Contemporary theater is not exactly bursting at the seams with works in the science fiction genre. With a new production of Mac Rogers’ 2009 Universal Robots, Rogers and Jordana Williams, the writer and director respectively of last year's acclaimed extraterrestrial invasion play cycle The Honeycomb Trilogy, reunite to continue bucking that trend. Universal Robots uses multigeneric Czech writer Karel Čapek's influential 1920 play R.U.R., commonly translated as Rossum's Universal Robots, "as a point of departure for an original speculative drama," borrowing some situations and concepts while crafting an alternate history that differs from our own in some smaller ways (real-life Čapek's brother and writing partner Josef becomes Josephine) and some much larger ones that we won’t spoil the fun of finding out here. Though Čapek's life and corpus provide the intertextual focus, audiences will also be put in mind of the works of writers including Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, as well as of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, shades of which permeate not only the often Futurist aesthetic of the set but also the play's consideration of the means of production.
Written by Sevan K. Greene
Directed by Kareem Fahmy
Presented by Rising Circle Theater Collective, The Sheen Center, NYC
May 7-21, 2016
This Time is the continent- and decade-spanning yet intimate new play by Sevan K. Greene, presented in its world premiere by Rising Circle Theater Collective, a group that focuses on original work by artists of color. Greene based his play on Not So Long Ago, the memoir of Amal Meguid, director Kareem Fahmy’s grandmother, to whose memory This Time is dedicated. This Time actually follows two threads of time, one in 1990s Toronto, the play’s present, and one that begins in 1960s Cairo and moves towards that present. In the latter thread, a young Amal (Rendah Heywood) meets Nick (Seth Moore), a Canadian on business in Cairo, at a party. Both are trilingual; Amal is blunt, honest, and married; Nick, avowedly romantic, pushy, and sleeping with his secretary.
If you’ve ever watched the opening of the long-running PBS anthology series Mystery!, then you’ve seen the art of Edward Gorey. If you haven’t, well, he is not the most mainstream of artists, though perhaps the mainstream has edged closer to his sensibility in our post-Tim Burton, post-Hot Topic world. Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey, a new play by Travis Russ, does not walk the audience through Gorey’s greatest hits in common biographical narrative fashion (so if you are unfamiliar with his work, do yourself a favor and look into it on your own). In fact, in this play, Gorey refers to his most famous work, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, with clear weariness. Instead, Gorey quickly asserts that time is "fragile, fleeting, and fluid," and takes that idea as its structuring principle. Andrew Dawson, Aidan Sank, and Phil Gillen share the stage as younger, mature, and older versions of the artist, a compression of Gorey’s life that derives poignancy from its multiple perspectives and voices, such as when the youngest Gorey cheerfully says that the move to the Cape Cod house that he and his cats would occupy until his death is only temporary. Gorey was something of a collector, to put it mildly, and the contents of his house, catalogued by volunteers after his death, provide the other structuring principle in the play, with items often triggering memories or enactments of various points in his life.
Drew Hodges is at a loss for words. Asked if he’s surprised at the life he’s leading -- did he imagine he’d grow up to fly around the world orchestrating scenes with great actors and artists for his own wildly influential agency -- he pauses three entire seconds. “I wish I had an answer for you,” he says. “It's like, Come for the veal, stay for the floor show.”
You might not know Drew Hodges’ name, but if you’ve enjoyed some form of popular culture in the past decade, you’re living in a world he helped create. "When I started, the idea of theater was still very much that ‘fabulous invalid’ thing," he says, “sort of dying, old, kind of nostalgic. I was lucky enough to work on a lot of stuff that started to chip away at that."
Twenty years ago, art-directing for his small design firm’s music, film and cable clients, Hodges was offered his first theater project, a little show called Rent. The man for whom performance meant taking the train from Hyde Park, NY, as a high schooler to see Yes at Madison Square Garden harnessed the excitement he felt watching innovative theater and expanded his rock & roll take to advertising, moving the firm carved out of his Flower District apartment closer to Broadway, where it would grow into the entertainment powerhouse SpotCo.
