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November 15, 2014

Review | I See You, by Kate Robin

Directed by Jim Simpson, The Flea Theater

This play is a compendium of current topical concerns about the

ISeeYou13_HunterCanning
Danielle Slavick and Stephen Barker Turner. Photo Hunter Canning.

environment, junk food and junk in our food, etc., built around a romance between a man and a woman, each with children and each married to someone else.  

Nina, a successful writer, and Jesse, a sculptor who doesn’t exhibit his work and a take-care-of-the-child dad, meet while keeping an eye on their young children at the playground.  Nina’s the big talker and who takes up those topical concerns with apocalyptic pessimism.  Jesse, who’s into meditation,  tends to see good possibilities in problems (he’s such a dull personality I didn’t notice this about him but that’s what Nina says). 

Continue reading "Review | I See You, by Kate Robin" »

November 13, 2014

Review | Major Barbara, written by Bernard Shaw in 1905

Directed by David Staller, The Pearl Theatre Company and Gingold Theatrical Group

 which side was it you said you're on? …

The audience -- myself included -- stood and applauded with pleasure at the end of Major Barbara, but the applause was more for the laughter and sheer theatrical delight that came earlier in the play than for the confusing ending.  First, toward the end, you think you're missing something and then you realize it's not quite making sense.  No fault of the performers who were perfect throughout, but Shaw just did not fully resolve this play.  But he gives you much to enjoy and think about. 

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November 05, 2014

Review | Father Comes Home From The Wars Parts 1, 2 & 3, by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Jo Bonney, The Public Theater and American Repertory Theater

... when Emancipation was proclaimed ... 

The master of a modest sized Texas plantation has been called to fight for the Confederates and wants his slave, Hero, to come along, promising he'll free Hero when it’s over, a promise the master has reneged on previously.  Will he follow the master to war on what he knows is the wrong side, chasing the carrot of his personal freedom?  Or will he stay back on the plantation and remain a slave?  The master has given Hero the choice.

Continue reading "Review | Father Comes Home From The Wars Parts 1, 2 & 3, by Suzan-Lori Parks" »

October 24, 2014

Review | Found: A New Musical | Book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree

Music and original lyrics by Eli Bolin, based on the Found books and magazines by Davy Rothbart, additional material Story Pirates, directed by Lee Overtree, The Atlantic Theater

... found objects ... 

Found is a charming, touching musical with lots of big laughs, beautifully performed. 

It turns out there’s really a magazine, Found, that collects bits and pieces and scraps of writing -- “love letters, birthday cards, kids' homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, receipts, doodles”  -- and now there’s a totally delightful musical based on them. 

 

Continue reading "Review | Found: A New Musical | Book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree" »

October 11, 2014

Art Review | Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 30, 2014-April 19, 2015

Thomas Hart Benton’s murals, “America Today,” have an immediate impact of color, exuberance, and resonant ideas.  Urban and rural, old ways and new, labor and entertainment, freedom and oppression, rich, poor, and all the way through the middle:  the view is so wide and comprehensive it seems to really encompass, in broad strokes and specifics, the essence of America in a defining view.  At the same time, the murals span in spirit two epochs  -- the excesses and abundance of the "Jazz Age" of the 20's, formative for

3. City Activities with Subway
City Activities with Subway. Photos are courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Benton's imagination, and the bitter advance of the Great Depression.

Continue reading "Art Review | Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered" »

September 29, 2014

Review | Chinese Coffee by Ira Lewis

Directed by Louise Lasser, with Sean Walsh and Austin Pendleton, On The Wind Productions

This is a suspenseful play of psychological gamesmanship between an older mentor and a younger, less educated but talented writer.  The psychological unfolding is filled with suspense.  Jake (Pendleton), a 50-year old photographer and bookish older guy is weary and, as the play begins, tensely

ChineseCoffee1w_BobbyCaputo
L-R Sean Walsh and Austin Pendleton. Photo Bobby Caputo

avoiding Harry (Walsh), 44 years old, who, just having lost a make-do job as a doorman, penniless, pushes in to Jake’s stifling apartment looking for some money Jake owes him. 

Continue reading "Review | Chinese Coffee by Ira Lewis" »

September 19, 2014

Review | To The Bone by Lisa Ramirez

Directed by Lisa Peterson, Cherry Lane Theatre

I haven’t seen everything but it’s likely that To The Bone is one of the best dramas currently playing in New York.  It’s a gritty, realist play focused on several Hispanic women forming a shared household and employed in a chicken processing factory.  The characters are vivid and individualized, the dialog terrific, and the issues matter.

Continue reading "Review | To The Bone by Lisa Ramirez" »

September 16, 2014

Review | Bauer by Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Bill English, San Francisco Playhouse and Roland Weinstein, at 59E59 Theaters

Bauer focuses on a fascinating episode in the history of modern art in which the German artist Rudolf Bauer, in the midst of a successful career, stopped painting. Why?

Bauer3
Stacy Ross as Hilla von Rebay and Sherman Howard as Rudolf Bauer in Lauren Gunderson's play, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo Carol Rosegg.

It’s about a contract. The story unfolds as Hilla von Rebay, Bauer’s former lover, arrives at the house in New Jersey where he’s living with his loving wife, Louise, and not painting.  Bauer had been an early and well-known non-objective artist in Germany.  Under Hitler, the work of this avant garde artist was included in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, and he had been imprisoned for his art by the Nazis.  Solomon Guggenheim who, encouraged by Rebay, had been collecteing his work for his planned Museum of Non-objective Painting, managed to have him released.

Continue reading "Review | Bauer by Lauren Gunderson" »

September 12, 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The New David H. Koch Plaza, NY NY

, ... one of New York’s favorite theaters …

IMG_7322The moment the fountains of the new David H. Koch Plaza at the Metropolitan Museum were first (officially) turned on

The fountains that ran along the front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though they still looked beautiful and continued to toss their refreshing waters, had severe internal problems in the pipes and plumbing.  Museum Trustee David H. Koch expressed willingness to pay for repairs, an offer that morphed into a total re-design of the public spaces, four blocks
long, that span the front of the museum, including removing the old fountains and installing new ones.  We were told at the ceremony dedicating the new plaza that Mr. Koch said “Why don’t I pay for everything including the extras?” and he did at a cost of $65 million.

He said at the ceremony he’s pleased that the two-year renovation project came in on time and on budget.   So how does it look?

View from steps looking north before the fountains were turned on ...

IMG_7313The main features of the new design are two large fountains in square granite basins that flank the steps north and south.  Being square rather than long, and reaching closer to Fifth Avenue than the old fountains, these new ones bring the sparkling play of water and its delicious sounds closer those on the steps and to passers-by, more readily enjoyed.  That’s really nice!  On either side of IMG_7324
the fountains are newly planted shade trees -- more than there were before -- with café tables and chairs interspersed.  The Plaza is unified its entire length and depth by paving of grey toned granite.

... and after 

It’s good to have this important city open space healthily maintained. 

3. Met Museum Plaza_General View_Day

High view looking south

A consideration of old and new, though, makes it clear that there have been some significant losses.  The old fountains were long and narrow, stretching on either side of the steps a good part of the length of the museum’s façade, and thus they invited movement along the full length of public space, while the depth of the new square fountains obstructs the continuity of the spaces on either side of the steps. 

Also, the high arching play of the water in the old fountains reflected and 4. Met Museum Plaza_General View_Day echoed the series of high arched openings of the museum's facade behind them.  The square-within-a-square and circle-within-a-square geometry of the new fountains is a fascinating exploration of classicism, and links them with the steps in an interesting way, while engaging less with the architecture of the building.

And -- depending how you feel about park-like settings -- before the renovation, shade trees and park benches set on cobblestones created a continuation of Central Park that lies behind the museum.  The new plaza is sheathed in gray-toned granite, with café tables and chairs instead of park benches and pebbly cobbles, weakening the sense of the continuity with Central Park.  Before the park embraced the museum, now it sits behind it. 

All in all, the new design is more centralized than the earlier one, with the casual seating areas -- café tables and chairs -- somewhat marginalized by those deep fountains.

During the dedication ceremony for the new plaza, Thomas Campbell, the 10. Met Museum Plaza_General View_Night_sm
Museum’s Director and CEO said some wonderful words about what he called “one of New York’s favorite theaters -- the steps of the Met.”   The steps draw an exhilarating mix of museum goers and people and performance watchers from all over the city and all over the world, sunning, eating, singing, enjoying music, mime, break dancing, juggling -- virtuoso performances of all kinds … well, if you don’t know, make a visit!

And as for the plaza, it will take a little doing but -- like a river -- people will find their way, filtering through the full length of the four city blocks, and make this public space their own. 

8. Met Museum Plaza_General View_DayView of plaza looking North from 81st Street.  Photos 4-7 c.ourtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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August 26, 2014

FringNYC -- Complete Listings for Encore Series and Solos Sept 4 - Oct 5, 2014

                                                        For Immediate Release:
                        Contact: Ron Lasko at ron@spincyclenyc.com or 212-505-1700 x. 11

Nearly 2 Dozen Festival Favorites Get Extensions at
FringeNYC ENCORE SERIES
September 4 - October 5 at Baruch Performing Arts Center & SoHo Playhouse

In 17 days, even the most intrepid theatergoer can only sample a fraction of the
over 200 offerings at the New York International Fringe Festival. Now in its
10th year, the official 2014 FringeNYC Encore Series gives theatre lovers
another chance at seeing some of the most critically acclaimed and most
crowd-pleasing shows from the Festival.

This year, the FringeNYC Encore Series will be divided into two separate mini
festivals. Baruch Performing Arts Center will present exclusively solo
performances as part of its ongoing "Solo In The City" performance series (which
has previously presented works by Sandra Bernhard, Jackie Hoffman and Tovah
Feldshuh), while SoHo Playhouse will host an array of drama, comedies and
musicals. FringeNYC and The FringeNYC Encore Series are servicemarks and/or
trademarks of The Present Theatre, Inc. and are used with permission.

SOLO IN THE CITY: THE FRINGENYC ENCORE SERIES runs September 11 - October 3 at
Baruch Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of Baruch College in
Manhattan on East 25th Street between Lexington & 3rd Aves. Tickets are $18 -
$20, available online at www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac, by phone at 646-312-5073, or
in person at the box office at 55 Lexington Ave. (enter E. 25th St. between
Lexington & 3rd Aves.)  Performances will include:

Confessions of Old Lady #2
Joan Shepard's sparkling account of 74 years on Broadway and on TV. Laced with
side-splitting stories & witty songs, this musical memoir won four stars from
the London Times.
Sept. 18 at 7 PM & Sept. 22 at 2 PM

Fearless
The story of one man's broken engagement (not his fault), failed suicide attempt
(definitely his fault), the relationships that followed (probably his fault) and
the misguided attempts to teach his students how to take risks and become
fearless.
Sept. 20, 27 at 9 PM

Gary Busey's One Man Hamlet (As Performed by David Carl)
In this absurdist romp through Shakespeare, pop culture, and life in the
theatre, iconic actor Gary Busey (played by comedian David Carl) will perform
all the parts in "Hamlet", using homemade puppets, videos, live music, and
poetry. FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Sept. 19, 26 at 9 PM & Oct. 3 at 9 PM

Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey, with the generous assistance
of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran
Ever wish the Holocaust hadn't happened? Some say it didn't! Join Barry's
journey to find deniers from Illinois to Iran, meeting engineers and
ex-presidents, dodging a brother in Hungary and a boyfriend back home to
discover the truth. FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Sept. 11, 18, 24 at 7:30 PM & Sept. 21 at 3 PM

Magical Negro Speaks
Jamil Ellis gives voice to the Magical Negro -- one of Hollywood’s favorite
tropes -- and examines what images in entertainment mean for future generations.
FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Sept. 19 at 8 PM & Sept. 20 at 7 PM

Murder Margaret and Me
Margaret Rutherford became a global legend playing Miss Marple. Originally she
didn't want the part, and Agatha Christie didn't want Marple played by "the
funniest woman alive." This British sell-out sensation sees Christie playing
detective, unearthing Rutherford's terrible secrets. FringeNYC Overall
Excellence Award winner.
Sept. 13 at 3 PM; Sept. 19 & 20 at 7 PM

The Pawnbroker: Lies, Lovers, and Bertolt Brecht
What price would you pay for love -- your dignity, your sanity, your place in
history? Discover the lies behind Brecht's legend - and what five women lost to
create it.
Sept 17 at 7:30 PM; Sept. 28 at 7 PM

Sex, Lies & Earl Grey
How do you take your tea? Georgina likes it hot with good manners, bad behavior
and a pianist. Her crash course in etiquette reveals more than she, or you might
expect.
Sept. 20 at 2 PM; Sept. 28 at 7:30 PM

_________________________

THE FRINGENYC ENCORE SERIES runs September 4 - October 5 at SoHo Playhouse  (15
Vandam Street between Varick and Avenue of the Americas). Tickets are $18,
available at 212-352-3101 or online at OvationTix at www.fringenyc-encoreseries.com.
Performances will include:

<50%
Gianmarco and Laura star in a completely factual play about the end of their
five-year relationship. Everything is exactly as it happened, is happening, and
will happen.
Mon 9/15 @ 9, Fri 9/19 @ 7, Mon 9/22 @ 8, Mon 9/29 @ 9:30 , Sat 10/4 @ 5

• Chemistry
Steph is a recovering depressive. Jamie overachieved himself off the deep end.
When they meet in their psychiatrist's office, they can't deny their chemistry,
but can they survive it? A pitch black and piercingly insightful comedy about
being crazy in love.
Sat 9/13 @ 5:30, Fri 9/19 @ 9:30, Sat 9/20 @ 7, Sun 9/21 @ 5, Sat 10/4 @ 7

Fatty Fatty No Friends
As the fattest kid in school, Tommy lives a lonely, living nightmare. When the
skinny kids’ taunting goes too far, Tommy takes revenge without amends. A dark
spoken-word Tim Burton-esque musical diving into the lunchtime of life, where
bullies are delicious. FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Wed 9/10 @ 8, Sun 9/14 @ 3, Mon 9/15 @ 7, Wed 9/17 @ 8, Thu 9/17 @ 7

Held Momentarily
Trapped on a stalled New York subway, seven strangers realize it's not just the
train that's stuck. A poignant musical comedy about making connections, living
in the moment and moving on in life... and a woman just went into labor.
Thu 9/11 @ 7, Fri 9/12 @ 9:30, Sun 9/14 @ 5, Thu 9/18 @ 9, Sun 9/21 @ 3

The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking
Join world-renowned mixologist and raconteur Anthony Caporale (Art of the Drink
TV) for a boozy romp through the history of alcohol. Cocktails and comedy
combine for an utterly unique musical theatre experience! “An absolute
must-see!” raves The Huffington Post. 21+ only
Fri 9/5 at 8, Fri 9/12 at 8, Fri 9/19 at 8, Fri 9/26 at 8

Jump Man
A musical parody of the Mario Brothers world. When a crime wave hits their
Brooklyn neighborhood, Mario and Luigi have their heroism tested. Jump Man
addresses age-old questions like "What defines a hero?" and "Do plumbers love to
sing?" FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Sat 9/6 @ 7, Fri 9/12 @ 7, Sat 9/13 @ 3 & 8, Sun 9/14 @ 7

• Moses, The Author
Meet Moses. He has family problems (gay son, rocky marriage), God problems
(existential), and career problems (writer’s block, a hellish deadline). To make
a better Bible he must become a better man. A love story, with scrolls. Don't
miss it.
Fri 9/26 @ 7, Sun 9/28 @ 3, Wed 10/1 @ 3, Sun 10/5 @ 3 & 7

Mother’s Day
Acid-tongued New York drag queen Helen Back incites a nuclear family meltdown
when she comes home to New Jersey for Mother's Day. The debut of a pitch black
comedy/drama that explores the rules of engagement for a family at war.
Thurs 9/4 @ 9:30, Fri 9/5 @ 9:30, Tues 9/9 @ 8, Thurs 9/11 9:30

No One Asked Me
Illegal. No papers. They are not supposed to be here, yet for thousands of
undocumented children, the U.S. is the only home they know. They face an
uncertain future, fearing deportation. Based upon stories of "illegal" NYC
students. FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Fri 9/26 @ 9, Sat 9/27 @ 4, Sun 9/28 @ 7:30, Mon 9/29 @ 7, Tue 9/30 @ 8

Smashed: The Carrie Nation Story
A beer-soaked, absurdly comic opera loosely based on the hatchet-wielding
temperance leader Carrie Nation. Raise your frothy brew high!
Sun 9/21 @ 8

This is Where We Live
Two teenagers collide like a modern day Orpheus and Eurydice in a dead-end
Australian town. A dark, moving comedy infused with the rhythm of beat poetry.
Australia's Paperbark Theatre Company presents this US premiere, which won the
2012 Griffin Award. FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Thu 9/4 @ 8, Fri 9/5 @ 8, Sat 9/6 @ 9:30, Sun 9/7 @ 5, Mon 9/8 @ 8

Urban Momfare
Why don't we ever hear songs about moms not actually liking their kids? This
romp through motherhood on Manhattan's Upper East Side spans 17 years: "Music
For Gifted and Talented Babies" to bra straps and Bellinis. Sling on your
stilettos! FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award winner.
Sun 9/21 @ 7, Wed 9/24 @ 2, Thu 9/25 @ 7, Sat 9/27 @ 7, Sun 9/28 @ 5

Warm Enough For Swimming
Mom drowned years ago. Grandma died yesterday. Eddie fled his wedding. And
Bridget can't make coffee. Can estranged siblings clean the living room when the
bride arrives with a post-recession pyramid scheme and a Russian Mafioso stalks
their childhood home?
Sat 9/20 @ 9:30, Tue 9/23 @ 8, Thurs 9/25 @ 9:30, Sat 9/27 @ 9:30, Thurs 10/2 @
8

_________________________

Past FringeNYC Encore Series have served as a launching platform for many
commercial and regional runs including Silence! The Musical, Krapp 39, Triassic
Parq, 5 Lesbian Eating A Quiche, Jamaica Farewell, The Complete Performer and
Piaf, among others.

