 26 on Thirteen/PBS in NYC.

It repeats on CUNY TV in NYC, Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8:30 PM, Sunday, Feb. 4 at 12:30 PM; Monday, Feb. 5 at 7:30 AM, 1:30 PM and 7:30 PM.

You can also view the Russell/Riccio interview here on the blog, below.

The Taming of the Shrew

Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, “The Taming of the Shrew” relies on the pairings of so-wrong-they’re-right couples and a web of mistaken identity. The Roundtable Ensemble ups the confusion, but also the laughs in its small-cast, 90-minute version of "The Taming of the Shrew,” now playing at the American Theatre of Actors.


Left to right: JONATHAN KELLS PHILLIPS, TOM BUTLER, ARTHUR AULISI (in pink dress in background), and PAUL WHITTHORNE in The Roundtable Ensemble production of "The Taming of the Shrew," directed by Andrew Grosso. Photo credit: JIM BALDASSARE

(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)

Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke

The actors putting on this “Shrew” are variety players in a USO show who pass the time backstage playing cards and annoying each other with their warm-ups until a drunk (Arthur Aulisi) stumbles in. They throw him in a robe, start calling him “Lord” and plant him in the front row of the audience for the duration – or at least until he makes his own stage debut in the final act. Complicit in the duplicity, the audience is roped along into the show, with six actors tackling 23 parts (with the help of identifying props and accents).

It makes sense that for the play-within-a-play to work, there has to be some doubling. And the double casting sets up some interesting juxtapositions: If the same actor (in this case Alex Smith) plays Bianca’s father Baptista and her eventually successful suitor, Lucentio, then her eventual choice of him is both natural – after all, it’s a type she knows and of which he must approve – and slightly alarming, in its confirmation of Baptista’s power over her. (She couldn’t have made it work with the suitor Gremio, whose part actress Autumn Dornfeld takes with a pair of thick glasses and an old man’s affect.)

But the most surprising change about the Roundtable’s adaptation is the male player who takes the role of Katarina – or is forced into it, having assigned all the other parts. Once we’ve gotten over actor Paul Whitthorne’s mustache and his player’s disdain for the role, it presents us with a series of questions about the shrew’s own nature. Having seen her state, why does Petruchio (the swaggering Tom Butler) continue to pursue her? Is “shrewish” just a synonym for “too much like a man?” (Whitthorne drapes himself with a blue checked apron but makes no pretense of raising his voice to play her, foregrounding the difference.)

And it changes the titular taming: With a man in Katarina’s shoes, the struggle between her and Petruchio takes on an erotic subtext which was present in the original play when all the parts were played by men, but which our modern castings have allowed us to forget. Instead of being physically overpowered by him, the implication is that she chooses to submit. There is no pretense at unending love here: Katarina’s final speech to her fellow wives seems like a performance, rather than a lecture, and is thus easier to swallow.

In the interest of time, much of Bianca’s own courting is cut out, though B. Brian Argotsinger as Tranio, Lucentio's loyal servant who disguises himself as a suitor, stands out. But the play ends on an unresolved chord, despite the double wedding; we’re left pondering Butler’s rendition of “You Belong To Me” and wondering how much truth there is in it for Baptista’s daughters.


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Roundtable Ensemble presents The Taming of the Shrew
American Theater of Actors, Chernuchin Theatre (314 West 54th Street)
Tickets (212-696-6699): $18/ $15 students (via Theatermania)
Performances: Wed, Fri, Sun @ 8pm; Sat @ 3pm
For more information, visit the Roundtable's Website.

Silence

Looking for something to talk about? Silence, a contemporary comedy set in the unflinchingly serious Dark Ages, offers plenty of solid observations on heathens, religious woes, sexual ambiguity, and tyranny. And for the first two acts of the production, it does so with panache and charm; not that the final act's bad, it's just not as amusing.

Left to right: CHRIS KIPINIAK, HELEN COXE,
GREG HILDRETH, and KELLY HUTCHINSON in "Silence."
Photo/Jim Baldassare.

(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The best part about Silence is that nobody ever shuts up. Whether speaking in a scene or narrating a series of compressed events, the show hurtles forward, filled with a melange of amusing topics and a series of surprising twists. Playwright Moira Buffini writes and "mans" a tight ship (that's a joke on the gender reversals of the play), the only trouble is that by the third act, she's strangled most of the comedy from this play, leaving us dangling in the Dark Ages without a light. But up until that point, you can think of this as an erudite and medieval Road Trip: a cast of five entertaining characters, each with their own secret baggage, flee Christian Canterbury for heathen Cumbria, crossing the open road to do so. A sixth character, a comic and childish tyrant king (like Richard Lewis in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, only darker) pursues them, intent on reclaiming what they have stolen from him.

I'm sorry. The best part about Silence are these characters, without whom there would hardly be a need to shut up. There's an agoraphobic priest, torn between his fears of a godless sky and his growing love for a stern but kind maid, servant to a blessed woman who is cursed with fits of madness, and who shows respect and compassion only to the young boy she is wed to, a boy who is not so much a man as something else entirely, and who has fallen in love with their barbarian escort, a man who has taken enough magic mushrooms to believe he can mindspeak with his companions. Phew! One can hardly shut up about them.

Director Suzanne Agins has managed to compress all this far more succinctly than I, although to be fair, she's got two hours, and Moira Buffini's script is far from complicated. When she uses poetic expressions, they are often debated or appear as confessional narratives, ala The Real World, devoid of subtext or secrecy. To wit, the two manage to build suspense even with the whole second act confined to a wagon (a marvelous feat of physicality), and an unexpected dream sequence and surprisingly dramatic "mushroom" scene keep the pacing from being predictable.

The show continues to build, and the climax is as striking as the plot (though not as satisfying). Because of all this action, the jolting transitions between our travelers and their pursuing king aren't so bad, and though the musical selections clash with the show, they do manage to elicit chuckles from the crowd. Silence isn't golden, but it's a clever play that's worth talking about.

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Roundtable Ensemble presents Silence
American Theater of Actors (314 West 54th Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday @ 8; Sunday @ 3

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Gutenberg! The Musical!

Shameless jokes at the industry's expense, all delivered with the wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm of the childlike Bud Davenport and Doug Simon: welcome to Gutenberg! The Musical!, a historical fiction riffing off the "adventures" of the printing press' inventor, Johannes. And, thanks to the fantastic performances, you don't have to be able to read to enjoy it!

