Friday, August 31, 2007

FRINGE: I Dig Doug

I didn't dig I Dig Doug; I found the play to be as vapid and superficial as its protagonist. I think Bert V. Royal's direction needed to do more than simply ferry the two energetic writer/performers from point A to point B; it needed to actually shape the satire, too. Far too much comedy leaked right over the edge of this shaky ship, and too much of the show was filled with digressive skits. There's also the subject material itself: being unfamiliar with Howard Dean's '04 campaign, I missed out on some of the broader political needling. There's definitely promise in Doug, but until the story stops serving the jokes, it'll stay needlessly democratic: that is to say, it'll keep shuffling all over itself, unable to get anything done. And satire without a point is just heartless humor.

[Read on]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

FRINGE: Lights Rise on Grace

Five words, six years, three things. Three actors, three chairs, a series of light cues. But Chad Beckim's brilliant new play, Lights Rise on Grace is anything but by the numbers. Told through parallel monologues that evolve into fully fleshed scenes, Beckim uses the repetition of events and the shuffling of time and perspective to unify the three disparate roles into one. Along with Robert O'Hara's seamless direction, he transforms the spotlights into prisons and the actors into a contemporary urban chorus, catcalling disses from the background. This, while moving at a rapid pace that compresses three lives and ten years into a tight sixty minutes.

[Read on]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Being Alive

photo: Richard J. Termine

Roughly two dozen Sondheim songs are re-imagined (mostly in the r&b idiom) and performed by an African-American ensemble in this confused and overly ambitious revue, conceived by Billy Porter and currently running in Westport. One of the aims is for a fresh new spin on the songwriter's material. Instead, the music often sounds like a bad concept album by The Fifth Dimension. The show does the nearly unimaginable: it makes Sondheim sound pedestrian. Walkouts began at the preview I saw around the half hour mark and continued steadily, with a few especially noisy and disgruntled ones for Natalie Venetia Belcon's eleventh hour all-hummed "Send In The Clowns." I don't object that these songs have been re-imagined, but I do object that the results here are numbing and diminishing on stage: the few moments that do spark some dramatic interest are the ones which are performed closest to how the songs were written to be sung in the first place with minimal musical re-invention. (Joshua Henry's heartfelt rendition of "I Remember" from Evening Primrose is the show's highlight) As if the Sondheim Goes Black conceit was not enough, there's another that has the performers quoting lines from Shakespeare plays between songs, and as if that also isn't enough to bite off and chew, the book makes a feeble attempt at a story. Sample song-segue dialogue: "What's all this talk about giants in the sky, son?" "I'm all alone, Mama" "No, no one is alone". Being Alive is the kind of out-there risk that only well-meaning, highly creative people can think up and take, but in this case, the risk doesn't pay off.

Monday, August 27, 2007

100 Saints You Should Know

The vibrant, instantly fascinating characters in Kate Fodor's gorgeous, not-to-be-missed new play are all struggling with isolation and loneliness; while a priest, returned home to his mother from his parish, begins to lose his faith, the single mother who works as a maid in the rectory begins to search for hers. The first act is thick with prickly humor, the kind of laughs that come from our recognition of believable, sharply observed behavior. Gradually, and with an elegant gracefulness that is the opposite of a heavy hand, the play flowers into a deeply affecting drama about the soul-searchings of identifiably real everyday people. This production, directed with sensitivity and clarity by Ethan McSweeney, boasts a flawless ensemble: all five actors (Jeremy Shamos, Lois Smith, Janel Moloney, Zoe Kazan and Will Rogers) make strong characterization choices that enrich the play's humor while remaining connected to the sadness of the characters. In a word, 100 Saints... is a gem.

Also blogged by: [David] [Aaron]

Order before September 18th
$40 (Regular $65) for all performances August 24th through September 2nd.
$50 (Regular $65) for all performances September 4th through September 30th.
ONLINE at or and use the code SABL.
PHONE Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon to 8 PM daily) and mention the code SABL when ordering.
IN PERSON Noon to 8 PM daily at the box office; 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th) and mention the code SABL

Sunday, August 26, 2007

100 Saints You Should Know

Playwrights Horizons

Heads up! An exceptional production has just started previews at Playwrights Horizons. The themes of Kate Fodor's beautifully crafted drama are so clearly (and heartbreakingly) delivered by her finely drawn characters that she has rendered her 8 paragraphs of Playbill notes (including the phrases "It's a play about.." and "The play is also about...") obsolete. Musing on religion (or the absence of), loneliness, and parent/child relationships this often funny/often sad play provided perspectives and insights that were as modern as you could get. The 5-person cast is top-notch including Zoe Kazan and Will Rogers brilliantly playing teenagers with all of the rage and awkwardness that comes with it. And I FINALLY got to see Lois Smith onstage. That was a special treat. This one's a keeper.

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [Aaron]

FRINGE: PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play]

After watching Hotel Oracle, the last confusing collaboration between writer Bixby Elliot and director Stephen Brackett, I was hoping that Mr. Elliot would skip the intellectualism and the magical realism and simply get to the point. With PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play], he's gone one better: he's pinpointed the message. That message--about homosexuality's struggle for rights and need for acceptance--is at times a little overbearing. However, the playful magical realism (which collides a couple from the '50s, the '80s, and a mysterious stranger from the future) keeps the action at least theatrically plausible. Furthermore, the central characters are likeable and understandable, even at their worst, and their struggles are identifiable and sincere. Jonathan (James Ryan Caldwell), ashamed of being gay, tries to avoid committing to his open partner, Brad (Yuval Boim), even after Brad is bashed for it. In the '50s, things are even worse for Laurence (Chad Heoppner), who expresses his shame with his self-loathing homophobia and a shy attempt at marriage with a spinster librarian, Madeline (Marguerite Stimpson). The contrast--seamlessly (and at times emphatically) navigated by Brackett--speaks wonders for the cultural differences and struggles. If the fiery Everett Quinton's performance as Harry, the Fierstein-like proselytizer, weren't so emotional, it would seem superfluous; as is, it's just another layer to a solid tome.

[Also reviewed by: Patrick]

FRINGE: Susan Gets Some Play

Being single in the city sucks, and dating is hard. But if it could always be as funny as in Adam Szymkowicz's Susan Gets Some Play, then we'd at least have something to look forward to. This show builds on everything Szymkowicz developed in last year's Nerve (it even pairs the two leads again), but escapes the easy situational comedy of a blind date by building the story around a real (albeit metadramatic) heart: Susan Louise O'Connor's, to be specific. You see, the plot of the play revolves around a director (Kevin R. Free) who creates a play solely to find Susan a boyfriend. We, the audience, get to watch (and perhaps take part in) auditions, then to delight in the growing farce. But Susan Gets Some Play is grounded in her likable innocence, and sparkling honesty: when she talks about how nice it would be simply to be held (even if she has to play a character for no pay, no lines, and a terrible commute), it seems blissfully sincere. Mortiz von Stuelpnagel's direction amplifies the ridiculous, but remains elastic enough to snap back into seriousness. Comedy is built on such distortions of mood; this production has near perfected the necessity of equal parts silly and sincere.

