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Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire
Opened on January 25, 2009
Closes on March 15, 2009
SoHo Playhouse

Reviewed by Bryan Close

Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire is a spunky one-man drag show that conflates two of New Orleans’s most celebrated tragedies. Writer-actor Mark Sam Rosenthal’s ingenious conceit is to insert Blanche Dubois, the beloved tragic heroine of Tennessee William’s 1947 Big Easy masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, into the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the storm that destroyed much the city in 2005. The conflict between Blanche’s heightened sense of entitlement and the stark realities of life in the Superdome and sharing a motel room with an unfortunate young woman named Shondria de Africa and her crack-pushing boyfriend, Tyrese, generates most of the show’s humor and also its occasional pathos.

This conflict is peanuts compared with the one between the production and Williams’s estate, whose lawyers are trying to shut the show down in a deeply misguided effort to protect the intellectual property of The University of the South. For more on this foolishness, see The New York Times (

As for the play itself, directed with sensitivity and precision by Todd Parmley, it’s equal parts inspired comic riffing, routine drag-camp silliness and genuine poetic achievement.

If only Rosenthal the actor were in the same league as Rosenthal the writer – or if he and Parmley had cast an actor more able to give this delicious material its due – it would be a nearly perfect evening. Unfortunately, Rosenthal’s performance misses as often as it hits.

Even so, the show is so well written and directed, and Rosenthal pours so much large, loveable energy into diva Blanche, that the show is hard to resist, and on the night I saw it, most of the audience was in stitches. Combine that with the pleasure it would surely have given Williams to know that one of his most soulful and emotional characters – even in a loving parody – continues to poke a stick in the eye of the down-pressers and the bean-counters, and seeing this play becomes a celebration of the human spirit. It’s almost a patriotic duty.

Ticket Price: $30.00; $20.00 previews Tickets by Phone: 212-691-1555
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SoHo Playhouse|15 Vandam Street

Toshiki Okada's
Five Days in March

Japan Society
The Run is Over

Talkin' 'bout my generation

Reviewed by Shawn C. Harris

Five Days in March is, on the surface, about a five-day sex binge surrounding the events leading up to the war in Iraq. But if you go to this play thinking of a didactic “Make Love Not War” performance, Chelfitsch Theater Company will shatter your expectations.

Seeing theater in a foreign language always presents the issue of how well the words adapt from one language to the next. But if Five Days in March has this problem, it's very difficult to notice. Aya Ogawa's translation deftly captures the flow of Okada's words, allowing us to delight in the rhythm of the dialogue and the nuances of each character's speech. From time to time, it was difficult to keep up with both the subtitles and the action on the stage, but that is a minor quibble (and a great motivator for learning Japanese).

The characters in Five Days in March weave in and out of the narrative, seamlessly talking about and playing different perspectives of the events surrounding the encounter between Minobe (Taichi Yamagata) and Yukki (Luchino Yamazaki). The performances combine naturalistic dialogue with abstract movement. Like a Zen koan, the actors present a visual and temporal paradox that forces us to transcend our habitual understanding of story, memory, and identity.

But what's most impressive about Five Days in March is how the play evokes a sense of place without a set. With only dialogue, movement, and lighting, we get a feel for Shibuya – full of lights and sounds and color, but no soul. Its young adults already jaded. They sleepwalk through life with no real hope or purpose, connected yet disconnected, hopping from one amusement to the next, whether it's a sex binge, a party, or a protest. Izumi Aoyagi embodies this as Miffy, a strange young woman who dreams of going to Mars to escape the pain of alienation.

Yet despite the melancholy reality beneath the words and actions of the characters, Five Days in March is actually funny. Rather than wallowing in youthful angst or making the ennui of Generation Y a tragic loss, Okada pokes fun at the self-absorption beneath it all. There seems to be a running joke going on between the lines, as if he says, “Remember when we were so young and dumb we thought we'd seen it all?”

With its nuanced performances, unconventional narrative, and abstract movement, Five Days in March is a rarity in contemporary theater – the piece you simply must see more than once. With such a masterful production of a wonderfully complex and enthralling play, it would be time well-spent.

Five Days in March played at the Japan Society from February 5-7, 2009. For more information on Five Days in March:

Japan Society |333 East 47th Street

Joseph Keckler's
Human Jukebox
Friday March 6, 2009 @ 10PM
Saturday March 7, 2009 @ 10PM
Sunday March 8, 2009 @ 5:30
La MaMa E.T.C. The Club

Joseph Keckler is one enchanting cat

Reviewed by Shawn C. Harris

What is it like to have a Cat Lady for a mother? How does a performer take tired theater cliches – a crazy mother, illness in the family, struggling artists in New York City – and create something enchanting and heartfelt that uncovers the depths of these experiences? In Human Jukebox, Joseph Keckler becomes a one-man cabaret, weaving storytelling, theater, and music to deliver a performance that delights and engages even as it confronts heartbreaking realities.

This is in no small part due to Keckler himself. He is mesmerizing on stage and an utter joy to watch. His intriguing performance cannot be reduced to his looks or his charisma – which are considerable – but the skill of his performance. Keckler is a craftsman in the truest sense. He brings a certain delicacy and nuance to his performance that indicates that, far more than being a personality (a dime a dozen on the theater scene), he is an observer of people and a student of life – a far rarer quality that is often overlooked in favor of more flamboyant displays of talent.

It becomes most apparent as he flows between narration and performance and melts into each character he portrays, adopting different voices and mannerisms as easily as sitting on a chair or throwing on a shawl. From his Cat Lady mother to bitter divorcée aunt to wistful voice coach, he doesn't merely represent characters, he embodies them. And it happens so quickly and so smoothly that you don't even think to ask how a young man who sings bass can suddenly become an elderly woman who speaks in a thin, reedy voice that creaks like an old staircase.

And there is Keckler as storyteller. There is more than a touch of the poet in how Keckler narrates Human Jukebox. Despite that old adage to “show, don't tell,” Human Jukebox proves that there can be much showing in the telling of a story. And with all due respect to Mrs. Keckler, the titular human jukebox, the words are important, for the words sometimes become the melody. Throughout his performance, Keckler uses language rich with imagery and practically dancing with rhythm – and not just for the singing parts. If you listen closely, you can hear Keckler's words, his voice, his soul, reaching for the sublime.

By the way, Velvet Elvis is a great name for a cat.

Click here for tickets.

La MaMa E.T.C. The Club 74 A East 4th Street




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