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

If you get to Carnegie Hall with practice, you get to Broadway with lasers, a million drunks, and the Holocaust (a show must have gravitas). Gutenberg! The Musical! isn't quite there yet; you see, Bud Davenport and Doug Simon (Christopher Fitzgerald and Jeremy Shamos) have this really exciting musical in their heads, but until a Broadway producer (perhaps the person sitting next to you) picks up their show, they'll have to do it all themselves. That's okay! Bud and Doug have a secret weapon: miles and miles of heart. And if you come to see their "staged reading," you'll marvel at how two talented actors can take on thirty characters, three big chorus numbers, and a fabulous kickline. Forget a shoestring budget: these two are going barefoot for the love of theater, and if you love watching the industry get slammed or want to see a musical dissected, this is absolutely the show for you.

For everybody else: seriously, what's not to love about two good-natured guys singing charm songs as vague and irrelevant as "Biscuits," songs as campy as "Haunted German Wood," or ballads as ridiculous as "Tomorrow is Today"? Fitzgerald and Shamos approach the work with such earnestness, from the bulging eyes of astonishment to the giddy squeals of excitement, that it would take a man far colder than the villainous (and eponymous) Monk to hate this show. Plus, the script was written (and originally performed) by two members of Upright Citizen's Bridgade (Scott Brown and Anthony King), so not a moment goes by that isn't fresh with humor. The music is clever and endearing, and the book is filled with hysterical truisms: "A metaphor is when you say one thing and mean another, but you're not lying" and "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

If characters are your thing, Fitzgerald and Shamos have that covered too. Fitzgerald takes on characters as diverse as the ingenue Helvetica or the sinister Monk, along with all the random characters in between (like Drunk #2 or the Anti-Semitic Flower Girl). Shamos, as the shameless self-promoter Gutenberg, is also all over the place, taking on the roles of Young Monk and Old Black Narrator, just to name a few. They do all this while still playing the overarching roles of Bud and Doug, and it's as smooth as a Dead Child's bum.

There may not be a single true thing said about Gutenberg, but Gutenberg! The Musical! can do no wrong. Like stage adaptations of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical! or the recent, bloody funny Evil Dead: The Musical, this is a show that doesn't just earn its two exclamation points: it exclaims them, too. Be amused, be very amused.

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Actor's Playhouse Theater (100 7th Avenue South)
Tickets (212-239-6200): $25.00-50.00
Tuesday-Friday @ 8:00; Saturday @ 7 & 10; Sunday @ 3 & 7

Pinkalicious

An enjoyable musical romp with rose-colored glasses for all, Pinkalicious is a sweet slice of children’s theater even a cold, childless adult can digest.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss


When I was five years old, my mother took me to see my first piece of theater, Into the Woods. I was instantly transfixed by the story unfolding before me, the kings, queens, and assorted bread-bakers of my childhood fairy tales not only alive and well, but dancing and singing just yards away from me. I was amazed. And then, in the second act, when the Baker’s Wife ends up having sexual relations with Cinderella’s Prince, when the a cawing flock of birds peck out the stepsisters eyes until blood runs out down their gory faces, when Rapunzel is crushed to death by the terrifying Giantess – well, by the time the curtain fell, I was in need of therapy for years to come.

Thank goodness for Pinkalicious (playing at Vital Theater through February 25th). This good-natured, whimsical and death-devoid children’s show helped me have a breakthrough – here was the musical I should have been taken to all those years ago.

Based on Elizabeth and Victoria Kann’s children’s book of the same name, Pinkalicious tells the story of a young girl named Pinkalicious Pinkerton (played by the vocally-flat but adorably forgivable Meg Phillips), her overtaxed mom and dad (Kristina Wilson and Korie Blossey, respectively), and her attention-starved and subtly gender-bending brother Peter (Alan Houser). While Mrs. Pinkerton is absorbed in obsessive dusting and compulsive baking, Pinkalicious drops the entire bottle of “pink” into the cupcake batter, creating delicious – though not so nutritious – magic magenta treats. Pinkalicious eats one too many of these rose-hued sweets and wakes up the next morning having mutated into a striking shade of pink. Musical mayhem ensues.

The production is modest – staged in a small theater up on the fourth floor of the Vital building, the show uses ingenious stage tricks to open up the space and trigger the audience’s imagination. Four pink sparkling batons and some good choreography render a bicycle built for four out of thin air. A forbidden midnight snack becomes a journey through animated furniture and dancing cupcakes, thanks to smart set design and blocking. These production decisions are strikingly uncomplicated, but somehow, especially in the late-night kitchen scene, they pulled me back into that eerie and magical mindset of childhood – a mindset where the world can shift into (and back from) that of fairy tales in the blink of an eye.

Taking off the rose-colored glasses, though, the show has its flaws. The singing was simply not up to par, with the exception of the strong-voiced and charismatic Molly Gillman as Dr. Wink and Allison. The lyrics were uneven, at times smart enough to leave even the most senior audience member tickled pink, but just as often forgettable and uninteresting. Also, despite brilliant staging, the show’s dance choreography felt restrained – as if the actors were afraid to fully fill the space, as if the stage was already far too packed with pink to allow the dancers adequate room. Still, the kids watching the show were more than happy to overlook all these problems. The audience, at least half children and at least 90% female, seemed transfixed by the pink parade onstage. I expected children’s theater to be more about the children than the theater, with wails and whines from the seats trumping any scripted song or dance, but during Pinkalicious, even the youngest viewers were calm, quiet and well-behaved. If only Pinkalicious could be performed on airplanes…

Overall, the show was an enjoyable, uplifting experience, and even without a single child in tow, I found myself having a great time at the theater. The Kann sisters, with the help of lyricist John Gregor, told a surprisingly complex and satisfying story. Every character in this play had his or her own arc. From Pete’s wish to finally be seen as the pink-loving boy he truly is, to Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton’s struggle to keep their marriage fun, to Dr. Wink’s near fetish-level of excitement for studying the rare disease Pinkititis, everyone onstage has their own story to tell. It’s wonderful to see children’s theater meet the standards we use to judge adult productions. In that respect, Pinkalicious is, indeed, in the pink.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I’m not saying discard Hamlet and pick up pink. We all need our Into the Woods now and again – we need our Uncle Vanya, our Ghosts and our Long Day’s Journey into Night – but on a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a cold snap in the most cynical city in America, it’s nice to have a little taste of Pinkalicous, too. At the very least, it’s something to talk to the shrink about come Monday…

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Vital Children's Theater (2162 Broadway at 76th Street, 4th Floor)
Tickets (212-352-3101 or www.theatermania.com): $18 general, $14 workshop admission
Performances: Saturdays and Sundays at 11 am and 1pm, January 13th through February 25th
For more information on the production or workshops, visit www.vitaltheater.com.

