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, October 24, 2006

The Fortune Teller

How's this for a series of unfortunate events? Seven people walk into a room only to recieve visions of their impending deaths--but don't worry, they're puppets, and their deaths are more clever than gruesome. All this, plus an original Danny Elfman score: it's like getting your poison-coated cake and eating it too!

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Just in time for Halloween, HERE Arts Center has put together the delightfully evil new show The Fortune Teller. It’s the equivalent of seeing several short episodes of Tales from the Crypt, only performed by marionettes—creepy in of itself—and scored by Danny Elfman, channeling the sinister mystery of Batman or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though the show is performed in miniature, it is amplified by the marvelous gothic dollhouse of a set, and given substance by the creaking mechanical sound effects. These elements mask the triteness of the plot and the sloppiness of some of the puppetry, but considering that The Fortune Teller gets the majority of its laughs from one-liners, this simplicity helps to sustain the illusion.

The story, created by Erik Sanko and narrated (on tape, unfortunately) by Gavin Friday, involves a midnight gathering of various evil men who stand to inherit a fortune. However, as the fortune teller in question attempts to discern their fate, Death keeps leaping to the forefront, a jumpy, excitable force that causes the hunter to be impaled upon a mounted rhinoceros’s horn, makes a chef choke on a wishbone (“Be careful what you wish for”), and poisons a ventriloquist (“Everybody just thought he was a bad ventriloquist”). The fortuneteller discerns an unusual death for each of the characters—like a simpler version of the Final Destination series—and the delight of the show comes from watching these evil people come to the end of their rope (literally). It’s not high drama, but it is entertainment without consequences (unless you have an issue with puppet exploitation). The material’s appropriate for kids too—assuming they’ve been raised on Gorey or Snicket—The Fortune Teller is a series of unfortunate events with little moral twists.

For all the clever devices, Elfman’s music remains the lynchpin of the performance, and those who are fans of his work will find many references to his classic scores. The lethal curiosity of his reverberant tunes is what keeps us watching, even when the puppets repeat themselves (which isn’t often). Here’s a prediction for you: go see The Fortune Teller, and you’ll both have a good time and see something new.

HERE Arts Center (145 Avenue of the Americas)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $20.00
(Through 11/5): Thursday-Monday @ 7:00

Monday, October 23, 2006


When it gets so hot that we can't think, we stop pretending: in Neglect, the facades of who we'd like to be are melted by the scorching glare of a talented playwright, and two talented actors reveal what happens when desperation is all you've got left.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

It’s often said that hell is a place on earth—if that’s true, then Neglect, a marvelous new play by Sharyn Rothstein, takes place there: Chicago, 1995, the height of record-setting mid-July heatwave. Like a good modern playwright, Rothstein isn’t interested with demons or clear-cut evil: in this level of hell, there are just two ordinary people who—we hope—might overcome their loneliness. The writer’s penchant for natural dialogue would carry this show even with poor actors: thankfully, Rose and Joseph find their perfect matches in Geany Masai and William Jackson Harper.

The two are neighbors, but they’ve never met—the only thing they share in common is the terrible condition of their slum. To be honest, Rose hasn’t left her apartment in years, and when she learns that an old friend on the first floor dies, she just chalks it up as one of those things that happen to people who live on the ground floor. It’s understandable then that it takes Joseph five minutes to get through the front door, and that’s only because he’s delivering her mail, and then only because he promises to fix her toilet.

Now, Neglect wouldn’t be much of a drama if Joseph had no ulterior motives. With all Rose’s stories of old women being shot in their homes, it’s easy to view Joseph as a criminal (which is, I suspect, how most racist thoughts begin). Even after he explains he’s only looking for air conditioning, it’s hard not to be suspicious. But Joseph, expertly played by the charming Harper, isn’t looking to hurt anybody, and the majority of Neglect is a character study of unlikely friends. But it is hot as hell, and by the end of the play, necessity rears its ugly head (and not the one that’s the mother of invention). Try as he might to find an alternative, Joseph is driven to a desperate criminal act—the irony is that by this point it’s hard to see Joseph as a villain.

