Performing Arts: Theater
March 12, 2020
Part film part Broadway musical, Ivan van Hove’s gritty vision of West Side Story draws inspiration from America’s immigrant story: A burning desire to belong, to love and be loved.

The iconic overture floods the audience. Almost imperceptibly, a strip-of men claim their turf on the lip of the stage, commanding a hard-ass stance and glaring at the audience. Anticipated finger-snaps are eliminated and soon cameras zoom-in on the tattoos decorating bare body parts signifying the two warring tribes. No one smiles; this is serious business.

Hard urban, pounding steps shoot into flying kicks as jabs ripple from one dancer to another in an anarchic, physical roar. This is not Jerome Robbins’ beloved choreography it is an appropriation of today’s angst brought to you by the stripped-down, post modernist Flanders dancer/choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

In the leads, Maria’s (Shereen Pimentel) operatic voice effortlessly soars into the dark sky. Vocally, she’s exquisitely matched with her true love Tony (Isaac Powell). In contrast to the wistful Maria and Tony, Anita (Yesenia Ayala) and gang leader Bernardo (Amar Ramasar) vibrate with sexual heat.

Speaking of darkness, rather than the sun drenched playgrounds of the original, this version pushes into a state of nearly perpetual darkness -- in large part because of the projections. The animated set/visual design by Luke Halls works best in intimate spaces like the miniature sewing room in the back corner of the stage and Doc’s (Daniel Oreskes) Pharmacy.

Audience members peer into the dress shop’s open door, but don’t discern any detail until the camera zooms-in on the clothes popping with color draped everywhere, and populated by giddy women primping for the party. Because of the choreography’s expansiveness, the projections are more problematic when engaging with dancers.

Throughout the production, a videographer wanders around grabbing close-up bits and movements simultaneously projected on the screen -- rock ‘n roll concert style.

For many, “The Dance at the Gym” is pivotal to West Side Story; frequently performed as a “stand alone” dance, audiences anticipate this apocryphal meeting between the star-crossed lovers Tony and Anita. How did this version fare? Well, the choreography leans towards street dance mixed with Capoieria (martial arts) style kicks, but the wit evaporates in place of hard-lined couple stamps and harsh partnering.

This time, a woman referee (who does not mine the inherent wit of the situation) presides over the fraught community dance that pits hot Latin social dancing against cooler American jive. On the hot side, dancers dig into the ground, hips unlock and eyes grip the opposite sex. On the cool side, Riff’s peeps throw some strong acrobatic lifts that ultimately don’t read as sharply as the Sharks' propulsive beats.

A couple of the stand-out performers include the sharply lean Ramasar (formerly of NYC Ballet), his partner Pimentel --who definitely knows how to shake a ruffle -- plus Luis (Roman Cruz), an utterly steamy dancer who magnetizes the audience with his penetrating eyes and deeply grounded hip rumbles.

Another juncture where wit oils the lunacy of youthful rivalries occurs in the “Gee, Officer Krupke” number. This satiric ode to the beat officer loses its snarky “psychoanalytic” stance. Missing are the arm gestures, the vocal imitations and all-out goofiness.

Actually, humor is in very short supply in “America” and throughout the musical. No doubt this is serious business, but even in the bleakest of times, humor pokes out. Importantly, Van Hove along with post modern dance choreographer Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker sewed the movement into the text, so when the dances erupt the action appears organic to their turf.

In the end, who really belongs in America? When is it OK to romance your enemies’ women? Skin color certainly doesn’t divide these two camps. What does? Perhaps this West Side Story presents a microcosm of what’s happening daily on a larger scale throughout America.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 8, 2020
It may not be your next transcendent art experience, but it sure was all of the gaudy glamour that Broadway warrants. With rainbow color, laser bright lights, dance-breaks, and a love story thrown in, Emojiland surprised me with a hilariously entertaining show.

Taking place on the inside of the iPhone, the musical follows characters that are Emojis: Construction Worker, Police Officer, Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes (Smize), Smiling Face with Sunglasses (Sunny), Kissy Face, Skull, Princess, and Watch Guard. The set is designed of white boxes which transform based on various projections. Sometimes they take on the form of tropical apartment buildings, sometimes they light up into bright red or moody blue. Though the laser projections and mood setting tones can feel superfluous, it does its diligence by driving home the point of technology’s ability to influence environment.

The opening number introduces the audience to characters who smile, skip, and prance about their love of life, and how happy they are to live it. From the first number of this off Broadway production, directed by Thomas Caruso, I was left thinking “oh no, what have I just gotten myself into?”.

However, at the turn of the second song, the storyline begins to develop, and the longer the musical went on, the more it grew on me. Smize, the emoji programmed to love everything and never be sad, begs to cry and feels depressed. Sunny, the emoji who should be the shining one of the group, is the bully. What the emojis are programed to be on the outside, is the opposite of what they feel on the inside. Though it isn’t solely about self-examination, the musical makes subtly effective attempts at unmasking the overly positive portrayal of the self on media screens vs the underwhelming reality of “real life”.

The plot revolves around an update which brings new emojis into Emojiland. When the update introduces Nerdy Face, an overly smart all-knowing character, to Skull (an emoji who is obsessed with becoming death itself), he is manipulated into created a virus which un-programs emojis forever. With this imminent threat, Emoji’s must figure out how to save their home town. There are Trump wall-building parallels and perils, Lesbian love stories, and heterosexual affairs. There is also plenty of subpar dancing, and mediocre acting (though the vocals remained quite impressive). This musical really does have it all. I’ll spare you the ending, though ever so predictable, Emojiland was surprisingly hilariously and nothing if not an entertaining number.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY — Mia Silvestri

February 20, 2020
There are many good reasons to be made uncomfortable by a white man performing characters of color, and yet when it came to Dan Hoyle, it didn’t take long for me to let down my critical guard. The actor-playwright performs with such selflessness, his one-man show Border People feels like a string of spontaneous possessions.

A maker of “journalistic theatre,” Hoyle travels – a lot. Before deciding where to go, he sets an intention and researches it, going to where his intentions have the greatest contextual salience. Such integrity, as well as what can be assumed to be a fair amount of charm and listening prowess, have granted Hoyle the ability to visit spaces of passage and asylum. Even as an interloper, he has managed to find people with whom he is able to delve fully into their lives’ complexities, as well as to earn their consent to channel these experiences into characters.

Hoyle avoids verbal brownface by neither impersonating his subjects nor speaking a transcript of their conversations, but also not generalizing his subjects’ experiences into oblivion. What is ultimately written is a synthesis of a complete exchange, performed as one side of a conversation in which what is unheard is immaterial and yet key to unlocking a wealth of information from those conditioned to keep quiet – white privilege at its finest.

Bookending the piece is Officer Lopez, who, finding Hoyle in process, asks him what he’s doing on a known drug trafficking route. Other scenes take us to Canada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, Mexico, and the South Bronx’s Andrew Jackson Housing Project. In not only fixating on the Mexican-American border, we immediately understand Hoyle’s sense of border as transcending the physical, held instead by the marginalized, wherever they may go.

Common to many of these subjects is an often bleak sense of limbo. A young girl of Ghanian and Dominican descent is never Black or Spanish enough. A juice vendor must work diligently to seem worthy of approach to customers and yet not so fancy that his neighbors rob him. Islamic characters, whose nationalities are determined by whichever regime is in power overseas, are pressured just as well to leave the US for embodying that which they fled.

Hoyle’s thesis, therefore, broadens: we are human insofar as we defy our molds. The juice vendor elucidates the intricacies of code switching. A Mexican actor with HIV explains how his partner’s death led to the drug use that got him deported. A southwestern farmer tells of a migrant he once sheltered. Officer Lopez just so happens to be an aspiring standup comedian, and tries out some of his material on Hoyle who, until he bows, is on our side of the proscenium’s border.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

February 12, 2020
Well into Act 2 of Mark Saltzman’s Romeo and Bernadette, Tito Titone, fiancée to the latter titular character, is taking one of those pre-wedding dance lessons. The teacher is played, in drag, by Troy Rucker, dressed like an old Russian ballet mistress – all the more humorous given the additional disparity of skin color to gender expression.

Rucker’s character is teaching Titone the Cha Cha, and yet references her having been a principle dancer with Martha Graham. Titone, about to marry into a mob family, threatens her with a pistol to end the lesson, to which she pulls out a rifle, which “BELONGED TO MARTHA GRAHAMMM.”

Now, this is all happening in a vague 1960. It is certainly conceivable for someone who had danced with Graham at the beginning to be the general upper middle age Rucker has been directed into playing. I’m sure there were Graham dancers who could Cha Cha. She could just be a crazy New Yorker! At any rate, by the time we enter this level of thought, the play has long since ended.

This is the general modus operandi of Romeo and Bernadette – well-executed levity stemming from a thought experiment about which you must coach your brain to not think critically whatsoever: 1960 community theatre production of Romeo and Juliet happens.

In the audience is a couple; the girl, being emotional, is made emotional by the production, spoiling her desire to go home and make nookie with the boy. Wanting nookie, boy convinces girl that the story continues, spinning a tale of Romeo’s poison having been a sleeping potion from which he wakes up in 1960’s Verona, where Italian- American mob family the Penzas is on vacation.

Romeo is convinced, upon seeing their daughter, Bernadette, that she is Juliet. He follows them back to Brooklyn, but is taken in by warring mob family, the Del Cantos (sensing an analog yet?). Given that the show is written to be an improvised fib told by a desperate young man, the plot’s occasional lapses in logic are aesthetically excusable.

What I can’t stop thinking about is the casting of Rucker, who plays the role of “convenient brown person” in almost every scene – A theatre usher, a bellhop, an opera star, a southern minister who somehow ended up in Brooklyn, a gay flower shop owner, a female wedding dress designer, and the above mentioned Cha Cha teaching Graham alum.

Were these shallow bit parts written to be played by the same person? Did they think casting one black actor as many characters was a sensible alternative to actual diversity in casting an otherwise white story? I don’t suppose they intended for us to think too hard about that one, either.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

February 8, 2020
Two shots ring out. That act tosses the characters into a cauldron of suspicion poisoning the plot.

Creating a sensation when it debuted in 1981, Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play returns to the Roundabout Theatre. Sharply directed by Kenny Leon, it’s set in an army barracks based in the South in 1944, where the African-American battalion has seen little action overseas. However, the company baseball team is unstoppable.

When the detested black captain Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (David Alan Grier) is murdered, suspicion falls on the local Ku Klux Klan. The white captain (a wonderfully mercurial Jerry O’Connell) who presides over the whole barracks wants to bury the investigation but an African American lawyer, Captain Richard Davenport, newly (a fine Blair Underwood) assigned to the case upends the intended process.

Acapella blues songs and dance moves reminiscent of field hollers add a chilling, transporting dimension. All the physically fit men in the cast are such strong singers, movers and actors; it’s not difficult to believe they are all championship level baseball players.

After an expected standoff between the white and black captains, Davenport assumes full reign of the crime. One service man after another emerges to relay an alibi ending with a common refrain: everyone has a beef with Sgt. Vernon.

In intermittent flashbacks, Sgt. Vernon stomps the grounds, verbally and at times physically abusing his men – particularly anyone who suggests a “shuckin’ and jivin’ black stereotype.

Under the circumstances, Davenport struggles to retain objectivity and piece together the puzzle. Finally, the men confess to a tragic event that caused one of their brothers, the best hitter on the team and imminently likable Private C. J. Memphis, to hang himself.

Unable to stomach the remnant image of an uneducated, guitar-playing, blues-singing blackman, Grier confiscates Memphis’ beloved guitar and tosses him in solitary confinement. That proves fatal.

Kenny Leon’s steady hand guides the drama and skilled cast members -- expertly building up the drama until the final reveal.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

January 19, 2020
The Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater, now in its sixteenth year, presents new and cutting-edge work by a diverse, global group of artists that are redefining what theater can be. Selina Thompson’s salt. begins with her story of travelling from the U.K. to Ghana, then on to Jamaica and back, to experience the path of her enslaved ancestors -- but it evolves into much more than that: an intensely personal, sometimes disturbing journey of her own. Accounts of the African diaspora abound, yet this seventy-five-minute soliloquy uniquely penetrated our consciousness, slowly and masterfully weaving humor and grace with sobering anecdotes: from the smallest indignities to the outright violence that black people continue to face every day.

The spectacular Rochelle Rose presided over an altar-like table equipped with a mortar and pestle (and water bottle) staring proudly ahead like a priestess in a long, flowing white dress. A large neon-lit triangle hung above her, Cross-like as she observed us filing into the theater. Then right off the bat, she told us to wear the plastic safety glasses on our seats, whenever she wore hers.

A British accent inflected Rose’s reminiscences and gave us a sense of place. Each memory is alive, lively, and sometimes daunting, punctuated with an increasingly fiercely expressed mantra “Europe keeps pushing against me, and I push back.” From the shockingly racist mythology perpetuated by her grandmother’s British schoolteacher, to recently being accosted by a stranger with racist questions about black fatherhood, Rose kept us spellbound with her animated and magnetic presence as she peppered her stories with frank feelings, anxieties, joys and sorrows; her everyday lived experience writ large.

We watch her struggle to understand contemporary injustice, and we share in her pain. Through an intensely emotional series of repetitive verse that outlined a hierarchy of abusive Western power – from “the State,” to capitalism, to a ship’s master, to the crew, to herself and her companion, she attempted to divine the origins of evil. And with every line, she smashed a large chunk of salt with a hammer, again and again, struggling to make sense of the senseless chain.

Thompson’s writing traverses time past, present, and future, a complex symphonic layering of experiences where “time accumulates.” salt. is an exhilarating and exhausting piece of theater that more than compels empathy from the audience; it is art that touches hearts and minds.
For Eye on the Arts, NY – Nicole Duffy Robertson

January 14, 2020
Josh Fox released in 2010 a documentary GASLAND that won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and seemingly as many fans as enemies. Ten years later, this New York theatre director turned documentarian returned to New York to appear at The Public Theatre in his multi-media one man show The Truth Has Changed in the 2020 Under The Radar Series.

As a verbal showman, he has mastered the art of suspense, surprise, and nuance. He is mesmerizing as his voice rises and dips, he flips the lights, picks up a banjo, jumps on a table and pauses while a projection singes our nerves. But Fox isn’t here to entertain us. He reports the evils of fracking and its global repercussions to our health and climate change, along with the ocean of misinformation spread by white supremacists.

He outlines, with as much restrain as he can muster, the revenge of the gas and oil industry he experienced since 2010 and how methodical that backlash is. He holds the microphone out to the audience towards the close of the show, asking them what is stronger than fear? A few tentative voices say “Love” and “Hope,” almost wistfully.

He is haunted by the stories of his grandfathers. One bolted from Poland the night before the rest of his family were seized and taken to the gas chambers and the other took his life here in the United States. Did he dig his own grave by producing GASLAND? Are we all walking blindly in a world that is becoming a gas chamber? He convinces us of all the havoc fracking has caused and how apocalyptic the level of chemical pollution in our water, food and air, but also our hold on the truth.

But still he pushes on with an insatiable curiosity to know what is going on. He went down to investigate the damage done by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. A scientist confessed that BP had released a chemical to make the oil sink quickly out of sight, “killing everything on the seafloor for generations to come.”

Fox says that an order had been made to keep planes flying over the gulf above 3,000 feet. But he finagled the opportunity to see the difference in the view below and above 3,000 feet. Above 3,000 feet, the gulf seems to be in fine fettle; below 3,000 feet, he could see the oil hanging in the water like a tumor that spread for miles. Produced by International WOW Company and Nathan Lemoine, THE TRUTH HAS CHANGED changes its viewers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

January 11, 2020
In their production, Unmaking Toulouse-Lautrec, Bated Breath Theatre Company shares the dark story of the life of famed painter and poster maker Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Set in Paris in the late 1800’s, the interactive play follows along with Henri’s tragedies from aristocracy and great talent to alcoholism and homelessness.

“Bonjour chérie”! An actor giggles and waves patrons into the smoky, red lounge. Dressed in fishnet tights, bustiers, and colorful tutus the actors stretch, mingle, and saunter around the intimate setting mimicking a French salon. After getting a drink at the bar, patrons fill the red velvet couches and barstools as period music plays overhead. Without any prior warning, Toulouse-Lautrec stumbles into the space, trips onto a couch, and falls asleep. The girls laugh “Henri you’re drunk”, they giggle. He shouts back, “You should be drunk!” as he slumps back down onto the sofa.

This cues the beginning of the work as the rest of the cast enter into the small space, and begin to chronicle Toulouse-Lautrec's life in the form of a eulogy at his funeral. They describe how they met Toulouse-Lautrec, their relationship to him, and some highlights of his life. However, in many instances this form of story telling feels jumpy, inconclusive, and oddly biographical.

The audience learns that Toulouse-Lautrec's father and mother were first cousins, which is why he was born with a congenial birth defect. Weakness in his bones caused both legs to break and never heal properly inhibiting his movement for life. His disability forced him to be a social outcast.

Toulouse-Lautrec felt ashamed and depressed which led to alcoholism. His lack of mobility also led to his obsession with the human body- which is why the play places him most often at the infamous French brothels studying and sketching the women.

When Toulouse-Lautrec's fascination with the dirty and grotesque began to become well known, he was commissioned by the Moulin Rouge for illustrations and posters. The audience is told that today much of his work sells for multimillion dollars.

All this to say, this is the extent of the plot-line of the play. With brief interjections on his relationship with his mother and some women at the brothel, the plot feels under developed and unfinished. The bulk of the story is revealed to the audience by the actors as fact, instead of watching it play out in real time.

In many instances, the transitions between sections of information are filled with awkward dance breaks and choppy sing song story telling. Though the interaction with the audience was enjoyable, and the atmosphere made for the perfect collaboration, it felt as though the reliance on this environment compromised the need for the play to fully develop, leaving the audience members feeling somewhat confused.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

December 9, 2019
The house of BAM’s Harvey Theatre is indistinguishable from the stage as patrons flood in and walked around the set. Audience members sit in barber chairs for haircuts while actors introduce themselves and chat them up. From the moment you walk in to The Barbershop Chronicles it is clear that this is not a normal play- this is a community. Set across six different cities (five in Africa and London) on the same day, writer Inua Ellams and director Bijan Sheibani take their audience on a journey through barber shops around the world.

The set, created by Rae Smith, is minimally designed. At the center of the stage hangs an iron, neon globe which is used throughout the play to indicate the traveling shop locations. Transitions from shop to shop are achieved through riveting song and dance breaks which allude to the next setting. Arcing around the Chelsea v Barcelona world cup final, characters from different shops around the world connect through the day by watching the sporting event on TV.

Ellams and Sheibani know the expectations set by society on their black male cast. Instead of ignoring these stereotypes, they make the choice to open a conversation on being a black man in the modern world. On the surface, every shop conversation begins in light hearted, humorous banter. Sometimes there is talk over the game on TV, sometimes jokes break about someone’s appearance. No matter the starting banter, cutting hair becomes the facility for transition into deeper conversation.

Fatherhood is researched in an expression of tenderness that can only come from a place of longing. The barber/customer relationship in turn becomes a therapeutic way for men to speak openly about the complications of this familial relationship. Barbers and customers discuss politics, expectations, race, language, change, immigration, and culture. Other customers act as judge and jury in disputes, so that even when conflict arises, there is also resolution. The actors brilliantly locate fits of rage but also show soft moments of compassion. Old wise men find commonalities with young boisterous boys bridging a generational gap that can only be achieved between those four walls.

They say the barbershop is the place where “men come to be men”, but by the end of The Barbershop Chronicles it is the place where men can simply be.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

December 6, 2019
The nation’s major convening of performing artists, arts administrators, presenters, and producers, APAP (The Association of Performing Arts Professionals) storms NYC from January 10 -14. Thousands gather to network with colleagues, engage in professionally focused seminars and talks, view countless performances – many of which are free—and exchange ideas of acute relevance.

In 2020, the 63rd annual global conference opens on a plenary titled “The Power of Risk-Taking” featuring Kamilah Forbes (Executive Producer, Apollo Theater), Estelle Parsons (Academy award-winning actress) and Alice Sheppard (Dancer and Choreographer). Risk generates innovate arts, but risk also reduces opportunities in more conservative communities. That's why "risk" is a building block of any cooperative venture between artists and presenters.

Because the five-day intensive conference demands great reserves of energy, mornings and evenings will start with meditation sessions, mindfulness training and yoga sessions. This is all part of the new programming track: “R&R: Resiliency through Self-Care.”

One of the most coveted sessions is the APAP Annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon on January 13. This coveted event pauses to celebrate distinguished artists and organizations for their contributions to field. This year’s AWARD OF MERIT FOR ACHIEVEMENT IN THE PERFORMING ARTS honors Ping Chong, internationally acclaimed artist and pioneer in the use of media in theater.

Later in the day, APAP/NYC proudly announces its Young Performers Career Advancement Program spotlighting Jiii Kim, Hanzhi Wang, Invoke, Omar Quartet and the ivala Quartet at the Weil Recital Hall.

Besides on the performance workshops and events, there are a number of mini arts festivals scattered across the city like “Under the Radar” “globalFEST” among many other dance, jazz and performance events. For more information contact APAP
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

November 16, 2019
A gaping slot near the front of the dirt-strewn stage swallows one lifeless body after another in the Druid Company’s unsettling Richard III which appeared as part of this year’s White Light Festival.

Grippingly directed by Garry Hynes, she engages a great collaborator in the actor Aaron Monaghan. Bent to the side, perhaps so he can see others without notice, and stooped over two black canes that double as a cockroach manacles, he salivates over power and drools around ladies.

Richard III’s goal: to be king of England. After Henry VI dies, an ailing Edward IV is crowned. But Richard has plans that will not be denied. Swathed in black, this Svengali of the British monarchy is obsessed with power and unhesitant in his pursuit of the crown.

James F. Ingalls’ slats of light filters the smoky air of rot and disintegration trapped on Francis O’Connor’s dirt floor, grey pillars and most importantly, the skull of a king suspended in a lit cage. O’Connor’s costumes favor an Elizabethan-noir style that features lots of leather, spiky edges, and bulbous back ends for the females.

Strategically plotting each person’s fate, Richard (Monaghan) flatters his prey, and then blows them away. Instead of a handicap, Richard leans on his deformity as a shield of sympathy. Of course, what’s most unsettling is the way Monaghan breaches his prey’s ego with uncompromising flattery prior to their elimination.

Richard presides over an incessant whirlpool of intrigue and crime. Uncannily charming -- and almost a little too handsome-- Richard III is a master of the double entendre. First he quips pious platitudes, then tilts his head, allowing a smile to upend his lips before snarling the truth-of-the-matter. Skillfully adept at addressing the audience and immediately super-imposing himself back into the middle of the plot, Montague is an awe-inspiring Shakespearean interpreter.

Although the women do not figure prominently in Richard III, Hynes’ casts the bone-chilling Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen) as the soothsayer. The equivalent of Macbeth’s witches, Mullen crouches heavily over the earth, drawing Richard’s circle of life smaller, and smaller and smaller.

The whole cast is eloquent, totally at ease in their Shakespearean tempi, committed to deft articulation of the text and Hynes’ vision.

Uncannily echoing today’s political mayhem, Richard could not have succeeded in ruling over a morally poisonous reign without the willingness of high-ranking officials to whom he pledges loyalty only to dump them in the abyss.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 30, 2019
If someone approached you pleading for you to give up your life so that their children could be born, what would you do? Being a millennial, my newsfeed is often teeming with self-destructive jokes, so much so as to have prompted articles dissecting my age group’s dismal sense of humor to the point of it feeling as though my entire generation is on suicide watch.

It then follows that if there were ever a time to stage such a bleak bit of audience participation, it would be now, and Jenna Hoffman certainly delivers in her direction of Anna Jastrzembski’s stage adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “2BR02B,” The Happy Garden of Life. However, as largely millennial as my fellow spectators were, we are still New Yorkers after all. Being well versed in panhandlers, Brian Sanchez’s heart-rending performance of Ed Wexler’s desperation goes without response, and his story is able to continue towards its end as written.

The production productively dashes immersive expectations as though they were never set up in the first place. Convening in the lobby of the New Ohio Theatre, we are divided into groups. Customary for a piece meant to be performed on loop and/or in promenade, it merely brings us inside in order.

This is brilliant in a time when more and more performance claims to be immersive, isn’t, and never admits to it. Happy Garden poetically riffs on this petty aesthetic hypocrisy as politically analogous to the illusion of choice and makes it integral to its world-building.

In the New World Order, medicine has made death optional, but population control requires a death to make space for every birth. The World Preservation Party broadcasts propaganda encouraging citizens to sacrifice themselves, and yet has to force its convicts and debtors to be standby “volunteers.”

It is all the more poetic that, to a piece that so calculatingly breaks the fourth wall, we remain outsiders. Hoffman flips New Ohio’s layout, filling what is usually audience seating with Matthew Imhoff’s claustrophobic scenography – a raised, cinderblock cubicle just beyond an astroturf runway. Scenes, alternating between storyline, flashback, and live-action commercials are temporally sequenced, spatially broken up, and jarringly lit by Christina Tang in a way that structurally implodes the piece as the truth is more universally revealed.

With composer Emily Erickson, Assistant Director Yannik Encarnação, and her ensemble’s bold energies, Hoffman fashions a modular performance arena wherein actors can be both grotesque caricatures and deeply human, clearly shifting between the stylized mannerisms of who they have to be for the Party and who they really are.

This is precisely why we are here – to have this bird’s eye view overwhelmingly up close. The WPP is not the Trump Administration, as it is more a kind of socialism gone awry. What we can identify with, though, is the bewilderment of wondering how a population could ever achieve such a protestable reality.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

October 3, 2019
Little is known about the actual specifics of how Ancient Greek dramas unfolded on the amphitheaters of Ancient Greece. But the recent production of Shizuoka Performing Arts Center’s Antigone at the Park Avenue Armory is exhilarating due to its lucidity and quiet authority.

From the river of water flooding the stage, rock formations emerge reminiscent of Stonehenge or Isamu Noguchi’s set designs for Martha Graham’s Greek myth based works.

As the audience settles down in bleachers facing the long strip of stage, a ceremonial procession of performers in white robes and pants enter rubbing glass votives producing high-pitched thin rings.

Positioned at the lip of the stage in the middle of lie of actors, Maki Honda welcomes the audience and offers to brush up the audience’s memories of Sophocles’ famous tragedy Antigone. In a comedic riff, they provide a thumbnail overview of Antigone, exaggerating the central cast members’ characteristics. This funny introduction is reminiscent of the satyr plays that generally followed tragedies as a means of lifting the depressing mood.

Then the actors take their posts and the story begins. Despite women’s lack of rights in ancient times, on many occasions, it’s women who do the “right” thing in the face of moral dilemmas. They are fierce and determined as is Antigone. When her father Oedipus dies (remember, he accidentally married his mother, Jocasta) dies, both his sons engaged in battle for the crown of Thebes and die at each other’s hands. Uncle Creon assumes the reigns and decrees Antigone’s brother Eteocles will be buried with honors, but Polyneices (considered the traitor) will be splayed on the ground as food for the dogs.

This triggers Antigone’s moral crusade to bury her brother despite the king’s orders. In a nutshell she goes against King Creon’s orders, buries her brother and is stuffed in a cave to die. Her younger, more frightened sister Ismene, wails for her sister. When Hameon, Antigone’s fiancée, is unable to change King Creon, his father’s mind, Hameon follows Antigone into the cave.

What makes this particularly thrilling is the way the actors chant out the words and how the light casts shadows (Koji Osaka) suggesting day and night, life and death.

Ancient tragedies were sung because the definition of theater was the unification of text, music and movement. In this rendition, two actors take on each role: one speaks, the other moves.

Caught on top of a boulder, Antigone climbs higher and higher until she can go no further. The competing male voices on either side of the stage declare their lines while the fearless movers run across stones that barely rise above the water. Five men and five women flank their characters serving as the Greek chorus, the community that comments on the tragic action.

Sometimes, rituals rise above theatrical conventions because they conjure a sense of timelessness-- worlds where people battle the forces of good and evil, honor and corruption, morality and fear in a lifelong struggle to reclaim their souls.

Contributing to the “other worldly” yet very real production’s power, a group of musicians stretch across the back of the stage exquisitely performing Hiroko Tanakawa’s percussive composition.

Translated from Sophocles by Shigetake Yaninuma and masterfully directed by Satoshi Miyagi, Antigone interprets social, political and moral dilemmas into a contemporary world weighted by its struggle for survival.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

September 16, 2019
As the audience enters, American Moor’s playwright and primary performer Keith Hamilton Cobb spends a good deal of time pensively pacing his Wilson Chin-designed set – a sparse collection of chairs and two Corinthian columns, the one of which not tasked with holding a griffin conveniently toppled to the ground. Against the bricks bordering Cherry Lane Theater’s playing space, the mise en scene emits a fluid sense of backstage, onstage, and elsewhere, able to contain the manipulations of presence necessary for Cobb to illustrate his relationship to the notion of playing Shakespeare's Othello.

You don’t expect it from the intensity of his pre-show or the size of his biceps, but Cobb is an effortlessly convincing shape-shifter. He must be as he tasks himself to morph between his younger self, his acting teachers, some fleeting blips of Shakespeare, and his own reflection of the black vernacular he grew up in. It is as his present self, however, that Cobb demonstrates the most dimension. His actorly presentation is supremely articulate, deeply resonant, and satisfyingly thwarted by occasionally cracked smiles and boyish giggles.

It is often the case that these expressions of levity are in reaction to the more frustrating aspects of his story, namely Cobb’s visual presentation having been met by teachers and directors with, perhaps unintended but nonetheless tangible, attempts to limit his performative potential – the expectation to perform Othello through an unfortunately white lens.

This plays out in a suddenly Chorus Line-esque staging of Josh Tyson, seated among us, as a director, white-mansplaining his vision of the Othello for which Cobb is auditioning. Tyson wants Act I, Scene 3’s speech to the Senate played with a kind of amusing subservience, which elicits in Cobb a psychosomatic gag reflex of blanking on text he knows by heart.

As the exchange unfolds, Cobb spends increasingly little time in the actual audition room, as every utterance from Tyson hurls him into a mental flurry of indignance Shakespearianly staged by Kim Weild as though to make up for all the verse we would love to though never hear. These shifts are aided by Alan C. Edwards’ lighting, establishing spaces with reliable clarity, which, alongside Cobb’s equally autonomous channel-changing, allows us to feel just as transported.

The question becomes, which space is primary, and which the aside? The piece’s initial home base is unquestionably the present day Cobb telling his story in classic solo show form. The audition, however, literally colonizes the dramaturgical structure into a narrative play wherein Cobb must resist alienation within his own piece. It is then we understand Cobb’s charming shape-shifting to truly be the theatre of societal survival, ultimately forsaken for the sake of a character who demands better.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

August 25, 2019
Once a pop-up designer clothes emporium, the reclaimed ornate space on Broadway and 12th street is transformed into Third Rail’s immersive theater piece based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream.

Designed with a gastronomic twist, Midsummer: A Banquet tells a magical tale of love and mayhem between appetizers, entrees and desserts. Culinary delights mix with a fresh approach to the Shakespearean comedy in this immersive theater realization.

Actors roam willy-nilly through the space, joining guests at tables, pouting alone at the long bar or stomping out of the dinner club only to return reborn. The ballroom/dinner club forms a delightful theatrical playground for Third Rail Projects and Food of Love Productions Midsummer: A Banquet.

Compressed into a 90-minute show (adapted by Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook) the action focuses on the four attractive lovers who escape the deleterious laws of a patriarchal Athens and hide in the forest in order to be forever together. But, as always with Shakespeare, there are a few complications—to start, Hermia (Caroline Amos) loves Lysander (Alex J. Gould), not her father’s choice, Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales) who is being chased by Hermia’s best friend, Helena (Adrienne Paquin).

Invisible to humans but guiding unsuspecting humans’ whimsical fates, Oberon (Ryan Wuestewald) and Titania (Victoria Rae Sook), the faerie king and queen squabble over a Changeling. Their turmoil flips the hapless lovers in a state of chaos causing numerous, humorous miscalculations.

However, the real scene stealing sections feature the mechanicals a peripatetic theater group preparing a drama headed for the Athenian court. In particular, the audience howled over the very large (in terms of charisma) Bottom (Charles Osborne) – the actor who is wickedly transformed into a donkey and simultaneously, Queen Titania’s lover.

Athletically directed and charmingly choreographed by Zach Morris, the play never feels forced, nor does the interaction between the actors who double in roles and triple as wait staff. Additionally, Sean Hagerty’s music and sound design buoys the production.

Somehow, the ambiance established is reminiscent of people enjoying a picnic in a park on a warm, sunny day in view of a traveling theater troupe.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 12, 2019
What a nutty idea! Build a musical around aging Broadway actors and let them rip! Broadway Bounty Hunter at the Barrow Street Theater jumps along on Joe Iconis' funky music and lyrics and campy book by Iconis, Lance Rubin, and Jason Sweetooth Williams.

The zippy musical directed and choreographed by Jennifer Werner releases actors throughout the theater because the energetic production can hardly be contained on the Greenwich House Theater's intimate stage. Led by the inimitable Annie Golden (Annie) and Alan H. Green (Lazarus), Iconis' soulfully heart-pumping songs get quite the work out by an amply talented cast.

Unable to win an audition and still recuperating from her beloved Broadway producer’s drowning, the aging Annie is recruited by the sleekly attractive Shiro Jin (Emily Borromano) to become a bounty hunter and catch bad guys!

Once at the “School of Bounty Hunters,” Annie learns her mission is to track down a notorious drug dealer whose pills killed Ms. Jin’s brother. Driven by this personal vendetta, she’s coupled with the star bounty hunter and equally talented Lazarus. Tall and buffed he towers over Annie’s diminutive form.

Despite her slight stature, Annie’s amply equipped to spar with the best of them because she knows how to act, and most importantly, improvise—the elixir of life.

Surrounded by a knock-out singing and dancing ensemble, including the engaging villain Mac Roundtree (Brad Oscar), Annie reveals a talent for sniffing out bad customers and confusing them into submission. Adding to on stage commotion, Werner’s Martial arts based movement tipped in R & B swag fuels the dramatic action.

Light and kooky, “Broadway Bounty Hunter” is fine summer fare.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 10, 2019
Fireworks explode, windmills spin, confetti sprays, swings pop out of the ceiling and an oversized elephant sculpture takes a gander at the audience in Baz Luhrman’s eye-popping Broadway musical Moulin Rouge.

Based on Luhrman’s gaudy, 2001 Oscar-winning film, this tale of love and fame is set against the backdrop of the spectacular Moulin Rouge club located in Montmartre -- a gritty, working class district of Paris. Bohemian life rages through the Parisian left-bank streets where dreamers and outcasts, the wealthy and bourgeoisie collide.

This colorful palette of individuals at the turn of the 20th century is evocatively captured in the paintings of musical halls by Toulouse Lautrec, which resonate loudly in the scenic designs by Derek McLane. Spilling beyond the stage, plush red velvet valentines and sparkling chandeliers surround costume designer Karen Huber’s scantily attired chorines and voluptuously adorned Parisian patrons.

John Logan’s book draws from the film, tossing a naïve young songwriter (from Lima, Ohio) into the flames of love. Desperate to get close to his passion—Moulin Rouge’s famed chanteuse, Satine (Karen Olivio) – Christian (Aaron Tveit) buys into his pals’ Santiago (Ricky Rojas) and Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah) urgings to take his song directly to Satine.

This unleashes the story of mixed identities, and star-crossed lovers suspended in a fabulously decadent club that welcomes all.

Decked in top hat and tails, the lurid M.C. (a sensational and unrecognizable Danny Burstein) urges the patrons to release their inhibitions and instead, revel in their fantasies. This is accomplished through a string of over 70 R & B and pop hits. Rolling ballads and dance songs form the musical backbone. Those intimate with the soundtracks of the 1970’s and 80’s will be jiggling in their seats and humming along.

Besides the fine performances and dynamic direction by Alex Timbers, Sonyah Tayeh’s inspired choreography gussies up all the edges. Like one of the great choreographers of classical ballet, Marius Petipa (Sleeping Beauty), she moves bodies through three different vertical tiers while making jumps and turns explode. In other words, Tayeh crafts dances, which fill the stage from the floor to the ceiling. Additionally every performer’s walk suggests a different, wildly evocative personality.

Aided by Justin Townsend’s circular lighting, the choreography unleashes the music’s subtext in grinding moves and spiraling torsos dipped in extravagant leg extensions and the world famous can-can kick line. Timbers and Tayeh forge a volatile synergy that consistently animates the stage.

Another outstanding dance moment happens when the tango dancer—Santiago whips his partner Robyn Hurder into a steamy display of “vertical sex.”

Although Moulin Rouge echoes other productions including “La Boehme” and “Cabaret” it maintains its own, very distinct brand of lurid glory led in large part by the hard worn, but vulnerable Satine. Grit guides her every move and her sinuous voice ekes out the pathos in every song. Of course, another nod goes to Justin Levine’s bountiful orchestrations, arrangements and additional lyrics.

By the end, the audience wins a night gilded in fantasy and fun.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 30, 2019
Awk! Awk! The harrowing high-pitched screech of an enormous bird, the gauco, fills the theater. Does it signal freedom or imprisonment?

This question resounds throughout Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, an intimate and disturbing play about the journey of Mexican immigrants fleeing death and poverty. Spun from the threads of the ancient Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, Mojada updates the themes of displacement and revenge.

Arms outstretched, Medea (an intense Sabina Zuniga Varela) flaps large tropical banana leaves and repeats an incantation that releases the sounds of home. Medea knows her potions.

Living in a worn down apartment, Medea sits behind a sewing machine in the ramshackled backyard (by Arnulfo Maldonado) brightened by green plants in large pots.

Undocumented and fearing arrest, Medea relays in a harrowing flashback, the family’s escape from Mexico. Stuffed in an airless truck, she describes their trek across the dessert and her horrifying ordeal at the hands of brutal soldiers.

Emotionally paralyzed since the migration to Corona, Queens, Medea relies on the motherly servant, Tita (the very wry Socorro Santiago) to translate all things American. A gifted seamstress, Medea fashions “piece work” into impressive outfits. Because Medea is unable to step into NYC’s overwhelming streets, Tita invites the easy-going, expansively personable Churro vendor Luisa (Vanessa Aspillaga) over to enliven thier solitary lives.

Luisa, Tita, Acan (Benjamin Luis McCracken)-- Medea's 10 year old son and Jason (Acan's father) bring Medea stories of life outside the backyard. While Medea retains the rituals of her native Mexico, Jason, who is not officially married to Medea, aims for the American dream.

Gainfully employed in the housing business, the incredibly hunky Jason (Alex Hernandez) attracts the attention of his boss/owner, Pilar (Ada Maris). Intent on mainstreaming his son, Jason gets sucked into the opportunities dangled by the competitive and unsentimental Pilar.

For those who know how Medea ends, the dénouement is inevitable. Yet when Medea learns her son will be ripped from her side, she wields a harrowing soliloquy of sorrow. Like the Ancient Greeks, director Chay Yew takes the murderously gory action off-stage thus allowing the imagination to take over.

It's possible many attending Mojada at the Public Theater found the play emotionally overwrought, but those who have lived this story surely embodied the perilous tragedy. EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 17, 2019
Many years ago, David Cale unassumingly took the stage at downtown haunts like P.S. 122 and unspooled simple stories made riveting by his precise, self-effacing, and effortless presentation. This charming wordsmith immediately gained a loyal following. His text was simple but vivid and since then, Cale has appeared in many theater plus films and TV productions.

Now he has returned to the Public Theater with a song play hitched to his family’s story. He hasn’t changed much -- diligently retaining his lanky frame and sense of childish wonderment. His long face and hawkish nose still suggest avian looks which suits him because the new on-man and a band show We’re Only Alive For A Short Amount of Time opens on a song about Canada Geese gliding in the sky.

Born in Luton, England to a working class family that struggled with alcoholism, depression and rage, Cale winds facts and memory around an autobiography animated through text and song.

Among many other gifts, Cale manages to convert his multi-generational family members into universal characters. That’s what touches the audience. Easily shifting from a brutal man to a sensitive, artistic woman, Cale draws sympathetic characters despite their foibles or savage acts.

The story opens on a young boy’s love of animals. He builds an animal hospital and dedicates himself to saving all the injured creatures encountered around town. Happily restoring his four-legged and feathered patients to health, when it comes to the human species, Cale’s restorative gifts fail. But Cale fully and completely succeeds in ardently humanizing the people who frightened and ultimately inspired him.

Stretched across a dark strip at the back of the stage, six talented musicians -- Matthew Dean Marsh (Piano), Josh Henderson (Viola), Tomina Parvanova (Harp), Jessica Wang (Cello), John Blevins (Trumpet), and Tyler Hseih(Clarinet) -- accompany the songs and perform interstitial music composed by Cale and Matthew Dean Marsh.

Director Robert Falls gives Cale space to paint a poignant portrait of life in a small, working-class town – a place that nurtured him and stung him with the determination to leave. We’re so happy he migrated across the pond and into our theaters.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 12, 2019
From under twisted sheets, moans and pants cut through the dark, atmospheric lighting where two bodies heave in unison. Caught in the throes of wild sex, the couple emerges, spent. Soon all that euphoria translates into questions--countless questions about the authenticity of their night of lovemaking and future liaisons.

Despite their thrilling compatibility in bed, Frankie (Audra McDonald) and Johnny (Michael Shannon) clash in the light of day. Johnny, a short-order cook and Frankie, a waitress in the same restaurant share bits about their relatively unfulfilled lives.

Throughout “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” a two-act play by Terrence McNally, Frankie and Johnny bungee towards and away from each other, never fully knowing how close they’ll get before snapping back.

Their back-stories begin as auras of who they might have been until little by little, the puzzle pieces of each story fall into position.

Audra is deprecatingly matter-of-fact, while Johnny remains aspirational. Not interested in any sort of daily routine, Frankie’s protective of her independence. Already burnt once, she’s in no rush to be ensnared in another all consuming, one-sided relationship.

Spouting commentary from Shakespeare and Ancient Greek philosophers, Johnny’s rough and tumble demeanor (enhanced by a naturally gravely voice) suggests a guy with either a romantic soul or ulterior motives. An imposing figure, Johnny’s longing for genuine contact nearly eclipses Frankie’s apprehensions. Is this the start of a new relationship or just smoke dreams circling two middle-age people in search of something greater?

Under the direction of the talented Arin Arbus, the audience hopes their stars align.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 6, 2019
Travel back to the first time Hillary Clinton vied for the presidency. After months of exhaustively campaigning, hopes fly high in New Hampshire but the coffers are drained. What to do? Oh -- sure, call Bill.

The new Broadway play Hillary and Clinton by Lucas Hnath clamps onto a very specific night when questions about “unlikeability” hover over Hillary’s unrelenting quest for the presidency. Her harried campaign manager, Mark (Zak Orth), serves as cheerleader, truth teller and man with a Dunkin' Donuts box perpetually attached to his hands.

Unable to stomach Zak’s pronouncement that the coffers are bare, Hillary (Laurie Metcalf) goes against all reason and invites Bill (who has been banned from the trail) to visit. She wants his advice, she wants his support, but mostly, she wants his foundation’s money.

Set in a sterile white room, dotted by a small frig, chair and door leading to a bedroom, set designer Chloe Lamford perfectly replicates all the anonymous motels and hotels tolerated by president-hungry candidates. Skillfully directed by Joe Mantello, Metcalf nails the plain spoken, intellectually vexed woman who’s generally smarter than everyone else but somehow, never fully appreciated. A haggard looking John Lithgow arrives still pouting about his ostracization, yet eager to get back in the game.

The dialogue between Bill and Hillary convincingly slips in and out of tricky issues that tread over the pros and cons of staying married or the dangers of accepting money from a politically tainted foundation.

When the two dissect the reasons for staying together, I was reminded of an interview on radio with Hillary Clinton about two years after President Clinton's impeachment. The interviewer posed this question: “Why don’t you divorce Bill. It would be so much easier on you?” Hillary quipped, “Because there’s no one I’d rather talk to.”

Both are political animals driven by ambition and powerful intellects yet, Bill knows how to speak to the voters’ emotions, while Hillary speaks to their reason.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 28, 2019
Suspicious of the written word, Socrates engaged in a constant verbal interaction based on questioning assumptions—actually, questioning anything and everything. Now the Public Theater with support from the Onassis Foundation, presents Tim Blake Nelson’s Socrates directed by Doug Hughes.

Set in ancient Greece circa 399BC, this is the last day Socrates walks the Agora. In this fictional version based on the information relayed by primary-source accounts in the “Apology of Socrates” by Plato, a young man (David Aaron Baker) asks an elder to retell the legend surrounding Socrates’ death.

Soon, the slightly grimy, taciturn Socrates (a convincing Michael Stuhlbarg) paces back and forth under a bright, Athenian sun designed by Tyler Micoleau. Belligerent in his demeanor, Socrates refuses suggestions that he alone has the power to save his life. After incessantly antagonizing the Athenian polis with his ideas, 500 male citizens (chosen by lot), accuse him of “corrupting youth” and “impiety“.

Dressed in Grecian robes, and sandals fashioned by Catherine Zuber, Socrates—surrounded by his Greek chorus of disciples -- ambles through stone walkways, boulders and benches by set designer Scott Pask. Unruly and unkempt, Socrates bats away offers of help from friends who hold wealth or high government positions.

Frequently popping off the stage, Socrates confronts the 500 citizens (in the form of the audience) insisting on the rigorous questioning of anything -- even the nature of color. Constantly sparring with his colleagues on any number of life and death issues, Socrates, an old man of about 80, insists that the polis has spoken, and he will not apologize for his actions. Instead, Socrates will swallow the poison and die.

The famous thinker cared not for worldly goods or apparently his wife, children or friends. Socrates only believed in the search for the truth, for the golden mean of human knowledge. When his wife, Xanthippe (Miriam H. Hyman) brings the two boys to see him, Socrates sends them away refusing sentimental women’s tears. If she’s to be believed, Socrates, who doesn’t bathe or care for his garments, neglects his family while plunging them into debt. Xanthippe alone manages the house and understandably despairs when Socrates refuses money from his many students.

Interestingly, politicians and wealthy landowners surround this man of pure ideals, as well as other scholars and students. Yet, he accepts no favors coveting only the mind. In the end, surrounded by grieving friends who pledge to care for his family, Socrates insists they stop their women’s’ tears. Before the poison circulates through his body, Socrates and Plato ((Teagle F. Bougere) engage in a profound exchange about the nature of the soul.

Despite an uneven cast, Hughes animates the philosophical language dramatically capturing an elusive man who helped set the foundation of Western philosophy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 21, 2019
Suzan-Lori Parks’ newest production White Noise at the Public Theater rips open the quiet side of racism and it’s insidious drone inside everyone. Comfortably seated in a chair, Leo (the captivating Daveed Diggs best known for his star turn in Hamilton) addresses the audience in a warm baritone voice coated in a light southern accent. Diggs relays his upbringing in a well-educated family and good neighborhood noting his only real problem growing up was insomnia.

Diggs’ solo, which by the way was so well delivered he could have narrated the whole play, segues into the discovery of a “fix” for the insomnia: a “white noise” recording. But there’s a downside—the remedy saps his creativity so he can no longer produce his art.

This scene folds into a dialogue with an enlightened, racially mixed quartet composed of an Asian woman, an African- American woman raised by lesbians, plus a Caucasian and African-American male. These school chums, share similar educations and backgrounds except for John who uneasily sits on a family fortune made by owning bowling alleys. Gabbing daily, they offer advice on career moves, gossip and bowl. Yes, Ralph and Leo are bowling champions who love popping beers over an actual bowling alley planted on stage.

At first, all appear to be leading relatively satisfying lives. Ralph’s partner, Misha (Sheria Irving), a vlogger, finds a new avenue of expression on a call-in forum she calls “Ask A Black” (adroitly visualized by Lucy Mackinnon’s projections) and Dawn, a lawyer, represents good causes.

Suddenly, the play dives below the line of social acceptability when Leo is roughed-up by the police while walking around the neighborhood. Outraged, everyone’s equilibrium is disturbed. Dawn wants Leo to press charges but Leo deflects the offer and contrives another, more cringe-worthy idea. He proposes his best bud, Ralph, buy him for 40 days and 40 nights for just a little under $100,000. The human sale would clear Leo of his debts and free him to ponder questions about his life and the sinister reality of racism.

Uneasy at first, Ralph agrees to the financial end but denies interest in holding Leo accountable. Without revealing the play’s frightful dénouement, know that everyone begins a descent into the chatter of his or her own personal underworld.

Muscularly directed by Oskar Eustis, the simple, effective set by Clint Ramos is enhanced by Xavier Pierce’s lighting design and effortlessly evolves from one domestic site to another. Be ready for a bumpy ride into gender, race and politics.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 15, 2019
Produced in 1943 (during World War II) to a score by Richard Rogers and libretto by Oscar Hammerstein, the legendary Oklahoma! team was joined by the equally formidable choreographer Agnes deMille. Together they fashioned a wildly successful show that became an equally successful 1955 film. For many, Oklahoma! is a musical staple about the great American pioneering spirit. Before its move to Broadway, Daniel Fish’s vision of Oklahoma! appeared at St. Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, a theater known for producing spine-tingling, avant-garde productions.

In Fish’s refashioning of Oklahoma! at Circle in the Square, the audience sits amphitheater style on three sides of the stage. Actors and musicians travel up and down the long rectangular performance space, entering and exiting from theater aisles.

A down-home casualness draws the audience into the lives of folks at the turn of the 20th century eagerly establishing their lives in a territory about to become a new state. An outstanding, racially and mixed-ability cast exudes a naturalness and genuineness that immediately draws everyone into the sweeping story of young lovers and sinister antagonists.

The switch from an orchestral performance of the much-loved score to the simpler folk tune arrangements produce a very intimate musical experience -- more aligned with the actual musical sounds of the era. Scattered throughout are casually organized wooden chairs, tables, crockery, window frames and a rocker for the boisterous Aunt Eller (Mary Testa). Dressed in western garb including overalls, gallon hats, chaps and full skirts with petticoats, the cast looks mighty comfortable in Terese Wadden’s costumes.

One by one, the main characters are introduced: the handsome and goodhearted Curly (Damon Daunno), his love interest Laurey (Rebecca Naomi Jones), Laurey’s girlfriend and powerhouse actor Ado Annie (Ali Stroker), Annie’s witless lover Will Parker (James Davis), the slippery traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Will Brill) and menacing Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill).

