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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Mark Twain You Don't Know

Photo by Melynda Woodward

Reviewed by Di Jayawickrema

“First there are words/then comes the laughter/and the meaning of it all comes after,” Chris Wallace warbles in a pleasant baritone, introducing the works of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The Mark Twain You Don’t Know only partially fulfills this promise—there is an overabundance of words, a smattering of laughter, but the “meaning of it all” remains elusive. The lengthy, obscure pieces Wallace performs are meant to illuminate Twain’s unexplored views on the follies and graces of “the damned human race,” but the works feel unconnected to each other and only succeed in illustrating the Twain most of us already do know; a man of wry wit, absurdity, and flashes of feeling. Consequently, despite a faithful and impressive performance, Wallace cannot impart the palpable enthusiasm he feels for the writer to the audience.

Demonstrating an enviable memory, Wallace performs excerpts from Twain’s works word-for-word, opening with Letters from the Earth, which features Satan as a cigar-wielding Southerner (not unlike Twain himself) expounding on humanity’s absurd religious notions. Full of big ideas and Twain’s classic satirical tone—“Many people have the reasoning faculty but don’t use it in religious matters”—the distillation of these essays is a laborious intellectual effort, both for the performer and the audience. As the editor and writer of the one-man show, Wallace often comes across as a lecturer.

As an actor, however, Wallace is flawless. The ribald comic piece, 1601: A Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors, gives him a chance to air his considerable range of facial, body, and vocal expression. He plays a theatrical Shakespeare, a crotchety old Dame, a dignified Dr. Johnson, and more, always with aplomb and humor. The background music and Brett Maughan’s lighting is impeccably timed to the actor’s movements, and Amada Carr’s costuming; the crisp white suit we’ve come to associate with Twain, is likewise perfectly turned. Yet despite these merits, the show still feels like it’s stuck in a vacuum; “The War Prayer,” while well-written, –performed, and –staged, feels curiously detached.

Worst is when Wallace ceases to provide insight as with his musical summary of Huckleberry Finn. While this vignette features the highlight of the show (a hilarious tuneful jumble of Shakespeare’s plays titled “Hamlet: King of Moors”), much of it feels like musical theater SparkNotes. This sort of succinct summary and analysis would be helpful to a high-school student but is tedious if you’ve already read the book. It’s not until the somber ending—a letter on the death of Twain’s daughter revealing the tragedy in Clemens’ life never hinted at in his work—that we catch an affective glimpse of the Mark Twain we don’t know.


The Mark Twain You Don’t Know (2 hours; 15 min intermission)

Location: Richmond Shepard Theatre (309 E. 26th St.)

Tickets: $20; students and seniors $15

Performances: Through 4/5 (Wed-Sat @ 8PM, Sun @ 3PM)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Glee Club

The seven maladjusted middle-aged men of Matthew Freeman’s Glee Club all like to sing, but that’s about all they agree on. Will their agonizing pain and off-color humor drive them apart, or bring them together?

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

The heroes of Matthew Freeman’s Glee Club may be singing barbershop music, but as the dark comedy quickly establishes, they’re far from in perfect harmony. These are not your bright-eyed, well-groomed, cable-ready singers; these are creepy introverts, weepy cancer survivors, unemployed alcoholics, and divorced, bankrupt fathers. They swear too much, threaten to disembowel one another, make ill-mannered homophobic jokes, and storm offstage after losing arguments.

They've gathered to prepare for the next evening's recital, but with their best singer absent, they'll have to muddle through instead. The conductor Ben (Stephen Speights), not so much a fearless leader as a bad-tempered nitpicker, abruptly interrupts any attempt at singing, spouting complaints about harmony or timing. When Hank (Tom Staggs) finally arrives, he’s incapable of a pitch-perfect performance.

As alliances form and conspiracies develop to push Hank back into his singing groove, the level of cutthroat dedication to this glee club becomes clear, pathos at its most comical. It’s the perfect setting for a clash of personalities, and strong, original personalities are where Freeman’s writing shines. Take Paul (Steven Burns), for example, a frail and monotone guy whose deadpan non-sequiturs have knack of breaking the tension. Just as fun to watch, if even more offbeat, is Stan (Matthew Trumbull), and his quavering, meek deliveries: a rambling question, followed by an apology, and then an onslaught of explanation. Together Burns and Trumbull set the standard for the cast’s chemistry, most of which rise to the challenge. Speights’ Ben explodes with red-faced outbursts, egocentric male diva Nick (David DelGrosso) has a complaint about everything, and eager-to-please, off-key Fred (Bruce Barton) just wants a chance at the solo.