He has the perfect foil in the sturdy Masai. She squeals with delight even though she talks through the foggy confusion of age, and though she’s only the shadow of what she once was, we can see the regal authority of this big-boned, strong-willed grand-matriarch. Other times—and this is where Masai’s talent is most visible—we can see from her slump, staggered walk, and difficulty rising that the world has not been kind to her, and that the weight of the world on her shoulders has permanently ruined her.

We want these two characters to be healed by one another, or to find what they’re looking for: they are both so helplessly, hopelessly human. Catherine Ward’s wonderful direction, set within the stifling confines of a quaint living room, is sharp and focused, with a minimum of movement. Her deliberate choices keep our eyes on the characters, and once there, these two might actors thrill us with the slightest flicker of their eyes. Subtlety is too little seen in the theater, and it takes a confident director to trust the cast so far.

Neglect is a social commentary as much as it is a deep, character-driven dramedy, and the only real crime would be if this marvelous play were neglected in the years to come.

The Bank Street Theater (155 Bank Street)
Final Performances: 10/24 and 10/25 @ 7:00

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Great Conjurer

Kafka awoke one day to find himself in a play . . . The Great Conjurer is about the greatest magic trick of all--turning a blank page into story--and the toll that boundless creativity has on a bounded man.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Writers make for good characters: they’re tortured, twisted, and vicariously fragmented people. Christine Simpson’s new play, The Great Conjurer takes one of our most irregular writers, Franz Kafka, and shows, under the expert, smooth direction of Kevin Bartlett, how to enhance a traditional play with the use of classic and contemporary flair. For example, masks are used to make Kafka’s family, S, M, and F (sister, mother, and father) seem like the fictions, and stylized movements (choreographed by Wendy Seyb) give life to the internal struggle between a man’s art and a man’s love. As for Kafka, he is split into three characters: K, the man; N, the narrator (who cites from Kafka’s fictions and letters); and G, the creative “bug”—or Mr. Samsa himself—sent to physically pull K away from the real world. Set loose simultaneously, they overlap one another, building momentum in a surge of creativity until K is no more than an amanuensis for his crazed thoughts.

In this, The Great Conjurer brings to mind both the anguished writers of Chekhov’s The Seagull and Shakespeare’s conflicted Hamlet. K is a man of constant soliloquies, and at one point, when pondering how to release the worlds within him without tearing himself apart, goes so far as to say “That is the question.” The show is also littered with great lines (beyond the excerpted ones): “There is never enough time for endless hesitation.” The only ambiguous choice is the use of classical music to underscore the work. The music is quaint and sobering: it goes too far. It also causes some confusion to the director’s otherwise-brilliant set design: if the foreground is the real world and the background is the imaginary one (a solitary tree and a blackboard sit behind three transparent scrims), what do the musicians (who sit at the top of a staircase in the furthest recesses of the stage) represent?

Thankfully, the main characters are engaging enough to keep questions like this at bay, and at just over an hour, the show zips along too quickly to be distracting. Characters crash over one another like a multi-car pileup: you can’t not watch. Brian Nishii (G) is the most engaging (with his flailing limbs and bug-like squats), but they’re all talented: Paula Wilson (N) speaks with eloquence and understanding, using Kafka’s words to seduce the world around her, and Tzahi Moskovitz (K), illustrates the internal struggle to break back to reality, but also demonstrates a childlike delight in his own fantasies. However, it’s Sara Thigpen (Felice, Kafka’s love) who steals the show (at the cost of having her heart broken night after night after night). Whereas Kafka’s family comes across as a Greek chorus in reverse (keep in mind, their role is to destroy the narrative, not to foster it), Felice is the emotional center of the show, twice-engaged to Kafka, but, because of Kafka’s insecurities and obsessions, never married. That she doesn’t go mad after five years and 1,500 letters is a miracle.

The Great Conjurer is a thought-provoking display of the creative process. Though it is just a brief glimpse, one that is at times more performance piece than play, this little drama packs a lot into one hour. If you’re at all interested in the arts, this is a must-see: there is no greater struggle than that of an artist with his art.

