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New York City - Theatre






Charles L. Mee’s
Fêtes de la Nuit
Mon., February 8, 8:00pm
Tue., February 9, 8:00pm
Sat., February 20, 8:00pm
Tue., February 23, 8:00pm
Every week Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
From Wed., February 10 until Sat., February 27, 8:00pm
Ohio Theater

Reviewed by Justin D. Quackenbush

Despite my intent, too often I attend theatre with a skewed expectation of the work I am about to see -to love it, to hate it, to not understand it. Or worse, I carry a premeditated theory about what and how the piece will say what it has to say. In the press notes for Fêtes de la Nuit –Charles L. Mee’s play currently running at the Ohio Theatre- it is described as “A deliciously naughty valentine to Paris.” With that idea in tow, I anticipated a coquettish survey of Parisian culture, not the intriguing anthropological meditation it actually is.

Even the prologue –a symbolic amuse-bouche to the main course- seems to be an invitation to experience how it is to live in Paris. Upon entering the theatre, there is a bustling café in lieu of the traditional rows of theatre seats. It is replete with several communal tables at and around which couples speak in French and waiters offer wine. There’s a faint smell of cigarette smoke and above the din there is music that can’t be identified, but is distinctly French. Unfortunately this lasts only a few moments before one of the waiters announces they are “closing” the café and we are ushered to the aforementioned theatre seats that I was initially so pleased to be rid of.

Here, the structure takes on a more traditional form, though Mee’s writing is arguably anything but traditional. Strangely, Director Kim Weild seems to understand his penchant toward the avant-garde, but only manages to meet it half way. The text alone of Fêtes de la Nuit invites its audience to acknowledge that we surely know something about the intimacies it’s exploring. But unfortunately the very act of corralling us into stadium seating and putting on a play, disregards our RSVP of “oui, bien sur!” to become part of the experiment.

Despite Weilds’ misstep in that arena, her staging leaves little to be desired. She’s mastered the art of scene transitions sans blackouts, by way of intricate choreography and precise timing. Through a pastiche of societal profiles, the action progresses as a sequence of unhinged moments, some remarkable and inventive, others clichéd and uninspired. Thankfully, there are more of the prior, as their colorful essence lingers long after the show’s end and that’s what’s worth examining:

There’s a stunning figure drawing sequence between a man and a woman - the beautiful Jessica Green and the chiseled Khris Lewin. The pair enters and nonchalantly begin removing their clothing and what begins as a series of typical poses gradually morphs into an athletic display of Kama Sutra-like positions; their naked torsos and organs unapologetically kneading into one another. It’s courageous, erotic and sensual and yet –brilliantly- the charge is never sexual.

In another, two “graces” – played seductively and coyly by Jubil Khan and Christine Rebecca Herzog – engage in a sultry pas de deux involving a croissant and strawberry preserves, that’s illustrative of the respective goods we carry into relationships and our reluctance to share them. Though there isn’t any dialogue throughout the exchange, it seems to say, “I’ve got the bread, you’ve got the jam, imagine what it’d be like if we got together?”

There are amusing characters - like Barbeso (played charismatically by Luis Moreno) who takes us on a tour of the Jardin du Luxembourg by recounting his array of sexual conquests at each of the gardens sites – and those that are heartbreaking – like Jean-Francois (as portrayed through fierce physical acting by Kyle Knauf) who wakes up “shattered” each day, haunted by the memory of his dead wife.

In what is perhaps the most fascinating exploration of Fêtes de la Nuit, Henry, the demonstrative American (Danyon Davis) proposes to Yvette (the lovely Ana Grosse) as a means of introduction. He posits a metaphysical reasoning (a la Malcom Gladwell’s Blink) that via rapid cognition, we innately know so much of another person in the first few moments we’ve known them. Indeed, that at the end of most relationships we say, “I should have known at the beginning” when in fact we did know at the beginning.

