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New York Cool: 2003 Theater Archives

Doug Field’s
"An Enola Gay Christmas"
Christmas 2003
Altered Stages

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Ho! Ho! Ho! Christmas is upon us and what better way to celebrate than to don your gay apparel and go see An Enola Gay Christmas! And that means all of you, everyone can use a laugh right now, so stick some holly in your folly and buzz on down.

An Enola Gay Christmas, written by Doug Field and directed by Dana Snyder, is a riot of a drag queen show. June Bug plays Enola Gay Tibbets, the long suffering mother of the bomber of Hiroshima, Paul Tibbets, who named his plane after her. In an effort to clear her name of this horrific honor, she is hosting a cable access television show from her Miami home during the Christmas season. Enola has guests, cooks a little in her first generation microwave oven and snorts the occasional line of Coke. The time is a fantasy, seemingly set in 1950’s Miami but with characters who are aware of much more recent events like Al Gore’s attempt to save the environment.

Enola has three guest on her show, all played by Nan Schmid. Nan Schmid does a credible job of playing all three but the real star of the show is June Bug, who blows the socks off the audience with her over-the-top portrayal of the much maligned Enola. She explodes on the stage in the beginning and never lets up.

Doug Field with a clever funnny script and Dana Snyder with on-the- money direction, have put together a jewel of a little Christmas show. The set, designed by Steve Johnson, totally sets the campy Christmas mood. And on on-stage elf, Patrick Bindauer, plays funky music in a fun and totally dead pan manner. He was a hoot to watch.



 

Mac Wellman's
7 Blow Jobs
July 2003
Trilogy Theatre

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

7 Blowjobs, written by Mac Wellman and directed by Philip Cruise, is a period piece of political satire set in the office of a conservative Republican Senator. The plot starts when a messenger delivers a package containing seven photos depicting a certain sexual act (see title for specifics). The rest of the show is a heated discussion about what the photos actually depict, who sent them and how and when they are going to be used against the office. Everyone has a reaction, showing us who they are in relation to the BJ’s. Jobs are lost, people are promoted and in the end we finally find out in whose dark room these extraordinary BJ’s photos were blown up.

Even though we are no longer being treated to nightly tirades from conservative talk shows about the National Endowment for the Arts, the concept still resonates in today’s environment of braying Rick Santorums and late night talk show hosts railing against the Supreme Courts recent decision to require Police Officers who “happen” to barge into a private home and find two same-sex partners engaging in whatever, to politely say “excuse me, so sorry to intrude, do carry on, we’ll just let ourselves out.”

The play itself is written in the style of Mamet-on-speed. The dialogue is clipped and stylized. The actors did a good job of presenting the play in the style it was written but the constant staccato became tiring. After the delivery of the infamous photographic prints, nothing much happens to keep the play moving, just more and more jumpstart dialogue until Dot goes down the hall and comes back with the “answer.”

There have been many mini conservative “scandals” since the play was first written. We have seen Newt and Trent being exposed as a philanderer (Newt) and a bigot (Trent) and the national election decided by a Stepford Wife Secretary of State from Florida. And still the conservative Republican band plays on, barely missing a beat, perhaps leaving this audience member too jaded to be engaged in an hour-long discourse on how to handle potentially explosive BJ’s.

The talented and able cast consists of Philip Cruise, Robert Lincourt, Madeleine Maby, Edward Miller, Elizabeth Neptune, Billy Steel, Michael Whitney and Travis York.



 

Jack Bump and Alien Comic
"Butt-Crack Bingo"
bad taste sex comedies
November 2003
La MaMa E.T.C.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

People go to theater for many reasons and one is to have fun. "Butt-Crack Bingo," written by playwright Jack Bump (aka Tom Murrin) and directed by David Soul, is good old-fashioned fun, an incest-bathroom humor-sex romp for the South Park set. The show is divided into three parts: first, a stand up comedic routine by Alien Comic Tom Murrin; then a play, “Who’ll Carve the Turkey”; and finally a short one act, “Rehearsal.”

Tom Murrin, as Alien Comic, warms up the crowd with a gross out comic routine filled with inventive props. Then on to “Turkey” (far from a real turkey), an absolute hoot of a show set at a Thanksgiving dinner for a wonderfully dysfunctional family. The last part, “Rehearsal,” is set at a rehearsal for a sex scene, with Tom Murrin as the director and Eve Udesky and Brian Bickerstaff as the wonderfully whiny sex partners.

All three parts are fun, but “Turkey” is subtly hilarious. David Soul did a fine job of directing this piece, having his actors deliver most of their lines dead pan, heightening the absurdity of the bizarre situations. The writing and directing reminded me of Mark Spitz’s “Gravity Always Wins” (HERE in the spring of 2003), which also featured a totally bizarre family and was directed along the lines of “less is always more.”

So, if you are in the mood to laugh, head on down to “Butt Crack Bingo”. It will crack you up (sorry – couldn’t resist). And you will see the very talented “Butt” cast: April Sweeney, Gibson Frazier, Jeff Biehl, Danny Camiel, Laura Flanagan, Brian Bickerstaff, Laura Kindred and Eve Udesky.