The Brothers Size

Three Yale grad actors emote and sing their way through this gripping tale of brotherhood set in pre-storm Louisiana to west-african rhythms and framework.



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Reviewed by Cindy Pierre


The prep work isn't hidden in Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brothers Size. Legs splayed and arms akimbo, physical actors Brian Tyree Henry (Oshoosi Size), Gilbert Owuor (Ogun Size), and Elliot Villar (Elegba) are all on display for the audience to see them breathe, motion, and think their way into the drama right up to the opening sequence. It is a welcome sight, one that is coated with warmth and that creates a pathway to the fundamentals of acting. We are instantly part of their community.

A cadence of drums ushers in Oshoosi, recent parolee, and brother Ogun, car mechanic. There is immediate friction as they embody the Spirits of the Wanderer and Iron, respectively. A circle of sand is drawn to denote the stage area, an earthy symbol that seems to have both practical and abstract significance. It seems to function as both a boundary and a dreamcatcher that lets good dreams out, rather than keep them in. The good dreams are Oshoosi's, freshly spit out of the Penitentiary with the belief that freedom and reuniting with Ogun are superlative. But bad dreams also creep in. Ogun, whose body is wracked with insomnia and restlessness, teeters between strength and weakness when his aversion towards Elegba, Oshoosi's friend from the Pen, is solidified by a nightmare. For Oshoosi, Elegba's presence is familial, once serving as the backup brother figure that he so desperately needed while imprisoned. But as Ogun muses, "You don't make no friends in the Pen."

Oshoosi and Ogun are a modern-day Cain and Abel, where the sacrifices are offered up to each other, rather than to God. The source of their conflict is synonymous with what binds them: an unrelenting love for each other that is threatened by lofty expectations. Henry's Oshoosi is carefree and spirit-filled to Owuor's tense and spiritless Ogun. They lobby monologues back and forth to each other like seasoned pros, replete with focus and intensity. Despite muted body language during these monologues and direction that often creates inexplicable, great physical distance between them, these two actors have chemistry even when their characters do not.

Villar's Elegba, the purported evildoer of the play, brings levity to an otherwise dense piece. His predator is likable even during his counterfeit moments with Oshoosi. McCraney cleverly re-enacts these moments between Oshoosi and Ogun, allowing us a glimpse of real sibling tenderness and pointing out the pitfalls of transference.

McCraney uses third-person narrative generously, unfolding the rudimentary components of a myth and the charm of camp-fire storytelling within a modern-day narrative. It is amusing and fresh at first, but quickly loses its weight. Some of the phrases and actions seem to be arbitrarily chosen in the third-person, with no distinction over the rest.

The musical numbers are well-choreographed and appreciated, particularly since the majority of the percussion is done by the actors themselves. These are hard-working actors, multi-talented with techniques that are bred with training.

The Brothers Size is an allegory for lost time and regret. It is an ardent celebration of tradition with a loose structure that seats us inside the action. It is cerebral, spiritual, and innovative. If you're looking for a nice departure from the standard theatrical form, you'll find it here, beautiful in its vibrations and timbre.
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Part of the Under the Radar Festival. Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Directed by Tea Alagic (New York). Running Time: 90 minutes. The Public Theater: 425 Lafayette Street. $15 Tickets: publictheater.org or 212-967-7555. Through January 28th.

A Beautiful View

Daniel MacIvor's theatrical restraint and minimalism accentuates the essence of true playwriting: A Beautiful View is first and foremost a story, and everything else falls into place behind it.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 1/26/07)

Crickets chirp. Lights come up slow to reveal a stereo. A woman enters in a blue windbreaker. She leaves. Another woman enters in a red windbreaker. She leaves. The stage palpitates with unspoken possibilities. The crickets chirp. The two come back on stage with chairs. "They're going to think you don't like me," says one of the two, calling the other out on the way she's shifted her chair so that it faces away from her. The fragile illusion breaks, and one of the two presses the stop button on the stereo. The crickets stop. The play has already begun.

Daniel MacIvor is a brilliant playwright in this regard: his plays blur the line between performance and scene, and his direction of A Beautiful View simplifies matters even more by reducing the set to a series of props: a stereo, a plastic tree, a tent, and two folding chairs. Nothing happens on that set that isn't important or essential, and in fact whole years--two lifetimes--are compressed into an eighty minute work. The plot is rich in text and subtext too, especially with the actors disagreeing on the narration of the story, or with the way phrases recur and loop around in both the foreground of the show and the meaty scenes. But the reason I highlight the opening of the play is that it creates a mise en scene that drives everything else: by the end of this show, these two fabulous actors, Tracy Wright and Caroline Gillis, are left with nothing to hide behind.

The story resembles that of Brokeback Mountain, in that there are two people who fall in love, only to repress it for thirty years, meeting occasionally and fighting with themselves and each other to accept what is, for better or worse, a better self. The pacing is steady, but by jumping into the key scenes, it seems a lot faster than it is. The natural performances also belie the amount of ground covered: they speak so well that watching the show is like sitting at a bar with two of your friends as they just chat. All of this is a gross simplification for the dozens of complex minutiae that MacIvor pulls off with lighting cues and specific blocking, but that's fine: that's how the show looks, too.

How appropriate that one of the main topics of their conversation is the statement "Nothing is enough." There's the positive meaning, which is that nothing suffices, and there's the negative one, which is that you can never be satisfied. But then there's also the theatrical one, which MacIvor has perfected (drawing from both the positive and negative): A Beautiful View is nothing but what's necessary, and everything else within that.

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Part of the Under the Radar Festival @ The Public Theater (425 Lafayette)
Tickets: $15
Performances vary, through 1/28

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Watch out: Famous Puppet Death Scenes packs a lethal punch. Go for the comedy of watching puppets die in a wide variety of ways, stay for the poignant finale. The trick is in the presentation: Old Trout Puppet Workshop kills them in pop-up books and moving sets, with human-puppet fusion or just good old fashioned squish-action, and a healthy dose of moralist comedy.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

"The Ballad of Edward Grue," in which we learn what happens to little boys who dress up as deer, will shoot you in the funny bone. "Ice Age," in which a cryogenetically frozen man is allowed to die so that the immortal Johnny Depp-lookalike aliens can remember what death means, will warm your insides. "The Swede of Donnylargan," in which suicide is shown to be much like a row of falling dominoes, will make you tumble with glee. But while these Famous Puppet Death Scenes will amuse--with their movable sets, puppet dances, and fragile gunshots--it's "The Last Whale" that will haunt you: the image of a great eye, sunken into a greater gray mass, slowly giving in to the gravity of an unstoppable eyelid. Has there ever been such a tragic, beautiful, poetic (puppet) death on stage before?