There is a point where the aforementioned Barbesco says, “In love, we come to know what it means to be a human being,” and if there were a central thesis of these “Celebrations of the Night”, that statement would serve nicely. Using it’s beats as a looking glass, we have the opportunity to see that in our lives, there really is nothing else but an endless parade of moments, rehearsals, epiphanies, sorrows, ecstasies, etc, and they’re all worth celebrating.

Fêtes de la Nuit runs from February 8 - 27, 2010 in a limited engagement at the Ohio Theatre, located at 66 Wooster Street (between Spring & Broome)

Tickets: $18 available at www.brownpapertickets.com or 1-800-838-3006.

*The performance includes strong language and nudity - no one under 15 years old will be admitted.

Ohio Theatre | 66 Wooster Street
(between Spring & Broome)



Matthew Lombardo’s
Looped
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Previews Start February 19th
Opens Mar 14
Lyceum Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Valerie Harper’s spirited, ferocious embodiment of the ever-fascinating, forever-enigmatic, larger-than-life cultural figure- extraordinaire, Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo’s new play Looped is the reason expressions like ‘tour-de force’ were coined. It’s also the reason to see the play. The only reason, really. But what a fabulous reason, dah-ling!

From her hilariously profane grande (dame) entrance to her poignant revisiting of the debacle that was her Blanche DuBois in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire to her perfectly fitting exit, Harper commands and demands the stage, captivates the audience and probably scares a few unsuspecting tourists hanging outside the Lyceum Theatre. The real Tallulah would be proud!

Realize, though, that this isn’t simply an impersonation of the diva—although the distinct gravelly voice, hearty laugh and overdone entitled manner as well as the witty wisecracks are all there (and would make a drag queen proud)—Harper, however dives deeper into the character allowing us to see the pain and anguish of a woman who should have had a more celebrated career; a woman born way before her time. Today, she’d probably be a rock star.

Tallulah Bankhead was one of the most intriguing actresses of the last century and, like Mae West, pushed the envelope of accepted behavior by a woman in the entertainment business. Bankhead enjoyed a proud decadent lifestyle that included lots of sex, booze and drugs—usually, frankly and coarsely boasting about it all.

Her performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 classic Lifeboat, is proof positive that she had tremendous acting chops. Unfortunately, she would not get many opportunities, allegedly, because of her temperament.

Lombardo’s play, too-often focuses on cliché and overly simplistic explanations about her life and career. Although I do give him props for writing some terrific lines and appropriating a lot of wonderful Bankhead quotes into his script. I also give him credit for writing within a framework that recognizes and acknowledges the camp factor inherent in the material.

The barebones plot of the play presents an exhausted Bankhead arriving at a recording studio in 1965 so she can dub one unintelligible (and ridiculous) line in what would be her final and ironically titled film, Die! Die! My Darling. She is greeted by the film’s editor (an unimpressive Brian Hutchison) and we learn way too much about him—especially in Act Two. While I appreciate the device, his development brings the play to a halt. Thank God Harper is there to ram it right back on track.

Best known for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on the late 70s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Valerie Harper has finally found a vehicle that proves she has range way beyond the land of sitcoms.

Despite its shortcomings, Looped proves to be a one-woman triumph for the great Ms. Harper and a lovely tribute to the great Tallulah Bankhead.

Tickets $25.00 - $111.50 - Premium Seating $151.50-$226.50 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250 telecharge.com
loopedtheplay.com

Lyceum Theater | 149 West 45th Street | Manhattan (212) 239-6200.





Next Fall
Photo Credit: Francesco Carrozzini

Geoffrey Nauffts'
Next Fall
Bows on Broadway
Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 3:00pm & 8:00pm
March 11, 2010
Previews Start February 16th
Opens March 11
Open Run
Helen Hayes

Written by Frank J. Avella

It’s early morning at Sardi’s—well, early for me, anyway—and theatre folk are gathering for a Meet and Greet of sorts for a new play about to make its way from a small theatre way off-Broadway to the Helen Hayes in the heart of the Great White Way, which happens to be located a few feet from the legendary Sardi’s. The excitement is palpable, which feels like an overused cliché, but it really is. As a matter of fact, the enthusiasm is a bit overwhelming. Imagine a smiling cast…smiling writer…smiling director…smiling producers… smiling press reps (well, we expect that)…smiling photographers… smiling journalists…wait, what? Smiling journalists? Seriously? Did Brangelina run naked through the streets with their children? Has Roman Polanski been extradited and convicted? Was Tiger Woods caught doing A-Rod? No? No one famous maimed? No careers ruined? No blood? No scandal? Then why are journalists smiling? That never happens. Well, it’s happening this morning.

