Sunday, June 29, 2008


Last time I saw an Anthony Neilson play, my knuckles went white. But his latest, Stitching, is as "in-yer-face" as a G-rated horror film. Not that the content's childish: this two-hander deals with soft-core sadism in the wake of a psyche-shattering moment. But the cast is too cute and cuddly to be much of a menace, the slow-paced direction gives us far too much time to get off the hook, and the scenes distractingly jump about in time. Both playwright and director work better with active material, and this constant sense of adagio hurts them, and constantly cuts off the actors, who turn to therapeutic devices and role-play rather than actually confronting their emotions. Even the one scene where Stu (Gian Murray Gianino) snaps at his girlfriend, Abby (Meital Dohan) pulls back, as if fight director Maggie Macdonald is using a safeword from the get-go. It's a little like watching an experiment on NOVA, with each step carefully planned out. But even here, Stitching fails, for it demonstrates nothing.

[Read on]

Washing Machine

Photo/Michelle Enfield

The show is still just as aesthetically stunning as when I covered the premiere in 2007, but it didn't carry the same punch as last time. It's still a pretty nifty production, though, and I guess one should expect a washing machine to be somewhat mixed.

[Reviewed for Time Out New York]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Goodtime Charley

Wishy-washy milquetoast guy, decisive headstrong gal: a game match for a musical comedy, no? No. Not when the guy is Prince Charlemagne and the gal is Joan of Arc and there's the Hundred Years War and that burning at the stake on our minds. It's easy to see why Goodtime Charley flopped on Broadway back in the mid-'70's - it tries to whip up comic froth from material that is better suited to drama, and its tone is all over the place. The current street-clothes staged reading at The York doesn't do anything to convince that the musical's concept is anything but wrongheaded, but it does do one huge thing sensationally right by having Jenn Colella play Joan of Arc. At last, here's a role (the most interesting in the show, despite the title) that gives Colella the chance to shine and she does, bringing an intensity to her solo numbers that makes them sound like showstoppers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy

There's a nifty moment near the top of Cirque Dreams (consumer warning: no relation to Cirque du Soleil) where one member of the acrobatic troupe walks across the stage bent at a ninety degree angle and costumed as an ostrich. It's the only bit in the first act that showed fresh theatrical imagination; there may be others in the second, but I was not about to find out for myself. The garish costumes (they're meant to be jungle animals, but most look like unitards made out of shredded neon-colored streamers) and the drippy power ballads (of the follow your dreams and reach for the stars variety) don't do the gymnast performers any favors. In the absence of an artful, cohesive presentation, the world-class feats of athleticism get very old very quickly.


Occupant isn't a play; it's an interview. If you can get past that, there's a nice steady rhythm and intimacy to the conversation between The Man (Larry Bryggman) and Louise Nevelson (Mercedes Ruehl). But the total lack of action and obstacle makes this into a passion project for Edward Albee, and for people like me who know nothing about Nevelson, it's hard to appreciate the painstaking work Ms. Ruehl takes to remain in character (even when a cell-phone rings). There's a bit of playfulness in the idea of storytelling, as The Man corrects Nevelson's active imagination, but Christine Jones's set doesn't come to life until the climax of the play, and despite the talents of both actors, nothing significant ever seems to occupy the stage.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Heist has a killer opening, as mastermind plotter The Sturgeon (Rachel Jablin) goes over their plans for a bank job with associate Seahorse (Jeff Clarke). To distract passersby from the sound of Blowfish's (Amanda Boekelheide) explosions, they're going to infiltrate "a one-woman show set in Indira Ghandi's vagina." To keep things interesting, things go wrong: Seahorse falls for Ophelia (Tracy Weller), the vain vaginalist, and Blowfish is forced to turn on her comrades in order to get the necessary explosives out of the sneering Jaguar (Christopher Ryan Richards). If you can get past the fact that the pieces of Paul Cohen's plot never lock together (Ocean's Thirteen, this is not), the show has plenty of individually funny bits, from Jacques Coolidge, the taste-making theater blogger who "steers the ship of culture to the dangerous shoals of invention" and "blogs directly to [the audience's] loins," to Ophelia's script ("The velvet vulva of inchoate yearning"). Just listen to Maureen Dowd's vagina: go see Heist, go see Heist!

