Friday, January 30, 2009
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
The Whale is Melville's Moby Dick adapted into a vivid and explosively visual one-man show. Co-adapted by Renee Philippi and Carlo Adinolfi and performed by Adinolfi, respect and appreciation for the text jumps off the stage and wraps you in the embrace of a giddy boy seeking adventure. Using ship props, blocks and everything else aquatic, Adinolfi begins to impress with a balancing act right at the beginning and never relents.
Adinolfi’s magnetism and grace make it easy to experience Captain Ahab's madness and to switch to Ishmael's alienation and wonder. His fluidity, Philippi’s whimsical direction and David Pinkard's provocative sound effects also bring out the romanticism in Melville's epic. The only wrinkle in this flow is Adinolfi’s recitation of chapter numbers as a means to fast forward through the text. It’s a practice device that aids comprehension, particularly for those well-versed with the novel, but it comes across awkwardly.
What comes across more often is the inventiveness in this interpretation. Take, for instance, the various replicas of ships and boats. From the tiny canoes that Adinolfi maneuvers with a standard-size harpoon to the ship replica with mast and retracting cloth sales, everything is engineered and used to immerse the audience in the story's excitement and fun. The white whale even makes an appearance—a white sheet and wooden planks have never been this majestic and all-consuming.
In sixty-five minutes, The Whale recreates an American classic, allowing us to see it through a child's eyes, but still retaining some of the more adult themes. This production feels like a complete representation of Moby Dick, even though it focuses more on the obsession and revenge than the racism and politics of the novel. More importantly, with all the work Philippi and Adinolfi have put in, it’s completely passionate, too.
The Whale (65 minutes, no intermission)
Barrow St. Theatre (27 Barrow Street, New York, NY )
Tickets: $20 http://www.smarttix.com/
Through January 25
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Reviewed by Caitlin Fahey
The Workshop Theatre has done a great job of promoting its latest production, H. Bart Goldberg's adaptation of Maire Martello's The Lodger. Jack the Ripper meets Hitchcock on the stage? Now that's enticing. Unfortunately, once the curtain rises on this lukewarm affair, the thrills associated with a notorious serial killer and a silver screen legend quickly evaporate.
Despite a first-rate cast, there's never much suspense on stage. Kristen Lowman and George Innes play the desperate owners of a struggling lodging house well, but they never seem to be in any real danger from their mysterious lodger. Sure, Lowman struggles—as Mrs. Bunting—between the economic need to take on a lodger and the moral need to protect herself from a man who may be the notorious "Avenger" (John Martello). It's just difficult to care about her decision in the absence of tension. Mrs. Bunting grows exceedingly anxious when her daughter, Daisy (Amanda Jones), enters the questionable lodger's room, but why all the hand-wringing? As for Michael Guagno, he's endearingly naïve as Joe, a young detective looking for a murderer who may be right under his nose, but this innocence edges more on comedy than suspense.
It's a shame that the show fails to strike a nerve. Craig Napoliello's beautifully realistic set is wasted—there is no mood to fill the space. Likewise, while there are actors to wear Isabelle Fields's authentic period costumes, there are no characters to fill them out. Mike Riggs's lighting design may seamlessly transition from the foyer to the bedroom, but nothing there really shines.
The Lodger, a show with incredible potential, should leave very little to criticize. Unfortunately, after the cast has finished walking through the action and the dialogue, the curtain will inevitably fall, and the piece will be easily forgotten.
The Lodger (90 minutes, 1 intermission)
The Workshop Theatre (312 West 36th Street)
Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. through February 1.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
When Rosenthal enters, he’s in shorts, sneakers, and a surgical mask, listening to an iPod as he digs through the wreckage, which doubles as the Superdome, a motel room, and Phoenix, Arizona, as Blanche narrates her story. The visual effect makes it seems as if Rosenthal isn’t committed to his character, and even when he puts on a wig, his voice is a high, slow exaggerated southern accent. His movements are equally unsubtle: all limp wrists and prancing.
Blanche Survives Hurricane Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire (70 minutes)
Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street)
Tickets available at the box office or at Sohoplayhouse.com ($30)
Performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays 7pm and 9pm, and Saturdays 3pm and 9pm through March 15.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The thing about life--real life--is that it isn't full of dramatic moments. And when its drama overtakes us, it's rarely as well-spoken as it is in the theater. However, life is filled with plenty of regular moments, and some of the mundane stuff we say is pretty profound. In Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, Dan LeFranc brilliantly captures the relationship between a father and son in a series of photo-realistic snapshots, develops them over several years, and then shuffles them together for maximum exposure. Independently, these are quiet moments, ones that hint at Ky's unconscious insensitivity and show Denny's melancholy responses to his parent's divorce. But as a whole, they add up, with repeating lines serving as a reminder of how much and little the father-son relationship changes.
LeFranc's writing is outstanding. With Denny, he nails the run-on excitment and universal disdain of teenagers; with Ky, he's got his finger to the pulse of the awkwardly embarassing ways in which fathers try to stay hip and their attempts to stay in control. And while these characters are at once recognizable, they are never even remotely cliche: the dialogue is far too specific for that. Silver Lake's structure also keeps things fresh: all the scenes take place within a car, which surrounds even casual exchanges in a deeper level of intimacy. The aesthetic choices mirror the text, too: Dane Laffrey's set is recognizably a specific car, but at the same time, open enough to be any car, and Tyler Micoleau's lighting makes such subtle shifts that those who want to can note the precise demarcations in time while others can just enjoy a smooth, singular ride.
