According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Traveling Players

The opening show of La Mama's 48th season, a play-within-a-play modern adaptation of Euripides' The Trojan Women by puppet savant Theodora Skipitares, makes for a visually impressive, if uneven, production.

Reviewed by Ryan Max

One by one, four enormous, gorgeous puppets rumble onto the stage. As each emerges at intervals throughout they play, she delivers a monologue detailing cruelties she has suffered, and then gives birth to a life-size puppet (strapped to an actor) that performs scenes from Euripides's The Trojan Women. The four giant puppets each represent a modern-day feminist: three from Africa and one, a young girl named Shamsia, from the Middle East. Shamsia's tale, which appeared in The New York Times earlier this year, is a harrowing one: on her way to school one day, bandits on motorcycles stop her and ask her if she is on her way to school and then spray her in the face with acid. Coming from a 13-foot-tall puppet, the monologue has an arresting and surreal sense of doom.

But her story also illuminates the serious pitfalls of hastily tying an ancient play with ripped-from-the-headlines vignettes. The Traveling Players, in its highly incongruous halves, fails to make a good case for its appropriation of Trojan Women. The monologues from the giant puppets and Euripides' tale are connected only very loosely: they are both about women being treated like dirt. With few other complementary aspects in the two pieces, little is gained from uniting the two in such an intimate theatrical space.

Deficiencies aside, the delights of the play—and there are many—are mostly visual. The lighting, alternating between stark, cold tones and warmer hues, is a gorgeous compliment to Theodora Skipitares’ hypnotic puppets. The life-sized puppets acting out The Trojan Women, affixed to actors wearing dark, full-body suits, are manipulated so gracefully they take on lives of their own. Hecuba, in particular, is entrancing as the fallen queen of Troy. And then there are Ms. Skipitares’ 13-feet-tall puppets, the stunning giants that sermonize about modern horrors faced by women. Their large, unwieldy nature relegates them to the background, but their looming presence is inescapable.

The play also attempts to integrate some more scattershot elements with varied success. The musical score, best described as "electro-tribal," provides a perfect atmosphere. An entertaining mini-play, acted out with small wooden puppets on sticks, tells the tale of a group of African women doing battle with the Chevron oil company. But a carnival barker that introduces each of the giant puppets before they roll out from backstage clashes with the solemn tone of the stories he sets up.

In the end the lack of purpose overwhelms the obvious skill and craftsmanship of the production. The very lyrical, deliberate cadences of the Greek play do not rest well alongside the more visceral, modern stories of the mistreatment of women in Africa and Afghanistan. When each monologue ends—by far the stronger half of The Traveling Players—and another sequence from The Trojan Women commences, it grows more and more difficult not to feel disappointed by the unnecessary and unimaginative portrayal of Euripides’ play. The friction between the play’s dual parts is exacerbated by its increasingly didactic scenes, like the one in which a woman in police custody cannot distinguish the stench of her own menstrual blood from that of a nearby animal carcass. But when the play ends and you just can’t shake those true-to-life monologues, it becomes clear that it is a rare case in which the facts outshine the legend.

The Traveling Players (1 hour; no intermission)
The Annex at La MaMa ETC (66 East 4th Street)
Performances: Concluded October 25

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

23 Coins

23 Coins is a provocative and intense play about the lies blind faith allows - but the fire and brimstone themes are no easy fit for the cheery song and dance structure. Come with an open-mind, and be prepared to leave unsettled. Just don't expect to be humming any tunes on your way out.

Isaac Thigpen (played by Oliver Conant) and Gin Walker (played by Rebecca Lee Lerman) practice what they’ll preach in 23 Coins.

Reviewed by Cait Weiss

Take Dora the Explorer, place her in the Baptist south, introduce an evil pastor. Add music.

23 Coins is a bizarre, provocative and deeply unsettling new musical about religious corruption and mutated genomes. As you may guess, this is an ambitious show. The title refers to the idea that each of the 23 genes in our DNA is decided by the flip of a coin; it’s a 50-50 chance whether we inherit the chromosome from our mother or our father, and that chance can dramatically alter our entire life and the lives of those around us.

Set in New Orleans during Katrina (this is never explicitly stated, but we seem in the 21st century and one character is killed in a storm’s flood), the show takes an unflinching approach to some very strong themes. We witness an admitted homosexual being sodomized by the preacher’s baton. We watch our preacher, Isaac Thigpen (compellingly played with both charisma and sadism by Oliver Conant) copulate with a clergyman’s disabled wife (played by Katie Labahn). We see our here-to-fore moral compass, Magic Parks (played by a deeply likeable Peter Quinones), let a woman die in the storm. These scenes are presenting without coddling and, often, without much warning. This is a rough world, and as the audience, we are compelled to witness this brutality. It is eye opening, but the view’s painful. Some things we’d rather not see.

