Thursday, May 31, 2007
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Oh, it would be so easy for me to just say [insert exclamatory rave] for I.E., In Other Words and be done with it. But although Mark Greenfield's inventive epic (yet intermissionless) fable is filled with characters who speak in the postmodern ("Abrupt interruption," "Clearly fake pleasantry to you," or "Oh, Sam dot dot dot"), it's more a clever shorthand than an excuse to back out of writing. Between the excellent ensemble (The Bats, the Flea's young resident company) and the tight direction of Kip Fagan, the show is a rollicking absurdity, as much musical as Adam Rapp's recent Essential Self-Defense and as bitterly metadramatic in atmosphere as Urinetown, right down to the use of places like Localtownsville and Citycity. Even Michael Casselli's set design is modish, a long curtain that unfurls across the basement theater like a hip skin for one's iPod.
Sam (a resolutely charming Teddy Bergman) is looking for fame so that he can win the heart of his fickle, cucumber-eating sweetheart, Jen (the sweet Elizabeth Hoyt), and her father-figure, Uncle Pop. His journey takes him from the sunny countryside and its villainous Pete Shemp (Jaime Robert Carrillo) to the gloomy cityscape, and from the yokels to the ethnic stereotypes. Not every joke works, but they aren't given enough time to fall flat on their face: the play has thirty-three characters (played by fourteen actors) and is only ninety minutes. So we'll get to meet the disco-dancing Good Cops in the same breath that we encounter Nathaniel, the sort of cell mate who would rape you, if he didn't find it so cliche. Actors also have the opportunity to play a wide variety of hammy hipsters, like Kelly Miller, who kills as a semiotics instructor, or Kina Bermudez, who is welcome to bring pies on stage any time.
The show is a long way from being crisp (the sound cues were way off, although the actors played them off for laughs), and some of the musical numbers falter (intentionally, for some). But when it comes together, as with Jen and Sam's overlapping letter-writing duet about the expositional passage of time, there's something thrillingly trendy about it. And when the going gets weird, the going gets good: who wouldn't laugh at the pointed question "You got something against ghosts fucking?"
I.E., In Other Words, you should go and see this show while it's still fresh off the funny farm. Good ideas, good execution, and the always intimate Underground of the Flea make for one great evening of theater, no matter how you parse it.
The Flea Theater (41 White Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $25.00 Performances (through 6/16): Wed. - Sat. @ 9:00
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Wonderland is like one of those traveling carnivals: it's disorganized, it's creaky--the presentation is small in scale and low in budget--BUT . . . it's a thrilling chance to get outside the everyday. The very lack of polish is enticing, and the whole project is an opportunity to catch some new stars in an American Idol-like competition, where judges and audiences determine which of the sixty shows in the "Roller Coaster" round make it through to the twenty-show "Ferris Wheel," from there to the ten-show "Merry-Go-Round" and then the final, three-show "Free Fall."
I can only speak to the events of May 29th's "8:00" performance (delayed until 9:00), but the wait was certainly worth it. Like amusement parks themselves, the wait sometimes has to be worth it, and the mingling crowds of directors, actors, stagehands, and audiences made for some interesting pre-show fun. I also have to admit knowing one of the directors, Whitney Aronson, a classmate of mine in college. But set that aside: I write without bias and the four miniature plays were all entertaining in their own ways, each with a wide range of style.
For instance, Aronson's opening number, The Piazza (which has moved on to the "Ferris Wheel"), was a highly linguistic comedy by Laura Emack that revolved around a man's overblown descriptions and fantasies for his home. Whereas the other three shows all took place in a single scene, this one was filled with transitions (hindered slightly by a paucity of technical rehearsals) but the ambition of the lighting (a visit to a neighbor uses a single overhead light to project a flickering dankness) shone through.
In an entirely different vein was Like Batman (another "Ferris Wheel" contender), a show written and directed (and starring, due to sickness) Bennett Windheim. Structured like a short story, the play opened with the parents addressing the audience directly, to explain how their son had fallen from the roof, but then opens up into a more dramatic lead-up to the fall. Windheim's use of contrast between the poetic description of a plummeting cape and the everyday language of a domestic dispute served him well, but the viewpoints of two neighbors (a Jew and an Italian) ratcheted up the cliche a little too much.
The third show, Eulogy, was the weakest of the bunch: written, directed, and starring Alexis DeLaRosa, the work seemed very personal and, as a result, leaked energy all over the place. But even given the wild gesticulations, the accentuated stomping, and the repetitive blocking, the show had charm, especially with lines like "There are no superheroes--there's just one big supervillain, and that's time."
Of course, if it's lines you want, the dissing contest of Arthur Alleyne's In A Min had the audience cracking up as Jared Robinson and Hannah Davis went way over the top with some of the funniest, dirtiest laughs around. Some of the lines were certainly derivative ("Yeah, most people think I'm gay. [beat] Until I fuck 'em.") and others were straight off the street ("He's pissing sitting down he's so whipped") but the acting sustained the energy, as did Aronson's direction, which made a nice running gag out of an otherwise strained bowel movement.
I'll be heading back to see what makes it to the "Free Fall" round, but the best of the rest will be up before then (6/5 through 6/7) and your vote might help crown a winner. Just because the presentation's hokey doesn't mean the thrills aren't there; see what off-off-Broadway's brewing.
Studio Theater @ Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $18.00
"Roller Coaster (60)" 6/01 & 6/03 & 6/04 @ 2, 4, 6, 8
"Ferris Wheel (20)" 6/05 & 6/06 @ 2, 4, 6, 8
"Merry Go Round (10)" 6/07 @ 4, 6, 8
"Free Fall (3)" 6/08 @ 8
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Passing Strange is a rock-and-roll roller coaster about the ups and downs of a black male teenager in the absurd world of the 1980s. The ride passes through the sensational adventures of Youth as he escapes the picket fences of South Central, Los Angeles, in favor of the hostels of Amsterdam and Berlin. He is desperate to find "the real" and form a selfhood free of the constrictions of black Baptist and black middle-class pathologies.
As he follows the footprints of Josephine Baker and James Baldwin he befriends a band of Dutch and German anarchists, intellectuals, and pornographers (eccentrics who endorse the absence of law and order and the presence of love and peace all at once) and is eager to become a member of the collective. However, Youth questions the belief that individual happiness is the highest good when it becomes clear that the ostensible bohemia is artificial.