                                                                        ###

August 25, 2014

FringeNYC Announces Overall Excellence Award Winners

                                            For Immediate Release
Contact: Ron Lasko @ 212-505-1700 x. 11, ron@spincyclenyc.com

FringeNYC 2014 Announces Overall Excellence Award Winners

August 25, 2014 -- Winners of the 2012 FringeNYC Overall Excellence Awards were 
announced by festival Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy during a brief 
ceremony at The Cutting Room in New York. As selected by an independent panel of 
over 30 theater professionals, the winners are as follows:

Overall Play:
Absolutely Filthy
The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen
This is Where We Live

Overall Musical:
Jump Man: A Mario Musical
King of Kong
Urban Momfare

Acting:
Janet Prince - Murder Margaret & Me
Stephen Wallem - Bedroom Secrets
Gwendolyn Kelso - Interior: Panic
Brendan Hunt  - Absolutely Filthy

Playwrighting:
Briandaniel Oglesby - Halfway, Nebraska
Catherine Yu - The Sun Experiment
Sara Cooper - Things I Left on Long Island
Daniel McCabe - The Flood
Jacob Marx Rice - Chemistry

Solo Performance:
Gary Busey's Hamlet
Hoaxocaust
Magical Negro Speaks
No Static at All
The Mushroom Cure

Music & Lyrics Composition:
Elliah Helfetz - Dust Can't Kill Me

Ensemble:
The List
No One Asked Me
Freaks: A Legend About Growing Up
Vestments of the Gods
The 8th Fold

Costumes:
Ashley Soliman - Fatty Fatty No Friends
Directing:
Bronwen Carson - April's Fool
Gregory Kowalski - Crave

TheaterMania Audience Favorite:
Absolutely Filthy

FringeNYC is a production of The Present Company, under the leadership of 
Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy. In 1997, New York became the seventh 
U.S. city to host a fringe festival, joining Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, 
Houston, Orlando and San Francisco. FringeNYC has presented over 3000 performing 
groups representing every continent, prompting Switzerland's daily, New Zurich 
Zeitung, to declare FringeNYC as “the premiere meeting ground for alternative 
artists.” FringeNYC has also been the launching pad for numerous Off-Broadway 
and Broadway transfers, long-running downtown hits, and regional theater 
productions including Urinetown, Matt & Ben, Never Swim Alone, Debbie Does 
Dallas, Dog Sees God, Brandon Teena, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, 21 Dog Years, 
Bash'd, The Irish Curse, Jurassic Parq, The Fartiste, Silence! The Musical and 5 
Lesbians Eating a Quiche; movies including WTC View and Armless; and even a TV 
show (‘da Kink in My Hair). FringeNYC alumni include Bradley Cooper, Morgan 
Spurlock (Supersize Me, CNN's Inside Man), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), 
Brooke Elliott (Drop Dead Diva), Melissa Rauch (Big Bang Theory), Tony Award 
winner Diane Paulus (Pippin), W. Kamau Bell (Totally Biased), Dan O'Brien (NBC's 
Whitney), and Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), among countless other success stories.

The 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival will run August 7 - 23, 
2015 and will once again feature nearly 200 of the worlds best emerging theater 
and dance artists. Applications for the 2015 festival will be available online 
in November; completed applications are due February 14, 2015. For more 
information visit www.FringeNYC.org

                                                                    ###

August 01, 2014

REVIEW My Life Is A Musical by Adam Overett, a world premiere, directed and choreographed by Marlo Hunter, Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, Long Island

It feels exciting and even uplifting to attend the first performance of a new show.  This one, My Life Is A Musical, has a cute idea, some amusing moments, and some fine performances from its principals and excellent ensemble players.  On the other hand, the characters are thin, the story loose with predictable outcomes, and the music uninventive.    

What’s the cute idea?  Parker, who’s otherwise an uptight accountant, has a peculiar and lyrical trait:  he hears ordinary conversation as singing as in musicals, a quirk he hides because it makes him feel weird.  Like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar who can’t help telling the truth, Parker is mechanically locked in to a quirk he can’t help, leading to unavoidable -- and potentially amusing -- misunderstandings in his dealings with others. 

Roped in to being the accountant for a touring rock group, Parker encounters JT, the bouncy girl who’s group manager and Zach, its main singer. Since Parker is introverted and inexperienced with girls, and is used to hiding the truth about himself, he doesn’t confess his love to JT.  Meanwhile, with his special gift for hearing songs everywhere, he’s feeding Zach songs based on everything from fragments of overheard conversations to the words in his own heart about his growing love for JT.  Sure, Zach’s great at putting a song across but he has no soul within to write one himself (an unkind satire of rock musicians that I take in with skepticism).  Anyhow, Cyrano de Bergerac–like, JT falls in love with Zach who’s singing Parker's love songs

And Zach, played by Justin Matthew Sargent, is great at putting a song across and some of the most enjoyable moments of the show are when he’s playing and singing.  The songs and styles are spoofs on famous singers:  “I’m just an ordinary dog,” sings the gyrating Zach.  

As Zach and the group rise to success because of Parker’s terrific songs (if only they were terrific, but they’re not), Randy, a music blogger who senses there’s something funny about the group’s sudden improvement, comes sneaking around in the guise of a suspicious detective to find out “the truth” about Parker and the group.  Randy, a spoof on “detectives you have known” from Sherlock Holmes to The Pink Panther and others in between, sings the song “What Have You Got To Hide” in the “Hernando’s Hideaway” style of covert excitement that’s enlivened many shows before.  Robert Cuccioli is theatrically commanding and archly funny as Randy, and the character lends itself to some engaging second act farce.

That’s a big improvement over what goes for humor in the first act:  I wish someone would explain to me why the phrase “It sucks” (variants he sucks, shethey…) used about 8 times early in the show, gets a laugh out of the audience every time.  Why?

Howie Michael Smith as Parker who comes out of his shell in the course of the show has a couple of introspective songs that come near to poignant but since he’s the only even partly genuine character, the others being amusing but campy caricatures (Randy, Zach) or cliché (JT), the songs spin off into nowhere.  Generally the songs, though energetically performed, tend to blend in to one another.  Put another way, “one doesn’t leave humming.”  The singers are miked, which should be unnecessary for professionals, all the more in a small theater.

Early on Parker confesses his quirk of hearing conversation as music -- too bad because, he says, “I don’t like musicals.”  In spite of a laugh or two, I don’t think this one would have changed his mind. 

My Life Is A Musical plays at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY through August 31.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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June 29, 2014

REVIEW Travesties by Tom Stoppard, directed by Gregory Boyd, Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY

This is a wild, zany, Dada like, and very serious play.  It’s set mainly in Zurich in 1917 where swarms of intensely creative people migrated to the neutral Swiss city seeking refuge from World War I.  The place bubbled with the ferment and excitement of their new and revolutionary ideas.  What fun it seems to have been there -- here’s your chance.

James Joyce was there working on Ulysses, Tristan Tzara was spearheading the “anti-art” Dada movement, and Lenin was on his way to leading the Russian Revolution.  Henry Carr, a British consular official of the time, was in the middle of all of it -- or was he?  In Travesties, Carr, now a pretentious, forgetful old man, looks back and remembers himself as the British Consul General -- though he held a lower rank -- and recalls through his fragmented memory Joyce, Tzara and Lenin with whom he interacted -- or thinks he did.  Through his memories and mis-memories, they spring into vibrant on-stage life.

As far as interactions, this much is fact:  at the time the real Henry Carr played the part of Algernon in a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest produced by James Joyce and, in a dispute over the price of tickets and a pair of trousers, sued Joyce in court.  Stoppard conceives this tricky play, Travesties, as a kind of satire -- i.e. a travesty -- of Wilde’s Earnest, and like Wilde in Earnest, he engages the characters -- and hopefully the audience -- in hot if meandering debate over the nature and purpose of art, and the relation of art to life.

How wonderful that the brilliant and charismatic actor, Richard Kind, is at the center of this production in the role of Henry Carr.  Kind is hilarious, focused and profound.  If, as can happen, you find the anti-rational, anti-formal, anti-traditional exuberance of Dada, embodied in Michael Benz as Tristan Tzara, leaping on tables and cutting up Shakespeare’s sonnets, irksome, or if you find just too much theory at play, Kind will keep you smiling, laughing, glowing -- and listening intently.

Although commentators like to say that Travesties is “not a history lesson,” it spends time verging on one -- one feels one’s being briefed -- but the great wit and dazzling word play -- and exciting literary and cultural allusions for those who can catch them -- are delicious sugar coatings.

In contrast to the first act, the second act has something resembling a driving narrative focused on Vladimir Lenin’s struggle to get to Russia at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution and his arrival there.  Andrew Weems’ impersonation of the passionately speechifying Lenin is so persuasive, those Russians who would visit Lenin’s glass-entombed mummy yearning to set eyes on the Revolutionary leader would do better to see this play:  seriously, Weems brings the posters of the period to life, and humorously.

By the end, the playwright has had his way:  through the deconstructions and dissonances, the great issues of the relation of art and life, and of the role of memory, perception and imagination in art, emerge with clarity that is both new and intact.  And Stoppard is fair in balancing the scales of articulate expression.  Tzara has demolished the forms and disciplines of art of the past, Joyce has reconstructed them in progressive ways never before envisioned, and Lenin has demonstrated the uselessness and immorality of hyper-individualistic “bourgeois art.”  Everybody’s right, everybody’s incomplete:  the philosophers are busy with the elephant again.  Somehow, though, through it all, Oscar Wilde’s belief in the autonomy of art and “art for art’s sake” seems to win out -- or does it?  

The play is produced with tone perfect style:  the set is witty and evocative, the pace brisk, the roles perfectly cast and the whole exceptionally well rehearsed.  In addition to Kind as Carr, Weems as Lenin and Benz as Tzara, Carson Elrod plays James Joyce, Aloysius Gigi plays Bennett, Julia Motyka is Gwendolen, Emily Trask is Cecily, and Isabel Keating is Nadya.

And by the way, Joyce got back at Carr for that legal action in his own novelist’s way -- parodying him in Ulysses as a drunk, obscene soldier (in the Circe segment).  Between Joyce and Stoppard, Carr lives forever -- though surely not in the way one wants to be immortalized by literature!   

Travesties plays at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY through July 20, 2014.  For more information and tickets, go to http://www.baystreet.org/calendar?

Yvonne Korshak

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May 24, 2014

REVIEW ONCE/TWICE, two one-act musicals, adaptation, music and lyrics by Paul Dick, directed by Celine Rosenthal, music direction by Ming Aldrich-Gan, PASSAJJ Productions

... a show of sheer joy …

Thank heavens for Off-Off-Broadway!  It gives you the chance to see a superb work by Paul Dick who has written over 15 musicals based on classical works of literature, among them, Wuthering Heights at the Mint Theatre Space, and Madame Bovary reviewed here.  Still, his work hasn’t yet received the broad recognition it deserves -- it’s awaiting!  And now’s your chance to come to know him, and see a moving, song-filled exciting show.

Once is adapted into musical theater from a one-act play, A Sunny Morning, by Serafin and Joacquin Quintero, and Twice is based on Anton Chekhov’s short storyThe Bear.  Each in different ways reminds us that, given half a
chance, love can overcome the distance between people and how tremendously lucky we are when we let it happen, whether for the first time or … twice.

In Once, from the Quintero play, a proud, elegant elderly lady, Dona Laura (Carmella Clark) and a dour, feisty elderly man, Gonzalo (Joseph Robinson) engage in a tug-of-war over a park bench in Madrid.  Irritable conversation leads to revelation: she realizes they were once lovers “Thirty Years Ago” (the title of one of the beautiful songs) but doubts he knows it.  And if he doesn’t should she tell him? or let him remember her as the beautiful young girl she once was? Photo2  And .. .vice versa.  Will they pass as ships in the night?  Hope not!  A luscious abundance of songs … from “Changing Seasons,” “His Dream,” “Once," "In A Villa In Valencia,” and more radiate naturally from their feelings and experience on this wondrous “Sunny Morning” (the song, "A Sunny Morning," sung in its reprise as a musically exciting quartet).

ONCE with, L, Joseph Robinson as Gonzalo, R, Carmella Clark as Dona Laura, with jBrandon Grimes, behind, as Gonzalo's servant. Photo: Louisa Pough 

A bold segue signaled by a large bottle of Smirnov vodka moves us to Russia and Twice, after Chekhov’s The Bear:   Immediately we're in a very funny song, “Woe!” another  stunning quartet in which servants and the bereaved widow, Elena (Emily Leonard) all sing, together but apart, just how they each really feel about last night’s sudden death of the master of the house.

Tine passes -- “A Year Of Mourning In Approximately Two Minutes” -- and Smirnov (Brandon Grimes), a big bear of a man, arrives looking for repayment of a loan that Elena can’t pay until the day after tomorrow -- not soon enough for Smirnov.

Photo1 smallIn a show-stopping song and performance, Brandon Grimes as Smirnov sings  out the names of all those who owe him money in the song, "If The Answer Is No" -- as fast-paced and unstoppable as Figaro’s aria in The Barber of Seville, and thrilling.  What a tour de force of baritone singing by Mr. Grimes.  But all the performers in this beautifully produced and directed show have fine voices, heard directly without any mikes to intervene, and with Ming Aldrich-Gan’s piano expressing the beauty and vitality of Paul Dick’s music. 

TWICE with Brandon Grimes as Smirnov.  Photo: Louisa Pough

From the first moment to the last, this show has you smiling with sheer delight.  

Once/Twice plays at Roy Arias Stage IV at the Times Square Arts Center in Manhattan through June 1, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.  See also the Once/Twice facebook page.

Yvonne Korshak

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May 05, 2014

REVIEW Little Wars, a workshop production, by Steven Carl McCasland, directed by Thia Stephan Hyde, Beautiful Soup Theater

The Symposium  

10157165_10152327392734020_3027519552940704536_nL-R Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Weems as Dorothy Parker, Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie, Kristen Gehling as Muriel Gardiner, Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

A symposium -- a drinking party with dinner in the offing, only here the participants are not Socrates and the male literati of the “golden age” of ancient Athens, as in Plato’s dramatic dialogue.  This symposium is of 20th-century writers and -- quite an update! -- they're all women:  Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Agatha Christie, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, along with Muriel Gardiner, well known for saving many Jews during World War II, and Bernadette, a young house maid.  The time is early in the war, and the gathering at the Stein-Toklas household in the French mountains.

As Alice and Gertrude await their author guests, Stein speaks of them so sardonically that you wonder why she invited them, but of course, that’s the woman we fast come to know, full of contradictions.

The first arrival is not a writer (though she later became one):  she’s Muriel Gardiner, in France to raise money for false passports to enable Jews to escape from Germany.  Intending to sleep at the train station, she’s persuaded to stay (a Platonic trope).  Soon Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and then dramatically Agatha Christie arrive, and tongues are loosened by plenty of scotch, poured on request by the somber Bernadette.  Although nobody formally sets the theme for the evening’s conversation in the way Plato made famous, there is one: self-revelation.  And as in Plato, it helps that the liquor flows freely.

The authors set themselves to figuring out what the circumspect Muriel Gardiner is doing here, and it emerges that she’s undercover as a spy and freedom worker.  What a fascinating choice McCasland makes:  the first identity revealed is the one that’s most apparently hidden (though I thought she was too loose-tongued for a spy, she spilled the beans too easily).  We learn not only her purpose but, as she speaks, of her passionate devotion to her cause, powerfully conveyed by Kristen Gehling, and of her personal life and sacrifices.  

McCasland’s outstanding ability to write in the diverse voices of 1017022_10152327391364020_3019533693895494487_n others reaches a climax in the revelatory monologue spoken -- uttered, stormed forth -- by Gertrude Stein in which this paragon of toughness wails and, yes, complains:  Why am I not normal?”, a plaint that goes way beyond her being gay. 

L-R Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas and Maggie Wirth as Gertrude Stein.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

She’s homely, ugly, odd looking, a character, she doesn’t talk like other people, she doesn’t think like them, she doesn’t write in a “regular” way, she’s not normal.  And in case you think for one moment that could be an easy path, she lets you know for sure:  it isn’t.  That monologue, as played by Maggie Wirth, is a theatrical high point. 

L-R Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie and Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

10313364_10152327392859020_6106393254580890907_nAlice B. Toklas’ devotion to Gertrude Stein, her femininity, her dependence and rooted strength are so charmingly expressed by Penny Lynn White I’d see the play the play over just to see her do it again.  She’s enchanting, and, with the playwright’s help, makes Toklas make sense.  

Little Wars is a play of telling rather than showing, dependent on McCasland’s writing rather than plotting.  By the end, we’ve heard each woman’s story and some of these are stronger than others.  Dorothy Parker, played with touching irony by Dorothy Weems, enlivens her miseries with touches of the dry wit that rings throughout Parker’s writing: there are several good Parkeresque lines -- I'd have liked even more.  

Kim Rogers is so exciting as an actress and has such superb stage presence that, though what Agatha Christie had to say seemed less original than some, I loved every minute of her revelation of man troubles anyhow, watching how Rogers did it.

Bernadette’s story is grim, and told with suppressed fury by Morgan Detogne, though the account itself while of extreme, awful events, was too easily anticipated in its outlines. 

Long after the war, Hellman’s writerly veracity was challenged on television by another writer, Mary McCarthy, with Hellman responding with a lawsuit. A key issue was Hellman’s claim that she had met Muriel Gardiner (Gardiner herself said she had not known Hellman) and further that Hellman had stolen Gardiner’s personal story of rescuing Jews and acting as an anti-Nazi spy in her own writing to her own advantage.

Although the matter seems at best moot, for some reason McCasland has come down in defense of Hellman, and the view that the two met is a raison d’etre for this play. Given his sympathy for Hellman, it’s surprising that his portrayal of her is thin, rescued in this production by Kimberly Faye Greenberg’s humorous impersonation of Hellman’s look, style and mannerisms.  The character isn’t given much content but Greenberg has her puffing away on the ever-present cigarette with convincing arrogance.  While the other guests open their purses generously to Muriel’s cause, Hellman is the holdout, saying “it wouldn’t matter,” a weak reason for a strong woman, and out of character, nor do we understand why she changes her mind and makes a generous contribution. 

Little Wars fulfills a nostalgic fantasy -- like Plato's Symposium.  Well known bright lights from the past gather and we’re there, too -- catching their jokes, clueing in on their interactions, and deepening our understanding of what makes them tick.  Fly-on-the-wall style, we’re among the great, brilliant, and witty.  Thanks to McCasland’s talented writing and ability to create a world, and to flawless casting, they come alive for us.  We’re there to learn from them, and love them.  There are future plans for developing Little Wars  -- I’m eagerly looking forward to more. 

Little Wars played at Roy Arias Stage IV on West 43rd Street in Manhattan.  For more information, click on live link of title. 

Yvonne Korshak

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April 28, 2014

REVIEW The Mysteries, world premier, conceived and directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskander, dramaturg Jill Rafson, featuring The Bats, 52 episodes from the Bible written by 48 playwrights, The Flea Theater

The Mysteries is one whopper of a project!


It’s an epic telling of the Old and New Testaments, referring to Medieval and later "mystery plays" of the life of Christ, 52 episodes more or less in sequence divided into three parts:  The Fall, The Sacrifice, The Kingdom.  Written by 48 playwrights, it’s performed by 54 actors who act, sing and Mysteries4_HunterCanning
dance 78 parts or so in 5 ½ hours, all taking place on the relatively small performance space of the Flea, with the audience in touching distance of the actors, and not only that, it includes dinner! 

Sarah Keyes of the Angel Chorus.  Photo Hunter Canning

This is the third immersive play directed by Iskander at The Flea: first was These Seven Sicknesses  by Sean Graney, an interweaving of all seven extant plays of Sophocles (!) and next was Restoration Comedy by Amy Freed.  They feel like a trilogy though the subject matter isn’t continuous, but they all bear Iskander’s mark. The Mysteries is the least coherent of the three and not my favorite, but it’s remarkable for its ambition, it’s engagement with ideas, its remarkable degree of success, and the open arms it gives to the flow of highs and lows of the human condition -- all with a focus on joy that comes through somehow even when things are not going well in the human epic. 

It begins with a scene in heaven where we meet the lavish Angel Chorus that will be with us for the duration of the play, and witness Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven, something like in Milton's Paradise Lost.  We encounter right off God, played by Matthew Jeffers:  he’s a fine actor -- making expressive use of his face and voice and his whole body like a dancer, helping us see the way he takes things in and how he comes to his decisions.  Beyond that, he represents an original and powerful casting decision since he’s a dwarf -- different from most everybody else but not in the way one expects, and raising interesting questions about the view that humans are made in God’s image.  He’s there at the beginning and there at the end -- rarely in between, no surprise there:  the play would be less powerful and less coherent without this uniquely envisioned God.