[Also reviewed by: Patrick]


Right now, Steffi Kammer's brave, autobiographical show, The Box, is a little too closed off. Her urban tale of growing up in Brooklyn's worst project, the lone white girl, smacks of authenticity, but her telling seems sheltered behind the safety of disassociative images, precisely the sort of memory-by-way-of-image she describes when talking about [Josef] Cornell boxes. At fifty minutes, the metaphors don't seem strained, but neither does Kammer's experience: her emotion peeks out, as if from behind a slightly ajar door, but her presentation is anything but jarring.
Her style presents the squalid past with rosy cheer, not resentment. To that end, the play is uplifting, but dramatically awkward; it is easier for Kammer to imitate the stereotypically rich Jewish ladies (whose idea of something not working is something that clashes) than it is, at times, for her to open up the full refrigerator of memories. She touches on a near rape with an older Russian man, the constant stress of her Swedish mother, and of a hopelessly romantic homeless man, but all the impact is boxed up with her memories.


The theremin is the oddly fascinating musical instrument from the early twentieth century that is responsible for those moogy, eerie, somehow space-aged sounds in a lot of '50's horror movies. (You know what it sounds like if you've seen black and white film of a tin dish on a string being passed off as a spaceship.) It's the first instrument to be powered by electricity and probably the only one that is played without being touched; the thereminist controls pitch and volume with hand movements near the instrument. The story of Leon Theremin, the Russian inventor who created something of a sensation in Amercia with his creation before disappearing mysteriously for decades, is filtered in this (Fringe Festival) one-act through the narrated imaginings of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson, seen here in a straitjacket and (as played by the drama's author, Ben Lewis) often in maniacal-energy mode. I'm really not sure why, because - apart from Wilson's childhood exposure to the theremin marking the birth of his musical inspiration - the play doesn't really make a sustained case for a connection between the two men. There are some musings about genius and the value of innovative vision, but they don't take hold: the narration starts to feel superfluous. The most potentially dramatic analogy between the two men's stories is reduced to a couple of lines like an afterthought.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

FRINGE: The Sunshine Play

The Sunshine Play

Remember the Act II opening from The Fantasticks, "That Plum Is Too Ripe"? Well, that's The Sunshine Play, an overt physical comedy that hides the cynicism underneath. Both halves are well executed by the players, with Cosmin Selesi (Trifan) as a delightfully tight-lipped jealous drunk; Daniel Popa (Dan), as a sarcastic, joke-cracking free-wheeler; and Isabela Neamtu (Iza) as a quick-witted, overwhelmed beauty. Peca Stefan's script captures the nuances of natural conversations: awkward rhythms, weird first kisses, and all; this, even translated from Romanian. The direction from Ana Margineanu is thrilling: for all the small gestures, there's a sense of excitement in each nuance, and even a few surprises, too. That final scene, anything but happy, follows logically and completely from everything before, and the whole Monday Theater team has done us a service by bringing this play here.

FRINGE: Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the Room! is stacked high with comedy, like a pile of funny flapjacks drenched in silly syrup. It's got an outstandingly funny cast, all of whom are put to good use (particularly Ariel Shafir and Bjorn Thorstad). But Dan Fogler's play is remarkably uninspired for something that stems from Ionesco's Rhinoceros. For the first act, it gets by on charm and personality, but by the second act, it's clear (or perhaps doggedly unclear) that nothing much is actually going on. The epidemic that's turning people into elephants isn't captured by the political satire inherent in George W. Bush's emergency broadcasts, nor is it clarified by the Edenic love story between slacker Bern (Johnny Giacalone) and idealist Sylvia (Sarah Saltzberg). There's so much aimless pop culture that I half expected VH1-like commentary to interrupt the show (it didn't). Fogler's a funny guy, granted, but his brand of comedy lacks an idea big enough to last a whole show, and until he finds that, he'll be stuck stitching sketches together.

[Read on]

To Be Loved

I didn't stay to see the second act of this Fringe Festival show. I would have, if a good deal of the first act hadn't been staged on the floor, where only the audience in the first row could see it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

BASH'd: A Gay Rap Opera

photo: Ian Jackson

Two white gay rappers who go by the names T-Bag and Feminem: sounds like a one-joke Fringe Festival show, doesn't it? But BASH'd isn't the parody that its come-on might lead you to expect; it's exciting, trenchant musical theatre and boundlessly invigorating entertainment. Using hip-hop's naked aggression and its uncompromisingly explicit language, the all-rapped show is both a convincing, affecting gay love story and an unapologetic in-your-face rallying call for equal rights. It's also the best case I have ever seen made for the stageworthiness of this genre of music: the dope beats and rhymes in BASH'd are always in service of storytelling. So what if there are a few gay-coming-of-age cliches and who cares that the message, as befits rap music, is ultimately blunt? That matters not at all, thanks to the freshness and the vitality of the presentation. I caught the show's last scheduled Fringe Festival performance but I don't believe that New York has seen the last of this show.

FRINGE: Hail Satan

Mac Rogers must have made a deal with the devil; his plays always seem to have great production values, excellent direction, and phenomenal ensembles. So it's appropriate that his new show gives credit where it's due: Hail Satan, a satirical look at religious and familial values through the surprisingly balanced and hellishly interesting theories of Satanism. Tom (Matthew Kinney), the new guy, is lured by curiosity and lust into taking part in a conjuration ritual: before he knows it, he's the caretaker of Satan's daughter, Angie (Laura Perloe). As Charlie (Sean Williams), his gentle, affable, Satanic boss calmly espouses the values of screwing over others, Tom begins to realize that he's in over his head. Is it possible to describe such a play as "delightful"? Yes.

[Read on]

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Long Distance

Leprosy that glittered like scales, making a bed sandy enough for one to dream, tossing and turning of the beach... such is the disturbingly normal writing of Judy Budnitz, whose work is well-adapted in Long Distance by the Ateh Theater Group. The three nontraditional stories about the gulfing spaces between us come across extremely well on the chashama stage, and between directors Bridgette Dunlap and Alexis Grausz and actors Elizabeth Neptune and Sara Montgomery, there are enough variations in styles and characters to keep the evening running smoothly (yet unsettlingly).

[Read on]

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

FRINGE: Double Vision

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Double Vision
is an eerily gripping play about love's collapse in the closed-off, urban atmosphere of modern relationships. As the title implies, perception is a big part of the play, and the characters are all tormented by their unyielding imaginations. Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich manges to find clarity, but she leaves understanding the characters up to the audience, which doesn't quite work, especially with the compressed, unhappy conclusion. Still, the actions of the cast are clear, especially from Quinn Mattfeld and Rebecca Henderson, and it's been a long time since I felt such empathy for an apathetic character (Christopher McCann's low-key portrayal of Ben).