“Everybody’s so supportive, it’s so nice.”
Director Sheryl Kaller says incredulously.

Bizarre as it may seem, print, TV, radio and online press are all excited about the Broadway opening of Next Fall, the Geoffrey Nauffts play that examines the complexities of clashing faiths within a same-sex marriage. Geoffrey who, you ask? Oh, you will know his name soon enough. Nurtured at the impressive OB theatre group, Naked Angels, Next Fall opened in June of 2009 to ecstatic reviews and great audience acclaim, extending three times.

“This is by far one of the most beautiful plays I have ever read.” Patrick Heusinger, who plays Luke, the young, gay Christian part of the central couple.

Praise for the play percolates and permeates the room. Playwright Geoffrey Nauffts has the kind of respect and admiration from his cast and director that most playwrights dream about.

“The play is a ‘five-course meal.”
Patrick Breen, who plays atheist/agnostic Adam

“Topicality is complementary to the larger themes. “
Sean Dugan, who plays the paradoxical Brandon

“This play makes you ask questions without being didactic. And it turns what you believe on its head.”
Maddie Corman, who plays self-described “fag-hag” Holly

“You could be a right-wing Christian or a left wing gay or a housewife from New Jersey and (this play) will touch you and that’s the genius of the play.”
Cotter Smith, who plays fundamentalist Christian, Butch

“Takes you from screaming laughing funny to heartbreaking…it’s about redefining what a family is.”
Connie Ray, who plays Luke’s step-mom, Arlene


Next Fall Cast at Sardi's
Photo Credit Justin Quackenbush

Rave reviews! And these are just the cast members!Nauffts did spend four years and countless workshops honing the script, and choosing subtly over preachy and gray shades over black and white. “If you endow these folks with humanity...they will start to ask themselves the difficult questions.” Nauffts also uses his skills as an actor and director to inform his work. “I’ve always admired writers who come from an acting background. There’s a psychology that they understand…motivation, what drives character.”

“Geoffrey Nauffts is one of the smartest, most gracious people I’ve ever been in a room with and he has without question made me a better director.”
Sheryl Kaller

Marrying a good play with the right director can sometimes be quite a challenge. However, the general consensus is that Sheryl Kaller was the perfect choice. Called an ‘Earth mother’ by Cotter Smith, Kaller comes across as an intelligent, savvy and strong craftsman who has definitely earned the respect of her actors. “Actors can be very pesky," Connie Ray admits. “She gives me great leeway. I trust her so very much. I would do anything for her.”

“These are very brave producers that are bringing a new play and first time writer to Broadway, with a cast without Huge Jackman, so it’s a challenge…”
Cotter Smith

“The fact that the six of us are going together makes it less scary and extremely exciting. I’m still pinching myself.”
Maddie Corman

The mutual love and admiration these artists seem to genuinely have for one another borders on the nauseatingly redundant…and that’s pretty refreshing! Each and every cast member waxes esteem and appreciation for one another. Seriously, one after the other, they will not stop with the lovefest. It’s crazy. And wonderful. This makes the fact that the entire ensemble is moving to Broadway together all the more special. And in this day and age, it’s also a minor miracle.

