According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Cradle Will Rock

Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock originally premiered in 1936, when America was in a devastating economic decline, arguing with overseas investors over the value of domestic goods, and facing pressure from labor unions over the cost of manufacturing those commodities. In this riveting, riotous revival, Theater Ten Ten keeps Blitzstein’s spirit alive with a shrewd yet vivid production, keeping in mind the show’s significance to a modern audience.

Photo by David Fuller

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Steeltown USA has had a tumultuous past few years, as the dirty outside world of war, money, outsourcing and gentrification have infiltrated its sleepy existence. What was once a self-sustaining town with respectable and polite law enforcement, friendly neighbors, and caring, conscientious politicians, now threatens civilians with arbitrary new laws and issues layoffs to anyone unwilling or unable to bend to the new demands of labor production. As the worldwide demand for steel rises and falls, money goes in and out of Steeltown, but only for a select minority, while women, immigrants, and artists must all find ways to survive. As the title song goes, if things stay this way, The Cradle Will Rock.

This whirlwind musical drama touches several serious and thought-provoking social and political issues all with sensitivity and intelligence. A high-spirited Eric Thomas Johnson provides piano accompaniment, with a passionate commitment to Blitzstein’s score. The witty, idiosyncratic lyrics help create conflict and depict roles, similar to a Stephen Sondheim musical where stories and conversations often show through the music just as much as the action. When Moll (Bellavio Mauro), an impoverished prostitute enters in the opening scene, the music slows down and stretches out while her sorrow and frustration swell and her strong alto timbre wavers, struggling to make a dollar. She soon gets whisked away to jail by an aggressive, egocentric detective named Dick, played with a bullying, boisterous energy by Michael Baxter.

The energy changes instantly when the Liberty Committee enters, unsure of their role but eager to please the man who appointed them, wealthy business man Mr. Mister. A burst of harmony explodes, delving into another layer of Steeltown. Nothing ever slows down for more than a minute—a pause in the music here or a flash of a fadeout there—before Johnson’s skilled and upbeat piano playing resurfaces and the action resumes.

And there’s plenty of action. In the first act alone, a crooked reverend accepts donations from Mrs. Mister (Tessa Faye, a shrewd businesswoman in socialite’s clothing) in return for brainwashing parishioners, the Liberty Committee gets detained for hours in jail, and labor riots take place outside the steel factory. The second act adds themes of unionization, to say nothing of the heroic Larry Foreman (Josh Powell), who at last appears with a rebel attitude and Elvis Presley croon, handing out leaflets and advocating workers’ rights. Things continue to heat up throughout the play until it all bubbles to the surface, and that’s the fun—and the point—of The Cradle Will Rock.

Viviane Galloway’s charming, nearly comically conservative costumes (nothing is cut above the knee or below the collarbone) tie into the show’s theme with superb accuracy, as does David Fuller’s directing. Under Fuller, the characters are inflated enough to take full advantage of the script’s tongue-in-cheek remarks. Mr. Mister (Bill Newhall), for example, swaggers around stage as a bloated, ruddy-faced corporate hog who can still talk the talk when necessary to appease investors, all in a faultless three-piece suit and unwavering, soothing tone. Judith Jarosz’s sprite choreography completes this period revival, with a stunning homage to classic 1940s Broadway, performed with perfection by each cast member. A sobering yet inspiring story of proletariat idealism striving to exist in a society run with strings attached by money-grubbing moguls, The Cradle Will Rock couldn’t have come at a better time, nor could it have been produced by a better team.

The Cradle Will Rock (2 hours; one 10-minute intermission)
Location: Theater Ten Ten (1010 Park Avenue)
Tickets: $25
Performances (through 3/14): Mon., Fri.-Sat. @ 8pm; Sun. @ 3pm

Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters

Investment banking and basketball usually don’t mix together as the foundation of a one-man show, but for Brandt Johnson, it’s just one of many life experiences he’s willing to share in his semi-autobiographical piece Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Brandt Johnson/photo by Debby Goldman

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Most people with lifelong obsessions remember where it all started: Brandt Johnson’s love of basketball started as a child with a Nerf ball and removable plastic hoop that could be reattached to any spare surface. In his one-man show, Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters, Johnson tells the story of Billy Tyler, a goofy, hopeful athlete who practices hoops nonstop on his homemade blacktop and carries his basketball to class. In the process, he plays a variety of characters, from the sheepish grins and baggy nylons of Tyler’s awkward teens to the touchy-feely empathy of a guidance counselor or the boot-camp freshman coach, Krinko. This high-speed performance (he rapidly changes clothes and character onstage) complements the ways in which Billy’s passion for the game propels him past each roadblock.

