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New York City - Theatre




Scott Katzman’s
Act Naturally
February 8-24, 2007
The Workshop Theater

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

Act Naturally, a new play written by and starring Scott Katzman, is a hilarious and heartbreaking look at the life of an actor who has put years into the business without a lot to show for it. The play starts out strongly and the premise is fantastic. Katzman plays a non-union actor who has taken a job as an understudy in a one man show to get his equity card. He was never supposed to go on stage, but the lead actor becomes ill and Katzman must fill ninety minutes with "something" to entertain his audience and acquire his equity card. What follows is a fluid exploration of this character’s life; Katzman assesses the choices he has made that have brought him to this moment and questions his abilities, his talents, his goals and his ambitions. Though the play is a comedy, this exploration eventually leads the character to some serious topics and the comedy turns into a reflective look at a struggling artist’s life.

Although the focal point of the show is Katzman’s character, the real joy in the production is the cast he has surrounded himself with. The six ensemble actors take on multiple roles throughout the show. Each of these actors is blessed with unbelievable comedic timing and a real understanding of character work. The supporting characters they play are all precise, lovable and straight out of a Saturday Night Live sketch. From Tracee Chimo’s portrayal of a vicious, spiteful Russian cleaning woman to Marlene O’Haire’s fabulous performance as a ditzy receptionist with a limited vocabulary, every moment of the play comes to life through these fine actors. The real standout in the supporting cast is Darron Cardosa. His endearing, over the top characters steal every scene and make the play as a whole shine. Katzman is an “average Joe” straight man next these wacky lunatics, and the juxtaposition is a comedic thrill.

Act Naturally is a comedy written by an actor for actors. Many of the scenes are inside jokes for the theatre community and even the more serious themes address life in The Business. Non-actor types might have trouble appreciating some of the most raucous and wonderful scenes. Katzman has written pointed vignettes about casting calls and acting classes that capture all that is wacky, infuriating and hysterical in the world of actors and directors. I hope that the witty and unexpected humor is accessible to all audiences, but worry that it might reach only other actors.

Katzman’s new show is clearly a work of love and it is a pleasure to see the dissection and reconstruction of his life’s passion unfold on stage. Act Naturally is an unusual blend of truth and comedy, and the result is a unique, affecting production that pays real homage to trying to “make it” in the big city.

Tickets $18 available through SmartTix www.smarttix.com or (212) 868-4444.


The WorkShop Theater|312 West 36th Street | 4th Floor.


 

 


Matt Morillo's
Angry Young Women in Low Rise Jeans with High Class Issues
January 4, 2007 - February 11, 2007
Theater for the New City (Cino Theater)

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

Angry Young Women is a fearless look at modern womanhood told through a series of comedic vignettes that left the audience both laughing and appalled. Watching this play would be a great outlet for angry young women every where; it embraces all that is crazy, neurotic, hypocritical and vulnerable in our lives. The lovely actresses unleash intense emotional whirlwinds throughout the entire eighty-five minute performance, somehow managing to continually keep the drama humorous.

The highlight of the show is the vignette titled “Unprotected Sex”. The scene explores the mania of women on the birth control pill and manages to both magnify the crazed emotions and sympathize with the hormonal realities. The scene is both hyperbolic and compassionate, capturing both genders in moments of conflict and love. Rachel Nau (the powerhouse actress of the show) is loveable, infuriating and frightening - all at the same time. She allows herself to ride out the highs and lows of the script with fearless abandon and we all reap the benefits of her courage. This powerful and hilarious vignette is all that is right about Angry Young Women. At its best, this is a show that teases without criticizing, challenges without preaching and looks at gender difference without determining a winner in the gender wars.

At times, the script was under-edited and a few scenes repeated dialogue to the point of exhaustion. Though the premises of each scene was fresh and inventive, the dialogue was at times cliché and repetitive. However, the energy of the actors was so impressive that the audience stayed with the show and all was ultimately forgiven. Each actor was thoroughly dedicated to the quirky moments and raunchy outbursts of the play and it was a pleasure simply watching their energy explode onstage.

Matt Morillo has written and directed a show that entertains men and women alike. Somehow he has managed to capture private female thoughts and intimate moments with such accuracy that you have to wonder if he had a personal peephole into the ladies room at his local bar. The audience of both men and women laughed with the seven young brazen actors for the majority of the show. The pace, momentum and vigor were unfailing and it was a sexy and shocking night at the theatre - something we could all probably use.

Ticket info: Th-Sat's $20, Sundays "pay what you can"
www.kadm.com

Theater for the New City (Cino Theater) |155 1st Ave. Ny, NY





Eric Bland's
Bruise and Gringo
Sundays – Tuesdays @ 8 PM
January 21st - February 13th
UNDER ST. Marks

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

Bruise and Gringo, two one act plays presented in one evening, is a fantastic example of downtown theatre at its best. Playwright Eric Bland wrote both shows; the heartbreaking and simple The Bad Bruise of Billy McBean and the quirky, fast paced The Gringo of the Deli Acapulco. Performed at the intimate Under St. Marks Theatre, these two plays are wonderful when viewed together but are also are impressive enough to be considered alone. The night as a whole is an exploration of love and relationships. It is a meditation on the difficulty of connecting with others and a celebration of language and loyalty. Wonderfully acted, impeccably directed and beautifully written, Bruise and Gringo is the kind of play that inspires us all to be better artists… and better lovers.

The first play, The Bad Bruise of Billy MsBean is the stronger of the two pieces. From the opening moment (a perfectly lit kiss between two lovers), the audience is focused on the simplicity of the performance and its two talented actors. The play itself is a string of vignettes that explore the trying and tender relationship between the downtrodden Billy and his gorgeous, enthralling girlfriend Klare who are stuck in a basement with very little to do but interact with each other.