Kirk Theater (410 W. 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $18.00
Schedule (to 11/4): Tuesday-Sunday @ 8:00; Saturday @ 3:00

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Season of Change: Marisol

Well intentioned and well produced by the Dreamscape Theater, Marisol is still an ambigious and uncompelling bit of theater about having to action and accountability for your life. Or simply a dramatic excuse to have babies spring from homicidal men as the world comes to an end.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

More poetically political theater than magnificent magical realism, Dreamscape Theater’s revival of Jose Rivera’s Marisol is a solid production of an insubstantial script. Rivera’s script bounces from a girl losing her guardian angel in a dystopic interpretation of the Bronx to a story about angels overthrowing God and the existence of hope in a world where Nazis go around lighting the homeless on fire. The real-world events that inspired such imaginative riffs are clear. But staged? They grow turgid due to Rivera’s need to justify. Oblique, Rivera’s work becomes hard to judge and can be taken as an experience; when it’s made transparent, it’s just piecemeal rambling. Beautiful as the language might sound—and Marisol is filled with great lines—a script that relies so much on happenstance and the recycling of characters cannot sustain itself for over two hours.

Shaun Peknic, the director, does an adequate job of setting the tone of the play. He places his punk-clad angel (Brittany Manor) on a ladder in the background, and when she approaches Marisol (Julie Alexandria), she seems giddy with love. As for Marisol, she seems like the type of woman to be perpetually harassed on the subway by strange men, and sure enough, that’s how the play opens. But Marisol is a play born of too-constant transformations, and it’s hard to see the arc in Alexandria’s character as she goes from a helpless bystander to the type of person able to kill in self-defense. As Alexandra plays the part, she is charming enough that we don’t want to see her raped by a sociopath, but she does seem more plausible­—more dramatically interesting—as a victim. Instead, she floats, like an angel, over the suffering. Deep into the confusing second act, when she dons some rags and wanders through the streets of a town that no longer has a South (or any direction, for that matter), we wonder why she’s just now collided with reality.

It’s hard to make the dream-like visceral, but that’s what Marisol calls for: it is a play where “angels...bored at night...write you nightmares.” And in the first act, where Peknic uses the physical—an ice cream cone thrown at our ingĂ©nue—it is painstakingly efficient. But in the second act, where hobos crawl from cave-like blankets only to be doused with imaginary gasoline and symbolically lit on fire, it’s harder to understand what’s going on. A baby born of silk scarves—by a man who we thought dead in the first act­­... well, that throws even imaginative plausibility out the window and unhinges the emotion from the commotion.

It’s a commendable effort by the Dreamscape Theater to mount this production—atmospheric shows are notoriously difficult on a shoestring budget­—and they pull it off. But what “it” is, and whether or not “it” is worth seeing...that’s the question.

Dreamscape Theater (
Hudson Guild Theater (441 W 26th Street)
Tickets ( $15.00
10/21 @ 8:00; 10/22 @ 7:00; 10/28 @ 1:00

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Modern Living

Modern Living is too much like research in search of a story to be an emotionally satisfying ninety minutes. But it's charmingly honest, with likeable characters, and Richard Sheinmel does something with them next time, he'll have a hit on his hands.

Nomi Tichman and Richard Sheinmel in "Sheila Mom," one of the three plays that, along with musical interludes, make up Modern Living.
Photo Credit / Stephen Mosher

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Richard Sheinmel seems like a splendid actor/playwright. He’s sincere and disarming, and his collection of plays, Modern Living, is an honest portrayal of the life of the artist as a young man. The intimate location of The Club at LaMaMa helps him connect with the audience, and the fabulous character actors of the ensemble convey even the most obvious one-liners with complete sincerity. But all three of the pieces, each a different genre, lack gravitas: they seem more like introductions to people the playwright knows than an expose on them. Furthermore, the lyrics to the musical interludes between each play, performed by Jordon Rothstein & the t.v. boys, were hard to decipher and didn’t really fit into the ouevre of Sheinmel’s storytelling. Modern Living is perhaps a bit too modern: it is so compartmentalized and scrubbed clean that for all its efficiency, it’s also a wee bit cold.

