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Photo Credit - Carol Rosegg
Altar Boyz
Monday - Friday @ 8:00PM
Saturday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday 3:00PM & 7:00PM
New World Stages

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Breezy, slightly-subversive, silly-at-times, too-often-safe…yet damned entertaining, Altar Boyz has been running to packed houses for over a year and it's pretty obvious why. It's the type of show that makes you instantly want to revisit it, with new friends, so you can gage their reaction AND so you can have some mindless fun all over again!

The musical is not groundbreaking or daring and it doesn't pretend to be. You can enjoy yourself whether you're a practicing Catholic or an atheist. But along the merriment way there are a few important messages that seep through about acceptance, tolerance and not selling out to the “evils” of the world and remaining true to yourself.

All that and five cute boys who sing their pants off (okay, not literally…this is NOT Naked Altar Boyz Singing..hmmm…maybe it should be-perhaps in the Amsterdam version…)

The plot is flimsy: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (yes, Abraham!) are on a "Raise the Praise Tour" and their goal is to save every soul in the audience. That's pretty much it.

The score itself isn't the most memorable. Except for the exciting opening “We Are the Altar Boyz” and the moving finale, “I Believe”, most of the songs are generic pop. It's the way the boyz perform them that make it a joy to experience.

From the gleefully ironic, “I'm a Catholic,” sung to gay perfection by newcomer Zach Hanna, to the stamina-challenging “Body, Mind & Soul” which Ryan Duncan sings the crap out of, the boyz prove their stage prowess over and over.

As Matthew, Jason Celaya holds the show together and is the key standout performance. With more energy and sly sex appeal than all the Boy Bands, Celaya sends sparks whenever he's onstage (and that's the entire show, folks!)

For sheer kick-ass entertainment, seek worship with the inspirational and cute-as-the-devil Altar Boyz!

Book by Kevin Del Aguila; Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker;
Conceived by Marc Kessler & Ken Davenport; Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli; Directed by Stafford Arima. Starring: Jason Celaya (Matthew); Zach Hanna (Mark); Andrew C. Call (Luke); Ryan Duncan (Juan); and Dennis Moench (Abraham).

Tickets $25.00-$75.00 at www.telecharge.com and 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250

New World Stages|340 West 50th Street




Photo Credit Max Ruby

Anna Ziegler's
BFF
Monday–Saturday @ 8PM
Through March 31
DR2 Theatre

Reviewed by Sharyn Jackson

On the surface, Anna Ziegler's play BFF is a touching, universal portrayal of young adulthood and the intensity of adolescent confusion. In the extreme, it exposes the insufferable pain that losses suffered at a young age can inflict upon adult life. As middle-school-aged best friends forever (BFF), the gangly, bookish Eliza (Laura Heisler) and the popular, pretty Lauren (Sasha Eden) face losses in their lives, like that of popularity, youth, a loved one, and even virginity. The course their friendship takes through the drama of it all determines their futures.

BFF jumps in time between Eliza and Lauren in the past and an unstable grown-up Lauren in the present. We learn how the girls' relationship fully plays out, through present-day Lauren's involvement with a remarkably patient suitor. Going by the name Eliza, Lauren unhinges as she becomes closer to Seth (Jeremy Webb). This leads to a tearjerker of a climax, when the full unfolding of the past is finally revealed.

An emotional heaviness in the adult scenes depreciates the poignancy of the childhood scenes. The young girls' actions, heartrending when they occur, all seem to forcedly show up later, as the composed Lauren of youth picks up the pieces of her broken adulthood. Alone, though, the childhood scenes capture brilliantly the difficult moments we as adults try to forget, especially those concerning the fear of growing up.

Under Josh Hecht's compassionate direction, Heisler is perfectly awkward as the depressed Eliza, who may remind more than a few former outcasts of the nervous discomfort of teenage life. In the opening scene, Eliza admits to missing Lauren even when she's there, which Lauren doesn't understand. That moment depicts the turmoil residing inside confused, lonely kids who long for more than mere companionship from their closest friends but can't express it.