Singer and songwriter Stew, with collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Heidi Rodenwald, creates a sensorial experience that marries the je ne sais quoi of the American musical to the muscle of the post-soul black cultural product. Stew eschews the traditions of musical theater proper and produces characters that reflect the range of black identities in the United States and the larger world. His dialogue overflows with humor and pathos that rejuvenate and stir. His music enraptures. A few numbers are platitudes, but the triteness deflects attention from Stew and the onstage band, who act as narrator and chorus, to the handsome choreographies director Annie Dorsen and movement coordinator Karole Armitage use to steer the production.
The performances are phenomenal. Daniel Breaker as Youth captures the quirks of the teenager with perfection. He exudes moxie. Eisa Davis as Mother strikes the right balance between friend and foe. She endears Mother to the theatergoer with sentimental expression and gesture. The remarkable de'Adre Aziza, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, and Rebecca Naomi Jones bring to life several persons with gradation and passion. Stew is a character.
Passing Strange is an unforgettable experience that entertains and jolts the theatergoer that takes its ride.
Passing Strange, the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Place, (212) 967-7555, through July 1, $20.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Reviewed by Ilena George
Vascillating erratically between comedy and drama, damnation and redemption, The Clockwork Theater's Don Juan in Chicago re-imagines the story of legendary lothario Don Juan, who makes a deal with the devil: immortality in exchange for the successful seduction of a different woman each night. The trouble is he’s not a particularly smooth operator and, like its protagonist, the production needs to add a little grease to its wheels.
With its reliance on one-liners and fast-paced comedy sequences, Don Juan in Chicago plays out with the timing of a sitcom. Kooky and heavy-handed light and sound tricks—lighting and thunder as well as cartoonish announcements of the Devil’s arrival—underscore the play’s dark-humored though light-hearted moments. Ives’ deft rhyming couplets and overblown Shakespearean ending, with parents reuniting with long-lost children and true love ruling the day, highlights the fact that the play works best when it’s not taking itself too seriously. Consequentially, its serious moments feel leaden and lifeless. In addition, Mike Cinquino as Don Juan morosely sleepwalks through all but the beginning of the play, leaving the heavy lifting to the non-titular characters, who are more than capable of carrying the action, particularly Doug Nyman as Don Juan’s long-suffering servant Leporello and Stephen Balantzian as Mephistopheles.
Despite an ending that tries to tack on a much happier (and loftier) twist on what had otherwise been fairly dark in subject matter and fairly light in tone, the play partially redeems itself with its creative series of dirty jokes. After all, even the devil enjoys a good laugh.
Don Juan in Chicago by David Ives
Directed by Owen M. Smith
Kirk Theater at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street
May 26th-June 9th
Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00, Sundays at 3:00
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The Eaten Heart, a flawless work of theater performed by The Debate Society, takes place in the Motel "Decameron," a modern version of Boccaccio's epic collection of bawdy allegory. Here, the action takes place in a series of three parallel motel rooms (only the central one is fully exposed), and presents only glimpses of a wide range of characters. But those glimpses, handled by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, are so nuanced (and yet so subtle) that the entire evening is rich with the effect of many lives fully lived. Bos can go from being a raging temptress to a coy loner or a panic-struck singer, often in the same breath. Thureen, a perfect match, turns awkward into quietly sadistic and feeble into gleefully daft, as much satyr as saturnine.
The show only runs an hour, but that time gives us everything from a magician's panic-stricken collapse to a married woman's brief and childlike encounter with the pizza-delivery guy. The absurd is refined by the unsettling jocularity of a man who thinks the voodoo underwear he's wearing makes him invisible; the grotesque is present in a potted plant with some very special soil; the humanity in the brief connection between a pot-smoking sexpot and a mute repairman.
Impressive as these lives in miniature are, the technical precision of this show is what sets it apart. Director Oliver Butler's inventive ability prevails across the entire show, along with that of Amanda Rehbein's conjoined motel rooms, Mike Riggs' thunderstorm-creating lighting design, Sydney Maresca's thousand-and-one costumes, and Nathan Leigh's illusion-creating ("slight-of-ear") sound effects. Along with the outstanding cast, the show continually defies our expectations of the space, and is then able to suckerpunch us by defying our expectations of the characters.
By the time the show ended, I had by no means had my fill of The Eaten Heart: every segment was fresh and filled with theatrical magic. From the expert use of silence to the genius of overlapping two disparate strangers from different times in the same room at the same time, Butler has already found the way to transmute the mundane into the seductive. Such theatrical alchemy has turned The Eaten Heart to gold; indulge it now while you still can.
The Ontological Theater at St. Mark's Church (131 East 10th Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): [Student] $12.00 | [Adult] $17.00
Performances (Through 6/9): Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat., Sun @ 8
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
In Mother Load, Amy Wilson is pregnant again, and sharing her wisdom or lack thereof on motherhood from firsthand experience. As she bares her swollen belly on stage in anticipation of her third child, she invites the audience into her ever-lactating, ever-debating world. The setting by Lauren Helpern, at first impression a daycare but actually a living room in disarray, is teeming with toys and baby paraphernalia that Wilson uses as heartfelt props (see her "babies" in photo). As she folds the laundry, we sense that the miniature clothing belongs to her own young boys Connor and Seamus.
The voice-overs by sound designer Joe Miuccio, part mommy service announcement and part instruction, fluctuate from soothing to cautionary to scary. Initially, they are an effective tool to convey Wilson's angst, confusion and doubt about her maternal prowess. However, excessive use of this technology deviates from Wilson's opportunity to emote and connect with her material.
As Wilson shares her trepidation of the painstaking, albeit rewarding process of raising a baby, we are privy to a cathartic experience for the performer. Her therapeutic journey takes precedence over the entertainment, as demonstrated by her earnest, but only partially-formed character sketches. The characters are a critical part of her story, particularly since "when you have a baby in your belly, your body is everyone's business", but there isn't a strong effort on Wilson's part to breathe life into them.
The lighting design by Graham Kindred, much like the sound design by Miuccio, concurrently add and subtract from Wilson's sentiments. Kindred makes eclectic choices that exaggerate the drama, but his heavy hand also puts the spotlight on the technology instead of Wilson.
Mother Load caters to nostalgic moms or mother hopefuls, but there is enough heart here to strike a chord with a larger demographic. Wilson's isolation, loneliness, joy and devotion are as blatant as this piece is to her own personal growth and reflection.
