Theater Review

Sex in the State Department: Foggy Bottom at The Abingdon

foggy.jpgA farce about the State Department in contemporary times could be just what we need, but James Armstrong’s Foggy Bottom only partially hits the spot. The acting is quite fine, and the direction by Rob Urbinati keeps it all moving at a lively pace. The premise is promising: a mid-level employee pretends to be his boss, Pat Simon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, in order to seduce immigrant women with the promise of green cards. Dan Cordle plays Dick, the lusty bureaucrat, staying after-hours so that he can lure sexy exotic women (all with one accent or another) into the empty office of his boss.

Act one is basically a series of sexual gags, some humorous, but most rather tasteless, Read more »

Old Tricks at the Chocolate Factory

oldtricksRed Metal Mailbox has created what at first appears to be a delightful confection of 1890s-style all-female vaudeville. Three talented performers dance, sing, pout, tell jokes, do tricks, and generally create the intimate atmosphere of a Parisian nightclub in the basement of an industrial building just on the edge of Long Island City. Standing outside on a warm spring night, one can see the buildings of Manhattan just across the East River. For a jaded Upper Westsider, it’s worth the trip to Queens.

Presented as part of the Chocolate Factory’s Visiting Artists Program, Old Tricks is the creation of Sarah Maxfield, Rachel Tiemann, Sarah Gancher, and Ali Harmer. Red Metal Mailbox’s mission is to create “investigative performance by linking original text with a highly physical aesthetic.” Read more »

Peer Gynt: Directed by Robert Wilson - BAM

PeerGynt.jpgIs Robert Wilson a genius? The answer, I think, is yes. His latest directorial work, Peer Gynt, a coproduction of the National Theatre of Bergen and the Norwegian Theatre of Oslo at BAM, reveals once again how he can bring alive on stage a mesmerizing visual world, reinvent it, ensnare us in it, and take a long time to let it go. His method succeeds particularly well in this early Ibsen work, a strange folktale-like enactment of one man’s life of fierce and often futile adventure.

Ibsen completed Peer Gynt in 1867, and was pleased with what he saw as a play in verse not meant for the stage; its fantastic elements (scenes with trolls and other mythical Read more »

A Case of Violent Repression

alba.jpgEarly in the Spanish Civil War, Federico Garcia Lorca was executed by the Fascists. He was only 38 years old. A great poet was lost. The Lincoln Center production of Bernarda Alba is a reinterpretation of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, written in 1936 and initially performed shortly after his death. Lorca’s play presents a tyrannical Spanish mother and her five sex-starved daughters in the context of backward village values in traditional Spanish culture. As a boy, Lorca had spent summers in such a village, watching the chaperoned and cloistered local females from a distance.

While he was working on the play, it was described in a newspaper as a “drama of Andalusian sexuality,” and Lorca noted, at the front of his manuscript copy, that the work should resemble “a photographic document.” Read more »

Seeing Red

Seeing RedFor Carrie Ahern, red is a very scary color. Inspired by Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Ahern's Red was a rich tapestry of densely layered images of pent-up ferocity. The piece reminded me of a section in another great literary work, Jane Eyre, in which Jane is locked in a terrifying red room as punishment. As in Bronte's imagination, for Ahern red represents oppression, aggression, and fear, and possesses power to overwhelm and consume.

As the piece opened, one could hear only an eerie swishing sound, which was generated by the odd, sliding gait of ten pairs of feet approaching us from behind. In near dark, women in long, multi-textured dresses, with blacked-out eyes, marched monk-like to the stage. Read more »

Pennies for Your Thoughts

JuliSara Juli: The Money Conversation, P.S. 122

Most performances that claim to be "conversations" are actually one-sided speeches that at best make you think in response. Sara Juli's The Money Conversation was not like most performances; the conversation was real, and so was the money. For the performance, Juli drained her savings account of its $5000 contents, and though she did make good on the marketing premise that she would give away all of her money, it was hardly without strings. Members of the audience were asked to remove wads of cash from Juil's pants pockets, from between her toes, and even from her underwear. There were times when the cash was simply handed off to a lucky viewer, but after the gift, Juli gave each a semi-private performance (part lap-dance/part hug), such that the slightly richer audience member could not help but acknowledge her as a real person, with real money that, if taken, would take and cause real loss. Read more »

The Little Dog Laughed - Second Stage Theatre, NYC

Little DogThe buzz is out that the Second Stage production of Douglas Carter Beane’s latest play The Little Dog Laughed is probably going to move to a larger theatre. And with good reason. This work is extremely witty, entertaining, and relevant to the present moment in American culture. Beane says it's about “the last taboo” -- being gay in Hollywood -- and it certainly is about that. But actually gayness could almost be a metaphor for any socially unacceptable behavior, attitude, existence even in an increasingly right wing and paranoid American culture. Are not secret wire-tapping and internet use monitoring by government agencies just the latest examples of how un-private our private lives are becoming? We’re all gay now. Or potentially so. Read more »