We also meet the rebellious Lucifer in that first scene in heaven, played with dazzling cynicism by Asia Kate Dillon, and at the same time the angel Gabriel, played by Alice Allemano, who, obedient to God, in contrast to Lucifer, struggles valiantly trying to make sense out of God’s commands and following through on them.  These two, Lucifer and Gabriel, played by tall, striking women, fine actresses who resemble one another, hold the vast array together like bookends. 

The scenes in the Garden of Eden are delightful, played, appropriately in the nude, by Jaspal Binning as Adam and Alesandra Nahodil as Eve.  Throughout the play, Biblical episodes are interpreted by the many playwrights in non-canonical ways and the first of these is brilliant:  the knowledge the first couple gain through their disobedient eating of the apple is -- how to tell a good joke and how to enjoy one!

After a quick flip through a couple of other Old Testament episodes, including a moving dramatization of The Flood with the multitudes choreographed as drowning (I thought of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Flood), it turns out that only a small portion of the play is devoted to the Old Testament, with the emphasis, timewise and in numbers, on episodes
Mysteries6_HunterCanningfrom the life of Christ.

Allison Buck as Mary.  Photo Hunter Canning

 So, with intermissions that included, first a delicious vegan Mediterranean dinner handed to the audience by charming, talkative cast members, and, after Part II, desert (excellent baklava and tangerines!), the play wends its way through major moments of Christ's life, from his birth to  the Virgin Mary (multiple and inconsistent unorthodox interpretations provided by several authors) onward.     

The miracle of Christ’s resurrection of the dead Lazarus is vivid, scary and funny -- the shrouds and semi-corrupted skin of those interred are  represented by wrappings of what appears to be toilet paper, referencing the repellent in a fascinating, appealing and hilarious way.  I felt sorry, though, for those whom Jesus didn't resurrect, and they didn't seem happy about it either.  

On to the Passion of Christ, from the Entry into Jerusalem through the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, at times with relatively standard action -- Peter actually denies Christ -- and other times with less familiar takes -- Judas betrays Christ because Jesus asked him to do it, Judas being unwilling Mysteries5_HunterCanning (though he ends up badly anyway).   The play goes through conniptions assigning blame for Jesus’ death, not wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings, and that matter is left to confusion.

Karsten Otto as Joseph and Colin Waitt as Jesus.  Photo Hunter Canning

The Crucifixion is relatively straightforward, with Colin Waitt, who plays Jesus, conveying the human nature of Christ experiencing terror and pain.  And after that on to -- according to what is said -- Salvation, but it’s hard to see Salvation in what we've been witnessing except that the Angel Chorus proclaims it.  Based on what we'd seen, I thought that the play was about to end shortly before when God, absorbed with the problems of his Creation, wonders aloud who is He anyhow to be telling others what to do.

There are repetitions and generally one feels the play needs the kind of overall editorial vision for dramatic unity and intellectual coherence that it would get if it were single-authored.  The discrepancies in religious and philosophical points of view can be seen as expressive of the many ways of looking at the Biblical account of human history, but the narrative line meanders, so that The Mysteries is less compelling than, for instance, the seven plays by Sophocles treated by a single playwright in the equally ambitious These Seven Sicknesses.

In the category of “buyer beware”:  The Bible is run through the hoops of unorthodox and blasphemous interpretations.  Also there’s a lot of complete nudity.  My hunch is that many of the authors scripted nudity in their episodes so nudity loses the weight of meaning it can carry in theater.  It gets a little ho-hum.

In a time of many “90 Minutes And No Intermission” plays, and thanks to the idealism, ambition, talent, volunteerism and boundless youthful energy of The Bats, here’s one that’s big enough and long enough to provides a near total experience -- talent, ideas, and joie de vivre.  It’s somewhat unruly, and out of kilter in its consideration of the Old and New Testaments, but it’s spectacular, always visually fascinating, often exciting, and often powerful.   

Mysteries_JonathanHollingsworthThe Mysteries  plays at The Flea Theater in Manhattan's Tribeca district through May 25th, 2014.  EXTENDED with performances through July 14th, 2014.  For more information, including all credits and more about The Bats, and tickets, click on live link of title.

Colin Waitt as Jesus and the cast.  Photo Jonathan Hollingsworth

Yvonne Korshak

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April 15, 2014

NEW APP “SCRIPTOPIA” MOVES TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE THEATRE REHEARSAL PROCESS

Let's Talk Off-Broadway rarely publishes press releases but the new app, "Scriptopia," seems unusually intriguing and of potential interest to our readers.  As always, comments are very welcome.  Scroll down below the text, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private and never appear with comments,  Yvonne 
================================
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
press contact: Sam Rudy 212 575 0263
 
NEW APP “SCRIPTOPIA”
MOVES TO REVOLUTIONIZE
THE THEATRE REHEARSAL PROCESS
Creators set to launch software May 1 at Lark Theater
 
SCRIPTOPIA – a new software application that will usher play development and theater collaboration into the 21st century – is being launched May 1st, according to its founder, stage director Kay Matschullat. Ms. Matschullat was joined in the creation of SCRIPTOPIA by Andrew Mirsky and Marc Huey.
 
SCRIPTOPIA will be unveiled on May 1 (3 to 5 pm) – at an event featuring the creators and theater artists who will demonstrate the app – at the Lark Play Development Center (311 W. 43 St.) in New York City. Register at www.scriptopia.eventbrite.com or call 323-682-0097.
 
Available on computers, tablets and smart phones, SCRIPTOPIA promises to revolutionize the development and rehearsal process for playwrights, directors and theater artists everywhere by streamlining some of the theater's most crucial, time-honored, time-consuming and archaic practices – script changes.
 
Among the leading features of SCRIPTOPIA:
--writer’s script changes go instantaneously to artistic team
--instant comparison between old and new versions of the script
--revisions can be shared and heard immediately
--actors can highlight scripts – and save personal notes through various re-writes -- with one click
--directors and stage managers can instantly share notes selectively or with all members of the company
--stage managers can share blocking notes without interruption
--sides at auditions a thing of the past
--time and money-saver making efficient use of working hours
--paper-saving practice that is good for the planet!
--a myriad of advantages particular to the artist's discipline and needs
 
According to Ms. Matschullat, a director who has taught actors and directors at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts for 20 years, “I created SCRIPTOPIA so theater artists can spend more time on their art and less time on frustrating delays at the copy machine and otherwise. I wanted to create a tool that enabled changes to be shared instantaneously, allowing everyone to be on the same page, literally and metaphorically. During the many months that we have been developing SCRIPTOPIA, more and more ways for the application to serve the playwright, director, actors and stage managers have emerged. We intend for artists' collaboration to be smoother, more artistically fulfilling and closer to a 'utopian' work environment as rehearsal and development time becomes more crucial – whether its regional theater, Broadway, workshop or summer stock.”
 
She adds that developing the application in real-time with theater artists at the Lark, New Georges Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and The Center Theater provided insight into how to refine the software to best suit its users.
 
Presently undergoing testing at Queens College and Lark Play Development Center in NYC, SCRIPTOPIA has generated considerable enthusiasm from its first-time users:
 
John Clinton Eisner, artistic director of the Lark, says “SCRIPTOPIA is visionary in how it uses technology to cut through the 'paperwork' and get right down to a creative process based on close collaboration and easy communication.”
 
Playwright Dominique Morisseau claims “the instantaneous distribution of re-writes is my favorite part. The actors can speak the words immediately.”
 
In addition to saving precious time in and out of the rehearsal room, director Kwame Kwei-Armah, who recently directed Dominique Morisseau's SKELETON CREW with the help of SCRIPTOPIA, remarks, “The ability to send notes privately or to the group without interrupting rehearsal is incredibly valuable. They arrive instantaneously and effortlessly. Notes between the playwright and director happen seamlessly, discreetly and productively without distracting the actors. It's life-transforming – I love it.”
 
Even paper-oriented stage managers such as Matt Van Slyke have noted, “I loved the freedom that no paper gave me and the artistic team. Re-writes moved instantly and we never moved to the copy machine. It was especially helpful during a stand-in rehearsal as all of the actor's blocking was neatly accessible in the margins.”
 
For further information about SCRIPTOPIA, visit www.scriptopia.co.
To register for the May 1st event, call 323-682-0997 or go to www.scriptopia.eventbrite.com.
###

April 09, 2014

REVIEW The Heir Apparent by David Ives, adapted from le Légataire universel by Jean-François Regnard, directed by John Rando, Classic Stage Company

David Ives does it again -- almost.  His earlier adaptation of Moliere’s le Misanthrope (1666), renamed The School for Lies  (reviewed here in 2011) was an orgy of unending laughter.  This adaptation of Regnard’s le Légataire universel (1708) which he renames The Heir Apparent isn’t as successful although Ives follows his same rules of mod transformation, because Regnard’s play falls short of the brilliance of le Misanthrope.  

So what does David Ives “do” with these late sixteenth and early seventeenth century French plays?   

He translates them into completely contemporary lingo, without any inhibitions or unnecessary reverence for  “The Past,” unworried about “anachronism,” using contemporary slang and turns of phrase, and in a spectacular rush of imagination invents contemporary in-jokes in place of  the in-jokes of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that today would seem like out-jokes, or be missed.  He's tremendously witty!  Meanwhile, he holds to the past in the costumes and, with titillating ambiguity, in the decor, and for the plot maintains the rules, regulations, customs and laws of the 16th and 17th centuries, all of which, coming up against the contemporary language and modern references, create a delicious cognitive dissonance.

Thanks to David Ives, these plays come to us more themselves than they would be in literal word-for-word translations.  They're as good as they were in their own day which in the case of Moliere means marvelous, less so for Regnard. 

Jean-François’ Regnard was a reigning comic playwright of the Comédie-Français after Moliere; this is his best known work.  The situation is that  a rich old man, Geronte, appears to be dying and his poor nephew, Eraste, is angling for his fortune, which will enable him to marry the beautiful Isabelle.  Obstacles arise for Eraste including the varied set of characters seeking the dying man’s fortune who appear and, in some amusing scenes, claim in one preposterous way or another to be long lost relatives. 

The biggest obstacle of all is that the tough old geezer, much as he seems on his last legs, simply doesn’t die.  Crispin the servant, facilitator to the core, invents clever schemes to help Eraste whose own inability to do anything for himself makes him a less than sympathetic character as a lover, which I found a weakness in the play.  Who cares if this jerk gets the girl or not? 

Much of the early part of the play (at least it seemed to go on a long time) centers around old man Geronte’s problems with his plumbing: there’s lots of tiresome scatological joking and horsing around.  Instead of an amusingly extreme aspect of character (such as one would find in Moliere), we’re stuck with Geronte’s extreme digestive problems, but Paxton Whitehead, abandoning any vestige of narcissism, gives his all to the rather repulsive role and, when called for, produces an impressive of physical transformation.  By the end of the play, the characters' situations have changed but -- in contrast to le Misanthrope -- they haven't learned much.  

The most interesting character is Scruple -- the short lawyer of briefs -- acted by David Pittu who plays it like José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1952 John Huston film, The Moulin Rouge -- on his knees.  He’s also responsible for the most hilarious scene in which the attorney, a true professional, is drawing up his client's will while oblivious to false identities -- always good for laughs, and Pittu’s intelligent but obtuse sober mien adds to the fun.

Carson Elrod is energetic and amusing as Crispin, the man of many devices and “a whole comédie-française in himself.”   Suzanne Bertsch is appropriately imperious as Isabelle’s mother.  

See The Heir Apparent and you’ll enjoy it, but you don’t “have to see” it the way I felt you “had” to see The School for Lies.  (I saw it twice just so somebody else who'd miss it otherwise could see it once.)

The Heir Apparent plays at Classic Stage Company in New York City's East Village through May 4th, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

 Yvonne Korshak

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March 30, 2014

REVIEW The Threepenny Opera, book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill, English adaptation by Mark Blitzstein, directed and choreographed by Martha Clarke, The Atlantic Theater

Mack the Soupsoon (... couldn't resist ...)

From the first moments of the overture, discordant and musical, played by superb musicians from the back of the stage, you know you’re experiencing something great.  The Threepenny Opera is one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre of the 20th Century -- it’s up there with Porgy and Bess -- and happily this production fulfills it.

Based on John Gay's 18th-century The Beggar's Opera, The Threepenny Opera was first produced in Berlin in 1928.  It's an outstanding and unusual  example of a political point of view, here Brecht’s socialist critique of capitalist society, transformed into art that's not preachy:  skip the preaching, as Jenny reminds us in her “Solomon Song.”  Yet the message,  “First feed the face, and then talk right and wrong,” comes across loud and clear -- and joyously.

Set in 19th century London and populated by low-life characters, including prostitutes, beggars and thieves, the show centers on a lean, mean crook Macheath, known as Mack the Knife.  Irresistible to women, he turns the head of Polly, the protected daughter of the wise-to-the world Mr. Peachum, “King of the Beggars”, and Mrs. Peachum.  When Macheath marries Polly (sort of), a furious Mr. Peachum determines to have him hanged;  there are crimes aplenty to accuse him of but the Chief of Police is -- guess what -- corrupt.  Still, caught in the snare of his “old dependency -- women”, as Mrs. Peachum sings it, he comes near to death, only to … see the show!  It’s such a great ending.  Yes, more joyous irony.

What a marvelous wealth of songs!  The singers are all good but some capture the grating quality of the style of Weimar Berlin with which Martha Clarke imbues the show.  John Kelly as the Street Singer delivers a wonderfully subversive introductory “Ballad of Mack the Knife” and is charismatically sleazy throughout in the role of Fitch. Mary Beth Peil is  tough and terrific as Mrs. Peachum.  These two most fully capture the character of the music and the essence of The Threepenny Opera.

As Macheath, Michael Park understands the meanings of his all-out songs and gets them across with rich vigor, but his persona, and gorgeously tailored suit, are too comfortable looking -- too capitalist -- for Mack the Knife.  Not knife-like, he's more a Mack the Soup Spoon.  F. Murray Abraham is gruff and tender as Mr. Peachum, though he’s not a great singer.  Laura Osnes sings Polly’s songs with a beautiful, strong voice, though she seems too worldly-wise in advance, rather than learning a thing or three from Macheath.

Now what about Jenny?  A big question for this show.  Jenny, a prostitute and maid in the brothel, and Macheath’s sometime lover, is the pivotal role Lotte Lenya sang in the original Berlin production in Berlin in 1928 and again in the 1956 production at the Theater de Lys in New York City, and often heard recorded since.  In this production Jenny is misconceived:  turning her back of the strident, no-holds-barred Jenny that Miss Lenya gave and that’s scripted, Miss Clarke gives us a depressed, near-ingenue Jenny, played by Sally Murphy, even to the point of changing the words to suit this passive characterization.  Ending her famous revenge fantasy song, “Pirate Jenny,” by imagining all “the bodies piled up” in front of her, Miss Murphy sings with a shrug: “So what?”  A far cry from Lotte Lenya’s vengeful words:  “That’ll learn ya.”

Maybe Miss Clarke thought Lotte Lenya's tough Jenny was too iconic, so went the other way.  At any rate, this passive characterization lets us down also in “Solomon Song” where, abandoning irony for woebegone, Miss Murphy sings, face turned away, brushing across the far walls of the set like a teen-ager without a prom date.  The role is salvaged only by the fact that it's a stupendous song, and Sally Murphy is a poignant, fine performer so that wistful, though off-key, didn’t interrupt the impact of this wonderful show.

The production’s overall concept, set, lighting and costumes are glorious.  The spirit of caricature, the costumes, and choreography are inspired by images from George Grosz’s gutsy and unblinking illustrations of Berlin low-life of the period, as Robert Ruben, who saw the show with me commented, a bringing together of art and theater that recalls Miss Clarke's Garden of Earthly Delights inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's famous painting, reviewed here in 2008.    For instance, the sofa in the brothel and the choreographed arrangement of girls on and around it appear to be drawn directly from an illustration by Grosz, a sort of tableaux vivant. All is over-washed with Martha Clarke’s luscious glow and sense of luxury.  George Grosz deserves mention in the show’s program.

Joyous irony:  the show’s grim, underdog message -- useless, it's useless, even when you're playing rough, useless, it's useless, you're never rough enough -- is transformed through transcendent art: you walk out of the theater elated.    

The Threepenny Opera  plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district through May 4th, 2014 -- EXTENDED THROUGH MAY 11TH.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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March 18, 2014

REVIEW Fast Company by Carla Ching, directed by Robert Ross Parker, The Ensemble Studio Theatre & The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

IMG_0119 (2)FAST COMPANY is a fast moving, funny and suspenseful comedy about an Asian-American family of grifters, the Kwan’s, who’ll con anyone -- best of all one another -- to get what they want.

L-R Moses Villarama, Stephanie Hsu, Christopher Larkin, Mia Katigbak.  Photo: Ensemble Studio Theatre

Blue, the girl of the family, using, she says, probabilities based on her college study of game theory, manages to swipe a copy of Action Comics #1, the first  Superman comic book (worth over a million dollars, the world’s most valuable comic book) but she loses it!  To get it back, she has to turn for help to her brothers who’ve never thought much of her grifter skills.  This sets up a round-robin of conning with her brothers, Francis, who’s retired from pick-pocketing to become a TV magician, and H, a crooked gambler, until, in their need, they turn to that legendary con great, Mabel -- their mother.

As con artists, they base their moves on calculations of what their targets expect and don’t expect.   What makes this play so delightfully funny is the playwright's canny sense of what the audience can and can't anticipate -- the playwright’s the best con artist of all:  she knows what we will and won’t figure out, and that, as the play continues and we catch on, we’ll get smarter -- so she ups the ante.  FAST COMPANY is a voyage through cleverness:  the Kwans outwit one another and the playwright outwits us -- to the very end where she shifts gears to give an unexpected ending that enriches the meaning of her play.

Stephanie Hsu as Blue let’s us catch on through her facial expressions and body language that there’s some kind of special, i.e. family, intimacy, between herself and her brother Francis even before we know who’s who, and Francis -- with help from the playwright -- takes “cool” to new lengths.  Moses Villarama is touchingly conflicted as H, and Mable, as played by Mia Katigbak, with her outstanding deadpan, is tops in the script and in the play.

As for “game theory” … well, the concept may have given a scientific whiff that would involve the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which has partnered with the Ensemble Studio Theatre to develop plays about science, technology and economics* … but crooks were crooks before there was game theory.

FAST COMPANY plays at The Ensemble Studio Theatre on Manhattan's west side through April 6, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

*Two plays developed through this partnership reviewed here are Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler and Isaacs Eye by Lucas Hnath.  Click on live links of titles for reviews.

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March 10, 2014

REVIEW The Architecture of Becoming, by Kara Lee Corthron, Sarah Gaucher, Virginia Grise, Dipika Guha and Lauren Yee, directed by Elena Araoz, Lydia Fort and Lauren Keating, Women’s Project Theater at New York City Center Stage II

… five good performers in search of a play …

 I loved the idea of this show which is subtitled An Epic Tale of Fictional Lives Intertwined with 90-year-old Landmark Theater New York City Center, a building that's played such a rich role in the life and particularly the performing arts life on New York City.  And the idea that the word “architecture” would have meaning both in terms of the building and in terms of individual lives sounded exciting.

L-R Claudia Acosta and Jon Norman Schneider.  Rudolph Valentino on screen. Photo Carol Rosegg

Architecture of Becoming  L to R are Claudia Acosta and Jon Norman Schneider Credit Carol Rosegg 0308

Before the play begins, a portion of  The Sheik, the silent film of 1921 with
Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres is projected repetitively -- fun to watch but … why? Perhaps it was referencing that City Center was first built in 1923 in a Moorish style for the Shriners who called it the Mecca Temple although Valentino’s seduction of Ayres seemed worlds away from the mystic goings-on of the all-male Shriner organization.  Like most of what followed in fast-moving, quick changes, it gave the sense that it was there just because somebody wanted it there, not for any driving artistic reason. 