“I wish I could take credit, I didn’t have to fight for the cast. Rich and Barb and Anthony (producers) believe in us. They understood that we have built an ensemble and they appreciate that and understand that and are willing to take the risk.”
Sheryl Kaller

On board from “the beginning”, producer Barbara Manocherian whose impressive Broadway credits include: The Norman Conquests, the new revivals of Hair and Sunday in the Park with George, calls her cast “delicious” and firmly says that there was never any intention of recasting: “I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This play is a star and these kids are phenomenal actors so…Don’t fix something that’s not broken.” Manocherian is a charming, affable and charismatic woman, so its no surprise she’s also loyal.

“I think it enhances the intimacy. Now you may feel the claustrophobia even more.”
Sheryl Kaller

Fears of compromising the intimacy of the piece by moving into a larger theatre were immediately dispelled when Nauffts and Kaller got their dream house with the Helen Hayes. After the rapturous reviews, the duo searched certain Off-Broadway houses but it wasn’t until they saw the Hayes that they both knew it would be the only possible home for Next Fall.

We get nicer coffee and more muffins. That’s been the big change.”
Maddie Corman

The transition seems to be a fairly seamless one. While certain scenes are being “reimagined,” the cast, director and writer are hard at work making certain the play remains the same.

Nauffts, who is a staff writer on the popular ABC drama, Brothers and Sisters, recognizes how fortunate he is: “It’s surreal. It’s humbling.” He admits that he did imagine it could make it to Broadway but: “Did I ever think it would really happen? No.”

“It’s a show with soul and heart and depth. I, as a mother, relate to it…so many moving moments…so much to think about…so many issues to talk about. It’s a show about life today.”
Barbara Manocherian, Producer

The themes Nauffts chooses to tackle and the particular nature of the play has been called groundbreaking. The timeliness of gay marriage and the exploration of religion within that milieu have rarely, if ever, been seen onstage. It will be fascinating to see what a Broadway audience will bring to the show…and what they will come away with.

For now, the team is in rehearsals. Dreams are about to come true. It’s the best time. Fairy tale time. And they are living it. Their passion.

Patrick Heusinger’s infectious enthusiasm sums up the general feelings felt by everyone in attendance:

“It’s a dream to take a play from a 99-seat house, with a cast of people who are not famous, with a group of producers who just believe in it passionately, with a director who’s never been on Broadway, with a writer who has written his first full-length play…And to have the opportunity to bring it to a wider audience like this is very exciting and magical.”

How can you not feel it?

Tickets $81.50 - $116.50 212-239-6200 &
800-432-7250 www.telecharge.com

NextFallBroadway.com

Helen Hayes | 240 W. 44th Street




Photo Credit: David Rogers

Jon Marans’s
The Temperamentals
Monday 8:00 pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00 pm
Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00 pm
Sunday at 3:00 pm & 7:00 pm.
NEW WORLD STAGES


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Most folks today, regardless of their sexuality, believe that the modern Gay Rights movement began with the 1969 Stonewall riots. Gifted playwright Jon Marans has given us a stirring work that explores the brave men who are the real founders of that particular civil rights movement, the Mattachine Society.

In recent films like Revolutionary Road and on the TV series Mad Men, the one evocative image of the 1950s, more than any other, is the dapper business man in his suit and tie. Here we get five of them, who are seemingly living the ‘American Dream’ that is often a cliché of that decade as well. Ah, but these particular men have a secret; one that they realize is shared by many others. One that can get them ostracized, arrested. One that can destroy their sense of normalcy.

The power of The Temperamentals (a now antiquated, then hush-hush euphamism for homosexuals), is in showing us these daring men and their intrepid (for some) and complex journey towards rights that would ultimately destroy the bullshit cliché of what the “American Dream” truly is, dispelling a way of life that only truly existed in the botched minds of politicos and the greed-driven brains of ad execs.

At the play’s core (and it’s best aspect) is the relationship between communist organizer Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan) and a talented costume designer named Rudi Gernreich (Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie). This fascinating relationship is explored in detail. Each have their own arc as one moves from denial to defiance while the other takes a backwards leap for the sake of his rising career.

Urie is absolutely outstanding, showing us Rudi’s struggle. He is smart, flirty and flamboyant, but ultimately frightened. Urie gives him a sexy edge as well.

