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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Twelfth Night

T. Schreiber Studio’s production of Twelfth Night more than succeeds at turning an old classic new.

Reviewed by Adrienne Urbanski

Taking on a classic Shakespearean work presents a problem for any modern theater company: how to create a production that is fresh enough to appeal to theatergoers already familiar with the Bard’s repertoire and with ample access to other productions of the work. Thankfully, T. Schreiber Studio’s current production of Twelfth Night more than succeeds in making a well known work feel fresh and compelling.

Much of the play’s success can be largely credited to its wondrous visual presence, expertly executed by costume designer Karen Ann Ledger and set designer George Allison. The play’s gender-bending attributes are well suited for the use of steampunk aesthetics, which merge modern punk and Victorian-era attributes, a fashion that works especially well when the plot spins around a girl masquerading as her twin brother, and a fooled would be suitor, who signals to the object of his affection with yellow stockings.

Juxtaposing technology alongside romantic Victorian designs also serves to add depth and richness to the work. A large screen at the back of stage plays videos to cue the audience into the setting of the work, and to provide additional footage of some of the play’s subtle comedic moments (such as Malvolio’s humorously forced smile). The ornate stage mechanically changes from scene to scene: gilded stairs fold and unfold, doors open and shut. The music of Minnesotan group Cloud Cult plays from a phonograph/mp3 player that the jester Feste wheels across the stage, a good tonal choice for both its traditional and modern aural aesthetics. At the center of the stage is a large crossword puzzle, upon which characters write words providing insight into the tone and motivations of each character and scene.

As is common in most Shakespearean comedies, the play centers on gender-bending and misdirected love: twins Sebastian and Viola are shipwrecked. Viola (Jacqueline van Blene) disguises herself as a man--Cesario--and works in service to Orsino (Shane Colt Jerome), who loves Olivia (Andrea Marie Smith). Except that Olivia falls for "Cesario," even as Viola falls for Orsino.

However, the play’s most comedic moments belong to prim, uptight Malvolio, who, the butt of a prank, is made to believe that the beautiful Olivia has affections for him. Through the letter’s instructions, Malvolio lets loose, donning bright yellow stockings, putting on a large grin, and leaping on the stage in sheer joy. Justin Elfer successfully solicits much laughter in the role, skillfully managing to communicate humor, despite his somewhat outdated Shakespearean English. The large cast succeeds in their roles, expertly conveying the play’s many moments of physical humor. Theatergoers may hesitate at seeing a work so frequently performed, but they can rest assured: director Cat Parker has turned a timeless classic into something new.

Twelfth Night (2hr 30 min, 1 intermission)
Gloria Maddox Theater at T. Schreiber Studios (151 W 26th St, 7th Floor.)
Tickets: $25
Performances (through 11/23): Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

No Entrance

Access Theater's production of No Entrance seeks to expose the stories behind the Iraq War.

Reviewed by Adrienne Urbanski

For many New Yorkers, the war in Iraq has not directly affected our personal lives, and has rather existed as something distant and removed to us, a problem being played out in a far off country. Access Theater’s current production of No Entrance attempts to change this common view, taking the war to a personal level and shedding light on the pain and plight of the soldiers. However, the five scenes are uneven--some not even taking place in the real world--and what starts as something personal threatens to become just another story.

The work opens with James pacing around as his wife Natalie and her sister discuss their fear and unease at the news that he will soon be shipped off to Iraq to serve his country. “You know I can hear you,” he says, clenching his hands in frustration. Natalie is angry with James's calm acceptance and lack of terror, but James soothes her, promising that all will be well, that their life will pick up exactly from where they left it, that serving in the war will ultimately change little in their lives. As Natalie, Emily Loeb is radiant, fully embodying the sadness and frustration of her character, sometimes eclipsing the other characters in a scene.

The play’s most appealing scene consists of Natalie listlessly sitting in an airport with no purpose for being there other than escaping the reality of her own life. While sitting in the waiting area she meets William, a Midwestern farm boy waiting to pick up his grandparents from their flight home. Young, charmingly eccentric William is due to be sent to Iraq and he expresses his fear to Natalie, who tries, not too convincingly, to tell him that everything will be all right. Natalie then refuses to let William introduce himself, not wanting to become personally connected to someone who could very well turn up dead.

While the aforementioned scenes are strong, well-written works on their own, the other three scenes do not fully interlock with them. There is a sense of linear time to the vignettes, but they lack a clear sense of narrative. Each scene is successful in being emotionally evocative, but some run on too long or require rewrites, as when the soldiers are stuck in purgatory, seeking forgiveness for their sins, waiting for their names to be called so they can make it through heaven’s gate (hence the ominous title).

Despite the need for some nips and tucks, Alec Gutherz's script shows a lot of promise, particularly in his ability to create compelling characters and stories. Thankfully, there's a deeply gifted cast capable of delivering such emotionally charged work without falling back on bravado. Perhaps they'll find that entrance after all.

No Entrance (1 hr 30 min, no intermission)
Access Theater (380 Broadway, fourth floor)
Tickets: $18
Runs Through November 2nd

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life After Bush

Life After Bush: a musical we can believe in?

Reviewed by Patrick Wood

As we near the end of this exhausting presidential election, one overflowing with a weird brew of self-parody, horror and hope that has both emboldened and wearied the staunchest cynics and most fervently faithful, it’s hard to imagine to imagine still having an appetite for a satirical musical called Life After Bush. At a time when a candidate’s early morning gaffe is circulated through Google Readers by lunchtime, played ad nauseam on the evening news and dramatized on SNL a few days later, why sit through a production wrought from the from the familiar jokes of our contemporary political battlefield?

“To promote understanding and inspire,” answers Nero Fiddled, which continues its GOP-bashing theatrics with Life After Bush. While their explanation reeks of the kind of arrogant intellectual superiority that many Red-Staters love to hate in liberals, Nero Fiddled is at least upfront about their contentment with preaching to the choir. The play’s characters, caricatures of our nation’s top political players, engage issues like Iraq and the fall of Wall Street with ironically-titled songs like “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and “Corporations Are People Too” that—with little plot to string scenes together—trace Bush’s final months in office as Obama waits in the wings. The sprawling approach yields an uneven product that’s obvious, self-righteous, funny and inspiring in drastically varying measures.

Brian Louis Hoffman renders a capable but unremarkable version of Bush, another idiot-boy in an oversize cowboy hat playing with toy soldiers. Unfortunately timed as it is, the performance proves most effective at pointing to the impressive nuances of Josh Brolin’s W., a man who, despite the disastrous effects of his insular philosophies, boldly embodies an absurd version of The Hero’s Journey. Stone proved that a staunch left-winger could portray a sympathetic, relatively balanced version of Bush without sacrificing comedy or moral outrage. It’s an example that would have benefited this production, encouraging a search for humor not in a narrow-minded take on our country’s culture wars but from the tragedy of miscommunication that infects the United States of America right now.

The play more successfully takes aim at other Republican targets. As McCain, Avi Phillips—sporting a military helmet and cotton-balled jowls—effectively wrings comedy from the candidate’s grotesque persistence in calling everyone “[his] friends." His verbal lashing of Sarah Palin, complete with a particularly creative vulgarity that potently invokes the shock value still remaining in our language’s most misogynist word, gets the biggest laugh of the show. Not restricting their criticism to Western Republicans, the writers manage to amusingly skewer Giuliani’s exploitation of 9/11 in one of the play’s most impressive musical numbers.

In requisite efforts to poke fun at the side of the aisle closer to its heart, Life After Bush misfires. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi come across as colorless and boring. But Tarik Davis’s turn as Obama offers the otherwise smug production the engaging theatricality it needs. Clad in a skintight superhero outfit but never seeming anything less than genuinely serious, endowed with a rich baritone and an unmistakable stage presence, Davis captures the calm confidence of Obama in a way that no comedian has been able to. If the messy madness of Life After Bush doesn’t inspire as a whole, Davis’s Obama certainly does. He offers a glimpse of a presidential presence that would be nothing short of refreshing…and probably send Nero Fiddled into a welcome period of creative overhaul.