Through June 16th. $45. Sage Theater 711 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY. 212-279-4200 No intermission.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Reviewed by Ilena George
In Djerassi’s Phallacy, art and science butt heads, step on one another’s toes and refuse to see eye-to-eye. Based on a real-life incident, an art historian and her assistant struggle against a chemist and his assistant to get to the truth behind a sculpture assumed to belong to Roman antiquity and later proven to be a Renaissance copy of an ancient sculpture. The accomplished ensemble cast makes their two-dimensional characters likeable but the play's flaw lies in its story: Djerassi mines what is possibly the least compelling aspect of the statue’s story in what becomes a childish and dull debate of the merits of art history versus those of chemistry through a technologically sophisticated prank war.
From the staging to the plot, the play hangs on its characters’ unwillingness to see what is directly in front of them. Dr. Regina Leitner-Opfermann (Lisa Harrow), director of the antiquities division of Austria’s premiere art museum, has literally written the book on a sculpture of a young man she has long attributed to the Roman period. When challenged by scientific evidence presented by chemist Dr. Rex Stolzfuss (Simon Jones) about the sculpture’s anachronistic elemental composition—too few trace elements in the bronze for the technology of the Roman period—Dr. Leitner-Opfermann shrilly refuses to acknowledge Dr. Stolzfuss’ research, just as she chooses to ignore some of her own research that casts doubt on what she chooses to believe about the statue. In a fit of pique, during which Jones practically rolls his eyes at her and winks at us, she throws Stolzfuss out of her office, sparking a race between the two sides, who share the stage but not a common purpose, to see who will be the first to publish conclusive proof as to the statue’s true origin.
Underlying this clash is an ill-fated love story. Dr. Leitner-Opfermann’s young colleague Emma (Carrie Heitman) and Stolzfuss’s assistant Otto (Vince Nappo) are in a secret and somewhat contrived relationship. Their relationship becomes a pawn in the power play between the two professional heavyweights as Dr. Stolzfuss uses information Otto gleaned from Emma to trick Dr. Leitner-Opfermann with pieces replicating her beloved statue, with one small but important adjustment Dr. Stolzfuss knew Dr. Leitner-Opfermann would overlook: the angle of the statue’s penis.
The human element gets lost quickly in this world where professional achievement means everything. Nappo and Heitman, while their performances are solid, lack real chemistry and their pairing seems doomed from the outset. Dr. Leitner-Opfermann’s marriage also failed and she develops a sensual but asexual relationship to the statue; she is intensely aware of each of the statue’s parts but pointedly skipping over any mention of his reproductive organs. Harrow shines in her description of the statue and her level of attention to its details; she conveys a wistful longing both for the object and for what she has had to sacrifice in pursuing it.
But the play’s real emotional core remains lodged in dimly lit flashbacks to an interaction between a soldier and a veiled woman, whose “costumes” are cleverly projected onto Nappo and Harrow. The soldier tells us he is Don Juan of Austria (bastard son of Hapsburg King Charles V and brother of Philip II) and the Austrian villager who hides behind a veil reveals her identity as Don Juan’s mother. Along with their identities, the pair reveal to us the statue’s true origins, an issue the present-day characters will continue to squabble over until the last possible moment.
Any elementary school student could have stepped in and offered these characters a lecture on compromise. The play flirts briefly with the idea that there is room for art in science, science in art, a personal life in addition to a professional one, but the conclusion leans more toward the idea that to be truly devoted to your discipline, you need to serve it with a slavish dedication that shuts out all else.
By Carl Djerassi
Directed by Elena Araoz
May 18-June 10
Tuesday through Saturday, 8PM
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, 3PM
Tickets ($35), 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250
Cherry Lane Theater
38 Commerce St.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
To start with, the script written by Linda Evans is seriously flawed. The plot lacks focus - bogged down as it is with far too many background stories that don't provide insight into the world of the play and simply serve to take up time. The structure too hampers the show. The first act ends just as the exposition is completed, which leaves the bulk of the action to the second half. The result is a jumbled and hurried turn of events absent of drama or tension. Evans work isn't without merit, however, she does have an ear for combining words in a lyric fashion. There is in fact a beautiful monologue that ends the show which is by far the most genuine and touching moment of the evening. But even as the words draw you in its difficult not to wish for the end - its a case of too little too late. Under these circumstances, its truly a wonder that the actors manage to imbue some humanity into their hollow roles.
The actors are all capable. Indeed there are some glimmers of depth, though they are few and far between. Without the benefit of a three dimensional character their performances quickly fall flat. The lack of subtlety or nuances could have been corrected by either better direction or better writing, unfortunately they received neither.
If there is one thing you get from seeing Lipstick on a Pig, its the value of good material. A little clarity and structure could certainly go a long way here. Perhaps future productions will have the resources to implement such alterations.
Lipstick on a Pig
Theater Row's Beckett Theater
410 West 42nd Street
now through June 3rd
Wednesday-Friday at 8PM,
Saturday at 2 and 8PM, Sunday at 2PM
Monday, May 21, 2007
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
What originally appears to be a two's company, sixteen's a crowd situation on the Jewel Box Theater's intimate stage actually turns out to be a clever director and stage manager's choice. The large ensemble for Rich Orloff's plays in Couples is ushered into our view all at once as Disneyland patrons to partake in Matterhorn, the first short piece of the show. What could have been a cacophony of voices pans out to be a soft sell of the couples as entertainers as well as partners. In essence, you will remember them when you see them again, and this strategy is particularly effective since each couple's stage time is limited to 10-20 minutes.
Richard Mover and Wende O'Reilly are loudmouths Jerry and Arleen, a disgruntled married couple resolving to settle in their mutual hatred of each other in Matterhorn. With great diction and presence, Mover and O'Reilly proceed to turn what could have been a gooey love story on its ear, and Orloff's tongue-in-cheek dialogue dances well off of their loud and obnoxious tongues.
Directors Philip Emeott, David Gautschy and Paula D'Alessandris take turns with the often dense, sometimes bizarre material with Emeott receiving the choice gems and eliciting the most brazen performances (Matterhorn and Lion Tamer).
In Lion Tamer, the boldest and most memorable piece, a man gets a sexy and scenic real estate tour. Christine Verleney and Justin R.G. Holcomb (a Woman and a Man) smolder in their carnal banter, but their unique circumstances would be hard to swallow were it not for the commitment that these comic heavyweights make to be playful.
