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.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

2008 Summer Play Festival Preview and Launch Party

Photo/Julie Cohen
Jason Tam (actor), Jeremy Morse (assistant director), Jason Williams (actor), John Simpkins (director), Joe Iconis (music, lyrics and book) and Sara Katz (line producer) from The Black Suits

By Cindy Pierre

"Bring me your theater enthusiasts, your pop memorabilia auction seekers, and your exotic-drink drinkers" could have easily been the marketing campaign for the Summer Play Festival (SPF) launch party on June 26th, 2008. Based on the flock of people at the bar, the auction table, and surrounding the SPF interns, not to mention those just walking around, any of those would have been well-received. As it was, the producers were able to string all of them together to make for a cool, fun, and informative night.

The posh event drew people from various walks of life, from Sam & Lucy playwright Brooke Berman (SPF '04) to NYC Parks Foundation and Taxi and Limousine Commission executives. Founding Director of SPF and Tony Award-winning producer Arielle Tepper Madover was at hand not only to give thanks to the festival participants and to debrief the audience about SPF history, but also to honor sponsors such as WNBC, HBO and Equinox. At the heart of things, beyond the silent auction of things like Sex and the City DVDs and the imbibing of creative cocktails, each linked to one of the eight SPF plays, they were there to give a "big up" to the festival itself. Given what SPF does for emerging playwrights and other theater artists, there needed to be a lot of glass-raising.

SPF was created four years ago to feature emerging theatre artists and their new plays and musicals. Since its inception, the festival has helped 65 emerging writers develop plays such as Beau Willimon's Lower Ninth, Kenny Finkle's Indoor/Outdoor, and Elise Thoron and Jill Sobule's Prozak and the Platypus, each of which have since gone on to find new homes. What makes SPF distinctive is the way it provides guidance from Broadway professionals, full financial and production support to the artists, no application or participation fees, and has a "hands off" policy on future productions from the participating writers. In addition to these bee-to-honey incentives, the low cost of $10 per performance attracts a young and diverse crowd, dispensing with the affluent times of old. In conjunction with The Living Room for Artists, Inc., formed in 2005, SPF ensures that the voices of the young and diverse are heeded and protected.

For instance, take Joe Iconis, writer of the only musical this year, The Black Suits. Iconis says that he's not only been having a blast with his production team and cast, but that he is most appreciative of having hand-picked them. All eight members of the cast are actors that Iconis has known and worked with for years. I caught Iconis in the middle of five days off from rehearsals, sporting a black suit with Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams (Brandon), Lance Rubin (Nato) and director John Simpkins. Jason Tam (John), line producer Sara Katz, choreographer Jen Werner and stage manager Alix Claps were also around, but didn't get the memo that Simpkins claimed he sent out about the attire. However, the team was in synch about their positive SPF experience.

According to Iconis, SPF is all about the writer's voice in the production process, and executing the original vision for his or her piece. And for writers who have been in and around the circuit as long as Iconis has, that authority is about as good as gold. Conceived at NYU with Robert Maddock, The Black Suits went through workshop after reading after workshop before it was picked up for the festival. Set in Nassau, Long Island, it's the story of a garage band with big dreams and "white boy" issues. Iconis is thrilled to have Williams, Rubin, and Simpkins, three of the original team members attached to the project, back for SPF. It was easy to spot the camaraderie between the group, and the love doesn't stop here. The foursome, along with Werner, are set to also work together on the upcoming The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks (Lucille Lortel Theatre), the show that Iconis has coined his "mistress" show versus his "wife" show, The Black Suits. For now, everyone couldn't be happier to be in the SPF environment.

The team agrees that respect, good will, incredible talent, wisdom, and a sincere desire for the artists to succeed are only a few of the rare and admirable qualities for the staff there. Iconis, along with the seven other writers, have been blogging about the experience on the festival's website, www. According to his blog, Iconis describes SPF as " enterprise....just feels important and fancy and cool." But the creative team and cast aren't the only ones having fun on the production. The interns have been openly discussing the show that in their opinion, "gets better and better every time" on their own blog.

I caught up with wardrobe intern Spencer Leopold Cohen, and stage managing interns Liza Luxenberg and twins Caroline and Heather Englander. They were happy to share that they are getting invaluable experience as future theater professionals, and honing their skills in a warm and friendly environment. Unlike other internships, each was able to choose what they wanted to do and were happy to spend their summer productively and proactively.

According to Luxenberg's blog, "sometimes, when you work on a show, jokes get old, you get sick of it or maybe even both. With The Black Suits, not only is it not possible, but I find myself rocking out more and more every day." If that isn't an endorsement for the festival, I don't know what is.

This year's lineup should have something for everyone to relate to. There's Billy Finnegan's British comedy Esther Demsack, Stephen Brown's prison drama, Future Me, Sarah Hammond's mystical Green Girl, Jennifer Haley's sci-fi drama, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Jacquelyn Honess-Martin's serious Tell Out My Soul, Sylvia Reed's evocative The Ones That Flutter, and Matthew Lopez's Broadway-inspired family drama, Tio Pepe. With all of that to choose from and only $10 a pop, there's no excuse for missing theater anymore. No, really, what are you waiting for?
By Internet: Select show and view calendar after link, or review shows below first. By Phone: 212-967-7555Phone ticket sales available 10:00am - 9:00pm (Mon - Sun). The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003(South of Astor Square)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Explicit Vows

Reviewed by Eric Miles Glover

The sounds of the wedding march have the potential to send men into states of terror, and the man at the center of playwright and actor John Jiler's one-man show, Explicit Vows, is no exception to the rule. Filled with memorable characters, the counsel and wit of jack-of-all-trades Noël Coward, and incidental music as varied as Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" and Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights," the show is a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit.

The resiliency faces the ultimate test moments before the start of a wedding ceremony, when the anonymous man recalls experiences with women whose love was unrequited. Through flashbacks, he recalls his coming of age at a time when Cary Grant was a matinee idol. He not only offers personal commentary but transforms into the larger-than-life men and women he resurrects. His recollections are sprinkled with feelings of disappointment and resentment, among others, which have shaped the man that he is at present. At the same time, he demonstrates that the past does not define the man but makes a stronger man out of him.

John Jiler delivers a strong performance. With originality and sensitivity, he explores feelings that all people have encountered. The director, Jeffrey Menaker, uses the black box theater to full effect, as Jiler's stage business transforms the space into different environments. Albert Ahronheim, who provides piano accompaniment, offers much-needed comic relief. Nina Rutsch's costume designs allow Jiler and Menaker to play a range of personalities.

In spite of all the trauma we experience, Jiler proves that laughter is the best medicine.