Life After Bush (90 min.; no intermission)
Here Arts Center (145 6th Ave.)
Tickets: $18.00
Performances: 10/31 & 11/1 @ 7 | 11/2 @ 7:30

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crawl, Fade to White

Crawl, Fade to White, the seventh production of the playwright-run 13P, is as unnerving as it is rewarding. Plots do not fully cohere and characters hold onto their secrets, but it is through the ambiguities of her theatrical world that Sheila Callaghan constructs a landscape of loss more honest than a confession, and more haunting than a trance.

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Reviewed by Jason Fitzgerald

If the ground is bare in October and it’s 90 degrees out, can you still call it a “fall clearance sale?” Dan and Fran, an elderly couple in Sheila Callaghan’s new play Crawl, Fade to White, don’t think so: The play opens with the pair sitting in their home, cutting leaves out of colored construction paper. With autumn gone missing, their crafts hold the spiritual force of a rain dance, filling an absence by force of will. Their small ritual inaugurates a theatrical event that does not so much explore loss as a theme but give it a shape, full of holes that yearn to be unmade.

The plot of Crawl, Fade to White is mostly impressionistic, but loss is its structural core. Dan and Fran mourn the loss of their two children in an unnamed “tragedy.” Their neighbor Louise nurses a broken heart left by her daughter’s father, though they were lovers for barely a year (she was 15) before he fled. For their grown daughter April, who never met her father, his absence remains acute and crippling. In fact, when we first meet her, back from college with her boyfriend Nolan, she acts childishly, trying to steal back a lamp he once touched.

In Anna Kiraly’s evocative set design, beneath the raised stage that represents Dan and Fran’s house there is a line of soil bearing a collection of discarded children’s toys—a visual reminder of each character’s troubled relationship with childhood. Kiraly’s set, combined with Paul Willis’s vivid staging, allows loss to structure the audience’s experience as well. Settings are bounded by pairs of tall white flats, set at right angles and placed on wheels, that adjust for each location but leave the scarred interior of the Ideal Glass Gallery always visible. Scenes are interspersed with the sound of strings, barking, crying, and rainfall, though images of violins, animals, babies, and rainwater are nowhere to be found. The sparsely chosen props—a beach chair in the couple’s yard, a telephone in their living room, a chair in a neighbor’s house—do not suggest a more elaborate location in a realistic world: rather, the locations in question are that bare.

The play is meant to feel disorienting: each short scene (and line of dialogue) feels intentionally, abruptly, unfinished. April refuses to let the lamp out of her sight once she finds it, Dan and Fran claim the young students as replacements for their lost children, Nolan (who faces his own demons) finds healing after a lovemaking scene with Louise—it's not rational, but for souls desperate to fill the gaping voids that define them, emotion and impulse becomes logic. The actors bravely eschew rounded psychologies, letting a mysterious inner logic ground their characters in external will and drive—Jocelyn Kuritsky’s April shakes like an overheated bomb, while Carla Harting’s Louise applies lipstick like an addict taking pills.

The surprising effect of all this ambiguity is to make us pay more attention, to imbue the simplest of actions (a Polaroid camera flash, the wearing of an apron) with dire importance, so that we participate in the play’s vain grasping for any object, action, or memory that can bring clarity and closure. Callaghan’s vision is bleak, but it is also true to the denials, insanities, and backward glances that constitute psychic wounds refusing to scab over.

Crawl, Fade to White (90 minutes, no intermission)
Ideal Glass Gallery (222 East 2nd St)
(212) 352-3101, or for tickets
Wed-Sat 8pm, through Nov 1st

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Files

A minimal set cordoned off by what could be Soviet-era caution tape confines the four members of the Theatre of the Eighth Day troupe in The Files, an epistolary play made up of text adapted from the actors’ personal correspondence and, most intriguingly, from the notes kept on them by the police during Poland’s Communist regime.

Reviewed by Meg van Huygen

After opening with a black-and-white animated history (Terry Gilliam-style), the actors—playing themselves from the 1970s—take us chronologically through the events that comprise their oppression-defying oeuvre. The actors’ old letters to one another are read in charmingly accented English; “authority” voices and dark glasses are adopted for the official communiqués penned by the government spies attempting to infiltrate the troupe. A lot of humor comes from the actors’ double-takes as they hear themselves described from the police’s point of view. At one point, the codenames of the spies are read by all four actors simultaneously, in a strange, poem-like drone, evoking the strange anthems of Cold War's art-suppressing decades. The only woman in the troupe, Ewa Wojciak, suggests the “mother computer” of a thousand dystopian films. Curious to note are the actors’ huge smiles throughout, as they change from “Ah, we were so young!” laughs to bittersweet grins of regret.

We’re used to films and documentaries covering this period by presenting the gray, bleak world of Communist rule, so we’re unprepared for the humorous excerpts from the Theater of the Eighth Day’s contemporary work performed throughout. Moments of chaotic clowning are punctuated with sudden violence and silly verse by the three male members (and with particular hilarity and gravity by Tadeusz Janiszewski).

The Files is nothing more than four people sitting in front of microphones, reading 40-year-old government telegrams. But as they get you on their wavelength, a compelling mental picture forms of young, fearless artists who rebel not with IEDs or flaming cocktails but with thoughts, ideals, art, and sometimes nonsense. The play ends very effectively with Wojciak singing in Polish along with a projection of her 19-year-old self. Now, Wojciak is overcome by emotion halfway through, but her past voice continues to sing on in a clear, brave voice that no government document could censor, temper, or still.

The Files is performed weekly at the 59E59 Theaters as part of Made In Poland: A Festival of New Polish Plays, which runs through November 30th.

The Files (1 hour, 20 minutes; no intermission)
59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, Manhattan)
Tickets: $25
Performances: October 22nd - November 9th

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Like You Like It

Despite a few bum shops in this "All-the-world's-a" mall, Like You Like It, an '80s light rock riff on Shakespeare, is quite likeable. Alison Luff, Hollis Scarbourgh, and Trey Compton are such charming A+ actors that, when they're in the midst of a well-executed number from choreographer Keith Andrews, and wearing Hunter Kaczorowski's slammin' clothes, all you see is a blur of comic cheer--and that's something we can all like.

Photo/Jennifer Maurfrais Kelly

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Transposing Shakespeare to high school is nothing new--Taming of the Shrew became 10 Things I Hate About You, Othello simply stood for O--and that's to say nothing of all the giddy musical riffs out there, like Kiss Me Kate, or the current production of Ilyria. But don't just shrug off this '80s take on As You Like It with a laconic "Whatever," or a lacerating "As if!" Sammy Buck (Book/Lyrics) and Daniel S. Acquisto (Music) may not be particularly ambitious with Like You Like It, but they are in firm territory, and in a fine production from the Gallery Players, in this, their second original musical production (following last year's Yank!).

Despite cutting out the social satire (and Jacques himself), the musical hews rather closely to the original. The one addition, the "narrators," rockers Jackie West and Eddie Van Beethoven (Jennifer Blood and Lance Olds) and their band, the "Seven Stages of Man," only make it easier to self-satirize the plot, enhancing the crowd-pleasing narrative, (now with 80s affectations that include Molly Ringwald, Rubik's Cubes, Swatches, and Wonder Twin powers). Apparently, cannibalizing a show is fine, as long as you use authentic spices, and keep a smile on your face. (For an instructive glimpse on how to make the most of something, keep an eye on Elisabeth Ness, who plays the hell out of the bit chorus part, "Neckbrace Girl.")