[Read on]

John Goldfarb Please Come Home

If Rip Van Winkle started his nap in 1964 and woke up this week at this (Fringe Festival) musical, he'd think he hadn't slept a day. As if untouched by time, the miserably unfunny early '60's comedy is now - for no good discernible reason - a miserably unfunny stage musical, presented reverently as if the tired, hopelessly square material is timeless comic gold: is there anything more dated than the toothless satire of yesteryear? Set mostly in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Fawzia Arabia, where an American pilot is coerced into coaching a football team and an American gal reporter is belly-dancing undercover in the King's harem, the smell of mothballs competes with the stench of curdled jokes long past their expiration dates. There are a few good melodies in the score, which does its job of approximating the style of the era, and there are a couple of standouts in the supporting cast: Hope Cartelli does a deadpan turn as a Russian spy masquerading as a harem girl, and Adam Hargus steals focus whenever he's on stage even with his groanworthy material as The President. Otherwise, this is a waste of time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mark Baratelli's Improv Cabaret

Is it crazy to thumbs-up a show that will be completely different at each performance? Maybe, but I'm going to do it anyway, because Mark Baratelli's completely improvised forty-five minute cabaret set (at the Fringe Festival) slapped a huge, silly smile on my face. With no planning and no suggestions from the audience, quick-thinking Baratelli not only makes up the cheesey imitation American-songbook numbers on the spot but also the faux-confessional banter in between: the result is a light, affectionate send-up of the genre's illusion of emotional intimacy between performer and audience. The joke is that the intimacy here is fake but he delivers it with the portent and the heightened emotional pitch of the real thing: at the performance I saw, his increasingly ludicrous story about a childhood spent with corn husks for friends segued into a ridiculous uplifting anthem about finding one's way home to the corn. Mark Baratelli knows a thing or two about shucking corn and getting a bite out of it.

Tragedy! (A Musical Comedy)

I've never walked out of a show before; Tragedy! has the dubious honor of winning that distinction. I can't, in faith, review something I didn't watch all the way through, but after the amateurish first act, I'd seen enough of this Titus Andronicus satire. Aside from the tinny, MIDI-like sound quality, and the poor, straining voices (most notably that of Titus's son, Lucius), I found the musical to be offensive. "Rape's Just Another Way of Saying 'I Love You'," would have to be far cleverer to work, and "You Can't Spell 'Moor' Without 'B-L-A-C-K'," is the first rap song I've ever heard to be racist against itself. Satire and irony are dangerous tools when cast about blindly; Trey Parker and Matt Stone managed to harness this in Cannibal! The Musical!, but Michael Johnson's overly indulgent, recklessly bad production is just a mess.

Hail Satan

The first act of Mac Rogers' smart, darkly funny play (at the Fringe Festival) scores largely as a straight-faced satire of the soullessness of corporate culture, as wishy-washy new employee Tom discovers that all of his ambitious co-workers are part of a small prayer circle of Satan-worshippers. They're so reasonable and welcoming when they say so that it's not long before doubting Tom is sharing at their Sunday meetings and getting used to thinking of the devil when they greet each other with "The lord be with you". While carefully laying the solid groundwork for a tidy chiller, Rogers plays with our notions of religious tolerance and of our cultural acceptance of selfishness: this is clever, pitchfork-funny stuff. Although the second act - more plot-driven, more serious in tone, and focused more on family than on corporate dynamics - includes a plot twist that is thematically justified but not adequately prepared for dramatically, the play is always bold and effective both as swift, engaging entertainment and as needling social comment. As played by a virtually weak-link-free ensemble, Hail Satan is, ahem, a hell of a good show.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]


Sketch comedy shows are almost always hit and miss. This one (at the Fringe Festival) has two uneven but perfectly amiable skits at the top of the first act, and after that it's one winner after another, as three talented and very likeable performers (Erin Mortensen, Michael Hirstreet, and Ryan O'Nan, also the playwright) act out scenes that touch on the overarching idea of humans vs. animals. It has the feeling of a themed episode of Saturday Night Live, except it's often brainier than that show's been in a while and the skits don't peter out in exhaustion - they build and pay off. The scenes in the first act are organized around the action in a pig-themed diner in New Jersey and follow a nifty comic arc: we're first with the pig-costumed waitstaff who feel oppressed by the customers, then with the customers who are attacked by birds, then with the row of birds above the customers, and so on. The longer, more developed skits in the second act all touch on animal mythology. Even if they were not all terrific and terrificly clever (they are) the scenes of two gay unicorns, driven to desperate action when banned from Noah's Ark because they can't sexually reproduce, would alone make the show worth catching. And that's besides the welcome speech that Noah's wife gives to all the assembled animals, where she philosophizes that any animal she was able to capture is surely not the brightest example of the species. Animals is a hoot.

Fair Game

Fair Game might as well just run for office itself: it already has the buttery words, clever metaphors, and sinister secrets of a politician. But Karl Gajdusek's love story is sincere, and his politics are realistic: in other words, unelectable, but to the theatergoer, simply delectable. It's not the from-the-headlines story that's good, it's the handling of details: the lead is a woman running for president, the juicy part is that her son's involved in a sexual scandal. The design of the story is well executed by director Andrew Volkoff, and the script is rife with colorful "sidebars" given as lectures or genuine bon mots in conversation. The second act suffers momentarily from a jump into the future, but the words are still like butter: even as a lengthy play, it's a smooth feature article. Commendations, too, to the cast, particularly Chris Henry Coffey, who has the likable smugness of Michael J. Fox and the imposing insecurity of Nathan Fillion.

[Read on]

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kiss And Make Up

The theatre is such a rich place to set a farce. In this one, an often zippy but ultimately uneven musical which takes place at a nerve-rattled community theatre, a variety of mishaps force the leading man to also play the leading lady on (of course) opening night, while his co-stars scramble about either to assist or to sabotage him. The show takes too long to get going - the first act is slow setting things up, and too many of the musical numbers throughout bring the action dangerously to a standstill when what's essential for farce is monentum - but once we're in the show-within-the-show (which, shrewdly, is also a farce) the book is often clever and lively. The show's biggest problem, besides that three times as many moments are musicalized than need be, is a persistent one with farce and concerns the specific brand of exaggerated performance style that it asks of an actor. Frankly, you either got it or you ain't. Only half of this ensemble has got it.

Susan Gets Some Play

Written (by Adam Szymkowicz) to show its star Susan Louise O'Connor to neurotic-adorable advantage (on that score, it mostly succeeds) this hour-long play is set in motion when one of Susan's friends gets the idea to pretend to produce a play in order to hold bogus auditions: how else will dating-discouraged Susan meet guys? The slight, brief comedy seems intended as a silly, goofy lark, but even a lark has to have rules and this one, by design, keeps changing them up. Once guys seated in the audience started to take the stage to audition (following one that entered from the wings) I knew that investing in Susan's dilemma was useless: the play, thick with theatre in-jokes and aggressive fourth-wall breakage, is more interested in mildly goofing on itself than in Susan's man problems. That's never more apparent than at the play's climax, when Susan - previously and self-effacingly oblivious to interest from guys right under her nose - wanders into the audience to deliver an earnest monologue promising to change her ways and her attitude. This personal growth moment is unearned and out of nowhere: we didn't see Susan do any work.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Shattering of the Golden Pane

Photo/Kymm Zuckert

The Shattering of the Golden Pane needs to be more shatter, less gold: too much of Wilhelm's script is gilded with repetition that endlessly delays both actions and development. Even the few poignant moments--like Verta's frantic attempts to save parasite-infested fish--are related as numbing anecdotes, and until Caleb's appearance late into the second act, the show gives us nothing greater than a flimsy ghost to keep our attention. There's potential in the unrequited loves of all four characters, and there is much creepiness in the way David and Verta openly use each other for sexual solace by pretending that they are different people. But these Goths and punks are too closed off for any of this to be more than the sort of chatter that's only meaningful when drunk.