The only warning I can give the audience of Famous Puppet Death Scenes is to show up early and sit near the front, as the majority of the work is small and subtle. The exceptions, like a butterfly transformed into a giant bloodsucking monster under the gaze of a magnifying glass (in "La Nature au Naturel") or a scene of domestic violence hidden within the pages of a pop-up book ("Never Say It Again"), are perfect expressions of theatricality, and the Old Trout Puppet Workshop has done a fantastic job of transforming a classic art form into a hip and surprisingly powerful show.

The wide variety of miniature death scenes, tied together by the narration of the Einstein-tufted Nathanial Tweak, range from mocking children's morality plays ("Das Bipsy und Mumu Puppenspiel," in which a triangle-shaped puppet learns the difference between "ja" and "nein") to playing with stark Modernist styles ("The Modern Age [Part 3]") and Gothic horror ("The Beast of Muggditch Lane"). I promise: at least one puppet will die in every scene, and, when appropriate, you will laugh.

The final collection is like watching a live animated-shorts festival (there's even a Bill Plympton-like recurring skit, "The Feverish Heart"). Famous Puppet Death Scenes is a series of vivid visual styles, and with only a few of the 20-plus deaths missing the mark ("The Cruel Sea" and "My Stupid Dad"), you can't go wrong with this hour-long show. And believe me, the Grim Reaper's grand finale is not to be missed: you'll leave the theater feeling glad to be alive.

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Under the Radar Festival @ The Public Theater (425 Lafayette)
Tickets: $15
Performances: Various, through 1/28

ANOTHER YOU


Part of the Under The Radar Festival.

Writer and performer Allen Johnson takes us on a stark, existential journey into his head in this raw, spoken-scream piece that examines God, love, and the pursuit of acceptance.
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Reviewed by Cindy Pierre


Deep within the realm of the uninhibited, where courage takes root and intimacy hangs up pictures, lies Allen Johnson's Another You. In his mentally-arresting bio-logue (a monologue with biological details), Johnson uses a dollop of raunch with a dash of cold facts to manipulate the audience's sensitivities. And it works. From the simple toilet set-piece to the mood-swing inspired light cues, all collaborate to pull on the strings of our fears and whimsies. Johnson uses stream of consciousness storytelling and romantic language to delve into scenarios not readily swallowed, and fantasies that some would deem unapproachable.

Quoting late photographer Diane Arbus, he proceeds to capture some of her notions of non-traditional beauty in anecdotes and desires that are uneasy. Although diminutive in stature, there is nothing small about this performer's ability to make you feel like a chum, even if he lets you in on secrets that you wish he hadn't. However, perhaps he is too relaxed, making us forget that we are there to see a drama in the midst of his gift of gab. His performance lacks showmanship, and could benefit from the semblance of effort.

Johnson intersperses good-natured stories with dark ones, and indulges in child-like behavior almost as much as he asserts his forced adulthood. Touted as a performer who doesn't use the "fourth wall" (the imaginary wall of a box set, separating the actors from the audience), his movements are ironically confined to the center of the stage. He orbits the toilet, a prop he clearly sees as a medium of release, retreat, and clear thinking. The toilet is an imposing prop, and I couldn't help referencing it in every instance, i.e. humor automatically became "toilet" humor, tales of misfortune became "s**t happens."

Johnson's voice-over use is effective, and the sound bytes are eerie where they need to be and ominous when required. He waxes poetic on many topics, but the co-stars of the show are his father and a desperate need for understanding, stars that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is not metaphysics that he seeks, but rather proof of life, proof of love, and proof of truth. With an ending that is too abrupt and anguish that is congealed, Johnson leaves us wanting more. He urges us to explore our hidden sides, and make friends with our true selves. It is a daunting challenge, but a good one.

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Written and performed by Allen Johnson (Seattle). Directed by Sean Ryan. Running Time: 70 minutes. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, $15 tickets: publictheater.org or 212-967-7555. Wed. Jan 17th 8pm,Thurs. Jan. 18th 3pm,Fri. Jan. 19th 9:30pm,Sat. Jan. 20th 4pm,Sun. Jan. 21st 7pm,Mon. Jan. 22nd 7pm,Wed. Jan. 24th 9:30pm,Thurs. Jan. 25th 7pm,Fri. Jan. 26th 9:30pm,Sat. Jan. 27th 4pm,Sun. Jan. 28th 7pm

[PREVIEW] Elaine Stritch Interview

Elaine Stritch comments on working with other actors and gives her reaction to CHRISTINE EBERSOLE's performace on Broadway in GREY GARDENS. Watch the whole Stritch interview on THEATER TALK, Friday, Jan. 26 at 12:30 (est) on Thirteen.

Friday, January 19, 2007

PREVIEW: Under the Radar [Play Festival]

The third annual "Under the Radar" festival is here at the Public Theater, an explosion of complete plays that run the gamut from puppets to classics and back. Below, you can preview Theater Talk's interview with Mark Russell, producer/curator of the two-week festival (January 17-28). Find out why you should get out to see more new plays (and which ones Russell thinks you need to see), tune in to Theater Talk for more interviews, and look for festival coverage and reviews of Famous Puppet Deaths, A Beautiful View, Another You, and The Brothers Size this weekend.

Part One: Why to See It



Part Two: What to See

The Polish Play

(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

"By my green syphilitic penis!" roars Pere Ubu between massive tremolos of flatulence. This foolish, rotund slob, played to the hilt by Jordan Gelber, is from Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, but the play he's appearing in at the moment seems to be Macbeth. In fact, it is: here come the three Weird Sisters, cackling from atop a cauldron, setting his fate and Banquo's in stone. His wife may go by the name Mere Ubu (a clucking Dana Smith-Croll), but she's really the vicious Lady Macbeth, out-damn-spot and all. Instead of Duncan, they scheme to kill good king Wenceslas (and with a shitter hook, not a knife), and when Macduff comes for his just revenge, our "hero" bangs once on his toilet-seat armor, again on his pot-lid helmet, and then flees to France. It's a mash-up, designed to present Macbeth as a comedy, and as a means to give the adapter, Henry Wishcamper, free license to mess around with the theater, too.

Sound effects are provided by our friendly neighborhood Foley Artist (James Bentley), just off to stage left, and props, costumes, set pieces, and technical instructions for the many scene changes litter the walls. The Walkerspace stage has been hollowed to reveal every device being used, and the cast takes pleasure in mocking their own bad accents or flubbed cues. There are, of course, puppets, both of the slaughtered and performing variety, and the Tetris-like assembly of the set does as much for the play's constant physical comedy as do the shit-flinging sight-gags. (Literally.) The cast is in good form too, with gender-reversed actors like Eunice Wong and Jeff Biehl (Bougrelas and Queen Rosamond, respectively) serving up equal parts of ham and cheese.

