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.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Babel Theatre Project

Insomnia and The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie

Babel Theatre Project at the Medicine Show Theatre

It has become a delight in reviewing theatre for NTC to bring a friend along and together ruminate and bounce reactions- theatre best when cohorting. In this instance, J’s particular friend joyfully commented upon curtain: "I could be critical right now but that just doesn't seem appropriate. My only critique is that now I have to chain smoke." Friend meant this in the most laudatory way.

We both agree, it is an overwhelming reassurance- a profound comfort- to find the Babel Theatre Project. A youthful collective of aspiring professionals, their theatre consistently demonstrates edgy smarts and artfulness without pretension or device. It shows joy and faith in the framework and possibilities of theatre as palpable and competitively conscious of contemporary experience as the best literature, art and music. Amassing new works from young playwrights and workshopping with young directors, actors, designers, dramaturges, etc, members mount a summer season of plays and readings, this year including here reviewed rep: Insomnia by Jessica Brickman/ directed by Geordie Broadwater, and The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie by Emily Young/directed by Heath Cullens.

The first, Insomnia, came off as a light, playful trip through absurdity and dreamscape. The protagonist, Georgia, carries on in some sort of R.E.M. state, "flirting with the Sandman" and his pet sheep Doris, confronting dead mother, and dealing with omni-present bf in varying guises. It was an amusing 50 minutes, with good ideas and dialogue, however, the play never really breached simple entertainment. Actors seemed most engaged in tidbits of absurdity leaning toward sketch comedy rather than in fleshing out reality bits, glossing relationships with far too much volume in place of emotion. I have to say, “Doris” the sheep (played brilliantly by Diana Buirski), stole the show, lending credence to the old adage: “never act opposite a dog, child or sheep.” Just so cute- when she started nibbling on the wall… Still, the premise was cleaver and fuller than most dream-plays. A more nuanced treatment of waking moments and more specific character “journeys” for all would have tightened any fluff and grounded the matter of sleeplessness.

What Insomnia lacked in character relations Calamity gave in surplus. The play's actual plot line completely shrinks (to beautiful effect) under the weight of its rendering of individuals and their relative distance from as well as reliance on one another. Young has crafted wonderfully singular characters and the acting and directing served her superbly. Miriam Silverman pushes through as relentless soul-searching British ex-pat Kat Kat, opposite consistently good-hearted ex-swindler Willie, inhabited in all his confusion and unrelenting adoration by Jeremy Bobb; both were absolutely amazing, their relationship endlessly complex, potent and mesmerizing. Erik Liberman systematically show-stops with his one-man assemblage of ex-pat figurines, and Joe Petrilla, though hard to understand through his tongue-twisting Birmingham-brogue, stands his ground as British hooligan Jonesy. An unflinching balance of plot and anti-plot, realism and theatricality, Calamity becomes a summation of human experience, reveling in the delicate isolation of the individual and the beautiful complications that come from two trying to connect- simple and complicated as all that.

The most impressive part of this Babel experience: just how nice it was to leave a theatre completely, wonderfully satiated and to still be musing over it now with the same excitement. Jenny and Friend give two thumbs up. Comments Friend: "It was really good- something to be really proud of- a gem- they are all young and they represent!" We both agree that Calamity in particular was the best theatre we've seen this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it is enough to report that there were tears in the audience- I heard it- witness- and it was lovely. I can’t wait for next season.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Review: Pig Farm
by Eric Miles Glover

From the brain of Greg Kotis—one half of the pair that created the crude, raucous, and ridiculous Urinetown—comes the crude, raucous, and ridiculous Pig Farm, an escapist and entertaining albeit absurd freak show. Rife with subject matter as diverse as agrarianism, manhood, politics, and socioeconomics, Pig Farm guarantees an unforgettable theatergoing experience no matter what one feels about the show.

Pig Farm explores the eccentricities and quirks of husband-and-wife pig farmers, Tina and Tom, who await an audit of their operations. Before and during the audit, however, several interesting facts about the couple, the government agent who audits them, and a farmhand, Tim, are revealed through bits of well-written repartee and well-staged slapstick. As the exploits continue, the plot thickens and the suspense looms: How does Tom dispose of the excess waste his swine produce? Will he, Tom, father the child Tina wants? Will she, Tina, usher Tim into manhood? Will he, Tim, outdo the government agent in the battle for her affection? Will he, the government agent, never die? Each ensemble member delivers a brilliant performance. John Ellison Conlee and Katie Finnernan are riots as the couple. As Neanderthal and senseless Tim, Logan Marshall-Green is the newfound "Man of a Thousand Faces." Each time the government agent, Denis O’Hare, graces the stage one anticipates impressive theatrics, and "impressive theatrics" are what he delivers.

