Monday, August 31, 2009
Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee
In George and Laura Bush perform…Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes, writer Ryan Gajewski unsuccessfully attempts to mock the former President in a new way. The show begins with a re-enactment of a favorite “I Love Lucy” episode, featuring President Bush as Ricky Riccardo – using a stereotypical Cuban accent – and Laura Bush over-emphasizing mechanical actions as Lucy. Peter Zerneck and Jennifer Tullock are funny as George and Laura, capturing the personas so often satirized by the media. But the overall pace of the 60-minute show is slower than George W. Bush’s manner of speaking. Though it has comical moments, often at the expense of the former President, the end result falls flat.
It is amusing to see George W. Bush venting about his actions as former President and passive-aggressively bickering with his wife. Yet the double-crossing twist at the end, which absurdly involves Laura Bush and former Friends star Matt LeBlanc (John J. Isgro), isn’t enough to salvage this show.
Overall, George and Laura Bush perform… is a trite attempt at mocking a President we already know is doltish.
FringeNYC 2009: George and Laura Bush perform…Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes (60 minutes, no intermission)
The Players Theater (115 MacDougal Street)
Tickets: $15 (www.fringenyc.org)
Performances: concluded August 28
Are you feeling guilty about secretly wanting to become a wife? Dreading the eventual ownership of it, unsure of how it will work on personal terms? Coping with your parents’ reaction, or finding that you have to discard your former identity to attain it? Erin Judge and Ailin Conant's The Meaning of Wife wants to resolve all these concerns and more, mixing variety-show comedy with compassionate, forward-thinking insight as they fight for the postmodern bride’s place in society.
Using terms such as “heteronormative,” “cognitive dissonance,” and “hegemony,” they share personal anecdotes and explain contemporary social norms while working to break down preexisting notions. Combined with their straight-woman/punch-line schtick, this play packages itself neatly into a lighthearted, audience-friendly format, never too preachy or too heavy. In one scene Erin recounts getting rejected by her former lesbian clique at her women’s college reunion for marrying a “gender-identified, gender-assigned heterosexual male.” Later on, all the while with an infectious grin on her face, Ailin explains the hoops necessary to jump through in order to be granted a temporary international civil partnership.
The red tape unrolls all over the stage here as Ailin struggles to validate her love for another woman to the interrogating government official played by Erin, creating an amusing exchange which takes place somewhere between the Newlywed Game and the Spanish Inquisition. No longer an extension of a man’s property, the term “wife” still has a long way to go in adapting with ever-changing labels and lifestyles. This play is a great step in that direction, especially if you miss your angry liberal sociology professor from college, or if you never had one and want to check into a cheap crash course on the subject.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
The show opens with Aminda Asher's superb cello. As the sole musician, Asher not only provides the haunting songs for the journey, but also manipulates her instrument to simulate the cries of the lost souls. Her music goes hand-in-hand with the projection of India Evans' erotic and demonic artwork. As the collage pans slowly before our eyes and in front of the performers, we take the same steps that Alessio Bordoni takes as Dante, descending further and further into a chasm of pain and hopelessness because Rene Migliaccio's direction keeps us rapt with empathy. And though the images compete against Bordoni for our attention, he manages to stir emotion in us… when he's not acting hysterically.
It’s a risky move to perform Inferno in Italian (which may explain why that little fact isn’t mentioned anywhere except for Black Moon's website) and as a solo show. But if you're well-versed in Dante’s original and like non-traditional takes on the classics, you may not get lost in translation…and may not mind so much even if you do.
Dante's Divina Commedia-Inferno (Running time: 1 Hour)
HERE Arts Center-Mainstage Theater (145 Sixth Avenue, enter on Dominick, one block south of Spring
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
Saturday, August 29, 2009
What would you do if you lived in an apartment cluttered with books, but there still weren't enough stories to escape into? What would you do if you were filled with rage, but the illustrations weren't enough to stifle the beast within? If you're Mark O'Connor (Scott David Nogi) in The Books, you'd hire a pro Domme named Mistress Chimera (Aadya Bedi) to fill you with desire, and then stamp it out with pain, humiliation and degradation over and over again. Yet, unlike the characters in books, real people don't always stay in the roles or follow the paths that are prescribed for them. Michael Edison Hayden's play is a dark, somewhat entertaining dramedy about what happens when things don't go as planned.