From the film the play moves to an intended unifying premise:  Siempre Norteada, played by Claudia Acosta, a writer of Mexican descent from Texas announces that she has won a commission to write this play about City
Center but, she tells us, she’s only been in NYC a short time, and doesn’t know where to begin or what to write.   Oh oh.  And sure enough, from here, the play dissolves into a series of episodes of lives in which for the most part the relationship to City Center or to one another is largely incidental. ArchitectureofBecoming L to R are Vanessa Kai and Christopher Livingston Credit Carol Rosegg 0461  

L-R Vanessa Kai and Christopher Livingston.  Photo Carol Rosegg.

The vignettes are very well performed by Claudia Acosta, Vanessa Kai, Christopher Livingston, Jon Norman Schneider, and Danielle Skraastad who make impressive switches from one type of character to another.   Vanessa Kai, for instance, moves from conveying a  deferent Japanese housewife through a stoop in the shoulders and mask-like facial control to an all-out street kid from the wild side.  In her Japanese woman mode, she gets a job sweeping up at City Center but that’s incidental -- in terms of her own life, she could have been sweeping anywhere. 

One episode is particularly moving -- a real highlight.  Christopher Livingston plays a Black street kid hanging around outside of City Center, chalking on the tall doors the names of the great composers whose music filters from inside -- Bellini, Puccini and -- with a wonderful flourish of the accent  mark -- Dvorák!   It's all in graffiti style but perfectly spelled and known, a beautiful, signifying tension.  The dramatization of the outsider yearning for what is within the doors that keep out as well as let in is powerful. Architecture of Becoming L to R are Credit Carol Rosegg 0483

L-R Vanessa Kai and Danielle Skraastad.  Photo Carol Rosegg

The lives touched on are only glimpsed, however, and are mainly disconnected one from another, so the promise of locating some kind of structure in movement through life  -- the  “architecture of becoming” -- is not fulfilled.  And the connections between the individuals to City Center are so loose that the play lacks its own architecture.  Siempre Norteada, who tells us she doesn't know how to begin her play also, as she says, doesn’t have an ending for it.  The playwright (there are actually 5 of them, maybe that’s part of the problem) has given sketches of a number of lives in NYC, some interesting, some less so.  There are some touching moments but the Center does not hold.

The Architecture of Becoming plays at New York City Center on West 55th Street in Manhattan through March 23, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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March 04, 2014

REVIEW Liliom by Ferenc Molnar, translated by Benjamin Glazer, adapted and directed by Steven Carl McCasland, Beautiful Soup, Celebration of Whimsy theatre

1891228_10152197439494020_1992407122_nThe carousel. Center L-R  Gerrard Lobo as Liliom and Morgan DeTogne as Julie.  Photo: Samantha Mercado-Tudda   

This is the first full staging of Liliom in New York in 40 years and it's such a satisfying play I feel gratitude to Beautiful Soup for producing it.  The musical it inspired, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, is among the best  of all time but in some ways the play is even more dramatically powerful.   

Written in 1909, the play takes place in Budapest, Hungary, with a foray to
Heaven.  Liliom is the nickname of a carousel barker, vibrant, handsome, but also edgy, impatient and prone to violence.  He’s loved by two women -- well,
all the girls “love” this good looking guy but there are two women important in his life  -- Mrs. Muskat, the tough, experienced, older woman who owns the carousel, and Julie, the young, inexperienced serving girl who sets up house with him.

Losing his job with the carousel because he’s taken up with Julie -- although
Mrs. Muskat would relent at the drop of a hot if he’d come back to her --  
Liliom becomes depressed, hanging out with a shady friend and, in his gloomy mood, once hits Julie.   Julie’s friend Marie drops by to show off her stable, 1966731_10152197464049020_886508722_n loving fiancé, Wolf (the only thing “wrong” with him is he’s Jewish).  Marie, shocked that Liliom hit Julie, tries to persuade her to give up her loser boyfriend but Julie, plain and simple, loves him too much. 

L-R Sara Hymes as Marie and Morgan DeTogne as Julie.  Photo: Samantha Mercado-Tudda

Liliom shakes his mood, though, thrilled to learn that Julie's going to have a baby, and he muses over the boy he expects to have (one can’t help hearing in one’s ears the song from Carousel, “My boy Bill…”).   Energized to make money, Liliom, in one of his several bad choices, involves himself in a criminal plan that ends badly.  Though given a heavenly chance to redeem himself, Liliom can’t harness his destructive volatility but, in as touching a scene as has ever been written, we learn that even with that, Julie never stops loving him 

The characters in Liliom are complex, conflicted, three-dimensional, and 1970737_10152197440294020_721807083_n
very real, and we feel deeply about them.  It’s key that, although the acting in this production is uneven, Gerrard Lobo in the central role of Liliom has star power, including the charisma for us to believe the young serving girl, on her own in the world, would give up a secure job for love of him and -- no matter what -- never waver in her feelings.  Lobo’s fine and energetic performance conveys Liliom’s multi-sided personality, tender but brutal, cocky but confused, sure but frantic.

Gerrard Lobo as Liliom.  Photo Samantha Mercado-Tudda

Morgan DeTogne as Julie is earnest and sometimes affecting:  I was disappointed that she almost swallowed her last, very great line, siphoning away some of its power.   Sara Hymes is charming, humorous and moves with an actor’s ease in the role of Julie’s friend, Marie, whose relationship with her husband Wolf -- both strongly loving and eminently practical --  is a counterpoint to the tragic love of Liliom and Julie.  Kimberly Rogers is tough,  passionate and as coarse as she needs to be as Mrs. Muskat.

The production is simple and effective:  a circle of ribbons conveys the carousel.  Written in 1909, Liliom takes up issues that are alive in our contemporary world, including the relationship between job loss and domestic violence, and the way lack of education and the sophistication that can come with it can land one behind the eight-ball. 

Although some productions may be more polished, among several exciting plays I've seen this season, this is the deepest and most moving -- the one I think I'm gladdest to have seen.

Liliom plays at Celebration of Whimsey Theater in downtown Manhattan through March 9, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.  

Yvonne Korshak

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March 01, 2014

REVIEW Gidion's Knot by Johnna Adams, directed by Austin Pendleton, with Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien, 59E59 Theaters

... truth ...

Gidion’s Knot is an intense gem.  Two persons, a Gidion'sKnot6mother, Caryn (Leiner) and a grade school teacher, Heather (O’Brien) are engaged, during a parent-teacher conference in a taut  offensive-defensive search for truth.

L-R Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien.  Photo by Carol Rosegg

Caryn, thin, brusque, sharp, in jeans and leather boots, comes to school looking for an explanation for a catastrophe that has met her son. Heather, soft, tender, plump, blowzy, seeks to keep Caryn -- and her probing questions and snooping around the classroom -- at bay.  Caryn is looking to untie the knot of evasions and slim clues that stand between her and knowing the truth of what transpired regarding her son.   Heather, the classroom teacher, knows the truth -- or does she?

With a compelling immediacy, Gidion's Knot takes place in true time -- the play takes 90 minutes, so does this remarkable parent-teacher conference -- and the characters are seen as life-size (seats in this small theater immediately around the stage).  But even deeper excitement lies in the targeted dialog, the canny fencing, the emotional and intellectual shifts as Caryn, bull dogging Heather, ratting through the knot of clues, gradually illuminates the events  and the emotional undercurrents.

Like Hickey in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and with a similar cruel edge, Caryn strips away the self-protective rationalizations, forcing truth into the open for both women.  Directly on the heels of Caryn's relentless and successful hunt for truth, the question looms:  given the great value placed on truth, is there ever a role for compassion in the searching it out?  Gidion’s Knot seems to come down on the side of the unvarnished value of searing truth, a tough verdict.

Two outstanding actresses, Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien, in their two studies of opposites, fascinate in the course of their emotional voyage, as if they shared a lifetime, and under Austin Pendleton's subtle direction, nothing is lost and everything illuminates.  

Johnna Adams’ deep knowledge of human beings, intelligence and dramatic gift has located in a meeting of a parent and teacher in an ordinary classroom an encounter as hold-your-breath suspenseful as a whodunit, and with the highest stakes.  It leaves you thinking about topical issues, such a school bullying, and eternal questions, such as the nature and value of truth. This is true dramatic magic.

Gidion's Knot  plays at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan through March 9,  2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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February 25, 2014

REVIEW London Wall by John Van Druten, directed by Davis McCallum, Mint Theater Company

... from palace to office  …

In James Barrie’s  comedy The Twelve Pound Look of 1920, seen recently, a woman who boldly divorced her wealthy, aristocratic husband finds independence and contentment as a typist ... but the entire play is set in the husband’s palatial home.  John Van Druten, eleven years later, thrusts us directly into the woman’s workplace:  we’re in the office in London Wall -- with a great set by Marion Williams -- and the play’s about the women and men who work there.  Amidst the file cabinets, desks and typewriters, we’re drawn into the lives of typists and clerks in a London barrister’s office, and what they face in finding love, off-hours entertainment, spiritual satisfaction and enough money to pay the rent.  What a difference in eleven years! 

Miss Pat Milligan is the newest and youngest of the typists who's set upon by the in-house skirt chaser, Mr. Brewer, the firm’s handsome, young lawyer.  The older and experienced Miss Janus warms Pat about him, but how can a pretty nineteen year-old girl, alone in the world and with a miniscule salary, resist the attentions of a charming professional man who wines and dines her?  Best of all -- and what really gets her heart racing -- Brewer takes her to the theater!

Through the lives in this busy, working office, Van Druten lets us see love in all its parts:  innocent, worldly, youthful, mature, young naïve, old naïve, heartbreaking and rewarding.  A strength of this play is its unobtrusive exploration of the several ages of women, but men, too are given their due, with the young clerk Birkenshaw and the elderly head of the firm, Mr. Wagner, rounding things out in terms of gender.

Two in this fine cast particularly capture the rapid-fire humor, and tossed-off ironies of 1930’s comedies, Stephen Plunkett as Mr. Brewer and Julia Coffey as the knowing but vulnerable Miss Janus.  Laurie Kennedy is amusing as the vague -- but she knows perfectly well what she’s doing -- elderly patron of the firm.

Jonathan Hogan is the firm's authoritative head, Mr. Walker, who has one foot in the old ways and the other stretching to take the big step forward, an early -- and I'd bet influential -- version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's King of Siam.  Old school while open to new realities, Walker struggles to cope fairly with that current huge challenge:  women in the office! 

One can see why the lusty Brewer sets his sights on the pretty Miss Pat Milligan:  Elise Kibler plays the part with charming sass but often speaks in a casually conversational tone, just above a whisper, without projecting her voice -- a try at some some kind of naturalism but the upshot is you can't hear her.   

John Van Druten went on to write some of the finest, longest running, and most popular plays, in London and on Broadway, including  I Remember Mama, The Voice Of The Turtle, Bell, Book and Candle, and I Am A Camera;  and he also directed, and wrote for the movies.  He was a real theater man -- no wonder Mr. Brewer is able to turn Miss Milligan's head by giving her the best kind of evening there is -- by taking her to a play, probably one by John Van Druten.  Thanks to the Mint Theater for giving us the chance to see this enjoyable play -- the best kind of evening there is!

London Wall plays at The Mint Theater, mid-town West in Manhattan, through April 14, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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January 30, 2014

REVIEW A Man's A Man by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Gerhard Nellhaus, original music by Duncan Sheik, directed by Brian Kulick, Classic Stage Company

... Brecht no way...

This early play of Brecht, set in British Colonial India, takes up the story of a pleasant minded civilian, an Irishman named Galy Gay, who -- on his way to buy fish for himself and his wife -- is waylaid by three soldiers whose fourth companion has disappeared and is, by force and brain washing (though that term came in later), turned into a enthused soldier, defined here as a killing machine. 

It's challenging to consider whether a man can be completely transformed, re-machined as Brecht would have it, in order to fulfill a role that fulfills the purposes of society's top dogs, but the play doesn't make the case.  The transitions are too abrupt, the change not convincing, and  so -- whatever the reality may be -- the premise appears silly.  The humanity that permeates Brecht’s best work is lacking here, and the play comes across as diagrammatic and over-long by someone whose full dramatic talent has yet to develop. 

Still, whatever the virtues of provoking thought and shaking up assumptions A Man's A Man may have, this production has an opulent flavor at odds with the play's biting, expressionistic character.  Among Hollywood-like touches, a vast ceiling-to-floor silvery curtain shimmers, a dead ringer for Christmas tree tinsel, to represent the façade of a mysterious, exotic temple within which one British soldier disappeared.  Generally the scale of stage elements, including a prop involving a fake elephant, and the comfortable lighting, contrast with the spare expressionistic vision the characterized the initial German production of 1926.  Anything can be worth doing but the visual extravagance in the Classic Stage production vitiates the drama and Brecht's tough-minded political point of view.    

Gibson Frazier brings power, if not irony, to the role of Galy Gay, particularly in the catalytic scene in which through cruel devices, he’s transformed into a machine-like soldier.   I think that in a production more true to the play’s essential expressionism, the schematic brutality and patent artificiality could have a strong impact.  Here it elicited the response:  “no way.” 

The part of Widow Behick -- a gutsy Mother Courage type of woman along the lines of those Brecht wrote into several of his plays -- is played by Justin Vivien Bond, a brilliant male drag performance artist.   It’s great fun to watch him -- he’s the highlight of the show and keeps it from feeling interminably dull -- but, although he takes seriously and acts well the few tender moments, the camp aspect of the performance robs the play of the natural humanity that perhaps a woman playing the part directly, without the distancing of camp, may have provided.

Duncan Sheik's music, contemporary but resonating with Kurt Weil, nostalgic but up-to-date, was appealing and I hope it finds its way into other Brecht productions since, though written for this one, it wouldn't be limited to it.  

Here’s a chance to see an early Brecht play, for some a reason to go -- but it’s far from being Brecht’s best, and this production sidesteps its essence in favor of scenic and other distractions. 

A Man's A Man plays at Classic Stage in Manhattan's East Village through February 16th, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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January 27, 2014

REVIEW My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer by Brian Watkins, directed by Danya Taymor, with Katherine Folk-Sullivan and Layla Khoshnoudi, The Flea Theater

… not your Little House On The Prairie … 

MyDaughter1_HunterCanning
L-R Katherine Folk-Sullivan and Layla Khoshnoudi.  Photo by Hunter Canning 

Two sisters, Sarah (Folk-Sullivan), a morbidly passive introvert, and Hannah (Khoshnoudi), more outgoing and looking for a leap to freedom, are played by two fine actresses who subtly and vividly capture their psychological contrasts through complementary monologs and some physical action.   I'd like to see them in a more satisfying play.

In intriguing staging, which works well because of the dramatic strength Katherine Folk-Sullivan brings to her voice, Sarah in her first monolog is seen as a backlit shadow flickeringly behind a curtain.  She’s trapped in her rural Colorado home, edgy, seething with resentment, stuck doing chores with no help from her mother.  Hannah, we find, is more in the world -- she has a job in town -- and is more determined to get away.  The sisters share, though, a keen dislike of their mother’s pet, a sheep named Vicky that the mother insists on keeping in the house, the remaining one of 30 or 40 sheep the family had when Dad was there and the family prospered. 

Vicky the sheep, though not actually enacted -- nobody plays Vicky -- through pantomime and description is part of the action, but the mother is less visualized. 

To which sister will the mother give ownership of the fine truck that Dad -- dead or just absent -- left behind years ago?  Each wants to get her hands on those keys to freedom, but assertive Hannah hatches a scheme to take hold of them for herself, a plan that involves impregnating Vicky, an event grossly and unpleasantly described (signs of things to come).  It brings to mind that Barbara Kingsolver in her novel Prodigal Summer makes the undeniably earthy task of impregnating goats hilarious and touching.  It depends on temperament, I guess. 

The mother’s birthday catalyzes the violent eruption of repressed resentments and sibling competition, including the sisters’ hostility to that third cog in the machine of sibling rivalry, their mother’s favorite, Vicky the sheep.  And what happens isn’t pretty.    

Will Hannah, who has the keys to the truck, get away?

And how, in current narratives of dysfunctional families -- one thinks of Tracy Letts' August:  Osage County, play and film -- did the big open spaces of the American West, symbol of freedom, take on the character of a trap? 

My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, sharing this theme of "let me out of here," calls to mind as well the new play by Eric Dufault, The Year Of The Rooster, (see blog directly previous) also focused on a dysfunctional family in a claustrophobic house, in the Oklahoma plains, with a lazy, narcissistic mother, an inhibited son in need of a break-out and, of all coincidences, an animal inappropriately kept indoors who does not fare well, a heroic fighting cock (here it's the mother who finds the animal a major irritant).  In The Year Of The Rooster, we understand the debilitating conflicts and tensions and share the son’s struggle to transcend them.

In My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, reasons are as opaque as the title (there’s no hammer, just a meat tenderizer -- does that count?).  We don’t know why the mother exploits her daughters, or what happened to the father, and the playwright’s talent for description is in the service of unsavory sadistic sensationalism.

My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer plays at the Flea Theater in Manhattan's Tribeca through February 14, 2014.  EXTENDED through February 22, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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January 18, 2014

REVIEW Year Of The Rooster by Eric Dufault, directed by John Giampietro, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood

... the charismatic rooster ...

To put it simply, you have to see Bobby Moreno as Odysseus Rex, the fighting rooster:  it's as stunning a performance as has ever come along.

The others of the cast, with their highly individualized characters, are equally brilliant -- though, no doubt about it, Moreno’s charismatic rooster coming alive on stage has an unforgettable edge.  The play is good enough -- you have to love a play that offers this distinct array of characters.

We’re in rural Oklahoma where Gil Pepper is training a tremendously promising fighting cock, Odysseus Rex.  That’s about all Gil has going for him because otherwise he’s a wimp, pushed around by everyone -- Lou, his mother, Philipa, his co-worker at McDonald’s, and Dickie, the local Important Man and cock fight promoter (a lot of the humor and irony of this play is about big fish in small pond) who wants to get his hands on Gil’s cock (and if that line isn’t in the play, something close to it is).

All Gil’s strength, and his very manhood, is in his fearless rooster, tough, angry, ready to take on anyone and anything. 

With alert eyes, a piercing but unsettled gaze, snarling but vulnerable mouth and jerky movements Moreno is the rooster, bred to fight, nurtured to anger, puzzled by his own rage without losing its momentum, and with a soft spot, tragically overlooked.   Moreno doesn't need a "costume" but, wittily, his jacket gets some feathers looping over his shoulders -- in Western style.   

Dickie throws his weight around to get what he wants -- the rooster, and some valuable eggs Gil’s incubating.  Philipa, newly appointed Manager of McDonald’s, throws her weight around, grossly humiliating Gil, her one employee, continuing the relationship he’s had with his narcissistic mother.  Worthily or not, Dad, long dead, is Gil’s ideal, Odysseus Rex’s alter ego or vice versa, at any rate a source of the strength that gets Gil through to the big match, the climactic cockfight, staged all-out by Qui Nguyen, between Odysseus Rex and Dickie’s powerful old bird.   If you’ve never seen a cockfight, here’s your chance -- the feathers really fly.

The cockfight opens the door to a lot more enchantment, comic and tragic, before Gil reaches a pat but reasonably satisfying resolution -- after all, we are rooting for him.