Pig Farm induces epileptic fits and seizures of laughter all right, but the repartee and slapstick grow tired, predictable, and irksome as the show progresses. In the end, one concedes to the ridiculousness of the plot to uncover the heart and the humor in the otherwise over-the-top circus. That said, Pig Farm is, without doubt, for the carefree and liberal theatergoer who knows how to have a good time.

Click here for information about the show.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Written by Christopher Boal & Directed by Eric Parness
Bouwerie Lane Theatre
330 Bowery
Extended run through Aug 26th

Like little yappy dogs, the characters in this play just seem to irk more than interest. Why do I care about these people and their strange back stories, secrets, manipulations and animal-involved traumas? This was my question through out the performance, all the while waiting, willing and able, to be amazed by some twist of events, uncovering a depth and complexity of human emotion and relations. All I found was a middling opinion of humanity; a sad non-complexity and over-simplicity of four messy, individuals. Perhaps this is the point.

Equally uninteresting is the plot which unfolds as angst-ridden sister Jenny bribes good-for-nothing boyfriend Kevin to dog-knap straight-laced brother Paul’s dog in order to get a confession for the back-in-the-day murder of the family cats. It is of course a cry-out from indulgent sister, which amounts to the break-down of usually stable brother. Wife and boyfriend add buffering/prodding.

I guess the point at the end of the day is that people are pathetic and selfish; sad matter that, but explains a lot about the world. That said the acting was good, with strong physical thoroughness from Wrenn Schmidt (Jenny) and an easy humor from Ryan Tramont (Kevin). The dialogue seemed repetitive, however, the first act especially trying, and the climax- an emotionally/mentally ugly, ultimately estranging confession from Paul- was thoroughly expected. I am open to think that others may find these characters recognizable and sympathetic (the play has been “critically acclaimed”- good review from the NYT) but they seem to me cliché and without rescue here. At least the dog didn’t die.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Altar Boyz
by Aaron Riccio

Though both the boy band and Christian rock are already pretty much parodies of themselves, Altar Boyz finds enough mileage in playing stereotypes to come across as a cult musical sensation and one of the few true “guilty” pleasures. Though the substance is as flimsy as Godspell, the up-tempo, modern groove makes it more than bearable—pleasant, even—and the cast is talented enough to make certain songs and gags (the two are interchangeable) infectious.

For about eighty minutes, Altar Boyz kicks it old school with everything from beat-box rap (“The Miracle Song”) to Latin funk (“La Vida Eternal”) and highly choreographed pop (“Rhythm in Me”). There’s break dancing, puppets, and even some love songs, all of which is slathered in satire. For instance, when the closeted singer, Mark, finally comes out in the song “Epiphany”—he uses the word “Catholic” instead, a humorous assault on the very institution that condemns being gay. Kevin Del Aguila’s book and Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker’s lyrics also take turns playing on verbal expectations, such as the assertion that “charisma and spunk equals crunk” or a lovely verse in the abstinence song, “Something About You”: “You make me want to wait/so until then I’ll master.../my own fate.”

While some of words grow a bit redundant as the show continues—“Use your soul every day/or it will go away” doesn’t have the same sterling tone as “Jesus called me on my cell phone”—the cast keeps the energy up, which is a “testament” to their strength. Each plays a specific role: Matthew’s the leader, Mark’s the “sensitive” one, Luke’s the gangsta (speaking straight to G.O.D.), Juan’s the Spanish lover, and Abraham’s the Jew. Andrew C. Call, who plays Luke, winds up stealing the show with his straight-up antics and unbelievable range (while break dancing in the gospel-icious “Body, Mind & Soul”), but the rest of the cast isn’t far behind. (For example, Zach Hanna plays Mark way over the top (think Mario Cantone), but wonderfully so.)

Altar Boyz
is most certainly a cult hit. There are a few half-hearted attempts to reach a moral about unity, but it’s really just a jukebox musical with all-original songs. Assuming you’re not overly offended by lighthearted jokes involving all the souls in the audience that have gone “downright obese” with sin, you’ll have a good time.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Food for Fish
by Aaron Riccio

With his manic juggling of a one-note joke for the sixty minutes of Nerve, playwright Adam Szymkowicz seemed to be modeling himself after Christopher Durang. With his new play, Food for Fish, Szymkowicz is both more polished and less manic, but he’s still modeling his scripts: this time it’s Anton Chekhov. The urbanized result tries a little too hard, and Szymkowicz is still struggling to flesh out his characters, but two (Bobbie and Sylvia) come across as genuine, and the play itself is eerily entertaining.