Eden captures the sprightly schoolgirl well, though her adult Lauren is unconvincingly fragile. In Lauren's many communication breakdowns, she tends to lay the pathos on a bit too thick. Webb as Seth is compelling and genuine.
The sparse set, white and aquamarine, transforms with ease forward and backward in time, as a child's room or a pre-war NYC apartment. From the very start, the aquarium-like appearance accomplishes its symbolic goals.

BFF is produced by Women's Expressive Theater (WET), a company co-founded by Sasha Eden and Victoria Pettibone that intends to challenge female stereotypes. With BFF's winning moments, WET offers an eloquent portrayal of the anxieties of female adolescents to a grown-up audience long removed from those difficult times.

Written by Anna Ziegler; Directed by Josh Hecht; Starring Sasha Eden (Lauren), Laura Heisler (Eliza) and Jeremy Webb (Seth).

Tickets $25–35 at www.telecharge.com and 212-239-6200.

DR2 Theatre | 103 East 15th Street


 


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

 



Jason Christophe White and Aaron White's
The Dance

February 22 - March 3, 2007
Richmond Shepard Theater

Jump Jim Crow

A look at American minstrelsy through the eyes of the hip-hop generation

Wheel about, an' turn about, an' do jis so;
Ev'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow

Reviewed by Williams S. Gooch on February 23, 2007

When minstrel shows come to mind, one often thinks of Mississippi riverboats, ragtime music, Al Jolson and grinning pickaninnies. In The Dance: The History of American Minstrelsy, Jason Christophe White and Aaron White reveal that American blackface has a rich and sordid past that extends beyond buffoonery and obvious stereotypes.

White and White—no relation—satirize and ridicule while presenting an informative look at American minstrelsy. This two-man show digs deep into the history of American minstrelsy by providing historical retrospectives and funny vignettes. With only a suitcase, video images and changes of clothing as props, White and White—in blackface portraying two Jim Crow characters—create a world where blackface is the penultimate form of entertainment and no ethnic group is beyond parody.

One memorable vignette involves an Indian Chief who employs a slow-witted black man in his search for a woman. The dialogue between the two characters is ripe with social and sexual stereotypes—the oversexed native and the black lackey who can’t follow instructions. The scene concludes with the black character finding the Indian Chief a cardboard figure of a zaftig white woman in blackfaced, Aunt Jemima drag. The Indian Chief in disgust looks at the cartoonish figure and says, “When God made you, he must have been drunk.” Using a variety of popular hip-hop lyrics interspersed between vignettes, White and White proficiently demonstrate that though some racial images are century old, society is still encumbered by transgenerational bigotry.

White and White caricature black ministers, slothful darkies, smiling pickaninnies, and hoboes—all done in blackface—alluding to the little known fact that pre- and post-Civil War white actors in blackface created these caricatures to give white audiences safe contact with blacks while maintaining distance.

In one skit, Aaron White portrays a blackface character that parodies ethnic groups while preaching in the singsong cadence of a Southern Baptist minister. ‘What do you call a white woman giving birth? Taking a crap.” Routines like this show the evolution of minstrelsy—post-Reconstruction era—where blacks minstrels used comedic license to poke fun at whites.

The most heart-wrenching moment in The Dance occurs when the two Jim Crow characters decide whether to continue their craft or abandon it. One character hating himself for a life of ‘cooning,’ vigorously removes his blackface and screams, “Enough. That’s it.” The other character, so defined by minstrelsy can’t choose a new path. Frantically, he holds on to the last vestiges of his art.

White and White pack one hundred years of American minstrelsy into a 60-minute performance piece. With well-crafted dialogue and hard-hitting facts, they force us to look at the contemporary masks we all wear.

The Dance ran at the Richmond Shepard Theater at 309 East 26th Steet in New York from February 22 - March 3, 2007. The show is playing in Los Angeles from March 9-11, 2007. For more on The Dance, log onto: http://www.seethedance.com/





Frederic Glover's
Desire in the Suburbs
March 14-31st @ 8PM
The Workshop Theatre


Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu on March 14, 2007

Excellent lighting, a sexy script and quirky, unexpected acting and directing choices are the highlight of Desire in the Suburbs, a new play by Frederic Glover now playing at the Workshop Theatre Company. The play explores the unnerving relationships between Mike, his son Ed, and Mike’s beautiful younger wife Jenny. The three unlikely characters are living under the same roof, in the beautiful home of Mike’s first wife, Ed’s mother, who vanished years before the play begins. Mike is a cold, intelligent patriarch and his son Ed is an unemployed troublemaker who spends his time hitting on his father’s new wife. Jenny, for her part, is a peacemaker who has obvious chemistry with both father and son.

The relationships that unravel in the two hour play are complicated and honest. Drama unfolds slowly and believably, as every moment is justified by the strong choices being made on stage. There is a hint of soap opera in the plot and though some of this comes through in a melodramatic manner, it does not hurt the play. Instead, Desire in the Suburbs plays as a kind of guilty pleasure, and one we are happy to be indulging in. Director Kathleen Brant has made strong choices from casting to staging to acting style, and all come together in a successful, if somewhat clunky, production. The actors also find unusual characters and eerie humor in the loaded script. Timothy Scott Harris, playing the painfully odd, smirking son is particularly fun to watch. He is larger than life throughout the play, and he initiates drama with graceful ease. Harris is disturbing and humorous in the same moment, and displays fantastic creativity in his rendering of this unusual character. Slightly less believable is the beautiful but stilted Dee Dee Friedman whose performance is inconsistent. At times, Friedman captures a fractured woman, compelling and clueless in her pursuit of love and security. Despite these interesting choices, Friedman is rigid and forced for much of the larger climactic moments. The play lost speed during some of these less natural scenes, but the cast’s chemistry ultimately prevailed, resulting in a solid work.

Aaron Sporer and Travis C. Richardson’s dramatic lighting design deserves to be lauded, as it played a huge role in the momentum and suspense of the show. Rarely have I seen such crafted lighting design in a small, off-off Broadway space. Their delicate touch cemented the atmosphere, mood, and forward movement of the production. Desire in the Suburbs satisfies as a compelling, unsettling drama; at its best, it is a delightful roller coaster ride of passion and shock.

Tickets $18. For more information, call 212-695-4173 or buy tickets at TheatreMania.com

The WorkShop Theatre |312 West 36th St, 4th Floor/between 8th and 9th A





Edward Scissorhands
March 20-24, 27-31 @ 7:30PM
March 25th @ 6:30PM
March 24 & 31 @ 2PM
March 25th @ 1PM
Through March 31st.
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Reviewed by Katharine Heller
http://www.katharineheller.com



Okay, I'm going to be real honest here and just say that I am a big fan of fake snow in theatrical settings. When I heard the story of Edward Scissorhands was being translated into a dance piece, I knew I had to go. Who could forget the quirky, loveable Edward and that beautiful scene where Winona Rider is dancing in the snow he created in a dress she actually paid for?

This version does not disappoint, but that may be its only fault. Choreographer Matthew Bourne, notorious for his all male version of Swan Lake, is the mastermind behind this glorious production which took ten years to create. Known for his uniquely fused style of choreography which alternates between ballet and modern, Edward Scissorhands is a delightful retelling of a familiar and well loved
film. The performers can hardly be referred to as merely a dance ensemble; the physical pantomime executed by all is just as rich as the intricate dance scenes. Not a word is said in this entire production as the stage is transformed into Edward's world through humor, playfulness, and miraculous set and lighting design. The music from the film by composer Danny Elfman underscores most of the show,
with additional songs and arrangements by Terry Davies.

The lead dancers alternate nightly and when I went Edward Scissorhands was played by the engaging Sam Archer (he shares the role with Richard Winsdor). It wasn't just the grace and power with which he danced, but his ability to make you love him in that same puppy-dog manner akin to the original Johnny Depp. His ability to dance (somehow) with gigantic moveable scissor gloves on both hands adds a sense of danger to his performance. The entire ensemble made each of their characters memorable, from the dysfunctional suburban Monroe family to the
bible-thumping, dreary Evercreech clan. But what I found interesting about this show was not just the romantic storyline between Edward and the young Kim Boggs, but the relationship Edward has with oversexed housewife Bunny Monroe (played to absolute perfection and force by Mikah Smillie). Don't get me wrong, scenes between Edward and Kim were beautiful, touching and yes, filled with fake snow, but it is clear Bourne had the most fun developing the hilarious and libidinous seduction duets. Ultimately, Edward's forthcoming downfall is a
beautifully tragic climax to this stellar show.

Edward Scissorhands was everything I had hoped for, and maybe a little
bit more. However I can't help but notice I had a different reaction to Scissorhands as I did when I saw Swan Lake 10 years ago. In Swan Lake, Bourne used shocking creative liberties and gave refreshing new life to a well known story. In Scissorhands, it seems that he simply translated the energy of the movie to the stage. That is not to say that this show still isn't a magnificent piece of theater and dance.

Edward Scissorhands should not be missed. And I don't want to ruin anything, but there is a little surprise at the end involving, you guessed it, fake snow.

Tickets: $30 - $80 Call 718-636-4182 or go to www.bam.org

BAM Howard Gillman Opera House |30 Lafayette Ave.


 


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



Julian Sheppard’s
Los Angeles
February 14 - March 17
The Flea


Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu on March 1, 2007

Los Angeles, the most recent production at The Flea Theatre, explores the journey one woman takes as she navigates twenty-something life in Los Angeles. At the beginning of the play Audrey (Katherine Waterston, Sam Waterston’s daughter), is asked by her boyfriend to move to Los Angeles, a step she is wary about taking. The play jumps from scene to scene in a unique fashion; Audrey is the only character we see in more than one scene. The play, therefore, is a series of situations Audrey encounters and we witness her downfall through these glimpses of her relationships with roommates, boyfriends and bosses. The unusual structure of the play allows the audience to focus exclusively on Audrey, and because of this, our investment in her well-being is overwhelming. The downside, of course, is our inability to connect with the other characters in the show, and the lack of explanation we get for how Audrey travels from one point to another. All we can be sure of is that Audrey has succumbed to the comforts of drugs and sex in with disastrous and depressing results. Playwright Julian Shepard expertly reveals the struggle to rise above the choices we have made, and Audrey is easily one of the most complicated, three dimensional characters I have encountered recently on stage.

With each passing scene Audrey reveals more insecurities, weaknesses and oddities. Waterston captures her lifestyle with eerie accuracy and commendable vulnerability; her shoulders always hunched forward, her beautiful face masked behind weary sadness and strangeness. That being said, though her performance was deeply felt and haunting, her presence on stage was sometimes lacking; her choices were small and grew repetitive, and her ability to carry an entire play on her shoulders was constantly in question. Meredith Holzman, playing Audrey’s tough and together boss Donna was the true standout actress of the play and was criminally underused in this particular role. Her scene with Audrey brought out the best in both actresses, as well as shining light on the complexities of female relationships. Similarly poignant and impressive was actor Ben Beckley as Lyle, Audrey’s self important lover. Beckley managed to make an unattractive role sympathetic and cold in the same moment, and Waterston was magnificently tortured and visibly torn in her conversations with this powerful man. Waterston couldn’t quite hold her own against these impressive actors, but her deep understanding of the character and her willingness to reach deep emotionally was more than enough to keep her afloat.

Los Angeles is a thought provoking and painful look at a lost woman who’s best simply isn’t good enough. Director Adam Rapp has created a consuming and mesmerizing world on stage. The set is sparse but Rapp has filled it with much energy through his staging and understanding of the characters and their lives. The production is weakened slightly by an overuse of their talented and dramatic vocalist, Amelia Zirin-Brown who would have better served the play had she remained an evocative background effect rather than moving into the actual scenes of the play. On the whole however, Los Angeles is an excellent character driven work that deserves accolades for its originality, and emotional depth.

Los Angeles runs February 14 - March 17, performance schedule varies. Tickets are $18, available at 212-352-3101 or www.TheaterMania.com. For more about the play, log onto: http://www.theflea.org/

Flea Theater |41 White Street
Between Broadway & Church Streets
Accessible from the A,C,E,N,R,Q,W,6,J,M,Z to Canal or 1 to Franklin Street)



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.




Quinn Mander and Glenn Kalison in The Naked Eye Planets
Photo Credit Ryan Jensen

Rebecca Tourino’s
The Naked Eye Planets
Wednesday's - Saturdays @ 8PM
Sunday Matinees @ 2PM
Saturday Matinee March 24th @ 2PM
Through March 25, 2007
The American Theater of Actors


Starring: Maria Cellario; Brandon Collinsworth; Glenn Kalison; Jeanne LaSala; Sean Tarrant; Amanda Sayle; Diane Tyler; Quinn Mander; Heidi Tokheim; and Emily Rogge.


Reviewed by Katherine Heller
katharineheller.com

If TV's Melrose Place had realistic actors, cognizant writers and a non-working fountain instead of a sexual situation-inducing pool, you'd find yourself at the new production of Coyote REP's The Naked Eye Planets.

This magnificently tricky show takes place in a housing complex where we are let into the lives of ten people, all of whom have common ties. What makes this show interesting is not just the affectingly tangled story-lines, but the depth of human emotion these characters are willing to explore through their often perfunctory relationships. Sometimes funny and often very dark, I found The Naked Eye Planets to be a worthwhile and enjoyable piece of new work.

Writer Rebecca Tourino establishes the characters on the eve of an astronomical phenomenon when the first five planets in our solar system can be discerned easily by the naked eye. The show starts off by introducing us to the superintendent, Ralph, an emotionally detached grad school student in literature, and his restless girlfriend Georgina who has recently lost her brother. In the upstairs and adjoining apartments live Harris, a young aspiring guitar player
whose father is out of town, seventeen year old Madeline and her alcoholic mother Susan, and a mysteriously shy Cheryl, a single woman who lives alone. Next to Ralph and Georgina is Susan's sister, Aunt Pleasance who is often the voice of reason for her niece, neighboring her is Jacob, a handsome paramedic new to the complex, and across from him resides his macho friend Rob. We are also introduced to Jacob's playful sister Gwen who happens to be Cheryl's masseuse.

Once the stage is set, a seemingly pleasant evening amongst the tenants quickly unravels at the seam, bringing everyone to a new state of consciousness as they confront their demons. Act one ends with a dual mystery- Harris receives a threatening letter in reference to his music, while it is disclosed through Gwen's relationship with Cheryl that Cheryl was recently date raped by someone in the building.

While act one does drag a bit in the beginning, act two hits the gate running. Not only do we find out who assaulted Cheryl, but Gwen and Cheryl plan revenge. Susan's meltdown is beyond the boiling point and her daughter had found comfort in the music of Harris, who is still receiving vicious letters. When Georgina finally realizes that Ralph can never be the person she needs, she finds herself in the arms of another in the building, both of whom share an odd coincidence
unbeknownst to them.

I won't tell you how it ends, but suffice to say The Naked Eye Planets is a show that takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride so enthralling you can't get off even if it makes you feel a bit sick. The play reminds us that much like choice planets visible to the naked eye, there's a lot more going on than one may think just by plain sight. This show indulges us in a telescopic look at what some people
are capable of in their search for love, happiness and companionship. Under the direction of Magdalena Zira, this solid and talented ensemble cast makes this show a memorable work of theatre.


Tickets: $18. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/10206
Run time: 2 1/2 hours with an intermission


American Theatre of Actors (Chernuchin Theater) |314 West 54th Street Manhattan


 



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





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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