As for the story, Orlando (Nathan Johnson) is dating popular girl Audrey Shepherd (Caitlin Kent), but worries (in the aptly titled "The Song About Orlando") that nobody really likes him. The one exception is Rosalind (the fantastic Alison Luff), but she's just as shy about taking a risk as he is--a problem that is solved when Orlando's brother, Oliver (Clint Morris), suspends Rosalind and her cohort, Celia (Hollis Scarborugh). In order to spend the day wisely--shopping their cares away at the enchanting, newly opened Arden Mall--Rosalind disguises herself as a boy, Corey, while Celia channels a rebellious Madonna. They're joined, of course, by the car-driving class clown, Walter "Touchstone" James (a delightful Trey Compton), who has a crush on Celia. In one clever gender-bending twist, Sylvie and Phil (originally shepherds, but now role-reversed students, played by Brynn Curry and Michael Lowney) are best friends, dealing with the sudden revelation that Phil has fallen for Corey. (As does poor, misunderstood Audrey.) There's a lot going on, but despite the very clever Act I closer, "Complicated," the jokes are as broadly painted as the plot.

Where Like You Like It suffers isn't in the story, nor is it in the surface (Keith Andrew's choreography and Hunter Kaczorwski's costumes nail the period), but rather in the music. Musical director Jeffrey Campos isn't to blame--the large chorus numbers sound just fine. But with the exception of Luff and Scarborough, too many of the lead singers are tame (which is ironic, given a song like "Be a Little Wild"), and while they generally hit their notes, there's little behind it. (This is most apparent in the sloppy "So Close, So Far Away" number, in the short duets between Sylvie and Phil, or when Orlando takes center stage.) Comedy needs more truth, not less: that's how you sell the humor.

But hey, if all the world's a mall, then we have to accept the odd Pottery Barn out along with all the other good shops, and taken as a whole--as in the fantastic, song-blending and utterly satisfying "Finale"--Like You Like It ends up quite likeable indeed.

Like You Like It (2hrs 20min, 1 intermission)
The Gallery Players (199 14th Street, Brooklyn)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 11/9): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. & Sun. @ 3

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Pumpkin Pie Show

The Pumpkin Pie Show is storytelling at its most basic and finest: no set, no costumes, just high energy bedroom stories for the adult crowd. Clay McLeod Chapman's stories may twist and turn, but they are ultimately about the deeply wounded, and even more deeply human, characters at the heart of them, and this voice--unabashedly released by Chapman and Hanna Cheek--is not just what stories need to be about, but what theater should be, too.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

There's a mad glint in Clay McLeod Chapman's squinting eye as he launches into "The Pool Witch," an energy about him so gleefully fresh that you not only see him as a thirteen-year-old, but see the hook his character dreams of having, too. The manic pirate speak--grossly exaggerated--sets the mood and rhythm of the story, while at the same time, somehow giving this baby-faced actor/playwright the ability to slip in poetic phrases: "Sizing up every slide Water World had to offer, it was as clear as chlorine to the seafaring three of Freddy, Chub, and me that our maiden voyage of the day had to be down the ride they called Moby's Nozzle." Later, voice aquiver, he will end up in the lap of an audience member, holding on for dear life, and you'll be hugging him back: welcome to The Pumpkin Pie Show.

This is storytelling at its most basic and finest: no set, no costumes, just bedroom stories for the adult crowd (or for some really twisted children). Tuck yourself in tightly: just don't expect to fall asleep. What makes Chapman such a terrific playwright--and entertainer--is that, as in his fiction, he is a master of voice. Ten years of the Show have only made him more confident, and the total lack of embarrassment is simultaneously endearing and terrifying: what won't they do? (He is joined by his long-time Show collaborator, Hanna Cheek, who matches his text blow for blow. The night I attended, she smoothly evoked a mother giving her prom-going son a "pep" talk in "Vagina Dentata, a jealous drunk at her younger sister's wedding in "Bridesmaid," and a seductive Southern-grown killer in "Overbite.")

The stories twist and turn--often darkly, as when a bum describes his "Poor Man's Mermaid" as having "eyes as glassy as a couple of jellyfish left on a beach of pale skin"--but what sells the show is the intensity of pure character on display. These aren't just trick stories: they are lives--admittedly, the lives of those we struggle so hard to ignore. How else to explain the tricky emotion embedded in each tale? The way the protagonist of "Overbite," despite her iron-jawed tendency to bite off a man's tongue, can still sweetly promise not to bite, or the way an elderly man can find happiness in his wife's Alzheimer ("Oldsmobile"), for that dementia makes them both young again. There's more to the Bridesmaid than the literal skeletons under the swing set: there's an honest pain in the way she feels spurned. That's the trick that Chapman has over, say, the Cryptkeeper: there's plenty of humor, but we find ourselves caring for these characters, no matter how flawed they are. (It's the same special sideways storytelling that makes Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" so anthologized.)

In one of the best moments of the evening (which, to be fair, changes at every performance: six of the fourteen plays are selected at random), Chapman's voice breaks as he observes the tan lines on the so-called "pool witch" up close, the way her name--Tabitha--is spelled out in block letters on her lifeguard-red swimsuit. It's a squeal of love, summed up in a few lines, and at the same time, a realization of the blurred line between fantasy and reality, ugliness and real beauty.

The Pumpkin Pie Show (at least 1hr)
UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18
Performances (through 11/1): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Flip Side

The characters in Flip Side are stuck in two different worlds, and their contrasts are fascinating. But, aside from an online affair, playwright Ellen Maddow never allows them to interact, and it's hard to feel sympathetic for jealous characters when they refuse to experience anything themselves.

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

It’s not a good sign that Anna Kiraly’s set is more developed than any of the characters in Ellen Maddow’s new play, Flip Side. The characters that inhabit the two mythical worlds of Drizzle Plaza and the Waterfall family home are stuck in one dimension, whereas the set—constructed of wooden beams and transparent paper (for projections)—serves as a house, a restaurant, and a town square. If you like experimental plays, Flip Side is an enigmatic exploration of the longing to be somewhere, and what happens when you discover that “somewhere else” has just as many problems as the place you’re trying to escape.

Drizzle Plaza is the land of the terminally haggard, where people like Frank (Will Badgett) and Daisy (Heidi Schreck) spend their time talking about lost loves and lost opportunities in short, clipped sentences. Their idea of a fun night is spying through their neighbor's windows, grasping for a piece of what they think is a comfortable life. Little do they know that this supposedly content neighbors are actually fighting over the amount of time Alan Flynnalyn (John Hellweg) spends chatting online with his school sweetheart instead of spending time with his wife Marilyn (Tina Shepard). Hellweg’s drooping eyes and slouch suggest a harried husband; the way he constantly clutches his laptop and speaks as if he’s in a chatroom (“LOL”), shows a child looking for a new world to escape to. In the midst of spying, Frank and Daisy meet a pair of elderly women whose X-ray glasses allow them to see not only inside their neighbor’s houses, but inside the world of the Waterfall family.

This is Drizzle Plaza’s flip side, and the Waterfallmanic energy is a sharp contrast to the plaza’s listless residents. Uncle Oscar (David Brooks), and mother Sylvia (also Tina Shepard) are happy always being in motion, going from job to home to gym with a constant smile, as this lets them ignore the inner dissent of their teenage daughter, Cheramoya (Sue Jean Kim), who dances and insults her mother, Sylvia, often at the same time. She's like a Tazmanian devil, pigtails whipping around, perpetually out of breath. As for Sylvia happens to be the woman Alan spends all of his free time talking to.

With all of this spying, I expected more intrigue, more excitement, maybe even more violence, but aside from Cheramoya accidentally throwing a tomato at Drizzle Plaza, the two sides never interact (not counting Alan and Sylvia’s online affair). However juvenile, the tomato throwing could have been an opportunity for the two sides to experience firsthand what they had been passively spying for the entire play. It would force them to see the reality behind what they assume is the better place, and maybe even find some appreciation for the one they’re already in. After all, it’s hard to feel sympathetic for jealous characters when they’re refusing to experience anything themselves.

