Thursday, July 31, 2014

Varekai: Cirque du Soleil

I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil, so it pains me to write the following: Varekai is mediocre and even kind of boring.

Octavio Alegria
To be perfectly fair, I'd like to provide some context. Varekai is at Barclays Center. My friend and I got there 15 minutes before the doors opened. We were moved to different doors and different doors again, supposedly because the original doors were not being used. And then they were used. But that's a small inconvenience that I probably wouldn't have noticed if my nerves were not on edge from listening to the Barclays announcement be played again and again and again and again and again while we waited. Loudly. The announcement talked about restrictions on what you could bring in (food, drink, bottles, cans, fireworks, and weapons, in that order), their no-reentry policy, and so on. We heard it some 20 times, without even a few seconds between each playing. And did I mention it was loud? Really, really loud? And when we were let in, we were treated like people with prison records visiting a nuclear missle site.

The show itself began slowly, with forest creatures (I guess) slithering and sort of dancing. There was a lot of slithering and sort of dancing in the show. The non-acrobatic interludes were the dullest I've ever seen at Cirque du Soleil, by far. The clowns were largely annoying. The male clown did have a nice bit trying to sing a song in a, well, erratic spotlight. The female got bonked on the head and was treated as sexually desperate. At one point, her head exploded. He was presented as a sort of noble fool; she was presented as an idiot.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fosse (book review)

Bob Fosse was talented, driven, kind, nasty, dedicated, unfaithful, brilliant, limited, addicted, and unhappy. By all accounts, he was also charismatic, seductive, and a great lay. Since the reader doesn't get to sleep with him, he is a largely unpleasant companion for the 590 pages of Sam Wasson's exhaustive, repetitive, and annoying biography, Fosse. However, if you keep your bullshit detector turned to "high"--Wasson is fond of recreating conversations as though he was there; he thinks he knows what Fosse was thinking at any given moment; his interpretations of events are unconvincing--Fosse is worth reading. As for Fosse the man: hey, Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking worshipped him, so who am I to judge?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NYMF - Central Avenue Breakdown in Concert

I finally saw it! Well...heard/saw it.  Kind of.  Whatever.  It was a concert staging.

I first caught wind of Central Avenue Breakdown following its successful run at the 2011 New York Musial Theatre Festival (NYMF).  This show – with music/lyrics by Kevin Ray, book by Kevin Ray, Andrea Lepcio, and Dominic Taylor, and additional story by Suellen Vance – racked up four awards for excellence and the Daegu International Musical Festival Award.  It was also granted a revival run at the 2012 NYMF.  And, of course, I was out of country for that entire run.  So when I heard that the 2014 NYMF was holding a one-night only concert of the show, I was like, “[Insert expletive of choice], I gotta go.”

I wasn’t disappointed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Long Shrift

With its even-handed, honest, and thought-provoking examination of the gray area between sex and rape, The Long Shrift has the makings of an excellent play. However, its execution is not up to its concept, and the result is a disappointment.

When the play opens, we see Henry and Sarah bickering as they move into an ugly apartment after selling their home to pay for their son Richard's legal bills. Richard is now serving ten years in prison for rape, and Henry is horrified by his growing realization that Sarah believes it is possible that Richard is guilty. In the second scene, years have passed, and Richard is home, hardened and bitter. Then Beth, his accuser, shows up, wanting to discuss what really happened on that long-ago night that exploded both of their lives into shards of pain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Qualification of Douglas Evans

Derek Ahonen’s The Qualification of Douglas Evans, directed by James Kautz, is the second in the Amoralists' "two play repertory exploring man’s vicious cycles." (The other is Enter at Forest Lawn, reviewed here.) Ahonen is the extraordinary author of such amazing plays as The Bad and the Better, Happy in the Poorhouse, and The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side. His plays are distinguished by their passion, poetry, humor, and unique point of view. Usually.

