Performing Arts: Theater
SHADES
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

GEORAMA
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

TEREZIN
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

JULIUS CAESAR--SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK
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
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THE VIEW UPSTAIRS
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

OSLO
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

A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2
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

BANDSTAND
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

HELLO DOLLY
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

POOR PEOPLE
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

PICNIC
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

LES 7 DOIGTS: CUISINE AND CONFESSIONS
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

FRAGMENTED FRIDA
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

WAR PAINT
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.


THE HAIRY APE
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

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS: In Short
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

AMELIE
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

HOW TO HAMLET
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

WAKEY, WAKEY
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

COME FROM AWAY
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

A BRONX TALE
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

IF I FORGET
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

BABEL
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.
EYE ON DANCE AND THE ARTS, NY - Jenny Thompson

YEN
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

HUNDRED DAYS
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

A GUN SHOW
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

HAZELWOOD JR. HIGH
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

APAP IN TOWN
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

LETTER TO A MAN
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

HOLIDAY INN
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

THE RESISTABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI: A GANGSTER SPECTACLE
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

MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS
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

DADDY ISSUES
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 broadwayworld.com for its showcase production in 2016, DADDY ISSUES is a well crafted hoot!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

THE CHAPLIN PLAYS
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

A TASTE OF HONEY
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

BRIDGE OVER MUD--In Brief
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

THE GOOD EARTH
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

TOUCH
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

BLACK MAGIC
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

THE EFFECT
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

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
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

BIBLE STUDY FOR HEATHENS
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

CAGNEY
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

A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING
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

SHUFFLE ALONG, OR THE MAKING OF THE MUSICAL SENSATION OF 1921 AND ALL THAT FOLLOWED
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

PAN PAN
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

THE HUMANS
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

THE ROYALE
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

HUGHIE
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

JAPANESE TRADITIONAL ARTS
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

TAPPIN' THRU LIFE
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

CABIN IN THE SKY
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
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I AND YOU
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

THE GLORY OF THE WORLD
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

COMMEDIA DELL'ARTICHOKE
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

ELECTRA
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.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- D

SANCTUARY
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
http://eyeonthearts.tumblr.com/

TANYA TAGAQ
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

EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
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

NOW I'M FINE
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

APAP/NYC 2016
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 www.APAP.org.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis

MARJORIE PRIME
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

THE INSTITUTE OF MEMORY(TIMe)
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

CHINA DOLL
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

WHERE HAVE ALL THE GLACIERS GONE
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

THE COLOR PURPLE
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

YORK THEATER COMPANY'S PLAID TIDINGS
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

APAP CONFERENCE NYC
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 APAPNYC.org
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

ON YOUR FEET
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

HAGOROMO
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

SCAFFOLD ROOM
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

FOOL FOR LOVE
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

THE EXALTED
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

THE GIN GAME
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

Texts&beheadings/ElizabethR
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

texts&beheadings/ElizabethR
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

ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT ASKING FOR IT
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

ALI MOINI 'LIVES'
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

SOUSEPAW
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

THREESOME
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

POTOMAC THEATER PROJECT
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

SUMMER VALLEY FAIR
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

GLORIA
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

READYMADE CABARET
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

MEN ON BOATS
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

CUDDLES
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

COOL HAND LUKE
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

SOMETHING ROTTEN!
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

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
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

MY TECHNOLOGY
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

THE AUDIENCE
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

NOMAD
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

JOHN AND JEN
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

CAMBUYON
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

PARALLEL EXIT: EVERYBODY GETS CAKE
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

A HARD RAIN
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

THE CARDINALS
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

A SUPPOSEDLY FUNNY THING I'LL NEVER DO AGAIN
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

CINEASTAS
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

ON THE TOWN
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

THE TEMPEST
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

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
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

4:48 PSYCHOSIS
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

BOOTYCANDY
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

KING LEAR
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

I AM ME
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

SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS
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

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE
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

THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON
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

CROSSING OVER
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

THE VALLEY OF ASTONISHMENT
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

DRUNKLE VANYA
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

MAN IN THE 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

THREE ACTS, TWO DANCERS, ONE RADIO HOST
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.

F....ING PERV
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

THE FUTURE OF ALL ENTERTAINMENT
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

COMING: A ROCK MUSICAL: VIEW #2
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

COMING: A ROCK MUSICAL OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS
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

THE PAWNBROKER & THE LOST ONES
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

KING LEAR
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

BEDROOM SECRETS
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

THE PIGEONING
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

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE
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

THE RELIGION THING
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

THREE DAY HANGOVER/SIR TOBY BELCH'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB
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

THE OLD WOMAN
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

GERTRUDE STEIN SAINTS!
June 22, 2014
Fluffy cardboard clouds border the corners of the stage at Abrons Arts Center where Theater Plastique animates Gertrude Stein SAINTS! for a new generation.

in this, 21st Century version, Gertrude Stein’s text – originally set to Vrigil Thompson’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts—inventively magnifies the rhythmic alliteration and surrealistic text. Infectiously dynamic, the performers zip through song forms that reference field hollers, blues, doo wop, hip hop, jazz, rock, all the musical tributaries that feed into American popular music.

Fluently directed by Michelle Sutherland, the talented performers sing, dance, mug, cavort and flirt for 70 minutes, insuring the non-stop production never flags.Theater Plastique succeeds in forging a delightful match between Stein’s word play and fanciful imaginings.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

FLY BY NIGHT
June 11, 2014
Fly By Night connects several people with great expectations. The gorgeous young woman, Daphne (Patti Murin) is talented and full or promise. She packs her hopes, and heads to NYC where opportunities are hard to capture. A quadruple threat, Ms. Murin sings, dances, acts and looks like the perfect blond next door. But NYC is a rough town and rarely lets dreams float without strings attached. Daphne’s best friend and sister, the reserved Miriam (Allison Case) is a romantic type who loves stars and ponders the existence inside each person. Miriam’s dreams are more down to earth than Daphne’s-- even if her heart is the in the clouds.

Last seen in the marvelously inventive “Peter and The Starcatcher,” Adam Chanler-Berat (Harold McClam) plays guitar, and makes sandwiches next to the cuddly crabby deli owner Crabble (Michael McCormick). Dropped into the middle of these scenarios, Mr. McClam (Peter Friedman) remains stuck in the past, bemoaning his wife’s death while gripping a record of La Traviata as the soundtrack to this life. Oh and there’s the bumbling, trust-fund playwright Joey Storms (Bryce Ryness) who casts Daphne in his new play, but never terminates the rehearsal process.

Entering and exiting corners of the story, Henry Stram narrates the characters’ lives intersecting like bumper cars in an amusement park, erupting in a love triangle, obvious coincidences and plucky choices.

The creative team responsible for this light-hearted, unoffensively derivative musical includes Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock. Unusual to have three eqally talented writers, lyricist and composers—but I guess it happens in New Haven. Fly By Night continues at Playwrights Horizons.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
June 10, 2014
Commands fly, and people hurtle through the terminal. Looks like just another mother and son bickering, or grandmother hauling luggage – your typical traveler. But not so fast, the man in charge blows a whistle admonishing the travelers for not being believable. Tall, intense and lacking a sense of humor, Quentin (Bill Champion) is in charge of the motley under-cover crew. His task is to intercept a terrorist passing through the terminal.

In the midst of this humorous real-life rehearsal a no-nonsense woman, backpack slung over her shoulder, Ez (Elizabeth Baag) breaks into the mêlée. She’s there to keep watch over the one man, Barry (Kim Wall) who can ID the terrorist.

Quentin alludes to Ez’s original meteoric rise in the military to her current “probationary” status. Socially isolated, Ez recoils from touch or any personal conversations, and that proves problematic when Barry arrives. Chatty and incessantly upbeat, Barry struggles with every fiber of his body to make human contact.

In the course of the first half, the plot dives back and forth into flashbacks of Ez’s life. After intermission, the first part is repeated, verbatim (fortunately it retains it’s entertainment value) and the flashbacks reveal Barry’s back-story. A loved one betrays both people. But in response to her experiences, Ez builds an ironclad wall around her emotions, while Barry retains a perpetual optimism that is tarnished at the end.

Both Ms. Boag and Mr. Wall are outstanding in their roles. In one particularly humorous exchange, Barry genially carries on and on about the weather. Finally, Ez asks if everyone from Yorkshire shares his buoyant, talkative personality. Barry seriously claims that in Yorkshire, he’s considered quiet.