Flip Side (1 hour 30 minutes)
Connelly Theater (220 East 4th Street)
Tues-Sat at 8pm, through October 19th
Tickets available at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Folding Chair's ambitious production of Cymbeline is a nearly perfect show worth much more than the measly $18 price tag. With six thespians tackling 25 roles, you'll get a highly-skilled cast, great direction, and all the heart, passion, and humor that you can stand. Despite a less-than-believable Queen, you'll come away knowing that this ensemble is a tour-de-force.

Paul Edward Hope and Josh Thelin in Cymbeline

Photo by: Marcus Geldud

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Folding Chair Classical Theatre's production of Cymbeline is a wonderful romp into British history and a razzle-dazzle display of acting talent. It follows the story of Posthumus Leonatus (Paul Edward Hope), a man with questionable pedigree, and his troubled, secret marriage to Imogen (Lisa Blankenship), King Cymbeline's (Gowan Campbell) daughter. It’s been called both a tragedy and a romance, but in the hands of the cast, it's nothing short of an incredible feat in skill and entertainment. A six-person ensemble plays 25 roles, with nothing but acting chops and limited costumes to distinguish one from the other. Like Folding Chair's previous productions, Cymbeline is boldly performed in plain clothes and simple props, leaving the focus on the words, the performance, and Marcus Geduld’s spearheading direction, which turns the text into a passionate animal.

Newcomer Josh Thelin, who plays four roles, stands out in the company. His Cloten is wildly emotive, a geyser of passion, hubris, and tomfoolery. One particularly vivid scene has him prancing around in leopard-skin undies as he commands a flamboyant servant (Hope) to give him a hilariously conceived butt massage.

Thelin may stand out, but almost everyone in the cast is a triumph, even when their voices dip beneath the hum of the air conditioner. Only Karen Ogle's Queen needs some help, for she plays the part in the same manner that she plays Cadwal, Cymbeline's long-lost son. The tiara she wears isn’t enough to make her regal: whereas the rest of the cast do well without full costume, a stiff one with boning could have helped to improve Ogle's posture and movement.

The music, which fits the swelling and contracting of the circumstances, could’ve used some stiffening too: it is too grand for the show's aesthetics. Then again, from Hope’s great fight choreography to the acting and the directing, everything is grand. Fresh, gutsy, and exciting, Cymbeline is, like Our Country's Good earlier this year, another jewel in Folding Chair's crown.
Cymbeline (2hrs and 45 min with intermission)
78th Street Lab (236 W. 78th Street, NY NY 10024
Tickets: $18
Through November 2nd.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Time of Your Life

The denizens of Nick's Bar in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life escape the Depression and an impending war with a few drinks.

Photo/Mike Abrams Photography

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

It’s 1939, depression-era San Francisco, and the country’s preparing for war. Of course, you’d never know it from the looks of The Time of Your Life, where Nick’s Bar is the center of the universe. Mysteriously wealthy slacker Joe (Mike Mendiola) spends each day at his regular table, ordering glasses of champagne and sending his lackey, the sweet, dim-witted Tom (Matthew DeCapua) to run errands. And then there’s Kitty Duvall (Daniela Mastropietro), a prostitute with dreams of being an actress, who falls in love with Tom. Forget war: the central conflicts of The Time of Your Life are more personal. Will Kitty and Tom be able to marry? Will menacing policeman Blick (Dan Berkey) shut down Nick’s Bar for allowing prostitutes inside? However, these undeveloped plots aren’t pressing, and the play is ultimately as slow as the bar’s liquored patrons.

It takes a very magnetic actor to make Joe stand out amidst the parade of drinkers coming in and out, to make him equally handsome and mysterious. Mendiola is almost up to the job—he has a faraway gaze, a hint of sadness in his eyes, and a charming, bitter laugh. It's heartbreaking to watch Joe look at Tom and Kitty, to give them his blessing for the kind of love that—for reasons he won't say—he can't have, and Mendiola’s grief is palpable in his expressions. And yet, his tendency is to direct his intense stare toward a distant point the audience can't see, rather than to Kitty, whom he claims to care deeply about, or even to Tom or Nick.

As Kitty, Mastropietro is a credible hooker with a heart of gold, ready to out-sass Blick when he tries to arrest her, but also prone to burst into tears whenever she is reminded of her childhood. Berkey is sleazy enough as Blick (practically fondling Kitty even as he threatens to arrest her, getting into fights with random drunks simply because he doesn’t like their clothing), so that when he finally loses a fight, it feels like the good guys have won. Unfortunately, it’s the only moment when the stakes are high enough for the audience to be concerned. Before that, the pace is too slow and the plot too crammed with minor characters for the audience to find a reason to care.

The Time of Your Life (2 Hours, 20 minutes, one intermission)
The Storm Theater (145 West 46th Street)
October 3-November 1 Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Saturdays at 2:00pm. Additional performance Monday, October 6 at 7:30pm.
Tickets are available at, 212-868-4444.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Rooms

Two Rooms explores the emotional trauma that ensues after an American is held hostage in Lebanon and his wife suffers in his absence, as the United States' government refuses to negotiate with his terrorists. But in New York's post-9/11 era, timing is still everything.

Reviewed by Meg van Huygen

Originally produced in 1988, Pulitzer nominee Lee Blessing's Two Rooms seems once again relevant, telling the perhaps-forgotten story of another terrorist conflict in the Middle East: Lebanon. Michael, an American teacher, has been held hostage by terrorists in Beirut for over a year; his wife, Lainie, agonizes at home, nursing her anger toward the government for doing so little for her husband. More specifically, Two Rooms tells the stories of the character's rooms: Michael's cell, where he sits blindfolded, and his home office, where Lainie keeps vigil for him. Imprisoned, Michael narrates his unwritten letters home between beatings, musing on what he would give for a window or to know what day it is. Back in the U.S., Lainie is harangued for interviews by both Walker, a charismatic news reporter, and Ellen, an icy, buttoned-down member of the State Department.

The rooms are constructed to show contrast, and though you would expect the torture cell to be a violent place, it is in fact the office that sees the most action. In attempting to deliver this, Angela Christian as Lainie can be a little much. It's nice that she respects her character's anguish so deeply, but her translation of Lainie's fiery, take-no-lip persona often comes off as shrill and caricatured. By the time Christian breaks down and shows Lainie’s vulnerability, we’re not sympathetic—we’re annoyed it took so long to get there. In sharp contrast, Michael Laurence, as a man dehumanized by torture, registers as human with his serene, almost defeated demeanor. It’s as though the unfamiliarity of the settings focuses his familiar humanity. Sadly and calmly, he makes us yearn along with him for the quiet office that Lainie shows us does not exist.

The dialogue is mostly political, of course, and gets dry early on, leaving director Patrick Flynn to try to enliven the simple two-rooms-in-one set. Patrick Boll as the reporter, Walker, helps with this—his interpretation of the role to be a possible seducer as well as interrogator opens up a sneaky romantic thread. As well, projected images of Lebanese women and children projected on the wall are a neat multimedia touch.

Two Rooms has been produced several times since the towers fell, and it’s no mystery why. But each new production cheapens the play: our concepts of the region and who terrorists are have changed since 1988; the words hostage and Middle East do not automatically make Two Rooms a better play, any more than a shirt becomes more useful when it has SpongeBob on it. Two Rooms may have once delivered the poignancy to which this cast aspires, but the more we learn about the reality of the Middle East, the more this production seems—like Michael—to be bouncing impossible wishes off the unresponsive walls of a windowless cell.

Two Rooms

Despite Lee Blessing's heavy-handed metaphors and Peter Flynn's too-literal direction, what ultimately matters is not the room, but what's inside it: on that account, Angela Christian and Michael Laurence acquit themselves nicely as a husband and wife separated by a terrorist's political demands.