The Books (Running time: 90 minutes)
The Cherry Pit (155 Bank Street between West and Washington Streets)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
Friday, August 28, 2009
Watch out! It’s Jews Gone Wild! In Melanie Zoey Weinstein’s Sex and the Holy Land, Lili (Weinstein) travels to Israel with her two best friends, hoping for adventure, knowledge, a connection with Jewish History, and and—hopefully, —and orgasm. She’s hounded—in her head, at least—by a chorus of Jewish mothers (pitch-perfect Yiddish accents from Susan Slatin, Michelle Slonim, and Goldie Zweibel), much to the dismay of her good friends Orr (Sarah Doe Osborne) and Chaya (Ruby Joy), who worry that she’ll spoil their fun. Instead, despite the insight, in-jokes (like the “Jew-Bu”), and “in all seriousness” moments (Or may be pregnant, Chaya wanted to go to Israel to come to terms with the death of her father), Sex and the Holy Land spoils itself by focusing on the forced drama of three reasonably privileged girls. It’s a bit indulgent, given the background.
The characters go a long way, too, from hiking in the Negev to trying to hook-up with soldiers; from praying for a deceased parent to attempting to live up to the ideals of one’s parents. The atmosphere doesn’t fare as well: a bench and blankets serve as a plane, a beach, the Western Wall, army barracks, and more. In that light, it’s hard to make out the duality of this land as a party town and a minefield, a country with its own privilege, yet a strong current of hardship borne of religious conflict. Sex and the Holy Land manages to capture the inner conflicts of these girls, but not the complexity of the country.
Sex and The Holy Land (2 hours, one intermission)
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Ever been to a Six Flags theme park? Ever see one of those awesome, over-amped stage shows? Well, if you’re one of the few who escaped Monster Mash Bash, don’t fret. Thanks to Diamond Dead, you can still experience some high-energy, dance-happy zombie musical theater.
Diamond Dead is the story of a failed rock band that comes to life only after its members are blown to smithereens. Mix a Spinal Tap backstory with a Dawn of the Dead ending, add a dash of Rocky Horror and you’ve pretty much got the show.
It's hard to believe that a show with musical zombies could be anything but a surefire hit; unfortunately, though, there were moments when this Fringe production felt more dead than alive. To the D.C.-based, award-wining cast’s credit, this wasn’t the fault of anyone on stage, especially not the commanding Andrew Lloyd Baughman (as Dr. Diabolicus) and the delightful Josh Speerstra (as Glitter). In truth, the entire Diamond Dead band sang their moldy brain-starved hearts out. Still, even with the cast’s repeated rallying cries, the show limped along, mainly because the New York crowd was sparse and reluctant to join in the fun. Was it a cultural difference that kept us from participating? Perhaps; New Yorkers are known for being jaded, having so much theater at our doorstep. Great for us, but unfortunate for them, as Diamond Dead suffered the sad flipside of the hometown advantage.
The cast certainly tried to get the energy going: they bounded into the sparse audience – inviting, imploring, and finally forcing the few of us there to dance. But this wound up being more nerve-wracking than inspiring for some of us; we were dancing to quell the zombies. At one point, as Jack (Matt Baughman) gyrated behind our heads, the complete stranger sitting beside me leaned over and asked, “What should we do?” “Whatever they say,” I whispered, ready to bust out the Running Man as a last resort.
In the end, despite my new friends and dance moves, I left the show thinking how much more fun it would have been in a tiny packed theater in D.C.’s Adams Morgan after about three drinks with a ton of happy people wearing hot pants. And that’s not a bad thing: after all, Spinal Tap, Dawn of the Dead, Rocky Horror are like that too. And really, if you think about it, so is Monster Mash Bash.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Talking about mental health is a taboo amongst men. Admitting to having mental health problems is even worse. In Borderline, Rob Benson draws from the experiences of his friends to openly discuss the nature of mental illness from the obvious to the obscure. Unlike the title, the show is not limited to borderline personality disorder. Rather, Borderline is about bpd, schizophrenia, and other nameless behaviors that suggest a disconnection in brain function. Instead of using props and a set, Benson uses sharp lighting and sound cues to sculpt his story and “episodes,” or breakdowns. And it's a good thing, too, because the material, as nebulous as some of the disorders themselves, is sometimes difficult to understand.