The two actors, Charlie Hewson and Kaytie Morris are magnetic; their performances are strong, vulnerable and engaging. They have lovely chemistry together and an intimate comfort with the production. In such a small space, the audience can see every eye movement and hair flip and both actors are vibrant and fully alive for every second of the play. Noah Burger’s directing vision is clear and strong. Each scene is a poignant snapshot of Klare and Billy’s time together, and Burger has made each moment unique and valuable. In one tiny scene Billy pokes Klare over and over while they lie on the floor. Finally Klare, out of quiet exasperation grabs hold of his poking hand and tells him to stop. Though it is a mundane moment between Klare and Billy, for the audience is a lucky instant of voyeurism that allows us to recognize and adore this relationship.

The Gringo of the Deli Acapulco, although not as strong as the first piece, also offers a new view on relationships, complete with pointed dialogue and strained interactions. The dialogue is the high point of this performance, and Bland’s quirky but fluid style reminds one of early John Patrick Shanley. This piece is far more dreamlike, and the directing and acting styles lend themselves well to the wordy text. Olivia (Reema Zaman) first falls in love and then confronts the man who potentially killed her sister (Scott Eckert). The two face off in an intense, gritty conversation, complete with the sudden entrance of a gun as a kind of third character. Again, Noah Burger’s extremely able direction moves the show along beautifully. Zaman and Eckert lack some of the chemistry of the previous scene, but have great wit and commitment, and pull off a complicated piece with excellent results.

Bruise and Gringo makes an impression in a way theatre rarely does. It is the kind of play that should be recognized and the kind of production that makes one hope (and hope hard) that somehow more of the world will get to experience the ecstasy that is simple, basic, plain good theatre.

Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased by calling Smarttix at 212.868.4444 or by going to www.smarttix.com. For more information, please visit www.oldkentroadtheater.com.

UNDER ST. Marks |94 St. Marks Place
Btwn. 1st Ave and Ave A


 

 


Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s
Company

Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Thursday 8:00PM
Friday 8:00PM
Saturday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday 3:00PM
Barrymore Theatre


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

On April 26, 1970, one of the most significant and groundbreaking musicals of the modern era opened to rather divisive notices. A year later, Follies would receive similarly polarizing reviews. Yet these two musicals and the creative artists involved in them, would go on to dominate and define the decade.

Thirty-seven years later, Company proves to be as timely as ever and the new production, brilliantly directed by John Doyle, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre is, by far, the most intelligent and thought-provoking musical now running on Broadway. (A decade ago a rather disappointing revival had a brief Broadway run.)

In a career that boasts some of the greatest stage musicals of all time including, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park With George (my choice for the best of the best), there is no question that Stephen Sondheim is one of the few true geniuses of the musical theatre. What is remarkable is just how strong and lasting his work truly is. One would think that Company, so grounded in the late sixties/early seventies milieu, would prove impossibly dated today. And even a great revival would be nothing more than a fun evening of nostalgia. But Company is as vital and relevant today as it was back in 1970, it actually feels even more urgent in 2007.

Raul Esparza plays Bobby, the seemingly happy bachelor surrounded by a slew of married couples who appear, on the surface, to be content. But deeper therein lies the rub.

As Bobby embarks on a searing psychological journey of self-discovery, spearheaded by his 35th birthday celebration, the audience become privy to the exploration of the complex lives of his friends. And that is part of what makes Company so unique. It actually delves into the characters thoughts and hopes and wishes and failures with such honesty, that the viewer sometimes feel like voyeurs.

The deft and dramatic book by George Furth is complimented by Sondheim’s demanding and dynamic score.

Raul Esparza is the key to the show’s success. Here is a Bobby who is able to convey the pain and confusion of being single, married with the delirious freedom and excitement that is also par for the bachelor course. Esparza has an adorability and sexual-ness that makes one want to rush up onstage and hug and/or lick him! He never overplays the part and is always fascinating to watch.

Bobby’s Act One tour de force, “Marry Me a Little” (amazingly cut from the original production) is a heartbreaking moment for him.

Doyle used the ‘gimmick’ of having all the actors play musical instruments last year in his much celebrated production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. It is repeated here to greater effect, especially since Bobby is the only performer who does not take part. The metaphor is not lost on the audience and once he does finally take to the piano on the spectacular, “Being Alive,” we have been anticipating the moment with great desire. It is our needed climactic catharsis.

Doyle expertly stages the couples (book) scenes, never allowing the bickering to get on our nerves. And the musical numbers are handled with equal expertise.

Early in Act One, three of Bobby’s girlfriends group together to sweetly attack him in the song, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." All three gals sing as they play sax, making the instruments a part of the commentary. It’s a fantastic moment.

In the hilarious number “Getting Married Today,” Heather Laws plays a neurotic bride who needs to decide whether to take the plunge or not. What ensues is giddy and inspired madness.

Barbara Walsh kicks musical ass performing the classic (Elaine Stritch signature) “The Ladies Who Lunch”. Walsh is one of Broadway’s hidden treasures and her Joanne is destined to be Tony nominated.

The exquisite “Barcelona” feels like a short film and is one of the best songs ever about a fleeting sexual encounter. Elizabeth Stanley is the delightfully ditzy flight attendant April and the end of the song hits way too close to home for anyone who has ever been in that...predicament.

Arguably the best number in the show and a song that masterfully personifies the New York experience is “Another Hundred People” It is given a rousing and just rendition by Angel Desai.

David Gallo’s symmetrical set impresses and Thomas C. Hase’s lighting is also to be commended.