Photo/Aaron Epstein

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

When Lainie's (Angela Christian) husband, Michael (Michael Laurence) is kidnapped by terrorists on an oversea trip, she resolves to continue to live her life in parallel to his, convinced that living in a dark room, devoid of furniture, will somehow make her feel closer to him. Two Rooms uses this heavy-handed metaphor, to draw the attention of Ellen van Oss (Adinah Alexander), a professional shrew for the State Department, and the manipulative friendship of Walker Harris (Patrick Boll), a reporter obsessed with forcing the government's hand.

The play that follows is too structurally clever to seem real, and Peter Flynn's literal direction (the two rooms are the same set, cued only by a difference in lighting) often confuses the thrust of the action--especially since the actors often sit in the visible wings, watching. These artificial moments don't seem so bad, though, with a blindfold on, and Mr. Laurence does a wonderful job--smooth, strong, and even--living in his dangerous present or, ghost-like, interacting with his comforting past. (Again: it's the same room.) Ms. Christian also feeds nicely off this energy: it gives her a rawer emotion to play with than the intelligent and collected soundbites that she shares with her restrained and professional visitors. Quips and metaphors about birds, for example, are straining to put the hostage situation into context; Lee Blessing does his best writing when he's simply dealing with the actual circumstance (or the dream that Lainie has conjured up for it) and ignoring the lecturing from Ellen (there's a literal PowerPoint presentation of war photos).

Ultimately, it's not the room that's important, but what's inside it--or, in Lainie's case, what's missing from it. The more that Blessing and Flynn fill that world with clever metaphors and literal interpretations, the harder it is for the actors to actually deal with their loneliness and grief.

Two Rooms
(1hr 50min; 1 intermission)
Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street)

Tickets (212-279-4200): $59.25

Performances (through 10/19): Mon. & Tues. @ | Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. @ 2 | Sun. @ 3 & 7

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Waves of Mu

It's a credit to Amy Caron's current obsession that Waves of Mu is able to tackle the heady neuroscience of mirror neurons in a playful way that won't go over anyone's head. But perhaps it should have: knowing exactly what's going on tends to make the individual demonstrations drag on.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The first sign that Waves of Mu is trying just a little too hard is when, to enter the theater, you have to take off your shoes and walk through an art installation that resembles the mind. You go in one ear and it all comes out the other, but that's actually pretty neat: walking on squishy foam that bounces like brain tissue, getting bossed about by a secretary who happens to be the thalamus. No, what's working too hard in Amy Caron's world is that we're offered chocolate and champagne, neither of which represent anything, and for a play that's obsessed on how our senses (mirror neurons) translate information to produce empathy, it doesn't do to send out mixed signals.

After the exhibit, we're loaded into a theater-turned-laboratory, made to sign waivers, and prepared to participate in several psychological experiments. As it turns out, another disappointment, we're actually just meant to watch (there's perhaps too much emphasis on the video of this mulidisciplinary work). At first, we look at random dots and gradually associate them with human shapes; next, we move on to a video of a baby, and our inherent understanding of the complex facial expressions it is learning. It's obvious, but not painfully so (unless cuteness irritates you).

However, these moments are surrounded by some very loose connections to an interview with the quite charismatic V. S. Ramachandran. Sarah flips out in a demonstration of compulsive echolailic language, two assistants describe Amy's balloon blowing in a literal and then figurative fashion, our shoes are given to us as presents--but these events have little to do with empathy. Other scenes--a video of the 2008 NFC Championship, the ensuing relaxation conjured up by watching a cat, and a meditative exercise about gravity--go on long after the point is made. Caron is clearly fascinated with this world, and wholly at play, be it with small-talk and string or interpretive dance. However, audiences may find their mirror neurons out of sync with her ultimately cloying presentation.

Waves of Mu (1hr 45min, no intermission)
PS122 (150 First Avenue)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $20
Performances (through 10/19): Tues. - Sat. @ 7:30 | Sun. @ 5:30

Rock of Ages

Classic rock takes center stage in this fun and energetic musical. It may not be innovative, but it's darn good entertainment.Constantine Maroulis and Kelli Barrett in Rock of Ages

Photo by Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Chris D'Arienzo's Rock of Ages is a fun, nostalgic, Q104.3 promoting, classic-rock bonanza that's heavy on guitars and good vocals and light on story. What little dialogue there is gets used, predictably, to segue into the recognizable hits of Whitesnake, Styx, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister and a pool of others. It's a good thing that the talented and energetic cast, particularly Constantine Maroulis (American Idol) as Drew, Will Swenson (Hair) as Stacey Jaxx and Michele Mais (Zoot Suit) as Justice are more than enough to carry the musical with their soaring vocals and fantastic showmanship.

Flashing back to '80s LA, Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis, channeling Jack Black attitude and Kevin James' physical comedy) tells the story of a rock club facing demolition, and of the beautiful rebels and outcasts rising up to save it. For the sake of ballads, there’s also a love story between Drew and Sherrie (Kelli Barrett), a wannabe actress turned stripper.. None of this is particularly innovative, so director Kristin Hanggi focuses on keeping the action fluid, and lets Beowulf Boritt’s decked-out set (rock memorabilia, stripper poles, a revolving platform from a classic MTV video) stand out. Coupled with Gregory Gale's costumes and Kelly Devine's decade-appropriate choreography, the show succeeds in taking the audience back to that era.

Much of your enjoyment of Rock of Ages will depend on being able to sing and dance along, so if “Dead or Alive” isn't in your soul, then the lighters waving in the audience won't ignite a loving feeling. But, if fishnets, spikes, and “More Than Words” gets your blood pumping, you'll appreciate all the hard work that went into getting the rights to all these oldies. Not only that, but it'll be the solid rock on which all your hidden dreams, forgotten desires, and—for some—youth can stand.
Rock of Ages (2.5 hrs with intermission)
New World Stages (340 W. 50th St, New York, NY 10019)
Tickets: $46.50-$80.50.
Telecharge: 1-800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200,
Through December 21, 2008.

Friday, October 10, 2008


While this shimmering presentation is wildly engaging, if often dumbfounding, the treatment of a subject as huge the cosmos is bound to seem oversimplified—and maybe even a little silly—in the confined time and space in which it plays.

Photo/Jocelyn Gonzales

Reviewed by Lyssa Mandel
[See also: Aaron Riccio's review]

The Living Theatre doesn’t just Think Big, it Thinks Enormous. Their latest creation, penned by the late Hanon Reznikov and Judith Malina, tackles no less than the Big Bang itself. Specifically, Eureka! is an experiential, multisensory re-imagining of Edgar Allen Poe’s prose poem (of the same name), a reverie on the formation and potential destruction of the universe. Eureka! fulfills the Living Theater’s mission statement: “call[ing] into question who we are to each other in the social environment of the theater.” But while the shimmering presentation is wildly engaging, if often dumbfounding, the treatment of a subject as huge the cosmos is bound to seem oversimplified—and maybe even a little silly—in the confined time and space in which it plays.

Evaluating Eureka! as theater would short-change and misrepresent the multidisciplinary work, which is equal parts performance art, video installation, hands-on exhibit, chemistry lesson, and audience participation. The experience is meant to feel bizarre and dreamlike throughout, and it forces the audience to question its role. Although the Living Theatre prides itself on involving its viewers, this is far from a simple call and response. Patrons are coaxed by urgent cast members to help create the performance as it unfolds, taking part in the sounds and movement to add to the voice of the Collective.

Don’t expect to sit passively as the magic unfolds: instead, the audience stands in the center of the murky performance space itself, surrounded by a web of zigzagging scaffolding poles (and statuesque actors). Projection screens at both ends display ever-morphing images of the cosmos, spliced and overlaid with live feed of audience members as they explore the space. After several minutes in this deep blue gallery of hushed waiting and discovery, the black-clad performers silently descend one by one from their frozen perches, and their poise and physical control let us know that we’re in good hands long before a single word is uttered. (The performers must be fearless for us to trust them; they are.) The disintegration of the fourth wall is like a gradual dip into a cold swimming pool. One cautious toe at a time, the audience acclimates to the idea of zero distance between performer and observer. By the end of the process, one is expected to fully submerge. (I was almost to that point; perhaps with a larger crowd of patrons I would have been even closer.)