Thomas Lyons as the schlemiel finds humor in broad type and stunning subtlety.  Denny Dale Bess is scary as the local impresario who, with the deep Western drawl, takes things to the edge.  Megan Tusing is amusing and convincing as the nasty mouthed Macdonald’s manager, who doubles as an over-plump chicken: at the risk of repeating an idea, I’d say you have to see Megan Tusing as Philipa.  Delphi Harrington is the lazy, self-centered mother who put lipstick and make-up on her little boy  (the psychology is a little simplistic).  

If you are anywhere in range of this play, you’re lucky:  you can see Year Of The Rooster.  Don't miss the chance.

Year Of The Rooster  plays in an extended run at the Ensemble Theater on Manhattan's west side through February 1, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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January 13, 2014

REVIEW I Am The Wind by Jon Fosse, English adaptation by Simon Stephens, directed by Paul Takacs, with Christopher Tierney and Louise Butelli, The Shop at 59E59

... duet ...

IAmTheWind_1
R-L Louis Butelli and Christopher Tierney.  Photo Cherylynn Tsushima

This intense, gripping short play is superbly acted and perfectly produced.  It’s about what happens to two men, The One (Tierney) and The Other (Butelli) as they un-moor a small boat and sail out past the lighthouse to the sea.

They are a study in contrasts, and of the power equations between lover and beloved.  The One, in his striped sailor’s shirt, is youthful, handsome, brawny, with athletic ease.  This is his boat, and he knows his way around the water.  The Other, in his soft cardigan, is older, bespectacled, bony, awkward: when he’s ordered to tie the boat to land, it’s clear he’s never tied a sailor's knot, let alone jumped off or on a boat before.  But he does it, and makes it, though with some bruises. 

And then there’s their difference in words.  The One, emerging from sex he didn’t want but “just did”, searches for words to express his psychic angst: he isn’t “here,” he can’t bear noise, he can’t, in fact, bear much of anything. The Other, down-to-earth, loving,  questions, trying to understand.  The Other is skinny, but he’s the one with the healthy appetite, whether for sex or food.

The backdrop is swathed in fabric that looks like silk, in shades of gray to white and the floor is shiny wet-black:  clouds, sky and sea.  (I saw a face staring down formed of the wrinkles of the fabric but I don’t know if that was intended, though I hope it was.)  Although we don’t at first know where we’re headed, a sense of foreboding builds with every word and action.  The One knows where he’s headed, though  --  beyond the rocks to the open sea.  And he carries us, along with The Other, with a siren’s skill and purpose. 

A single  prop is multi-purpose -- a thick, black, twisted rope.  It's used to tie and untie the boat and -- through mime and sense memory that’s close to magic -- turns into a bottle pouring wine, meat to dig one's teeth into, and a tiller steering against heavy waves.  Like The Other, the rope does what it has to do, even when it’s a stretch.

The play is written as a scenically and emotionally descriptive poem;  the dialog moves like two musical  instruments in a sonata.  The One, driven by angst to metaphor, initiates the themes, and The Other, trying to understand his affectless friend, responds, puzzling over the fluid imagery.  Beyond words -- and a particularly compelling aspect of the play --the personalities and power dynamics between lover and beloved are conveyed through action -- who ties up the boat?  who sacrifices his common sense?   who takes the tiller?   Who wins?

The ecstatic conclusion perhaps over glorifies romantic depression.  Still, deeply human and psychologically true, I Am The Wind is satisfying as a study of two specific human beings.  It also has the spare clarity of a parable and in its play of youth and age, boldness and apprehension, land and sea, floating and sinking, is open to broad interpretations, like shapes in the clouds.  Its hold-your-breath suspense carries you to an ending that is moving and cathartic. 

I Am The Wind  plays at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan through Sunday, January 26, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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January 10, 2014

REVIEW Cry, Trojans (Troilus & Cressida), text by William Shakespeare, directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, The Wooster Group at The Performing Garage

Diving into disjunction, deconstructing anything and everything, and squeezing ambiguities out of certainties, The Wooster Group has always stayed theatrically steps ahead.  In staging this play they seem to have taken on their ultimate challenge because Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is already a work of deconstruction … a few centuries avant la lettre.  So what’s left for The Wooster Group to do?  Exuberantly, they add their own disjunctions and ambiguities to Troilus and Cressida for a stimulating take on Shakespeare’s play based on Homer’s epic about that war between the Greeks and Trojans.

The play’s set conjures not ancient Troy but a derelict American Indian camp with a shabby teepee.  A video screen, continuing the set, shows smoke rising from the top of the teepee, setting up the game of competing realities, while at the same time enlarging the meaning of the action.  

We’re on the Trojan side of things where proud, graceful and scraggly warriors return from battle, bare-chested, in motley Indian leather.  They cross the stage one-by-one in their individual versions of Indian-like dance steps as the gross sensualist, Pandarus, announces their legendary names:  Aeneas, Paris, Hektor … Pandarus, like all the Trojans, speaks with an Irish brogue.  Each warrior wears a quiver that looks like it’s seen better days, with a mask at the top -- Janus faced  to their own -- a head with the features of an ancient Greek sculpture, deteriorating, empty.

So much for idealized, mythic heroes.   So much for the gods, too -- the wobbly, empty heads recall that of Venus, a patron god of Troy and mother of Aeneas. 

On the love front, Troilus, one of King Priam’s many sons, is in love with Cressida, a match enabled by Pandarus  (who's lent his name to enabling sexual match-ups).  After a night of love, word comes that Cressida is to be passed over to the Greeks in a prisoner exchange -- a cruel deal managed by her own father, who’s a traitor as well, having defected to the Greeks.  Nice guy.  Troilus defends Cressida -- flaccidly -- she’s handed over to the other tribe, the Greeks, who speak in English accents in contrast to the Irish Trojans.

The Greeks pass Cressida around like a toy, kissing her, she looks a little staggered but adapts readily and fast ends up in bed with Diomedes, whom she’s willing enough to love, surrendering to him without much fight her love token from weak-willed Troilus.     

All the characters are one way or another weak willed and prone to betrayal, with the possible exception of Hektor, but they are stirred by thoughts of glory.  At a Council Meeting-Parliament Meeting--Pow Wow, the Trojans consider abandoning Helen to the Greeks in order to end the war but, in spite of an attempt at reasoning from Hektor and warnings from prophetic Cassandra, they opt in favor of keeping Helen and continuing the war which -- in any construction -- is a well-known really bad decision.

Video monitors project cuts from a movie about Eskimos, and others from a Hollywood film simultaneously with parallel action on stage, whether  arguments, violence, war councils, domestic tenderness.  The monitors will also switch to project what’s actually happening on the stage (or what’s almost happening -- there’s a lot of play at work in this play).  Actors glance occasionally at the monitors to time their gestures for easy-going near simultaneity, linking tech and real, cute, but it’s not over-done.   It’s tantalizing and profound.

The cast is superb as actors, dancers and singers, and skillful at switching from Irish to English when they switch character from Trojan to Greek.  The choreography is varied and luscious in being unhurried.   The costumes and set are part of a single vision: appealing, complex, tacky.  The Indian dress worn by Kate Valk, The Wooster Group’s great actress, has layers and asymmetries that, like the set itself, suggests the long history of transformations of Homer’s story.  

The deconstructive battering ram The Wooster Group has brought to other iconic works was less to the point for Troilus & Cressida because Shakespeare was fundamentally already there. Instead they build on the morally dour, unidealized and fragmented view Shakespeare wrote in Troilus and Cressida and underline through tech, and time and place dislocations its inherent generalizations, giving us basically what’s in the play, although it’s sometimes difficult to catch every word because of much going on at once.   

Cry, Trojans is more narratively continuous than other Wooster Group productions, less staccato and less eccentrically acted.  In a word, it's theatrically less radical, and easier to take (at moments of the first half, I wondered “is this easy listening Wooster Group?”).  But the second half jells powerfully.   Gentlest with its roughest play, The Wooster Group remains mind-bending.

Cry, Trojans plays at The Performing Garage in Manhattan's Tribeca through February 2, 2014.  EXTENDED THROUGH FEBRUARY 15, 2014 For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

P.S.  For another take on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, click for Classic Stage's Age of Iron. 

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January 02, 2014

REVIEW The Night Alive, written and directed by Conor McPherson, The Donmar Warehouse Production at the AtlanticTheater

 ... author ex machina ...

Never mind the hype -- this is not a good play.  The characters and their problems are interesting, but their dire situations are resolved too easily.  

The setting is the junked up Dublin apartment of Tommy, and like the apartment that has the requisite parts -- a sink, a bathroom, beds, chairs, the characters are recognizable but junked up, unable to engage fully with the regular world.  Tommy, whose ex-wife hammers at him for abandoning his kids, ekes out a living from odd jobs, employing Doc, a little guy who (we’re told) is slow witted and is wearing out his welcome at his sister's place.  Going out for a snack one night, Tommy comes home with a beaten and bleeding girl, Aimee, whose tight low jeans and sparse speech convey bottom of the social barrel.

Tommy’s Uncle Maurice, who owns the house where Tommy rents, is neat and well dressed:  a property owner and a “normal person” one thinks briefly, but he turns out to be an alcoholic.  

Tommy calls Doc "disabled" and these characters are all one way or another disabled, and yet in their various ways they're all kind, like Tommy who takes the battered, threatened girl into his home.

But there's nothing kind about Kenneth, Aimee’s pimp.  Evil incarnate -- the Devil: as he clamps in vampire teeth, his face becomes a Devil's mask.  He wreaks brutal havoc, creating through his own acts and catalyzing others to commit what looks like irrevocable damage

Only the murderous results of Kenneth’s brutality are, as if by magic, repaired.  Through a series of unexplained and implausible leaps -- largely off-stage -- things turn out OK -- even better than OK.  As the play moves along, there's more and more imagery of shining and light.

The characters' problems are solved, partly through the actions of an angelic Uncle Maurice.  Tommy works out with others the healthy relatedness that had been lacking in his life.  Doc gets a secure place to live.  So eventually does Aimee.  And the bad man gets his just deserts.  Yeay!  Never mind that to reach these good results we have to accept some disturbingly unpunished crime. In such a redemptive glow, it's square to even think about the law.    

Things happen not through consistent characters or effective plotting but because it's how the author wants them.  Tommy tells us that Doc “will always, always, be five to ten minutes behind everybody else,” but seen in action, Doc outfoxes Tommy to get the money he's owed, and elsewhere shows the wherewithal to get what he needs and wants.

What particularly annoys me about this play is that problems are resolved by a stroke of the author's hand rather than through struggles on the part of the characters that we witness or understand. Doc rambles in his idiot savant way about black holes and non-time but down-to-earth Tommy ignores him in favor of all that shining and light imagery. 

The author doesn’t allow arbitrary turns of events and downright implausibility to get in the way of redemption.  In my book, that’s a writerly sin.

The Night Alive plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district through February 2, 2014.  For information and tickets, go to http://www.AtlanticTheater.org

Yvonne Korshak

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December 24, 2013

REVIEW The [curious case of the] Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George, directed by Leigh Silverman, Playwrights Horizons

Reference to Sherlock Holmes, computers, time travel and mysterious goings-on -- it all sounds wild and wacky, but it’s pretentious and not clever. 

The play weaves in and out about several Watsons, Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson, who, in a nearby room, received Bell’s first telephone call, IBM’s natural-language-processing supercomputer, Watson (named after the founder of IBM),  and the “real” contemporary man in the play, a computer repairer Watson who’s just a nice guy.

In the first scene, the best part of the play, Eliza (Amanda Quaid), a computer genius, converses with her creation, Watson, an outstanding computer language processor.  Like the inventor Spalanzani who falls in love with the wind-up doll he creates in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, Eliza pretty much falls in love with her mechanical creation -- how not, since she made him the way she wanted him?

So that ... when she encounters a real, ordinary guy named Watson, who (played by the same actor) looks just like her pet computer and who says all the right things (programmed computer empathy and Elton John all in one), she falls fast in love with him too.  It’s a love triangle since this “real” Watson was sent by Eliza’s estranged husband to spy on her.   

Meanwhile, back in the 19th century, Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson seeks to rescue a woman from a super-over-possessive and controlling husband, while Alexander Graham Bell’s Watson is involved in a parallel combination rescue operation/love triangle.  All Watsons are played by John Ellison Conlee who’s amusing as a friendly computer programmed with empathetic responses but totally miscast as a lover-- worse, multiple lovers.  The contemporary love scenes between Eliza, played with charm by Quaid, and Watson the computer fix-it man are as incongruous as Titania’s drugged passion for Bottom with his donkey head in Midsummer Night’s Dream, but here just clumsy, not magical.   

David Costabile plays Merrick, the self-involved, over-technical but underneath it all loving husband in the triangles:  his skill as an actor is apparent as he tries to make several pseudo-intellectual soliloquies he's required to deliver interesting but it’s a thankless task.      

The Watson Intelligence is like Charles Ludlum’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, seen recently in a wonderful production in Sag Harbor -- but without the wit, variety, or imaginative zaniness, or Irma Vep's tour de force wonderously instant changes of costume and character; here these are easy and transparent, and sloppily carried out.  After the initial “conversation” between Eliza and her computer, there’s little here to smile about, and much to yawn over.

The [curious case of the] Watson Intelligence plays at Playwrights Horizons on Theater Row, West 42nd Street in Manhattan, through December 29, 2013.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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December 03, 2013

REVIEW The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates, adapted and directed by Viot Hořejš, The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, LaMaMa in association with Goh Productions

Socrates actively engaged in his search for understanding -- talking, talking and talking, and asking leading questions -- serene as the time approaches for drinking the hemlock, the Athenian state’s means of executing the philosopher on grounds of believing in his own gods and corrupting the youth, is an iconic historical event.  Through the use of live actors speaking the words while manipulating small puppets, and with shadow puppetry on the background screen, The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates seeks to draw for its interest on the tension between philosophizing and imminent death but unfortunately the production fails its material.  

For one thing, the play appears severely under-rehearsed.  The actors did not know their lines well, and had to improvise their way around several unplanned blocking mishaps.  They’re also not very skilled with puppets whose movements were approximate at best -- there’s no trace of the virtuosity that one finds in other puppet productions and which can sometimes be breathtaking.

And what's the purpose of the puppets anyhow since the actors are onstage, costumed, speaking the lines and visibly doing pretty much everything the puppets are supposed to be also doing?  Even the actors seemed confused about the puppets -- sometimes an actor would use a prop as his or her own and then, remembering the puppet was supposed to be doing whatever was to be done, switched the prop down to the puppet hovering at ankle level.   

Given the raw state of the performance, it’s hard to judge how successfully Plato’s dialogs have been extracted for the purposes of a play.  Socrates as we know him through Plato's dialogs wasn’t talking about the ideal state in his last hours and while a claim can always be made for “poetic license,” events surrounding his death are well known to many so that to alter them raises a problem of believability. 

The diffuse quality of the script is also seen in the inclusion of a dramatization of Plato’s famous “allegory of the cave,” which is not integrated with the play's focus on the tension between “the ideal state” and “Athens executing its most famous philosopher.”  On the positive side, those who know Socrates only as a famous philosopher will find out that this venerated philosopher was anti-democratic and authoritarian.  The solo music, composed and played by Clifton Hyde, was evocative and a fine highlight.

Socrates “survived” even his execution in the sense that he went on to become, with Plato’s help, the most famous philosopher in Western history, and he’ll survive this, too.   

The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates   plays at La MaMa's First Floor theatre through December 15th.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. 

                                                                                         Yvonne Korshak

La MaMa E.T.C., in association with GOH Productions, presents Czechoslovak-American
Marionette Theatre in "The Republic, or, My Dinner with Socrates," written and directed by Vit Horejs. The philosophers discuss democracy. L-R: Christopher Broholm and Socrates puppet, Alan Barnes Netherton and Adeimatos puppet, Jonathan Mastrojohn and Glaucon puppet. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

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December 01, 2013

REVIEW Family Furniture by A. R. Gurney, directed by Thomas Kail, The Flea Theater

“My ancestors fought the Indians along the Mohawk River before they signed up with George Washington,”says Russell, father of the family. “Your mother’s great great grandfather helped plan and design the Erie Canal.” This is an amusing, beautifully observed and perfectly acted play about an FamilyFurniture3_JoanMarcusupper class “WASP” family -- Gurney’s favorite territory -- on the cusp of social change in the aftermath of World War II.  It’s set in 1954 at a summer lake house near Buffalo, NY. 

Carolyn McCormick and Peter Scolari. Photo Joan Marcus

To cut to the quick, there are moments when Peter Scolari as Russell -- Yale, money, connections, family -- is so imperturbable based on his sense of certainty about his family’s entitlement and at the same time so natural and vulnerable to the challenging immediacies, so totally believable, that I’d like to go back just to see him do it again. 

Carolyn McCormick is equally tone perfect as Russell’s entrancing wife, Claire, a woman born to do all the right things and doing most of them right -- raising her two, now college aged, kids with focus and intelligence, bringing home everyone’s favorite goodies in big paper bags like the mother of the FamilyFurniture2_JoanMarcus Bobbsey twins, heading up what must be every charity in Buffalo, but with her own vulnerability and underlying, passion, harnessed -- though not eliminated -- by “good breeding.”

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Carolyn McCormick.  Photo Joan Marcus

The challenges that 
threaten the smooth skein of Russell’s privileged view of himself and family come thick and fast:  his son, Nick (Andrew Keenan-Bolgar), is in love  with a Jewish girl Betsy, (Molly Nordin) and his daughter Peggy (Ismenia Mendes) is in love with an Italian.  Oh those kids!  And,
although she’s sticking to their own cast and class, his wife may be having an affair: Mr. Baldwin is, like Claire, a tennis player.  Russell’s sport is sailing.

A scene where Russell, on a small sailboat with his daughter, persuades her -- as they repeatedly tack and and duck under a swinging boom -- to take a vacation from the Italian Marco by offering her a trip abroad (to Italy!) is so good the audience applauded spontaneously in mid-act.

Fitting the “WASP” stereotype to a T, Russell often sounds arrogant and narrow minded.  He’s fast to cast aspersions on other ethnic groups, warning his daughter about her beloved Marco, for instance, by telling her that all Italians “become gangsters or politicians.”  But faced with the reality of his daughter’s deep emotions, and his understanding of true character, he turns tack.  After all, he did once have a Jewish girlfriend, though they never thought seriously of marrying (“I had my English roots to keep me in line, while she fell back on the Old Testament.”)  And Claire sees a virtue in FamilyFurniture5_JoanMarcus“hybrid vigor” all along.  This is a very benign, Norman Rockwellian vision of social entrenchment. 

Peter Scolari and Ismenia Mendes.  Photo Joan Marcus

They’re forced to change, and they were never really that prejudiced anyhow -- just enough for Gurney’s wit to offer one delicious laugh after another.

Popular songs create not only a nostalgic aura, as in Woody Allen, but are part of the interplay between surface and depth that’s at the heart of this play.  In a particularly moving moment, a brilliant moment, really, Russell moves to accompany his wife to the kitchen but she, thinking of someone else, lightly holds him off.  “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah …. “ he sings softly.  Betsy, the Jewish girlfriend's not the only one into FamilyFurniture4_JoanMarcus "hidden meanings" -- so's Gurney.  A message of this play is that “People can know and not know,” and at the very least, that’s something we can work with.

Molly Nordin and Andrew Keenan-Bolger. Photo Joan Marcus

There are some implausibilities in Family Furniture, particularly in the denouement.  These are easily overlooked because the characters of this beautifully cast play and the reparte, and the nostalgic, seductive  sense of a moment of American wholeness provide an evening of total delight. 

