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.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Moving Day

"Should I stay or should I go now?" the Clash so memorably asked. The answer is clear for the characters in this play: Leave and never come back.

Emily tries to stall Max for some reason.
Reviewed by Ryan Max

Poor Max has had a rough time of it recently: his adulterous wife left him on account of his heroin habit, and his sister Emily keeps guilt-tripping him for not visiting their late mother in the hospital. He seems like the perfect candidate for a fresh start, a "moving day," if you will. But Emily doesn't want him to leave their ancestral Greenpoint home; she wants to take care of him, knowing that he’s the kind of guy only a sister could love. It is easy to understand her stance but much harder to sympathize with it, given Frank Nigro’s portrayal of the man: even at his most intimate he shouts at characters like a game-show host attempting to sell the banal twists of the plot. Tina Barone, who plays Emily, brings enough nuance to balance Max's grating performance, and the other two actors that round out the cast repeat this unfortunate pattern: as sleazy neighbor, Douglas Reid is just as inept as Nigro, while Max's erstwhile wife Melinda, played by Christie Zampella, almost shines enough to compensate for him. But not quite.

These wildly uneven performances are weighed down even further by the hackneyed concerns of the story in Moving Day. Writer-director Helene Montagna indulges in the most cloyingly symbolic imagery imaginable, and even the characters themselves seem to know it: On the umpteenth time Max compares the boxes he is packing to emotional baggage of some sort, his sister Emily shoots him down: "these metaphors aren't helping." And she's absolutely right: the play isn't strong enough to rise above its fairly basic conventions. In fact, amidst the wayward tone and uneven performances that dominate the show, the Greenpoint home in front of which the action unfolds might be the most skillfully rendered aspect of the production, right down to its green shake siding and wobbly banister. References to skeletons in closets and lines like "Running, moving, what's the difference?" make one hope that the play could be somewhat self-aware regarding its familiar territory. Alas.

The show falters on motions both large and small to the point that even surefire intrigues like adultery, lust, betrayal and death simply fall flat. A moving day, similar to its well-trod cousins like the wedding and the funeral, requires a huge amount of originality and cleverness to make it worthwhile, and it's more than this sincere little play can muster.
Moving Day (70 minutes, no intermission)
The Kraine Theater (85 E. 4th Street)
Tickets ( $20
Remaining performances: Thurs 4/29-Sat 5/1, 8pm

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bloodsong of Love

In the whiskey-swigging, boot-stomping rock musical Bloodsong of Love, Joe Iconis puts a new spin on the classic Spaghetti-Western formula. The villain plays a mean kazoo, a one-eyed bartender’s poor aim impedes a saloon shootout, and the hero roams the Wild West with a guitar on his back and a song in his heart.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

It begins with searing guitar chords, pulsating drums, and an ensemble of outlaws singing their way onstage. The Narrator (Jason “SweetTooth” William) emerges, grabbing attention with his soulful spoken-word baritone, even as the outlaws climb onto chairs and counters, stomping around in impossible-to-ignore cowboy boots as they unapologetically shout their refrain, “Wanted here, wanted here, wanted here!”

Similar to the glib, slightly cynical world of Stephen Sondheim, who flirts with historical fiction or makes us see fairytale characters in a new light, writer Joe Iconis has reinvented the familiar. Rooted in culture yet full of inventive whimsy, disciplined yet risk-taking, Bloodsong of Love tells the story of a wronged hero known only as The Musician (Eric William Morris), and his search for his kidnapped bride, Violetta (MK Lawson).

If imitation is truly the most sincere form of flattery, this boilerplate plot shows Iconis’ dedication to the Spaghetti-Western genre. Everything from the cast, to the costumes, to the music, all play right into what has been coined as “a rock ‘n’ roll Spaghetti Western.” The Musician, for example, is a square-jawed, steely-eyed cowboy with a five o’clock shadow. However, Morris doesn’t just rely on his handsome appearance to pull off the role: he plays The Musician with a droll intelligence that feeds right into Iconis’ writing. When approached by an oversized toad one lonely night in the desert, Morris gives it one long look, then picks it up and licks from forehead to tailbone, which results in a hallucinogenic stupor. He trusts Iconis’ knack for zany plot elements, and it pays off: even this bit is believable to the audience.

The dedicated supporting cast all approach their characters with a similar blend of zest and restaint. They push the envelope to complement Iconis’ wry humor, but keep it contained enough to match the setting and archetypes they portray. Katrina Rose Dideriksen, for example steals scenes with her wide country smile and scheming eyes. Her dangerous sexiness can be seen even when aiming a shotgun with curlers in her hair as the wife of The Musician’s sidekick Banana (Lance Rubin), or hobbling around on crutches as a footless prostitute. In songs like “Don’t Ya Make Me Ask Ya Twice (Part I)” and “Shoot ‘Em Up”, she sings with rowdy, reckless conviction and perfect pitch. There’s also Jeremy Morse, who brings a frenetic energy to the kooky Le Cocodrilo, the bride-stealing bad guy. Short, blue-eyed, and Caucasian, Morse plays Le Cocodrilo with a Mexican accent and macho swagger–like Morris, he uses confidence and consistency to gain credibility. He succeeds, convincing the skeptics in the crowd that he’s “bad ass,” especially with the menacingly sick jokes and violent, seductive dance moves in his solo “Turkey Leg”.

