Theater Review

The Urgency of Indecent Art: Paula Vogel on Love, Creation and Injustice

Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” is many things: an idiosyncratic mix of music, memory and theater magic; a female take on an infamous male intellectual; a Holocaust parable that manages to surprise; a lesbian love story both lyrical and consumed with lust; a provocative piece of found history that holds up an eerie mirror to our times. The Pulitzer-winning playwright, author of more than a dozen distinctive works, has been talking to countless audiences about her first show to land on Broadway human -- separately discovered the same censored story. Vogel spoke with me a few days before the Tonys, which she planned to attend as a Best Play nominee.

Is it strange to be where you are now? Are you surprised to be on Broadway?

I find it just a continuation of what I’ve been doing. It’s like going from Rhode Island to Texas -- the roads are the same, and the people are lovely, just everything’s a slightly larger scale. Read more »

Some Feminist HERstory

Lou
Written by Haley Rice
Directed by Kate Moore Heaney
Presented by Theatre 4the People at The Paradise Factory, NYC
May 19-June 3, 2017

Quickly: how many of you have heard of Sigmund Freud? Now, how many of you have heard of Lou Salomé? It might surprise many audience members to see Salomé using Freud’s own psychoanalytic techniques on him late in Haley Rice’s new play Lou, but that is part of the point. Directed with an all-female cast by Kate Moore Heaney, Lou operates, to a large degree, in the genre of feminist reclamation, bringing attention to significant women unfairly elided by history. Much like The Other Mozart, which stopped in New York last fall to shine its spotlight on Wolfgang’s talented sister, Maria Anna, Rice’s play focuses on an exceptional woman lost over time in the shadows of the famous men with whom she lived and worked. Read more »

Indecent!

Indecent
Cort Theatre, NYC

Indecent is a strange play. It's like getting a gorgeously wrapped package and finding something insubstantial and vaguely disturbing inside the box.

The packaging of Indecent includes fantastic direction from Rebecca Taichman, engaging writing from Paula Vogel and a near-perfect ensemble of performers. But once you get past the seduction of the production, you have to wonder why so much talent was lavished on what is no more than a historical theatrical footnote. Read more »

And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little

And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little
Written by Paul Zindel Directed by Shay Gines
Presented by Retro Productions at Gene Frankel Theatre, NYC
May 5-20, 2017

New York's Retro Productions has been pursuing its mission statement of telling "good theatrical stories which have an historical perspective" for over a decade now. With an emphasis on 20th-century plays, Retro, under artistic director Heather E. Cunningham, operates according to the belief that giving expression to these voices from our past helps us to better contextualize and understand our present. Indeed, it is not difficult to envision the connections between the late-1960s setting of Retro's newest revival, the darkly comic And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, and 2017's own tensions around race, gender, military conflict, and political upheaval. Truthfully -- and significantly -- it wouldn't take much adjustment at all to reimagine the play, which has reached its half-century anniversary, as taking place in our contemporary milieu. Read more »

Who To Believe...?

The Conspiracists
Written and directed by Max Baker
Presented by Stable Cable Lab Co. at IRT Theater, NYC
April 22-May 7, 2017

Max Baker's new play, The Conspiracists, happens to be making its debut alongside widespread media coverage of the custody trial of toxic conspiracy monger Alex Jones, during which a lawyer for Jones argued that his on-air persona is merely performance art (a claim later disputed by his on-air persona). Many took this defense as a clear admission that he knowingly spreads lies for profit, but at least one writer has claimed that performing a character does not necessarily mean that the performer does not believe what the character delivers. That observation could apply equally well to the array of avowed believers who assemble as a support group in Baker's latest effort. In fact, one character, Hilda (Lisa Jill Anderson), posits, to the displeasure of the others, that belief in conspiracy theories is a self-protective measure masking feelings of powerlessness. That she may be objectively correct is not meant to demean these characters or to diminish the complexity of their lived experience, a point that is underscored by the fact that Hilda herself behaves not a sage dispenser of wisdom so much as a cheerfully, obliviously condescending outsider to the group, as absorbed in her own faintly silly interests as the conspiracists are in theirs. Read more »

Haming Up the Proceedings

How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet
Written by John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger
Conceived and directed by John Kurzynowski
Presented by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble at HERE, NYC
March 30-April 14, 2017

The average person probably has at least a passing familiarity with William Shakespeare's Hamlet. But how is it different to know the Western canon's arguably most famous tragedy from the inside, so to speak? And can that shift in perspective, even if observed rather than experienced directly, allow the audience to see the play afresh, with different eyes? In John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger's metatheatrical comedy How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet, created and performed by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble (TRE), a quartet of people (Nathaniel Basch-Gould, Sam Corbin, Joshua William Gelb, and Emily Marro) find themselves unexpectedly performing Hamlet (a problem, one would imagine, that most of us are glad not to encounter). TRE is a collective that seeks to "reconstruct both classical and canonical forms of theatricality through the playful development of works over time," and How to Hamlet uses a play centered on revenge, madness, and an existential crisis as the basis for unpredictable fun. To borrow from Troilus and Cressida, "this is, and is not," Hamlet. Read more »

The Old Soft Shoe Shuffle

FRED
Written by Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose
Directed by Dakota Rose
Presented by On the Rocks Theatre Company at Dixon Place, NYC
March 17-April 1, 2017

Dixon Place is a reliable venue for offbeat theater. If you're looking for, say, an earnest examination of twentysomethings trying to make it in the city, then it's probably best to look elsewhere. If, however, you're in the mood for sci-fi puppets or dance-filled reimaginings of Carroll's Wonderland, then Dixon Place has you covered. The latest of these unconventional offerings is FRED, a buoyant new comedy by Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose, creators of the recent The White Stag Quadrilogy. Read more »