There’s the usual tug-of-wits between Curly and his hard-headed heart-throb Laurey; but the real eye-opener hits when the captivating Ado Annie comes wheeling through the audience, radiating a fierce independence and unabashed sexuality. Ripping around the stage in a hand-manipulated wheel chair, more than anyone, Annie personifies the pioneering American spirit.

The close knit, quarrelsome Oklahoma families join in a number of festivities and hoedowns jauntily choreographed by John Heginbotham. Guys and gals kick up their boots, do-si- do, fling their gals to and fro so petticoats go high and low, then round-and-round in a promenade. All the dance sequences lighten the air with well deserved frivolity and intimacy, except for the famous “dream sequence.”

Considered one of Agnes deMille’s masterpieces, Fish and Heginbotham descend into a dance nightmare trading out deMille’s "dream sequence" ballet dancers for one lone performer, Gabrielle Hamilton. Alternately running around and galloping on an imaginary horse, she flings herself from one end of the space to the other, slamming against a wall, falling, rolling, vertically splitting her legs and heaving from the exertion. The choreographically set and improvisatory sections are harsh and at times disorienting. Most disturbing is the ending of Oklahoma! DeMille’s ballet scenario is pretty much eliminated in the actual dance, but many of the narrative elements are dropped into the show’s ending.

Despite the number of adjustments, Oklahoma! is not radically altered. Jud still terrifies Laurey, Curly touchingly donates all his possessions for Laurey’s picnic basket, Aunt Eller referees the cowboys and the farmers, and Ado Annie just can’t stop having the time of her life. Everyone delivers a heartfelt performance soaked in Scott Zielinksi’s bright morning sunlight, and dusk’s fading rays.

And in a homey touch, everyone is invited to eat some home-cooked vittles during intermission. Now you can’t beat that! EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 8, 2019
There are nearly as many steps interwoven throughout the songs as words in the hip-stirring Broadway Musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.

The new production, exhilaratingly directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, underscores the centrality of the dance routines to the Motown signature. And although his name is absent in the script, it would be hard to top the original dance sequences devised by master Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins whose precision and style was coupled to cool and sex.

Trujillo nods to Atkins’ riffs by incorporating crystalline steps, contrasted against dramatic pauses, expressive hands and head snaps that punctuate huge smiles in some of Broadway’s best choreography.

For example, when the Temps sing "twiddle dee, twiddle dum, look out baby ‘cause here I come" the men pair off and rhythmically patty cake their fingers back-and forth; spit-out double turns and chug along without missing a note. None of this Mickey-Mouse “foot forward, foot back, sing and repeat” stuff in this show. Nope—the mighty-talented cast of men move with the fire of James Brown and finesse of Michael Jackson.

“Ain’t Too Proud” hugs the storyline of the Temptations’ original membership and ever- shifting singer combinations. Narrated by the designated leader (and last original member standing) Otis Williams (Derreck Baskin), the Temps’ taut backbone was built on five smooth singing and dancing men in sharp suits and neat moves. This “class act” produced the perennially popular Temptations. Although the original five were magic, the “sound” remained supreme despite the personnel swap- outs.

Besides the clean, well-enunciated book by Dominique Morisseau (based on Otis Williams’ 1988 memoir) the cast is a wonder of talent. In the role of the charismatic Ruffin, Ephraim Sykes pulls off some of Ruffin's spectacular signature moves—including the one where he tosses the microphone up in the air, starts to drop to the floor, catches the microphone, falls into the splits and bounces back up. Yes—the audience goes wild!

Equally talented and exuding a "lover-boy" sensuality, the dapper Eddie Kendricks (portrayed by the impressively gifted Jeremy Pope) struts around, keen on his threads and ladies. The booming bass of Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson) tickles the souls of your feet and James Harkness (Paul Williams) adds to the all important group glue.

The whole cast of eight men are vocal and movement chameleons, skillfully enacting the Temps’ rise to stardom. Like so many other musical groups of the 1970's, drugs, alcohol and physical abuse deteriorate the bonds linking the original members. The "leader/organizer" of the group, Otis understands the team’s sound reigns over any one individual. Despite interpersonal loyalties and tensions, Otis manages to replace destructive behavior -- even when it means losing the star, Eddie Ruffin. In the end, Otis gets it right: despite the brilliance of individual singers, the Temptations’ group ethos forges the sound that lives forever.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

March 24, 2019
Five years after arriving in NYC at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein, and 4 years after founding the School of American Ballet, George Balanchine was tapped to choreograph Roger and Hart’s 1938 musical featuring his fiancé Vera Zorina. A product of the Imperial Ballet in Russia, one thing Balanchine understood was spectacle; and by all accounts, that’s what was delivered.

Now eight decades later, City Center’s lauded Encores! Series dipped back into the coffers of dance-centric musicals to revive the slimmed-down version of I Married an Angel. Joshua Bergasse, the production’s director and choreographer, drew Sara Mearns, his fiancé and a wildly popular NYCB principal dancer, into the production.

Already a seasoned Broadway choreographer, Bergasse is testing his directorial wings. Although he’s still finding his directorial voice, Bergasse’s musical theater roots were particularly evident in the Act I show-stopping tap dance routine. Led by the mighty talented Hayley Padschun and Phillip Attmore the routine caused an eruption of clever tap figures that scattered rhythms into rich, percussive riffs lifted by acrobatic leaps and slides.

Tied to an old-fashioned story about a Budapest banker (Mark Evans) who claims he can only marry a pure, honest angel, he finally get’s his wish. She drops out of the sky (more to the point, Mearns flits across the stage in a flurry of runs en pointe) and he immediately marries her. Of course, she’s unfamiliar with human ways, and insists that “truth is beauty, and beauty is truth” -- unless it ruins her husband’s career. The underlying message resembles romantic black and white 1930’s films where women are not to be trusted because they are only out for themselves and a man’s money. This theory holds unless of course, you are an angel – but then, being perfect presents its own set of problems.

Most comfortable when bantering cheerily with her angel girlfriends, Mearns exuded a delightful “girl next door” quality. Earthy- voiced and appealing, Mearns’ native language is dance, not the spoken word, and that was most evident when Means struggled to hit her comic timing. People who saw Red Shoesat City Center last year, or New York City Ballet seasons, know Mearns’ dancing is sublime—and so it was again.

In this instance, Carlyle’s ballet choreography remained relatively basic and kept her trilling en pointe throughout the show. Despite the issue of limited space, Bergasse's “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as well as the “Roxy Music Hall” proved he can animate the entire stage—top to bottom, side-to-side. The many buoyant songs that tickled the throat were brought to life through the original, newly resorted Hans Spialek orchestrations and Rob Fisher’s musical direction. Tucked into the back of the stage, the Encores! Orchestra was outlined in silvery sashes by designer Allen Mayer complimenting Alejo Vietti’s sparkling, elegant costumes.

Innocently simple, I Married An Angel underscored the radiant talents of performers like Mearns, Attmore, Podschun and a standout corps dancer--Barton Cowperthwaite. Perhaps not the most cohesive Encores! production, it did offer a welcomed, cheerful respite from the day’s noise.
EYEON THE ARTS,, NY – Celia Ipiotis

March 22, 2019
A single ghost light announces the beginning of a rough-and-tumble comedy that pits immovable wills against implacable egos in the marvelous Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate.

Cole Porter’s play within a play, based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew debuted in 1948 and featured choreography by one of America’s modern dance pioneers, Hanya Holm. Because the musical thrives on a physicality that borders on a West Side Story rumble, the choreographer, Warren Carlyle is of central importance.

Embittered by a short-lived marriage, two musical theater actors – Fred Graham (a delightful Will Chase) and Lilli Vanessi (the sublime Kelli O’Hara) – star in Graham’s Broadway-bound musical. But trouble brews when Graham’s wandering eye and hands rout Vanessi’s amorous memories. Intent on seducing Graham, the hip-swinging, chest-thrusting ingénue Lois Lane (I saw the understudy Christine Cornish Smith) kicks the sand that ultimately produces the pearl between Graham and Vanessi.

High points primarily surround Ms. O’Hara’s crystal clear, soprano voice. There’s a halo of perfection that settles over every single note and syllable projected by Ms. O’Hara from the romantically lush ”Wunderbar” to the gutsy “I Hate Men” and heart-wrenching “So In Love.”

Besides the consistently hummable score, director Scott Ellis and Carlyle animate every scene with uninterrupted movement sequences that enlarge the characters. Dance fills much of the action, fusing ballet beats and leg extensions to Fosse-style hunches over tight prances, tap extravaganzas and acrobatics seamlessly integrated into the choreographic language. Most Importantly, the choreography does not rely on “tricks” for applause; it trades in Inventive recreations of traditional chorus line kicks, tap routines and intimate duets.

In the production’s now-famous number “It’s Too Darn Hot” (made famous in the 1953 film version by Bob Fosse) the racially mixed cast members mingle outside in the alley designed by David Rockwell. Action heats up when the multi-talented Corbin Bleu starts to click his heels against a wood crate. That blows up into a dynamic tap dance with James T. Lane -- reminiscent of the Nicholas Brothers’ renowned splits and sophisticated footwork. Impressively, percussive taps build on each other until they split apart into multiple syncopated rhythms.

Meanwhile, back in Padua, the viciously temperamental Kate is eligible and rich but unmarried because no man dares to tame her—that is until the mercenary Petruchio arrives to claim a bride. Their hilariously bitter battle for supremacy is evoked through overhead lifts that dodged Jeff Mahshie’s overflowing Shakespearean gowns, body flips and rough lindy hop maneuvers. There may be no rear-end paddling in this version, but by golly, the singing and acting never waivers under the pressure of the show’s acrobatics.

Not surprisingly, John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams (the two thugs intent on reclaiming cash for a bad bet) grab the spotlight in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Replete with canes, striped suits and straw hats, they happily milk the audience’s applause with every soft shoe strut and false exit.

What’s particularly pleasing, in a show replete with pleasing moments, is the chemistry between Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase. Not the most bombastic Petruchio, Chase establishes his male privilege in a quieter, more believable manner. Under Ellis’ keen eye, the dramatic arc builds into a tower of animosity that melts into a touching moment of loving, mutual recognition.

There is not downside to the Roundabout Theatre Company’s rousing revival of Kiss Me Kate at Studio 54.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 5, 2019
When the diminutive, elderly mother (a splendidly deadpan Marylouise Burke) walks into the disaster area once known as her kitchen, she puts down her two red suitcases and greets her sons before even asking about the destruction.

That’s pretty much the logic that follows--or not – in much True West, Sam Shepard’s play on a brotherly tug-of war. At once depressing and manic, Ethan Hawke (Lee) and Paul Dano (Austin) dance their Argentinean tango of childhood jealousies and adult animosities hooking legs and chest slams.

Quietly typing at the kitchen table, next to a burning candle, Austin’s serenity is sorely challenged by his vagabond brother. Draped over the kitchen counter, with a pack of beers strung around his finger, Lee leers at his brother and demands the car keys. Clearly a person who lives on the fringes of acceptable society, Lee developed his wits and trades in minor thefts while Austin snared an Ivy League education. The good boy, bad boy syndrome takes a radical turn when a producer arrives to discuss a screen project with Austin only to reverse course and agree to produce Ethan’s clichéd cowboy film concept.

By the second act, both are in a state of agitation. Intent on proving he can buddy up with Lee and roam the desert, Austin accepts Lee’s challenge to steal toasters from all the neighborhood homes. This leads to some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in a True West production. From the moment everyone witnesses a half dozen toasters parked throughout the kitchen—the ludicrousness escalates.

While Lee attempts to type his script with one finger, Austin ricochets from one toaster to another as bread pops up in time for him to catch, butter and pile it on a stack of toast resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Volcanic explosions knock the two brothers throughout the house, crashing over every piece of furniture until their childish rivalry rolls right in front of ---their clueless mother.

Roundabout Theater’s production of True West excels on the strength of its casting and radiant direction by James Macdonald.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 26, 2019
These days, life’s absurdities are the norm. Therefore, Ionesco Suite was both familiar and farcically disturbing. Exaggerated characters are draped around a long white table. At times it was reminiscent of an Ingmar Bergman play where a family gathers at the dining room table, at first in civilized fashion until family members start to regurgitate absurd realities in the darkness of winter.

A major voice in the world of the “theater of the absurd” Eugene Ionesco could skewer the best and worst societies. Scraps of his plays are sampled in the play including “The Bald Soprano,” Jack,” “Conversation and French Speech Exercises” and “The Lesson.” This particular production is the creation of Theatre de la Ville’s artistic and directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. Extremely physical, the animated actors used their faces as vividly as their bodies and voices. All parts of their physical being were activated by the stage directions and rhythmically composed, staccato language buoyed by Jefferson Lembeye & Walter N’guyen’s incidental music, and stark sets and lighting design by Yves Collet.

Hysteria of one level or another ties a selection of scenes together. Families rowdily ball at a son, a wedding couple bicker about whether or not a turtle and snail are one and the same, or a fireman races in desperate for a fire. There are plenty more examples two wacky people looking at the same thing but seeing two different realties. Both disturbing and funny, there’s the “Ground Hog Day” aspect to the people who just insisting or repeating their observations over and over again. One of the wildest physical comedy scenes erupts in the end—over and in a cake.

Sadly, “Ionesco Suite” reflects too many Americans who wake up on a daily basis to curiouser and curioser headlines.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 19, 2019
Spirituals bind the young African-American men of the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, and despite its prestigious reputation, Drew Prep’s refined atmosphere is curdling at the edges of propriety.

Insightfully written by Tarrell Alvin MacCraney, Choir Boy delves into the growing pains of young black men solidifying identities within a privileged school’s hierarchy and American society. Much of the dramatic action is driven by the soulful spirituals, Camille A. Brown’s urgent choreography and Trip Cullen’s energized direction.

A source of Drew Prep pride, the much-lauded choir engenders joyful camaraderie and cut-throat competition that pits a legacy student against a scholarship student. Arrogant and assertive, Bobby Marrow (a fine J. Quinton Johnson) lobs sexual slurs at Pharus (a stand-out Jeremy Pope) during his vocal solo at senior commencement. This core friction generates a fistful of the sparks inside this coming-of-age tale.

Respectability is paramount at this school, so any suggestions of impropriety results in expulsion. There's very little wriggle room. Although there is no hard evidence, the angel-voiced Pharus inspires whispers of homosexual proclivities. Refusing to confirm or deny his sexual leanings, Pharus spars with Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper) about his behavior and determination to lead the choir.

Choreographer Camille A. Brown employs step dancing, that percussive form of dance that piles rhythmic structures one on top of the other to drive the emotional undercurrents. The complex layers mirror the psychological mine-field experienced by teenage boys.

This team of men forge a powerful unit of youthful questioning. When the group begins to unravel, an old civil rights activist and friend of Headmaster Marrow comes in as mediator. Ostensibly, the respected Mr. Pendleton (Austin Pendleton) is popped into the script to teach “creative thinking” – but it feels like he's there to represent America's liberal white, racial conscience.

Midway through the human chess match a discussion ensues about the role of spirituals in the black community. Are coded messages woven throughout the spirituals; do they warn about cruel slave owners, daily inequities, escape routes or other guideposts? Regardless, the spirituals fulfill in a way that other songs do not. Through the spirituals and dance, blood memories surface.

One of Ms. Brown’s inherent talents is allowing actors to find a way to make the movement ooze out of their skin and become an organic extension of their personalities. Step dancing snakes throughout the piece -- feet pound out catchy beats syncopated against the voice. Even when sections of the choreography align the actors in synchronized steps, each person moves in his own distinct way. These vulnerable young mens' narratives are writ large through personalized movements that tap into the collective unconscious of the African diaspora.

Intersecting storylines punch through the fragility of young men desperate to conform yet yearning to find an individual path. There’s much to ponder in this scrum for acknowledgement and echoes Pete Townshend’s lament “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 18, 2019
Nothing panics parents more than the absence of a teenage son or daughter after a night on the town. Too many bad things happen between the hours of midnight and 4 am, and considering today’s instantaneous communications options, a child’s silence is devastating.

That’s exactly what happens in the Broadway drama An American Son realistically penned by Christopher Demos-Brown and shaken alive by director Kenny Leon. When Kendra Ellis-Connor’s (Kerry Washington) son, Jamal, fails to return home, she personally reports it to the authorities in the steely lit Florida police station, then whips uncontrollably around an erupting core of anger and helplessness.

Unremittingly pinging away at her phone, Kendra gets no response from her son, his friends or mothers-of-friends. All lines of communication are stilled. Expertly compounding her frustration, the officious young police officer refuses to give-up information. Unable to restrain herself, Kendra rages around him, begging, pleading for information; while he stalls, her gut tells her that it’s “definitely not alright.”

Around this nightmare swirls a heady domestic, social and political drama. Born of a black mother who is a professor of psychology and white FBI father, the biracial Jamal (a name the father found “too black”) attends a private school. Smart as a whip, he’s got growing pains and argues with Kendra before leaving home—in part because of an incendiary bumper sticker on his car.

When the assertive, imposing father, Scott (Steven Pasquale) arrives, answers materialize. Coincidence? Perhaps the officer is impressed by Scott’s FBI badge—or his white maleness. After all, they both nod in agreement when officer Jordan whispers this despicable comment: “she goes from ghetto to nothing in zero flat.”

Soon the anger flips from the officer to the couple. She’s rightly horrified by the camaraderie between the two men. Then they begin to download their own unresolved affairs. Clearly, a sexual energy lingers between the two, but their marriage did not survive. A blame game unravels, spotlighting the domestic land mines. There’s the son who misses his father while simultaneously wanting to claim his black identity. The dynamic between Scott and Kendra is dead on. In fact, the ensemble cast delivers a potently jarring portrait of life in America.

Demos-Brown invests this nonstop, contemporary drama with an unrelenting barrage of accusations and questions. Stirred to a neat chill by Leon, the show does not resolve the conflicts, merely airs them for public contemplation.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

APAP 2019
January 15, 2019
APAP 2019
APAP is coming to town right after the holidays, so don't put away your festive outfits and get ready to meet the artists, presenters, and professionals that populate the world of the performing arts. The conference provides a platform for those working in performing arts to engage in discussions around pressing current cultural, artistic and professional issues. The gathering draws members of the arts community from around the globe, but also offers events open to the public including free live-streaming of plenaries and many free pre-conference sessions. There are countless performances, demonstrations, talks and networking opportunities. If you haven't caught up on the details, click here: Hilton Hotel

1/4 - 8
APAP Pre-Conference Before the massive APAP/NYC Conference invades the city--in a good way--APAP is offering scores of workshops and professional development seminars free--that's right--FREE to the public. All you need to do is sign up. Here are a few of the categories: Artists Building a Code of Ethics in the Era of #MeToo; Broadway, Dance or Transgender Forums; Agents and Manager Affinity Group and Wavelenghts: APAPA World Music Pre-Conference. Check this out: Hilton

APAP Plenaries
Friday, January 4 -- Jane Chu celebrates the leadership role the arts play in our world. Bringing her unique perspective as an artist, former arts presenter, recent head of the National Endowment for the Arts, and now adviser to PBS, Chu has seen first-hand how the arts are a positive force that brings people together across the U.S. and across differences.

Saturday, January 5 -- Plenary Session: 5 Provocations for Rethinking the Industry: Leading into the Future In the face of a chaotic present and a wildly uncertain future, artists and arts leaders don’t have the luxury of “business as usual”. The leaders of today and tomorrow must take charge of making and remaking the future of our art.

Sunday January 6--Plenary Session: APAP|NYC Town Hall: The Power of WE:Make your voice heard as we forge the future of the field together! This year we will host a true Town Hall to tackle tough questions facing our field about the roles, rules and realities of the evolving performing arts industry. Are the tried and true approaches still working?

Monday, January 7--Annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon: This special event honors achievement, service, excellence and advocacy in the performing arts field. Tickets are required and must be purchased in advance when you register or at the APAP|NYC registration desk at the conference.

Tuesday, January 8 -- Closing Keynote: Year after year, the closing keynote is one of the most popular events of the APAP|NYC conference. Guaranteed to entertain and inspire, our soon-to-be-announced celebrity speaker will deliver the perfect send-off to APAP|NYC attendees!

January 11, 2019
It was a dreary night when Mary Shelly accompanied her husband and fellow poet Percey Shelley to the home of writer Lord Byron. Storms kept a congenial group of friends in the house, and that’s where Ms. Shelley penned Frankenstein. Already depressed because of the loss of her baby girl, Shelley imagined a story of a monumental misfit who had a tender heart but uncontrollable, laboratory constructed strength. The sketched out story of Shelley’s life and the writing of this monstrously popular story is told through the use of shadow puppets, puppets, projections and videos by the talented Manual Cieman Company. Presented during the annual APAP festival, Under-the Radar Festival draws arts professionals from around the world. This sets-up an opportunity for the artists to attract multiple presenters and organize a fruitful touring schedule. Frankenstein, an incredibly intricate production is a marvel of visual elements. Created by Manual Cinema and adapted from the novel by Mary Shelly, members of the company collaborated on its realization with the primary concept by Drew Dir. Live actors zoomed from one end of the darkened stage to the other, feverishly moving stick figures and light fixtures. Characters danced across the white walls like Kara Walker’s panoramic cut-paper silhouettes to the atmospheric music by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman.

Despite the two-dimensional aspect of the images, the audience felt Shelley’s sadness--her despair and manic desire to write a story that captured her colleagues’ praise. Running over close to two hours, no intermission, the production is enviable but the story unspools on a single, theatrical note. Much of the energy went into the actual depiction of the storytelling rather than development of dramatic arc. That said, they deserve an award for the production’s visual elements.

For some reason, Chekhov’s 19th century Russian play Uncle Vanya never ceases to fascinate contemporary theater professionals. And so, New Saloon pays witty tribute to Chekhov in their “mash-up” of English translations featuring characters portrayed by multiple actors, sometimes speaking simultaneously. Settled on an aging estate in the Russian countryside, the quiet, hard working family members are disrupted when their sophisticated, urban relatives descended on the premises. Suddenly, mundane lives are pitched into emotional extremes not experienced in years. The potency of the concept was most evident in the beginning when the tall blonde actor, Madeline Wise, began a deadpan delivery as the tree-hugging doctor who is a regular visitor to the estate. What was particularly exhilarating was the way she spoke just a few words punctuated by repeated minimal gestures—a hand opening and closing, eyes focusing on one person, turning away and back again. That unleashed a thrill because the words and gestures formed a provocatively syncopated rhythm that supplied the emotion. Soon the rest of the play’s outsized characters entered.

Gender roles switched constantly adding a sense of whimsy to this rendition of dysfunctional family dynamics. If a viewer is not familiar with “Uncle Vanya” there might be some confusion over the characters in Minor Character. However, everyone understood there was an old crotchety professor (played by the singular David Greenspan—the only single actor/role) married to a young beauty salivated over by all the adult men in the house. At times, Morgan Green’s direction pitted the actors into a genial contra dance: characters met up, and split apart bisected by the huge dining room table. But nothing else in the play reached the heights of Ms. Wise’s opening monologue.

One of the most upbeat productions of the Under the Radar Festival was The Evolution of a Sonero. Primarily a bio-musical, the theater piece is written and performed by Flaco Navaja who grabs the audience in the very first minutes and doesn’t let go until the calls for encore! Directed by Jorge B. Merced, the pace cooks with the help of the on-stage band The Razor Blades. Slim and dressed in a three-piece suit, Navajo wove together stories about life growing up in the Bronx. Shaped by his extended Puerto Rican family and an unforgiving urban decay, he struggled to shed skinny, geeky looks and in the process was tripped up by a fierce tango with drugs and alcohol.

What differentiated this from most solo performances was the introduction to Puerto Rican music: how it rose from the African diaspora, and how the clave formed the heartbeat of the Afro-Caribbean social music genres. Produced by the venerable Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, much of the program’s success is centered on Navajo’s charismatic presence, soaring voice and nimble dance body. In the end, it’s the music that solidified cultural identity, the spirit of perserverance and hope.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 6, 2019
When APAP comes to town, NYC, already the center of cultural activity turn into a tsunami of artistic events. That’s because the conference draws performers, presenters, producers and professionals from all corners of the performing arts community to NYC for about one week of non-stop cultural activity. Disciplines across the performing arts spectrum organize platforms to introduce the all-powerful presenters to the available productions. In this vein, the Joyce Theater presents the American Dance Platform series curated a by a different presenter every year. Generally, the companies present a tasting of their repertoire to tantalize the presenters and producers into wanting to learn more and help press the touring button on.

Opening night of the Platform was stellar. Stephen Petronio and the Martha Graham Dance Company shared a bill. And like Janet Eilber suggested in an introductory talk, the Graham Company was eager to share the spotlight with such a cool, and nervy dance company. In truth, both proved their offerings were perfectly capable of standing the test of dance time.

Petronio presented the full length “Hardness 10” with music by Nico Muhly choreographed in 2018. Clear and precise, the movement architecture was pristine. Dancers moved in strong formations, generally 4 bodies in counterpoint to 3. Straight arms shoot out from the shoulder, legs snap into long lines, and torsos frequently face in relief. There’s geometric satisfaction in this work in the Baroque sense, which means it’s mathematically satisfying and emotionally gratifying: a wonderful mix of soul and structure.

To start the performance, the audience was treated to what might be one of this decade’s finest reconstructions of a male solo,” Goldberg “Variations.” Originally created performed by Steve Paxton in 1981, the godfather of contact improvisation, the solo is a wonder of muscle control and an internal rhythmic high.

When Petronio Company member Nick Sciscione performed an “iteration” of the piece in 2017, I asked Yvonne Rainer --Paxton’s colleague and founding member of the Judson Dance Theater--what she thought about the solo: “Celia, I wept when I saw it.” And that was because Sciscione channels Paxton’s idiosyncratic, intuitive movement sensibility encased in liquid matter and cosmic imagination.

On the heels of this postmodern setting, the Martha Graham Dance Company arrives. First there was “Woodland” by Pontus Lidberg to music by Irving Fine for the Graham Company in 2016. Very Flemish or possibly Tudoresque (Antony) in the vein of Graham -- a community of dancers outfitted in simple dresses or pants and shirts -- circle one woman in black and white. Soon, the outer dance circle dons wolf masks underscoring the single female’s “outsider” status until she becomes one of them.

The company executed the steps with finesse, easily moving between the softer lines of contemporary modern dance and Grahams sharper edged dips and contractions. But again, the real heart of the Graham program arrived with the performance of two excerpts from Martha Graham’s “Chronicle" created in 1936 in response to the disturbing actions of Hitler in Germany and actually chronicles the 1914 -1936 era.

Two sections from this larger production were performed including “Steps in The Street” and “Prelude to Action.” A perfect antidote to today’s political folly, the women dressed in black marched out in determination. With fists clenched, knees rose up and slammed into the floor as ramrod straight torsos thrust fiercely into the future. Simple steps arranged in dynamic patterns unfurled defiant images of females in deep diagonals and in the end circles of determination.

In truth, Stephen Petronio and Janet Eilber (Direct of the Graham Company) should not be surprised if presenters ask to tour this exact program.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis

January 11, 2019
It was a dreary night when Mary Shelly accompanied her husband and fellow poet Percey Shelley to the home of writer Lord Byron. Storms kept a congenial group of friends in the house, and that’s where Ms. Shelley penned Frankenstein. Already depressed because of the loss of her baby girl, Shelley imagined a story of a monumental misfit who had a tender heart but uncontrollable, laboratory constructed strength.

The sketched out story of Shelley’s life and the writing of this monstrously popular story is told through the use of shadow puppets, puppets, projections and videos by the talented Manual Cieman Company. Presented during the annual APAP festival, Under-the Radar Festival draws arts professionals from around the world. This sets-up an opportunity for the artists to attract multiple presenters and organize a fruitful touring schedule.

Frankenstein, an incredibly intricate production is a marvel of visual elements. Created by Manual Cinema and adapted from the novel by Mary Shelly, members of the company collaborated on its realization with the primary concept by Drew Dir. Live actors zoomed from one end of the darkened stage to the other, feverishly moving stick figures and light fixtures. Characters danced across the white walls like Kara Walker’s panoramic cut-paper silhouettes to the atmospheric music by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman.

Despite the two-dimensional aspect of the images, the audience felt Shelley’s sadness--her despair and manic desire to write a story that captured her colleagues’ praise. Running over close to two hours, no intermission, the production is enviable but the story unspools on a single, theatrical note. Much of the energy went into the actual depiction of the storytelling rather than development of dramatic arc. That said, they deserve an award for the production’s visual elements.

For some reason, Chekhov’s 19th century Russian play Uncle Vanya never ceases to fascinate contemporary theater professionals. And so, New Saloon pays witty tribute to Chekhov in their “mash-up” of English translations featuring characters portrayed by multiple actors, sometimes speaking simultaneously. Settled on an aging estate in the Russian countryside, the quiet, hard working family members are disrupted when their sophisticated, urban relatives descended on the premises. Suddenly, mundane lives are pitched into emotional extremes not experienced in years.

The potency of the concept was most evident in the beginning when the tall blonde actor, Madeline Wise, began a deadpan delivery as the tree-hugging doctor who is a regular visitor to the estate. What was particularly exhilarating was the way she spoke just a few words punctuated by repeated minimal gestures—a hand opening and closing, eyes focusing on one person, turning away and back again. That unleashed a thrill because the words and gestures formed a provocatively syncopated rhythm that supplied the emotion. Soon the rest of the play’s outsized characters entered.

Gender roles switched constantly adding a sense of whimsy to this rendition of dysfunctional family dynamics. If a viewer is not familiar with “Uncle Vanya” there might be some confusion over the characters in Minor Character. However, everyone understood there was an old crotchety professor (played by the singular David Greenspan—the only single actor/role) married to a young beauty salivated over by all the adult men in the house. At times, Morgan Green’s direction pitted the actors into a genial contra dance: characters met up, and split apart bisected by the huge dining room table. But nothing else in the play reached the heights of Ms. Wise’s opening monologue.

One of the most upbeat productions of the Under the Radar Festival was The Evolution of a Sonero. Primarily a bio-musical, the theater piece is written and performed by Flaco Navaja who grabs the audience in the very first minutes and doesn’t let go until the calls for encore! Directed by Jorge B. Merced, the pace cooks with the help of the on-stage band The Razor Blades. Slim and dressed in a three-piece suit, Navajo wove together stories about life growing up in the Bronx. Shaped by his extended Puerto Rican family and an unforgiving urban decay, he struggled to shed skinny, geeky looks and in the process was tripped up by a fierce tango with drugs and alcohol.

What differentiated this from most solo performances was the introduction to Puerto Rican music: how it rose from the African diaspora, and how the clave formed the heartbeat of the Afro-Caribbean social music genres. Produced by the venerable Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, much of the program’s success is centered on Navajo’s charismatic presence, soaring voice and nimble dance body. In the end, it’s the music that solidified cultural identity, the spirit of perserverance and hope.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 10, 2019
The new Broadway musical The Cher Show grabs profile fragments floating in the universe and composes a collage picture of Cher. Contemporary myths promoted Sonny as Cher’s Svengali. He was the star maker; she was the musical talent. There are times when the musical pulls back the curtain on that simplistic origin tale, but never enough to bring the story into focus. The hopscotch book by Rick Elice glosses over historical milestones, which is probably OK because the songs and Bob Mackie outfits take center stage.

That Cher was blessed with a remarkable voice is indisputable. Happily, choreographer Chris Gattelli animates the musical in tandem with director Jason Moore. The hard working corps flips through dance crazes of the 1960’s-80’s or so. Hips wiggle, bodies shimmy and arms pump over quicksilver feet. Out come steps from the sultry Madison, disco’s finger pointing snare and for added flair a flip, split and cartwheel or two. Gattelli’s potent chorus frames the stars, ultimately enlarging the performance. In fact, the dances gins up the pacing.

Cher’s lifespan is divided between three actors and when Stephanie J. Block plays the “bad ass” mature Cher; the show is in good hands. Additionally, Jarrod Spector rather successfully captures Sonny’s comedic timing and Italian swagger. However, results are more mixed when Michaela Diamond plays Cher as a young woman and Teal Wicks portrays “smart mouth.”

We are reminded that the stars of the 1970’s “Sonny and Cher” weekly, variety TV show were really Sonny, Cher, and Bob Mackie. In retrospect this would be a great fashion runway show because a large part of the musical and theatrical talent is sewn into Cher’s fashion moxie.

Despite Cher’s fashion independence, that confidence did not originally extend to her business affairs. Sonny was in charge until Cher uncovered misappropriation of funds and then, she took over. This part of the narrative deserved more time.

Besides singing along, the audience ogled the sparkling, form fitting outfits that plunged down the front, slit up the sides, slashed down the back and topped by headpieces rivaling Nefertiti’s crowns.

A lightly seasoned musical, Cher dispenses lots of musical hits into an audience willing to embrace a star who remains relevant.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 31, 2018
“We’re not ‘Nafricans!’ We’re AFRICANS,” Baba Brinkman explains as he urges the crowd to indulge in some grammatical law breaking for the sake of verbal clarity and adherence to Dead Prez’s lyrical intention in “I’m A African.” Used to unify the audience on the geography of their common ancestry, it is the most essential bit in The Rap Guide to Evolution,” now at SoHo Playhouse.

Brinkman, a white Canadian son of a tree planter and husband of a neuroscientist, goes about cross-pollinating evolutionary science and hip-hop music in two ways. Primarily, he injects sermons on Darwin’s theories into the performative mode of rapping. Multisyllabic scientific jargon becomes approachable in syncopated, rhymed delivery, but falls short of placing humanity’s struggle to embrace rationalism alongside rap music’s original thrust of expressing inner city frustration.

The other tactic is far more interesting – looking to rap music’s 40ish year tenure as a microcosm of evolution’s 3.5 billion year process – and is unfortunately done in digressions. For a song about mating compatibility, Brinkman traces the lineage of the “hypnotize” lyric between Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, and The Notorious B.I.G., choosing Baggie’s version on account of its most evolved form.

He similarly compares male animals’ ornamentations with the notion of “bling,” parallels testosterone levels in males to Ice Cube’s career, and prompts a thought experiment on what love songs would be like if human males were killed after copulation as in some species of spider. Fascinating and charming, any of them could create a more organized dramaturgical structure for the show, but they are all too briefly and too evenly touched upon.

Brinkman instead rolls through assorted facts and statistics like that professor your note taking couldn’t keep up with. Beautiful ideas of society mirroring the teamwork of the cells that comprise them float alongside teen pregnancy being a side effect of low life expectancy. With the slightest explanation of homosexuality and no commentary on race other than a comparison between appropriation and animals falsely adopting venomous appearances for survival, it becomes increasingly difficult to grasp at a point.

When we think we’ve made it, Brinkman answers our current moment’s frustrations with the dry consolation that evolution will prevail. “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” urges women to choose better mates, income inequality is addressed as a condition, but not as an injustice, and, personally, I don’t feel like waiting for more evolved people to fix the government.

Nonetheless, it all technically supports the overarching intention of debunking creationism, which, while certainly still an ongoing debate, is evidenced to not be all that pressing by a lack of protest from SoHo Playhouse patrons, now better equipped to support their already maintained arguments as social Darwinism remains unchecked. Of all the inventive analogies made in the show, Brinkman’s improvised rap of audience feedback misses the opportunity to motivate self-betterment as we instead scramble to remember what statistical secret weapon we will use at the next family holiday dinner table.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis and Jonathan Matthews

October 28, 2018
Who needs another Uncle Vanya? Aren’t’ we done with this drama about a rundown estate in Russia and the depressed inhabitants? Evidently, it still thrills theater professionals and as a testament to its endurance, this year’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya expertly directed by Richard Nelson, converted many more fans.

Seats on risers slide up either side of the rectangular performance area inviting audience members to walk around long wooden tables and chairs to their seats. The casual nature of the set by Jason Ardizzone-West is reflected in the overall direction of the play and for once, the compressed script translated by Nelson, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky flows through time without losing anything in translation.

Settled on an aging estate in the Russian countryside, the hard working family members are disrupted when sophisticated, urban relatives descend on the premises. Mundane lives are suddenly pitched into emotional extremes.

Uncle Vanya (a sensational Jay O. Sanders,) a bit of a romantic, devotes his time assisting his niece Sonya (Yvonne Woods) in the management of the family estate. Despite her outward shyness and melancholia, Sonya secretly dreams of marrying Dr. Astrov (Jesse Pennington) – a socially conscientious doctor who drinks and thinks too much. Money earned from the estate, under Vanya's and Sonya' supervision, supports the father’s and stepmother’s comparatively lavish lifestyle in the city.

When Sonya’s father the professor (John DeVries) and his elegant wife, Elena (Celeste Arias) visit for a few weeks, the household’s routine is upended. At first, the houseguests are a wonderful divergence, but their demands become suffocating. In the midst of this family conflict, love interests entangle Sonya, Elena, Vanya and the doctor—a socially conscientious man who drinks and thinks too much. Their anguished feelings soar, but never mate.

In addition to the chaotic flirtations, the elderly and unappealingly cranky professor announces his intention to sell the estate. Little thought is given to anyone other than himself. This unleashes volatile reactions that nearly destroy the family.

Evidently, Nelson takes advice from a letter to Chekhov's wife on the "theory of acting" saying, “Suffering should be expressed as in life itself.” That’s precisely the beauty of this ode to Uncle Vanya. From the organization of the stage space, to the naturalness of the actors, the audience becomes a part of the extended family. Handily aided by a strong cast, Nelson succeeds in convincing us that we are eavesdropping on a very common family of uncommon dimensions.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY . -- Celia Ipiotis

August 2, 2018
“Anything goes” – that was the motto for the drug induced, sex-soaked, ribald 1970's. Point of contact for much of this decadence was the midtown Studio 54.

This Ain’t No Disco at the Atlantic Theater exploits this fevered center of sex, drugs and punk howls. Assembling a dead-on cast, the new rock opera by Stephen Trask and Peter Yanowitz zooms-in on Studio 54 and to a lesser extent the downtown Mudd Club. Band members are split between two sides of the third tier of an iron platform that wraps around the stage. Disco cages house dancers writhing and contracting around the bars while the hordes multiply on the ground, desperate for access behind the proverbial velvet rope. An energetic production, the show benefits mightily by the combined talents of director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Camille A. Brown.

The story of eccentric egos flushed through dark clubs and “15 minutes of fame” centers around the sensational punk musician Sammy (Samantha Marie Ware), her sweet, dear friend and failed artist Chad (Peter Laprade) along with a PR/agent gab-about Binkey (Chilina Kennedy), The Artist—better known as Warhol (Will Connolly) and the infamous Steve Rubell (Theo Stockman).

At his point in cultural history, young, undiscovered artists were becoming a commodity. And it took people like The Artist or Binkey to sell them. A club employee, Chad blows-off college for some free time that can only be funded through “tricks” until his father dies bequeathing him an unexpected stack of money.

At Rubell’s urging and Binkey’s manipulations, Chad tries to transfer his T-shirt drawing talents to a professional plateau. But the critics don’t buy it and after another disastrous “marriage stunt” Chad tumbles back into the street. Running parallel to Chad’s story, Sammy, the “girl with the hat,” frets over caring for her son, finding herself and navigating a punk music career on the arm of The Artist.

These multiple threads of drug induced dreams crash into an unquenched greed for fame, fortune and fun. The score features several songs that could stand-alone, including The Artist’s final aria, but several numbers blur into one another adding unnecessary weight to the much longer first half.

Brown’s choreography contributes to the raucous, sex-soaked atmosphere, adding back-up dancers behind the lead singers, drawing out personalities through the change of movement styles, from the more refined modern dance steps to the body rippling club dances and African based stomps. In fact, more dancing might have amped- up the first act.

Additionally, the lighting by Ben Stanton paints light throughout the show-- throwing shafts of beams inside the dark, vibrating dance club until the space separates into bright particles under the disco ball, or pushes white light on the harsh daily encounters, and darkness over glaring truths. What doesn’t work so well is the balance between the cookin’ band led by Darius Smith and the singers. Because of this imbalance, the lyrics are frequently unintelligible which is unfortunate because the lyrics tell the story.

All the performers deserve a round of applause, with some additional kudos going to the slimy, snarky Stockman as Rubell, the booming voiced Eddie Cooper as the D.A. who finally brings down Rubell and The Artist who weightlessly floats through the crowds that ultimately disperse as the 1980’s and the Age of AIDS rips apart New York City’s unsuspecting arts community.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 28, 2018
Robed in blood and power-lust, Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth plunge into the dark side of ambition in order to force the hand of fate.

Fascinated by these proverbially thrilling roles in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, Yukio Ninagawa transposed the action from Scotland to the Azuchi-Monoyama period (1568-1600) -- a time that closely resembles Shakespeare’s era. This suits the tragedy’s ethos, because if anything, it’s about warriors battling fractured souls. Part of the Mostly Mozart Festival, Macbeth is directed by the late Yukio Ninagawa, translated by Yushi Odashima, and the two lead roles go to Masachika Ichimura as Macbeth and Yuko Tanaka as Lady Macbeth.

Framed by Japanese Shinto and Buddhist practices, scenes cut from one to the other in quick succession giving the production a picture book quality. Because of the ritualistic nature of the interpretation, there’s actually more information delivered via the production’s set design and the ichnographically significant costumes. In the visually lush setting, clipped language is punctuated by spoken syllables that rise and fall in a strong, staccato delivery.

Much of the story remains intact from the three hags prophesying Macbeth’s ascendancy to the throne to the couple’s decision to murder the king and then every other person capable of interfering in Macbeth’s claim to the crown. However, the fierce, full warrior armor does not translate into the typical graphic bloody action.

A distinctly Japanese element is realized in the cherry tree’s presence in the middle of the stage. It becomes another character in the play. At frist, the tree is lusciously colorful and buoyed by beautiful flowers, but the brightness devolves into a petal dripping sadness that underscores the tragedy’s emotional trajectory.

One of the most memorable scenes arrives when Macbeth immerses himself in a circle of candles which he lights slowly, one after another while heavily delivering Shakespeare’s famous passage:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

The sense of loss, not only of a great man, but also of one’s own soul is palpable. There are no gang-buster fight scenes -- although Macbeth wields his samurai sword with choreographic brilliance—because the real dramatic force is revealed in the way thoughts twist the minds and bodies of great men into pale human forms, sucked of honor.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 28, 2018
Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope arrived at City Center in a flurry of expectations because this generation’s major tap dancer Savior Glover choreographed and directed the revival. Originally produced in 1972, the groundbreaking show featured Vinette Carroll, the first black woman to conceive and direct a Broadway show, as well as Micki Grant, the first woman to write the lyrics and music for a Broadway musical. Another member of the original team, George Faison, gained acclaim as a popular Alvin Ailey Company dancer and choreographer.

But back to the present: clocking in at a swift 75 minutes, Glover keeps the stage in motion while telling a story about America’s conflicted racial history through songs delineating an African American world view.

Although there is no real book, the collection of songs form bridges between rural lands and urban grit, church, fields and street corners. The plucky cast – led by Rheaume Crenshaw, Dayna Dantzler, Aisha De Haas, James T. Lane, and Wayne Pretlow--dives into the roles assuming multiple characters and performing a variety of dance styles stitched together by Glover.

One thing Glover knows better than most is rhythm. That brilliant internalization of dance and jazz rhythms underpins Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope unifying the songs into a logical cycle of migration, family, work, prayer, protest and joy.

Known for his tap ingenuity, Glover expands his vocabulary to include period social dances, soul moves, and a floor jabbing, roof shaking tap sequence all bundled through a decidedly African American modern dance prism. In fact when the dancers break into the central tap sequence, the audience roars because it magnifies Glover’s signature flat-footed floor slaps, toe stands and a multitude of sounds shaded in warm and spanking bright colors.

Despite all the different dance styles, Glover clothes his cast in dance sequences that suit them and the characters they portray. And by the way, the on-stage jazz combo ripped under the direction of Annastasia Victory and the supervision of Chris Fenwick.

Savion Glover and his talented and jazz combo drive Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope into an uproarious sound feast.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 18, 2018
Among other things, the Mint Theater Company's wonderful production of Miles Malleson’s 1925 drama Conflict peers at women's roles in Britain after World War I, during the roaring 20’s and an economically divided country.

When “Conflict” opens, the youthful Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke) and delightful Lady Dare Bellington (Jessie Shelton) are exchanging off-handed banter about their breezy nights swilling champagne at posh dinners and night clubs. They are sliding through life on a gilded sleigh of privilege but despite their long-term intimacy and perfect suitability, Lady Bellington still can’t commit to marriage. She’s bored -- she’s unsettled -- she wonders if she might not find something more.

After Lady Bellington retires to the bedroom, Clive and Lord Bellington (the perfectly cast Graeme Malcolm) discuss Clive’s campaign strategy for the Tory post in the upcoming elections only to be interrupted by a vagabond. Dirty and disheveled, the homeless man Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck) begs for money. Ready to call the police, Smith tells Clive they were fellow classmates at Cambridge. Smith’s family lost all their money and his musical background failed to leverage him a job. (Is this a slap at Music Majors?) Eager to be rid of this distasteful contact with reality, Lord Bellington gives Smith money and sends him away—that act throws the play into the “agitation cycle.”

Smith puts his rescue funds to good use and runs against Clive as the Labor candidate, which brings him in contact with Lady Bellington. She engages him in a conversation only to be forcefully told that she’s part of the 1% economically elite and egregiously out of touch with the rest of the struggling and starving British population.

This prompts Lady Bellington to attend his fiery rally and subsequently, visit his one room apartment. Suddenly, her mind is stimulated, and that in turn snaps her heart into a new arena of passion. Happily, Lady Bellington and Smith spark, making their attraction ring true despite their unequal social status.

Excellently cast and smoothly directed by Jenn Thompson, all the actors assume their characters with verbal and physical ease. In particular, Ms. Shelton transitions from the upbeat, glib, society girl to a woman of conscience without dropping any of her privileged demeanor. It’s an awakening to a new age—one that will demand more of women and fracture with the sound of more voices.

Regal in his bearing, Lord Bellington booms privilege and the young Major exudes the conflicted desire to be a fair and a good member of society while simultaneously preserving the status quo. On the other-hand, Lady Bellington's friend, the reconstructed Honorable Mrs. Tremayne (a wittily wise Jasmin Walker) represents the more independent woman. A widow of means, Mrs. Tremayne takes advantage of her freedom and pooh-poohs male validation.

Set designer John McDermott’s baronial front doors and plentiful wood paneling as well as Chris Field’s posh furniture and dishware add considerably to the colorful picture of society at the turn of a new world order. Despite the predictability of many scenes, Conflict packages its lessons in a glittering box of eloquent dialogue and candid insights.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 30, 2018
Cutthroat competition for school placements can compromise parents and teachers. Wealthy parents wield whatever power and financial fortitude they have on behalf of their children and that ring of influence can ensnare teachers. In Anthony Giardina’s Dan Cody’s Yacht at the Manhattan Theatre Club, individual reputations and moral guideposts are tested.

A highschool English teacher, Cara Russo (Kristen Bush) straddles two socio-economic universes. Her school is based in Stillwell, an affluent town, and she lives in Patchett, a blue-collar town across the river. Her daughter Angela (Casey Whyland) attends the local school and rather than read a sophisticated book like “Beloved,” her school assigns the airport counter paperback “Exodus.” Despite limited means, Cara is determined to navigate the tempestuous waters between her professional and private worlds.

Politically, the two towns are considering combining the school districts and this option ruffles the concerns of Ivy-league minded parents in Stillwell. This local tempest drops a charming man with an agenda, Kevin O’Neil (Rick Holmes) into the equation.

On the surface, he meets Cara and tries to convince her to change his son’s failing grade. Although not swayed by his persuasive arguments, Cara hesitantly accepts his offer to attend monthly “investment” parties. By consenting to mingle with fine people and make more money, Cara’s moral compass begins to tremble.

While Giardina’s scenario is plausible, it remains predictable. Ably directed by Doug Hughes, the cast moves convincingly through John Lee Beatty’s imaginative Stillwell classroom, Cara’s basic kitchen and Kevin’s plush living room. When the contrived plot ropes Cara into the status conscious nether world, education becomes the victim.
EYE ON THE ARS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 18, 2018
Carmen Jones
Classic Stage Company
Here’s a great mash-up, Oscar Hammerstein II and Georges Bizet link talents in Carmen Jones at the Classic Stage Company. Originally produced on Broadway in 1943 with an all-black cast, it was adapted to film in 1954 and starred Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandrige.

Now swing around to 2018 for a revival directed by CSC’s award-winning artistic director, John Doyle with choreography by Bill T. Jones of Fela and Spring Awakening fame. To top it off, Tony Award-winner, Anika Noni Rose, leads the dynamic all-black cast.

Set during World War II in the South, a parachute factory worker is snared in a tragic love triangle with an airman and prizefighter. Under Doyle’s direction and Jones’ choreography, the show is likely to tear-up the stage.

The limited run extends through July 29 at the Classic Stage Company in the East Village.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

April 25, 2018
Totally self-assured, Condola Rashad depicts Joan of Arc’s laser clear determination to lead the French armies during the bloody Hindered Years’ Wars. Yes, there’s the confession to hearing the voices of saints guiding her to assist Charles VII in his struggle to reclaim France from England, but that hardly sounds insane during these days of fantastical claims. A peasant girl, Joan found her “calling” at a young age.

In this authoritative, straightforward production handily directed by Daniel Sullivan the action is poised in the words. Fortunately, the cast is capable of animating the text based on the records of her trial. Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1923, the show fanned out in six scenes.

Structurally, the scenic devise condenses the journey into clear chapters. Everything is set in motion when Joan, convinces Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the royal garrison, to give her an escort to the court of Charles Valois, Dauphin of France (Adam Chanler-Berat). Gazing directly at him, Joan makes clear her vision and although he pooh poos it, her determination to see the Dauphin crowned king intrigues him. Of course, the military forces are floundering, thus opening up a route for anyone thrilled to lead the dispirited troupes.

Once in front of the Dauphin, Joan insinuates herself into his frail sphere of trust and convinces him that she alone can guide his ascension. Because the play is written in a matter-of fact way owning in part to Shaw's feminist ethics, some of the dumb-struck awe that must have surrounded her pronouncements becomes one, understated tone.

Although it’s not completely clear why Joan was so successful at leading a band of war-weary men, there are some utterances about Joan’s gift at gaining the men’s loyalty. Of course, she fights in the fields shoulder to shoulder with her men, that in itself could be enough to entrust one’s life in her hands.

The small cast duplicates roles, but it must be noted that the Inquisitor, Patrick Page deploys a bass voice that heralds the great radio announcers of the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s just astonishing to hear such clear pronunciation underscoring the music embedded in the English language. Generally seated in the director’s chair, Walter Bobbie grandly returns to the stage in the role of the Bishop—who both supports and in the end must condemn Joan.

Despite her successes, Joan is burned at the stake for heresy, but she accepts her fate in much the same way as Iphigenia who was sacrificed in order to insure fair winds for the ships sailing to Troy. Iphigenia’s name translates to “strong born,” “born to strength” - adjectives that suit Joan. Both are joined by their heroic actions--both accept their fate for the sake of their country.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 20, 2018
Perfection drives every minute of the dance rehearsal. The troupe of pre-teens has a trophy to win, a mother to please, an ego to prop up. This is the universe of competitive dance. That doesn’t mean the troupe is composed of professional level student dancers--according to the talented playwright Clare Barron, it’s a tribe of conflicted students struggling to understand themselves and achieve a shiny medal.

When the curtain opens at Playwrights Horizons, a company of young dancers dressed in sailor outfits tap out a sweet Broadway style corps routine until someone collapses on stage. This shocking event results in the re-shuffling of dance troupe responsibilities. Directed and choreographed by Lee Sundah Evans, life lessons abound in this poignantly funny production.

In preparation for the next competition, the snarky self-absorbed teacher, director, choreographer-dictator Pat (Thomas Jay Ryan) selects the master of peaceful protest, Ghandi. Not something the girls can relate to, they do engage in their own form of protest by subverting their roles or their parents’ expectations.

Teen-age dread is magnified through the prism of competitive dance activities. Of the clutch of 6 dancers (Eboni Booth, Dina Shihabi, Purva Bedi, Camila Cano-Flavia, Lucy Taylor, Ellen Maddow, Ikechukwu Ufomadu), one member – Amina (Shihabi), can really dance, and actually looks like a dancer. She’s the star until she’s not. This re-jiggering of roles thrusts unsuspecting students into positions of expectations that demand more than they can manage.

In another twist, the young dancers are played by actors of varying ages from 20’s through 40’s. Indeed, upon deeper consideration, pre-teen students display a multiplicity of body types and personality formation. So this physical discrepancy suits the jumbled maturation levels of the young stars.

“Dance Nation” explores the ramifications of students striving to achieve excellence through an imposed set of demands from society and family members. Daughters and mothers collide, and group politics explode against a young girl’s attempt to repress excellence. And how often does that happen in the life of a young woman—the questioning of how to be exceptional without attracting attention? So much more to conside.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 19, 2018
Known for publicly discussing topics generally sequestered to whispered conversations between girlfriends, Eve Ensler broadcasts her most private thoughts and actions to the world as a form of therapy. This format echoes a string of women who spoke out on behalf of women’s issues stretching from Sappho to Germaine Greer. Women’s’ deep despair and longings reverberate through ancient poetry and contemporary stories.

Originally, Eve Ensler made her mark in 1966 with the wildly popular “Vagina Monologues.” In her newest theatrical foray, In The Body Of The World Ensler delves into her uterine cancer diagnosis. Struck by this silent assassin, Ensler was not so silent about her safari in search of a remedy and comfort. Her descriptions of overcoming bad doctors, bad hospitals, and bad information, is a gritty albeit heavy-handed.

A diligent chronicle of the poor manner in which medical professionals inform patients of their disease and their options surface in all its messiness. Ensler braids her fury into an onslaught of derisive descriptors. It takes masterful research to organize the available therapeutic options, teams of doctors and facilities. Then comes the realization that after diligently following all recommended protocols, the cancer returns—so unfair.

Directed by the fine Diane Paulus, Ensler never falters in holding the stage; her personality easily stretches beyond the proscenium to the audience in the Manhattan Theater Club. However, this production does not establish and unified bond between the audience Ensler’s own anxieties, anger and righteous cries. In The Body of The World lasers in on Ensler’s own bitter frustrations lead her to an inevitable conclusion -- life is not fair unless you make it so.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 15, 2018
For disco era aficionados, Donna Summer conjures up nights in discos and days recuperating. The newest Broadway jukebox musical, Summer includes a few brawny voices depicting three vocal periods of Summer’s career. Songs that had the audience singing along and wiggling in their seats included “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard For The Money” (a feminist anthem).

Following the path of so many other R&B vocalists, Summer excelled in the church choir. A Boston girl, Summer was baptized LaDonna Adrian Gaines and before high school ended in 1968 she was off to NYC.

Sone after she arrived in NYC, Summer snared the role of Sheila in the rock musical “Hair” and while touring in Germany married an overbearing man with whom she had a child. Conveniently, Summer also encounters two men who were instrumental to her success, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. These men became very close to Summer guiding her career and producing more than half of her albums.

The biographical musical is written by Colman Domingo and Robert Cary along with the show’s director Des McAnuff. It traces her catapulting recording and performance career, plus her daring decision to record a song “Love to Love You Baby” that ran over 17 minutes—a length never-before aired on the rock radio stations. Yet, it became a mega hit in 1975 magnetizing the gay community around her.

As the story unfolds, three different women assume the role of Ms. Summer. Ariana DeBose, the maturing Summer, sings “Bad Girls” and dances up a storm. Serjio Trujillo choreographs spot on dances that exude the steamy disco riffs. Poured into sleek unitards and shiny outfits by Paul Tazewell, the dancers’ rippling spines and hip shimmies linked the hard working corps into one extravagant “Shuffle.”

A veteran of rock and R&B musicals set in the 50’s, 60s, and 70’s, Trujillo’s dance vocabulary draws together partner dance as a form of vertical sexual teasing. On par with her sisters, Storm Lever vividly depicts the young sweet-voiced Donna.

Despite the biographical details that get short shrift—like her fallout with the gay community—energy is invested in revealing Summer’s innate intelligence and sophisticated knowledge of the visual arts; a hobby she picked up while living in Europe.

Smartly, the producers made certain a disco ball bombarded the audience with shards of white light while body-rousing music played by the house band under the vigorous direction of Victoria Theodore. For some—that was quite enough.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

March 25, 2018
Hard to think of a better day to sit in the sunny rays of Margaritaville -- NYC schools were closed and sidewalks were barely walkable. Still, hearty folks huddled into the Marquis Theater where they were greeted by thatch roofed island huts selling --what else-- margaritas.

Inside the theme continued with all the ushers wearing Hawaiian shirts and straw huts hung over the sides of the Marquis Theater stage.

A hard playing band led by Christopher Jahnke backed up the appealing leads. An eye-catching bar vocalist Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan) sings at the seedy, but neighborly hotel bar while his scruffy pal Brick (Eric Petersen) pours drinks. Both dropped out of the fast track and onto the laissez-faire beach scene.

Tourists roll in and out like waves, nourishing the locals’ coffers, but never sticking. Then along come two young ladies, one is about to be married Tammy (Lisa Howard), the other; Rachel (Alison Luff) is excavating the volcanic soil for a regenerative power source. The ladies are determined to bask in a wee vacation before Tammy’s impending wedding and Rachel’s devotion to science.

Added to the mix is a hotel owner and island yenta Marley (Rema Webb) and the gnarly Jamal who sports a black eye-patch. Naturally, holiday romance sneaks in, but then, so does a landslide of other events.

There’s a volcanic eruption, hunt for buried treasure, and an existential search to “know thyself.” In a simplistic way, the play revolves around the characters’ fear of love and trust in oneself.

Boisterously delightful, Lisa tries to control her appetite for the sake of her fiancé and finds, through Eric’s wholehearted acceptance that she needs no improvement. Career minded Alison finally drops her emotional blockades when the utterly charming Paul makes a full-throated appeal for her love. But none of this happens right away. It actually takes years for the web of strings to re-attach.

Scenic design by Walt Spangler is reminiscent of a high school play, both colorful and tackily whimsical. Veteran lighting designer Howell Binkley switches between scenes drenched in the bright light of a Key West day to darker, thin colors of mainland suburbia.

Breezily directed by Christopher Ashley, the choreography by Kelly Devine perked up the corps and nodded to the musical dynamics. A combination of rock steps, Latin social Dances and some plain ole’ sashaying round-and-round adds a giddy sense of forward motion. Yes, by the end, all is well in this simple story, but between the stress-free, singable tunes, the two and a half hours breeze along.

The light-hearted book is by Greg Barcia and Mike O’Malley with music and lyrics by the ineffable Jimmy Buffett. Now for those who know the Buffett soundtrack, this is a production that’s just asking for sing-alongs. In fact, my neighbor did that until I suggested she quiet down to which she responded, “No--you’re suppose to sing along at Buffett shows.” What to do?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 21, 2018
With the zeal of a missionary, Jessica Hecht blazes access-trails from private institutions of learning directly to students of color. Her goal is to redress the imbalance that has simmered for too many years due to America's inherent racism.

“Admissions” the new, thought-provoking play by Joshua Harmon at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater examines the conflict surrounding the hair-raising process of applying to schools. It cracks open the conflict between the liberal do-gooder who labors to assist the underprivileged, only to question the impact of such policies on one’s own family members.

When Jane (Hecht), the head of Admissions at a New Hampshire boarding school proudly ticks off the percentage of growth of minority students, her husband (Bill Mason) the school’s headmaster beams. They applaud their successes in raising funds to support a wide range of scholarships with the clink of wine glasses.

Another thread that tightens the comi-drama follows a female board member Roberta (Ann McDonough)— who volunteers to once again take shots of the school body for the annual yearbook. But somehow, her photographs don’t convey the schools famed diversity. Even when Roberta photographs students of color, the exasperated Hecht complains they appear too “light” in the photographs. Over and over again, Hecht finds fault with reality.

Topping-off the escalating conflict is Hecht’s senior-level son Ben’s (Charlie Luther Mason) own anxiety about college applications. One of the brightest students in the school, Ben’s stunned to learn he was denied access to his first choice school Yale, while his less intellectually esteemed pal is admitted. At first this just looks like the luck of the draw. But soon, it's revealed that his friend, the son of a bi-racial family, checked the box for “African American.”

This revelation results in one of the productions high points—a screed trumpeted to the heavens by an apoplectic Ben. Not since Daveed Digg’s lightening fast proclamations as Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton” has an actor delivered as dense and extended a rant sans the benefit of a rap beat.

Words trip over one another questioning entitlement, the importance of being excellent, following the rules, making hard decisions and then embracing one's idealistic beliefs resulting a final decision that shocks Ben's mother and father.

This memorable, nearly 20-minute speech leaves the audience fully exhausted. Applause meets the end of Ben’s full-throated aria to the point where he could’ve bowed and executed an encore.

Directed with aplomb by Daniel Aukin, family affairs slip apart and Ben falls into a depression. A very timely production, “Admissions” will ring in your ears for days to come.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 8, 2018
This spring two hotly anticipated musicals will open based on blockbuster children's stories. Harry Potter comes to town and so does the mega Disney animation "Frozen." That film spawned a soaring anthem that shall not be mentioned because it might make some parents reading this notice weep. Young girls raised on this anthem of female empowerment are growing up and joining the #MeToo Movement and running for political office.

But back to the musical, it includes the same Oscar-winning film score creators, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez with the film's screenwriter Jennifer Lee. Helming directorial duties is the masterful Michael Grandage who is joined by another Broadway expert choreographer Rob Ashford. More and more, the choreography is what catapults Broadway musicals from good to outstanding. In fact, that's one of the secret weapons in "Hamilton." Movement becomes the connective tissue that magnifies the musical emotions. Many are anticipating Ashford's contributions to the two-act productions.

Frozen, a full-length Disney Production is told in two acts, is the first and only incarnation of the tale that expands upon and deepens its indelible plot and themes through new songs and story material from the film’s creators; in fact, this new stage production features more than twice as much music as the film. Like the Disney Theatrical Broadway musicals that have come before it, it is a full evening of theatre running over two hours. Visual design, another key element in the theatrical magic-making, is overseen by a blue-ribbon group that includes: Costume designer, Christopher Oram; lighting designer Natasha Katz, video designer Finn Ross, renown puppeteer Michael Curry and special effects (one can only wonder what that might be) Jeremy Chernick.

Frozen appears at the St. James Theater on West 44th Street. And get your cameras ready because the streets around the theater are dotted with adorable young girls decked out in sky blue princess gowns, glittery hair and breath-taking smiles.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 1, 2018
Bright colors flood the stage when the lights come up on a sparkly bar, a couple of bar stools and a lone man who emerges chattering and leaves rounding numerous verbal laps of juicy gaiety and poignant refrains.

Gerry (Jeff Hiller) arrives early for a wedding in Palm Springs, California and well, what’s there to do at a wedding but dish and flaunt half-truths? Maybe the happy couple thinks they’re on the road to bliss, but Gerry questions the validity of happy endings. After all, his friend is marrying a dull tack—truly lackluster – at least when compared to someone like, well, like Gerry!

What‘s remarkable is how Gerry can keep the verbal meter running for over an hour with no break, no dip in energy or glee. He slips from the bar, to lounge chairs circling the swimming pool, and through the shiny-fringed curtain designed by Dara Wishingrad. The only human on stage, Gerry chats up a handful friends, his ex and current boyfriend.

Directed by Michael Urie, Gerry’s monologue, written by Drew Droege, whips through popular culture tidbits at an exhausting rate while he throws back enough cocktails to inebriate a high school prom. In the midst of all this caddy howling he finally admits that his own relationship is on questionable grounds, and that maybe it is worthwhile to find a lifetime partner. Threaded through the many “insider” jokes, commentary on gay rights surface and crash because another wise-crack is lobbed over the any serious matter.

For those who want to join in the fun, cocktails are available in the basement of the Soho Playhouse because in the end, the audience is part of the boisterous wedding party that spills off the stage throughout the theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 22, 2018
Seated around a table, the well-modulated voice from the speaker phone (Stephanie Wright Thompson) calls the meeting to order. The high school teachers and coaches calmly discuss the non-profit organization’s scholarship goals for the year. A new member, Julie (Stacey Yen), quietly pushes for clarity.

Always looking for the “yes sure” in new suggestions, the members mouth interest and insist on putting all ideas on the table. Suggestions circulate about themes, targeted fundraising goals, and responsibilities. The usual meeting blather. But subtle shifts in group dynamics soon begin to rumble on an underground track that finally erupt in some truly funny scenes.

The well-meaning group includes Brenda (Amy Staats) the helpful female coach and the temperamental, entitled male coach Ken (Joe Curnutte) whose animated facial expressions crack-up the audience as do his rather lame attempts to sink a basketball in a doorknob-high net. (Although she doesn’t interfere in the childish hoops game, Brenda could decidedly out-play Ken.)

Directed by Lila Neugebauer, there’s little physical action but tons of emotional activity. Scenes revolve around the table in the Phys Ed teacher’s lounge (designed by Amy Rubin), with people always seated in “their” chairs and speaking in a tightly controlled, calm voices. But when the “Miles For Mary” local telethon nears, nerves fray.

Verbally supportive pronouncements are passively questioned ripping open pent-up frustrations. To start, the married couple, Ken (Marc Bovino) and Julie (Stacey Yen), squeeze around ways to criticize one another’s ideas without being outright critical. This balancing act invariably takes a tumble when Ken attempts to unemotionally teach the skeptical group how to use a multi-channel telephone system. This devolves into a boisterous exchange challenging the necessity of mastering this donated equipment.

Created by The Mad Ones (the entire cast), whether dissecting the meaning of “condescending language” or questioning amorous affections “Miles for Mary” at Playwrights Horizons delivers astute commentary on “politically correctish” group interactions.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 4, 2018
At the turn of the 20th century, one of the great figures of the art world surfaces and single handedly changes the image of dance and definition of an “impresario.” Serge Diaghilev, the man whose motto was “astonish me!” clearly captured Terrence McNally’s imagination producing “Fire and Air” based on Diaghilev’s struggle to achieve greatness and presented by Classic Stage Company.

Diaghilev famously achieved groundbreaking developments during his reign over Ballets Russes (1909 – 1929) but those accomplishments are buried behind constant whining about boils, while blubbering in the arms of his devoted nanny Marsha Mason. Yes, Diaghilev (fitfully played by Douglas Hodge) is a flawed man, but the balance of neurosis and accomplishments leans heavily towards the hysteria.

Plagued by depression, financial challenges, homosexual desires and internal demons physically manifested as red splotches all over his fevered body, Diaghilev succeeds in becoming the toast of Paris at the turn of the century.

Diaghilev’s greatness centered on his ability to connect brilliant, young composers and artists with choreographers. This action in combination with his decision to streamline ballets into one acts featuring a unified creative team insured his place in dance history. The one other defining feature of Diaghilev’s august career was his intense relationship with the brilliant dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (James Cusati-Moyer).

This creative and sexual pairing caused both men extensive psychological pain. McNally focuses on the tortured relationship and on Diaghilev’s dyspeptic personality. Interestingly, although it’s Nijinsky who suffers from mental disease and is ultimately committed to an asylum, in McNally’s version, Diaghilev behaves more erratic and mentally untethered than Nijinsky.

A complex man, Diaghilev was part of the educated and elite St. Petersburg crowd, but that society was baked in tradition and his innovative ideas had no air. “Fire and Air” taps into Diaghilev’s regrouping of his ambitions in Pairs where his unsparing nursemaid Marsha Mason coddles him. Always in debt, Diaghilev’s artistic productions are supported by the efforts of the great art patroness Misia Sert (Marin Mazzie). Elegantly portrayed by Mazzie, she is part nursemaid part patron saint, and only every once in a while does McNally hint at her political astuteness. Similarly, Dima (John Glover), the deeply educated, empathetic cousin who tries to stabilize Diaghilev’s finances, resembles a passing bookkeeper.

As for Nijinsky, his role is nearly mute. Slim and graceful, he looks like a dancer but does not move like one. Interestingly, dance demands are few and limited primarily to the popularized two-dimensional poses depicting Nijinsky in his famous role from “Afternoon of a Faun.” For those not familiar with the controversial ballet, it’s difficult to conjure up the novel choreography. Attached to just a few wisps of the liquid score by Debussy, Cusati-Moyer hits few poses-- in particular the famous lunge on the floor, neck arched back, mouth open at the point of sexual ecstasy. The faun costume by the great Leon Bakst and reconstructed by Ann Hould-Ward, was the most convincing element.

Similarly, when Nijinsky becomes involved in the creation of the 1913 “Le sacre du printemps” one of the century’s most earth-shattering ballets, the lack of visuals from the "Sacre" and any reasonable stretch of Stravinsky’s ferocious score makes the experience exasperating.

McNally does try to illuminate Diaghilev’s impact on Nijinsky because not only did he give Nijinsky—the Michael Jordan of male dancers—opportunities to perform and choreograph, he also expanded Nijinsky’s educational horizons introducing him to the era’s great books, artists and museums.

But Nijinsky was conflicted by his sexual relationship with Diaghilev. That turmoil is underscored when in 1913 Nijinsky goes on tour to South America without the overbearing Diaghilev, and marries Romola.

This devastates Diaghilev who tries to redirect his interests in the dramatic dancer/choreographer Massine, nicely played by Jay Armstrong Johnson. However, this doesn’t soothe his disturbed soul. Actually there’s a nice “imagined” passage where Nijinsky warns Massine about Diaghilev’s ways, his temper and anxieties--odd predilections.

A spare production, the primary visual elements include a string of light bulbs suspended from the ceiling, a few gold edged chairs, two ornate mirrors and a dancer’s barre. Director John Doyle magnifies the word over production values, but there’s an imbalance of physical and verbal information.

For audiences who are not familiar with the great achievements of Diaghilev, “Fire and Air” offers a thumbnail sketch of a time when the arts and invention held hands inspiring a new era that looked back at the old academies of Europe and forward to the new movement language and sounds emitted from the New World.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 15, 2018
Blessed with a natural born affability, John Lithgow converts the Roundabout Theater into one large parlor; seated in a chair, Lithgow invites you into his house. Over the next two hours, the avuncular actpr regales his audience with stories about his father.

When growing up, his father would sit in his easy chair and recount stories to the family. One memorable night-time story was Ring Lardner’s 1925 Haircut set in a barbershop in the Midwest. A little kinky for a young person, Lithgow enthusiastically emits the sounds of sharpening a blade on a razor strap and other incidental noises.

To convey the different, colorful characters populating the barbershop, Lithgow, undoes his collar, cocks his head, stands to extend his arms. All the characterizations are accomplished through subtle shifts of voice and gesture.

Attracted to his kind, trusting face, everyone listens to Lithgow who wears a grey suit and white shirt by Jess Goldstein while relaxing in a comfy wingback chair by John Lee Beatty positioned in a warm pool of light by Kenneth Posner.

In between the stories, Lithgow reminisces about life with his father who was a man of the theater, constantly on the move until he lands in the bastion of liberalism Yellow Springs, Ohio home to Antioch College.

Like so many people currently dealing with elder parents, when dad Lithgow begins failing, John stays at the house to ease his days. Different attempts to raise his moods fail, but suddenly, John hit on an idea -- why not read the family stories bound in lush leather, and see if they have an effect? And voila! That’s the ticket. John reads to his father the very stories that somehow retained tracks in his psyche.

The second story brings to light the Lithgow family’s humor preference and it lands in the lap of British wit as delivered by the venerable P.G. Wodehouse. In his preamble to the book, Lithgow suggests that Wodesouse stories shaped the family’s sense of humor – a humor that was not shared by many in the Midwest.

Uncle Fred Flits By is a jocular farce depicting what could be the original “Odd Couple.” Fastidious and buttoned up, Pongo Twistleton (the name says it all) is upset by his spontaneous Uncle Fred.

After agreeing to join his uncle on a nostalgic trip to his family home, they walk into what they think is a vacated house only to attend to visitors who assume they belong on the premises. Assumed identities, and daring acts add up to heart-racing, discombobulating romp in the country.

In truth, the production of John Lithgow: Stories By Heart might have fared better appearing in the baronial library in the Morgan Library, or the Frick Museum or Park Avenue Armory Veterans Room.

Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the production’s rhythm can lag when Lithgow’s gait slows down causing the well-crafted intimacy to melt away in the theater. Still, Ltihgow is to be applauded for his nightly foray into the power and simplicity of a well-crafted story.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 15, 2018
In Broadway’s new musically adorned drama “Farinelli And The King” by Claire Van Kampen, wife of the show’s star Mark Rylance, the candlelit wood set crowned by onstage Baroque musicians seated in the gallery, exudes an 18th century serenity.

Against that calm exterior, Mark Rylance couples nonchalance to resignation in his portrayal of the psychically disturbed King Philippe V. Indifferent to his ascension to the throne, Philippe (a direct descendant of King Louis XIV -- the king who wielded culture like a political weapon, indulges in daydreams.

Aides and military attaches, in particular Dr. Jose Crvi (Huss Garbiya) and Don Sebastian De la Cuadra (Edward Peel) fear Phiippe cannot manage the affairs of the country -- but that’s far from the case. A razor sharp mind and memory is still capable of producing astute orders required to guide a country caught in turmoil. But the king’s innate desire to rule Spain has withered.

Rylance, one of the most skilled and intuitive actors alive, embraces the rather thin outline of King Philippe V investing his character with an intellectual curiosity poised amidst a myriad of conflicting emotions. A child-like inquisitiveness and sly sense of humor humanizes this ingenuous monarch.

Dressed in a white sleeping gown, pole dangled over a goldfish bowl, the distracted king chats philosophically with his fish as one might in the presence of a therapist. Like Hamlet, one is not certain if this is an “act” or symptom. Regardless, the melancholy undermines Philippe’s state of mind.

A questioning tone soaked in resignation and wistfulness, captures Rylance's remoteness. Clearly he harbors a vivid imagination. Philippe wonders about the universe, the beauty of nature, the greatness of all forms of life. More poet than a monarch, Philippe longs for something more to feed his troubled soul. Time consuming meetings and papers detailing the state of Spain’s affairs leave Philippe flailing for a reason to live. It’s all senseless. Far from a warmonger, he’s an artist.

Intent on discovering a remedy for Philippe’s debilitating melancholia, his highly cultured wife, the molten voiced Melody Grove (Isabella Farnese) is fabulously dressed by set and costume designer Jonathan Fensom. Undeterred in her mission, Isabella finds an antidote in Europe.

A lover of the arts herself, she travels to the grand concert halls of Vienna and London where she is dumbstruck by Europes exploding art scene and the angelic voice of the internationally celebrated castrato Farinelli. Isabella implores Farinelli to come to the court and sing for the king. Money is no obstacle, but by accepting this invitation, Farinelli cannot accept other gigs.

Isabella’s hunch that Farinelli’s heavenly voice will soothe Philippe’s fevered mind comes true, but she doesn’t anticipate the bond that forms between two men who were plunged into their roles without their consent. Philippe ascended to the throne as a young man and Farinelli was castrated in order to preserve his unearthly soprano.

Director John Dove double casts Farinelli’s role with an actor Sam Crane and Mr. Davies. This makes sense because to start, it takes an enormous amount of energy to sing let along divide focus between acting and singing. No doubt, the unamplified music was one of the great treasures of this play. Arias from Handles’ Baroque operas floated over the audience perfuming the air with an audible harmony and calm. However, the decision by Dove to have the identically dressed actor face away from the singer while remaining on stage, looked awkward.

Over time, Philippe does improve to the surprise of the men who thought to depose him, but soon Philippe insists on leaving the court for a house in the woods. Here Philippe communes with nature, indulging in organic gardening, championing conservation initiatives and bathing in a simple life. At night he gazes at the sky and discusses the harmony of the planets, the golden mean and celestial balance.

By the end, the dramatic through-line peters out, but the music floats the audience out the doors.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

December 16, 2017
The set for Alex Keegan’s production of Paula Caplan’s Shades at Cherry Lane Theatre initially strikes one simply – a living room, comfortably furnished. But when the eye scans with more intention it will see edges that are literally frayed, as though the house were freshly extinguished. It’s a subtle gesture that goes unmentioned by the cast of four – a fitting image for a story of information held internally, festering until malfunction ensues.

The play follows a fragmented family that, through further pruning, fills its gaps. Don, a divorcee and veteran who served in Vietnam, Val(erie), his widowed sister who protested the war, and their father, a recent widower who served in World War II. Val, played boldly by Ashley Wren Collins, is the primary driver of action, trying desperately to connect with her ill brother while working as a nurse for a paralyzed Vietnam vet, June, whom she quickly befriends in lieu of her brother’s distance.

What is established through exposition and developed in plot is a web of loss. Don and Val’s mother has been dead for two years at the beginning of the play. Don is already single. Val has been widowed for about a year, and she learns that June’s husband left her shortly after her paralysis. When Don’s cough turns out to be Agent Orange-induced terminal cancer, Val is moved to confess that her husband’s death was not an accident, but a suicide.

The spinning of this web is strung out by a pervasive withholding of information. Don and his father never share war stories with Val, who thinks they are being stingy, but realizes after inviting June for a family dinner turned storytelling session, the truly traumatic and morally ambivalent reality of combat. Her husband Sam quietly suffered from PTSD of his own service experience until his suicide letter elucidated how inconsolable his pain was. Don’s death uncovers a larger scale of withheld truth, from the government to its own soldiers, allowing the use of Agent Orange to compromise the health of its veterans for utilitarian reasons, which overwhelms his father with guilt for inspiring his son to an occupation that would eventually kill him – a guilt that leads to a climactic cracking of his forcefully maintained pleasant veneer.

This outburst scales us back down, leading to a more intimate release. Earlier, Val laments how the guilt of from husband’s suicide has left her unable to remember any pleasant memory they shared, self-withheld by a thick wall of painfully unanswered questions. At Don’s funeral, all having been laid out, the play’s final line is such a pleasant memory, finally unlocked.

The thematic presence of war sets up a hierarchy of conflict priority. Don never wavers from his fixation on larger issues, defending his country even as he dies. Valerie comes off comparatively selfish in her quest to figure out how she could have prevented her husband’s suicide. June bridges these moral paradigms, shedding truth on military willingness to sacrifice its own, but also revealing her intense desire for physical intimacy she fears she will never have again.

In a play of drawn out reveals, none of it is withheld from its audience. We bear full witness to the conflict and confusion within each character, emphasized through vivid performances erupting in Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre. Collins in particular has a mannered delivery, perhaps signaling her character’s hunger for immediacy in communication, calling to mind the military’s guidelines to transparent communication: “What do I know? Who needs to know it? Have I told them?”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

December 15, 2017
Despite not being part of the fan group fawning over the cartoon series, SpongeBob SquarePants and his aquatic tribe, the newly tricked out Broadway musical conceived and directed by Tina Landau is a total delight. Visually upbeat, David Zinn’s splendidly colored, cleverly adorned costumes compliment the madcap set design that in effect, becomes another character. Led by a most engaging actor, Ethan Slater (SpongeBob SquarePants), the story revolves around his pals, “bad actors” (who are really good actors) and impending destruction of their environment.

Insecure but devoted to SpongeBob, Patrick Starr (Danny Skinner) gets a lesson in believing in himself. The energetic Lilli Cooper (Sandy Cheeks)—a scientist squirrel who breathes underwater with the help of a diving suit -- helps Bob and Patrick combat the villainous Sheldon Plankton (Wesley Taylor). Packed into this scenario is the cranky, cheap Eugene Krabs (Brian Ray Norris) who owns the popular food shack Krusty Krab, the divinely inky Squidard Q. Tentacle’s (Gavin Lee) and so many more creatures who all look different from one another.

Each character is expertly delineated through the costume and costume extensions as well as the movement riffs gleefully choreographed by Chriopher Gatelli -- in particular his creation for Lee’s Second Act “I’m Not A Loser” to the composition by “They Might Be Giants.” This show-stealer features Lee in his long green pants, legs turned out accenting his white sneakers and big feet. Once he begins the springy dance and tap routine, his other two legs appear attached to his back end. But this visual pun populates a production that bounds over original songs by more than a dozen contemporary bands and artists to an engaging book by Kyle Jarrow.

Interestingly, Landau manages to take this youthful story and steep it in an ample amount of suspense and elation. In the end, the universe is saved, while the bullies are tamed, insecure egos are bolstered, friendships cemented and outsiders embraced.

Don’t wait for the kids to go, take a partner and drink in the aqua-aid.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 28, 2017
The story sings inside you weeks after the curtain goes down on the remarkable Broadway musical “The Band's Visit.” Stranded in a remote Israeli town due to a translation error, the classical Egyptian band’s odyssey begins.

The Egyptian band is led by Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), a buttoned-up, formal man who keeps his emotions and band members in check. Obsessed by Chet Baker, Shalhoub's outgoing band member played by Ari’el Stachel, incessantly asks people if they know the jazz musician, Chet Baker. As if people in the Mideast are familiar with the trumpet guy who eliminated drums from his band and popularized the "cool" jazz sound. Strains of “My Funny Valentine” -- a song Baker made famous with his sad, smoky voice, seeps throughout the production commenting on the interactions…” You make me smile with my heart.”

A casually urbane cafe owner Dina (the ccompelling Katrina Lenk), is weary of the uneventful town life, and handily parcels out the musicians to families for the night. Initially, when the Arab musicians step into the Israeli households, it reads like the equivalent of Arabs and Israelis being welcomed on either side of a militarized border. But through the universality of shared family problems shaped by overworked, under-paid parents and young folks’ romantic rumbles, everyone merges into a unit of mutual support.

Distracted by the evening’s events, Tewfiq finally agrees to join Dina for a drink in the town center. There is no doubt about the fondness vibrating between the two, and his small indications of desire read like explosions of lust. Attracted to Tewfiq’s honorable demeanor, Dina basks in Tewfiq’s muted emotions while simultaneously infuriating her married lover who watches from the bar.

The delicately directed production by David Cromer illuminates the humanity binding the characters that form the cast of superb actors and musicians. His vision is fused through the gorgeous Eastern flavored music and lyrics by David Yazbek; simple, open sets by Scott Pask and Tyler Micloeau’s lighting.

It’s rare to come away from a production and feel as if every sentence, every song, every gesture and every syllable was essential to the play, but that’s what happened the night I saw “The Band’s Visit.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 22, 2017
The usually isolated one-person show tactics of lucid storytelling, flashback, and protean character shifts are mashed together by Manfred Karge in such a way that the largest surprise about Man to Man is its linear narrative – Ella, played by Maggie Bain in Wales Millennium Centre’s production of Alexandra Wood’s new translation, recounts taking on her husband’s identity after his premature death in order to survive Nazi Germany. It is fitting that a piece demanding so much modularity from its one performer has two directors – Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham, who craft an experience that takes spatially fixed Bain’s spectators from BAM Fisher’s seats to Ella’s every memory.

The space Ella inhabits has fluid continuity. Designed by Richard Kent, we walk in on a humble studio apartment. The dimensions are altered so that all lines slope to the uppermost corner, charging the largely empty space with lonely tension.

Rick Fisher’s lighting divvies up when we are accompanying or observing Ella, who speaks to us directly under naturalistic bulbs. She is disturbingly good-humored about her traumatic past, perhaps because the worst is now behind her. Without warning, however, lighting will invert, dropping Ella into a memory. As she makes an effort to keep us engaged, we wish she would quit being so hospitable that she might grapple more presently with her flashback.

Andrzrej Goulding’s projections further confound. Frost permeates the walls when Ella talks of a hard winter. Bricks crumble away when a wall’s dismantling allows her to visit her husband’s grave. When she finds his grave replaced with another, walls rebuild, now of an internalized sort.

It is ultimately Mike Walker’s sound design, embedding occasional whispered echoes and talking objects, which situates us inside Ella’s head. Traumatic memory, however, is not faultily cerebral, but physically exacting. As such, the only certainty we have into Ella’s experience is Bain’s wild physicality: her well-trained masculine gait, slumped posture, and constantly shifting eyes, vigilant for an instance of invisible manipulation overcoming her – when Ella is in bed with her husband, or when some suspicious soldiers forcibly check her genitals.

In this sense, hallucinogenic sequences in the room become hyperreal. It starts tenderly – Ella behind her husband’s jacket over a chair, her arm slipped through the sleeve as though it were his, caressing her(self). Later, she climbs walls, subtly embedded with hooks, allowing her to hang a chair like a painting to watch TV. Not always in control, she gets sucked into a suitcase that holds a dress she once wore.

Telling us still in a male presentation, Ella permanently maintains the incidentally queer existence adopted out of necessity. A woman develops feelings for male-Ella, advances deflected by the remote existence of the very wife Ella used to be. When she is under persecution, Ella gives her female-Ella’s passport, effectively accepting that she will never live as a woman again.

Man to Man inverts notions of transgenderism from many sides. Some say it is a choice; transpersons do not agree, suggesting self-directed compulsion. Ella similarly had no choice, though externally motivated. Some transpersons remain in a body that feels incorrect as to function in society. Ella transitions into an identity that feels incorrect to the same end. Both are damaged by prolonged, forced misalignment between internal and external existences.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

November 20, 2017
“APAP|NYC 2018 will be the first conference under APAP’s new name, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals,” notes Mario Garcia Durham, President and CEO of APAP. “While for many years the organization and our flagship event have been growing more inclusive and forward-looking, with the name change, APAP is embracing more than ever our role in the evolution of the performing arts industry and the broad definition of the professionals within it.”

That announcement comes on the heels of the next major industry gathering in NYC as noted in earlier articles. One of the important aspects of the conference are the plenary sessions and talks.

Here's an overview of the topics and speakers:
Opening Plenary Session, January 12
Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of The Public Theatre, will join a panel of speakers at the opening plenary of the conference on Friday, January 12. Under Mr. Eustis’ visionary leadership, the institution serves as a breeding ground for younger, smaller theater companies as well as emerging artists who have lent important voices in exploring the transformative power of the arts.

Closing Plenary Session, January 16
Bassem Youssef, a former heart surgeon turned political satirist and comedian, famously known as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” will share his wisdom and wit. Earlier this year, Mr. Youssef’s book, "Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring" was released and his story is the subject of a new, captivating documentary called "Tickling Giants."

Featured Speakers and Artists
Kyle Abraham, choreographer, dancer and founder, Abraham.In.Motion
Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, hula vocalist
Ahmed “Knowmadic” Ali, poet and artistic director, Breath in Poetry Collective
Christina Tsoules Soriano, associate professor and director of the dance program, Wake Forest University and Christina Hugenschmidt, assistant professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine, Wake Forest University
Jason Moran, jazz pianist, composer and educator
See more about the conference at, @APAP365, #APAPNYC and

November 18, 2017
Swinging from bar to bar, Lucius Jenkins (Edi Gathegi) projects a remarkable physical specimen. Lean and intricately buffed, Jenkins sharpens his mind by exercising his body. Oh and by the way, he’s incarcerated at Rikers. Spellbindingly charismatic, Jenkins has found a new way to live—by truth and by God.

A new inmate Angel Cruz (Sean Carvajal) kneels in the next-door jail cage desperately trying to repeat the Lord’s’ Prayer. Jeered by others, he stumbles over the words and hollers “Harold be thy name”—funny but dark, like the rest of the black humored drama.

That’s the beauty of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ ear. He’s tuned to street language, and urban rhythms muscularly scoring them into a chamber opera of charged emotional content.

The story centers around the two incarcerated men who share one hour of daylight in cages next to each other. Angel feels righteous about his attempt to kill a cult leader who brainwashed his friend. Sadly for Angel, his target died during surgical complications removing the gunshot lodged in his butt.

Lucius keeps questioning Angel’s beliefs, his moral compass and larger philosophical presence. A serial killer who killed blacks but did not suffer repercussions until he killed a few white people, Lucius is preparing – physically and psychologically for his destiny.

Directed by Mark Brokaw with harrowing physicality, Jesus Hopped the "A" Train gets under your skin. The image of the jail cages, men dropping on the floor to eat in a lawless cave is a gut - wrenching reminder about America’s dysfunctional penal system.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

October 30, 2017
Little Shadow Productions packs a complete dystopian future into the intimate space of HERE’s lower level via a diverse array of puppetry to tell the tale of the Flatiron Hex, co-written by James Godwin and Tom Burnett. Godwin prowls the space, animating figures both physically present and cast by light among Burnett’s aural texture of sci-fi mayhem filtered through the cool breeze of film noir voiceover.

One must filter feed through the actual story, laced with another play’s worth of backstory and yet another’s worth of associative commentary. New York has become NYORG after some apocalyptic series of events. Wylie Walker is a contracted shaman/plumber who is tasked with protecting the city from one of the storms (it claims) threatens its citizens. After a botched rebooting of the city’s sentient mainframe, SAM, Walker’s firing brings him in cahoots with a mayor hopeful who could benefit from Walker finding the missing key that led to SAM’s malfunction, sending him along a messy and gory saga. Few end up being who they say they are, and most everything has been a set up, but Walker emerges affirmed in his own integrity.

Appropriately, the story features a multitude of characters, embodied in multiple ways. Compact physical puppets, designed by Godwin, don a slightly mannered realism with understated mutations except SAM, resembling the bust of a long necked dinosaur skeleton. The mayor of NYORG is a conjoined married couple. The NYORG employee behind the whole government scam is always seen from above a cylindrical desk. When Walker dismembers him, we realize that desk was actually part of his body.

One scene involves paper cutouts, the 2D sensibility of which extends to two vintage overhead projectors, an inventive use of obsolete technology to generate shadow puppetry of the distant future. Walker’s mother, as an uploaded consciousness appears in a freestanding projection box before a video message of her is actually represented with a floating 3D manifestation. The Tongue (the mayor hopeful) is introduced as a projection, whose unchanging face sputters all over the projector from the lisp he speaks with. We later see the tongue in 3D as having been a disguise for the actual mayor the whole time. The projections literally reveal alternate dimensions of the same characters, most of which serve to deceive.

It is unfair to simply call Godwin a puppeteer. His performance comes close to actual omnipotence as he portrays a life-sized Walker, animates every puppet with individually realized voices, and operates extraneous props with vaudevillian fluency. The story truly only serves Godwin’s performative inventiveness, but his inventiveness is the rare kind that actually deserves to be seen for its own sake.

There is, however, a sharp point of view. That shamanism and technology have become one speaks to our current dependence on technology as a real kind of magic, exemplified by one’s difficulty remembering the proper incantation to make her home 3D printer produce a cookie. The packed plot, too, works to help us see this future in a more contemporary light, challenging us to follow along in character via the same hyperconsciousness one can attain in a future in which consciousness can be downloaded and impossible puzzles can be solved with the help of mind-expanding spores.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

October 20, 2017
Spoken word artist and man with a conscience, Mark Bamuthi Joseph reaps inspiration from community around him and the world at large in his new piece /peh-LO-tah/ -- a futbol framed freedom suite.

A very thoughtful artist, Bamuthi Joseph layers politics, and culture in a mix of spoken word, movement, and visual projections by David Szlasa. Soccer becomes a metaphor for freedom, as seen through the prism of a racist history and urban America and trust.

By immersively employing a tangle of text, song, verse, athletic hip-hop dance and film he fashions a universe that is at once personal and global. Flanked by five marvelous performers of different ages and distinct personalities, Bamuthi considers the plight of Americans negotiating race relations against the backdrop of soccer. Why soccer—because it is a cooperative sport where the unit is more important than the individual. In contrast, capitalism insists on the individual.

Many ideas and recent headlines filter through the piece directed by Michael John Barces and move the action through the 90 minutes at a clip -- even if some fine-tuning would benefit the production’s overall impact.

Song breaks out in search of a moral life, one that can embrace all souls who do not feel safe in a community of perceived danger that shadows the savaged earth as well. A carefully constructed sound design by Tom Ontiveros weaves the charged score by Tommy Shepherd in and out of recorded sound and live singing.

Each performer steps away from the group to speak move and even sing about a particular event, global issue, or individual seeking justice, seeking acceptance, seeking themselves. Asked to do everything – sing, speak dance, act --choreographer Stacey Printz makes everyone look comfortable in his or her urban dances.

The animated performers include the thoughtful Amara Tabor-Smith; firecracker dancer and performer Traci Tolmaire; cocky Tommy Shepherd and the velvety voiced Yaw Agyeman.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

September 26, 2017
Stairway to Stardom graced public access television through the 80’s, becoming a cult phenomenon in the internet age for its “so bad they’re good” contestants. Amanda Szeglowski and her company cakeface have taken the show to kick off HERE’s 25th anniversary not in exploitative pastiche, but towards an associative new entity achieved through a thorough interview process that universalizes the struggle to self-creation.

Prism House greets us to the white space with club music and projected clips of the original contestants, their lack of rhythm choppily edited into strict sways to their beats. The ensemble of five female bodies enters in the fuss, facing back, heads atop a flurry of tinsel. After an image of a young girl with similarly shimmering sleeves graces the screen, they ceremoniously revolve, calibrating themselves with an accumulation of head bobs, both funky and mechanical. They either have been studying for this moment all their lives, or this is their eternal study.

After an opening dance break they list things one wanted to be when they grew up at the rambling rate of an internet browser constantly refreshing. From the get go it is clear that these onstage presences are not the originators of these aspirations (although, the performers are responsible for some of it).

Each section of text follows a usually unspoken subheading – Regrets, self-motivating mantras, what it means to have “made it.” Exceptions include an insistent and insatiable, though dispassionate “What did your parents want you to be?” and “So, what are your talents?”

One may speak for several perspectives, and the group may speak for one. The monotonous deadpan delivery, syncopated by robotic stuttering, makes changes in syntax incredibly potent in denoting a new individual answering, as the content itself is strictly maintained from its original verbal answer, including mistakes in grammar, stalling words, and candid political incorrectness.

There is a unanimous acceptance of occupation as identity. The difference between a job resume and a performance resume becomes hard to maintain as we realize how much incompetence we encounter, inflict on others, and excuse. The definitions of talent versus skill similarly blur, most poignantly when one muses on their ability to draw, but not to create.

Between textual sections, occasionally flashy, but largely understated movement resembling backup dancing is placed front and center. It, too, malfunctions, quick head and shoulder jitters halting the step-by-step flow. In accompaniment to the text, postures and facings change on operative words without imposing subtext, while functionally generating a pulse that facilitates crystalline delivery.

These performers, speaking from simultaneous narcissism and mediocrity, are unquestionably talented. How are we to identify the presence they project? Glitchiness being the unifying activity in every medium, they are not people, but a record of people, engineered with the guarantee of eventual decay. The tinsel they enter wearing renders them as VHS static. The projections, both mutilating the show’s clunky footage into smoothness and eventually including the performers themselves, released from their fembot forms, make video the thing that depicts and preserves us as human, versus the live presences that expose our selves and dreams as mechanisms, headed towards inevitable obsolescence and unguaranteed reinvention.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews

September 20, 2017
When all the arts presenters, professionals and performers converge on NYC Jan. 12 -1 6 for the next APAP|NYC conference, there will be a series of specialized festival percolating inside the APAP framework and include:

American Realness fuses dance, performance and discourse with all types of artists Jan. 9 - 16;
Chamber Music America -- the national network for the chamber music profession--showcases artists and ideas Jan. 5- 7;
globalFEST highlights a one-night only blast of musicians from around the world Jan. 14;
Wavelengths: APAP World Music Pre-conference includes forums and strategic sessions Jan. 11 - 12 ISPA Congress refers to International Society for the Performing Arts programs that face internationally Jan. 9 - 11;
Jazz Connect Conference gathers jazz professionals who perform and discuss current field-wide issues Jan. 11-12;
The Joyce Theater's American Dance Platform collects a highly curated group of dancers for performances Jan. 9 - 14; NYC Winter Jazzfest blasts the city with young and notable jazz artists in clubs around the city Jan. 10 - 16;
PROTOTYPE: Opera/Theatre/Now singles out emerging, noveau opera talent Jan. 7 - 20;
The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival takes a deep dive into unconventional theater and performance art Jan. 4- 21;

September 10, 2017
It might seem like January is a world away, but soon enough the holidays will be over, people will be putting away their gifts and taking out their calendars for active use during 2018 APAP|NYC conference.

This massive gathering connects performing arts professionals in old-fashioned “show and tell” style performances, workshops, seminars, talks, luncheons and special events.

Located in the New York Hilton Midtown as well as the Sheraton New York Times Square, over 1000 performing artists showcase their creations, while more than 400 booths form one of the world’s largest performing arts bazaars. This happens next to numerous professional development sessions, pre-conference forums and inspirational keynote speakers.

In addition, there are a flurry of mini festivals wrapped inside the larger APAP offerings like Globalfest, Under the Radar, Coil and so many more.

This year’s conference theme trans.ACT, “focuses on the transformative power of the arts.

The pre-conference happens January 11 – 12 and APAP runs from January 12 – 16, 2018.

For more information on the conference please go to: conference information at, @APAP365, #APAPNYC and
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 7, 2017
Do you know who John Banvard is?

“He’s the most famous man you’ve never heard of,” belts the intimate cast in the opening number. And just like that, we’re flung into the fascinating, unfortunately neglected, tale of the arguably first-ever celebrity artist, Banvard.

The ninety-minute bio-musical is written by West Hyler and Matt Schatz, who are also credited with directing and the conceiving music and lyrics, respectively. Their involvement from page to stage pays off. “Georama: An America Panorama Told on 3 Miles of Canvas,” unfolds seamlessly from one scene and catchy tune to the next. Paired with the unfamiliar storyline, the performance incites intrigue as much as it educates.

It’s the 1840s. A young sketch artist is happened up by a showman named Taylor, who soon gets them hired as a package performance duo. Banvard explores the idea of scrolling through images one image after another. He uses his sketches of the Mississippi River to create an impressive, moving panorama, or as Taylor preferred to rebrand it—a “georama.” It’s a hit.

But as Taylor envisions dollar signs for their act overseas, Banvard (well-played by actor P.J. Griffith) declares, “I don’t want to make money, I want to make art.” He continues his taxing pursuit of innovation internationally, teaming up with a female composer and his soon-to-be-discovered love.

Most interesting is that this Taylor, who emerges as Banvard’s relentless competitor, is none other than well-known P.T. Barnum. Actor Randy Blair shines in this role, nailing the comedic timing throughout. “A loud enough lie can trump the truth,” he sings with pride, tipping his hat to the wonders of a good PR spin.

What we see on stage is really a sad, but true, case study of the genuine artist (or common man) with integrity, ultimately stifled by the capitalistic, money-hungry businessman.

The performance further taps into the stereotype of the struggling artist that was as true in Banvard’s experience back in nineteenth century, as it can be today. “Art is for people with money and time to burn,” they sing. “You start to suspect that you’re frivolous…You weren’t prepared for the starving part.”

This uniquely American, historical account—complete with true story drama, live music, and a touch of drag—is suitable for such diverse audiences. “Georama” deserves a bigger stage.

Workshopped during a Drama League residency and first presented at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre, “Georama” is presented as part of the 2017 New York Musical Festival.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jenny Thompson

June 27, 2017
It’s always been difficult to reconcile the savagery of the Third Reich with the party members’ passion for the fine arts. So in a warped twist, exceptionally talented Jewish artists could barter their talent for their lives during Hitler’s death grip on Europe. In “Terezin” (influenced by “The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich) this theme is re-worked around two talented families struggling to stay together in the face of impending annihilation.

In the new drama written and energetically directed by Nicholas Tolkien and produced by the Steinberg Theater Group at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, the Holocaust is once again examined through the eyes of a young girl seeking sanity in a logically mute situation.

When Violet (Shasha K. Gordon) witnesses the cruel death of her parents at the hands of the Gestapo she’s embraced by neighbors including the mother, Isabella (Sophia Davey), a famous violinist. Violet and Isabella’s daughter Alexi (Natasa Petrovi) –an equally talented violinist—become inseparable.

Inevitably, throughout “Terezin” counterfeit people and situations are revealed. After the emotionally conflicted Commander Karl Rahm (Michael Leigh) carts the family to the new camp “Terezin,” he forces Isabella to teach him to play the violin. He’s awful, stiff and unable to reach his soul and Isabella dies soon after her arrival. But the Commander has much more in store for the families, and in particular, the two young girls.

Part of the drama reveals the duplicitous tactics of the Nazis in faking-out the international community. For instance, the Nazis camouflaged the slave labor and poor conditions of Terzin by fabricating a make-believe utopian camp. Built like film set, everyone (and remember, many are prominent artists or all disciplines) are marshaled to create a family-friendly community filled with parks and happy families. It was a “Potemkin”—a fake site designed to deceive the Red Cross. And in that, they succeeded.

Just as the camp was really just smoke and mirrors, Anna Driftmier and lighting designer Katy Jarzebowski built the simple, flexible and evocative set around shadows and sticks.