Alternating between free verse and straight narrative, Benson forms a semi-hypothesis about the link between ecstasy (the drug) and mental illness. That theory may not help those who are already “disturbed,” but it may just give everyone else food for thought. Although there's nothing cuddly or predictable about Benson's performance, it is remarkably passionate as he transforms from a psych-ward patient to a normally functioning adult. He plays his looks, too: he points out that we don't expect a “young, intelligent, handsome and good-looking” man to be mentally ill, which makes this actor, who looks like he’s out of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, a constant surprise on a sensitive topic.
Borderline (Running time: 50 minutes)
Manhattan Theatre Source (177 MacDougal Street, between 8th and Waverly Place)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
8/28 @ 9:15 PM
It’s hard to say whether Hollywood assistant Chad (Ian Scott McGregor) is having the worst day of his life, or as Homer Simpson would put it, the worst day of his life so far: When his agent boss Alan (Scott Aiello) goes off the radar, Chad is forced to babysit his bratty tween daughter (Sarah Grover) at his beach house -- and what should wash up but Shane (Chad Lindsey), the director of a forthcoming surfer movie who’s definitely drunk and possibly suicidal. When Alan gets back, not only isn’t he grateful, but instead determined to show Chad the error of his ways. From Jason Schafer, the writer of the 2007 Off-Off identity thriller “I Google Myself,” “Notes on the Land of Earthquake and Fire” zags where an “Entourage” would zig, using Chad’s dilemma as a would-be go-getter to explore how masculinity feeds into Hollywood’s notions of power and success. Not every laugh lands, but audiences will sympathize with the beleaguered Chad and root for Alan’s comeuppance.
”Notes on the Land of Earthquake and Fire” runs through August 29 at the New York International Fringe Festival. For tickets and more information, please visit FringeNYC.org.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Writer/performer Anthony Fascious Martinez is a rapper, not a storyteller. That’s why he tries to fill his one-man show, Penumbra—about growing up with a single mother in the Bronx (his father is “working,” that is, in jail)—with audio and video supplements (recordings of family members, his personal drawings).
What he needs to do, however, is slow down: he jumps too quickly between stories of himself and various family members, that it’s hard to pinpoint which events involve him, and which may have taken place decades ago. Martinez’s strength is less in storytelling, and more in music. Singing as well as rapping a few of the sections, including one about first finding out his father went to jail, is one way he attempts to stand out.
His lyrical flow and choice of beats is a start, but does not quite make up for the subject matter, or the lack of continuity in his storytelling. These are immigrant stories told with an appealing mixture of humor and regret, but unfortunately for Martinez, Penumbra joins a crowded field of growing up in the hood/immigration to New York stories Penumbra might have been stronger without both the audio recordings and video clips, and more opportunities for Martinez to showcase his musical skills. That’s what gives Penumbra an edge in the popular field of immigrant stories.
Penumbra (75 minutes, no intermission)
The Actor's Playhouse (100 Seventh Avenue South)
Tickets available at fringenyc.org or at Fringe Central at 54 Crosby Street ($15)
Performances August 26 at 8pm, and August 29th at 10pm.
Monday, August 24, 2009
What’s it really like being a mobster? Turns out it’s a whole lot of waiting, according to Gregg Greenberg’s “Clemenza and Tessio Are Dead,” a self-aware show returning to New York for the Fringe after having its world premiere last fall at the Broadway Comedy Club. Constantly invoking “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” the play (which Greenberg directed as well as wrote) follows the events of “The Godfather” through the perspective of two low-level mobsters in the Corleone organization, constantly forced to judge their shifting positions as the next generation takes over the family business.
Nervous Tessio (Dennis Wit) prefers to fall in line with the Don, while Clemenza (Frank Senger), believing they will be cut out of the succession, concocts a darker scheme. The tone ricochets between “Office Space”-style tedium (including an incompetent game of Go Fish and a deliciously incorrect retelling of “Hamlet”) and the darker schemes of the Coppola original, but Senger and Wit keep the banter rolling, and Greenberg manages to bring them back into the fold for a fascinating finale with the help of Troy Dane, who ably portrays every other character in the Corleone fold.