Alan Ayckbourn drills into the disturbed, quiet places hidden inside people that either form a smooth, invisible scar or display an open wound. Humor and humanity infiltrate his universal stories at NYC’s 59E59 Theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

PIECES
June 3, 2014
Pieces is a new musical currently running as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. It’s an ambitious work co-created by Kristen Penner and Lorelei Mackenzie (with additional music by Joni Ernst) that has been in development for a few years. Pieces tackles the complex subject of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. It’s an atypical subject for a musical, which presents a number of challenges, both in concept and performance. It works, for the most part.

The show follows the experience of Tabby as she discovers and deals with the fact that she has DID. The facets of her personality are represented by six additional performers (Sonia Hebe Acosta, Nathan Armstrong, Melissa D’Anna, Mackenzie, and Sarah Ann Vail). This allows for consistently strong ensemble numbers throughout the show, as well as showcasing individuals in turn. Particular standouts in the ensemble include Vail as the ferocious Wolf and D’Anna as the innocent Molly. While the ensemble are strong singers, the music is often disjointed and, at times, atonal. It seems to be a deliberate choice by the creators to reflect the turmoil Tabby is going through. Unfortunately, it tends to become distracting and even discordant.

Director Nick Radu has his hands full with the show and keeps the action moving steadily, in spite of the limitations of the performance venue. A show this size needs more room that it has at the Paradise Factory Theatre. It’s a credit to Radu and the cast that they manage to make it work so well within the confines of the space.

While the show is genuinely moving in moments, the second act needs to be reworked. Currently, the show has two false endings – one at the end of the first act and the other midway through the second act. Given that some of the darkest material is tackled during the second act, this doesn’t help the flow of the show at all. Pieces has real promise, but it still needs to find its balance before it can really sing.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

KING JOHN
May 28, 2014
Frog & Peach have an excellent reputation for Shakespearean productions in New York City. Clearly, there is a great deal of warmth in their productions and a sense of ensemble that is sorely lacking in many theatres around the city. It is unfortunate that these qualities don’t really surface in their current production of Shakespeare’s King John. Playing at the West End Theatre, the show is very uneven – strong performances alongside weak, inspired moments of staging followed by puzzlingly bland, and a yearning for epicness that is never quite realized.

Director Lynnea Benson is inspired by the current cultural phenomenon of Game of Thrones. There are references to the HBO series in both the costuming and set pieces. And it’s not a bad idea – certainly King John has a large roster of characters and features a great deal of scheming and betrayal for a crown. The similarities end there, however.

The venue doesn’t lend itself to the sweeping scale Frog & Peach attempt. This is very clear in the combat scenes onstage – too many people are fighting at too slow a pace. As the titular John, Eric Doss plays him as a weak, insecure , momma’s boy, at times clinging to his iron hard mother, Elinor (Karen Lynn Gorney). His whininess grows tiresome very quickly, unfortunately.

Luke Edward Smith as Philip the Bastard and Hamish Carmichael as Arthur both give solid turns as young men trying to find their place in this world. Also, of note is Amy Frances Quint as Arthur’s mother, Constance, whose decent into madness at the loss of her son is quite chilling.

You can see the production that they wanted to produce and it would have been something to see. What they actually have, however, falls short of the mark.
EYE ON THE ARS, NY-- Kelly Johnston

A GREAT FUTURIST EVENING
May 25, 2014
Lit in red, a woman dressed in a jumpsuit and hard hat sits atop a ladder as a man enters and rests his suitcase down. “We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under the hanging mosque lamps,” he begins to share his story. Soon we hear of courage, embracing danger, abandoning the passive for the proactive – all callings within the “Manifesto of Futurism.”

“A Great Futurist Evening” is a one-man theatrical show directed and performed by Massimiliano Finazzer Flory in Italian with English supertitles. Interspersed are improvised moments and dance choreographed and performed by Michela Lucenti, lending character-driven interludes.

Futurism - a social and artistic movement originating in Italy in the early 20th century – is the heart of this immersive performance. Finazzer Flory’s opening recitation from Filippo Tommaso Marienetti’s “Manifesto of Futurism” introduces the audience to what it’s all about: contemporary ideals about the future ranging from youth to technology to the arts to industries. This glimpse into the movement is presented largely through the character of Marienetti – the Italian poet credited as one of its founders – through his writings, speeches, and poems.

Nearing the end of the seventy minute performance, Finazzer Flory takes on Giovanni Papini’s voice from writings in his century-old controversial magazine, “Lacerba.” We hear of his experience and dedication to the movement, “I am a Futurist because Futurism means Italy – an Italy that is greater than the Italy of the past, more modern, more courageous, more advanced than other countries.”

Most intriguing is the Manifesto’s stance on art. Finazzer Flory shares its call for innovation, the disgrace of immediate success, the need for forward thinking and relinquishing the past. Earning laughs from the audience, he further explains the “pleasure of being booed” and the fixed, useless role of the audience that should be countered with surprise. “Spread glue along the seats…sell the same ticket to ten people…”

Lucenti’s choreography throughout intertwines a series of characters, representing the ideals and the importance of individuality. Her movement is quick and fluid, deconstructing gestures and creating its own visual rhythm. Additionally, the music of Igor Stravinsky, Alfredo Casella, Francesco Cilea, and Ryuichi Sakamoto accompanies the performance.

“A Great Futurist Evening” continues its nine city tour throughout the U.S.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

AFTER MIDNIGHT
May 18, 2014
From the very first blare of a trumpet to the final dazzling bow, After Midnight transports audiences to the romantic nights in 1930’s Harlem when Caucasians flocked to see the all black reviews at the famed Cotton Club.

The 90 minute musical steps high around quotes from the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes capturing the exotic glamour of showgirls, jazz rhythms and dance moves that forever influenced the world’s identification with “American culture.”

These were the heady nights and those were the glittering performers come to life in the music and dance routines amiably charged-up by choreographer/director Warren Carlyle. His seamless parade of acts never loses interest because Carlyle amplifies the personalities and their connection to the audience.

Some of the city’s finest tap, jazz and specialty dancers grace the stage at Brooks Atkinson. A dead ringer for Mercedes Ellington, Duke Ellington’s dancer granddaughter, the long legged, slim bodied dancer in a blond bob wig, Karine Plantadit embraces the style through her strong technique, shared comedic timing and flair. (Tony winner in Twyla Tharps’ “Fly Away With Me.)

From the first presentation of After Midnight at City Center Encores! to the current Broadway production, selections tightened-up and Dule Hill as the MC has grown into the part as the mc exposing a brighter and lighter countenance.

Performers reference some of the great acts of the era including the Nicolas Brothers, known for performing in top hat and tails, executing spectacular gymnastic dance/tap routines up and down stair cases as demonstrated by the Tap Duo, Daniel & Philip. Laughter showered Adriane Lenox during her bawdy rendition of “Women Be Wise,” and musically embodying the era, Fantasia Barrino – as one of a number of rotating “lead” singers—scored with the sultry “Stormy Weather” and a bouncy rendition of the Sunny Side of the Street joined by the unstoppable dancers C. K. & Christopher.

Bright taps announce the ever-fine Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and explosive sonic ripples underscore Jared Grimes, and slips and slides escape from Julius “iGlide” Chisolm (tribute to veteran tap dancer Jimmy Slyde) and Virgil “Lil’O” Gadson. For unflinching style and wit, there’s the perfectly sheened comedic riffs by Phillip Attmore who fronts the single, slickest synchronized male corps on Broadway featuring modern dance notable Desmond Richardson, Christopher Broughton, C.L. Edwards. Daniel J. Watts and Bobby Daye.

Cranking out swingin’ compositions primarily by Duke Ellington, the best band on Broadway buoys all of these great performances with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center All –Stars conducted by Daryl Waters. There is no better brass section on Broadway, led by trumpeter Gregory Gisbert and supported by percussionist Alvester Garnett. Conceived by Jack Vietrel, it’s true that many of the on-stage “specialty acts” arrived with their “personalized” routines, but Mr. Carlyle’s choreographic and directorial contributions expertly orchestrates an explosive snapshot of sensations experienced—once upon a time and long ago-- in Harlem After Midnight.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

FOUR LAST THINGS
May 15, 2014
Four Last Things by Lisa Tierney-Keogh is what more theatre in New York needs to be: surprising, strong, and moving. The current production at American Globe Theatre, presented by Royal Family Productions, is a stellar show.

Presented on a very simple square set that represents the Irish farm in which the play is set, everything about this production, from the design to the staging to the acting, is simple and clear. Ideas are distilled down to their most fundamental. The set is a rich green swatch of earth, with a dirt path running upstage through the center. Upstage left is the stump of a huge tree, upstage right is a simple rock wall barrier, downstage left is a piano, and downstage right is an easy chair and standing lamp. These four corners, combined with the central grass and path, take us everywhere we need to be in the course of the play – inside the farmhouse (both upstairs and down), out in the barn, the milking shed, the meadows and the fields beyond.