Shienmel’s first play, “Florida Mom” is a perfect one-act for the LaMaMa space. Though the action is straightforward, the meta-narration goes backward in time with a series of pleasing vignettes. But the only thing these scenes lay the groundwork for is a beautiful montage by director Michael Baron that fast-forwards through all the bits we’ve just seen, and straight to a conclusion. Though there’s no need for any of this stagecraft (the play could just as easily be sequential), this show at least attains a poetic gravitas, even if it resolves itself before the drama begins. The other two pieces are not nearly as bold: “Mister Fishkin” is a one-line joke waiting for the predictable punchline, and “Sheila Mom” does a better job paying homage to the Alphabet City of the early ‘50s (a time of Charlie Mingus, Max Roach, and Bill Cosby) than it does to any emotion. Like the characters, this is research in search of a story, and once Sheinmel commits to developing these characters, rather than briefly illuminating them, he’ll have a major work on his hands.

At best, Modern Living is a spotlight for talented actors like Christopher Borg, but without plot or emotion, it’s just a series of fragments, fading faster than morning dew.

LaMaMa: Theater of the World (74A E. 4th Street)
PERF. (through 10/29): Friday-Saturday @ 10; Sunday @ 5:30

Friday, October 13, 2006

Season of Change: True West

In this off-kilter, but otherwise straightforward production of True West, one actor's comedic choices bring a new dimension to Lee, but at a cost to the show's themes. Shepard's words are more vibrant than ever (having ripened with age) and the clash between action and text makes for an interesting night.

Zack Calhoon & Jordan Meadows in True West

Photo Credit/Frank Cuzler

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Sam Shepard’s True West is a play about two brothers, Lee and Austin, who are everything and nothing alike. Dreamscape Theater’s cartoonish production is, in turn, everything and nothing like True West—as much a riff as it is a faithful homage. Two separate plays happen simultaneously: a comic interpretation by Zack Calhoon, who plays the menacing Lee as a buffoon, and a serious one by Jordan Meadows, whose Austin is both bitter and adoring. Though I found myself put off at first by Calhoon’s antics, he sticks with it enough to present a dimension to Lee that other actors often gloss over with anger: petulant immaturity. At one point, Lee blithely remarks, “He must’ve been one of us.” He follows this with slapstick, sticking out his tongue and jabbing his finger at Austin—a needless expression of the subtext, perhaps, but also a charmingly satisfying one. I just wish it had more in common with the work director Kate Ross is doing, with her hyper-realistic kitchenette staging, her moonlit scenes, and the incessant sound of crickets.

Because of Calhoon’s unchecked sniping, many of the fraternal themes get lost to those of the fraternity: Lee scatters beer cans across the stage between scenes, belches often for emphasis, and talks in a cynical tone that doesn’t quite match that of a desert-hopping, cactus-talking, TV-stealing pariah. On the other hand, Meadows could be a poster-child for the freeway-driving, smog-eating, Safeway-shopping model citizen, and while the contrast between the two is appreciated, in this context, the two don’t compliment one another. All the chemistry ends up coming from Meadows, a talented actor who does justice to the climax, an act of psychotic adoration.

Shepard mentions that the true west is “grown men acting like boys,” but from Calhoon, we only get the boy, and from Ross’s lopsided direction, one can only assume she firmly believes boys will be boys (and has hence stopped trying to direct them). Where applicable, this production of True West is an engaging drama, but more often than not, it is also a comedic revue. You’ve given us our passionate, mild-mannered Austin; now gives us back our violent, unpredictable Lee—or at least agree to disagree.