Through Sunday, July 13, at The Flea Downstairs, 41 White Street, (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111 (toll free),

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How Theater Failed America

What happens when the private meets the irrepressible? Ask Mike Daisey, the impressive monologist (Spalding Grey crossed with Chris Farley) who has taken the city by storm. If theater has failed, then nights like this are exceptions that hopefully don't prove the rule.

Photo/Ursa Waz

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Mike Daisey quickly gets to the point in How Theater Failed America, because his monologue has more important goals than the schaudenfraud desire to see Charles Isherwood, Disney, and the lot get theirs. His goal isn’t some global-warming summit filled with hot air and no answers (though he does get aboil): it’s How Theater Failed Mike Daisey. His vibrant drop-of-a-dime storytelling—always sincere—lands between the steadfast directness of Spalding Grey and the manic energy of Chris Farley.

Extemporaneous only in the sense that a well-rehearsed stand-up comedian still knows when to improvise, his sit-down manner is so direct and open—a real monologue, actually spoken to people rather than air—that he’s able to switch totally from talking about how subscriptions are “an opportunity to be randomly fucked in the ass” to how, finding himself back home post-college, he’d think of suicide nightly while doing the dead man’s float in an increasingly icy lake. Whether it’s the subtle combination of AJ Epstein’s focused lights and Jean-Michel Gregory’s sharpened direction, it becomes impossible to look away from the stage. Then again, it’s probably just Mike himself, pantomiming the way Sweden shits money into artists’ mouths one minute, declaiming the idiocy of the machine-like programming of regional theaters the next.

“I just wanted to hear it said,” he says, bringing an end to his tales of robotic regional models, flopped theater companies, and arts institutions that paradoxically take fewer risks the larger they grow. We’re there, to answer Mike’s question, because we just wanted to hear it said, too—and because he says it better than any of us: more creatively, more imaginatively, more hysterically. Would you run sports like theater? “Taking the field, a random bunch of motherfuckers. You’ve never met any of them before, but get excited because some of them have been in Law & Order!” Could you, a starving artist, do something as “super fucked up” as masturbating on stage for the “art” of Jean Genet’s The Balcony?

There’s a table and the stage separating him from us, but he speaks directly to us, and at least for one night, the theater has not failed.

How Theater Failed America (100 min.)
Barrow Street Theater (27 Barrow Street)
Tickets (212-239-6200): $30.00
Performances (through 6/22): Fri. & Sat. @ 7:30 | Sun. @ 7:00

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The East Village Chronicles, Evening B

The one act plays that make up The East Village Chronicles allow the audience to leap several decades in the space of evening, touring the various incarnations of one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The banter and chemistry between characters makes up for the lack of a larger theme.

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

All the plays of The East Village Chronicles share is a neighborhood—the Lower East Side—and some quick and loosely defined characters, but the warmth and humor displayed by the actors form a live biography of a neighborhood. There’s no overarching message or theme, just interactions between conflicting personalities. It’s the equivalent of a feel-good romantic comedy movie, all snappy banter and sympathetic characters.

The East Village Chronicles invites us to be time-traveling voyeurs, peering behind the closed doors of places like McGuirk’s Suicide Hall, a bar, as imagined by Dale Evans, where people go to have one last drink before the end. McGuirk (Scott Glascock), commands the stage from the opening seconds, stomping across the stage like he’s trying to kill it, threatening the audience with bodily harm if any “newfangled communication” devices dare to make a sound. Point made, he turns his wrath on the sawdust-covered floors and tables, their listless patrons, and a young busboy named Irving Berlin (Paul Hufker), a whining, nerdy shell of the songwriter he would become. Hufker makes a terrific nervous teenager, eternally cringing, as if constantly bracing his face from attack, even when McGuirk isn’t threatening him. He may have a great future ahead of him, but right now he’s a nervous but tenacious teenager, making up off-key songs on the spot (versions of his future hits), which while surprising for a man who wrote hits like “White Christmas,” fit his teenage self. The plot, which involves a reporter and a man threatening to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, is bad, but the chemistry (appropriate for a bar) is great.

Like its predecessor, Tracking Gertrude Treadwell is more engaging for the dynamic between the leads than it is for plot, or even for the connection to the neighborhood. The cat-and-mouse game between Burt McDermott (Chris Harcum) a ghost hunter, and the curator, is fascinating. Her narrowed eyes are the picture of skepticism, and she stands stiffly in a skirt , shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders, as she snidely comments on his work, angry that people are only interested in her museum for the ghost rumored to dwell within. She’s so committed to history that she sees ghost tours as an unseemly gimmick. When her comments aren’t enough to break his supernatural mission, the curator makes McDermott believe that he will be the victim of the supposed ghost, using McDermott’s passion against him. Heitman’s steely gaze, and slow deliberate movements had much of the audience convinced that maybe she could have been a ghost, and it’s fun to see her use them to go head-to-head with a supposed “expert.” This one, while fun, also seems to have less of a connection to the East Village as a neighborhood, being that it takes place entirely inside, with little reference to the streets outside.

The last play in the series is most successful at combining both engaging personalities and a true connection to the East Village. All Good Cretins Go To Heaven, by Kathleen Warnock, follows a CBGB regular named Lulu (Amy Fulgham) as she bemoans the way her former stomping grounds—once home to junkies and punks—have been converted to condos and Whole Foods. It’s certainly not the “New York Fucking City” that she remembers. Enter Joey Ramone (Will Cefalo), back from the dead to reminisce and offer encouragement. The arguments she makes are not new—of course the area has changed, of course the artists are gone, and yes, Whole Foods has replaced the corner bodega. But giving this frustration a name and a face as earnest as Fulgham’s: that saves this play from one-note nostalgia. Cefalo does a note-perfect Joey Ramone impression, long black hair in his sunglass-covered eyes, speaking like a teenager with one word answers, and careless shrugs of the shoulder. He’s an unlikely candidate for the voice of reason, but his reassurances that the music isn’t dead seem more realistic than all of Lulu’s whining. It took the voice of a dead singer to reassure at least one fan that the spirit of the place isn’t dead. It’s a sweet ending. There may not be much to think about, but it’s still fun.

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East Village Chronicles, Evening B is at the Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 East 4th Street. from June 5-22. Performances are Fridays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Call 212-995-5302 for tickets, or visit for more information.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Doll's House

Reviewed by Amy Freeman

These days, a woman can leave her husband whenever she wants and society barely blinks an eye. However, when Nora left her husband Torvald in Ibsen's A Doll's House, the scandal reverberated across the world. People often focus on that final scene as the entire play, with Nora's exit as Ibsen's one grand statement. But if that statement has lost its edge, what will speak to our world today?