The show also benefits from top-notch directing and acting. Anne Kauffman, as usual, remains fixed on the human interactions: her deft ability to communicate a plausible weirdness saves the latter third of Silver Lake. As the show drifts into dreamy symbolism and broadens to show us Denny as a father, the set expands, preserving our sense of boundaries---the equivalent, in other words, of changing a flat tire while the car remains in motion. Dane DeHaan (Denny) and Joseph Adams (Ky) are more noticibly impressive, at odds one moment and best friends the next, but always consistently within their characters. As the father, Adams is more aware of his needs--they are rooted in a transcendentally youthful nostalgia ("The juice, dad!")--but DeHaan is equally virtuosic, communicating equally desperate needs without fully knowing what they are (something that frequent leads back to the embarassed old "I so wish you weren't my dad").
Don't let the small car and small scenes fool you: LeFranc's play has a lot of leg room, stretching out over seven years (though not in chronological order). You don't even have to worry about buckling up, not with Soho Rep. driving Sixty Miles to Silver Lake.
Sixty Miles to Silver Lake (70 min., no intermission)
Soho Rep. (46 Walker Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $35.00
Performances (through 2/8): Tues. - Sun. @ 7:30 | Sat. @ 3
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Three women dance into the decaying theater, vying for a golden apple. The first, Hera (Laura Careless), performs a short ballet, hoping to win the approval of Paris (Seth Numrich). The second, Athena (Yeva Glover), bursts into a short flapping jazz number, never mind the shimmery armor. But it is Aphrodite (Gioia Marchese), with her "give the audience what it wants" fan burlesque who wins the day. This, The Judgement of Paris, leads--through Austin McCormick's gracefully choreographed violence--to the rape of Helen (Elyssa Dole), that Everywoman, giving truth to the phrase "ravishing beauty."
McCormick's piece could not have found a better place than the Duo Theater, the sort of decayed Moulin Rouge-type place, gilded proscenium and all, that signifies the cost of maintaining beauty. The free Ferrero Rocher on every chair (an expensive type of cheap chocolate) and Olivera Gajic's slightly frayed can-can costumes are further extensions of that thought; Marchese's interpretation of Aphrodite as the Russian mistress of a brothel solidifies it. While these consistencies hold things together, McCormick (and his Company XIV ensemble) are free to giddily romp through their spin on Paris's story. And though they pull from several sources (including, rather appropriately, Chuck Mee's Agamemmnon 2.0), it's their own text, which creates the sort of coherent throughline that experimental works benefit from.
This doesn't mean that some of the images aren't confusing. For instance, it's unclear what Davon Rainey, cross-dressing as one of the frolicking "cupids" of the play, represents (though not to his discredit; his dancing is superb). However, given the clear theme, we can draw our own conclusions, as we do when ruffling skirts are made to seem like waves, or a slow sensual dance in the smoky dark can resemble a dance of fallen warriors, if the music and monologue give it such a context. Of course, the play is strongest when everything merges: when a single spotlight remains fixed on a befuddled Helen and the other dancers cruelly move her to the choreography, the result is heartbreaking.
McCormick has labeled The Judgment of Paris as "a dramatic entertainment." Thankfully, he has not tarnished the beauty of either one.
The Judgment of Paris (1hr, no intermission)
The Duo Theater (62 East 4th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $35.00
Performances (through 1/31): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 2
Saturday, January 24, 2009
In Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, a 69-year-old man looks back at a life less than lived and throws himself a somewhat bitter birthday party, saying farewell to a life that is no longer his. Michael Laurence's riff on the subject, Krapp, 39, says hello to a life that he wishes to claim. At first, it's the character of Krapp, whose monologue he plans to record on stage and then use thirty years from now. But along the way, prodded by phone conversations with his friends (one assumes these are George Demas, and his off-stage collaborator, Jon Dichter), the play becomes an archival of his own life: as George puts it, the only thing that can be controlled--that is, lived--is the present, and the only thing that an actor can show--with or without a character--is something personal.
To that end, Laurence fills the stage with himself: objects from his past line a "tech" table along the back wall, two video cameras record this moment to represent his future, and an often handheld digital camera records his high-resolution present, the footage visible on a large flatscreen monitor off to stage left. Just like Krapp, none of these objects are passive: Laurence films his historical relics in slow, appreciative pans during the recorded moments, and instead of listening to a younger version of himself, he reads aloud diary entries and letters from the last ten years. Whether these pieces of the actor Laurence are fact or fiction is irrelevant--they feel real, particularly a birthday message from Mama.
Laurence's grant-worthy term for Krapp, 39 is "an autobiographical 'documentary' theater piece," but in truth, it is neither a history nor a premonition, and it is all the stronger for that. Krapp is a sort of shield, in which an actor can visit the deep themes of love and death and, especially, loss. Stripped of that role--"Take the character away from the actor and what does he have?"--and there's a far greater existential dread . . . and, as Beckett so wisely observed, a certain special comedy, too.