At the preview performance I attended (1/14), there were still some rough spots, but not enough to detract from the overwhelming good humor of the piece. Though most of the musical numbers fall flat (including an homage to Rocky), there's enough variety to compensate for it (save for a slump after intermission), and though Mr. Gelber wears a fat suit, he's fit as a fiddle for comedy.

Beware the shitter hook or laugh at it, but if you're looking for a wacky riff on Macbeth, go see The Polish Play.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Dirty Talk

Internet hookup gone wrong?

Sidney Williams (left) and Kevin Cristaldi in The Dirty Talk

Reviewed by Eric Miles Glover

What happens when two complete strangers meet face-to-face as the result of an Internet hookup? Do the perfect identities (read: the impossible and improbable identities) that the strangers feign over an Internet connection prove reliable and truthful?

What happens when one stranger--misguided about the true gender of the other--is forced to bond, as the rain shower and thunderstorm that temper outside the isolated cabin in the mountains of N.J. (the site of hookup consummation) prevent the escape of either person? The Dirty Talk, a theatrical lollapalooza, answers the questions and provides a comical exploration into a popular but taboo trend in American culture.

It is no wonder The Dirty Talk was the "sleeper hit" of the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival. Playwright Michael Puzzo wrote a comedy with sufficient heart and humor to suffuse his superb craftsmanship, language, and quasisociological investigation into the mind. His characters--Mitch, a man on the rebound from a long-term romantic relationship with a thin-skinned woman, and Lino, a man who, through adult IMs, pretends he is a Perfect Ten (a woman) to re-erect Mitch--speak about father-son relationships, loneliness, and performances of manhood with a genuineness and grace that induce enough "ahhhs," "awwws," and laughs to last an x number of lifetimes. Mitch and Lino are men who excite and resonate with the viewer.

Sidney Williams (Mitch) and Kevin Cristaldi (Lino), under the direction of Padraic Lillis, return to roles from the 2005 Fringe Festival. The men are delightful--pleasurable--as oddballs who find themselves in a bind. It rings false that Mitch, a man whose BO oozes machismo and toughness, does not harm (blind? kick? punch? strike?) Lino, a man who leads him to believe that he is a blond bombshell. However, the mere contrivance of the comedy, coupled with the comedic genius of the performers and playwright, allows the viewer to ignore the few minor discrepancies and, instead, experience the antics and eccentricities of two perfect strangers.

The Dirty Talk, by Michael Puzzo, directed by Padraic Lillis, with Kevin Cristaldi and Sidney Williams, continues through February 4, 2007, at Center Stage, 48 West 21st Street, 4th Floor, (212) 352-3101, $18.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Monument

Why is it that war plays seem so timeless? This revival of Colleen Wagner's 1993 play about redemption and revenge in a war-torn "today," looks fantastic, and her ideas are potent. Director Beverly Brumm's done a swell job getting it up on its feet, but the acting doesn't run with the ideas, and The Monument doesn't reach the great heights it aspires to.


Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Lights up on an electric chair. The man strapped to it is a soldier, or a murdering rapist, or both. Above all, Stetko (Jay Rohloff) is a man who only knows how to take orders, a man who has become impotent, and a man who now faces final judgment. When a mysterious woman named Mejra (Ramona Floyd) shows up, offering him his life in return for obeying her every whim, it is only natural for him to accept. The real mystery would then lie in what Mejra wants, but it is fairly obvious she is the mother of one of Stetko's twenty-seven victims. Therefore, for all playwright Colleen Wagner's clever lines and the way she's built her two characters up to represent the military and civilian sides, The Monument rests on its actors. That heavy weight--dead children, mass graves, and suffering--is perhaps too much for them; for the majority of the play, they approach the themes so broadly, and so one-dimensionally, that it's hard to digest the language.

It's a shame, for director Beverly Brumm has tried her hardest to give the actors things to work off of. The set is covered in a thick and dying soil, the backdrop is a stark blue sky, and the chains are real (even if the violence is choreographed). Mejra, when she is not chopping off Stetko's ears or yoking him to a giant till, is busy struggling to comprehend her prisoner, and Stetko is often laboring to carry heavy rocks or endure his mistress' harsh treatment of him. For all that action, the lines come out dusty as the stage's arid soil: Rohloff is unflinching even when told that his girlfriend has been killed and then raped. The closest he comes to emotion is in his full-bodied monologue while strapped to the chair, and later, when he tries to protect a rabbit he has befriended. As for Floyd, she is full of emotion, but suppresses too much of it. She is too harsh, too icy toward her prisoner--rather than leading him on with hope, there is little doubt in our minds that she plans to kill Stetko, and her constant imperatives are monotonous.

When the actor's habits happen to coincide with the message of the play, the show works most effectively: the opening is a real tightrope walk, and the excavation of the corpses is a high moment for off-Broadway theater. The text also features a glut of clever circumstances, like when Stetko is told that if he drops the boulder he is carrying anywhere but on his foot, she will bury him alive. His bitter defiance, even after he shatters his toes, is clever writing by any standard. The Monument may not stand tall in this production, but any ode to the victims of war--innocent and guilty alike--is better than none.

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Clurman Theater (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $25.00
Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00 & Saturday @ 2:00

The Dirty Talk

Written by Michael Puzzo
Directed by Padraic Lillis
Center Stage, 48 w 21st St
January 11th- Feb 4th

Reviewed by Jennifer Stackpole

As audience murmurs quieted, a sexy voice came over the sound system requesting cell phone silence. What were we getting into here? “The Dirty Talk”? The set factored heavily around a massive, rusticated waterbed, dead center, with what little room remaining host to unopened boxes, a TV topped with Playboy and Kama Sutra oil, a mounted deer head and a laptop, open and ready for business: a cabin in the middle of a rainstorm, where two strangers seem trapped.

Mitch, a tough NJ guy--Tony Soprano if he were just another PBR-drinking middle of the road American--is very upset by the presence of Lino, rosy cheeked, mustachioed, and meek--Ned Flanders if he were a bisexual chatroom junky. Mitch rails and rails, attempting to hold his masculinity against this effeminate man who has invaded his trust; seems he was expecting a buxom blonde and chatroom dealings gone awry are to blame.