Bated Breath Theatre Company presents a new version of A Doll's House, adapted and directed by Helene Kvale. The time and setting have been moved to 1950s America. Ibsen's “comfortable room, tastefully but not expensively furnished” has been changed to a spare chamber with padded walls, a doll house that serves as a fireplace and two boxes which fulfill the function of furniture. Nora is initially led onstage by a nurse, wearing only a white nightgown. She is dressed by the cast, suggesting that what is about to occur is a flashback and that Nora is now institutionalized.

I hoped and prayed this was not the case and my fears were dispelled by the production. Nora is not institutionalized: the dressing is just a visualization of her doll’s life, a life of imprisonment that matches her belief that all her life she has been a doll. Other literally portrayed images reinforce the idea that Nora's life is a delusion. It is more the stage directions that vary from Ibsen's original work than the language. Kvale abandons realism by having shadows loom large on the back wall of the stage, suggesting that Nora's past is coming back to haunt her. The celebrated Christmas tree is a coat tree from which she hangs ribbons. It is a sham tree, much as her life has been a sham life.

The text of the play remains essentially the same as Ibsen's original. The 1950s version of Nora tells the same vast number of lies to Torvald as the turn of the century Nora. She lies about eating macaroons, about visitors coming and going, and most importantly, about a secret loan she took out, on which she had to forge her father's signature. It is the lack of trust between the husband and wife and the way that it ultimately destroys their marriage that continues to resonate today. The performances of the actors playing Nora and Torvald (Heddy Lahmann and Lucas Daniels) heightens the language. Lahmann leaps onto boxes, dangles from the wall, bouncing between excitement for her plan and fear of being found out. Daniels comes off as the All-American husband, with squeaky clean looks and the tendency to infantalize and misunderstand his wife.

A Doll's House is not about the end, but about all that comes before, those years of lies and puppetry that Nora lived through. Ibsen wrote the original play 130 years ago and Bated Breath, by focusing on the relationship and ditching the realism, has succeeded in restaging it for today.


A Doll's House
Bated Breath Theatre Company @ Gene Frankel Theater (24 Bond Street)
Tickets ( $20.00
Performances (through 6/21): Wed. - Mon. at 7:30 plus Sat. and Sun. at 2:30

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist

The Church, as conflated with the charm of a Viagra huckster: what an incredibly sharp idea from Dan Trujillo. Isaac Butler's familiarity with the playwright helps him to keep all the different theatrical styles in a row, and his actors are comfortable enough with him and the script to flawlessly shift between the gaudy presentation and the intimate core.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Don't let the flimflam, vaudeville, exaggeration, or absurd plot shifts of The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist fool you. Dan Trujillo's an incredibly sharp playwright, conflating the cures of the Church with those of a Viagra huckster ("It'll put the stone/in your bone) in an opening so grossly comic that it makes the underlying conceit all the more subtle. Everyone--even the most ardent Atheist--believes in something, it's just a question of what, and by playing up the nature of plays (i.e., nothing is real and yet belief sustains the illusion), Trujillo succeeds in making an entertaining narrative about the desecration of a baby Jesus statue not into a question of faith, but of what faith is.

The play is well-served by director Isaac Butler's familiarity with both the playwright and actors, for the writing requires flawless shifts between the presentational and the intimate. Not only do all three actors (Daryl Lathon, Abe Goldfarb, and Jennifer Gordon Thomas) have the range necessary to switch from mock-selves ("slapstick realism," if you will, concerning a pissed off Jen and her arsenal of gag weapons) to colorful characters (watch Abe's head explode as he yells "stupid fools"), but they look as if they've doing this show for years. There are only a few places that look under-rehearsed, and that's the fault of unavoidable technical cues in the Under St. Mark's space that fail to capture the "universe-altering" magic that's interrupting the "show."

Everywhere else--even when speaking in tongues--The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist remains thoroughly engaging. The pace of the show helps, with the actors not only quickly transitioning between styles, but between their dramatization of The Atheist's downfall, and their running commentary on it. ("Crazy." "Yeah." "Sad, too." "A little funny." "But sad." "Mostly crazy.") This glib buoyancy is what helps Trujillo to zing us all, with interesting religious arguments (e.g., the existence of cold, dark, or evil) sandwiched between sight gags, like the "unbroken" egg (whoops) or Daryl's "magic coat."

A professor of mine once said that the purpose of comedy was to lift the weight of the world off one's shoulders, if only for a moment. There are many who find that same release in religion. How appropriate, then, to find a show willing to try both at once: that's a medicine worth taking.

The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist
(80 min.)
UNDER St. Marks (91 St. Marks Place)

Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00

Performances (through 6/21): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8:00

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Vincent River

Philip Ridley has set up his show to make words drop like bombshells, his careful control an attempt to simulate suspense. But the game's up after the first ten minutes, and instead of focusing on the characters--deeply written, and excellently acted--he keeps coming back to a procedural plot. Ultimately, that makes Vincent River more a lazy river than a whitewater thrill.

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Despite the tumultuous subject matter of Vincent River--a boy, haunted by the body he discovered, confronts the victim's mother--the play is more like a lazy river than whitewater. Philip Ridley has written two very deep and human characters, Davey and Anita, but in his rush to have them spill their guts, he fails to make a connection, and the play runs aground on that shallowness. For a while, Deborah Findlay and Mark Field do enough to steer the show onward, but the last, inevitable third, in which we find out how Davey was involved in the murder, is so calm and removed that it fails to have an impact.

The problem lies in the narrative, which forces revelation, rather than honestly finding it. Anita, a shrewd 53-year-old woman, strong and self-reliant, acts like it's an interrogation, grilling Davey for information. She cross-examines the story he's telling: first, that he has a girlfriend (the body was found in a bathroom known for random gay hookups), and then his reasons for taking her on a "shortcut" through Shoreditch Rise. When that fails, she proposes that they trade information--he'll tell her about the body, and she'll tell him what Vincent was like--so that they can both stop feeling so haunted. But even that's not enough: she guides him--hypnotherapy like--through his memories, and he gives her pot and does reflexology to loosen her up. But it's artificial, and the finale comes across like something out of The Usual Suspects, as she pieces enough of his lies together to prod him toward the truth--even Davey says "the penny dropped."

It's understandable for Philip Ridley to want his words to drop like bombshells, but in rigging the flow of information, he ends up bottling humanity. There are short bursts of it every time the story gets away from describing Vincent's death, but despite the considerable skills of the actors, they can't steer the play away from its procedural heart.