It also sets a nice contrast with Billy’s decision to forgo the slim chances of making the NBA, choosing to apply his work ethic and competitive streak to Wall Street. The designer suits and growing commissions only keep him away from his first love for so long, however: one day on his way to lunch he sees a game of pickup across the street, unbuttons his suit to reveal a jersey underneath and shouts, “Hey, fellas! I got next!”

It’s a delightful performance, brimming with bright-eyed optimism, and Johnson’s writing has just as much heart. Even a simple memory of the time he started in a varsity game while still on the JV team, brings a sense of warmth and modesty that is not overdone. The tough life lessons never get preachy and the soul-searching always serves a purpose, from the direction Billy’s life took after college to realizing (five years later) the wrong decision he made.

Director Ron Stetson helps Johnson create space in a small black-box theater through crafty blocking and strategic props, turning the stage into a full-court gymnasium so deftly the audience doesn’t pick up on the illusion. Original music by Keith “Wild Child” Middleton completes the sports atmosphere with thumping electronic bass lines when the going gets tough and trailing, high-pitched flourishes that bring Billy back to his childhood idealism. Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters, may be about losing, but the story and writer/actor behind it wins over audiences.

Give and Go: Learning from Losing to the Harlem Globetrotters
Location: Metropolitan Playhouse (220 East 4th Street)
Tickets ( $25; students and seniors $15; children 18 and under $10
Performances (through 2/27): Fri.-Sat. @ 8pm

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Caroline, Or Change

Park Slope's Gallery Players pick the perfect time to revive Tony Kushner's show about the pain of change and progress.

Photo by Bella Muccari.

Reviewed by Ryan Max

Caroline, or Change is a musical about the Civil Rights Movement that isn't really about the Civil Rights Movement. True, it is set in 1963 Louisiana and centers on a white family's miserable black maid. But Caroline lacks the obvious villains, segregationists and fire hoses that have come to signify the fight for civil rights. In place of a Good vs. Evil battle for men’s souls, the script (by Tony Kushner) provides an ever-shifting balance of allegiances and emotions. Can we blame petulant Noah for manipulating Caroline, or is he just a lonely young boy that lost his mother? Or is stubborn, prickly Caroline the source of her own ills, even though her stubbornness is inseparable from the stability that shields her family from the worst of Southern racism? Park Slope's Gallery Players chose a perfect time for this alluring revival which shows how painful change can be, even for those it is intended to help.

Caroline is the maid to a left-leaning family of Jewish transplants from New York City. The family consists of a young boy, Noah, his clarinet-obsessed father, and his father's new wife (Noah’s mother recently died of cancer). The new wife’s attempts to ingratiate herself to Noah and Caroline ignite much of the play’s conflict, demonstrating the show’s ability to distill tension even from banal or well-intentioned attempts at change. All the while Noah's father sits idly playing his clarinet, and Caroline—Noah's preferred replacement for his mother—grows ever more bitter as she toils away for too little pay.

Mr. Kushner brilliantly uses the unfolding conflict to open our eyes to an unexpected victim of change: those who have found a way to survive in lousy circumstances. And Caroline, played gloriously by Teisha Duncan, is the perfect example. She works for a sympathetic but unhelpful family (Noah starts getting an allowance even after they say they can’t raise her $30 a week salary). She can't afford to take her kids to the dentist, and she left her husband long ago. But people around her are ready for change. Her joyful teenage daughter is intoxicated by the messages of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. But her daughter's anger, however just, seems to Caroline like a dangerous waste of time. A fellow maid who goes to college and wears fancy shoes strikes the white-clad Caroline as too flashy. To her, change is not necessarily synonymous with progress; change can just as easily mean forgetting who you are or needlessly risking your way of life—it may not be ideal, but at least it's surviving.