All Kinds of Shifty Villains

All Kinds of Shifty Villains may be a little shifty in its direction, but thanks to some comic villains, Robert Attenweiler's new show is far from bad. The play opens in full-blown noir, a chiaroscuro cityscape chalked in the background, and a sultry showgirl, Precious Jones (Elizabeth Stewart), singing sweet exposition. By her first chorus, the black and white has fallen away to reveal a cartoon-like world, where villains like Fonzy and The Fonz (Nathan Williams and Bret Haines) hide whiskey in cereal boxes, loyal assistants like Therese Trueblood (Kari Karchock) have their kinks, and hallucinatory heroes like Max Quarterhorse (Joe Stipek) go through nicotine withdrawal. It's a live-action Who Framed Roger Rabbit (that is, no cartoons), kept aloft by a cast that knows not to look before leaping.

[Read on]

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Palace of the End

Lynndie England: accidental torturer. David Kelley: heartsick weapons inspector. Nehrjas Al Saffarh: trusting member of the Iraqi Communist Party. With the allegory of Alice’s looking glass, Judith Thompson not only connects these desperate and disparate characters, but also turns a sharp mirror on society by revisiting the infamous abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Built by invisible, arbitrary borders (like Iraq itself), Palace of the End isolates all three of these characters on stage and then, monologue by monologue, uses their fractured realizations of the world to tie them together. Thompson takes liberties with her mix of research and storytelling skills when explaining Lynndie’s infamous “thumbs-up” pictures, Kelley’s suicide, and Saffarh’s struggle to resist Saddam. But these “invented” characters hold fast: Her writing is seamless and every bit as breathtaking for the audience as it is for the actors who labor for breath, fogging up that looking glass.

[Read on]

Washing Machine

photo: Michelle Enfield

Jason Stuart's absorbing solo play (confidently and engagingly performed by Dana Berger) is centered on the real life story of a five year old girl who died inside a laundromat washing machine. More than one interpretation of the facts is offered, as a handful of characters process the tragedy, but the play is interested less in asking us to decide what happened and more in depicting - sometimes with humor, sometimes with grave seriousness, but always with humanity - the profound effect that the loss of one life has on the community. That's a theme that could potentially be precious, but not here in this lively and intelligent play which strictly avoids sentimentality and instead strives for (and achieves) a cumulative emotional power.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

BASH'd: A Gay Rap Opera

A straight opinion of BASH'd: A Gay Rap Opera: there has got to be a better, funnier way to reclaim the word "faggot." Visually pared down (but full of sight gags), the show comes across as a cross between Altar Boyz and Xanadu (without the sharpness of either), and sounds as if it's performed by a white R. Kelly (and he knows a thing or two about repetitive hip-hoperas). The show opens with a comparison to Romeo and Juliet's "star-crossed lovers," and devolves from there to an uneven gloss of how country boy Dillon (Nathan Cuckow) wound up with city boy Jack (Chris Craddock), and how violence caused one of them to fight back. But it's too playful to get that serious, so while Craddock (the stronger of the two) can pun Eminem's "Cleaning Out My Closet" into "Coming Out The Closet," BASH'd misses the otherwise inexpressible emotions that make rap worthwhile in the first place. "Smash, Boom, Crash," a first-person account from the receiving end of a gay bash, comes across as a grotesque: Aaron Macri's music allows us to keep a distance from the true pain behind it. The truth is, it's hard to be tongue-and-cheek with rap unless your cheek's as fast as your tongue.