The entire production is an astounding success and the irony is that the show satirizes the precise group of people that often patronize the theatre: bored, upper class Manhattanites who are looking for meaning in their mundane lives. If only they had Sondheim around each morning to poke a little fun at them, perhaps they would like themselves more...

Ultimately, Company is about the anxiety, ambivalence and angst that comes with being 35, living in New York and not being coupled...the entire cast and crew should be congratulated for a perfect production. And Raul Esparza should now easily enter the pantheon of Broadway stars!

Tickets $36.25-$111.25 www.telecharge.com

Barrymore Theatre| 243 W. 47th Street

 




Ronnie Koenig's
Dirty Girl
Thursday–Saturday @ 8:00PM
Through Jan 27
The Kraine Theater

Reviewed by Sharyn Jackson

It's every young writer's dream: land a fat-titled editorial job at a national magazine with only a little experience and a line like, "I'm a strong writer, a fast learner, and I know that I will both meet and exceed your expectations." Well, that, and a quickly generated list of a hundred euphemisms for penis. That's all Dori Richter needed to do to get herself a cubicle in the offices of Loverboy, and assumedly it's not far off from playwright Ronnie Koenig's own experience as a former editor of Playgirl magazine.

In less than one year, this "nice Jewish girl from Long Island" moves all the way up to editor in chief but the road to success at the top of a "women's entertainment magazine" is not without it's bumps. Dori's desperate search for one female reader of Loverboy threatens to knock her off her rocker as her hopes to make a difference empowering women by providing them with glossy pages of exposed male members fizzles out and the reality hits hard: Dori is running a gay magazine. At least she gets free sex toys and "finally has great party conversation."

Dori's obsession with proving the validity of her job to herself reveals Dirty Girl's core: it's no exposé on the adult magazine industry as one might hope—rather, it's the memoir of an ambitious kid's sexploitation along the way to conquering her dreams. Didn't anyone ever explain to Dori that you take the jobs you have to in order to survive in New York?

This production of Dirty Girl has expanded from its original one-woman format. Monologue-heavy, this may not have been the best choice. The supporting cast members, however, do a fine job disappearing into dozens of characters. Koenig, in the lead role, gives a sing-songy recitation, but her character's and her play's mousy innocence is still endearing.

Written by Ronnie Koenig; Directed by Robert W. McMaster; Starring Ronnie Koenig, Corrie Beula, Bridget Harvey, Michael Littner and Jesse Teeters.

Tickets $18.00 at www.smarttix.com and 212-868-4444.

The Kraine Theater | 85 E 4th St



Evil Dead: The Musical
Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 7:30pm & 11:00pm
Saturday 7:00pm & 11:00pm
Closes on February 17, 2007
New World Stages

Reviewed by Allison Ford


If the Evil Dead movie trilogy is the quintessential send-up of cheesy horror films, Evil Dead: The Musical is all that as well as one of the funniest, most original pieces of theater I've seen in a long time.

It might sound inappropriate to describe Evil Dead as "original," since it's a musical based on a movie, and the last few years have brought several of those. Some, such as Hairspray and The Producers, have been wildly successful, while others (and here I am thinking of High Fidelity) have been disastrous. Evil Dead is fresh, new, and –yes- original, which is fortunate for us theatergoers, because it's also hysterical.

The story begins like countless other 70's horror flicks…five teenagers go camping in the woods. What follows is a clever mix of plot elements culled from the first two Evil Dead films. The teenagers stumble across "The Book of the Dead," and they accidentally open a portal to another dimension, thereby allowing Candarian demons into our world to wreak havoc, promising that everyone will be "dead by dawn." The important thing about Evil Dead: The Musical is that this is not just a retelling of the same old story. The musical version is a fresh interpretation of the story, with an entirely original mood and tone. Although the musical is more light-hearted and self-referential, it manages to stay true to the campy, lewd, and bawdy spirit of the films.

The show is best enjoyed by an audience that has knowledge of the film trilogy, but newcomers to the story will have no trouble appreciating it as a stand-alone piece of theater. Film geeks will find many inside jokes relating to Sam Raimi and Army of Darkness, and there are just as many jokes that necessitate knowledge of the musical theater genre too, so everyone manages to feel like an insider. . Sure, it utilizes some of the classic gags from the movie, but it is far from just a rehashing of the same old jokes. The spinning clocks, the possessed hand, and the chain saw are all there, but on stage, the jokes are realized in a way that seems entirely unexpected, and (dare I say it) possibly funnier.

The high-energy cast delivers great performances. Perhaps the characters are somewhat broadly drawn, but a horror musical doesn't really demand much subtlety or depth. As Ash, Ryan Ward is outstanding, with the perfect amount of swagger and doofy charm. While his characterization may be a homage to Bruce Campbell, it never feels like he is just doing an impersonation. Renee Klapmeyer is excellent in the double role of Shelly (the slut) and Annie (the Professor's daughter.) Her second-act number, "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons" is the best song in the show. Although the score is catchy, and inclusive of many musical styles, I suspect that the cast possesses more vocal virtuosity than the music allowed them to display. There were many moments, especially in the first act, when I could sense the performers struggling with the limits set forth by the songs.

The most surprising thing about the show is that the second act is even stronger than the first. The dialogue is snappier, the music is deeper, and the action definitely reaches a frenzy point, when the demons do the big production number, "Do the Necronomicon."(Yes, the demons have a big dance at the end, and yes, it's hysterical.) As far as the bloodlust goes…the second act really comes through in a big way, drenching the audience members in the first few rows. When they say "Splatter Zone," they mean it.

Film fans have been less than satisfied by musical theater's attempts to cater to them, but where many movie-musicals have failed, Evil Dead succeeds: it retains the spirit of the films while retaining the quirky charm of a campy musical. It's theater for those who want to have fun, not to ponder life's eternal questions. Seeing Evil Dead: The Musical may not bring you any deep human understanding, but it's a bloody great time.