Vincent River (90 min.)
59E59: Theater B (59 East 59th Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $37.50
Performances (through 6/29): Tues. - Sat. @ 8:15 | Sat. @ 2:15 | Sun. @ 3:15 & 7:15

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Coming Home

Living Image Arts explores the theme of coming home to unusual and uneasy circumstances with the presentation of three one acts. Although each play has good subject matter, Sparrow stands out as a rollercoaster of emotions, strong writing and solid performances.

Banaue Miclat and Luz Lor in "Sparrow"

Review by Cindy Pierre

Some homecomings are punctuated with streamers, banners, parties and happy tears. For the characters in Coming Home, homecomings represent fear, danger, a break in routine, and picking up where things were left off. Living Image Arts, now in residence at Theatre Row, takes on serious issues and upholds their mission of producing theater of substance by presenting three plays with heavy themes. But not all of these plays are created equal. Some fare better than others in driving the message home.

In Counting, Wanda (Maria Gabriele, also the playwright), an inmate being released from prison tries to impart wisdom and a way to cope with doing time to Gianna (Maria Elizabeth Ryan), an incoming prisoner. It's a bit of a device to have the two interact for such a long period of time, let alone share the same space, but the premise works to bolster the "show 'em the ropes" dynamic. Wanda introduces "counting," the process of assigning numeric values to anything and everything in the prison, as a way to pass time and avoid insanity. Wanda has gotten so good at it that she considers it a talent on the inside, but wonders what good it will do in the outside world with calculators and other forms of measurement. Although both women committed similar crimes (embezzlement), they share little common ground, and it takes a while before they begin to understand each other. Despite having experienced what Gianna is about to go through, Wanda's attitude starts off very cool and cavalier toward poor Gianna, sitting pregnant with fear. Under Christine Farrell's tense and terse direction, Gabriele is commanding while Ryan's vulnerability is a sight to see. The script may have some issues with plausibility and the pacing may be a little slow, but the show does provide a nice juxtaposition between the institutionalized and the recently free.

Linda Faigao-Hall's Sparrow, the strongest show of the trio, is about the complex, 10-year reunion in the Philippines between two former best friends, Tina (Luz Lor), an immigrant to the United States and Cris (Banaue Miclat), a former poet turned Maoist rebel. Faigao-Hall's writing is sharp, clever, and intense, executed wonderfully by Lor and Miclat under Ian Morgan's strong direction, but Lor exceeds Miclat in emotional and comedic expression. The script presents several meaty conflicts that include a broken friendship and a militant agenda. The former is a result of Cris welshing on a promise to join Tina in the U.S. to realize their artistic dreams: Cris was supposed to write her poetry while Tina provided the illustrations. Unfortunately, Cris's need to fight the capitalist regime--a gruesome, too-extreme story about soldiers butchering members of her family--superseded her desire to participate in the arts. Tina, with face clenched and dialogue sharply delivered, is both visibly and audibly still angered by the betrayal, but Cris maintains that she made the best possible choice. Cris calms Tina down by reminding her of the bond that they used to have, and in so doing, the actors make a smooth transition from a strained meeting to a friendly one. But Faigao-Hall doesn't let the moment remain saccharine for long, changing the mood from light to dark again whenever the pair stop seeing eye to eye. The waves may be frequent, but they are strong, and carry the audience through a riveting story. The only wrinkle in the script is the sharp transition from a cold reunion to a political agenda. Otherwise, with fresh, rarely dramatized material, a strong cast, and emotional turbulence, Sparrow is a powerful show.

The final show, William K. Powers' Last Call on Bourbon Street, is also the weakest. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, bar owner Benny (Tyler Bunch) and his regular customers and friends struggle to keep the Bourbon Street Bar and Grille open. FEMA is not coming through, the roof has been damaged by water, and business has gone south, but they still struggle on. There's Lady Beignet (Andrew Eisenman), an elegant drag queen; Pops (Todd Davis), Benny's accountant; and prostitutes Sally Ann (Raushanah Simmons), a statuesque and sassy African-American and Topsy (Amanda Bruton), an under-confident, mouthy and red heels-wearing vixen. When Mr. Herman (Stu Richel), an insurance agent, comes around to appraise the damage to the bar, they're all hell bent on telling him why New Orleans is so special to them, and why they're determined to stick around. Unfortunately, that's where the biggest problem lies. The play's plot turns into a preachy drama whose back to back stories are not arranged with any creativity or pacing. These sob-stories each have a Scarlett O'Hara "I'll never go hungry again" ending, and that gets tiresome. Benny's tale of the National Guard is a good one: in small doses, the tragedy is there. Instead, there's an avalanche of woe. Through dialogue, we understand that Powers wants to use a "what you see is not always what you get" mantra for this production, but there's very little mystery here. Last Call on Bourbon Street has great subject matter, but it's ultimately wasted on excess and predictability.

Set designer Sarah B. Brown does a good job of uniting the three plays with multi-functional wooden plats that serve as the backdrop for each play. In Counting, they serve nicely as cement prison walls, in Last Call on Bourbon Street, they act as the walls of a bar and blend right into the scene, but in Sparrow, they struggle to be jungle background. The plays may have different degrees of success, but the production is conceived well and in turn, inspires thought from the audience. Coming Home may not be perfect, but it's still a memorable contribution to theater and a stone in Living Image Arts' sound foundation.
Through June 15th. Tickets: $18. 212-279-4200 or The Lion Theater at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street.

Friday, June 13, 2008

In Search of My Father: Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins

Famous far and wide, Cleveland radio DJ Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins was ahead of the curve socially and musically, winning the hearts of both wealthy advertisers and his community with his sense for the latest jazz and R & B. He was well known to many, except the person to whom his existence mattered most: his son.

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

William Allen Taylor, star of the one-man show In Search of My Father: Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins, never knew his father, and his story is an attempt to assemble the puzzle that was his life, recreating his identity through conversations with those who did know him. But can anecdotes make up for all those lost years of a relationship? If your father was famous to everyone but you, is it still possible to find a connection? Taylor is more successful at portraying the various characters in his life (and himself at different ages)—showcasing his skills as a chameleon—than he is at answering these larger questions, but the rhythmic dialogue and physical shifts between characters, allows the audience to experience a personal and engaging journey, complemented by a selection of some great jazz and R & B.

Taylor deftly navigates the small black-box stage and the snappy script, reenacting his conversations with the friends, lovers, family members, and neighbors of his father. These moments piece together the story of his father, and try to provide some clarity and meaning to Taylor’s own life. With the set fixed as a radio station, a home, and a bar (small objects and space create a sense of separation), it’s up to the actor, more than the set, to make the audience believe anything is changing.

