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.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Season's Greetings

The prolific Alan Ayckborn’s Season’s Greetings is rife with the hijinx and drama of the holidays, but in this flattened revival by the Hudson River Rep., the stocking is stuffed with the coal of cheap gags, leaving the real meat of Ayckborn’s writing (and rich characters) untouched.

Reviewed by Lyssa Mandel

‘Tis the season for unbearable family gatherings and tediously precious holiday traditions. The prolific Alan Ayckborn’s Season’s Greetings fits that bill, but in this flattened revival by the Hudson River Rep., the stocking is stuffed with the coal of cheap gags, leaving the real meat of Ayckborn’s writing (and rich characters) untouched.

The set is like the production: it’s festively dressed, but not large enough to meet the mad, flailing rush from room to room. The cast gives an energetic performance, but without nuance. And though the pratfalls and commedia dell’arte archetypes are present in this heavy farce, it’s hard to feel the human drama when the performers aren’t truthfully connecting to it.

Ayckborn’s characters are a spiderweb of neuroses, come to party for Christmas season. Belinda, a repressed housewife and her cold husband Neville are joined by the angry, slightly senile Harvey, the nerdy, has-been doctor Bernard and his batty wife Phyllis, the impatient, pregnant Pattie and her oblivious husband Eddie (Neville’s drinking buddy), and Belinda’s self-deprecating sister Rachel.

What makes this Christmas different from any other is the arrival of Clive, a tall, writerly stranger who is a guest of Rachel’s and a distraction to everyone in the house. Clive’s roguish presence is enough to bring to light the sharp dissatisfactions in each of the party’s marriages and to stir up omnipresent mistrust and tension. A puppet show goes awry, the women embark on a primal chase for this new man, and even the toys under the Christmas tree are involved in a ramp up to a finale that packs half the punch it should. James Weatherstone, despite playing the boring Neville, turns in the most natural performance of all: he even has a tolerable English accent. Foster Davis is a playful, questionable Clive, evolving from naïve and likable to a bit of a slimy jerk. And Byron Loyd deals with pitiable Bernard by taking him and his puppet show seriously, crafting a few moments of silliness and failure that feel deeper than the rest of the comedy.

I would be a Grinch if I didn’t mention that the packed house was laughing at the obvious punch lines. But the grinding Christmas music during breaks, the overemoting, and the shameless, eye-rolling slapstick (that isn’t grounded by the deeper humanity and unhappiness originally written for these characters) reduce Ayckborn’s play to its face value. It deserves more than this.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


A play about relationships, sexuality, and the tortures of indecision. Two men struggle to define their relationship, and it ultimately falls apart. Yes, the storyline is viable, even intriguing, but that is not enough to save the production, let alone its characters.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Straight men who truly value spending time with each other while talking on a couch may cause speculation in our society -- take, for example, the so-called subtext of the Sesame Street duo Bert and Ernie. In Michael Rubenfeld’s new play Spain, boundaries are pushed, if not crossed, between two male friends. Jared’s (Todd D’Amour) girlfriend Beth (Esther Barlow) is away in Italy studying art, so he has been spending most of his free time with best bud Eric (Rubenfeld). Together, they discuss the finer points of film editing and the graphic points of lovemaking. Every day, they exchange the same witty banter, coy smiles, and playful touches on the shoulder or leg. These moments imply something more than friendship, and just as quickly dismiss the drunken confessions and hugs goodbye. They need companionship, but they also need to be straight.

Their feelings for each other alternate between blaringly obvious or painfully repressed, making these ill-composed scenes mimic two toddlers on a playdate gone bad. Insecure, attention-starved Jared clings to obnoxious, authoritative Eric, scuttling back to him for advice at every crisis. Other than this thread of dependency there is no chemistry and very little backstory to make their pairing plausible. Equally implausible is the circumstance of “having no one else.” No mutual friends are mentioned, no alternate social circles. Without this context the audience doesn’t have much to go by to determine if their friendship is in fact “normal.” These characters would need to be seen in another setting first. Perhaps they’re just bipolar, or bisexual, or never had many friends growing up, or knew people growing up who acted too friendly. In a cast of three with a nameless setting, it’s hard to say.

When Beth enters the dynamic in the second scene, she becomes the accused cause of Eric’s and Jared’s sexual tension. The uninvolved third party (and token pesky girlfriend) makes for an easy target, after all. Sincere concerns for quality time with her boyfriend after a long separation appear to Eric as jealous behavior or crazed possessiveness. He feels cornered and recoils to Jared’s apartment, so that every scene is a quick-change of either something happening between Beth and Eric or Eric retelling to Jared what happened between him and Beth. This makes for poorly-constructed storytelling, and the déjà vu factor prevents any plot progression. Then again, in a play that tries to salvage relationships with the offer of sex in the workplace or by going threesies on some ecstasy, how much of a practical conclusion can one expect?

The lack of eye contact between the characters and constant sideways blocking makes Shana Gold’s directing look as amateur as the script sounds. The pedestrian ensembles (uninspired combinations of jeans and cotton tees) is yet another miss in terms of this play’s accomplishments. The production, like the script, lacks a mature eye to provide foresight and depth, and without it the execution stands limp. As for the subtitles explaining a new location with each scene change, they’re more distracting than helpful. Perhaps with more introspection and a more articulate creative force this piece would have been a thought-provoking social commentary. Instead, Spain leaves much to be desired and little to be expected.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Scandal

Pink (Amy Golden) has a relevation in The Scandal
A young girl named Pink reflects on her surroundings and neighbors in a small desert town, shares her childhood stories, and divulges the various traumas that led up to the "last straw," which prompted her to perform a deed the whole town would forever refer to as The Scandal.

Reviewed by Caitlin Fahey

From the moment the young Amy Patrice Golden enters from the back of the intimate Red Room to her final words, the audience is wholly enticed by The Scandal. In this one-woman show by Kristen Kosmas, Pink (Golden) unravels the stories of a myriad of characters, including Pink's mother, Hope; father, Seven; best friend, the bed-hopping Gogo; mysterious-stranger-turned boyfriend Radio; and the other townspeople in a tiny, quiet, desert town. Ms. Golden’s performance, directed by Courtney Sale, allows the complex Pink to be both witty and sad, neurotic and logical, loopy and insightful. She tells the stories of her father's suicide, her mother's obsession with furniture, and her own childhood traumas with childlike naiveté. She is wide-eyed and passionate, and yet, the scandal in question stems from her own violent rage.

Many factors suggest that "the scandal" will be Pink's suicide: the bright red dress designed by Peggy Vivino, Pink's admission that she always planned to die by drowning at the age of thirty-three. James Carney's stark set, consisting only of two hanging frames and a wooden piano adds to the timelessness of the story, and Pink seems to be trapped in limbo, reliving the events that pushed her to do what she eventually did. However, the ending is deeper than that, divulging not only Pink’s fate, but also that of all the characters.

Ms. Kosmas's script is beautifully literary, and poetic at times. The focus is drawn to relationships between opposites, such as the virginal Pink versus the overtly-sexual Gogo and the use of elements fire and water as tools for destruction. . The lack of technology in the piece allows Pink to develop a relationship with the environment and to take careful notice of even the most minute details. More importantly, it allows her to remember them. Though The Scandal is a one-woman-show, Ms. Golden's execution allows the secondary characters to come to life in this gripping piece. Anyone who has ever been pushed to the edge, who has loved a person despite his or her eccentric tendencies, or who has been both terrified and elated to fall in love will identify with and applaud Ms. Kosmas's look at life.

THE SCANDAL (75 minutes, no intermission.)
The Red Room (85 East 4th Street)
Tickets $18, $15 for students and seniors
Through December 20, Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy with a (Somewhat) Happy Ending

There is a surprising correspondence between celebrity gossip and Greek tragedy: Both break stories down into archetypes and a series of tableaux, and by doing so, they become models for how (or how not) to live our own lives. But gossip makes us feel superior to its subjects, while tragedy makes them our equals, so that their struggles become our own. It is this formula that lets Wendy Weiner’s Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy with a (Somewhat) Happy Ending transcend its Saturday Night Live potential to become a surprisingly moving and humanizing retelling of one celebrity’s familiar story.

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Reviewed by Jason Fitzgerald

The simplicity of the show’s setup yields its rewards: The goddesses Athena (war and reason) and Aphrodite (love and passion) are in a terrible feud, and the lives of mortals are their primary battlefield. A young girl named Hillary, whose dreams of being an astronaut have recently shattered, decides to become Athena’s disciple. Aphrodite, spurned, responds by unleashing her own acolyte on Hillary’s bright future: Enter Bill Clinton. The rest is history, or, as the play suggests, cultural myth: “Chelsea Morning” on the radio yields to the governor’s mansion, Jennifer Flowers, the White House, the pastel skirts, the healthcare tome, and, finally, the definition of “is.”

The task of playing the tragic hero falls to Mia Barron, an actress of growing stature on the American stage (The Coast of Utopia, QED, The Pain and the Itch), but unfamiliar enough not to compete with her famous character. Barron is an unlikely Hillary: her sharp features, darting eyes, and strong diction make her performance a bit like Tina Fey’s might be. But she is a smart actress, less concerned with impersonation than with her character’s subtle development from awkward, headstrong girl to steely, voracious adult. Her strongest moment comes after Hillary allows Athena to remove half of her heart, so that cold ambition might replace pain at her husband’s wandering eyes. There’s no immediate change after this cosmic surgery; instead, over the next ten minutes, it becomes clear that her vulnerability has disappeared.

The balance between heart and hardness is the ultimate moral of the story. In the last third of the play, a post-Lewinsky Hillary begs Aphrodite, her former rival, to remove the other half of her heart. Aphrodite sends her to hell (via Newt Gingrich’s back door, of course) to fetch a golden harp, an adventure she barely survives, thanks to Bill’s saxophone, which soothes the three-headed monster Cerberus. Barron’s quiet, intense delivery of Hillary’s response—“Goddamn you, Bill. I will not cry”—brings all the contradictions of Hillary’s broken, armored heart into focus.

Her anagnorisis is to see clearly that her vulnerability and, yes, her love for her imperfect husband, are as much a part of her makeup as her strength and her ambition. The lesson is ours as much as hers, a challenge to any simplistic reading of Ms. Clinton, and a surprising plea for complex sympathy from a play that purports to move in two dimensions. One may wish for the play, which was written in 2006, to include the latest events in Hillary’s story (sequel alert!). Instead, it ends with her declaration, upon joining the Senate: “Whether it be my generation, or the next, we will have a female president.” It is the kind of terribly ironic echo that will likely trail this complex figure—the character and the woman—long after her story is over.

Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy with a (Somewhat) Happy Ending (1hr 30 min, no intermission)
The Living Theatre (21 Clinton St)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $20.00
Performances (through 12/20): Sun-Mon 8pm & Wed-Fri, 8pm

Thursday, December 11, 2008


To say that Albert Camus’s 1944 play, Caligula, still feels contemporary is to speak poorly of the 21st century. We may have only the terror-riddled, Depression-struggling present of today’s headlines to blame, but who doesn’t at least appreciate the unsettling notion that whatever deity or sense of purpose we might have counted on has abandoned us? Caligula explores the consequences—both seductive and destructive—of giving up and succumbing to the law of arbitrary cruelty. It is to Camus’s credit that his script, in the New York premiere of David Grieg’s taut translation, manages to sizzle despite an inept production by Horizon Theatre Rep.

Photo/Richard Termine

Reviewed by Jason Fitzgerald

Composed in the early days of Hitler’s rise to power (it took five years to be published), Caligula was Camus’s attempt to make sense of the tyrannical cruelty that was casting its shadow over Europe. His model is the mad Roman emperor Caligula, who, Camus surmises, was transformed from a kind and beloved leader to a vicious tyrant in the wake of his beloved sister’s death. Awakened to the arbitrary purpose of the universe—the nihilistic philosophy that is Camus’s legacy—Caligula decides to give his subjects “the gift of meaninglessness.” Years pass as his horror-struck advisors watch their leader pronounce death sentences and even famines on a whim, until they finding themselves tottering on the brink of the same madness.

Thankfully, director Rafael de Mussa (who plays Caligula) avoids a George W. Bush parallel, putting his actors in contemporary dress but leaving the whole production in an unspecified time and place. The Bush comparison wouldn’t fit anyway: the president’s failings come from the vague sense of himself as God’s vessel, while Caligula’s come from the concrete certitude that neither God nor sacred values are worth depending on. David Grieg’s translation makes these motivations clear, remaining faithful to the original while scraping away excess verbiage (he brought a similar economy to his translation of The Bacchae at the Lincoln Center Festival this past summer).

It is unclear, though, why Grieg chose to premiere his new translation with this company of actors. Whether due to youth, inexperience, or weak talent, they bring little urgency or realness to the play. In scene after scene where the emperor’s advisors must respond to his cruelty, the company’s emotions are circumstantial rather than existential, like schoolchildren angry that their principal is loose with the detention slips. De Mussa captures the dark exterior of his antihero, but he fumbles when asked to reveal the pain and confusion that have caused Caligula’s madness. The challenge of the play is to make the audience feel both the terror of the emperor’s subjects and the pity the man himself deserves. This production achieves neither.

By contrast, the simple set design by Peter R. Feuchtwanger—a long table with chairs in front of five perfectly spaced-out columns—suggests a more successful direction. A blazing (fake) fire, sitting atop a pedestal upstage center and the focal point of the symmetrical space, is a correlative to the play’s central question. Does the flame represent God? A faith in humanism? The steady glow of the ego? Or is it simply a stage prop, mocking our futile search for greater meaning? Staring into the fire, one glimpses the promise of the wave of Caligula productions that Horizon Theatre Rep’s may anticipate, especially if the next four years of federal governance are not all we’re depending on them to be.

Caligula (2 hours, no intermission)
Theatre Row: The Kirk Theatre (410 W 42nd Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $18.00
Performances (through 12/30): Sun 3pm, Mon & Tues 8pm, Thurs - Fri 8pm

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New House Under Construction

A play, no matter how spiffy the set, or how cutesy the interlude music, is only as good as its script. And a script, no matter how many sharp lines or sexual recounts, quickly unravels if its characters aren’t compelling. Unfortunately, New House Under Construction suffers from a bit more than unconvincing personas.

Reviewed by Amanda Cooper

Sarah and Tony (Shannon Hoob and Kevin Isola), a successful New York couple, are building a vacation house in the town where they grew up. Conveniently, their architect, Trevor (Anthony Crane), was Sarah's teenage romance and Trevor’s wife, Judy (Nancy Lemenager), used to date Tony. Moreover, the couples will soon be neighbors, and the awkward/funny circumstances don’t stop there, to say nothing of the town shrink (Sam Coppola).

This setup is made for a sarcastic little rom-com, but playwright/director Alan Hruska’s aspires for more. As past secrets come up, the play attempts to take on heavy-duty drama and ends up bogged down in a seriousness punctuated by consistent comic relief. What suffers the most is character development: these four are only defined by their problems. Tony, who's an asshole, ends up the most likeable character, mainly because he's the only character real enough to comprehends his self-absorption.

The entire play takes place on a set--the skeleton of a house under construction--that rotates for each scene as an instrumental interlude plays. Though Kenneth Foy’s set is pleasing, the cast isn’t comfortable with its movement, and the tiny platform makes for crowded scenes. The performers all make a valiant effort, but with little to prop up their actions and reactions, it’s hard to take Hruska’s play as the serious meditation on life and choice that it aims to be.

------------------------------------------- New House Under Construction 59 East 59th Street Theaters All tickets $35 Through January 4th or 212 279 4200

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes

Dr. John Watson and Detective Sherlock Holmes take on one final mystery, aided by Holmes's female counterpart, Jacqueline Derrida. Their search for clues is accompanied by rock music, acrobatics, and a few psychological twists and turns.

Reviewed by Caitlin Fahey

The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes presents a dreamlike murder mystery with a rock-and-roll soundtrack. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, and Holmes's female counterpart, Jacqueline Derrida, attempt to uncover the truth behind the supposedly accidental death of behavioral scientist Nietzsche. However, this musical, penned by Brad Krumholz, is far from a classic thriller: the impressive ensemble not only acts out the story, plays all of the instruments, and sings all of the songs in the musical, but the limber team also performs acrobatic stunts with seemingly effortless precision.

Literary theorists will recognize the reference to Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstructive criticism, but to those unfamiliar with his practices of deconstruction, A Dictionary of Critical Theory describes it as “a theory of reading which aims to undermine the logic of opposition within texts." Indeed, the female Derrida serves as the deus ex machina of the play, threatening to unravel the relationship between Holmes and his arch-nemesis, Dr. Moriarty.

It's not surprising, then, that Krumholz takes a Derridean direction: his director's note invites the audience to "entertain the idea that appearances can be deceiving and even, at times, quite uncanny." Krumholz's mission is well-executed, as the actors use their bodies as props and set pieces, picture frames serve as doors and suggest cramped crawlspaces, and audience members participate in a "mysterious" mind game. Most deceiving of all is Dr. John Watson, played by Tannis Kowalchuk, who occasionally removes her character's facial hair and dons a gown. The staging implies some romance between Watson and Holmes, but the detective never acknowledges his assistant’s gender and gazes right through her. When Ms. Derrida suggests a twist on the well-known rivalry of Holmes and Moriarty, she asks the audience to question their own reality. Perhaps then, Watson's gender transformation is best left untouched, leaving the audience to make their own conclusions regarding the character's role.

Brett Keyser gives the titular character a sense of eccentricity and Liz Eckert and Sarah Dey Hirshan's many roles are an impressive undertaking. As a whole, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes achieves its goal of a surrealistic take on a classic literary figure. But it is not without imperfections: "Cerebellum" and "Threshold" make for memorable songs, but most of these interludes felt unnatural (and unnecessary), failing to enhance the story, especially when the words were inaudible. Still, while it may make more sense to focus on the gymnastics rather than the music, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes is a creative, alternative look at one of the great figures in literary history.

THE UNCANNY APPEARANCE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1 hour 40 minutes, with a ten-minute intermission)
HERE ARTS CENTER (145 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY 10013)
TICKETS $20; $15 for students, seniors, and artists
PERFORMANCES Wednesday-Saturday 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. through December 21.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cape Disappointment

The latest work by The Debate Society, Cape Disappointment, is slightly disappointing, but only in comparison to their previous plays. More is not always better: the two new actors joining writer/performers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen pick up the uneasy rhythms of casual conversation, but the awkward transitions create a lot of dead space. When it's moving though, you'll find that director Oliver Butler still has a wide variety of tricks up his sleeve, and that TDS still leaves most companies in their creative dust.

Photo/Ryan Jensen

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

“Detroit!” exclaims Paul Thureen, perching uncomfortably beside Hannah Bos in an imaginary but wholly claustrophobic hot-air balloon. “When you’re here, you’re in Detroit!” That line alone, a microcosm of failure in advertisement, captures the mood of The Debate Society’s latest play, Cape Disappointment. When accompanied by the aesthetic perfection of Mike Riggs’s slowly dimming lights, Sydney Maresca’s uncomfortably old-school outfits, the sagging stalks surrounding Karl Allen’s parking-lot set, and the quiet night from Nathan Leigh’s pitch-perfect sound design, that mood only intensifies. Under the steady, familiar direction of Oliver Butler—where the smiles are just wide enough to start to strain—the scene grows even crisper, until the whole thing coalesces into a processed, drive-in movie Schaudenfraude. (Even the popcorn provided is a little cold, a little salty, a little stale.)

These old tricks are good ones for TDS to be up to. At their best--or even here, at their mixed--they have a theatrical craft and eye for storytelling illusion rarely found on stage. However, Cape Disappointment tries to be bigger and better than previous outings, and this is where it stalls. Michael Cyril Creighton and Pamela Payton-Wright are excellent additions to the cast, and both confidently leap into the mundane patter necessary for this atmospheric production. But the transitions are far from seamless: if the play is meant to mimic the unspoken horrors of the ‘50s, then the projector keeps dying, and charm comes across as low-speed nostalgia.

Ironically, this parallels the plays, for these small disappointments are our awkward pleasures, especially when flawed stretches give way to genius moments. At the bottom of the heap is a tale of two linoleum salesmen (Bos and Creighton), who are waylaid on their journey by an old hen (Payton-Wright) and her creepy daughter, weeping over road-kill. The play splices this with the story of a brother and sister (Creighton and Bos) who, after a harrowing experience in the dark woods, find a subtler terror lurking in their aunt’s dementia. But rising out of that is a Lolita-like story— “The Pedophile and the Little Girl” (Thureen and Bos)—that is ruthlessly efficient with its beauty, culminating with a heartbreaking scene that gives weight to the horrors of age.

The promise and decline of Detroit—or at least its advertising—is an apt metaphor. Built piecemeal from unrealized movie dreams, Cape Disappointment works roughly from one moment to the next, a searing collection of red-hot moments: flashlights falling on wooden branches, a girl using a rope to make her lame foot dance, two not-quite lovers gazing silently at the drive-in, and this thought, “They stopped at a llama farm. It was closed.” Cape Disappointment: When you’re here, you’re here.

Cape Disappointment (80 minutes, no intermission)
PS122 (150 First Avenue)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 12/7): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. @ 10 | Sun. @ 6

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Only Tribe

Though the eight dancers move with geometric grace and mathematical precision, the only actual emotion conjured up by Roland Gebhardt's conceptual The Only Tribe is the sorrow of seeing all that potential distilled down to forgettable pretension.   

Photo/Sheree Hovsepian

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

How does such a simple concept get so conceited? There hardly seems the room for so much stuffiness given the plain stage, gray one-piece outfits, and white minimalist masks (each with a pixilated Katamari Damacy-like cut-out that gives it a “personality”). But sure enough, there’s a trademark in The Only Tribe’s logo. The “simple” stage actually houses 3LD’s Eyeliner technology, which lets Reid Farrington clutter it with commercial images and dancing holograms. Roland Gebhardt’s masked modernity is well-matched by Peter Kyle’s geometric choreography, and they move nicely to Stephen Barber’s chic electronica, but all this conjures is a high-brow Alexander movement class. Perhaps most damning is that Rebecca Bannor-Addae is credited as a writer for this silent piece: you can read her “story” at, but why bother? You’ll feel even more foolish knowing that Kidao is the name of that omnipresent star and that Lummo is the eldest member of their tribe.

Assuming one manages to surrender to the often redundant (and certainly reductive) actions of these eight dancers, The Only Tribe interprets Bannor-Addae’s mythology. The tall-rectangle masks move about in a hypnotic, synchronous anonymity, every crick of their neck accented by the length of their windmill-blade faces. As they move angularly around the stage, they are supplanted by triangular masks, which writhe like snakes in the garden, their looseness overlapping with the projected images of the old stale Tribe. Then come the weird hybrids of the two—diagonal masks and wide horizontal masks—each with their own appropriate rhythms and movements, all of which (to be fair) the cast nails with mathematical precision and grace.

At this point, images of our own culture begin to pierce the pure anonymity of the Tribe. As the dancers sweep their large masks across the room, images of the Mona Lisa, Disney, Ronald McDonald, and the Statue of Liberty can be seen across their “faces.” In a clever bit of movement, a line of horizontal masks strafe the stage, a stock-ticker flying across their bodies. The evening culminates by taxing the Eyeliner system to layer all the “tribes” over one another, and then to add the detritus of our commercialism: out of that visual din rise a bunch of square masks (televisions, perhaps). However, a few pretty moments and a solid back-beat can’t mask The Only Tribe’s flaw: after all, what is pretension but the meaningless grasp for importance?

The Only Tribe (1hr, no intermission)
3LD Art & Technology Center (80 Greenwich Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $30.00
Performances (through 12/20): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 3

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Donal O’Kelly’s panache in this whirlwind one-man show is both indulgent and infectious. But while he clearly relishes the playful challenge of morphing from captain to first mate to wife to sea bird—all of which he accomplishes, amazingly, with no more than a microphone, a trunk, and a gauzy white drape—there is only so much one man can do in portraying an epic historical tale.

Reviewed by Lyssa Mandel

Donal O’Kelly must have spun some outstanding yarns as a child, because his storytelling skills are on full display in his solo show Catalpa. However, while he turns the true tale of a late 19th-century seafaring rescue mission into a rollicking aural experience, the story itself is lost in the larger-than-life details. O’Kelly’s panache is both indulgent and infectious, so while he clearly relishes the playful challenge of morphing from captain to first mate to wife to sea bird—all of which he accomplishes, amazingly, with no more than a microphone, a trunk, and a gauzy white drape—it compromises the fascinating history he seeks to portray.

The Catalpa was a whaling ship that, in 1875, set sail from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Western Australia with the undercover plan to rescue a handful of Irish prisoners who had fought British rule in the Fenian Rebellion. Lacking the resources to create a fully cast blockbuster, O’Kelly has instead couched it as an idea for a movie, narrated by a man alone in his bedroom. Because the action isn’t physical, Catalpa comes across as a plot-driven spoken-word performance, complete with live original music by Trevor Knight (which nicely complements O’Kelly’s shifting moods). With the aid of an arresting lighting design by Ronan Fingleton, O’Kelly launches himself and the audience into Captain George Anthony’s voyage around the world. He is at his best when he touches upon the connection between the sea and the women in Captain Anthony’s life (this theme deserves to be a piece unto itself). The language explodes with rich symbolism and onomatopoeia; with your eyes closed you can almost smell the salty waves and feel the wind rippling in the sails.

The magic only works some of the time, though. Often, O’Kelly is like a kid at play in his private world, so absorbed in his imaginary circumstances that he seems to forget he is performing for other people. In these moments, his characters are less than sympathetic, and the vitality of the tale is dulled by what becomes a meta-retelling. 

The many voices of Catalpa whir by so fast that O’Kelly, for all his mesmerizing flourishes of sound and movement, is often swept away from the real drama: an epic adventure of man against nature and man against himself as he fights for justice and for his passion. Donal O’Kelly’s ambition finds moments of great triumph, providing gleeful entertainment and a marvelous display of poetics in voice and body, but Catalpa would be a story well served on a different sort of stage: that of the big screen.

Catalpa (2 hours; 10 minute intermission)
Donaghy Theatre at the Irish Arts Center (553 West 51st Street)
Tickets: $60; $55 for member
Limited Engagement: November 12 - 30.
Tues-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm

Monday, December 01, 2008

Anna Christie

Eighty years after this play granted Eugene O'Neill his second Pulitzer, the weighty drama of this...well, weighty drama...still grabs hold of the audience. From the man who knew family dysfunction better than most, the Metropolitan Playhouse has produced a classic interpretation without skimping on the fight scenes.

Photo/Steven Lembark

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Whether searching for family ties or cultural identity, the characters in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie resonate with a longing for stability and a place to belong, universal themes that still apply today. This turn-of-the-century story about an immigrant’s working-class life in lower Manhattan speaks, on many levels, to what it means to leave one home behind in order to discover another, as many New Yorkers (even today) once did.

The play begins at a pub as the drunken Anna Christie (the stunning Jenne Vath) gets to work. She orders a drink, swills it quickly and asks the barkeep, Larry (Zachary Spicer), for another while she waits for her father Chris Christopherson (Sam Tsoutsouvas) to show up. As for Chris, a bumbling widower cloaked in layers of gray flannel and a fitted fisherman’s cap that he almost never removes, he has never known how to care or provide for his daughter. His heartbreaking dilemma is that that’s never kept him from loving for her. His abandoning her to distant relatives as a girl, for example, he sees as leaving her better off while he braves the high seas, fulfilling the long legacy of seafarers in his family. In choosing this life for himself he also determines Anna’s, and this attempt to take control of one’s fate backfires more than once as the play ensues. Mr. Tsoutsouvas takes a simple, uneducated character and breathes life into his lines, perfecting a thick Swedish accent to match the script’s dialectical phrasing of broken English.

Through four engrossing acts Anna’s fighting spirit shows a stomach for rough travels and tough times. Fighting to keep her head above water--even when surrounded by it-– she tries to leave behind a soiled past in order to win the heart of the honest Irish-Catholic coal stoker, Mat Burke (a subtle yet effective Roger Clark). No matter Anna’s temperament, whether vulnerable, irrational, defensive, desperate, or even at times daring and giddy, Mr. Clark plays off her with gradual, believable reactions. Even in a three-piece suit and clean-shaven mug on his way to propose to Anna, his brute masculinity shows through. Once again, background and occupation imply a character’s lot in life, and Anna, in answering Mat, must ultimately also answer to her own fate. An added flourish to Mr. Clark’s performance is the genuine rogue accent acquired from years of studying his craft in Ireland.

The three principle actors are matched by a great supporting cast (including an incorrigible Karen Christie-Ward and a snappy Mr. Spicer). Robert Z. Kalfin directs down to the smallest details, even dressing the set with vintage magazines and newspapers. With the help of set designer Michael Anania, Mr. Kalfin uses a few specific pieces of coarse wooden furniture to give the illusion of larger areas, such as showing just a table and tap, but evoking an entire bar. The costumes (designed by Rebecca J. Bernstein), ocean sound effects, and lilting guitar instrumentals just add finishing touches to an already strong production.

With a strong sense of scene and driving action that doesn’t falter even after two and a half hours, the Metropolitan Playhouse takes its audience along for the ride of Anna Christie. By simply sitting still with rapt attention we let O’Neill’s characters discover for themselves the paths they choose, and the moments in life that must be taken with a grain of sea salt.

Anna Christie (2 1/2 hours, 1 intermission)
Metropolitan Playhouse (220 East 4th Street)
Tickets (212-995-5302): $20 general admission, $15 seniors, $12 students, $10 under 18
Performances (through 12/14): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8, Sat. & Sun. @ 3 

Friday, November 28, 2008


Thomas Bradshaw's latest play, Dawn, is a challenging play. It's not subtle--his dialogue bashes us over the head with its gross exaggerations, and director Jim Simpson works with an empty stage so as to keep things transparent and obvious. However, by setting up his characters to fall--likeable alcoholics, intolerable saviors, abused annoyers--the play challenges our expectations, and aims to make our morals a little more fluid.  

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Taken at face value, Dawn, like many of Thomas Bradshaw’s plays, is hard to digest: aside from shocking us with gratuitously long scenes of debasement, be it alcoholic or both pedophilic and incestuous, what is the play about? It must be about something: after all, religion is thrown around, as is morality. But at the end of the day, or from the beginning of Dawn, isn’t this grasping for meaning exactly what it’s all about? Bradshaw, assisted here by Jim Simpson’s exaggeratedly comic and set-less transparency, defies expectations so as to make the audience question their own ingrained assumptions.

At face value, Hampton (Gerry Bamman) is a sad clown with a violent streak. Why should anyone empathize with a man who greets his wife, Susan (Irene Walsh), in a drunken stupor, urinates in their bed, and grows violent when called on it? And yet, after watching Hampton spend five minutes hiding liquor around the bare stage (under the radiator, in a gallon jug of water, beside the audience), his desperation grows endearing. Even Bamman is exceedingly likeable, one of those upright father figures from a family sitcom, caught here after-hours. It’s all a play against type, with Bradshaw manipulating the arguments—as when his son, Steven (Drew Hildebrand), convinces him to go to AA, or when his daughter, Laura (Kate Benson), unleashes her bottled-up fury at him—so that Hampton is always likeable, so that, despite almost killing his first wife, Nancy (Laura Esterman), we can’t pass judgment on him.

As Hampton begins to atone for his sins, Bradshaw moves on to a more difficult subject, and sets about dismantling our expectations of Steven, who we are meant to like. As it turns out, however, he lusts for his 14-year-old niece, Crissy (Jenny Seastone Stern): the laundry he does so charitably for Laura is really just an excuse for him to masturbate with a pair of Crissy’s panties over his face, and another down his pants. Does it lessen the blow at all to find that Crissy has already been earning cash by streaming amateur porn? Or that Steven may actually be in love with Crissy, and vice-versa?

It’s no accident that Hampton chants the same prayer at the start and end of the play—“Teach us the eternal rituals of suffering!” All the things that happen in Dawn happen in the same world, with our morality becoming quicksilver in the scorching light of Bradshaw’s drama. That Hampton refuses to turn his son in could just as easily be the thing that finally reunites his family as it is the thing that ultimately destroys it. It is not about judging these characters so much as it is about understanding them, and in that depth, knowing that we are all connected, as much in our sorrows as in our joys.

Dawn (90 min., no intermission)
The Flea (41 White Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 12/6): See
website for details

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Zero is a portrait of aimless twenty-something men struggling with broken dreams, unable to let go of the crushes and grudges they've carried since high school. Despite an energetic lead, the production and the plot fail to move beyond the limited ambitions of the characters.

Photo/Nan Coulter

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

It’s another morning in the life of Leonard (Danny O’Connor, who wrote and performs Zero), a failed actor who has spent the last eight years since high school living from one hangover to the next. O’Connor is cringe-inducingly familiar as this young, wasted man: he jolts awake, grabs his water bottle like a life raft, stumbles from his crumpled bed to the bathroom, and after revisiting last night’s bad decisions, prepares for a reunion with his high school friends. Time has passed, and emotions have changed, but neither Leonard, Alex (a recent Iraq veteran), nor Sam (whose holy trinity is babes, beer, and brawling) have gotten over who they were in high school, nor have they reconciled what they hoped to be with the aimless twenty-somethings they’ve become.

O’Connor’s expressive shoulders allow him to move between characters. Alex keeps his in a state of high-shrug tension, as if always on guard for the enemy, Leonard is terminally slumped, and Sam struts around, chest forward, like a barroom peacock, ready to hit on any woman in his line of vision. But while the characters change, the conversations all revolve around how hot high school’s Mindy McPhee was, and the touching but sadly out of place story about how Alex killed people in Iraq. These transitions are jarring, especially as Alex, after all he’s been through, is still fixated enough on Mindy to be angry at Leonard for sleeping with her years later. Of course old grudges die hard, but better plays have been made about how war changes priorities instead of enforcing old, pathetic ones.

O’Connor gamely keeps up his energy enough as he switches between characters, and that's admirable, but time and again, he runs out of shoulder positions and vocal shifts and seems to be playing one man with multiple personalities, rather than fully developed, separate characters. Alone, and with a limited set, O’Connor (despite his expansive frame and expressive demeanor), can’t quite transition from bar to bedroom to airport. He moves quickly enough between Alex, Sam, and Leonard, but when he adds in monologues from two minor characters, they drag. There’s little that connects Gabe, a formerly overweight and underappreciated man who seems hellbent on compensating for his lonely teen years, or James, an artistic loner jealous of Gabe’s reinvention, to the main plot. In the end, despite well-observed characters, and the wincing humor of lines like “I’d like to MySpace all over her Facebook,” Zero’s plot is as aimless as its characters.

Zero (2 Hours, 1 intermission)
Roy Arias Theater 2 (619 9th Avenue)
Tickets available at, or by calling 866-811-4111 ($17)
Performances Nov 13-December 22, 2008, Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday at 8:15pm.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy With a (Somewhat) Happy Ending

If you think about it--not a lot, but a little--Hillary Rodham Clinton's life somewhat resembles a Greek tragedy, in which she is undone by the very things she has built her life around: a character forged in the harsh fires of a "man's" world, a love that turns in and bites itself, a necessary ambition that others can't stand . . . and of course, the war between her patron, Athena, and a jealous Aphrodite. Wendy Weiner's clever cobbling of Greek mythos and modern day mayhem, and director Julie Kramer's sacrifice of seriousness help Mia Barrow's Hillary to deliver a heartfelt gift from the gods.

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The smartest thing about recasting a familiar tale in ancient Greek terms is that it takes the need for surprise off the table. After all, like any classic tragedy, we already know what happened to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who tabled her Athena-inspired ambitions for 18 Arkansan years for the sake of an Aphrodite-sent Bill Clinton. We’ve seen her classic flaw come to the forefront not just in her uncompromising health care push in ’94 or Lewinski-blind devotion in the ’98 impeachment, but most recently in her cold ’08 campaign. It’s a relief, then, to see Wendy Weiner’s Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy With a (Somewhat) Happy Ending dispense with those circumstances and proceed with the comedy. After all, as many myths acknowledge, it’s not about the doing of the task itself so much as the lesson learned (or in this case, the laughs earned).

Of course, Greek mythology is a double-edged sword: it is by all means a gimmick, Chorus and all, and director Julie Kramer is constantly struggling to keep the jokes clever without coming across as slight. This is somewhat accomplished by allowing things to be campy: Lauren Helpern’s set is a flimsy mock-up of marble stadium steps, with two symmetric dresser-type shrines to Aphrodite and Athena. This also allows for some looser, SNL-like impersonations of Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky, not to mention Mia Barron’s Hillary and Darren Pettie’s Bill. With seriousness sacrificed on the altar, Hillary manages to give audiences exactly what they expect: a mock history lesson.

This is where Weiner’s cleverness pays off: Bill is cast as Achilles—you can guess which part of his body his mother failed to dip into the sacred springs. The path to the underworld is, of course, in Newt Gingrich’s cellar. When on trial for perjury, Bill opens a McPandora’s Box that gets him waffling on what the meaning of “is” is. And Bill’s saxophone doubles as Orpheus’s lyre, just when all hope appears to be lost. And that’s just the farfetched part: it’s not such a stretch to imagine Athena as Hillary’s campaign manager, given the potential fallibility of gods and pollsters alike. Weiner has also liberally cribbed from existing speeches to cast the same old lines in a whole new light: after Gennifer Flowers, Hillary is able to say “I’m not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette” because—at her request—Athena has just used ravens (off-duty from Prometheus, one assumes) to peck out half her heart.

There’s also a deeper humanity to the show, thanks to Barron’s portrayal of Hillary, from a little girl, crushed at the prospect of never being able to be an astronaut, to a hyperactive debate champion in high school, a studious speaker at her Wellesley college graduation, a love-struck post-graduate, a patronizing politician introducing health care legislation, all the way to the Hillary we know and love and hate today. Bill is a real tool (literally, he’s Aphrodite’s pawn, and Pettie has fun with those faults, given that the show isn’t about him) and Hillary is far from an accurate biography of the New York senator, but that this comic modernization of a rather considerable mythos manages to be heartfelt at all is a gift from the gods.

Hillary (95 minutes, no intermission)
New Georges @ The Living Theater (21 Clinton Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $20.00
Performances (through 12/20): Wed. - Mon. @ 8:00

Monday, November 24, 2008


It's no surprise to find a company trying to adapt Catch-22: the Iraq War--for all its paradoxes (e.g., fighting for peace), selfish capitalism, and military glory at the expense of individual rights--might as well be a sequel to Joseph Heller's brilliant novel. What's surprising is that Aquila Theatre Company is crazy enough to pull it off, thanks to the theatrical sense of its straightjacketed director, Peter Meinecke, a talented, triple-cast (or more) ensemble, and a solid lead, John Lavelle, who can be both sane and insane.

Photo/Richard Termine

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

"I can't marry you," says Luciana, a prostitute in Rome, "because you're crazy. You're crazy," she continues, "because you want to marry me." This is just one of the many roundabouts in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, a brilliant anti-war novel that uses a comic tone to expose the paradoxes of fighting for peace, the logical need for war in a capitalist society, and the conflict between the individual and the country. Given those unfortunately timeless themes, it’s no surprise to see Aquila Theatre mounting a new adaptation of the book, nor is it surprising to see them attempting to stage a book which, like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, wildly leaps from location to location, time to time. (Heller attempted this play in 1971; Mike Nichols made a film version in 1970.) Considering how much has to be cut, how much needs to be contained, the only question is whether or not Aquila is crazy enough to pull it off.

Yes, emphatically so. Director Peter Meinecke might as well be wearing a straightjacket, for he channels the best sort of madness: one which, as paradoxically as anything in Heller’s world, makes perfect sense. Stock black-and-white military footage establishes scenery that is pure propaganda; the minimalist sets (hospital beds, a life raft, a wire-frame bomber cabin) turn war into a low-budget illusion. And then there are the theatrical opposites, stylized scenes that jar our expectations, from over-the-top drama to violent romances and sublimely staged bombing missions. Save for a few overlong set changes, carefully choreographed by Desiree Sanchez, the pace of the play matches Heller’s breakneck prose. Finally, as if things weren’t mad enough, each of the six ensemble members is triple-cast (at least), which makes characters that are already flamboyantly contradictory seem even more two-faced, and gives substance to the paranoia of the central character, Yossarian (John Lavelle).

Lavelle’s measured yet manic portrayal of Yossarian is the heart of the production, both a microcosm and reflection of everything that happens around him. Lavelle resembles the Ron Livingstone of Office Space and Band of Brothers, which is to say that he is both a restless schlub and a hardened soldier. Moreover, he’s got the acting chops to oscillate bravely between the two at the drop of a hat--or more specifically, the change of a light cue. For Catch-22 to work, Yossarian must be both sane and insane, a feat that Lavelle achieves by fully pursuing clear actions—actions which just happen to change in the blink of an eye.

Lavelle’s sense of balance becomes clear whenever he leaves the stage, for the scenes that focus purely on themes—like Colonel Cathcart (David Bishins) and his sycophantic Lt. Col. Korn (Craig Wroe), who are happy to sacrifice men to further their careers—come across as preachy parodies. The weakest moments focus on Milo Minderbinder (Chip Brookes), who takes his capitalist syndicate to the furthest extreme when he contracts with the Germans and uses military supplies to strafe his own camp. Milo, with his safari-like hat and wide-eyed glasses, is meant to mock our values by showing their true costs, but alone, he's a stock character, and stock—in plays as in soup—is meant to enhance the other ingredients, not stand out on its own.

Of course, there's plenty of room in Catch-22 for actors to show off their range, and Mark Alhadeff and Christina Pumariega seize the opportunity. Alhadeff switches from a quiet, bumbling Chaplain to playing Wintergreen, a sleazy slouch who revels in the suffering he dispenses through the mail, whereas Pumariega plays every grown woman in the show, from prostitutes to nurses to grieving mothers, always capturing both the comic highs and the mournful lows. The flavors occasionally fail to mix (Richard Sheridan Willis is outstanding as Doc Daneeka, trying to convince the military he’s not dead, but lost as the bland Major Major Major), but a production this ambitious calls for an adventurous chef like Meinecke.

Here’s a catch: if you’ve read this far, you’re the audience this play is looking for. If you haven’t read this far, then you’ll never read these words. In which case, you’ve read this far, so go on, get a little crazy.

(2hrs 20min, 1 intermission)
Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street)

Tickets (212-279-4200): $49.00
Performances (through 12/20): Tues. - Sat. @ 8 | Wed., Sat., Sun @ 2

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Macbeth meets Cinemax in Roust Theatre Company's contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's classic. set against the backdrop of a sinister underworld -- where power, money, and suspicion and all mixed in a boiling pot with lust, vice and murder.

Reviewed by Patrick Wood

Significantly truncated but brimming with sex and blood, Macbeth resurfaces this month at the Roust Theatre Company, ready to shock and eager to please. If the extensively choreographed fights, prolonged scenes of torture, full-frontal nudity and pervasive fornication are any indication, director James Phillip Gates has his sights on an audience more inclined to revisit their Shakespearean studies over Jagerbombs at a club than a night at the theatre. His intentions—to shockingly emphasize the baser human instincts running rampant in Shakespeare’s jet-black tragedy for a contemporary audience—are both admirable and ambitious. Unfortunately, this Macbeth’s comment on the downfalls of ambition extends to the production itself.

With performances that ring false and a vision too vague to bring insight into its imagining of the text, Roust’s Macbeth cannot justify its envelope-pushing approach. If the plan is to stage a great many graphic rape scenes, they need to serve a dramatic purpose: instead, it’s like being bludgeoned with an oversize hammer.

Trey Ziegler’s performance as Macbeth inopportunely mirrors that of Arrested Development’s pathetic Tobias Funke. Ziegler looks the part, with his bright red hair and devious grin, but fails to breathe any life into the Scottish king, gesturing and intoning without the kind of clear, specific decisions that connect a performance to the emotional realities of an audience. Tracy Hostmyer’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth as a vulnerable, selfish sexpot hints at the resonance Gate’s imagining could have had, but for the most part the cast is disconnected. Watching these actors emote even when they’re silent in the background brings to mind the seriousness of the phrase “acting is reacting.”

In setting his Macbeth in an indistinct time and place, full of guns and swords, retro military uniforms and modern sports jackets, Gates follows a well-tread path of recent Shakespeare revivals without adding anything to the clear message that these events are timeless in their origins. As realized, the interpretation lacks the clear voice (the vision of a universe that can immerse us) necessary to elevate the production beyond simply looking like a show made from tag sales and costume shops hit by the recession.

Toward the end of the play, moments arise that hint at a communal sense of humor, an acceptance of the absurdity of the production. The audience laughed, the actors looked like they were actually having fun, the entire room breathed a sigh of relief. For a few brief minutes, everyone could enjoy themselves without the fear of offensively staged sexual violence masked as important theatre. With a heavy dose of camp, this whole affair could have been a damn good time.

[MACBETH] (100 Minutes, No Intermission)
[Roust Theatre Company] (311 West 43rd Street)
[TICKETS] ($18)
[WED-MON @ 8PM] (through December 6)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Funeralogues

Given a moving backdrop, The Funeralogues fails to move quickly enough.

Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke

“While most little girls were planning for their wedding,” Stacy Mayer declares at the beginning of The Funeralogues, “I was planning for my funeral.” When delivered at the altar of All Souls Church on the Upper East Side, Mayer’s cheeky line is both more realistic—the show, after all, begins with a piano accompaniment solemn enough that it feels inappropriate to clap—and less believable. She will nearly get the chance to stage her own funeral over the course of The Funeralogues, an hour-long show written by Robert Charles Gompers and directed by Molly Marinik, but before that, she’ll meander through several others’ experiences with death—a journey that isn’t quite as vivid or moving.