Each character has an empty and despondent life, filled with disease, divorce, and/or debt. While the leads are built up enough for these flourishes to help, they reduce the co-stars to a string of sarcastic or shock-factor superfluous one-liners. Freeman’s dialogue here does little more than riff off the more original, standout roles, and don’t have much use. Mark (Robert Buckwalter) is constantly on the phone with his ex-wife’s lawyer, and Greg (Carter Jackson) may or may not be dying of cancer, both repeating the same melodramatic laments over and over again. Regardless, director Kyle Ancowitz still manages to draw impressive, real performances out of every actor. The characters exhibit startling tension as they get angry, gossip, raise their voices and then simmer down again. The friendships formed at the Glee Club of Romeo, Vermont, however mangled and dysfunctional, are also clearly genuine.

Despite such depressing material, the script succeeds in being laugh-out-loud funny, which can also be attributed to the show’s original song. Speights’s “The World Will Make You Smile” is surprisingly catchy and upbeat. When Hank sets aside his personal agenda to perform the song, he nails the solo and his sweet, powerhouse tenor wins over audiences. While Glee Club is a club that harbors very little glee for its members, the play itself, as its original song promises, will make you smile.

Glee Club (One hour; no intermission)
Access Theater (380 Broadway)
Tickets: $25
Performances (Through 4/3): Weds.-Sats. @ 8pm

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Cherry Orchard

T. Schreiber Studio produces a new revival of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Carol Rocamora. Though by no means terrible, the production lacks strong acting.

Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee

Revivals are tricky business for lazy actors. Audiences—especially those at T. Schreiber Studio—are likely to have seen some version of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard before (though perhaps not Carol Rocamora’s translation), so comparisons will be made. The Cherry Orchard centers on the Ranevskaya family, as they return to their beloved estate, which has been mortgaged and soon to be auctioned. The play is a comment on materialism and its shortcomings, using the family matriarch Madame Ranevskaya as its prime example. For some, like the excellent Julie Garfield, that’s fine: her Madame Ranevskaya is an organic triumph, from her nonchalance over her estate’s pending auction to her tragic memories of her dead son. But for actors like Jamie Kirmser, that’s bad: he interprets the iconic Lopakhin’s idiosyncrasies with the generalities of a weatherman.

Terry Schreiber and Carol Rocamore attempt to bring heartbreaking humor to this classic play. Perhaps this is an attempt at a unique interpretation of the text. Yet, many of these iconic characters are played one-dimensionally, diminishing the actors’ believability. Lopakhin (Jamie Kirmser) says at one point, “I don’t know what to do with my hands; isn’t it strange, look, they’re hanging there as if they belonged to someone else.” Kirmser seems to have interpreted this as always gesturing like a weatherman whenever he is on stage as Lopakhin. Instead of his movements being a small aspect of his character, it seems to define it and we can concentrate on little else. A stark contrast is Peter Judd as the butler Firs. Judd’s Firs twitches his face and seems to mouth things to himself as he stands in the background. Even when he is the focus of a scene, his movements are not distracting. Instead it is a perfect example of incorporating external attributes in a way that appears natural. Marcus Lorenzo as Trofimov is also very one-dimensional. He delivers his lines with a whininess befitting a petulant child. It is difficult to believe he is the idealistic, philosophical student of intellectualism when he sounds like a poor caricature of Malcolm X.

Though it seems unfair to censure the actors in this production, a successful revival of such a classic play relies on the quality of the acting. The actors are overly theatrical; they try too hard to create intense moments, instead of internalizing their characters and letting moments occur organically within the script. Even the near-proposal of Lopakhin to Varya at the end is made too comical for such a dramatic moment. The high stakes for Varya are undermined by the ridiculousness of watching Lopakhin’s failed attempts at kneeling to propose and then switching legs when it appears his legs are uncooperative. Sadly, the magic tricks performed by Charlotta (Julia Szabo) in Act Two are more believable than the actors in this production.

When audiences attend a theatrical production, they are aware that what they witness on stage is not real; when someone dies on stage, it is the character and not the actor who dies. Yet it is when the audience is able to forget their reality and become invested in what they witness on stage that a production succeeds. Shakespeare termed this phenomenon a suspension of disbelief. T. Schreiber Studio’s production is by no means terrible, but the suspension of disbelief in The Cherry Orchard takes a while to kick in. It is difficult to become invested in these characters and in the story when it is quite clear that the actors are acting.

The Cherry Orchard (approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, one 10-minute intermission)
The Gloria Maddox Theater, 151 W26th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenue)

Tickets: $25 (

Performances: through April 4, 2010 (Thursday through Sunday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New York Frigid Festival: Uncorseted

Shark Tank Players present a ribald comedy about gender bending at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The result is an entertaining farce, but is too frivolous to do justice to its underlying themes.