The remainder of the show's themes include lust vs. yearning, professor-student relations, bitter-bitter memories, a happy anniversary, a shy woman's inner turmoil and serious one-night stands. There are few surprises and no common thread but for the two-character trend (Invisible Woman's male character is arguably expendable). Some of the plays are far too condensed (Heart of the Fire and Afternoon Sun) and seem to be too much of a charge both emotionally (Ken Glickfield struggles in Class Dismissed) and practically (Lena Armstrong, Marie-Pierre Beausejour and L.B. Williams all stumble on lines of dialogue as Rosemary in Afternoon Sun, Julie in Heart of the Fire, and Elliot in O Happy Day, respectively).
Couples is a whirlwind of expression, demonstrating a versatile and prolific Rich Orloff. And if you are a theatregoer who prefers your theatre smorgasbord-style, this show may just leave you sated.
Closes May 19th. Workshop's Jewel Box Theater 4th Floor312 West 36th Street(between 8th & 9th Avenues)New York, NY 10018 $15. Students with ID: $13For tickets call: 212-695-4173, extension 4
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
It never ceases to amaze me what set designers can do with Manhattan Theatre Source's modest space. In John Ford Noonan's A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, David Roman and Ed McNamee transform the set into a warm, enviable home. Cookies are baked and laundry is meticulously folded by Maude Mix, model housewife and upstanding citizen. As we watch Maude go through the carefully calculated steps of her life, it is difficult to discern why flashy and overzealous new neighbor Hannah Mae would be fascinated by her subject. And from henceforward unravels some questionable, albeit entertaining, events.
Actress Nancy Sirianni is incredibly comfortable in Maude's skin as she exhibits poise, rigidity, and an understated sexiness. Ironically, though quite up to the role, Monica Russell's Hannah Mae seems slightly forced. With her gaudy reds to Maude's grays and blues, her lack of decorum and imposing presence are seemingly a costume that she dons with the beginning of each scene.
Intermittently, the pace of the scene changes should be hastened and the cues for the change music should be modified. As these changes are performed in the dark with no visual stimuli, the attention given to the mistakes is amplified.
Noonan is remiss to have Carl Joe, husband to Hannah Mae and a major vehicle in the plot, remain an offstage character. It is a practical strategy in the interest of keeping this play a two-character and female-only affair, but it is also an anticlimax. After all, Carl Joe is a catalyst for the preposterous change in Hannah Mae and Maude's relationship, and the men in the women's lives are, indubitably, what shapes them into the people that they are.
As characters go, Maude and Hannah Mae defy the literary laws. They encounter a conflict, metamorphose in response to it, engage in poorly executed fight choreography intended to be comical, but in the end, regress to their former selves. These white chicks rarely sit down to talk, but this doesn't impede their growing need for one other. Though far from plausible and ankle-deep in lunacy, A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking does manage to titillate and entertain.
Through May 26th. Manhattan TheatreSource177 MacDougal StreetNew York, NY 10011Tickets: 212-352-3101866-811-4111 (Toll Free)212-501-4751 (Groups, 10+)Info: 212-501-4751
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Susan Ferrara's one-woman show, Peasant, looks like what it is--a workshop presentation--but it sounds so good, that I can't wait for her to flesh it out a little more. The issue with Peasant is that it's dramatically poor, so Ferrara is forced to mine her various characters for personality over substance. She plays up the comedy and theatricality of morphing from one character to another, and boils entire characters down to their sweet mannerisms, as with her childish description of Dracula: "I like Dracula because. I like Dracula because. He's very tall. And he wears black. And a cape. And he can fly. And. I like Dracula."
The most substantial character is her grandmother, Assunta, who (with sisters Rosalia and Lucia) makes the trip from Italy to America during the first World War. In the present, Assunta is a charmingly persistent matriarch who scolds and clucks her way around the stage; in the past, she delivers a grievous and poetic litany: "War took everything. Even the color green. Nothing but brown in San Marco. Southern Italy. Just dirt and rock. You think God forget color." After they reach Virginia, things get even harsher. Susan's grandfather, Francesco, works in the mines until he becomes a version of Dracula himself (or Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man): "Day and night he work for years. Buried in dose mines. Til his skin was as smooth an' white as da coal was dark. You could see the blood move thru him. You could see his heart beat. Almost invisible, buried for years."
The title of the play comes from the ID badge pinned to the sisters upon arriving at Ellis Island ("Peasant"), and in its finest moments, the show is a warm reminder of our jumbled, collective pasts. The tried-and-true plot brings them from the Statue of Liberty to a sewing factory to a cramped tenement home, and it even throws in dramatic staples like a dead child. But the first-person narrative, the charm of Ferrara's telling, is what sells the story. With more work and a few props to take the burden off the strained scenes, Peasant will be very compelling. For now, you get the chance to see a raw story that's ambling, at a clipped pace, toward a deep meaning about where we all come from, and what we do when we get there.
Chashama Theatre (217 E. 42nd Street)
Tickets (917-776-9726): $15.00
5/23, 5/24, 5/26 @ 8:00 | 5/27 @ 2:00
Sunday, May 20, 2007
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Reviewed by Cait Weiss
When I think of basketball, I think of the Lakers, Dennis Rodman, my dad randomly shouting at the TV set in our living room on a Sunday, a couple college buddies meeting up after classes to dominate each other on the courts. What I do not think of is musical extravaganza.
In the Schoolyard, a new musical just completing its run at the award-winning Theater for the New City, does not agree. The two-hour show traces five middle-aged friends as they meet up for a high-school reunion in, well, the schoolyard. The show hinges on a sort of sad, sweet paradox – the only thing these men really look forward to is looking back. Bring on the jazz hands!
Sure, West Side Story gave gangs rhythm and fan kicks, but at lease the show dealt with young, physically fit men. In In the Schoolyard, choreographer James Martinelli has no limber street fighters to teach truculent tondus to, but (by the show’s necessity) is instead presented with a pack of out of shape has-beens, thickened by nostalgia and a fifty-hour workweek. And you thought Billy Elliot had it hard.
With its book and lyrics by director Paulanne Simmons and the score by musical director Margaret Hetherman, In the Schoolyard does a commendable job finding the razzle dazzle in an arguably depressing situation. The show, like these past-obsessed men, succeeds the most when it surrenders itself to fantasy. Jerry’s show-stopping number “Small-Town Attorney” is hilarious (it doesn’t hurt that the man playing Jerry, James Martinelli, happens to also be the show’s choreographer and a very likeable presence on stage). Martinelli’s Jerry, stocky and soft, breaks into improbable tap number in the middle of an airport bar, and Simmons gives him wonderfully self-conscious, smart lyrics to break up the time steps and let the audience in on the joke.