The fast-paced dialogue is peppered with wit and the timing was impeccable. The characters themselves, acted with complete commitment and sympathy by Kevin Cristaldi (Lino) and Sidney Williams (Mitch), were played without stereotype; in justifying their online dealings each character reveals their complexity, and a relationship of understanding develops. What brought them each to the chatroom shows the possibility of anonymous hope and maybe even healing in chance meetings. Though Mitch finally comes to the definite opinion that it is just plain creepy, Lino is all the more secure in his internet pursuits, recognizing the arena as his only comfortable interaction with the world--his chance to meet a fellow dreamer.

Takes all kinds; this in mind, I did find the play itself a little monotonous, much like a moralizing after-school special for grownups, the bullies and the bullied equally human and vulnerable. Regardless, it remained entertaining: expertly written, directed (Padraic Lillis), and acted.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Monument

A brutal soldier is brutalized for his war crimes in this appropriately grim and morally complex two-hander.

Ramona Floyd and Jay Rohloff in The Monument. Photo: Anthony Collins

Reviewed by Patrick Lee

In an unnamed country following a brutal genocidal war, an unrepentant soldier (responsible for nearly two dozen rape-murders) is given a choice by a mysterious woman: either he agrees to do whatever she says for the rest of his life, or he faces execution for his warcrimes. Almost as soon as he agrees to her bargain, she chops off his ear. Thus begins Colleen Wagner's The Monument, a grim and bracing two-hander which has been given a spare, intense production by the Clockwork Theatre Company.

As the rapist-murderer becomes victim, the play (first presented in 1995) drives us to question when, and for what purpose, brutality is justified. When is the punishment no better than the crime? If that were all the play had on its mind, it would be derivative stuff, a less accomplished relation of plays like Death and the Maiden. Instead, Wagner's sobering play ups the ante at each turn with new moral complexities as the two characters continue to violently clash.

While the play is solidly structured and distinguished by its tough unsentimentality, the dialogue too often sounds authoral; the characters believably speak to each other a little less often than they make grand statements of the "war is no place for the innocent" variety. The result is a lack of nuance: the play's points are hit as if nails with a sledgehammer.

There's also an unfortunate predictability in the play's scheme which drains some of its power: it isn't hard to guess what Mejra, the mysterious woman, is ultimately after. It's a credit to the actress playing her (Ramona Floyd) that our attention is held despite this: she bites into her lines with a cold ferocity that reveals the character's suppressed rage, giving the play its primary tension. When she is called upon to express a moment of profound grief, the depth of her anguish is chilling even though we saw it coming in advance. As the soldier, Jay Rohloff impressively finds the traumatized wounded soul of his war-damaged character.

The grave, high-stakes clash between these two characters is a grim reminder that the hell of war continues on when war ends.


Clurman Theatre (410 W 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $25.00
Performances: Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; plus Jan 21 at 2 pm & 7pm, Jan 28 at 2pm

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Greener Grasses....A play about Post-Traumatic Slave Disorder

A bold look at the African-American psyche, this ambitious drama forged on a modest budget lacks focus and precision, but is impassioned with a sense of black pride and hope.

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Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Written and directed by Sabura Rashid, Greener Grasses explores racial anxieties with some dramatic clutter. Although modestly profound in certain respects, it is tarnished by tangled sub-plots and too many characters.

Two cultural settings, nineteenth-century slave quarters and a twenty-first-century urban neighborhood, coexist on stage, with a slave auction relevant to both periods serving as the partition. Is it a bridge or is it a gulf? Neither. The slave auction is an anvil, both to the detriment of the African-American consciousness and to the structure of this drama. Rashid aims to get to the root of destructive African-American behavior by returning us to a time when the African sense of pride was attacked and mutilated, creating the misinformed, lazy perspective that permeates black culture today. She targets slavery, or rather, the slave mentality, as the catalyst for this dissonance. Through visuals, she deftly presents dignity and self-awareness as emblems that, once ravaged by slavery, are now freely given away by young black men and women. Her assessments are as potent as those of a psychologist: for example, that the oppressed sometimes assume the same characteristics of the oppressor. However, the narrative is often chaotic and needs clearer lines.

Rashid uses monologue in the opening sequences to demonstrate how--in hue, outlook and diligence--black people's desires have lightened over the centuries. What white men have initiated, black men have sustained and allowed to rip through their unity. These monologues, though pertinent, suffer from too many trite phrases that should have been edited. They duel with the slave exhibit in the foreground of the stage, and lose. This lack of focus does harm to what is arguably a poem to the black community.

Four slave archetypes, still prevalent in today's black society, are examined: the newly uprooted, the defiant, the scared, and the brainwashed. It is here that black-on-black crimes are also introduced. Using a split-stage technique popularized by film, Rashid cleverly presents some of those same characters in a modern, junior high-school setting. It is here that the problems with educating black youth are discussed. That George W. Bush's likeness is prominently displayed in the center of this setting is a silent finger on the holes of his "no-child left behind" program.

The technical segues into different eras and subplots need to be crisper, and the cast would benefit from more overt direction. Violent moments were often nonsensical, poorly choreographed, and jammed in like the wrong jigsaw piece. Anachronism, too: modern inventions, such as a set of headphones (not invented until the 1930s) on the head of a "pickaninny."

The play also suffers from a large cast: the presence of several characters played by Kennitta Lindsey and April McCants could have been omitted. As the sole Caucasian actor, Bill Weeden's poorly applied facial hair and makeup is as distracting as his fumbling speeches. Lisa Roxanne Walters's Ms Padget is a Nubian queen in need of Sista Souljah, and her performance as Abigail is flaccid. Although Rebecca Thomas's Principal Frost and Mrs. Achebe are excessive, her Sharon Robinson is fiery and right on the nose. Chiquita Camille and Thyais Walsh, Maggie and Martha respectively, shine as slave sisters bonded by misery and hope.

Greener Grasses does not lack for potential or influence. It is emotionally charged and laden with social parallels that are clever and challenging to the theatergoer. There is some startling imagery, good songs, and occasionally, a potent line of dialog that lassos you back to Rashid's original intent: a rise, not to arms, but rather to action and to a dream for re-assembling what was stolen. As in the adage, "the grass is always greener on the other side", Rashid's purpose is to let black people know that it may be greener than enslavement and the Jim Crow era, but much can and still needs to be accomplished. It is the modern black person's responsibility to shoulder their ancestor's dreams, and realize them both in mind and body. Although heavily doused in tragedy and pain, black history has had some triumphs, and Rashid calls for the pursuit of more.


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January 11th 2007- February 4th 2007 Thursday-Saturday at 8:00, Sunday at 3:00 Theatre For The New City 155, 1st Avenue Special Performance Monday January 15th at 8:00 pm for Martin Luther King Junior̢۪s Birthday. Tickets $15 per person: Available from www.theaterforthenewcity.net or at (212) 254-1109.