Drop Six: Mister Lucky

This hour-long Fringe Festival show, written performed and maybe even a little improv'ed by a talented sketch comedy troupe called Drop Six, has only the slimmest concept to hold it together: nearly every skit is in some way about male-female mating. The troupe is comprised of guys and one gal, so the gal (Alicia Levy) has the most to do: luckily she has a variety of well-honed comic skills and she doesn't wear out her welcome. The show is far more hit than miss: except for a running gag in Amish dress that I didn't care for (it depicts the guys all excited over the gal's over-sexual butter-churning) the troupe's bits of broad physical comedy are the most distinctive and funny segments of the show. It was easy to warm up to these performers, and if they make it to New York again I wouldn't hesitate to have another look.

Sodomy & Pedicures


Fringe Festival

Though this was your standard "Hi, I'm me!" one person coming-of-age format complete with the deconstructions of one's own self doubt and the obligatory mom and dad impersonations, the story that the lovely Jeanne d'Ork tells is pretty damn absorbing. In a brisk 60 minutes Ms. d'Ork maintains clear focus on one of the primary struggles of her life: how does one remain a credit to their gender and still secretly want to get held down and done in the butt? Climbing all over a fuzzy red couch she told hilarious stories of being denied barbies and lipstick by her hardcore feminist mom and communist dad. The blessed result of their rearing is that we have here a a very hysterical, surprisingly well-adjusted woman who performs one person shows that I think her parents would be very proud of. And though we have enormously differing sexual boundaries (give me Tony's phone number, I'll gladly let him hold me down) she has definitely earned this sodomite's respect. Favorite line: "Get the fuck `outta there! I've got to save something for my husband!"


PB&J must be made from that chunky kind (which makes sense, if the secret ingredient is penis), because Tara Dairman's script is dangerously uneven. At times, it works as a satire of our careless consumerism (along with the emasculating consequences), but more often than not, it just dives into dick-based humor (care to guess what our reporter hero, Dick Longfellow, is blessed with?). Ultimately, even though Cyndy A. Marion bolstered the jokes with Viagra-efficient staging, PB&J fell a little short.

[Read on]

Saturday, August 18, 2007

FRINGE: Bukowsical

Photo/Lili Von Schtupp

Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale aren't as ambitious (or as timely) as Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis (of Urinetown fame), but their crude, lewd, and toe-tapping musical, Bukowskical! plays pitch-perfect to anyone who's ever picked up a pencil. From the advice of that good to the last drop muse, Sweet Lady Booze ("Take Me"), to the instruction of masochistic parents ("Art is Pain"), to the down, dark, and dirty advice of Faulkner, Plath, Williams, and Burroughs ("Writing Lesson"), Bukowsical transforms hardship into hilarity, and though it veers way off the path of Bukowski's life (even more so than its metadramatic presentation as a backer's audition), it only does so to squeeze in a few more debauched jokes. Bukowski (Brad Blaisdell) makes the jazz is downright lascivious on "Love Is (A Dog From Hell)," and Fleur Phillips, who plays Buk's One True Love, is the perfect coloratura contrast on songs like "Chaser of My Heart" or the contrapuntal duet of "Remember Me"/"Elegy." I had a wonderful time, got blown away by all but one of the cast (Ian Gould), and seriously recommend this to everyone.

[Read on]

Riding The Bull

photo: Jonathan Slaff

What a whimsical, charming parable! This two person comedy about God, greed, guilt, and love is just further evidence that the Fringe Festival is acquiring better and better material every year. Skinny rodeo clown, GL teams up with fat rancher, Lyza in a lucrative partnership that sends them both on those life changing journeys that good playwrights write about. Direction is tight and our actors (Will Ditterline and Liz Dailey) are loaded with that in-spite-of-themselves charm that makes this production happily gallop along. I noticed that there are no Texan credits for the director and the cast, and though, as stated, this is a great production, our characters were a little more generically southern than down home rural Texan. This born and bred Texan thinks that this play would be PERFECT for Stages Repertory in Houston, Texas.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] and [Patrick]

the7 battles thebest

The Ice Factory Festival

The good news is that I have never before seen anything like the7 battles thebest. The bad news is I had no fucking clue what was going on. The first red flag was the presence of a glossary in the program. I hate having to "study up" prior to Act 1, Scene 1. That's MY time to swig a beer, cruise the audience and pee. Less than 5 minutes into the production I was already lost in this futuristic cyber-terrorism epic battle for something that only rock music could fix (guesstimation). Among the live band, the dancers, cameras, and projection screens, a rock group desperately tries to spell out the incatracies of their dire situation and after a while I gave up trying to comprehend their explanations and just hoped that they knew what they were talking about. When one of the big rock music numbers ended with a big classic rock flourish and the audience wasn't sure if they were supposed to clap or not, I got the sense that I wasn't the only person who was adrift in this Confusapalooza. The sad thing is that there are tons of very talented performers (Matt Schuneman- excellent vocals/guitar work- would be a great HGA if pix could be located) and technicians who have spent a lot of time and creative energy on this cybertheatermess. There is hope though as this is an episode in a larger artistic journey by this group called Anonymous Ensemble. Perhaps the next installment won't need a glossary.
Also blogged by [Aaron]

Friday, August 17, 2007

FRINGE: "Better This Way"

Everything about Better This Way sets itself up to be the opposite of what it calls itself: the characters believe they are interesting, not strange; the show is billed as an "original theatrical event"; the company's name is "Deliberate Motion"; and then, oh yeah, there's the title. The actions of these doomed lovers (Tina Nikolova, Scott Troost, and Shannon Fillion) may be deliberate, but they come across as random. In that, it is similar to Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions, which took the essence of love and obfuscated it near beyond recognition. However, while Danielewski's book could at least fall back on recognizable postmodern aestheticism, this collaborative show only achieves brief moments of early, movement based cinema. Their ideas--murmurs of text really amid a series of slow, gentle movements--hang loosely from the starved plot (which, if it is to believed, makes the trio into an odd pantheon of miserable gods). Nor does Greg Polin's film, a sort of living background, help to nourish the script: emptiness, OK, I get it; now what are you going to spend the next fifty minutes doing? There's a great closing line ("You can't fall out of love the way you fell into it; you have to crawl out of it") and I admire the quiet, sexual angst, but the play is too gentle for its own good.

Madonna And Child And Other Divas

For the most (and best) part, Tom Johnson's play (currently part of the Fringe Festival) earnestly concerns an evangelical Christian who fights against his homosexual temptations. We see him struggling over the course of his adult life: driven from a Baptist college in the mid-'50s under threat of being exposed as a sodomite, courting and marrying a young woman some years later who believes it is her mission from God to save him from his sinful desires, and most incredibly (because this is based on a true story) undergoing an exorcism to rid him of the "homosexual demon" after a gay affair is uncovered. Johnson mostly steers clear of satirizing these characters - much of the play paints a serious and realistic picture of a gay man facing prejudice and intolerance from well-meaning "love the sinner but hate the sin" people. Apart from the curious touch of having stacks of Bibles substitute for meals or telephones (we hardly need *that* to get the omnipresence of Scripture in this world) this much of the play is effective and memorable. What doesn't work so well is the framing device which runs through the play: one of its aims is to provide analogous, self-loathing action in current times, but it's too underdeveloped to make that point. Stand out performances from Joe Pindelski, Dan Via, and Kay Wilson.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

the7 battles thebest

The Best is back with a new episode of their underground theater-rock show about a group of pop-icon rebels against an oppressive government, and this time it's bigger, better, and more epic than ever before. At the same time, it's still suffering from some cryptic jokes and, because of the sound system, many indecipherable lyrics. That just makes it more like old-school late night MTV, not less, and there's much that's good to be said for Jim Iseman III's music and Andrew Davey's choreograph (both of which are more varied than in past episodes). Eamonn Farrell's direction is tight for a show that's so ambitious with multimedia, and his script, while still prone to bouts of childishness, is fairly clever and builds well upon the two previous OEDI episodes. Seeing The Best is always a bit of an unexpected treat, so go get your freak on.