Krapp, 39 (80 min., no intermission)
Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street)
Tickets (212-691-1555): $39.00
Performances (extended four times--through 8/2): Fri. & Sat. @ 8| Sat. & Sun. @ 3
Friday, January 23, 2009
Kiran Rikhye's Theatre Is Dead And So Are You pays vaudevillian homage to all the companies that have ever dragged a playwright back from the dead only to flog the corpse. So what if this troupe's leader, Leonard J. Sharpe (Tommy Dickie) is dead? Chester (the energetic Noah Schultz) and Edwin (an engrossed David Skeist) have decided to soldier on, knowing that good art is born from tragic deaths. It is, as they put it, "the best and only live dead theatre that twelve to eighteen dollars can buy."
The result is Weekend at Bernie's meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which is to say that it's a crude (and quite successful) philosophical comedy. The best moments fully blend the two, as Chester puppets Leonard's body into "reviving" Romeo (just in time for his death scene). The worst moments get stuck in slapstick, as when Peggy (Julia Coe) kicks the dead horse of doubletakes, or in metadrama, like a digression on Tennessee Williams.
For the most part, Rikhye strikes a good balance, particularly in musical numbers like the delightfully upbeat "He Was Dead," and through the campy consistency of characters like the morbid Hazel (Liza Wade Green, channeling a PG Rocky Horror vibe) and earnest Harvey (David Berent). What would be character flaws, like the death-scene diva-ness of Florence (Alexia Vernon) or the professorial cluelessness of Roy (David Bengali) are instead turned into clever meditations on death. For instance, the chemical smell of death on ants leads to the conclusion that you ought to live and die to the fullest, for "anything in between is disturbing," and a game of Russian Roulette attempts to prove that "Once you know you're going to die, you'll feel like you can really live!"
The problem with doing all of this in the context of a vaudeville performance--"Death Defying Acts of Death Defiance"--is that 110 straight minutes of it get rather repetitive. Thankfully, the director, Jon Stancato, has gone out of his way to keep things fresh and visually stimulating. Not only does he use the entire Connelly Theater (including the wrap-around balcony, so be prepared to swivel), but he also uses darkness to create even more space to play in, and in doing so, makes the theater part of the play. This is as it should be, considering the not-so-subtle point: Theater Is Dead, but it cannot tell you so without being very much alive. Ultimately, even if you find the content to be cold and dead, the creativity of the Stolen Chair ensemble is quite alive and kicking.
Theater Is Dead And So Are You (1hr 50min, no intermission)
The Connelly Theater (220 East 4th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances (through 1/31): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Review by Jason Fitzgerald
In Shadow of Himself, Neal Bell condenses the meandering plot of the Gilgamesh source, but he keeps most of the major events. In the play, a proud half-god named "Gil" befriends a wild man, “NK” (named Enkidu in the original), who has been civilized by an encounter with a prostitute. Together they slay the monstrous Humbaba, but the encounter leads to the death of Enkidu, sending Gil to the underworld and, finally, to an encounter with the truth of his half-human nature. Bell condenses the legend's thematic scope, making it a parable about shedding illusions of immortality and embracing our kinship with the natural world. In the process, he makes he epic relevant to contemporary lives.
There is a risk that audiences of Shadow of Himself will now see the semi-divine Gil as a man with an ego problem, but Bell maintains a sense of the mythic by blending action with narration, and imbuing both with a fatalistic lyricism. These qualities, along with the play's privileging of the natural over the supernormal, make Shadow of Himself a perfect fit for the Rabbit Hole Ensemble, whose mission is to use the human body to create theatrical illusion and effects. Indeed, they prefer to ban all forms of mechanical spectacle (except for lighting design) from the stage. In this production, that means a cast of five that plays all the roles (the actors playing Gil and NK do not double) and creates every setting from the magical "Cedar Forest" to the river that leads to hell.
The aesthetic gamble does not quite pay off. There are too many moments where the sense of magic and myth, necessary for the play to succeed, seems to vanish from the room, leaving behind only a small band of actors trying to put on a play. The chanting chorus is too often silent to build a counterpoint to the main action. The actors vary their physicalities when asked to play monsters or lions, but it's often hard to distinguish one human character from the next. A subplot that Bell has created, about two soldiers who balance their desire to be masculine with their love for each other, suffers the most in this regard.
No wonder the most successful aspect of the production is the homoerotic relationship between Gil and NK. The scene where their physical enmity turns into physical intimacy—"The more I fight you the more I want to fight you"—requires nothing but emotion and stillness. Their separation, and Gil's tremendous grief in losing his friend, answer the earlier scene with a haunting silence. Emphasizing the physical and romantic love of these two figures is Bell's most significant contribution to the epic, and it raises the stakes of Gil's moral journey. In this production, the lessons he learns from his one great love leave the deepest impression on us fellow mortals.