The next time we see the ridiculous trump reality is Manny’s Don Juan-esque tribute to his sexy Spanish heritage in “Best Latin Lover, Dartmouth ’71.” The song is pretty silly – Manny jumps out of his car for the serenade, breaking into some kind of flamenco to reassert his golden days of yore. Manny, played by Richard Bryson, looks a bit like Jerry – both men have compressed, sturdy builds foreign to the world of musical theater.
Oddly enough, though, it's the cast's clumsiness and, in the most enjoyable and least realistic of musical numbers, the cast's total embracement of this clumsiness that makes In the Schoolyard's outlandish moments both believable and affecting. Despite all their ineffectual wistfulness, these middle-aged men prove that a little time, a little distance, and a little reflection can be a very good thing. Youth may be wasted on the young, but there’s a sense of comfortableness, of self-acceptance and humor that only comes with a potbelly and a tuft of grey. Sure, nostalgia is great. But sometimes, with the right dance moves, the here and now is even better.
After all, why get sidelined for travelling when you can get an assist, bank a jump shot and move on?
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Theater for the New City (155 1st Ave. b/t 10th St. and 11th St.)
Performances: May 4th through May 20th
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I won't pretend that I understood the zodiac-driven narrative of The Secret War, nor will I claim to have kept track of all the religious references to Zoroastrianism, its sub-sect Mazdaism, or even the various gods that keep popping up. What I will say is this: Darius Safavi's play is sloppy only because it's overflowing with interesting ideas. Nowhere else will you hear a religious chant segue into a modern dance and then into a freestyle rap. Nowhere else will you get such a sense of the perverse in the good and the holy in the bad, and nowhere else will you find such pleasure in being told to "prepare to suck on Satan's spiked cock" while "sucking on [his] acidic tit."
Episode 1, currently playing at the Milagro Theater through May 20th has its closest parallel in what The Best does, only Darius's eclecticism leans less toward multimedia/rock and more toward a riff on all the world's cultures at once. He does it with humor, sex appeal, Techronomicon-invented riffs, and some profoundly creative language ("Let the air-conditioned stars swallow the souls of prophets!"). Right now, The Secret War is an odd, underground thrill-ride, complete with musical guests after every show. But if Darius manages not to leak so much of his energy in needless experimentation (after exhausting so much here, he should have an idea for what works and what doesn't), The Secret War might just take off.
The Milagro Theater (107 Suffolk Street)
Tickets (www.thesecretwar.net): $12.00
Performances (through 5/20): Wednesday - Monday @ 8:00 & Thur., Fri., Sat. @ 10:30
Monday, May 14, 2007
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
In its current state, Peasant by Susan Ferrara is a 50-minute monologue bursting with vitality, pride and humor. The intimate space at the Chashama gives the audience the impression of exclusivity, but the acoustics make little Susie, Ferrara's first character sketch, a shrill-sounding nuisance. In it, little Susie reveals her fascination with Dracula that is in and of itself, endearing. However, the correlation between that and the other elements of the piece can only be imagined, if at all.
Her depiction of a trio of sisters is light-hearted with nuances that are recognizable from cinematic portrayals of traditional Italian families. However, the antics and the wringing of the handkerchief, a versatile prop for all of Ferrara's nine characters, are all products of her own creativity.
World War I and Catholicism are important catalysts for character morphs. Themes of identity loss and regret are also explored with such poignancy as well as simplicity with lines such as "We didn't get a better life. We just got a different life."
It is obvious that Ferrara holds her family tree in high esteem, with the question "Where do I come from?" persistently posed and answered by her ancestors. Exploring this very dense topic could be more entertaining with the addition of more imaginative stage lighting and props. Also, as characters were introduced, the last one was easily forgotten. Ferrara needs to find a better way to assimilate all those integral to her origin.
As America's pot continues to melt, feelings about being a "fish out of water" will continue to be relevant and fresh. But for Ferrara, she is living proof that adaptation can transcend limitations. The original dream may not have come to fruition, but the dream lives on to create new and exciting chapters in her lineage. From farmer to hatmaker to actress, the possibilities are endless.
Through May 27th. Chashama: 217 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017
Tickets: $15 917-776-9726
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
For die-hard New York theatergoers, the Foley artist is nothing new. But these days, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thrill to see them dressed up in their lab coats performing live sound effects for Guy Maddin's touring film, Brand Upon The Brain!. The film will live on with a recorded version featuring Isabella Rossellini as the interlocutor, and the effects and score by Jason Staczek will all be there: but the chance to see it all assembled on stage is a real treat, and a true theatrical experience. Surround sound has nothing on natural acoustics, and Maddin's heavily stylized combination of expressionism and impressionism (fast jump cuts, pinhole shots, unsteadily assembled photo-montages and shots) is best served as exhibitionism.
The May 13th performance I attended featured poet laureate John Ashbury as the narrator; a perfect match, considering the poetic nature not only of the silent text on camera, but also the "dubbed" text he was required to read. The film is poetic too, a self-described "photo-play" that uses images the way others might use words. Here a picture isn't worth a thousand words, but there are more than a thousand pictures to serve as metaphorical subtext, lively presence, or a Grand Guignol of atmosphere.
Brand Upon The Brain! is a charming horror story that makes memory into a monster, and is billed as a "remembrance in 12 parts." The first and final chapters feature Guy Maddin (Erik Steffen Maahs), and could serve as a lush autobiography on Black Notch Island, and its lighthouse orphanage, if it weren't for the Maddin's tyrannical witch of a mother or mad scientist father, the two of whom are slowly harvesting "nectar" from the orphan's brains.
This fanciful bit of Gothic adventure is kept in check by the more realistic emotions it brings into conflict: young Guy (Sullivan Brown) has to face down his mother (Gretchen Krich), Guy's sister, Sis, has to face her father (Todd Jefferson Moore) and both have to come to terms with their raging hormones, represented by the Hale twins, Wendy and Chance (Katherine E. Scharhon). As self-branded detectives, they set out to expose the inner workings of the orphanage, and also to understand their own inner workings, and Maddin's comically bleak tone allows for a lot of clever devices (like the "undressing gloves" or the foghorn voice of their father). Also, while there's a limited amount of text, both on the title-cards and from the interlocutor, it is often used to emphasize certain points: "Dinner. Grim as usual," or "Dirt is bad." Though the film seems to lose narrative control (and with it, its riveting focus) in the final chapters, the chaos is so well matched by the orchestra, Ensemble Sospeso, that even the dissonance wins us over.