Robert Simonson's
Café Society
Spring 2003
13th Street Repertory Company

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

13th Street Rep’s Café Society, written by Robert Simonson and directed by Emily King, is a light tart of a play about the lengths New Yorkers will go to for a cup of coffee. The story is set in a family owned coffee shop close to Lincoln Center, which boasts the best gourmet coffee and pastries in town.

The story opens with Karen (Joan Ryan) purchasing her daily fix of iced decaf coffee with a corn muffin when Lucy (Audrey Sawaya), the fifteen-year-old daughter of the proprietor, unexpectedly starts a conversation and asks to be her friend. Karen attempts a gracious noncommittal brush-off, totally unnoticed by Lucy who then invites Karen to her home for a party.

Fearing that she might lose her connection to her pusher, Karen attends the party only to find that the guests are other habitués from the coffee shop, sitting in an awkward semicircle - hostage to their love of coffee and croissants. New characters are introduced: Roald Raldgold (Mikal Saint George), a children’s book author with a fatwa on his head, and his studly Secret Service Agent Sean Collins (Greg Vorob). The plot thickens when Sean asks Karen for a date. A jealous Lucy insists on coming along and by threats of denied access to the coffee shop, talks the unfortunate Nathan (Kristian Leavy) into being her date. Roald, not wanting to stay home alone and totally unwilling to lose face by being seen in public without a Secret Service detail, insists on going along and coerces Karen’s friend Stacy (Phyllis Sanfiorenzo) into being his date. The scene culminates in a triple date to a supper club, where the play comes to a violent climax.

Emily King directed the play with a light hand. Most of the lines were delivered dead-pan, heightening the humor of the ridiculous situations. The lighting and sets were minimal but very skillfully done and the music helped set the sophisticated yet jaded tone of the show. Mikal Saint George was urbane, sardonic and paranoid as Roald. He stole his every scene. Joan Ryan (Karen) and Lucy (Audrey Sawaya) skillfully carried the plot of the play with their totally believable developing relationship. They were hysterically funny in their final scene at the police station.

The play speaks to many universal truths. How many of us have life long friends whom we did not like when we first met them? And how many New Yorkers, living in the vastness of this city, have managed to make our lives so small that being denied access to our favorite coffee bar or restaurant would motivate us to go to amazing lengths to restore that access? We become rats who, after finding a route to a food source, will continuously run that route until someone removes our cheese.

The play is double cast. I saw the very talented Cast Rouge with Peter Glismann as Sal/Mullany, Kristian Leavy as Nathan, Alberto Rey as Alfred/Waiter, Jeremy Rosen as Mark, Karen Rousso as Courtney, Joan Ryan as Karen, Phyllis Safiorenzo as Stacy, Audrey Sawaya as Lucy, Mikal Saint George as Roald Raldgold, and Greg Vorob as Sean Collins.




Alex Ladd’s
Chekov’s Rifle
September 2003
Greenwich Street Theater
Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

“If a gun hangs from the wall in the first act of a play, it must fire in the last.”

--- Anton Chekhov

Chekhov's Rifle, written by Alex Ladd and directed by Nolan Haims, is a fun- filled literary romp set in the world of failed actors and writers who populate Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Rifle spoofs both literary conventions and literary icons, moving from Hamlet to Hemingway and from Dostoyevsky to The New Yorker. The play is self-aware, even turning on itself, with one very funny segment where a newspaper reviewer criticizes Harry Trollope, the playwright character (skillfully played by Austin Pendleton) for writing flaws, which are then cleverly incorporated into Rifle.

Rifle is a spoof of a story, centering on Trollope, a sad sack of a playwright, and his roommate, Tim (played by the very charming Craig Bachmann), an actor who is blissfully unaware of his inadequacies. Harry has recently purchased Anton Chekov’s rifle and hung it in the living room as a reminder not to include anything in his scripts that does not pay off in the end. One night, Harry (in a fit of rage against a cruel, unappreciative world) writes a “commercial” script, which he contemptuously throws in the trash in front of Tim. Tim retrieves the script and proceeds to pass it off as his own to his acting agent. Tim’s agent (comically played by George Morafetis) is thrilled. He now has a “product,” a script written by a hot-looking author that he can sell to the media.

The plot thickens when the detective, played by Jess Osuna, arrives to investigate a shooting (true to the maxim - the rifle does go off). Mr. Ladd wrote incredible dialogue for the detective. And all those lines are very deftly delivered by the very talented Mr. Osuna, as he solves the “mystery” and brings the play to its conclusion.

One of the criticisms in the play’s aforementioned newspaper review is that Trollope cannot create strong female characters. This criticism becomes a joke incorporated in the script by Mr. Ladd in that all the female characters are stereotypes. But these stereotypes are played beautifully and to great comic advantage by Veronico Bero (the nude girlfriend), Bridget Flanery (the angry girlfriend) and Dawn McGee (the repressed writer from the New Yorker and a participant in Tim’s threesome at the beginning of the play).

The director, Nolan Haims, did a great job with both the actors and the script. Austin Pendleton is hysterical as the failed playwright and Craig Buchman exhibits great comic timing playing the dimwitted actor whose literary aspirations are fulfilled by the purchase of a black turtleneck.