Likewise the acting is very straightforward and simple. There are no great histrionics. The actors’ choices are clear and powerful. Although all three performers have equal stage time, the story follows Jane (Elizabeth A. Davis). Ms. Davis gives a moving performance as a young woman struggling with the all-too common issue of feeling lost in her life. Her work is equaled by her fellow actors, Justin Hagan and Victor Verhaeghe.

The writing itself is deceptively understated. Every character directly addresses the audience. There are no scenes played between them. The story unfolds as narrative. At first, things move slowly, partly due to the poetic nature of the language (they ARE Irish, after all). Gradually, however, the story engages and ensnares the audience while the lack of scenes heightens the tension of the story. Ultimately, the ending is triumphant and devastating.

Kudos to director Chris Henry for recognizing the strengths of Ms. Tierney-Keogh’s script and matching it with her staging. And kudos to Royal Family Productions for an outstanding work of drama. If you want to see good theatre in New York right now, get down to Times Square, skip past the Broadway shows, and check out Four Last Things.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

KEEP YOUR ELECTRIC EYE ON ME
May 15, 2014
KEEP YOUR ELECTRIC EYE ON ME, conceived, created, and directed by Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty, and performed by Madeline Best and Carlton Ward, is playied at HERE Arts Center. Developed through the HERE Resident Artist Production program, Irons and Petty, known for their complex and richly layered interdisciplinary work, KEEP YOUR ELECTRIC EYE ON ME definitely fits into their range of “confounding, confronting, and intriguing” the viewer.

The audience enters the performance space, with the set in place: three scrims in the back reflect active projections of glimmering light bulbs. Three video cameras on tripods are positioned center downstage, a cluttered dressing room type table on stage right holds up tv sets, a record player, elixirs, a motorized lazy susan projects on a video screen above the table, and a large video screen to stage left, projects glimmering specs of sand particles falling--all manner of items collectively mystify the audience about what is about to happen in this surreal environment. The artists’ note says: “the props, sound, movement, images, and spoken incantations are meant to conjure notions of transformation, liminality, hysteria, and the desire for the unattainable.

Thirteen listed “Tracks” in the program keep us loosely informed about the progression of the work as we are barraged by numerous images, colors, theatrical vignettes, dances, text: Intro: Color Room #1 (Legs); Candy; Moons (Sitting in the Room Every Day Like a Mustard); Trans #1:why why always; Color Room #2 (Total Failure); I’m Just Trying to Help You (duet); Will I Die Soon?; I’m Sorry My Face; Landing (Hello); Face Off: Dots; Trans#2: Cracked Actor; Cosmic Pimps; and Outro: Color Room #3 (Together).

The artists have created a “dreamscape” that we enter, not knowing past, present, or future, or any conventional narrative form. We enter the reality of this environment for 70 minutes, experiencing the sights, sounds, and a suggestion of the emotions of the two characters, He and She, as they sleepwalk through existence, cut off from a normal reality. The accomplishment of this piece is that the viewer is never able to capture a literal meaning behind the work…perhaps the medium is the message. The convergence of all of these forms in space and time together succeeds in the use of the media as performer. An upside down world of inner landscape juxtaposes next to images of nature in black and white. Vast stretches of sky and ocean projected onto the stage scrim, confuse space and time. Body forms partially shown intimate intimacy never fulfilled. Death and life are confused yet as one.

Kudos to the artistic team for the bravery to approach the unattainable in reality, and for the marvelous artistic and technical talent creating images and manipulating media. EYE ON THE ARTS, NY---Mary Seidman

IRMA LA DOUCE
May 14, 2014
Good hearted Irma La Douce excels at her job as a woman of the night (A Poule) in the Parisian streets. But like “Never On A Sunday” she wraps around a scholarly man who succumbs to her vivacious, guiltless nature.

Popularized by the 1963 film starring Shirley Mac Laine and Jack Lemmon, Irma La Duce created by Alexandre Breffot and sporting rather mediocre music by Marguerite Monnot gets a re-boot as part of City Center Encores! No problem with Encores! cast, but all in all, the show doesn’t pop like most productions. In this romp through the Parisian bar, court system and underworld, the combination of Chase Brock’s generic choreography and John Doyle’s surprisingly straight ahead directions does little to levitate the production.

Led by the clear voiced Jennifer Bowles (Irma La Douce) able Rob McClure (Nestor-Le-Mou) and an extremely congenial Malcolm Gets (Propreitor of the Bar), the action perked up during the court scene when the French Courts prosecute a living man for killing himself.

All that said, it was a pleasant enough afternoon, particularly listening to the jazzy band perched above the bar and directed by Rob Berman.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

THE LOVESONG OF ALFRED J. HITCHCOCK
May 12, 2014
The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock. It’s a great title, evoking two masters of separate forms, promising an exotic mix of the macabre and lyrical romanticism. Instead, it’s a pedantic and obvious piece of theatre that doesn’t live up to its name.

While there are some creative staging ideas (a moving movie screen is foremost of these) and a solid performance by Martin Miller as Hitchcock, the show is a meandering look at the underlying themes and motivations for Hitchcock’s movies (Hint: he had mommy issues and was obsessed with one particular type of woman. Of course, you could just watch his movies and figure it out yourself.)

The play loosely follows Hitchcock as he thinks of and begins preparing to film “Marnie”. It also jumps into the past, showcasing his relationship with his mother, predominantly. Except there really is no story or tension. We don’t spend our time trying to unravel the mystery of his genius, nor do we see Hitchcock go through a journey of self-discovery. Instead, we watch him behave pretentiously and selfishly toward everyone around him. He knows his inner demons and their source, he just chooses not to deal with them.

A better playwright might have made this a sympathetic and compelling journey that leads to an inevitable downfall. Instead, it’s like an A&E Biography on Hitchcock, only less interesting.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

CABARET
May 12, 2014
Garish make-up tarts up boys and the girls lasciviously snapping their hips right and left -- at once seductive and threatening. But those were the times, the Weimer Republic in Germany, setting the stage for Hitler’s scorched earth terror. This is the Kit Kat Klub. Welcome. Guided by the black haired, red-lipped emcee Alan Cumming, audiences are dropped in the lap of decaying times. Still lanky, albeit a bit more bulked up at 50 years old than in his first appearance at Studio 54 in 1988. Now, Cumming retains his death mask sneer and loose-shouldered strut. He’s every bit the jester and puppeteer, tickling everyone’s baser instincts.

We meet the scantily dressed band member and corps of the Kit Kat Club when the American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Bill Heck) meets a businessman Ernst Ludwig (Aaron Krohn) on the train to Berlin. Through Ernst, the tall, attractive Cliff gets a room in a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Linda Emond) and an invitation to the Kit Kat Klub. That’s where phones sit on café tables (the audience is seated at similar round tables with small lamps) and the staff is willing to amuse on any level with any sex.

Robert Brill’s metal catwalk wraps around to top back of the theater where the Kit Kat Girls and Boys spread out, and play infectiously jazzy music and songs by the stellar John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Over the course of the night, Cumming slinks through the aisles, swaying, pelvis first. Suspenders hold up thin black pants cut deeply towards his crotch. Age does not matter, time does not matter, physical, human contact does matter and if you’re lucky, love.

When Cliff visits the Kit Kat, the blond star Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams) calls him on the café phone, thrilled to hear an English speaking voice. After being booted out of the club to make room for another girl favored by the owner, Sally announces her residence in Cliff’s room. under the astute direction of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall—becomes the broodingly seductive girl running on a tread -mill of disappointment.

Reflective of the original choreography by Bob Fosse, Marshall sustains the understated, lurid moves that lead with the crotch in deep, spread legged knee bends, hips snapping like a shudder side to side, and arms up, hands flapping in depraved hello or good-bye. Flaccid chorus lines execute the usual leg kick until the supporting leg and outstretched one stiffen more and more resembling Hitler’s goose step.

At the center of the musical, stands a beautiful love story between Fraulein Schneider (Linda Emond) and her houseguest, the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (the exception Danny Burstein). Both sing expertly modulated songs that convey a love blossoming in the winter of their lives. But the match is not meant to be because the rising muscle of Hitler’s gangs frightens German citizens intimate—on any level –with Jews.