The change begins as The Kid—a caricature of Hawkins, a smooth-talking DJ with a fedora and dark glasses who is prone to rhymes, dances, and thigh slapping laughter—angrily taunts a man he calls Big Papa. Next up, a dead-on impression of himself as a child, all breathless questions (“Can I ride my bike? Go to the store? Swim? Mama, please?”), swinging legs, pouty lips, nervous energy, and tons of questions, most of which ask why—among a variety of surrogate uncles (all of whom he does impressions of)—none of the men in his life are actually his father. For the rest of the play, Taylor alternates between playing himself, and the various characters he meets along the way.

In addition to presenting shape and personality shifting challenges for the actor, a one-man show also presents writing difficulties—how much time should each character get? Who is more important for telling the story? How should all of them talk? In this case, the writing mostly gets it right, creating some staccato rhymes for the DJs, drunken speeches from some of Hawkins’ old friends, good-natured worrying and "boy you better get your butt back in here" attitude from Taylor’s mother. While his mother is mostly a balanced blend of harsh love, nervous but straightforward, other female characters are painted in much broader strokes. Delores, the wife of an old friend of Hawkins, is all limp wrists and twitching mouths, and with her big, clip-on earrings looks like a drag queen’s vision of a 60-year-old woman.

Dances between character transitions help set the boundary between identities, as does the physical use of space—certain characters only appear in certain places. His mother is always on stage left and often performing domestic tasks. His father’s best friend remains on stage right, using just a few glasses behind a bench to show that he owns a bar, and Taylor is dancer-like in his control over his body, shuffling, spinning, twisting, doing dances from the jerk to the mashed potato, to show everyone. That, ultimately, is a bit of a problem: as good as the acting and dialogue are, the show shows too much, and would do well to cut down on some of the repetitive characters, like Delores.

Allen visits his father’s grave, and realizes that closure simply isn’t an option as long as his father is dead. It’s not an uplifting ending, but a realistic one. But the second act finds Taylor acting in circles, going back and forth between the same characters, which begin to lose their individuality. The show never quite overcomes the writing challenges a one-man show presents, but it is saved by the acting and the excellent soundtrack of jazz, blues, R&B, an endless stream of amazing music, the soundtrack to Taylor’s personal discovery.


In Search of My Father:” Walkin Talkin Bill Hawkins is at the Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement, 466 Grand Street June 5-29. Tickets available at, or at the Abrons Arts Center Box Office.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Hired Man

Whatever Melvin Bragg's lost in his condensed adaptation of his epic The Hired Man has been partially made up for thanks to Howard Goodall's music, a lively bunch of chorus numbers and operatically light chamber music solos that nonetheless pack a punch. But director Daniel Buckroyd is all business, and substitutes intimacy for tableaux, ending up with more of a revue than a musical.

Photo/Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

What happens when an epic story--Melvyn Bragg's The Hired Man, the first part of the Cumbrian Trilogy--gets compressed into a chamber musical? You get a show bursting at the seams with energy, but one that's stuck at the seams all the same. The musical is blessed with Howard Goodall's catchy folk songs (from the frothy melody of "Get Up And Go Lad" and the percussive shoveling of "Work") and individuals like Richard Colvin and Claire Sundin who are more than capable of switching into the operatic rage and sweet sorrow of songs like "What Would You Say To Your Son?" and "Fade Away." However, Bragg's adaptation condenses so much that the scenes become melodramatically weak, and the songs, barely tethered to the text, float through the audience more like a themed revue than a show. And though it's hard to say that matters when the counter-melodies of four different songs explode into a rousing finale, the show is too glibly forced: hell, the song "War" could very well be part of a musical reenactment of the same.

The show opens in 1898, with a glimpse of life before unions: workers like John (Colvin) cluster in hiring fairs, looking for work, but without the power to negotiate much of a living wage. ("Work's the only thing that's cheap these days," says one farmer.) Desperate to support his pregnant wife, Emily (Sundin), John contracts himself to Pennington (Andrew Wheaton), unaware that his wife has a history with Pennington's son, Jackson (Simon Pontin), the roguish antihero. It's not a particularly strong first act: the scenes are melodramatic, not memorable, and many of the songs, light and frilly, bleed into one another.

That's the cost of such compression: Bragg wants to give a wide cross-section of life, and so one of John's brothers, Isaac (Stuart Ward), introduces us to Westmorland-style wrestling, while the other, Seth (David Stothard), sows the seeds of unionizing dissent. We meet the girlish Sally (Katie Howell), only long enough for her to joke about marriage, and Jackson turns his adventurous eyes from his farming father's native land to the foreign adventures of the army, there's no weight to any of his words. And while Act II delivers substance to some of these topics, it does so by simply skipping from event to event, giving up on development altogether.

Ultimately, the show too often feels as reductive as the set's painted backdrop, and Daniel Buckroyd's direction is too stiffly staged as a tableaux. Of course, reducing something so epic still leaves The Hired Man standing tall above a great many of this season's off-Broadway musicals; I just hoped for something a little less businesslike, and a little more soulful.

The Hired Man (130 min., 1 intermission)
New Perspectives @ 59E59: Theater B (59 East 59th Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $50.00
Performances (through 6/29): Tues. - Sat. @ 8 |Sat. @ 2 | Sun. @ 2 & 7

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Hired Man

Reviewed by Eric Miles Glover

Due to the genius of the New Perspectives Theatre Company, Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall's The Hired Man receives a chamber-music production during the Fifth Annual Brits Off Broadway Festival. The musical, which was originally produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber during its original West End premiere in 1984, chronicles the day-to-day experiences of the working class in Cumbria, a rural community, at the turn of the twentieth century in England. The Hired Man relates the effects of industrialization on farmers, who must abandon farming in order to keep pace with the times. The musical also chronicles the horrors of World War I from a rural perspective.

The score, by far, is the strongest element. The Hired Man begins with the spirited "Song of the Hired Men," which introduces several colorful characters who will captivate and entertain the theatergoer. The momentum of that establishing number leads to the lovely duet "Now For the First Time," which throws a young couple into the mix, their day-to-day experiences the focus of The Hired Man. Though the couple vows to make the best of life as farmer and wife, the trials and tribulations in England between 1898 and 1920 put love to the ultimate test. The score is full of numbers--including "Work" and "Men of Stone"--that capture the highs and lows of a rural community on the teetering edge of disintegration.

However, the book is weak. A lot of information is revealed about characters that is neither developed nor substantiated in the scenes that precede the musical numbers. The characters, at times, appear to be highly sensitive people, but that show of emotion--so fundamental to the storytelling--seldom comes from anything other than the music. The lack of a strong script makes the score feel more like a song cycle or revue than a full-on musical.