Dreamscape Theater (
Hudson Guild Theater (441 W 26th Street)
Tickets ( $15.00
10/15 @ 7:00; 10/17 @ 8:00; 10/21 @ 1:00; 10/25, 10/27 @ 8:00

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Guys

The Flea Theatre
41 White Street/ Tribeca

I have avoided all dramatic dealings with the events of 9/11, whether news, documentary, political discussion, or art. I was here. I had moved to NYC the week before. My younger sister was living a few blocks away from the Twin Towers. I mostly categorize the events of that day within these personal parameters. Five years later, it is still too big for me to wrap my head around, but perhaps I am ready to begin. Maybe this is how most people have dealt with it and why we find ourselves more and more bombarded with theatrical material dealing with 9/11. People are ready to deal.

Forerunning the resent deluge, The Guys by Anne Nelson, was commissioned for the Flea Theatre in October of 2001. The theatre’s immediate response to the question, “What can we do?”, the play follows two characters asking the same: Joan (Grace Gonglewski), a writer, finds her peace in aiding Nick (Tom Wopat), a Brooklyn Fire Chief coming to grips with the lose of 15 members of his firehouse and struggling to pen 15 memorials for 15 funerals. Anyone who was in NYC after 9/11 recognizes this situation, whether they were directly faced with lose or simply feeling ineffectual- too many volunteers, too many blood donors. The world was different all of a sudden and where did you fit in?

I enjoyed the play, particularly Wopat who seamlessly wove conflicting emotions of a private life in fleshy moments of memory and grief, very real and effective without sentimentality. The play was most magnetic when Nick explored particulars of each fireman, illustrating the awareness of individuality and personal affection often unappreciated until too late.

The character of Joan was harder to swallow, skirting sometimes the political and other times the emotional, finding fullness to rival Nick in neither. In a continuous attempt to connect with the tragedy, Joan remains cerebral and guilt ridden- I don’t think the play let the character realize so much as lead the audience in empathy for Nick and his men. This is not necessarily bad, in fact it might be very realistic for this character, but her sentiments did not go far enough to illuminate, rather, sometimes they felt narrow minded. Most of the post-play discussion between me and my friends centered on how this character serves the playwright’s intentions, and perhaps this is part of the character’s purpose: a foil to gage your own opinions.

All in all, it was a touching investigation, well acted and gentle in leading the audience to meditate on where we were on 9/11, and where we are today personally, as a city, a country, and a world. I did crave a bit more dirt, a bit more controversy driven from the writer, who at points grazed matters of a global perspective and the American place with in that. Just a bit more would have sufficed. But I guess this is my homework, and stimulating this thought process is a good starting point. Time to turn on NPR.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Season of Change: Truce on Uranus

Absurdity is a good thing, but when the device trumps the message, it's gone too far. Mark Lindberg's Truce on Uranus has some fun with the writer-in-a-play conceit, but without characters to interact with, it's a one-author show.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Photo Credit: Frank Kuzler

Mark Lindberg has written himself into a tough spot: he's trapped on Uranus, a planet so cold that it's "too cold to live" and "too cold to feel cold," admitted that he's written himself into a corner, and been subdued by an ambivalent transexual alien who goes by the name Titania (the vocally gifted David A. Ellis). Lucky for Mark, he's only directing and writing Truce on Uranus, even luckier, the actor who plays Mark, Ricardo Perez Gonzalez, has charisma-and-a-half: that natural theatrical grace that makes us want to follow him across the stage, even when the stage, script, and underlying emotions are threadbare. When "Mark" complains to the audience about how difficult it is to write a play or to be in The Theater, it's compelling and believable. This is grounded in the artist's fundamental truth, even if the show itself, set on Uranus, is not.

That's the real kicker--whereas Edward Albee introduced fantastical lizardmen in Seascape to deliver a message about social acceptance, Mark Lindberg doesn't go far enough with his frigid landscape. Escapism's a fine theme, but from what? A fight with his boyfriend, Desi? If Mark needs to construct this much metadrama to reconcile his love, the play should reflect that. Instead, there are passionate monologues coupled with bland and ambiguous scenes, a pairing that so imbalances the show that the individual shifts between comedy and drama go unnoticed.