We’re along for the ride, though, thanks to playwright and composer Mark Abrahams. He knows this isn’t the easiest material to digest, and so he sprinkles oddly gleeful songs throughout the action. Most songs function like the music on a Nikelodean kids’ show – introducing characters, blooming into ridiculous dance parties, and then, poof, disappearing back the real action at hand. While the lyrics can be compelling and evocative, the melodies are simplistic and uninteresting – and only the best singers in the cast even begin to justify the inclusion of music in this play. Rebecca Lee Lerman, playing the lead child, Gin Walker, has a voice that could stop any show – unfortunately, the song stopped the show first, grinding the action, character development, and audience engagement to a dead halt.

Still, 23 Coins is a show worth seeing. The musical numbers are few and far between, thank goodness, and the unsung dialogue is very strong. Much to its merit, 23 Coins takes a tired cliché (the old corrupted religious hypocrite leads his flock astray) and infuses the topic with such specific evil that the concept has fresh blood. For better or for worse, as we sit passively absorbing this action, watching trusted characters make questionable decisions and sing emotionally misplaced songs, that blood nearly ends up on our hands.

Mark Abrahams and directors Stephanie Barton-Farcas and Michelle Kuchuk sense our growing anxiety – as the end of the show approaches, the audience and the characters alike are asking, “How can this possibly end up alright?” Sadly, the answer lies in some extreme deus ex machina tricks. It turns out Gin Walker, at 9, knows all the secrets. It turns out she has contacts in universities working with DNA and genome therapy. It turns out the scientist ran a genetic test from the mother’s strand of hair. It turns out she doesn’t have the disease after all. It turns out the mother has been suffering from pseudo-seizures all along. It turns out the preacher is an extortionist caught – just at the right minute – by the law. It all turns out all right in the end. Abrahams seems to be saying, “See guys! This musical can too have a happy ending!”

Ridiculous, impossible, but better than having to believe that happiness itself is a coin toss. Better than having to believe that the adorable Gin Walker will be orphaned, abused and forgotten. Better than having to believe that homophobia, brutality, exploitation, and, yes, genetically inherited diseases not only exist but also thrive. 23 Coins takes the bad with the good – but I do wish the good were as full-blooded, as believable, and as compelling, as the bad. Without the unbelievable plot twists that end this otherwise insightful and compelling musical, the odds wouldn’t look too good for little Gin Walker. Dora the Explorer, though, might still do okay.


23 Coins (2½ hours; 1 intermission)

The Spoon Theater, 38 West 28 Street, 5 Floor

Tickets [ or 866-811-4111]

Performances [through 10/25]: Wed-Sat at 8pm; Sun at 2:30pm

Friday, October 09, 2009

My Illustrious Wasteland

My Illustrious Wasteland, by Tod Kimbo, is a fantastical, thrilling escape into the future. It’s science fiction, political satire, social commentary, and more, set to full-throttle rock music.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Tod Kimbo’s My Illustrious Wasteland welcomes us to an America only a few light years off, one where Hollywood is the new capital and the Democratic Party is a dictatorship. Kimbo stars as the President Reverend, overseeing a new nation that has merged Church and State. He embodies the well-written role with an icy presence and a commanding yet cynical voice. The rest of the cast takes just as much fun and pride in their roles, including Erin Lindsey Krom as Sunny, the President Reverend’s socialite wife (voted by the public as the best barely legal “eye-gasm”).

Despite trotting around the stage in a gold-sequined midriff shirt and matching hot pants, Sunny’s disposition argues against the dumb blonde stereotype, for she questions her role in society and her obligation to the American people who worship her. This is one of the many character studies in Wasteland that has empathetic appeal. Damian Shembel wins over the audience with his geeky idealism as Mogs, the son of a rock legend dead before his time. Rebelling against government mandates, Mogs refuses to take mood stabilizers and doesn’t buy into the propaganda surrounding Information Disease (a deadly illness contracted by acquiring unnecessary amounts of unregulated knowledge).

Shembel’s portrayal of Mogs works even better in scenes concerning Mogs’ mother Loretta (Arden Kelly), an overmedicated housewife with a pointedly apathetic Southern drawl. Their conflicting views on patriotic duty and social liberation resonate with how personal such material, which in other scenes can get weighed down with political and technological jargon, can be. Kimbo strikes the perfect balance between these two wavelengths with his depiction of the Realists, an anarchy clan squatting just outside city limits.

Given their role in the play as the rebellious outcasts, the Realists also have the most music (angst-ridden, dissonant tunes) and the most inspired costumes. Their ringleader also happens to be Mogs’ estranged uncle, known only as the Troubador (Jarret Mallon) a neat little tie-in to the rest of the plot, and a means for Mogs to finally escape Loretta. Dominating the stage in a leather jacket and trucker hat, Mallon’s swaggering give-a-care attitude and all-knowing smirk provide a much-needed energy to the show, even more so when he sings. In the opening scene he laments his disappointment for those content living within a conformist America; in “Dragonbelly” he delights in disclosing Loretta’s secret past.

