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Wendy R. Williams'
June 2008 Theatre Column

July 14, 2008

Summer Festival madness if now upon us: the Collective Unconscious Underground Zero Festival; The Midtown International Theater Festival; and The Fringe Festival.

Summer theater festivals in Manhattan are always a crap shoot. You can see the most amazing shows - shows that will eventually make it to Broadway like Urinetown (from the Fringe Festival) and off-Broadway's Matt & Ben and Debbie Does Dallas (also the Fringe Festival). But finding these shows requires stomping all over Manhattan, sitting in marginally air conditioned theaters with poor lighting and sounds systems and watching some incredible duds. But then sometimes through all this madness comes genius! And you, the over-heated stomper, discovered it first.

The Collective: Unconscious Underground Zero Festival is in full swing right now, running from July 8 - August 2.

Breaking News about Underground Zero from Spin Cycle PR: "When the lease on its Tribeca home expires on July 31, 2008, Collective: Unconscious will close its doors for good. This decision comes on the heels of a massive plumbing problem that has rendered its lower level "lobby" and backstage storage area unusable and has forced much of its previously announced UNDERGROUNDZERO FESTIVAL to seek new venues.Neighboring venues The Flea and Manhattan Children's Theatre as well as Grace Bar & Restaurant have graciously come to the rescue to host productions from the UNDERGROUNDZERO FESTIVAL beginning July 8. Now in its second year, the festival will present over a dozen works by both established and emerging artists."

Log onto their website (aptly named weird.org) or peruse our listing section for the full selection. For Tickets, call 212.352.3101.

Next out of the shoot will be the Midtown International Theater Festival, which opens July 14th and runs through August 3rd, 2008. This year's festival will present fifty shows in seven different venues. Log onto their website or our listing section for more details.

Then on August 8, 2008, the mammoth Fringe Festival comes roaring into town presenting two-hundred-and-two shows. The Fringe is the granddaddy of New York's summer theater festivals, the place to find the next jewel. For more information about the Fringe Festival, log onto their website or check our listing section.

Happy Hunting!


July 7, 2008

Nathan Lane in November
Photo Credit: David Hume Kennerly

I only saw one play last month, David Mamet's excellent November. November stars: Nathan Lane as President Charles Smith Laurie Metcalf as Clarice Bernstein (Smith's speech writer); Dylan Baker as Archer Brown (Smith's aide); Ethan Banker as Turkey Guy; and Michael Nichols as Dwight Grackle (the Indian Chief). Tony Award winning Joe Mantello directs.

November is presently playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. It opened on January 17, 2008 and unfortunately is closing on July 13, 2008. Here is a quote from the show's press release: "Set just days before a major presidential election, November involves civil marriages, gambling casinos, lesbians, American Indians, presidential libraries, questionable pardons and campaign contributions."

Nathan Lane is an absolute hoot as the expletive-spouting President Charles Smith (this is a David Mamet play). And he has an able straight man in Dylan Baker. Lane and Baker have impeccable comic timing in their scenes together. Laurie Metcalfe gives a great performance as the long-suffering-lesbian-speechwriter-recently-home-from-adopting-a-baby-girl-in-China-who-only-wants-to-marry-her-life-partner. That is Metcalfe’s character Clarice wants President Smith to marry her in the White House before the election, creating a different type of timing situation. Ethan Barker does a fine job portraying the Turkey Guy, a character who can't quite seem to offer quite enough graft at quite the right pace. And Michael Nichols performs a hysterical turn as an outraged-Indian/potential-casino-owner. Joe Mantello has directed a fun, foul-mouthed classically Mamet farce that is would be fun for the entire family, if everyone in the family was older than sixteen.

So if you have not seen November, move quickly to get one of the last tickets. Tickets for November can be obtained by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250. You can also log onto telecharge.com.

The Ethel Barrymore Theater is located at 243 West 47th in New York City.


June 16, 2008

Paulo Szot, Patti LuPone, Deanna Dunagan and Mark Rylance
© Sylvain Gaboury / PR Photos

The Annual Tony Awards Ceremony was held last night with August Osage County winning for Best Play, In the Heights winning the award for Best Musical and South Pacific winning for Best Musical Revival. I was particularly pleased to see that Patti Lupone won for Gypsy and that Deana Dugan won for August Osage County. Congratulations to all the winners and a hearty AMEN!

Here is a list of the winners in the top categories (from the Tony Awards Website):

Best Play: August: Osage County - Author: Tracy Letts

Best Musical: In The Heights

Best Book of a Musical: Passing Strange - Author: Stew

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theater: In The Heights - Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Best Revival of a Play: Boeing-Boeing

Best Revival of a Musical: South Pacific

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play: Mark Rylance in Boeing-Boeing

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County

Best Performance by Leading Actor in a Musical: Paulo Szot in South Pacific

Best Performance by Leading Actress in a Musical: Patti LuPone in Gypsy

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play: Jim Norton in The Seafarer

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Rondi Reed in August: Osage County

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical: Boyd Gaines in Gypsy

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical: Laura Benanti in Gypsy

Best Direction of a Play: Anna D. Shapiro for August: Osage County

Best Direction of a Musical: Bartlett Sher for South Pacific

See the Tony Awards Website for a more definitive list of the winners. Also, there is an excellent article in Theatermania.com by Brian Scott Lipton about last night's Tony awards ceremony.

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

This month I only saw one play, the wildly exhilarating Jump at the Union Square Theatre at 100 East 17th Street. Jump is one whacked-out show; it would be great fun for anyone. The only requirement to enjoy Jump is to be at least six years old; you don't even need to speak English. Jump is another entry into the genus "funus exuberanus," joining the happy club of Stomp at the Orpheum Theater (see my May 2006 Theater Column) and the touring company of Mayumana's Be (see my June 2007 Theater Column for coverage of the June 2007 New York stop of their tour). (And yes I made up the phrase “funus exuberanus.”)

Here is a quote from their press release: "Jump, the high flying, internationally acclaimed new martial arts theater event, comes to New York following wildly successful engagements in Israel, Hong Kong, Macao, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Madrid, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2005 and 2006), Tokyo, Osaka and London! The nonverbal Korean extravaganza brings the combination of slapstick comedy, acrobatics and martial arts to the stage, for the first time ever in live performance, in a highly unique theater spectacle that has been described as "Jackie Chan meets Charlie Chaplin.

Set in the interior of a traditional Korean home, the show tells the story of an anything-but-typical family. Each member of the household, from the strict Grandfather to the pretty young daughter, enjoys nothing more than challenging the rest of the family to martial arts showdowns. When two burglars break into the house occupied by three generations of highly trained martial artists, the family turns their expertise on the unexpected guests. The hyperactive sitcom that ensues is the ideal forum for this troupe to show off their extensive training in martial arts, acrobatics, gymnastics and comic acting."

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

So grab your couch potato kids and head on over to Jump. It made me want to take karate lessons.

Jump is playing an open run at the Union Square Theatre at 100 East 17th Street. Performances are: Wednesday at 7:00pm; Thursday at 7:00pm; Friday at 8:00pm; Saturday at 2:00pm, 5:00pm & 8:00pm; and Sunday at 3:00pm & 7:00pm. Ticket are $20.00 - $65.00 at 212-307-4100 or 1-800-Broadway (Groups) or online at ticketmaster.com


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