Treading On Borrowed Time

Kyle
Written by Hollis James, Directed by Emily Owens
Presented by Hot Tramp Productions at UNDER St. Marks, NYC
March 11-25, 2017

Kyle is the first play from Hot Tramp Productions, which promises "darkly comic" shows as part of its mission to create "pre-apocalyptic theatre for a post-Bowie world." Written by Queens native Hollis James, Kyle mines comedy from the depths of addiction and marks an impressive debut both for James as a playwright and for his and director Emily Owens' newly-founded production company. Read more »

A Man Needs A Maid

Les Bonnes/The Maids
Written by Jean Genet
Directed by Oliver Henzler
Presented by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
In association with L'Atelier Théâtre Productions at First Floor Theatre, NYC

Writer and activist Jean Genet's early play Les Bonnes (The Maids) was inspired in part by the real-life 1933 murder by two sisters, employed as maids, of their employer and her daughter. In his play, Genet transforms his sensationalistic inspiration into a stylized psychodrama that comments on forms of servitude and dependency, and the result has remained popular since its debut in 1947. Les Bonnes is the first professional production by L'Atelier Théâtre Productions, which "aims at presenting bold and inspiring European plays to a New York audience in the original language" and at creating a community of theater artists in New York who will blend American and European traditions. This production is performed in the original French, with English subtitles (by Lucy O'Brien, Mariam Mustafa, and Ellen Thome, undergraduates studying French at Fordham University) available on video screens at either end of the room, above and behind the audience, which is seated on the two short sides of the rectangular theater. Read more »

It's Even Frostier In Here - FRIGID, Part 2

We're back for the second week of the 19-day FRIGID NY Festival, which is in the midst of an artistic occupation of the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Marks, to discuss two more of its 30 plays. In total, we are reviewing a mere four, or 13%, of this year's FRIGID shows, but information and tickets for all of the offerings can be found at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info. As every year, all proceeds from tickets sales go directly to the artists. Read more »

Frosty & FRIGID

It's that time of year again: the FRIGID NY Festival is taking over the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Marks for 19 days, with 30 plays ranging from personal narratives to parodies to science comedy to the avant-garde. We will be discussing a mere four of the productions in our two dispatches from the festival, but information and tickets for all of this year's shows can be found at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info. As every year, all proceeds from tickets sales go directly to the artists. Read more »

Ring Twice For Miranda

Ring Twice for Miranda
Stage II at New York City Center
Through April 16, 2017

During Ring Twice for Miranda, while witnessing the frequent long and drawn-out arguments scenes that pepper this play’s landscape, I was reminded of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. What kept your attention during that film’s interminable arguments among Warhol’s characters was hope of some kind of satisfying resolution. Playwright Alan Hruska is by trade a litigation lawyer, so he knows how to argue. Unfortunately his characters do not share his real life expertise. I kept saying to myself “come on, get on with it!” My impatience had me physically squirming much as I did when, eons ago, I first viewed Chelsea Girls! In addition, specters of the post-apocalyptic Spike Milligan/Richard Lester film collaboration The Bed Sitting Room floated about me. Absent from Miranda’s world was the clear social satire and whimsy which sustained Mr. Milligan’s long career. Read more »

The Love that Keeps on Taking...

Let The Right One In
Moore Theatre, Seattle

Dripping from the Swedish page and screen onto American stages, The National Theatre of Scotland has adapted the celebrated horror film and novel Let The Right One In for theatrical production with an eerie success that echoes the story's previous manifestations. Wrapping up its run at Seattle's Moore Theatre before moving on to Houston, Texas, this production is spreading its paradoxically beautiful and yet starkly nihilistic brand of love story. Read more »

Fire! Fire!

The Fire This Time 10 Minute Play Festival 2017
Directed by Cezar Williams
Presented by FRIGID New York @ Horse Trade at the Kraine Theater, NYC
January 19-February 5, 2017

The annual The Fire This Time Festival was begun by artists, for artists, and its purpose is to showcase early-career playwrights of the African diaspora. Traditionally, The Fire This Time has been composed of a variety of events, with the 10 Minute Play Festival serving as the flagship, and this year, its eighth, TFTT has expanded those events beyond the strictly theatrical, including web series and readings by playwrights and sisters Kia and Kara Lee Corthron from their respective debut novels. As an anchor to the festivities (and the only event that isn't free to attend), the The 10 Minute Play Festival has consistently put forth collections of strong, exciting work, and this year's group of seven short plays, performed by a group of seven actors, is no exception. Read more »

Gentrified!

Transcend
Written and performed by Kilusan Bautista
Transmedia direction by Wi-Moto Nyoka
Presented by FRIGID New York @ Horse Trade at UNDER St. Mark's, NYC
January 9-February 6, 2017

It seems fitting that in order to get to and from Transcend, a meditation by Kilusan Bautista on his experiences with gentrification and what he identifies as America's housing war on the poor, we walked down a St. Mark's Street scrubbed almost entirely of its grimy counter-cultural past and reborn as a corridor of gleaming ramen restaurants and Mac repair shops. Having debuted this past August at the New York Fringe Festival, Transcend has returned to New York after a run in California's Bay Area, another, perhaps even worse, hotbed of skyrocketing housing costs. Bautista's one-man show, his second, is an eclectic mix of narrative, spoken word, dance, and multimedia elements that focuses on his own experience of temporary homelessness as an exemplar of systemic inequalities. Read more »

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