Shadow of Himself (80 minutes, no intermission)
Access Theatre (380 Broadway)
http://www.rabbitholeensemble.com/ ($20 tickets)
Performances thru Jan 31st: Thurs - Sun 8pm
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Denny (Joachim Boyle) and Annie (Erin Roberts) have been best buds since high school, long before Annie's parents died and left her a large inheritance. Over the years, Annie's been supporting Denny, sharing her parents' East Village apartment and helping Denny to get food and weed. But tonight, she needs Denny's help, for she's just returned from a strange encounter with a Russian mobster (Andrew Kaempfer), and she's convinced that her bag of Smarties is actually full of Ecstasy.
Their light banter shows Mr. Dial's keen ear for dialogue, but like the constant trashing of their gentrified neighborhood, he tries too hard to sound hip and casual by dropping "bro" and "man" at the end of every other sentence, completely discrediting any sense of originality. These constant one-liners slow the plot and distract from the mystery, and it's a safe assumption that Dial wrote the play while indulging in the same habits as pot-smoking, movie-referencing Denny. It's like The Big Lebowski, only without a straight man and without the underlying style.
A series of incoherent events start off the choppy second act, and the audience is left wondering whether or not they are seeing the same play as before intermission. New characters appear out of nowhere and do little to help solve the mystery set up in the first act. Hastily throwing in a cattle Taser, a torture scene, a homicide, a pregnancy, and a closeted gay couple in need of cash all right before the climax does little good in providing a neat finale where all the facts stack up. Spending too much time being gimmicky to make much sense as a comedic thriller, the story spirals out of control without being able to get back on track. The final scene provides a much-needed resolution, but it's about twenty minutes too late.
Hollow Log has to borrow schlub-chic characters from Judd Apatow flicks and sarcastic cues from Napoleon Dynamite because the play is just a lot of flashy dialogue (the actors struggle not to trip over their own lines.) Mr. Dial has a refreshing sense of humor but he has chosen the wrong genre to put it in: his attempt to emulate classic films does not work well on stage. The problem with a crackling script is that it often goes up in smoke.
Hollow Log (1 hr. 45 mins.; one intermission)
Roy Arias Studios (300 West 43rd Street, 5th floor)
Tickets [212.868.4444 or www.smarttix.com]: $15
Performances (through 2/08): Thurs.-Sun. @ 8pm
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
There are countless ways to reinvent Shakespeare, but if your goal is to make it good, then those methods grow far more finite. It's easy enough for The New York Neo-Classical Ensemble to set Twelfth Night to a soundtrack they call "a fresh indie-rock score that sounds like it was downloaded from iTunes this morning." But this ”revival” of feels out of place right from Feste's (Brandon Uranowitz) first tune, in which Feste, Sir Toby (Matthew roi Berger) and Andrew Aguecheek (Cale Krise) romp about the stage in chaotic mock-rock choreography.
Twelfth Night is as much about music as it is about love--Orsino (Robbie Collier Sublett) opens the play with the line, “If music be the food of love, play on”--so it's easy to see director Stephen Stout's inspiration. In fact, the songs (by Berger), are catchy enough to fare well on their own. But this music doesn't fit effortlessly into an early modern comedy. The idea has promise, but Twelfth Night's iambic pentameter isn't built for song, so the performance feels forced.
And that's the rub, for Stout's direction works best when it isn't forced. For instance, his cast speaks with a hip, modern edge that helps Shakespearean novices to follow the plot, and that's great. But there are also moments where the meanings of the text are so thrust into the audience's lap that they lose their original comic appeal. Malvolio (Bill Griffin) notes, while reading a letter, "These are her very C's U's aNd T's... and thus, she makes her great P's." Andrew nails in the inside joke by reverberating, "Her 'cant'? Her 'cu-uh-uh-nt'?"
Thankfully, the aesthetics are far less intrusive. Eli Kaplan-Wildmann's set design is a simple curtained entrance/exit space, and the sparse props are well-used to illustrate larger events (for instance, a flickering candelabra conjures up Viola and Sebatian's Scene I shipwreck). The one exception is that Jessica Pabst's costume designs are rather hit and miss: Feste's ragamuffin-emo-hipster apparel works, but Sir Andrew is so over the top that he's hard to watch, and Maria (Daliya Karnofsky) looks like a cross between a secretary and a prostitute.
For all the inconsistencies, this production is true to the ritual of "Twelfth Night," the eccentric, fun-loving mindset for which this play is named. The cast is on the ball, too: in addition to Griffin's excellent Malvolio, Sublett's well-played Orsino, Uranowitz's near-perfect Feste, and Berger and Krise's notable Toby and Andrew, Corinne Donly, Grace McLean, Richard Douglass, and Hubert Point-Dujour Jr. all do wonderful work. By the second act, the audience can truly lose themselves in the absurdity and fun that makes Twelfth Night one of Shakespeare's finest.
Twelfth Night (2hr 25min with one intermission)
Theater Row: Kirk Theater (410 West 42nd Street)
Performances (through 1/24): Wed. - Sat. @ 8:00
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
To nail the incoherent ramblings of four blue-collar workers in a small British town in 1979, Mike Leigh started with a series of improvised scenes. The result, Ecstasy, is a tight play about the central warmth of friendship despite life’s inevitable obstacles. Talk of babies, divorce, outsourced employment, and astronomical rents ping-pong across the stage against the backdrop of the bleakest of winters. Part tragic comedy and part kitchen-sink realism, this play has no room for error—even less considering the small stage adaptation by Black Door Theatre Company. Thankfully, director Sara Laudonia creates a haven out of the single setting for these happy-go-lucky characters. For at least one night, they get by okay.