[Read on]

Will Durst: The All-American Sport Of Bipartisan Bashing

photo: Jason E. Grossman

In an age when smug irony and sarcasm characterize most political comedy, Will Durst's relaxed, regular-guy approach seems almost revolutionary. Declaring himself a moderate near the top of his eighty-minute show, and delivering his comic observations and barbed one-liners with so much affable, conversational warmth that you may be tempted to talk back to him, Durst puts us at ease by passing the "just folks" authenticity test. Then the gloves come off. The sharply written, highly entertaining show takes swings both left and right (okay, more right; Durst admits that it's tougher to skewer the Democrats because you can't "make fun of a vacuum") with a few special knockout punches aimed squarely for George W. Bush. (One of the best among them shows Durst at his most wryly amusing: he simply reads actual Bush quotes verbatim. Example: "Increasingly, more and more of our imports are coming from overseas.") Once we're past the awkward but brief video introduction that opens the show, the evening's one misstep, the show never hits anything that could be called a lull. Durst may convince as a smart and cool regular Joe but make no mistake, he's got a showman's intuition for the mood of an audience and knows when to move a bit along. More often, he's got to worry about slowing one down, because many of his bits are so delicious that we want to savor them. His long list of political oxymorons is a case in point: "Republican Ethics Committee", "Democratic Leadership Council", "FOX News". The show is advertised as political comedy for people who have had it with current politics. I'll go further than that: Will Durst is a comedian for people who have had it with current political comedy.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

FRINGE: "Riding the Bull"

Photo/Jonathan Slaff

In America, everybody's lonely. August Schulenburg's honest satire, Riding the Bull, takes two Southern-grown heroes--an awkward rodeo clown and the rightly named "Fat" Lyza--and looks to connect to, rather than demean, the world around us. In rapid succession, Schulenburg gives us glimpses of loneliness being tackled by focused intensity (on, say, milking a cow), constant sex (otherwise known as "temptation"), money (the American solution), faith, and finally, love itself. That this is all done without bucking us from the saddle is due largely to the likability of the cast and Kelly O'Donnell's intelligent direction.

[Read on] [Also reviewed by: Patrick] [David]

PN 1923.45 LS01 V. 2 (The Book Play)

Penned by Bixby Elliot (really enjoyed his Blueprint at SPF recently) and featuring Everett Quinton, I was expecting this comedy to be one of the highlights of the Fringe Festival. Unfortunately, it needs work, and only occasionally demonstrates how funny and touching it could be after some sleeves are rolled back up. The play has an unusual structure, alternating between the romantic interests of a gay man in 1981 and of a bookish woman in 1951 (the connecting tissue is that each works as the rare books librarian in the same sub-basement, thirty years apart) but the bifurcation doesn't pay any comic dividends until near the end of the play. (The scene where it does pay, however, hits the jackpot.) More seriously idling the play too long in neutral is yet another set of alternated scenes (monologues, actually) in which Everett Quinton, as a gay activist, holds forth in queer manifesto mode. I see the thematic importance of this, but the monologues don't build from one to another: generally, once you've seen the first one you've seen them all. Additionally, the male librarian's story becomes unclear at the eleventh hour - I thought I understood the specifics of his issues with his boyfriend, and then they went for another round of fighting that made me not like or understand either of them. And yet, with all that said, it is clear that there is a worthwhile, potentially moving play here struggling to make itself known that touches on shame and the constant (but constantly changing) danger of not making oneself known to the world.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

FRINGE: Reader

At its best, One Year Lease does necessary revivals of important works, like the Phaedra x3 project. At its worst, One Year Lease showcases cold, modern plays, like Bed. But their failures are always visually and technically precise (Iphigenia Crash Land Falls On The Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart) and their actors are always well studied, thanks to the partnership of director Ianthe Demos and dramaturg Jessica Kaplow Applebaum. Reader, Ariel Dorfman's 1995, ends up being a middling play simply because of how muddling it is: the script's overbearing convention of a censor reading the story of his own life ends up conflating too many characters for us to follow, and the descent into this dystopia is positively Dick-like (Philip). Additionally, the political target of "The Man," isn't a strong enough villain and the immediately evil Director is too likeable (played by a spry Nick Stevenson); there's conflict enough between the hero, his son, and his lover, but it's never clear (despite some strained accents) whether it is Daniel Lucas, the censor, or Don Alfonso Morales, his double, who is struggling.

[Read on]

bombs in your mouth

photo: John Scott

In this intimate and often funny hour-long slice of dysfunctional life (by Rude Mechanicals member Corey Patrick, who also co-stars with Cass Bugge) we watch half-siblings Danny and Lily reunite after their father's bizarre funeral service. The old man was full-out crazy and mean (his last will and testament, scribbled on a roll of toilet paper, favors the child who ran out six years ago instead of the one who stayed behind with him) so the two are in no mood to shed tears and share hugs. Instead they deal with the loss by chugging down beers, arm wrestling like growling animals, and lashing out at each other's judgments like overgrown passive-aggressive children. The crisp, believable dialogue and the detailed, committed performances give bombs in your mouth a credibility and a vibrancy that make it ideally realized - I've lost count of how many small two-character Fringe shows I've seen over the years that lacked the skill to achieve the believability (and, ultimately, the heart) that this one does.

Also blogged by: [David]

FRINGE: Helmet

Ah, how quickly potential can be squandered by a poor actor and an unhinged director. Douglas Maxwell's done his homework in writing the video-game inspired play Helmet, and his parallels between the escapism of Nintendo and the reality of America is nicely done. Along those lines, Troy David Mercier gives a gripping performance as the ADD gamer of our current generation: distant and distracting, but not so much that we can't relate. But Michael Evans Lopez is as a scripted a partner as bad artificial intelligence, and director Maryann Lombardi has filled the play with meaningless physical actions and aimless, mechanical intonations, all of which dispel what needs to be, at heart, a realistic story.