Written by Rafael Spregelburd and translated by Jean Graham-Jones
Directed by Samuel Buggeln
Presented by The Cherry Arts
JACK, Brooklyn, NYC
April 14-30, 2016
Making a performance look easy is very difficult, but the fantastic new production of Argentine playwright Rafael Spregelburd’s intricately-constructed SPAM makes it look effortless. SPAM, making its English-language première in a translation by the City University of New York’s Jean Graham-Jones, probes some of those boundaries and spaces between appearance and reality, especially where language is concerned. Mario Monti (Vin Knight) is a linguistics professor with an ethically questionable relationship to the work of one of his thesis students and a case of amnesia from a head wound. As the play unfolds, both he and we come to understand more about how he ended up living in a hotel room in Malta, trying to hawk Chinese-manufactured talking dolls on the beach for cash and befriending a Swiss diver filming an underwater documentary.
In the olden days ("Tell us great-grandfather") there was vaudeville, where young performers could cut their teeth, playing on the various circuits all around the country. So where do emerging singers and comedians get their time before an audience in this strangest of all eras? Of course there's the web, but tweeting responses or comments below a YouTube video do not in my opinion constitute a flesh and blood audience--those hearty folk who make an effort to move their bodies into a performance space, and let a singer or comedian know in no uncertain terms if they've "got it."
The instantly recognizable blue logo for the A train provides the “a” in the sign reading "Once Upon A Time" that hangs high above the stage upon which You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase is performed. It alerts spectators that what they will see is not your typical take on New York City; and the creative force behind it, Theatre 167, is not your usual theater company. The company takes its name from the 167 languages spoken in its birthplace of Jackson Heights, Queens, and describes its mission as bringing together voices from a multiplicity of backgrounds in an intensely collaborative process of theatrical creation. You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase is the middle play in The Jackson Heights Trilogy, which also includes 167 Tongues and Jackson Heights 3AM and was written collaboratively by a total of 18 playwrights. Audiences do not, however, need to be familiar with the other plays in the trilogy to thoroughly enjoy this magical realist tale of hope, love, diversity, and community in New York City.
I Am Not an Allegory (these are people i know) jumps into the big questions right from the start, with a conversation between café coworkers Ames (Natalya Krimgold) and Severin (Conor Daniel Bartram) in which she puzzles over whether identity is intrinsic or constructed and what would happen if she switched lives with the people she passes when she is running, and he wonders whether there is any meaning that isn’t manufactured. Ames and Severin are two nodes in the network of characters who populate Libby Emmons's play, in which a dance class run by Danesha (Masonya Berry), forced to retreat home after a failed attempt at a professional dance career in New York City, is the hub of their intersection. Danesha is best friends with Ruby (Olivia Nice), whose feelings of emptiness are not alleviated by her relationship with Dan (Mateo D’Amato) and his concerns with power. Rounding out the class are Jess (Lindsay Perry), a single mother supporting herself with some unexpected stay-at-home work; Marcia (KL Thomas), who is afraid of accidentally revealing what she sees as her weirdness at a job interview; and Mary Ellen (Kyra Sims), who criticizes the lack of ambition shown by her boyfriend, Lando (Clifford Ray Berry), and his dreams of a music career while herself subsisting on red wine and selling jewelry.
The tenth annual FRIGID Festival continues apace in New York City's East Village, and in our second of two dispatches from it, we discuss comedies by three solo performers, whose exploits take the audience to places including Canada's "best city," a Mormon mission to Argentina, and one of the least relaxing mudbaths ever. We are touching on only a fraction of the 30 shows in this year's festival, but more information can be found on the FRIGID New York website, where there is also a deal available that gets you into three shows for just $30. FRIGID is proud to be the only NYC festival that gives all proceeds for ticket sales to the actors and creative team behind each show. The show with the highest box office will receive an encore performance at the end of the festival, and audiences are encouraged to vote for their favorite shows.
The tenth annual FRIGID Festival is underway in New York City's East Village, and in our first of two dispatches from it; our first trio of plays under discussion includes a twelve year-old pornographer-for-hire, an irreverent grandfather, and a cabin in the woods. We will touch on only a fraction of the 30 shows in this year's festival, but more information can be found on the FRIGID New York website (http://www.frigidnewyork.info/), where there is also a deal available that gets you into three shows for just $30. The show with the highest box office will receive an encore performance at the end of the festival, and audiences are encouraged to vote for their favorite shows.