It’s Friday night and all the pubs have closed, so four friends stumble into one of their flats to continue the party. Their simultaneous conversations weave into the script without ego or agenda. As dialogue overlaps or gets interrupted, characters get up to refill each other’s drink and then plop down somewhere else. Memories of riding on motorcycles with strange boys surface and then bleed into the speculation of a movie icon’s drug overdose. These folks have a past. They have dreams. Even more extraordinary, they have full disclosure with each other. Well, for the most part. Mr. Leigh adds to the verbal frenzy with a physical one: the flat belongs to a boarding house with a communal loo offstage. As characters enter and exit to “bleed the lizard” throughout the night, those remaining lose no time delving into personal details. Like with all good gossip, the audience feels included and naughty at the same time. And as quickly as the dirt surfaces, it gets swept under the rug again seconds later, a testament to the snappy script and Ms. Laudonia’s spot-on interpretation.
The smart shift in dialogue soars from celebratory to wistful to downtrodden and chugs back up again. Dawn (Gina LeMoine) and the father of her children, her husband Mick (Brandon McCluskey), have a similar dynamic in their relationship. Swooning like newlyweds one minute and chiding each other like geysers the next, they grow more animated with each lager. It’s so well-acted and directed that the smallest details, like Dawn being too drunk to buckle her heels, form an endearing tragedy. Establishing the mood further are the bittersweet croons of Dolly Parton and Elvis from the record player downstage.
Much of this precision can be attributed to the visionary Ms. Laudonia, an obvious veteran of small-scale theater. She doesn’t gloss over anything—dialect coach Page Clemens avoids the sloppy, generic, one-size-fits-all accent by tracing each character to a specific region (like northern England and southern Ireland) and set designer Damon Pelletier uses specific objects and colors (like an afghan blanket or Day-Glo orange accents) to create a lived-in representation of the 70s. The same emphasis goes toward even the supporting actors, like Lore Davis, who have only one scene to make it count. As Val, the rightfully jealous wife of adulterous Roy (Josh Marcantel), she chases her man into each corner of the stage with the utmost rage and frustration. She may only be in the scene for three minutes, but that’s all she needs.
Ecstasy is literally the state of overwhelming emotion and rapturous delight. The four lives surrounding Mike Leigh’s gritty drama may be an unexpected place to uncover such an emotion. But after spending a night with them and hearing their stories, their tenacious optimism ignites that rapturous delight in all of us.-------------------------------------------
Ecstasy (2 hours; no intermission)
The Red Room (85 East 4th Street, 3rd Floor)
Tickets [www.smarttix.com]: $18
Performances (through 1/25): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 3
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Kids will be kids, but it's quite another thing when adults can be kids. Especially when it's done believably so. LIGA, 50% reward & 50% punishment ought to be retitled "100% risk & 100% reward," for this "liga" (Dutch for "league") of actors, the theater-initiative Kassys, has stepped out on a very fragile limb and captured the attention of an audience that has largely forgotten how to play. If there is a fountain of youth, Kassys has tapped it: such spontaneity, purity of behavior, and intense make-believe is rarely seen onstage.
If one requires a plot, LIGA follows the cast as they grow from individual children, each playing with whatever props they find in whichever way they please, into a group working together to make a barbecue (a rather ingenious example of group-think), and finally into an older group, one that now substitutes clever puns for cleverer actions. But the play works fully as an engaging exploration of human interaction, right down to the scolding supervision of Klass Paradies, who tries to rein in the more dangerous recreations of scaffold-hanging Marc Stoffels, or the unconscious sexuality of Willemijn Zevenhuijzen. These are outstanding actors, from the pride Harm van Geel finds in a belt that he finds, to the attention-starved nuance (or lack thereof) in Thijs Bloothoofd, not to mention the shy meanderings of the creative Esther Snelder.
Even the filmed opening of LIGA seems natural; there's a sparkle in the close-up eyes of the cast as they are caught on camera awkwardly leaving the stage; contentedly celebrating with the director, Liesebeth Gritter; and then abashedly exiting the theater with their families. There is, in fact, such an cohesive aura to this group that even when the film notes "One hour earlier" and rolls up the projection screen to reveal the live set (and, one by one, the actors), there isn't a hint of artifice. It is pretendious, not pretentious.
LIGA: 50% reward & 50% punishment (75 minutes)
Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street)
Tickets (212-967-7555): $15
Performances: 1/16 @ 7 | 1/17 @ 9:30 | 1/18 @ 7
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Eight is an impressive premiere that establishes the young Ella Hickson as the sort of playwright who is not only good at listening but good at hearing. Thanks to her insight and the growth of the actors who so embody their characters, this collection of monologues is an embarrassment of empathetic riches, and if you're looking to hear a fresh new voice--or eight--this is the show for you.