Family Furniture   plays at The Flea Theater in Manhattan's Tribeca through December 22, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak   

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November 18, 2013

REVIEW And Away We Go by Terrence McNally, directed by Jack Cummings III, A World Premier, The Pearl Theatre Company

… all the stage’s a world …

The back stage magic of And Away We Go makes me think of the wonderful song about a dogged and devoted itinerant theater group in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, “We Open In Venice” (“then on to Cremona …. and on to …. and on …").  And Away We Go, too, is on the move -- with the feel of a story about an equally valiant itinerant theater troupe only here the wanderings take them not just through Northern Italy but through time, back and forth.  This  imaginative, mind stretching extravaganza is beautifully pulled off by the Pearl Theatre group.

The play takes us behind the scenes from the Theater of Dionysos (not Dionysios as printed) in Ancient Athens to today, with stops at works-in-progress at the Globe in London and Versailles’s Royal Theater, and first productions of Chekhov and Beckett.  As we weave through time, through plays, and through personal as well as public dramas, the leading character is everywhere and anywhere the theater itself and the chancy, chaotic, demanding and disciplined process that makes plays happen.

An aspect that makes And Away We Go particularly strong is McNally’s inclusive vision of all who make “theater.”  Actors, directors, authors, mask makers, tech people, angels, artistic directors, food deliverers and audiences have roles.  No in-group snobbery here -- fun is made of wannabe-a-part-of-it donors, and of everybody else -- great fun, thanks to marvelous comic performers in the Pearl Theatre’s troupe!

There’s a total human inflection -- theater as family, theater as loss of loved ones, theater as a tension between “advanced” plays and audiences who haven’t gotten there yet.   

I wish that in roving through theater from antiquity, and from Russia to Coral Gables, Florida, McNally had included forays into the great theater traditions world wide.  I suppose “you can’t do everything,” but, in the spirit of what works and what doesn’t, the focus on the traditions you’d find in “A History of Western Theater” course came across as narrow.  I also found the AIDS episode seemed a somewhat forced inclusion.    

In keeping with the joyous boisterous play, the set’s a riotous wonder of costumes, lights, manikins, and props -- it's a wonderful work of art in itself -- and the costumes are entrancing.  

At the start, each actor introduces himself or herself with personal and self-invented words -- thus the theme that the great illusions are based on real people with specific lives and contexts is sounded -- and never forgotten.  Since the play is a continuing flow of segues, it demands perfect timing, remarkable versatility on the part of the actors and comic and dramatic gifts.  Jack Cummings III firm hand on this non-linear romp through time and space is a directorial tour-de-force .

Micah Stock as the delivery man who doesn’t “get” Godot provides one among many comic high points.  Donna Lynn Champlin’s huge round eyes are hilariously expressive, whether she’s pushing a mop as a stolid Russian cleaning lady or catching up as a donor groupie in-love-with-theater.  Dominic Cuskern ranges with power and humor from a perfectionist mask maker in ancient Athens to perfectionist actor at Louise XIV’s Versailles -- ever since I saw him as Malvolio in the Pearl’s Twelfth Night, I’ve thought of him as particularly outstanding in roles of men who take themselves too seriously. 

Rachel Botcham is vibrant (as well as humorous -- just about everything comes with a strong dose of humor) as the woman who wants to act on stage -- in epochs when the idea of a female actor was an absurdity.  Carol Schultz is touching and instantly persuasive as, for instance, the Russian Countess who doesn’t want her association with a theater group known.  Sean McNall is energetic and touching in his roles as actor and actor’s lover.  These are just snippets -- this play’s a feast!      

The breadth of imagination of And Away We Go is invigorating.  This ambitious, perfectly fulfilled production is a fine evening of that challenging, joyous and essential aspect of existence -- theater.

And Away We Go plays at the Pearl Theatre on Manhattan's west side through December 15, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.  Now EXTENDED through December 21, 2013.

Yvonne Korshak

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November 11, 2013

REVIEW Men In White by Sidney Kingsley, directed by Erin Cronican, The Seeing Place Theater

Sidney Kingsley's Men In White is a vivid drama about doctors, their lives and their practice in a hospital in 1933, the year the play was first produced.  It builds on a fascinating tension between the image of doctors as heroic and pure -- “men in white” -- and the fact that they’re as prone as the rest of us to mistaken notions, ethical quandaries, and yielding to temptations.   

George Ferguson is the most promising of the young doctors at St. George’s Hospital.  He’s so bright and idealistic he’s headed for research with the great Dr. Hochberg -- a professional coup -- and he’s so able an M.D. that he’s called on constantly …. to set a broken leg ... catheterize a patient ... administer a shot (in those days when the medical arsenal was thinner, these general surgeons did everything).  He’s not only skilled, he’s ethical -- seizing the instruments from the hands of an important M.D. who’s using the wrong method, and going on to save the patient’s life. 

Will he cave in to the pressing demands for "fun" and a "full life" of his fiancée, Laura, when yet another medical emergency forces him to break a date with her -- again?  She’s bitterly disappointed and near to fed-up but, forthrightly and honestly, he conveys to her his sense of duty as well as his conflict, and suggests a date for the next night.

Thus he passes the first tests of his idealistic devotion to medicine and human betterment.  But others come along, as they’re bound to, and he -- like others of his colleagues -- sometimes fails to do the right thing, or does the wrong one. 

Through George Ferguson, his beautiful, fun-loving  fiancée, Laura, and his medical and scientific mentor Dr. Hochberg, this play examines issues that are as important today as they were in 1933.  The intense strains placed on physicians (and other professionals) in the course of arduous training and practice continue to put loving relationships to hard tests -- although today the professionalism of women is more likely to figure among the personal conflicts. 

The play was very bold for its time in staging a gruesome operation to try to save the life of a young woman victimized by an illegal abortion, dramatizing the significance of the struggle for legalized abortion, and reminding us of the stigma of out-of-wedlock pregnancies that still extract the highest costs from women throughout the world.

And the conflict between the intense demands of vocational and other idealism and the high purposes of a loving life is timeless.

It’s welcome that The Seeing Place Theater has given us the opportunity to see Men In White, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1934.  Watching on opening night, however, I thought the play had been under-rehearsed.  There were distracting line flubs, some of which led to factual anachronisms such as a doctor recommending “antibiotics,” not yet discovered in 1933 -- quick thinking on a missed cue but it came out wrong -- and language anachronisms like “the both of them” for “both of them," along with other improvisational patches. 

While these things can be smoothed out, there’s a mismatch, between the goals of this theater group and the style needed to produce this play effectively.

The “behavioral storytelling” approach described in the group’s statement includes the pauses, repetitions, and multi-tries of our everyday language:  this creates a slow pace inconsistent with the mood of the text, and makes you feel you’re losing touch with the playwright.  Movement, too, appears improvisational, evidently because, according to the statement, “There is very little blocked on stage … ”  leading to diminished visual interest.

Men In White is of a crisp 1930’s genre that needs fast repartee and stage movement related to the action, and doesn't lend itself to long pauses while actors seem to look into themselves (and on opening night, for all the world gave the impression they were trying to remember their lines).  

I admire the creative idealism of this group, working toward depth through its “pro-actor philosophy” and method acting-like techniques, and I look forward to seeing how their ideas may animate in new ways other plays on their ambitious program.       

Men In White plays at ATA's Sargent Theater on West 54th Street in Manhattan through November 24th.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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October 23, 2013

REVIEW Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey, directed by Charlotte Moore, The Irish Repertory Theatre

Time:  September, 1922 – the height of the Irish Civil War

Place:  The two-room tenement apartment of the Boyle family in Dublin 

What an abundant play unfolds, perfectly acted and beautifully produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre!

Only one in the Boyle family is earning a living, Juno, the mother.  Daughter Mary’s out on strike.  Son Johnny is severely wounded in fighting for Irish independence and half-crazed fearing retribution for betraying an Irish Republican Army comrad who lived in this same building.  And the father, “Captain” Jack, Juno’s preening paycock of a husband, is a hard drinking former merchant seaman, who runs off to the pub with his drinking “butty” Joxer even when a job comes walking in the door.

So money’s very short, when an English solicitor, Mr. Bentham, arrives with the news that Jack is about to receive a substantial inheritance.  Anticipating the windfall, the Boyles purchase handsome new furniture on credit.  And -- icing on the cake -- the handsome and professional Mr. Bentham is in love with beautiful Mary -- or so it seems.  The Boyle’s stand to rise upward in the world on all counts.  It’s not giving too much away to say that things don't work out that way.

In an idyllic interlude, Mary and a neighbor Maisie Madigan sing at the celebratory party at the Boyle’s apartment, a moment of joy, though with a portent:  a funeral is underway at the same time for the IRA comrade Johnny betrayed.  Life and death cling to one another in this play like two lovers dancing.

Among this outstanding cast, J. Smith-Cameron is strong yet tender as Juno, the mother who keeps things going at a time “the centre cannot hold,” as W. B. Yeats wrote in "The Second Coming" (Yeats was Juno and the Paycock’s original producer in 1924 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin).  O'Casey's language is in itself highly poetic and as Jack Boyle, Ciaran O'Reilly is particularly effective in bringing out the poetry O’Casey finds in the natural speach in the Irish dialect. 

Mary Mallen as the young Mary is principled, warmly feminine, and in love with plenty of good reasons, which don’t always take you where you want to go. Terry Donnelly is a delightfully vibrant life-of-the-party as the neighbor Maisie Madigan.  And an absolute favorite -- simply fascinating to watch -- is John Keating as Joxer Daly, Jack Boyle’s go-along-with-the-flow and duplicitous drinking partner.  In a play of strong characterizations, his goes farthest beyond type into unforgettable and irresistible idiosyncracy.

Populated by richly drawn characters, Juno and the Paycock moves at a rollicking and yet lifelike pace between loyalty and betrayal, rapture and despair, lofty idealism and down-to-earth reality.  I’m eager to see the other plays of O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy,” Shadow of a Gunman  and The Plough and the Stars, but “meanwhile” I'm grateful to Irish Repertory Theatre for this exciting and fulfilling production.

Juno and the Paycock  plays at Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan's Chelsea through December 29th, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.  EXTENDED THROUGH JANYARY 26, 2013.

Yvonne Korshak

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. NOW EXTENDED through JAN 26.

October 10, 2013

REVIEW Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, directed by Tea Alagić, Classic Stage Company

... Where art Romeo and Juliet? ...

What I liked best about this Classic Stage production of Romeo and Juliet was the depiction of the men around the Montague Romeo and those around the Capulets as young toughs with a contemporary style.  Nothing new about that, of course, think of West Side Story, and Shakespeare in contemporary dress is commonplace.  But Harry Ford (substituting the night I attended for T. R. Knight), with his thick body packed into leather and to-the-head corn rows makes a charismatic Mercutio, volatile, dirty-mouthed, amused and amusing, and the rest of the guys fit in to the idea, though they’re not consistently as convincing. 

Shakespeare’s poetry is spoken throughout with an ineffective mix of over-contemporary-casual and over-emphasis on the last beat of each iambic line:  strange bed-fellows.  Much of the dialog is spoken so to-the-chest or throw-away, that it’s hard to catch -- this is particularly true of Romeo, played by Julian Cihi, but in general the poetry and even a lot of the words are sacrificed in the name of contemporary naturalism.  The upshot:  the speech sounds artificial and the poetic power is lost.

What a relief when Daniel Davis as Friar Laurence is on stage: he speaks with complete naturalism while conveying the rhythms and beauty of the poetry, and the projection of his clear, emotionally powerful voice is exciting.  His strength makes the character of Friar Laurence seem more central than in other productions, and that in itself is illuminating.

Like Ford as Mercutio, Daphne Rubin-Vega plays Juliet’s nurse in a vivid characterization based on a contemporary type.  Rubin-Vega’s Nurse is a bust-in-your-face Hispanic woman with an alluring accent -- think Chita Rivera -- with a crisp, aggressive white blouse, black harem pants and high heels that rock her through a fascinating gait.  Excitement leads her to lapse sometimes into rapid-fire Spanish that even a native Spanish speaker might miss:  evidently the director thought it was OK for the audience to lose her words for the sake of naturalism and humor but -- at the risk of being a stick-in-the-mud -- with Shakespeare, I’d rather hear all the words.  Still, there’s a welcome freshness to bringing the nurse out of the shadows of servility and showing her as a feisty foreigner. 

But Romeo (Cihi) and Juliet, played by Elizabeth Olsen, are the least effective actors in the production.  Passion? What passion?  Cihi never seems deeply affected by Juliet.  Juliet’s main approach seemed to be to raise her voice all-out loud to convey strong feeling, straining her throat.  There’s no erotic chemistry, even in bed.  Simply put, these two young actors have at this point neither the emotional depth nor the stage presence to carry such roles. 

Instead of an ensemble flow in this production, there’s a range of styles and performance individuality.  It follows that the production leaves one with the impression of a few stellar bits.  Mercutio, the Nurse, and Friar Laurence are well worth seeing

Romeo and Juliet  plays at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan's East Village through November 10, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. 

Yvonne Korshak

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October 07, 2013

REVIEW Sarah Flood In Salem Mass by Adriano Shaplin, directed by Rebecca Wright, Featuring The Bats, The Flea Theatre

Costumed actors take your tickets, will for a modest amount pour you a glass of wine, and engage in gorgeous and intriguing dance-like interactions in front of a stunning backdrop of silky delicately-toned hangings.   It makes you sure you’re in for great theater.  Once Sarah Flood in Salem Mass starts, though, the fun dissipates.   With its reference to the Salem Witch Trials, the play takes on the trappings of seriousness but flings itself into making a jumble of the actual events and persons;  that could be OK, exceptSarahFlood108_HunterCanning (3) that it offers no thoughts or ideas in return for its use of this tragic historical episode and the multitudes who suffered hideously because of it.

L-R John Paul Harkins, Whitney Conkling and Matthew Cox.  Photo Hunter Canning

For clarity's sake: Sarah Flood in Salem Mass isn’t about witch trials (unless I missed the word, “witch” never comes up). 

It does take place in 17th-century Salem, Mass. though it includes two female visitors from the future -- one of whom directly engages with the Salemites while the other just hovers in, watching the action. 

There are several narrative lines and places to look.  A group of girls meets in the woods for prayer and fellowship.

Some girls develop spastic seizures that worry their parents.

In a family rivalry, Thomas Putnam, an impoverished leader of the communitySarahFlood22_HunterCanning (2) wants the land being inherited by Haley Joel Putnam to be used for the benefit of the town while Haley Joel wants to keep it for himself.

L-R Glenna Grant, Michelle Silvani and Bradley Anderson.  Photo Hunter Canning

Liz, who wants to protect beavers from deforestation and other threats, resorts to a marriage of convenience and murder in the service of her ideals.

The local tavern owner who’s lax about going to church is persecuted (this came up early in the play when I was still expecting someone to call her a “witch” but no one does). 

And so on.

The kaleidoscopic presentation and cacophony make it tricky to take in the dialog which is, however, very flat.  For example, chosen at random, one character says, “Everyone hates you.”  The other one says, “Not my mother.”  There’s a lot like that.

The mini-stories reflect aspects of the actual history of the Salem trials, e.g., some historians believe that a family rivalry may have been behind the first “witch” accusations.  Spastic seizures were thought, in Salem, to be signs of the activity of witches.  Juyoug, the visitor from the future who engages with those in town reminds one that Tituba, one of the first accused in Salem, was an outsider ethnically (her specific background remains uncertain). 

By the play's end, a few conclusions are reached such as: whatever happens to people while they’re alive, everybody dies eventually and that’s that.  We have also seen through the action that sometimes the wicked flourish.  Unfortunately we don't need this play for those insights.  Generally, the play seems forced, looking for original effects.

Though theSarahFlood134_HunterCanning (2) material is thin, the Bats, the Flea’s resident company of actors early in their careers, are wonderful. 

Jeff Ronan (center) and the cast.  Photo Hunter Canning 

Sarah Flood In Salem Mass plays at The Flea Theater in NYC's Tribeca through October 26th, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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October 04, 2013

REVIEW Bike America by Mike Lew, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Ma-Yi Theater Company

… on the road …

A play about a group bike trip across America BIKE AMERICA-5sounds appealing but the view is confined to the not very interesting inner landscape of a “fucked up” young woman -- her self-description.   On the positive side, it’s well acted -- Jessica DiGovanni is standout in the role of 26-year old Penny -- and it’s well staged.

Jessica DiGiovanni (Penny) and David Shih (Matt with the Van).  Photo Web Begole. 

Penny, a “Millennial” it's emphasized, sets off on a trans-America bike trip to evade her spiritual claustrophobia and her possessive boyfriend.  She’s looking for a place where she can feel comfortable and maybe, even, settle. Fellow bikers are two single guys -- the leader, Ryan, and Tim Billy -- and a lesbian couple, Annabel and Rorie.  Matt with the Van is the on-hand Generation Xer. 

Penny’s boyfriend Todd catches up with them but not before Penny has fecklessly connected sexually with Tim Billy and Tom, and darned if both guys don’t have the annoying tendency to insert emotion into sex: they’re looking for a relationship -- it’s her boyfriend all over again.  All Penny wants is an emotionally anesthetized hook up.  Annabel and Rorie try by their example to persuade her of the virtues of commitment but that doesn’t work.

Because Penny’s “fucked up,” as she often says.   She can’t commit to any one or  any place. 

The dialogue takes a stab at nominating Penny as a representative of the Millennial Generation, but that seems inserted to give the play more heft, since none of the other millennials shares her issue.  And the transgressions, which I took to be intended as a kind of descriptive critique of the millennials, were surprisingly timid.  Penny’s passionless promiscuity isn’t newsworthy, the lesbian couple, also not newsworthy, is domesticated, and “fucked up” is as wild as the language gets.  Penny and Ryan are on-stage nude for one stroboscobically lit moment.

Jessica DiGiovanni is terrific at capturing current ironic lingo and expressions, and it’s fun to see her and her fellow bikers covering territory as if those bike wheels they tote are bikes that could really carry themBIKE AMERICA-2 somewhere.  The bottom line, though, is that we have no idea why Penny’s the way she is, and she doesn’t change in any way during the trip, nor does anyone else. 

 

Langdon G. Woodson (Tim Billy), Vandit Batt (Todd), Jessica DiGiovanni (Penny).  Photo Web Begole.

Bike America  plays at The Theater at St. Clements on Manhattan's West Side through October 20th, 2013.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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BIKE AMERICA-3

 

L-R Melanie Nicholls-King  (Rorie), Tom White (Ryan), Marilyn Torres (Annabel).  Photo Web Begole.

 

 

 

 

 

October 01, 2013

REVIEW The Film Society by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Jonathan Silverstein, Keen Company

The Film Society, set in an English boys’ school in Durban, South Africa in 1970 during apartheid, is a fine and intelligent play highlighted, in its Keen Company production, by brilliant acting.

The characters form a close-knit group all intimately associated with Blenheim School.  We meet Jonathon, once a student there, now a teacher with a "film society" as his pet project, trying to watch a film -- practically embracing his portable projector in the dark, while the school is roiled in turmoil.  The resident hot-head liberal, Jonathon’s friend and colleague Terry, put in charge of arranging a school celebration, brought in a Black minister to speak.  Now the minister has been arrested for appearing on stage, yes arrested.  And the school’s parents are up-in-arms at this “commie” breach of the walls of what they want to see as a conservative British bastion.