Major Bang - The Foundry Theater

Bag SignHalfway through The Foundry Theater's Major Bang or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb, the two accomplished performers (who had already played numerous roles in the magic-trick-laden exploration of fatherhood, the politics of boy scouts, and the war on terror) stopped the show. Maggie Hoffman plugged in a vacuum and loudly collected the shattered remains of a light bulb that had exploded just moments before in Steve Cuiffo's hand, while Cuiffo gave the audience a "Lec-Dem for Critics" entitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love This Play," which encouraged the audience to relax and suspend their disbelief, noting that this play was at a particular disadvantage because its central topic – bombing – doesn't fit on stage. Read more »

Deborah Hay: "O,O" - St. Mark's Church, NYC

Deborah HayIn the pre-show seating shuffle of audience members scrambling for seats in the 360-configuration of a sold-out St. Mark's Church, each of the five performers in Deborah Hay's "O,O" entered one by one and stood, shifting slightly, eyeing the audience and raising their hands slowly in tentative reaches toward each other, the audience, the floor, the ceiling. Three were in black, two in white, and all wearing heavy shoes, an unusual choice for dance. Once all five were gathered on stage, continuing this slow, focused pace, the audience gradually grew silent, despite the fact that the box office was still open and ushers were still seating patrons. The room changed and everyone acknowledged it, as if the performance space asserted its architectural truth as a church. Read more »

Abacus Black Strikes Now!: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black - P.S. 122

Abacus BlackDespite the incredibly long title, The National Theater of the United States' Abacus Black Strikes Now!: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black, started off great. In extremely dim light, a man in ruffled, romantic Goth-antique clothing burst on stage lit only by a small, bright light which he carried and shone up under his chin hinting of a campfire ghost.

As he spoke, the audience was transported back to childhood experiences of theater. It was thrilling, riveting, and magical. Read more »

The Northern Quarter of Nowhere

vanwarmerdamAlex van Warmerdam: The Northern Quarter
Vortex Theater Company

The American premiere of the Dutch play The Northern Quarter by Alex van Warmerdam has its moments. Director Erwin Maas describes this production as a “funny, yet intensely painful” journey, “magical and absurd, yet frighteningly real.” Unfortunately, for the most part, it seems neither frightening nor real.

The play focuses on Faas, a young man who lives at home with his parents, apparently in the “northern quarter” of some city or bordering area (since the city itself is a fearful place his parents refuse to let him visit). Faas spends the whole 90 minutes of stage time trying to escape his stifling parents in order to actually Read more »

Richard Maxwell: The End of Reality - New York City Players, The Kitchen, NYC

Richard MaxwellIn the program notes for Richard Maxwell's The End of Reality at the Kitchen, Maxwell states that he "found the last line of this play on a park bench in Hampstead, London," and only later discovered the line to be from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. The line, "the earth shall take my limbs and then I shall truly dance," seems a fitting expression of Maxwell's signature style. His sparse staging and stiff, simple physicality, and vocal delivery clear the theatrical space of clutter and highlight Maxwell's themes with precision and surprising emotional punch.

Set in the security station of an office building, the play unfolds in the glow of an enormous surveillance screen, which constantly flips between various images of different areas of the building. Read more »

From Gloom to Gleam: Pinter’s The Room and Celebration

PinterIt is a cold, wintry twilight when Harold Pinter’s The Room opens; soon it will be dark. That is the typical mood and setting of early Pinter. The Room was his very first play, produced originally in 1957. On the same bill at the Atlantic Theatre Company is Celebration, his latest play to be produced (2000), with a totally different setting and ambiance: a bright, chic London restaurant with well-dressed revelers. Does this conjunction of early and late work tell us something meaningful about Pinter’s vision and the journey he has taken in his brilliant fifty-year theatre career?

Back in the late fifties, when he was spellbinding experimental theatregoers, the word most commonly used to describe his work was “menace.” Pinter had a way of making the stage vibrate with mystery and menace in such early works as The Room, The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party, and The Caretaker. Read more »

Albee's Seascape: A Lovely Escape from Intelligent Design

albeeEdward Albee is probably the most famous living playwright in the United States today. I say "probably" because Sam Shepard and David Mamet may actually come more quickly to mind, or even Neil Simon (but I don't count him for reasons I won't bother to explain). What makes Albee interesting to contemplate is just how high he was in everyone's esteem for the first decade of his career, and then how low for a couple of decades, and how more recently, post-Three Tall Women (1991), he has returned as a kind of off-stage gray eminence, highly respected but hardly loved. Read more »

Brilliant Sarah Kane Work Stalls in Static Production

PsychosisSometimes artistic women commit suicide. They may flirt with the idea for years. Sylvia Plath did it at the age of thirty. Sarah Kane did it at twenty-eight. It changes the way we look at their work. Born in Essex, England in 1971, and raised by evangelical Christian parents, Kane later characterized her religious upbringing as “the full spirit-filled, born-again lunacy.”

The French production of Kane’s final play, 4.48 Psychose , at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn (Oct. 19-30), focuses on the isolation of the protagonist, her fierce commitment to knowing what it feels like to be deeply depressed, and her refusal— Read more »

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