Macbeth: A Walking Shadow

An essential Shakespearian production, boiled down to its essence (and pared down to seventy-five minutes), this adaptation of Macbeth keeps the Bard's language, but heightens the haunting with a lot of clever direction from Andrew Frank and some excellent acting from the cast (led by Ato Essandoh).


Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Soldiers turn into witches, dead men creep around, and Macbeth is trapped onstage, caught in a series of flashbacks e'en as he fights that epic battle with Macduff: this isn't your parents' Shakespeare. It's better. That's not knocking the elongated prose of the bard, but Andrew Frank and Doug Silver's new adaptation of Macbeth (here subtitled "A Walking Shadow"), has managed to emphasize the magnificent language by cutting out the majority of it. The scenes glide smoothly from one key moment to the next, whirling around a horrified Macbeth (the excellent Ato Essandoh), and showing, more than ever, how a heroic man becomes a despot. Politically resonant, emotionally relevant, and theatrically elegant, this new production of Macbeth needs to be seen. And at seventy-five minutes and only $18.00, you can even see it again and again.

Director Andrew Frank uses the intimate space of Manhattan Theater Source to mount an epic production, and succeeds, placing all the action on a narrow slab of stage between two rows of the audience. The action, long and narrow across that black strip, makes every scene into a fierce showdown, none stronger than the pivotal moment when the tempestuous Lady Macbeth (Celia Schaefer) convinces her husband to murder the fair King Duncan (Chuck Bunting). Schaefer's compelling performance is quiet at first, not manic, which gives her opportunity to build to a murderous pitch by her climactic "spot" speech. Better still, because Macbeth is condemned to remain on stage, seeing all that has led him to his bitter end, we can watch Essandoh's marvelous reaction to moments he would never actually witness in a more orthodox Shakespearean production.

But this is far from the Essandoh and Schaefer show, fabulous as both are. The cast is engaging and outstandingly clear, so much so that almost every line becomes quotable. Everything is so focused, so intense, that we cannot look away. And why would we want to? From Malcom's mournful anger (Michael Baldwin) to Banquo's loyal demeanor (Len Childers), there are plenty of nuanced performances to enjoy. James Edward Becton, cast in a melange of small roles (witch, soldier, and doctor), was the most captivating performer of the night, a man truly living his part.

T'would be a shame to miss this excellent production, nay, an unforgivable sin. I hope Frank and Silver will consider cutting some other Shakespearean plays: what they've created here is not only a flattering adaptation, but a short and sweet Macbeth that is as perfect for schools as it is for even the most grown-up, jaded audience.

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Manhattan Theater Source (177 MacDougal Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Israel Horovitz's New Shorts

Israel Horovitz is still hard at work, spinning nine new short yarns that look at character first, but with a nice flourish of comedy, a slice of sarcasm, and a slab of drama. They're not all perfect, but they're a well-rounded offering of a hard-working playwright's contributions to his field, and well worth seeing.


Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Take the metaphor of "The Race" (one of the nine new playlets in Israel Horovitz's New Shorts) as a means of expressing this evening of theater. Nine actors, each running for their own reason (well, okay, one is just standing there) but united for a common cause. One's a twelve-year-old girl, exuberant but unpolished (like "Audition Play"), and one's a two-time champion, trying to outrun her own age. The pieces don't mesh together, nor should they: as is, they show the wry, comic sensibilities of their writer, Mr. Horovitz, and his range. "Affection in Time" could be Beckett, "Inconsolable" is stylized poetry, and "The Hotel Play" is classic Horovitz. Save for the wholly uneven "The Fat Guy Gets The Girl" and "The Bridal Dance," both of which try to hard to have a punchline, this is a theatrical anthology of one playwright's love of characters. Best of all, because the shows are swift, there's no room for exposition, and the plays are as distilled (though not as refined) as Line. There's a certain sort of thrill in seeing nine plays run by in one evening, each jockeying for your attention.

The cast is filled out by members of the Barefoot Theater Company and some other talented actors (like Lynn Cohen); the direction is deftly handled both by the writer and by Michael LoPorto. There's a potpourri of elements to each scene, but what's interesting is Horovitz flexing his comic impulses, even while burdened with the tragic. "Cat Lady" is the best of the pack, for while it is filled with double-takes and bad puns, the monologist is a person first, lonely and depressed. "The Hotel Play," which gets laughs from awkward misinterpretations, is ultimately about the same thing: two people, this time, each lost, but perhaps able to connect if they can let go of their masks.

The most relevant play, however, is the political piece, "Beirut Rocks," which begins as a conversation between two American students who meet during the evacuation of their overseas overseas school. These moments juxtapose the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, just outside, with the live feed Benjy (Christopher Whalen) is getting of Tiger Woods, a world away. It's the reverse of their normally sheltered American life, and what's more, their illusions are being shelled by US weapons. Before long, two more evacuees join them, including an Arab-American who, in living up to the antisemitic stereotype, surprises us with her fiery denouement.

That Horovitz, after so many plays, can still seem fresh, young, and fierce is not surprising. But it is refreshingly satisfying to see, much like this collection of short plays.

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Kirk Theater (410 West 42nd)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $18.00
Performances: Wednesday - Saturday @ 8:00/Sunday @ 3:00

Macbeth

Finally, a traditional production of The Scottish Play that manages to feel surprisingly young, spry and good as new. If only poor Banquo could say the same.



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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

Macbeth. There. I’ve said it. Aloud. So once every last one of you theater-lovers has finished walking in circles and spitting in doorways so ghosts do not haunt your opening nights and unwrap noisy otherworldly candies through your recognition and reversal monologues, perhaps we can just sit down like normal well-adjusted adults and talk about The Scottish Play.

Done?

Wonderful, because the New York Actor’s Ensemble’s current production of Macbeth is worth talking about. There are no gimmicks in this show, no single-gender casting, WWII updating or disco interludes – this here is pure Shakespeare. Very little text was cut, yet somehow the play whizzes by, action-packed, seamless, and vastly entertaining. Of course, there are bumps along the way, but, on the whole, NYAE’s Macbeth was what our professors always told us Shakespeare should be -- riveting, gross, raunchy, insightful and very entertaining.