The ensemble compensates for the weak book with its acting and singing. The director, Daniel Buckroyd, has made wonderful use Juliet Shillingford's scenic design. For example, a series of platforms becomes a mountaintop, mine, dining-room table, and trench, among other inanimate objects. With assistance from the musical director, Richard Reeday, Buckroyd makes an ensemble of eight seem larger. As John, Richard Colvin makes a strong impression. His acting is powerful and robust, deftly navigating the highs and lows that his character experiences. His singing is phenomenal. As Emily, Claire Sundin delivers a master class of sorts in musical theater performance. Though she does not have the strongest singing voice in the ensemble, she uses her limitations to embody the rawness of the character that she plays. The other six actors--Lee Foster, Katie Howell, Simon Pontin, David Stothard, Stuart Ward, Andrew Wheaton--exceed expectation.

A treat, this production is on its way to becoming the gem of Brits Off Broadway.

Through June 29 at Theater A, 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, (212) 279-4200,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life, you’ll regret not seeing this movie fan’s delight which probes that love and others.


Arden (Katie Cappiello) and Johnny (Brandon Scott) have been sleeping together and bouncing movie trivia off each other for four years, without the relationship ever getting serious. Now Johnny’s planning to move to Los Angeles with his new girlfriend, Natalie (Nila K. Leigh), also a film buff but one whose tastes for the French New Wave clash with Arden’s love for Tarantino and Reds. One night in Johnny’s dirty apartment, the two joust and spar like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with the participation of Natalie and Johnny’s roommate, Plato (Christian Durso), who come in mid-argument.

Since the characters of Cinephilia connect on movies, they are unable to communicate without quoting from movies over and over again -- movies from Annie Hall to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, from Empire Records to Good Will Hunting. These are the sort of folks who joke about bad sex: “It could be worse, I could be watching Pearl Harbor right now.” Johnny’s TV set is tuned to Last Year at Marienbad and Plato describes the moment when, leaving a one-night-stand’s apartment, he catches a glimpse of an original poster for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and finds it difficult to go. Writer Leslye Headland’s long nights cuddling with her DVD player have clearly paid off. (One wonders how she will so exhaustively research the other plays in her deadly sins series, of which this play -- representing lust -- is the first.) My favorite joke was when Natalie, coming up the stairs to Johnny’s apartment, calls offstage “New York Herald Tribune!" It's a moment which immediately sets up the contrast between Natalie and Arden, who have not yet met, while sealing its film cred.

This game of conversational brinkmanship between them has created a sort of emotional shorthand between Arden and Johnny that makes it impossible for them to confront the consequences of their actions. They may begin the play on opposite ends of the narrow stage but, thanks to Michael Silverstone’s expert direction, are unable to get away from one another. Johnny squirms when Arden tries to use this physical proximity to assert their connection, and Natalie doesn’t understand their game, which frustrates her. They can admit to loving the movies; loving each other is harder. (In addition, Plato seems to be nourishing some crush on both his roommate and Arden, which drives him to distraction.) For our sad young cinematic friends, movie mania is a too-comfortable substitute for the real decisions they have to make about who to trust, but Cappiello and Scott’s easy chemistry makes it believable.

Through June 15 at the Studio Theatre, Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street)
For more information and to reserve tickets, visit

Monday, June 09, 2008


Loosely based on the play Philoctetes by Sophocles, Fever is a homoerotic, modernized interpretation of the story minus the bow and poisoned arrows. Although it is passionate and uses sound effects that are chilling and inspired, it suffiers from uneven acting, it's way too long and it's very wordy. There are some good ideas, but ultimately the pacing is too slow and the sentiments are too preachy.
Gregory Thornsbury and Rick Lattimer

Photo/Dave McCracken

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Fever isn't your garden-variety interpretation of Philoctetes. (There's not even really a garden, considering how rarely Sophocles's ancient play is revived.) Dave McCracken's take on the Greek hero, beefed up with homoerotic overtones and passion, and overdosing on philosophy, is an imaginative and well-intentioned but ultimately overcooked and flawed version of the classic.

Fever has a lot of heart, though. The opening entices the senses with airy sound effects and a large beige carpet meant to represent a sand dune. At once, we're transported to a forgotten, isolated land. Instead of togas, sandals, and armor, McCracken's warriors wear black slacks, T-shirts, and fingerless leather gloves. The men may not look or act like traditional warriors on a battlefield, but Atrox's (Greg Thornsbury) and Virtus's (Rick Lattimer) biker gear suggests strength. As they talk (and talk and talk) about what they plan to do with Bonitas (McCracken's Philoctetes/Latin lover hybrid) when they find him, Thornsbury acts like a cartoonish warrior, his face so full of grimaces and smiles that he looks like Popeye. Lattimer's Virtus employs mental and emotional tactics instead, ready to tackle Bonitas with soft, angelic looks and false earnestness. Together, Virtus and Atrox look like the sort of soldiers you might find at a BDSM party. McCracken's direction has Thornsbury gazing frequently into the audience instead of at Lattimer, which weakens his motivational speeches and duplicitous ways. But Virtus still carries on with Atrox's bidding. At first.

Instead of the regal and commanding figure that he was expecting, Virtus finds that Bonitas has been made quite vulnerable from his pain and living conditions. Bonitas' clothes are tattered and torn, his leg is wrapped in a tourniquet, and hygiene--forget it. Belmonte's Latin accent allows him to bring real strength and emotion to his scenes, but at the same time, threatens to obscure his speech. The more he rages, the less intelligible he is.

The fight choreography, although done in a large, slow-paced manner that suggests that gods are fighting (Think of Clash of the Titans), is more romantic wrestling than epic action. The play is awash in sex--badly acted in some spots--and that makes it hard to take the production seriously. Luckily, every time things drift off course, the fantastically hellish side effects anchor the audience back to the plot. Poor Bonitas paints himself as an immortal cesspool of emotional issues and a filter for amplified negative energy. Alliances are formed, questioned, and then changed, all within the span of a very long Act One.

Act Two, significantly shorter, has the most interesting ideas. We find out that Atrox is responsible for creating religion (a creative idea in and of itself, but executed poorly, more of a bash of Christianity than anything). The comparison between Horus and Jesus and the notion that Bonitas began the Crusades stand out as especially imaginative, but the attack on organized religion should have been introduced in Act One (a lot more time to develop there), and not stuffed into Act Two. McCracken often intersects the mythical world with the real one in dialogue, but doesn't always meld the two well. A lot of trickery and deceit is bandied back and forth until the final, mostly satisfying conclusion.