Mr. Ladd has written a very funny play and anyone who has tried to write, act (or read, for that matter) will have a great time watching it. Rifle makes you both laugh and think. I left there feeling a bit like Tim: Just what was that about the ax in Crime and Punishment and does anyone know I don’t know?



 

Betty Shamieh's
CHOCOLATE IN HEAT
Growing Up Arab in America
September 2003
The Tank

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Chocolate is a metaphor for desire, but like most sex, chocolate can be bittersweet. In Chocolate in Heat, written by Betty Shamieh and directed by Sam Gold, the desire for chocolate is a theme that unites the various stories about young Arabs trying to find their way in America, wanting to fit in but being confronted with the fact that they are different. As Ms. Shamieh’s character says in one of her monologues, “She called me a sand nigger.”

Betty Shamieh has written her play as a series of monologues - stories about the lives of young Arabs in America. Ms. Shamieh performs the female roles and Piter Fattouche the male ones. Each monologue skillfully segues to the next with champagne toast.

Some of the monologues are extremely compelling, especially Ms. Shamieh’s story about the little girl who defies her mother to go to a liquor store to buy a chocolate bar and Mr. Fattouche’s portrayal of both the nephew of the lecherous liquor store owner and a Jordanian prince who thinks his father may have murdered his mother. Ms. Shamieh’s story of the teenager who has an epiphany in a dance class taught by an illiterate black man, while beautifully told, seemed to drag just a little in coming to its conclusion.

The writing is beautiful and poetic and Ms. Shamieh was convincing in her various roles and moved beautifully in her dance numbers. Mr. Fattouche was a wonderful choice for the male roles; he has amazing comic timing and was totally believable in all his stories. The direction by Mr. Gold was seamless and everything moved smoothly, like the working of a clock.

 


Ronald Rand's
"CLURMAN"
November 2003
Where Eagles Dare Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Living in New York provides endless possibilities to an artist – it is a city where anything both can and frequently does happen. Clurman, a one man show written/ acted by Ronald Rand and directed by Gregory Abels, tells the story of the legendary director, Harold Clurman, a “right” man who was in the right place at the right time. And oh the things he saw and the people he met.

There are many reasons to go to the theater and one is to learn. Clurman, the play, is chockfull of theatrical history and intimate stories about theatrical icons. Ronald Rand recounts Harold Clurman’s life from his beginnings on the Lower East Side, through his schools years at the Sorbonne in Paris (where he was Aaron Copeland’s roommate) onto his legendary association with the Group Theater and his subsequent success as a director. Some of the most fascinating anecdotes in the play came from Mr. Clurman’s association with the Group Theater, where he worked with Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Franchot Tone, Stella Adler, Marlon Brando and Clifford Odets.

Clurman, the play, is obviously a work of love for Mr. Rand. He has done extensive research into Mr. Clurman’s life and produced a theatrical evening that is not to be missed for the history lesson alone. Even the program is filled with details of Mr. Clurman’s life. Mr. Rand is very comfortable with the character and moves well on the stage. He has, however, written a much funnier script than he is delivering and would benefit from looking over his script and finding the many jokes and working on a change in delivery. Time after time I would hear something and think boy that would really have been funny if he had changed his timing just a little and delivered his asides as asides.

Mr. Abels did a fine job directing the show. The lighting and sound, while very simple, were effectively done. Where Eagles Dare is a charming space, a little jewel the newly hot “garment center” theatrical district.



 

Joy Gregory's
DEAR CHARLOTTE
August 2003
Our Lady of Pompei Church/Studio 3-B

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Dear Charlotte, written by Joy Gregory and directed by Anthony Byrnes, is the story of Charlotte Bronte, the Yorkshire parson’s daughter who wrote Jane Eyre. The show is being presented by the Powerhouse Theater Company which has traveled all the way from the City of Los Angeles to present the play in New York at the Fringe Festival. And as a resident of the City of New York I would like to say thank you.

The play tells the story of Charlotte Bronte and her life as one of six children (five daughters and one son). The drama portrays the death of Charlotte’s mother, two of her sisters and finally her brother. Watching the story of Charlotte Bronte’s life, it is easy to see many parallels between her life and the story of her heroine, Jane Eyre. Charlotte lost two sisters to disease while they were students at a draconian boarding school, and she suffered exquisite rejection from a distant father. It is no surprise that when she wrote the story of her alter ego, Jane, Jane was an orphan. Moreover, from the tragic life endured by the children of the Bronte family came two incredible English novelists, Charlotte and Emily Bronte.

Dear Charlotte is more of a history lesson than an actual play. The play religiously portrays the life of Ms. Bronte and the many conflicts she faced, but does not focus on any one playable conflict or question. And there were many such playable conflicts in Charlotte Bronte’s life - questions that are mentioned but not fully explored that could have supplied a major conflict to the piece. One potential conflict could involve Charlotte’s teacher in Belgium, Monsieur Heger - telling her to be true in her writing and to discard beauty in favor of what is true - and the affect this had on her later writing when she became determined to write about a heroine as plain as she herself. Another interesting them to explore would be the difference in the passion and sexuality levels of Charlotte’s heroine, the repressed Jane of Jane Eyre and her sister Emily’s more passionate Catherine of Wuthering Heights. How did two sisters from the same family came to fantasize about men so wildly different as Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff? Most interesting of all is the repressed sexuality that is evidenced in Charlotte’s disdain of possible suitors and her heroine Jane’s attraction to the unapproachable Mr. Rochester. And last, but not mentioned in Dear Charlotte, what did the crazy wife locked in the attic really represent to Charlotte, and what about the havoc that ensued when the mad Bertha Rochester was let out of her cage?