Ryan has the showiest role and plays it to the hilt. The supporting players aren’t as clearly defined as they could have and should have been.

And here lies the only true problem with The Temperamentals. Too often it is debate overkill. During the (too many) Mattachine meeting scenes we are given a bit too much redundancy and the play tends to meander a bit. It’s not didactic (perhaps if it was, passion would allow for forgiveness) as much as it’s a bit dull. Had the other characters been fleshed out more and the perilous realities been depicted in scenes from their lives, the play could have been more than it is.

Still, The Temperamentals, capably directed by Jonathan Silverstein, is a very important work that shines the light on a very important moment in history, not just gay history, but history.

Ticket prices are: $65 and student tickets for $25 in the mezzanine. The student tickets are available in advance and must be purchased at the box office. Special group rates are also available. Tickets are available at the New World Stages box office and through TeleCharge (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 and TeleCharge.com.

New World Stages | 340 West 50th Street



 


David Ives’
Venus in Fur
Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm
Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm
Sunday at 2pm
Opened on January 26, 2010
Closes on March 7, 2010
Classic Stage Company

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

David Ives’ fascinating and ambitious new play, Venus in Fur, certainly starts with a bang. Literally. Pre-performance, the audience at Classic Stage Company curiously stares at a completely covered set on the thrust stage. We are warned, along with the no cell phone announcement, that the play will begin in a few minutes. And a few minutes later the curtain jarringly falls simultaneously as the lights glare-up on an audition set.

Onstage is frustrated playwright/director, Thomas (Wes Bentley) at the end of a disappointing day of auditions for the female lead in his new play. And similar to the bang the curtains and lights made a few minute earlier, in blows Vanda (Nina Arianda) in one of the best entrances I have seen in years, cussing her head off about how sorry she is that she’s late, blaming the rain, and how right she is for the lead.

We are then privy to brilliant manipulations on her part as she gets the tentative scribe to allow her to audition for the role. After some classic actory warm-ups that anyone involved in theatre will find all-too familiar, she reaches into her many bags and begins to produce props and costumes. She then shocks us—as well as Thomas--with her extraordinary reading of the part of “Vanda” in the stage version of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur, adapted by Thomas.

Insisting the script is pornographic, Vanda explains: “You don’t have to tell me about sado-masochism, I’m in the theatre.”

I will not give too much more away since part of the many joys of watching this work is in the constant role reversals and character driven plot machinations that continuously keep us guessing. Who is she? Who sent her? What does she really want? Who is he? What does he really want? What has he written? Is life imitating art? Or vice versa?

With Venus in Fur, Ives has created a delightfully perceptive power-shifting play that is as compelling as it is complex. And director Walter Bobbie keeps the pace deliciously manic throughout.

Wes Bentley, who splashed onto the film canvas in American Beauty a decade ago, delivers a deliberately understated performance as Thomas, until a role reversal is forced and he truly dominates in a seemingly submissive role.

But it is Nina Arianda who steals the show from glorious beginning to baffling end. She is a force of nature. Her line deliveries are impeccable and her comic genius is such that her hilarious one-liners never take away from the part she is playing or her faithfulness to the text. She reminded me of Julie White—which is the best compliment I can give her. Arianda is a frighteningly sensual, sexual being who seduces Thomas and the entire audience. We are at her mercy. And it’s a deliriously fabulous place to be.

“You’re a playwright. You’re a director. It’s your job to torture actors.” Vanda’s wise and direct words are ever-funny but quite in keeping with the constantly shifting game being played onstage. And while I found some of the play to be meandering and repetitive and the ending wholly unfulfilling, the journey was psychologically complex and enjoyable AND watching Nina Arianda made everything seriously spectacular.

Tickets are $60 Tuesday through Thursday and $65 Friday through Sunday. For tickets and information, visit www.classicstage.org or call (866) 811-4111, or (212) 352-3101, or visit the CSC box office at 136 East 13th Street, Monday through Friday 12 pm to 6 pm.