[Read on]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Perfect Couple

At first, Brooke Berman's latest play, A Perfect Couple, feels as forced as Isaac and Amy's relationship must be, a collection of well-worn memories held together by the projections of "everybody" involved in the production. But as it turns out, Berman's too-perfect structure is an intentional jab at such happiness, one that gives her the "perfect" opportunity to be gleefully glib. Maria Mileaf has assembled a top-notch cast, from the comic flirt, Annie McNamara (Emma), to the domineeringly deadpan Dana Eskelson (Amy). She's also had Neil Patel build a set that's up to task with the tone of the piece: a symbolically "perfect" blue outline of a house, its fixings (and feelings) all neatly cupboarded away. Even the men, who Mrs. Berman always seems to have difficulty writing in a balanced way (so much so, that at times, she comes across as a female Neil LaBute), are done justice by James Waterson's gropingly sincere Isaac, and Elan Mose-Bachrach's cheerfully intelligent Josh. It's all so happy that the plot has to force an artificial confrontation, but a few wine coolers later, it's near perfect again.

[Read on]

Monday, June 16, 2008

Standing Clear

Standing Clear, a new group comedy from the Coffee Cup theater company, has a very simple message: our anonymous city is a hotbed of comedy, you just have to take off the iPod long enough to listen, put down the book long enough to look. But while that's true of the actual subway, it's sadly not the case with this random assemblage of "stops" (scenes). For all that material, the show is rarely even skin deep: that's worse than an episode of MADtv. It's rather telling that Ishah Janssen-Faith and Jack McGowan, the two actors credited with writing the show (with additional material from the cast), choose to play almost identically annoying busybodies: they're after cheap laughs. Barbara Kerger's direction keeps the train running on schedule, but had there been an emergency brake, I'd have pulled it: there are too many real subway stories for me to sit through such wasted potential.

[Read on]

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Crother Spyglass/The Resistible Rise of Fatlinda Paloka

Although this double-bill from Serenitas Media was open for review, it came across more as a learning experience for both writers and the director, and as a showcase for a few actors struggling to put meat on their bones and meat on their roles. Timothy Dowd writes like a Mamet-in-training: what he needs to work on is his specificity. In Crother Spyglass, Ray Crother (Brendan Wahlers) comes across both as a slick Roma-like salesman and as an insecure Aaronow, and it makes it totally unclear whether he's setting up young Adam (a sheepish Timothy McDonough) and what exactly he wants out of Christine (Erin Leigh Schmoyer), a character who is far too flat to stand up to Ray. (That she does anyway speaks to the artificiality of the plot.) Marcy Wallabout's The Resistable Rise of Fatlinda Paloka is in much better shape: she just needs to reel in her characters a little bit. She's made a nice parable out of the conflict between the homegrown Southerners, Jimmy and Jolene Earp (the hysterically tight Nick Palladino and Siobhan Doherty), and the Paloka clan, who they perceive as loud and obnoxious immigrants, gobbling up their culture and replacing it with pizza (which they're addicted to, complaints not withstanding). But Mrs. Schmoyer goes far too far into a faux-Borat as Fatlinda, and only Mr. McDonough, as the bluegrass-loving Blerim, manages to make the deeper message about cultural acceptance actually stick.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

photo: Scott Suchman

The Signature's austere, superbly realized production of a newly revised version of The Visit is extraordinary music theatre of high quality: Terrence McNally's adaptation of the grim morality tale has great dramatic impact, and the cohesive Kander & Ebb score rates consideration with some of their best work. After a flawless first act, the storytelling missteps - once we know the dark reason why the world's richest woman has descended on the desperately poor town where she grew up, we have limited patience for the romanticized remembrances of her first love (even if it is George Hearn taking the trip down memory lane about Chita Rivera.) The two stage vets are riveting, often using stillness to great effect, and Hearn - who has a challenging job as the emotional center of the cold-eyed story - has a subtle and profoundly sad moment in the second act that moved many in the audience to instant tears. Rivera's character walks around with a cane thanks to a wooden leg, but the show nonetheless contrives a way for her to have an Ann Reinking-choreographed dance number. Is there anyone with blood in their veins who is fool enough to complain about that?