In the 1998 revival with Cumming and Natasha Richardson, Cumming was a delicious shock, and he managed to suck the oxygen out of the place. This time around, Cumming retains his central presence, but the supporting cast, in particular Emond and Burstein as well as Fraulein Kost (Gayle Rankin) – the down-to-earth hooker—keep the evening buoyed on a much more even, high level pitch.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

PLAYING WITH GROWN-UPS
May 10, 2014
When marriages include two devoted professionals plus one infant, tensions build. Unable to muster prerequisite warm maternal feelings for her infant, Joanna (Trudi Jackson) drinks to blanket her anxiety and inability to enunciate her post partum depression in 59E59 Brits Off-Broadway entry “Playing With Grown Ups.”

Disheveled and still wandering the house in a robe, Joanna’s husband Robert arrives home to report he invited their friend, his boss and her former lover, Jake (Alan Cox) for dinner. Understandably, she’s miffed. Surprisingly, Jake appears unprepared for her animosity—despite witnessing the blaring soundtrack of “I AM Woman Hear Me Roar,” an empty bottle of liquor and a baby howling over the speaker.

In Hannah Patterson’s play, the adults come off as confused adolescents making the teenager the adult. Directed by Hannah Eidinow, humor threads through this tragic arc of lost personhood.

Despite his own professional anxiety over retaining his job in the university’s film department, it’s almost impossible to believe Robert did not fathom the depth of her depression. Joanna’s anxiety only accelerates when she meets Jake’s teenage girlfriend Stella (Daisy Hughes) who reminds her of a vibrant professional life lost in the rubble of compromises.

The mix is toxic and there is no tonic in sight. Early in the play, Stella pronounces adults’ habit of making of making things complicated. And complications accumulate throughout the night, the three adults bat zingers at each other forcing the calmly-centered Joann into the position of umpire.

Igniting the emotional fire-keg, Jake announces he’s spending the night on the couch with Stella. And that’s where the drama’s threads begin to bare. Understandably, this sets up the scene for the final “confrontation” but it’s just so hard to believe that Jake and Stella doon’t summarily thrown into a cab.

However, despite society’s progress, Ms. Patterson is not off-mark. A similar dramatic narrative strikes many professional couples. There are women who don’t know how to redefine themselves as mothers when, like Joanna, they lived through their passion for their jobs. By all accounts, she was more successful and more highly regarded in her profession as the publisher of forgotten womens’ writings than her husband. So why should she abandon her job for a year, why not Robert?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

FLUFF, A STORY OF LOST TOYS
April 27, 2014
Mary Rose Lloyd, Programming Director at the New Victory Theater, is known for her ability to discover and produce unique, unconventional, and most often, international groups to perform for children, families, and school groups each season. Fluff, A Story of Lost Toys, originating from Australia, is one of these imaginative, witty, and sensitive performance art stories aimed at a young audience, ages 5 and up.

Christine Johnston, performer, creator, set designer, and film maker has collaborated with two other gifted artists: Peter Nelson, performer and composer, and Lisa O’Neill, performer, choreographer, in this 55 minute three person romp, investigating the histories of abandoned toys and their eventual “foster family, ” The Ginghams. This family journeys around the world retrieving lost toys, welcoming them into their home, and eventually putting them to bed where they are safely protected. Johnston has chosen an esoteric theme for this story, but one that does not escape the wonderings of children all over the world…what does happen to toys that are somehow lost or discarded? Where do they go? What is their history?

When entering the theater, the stage is visible with curtains open and the set revealed. We see a black and white gingham framed stage with life-sized cut-outs of a man on one side and two women on the other. There are several small toy beds lined side by side along the downstage lip, with nightlights lit beside each. A large building block type set is in the back with shelves of many toys displayed and Christmas tree lights draped in an abstract form of a tree, and a video screen centered in the middle.

Mr. Gingham enters through his cutout opening to player piano music. He cleans the space with a dust buster, and demonstrates various other adult “toys” to the audience, a microphone, ipad, piano keyboard, as well as his own talent at recording live sound into the ipad, which is later used in the show. He also dances and introduces himself through his cavorting.

The two Gingham ladies appear on the video screen, searching various world locations for toys while pushing a makeshift stroller basket cart, eventually entering the stage live through their cutout shapes, wearing long 19th century type Gingham dresses, with the cart overflowing with found toys.

The three quirky characters sing, dance, and perform to original and classic pop songs, like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ Spanish Flea, as they develop the story and engage the audience to participate in their research on each toy’s story. Imaginative photo and video sequences tell the poignant tales of each lost or abandoned toy: “Flatsie,” “Squibbly,” “Woodsie,” “Fluff,” “Joy,” “Scarey Cheeks,” “Disco Frog,” “Coco,” “Chicken Maria,” and “Humpty Hot Pants.”

Johnston’s knack for making many sound effects and animal calls, aligned with Nelson’s ability to manipulate the sounds onstage with his computer, and O’Neill’s quick witted dancing and quirky facial expressions bring non verbal expression to each toy’s identity. Johnston also enters the audience with the microphone asking the children to make animal sounds which are then recorded and used in a playback mix as the piece culminates with an elaborate finale using each toy’s sound and movement exploration.

The story ends with a delightful effort at putting all the toys to sleep, with some recalcitrant sleepers delaying the effort, the audience fully engaged in the knowledge of how difficult it is to turn out the lights with all asleep in the end.

In the end, Johnston entreats the young audience to help her with the task of quieting the toys, covering them all with their tiny gingham blankets, singing a lullaby, and finally leaving the stage through the cut-out shapes, when the lights go out.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mary Seidman

NOTHING PERSONAL
April 26, 2014
Anger curls under James Baldwin’s emotional views of the black condition in white America. Master/slave never falls far back in the mind—it’s there to remind him of the loss of freedom since Africans Americans first stepped on this land.

Directed by Patricia McGregor in a straightforward, clean manner, Baldwin’s “Nothing Personal” written in 1964 is set inside a dreary apartment room that incorporates projected images depicting urban isolation by photographer, Richard Avedon.

Roused from a restless sleep, Jimmy (Coleman Domingo) sits on the side of slim cot, and gives voice to insistent nightmares and dreams. Furnished with a typewriter, chair, small TV and clothes rack, the spare room allows thoughts to bounce from one wall to the next. He revisits years of submission, then unites that thought with a new day of rebellion.

At one point, Baldwin muses on the founding of America and suggests everyone might have been better off if the Plymouth Rock landed on the Pilgrims instead of vice versa. And despite this bleak view of a hypocritical society, love and kindness still make a life worth living.

A commanding actor, Domingo draws from the deep well of pain born of a country’s rise on the shoulders of human bondage. Resolute but understated, Domingo relishes Baldwin’s inherently timeless, poetic words--words that haunt us to this day.

New York Live Arts is celebrating James Baldwin’s life and career as part of their second annual Live Ideas festival, James Baldwin, This Time!—through a series of dynamic readings, performances and conversations in partnership with Columbia University and Harlem Stage.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

A SNOWFALL IN BERLIN--THE BIG FUNK
April 9, 2014
NyLon Fusion has two shows in rep at LaTea – The Big Funk by John Patrick Shanley and A Snowfall In Berlin by Don Nigro. The linkage between the two? A bathtub and its use.

Snowfall was commissioned by NyLon to pair specifically with Funk. Ably staged by Shaun Peknic, it’s a dense play that has layers upon layers of realities. It’s inspired by film noir; a woman has died – was she murdered or was it suicide? Intrepid detective Mulligan (Don Carter) is determined to find out. But things begin to become surreal as he questions the suspects in the case. The victim, Rosa (Brandi Bravo) was working on a film with these people. And in the film, her character is murdered in the bathtub. In fact, the question arises whether the story is actually happening to the characters or is a vivid hallucination in Rosa’s mind as she freezes to death in the midst of (you guessed it) a snowfall in Berlin. Peknic builds on this and extends the layers into the meta-region – when not performing the characters settle in different areas of the stage and watch the action. Are they offstage or watching the filming of scenes in the movie? Is Mulligan part of the action or outside of it? And does his investigation make him a part of it even if he is an outsider?

If this is hurting your brain, that’s part of the point. Nigro has written a dense, and at times, talky, script that questions the nature of reality itself. The experience of the show is similar to mining for rare and precious jewels. It takes persistent digging and hard work, but gems appear. Peknic and his designers (Cassie Dorland – set and props, Wilburn Bonnell – lights, Andy Evan Cohen – sound) do an excellent job of uniting the design elements to accent the writing. The result is a thought provoking, if tiring, evening of theatre.

In contrast, Shanley’s The Big Funk is a lighter, more straightforward, if preachy piece. We follow the travails of Jill (Ivette Dumeng). After a degrading and disgusting encounter (he rubs Vaseline on her face and in her hair) with a suitor named Gregory (Paul Walling), she meets Austin (Jacob Troy). He takes her home and gives her a bath and then takes her to dinner at his friends’, Fifi (Meghan Jones) and Omar (Josh Sienkiewicz in an excellent turn), home. Over dinner, they discuss the trials and tribulations of modern life and relationships. This culminates in Austin’s final speech about how everyone is up against a big personal funk. Which is delivered by the actor amidst the audience. Naked. Holding a mirror. Subtlety, thy name is not Shanley.

And that’s the biggest problem with this piece. It’s preachy and presumptuous to both its characters and the audience. Unlike Snowfall, the design elements feel sparse and thrown together. While director Lori Kee is clearly trying to help the script by underscoring the comic moments (the dance sequence between Dumeng and Troy is great) and giving things a looser feel (the scene changes are executed and sung by the house band, The Roly Polys), overall the effect feels forced and falls short, not unlike the play itself. The result of the pairing is an uneven balance, tilting things in favor of Snowfall over Funk.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

RICHARD III
April 5, 2014
The National Theatre of China brought their production of Shakespeare’s Richard III to NYU’s Skirball center at the end of last month. It’s a gorgeous production, done in the style of traditional Chinese theatre. What’s most striking about the production, however, is how clear the story comes across.

One of my college professors taught us “Shakespeare is both director and actor-proof.” What he meant was that the writing is strong enough to withstand the concepts directors lay on or the choices actors make. Usually this means that the writing shines through despite these things. With the National Theatre of China’s production, a slightly different twist on this emerged. Had I not known it was a production of Richard III, but instead thought it was an ancient play from China, I still would have recognized the story, despite the stage trappings and even the language. Which was slightly surprising and disappointing.

Not that it wasn’t an excellent production of Richard III. It was solidly handled by the ensemble of thirteen actors under the clear direction of Wang Xiaoying. The most interesting moments, however, were the unexpected, which all stemmed not from the text as much as the tradition of performance in China. Every murderer (and there are several in the play) was played by a pair of comic actors, including Tyrell as a two-headed character – a convention from Peking Opera. Margaret curses Richard and reappears as each character condemned by him dies, intoning her curse as blood runs down the banners on the stage – another convention from classical Chinese theatre.

Moments like these were exciting and made the play feel fresh and new. Outside of those moments, while beautiful to watch and clearly played, it was basically another production of Richard III. There was some inadvertent excitement caused by the technician controlling the projected translations. The company wisely opted for quick summaries of a scene’s action rather than a line for line translation. Unfortunately, during the performance, these became muddled and created confusion rather than clarity. At two separate points, the screen skipped back and forth between summaries, eliciting laughter from the audience. Ironically, if the techie running the board had been focusing on the play in front of him or her, they would most likely have been able to match the projections effortlessly.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Jonhston

KING LEAR
March 29, 2014
Thunder bellows over a land divided by family loyalties in Arin Arbus’ absorbing treatment of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Theater for New Audiences. After living “four score and upwards” King Lear divides his kingdom between the two older daughters, the fair-haired Goneril (Rachel Pickup) and the dark-haired Regan (Bianco Amato).

At first, his decision to step down while retaining his physical powers is laudable. But the test requires each daughter to profess the extent of her love for him. Cordelia and Regan, calculating their answers will maximize their inheritance, lavish him with pronouncements of love. But when King Lear’s youngest, most treasured daughter refuses the challenge, the dark tragedy unfolds.

Although married, both sisters fall for Edmund, the vile bastard son of the loygal Earl of Gloucester (Christopher McCann), Expertly manipulating the sisters’ affections, Edmund (Chandler Williams) leaps towards a ruthless power grab. His kindly brother Edgar (a fine Jacob Fishel) escapes his brother’s venom by diving into the woods disguised as a madman.

Determined to eliminate any opposition, Edgar betrays his father’s attempts to solicit aid from the King of France who has taken Cordelia as his wife. As punishment, the Duke of Cornwall (Saxon Palmer) flings Goucester over his knee, and gauges out his eyes. In one of the most affecting scenes, Edmund encounters his blind father stumbling, blind through the woods and, remaining in disguise protects him like a father caring for a newborn infant.

Normally, King Lear stomps and wails against his family and the world. But in this heart breaking production judiciously edited by Ms. Arbus, Lear internalizes as much as he externalizes the inequities of old age and agency.

Throughout the production performed amphitheater style, the live musicians (Michael Attias, Pascal Niggenkemper, Satoshi Takeishi) enriched the drama’s literal and metaphorical interior and exterior spaces outlined by the shards of light by Varcus Doshi and graced by Susan Hilferty’s expertly muted, but handsome costumes.

Very much an ensemble success, including the tangy movement sequences by John Carrafa and fight choreography by B. H Barry, this show will join the roster Lears to remember.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

URIEL ACOSTA: I WANT THAT MAN
March 27, 2014
Here’s the thing about Target Margin’s production of Uriel Acosta:I Want That Man – it’s overwhelming. Which makes it nearly impossible for me to write about it in any coherent sense, especially as I’m not sure I fully grasped everything that was going on with the show. Target Margin has been exploring Yiddish Theater for the past two seasons. Apparently, at the height of Yiddish Theater, the role of Uriel Acosta was iconic for actors in the same way that Hamlet or Lear still are.

Performers Don Castro, James Tigger! Ferguson, Mary Rasmussen, and J.H. Smith III fiercely commit to their antics, switching between drama and over-the-top antics, between reciting verse in Yiddish and quoting autobiographies, and singing, running, and playing with toy theatres amidst projections, loud music, and fog.

In an effort to explain the evening’s event, I offer the following analogy: in 1980, Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers gave us Airplane!, a goofy, silly, and iconic movie that basically threw 1,000 jokes (sight gags, puns, sound effects, etc.), for an average of 11 jokes per minute, at the audience in the firm belief that some of them would land and be funny. It worked really well despite conventional wisdom and common sense.

Uriel Acosta is just like that only using a classic piece of Yiddish Theater as its center as opposed to 1970’s disaster movies.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

MEASURE FOR MEASURE
March 21, 2014
Fiasco Theater made a name for themselves in 2009 with their production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. This six-person ensemble took one of the “problem plays” that most companies avoid and turned it into a rousing and hilarious production. Now history is repeating itself as Fiasco takes on one of the darkest comedies Shakespeare wrote, Measure For Measure.

The audience is greeted by the sight of six free-standing, wheeled doors onstage when they enter the New Victory Theatre. The elegant and simple design by Derek McLane allows the actors to transform the stage repeatedly into the several different locations demanded over the course of the play. But they also work metaphorically for the play; each door is of a different style and type – one a garden gate, one a stately wooden door; one a prison door with bars, etc. It brings to mind who are behind these doors and what happens there.

In addition, the cast of six all play double roles (except Andy Grotelueschen whose character, The Duke of Vienna, disguises himself in the course of the play, effectively making it dual role as well). As with the doors, the characters each actor plays often contrast with each other, pointing up the different strata of society Shakespeare has written and how they interact behind those doors. Sound heady and confusing? It’s really not – not the way they play it. Instead, it’s a clear, sharp, and very dark comedy that asks us to consider morality, justice, mercy, temptation, religion, and society.

As with Cymbeline, the cast is excellent and bring more than just their acting skills to bear on the play. They create the music for the show, both vocal and instrumental, themselves. Among the performers, shout-out’s go to Grotelueschen as Vincentio, Emily Young as both Isabella, the novice nun and Mistress Overdone, the madam, and Ben Steinfeld as Lucio, who commanded applause from a matinee audience with one of the funniest, spasdic falls I’ve ever seen.

Although this run of Measure at the New Victory has closed, I have no doubt it will find new life in a different venue. This is Shakespeare as it’s meant to be played.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

INTERVIEW- Wang Xiaoying-RICHARD III
March 20, 2014
On March 26 through March 30, the Skirball Center at NYU will be hosting the National Theatre of China’s US debut. The production will be Shakespeare’s Richard III. The show, directed by Wang Xiaoying, has played to great acclaim both in Beijing and London. Translated into Mandarin and performed with traditional Chinese music, costumes, props, masks, and wigs, the production promises to be an exciting part of the Skirball’s “Visions + Voices Global Performance Series”.

I was offered the opportunity to ask questions Mr. Wang questions about the upcoming production. While we weren’t able to meet in person, I was able to send them by email. Reprinted below are my questions and Mr. Wang’s answers.