Book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and George Reinblatt.

Tickets: $66.00 Mon-Thu, $71.00 Fri-Sat, $29.00-$36.00 splatter zone
$25.00 student rush Order Tickets By Phone: 212-239-6200
800-432-7250 or Online www.telecharge.com.

New World Stages | 340 West 50th Street | New York, NY 10019
Between 8th & 9th Avenues

 




Gutenberg! The Musical!
Thursday–Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 7 & 10PM
Sunday @ 3 & 7PM
Through March 25
Actors' Playhouse

Reviewed by Sharyn Jackson

The show-within-a-show genre is nothing new, especially these days with The Drowsy Chaperone sustaining on Broadway, A Chorus Line making its comeback and [title of show] recently completing a successful off-Broadway run. Like it or not, there's no doubt that theatre-people love making theatre about theatre. Gutenberg! The Musical! is the newest show to adhere to this time-honored tradition. The good news? It's the most hilarious one yet.

Two wide-eyed writers have one dream: get their musical about—you guessed it—the inventor of the printing press onto the Great White Way. They present a reading of Gutenberg! to an audience full of producers, and luckily, we get to sit in. Doug (book/lyrics) and Bud (music/lyrics) play all of their characters—and there are many—through the creative use of labeled baseball hats.

Each scene plays out between enthusiastic prefaces comparable to something out of perfectly twisted educational theater. Gutenberg! is historical fiction, they say in one such intro. What's that? "It's fiction…that's true." (And that's a stretch for this show!) But these interludes, wholly inappropriate for the audience Bud and Doug are trying to woo, are where the real writers' love-hate-love relationship with musical theater comes out. They jab at ticket prices, over-the-top special effects, vampire musicals ("They do not work!"), and the employment of serious issues to lend shows importance. Combined with the fake writers' completely inaccurate story about Johann Gutenberg, their outlandishly brilliant songs, and imaginative staging, Gutenberg! The Musical! as a whole is a hysterically entertaining parody of Broadway—with heart. Behind all the jabs, there's an optimism that the writers—both fictional and real—share: a belief in the magical power of Broadway dreams. That, and the belief that everyone deserves to learn how to read.

Written by Scott Brown and Anthony King; Directed by Alex Timbers; Starring Christopher Fitzgerald (Bud) and Jeremy Shamos (Doug) with Ryan Karels; T.O. Sterrett (piano).

Tickets $50.00 at www.telecharge.com and 212-239-6200. For more information: www.gutenbergthemusical.com

Actors' Playhouse | 200 7th Ave S


 


Julie White and Tom Everett Scott

Douglas Carter Beane’s
The Little Dog Laughed
Closes February 18, 2007
Cort Theater

Starring: Tom Everett Scott; Julie White; Johnny Galecki; and Ari Graynor.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Douglas Carter Beane has created a charming, fun, fast-paced comedy of manners with The Little Dog Laughed. The play tells the story a “love that dare not speaks its name” and may be loosely based on the life of a certain celebrity you have heard a lot about lately, but of whom we certainly dare not speak.

The play is advertised with this tag line:
A movie star on the rise
An agent on the phone
A hustler on the prowl
Welcome to Hollywood, baby!

Tom Everett Scott plays Mitchell, a Hollywood movie star in New York City for an awards show who finds he has some time on his hands, an empty hotel room and a well-stocked mini bar. First he investigates the bar and then decides to let his fingers do some walking-on-the-wild-side and dial up a rent-a-boy, Alex (played by Johnny Galecki), for a bit of in-room service. Both Mitchell and Alex earnestly tell the audience, each other and themselves that they are not actually gay. For Alex, it’s a job; when not working, he is happily involved in a relationship with down-town-party-chic Ellen (played by Ari Graynor). For Mitchell, it’s just something that happens when he drinks too much.

So the die is cast; two nice boys have met and love is in the air …..But wait; Mitchell has an agent, Diane (played by Julie White). Diane is a whirling dervish of a Hollywood power-broker who has many plans for Mitchell, none of which involve having Mitchell acquire a gay lover. They are in New York for a day or two and while they are there, they are going to make good use of their multi-tasking time and purchase a gay play which they will then transform from a boy-loves-boy play to a boy-loves-girl screenplay, squashing the protesting playwright like a half-chewed pretzel on a sidewalk grate. But complications ensue (don’t they always) and Diane has a chance to show her incredible negotiation skills when she deftly creates an arrangement that would make Cole Porter proud.

I saw this play right after it opened on Broadway (it had a successful Off Brodway run earlier this year) and I absolutely loved it. Little has a sophisticated and worldly script, filled with rapier sharp repartee. Scott Ellis’ direction is skillful and fast paced; he was probably running to keep up with Miss White who attacks her role like she was the Road Runner. And the rest of the cast does a capable and talented job of portraying their roles. But Miss White is so mega talented and she so totally steals the show every time she explodes onto the stage, the rest of the cast spends their stage time trying manfully and “femalefully” to not get left in her dust. But like I said, this is a very talented cast and they are bravely suiting up eight times a week to duel with a master. So by the time you can get tickets, the game will be on.

Ticket Prices $26.25-$96.25 www.telecharge.com 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250. For more information: www.thelittledoglaughedonbroadway.com

Cort Theater 138 West 48th Street New York, NY 10036





Harley Granville-Barker’s
The Madras House
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday @7 PM
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 PM
Matinees Saturday & Sunday @ 2 PM
January 31st - March 29th
The Mint Theater

Reviewed by Katharine Heller
www.katharineheller.com

Sex, love, betrayal, polygamy and fashion. No, it's not the latest in celebrity news, although there is a bald person involved. It's The Madras House, a new production by the consistently impressive Mint Theater Company.

When I hear the words "British" and "revival" in the same sentence, I tend to expect stuffy humor and over-indulgent wordplay. But what I saw was an intensely rich, exciting and emotionally arresting show. Written in 1909 by Harley Granville-Barker, this play's progressive themes about sex and relationships are still relevant today.

The story revolves around Phillip Madras, the heir to a London fashion
empire. His father Constantine, a designer, is returning from years abroad in Iraq to work out the details of selling the family business. The biggest problem is dealing with Phillip's mother who, after being abandoned by his father, desperately wants to take him back. While there Phillip deals with a situation at the factory workhouse where one of the young women boarders becomes pregnant and refuses to say who the father is. And then after his best friend admits he has
feelings for Phillip's wife, things get a little crazier as father Constantine reveals he has converted to Mohammedism so as to fulfill his self proclaimed right to marry as many women as he'd like. And I thought my family was dysfunctional.

With smart dialog, realistic characters and an ever present energy, the play takes on this simple theme; How powerful are our sexual desires in making the choices we make? Is there a right or wrong and really, what is ethical? The Madras House also carefully addresses the emotional differences between men and women.

In the case of Phillip, we see a young man struggling to make each situation "right". He is a comfort to his mother but is conflicted when it comes to addressing his father. In order to present these sensitive arguments Granville-Barker introduces three prototypes - a woman who wants to love one man no matter the consequences, a man who desires so much to love more than one woman he will go so far as to change religions, and a young woman who wishes to break free and raise a child on her own. Are any of them wrong and if so how can their choices make them happy? And then there is Phillip who has to deal
with the prospect that his own marriage may be in jeopardy due to his friend's temptation.

Eventually the audience is given a strong case to support each of the characters. A particularly riveting scene occurs between Phillip and his father when Constantine compares his harem to Phillip's factory workhouse where young women are dependent on him for their survival and as such have no way in which to break free.

The arguments presented are applicable to anyone who has ever felt both pain and joy from loving someone. I won't tell you what happens, but I will say that The Madras House addresses its subject matter with wit, sensitivity and insight.

It would be wrong to only name cast standouts as this is one of the most strong ensemble performances I have seen in a long time. Every single member of this talented company makes each character so refreshingly real and intriguing. Director of Gus Kaikkonen clearly should take credit for this accomplishment.

It would be an understatement to say that the show is a little long. Actually, it's three hours. But as a testament to the overall production it only felt like two. I highly recommend this show to anyone. It's conservative enough to bring grandma to, and fun enough to take your 20 year old niece. Just tell her it's more exciting than any recent tabloid scandal.

The Madras House runs through March 11th. Performances are Tuesday,
Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:00 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8
PM with matinées Saturday and Sunday at 2:00. Tickets are $45 and are
available by calling 212-315-0231 or online at www.minttheater.com.


 



David Johnson’s
The Oresteia
Wednesday - Saturday @ 8:00PM
Closes on March 10, 2007
Access Theater

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

In the independent theater world, most great productions can be split into two categories. There are the productions that embrace the intimacy and low budgets of the off-off Broadway scene; these are plays that are small, meaningful, stark and cozy. There are also those rare plays that strive to prove that independent theatre can push its black box boundaries and achieve Broadway style product for the price of an off-off Broadway play. David Johnston’s inventive adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy, The Oresteia is a fine example of the second category. In production quality alone, The Oresteia rises above most plays you can catch off-off Broadway. The set, designed by Robert Monaco, is simple but ideal and the costumes are luminous. The technical choices were overwhelming, beautiful, and at times shocking. The play felt larger than life, harkening back to a time when that was what audiences demanded from classic tragedies.

Dan Johnston’s adaptation proved to be much more than a nod to the Greek classics. The dialogue was contemporary, making the play accessible and humorous to modern audiences. One of the opening scenes features a museum tour guide being heavily questioned by his audience on the gory details of the royal family’s history. The scene is clever and witty, and above all a surprising break from the rest of the dramatic production. Johnston’s script is full of these happy surprises. The audience is thrust back and forth between comedy and tragedy with brilliant ease. Director Stephen Speights embraced both the quirky humor and the enormous drama of the script and delivers a truly unique and memorable theatrical experience.

The cast is a strong ensemble and there is palpable chemistry between all the actors. Kathy Lichter as Clytemnestra and Frank Anderson as Agamemnon are the stand-out actors of the production; they steal the show in their scene together. They stand above an imagined crowd giving political speeches while also arguing quietly with each other in between the public addresses. Brendan Bradley as Orestes is charming, capturing perfectly the boyish confusion of the title character. All the actors are at their best when they are committed to the high drama of the play. The large, dramatic acting styles clearly encouraged by Speights are another unexpected success. Instead of feeling abrasive or forced, the unabashed drama is welcome in the context of the plot. It is thrilling to see this practically abolished acting style return to stage with such vigor and humor, leaving behind the understated methods generally preferred in contemporary independent theatre. The play only stumbles when actors shy away from the drama. Throughout the play there are clashing acting styles, as if some of the actors are unable to commit to the heavier style the play demands of them. Though in a weaker production these inconsistencies would threaten to break the drive of the play, this particular piece is so strong that these details are only minor distractions from the wonder and excitement of the world the cast and crew have lovingly created.

Hopefully David Johnston’s brilliant adaptation will outlast the run of this show and be performed and re-imagined again and again. But for now, Blue Coyote should be thrilled with the risk they took and the excellent product of their obvious passion. Days after attending the play, I am sure the audiences are still haunted by the beautiful images and fulfilling dark humor of The Oresteia.
Tickets: $18 at www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444

Access Theater 380 Broadway






Photo Credit Olivia Jacquet
Venus Opal Reese’s
Split Ends
Friday & Saturday @ 10:00PM
Sunday @ 5:30PM
Closes February 11, 2007
The Club at LaMaMa

Venus Opal Reese Lets Her Hair Down in “Split Ends”


Reviewed by William S. Gooch

Self-love is a beautiful thing, but the lack of it can cause generations of pain, delusion, and destruction. In Split Ends, now showing a LaMaMa NYC through February 11, Venus Opal Reese utilizes dance, video clips, rap, and well-structured dialogue to create a mélange of characters that magnify the generational and sometimes detrimental anguish that women of African descent have around hair texture. Utilizing newspaper clippings from African American newspapers of the early 1900s that encourage blacks to get “Freedom from nigger hair and nigger features,” Reese shows that hatred of ‘kinky’ or ‘bad hair’ was not the sole domain of whites. Reese also weaves her tale of assimilation, negation and heartache by cleverly interspersing videotaped personal interviews between each character’s monologues.

Using street vernacular, Reese is able to illuminate each character’s angst, humiliation, and ‘miseducation’ around what is beautiful or ugly about black hair. Sankofa, the owner of a hair salon in ‘the hood’, erupts into a hilarious diatribe on the care of black hair and the cultural ramifications of ‘good hair.’ “Good hair is when you comb your hair and it don’t break all the teeth of the comb… if you lock your hair, you will be called a dyke, a ragtag, an intellectual or confused… if you cornrow, you will look as if you are about to serve twenty to life.”

In another monologue, a drag queen explains that the power of African American R&B singers rests in the beauty of their wigs or weaves. Mimicking R&B divas (Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle and Lil’ Kim) by dancing and changing wigs, he says, “Being a woman is a performance, especially if she is black. Drag shows are a black woman’s affirmation.” Unlike cultural and sexual outsiders who are sometimes are able to look beyond convention, his clarity is muddied by loathing and self-negation, desiring to have something he can never obtain, acceptance and long, straight tresses.

The most poignant character studies are those of an African American breast cancer survivor and a drug-addicted incest survivor. “I don’t want my breasts back, I want my hair back,” says Ann. “Now I look like a monkey, with bald patches and short, kinky, thinning hair.” This character is convinced that she is nothing without the good hair that got her dates and jobs. Pitifully asking if the audience finds her beautiful without her thick mane, she screams back, “Liars.”

“I wasn’t always this way,” says the incest survivor. While singing Nina Simone’s “Black Is The Color of My True Love’s Hair,” she details that before each incestuous assault, male relatives played with her ‘good hair.’ Fragmented and forlorn, she reiterates that her life wasn’t always a mass of confusions and contradictions.

Reese triumphs where few performance artists succeed in that she is able to educate and entertain simultaneously. Through layered character development, she forces the audience not only to look at their perceptions around hair texture but their overall self-definition. Because of its overarching universality, this work, though heavy in African American themes, is not race-specific. Reese, a modern-day Rapunzel of sorts, lets down her hair by exposing an intra-racial issue that takes us on a journey toward truth and wholeness.

Tickets are $15 at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/42 or 212.475.7710

LaMaMa| 74A East 4th St. NY, NY 10003




Thomas Bradshaw's
Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist
and Cleansed
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM.
February 8th - March 3rd
The Brick


Reviewed by Katharine Heller
katharineheller.com

A block away from a train station that is only two stops from Manhattan resides a little theater called The Brick. Raw, open and a bit rough around the edges, it has become a home to many new plays searching for some light in which to cultivate their creative seedlings. It is here that I saw a two-show presentation by the
budding playwright Thomas Bradshaw, Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist and
Cleansed. These uncomfortably intense plays focus on racism in our society, from the Dixiecrats of the South to the confused generation of today. And much like the theater that houses this show, they too are definitely a bit raw and imperfect in their production, yet exude exciting potential.

Based on the true story, Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist follows the life of America's favorite hypocritical Senator Strom Thurmond who secretly fathered a black child. Thurmond, played to perfection by the talented Hugh Sinclair, struggles with the dichotomy of loving his daughter and yet fighting vehemently for segregation. His daughter Essie (Makeda Christodoulos), plays uncomfortably along with the ruse while maintaining a supportive and loving relationship with her
father. The incredibly versatile Peter Schuyler takes on such supporting roles as Strom's father and the ever unintentionally hilarious Trent Lott.

The choice to use actual interviews and speeches in the show made it even more poignant; a very good move on Bradshaw's part. While I would have liked to see a more comprehensive relationship between Essie and Strom, I think Bradshaw is on the right track to developing a touching, in depth look at the man we love to hate. He does do a great job at making Strom Thurmond seem vulnerable and likable, and Sinclair's sensitive portrayal only adds to that. With the expected
drama and creative humor, this show was definitely enjoyable.

Cleansed takes place in the present day South. We are introduced to a mixed race family raising a daughter, Lauraul, in a very conservative southern town. Classmates call her names and refer to her mother as a traiter b@#ch. Things escalate for the confused Lauraul when she is confronted constantly by neighborhood skinheads.

The story takes a very interesting turn when Lauraul confides to one of the skinheads, Mitch, that she hates herself for being half black. What follows is probably one of the best directed and executed sex scenes I have ever seen on stage. Okay, it may have been the only sex scene I've witnessed in a theater. Part violent, part sweet and overall disturbing, Lauraul uses Mitch to try and rid of the self hatred that has been building up. The dramatic change in Lauraul
affects everyone from her friends to her parents. As we follow her struggle to rid herself of her blood through a complete transformation, more family secrets come out with disturbing results.

This show is raw and not for the faint of heart. Through excellent direction by Jose Zayas, a strong cast and a rocking soundtrack, the intensity Bradshaw intended came through tenfold. A few standout performances should be noted; Barrett Doss as Lauraul is an extraordinary actress and takes on this difficult role with shocking ease. Matt Huffman, Bobby Moreno and Joseph Caursone as the skinheads give us an extremely dedicated and disturbing performance.

While these shows are still works in progress (I'd heavily edit the first half of Cleansed), you will definitely be hearing again from Thomas Bradshaw. Hopefully in a theater with a better heat system.

Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist and Cleansed run through March 3rd, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling 212-352-3101 or go to www.theatermania.com.

The Brick |575 Metropolitan Ave
(Btwn. Union and Lorimer St.)





 

Steve Sater & Duncan Sheik’s
Spring Awakening
Monday 8:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm & 7:00pm
Eugene O'Neill Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

When I first heard that Spring Awakening was moving to Broadway, I was a bit concerned. Would such an intimate show lose all potency and urgency in a big Broadway house?

Well the answer, thank the theatre gods, is a resounding no!

I am elated to report that this exciting, enthralling and oddly-enchanting production thrives at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. And it’s improved greatly from the version I saw this past summer.

It’s still audacious and ambitious but it now has a wonderful sense of humor as well. The original production took itself a wee too seriously. But the gifted director Michael Mayer has found the perfect blend of comedy and pathos here. And it doesn’t hurt to have the extraordinary Christine Estabrook on board.

Based on Frank Wedekind’s highly controversial 1891 play The Awakening of Spring (not produced until 1906), and adapted by Steven Sater (book & lyrics) and rock star Duncan Sheik (music), the ‘play with songs’ (quoted by Sheik) focuses on adolescent schoolboys and girls at the age of sexual and spiritual awakening. The central figures being the good looking, wave-making Melchior (Jonathan Groff), his sweet, naive girlfriend Wendla (Lea Michele) and his troubled, oddball friend Moritz (John Gallagher, Jr.) as well as a slew of other angst-ridden, sexually-stirred, hormonally-bonkers characters.

Spring Awakening is mesmerizing to the eye--and ears. It’s a deliberately hard-edged visual and aural cacophony of the evils of repression--religious and societal (usually one begets the other).

The richly-rewarding anachronistic nature of the work adds to its originality and freshness. Although the piece is set at the turn of the last century, the actors whip out mikes and perform raw, intensely-modern rock songs. The device achieves a Brechtian break in the ‘period’ action. It’s as if the audience has warp-sped a century to a modern day rock concert. But the songs are the inner monologues and emotional mind states of Everykid. And that is why it works so well.

Sheik’s music is extraordinary, whether it be a heart-wrenching ballad (”The Song of Purple Summer”) or an angry rant (the fantastically fun “Totally Fucked”) and are matched by Sater’s intelligent lyrics and by the extraordinary ensemble’s vitality and conviction in song as well as performance. These guys were great last summer. They’re even better and seem more assured now.

“The Bitch of Living”, in particular, raises the levels through the rafters!

Melchior is that perfect blend of youth: a walking sack of sexual energy mixed with smarts and savvy and Jonathan Groff brilliantly brings him to life...and to despair as is necessary. Groff has a command now that is dazzling to behold.

Moritz is a tad more difficult since, as written he goes from frustration and confusion to doom very quickly, yet Gallagher, Jr. transcends the trappings and let’s us inside the loopy/scared mind of this tragic hero (especially in Act Two’s Don’t Do Sadness”).

Michele’s Wendla still feels too tentative as Wendla but she conveys naiveté much better and has an amazing voice. Lauren Pritchard’s Ilse still brims with sex appeal and evoked the perfect combo of tumult and rebellion. And king of smarm and charm, Jonathan B. Wright nails his role down perfectly as the gay survivor about to feast on his prey. His self-pleasure moment is a riotous combo of delight and embarrassment. Special mention to Gideon Glick as the adorable Ernst.

Newly added cast members Stephen Spinella, and especially, Christine Estabrook give the show a great lift as well.

Beyond the masterful score, near-perfect performances and deft direction, I had
a problem last time with feeling emotionally caught up in the lives of the characters. This, too, has changed. I DID feel passionately drawn into their worlds and I did care about their fates.

Spring Awakening is a triumph that should be seen by anyone who cares about the future of musical theatre.

Tickets $66.25-$111.25 at www.telecharge.com

Eugene O'Neill Theatre | 230 West 49th Street | New York, NY 10036


 


Richard Foreman’s
Wake Up Mr. Sleepy!
Your Unconscious Mind is Dead!

Tuesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 8:00pm
Sunday 8:00pm
Closes on April 1, 2007
The Ontological Theater at St. Mark's Church


Reviewed by Katharine Heller

Much like an unfamiliar dish to the palate, Richard Foreman's work can be an acquired taste. And sometimes you never quite know what you ingested.

Take Foreman's latest piece, Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind is Dead! at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater. For those of you who have theatre-geek-chic friends who like to engage in serious discourse about 4th walls and mise-en-scene, chances are you have been dragged to one of his annual productions. If you are like me and is the person doing the dragging, often you will get strange looks from said friends after the show. Which is why this time, I went alone.

It is safe to say that Foreman has proven himself to be one of the foremost avant-garde playwrights to date. Having completed over fifty productions since 1968, when he founded the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, he is notorious for his stylized use of disassociated scenery and staging that take on the feel of a playground atop a minefield.

That is to say, anything can happen. Foreman doesn't utilize the common idea of plot, character or narrative; rather, he evokes emotions and feelings through visuals, lights and sound. He has been known to use obstacles as set pieces, deliberately placed strings or even plexiglass in front of the action so you can also observe the audience watching the show.

This particular production is different than most of his others as it is the second time he has incorporated film into his work. When you are ushered into the intimate theater, there are two screens above the stage, and the space is littered with various set pieces such as flowers, chairs and mannequins. Directly above hangs a small airplane piloted by a hoard of baby dolls. The hour long show that follows is a delicate balancing act between five live actors onstage, interacting with and reacting to the pre-recorded film of another set of actors. (The film portion was shot in a functioning mental hospital in Lisbon, Portugal under the direction of Mr. Foreman and his collaborator, Sophie Haviland.)

The performances from the onstage ensemble are strong and consistent throughout the show. The "characters" are eerily similar to each other yet each have a chance to break free and often suffer consequences for their curiosity. At first I found it difficult to absorb the film and the live show as a unified event, but once I did (thanks to the talented cast) the effect was gripping.

One of the main themes of this show is the theory of the unconscious mind. According to Freud, unconscious, as opposed to subconscious, is a state that is nearly impossible to access and yet responsible for much of our neurosis. Over the course of the show, it is insinuated that the invention of the airplane and other such superficial creations are responsible for a "mortal blow" to the unconscious. The stage then becomes a delirious battleground where the frenetic actors fight for a chance to renew what has been lost.

Now if you are like the mother of the NYU student I was sitting next to, you'd want to know what the play really meant. At least that's what she asked me in the restroom after the show. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I might just say that the meaning is meaningless. Foreman's style of presentation is akin to the remnants of a particularly vivid dream. You don't quite know what is going on, but react strongly to it so much that when you wake up, you cannot stop thinking about it. It's a different kind of theater, and very well executed at that.

If you are looking for a more traditional show, this might not be for you. But if you choose to stray from the conventional menu, I think you'll find it's pretty tasty.

Tickets are $23 (Tues. Thurs. Fri. & Sun.) and $28 (Saturday). Running time: 1 hour and 5 minutes. Tickets through theatermania.com: 212-352-3101 www.ontological.com

The Ontological Theater at St. Mark's Church | 131 East 10th Street
At Second Ave.





Photo Credit Michael Sharkey

Marc Spitz’s
Your Face is a Mess
Thursdays - Sundays @ 8 PM.
February 15th - March 11th
Kraine Theatre


Reviewed by Allison Ford

Your Face is a Mess is a play about transition. At least, I think it is. It could be about accepting adulthood and its responsibilities. It could also be about new beginnings, but I can't be sure. It could be about all these things, and it could be about nothing. The only statement I can make with certainty is that it's about an hour long.

While many plays take three hours to make a point that could be stated in two, Your Face is a Mess has the opposite problem. It's only an hour long, and doesn't manage to create any real story or character development. The playwright, Marc Spitz, who has had several of his works produced off- and off-off-Broadway, touches lightly on many themes, while never giving any of them a proper treatment. The result is a play that doesn't really ever have the chance to blossom into any kind of satisfying dramatic experience. Without much cohesiveness, build, or structure, Your Face is a Mess felt more like a rough draft than a performance-quality piece. It has the potential to be a lot of things, but right now is little more than a skeleton of a fully-formed play.

The show's three central characters are Denny, a man facing prostate cancer, Moses, the drug dealer trying to live an honest life, and Bette, the aging soap star. While the actors offer mostly fine performances, they are limited by the dialogue and direction, both of which are unspecific and sloppy. The director, Carlo Vogel, has chosen to stage the play in quick little vignettes. While this choice does keep the pace brisk, it only serves to heighten the feeling of abbreviation that permeates the whole play. The scenes don't have a particular arc and always seemed to end just as they were getting interesting. While I applaud the attempt to change the traditional narrative structure, this felt half-hearted at best. I felt like I was watching scenes in an acting class, or possibly some very un-funny sketch comedy.

Your Face is a Mess is billed as a black comedy, and, to its credit, there are some genuinely comic moments in the play. Many of the jokes, though, were easy potshots and one-liners. Rare was the successful joke that was organic and text-derived. On more than one occasion I wondered if the other members of the audience were only laughing because they were related to the cast.

The show features four actors: three with major roles and one actor who plays many different characters throughout the show. As Denny, the television producer dying of cancer, Tom Vaught is charismatic, clever, and appropriately slimy. Bradford Scobie plays umpteen characters in the play, and while he does a lot of shameless mugging, he is funny and energetic. Ivan Martin is delightful as Moses, the drug dealer, with a goofy and affable earnestness. As Bette, Camille Habacker is the weak link in the cast. In what I assume is an attempt to be disaffected and haughty, she manages only unspecific bitchiness. Even in the moments where she tries to be tender, all she can muster up is sarcasm and disdain.

It is hard, though, to blame any of the actors for faults in their performances when the real problem is the script itself. The character of Bette is flat and static to begin with, and the random characters played by Bradford Scobie are little more than broadly-drawn caricatures.

At the heart of this play, I can see a message about living life and growing older and life's transitions, and it would greatly benefit by a thorough reworking and expansion. Mr. Spitz should lose the silly vomit jokes and cheap sight gags. There's a potential for good material under there, and this is the kind of theater that should be supported. This is black-box theater, with artists doing work because they love it, not because they are getting paid. There's nothing fancy or astounding about the production values, as most of the show is played on the bare stage with minimal props and costumes. Unfortunately, this kind of theatrical minimalism demands a tight, sharp story, and this play isn't quite there yet. I hope that this isn't the last we hear of Your Face is a Mess, because with some revisions, it could be a great example of edgy, honest downtown theater, instead of a disjointed mishmash of an hour that just left me saying "Huh?"

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling Smarttix at 212.868.4444 or by going to www.smarttix.com.

Kraine Theatre | 85 East 4th Street



 

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