Despite being deeply contradictory, facets of character like Caroline's stubborn dignity, her daughter's fiery idealism, and Noah's callow machinations each command our sympathy at one time or another. And Caroline, marvelous Caroline, stands at the crux of these codependent and competing attitudes. Her daughter would not have the luxury of idealism without her mother's hard work (something she realizes in a beautiful moment when she affirms "My mother is a maid" with palpable pride), but if Caroline stands up to her employers’ condescension, she could imperil her own family’s well being. The puzzle of these shifting allegiances and irreconcilable views makes for a viewing experience endlessly more rewarding than the black and white dramas we reasonably expect from stories about the segregationist South. When Caroline finally snaps under the pressure of these competing aims, its makes for a visceral, mesmerizing solo performance by Ms. Duncan, the sort rarely matched in theater today.

The format of the play, performed on Edward T. Morris’ three-tiered stage, blends the action organically, and the lighting is skillfully handled by Mike Billings. The music, by Jeanine Tesori, makes many strong moments even stronger by bypassing the intellect and cutting straight to the gut. Use the restroom during the intermission and you're sure to hear someone humming the tune that closes out the first half.

Caroline is very good—great, even—but falls just short of perfect. Though the acting and writing sidestep many of the pitfalls that stud the path of such an iconic period and its cliché-heavy characters, it is not a play that is concerned with illuminating its specific circumstances. It is a story about "Change" in the wider sense almost more than it is about "Caroline," but it is Caroline that gets the more skillful rendering; the stock characters still have a hard time transcending their circumstances and by show’s end, change, and how we are supposed to feel about its wonderful and frightening effects, is still just a vague notion.

Caroline, or Change (2 hours; One Intermission)
The Gallery Players Theatre (199 W. 14th St., Brooklyn, NY)
TICKETS: $18; $14 Seniors and Children Under 12 (
PERFORMANCES: Through Feb. 21; Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, and Sun 3 PM

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Writer and actor Dan Via raises new questions about age disparity in homosexual relationships in Daddy. The play is simple, yet leaves a lasting impact. The audience will be left questioning what they know and arguing about it for days after.

l-r: Gerald McCullough and Dan Via
Photo: Eduardo Placer

Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee

“[Greek] stories never end well,” says Stew (Dan Via). It’s true that the Greeks may have “been onto something” with their age-gapped relationships, but Stew worries that his best friend, Colin (Gerald McCullough), might be blurring the boyfriend and father-figured line by dating Tee (Bjorn DuPaty), a biracial 21-year-old. While a daddy is generally understood to be a term of endearment for one’s father, in homosexual relationships, a daddy is the much older man in the relationship. Using this setting, Dan Via challenges the audience to question our notions of fatherhood, love, age, friendship, sex, and identity.

What does it mean to be a ”daddy”? This is just one of the many questions asked by Dan Via’s
Daddy. This new play, directed by David Hilder, centers on two gay men: Colin (Gerald McCullouch), a white man in his 40s who enjoys casual sexual exploits, and Colin’s best friend Stew (Via), a law professor with an acerbic wit. Though they are not officially a couple, Colin and Stew were at one point sexually intimate. And the two men live very much like an old married couple. Indeed, Via paints a picture of domesticity between the pair; Stew customarily makes Sunday breakfast for Colin, Stew relies on Colin’s career advice, and the two men order Chinese take-out and watch baseball games at Colin’s apartment.

When Tee (Bjorn DuPaty) enters their lives, the issue of age disparity in homosexual relationships comes to light. Colin is flattered by Tee’s fanaticism over his work as a columnist, eventually feeling a strong sexual attraction for him. When their relationship becomes sexual, Stew teases Colin for dating someone so young. Meanwhile, Tee is keeping a secret from Colin that, once revealed, leaves the audience contemplating the age dynamic in homosexual relationships between men of disparate ages. Again, what does it mean to be a daddy?

In another career, Dan Via would have made a good lawyer: his playwriting is careful to avoid taking a stance or delivering answers. Instead, he slyly presents us with balanced arguments—like that of the legalization of gay marriage—and allows the audience to judge. At the same time, by keeping the focus on human interests, he keeps the show emotional, approaching the “morality” of homosexuality in a new and provocative way. With solid performances and clever writing,
Daddy inspires thought without overwhelming the audience and surprises us without a hint of banality.


Daddy (95 minutes without intermission)
TBG Arts Center Mainstage Theater (312 West 36th Street, 3rd fl.)

Tickets: $18 ( or 212-868-4444)

Performances: Through February 13, 2010