Ms Gregory’s writing is beautiful and poetic. The Director, Anthony Byrnes, did a great job presenting the play in a gymnasium, his precise staging easily compensating for the lack of a set or back stage. The actors did a wonderful job portraying character and script, and were especially touching during the acappella singing of the hymns. Kim Weild was a poignant and believable Charlotte. The afternoon I was there, the audience appeared to be a large crowd of academics or Bronte “groupies” who were extremely appreciative of the show.

The Cast includes: Robert Patrick Brink, Peggy Flood , Mandy Freund , David LM McIntyre, Rebecca Rasmussen, Amber Skalski, Brian Stanton, Tina Van Berckelaer and Kim Weild as Charlotte Bronte. Production Team includes: Executive Producer - Director Andrew Barrett-Weiss, additional direction Anthony Byrnes, Choreographer Kim Weild, Costume Designer Molly Dewane, Sound Designer Cricket Myers, Assistant Stage Manager Mike Kindle, and Producers Steve Tanner and Tess Skorczewski.



Mark Spitz's
Gravity Always Wins
Here Arts Center
August 2003

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Gravity Always Wins, written by Mark Spitz and directed by Jonathan Lisecki, is a surreal “hyperfarce”, chock full of pop cultural references. The writer had great fun writing it, the cast is having fun performing it and you will have fun watching it.

“Gravity” is the story of the dysfunctional Williams family (no relation to the reviewer) and their various neuroses. The family consists of the father, Mort (played by Philip Littell), a man who has reacted to the bolting of his wife Mary (played by Valerie Clift), by developing a Michael Jackson affixation and a crush on Becky (also played by Valerie Clift), the five-year-old daughter of his golfing partner. Mort has two sons. The first son, Clay (played by Brian Reilly), has a French girlfriend named Emma (played by Alexandra Oliver), who is determined to abort the “black thing” she has growing inside her. The second son, Scotty (Lisecki himself), is an agoraphobic aspiring film maker who stays closeted in his room, obsessed with watching porn films starring Gary (played by Andersen Gabrych). Scotty has made Gary his imaginary friend and is determined to save him from the poor dialogue in skin flicks. The other characters are all played by Zeke Farrow. Farrow is great fun to watch playing “The Man” in many incarnations: a policeman; Becky’s father; and a hilarious turn as a marriage counselor, a dead ringer for Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live.

“Gravity” is written more in the style of a television show than a play, with many blackouts for scene changes. However, during these blackouts, a small light is kept on at the front of the stage and various actors stand in the light and dance, dangle a fake mouse, etc., etc., to keep the audience entertained.

Director Lysecki wisely chose to let the script supply the outrageousness and kept his cast solidly grounded in reality. They delivered the more outrageous lines deadpan, heightening the absurdity by contrast. All of the cast gave solid comic performances. Of special note was Alexandra Oliver’s portrayal of the French girl, Emma. She gave an insane energy to her every scene. Oliver portrayed Emma’s desire to have an abortion in such a wacked-out fashion that she was able to leech out the ick factor from the subject matter. Anderson Gabrych stole his every scene as Scotty, the gay porn star. He was a great sight gag simply standing on stage. And Director Lysecki himself gave a very solid performance as the sad sack Scotty.



Ronald Ribman's Obie-Award winning play
The Journey of the Fifth Horse
September 2003
The Access Theatre

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

The Journey of the Fifth Horse, written by Ronald Ribman and directed by Lise McDermott, tells the story of two men in 19th century Russia – one living in total despair and the other dying in total despair, leaving a diary to tell of his sad life.

Smatter Theater Company has undertaken a huge task in producing Journey. First there is the subject matter. Journey is based on a short story by Ivan Turgenev and in somewhat typical Russian period style, is filled with tragedy, endless tragedy actually since Journey runs about two and a half hours. And it is playing at the Access Theater - a humorous choice of name since the “Access” Theater is on the fifth story of a walk up former factory, where floors are measured generously.

The first story is about Zoditch, played by Dan Patrick Brady, who works as a reader at a publishing house where the owner has recently died. Two peasants try to persuade him to buy a book, The Dairy of a Superfluous Man, written by their own recently deceased master, Nikolai Alexeevich Chulkaturin. Zoditch has no desire to do so but is ordered to by one of the new powers-to-be at the publishing firm. Most of the first hour and a half of the show is about Zoditch’s life at his rooming house, where he is now forced to read the diary. We see his slatternly landlady, listen to numerous dogs bark, see the unsympathetic Zoditch being importuned by his fellow tenants to help them get more fuel in the unbearable cold and watch Zoditch’s fantasies about the daughter of the recently deceased owner. Mr. Brady did a fine job portraying Zoditch, but it was hard to feel empathy for a character who was written, directed and portrayed so full of self pity.

But then in the last hour, the play changes and becomes wonderful when Zoditch reaches the part of the dairy where the diarist Chulkaturin, played by Ledger Free, tells about the unrequited love of his life. Mr. Free play his character with uncanny beauty – resembling a Christ figure in purity. Chulkaturin falls in love with the sister of a college friend and wishes to marry her. But Culkaturin is so unworldly and unsophisticated (the kind of man no one sees or needs – a fifth horse) that she rejects him for an unworthy rival. Even after being left pregnant by this rival, she would rather marry anyone else than be rescued by Chulkaturin. Throughout all this unending tragedy, Mr. Free plays his every scene with a light of truth and beauty. But in this story it is a light that will illuminate no one. Chulkaturin dies in tragedy and his reader Zoditch, terribly moved by the story and desiring to change his life, only meets with more rejection. By emotionally connecting with the dead man through his written words, he has been shown the futility of his own life and is left only with the aching truth that even though both he and Chuulkaturin were never to be loved, they could still chose to love.

The director did a fine job with the script and the setting. Costumes and lights were done beautifully, especially considering how much trouble it must have been to bring everything up the stairs. The very talented cast includes: Dan Patrick Brady, Denise Dimirjian, Jonas Wadler, Duke York, Kim Clay, Eric Dente, Ledger Free, Fran Barkan, Lou Tally, Michael Boothroyd, Diedre Brennan, Jennifer J. Katz, Daniel Hicks and Robin Goldsmith. And everyone involved must have done it for love, a good thing to inspire you on as you trudge up the stairs.



 


Israel Horovitz's
Line
Fridays & Saturdays at 9:30 pm.
13th Street Repertory Company

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams


Line, written by Israel Horovitz and directed by Edith O'Hara, is a blast from the past, a 1960's piece of Experimental Theater that is still up and running 29 years later. 13th Street Rep advertises Line as the longest running off-off-Broadway play and with the average shelf life of off-off-Broadway, there is no need to do research to verify that claim. The play is an absurdist comedy about five characters waiting in line, seemingly with no apparent purpose, other then to be first in line. They jostle, resort to trickery and trade sexual favors, all in their drive to be first... that is first at the top of a line marked only by a two foot piece of masking tape.

Line is full of great "lines" and 13th Street Rep does a fine job of keeping it fresh. The show begins with Fleming, an ardent baseball fan/player, who has arrived early to be first in line. He is soon joined by Stephen, who slept a little later, and is now prepared to make up for lost time by tricking his way to the head of the line. They are then joined by: Dolan, a self- professed but not regarded "nice guy"; Molly, a hoot of an Irish slut, who is not adverse to "tricking" her way to the top of the line; and Molly's cuckolded husband, Arnall.

All of the actors gave outstanding performances. Gladys Murphy-Ryan was captivating as Molly, the Irish slut. She oozed sexuality with a decidedly feminist twist. Blake Catherwood gave a very subtle heartfelt performance as the cuckolded husband, Arnall, and Mikal Saint George gave a raw edge to his characterization of the pugnacious "nice guy", Dolan. The action of the play really took off after Saint George's entrance; he ignited the fire and started the pot boiling. Brad Holbrook as Fleming, the baseball guy, and Jesse Shafer as the Mozart- loving kid, rounded out a very solid, talented cast. Director Edith O'Hara continues to do a great job, shepherding the play through its third decade. Open run. Tickets $15 (seniors, students with ID - $10). www.theatermania.com or 212-352-0255.



 


Carl Wallnau's
"Mary Todd... A Woman Apart"
May 2003
Samuel Beckett Theatre

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

The New Jersey's Centenary Stage Company has brought a one woman show to Off-Broadway based on the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. The show was written by Carl Wallnau for his wife Colleen Smith Wallnau. Mr Wallnau also directs. Mrs. Wallnau portrays Mrs. Lincoln as an unstable, peevish and paranoid personality. Mrs. Wallnau’s characterization of Mrs. Lincoln is so flawlessly done one could easily believe that Mrs. Lincoln herself had appeared through the medium of one of her beloved séances. The play is like a visit to an unhappy older relative, but one who was married to the President of the United States, lived through the Civil War and has stories to tell. And Mrs. Lincoln would be an older relative who had endured unbelievable tragedy in the loss of her husband and three of her sons.

Mary Todd… A Woman Apart is more of a reenacted history lesson then an actual play. One of the problems with a one person show is that there are no other actors on stage to engage in conflict and so the lone performer is forced to relate past conflicts. The story is told in many flash backs from the time of Mrs Lincoln’s commitment to a mental hospital. The set is changed by two actresses (Desiree Fitzgerald and Cynthia Cicmansky) dressed in nurses uniforms. They move the flats and two trunks in what appears to be a random manner with no interaction with Mrs. Lincoln, perhaps an allusion to the instability of a mental hospital.

The lighting is moody and the background music was charming – mostly period marching band music. The stage set and Mrs Wallnau’s costumes were beautifully done and the new Samuel Beckett Theater is an absolute delight to visit.



August Strinderg's
Miss Julie
Common Basis Theater
August 2003

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Miss Julie, written by August Strindberg and directed by Daniel Cohen, is the story of a young woman from an aristocratic background who has an affair with her valet. Julie Saad of Blush Productions has adapted the original play and set it in New York on a present day July the 4th. Ms. Saad also stars in the lead role of Miss Julie.

Miss Julie is filled with such strong language and sexuality that it was banned in Sweden in 1888. The play is about sex and what happens when you break a taboo and open Pandora’s Box. This production, as presented by Blush Productions, sets the story in modern times and the heroine is now the disaffected daughter of a Hollywood film director whose engagement has recently been “broken.” Restless and filled with sexual longing, she visits the kitchen of her apartment on a hot Fourth of July to get herself something a “little strange.”

Julie Saad as Miss Julie and Bryen Luethy as her valet John are believable as mistress and servant and Jamie Askew does a fine job portraying the loyal cook and John’s girlfriend, Christine. Saad and Luethy, however, lack chemistry as a couple and fail to ignite the spark necessary to show this audience member why an aristocratic woman would fall for the valet ala Lady Chatterly’s Lover. We never see the attraction that would propel Miss Julie to risk everything to have sex with her valet. This is even true in their partially nude sex scene; even then there is little sexual frenzy. Ms. Askew seemed much more the sexual predator in a bit part as she portrayed a party guest in search of a photo op. She strode across the stage with a raw display of sexual power.

After Julie and John are discovered flagrante delicto, Saad and Luethy are much more believable as former lovers who, filled with recriminations, desire to place blame on one another. John immediately views his now uncovered assignation as a way to advance himself socially and financially, and has no interest in doing anything to comfort the now distraught Julie. Julie, desperate to be rescued, is forced to realize that she has aligned herself with a very unworthy ally, who in the end neither can nor will do anything to help her.

The set is an ultra-modern kitchen with two scrims in the background that are cleverly used as windows to the rest of the house. The Director, Daniel Cohen, did a fine job with the direction and staging. Now if he could just convince his main characters to play the sex in the script and ignite a fire onstage, he has all the ingredients of a very hot play. So stay tuned, this party may just now be starting to roll.



 


Lenora Champagne’s
MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER
Thursdays - Saturday at 8 PM
Sunday at 5 PM
Feb 6th-22nd.
Ohio Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Soho Think Tank’s production of Mother’s Little Helper, written and performed by Lenora Champagne and directed by STT Artistic Director Robert Lyons, is a charming, entertaining evening with just enough detours into the dark side to keep the audience thinking. And it is always great to see anything at the Ohio Theater, with their consistently cool productions and great lighting (accolades to Tyler Micoleau). Artistic Director Robert Lyons really has his act together.

New York has always been populated by self selected transplants, people who in infancy took one look at their crib and their parents and thought oops, how long is it going to be before I can find out about New York and get the hell out of here? Ms. Champagne is one of these immigrants; raised in a Cajun Catholic Louisiana family, she adds a unique spice to New York’s cultural soup.

The Mother’s Little Helper in the title is a reference to a booklet Ms. Champagne's mother was given to explain the mysteries of life to her daughter Lenora. Ms. Champagne skillfully weaves snippets from this unintentionally funny book into her stories about living in New York after 9/11, and her attempts to educate her own pre-adolescent daughter into the new and horrifying “mysteries of life.” She also delivers a cultural weather report on the chilling effect that the present Republican administration is having on the rights of women everywhere. But even though she is addressing very serious subject matter, Ms. Champagne is a very funny storyteller with great comic timing and the generosity of spirit to see the humor in her own eccentricity. Ms. Champagne also tells great Cajun jokes.



Robert Lyon's
no meat no irony
September 2003
Ohio Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

No meat no irony, written and directed by Soho Think Tank artistic director Robert Lyons, is a farcical story about a business meeting that culminates in a one night stand between an Upper Eastside bred vegetarian CEO and a business writer with a blue collar background.

One of the functions of any play is to answer the Passover question – why is this night different from all other nights? Well, a lot happens in no meat no irony. Everyone is very busy. First, Ken Bonsal, the business writer played by Jeremy Brisiel, arrives at the office of Robin Carter, played by Celia Schaefer, with a business proposition. Ken wants to co-write an inspirational business guide book about Robin’s rise to fame as the head of an organic yogurt company named Robin’s Egg. Robin, however, has other ideas. She is taken by the idea of a book but wants it to be an expose of how her father has exploited both her and the marketplace by his brutal commercialization of her business. Throughout the night, Ken and Robin spar back and forth about vegetarianism and McDonalds, worker exploitation and boot-strap entrepreneurship, gun control and Charlton Heston, and what it means to be a father and a daughter. During all this talk, they also partake of green tea, take out food, wine, marijuana and sex. And by morning, much has happened and they have reached a compromise on their positions, but their passions are still where they were when the play began – perhaps a night of many passovers and many questions.

The play was skillfully directed by Mr. Lyons and his assistant director. Melissa Morris. The set changes were marvels: the characters changed their clothes as well as the set in the darkness, with just enough light for the audience to follow the story. One particular charming bit was the unnamed actress/stage-hand who changed the clock settings. She was a scream, moving the hands on the clock ever so carefully. The set by David Evans Morris was gorgeous – a soaring modern loft which looked stunning in the Ohio Theater space. The lights design by Tyler Micoleau totally complemented the beautiful set, making it look cool and sexy. And Peter Clark deserves some kind of award for his original music.



 

Kirk Lynn's
Pale Idiot
The Greenwich Street Theater
August 2003

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Pale Idiot, written by Kirk Lynn and directed by Laramie Dennis and with music by Tim Robert, is a Shaggy Dog story about a town that has an idiot problem and has been quarantined until the “Health Inspector” can determine the extent of the problem. The story is billed as an absurdist dark comedy, but the story is more quirky than funny.

The town has a presumed Idiot (played by Roxy Becker), a vagabond dressed in filthy clothing, who sits in the square spouting nonsensical stories. The Health Inspector (played by Ehren Christian), however, insists on testing everyone else in town: The Altar Boy (played by Shawn Fagan); the Mayor’s Assistant (played by Travis York); The Mother’s Maid (played by Lisa Loutit); and the Blacksmith’s Apprentice (played by Michael Braun).

And here comes the Shaggy Dog part: The Health Inspector insists on applying the Idiot Test to each person in town except the Idiot. And each time he performs the test, we learn nothing new - nothing about the characters, just some clever word play. This premise is simply not enough to sustain an hour and fifteen minute play. Nothing much happens and the Idiot Test becomes filler between the opening question of “Who is the Idiot?” and the final punch line.

In the notes it said that Idiot was one of Mr. Lynn’s earlier scripts and that he had not looked at it since 1996 and had since gone on to write other acclaimed scripts. And the seeds of such talent are certainly shown in his Idiot script. The cast was very talented and did the best they could with the material. Of special note were Ehren Christian, who exhibited enormous zany energy as the Inspector and Michael Braun, who had great comic timing as the Blacksmith’s Apprentice. The lighting was minimal (it was the Fringe), but the cast had great costumes (Maggie Dick) and the set (J. W. Larkin), though also minimal, was a good choice. The original music was fine but both Mr. Christian and Ms. Becker would be prudent not to sing in their next production.


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William Shakespeares's
Pericles
May 2003
45 Below

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

There is a reason why we do not spend our summers sitting in the park, watching William Shakespeare’s Pericles. Pericles is one of Shakespeare’s more difficult and understandably obscure plays. It is an adventure story where everything goes terribly wrong, rivaling The Book of Job in calamity. And since so many of the plot twists and turns are arbitrary acts of God, even the most classically trained theater companies and actors would find them difficult to portray. There is one scene at the end of the play where Pericles and his daughter are reunited after many years (he had left her with strangers when she was a baby). Prior to this scene and with no explanation for the delay, Pericles had begun a search for his now-grown daughter, only to discover she was supposedly dead. Then when finally reunited, they instantaneously burst into tears, as fine an example of sense-memory-to-the-rescue as I have ever seen.

But, the Red Bull Theater has managed to confront all these obstacles and present Pericles in an audience-friendly manner, all the while having a great deal of fun. The cast is chock-full of talented actors who, by their thorough understanding of the script, bring the story to us. There are puppets, sea storms (many), jousting tournaments, dancing, singing and sound - all skillfully done. Daniel Breaker was outstanding as Pericles as was Margot White, who played many characters, including Pericles’ daughter. A-men Rasheed managed to steal his every scene as did Raphael Nash Thompson, who made a commanding impression as the storyteller poet. The director, Jesse Berger, has every reason to be proud of his show.



 


Sergio Cacciotti’s
“Quitters”
Tuesday through Saturday at 8PM
Sunday at 3PM
February 2004
Irish Arts Center

“The Great American Smoke Out”

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Yankee Rep’s production of Quitters, written by Sergio Cacciotti and directed by Chris McGinn is a hoot of a story about two slackers who attempt to quit smoking. What starts as a pot induced bet escalates into an all out war as a withdrawal induced paranoia sets in.

Jake, skillfully played by the playwright Sergio Cacciotti, and John, played by the equally talented Jon Hemingway, spar, spat and spy on each other in a desperate attempt to win the bet by forcing the other to give in to the siren call of the killer weed. They are totally believable as the suffering combatants and exhibit great energy as they drive the story to its bitter end.

The supporting cast consists of Jake’s put-upon girlfriend Maria, the talented and funny Michelle Marlowe and the The Grim Reaper, played with a spirit of fun by Karl Itzkowitz. Mr. Cacciotti has written a very funny tight play and Chris McGinn did a great job directing it.



Steven Thornburg's
SECRETS NAKED DANCERS TELL
Summer 2003
Wings Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

It is always good to see naked men at play and here is your chance. Secrets features scantily clad men dancing and performing monologues – giving the audience a guilt free visit to a gay strip club in the mode of “Oh no, I always read Playboy for the articles, not the photographs.”

Secrets Naked Dancers Tell, written by Steve Thornburg and directed by Frank Calo, is a cross between an afternoon in gay strip club and a documentary. The basic premise centers on a stage full of male strippers who tell the audience about their lives while slowly peeling off their outer garments, revealing both their bodies and their psyches, like layers of an onion.

Secrets is not a traditional play. There is no conflict except for the personal conflicts related by each dancer as he tells a little about his life. The dancers actually do very little dancing, just some gyrating to background music. It’s a visit to a strip club where the dancers are tired and in the mood to dish.