Helping the audience get there is the sullen Mr. Poe (played with youthful vigor and austerity by Anthony Sisco): as he speaks about his gnawing search for answers to the Big Bang, what has followed since, and what is to come, the play picks up momentum, sweeping the audience into its undertow. In a chronological whirlwind of evolution set to rippling music by Patrick Grant and fantastical lighting by Gary Brackett, we are led through a maze of general evolutionary drama alongside Poe, as if traveling inside his head while he works through the problem of humanity’s existence and potential extinction. (Yes, it’s a lot of ground to cover in 75 minutes.)

Judith Malina directs with a warm and meticulous hand, though the content sometimes comes across as pretentious. The ensemble shape-shifts from trembling atoms to personified elements, and they are the infectiously confident blood and guts of the whole experience. But for this avant-garde experiment to work, the theatergoer must not only enter with an open mind, but remain pliable throughout--it might be too optimistic to ask for such willing volunteers.

Eureka! is unselfconsciously embracing, a riotous ode to serendipity, empowerment, and harmonious cooperation. However, the audience is implicated so aggressively that it becomes off-putting and even uncomfortable. The Living Theatre means so well and asks for connection so pleadingly that it’s hard to say no, but the novelty of the hands-on project and the distraction it creates in the “viewer” threatens to overshadow the actual story being told.

Eureka! @ The Living Theater (21 Clinton Street)
Tickets: $20 (Wednesday: Pay-What-You-Can)
Performances (through 11/9): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 4


Fuerzabruta for a New Age crowd, Eureka! emulates the Big Bang and evolution by using the audience (and some hands-on dancer/actors) as its component parts. We actualize the show, and in turn, are meant to feel actualized: the real question is, do you feel transcendental, punk?

Photo/Jocelyn Gonzales

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
[See also: Lyssa Mandel's review]

If one is going to call Edgar Allen Poe's Eureka a prose poem (it's an essay), one might as well call Hanon Reznikov's theatrical adaptation of it a play. But if one wants to be honest to the hard work that Judith Malina has put into the choreography, it's far closer to interpretive dance: Fuerzabruta for the New Age crowd.

After all, by placing the audience in the middle of the action--no, by asking them to participate in this highly ambitious re-creation of the world (it is not, unfortunately, as recreational as intended)--it becomes near impossible to absorb what is going on, and that lessens what Poe calls "the rhythmical creation of beauty in words." Instead, we are absorbed, traveling from the elemental stage (in which we are instructed to "embody" an element, as if we were in an Alexander class) through evolution (a slideshow that could be right out of Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi) and finally to what is meant to be an empowering moment of self-actualization--taking one's place in the universe--that unfortunately comes across as cheesily as the audience running on stage for Hair's "Let The Sunshine In."

The problem Eureka! faces--aside from the average theatergoer's unfamiliarity with Alexander von Humboldt and transcendental thought--is that these ideas are expressed with such sincerity that they cannot help coming off as utterly hokey up close. It's a wonderful thought to believe that one can change the world by dancing on stage with the cast of Eureka!--and that's assuming you don't simply feel uncomfortable as you are gently pushed and prodded to follow along--but it's quite naive, too. Still, it's a brave exploration, in line with the Living Theater's commitment to something greater than mere art: not quite "Eureka!" but perhaps worthy of a solemn "Aha!"

Eureka! @ The Living Theater (21 Clinton Street)
Tickets: $20 (Wednesday: Pay-What-You-Can)
Performances (through 11/9): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 4

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fifty Words

Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Marvel are such talented actors that if it weren't for Austin Pendleton's careful direction, you could watch the first twenty minutes of Fifty Words wondering what was so dramatic. As it is, this production perfectly captures Michael Weller's A-game approach to a well-traveled(-to-death) topic: a flame slowly dying, the result of a toxic, contradictory marriage that sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Everything you need to know about the marriage in Fifty Words can be summed up without any words. In Austin Pendleton's clever pre-blackout moment, Adam (Norbert Leo Butz) marches down the stairs and Jan (Elizabeth Marvel) comes through the front door, the two glide silently past one another. It's as if we've caught them naked. Moments later, we see them with their masks back on, playing the happy married couple, though now we're jaded enough to realize that they won't remain clothed for long, especially when even the cheery lines cut to the quick.

Given this underlying circumstance, Michael Weller has room to play with his cute and clever lines: in fact, by starting Adam as a goofball romantic ("In case there's any ambiguity, that was foreplay") and Jan as the intelligent thinker, he's able to make the most of the contradictions that so define humanity. It's hard to notice at first (and this is why Pendleton's actor-driven focus is so efficient), but both characters are struggling to bridge the invisible difference between them. Their first night alone in nine years (their son is at his first sleepover) has Adam trying to avoid touchy subjects with wine ("This is how arguments start, isn't it?") and Jan trying to unwind the knots that have her focusing on the food rather than her feelings. Fifty words is an awful lot, but the beauty of English language is how precisely imprecise that allows characters to be when sidestepping the bitter truth. If George and Martha's parlor games defined the last generation of Americans, Adam and Jan's doubletalk defines our world today.

Rising action, especially in a two-hander, often leads to melodrama, but Butz and Marvel are too nuanced for simple climaxes, and what's particularly satisfying about Fifty Words is the way in which truth seems to catch them both by surprise: "I had no idea you were so angry," Adam says; "Neither did I," Jan replies. Pendleton also uses props to shape the nature of these arguments. One of the most intense moments ends up being one of the most tender: it's hard to carry on when you've got a shard of glass stuck in your foot. In the midst of another meltdown, one character tries to butter toast: funny how impossible the small things become when they're swept up in a larger disaster. The greatest feat of staging is Pendleton's refusal to blackout between scenes: instead, he just shows a character, frozen in time, as one scene--one year, one lifetime--bleeds into the next. Precise yet undefinable, it's one more reason we need at least Fifty Words.

Fifty Words (1hr 35min, no intermission)
Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $59.00
Performances (through 11/8): Tues.-Wed. @ 7, Thurs.-Sat. @ 8 | Sat. @ 2 | Sun. @ 3

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Brew of the Dead

The jovial energy and rough yet polished performances of the ensemble in Brew of the Dead makes the production seem as if it's been poured straight from the tap, though it's clearly gotten a good oast-like rehearsal process under Justin Plowman's direction. Though the simple "flee zombies and drink beer" plot isn't far from the cheap "drinkability" humor of a Bud Lite commercial, the pun-heavy result ends up resembling a Guinness: dark, frothy, and practically a meal in a can.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
[See also: Adrienne Urbanski's review.]

In recent years, some zombie movies have evolved beyond the simplistic shock and awe of their stumbling forefathers. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, for instance, points to humanity as the real monster in any horror film, and Romero's ... of the Dead series has grown as increasingly political as it has action-packed. As one may guess from the title of Patrick Storck's Naked Gun-like spoof, Brew of the Dead, this play has no interest in drawing such heady metaphors: it just wants to see the glistening head on a fresh pour of beer, zombies be damned. (A brewery's fortified, right?)

That fixed obsession, shared by far less talented frat boys around the world, is part of the raging success of this Dysfunctional Theatre Company show. The frenzied stupor of the fast-paced, almost drunken-fist action (well directed by Justin Plowman) allows the cast to eat and regurgitate pop-culture brains, from the obvious Shaun of the Dead gameplan to the Evil Dead homage, even extending to the crowbar from the Half-Life video game series and a mood-setting series of video interludes that range from Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast to an "advertisement" for Mentos, the Fleshmaker.