Reviewed by Di Jayawickrema

Set in the context of the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair, Uncorseted attempts to pierce through sexual conventions and gender binaries using risqué slapstick. The company is not quite up to such a compounded task but it’s not for a lack of enthusiasm. The humor and energy are high from the moment the burlesque bunch of characters played by cross-dressed men and women blithely saunter on stage. There’s Douglas, a male fencer of ambiguous sexual preferences (played by actress Phoebe First). His sister, Penelope, is in love with her best friend, Felicity, who is in turn smitten with Douglas (both women are played by men). Rounding out this disorienting group are a gaggle of lesbian vixens, a countess, a chambermaid, and a rapist. The convoluted ties and sexual leanings of these explosive characters are quickly established in a whirlwind of bawdy vignettes.

Holding all these plots together is the beleaguered chambermaid who turns to fencing after she kills the rapist in self-defense, assumes his identity, and heads to the World’s Columbian Exposition. (She rechristens herself George Sand; the scriptwriter’s sly nod to the 19th century authoress infamous for her male attire.) It is there that Penelope has taken Felicity, purportedly to win the love of Douglas, but really so that she can win Felicity’s heart. They are trained by the countess, Cornelia, who teaches women fencing…bare-breasted. Naturally, all the fencing scenes are suffused with double entendres—“Step, step, thrust”—and plenty of pelvic thrusts and tickle fights. While all these machinations are fun to watch, for the most part, they seem aimless. It is Cornelia who finally elucidates a meaningful theme in Uncorseted when she states men are inadequate, hence their need to fence, while her troop of “hermaphrodite warriors…with breasts and swords” are complete.

A freshly trained Felicity underscores this idea when she spars with Douglas and declares herself finally “equals parts the man you are and the woman who can woo you.” It’s one of the surprisingly insightful and beautifully written pieces of dialogue that are too few and far between in Uncorseted. Between the orgies, dildos, and huge fake breasts, there is little room for the sustained reflection on sexuality and gender norms that the play aspires to. The technical aspects of the play are equally loose. Lines are flubbed, sword handles fall off—at one point, the middle panel of the stage is left entirely open, allowing the audience to see the cast changing backstage.

Aside from the infectious exuberance of the cast, and the occasionally skilled scripting, the execution of the production is uneven, and the ideas are often lost in the gags.


Uncorseted (1 hour; no intermission)

Location: The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th St)

Tickets: $10, $9

Performances: Fri 2/26, 5:30 PM, Sat 2/27, 2:30 PM, Sun 2/28, 1:00 PM, Sun 2/28, 5:30 PM, Sat 3/06, 5:30 PM

Friday, March 05, 2010

New York Frigid Festival: No Traveler

Photo by Rebecca Chiappone

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Writer/performer Penny Pollak plays two young girls with a flair for the dramatic in No Traveler. The first attempts to validate her existence in her recently-remarried father’s life by pretending to end it, only to wind up in purgatory. She has the chance to rejoin the living, but only if she can talk another suicidal girl out of making a similar decision.

If only the writing were as dramatic: instead, it gets bogged down by the thematic darkness and by Pollak’s unconvincing acting. Her first role consists of flippant confidence and grating pay-attention-to-me amateur acting, an overdone and one-dimensional portrayal of a petulant daddy’s girl. As the second girl, who fawns over the romance of suicide, she is simply naïve and whiny, far from the seriousness of death and the level of sadness she claims to be feeling.

The melodramatic monologues don’t help her as writer or performer: they’re a bunch of clichés, from the jealousy caused by a young new stepmother to the trauma of being abused by a mother’s new boyfriend. Wracked by a silence alternated by screams and sobs, trapped in a dimly lit theater, the audience loses sympathy and instead begins to hope that they simply end it and go straight to hell.

No Traveler (50 minutes)
Under St. Marks Theater (94 St. Marks Place)
Tickets: $12; Students and Seniors $9
Performances: Saturday 3/6 @ 5:30pm

New York Frigid Festival: Vodka Shoes

Photo by Craig Ruttle

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Growing up with an alcoholic father, an evangelical Christian mother and an ailing older sister, Leslie Goshko has many the family anecdote. In her one-woman show Vodka Shoes, she shares a great deal of them with earnest, high-spirited energy. She doesn’t skimp on the details here, and nothing is off-limits. A sheepish grin spreads over her face as she admits that she uses her dog-catching techniques to retrieve her father when he joyrides around the neighborhood on his rider mower, “the Twirl.” A wave of wistful nostalgia washes over her face as she the privilege of licking the leftover batter from the spoon when baking cookies with her mother.

Each monologue seamlessly and energetically weaves into the next as comedy and catharsis collide and the audience gets pulled deeper and deeper into the formative years of Goshko’s childhood. When her life gets serious and she is forced to be the voice of reason—she takes a second job at a pizzeria that might be a mafia front and follows her mother’s lead in moving out of the house for a summer—Goshko’s head-spinning storytelling retains our attention.
Despite all the action-packed anecdotes, Goshko keeps her head above water, delivering an astounding performance with razor-sharp humor and unabashed bravery.

Vodka Shoes (50 minutes)
Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place)
Tickets: $10
Performances: Sunday 3/7 @ 1pm