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.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Lone Wolf Series: Spoiled Bea and the cowboy is dying

Although Spoiled Bea, about a former dancer trying to communicate with the outside world after a tragic accident, has vivid and funny moments, Jeanne LaSala is too comfortable in her own skin: her dancing ability supersedes the less-than-cohesive story. Donnetta Lavinia Grays may not be as comfortable a performer as LaSala, but her semi-autobiographical story about a woman's acceptance of her homosexuality, the cowboy is dying, demonstrates great comedic timing, a rich and soulful singing voice, and a strongly narrated story with wonderful concepts.

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

When you think of people that are known for being isolated, perhaps geeks, dweebs, nerds, and the hygienically-challenged come to mind. Isolation is seldom a coveted circumstance. But despite its negative connotations, qualities such as strength, independence, and endurance are sometimes forged, making it not such a bad thing. Coyote Rep Theatre Company's The Lone Wolf Series: Four Solo Shows about Stepping Away From the Pack, examines solitude from all angles in presentations of two. And while the stories couldn't be more different in Jeanne LaSala's Spoiled Bea and Donnetta Lavinia Grays' the cowboy is dying, they each have their own brand of special.

One can immediately tell that LaSala is a trained dancer, from her frequently clean lines and lithe figure to the way she incorporates dance and movement every and any way she can in Spoiled Bea. Her excessive use of choreography is both artful and problematic, particularly since she plays Bea, a character who has lost the ability to dance. LaSala's comfort with the stage borders on exhibitionism, and her provocative, clingy pants put the nail on that perspective. Every time an opportunity arises to sink your teeth into the plot, she tears into another dance number, but they're not always successful. Some of them are tired, impromptu, and awkward, and are occasionally punctuated by strange sound effects. It is as if the story is a series of hiccups between what is obviously her true passion, and the hiccups themselves are all over the place thematically. She is expressive and capable of showing great emotion, but the focus of the show is often questionable. Bea has suffered a tragic accident that leaves her in a vegetative state and in the long-term care of a doctor that she refers to as "Huntly," and the majority of the show is about how she tries to communicate with him through her imagination of what could have been. "Huntly" (Brian Homer) is physically present as her dance partner, her prop distributor and her doctor, which negates the one-woman show classification. Through a few lines of dialogue that seem to jump out thoughtlessly rather than being carefully crafted, LaSala tells the audience members that they have limitless potential and should do something about it. It's a nice sentiment, but it's not one that's sufficiently explored. Even with all of the hard work displayed, this show aspires, but never quite inspires.

On the other hand, the cowboy is dying is a fine model of a fully-developed story. It is a fusion of a great narrative, heartfelt drama, and original music dressed in soulful vocals. Grays captures our attention from the beginning, with bold claims of being able to start fires and thunderstorms even though her posture suggests uneasiness. However, that uneasiness folds neatly into the development of a socially uncomfortable character trying to find her niche. Unlike Spoiled Bea, cowboy makes better use of the sound clips to progress the plot and support the fluctuating emotions. Under Isaac Byrne's tight direction and her own comic timing, Grays links her dreams of being a preacher to her dreams of being an actor. When she struggles with integrating her lesbianism with her spirituality, her conflict is conveyed through her strong pipes (India Arie, watch out!) and intelligently written script. Grays is not afraid to get emotionally naked onstage either, singing "I know my body works even if you don't know. I know my body works even if you're through with it" to an unrequited love interest. The reasons for her isolation change throughout her life, but they all stem from a social root. She goes from being a outcast because of her connection to God to being confined within herself for fear of acting on her desires, and all of it is very gripping. She creates wonderful characters and anecdotes, and when she likens herself to the Marlboro man, it is not only hilarious, but also painfully tender. The cowboy may be dying, but unlike in the Westerns, we don't watch him go with sorrow. From his death springs the birth of a rising, talented artist.

The Lone Wolf Series is timely because it affirms the human ability to bend beyond expectations without breaking, particularly when there have already been so many trying times such as natural disasters and political uproar in 2008. This season stands in direct contrast to their first season's theme of "community,", but both are needed to fortify society. And if we can learn something about how to achieve progress from a theater show, then it's proven its substance. The Lone Wolf Series is much more than a good way to past the time. It is inspiration and vigor proclamation.
Through May 25th. Tickets: $18.
June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street1st floor, New York, NY 10018

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