Of course, our anti-hero Macbeth (played by the excellently on point David M. Mead) does the same thing he always does (next time, just ignore the Weird Sisters!), but Mead brings a approachable just-your-average-guy quality to the role. This is a Macbeth who snuggles up in his new royal robe when no one else is watching – the snuggle lasts only a simple split second, but it subtly expresses both the satisfaction he must be feeling and the intense insecurity. This Macbeth is understandable and relatable – two very welcome attributes in any Shakespearean production. Mead encourages our compassion through these small human gestures, yet isn’t afraid to make us recoil; whether blood-stained and searching for that sticking point or ranting over the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Banquo, Mead’s Macbeth somehow holds strong as the center of this play’s success, even as the character himself unravels into tragedy.

Kenneth Cavett, taking on the role of Banquo, also presents a stunningly complex and sympathetic character, though, granted, it is much easier to be Mr. Popular when you’re discovering the murderer instead of wielding the gory blade yourself. Still, Cavett’s Banquo is the early pulse behind the show, stirring the demons in Macbeth long before Banquo suspects there is anything to fear, jumping around with childish excitement at the Weirds’ mere mention of “king.” Together, Cavett and Mead keep the production moving, leaving the audience rapt up in the action, of course, but far more impressively, in the language as well.

The same cannot, unfortunately, be said of Lady Macbeth, played by the chiseled-featured Susan Angelo. Lady Macbeth is indeed the pinnacle of the complicated female, so one can’t blame Angelo too much. However, why is it that almost all actors playing Lady Macbeth play her with the mannerisms and facial expressions of a drag queen taking the stage after five too many daiquiris? It’s the Blanche DuBois Dilemma – when an actress starts crazy in Act One, where’ll she go for Act Five? Sure, she can always make the jump from crazy to crazier, but with Lady Macbeth, that’s just spitting in one enormous blood-red ocean.

On the topic of enormity, the stage is, well, not. And while the size of the performance space shouldn’t make or break an otherwise rewarding production, when the play is Macbeth and the first scene involves a bevy of men stage-fighting in multi-colored plaid skirts, size does matter when the kingdom in contention is roughly the size of a New York City kitchen. Furthermore, when the show’s set is a miniature version of Stonehenge, it’s only natural for This is Spinal Tap to pop into my mind. And, call me as crazy as Lady Macbeth, but when I go out for a little high culture, the last thing I want on my mind is a trio of dancing midgets.

Overall, though, Macbeth is an exciting production, entirely worth both your time and your superstitious spits (just not on the teeny tiny stage, please; you might flood Stonehenge).

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The WorkShop Theater (312 W 36th Street, 4th Floor)
Tickets (212-695-4173 x5 or www.macbeth2007.com): $18 general, $10 students and seniors
Performances: January 5th through January 21st, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 1pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Linnea

A stripper, complete with a heart of gold and two dueling suitors, brings Dostoevsky’s The Idiot into 1990s East Village street life – but what else is new?


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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

There are a couple of ways to pass English Lit your senior year of high school – you can 1. read the books and take a plethora of margin notes in your extra-special lucky ballpoint pen; 2. check out sparknotes.com and hope that the poor starving college grad who penned the synopsis wasn’t feeling maliciously inaccurate that night; or 3. frequent that certain type of Off-Broadway show that gets its theatrical rocks off by mirroring the classics in an entirely self-conscious and clearly underlined way. If you choose number 3, well grab your Kipling sac and head for The Storm Theater’s world premier production of Linnea.

Now, before I sound too snooty, keep in mind that I am a big literature fan. True, I find those turn of the century Russians mighty depressing – but any play that adds to my knowledge of novels is okay by me. And, in that sense, Linnea certainly fits the bill. After surviving a full semester struggling through Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I would never (never!) willingly pick up The Idiot on a whim. Linnea however, absolves me of my aversion to this fruit of epileptic genius – the show tells a modern-day version of the classic Dostoevsky story – and how!

Danny, played by a nearly Pollyanna-esque Joshua Vasquez, serves as a 20th century Myshkin, exemplifying kindness, analytical reason and compassion, while Cody, played by a charismatically hulking (if such a thing is possible) Jamil Mena, updates the role of Rogozhin, who in turn personifies all that is hyper-sexual, brutishly lusty and a enjoyable on a Friday night after a pint or two at Mars Bar.

Danny and Cody first meet in a pub, and the two hit it off disconcertingly well – if this is Alphabet City in 1993, I don’t see what Jonathan Larson (let alone NYC’s immense homeless population) was getting all worked up about. This Big Apple is so friendly it forces me to query why anyone would ever want to riot in Tompkins Park. In the disconcertingly rose-tinted eyes of Linnea playwright John Regis, these rabble-rousers should have all just shared a drink, a childhood story, and good joke instead of throwing stones and storming the police force. Who knows; in Regis's pinkeyed perspective maybe a simple tea party with doilies would have sufficed…

Regardless of the eerily sociable nature of the East Village residents (even a homeless man jokes around for spare change and – get this – seems just as happy when no coin is forthcoming), the play darkens into a story of betrayal and competition as Cody and Danny fall in love with the same woman, a stripper named Linnea (played by the limber and lovely Benita Robledo).

I feel I should mention that Linnea is performed in a church located right off Broadway. I say this now because only in a house of God would a stripper (albeit one with a heart of gold, of course) fall in love with a customer (or better yet, even, with two!). Awesome.

However, as sweet as a stripper love story can be, Linnea quickly sours -- while the acting is servicable and the production elements (lighting, staging, and sets) are impressibly effective, the play itself is as devoid of subtext and spark as a Times Square hooker circa 1993. It takes a lot for me to say this, but, despite his allusions to granduer, John Regis doesn't begin to measure up to the man behind The Idiot. Regis bites off more than he can chew and, in this play it seems, speaks with his mouth full. It's too bad he had to make such bald allusions to a work of genius. While I may not love my Dostoevsky, I respect him, and flaws that may be forgivable in an original production become unforgettable in a play that insists on underlying its laughably lofty aspirations.

Still, if you prefer your Dostoevsky distilled and modernized, Linnea will surely do the trick, and will do so with far less complicated character names. Linnea is also worth seeing for its high production value – the lighting in this show is beautiful and its visuals really impress upon the audience just how gritty this nice little city used to be, even if the dialogue doesn’t quite drive that same point home.

I recommend Linnea as a nice addition to the sub-genre of New York plays that deal with the good old days of extremely intimidating East Village street life (see also: Larson’s Rent and Jose Rivera’s stunningly apocalyptic Marisol). And if you’ve got those mid-terms looming and for some odd reason you’ve mistakenly assumed pre-Revolution Russian Lit would be an easy A, well, Linnea’s got a heart of gold for you too!

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The Storm Theater (St. Mary’s, 145 W 46th Street)
Tickets (www.stormtheater.com): $18.00
Performances: January 11th through February 3rd, Thursdays through Fridays at 7:30pm and Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm.