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Thomas Bradshaw’s
Sunday N/A
Monday @ 7:00pm
Tuesday @ 7:00pm
Wednesday @ 7:00pm
Thursday @ 8:00pm
Friday @ 8:00pm
Saturday @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Opened Jan 14, 2014
Closes Mar 8, 2014
Accorn Theater

Directed by Scott Elliott

With: David Anzuelo, Austin Cauldwell, Ella Dershowitz, Laura Esterman, Daniel Gerroll, Déa Julien and Keith Randolph Smith.

Presented by The New Group

Review by Frank J. Avella

Right after the curtain call at The New Group’s production of Thomas Bradshaw’s strangely invigorating new play, Intimacy, I wasn’t sure if I needed to take a shower, have intense sex or have intense sex with someone in the shower. The play angers, excites, flummoxes and provokes its audience. So many viewers were so uncomfortable at the performance I attended that there were nervous giggles, sounds of shock and outraged as well as schoolgirl whispers—the latter mostly coming from men!

But like two of the genius filmmakers the play mentions (and channels) the audacious Lars von Trier and the enigmatic Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Bradshaw isn’t just a provocateur, he’s a societal satirist, unafraid of going way over the top to make his biting and incisive points.

So what is Intimacy about? Well, paraphrasing Stefan, Bill Hader’s brilliant Saturday Night Live character discussing popular NYC venues, “It has everything: pornography, stool talk, fellatio, rimming, hand jobs, frottage, farting, vomit, compulsive masturbation (a lot of that), heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality as well as naked penises, asses, boobs and vaginas. And that’s just in Act One!"

The cast of crazies includes: a 17-year-old filmmaker wannabe, Matthew (Austin Cauldwell) who lives with his widowed Brit dad, the recently God-fearing James (Daniel Gerroll). Matthew is dating a Latina honors student, Sarah (Dea Julien) who lives with her contractor dad, Fred (David Anzuelo) who happens to work for James.

Next door are Jerry (Keith Randolph Smith), an African-American, Pat (Laura Esterman) his liberated older wife and their 18-year-old porn star daughter Janet (Ella Dershowitz).

Matthew decides he wants to make a porn film: “There is something divine about sexual arousal. True sexual arousal.”

How these characters interact and intertwine is part of the eye-opening wonder of watching this play, directed with swift and unabashed sincerity by Scott Elliott.

Intimacy is the kind of work that will elicit anger, wincing and dismissal from its detractors. But those who are able to scratch a little deeper will leave feeling challenged about the ways in which our faux-Puritanical society views sex and, well, intimacy.

The gloriousness of Bradshaw is that he isn’t concerned with writing within genre or tonal parameters. He’s a truly distinctive voice (appropriating from some of the best and most daring)—love him or loathe him—his ideas, notions--his narrative demands attention.

I saw Bradshaw’s Burning done by TNG a few years ago and while that fascinating oddball piece may have pushed some envelops, Intimacy seeks to tear them wide open. In his past work he’s made audiences uncomfortable by suggesting that we all have the capacity to do really bad things, given the situation and circumstance. Here he takes it a few steps further by saying that, “Everything people do comes naturally.” In this day and age where almost everything anyone does is out in the open for public consumption and comment, Bradshaw wonders why we are still such unbelievable and unbearable liars when it comes to matters relating to sex. For an American playwright, that is daring indeed.

Sure the play is sometimes deliberately alienating, but that’s the point. And I appreciated Bradshaw’s approach to human sexual attraction and how it’s a forever- changing thing where one can find himself drawn to members of the same sex pretty easily—even if his lean is in the other direction. Blurring the lines of sexuality will not sit well with most ‘straight’ American men of course, since even a glance from someone gay can make them uncomfortable—I wonder why…

I also love Bradshaw’s intense love of film (we share that). Matthew wears a Godfather t-shirt and reveres some of the most divisive film auteurs of all-time like Warhol, Mekas and the aforementioned Von Trier and Fassbinder. While watching the play I was reminded of Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Sam Mendes masterpiece, American Beauty.

The author also ballsily takes on race. Every older character is racist in one way or the other and some of the younger ones are as well. Again, shining an uncomfortable light on the hypocrisy in our culture and the paradoxes to be found in suburbia—that same underbelly that David Lynch keenly explored in Blue Velvet.