A word of advice: watching Brand Upon The Brain! will leave a mark upon your brain, and may make it difficult for you to go back to watching movies normally again; not just because Guy Maddin's cinematography is so distinct and engaging, but because, in the end, there's nothing more appealing than experiencing something live. This here's the best of two worlds.
Village Cinema East (181 2nd Avenue)
Performances (through 5/19): 5/14 @ 7 (John Glover); 9:30 (Edward Hibbert);
5/15 @ 7 (Isabella Rossellini); 9:30 (Isabella Rossellini)
SHOWS ADDED: 5/16 and 5/17 @ 7 and 9:30
5/18 & 5/19 @ Angelika Film Center @ 8:00 and 10:20
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Although Blackbird is an ambiguous title, the playwright's name--David Harrower--manages to perfectly pronounce the tone of the piece. Like other famous Davids (Mamet comes to mind), he has created a terse, harrowing, 90-minute showdown between an office manager and the 27-year-old girl he had "illegal relations" with when she was twelve. Not going the easy route, he makes Ray (Jeff Daniels) the victim. The moment we meet him, he stands in a self-defeated slouch; when he speaks, it is with a choking sound, as if his mouth were clenched into a fist. Meanwhile, Una (Alison Pill), is the cat-like tormentor, languorously mocking Ray from a plastic chair, curling and uncurling both her body and her accusations in sudden rushes of text. She plays him like a ball of string, batting him around with the truth and staring him down with piercing, innocent eyes--like those of a child--and an adult, almost Cheshire-like grin.
Harrower's script gives them both ample opportunity to play. Una isn't really there for closure, and Ray's conception of pedophilia defies expectations: "I was never one of them," he claims. There's a bleak humor in realizing that Ray means it: he admits that his trial would have gone better if he had been abused as a child, and that if he had managed to return to her bedside, he would have looked even guiltier (he flight at least makes it seem as if he recognized his guilt).
As my theatergoing friend pointed out, this is akin to the justifications (and tone) of Martin in Edward Albee's The Goat. But whereas Albee was writing a satirical tragedy with heavy doses of melodrama to lighten the blows, Harrower is more interested in the uncomfortably bleak question of whether or not love can ever be wrong.
Jeff Daniels and Alison Pill are both extremely talented performers her, and their nuances are what make that question so hard to answer. Una acts a little neurotic, but if she really is traumatized, then perhaps love is a trauma. Ray, although at first angrily dismissive, is a man still on the edge, simply trying to protect what little dignity he's been left with after prison. The two are fragile, and the play's strongest, most settling moment, is a post-coital remembrance:
"Did I cum?" she asks, with the subtext of lingering trauma. Him, in ragged response: "I thought you did. Yes." "How could you tell?" she says, so much like a child that it's painful. "Your face was flushed. You kept your eyes shut a long time."The sentences are short and natural, as is the style of the entire play. While it's easier to believe she was a shameless girl with a crush, stupid enough to start, and that he was a lonely man too stupid to stop her, Harrower takes a more critical approach. When Ray says, "You weren't like other children.... You knew more about love than I did, than she did," we believe him. Harrower also manages to conflate two issues: after Una is found, the detectives all but rape her (cleaning her out) to get their evidence: "They asked me what you'd done to me and then told me what you'd done to me when I wouldn't." It's not an easy (or pretty) task, but it's staggeringly effective.
The only place where Blackbird has its dark wings clipped is in Joe Mantello's lighting choice. After going through so much effort to construct a realistic office on stage (kudos to Scott Pask), and then to focus the action within a single, prison-like conference room, it doesn't make sense to change the natural direction for the two lengthy monologues each character gets. Granted, it isn't easy to find things for the other character to do while they're being lectured, but that's the director's job. The harsh, soft lights of the office (Paul Gallo's design) are enough: the theatrics of dimming them comes across as cheap and distracting.
Blackbird is a show well-worth seeing, capable of casting some doubts on what is otherwise a morally unambiguous issue. For all that the dialogue is naturally awkward, full of false starts and stops, it's at the same time technically crisp and precise, rehearsed just enough to feel fresh and not at all sloppy. Whether or not you agree with Harrower's stark appraisal of love, Blackbird is an important piece for Manhattan Theater Club, no Doubt about it.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Manhattan Theater Club | New York City Center Stage 1 (131 West 55th Street)
Tickets (212-581-1212): $75.00 (Students: $25.00)
Performances (through 6/6): Tues. - Sat. @ 8:00 | Wed., Sat., Sun. @ 2:00
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Delaney Britt Brewer's new play, An Octopus Love Story, is like the difference between good sushi and bad. The good moments--which far outnumber the bad--are filled with witty characters and comic situations (the guy who hits on his co-worker only to find out she's a lesbian), and great new descriptions for depression: "This city is so sharp, sometimes I feel like I'm slashing my wrists just to hail a cab." The bad moments are just a result of straining the suction cups of the story until they cannot help but slip up. The titular anecdote about a lovestruck octopus is charming, but makes the play too much of an anti-Little Mermaid, just like Brian Sidney Bembridge's fish-tank of a set, which might work if it weren't sunk in metaphor (there's also the "people who live in glass houses" parable). On their own, the text and scenes are fine, albeit a little melodramatic, and the cast goes a long way toward keeping the focus on Brewer's language, rather than her metaphor.
After an excisable although enjoyable opening scene that introduces us to the closeted lesbian, Jane (to the chagrin of her co-worker, Marc [Eric Kuehnemann]), the play gets to the point as Tosh, Jane's live-in lover (and publicist) convinces her to marry Danny (Josh Tyson), a gay man, as a way of protesting marriage. What's interesting here, and where that fishy metaphor comes back to haunt us, is that Jane and Danny actually fall in love: Jane, as likable as she is neurotic, and Danny, a sweet, charming, Rock Hudson-quoting gentleman. Brewer gives us both sides of the story first when Mr. Gardner (a perfectly unsettling Andrew Dawson) shows up to interview them for what he calls a "mom and pop" magazine, but which is actually a subversive right-wing attack on their campaign, and then later when Danny's best friend, Alex (Michael Cyril Creighton) tries to win him back. So can you change who you are? Should you? Are we even what we say we are, think we are, actually are?
It's fitting that the scene changes are accompanied by light lounge music, because that's more or less how these questions are addressed--lightly. It's also why the plot slips further and further as the play continues. It isn't necessary for Tosh to have an affair to make Danny and Jane connect: they're already getting married. It does, however, make for a tearful bit of karaoke courtesy of Sir Elton John. It's obvious that Alex loves Danny from the subtler first act: the long monologue about a long-past bicycling accident just lets Creighton play a drunk. The one subplot that works is Jane's confession to her mother-in-law, Kathy, that she is lesbian, and it's a moment carried entirely by Krista Sutton, who makes more out Kathy than just a kooky Texan.