A fine cast expends vast sums of energy in this tale of human resilience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 16, 2017
Set in modern times, and accented by iambic pentameter, Oskar Eustis’s production of Julius Caesar spreads across the Delacorte Theater studded by fragments of large marble blocks designed by David Rockwell. Naturally, Shakespeare’s play about the final days of the great Roman politician, dictator and general—Julius Caesar-- sends up images of the current regime, I mean presidency. Here the public is restless, the senate is restless, and Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia (model-esque Tina Benko) is restlessly concerned about Caesar’s (Gregg Henry’s) life.

Edited down to two hours without intermission, Eustis whittled back a large portion of the rambling battle scenes and secreted rowdy Romans throughout the outdoor amphitheater audience.

The mixed cast, in every aspect of the word, includes the fine actress Elizabeth Marvel as Marc Anthony. Shakespearean strong man, John Douglas Thompson becomes a commanding Cassius, while Corey Stoll assumes the challenging role of Brutus--Caesar’s loving, but severely conflicted friend.

Triggering the central action, Caesar, standing before an adoring crowd, refuses the crown offered him by Marc Antony three times, strolling away victorious in the complete love of his people. But a soothsayer (the equivalent of ancient pundits) shouts to Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.”

Disturbed by Caesar’s concentration of power, and mock refusal of the crown, leading senators determined to preserve the democratic Republic, decide to communally assassinate Caesar with one dagger.

In their fevered minds, this joint act democratizes the blame and in their fevered minds, will once again unify the country. But the plot backfires, in part, because (as we learned earlier this year) people are unpredictable.

Disturbed by bloody dreams, Calpurnia intuits danger, and pleads for Caesar to miss the senate meeting on March 15—the Ides of March. He refuses and in the penultimate scene, when all the senators converge, circling their prey, red blood spouts from Caesar’s body in unison with the senators’ screaming recriminations.

But once Marc Antony, Caesar’s devoted friend and celebrated general convinces the assassins that he must speak about his beloved friend during the funeral, the masses are stirred. In this famous soliloquy, Antony starts by applauding the senators—or so it seems. The famous opening line “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” gives way to the volcanic refrain, “But Brutus says he (Caesar) was ambitious; And Brutus is an honorable man.”

Each time that line is repeated, Antony disputes Caesar’s ambition, pointing to all the benefits accumulated by the public under his command. However, in the heat of the summer night, the on-stage mob shouting, booing and applauding, drown out Marvel’s eloquence.

In the end, Gregg Henry does not really need to imitate President 45’s gestures—Shakespeare’s words make the dilemma clear enough.

The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park tracks the dawn of democracy and it’s complex, messy heritage.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 20, 2017
Lights splinter off the dusty disco ball in a bar of the not so distant past, unless you’re counting in social media time. Burned out from the NYC consumerism treadmill, Wes (Jeremy Pope), an aspiring fashion designer buys a dilapidated saloon in New Orleans. After realizing the property is falling apart he takes some mind-expanding snort that lands him back in 1974. That’s the start of Max Vernon’s warm-hearted musical “The View UpStairs” tenderly directed by Scott Ebersold at the intimate Culture Project.

New Orleans in the 70’s is a time when community means a handful of caring, real people are your friends, and not millions of “followers” showing their love by “liking” your photos. Spirits emerge and take on flesh. Dazzling drag queens materialize along with, lesbian and gay outcasts who found acceptance and love in specialized bars and clubs--havens for the fabulous and lonely.

Behind the bar is the owner and no-nonsense Henrietta (Frenchie Davis) whose voice can wield as much power as the bat behind her. Doubling as a house of worship, they raise funds for a local New Orleans charity in order to build bridges between their community and the status quo.

It’s a motley group—there’s the past middle-aged Caucasian piano player Buddy (Randy Redd), who’s married with kids and deeply inside the closet. Besides Henrietta, there’s Inez (Nancy Ticotin) the Puerto Rican mother whose marriage fell apart after her husband realized their son Freddy (Michael Longoria) was happier in make-up and spiked heels.

Organically feeding through the dense space designed by Jason Sherwood, performers sit on audience’s laps and dance and sing within inches of amused faces. Each cast member gets an opportunity to shine, but Wes belts out the most songs. Intense, agile and full of unrealized emotion, he commands his role. Wes’ love interest, the baby faced southern hustler Patrick (Taylor Frey), abandoned as a youth, has a quiet way of mocking Wes, and singing from the heart, which makes him an equal winner.

But someone with an exploding personality, Willie (Nathan Lee Graham) outrageously channels all the R&B divas, from Diana Ross to James Brown. In his piece de resistance, Willie breaks into a wild Ms. Ross-styled song and dance that hurls him around the space flinging his bell bottomed leg like a chorine onto the baby grand -- not once but three times. To the merriment of all, Willie’s elastic face transforms into Ms. Ross, Michael Jackson, and James Brown expressions and gestures that snake through his body like a slinky with a fro. And yes, he steals the show.

While hearing about people’s behavior four decades ago, Wes tries to warn Patrick about the vagaries of AIDS amid newfound liberties. Sadly, this story references the arson tragedy that pulverized a gay bar killing 32 people in 1973. But in the end, it’s always the connections between people that make a lifelong difference.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

May 18, 2017
Tucked in the backwaters of Norway, an unassuming diplomat Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) assumes a Herculean secret mission: to broker an international peace deal. This entails initiating the primary steps of a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel. At his side stands his secret weapon, his wife, Mona Juul (an enlightening Jennifer Ehle) not to mention those heavenly waffles baked by the inimitable Swedish hostess, Henny Russell.

Flying under the radar, Mays and his levelheaded, brilliant diplomat/wife do what major countries have yet to replicate. By understanding the essentials of human connections as an indispensable bridge to political consensus, Mays invites two Israeli professors to discuss the incendiary issues with two Palestinian politicians living in Tunisia. The meeting follows a couple of specific rules that state business happens without an intermediary in a secluded room. Once the discussions end, the dueling parties socialize in the living room over drinks, and marvelous food prepared by the much-adored Henney Russel.

This routine yields results. Volatile characters confess they’ve never really spoken to the warring side, and they recognize the mutual pain felt over years and years of endless tragedies. Smart, fiercely patriotic men fume and flare up into a peacock style dance, but in the end, progress.

At times, the play feels overwhelming. Will we ever choreograph a comparable détente? Director Bartlett Sher simultaneously drives the action with great fervor and understated accents, fitting the extraordinary cast easily to the stirring words written by J.T. Rogers.

Besides May and his North Star, Mona, the grandfatherly Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) tugs at heart strings, while his sparring partner the Palestinian finance minister Ahmed Querie (Anthony Azizi) reveals a poet’s soul. Then there are the two hotheads: Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani) who spouts Marxist maxims and the egotistical macho man from Israel Uri Savir (Michael Aronov).

This play is quite remarkable, if for no other reason than to point out that civility can arouse our better angels and unify nations.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 8, 2017
She hands him back his wedding ring, gets up, and walks out abandoning her three children and husband, And no, this was not last week, it was the final scene in Henrik Ibsen’s revolutionary 1897 play “A Doll’s House.”

Now, Nora is back. Yes, she’s returned after a mere fifteen years to confront her husband and willing or not, face her past as told by playwright Lucas Hnath. This is not a choice, it’s a necessity because in the intervening time she did not succumb to the poor house, she did became a successful “woman’s book” writer. Only problem, she received payment and royalties that as a married woman she could not accept and to her dismay, Torvald never filed the divorce papers. So legally, Nora remains married to Torvald. Yikes! That means she could go to jail. Therefore Nora goes home again.

A large wooden door dominates the spare, high-ceilinged drawing room designed by Miriam Buether. Suddenly, a strong insistent knock announces Nora’s (Laurie Metcalf) arrival. The family door opens and the very same nursemaid who consoled her and raised her children greets her. Believing that Nora is back to see the children, the nursemaid, Anne Marie ((Jayne Houdyshell) becomes disconcerted to hear that the visit has everything to do with Nora’s perseveration, and nothing to do with the family’s well being.

Structurally, Hnath choreographs a round robin exchange allowing everyone in the cast an opportunity to present their experience of Nora’s departure and subsequent return. Up first, is Nora. In a prosecutorial tone, Nora challenges Anne Marie to guess what happened, then asks and answers her own questions.

Expertly pitching gritty answers streaked in dark, dry humor, Nora recounts how she survived, took lovers and gained a fully shaped life. Remaining as restless as ever, Nora covers wads of stage space, dropping to the floor, plopping onto chairs and swigging water from a plastic bottle inside her oversized black bag. (OK, I found the plastic bottle disconcerting because it was not keeping with the 1900’s décor and considering the climate debate, why not pull out a glass bottle?)

In contrast to Nora’s frenetic demeanor, her grown daughter, Emmy (an excellent Condola Rashad) remains still. Not moved by the sight of her mother, Emmy peers into the distance. Completely her father’s daughter, Emmy instinctively recognizes her mother is not there for the family, but for herself. She projects a marvelous portrait of a young woman who rejects her mother while fully knowing herself.

On the other hand, the nursemaid, Anne Marie, reprimands Nora for her thoughtlessness and selfishness. When Nora charges Anne Marie with sacrificing her own daughter to raise another family’s children, Houdyshell grows a foot taller and commands Nora fall at her feet and thank her for raising the family she ignored.

Finally, Torvald (Chris Cooper) enters. Tense yet intimately familiar, the two come together and re-visit the old hurts, still charging each other with emotional crimes and misdemeanors. Sedate, quiet, and emotionally subterranean, Torvald does not change his life after Nora’s departure. Torvald never re-marries, and confesses to never terminating their marriage, which now jeopardizes Nora’s freedom.

Gold’s direction expertly delineates the characters by investing each with a unique physicality and underscoring the text’s rhythm speeding the 90-minute play along. A riveting production, no previous knowledge of Ibsen’s “Doll House” is required. Don’t miss Metcalf explode in one of the season’s most fiercely nuanced performances.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 3, 2017
Thrilled to be back home, the greatest generation returns to an unfamiliar country. Old jobs are taken, lovers have married and the men are no longer indispensable.

“Bandstand,” the new Broadway musical at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre captures the era through original swing music written by Richard Oberacker. Yes, this is one of those musicals that demands everything of its multi-talented cast—they sing, dance, play musical instruments and sing. Briskly directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, the expertly physical actors activate all the corners of the performance arena.

Action swirls around a hotheaded jazz composer and pianist, Donny Novitski (Corey Cott), who returns to Cleveland from the battlefield only to step into an emotional minefield. Jobs for jazz musicians are scarce and his friends have moved onto raising families and other jobs. Fortunately, there’s a competition being promoted that promises a large cash prize and a stint on an MGM film. Suddenly, Donny has a sense of purpose. He will organize a band of servicemen.

As theater luck would have it, he meets Julia (Laura Osnes) —the widow of one of his buddies—only to learn she sings and writes poetry that suits his musical compositions. In fact, there are plenty of sweet moments exposing the vulnerability of all the young men who have lost their appetite for risk, yet, want to feed their appetite for making music. A bit of “It’s A Wonderful Life” creeps in when all the locals donate money to help the band get to the finals.

For anyone who lived during the many television “Quiz” scandals of the 1950’s, it will be no surprise to learn that the competition was fixed—but there’s a twist. Most importantly, dance drives “Bandstand” that also features the slight book and lyrics by Rob Taylor and Oberacker. Taking a few notes from the great American musical theater choreographer Agnes deMille, the movement churns the story forward.

Known for his brilliant work on “Hamilton” and “In The Heights” Mr. Blankenbuehler vociferously expresses this era through it’s vernacular dances. Bodies flip unabashedly upside down, while legs kick side to side against hips that swish in counterpoint to the maddeningly quick footwork. Men’s arms pulse with muscles while, without a morsel of modesty, the women fly overhead tethered to the earth by one hand grasping another.

Although the swing steps are familiar from old films and musical revivals, Balnkenbuehler cleverly weaves everyday moves into theatrical exclamations. For instance, instead of choreographing a single line with everyone executing the same sequence, dancers invert steps, and repeat patterns in reverse. All this adds up to a bounty of innovative choreography that never positions itself in the center or one corner of the stage, but instead seeps into every conversation.

Although the story lacked depth, it supported the otherwise genuine talents of a cast that must sleep well after each physically exacting performance.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 30, 2017
Looking sleek and full of a joyful self-confidence, Bette Midler strides onto the stage and in the arms of her audience. Met by cheers when she first appears, the howls of approval explode when she dons the sequenced red dress and glides down the steps to the strains of “Hello Dolly.” And of course, at the end, the audience is up before the last word evaporates in the tornado of affection.

A bubbly widow with a habit of meddling, Dolly – Bette Midler, is –for want of a better word—the neighborhood yenta. She trades in making marriage deals, and actually, anything else that will bring in a coin or two. The trouble starts when Dolly tries to join an artist to the daughter of the wealthy Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pearce), the wealthy Hay and Feed Store owner in Yonkers.

Meanwhile, the two trusty workers, Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (Taylor Trensch) are itching to get out of the store and live a little. In a combustible circle of events—ecstatically choreographed by Warren Carlyle -- Vandergelder’s workers liberate funds from the cash register and race to the city. Now Horace is also gussied up and headed for the city to propose to Mrs. Molloy, the marvelous, clear-voiced Kate Baldwin. In a twist that never stops giving, Dolly throws a wrench in Horace’s rendezvous while the two young men land smack dab in the middle of Mrs. Molloy’s millinery shop.

Everyone behaves as if they are in a constant state of amorous springtime agitation. Dolly – constantly speaking to her poor deceased husband—confesses that she wants to settle down—preferably in the lap of luxury—and sees Horace as her ticket to the gilded altar.

The animated pit orchestra juices up all the marvelously hummable Jerry Herman songs (and I should say singable since a number of audience members confused the theater with a Karaoke club) while Carlyle tosses ballet, jazz, social and modern dance routines challenging the expert corps.

Invariably, when a director – in this case Jerry Zaks—and a choreographer, Carlyle, forges a symbiotic relationship, the result can be sheer joy. Zaks excites pitch-perfect performances from his cracker-jack cast while Carlyle tosses in odd twists to reformat well-worn ballet steps, jazz combinations and acrobatic swirls.

And at the center of it all is Dolly.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

April 30, 2017
Poor People's TV Room has already begun as the audience enters the theater. Separated spaces fill the stage and are inhabited by the dancers already in motion. Four performers in total, including the creator Okui Okpokwasili, slink over the stage, under blanket, in front of the plastic wall, behind the plastic wall, and posed gracefulliy in a chair. As the soundscape, designed in part by collaborator Peter Born, echos through the theater creating a sensation of unsettling nerves, exacerbated in the moments when the bass is so extreme that each member of the audience feels the sounds deep in their bones.

As the performance continues, the set becomes clear. Downstage left is a spotlight and two chair, used to house conversationalist moments between performers. Upstage right, divided from the chairs by a long cord adorned with one suspended sage light, is a more unique space- a vertical living room. Filmed from above and projected onto a monitor, the setup created the illusion that as the performers seemed to be standing upright on the monitor they were in fact laying on the set.

It was a truly dizzying performance on all accounts. Often people would speak over each other creating unintelligible patterns of words, while across the stage this sideway teleplay continues. Cut through by a plastic sheet, the downstage action is mirrored in the blurry figure just beyond the barrier. The lighting changes the shape of the bodies onstage, casting shadows and moving along with the dancers.

Suspended between the floor and the ceiling, one stagelight is swung around with the bodies towards the end of the piece. No fear of darkness, the piece staccatos through the lighting, unnerving and engrossing the viewer.

Rhythm was also a key component to this work. Heavy footfalls echoed through the empty spaces. Each way of speaking held a cadence unique and intense. The moment in particular was riddled with sharp angular movements, quickly shifting from one way of jutting out arms to another. Each chest was always tight, whether in contraction or release creating a strong insular energy that radiated with each shift of the body.

The angular, decisive movements were reflected in the thematic language. Oprah, breath and usefulness among other ideas kept appearing as people spoke. Always pointed and building towards a greater theme.

Okpokwasili composed and sang some of the musical score and when she did a lightness and air entered into the space. In these moments of lightness, the audience can sink into the performance and see better the dark moments that perforate through the work. A phenomenal evening in a world of it’s own, Okpokwasili has created a work worth viewing.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 25, 2017
Not long ago, in 2013 to be exact, William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1953 Drama “Picnic” enjoyed a revival on Broadway. Now, in a multi-purpose theater located in the basement of the Judson Gym, “Picnic” returns for a spare, but potent production by the Transport Group, directed by Jack Cummings III.

Limited to about 85 audience members per show, the minimal set is dressed with deck chairs stretching across the back of the stage leading away from a few doors suggesting a string of small town back yards. Immediately the eye-catching, studley frame of a young man, Hal (David T. Patterson), appears glistening in sweat while finishing up some chores. Proudly flexing his bulging arms, Hal spies the blond haired, unassuming beauty Madge (Ginna Le Vine), who lives next door. Having landed in a courtyard of single females, Hal’s sexual vigor is visibly disruptive.

This hardly bothers Mrs. Potts (Heather MacRae), the kindly older lady who habitually hires stray men to help with chores around the house. She thoroughly enjoys the strapping young man’s company, paying Hal a small stipend and gladly feeding his manly appetite. Not so pleased is Madge’s mother Flo (Michele Pawk) because she wants Madge to marry the stable, wealthy milquetoast young man Alan (Rowan Vickers) and Hal spells “Trouble” with capital “T.”

By this point, the mold is set, but there a few surprises. To start, dreamy Madge’s boyfriend was Hal’s pal in college. What a coincidence! Having never finished college, and tired of bumming around the country, Hal asks Alan to help him get a job and put down roots. At first, Alan wants to help his friend, later; Hal becomes a threat that must be removed.

Brimming with frustrated passion and thwarted dreams, the ladies of the backyards form a Greek chorus of longing. There’s Flo whose husband left her, the frustrated schoolteacher Rosemary (Emily Skinner) who desperately longs for a husband, Madge’s brainy sister Millie (Hannah Elless) who longs for male attention. Madge who knows that the “right” guy means muzzling her dreams and settling for an average life, so she’s poised to bolt.

Hal who stirs hope and fear in everyone upends all these scenarios. Director Hal Cummings gets some well-tuned performances out of the cast in this convincing production.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 18, 2017
Where else can you enjoy personal stories, delicious food, mind-boggling acrobatics, intimate revelations, seamless dancing and hair-raising stunts all wrapped into one? Cuisine and Confessions, directed, written, and choreographed by Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila, gives us the chance to be immersed in their Proustian world of food as memory trigger, cultural identification, potlatch offering, and communal glue. It is a riveting show from beginning to end, a rare theatrical experience that can entertain as well as move you, no matter what your age.

Before the start of the show, the actors/players/dancers/acrobats (all the cast members seem adept at all of it) are out and about in the house, chatting with audience members and colluding with each other. As soon as Ana Capelluto’s stage set is revealed through Eric Champoux’s wonderfully warm lighting, we see a spectacularly organized kitchen, complete with a vast wall of shelving in the background, a ladder, a large island in front of it that will later reveal another table, stackable chairs, a sofa, etc. The cast members dance around the stage playfully, some approaching a microphone downstage, telling us a bit of personal information that then propels them to move and dance as a response to the confession they have just shared publicly.

From the juggling of egg beaters and plates, to jumping through small wooden frames, to the standard cheerleading tosses and lifts, to a stunning arial sequence and gravity-defying pole dancing, our kinesthetic sense is constantly on alert and alive, as we follow each tightly choreographed scene featuring one of the cast members, each getting their moment in the spotlight.

We learn how for one man, eating fries and reading books with his mother on the weekends alone, while his siblings went to “see their dads,” actually made him feel special rather than left out. In another, more sobering vignette, we learn about a cast member’s father, who disappeared during the in Argentina’s “dirty war” when thousands of people were abducted and murdered by the ruling military regime. His anger and fear is sublimated into a phenomenal sequence on a pole, where he drops down at lightning speed toward the ground, screeching to a halt with his face just inches from the floor.

A former gymnast who is a dead ringer for Mary Lou Retton mused about her years of food deprivation and reveled in her full, rounded figure, as she upended our expectations by skillfully executing a series of balance beam sequences, followed by the “10!” arched back salute, head thrown back and grinning from ear to ear. Audience members come up to the stage several times, once for a dinner “date” with a cast member, and another time sitting around a coffee table with other audience members, forced to finally speak to each other about a strategically placed container full of olives.

The seamless integration of biographical snippets, highly skilled acrobatics, and graceful partnering and transitions, lull us into forgetting about the banana bread that they actually make and bake on stage, timed by our own cellphone alarms. By the end of the show, all that activity has worked up our appetite, and we gladly accept the invitation to share a snack with the performers, a fitting and friendly end.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

April 17, 2017
The recent world premiere of “Fragmented Frida” at BAM is the brainchild of actress, director, and writer Andrea Dantas. The one-woman show journeys the life of famed artist Frida Kahlo, offering a behind-closed-doors look at the incredible adversity she faced. More than anything, the spotlight is on her resilience and vulnerability. Clocking in at 90 minutes, the production goes by quickly—a testament to the rich content of Frida’s personal life, certainly, but also Dantas’ excellent performance.

We enter Frida’s story when she’s still an awkward young girl in Coyocan, Mexico with a toy monkey and a Polio-induced limp. Children’s voices are heard in the distance, taunting her for being Jewish and unloved by her mother. Young Frida is hurt yet rational, telling us mater-of-factly (as if we, in the audience, are her friends) about her rough upbringing.

Soon, Emiliano Zapata’s assassination is announced over a radio, placing us in 1919 at the height of the Mexican Revolution. The fearless, activist, Communist Frida has arrived. We experience the first instance of Kahlo’s need for validation during a hot and heavy, post-protest encounter with her then boyfriend, Alejandro Gómez Arias. “Say that you love me,” she begs. Shortly after her horrendous, near-death bus accident that left her pelvis shattered and confined to a plaster corset, she writes him again: “I love you more than ever, now that you have abandoned me.”

It’s her lengthy physical recovery that gave way to Kahlo’s art career. Known for her deeply personal self-portraits, Kahlo famously asserted, “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” We witness her reality continue to unfold through Dantas’ intentionally fragmented retelling. Tragically, Kahlo’s reality was filled with more illness and injury, substance abuse, emotional pain, and abandonment. The depiction of her time in New York City with philandering husband and fellow painter, Diego Rivera, taps into her relentless loneliness. The most emotional scene comes later in Frida’s desperate, painful call to her sister—Rivera’s latest lover.

Dantas and Director Christine Renee Miller’s full embrace of Frida’s enigmatic, psychological trajectory throughout, adds great dimension to the production. Most successful is the sense of authenticity conveyed, particularly in the movement. As a trained Flamenco dancer, Dantas worked with movement coach Thiago Felix to aptly capture Frida’s physical capabilities in her performance.

Meanwhile, Justin West’s projections are far and few between and not necessarily needed. One poignant image is made at the work’s close, with a projected Kahlo on one side with paint strokes emanating from her; Dantas stands in the center of the same splay of paint strokes on the other side. Above, Maggie Allen’s rendition of Kahlo’s “Two Frida’s” painting hangs, lit. The words, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can,” ring poignantly true.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

April 16, 2017
Blind to any glass roofs, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden amassed fortunes capitalizing on beauty tricks perfected in the age of the Pharaohs. Once deemed acceptable only for actors and ladies of the night, make-up flexed its legitimate muscles when Rubenstein and Arden began expertly peddling their brand of cosmetics to all women, regardless of social or political rank.

In inspired casting, two musical theater divas, Patti LaPone and Christine Ebersol, squared off for an evening of high drama. Determined to make America’s women beautiful, they flooded the market with beautifying products that filtered into the mainstream through brilliant marketing and product placement. Arden’s signature “pink” capitalized on ultimate feminity, while Helena Rubenstien searched for secret ingredients that extended youth. Both were prodigious workers, channeling every shred of their waking hours into their high-stakes businesses.

In this production written by Doug Wright and astutely directed by Michael Greif, men appear—John Dossett (Tommy Lewis) and Harry Fleming (Douglas Sills) – offering guidance and management, but the women are the undisputed honchos.

A vehicle perfectly suited to LuPone and Ebersole, the music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie played to each lady’s vocal strengths. LuPone belted out songs revealing over-sized emotions while Ebersole shaped melodies to her steely, refined sensibilities.

For the most part, the set by David Korins is divided into two parts much like a “split-screen” with Arden coolly seething on one side and Rubenstein hissing on the other.

“War Paint” adroitly draws distinctions between the two women portraying Arden as cozy with high society doyennes and Rubenstein glorying in intellectual salons and the arts community. Both were keen marketers and whip smart women who understood the benefits of “over-pricing” and exaggerating the effectiveness of the ingredients in their products.

Not a historical documentary, “War Paint” conveyed strong portraits of women who never said “never.” There’s real pleasure in watching these two gals at the top of their game, pitching songs like “My American Moment” and “If I’d Been a Man” with a verve that still eludes so many women struggling to have their voices heard.

“War Paint” made its mark this Broadway season.

April 16, 2017
Speed, energy, steel, technology! That’s what Yank (a ferocious Bobby Canavale) believes is the future of America. Brutish and powerful, he hangs from the ceiling and claws his way up the steel sides of the ship’s hellish engine room in Eugene O’Neil’s harsh, 1922 drama “The Hairy Ape.”

Spectators sit on bold yellow risers peering at the men inside the fire-red engine room in the bowels of a transatlantic ocean liner shuttling wealthy people from continent to continent.

This chorus of tough men shovel coal in unison, then in contrapuntal strokes. Highly physical, the exhilaratingly directed play by Richard Jones delivers its greatest punch in the first 2/3 of the program.

A spectacular set rotates in and out of view, leaving the cavernous back of the Park Avenue Armory to indicate the vastness of the depths of anxiety felt by people chained to unrelenting repetitive tasks that exploded during the industrial revolution. This is a time when laborers begin to organize into unions to get a fair share of the goods, while the “haves” stay blind to the signs of a social revolution.

Swinging from metal bar to metal bar, Yank is enraptured by his brute strength, beats his chest and goads the men to feed the ravenous machine. When they break for water, the men gather in the yellow stoker’s hull physicalizing the rolling sea and telling tales. The elderly, but just as acrobatic, Paddy (David Costabile) reminisces about the lighter days when balletic sailboats traversed the sea.

While the “downstairs” workers sweat and swear the “upstairs” folks stroll elegantly along the deck in cream colored outfits, with well coiffed hair tucked under gracious hats by set and costume designer Steward Laing. Bored by the long trip, Mildred (Catherine Combs) informs her aunt (Becky Ann Taylor) that she wants to go “downstairs” and see the other people. Against the idea, the rich and spoiled steel-magnate’s daughter Mildred gets her way and descends to the underworld.

Upon seeing the insistently all male Yank -- grimy, sweat glistening and holding up his shovel—she screams in horror, calls him a beast and faints. This reaction confuses Yank. Until now, he’s been an outsized personality, wild and unable to be tamed, until the debutante spies the animal in human form. No woman he’s known ever called him a “beast” – at least not to his face, and if they did, it was a compliment not a horror-stricken, sickening wail.

This encounter precipitates Yanks quest for his position in the world, the one where people are educated, well dressed and part of a civil society. Once they dock, Yank struts through the NYC of yore. Entering a panoramic view of the clashing societies, the underground laborers smash against the above ground elite.

Choreographer Aletta Collins brings the Fifth Avenue “swells” to life by creating a Busby Berkley style dance that suggests a great masse of single-minded people, spines erect moving in sync and wearing white masks and a uniform of identical black dresses or suits and hats.

Escaping from the hoi polio, Yank jams into the local Union headquarters, an all white room that resembles a library rather than a raucous watering hole for laborers. These are policy wonks, they don’t really appear to understand brutal physical labor, because they are devising the theories and dues required to be part of their exclusive fellowship.

All too much for Yank, he runs to a zoo where he tries to join the gorilla in his cage because the new world was simply not open to him.

This production is reminiscent of the bold images, colors and propaganda proffered by the Russian Constructivists. Emergent just before the 1917 Russian Revolution, these populist artists were enraptured by the new technology, film—the creation of art for ‘social purposes.’

Probably one of the most remarkable visual productions this season, director Richard Jones in collaboration with Ms. Collins, Mr. Laing, as well as lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin masterfully imagine and execute a remarkable world built on false promises, corruption and uncatchable dreams.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 8, 2017
Known for his kinetic acting, John Leguziamo’s talent flares when he starts to dance. Despite his middle age, Leguizamo’s compact body radiates charisma the minute he demonstrates any social dance form from hip hop to salsa. Touched by a bit of Robin Williams’ talent, Leguizamo’s physicality and impersonations (that come as much from inside his body as his voice) soar.

In this theatrical episode entitled, “Latin History for Morons” Leguizamo tries to assist his quiet, bookish son complete an assignment to write a paper on a hero.

Naturally, Leguizamo would like it to be a Latin hero, and in the process, chases 3,000 years of horror and tears tracing among others, the trail of Spanish conquistadors stomping out native populations. Incidentally, Leguziamo discovers he is a mix of Hispanic and Native American. Now he has two different cultures to reconcile and excavate.

Incessantly referring back to his own inability to deal or talk back to entitled East Siders, he good-heartedly but wrong-headedly tries to turn his son into a “historically correct” bully. It doesn’t pan out however his son finds his own personal way into the story of a hero.

Despite the overblown book by Leguizamo, director Tony Taccone keeps Leguizamo on his toes at The Public Theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 7, 2017
A little eccentric, a little flighty, “Amelie” is a young girl who grows into a woman of imagination. From her early days, Amelie sees butterflies and fanciful visions that feed her soul and enlarged her heart. Deeply sensitive, she leaves her protected home life and heads to Paris to find her true way. The prodigiously talented Phillipa Soo stars in the production written by Craig Lucas base on the very popular film by Jean – Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant.

Young Amelie (Savvy Crawford) navigates the high-pitched score by Daniel Messe with relative ease, foreshadowing the clear and dominant soprano voice she grows into as a mature Amelie. Simple and well meaning, the plot spins around Amelie’s do-gooder-tendencies. She looks for folks to help in a basic Good Samaritan syndrome.

A waitress in a Parisian café, Amelie’s co-workers are caught in a pattern of personality repetition—until, yes, Amelie guides them towards love and satisfaction. Almost all the cast members assume several roles depicting unconventional characters in very specific ways. In particular, Allison Cimmet’s comic interpretations heighten an intermittently soggy production.

After discovering a series of ripped photographs, Amelie spies the responsible party—a young man who runs the photo booth in an industrious section of town. Whereas the Grinch’s heart shrinks whenever someone expresses glee, Amelie’s heart expands exponentially when she does a good deed, or in this case, falls in love. But despite Amelie’s inherent outgoing ebullience, she can’t confront this man. Instead, she plays games delivering notes about where to meet, and then disappearing before any face-to-face encounters.

Her love interest, Adam Chanler-Berat owns an overblown portion of charisma. Despite the tame material, Berat beams urgency, captivating the audience within seconds of his introduction. Of course, Soo is no wallflower, and when she appeared in the first rendition of “Natasha and Pierre and the Comet of 1812” it was evident she was a star in the making. But as directed by Pam McKinnon, Soo’s character doesn’t allow for much emotional variation.

Regardless, the pit orchestra guided by Kimberly Grigsby spurs the musical score along. For good reason, many families were in attendance and the younger members giggled and sighed at the sweet and forgettable musical “Amelie.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

April 7, 2017
Hear this! HERE is a fantastic venue for experimental theatre, something that NYC used to have tons of. HERE Artistic Director Kristin Marting and Producing Director Kim Whitener are carrying on the tradition of producing “affordable, challenging and alternative, something new and fresh, supporting the work of artists at all stages in their careers.” HERE has a chic space with a bar, video art screens, and two theatres.

How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet appears as part of their Sublet Series@HERE. It begins absolutely promising with 4 young friends sitting in the front row of the audience becoming increasingly agitated as they realize they are the show. They quickly reveal their wit and set us up for a rollicking good time. Sam Corbin, in particular, jumped out as someone with the uncanny timing of the late Gilda Radner. Her cohorts Nathaniel Basch-Gould, Joshua William Gelb, and Emily Marro all bristle with intelligence and presence.

How to Hamlet playwrights John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger thrust their cast into the spotlight, unprepared and unrehearsed. With this nightmarish premise, the four begin to doubt their every instinct. From their marvelous, seductive beginning to the hapless finale, the 4 actors gamely perform an inadvertent tragedy that begins as a farce, leaving us wishing they had stayed with the farce.

Created and performed by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, the co-author Kurzynowski directed the play with Lauren Swan-Potras. One can understanding why Marting and Whitener would support the play, though it cries for editing. The spot-on rhythm of the direction disappeared as soon as the play begins and the actorsake their seat, self-consciously and obviously behind the row of lights. There after, we witness their embarrassment as their minds fail them.

The play seemed less a meditation on Hamlet and more an expose of how academia can stymie emotional clarity. But a re-write and new direction with the same cast could save it all.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - - Deirdre Towers

April 6, 2017
In a one-man show written by Will Eno, Michael Emerson (Guy) explores the edges of living from the confines of a wheel chair. Aging parents figure in the lives of plenty of baby-boomers and this production by Signature Theatre settles on the depiction of man’s lithe mind in preparation for another “reality.” A constant search for meaning in very small details, there’s an exaggerated connection to time and the amount of time left.

Guy does not thumb through a catalogue of people and relationships; rather, he recalls a roster of experiences and the feelings emitted during those connections.

Seated in the intimate Signature Theater, Guy’s existential musings face towards Samuel Beckett’s humorous vamp on life and James Joyce’s elliptical eavesdropping on consciousness. It’s those conversations that rattle inside our heads, those unfettered leaps of imagination and those winding excursions into old actions and future choices that well up and find a voice in Emerson’s mouth.

In need of assistance, Guy is visited by a home aid, Lisa (January LaVoy) who respectfully humors Guy and embraces his wishes. It’s odd how small images; cartoons or fanciful objects tickle the aging.

Not unlike a child, simple things assume enormous pleasure.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 28, 2017
No one who was in NYC or on airline in flight can forget the trauma that started on the morning on 9/11 and enveloped the world for months. That single act changed the lives of many for a myriad of reasons. Gambling on the current desire for inspirational stories, “Come From Away” landed on Broadway and lifted spirits.

On that fateful morning, planes carrying passengers to various ports of call were re-routed. New Brunswick Canada, now rather bare but once a major flight nexus, is suddenly called back into service. Football fields of planes suddenly land in the small town. With the arrival of the unexpected guests, the town swells to three times its number. Simple human functions—eating, sleeping, showering—must be addressed in the space of hours.

The ingenuity of people determined to be hospitable and make the travelers comfortable defies normal expectations.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein draw sympathetic characters who put aside their anxieties or prejudices to welcome distraught passengers. For too many hours, no one can really make contact with family members. Some fear for the lives of relatives who work in the Twin Towers or were flying on the same day.

What makes this production particularly appealing is the genuiness of each person’s story and nearly invisible hand of the director Christopher Ashley. In an intensely strong ensemble performance that requires everyone to assume multiple roles, the audience becomes attached to the village and the future of everyone involved.

Musically, the score weaves through the narrative naturally, pulling strong performances from the whole cast. Because much of the text is actually drawn from the letters and interviews of those who spent a memorable week in a far away land, its humanity is preserved.

Although the stories are a composite of the people who refused money for their care and feeding of the strangers, it sounds like a bedtime story that you want to hear over and over and over again.

There’s nothing icky or sugary about this story. But it does have heart and it will stick with you for a long time. Oh, be sure to pack Kleenexes.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

March 1, 2017
Maybe it was a simpler time, or everyone lived in a smaller universe—one circumscribed by the corner newspaper stand, butcher store and soda shoppe. It’s in one of those tightly knit neighborhoods that “A Bronx Tale” takes shape.

Originally a one-man, semi-autobiographical play by Chaz Palminteri turned film in 1993, “A Bronx Tale” gets the Broadway musical treatment by co-directors Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks with a score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.

Fortunate to live with a mother and father who prize education, honesty and self-awareness over quick cash does not diminish the young Calogero’s thirst for adventure and a pocketful of side-cash. By not squealing on the mob when he witnesses a killing, the charismatic mob honcho Sonny (a perfectly tuned Nick Cordero) takes the boy under his ever-expanding wing.

Sporting a fabulous Bronx street attitude, the young Calogero (Hudson Loverro) assumes a James Cagney mobster stance and never relaxes. Not only does this young man look like a forty-year old “wise guy” in kid’s clothing, but also he knocks out one of the show’s audience rousing songs “I Like It Like That!” No doubt if W. C. Fields were alive, he’d refuse to share the stage with Loverro.

Suavely slick, the protective Sonny becomes a second father to Calogero—the one that can answer those questions about women, fast cars and the rush of gambling. Despite his mob habits—an assassination here and there sandwiched between brutal beatings-- Sonny is fleshed-out as a good-hearted mobster with a lead-paneled conscience.

However, determined to channel his son into the “right path” guided by education and honest people, the ever-wise, bus driving father (Richard H. Blake) who never paid-off a Mafioso, gets the final say.

When Calogero reaches high school, the talented Bobby Conte Thornton plays him. Still eager to be “hip” Calogero grows up on Sonny’s “street smarts” and his father’s “values.”

At some point, Calogero becomes enamored of a woman-of-color who lives in another neighborhood. This budding romance takes an understandable hit from rival neighborhood gangs. In a hilarious exchange of urban male myths, Sonny explains to Calogero how to determine if a woman is a worthy girlfriend. Called “The Sonny Test” it’s a sure-fire method that involves a car and old-style door locks.

Throughout the production, warm –blooded doo-wop music mixes with pop music to conjure a world of choices that stand out in stark black and white. The pop dances that ooze an innocence and youthful hope are fashioned by one of the industry’s fine choreographer’s, Sergio Trujillo- a real student of the classic social dances that reigned in the Caucasian and Latin circles from the 1950’s forward.

Crisply directed, the action chugs along leaving the audience to look back fondly at the corner streetlamps spotlighting neighborhood characters and distant dreams.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 1, 2017
Bastions of liberalism or centers of oppressive "political correctness?" Universities cultivate the best minds; encourage intellectual research and student engagement -- so why the howls when a professor writes a book suggesting a re-thinking of the holocaust?

Secure in the faculty's support of his upcoming tenure review and general popularity with the students, Michael (the rumply Jeremy Shamos), a Jewish Studies professor, publishes a book that suggests Jewish writers stop writing so many victim books about the Holocaust and turn their intellect to the many other worthy, world-wide subjects.

Steven Levenson’s play takes place against the backdrop of a family gathering at their aging father’s upper middle class home in Washington D.C. Primarily secular Jews, the two sisters, and father hold onto Jewish traditions and culture but are not avid members of a synagogue.

A schoolteacher, Sharon (Maria Dizzia) is single and the most concerned about the ramifications of Michael’s book and her responsibilities to their aging father. The well off (or so she thinks) Holly (Kate Walsh) spars the most vehemently with her brother, but is also his most ardent ally while the patriarch, Lou Fischer (Larry Bryggman) wants everyone to get along, but retains his own strong perspective on social/political and inter-personal forces.

But once the clan convenes, squabbles break out. It’s hard to see your siblings as anything other than willful seven-year olds. Family dynamics erupt and singe conversations then recede under the guise of loyalty. Beneath the emotional roller coaster crouch financial issues—who’s got money, whose money will assist the family, where is money hidden, and why is it gone?

These complex dynamics mirror the equally complicated professional dynamics unleashed by the debate over the Michael’s book.

Director Daniel Sullivan raises the temperature slowly and steadily drawing in all the arguments raised by the family and the larger universe.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 7, 2017
Babel A work over three years in the making, Convergences Dance Theatre’s Babel retells the famous biblical tale. A unified people build the Tower of Babel to reach the heavens, only to be deterred by God and scattered across the earth, their language confused into varying dialects. During the post-show talk back, Co-Creator WT McRae pinpoints his inspiration here: “There’s a sense that to create something is an act of power, almost to the point of being dangerous. What is our human ability to create and what is the responsibility of our human ability to create?”

The team goes on to joke about the “rehearsal by interrogation” approach behind the scenes. Though spoken word is not a part of the performance, we learn how valuable the discussion of the movement and its meaning(s) played in the studio. This collaborative process, of course, mirrors the sense of solidarity found in the story. Largely ensemble-driven, the 25-member cast travels through a handful of the most timeless human experiences, scene by scene. Unity, ambition, healing, identity, and peace are also met with their counterparts—catastrophe and war.

In the work, McRae and Co-Creator Jeremy Williams play with the contrast of performers as objects and humans. In many instances, they transform into building blocks piling atop one another, each individual vanishing into the larger collective pattern or abstraction. And then, humanness resurfaces with caricatured expressions and gestural body language, capturing a range of emotional states.

Most charged is the fight scene in which slow-motion chaos ensues, framed by lighting designer Jay Ryan’s added ominous ambience. Here, and throughout many of the group moments, the movement ranges from pedestrian to logistical. Occasionally among the suite of duets, we meet a more developed character and personality, before they once again retreat into the rapidly diversifying crowd.

The complexity of humankind is always a huge, fascinating undertaking. Conceptually and throughout the creative process, it’s evident that the performers of Babel have a deep and multifaceted relationship with the work, its meaning, and their role. As a witness to the work, however, you’re asked to discern these nuances and metaphors for yourself. Taken at face value, the movement loses its depth and reads as simply a compilation of one physical encounter to the next.

An audience member later asks, “Is it ok to think of this work as ‘dance?’” While the answer is, “Yes!” Convergences Theatre Collective further delivers a play. A story is told and an unspoken dialogue occurs each time two performers, three, or the whole lot convene.

January 15, 2017
Violence simmers under every action in Anna Jordan’s gripping play “Yen” at the Lucille Lortel Theater. Occupying a spare, distressed urban London apartment furnished with one sleeper- couch and monitor, two brothers live through their video games and porn channels. The withdrawn, sullen older brother Hench (Lucas Hedges) oversees the wildly physical and mentally limited younger brother Bobbie (Jack DeFalco).

Executing tornado –stye runs across the space and over the bed, Bobbie has a difficult time being contained by the depressing room. Locked in the bathroom, the pet (or is it detained) dog “Taliban” emits fierce barks. This triumverate is ratteld first by the erstwhile mother and later by a young lady in the same building complex.

Discovered drunk on the ground outside, Bobbie pulls his mother Maggie (Ari Graynor) into the apartment. Not unlike two baby dogs smelling and nudging their ailing mother, Bobby and Hench are both drawn to and repulsed by her.

Despite the boys’ obvious escape from their mother’s abusive home, they care for her—in a rather primitive way—only to hear her ask for money. Yup, nomadic mom is not responsible and is clearly incapable of managing her 15 and 16 year old sons.

Tragedy is crouching in the wings and emits fumes little by little. Finally, their hermetic world is pierced by the advances of a most charming young 16 year-old Jennifer (Stefania laVie Owen) who comes from Wales, and who also suffered the loss of a father and dislocation of her family.

Intent on helping the dog, she becomes a civilizing influence on both the boys, and although she plays with the rambunctious Bobbie, her heart reaches out for Hench. Sadly, this one view of a family in disarray represents too many families thrust inside concrete apartments or tenements that squeeze the life out of the inhabitants.

A jumble of emotions readily poised to explode inside Hench makes him incapable of accepting Maggie’s genuine invitation to feel her physically and soulfully. Spiraling into a rage, brother Bobby finalizes the brutal scene.

Exhaustingly physical, the gripping production by Anna Jordan is insistently directed by Trip Cullman who appears to have a inside track to damaged families. An extra hit of choreography by fight director J. David Brimmer and a glaring light plot by Ben Stanton catapult the production at the Lucille Lortel into a searing indictment of urban blight.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 7, 2017
Mark Russell, Director of Under The Radar Festival at Public Theater, urges us to listen to artists this year. “All of them are dreaming of a different world,” he writes in his festival program. Hundred Days, which has been developing since 2012, makes you appreciate the gift of being. Can’t ask for much more than that. Make it a priority to get yourself to The Public.

Abigail and Shaun Bengson who conceived, wrote and star in Hundred Days, ask us to imagine slowing down time and savoring the best of what we have, right now. The spine of the piece is love, the exquisite sensations of love, tinged with the fear of loosing it; as triggered by a recurring dream that Abigail had as a child in which she encountered the love of her life, only to loose him after 100 days. When she met Shaun, she instantly decided this was her man; Shaun felt the same: he says “I found my person.”

As directed by Anne Kauffman, Hundred Days has an unpretentious feel, as though you had ambled into a college pub and encountered a band led by a voluptuous, fierce young woman in a homespun dress heating up the place, pounding the floor with her cowboy boots, slyly inviting us to jump on her joy wagon. Alone, she sings sometimes with the raw energy of a Janis Joplin; but when she sings with Shaun, who has a vague resemblance to John Lennon, they evoke harmony, with the timeless charm of two energies blending.

Oddly, their music together seems less distinct, perhaps because their focus shifts from oral to emotional chemistry. Without a dash of sentimentality though, the Bengsons grab you by the gut with the depth and force of their feeling, from the panic of squandering a moment to the simplicity of an honest chat, facing each other on stools, asking each other, “What do you care about?”

With the Bengsons are Colette Alexander, Geneva Harrison, Jo Lampert, and Reggie D. White; with movement direction by Sonya Tayeh; set, projection, and prop design by Kris Stone.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - - Deirdre Towers, Contributor to EYE ON THE ARTS

December 2, 2016
An elk stares out at the audience, triggering either our hunter/gatherer or vegetarian instincts, from a still on the back wall of the BAM Harvey. For much of So¯ Percussion’s 65 minute A Gun Show, the celebrated, New York City based percussion ensemble seem stumped, like a deer staring into the headlights blazing off the controversies stirred by the innumerable shooting horrors and our paralysis, given the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Unlike Amy Schumer, in “The Gun Show,” who reassures callers to her home shopping program that, of course, they can buy a gun(s) of all kinds, this theatrical venture directed by Ain Gordon offers neither protest nor parody, but rather a deconstructionist reflection. Two moments stood out. After a preamble of miming in silence with the ensemble at the four corners of the raked, red stage, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Eric Cha-Beach rushed downstage to place boards on top of snare drums. They played in unison on parts of a Russian rifle arranged on the board much as a dentist would put his tools. A projected still of these parts gave us a chance for further inspection as we absorbed the precision of the performers and the unlikely beauty of the sound.

Later on, the charismatic Emily Johnson strode upstage to beat a gong with all the desperation of a mother who had lost a child in the Newton, Connecticut Elementary School shooting. The power of the gong sound was sacrificed as Johnson flails, a metaphor for our impotence as a nation to effectively challenge the National Rife Association and put an end to deranged use of guns.

The ensemble, which expanded to include eight other percussionists, played together sometimes with the galvanizing clarity of a military band. A group huddled upstage around two speakers who leaned into a microphone to share barely audible stories. Equally obscure were references to their research frustration with redacted material being deleted courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Gordon, Johnson and So¯ Percussion have collaborated often, but what they refer to as “the Second Amendment soundtrack” lacks the anguish of what has happened in its wake.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

November 24, 2016
Shanda starts a new school where she meets tomboy Amanda, the love of her almost thirteen-year life, but Amanda is already with Melinda, who counters her femme visage with domineering manipulation that ultimately results in Shanda being senselessly and messily murdered. These events, comprising the play Hazelwood Jr. High, actually happened.

Armed with such loaded extremity, playwright Rob Urbinati maintains a transparent narrative structure, keeping causal chronology. A fight in the hallway is followed by the resulting detention. A witnessing of betrayal is followed by the confrontation. Such immediacy comes across like a made-for-TV movie, appropriately divulging information in the traditional tween storytelling form: “and then, and then, and then….”

Exceptions include performed note-passing, which, while static, simultaneously moves the plot forward. What seems a fruitful opportunity for character development comments more on communication tactics than deep revelations, as Amanda and Shanda try only to impress each other. A cryogenic freezing of fleeting thought, Amanda mourns over Shanda’s love notes to her after the murder. Honesty lies most presently in diary entries, heartbreakingly used to bookmark the play with Shanda’s optimism before transferring schools.

Director Sean Pollock takes Urbinati’s cues, creating breathing room with minimalism and realism. The cast of twenty-somethings easily passes for middle schoolers thanks to a sweet performative spot of 90’s teen erratic bubbliness without falling into caricature. There are few props, leaving most actions to mime, best exploited in the preshow of personal maintenance tasks that last far longer than necessary, physicalizing aimless states of mind.

Age demographic provides a unique context for what would otherwise be another jealously killing, namely, the suspension of logic that comes with the fickleness of youth, simultaneously craving guidance and independence. We see this in Amanda, falling in love with Shanda, but also wanting to keep Melinda as well. What adults might recognize as polyandry is, for kids, inexperience with commitment. Additionally, the value of life is not yet fully internalized; the remnants of magical thinking from childhood and undeveloped empathy cloud judgment.

Behind these strong personalities is the weakness of needing acceptance. Shanda is eager to please. Early on, she agrees to break up with Toni’s boyfriend on her behalf. Her dialogue has an exorbitant amount of “ok’s” in place of actual contribution to conversation. Only when caught lying by Melinda does she takes it all back in defense of her life. Despite her victimhood, Shanda essentially agreed herself to death. The combination of fickleness, lack of understanding, and agreeability lubricate for violence a slippery slope. When it comes time for the actual murder, it is not so planned but a result of not knowing what to do next. Melinda and crew intend to beat her up, but go too far. Shanda’s insistence on breathing necessitates the next step of being burned alive.

Toni seems like someone we can align with, as she solely demonstrates guilt, yet she actually outsources her violent tendencies – needing Shanda to break up with her own boyfriend, not making the phone call to lure Shanda our of her house, and attempting suicide in jail. We instead align in how we are positioned in space.

The staging is somewhere between immersive and site specific. Appropriately set by Cupcake Lady Productions at Mayday Space Classrooms, the space is also flexible. We sit in the middle of the room, surrounded by different stations between which scenes shuffle. Intentionally difficult, one must rubberneck to see every scene, casting us all as both insider and bystander to senseless violence.