We draw our own conclusions about the eight young men and women of Eight before they even say a word. That's partially why the writer and director, Ella Hickson, has them stand in a silent line as the audience files in. They don't remain blanks for long: each has a monologue—the theatrical form of the short story—and over the course of the next few hours, they'll share them. At the Edinburgh Fringe, audiences voted for the four stories they most wanted to hear; given the somber tone, it's actually a relief to not have to choose. Instead of coming across as a jaded for a 23-year-old, the cumulative effect of all eight monologues is a wintergreen breath of fresh air.
It's a little ironic, because while Hickson's characters are trying to find a place for themselves, she's established herself as a darkly comic playwright. She's also a social critic, using Millie's (Ishbel McFarlane) "marital supplements" business to declaim a feminism that she doesn't see as freeing and Miles (Solomon Mousley), a survivor of the 7/6/05 London bombings, to say that it's more important to have something to dream for than to have everything you dream of. The suicide of André's (Michael Whitham) boyfriend is used to comment on the insidious loss of identity created by a homogenized homosexuality; the glory of following his father's military legacy only reminds Danny (Henry Peters) that he wants something else. The one optimistic monologue comes with a disclaimer: Bobby (Holly McLay), a working class 22-year-old single mother of two, will need magic—that created by determination—to make Christmas better than real life.
Eight was a rushed-to-Fringe project, but by now, the actors have settled magnificently into their roles—particularly McLay, whose frustration is palpable, and Simon Ginty, whose portrayal of Jude ranges from a naïve 17-year-old boy dreaming of "bikinis" to that of an obsessed teen on the brink of sexual discovery and finally to that of a post-coital, disillusioned man. Some of the monologues remain a little too written—Mona (Alice Bonifacio) is driven by her mother's bohemian recklessness into the comfort of stricter religion and Astrid (Gwenie Von Einsiedel) cheats on her husband so as to beat him to the punch—but only comparatively speaking. As for the language, it is consistently stunning: "The house became a big, toothless mouth, with gaping gaps where all the doors had been" and "Her cheap knickers on the floor, you like to think they're cheap—they're probably not, they are probably more expensive, more see through, more size eight than yours have ever been."
Eight is an impressive premiere that establishes Hickson as one of those people who is not only good at listening but good at hearing, and it is a pleasure to see that empathy echoing through even her saddest monologues.--------------------------------
Eight (2hrs 20min, 1 intermission)
PS122 (150 First Avenue)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $25.00
Performances (through 1/25): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 5
Monday, January 12, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
According to Young Jean Lee's bio, everything she does is calculated to keep the audience off-balance. Further, she specifically writes about topics that discomfort her, with the intent of challenging the audience. So what does it mean that her latest production, The Shipment, which is ostensibly about latent racism, is so tame? Or is it more subtle than the modern minstrelry, stereotypical stand-up routine, exaggerated depictions of rap life, and overall punchlines lead us to believe? That is, is race so ingrained in the way we see and think about things that our mind cannot be altered, that it refuses to be surprised or shocked? Or, better yet, are we so convinced that race is ingrained in the way we see and think about things that we force ourselves to look for sinister drama where there is none?
That's a lot of questions to ask of a play, which is why Lee's The Shipment may ultimately be more subversive than, say, Thomas Bradshaw's Southern Comfort, which very clearly and methodically told us exactly how to feel. Though Lee uses many of the same exaggerated comic devices in her work, The Shipment is entertaining and surprising, so should we feel guilty? It depends on how meta-theatrical the audience wants to get, on how exploitative it thinks Lee is actually being in her minstrelization of an urban dance routine (Mikeah Ernest Jennings and Prentice Onayemi, complete with smiles and half-assed wall jumps) or in the dead-on stand-up routine that Douglas Scott Streater (the scene stealer) delivers, in which he imitates and mocks white people as well as stupid black attitudes. There are moments of surprise in each of these: Is Mikeah embarrassed for Prentice and himself when he first comes out, or just putting on a show? Is Douglas seriously trying to get through to white people, or is it part of the act? More dangerously, are both true?
The finished product is so slick that even the more cryptic moments--an a capella rendition of Modest Mouse's "Dark Center of the Universe" (which I guess is mined for the way in which anyone, black or white, can "equally easily fuck you over")--are enjoyable. It's so slick, in fact, that the two longer vignettes--one a reductive glimpse at the Adventures of Would-Be-Rap-Star Omar and His Battles With Adversity, the other a half-serious comedy about a dinner party gone wrong--come across as pure gloss. The former is a grotesque: by the end, Omar is doing five or six lines of coke, and though it's clear that Lee is doing a pastiche of "thug life" it goes on so long that it no longer seems exploitative so much as redundant. As for the latter, it's awkwardly funny, but the payoff seems a little crude, comparatively.
A masochistic audience wishes for actual discomfort, for that leads to a resolved catharsis that helps them sleep at night. Lee denies this "happy" ending by putting on a happy show, albeit one that makes you wonder whether or not the smiles are just painted on. (The curtain call could have been used far more aggressively.) However, based on the theatrical work and the talented actors, The Shipment is worth any potential feelings of guilt.