The Mystery Of Irma Vep

Reviewed for Theatermania.

Vincent River

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Even one of the actors in Vincent River says it: "The penny's dropped." Of course it does: Philip Ridley has rigged the show to make his words drop like bombshells, carefully controlling the show to keep it suspenseful. But he doesn't need to: he has deep characters and, at least in this production, excellent actors for this haunted two-hander (Deborah Findlay and Mark Field). Ultimately, by rigging the flow of information, he bottles all the humanity in the show, and makes the plot the least interesting thing of all. And with his focus more on a detached procedural than a compelling drama, Vincent River comes across more as lazy river than whitewater thrill.

[Read on]

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist

Don't let the flimflam, vaudeville, exaggeration, or absurd plot shifts of The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist fool you. Dan Trujillo's an incredibly sharp playwright, conflating the cures of the Church with those of a Viagra huckster ("It'll put the stone/in your bone). The play is well-served by director Isaac Butler's familiarity with both the playwright and actors, for the writing requires flawless shifts between the presentational and the intimate. Not only do all three actors (Daryl Lathon, Abe Goldfarb, and Jennifer Gordon Thomas) have the range necessary to switch from mock-selves ("slapstick realism," if you will, concerning a pissed off Jen and her arsenal of gag weapons) to colorful characters (watch Abe's head explode as he yells "stupid fools"), but they look as if they've doing this show for years. The purpose of comedy is to lift the weight of the world off one's shoulders; religion aims to carry a similar burden. How appropriate, then, to find a show willing to take on both at once: that's a medicine worth taking.

[Read on]


photo: Michal Daniel

Michael Stuhlbarg's indulgent, often bizarre performance as Hamlet is mostly of the foot-stomping tantrum variety, the Danish prince as neurotic Oedipal child. He grandstands and gesticulates but he has no more weight than a pest: this is a Hamlet where you couldn't care less about the main character. The production, directed by Oskar Eustis, offers a surprise or two - memorably, the play within the play is performed here with puppets, and Ophelia distributes stones rather than flowers when she goes mad - but in the absence of dramatic momentum it quickly becomes boring.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Single Black Female

photo: Gerry Goodstein

Ok, so it's essentially less a play than a stand-up comedy routine for two, and granted, it feels overextended over two acts. But damn did I laugh and have a good time at this consistently lively, enormously entertaining show in which two single black gals bring the usually hilarious low-down about dating and some thoughtful realness about racial identity; if the hmm-mmm's and the Amen's all around me were any indication, so did the audience I saw it with. Much of the show's often politically incorect and hard R-rated humor is just plain fun for anyone who can identify with the search for a good man, but there's also a healthy dose of specific cultural observation and relevance in Lisa B. Thompson's script, which calls upon the show's two performers (Riddick Marie and Soara-Joy Ross, both funny and endearing) to play a variety of characters. The show has been snappily directed to move swiftly by Colman Domingo, who can currently be seen on stage in Passing Strange. The two shows have something else in common: each brings middle-class black characters to the stage where they are woefully under-represented.

The Occupant

**** (...out of 5 stars)

Though I found the conceit ("Inside The Actor's Studio"- style-man-interviews-celebrity) to be a little too safe and not terribly interesting, I still loved the ideas, insight and rich character featured in Edward Albee's new biographical play about famed sculptor, Louise Nevelson (if you don't know who she is, you're forgiven early on). The focal point of this 2-act conversation is the story of the birth to death/up down up down etc. journey of a powerful, unique, damaged, fascinating artist. Along the way we learn a great deal about the pitfalls and black-eyes that can tazer a human flat on their back . We also get a Signature-Theater-eye's view of how, in spite of (/because of) all the jolts and setbacks, no matter how many years it takes, some persistent artists can find themselves and create their greatest works. This point really pops and it was truly inspiring in that respect. Mercedes Ruehl is pretty fucking splendid. As usual. In other news, I am googling the hell out of Louise Nevelson.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jollyship the Whiz-Bang