Samantha Strelitz, Penny Bittone,
Derek Ahonen
Russ Rowland
The Qualification of Douglas Evans is passionate and poetic, but it is far from unique and almost totally lacks humor. The story of Douglas Evans (well-played by the author), a drunk playwright of dubious talent, The Qualification of Douglas Evans follows a familiar path to rock bottom as Evans alienates everyone in his life, including the women who inexplicably care about him. (I suspect that blondes who throw themselves at drunks exist much more frequently in the minds of men than in the reality of women, but I suppose I could be wrong. I hope not.) 

While The Qualification of Douglas Evans is largely unpleasant, unedifying, and kind of pointless, it doesn't lack redeeming features. The cast is excellent; in particular, Penny Bittone is impressively effective in his many roles, and Barbara Weetman breathes dimensionality into characters who could easily be flat and cliche in lesser hands. The writing has moments of ugly beauty, and the show is well-paced and involving until a series of ill-conceived blackouts toward the end. 

I love the Amoralists, and it gives me no pleasure to give them not one, but two, mediocre reviews. However, their "two play repertory exploring man’s vicious cycles" comes across more as a two play rep exploring edgy-male cliches and fantasies.

(press ticket; second row) 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Enter at Forest Lawn

The people in Mark Roberts' Enter at Forest Lawn, directed by Jay Stull, fall down, squat in frozen crouches, twitch like dying break dancers, sashay, and ooze disjointedly, respectively. They spew words, plot, lie, manipulate, fuck, abuse drugs, molest children, and commit acts of violence. Love is unknown here, as are friendship, loyalty, and morals.

Lemp, Roberts, Pilieci
Photo: Russ Rowland.
Welcome to a version of show biz that I suspect exists far more frequently in the minds of male playwrights striving to be edgy than in real-life Hollywood. And, while Roberts, Stull, and the excellent cast offer vivid language, smart pacing, and never-flagging energy, this show suffers from the opposite of the emperor's new clothes: the clothes are real, but there is no emperor.

Which is not to say that the show isn't worth seeing. This production, presented by the Amoralists as part of a "two-play repertory exploring man's vicious cycles," is polished, frequently entertaining, and never boring. And it is acted with the Amoralists' signature balls-to-the-wall commitment, with author Roberts effectively slimy as the producer whose multi-million-dollar deal is at risk; David Lanson, physically and emotionally tied in knots by his inability to choose morals over money; Sarah Lemp, quivering with nerves and fear; Matthew Pilieci, skin-crawlingly creepy; and Anna Stomberg channeling Annette Bening's performance in the Grifters as the up-and-coming producer who would fuck a hyena if it helped her career.

If I never saw another play about the evils of L.A., it would be fine with me, but this one ultimately made it worth my while.

(press ticket, fourth row)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NYMF - Searching for Romeo

I just got back from this evening's performance of Searching For Romeo, and I have to say...I was utterly charmed.

Searching For Romeo is a comedic backstory musical for the Bard's Romeo and Juliet...think of what Gregory Maguire/Stephen Schwartz's Wicked does for L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It's kind of like that.  Our protagonist is high school student Roz, who has just been unceremoniously dumped by her jerky boyfriend Tony (potential West Side Story ref?).  Her girlfriends try to pep her up at the start of English class, as does the Boy-Next-Door type fellow Perry.  In the midst of a class reading of Romeo and Juliet, Roz finds herself transported to Verona.  She has assumed the role of Romeo's jilted lover Rosaline; Jerk Boyfriend Tony is Romeo, Jerk Boyfriend's new girlfriend is Juliet, and Boy-Next-Door Perry is Paris.  Roz's English teacher, her friends, and classmates fill a variety of roles including Friar Laurence, Mercutio, Tybalt, the Nurse, and Lady Avare (Paris's scheming rich mother).  Despite frantically searching for Romeo at the Capulet's party, she keeps running into and finds herself strangely attracted to Juliet's recent fiance Paris.  Needless to say, hijinks ensue all around the play's famous scenes as we follow Roz/Rosaline and Paris, hoping that they will get a happy ending as opposed to the star-crossed lovers' tale of woe.

The Pigeoning

Great news: the Pigeoning is back at HERE.

"The Pigeoning is 70 minutes of pure delight. . . . Do yourself a favor and go."

Photo: Richard Termine