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