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Jollyship the Whiz-Bang is a riot from start to finish: if anything, its subtitle ("A Pirate Puppet Rock Odyssey") is a bit of an understatement. Think Avenue Q as performed by Tenacious D with a healthy dose of irreverence by way of Family Guy, and if that doesn't have you rushing to buy a ticket, you might as well stop here. Jollyship uses the rock music to remain serious, even as it plunders the depths of self-satire and goes overboard (in a good way) with its crass puppets. Nick Jones and Raja Azar have been performing since 2002, and though they've added members to their crew (most excitingly, Steven Boyer, a very funny vocalist, and an endearing crab), the play seems to have grown organically: in other words, the comedy flows naturally, jarring only in the sense that you'll be convulsing with laughter. Sam Gold helps to think both inside and outside the box, tightening the parody as well as the prosody, and while the crew may never reach Party Island, the audience certainly will.

[Read on] [Also reviewed by: Patrick]

Edward Albee's Occupant

photo: Carol Rosegg

Who's afraid of Louise Nevelson? I dare wonder if Edward Albee is, since his tribute to the sculptor so gingerly tip-toes around her that she typically comes off as no more fleah and blood than a statue. We watch her interviewed in the afterlife as if for a magazine article: the interviewer once in a rare while offers a weak challenge but the gloves never come off. He's there to say 'what happened next" and "tell us more" while the great lady talks in quotation marks. Despite the deadly dull conceit, the play has the intrinsic interest of one great artist paying homage to another, even if it is an Inside The Actors Studio gloss job. As Nevelson, Mercedes Ruehl gives a fiercely intelligent, technically proficient but somehow wearying performance. She's an actress reaching to play an eccentric, when what is desperately needed is an eccentric actress.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Dangerous Personality

Photo/Monique Carboni

There's very little tension in Sallie Bingham's A Dangerous Personality, a major dramatic stumbling block that the show never quite manages to get over. However, Martin Platt's clever direction manages to pull off a comedy instead, a fittingly ironic fate for the late Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, whose struggle to establish the Theosophical Society ended with her being debunked as a fraudulent mystic. From the gilded yet frayed Lamasery (richly designed by Bill Clarke) to a sweltering house in the Hindu Quarter of Bombay, characters keep standing up for New Age idealism (religion without the Church) only to ultimately stoop to comedy. Theater's a bit of a trick, anyway, and for what it's worth, the finale proves that Mrs. Bingham has something up her sleeve after all.

[Read on]

Suspicious Package

I never thought I'd end up in acting in a show with The Playgoer, but thanks to Gyda Arber's pleasantly interactive "iPod noir," Suspicious Package, I spent 45 minutes running around Williamsburg in a felt hat, tailing a sleazy producer and chatting up a seductive heiress and her sexy showgirl sister. Each of the four roles has its own voice-over, but mine (the detective's) proved to be an amusing mash-up of stereotypes and witty one-liners ("She was a tarantula on angel's food cake"), and Aaron Baker's voiceover, fitting the golden age of radio, not only provided my backstory with plenty of boozing and gambling, but got me in full-on gumshoe mode. I'm a fast walker, so I wound up with some spare time between scenes (each "actor" meets the other "actors," one by one, by following the on-screen cues on their Zune Media Players): however, sitting on various stoops, looking out at the modern, fast-changing Brooklyn streets, listening to classic radio rebroadcasts, I didn't mind at all. I was too busy enjoying the unique experience.

[Read on]

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Hired Man

Photo/Tristram Kenton

Whatever Melvin Bragg's lost in his condensed adaptation of his epic The Hired Man has been partially made up for thanks to Howard Goodall's music, a lively bunch of chorus numbers and operatically light chamber music solos that nonetheless pack a punch. But director Daniel Buckroyd is all business, and substitutes intimacy for tableaux, ending up with more of a revue than a musical. In truth, the rapid pace of Act II, which jumps from Katie Howell's airy "You'll Never See The Sun" to the talented Richard Colvin's moral aria, "What Would You Say To Your Son?" and from David Stothard's unyielding, unionizing "Men of Stone," to, of course, the ensemble's "War." It's not smooth enough to excuse the melodrama of a collapsed coal mine or a sudden illness, but the finale's resolution of all those counter-melodies shows that for all its ups and downs, all that hard work is ultimately worth it.