An Octopus Love Story may not be raw enough to make for good sushi: some of the characters are too thinly cut to seem attached, and the disconnected set and over-garnished subplots hold the show back. But the texture of a good play about gender identity--and more importantly, the taste of a rising playwright still establishing her style--makes this show worth sampling.
Center Stage (48 West 21st Street, Fourth Floor)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances (through 5/20): Wed. - Sat. @ 8:00 | Sun. @ 3:00
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Language is all the spectacle we need. English's forced protestations, easy convolutions, logical revolutions, and verbal tantalizations are full-throttle in Jenny Schwartz's comic drama, God's Ear. New Georges has done well in the past at tapping artists who are fully utilizing rhythm to tell a story (past productions include Sheila Callaghan's excellent Dead City, and Lisa D'Amour's Anna Bella Eema), and Schwartz is a perfect match for them. The fast-paced repetition of David Ives' Sure Thing colliding with the linguistic sparring of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead makes for the surface; her own lively imagination (both the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe are interlocutors in this production) is what lends the text its groove and its edge.
But there is more to to this cavalcade of language than simple logorrhea. Mel begins the play trying to explain the difference between "critical" and "crucial" to her husband, Ted, in regards to the health of their son, Sam. In short gasps of muted suffering, Mel can only dance around the words, and Ted, grief-stricken, makes for a willing participant as he slowly distances himself from the wife he cannot come to terms with. While Mel remains at home, caring for their six-year-old daughter Lanie, Ted flees to the nameless Lenoras of airport lounges or the aptly generic Guys who frequent sports bars and sing songs about what can't be sold on eBay. These characters share a surreal sincerity brought to life by Schwartz's quirky and repetitious humor, and God's Ear is entertaining because of the truth clinging to the fascinatingly facile jokes.
As the play progresses, the words become like music, and not just in the interstitial songs. The staccato desperation, the pleading falsetto, the unexpectedly shrill shrieks, these notes strum directly on the heartstrings. The fabulous cast are virtuosos of their own voices, but they also command equally fine performances from their partners, and I expect that Anne Kauffman's masterful direction brought a lot of cohesion to this difficult script. Kris Stone's whimsical set, a combination of pop-up book and Rubik's cube (all trap-doors and compartments), adds a grounding for the type of world where Schwartz's language runs free, and the fantasy costumes of GI Joe and The Tooth Fairy excuse the unmistakable clash between God's mind and God's ear.
There are segments of God's Ear that could do with a little paring, and Schwartz could be a little less obfuscating when it comes to the tragedy beneath the tumultuous text. But there's nothing wrong with a play that demands our attention as much as our sympathy, and the forceful contrivance of language here does more to liven the stage than anything Disney can throw at us. For in the end, we are what we say we are, the products of our own stories, and the tight, powerful narrative, tangled as it may be, is one hell of a dramatic web.
East Thirteenth Street Theater (136 East 13th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $25.00 (Mondays | "pay-what-you-will" at the door)
Performances (through 6/2): Wednesday-Monday @ 8:00
Monday, May 07, 2007
Reviewed by Kristyn R Smith
God's Ear, billed as a "full length play with musical interludes," is without question a step apart from most of what you'll encounter in NY theaters- Broadway or Off. Different isn't often a quality embraced by producers. For that alone New Georges merits great applause. But God's Ear isn't just different and New Georges didn't just take a big risk. They brought to the stage a piece that comes as a cool breeze to a stifling heat - how refreshing.
Penned by Jenny Schwartz, who is "pioneering a style of heightened theatrical language," God's Ear concerns the effects of a son's death on his mother and father. Their grief and inability to cope ultimately pervades every aspect of their lives, which forces them to find solace in the most unlikely of places. The dialogue is rich with insightful questions, repetition, and humor in the guise of pain; its style is jaunting to the ear at first. However, once the initial shock wears off, however, the rhythms and inflections, which make themselves as apparent as the words themselves, begin to ring in the ear. Their imprint on the mind lingers long after the sound waves have decayed from the air. This work resonates in ways reminiscent of spoken word poetry.
But the really interesting part, is that oftentimes you've already heard what's being said before. Schwartz utilizes every aphorism, creed, adage, proverb or turn of phrase out there and twists its meaning to fulfill her own desires. The result is the common made uncommon. It's the human psyche under the microscope, both disturbing and awe inspiring. In particular, the songs lend themselves to this balancing act. They create an ethereal quality with the sound of disembodied voices: the chant-like interludes serve as a reprieve from the insanity. But despite being strange and pretty, I felt they didn't add to the overall show.
The cast, on the other hand, added a great deal. They were very good, particularly with the skillful execution of the subtle nuances of the script. Because so many of the lines are repeated and/or phrases we're familiar with, it becomes a challenge to deliver them in a new light. Every performer masters this technique, but I have to give particular kudos to two of my favorites, Annie McNamara and Monique Vukovic. I also really enjoyed the Tooth Fairy and GI Joe characters. Their look, done by costume designer Oivera Gajic, was so imaginative and really playful.
The set, designed by Kris Stone, was also imaginative. First impressions in this case are not everything. The bare stage, excluding two chairs, certainly isn't much to look at from first glance, but as the show progressed the stage continually transformed. Individual squares which make up the deck began to take on a life of their own - evolving and unearthing unknown places (and people). It was perfect in its simplicity and quite ingeniously crafted.
The only change I would make would be some slight cuts in the script. Running without an intermission in the case of this show is imperative I believe, but it did run a tad long at close to 120 minutes. That said, I have no reservations in saying: Go see God's Ear. Go see God's Ear. Go See God's Ear.
East 13th Street Theater
136 East 13th (between 3rd and 4th)
now through June 2
Wednesday to Monday at 8 PM
Students and Seniors $18
Mondays are "pay-what-you-will"
212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The Receipt, a quirky two-man (and a Moog) show about the gaping maw of urban life, is the perfect show for the 2007 Brits Off Broadway series running at 59E59. Not only is Will Adamsdale and Chris Branch's show a well-crafted comic narrative, but it's as applicable to New York as it is to the "unnamed" city they are "archeologizing" (cough, cough, "Glondon"). Commentaries about oddly named utilities like the Oyster (a tube pass) are the furthest this show gets from New York life, and there's plenty of Blackberries and Apples to balance the ludicrously commercial field (throw in a nearby Bloomingdale's self-aware "medium brown bag").