Mayer embodies several characters within the show, from an elementary school teacher grasping at the correct response when she learns that one of her pupils has died to the last survivor of a family with 13 children. Gompers draws from famous eulogies in history, medieval mourning custom (in which “grief was appropriated by rank”) and blockbuster movies and stacks them up, tier by tier to form the body of the show in between reenactments of, for example, a 6-year-old’s Barbie funeral. (She had a dream life, but now Skipper is already honing in on her man against their owner’s wishes.)

But it doesn’t add up because Mayer doesn’t do enough to differentiate her characters. A series of old people with different accents are still too much alike; when she goes on to deliver one-liners from a sampling of eulogies, those character capsules have more contrast to them than much of the previous half hour. Toward the bottom of the show, we are introduced to a character who has a truly unique story to tell—a “casualty specialist” dispatched to the families of American soldiers who have died in the service, forced to deal with the aftermath of a bombing in Bahrain—but it doesn’t hit the emotional heights it should. The location of The Funeralogues is the perfect setting for this reflective show, but it ultimately doesn’t deliver because it doesn’t give the audience enough to hold onto in its depictions of those facing death. Instead, far too often it’s like being at a wake for a stranger.


Through December 13 at All Souls Chapel, 1157 Lexington Ave. For more information, visit

Thursday, November 20, 2008

837 Venice Boulevard

Experimental dance is used to return to a world of limitless creativity, but that childhood world idles a little too long. It evokes interest, yet fails to fully enthrall.

Reviewed by Adrienne Urbanski

Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." The answer, it seems, is to return to that world of limitless creativity, the place where real and imaginary merge. The place where societal boundaries don’t yet exist and you are still discovering and finding yourself within your body. 837 Venice Boulevard refers to choreographer Faye Driscoll’s childhood address, and the programs and promotional materials all boast a color photo of Faye and her sister standing in front of their Californian home. It’s a jump back in time with experimental dance.

837 opens with dancer Celia Rowlson-Hall singing a warbly, surreal song on the lost feeling of childhood, the feeling of when all you know and hold on to for safety has been ripped from you. As she sings she alternates between shadowboxing and twitching her head stiffly to one side, ending with a screaming refrain that she, like the members of the audience, are “waiting for the show.” What follows is an exploration of the body’s state in childhood. The twenty-something dancers all expertly capture both the awkwardness and freedom of this age, moving with flying, clumsy limbs from one side of the stage to the other, or, halting suddenly, trying to find their steps and falling in sync.

The show frequently makes use of a form of dance akin to puppetry where one or two dancers take control of another dancer’s body, choosing their movements for them. This method evokes a childhood sense of identity displacement. At one point, Rowlson-Hall is instructed that it is time for her big dance number, the moment she has been waiting for her entire life. She falls to the floor in terror, exclaiming that she isn’t ready, while the other two dancers take control of her small body, spinning her and making her leap across the floor. Later, this struggle turns sexual. Rowlson-Hall tempts to fight off the dancer Michael Helland; his hands reach between her legs while she struggles to push them away until their fists push back and forth. When she later seems to accept his advances and begins to lean in for a kiss, a third dancer interrupts them with a gift of glimmering pink and gold superhero capes. This thrusts them back into the safety of their childhood innocence.

Although each segment of the dance fully evokes childhood sensibility, many of them stretch far too long or leave the stage empty and quiet enough for the clicks and whirrs of the stage lights to become audible. As an audience we often have the feeling that we too are "waiting for the show”—waiting for it to begin, always expecting the show to switch gears and really start. This start never seems to fully arrive. Instead, 837 Venice Boulevard comes across as one long prelude. There's worthwhile material, but we get the sense that Driscoll and her dancers are capable of more, and that a great, more enthralling work is somewhere right around the bend.

837 Venice Boulevard (90 minutes no intermission)
Here Arts Center (145 Sixth Avenue)
Tickets (212-352-3101) $15
Performances through 11/22 @ 7:30pm

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Self Portrait with Empty House

Buildings, like people hold many secrets. In Self Portrait with Empty House, actor and playwright Edgar Oliver reveals the secrets of his own building, in this captivating one-man show.

Photo/Dixie Sheridan

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

Edgar Oliver’s one-man play, East Tenth Street: Self Portrait with Empty House, is an unsentimental yet utterly captivating glimpse into a building and the people that give it life. Oliver takes the stage as a tour guide for the tenement building he’s lived in since his early days in New York. Its residents, because of their interests, age, or mental state, are often relegated to the fringes of society, but Oliver puts them front and center, displaying an entire world with nothing more than his words, his hands, voice and memories.

The bare set highlights Oliver, whose black-clad body practically blends in with the stage, leaving only his face and hands illuminated. That’s the point, for his hands and face are the deft instruments that sing of Freddie the often-naked dwarf and Kabbalah enthusiast; Donald the alcoholic postman, and Frances, the landlord’s former wet nurse, now senile, whose now spends her time cleaning her rag collection. The lives, told as anecdotes, are shocking enough to keep the audience’s attention—everyone’s out to kill someone, the superintendent greets residents wearing only a towel, and Freddie spends a suspicious amount of time mixing and guarding a mysterious green liquid that might be made from urine.

The way Oliver’s hands dance to his stories is rhythmic and vivid, like he’s forming his neighbors out of thin air, introducing them to the audience without them being present. His eyes also play a starring role, widening with terror when a neighbor tries to hit him over the head, narrowing (and accompanied by with maniacal laughter) when death is narrowly averted.

Oliver says he loves to observe things inside and outside of his building, taking walks through various parts of the city, reveling in the most desolate areas, looking for the barest hints of life. This might seem voyeuristic, but the play doesn’t treat his neighbors like circus curiosities. Though they don’t meet happy ends, Oliver manages to convey their demises with a sadness mixed with the barest hint of ghoulish glee. It takes a very charismatic performer to stand on a stage and talk about his apartment building, and have it feel as if you’ve actually followed him down the rabbit hole. With Randy Sharp’s taut direction, and Oliver’s eye for detail and sense of genuine concern and wonder, East Tenth Street manages to take you into another world.

Self Portrait with Empty House (1 hour, no intermission)
Axis Theater (One Sheridan Square)
Tickets: see
Performances (through 11/22): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8pm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Footage

There are a lot of nice surprises in Joshua Scher's dark drama, The Footage. The plot establishes its cred by using the various media (video blogs, porn, and machinima), and the dialogue sometimes turns grainy hay to gold. But despite some nice comic romances, the too-tidy ending threatens to undo a lot of good work, like magnets to a VHS.

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Perception is a funny thing. The footage on screen is grainy, and hard to see. But, it's of a hot young girl in a white wife-beater, posing on a chair. Then again, she's handcuffed to the chair and crying. But, these clips go up every day on YouTube, and they've got a LonelyGirl15-level following, so maybe it's not real. It seems the girl is innocent, and in pain. Maybe she's not, maybe she's a masochist. A discussion on semiotics--the true meaning behind the signs that we see, i.e., is your red the same as my red--is the last thing you'd expect of Joshua Scher's dark drama, The Footage, but it's just one in a series of pleasant surprises.

Scher has an ear for language, and this helps him navigate his bumpy, multi-perspective narrative. Whether it's whimpering video clips of this so-called "death porn" footage; a real-world love story between lonely Alexa (Rachel McPhee) and JC (Michael Guagno), a reserved runaway; or even comically anachronistic machinima, in which video from "HellCraft" (I assume there's a legal issue) is edited and dubbed to make the characters talk about Jamba Juice, the characters sound real. Maya (Caroline Hurley) delivers blogs in monologue form, worrying about the implications of voyeurism that makes us implicit in a crime; her boyfriend, Chance (Jamie Effros), a filmmaker stuck doing TV, is struck by the brilliance of it, morals be damned; and the kidnapped Delilah (Elizabeth Alderfer) is a victim, but not necessarily as you expect. More surprisingly, for such a heavy theme, Scher is able to work in ROFLMAO (pronounced "roffle mao," meaning Rolling On Floor, Laughing My Ass Off) comedy by stressing the online flirting between Chance's "l33t" gamer of a roommate, Ethan (Michael Micalizzi) and Alexa's germaphobic roommate, Lauren (Blair Baker).