As for the cast, there hasn't been a group this talented at high-octane punning since Evil Dead: The Musical. (When asked to come up with the best way to kill the living dead, Craig suggests that they "insert Tab A into zom-B.") Then again, they need to be as swift with their wits as with their feet, considering the absent plot: Matt, Derek, Kim, Craig, and Nexus are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse by hiding in a brewery, and when one of them gets bitten, they decide to test an impromptu cure--drink the virus into submission. Peter Schuyler, the rowdiest of the bunch, is the comic gem of the rough bunch--"Hey, if I turn into a zombie, can you get me to fight a shark? I got five bucks on the shark."--but he's well matched by Amy Beth Sherman's Trinity-like "Nexus," a bad-ass comic, and Eric Chase's goofy charm as Matt. Rounding out the cast are the more serious Tom O'Connor and straightwoman Amy Overman: both are fine, but the play is built for the muscular, over-the-top laughs that their characters cannot provide.

Brew of the Dead feels like it's been poured straight from the tap, but with the benefit of a good oast-like rehearsal process. It goes far beyond the simple "drinkability" of Bud Lite commercials and ends up like more of a Guinness: dark, frothy, and practically a meal in a can.

Brew of the Dead (55min., no intermission)
Under St. Marks (94 St. Mark's Place)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $15.00
Performances: 10/11, 10/18, 10/25, 11/1 @ 10:30

Brew of the Dead

Brew of the Dead brings theater to the bar hopping masses.

Reviewed by Adrienne Urbanski
[See also: Aaron Riccio's review.]

With a plot and title that boast the promise of zombies and beer, a late night time slot, inexpensive ticket price, and constant encouragement to drink through the play, Brew of the Dead succeeds in making theater appealing to those who would rather spend their evenings at a bar than a theater. While in the past zombies have been used for social commentary and apt parody, beneath the enticing gimmick lies little else.

Brew of the Dead's plot is virtually indistinguishable from any standard zombie B-movie (the world is mysteriously overtaken by zombies, leaving a few survivors to hole up together and plan their next strategy). The new twist is the emphasis on beer: while the survivors of Dawn of the Dead sought shelter in a mall, our gang heads toward an abandoned brewery. As Dawn of the Dead equates zombieism with consumerism, Brew of the Dead equates zombieism with alcohol, but unlike its more socially aware predecessors, Brew of the Dead just wants to have a good time, beer in hand.

The zombies themselves remain off stage, seen only by the cast, which inhibits the play from reaching the level of parody and schlock so well displayed in Shaun of the Dead (one of its self-proclaimed influences.) Without seeing the threat, there’s no way to gauge whether it is serious or laughable: the actors remain straight-faced, never quite indulging in full-on irony or parody, with the exception of Craig (Peter Schyuler, who also serves as associate producer), the over-the-top, wise cracking drunk.

The cleverest moments center around a series of pre-show public service announcements (P.S.A.’s), which humorously tell the tale of those who were not fortunate enough to make it out alive: a girl who seeks to investigate a strange noise in her hallway, armed only with a whisk; an extreme vegan who wears homemade sneakers that are impossible to run in. Also included are zombie-themed newscasts and a "Mentos, the Fleshmaker” ad, which add breadth and humor to the work.

Those little touches are important because, staying true to its cinematic predecessors, the characters of Brew of the Dead are highly underdeveloped: their backstories are the P.S.A. videos. There’s the aforementioned drunk, Craig, and then Nexus (Amy Beth Sherman), a tough Goth girl; Kim (Amy Overman), a chipper honor-society square; Roger (Eric Chase) a jovial nice guy; and Derek (Tom O’Connor), a silver-haired college professor who seems to know it all.

However, beneath all the flash and atmosphere, the plot is thin: there’s a scene before the brewery and one within it, making the 80 minutes feel short and limited. Ultimately, Brew of the Dead is nothing more than a welcome detour for the bar-hopping Lower East Side crowd, but with a beer in one hand, the play is a good time, flaws and all.

Brew of the Dead (55min., no intermission)
Under St. Marks (94 St. Mark's Place)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $15.00
Performances: 10/11, 10/18, 10/25, 11/1 @ 10:30

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Reviewed by Patrick Wood
[See also: Aaron Riccio's review]

Tell an Entourage-obsessed actor/waiter to write a play inspired by Gore Vidal’s famous quote “whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies” and you might end up with something like Nemesis, a new production that struggles to make adequate use of its 80-minute running time. The concept—given two actors/friends, the hardworking, intense one meets mounting failures as his lazier, better-looking counterpart flies to A-list heights—easily engages and speaks to very real issues plaguing aspiring entertainers from coast to coast. But, as realized by Michael Buckley, the star and writer, the play seems too intent on making insider observations on acting and celebrity culture to allow its half-baked themes to rise to any fresh insight.

Buckley plays Dan as the epitome of the struggling actor destined for disappointment. Entitled, whiny, blindly optimistic, and too self-involved to examine the deficits in his own work, Dan can be a hard pill to swallow. Unfortunately, Buckley’s visible lack of confidence and proclivity to stumble over his own lines don’t help matters. Will Poston, crafting his performance with a cookie cutter from the same set that gave us Entourage’s Vincent Chase, capably portrays a handsome, ex-high school football star who stumbles into fame and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. While both actors strive to grandly entertain—addressing the audience directly in monologues, dancing around in Top Gun flight suits, often portraying high-school versions of their characters, and, in the climax, engaging in a full-on bare-knuckle brawl—they seem most at home in the play’s grounded early scenes, as commercial and off-Broadway actors still making their bread and butter in the food industry.

Some of Nemesis’s best lines spring from shrewd observations on working at a restaurant. “You know those commercials that said ‘No one wants to grow up to be a junkie?’” Dan asks the audience. “Well, more people want to grow up to be junkies than waiters.” Buckley’s comments on Los Angeles and celebrity, and his tired jabs at yoga, soy milkshakes, and extravagant philanthropy, are far less lively.

The production also looks best at the pre-Hollywood level, when director/designer Chad Brinkman isn’t prominently projecting live video of the performance onstage. These clips and their pointless special effects distract more than enhance, and pre-taped segments where Eric pontificates about fame on Entertainment Tonight would have better served the production as audio bytes, where poor production values would not have so obviously marred their credibility. Perhaps, one day Buckley will gain the life experience to eviscerate Hollywood culture with the same shrewd insights he offers on the lives of those in the food service industry. Unfortunately, I don’t Nemesis will be the vehicle to bring him to that longed-for destination.

(1hr 20min, no intermission)
Shetler Studios (244 West 54th Street)

Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 10/12): Tues. & Sat. @ 2 | Wed. - Sun. @ 8


Michael Buckley's new play, Nemesis, features two charming actors who are trapped in an unglamorously extended episode of Entourage. Buckley bestows some hard-earned honesty from his own experiences on the trials and tribulations of these friends turned rivals, but by relying on monologues to convey large amounts of plot over a long period of time, he loses the development he would get from scenes, and his characters are stretched far too thin (high school to Hollywood).

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
[See also: Patrick Wood's review]

Nemesis, a new play by Michael Buckley about two friends-cum-actors-cum-rivals isn't nearly as clever as Itamar Moses's recent introspective look at jealousy, The Four of Us. This is both a boon and a curse: on the one hand, the simple structure (scenes given weight by explanatory and depricating monologues) allows the actors to be brutally honest about their insecurities and travails. On the other, the show doesn't develop very much beyond our first impressions: Dan (Buckley) is a whiner, so self-obsessed that he can't see that (unfortunately) talent isn't always what deserves recognition, and Eric (Will Poston) is simply relaxed and casual, even when he tells the audience that he's a mess. The result is an unglamourously extended episode of Entourage, with Eric abruptly seeking to be more than the highest-grossing actor in "Agent Orange" (he wants to play a "retard," and not in Tropic Thunder's satirical sense) and Dan flying out to Hollywood to provide (and recieve) moral support after his days on the rural touring circuit turn his Romeo into a drunk.