Another Realist with great stage presence and singing capability is Dorothy Massy. Wearing mismatched patterned tights, a black tutu, and black army boots with the laces missing, Massy has a strong, deep voice made for rock, working just as hard as the rest of the cast and just as loud as the band backing her, with perfect instinct for when to blend as part of a chorus and when to shift gears for an upcoming solo. Costume designer Nicole Jescinth Smith completes this futuristic rock atmosphere, pulling inspiration from everywhere and anywhere, such as the all-black track suits with purple stripes worn by the President Reverend’s cronies or the paisley free-flowing frock worn by a big-haired Loretta during a flashback scene.

Kimbo’s rock score for Wasteland has the same tight consistency as the rest of the framework. Rising above being simple background music, the band works with the cast to convey the individual struggles of each character. Their transitions—slowing down for a rock ballad towards the end of the first act or easing up on the guitar riffs during the President’s self-realization solo in the second—connect with the audience. Drummer Paul Creed and keyboardist Matt Nichols sound the most skilled and effective, constantly in their element as a pulsing rhythm section working together, providing a backbone for the show. Welcome to My Illustrious Wasteland, an inspirational tale that provides hope not just for our future, but for the future of musical theater.

My Illustrious Wasteland (2 hours; one 10-minute intermission)
American Theater of Actors - Chernuchin Theater (314 West 54th Street)
Tickets [212-352-3101 or]: $25
Performances: Saturday October 10th @ 5pm

Monday, October 05, 2009


Megan Riordan’s autobiographical one-woman show Luck is us a dizzying glimpse of the life of a professional blackjack player’s daughter. Using nicknames, code words, and complex mathematics, along with the occasionally sobering monologue, Riordan gives the audience the one thing that Vegas can’t: a sure thing.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

As the daughter of a professional gambler and raised in Las Vegas, Megan Riordan learned the “family business” as soon as she turned twenty-one. For her one-woman show Luck, Riordan has transformed a small black box studio into a casino-style cocktail lounge: dimly-lit, a black and red color scheme, with the small stage covered in green felt and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. From the lighting to the tablecloths and chairs to her own sleek black halter dress with belted red satin around the waist, Riordan has created a surreal yet enticing experience, almost as if walking into an exclusive club only to find a carnival taking place.

The tiny, square tables with battery-operated square candles and cocktail menus add to the décor concept, as does the background music of old jazz and cabaret tunes (including Sinatra’s Luck Be a Lady). Riordan keeps up the carnival vibe upon taking the stage, beginning her play by shifting into game show mode. She distributes to the front row a hand of cards, for example, or two die, and takes her cue for the next scene based on these outcomes. A screen hanging over stage left dictates rules, so that Riordan may tell a story based on a dice roll or take a timed vocabulary quiz on casino lingo if a flipped quarter comes out heads.

In this sense, Luck lives up to its name, relying on chance to determine the show. It works, too: even Riordan’s momentary hesitations suit her role. With those wide doe eyes made even more effective with a thin layer of liner, pale skin and pouty red lips, Riordan is an alluring hostess, armed with a limitless supply of personal anecdotes, punch lines, and grins and winks that keep the show in high gear.

Not that she can’t slow down or drop that more-than-capable poker face to talk about her father. The smoke and mirrors subside as she divulges personal secrets on how she learned to gamble, as well as her reluctant real-life role as the all-too-loyal daddy’s girl desperate for approval and attention at any cost. In this capacity, the audience learns the burden that comes with always betting and relying on luck, and the cursed existence of fate without free will.

Directed by Dodd Loomis, who honors the vulnerable, volatile content of the show, Riordan shines throughout with all the anticipation and energy of a Vegas floor show. Whether winning the crowd over with a live raffle or reducing the same crowd to a string of held breaths as she remembers her father suffering a heart attack on Christmas Eve, Amy Riordan embodies Luck as a classy gal unafraid to divulge her past to strangers while at the same time throwing in some words of wisdom on whether the house always wins or whether being lucky at cards ultimately means unlucky in love. Her irresistible charm, sexy card-playing savvy, tough-girl bravado, and homemade Cheese Ball dip (offered to the audience before curtain), all make her new play a winning combination.

Luck (90 minutes; no intermission)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
Tickets [ or 212.279.4200]: $25
Performances [through 10/11]: Tues. @ 7:30pm; Weds.-Fris. @ 8:30pm; Sats. @ 6:30pm, 9pm; Suns. @ 3:30pm, 7:30pm
[PERFORMANCES] (Schedule OR remaining days)