According to McCracken, Fever is about "the struggle between good and evil for the souls of mankind," but it isn't always clear which character is playing good, evil, or mankind. The audience may want to sympathize with Bonitas one minute, but then switch to Virtus, and back. In so doing, the play utilizes the fickleness of mankind as well, to switch between the two ideals. Fever may be too long, preachy, slow-paced, and overbaked, but it does represent the human condition. If it had taken the shortest and most direct path to achieve that, it would have fared a lot better.
Through July 5th. Tickets: $25. The Dionysus Theater's L'IL PEACH 270 West 36th Street(at 8th Ave.)New York City, NY 10018
(646) 621-5171,

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Leslye Headland's Cinephilia is filled with charmingly accurate conversations for her young characters, using an exacerbated language that heightens youthful habits in a way that both mocks and idealizes them. But by the time this two-hour piece finally finishes, it feels less like a play exploring quarter-life crises and how we can turn into meta-adults, and more like an example of how well Headland writes dialogue.

Review by Amanda Cooper

There are benefits to twenty-somethings writing plays about twenty-somethings. They certainly know their subjects, and through the powers of observation and personal experience, can write fiercely accurate dialogue. New (and young) playwright Leslye Headland, who penned Cinephilia, writes charmingly accurate conversations for her young characters, giving them an exacerbated use of language that heightens youthful habits in a way that both mocks and idealizes them. But not much happens here, both in the way of action and self-discovery, which ultimately makes Cinephilia less robust of a theater experience: instead, it is part character study, part exercise in film quoting.

The play takes place entirely in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in an apartment having few creature comforts, and plenty of mess. As the play opens, it's clear from their clothing (or lack thereof) that Arden (Katie Cappiello) and Johnny (Brandon Scott) are in a post-coital physical high. Though these two are physically comfortable with each other, and have known one another for some time, there is a lack of personal connection, or understanding – no matter how hard the neurotic Arden tries.

Through conversations that bounce back and forth between the quoting and enactment of film dialogue, and the probing dead-end attempts by Arden to define their relationship, a slight scenario is sketched out: After sleeping together for years, Arden wants more from the socially inward Johnny, who has met someone else he's planning to move to L.A. with.

About half an hour in, Johnny's roommate Plato (Christian Durso) enters, asking for attention and validation (as non-acting twenty-something actors stuck waitering are wont to do) and providing more possibilities for the film quotes. Natalie (Nila K Leigh), Johnny’s new infatuation, soon follows, but she is oblivious to who Arden is. Headland takes advantage of the awkward scenario, poking at the tension with entertaining results. But by the time this two-hour piece finally finishes, it feels less like a play exploring quarter-life crises and how we can turn into meta-adults, and more like an example of how cleverly Headland can write youthful dialogue.

The performances here are solid, but the two male actors are the ones most comfortable on stage, especially in comparison to Cappiello’s Arden, who can't stand still, or leave her hair alone, for more than thirty seconds. The production quality is high, especially the set – a railroad-style apartment that takes up the entire length of the theater space, pushing the audience into a couple rows all along the border. Also notable is the director, who allows the movement and relationships here to exude angsty, not-quite youth action.

In reading the program, it becomes clear the entire creative team are friends, and mostly friends from NYU undergraduate theater programs. It’s great that they’re all working together, but perhaps this is also why the piece ultimately feels more like an exercise, and a bit insular in nature. As the ending fades, feeling eerily (and purposefully) like the beginning, Cinephilia seems - much like the movie quotes sprinkled about it - to float out as quickly as it floated in.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Jewish

A pair of youngsters struggle with their Jewish identity, hindered and helped by the Devil and King Solomon as they journey on. Although there are some talented singers in the cast, their performances are not enough to save this talky, slow-paced and misguided musical.

Nathan Kay and Kailand Novak

Photo credit: Kampfire Films PR

Review by Cindy Pierre

What do you do when you're not happy with the religion, culture, race, or heritage that you were born into? Do you sit and pout, try to slide by under an assumed identity, or force yourself to accept it? If you're Chaim (Nathan Kay) and Sherianna (Alexa Rose Burger) in Don't Worry, Be Jewish, you sing your way through the issue until you come to a place of acceptance. But choosing the right path won't be easy, especially with the Devil (Kailand Novak) and King Solomon (Michell Sapoff) sitting on their shoulders.

Mark Kleyner's Don't Worry, Be Jewish opens with the actors spread out across a photography studio, primping and posing for wedding photos. However, the mini-microphones not only make them look like they're on a set for a music video or concert, they make them unable to control the volume levels (that are sometimes thundering) during dialogue. As Chaim, Kay establishes himself early as the star of the show, with his slightly hammy personality and good singing voice. He fancies Sherianna, who is about to become a member of the family, a cute strawberry blonde uncomfortable with her own Jewishness.

It's not self-hatred that drives Sherianna's rejection of her roots. Instead, it's her pollyanna- type ideals about living a stress- and heartache-free life by renouncing her heritage. Weighing in is the Devil (a ghastly portrayal that can be attributed more to the directing than Novak), clad in a bright red jacket and over the top cackle, and King Solomon, looking as earnest and as humble as he possibly can in white. Between the predominantly dialogue-driven show (not good for a production calling itself a musical), there are few musical numbers that are memorable, but "What Would Life Be Without The Magic?" stands out as a good one. In addition to the leads, Elina Rakhlin sets herself apart with a hearty, full voice that is mature for her young age.

Sadly, some of the production elements weaken the show greatly. Choreography, light and sound effects are off for most of the performance, and the set is uninspired. About an hour into the show, the plot devolves from trying to entertain to an anti-antisemitism sermon delivered by the Devil, no less. This argument may be germane to the plot, but it seems to be thrown in as a last ditch effort to make the show substantial. It doesn't work.

Don't Worry, Be Jewish may be an ode to Jewish pride, but it's done in a lackluster, ill-executed manner. Kleyner may be celebrating the culture, customs, and music, but the audience needs a heckuva lot more to come to the party.

Through June 4th. Tickets: $25-$75. The Promise Theater, 316 East 91st Street, New York, NY

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Coming Home

Living Image Arts’s presentation of one-act plays, Coming Home, asks (by way of a byline), “Have you ever come back to a home you don’t remember?” and promises to explore the question with three “poignant, powerful, and funny” plays. The program is not without its twinklings of inspiration, but the lack of sophistication in all three pieces produces a plodding, tedious, and flat evening.