“Clemenza and Tessio are Dead” runs through August 29 at the New York International Fringe Festival. For tickets and more information, please visit FringeNYC.org.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
His Greatness (Running time: 1 Hour, 55 minutes)
The Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, between 7th avenue and Hudson Street)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
As the old saying goes, “You only get one chance at true love.” Some people laugh that off. Not Brian Golden, whose 6 Seconds in Charlack follows that theory to its bitter end. Bard (Andy Wagner), a young lawyer-to-be, is torn between a wholesome, by-the-books nurse named Penny (Allison Walton) and the memories of a carefree, sexy dreamer named Candy (Christena Dogrell). The character names are appropriate: Penny is the sensible, current girlfriend, while Candy is the tempter that he met before her. Once you understand that, you have everything that you need to get through this uneven drama.
Although the material and the performances are mostly humdrum or predictable, the music, calling to mind the romance and beauty of Captain Corelli's Mandolin (sans mandolin), is not. However, every time Ned Cray strums his guitar and transports us to another world, Wagner's unnecessary yelling snaps us out of it. The music is also not supported by Golden's script. Although there are moments where the dialogue could have been poetic and passionate, the script and the performers don't mesh. Patrick Mills does a decent job with directing by creating smooth entries and exits for his cast, but the romantic and nostalgic moments between the actors are often stunted by a lack of confidence or a lack of chemistry. Bard may have his hands much too full with lawyering, fixing typewriters, writing novels, moving, and mucking up a relationship, but all of this activity still doesn't make him or the story interesting. Throw in an unsatisfying ending, and what you have in 6 Seconds in Charlack is a production that needs much more time to develop.
6 Seconds in Charlack (Running time: 90 minutes)
CSV Cultural and Educational Center: Flamboyan (107 Suffolk Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
Saturday, August 22, 2009
In Jean Genet’s Deathwatch (translated by David Ruskin), a Lord of the Flies in a French prison play, Maurice (Stephanie Smith) and LeFranc (Katherine MacDonald), are forced to share a prison cell with Green Eyes (Carissa Cordes), a notorious killer. They are not so much scared of him, as they are self-conscious that their own crimes pale in comparison. On a bare stage, with only a cot for furniture, the play revolves around their competition to show who is the strongest. The prisoners change allegiances more often than middle school girls competing for school popularity, a metaphor drawn by the choice to have these male characters portrayed by women. The boyish Maurice flashes almost tender expressions of longing towards Green Eyes, adding a subtle undercurrent of homoeroticism. LeFranc demonstrates resoluteness as he refuses to cry even as Green Eyes belittles his “minor” crimes (minor, at least, in comparison to the murder of a defenseless girl). MacDonald’s stiff upper lip and wincing eyes are a model of toughness in the face of taunting: one almost feels sorry for Maurice. This ends up playing to Deathwatch’s strength, as now the prisoners reveal an even greater truth about the world outside. It’s a bleak play, with little in the way of humor to balance the ever present competition. However, both the gender twist and the conviction of the actors makes the bleakness bearable. It’s not pleasant, but it still rings true. Even in the small space of a cell, the urge to compete is ever present.
Deathwatch (75 minutes; no intermission)
The Cherry Pit (155 Bank Street)
Tickets available at www.fringenyc.org or at Fringe Central, 54 Crosby Street ($15)
Performances August 25-26 at 10pm and 3:15pm, and August 28-29, at 10pm and 12:45pm
Thursday, August 20, 2009
It is better, thinks sixteen-year-old Skeeta (Sarah Lord), to get lost among the understandable bits of nature, like Venus flytraps, than to spend time at home with Mom (Birgit Huppuch) and the men she drags home with her. Better to use the family's knack for storytelling (an art older than religion, we're reminded) to "shape the darkness." She flitters through her narrative like the mosquito she's named for, the ghost of her Daddy (Todd D'Amour) and her present but resentful Mother echoing her desperate hope: "I'd like to believe."
Jason Williamson's Ether Steeds is easy to believe in, thanks to its fantastical language ("soul-tired," "wedding-cake moon," "cactus heart") and phenomenal cast, which also includes Sahr Ngaujah, as electric here as the mild-mannered, wounded love-interest, Emory, as he was as the lead in Fela! last year. Niegel Smith's direction maintains the pace, using the lyrical repetitions to build tension and drawing a nice contrast between Skeeta's reality and her storybook ancestor, Ida, who falls for a kelpie (a supernatural horse, hence the "ether steeds"). The dream-like quality of the show is well-tempered by the presence of actors like the sturdy D'Amour and phenomenally ranged Huppuch, though Lord still manages to steal the show with her character's so-deliberate-it's-accidental charm.
On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "drowning in metaphors" and 5 being "smooth sailing on a raft of beautiful ideas," Ether Steeds easily gets a 5.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
What do you do when you're tired of your middle-class lifestyle and middle of the road experiences? If you're Jessica Manuel, you sign up for a job in Antarctica where there's no sunlight. In The Antarctic Chronicles, Manuel takes you through her comedic, strength-building journey to finding out what she's made of by going all the way to the bottom of the Earth. This entertaining, well-rehearsed production displays not only Manuel's humor, but her incredible energy as well. The subject matter is often interesting-the possibility of black urine from dehydration and the lessons in fuel in particular-but it's Manuel's zaniness, charm, and physical comedy that really drive the show. Add Paul Linke's sharp direction, seamless sound clips and thoughtful lighting, and what you have is a show that may be below zero in temperature, but way above average in quality.
The Antarctic Chronicles(Running time: 1 Hour)
The Player's Loft(115 MacDougal Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10012)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Rick Merino's Inferno: The New Rock Musical sets the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy to a rocking, well-executed soundtrack. But don’t let Carol Wlazlowski’s Halloween costumes confuse you; this is a themed concert, not a musical. There’s no book, just a succession of edgy, appropriately dark songs, each covering part of Dante (Rick Merino) and Virgil's (Sean Jans) journey through the nine circles of Hell. (If you happen to get lost in the “songtelling,” the program doubles as a guide.) There’s no acting, either: the cast doesn't differentiate between the characters that they embody; all the notes and tones from each actor sound the same no matter how many figures they play. No need to abandon hope, though: you can watch the five-piece band that’s spread through the theater, and you can enjoy the vocals, particularly those of Karen Lauber and Buzz Cartier. You'll never get bored, and you might even chuckle at Leslie Segan's limited antics. Being able to hear the 3-count intro to each song may get tiresome,but the intimate space will make you feel like a lucky fan attending a private show.
Inferno: The New Rock Musical (Running time: 90 minutes)
Dixon Place (161A Chrytie Street between Rivington and Delancey Streets)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
Do you think you’re obsessed with—ahem, “adoring of”—a band? Think again. Barri Tsavaris's ode to Bono and U2, I Will Follow (the title track from U2's 1980 album), will make you seem like a shallow fan. Based on a true story, this fun, well-crafted and well-executed production is a homage to “Bono-god”(yes, he's a deity here) that showcases the cast's penchant for comedy. With a crazy amount of pep, Tsavaris chronicles her love affair with the Irish band from the moment Bono's “voice seed was planted” in her head in 1992 through current times. Backed by the talented John Keabler and Melissa Center (who play a smorgasbord of characters), Tsavaris forgoes commitment to religion, relationships, and work to stay loyal to her pursuit of Bono-ness.
From R. Allen Babcock's album-covered walls to Barbara Serbes' comprehensive choreography, I Will Follow manages to capture 20 years of serious devotion. Under Steve Wargo's strong direction, the actors are able to convey a child-like glee that stays with you until the curtain falls, even if Jamie Roderick's lighting sometimes keeps their faces in shadows. The only hiccups in Tsavaris's strong voice are the segue into 9/11 and the show's running time: the falling towers are like an anvil dropped in an enjoyable boat ride, and unless you're a die-hard U2 fan, the ninety minutes of gushing are at least 30 minutes too long. But even if you find yourself straying, Tsavaris’s passion for U2 is magnetic and compass-like: that is, it’s easy to follow.
I Will Follow (Running time: 90 minutes)
The Actors” Playhouse (100 Seventh Avenue South btwn Grove and Bleecker Streets)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org
Saturday 8/22 @ 12pm, Friday 8/28 @ 5:15pm
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Reviewed by Ilana Novick
Johannes Galli’s Eve and Lilith is a modern retelling of an ancient love triangle between Adam, Eve, and Adam's first wife, Lilith, whom he left due to lack of obedience. The play opens with Lilith (Tricia Patrick) getting ready for a night out. She wears a revealing red dress, sitting in a bordello-like bedroom covered in feather boas. Into this den of glitter and feathers walks Eve (Tatjana Maya), who wears a beige suit, hat, and dark glasses. What follows is a lengthy “you stole my man” catfight: the costumes and script attempt to dress it up as a larger discussion on women’s roles in relationships, but it never gets above being an argument.
Still, the play tries again and again to do more: at one point, Eve and Lilith decide to sleep on it. They dream of meeting each other’s ancient selves, Galli’s attempt to draw a parallel between their biblical selves and their modern conflict. Instead, it feels like two scenes in search of a play: that is, it lacks context. Specifically, it lacks smaller, quieter moments: a confrontation is much less effective and far less exciting when it’s just shouting.
Where Galli builds tension is in the costumes. Eve is convincingly buttoned up and repressed, she even walks so tight and controlled that her arms don’t swing. As for Lilith, she certainly put a lot of energy into looking sexy—tons of hip-swinging and leg-showing, looking as cheap as her apartment. But even this is overdone: there are too many feathers and too much cleavage: it’s more a caricature of sexy than actually sexy.
The arguments over women’s roles in society, and in relationships, are as ancient as Adam and Eve, but unfortunately, Eve and Lilith fails to add any new ideas.
Eve and Lilith (70 minutes, no intermission)
Part of the Midtown International Theater Festival
Monday, August 10, 2009
Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee
Family Symmetry focuses on Allen, a man who was once hospitalized for his obsessive compulsive disorder and is now learning to readjust to life with his wife. Leo Goodman delivers a standout performance: his obsessive mannerisms and deliberate, repetitive behavior feel real and natural. The show, however, does not.
The plot is incredibly predictable and the connection between characters is feigned. Sometimes, it’s even pushed to the point of awkwardness. For example, Allen’s wife, Suzie, tells him that she believes his condition is worsening. Tension builds as Allen vehemently denies switching two picture frames, and he soon screams at her, uttering profanities and flailing his arms as if to strangle her. But moments later, the two are embracing in what is clearly a staged hug. Abrupt transitions like these destroy the show’s emotional logic.
The choppy writing only makes things worse. Suzie’s best friend, Linda (Lisa Pettersson), shows up to complain about being single, and after a few stares, Linda passionately kisses her. The moment’s predictable not because it’s logical, but because the actors telegraph their anticipation for one another’s lines and actions. The scenes may be short, but these awkward moments and poor transitions make Family Symmetry a drag.
Even the play’s big twist is pretty obvious, given all of Suzie’s blatant moments of foreshadowing. She goes from being fully in love to being totally suspicious, and after an “accident” occurs, it’s not hard to guess where Suzie’s choice to “hide” her pregnancy from Allen is going to lead. It’s still a stretch, though, and the boring conclusion shows little understanding of the subject matter: families coping with OCD.
It doesn’t help that Adam Samtur is both playwright and director: the actors are left with few choices (and so deliver poor performances), and the unimaginative blackouts between scenes leave the audience with little other to focus on beyond the plot. (Not to mention the numerous pointless costume changes, many of which occur on stage, delaying dialogue and movement between scenes.)
Overall, Family Symmetry is by no means a bad show, but it lacks the coherence and strong performances necessary to make a sloppily written show look good.
Family Symmetry (80 minutes, no intermission), part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Jewel Box Theater (312 W 36th Street, 4th floor)
Tickets (http://ovationtix.com): $18
Performances: concluded August 1
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Carey Lovelace tries to keep the setting of Couples Counseling as anonymous and universal as possible, but the snarky dialogue and sharp body language leave no doubt that this love story takes place in New York. Still, she leaves plenty to the imagination, both for the actors (who can interpret things playfully or more maturely) and for the audience (which gets to pick a side as they piece this couple’s history together). Lovelace’s unique dialogue helps, for her writing is objective, and refuses to assign blame: its barked curses are followed by heavy beats, its sentences go unfinished out of frustration, and its apologies are always strained. These are just two flawed lovers who want to stay together…or at least think they do.
Played to perfection by actors James Kennedy and Anna Margaret Hollyman, there’s no question that this insecure, vulnerable, blubbering guy and his gorgeous, overconfident alpha girlfriend need counseling. The two keep things light even when things get heated, generating that rare form of multidimensional stage chemistry. When in session they shout curt responses without making eye contact and dredge up the past with such intentional cruelty and personal disclosure that no matter how mortifying, the audience’s eyes remain glued to the stage. A scene later, their soft, cooing voices and warm shoulder rubs or knee squeezes represent that glowing honeymoon phase right after making up. These characters are quirky, relatable, and real, and given an exceptional edge due to Lovelace’s writing and the actors’ dead-on portrayals.
Hollyman’s character is meant to be insatiable, sexy, beguiling, and blonde:it helps that the actress is all four. She can be tender and open, but signs of weakness or indecisiveness infuriate her, swiftly shifting her back to a more sophisticated, independent self: it keeps her boyfriend, her therapist, and the audience on their toes. Lovelace has written a terrifically opinionated id, and Hollyman has captured it. From what she wants in bed to why she cheats to how her parents have shaped her worldview on relationships, she embraces her human flaws and lofty fantasies during each session, even if she never can change and her relationship can’t ever be salvaged.
Somehow, Kennedy matches this high-powered performance, despite his character being the “lesser half,” a slightly manipulative and deeply troubled guy. His codependence expands beyond the relationship, as he also develops a constant need for his therapist, Dr. Bob Melmud (the delightfully clueless Jack Gilpin). Hilarity and tragedy follows as Hollyman’s character decides she also needs some extra “therapy.” At first flattered and then coyly resistant, Dr. Bob finally relents to his patient’s advances, but at the cost of a chronic nervous state and mounting ethical dilemma. Gilpin brings to the role the genuine insecurity of a man involved with a woman much younger and more attractive, conjuring such great performances as James Mason’s Professor Humbert (in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita).
Couples Counseling’s obtuse love triangle guarantees a play full of hilarious spins and tragic detours, minor idiosyncrasies and major indiscretions, all of which can all too easily be recognized by any New Yorker who has ever been—or currently is—in love.
Monday, August 03, 2009
Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee
Did you know that German scientists are conducting experiments to determine what fills the heart of the average American? At least, they are in Kate Gersten’s comedy, EXPOSED! The Curious Case of Shiloh and Zahara. By setting the play in 2029, she’s able to take fair shots at Shiloh and Zahara—the biological and adoptive daughters, respectively, of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. She’s also really able to slam pop culture, much to our grin.
The play opens with Shiloh (Gersten) hiding out in her and Zahara’s LA apartment. After being vilified for fighting with Suri Cruise (you know, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes), she’s stayed off everyone’s radar. For three years, she’s been practicing yoga with an automated yoga-bot and providing stock-market tips to delivery boys. Meanwhile, Zahara (Kelly McCreary) has been coping with an identity crisis, experimenting with various activities and participating in group therapy. She used to be a heroin addict, experienced a “Whoopi Goldberg” phase, and currently participates in social protests, believing she is destined to be a strong black leader.
You’ll be laughing, but surprisingly not always at the two main characters. Shiloh is depicted as a carefree, bubbly airhead, but we understand that she has suffered from years of living under the media’s microscope. We equally empathize with Zahara, who is trying to establish herself as someone other than the adoptive African daughter of her famous parents. And while the comical moments in the show are often ridiculous—the end culminates in a Mortal Kombat-like battle—the show maintains a serious undertone about the future of celebrity children.
At one point, EXPOSED! is outright profound: Shiloh stands center stage during a dream sequence and confronts the audience about its obsession with her and other celebrities’ lives. “What’s wrong with you people?” she asks, “Why do you care so much about people you don’t know?” As simple as the question is, it forces us to reflect on the nature of celebrity and our fixation with it. Perhaps we enjoy musing over the goings-on of people like Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, and Paris Hilton because they lead more fascinating lives than we do. Or perhaps it is because—as one of the crazy “fans” in the show states—it brings us comfort to know that their lives are worse than ours.
Gersten takes creative liberties with a wide variety of pop culture, but earns those laughs: Tom Cruise, famous for his membership in the Church of Scientology, is a Devil’s Ambassador with super powers; Blanket Jackson, son of the late and often reclusive Michael Jackson, visits Shiloh; and Lindsay Lohan has died twice. Overall, EXPOSED! is an entertaining and hilarious show, even if the greater socio-cultural implications are ignored.
EXPOSED! The Curious Case of Shiloh and Zahara (90 minutes, no intermission), part of Midtown International Theatre Festival
Mainstage Theater (312 West 36th Street, 4th floor)
Tickets (http://ovationtix.com): $18
Performances: concluded July 30