“Turkey Leg” also highlights musical conductor and pianist Matthew Hinkley, who, seated center stage, is obviously having fun with Iconis’ original music. While each song has some elements of country music, Iconis once again provides contemporary liberties to old standards. With this blessing, Hinkley gives a hurried feeling to upbeat tempos that depict character conflict or plot setbacks, but also slows it down and draw it out, as he does for the morbid ballad “Lovesong of Blood.” Guitarists Chris “Red” Blisset and Michael James Taylor provide the band with an authentic country twang, while the percussion section (Brent Stranathan on Drums and Danny Stone on bass) keep things animated with their skilled and energetic accompaniment.

Costume and set designers Michelle Eden Humphrey and Michael Schweikardt provide the visuals for a true Western setting, already outlined by the characters and music, with well-integrated wardrobes and scenery. The women wear skirts and corsets, the men don cowboy hats and ties. Everything they sit or stand on is made from hardwood, and there are even Wanted posters of each character covering the stage right wall. Schweikardt has also installed a treadmill in the stage floor to simulate endless, tireless walking. Lighting designer Chris Dallos updates these visuals with rock star glamour, including white-hot spotlights, electric purples and pinks, and warm blues and yellows. Before it gets moved to a larger venue with pricier tickets, see this show and order whiskey at intermission. Bloodsong of Love is wanted here.

Bloodsong of Love (2 hours 30 minutes; one intermission)
Ars Nova (511 West 54th Street)
Tickets(212-352-3101): $25
Performances (through 5/9): Weds.-Suns. @ 8pm

Friday, April 16, 2010


Nicu’s Spoon’s revival of Margaret Edson’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning play is certainly full of wit—but better than that, it’s hilarious, heartrending, and profoundly haunting. You feel its impact long after you leave the theater.

Reviewed by Di Jayawickrema

“I don’t want to give away the plot…but I think I die at the end,” comes the inflexibly dry announcement of Vivian Bearing, bald, clad in a hospital gown, and clutching an IV stand. Bearing, a 50-year-old professor of 17th century poetry (specializing in John Donne) is dying of stage IV ovarian cancer and has no time to mince words. However, in her final hours in a hospital room, she is forced to confront the fact that she has spent a lifetime doing just that. In the scholarly pursuit of wit—“for wit is way to see how good you really are, and no one is as good as [her]”—Vivian Bearing finds she has missed out on the simple connections that make life meaningful. W;t is as rigorously intellectual as its protagonist, but unlike Dr. Bearing, it does not shy away from emotional truths—it cuts to the quick of human existence with searing honesty.

Alvaro Sena’s direction is as controlled and impeccable as writing of this caliber demands. The capable cast hits every cue needed to maintain the wry tone of the play. “I’ll never forget the day I found out I have cancer,” Bearing says. Her doctor appears upstage: “You have cancer.” As he delivers the prognosis, Bearing pontificates on the etymology of his medical terms. She has an “insidious” cancer and to combat it, she’s given the strongest treatment possible, which has “pernicious side effects." Tough and uncompromising, Vivian Bearing, played luminously by Stephanie Barton-Farcas, holds fiercely to the only weapon she has—her words. As the play progresses, you see what she doesn’t have—family, children, friends—not a soul to visit her until an old professor drops by on the way to see a sick grandson.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Vivian Bearing has come to live a life without “a touch of human kindness.” As an ardent graduate student, Bearing failed to understand that truth, not wit, is the meaning of Donne’s work—that intellect and emotion should not be separate in poetry or life. This is a lesson the unsympathetic lab technicians and ambitious young doctor, Jason Posner, have also failed to learn. In Jason (the able Sammy Mena), Bearing finds her counterpart. His passion is all for his research—because “cancer is awesome”—and he finds the care of patients an annoying distraction. He sees her as nothing more than a way to advance his research, and as a researcher herself, she fully understands. Throughout, Bearing consciously comments on the action of the play and compares the sterile nature of modern medicine to literary scholarship. But when at last she drops her lecturer’s biting, impersonal voice and dips into the sad truths of her situation—“I’m in so much pain”—the contrast is all the more heartbreaking.

In this clinical environment, Vivian finds that it is only the head nurse, Susie (a touching Rebecca Challis), who shows her the “kindness and simplicity” she needs as her life draws to a close. With tears glittering in her eyes, Barton-Fracas delivers the last of Vivian’s most wrenching soliloquies; reciting Donne’s “My playes last scene… my minute’s latest point,” she realizes that she has missed the point. With Stephen Wolfe’s blinding white lighting illuminating the backboard of her hospital bed, completely unclad, no longer hiding behind wit, Vivian Bearing disappears. It’s a brilliant play’s final transcendent moment.

W;t (95 minutes; no intermission)
Location: Nicu’s Spoon Theater (38 West 38th Street; Fl. 5)
Tickets: $18
Performances: 4/7-4/25 (Weds-Sats @ 8PM, Suns @ 2PM)