At first we think this will be about Good lined up on the side of handsome, boyish Terry who’s clearly on the side of history, the Blacks and new ideas, and Bad on the side of the stuffy, ailing Headmaster and what we assume is his rigid adherence to old ways and determination to fire Terry to appease the parents.   Jonathon, we suspect, like heroes in films, will break through his apparent timidity make a heroic choice for Good -- early on that's where I thought the play was headed.  

But the play unrolls to reveal ethical ambiguity at every turn, starting with the tragic fate of the Black minister:  We realize that what Terry's actually done is sacrifice the minister at the altar of his own idealistic purposes -- and Terry should have known what would happen, he's lived in Durban all his life.  The parents who send their boys to this school are up in arms over the scandal and breach of their reactionary values so that Headmaster Sutter is under pressure to fire Terry to protect the school that he's built from nothing and that graduates, we’re told, some very good boys?  Would firing Terry be right or wrong? 

And what of that lead-in about "heroic choice"?  Jonathon hurriedly separates himself from the controversy -- he was only looking after the refreshments when the Minister spoke, he assures the Headmaster.   But, through the single-minded machinations of his protective mother, Jonathon is promoted and then, as he gains power, is forced into action. 

The school’s infrastructure is crumbling just as the old teachers are declining into ill health and death.  Money is short.  To what extent does Jonathon have to placate the parents to stay in business?  Whom does he have to fire now?  Compromise is everywhere and decisions are equivocal.  It’s a very human story.

And everyone, from the gruffly intelligent Headmaster, to the overbearing aristocratic mother, to the liberal activist, is a full character.  Even the prejudiced, disciplinarian teacher, Hamish Fox. wins us over for a time with his passion for teaching clear and effective writing and speaking -- no accident that he's advocating that determining upper class skill, rhetoric.  Hamish is an extreme version of the kind of teacher about whom one says years later, “He was tough, but he taught me to write.”

Part of the richness of this play is that while focusing on individuals, it paints a picture of the violent context of social injustice pressing in on all sides. Within the play, we never actually leave the school, so this larger view of apartheid is created with considerable skill.  The focus on a few individuals in one confined place dramatizes the withering isolation of this enclave with its values from a vanished past.

Euan Morton turns in a profound performance as the evasive, weak seeming but fundamentally ambitious Jonathon:  it’s all there in every nuance of his voice, expression, and movement.  It’s a prize winning performance -- you can’t see better acting. 

Roberta Maxwell as the rich, scheming, domineering mother is arresting -- it’s hard to take ones eyes off her when she’s on stage.  Gerry Bamman goes well beyond a “tough Headmaster” type to convey Sutter’s realistic, even flexible reckoning in his determination to maintain his creation, Blenheim School, even as he is going blind, physically and I suppose symbolically.  As Hamish Fox, Richmond Hoxie is persuasive in his rear view vision, violent prejudice and belief in the importance of teaching:  he manages to make his character one can love to hate and yet feel that something significant will be lost without him.

The Film Society is a fully satisfying theater experience.

The Film Society  plays at the Clurman Theare Theatre Row on Manhattan's mid-town West side through October 26, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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September 21, 2013

REVIEW Natural Affection by William Inge, directed by Jenn Thompson, TACT, The Actors Company Theatre

... It’s no Picnic ... 

... but it’s engaging and suspenseful, and in this beautifully produced, well cast and acted production, it gives a chance to see a rarely produced play by by William Inge.  

Inge is, after all, one of America’s most successful and prolific playwrights – author of Come Back, Little Sheeba, Picnic (1953 Pulitzer Prize), Bus Stop, The Dark At The Top of the Stairs, as well as screenplays including Splendor in the Grass (1963 Academy Award for “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay”). 

Perhaps Natural Affection's short run on Broadway was due to its opening during a NYC newspaper strike in 1962, but compared with Inge’s great successes, it’s a weaker play.  Inge’s starting point was a newspaper account of a violent, seemingly random crime, and in trying to fill in the blanks, he seems to have turned too programmatically to current  psychoanalytic ideas about the effects on sons of absent fathers and of mothering that runs hot and cold.    

Sue, who’s pulled herself up by her bootstraps to become a successful buyer in a well-known Chicago department store is living with Bernie, a younger, and very handsome man, marginally able at selling Cadillacs.  Sue’s son, Donnie, returns from “The Farm,” i.e., reform school, wanting to stay with her -- he has only a year left there and if she’ll keep him he doesn’t have to go back.  But Bernie doesn’t want this kid with the violent past crowding up their small apartment and inhibiting their sex life.

It’s Sue’s decision, though, because she pays the bills.

What will she do?  The Farm is brutal -- Donnie has scars on his back from being beaten.  How can she possibly send him back?  She’s already plagued with guilt for giving him up to foster care in the beginning when she was a poor girl trying to make a living and Donnie’s father disappeared.

But she’s crazy about Bernie and afraid of spending her life alone.  He’s her last chance, she feels, and most of the time he’s quite a nice, agreeable guy, trying to pull himself out of the world of losers -- his pipe dream is to own a car dealership.        

Donnie, too, promises to be on good behavior.  It’s too bad that just as Donnie is settling in on the living room sofa, Bernie gets into an accident with a Cadillac he was demonstrating, and loses his job, depressing him and heightening his irritation with being dependent on a woman.  He says the accident wasn’t his fault -- Inge doesn’t let us know whether or not we are to believe that.  Was it truly random? Or a loser’s claim that he's a victim, in this case of chance?  

The underlying tensions boil in the course of a Christmas celebration in which huge amounts of alcohol are consumed, Vince, the rich guy in the apartment next door, passes out, and Claire, his bored, sexy blond wife fails to seduce Bernie -- this time, these alcohol fuelled shenanigans a prelude to the final, chilling eruption.

Kathryn Erbe, famous on TV as Detective Alexandra Eames on Law and Order: Criminal Intent, is brisk, capable, and vulnerable as the Sue, torn between her gorgeous younger lover and her natural -- if insufficient -- affection for her tormented son.  Erbe’s portrayal of the tense self control of this woman who made it on her own in a highly competitive field renders the emotional surges that overtake her all the more moving.  

Alec Beard is charismatic as the good looking lover who approximates decency while not quite hitting the nail on the head.  Chris Bert is perfect as the lean, hungry looking reform school son, who takes after his mother in holding it all in -- until he can’t any longer.  

John Pankow as the rich next-door neighbor Vince is brilliant in a scene of unwinding into total drunkenness, a beautiful tour de force that the audience applauded.  Victoria Mack as Vince’s seductive wife transforms with concentration and subtlety a stereotyped character into a vivid, dangerous reality.   

In Natural Affection, people are condemned to repeat the past and there are what the world sees as random violent events -- both.      

Natural Affection  plays at the Beckett Theatre on New York City's Theatre Row, West 42nd Street, through October 26, 2013.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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August 08, 2013

OFF-BROADWAY IN SAG HARBOR-A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum by Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart, inspired by Plautus' play, with Peter Scolari, music & lyrics Stephen Sondheim, directed & choreographed Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Bay Street Theatre

Set in ancient Rome as its appealing title suggests (that title being one of the best things it has going for it)  A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forumis a zany comedy with music.  A slave, Pseudolus, makes the deal to acquire for his master, Hero, the beautiful Philia, in return for which Hero will set him free.  Philia is held in the house of the pimp, Marcus Lycus, who purchased her on behalf of the Great General, Miles Gloriosus whose arrival is imminent.   With Hero’s parents out of town, Pseudolus sets to work keeping Philia away from Miles Gloriosus and nabbing her for Hero, the slave’s on-the-spot inventiveness conjuring various ruses involving potions, hideouts and disguises leading to humorous false hopes and a romp of mistaken identities

This show is so wacky and so silly and so camp that its success depends on a great comic star in the central role of Pseudolus.  The three performers who have played Pseudolus on Broadway, Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane all won Tony’s for Best Actor in a Musical  -- no accident, because that’s the level of performance it takes.   Bay Street’s production doesn’t quite get that level of magnetism and force from the center from Peter Scolari as Pseudolus, and so much of the time the play veers toward just silly.

It doesn’t help that the songs are bland -- Stephen Sondheim’s first Broadway show -- and the rampant, coarse sexism gives the show a dated feeling that the “it’s all in good fun” spirit doesn’t erase.

Still, there are some good laughs, funny site gags, clever word play and, among steady competence, a couple of outstanding performances that keep you watching and hoping which is a good thing because the second act is a lot more fun than the first.  This production also benefits from a wonderful, colorful, tone perfect set of three houses on a Roman street by Michael Schweikardt, and several talented performers, including Scolari who, if not inspired, has good comic timing, energy and agility. 

Nathaniel Hackmann is perfect in the role of Miles Gloriosus, the physically impressive, tough guy Roman general.  Broad-stanced and pompous, he opens up his stunning operatic voice, exciting to hear, in the song “Bring Me My Bride.”  He's an excellent comic actor, too, and his recoveries from the play’s mix and match befuddlements are great fun.  Hackmann is the only performer, as far as I could see, who isn’t wired with a microphone -- what a relief -- it’s a pleasure to hear a natural voice after scenes of miked singing, dialogue, and much screaming (I guess that last is intended as “antic comic energy” but there sure is a lot of it). 

Jackie Hoffman is equally irresistible as the loud-mouthed and over-bearing Domina, Hero’s mother and wife to Senex who can’t stand her, well played by Conrad John Schuck.  What comic flexibility in her face -- mask-like and expressive at the same time!  Think Carol Burnett -- Jackie Hoffman is as good or better!  One of the more effective interludes in the play is when this shrewish woman nobody likes is briefly overcome with tenderness toward her husband -- which she quickly vanquishes in her song “That Dirty Old Man.” 

Tom Deckman brings a lot of comic variety to his role of Hysterium, the over-anxious slave in the Senex family and a good foil to the manipulative Pseudolus.  Among the lightly clad girls girls girls who dwell in the house of Marcus Lycus and parade periodically around the stage with uninhibited gyrations, Gymnasia, played by Terry Lavell is for statuesque height and gender ambiguity -- well, nobody in the audience could take eyes off Gymnasia.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum  plays at the beautifulIMG_6601 Bay Street Theatre on the Wharf in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through September 1, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on the live link of the title.

Yvonne Korshak

 

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July 04, 2013

OFF-BROADWAY IN SAG HARBOR, LONG ISLAND – The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam, directed by Kenneth Elliott, starring David Greenspan and Tom Aulino, Bay Street Theatre

This play is hilarious -- one laugh after another, and done with style and vivacity.  I enjoyed every moment -- and smile thinking back to it.

It’s a spooky take-off on Gothic melodrama, Shakespeare, Alfred Hitchcock, the Bronte sisters, Rebecca,and other sources of scary and mysterious goings-on, set mainly in (where else?) an English manor house, Mandacrest Estate.  Lord Edgar has recently married Lady Enid but the presence of Edgar's deceased first wife, Irma Vep, whose portrait dominates the sitting room, is inescapable.  All the characters including Edgar and Enid, the one-legged swineherd Nicodemus, the maid Jane and four others, are played by a total of two actors of the same sex -- as per the author's instructions because the cross-dressing, as well as the hilarious costumes and faster-than-the-speed-of-light character and costume changes, are all part of the fun. 

And fun it is as the play mounts from one wildly-imaginative episode to the next.  Each time you think you’ve caught on to what Ludlam is doing, he ups the ante with a farther inventive leap.

But the play wouldn’t work for three delicious acts if it were only a joke.  As a married couple, and as lovers, Lord Edgar and Lady Enid need to find the way to one another, while embattled by werewolves and vampires and life’s complicated back stories.  All the camp and ironies in the world wouldn’t make it interesting if it weren’t, bottom line, about genuine characters -- even if they are nuttily hyperbolic.

David Greenspan, whether playing the former actress given to dramatics, Lady Enid, or the low-class swineherd in a greatcoat worthy of Sherlock Holmes -- to say nothing of a stint as an Egyptian dancing girl -- is brilliant.  Tom Aulino who shifts in the twinkling of an eye from Maid Jane dusting the furniture to Lord of the Manor dragging in the huge wolf he’s just shot  (oh no, the wrong wolf!) is equally a marvel.  The actors seem to defy the laws of physics in making those changes of costume and character.  But they do, with charismatic wit and breathtaking intensity.

What a clever play!  What a perfect production!  

The Mystery of Irma Vep  plays at Bay Street Theatre on the wharf in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through July 28, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are confidential -- no emails ever appear with comments.

June 15, 2013

Boxer at Rest, Greek bronze sculpture of the Hellenistic period, late 4th-2nd century B.C.,loan exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, June 1 – July 15, 2013

... humanity ...

4. The Boxer-low res for web

This is a rare opportunity to see one of the finest and most compelling works of art ever made. The bronze Boxer*  is somewhat over life-size but so immediate it’s hard to think it's not a "real" man -- and a man of total experience:  exhausted but powerful, brutalized but handsome, dazed by what's hit him but alert for whatever's coming his way.  Ready.

Made in the Hellenistic period, when a love of realism made a powerful advance on earlier Classical idealism, the boxer is astonishingly realistic.  Seated and near to exhaustion from a match, and bleeding from wounds all over his body, he still has the energy to turn his head.  What attracts his attention?  Is he hearing applause?  listening to his trainer's advice?  or is he getting a look at his next opponent?  Still wearing his boxing gloves, he's gathering his force for his next match (these ran back-to-back).  His arms are relaxed but his toes are tense:  his struggles continue.   

 Read away that dark patina, developed over time through oxidation, and see him as he was originally, when the bronze was polished to the color of an athlete’s tanned and oiled gleaming skin.

To further "color" the statue realistically, the sculptor inlaid the rosy lips and nipples with copper:  copper inlays also "paint" the rivulets of blood that run from his many wounds, and the cuts on the ungloved knuckles that landed the punches.  Under the swollen eye, the sculptor inlaid a bronze alloy, darker in color than the rest of the sculpture, to depict a large bruise -- one of the most remarkable, and touching, uses of inlay in ancient art.

The boxer's eyes were never meant to be empty and blank as they appear in the photograph.  Originally the sculptor inlaid the eyes using materials that made them look natural.  Those inlays are now lost but to help visualize them the museum is exhibiting near the boxer inlaid eyes disembodied from some other sculpture (not otherwise known) in which the whites are marble, the irises quartz and the pupils obsidian, and the Boxer's sculptor would have used these or other materials for a similar effect.  Catch your breath -- the boxer has individually formed bronze eyelashes that once surrounded those life-like eyes.  Who was the great Greek sculptor who made this work?  It’s unknown. 

“Look at the blood running from the wound on his cheek!” visitors say, circling the statue.  "Look -- he has cauliflower ears!"  The realism of form and detail are fascinating and the technique is surpassingly brilliant.  But that’s not in itself what makes the sculpture so compelling.  What a man indeed -- the history of struggles written all over his body and his determination to fight on express a man’s story, and that of human existence.  He is one man, caught in specific moment, and he is all men through time.  This is a sculpture of existential truth.

The Boxer was discovered buried in the Quirinal Hill in Rome in 1885.  Was it made by a Greek sculptor in Rome or was it brought there by ship as many sculptures were?  Did it represent a particular boxer?  The answers are unknown.  What is clear is that it was highly valued, perhaps even venerated, since it was buried purposefully in antiquity, perhaps, like many valuables, for preservation from anticipated invasions.   So many great bronze sculptures from antiquity were melted down for the valuable metal that only a handful survive today.  Thanks to those who buried this one and preserved it. 

The Boxer  is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC from the Terme Museum in Rome, lent by the Republic of Italy.  For further information on times and admission fees, which are recommended but optional, click on this live link. 

                                                                                    Yvonne Korshak

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*Boxer at Rest.  Greek, Hellenistsic period, late 4th-2nd century B.C., bronze inlaid with copper, H. 128 cm.  Museuo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.  Photograph courtesy of Soprintendenza speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma

 

 

 

June 02, 2013

The Civil War and American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, May 27 – September 2, 2013

... the storm of war ...

This outstanding exhibition moves ones thoughts between intimate experience and vast philosophical and artistic vision, all combining to give a vivid sense of the Civil War at home and on the front.    

A stunning aspects of the exhibit is the insistence with which, again andGifford, A Coming Storm 72 dpi again, artists looked to the landscape to express thoughts and emotions, as if humans had a cosmic partner in nature.  In the years leading up to the war, paintings of storms and phenomenal portents and storms abound, such as Frederic Edwin Church’s dramatic Meteor of 1860, and Sanford Robinson Gifford's A Coming Storm (above; full captions below), expressing the sense of war’s prodigeous imminence .   

Church, Our Banner In The Sky 72 dpiAn unforgettable expression of the cosmic projection of human emotion is Church’s Our Banner in the Sky of 1861 (left).  This thrilling visual leap of imagination is fueled by grief of two war “firsts”: the lowering of the Union flag at Fort Sumter when the Confederates captured the Fort in April 1861, the initiating war event, soon followed by the death of Church’s friend, Theodore Winthrop, the first Union officer war victim.  And this great painting itself was recognized as the first “war picture.”  The streaming colors of clouds at sunset and the star-studded sky form an alternate image of the American flag, tattered but still waving in the winds of liberty, the defeat of surrender redeemed by resilience and prediction of ultimate victory.

In turn, the Confederate painter Conrad Wise Chapman painted the tatteredChapman, Flag of Sumter but resilient Confederate flag in The Flag of Sumter, Oct 20 1863 (right).  At this point, the fort and in particular its flag that carried a huge symbolic burden for both sides, were under relentless  bombardment by the Union Navy.  Each morning, the Confederates looked to the successful raising of their banner yet one more day for renewal and inspiration.   In the painting, the flag is guarded in proud isolation against the sky, the joining of its white field with the clouds lifting its image into the spiritual domain. 

Gifford, Camp Seventh Regiment 72 dpiNews of the Union’s victory at Gettysburg has just reached the beleagured army in Sanford Robinson Gifford painting of  Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, July 1863 (above).  The bright, warm sun breaks through the storm clouds at this moment, conveying the flush of optimism stirred by the news, nature pitching in to convey human experience and magnify its importance.  What a moment!  And yet, among the great Civil War photographs on view in this exhibit is Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s iconic view, A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863.   How do human beings make sense of and integrate such stark emotional dissonance?

Homer, Cotton Pickers 72 dpiMany of the paintings show scenes of life in the South before, during and after the Civil War – not cosmic but specific, narrative and detailed such as Winslow Homer's  The Cotton Pickers (above).  These are rich in observation of human character, ambiguous and tragic social situations and of information.  In Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South of 1859, the backyard of the slave quarters abounds with life among slaves of a great range of skin tones from dark to white:  meanwhile, a sly -- and noticeably white -- cat slips into an upstairs window.

In Homer’s post-war painting, A Visit from the Old Mistress  (1876), a white woman, needing some work done, pays a visit to  a group of her former female slaves -- only now she has to negotiate with them for their wage.  She’s reluctant, realistic, and resentful;  the leader of the former slaves, muscular arms crossing her chest, looks to be driving a tough-minded bargain, and remembering.

Among the paintings touching on the Abolitionist movement, Thomas Moran’sJohnson, Ride For Liberty 72 dpi Slave Hunt, Dismal Swamp, Virginia, 1862 shows hunting dogs hot on the heels of a fleeing slave family.  Moran painted this for an abolitionist English patron, referring evidently to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s abolitionist poem of 1855, “The Slave in Dismal Swamp.”   The family in Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty–the Fugitives Slaves, March 2, 1862 (above) have a better chance of making it.