The problem--and this stems back to putting oneself into the play--is that everything's intellectual: Lindberg loses the message to the device. There are clever twists, like the way Lindberg overlaps scenes (characters in the background freeze as the material they're reading is recreated in the foreground), but then there's also Cassandra, a character within a play within a play who--oh yeah--also happens to be dead. Men have done sillier things for love, but was it really necessary (as Mark-within-the-play puts it) to obfuscate so much?

The concept shows promise, and Hannah Davis's lush, trippy set design (purple and yellow paper-mache mountains) gives the show a vibrant playland to live on. But the palette is mostly underused, and by the end of the show, it seems that Lindberg is simply flinging himself at the same few jokes, over and over again.

It takes more than keen excitement toward the ridiculous (see the curtain call), to build a show. But Truce on Uranus tries so hard for the big picture--"You'll just have to read the play and when you figure out what it all means, let me know"--that it misses out on character. Coupled with nerves, missed technical cues, and/or lazy direction, the dialogue starts to fill with yawning chasms of dead air and the lack of chemistry causes an emotional detachment that undermines the need for escapism.

We all need to escape; but theater has to bring us back, too. And until Lindberg reins in the absurdity long enough to establish character, Truce on Uranus is going to stay out of orbit.

Dreamscape Theater (
Hudson Guild Theater (441 W 26th Street)
Tickets ( $15.00
10/13 @ 8; 10/14 @ 1; 10/18, 10/20, 10/24, 10/28 @ 8:00

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Buried Child

Reviewed by: Nicholas Linnehan

A few months ago, I had reviewed a production of Buried Child, and said that the company had a handle on how to produce Sam Shephard's bizarre play about a family hiding a dark secret. While I stand by that, the production of this play by Nicu's Spoon revealed an even more unbelievable way to produce this work. Director, Stephanie Barton-Farcas led her cast with brilliance, intelligence, and heart. The show was powerful, moving, and surprisingly funny; a credit to her and the amazing cast.

The cast featured Wynne Anders as Halie, and Jim Williams as Dodge. These two grabbed a hold of the audience from the first moment and didn't let go until the last word was spoken. Simply superb! Also Darren Fudenske, a deaf actor, portraying Tilden proves that good acting is about doing and is alive in the body. His vocal limitations did not detract from the play as he played his part with sincere conviction that transcends any physical disability, thereby telling the story without losing his audience. No small feat. I could go on and on about this talented and connected ensemble of actors, who's tremendous honesty is so refreshing to watch. The production is quite impressive. This show is what live theater is supposed to be and proves that it still exists. Unfortunately, it is rare to see this kind of theater (even though its exactly what all theater should be); the kind that leaves its audience breathless and wanting more!

Buried Child plays from now through Oct 22nd at the Access Theater located at 380 Broadway. You owe it to yourself to see this one, trust me. Nicu's spoon hits a grand slam with this one, and if this is the kind of theater they produce, the theater community has a lot to look forward to.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Krankenhaus Blues

Sam Forman's new play Krankenhaus Blues, produced by Visible Theater is a treat for everyone. It is NOT a play about genocide or Nazism. While these issues surround the play, this piece is really about delving into the complexities of the human condition. Whether its sexuality, disability, incest, or low self-esteem, this work allows for its audience to enter into the dark and ironic world in which we live with its universal themes. The beauty of the play lies in its exploratory process of what it means to be human. It doesn't judge, but provokes one to search his/her soul.

The cast, which consists of Joe Sims, Bill Green and Christine Bruno serve the play well, as they give poignantly honest and inspiring performances. At first, the play seems disjointed and random, but Forman's playwrighting skills show as the play appealingly unfolds as do the relationships in them at a perfect pace. Green who plays the only non-disabled person shines, but he could use to slow down his speech as we lose some of what he's saying. Bruno mesmerizes us with her enchanting singing that frequently interrupts the play and adds a nice vulnerability to her character. Sims is powerful as the homosexual, clown. He delivers a top-notch performance here.

Krankenhaus Blues plays now through November 5th at the Abbingdon Arts Center on 36th St. You don't want to miss it!