The Shipment (80 min., no intermission)
The Kitchen (512 West 19th Street)
Tickets (212-255-5793 x11): $15.00
Performances (through 1/24): Wed. - Sat. @ 8:00
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Lisa Velten Smith and Sarah Saunders in Silent Heroes
Photo by Jim Baldassare
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
In Linda Escalera Baggs's powerful Silent Heroes, Miranda (Sarah Saunders), a flag-burning, Vietnam War protesting, 70s love-promoting assertive woman turned Marine wife, can scarcely believe the predicament she's in. Her dreams of becoming a lawyer and living the unsheltered life are now squandered by her husband's aviator ones. Even worse, she's getting instruction on Marine base life by a gaggle of Stepford wives that form her dysfunctional circle.
Tonight, 1975, it’s a crash course on what to expect, for they have gathered on Nick Francone's tight, realistically-furnished tarmac waiting room to discover the identity of a fighter pilot that recently crashed and burned. These women don’t say much that’s positive about being a Marine Corps aviator’s wife, and why should they? Pregnant and battered Patsy (Julie Jesneck), hard-edged Eleanor (Rosalie Tenseth), “stay out of it” Kitty (Lisa Velten Smith), nurse and sole African-American Felicia (Dionne Audain) and the stoic leader June (Kelly Ann Moore) all know better.
Baggs's crafty, cheeky, and exciting dialogue gives the cast great material to work with; the stellar performances give Baggs’s play something to live for. With characters that are as different as night and day, there's always something thrilling, intellectually stimulating, compelling, or a combination of the three going on. This helps Silent Heroes to smoothly cover a wide spectrum of issues (Vietnam babies to civil rights) in an effortless, wonderful way. It also allows for quick shifts in mood: one minute, these strong women facetiously recite the Corps mantra, the next, they’re launching into an impassioned monologue about the need for patriotism. And when the moment is still and the hysteria dies down, Jonathan Sanborn's chilling aircraft sound effects reminds the audience of the premise.
Aside from Rosemary Andress’s questionable blocking (characters occasionally speak with their back to the audience or obstruct sightlines), Silent Heroes is nearly flawless. These women may not be on the frontline, but their loyalty to the U.S. Flag and their husbands is of the utmost importance. Silent Heroes is a portrait of valiance at its best, unsung in its contribution, but loud and memorable just the same.
Silent Heroes (1 hr, 45 min., no intermission)
Shetler Studios (244 West 54th St., 12th Fl., NY NY)
TICKETS: 800-838-3006. $18.
Through January 24th.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
BY ELLEN WERNECKE
Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with the words, “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” By now it’s a trite quotation but it deserves to be repeated for every dysfunctional family snapshot that forgets this maxim. This Jordanian-American apartment drama written by Betty Shamieh, though never escaping the confines of this immigrant home, still manages to be original in putting the experiences of one family under the microscope.
All is not well in this late-‘80s Detroit household, but teasing out its problems consumes the bulk of Roar. Lebanese immigrants Karema (Maya Serhan) and Ahmed (Al Nazemian) hardly see each other between their long days of running a store and keeping up the apartment complex they also own. Their daughter Irene (Billie Alexopoulos) is an indifferent student but a promising singer, vainly hoping for that important callback from a record company executive. (So far, so standard.) Then Karema’s sister Hala arrives from Kuwait, dropping like an extravagantly gesturing bomb over the nuclear family. From then on, everything changes.
Shot through with bittersweet observations of the well-trod American immigrant experience, Roar is nonetheless successful because it differentiates between the problems plaguing this particular family and all the families like it. Even the third-act revelation about Karema and Hala’s early life in Jordan, which arrives long overdue, doesn’t seem clichéd because it unfolds in such a believable way. Director Elaine Molinaro develops Shamieh’s expository information as if we were sitting down to dinner with family; when we are finally separated from these characters, we ache to discover what goes on after the play ends. (Alexopoulos is particularly poignant as the teenage Irene, caught in the family maelstrom when she’s having enough trouble deciding whether to rebel or do her duty towards her parents.)
Friday, January 09, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The four distinct sections of Architecting, the TEAM's latest look at America, never satisfyingly cohere--at least, not as elegantly as in their metaphoric Chartres Cathedral--but at least they've got a term for it: thermodynamic history. This free-associative interpretation of events allows them to convert, conflate, and merge Americana, throwing it together in the hopes of creating something altogether new. The energy is there, but the frame of Architecting is so much larger than that of their last, the more centralized Particularly in the Heartland, that a lot of that hard work goes up in a puff of confusedly entertained smoke.
After a folksy musical pre-show introduction, the show introduces its layers: first, the present, in which Kerry (Libby King), an child genius mourning her father's death, comes to demolish what remains of a neighborhood in New Orleans so that she can complete her father's TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development). Instead, she discovers a group of transients, including Henry Adams (Jake Margolin, channeling Jeff Goldblum), a thermodynamic historian, and Margaret Mitchell (an attitudinal Jessica Almasy), you know, the long-dead author of Gone With the Wind. From here, the play jumps into the fictive universe of Scarlett O'Hara (the always charming Kristin Claire Sieh) before being co-opted by the unscrupulous Hollywood producer, Scott (Frank Boyd), and then, in Act II, lovingly remembered by a Scarlett Pageant competitor, Caroline (Sieh), and Joshua (Boyd), a Sonoco station manager, both positively touched by the novel, despite some of the controversy associated with it.