1. Why Richard III over other Shakespearean plays?
For the the London Globe Theatre "GLOBE to GLOBE" Festival, thirty-six different theatre groups all participated in consultation with the Globe Theatre repertoire. They recommended to me, among others, "Richard III", which is one of the most frequently staged Shakespeare plays, so I felt there is a strong possibility for communication with modern society, so this is why I chose it.

2. What was the most challenging part of directing this show?
I do not want to use the disabled image / interpretation of Richard III that everyone is already so familiar with. I want to use a Chinese style “yin-yang” this binary concept to express the outer and inner extremes, and how this conflict creates the ugly distorted image. This is how from Richard III I find my understanding of the relationship between universal human desires and true evil. This is the unique characteristic of our production.
"Richard III" is one of Shakespeare's longest plays, I want to cut nearly half of the lines, while keeping the basic drama of Shakespeare's original plot and characters, it took me a lot of effort.

3. What prompted the decision to use traditional theatrical props, wigs, costumes, and musical instruments in this production?
I want to use the traditional Chinese way to express drama, but the script does not change the story plot to China, the two have opposition, but also need to be unified, so that it can be both traditional and modern. I tried to use China's clothing, headpieces, props, music, especially Chinese-style percussion, and of course there are a lot of Chinese traditional opera performances, with the Chinese way of telling a story of Shakespeare, showing the universality and humanity in Shakespeare. 4. What about Shakespeare’s work speaks to modern audiences?
My Chinese version of "Richard III" is trying to convey the core meaning: "Any person in reality, when he is under the control of his heart’s desire and ambition, and he tries to use extraordinary measures to achieve this desire and ambition, then he has already started to come close to Richard III." I think this is Shakespeare's intended message.

5. Shakespeare’s work switches between verse and prose, which are often indicators of class and status for characters. How did you address this in translating the work into Mandarin?
Chinese traditional opera also has a style similar to the difference between the language of verse and prose, this is not difficult for us.

6. The show has toured from China to London and now New York. Has there been a difference in audience reception from country to country?
London audiences expressed their enthusiasm during the show with laughter and applause throughout. The Chinese audience during the show are more focused like watching a movie and enjoy the curtain call as the opportunity to express their love for the show, rather than during it like London audiences. I do not know how the New York audience will interact with us during the performances.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

NO EXIT
March 20, 2014
No Exit is a time-honored classic of theatre. Written by Jean-Paul Sartre in Nazi occupied France during World War Two, the play is surprisingly short (due to the curfew) and, hence, cuts right to the heart of the matter very quickly. As we watch Cradeau, Inez, and Estelle wrestle with their big existential questions and discoveries, we are inexorably drawn to consider our own. At least, that’s the hope. And that’s the challenge with most productions of No Exit – engage the audience while presenting very daunting and pointed social and metaphysical ideas. In the worst productions, the show becomes a snooze-fest and the ninety minute play feels three hours long. In the best productions, we feel as trapped, as desperate, as lost as the three characters locked in their eternal struggle.

The Pearl’s current production lies somewhere between these two polar opposites – not dreadfully boring but not riveting either. Instead, it hums along very efficiently with moments of startling force. The stage design by Harry Feiner strikes a nice balance between the classic look (three chaise-lounges of different colors) and a modern feel (the statue is right out of a trendy Chelsea hotel). Behind the playing area are piles of junk – possibly the detritus of a lifetime or possibly the sign that we are looking at a cosmic junkyard. While all four actors turn in solid performances, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris gives an innovatively fresh turn as Estelle. Director Linda Ames Key keeps the action moving and also finds some nice moments of stillness for the cast. On the whole, this production is a strong showing of a tough play.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

ANGELA HEWITT & JULIAN BARNES
March 17, 2014
Perhaps you should be wary when a piece of fiction is inundated with cultural references. Does she really think in mentioning Godard or Christopher Wren she is somehow in their league? Can she imbue cultural capital upon herself through namedropping? Conversely, how many more plays can Stoppard smother with Pink Floyd references? Should we tolerate all this nonsense? What if they do it well? Then is it tolerable? Yes? Yes.

Pianist Angela Hewitt, alongside the novelist Julian Barnes, recently programmed an evening celebrating prose and poetry and short piano works by the composers that inspired their writing. Held at Le Poisson Rouge, Barnes introduced and read the pieces that were then followed on by Hewitt's performances. The matchings of poetry and music included Lars Gustafsson's "The Stillness of the World Before Bach" with the Prelude No. 1 in C major and Ricercar a 3, Lisel Mueller's "Romantics" with Brahm's Intermezzo in E-flat major, Robert Browning's "A Toccata of Galuppi's" with Baldassare Galuppi's Sonata No. 3 in D minor, and Alastair Reid's "Lesson in Music" with Schubert's Impromptu in G-flat major.

Notably, Barnes possesses not only a Booker Prize, but also the stentorian purr of a voice that endeared throughout the evening. The program also provided the opportunity to watch Julian Barnes listen to music. He proved to be a very thoughtful-looking novelist with, as they became visible upon his pant legs cinching up each time he sat down to listen to Hewitt, lively red socks.

Although Barnes' particularly charmed in reading Reid's playfully didactic poem - which had him assuming the guise of Hewitt's music instructor - he did best in reading the prose works he had chosen. The segment from Turgenev's Fathers and Sons - centered around a young woman playing Mozart for guests out of her duty to appear marriageable - was both tender and embittered - and, perhaps, itself a comment on the use of art as an ornament to affect culture.

Hewitt responded with a lilting, elegant Sonata in C minor. Barnes also read one of his own, choosing a segment from "The Silence", a work that depicts Sibelius during his three decade self-imposed exile from composition and publishing. The evening concluded with the Finnish master's Romance in D-flat major. It was all very prim, but the kind of unique and lovable program that further cements Le Poisson Rouge as one of the most versatile, intelligent showcases of talent in the city.

A DOLL'S HOUSE
March 3, 2014
Feet stamp faster and faster under Nora’s tumbling life. She’s dancing the Tarantella, the Italian “dance of death” for her husband’s amusement just hours before she leaps into the void of a new reality.

Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” written in 1878 pits a beautiful woman, Nora, against society’s structural rigors and her husband, Torval’s rigidness. Nora’s the fluttery little bird and Torval’s the adult. She’s the child and he’s the caretaker. But this adorable woman-child breaks the law to save her husband’s life.

Briskly directed by Carrie Cracknell; the airy set by Ian MacNeil nearly upstages the fine cast. It circles round like a music box opening views to the living room, bedroom, office and the all-important hallway that connects the whispers and secrets.

Much of Nora’s time is expended seducing and amusing Torvald. Flitting around like a little bird, her nonstop fingers flutter touching her neck, straightening her bodice over a flat stomach and arranging her hair. The owner of a beautiful vocal instrument, Nora’s words twirl from high pitches to basso pronouncements—but by the end, these vocal swoops in tandem with the nonstop hand jig get irritating.

The drama spins around Nora’s decision to forge her father’s signature so she can borrow 9000 to pay for a trip to Italy for her husband's health. Here lender is a disgraced lawyer, Nils, and is it happens, he works for Nora's husband.

Before Nora faces the consequences of her actions, a childhood friend visits Kristine (Caroline Martin). A widow in need of a job, Nora convinces Torvald to give Kristine a job. But the job Kristine wins will displace Nils who both holds the incriminating document and once loved Kristine. Adding to the mix, a dear family friend Dr. Jens Rank (Steve Toussaint) is dying of a degenerative spine disease foreshadowing the loss of family members in this dark winter.

Come Christmas Eve, Nils learns Torvald is about to fire him. Gripped by revenge, he threatens to reveal Nora’s illegal action to Torvald. Despite her altruistic motive, the repercussions of this one, misbegotten act ignites her future.

When the final scene rolls in and Torvald learns of his wife’s indiscretion, he becomes apoplectic. Filled with outrage, he is constitutionally unable to forgive an action that will strip him of respect and besmirch his good name. But Nora’s response, a sudden stillness frozen in the realization that Torvald is not willing to accept the blame on her behalf and love her regardless, is jarring.

You hear the brakes come to an ear-splitting stop for Nora, but no clues surface earlier in Morahan’s performance to support the snap. Ibsen flips Torvald and Nora’s universe in the space of three seconds. One letter from Nils screams revenge and destruction, the second letter, opened within a minute of the first, returns the falsified document and asks for forgiveness.

The only winner in this drama is Nils. When Kristin suggests they grow old together, Nils’ life is transformed and like the Grinch, he grows a heart and a conscience.