The set is minimal; the mood is set by the lighting and by the dancers themselves. The afternoon I was there, there was a nice crowd of men so the show has found a good core audience. Both Thornburg and Calo have shown both a lot of talent and a lot of love, bringing this show from empty page to full production.

Secrets Stars: Susan Bucci as Joey’s Mom, Brendan Burke as the Doctor, Alexander Da Silva as Papi, Clay Drinko as a Wing Dancer, Anthony Fusco as the Dude, D. R. Hanson as Jamesie, Scott James as Bobby, Amir Levi as Joey, Orlando as a Wing Dancer and Terrence Precord as the Cowboy.

And yes, you will get a good view of everyone, except of course, Joey’s Mom and the writer and director, who were too busy running the booth and producing the show to toss their kilts. But seeing their devotion to their art, you could ask and they would probably agree. And that is why you were reading this review in the first place, isn’t it? So bring on the dancers and let the show go on!!!



 

The Queen's Company Presents
The Accidental Activist
May 2003
Connelly Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Watching Kathryn Blume perform her one person show, The Accidental Activist, is like spending a charming evening with an old college chum, the one who never stopped being a hippie and is still true to her ideals. And here she is at the renovated Connelly Theater, bringing the spirit of the old East Village to the new East Village.

It seems strange to describe an antiwar activist as adorable, but Kathryn Blume is just that as she tells us the story of how she was so enraged by the coming war in Iraq that she (with cofounder Sharron Bower) organized the Lysistrata Project. On March 3, 2003, after two months of grass roots organizing, there were over 1000 readings of Lysistrata (an Ancient Greek anti-war comedy) in 50 different countries and 50 states, raising over $100,000 for peace-oriented charities.

Alternating between anecdotes from her own struggle to make it as an actress in New York City and the story of her “accidental activism”, Blume never fails to entertain. The show is skillfully directed by Michaela Hall and utterly appropriate and amusing music and sound are supplied “onstage” by Eliza Ladd.



Aphra Behn's
The Lucky Chance
May 2003
The Connelly Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

The Queens Company proudly bills itself as All Female - All the Time - No Apologies! And no apologies are needed for their production of the Restoration Comedy, The Lucky Chance by Aphra Behn. Aphra Behn called on the "little gods of love for aid" and the Queens Company has heeded her call and produced her play with their love of the project showing in the skillful casting, directing, lighting and sound. This play is like a trip to a museum, letting us see period London through the eyes of a woman playwright, getting to know her and her time through the story she tells us.

Virginia Woolf wrote, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds." Aphra Bern (1640-1689) worked as a spy for the English government who then thanked her by throwing her into debtor's prison, many times by some accounts. During her career she supported herself as a novelist and a playwright and was roundly criticized as a peddler of smut. Her love of smut, tame by modern standards, permeates the double entendres and compromising situations in The Lucky Chance.

The Lucky Chance is a farce with the typical mistaken identities and star-crossed lovers seen in the more familiar Shakespearean comedies. There are two sets of lovers who are cast apart, the women married to older men while their young lovers are thrown to the mercy of foul chance. And like many by Shakespeare, this is a long play, lasting just under two and a half hours.

The play was skillfully directed by Rebecca Patterson. The sound by Jane Shaw was pop rock, giving the play a contemporary feel that was enhanced by the moody lighting (Marissa Yoo) and minimalist set (Jeremy Woodward). DeAnn Weir served a double role, acting in the play as well as cleverly choreographing the many fight scenes. Wonderful costumes were created by Sarah Iams. Everyone was barefoot, a fun choice allowing the actors to execute the choreography without an unintended spill. And many devoted benefactors must have contributed to the production, given the $15 ticket price.

Valentina McKenzie is an absolute scream as the elderly lover Sir Feeble and her scenes with Ami Shukla (Letiticia) are some of the best in the show. Valentina McKenzie's Sir Feeble has a counterpart in Gisele Richardson's Sir Cautious; Ms. Richardson exhibited great comic timing portraying a second elderly lover. Virginia Baeta (Belmour), Dee Ann Weir (Gayman) and Shauna Miles (Bearjest) also stood out.


 

Sam Shepherd’s
True West
March 2004
The Bernie West Theatre at Baruch College

“Two Actresses take on Sam Shepherd’s True West”

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

There has been some controversy in the press about this show. It seems that Sam Shepherds agent, Judy Boals, has notified the producers that Mr. Shepherd intention was for this play for be cast with two men as the brothers. And Indigo Productions has instead cast two very talented women – Marlene Wallace as Lee and and Sarah Jackson as Austin.

Well, not to worry, all is saved. Indigo Production’s version of True West is in no way a feminized version of the story. Those girls have balls. In fact, this being New York, it is possible to get married, several times as a matter of fact, to men who are far less masculine than the characters these women are portraying. And you heard it here first.

Thomas G. Waites has directed a very true version of True West and once you are seated in the theater, the role-reversed casting becomes unnoticeable. The actresses are totally believable as two siblings, each of whom wants what the other has. And Mr. Shepherd has written a superb play, but we already knew that. The talented cast also features Charlie Moss as Saul and Mary A. Sarno as Mom. So go see True West, not because it’s a controversial show, but because it’s a good show.

 

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