[Read on]

Frequency Hopping

photo: Dixie Sheridan

The latest show at 3LD makes smart, artful use of technology: besides the moving projections both behind and in front of the playing area, there are automated musical instruments from floor to ceiling on either side of the stage. The resulting effect, which sometimes makes it seem as if the actors are inside a giant gadget, is of high visual interest and thematic validity but it's also a little distancing, and the script (by Elyse Singer, who also directed this production) lacks the needed drive to mitigate that. Nonetheless, the fact-based story here (in which movie star Heddy Lamar, privvy to Nazi secrets, seduces American composer George Antheil into brainstorming a technology to foil German missiles) holds our attention anyhow, especially when it uses the technology-rich environment to illustrate moments that would be impossible to dramatize on a traditional stage. The play makes gender-politics hay out of the gap between Lamarr's public sex symbol status and her private high-minded passions - for that reason I was reminded more than once of Insignificance, which imagines a get-together between Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein - but the show's style of presentation cries out for a larger unifying theme than that.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Michael Frayn's 1984 play Benefactors holds up pretty well today, even with Folding Chair Classical Theater's low-budget performance. Despite drinking from empty glasses, the lead performances from James Arden and Lisa Blankenship (as the good-hearted Kitzingers) are full of nuance, from David's frustrating sincerity to Jane's repressed and slow-boiling opinions. And although director Marcus Geduld loses some focus with his poor musical cues, he does pretty well with the material at hand, keeping the parallel between building towers and relationships upright, and keeping the darker thoughts about what it means to "help" someone (who has that right?) in the corner of every politely worded thought. I'm more uncertain about Ian Gould, who appears here almost exactly as he did in When Is a Clock: his over-enunciation places his accent in a different play, and he plays creepiness so overtly that it's hard to ever take him seriously. The only thing that shouldn't be natural in Benefactors are the monologued asides that, truth be told, are so smoothly inserted by the cast that they keep the action moving without becoming expository. The real benefit, however, will come when the melodrama is reduced.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Reviewed for Theatermania.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

This Is A Cowboy Poem My Daddy Taught Me

photo: Stephen M. Price

This new play starts out as if it's one of those "long night of hard booze and hard confessions" dramas of the middle of the American desert variety, as a mysterious stranger named Love convinces a bartender named Scrappy to pour her a few on credit. But the lyrical, engagingly structured play (by Katie Bender) soon reveals a theme (about the ability of art to change lives) that isn't usually seen with characters like these in places like this, and it's also soon clear that the play is on a course that steers clear of formulaic melodrama. Although the staging doesn't meet all the challenges of the problematic playing area, the production does an admirable job of creating an environment that allows Bender's heightened dialogue to play out intimately. Ultimately, it's a play that leaves its mark by seeping in slowly, gently, surely.

Hospital 2008 (episode one)

Photo/Dixie Sheridan

The saying goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," so the fans and fanatics drooling each year over Axis Theater Company's serial drama Hospital are not likely to be disappointed with this year's four surreal, comic installments. But from a critical point of view, it's hard to process what, other than a ridiculously experimental showcase, Axis is after. Watching Hospital 2008 episode one is akin to grabbing 35 minutes from the middle of a David Lynch film: the narratives are loose and disconnected, the actors are disturbingly present (yet blurred), and the ambiance (nicely evoked here by Kyle Chepulis's literal cavern of a set and David Zeffren's selective lighting) is unsettling. The trouble is that this serial version lacks the deepening compulsion of Lynch's craft: nothing within this segment ties in to anything (unless you count cryptic references to "an apartment"), and with such a short run-time, the mood of the piece never pulls the audience under.