[Read on]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing

I really enjoyed Will Durst's show, but in the spirit of bipartisan bashing, I'm going to start this review with a critique: don't ever start your one-man show with a video montage. Everyone there (1) already knows who you are, (2) doesn't care who you are, or (3) got a free ticket. Along the same lines, don't spend the next ten minutes telling the audience what your show isn't. To avoid making the same mistake, I'll skip to what Durst is: a very likable guy, with Bill Murray-like charm. He starts hunched-over, a mopey, self-effacing schlub; stands erect, breaking his deadpan to cackle maniacally; then is suddenly an average Joe again. Unlike other political satirists who lord their intelligence (Dennis Miller), bask in the ridiculous (Bill Maher), indulge in innocence (Jon Stewart), or break out apoplectic antics (Lewis Black), Durst is just an observant fellow who reads the news and saves it for a rainy day.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick]

Riding The Bull

photo: Jonathan Slaff

When GL, a God-fearing rodeo clown, takes up with Fat Lyza, the surly no-nonsense woman who's vandalized the town's nativity scene, August Schulenburg's supremely intelligent and entertaining Riding The Bull plays at first like a homespun losers-in-love comic fable. But when it turns out that Lyza, upon climax, can dependably predict tomorrow's winning bull rider (thanks to God's intervention) and that GL's most faith-based use for the resulting gambling profits is to seek out that falsest of American gods (Elvis) the play reveals a thematic richness and a captivating complexity under its deceptively simple folkloric surface. There's a great deal of humor and sadness in this carefully constructed two-hander: the humor never slips into apathetic snickering at faith, and the sadness is the real thing (read: not the easy, sentimental kind). It's a remarkable play with a distinctive vision of America, which in this evocative, judiciously staged production boasts excellent, perfectly modulated performances from Will Ditterline and Liz Dailey. Recommended; part of the Fringe Festival.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] and [David]

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Show Choir! The Musical

In "VH1 Behind The Music" style, this Fringe Fest musical recounts the rise and fall of a fictional superstar show choir (think big smiles, sequined uniforms and the blandest kind of geeky choir pop) who for a time take the international music scene by storm. That's a joke to anyone who has even the slightest awareness of what drives pop music, but this show is a mockumentary only by dint of it being make-believe; it isn't shaped to be spoof, nor satire, nor camp. It's depressingly earnest and unimaginative - we're meant to go along with the conceit, and watch as one band-breaking-up cliche plays out after another: fame goes to the choir director's head and he hogs the spotlight, one choir girl gets drunk and becomes fodder for the gutter press, the songwriter starts moonlighting elsewhere, and so on. There is nothing at stake in this straight-faced fantasy - the documentary format doesn't even invite us to root for the choir to be a success, since that's a given at the start - and the show exists in a vacuum, not the least bit interested in commenting on real-life pop culture at all. It's nothing more than an excuse for sequins and songs.

FRINGE: The Commission

For a play about war crimes, I found The Commission to be very light: fitting only in that the Dreamscape Theater didn't have to change their name to the Nightmare Theater to produce this. But although I found the backward narrative to be gimmicky and ineffective, and thought that three of the four scenes were obvious and far too straightforward to leave a mark, I want to use this space to applaud the one scene, a playlet, if you will, that did scar the viewer. In this scene, Paula (Susan Ferrara) and Karl (Patrick Melville) are at their most insidiously domestic: naked and sexed out, lying atop an opulent carpet, and blissfully adulterous. The war illustrated here is a battle of the sexes, and the undercurrent of the war crimes commission, of which Karl and Paula are a part of, ripples into their treatment of one another. As long as they can compromise without compromising their own positions, they are cheerful and besotted with one another. However, when it comes time to yield, Paula suddenly grows nasty, threatening to destroy Karl's career. In turn, and with very little prodding, Karl flips the situation back on Paula, dehumanizing her in the process. The subtle twist that seals the scene is the look on Ferrara's face as she yields to Karl's rape of her, as if she can somehow screw even this most bitter of defeats into something useful for herself. Worse still than her self-rationalization is the thought that perhaps she actually needs this as well: that's the graphic, thought-provoking theater that we need more of.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick]

bombs in your mouth

photo by: John Scott

bipolar/wej productions

THIS IS AN EXCELLENT FRINGE PRODUCTION. In this play a half sister returns home to Minnesota from New York for the death of her father and is immersed right back into toxic environment that the father had raised his two "poopers" in. The brother/sister chemistry between Cory Patrick and Cass Bugge could not have been any more authentic as they arm wrestled, played chugging games and were able to scream bitterly and bust each other up laughing all within the span of a single line. Their rich, scarily natural characterizations made this already well written play about figuring out what to do with the dead asshole's shit a top notch Fringe offering.

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

FRINGE: Freedom! And the Sticky End of Make-Believe

The catch to making universal theater or "inspiring international dialogue" is that you have to speak very broadly. In the case of Freedom! and the sticky end of make-believe, there's also a loss of nuance and intelligibility. Not that there isn't intelligence in Savannah Theatre Project's political cry; but Thom Pasculli's text is drowned out beneath the many theatrical experiments. A more focused director than Allison Talis might be able to call it Theater of the Absurd, but the work just comes across as a checklist: stilts, a pseudo duet (with an old recording of "Keep Young & Beautiful"), flashlights on a dark stage, physical repetition, distortion, roller skates, musical interludes (sax, oboe, tambourine), avant garde dances layered with sheets, and a teddy bear named God. What's good is some of the acting from the broad and excitable cast, but better (and stranger) satires have been made of war. There's--sadly--nothing here we haven't seen before.

The Other Side Of Darkness

A nearly relentless back and forth volley of bitter between a bankrupt gay playwright (apparently those huge Broadway hits of his youth that we keep hearing about don't bring in any licensing fees) and his screen actress wife (she's popular enough to be in competition with Meryl Streep for starring roles - my palm is still hot from laughing into it), this play's first act is full of the kind of pained tragic-glamorous sighs that used to be heaved in the '40s to indicate the more sophisticated agonies of the well-off. Oh darling, the suffering, how can we endure the suffering! The characters aren't convincing for a second (for instance Kristy Cates doesn't seem to realize that she's playing a Narcissist, which is understandable, considering that the playwright doesn't seem to realize he's trying to write one) and there are wearying, witless cliches when they spar where cutting zingers should be. The second act (which, excluding an epilogue, flashes back a couple of decades to their first meet-cute) is better and gives the actors the chance to show that they are playing humans rather than ice machines, but it's already too late: the Merrily We Roll Along-like reverse chronology has already forced the characters on us at their most aggressively unlikeable for over an hour before there's any reason to care about them. The play's one mitigating factor is that there's a third character, a Hollywood agent whose affair with the husband seems to span decades, whose chief purpose seems to be to provide comic relief. By default he also provides the play's only signs of real life. Rob Maitner, who plays him, is a miracle worker: everytime he makes an entrance the play rises from the dead.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Commission

This absorbing new play at the Fringe Festival by Steven Fechter (The Woodsman) caught me by surprise: after the first scene I was sure I knew where it was going (political intrigue) and then it went somewhere else (sexual warfare) and then somewhere else again. That's not to say that the 95 minute one-act is aimless; to the contrary, it's sharp and lean and purposeful as the scenes play out in reverse chronological order. (I feel like a spoilsport to reveal the play's structure, but it's the most benign thing I can give away to indicate the drama's rigor and intelligence.) Set in an unnamed country (Yugoslavia?) during and after a brutal civil war in which many civilian women were raped and murdered, the play begins with what seems like the chance meeting between two women: an American who is entangled extramaritally with a prosecutor of war crimes, and a young student who fears that her fiance, a solider, is dead. The violence that we see on stage is mostly of the interpersonal kind, including an extended nude scene between the older couple that is harrowing in its frank depiction of warm intimacy turning cruel. Apart from the complaint that one of the actors is not up to the same level as the rest of the ensemble, this is a highly recommended production of a striking new play that is sure to linger in the memory of anyone who sees it. Most definitely a potential best-of-Fringe pick.