The exhibition concludes with a symphonic crescendo of some of the greatest American paintings:  Frederic Edwin Church’s Cotopaxi, The Icebergs, and Rainy Season in the Tropics, and Albert Bierstadt’s Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, 1865.  These, and a telling and remarkable “before and after” -- John Frederick Kensett’s two paintings of the "same" scene of Rocks of Paradise, Newport, the first of 1859 and the second of 1868, in their way tell the story of the Civil War over time, marking changes of attitudes from its inception to its aftermath.

Not only the works of art but the thinking and organizing ideas are of the highest caliber.  Don’t miss The Civil War and American Art.   For more information on attending, including times and the recommended admission (but not obligatory) prices, click on live link of title. 

                                                                                                Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down below picture and captions, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private -- no emails ever appear with comments.

Homer, Home Sweet Home

 

 

Winslow Homer, Home Sweet Home (c. 1863)

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

 

Photographs from top: 

1.  Sanford Robinson Gifford, A Coming Storm, 1863, retouched and redated in 1880, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art:  Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection; 2.  Frederic Edwin Church, Our Banner in the Sky, 1861, oil on paper, Collection of Fred Keeler; 3.  Conrad Wise Chapman, The Flag of Sumter, Oct 20 1863, 1863-64, oil on board, The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia; 4.  Sanford Robinson Gifford, Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, July, 1863, 1864; 5.  Winslow Homer, The Cotton Pickers, 1876, oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Acquisition made possible through Museum Trustees;  6.  Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty-The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862, 1862, oil on board, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, The Paul Mellon Collection; 7.  Winslow Homer, Home Sweet Home, c, 1863, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons Permanent Fund.  Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.        

May 22, 2013

Madame Bovary a musical based on the novel by Gustave Flaubert, adaptation, music and lyrics Paul Dick, direction and choreography Marlene Thorn Taber, PASSAJJ Productions

This musical adaptation conveys to a remarkable extent the epic scope and compelling narrative force of Flaubert’s novel.  One is intent, watching the musical, on catching every word and the meaning of each episode in the personal saga of Emma Bovary, beautiful and given to romanticism but in other ways not truly remarkable.  What a lot of havoc romanticism can cause!  The songs are abundant, and carry us effectively through the emotional phases of the narrative;  musically they were somewhat expectable.  For me, the best of the songs are the ones that are tough and "realistic."   

Emma Bovary is a provincial French woman with a sense of wanting something larger, more  upper class, more all consuming -- hard to put a finger on it but something different from the stifling middle class existence fate has handed her.  In the musical we first meet her, and her fantasy romanticism, at her wedding to the dull, unimaginative, and much older doctor Charles Bovary where, in the midst of the ceremony she -- as a theatrical aside -- is wishing her marriage were taking place at midnight.

From there on the marriage continues to disappoint:   “Tick tock, tick tock” she Roger R. and Haley H. in MBsings with ironic monotony, bored on the marriage bed.   But how to create that something better, more luxurious, more outstanding for herself?

Roger Rathburn as Charles,  Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma.  Photo:  Andrew Nuzhnyy.

The musical does a fine job of developing Flaubert's theme  that for a woman of her time and station, the road to something better -- whatever better is -- lies not in herself but in finding -- and hooking -- the right man.  Her brief concerns about the import of "holy matrimony" don't stop her from entering into an erotic though at the time unconsummated relationship with Leon, a young student -- they share a meeting of the minds and a picnic basket -- and when he leaves to study law in Rouen (not Ruen as in the program), she's easily seduced by a wealthy landowner, Rodolphe  -- who won't, however, "save" her either.

As a salve to her yearnings and disappointments, Emma takes to buying luxuries for herself and her lovers -- on her husband's credit.  Faced with bankruptcy for her husband, she pulls on her old sexual self-confidence once again to lure money out of her lovers but, it turns out, they’re not that interested.  Eventually, though, as the tradesman Homais sings in a wonderfully nasty show-stopper song, the piper must be paid.  It’s fascinating that whatever our assumptions about 19th-century provincial France, the final disaster is caused not by her infidelities but by money.

The focus on that fiscal bottom line reminds that Flaubert set this story during the monarchy of King Louise Philippe I in the period of 1827-1846, characterized by the rise of the middle class.  (Why, according to the program, the musical is set in the 1890’s is beyond me, and makes the reference to the King irrelevant.)

Naturally the adaptation of a long, famously and beautifully detailed novel into a viable musical requires enormous condensation and leaving out, and an important reason the musical retains its narrative thrust is Paul Dick’s skill in doing this.  I think, though, that omitting Emma and Charles Bovary’s daughter was carrying streamlining too far:  the daughter is truly essential to understanding Emma’s character, conflicts and actions, and to the story as a whole. 

Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma sings with skill and strength and acts with uninterrupted focus, elements in this main character largely responsible for the unremitting vitality of the musical.  Perky as she is, though, I feel she's miscast in this show:  her accent, movement style and expressiveness speak much more of the American west or mid-west than of 19th-century France, and her contemporary hair bob is so notably anachronistic it's distracting.  (During the show, I kept thinking she’d be great in Oklahoma and I’ll be darned -- according to the program notes which I first read after, as I usually do, she received herBA and Master’s in Music Theater Performance from Oklahoma City University).  

Among the good roster of performers, those who best transport us across the Atlantic to 19th-century France are Eyal Sherf and Christopher G. Tefft.  As the seducing landowner, Sherf conveys wittily, while always staying in character, a fascinating snaky allure and a European flavor:  he convinces us that forEyal S., Haley H., and R. R. in MB Rodolphe, Emma is never more than a plaything and yet, at the same time, how deeply he's affected by her beauty.  You believe his desire.

There’s an allure all its own, and a big, satisfying  voice, in Christopher G. Tefft’s calculating, leering, and bottom line realistic Homais.  He brings both brutality and poignancy to another of his show-stoppers, “Why Not Me?” 

Madame Bovary, the musical -- a rich evening of theater!

L-R   Eyal Scherf as Rodolphe, Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma, Roger Rathburn as Charles.  Photo:  Andrew Nuzhnyy 

Madame Bovary plays at the Roy Arias Stage IV Theater on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street through June 2.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

                                                                                       Yvonne Korshak

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May 16, 2013

Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance), written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman, presented in association with Ontological-Hysteric Theater, at the Public Theater

Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theater that he founded in New York City in 1968 have been icons of avant garde theater.  He’s made a number of statements about his philosophical and theatrical purposes touching on, e.g., “total theater,”  “minimalist theater,”  “primitive,” etc., but statements are not theater.  Just what do we have in Old-Fashioned Prostitutes?  Stunning style, no substance. 

Entering the theater brings you to a marvelous bright world of bumble-bee colors -- golden yellow and black -- dominating in staccato rhythms: equidistant punctuations are everywhere.  In terms of design, an underlying grid, overlaid with a wide variety of visual excitements, stretches from the backdrop of the stage half-way through the theater, along the walls and on overhead strings.  It’s a powerful stab at a total visual experience.  It’s complex (what happened to minimalist?), rich, surprising, and makes you keen for the play.

Then the play opens and from the first banalities, you realize you’ve already seen the best part.  An aging man, looks back on his encounters with prostitutes in Venice, and in particular on his his ambivalent longing for one named Suzie.  Raised up by his memory, Suzie vamps with a lot of European style and confidence.  Her friend Gabriella is more uncertain and flapper-like winsome -- finger to cheek and two cute knees pressing in to each other.  Prostitution hasn’t taken a toll on either of them and their costumes are terrific.

The solipsistic philosopher George Berkeley is referred to and philosophical words are uttered.  The actors are busy and vividly costumed.  Nothing much happens in theatrical terms.  OK, we’ve seen it:  the spectacle wears thin, Emperor’s New Clothes style.   The hour length of the performance seems a long time.   See it for the design, just don’t expect a play.  The grid design has its roots in early 20th-century Cubism.  Things here make one think of a colorful old-fashioned typewriter,  sound and all, exploded large.  Is this all still avant garde? 

The cast does a good job with the material:  David Skeist (Alfredo), Stephanie Hayes (Gabriella), Alenka Kraigher (Suzie), Rocco Sisto (Samuel), Nicolas Norena (Bibendum [aka Michelin]).     

Old-Fashioned Prostitutes plays at the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan through June 6.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.    

Yvonne Korshak

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May 12, 2013

The Notebook of Trigorin by Tennessee Williams, a Free Adaptation of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov translated by Ann Dunnigan, directed by Laura Braza, the Attic Theatre Company

Whatever Williams may have worked out for himself in this 1981 exercise of adaptation, he didn’t do Chekhov any good, much as he admired the Russian playwright.  Evidently it was important to Williams to write this play it but it's of interest mainly to those with an active concern with theater history  -- in that these are two very great playwrights and it could be said anything they did is of interest.

The play -- Chekhov pure or filtered through Williams -- is a web of unrequited love.  The characters gather on the estate of Sorin, brother of the famous actress Arkadina, who has come to vacation there with her lover Trigorin.  He is a successful and conventional writer, a foil for Konstantin, Arkadina’s son who, with his passionate, youthful belief in a need for “new forms” for literature, is staging his avant-garde play on an improvised outdoor stage.  Konstantin is in love with his actress, Nina who, in short order, falls in love with Trigorin (which might leave Konstantin available for Masha, the Steward’s daughter, who loves him passionately but it won’t happen).

The drama of the powerful first act of The Seagull -- and it retains some of its power here -- centers around Konstantin’s desire for his mother’s praise, attention and respect, and her laughing dismissal of his play which she finds absurd, with its all talk no action.  “Ah,” she whispers with amused irony to her worldly companion Trigorin, “recitative.”  Chekhov in this episode gave us great talk and action -- and we did not need Masha to tell us before hand, as she does in Williams’ adaptation, that Arkadina “will despise the play this evening and make no secret of it.”  Here, as elsewhere, what Chekhov implies, Williams highlights with a magic marker.

Williams pushes hard to cast light on the fascinatingly equivocal relationship Chekhov created between Arkadina and Trigorin.  What is the nature of their bond?  Trigorin chafes at its restraints yet they remain together, his fling with Nina, and the baby produced from it, notwithstanding.  Williams responds to the ambiguities by making Trigorin bisexual, inserting flings with men as well as that with Nina, a characterization that in the context seems forced and somewhat implausible. 

In Chekhov’s play, Dr. Dorm is a loving personality who, as a nature romantic, assigns passionate longings to the power of the nearby lake.  Dorn, in Chekhov, is a ray of hope amidst the bevy of dysfunctional characters.  In keeping with his own tragic vision, Williams’ turns him into a heartless misogynist.  

The earlier part of The Notebook of Trigorin, has more the feel and flavor of Chekhov, and as the play progresses Williams' tragic sensibility and vision of characters living in a world of their own illusions become more dominant.  As in the characters of Trigorin and Dorn, this produces distracting disjunctions.  Williams pulls a rabbit out of the hat at the very end in a grand gesture by Arkadina.  It’s wondrously theatrical, and the one point where, for a moment, I felt Williams has actually improved on Chekhov, until I realized that Arkadina, narcissistic but in touch, would not have done it:  Blanche Dubois of Streetcar Named Desire might well have.

Michael Schantz conveys the confidence, and underlying agitation of Trigorin, the successful author and alluring man.  Jeremy Lawrence is amusing and touching as the estate owner, Sorin, who confronts in old age his failure to achieve his two goals:  to marry and to be a writer. 

Beyond them, the acting is lackluster, one of the casualties of which is that the symbolic power of the seagull Konstantin shoots and presents to Nina as a love gift is lost.  Charise Green as Arkadina throws herself into arguments with effective no holds-barred emotionality but fails to convey the famous actress’s charisma.  She characterizes the narcissistic, dominating woman by screams so grating that I tucked in turtle-wise every time I saw them coming; otherwise she adopts an intimate affect so quiet a lot of her lines couldn’t be heard.   

According to the program, Williams wrote this adaptation to make the “quiet” “delicate” Chekhov more accessible to American audiences.  “Our theatre has to cry out to be heard at all …”   But quiet, delicate Chekhov has done very well in America and around the world, as has Tennessee Williams, both deservedly.  Just not in this hybrid.

The Notebook of Trigorin  plays at The Flea Theater in NYC’s Tribeca district through May 18th.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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April 29, 2013

FILM NOTE: Kon-Tiki, directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, with Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen as Thor Heyerdahl, from Norway

Kon-Tiki is one of the world’s great stories -- not so well told in this movie BUT the story is SO good it’s worth seeing the movie anyhow.

It's an astonishingly audacious adventure.  The Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 crossed the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia in a raft to prove a scientific point. 

Heyerdahl, who had done field work in Polynesia believed that compelling cultural similarities between South America and Polynesia indicated that Polynesia had originally been populated by migrants from Peru.  This countered prevailing scientific opinion that Polynesia had been populated from Asia:  after all, it seemed impossible for early people with primitive technology to travel the 5,000 miles across the Pacific it takes to get from Peru to Polynesia.  Any cultural similarities between South America and Polynesia were written off as the result of independent inventions in Peru and Polynesia. 

Heyerdah saw a way to prove his point:  he’d make the journey.  So, with his crew of six, he built a primitive balsa wood raft, no modern materials, and, trusting on the currents to carry them there, drifted motorless from Peru to Polynesia. 

A tiny raft in the Pacific ocean for a little over three months -- the journey was fraught with difficulty.  The balsa wood began to get soggy, the raft lay lower and lower in the water, storms, high waves, sharks, whales, exposure all took their toll.  And when they did sight land, a razor edged reef nearly finished them off.  The movie gives dramatic coverage to all these threats to their lives and obstacles and to their triumphant arrival in Polynesia.

So what, then, is wrong with the movie -- outside of the fact that Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen lacks  Heyerdahl’s grit , though other actors come across convincingly as outdoorsmen and adventurers? 

It is episodic and not smoothly continuous.  On the current-driven raft, the big threats -- men overboard, whales, sharks, powerful thunder and lightening storms, towering waves -- appear like vignettes in a Disneyworld tracked boat ride -- there they are, now they’re past, what’s ahead?  The time in between -- daily tasks, food limitations, exposure, and boredom -- are referred to but not shown.  For example, after one crisis Heyerdahl tells the crew to get back to their tasks:  what are they?   What do you need to do daily on a drifting balsa raft?  A lot? or not much? 

The film shows what happens consecutively but is skimpy on how it happens.   There are views of the raft being built in Peru but we don’t get the sense of the mechanics of it, the how.  Raising money for the project is referred to but how did he succeed?   These kinds of nitty-gritty which make Heyerdahl’s book of 1950, Kon-Tiki: Six Men Cross the Pacific on a Raft, so compelling, are not made vivid.   When a storm arises, we see its bigness, men clinging to posts, water washing over everything, but we don’t get the narrative of a storm with the clarity the movies usually give such scenes. 

The film short-changes Heyerdahl’s intellectual purpose.  I found this truly beyond annoying.  In the early scenes, the Heyerdahl character states clearly his scientific purpose to prove that humans could have rafted from Peru to Polynesia, but by the end the importance of the Kon-Tiki expedition is related to its inspirational effect on future explorations, sending men into space, etc.   Irrelevant.  Heyerdahl didn’t prove that Polynesia was populated from Peru, but he did prove that contact between them was possible. 

He broke through the fixed idea that there was no contact between the Americas and Polynesia, and showed that the cultural similarities may be the result of the movement of humans and the ideas they carry with them.  He provided a new lens to view all scientific information touching on these regions, and that, as he thought, for early humans, water was a road, not a barrier.

Not that is was ever an easy trip!

So should you see the movie?  Yes.  Heyerdah’s proving his point is one of the great adventure stories of all time -- physical and intellectual, and here’s a chance to know about it.

And if you have a chance, read the book.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private -- no emails ever appear with comments.

 

April 22, 2013

This Side of Neverland, Rosalind and The Twelve Pound Look , two one-act plays by J. M. Barrie, directed by J. R. Sullivan, The Pearl Theatre Company

... beyond Peter Pan ...

Best known now for Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie was a popular playwright in early 20th-century London and here’s a chance to see two of his witty and enjoyable comedies -- about grown-ups.

The first of these, Rosalind, is a real gem.  A beautiful, popular actress has donned a shapeless housedress and floppy slippers, and lets her hair go, holed up in a rural boarding house where she takes on the persona of her own mother just to get away from it all, to find respite from her frenetic London life where she's relentlessly the center of attention.

Having happily loosened her stays, she bothers to chat with no one except the amiable, ordinary owner of her boarding house, until coincidence draws to the boarding house one of her adoring London swains, an upper class recent university graduate.  Over the course of a revelatory conversation, he discovers that this frumpy, pleasant 40-year old he's talking with is not the mother of the glorious young actress he fancies himself in love with but very the actress herself, whom he's failed to recognize under her housecoat.  As she plays it for all it’s worth, he scrambles to figure out what to do with his ardor?  Be true to the 40-year old?  Or to his 23-year old self?   He believes in love.  He wants to do the right thing.  And what will happen when a telegram arrives offering the actress the role of Rosalind in As You Like It?

One thing is sure:  there will be a stunning transformation of a 40-year old frump into a dazzling 20-something … well, she’s actually 29:  Barrie takes care to keep the play totally plausible.

Rachel Botchan is enchanting as the dowdy “mother” and equally so as the glamorous young actress -- she’s so amused, so in control -- and her transformation from old and plain to young and glamorous (Miss Botchan looks beautiful both ways) is a powerful reminder, as Barrie surely intended it, of the joys and ironies of appearance and illusion.  I’ve seen Miss Botcham is several roles -- she’s always compelling but here she’s a wonder.  Sean McNall brings his own amused charm to the double part of playwright Barrie moving in and out of the play and the young man in love.  As the boarding house owner, Carol Schultz is a solid foil of middle-aged realism for the actress whose life is a bouquet of possibilities -- even at the "advanced age" of 29.

In the second play,The Twelve Pound Look, Sir Harry is about to be knighted, and both he and his wife, who is heavily loaded with bling, are delighted at the prospect.  Kate, a typist arrives to prepare his “thank you” letters and it turns out that she, through coincidence, is Sir Harry’s former wife, who'd left him years before.

Sir Harry is one of those men who cannot grasp why any woman upon whom he’s lavished everything costly, including his high position, would leave him (I wondered about it, too), but nevertheless he's assumed all along that she left him for another man.  Who was he?  is the imperious question repeated in Harry’s accustomed-to-answers voice.  With some amusing game playing, the truth is revealed -- she left Sir Harry not for a man but for a typewriter, cost 12 pounds, or more truly, she left him for the independence of making her own living.  It could happen.  But in this play it doesn't ring true.

The Twelve Pound Look  is nearer to farce than Rosalind.  This is not A Doll’s House, though it comes thirty years later than Ibsen’s iconic play of a married woman struggling for independence.  Still, The Twelve Pound Look  is entertaining, and good to know about.  And the episode in which Sir Harry, before the adoring eyes of his wife, practices his moves for the ceremony of Knighthood is one of the great comic scenes, performed with flawless timing and wit by Bradford Cover.  Rachel Botchan -- in another of her evening's magic transformations -- is appropriately peppery as Harry’s liberated ex-wife.  And Sean McNall, in the role of J. M. Barrie on-stage, conveys an author’s ironic distance and insight, while playing also a punctilious butler.  

Live piano with tunes like “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” performed by Carol Schultz, send us pleasantly to the past.  And, for its own touch of the past, a stage curtain is used inThis Side of Neverland .  I love the immediacy of current plays with stages open to the audience but the curtain opening onto that other world of the imagination is a pleasure of its own.

This Side of Neverland  plays at The Pearl Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through May 19th now extended through May 26th.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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