What's most surprising is that for a play which stresses the line between what's real and what's not, so much of the acting seems real. Even Dodge (Nicolas Flower), a friend of Chance's who is crashing for a week as he gets over a text-messaged break-up, sounds believable, even if the things that happen to him are both irrelevant and artificial. As for the rest of the cast, they all get a few moments to develop beyond their broader stereotypes--Guagno reveals a darker side, Hurley thinks outside the blog, and Baker and McPhee spend a wonderful scene getting baked together, talking about why hitting on an avatar is better than talking to a random guy at a bar. It's not just a clever moment, it's original, too.

Given all these good moments, it's an unfortunate surprise to find that the ending is more than a little contrived, although director Claudia Zelevansky finds an artistic way to handle it (as she does with Adrian Jones's budget-appropriate set). Giving The Footage such a neat ending fights the impulses of the entire show; trust Ethan, instead, who nails it when he says, of his online relationship, "I know it wasn't real real . . . But I had enough to fill in the blanks." All Scher needs is one more change in perception, just something a little more grainy at the end.

The Footage (90 min., no intermission)
The Flea (41 White Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101 ): $20.00
Performances (through 11/30): Dates vary.

The Footage

Two groups of friends find themselves caught up in the world of viral videos and must ask themselves how far they can let themselves go before losing touch with reality. Can they give up their vices before it's too late?

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Caitlin Fahey

Have you heard of LonelyGirl15? Have you seen Law and Order SVU or If so, The Footage won’t be particularly eye-opening. For all the impressively quick-witted dialogue, the play seems all too familiar, and we already know from reality TV that America has become a nation of voyeurs who don’t need talent to make it big as a celebrity.

The Footage’s dialogue is natural, provocative, and contemporary, which should appeal to today’s generation of YouTube-watching, virtual-reality-loving gamers. The cast does well to draw the audience into a world that may or may not be real. The only problem is that, in today’s oversaturated world, the plot may be played out.

The Footage chronicles the lifestyles of two groups of twenty-somethings. Roommates Lauren, Alexa, and Delilah shelter bootcamp-runaway JC and upload viral videos to the web every night to chronicle the kidnapping and torture of Delilah. Alexa studies literature and flirts with JC while Delilah performs self-mutilation with paper-clips and wracks her brain for new gimmicks to bring more hits to her posts. Lauren is perhaps the most distraught over Delilah’s behavior, and seeks solace in the virtual world of MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games).

Across the country, buddies Dodge, Ethan, and Chance, along with Chance’s girlfriend Maya, are drawn into the world of “Lilah1617.” Chance and Ethan quickly become obsessed with the posts and scour the videos for hours, looking for a clue that will deem Lilah’s encounters either real or fake. Disgusted by their behavior, Maya finds her inspiration to write again after a lengthy bout of writer’s block, and begins a blog. Ironically, Maya’s blogging ultimately makes her just as much an addict as Ethan and Chance. Dodge remains the least affected by Delilah’s postings which allows him to get to closer to Maya as Chance drifts deeper into a virtual world comprised of mysterious footage.

Erin Elizabeth Murphy’s costumes are wholly believable, right down to the ironic stoner T-shirts, and Adrian W. Jones has designed an intimate space that fits the themes of the show. As the characters watch the footage, the audience closely observes the characters, which raises the question: when do we move from voyeurs to prisoners? Is it worse to watch, or to watch those who are watching? If U.S. citizens will watch terrorist beheadings for fun, at what point does live murder become unacceptable?

Along with Room404’s video design, these effects craft a real world that nicely balances the fantasies that the play calls into question. Director Claudia Zelevansky does a fine job of combining these creative elements to blur the line between the candid and the scripted, the “real world” and the realm of fantasy; however, it’s so real that it’s been done before.

THE FOOTAGE (90 minutes, no intermission)

FLEA THEATER (41 White Street)


Performances (through 11/30): Friday and Saturday 7:00; Sunday 3:00

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Most Damaging Wound

Talk about range: Blair Singer's The Most Damaging Wound opens with a stream of curses and a flood of alcohol, builds from frenzy of casual crudeness into a series of subtle emotions and then--while still propelling itself through some wild antics--puts its hand on the pulse of Male Maturity, and keeps it there for ninety of the best minutes you'll spend in a theater.

Photo/Deanna R. Frieman

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The Most Damaging Wound opens with a stream of curses--"Fucking, fucking, fucking say it, G"--and a flood of Jagermeister shots, but director Mark Armstrong ritualizes these excesses into an utterly realistic depiction of male friendship. Better still, Blair Singer's script takes its characters far more seriously than Howard Korder's Boy's Life, and its dialogue is more grown up than the sort of glib posturing that one finds in works like Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things. (This is surprising, considering that Singer recently wrote for Weeds.) The secret seems to be the underlying pedigree, an epigraph from Robert Bly's Iron John: "[W]hat do men do? Collect in a bar to hold light conversations over light beer . . . Having no soul union with other men can be the most damaging wound of all."

At first, all that energetic drinking conceals those wounds: on the surface, this is a play about five friends reuniting (after ten years) to have one last night of childish fun before they burn the past and become "men." But directly beneath that is a largely unspoken fear--hence the liquid courage--that they are not ready, and for that, Kenny (Ken Matthews) has called them together: a night of male bonding may not help him get over his fears of being a father, but he needs to have his "quest for masculinity" understood by other men. This leads to some rather brave revelations, the sort that aren't normally seen on stage. For instance, when Christine (Megan McQuillan) intrudes on their gathering, it becomes clear that Alan (Michael Szeles) is having an affair, but that's not what gets Kenny's goat: it's that Alan didn't confide in him.

The whole thing is naturally done, however, with small things slipping out between big comedic anecdotes--like where Dicky (Chris Thorn) was before his wedding--or rowdy singalongs to "Closer to Fine" that serve to illustrate just how tight these friends are. GG (Michael Solomon) spends most of the play being a cypher, trying to make sure that his soon-to-be restaurant isn't totally wrecked by the party, until it comes out that his desire to be a "best friend" has made him somewhat shy. If you went a second time, you'd catch the side glances, but it's best to be caught off guard by their realism (after all, why would true friends wink to the audience?). In the highlight of the evening, Dicky--the sort of crass drunk who is nonetheless the life of the party--sobers up enough to finally confront Bo (Bard Goodrich), who had been his best friend before he disappeared without a word seven years ago. Chris Thorn's performance is fantastic throughout the night, filled with hundreds of tics and tremors, but it's here, a perfectly ambiguous moment when he goes to kiss Bo (who is gay), that he is outstanding: that vulnerability is rarely seen, especially from someone who has moaned his way through taking a crap earlier in the night.

The result of all this outstanding acting, superb pacing, and impeccable direction is a show that is genuinely surprising. It's also incredibly personal, especially if you're sitting in the first row, stage left, a foot or so from the actors. Armstrong, who has worked in small spaces before, makes the most of the Manhattan Theater Source space, putting action off-stage, or from outside April Bartlett's set, as seen through a "window." The end result is that it all seems very lived in, which is to say that it goes beyond being plausible to feeling concrete--not just the "Hey, I have friends like that" effect, but the "I feel exactly the same way" connection. The most damaging wound, then, would be the theater community's self-inflicted one if this play fails to transfer.

The Most Damaging Wound (90min, no intermission)
Manhattan Theater Source (115 MacDougal Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $20
Performances (through 11/29): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. @ 3