Through all of this, Hazelwood’s centering on a middle school lesbian love triangle does not come off as unusual. What is unusual is the LGBT focus in a piece that does not directly advocate. It portrays, without pointing to a heteronormative culprit, not only girl on girl violence, but lesbian on lesbian violence, resulting in a heightened sense of accountability in such unbiasedness, which, with middleschoolers, is all the more chilling and open to subtler conversation.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

November 20, 2016
The 60th annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference (APAP|NYC 2017) will infuse the city with a multitude of performances, workshops, talks, and all manner of culturally relevant activities.
The first week of January (Ja. 6 - 10) trumpets a time when artists, presenters and producers from around the world convene in NYC to measure the state of the field, the status of the arts in society and to make touring deals for the coming year. Many artists live for this event because the touring gigs support their their creative careers.

This year APAP states "more than 1,000 world-class performance showcases; more than 370 exhibitors promoting their artists and their work in the EXPO Hall; more than 60 professional development sessions and intensives, some open to the public; the annual APAP awards luncheon, and a free classical music concert at Carnegie Hall."

Naturally, there will be platforms for arts professionals to air current issues related to cultural conflict and social justice. Presiden and Ceo of APAP, Mario Garcia Durham, will open the conference and welcome cultural leaders likes Chicana activist Martha Gonzalez, who is a singer/percussionist with Quetzal, a bilingual (Spanish-English) Chicano rock band from East Los Angeles and Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American. This is just a peek at the larger, far-ranging topics and conversations.

There are also many well known mini-arts festivals within the larger APAP context including the theater based "Under the Radar Festival," "Coil Festival," "Globalfest" music event, as well as jazz and dance sessions.

Topics to be investigated range from grant programs that aim at building greater knowledge and awareness about Muslim societies; information on how to build audiences; and "creative moments" featuring a brief performance or guided creative experience that jostles your mind and perspective.

More reports to follow on the APAP experiences.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 4, 2016
Vaslav Nijinsky’s own words comprise the text of Robert Wilson’s Letter to a Man, arranged by Christian Dumais-Lvowski, incidentally chronicling a decline in mental health amid a telling guise of feigned coherence. Wilson presents them in a process both self-evident and captivating. A short passage is repeated in alternating English and Russian. With each shift of language, new words accumulate, though the information is unwavering. Subject matter is diverse, rarely mentioning dance, and strictly divided into separate chapters, which allows the development of content to spiral into unpredictable circularity.

Wilson showcases Nijinsky on the body of Mikhail Baryshnikov at BAM’s Harvey Theatre as a philosopher and a theologian, obsessed with morality and carnality, eternally struggling with his self-admitted ego (repeated reminders that he is not Christ abounding). He sees his madness as a test from God for the good of others (in itself, a somewhat egotistical claim), struggling as Diaghilev permeates his memories from the two-dimensional slowness of a crossing bathtub.

The text is delivered largely in voice-over, by Baryshnikov and Lucinda Childs’ low lull. This places us more in the head of a schizophrenic than simply listening to one speak. Delivery ranges from monotone to jovial, yet there are times when Baryshnikov speaks live, repeating a phrase from voice-over with slow, tragic affect that demonstrates how these internal thoughts malfunction en route to external expression.

Baryshnikov is rightly freer in his movement than often seen in Wilson works, yet still subject to Childs’ compositional rigor. Gloved hands signal from held postures. Several clunky dance breaks lie somewhere between vaudevillian schmaltz and cubist corners. Somehow the physical material functions in the opposite way of the text – where there is sense to be found in long explanations versus short cryptic statements, the long sequences of movement tend to ramble while the short abstractions carry wisdom. It is ultimately his face that ties everything together in mischievously sorrowful sweetness, present among frowns, smiles, and grimaces.

As we don’t truly hear madness until we are made to feel outside when Baryshnikov speaks live, we only get a visual sense of madness at the beginning, made to feel outside by seeing him in the straight jacket during an unnerving collage of screaming, gunshots, and rapid light shifts that externalize schizophrenia. When we are inside his mind, the same content comprises peaceful landscapes, equally surreal, but logically unified and kept at bay. Inside or out, however, it is always lonely – stagehands often clear these landscapes midscene, leaving an unaware Baryshnikov frolicking in blankness.

This intense artifice gets at a different kind of realism – the actual sensation of thoughts as an independent being in our heads. The way text repeats and flares is no different than our thoughts’ intrusive propensities. Every landscape, still connoting physical space, encapsulates the whimsy of daydreams, and the lack of choice we often have in what out imagination projects in us. This lucid look at madness forms to reflect the struggle of Nijinsky – fractured finesse.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

October 29, 2016
Worn down from a peripatetic actor’s life, Jim Hardy (the impressive Bryce Pinkham) proposes marriage to his feisty co-star Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) and then buys a house in Connecticut. Only, Lila’s unwilling to hang up her dance shoes while he’s determined to go rural. Best known because of the popular 1942 musical film version directed by Mark Sandrich and starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Holiday Inn is powered by Irving Berlin’s singable score.

The Broadway version at Studio 54 directed by Gordon Greenberg features a seriously talented Pinkham, Corbin Bleu, Laura Lee Gayer, Megan Sikora. Additional cast members fill in the ranks with winning performances including a very funny Jenifer Foote who replaced Megan Lawrence as the upbeat Louise.

There are some clever tap and soft shoe sequences but the show's highlight materializes when the cast joins wash buckets to clean up the ramshackled house and convert it into a holiday performance inn. A rambling ruins, wayward pigs race through the living room and heads droop over the year’s failed crops. Then along come the friends to the rescue.

In the spirit of a “house raising” the theatrical ensemble puts “all hands on deck” and to the audience’s delight, buckets stuck on feet shuffle across the floor, girls flip over guys and there’s no end to the inventiveness of the partnering lifts. Suddenly, the dancing typhoon levitates the production to giddy heights.

Despite the heroic attempts of the cast, this peak is not sustained. Did the director; Mr. Greenberg, restricts choreographer Denis Jones’s input to the designated show tunes? Because it’s possible sharper choreography throughout the evening would have benefited the production’s pacing. That’s not to say audiences didn’t enjoy themselves. Many hummed the Berlin songs along with the cast, mouthing the catchy melodies. And in these days of election paranoia, disappearing inside a harmless musical offers a comforting two hours.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 21, 2016
In another era, maybe just a few years ago, one could sit through this play and not want to shut it down, go off and get drunk. With Trumpism poisoning our systems, few could watch Brecht’s radio drama now without worrying whether history is repeating itself. Certainly his title alone is a call for action - The “Resistible Rise” of a thug. Unlike the noisy wannabe of our time though, Arturo UI, as played by Craig Smith, speaks very quietly. A small menace, he walks slowly, deliberately, calculating the weight and placement of each step. He is Adolf Hitler/Al Capone, someone, unlike our wannabe, who wants to be coached and listens.

John Lenartz, who mostly plays Paul Von Hindenburg, the character of Dogsborough ,the embezzling owner of a shipyard, plays his best card in this epic of a play as an actor called upon by Smith to give him some pointers. From soggy to sober, Lenartz switches from the drunken buffoon we see when he first enters to being a charismatic dazzler. Suddenly he commands the room, his every gesture mesmerizing. He tells Smith to cross his arms across his chest and when to lift his arms up and out. Smith does his first awkward goose steps at Lenatz suggestion.

Produced by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, directed by Kevin Confoy is at the Wild Project in the East Village. In between each scene in this small theatre is black and white footage of Hitler and Hindenburg, with large type superimposed over the images shouting out the historical progression in Germany and Austria. This video, as designed by Andrew Lazarow, is projected on the back wall. This play written by Brecht in 1941 is not set in Europe, but rather in 1930’s Chicago, where it follows a suave murderer, calling the shots, defining his territory.

To brighten this grim tale, the able cast have fun giving the look and feel of an old radio station. They begin the first and second act by singing a gum jingle. Ellen Mandel plays the piano on the set, as well as designed the sound, complete with rattling a sheet of metal to suggest the Windy City. Elise Stone, a voluptuous woman with a large presence, who plays Dockdaisy, O’Casey, Woman, Betty Dullfleet, gets the best action - a chance to spit on the gangster and walk out.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers — Deirdre Towers

October 16, 2016
The New Victory Theater is currently presenting Kenny Wax Family Entertainment’s and TC Beech’s production of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, originating in the UK, in its US premiere.

This 55 minute production geared for children ages 4-7, is based on the popular novel by Richard and Florence Atwater, (first published in 1938) and features a British cast of four: Russell Morton as Mr. Popper, Roxanne Palmer as Mrs. Popper, Lucy Grattan, as Greta and as Admiral Drake, and Tony Manley as Mr. Greenbaum and Captain Cook.

The story opens in Mr. and Mrs. Popper’s living room, depicting a very ordinary couple living in the ordinary town of Stillwater, where everything happens predictably each day. Mr. Popper, a house painter in the town, fantasizes through song and stage antics of far away lands, especially Antarctica (as far away from Stillwater as one could get). During his typical day, he paints the town with various colors, (emanating from his paint can), and his favorite color “white” reminds him of the snow and ice of this south pole continent.

Magically, Mr. Popper’s wishes are granted when he is soon surprised with a special delivery from Admiral Drake, a famous Antarctic explorer, and when the crate is opened, a live penguin (puppet) arrives and begins to turn the ordinary Popper household topsy turvy as the couple learns how to “parent” this wild penguin, named “Captain Cook,” and integrate its irrational squawking sounds and behaviors into family and town life.

The story continues as another penguin “Greta,” is sent to comfort and partner the lonely Captain Cook. Eventually, many baby penguins are born. The Poppers learn how to organize this family of penguins into a popular stage show that not only brings in income, but transforms the couple into entertainers and creative artists training their brood of birds.

But, alas, the show closes, and the Poppers must decide whether to return the penguins to their homeland and go back to their humdrum existence… or accompany them back to Antarctica-- changing their lives forever, following Mr. Popper’s dream. You can guess.

The four cast members are kept on their toes throughout this entire production, changing costumes frequently as they change characters, as well as manipulating the clever staging and choreography for the two main penguins and the many baby penguins during the stage show. Penguins turn somersaults, balance on balls, climb ladders and cavort on teeter totters in playful orchestration.

As the show ends and the Popper family is transported on a ship to the south continent, ice machines placed high above in the theater shower “real” snow onto the delighted children below for a final transforming effect. The final song To Be a Proper Penguin brings the audience to its feet, as it mimics and responds to the calls and dance moves the cast suggests from the stage. A delightful end!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mary Seidman

October 14, 2016
Don’t we all need a good laugh these days? Run to DADDY ISSUES, now at St. Clements through November 7th to give your stomach a steady workout. Marshall Goldberg’s 90 minute play is believable farce, the ending, and the scene changes, all of which you can easily predict. Daddy, played by Tony Rossi, is annoying, as only overbearing fathers can be, except when he flashes his imagination by upstaging his son rehearsing for a cat food commercial audition. The son (Matt Koplik) tries to repeatedly usher him out of his apartment, and chimes in unison as his father recounts one of his oft-told tales.

DADDY ISSUES centers around a family’s expectations and their hysteria once their greatest desire - a grandchild - is fulfilled, and then, briefly feared lost. The cast of stock characters is strong, though Donald Moscowitz, the lead, has the most difficult job of being an actor of questionable potential, a gay single man who broke the heart of his college sweetheart, played with vibrancy by Allyson Halley. He holds his hands like a wispy clerk, as he withstands the bullying of his father, and then, surprisingly schemes to introduce a son, played with calm and charm by Alex Ammerman, a son no one knew about - including himself - to his grandmother who had promised to double his inheritance, should he ever produce a child.

David Goldyn directed this fun family sit-com, perfect for cable, peppered with pokes at the Jewish obsession with circumcisions, and at the impracticality of commercial acting. Goldberg strangely hits a low point with the repeated audition scene, given that he worked for years as an advertising copywriter who worked on such accounts as Li’L Friskies Cat Food. Kate Katcher, Deb Armelino, Shua Potter, and Elizabeth Klein complete the cast. The living room set is by Kevin Klakouski, costumes by Antonio Consuegra, lighting by Mitchell Ost. Nominated for Best Off Broadway Play by for its showcase production in 2016, DADDY ISSUES is a well crafted hoot!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

September 26, 2016
Three directors for two performers seems a bit disproportionate, yet Don Nigro’s The Chaplin Plays yields a high-definition experience. Actors Ivette Dumeg (Chaplin) and Tatyana Kot (surprise auxiliary character Anastasia) are listed as directors alongside Lori Kee. From the moment Dumeg storms in from the house door at Theatre for the New City, we are transfixed within a piece morphing between film, play, rehearsal, therapy session, and interrogation room.

Dumeg is largely alone playing who we believe to be Chaplin in a manic episode of adages on dreams, illusion, reality, and identity, expressed in a dichotomy of theatre vs. film. He recalls sitting on an egg in his pocket in a moment of romantic distraction. Appreciating the profundity of forgetting something so precarious, Chaplin additionally values the invisibility of something too close to perceive.

This notion of capturing the impossible is the center of his tangential discussion. Reality is no different than a dream if one sits in it long enough. While we often escape reality in movies, they are, for Chaplin, hyper-real because of the repeatable exactitude well beyond our meager sensorial capability. Its ultimate decay must be fought by constant creation, hence the artifice of self-construction as a paradoxical definition of reality: an airtight system of logic – seamless enough to make us forget the eggs in our pockets.

Chaplin proceeds to spew his criteria for identity, the first being authorship. In his films, Chaplin wrote, directed, composed, and acted, a dominance speaking to an inherent uneasiness with flux. He furthermore privileges behavior over action, from which the type-A filmmaker is able to compare himself to Hitler – maudlin control freaks. Conversely, Chaplin feels fully himself when immersed in process, suggesting the loss of self as fullness.

This tension between complete control and intentional selflessness is balanced by candidness – incidental self as truest self. Anastasia ultimately exposes this Chaplin impersonator by seducing who is actually an ostensibly heterosexual woman, unable to feign attraction to her. We learn that Chaplin had underage flings, faux-Chaplin being one, coping through impersonation. When she is exposed she shuts down, chanting, “I’m nobody,” indicating sexuality as identity, insofar as it is stolen rather than given.

Although Chaplin acknowledges outsider consent as reality’s illusion succeeding, Chaplin never elaborates on this consensual process. Chaplin occasionally discusses audiences by complaining of their reactionary inconsistency, as though all collections of spectators amount to one organism, as reason to do film, yet it doesn’t ensure unanimous agreement to the fiction of film so much as it ensures the filmmaker not being there to know if they agreed or not.

We then wonder how we apply. Gilbert Peatro’s flickering filmic lighting seems set on convincing us we are watching a movie, but perhaps that is faux- Chaplin’s aim. Although Chaplin often leaps into us, sharing intensely, we disappear once Anastasia enters from the house. Despite our power as an audience to decide the worth of what is before us, we are as forcibly as anonymous as the imposter before us, both by the hands of another.
EYE ON THE ARTS -- Jonathan Matthews

September 19, 2016
The Pearl Theatre Company’s production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (1959) is an absorbing and harrowing look at the troubled life of a young woman trying to survive the stifling world of working-class Salford, England in the late 1950s. Written by Delaney when she was only nineteen years old, the play brought her instant critical acclaim. This production delivers the complex content with pathos and humor, with searing portrayals by the cast, and deftly incisive direction by Austin Pendleton.

Teenage pregnancy, closeted homosexuality, prostitution, interracial love, sexual awakening, and serial abandonment are just some of the themes that are woven into this mid-20th century critique of British conservatism and “high culture.” At the core of this production is the stunningly heartbreaking performance by Rebekah Brockman as Jo, a rebellious young woman scarred by lifelong emotional abuse from a harshly indifferent and unloving mother who at the same time is always the life of the party. Her constantly wounded dignity is protected by a thinly haughty shell, and Brockman’s fragile posture and upturned profile is seared in my memory. Rachel Botchan’s Helen is both funny and despicable, more preoccupied with snagging a man than the well-being of her daughter, disappearing for weeks at a time and well aware of her fading beauty. Her drunken husband Peter, Bradford Cover sashays across the stage providing comic relief as the bleak series of events in Jo’s life unfold. Ade Otukoya as Jimmy (Jo’s black lover) gives us a glimmer of humanity before disappearing, leaving us unsure of his intent, and John Evans Reese as Geoffrey (her gay roommate) delivered an agonizing performance as the only character who knows how to love, only to be rejected and abused by everyone.

The Blackbirds (Max Boiko on trumpet, Phil Falconi on guitar, and Walter Stinson on bass) start the evening by playing A Taste of Honey (written for the 1960 Broadway production) and meander in and out of the set, setting a nostalgic mood with their music. They hang out on the side or on the couch, at times unobtrusively interacting, and always observing. They are like us, watching closely but passively, only one step shy of action.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Nicole Duffy Robertson

September 9, 2016
At first it's like sitting inside the fevered mind of Salvador Dali and Jules Verne. Mirrors on model trains refract images projected on a screen while multiple landscapes-- primal and metallic converge in a sonic environment that fuses electronic sounds with a mournful tuba played on the perimeter of the space.

Model train size tracks are spread across the Fishman theater crisscrossing the fantastical universe conceived and executed by the members of Verdensteatret led by Lisbeth J. Bodd and Asle Nilsen. Nothing really happens, at least not on a narrative scale, but lots of ideas spread over the 60 minute show, “Bridge Over Mud.”

Created in collaboration with an interdisciplinary production company FuturePerfect, fanciful sculptures toot along tracks, overgrown garlands drop from the ceiling, miniature metal warriors surface over prehistoric creatures and malleable projected images morph in an experimental brew of music, art and Dada.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

September 7, 2016
Audience members take their seats in The Flea Theater while The Clash plays from a peripheral speaker. Their calls of rebellion, already tamed by their place in mainstream cultural consciousness, are further disenfranchised by the faint volume maintained to allow pre-show chitchat. When Motherlode enters, we are overcome by the resonance of perfect harmony and Welsh’s sculpted vowels arranged by Max Mackintosh. Ancient sounds sung in an alien tongue repackage and shower New York theatregoers with the timeless will to resist arbitrary power.

The Good Earth tells the simple but continually relevant story of an uprooted community, staged by director/performer Rachael Boulton to evenhandedly incorporate speech with movement and vocal tones. Opening with firecracker Gwenllian Higginson as the young and tenacious Jackie, she gives a class presentation on her neighborhood. She begins with her immediate family and goes on to list every character in her town, each embodied in an instant amid a rotating people wall that forms, dissolves, and reforms across the front, crafting a kinesthetic popup book in a windstorm wildly fluttering the pages. Boulton forges a sense of density with a cast of five, encapsulating at once the richness of community and the disappearance of locals against a city council’s embrace of gentrification.

The play is hardly a musical. The tunes are energized respites, falling into opposing camps of slow wafting airs and driving rhythms that foreshadow British punk. Never sung to completion nor given space to begin, they arrive like the strike of a match from the hands of an idle child.

This sense of interruption is the play’s organizing principle. A character we never see, Bryan, disrupts daily conversation to speak of danger to encourage emigration. Jackie fancies herself an investigator, dropping into character without warning to ask innocuously invasive questions of her brother James’ sex life. Subject matter is equally viral. Ignoring the town’s transformation is futile as family friend Trish recounts a bad date at the new restaurant the locals were supposed to boycott. As such, citizen becomes interloper, as Jackie is made to feel inferior upon starting a new school, and, despite local criticism of cheaper new housing units, it is part of an old house that breaks loose and injures her, which James tries in vain to keep secret as to prevent the town from becoming its own assailant.

Despite this clutter, key figures are consistently missing, rendering many important exchanges as one-sided conversations. We take up the slack here, rapidly shifting identities from Jackie’s classmates to the mysterious Bryan to the vitriol- receiving council. Our perspective shifts as the behaviors of these characters alter according to who they need us to be.

By the end, James is the only local left, hauntingly recreating Jackie’s opening presentation. Both anti-gentrification and a lesson in impermanence, James is hardly portrayed as a hero, but could be an example of the consequences of civic meddling with otherwise well-intentioned people. He sighs, breath signaling shifts of setting, time, and affect throughout a story of resistance with the most inevitable practice of letting go.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

September 5, 2016
Written by Toni Press-Coffman and directed by Nathaniel Shaw, Libra Theater Company’s “TOUCH” is a deeply personal show. It’s impossible not to be emotionally moved by the story itself, delivered with strong acting by the four-member cast, all within the very intimate theater setting of 59E59 Theaters.

In this play, a high school physics class begins a life-long romance, cut short by an unthinkable tragedy. We join the story amidst the aftermath and grieving process. As Kyle Kalke packs up boxes of his late wife’s things, he shares, through tears, laughs, and excerpts of John Keat’s poetry, the story of him and Zoe.

The work continues to seamlessly transition from past to present, grounded in the human experience of love and loss. Pete McElligott is powerful in the lead role of Kyle, delivering the raw emotions that Press-Coffman’s story demands.

But “TOUCH” is not solely a love story; through Kyle’s character, we witness his individual resilience and see both his strengths and weaknesses. This is most poignantly captured in the present-day scenes in which Kyle evolves into “John Sky,” the increasingly vulnerable client of a prostitute, Kathleen. During one of their nights together, Kathleen says, “I’m just filling in until you can tolerate real people.” He wrestles with this reality and begins to let her in, one step in his journey to move on.

Throughout, there is an ongoing theme of that which is bigger than ourselves—namely the universe, the stars. Kyle’s lifelong appreciation for science and astronomy feed into how he connects, and sometimes struggles to connect, with those around him. We see it with his relationship with Kathleen, but also hear it in the memories he shares about Zoe, and the way he interacts with his best friend, Bennie, and Zoe’s sister, Serena.

Meanwhile, a strong juxtaposition between the personal and universal emerges. Though this could run the risk of feeling forced, Press-Coffman’s play, guided by Shaw’s keen direction, succeeds in highlighting it a meaningful and organic way.

Kyle discovers, or perhaps has no choice but to discover, that perspective is key. There’s an honesty in the development of his character, and the others introduced, making this “worst nightmare” type of storyline feel surprisingly relatable.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

August 22, 2016
“Black Magic” is a powerful image of what it’s like to be black – the history, the struggles, the pride, and resilience. It’s timely, and at times so profoundly relevant that we, the audience, can’t help but be palpably moved.

The play is a compilation of spoken word poetry, movement, song, and a touch of red-nose clowning, written by Tony Jenkins and co-directed by Jenkins and Chessa Metz. In a mere forty minutes, seven men confront their families, lovers, friends, and themselves; they directly address the society that failed them, the black boy, the gun, and the man behind the gun.

To move and make the trajectory as “Black Magic” does in such a short amount of time, is a testament to the words. Jenkins’ work is richly written, and his background as a spoken word poet rings clear. Each line holds meaning.

A young man shares his ideal movie: “It wouldn’t be a black story, but boy-meets-girl…No guns. No one dies…and when the credits roll, everyone has a name.”

Another address his Mom in a letter from beyond the grave, “I’m sorry I got hit with more bullets than birthdays.”

Later, one challenges the press, “Fill in the blank; fill in the black thing.”

And, “To the gun: I know you don’t hate us.”

We continue to travel with these men from one audience to the next. The transitions are largely stark, but there’s an emotional momentum that carries. Intermittently, movement by Metz is woven into the action on stage. At times it successfully punctuates the sentiment brought to life through the script and acting, though other times it feels less organic.

Following a blackout, the men re-emerge as red-nosed clowns, giggling and playful. One discovers a black glove, and puts it on only to realize it has a mind of its own. There’s confusion and laughter still. And then, the gloved hand forms a gun, pointing at each one of them, at us, at himself. He remains disconnected, fearful, and in disbelief of his own hand’s nonsensical actions. The men band together to remove it. This comedic-turned-intense route proves and effective conclusion for the work.

“Black Magic” was presented as part of the 20th anniversary of The New York International Fringe Festival.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

July 16, 2016
While watching the absorbing new play by Lucy Prebble, “The Effect,” lyrics from the song “Love Potion Number 9” kept swirling through my head. “I told her that I was a flop with chicks…She said, ‘What you need is Love Potion Number 9.’ I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink! I didn’t know if it was day or night, I started kissin’ everything in sight.” You get it.

Directed by the masterful David Cromer, “The Effect” revolves around a psychologist, Dr. Lorna James (Kati Brazda) administering a drug protocol. Intended as a mood-elevating drug for depression, the drugs main ingredient, dopamine, is equally potent stimulating infatuations—or the sense of love. Her two subjects are attractive people in their 30’s. Uncertain why the quizzical Connie Hall (Susannah Flood) wants to sequester herself for the study, the free-spirited Tristan Frey (Carter Hudson) wants the money so he can travel cross-country.

Each day the subjects take a pill (one is administered a placebo), have their vital monitored and amble around the facility. Overtly friendly, Tristan is constantly flirting with Connie who tries to retain her space, but alas, she succumbs. Like two giddy children, they do naughty stuff in the clinic beds, and outdoors.

Conflicted by the trials’ health and psychological ramifications, Dr. James locks onto the budding relationship (no sex between subjects in the trial) and evicts Connie. But she refuses insisting she needs to know if she’s really in love with Tristan. Love, or infatuation, instigated by the formation of dopamine most certainly guides Cupid’s arrows, but is it lasting?

Without giving away the twisty ending, the budding love between Connie and Tristan is mirrored in a past relationship connecting Dr. James and lead doctor, Toby Sealey.

The brain is a complex organ known as the center of the nervous system. But ancients, poets and philosophers believe our soul reside in our brain. The winning cast successfully executes the feelings surrounding the delicate balance between scientific analysis and human emotion.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 26, 2016
Oh woe is he who crosses Kate and thinks the day is won. This year's first Free Shakespeare in the Park took Shakespeare's feisty play "The Taming of the Shrew" and flipped tradition inside out. Where once the itinerant theater troupes of old England were all male ensembles, this cast was all female. The noticeable male was Shakespeare's words.

The genial mixed race cast was led by a cocky Petruchio coolly rendered by Janet McTeer, duly throwing rock 'n roll swagger off her long, lean body. Her intended "slave" I mean matrimonial project, Katherina (Cush Jumbo), turned in an equally fierce performance. Trimmed to 1:45 which many appreciate when sitting in Central Park, the mighty Kate and Petruchio's wrangling is snipped to a bare few bouts of vitriol and verbal arm wrestling. Understandably, director Phyllida Lloyd likely assumed the point was made, particularly since the audience might reject the notion of a woman succumbing to a man's demands for a morsel of food let alone a wedding day.

An undeniably game cast keeps the action percolating. Dressed in a mix of Texan and 1950's Italian village fare, the all female cast rarely betrays a bit of incongruity. When the audience settles in, announcements start blaring identifying one beauty contestant after another strutting to the mellifluous recorded voice of Donald Trump. And the fairest of them all is Bianca (Gayle Rankin) Kates's sister. Blond and pretty, soft and faintly, she's the one all the men adore. But the smart father demands Kate, the shrewish sister, be wed fist. This of courses sets the problem.

A funky jazz combo breaks out in hip shaking rhythms. This makes for easy viewing, but some of the original sharpness is fluffed up.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 30, 2016
As you receive your ticket to Bible Study for Heathens, the box office manager points you to a graph where you are invited to draw a self-representing symbol along perpendicular axes of belief and practice – Cartesian Faith. Once ascended to the choir loft of Judson Church, you can contribute to a sand mandala before taking your seat, at which point the neighbor-greeting is well underway. A trilogy of logical, impermanent, and social contexts of spirituality warms up NY Neo-Futurist Yolanda K. Wilkinson’s marathon through ten religions.

Joey Rizzolo directs Wilkinson in environments that shift radically through simple means. Crude sensory aids allow each scene to mirror the faith discussed, as in Wicca, lights are cut, leaving Metallica to demolish an organ’s lull by electric candlelight. Such coarseness helps to get points across immediately where scenes are short and manifold.

Additionally consistent are Wilkinson’s lucid post-hoc reflections of her misunderstandings in each phase, delivered, however, in the sentiment of the time. As a young Presbyterian she describes believing taking communion turned her into Jesus with the perplexed wonder of actually feeling divine. Keen insights then emerge, highlighting suppressed female figures to expose religion’s misogyny- reinforcing appropriation as well as cross-cultural faith fusions as Western imperialism.

Still, the piece is structured as a Christian service – an expression of how Wilkinson came into faith, how it grounded her experience of other faiths, and ultimately how difficult it is to ever fully escape. The program is referred to as a missal. Stagehand Connor Scully is an altar boy. Wilkinson lectures on Scientology as long as we put money in a traveling tithe basket. In expressing the Greek practice of pre-performance libations honoring Dionysus, she takes communion – over and over again.

The joke becomes poignant when, lamenting on being unable to understand Buddhist chant, Wilkinson turns to the Lord’s Prayer, and has us all join in. It somehow works, compared to her earlier attempt at the Apostle’s Creed, floundered by line two. Participation is relentless. Intended audiences, educated and cynical, may be hip to this, but power is no more tangible than when such an audience cannot remove themselves to recite the words to a prayer from a satirical distance. Despite an externally episodic setup, Wilkinson revisits charged areas of her life as she travels from faith to faith. This yielding to humanity, present in each phase of her journey parallels the most pivotal participation: a single spectator reading the golden rules of every religion – loving neighbor as self, present in each phase of humankind.

Heaviness is offset by referential humor. Wilkinson prides herself on the Defense against the Dark Arts professor she could be after changing the names in an angel summoning with those of the Beatles. Theatrical artifice indicts artificial ritual – Wilkinson’s ultimate protest. To combat, she ends with a communion of unusually fine bread and wine (“Jesus is tomato basil tonight”), inviting us to honor that which inspires us to go the extra mile – to live well and allow others the same.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews

May 22, 2016
He’s short, stocky and full of vinegar. The tough guy song and dance man James Cagney is reincarnated in the body of Robert Creighton. A hard-bitten Irish guy who liked to clown around and tap dance inadvertently becomes America’s screen star. Raised on the mean streets of Manhattan, where punches serve as words, he excelled as an amateur boxer. An educated man—graduating from Columbia—Cagney held many odd jobs until the oddest job of all popped up impersonating a woman in revue.

In this tightly shaped musical, Cagney banters with his mother (sharp witted Danette Holden—doubles as Jack Warner’s secretary) and his brother Bill (Josh Walden). Times are hard, and money is scarce. With the father dead, Cagney functions as the major breadwinner. Warner’s secretary Jane (Danette Holden). Ma Cagney (Holden) Bob Hop (Jeremy Benton) Cagney’s wife Willie (Ellen Zolezz) brother, Bill (Josh Walden).

Serendipitously, Cagney hears about an audition that launches his career as a comedienne and song & dance man. Multi-talented, Cagney also enjoyed a photographic memory and served as a staunch advocate of unions. Both this traits got him in and out of tons of trouble with authority figures.

After many failures at breaking into the film business, Cagney caught the attention of film executives who caught newspaper notices of his tough guy success in a NY show “Outside Looking In.” Desperate for new blood in the burgeoning gangster movie business, Warner Bros. chief, Jack Warner (skanky Bruce Sabath) -- Cagney’s life long nemesis—ferries him out to California. According to the show, that’s the start of Cagney’s budding career as America’s “Tough Guy;” in large part because of his knowledge of authentic street fighting and boxing.

Creighton’s body language speaks “Cagney” with his shoulders tight, legs slightly bent, and hands always twitching to snap into fists. Many of the scenes physically fling Cagney into walls, over chairs and through windows. Always devoted to his mother and wife “Willie” (Ellen Zolezz), they are the only ones who touch his softer side. Otherwise, he’s in constant battle with Warner over his contracts, paying reasonable wages to his crew and cast members and fighting charges of Communist ties.

But the fighting stops when he wins the role George M. Cohan in one of the finest American film musicals ever made “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” That’s when Creighton gets to strut his taps, punching the ground with staccato rhythms (Savion Glover probably took a few notes from the film performance) strutting around in stiff-legged prances and balling out “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Solid, red haired and high-strung, Creighton captures Cagney’s resilience, athleticism and heart. The score includes 18 original songs, but the ones with the most punch are still the standards: “Mary,” “Harrington,” “You’re a Grand Ole’ Flag,” “Over There,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

In a turn worthy of the original Cagney, Robert Creighton wrote the music and lyrics for "Cagney" along with Christopher Mc Govern, and then cast himself in the lead role. Spryly directed by Bill Castellino, "Cagney" rises on Joshua Bergasse’s wonderfully snappy choreography and Matt Perri’s upbeat musical direction. The book is by Peter Colley while Martha Bromeimeier is responsible for the era costumes brightened by lighting designer Michael Gilliam at the Westside Theatre Upstairs.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

May 5, 2016
Trembling out of breath, Aoife Duffin stands alone. With what little she has left, she nods as if saying, “Yes, that happened, now please give me water.” It is the type of curtain call we pine for: to the point, with sadistic certainty of the performer’s utter exhaustion. Duffin shoulders the ninety minutes of Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, presented by the Irish Arts Center in the Jerome Robbins Theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center. Amid sandy ground and dank light, Duffin’s instrument is finely tuned.

Ryan uses Duffin’s body gesturally. When in character, she is spatially fixed, traveling in transitions. Postures sustain, representing conversations versus the comprising individuals. Years after the unnamed protagonist is raped by her uncle, a funeral returns her home where they reunite in a car, fetching refreshments. Attempting to assert autonomy as her rapist attempts to rationalize while asking for more, Duffin leans away, embodying the joint caution.

Duffin the performer wears pajama pants and a t-shirt, contrasting unerotic body presentation in an experience of life as a sexually abused teen who reclaims sex as a means to empowerment. Such bodily pedestrianism parallels a pedestrian concept of love, sufficed by physical intimacy and parental interaction, for better or worse. Against Duffin’s physically violent liaisons, her uncle’s purely sexual intent gives an illusory air of affection. When she returns from a particularly bloody encounter to her brother’s wake, her mother’s subsequent shaming is maternal wisdom. Equating love and aggression makes her ultimate suicide her only act of self-love. For most of the play Duffin is hunched; in death, she stands serene as Sinéad Wallace’s lighting fills the depths of an icy lake.

Connecting love and violence lends itself to the tough tenderness of archetypical Irish upbringings. Parenting via threats engenders what is referenced as “conducting the great work,” which, while for some is aggrandizing mundanity as service to God, for our protagonist is her power-hungry promiscuity. For Mother, it is the bartering of guilt – convincing someone else to tell her own son he is dying, and making sure her daughter covers her bruises at his wake to keep up appearances. If a body cannot function portraying such conflicting intentions, how can a family?

The resulting dissociation erases Duffin into a conduit for each character. Her postures, faces, and dialects stay so consistent in a tale of instabilities, our sense of time shifts to one that feels hastened, yet still unfolds in the mad rush of the present. We, too, become detached, unable to sympathize with unnamed characters. The rape scenes are told with neither filter nor affect, trapping us as involuntary eavesdroppers.

Solo shows typically connote autobiographical indulgence. Here, an actress is tasked with portraying everything but herself. What is the distance between signified and signifier? Duffin’s eye contact focuses on those inhabiting her memories. This is not the recounting of a story for an audience; this is a montage of responses to events as they unfold in an eternally present moment.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

May 1, 2016
Yes we can! That’s the motto of a bubbling, historically significant musical “Shuffle Along” unearthed by director George C. Wolfe. The giddy “Shuffle Along” represents the first all black musical to hit Broadway in 1921. At the time, jazz music roared out of the South on the fingertips of W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin and the lips of Louis Armstrong. Enthralling American and European audiences, artists were scrambling to copy the syncopated rhythms, blues inflected melodies and snappy dances.

Originally, the book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles poked fun at politics. This version is more about the thrill of constructing a show despite the obstacles. The incomparable Audra McDonald as the abundantly gifted diva leads a stellar cast.

Willful personalities constantly on the verge of combustion scheme and write a showcase for era’s top Black talent. “Shuffle Along” floats on the music by Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry) and jazz pianist Eubie Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon).

In addition to teeming chorus of talented dancers and actors, two esteemed Broadway veterans lend heft to the parts of F. E. Miller (Brian Stokes Mitchell) and Aubrey Lyles (Billy Porter) the show’s bickering creators. Of course, every show needs a backer, and that’s where two-faced, bumbling Caucasian, Brooks Ashmanskas steps in.

Most of the hair curling show numbers land in the first act. Choreographer Savion Glover captures the low-to-the ground beats, mixing in soft shoe turns and early 20th century dances into the rhythmically ebullient choreography. There are hilarious chorus girl numbers, featuring woman of multiple shapes sporting short dresses popping in color by Ann Roth.

Now everyone knows that McDonald sings the notes out of every musical style imaginable, but her tapping skills were less well known. This lady knows how to “get down” while simultaneously retaining the mystical allure required of a lady in furs.

While Audra negotiates several octaves, Porter and Mitchell deliver their own brand of high-octane performances. In fact, there’s nearly an embarrassment of interpretive riches on the stage.

Along with the show’s success come cast changes because the European producers plucked African American stars with some frequency. This gives another knockout talent, Adrienne Warren an opportunity to portray cabaret stars Gertrude Saunders and Florence Mills.

Rising to the occasion, Santo Loquasto plunges into the era magnifying the excess and simplicity including a ruby red convertible to ferry the four men at the peak of their success.

Throughout the production, songs gather force like “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Love Will Find a Way” topped by the magical song and dance number “The Pennsylvania Graveyard Shuffle.” For this show-stopper, Glover converts his cast into a teeming train of one stop stands, picking off the chug-a-chug sounds and whistles while referencing the scores of black Pullman porters in films—most famously, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and John Bubbles.

After 504 performances of “Shuffle Along,” nerves begin to fray leading to the second act when partnerships fray, love affairs and futures dissemble. Bookended by two World Wars, the Jim Crow era and Great Migration, “Shuffle Along” proves that opportunity equals cultural milestones.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 1, 2016
Avian imagery abounds in Pan Pan's tart spin off “The Seagull and Other Birds” or maybe a better title “The Seagull and Other Dramas.” Strapped into ballet class tunic, tutus, leotards and tights, the inter-generational cast hold arms up in balletic curves and strike the traditional classroom stance.

Class begins. The meditative knee bends (plies), foot stretches on the floor—(battements tendues), and airy arms curve up in front of the chest and apart in a port de bras. Just your everyday beginner’s ballet class? Well, not exactly. To start, men and women are stretching out in white and pink leotard and tights next to the tutu clad men. Crossing through the meditative exercises, a large, overbearing woman in black moans Masha’s famous lament: “I’m in mourning for my life.” What would Chekhov think? Well, this is more about feeling than thinking, like Chekhov’s characters that spew inner emotions regardless of external currents.

This pranksterish show springs from the imagination of the Irish-based, rule-breaking Pan Pan, a motley group of actors mashing up improv and set sections making it open enough to integrate unsuspecting audience members and yet clearly structured.

Perfectly situated in the Abrons Arts Center, the stage is intimate enough to draw in the audience both metaphorically and literally. Actors roam the aisles, pick off audience members to don bits of costume and pose—sometimes better than the actors—always to wild applause. For those familiar with the original, characters like Nina, Konstantin, Nina, Sorin and Trigorin are recognizable, only they chatter in “potty mouth” superlatives and extract some of the more recognizable lines from “The Seagull.”

Throughout the stage ramblings, there’s a mash-up of texts extracted from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Lena Dunham’s “Girls” and strains of Tchaikovsky’s equally tragic “Swan Lake” not to mention riffs from The Rolling Stones, and gangsta rap thus referencing previous productions known for fusing high and low art.

In the end, this production makes sense because in Chekhov’s original, the young, romantic playwright Konstantin (Dick Walsh) insists that only avant-garde theater will save the artform from stagnation.

Founded in 1990 by Aedin Cosgrove and Gavin Quinn, Pan Pan’s “Seagull” is directed by Quinn and designed by Cosgrove and includes text by Quinn, Chekhov, Kich Walsh, Derrick Devine and Dan Riordan plus the anarchic cast members Andrew Bennett, Gina Moxley and Daniel Reardon.

Come for theater, stay for the lark.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 31, 2016
Here we go, a flawed but loving family converges in the home of the youngest daughter, Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele) and her congenial partner Arian Moayed (Richard Saad) for Thanksgiving dinner. Not possible for this to be anything but a tragi-comedy. Written with a gimlet eye by Stephen Karam, The Humans is just that—a bunch of people trying their best to be human.

This Midwestern family travels through wicked weather for a reunion arriving at the rather bare, two floor, NYC apartment -- the kind that memorialize tubs in the kitchen. Mom--Deirdre Blake (Jayne Houdyshell), dad—Erik Blake (Reed Birney), sister—Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) and hobbled grandma, Fiona “Momo” Blake (Lauren Klein) converge on the industrial style space aptly designed by David Zinn.

The entrance and bathroom upstairs hover over the tiny kitchen and living area downstairs. Perfectly set-up for secret conversations separated from the cosmetically devised family unity. A rather familiar family unit, the candid, physically ample mother who just can’t help speaking her mind, consistently agitates her daughters. Dad, the passive aggressive good guy attempts to keep the peace until he’s drawn into the ever-insistent family angst. And everyone’s despair projected at a daughter who chooses life in an urban jungle—awash in crime, noise, unhealthy environs – you know, every day existence in NYC.

As tensions flare, and all the old hurts are picked at and rubbed into red knobs of anger, the family consistently tries to find a supportive balance that at best, dips towards exasperation.

In the space of one afternoon, insecure family members unload persistent health and financial dilemmas, but in the sure-fire hands of director Joe Mantello, they never lose that blood-link that ties all families into a portrait of fluid love. The well-picked cast snaps into their characters with ease and honesty. Jayne Houdyshell exudes competent “mother earth” qualities that balance her husband’s wistfulness, the daughter’s anxieties, and mother’s enveloping entropy. Intent on pursuing her acting career after paying off student debt, her boyfriend finds meaning as a social worker two years away from a family inheritance.

For many, this is a real depiction of families, with barely an ounce of exaggeration. Therefore, audience members can be heard asking why this is considered so groundbreaking? Well, maybe not in the typical family (many are far more dysfunctional) but in the end, the characters are deeply drawn and all the anxieties are feverishly nailed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 14, 2016
Inside the boxing ring careers are made and social mores challenged. In Marco Ramirez’s riveting play “The Royale” at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, might meets racism.

Predominantly performed inside a boxing ring designed by Nick Vaughan and searing lighting by Austin R. Smith, the young, up-and-coming boxer Fish (McKinely Belcher III) lands the job of sparring with the imposing heavyweight boxing champion Jay (Khris Davis) better known as “Sport” in the early 20th century. Highly disciplined, Jay ruled the rings in his flashy outfits and demeaning punches. Determined to be a major player in the ring, Fish realizes games are fixed, while agents steal in an industry that allows blacks in but doesn’t accept them.

Director Rachel Chavkin’s intricately choreographed passages spur the riveting action and story line that references America’s famous African-American world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson (check out “Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”). Percussive stomps punctuate the workouts sessions, which serve as the exchange of young black man’s optimism and a seasoned winner’s cynicisms. Trainer Wynton (Clark Peters) functions as the black American chorus. Aware of his fighter’s talents, he’s fearful of white America’s brutal claim on black heroes.

On the other side of ring is the white agent Max (John Lavelle) who tries to play both sides of the racial divide. Max’s deals are constantly challenged by “Sport” who refuses to “throw” a fight. In the process, America’s insidious Jim Crow era is on cruel display.

The 90 minute drama packs one of the most powerful punches of the theater season for its contained bombast and expressive truth.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 6, 2016
Relative to Eugene O’Neill’s body of work, “Hughie” is a mere nugget—a fleeting story packaged as an elongated monologue. Written 1941, it marked just one within an array of single-act works. And yet this 60-minute play was the only to survive and never made it to the stage during O’Neill’s lifetime. The acclaimed Forest Whitaker makes his Broadway debut as the central character, Erie Smith, giving a noteworthy performance in this modest role. Set in 1928 New York City, Smith is a drunken gambler hiding out in a seedy West Side hotel. Brief musical interludes (Adam Cork) take on an eerie tone with an occasional siren humming by, a reminder of the early hours in which Smith has stumbled back home.

While putzing around the hotel lobby, Smith spews into a lengthy tangent for an audience of one: the new night clerk, Charlie Hughes (played by Frank Wood). Smith briefly mistakes him for his recently passed “old pal” and confidant, Hughie, soon realizing Charlie is in fact his replacement. A nostalgic account of his friend Hughie unfolds, riddled with personal tall tales of his many “dolls” and conquests and enviable gambling success.

But Smith isn’t as well-off as he claims, simultaneously succumbing to vulnerable moments of forgetfulness, loneliness, aimlessly sifting through the contents of his pockets, and admitting a problematic losing streak since Hughie’s death. He’s a lost man missing a friend, a friend who—much like this new night clerk—found himself in that role simply by matter of circumstance. It’s this, the underlying self-alienation of Smith’s character, which Whitaker taps into most expertly.

“Hughie” is straightforward in its unadorned story of loss and life, more deeply highlighting the human experience by simply taking the story to the stage to showcase a man in the midst of both. Meanwhile, Christopher Oram’s set is intricate and beautiful, though it can only serve as a passive frame for O’Neill’s words; for action is quite scarce. It’s up to the audience to discover the nuances and read into the complexity of Smith’s character to gain the full “Hughie” experience.

“Hughie,” directed by Michael Grandage, will have its final performance at Broadway’s Booth Theatre on Sunday, March 27, 2016.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

March 6, 2016
For the unfamiliar, Japanese traditional theater might sound-like high-pitched squawks and dissonant music. Then again, there’s no denying the majesty of the spectacle, and the unequaled authority of the performers. Many who practice these forms are borne of artistic dynasties--families that have practiced the mysteries of the form and unsparing technique for centuries. At Carnegie Hall, the production company 3Top Co. in association with the Japanese American Association of New York as well as the Asia Society presented a one night only program of Kyogen, Noh and Kabuki Theater.

The bad boy of Kabuki Theater, Ichikawa Ebizo arrived to great applause from the many fans crowding the Isaac Stern Theater. Originating in the 1600’s Edo period, Kabuki fuses music, dance and acting to draw aural and visual pictures of rowdy lives spiked by samurai rivalries, suicides and desperate love.

Dressed in ornately painted and colored kimonos (long robes synched at the waist with wide sleeves and masks), men perform all the roles in elaborate make-up and exaggerated gestures that read to the rafters. Despite the lack of supertitles, the few non-speaking Japanese in the audience could follow the highly animated action punctuated by the musicians’ intricate, but specific scores.

In Noh Tscuchigumo (The Earth Spider) evil spiders spar with priests over a man’s health. Sick in bed, the hero is visited by a priest who suggests the evil doings of a spider. He sprays white streamers representing the spider's venom at the hero, who strikes back with his sword. By the second half the hero overwhelms the evil with the “spider slasher” ‘sword.

What’s really remarkable, are the deeply weighted steps, shocking jumps that are more like pops straight up with feet tucked up to the crotch, and the singular fullness applied to the spare, instantly legible gestures. Seated behind the performers or to the side, the all-important musicians sit driving the action through the instruments and vocals.

Feet slap on the floor in a variety of timbres, and the click of the head right or left is as articulate as any ballerina’s foot.

Not so far from the broad-humor and drama of vaudeville, experiencing the unusual presentation of Kyogen, Nohn and Kabuki in one evening, was a celebratory occasion. It’s unfortunate American audiences are not exposed more frequently to a national art form populated by artist clans and honored by its country.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 19, 2016
No one can ever call the showman Maurice Hines shy. A member of the formidable tap and song family, Hines, Hines and Dad, the stage was his home from adolescence to adulthood. Less famous than his brother Gregory Hines, Maurice makes his own name in musicals and toured of his own shows.

“Tappin’ Thru Life” is a musical autobiography that tracks Maurice Hines’ entertainment upbringing from boyhood to Gregory’s untimely death. Adorable photos of the young brothers in Harlem, dressed to the nines and turning heads at every corner, assist the affable Maurice spin an easy tale of brotherly love, competition, separation and reconciliation.

An earthy tap-dancer, Maurice can still tap out some rhythmically involved figures and concoction of percussive sounds. But what he really loves is singing. Acting out a song and punctuating lyrics with intermittent taps, he makes a point about the stylish roots of tap in vaudeville.

Maurice gets a little help from the Manzari Brothers who dazzle with their Nicholas Brothers routine and uninhibited energy. They take on the athletics leaving the style to Maurice. Directed by another show-time veteran Jeff Calhoun, Mr. Hines keeps the action clipping along, only slipping now and again into sentimentality. Primarily it’s a historic periscope magnifying a time when people couldn’t resist entertainers who loved to sing, dance, act, tell jokes to keep an audience amused all night long.

Sherrie Maricle and The Diva Jazz Orchestra (yes indeed, it’s a gal band) back up the action, and there’s a sweet nod to the next generation of talented performers when Devin and Julia Ruth, Dario Natarelli, and child prodigy, Luke Spring hit the stage at New World Stages.
EYE ON THE ARTS NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 15, 2016
Hardly a minute goes by in Cabin in the Sky when someone isn’t foot slapping the floor or swinging their hips in a non-stop movement and music celebration. That’s due to the handy work of director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and choreographer Camille A. Brown, not to mention a rather fine cast.

Known primarily as a film directed by Vincente Minnelli starring Ethel Waters, Lena Horn, Eddie “Rochester” Hamilton, Louis Armstrong and the ace Duke Ellington Orchestra, “Cabin in the Sky” was pulled from the original Broadway production featuring George Balanchine in the director’s chair along with Katherine Dunham and her dancers’ establishing the raucous steps staged by Balanchine.

Large footprints to fill, no doubt, but City Center's Encores! succeeds in its presentation of an all black cast in this sonorous production.

Basically, it’s a musical battle between Lucifer's The Head Man (Chuck Cooper) and Lord’s General (Norm Lewis) over the soul of one rascal "Little Joe" Jackson (Michael Potts). Intent on saving him after a gambling mishap, Petunia Jackson, the excellent LaChanze, prays hard to snatch her husband, Little Joe’s soul away from Lucifer. Right then, the two men of heaven and hell wager a bet that Little Joe will slide back to his unholy ways in 6 months. If he stays clean then he rises to the Lord otherwise, he drops to Lucifer.

One of the evening’s show-stoppers was the "Cafe Dance" suggesting hot dance times in Havana instead of Savannah. Known primarily as a modern dance choreographer, Brown applies a steady and animated hand to the dances that reference social dances of time inflected with a good does of inventiveness, accenting run-of-the-mill lifts and turns with clever accents.

Effortlessly directed by the talented Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Cabin in the Sky” hardly let a minute go by without the stage throbbing in movement, emotion and ringing voices. Another hard-driving cast member is the blazing Encores! Orchestra stretched across the back of the stage, knocking out jazz licks with precision and speed under the director Rob Berman.

With music by the legendary jazz composer and orchestrator Vernon Duke, Cabin in the Sky flies on lyrics by John Latouche, and book by Lynn Root. Although the whole cast is excellent, Marva Hicks as Lily, Brother Green as J.D. Webster and Carly Hughes as the seductress Georgia Brown shine. The dancers, swinging through the Lindy Hop. flick fingers, soulfully grind feet into the earth, and snap out body isolations, understandably elicit howls from the audience. Is there a Broadway run in sight? Guess we’ll see.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 14, 2016
It’s difficult for a feisty young lady, full of life yet waiting for it to expire. Not very social, an unlikely consort appears with homework and high school conversation He, Anthony (Reggie E. White) is a lanky, basketball loving African American male and she, Caroline ( Kayla Ferguson) is a hyper –bright, sweetly attractive Caucasian female. They clash and connect.

Their world expands and contracts within the walls of a colorful, and untidy bedroom designed by Michael Carnahan—possibly it’s an image of the inside of her mind? These contrasting personalities represent two factions of teenagers: those who are health consciousness, those addicted to sugar. A pop-tart fanatic, Anthony questions her adherence to super-healthy food consumption. Really, if your life is at-risk, may as well indulge.

In a twist, Anthony is a Walt Whitman fanatic and he’s come around not only to deliver homework assignments, but also to engage her in a Whitman poetry project. Written by Laruen Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, the characters retain an insistent connection on the brink of disaster. Completely affable, Anthony and Caroline reveal teenage angst twisting inside deep emotions peeking out for a few minutes a day inside the sanctity of a bedroom. Produced by Merrimack Repertory Theatre in association with Richard Winkler at 59E59.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

February 6, 2016
“The Glory of the World” is a frat party gone philosophical, guised as a 100th birthday party for a long-passed man: Mr. Charles Merton. This man—as is quickly made evident—was a complicated individual whose legacy lingers on quite differently for each of the party attendees. An intriguingly unconventional play, written by Charles Mee and directed by Les Waters, capitalizes on Merton’s unique life which ended suddenly at age 53 due to an accidental electrocution. Ultimately it calls into question the idea of identity - that which defines us and we will be remembered for, the (perhaps even unexpected) impact everyone stands to have on the world.

A garage door is thrown up and seventeen men launch into a banter of toasts to Merton: Merton the Catholic monk, Merton the prolific writer, Merton the pacifist, the mystic, the Buddhist, the communist, the fundamentally good. These toasts evolve into a tangent of attributed quotes (a recurring element of Mee’s script) from Lennon to Einstein, George Bernard Shaw to Lady Gaga, Cameron Diaz to Mae West, and more.

Two of the men—Cameron (played by David Ryan Smith) and Conrad (played by Conrad Scott)—are highlighted. Indicating a relationship gone sour, Conrad unravels, finds a blow up mattress and comically waits for it to fill only to run and jump on it over and over. His fit of physical and emotional turmoil is met by Cameron’s literal offering of a hand. The two kiss, beginning what becomes a beautiful dance of sorts (Movement Director Barney O’Hanlon). Their hands push and grab at each other in a sweet power struggle, all while lock-lipped. The others pair up forehead-to-forehead echoing the couple’s gestures, slow dancing.

Dane Laffrey’s scenic design creates a warehouse feel, which the actors further adorn with deer heads, a pool table, many a red solo cup, and at one point, a row of arm chairs. Sitting in these chairs with sunglasses and neon blankets, the conversation circles back to Merton, heaven, and hell.

A brief scene of choreographed bravado by a handful of the shirtless men follows, then a full cast lip-sync, then the opening of a birthday gift to reveal a toy airplane. Upstage, plastic is laid out and sprinkler turned on as two speedo-clad men mimic swim strokes, eventually giving into slip’n slide action. Just when one thought that would be the strangest thing to happen, a huge rhinoceros is walked across the stage—a reference to one of Merton’s many writings.

Returning in tuxes and sitting in children’s chairs, it’s time for birthday cake. Merton himself is at last quoted, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.” This brief nod to civility and peace is quickly undermined by a heated discussion of nearly every “ism.”

An elaborate fight scene, credited to fight director Ryan Bourque, escalates. Spotlights highlight pair after pair of the men brutally attacking each other. Papers fly about, a bowl is turned into a weapon, a knife is introduced, a sword-shovel fight ensues, and a chainsaw makes an appearance. A scene of utter hysteria is achieved—ironic, of course, given Merton’s anti-violence beliefs. Gunshots startle the already loud, visually wild spectacle and a pizza boy shows up with a pie per man. Back to the present, and the party, we resume.

The chaos and curious action and conversation that are the essence of what is perhaps better referred to as theatrical experience than play, are bookended by silence. Intentionally lengthy, this silence is at times unsettling. Words are projected on the set describing sounds, settings, images, guiding our thoughts. A lone man sits at a desk, back to the audience, still. Contemplation becomes a poignant takeaway.

“The Glory of the World” premiered in Louisville, KY in March 2015 during the 39th Humana Festival of New American Plays and just wrapped its three-week New York City run at BAM’s Harvey Theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jenny Thompson

January 28, 2016
Commedia dell’arte, the popular form of Italian theater that reached the height of its popularity in the mid-17th century, holds a special place in our imagination, and has inspired artists working across time, and in different art forms, from Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky to Christopher Wheeldon. Some of its better known characteristics include stock characters and an improvisational method – part scripted, part riff – where players and audiences interact, adding unpredictability to its appeal. Another salient feature of commedia is the license for pushing the limits of decorum – and in this production, the actors go the extra mile: they are ribald, raucous, and at times unnerving, knowing how to shock and amuse at the same time.

Commedia dell’Artichoke’s contemporary setting is in a New York pizza shop, giving us an “outrageous take on timeless themes including running a small business and chasing the American dream.” We are offered pizza and a beer to take inside the theater, where tables are arranged around a small rectangular stage, immediately breaking the fourth wall with the business of eating. The ever-present specter of a rise in rent (“one dollar more than you can afford!”) which threatens Pulcinella’s small pizza business (brilliantly played by Carter Gill) provides the impetus for variously hilarious as well as disgusting scenes. The traditional grotesque commedia masks worn by the actors take a bit of getting used to, and at one point, “Capitana” (played by the gloriously loud and brash Alexandra Henrikson) asserts her authority by slowly inserting her huge witch-like nose into the mouth of Tartaglia (the fearful Tommy Russell). The moment was lengthy and disturbing, and the audience in the Gene Frankel Theater seemed to freeze in utter horror as they witnessed that violation.

The audience also seemed generally less inclined to interact and participate in the proceedings than 17th-century Italian audiences probably did. One could see people shrinking away when approached, and I wondered whether the semi-anonymity and the lack of physical interaction in our screen-dominated lives has rendered us impotent to participate fully in such an exchange – whether the comedic and transgressive nature of that dynamic from long ago is simply lost in a world of free speech and instant access to all manner of appalling ideology and behavior on the internet. In Commedia dell’Artichoke, we had the chance to experience what was an oddly appealing, sometimes perplexing mix of past and present – but as the shock and humor wore off, one became more aware of a loss with the pass.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

January 22, 2016
Ah, Electra, child of a wretched mother, why art thou ever pining thus in ceaseless lament for Agamemnon, who long ago was wickedly ensnared by thy false mother's wiles, and betrayed to death by dastardly hand?,” says the chorus in Sophocles Electra written in 410BC.

Ann Liv Young took the challenge to create an evening dedicated to this dis-functional family saga. Stripped of Sophocles poetry and the style typical of Greek tragedies, this sad story is told through a cast of clumsy, self-serving deadbeats with southern accents. Despite the advice never to share a stage with children or animals, Young offers a pig sniffing around the sandbox as her chorus; while her 8 year old daughter hangs on the fringes as a cheerful counterpart to the dreariness.

Her collaborator Annie Dorsen suggested that this two and half hour program begin with a monologue from Sophocles play, which Elektra delivers in a fast, hissing monotone. Sparkling fringe pulled into six columns frame a circular sandbox in which three women in long dresses huddle together. The beginning had promise.

Pop songs keep popping up to give a beat for deliberately awkward movement - falling off chairs, coupling and tripling sex scenes and harsh, out-of-tune screeching. After intermission, the illusion of columns vanishes as the set beads are left to dangle for a "cabaret" scene. Gratuitous nudity, posturing, masturbating, and cunt grinding in the face of one front row female audience member unfolds. A woman with smeared makeup airs her frustration at her failure to jump on a pogo stick, both on a board and in the wheels of a bicycle. Orestes, who bounds around shirtless in the audience and stage, when he isn't standing on the periphery,yells that his weapon of choice is the heart. He also weeps that his bow and arrow accidentally kills a woman. The cast all bounce around, quite ordinarily, to another pop song.

This long evening culminated with an illuminating talk back. Young said that “I don’t feel pressured to make sense…I find all of this to be very funny. I must be a very dark person.”

January 17, 2016
Theater and film actress Susanne Sulby takes over the stage at Theatre Row’s Lion Theatre in her one woman play journeying through the plight of many. This new work, entitled “Sanctuary,” comes to New York following performances at the Edinburge Fringe and Capital Fringe Festivals.

This play is one Sulby has been working on for years, inspired by her emotional response to the Serbo-Croatian conflict of the 1990‘s as well as 9/11. It draws from her personal experience grappling with the horror occuring worldwide and the relateable sense of helplessness she felt as a “passive participant,” observing from the safety of her Pennsylvania home.

The complex montage that is “Sanctuary,” spans decades of global conflicts and tragedies, traveling throughout Kosovo, Sudan, Japan, Arghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Italy, Germany, Vietnam, London, Russia, Nigeria, the United States in a mere 80 minutes. If the sheer volume and power of the content wasn’t enough, further poignant is the fact that much of the loaded script is pulled from actual emails from soldiers in Iraq, letters from mothers, TV news footage, Rumi and WWI poetry, and conversations Sulby had with her own son.

Throughout, Sulby evolves into numerous female figures, all affected by global confict differently – observer, victimin, mother, wife. At times she is the wine-sipping, somewhat frazzled, suburban housewife who is taken aback at her peers’ reluctance to acknowledge that happening in the world. She thinks of the soldier to whom she is sending packages and exchanging letters. “ I’m not a liberal. I’m not a conservative. I’m a human and I want this guy to come back alive,” she reflects.

Moments later she becomes a TV news reporter, inspired by CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. As such, she notes the irony of being driven to the scene and horror, only to be taken back to her hotel. Then, suddenly, she is a tortured prisoner of war in Kosovo, desperately reassuring herself, “I am not here. I am far away.”

Directed by Stephen Stahl, the work has a largely minimalist production value, smartly balancing the intensity of the subject matter. Scenery – a kitchen setting, framed by rock walls – is designed by Peter Tupitza, costumes by Heather Stanley, and lights by Ryan J. O'Gara. Most compelling is the projection design by by Olivia Sebesky, which includes some actual news footage in addition to more abstract imagery during transitional moments.

The audience is intentionally left with a lingering sense of, “What can I do?” – a question asked aloud in the play. “Sanctuary” certainly succeeds at challenging perspective and touching on the human experience in a confrontational way.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

January 16, 2016
“You are what you eat,” or so we’ve been told. Never has that seemed so vividly plausible before experiencing Tanya Tagaq respond to images of water buffalo trying to escape from Inuit hunters and seals being dragged up from the deep through a tiny hole in the snow. Her knees buckle as her head is thrust back in a howl. Her fingers curl imitating Nanook waving his gloveless fingers feeling for the direction of the wind, and then continue to dance, pulling her body into a crouch.

Tagaq is a chameleon who embodies the POV of everything animate and inanimate in the Arctic environment captured in Robert Flaherty’s 1922 film of an Inuit family in Northern Quebec. One minute she is a bellowing buffalo fearing for its life, thirty seconds later, she switches to the collective grunt of the Inuits trying to land their lunch. Her voice changes as fast and seamlessly as an editor of an action movie would cut from the whistles of the vast void, the fangle tooth snarl of dogs, and children giggling while sliding on their Daddy’s back down a snowy bank. She is wild, but, yet, her trance is never so indulged as to stray from complex rhythms, or break her keen connection to the emotional shifts evident in the film.

Two singers kept coming to mind watching Tagaq: the rock legend Janis Joplin and gypsy flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas. Raw, deep, and intensely personal, Tagaq’s artistry is a reminder of how domesticated most of us are. Unlike those two artists, however, Tagaq projects a sense of balance discovered between extremes. She charms us with her barefoot, girlish presence and her disarming playfulness.

Tagaq is an activist and innovator within the ancient throat singing tradition, which among the Inuits is usually performed as a women’s duet, an inhaling/exhaling game. According to the Smithsonian Folkways, throat-singing is a guttural style of chanting, in which the singer produces two or more notes simultaneously, with innumerable tricks involving precise positions of lips, throat, larynx, jaw.

Tagaq’s 70 minute improvisation had the back-up of her long time collaborators: percussionist Jean Martin, violinist Jesse Zubot, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler. We must applaud Mark Russell and Meiyin Wang for presenting such an thrilling event at New York’s Joe’s Pub, in their Under The Radar Festival.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

January 15, 2016
The most enduring critique awaiting every creator is to “show, don’t tell.” The deceptively simple adage aims to prevent purely cognitive understandings of work for the sake of full sensory immersion. Regardless, in Employee of the Year, Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone of 600 HIGHWAYMEN opt to tell for all its worth for the Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival, managing to inform us beyond what we can process; a torrential life path dances cheek-to-cheek with our own.

Eleven-year-old Rachel Dostal speaks first as three-year-old “J” with the childlike delivery that hollers despite being within whispering range. She declares her age and sets her surroundings with personal descriptions, inviting us into memories detailed enough to numb the lack of context. She accumulates years, yet continues to churn out the same voice. More preteens enter to usurp embodiment of J as she ages, holding on to young J’s piercing demand for attention. At three, it is endearing; at eighty, it is tragic.

The one-woman show split between five actresses has no set; naturalistic blocking is tossed in favor of a physical behavior that codifies the young females’ lanky forms. Fingers, fused into mittens, neither reach nor touch, fostering a guarded connection to the outside world.

As we move closer to the present, gestures meet lunging legs. Before J turns eighty, a dance erupts between all five girls, maintaining bluntly minimal gestures to build alliances, encapsulating the discipline and shabbiness of childhood games as a permanent balance we carry all our lives. Movement denotes life, even though, in doing so, we approach the end of J’s.

This physicality allows the play’s pathos to manifest spatially. When new actresses file in, previous ones remain, displaced as boundaries, objects, or other people. Realistic composition gives way to abstracted space. A scene in a bus places J and a girl who robs her across the stage, impossible in an actual vehicle, but true to J’s increasing isolation as she searches for her birthmother. Recycling portrays J’s life as one haunted by her own memory and expectation.

Such spatial sensitivity allows emotion to live in the body. Between present tense narration and past tense participation, dispassionately delivered poignancy places punches more deeply in the gut, as seventeen-year-old J “hears [her]self howl” when she returns to her house, burned down along with her adopted mother. She squeals a lament describing her annual bodily shutdowns on the fire’s anniversary. Psychosomatic pain compensates for invisible feelings.

Telling us J’s convoluted life is not the end, but the means to serve a much greater one. J’s aging is warranted by nothing other than the need to fast forward. Changes in life are jarring and imperceptible. By squeezing J’s life into seventy minutes, we see a concentrated chain of disruption – privileging us to a narrator who ages rapidly before us rather than staying temporally put. J both speaks as an elder with incredible sense memory and as a three-year-old with wisdom of what her life will become – a compulsory road paved by love for a mother she never meets.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

January 14, 2016
There’s no hibernating for the arts in January, not when APAP/NYC unbundles its wide spectrum of keynote speeches, workshops, arts market, performances and professional conclaves. From the tip of Manhattan to the heart of Brooklyn, all of NYC boasts performances by artists vying for the attention of the presenters drawn to the city of culture.

The Association of Performing Arts presenters (APAP) links industry professionals with more than 3600 artists in town for the leading, global arts conference.

Unbelievably, from January 14 – 19, there will be more than more than 1,000 world-class performance showcases, 350 exhibitors promoting their artists and acts at the Expo Hall, plus a myriad of concerts and sessions open to the public.

APAP connections and relationships form the financial backbone of many arts organizations and performance companies. Stakes are high, and the schedules intense, in an arena colored by deep camaraderie.

A number of compelling topics will echo throughout the conference like +global communities in crises, +exploring more ways to open access to the performing arts, benefitting artists and new audiences within the U.S. and globally, +technology, how to make it work to help the artist’s ability to make a living.

Leading the lineup of speakers:
• Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS;
• Bill T. Jones, choreographer creating a new piece to perform at the APAP|NYC opening session
• Carla Dirlikov, the rising young opera singer who has founded the El Camino
• Anna Deavere Smith, currently the artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress,
• Lisa Kron, Tony award-winning actor, playwright,
• Bartlett Sher, director of Best Musical, “The King and I” and
• 2015 Kennedy Honors recipient Rita Moreno, the only Latina to win all four major entertainment awards (Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy), and most noted for decades of opening doors to the performing arts for the Latino community.

Some compelling session topics include:
• • Global communities in crisis
• Exploring more ways to open access to the performing arts, benefitting artists and new audiences within the U.S. and globally
• Technology, how to make it work to help the artist’s ability to make a living
• The APAP professional development program
For much more detail go to
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 14, 2016
Even though NYC has no snow at the moment, we can recall the grind of tires whirling, futilely, to release a car from an ice-bound trap. It’s a sound both desperate and determined. Keep that low growl in your mind’s ear, now feel your kundalini rise as those wheels finally get a grip and the car rolls free. That image is what lingers from experiencing Ahamefule J. Oluo who has mastered an emotional set-up for his sound, both dark and funky, bittersweet and transported. He creates an empathetic aura through his sobering stories delivered without schtick or self-pity. Two violins and a cello, with an occasional piano, offset the sad chapters of his story, making the pain tolerable in his strangely beautiful means to transcendence.

As he tells us, he was a child with no friends; he was a victim of medical incompetence; he was the son of a selfish, absent father. He seems to compose with no urge to fit into a genre or please an academic. Dressed in coat and bowtie, his large frame is topped by a cowlick. He drops his elegant demeanor, reminiscent of Duke Ellington, when his music hits a groove. He bounces on his heels as he conducts his brass, drum, voice, and drum ensemble with his big hands flapping as though he is bouncing balls off the back wall.

“NOW I'M FINE is presented as part of Mark Russell and Meiyin Wang’s 12th Under The Radar series, in collaboration with Joe’s Pub. The show comes from Seattle, from whence comes his collaborators: Samantha Boshnack, Evan Flory-Barnes, Naomi Siegel, D’Vonne Lewis, and singer/songwriter okanomodé SoulChilde. When okanomodé first enters, he wears black feathers over his otherwise bare chest. Each time he enters with another startling inspired look.

The stage for this unforgettable program has three arenas - downstage mic for the story-telling, a platform for the brass, drums, harp with a stringed rectangular to frame the singer, and stage-level, stage left for the strings. This architectural division clarifies the joy of the trumpets, which Ahamefule plays at one point with piercing virtuosity. He could have placed himself stage front as a trumpet soloist, backed by his band, but he has to tell you his story, so that you can be with him and understand the impetus behind the complex textures and drive of his music. A wise decision.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

January 12, 2016
Jordan Harrison exposes several nerves in his superb play Marjorie Prime: memory, identity, familial dynamics, and contentions surrounding care for the elderly. However, this profoundly original production at Playwrights Horizon (PH) leaves us wondering, not fretting, because an 85 year old playing an 85 year old, Lois Smith, manages to reassure us that all those issues are incidental. As PH Artistic Director Tim Sanford writes in his program, Smith is a National Treasure. With just a twist of her head, a lift of an eyebrow, a glint in her eye, Smith as Marjorie convinces us that her secrets are safe; she pulsates with a vibrancy everyone else in the room lacks.

She asks Tess, her daughter, played by Lisa Emery, “What was I like?” without a trace of angst, only curiosity. Tess has the thankless role of being the diplomat and serenity-buster. Despite being fraught with doubts, she stands tall and limp as though stripped of vitality. Through her talks with her doting husband Jon, we learn that the caregiver Walter, played with eery perfection by Noah Bean, is computer programmed to appear as Marjorie’s husband in his prime. We also learn about her brother who killed himself at age thirteen, never to be mentioned again by his mother. Should Walter, they debate, bring up this long-repressed reality?

The director Anne Kaufman casts seeds for thought into the audience with this play, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama, with her pacing, spacing, and limpid body language for each character. The final scene shows Tess, Walter, and Marjorie seating at a round table that slowly revolves upstage with a spotlight on a flower centerpiece. As evocative as this seance is, it feels overworked in comparison with the spareness of the production.

The subplot of technological options to extending life and relationships surfaces as an emotional breather and a clever lasso for entrepreneurs in the audience, though the play would provoke us without it. Caregivers could be given a script and trained to arouse the elderly, we need not fabricate robots to do the same. Certainly Harrison makes us consider preparing not only a will, but a guide to what memories you cherish and those you wish to forget.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - - Deirdre Towers

January 11, 2016
The Institute of Memory (TIMe) by Lars Jan is a fascinating examination of what impressions we make in the world and on the people around us. Part biography, part historical research, part potential spy thriller, it combines to be more than the sum of its parts and, paradoxically, less.

Over the course of 80 minutes, we learn about Jan’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his father. Using only two actors (Andrew Schneider and Sonny Valicenti), his own memories, and official documentation (including transcribed wire-taps obtained from the Institute of Memory in Poland), we travel through time from 1958 to the present, from Poland to the performance space, as Jan tries to understand the nature of his relationship with his elusive father. In doing so, he also explores the question of whether we can truly know anyone, especially if they do not want to be known. He also looks at what privacy means and whether we’ve ever had it, especially now with Snowden’s revelations about the NSA.

A graduate from the California Institute of the Arts in Integrated Media and Directing, Jan not only wrote the piece, but also designed and directed as well. The spartan, minimalistic set is surprisingly versatile and smartly used. There is a touch of multimedia with the constant stream of projections in the background. They unobtrusively support the action onstage while being fascinating in their own right. Additionally, the sound design by Nathan Ruyle and Mikaal Sulaiman is compelling, centering on Henryk Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony with vocals contributed by Mariana Sadovska.

In the end, Jan refuses to make things simple or draw easy conclusions. This piece is more than a simple story of a son discovering the “truth” about his father. It’s more complex than that, raising more questions in its brief stage time than it answers and leaving the audience wondering whether they truly know their families or themselves. It’s a worthy production for the Under The Radar festival and shouldn’t be missed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

January 8, 2016
Solitude doesn’t suit Mickey Ross. He’s an old man, but his fighter’s instincts are still sharp; no man is going to get the best of him. In China Doll, a new play by David Mamet directed by Pam MacKinnon, Ross comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Loosing control is what makes him roar, which is how the play opens, as Ross confronts his assistant Carson (Christopher Denham) that he has lost his new private plane and his fiancée. His righteous fury subsides as he digests the information that both are in Toronto; a not entirely believable apology follows. What can be more infuriating than taxes (his plane made in Switzerland has been impounded due to a US sales tax which he thought he could avoid), or a fantasy (that he could escape his political battles and begin a new life with a young beauty) deferred? Thus begins a cycle of conversations, only the one with Carson visible, with his lawyers, his fiancée, his rivals.

The star of the show, Al Pacino, is the muse for this play. While the buzz for this limited engagement at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre pre and post-opening was largely negative, Pacino now fully possesses his role, delivering the two-hour near monologue with the breadth of emotion of a mature Beethoven, each word crisp and perfectly placed. Beethoven, however, creates a wave of empathy and love with his compositions; while Mamet, makes us wary and leaves us weary.

The first act tests our patience but the second one wins our admiration and makes you understand why Mamet lets Ross keep circling through his associates like a dancer changing partners. When he is not mid-tango (albeit an abstractly verbal one), Pacino slumps in his chair, drags his feet, his shrinking frame rounded, or throws his arms down, with his hands open, a gesture that pleads “Why Me?” Why Now?”

Ross would have won our sympathy in his predicament, if he weren’t such a bully and bore. His actions are uncomfortably familiar. He is of course a manipulator, whose maneuvers are transparent but compelling, and ultimately unconscionable. In this age of billionaires daring to rule the world, this is a play of our time.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

January 2, 2016
My work on Erin Mee’s Where Have All the Glaciers Gone? had me primarily as a fly on the rehearsal process’s walls. In a piece with open-ended movement scores and pages of non-linear text, two actors, Colin Waitt and Caitlin Goldie, and one dancer, Phoebe Sandford, were equally pulled from their comfort zones with just enough of their rich skillsets to cling to. Sandford slow-danced with an inflatable globe and led the Climate Change Macarena; meanwhile, I provided alternative blocking - games derived from spatial interpretations of the text – A bipolar shuffle to spread and collect strewn trash, an erratic crossing of space to convince you up-close while one-upping what you just heard why things should remain as they are, and a backwards walking meditation to mourn what will be lost to climate change, among others. The difference in line delivery from the initial read-throughs to the final product demonstrated a genuinely heightened sense of urgency inherent in performed multitasking, ultimately thematic to the call to action at the heart of the piece.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews

December 23, 2015
The first time I saw The Color Purple on Broadway it featured overblown sets, costumes, movement and direction that obscured the dramatic tale of an African American woman’s epic personal journey.

This time around, the pared down revival directed by John Doyle, the master builder of sleek theatrical productions, transcends all its previous flaws.

Set in the south at the turn of the 20th century, the magnificent Celie (Cynthia Evro) is essentially her father’s (Kevyn Morrow) slave. Deploring her physical ugliness, he inflicts emotional and physical abuse on this persevering woman. Of course most illuminating is the magnificent Erivo. Each emotion registers in her body exploding into a symphony of theatrical luminosity. On stage for the majority of the musical, the second she exits, the air molecules flatten. That’s not to say the brisk musical sags, it does not, but her presence expands over the space like a web of glittering hope.

Introspective but never resigned to her family’s incarceration, Celie is sold to the brutal “Mister” (Isaiah Johnson). He converts Celie into a concubine, and beast of burden he whips like all the masta’s before him. Abject, unthinking cruelty resonates off a relatively bare set that resounds against a musical landscape of gospel music, field hollers, down-home blues and Broadway musical belters. Celie’s only safe space is with her sister ---who ultimately escapes by going to school, marrying and leaving the country.

Despite Mister’s Grinch-size heart, a teardrop corner of love is touched by the stylish singer and independent woman Shug Avery (Jennifer Hudson). Outclassing Mister, Shug ropes him around her wrist, satisfying all his hungers and reveling in the rural “juke” joints where she releases a soulful voice. But in the end, she's transfixed by Celie’s survival talents, humanity and grace. Between Shug and Sofia (Danielle Brooks), the indomitable wife of Mister’s open-hearted son Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe) Celie discovers herself and finally reunites with her sister.

There are still plenty of devastating passages including Sofia’s savage beating, but from that bone-breaking episode emerges one of the great theatrical moments. Through one tear-streaked scene after another, the musical delivers an onslaught of inspirational message boosting self-reliance, love and forgiveness.

Alice Walker’s novel shines crisply through the prism of flawed characters in search of renovated identities floating against music by Brenda Russell, Alee Willis and Stephen Bray’s and Marsha Norman’s book.

Choreographed movements emerge from the characters’ guts, and songs ring out like personal anthems frame the overall, glorious simplicity of The Color Purple.

This production deserves more than one viewing. Amen!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

December 20, 2015
Plaid Tidings, a special holiday edition of Forever Plaid (the nostalgia-infused off-Broadway musical hit of the 1990s), tells the same story as the original: four high school friends that sing in a 1950s “four-part harmony guy group,” die in a car accident “with a Catholic schoolgirl bus” but get sent back to Earth for a time, with a holiday twist. As the program notes, they bring back “the side of harmony, innocence and the sincerity of dreams” of a time more often associated with rock-n-roll and teenage rebellion. And for anyone in need of a break from the pretentious, the ultra-sophisticated, the smart phone, or the burden of an over-commercialized Christmas season, this show is a great antidote.

Wonderfully sung, acted, danced and played by Bradley Beahen, Ciarán McCarthy, José Luaces, and John-Michael Zuerlein (with James Followell on piano, and Joseph Fitzgerald on bass), the show moved at a fast clip, deftly weaving renditions of holiday classics like Jingle Bells and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing with schmaltzy classics like Bésame Mucho, all brilliantly directed and staged by Stuart Ross (the original director of Forever Plaid). In one hilarious medley, the actors went from piously singing Gloria in Exclesis Deo to belting out Day-O, the catchy Jamaican folk song made famous by Harry Belafonte. Cultural references and inside jokes abound for audience members in the know – at one point while singing Louis Armstrong’s Have a Yule That’s Cool, the music briefly referred to Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and the performers broke out into Jerome Robbins’ choreography with an energy, style and delivery that was infectious.

For the grand finale, we got a three-minute rendition of an entire episode of the Ed Sullivan Show – a high-speed spark notes version that captured the zaniness and everything-but-the-kitchen sink feel of the classic variety show. But even more memorable was the feeling of nostalgia and humor that permeated the entire show, sending the audience (even those of us without memories of that time), out into the night, smiling and humming all the way home.
EYE ON THE ARTS--Nicole Duffy Robertson

December 15, 2015
When the clock strikes a new year, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters—APAP--lands on the shores of New York City for one of the cultural industry’s largest conferences. From January 9 – 13, producers and presenters intent on securing content for their theaters and performances spaces across the nation vie for dance, theater, music, installation, opera and all other manner of creative activities to fill their communities. Although conference activities are based at the midtown Hilton Hotel, performances and events span the far corners of the city.

Inspired speakers generally whip the conference attendees into spirited “action” and this year’s featured speaker is the remarkable jazz singer/activist (in the manner of Miriam Makeba) as well as the popular public radio host, Ira Glass and author Lemon Andersen, American Ballet Theater dancer Misty Copeland, singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

Many mini-performance festivals snake around the major conference featuring jazz artists in WInterfest, world music selections at globalFest, theater and performance artists in the Public Theater’s “Under The Radar Festival,” and so many others at Abrons Arts Center, LaMama, Joyce Theater, 92 Street Y, Rose Theater, City Center—odds are, you can drop into any theater in the city and happily crash into a performance or immersion event.

Despite this era of social media, APAP knows that the key to constructive, long-lasting work relationships happens face-to-face. These networking opportunities draw professionals from the United States and abroad.

Prior to the conference opening, there are a couple of important sessions for industry folks: APAP World Music and Dance/USA investigate topics that impact the community from economics to content selection.

APAP President and CEO Mario Garcia Durham, a leader who prizes the community’s economic, aesthetic and economic diversity, guide this gargantuan professional organization.

More information will appear as the conference kicks into gear. For more information on the slate of events click here: APAP|NYC conference information
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 20, 2015
Ah, Cuba, the land of sun and music. Luscious island light by Anthony Pearson bathes the opening scenes of the musical “On Your Feet.” An infectious mambo beat boils under Gloria and Emiilio Estefan’s Sound Machine riffs in the hip-swinging musical disarmingly directed Jerry Mitchell and animated by Sergio Trujuilio’ choreography.

“On Your Feet,” a grand tribute to the Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s power-couple rise to stardom draws on intricate, immigrant family dynamics, uncanny business moxie and determination.

The early scenes are bathed in a bright Cuban summer light by Anthony Pearson, underlining David Rockwell’s lush vegetation and Esosa’s vivid costumes. Opening on the unrest in Cuba circa 1959, Batista’s dictatorship is overthrown by the popular Castro. That signals the exodus of many elite Batista loyalists including Gloria Estefan’s family.

One of thousands of displaced Cubans in Miami; Gloria consoles herself by singing songs recorded by her father (who’s fighting in the Viet Nam War) while preparing for college. Early on, Emilio Estefan (Josh Segarra) spots Gloria and sets his cap for her. Already in the music industry, he convinces her to sing and write songs for the Miami Latin Boys.

Embittered by crushed dreams, Gloria’s mother, a riveting Andrea Burns, remains antagonistic to her daughter’s career, and takes years before finally embracing Gloria. In contrast, Gloria’s dreams of success and happiness are embraced by her father and her wry, lovable grandmother (Alma Cuervo).

In the course of their ascent - and like so many artists before them - music executives try to water down the original, authentic sound, but Ernesto will have none of it. Completely charming and a mighty fine dancer, Emilio snares control over the Estefan songbook and becomes a commanding music producer.

This hard-driving musical pulls much of its velocity from the music and sensational Ana Villafne as Gloria Estefan. Ms. Villafne both looks and sounds like the star, deepening her role with genuine thoughtfulness.

Music embellishes the book by Alexander Dinelaris, and Mitchell’s unstoppable action keeps percolating when the mega – hit “Conga” overcomes the audience and act two peaks at the first strums of “Get On Your Feet.” And happily, Trujillo cast a dynamic core of male dancers who dig into the ground, hips fulid, chests out and bodies delighting in mambo and salsa’s tricky rhythms.

Finally darkness marks the wild ride when Gloria, paralyzed after a road accident, leaves the spotlight. After countless, painful days of physical therapy and a constant love infusion from Emilio, she returns to howls of excitement.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 10, 2015
Frenzied percussion introduces Nathan Davis’ score to Hagoromo. Heavy representation of angel wings jostles us between flapping feathers – effort behind beauty. Such perspective is appropriate for David Michalek’s dance-opera at BAM’s Harvey Theater. Based on a prominent Noh drama, Hagoromo crams together artists consummate in their own fields to achieve a seamless sail.

Davis generates rich textures from few players. Tenor Peter Tantsits and contralto Katalin Károlyi bring Brendan Pelsue’s libretto to life with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, casting many voices for single characters. Even instruments speak; Claire Chase, juggling large flutes, vocalizes between percussive inhales, nearly upstaging the dancers with her engrossed playing.

Other alternative techniques feel patronizing. Tantsits sings overtones through his bel canto, weakening the effect. Károlyi shudders more like Yoko Ono than actual microtonal singing. Interlocking clapping connotes Reich instead of gamelan. There are no direct appropriations – rather, riffs on established fusions.

David Neumann’s choreography does the same, resembling not Noh, but Cunningham. Wendy Whelan follows right-angle tracks on which she folds her torso with sculpted gestures over unfailing legs. Strict vocabulary traps the angel even in her heavenly domain. Jock Soto’s movement is equally focused as the Fisherman, who snaps into motion from collapsed joints. We see his humanity through private moments; his dance with the Angel’s robe evokes the giddy curiosity of a closeted cross-dresser.

Chris Green’s puppetry adds Bunraku to the recipe. Two groups of three puppeteers control life-size representations of Whelan’s body, surrounding smooth articulation of the inanimate with gruff manhandling from the living. Though kept spatially secondary to the Angel, they do what Whelan herself cannot – float. The puppeteers eventually partner her, but the manipulative function paints the Angel as a distressed damsel by virtue of her organic form, highlighting irreconcilable layers of pretend.

Michalek generalizes the already transparent plotline of the original text. The Angel’s inability to dance is emphasized over the inability to return to heaven, lowering the stakes of the Fisherman’s desire to keep her robe. Consequently, the piece’s criticism of possessiveness dissolves to simply depicting it. The Angel’s despair of losing her robe makes her just as guilty as the Fisherman of coveting it. The Fisherman becomes a hero by returning it, and her dance for him in return is a reward for something he should have done all along.

Auteurs like Graham and Wilson borrowed specific customs from Noh. Decorating suspended disbelief, Michalek asks us to additionally suspend our disbelief that Noh is actually happening, rendering the interdisciplinary mix occasionally self-contradictory. Whelan expresses inability to dance without the robe by dancing. After Soto gives her the robe, he undermines her independence by partnering her.

Michalek notes in the program that art functions best not when owned, but when in circulation, yet the Fisherman’s description of the robe as something “People would give gold to see” applies to the spectacle itself. Selfless performers, Whelan and Soto’s dedication to character only goes so far in a work contingent on their stardom. Circulation must then be the unanimous desire to own, keeping treasures in motion.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

November 10, 2015
There's a bit of James Joyce in Ralph Lemon. Poet streams over a landscape of personal and social themes dramatically rendered by Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis. A host of emotions sprawl over the piece. Deep despair, crying, moaning, shouting and unfettered hope. The feelings are told through stories voiced and physically enacted at first by the stunning Ms. Okpokwasili, whose high cheek bones bisect a patrician face and later by the physically fuller, Ms. Matthis. Both women’s voices rise and lurch in the jazz vernacular, dipping into syncopated rhythms that jump start lives and quiet destinies.

People mill around the dark open theater space at the Kitchen until someone starts to jump on a top bunk bed mattress. Around the corners of the bed, there’s a video projection of a woman moaning, and crying, and crying. Soon the jumping stops and the stunning, long limbed Okpokwasili climbs down. Simultaneously, people move forward with folding chairs and there's some skirmish about where to sit and how to line up the chairs in the darkness. Disorientation established, the show begins when the deep female voice starts up the Lemonesque stream of consciousness. Source texts include Katy Acker, “Empire of the Senseless” and Rip Off Red, Girl Detective. Snatches of songs underscore deep sadness or unaccounted for frivolity.

Over and over, the stories tell of dreams groping for air and joys that spin around the world. But mostly, it's a journey, an internal one that echoes inside many people, and in particular, people of color whose existence sometimes feels absent.

When “Scaffold Room” ceases, everyone starts moving slowly towards the exit only to see the doors open, light stream in and three dancers break into an existential, club dance. Arms fling out to the side; torsos pump side to side over flexible hips in bouncing, sensual movement sequences. Stashed in the box office, DJ Kevin Beaseley blares the music for Omagbitse Omagbemi, Paul Hamilton and Malcolm Low. Suddenly the energy level soars, the music and dancing is infectious infiltrating audience members who start to move. When the mesmerizing section ends—people stay to dance, talk and catch their breaths.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 6, 2015
Whenever the actor Nina Arianda is pitted against a lover, energy explodes-- and this is very much the case in Sam Shepard’s unrelenting drama Fool For Love.

Locked in a verbal wrestlying match, the blonde, lithely kinetic May (Ms. Arianda) and Eddie (Sam Rockwell) physically swoop down on each other, pecking and clawing at a scar formed of love and anger.

Cooped up in a room dominated by a double bed, May springs off the mattress towards the door like a panther smelling its prey. A smoothe, easy talking Eddie, cowboy hat dipped over his eyes, saunters into the lair. This instigates an aggressive display of blistering accusations that solidify an eternal love hate relationship. Add to this complicated blood ties and you get a sibling, Oedipal drama.

Feverishly waiting for Eddie to enter, May simultaneously primps and pouts. She feigns indifference, defying his advances and suggestions of being together again, particularly since she’s waiting for her date. Despite Eddie’s masterful desplay of lasso tricks, he’s unable to capture the fiery May.

Clearly, this cat and mouse routine is drilled into their vernacular, but directed by Daniel Aukin, the exhausting demonstration of fraught love is exhilarating to watch at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 31, 2015
Surreal Images float on a screen, where scraps of words appear and disappear in Carl Hancok Rux’s puzzling “The Exalted" at BAM Fisher Theater. In telling the story about Carl Einstein, a German artist and scholar who championed African art, Anne Bogart directs Rux and the elegant, gorgeously voiced Theo Bleckmann.

More an emotional painting composed of words, music and dance, the story line about this remarkable man who committed suicide trying to elude the Nazis in France, hardly surfaces. Moods and images that suggest harsh goose-stepping Nazis, the infiltration of jazz and sexual desires float through space like the images behind the actors.

Always compelling, Rux wears suspender held pants and a cap-- kind of country compared to Bleckmann’s urbanity-- starched shirt and suit, neatly combed back hair and spectacles. Scraps of history weave together the German and African connection. Rux suggests the German genocide of tribes in Namibia in 1904 established the armature for the German’s extermination of the Jews in World War II.

Bleckmann’s pristine clarity of movement, gesture and song compliment Rux’s more round, deep voice and visually free-form style. At times, the two address each other over dances of sharp edges and grace that veer from courtly and to threatening.

In a way, "The Exalted’s" structure outlines a meticulous life infiltrated by messy emotions. Hard to add a linear narrative to this psychological journey, but there were times when one hungered for more concrete details on the fascinating Carl Einstein’s artistic revelations.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 30, 2015
The Pulitzer Prize winning Gin Game written in 1976 by D. L. Coburn doesn’t say much, and at the same time, it tells you plenty about growing old with vinegar and grace. Two actors, Cecily Tyson as Foglia Dorsey and James Earl Jones as Weller Martin masterfully tango around a budding friendship that reveals physical uncertainties and family conflicts.

Independent and strong willed, both people are uprooted from their homes and living in a senior residence. Uprooted from their homes, both timidly move towards a friendship that softens their evaporating footprints in society.

Feisty conversations over cutthroat games of “gin rummy” ring with the refrain “gin!” gleefully emitted by Foglia. As the encounters escalate, there’s serious concern Weller’s health. His foul-mouthed rants rack his body, making it look like skyrocketing blood pressure every single time (and it’s every time) Foglia blurts “gin!”

Two loners find a modicum of solace in each other’s company. Surly despite his apparent fondness for her, she worries over his intermittent absences. Like a cranky married couple the two poke each other’s weaknesses spilling a few drops of blood and then regretting the pecks.

Set on a mildly decrepit back porch designed by Riccardo Harnandez, this is a remarkable demonstration of two wise pros seamlessly extracting the play’s essence. They argue, they dance, they play cards and they are totally real.

Directed with style and simplicity by Leonard Foglia, “The Gin Game” is a poignant snapshot of aging people, aging parents, aging us.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

October 24, 2015
One after another, the four women recite scraps of Queen Elizabeth’s history. At a young age, Elizabeth recognized the importance of staying alive. Her hand written notes express a girlchild much older than her years, acutely observant and intellectually precocious. From the time she was crowned to her death, Queen Elizabeth outwitted her colleagues, detractors and enemies. The daughter of Ann Boleyn, Elizabeth understands the art of persuasion. Four high back chairs based on Scottish designer Charles Rennie Macintosh resembled the royal thrones and Elizabeth’s steely spine.

In Karin Coonrod’s “texts&beheadings/ElizabethR,” four actresses, Monique Barbee, Ayeje Feamster, Julian Francis-Kelly and Christina Spina assume different personas delineating how many times before the age of 21 Elizabeth had to plead for her life and acceptance at court. Insistent she takes her vows seriously, she swipes away attempts at marrying her off in weddings of political convenience in order to remain exclusive to England.

Traveling through four movements – Strategy, Survival, Prayers and Sovereignty—the actresses break into crisp Madrigals by Gina Lishman interrupted by a series of rowdy games. Besides singing, Elizabeth danced! Peppy Baroque dances bounce the queen(s) around the stage, instilling a sense of delights and heightened sensuality.

Karin Coonrod is a muscular director swathed in instinct. Her productions always reveal more than they show. As proven in previous productions, Coonrod has a particular kinship with Shakespeare and historical plays.

She collaborates on this project with dramaturge and scenic designer John Conklin, as well as the wholly centered actress dressed in sumptuous black dresses by Oona Botez.

Although it appears for only two days at BAM’s Fishman Space, all can only hope for an exteneded run elsewhere in the city.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 23, 2015
One after another, the four women recite scraps of Queen Elizabeth’s history. At a young age, Elizabeth recognized the importance of staying alive. Her hand written notes express a girlchild much older than her years, acutely observant and intellectually precocious. From the time she was crowned to her death, Queen Elizabeth outwitted her colleagues, detractors and enemies. The daughter of Ann Boleyn, Elizabeth understands the art of persuasion.

Four high back chairs based on Scottish designer Charles Rennie Macintosh resembled the royal thrones and Elizabeth’s steely spine in a production that culled the script from her poems, letters, prayers and speeches.

The four actresses, Monique Barbee, Ayeje Feamster, Julian Francis-Kelly and Christina Spina take on different personas delineating how many times before the age of 21 Elizabeth had to plead for her life and acceptance at court. Insistent she take her vows seriously, and to remain exclusive to England, Elizabeth swipes away attempts at marrying her off for political convenience.

Traveling through four movements – Strategy, Survival, Prayers and Sovereignty—the actresses break into crisp Madrigals by Gina Lishman interrupted by a series of rowdy games. Besides singing, Elizabeth danced! Peppy Baroque dances bounce the queen(s) around the stage, instilling a sense of delight and heightened sensuality.

Director Karin Coonrod is a muscular director swathed in instinct. Her productions always reveal more than they show, and Coonrod has a particular kinship with Shakespeare and historical plays. She collaborates on this project with dramaturge and scenic designer John Conklin, as well as the wholly centered actress dressed in sumptuous black dresses by Oona Botez.

Although it appears for four days at BAM’s Fishman Space, all can hope for an extended run elsewhere in the city.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 2, 2015
Maybe it was the puddle I stepped in as I ran down Jackson Avenue towards The Creek and The Cave to catch Adrienne Truscott. Maybe it was the hysterical laughter that faded as everyone in the audience ceased to smile, until they howled again for the final riff on rape whistles. Truscott’s stand-up hour is a sobering, brave advocacy for common sense in the current hoopla around rape. She gives a new twist to double entendres. By doing the unutterable, the outrageous, she might as well be a preacher extolling the sanctity of the womb (except when she refers to the Virgin Mary as a rape victim), or a desperate mom who parades naked in front of her daughters, yelling, while drinking, “What do you think will happen if you do this?”

Adrienne Truscott Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else is co-presented by The Chocolate Factory and Performance Space 122. Truscott has a cheerleader’s all-American look, a hint of a southern accent, with a hunter’s hunger for moving targets. She presents herself as a newbie to the stand-up world, but clearly enjoys the intimacy and rhythm created between the audience and performer. At the top of the show, she says to the man in the front row, “I love that look - a combination of Horror and ‘I got my monies worth!.”

Parading her toned, shapely legs down the aisle wearing multiple jackets, which she sheds, and multiple bras which she throws, she is ready to party. Shots are passed around to the audience. And then she takes shots, direct or implied, at a number of figureheads - Bill Cosby, the Catholic Church, Victoria Secret, college counselors. One-half of the infamous Wau Wau Sisters, Truscott saves her acrobatic prowess to the end when she flips on her head in the dark so that the last of many videos of male comics can be projected on her pussy.

Her first story about the woman who goes into a bar, drinks way too much and gets raped by every man in the bar announces her intention to wake women up. Her last gambit with the rape whistle asks colleges not to be so ridiculous. “On the first day of your freshman year, you get a rape whistle? What am I supposed to wear this around my neck on my dates?” And then she shows us where to put it and blow it with piercing effectiveness.

Does George Carlin change the world? Maybe not, but lets give a hand to Truscott for trying.

And yeah, I particularly like the duck jokes. Did you know that male ducks have corkscrew penises and that female ducks have multiple vaginas? - Deirdre Towers

September 30, 2015
Iranian artist Ali Moini fits right into NewYorkLiveArts, where “Where thinking and movement meet the future.” Moini's thoughtful presence speaks louder than his taped voice, which accompanies his methodical construction/destruction of an image of a man imprisoned by his past. This stocky man with a tense, if not haunted, face, went about his business of sharing his live story with stoic heaviness. Certainly, he makes an unforgettable impression, while he creates a technically sophisticated visual statement about connections and our ability to cut them or honor them.

At the start of the fifty minute show which premiered in 2013, 5 floor lights, obscured by 2 freestanding walls, glare at us from upstage. Moini enters dressed in white and begins to methodically push these walls apart, one at a time. He proceeds to add 12 digital, illuminated texts to each wall, usually 1 - 4 words long, with a long wire attached, creating matching diagonals on each wall. The steady pace allows the viewer to digest each text, such as “Second Relationship,” or. “My Paradoxical Knives.” Then, with the same rhythm and symmetrical movement, he slowly picks up the wires, one at a time, to snap the ends on to his shirt and pants. “Lives” resembles a grim, predictable 24/7 job that existentialist playwrights like Sartre or Beckett might recognize.

Despite the implied drama of growing up in a revolution, Moini refrains from any emotional display, except perhaps numbness. The only hint of self preservation and escape, as he holds his arms up with his feet in parallel second, the wires keeping him steady, comes from his brief exotic singing and his subtle hip swaying, toe tapping dance, both while attached and detached to the digital text.

As much visual arts, this work is a natural for galleries and museums. Fed Rodrigues created the video, design and props for “Lives” based on an original idea by George Apostolakos. Lights and technical direction is by Augustin Sauldubois.

“Lives” was co-presented with New York Live Arts and the Hermes Foundation’s Foundation d’entreprise Hermes, as part of French Institute: Alliance Francaise (FIAF) Fall Festival Crossing the Line 2015.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

August 24, 2015
Small spaces hold strong talent in the Fringe Festival productions as demonstrated by the two-person play “Sousepaw”written by Jonathan A. Goldberg and produced by the Shely Company Theater.The title's clever play on words is based on a true story about the 1913 pitcher Rube Waddell from Texas.

A killer pitcher, Rube (convincingly played by James B. Kennedy) can hammer balls across the plate but is incapable of managing his temper, or alcohol and sustaining “team spirit.” Despite his God-given talent, the slow-witted, burly pitcher is destined for tragedy. The night before a fateful meeting that could put him back in the major leagues, Rube yearns for female diversion to whittle away the endless night. Fond of little puppies, fire trucks and reptiles, he invites an erotic woman who performs snake dances.

Despite his lack of funds, Rube’s childlike persona gets under the skin of Reptile Girl (Christina Pumariega). In a constant state of seduction, the swarthy Pumariega changes in and out of string bustiers and short panniers (think Baroque dominatrix by Deanna Frieman) revealing her life is in shambles just like his. Equally at a loss, Rube and Reptile Girl are trapped inside their dreams.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 20, 2015
Threesome. The title spells it out—one couple plus one young man are experimenting with the age-old titillating combination of three engaged in one sex act. But this is not your usual wife-swapping group. To starts, Leila (Alia Attallah) and Rashid (Karan Oberol) are Egyptian Americans who remain tethered to their culture and religious mores. However, Leila’s book is being published and she wants to test the physical boundaries shared with her husband “I think this is more of how divorced we can get from our own bodies.” Why that’s of interest becomes somewhat, although not completely clearer by the end of the show.

Spunky direction keeps the fidgety people popping from thought to thought and cigarette to cigarette. The first half is set in the bedroom that icily welcomes the “third man” a hilarious Doug (Quinn Franzen) who enters stark naked and complains about his stomach bedrooms just prior to jumping into bed with the understandably put-off couple. Conversations ramble uncovering everyone’s basic uneasiness about the set-up. In a twist, both Doug and Rashid are photographers. Suddenly, everything unravels because Rashid believes Leila recommended he photograph her cover.

Needless to say, the experiment unravels, but the idea of ‘separation” insinuates itself more deeply in the text so even Leila tells Doug “I still think you’d be a catch fro someone. If you divorce the body from some of your more annoying traits.” Doesn’t that make him another person?

The dénouement comes during the second half. Leila is preparing for a photo shoot and the photographer is Doug. Somehow, the goofy, stomach addled fellow upends his employers.

Evidently, during the riots in Egypt, and the Arab Spring, Leila was one of the women who ran towards the revolution and as a result was sexually assaulted by the men in the mob. Disturbing reports of this behavior hit American media, and this play written Yusef El Guindi investigates the combination of forces in the creation of a union and the underlying forces that undermine those unions.

At the end she rips off the abaya to communicate fearlessness, she will not be covered up, she will not be ashamed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY-- Celia Ipiotis

July 22, 2015
Fierce seductive women litter cultural histories, and in The Potomac Theater Project’s double header presentation of “Vinegar Tom” and “Judith” at Atlantic Stage 2, women challenge conventional social mores.

Whenever crops don’t grow or children are born maimed, men look to women. Not kindly, but as the bearers of evil. And even though Caryl Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom” draws from an old 15th century German treatise on witches (women’s evil essence), the story is familiar.

At one time, American women were routinely burned at the stake for being the instrument of the devil. Similarly, medieval Germany did not trust the fairer, physically and morally much weaker sex.

In this case, a man’s sexual performance is compromised and the only person, who can assist, is the voluptuously plucky Tara Giordano. Protective of her somewhat demented mother (Nesba Crensahw) who goes around begging, Giordano represents an independent thinker. But women who find routes devoid of male sanction are to be feared. Directed by Cheryl Faraone, the bare-bones production is gamely performed by a cast outfitted in earth-brown peasant-ware by Annie Ulrich.

In the evening’s opening piece, the beautiful and brilliant Judith (Pamela J. Gray) sacrifices herself to the destruction of the Assyrian general Holofernes (Alex Draper). Words fight for air in Howard Baker’s “Judith: A Parting From The Body” ably directed by Richard Romagnoli. We hear what sounds like a running mental monologue spouted by Judith as she determines the best way to breach the general’s confidence.

Many paintings attest to the famous biblical story strring Judith beheading the famous general. On the eve of a great battle Judith is called the general’s tent. He desires her. Emboldened by the idea of killing him so he can't lay waste to her city, Judith gladly sacrifices her body to sexual pleasure. Afterall, he’s an attractive man, and she’s a widow with few options available to satisfy feelings of sexual longing.

Curling her long body around the general’s feet, Judith serenades him much like Scheherazade. A potent mix of alcohol, beauty and brilliance disarms him.

On some level, it’s a realistic portrait of two, proud warriors.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

July 20, 2015
What a quirky, coming of age journey “Summer Valley Fair” proves to be. The musical evolved from the mind of the young artist Dylan Frederick who not only wrote the book, music, and lyrics, but also stars as the lead role of The Girl.

With pop artist Robyn’s “Hang With Me” playing in the background, sleepover girl talk between two middle-schoolers takes off. Playing The Girl, Frederick is joined by actress Oriana Lada as Ciara Jones; the pair goes on gabbing about the summer, their classmates, and their friendship, soon finding themselves in an unexpected kiss. Flashing forward to junior year of high school, the giggling best friends are no more. The Girl is a loner, most comfortable in her attic, watching the kids on the street and making music with her Mac laptop. Meanwhile, Ciara Jones is a popular “supermoon” girl with boys lining up.

Under the direction of Taylor Norton, the action of “Summer Valley Fair” takes place in the modest Mint Theater, midst piles of storage bins and ladders that morph into beds, tables, and other minimalist sets. In a way, it mirrors the shell of a person The Girl has become throughout high school and keeps singing about as she makes her summer CD.

It’s the music throughout “Summer Valley Fair” that is most intriguing. Each of Frederick’s songs boast carefully strung lyrics that are witty, ridden with contemporary references, and often comical. “Does a tree fall if you don’t upload it,” “so this is what it feels like to go outside, last time I did it I was ten and I cried,” and “we are the kids of the 21st century, do not forget to mention me” mark just some of the thoughtful lines. More than once, a song transitions into beat-boxing and a rap verse, typically led by actor Barrett Riggins who plays The Guy amongst a host of other characters. Riggins and Lada’s vocals throughout are especially impressive.

The Girl’s decision to step into the world and take a job at a Summer Valley Fair cotton candy stand is where her growing up begins. A particularly memorable scene comes in her flirty yet painfully awkward encounter with The Guy. Jumping from their conversation to her inner monologue via song, we get a hilarious glance into the nerves and uncertainty that come with one’s first crush. Self-discovery continues through their light show date nights and as The Girl reconnects with Ciara Jones, learning of the horrible other goings-on between Ciara and her father at that long past sleepover.

The premiere of “Summer Valley Fair” is presented by Sally Cade Holmes and Pattie Anne Miller as part of the twelfth annual New York Music Theatre Festival. With over 20 days of performances presenting 52 shows - including over 30 new works - the diverse lineup continues at theaters along 42nd street through July 27.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

July 6, 2015
Print journalism is a dying form and it’s being replaced by a fast-paced, shift-changing technology. Facts are opinions, and best practices cower under public “hits” while people drill away in cubicles desperate for “trending” attention.

Gloria, written by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, steers the audience through a dark view of collegial competition and despair. Stretched out over a two-year period, the characters all work in the culture section of a magazine striving to stay relevant. Jobs are marked by limited compensation, and great ambitions. Witty zingers refresh the dialogue bandied about by office mates Dean (Ryan Spahn), Ani (Catherine Combs), Kendra (Jennifer Kim) and the newcomer intern Miles (Kyle Beltran).

Handily directed by Evan Cabnet at the Vineyard Theater, the frequently irksome characters reveal aspects of the high-adrenalin community they inhabit constantly circling questions of accountability and truth. In this combustible atmosphere, a tragedy occurs--one of gruesome proportions. The play picks up two-years later on the human consequences.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

June 30, 2015
While art’s embrace of chance often incurs theatricality, theatre lacks an extensive aleatoric repertoire. With Readymade Cabaret, This is Not a Theatre Company dives head (or tail) first into staging the choice of allowance.

At Judson Church, Sam Silbiger warms us up with pieces after Dada’s forefathers. A stretch of wall is labeled “self-portrait.” Titles make fun for us. Discovering dice in a tray, we witness simultaneous existences of the cabaret - recipe and event.

Spectators roll the dice; an activity is chosen accordingly. Ventilating the system is an ostensible dependence on audience participation. Before entering, we create inkblots before composing poems from a bag of words. In Tweet Dance, prompts are submitted to be embodied by Kayla Ernst-Alper. We feel agency, but the game plays itself.

Scenes, written by Jessie Bear, follow separate plotlines. A man explaining the brain’s perceptual shortcuts teaches the epistemological roots of Dada while romance brings emotion into a usually sterile subject. Caitlin Goldie lectures Chris Moriss on the meaninglessness of reading into shuffled songs. Moriss responds, “Like us?” An aimless life is fun to ponder from afar, but humbles when wedged into one’s own. It is in the pieces that are neither narrative nor participatory that experience is colored. The third movement of 4’33” could potentially feel overbearingly didactic or spicy, depending on the mix.

To teach, one must have control; to take a chance, one must relinquish control, yet to be truly aleatoric, one must exact control through structure. Erin Mee has done quite a bit of meddling, repeating certain activities to increase rolling probabilities. Preventing the show from concluding before it happens, two possible endings are kept separate. Sensing this control, the unconsidered surfaces. Reciting our Dada poetry, actors read only the chosen words, no constraint placed on delivery’s options.

The cabaret blatantly breaks its rules, consisting of scenes crafted for the work gracefully integrating Silbiger’s artwork as props and costumes. Improvisation, while instant, is still composed, disqualifying the Tweet Dance’s readymade status. The purest aleatoric theatre is simply watching things happen; we are given too much more.

Minor offenses prove necessary to humanize chance operations. How does the result of shuffled scenes differ from a play with non-linear narrative structure? Eliciting uncertain results through arbitrary change has always been a trusty tool. We begin experiencing theatrical content as just as much of an object as an upside-down urinal. Mee’s guarantee of time allows the aleatoric exercise comprehension. What happens is not important, that it happens is.

Cage defined a movement maintaining, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” Readymade Cabaret suggests new intentions. Our noticing turns inward, as we try to devise creative inkblot interpretations instead of embracing our readymade impulses. Pieces overlap; 4’33” continues on repeat after its initial performance. There is something here, but hardly in the content, reversing our habituated expectation. While plentiful, the material is empty; the structure, historically pointless, carves caverns of communication.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

June 29, 2015
As late as 1869, the Colorado River was still uncharted. That year John Wesley Powell, hired by the U.S. government, set off with nine men and four open boats to explore that river and the Grand Canyon. The original group was whittled down to six, as one pleasure seeker, a British aristocrat, chose land over water, and two months later, three more defected. The marvelous production “Men On Boats” is based on Powell’s journals of this expedition, published as “The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons.” After months (compressed into 92 minutes) of navigating rocks and rapids, surrounded by a 3 wall projection of the Grand Canyon; suddenly, six panels of the rear wall drop to reveal blue sky. The cast jumps for joy, firing off a shot to announce their triumphant exit from the Canyon. They wait for a return shot from the three who stayed on land. They hear nothing. Dumbfounded, the six stand motionless, digesting what they had achieved, and what they escaped. Their stillness pushes us to imagine being in their skin.

Catching this second to last of 10 performances of “Men on Boats” restored my love of live theatre, the inventions necessitated by a low-budget, and the mysterious bravura of standing in second position, ala John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and all the other macho stars of the Silver Screen. This cast makes us feel their essence, their predicament, excitement, and practically guides us to smell the mountain air. Given the gender play in this production, what a way to celebrate the Supreme Court affirmation for equality and the day of NYC’s Gay Pride Parade.

This production is so much fun, and so imaginative that little separation seems to exist between the actors and audience. The writing by Jaclyn Backhaus, as developed by Clubbed Thumb, is inspired; the all female cast, each distinct characters, exude a sexy swagger; the production elements: scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costumes by Asta Bennie Hostetter, lighting design by Solomon Weisbard, and sound by Jane Shaw, are stellar. But, perhaps, the most kudos should be thrown to the director Will Davis. A young transgender, Davis was originally trained as a ballet dancer and dances now with The Ballez, a queer ballet company in Brooklyn. His/her choreography makes us feel the thrill of riding the rapids, as the cast hurdles in unison to the left and, then, the right, the chemistry between the men, the romance of the unknown, and the real dangers of starving. Better yet, Davis is shaping a new kind of “cool,” one that's physical, humor-laced, ironic.

Walt Disney tried to capture Powell’s story in 1960 with a feature “Ten Who Dared.” “According to Allmovie, critics consistently rate this as one of the worst movies made by Disney.” That “Men On Boats,” performed in a tiny converted garage on 195 East 3rd Street, soars is testament to the power of live theatre.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

June 16, 2015
Two women spin as eerie a mystery tale as any seen on stage. Bedraggled and thin, Eve’s mouth twists into teeth-baring gapes. She’s sequestered in the attic, while the older “sister” Tabby—a successful professional- goes out in the real world. Day in and day out, Eve (the remarkable Carla Langley) scurries around the bare room in a dirty T-shirt and undies like a caged animal. Newspapers cover the floor and a buckets hides under the bed for human excrement. Unable to feed herself, Eve favors sucking blood from her sister’s arm when she’s not gulping varmints.

As much a pet as a human, Eve waits for Tabby to come feed her. Click clack, click clack, Tabby’s authoritative spiked heels assert a steely resolve. The sound thrills Eve who loves listening to Tabby’s odd fairytales and sucking her blood—because according to Tabby, Eve is a vampire. Vampire status imposes strict, life-saving rules including no contact with other humans or outdoor excursions. Inexorably drawn to each other, theirs is a cursed universe.

An adolescent, Eve is gaining a sexual awareness and openly questioning her situation--but their ritual remains sacred, until the commanding Tabby (Rendah Heywood) decides to invite a man over the house. Needless to say, this sorry attempt at a relationship fails, particularly when Tabby starts scratching on the floor and moaning like Heathcliff’s lunatic wife in Wuthering Heights. In constant state of re-calibration, this relationship thrives on tension and guilt. When sister wants to bring in a man, cuddles revolts, scratching on the floor and moaning. Clearly, there’s only room for the two of them.

Written by the highly gifted Joseph Wilde and sharply directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, this uncannily appealing and fresh production at 59E59 is a perfect touring vehicle.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipitois

May 27, 2015
“Wherever you go and whatever you do. Always play a real cool hand." A motto the chain gang rebel, war veteran, parking meter decapitator known as Cool Hand Luke honored until his murder in a church. With the rise of prison reform advocacy, Godlight Theatre Company’s dramatic production at 59E59 of Emma Reeves’ stage adaptation of Donn Pearce’s novel “Cool Hand Luke” is timely. When Paul Newman played Luke in the 1967 feature film, his non-conformist character spoke to 60s protesters. Now though, Luke’s stubborn stance seems fatalistic, tragic; another case that heralds the long overdue necessity to change our legal and penal system. Luke entered prison with only a two-year sentence for destroying 2 lines of parking meters. With each capture, his sentence extends, until he defiantly escapes again despite the warnings that a third capture would mean summary execution.

Certainly, the ax throwing choreography for the chain gang, the single bulb, center ceiling lighting (Maruti Evans), thunderous percussion (Ien Denio) that punctuate each scene are all effective. Reeves’ screenplay has a marvelous sparseness with a rhythmic play between performers led by Lawrence Jansen who plays Luke with a sexy swagger. Julia Torres injects some spirituality into this sad, male story by singing a gospel tune descending and later ascending the stairs of 59E59’s raked audience. Luke’s mother (Kristine Doelling) appears briefly to beg that Luke “take some time out once in a while for the Lord.” Luke yells up high “C’mon Lord, git on out here an’ show yourself, don’t be shy there! Well Maw, the Lord’s sure doin’ a good job a hidin’.” His Maw leaves and, we learn by a read telegram, soon dies, without Luke shedding a tear.

The casting excellent, but what this production needs is a turning point, some change of heart or behavior in one of the characters, or some hint of humanity dawning in the prison guards. After much suspense whether Luke can hold to his bet that he can eat 50 eggs in an hour, when he does consume them, nothing happens. And nothing happens when he is dragged back into jail after a brief flight to New Orleans. Just more stories among the mates. And it’s back to the ditch they go, with more beatings and a bit less protest to follow.

Director Joe Tantalo has been Artistic Director of Goodnight Theatre Company since 1994. He presented this production at Kingsborough in Brooklyn this past March. EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Deirdre Towers

May 15, 2015
More like the fevered dream of Garrison Keillor than a mainstream Broadway musical, Something Rotten! skewers the bard and Broadway musicals. Brought to you by the man who directed Book of Mormon, Casey Nicholaw channels the inane and immensely singable production into the national repository of American musicals.

Effortlessly comical, Will Shakespeare (the hilarious Christian Borle) thrives in the public's embrace, while constantly questioning his talent. Once a thespian colleague, Nick Bottom (Brian d’Arcy James) Darcy is a hack writer but his brother Nigel (John Cariani) is a gifted playwright. Set in 1595 Tudor London—cod pods and all, the brew sprouts a Monty Pythonesque-pilgrim Brooks Ashmanskas, and his daughter, the luscious Portia, a confused Nostradamus (Brad Oscar) and lots of guzzling villagers. Grounded (as in earth-mother) and pregnant, Darcy's resourceful wife Bea (Heidi Blickenstaff) dresses as a man (like so many of Shakespeare's heroines) in order to make money, and hey, kick up some adventure.

The villagers tip their way through the town square switching from one character to another while the three rivalrous men plot, scheme, make much ado about nothing while tripping through the bawdy dances giddily designed by NIcholaw.

When the town folk, led by the Bottom Brothers, regale the audience in opening number “Oh God, I hate Shakespeare” you know you’re going to love this spoof of the bard—Great Britain’s finest export and musical theater—arguably, one of America’s finest exports.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 28, 2015
Few can resist what is now considered a Classic American Film, the 1951 “An American in Paris.” Set to the lush orchestral compositions by George Gershwin, it starred the film’s choreographer Gene Kelly. This feel-good musical wraps its glow around an American ex-GI painter, searching for fame and love in the city of arts and romance.

This music and dance lover’s film now has a second-life on Broadway. The internationally recognized choreographer Christopher Wheeldon elected to take a page from the “Book of Jerome Robbins” and direct and choreograph “An American in Paris” for Broadway. To help win the crowds, Wheeldon cast one of today’s most accomplished ballet dancer/actors from New York City Ballet, Robert Fairchild and the British Royal Ballet gamin, Leanne Cope—(Lise Dassin.)

Dance, not dialogue, becomes the dominant form of conversation, and the cast is quite marvelous at carrying-off all the different dance styles. Despite his stellar ballet reputation, Fairchild’s musical theater chops were not tested. Well, he soars in the part, both as dancer and dreamy actor. Fully capable of expressing unquenchable desire for the young lady (who happens to be his good friend’s love), Fairchild succeeds in translating his innate interpretive abilities to the part. Fine supporting dancers and cast members including the dryly-witty Adam Hochberg (Brandon Uranowitz), the American heiress Milo Davenport (Jill Paice) and the winning textile millionaire Henri Baurel (Max von Essen) surrounded Fairchild.

Although it follows the film’s outline, a few changes compound the dancerly aspect by sending Jerry to a ballet class where, in the tradition of Degas, Jerry will sketch the dancers while Brandon accompanies the class on piano. In attendance is Milo, who along with everyone else, is charmed by the young ballerina Lise and offers to underwrite a ballet set to Brandon’s music, Jerry’s design, and starring Lise. The only one left out of this equation is the compelling Henri, who has tons of money, loves Lise and harbors a wish to sing cabaret.

However, dance motivates this airy musical, which is a good thing, because despite the both dancers’ wonderful stage abilities, unlike their Broadway veterans, the dancers’ lungs and speaking voices lack amplification. But their dancing is matchless. Known for his crisp classic form, partnering excellence and buoyancy, Fairchild is putting on a show for the decade. Adept at tap dancing, soft show, modern dance and ballet, Fairchild dashes all memories of Gene Kelly. Although much of the choreography is ballet-based, Wheeldon plays to Fairchild and Cope’s strengths, designing partner-based moves that few could negotiate with such fluidity. Athletic in build, Fairchild’s outline resembles Kelly, and most importantly, he exudes that all-American freshness. Naturally, Wheeldon selected a high-caliber ensemble adept at speeding across the stage, jumping and turning at high velocity without a trace of sweat.

Best at handling moving bodies in clever patterns and unexpected combinations, Wheeldon loses some of that nerve in the less explosive dramatic sequences. All of the production leads to the final climatic ballet that was a memorable excursion in film magic as realized by Vincente Minnelli. In the show, Wheeldon lacks the visual ammunition, and even though Bob Crowley‘s sweeping designs add a picturesque dimension, the ballet is not as intense as many other passages. Actually, choreographic and vocal heights merge in Henri’s fanciful imagining of himself as a jazz club singer. He wallops “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” that transforms from a smoky club to Radio City Music Hall, blazing with some of the finest Rockettes in town.

“An American in Paris” leaves everyone smiling and humming Gershwin.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 29, 2015
Young Americans are hyped, distracted, jumpy, insecure-suicidal, thoroughly ready to play any game, but equally ready to call the whole thing off, or so it seems from nine monologues performed at Three Legged Dog Art and Technology Center. Certainly Deena Levy, the Canadian born director and teacher of the nine young actor/writers, hit upon a timely theme, technology and how it affects our daily lives. She conducted the monologues as arias of laments, worries, fears, and observations, bringing each one to a still point in which the actors revealed their core. Brendt Reil’s rant on branding closed with the quiet statement that “I am enough,” while Ellie Lee, a successful TV host, concluded with the confession that she’s lonely; Danny Patrick is grateful for his dual life courtesy of hearing aids, but he would rather sit in silence with his deaf grandmother.

Oddly, the images and the timing of their appearance, usually one or two per monologue, as designed by Andre Zachary affirmed the complexity of this cultural phenomenon because of the direct power of their affect. The image of the audience (direct feed) sitting unfazed by Jennifer Gellman’s meltdown, clarified and affirmed her plight - no one rose to give her the hug she desperately needed. Nancy Magarill and Ryan Montbleau wrote the music that infused the production with a contemporary energy and edge. But, the ring tones, which we heard constantly, rule; no music, not chosen by the characters themselves, could possibly be of any consequence.

The nine actors: Brendt Reil, Casey Hildebrand, Danny Patrick, Colleen Fleischmann, Graceann Dorse, Tom Miller, Jennifer Gellman, Miranda McCauley, and Ellie Lee, sailed through the stage in between each monologue, shifting chairs and soloists. The mood never lifted from a tragic sense of emptiness and neediness, despite how voyeuristically entertaining the prevailing drive to desperately divulge all can be.

Perhaps in a sequel, all the actors will recycle their tech toys and collectively rebel by picking up a book or starting a conversation.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

March 25, 2015
Longevity breeds political wisdom in Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. In her masterful Broadway performance, Mirren fills the stage with her command of language, style and sympathy. The Audience, written by Peter Morgan is simply, and pointedly directed by Stephen Daldry.

Ripped from her adolescence to rule a war ravaged nation in 1951, Queen Elizabeth’s decisive nature becomes apparent from the earliest days of her reign. Primarily a titular ruler, the British monarch holds great sway with the public and ultimately, each elected prime minister.

We eavesdrop on the private audience between the Queen and Prime Minister du jour. Only the avuncular Winston Churchill (Dakin Matthews) guides the Queen in her new duties; the rest sit at attention. Naturally, the play fans across sweeping historical developments in Great Britain and abroad. That adds to the show’s infotainment value.

Along the way, audiences are privy to the interior design, in particular the chairs, where the two sit, rather formally. Each decade brings a slew of social and political complications, bound by the Prime Minister’s personality. Naturally some were more to her liking than others. The competitive purse wheeling Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey) was not a favorite, but then, the ungainly and completely unvarnished Labor Party leader Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe) was appreciated. In fact, Wilson scores an invitation to Balmoral Castle replete with brisk walks, dogs in tow, stiff drinks and casual conversations in front of the fireplace.

Witty and wise, Mirren captures the deep creases of a life convulsed by political and technological upheavals, a tragic public heroine—her daughter in-law Diana—and a country constantly weighing the burdens and riches of a monarchy.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

March 21, 2015
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting at The Flea Theatre Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), the Swiss born author of “The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt” which I read with much fascination as a teenager. Eberhardt’s desire to live free of possessions or attachments, to live as she pleases, has a timeless appeal. Elizabeth Swados, the composer and director of THE NOMAD, makes her central character imminently recognizable, someone about 60 years ahead of her time. Teri Madonna and briefly Sydney Blaxill, play the fearless woman who achieved her goal of living in the Sahara, dressed as a man, until a flash flood killed her at age 27. Charming and curious, she will answer to no man, except as she sees fit.

Swados, best known for her international hit RUNAWAYS, wrote the lyrics with playwright Erin Courtney, with whom she also collaborated on the opera KASPAR HAUSER. Almost dialogue free, the musical opens with a solo “I am Dead” (but not really, as implied) and closes with a group song “I did what I wanted.” Except for one memorable song, “Broke and Broken,” THE NOMAD is infectiously upbeat; the lyrics propel the story forward from her restless childhood in Switzerland, suicidal instincts when her mother dies on their journey together to Africa, her resolve to write, smoke drugs, love, marry, while dodging death threats and riots.

Ani Taj smoothly choreographed the cast of thirteen, 11 of which are The Flea’s resident company, “The Bats.” to suggest everything from a boat at sea to kief smokers to high stepping, leaping dancers. Trevor Bachman leads an invisible 5-man band playing with an Arabic lilt. Lydia Fine designed the puppet horse, which appeared in its full anatomy initially, and then solely as a head. Fine also draped the ceiling over the audience and shaping the stage in a semi-circle, with marvelous white panels of mixed patterns and textures, which allowed the cast to flow in and out of view.

Matthew Bovee stood out as a convincingly blood-thirsty mad man, deeply offended by the evil of Eberhardt. Otherwise, the cast does a serviceable job. NOMAD could stand a bit more exoticism and edge. Perhaps, in the effort to make Eberhardt as familiar as the girl next door, Swadow and Courtney minimize her extraordinary bravery and the unspeakable dangers. That aside, NOMAD is transporting.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

March 15, 2015
Nostalgia resonates at Theater Row in Keen Company’s production of “John and Jen,” a moving two act, two-character play that makes its 20th anniversary run. The ideas, music, and at times- emotional punching lyrics stand an interesting test of time. Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald’s musical has stayed resolute throughout the years and is freshened by seasoned and new talents- most notably of course Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in the title roles.

“John and Jen” takes us on a journey through time beginning with a brother/sister pairing that grows up with familiar family woes- from the discovery of Santa Claus, to a brutal father figure with self discovery and finding independence wedged in-between.

After a death and the turn of the 60’s, act two delves into similar concepts with a different set up. This time the pairing is mother/son, with Baldwin carrying her character from act 1 into the second half. The book is at times over gooey and indulgent, and emotional moments are impactful, but the performers help carry them through without resting too long in a song or scene.

Baldwin (Finnean’s Rainbow, Big Fish), is stellar as Jen. She owns every note and especially shines in act 2 with a maternal instinct that can’t be learned. Conor Ryan (Fortress of Solitude, Cinderella) as John plays off her well. He is cunning and his choices smart. Their voices blend in a lovely harmony that makes them a natural As Baldwin carries on her star, Ryan’s begins to burn brightly.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Bailey Moon

February 8, 2015
Clogging, hip hop, vocal solos, drumming, body percussion, sand dancing, latin, funky, and jazz rhythms, all coalesce together in a multicultural mix of Spanish, African, Irish, and American sounds and dances at the New Victory Theater in creator Enlace Servicios Culturales’ exuberant CAMBUYÓN.

A sixty minute long show for kids (ages 5+) and families, we are transported to a seaport dock where seven different performers engage us in sights and activities that could’ve been part of the life of everyday Spanish trading ports one hundred years ago.

We learn a bit of history while absorbed in the world of rhythm and dance: “vessels would dock with sellable goods, inviting locals to row out and ‘Come Buy On’ the ships”... hence the title of the piece.

Dimas Cedres engages us with mysterious sepia lighting throughout the performance, enhanced by transitional graphic design videos on a back screen by designer Jonatan Rodriguez, and beautifully designed crates on and off pulleys, by Maria Toledo, set the stage. Two incredibly precise, facile, and dynamic female performers, Clara Pons and Berta Pons captivate in hip hop and break dancing style to percussive rhythms.

Throughout the show, found objects, like glass bottles, frying pans, steel buckets, matches, matchboxes, and even beer mugs, all become instruments of sound in the hands of these talented artists. The most captivating part of the show was when two bare-footed male dancers stood on top of crates, first using their hands as vessels to shower sand onto the surface of the crate, which then helps create a soundscape as their feet maneuver in tap and sliding dance steps. Below, inside the crates, the two women roll, tumble, and shape themselves into asymmetrical forms in juxtaposition to the men on top.

Raúl Cabrera offers a soulfully felt vocal solo; clapping, stomping, and clogging builds into a seven person ensemble extravaganza of movement and sound. A whistling guitar solo, a competitively high energy drumming duet, add to the mix to thoroughly engage our senses and bring us into the world of creativity, delight, and participation in the beat of life.

The work is directed by Carlos Belda, and CAMBUYÓN features Néstor Busquets, Raúl Cabrera, Thanos Daskalopoulos, Jep Meléndez, Berta Pons, Clara Pons and Jonatan Rodríguez.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mary Seidman

January 25, 2015
The quaint, white performance space in 59E59 Theaters is splayed with painted black arrows spanning across its numerous doors. A suited man in a pair of dark shades stands facing towards us, exuding the aura of a bouncer – that is, until he picks up his cell and scolds his mother for calling him. Two men in yellow ponchos make a hurried rush back out of the space. Oh and there’s a sheet cake atop a red clothed table center stage. The oddities keep coming in Parallel Exit’s “Everybody Gets Cake.”

Though Parallel Exit has a noteworthy track record in theatrical storytelling, this New York premiere is a particularly non-linear amalgamation of tales, sketches, and personalities. The cast of three morphs into over 40 archetypes and characters spanning history; from a masked serial killer to a Shakespearean actor, Mother Theresa, and Hans-The Sneaky Nazi. Even the traditional curtain speech came with flare as Steve the Theater Cow made an appearance and the safety reminders were presented in song.

Under Mark Longeran’s keen direction, Joel Jeske, Danny Gardner, and Brent McBeth take the audience on a hilarious, wild ride where each transition proves more surprising than the last. At times it’s a ding – which we were warned could mean the shocking or heartwarming is about to unfurl. Other times a door swings open and an ecstatic voice begins with “HEY EVERYBODY!” followed by a random tidbit like “Einstein didn’t understand microphones,” or, “Piano players suffer from narcolepsy.”

A few recurring scenes offer us some familiarity. One comes in the brief presence of a serial killer in the midst of strange encounters – holding a knife, petting a kitten. Another comes in a looming arm that drugs and whisks off various characters. A key recurrent scene features an old man hobbling to a chair below a sign that reads “Visiting Hours 1:30-3:30pm,” often leaving unvisited. At one point he is thrown into a war flashback. Near the end, Steve the Theater Cow shoes up during his visiting hours and presents him a birthday card in a surprisingly touching moment, suddenly giving the cake some meaning.

Most memorable is the symphony of iPhones performed by a duo in tuxedos, swiping and tapping at their screens in a fury of rhythms with which we are all too familiar. Before long their score incorporates frantic texting, ridiculous selfie-taking, even phone call making. But then, a Novocain abuse PSA becomes the focus – complete with incomprehensible speaking and loss of limb control - reminding us there are more outrageous bits to be seen.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

January 22, 2015
“A Hard Rain,” at Theater for a New City in the East Village, explores the relationships of a group of New Yorkers in the burgeoning Greenwich Village of the late 60s leading up to the Stonewall Riots. Set mostly in a bar and various bedrooms, the play centers on an underground gay bar, its patrons, owners, and the police.

Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper’s script is admirable in scope and accurate in representation. However, the words don’t fly off the page perhaps due to some over interpretation. The cast of six, give way to moments of exuberance or distress, sometimes capturing the subtleties but often over acting them.

Carson Alexander plays a flamboyant activist/drag queen (much to the chagrin of his closeted wall street boyfriend Andrew Schoomaker). He finds truth in his vibrant character but his portrayal loses authenticity. Passionate speeches get jumbled as the words turn into screams.

Xandra Leigh Parker in the role of bartender and ally balances many scenes that need neutralizing. In the final moment she stands behind the bar contemplating her actions and the actions of others. Tears muddy her makeup. It feels real, finally.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Bailey Moon

January 16, 2015
Stan’s Cafe tips the Bible over on its side in The Cardinals at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Three cardinals set up a traveling British group sets up a “punch ‘n Judy” style puppet stage managed by a Muslim woman. A highlights-reel of the Bible ensues, with the four-member team running ragged around the little wood cut-out puppet set. It starts in the Garden of Eden and ends in the current-day Middle East. Not surprisingly, little has changed.

In between the miniature, two dimensional sets by Migheul Angel Bravo, human Cardinal heads pop up assuming the parts of Pharohs, wandering Jews, and Jeus’ clan. They travel from paradise to desserts in pursuit of a bright star, over to palace lands and back to the Middle East. A collaborative project by Gerard Bell, Rochi Rampal, Graeme Rose and Craig Stephens plus Alia Alzoubhbi, the Cardinals is directed by James Yarker. Audience laughter and snickers freckle the evening, but after a while, the jokey pokey view of Christianity according to The Cardinals starts to wear thin.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

January 15, 2015
David Foster Wallace (DFW) was one of the most prolific and engaging American authors of the last 20th century. His suicide was a stunning blow to his fans and to the literary world. He is best known for his essays, the most famous of those being “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” which is where Daniel Fish gets the title for his latest work, currently running as part of the Under The Radar Festival at The Public.

I saw this piece when it premiered at The Chocolate Factory in Long Island City in the spring of 2012. I bought tickets for me and my wife, who is a huge DFW fan. She felt like it was the closest thing to hearing Foster’s voice since he died that she’d experienced. I was unimpressed, at best. When I saw it was being performed again, I was curious to see if it had improved any. It has not.

If you decide to go, here’s what you will experience: four very brave and resilient actors (John Amir, Therese Plaehn, Mary Rasmussen, and Jenny Seastone) tethered to Fish through headphones with long cords. They repeat the words of DFW out loud (specifically parts of his works “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, “Consider The Lobster” and “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men”) at varying degrees of speed (based off the whim of Fish) and doing various unspecified actions from lying on the floor to jumping jacks. Oh, and there are tennis balls. Lots of them.

The monologues/excerpts recited change every performance. One of the monologues involve his experiences on a cruise ship (“A Supposedly Fun Thing…”), another was his review of former tennis pro Tracy Austin’s sports autobiography, and a narrative of a 13 year old’s trip to the pool and the high-diving board on his birthday. There was also a brief clip from Amy Sedaris about her cross-country driving trip with DFW.

The cost of a ticket for the show is $25. The cost of the book, new, on Amazon is $8.75. Save yourself the $16.25, order a copy, and read it at home. You’ll thank me.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

January 12, 2015
Four films, five actors, a two-story stage set, and countless interpretations ring through the Argentinean “Cineastas” at the Public Theater as part of the Under the Radar Series. Director Mariano Pensotti draws different perspectives on how life passes by or through us as realized by filmmakers preparing for their shoots.

Since the stage is divided into two separate levels, it forces the actors, who play multiple roles, to run (silently) up and down the staircase hidden by a wall. A strong cast (Horacio Acosta, Javier Lorenzo, Vanesa Maja, Juliana Muras and Marcelo Subiotto) moves through an active mash up fictionalized and real scenes. Downstairs, the actors explain their film motives, either through discussions with other family members or through an interview by a journalist. Upstairs, the images of the film come to life, like the hostage who is roughed up and forced to wear a Ronald McDonald suit and eat MacDonald’s hamburgers (clearly, McDonald’s is not a sponsor).

Each person expresses their own desire to be individual, unique in their approach to filmmaking. No one admits to money impacting their choices; social-awareness and art for arts sake are the motivators. Fleeting images of lives remembered, clash against real life loss, health concerns and recoverage of memory. What do we really remember about people close to us? The many facets seem to speak about the multiple ways that we perceive our lives. Sometimes, films are more “real” than our experiences even if the facts are distorted.

The show is performed in Spanish with English supertitles also aided by the company’s body language and reminds us that films and theater are the “stuff as dreams are made on.” Running close to 1:40, the play cross-fades from one story to another and might come into even sharper focus by some judicious editing.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 30, 2014
Three sailors on leave in NYC equal a classic musical originally choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins and to a score by equally legendary Leonard Bernstein. “Fancy Free,” (1944) the pure dance rendition and distillation of “On The Town” features prominently in the repertories of NYC Ballet and American Ballet Theater.

Now the full Broadway production is revived with the very charming NYC Ballet Principal Megan Fairchild (in her Broadway debut) along with a smashing cast that stars the indefatigable Tony Yazbeck, Jacy Armonstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves. Gamely directed by John Rando, the production has more dancing--very effectively engineered by choreographer Joshua Bergasse--than any other show on Broadway. Add to that, top-flight dancers and you have a dancer’s dream production.

When the three babe-hungry sailors alight on New York City’s shore, they scan the town for amusement to tide them over the 24-hour leave. Hardly a second elapses before Miss Turnstile becomes the targeted damsel of dreams. But ladies during World War II were just as enthralled by seeing men, and by golly, Hildy (Alysha Umptress) the ballsy taxi-driver wallops her dream guy Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) with food, and free transportation while drowning him in anticipated love acts. All the partners get into the act, along with a sexually suppressed intellectual, the anthropologist Claire de Loon (Elizabeth Stanley) mesmerized by Ozzie’s (Clyde Alves) hunky, primitive-man, and you ave a study in chemistry’s sweet thrill.

Everyone knocks out the upbeat songs, while locating comedic gems couched in innocence. But central to the production is Bergasse’s choreography that reference’s Robbins’ brilliance while adding contemporary accents to the ballet dancing encased in jazzy isolations and exaggerated musical theater athletics. Everyone hones to the balletic form of pointed feet, erect torsos, effortless sequences and precision. But there’s an added muscularity that firms up the sailors’ all-American panache. To Rando’s credit, he underscores the movement as the best expression of the city’s urban beat and pulsating hormones of young people in the prime of life.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

October 29, 2014
Karin Coonrod’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, currently running at LaMama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre opens with one of the finest visual effects I’ve seen in the city. Part of its charm is that it’s a technically simple effect that works perfectly for the moment and combines the efforts of the actors on the stage with the available tech. This stands not only as a metaphor for the storm at the beginning of the play but for the performance itself. Coonrod, working with Liz Swados (who composed the music for this production), creates a world that inhabits the space fully and that allows the actors to actually play within the space, play with the audience and our expectations of this familiar piece of theatre.

Coonrod employs the space fully – actors not only use the entire floor space, but move behind the audience, into the balcony, up among the musicians, and even climb partway to the ceiling. There is an eclectic array of costume styles, matched by the various uses of choreography and soundscape. It’s magical – at least until the seams begin to show.

There are sightline issues with nearly all the seating except the center audience bank. If you have a seat along the sides, you will need to contend with looking around support columns and the heads and bodies of your fellow playgoers. Reg E. Cathey and Joseph Harrington have solid chemistry as Prospero and Ariel. However, they both appeared to be losing their voices during the course of the performance. The theater's temperature dropped during the production, becoming so cold that stepping outside was a warm and welcome relief.

While it is impressive that the running time of the show is two hours and there are apparently no textual cuts, the energy dips in the middle of the play. This is partly due to the text (some judicious cuts would have been welcome), partly due to the structure (there is no intermission), and partly due to the performance itself. Coonrod starts us with a strong and (honestly!) magical moment. Unfortunately, she is unable to maintain or top the moment.

That said, it’s a lovely production – the casting is solid (Slate Holmgren as Caliban and Liz Wisan as Trinculo are standouts), the staging is clever, and the music/soundscape inspired. It’s easily the best version of Tempest you’ll see this year.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

October 28, 2014
Inventive stagecraft communicates a universe of complex emotions in the outstanding Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nigh-Time. How a story about an autistic child translates into a blockbuster Broadway show is a lesson in simplicity. Basically, the production is stripped bare so the words resonate in the atmosphere of suspicion, care and anxiety.

In one of those grand Broadway events, Alex Sharp, a recent Juilliard graduate was plucked from a pack of applicants to play the demanding lead role of the autistic but intellectually brilliant Christopher Boone.

Expertly directed by Marianne Elliott, the intimate cast breathes as one, which solidifies the production’s creative momentum. Contrary to his nature, Christopher is determined to find out why the next-door neighbor’s dog was murdered, embarking on a detective journey that unearths disturbing family secrets. Generally unable to socialize, the inept young man forces himself to interview neighbors on the block to flush out the facts and ultimately the killer.

Serving as a link between Christopher and the world, stands his highly intuitive “special needs” teacher Siobhan, the marvelous Francesca Faridany. Upon learning of his steely determination, Siobhan suggests he writes an action log. The detailed, daily chronicle helps organize his information and form the template for a class play.

To illustrate Christopher’s physical and intellectual journey, the stage floor and sides are covered in a Sol LeWitt style grid that more effectively than any full-blown set establishes concrete interiors and exteriors. In the process, Christopher travels from the safe confines of his neighborhood to the terrifying chaos of the city.

Physically and emotionally demanding, the play adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddons’s novel is a marvel of ensemble acting lead by an inspired single performer.
EYEON THE ARTS, NY --Celia Ipiotis

October 26, 2014
Not long after completing 4:48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane hanged herself by her shoelaces. Her final work is often seen as her suicide note – twenty-four sections of tortured text, unassigned to characters. Any director bold enough to take the work on takes on with it the ethical considerations of the play’s reality, as well as the aesthetic puzzle of bringing it to life. Any production is foremost an act of interpretation, placing its director closer to its audience than most theatre allows. TR Warszawa sets us at a distance that is constantly in flux.

Grzegorz Jarzyna constructs hyper-reality, dividing the text amongst a small, unnamed cast: a doctor, a surgeon, a brother, and a lover, all surrounding Magdalena Cielecka as the afflicted. We see disconnection, tenderness, and solitary struggle. Characterization that feels like forced plot could exist alternatively as internal monologue. As Cielecka’s relations fail to understand her battle with depression, we sense that she is just as impaired in understanding herself.

St. Ann’s Warehouse provides an unusually deep space, keeping us remote from much of the action, heightening a sense of helplessness. The actors’ movements are affected with a cold precision, crystallizing our visual perception. Across the back of the set is a series of mirrors in which we can see ourselves watching. The action becomes a two-way reflection, reminding us of our vulnerability.

We additionally experience knowing someone suffering from depression’s debilitating effects in a way Polish-speakers do not. Supertitles give us the script with a typeset calmness that is hard to believe. We know Sarah Kane wrote the words, but Cielecka’s manic delivery begs the question if something is lost in translation. The last lines of each section remain on screens in transitional blackouts, speaking to us separately from humans on stage. Practicality becomes poetry as reminders of our inability to help refuse to leave our sight.

It’s difficult shifting from experiencing depression to witnessing it. We see Cielecka hyperbolically kill herself, as numbers that double as prescriptions count down her last moments, yet she never relents her demands that we see, hear, touch and love her. Her command, “watch [her] vanish,” requires us to sense decreased sensation, similar to the depressive’s experience. This paradoxical exchange equates the inability to connect with a depressive with the inability to connect that symptomizes depression itself. Her mantra is a tragic pun, existing as a genuine cry for help and an attention-seeking trope at once.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Jonathan Matthews

October 25, 2014
Bootycandy approaches you like a stranger offering sweets. The allure of its rapid-fire, side-splitting comedy reels you in while its deeper issues develop far more slowly, pangs of guilt ultimately accompanying each emission of laughter. In a pop-up book depiction of his childhood growing up black and gay, writer and director Robert O’Hara asks us to ask ourselves what exactly we are laughing at, why we are laughing, and to sit, fully aware of that answer as he grants us a privileged view into his experience of stereotypes, acknowledged and transcended.

To accomplish this, O’Hara casts us in every scene, whether or not we agree to or even realize it. A Reverend addresses an issue plaguing his parish (gay choirboys). Lance Williams’s delivery is manic as he shifts percussively between vocal registers. During the repetitive buildup of text, we actually shift from serving as his congregation to one of those very choirboys, anxiously awaiting being outed to his community. Instead, Williams uses the gossip-driven witch-hunt to confrontationally come out to us, stripping his vestments to reveal a sparkling gown underneath. No longer his congregation, we feel relief, cheering for our pastor, in a way that we his parishoners would have found difficult.

Later examples address more theoretical issues. At the end of Act I, house lights come up. “Playwrights’ Horizons” is projected along the top, and the actors return to the stage with water bottles. The convincing illusion is shattered by the sole white cast member, Jesse Pennington, assuming the moderator’s role in an uncanny representation of the horrors of talkbacks. The other actors are authors of previous scenes, discussing their work. We deal head-on with the discomfort of the historical issue of white theatre as universal and black theatre as merely specific through painful discussion that goes unquestioned.

While O’Hara floods our eyes with bold visuals, his mechanics are largely linguistic. Young Sutter’s mother teaches him to refer to anything unsavory through euphemisms that are just as explicit if not more explicit than the words they are replacing. The habit becomes a symbol for the pitfalls of political correctness. Bootycandy transforms from that initial stranger into Sutter’s own mother, telling us what we don’t want to hear in uncomfortably padded language. Even the most forward-thinking viewers will discover the unsavory walls in their minds when engaged with O’Hara’s representation of the arbitrary contradictions of being two minorities at once.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

October 17, 2014
For contemporary Western minds, the faculties required to appreciate Elizabethan theatre as the Elizabethans did it are no different than those involved in learning how to hear the microtones of Carnatic music or to understand the meaning of a foreign language’s untranslatable idiom. Its Englishness does not make it any easier to comprehend; if anything, it tricks us into a comfort zone that is unfounded. We do not see theatre as those from Shakespeare’s day, largely because they did not see it; they heard it.

When one attends King Lear put on by Shakespeare’s Globe, two people are watching: today’s theatre consumer, hungry for definitive portrayals of the psychological turmoil of one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies, and an anthropologist, trying desperately to “get it,” in a sense, becoming an actor from his or her seat. At best, we can appreciate the disconnection between how two eras of humanity see the same material, in a case study on what it means to see Shakespeare, our contemporary.

It is wonderful to be confronted so merrily with that which we would not expect from a production acclaimed by the Times to represent “how Shakespeare was meant to be done.” The company performs in a modest wooden frame, resembling a cottage. The color scheme remains earthy and unadorned, save a blazing red curtain used simply and powerfully in the storm sequence midway through. There is no set beyond this, and there is no attempt to hide the actors providing special effects on and offstage. The production has the feeling of children putting on a variety show in their backyards in a refreshingly inventive way. It represents the multi-dimensional craftiness in storytelling of the player in place of the singular task of an actor’s singular suspension of disbelief.

It’s not all foreign, however. There are some elements we can quite viscerally absorb. Joseph Marcell as Lear is often boisterous and comic, intensifying the impact of the tragic ending. The way he carries Cordelia’s dead body onto the stage has an alarming fragility. Her weight dangles from Lear’s arms, practically spilling to the floor as father trudges through his cries that erupt more like an asthmatic attack. To hold her in such a precariously distant yet tender way reflects her initial inability to show Lear her love for him in the first place, sparking the action of the entire play.

Most gratifying are the moments that satisfy both the Elizabethan and contemporary sensibilities – i.e. the tactic of double casting. In a play that already incorporates disguise, as with Edgar and Poor Tom, Shakespeare’s Globe incorporates an economical distribution of characters to actors, as was the practice of the touring companies from that time. To see Bethan Cullinane portray both Fool and Cordelia so fully places the acting’s effectiveness on the transitions between characters rather than the characters themselves. What for theatregoers several hundred years ago was practicality is for us today a representation of the breakdown of identity, as it becomes difficult to tell who is double casted, and who is disguised, as we begin to form relationships between the characters assigned to one player.

To see the production fully realized in the period practice of touring outdoors would have been one thing, but the Globe’s set is awkwardly placed in the proscenium of Skirball, whose houselights are left on to simulate the daylight gives a museum-like sensation against which the players work valiantly, preventing it from deadening the impact of their performances. Between acts, the ensemble sings lively settings of the plot’s ominous detail, not as a cheery interpretation of the material, but in celebration of the gift of they story they have to tell.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

October 10, 2014
I should confess from the beginning that I have a prejudice against Robert Wilson’s works because theater for me is all about storytelling, not visuals devoid to dramatic text. When I found out that I would be reviewing Shakespeare’s Sonnets at the BAM Next Wave Festival, I concentrated on my fondness for Rufus Wainwright's music and deep admiration for the Berliner Ensemble.

Then I saw this show and was blown away, by the visuals, the genuinely compelling performances of the ensemble and the music created for the production. And what a production it is! Wilson takes all standard conventions, turns them on their heads, and forces us to consider the sonnets in new and interesting ways. First, most of the text is spoken in German, although there is an English translation provided on screens for the audience. The only downside to that is that you have to stop watching the actors in order to read the text.

Next, everything is gender-switched. All the men’s roles are played by women and all the women’s roles are played by men. And finally the music and soundscape are used to define and impact the audience even more than the staging, sets, lights, and costumes. Oh, and did I mention that the show is a mix of “medieval German Minnesang, classical, pop, and cabaret rock”? Don’t know what that is? You have to see it to understand it.

It’s a long show – 2:45 with an intermission. The first act – the longer of the two – hangs together very well. The second act is less cohesive feeling choppier and a little forced. Right at the point of losing the audience, however, Wilson pulls out the most impressive visual of the night. It’s a stark piece, set to Sonnet 44, wherein Shakespeare is ruminating about the death of his son, Hamnet. And therein lay the magic for me – Shakespeare’s Sonnets have all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect of Wilson (interesting visuals, sparse staging and text, silhouettes, precise physical movement, a soundscape that drives things forward) – but unlike my previous experience, here the story (or stories) are clear.

Credit should go to the acting ensemble who are deft, agile, and equally comfortable in farcical and dramatic moments. Solid across the board, Jürgen Holtz (Queen Elizabeth’s 1&2), Angela Winkler (the Fool), Georgios Tsivanoglou (Cupid), and Traute Hoess (Rival), were particularly compelling. And a special mention goes out to Georgette Dee and Winfried Goos for providing solid cabaret shtick periodically throughout the night.

It’s a full night, and gets slow at points, but overall it’s a dazzling evening watching the explosion of several different times and cultures at once.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

October 10, 2014
There’s a Russian phrase – “Another person’s soul is but murk and shadows.” That sentence perfectly encapsulates the essence of I Am Me, directed and performed by Nicole Kontolefa. This 50 minute walking monologue – the performance I saw started on the steps of the Natural History Museum and wound its way into Central Park and the Shakespeare Garden – is an exploration of how we relate to one another. Can we actually ever know each other? According to the character Ms. Kontolefa’s creates ‘I is for me and no one else.’

The show, written by Russian playwright Alexandra Chichkanova, is not particularly well known. This performance marks the first time that it has been done outside of her native country. That alone gives the performance some extra gravitas. What makes this production even more striking, however, is that Ms. Chichkanova hanged herself in 2012, just 11 days before her 30th birthday. In essence, this play, along with her other works, are the closest we can ever come to knowing her. It’s weighty and heady stuff, certainly a contrast to the relaxing environment and the energy and enthusiasm of Ms. Kontolefa.

And that contrast makes the show a winner. Ms. Kontolefa’s energy and focus never wavers during the performance. The sheer force of her performance pulls the audience along with her. She is at turns confident, insecure, defiant, charming, and lost. It’s a carefully realized performance and every action taken and word spoken feel both spontaneous and inevitable.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

September 30, 2014
It’s hard to imagine Scenes from a Marriage without Ingmar Bergman’s auteur vision, squeezing you against Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, whose performances are so delicate yet weighted in their completion, it seems unfathomable that anyone else takes on the parts. In removing Bergman’s imagery, Ivo van Hove not only replaces these actors; he employs three sets of them in a cyclical composite history of Johan and Marianne.