Food for Fish opens with Bobbie, a writer, plunging a knife into his hand to convince himself that it wouldn’t be a stupid thing for a character to do. This man, less than sane, is the Konstantin of this piece, and has a tendency both to flirt with his loaded pistol (which, per Chekhov’s rules, you know is going to go off) and to kiss random strangers in the middle of the night. It is through one of these lip-locked interludes that he encounters Barbara, an agoraphobic person, and later, her two sisters, Sylvia and Alice. (These “three sisters” live together, pine for New Jersey—at least in one recurring joke—, and use the encoffined body of their decomposing, gravedigger father as a coffee table.)

Bobby falls for the youngest sister, Sylvia, but is unable to escape the story unfolding in his head (one which, ala Well, leads to the other characters correcting his narration). Unfortunately, as Bobby keeps reminding us, this is a story about him, and the cryptic pieces we get of his personality, no matter how well portrayed by the arresting Orion Taraban, end up not telling much of a story at all. That leaves us with the melodramatic affairs of three sisters, one of whom is inexplicably played by a male actor (his/her husband is played by a woman). There are a few moments of gender struggle late in the second act, but the overall choice is poorly directed, poorly acted, and poorly scripted, and takes away from the momentum. Every time there’s a build, Luis Moreno (who plays the “wife”) speaks, and the play becomes a bad episode of Kids in the Hall.

Szymkowicz is good at imitating Chekhov’s natural rhythms, but I wish he maintained the soul of Chekhov’s characters too. Ana Perea, who plays the cold, curt, and depressed middle sister, is a fine actor, but making her character believable seems impossible. All the subtext in the world can’t save her from the nth “I feel empty.” And it is not the dead seagull itself, but the idea behind it: Bobby’s solemn sacrifice of a pigeon seems more like a sight gag than a statement. Then again, Taraban and Anna Hopkins (Sylvia) manage to plumb the depths of their characters, so maybe director Alexis Poledouris isn’t to blame. (And I wouldn’t want to: the blocking on this “no”-budget set is phenomenal.)

Szymkowicz is still growing, and growing in the right way; if Food for Fish suffers from anything, it is that it too-resembles Chekhov’s so-called comedies: it isn’t very funny.

[Aaron Riccio]
Kraine Theater (85 E 4th Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $17.00
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00

Monday, July 10, 2006

Her Majesty the King

Presented by Dramahaus

HERE Arts Center

June 10-July 1

It helps to know a little about the historic events surrounding the War of the Roses- a familiarity with Shakespeare’s history plays gives apt introduction to the characters’ driving the bloody feud over the English crown- but this play, written by Sarah Overman, with skillful simplicity, in prose reminiscent (thankfully unsentimentally) of language of the time, shifts the focus and stage-time in favor of toils of the “weaker” sex, shedding honest light on the power struggle behind Male-lines.

The production lent an honest portrayal in every respect; excellently written and well-acted by all, the nuanced characterizations lend a more personal conception than any by the Bard himself and the brutality of masculine war pales compared with the rich struggles of the play’s protagonist Queen Margaret (brought from France as the child bride of inept King Henry VI)and female contemporaries- ambitious confidant Elizabeth Woodville, wizened matriarch Mary of Gelderland and innocent Lady Anne Neville.

Augmenting the script, a simple mixology of set changes (beautiful in white timber and gold accents), video projection, and audio fills further the modern treatment of historic events. Though sometimes (for better or worse) reminiscent of History Channel recreations, all in all the effects lend well to the script and bolster actors. Double cast with 16 parts among 8, and sans pretentious Brit accents, the actors interweave past and present events in Margaret’s life, with memorable caricatures in Michael Keyloun’s befuddled Henry VI, Jason Kolotouros’s luxuriant Spider King, and Lisa McCormick’s obedient Lady Anne.

Good female parts are hard to come by, thank god these juicy historic characters have been salvaged from the tomes of Shakespearean lore and given the treatment they deserve and in language to match the Bard’s counterpoint male faction. A woman’s battle is armed with different weapons- alternative strategies- and it is beautiful to see this illustrated: “You are not a man,” Mary of Gelderland reminds Queen Margaret. Acting as such, she continues, “defies your necessary wisdom.” Wise words and an excellent take home message.