Scout's Honor

This cute, exactly-campy-enough comedy at the Fringe Festival, comprised of a sketch about the Boy Scouts (Snipe Hunt) and a longer and even funnier one about the Girls Scouts (Becky's Beaver), should get a special merit badge for its warmth: it aims to tickle with a light hand and it succeeds. The talented adult cast plays, with just an exception or two, kids of scouting age - the same actors are in both stories with changed-up genders when needed - and happily everyone has been led down the same trail where no one goes too far with the kid-traits. Each story centers comically on a Scout who can't fit in: in the first, it's a wussy gayboy who asks at campfire sing-a-long if anyone knows anything from Pippin, and in the second, it's a nerdgirl who can't get with the big beaver-hunting program. It's all good, not-exactly-clean fun, in which each of the able and amiable actors gets to strut his or her funny stuff front and center in at least one role. Two stand-outs: Robin Reed, whose inner monologue as a girl scout likening her crush on her galpal to a S'more (soft in the center, squashed by the hard graham-cracker reality) is the show's big "awwww" moment, and handsome Chris Caron who looks hot even in a girl scout uniform.



When the tag line below the title on the postcard is "Contains male nudity and scenes of a sexual nature" you know you're gonna have a sell out. If that's what made this the first sell out of the Fringe then FINE because this provocative, extremely current and relevant play kinda needs to be seen. Starting out innocently enough with two gay guys and a futon, their first date unfolds in real time and once the futon is folded out we enter some very controversial, thought provoking territory that Playwright Howard Walters has handled with a great deal of precision and honesty. Director Shaun Peknic has deftly guided the two excellent actors (Wil Petre and Jake Alexander) into a very real and natural performance which was no small task given the intensity and frankness of this play. This was a great start to my tour of the Fringe and I'll be thinking about Chaser for weeks.

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

FRINGE: Not From Canada

How existential can you get when you're busy covering a table with push-top soap dispensers? The answer, provided by Kevin Doyle's funny but overlong play Not from Canada, is "very." It's a commercially branded No Exit, a satire that stresses the banality of an identity-less society by sticking three amnesiacs in a room. Cute Guy, Cute Girl, and Not-So-Cute Girl are exactly that, and nothing more: their fate is to recount postmodern narratives in a clipped and incredulous tone as a French waiter exaggeratedly ignores them. With intentionally racist observations about our segregated culture, Doyle breaks the ice by having them all realize what they have in common: they are white and have clothes on from Malaysia (and so therefore must be friends). The show continues in this vein, looking at the concerns of affluent idiots who fear the abundance of choice, celebrate the necessity of useless sales, and get lost in the corporate machine: "Is it a Target-Taco Bell or a Taco-Target Bell?

[Read on]

...Double Vision

photo: Jim Baldassare

An uneasy mix of farcical comedy and cynical relationship drama, this Fringe Festival one-act works best when its characters are in full-on comic neurotic mode; it falters when it tries to go deeper than a sitcom. The story involves a half dozen single New Yorkers (three men who share an apartment, and three women who are involved with them in one way or another) but it noticeably lacks big city flavor - it's no more urban than an episode of Friends. One guy can't muster up the courage to tell his girlfriend to stay with him rather than take that new job out in California, another only hooks up with married women, another breaks away from the throes of a passion with a French girl half his age to get a taste of someone else. The theme of men resisting commitment is in here somewhere, but the play's individual moments stay isolated and don't accumulate emotionally or thematically; by the play's end, when one of the guys wanders around the stage naked, there's every indication that we're meant to find his actions sobering and serious, but the jokey, snickering play hasn't earned that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Measure for Measure: Provide Your Own Block and Axe

On the upside, Measure for Measure will never be a "problem play" again: thanks to Doug Silver's cuts and Andrew Frank's circus-like modernization, this Shakespeare adaptation is very clearly a comedy. However, the constant mugging for attention, from both the characters on-stage and the actors watching (like cheerleaders) from the sidelines makes too many of the jokes flat, and the slimming changes to the text have made too many of the characters less than one-dimensional. Ato Essandoh stands out as the lecherous Angelo; he does so by being the only one who takes the show seriously enough to earn our laughter.

[Read on]

A Mikvah

With more ambition than skill, a good deal of A Mikvah attempts a non-linear collage that illustrates its main character's mental and emotional distress on the occasion of a major life crisis. Characters from past and present simultaneously speak (too often in generalities and platitudes) to him and to each other as if in a fragmented dream: dialogue is repeated elliptically, or said in unison, or reduced to phrases that overlap one another. The text is problematic - this heavy-handed mood-making persists long after we're ready for specificity and clarity, and then there's an out-of-nowhere non-fictional supporting character (grown-up JTT, the former child star of Home Improvement) whose sassy brand of world-weary seems to be from a totally different play. Besides some less-than-credible acting from the ensemble (Max Jenkins, as JTT, is an exception) the production suffers from a lack of attention to detail. The highly theatrical style that is attempted here depends very much on the strength of its imagery, and it's sloppy to assign a profound spiritual meaning to water, for example, and then have it carried out on stage in what looks like a plastic storage bin from The Container Store.


It's been a couple of years since the taut and sexually explicit Extra Virgin was an attention-getting Fringe Festival hit. This year the same playwright, Howard Walters, has another intense and edgy one-act in the Festival that also has two gay men (literally and figuratively) going at it. This one is sharper and even more provocative, an engrossing drama in which confident, quick-thinking Val (Wil Petre) has a secret agenda while aggressively putting the moves on gun-shy Dominick (Jake Alexander) on their first date. Both actors are excellent and well-matched, bringing a palpable sense of emotional (and sexual) danger to even their most benign interplay, and Shaun Peknic's no-nonsense direction ably serves the play's intimate cold-eyed naturalism.

Also blogged by: [David]

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Hanging Of Razor Brown

photo: Kymm Zuckert

We never meet the title character in The Hanging Of Razor Brown - he's a "Negro" sentenced to death for stealing a horse in a small town in Florida, circa 1918. Instead our focus is on the proper, socially correct schoolteacher Madame Genevieve LeCompte, who has escorted three of her charges to witness the hanging in order to teach them a hard, insidious life lesson: know your place, and suffer it with dignity. When she holds forth about the proper place of men, women and Negroes, the play is an absorbing character study that brings to vivid life the social conventions, hypocrises and prejudices of the time. The play is less successful in its depiction of its male characters: at least two might as well be wearing placards that say "Derived from Tennessee Williams".

A longer review at New Theater Corps.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Human Error

photo: Monique Carboni
Atlantic Theater Stage 2

I really respond to plays about budding romances where our leads are flawed, damaged, loners with tons of baggage. Witnessing people overlook enormous red flags (inability to communicate, propensity to lie, and general douchieness) because of the hope that a happy ending just MIGHT work is a very honest and realistic point of view. There is nothing quirky or cute going on in the romance chronicled in Keith Reddin's Human Error, a new play about two researchers who ease into a relationship while examining the wreckage of a plane crash. This is a sad, well written, well performed play. I was glad I went and if the author based these characters on anyone specific I hope I don't run into them at a bar.