The actors are both charming, but neither is especially truthful: a real shame, especially since it's a play about actors, featuring (by necessity) actors, one of whom wrote the play. Playing on Hollywood stereotypes is, by now, a stereotype itself, and Buckley's jokes would be better if they were fresh ("hacktor" is pretty weak) or if they weren't so grimly prescient (2:1 that the CW really does try to make a "Top Gun" television series). In fairness to the shallow world Nemesis so playfully indulges in, charm does go a long way. Less so, however, when director Chad M. Brinkman tries to dress it up as "multimedia" (the actors are projected, as in a hall of mirrors, onto a screen behind them), or when Qui Nguyen's always entertaining fight choreography is used to simulate actual drama.

By keeping the characters in seperate monologues for so long, and belaboring their careers from high school through Hollywood, Buckley stretches his material far too thin. Beyond a jealousy that is only momentarily addressed head-on, there are no obstacles or actions, just long stretches of smilingly presented plot. If there is a real nemesis in Nemesis, it is the playwright on the actor, slyly limiting his characters without ever giving them a chance to strike back.

(1hr 20min, no intermission)
Shetler Studios (244 West 54th Street)

Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 10/12): Tues. & Sat. @ 2 | Wed. - Sun. @ 8

Monday, October 06, 2008


Counting Squares’s Woyzeck is a classic case of how a forced directorial concept can diminish a classic play. Joshua Chase Gold tries to make Büchner’s tale into a contemporary American war story, but this classic German anti-hero does not fit his new fatigues.

Reviewed by Jason Fitzgerald
[See also: Cindy Pierre's review]

A young American soldier points a gun at the audience as female voices sing “Amazing Grace.” A Wagnerian mountain crag with a mysterious wooden wheel stands behind him. The soldier exits, and three women dressed in Goth-inspired laces and leather straps strut onto the stage to sing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” complete with Andrews Sisters choreography. The soldier re-enters with a comrade and begins speaking lines from Georg Büchner’s 1873 poetic tragedy Woyzeck. Each image is memorable in its own right, but . . . what do they have to do with each other?

So begins Counting Squares Theatre’s production of Woyzeck, which, unfortunately, never finds a satisfactory answer for this provocative question. The basic concept, as conceived by director Joshua Chase Gold, is to use Woyzeck (in which a man is brutalized by a faithless world and brutally murders his faithless wife) to tell the story of an American soldier stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder. The three-woman chorus, an invention of Gold’s, are a manifestation of Woyzeck’s growing illness: Only he can see these seductive sirens.

The production is as forced as the concept, and it butchers Woyzeck’s poetic “A fire’s sailing around the sky and a noise coming down like trumpets” by following it with his buddy’s “C’mon, man, they’re calling us!” As for scenes not as easily assimilated to the soldier’s tale, like that of the scalpel-hearted doctor who pays Woyzeck to eat peas for a month, they read as campy, and comic, interludes rather critical signposts on the road to Woyzeck’s self-destruction.

The main character’s insanity—made manifest in visions, drunkenness, and violence— ultimately undermines the production. What has made Woyzeck a lasting dramatic work, and a gateway to modernism, is the vague existentialism of the character’s crisis—he is both pauper and prophet, and his visions of a godless world, derived in part by mistreatment by the bourgeoisie, have a universal resonance. In Gold’s production, this condition is too diagnosed, too easily explained away as a byproduct of military service. Worse, since Büchner offers no symptoms specific to P.T.S.D. in his script, the production must generalize the very condition it aims to politicize, turning the soldier’s condition into madness-writ-large rather than a specific kind of “psychic wound,” as a recent New Yorker article on this very subject describes it.

The set, a pair of paper-maché mountaintops out of Night on Bald Mountain and a bed for the scenes with Woyzeck’s wife, come from another world altogether. They look like neither Iraq nor “Midwest America,” where the program claims the production takes place. If they are meant to conjure the metaphysical yearnings of Büchner’s protagonist, the American soldier in front of them only heightens the disjuncture between play and concept.

The actors win points for commitment, but their performances are necessarily general, as lifelessly energetic as a stump speech. Ryan Nicholoff, as Woyzeck, tries to convince us that choreographed screams, eye rolls, whistling, and stuttering are the sum of his character’s deadly paradigm shift. I wasn’t convinced. And besides, I was too busy watching the chorus, whose tuneful World World II-era harmonies and Andrews Sisters dance moves make the unaccountable interruptions of “Miss Otis Regrets” and “Bye Bye Baby” the most entertaining parts of the evening. If they’d been allowed a cabaret act all to themselves, the evening might have been more cohesive, or at least, unreservedly fun.

Woyzeck (70 min., no intermission)
Under St. Mark’s (94 St. Mark’s Place)
Tickets: $18-23
Performances: Through 10/29 (Tues & Wed 7pm)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Wig Out!

Wig Out! looks fresh and sounds fresh, but it doesn't feel fresh. Tarell Alvin McCraney pieces his latest out of so many different styles (Motown, contemporary drag, "real nigga," Goth, glamour, &c., and that's just fashion, to say nothing of the pop-singing Greek chorus) that he ends up with a mess (only occasionally a hot mess). Good ideas and fabulous execution (from director Tina Landau, set designer James Schuette, and costumer Toni-Leslie James), but underdeveloped characters (hence confusing acting out of solid people like Erik King) and a too-glossy plot.

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

One of the pure pleasures of theater involves being exposed to something fresh and original, like a unique voice or a little-known sector of the world. In his NY debut, Tarell Alvin McCraney brought an African rhythm to an urban life, turning a familiar tale into epic poetry; in his latest work, Wig Out!, he breathes a sassy glamour and turns a few linguistic tricks for the house ball scene, a world of drag competitions (read: not racing). The subject matter, like the language, is very pretty, but the dresses are on manniquins, so unless you're already into, say, Project Runway and drag queens, the show's a confusing jumble of interesting acts without any big idea.

In terms of attitude, Wig Out! is the freshest thing to go on stage since Passing Strange (in fact, "If you looking for 'the real,' you missed it, Stew wraped that ditty up a couple months back, baby), and it's certainly more authentic than the fumbling Bash'd. What it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in breadth, starting with James Schuette's runway set (with "dressing rooms" visible in the elevated wings and a large stage in the middle of the normal seating area) and going through Toni-Leslie James's absolutely fabulous costuming (particularly the chorus--three real women--who paint the whole (mo)town red). As for Tina Landau's direction, it maintains a thrilling edge of mystery, going from cheap pull-curtain effects straight to the elaborately choregraphed dance-off.

When it comes to character, however, the lack of depth can't be ignored. Although each member of the House of Light gets a monologue in which they explain the origins of their current identity ("My grandmother wore a wig"), all the in-house flirting and complex relationships come across as absolutely foreign to the layman, particularly the competition between the muscular, controlling father, Lucian (Erik King), and his graceful and deliberate counterpart, mother Rey-Rey (Nathan Lee Graham). In particular, King powers through his lines ("Real nigga shit"), and it's not clear what he wants out of the House of Light. The more recognizable relationships between the on-again/off-again Venus and Deity (Joshua Cruz and Glenn Davis) and Ms. Venus's seduction of the perfect stranger, Eric (Clifton Oliver and Andre Holland), give a clearer touchstone, but even then, it's not clear why Eric is so quick to cheat on his new love (nor why he's called "Eric the Red"), save for it being dramatically convenient.

If Vineyard is expecting Wig Out! to make us flip our wigs through culture shock, they need to make the show more aggressive (more scenes with Daniel T. Booth or a night at Lucky Cheng's might help) and do more than provide a glossary for clueless audience members. Simply opening a window to another world isn't enough: you've got to make us feel it, too.

Wig Out!
(1hr 50min; 1 intermission)
Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street)

Tickets (212-353-0303): $20.00 - $55.00

Performances (through 11/2): Tues. @ 7 | Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. & Sun. @ 3