The question raised by Architecting is a good one: not "Why have we built this?" but "What have we built?" for with the passing of time, the utility of objects is thrown into flux. This is what leads to a battle between Mitchell's intent and Scott's appropriation, with Kerry's constructive destruction (or destructive construction) stuck in the middle, and Caroline and Joshua's interpretation watching from the fringe. Each takes their own inspiration from the past, being transformed (literally so--corsets abound) by what they claim as their own.
Under Rachel Chavkin's well-orchestrated direction, the visual result is similar to that of the Elevator Repair Service; the difference is that while ERS's flair is rooted solidly in language, the TEAM is hardly going by the book (let alone word for word). In any case, it makes for an exciting romp, driven by a cohesive ensemble and lacking only a follow-through for the audience. While Architecting fulfills the TEAM's definition of architecture ("that the building have a strong sense of identity"), what with all the moving walls and gaping plot holes, it's not easily inhabited by the average theatergoer.
Architecting (2hr 50min, 1 intermission)
Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street)
Tickets (212-967-7555): $15
Performances: 1/11, 1/14, 1/15, 1/17 @ 7 | 1/18 @ 2
(Note: From 1/22 to 2/15, Architecting continues at PS122.)
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
There are no seatbelts on the mock airplane set of Jenny Rogers’s adaptation of Maria Irene Fornes’s Fefu & Her Friends. None are needed: Wickets is engaging and smooth, but it’s hardly dramatically turbulent. Nor should it be: by sticking to the surfaces, co-directors Rogers and Clove Galilee are being true to the eight stewardesses on Wicket Air Flight #1971. (The feminist content has been updated from 1935 to 1970.) The deeper truths come out in loose yet cryptic monologues, and through an interpretation of Fornes’s experimental style that collages text and breaks out into song and dance.
Because none of the women can identify what they lack, Wickets is largely without conflict. However, it is saved from gimmicks by the physical confines of the set: there is nowhere for the actresses to hide, which accentuates even the smallest and most silent action. It also personalizes the ethereal angst: even if you don’t follow Fefu (Lee Eddy) as she talks about a constant pain (“It’s not physical, and it’s not sorrow . . . it’s as if normally there is a lubricant . . . a spiritual lubricant”), her claustrophobic sobs are clear.
The play is most successful in Part II, which divides the plane into three smaller sections (Coach, Business, First), and grounds itself in naturalism. If your heart goes out to Paula (Elizabeth Wakehouse), as she waxes over her failed affair with Cecilia (Jona Tuck), it does not have far to travel. It’s easier to empathize with Sue (Kristen Rozanski), who sexually represses, and Christina (Katie Apicella), a timid conformist, when they’re inches away. It’s really a disservice to reduce these women to labels, given the rich complexity with which the actresses embody them.
In the end, Wickets is more of a feeling than a play, but the impressions formed by this hundred-minute flight are more than filling. It’s like Sue says: “I’ve had it explained to me a thousand times, why a plane stays in the air, but the scientific facts simply won’t do. It’s purely a miracle.” Somehow, despite a singing angel, retro wicket match, tufts of grass, water-gun fight, and in-flight movie, Wickets stays in the air.
Wickets (1hr 40min)
3LD Arts and Technology Center (80 Greenwich)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18
Performances (through 1/25): Thurs. - Sun. @ 8
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Reggie Watts is a bullshit artist, but a serious one. His deadpan act deconstructs both sound and comedy: imagine a hip-hop Andy Kaufman and you'll still be confused. Just know that Watts's entertainment comes first; the incidental laughs spray like shrapnel. Also, know that Watts gets away with it. The solipsism fades in front of an audience, especially a downtown crowd, and if his performance sometimes seems the equivalent of a precocious child taping a private radio program in front of a mirror, he at least has the voice of a DJ and the technical skills of a sound engineer. His rambling spans octaves and his nonsense comes in raps that sample his own looped beatboxing.
Transition isn't any different from last year's Disinformation: it's just another chance for Watts to screw with our orderly expectations. (It says a lot that I'm still not sure whether or not there were actually "technical difficulties" delaying the show.) Is he to be congratulated for saying nothing, but in an entertaining way? A bit titled "An Soliloquoy" boils words down to sounds as it makes fun of classical theater and English enunciations; so does his song about sasquatchs eating sausages in sauces with squashes. Even the provocatively inane observations--for instance, that racism unites people because it takes everyone to make it work--get lost in the insane moments.
To Watts's credit, Transition feels like a fresh retread. Then again, it's only 45 minutes long (which is about how long you'll remember it). The title implies that Reggie Watts is going somewhere; here's hoping he gets there soon.
Transition (45 min.)
Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street)
Tickets (212-967-7555): $15
Performances: 1/9, 1/10, 1/11, 1/14, 1/15, 1/16 @ 9:30 | 1/12 @ 7 | 1/17 @ 2
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
This year, make (and follow through) on this one simple resolution: see something new. Go to a venue you've never been to, hear the voice of a playwright you don't know, discover the talents of the many rising stars in the theater. And feel free to tell us about it. After all, the best is always yet to come.
- Aaron Riccio
Editor, Theater Talk's New Theater Corps