Bradshaw goes a bit too far into the surreal near the end for my tastes and he isn’t always as clear or concise as he can be but that’s just me being nitpicky!

The cast is uniformly good with Esterman providing terrific comic relief and Cauldwell killing it in every scene. His deceptive good looks and charm shouldn’t overwhelm the fact that he’s an exceptional new talent to be reckoned with.

Kudos to Derek McLane’s perfectly suburban set and Russell H. Champa’s playful lighting design.

I was strangely moved at the End of Act One when Matthew uses the camera in a bizarrely revelatory way. This is a tribute to how Bradshaw and Elliott pay homage to provocative indie cinema by using the stage to genre-blend and create a kind of cathartic transcendence amidst the debauchery.

The New Group at Theatre Row | 410 W 42nd St
New York, NY 10036

John Pastore’s
Panic at the Riverside Motel
Jan. 15th – Feb. 8th
Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7pm
Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3.30pm
Stage IV Theatre

Directed by Maria Riboli

With: Olivia Rose Barresi, Tom Burka, Tom Cappadona, Thom Christensen, Michael Orlandi

Reviewed by Carlotta Brentan

Panic at the Riverside Motel, currently ending a 4-week run at the Stage IV theatre, is an ambitious production that succeeds in raising itself far above the average Off-Off Broadway fare, although it does so with both some hits and some misses.

The opening premise is brilliant: a young engaged couple has desperately resorted to dealing cocaine in order to pay for their extravagant wedding. Unfortunately, the potential buyer they meet in a seedy motel has other plans – namely to shoot himself in the head, leaving Jake and Kaitlin in a bit of a pickle. The play opens in the middle of the action, and grabs our attention as we watch the pair freak out and frantically try to make sense of what needs to happen next.

All that is good about the play and the production is in this initial scene: darkly hilarious dialogue that has our protagonists switch effortlessly between discussing how the dead body will have to be chopped up, and cursing the elaborate ice sculptures that got them to this point; a fast, frantic pace that doesn’t miss a beat, and a swiftly developing plot.

As we move on from the scene of the crime, though, into the lives of Jake (Michael Orlandi) and Kaitlin (Olivia Rose Barresi), her gangster brother Billy (Thom Christensen) – who set the drug deal up in the first place – and the rather unorthodox detective who is investigating the circumstances (Tom Burka), our attention wavers. The character dynamics and their relationships aren’t clear, the figure of the detective is absurd to the point of being disruptive, and the twists and turns that take us to the surprise conclusion aren’t always quite interesting enough. I kept wishing that the play had never strayed from that first scene, that we could have watched Jake and Kaitlin’s situation and relationship develop in real time between those four seedy motel walls.

Overall, the production displays some inconsistencies of tone and style. The actors first create humor by playing this absurd situation with complete realism. Yet, their performances are punctuated here and there by slapstick physical gags – choreographed shoving of one another, stylized opening of doors, throwing of magazines and re-arranging of sweaters - that clumsily take us out of the reality. They make us wonder if the director’s intention was actually to create a non-naturalistic comic-book style noir world. Either / or might have been an interesting approach, but when forcibly blended together they seem confusing and uncertain.
The same inconsistency is apparent in the acting, as some cast members are immersed in selling us the truth and reality of their situation, while others seem to live in an implausible, emotionless, robotic world. Michael Orlandi, as Jake, is possibly the only performer who seems to be both precisely clear on who he is, while also retaining great spontaneity in his rather cowardly, amusingly desperate portrayal of Jake. Jake is largely a victim of the stronger wills of Billy and Kaitlin – who clearly wears the pants in the relationship - and his journey is full of hilariously touching moments where he rails against a situation he can do nothing about. “I can’t imagine going to prison,” he tells the pair with panicked resignation, “Jesus. I’ll be somebody’s bitch in ten minutes.”

Running at just under 90 minutes, the show never lags in terms of pace, and its audience is gripped enough to let out audible gasps and sighs when some twist or other is revealed. For all its flaws, it’s a very fun ride, no doubt about it.
Panic at the Riverside Motel marks the second collaboration between up-and-coming playwright John Pastore, a born-and-bred New Yorker, and director Maria Riboli. They are definitely a pair to keep an eye out for.

Tickets $25 at 866-811-4111 or www.panicattheriversidemotel

Stage IV Theatre | Roy Arias Studios and Theaters | 300 West 43rd St.


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