Presented by the outstanding Young Vic Theater, “A Doll’s House” runs at the BAM Harvey through March 15.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

LOVE AND INFORMATION
March 1, 2014
If you happen to be at the Minetta Lane Theatre any time between now and March 23rd, prepare to be met by a large, neon blue square. Savor the time you have with this abstract stillness, for once it departs, a theatrical triathlon ensues, coached by James MacDonald, that is Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, filling two uninterrupted hours at a continually nimble pace, tackling infinite situations like a glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet consisting of fifty-seven entrees made with only fifteen ingredients.

The play’s form reflects through stark contrast what is consuming its hundreds of characters – their knowledge, how they know, who else knows it, and if they ever wanted to find out. Vignettes are divided cleanly into movements like an orchestral suite, preceded by a projected number. Beginning with harmless nosiness, later episodes ponder our capacity for self-delusion and knowledge we need yet avoid out of discomfort, escalating in situational gravity. The structure is a well-kept file cabinet, providing a sterile neutralization to emotional extremity.

The content is less generous in how it divulges information. Churchill’s writing is astutely aware that an audience is present. A man is desperate to know his companion’s secret. After much build up, she whispers it to him, leaving us with his baffled reaction. Some vignettes end before we can discern a plausible relationship between characters, multiple possibilities exposing interconnectivity between personal matters. Other times, expectation is set up and dashed at the last minute, aware of social convention. A white male yells at a black female that she can’t fire people by e-mail as a boss might approach his office administrator, yet it was she who was the boss, and he who had just been fired.

Complementary to Churchill’s epistemological playground is Miriam Buether’s setwork. Each scene takes place in a cube with graph paper walls, signaling potential for data representation, reminiscent of those pesky math problems culminating in either none or more than one solution – ambivalence’s presence in the seemingly absolute. She jarringly alters perspective, positioning a bed and a stretch of lawn vertically as if onlookers were floating above them.

Even the program seems thematic in how it reveals information theatre-goers may take for granted. There are no headshots; due to the multitude of characters, each actor is credited simply as “actor.” Actor and character alike could have been anyone. Despite this democratization, it’s difficult not to be particularly beguiled by Susannah Flood’s electrical voice or Karen Kandel’s prickly affectations.

Newly produced by the New York Theatre Workshop following a 2012 premier in London, Love and Information feels at home on Minetta Lane, but, more importantly, has the potential to feel at home wherever it may go.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

ON TRIAL TOGETHER
February 26, 2014
One of the most interesting theatrical experiences of the season happened this past weekend at New York Live Arts. In On Trial Together, Sasa Asenti and Ana Vujanovi and their team don’t perform for the audience. In fact, it’s the reverse – the audience performs for them. On Trial Together is a completely interactive, audience driven piece that examines questions of society, interrelations, and the self.

Once the audience was gathered in the lobby, Ana and Sasa addressed us, inviting us to look through the windows at the outside world and bid it goodbye. For their purposes, we were entering a completely fictional world for the next two hours. They also talked about Serbia and how confusing things were there and how different ideologies come into play. But knowing how Americans so dislike the word “ideology”, they decided to use the term “fiction” instead. And ‘the only way to fight a fiction is with another fiction.’ They then divided the audience into three groups – people who were interested in true democracy, people who were interested in sociological conventions, and…well, I honestly don’t remember the third. I chose the first group.

What followed defies easy description in a short space. Each group were given different sets of conditions: a global national council deciding whether to go to war against another planet; MTA workers striking to get their jobs back while rumors of an asteroid heading toward Earth circulate; two groups living side by side – one group infected with a disease they created, the other group hypochondriacs. After being isolated for the first part of the evening, the groups were allowed to co-mingle and share (or not) and see what happened. Overall, it was a fascinating fictional happening. The evening ended with a group discussion about what happened and how people were affected.

While it may seem a little dry and intellectual, the evening relied on the audience’s willingness to play. Just like Dungeons and Dragons or any Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game, it’s only really fun if you involve yourself and play. And just like any good LARP, if you play, you can’t help but get caught up in the world, the stakes, and the drama of the situation.

I don’t know if it was great theatre, but it was truly fascinating. And I learned a fascinating sociological lesson – nothing brings down walls between people quicker than some wine and chips. Perhaps our world leaders should spend an evening On Trial Together.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

HURLYBURLY
February 26, 2014
Variations Theatre Group is a young company based in Long Island City whose members are swiftly making a name for themselves in New York theatre. They have produced critically acclaimed productions of Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things and Arthur Miller’s After The Fall among several others. They are also the founders and operators of The Chain Theatre in Long Island City. And now they offer their latest addition to this growing list: David Rabe’s Hurlyburly. It’s bold, it’s brave, and it’s only an ok production. But that’s the main reason to love this company – they take risks. A smart man once said that boring theatre is a much worse experience for everyone concerned than bad theatre. And this production is many things, but it’s never boring.

The playing space is completely transformed. Scenic Designer R. Allen Babcock and Director Rich Ferraioli do an excellent job creating a 1980’s LA home as a thrust stage with audience wrapping most of the way upstage. Scenic Artist Stephanie Ferraioli shows her always deft touch, especially in the magnificent cityscape created for the show. While it’s unclear if it’s a portrait or a picture window looking out over the city, it creates a sense of the lifestyle that these characters lead.

Heading the cast is Kirk Gostkowski as Eddie, a fast-talking, coke-snorting, alcoholic who is the center of this world. Gostkowski is unafraid to show just how depraved Eddie is. The play takes several dark turns and Gostkowski never hesitates to lead us further and further down the rabbit hole. The entire cast gives solid performances with equal bravado and a willingness to show how awful these characters can be. Unfortunately, we rarely see any moments of lightness or vulnerability which makes the overall production uneven and, at times, unrelenting.

Overall, the show is not an ideal fit for the talent on the stage. However, it is a brave production. If this production is any indication, Variations Theatre group has exciting things in store for the future.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

APAP 2014 NYC
December 10, 2013
Soon the theaters and clubs will be spilling over with arts connoisseurs from around the United States and beyond. Culture enthusiasts mix with professional arts presenters and producers out to spot new talent and vie over established stars. Make no mistake the annual APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference January 10 – 14 is big business. Tours are arranged, and contracts scored between those who animate the country’s artistic lifeblood and those lubricate the public delivery systems. This year’s president, the much liked and respected Mario Garcia Durham oversees a conference dotted with mini-festivals, workshops, seminars, plenary sessions, keynote speeches and “outsider” festivals hanging onto APAP’s mighty tails.

For those interested in tasting performances, there’s the venerable Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival for theater goers, Focus Dance at the Joyce Theater, Globalfest at Webster Hall, Coil Festival of performance and theater art, “The Rising Stars of Classical Music” as well as the jazz lover’s JazzFest throughout clubs in the Village and elsewhere.

Many presentations roll out at APAP headquarters at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan--but many more are scattered throughout the city’s boroughs and cultural institutions. Although many of the professional sessions require admission to APAP there are a number of public conversations and professional sessions free to the public—generally with a request for on-line reservations. Each year, APAP honor leaders in the field, and in 2014, the Annual APAP Award winners are composer Philip Glass, Harlem Stage, and Americans for the Arts Executive CEO Robert L. Lynch.

Statistically, APAP draws about 45,000 people from around the worked and more than 1000 artists appear in showcases. Bottom line, there’s nothing better than supporting the arts as a central part of America’s thriving economy. The arts generate dollars and build national legacy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

R + J: STAR-CROSS'D DEATH MATCH
November 18, 2013
Upon arriving at “R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match,” you are immediately given either a red (Capulet) or blue (Montague) Solo cup. Next you are instructed to join your group on one side of the tape line in the middle of the room at Quinn’s Bar & Grill. But first (and this is really important), you get yourself a beer because you will be learning/ practicing the drinking game of “Flip Cup.”

When it comes to Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy of young passion as presented by Three Day Hangover, Flip Cup is invested with life and death stakes. And the evening’s just beginning! Before the action rolls, the audience is encouraged to cheer, chant, and move with the characters around the room as Romeo once again meets Juliet, they fall in love, and fate leads them to their tragic end.

Highlights of the evening include:

• A rap battle between Mercutio and Romeo

• A balcony scene that has Romeo in the street stopping traffic

• Audience and cast serenading Romeo and Juliet in bed

• Audience members playing Flip Cup over the honor of slain characters (a successful flip offers the reward of a Captain Morgan’s shot; failure is the shameful shot of milk)

The most surprising part of the evening is the cast’s dexterity with the language. The language is clear and understandable. Moreover, they refuse to treat it preciously, peppering in modern asides and references. The result is a quicksilver performance that has the audience laughing hard one minute only to be moved to tears the next. Alcohol may fuel the audience, but talent fuels this show.

Between the very able and smart adaptation by Ben Charles, the ingenious use of space and staging by director Lori Wolter Hudson, and the impressive work by the acting ensemble, especially Suzy Jane Hunt, Nick Mills, and Jenna Panther, you’re in for a good time. “R+J” is quite simply an inventive, fun, and delightfully well done evening of theatre. And for $10, it is the best ticket in town.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
April 19, 2013
Motown the Musical is a feel-good cavalcade of soul tunes and dance routines popularized by Barry Gordey’s legendary Motown Records. Baby Boomers fed on the blockbuster catalogue and they are coming in droves to the Lunt Fontanne Theatre to sing-along with their favorite soul stars.

All the famous acts of the 1960’s and 1970’s swoop onto the stage belting out timeless hits about love, lost love, unrequited love, erotic love, and every other manifestation of obsessive love until President Kennedy and Martin Luther King are assassinated. The country’s civil rights awakening, riots and tragic murders usher in the potent black protest music that penetrates the soundtrack of rebel college students.

An uplifting story of a young African American man intent on breaking into the music business in a bid to feature his multi-talented friends and claim ownership of the product, Berry Gordy (the dynamic Brandon Victor Dixon) uses $1000 to buy a house in Detroit and turn it into Hitsville USA. But this was not just a music label; this was a house that built full-blown performers. Clients were taught how to act, sing, dance, dress, and behave. At the time, blacks and whites did not mix but the infectious soul music became a grand cultural mixer that helped tear down racial discrimination.

Stretched over the thin backbone of a story scripted by Mr. Gordy about the construction of a musical empire, director Charles Randolph-Wright literally pulls one act after another from the wings into the bright lights for a musical teaser. Understandably, the era produced a bounty of hits, and the elimination process must have been grueling, but sometimes you feel cheated by getting a mere glimpse of an act like Gladys Knight (the excellent Marva Hicks) and the Pips nailing “I Heard it On the Grapevine.”

Everyone belts out the truncated classics including standout deliveries by Mr. Dixon, Valisia LeKae (Diana Ross), Charl Brown (Smokey Robinson) Bryan Terrell Clark (Marvin Gaye) and a show-stealing, knockout performance by Raymond Luke, Jr. as the young Michael Jackson. Ms. LeKae succeeds in interpreting Ross’ smoky voice and glamorous vibe, but she occasionally loses pitch. Sailing through dreamy voiced songs, Mr. Brown easily assumes Smokey Robinson’s temperate personality and although Mr. Clark is in fine voice, he lacks Gaye’s vulnerability—but then, that’s what made him such a singular artist. In a clever bit of staging, Mr. Randolph-Wright arranges the male acts on stage like do-wop groups grabbing a pavement corner.

Of course, signature Motown dance routines were central to the Motown sound. Characterized by precision and style nailed to sharp hand gestures, tight spins and punctuated stops, the routines roused young audiences into a frenzy of body-shaking excitement. However, no one can top the original dance sequences devised by the master Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins. Exemplified by rhythmic, crystalline steps contrasted by dramatic pauses, expressive hands and head snaps, these dance routines coupled cool to sex.

For Motown The Musical, these now famous dance routines are re-drawn by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams for performers suited-up by costume designer Esosa performers who move through evocative, portable sets by David Korins. Some of the best dance moments come when the Four Tops rip into their in-place, bent leg-to –straight-leg strut and sudden bend at the waist, head down to freeze. Dance sequences tie together scenes using more contemporary steps, but considering the highly skilled ensemble composed of dancers from Juilliard, and major dance companies, the choreography under-rates its dance corps.

As a whole, the production works because everyone loves the story of an outsider transformed into king of his universe who ushered in a music phenomenon that still dominates the soundtracks of film scores, commercials, television and date nights.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

ONCE
March 23, 2012
Two star crashed lovers stir audiences with their music in the huge-hearted musical “Once.” The terrifically appealing leads score big due to their automatic connection with each other and the audience.

Always a reason to cheer when an original production swims upstream to Broadway, “Once” shines in the arms of a tuneful pop score by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, leavened with Irish folk music and soft jazz contours, skillfully orchestrated by Marin Lowe. Joyous music rolls off the stage where a group of casually dressed musicians romp inside a Dublin pub designed by Bob Crowley. Stocked with dark wood tables, chairs, bar and piano, a gallery of antiqued mirrors rim the walls reflecting shards of cast members—particularly useful to those sitting on the far side of the theater.

Prepared to turn his back on a music career and girlfriend, the attractive Dubliner, Guy, falls in love with the pixyish Czech girl Cristin Milioti and her “must do” attitude. After she hears Guy play the guitar and sing “Leave,” Milioti insists he fix her Hoover vacuum (he’s in the business with his father, David Patrick Kelly).

All the cast members double as actors, singers and musicians, kicking up political and social issues including a nod to the 99% vs. the 1%. Movement passages by Steve Hoggett are cast in the vein of Bill T. Jones’ choreography for “Spring Awakening,” where gestural phrases issue from pedestrian movements--but the “dancing” in “Once” works best when the cast plays instruments and moves naturally.

A defining rhythm pumps the music and theatrical direction by John Tiffany, who understands the essence of pauses and silence, expertly deploying deep, theatrical breaths to generate superb comic and dramatic timing.

Most of all, this is a deeply felt love story. Thankfully, the end is not predictable, although it is inevitable.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

MARTIN PAKLEDINAZ
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

CITY CENTER RE-OPENS
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

KAROLE ARMITAGE/HAIR CHOREOGRAPHER
July 22, 2011
Karole Armitage gained recognition as a superb dancer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and notoriety as a “punk ballerina” (pointe shoes and punk hairdo). She broke away from the postmodern master to form her own troupe in the free-wheeling 1980’s. Since that time, Ms. Armitage--trained in ballet and modern--has ruffled aesthetic feathers, gained legions of fans, while amassing glowing and hard-hitting reviews. Uncontrollably intrigued by the new, Armitage retains a true devotion to the traditional principles of choreography while bending those movements into personal statements.

A striking presence, the long and lean Armitage is keen on collaborations. That trait came in handy when director Diane Paulus called Armitage in to choreograph the hit musical “Hair.”

First produced in the 1960s, Armitage never saw “Hair” in production but, like so many counter-culture people growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s, could sing all the songs by heart.

When I caught up with Karole by phone, she was speeding off in a limousine to the airport for a project in Beijing and explaining in a matter-of-fact tone to the driver how to negotiate Canal Street –“Why do I think you should go that way???? Maybe because I’ve lived here for 30 years.”

Armitage insisted this was a perfectly good time to chat about her experience as the choreographer of the energetic revival of “Hair” currently at the St. James Theater through September 10.

When asked how she was tapped for the part, Armitage explained “my involvement began because the Public Theater was producing the musical and they already knew I was a team player from my contributions as choreographer of “Passing Strange” (2008 award- winning Broadway musical).

Originally revived as a special entry in the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park series-- “40th anniversary production of "Hair" in 2008”--Armitage recalled the production was realized at whiplash speed. Because there was no time for dance rehearsals, Armitage would shout instructions from the wings or just grab actors on the fly. Despite the harried pace, Armitage had a “pure feeling for Hair” and knew exactly how she wanted the choreography to look. Later, when the wildly successful "Hair" transferred to Broadway, Armitage got more body-to-body time to “turn my line drawing into a painting.”

Eager to fold the movements invisibly into the dramatic action Armitage noted “I wanted to make the choreography invisible; make it look seamless so it was completely personal and spontaneous.” Despite the improvisational look of the material, she designed a hidden structure and crafted the sequences in a way that gave focus and emotional coherence to the randomness.

Naturally, working with actors who aren’t dancers posed a different set of challenges. Armitage linked the movements to the lyrics (Gerome Ragni and James Rado) combing through the songs “word for word” with the actors to understand how a gesture matched an idea and the music (Galt McDermot). She went on, “Take the line ‘the mind’s true liberation, Aquarius!’ I asked them to tap their foreheads demonstrating ‘consciousness.’ (During the show, some tap their foreheads with two fingers, others use the palm of their hand, two hands or run fingers lightly sideways). By letting each person find their own way, and then setting the movement, I realized better results—the right vibrations."

"Of course, not being trained dancers; movement memory was not as acute. For example, during group sequences, they might not always go through the same hole. And I had to tamp down a tendency to break into big brassy show businessy attitudes, hip-hop or American Idoly stuff. But these are their references.”

"Ultimately, the freedom I felt in pursuing this very personalized process is really a tribute to director Diane Paulus."

THE BOOK OF MORMON
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

JERSEY BOYS/Review
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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