Adamsdale, doubling between a short-tempered narrator and the two protagonists of the show (a man, Wiley, and a woman, T.), is the energy of the show, and Branch, who plays all the other characters and serves as an electronic Foley artist on his synthesizer, is both a perfect anchor to the show (sedentary as is he is behind the keyboard) and partner to Adamsdale. At worst, the play gets a little repetitive in mocking the inane procedures of the city (a city drowning in paper). More often, however, the accelerating humor and genial tone of the narration (Adamsdale speaks directly to the audience) make these jokes endearingly postmodern and appropriate for the 'in-the-know' crowd.
The play inspires an awkward sort of hope: never mind that T. spends twenty-six hours on hold without ever getting through; she takes a long shower and celebrates her miniature victory: she outlasted the phone. Wiley, who is the more central focus, grows so perplexed by the contradictions of his corporation that he looks to connect with a complete stranger: his quest to trace a trashed receipt back to its original owner is the backbone of the play, and leads to some rather humorous encounters in places like Drincoffee and Bar Space Bar. It's a deviously clever look at our carefully managed routines, and at the prisons we build for ourselves in the name of freedom.
59E59 Theaters: Theater C (59 East 59th Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $25.00
Performances (Through 5/27): Tues.-Fri. @ 8:30 | Sat. 2:30 & 8:30 | Sun. 3:30 & 7:30
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
How appropriate that Coram Boy has come to the theater that Les Miserable left behind: although Coram Boy is technically a straight play (the twenty-person chorus is an underscoring classical influence), it's also a period piece with a staggering cast, an epic set (and swelling effects to fill the Neo-Gothic display), multiple levels and multiple sub-plots, and--as befits all big shows--a rotating stage. While some of Coram Boy is just an opportunity for director Melly Still to show off all the means at her disposal, the end result of this bleak and melodramatic show is hopeful--not just for the orphans who have been rescued from their villainous abusers--but for Broadway productions as well.
The play begins in 1742, using theatrical effects from the get-go, as half the cast become props (gargoyles and angels) to set up the cavernous cathedral in which we meet both Meshak Gardiner (Brad Fleischer), the rapturous but mentally unbalanced son of Otis Gardener (Bill Camp, playing the Alan Rickman-like villain to perfect), and Thomas Ledbury and Alexander Ashbrook, two young choir boys who become good friends through their love of music (despite the large gap between Ashbrook's status and Ledbury's). Unlike Spring Awakening, the roles of the children aren't age-appropriate, although it pays off for these young soprano-voiced boys (played, by vocal necessity, by girls like the talented Xanthe Elbrick).
The first act is dedicated to showing Thomas's coming-of-age, the landmark at which his father, the Lord Ashbrook, will strip him of music and make him act like a man. It also focuses on exposing Otis Gardener's wrongdoings, as he collaborates with Mrs. Lynch (Jan Maxwell) to find women of means who need "men of means" to extricate their unwanted babies. The title and concept of the play comes from the Coram Hospital that was the only real orphanage back in the day, and Gardener makes his money off women who trust that he will ferry their children into this better place, rather than to the usual roadside ditch. In actuality--and here's where the production is most powerful--Otis just buries them behind the Ashbrook house, dead or alive, and the cast is called upon as props once more to represent all the buried, wailing baby corpses. The reason why Coram Boy works, why it grows beyond shallow melodrama, is because of this grandiose scope: one actor making the squalling of a baby is nothing, but a fleet of them becomes an unsinkable and theatrical armada of talent, and it is hard to go wrong with such overbearing emotion.
The second act, picking things up eight years later, deal with the repercussions of Act I's conclusion, along with a new focus on the eight-year-old Coram boys, Toby and Aaron, and their new nemesis, Philip Gaddarn, a rich merchant who makes his money illicitly selling the young, disease-free Coram girls into slavery, and putting the black children like Toby into fine garments as liveried servants that can use their fine pink tongues to do whatever the rich might expect of them. Be glad that this sort of evil, unspoken but clearly implied, isn't amplified or acted out by the entire cast: that effect would go too far. As is, Helen Edmundson (who adapts Jamila Gavin's novel) and Melly Still pick the right battles, amplifying only the things that would look cool on stage, like an underwater sequence or an angelic flight from the upper tier.
Coram Boy makes for an easy target because of how big and positively preening it is, at times. But the criticism of this Broadway spectacle is misplaced: this is a convincing, if overwrought world, with characters at least as enjoyable as those from Les Miserable. Although the speedy plot often forces a gloss of the tragedy and love stories, the whole play will strike a nerve, will take your breath away, and will make you tear up.
Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th)
Performances: Tues. - Sat. @ 8 | Wed. & Sat. @ 2 | Sun. @ 3
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Reviewed by Kristyn R Smith
Time Being, a new musical with story, book, and lyrics by Erika Stadtlander, attempts to clarify, well, "being" in its 90 minute run time. Sorting out life in any amount of time would be a challenge, so it comes as no surprise that this jumbled script loses its way. The dialogue is bogged down from word one with questions. Questions that are unanswered. None of the why or hows of "being" that puzzle us throughout our lives, are brought to any light here. Nor is any hypothesis made. But Stadtlander doesn't let a lack of story put a damper on the music.
The song and dance routines are shoddily placed interruptions to the mess of a script, and as such are the only relief from the metaphysical musings and existential ramblings. That is to say, they don't particular have anything to with "being." Although they lack in meaning and coherence to the whole, there are a couple of numbers that stand out for at least pleasing the ear. The choreography too, is often eye catching and dynamic. But the mostly bright, cheerful music is no more complementary to the darkly depressing book than the cast is to the subject matter.
The show features a cast of twelve performers who range in age from third grade to recent college grads. The majority, however, appear to be pre-teens. Despite their dedication to the show, its obvious they don't really understand what its about (no wonder, neither do I). But its truly a shame because there is definite talent here. The male and female leads, Eric Nelson and Abby Lindig, are particularly great. By and large the cast has beautiful voices and they enthusiastically executed dance steps, but the cute smiling faces simply cannot do enough to raise the bar of this material.
My advice regarding Time Being- don't bother. The press release is a let down after seeing this show. It tells a better story, its more insightful, and best of all its over in ten minutes. Who has time to be bombarded with so many questions about existence when life is all around you?
311 West 43rd Street
(between 8th and 9th Ave)
Runs through May 13th
Tickets are $20
Available through www.ticketcentral.com