Classic Stage Company |136 East 13th Street



David & Joseph Zellnik’s
Yank!
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:30pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:30pm
Opened on February 24, 2010
Closes on March 21, 2010
York Theatre Company


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Yank! the admirable and ambitious new off- Broadway musical finds an atypical hero in an era filled with heroes. The setting is World War II. Brave men are giving up their lives to fight totalitarianism in Europe and Asia. But our protagonist, in this particular instance, happens to fancy men--something unheard of back then. Okay, it wasn’t unheard of, but it was hidden. It certainly wasn’t something to announce or be proud of.

David and Joseph Zellnik (who also happen to be brothers and gay) have created the kind of queer love story that is not often told and the one that soars more often than not.

Inspired by Allan Berube’s Coming Out Under Fire, a groundbreaking history of gays and lesbians who served in the military during WW2, the brothers Zellnik on the timely heels of the hopeful repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, set out to create a faithful gay love story while working within the parameters of the old fashioned Broadway musical. The results are uneven. On the one hand we are given some rousing 1940s-eque tunes and heart-grabbing ballads, but the urgency of the story is sometimes lost amidst the slightness.

The plot focuses on a budding relationship between two Army men serving in the war. Stu (Bobby Steggert) is a shy, naïve eighteen-year old who knows he is different from other guys and is trying his best to fit in. He develops an immediate crush on the handsome (nickname: Hollywood) Mitch (Ivan Hernandez), who is drawn to Stu, but afraid of his own desires.

The book (by David Z, along with the lyrics) is pretty powerful stuff, especially when the focus is on the central couple. Stu’s internal moments, in particular, are thoughtfully written. But the director, Igor Goldin, allows the show to meander too much.

A major problem with the book is its featured characters are mostly broad stereotypes. We have the Brooklyn Pole, the Southern hick (who is the most vehemently homophobic) and, most offensive to this journalist, the Sicilian who speaks the type of broken English that only exists in dumb musicals. Add to that the insult of not casting an actual Italian and I-a may-a have-a to-a con-a-tact-a my-a Uncle-a Vito!) I’ll admit I could forgive the broad-stereotype if the character was well developed and actually funny, but he’s not, and he’s not.

David Z fares better with the creation of Artie, a very gay reporter and a trio of prissy homos who go by the name of Gone With The Wind characters, when they’re not cussing and pretending to be straight (although even they become overbearing and overdone).

The music, by Joseph, Z, is pretty infectious throughout and the songs work nicely. “Click” is a fantastically fun ditty of seduction while “Rememb’ring You” is a sweet and lush ballad that’s an anthem of sorts. The best number in the show is “Just True.” sung by the two enamored men. It’s a gorgeous love song that transcends who they both are and pleads for not just acceptance (for who they are to one another) but respect (for fighting for their country).

The show had its premiere in 2005 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and had a short run in Brooklyn in 2007.

With some major changes and minor fine tuning, Yank! could be a real contender, but some of the more misguided missteps (an awful ballet number is a prime example) would need to be addressed and the supporting characters given more substance and less camp. Also, Stu’s torture scene could and should be so much more intense and disturbing.

The chief reason to see the show is the gifted Steggert. He’s the musical’s heart, anchor and savior. He has a spectacular stage presence, killer vocal chops and a genuinely infectious ebullience. And Steggert gives Stu this constant look of longing that raises the work to the level it should reach. He’s longing for love, longing for respect, longing for understanding, longing for a day when he can be able to be who he is and love who he wants to love without feeling judged, condemned and in peril.

I do applaud Yank! for not being afraid to show true tenderness between two men, I just wish it was more focused and less messy.

Yank! Performs at the York Theatre located at The Theatre at Saint Peter’s (enter on 54th Street, just East of Lexington Avenue).

Performances began on February 16th with an official opening set for Wednesday, February 24th.

Ticket Price: $67.50 212-935-5820
http://www.yorktheatre.org


York Theatre Company |619 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10128



 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 




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