[Read on]

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Len Asleep In Vinyl

photo: Joan Marcus

Carly Mensch's brief and underdramatized play about a burned out middle aged record producer barely finds a groove before it's over: for about as long as it would take to play the average CD (seventy minutes) we watch the depressed, somewhat volatile main character holed up in his getaway cabin following a tabloid-level incident at an awards show. He's descended upon by his estranged son, his ex-wife, a neighborhood kid who idolizes him, and a troubled Britney Spears-type pop star who is his latest project: potentially interesting characters all, put over by a capable cast, but the playwright, despite a talent for dialogue, doesn't do anything particularly interesting with them. The relationship between the son, an aspiring musician, and the neglectful dad, who isn't interested in hearing the kid's "chamber pop" music, seems to be meant to illustrate a cultural chasm between the generations, but it doesn't have much resonance for me at this moment in time during the phenomenon of Guitar Hero and the resulting popularity of new rock.

Jollyship The Whiz Bang

Reviewed for Theatermania.

Monday, June 02, 2008

EST Marathon 30: Series B

As I said about Series A, it's not worth focusing on the flaws of an uneven one-act festival: better to take note of those runners who hold up their leg of the race. To be fair, it's necessary to at least mention Neil LaBute, who has grown so sharp in The Great War that he's cut off all emotion and become an incindiary M. Night Shyamalan. That makes it easier to note the wild story of David Zellnick's Ideogram which manages to sharply satirize stereotypes while at the same time boiling down and condensing jealousy into a weird sort of mental noir. The weaknesses stand out right now (the forced flute solos), but that's only because the play is so short, and the concept otherwise so comic: undeveloped, it's still right up there with, say, the magical realism of Kevin Brockmeier. It's also important to illustrate the struggle, because then when you hit upon a winner, like Taylor Mac's fully developed and wholly satisfying Okay, it's clearer how good of a race the playwright's run. Setting a tragedy in a series of bathroom stalls keeps the door open for farce, and Taylor balances not only between the two styles, but seven wholly different voices, too--the show bursts with personality as the characters rant, snort, drink, and . . . sadly . . . give birth. Sound like your high school's senior prom?

[Read on]

How Theatre Failed America

The Times, the "Internets", the Mermaids on skates: Mike Daisey makes it known right at the top of his brilliant, energizing ninety-minute monologue that he's not interested in these usual superficial complaints about what's wrong with theatre today. His targets are more systemic: theatre in America is broken, and the reasons are more cultural than economic. He puts over his lively state of the art address in the manner of a trusted truth-telling friend, using personal recollections and experiences to ease in and out of his (ultimately sobering) grand statements. The success of the piece is that it is capable of being strong and provocative without being assaultive, informed and informative without being the least bit dry. Its genius is that it has been carefully crafted to empower the audience and to covertly rally us into action; for theatre lovers, this is not to be missed.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

How Theater Failed America

Spalding Grey meets Chris Farley? I don't know how else to really talk about the manic energy that Mike Daisey brings to such serious and well-spoken topics, but it's his cross of personal stories and irrepressible personality that make this man such a powerful monologist. Because he spends the whole evening sitting at a table, there's no sense of showboating and, because he speaks without a script (extemporaneously, to a well-rehearsed extent), his connection with the audience seems more direct, more intimate. The play isn't so much How Theater Failed America, so much as it is How Theater Failed Mike Daisey, and as he quickly glosses past Charles Isherwood, Disney, and the big "capital T" Theater industry, that's something to be glad for. Daisey's story is far more interesting, from his inspiring school days to intrepid theater company work to suicidal dejection and the "super fucked up" garage theaters of Seattle. The play is filled with well-spoken insights about the regional machine-like "freeze-dried" actor model or the ironic atrophy of institutions that, having made the money to take risks, now become too afraid to take them, along with witty observations, like how subscriptions are "an opportunity to be randomly fucked in the ass." If the theater has failed, nights like this are exceptions that hopefully don't prove the rule.

[Read on]