MITF: The Last One Left

How do you once again tell the story of the child who sacrifices her own life to care for an ailing mother? By adding pirates. But not just sea pirates, robot sea pirates -- actually, Mexican robot sea pirates. And the mother, Ruth (Deborah Johnstone), she can't just be sick, she needs to be damaged by something really ludicrous, like a falling airplane part. Next, we'll have to bring home the favorite (i.e., only) son, Danny (Marco Formosa), so that this selfless daughter, Emma (Emily Clare Zempel) can really struggle with her inner guilt. You know what? Better add a younger sister, too: you know, Anna (Maria McConville), the idealistic kind who can't wait to become a lesbian, and possibly a vegan. And let's top the whole thing off with a twisted love story . . . Eddie (John Stillwaggon) is Danny's army buddy, and when he visits, he falls for both daughters. For all the incredulity embedded above, playwright Jason Pizzarello knows what he's doing: The Last One Left is a poignant and hysterical look at things as different as the blind trust of soldiers and the blind love of romantics, with sayings as epic as "Love is a ship that always sets sail in a storm," or as odd as "I smell running water and hear burnt toast." Dev Bondarin adds a rare touch of beauty to such a story with her quiet, musical transitions, not to mention a deft hand with the comic timing of the stylized, door-slamming farce within the romance within the drama within the play.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


It's not what's in a name that matters anymore: it's what's in a picture. Stephen Aubrey's Daguerreotype is a little underdeveloped, but those sections that are clear show a lot of promise for reviving historical theater and reminding us of how we once were. Some people believe photos capture a soul--I think they capture a story. Now the American Story Project just needs to decide if that story's going to be about Mathew Brady, the pioneering war photographer, or if it's going to be about the unsung Civil War.

[Read on]

Devil Land

Looks like Devil Land will be the last play I see at this year's Summer Play Festival, where the shows are (say it with me now) not open for review.

The Wikipedia Plays

Ars Nova

17 playwrights have been instructed to write 10 minute plays inspired by Wikipedia entries ("Troposphere", "Bill Clinton", "The Defenstration of Prague"). Fun idea! As in most short play festivals we have scenes that work extremely well and others where you're like "WTF?". Happily Ars Nova's Play Group Writers are a sassy batch of wordsmiths so aside from a couple of WTF's?! (talking laptops?? umbrella girl??), we had a pretty hysterical night at the theater (a gun toting Greenpeace volunteer? HA!). As this is was just a weekend engagement and will have already closed by the time that most of you have read this, let my endorsement lie with the youthful, edgy, relevant energy that has become Ars Nova's hallmark. You'd normally expect shit this cool (The Wikipedia Plays, At Least It's Pink, Automatic Vaudeville, Dixie's Tupperware Party, Creation Nation, etc) to be south of 14th street among all the tattoo parlors and coffee houses but there it is hunkered down deep in the heart of Hell's Kitchen (Broadway's suburbs) like a hipster oasis.

The Brig

Photo/John Ranard

The Brig is a hard show to recommend, but I'm going to do it anyway. More of an experience, or a modern dance, than pure theater, it is a hyperrealistic (and therefore at times, hyper-tedious) play. It makes its point, like the military, by drilling it into you, one routine at a time, until your only hope is to blindly obey. But the stern discipline of the ensemble (at least 16 large), the firm direction of director Judith Malina, and the deliberate writing of Kenneth H. Brown demand one's attention: this work is grippingly boring and jarringly tight.

[Read on]

Friday, August 03, 2007


Go cleverly subtitles itself "a life in progress," but the downside to that is that it's also a work in progress. That means it is uneven, technically wobbly, and all over the place. In other words, perfect for the festival circuits. The play is further confused by being split into two parts, "A" and "B," which can also be identified as Here and There, or by Gillian Chadsey and Michelle Talgarow, who play themselves. Their goal is to get from their part of the stage to the other; to do so, they recount scenes from their own lives that have them either growing or stagnating (as we are wont to do from time to time). However, the show isn't an even split (Chadsey does most of the work [which is fine; she's the more engaging actress]), and their framing scenes (at a school desk or in a subway car) are too obscure to be helpful.

is a work of neo-futurism that doesn't go far enough: Chadsey runs, but never truly collapses, and when interacting with the audience (most notably as a dominatrix), shies away behind a wall of bluster, which lessens the effect. The key scene is a six-verse song called "Relationships" that Chadsey sings while badly playing a ukulele: that one scene alone goes from happy to sad to manic to violent. Go from that, and Go gets a whole lot better.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Not Waving

There didn't seem to be a ticket to be had for this one - every performance sold out - but I braved the (efficiently-run) cancellation line with a friend and we got in. I can't review Summer Play Festival shows (psst! I enjoyed this one quite a lot) so, in these last days of the Festival's fourth year, I'll say instead how thankful I am for SPF and for the environment it creates: emerging playwrights get to see their work professionally produced in a "protected" environment, and audiences get to have a look for the price of a couple of lattes. Taking in *anything* at the SPF is a great big I Love New York moment.

Two Thirds Home

Two Thirds Home is a memory-driven play, one that relies on an actor's ability for elegy to produce its dolorous drama. Thankfully, Padraic Lillis's strong writing has aged those bottled emotions well, and he uncorks each new surprise with a samurai's clean-cut flourish, allowing the frothy emotions to explode with such vibrancy that we can hardly distinguish the tears on our cheeks from the dew of finely poured champagne. Of the three actors, Peggy J. Scott and Ryan Woodle pay fantastically talented respects to Lillis's tale of a family divided by the "widow" their mother has left behind; Aaron Roman Weiner really needs to step up his game if he wants to play in the same league as his companions.

[Read on]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gone Missing

photo: Sheldon Noland

I'm more than a little disappointed that this rave-reviewed documentary musical left me exhausted and underwhelmed: even at an intermissionless seventy five minutes it felt woefully overextended. Six members of the downtown troupe The Civilians, clad in nearly uniform grey suits, deliver a collage of songs, comic bits and dramatic monologues all based on interviews with New Yorkers who've lost something. The show has some strong, isolated moments (a funny monologue about disposeaphobics, delivered by Jennifer R. Morris, was my favorite bit, and Michael Friedman's songs, which come in a variety of genre flavors, are often engaging) but they don't add up to much because the evening hasn't been organized into something cohesive and it hasn't been shaped to have momentum. It's scattershot and muddled, as meandering at the end as it is at the start. A vignette about the loss of a black Gucci pump might be tossed between one about lost virginity, and one about the lost continent of Atlantis: the theme of "missing" is too widely applied and the episodes pile up in an everything but the kitchen sink clutter. The show had already, um, lost me by the time it tried to sweep everything together with an eleventh hour attempt at profundity.

Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer

It took a long time for me to warm up to Aidan Dooley's portrayal of Tom Crean, one of the unsung "heroes" of Ireland (this, assuming that there is something heroic about plunging into the unknown whiteness of the Antarctic not once, not twice, but three times). Ironically, it was at Crean's coldest moment--the approximately 40-mile solo trek through the snow, blizzard at his back, that he undertook to save his companions--that warmed me to the survivalist narrative. I can't say, either, that Dooley oversold the role: his wild gesticulation and shrill, incredulous commentary at his own accomplishments seem a bit hyperbolic, but not any less believable. What I can say is that Dooley's writing was held back by his own slurring, stumbling performance in the second act: short of that, I was on the edge of my seat at the odds-defying account of an 800-mile voyage with Captain Shackleton (all undertaken in a tiny, wooden rescue boat), not to mention the pitch-dark slide down the side of an icy mountain, nor the depraved conditions of their various camps. There are a few anachronisms that Dooley should remove ("like banshees on a roller coaster"), and the show would be better as a 90-minute one-act, but Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer is pretty arresting stuff.