Reviewed by Sarah Krasnow

Coming Home is not without twinklings of inspiration, but on the whole, its lack of sophistication produces a plodding, tedious, and flat evening. The first, "Counting," looks at first like it might add up, using numbers to underscore the characters’ emotions, particularly their loneliness (the piece deals with Wanda, on her way out of jail, and Gianna, on her way in). Wanda storms around the holding cell, her toughness and been-there-done-that attitude – a real veteran of the slammer – terrifying the timid Gianna, who only opens up once Wanda tells her about the counting games she played to pass the time in jail. A friendship buds, and both scared women come out a little stronger, able to plug on.

However, it's hard to follow this, due to Maria Gabriele’s often incomprehensible portrayal of Wanda (strange, since she wrote the play). Sometimes hurling out words in a thuggish dialect and sometimes swaying wistfully like a withered beauty queen, Gabriele's doing too much: a half-hearted try at an accent, lines delivered at maniacal speed, and weird, rap-like speech patterns. Wanda’s suburban mall attire and obsession with Gucci pumps aim to establish her as materialistic with a taste for glamour, but these features aren’t enough to make sense of the more bizarre characteristics bestowed on her in Gabriele’s performance. We understand that Gianna is supposed to fear Wanda’s aggressiveness, but in this case it would make more sense if Gianna simply raised her eyebrows at the histrionic loony sharing her cell. Still, with the exception of a few lapses in logic (one random numbers game produces a profile of Wanda’s husband…how?), “Counting” has potential, at least for Gabriele-as-playwright.

In “Sparrow,” the second and slightly longer play, two Philippine-born friends meet in their native country, one (Tina) having recently returned from New York City, and the other (Cris) having joined a Maoist guerilla group known as the Sparrows. They spend a few minutes summarizing the circumstances of their rendezvous, touch on school day memories, and part having renewed their bond, but with new danger in their lives. Although it offers something fresh in terms of setting and subject (like the amusing story about the butterfly that flew up the teacher’s skirt and never came out), “Sparrow” never blossoms, hindered by the underdeveloped and unconvincing dialogue and worsened by the play’s reliance on little else to move forward. Tina chatters in vague “I dunno’s”; they might represent her New York indifference, but her claim that if only Cris had followed her to Manhattan, the two of them could easily have had fruitful careers as an artist and a poet, makes me wonder if she spent her New York years on hallucinogens. Cris's stories and slogans could have been taken from a propaganda pamphlet – indicative of her lifestyle perhaps, but when was the last time, looking for a good read, you devoured the Little Red Book? (That's about as far as one's interest in this play goes.)

The very title of the final play, “Last Call on Bourbon Street” primes us for a lack of subtlety, but I doubt anything could fully prepare an audience for the storm of exposition that blows in like Katrina’s winds, washing subtext away with the Lower Ninth Ward. Here, each stock character of New Orleans’s seedy side airs his or her post-storm grievances, which sound lifted from that month’s newspaper headlines, and the whole thing proceeds like a grade school current events project presented as a play. As Topsy the prostitute, Amanda Bruton provides a professional air of energy and precision that comes as a monumental relief amidst the halting delivery of lines and dead air (some praise for the drag queen who tries to seduce the insurance investigator).
More than anything, Coming Home will probably direct your thoughts towards going home. See if you remember these plays once you get there.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Reasons To Be Pretty

Reasons To Be Pretty is certainly the laziest of Neil LaBute's three body-image themed plays (also The Shape of Things and Fat Pig). Thomas Sadoski comes across genuinely as Greg, but the other three actors seem to just be working on him, with no regard or care for self. Some awkward, reiterative monologues muddy things further, but as with all of LaBute's work, artifice, made sharp enough, can still be highly entertaining: even blanks pop when they go off.

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

It's not hard to put yourself in the shoes of Neil LaBute's latest accidental fuck-up of a character, Greg. Just have a few drinks with your best friend (call him Kent), and then, while talking about the undeniably hot chick who just started working the register, slur something about how, yeah, she's hot, your girlfriend of four years isn't pretty like that. It's a shame that Kent's wife, Carly, is not only in the next room, listening, but that her best friend, Steph, happens to be your girlfriend, but that should at least clue you in on why, as the lights rise, you're stuck in a fight you can't win.

Reasons To Be Pretty takes Greg's words at face value; the question the audience has to determine, as Steph calls him out on what she perceives to be the relationship-ending honesty of his words, is whether or not LaBute is capable of writing the truth. The answer: yes, and no. LaBute writes in a sort of hyper-realism, in which the situations are all too genuine, but the dialogue surrounding them is so crisp that it tends to create artificialities that stifle any genuine emotion: protecting the characters with patter. His prolific writing makes him a lazy playwright: the character in the center is real, but everyone else is just acting on him: they feed him pap, exit the stage, and cease to exist.

Reasons To Be Pretty ends up the same: as Greg, Thomas Sadoski is a marvelously human lead. He weathers Hurricane Steph's questions with a justly confused attitude, he tries to win her back with the best intentions, he puts on a happy face (and lets it crack) trying to deal with her new boyfriend and Kent's infidelities, and tries to do the right thing, even though the books he's read don't tell him what that is. However, Alison Pill's rabid rage against him comes out of nowhere: she does brilliantly to give Greg something to react to, and her acting is cool as ice, but it lacks humanity. (She gets some of it back in the second act, but by then, it seems like she's just putting us on.) The same, more so, for Pablo Schreiber's turn as Kent: he acts as if he knows he's the asshole, and he wallows in that, muddying up any truth or clear intent to his actions. He's still acting (I hope: this seems to be a stereotype for him), but it's all focused on Greg; nothing touches him. Surprisingly, LaBute leaves something in the tank for Carly, and Piper Perabo snaps it up, sharply transitioning from a walking punchline ("That's why they call it night," she says. "Because it's dark.") into the sort of woman who is smart enough to know that she's a little stupid, and brave enough to face those feelings.

Perhaps understanding the limitations of the play, Terry Kinney directs to LaBute's strengths: the production is extremely well-oiled, from the swift scene changes to the rapid-fire dialogue, which pops even when it's firing blanks. The set--a room boxed in by Wal-Mart-like storage--is the only ambiguous thing in the play; everything else is sharp and to the point. And that's perhaps what LaBute most needs to work on: Reasons To Be Pretty suffers from the inclusion of four aimless monologues (one per character) that are meant to illuminate, but only reiterate what's already coming across in the scenes. This is that laziness back to haunt LaBute: if he knew how to write more developed characters, perhaps he'd be able to trust them a little more.

Reasons To Be Pretty (130 min., 1 intermission)
MCC @ Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $59.00*
Performances (through 7/5): Tues. & Wed. @ 7 | Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. @ 2 | Sun. @ 3
*$20 if you're under 30; sold based on availability at 6:00, day of.