Susannah Flood and Alex Hurt embody the youngest version. They have dinner with fellow married friends Peter and Katarina. Johan extols all his virtues, while Marianne falls short in self-appraisal. Alcohol flows freely down their throats, fueling a reciprocal eruption of provocations. A dining room becomes a shooting range for Peter and Katarina to openly express their mutual contempt, but not actually do anything about it. They have a successful relationship insofar as they love humiliating each other so equally. Jan Versweyveld’s scenery is as notably blank as their love, using water in place of cognac, and furniture as bare as the couple’s teeth.

In the second scene, we see Marianne and Johan some years older, past their youth. Here, Roslyn Ruff expresses Marianne’s anxiety over her lack of intimacy with Dallas Roberts’ Johan. They have a tidal argument, escalating and receding in volume, but always taut in intensity. Both husband and wife lament over their career woes simultaneously with their sexual frustrations – lovemaking, as tedious as work. Embracing quietly amidst children’s toys in the playroom, they manage to apologize without solving problems in a hollow shell of tenderness.

To finish the first act’s trio, we have the eldest version with Tina Benko and Arliss Howard. Johan comes home unexpectedly to tell his wife he has fallen in love and is moving out. The worst has finally happened, until a painful back and forth of Marianne’s pallid acquiescence with her most desperate tactics to make him stay ensues. The next morning, as Marianne helps Johan pack, she plays a record. Music is used as a weapon throughout, but none so subversively as Leonard Cohen whispering, “I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm, your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm.”

When you arrive at New York Theatre Workshop, you are given an armband, the color of which determines your chronology. The other scenes occur simultaneously, on loop until everyone has seen everything. Van Hove expresses the fragmentation of the psyche begot by the fragmentation of a partnership through the fragmentation of the entire performance space. Through thin walls, we can hear the other scenes playing out while viewing our own, as a memories and warnings. Depending on your seat, windows in the walls reveal telling distractions: Young Johan and Marianne excitedly discuss having children while old Marianne frantically gyrates on a nonresponsive Johan; The middle age version cuddle in reconciliation while old Johan drags his suitcase with Marianne latching on.

After a half-hour intermission (for set changes, though equally necessary for digestion), the space has opened. All three versions speak the same text in unison, canon, and, most often, in jarring heterophony, each playing the scene worlds apart in intention. Different generations mix; you see how similar the Johans are against the bi-racial cast of Mariannes. Needing only to sign divorce papers, they have neurotic sex offstage, leaving us with ourselves in confused shame before all tensions burst in unchoreographed fighting. Van Hove’s mash-ups are more than juxtaposition; he composes harmonies of affect, true to Bergman’s fixation on reverie while celebrating his writing as equally great as the visuals Van Hove has masterfully hijacked.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews

September 29, 2014
The Williamstown Theater Festival Production of THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON, a “play with music” performed by the PigPen Theater Company, at the New Victory Theater. This delightful production, performed by seven handsome and talented actors and musicians from the Pigpen Theater Company, (formed originally at Carnegie Mellon University), engages every member of the audience from beginning to end with an allegorical folk tale, which ultimately answers the question: “why does the moon wax and wane?”

This crew of actors and musicians employ several successful stage devices to tell the ultimate story: how the old man neglects his job of filling the moon with liquid light each night, which keeps it always as a full moon, in order to search for his wife who has left him because he has abandoned his home life for his job.

It’s an epic story of his journey, not unlike Ulysses, where he finds himself acting as an impostor with a crew of sailors bound for the city of light, in storms, the belly of a fish, on the desert, in an air balloon, and ultimately back home again to find his wife there... and did she ever really leave? It’s ultimately a story about revitalizing memories of young love, male conquest, devotion to nature, and commitment to another, as well as a child-like questioning of “why does the moon get small and large?”

The stage set, designed by Bart Cortright, involves levels of rustic wooden scaffoldings and posts, with hanging curtains that eventually serve as screens for shadow play puppetry. it allows multilevel opportunities for the agile actors to switch parts so quickly, it’s hardly noticed. Sometimes they are a character in the story, sometimes a musician playing various instruments: piano, banjo, guitar, drum, accordion; or behind a screen manipulating beautifully cut out shadow puppets that show the journey of the characters in tiny, short vignettes from one screen to the next. All of it seamless, all of it a total whole, a total world.

Directors Lydia Fine and Stuart Carden, successfully intertwine inventions and language and storytelling, illustrating complex ideas of human behavior, emotion, and the cycle of life.

In the end, the old man returns home, finds his wife, they sail off into the sunset, and the moon has learned that it is okay to have it own life cycle, waxing and waning, signifying the loss and fulfillment of time: days, months, and years of life, with no real beginning or end to any of it.

Kudos to this incredible cast: Ryan Melia as the Old Man (and others); Alex Falberg as the Old Woman (and others); Matt Nuernberger, Matheson and others; Dan Weschler, Mabelu and others; Ben Ferguson, Callahan and others; Curtis Gillen, Llewelyn, and others, Arya Shahi, Cookie and others; Co-Director Stuart Carden; Lydia Fine, Scenic and Costume Design and Puppetry; Bart Cortright, Lighting Design; and Mikhail Fiksel, Sound Design.

EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mary Seidman

September 25, 2014
Allison Meier’s style of tour guiding is such that you are not aware of her authority until you almost twist your ankle in a ditch amidst the winding ways of Greenwood Cemetery, eagerly awaiting her next anecdote. She has a buddy-buddy relationship with the Victorian burial ground that only comes with a virtuosic familiarity with the space. To begin Crossing Over, Beat Festival’s site-specific collaboration with Atlas Obscura, Meier (one of several possible guides) settles on a wide mound topped by an obelisk. A calm focus washes over, unfazed by your standing over the two hundred victims of the 1876 Brooklyn Theatre fire – the stage is set.

A woman silently thrashes in a net hoisted high in the branch of a tree. She simmers down, commencing Thresholds. Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya’s interdisciplinary piece dissociates the senses as a disembodied voice sirens from an imperceptible source. Lights flare up on mausoleums, each a stage for a body continually falling backwards as Rachel Love sings a diatonic melody, harmonically dissociated by Jeremy Slater’s soundscape. Repetitions endow the expression of “dropping dead” with an office-like formality. The minimal development summons the sensation of Purgatory. We are there with them.

En route to the next space, Shirel Jones steps with us, covered in a thin cloak. She moves ahead, stands before us, draws us closer, and removes her vestment. Phoenix finds Jones giving grace to the rough (and on some nights, wet) pavement of the cemetery through quick and articulate steps. She is flirtatious, but in an unapproachable way – rather than bursting into flames, Jones concludes and quietly treads away, as if simply starting over is, indeed, her rebirth.

Somnabulists’ Tango brings us to the mausoleum of William Niblo, a titan of mid-19th century entertainment, who threw parties in the very space he reserved for his final rest. Michael Cusimano, too, emerges from the darkness in consort with us, continuing forward to the tomb’s front porch. The pierrot tells a tale of obsessive love, luring Chloe Markewich from a shadowed tree into partnering that is increasingly infected with the brutality twisted infatuation can transmit. Cusimano repeats a presentational gesture with a chipper smile, even after his struggle has tarnished his white makeup, the particles of which can be seen floating away in light, marrying Pierrot to Niblo’s ground of divertissement on a molecular level.

Under the arches of a crypt, singer Ismael de la Rosa lures us through a long hall past countless bundles of bodies to Martinete, in which Elisabet Torras Aguilera binds us in a secular communion through the space’s natural amplification of her feet and castanets. Flamenco, the only fully codified dance form on the program, cathartically finishes the journey, unadorned with ghostly embellishment, bringing us back into the world from which we came.

Like Love’s singing divorced from harmonic context, Crossing Over takes us from wherever we are passing Greenwood’s gothic arches to an even plane with the performers and those underground. The initiation of each piece from the tour group creates camaraderie in traversing the unknown. They reveal and are ultimately overshadowed by the character of the entire environment. Just as the piling of a couple hundred tragically deceased can somehow soothe, four pieces of radically different genres can live in a site with such potent historical charges.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

September 19, 2014
Most people these days fear the loss of their memory. Characters in Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne’s “The Valley of Astonishment” juggle memories that paste themselves forever on the walls of the subjects’ brains.

When Sammy Costas’ (Kathryn Hunter) boss (Jared McNeill in multiple roles) realizes she never takes notes because of her perfect memory, he sends her to a couple of brain researchers. Their studies try to gauge the brain’s complexities and map cognitive incongruities.

Always remarkable in whatever role she assumes, Ms. Hunter’s slight body covered in black, her brown hair pulled back never thought of herself as unusual, because her memory has always worked the same way. Words and numbers don’t just hang in the air, they are attached to walls or streets; they form stories that can be recalled in a snap.

Others who are touched by memory and cognitive incongruities is a painter (McNeill) who converts jazz notes into colors which he paints in large swathes on an oversized floor - canvas. Then there’s the man (Magni) who can make his paralyzed legs work by looking at this feet and willing them forward.

Of course, a twist comes when Costas joins a vaudeville style group that stars people who amaze audiences with their ultra extraordinary gifts. She entertains people with her total recall of lists of words. But her brain becomes so full of images she can’t continue the sensory overload. It’s a truly touching moment. Complementing the dramatic action, are two gifted musicians Raphael Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori seated in the back corner.

However, don’t think it’s all scientific theory and list after list of words and numbers because Brooks and Estienne shoot pathos and humor into the absurdity of these exceptional people.

And be forewarned, audience members at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center are pulled up on stage to play card games and wonder about the mind and eyes’ ability to play tricks. Presented by Theater for a New Audience, “The Valley of Astonishment” will stick to the skin of your mind.
EYE ON THE ARTS, N Y-- Celia Ipiotis

September 18, 2014
“Na zdorovie mother f***ers,” the audience cheers as part of a toast, to an unlucky woman preparing to down a shot of vodka. Unlucky of course being a subjective term depending on your poison of choice. This moment is just one of the bizarre and comedic antics of Three Day Hangover’s “Drunkle Vanya,” presented Tuesday evening at the Gin Mill on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“Drunkle” is an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” a notoriously difficult play to stage and most recently re-popularized by Cate Blanchett and the Sydney Theater Company. Performed in a bar of course, “Drunkle Vanya,” is cut into two acts, centering on the return of a professor and his brazenly beautiful second wife to their country estate that is occupied by Uncle Vanya, his friend, and niece.

This adaptation from Lori Wolter Hudson streamlines the dense work into an entertaining and original performance that gets to the essence of Chekhov. The big moments are present but displayed in a way that an audience feels connected to the show. The group is clever in their set up- let’s loosen the stuffy feel of theatre and "ice" some patrons along the way, seems to be the motto. Look up “getting iced,” if you don’t follow my reference, try it at your next formal dinner party.

A stellar cast lead by Joel Rainwater as Vanya, creates an intimate environment in which they share their craft. Rainwater, boisterous and focused in the delivery of each line, channels an array of emotions, one minute laughing and the next nearly in tears. Amanda Sykes as Yelena was another stand out. She commands the room upon entrance, and uses her wit, not her sexuality to emphasize the strengths of Yelena. A more complicated character than a basic reading might allude to, Sykes accomplished the full intricacies she was faced with.

The rest of the cast (David Hudson, Leah Walsh, Sean Tarrant, and Josh Sauerman) all shared fun and endearing moments, that constantly kept me on the edge of my bar seat. Certainly it was entertainment factor and not because I had one too many. Cheers to Three Day Hangover and the cast of “Drunkle Vanya,” a unique theatre experience that shouldn’t be missed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Bailey Moon

September 14, 2014
The Beach Boys “Wouldn’t it be Nice?” welcomes a lone man with a sports coat slung over his shoulder, a drink in a plastic bag. “This was our Central Park,” Sean Doran shares in a thick Irish accent, referring to the Half Moon Lake. Actor Ciaran Nolan fiercely emerges as the disturbed, lost Irishman in the one-man show, “Man in the Moon.”

Doran is recently jobless, a gambler and recreational drug user, with a daughter whom he never sees, and a string of women he can only bring himself to recall as “her” or “she.” Despite the cynical tone and profanity-riddled monologues, his stories of friends past are soon realized as more than mere memories, and rather the ultimate preservation of those who’ve left him, and the world, willingly.

In Pearse Elliot’s “Man in the Moon,” the content is serious, the delivery, hilarious. It takes on troubling issue of suicide; in fact its creation was commissioned in response to Ireland’s rising suicide rates. The comedy comes in the morsels of humanity shared about each absent character and the way in which Nolan’s performance and Tony Delvin’s direction ensure it all unfolds without relying on the sensitivity, politically-correctness, or tip-toeing often reserved for such. That said, the introspection, unanswered questions, decided pauses, and discussion of the unthinkable that are carefully woven into Elliot’s script allow for a commendable raw and honest vantage point.

We hear of the man at the lake who once captivated the boys with his tales, only to be washed ashore at the lake; he lived on in Doran’s memory as “the man in the moon.” At good friend Soupy Campbell’s wake, Doran’s drunken, debaucherous behavior is met with the horror that the man in the casket is actually a stranger – another one, gone. Gazelle Girl, a crush he watches on her daily run appears one day in the news as the business tycoon’s daughter who committed suicide. The “best night” of his little brother Liam’s life – a movie premiere party the pair crashed together – is the memory he relives while fetching his lifeless body from the lake.

The nostalgia never overwhelms as the work’s trajectory bring us intermittently back to Doran’s not-so-pretty present. Most powerful is a simple moment near the play’s end where Doran’s gaze lingers a little too long at the plastic bag in his hands – one of the only props of the performance, along with a bottle and park bench. “The thing about ‘remember when’ is that it’s not the same as you here and now,” he affirms.

“Man in the Moon” originally premiered in Belfast at West Belfast's Brassneck Theatre, and celebrated its U.S. premiere on Wednesday, September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day. The play is presented as part of the seventh annual Irish Theatre festival - Origin's 1st Irish 2014 - with performances running at Times Square Arts Center.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Jenny Thompson

September 14, 2014
Unlike the rounded, full bodies words of most radio personalities; a thin, reed-like voice skipped across the Public Radio airwaves. This was Ira Glass, host of "This American Life" in person at Town Hall during his amiable collaboration with Anna Bass and Monica Bill Barnes. Glass explained he made a conscious choice to "speak" naturally and tell everyday stories on his very popular NPR series. That concept matches the jokey dance duo—Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass—generally decked out in sneakers, casual outfits while looking like young girls bopping to pop tunes in front of a bedroom mirror.

The touring show, " Three Acts, Two dancers, One Radio Host" is a congenial marriage of the spoken word-- spoken by a professional, and some dancing, performed by professionals and one really awkward radio host. Ms. Barnes and Ms. Bass pull some of their best known works out of their choreographic trunk and re-fashion a couple to include the wordy, Glass.

Quickly admitting that he's more comfortable speaking about other people, some of the most effecting moments came when Glass recalled snippets from his shows. While standing in front of a junior high school dance, This American Life producers asked a young man what he hoped would happen that evening-- after a minute the young man replied that he just hoped nothing terrible would happen causing people to talk about him for next two months.

There was even a little couples' therapy tossed in when a young man (from This American Life) realizes his wife is his most important client, and "delivering what she wants" should be his main objective for a happy marriage.

Like the silent Teller -- in Penn & Teller-- Bass rarely speaks, but this time, in a recorded session with Glass, she confesses to a bit of healthy competition on stage. Generally, all the choreography is in unions, but each one makes different faces, or jabs the air sharper, maybe raise her leg higher. It works because they really look like two goofy girls (despite their 40'years) churning out modern dance steps smashed inside pop line dance routines to the sounds of James Brown.

August 25, 2014
From pitch black, a voice calls, “Officer?” White light flares on Leslie Baker, between a roar and a howl, too close for comfort. A cheap shot, but it gets the job done. Stark images follow, punctuated by blackouts, until Baker, donning electric blue curls, puritanical black dress, and stiff tap shoes, shuffles about to a distorted Charleston. She lists Robert Wilson foremost in her mentors, evident in her alienated affectations, minimalist set, and Tim Rodrigues’s choreographed lighting.

Fuck You! You Fucking Perv! is essentially a dramatic monologue by Joseph Shragge, from which episodic digressions veer. Baker has (or has not) been assaulted, traumatized to the point of psychosis. Cooperation turns resentful as she takes matters into her own hands until the assailant, who police claim has been apprehended, invades her home (or doesn’t). We only have her word to take; curiously, it’s the only element lucidly delivered.

The story is home, but the cheerful time-stepping moves us along. “What’s black and blue and hates sex? THE TEN YEAR OLD IN MY TRUNK!” snickers Baker, unconcerned with our response (muted laughter followed by self-hatred). She seems in a vacuum. Her blue hair connotes John Wayne Gacy. A proficient tapper, we’re diverted as she laments, “Pedophiles – ALWAYS fucking immature ASSHOLES!” Scattered about are images of Baker behind closed doors. She lifts her skirt, vividly colored underneath, swing dances, burrows her fingers down her throat, dry-humps air, and heaves in pain. Others tread between private moments and composed symbolism: She tapes her neck, feathers it, and chugs a bottle of bleach.

Segregated tones eventually mesh. A “joke” becomes sincere sympathy for an assailant whose true target is unattainable. Comparing pedophilia and borderline personality disorder, a voice-over lists their symptoms, each ending with “DISCARD,” leveling diseases normally viewed as cause-and-effect. From a colorful tabletop, reminiscent of Baker’s knickers, emerge paper children like a pop-up book. Now a predator, she gnaws their heads off.

Formal elements are divorced and re-synchronized, illustrating fragmentation of the victimized psyche. Baker scratches to the sound of a chainsaw. Filling in reality like a coloring book, a pill bottle contains peanut butter she lathers on her forearm with a butter knife, licking as the voice-over lectures on self-harm. Baker stands still; we hear her thoughts as rapid whispers, densely overdubbed, as if, like blaring headphones, her mind is actually screaming.

Theatricality sabotages Baker’s impact had it been pure performance. Recorded sound frees her from any real danger; her miming, perhaps believable elsewhere, is painfully uncommitted up close at 64e4 Underground. She gets tired, not to the point of exhaustion resulting in visceral abandon, but to a point causing her to lose the precision required to perform psychosis in a way that is not insulting to those actually suffering from it. She has you sit on one side of the space, begging the question if the work is either in the wrong venue or if the form itself fits the content. Though her imagery is strong, her subject matter demands more.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

August 22, 2014
A lullaby cooing, “My blood is coursing through your veins,” is bound to do some damage. Nathan Campbell crawls out in a soiled diaper, begging mommy to end him. He wants only to always end. If not her, someone will do the honors. Through prosthetic curls, Max Ritvo sings tenderly to the babe in vain. Our minds associate death, but what does ending actually entail? Projections of fetal development and infant sibling cannibalism in storks try to teach us, but comedy troupe His Majesty, The Baby is a tar pit of blissful befuddlement in We’re Very Proud and We Love You So Much.

Flippantly crude performances allow meditations on fate to surface. John Griswold and artistic director Shon Arich-Lerer share a vague romantic argument, thrice recited forwards (as breakup) and backwards (as rekindling). Being a palindrome, we know how it ends after one go-around, yet each is inflected differently, ineffably redefining each familiar turn. They return as father and son. Arich-Lerer allows Griswold to do to him everything he never did to his own father, including murder.

The “Future of All Entertainment” lies in Biff Stanton’s Circle – theorizing comedy as merely the ability to predict laughter. A projector tells a series of “jokes” – slides stating when we are silent, giggling, and laughing – always correct. The troupe toys with the nature of audiences – the balance of autonomy and captivity. In a scene where an elderly former child star quivers her Parkinsonian hand above people’s heads as an applause-fueled truth detector, we discern the truth before even knowing the construct.

His Majesty is endlessly innovative, down to the form of sketch comedy itself. Rather than centering on theme, interconnected characters, or complete haphazardness, each sketch offers new situations and people under the same arbitrary rules governing their universe. As Griswold refuses to kill his father, Arich-Lerer births his own child to do the deed, using the truth detector bit in which we are now fluent but still susceptible to predict the outcome. We clap, Griswold protests, and we stop. End-of-show acknowledgements rouse us again; the baby kills, our only true choice unwittingly executed following convention.

More incredible than their virtuosic wit and imagination is that they know these tactics will work, risking complete failure if miscalculated. By the end, free will feels like fate’s cold shackles – our ability to choose gives way to unadventurous habit. His Majesty manipulates us into our own habitually free and, thereby, predictable choice. We discover audience etiquette as inane as each sketch’s circumstances.

Along with verbal prowess is unique physicality. When the palindrome moves forward, the actors travel backwards; baby Ritvo latches on to father Arich-Lerer in partnering even dancers might not dare. We are made to fill gaps and move closer like a college seminar, and after, spectators determined to be deceased, are escorted from the theatre. We are ended more so than the show itself. Last-ditch efforts at agency find some leaving before being pronounced dead, but are just as well under His Majesty’s coercion.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

August 21, 2014
Every year before the Fringe Festival, different media outlets create “Must See”/”Top 10” lists of shows. I’ve read enough of these lists and seen enough of the shows suggested to know that they are a hit or miss proposition - usually more miss than hit. What a delight to discover, then, that Coming: A Rock Musical of Biblical Proportions is an exception to this rule. In fact, it’s an exceptional show altogether.

Conceived, written, and scored by Erik Ransom (who plays the lead, also), Coming is a smart, wickedly funny satire about the second coming of Jesus Christ. In one fell swoop, Ransom’s musical takes on religious intolerance, homophobia, the inanity of American Idol, the fickleness of modern fame, and questions of morality. It’s irreverent, campy lunacy and the kind of show you pray on catching during the Fringe.

Under the able direction of the queen of the downtown theatre scene, Rachel Klein (who also handled choreography and design), the show manages to straddle the fine line between camp and melodrama. The energetic ensemble (Glen North as Josh Crenshaw {JC}, Ilana Gabrielle, Mark Willis Borum, Ashanti J’aria, Aurora Black, Avery Royal, and Courter Simmons) fling themselves into the choreography, the songs, and the jokes with abandon.

Occasionally, the songs ask more of the performers vocally than they appear able to give, but there were technical issues in the performance I saw that might be the true culprit. The play also feels long, especially the first act. Still, that’s what the Fringe is about – seeing new work, which often is still evolving. Given some judicious editing, "Coming" could run for awhile off-Broadway a la Silence: The Musical and Fifty Shades of Gray. Hopefully, that will happen, but in the meantime, get out to see it now while you can. It’s earned its place as a “Must See/Top 10” pick!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

August 20, 2014
“I’ll be damned,” stage whispers Damian Salt, as the first drops of a meteor shower commence Armageddon. Lavish behemoth Erik Ransom offers an antichrist not often seen, but, to the demographic satirized, might as well have been all along. Alice Cooper’s facepaint, Bowie’s showmanship, and Frank-N-Furter’s sleaze crown Damian a hub of hedonistic spoils in Coming: A Rock Musical of Biblical Proportions. Christ’s second coming isn’t much without the guest of honor, but Ransom makes the antagonist the superstar, redeeming him, and, thereby, us.

Our antichrist is also the show’s sole creator. Initially reading as a systematic perversion of all things Christian, the modern society parallels are intelligently constructed. Josh Crenshaw, from Bethlehem, PA, is a charismatic, morally sound pop star with a message of love. Mary Magdalene plays a more prominent romantic role as former porn star, Magda Plajova. Damian reigned the charts before Josh and uses the image-shattering secret of Magda’s past for sabotage before engaging with him in a blasphemous love affair to end all time - literally.

Tongues are so deeply in cheek that, musically, Ransom cannot afford sincerity in sentiment. The score is largely pop songs and ballads, which, while fitting, lack tunefulness for meandering chord tones above repeated harmonies. There is, however, strategic play with genre. “Hell on Earth,” celebrating the God’s eternal severance from the living, is a jubilant gospel chorus, with the nerve to end on an “amen” cadence. These tactics have been done, but Coming pushes further. For a cast of eight, the choreography created between Aurora Black and director Rachel Klein feels more embodied. In keeping with the shtick, the movement is primarily burlesque in nature. At the top of Act II, Magda, a Buddhist, belts a soliloquy from her yoga mat, timing her verses with a vinyasa flow. This kind of work thrives on shameless performers; the whole ensemble exceeds the qualification.

When Josh chooses to be with Magda for the end of the world, Damien, dejected, sings a ballad asserting, “You were what I made of you,” binding together the creation story, society’s perception of its idols, and romantic jealousy. Refashioning Jesus as an underage pop star, the notion that believers perhaps create their deities in their own images is hard to shake. It doesn’t hit you until afterwards that this extravaganza actually grapples with Epicurean ideology; the irreverent puns, over-the-top costumes, and adaptation are all refreshingly unprecious, laid out simply and boldly. Seek your pleasures as if everyone is watching.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

August 12, 2014
had the opportunity to see two Fringe shows this past Saturday – The Pawnbroker, running at 64 E. 4th Street Underground – The Paradise Factory and The Lost Ones, at the Flamboyen Theatre. They were an interesting contrast and a fairly reasonable snapshot of what the NYC Fringe offers to audiences.

The Pawnbroker, written and performed by Katelin Wilcox, is a one-woman show that looks at the women in playwright Bertolt Brecht’s life. Some of them were professional collaborators, some were his wives, all were his lovers, and all of them were forever changed by their relationship with the German playwright. It’s a smart show that makes you reconsider what we know about Brecht and puts the idea of “behind every good man stands a great woman” in a stark new light.

Wilcox shows us what these women risked, gained, and lost by being involved with Brecht. Under the able direction of Jennifer Curfman, the play is an economy of movement and design, which suits its intimate venue perfectly. It’s a Fringe must-see, especially for anyone who thinks they know Brecht and his work.

The Lost Ones, an ensemble created piece presented by Excavation Theater Company, is an ambitious play that follows seven characters meeting at a rustic cabin for a reunion – with a twist that keeps turning and turning. The show is the stuff that the Fringe is ideal for – the company chose the actors, set the dates, and sold tickets and only then created the show as a working ensemble. It’s a bold experiment that works, but only to a degree.

The story is compelling, there is some fine acting work (especially Susan McBrien as Judith and Dev Meenagh as Alex), and a smart and simple stage design. The show suffers, however, from poor transitions between scenes and the roughness of the script. Overall, it’s an ok show that could be really great with a little judicious editing of the script and clearer directing . Given its origins, it’s impressive that it works as well as it does.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

August 12, 2014
Old age is rough, particularly when your Fool (the delightful Steven Boyer) chides you for getting old before getting wise. Now King Lear was many things, but a master of good judgment, he was not.

When an old king decides to divide up his kingdom among his three daughters, he determines the size of their territory based on their verbal expression of their love for him. Something akin to a child asking a parent, “how much do you really love me?” Goneril and Regan can barely find breath enough to describe their love, while the favored, youngest daughter can’t find the words. In a fit of rage, Lear splits the land in half eliminating Cordelia’s share and dowry. Despite her loss, the Duke of France (Slate Holmgren) chooses her for his bride.

After relinquishing his powers and his land in the hands of his two hard-boiled daughters, King Lear insists on retaining a retinue of 100 soldiers. Once Lear’s kingdom is sliced up, loyalties shred pitting Earls against earls, brother against brother and friend against friend.

John Lithgow bears the title of King Lear with the exasperation, memory loss and misplaced loyalties of an old person, plagued by dementia and frustrated by declining physical prowess.

Intent on corralling his influence even further, the exasperated older daughters evict the king’s retinue of soldiers, causing him to take to the woods for protection from the uncivilized family members.

Jessica Hecht plays an oily Goneril, inflamed by passion for the duplicitous Edmund (Eric Sheffer Stevens) while Annette Bening depicts the clear-eyed, strong-armed Regan. Both sisters plot together to undo their father of all kingly assets, and then attempt to devour one another when they both fall for the double-talking Edmond.

After he’s wrongly accused of plotting his father’s death, a strong Edgar(Chukwudi Iwuji) – also beautifully lean and buffed—drops into the wilderness where Lear roams and ends up guiding his despairing father, Earl of Gloucester (the fine Clarke Peters).

But, the man of the evening is the ever-excellent Jay O. Sanders as Earl of Kent (disguised as Caius). A consistent standout in any production, his interpretation of the loyal, outspoken Earl disguised as a beggar to assist his king -- consistently holds center stage. In fact, should anyone decide to mount another King Lear, they have their man in Mr. Sanders.

Despite the sometimes-lackadaisical direction by the adept Daniel Sullivan, the production moves well in the first half and then slows to a simmer in the second half.

William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is the final entry in this summer’s much loved Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

August 11, 2014
After last year’s Perfectly Normel People, Husband and wife writer/directors Thomas and Judy Heath are back at the New York International Fringe Festival with a new work, Bedroom Secrets, squeezing discomforts of romantic dysfunction in the otherwise cozy Players Theatre.

Ashlie Atkinson plays Robin, a psychotherapist, in a series of progressive glimpses into her sessions with a variety pack of patients that evolve over time. Scattered between these, Robin pursues her own romantic endeavor with a man named Paul. Atkinson’s performance markedly changes to a child-like hesitance with him, but it’s not enough to keep Robin’s overall character from flat didacticism.

It’s not that Robin is unhelpful, she’s simply a glossary in a Psych 101 textbook rather than a portrayal of humanity. She reminds us of cut-and-dry facts such as that what most fancy as schizophrenia is actually dissociative identity disorder, or that polyamory and monogamy are, in fact, mutually exclusive. Robin occasionally verges on profundity, coining personal distinctions between concepts like anger and rage, or whether someone is truly starting over in life or merely changing direction. They are thought-provoking, but, instead of being crafted, depicted, and developed, are each plainly stated but once.

The main interest of the work is that it’s a duet. Stephen Wallem plays the patients as well as Paul. Each character is distinct – Grant, a brash Wall Street broker, Tiffany, a ditz connected to her phone like an IV, John, a soft-spoken porn addict, Hunter, a southern homosexual, and Julia, a statuesque art appraiser who leaves her husband for a woman. Though they may be distinct, they lack souls in Wallem’s performance. His Tiffany is no different than any man’s teenage girl impersonation – and then you discover she’s actually twenty-six. At the same time, these mini-characters somehow develop more in their fleeting exposés than does Robin’s in toto.

The script privileges one-liners over specifics. Because the situations lack the punch-lines’ polish, the stakes the characters invest go no further than whether or not their relationships will terminate. Vignettes containing the same people reference nothing further than the contents of the previous vignette, crippling a sense that reality continues between corresponding scenes.

The progression of scenes, however, reveals a sly conceptual framework. Interconnected characters and Robin’s courtship with Paul renders what seems episodic as a through-line fragmented by Robin’s private perspective being the only visible action allowed. Wallem the actor uses dissociative personalities to perform; the relationship between Robin and Paul is one of doctor-patient countertransference in which seeing Paul in her patients allows her to continue with their relationship.

Ultimately, the secrets confessed are not so earth-shattering for a work self-purportedly “dealing with today’s sexual issues.” Perhaps awareness of this societal callousness, this expectation of crummy love lives for all, is the point. We often overhear these woes in public. To be underwhelmed by them in solely private contexts outlines a trend that our private space has spilled into our public space, leaving little room for a true zone of “no judgment.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

August 4, 2014
In the lower level of HERE Arts Center, you are met by a mumbling man in earthy plaids telling you where to exit “when the fire comes.” He sits in a corner amidst eclectic gadgetry and begins pushing buttons. Composer Freddi Price remains there for Robin Frohardt’s The Pigeoning with stern focus cemented on his face, filling campy Fender Rhodes, dramatic Wurlitzer, and mournful muted trumpet into Frohardt’s neurotic color scheme.

We meet Frank. He has an office. He appreciates a wide, upside-down peace sign’s distance between objects. When he sips his coffee, the Styrofoam must be wiped clean before subsequent sipping. If he touches himself, each point of contact must be similarly sterilized. It’s ok if he damages his nameplate, however; those are indefinitely replaceable. Without words, Frohardt maximally develops her protagonist’s character in minimal time, polishing actions like gems.

Frank is always surrounded by hooded figures with mesh faces. These aren’t harbingers of death so much as virtuoso puppeteers. The Pigeoning uses techniques from Bunraku puppetry, in which one offstage voice speaks for each ornate vessel. Frank, though, never speaks. We only hear his office manual, who has a coldly polite feminine tone.

When reviewing “Office Safety,” the voice glitches, demanding that Frank address a disturbance in the office. Frank’s solitude and dependence on the manual are so severe his own thoughts are wrapped in its synthetic voice, ostensibly an external stimulus. We encounter everything through Frank’s perception of what he is present to experience as he masochistically reconfigures everything that happens in reality at himself.

Frohardt’s visual wit is spellbinding, but occasionally compromises the pacing of the plot. Montages illustrate Frank consulting his manual on “Interspecies Conspiracies.” Failed camouflage ranges from crashing RC pigeons to unconvincing pigeon garb. Ultimately, he is electrocuted climbing a telephone post to fetch a pecking bird. These elaborate sequences each move the plot one small notch, feeling like live-action Roadrunner cartoons, yet are so diverting we forget the performative precision it takes to execute the actions. Whether scenes be methodical constructions or dragging shtick, Frohardt’s stage is collage space poetically combining humdrum images. Frank flies, first among pigeons, but eventually alongside his manual. His guide becomes visually synonymous with that which plagues him. It is an antihero; its hold on his autonomy is so strong it pushes Frank to overcome his debilitating tidiness.

Its “Surveillance” chapter is so compelling he retrieves a Polaroid of a suspicious pigeon from a trashcan. After braving the pigeon-conspired flood, Frank sits, surrounded by pigeons, clinging not to his manual, but to a sign prophesying doom. Nobody won; there has been a shift in obsession. The very need for order that required the manual allowed Frank to overcome its preventative neurosis in favor of a more active one.

An underwater return of the nameplate shows Frank reclaiming, or perhaps creating for the first time, his identity. Reality now seems to happen freely around rather than to Frank as clenches his sign where his manual once nested.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Jonathan Matthews

July 23, 2014
“This is her story,” Mona Golabek shares, just before the lights dim. When they rise again she is transformed into the persona of fourteen-year-old Lisa Jura, a Jewish pianist in 1938 Vienna, not to mention the young girl who, in reality, became her mother.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival, written by Golabek and Lee Cohen. The performance unfolds in a somewhat minimalist setting, with only a concert grand piano and some gold framed screens where photos and video are intermittently projected setting the scene of this historic recounting and putting faces to the names. This simple yet elegant scenic design parallels the performance well.

Golabek brings her mother’s life story to the state in this one-woman theatric and musical production, keenly directed by Hershey Felder. It is quickly apparent that the only constants in Jura’s life during this time of instability are her passion for music and the dream of her concert debut, following in the footsteps of her pianist mother. The tale begins with Jura finding herself without a piano teacher due to Nazi ordinances, her family’s lives turned upside down with the German infiltration. After a night of gambling awards her father wins one ticket for the sought-after train to freedom, the kindertransport, Jura is hurried aboard, leaving all her family behind and soon left to her own devices in London during the Blitz.

She ends up in a hostel on Willesden Lane with dozens of other refugee children - the “sardines” as house mother Mrs. Cohen calls them. Here, a powerful scene unfolds, recalling the evening Willesden Lane was bombed; Jura furiously continues playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto, op. 16; first movement Cadenza in the basement as destruction and explosions above rival the notes.

Months later Jura attends an audition at The London Royal Academy, which her housemates eagerly helped her prepare for. As the war wages on she makes the best of her scholarship, studying professionally as she always hoped to. She even makes her formal debut with - unbeknownst to her – her long-lost sisters in the audience, along with her future husband.

It’s a miraculous ending to Jura’s journey. The assortment of live music throughout the program features some of the most well-known piano music, offering everything from Grieg to Bach, Gershwin, Beethoven, Debussy, and others. Golabek’s performance of these renowned compositions is as mesmerizing to watch as it is hypnotizing to hear and experience in the intimate space.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane succeeds through the richness in the tale of Jura’s journey, the interludes of exquisite live piano, and the overall sincerity of Golabek’s performance; the evening program is undeniably memorable. Performances take place at 59E59.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

July 20, 2014
How important is our faith to us? Our beliefs? Our sense of self? And how do they define us? Do our beliefs stem from who we are - our histories and our families and our genes? Or do our beliefs define us – determine what we think, how we feel, what we are? And finally how comfortable are we with our friends’ beliefs? Do we really want to know what they think and how they feel about the bigger issues? These are just a few of the questions that Renee Calarco’s smart and snappy play, The Religion Thing, bring up in the course of two very quick hours. In the production currently running at The Cell and presented by Project Y Theatre Company, the audience get to watch two couples struggle with these questions and see the impact the struggle has on their relationships and on them individually.

Very smartly staged by Douglas Hall, the cast is strong across the board. Katharine McLeod as Mo and Jamie Geiger as Brian do a very convincing turn as a mixed-faith couple who have never been troubled by that fact because they have never considered it – until now. And Danielle O’Farrell as Patti and Andrew William Smith as Jeff are heartbreaking as a couple whose faith has buoyed them through intense personal challenges, but at the potential cost of their individual selves. The fifth wheel of the cast is Curran Connor who has the extraordinary challenge of playing multiple characters. It’s a tough acting assignment and while he works hard, he never fully sells the idea. Overall, it’s a engaging, thought-provoking evening of theatre and a well-spent evening at the theatre.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Kelly Johnston

June 29, 2014
Once again, Three Day Hangover has pulled off the seemingly impossible and have created a modernized version of Shakespeare that is hip enough to attract new audiences while being faithful to the Bard’s language and story. This time they tackle Twelfth Night, or (as they re-title it) Sir Toby Belch’s Lonely Hearts Club Cabaret.

The performance venue is the third floor of McGee’s Pub on 55th street. The company welcome audience members in with energy, gusto, alcohol, karaoke, and general bawdiness. Once the show starts, it turns into a mix of Shakespeare’s story of a shipwrecked young woman’s adventures and a downtown dive bar with the coolest set of regulars and rockinest band you ever experienced.

The night I went, my tablemate asked me at intermission if I thought someone unfamiliar with the play would be able to follow the story that Shakespeare wrote. After pondering the question for awhile (and watching the second half of the show), I realized that the answer was probably no. I also realized that that was the magic TDH was creating.

Sir Toby Belch’s Lonely Hearts Club Cabaret isn’t Twelfth Night – it’s an entirely new thing based off that play. And as such, audience members familiar with it will be able to follow along and enjoy a new telling of an old story, especially given how deft the cast is with Shakespeare’s language.

However, audience members unfamiliar with Twelfth Night will have the amazing experience of seeing love unfold in a karaoke bar in NYC complete with drag queens, drunken revelry, poetic language, and excellent covers. If and when they encounter another production of Twelfth Night later, it won’t (probably) be anything like they remember from this night, but it will be familiar enough for them to follow, engage, and enjoy. And that’s magic.

Directed and adapted by Beth Gardiner, the cast is excellent. Laura Gragtmans as Viola gives a standout performance, as does Lloyd Mulvey as Orsino and Ben Charles as Andrew Aguecheek. There’s magic happening in midtown – go be enchanted.
Kelly Johnston

June 26, 2014
There's no mistaking who's who in Robert Wilson’s adaptation of Danii Kharms’ The Old Women now playing at BAM. Imbued in grace, Mikhail Baryshnikov moves devoid of effort while Willem Dafoe’s lean body weightily stalks the perimeter. High pitched and sweeter, Baryshnikov’s uttering’s curve around syllables snapping from Dafoe’s Mick Jagger out-sized mouth sharply hitting their mark. A perfect vehicle for creator Robert Wilson, the surrealist production mixes a bit of “Waiting for Godot” and Gogol with music hall slapstick guided by two consummate physical actors.

In the airy, bright white light, the odd couple wanders the space through--what are now, iconic Wilson images—white floor, outsidezed suspended swing, high backed chair, shadow puppet cut out foliage, floating toy plane and lighting cues that change saturated colors according to shifting scenes and emotions.

The point is not necessarily to understand, as to visually feel. The sound of wood blocks slap together punctuating scenes animated by the two men in total white face, eyes circled in black, and clothed in shabby tuxedoes. Gruesome text describes women--too curious--falling out of windows and other nightmarish stuff that sounds ridiculous when spoken out loud.

Perfectly in sync, Baryshnikov and Dafoe navigate the dark humor into a stream of consciousness narrative that gurgles in its 1939 Soviet –era cubist despair.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

November 25, 2011
Before a word is spoken or a move is taken, the costume identifies a characters’ station in life, frame of mind and personality. The best of the costume designers make costumes that feel perfectly in balance with a production while simultaneously forming an ever-lasting image.

According to one of the theater, dance and opera community’s most active and beloved costume designers, Martin Pakledinaz believes his job is to support the director’s or choreographer’s vision. And that he does.

This year alone--the two time-Tony Award winning, in-demand costume designer--Pakledinaz suited up Frank Langella for Manhattan Theater Club’s “Man and Boy,” glamorized “Anything Goes” and added dazzle to costumes for the famed Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

As a young person, Pakledinaz who liked drawing, felt an immediate affinity for the theater. “I just wanted to be in the theater and I had a talent for drawing clothes. When I looked at people, I noticed what they wore and how it was designed. Cuts and colors, and draping fascinated me. When I came to NYC after getting a graduate degree in costume design from the University of Michigan, I worked with Theoni Aldredge for seven years. She always said to learn from everyone you ever meet. Look and then think about it. For instance, I might borrow an overall style, and then tailor it to my sensibility. In the end, the costume becomes an extension of the production. My costume designs are character driven and known for a certain elegance--not funky—I’m not known for funky.”

“For instance, a strong, deep thinking actor like Frank Langella poses a different design situation from the vibrant Sutton Foster in “Anything Goes.” You know, I designed the costumes for Sutton in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” – the production that brought her into adulthood. She’s wearing those lavish evening gowns in “Anything Goes” like they are blue jeans—she’s terrific! (And anyone who has seen her perform knows she can belt songs like the old style Broadway stars).”

“One thing I do that surprises people at a fittings is to ask them to show me how they move. The actors (and dancers) need to feel comfortable executing the largest as well as the smallest gesture or movement. You have to find a good fit and one that breathes with the character. “

“Inevitably, each form (theater, dance, opera, film) has its own needs, but sometimes it’s surprising what does not change. Comfort factors in for everyone. There’s always a woman who wants a smaller waistline or man who wants his body lengthened. What I find, is that everyone breathes in a different place. Some breathe from the back, others from the abdomen. I ask questions—pretend you are hugging someone very tight. Then I can see how much their back expands. Or I might ask them to squat or lunge in order to better calculate how the costume fills out the bottom half of the body.”

“For Frank Langella, I brought a chair and told him to sit and cross his legs. See if the fit is comfortable no matter what position the body assumes. Along with the director Maria Aiken, we decided on a double-breasted, dark suit to telegraph seriousness and power. I try to be logistical about breaking down the script. I don’t feed artistic vision in it until I hear the idea.”

“When I walked into Radio City Music Hall and met with the Rockettes, they were delighted by my urging to move around and explain what was comfortable and what was problematic so I could change the costumes accordingly. They couldn’t believe someone was asking their opinion. And you know those dancers work as hard as any professional ballet or modern dancer. The Rockettes have countless costume changes and have to do everything from tap to ballet while looking perfectly collected.”

“Everything I do has its own joy.”

And Martin Pakledinaz gives many people untold joy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

October 21, 2011
City Center is all dressed up for her inaugural ball, and it only took two years of diligent restoration and renovation to put her back together again.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, City Center will throw open the doors to the opening show of the Fall For Dance Series, flaunting a newly refurbished façade, marquee, lobby, auditorium, promenade, patrons room, and – yes, more bathrooms! A couple of days before the Fall For Dance Season (Oct. 27 – Nov. 6), City Center will celebrate with a spectacular Opening Gala Event on October 25.

Arlene Shuler who started her professional career on the City Center stage as a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, now runs that same theater. Giddy with excitement, Shuler joined with Duncan Hazard, Partner in Charge of Ennead Architects, LLP, to highlight just a few of the numerous visual and physical adjustments.

To start, the City Center marquee is visible from both (6th and 7th) avenues. For those who stand in front of the theater waiting for guests or star-gazing, overhead heaters minimize winter’s chill. Inside, the box office area sports a new bar “Joe’s Bar” (a gift of Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Charitable Trust) that will operate at intermission, creating additional lobby space. Just beyond the ticket-takers, the lobby wall is dotted with six high-definition plasma monitors projecting artists’ videos (currently showcasing work by Rashaad Newsome) curated by the New Museum. Gone is the little balcony that jutted out, and instead, the stairways on either side are gracefully enlarged, adding a touch of grandeur that welcome the theater going throngs.

Audiences will be pleased to hear that there are 500 fewer seats, staggered and re-upholstered for optimum viewing and comfort not to mention an extra, really speedy elevator. Windows on the promenade level are now clear glass replacing the plastic faux stained glass versions allowing people to see the glorious ceiling from outside the building. A photographic display on the Promenade curated by Lynn Garafola for the Jerome Robbins Foundations focuses on choreographer Jerome Robbins in class and rehearsal.

But the most thrilling part of the $56 .6 million renovation is the painstaking refurbishment of the ceilings, glorious metal filigree and walls detailed in exotic Moorish colors (painting restoration by Creative Finishes) resembling precious stones of gold, blue and turquoise, clay, cream, emerald and more. It was noted as well that the terra cotta tiles were manufactured by Boston Valley, one of only two exiting companies in that “old crafts” line of work.

From the outdoor lobby to the sweep of the promenade ceiling, heads will be crooked up, staring and admiring the glory of what once decorated the hall when it was built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and transformed 1943 into the city’s first major performing arts center.

There’s much to applaud and much to see at City Center.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

April 6, 2011
Here we go again! White missionaries to the rescue! Time to convert heathen natives to the all-contradictory—I mean –soul saving Christianity.

When a graduating class of Mormons accept missionary assignments, tall, blond golden boy Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is paired off with short, chubby, fibber Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad).

Carted off to Africa, Elder Price dreams of Orlando, Florida while Elder Cunningham just wants someone-anyone—even his parents-- to like him. Two by two the Mormon Elders infiltrate Uganda, braving blistering heat, maggots, murderous tribal lords, rampant AIDS, infant rape and uninhibited female circumcision. And you call that fun? Well, the campy songs, and perky numbers by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone make death and destruction pop to a Dr. Seuss-like musical beat.

But these aren’t your every day bible thumpin’ sorts. They wield the book of Gideon, and trade on the crystal-gazing visions of New York state’s Joseph Smith, buried gold tablets plus an angel called—no really, this is the name—Angel Moroni. OK, go ahead, crack a few jokes. That’s exactly what the Parker, Lopez and Stone triumvirate intended for their wily musical “The Book of Mormon.”

Lack of conquests in Africa and a frown lashing from the Mormon Church brass jazzes Cunningham into converting the natives by switching-it-up and telling “tall” Mormon tales. The sacred Mormon mythology passes from northern NY and Salt Lake City to the hobbits and “Star Wars” iconography. Much more colorful and useful in everyday conversions than any Angel Moroni, randy mouthed Ugandan natives succor spiritual enlightenment from the band of Mormon Boy Scouts decked in white short sleeved shirts and black pants palming The Book of Mormon.

Duly impressed by Elder Cunningham’s remarkable success, Mormon brass pay a visit. To honor the Elders, the Ugandan natives put on a play to demonstrate their true devotion to Mormonism. In a giddy flip on the “The King and I” retelling of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” the natives re-enact the Mormon scripture according to the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

In Scott Pask’s appropriately cartoonish set, fragments of the Mormon Tabernacle frame the proscenium and a disco ball splinters celestial light over the Mormon dust. Choreographer/director Casey Nicholaw kicks up some basically unremarkable soft shoe toe-heel clicks, jazz dance potions and traditional African body contractions. Still, the cast members give it their all.

Jokes about suppressing naughty (gay) feelings by metaphorically turning off the switch, blacks’ acceptance into the Mormon Church only after 1978 and Cunningham’s inability to articulate African names calling the lovely and dynamic Nabalungi (Nikki M. James) Neosporin or Noxzema keep the laughs coming.

But as my nephew said at the end “ya think this might offend some people?” Ya think? Politically correct it’s not, but it is a clever musical diversion that points to the grace we all feel when helping others and embracing and believing in something larger than ourselves. Unselfish acts yield spiritual laughter.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--By Celia Ipiotis

November 28, 2005

Eager for a feel-good holiday tonic? Walk past the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree and head straight for the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys."

Whether or not you know the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, your spirits will dance to the tune of their story. Rising from Newark’s gritty, working class, four guys merge into a wildly successful pop vocal group identified by Frankie Valli’s stratospheric, three-octave falsetto. And like the original group, this amiable cast positively quakes with the high-voltage performance of John Lloyd Young as lead singer Frankie Valli.

This economic production struts with a well balanced diet of story line, music and nostalgia. Director Des McAnuff nimbly captures the exhilarating spirits of young men catapulted into the music industry. In the process they shed names and members before finding their "sound" but never lose their pronounced loyalty to each other. Contracts between band members were honored by a simple handshake. Mob ties oiled their ascent to stardom and their near demise. So strong was their brotherhood that when Frankie’s mentor and fellow band member faces financial and possibly bodily ruin, Frankie pays off his debts.

But all of this would not pop if the cast wasn’t so totally inside the 60’s style. That comes from the Jersey swagger and spot-on choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Granted, the cast excels in the choreographed sequences, lashing out tight moves, finger snapping bounces and unison spins -- but Trujillo is a master at replicating standard pop routines and tweaking them with fresh, bold gestures.

McAnuff revels in his tight cast, as he animates the clear and amply detailed book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The ambiance is accessorize with large comic strip styled pop art by Michael Clark while the set suggests urban sprawl and claustrophobic clubs as visualized by designer Klara Zieglerova.

The dynamite cast revolves around the charismatic Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito and Young along with strong performances by Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio, and J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi. (My only concern: the wear and tear on Young’s vocal chords).

A kicky pit band lead by Music Director, Ron Melrose juices up this show about an all-American band rooted in New Jersey’s urban sprawl and mob camaraderie. "Jersey Boys" will keep you smiling long after you leave the theater singing "Sherry"-----"Sherry Baby!"

"Jersey Boys" at the August Wilson Theater features music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe. Tickets move fast, so get in line.

Celia Ipiotis

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